“What?!” Buaji's voice rose way above normal volume...
“We had a bad fight last night, both of us got pretty angry. He stormed out. He ended up getting drunk and going home with some girl there. He didn’t come home until this morning.” She blew out the air she hadn’t known she was holding in her lungs.
“I can’t believe he’d do that...” her mum murmured, her eyes wide as she surveyed her.
“Me either. But he admitted to it. Oh, Amma, Buaji, he seems so sorry. He was so upset. He wants to make it up to me, to make it better. But I just had to get out of there. I needed some distance.”
Khushi could feel fresh tears track down her cheeks.
“I hope you at least slapped him!"
Buaji questioningly stared at Khushi…
“Well? did you??”
Khushi's head turned as her mother also asked…
She was surprised that they were encouraging such an act, but she nodded. “I did. I was just so... so angry. How could he do that to me...to us?”
“I don’t know…" Garima said as she held Khushi close…"He is just a man after all. I know it doesn’t excuse what he did, but men can be rather stupid. I don’t begin to pretend I understand what goes through their thick heads sometimes.” She paused and looked towards Buaji, urging her to say something...
Snorting out her disgust, Buaji asked...“How do you feel about it? About him?”
She sucked in a breath. “I feel betrayed. Of course. I feel like he’s ripping my heart in two. I-it scares me, that he could even do it at all.”
She paused and picked at the ornamental pillow next to her... “And at the same time, I still love him. Maybe that’s why this hurts so much.”
“Oh Sanka Devi! Of course you still love him.” Buaji gathered her close in a hug.
When she let go, her expression was purposefully lighter... “We’re about to eat, so you will join us, okay?”
Dinner with her family was the last thing she wanted right then...
“Amma, Buaji, thankyou for hearing me out, but please, I think I’d rather just be alone for a while. Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay. I’ll bring a plate to your room later. You need to eat something, I doubt you’ve had a bite all day.”
It’s true, she hadn’t.
The way her stomach had been rolling, food couldn’t have been less appealing.
Still, she knew her mum was right, that she needed to eat. “That would be perfect. Thanks, Amma...”
With one last hug, she walked towards her old room...
Her room was just as it always was.
Memories of the last time she had been there burdened her mind…
They had been happy, together, so very close…
With a heavy sigh, she set her suitcase down on the chair next to the door and then flopped herself onto the bed.
Defeat and weariness overtook her and 20 minutes later when Garima knocked on her bedroom door to deliver her the plate of food, she pushed it open to find Khushi fast asleep on top of the covers.
She set the plate down on the desk and quietly left the room.
Arnav sat at the desk in his office.
The day was a blur.
He was mindlessly fumbling through papers on his desk, shuffling them into his briefcase and his mind was utterly and completely someplace else.
He couldn’t believe he had just let her walk out the other day.
He’d been so afraid to push her, to urge her to stay because maybe if he pushed too hard, he’d lose her for good.
But having her gone just felt wrong.
His heart ached in a way it hadn’t ached since... well, since he thought that she was in love with Shyam...
He should have said something, done something to make her want to stay.
The problem being that even now, days later, he had no idea what he could have done to change her mind.
All he knew was that he was completely hopeless without her.
He let his head drop forward into his hands.
"I am the biggest fucking idiot...I have put her through so much...and now...I officially “cheated” on Khushi...my wife...the woman I love more than anything or anyone! Why would ANYONE do that if they had KHUSHI!"
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Feeling numb, he lifted his head and resumed stuffing papers into his briefcase.
He dreaded going back to his empty room, but he didn’t see what other choice he had.
A horrible thought suddenly occurred to him; what if Khushi never came back to him?
What if this was what his life was to be from here on out?
Lonely dinners, late night talk shows, filling the days with work and mindless pursuits.
And no Khushi.
"oh God…" he stood up pulling at his collar...
A cough from the doorway snapped him out of his own mind.
He looked over, expecting to see an employee but instead saw the imposing figure of Buaji.
His mouth went suddenly and alarmingly dry, heart beating faster...
She looked furious, frighteningly so.
She crossed the room to his desk and faced him, “Buaji... wasn’t expect-”
He was interrupted by the crack of her palm across his face and he staggered backwards a bit.
The Gupta women certainly had a stinging right hook.
As he recovered, he wisely kept his mouth shut.
“How could you?” Buaji finally bit out.
Words he’d been asking himself every minute since she left.
“How could you do that to my Khushi? I trusted you! SHE trusted you!”
Her words stung.
He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t know... I don't know how it happened...I’ve never, NEVER wanted to hurt her.”
“That’s all well and good but you have hurt her. She’s barely come out of her room since she came home. She’s devastated. You did that."
“I didn’t mean to-” He cut himself off, knowing that argument was pointless. “It’s killing me...It’s killing me to know I did this to her.”
“I’m glad,” she told him spitefully. “You should feel awful about this. What you did was inexcusable.”
He nodded. “I still can’t believe it. I only love her. I only want her. She is my life and has been for many years now. And now... I don’t think I can make it without her.” He could hear the tears he was trying to keep at bay working their way into his voice.
Buaji's expression softened almost imperceptibly. “Oh Bitwa,” she breathed, looking resigned.
Startled, he looked at her.
She barked out a quick laugh. “You forget! You’re family now, like it or not. I may want to beat you up for what you did, but you’re still like a son to me.”
He relaxed a bit, but still felt hollow. “Buaji, what do I do? How can I fix this? I need her! I...I literally...need her!”
She closed her eyes and touched her fingers to her temple as if trying to ward off a headache.
“I really don’t know what you can do... She loves you, I know she does. But she doesn't trust you anymore. And love without trust... well... you’re not going to get terribly far.”
Arnav was still working hard to hold back the tears...“Why did you come here today? I know it wasn’t just to slap me.”
She smiled at that. “No, that was just a bonus. I came to see what your intentions were.”
“I want her back. I want her to trust me again. I want to make this all up to her.”
“You’re going to have to take it very slowly...” She looked at him sharply.
He chuckled. “Take it slow, I took our relationship FAR to slow to begin with...I finally get her and then...”
Buaji frowned…"But you two have been married for nearly 10 months…"
Arnav didn't know what to say…
How could he tell her that for a LONG time, he tried to make her life hell, and then when he fell for her, he was lied to by Shyam, then he forced her into a horrid marriage, and after six months of THAT he realized that he was wrong…
His head hurt.
He'd only given her 4 or so months of happiness, and now...he did what the most low down, rotten man would do...cheat on his wife…
"I...I can try...to be patient…"
He was unsure, mostly because he knew his impatient nature...
But if anyone was worth trying for, it was Khushi.
“Do you think I could call her tonight? Would she talk to me?”
Buaji bit her lip and looked thoughtful. “I think she should talk to you, if that helps. I believe that a couple should MAKE things work, but now...after seeing her breakdown…" she shook her head…"Look, give her mobile a ring around 8 o’clock. I’ll urge her to talk to you. Just... Just be careful. Take it easy and don’t push too much on her, okay?”
He smiled warmly at her... “I will.”
As Madhumati left, he found he was already running through potential topics of conversation in his head.
He was nervous about spooking her but more than anything else, he couldn’t wait to hear her voice again.
That nattering, non-stop, nonsensical talking voice…
He absolutely was NOT counting down the minutes until 8 pm.
He was NOT looking at the clock every five minutes.
And he was absolutely NOT so entirely wrapped up in the expectation of talking to Khushi on the phone that he barely tasted the curry takeout he’d picked up for dinner.
He groaned…"Yes I am…"
He wanted to hear her voice again so badly.
It’d been just three days since she had walked out.
Three excruciating and painful days.
He wondered if she missed him half as much as he missed her.
He wondered if she was sleeping or eating.
Then the panic came...maybe she wasn’t missing him at all.
He briskly stood up and ruffled his hair…"I'm going to drive myself mad if …"
He checked the clock on the wall again.
Calling now would probably be too soon...
He decided pass time by getting ready for bed.
Slowly trudging back to his bedroom, he pulled on his tie as he walked.
He pulled off his jacket and pants, hanging them in the wardrobe and struggled not to notice the empty spaces where most of Khushi’s clothes usually were.
He reached out and ran his fingers along a dress that she had left behind.
It was a dark red dress, she’d worn it to a movie that they had attended for his business not more than 2 weeks ago.
She had looked absolutely stunning in it, the luxurious fabric flowing over her curves...her slender arm that was linked in his…
He instantly remembered how he had peeled the dress off of her at the end of the evening, leaving it in a heap by the bedside.
He quickly pulled on some pajama pants, shut the wardrobe, and walked to the en suite and washed his teeth quickly, rinsing his mouth with water.
He surveyed his appearance briefly, noting the shadows under his eyes.
He just didn’t sleep well without her here.
He didn't function at all without her here…
Back in the bedroom, he reclined on his side of the bed
He scrolled through the address book in his phone and finally landed on her name...
Her name had a picture attached to it…
And his eyes drank in her smile…
He remembered how beautiful she had looked as he took the picture...sitting there in the sun, her tongue poking out of her teeth as she chuckled at him, her eyes dancing with happiness.
Their flirting had been constant, plenty of dark looks, intentional touches...
He smiled at the memory, remembering how he had felt his whole life was laid in front of him with such promise.
But the present only smashed into him again…
Here he was, alone.
Again, he wondered at HOW he could have messed up so thoroughly.
He loved her with everything in him.
His heart belonged solely to KHUSHI.
Never, in a million years, had he even dreamed of cheating.
She was everything to him and they were perfect together, in bed and out of it.
There was certainly nothing missing in their love life that he would have had to look for elsewhere.
He couldn’t understand why now, after he finally had everything he had always wanted but never hoped to have, why he would have thrown it all away.
It just didn’t make sense.
He checked the time on the phone and saw it was 5 minutes after 8.
His heart was backflipping as he tapped the call button and waited nervously while the phone rang.
He prayed that Buaji had been able to convince Khushi to take his call.
“Hello?” a voice he knew all too well finally echoed in his ear.
He instantly relaxed.
“Khushi…" he let out a long breath, finally feeling his heart beat…"Hi.”
“Hi...” she said quietly.
Suddenly everything he’d been planning in his head all day long to say to her vanished from his mind.
“I miss you.”
Arnav heard Khushi pause…
But it wasn't a pause…
She covered the receiver and let out a broken cry…
Trying to control herself, she steadied her breathing and said the first words that came to her... “I miss you, too.”
Hope exploded inside his heart...
He struggled to keep his voice even as he continued... “How have you been? What have you been doing?”
“Oh, just...just...” She paused again and this time he knew why…
His own heart wanted to take all her pain as he envisioned her tears…
"I...I've been...helping Buaji, and Amma has taken me shopping…"
Arnav knew that she was trying to stop her voice from shaking, and he couldn't think of anything that could help…
“What about you? How are you?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.
He couldn't withold.
“Oh, it’s awful, Khushi. Going to work and pretending everything is fine. And then I come back here and...and you're not here! You're not here and it's damn QUIET! I hate it! I hate myself!"
“Arnavji,” she began.
Her voice sounded thick.
“I know I should play it cool,” he interrupted. “I know I need to be careful and not to push you but I can’t not tell you how I am feeling. I just miss you so damn much...I can hardly breathe! I just...I need you...”
“Then why?” she asked, her voice stronger now. “Why did you do it?”
And that was the question, wasn’t it?
“I don’t know. I...I honestly don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense. I would never, NEVER want to do that to you. I would never want anyone but you. Ever...”
He heard her catch of breath over the line and knew she was crying again.
Cringing in pain, he said...“Khushi, I love you. Only you.”
“I want to believe you...I did believe you...” she whispered.
“If I could go back and never go to that blasted bar that night, I would.”
“But don’t you see? It’s not changing what happened, it’s that you did it at all. That you could do it. You say you love me and only me but you ...you actually left with another woman. You wanted to, whether you understand it or remember it or not.”
He signed and raked a hand through his hair in frustration.
How could explain to her how sorry he was?
He didn’t want to even think of it, not ever.
“Khushi, I love you...I am in love with you...I love you so damn much!"
“I want to believe you,” she repeated.
There was silence again and he struggled to keep himself calm.
The sound of her breathing only made him more desperate...“Can I see you? Take you to lunch or to dinner or anything? Please?”
“I don’t know…”
“I need a chance to fix this, Khushi. Please...Give me a chance, please! I can't try and make things right if I'm far away from you...”
She went quiet, and so he went on. “Do you still love me?”
He waited what seemed like interminable seconds for her answer, holding his breath until his chest felt tight.
“Of course, I love you. If I didn’t…” she stuttered. “If I didn’t, this wouldn’t...this wouldn't be so hard for me to bear...”
He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Then please, let me try to fix this. Let me ...please...can I see you? take you out on a date?”
“Okay. " she rasped…"You’re right...I need to be open to this...no matter how much it hurts...”
It was a start.
“Is tomorrow night too soon? Is tonight too soon?”
He could hear her smile over the line and his heart swelled.
“Not tonight, but tomorrow is not too soon.”
“How about I pick you up and we can go to dinner? What time?” he asked nervously...
“5:00. That works for me.”
“Great...great... Thank you. I can’t wait to see you.”
Oh, he hoped she meant that.
"I love you Khushi...Only you...ONLY you…"
"I do love you Arnavji...I'll see you tomorrow…"
The call ended.
A smile was still lingering on his lips and he felt better than he had in days.
He knew somehow that when he went to sleep that night, he would sleep so much better than he had been.
And he knew he would dream of Khushi.
The next morning, while she was reluctant to admit it, Khushi felt strangely nervous…
She knew it was largely because of her impending date with Arnav later that night, but right now, she didn’t want to be so happy to be seeing him again.
She wanted to hold onto her hurt and anger, at least for a little while longer.
Her hurt and anger were the only things keeping her heart safe at the moment.
But it was hard to remember that when she missed him so much.
She’d been terribly distracted during her lunch with the family.
Normally, they would all rattle on and talk about everything when they sat down to lunch together like this.
But now, Khushi’s mind had been definitely distracted.
Just as Garima began to question whether Khushi was really okay, there was a knock on the door…
Khushi welcomed the interruption and rushed to answer…
"I'll get it Buaji! Please let me!"
As the door opened, she was met with a delivery man…
One small box, for Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada.
"For me?" she murmured…
"Sign here please?"
Khushi nodded politely and signed her name fast…
"It is for you!? I never get anything…" Buaji complained…
Offering an apologetic smile, Khushi began to unwrap the box in her hands…
As she lifted the lit, her heart caught in her throat as she saw what was inside…
"Well!?" boomed a voice from the table…"What did you get?!"
A smile played around her lips as she regarded the small treats….her favorite...jalebi…
Having this delivered to her, it was a gesture that was so perfectly him that she felt a laugh rise up in her throat unconsciously.
She lifted one to her lips and took a bite.
Of course, it was mouth-wateringly delicious and the taste evoked such a strong sense memory that she could almost see the fireworks when she closed her eyes to savor the sweet flavor.
Once she'd eaten every last bite, she saw a note at the bottom of the box…
Unfolding the paper, she read…
I knew you'd eat them all…
I miss you. See you tonight.