Walking on Egg Shells
Shyam Manohar Jha lay on his bed his arms full of his wife’s curvaceous body, his mind full of Khushi Kumari Gupta’s delicious one. He was surprised at himself. He loved Anjali. Well, as much as he was capable of love, that is. But Khushi ... She was another story altogether.
It was a pity that he hadn’t been able to sit next to her at the movies, but he’d enjoyed watching her. He didn’t even know what the movie was all about, all he knew was that she enjoyed it and he enjoyed it .. for completely different reasons.
Khushi ... he drew a deep breath as the vision of her in red floated into his mind’s eye, once more. There was something so untouched about her, so innocent. He wanted to have that innocence for himself. He wanted to touch that untouched cheek and watch it blush, as she seemed to do so often. He wanted to feel those lips under his, he thought as he licked his lips unconsciously. Oh, he wanted to teach her so much .. because he knew she was unschooled. There was a fire in her, and he wanted to be the one to touch it, burn in it, be reduced to ashes in it. He had to have her.
In another room in the Raizada mansion, Arnav Singh Raizada lay on his bed, watching the play of light outside his windows reflected from the soft ripples in the pool. His promise to his Nani was playing on his mind, as was Khushi’s strange behavior. Something had happened between her and Anjali in the restroom, he was sure of it, but he hadn’t had the chance to have it out with her. It wasn’t like her to keep things from him, yet she’d gone out of her way to not speak to him.
He sighed. He’d have to provide Nani an answer soon, about himself and Khushi. Either that or end the relationship - whatever it was.
There was a reason that he’d kept her away from wagging tongues and scurrilous eyes. He knew what his reputation was as far as girls were concerned and it had never bothered him before; he’d shown off his trophy girl friends, casually displaying them in all his circles, except his family. But Khushi wasn’t like that - she couldn’t be lumped with those girls. He wanted to protect her from any fallout this relationship might have. He knew how important a woman’s reputation was, and Khushi’s was impeccable. He never knew when and how they’d gone from fighting with each other to this point, that he would actually care about her reputation.
He smiled as he admitted this to himself. From calling her gold-digger to caring about her. Life was never boring with Khushi around. She kept him on his toes - mentally and emotionally. Yeah, Arnav Singh Raizada admitting to his emotional needs was not something that anyone would be privy to. Except ... perhaps to Khushi. He’d also never been celibate in a relationship before, but knowing her, understanding her morals and principles, he knew he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t force his own selfish needs over her beliefs. And so, he’d set those needs and desires on a back burner, for the very first time in his life. Yes, they’d kissed, kisses that left him starved for more of her, kisses to which she responded with all her innocence and all her passion, but he’d never taken it further, knowing the onus was on him to show restraint. And it was getting harder and harder for him to pull back every single time.
But they were at a point now where he needed to take that decision. Needed to make sure he didn’t hurt her, because hurting her would be hurting himself tenfold. Which brought him back full circle. Why was she hurting today? He’d have to find out tomorrow, first thing.
Khushi’s tears were always his undoing.
Khushi Kumari Gupta, the woman who occupied so much of two men’s thoughts, lay in bed wide awake, watching her sister sleep peacefully with a smile on her face. Probably dreaming about Akash sir ... oops ... Jeejaji, she thought. Lucky her. Her Prince Charming had come riding out of the blue and carried her away. While her’s? Yes he did ride a white steel horse, but he hadn’t carried her away, yet. Would he ever? Anjali’s words in the bathroom had been like an ice-cold shock to her system. She’d known about Arnav’s girl friends, it wasn’t like it was a big secret. But somehow to hear herself lumped with those other women had been like a reality check. It had been more than a month since their relationship had taken a turn. When he’d started looking at her like someone he was attracted to, someone he wanted to spend time with, talk to - someone special. They’d gotten to know each other over late night dinners and quiet moments at work.
She wondered why he’d kept their whole relationship a secret, why he made such a big deal about not letting anyone know about them. Was he ashamed of being seen with her? Insecurity gnawed at her innards. She knew she didn’t measure up to those other women that he’d seen before her. She wasn’t beautiful and she wasn’t tall and leggy and elegant. She was just clumsy and awkward and talked nineteen to the dozen. Was that why? She knew he wasn’t dating anyone else, as his PA she knew what went on in his life for eight-ten-twelve hours a day. She didn’t understand why he’d never wanted to go further than kissing her. She touched her lips, feeling her heart start to race at the thought of those kisses, the feel of his stubble under her fingers, the silk of his hair on her throat. She swallowed hard as a lone tear trickled down her cheek. What was she going to do? This uncertainty was painful. She couldn’t bear to be away from him, and yet ... if she had to, she knew she would. She just hoped Devi Mayya would give her the strength to do so.
Mid-week saw the Guptas coming over to the Raizada’s to hand over Payal’s kundali. Yes, the kundalis had to be matched because wedding dates needed to be fixed, even though the wedding was already a foregone conclusion. Anjali and Mami greeted Shashi, Garima and Payal as they walked in. They gathered in the lounge talking desultorily about the wedding preps, while Payal’s eyes wandered over her future home. She was a bit taken aback at the size of the house. She knew Akash was Arnav’s brother, but she’d never quite imagined the luxurious life-style that she would now have to adapt to. Her first taste had been the shopping spree. Now this? She was, in a word, tongue-tied.
‘Anjali,’ said Nani, during a lull in the conversation. ‘Why don’t you call Akash and see if he can make it back a little soon today? Perhaps he’d like to spend some time with Payal?’
The Guptas were startled at this, but Nani smiled gently at them. She was an incredibly astute woman and she had seen the slightly intimidated look on Payal’s face when she saw the house, and her over-the-top mother-in-law-to-be. Time to get the girl comfortable here.
‘Sure thing, Nani,’ Anjali chirped and picking up the phone dialed Akash.
Akash was ostensibly working on a file, wondering how to dig out the information about his brother’s love life. The only person who knew would be Aman and he was pretty sure that that man would be tight-lipped about his boss. But it was worth a shot.
He picked up the phone and dialed Aman. ‘Aman, can you step in to my cabin for a bit?’ he asked politely.
‘Sure, Akash,’ Aman said.
He came into the pleasant, sunshiny room and sat down on a chair facing the desk, when Akash gestured him to do so.
‘Aman,’ Akash fumbled. How to get the conversation to that point? ‘Ah! Do you know what Bhai is working on?’
Aman raised his eyebrows in surprise. What the?! He didn’t say it aloud as that particular expression was reserved for his boss, so he said it only mentally.
‘I mean,’ Akash began again. ‘Bhai has been working late of late. Do you know what’s keeping him late....?’ his voice trailed off. ‘Ummm... these dinners....?’ he trailed off again, and cleared his throat. ‘I mean. umm...’ what the heck do I really mean? he thought mentally tugging on his tight almost-afro curls, and trying his hardest to look authoritative. ‘So .. er .. who’s he seeing these days?’ he bent his head, picked up a pen and started scribbling on a file, before looking over his glasses at Aman.
Aman stared at him with a blank expression. ‘I have no idea, Akash. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some things to attend to.’ With that, he pushed back his chair and walked out of the room.
Akash slumped back in his chair and glared at the ceiling for a full minute before the trilling of the phone brought him back to earth. He picked it up and said ‘Hello. Akash Singh Raizada speaking,’ before his ears were assailed by his Di’s sweet voice.
‘Akash, the Guptas have come over, and we’ve asked them to stay for dinner. Can you come over a little early? And tell Chotey too, please.’
Neki and ask, ask!! thought Akash. Payal was over and he wasn’t spending another minute in the office.
‘I’ll be there soon, Di,’ he said calmly into the phone, while quickly shutting down his laptop. In the midst of his tap-dancing heart beats, he forgot that Anjali never mentioned bringing Khushi over. In fact, Khushi was not even on his mind.
Aman rapped on the door to ASR’s cabin and waited to hear a ‘Come’, before he walked in. Thankfully, Khushi was nowhere in sight. He shut the door before walking up to Arnav who was looking at him with questioning eyes.
‘Akash was asking me about your latest girl friend,’ he stated bluntly.
Arnav raised his eyebrows. Knowing where this man’s loyalty lay was enough for him. He knew Akash would have got nothing from him.
‘Thanks, Aman,’ he said, with a tiny lift of his lips.
Aman’s lips twitched at the corner, an excuse for a smile. He was after all, in many ways, like his boss.
Another knock sounded on the door, and Akash popped his head in, before stepping inside and shutting the door.
Arnav narrowed his eyes, and watched as Akash’s face almost matched the color of his baby-pink shirt.
Akash cleared his throat, threw an uneasy glance at Aman’s bland face and said, ‘Bhai, Di called. The Guptas are over at our place and will be staying for dinner. She wanted me to tell you to come home early today. Er.. that is, can you come home early?’ his voice seemed to be settled into a trailing off pattern today.
Arnav nodded, ‘Sure. I’ll leave in about half-an-hour. Are you leaving now?’
Akash slid out the door again. Aman nodded to Arnav and left as well. He headed down to Khushi’s desk and said, ‘be ready to leave in half an hour. Your family is at Shantivan for dinner.’
Khushi stared at Aman’s retreating back and thought, now what? She couldn’t avoid it. Perhaps if Akash sir were there... Following through, she dialed his extension, but the phone rang and rang. Akash had left. She had no choice. She would have to face Arnav today and she was not looking forward to it.
Arnav sat back in his chair, a worried frown on his face. On the surface, things between him and Khushi had seemed okay. She still checked to make sure that he had his meds and his food. She still brought him his morning cup of coffee. She was polite to him, worked tirelessly with him. But for the past few days, she’d left earlier than him, giving him no option than to go home on time. There’d been no dinners, no quiet conversations. He was stumped. Stumped and mad because she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong! Was that too much to ask? Well, today was just her lucky day, wasn’t it?
Shyam was poring over some legal contracts when he heard the distinctive chimes of his wife’s call, a ringtone he’d set up so he knew it was she and no one else.
‘Shyamji,’ she said cheerily, ‘when are you getting home?’
‘I’ll leave in a bit, Rani Sahiba. Why? Is something the matter?’ his voice oozed concern.
‘Nothing like that. It’s just that the Gupta’s have come and they will be staying for dinner. So make sure you’re home on time, okay?’ she said.
‘Oh, of course, Rani Sahiba,’ hoping he didn’t sound overly enthusiastic about it. The Guptas equalled Khushi. How could he miss it?
He quickly ended the call and wrapped up his day. Khushi. She was calling to him. His blood raced through his veins and his heart raced in tandem.
Then he stopped and sat up in his chair. How was he going to go about this? He was married. Her sister was marrying his Saalaa. How on earth was he going to do what he wanted to do? He had no idea. All he knew was that given a little time, just a little time, he would think of a way. He always did. That’s why he was a lawyer, and good one at that.
With that cheerful thought, Shyam walked out of the office, swinging his bag in time with the tune running through his mind. ‘Daiyya ho’.
Khushi sat stiffly in the car while Arnav drove swiftly through the streets. He hadn’t looked at her once, and the sneak-peek she’d taken of his face left her in no doubt that he was furious for some reason. This avatar of him always scared the heck out of her, and especially today - since she knew that in some ways, her behavior was the root of his anger.
They were half-way up the drive to Shantivan when he squealed to a stop, shoved the gear into neutral, turned to her and snarled, ‘What the hell is going on, Khushi?’