Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 52

The ringing of the phone woke her up. It was still dark outside. She looked at the phone - twele thirty - and picked it up. Arnav! What?! Why was he calling her so late? She hit the answer button.

‘Did I wake you up?’ as always he never said a hello like normal people did. But then, Arnav Singh Raizada was not normal people at all!

‘Yes,’ she snapped.

‘Just wanted to tell you. I’ll pick you up around twelve, so we can beat the Friday traffic,’ he said.

‘Arnav, I’m not going anywhere with you,’ she said.

‘See you tomorrow,’ and he hung up.

She looked at the phone in frustration and then smiled a naughty smile. A weekend, huh? Well, he’d get a memorable weekend, too, she thought.

Khushi Kumari Gupta just did not know when to back down, especially not in front of Arnav Singh Raizada.

The next morning she packed her bag.

Flimsy lingerie. Check.

Lacy nightwear. Check.

Come-f**-me heels. Check.

Spaghetti strap evening dress. Check.

Shoestring strapped tops. Check.

Daisy Dukes. Check.

One-piece-that-looks-like-a-Two-piece-Sports-Illustrated-cover swimsuit. Check.

Her arsenal was prepared. She was so ready for this weekend, she thought. On second thoughts, she packed in a sari and another pair of jeans, and a jacket. He hadn’t said where they were going, so she might as well be prepared.

****

He stood by the window having his morning cup of coffee with a croissant, staring out of his window overlooking the bay. To his right he could see the TransAmerica tower, that highlighted the skyline of San Francisco. To his left, the Golden Gate. A smile crossed his features as he remembered the first time he’d crossed that bridge with her. The cloud that had settled across the bridge. The feeling of wanting to be alone with her, for good. So much had happened since then. Their lives has crisscrossed incessantly. Okay, he’d had a hand in that too, he admitted to himself. But from where he stood today, their lives were not going to crisscross anymore. Not if he could help it. Although he was a bit nervous about the weekend ahead. ASR nervous?

Yeah. You’re nervous, dude, said the imp. Just like any other dude in this situation, but you’ll get through it. The imp patted him on the shoulder reassuringly. For once, he took comfort from the imp.

****

He pulled up to her house at exactly twelve noon in the black Corvette convertible, got out and walked to the front door. Anna opened the door to him.

‘Good morning, dear,’ she said. ‘Come on in.’ She gave him a hug, which he returned, before closing the door behind him.

Khushi was coming down the stairs with her bag, when she saw this scene. Her eyes opened wide. Okay, this was really weirding her out. Shashi joined them, shaking hands with the younger man and asking him to have a seat. Arnav hugging her Mom?! Dad being so glad to see him? What was going on?

Ten minutes and a cup of coffee later, he was ushering her out the door, with her bag in his hand. He stowed the bag in the trunk where his bag and glory be! his laptop bag were, before helping her into the low-slung seat. He started the car, put on his aviators and asked, ‘ready?’

She nodded her head. As I’ll ever be, she thought.

He put the car in gear and they took off, heading south on the I-680. She was beginning to enjoy this ride, she thought. Her glance shifted down to his large hand on the gear stick, trailing over to his legs encased in dust-colored dockers, moving up to his chest covered in a white long-sleeved tee that clung lovingly to his impeccably sculpted torso. The sleeves as usual pushed up to reveal his strong forearms. His face. She let herself look at him, taking in her fill of the strong freshly-shaven jawline, the long, proud nose, and those lips - there was a hint of a smile on them, although he was focused on the fast-moving California traffic. She looked away and sighed. She’d missed him. So much. So very much.

He’d been aware of her gaze on him as she had checked him out. He heard her sigh and turned his head. She was leaning back, looking out. There really wasn’t much to see right now, as they were still passing through East Bay.

After about fifteen minutes, she sat up and said, ‘where are we going?’

‘Carmel,’ he replied. ‘I thought we could take the 680-880, cut across on the 17 at Santa Cruz and then along the 1 to Carmel.’

She smiled. She loved Carmel. She loved the quaint little town that it was - even with the constant influx of tourists, it still retained its innate charm. After all, this had been Clint Eastwood’s town!

‘Wouldn’t that be longer?’ she asked.

‘Just a little bit, but the drive is worth it,’ he said. She agreed. Who did not love the Pacific Coast Highway? ‘Are you okay with that?’

‘You’re the driver and you planned the weekend. So you decide how we go,’ she settled back into her seat, remembering she was supposed to be mad at him.

He chuckled. ‘Are you still sulking?’

‘Yes,’ she pouted.

He glanced over at her and said, ‘look, we’ll talk when we get there. Just stop pouting.’

‘Am not.’

He sighed. ‘I can’t pull over here, Khushi.’

She looked at him, her surprise clearly visible through her sunglasses.

‘Pull over? Why?’

He didn’t answer, just smiled that lop-sided smile of his and kept driving. They were almost at San Jose when he said, ‘do you mind waiting to get to Carmel before we have lunch? or do you want to eat earlier?’

‘I’m okay either way,’ she said. Suddenly a thought struck her. ‘Did you have breakfast?’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Why?’

‘No ... nothing.. ‘ wondering why she should feel concerned about his food intake. He was an adult. He should know enough to eat on time and take his medication too.

Highway 17 is one of those drives that most people don’t realize how beautiful it is. It winds through hills, the smell of eucalyptus permeating the atmosphere, towering over the road, throwing shadows and light. It is also the fastest way to get across from Highway 101 to the famous 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway and ends near Monterey merging into the 1.

Arnav swung the car towards Monterey. She looked at him. ‘I thought we could stop for lunch here,’ he said, finding a parking spot near the Marina. He came around to open her door and held a hand out.

She put her hand in his, and swung one leg out of the car, twisting in her seat to get the other one out. He’d noticed the skirt she’d been wearing, but now as he looked down, her skirt hiked up, and he was able to see the full length of her legs snaking their way out of the car, the smooth thighs and velvety calves bunching as she stood up. He was staring at her legs, when the imp knocked him on the head. He raised his eyes and found her looking at him.

She kept her face straight as she realized the effect of her legs on him. Just you wait, she thought with an inner smile. I’ve only just begun.

They found a little pub to have lunch at. Fish and chips. Fresh fish caught from the ocean, fresh hand-cut fries, with malt vinegar, salt and pepper liberally sprinkled on them. Even the tartar sauce was freshly made. Conversation was light, as light as the beer-battered coating on the fish.

Replete, they headed back down the road again. An hour later, they were finally in Carmel. He’d plugged in the address of the hotel he’d booked into the navigation system. They drove through quaint little streets lined with Victorian style gas lamps before pulling up at the hotel.

She gasped with pleasure when she saw it. The exterior was like an old European home. The plastered walls were a light beige color, with olive green painted French windows and doors, adorned with black antique door knobs, wooden framed and glass paned. Red weathered tiles on the roof sloped down to a small patio in front of the main entrance. The hotel had only two floors. They entered through the main doors to a lobby decorated in European style. Antique furniture was arranged tastefully all around.

Registration was quick, and Arnav handed over the car keys for the bell hop to bring their bags and park their car. The receptionist gave them directions to their rooms. Or at least that’s what Khushi thought. He led her out the back doors into a delightful courtyard. Flagged in red brick, it stood at the center of a square. Wrought iron railings and stairs led to the different wings. Colorful flowers bloomed in green window boxes and cheery umbrellas provided shade around the dotted tables and chairs.

‘This is beautiful, Arnav,’ she was looking around her in pleasure.

‘Come,’ he said, leading her up the set of stairs directly across from the lobby. She followed him up the stairs and down the corridor to the last door on the floor. He swiped the key and held open the door for her to enter. Two doors led off from the comfortable yet luxuriously appointed living room on either side. He followed her in and shut the door.

‘You can choose the room you want,’ he said. She looked at him puzzled. ‘It’s a suite. There are two bedrooms. Choose one and I’ll take the other.’

Her breath caught at that. Living in this proximity to him for the next forty-eight hours would be hard! She walked across to the door on the right and opened it. A sprawling king-size bed with a dark imposing head board stood at one wall, covered with a deep scarlet bed spread. Sconces threw light on the white walls, while a big bowl of sunflowers smiled at the window. A large heavy-framed painting adorned one of the walls, facing windows that looked out over the deep azure of the ocean.

‘I’ll take this one,’ she said.

He nodded and strode off towards the other bedroom. She walked into the bathroom and freshened up. Coming into the living room, she saw Arnav tipping the bell boy who’d dropped their bags off. The bell boy left and he picked up her bag.

‘I can take it,’ she offered.

‘Not today,’ he refused, taking her bag into her bedroom and putting it on a luggage stand.

‘Thanks,’ she said.

He picked up his bags from the living room and walked towards his room. ‘Khushi, I’ve got to do some work for a bit. Why don’t you relax and then we’ll go out for dinner?’

She nodded and wandered off to unpack her clothes. Taking out a fresh set of lingerie she went into the bathroom. The claw footed tub looked very inviting. Opening one of the drawers under the sink, she saw sachets of bath salts. Pouring a liberal amount into the tub, she turned on the taps, before she stripped down and pinned her hair up. She left the bathroom door unlocked and settled into the scented foam of the bathtub.

Closing her eyes, she leaned back, resting her head against the tub, allowing herself for the first time to think about what this weekend was all about. He’d been quiet - a lot. More than usual. Not that he was a talkative person. Why had he brought her here? What had he said to her parents that would have allowed them to willingly let her go off on a weekend with him? Her parents weren’t conservative, but they weren’t that liberal either. And why had he bought out Feminine Divine? He knew she worked there - at least, she had worked there until he’d fired her. So what was he playing at? He knew she had to have a job. She wasn’t going back to India just to be close to him for as long as it took him to satisfy his fancy. So what were they doing in Carmel?

Arnav finished his work and shut down his laptop. Everything seemed to be falling in place lately, he thought. Now, if only Ms Khushi Kumari Gupta would fall into place, too, he thought. Showered and fresh, he came into the living room to find it empty. He knocked on her door, but there was no answer. He knocked again and then pushed the door open and stepped into her bedroom. He could smell lilacs. He sniffed again. Yes, definitely lilacs. From where? He went towards the bathroom and knocked.

Khushi sat up at the knock. ‘Who is it?’

‘It’s me, Arnav. Are you okay in there?’

‘Yes. Yes I’m fine,’ she was struggling to get out of the tepid water. ‘Give me five minutes.’

‘Alright,’ he said.

Thirty minutes later, she finally came out of her bedroom to find him standing gazing out at the sea.

‘Arnav?’ she called.

He turned around and stopped. His breath hissed out of his mouth as he saw the vision before his eyes. She was in a dark cyan dress. The only thing holding it up were two thin, almost not-there straps tied at the back of her neck. The loose neckline of the dress hinted at the curves hidden below. A pair of diamond studs glittered in her ears. Her hair fell forwards over one shoulder, with the hint of a wave in it. Deep pink gloss shimmered on her lips. The dress flowed in a sheath and stopped just above her knees. Silver peep-toe high heels complemented the hue of her dress and the small silver rose embroidered on one hip. A sparkling thin silver anklet circled her right foot. A silver clutch bag completed the ensemble. D&G floated in the air, mixed in with the hint of lilacs.

‘Do I look okay?’ She asked with a small smile.

The imp fell backward with a thud!

He smiled and came forward, outwardly calm, but his heart was racing faster than Schumacher’s car and his hands were clammy. His eyes roamed over her dress and he gulped, was she wearing nothing underneath? Khushi like this was ... was .. alien to him! He almost canceled the dinner reservation right then and there. ‘You look perfect,’ he barely got out in a husky tone.

She turned around and headed to the door, and his eyes almost popped out of his head. If the front was gorgeous, the back was stunning. Except she’d let her hair partly flow down her back. Only a few inches just above the waistline hinted at the ivory skin hidden under the hair. He closed his eyes thankful for small mercies!

Dinner was at an elegant French Bistro where the chef created magic out of local ingredients and wines. Live music played on the patio to the patrons dining outside in the garden area. They sat at a table at the edge of the garden. He was happy to see her enjoying both her food and the music. He knew how much she loved music. She whistled at the end of the set while the band took a break. The lead singer had kept looking towards them every now and then, and he’d been aware of that. But tonight was about being on a date, the first time, properly with her, and he wasn’t going to allow anything to spoil it.

But one can only have so many good intentions.

He’d noticed the other men in the place looking at Khushi. She looked stunning today, in a state where stunning women were a dime a dozen. There was a freshness and uniqueness to her beauty that made any red-blooded male turn and look at her twice. He wasn’t aware that he was getting similar looks from the women in the room, though. His focus was Khushi and he was determined to get her smiling and laughing today, and so far things had been going well. Excusing himself just before dessert arrived, he headed to the restrooms.

Ten minutes later when he came out, he was surprised to see Khushi chatting animatedly with the lead singer who was sitting in his chair, leaning forward, holding her hand and she was letting him! Clenching his jaws in fury, he walked over and stood there, towering over the two.

‘Hey, Arnav,’ she smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling like the diamonds in her ears. ‘Meet Jeremy. He’s the lead singer of the band. Jeremy, this is Arnav, my friend.’

‘Hey, man,’ Jeremy stood up, not cowed by the fact that at five-eight he was a good few inches shorter than the older man. He was after all, the lead singer of a band, and egos are naturally big in lead singers. He held out his hand, and Arnav reluctantly shook it. ‘Nice to meet you. Khushi tells me you’re visiting from India. How’re you liking it here?’

‘Good,’ said Arnav, not bothering to correct him - that he’d lived in the States for a while.

‘Great!,’ said the oblivious Jeremy. He took out a card from his back pocket and gave it to Khushi. ‘Khushi, give me a call sometime, hon. I’d definitely like to continue this conversation,’ he winked at her. ‘Gotta go. Work calls.’ He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, before heading off to the raised dais.

Arnav drew in a deep breath and sat down. He was glowering. Khushi smiled at the look on his face. Dessert arrived - for her a chocolate mousse with fresh cream and raspberries, for him a demitasse cup of thick coffee. He frowned at it, noticing she’d tucked the card into her clutch. The rest of the evening went downhill from there.

Khushi was aware of just how angry he was, but she wasn’t worried, at least not yet. They returned to the hotel with her chattering away about the evening, the food, the music. It wasn’t that late, and Arnav had planned to go for a walk along the beach after dinner, but that wasn’t going to happen now. All he wanted was to get back although it was still early. Jealousy and anger are never a good mix and right now, they were warring inside him.

He ushered her into their suite and she stopped short. Big bowls of roses stood on every surface. The lights were turned off, and illumination came from the perfumed candles lit in every nook and cranny. On the coffee table lay an envelope with a single rose lying on it.

‘Arnav,’ she looked around. ‘What’s this?’

‘This,’ he gritted, ‘was for you,’ waving his hand around the room.

‘For me?’

‘Yes. For you. If you hadn’t been making goo-goo eyes at the lead singer, you’d have realized that I’d had a purpose to this evening.’

She stared at him. Finally, she was becoming aware that she’d crossed some sort of mental line.

‘First you wear this .. ,’ he pointed at the dress, ‘this ... dress that has every man looking at you like he would like to jump you. Do you have any idea how stunning you look in that?’ He was not yelling at her, just growling it out, his brows furrowed, eyes narrowed in anger. ‘Then, you flirt with the lead singer of the band. Hon. He calls you HON! Gives you his card. Kisses your hand. And you LET HIM’ his voice was rising now with all the anger and frustration he was feeling. ‘What the hell, Khushi? Do you even understand how that makes me feel?’

She was mad now. She tossed her clutch on the sofa. Hands on hips, leaning forward, finger pointing to his chest. ‘How does it make you feel? I was having fun, for a change. I felt good. That’s how it made ME feel.’ Pointing to herself. ‘It felt good to be appreciated, something you never, ever do.’ She was letting out the frustration of the past weeks and she wasn’t backing down either.

‘Me? Not appreciate you?’ he leaned forward, bringing his face close to hers. ‘Then tell me why I did all this.’ He waved his hand around the room again.

‘You bought out the company I work for and fired me. And I’m supposed to think that’s appreciation?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know what you think, Khushi.’

‘I worked hard to get where I am and you made it all seem so worthless.’

He drew a deep breath to control himself. ‘Because I had a purpose.’

‘Oh really? You think taking away my job helps?’

‘NO!’ he roared, running a hand through his hair, in frustration. ‘That wasn’t it.’

‘Then tell me what it was, Arnav. Make me understand.’

He grabbed her upper arms and pulled her close. Her eyes rounded as she looked at the flames of anger in his narrowed eyes. ‘Why do you think I came back to the States, Khushi?’ She shook her head. He shook her with each sentence. ‘Because I wanted to take you out on the perfect date. Tell you I loved you. Ask you to marry me. That’s why.’ He shoved her back and turned away, before walking into his room and slamming the door shut.


****

4 comments:

  1. Wow, amazing update Mads..enjoyd every sentence...Khushi trying to mk A J & suceeding & all hell breaking loose as he opens up his heart...cant wait for next update... :D

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  2. niranajana: arnav jealoussssss haha so nice...

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  3. This matches "I LOVE YOU, DAMNIT!!!!!" Awwww............

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  4. Dear me... the man needs to control his temper and his jealousy. Doesnt he realise she brought that dress with her... for him... ok to make him go ga-ga but for him none the less. A girl wants her man to make her feel special. But I have to admit and concur with bhooma above, its better than I love you dammmit!

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