This update has several time leaps, separated by this _____.
All flashbacks are in Italics.
Read and enjoy!
"Arnav, wait! Have you thought of any names?"
"Names? Isn't it too early for that?"
"It's never too early. We need to start thinking about these things right away.."
"Have you thought of one?"
"I heard this song once, and I really loved it..it's called Rabba Ve."
"You want to name your chain of restaurants Rabba Ve?"
"You don't like it?"
"The question is, will they like it?"
"The Kapoors? I don't know, but it will be one of my suggestions."
"None of this would be necessary if only you had taken my offer of being your partner in this venture."
"You know why I couldn't.."
Yes, he knew why she hadn't taken him up on his offer. When she had first conceived this idea after her experience with various cuisines during their honeymoon, she had been adamant about using her own money to fund the opening of a new restaurant. However, he had managed to convince her to go into partnership with someone who had experience with the restaurant business. The Raizada group did, but she had refused to take his help. She had stubbornly insisted that she would do this herself, and manage it on her own.
At that point, he had realized what was going through her mind. She wanted independence, and an individual identity of her own.
He respected that, because he had done the same thing, years ago.
And so he had backed off.
He had still continued advising her though, and had helped her form a business plan in order to present it to potential partners.
This part had intimidated her, and she had realized how much she still didn't know about business in general, and the food industry in particular.
Which was why she had started going to evening classes in a community college, trying to earn a bachelor's degree.
Meanwhile, he had suggested going ahead with the plan, and had given her a list of businessmen she could approach with her plan.
It had taken all his self-control to stop himself from stepping in to help her, but he had reminded himself that it was important to let her do this alone.
And today, finally she had a positive response.
His smile grew wider as she continued.
"And anyway, they have only approved my plan for a single restaurant. How do you know this will be a chain?"
"I know it will. Trust me."
"Can you come home soon? I can't wait to tell Bauji!"
"I'm sure he'll be very happy for you.."
"And for himself, too! He's going to be manager, after all.. I know he is going to love getting back to work after so long..Although I still don't know why he wouldn't allow me to buy his shop back for him."
"For the same reason that you refused to take my help, of course."
He waited while she thought about what he'd said.
"You know me so well, Arnav."
"You know why, don't you?"
"No, I don't. Why don't you tell me?"
"This is beginning to sound like one of those phone calls before we got married."
"But I called you Arnavji back then."
"And now you call me 'Oh my God Arnav!' "
"No, I don't!"
"Yes, you do. In fact, you called me that just last night. Remember the SUV..."
"Stop! I'm putting the phone down!"
"That's exactly what you used to say before."
"I'm going to put the phone down, and you are going to come home soon. If you don't, I'll.."
"You'll what? Start wearing nightgowns again?"
He laughed again as he heard the click on the other end of the line.
Nothing had changed.
She still made him smile, he still made her blush.
And he was still crazy about her.
He picked up his car keys and left for home.
As Khushi put the phone down, she was smiling, too.
Nothing had changed.
He still made her feel warm inside, and she still made him laugh.
And she was still madly in love with him.
She picked up the photograph and kissed his image.
Tycoon and princess celebrate wedding anniversary.
It was a fairy-tale wedding a year ago, and today we witnessed the fairy-tale celebration of their one year anniversary.
In a grand event worthy of the Raizada name, the tycoon and his princess (in name only,of course) hosted a party in a resort owned by the Raizada group.
Arnav Singh Raizada looked suave and sophisticated in a black tuxedo, while Mrs.Raizada was stunning in a red silk, crystal studded saree that was clearly an AR creation.
A number of prominent businessmen, film personalities, and other celebrities turned up to wish the happy couple. But the most surprising entry of the evening was Salman Khan, who stopped by to congratulate them on his way to a film shoot..
Our sources tell us that the food served at the party included several world-cuisines, and the event hall was beautifully decorated with European touches evident in the decor.
The happy couple, however , had eyes only for each other, and our source informs us that they left the party earlier than the rest of the Raizadas.
Has Arnav Singh Raizada whisked her away for another European honeymoon?
Watch this space to find out!
Khushi placed the newspaper down on her desk and sighed.
It had been a year since her marriage, and she had still not gotten used to having every detail of her life appearing in the media.
She frowned, then looked up suddenly when there was a knock on her door.
"Khushi bitiya, can I come in?"
She went to the door of her office and opened it.
"Bauji, you don't need to ask my permission to enter!"
"I just asked because I didn't know if Arnav bitwa was here as well.."
"No, he's not here yet. Are you going home now?"
"Yes, Payal will drop me home on her way to Shantivan."
"Jiji is enjoying her work here, isn't she?"
"Of course. And I like having her as my assistant in managing the restaurant too.It reminds me of old times, when we ran our sweet shop in Lucknow."
"She told me she took this up because she was feeling lonely at home, after Mamiji took me up on my offer to run the Raizada Charity Organisation."
"That was a very good idea, bitiya. Using part of your mother's inheritance and Arnav Bitwa's funds to create a charity that helps orphanages throughout the city was probably the best thing that could have been done with the money."
"Mamiji loves that job! She gets to socialize with page three personalities in all those fund-raisers, and she told me that she is happy that finally she has someone to compete with in the make-up department!"
"It's all because of you, bitiya..You were the one who thought of involving the other Raizadas in these ventures."
"I discussed it with Arnavji before asking anyone to join me, Bauji."
"That is always the best thing to do. Your husband is a good man, Khushi. He will always support you in every decision you take."
"I know, bauji. I'm very lucky to have him."
"I'll leave now, bitiya. Payal must be waiting for me. I came in to say Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Bauji. I'll leave soon too."
As her Bauji left her office, Khushi's eyes fell on the newspaper again.
The newspaper's so-called 'source' had been accurate, too.
She smiled suddenly.
There was something about last night the source didn't know.
The reason behind Arnavji taking her away from the party was still a secret.
She remembered what had happened after they left..
"Arnav, this isn't the way to go home!"
"Who said we were were going home?"
"We're not? Then where are we..."
"You will find out in a few minutes."
He didn't say a word after that, and she had turned to the window, trying to guess where they were going by looking for familiar landmarks.
The route did seem like one she'd been on before, but when he finally pulled up at their destination, she didn't recognize it.
He held the door open for her,and she stepped out of the SUV, staring at the small house in front of them.
It was constructed to resemble a cottage, but she still couldn't get rid of the feeling that she had been here before.
He still didn't say anything, just held her hand and led her inside.
The interior was beautiful, the the old-style wood furniture and plush carpets giving it a quaint charm of it's own.
He took her to the bedroom, then turned her in his arms and finally spoke.
"Do you know where we are?"
"It looks familiar.."
"You have been here before. It didn't look like this back then. I had this cottage built after the original structure was demolished."
It all came back to her then.
This was the spot where that old building had once stood.
The one in which she had been trapped, and he had come to rescue her.
But why had he built this?
And why were they here now?
"I wanted us to have a place of our own, right here in the city..a hidden getaway only the two of us knew about..Somewhere we could be alone with each other, now that everyone is back in Shantivan.."
"And you chose this place to build this? Why?"
"You know why..for the same reason I did everything else, back when we got married."
She had finally understood.
Another apology, another repentance.
"Even after a year, you are still doing this for me?"
"It was not just that, I really did want a place just for us, and this seemed appropriate.."
"But why did you bring me here now?"
"Because we always have a private celebration of our very own.. So tell me, do you like it?"
She looked around,touched by his efforts.
"This is very nice.."
He came up behind her, and pulled her against himself.
"What's wrong with nice?"
He kissed her neck, pulling her pallu off as he did so.
"Nothing..It's just not a passionate description, that's all."
"Not a passionate.."
He kissed her then, and she wrapped her arms around him.
When he broke the kiss, her eyes were hazy with desire, and she leaned back towards him.
He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to bed, her saree trailing behind them.
There was no more talking for the next few hours.
Later that night, they were lying in bed, her head resting on his chest as he played with her hair.
She looked up at him.
"For what, Khushi?"
"For this house..for the party..for a wonderful year..for everything. For just..being you."
He rolled over, pinning her beneath him.
"You are happy, aren't you?"
She ran her fingers through his hair.
"Very. I have everything I've ever dreamed of."
He kissed her softly, then drew his head back to look into her eyes.
She lowered her eyes from his, her cheeks turning pink.
"I just..it's just that..I think I'm ready now."
"For..for having a baby."
Stunned by her words, he could only stare.
He had told her that he had known this was coming, but he hadn't thought it would be this soon.
He had no problem with the idea itself. In the past, he hadn't been very fond of children, but the thought of having them with her had changed his mind.
But now that she actually wanted this, he wasn't sure if he was ready.
Was he ready for the immense responsibility that came with having child?
Was he ready to share her with someone else, even if was their own child?
Could he really do this?
And then, he looked down into her eyes, shining with hope, anticipation, and excitement.
He knew she really wanted this.
He knew that a baby would make her happy.
And suddenly, he told her his answer.
"So am I."
"Really? That's wonderful, Arnav!"
He watched as her face transformed with happiness, and held her close as she embraced him.
"When do you think I'll get pregnant?"
"Very soon, if we keep doing what we are doing."
'You think so?!"
He laughed again and kissed her, then moved down to kiss her neck.
"Of course. How hard can it be?"
Khushi put the newspaper down, and sighed.
She couldn't wait for him to come here and take her home..
As Arnav remembered that conversation, his last words came back to haunt him now.
It had not been hard.
It had been impossible.
A full year had gone by since that night, and Khushi had not gotten pregnant.
As he stood in the one place he never thought he would be, memories of the past year came back to him, torturing him with their intensity.
"It has been six months, Arnav! Surely I should have been pregnant by now!"
"Sometimes these things take time, Khushi. Didn't the Doctor say that as well?"
"Maybe we should see a different Doctor?"
And so they had gone to a different Doctor.
And two more after that.
He had even taken her to a world-renowned specialist in America, but she had said the same thing as the others.
"Our tests show that there is nothing wrong with either of you. You just have to give this some time, let things take their natural course. Stressing yourself out isn't going to help you. "
But Khushi had stressed herself out.
Every month, when she saw the proof that she wasn't pregnant, she had cried herself to sleep.
He had tried to help in every way he could, taking her to every specialist he could think of, and comforting her when she was in tears.
But then, things had gone from bad to worse when Payal had announced that she was pregnant.
Khushi had been outwardly happy, but that night she had been inconsolable.
"Why Arnav? What have I done wrong? Why is Devi Maiyya punishing me like this? I'm trying so hard to be happy for Jiji, but everytime I see her I'm reminded of the fact that I am a failure!"
"Khushi stop this right now! You are not a failure! It is not your fault!"
She had barely heard his words, turning away from him even as her tears stained her pillow.
And this had continued ever since.
Khushi had changed overnight, until she was just a pale shadow of her old self.
She had withdrawn from the others, and had stopped eating her meals with the family.
She ignored her work at the restaurant too, and spent most of her time in endless prayers and havans.
But the worst blow had come when she had started distancing herself from him.
Physically, she still continued to be responsive, but she would never initiate any intimacy..
And emotionally, she seemed to exist in a different world altogether.
It had killed him to see her like this.
In the two years of their marriage, he had done everything he could to make her happy, but this time, he could do nothing.
He had tried, of course.
He had taken her out on dates, to those places that held special memories for them.
He had even taken her to a movie, starring her favorite Salmanji.
He had made love to her every night with all his love and passion, but nothing had worked.
Khushi was going further and further away from him, even while she slept right next to him.
This had scared him like nothing else ever had, and he had confronted her about it.
"Why are you doing this to yourself, Khushi? Why are you doing this to us?"
"I'm not doing anything! All I want is a baby, and that' isn't happening!"
"We've been over this, Khushi..why don't you understand ? Just give it some time! And stop destroying yourself like this, it isn't helping!"
"Then what will help, Arnav? Tell me! I need to know, this is the most important thing for me right now!"
"The most important thing? What about your marriage? Don't you care about that anymore? You are damaging our relationship, doesn't that concern you at all?"
She hadn't answered, and had run away from him, sobbing.
He had been furious at her inability to understand, and had picked up an antique vase and smashed it against the ground.
A few minutes later, when he had calmed down a little, he had gone downstairs to find her kneeling in front of the idol of Devi Maiyya.
"Why doesn't he understand, Devi Maiyya? Why doesn't he understand that I'm doing this for him? I want to have this child because he wants to be a father, why can't he see that? He has done so much for me, and I cannot even give him this..what sort of wife does that make me?"
She had sobbed harder. and clutched her hands together as she continued.
"I hate myself! I hate that I cannot do the one thing that will make him happy! I hate everything about me, do you hear? And now, I hate you too!"
Arnav had staggered back, stunned by what he had just heard.
She was doing this for him.
Because she thought it would make him happy.
And now, she hated herself.
He had done that to her, made her hate herself, for being unable to give him a child.
And he had robbed her of her belief in Devi Maiyya as well.
In a blinding flash of clarity, Arnav realized one simple truth.
He would never be able to keep her happy.
No matter what he did, or said, she would never be happy with him.
This had been the truth before their marriage, and it was true now, as well.
He was poison for her, and she had been better off without him.
He had steeled himself for what he had to do next.
He would set her free.
No matter what it cost him, no matter how much he had to suffer, he would make her leave.
It was the only way to restore her sanity, her peace of mind, and make her see the joys of life once more.
So that's what he would do, even if it killed him.
Steeling himself for the sin he was about to commit, he had walked up to her.
She was still sobbing, and seeing her like that reinforced his decision.
He pulled her up from her knees and turned her around to face him.
Catching her by her shoulders, he had slammed her back against the wall.
"I should have known that you wouldn't care about me, or our marriage. I should have known better than to expect commitment from someone like you. After all, you were the person who was in love with one person while getting engaged to another!"
He had watched as her eyes widened in shock at the reference to Shyam.
Before she could respond, he had tightened his grip on her shoulders, and said..
"Nothing has changed about you, has it? You may be a princess by birth, but at heart you are still the low-class girl you always were!"
He didn't even know what he was saying anymore, just blindly choosing the most hurtful words that came to mind.
"I've had enough, do you hear me? I don't want to do this anymore. I want you to leave. Right now!"
"A..Arnav? What are you saying?"
"Didn't you hear me? I want you to leave! I don't want to see your face anymore! Samjhi tum?"
Fresh tears had sprung into her eyes, but she dashed them away with one trembling hand.
She opened her mouth to say something, but they had been interrupted by a voice.
"Khushi Bitiya? Chotey? Is everything allright?"
He had watched as she turned to Naniji, her voice husky with unshed tears as she spoke.
"It's nothing, Naniji. I was just..telling Arnav that..I'm going to Gupta House now.."
Nani had immediately questioned her about this sudden decision, but Khushi had cut her off, telling her that she needed to pack right now.
When Nani turned to him, he had told her to let Khushi go.
He had left, too, before Nani could ask him anything more.
Hours later, when he returned from his crazed drive around the city, he found that she had left.
Just like that, it was all over.
He had gone to their room, to find that she had taken all her belongings with her.
He had been numb, and shock had taken over him.
Until he saw the final thing she had done before leaving.
She had taken down the stars, and flung them on the ground.
That had broken him completely.
Arnav came back to the present with a start, and realized he was clenching his fists so hard that his nails were gouging into his palms.
He looked up, and came to the realization that this was no nightmare.
Khushi had really left.
And the stars told him that she never meant to come back.
He tried to reassure himself that he had done it for her good.
Being away from him would make her happy, he had to believe that.
If he wasn't in her life, she wouldn't need to drive herself to these extremes in order to keep him happy.
The love she felt for him was toxic, and she needed to be away from him.
But he wasn't selfish, he didn't want her to be alone, either.
He couldn't bear to think of her being lonely, and without companionship, or even the possibility of having the child she desired..
He wanted her to be happy, and loved.
Cherished and treasured for who she was.
It was too soon now, but maybe some day...
Bile rose in his throat when he considered the possibility of some other man in her life.
He forced himself to calm down.
Being with someone else was the only way to wipe away her memories of him.. And maybe she would have a child with this other man, and that would complete her, give her what she wanted..
Because in the end, that's what he wanted, for her to be happy..
Even when she wasn't with him.
He raised his head and stared at what was in front of him.
He felt strange while doing this, although he had seen her do it many times.
"Don't think that just because I'm here today it means that I have faith in you now.. I'm only here because..because she believes in you. She always has."
He took a deep breath.
"She hasn't ever harmed anyone in her life. She has always loved too much, given too much, and sacrificed too much..And just for that, she deserves better. Better than me.."
He ran a hand over his face.
"Which is why I am here now. She always believed that you were real. If you are, if there is even an ounce of truth in all this, then answer me. Give me what I want, just this once."
He stared ahead, still unable to believe he was actually doing this.
'Make her happy. Give her back her life."
Another deep breath.
'Even if it is with another man."
His voice broke as he continued..
'Keep her happy always, even if she's not with me."
A memory came to him, words said by a feisty girl who had never backed down from him.
"One day you'll realize that Devi Maiyya is holding your hand as you write your destiny. But when you do realize that, I will not be with you."
As the echoes of that voice faded, he did something he had never done before.
Arnav Singh Raizada broke down in front of the idol of Devi Maiyya and wept.
Six Months Later..
Khushi stared at herself in the mirror, numb with disbelief.
Her reflection showed her a woman with wide, scared eyes, the vivid red colour of her bridal lehenga providing a stark contrast to the paleness of her cheeks.
She watched with a sense of detachment as the ruby and emerald necklace sparkled at her throat. As she raised a mehendi covered hand to place the red and green dupatta on her head, she remembered the last time she had dressed as a bride.
A beautiful lehenga, made just for her...
Bangles that were a symbol of his repentance..
The hasty undressing that was a prelude to a blissful night...
She had to stop thinking about that time.
This had nothing to do with what had happened before.
Everything was different.
As she placed the bangles on her wrist, her doubts rose to haunt her once again.
Had she really agreed to do this?
She answered her own question: Of course she had.
The reason was simple.
She was doing this because he had asked her to.
She thought about the events of the past few months, and how they had changed her life.
Things had happened to her which she had never imagined, and they had brought her to this crossroad..
In a few minutes, she would go out there, dressed in her bridal finery..
Where he waited for her...
She looked down at herself again.
This lehenga was even more elaborate than her first one, but that was to be expected , given that..
Once again, she stopped her mind from going down that path.
She had to stay in the present, there was no way she could go through with this otherwise.
She had to remember what was at stake.
This was important, and she couldn't let her memories intrude..
She stood up, straightening the mang-tika as she did so.
To anyone looking from the outside, she looked like a picture-perfect bride.
No one knew that on the inside, she was a mass of doubts and uncertainty..
As she continued looking at her reflection, one question rose to taunt her, in spite of her attempts to push it away.
Why had he done this to her?
Why had he forced her into this?
She turned away from the mirror, determined to stop thinking about it, once and for all.
Payal came in then, and scrutinized her from head to toe.
"So you are finally ready?"
"Are you sure you want to do this, Khushi?"
She took a deep breath.
Would she ever be sure?
It didn't matter now, things had been set in motion which couldn't be stopped.
'Let's go, then.'
Khushi followed Payal, and stepped outside.
PS: Last Chapter, coming up tomorrow!
New readers, please buddy me for PMs when I update.