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Arnav, who was comfortably enjoying and relishing the moment of holding his lady love in the dark till now, broke away from his trance. His eyes flew open and his heart gripped steel on hearing the question. He knew this was coming sometime soon and here it was. Khushi was one of the most honest and sincere person he had met in his life and she deserved to know every ounce of him. They lay like that for some time more before Arnav finally sat up and rested against the headboard.
Khushi sensed him untangling from her grip and sit up as he let out a warm breath. She knew he was going to answer everything and from tonight onwards there would be no barrier between them. She clutched the blanket near her heart and tried sitting up to join him. Arnav, who was looking down, suddenly saw her move and helped her get comfortable. They looked into each other's eyes and smiled, the cute kind before Arnav finally looked away. She twined her hands around his bicep and snuggled her head on his shoulder, signalling she was going to be by him through thick and thin. Arnav placed his other free hand on her face, caressing it as he finally began to unfurl the darkest times of his life.
"I was fourteen. Life was normal and we stayed in Sheeshmahal in Lucknow. Our uncle stayed with us too. Our father was a huge business magnet there and had a lot of political association as well. He was a bit of short tempered person. That's where I get my genes from, you know" he said scoffing cynically at his own joke as he looked at Khushi, who was now listening to him with utmost attention. "Ma generally stayed at home. She was one of the bravest women I ever knew. Even though I was young then, I knew that during those last few years their marriage was a problem but Ma played along for us." He continued further, his eyes shimmering from a distant light.
"What was his name? I must have heard his name too" Khushi asked. "Naveen, the owner of Shenuk Industry" came an acid reply. The name struck a very strong chord somewhere at the back of her mind but she couldn't put a finger to it. It seemed like a distant memory but either way, she didn't let it show on her face. "Must've read it or heard it in Lucknow. He was a big guy anyway" Khushi decided. "Suddenly things started to go wrong. Our business collapsed and Sheeshmahal was on mortage but somehow our uncle handled the situation but ever since, things started to get bitter between the two brothers. Father started resorting to other means to make up for the loss but it wasn't in the fairest of the ways. One of his trusted employees, probably his accountant, didn't want to be a part of the sham and threatened to expose him if he wasn't let go off the job easy. When Ma learned about this, she tried to make him see reason but it was of no avail."
"Why does this story seem so familiar? Why do I feel I know about it?" The thought kept badgering Khushi but did not surface yet. "Then?" she coaxed him to keep going but he did not show any sign to do so. He was thinking of ways to put the picture before her in a subtle way and thus the silence. He didn't know how to go on. He had never opened up to anyone. Anyone who knew his history were the ones who were there then but he had to go on and he knew that. "Things started to get out of hand and that employee tried backing out a lot of times but he had too much information. The financial issues were getting to his nerves and he started losing it. The employee pulled his last stunt by threatening to expose some document and father lost it." He stopped for sometime before he finally let the cat out of the bag. Looking away, unable to meet her eyes and ashamed of his father's deed, he said "He killed him." he looked down ashamed. "He killed him. Just not him, his wife too. They were run over by a car in Aminabad Market". Khushi's heart skipped a beat.
Her eyes constricted with fear but Arnav didn't notice and went on further. "When Ma came to know about it, she refused to take any more of it. She stood her ground and wanted to leave him. One thing led to another and she was shot on the day Di was supposed to get married. I was there. I saw it. " He paused for a breath. He thought Khushi would comfort him but when he checked her expression, he saw bewilderment in her eyes. He thought it's the daunting effect of the story but he was wrong. "Whatever property that was left to us after the collapse was in my mother's name. When she died, it passed back to my father. He wasn't in his mind those days and Ma's passing away destroyed him further. Uncle had over 70% of our property to his name but he wanted total power. Taking advantage of the situation, Uncle killed father and threw us out of the house only to be taken in by Nani. Since then, we denounced the surname 'Malik' and took over Ma's surname 'Singh Raizada'. He concluded miserably.
'Malik', the name confirmed her fear. She took her hand away from his and moved back, terror flashing in her eyes. She couldn't believe this was happening. Things had finally started to fall in place but it seemed like fate had some other plans. She tried speaking but no words escaped her throat. Arnav looked up at her just as he was about to go on further but her expression stopped him. "What happened?" he asked. She didn't look scared. She was horrified. Mortified. He cupped her face in concern. "Khush.." he was about to start when Khushi finally sputtered "Arnav Ji? Was this employees name 'Jitendra Kumar Gupta' ?" Her lips were quivering, muttering a silent prayer, hoping his answer would be negative. His eyes widened with fear as the truth hit him on his face. Khushi's father. Their eyes were locked but the answer was conveyed. As the time froze around them, a tear slipped out from her eyes and trailed a damp course on her soft cold cheek.
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