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Khushi saw Arnav's brows gather into a foreboding frown; then, almost as soon as it was noticed, the cloud was gone, and a lazy smile replaced the frown.
"Do you really require yet another conquest in me?" he asked.
Conquest?! Khushi bristled at the casualness of his tone.
Arnav turned away from her, and walked to the wardrobe and proceeded to remove his jacket. He didn't meet her eyes when he said.
"Khushi, I'm not like your Yashji or NK--I'm not going to fawn at your feet so you can triumph that you have Arnav Singh Raizada under your control."
Khushi heard his words and her stomach sank in what could only be called wretched despair. She talked of love; he talked of control. It was like living with Taty--they had no common language.
"Believe me, Arnav Singh Raizada--nobody could ever accuse you of fawning at the feet of your wife," she replied, aware that her words were laced with bitterness. She pulled off her earrings, dropped them on the table with uncharacteristic carelessness and went to her end of their shared wardrobe. She slid it open, which resulted in the doors sliding shut at her husband's end. The sound punctuated the end of their conversation. In that moment she knew the real meaning of the word heartsick. Grabbing her night suit, she headed towards the bathroom. She needed to stand under a hot shower for a good twenty minutes.
"Wait," he caught her arm to stop her. "I made you sad," his voice was visibly softened.
"No," she lied. Then, Khushi corrected herself. What was the point of hiding her heart? "Yes," she said, and on unsteady legs, she slumped onto the edge of the bed. As if things were not horrid enough, tears began to flow from her eyes. She couldn't prevent it, though she knew Arnav would consider this a scene.
Arnav dropped to his knees at her feet, and cupped her face, saying, "don't, Khushi. Don't." He wiped her tears with his thumbs as fast as they flowed--but, as every woman knows, the more tender he was, the more profusely she wept. She felt the sheer exhaustion of loving Arnav.
Why could she not be simply loved? Was that too much to ask? Was there something deficient in her that she could not have his free and full love?
With these questions, Khushi worked herself emotionally to a higher pitch, and soon she was gulping back sobs, which she attempted to muffle with her clenched fist. Every pain she had ever felt in their history together was felt anew.
"Khushi!" his tone was severely agitated now. "What is it?!" He gripped her shoulders.
"I'm worn out," she pleaded, her eyes rolling up to meet his. She made absolutely no effort to hide her emotions.
He winced at her words. "Come here," he said, drawing her into his arms.
She did not resist. She allowed herself to be caught against his body and snuggled against his neck.
And, in that moment, Khushi made a decision to give up.
She made the decision to lay herself naked. There was nothing about her that he had not seen and known, so why not dismantle this final wall of her heart? What could she possibly have to lose that was not already lost by this endless speaking in tongues? No more self-preservation, she decided. If their love was true, than disclosure would nourish it.
She looked up at him. She saw he was distressed, but as she could no longer protect herself, she could not protect his feelings either. He would have to hear her no matter how intolerable her words were to him.
It was the first time she had called him Arnav when they were not making love. She felt the full seriousness of what she was risking. His reply could either destroy her hopes for ever, or give her that assuredness that she should continue to love as she did. She took his face in her hands, and said, "I love you. I've only ever loved you. And, I know you love me too." She grasped his hands in hers and brought them so he could hear her heartbeat. "But, I don't feel it. I don't know your heart. Give me your heart, Arnav. I can love you so well if you open your heart to me."
Her final words were both a plea and a promise in one. Arnav's eyes were no longer on her face. He was looking down, his eyes averted. She saw his lips were pressed close as though he had to prevent words from stumbling out. Khushi waited. He made a slight nod. And, then he drew breath and looked at her.
"You have it...my heart. You have my heart, Khushi."
At his words, life and everything bright and beautiful connected with it flooded into her veins. He pressed her palms against his heart, and said, "Property of Khushi Singh Raizada." Khushi smiled, and though he still looked terribly serious she felt a lightness about him. He added, "but, listen to me, Khushi--don't ever cry like that again. Shout at me if I don't behave well. Punish me. But, don't cry. And don't give up on me. I'll try. I can't speak how you do. I have my own way. Like not wanting you away for a single night--that is my way. Try to understand my way of speaking."
She nodded and made a commitment to comprehend his unique language. "I'll try," she promised solemnly. In this moment she would promise him anything and everything.
He brought her face to his, and she waited to receive a kiss to seal their promises. He was gentle--more gentle than she had ever known him to be. Khushi felt that their universe had expanded and altered in some significant way in this one quarter of an hour.
Terror was not too strong a word. Arnav Singh Raizada had felt terror when Khushi had broken down. He had again experienced what it was to have life leave his body--but then with her unvarnished declaration new life had returned. What had she said that he did not deserve? His way of caring for Khushi manifested itself in acts of possessiveness and attempts to control--and though he was comfortable with this, he knew she required words from him. He had known it for days--especially during their nights, when they lay exhausted from play with their limbs entwined--he knew that more than the jalebis he brought her, she craved his feelings. This was the dilemma. Perhaps if he felt less, he could speak more.
Khushi was in the shower. In the interim, he went down to the kitchen with an empty water jug. The empty jug was a symbol, he mused. Khushi always prepared their room with all they would need during the night; with her away all day today, the things he took for granted had gone undone. Because Khushi had been gone. He filled the jug and then opened the fridge to see if there was something sweet for him to take up to Khushi. He removed a box of mithai, and was about to place some pieces on a plate--but as he saw the confectioner's squares, he had a realization. This was not what Khushi needed this evening; she needed him. His entire self. His body, his heart and his voice.
He returned to their bedroom, and saw his wife seated at the stool, drying her hair. His heart expanded with husbandly pride. Khushi was beautiful at any hour of the day, but there was something especially arresting about her when she emerged from the shower, fresh-faced with damp hair. It was her innocence that he saw then. Her unadorned pure nature. It elicited all his protective instincts. And, his wicked instincts too. Those night suits however--they would have to go! He made a mental note to order some nightwear for Khushi from the lingerie shop that had her details. Pearl.
"What are you thinking?" she swiveled and asked.
He chuckled. "Nothing."
"I can tell it's something," she prodded, smiling.
He came to her, and pulled her to her feet. "You want to know? When you wear these night suits I feel like a very bad man with wicked ideas eyeing a school girl."
She gasped, and covered her mouth, her eyes twinkling. "Oh, Uncleji!" she teased, then skipped and twirled away from him.
"Stop it, Khushi!" He set the jug down and caught her wrist, bringing her back in his arms.
"Kuch chaate aap ko, Uncleji?" she said, getting into her game, adopting an innocent tone.
"If you continue to call me Uncleji, I won't be able to perform tonight," he warned her.
"Koi baat nahi, Uncleji."
"...or maybe ever again!"
Khushi had the wisdom to know when to end a game.
She suggested, "why don't you have a shower?"
He smiled, and asked "do I need one?"
"Nahi, but you'll feel refreshed."
He was persuaded.
While he was in the shower, Khushi quickly dried her hair, and went back to the wardrobe. At the back of the drawer where she stored her new undergarments, she had kept folded in tissue, a flowery printed silk chemise. It was a secret indulgence purchased from their trip to the lingerie shop. This seemed its correct inaugural moment.
She quickly removed her old suit--it suddenly seemed distastefully dull--and slipped the silk on with bright pink lace panties. The shop attendant had called the chemise a babydoll and when she glanced at herself in the mirror she saw neither a baby nor a doll. She saw a woman; she saw the woman she wanted to be for her man. She pressed her ear against the bathroom door and heard the water still running. That gave her a few moments to smudge some gloss onto her lips. She was applying lotion to her legs when she realized that there was no longer sound of running water emerging from the bathroom.
Her heart leapt in her chest. It was one thing to undress for him when he demanded it, but it was entirely another matter to wait ready for him. Aagh! So many frontiers in one day.
He would be out of the bathroom at any moment. Where should she be? Standing here? No, Khushi, you can't stand around like this. The bed? No, silly girl, not the bed! The pool? Of course, not. The bathroom door handle turned and she could no longer delay. She leapt onto the recliner and sat down, her legs crossed, her bottom lip caught in her teeth.
Arnav emerged out of the bathroom, with a towel draped around his waist, and another towel in his hand mopping the moisture from his wet hair. He stepped into the room, and she saw his eyes lift to search for her. They fell on the bed, and then moved to the recliner. Her body flooded with warmth as his eyes registered, first surprise--followed by a slow appraisal--and finally, appreciation. He tossed the towel that was in his hand on the vanity table, crossed his arms and took her in. His eyes consumed her from across the room. The warmth in her body transformed into a mixture of fear and anticipation. It took an effort for her to not break eye contact.
"What happened to the school-girl?" he asked with a subtle lift of his eyebrow.
Khushi drew in a breath and came to her feet. "She had to go," she replied, not knowing what to do with her hands, so she clasped and unclasped them.
If she had thought his eyes could not further dismantle her, when she stood and his eyes took in the rest of her, the message in his gaze annihilated her. His eyes darkened in a way that was now very familiar to her.
"Come to me, Khushi," he said.
She swallowed and crooked her finger to him to indicate that he was to come to her.
Again, his eyes showed surprise. But, he came and stood in front of her, not yet touching her. "Turn around?" he asked. "Please," was also added.
Khushi turned a full circle. Slowly. She heard his sharp intake of breath when he saw for himself how short the chemise was from the back.
When she was again in front of him, facing him, he ran his fingers from her wrist to collarbone, excruciatingly slowly. It was a light scratch of his fingernails more than it was a caress. She shivered, and her breathing grew unsteady.
"If you knew what effect you are having on me, Khushi, I think you would run out of this room," he ventured.
She replied with more confidence than she felt. "Tell me so I can decide whether to stay or run."
"Once I tell you, I won't have the power to let you go."
"Then don't tell me. Show me instead," she said, bravely taking his hand and leading him to the bed.
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