Happy birthday – to the real Kavi who celebrates today here by the River, to Arjun’s Kavi who might have celebrated five days ago if she weren’t fictional and…

 

The phone rang exactly once before he answered. “Good morning,”

Khushi smiled to herself as she absently opened and closed windows on her browser. “You don’t sound like you needed an alarm this morning.” She said softly, thankful for the comforting hum of even, mid-morning office decibel around her.

“Mujhe neend na aaye,” He whispered into the phone sending a shiver down her spine. “Mujhe chain na aaye, koi jaaye zara dhoond ke laaye…”

“Of all the songs,” She whispered back. “Now I am going to be singing this in my head all day.” She said with a small laugh, suddenly very aware of her surroundings given the contrast to the tenor of the conversation at hand. And to think it was the same man on the other side of the line, who was – who would soon be – back in the same setting. “When’s your meeting?” She asked as she cleared her throat and straightened her spine.

“I have a working prep-lunch with the client sponsor. Orals tomorrow” He answered. “Is Jeff in yet?” He asked of her, his own voice morphing into the one she recognized professionally.

“He’ll be in after lunch. I have work I need to finish by myself anyway.”

“It’s going well?” He asked. “Working with Jeff?”

“Yes,” She nodded with a smile. “Though he is so sharp with his questions and comments, I am nervous when I need to review with him.”

“I never saw you nervous in any of our reviews. Are you saying I am not sharp with my questions?” He teased.

“I didn’t say it.” Khushi replied with a chuckle. “You did.”

He laughed, the sound filling the veins of pleasure beneath her skin with warmth. It was a rich, hearty sound that timbred with something new. She could get used to this, she realized. “All the best for today.” She offered, knowing that the rest of the day lay waiting for both of them.

“Thank you.” He replied. “Bye.”

“Bye.” She wished him and was about to disconnect when…

“Khushi?”

“Hmm?” She asked,

“Na jaane kahan dil kho gaya.”

She smiled to herself with lowered lashes, shaking her head at his subtle provocation. “I really am going to be singing this in my head the whole day.”

“Damn!” He swore softly. “I should have picked Kate Nahi Kat Te then to improve my chances,” He countered easily, making her blush.

“I have no clue what you are talking about,” She lied, her voice laced with a carefully careless shrug. “Bye.”

“Bye.” He said softly and left her smiling at her phone for several minutes before Wyatt Motors came calling at her faculties.

——-

By the time Wednesday evening rolled in for the week, a pattern of sorts had been established. Countless messages of no consequence but undeniable import were exchanged. They spoke of their individual experiences during the day – mostly professional though there was little formality in their conversation anymore, if there ever once was. She inquired about his preparation for the final presentation of A&M’s proposal for Ivy Networks. He answered at length and she listened in fascination and even offered her opinion on what might be positioned as A&M’s strength over its competition for the bid.  They even exchanged brief, quick, informal notes on the project Arnav had left Khushi behind with. Khushi couldn’t help but notice, thought, that it bothered him more than it bothered her that they did, even after her reassignment to Jeff, have a conflict of interest between their personal and professional situations.

They didn’t, however, discuss two critical subjects of both consequence and importance. While Arnav continued to declare his feelings through a mixture of blatantly expressed words of love and a host of songs in the same vein, he didn’t press her for an answer. Either he knew exactly how she felt – enough to not need a confirmation from her, or he was being the chivalrous person she both loved and hated him for being. Of course, she also didn’t want to have that conversation over the phone – so she avoided questioning his motivation for letting the topic stay unbroached. It also fit in with her continuing distaste for confrontations as it was.

They also did not broach the subject of Arnav’s birthday till it was almost Wednesday evening, when Khushi decided it wasn’t worth any part of her falsely constructed ego to avoid the topic anymore. “You really aren’t going to be here for your birthday?” She asked almost as soon as she answered the phone call. It was almost seven in the evening and she was just about to pack up and head back to the Inn for the day when her phone had started buzzing.

There was a moment’s silence on the other end but it was long enough to make her check if he was still around. “Hello?”

“I’m here.” He answered softly, a trace of regret lacing his voice. “Just thinking of how to respond to that question. And hoping that the disappointment I hear in your voice means what I think it means.”

“It’s sadistic to be happy about somebody else’s disappointment, you know.” She retorted with a rueful smile.

“What can I say, I obviously have a hidden affinity for sadism. And masochism. What else can explain the distance?”

She waited as she heard him breathe in deeply.

“The downside of being a consultant, I was told eventually turns out to be much worse than the upside. I didn’t realize…” He confessed. “And the worst part is I think we are only getting started.”

Khushi nodded to herself. He was right. They were just getting started. Soon, one of them would be travelling to the US while the other stayed in India and then there would be time zones to add to the distance that kept them away.

“You are here all of next week?” She asked, determined to keep her mood and lift his.

“As of now, yes.” He promised and she crossed her fingers and toes in response. “I was thinking we could visit Nishant and Divya over the weekend. Given the proposal would have been done and dusted by then, it would be…”

“Proposal?” She interrupted, confused for a second before the implication dawned on her. Her smile grew in anticipation and bloomed when he confirmed.

“He’s asking her to marry him.”

“He hasn’t already?” She asked in surprise as she plugged the mouse in and out of her laptop alternately.

Arnav laughed. “No. You should have seen how nervous he was. And this is despite the Steinway that is accompanying the proposal. I mean if that isn’t a deal-maker…”

“Steinway?” Her eyes widened as she interrupted again. “The piano makers?” She asked as she retrieved a piece of information from her brain she had no idea she had stored in the first place. “He is proposing with a Steinway?”

“Okay…” He said slowly with a chuckle. “I’ll file that reaction for future reference.”

“No!” She exclaimed, her mouth opening and closing furiously. What…

Arnav took a deep breath. “No?” He asked tentatively. “Is the vehemence directed at the extravagance or the event?”

Khushi’s face flushed again. Wasn’t he in some mood? What was she supposd to say…

“Khushi,” He began and then seemed to change his mind. When he spoke again, his voice was lighter, more relaxed. ”So?” He said, “What do I get for my birthday, now that I don’t even have the chance to be wished in person?”

She tucked her phone under her ear and began gathering her things. “What do you want?” She asked absently as she struggled to jam her laptop, diary and other peripherals into her bag. What was he about to say? Surely not…It wasn’t possible…She hadn’t even told him she still loved him. Heck, she hadn’t said it out aloud even to herself.

And then there was the fact that she didn’t want to tell him. For at least five months. A month for every year that he put her through hell for – that sounded fair in her head.

“You do realize the answer to open ended questions like that can be just as unrestrained right?”

The words made her stop in her tracks. This man was going to be the death of her. What was with these dialogues? How did he even manage to come up with these so instinctively? She had no idea what she could say to that. Smiling to herself, she realized she was half glad and half sad that he was in fact not in front of her at the moment. While it would have been that much harder to hide her colored skin, it would have been so easy to kiss him in response.

“Khushi,”

“Hmm?” She replied as she slung her backpack and walked out of the building. She waved to Ken who was still finishing his work and walked out to the elevators.

“My gift?” He repeated, this time his voice as teasing as it seemed to be expectant.

“What do you want?” She asked again with a smile, this time choosing the words to frame her question quite deliberately and still keeping it just as open ended as she had before.

She heard his breath hitch. “When I said there are others way to make me pay for my mistakes, I didn’t mean it quite so literally, Khushi.”

She shrugged and then laughed softly at how instinctively she’d done that though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Why do you use my name so often when we talk?” She asked as she walked past the elevators to take the stairs and avoid having to disconnect his call.

“Why don’t you use my name unless I do something drastic like pretend to not hear you?”

Of course. She should have expected the question in answer to hers. “Because I never know what to call you. It was AV-Sir in college and somehow…”

“You have no trouble saying my name when we are kissing.” He interrupted.

“I do not…” She began hotly. And what did he mean by talking about kissing like there wasn’t anything else they did…If anything, they did very little of what she really want…Her thoughts caught fire and spread through her body, filling her veins with blood that simmered with longing. She cleared her throat. “How come you are calling me at this time? Isn’t it still just early evening in LA?”

“You are changing the topic. Should I be worried or thrilled?” He asked though an obvious smile was evident in his voice.

“You should just go with the change to keep our collective sanity,” She pointed out in a moment of rare clarity of thought mirrored in speech.

“Point.” He conceded and then took a deep breath.

“I miss you.” She said softly stepped out of the Wyatt Motors Headquarters and into the chilly night.

This time the intake of breath was sharper and more defined. “I promise you I don’t hate any person, any thing or any organization more than I hate Ivy Networks right now.”

————-

Arjun Agarwal was never around when one needed him, Khushi concluded as she forcefully canceled the call as the voice reiterated for the umpteenth time in two days that the person she was trying to reach had switched his phone off. “Where the hell are you, Arjun?” She grumbled under her breath as she tossed her phone aside and stared intently at the website that was open in her browser.

What was she supposed to buy the person who had declared he loved her, the person who she had fallen in love with a decade ago and never fallen out of it, tried as hard as she had? What was she supposed to buy someone her heart recognized, her brain approved of but one she didn’t know at all?

“Damn you, Annoying Agarwal” She cursed even though a part of her knew with certainty that if Arjun was reachable, she would have never really asked him for help. Just like she wasn’t asking Tripti for help though Tripti she knew would not only be available, she’d probably be both helpful and eager to be of help. Perhaps too eager. No, she told herself a second later. She needed to figure this one out on her own.

She spent the next thirty minutes scourging the website through scores of categories that felt too distant and too intimate all at once. This was tough business, she decided eventually as she closed the browser window in a huff, being in a relationship – not just for the reasons she’d battled all her life but for the mundane things that came knocking at her door as soon as the gut wrenching ones decided to step back for the present.

Maybe it really would be easiest to gift in kind, she thought to herself with a coy smile and threw her head back to stare at the bare ceiling. It was not surprising anymore, however, when the phone rang right on cue. She looked at Arnav’s name flashing on the screen and swiped right to answer the call.

“Wish me.” He demanded even before she could greet him for the sixth time that evening.

“It isn’t even midnight yet.” She said as she rolled over on to her stomach and placed the phone on the bed, putting it on speaker as she threw her head down on her left arm and she lay on her left side.

“Wish me nevertheless,” He insisted, his voice sliding down her spine like the smoothest of silks she had ever worn.

“Uh huh,” She shook her head.

He sighed. “What were you doing?” He asked.

“Window shopping for gifts.” She answered honestly. “It’s a nightmare. I’ve never done this before.” Shopping for her father and Arjun didn’t count – her father didn’t understand the concept of gifts and Arjun was a gift card man – a kindred spirit if there was ever one.

It didn’t occur to her for even a moment that they had easily slipped into a togetherness that was filled with more moments of comfort than the rare ones of awkwardness – even when they were evidently aware of each other and this new change between them.

“I don’t think you can window shop for the gift I have in mind, Khushi.” He teased.

Except this time she wasn’t going to be the one blushing. “What’s the point of gifts that cannot be window shopped for when there are miles to conquer before they can be conveyed?” She countered.

“And if there weren’t?” He challenged. “Miles to conquer, I mean”

“Hypothetical questions don’t deserve answers.” She was beginning to be very proud of her rejoinders, she realized with a grin. If nothing, her ability to counter his teasing was at least keeping her focus diverted from the deep sense of disappointment at the distance between them.

“Perhaps,” His voice chimed through the sound waves in her ears, “if you answered the knock on your door, you’d know if the question is hypothetical or not.”

“What…” She began when she heard the sound of knuckles rapping against the hard wood of her door. She rolled over on to her back and all the way to the edge of the bed, her phone forgotten on the bed as she jumped out of it and hurried to the door. The knock sounded again as she turned the locks on the door and mindlessly threw the door open.

And there he was, smiling that knowing smile even as he disconnected the call and thrust the phone in his pocket. He was still dressed formally, looking every bit like the jet-setting consultant with his overnighter stacked up beside him and laptop bag slung over his shoulder.

“How?” She asked, her eyes wide in her face and her mouth rounded in an unapologetically enormous O. “You…” She began even as he stepped in and raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t have a room at the Inn today, Khushi. Can I stay here…with you?” He asked softly as stepped over the threshold and pulled his bags in. “You do owe me a gift, don’t you? Especially now that we don’t have miles to conquer anymore.”

She stared at him, frozen in the moment that seemed to last forever. He was in front of her. It was incredible and yet…

He stepped forward and allowed the door to close behind him. Before the door clicked into place, however, she walked into his arms and kissed him on the cheeks, her lungs filling with his scent, deep and full of promise as she buried her face into his neck and allowed herself to feel the solidness of him against her skin. “It’s still not midnight,” She whispered against his neck as his arms tightened around her pushing her further into his chest, molding their bodies flush against each other. “You are here.” She said as she allowed her hands to slide up his back and curl into the collar of his coat, her fingers brushing against the skin at the nape of his neck.

“Shyam told me a long time ago that one had to make the Consulting life work for them by taking chances when they presented themselves.” He said as he kissed the top of her head and dipped his head lower, brushing his lips against her temples and then the edge of her cheek bones before she lifted her face to look at him. Her eyes fluttered close as his lips found hers in a kiss, soft and tentative for a minute second before longing more powerful than the air of practicality that had always enveloped them, ripped through all her senses.

He kissed her like there was nothing and no one else in that moment that mattered more. He took her breath away and replaced it with his own – warm, hungry, giving. She kissed him back just as whole-heartedly, as their mouths opened under each other’s insistence. Her hands folded around his neck and pulled him in as his body rustled against hers, hard and urgent as they broke apart and came together again and again till they were both breathing hard and heavy.

“Happy birthday,” She whispered against his mouth as he placed another kiss on her lips before dipping his lips to kiss the column of her neck and then the shoulder he exposed by pushing her night-shirt away. Even scrap of skin he marked with his lips and his teeth, burned with liquid heat.

“So many times,” He whispered as his other hand curved up her neck and into her hair, pulling it free of the band that was holding it together. “I’ve wanted to do this so often,” He whispered for a second before he kissed the thin scrap of skin at the base of her throat before he caught it between his teeth and sucked hard, eliciting a moan from her, embarrassed as she was with how needy she sounded, of how easy it would be for them to give in to the needs of something as primal.

“Arnav,” She whispered. She wasn’t sure why she was calling out to him. It was definitely not to stop him or slow him down. It just seemed right…the sound of his name in the air as he drove her insane.

Unfortunately for her, he did take that as a cue to stop. He pressed another kiss to the now marked spot on her neck and grazed his lips along the column of her neck back to her lips. “See?’ He said as he kissed her softly. “I told you…Always when we are kissing.” He said as he kissed her again. “It makes me wonder…” He whispered as he caught her lips between his own again, sending her need spiraling out of control as visions of her wonderment flashed in front of her eyes.

She didn’t want to wonder. She didn’t want him to wonder. She wanted to know. She wanted him to know.

Only Arnav Varun was already sighing deeply and pulling her back into his arms. “I wonder who is punishing whom,” She whispered more to herself than to him even as she closed her eyes and smiled in his embrace.

“Hmm?” He asked as she snuggled into his chest.

“I missed you,” She said instead as she kissed his shoulder and breathed in deeply. “Happy Birthday, Arnav.”

River Song, Music and Lyrics

Song Title: Tujhe Dekha Toh

Album: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge

Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Kumar Sanu

Music: Jatin-Lalit

Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

 

Yeh dil kahin lagta nahi

Kya kahun, main kya karun?

Tu saamne, baithi rahe

Main tujhe dekha karun

Tune awaaz di, dekh main aa gayi

Pyaar se hai badi kya kasam?

 

 

Note:

  1. Happy birthday, Kavi. I hope you have the best year ahead and friendships to last a lifetime!
  2. This song. It is more about nostalgia than love. But. This song.
  3. Next Update: Sep 20, 2017, late night IST

418 thoughts on “Chapter Twenty – I: Once Smitten, Twice Shy

  1. Somewhere there is a star,
    Somewhere there is a smile,
    Somewhere there is a heart,
    Somewhere there is a song.

    Someone, is all that and so much more.

    Happy Birthday AV!

    To the author of his thoughts, thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I wanted to post a birthday greeting earlier but I guess I’m not that late. Extraordinary times these.
    So, Happy Birthday AV Sir, hope you’re making the most of the WFH!
    P.S: Author saahiba, hope you and yours are also doing well. Take care and stay safe.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Happy bday AV sir
    Make the most of it, far from prying eyes & rules
    Hope they do more than kiss
    Gutter alert
    Main kya karun?AV told he doesn’t have a room, wanted to stay with KK,
    was just suggesting 🥰💕

    Liked by 1 person

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