“So, are we going?!”
Khushi looked expectantly at her husband. She really wanted to go, but she’d realized a few minutes ago, that it would take a lot of pouting on her part to make him say yes.
“I said no, Khushi.”
“Please? Please? Pretty please?”
“Khushi…” he groaned in annoyance. He was ready to offer her the entire world on her plate and she chose to ask this.
“Arnav, please! It’ll be fun!”
“I know what I’m saying when I say that it’ll be anything but fun! Just drop this!”
“No, you drop it! What man doesn’t want to go to his High School re-union??”
“Khushi, I’m not saying yes for this one. I have work.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Haww…liar!”
“Don’t ‘what the’ me! Aman called me to inform you about tomorrow’s schedule, the entire evening is free!”
Arnav closed his eyes in frustration. Damn Aman and damn his stupid schedule. Who the hell told him to talk to Khushi anyway? This would’ve never happened if he hadn’t been stupid enough to leave the invitation to the re-union lying around. Then she would never have seen it.
He opened his eyes to see her pouting her most adorable pout and he scowled. He wouldn’t give in, not this time. He knew just what she managed to make him do by pouting like that. He continued to look at her impassively, hoping she’d get the message.
“Why don’t you want to go?”
“This is not up for discussion, Khushi. Leave it alone, please.”
Khushi frowned and sat beside him, picking up her book. She’d convince him later.
She watched him leave the room, the scowl still adorning his face. Why was he so bothered? Weren’t people supposed to love going to stuff like this? Sighing, she lay down, putting a pillow above her head, to block out the bright afternoon sunlight.
Arnav sat on the bed after closing the blinds, looking at his sleeping wife. Why was she so bent on going? Couldn’t she just let this go? He shook his head. He knew this wasn’t the end of it. She was just as stubborn as him.
“Don’t be such a prat. Hey Devi Maiyya, main inka kya karoon?”
He looked at her in alarm, but gave in to his smile when he realized she was mumbling in her sleep. He removed the pillow covering her face and saw her sleeping soundly. He couldn’t resist it. Looking at her fondly, he placed a soft kiss on her cheek, careful not to wake her up. Picking up his laptop, he went back to work.
Khushi smiled to herself and opened her eyes. She’d woken up when he kissed her. Little gestures like this still managed to give her the warm fuzzy feeling inside. She remembered when he’d asked her to marry him. It wasn’t love, back then. It was just a mutual attraction between the two of them and an understanding that they shared. Something which was strong enough to last a lifetime. And so she’d married him. But it hadn’t taken long for love to strike. Or atleast, strike her.
Khushi shifted a little, adjusting her neck before it started hurting. Being the frank woman she was, she’d told him of her feelings when she was sure. It had taken a lot of courage, but she was Khushi Raizada, she’d done it. And he’d asked her for time. Time to come to terms with his feelings before he said those three words back. She had agreed and things were good. Until today ofcourse. She couldn’t, for the life of her, understand why he was being so obstinate! He had never refused her anything, and this was such a small favor! She frowned in irritation. Getting up, she decided to try again.
Arnav looked at her as she got up, the determination on her face causing him to furrow his eyebrows together. She really wasn’t going to let this go.
“Arnav, atleast think about it!”
“Why are you being so difficult? It’s just a re-union!”
Her constant questions sparked of his temper. “For God’s sake Khushi, STOP interfering dammit!”
She flinched at his unusually harsh tone. It was a silent agreement between them that the details of his past were forbidden territory. She knew that his parents’ death had affected him but she also knew there was more. More, that she couldn’t help but wonder about. And so she’d been looking forward to the reunion. Looking forward to meet his classmates. Maybe that wouldn’t make her feel like, she told him everything, but he didn’t. But his words had stung her, had she gone too far?
Arnav saw the tears pooling in her eyes and looked away. The guilt had started to seep in and he wished he could take back what he’d said. She wasn’t interfering, not really. Infact she’d showed him more understanding than he deserved. But he still wished she wouldn’t probe him. Not about this.
“I just remembered something. I have to go.”
Her laconic tone didn’t help his guilt. She was upset and he knew it. And before he could continue, she’d left, her sniffs resonating in the room.
Arnav shut his laptop and decided to follow her, but stopped midway. If he went and apologized now, she wouldn’t give him the time of day. Maybe he should let her calm down. Massaging his temples, he went back to the room. He had to fix this. Maybe he should just get the re-union over with.
The sizzle of the oil as the batter fell in spirals, calmed her down to some extent. She popped a jalebi in her mouth while she made more. They never failed to clear her head. The tears had stopped now and she blew her nose into the tissue. She wouldn’t make the first move this time. He could do whatever he wanted. Making up her mind, she continued to fry jalebis.
Arnav looked at the wall clock. It was half an hour since she left. Maybe now she’d listen to him.
He exhaled in frustration. He had thought she would be in the kitchen, frying jalebis, but she proved him wrong. He couldn’t find her in the entire house. And so he was back in the kitchen, trying to figure out where she could have gone. And then it struck him. The poolside! It was the only place he hadn’t been to.
And sure enough, there she was, sitting in a corner, munching jalebis while spitting fire from her eyes. He almost smiled. Almost. He walked towards her, hoping that she didn’t turn away.
Khushi heard his footsteps and willed her mind not to look. She would not look at him and melt. She’d already lost half her anger, but she wouldn’t melt. Not before he atleast apologized to her.
He sat down beside her and looked at the half angry, half determined expression on her face and a small chuckle slipped out before he could stop himself. He bit his tongue. This was not good.
Khushi looked at him, shooting daggers with her eyes. “If you’re finding this funny, you might as well go back to your laptop.”
“We’ll go to the reunion.” He said quickly, trying to make amends.
He knew instantly he’d said the wrong thing as she saw her fume.
“Ehsaan kar rahe ho mujhpe?”
“Khushi, I was trying to apologize!”
“Well, if that’s your apology, you can forget my forgiveness; you won’t get it in this lifetime!”
Delivering her verdict, she made her way back to their room. Arnav groaned. Boy, was his wife high maintenance?! He followed her to their room.
“Khushi listen to me!”
He took the silence that greeted him as a good sign and continued.
“Khushi, I’m sorry.” He sighed in relief when she looked mollified. “I never meant to say that. You’re not interfering.”
“You really mean that?”
He smiled at her small voice and pulled her towards him, taking her in a hug. “I really do.”
Khushi smiled a watery smile against his shoulder. He may be a jerk sometimes, but that would never stop her from loving him.
He felt her pulling away and he wiped her tear tracks with his thumb.
“We’ll go to the reunion. I’ll come, I promise.”
She smiled at him, but she knew he didn’t really want to go. “It’s okay, Arnav, you don’t have to.”
“No, I want to. Really.” He knew he was lying through his teeth but he didn’t care. He couldn’t see her cry.
“Arnav. It’s okay, it really is.” She smiled at him to show him she meant it.
He looked at her, bewildered. “But you wanted to go so badly!”
“I did,” she nodded. “But then I realized that it probably troubles you too much, so it’s alright. And you don’t have to explain anything either.”
He frowned. She may be okay with it, but he wasn’t. He saw her smiling at him and felt a sudden surge of affection for her. She’d given him everything. Things that he had asked for, things that he hadn’t and more. She deserved to know.
“I didn’t want to go because…” he clammed up, not knowing how to continue further. He hadn’t really talked about it to anyone.
Khushi looked at him in surprise. He was looking…vulnerable was the word. She’d never seen him like that. She opened her mouth to tell him it was fine, but he shook his head. She relented and sat there patiently waiting for him to speak when he was ready.
“Look, High School wasn’t good for me, okay? You know about my parents already. My uncle took us in after their death. And then he kicked us out. You know all this.”
She squeezed his hand softly, and he smiled. Taking a deep breath he continued. She listened patiently despite his hurried explanation. This wasn’t the time for details. Khushi knew bits and pieces of this, from Anjali, but she wanted him to say it anyway.
“After that, it was only Di and me. I worked my way through High School. Di was adamant about me getting into a good private school and so I got into one. The kids at that school were,” he paused for a moment, not entirely sure as to how he should say this.
“Were?” she prodded him softly.
“Assholes, to say the least. I was bullied. Mainly because I didn’t have the money.”
“You were bullied?”
Arnav looked at her partly in amusement and partly troubled. “Why the tone of surprise?”
She flushed, embarrassed. “No…it’s just that, I mean, you’re just not the kind of person who’d take shit like that…” she mumbled.
“Oh I didn’t. In the beginning. I used to fight back, beat them up when they beat me, I was very violent.” Arnav smiled wryly. He could almost sense her unspoken question.
“What I didn’t realize was that fighting back wasn’t going to help me because the snobs that they were, they got their fathers to save their asses while I was suspended. And then Di got worried about my violent behavior because she thought I was acting out, because we lost our parents. So I stopped fighting back.”
“You stopped fighting back?”
“I stopped reacting to their bullying.”
“And they stopped?”
She was struck by how blasé his voice was. Not a trace of emotion anywhere and it scared her a little. His eyes were a different story, though. They spewed fury.
He jerked out of his thoughts when he heard her speak.
“Arnav, I’m so sorry.”
He clenched his jaw. And that was the only reason he hadn’t told anyone. Because they’d pity him. He could handle others’ pity. But coming from her, it hurt a lot more. He didn’t want pity. He didn’t want sympathy. Why couldn’t she just be there?
Khushi looked at him, puzzled when he snatched his hand away from her. “Arnav?”
“See, that’s why I wouldn’t tell you. You pity me.” He glared at her. He should have never said anything.
“I, wait what?”
“Look Khushi, I don’t want your sympathy, okay?”
“My sympathy?” she slapped her forehead as she understood what he meant. Hey Devi Maiyya…how thick headed could he get? “Arnav, I’m not sympathizing with you! That sorry was for making you speak up. I should’ve let you say it when you wanted to but I sort of pushed you didn’t I?” she mumbled, playing with the helm of her dupatta.
Arnav raised his eyebrows. She was guilty? Didn’t she realize how good it felt to finally tell someone?
“Arnav, I would never, ever pity you okay? You have to know that.”
Khushi looked at him and cupped his face, making him look straight into her eyes. “Ofcourse not! Arnav, I admire the man that you are and I’m honored that you chose to share this with me. As for those guys, they will never be half the man that you are. Do you understand me? You should never have to be ashamed of this and I’m so very proud of you for being so amazing.”
Khushi pecked him on the cheek and then moved away. He looked a little lost. Maybe he just needed time. Giving his hand one more squeeze she reached for the pile of clothes on the chair and started straightening out the closet. She smiled to herself, they were closer than before and it made her strangely happy.
Arnav sat on the bed, unmoving. He was overwhelmed, to be honest. No one had ever said something like that to him. Her words ricocheted in his head, filling him with happiness and the joy of realizing that she was what he wanted. She was the only one who could make his heart race madly, the only one who erased the pain, the only one who broke all the walls and made a place for herself, a place that grew bigger with every passing day. He admired her for who she was. He was himself when he was with her and it was probably her unconditional support that had pushed him to tell her everything. He remembered when she’d told him that she was in love with him. He’d held himself back only because he didn’t want to be vulnerable again. But who was he kidding? Even without having said the words he was under her spell. She captivated him, made him feel things he’d never felt before. If she was happy so was he and when she wasn’t, nothing was the same. She was what he came home for. The goodbye kiss she gave him every morning, it made his day. And just like that things fell into place. He loved her. And for once he didn’t have to struggle with words, they came out easily enough.
“I love you.” It conveyed everything he wanted to and so much more.
Her hands stilled in the closet. It couldn’t be. She was sure she was hallucinating.
“What?” she peeped out of the closet, hoping it was what she had heard.
He patted the place next to him on the bed and she made her way to him, not entirely sure how to react.
Khushi sat down on the bed, looking at him with apprehension mixed with hope. Trying to calm herself down, she asked him again. “What did you say?”
He smiled faintly at her question. Looking into her eyes he understood just how much she must’ve held herself back after confessing her love to him. He couldn’t keep this feeling to himself for five seconds, she’d done it for a few months and that did nothing but increase his respect for her.
Her eyes widened when he placed her fringe behind her ear, the conflicting emotions vivid in his eyes. Either this was a bloody good hallucination or he’d clearly gone mad. Not wanting to interrupt the moment, she looked at him, the surprise filling every inch of her face when he said the words.
“I said, I love you Khushi.”
A slow smile broke out on her face as his words settled in. So it was real.
A smile tugged at his lips when he saw her face shine with fulfillment. It made his heart so somersaults when she smiled like that. For a while she didn’t say anything. A few minutes later, smugness replaced the glee she smirked.
“I knew you’d come around!” Khushi smiled brilliantly at him, deciding to tease him a little. It was only fair; he’d made her wait for so long.
Arnav frowned. He’d expected her to say it back. Safe to say, the woman never failed to surprise him.
“Atleast say it back!”
“Say what back?”
“I just told you I love you!”
“And I heard it!”
“So, you’re supposed to say that you love me too!”
“I’ve been saying it for quite a while now, what difference does it make?” she asked him, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
He saw the glint in her eyes and smirked, knowing full well what was going on. Fine. Two could play the same game.
“Yeah you’re right. What difference does it make?”
She blinked in shock. Wait, this wasn’t what she had in mind! Ofcourse it wasn’t okay! “What?!”
“Don’t look so surprised Khushi, I agree with you. How does it matter?”
She looked at him indignantly. “How does it matter? Obviously it matters! I swear to God, you have the emotional range of a teaspoon!”
He stifled his laughter while she muttered the not-so-silent oaths under her breath.
Arnav snaked his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him. He saw her flush red while an unwilling smile made its way up her face. “I’m not talking to you…” She mumbled half heartedly in an attempt to stay mad at him. But how could she when all she wanted to do was to say it back? Khushi looked at him, losing herself in his brown eyes that shone with all the warmth and love, only for her. And she couldn’t hold herself back, not after waiting for so long.
“I love you too.”
“I knew you’d come around.” He quoted her against her lips before sealing them into soft kiss.
And the invitation to the reunion lay on the floor, forgotten by them. It didn’t matter anymore.