A Cross Between Parallels
She chewed on her lips unconsciously as she thought about the deal. The facts and figures buzzed in her head and she went over them again and again. There should be no loopholes. And then she felt the all too familiar intense gaze on her and she looked to the side. She met his steady gaze with a small smile, one that he returned gladly. He raised one eyebrow to ask her how the deal was and she blinked once to tell him that it was as tight as it could get. The Mehras wouldn’t be left with any choice but to sign the merger. He moved his head infinitesimally and she felt the waves of his pride reach her through his intense stare. It made her feel accomplished, successful. Made her feel like she was the best thing out there, which was probably true, she thought, smirking on the inside. Khushi Kumari Gupta was the best corporate lawyer in the market today. Her deals were proofread to the extent of obsession and she had the precision of a surgeon. She smiled as she saw Mr. Mehra frown looking for loopholes. There won’t be any. Trying to keep the smirk off her face, she quietly saw him give in and sign the deal. Finishing the customary handshake, she left the conference room and headed to her cabin. Time to clear up her desk, she needed to get home.
Three years had changed a lot in Khushi Kumari Gupta’s life. But she still shuddered as unwanted thoughts, mainly of Shyam circled her mind. It had scared her to no end to see his obsession, the fanatic gleam in his eyes, everything made her shake with horror. Thank God he had come. Arnav had come just on time. Soon after she’d left Delhi and gone to Mumbai, wanting some time to herself. Away from everyone. Away from Arnav. She’d returned last year after completing her education with Lavanya’s help. And the year after she’d returned was probably the most bizarre year of her life, she mused. She’d come back to see Anjali running an NGO, now divorced and over Shyam. Her jiji was married to Akash; she knew that. She’d attended the wedding. Her father was under physiotherapy and slowly regaining movement. Lavanya was married to Nikhil with a baby on the way. And Arnav. She smiled softly as she thought of him. In so many ways they were similar. Everyone, everything had changed but not the two of them. It was like they were stuck in a limbo. He was still angry, still bitter, still arrogant. Her reflection in the glass door caught her eye. A wave of emotions took over her. She had changed so much. For better…and for worse. She was successful, respected, educated. But she wasn’t the starry eyed nineteen year old girl. She was twenty two year old woman, who’d seen too much of the bad side to believe in the good as implicitly as before. Her life was no longer black and white; the good and the bad had merged for her a long time ago, turning the threads of her life into a quiet gray.
The knock on the door snapped her out of her reverie and she smiled as she opened the door. He came in, smiling a little. She’d noticed that. He smiled a lot more these days. She continued packing her bag and he leaned on the wall, watching her languidly. “What?” she asked him self-consciously. She liked and hated in equal measures when he watched her like that, quietly. She liked that protectiveness that was always a part of his lingering gaze; it made her feel safe like nothing else. But she hated how he seemed to read through her. Like, he knew what she was thinking. The fiasco with Shyam had changed her. She had trust issues and was somehow a commitment phobe, although the idea of commitment didn’t sound half as bad when he was in the equation. She’d never tell him that though. But he knew it anyway. Just like he knew everything else.
She gave him another raised eyebrow on not receiving an answer to her question. He moved towards her and his brows furrowed in confusion. “Something’s bothering you.” It was a statement, not a question.
She sighed, giving in and massaging her temples. “It’s nothing, just a headache. I’m tired.”
He intertwined their fingers together. “You overwork, Khushi.”
She grinned at him, “Look who’s talking.” He nodded in acknowledgement. “Do you want me to drop you home?”
“No, I know you’ve still got that conference call left. Go, finish it, I’ll drive myself home.”
“Okay then.” He was about to leave but glancing over his shoulder he told her to prepare something light for dinner and not stress herself. She nodded and went back to shutting down the laptop but was taken by surprise when he spun her around and dropped a quick kiss on her lips. Pecking her temple once, he left, smiling.
She shook her head and left the office, avoiding the curious stares of employees. They had no doubt seen him kiss her and she frowned. People were too inquisitive. She got into the car, turning the radio up and driving home.
She turned the stove off, having finished making dinner. She felt the exhaustion seep through her; maybe he was right, she did overwork. Tying her hair up loosely, she spread the blanket on the carpet, in front of the fireplace. It was her favorite spot in the house, her safe haven. Their safe haven. Snuggling up, she picked up the book and leafed through the pages trying to find where she’d left reading.
The door clicked open she heard him come inside, remove his shoes and go upstairs. She sat there for a while, not wanting to get up. It’d been seven months since she’d moved in with him. Not only was it practical, but she loved living with him, sharing his life. She loved him, and she knew he loved her too. But they said the words as little as possible. It never failed to surprise her how similar they’d become. He was no longer the dominant one in their relationship, their relationship was finally what it should have been; they were equals, parallels. She didn’t notice him until he held out the plate of pasta for her. Khushi murmured an apology for not heating it up herself but he shushed her. They finished eating quickly and she was about to get up to wash the dishes but he stopped her, pulling her back. She gladly complied and slithered into the blanket, her back resting on his chest. She could feel her weariness seeping away as his quiet breathing calmed her down and her headache reduced as he ran fingers through her hair. They sat there for a while before he said, “Do you want to read?”
She nodded and he picked up the book, giving it to her to hold. She held the book, while he read aloud. She loved reading like this. His voice did wonders to her stress levels and they dropped to a bare minimum. It’d become a tradition of sorts, almost every weekend they sat like this. She turned the pages and he read out loud.
His husky voice calmed her down, eased some of the frustration she’d been feeling because of people looking at them all the time, and soon enough she was lost in thoughts, his rich voice fading to the background.
She wondered when this shift had occurred. Three years ago if someone had told her that she’d spend a quiet evening with him like this, she would’ve had them admitted them to a mental institution because clearly they were delusional. It wasn’t so unbelievable now, though. She didn’t know what she would do without him and she knew it was the same for him. He was the yin to her yang, her other half, her equal. He understood her like no one else and every now and then he let her in on his own fears, dreams, hopes and she listened to him. He understood her importance for independence and so they had a separate bank account. He knew she was still scared about Shyam although she never said it. She didn’t need to. He just knew. He knew that when she had a tiring day at the office she liked it when he ran fingers through her hair. She knew that although the two of them hardly ever said I love you, their love lied in the actions; the little things that were seemingly too small to show anything but usually conveyed a million emotions. On days she tried being too perfect, stretching herself to the breaking point he held her close, nuzzling his face in the crook of her neck, telling her in his own way that she was perfect, just like that. She loved the way his hand always rested on the small of her back, making her feel inexplicably safe. She knew that if she ever came out of the shower in nothing but a towel, she had the time for one gasp before he kissed her senseless and she forgot who she was. She loved how he was the only one who could cheer her up when she was low. There were times when she had felt unsure of whether he really loved her, it was too fantastical to be true…but he did. It showed in the way his face lit up when she walked into the office, the way a new pen would be lying on her desk just when hers was about to finish. It showed in the way his body molded hers perfectly at night.
She blinked, snapping out of her thoughts.
“Where were you off to?”
She didn’t know what to say; how could she possibly explain all that she felt in words?
“Not too far…”
He chuckled, the sound warming the corners of her heart. She snuggled into him as his arms wrapped tighter around her. Khushi sighed in bliss. This was love. This feeling of sitting in his arms, being held like she was all that mattered, that was home.
“You did well today…that deal was bloody fantastic.”
She turned around, smiling. She saw his gaze intensify with love when he saw the raging emotions in her eyes. In that moment, she wanted to say so much. She wanted to tell him all that he made her feel, but she didn’t think she had it in her. She was still scared of being vulnerable. The frustration of not being able to voice her feelings, sprung up as tears in her eyes and a second later, his thumb was there, wiping them off. She hated how she couldn’t tell him. She hated how he always knew.
Her eyes filled up again, and she blinked the tears back. What in the world was wrong with her? A thousand words bubbled in her throat but she couldn’t get a single one out. She only hoped, he knew, just like always.
She closed her eyes when she heard him whisper her name. “Khushi, look at me.”
She opened her eyes and blinked rapidly, the tears were back again. And then he kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back because that was all she could do. He kissed her softly, tenderly, caressing her cheek. She poured it all in that one kiss giving up trying to discern what she felt because God, it was too much. There was so much she wanted to tell him; so much that she felt. And all she could do was pull him closer hoping that the message came through because she knew she would never be able to actually say all that she felt. Her chest tightened with emotion as he pulled back to look into her eyes and for the millionth time she wished she had it in her to tell him how special he was to her, how loved he made her feel and how glad she was that they’d gotten their second chance, that their paths had crossed again. She despised not being able to voice her feelings, she hated being weak like this. Hot tears fell on her cheeks…why the hell did she keep crying like that?! And she tried to string the words together but her mouth refused to comply. Was this how he’d felt all that time ago? Had he choked on his words too?
“Just tell me what’s wrong!”
“I-I wanted to say that, you…I mean us; no, I mean I…shit. I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can.” She looked at him, about to tell him that he didn’t even know what she was going to say, but the look in his eyes, the absolute faith he had in her stunned her into silence.
“I was saying,” taking a deep breath, she continued. “I was saying, that I love you and that I can’t- no, I don’t want to live without you and that I’m never going to say this again, because admitting this is terrifying,” she glared at him when a chuckle slipped out of his mouth. “And that, you should know that I would be a mess without you. There, I said it.”
Khushi shifted uncomfortably under his stare; that had probably been her longest declaration of love for him. She’d never gotten around to say anything much. Mustering courage, she looked into his eyes, trying to gather what the look he was giving her, meant.
His silence got to her and her nervousness bubbled up. “Shit, I messed up didn’t I? Forget I ever said anything, sorry.” She said quietly. She picked up the book again and started reading with vehemence, her eyes prickling with unshed tears of embarrassment. He still hadn’t said anything.
She pretended not to listen; he was probably going to placate her.
“Khushi listen to me.”
She wouldn’t. Focus on the book Khushi, don’t let him get to you.
“Fine, be like that. I’m going to say it anyway.”
Suddenly, the book was the most interesting thing in the world although the words were blurring in front of her. She hoped that she was doing an okay job of pretending to ignore him, because in all honesty she was hanging on his every word.
“Khushi, I love you. I don’t say it all that often, hell I barely say it, because it makes me feel…powerless; and I don’t like that. You make me feel powerless. I hate how I’m perfectly calm and then all you have to do is walk in through the damn door to send my thoughts in overdrive. I hate how I can never predict what is going to happen when I’m with you. I hate how you always read right through me. I hate how you’re always so bloody calm when we’re fighting…I hate- You better be listening because I’m never, ever going to say this again, because it doesn’t terrify me, it scares me shitless. People probably think we’re dysfunctional; in all honesty I don’t really doubt their judgment, but still, we work. You’re the one person I share my dreams and fears with and there is not one moment where I don’t want you in my life, and almost all the time I feel like I don’t do enough. I don’t get you flowers and stuff like that, nor am I romantic, in fact I’m the anti-thesis of the perfect boyfriend. And then you come out and say something like that…and leave me speechless. Because the truth is, Khushi, I need you. So badly, that it’s pathetic.” He shrugged. “There, I said it too.”
She sat there, unmoving; his words had rendered her incapable of speaking. In the one year that they’d been dating, never had he said something like this. Never had he spelled it out for her like this. A thousand responses circled her mind but she couldn’t get one of them to come out. And so she looked at him. Her gaze made him look up and she ran a hand over his cheek. He was looking at her with all barriers down, and she understood. They were with each other because with each other they were naked, exposed, without walls. Because they accepted each other; flaws, insanity, dysfunctionality et al. Because individually they were a mess, but together they made sense.
She scooted closer to him and pecked him on the cheek. The silence lingered between them and she welcomed it. She played his words over and over again, savoring the memory; he wasn’t lying when he said he wouldn’t say it again, he really wouldn’t. Neither would she, she mused, with a faint smile. Or maybe she would. Maybe she’d say it again and turn yet another ordinary evening into a memory worth remembering forever.