Banner Credit: Sarunfanatic-ji
A Terrace Tale
"Brother? Foster brother, you mean. And an absent one, at that. Have you forgotten the fact that I hadn't seen him in years? And when I did see him again, I never bothered to speak to him at length until that night on the terrace!"
As she stared at Arnav, Khushi's thoughts flew back to her supposed brother.
Shyam Manohar Jha, the only son of the Jhas, a couple who had longed for a daughter as well, and had been unable to have one.
They had adopted Khushi when she was eight years old, but had been killed in a car accident eight years later.
Through the eight years that they had lived together as a family, Khushi had never been comfortable around Shyam. His secretive ways, questionable circle of friends and open resentment of his parents' affection for her had made her actually celebrate the fact that he had left their home soon after he graduated, and she had never seen him since. He hadn't even turned up at their parent's funeral, and that fact had tarnished his image in her eyes forever.
She had managed to make her way through college with the help of the small inheritance left to her by her parents, and had worked at two jobs until she had saved enough to open her very own fashion store.
And then he had come back into her life six months ago, with an invitation to attend his wedding.
She had been astonished, to say the least.
There had been no reason for her to go there, not until she had actually read the invitation.
She had been amazed by the fact that he was marrying Anjali Raizada, the heiress and member of the board of the Raizada group.
And then, suspicion had taken root in her mind.
Was he marrying her only for her money?
She just couldn't forget the image she had in her mind of the rebellious, resentful teenager, and had gone to the wedding on a whim,unsure about his motives.
And once she was there, her worst fears had seemed to come true.
She had seen the besotted look on Anjali's face, and the secretive look of avarice on Shyam's.
She had also found out that he was planning to live in Anjali's house as a ghar jamai, and that had been the final proof she had needed.
His motive for inviting her had also become clear, he had obviously wanted to present himself as a family-oriented man who cared for his foster-sister as his own.
And then, she had seen him.
Arnav Singh Raizada.
They had met briefly at the wedding, and at the reception that followed.
They had continued to meet at the various Raizada family functions through the following weeks, but Khushi hadn't really given him her full attention. Every minute that she spent in Shantivan had been occupied with analyzing Shyam's every move, and everything that she had seen had confirmed her suspicions.
He was manipulating and conning Anjaliji, a woman for whom Khushi had quickly developed a fond affection.
She hadn't known what to do about it back then.
And before she could make up her mind, her own life had suddenly changed.
Because Arnav Singh Raizada had suddenly made up his mind to ask her out on a date.
She had been stunned, and hadn't immediately accepted his offer.
She couldn't deny the attraction, of course. But she had been wary of the fact that he was a Raizada, and connected to her by marriage, in a way.
But in the end, she had given in to his constant persuasion, and a whirlwind courtship had followed.
In just a few weeks, he had proposed to her in a fancy restaurant, complete with a diamond ring and flowers, a scenario that seemed straight out of her romantic fantasies.
She had been ecstatic, although a part of her still warned her to be wary of the speed at which things had fallen into place.
But she had pushed aside her natural caution, and one day, she had been invited by Anjaliji to Shantivan, where the Panditji was expected to pick a date for the wedding.
But as it turned out, it had been the beginning of a nightmare.
Because on her way to Shantivan, she had seen something that had shocked her.
When her auto had stopped at a traffic signal, she had seen Shyam at the entrance to a hotel.
With his arm around a woman in a blue saree.
A woman who was not Anjali.
The intimacy between them had been apparent even from a distance, and she had quickly turned away, unable to bear the sight even for a moment.
When she had reached Shantivan, she had felt as if she had been dealt another blow when she found out that Anjaliji was actually performing a special puja for the welfare of her husband.
Khushi had never felt such rage in her life.
When she had seen Shyam finally enter the house, she had made up her mind to confront him immediately.
She had found the opportunity when she saw him going up to the terrace, and had quickly followed before she could change her mind.
Once she was there, she had wasted no time in throwing her allegations at him, but she had been shocked by his reaction.
He had laughed.
He had laughed in her face, while acknowledging that each and every allegation that she had thrown at him was true.
He had married Anjaliji for her money.
He had no interest in her at all, and he had engaged in multiple affairs throughout their marriage.
He had taunted Khushi with the question about what she would do with this knowledge.
No one would believe her, certainly not his Rani Sahiba, who was firmly in his control.
She could still remember his exact words, and her response to them.
"Rani Sahiba is nothing, This relationship is nothing, not for me. But what are you going to do about it? "
"Agar aapke liye yeh rishta koi maine nahi rakta, toh aap yeh shaadi todh kyun nahi dete? Chod dijiye Anjaliji ko!"
"Anjali ko chod doon? Why would I want to let her go? My plans for her, and the Raizada group are just beginning, Khushi...the key to the easy life..."
Unable to bear his presence for one more moment, she had turned her back to him and fled back down the stairs, tears of rage and resentment clouding her vision until she had crashed into the man standing at the base of the stairs.
She had wanted to throw herself into his arms and tell him everything, confident that her fiance would understand...
But then she had discovered that the betrayals of this particular day were just beginning.
The guilt in Arnav's eyes was something she remembered even at this moment.
And then he had finally spoken, and she had felt as if she had just been plunged into an alternate reality.
Because he had told her the truth.
The truth about his pursuit.
Apparently, he had pursued her with a hidden agenda that had nothing to do with marriage.
He had done it to get close to her, in the hopes of discovering evidence against Shyam Jha.
He had then told her the truth about his own identity.
He was leading a double life, and had been doing it for years.
To the world, he was the CEO of the Raizada group, but unknown to his family and most others, he was also an intelligence agent for the financial fraud wing of the Intelligence bureau.
His position as a successful businessman offered him access to the echelons of high society where these crimes often went undetected, and he used his contacts and knowledge of the industry in bringing those criminals to justice.
And one such criminal was Shyam Manohar Jha.
Somehow, she hadn't really been surprised to hear that part of his revelation.
He had continued speaking, telling her that he had found out that Shyam Jha was misusing his position in the Raizada group , and embezzlement was part of his crimes.
But then he had stunned her by telling her his other suspicion.
He had assumed that she was part of this as well.
Which was why he had dated her, courted her...and had finally gotten engaged to her.
But apparently, the scene on the terrace had changed all that.
When he had heard her words , asking Shyam to leave Anjali, he had realized that she couldn't possibly have anything to do with this.
The scene on the terrace had established her innocence, and given rise to his guilt.
He now felt guilty for assuming the worst about her, and making her his fiancee under false pretenses.
And so he had offered her a way out, by calling off the marriage.
But she hadn't given up then, and she certainly wasn't giving up now.
She pulled the sheet around her and continued speaking, aware that the guilt had made it's way back into his eyes again.
"And now that I know what exactly Shyam is capable of, I have no reason to mourn his absence, or even think about him at all! Anjaliji is better off without him, and you know that too! So why can't you forget him? Why can't you move past the guilt at what you have done to me? Why can't we put all this behind us and start over?"
He ran a hand over his eyes, and turned away from her.
"I...I have tried to do that, Khushi. But it's tough, especially when I have to face the results of my actions every single day. I see you here, as the Raizada bahu, and I feel the guilt for what I did to you...The guilt that made me offer to call off this wedding...the guilt that has stopped me from touching you until today...I can't stop that, Khushi.And then... there is the uncertainty with Di, and the search for Shyam...I just don't know how to deal with all this, not right now..."
For the first time ever, Khushi felt a twinge of sympathy for him.
He was going through a lot, and she was giving him no breathing space either...
She took a deep breath, and stepped away, turning towards her wardrobe to find some clothes to wear.
"I understand, Arnav. I don't like it, but I do understand. And this is what I will do. I will let you choose the pace and direction of this relationship, for now. And while you are doing that, you might want to think about why exactly you married me, just because I asked you to. So think about all that. And then you can take the next step, and I will wait for you..."
She looked back at him, waiting for a response.
He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded and turned away, heading back towards the poolside.
And this time, she did not stop him.
But she thought about his eventual decision when she went to bed alone, and she was still thinking about it when she awoke the next day.
Thoughts of him kept her preoccupied throughout her work day, and she didn't quite know how she would wait for him to decide when she got back home that evening.
To her surprise, he was waiting for her when she emerged from the shower, and she was puzzled by the look of uncharacteristic uncertainty on his face.
She was even more surprised when he eventually spoke.
"Khushi, you should probably change out of those clothes."
She looked down at the lilac sweat-pants and white t-shirt that she was wearing, and wondered what was wrong with them.
"But why? What's wrong with..."
"Nothing. But...have you eaten?"
"It's just six p.m! Why are you asking me all this?"
"Khushi, just change into something..else, and then come with me. To eat."
She was more confused than ever, and wondered if he was ill.
Why else would he be talking like this?
"But why should I change into something else just to go down to the dining room?"
He looked away for a moment, then back at her again.
"We aren't going to the dining-room. We are going to the Purple Orchid. Just you and I."
She stared at him for a moment, then turned away to hide her shock.
"I..I'll just change and be right back..."
She grabbed the first thing she saw in her wardrobe, and went into the bathroom again.
She still couldn't believe what was actually happening.
Apparently, her husband had made his decision.
Because this was the suave, sophisticated Arnav Singh Raizada's convoluted way of asking her out on a date.
She couldn't believe it.
She was still unable to believe it when they finally returned from dinner at the restaurant. They had gone on dates before, but this was completely different.
She had seen a different side to him, a real facet of the man who was the center of her life now...
She stood before the mirror now, trying to unfasten the chain around her neck. But her hair kept getting in the way, and she fastened it on the top of her head in a loose knot while she removed the chain.
The very next moment, she felt her hair fall down her back again.
She looked at her reflection in the mirror, and saw him behind her.
"I like it that way. "
Her eyes widened at his answer to her unspoken question, but she quickly closed them when she felt his lips touch the nape of her neck.
She did not stop him when he carried her to their bed again, and reveled in the tenderness in his touch, and the barely leashed passion in his lovemaking.
When she finally lay below him, her heartbeat still thundering in her ears, she caught her breath at his softly whispered word.
She raised her eyes to his, unsure about what he was apologizing for.
"For leaving you alone last night. For everything that I did before that...and for not having the courage to move forward. I still don't know if I do, Khushi. But I do know that I want to try..."
She looked into his eyes, and knew that it was time.
Time to finally lay it all on the line, and give him everything she had in her to give.
"Would it help if I told you that I've fallen in love with you?"
Her words echoed in Arnav's ears as he went into work the next day, and he couldn't help but feel a wholly undeserved joy that went through him at the memory.
He hadn't been able to reply.
Not in words, anyway.
He had pulled her close, and tried to tell her everything in his kiss.
He had tried to tell her exactly what her admission meant to him. He wasn't sure if he had been successful, but it had been the only way he could express what he really felt for her.
Words had never been his strong suit anyway, and he knew he wouldn't have been able to tell her what she wanted to hear.
But moments later, as he put the phone down, he wished with all his heart that he had told her the truth.
He wished that he had never left her side, not even for a moment.
Because he had just been informed that Shyam Jha had been seen in the vicinity of Shantivan.
Shyam Manohar Jha, the same man who was known to have connections with the underworld.
And he was near the one woman whom Arnav...
He couldn't even complete that thought.
Panic seared through him as he remembered that Khushi would be at Shantivan today, since she had taken the day off work.
In moments, he was in his SUV, heading towards Shantivan.
Praying to a God he didn't believe in that he wouldn't be too late.
Aman Mathur saw the number that was displayed on his cell phone, and answered the call immediately.
"Hello? How have you been?"
"I...I'm doing better than I thought I would. But that's not what I'm calling about. I've just received some information about his whereabouts, and this time, there's no room for error. He's holed up in a warehouse in Vasant Vihar, do you have a pen and paper handy so I can tell you the address?"
He quickly wrote down the address, then put the note in his pocket before speaking again.
"Are you sure about this? We've been misled before..."
"Not this time. My source is very reliable. What are you going to do?"
"I'll take a team there immediately. I just hope we get him this time..."
"You will. I have no doubts about that at all. And finally, all this will be over."
Aman sighed, and ran a hand across his eyes.
This woman had earned his respect with her single-minded pursuit of her goal.
When she had made that first call to him all those months ago, he hadn't quite known what to think.
Why would a woman make a call to the authorities, offering to give them information that would result in putting her own husband behind bars?
Over the weeks that had followed, he had come to know her a little more with each phone call, and what he had learned had impressed him like nothing ever had before.
She was determined to bring her husband to justice, and equally determined to keep her brother out of harm's way while doing so.
His respect for her had grown by leaps and bounds, and he now knew that the soft voice on the phone disguised a keen , intelligent mind.
But at this moment, he knew that his feelings had quickly moved past respect and admiration.
It was beyond his understanding, really.
How could someone fall in love with a woman whose voice was his only link to her?
He didn't have any answer to that.
All he knew was that her goal was now his, as well.
He would do everything in his power to capture Shyam Manohar Jha.
Because that would mean that Anjali would finally be free.
And so would he.
He suddenly realized that she was still waiting for his answer.
"Agent Mathur? Are you still there?"
"It's Aman, Anjali. I've told you that before."
There was a short silence, and then she continued in a softer tone.
"Shouldn't you be leaving now?"
He sighed again, and pushed his chair back as he stood up.
"Yes, I just need to alert my team members. I'll call you later, Anjali."
"I'll wait to know what happened. And please..."
As he cut the call and reached down to pick up his holster, he was startled to see his reflection in the glass wall of his cubicle.
In moments, he would be leaving for an unknown destination to try and apprehend a criminal .
He didn't know what would happen there, or whether he would be successful at all.
This was a moment that should be fraught with tension, and yet...
Why was there a smile on his face?
Khushi stood on the terrace, trying not to drop any of the three bottles of pickles that she was balancing in her arms.
The very next moment, she did precisely that, startled by the voice behind her.
She looked up to see Arnav, only this was an Arnav that she had never seen before.
He looked more vulnerable than she had ever seen him, and she was stunned when he almost ran up to her, and took her into his arms before she could say a word.
"Khushi...tum theek ho. Tum theek ho..."
It was a reassurance, not a question.
He repeated the phrase as he kissed her hair, her face, and finally her lips.
When he finally pulled away, she stared at him as she spoke.
"I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I...I just received some information that Shyam was seen nearby and I was worried..."
She pulled out of his arms completely , and folded her arms across her chest.
"About me? But why?"
"Why? What sort of question is that?"
"Why should you be worried about me? There are others in this house too, you know."
"But I don't love any of them like I love you, do I?!"
They stared at each other as the echoes of his words faded away, and then she smiled, her heart feeling lighter than it had in days.
"You...know?! How could you possibly know when I just realized that on my crazed drive just now?"
"I know, Arnav. I guess I've always known. Why else would a man agree to marry a woman, just because she has forced him to? There were so many ways that you could have gotten out of that, just like there were other ways to obtain information about Shyam. There was really no need to go to all that trouble, getting engaged to me was really not necessary, don't you see? And what other reason could there be for what happened last night, and the night before that? Why would you touch me with such tenderness, if you felt nothing towards me? I think a part of me has always known this...and that's why I fought for you...and won."
He stared at her for a long moment, and she caught her breath at the depth of emotion in his eyes.
But the moment was shattered when he suddenly threw his head back and laughed.
"Khushi, you are unbelievable!"
He took her in his arms, and she went there gladly.
She rested her head against his heart, and heard it's pace return to normal.
Her own heart picked up speed at this evidence of his love.
He really had been worried about her.
And he really loved her.
This terrace revelation was one she could surely live with!
As she turned away from the door to the terrace, Anjali smiled, an occurrence that had become very rare these days.
She had reached here in time to see their embrace, and that sight reassured her.
Everything would be fine between these two.
Not wanting to intrude on their privacy any more than she already had, she turned around and headed down the stairs, thinking about the plan that had worked so well in getting them together.
She had her suspicions that all was not well in their marriage.
How could it be, when Chotey probably thought that Khushiji was involved in Shyam's nefarious activities as well?
She didn't know the details about what exactly was wrong between them, but she had always sensed that something was, and always had been.
She had seen Khushi's silent tears when she thought that no one was looking, and had known that something had to be done.
Anyone could see that they shared something special, something that was rare and precious.
Everyone except her brother, probably.
And so, she had decided to give him a jolt.
One he badly needed, if things had to work out between him and his wife.
Anjali had called his office and left an anonymous message that Shyam Jha had been seen approaching Shantivan.
She had told them to give this false information to Arnav Singh Raizada alone, knowing that this should make her brother react, if nothing else would.
And so it had.
Arnav had rushed here a few moments ago, without any team or backup, a fact that told her just how much Khushiji actually affected his presence of mind and supposed shaatir dimaag.
And now, everything seemed to be working out just the way it was supposed to.
As she passed his room on her way down to the living area, she remembered the exact moment when she had first found out that Arnav actually had another life, another career that no one was aware of.
She had been passing by when she had overheard a muted phone conversation with Aman Mathur, and astonishment had frozen her to the spot for a moment. But then, so many things had suddenly made sense.
The long nights spent away from home, the constant phone calls that had to be taken in privacy, the long hours spent working on the laptop...everything fell into place.
She had wanted to confront him immediately, of course.
But one name had stopped her in her tracks.
Shyam Manohar Jha.
For a moment , she was sure that she had heard wrong.
But then she had listened to the entire conversation, and she felt as if her world was shattering around her.
Her Shyam, a criminal?
She hadn't been able to believe it at first.
But then, she remembered the small, subtle clues that had always bothered her about him.
And then she had wondered if it could possibly be true.
She had gone back to her room , and thought about it for hours.
Until finally, she had made her decision.
She would conduct her own investigation, and collect her own proof.
Only then would she allow herself to believe it.
Weeks later, she had found the proof, and had come to another decision after the shock had worn off.
She wasn't some weak, spineless woman who would just sit back and pretend to be blind to his vile deeds, just so that she could keep up the pretense of a perfect home life.
She would do the opposite,in fact.
She would take revenge on this man who had pretended to be something he was not, and had taken advantage of her in the worst possible way.
And that was what she had eventually done.
She had gathered evidence against him for days, and finally decided to inform the intelligence agencies involved in financial fraud cases.
But then she had also discovered that matters were worse than she had initially thought they were.
He was also involved in several dealings with the underworld, and this fact had terrified her more that anything else.
That was when she had decided to keep Arnav out of this.
He was the only family she had left, and she wouldn't allow him to get sucked into this.
And so she had turned to Aman Mathur.
Together, they had built a formidable body of evidence against him, and had been all set to make their move.
But then, everything had changed.
Arnav had married Khushi, and Shyam had made a run for it.
She still didn't exactly know why.
Had he been afraid that Khushi would tell her husband about his confession?
Or was he afraid that his activities at the office would be brought to light?
Whatever the reason, the fact remained that he was in hiding.
And that was when she had turned her efforts towards finding him, and had utilized her knowledge of his associates to find him.
She wondered what was happening in Vasant Vihar at the moment.
As if on cue, her phone rang in her hands.
She answered the call, and listened to it for a moment.
When she finally cut the call, she closed her eyes as she knelt in front of the idol of Devi Maiyya.
She should be feeling elated at this moment.
And yet, she felt nothing.
Except a sense of relief, perhaps.
It was all over.
Shyam Jha had been arrested, and her life was free from evil.
She had succeeded in her mission.
She had made sure that she had protected the one person who could not protect herself.
She opened her eyes, and looked down at the barely visible swelling around her midriff.
Placing her hand over her stomach, she whispered...
"For you, my rajkumari."
The Shantivan terrace had seen many things over the years.
There had been celebrations, games and song and dance.
And lately, there had been betrayals and revelations.
But tonight, it witnessed something unique.
It witnessed a new beginning.
A woman stood on the terrace, dressed in a red saree.
Her jewelery glinted in the moonlight , and so did the sieve that she lifted to the moon.
A moment later, she turned it towards her husband, and smiled at him.
The man looked at his wife, unable to believe that she was really his, in every possible way.
And today, she had fasted for him, a tradition that he didn't really believe in.
But unknown to her, he hadn't eaten anything either.
So when he finally placed the first bite of food between her parted lips, he told her the truth and watched her eyes widen in shock.
"What? But Arnav, you were at work the whole day! What if..."
"And so were you. If you can do it, so can I."
"Arnav, that doesn't make any sense! Karva Chauth is a fast that women keep for their husband's long lives! You can't just fast today! You can't do everything that I do!"
"Of course I can. Try me."
"I can do everything that you can. And I'll prove it to you. Starting tonight."
"What..are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the fact that you had the courage to make a fresh start with me. You made the decision to give our relationship a chance, despite everything that had happened. And now, I am going to do the same."
"Khushi, I'm not very good with words. But I just wanted you to know that I...want us to start anew. That doesn't mean that I am talking about a remarriage or anything...I just want us to start with a clean slate. With no shadows from the past, no guilt, betrayal or anger between us..."
"It's what I've always wanted, Arnav."
She smiled, and went into his arms.
And she did.
Because some emotions did not need words.
And their love was one of them.
As she lifted her head,waiting for his kiss, Khushi felt a sense of wonder at this precious treasure that they had found.
A love that had conquered the betrayal and pain of the past.
A love that was the beginning of the rest of their lives.
What would you call such a love?
A/N: I'm sorry that many of you felt that the first chapter left a lot to be desired, in terms of clarity. I only hope that I have managed to answer all questions in this part, and I would love to know what you think!
A clarification: Apart from deciding which scene each of us is working on, Semanti and I have no input on the other's story. She reads mine at the same time that you do, and so will I.
It's fun that way!
Coming up next is Semanti's " A Tale in red", which will be posted in the next couple of days.
Hope to see you all then!
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