She bit her nails as she watched the door that would open any time now. Things had indeed changed quickly between them if at half past midnight on a weekday in the middle of her first client-facing project, she was waiting for Arnav to emerge from the bathroom having changed into something more comfortable for the rest of the time he was going to spend with her.
In her room.
“Oh my God!” She whispered to herself as she blinked but refused to tear her gaze from the door. Seeing Arnav at her doorstep was shocking enough but when he’d told her that he was there only for a few hours till dawn before he needed to board another flight back to L.A, she had all but fainted – and she had never fainted in her life before – as much as she had wanted things to be dramatic.
He had put himself through a six hour flight twice in less than twenty four hours.
To meet her.
And then he was going to head back to a major client meeting which impacted everything including his reputation, pay and just overall peace of mind. It was in that moment that she realized that despite all her fascination for romance fiction – books and movies, the practical, Gupta side of her personality was stronger. She had to literally hold back the stream of whiny whys that threatened to drown out the absolute aww-someness of his gesture.
She let her thumbnail escape the onslaught of her teeth and allowed her hand to fall on to her lap. She viewed her half-sleeved hands and barely exposed legs with rising distaste. Why hadn’t she given in to the woman at the salon who’d offered to wax her legs and hands in addition to the facial hair removal that she’d religiously gone in for twice since her arrival in Detroit? Paying an Indian Rupee value of fifteen times the amount she paid back home had been one factor, yes – one that only her Krur Singh brows justified. At least, she conceded to herself, she was wearing a matched night suit – even if it did make her look like an overgrown school girl.
She should have showered, she told herself, a droopy expression pulling her mouth down in dismay. Showering in the evening was a habit she needed to put in action right away. What with this newly found relationship status.
Newly found relationship status.
Those were strange words. Welcome, but strange – she repeated silently in a perfect even if imaginary Mr. Ollivander imitation. She smiled at the thought, scrunched her nose and bit her lips. “Abhi na hua toh phir kabhi nahi, kabhi nahi,” She hummed to herself briefly before she made a face at the choice of song. Of all the songs she had at her disposal, THIS was the one her mind chose to pick now? “Plich,” She shook her head disapprovingly, “Sharam aani chahiye, Kaveri Gupta,” She told herself, this time in her sister’s voice.
“Kis baat pe?”
She looked up and realized that he was changed and standing in front of her, smiling in that knowing, mysterious manner that was so him. How had he sneaked up on her – again? Hadn’t she just been watching the door to avoid exactly this situation? At the risk of looking like a moron, no less?
“Uff,” He whispered and pressed two fingers between her brows. “My mother says frowning can be permanent if you aren’t careful.”
She stood up in a hurry and clamped down the sudden head rush in the wake of his proximity.
“You know, I am not about to…” He scanned her face intently, his eyes glinting, “how do I put it…” He asked and watched her face as if looking for permission to finish his statement.
“You are not about to…?”
He smiled and allowed his fingers to trail from her brow to her temples and curl behind her ear, pushing several strands of hair behind her lobe as he did. She shivered and clenched her palms into a fist. “I don’t think it would be right to promise what I may not be able to live up too.”
She smiled tentatively at first and then made a face. “All these rules,” She whispered and raised herself on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. Before he could react, she pushed past him and walked over to the small couch and plonked herself on it, urging her heart to slow down
He watched her with a raised eyebrow and ambled over to the couch. As he stared at her, she waited, almost hoping that he would take her up on her teasing and…Shiv-ji…what was wrong with her? Where were all these thoughts coming from? All these years of forced celibacy – was this what it all came down to? Shameless, Kaveri Gupta, she scolded herself and cleared her throat. “What do you want to do?” She asked suddenly, scared the silence might stretch into stupidity before she could round up her lasso to rein it in.
He raised his eyebrow again and Khushi snorted. “I mean…what do you want to talk about?”
He chuckled. “Talk? That’s what your gift is going to be?”
Gift? God! He wasn’t going to let that go, was he? Khushi shrugged. “Whatever else did you think it would be?” She blinked innocently.
“You know that you have a tell when you are nervous, right?” He asked with a smirk. “You are gripping the edge of the couch a little too tight…that…” He pointed out causing her to relax her hold on the fabric immediately. “If I didn’t know that, Khushi, this conversation would be heading in…”
“Fine,” She interrupted and frowned again. When and how was she ever going to win with this man?
“You are killing me, Kaveri Gupta,” He said and before she knew it, he was curling his hand into the lapels of her night shirt and pulling her close. “Do you realize how difficult this is?” He whispered against her mouth before kissing her senseless. They dived into the kiss, surfaced for breath and dived in again in multiple cycles of sensual repetition till neither of them could open their eyes or breathe evenly.
“You called me Kaveri,” She said softly as they straightened by each other’s side and he pulled her into his half embrace, “I like it.”
“Does anyone else call you Khushi?” Arnav asked as pushed her hair away from her shoulders and exposed her neck. His hands pulled at the collar of her shirt and worked to expose the skin of her shoulders and her back.
“My parents do sometimes…” She answered as her eyes threatened to flutter close under the onslaught of his fingers, now tracing the scar she knew was only half visible in her current state of dress. “What do your parents call you? Munna?” She asked with a smile and then suddenly straightened and turned to face him, tucking one leg under her as she did. “No, before we get there, what is your last name?” She asked.
“What?” He asked with an amused smile.
“Last name. What’s your last name?” She enunciated.
“I got that Ms. Gupta. But…after ten years – this is the question you have for me?” He asked with a hooked eyebrow.
“This is why sharam aani chahiye,” Khushi pointed out.
He laughed and shook his head. “I don’t have one. It’s a common practice where I grew up. It just saves all the caste conversation hassle. The so called “lower” castes did it to hide from the wrath of the higher castes at one point. Then “higher” castes followed suit when the tides turned in the state.”
Khushi frowned. “I obviously don’t care about the caste part. But…it’s just…one should know…okay…what did Ti-Di call herself before marriage?”
“My parents knew to keep the last name hidden for both kids, you know,” Arnav laughed and shook his head. “She will kill me for revealing this but Aditi Rani.”
Khushi laughed for a good minute and then clicked her tongue sympathetically. “It doesn’t suit her at all.”
“No,” He shook his head, his shoulders shaking with mirth, “It doesn’t. She says it was a key reason she said yes to J when he proposed. Aditi Sinha sounds infinitely better. Though,” He continued, “our father still calls her Rani…which I think she now – two decades of cribbing later, secretly prefers.”
“Hmm…okay so what…”
“Jha.” He interrupted with a smile. “That’s what my father uses, what his brothers – my Uncles and their children still add to their names.”
“Jha.” Khushi repeated.
“You sound disappointed.” Arnav asked curiously.
She shook her head and shrugged. “Why would I…” She began and then it dawned on her, setting her face aflame. She cleared her throat. “Why would I be disappointed…or otherwise?” She said without looking at him and completely missing the small smile on his face. She cleared her throat again….
She dragged her gaze up to meet his warily and then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw no teasing glint in his. A serious conversation, she could handle.
“I spoke to Shyam.”
He took a deep breath. “I…told him how I feel about you…what I hope for us…”
Despite the situation and the seriousness of his tone, or maybe exactly because of both, Khushi burst of laughing.
“You are laughing.” He said drily but the surprise was evident in his slightly widened eyes.
“You don’t have many friends do you?” She teased. “Of all the people in the world…Shyam is who you chose to tell first? I haven’t even told Arjun” She chuckled, “or Tripti.”
“I do…” He began defensively and then let his shoulders drop, choosing to stare at her as if he was waiting for her to process the information.
It was only after the momentary sense of victory passed that gravity of his declaration dawned on her. “Shit!” She swore, “You told Shyam about…us…How?…Why?…Nothing has even happened yet…”
He raised his eyebrow, “Nothing? What do you…”
“I mean,” She interrupted, “I haven’t said anything about it yet, remember?” She asked with a frown. “I can’t believe you told Shyam. I can’t believe you are so…” She narrowed her gaze, “Were you always this high-handed?”
His eyes widened further. “I am high-handed?”
“What else would you call this…you told Shyam!” She said incredulously. The swell of panic in her chest was beginning to set her tongue loose. “First, you insist on dropping me for a date…”
“You said it wasn’t a date…”
“Whatever,” She countered intelligently, “Then you insist on driving me back. There is that song you toss about like it’s the answer to the origin of the universe. Then you force me to have dinner with you. You declare you love me – five years AFTER I said that to you. You unleash years of such unexpected intensity…Then you kiss me till I don’t know my own name. The next morning you give me the absolute cold shoulder which stretches well into the day. And while I stew in what-ifs and what-nows, you pick up your bags and leave and…” She stuttered, “And…”
Before she could pick up the thread of her outburst and coax it into the needle of her anger, he was kissing her again. And she…such an idiot…she simply melted into his mouth, dissolving like a sugar cube in sunlight. He pulled her flush againt him and allowed his hands to curve around her neck and pull her closer, never letting her breathe even as his other hand crept up her night shirt. His fingers teased the edge of her bra and slipped under as he molded her against his chest, every inch of him painfully wonderful against every other inch of her.
When she sucked her breath in against his fingers, he let go, making her want to groan in disappointment. Again. Except this time, his fingers found the buttons on her shirt and expertly pulled them apart, exposing the swell of skin beneath “Arnav,” She whispered against his lips as they travelled down her neck and placed kisses on her chest.
“You were saying,” He urged her on hoarsely as his teeth caught the skin above her heart and sucked again.
“This is not fair,” She bit out as her hands threaded through his hair and she watched him in awe, her eyes heavy with desire. The visual of his dark hair against her chest, the intensity of his teeth and lips against her skin…it was too much…
“I’m unfair too now?” He asked as he looked up at her again, his voice rough as he traced the contours of her body – half supple half firm, along gradients of hard diamond and soft silk, with the back of his fingers while his other hand slid down and curved into her waist. “High handed and unfair,” He whispered against her lips. “You must really dislike me then.”
She sucked in her breath again as her hands slipped to his uncovered forearm, tracing the gash she had only imagined caressing. “Hmmm…” The scar was so sexy! How could a scar be so sexy? Someday, she would be able to trace it with her tongue. She wondered what he would think of that…
“Hmmm? That’s your answer?” He as his knuckles traced the curve of her stomach down to her navel. Though his touch was removed from her skin by a layer of cloth, it was a jolt of flame to parts she’d rarely even been aware of in the past when he traced a circle around her belly button. It gave her sudden flashes of insane ideas like possible piercings and silver rings.
“You kept me waiting for five years.” She pointed out as allowed her free hand to slip from his gash-free arm and used it to cover his wandering touch. “And irrespective of what you say, it might have easily been just the rest of my life…”
“But you were waiting?” He insisted as he wove his fingers through hers and brought her hand up to his chest and tugged at it, pulling her closer.
The air between them collided a second before their lips did. It took her everything in her power to pull away. “I wasn’t.”
And then she wished she hadn’t said it when she saw his eyes flash with something a lot like pain. This was not a fight. She wasn’t warring to establish the supremacy of her pain over his, was she? And irrespective of how fantastic and incredulous it sounded, she couldn’t doubt that he had suffered too. If anything, this was the time to let go of things that never came to more than heartache and focus on that which glittered with promise.
“Five months.” She whispered. “At least five months. One for every year.” She repeated her rule out aloud as she looked straight at him.
“Five months.” He repeated, as he pulled their intertwined hands up and kissed her knuckles.
“And then I will have my answer.” He stated for clarity. She almost wanted to laugh out aloud. Except there was nothing funny about the absolute pool of want that she was in the moment.
She nodded instead, watching as he turned their clasped fingers over and exposed her wrist to place more kisses there. Shit! She was going to combust if he kept us this slow torture he seemed to be a master of.
“Till then,” He asked, “We can keep doing this…” He closed his eyes and bent his head to trail kisses up her forearm, his lips marking their path up her arm.
And more, she whispered in her head as he found her lips and kissed her again, easily coaxing her into returning with fervor what he gave and asked for in equal urgency.
Several minutes later, she found herself pulled up against his chest, her ears pressed against his heartbeat as he traced patterns on every exposed scrap of skin. “Arnav,” She said as her leveled breathing forced her body to cool despite the fire that was only stoked stronger with every additional kiss and every new touch. If she hadn’t seen him clench his fingers into fists as he breathed heavily in silence before he turned her away from him and pulled her up against his chest, she’d have been worried about the strength of her reactions. It was a good thing they were taking things slow, she told herself a second before the outcome of taking things fast became clear in her head. And with it came all the ideas of virginity, pre-marital sex, unwanted pregnancies and every other thing dramatic that was clearly a terribly side effect of being a Bollywood fan. She took a deep breath and sighed into his body. ““What must he think of me…?” She said, coming back to the topic she knew would eventually trouble her if she didn’t speak about it.
“Khushi…” he started but Khushi recognized immediately the placatory nature of his response.
“He must think I am so unprofessional…” She despaired, her eyes burning with a mixture of barely hidden embarrassment.
“How is this unprofessional?” He asked as kissed her hair and then the upper lobe of her exposed ear.
“This is my first client-facing project,” She offered and then frowned. Why didn’t he see…
“I didn’t say anything about you,” He said gently. “I only told him how I feel.”
She turned to look up at him.
“I promise. I didn’t even mention having declared how I feel to you. Just that…” He took a deep breath. “Basically, he asked me how I’d manage Wyatt once Ivy Networks came through – if it did. And I…I offered to step away from this…He couldn’t understand why and…I sort of had to…”
It suddenly made full sense to her. Hadn’t she chuckled to herself about how seriously he was taking this professional conflict issue? Wasn’t this – this blinkered view of right and wrong, this absolute sense of dedication to what he believed was the right thing to do, one of things she’d begun to cherish in him? He was in no way perfect – what with the evident high-handedness – but he intended to be. And that was…it was charming. Even eviable, if she thought about it…
“Do you bitch about anyone ever?” She asked suddenly curious about the extent of his correctness.
“Huh?” He blinked at her bemusedly.
“Have you ever bitched about anyone?” She asked again. “God, I think at this point, I’m wondering whether it is your hearing or your comprehension that I should be worried about…”
He tightened his hold on her in mock consternation as his eyes flashed in amusement. “I’ve obviously criticized….”
“No no no…” She shook her head, “Bitching has nothing to do with criticism. It is pure meanness, intended to do nothing but…”
“You talk like you are well versed with the process.” He teased. “Give me a sample…”
“Nice try,” She said as she rolled her eyes. She wasn’t going to reveal her true colours this early. There was still the question of why he loved her in the first place. She couldn’t risk that, could she? She grinned to herself and straightened her neck, resting against his chest, with his vital heartbeat thudding in her ears. I love you, she said mentally as her lips curled into a secretive smile.
It was going to be a long five months for her too, she conceded. But some things…She smiled some more as his fingers curled into her hair and tugged. Before she knew it, his lips were seeking hers again.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Jaanam Samjha Karo
Album: Jaanam Samjha Karo
Singers: Asha Bhonsle
Music: Leslie Lewis
Lyrics: (Information about the lyricist is surprisingly unavailable!)
Tehro padi hai raat yeh saari
Kahe ki jaldi jaaneman?
Daale hue yeh reshmi baahein
Yun hi lipte raho tum gulbadan
Taqdeer se yeh mil gaya mauka
Aage khud hi jaan lo, aur kya kahein?
Jaanam samjha karo!
Next Update on Oct 5, 2017, late night IST. Thank you for staying with the River!