If only she’d looked at him while singing, he might have resisted the temptation to put music to the words that he needed to speak in prose.
Excellent, he told himself wryly as he placed the kettle on the stove top. Blame her for being an idiot. Can’t stoop any lower, Arnav.
He shouldn’t have sung. Especially after she’d refused point blank to sing with them. But all the space he had put between them all day was beginning to singe through his skin. And then there was the fact that she didn’t look at him. Yes, her fault or not, it was always this that seemed to drive his actions around her. Perhaps he was no better than any other sap after all. Once he’d sung the songs, as light hearted as the first was supposed to be and as intense as the second turned out, she’d been unable to look away. It was supposed to help and instead it was driving him crazy. There was exactly one question in her eyes. And he knew he had the answer. If only he could also do something about it…
“Shall I engineer a situation to send her in?” Divya’s question didn’t come as a surprise. If he was aware of anything else in the room he had just escape, it had been Divya’s laughing, knowing stance. “You know, in case you want to finish in person…or at least continue, what you just started in song?”
He turned to glance at her as he moved to his right and extracted a ceramic mug and a tea box. He chose a rare exotic berry flavored white tea sachet from the box, extracted the tea bag and dropped it into the mug, all in silence as Divya walked over to the counter and pushed herself up on it.
“I never thought I’d see you like this, AV-Sir,” she said quietly as he waited for the steam curls that would soon escape the spout of the glimmering stainless steel kettle he had gifted NK for Christmas. “I guess this is payback for the time I blubbered all over you about how clueless your friend was being”
Arnav smiled and turned around to lean against the counter, “If you hadn’t made me promise I wouldn’t tell Nishant how you felt, you guys would have been married with kids today.” He remembered the evening of his third Aarohan even if not as clearly as his final. It had been his second with Divya and the one before Khushi had entered the world of IE-Varanasi and in ripples
Divya smiled. “Things needs to take travel the course they need to. But then clearly you seem to know quite a bit about that,”
Arnav smiled again but said nothing. Instead, he turned and busied himself with making himself his mug of tea. He looked at Divya and raised his mug in question.
“Nah. I’m in the mood for something stronger. Plus, chai banaate toh pi bhi lete. I mean adrak-wali with milk. Not this…watery stuff you and Nishant pretend to love.” She said with a shrug.
“Why are you in here, Divya?” Arnav asked with a sigh as he poured hot water into his mug and breathed in deeply as the aroma of berries filled his lungs.
“I just came to see if you wanted to change your mind about the discussion we had on sleeping arrangements earlier.”
Arnav looked at her as if bored with her carefully-constructed-to-provoke comment and then took a deep breath when she winked and said something about leaving him to gather his thoughts before turning to walk back out to the den with the rest of the gathering.
It was more his feelings than his thoughts that he had gathered instead. And when he had walked back out, it was he who didn’t look at her. Even when he had felt her eyes on him. He needed his sanity. If he wanted to make anything work this time, he needed to keep his head. Sainthood, he told himself urgently, here I am at your doorstep. Don’t fail me now.
“If you have things to do, I can work on them and send it out. It’s just two slides, anyway.” Arnav said into his mic as he rubbed his eyes tiredly.
“It’s Saturday night. And given the situation, I thought you would have better things to do.”
He was too tired to even roll his eyes at Arjun at the moment, he realized as he let his head rest against his pillow. “I could say the same thing for you.”
“It’s Sunday morning for me – very different from Saturday night. And I am unfortunately not as favorably placed as you are – geography wise.” Arjun quipped. “Plus, I am the poor Consultant. I don’t get to say no to Senior Manager I work with.”
Arnav smiled and then realized there was something off about Arjun’s manner. His words lacked the punch they usually did. Even his instant messenger pings zinged with energy. And now he sounded almost…”You sound significantly south of cheerful.”
He heard Arjun sigh. “Yeah. I am just…My girlfriend refuses to accept that she is my girlfriend. I have the best luck with women, I tell you.”
For a moment, Arnav wanted to do nothing but breathe a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, yeah I know that sigh. Clearly I am back to baring my soul in your presence. Two times I fall in love and you are around. What are the chances?”
Something about the way Arjun said what he made Arnav squirm. He really had loved Khushi. There was never any doubt about that. And yet…
“I was beginning to miss the ability to freak Kavi out with my sudden reminders of how I felt for her. She is surprisingly blasé about it now.” Arjun chuckled as Arnav struggled to find some words. The man was beginning to find the threads that unraveled him. It was dangerous. “I like that I can still freak someone out.”
“So, what seems to be the problem?” He interjected before Arjun Agarwal found more ways to rip the skin of his being. Though being some sort of Anguish Uncle was not really what he was aiming for. But, hey, if that worked…
“Unfortunately, I cannot tell you of all people. We’ve been here. And we know this never works.”
He frowned. What the hell was…
“But you know what, you could help. Why don’t you get a move on and my life might just fall into place as a consequence.”
Arnav’s frown deepened. “Dude, have you been dri…” Before he could finish the statement, however, a thought – wayward as it needed to be in his head – flashed neon in his head. “Wait…Arjun…Who is this girl you are…”
“I told you AV-Sir…”
“Don’t call me AV-Sir.”
“Whatever I call you won’t change that this is one information you do not want me to share with you before I tell Kavi…”
“Shit!” He swore as he realized what Arjun was saying. “Seriously?” The wheels in his head spun out of control. “How?”
“Don’t ask me any questions and you won’t have to lie about knowing my answers, Mr. Bond.”
Arnav laughed painfully. He was struggling to bite back big chunks of disbelief and totally misplaced concern from wanting to pursue the line of conversation. Arjun was right. He did not want to go down this path. This was too familiar.
“Good night, AV-Sir. Don’t worry about the two slides. I’ll send it out before you are awake in the morning.”
Like he was about to get any sleep at all. But he did appreciate the break before the week picked up the reins of his soul again. “Have a good Sunday, Arjun.”
He disconnected the call, shut the laptop and pushed the covers off to swing his legs into his slippers. Suddenly the well-furnished attic he so loved in Nishant’s ridiculously huge home felt like it was closing in on him. He wasn’t about to get any sleep. There was no point trying. He needed to go make himself some tea. And not the exotic version he’d helped himself to a few hours ago. He needed strong, adrak-wali chai. He also needed something more but that was hardly going to be on the late night menu.
Taking a deep breath, he walked to the wooden staircase that led to the top floor. He eased himself down the steps, wincing as it creaked in the silence. He ignored the door on his left as he reached the first floor landing. He couldn’t think of her sleeping in that room. He was an idiot. Why did he have to say no to Nishant? The answer punched the inner walls of his stomach and forced him to keep walking further down. Chai. He needed to just focus on making himself some tea.
He walked to the kitchen and flicked the switch on when he heard the noise. It was the sound of footsteps. God was being kind. He would take anyone for company at the moment, he realized as he walked out of the kitchen and towards the basement. Anything to keep him from going insane.
It was just as soon as the thought crossed his mind that he felt her body tumble into his.
He looked into her eyes as she pushed up her glasses and music tinkled in the background.
He was wound up like a damned coil in a cuckoo clock. And she…she was asleep. They’d just had tea and he knew he brewed his teas strong. And yet she was fast asleep, her glasses askew on her nose and Kindle held precariously between her fingers, now teetering over the edge of the lounger. He pushed himself up and powered the iPad off. It wasn’t as if he had been able to focus on anything anyway. No, Sir. He had just used it as a distraction that would be a sanity break for his need to look at her. He walked over softly, praying that he didn’t wake her as he knelt by her side and… and what?
Why the hell was he praying for her to not wake up? He wanted her to open her eyes and look at him. Like she had looked at him as he sang. He wanted her to see what he felt without reserve. He wanted her to believe him. And he wanted to find the moment to put it all in words. Whatever “it” was. No, he knew what “it” was. He just didn’t know how he could find his way to define it for her.
“Khushi,” He whispered softly as he let his fingers hover over her cheek. His heart lurched in a moment of anticipation that passed as she continued to sleep soundly and soundlessly. It would be so easy to dip his lips and taste her and see if she still tasted like the fresh mountain air. It would be so easy to rouse her from her slumber and he sure didn’t mean just tonight’s. All he needed to do was gather the courage and make the leap. It was so easy when he sang, it had always been. Borrowed words were his most trusted emissary; melody a faithful chaperone and music itself, his faithful errand boy when he needed it to be, his Master when he wanted otherwise. He had never been the kind of person to share what or how he felt with even those who he was closest to and singing allowed him outlet like conversation would never. But it wouldn’t do anymore. It was enough that he was giving her as much time as she probably needed to get used to him. He was also taking the time to make sure she knew who he was.
The slip earlier this evening was just that. He had not intended to bare his heart like he had but something about her refusal to sing with them had eroded the shroud of sensibility that he always forced himself to wear. When he had found her singing, her voice – distorted with the music that was inaudible to him – had touched him like her presence had that first day by the River five years ago. It was like finding treasure he didn’t know he had misplaced. To reply in the same vein, was meant to be mildly flirtatious and not much else. But the downward spiral of his feelings for her had rarely been predictable before and this evening had been no less excruciating. He may have claimed – this time in a song of his choice not Arjun’s – that he knew he affected her like she affected him. But it was not she who had run away this time. It had been him, overwhelmed with need and agonized by the presence of every eye and ear around them. He had rushed out of the room and made himself some strong tea to soothe his nerves and remind himself why he couldn’t rush this into a disaster that it was historically prone to turn out as. And as he had busied himself with the mechanics of chai-making, he had allowed his mind to settle down.
When he had seen her again, the need to reach out was just as strong but now imprisoned by a curtain of sanity that God was about to test shortly. It was obviously no coincidence that in the last decade, instances where he physically needed to step away from the situation to manage his emotions had all but one thing in common.
“AV, where should I put her?” Nishant had asked sincerely only to have Divya burst out laughing. “There are too many people this time, Nishant. AV-Sir can’t have the attic to himself now. It’s just not fair to the others, you know.”
He had ignored Divya and shrugged at Nishant which Nishant Kumar Pathak obviously misunderstood.
“No!” Arnav had been forced to yell out in sheer panic given how serious Nishant had been. Of all the methods to torment him, putting Khushi in the same room as him would have been most effective. His refusal, on the other hand, had only resulted in Divya laughing louder than ever. “I knew it. I so knew it when you said you don’t want to date strangers. Ha! Who else do you date if not strangers! It’s insane but God knows, I knew there was a very high chance I knew the girl. But this girl, AV? From what I know you knew each other for that two month period around Aarohan. I definitely didn’t see her at your farewell. You’ve been waiting for ten years?” She’d asked incredulously.
He had raised an eyebrow at Nishant and her suggestively then. “Well, our case was complex.” She’d defended and then her face had transformed into silence before before an impish smile curve up her lips, “I must say a lot of the people involved in these stories are common. Kaveri Gupta is one lucky woman. There were so many girls in our batch who wanted to rag her just so they could balance out her eventual good fortune. But nooooo…”
And they’d brought the subject up again in front of Khushi. He would have been thankful if he was convinced that this was the time to drown her with evidence of his feelings for her even back then. No. They weren’t kids. He was thirty one years old. He needed to say the words. He just fucking needed to…
God! He pushed his fingers through his hair as the curse echoed in his brain. He was going crazy. He was swearing.
“Khushi,” He whispered again like a lovesick mongrel, not even mortified by desperation anymore. He glanced at her still sleeping form and leaned forward. His knuckles brushed against her cheeks and a rush of emotion invaded the blood brain barrier and physically hurled him away from her. He needed to get the hell out of her orbit before he did something stupid. God! He wanted to do something stupid.
How could he have not seen this situation coming? In all his fucking rationality and level headed-ness, how had he so grossly understatement the power of the human body and mind? His body and mind, of all things. Idiot. He was an absolute fucking idiot!
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Mera Chaand Mujhe
Album: Mr. Aashiq
Singers: Kumar Sanu
Music: Jatin Lalit
Mere dil mein armaan kayi kayi
Meri chaahat hai abhi nayi nayi
Reh jaaye na pyaasa pyaar mera
Meri baahon mein bhar de yaar mera
Itna sa karam, tu kar mujh par
Ae raat zara, tham-tham ke guzar
- Next Update: May be delayed. Please check the Index (which I will update, I promise) closer to Monday next
- This (Interlude) was not a part of the plan! I hope it still makes sense when the story ends.
- If you know this song, raise your hand. Ours is a dying breed. Hi-Five!
- Please excuse typos