Friday, November 9, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 50

50 Chapters! I can’t believe it ... that I’ve persevered for so long! The sense of satisfaction is unbelievable. Thanks to all of you that have read and commented and liked this story.

A word about this chapter and the next ones. 


This chapter is dedicated to Allan Morhart - my friend and colleague. Dude, you gave me the twist - the one I needed so badly. So thank you for that excellent male perspective!! There’s only so much a woman can do.

********

He screeched to a halt in front of the portico at Raizada Mansion. She put a hand on his arm, trying to understand what was wrong with him. Pointedly, he looked at her hand and removed it.

‘Arnav, I-‘ she began but he cut her short.

‘It doesn’t matter, Khushi. What’s important to you is your career and your life in the States. You’ve said it. There’s nothing more to be said.’ His voice was flat, devoid of emotions. Then he was out of the car and walking up to the door without even waiting to see if she got out.

She watched him go, anger slowly starting to fan inside her. Flags flaming in her cheeks, she got out of the car, banging the door shut behind her. She marched to the front door just in time to have it slam shut in her face. She threw it open, walked in and slammed it shut behind her.

He marched off to his bedroom, barely hearing the ‘Chotey?’ from his sister in the lounge.

She huffed off to her room, not registering the ‘Khushi?’ from her sister.

The two sisters looked at each other and Anjali said, ‘What the?! What happened? Why are they mad at each other again?’

Payal shook her head, just as much bewildered by her sister. ‘I don’t know, Di. But I’ve never seen Khushi get so angry so often with someone. He just seems to rub her the wrong way.’

‘Well, they’re just going to have to work it out, won’t they?’ Anjali said philosophically.

Payal nodded. She was a new bride in this house, and she didn’t know her brother-in-law all that well, but she knew her sister. Something big had to have happened for her to be so mad at him especially given that he had been so concerned for her and her safety. Obviously, shopping had been the last thing on their minds.

Khushi and her parents left for Indira Gandhi International Airport at six the next morning. She had come over to the hotel late the previous night, having said her goodbyes to the Raizada, including one Mr.Arnav Singh Raizada who only said curtly, ‘take care, Khushi,’ before turning around and going back to his room. He hadn’t even slammed the door, this time. Their flight to Munich was at nine-thirty in the morning, and it was on time.

She stretched out in her seat and fell asleep almost immediately having lain awake almost all night, the night before. Her parents had taken one look at her face, and decided to let her be. They knew she would talk when she was ready for it. She awoke somewhere over the Middle East, and stared out of the window as she forced herself to eat and drink. Water, she knew was her friend on a flight. She was still reeling from yesterday. He had gone from passionate, caring lover to somebody who she didn’t even recognize. She swallowed the tears down, unwilling to let anyone see her be so weak.

For four years she’d lived in the shadow of a horrible memory and a fear that cowed her in the daylight. He had brought her out of it. Given her shelter, taken care of her, and somewhere during that process, she’d come to love this taciturn, grumpy man, who could make her heart beat like no one else. She didn’t even know when she’d fallen in love. All she knew was with every minute she was going further and further away from him, and her heart was hurting her. Physically aching inside her rib cage.

She loved his ways, she thought, a smile lifting the corner of her mouth as she relived those moments at the farmhouse. She laid her hand on her stomach, wondering if she could be pregnant. They hadn’t bothered with precautions, too lost in the moment to think of such mundane things. She loved looking into his eyes, losing herself in those caramel pools that darkened when he looked at her. She loved his husky voice that felt like rough silk every time he said her name – so full of ownership, so full of passion when he .. she swallowed.

Okay. So she was in love. She’d thought about it, wondered about it, and a few times had even wondered if this was it.

With Arnav, she had no doubts, no wondering. All that there was, was certainty. She loved him. She was in love with him. It should have been the happiest moment of her life. Instead, she was breaking into a million pieces inside. She never doubted that he felt something for her. But what? Why couldn’t he articulate what he felt?

Damn the man, she stirred restlessly in her seat. He knew how to push her buttons. Why had they even fought? What was she thinking? If he had held out his arms, then she would have come running into them. What she had wanted from him was an acknowledgement of what made Khushi, Khushi. He needed to understand her need to express herself through her clothes. That all that she worked so hard for, was not something meaningless. It had meaning. It had made her who she was. That was all she had wanted from him. Was that so hard for him to understand?

Fresh tears sprung to her eyes and she blinked them away, looking down at the glistening Alps below. Soon, she would be back in San Francisco, she thought. Then what? She didn’t have an answer. She hoped she would have one soon.

Arnav had woken up with a sense of foreboding running through his head. She was leaving today! He looked at the time – seven a.m. Time to make it to the airport if he wanted to. He lay there unmoving, eyes closed. The numbers on the digital readout seemed to be moving in slow motion, they changed so slowly. But with each passing minute he was aware that he was giving up something that he should have fought for. Made her understand what she meant to him – and maybe what he meant to her. It was agonizing to lie in bed and think like this, but he couldn’t bring himself to get up and get out the door. At eight-thirty, he finally moved, getting up, feeling the soreness in his ribs, and went into the shower. He stood for the longest time under it, letting the warmth of the spray wash away the sleepless night. Finally, he got out and toweled himself dry.

The chapter of Khushi in his life was over. He was moving on.

***

The fashion show was still two weeks away. Four weeks since she’d left. He’d been working round the clock getting things organized. Lavanya, as usual, in situations like these, was brilliant. They’d been flying back and forth from Mumbai where the show was to be held, to Delhi. The fact remained that with all that was going on, all the pressure on him, he hated having a moment alone. Alone meant time to think. Time to think invariably meant thoughts of Khushi. Not a day went by when he didn’t reach for the phone at least once to call her, only to stop himself. He didn’t realize that he went around like a bear with a sore head, snapping and snarling at everyone in reach. Particularly, poor Aman - who bore a greater part of the brunt of his temper. At home too, his Nani was getting tired of his attitude. He was never home. If he wasn’t in Mumbai, he was at his office, leaving early and coming home late, working weekends. It was a mercy that he remembered to take his medication. Payal was quiet around him, and though she kept quiet, she wondered if she should tell him the news that she was getting from home. He never asked about Khushi.

For the first time in his life, Arnav Singh Raizada was slowly coming apart at the seams.

Aman was worried about his boss. ASR had become almost impossible to work with. As usual, he never asked because his boss was almost maniacal about his private life. But lately, it had been worse. He walked into his office, not expecting anything to be different, just because he hadn’t yelled ‘Aman!’ in the last half hour.

‘ASR,’ he said, ‘Just wanted to remind you, you have that conference call with Sergio in half-an-hour.’

Arnav nodded absently. Half an hour later, he was sitting in the conference room talking to Sergio discussing the final designs. Some of Khushi’s designs had been included in the collection. He would recognize them anywhere, he thought, that delicate touch that she had, the almost dreamy look to every design. She was different and it showed in her work. At the end of the conference, he asked the question that he was dreading the answer to.

‘Sergio, I’m assuming your designers are coming with you?’

‘Yes, they are. Of course, KKG won’t be there.’

He frowned. ‘Why?’ before he could stop himself.

‘She handed in her papers soon after she came back from India. Last Friday was her last day.’

‘I see. Where did she go?’ he wanted to know, so badly. What was going on with her?

‘A little boutique design shop. They have an outlet in San Francisco, but they are contracted to Sergio Madrid for designs and they also make the clothes for the Sergio Madrid brand.’

‘What’s the name of the shop?’ he asked quietly.

‘The Feminine Divine,’ replied Sergio. ‘I’m surprised she hasn’t spoken to you about it!’

‘No, she hasn’t,’ said Arnav. ‘I’ve been very busy with the show and other work that I have got going on.’

‘Ah! understandable, amigo,’ Sergio sat at his desk, scratching his chin and thinking. What happened between those two? He sighed. He had better things to do than worry about his partner’s interest in his ex-designer.

As soon as the call was over, Aman heard a very familiar yell of ‘Aman!’ He rushed into his boss’ room. ‘Aman, I need you to do something for me. It’s confidential,’ said ASR.

***

Twenty days later.

It was eight in the morning, and Arnav was already on his second cup of coffee. The fashion show was over. It had been an incredible success and the response they had received was beyond expectation. He was happy about that - at least as happy as he could be these days. He had returned from Mumbai late list night, and he’d come in to work, early this morning.

He scrolled through the innumerable emails in his box, deleting more than half of them. He really should get Aman to clean up his box once in a while, he thought. He refused to acknowledge that the only reason why he didn’t let Aman do so was because he kept hoping that she would write. Something. Anything. Hello. Hi. It didn’t matter. But the email never came.

Suddenly, a familiar name caught his eye. NK. Subject: News. He frowned and clicked it open.

Hey Bro. How goes it? We’re all fine here. This time of the year the weather is absolutely marvelous. (And this is news, how? he thought) By the way, some big news here. Khushi’s marriage is almost finalized. The boy’s family had come to meet them yesterday, and they loved her. How could they not? She’s the sweetest thing in the world. Evidently, the boy is not here in the US right now. He’s over in Europe on a project. But he’ll be coming to visit next month, and if all goes well, they’ll be getting married within a few weeks after that. I am so excited. She deserves to be happy after all that she has gone through (Underlined). Otherwise, things are good. Don’t bother giving Lavanya a kiss from me, bro. I’ll do it in person next time I see her. Talk to you soon. NK.

A red haze was forming over his eyes. He slammed the laptop shut and sat there, coiled as tight as a spring, fists curling and uncurling. His mind was blank - empty - a void. He couldn’t breathe. He loosened his tie, trying to get a lungful of air. He hurt in his chest. He closed his eyes, leaning back, slowly calming down. That’s what she had wanted. To stay in the US. With her career. Her family. Well, she was getting it, wasn’t it? So why was it intolerable for him? Why were there tears in his eyes?

It was this scene that Aman walked into, when he came in an hour later. ASR, leaning back, his face ravaged in pain. ‘ASR? You okay?’ he asked.

Arnav slowly opened his eyes. He swallowed and nodded, took a deep breath and said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ He sat up, ‘get me the file on the Mehra contract, will you?’ he said quietly.

Aman nodded and walked out of the room. This was not good. This was not good at all. ASR in such a quiet mode, made him uncomfortable.

Two minutes later, he broke into a happy smile as he heard a familiar, ‘Aman!’ Whew! ASR was back.

****

Khushi walked into the workshop a little late on Monday. This was a wonderful place to work. With around 50 people on the payroll, Feminie Divine was an all-woman outfit. They created the kind of clothes they wanted to wear. In addition, they were the only independent shop that created clothes that carried the prestigious Sergio Madrid brand. As one of the chief designers, she had a lot more freedom with her creativity in this environment.

‘Oh my god! Khushi, do you know what happened?’ asked Pamela, a petite brunette, with a bountiful body and twinkling brown eyes.

‘No, what?’

‘We just got bought out,’ she gasped.

‘What?!‘ Khushi was shocked. ‘How did that happen?’

‘I guess Avery,’ Avery Fisher, the owner of Feminine Divine, ‘was made an offer she couldn’t refuse.’

Khushi was still surprised and wanted to know more. ‘Who bought it? What about our contracts?’

‘Evidently, nothing changes about those. But they are laying off a few people,’ Pamela was biting her lips in nervousness.

‘Wow!’ Khushi flopped into her chair. The newbie on this group. She knew what happened. It was always the newbies that were let go first. She smoothed her hair nervously, and then proceeded to chew on her nails. Her heart was beating rapidly, too fast. It was the nerves, she thought. There was something different in the air. All the girls were almost in a tizzy, trying to figure out who the new boss was and what would happen to them now.

An hour later, Kiara, their temp, came up to her.

‘They want to talk to you,’ she said.

‘Thanks, Kiara,’ she said, getting up and smoothing down the skirt of the chiffon dress she had chosen to wear today. Pale pink patches on a grey background, floating around her knees with little flirty sleeves that capped her upper arm. She took a deep breath and turned around on her bright red pumps and exited the room to take the stairs to the CEO’s office. It wasn’t easy to appear cool and collected when her heart was hammering away in the side of her rib cage.

She knocked on the door, waited a moment and pushed the door open. A steaming cup of coffee sat on the desk. The tall executive chair behind the desk was turned away from her. She cleared her throat and it turned around slowly. Her eyes widened when she saw who it was. Her heart did a somersault.

Arnav Singh Raizada. Here? Her new BOSS?!!

‘You!’ she exclaimed.

‘Ms. Gupta,’ a lop sided humorless smile laced his lips. He waved the file in his hand towards the chair, while uncoiling himself up from the chair. ‘Have a seat. We have a lot to talk about.’

The imp sighed and sat down in the executive chair, picked up a cup of coffee and sipped from it.

‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded.

‘Ms. Gupta, I don’t have all day, so why don’t you take a seat?’

‘Arnav, what’s going on?’ she was still standing staring at him. ‘And who’s this Ms. Gupta Ms Gupta that you’re going on about?’

He regarded her coolly for a second before seating himself. The imp was doing a little dance inside his head, but he wasn’t too worried about the imp now. ‘Khushi, I’m the new owner of Feminine Divine. Now will you sit down please?’

She sat down gingerly, sitting straight in the chair, still unable to understand what was going on. He’d bought this company? How did he do that? But she couldn’t quell the inner happiness bubbling in her. She wanted to throw her arms around him and hug him and kiss him and ...

He could see the thoughts flitting through her head and then her eyes settled on his lips. He was having a hard time sitting still in his chair, when all his instincts wanted to do was to grab her, throw her on the desk and kiss her senseless. Their eyes met, both darkened with the desire, before he looked down at the file in front of me. This had to be done.

‘Ms. Gupta, I’ve been reviewing your designs. I have to admit you’re very good. However, the fact is that you’re very new to the company. I’m in the process of streamlining the operations here. I’m afraid you’re one of the people that is on the shortlist to be laid off.’

She gasped. ‘You’re laying me off?’

‘I’m afraid so, Ms Gupta,’ he dropped her file on the table with finality. ‘You’re fired.’ He was trying so hard not to smile, but she must have seen it in his eyes.

‘And you’re laughing at me?’

‘What? Why would I?’ he asked, before settling back into his CEO persona again. ‘I’m dead serious, Ms. Gupta. You are fired’

Her eyes widened as she realized how serious he was. She thought for a minute. He would do this? Just to screw with her - could he really be this vindictive or go to such lengths?

She stood up, her mouth thinning in a line. ‘Fine. I’ll clean out my desk,’ she spun around and started walking towards the door. She had her hand on the door knob when he called her.

‘Ms. Gupta, you can have your job back, you know,’ he was watching her carefully. She turned around to look at him. He still leant back in his seat, swinging slightly. ‘Go out for dinner with me.’

She swung around fully to look at him, her eyes flashed fire at him. ‘No.’

‘Spend the weekend with me,’ he got up, his voice huskier, as he came around the desk to her.

‘No. and NO!’ she tried hard to ignore the familiar scent of his cologne, her heart doing aerial stunts inside her.

‘Come back to India with me,’ he leaned in close, almost whispering in her ear.

She closed her eyes in despair wanting to say ‘yes!’ to him. ‘No way,’ she opened her eyes and looked straight into his caramel eyes. ‘No.’ It came out a little stronger this time. ‘No, Arnav. I’m not going anywhere with you,’ she said firmly before stepping out the door and shutting it quietly.

He stood there, a wry smile on his face. Okay, Ms Khushi Kumari Gupta, he thought, game on!

Yeah! said the imp pumping his fist in the air.

****

6 comments:

  1. Absolutely loved it.... ASR is ASR and we love him the way he is...

    Won't leave a long comment, as I'm pressed hard for time... But will continue with my demand.... 51 please.... ASAP !!!

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  2. Yes....ASR has come for Khushi!!!!!

    Now....51 51 51 51 51.....

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  3. likey likey.. love this shatir/angr ASR & feisty Khushi ... bring it on chap 51 i say... & thank ur frnd from our side... :)))

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  4. YES!!!!!* fist pumping in air*... and he's back...

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  5. Woa, Arnav, full go get her mode, buys the company out and then sacks her! This is going to be fun

    ReplyDelete

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