Thursday, October 18, 2012

Walk The Line - Chapter 38

‘Where’s Khushi?’ Arnav asked NK and Jaime. His face was pale, lips pressed together and a vein throbbed in his temple.

‘She went to ask a waiter to get juice for Payal and Akash,’ said NK. For the first time, he realized that Khushi hadn’t come back yet. ‘Oh no! Where is she?’ he was looking around frantically for her, as were Jaime and Arnav.

‘Split up,’ said Pat, automatically taking charge. ‘Check the doors. We don’t need to panic anyone.’

They split up, discreetly looking around, but it was a large hall and none of them could spot her. Arnav could feel his heart pounding faster, when he bumped into a waiter.

‘Mr. Raizada,’ the waiter said.

‘Yeah,’ impatiently turning to the waiter.

‘Did you meet the lady, sir?’

‘What lady?’

‘The lady, sir. She was going to meet you, there,’ he pointed to a door.

‘Thanks,’ Arnav said, swiftly dialing NK’s number, while running to the door. ‘NK, the back. Tell Pat and Jaime, too.’

NK peered over the crowd, spotting the door opening at the back. ‘Jaime,’ he called. Jaime turned to him. ‘Get Pat,’ pointing to the door. He hurried after Arnav, Jaime and Pat following closely behind.

Arnav rushed out of the door. He looked left and right - the corridor was deserted. There was a long corridor to the left, he turned towards it, and then turned around. He hadn’t noticed the door before to the right. He veered towards it, an unknown hand guiding him towards it. He raced to it and flung it open. Fire exit. He could see something glittering on the landing below. He took the stairs two at a time, distantly hearing the door open above him. The necklace lay where it had fallen. He picked it up. She’d gone this way. He was now running on adrenaline. Rushing down the rest of the stairs, he reached the exit door and shoved it open. Nothing. It was the employee parking lot. He looked left and right, lungs and eyes burning. Suddenly he saw it. A pair of headlights came on at the same time as he heard a car start. He raced towards it, but it felt like he was running under water... so slow.... he needed to get there, fast. Khushi! Hold on! I’m coming! he was screaming in his mind to her. He could hear the others right behind him. The car peeled away from its spot and raced towards the exit.

Khushi came to, to the sound of a car starting. She was inside a car - she opened her eyes, she was leaning against the passenger door. She stared at the driver. Where did she know him from? He had a mustache. She didn’t know any men with mustaches, she thought blearily. The car moved forward with a jerk, and started picking up speed. Panic raced through her veins, ‘Stop!’ She screamed. He braked automatically, turning to look at her, leaning towards her, holding out a hand. She shoved his hand aside as he leaned forward again. She hit the door handle behind her, and tumbled backwards out of the car, just as the car picked up speed again, running with the door hanging open.

Arnav watched the brake lights come on. He was breathing harshly through his mouth, his legs pumping as he kept running towards the car. He watched the passenger door open and a bundle - a glittering bundle - rolled out of the car. ‘Khushi!’ he screamed, rushing to towards the bundle. She was lying motionless on the road.

Pat rushed by and then stopped. The car had left the lot, and screeched away towards the main road. She memorized the number, taking out her PDA and quickly punching the number into it.

Arnav was sitting in the middle of the road, holding Khushi in his arms. She had blacked out again. ‘Khushi? Khushi! Open your eyes. Please, Khushi. Open your eyes. It’s okay. You’re safe. I’m here. Please, Khushi... Khushi?’ he was frantic, patting her cheeks, kissing her hands, begging her, pleading with her.

NK crouched in front of him. ‘Nannav. Let’s get her inside,’ he said. Arnav nodded, picking up her limp body in his arms, cradling her like china. They walked in a little procession back to the hotel, entering through a side door. Arnav led the way, unable to take his eyes off her pale face. There were smudges of blood on her face, a cut on her hair line, and her face was streaked with dust. Her blouse had one torn sleeve. They headed to the service elevators.

He handed her over to Jaime, only to feel the tug on his collar. Her fingers had curled into his lapel. Gently he untangled her fingers, before pulling his phone out of his pocket. Not for one moment did his eyes leave her face. He called the manager first, to ask him to come to the service elevators with the master keys.

The manager came running up after a little while. He let them into the elevator, looking worriedly at Arnav’s stern face and clenched jawline. The ride up was silent. Someone was going to be in big trouble, he thought. They went up to her room.

‘Get the doctor up here, now,’ Arnav said to him, before entering her room.

Jaime had laid her down on the bed. She was breathing shallowly, her pale face stark against her black hair. He sat down on the bed next to her, taking her slim hand in his, rubbing it as if to give her some of his warmth.

‘Mr. Raizada,’ he looked up. Pat stood in front of him. She held her shoes in one hand, the designer dress pooling around her feet. At some point she’d kicked them off to run faster. ‘I got the number of the car. I need to find the commissioner and give it to him. But keep her here, we’ll need to ask her some questions when I get back,’ she added.

He nodded dully, his eyes hollow.

‘Nannav, we have to get down to the reception. People will be wondering where we are. All of us.’ NK was being pragmatic for a change, but that completely escaped Arnav.

‘I can’t leave her,’ he said, his eyes never leaving her face. ‘You’ll go ahead. If anyone asks, she spilt something on her dress and we came upstairs for her to change.’ NK nodded. It was best that nobody knew the little drama that had taken place.

‘Sir,’ the manager had come back again, this time with the doctor. ‘The doctor is here.’

Reluctantly, Arnav got up and made way for the doctor. He examined her, and put some antiseptic on her wounds. They weren’t very bad. Arnav looked around to see that Pat had already left with NK and Jaime. The doctor gave her a shot and said, ‘she’s not hurt that bad. I think she has’- at that moment Khushi coughed. They both turned towards her. She was coughing and retching a little. Quickly Arnav picked her up in his arms and took her to the bathroom. She retched dryly into the toilet bowl with just the juice dribbling out.

The doctor handed over a glass of water. ‘Has she eaten anything?’ he asked.

‘Khushi? Have you eaten anything?’ Arnav asked her. She shook her head.

‘Just juice,’ she said. Arnav looked at the doctor.

‘It’s probably because she had it on an empty stomach. At first I thought it was ipecac, but it doesn’t look that way to me.’ They both helped her stand and walk back to the bedroom, leaning on Arnav.

She lay down again, and the doctor said, ‘Ms. Gupta, how long has it been since you last ate?’

‘Last night,’ she whispered. Arnav looked at her. Why?

‘She needs to eat right now,’ said the doctor. ‘Something like a hot soup. Nothing heavy. After an hour or so, she needs to eat again. Try to avoid a heavy meal tonight. Just light stuff,’ he advised. 'Can you get some food up here, Mr. Raizada?’

‘Sure,’ he looked at her, a slow anger bubbling up to replace the adrenaline that had been coursing through his veins.

The doctor prescribed some pain killers should she need it. The manager had been waiting in the living room, and Arnav handed over the prescription to him as well as instructions on what food to get for them. The man went away, wondering how long the calm before the storm would last. He’d seen it in Mr.Raizada’s stormy eyes. Someone was going to be on the receiving end of it. He was just glad it wasn’t him, for now, at least.

Arnav and Khushi sat in uncomfortable silence after the manager left. She was leaning against the headboard, eyes closed, face pale. He watched her for a few minutes, the nerve in his jaw ticking. Then, he said, ‘Khushi?’

She opened her eyes, they looked so tired! His anger drained away just as quickly as it had risen.

‘Why didn’t you eat, Khushi?’

‘There was so much to do, I forgot,’ she replied in a low voice.

‘And why did you leave Jaime and NK’s side?’ the steel was back in his voice, but it was low. ‘I told you to stick with them, Khushi.’

‘I know, but I didn’t think that in a crowd as big as this, anything would happen..’ her voice trailed off, eyes closing.

‘It’s exactly in crowds as big as these things happen, Khushi,’ he gritted out. He took a deep breath trying to get a handle on his short fuse. ‘Dammit, Khushi. Do you know how scared I was when I couldn’t find you?’ He held her shoulders. Her eyes flew open. ‘Do you have any idea what I’ve gone through this last half-hour? I can’t take anything happening to you, do you understand that?’ His eyes flared in anger, but she missed it. ‘I promised your father I’d keep you safe, Khushi, and today, I ...’ he bit off the rest.

Her head was bowed, but she nodded anyway. He had the right to be so angry. She’d explicitly ignored his instructions. She just wished he wouldn’t be so angry right now. She felt drained, with no energy left to battle him. Tears filled her eyes as she raised her head and looked at him.

One look from those tear-drenched eyes and he was undone. Sucker! said the imp, grinning.

He reached out and gathered her into his arms. ‘Shhh! It’s okay.’ He rocked her a little, as she laid her head on his chest. His hand came up to cradle her head.

‘Khushi, we need to get you changed,’ she nodded. ‘Do you have more clothes here?’

‘I’ll wear the same outfit I was wearing before,’ she said. He nodded.

The doorbell interrupted them. He went to the door and opened it. The manager stood outside with another waiter, pushing a dinner trolley in front of him. The food and the medicines had arrived. He took the trolley and shut the door behind him, before wheeling it into the bedroom.

‘Arnav, I can come there,’ she was starting to get out of bed.

He held her back. ‘Stay there. You need to rest a bit. Eat first and then you can change,’ she nodded more than glad to comply. He made her sit comfortably on the bed, plumping up pillows behind her back, before taking the covers off the dishes. He picked up a spoon and the bowl of chicken soup and held out a spoonful to her. She took it. Their eyes met and both remembered the very first time they’d shared a meal in this same hotel. He smiled at her as the memory came flooding back. ‘No se tu,’ he said.

She smiled back at him, but held up her hand against the next spoonful. ‘Have you eaten?’ she said. ‘You know you can’t afford to miss a meal.’

‘I’ll eat later,’ he said.

She picked up the other spoon from the tray and dipped it in the bowl, holding it out to him. He looked at her as he too took the bite from her. They sat there, wrapped in their own little world, eating soup and feeling ridiculously happy at where they were, not wanting to move from their special little haven.

Once the soup was done, she ate a few of the grapes in another bowl, feeding him some, while he shook out her medication. She swallowed the pills down, and then he helped her up. ‘Can you change by yourself?’ he asked. She nodded.

He went to the living room, and left the door slightly ajar so he could hear her if she needed anything, or if she felt faint again. ‘Arnav,’ she called him. ‘Can you come here please?’

He walked into the bedroom to see her almost dressed, her back to him. She couldn’t tie the dori of her choli. The scrape on her elbow was making it difficult for her to bend her hand. He took the ends of the string and started tying them, swallowing as he viewed the pale perfection of her back, with only the scar to mar it. His fingers felt like thumbs and he was having a hard time tying the intricate knot. Her head was bent, the back of her neck just begging to be kissed. Before he could stop himself, he bent down and placed his lips on her neck. She gasped at the touch. His fingers were like fire on her skin as he trailed them down her spine and up again.

He finished tying the knot and gently turned her around. She still looked very pale, he thought. He bent down and gently placed a kiss on her lips. ‘Just a second,’ he said as he remembered something. He picked up his jacket in the living room and searched through the pockets till he found it. The necklace swung from his fingers. Gently he placed it on her neck, and fastened it. His fingers trailed across her skin as he straightened the chain. The backs of his fingers brushed against her chest as he lifted the pendant and placed it squarely in the middle. He noticed the slight pink in her cheeks and smiled.

Nicely done, dude, said the imp. He was annoyed. This imp was getting to him, he thought and it was time to put him away. He opened a closet door, shut the imp up in it and locked it. Hah!

The doorbell rang just then and he went to answer it. Pat and Bhardwaj stood there. ‘Come in,’ he said. Khushi had come out of the bedroom right behind him. The four of them sat down.

‘Khushi, what happened?’ said Pat.

‘I was looking for a waiter to get drinks for Jiji and Jiju. ..’ she began, and told her side of the story.

‘What did he look like, the man in the car?’ asked Pat.

‘I don’t know, he had a mustache and glasses and very short hair,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘I didn’t get a very good look at him, but I think I’ve seen him before,’ she added.

Disguise, thought Pat.

‘How did you know to find her, Arnav?’ said Bhardwaj.

This time it was Arnav’s turn to explain how he figured out Khushi was missing. He explained about feeling lightheaded and Khushi looked at him in alarm. No one had mentioned that he’d been feeling sick, too. He recounted the rest of the story, but Bhardwaj knew most of it anyway, having been briefed by Pat on the way up.

‘What did the doctor say about Khushi?’ asked Bhardwaj.

‘He thought at first, that she’d been given ipecac. But turns out it was just an empty stomach.’

‘And you? what about your lightheadedness?’

Arnav had the grace to look ashamed a little as he said, ‘I didn’t tell the doctor.’

‘Let’s meet tomorrow morning. Can you get the security footage from the parking lot? We also need to have the names and addresses of the wait staff hired on duty today. We’ll probably need to question them. Pat has already provided the license plate for the car, so we have quite a few things to work off of. I don’t think there will be any more trouble tonight. In any case, just stay close to him, and you should be okay.’ this last to Khushi. ‘Let’s meet tomorrow morning.’

Arnav and Khushi nodded. ‘We’ll be there,’ he answered for both of them. ‘I think we should go downstairs now.’

Khushi tugged on his arm as he made to follow them out. ‘What?’

‘I need to talk to you,’ she mimed. He looked at her frowning.

‘Please go ahead. Khushi and I will be down in a minute.’ He shut the door behind them and said again, ‘What, Khushi?’

‘You were feeling sick? and you never told me?’

‘Khushi, it’s not important, I’m fine now.’

‘Its not fine, Arnav. The doctor was here, he could have checked you, too,’ hands on hips, eyes afire with worry and anger. ‘You can’t ignore yourself, Arnav. How are you going to look out for everybody if you don’t take care of yourself?’

‘It’s no big deal, Khushi. Look, I’m okay now, alright?’

She was not alright with it and she told him so. ‘Why were you feeling light headed? If it wasn’t your blood sugar?’

‘I don’t know, Khushi,’ he was exasperated now and just wanted her to drop the topic. ‘I was looking for you and I couldn’t see you and then, all of a sudden, I felt light headed and dizzy.’ He stopped, his own words echoing in his ears. He’d started feeling dizzy the same time as she was being attacked! It was weird, but it was true. He’d felt like his whole world was tilting, literally when he couldn’t find her. His heart started pounding again.

He pulled her into his arms, willing himself to calm down. ‘Khushi, don’t ever do that to me again, okay? That was the biggest scare of my life,’ he confessed.

‘I won’t,’ she whispered as she snuggled into his arms.

‘Shall we?’ she nodded. They headed out the door together.

****

Dinner was in full swing when they joined the celebrations below. They made their way to the family table where two seats had been kept for them on either side of Payal and Akash.

‘Where were you?’ asked Payal sotto voce.

‘Changing, Jiji. I dropped juice on my other outfit so I had to change,’ she shrugged and smiled brightly at her sister.

‘So, what was Arnav doing with you all this time?’

‘Arnav? ah... nothing.. he just accompanied me. That’s all,’ she ad libbed, just loud enough for Arnav to hear.

Payal gave her a coy smile and said, ‘is that all?’

‘Yes, jiji,’ Khushi pretended to be interested in the food on the table. ‘What else will there be?’ She turned to her sister, ‘besides, shouldn’t you be thinking of your suhaag raat tonight?’

Payal gasped and turned a bright pink, suddenly losing all interest in her food.

Khushi smiled in triumph. At least that had got her sister off her back, she thought. She looked at Arnav on the other side of Akash and he looked up at her at the same time. She picked up a spoon and helped herself to some veggies, he already had some on his plate. She speared a piece and put it in her mouth, and watched in fascination as he mirrored her actions. They smiled at each other, oblivious to the interested looks from Lavanya and NK and Jaime.

Rani Sahiba watched her from three tables away. She’d seen Arnav and Khushi walk in together, and Khushi had changed into another lehenga. Wonder what happened to the old one? she thought idly. She looked around, but couldn’t spot Shyam. Where the hell was he? She hadn’t seen him for a while, she thought. In fact, she hadn’t seen him in the last hour. She checked her phone again. Nothing. But just then, a text message flashed. ‘Hd to lv. Will call u ltr 2nite.’ She frowned. Had to leave? What had happened to Shyam? She was hoping against hope that he had not done something foolish. Something extremely foolish. With a sinking heart, she realized that he probably had done so.

4 comments:

  1. I loved this whole chapter, nothing drastic happened yet the relationship moved a lot,, i loved the whole personal equation..

    -Jhalak

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  2. And the plot thickens... loving it ! Loving the quick updates as well !!!

    So the bollywood blood in my veins was wrong... and he wasn't drugged... it was his "saansein ruk jayengi" moment... and you explained it quite well here !!!

    Loved the Rabba Vey moments in the room and on the dining table... I could just hear the BG music while reading / visualizing !!!


    39 please !!!! Pronto ! :-)

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  3. hola babe ... hmmm .. loved the "connection" u created here ... love the unravelling of Arnav .. i am loving ur interpretation of the "accident" scene ... do i need to say .. extremely well written .. take that as a given .. hm so rani sahiba still "is " at the function.. while shyam has flown the coop .. very interesting .. also .. i see u cudnt resist .. making shyam the "foolish" villain .. neways .. waiting waiting waiting .. for the next update ..

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  4. Thank goodness Pat was around to get the number plate. Im glad Khushi escaped, but the light headedness that Arnav felt was definitely Khushi being taken. Fortunatly the other guests don't know anything about it.

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