Khushi showed Payal the email she had received.
“What kind of a sick joke is this?” Payal said angrily, once she had read it. “What does he think he is doing, sending this to you on your wedding day? Last I checked, he hadn’t even bothered to so much as call you in the last four years!”
“I don’t think he realized,” Khushi said, going back to the window. Looking at the ocean always calmed her.
Will you marry me, Khushi?
“Forget about this,” Payal said, throwing the phone on the bed and walking over to Khushi. “You are going to marry the person who loves you today, focus on that.”
Payal placed a hand on Khushi’s shoulder and turned her around. “Karan’s a good man, Khushi. And I cannot be happier that you said yes to him. Don’t let this email, something Arnav must have done on a whim, deter you.”
“But am I doing the right thing?” Khushi asked, staring at the phone. “Shouldn’t I feel happy? Shouldn’t I feel like the luckiest girl in the world? Shouldn’t this day feel like the beginning of the rest of my life?”
She looked into Payal’s eyes, and said, “All I feel is dread, Jiji. Dread that this is what I’d feel like for the rest of my life.”
“Maybe,” Khushi said, wiping the tears off her face. “Maybe it’s time to stop this before I ruin both our lives.”
Payal let out a gasp, “Khushi! Are you out of your mind?”
“Actually,” Khushi said, meeting Payal’s gaze head-on, feeling relief settle over her. “I feel like I am thinking straight for the first time in four years.”
“What are you going to tell Karan?” Payal asked, making one last ditch effort to stop Khushi from breaking off the wedding.
“What I should have told him a long time ago…,” Khushi said. “…that we aren’t right for each other.”
“Would you have done this if our mom and dad were here?” Payal asked, her eyes misting over. Her baby sister was making the biggest mistake of her life, and she didn’t know what to do to make her see sense.
Khushi flinched at the reminder of her late parents. “If our parents were here, they would have understood.”
“In fact,” Khushi laughed, bitterly. “Dad probably wouldn’t have let me get this far. Karan isn’t a millionaire, remember?”
“Khushi!” Payal admonished, even though she knew what Khushi was saying had been true.
A look of guilt flitted across Khushi’s face, before she composed herself.
Their mother, Garima Gupta nee Malhotra, had died when she was only two years old, due to breast cancer, and Payal had always been the mother figure in her life. Shashi Gupta, their father, who had loved their mother dearly, hadn’t taken her death well. Neither Shashi nor Garima had come from a wealthy family, and added to the fact that their parents had disowned them when they had gotten married, owing to their caste differences, they lived a modest life, to say the least. When Garima’s condition was revealed, Shashi had tried everything he could to get his wife the treatment she needed. But for a family that was struggling to make ends meet, it was impossible to sustain the care for long.
Garima had breathed her last in their meager one bedroom apartment, in the lower locale of Delhi. Even though she had left with a smile on her face, knowing that she had lived her life to the fullest, on her own terms, she took Shashi’s happiness with her.
After their mother’s death, their father had become obsessed with money. He vowed to himself that he would never again feel the helplessness he did, when he couldn’t take care of his wife, that his daughters would have everything they ever needed or desired in life. His drive to succeed combined with his passion for engineering, had guaranteed his success. GMG motors, named after their mother, had become one of the top providers for sport cars’ motors, and Shashi had fulfilled his promise to himself. Too bad his resolution didn’t account for the fact that his daughters might desire his presence, his warmth and his love.
He had died in a car accident a year ago, and the money he had strived so hard to make hadn’t been able to save him.
“I need to do this, Jiji,” she said, taking Payal’s hands into her own, pleading with her to understand.
Payal was the only family she truly had, and Khushi didn’t want this decision to drive a wedge between them.
“Why now, Khushi?” Payal asked, trying to understand. “Why not yesterday? Why not when Karan asked you to marry him? Is this because of Arnav? Do you think he will still be waiting for you?”
“No, Jiji,” Khushi said, surprised by the truth of her own statement. “I don’t have any illusions that Arnav will be waiting for me. It’s because the hope I felt spring up for a second after reading that letter, shows that I will never be able to give all of me to Karan. Arnav might not have been the right one for me, Jiji, but is it right to go through with this wedding, knowing for sure that Karan isn’t either?”
“This is your life, Khushi,” Payal said, not being able to refute Khushi’s argument. These are her feelings, and she had no right to tell her sister how to feel. “I have never told you how to live your life, and I am not going to start now.”
“Thanks, Jiji,” Khushi said, wrapping her arms around Payal for comfort.
Payal placed a hand on Khushi’s head and said, “You need to go tell Karan.”
Khushi took a deep breath. Even though she wasn’t in love with Karan, she cared for him deeply and hurting him was not something she wanted to go.
Pulling back, she nodded, and grabbing her ghagra with both hands, stepped out of the room, and walked over to the other end of the lobby.
Knocking on the door designated for the groom, she opened it when she heard Karan’s voice yell out “Come in!”
He was in the middle of an attempt to tame his uncontrollable hair, and Khushi couldn’t help but smile a little at the frustrated noises he was making.
He saw her reflection in the mirror, and turned around in surprise.
“Khushi?” he asked, taking in her bridal attire. “What are you doing here?”
She sobered up hearing his question, and Karan did not miss the change in her expression.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, walking toward her. “Why do you look like that?”
“Karan, I…” she cleared her throat. “We need to talk.”
She could tell from his expression that he knew something unpleasant was coming. Any conversation that started with those words was bound to end in heartbreak, and she cursed herself for her choice of words.
“Okay,” he said, and indicated that they sit on the bed in the room. “What is this about?”
“You…you remember Arnav, right?” Khushi asked, trying not to beat around the bush. “I received an email from him.”
Karan’s face hardened at that. As understanding as he tried to be, discussing Khushi’s ex-boyfriend on his wedding day was not something he wanted to do.
“What does this have to do with us?” he asked, keeping his voice in control.
“I…” she closed her eyes, and pulled on all her courage to speak the next words. “I don’t think we should do this.”
Karan fisted his hands in an attempt to control his voice, “What do you mean?”
“Karan, please,” she said, pleading with him not to make her say the words. But he didn’t budge.
“I don’t think we should get married,” she said, staring at the floor.
He got up from the bed and started pacing.
“What the f**k, Khushi?” he asked, running a hand through his hair. “You get a letter from your ex-boyfriend, who you hadn’t heard from in four years, and you decide to drop everything and run after him?”
“Karan, it’s not like that,” she said, trying to make him understand. “He didn’t even write this letter now.”
Taking a deep breath, she explained the real reason, “We both know that that relationship really messed me up. I haven’t been able to move on, and give my 100% to our relationship, and I will forever be sorry for that. And I am not sure if I will be able to do that in the future either.”
She got up and walked toward him, “Which is why I am ending this before we both end up being miserable. You, with regret, and me, from the guilt.”
“What happened to this logic when I asked you to marry me, Khushi? Why now?” he was asking the same questions Payal was, but Khushi found it harder to justify herself to him than she had when she had this conversation with her sister.
“I don’t have all the answers, Karan,” she said, blinking her eyes to hold back the tears. “Sometimes you don’t realize your fear of heights until you stand at the edge of the cliff, ready to jump.”
“I can see that you have made your decision, Khushi,” Karan said, his back to her, hiding his tears from her. “Just go.”
What else could he say? She compared getting married to him to jumping off of a cliff. That required trust and love, which their relationship was clearly lacking.
“For what it’s worth,” Khushi said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I really am sorry.”
Turning around, she walked out of his room and his life.
Khushi went over to the mandap as soon as she talked to Karan. She might have been a lot of things, but she was not a coward, and she accepted her mistakes and faced the consequences head on. Her and Karan had decided to have a small wedding ceremony, inviting only their friends and immediate family.
She informed the guests that the wedding was not happening, and made it perfectly clear that the fault lies with her. The whispers and the horrified and hateful glances, although expected, were still painful to bear for the few minutes she was there.
After letting Payal know that she had talked to Karan and the guests, Khushi walked out of the hotel they were staying at, and stepped onto the beach. During her stay in Delhi, one of the things she missed most about Mumbai were the beaches.
She walked along the coast, enjoying the feel of sand running through her toes, and the water lapping at her feet. Without even meaning to, she ended up at the place her memories had been in just a few hours ago.
A few hours ago, Khushi thought, shaking her head in disbelief. So much had changed in just a few hours.
She sat down in the sand, trying to curb the disappointment at not seeing him there.
“Khushi?” she heard a whisper, and started.
She turned around, her hand to her thrumming heart, and the sight in front of her made her heart leap with joy for a second before anger took over.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he said, moving closer to her.
Khushi took in his appearance. He was much more handsome than she had remembered. He was wearing a three-piece suit, and his hair was a carefully crafted mess. The day old stubble accentuated his sharp features, and his eyes looked as enthralling as ever.
“That makes two of us,” she said, looking away from him, lest she get lost in those eyes.
He sat next to her, far enough that he wasn’t touching her, but close enough that she couldn’t forget his presence.
“I guess you got my letter, huh?” he asked, staring at the waves.
Khushi turned her surprised eyes to him, “You remember?”
“I waited in this exact same spot on this day, for you, for the past four years,” he said as a reply.
Khushi blinked her tears away. Her heart wanted to forgive everything and rush into his arms when he said things like that.
“Why?” she asked, not clarifying the question.
“Because I love you,” he said, the intensity in his eyes and the force of his words leaving her speechless for a second.
“Realized it a little late, didn’t you?” she asked, breaking their eye contact.
“I have always loved you,” he said, continuing to look at her.
She flinched at the lie, “Don’t lie to me, Arnav.”
“I am not lying, Khushi” he replied, hurt clear in his voice.
“If you loved me so much, why did you leave?” she asked, turning towards him, not caring about the tears streaming down her face. “Huh? Why did you break up with me?”
He moved to wipe away her tears, but she pulled back, and he let his hand drop, sighing.
“I didn’t do it intentionally,” it was his turn to stare away, and for her to scrutinize him.
“Arnav Raizada?” asked a man who was dressed in a uniform.
“Yes?” he asked, packing up the garments he had just finished showing the customers.
“Someone wants to talk to you,” the driver said, and indicated to the car parked on the road.
“Who?” Arnav asked, his brows crinkling in suspicion.
“Mr. Gupta,” the driver said, seeing the determination in Arnav’s eyes to know his boss’ identity.
The look turned to one of curiosity and surprise. Even though he and Khushi had been seeing each other for quite a while now, he hadn’t met her dad more than twice, that too in passing. They hadn’t tried to keep their relationship a secret, knowing that the secret always ended up coming out at the most inopportune moment.
From what Khushi had told him, her dad didn’t really focus on anything other than his business.
“Okay,” he said, and informing his boss of where he was going, he walked out to the car.
The driver opened the back door of the car, and Arnav got in, coming face to face with Shashi Gupta for the first time.
There was a determined air to the man, and he wanted to get the conversation over with as soon as possible.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Gupta,” Arnav said, trying to get the conversation going.
When he only received a nod as a reply, he decided to push a little harder, “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“You need to break your relationship with Khushi,” Shashi said, coming to the point.
“I’m sorry?” Arnav asked, fisting his hands lest he punch his girlfriend’s father. “That’s not going to happen.”
“Oh, but I think it is,” Shashi said, leaning forward, trying to intimidate Arnav.
“What makes you think that?” Arnav asked in a calm tone, something he used when he was way past anger.
Shashi leaned back, and smirked. “Aren’t you here on a scholarship, Arnav?”
“I have a few friends on the scholarship board,” Shashi said casually. “I could have a word with them about yours.”
“Mine was pre-approved for four years,” Arnav said, determined to not let Shashi know that he was getting to him. “There’s nothing you can do.”
“As a business major, you must know, Arnav. Sometimes boards over-budget and have to cut back on their scholarships, sometimes even revoke them.”
If that happened, he would just work harder to pay the fee, he decided.
“Nothing you say will make me break up with Khushi, Mr. Gupta,” Arnav said, placing his hand on the car-door handle to open it.
“I heard your sister’s currently getting treated in the government hospital,” Shashi said, making Arnav pause. “I am one of the sponsors to that hospital.”
Anjali had been hit by a drunk driver three months ago when she was coming home from work. She had a head injury and had been in a coma ever since. The doctors were still performing surgeries on her, and were hopeful that she would be conscious soon if she received the right treatment.
Thankfully, she was being treated in the government hospital for relatively low cost. One of his, late, father’s friends was a doctor there, and had taken lead on her treatment. But if a sponsor insisted on removing her from the low-income treatment list, Arnav knew there was nothing his uncle could do.
“You sick bas***d!” Arnav screamed. “Why are you doing this?”
“I don’t want my daughter to marry low-class scum like you,” Shashi replied in an indifferent tone.
“If you think Khushi would break up with me for a stupid reason like that, you are crazy!” Arnav said, hearing blood rush through his head.
“Which is why you won’t tell her the real reason,” Shashi said, as if he expected the response out of Arnav. “You are not going to mention this conversation to her at all. I don’t care what you do, you have a week to get out of the relationship, or I can guarantee you, you and your sister are going to suffer.”
With that, Shashi indicated to the driver that they were done here.
“I will make you regret this!” Arnav screamed as the driver escorted him out of the car. ” I will make sure of it, you bas***d!”
“No!” Khushi whispered, horrified.
She knew her father had never liked her being in a relationship with Arnav, but he couldn’t have done what Arnav was saying, could he?
Yes, a voice in her head whispered. You know he would have.
Her father had never liked her or Payal to be associated with poor people. When she was 5 years old, she used to love playing with their maid’s daughter. They had declared themselves best friends and used to dress up as each other for fun sometimes.
Shashi had found out one day, and not only did he let Khushi know how disappointed he was with her, which to her five year old self, had been heart-shattering, but he had also fired the maid, and made her leave her quarters immediately.
Many such incidents played across her mind like a film strip, and Khushi closed her eyes in hurt.
“Yes,” Arnav whispered, his voice breaking. “So I did as he asked. To save Di from getting killed. I almost told you the truth every day I saw you around campus, but Di’s condition wasn’t any better, and I wasn’t in a position to take care of her by myself. So when my estranged nani found us two months after our break-up and invited us to go live with her in Ahmedabad, I accepted. I applied and got into IIMA with scholarship, and Di’s treatment responsibilities were partly shouldered by nani, which gave me an opportunity to complete my studies early.”
“You might ask why I didn’t try to contact you after I left,” Arnav said, taking the question right out of her mouth.
Your dad contacted me a week after I reached Ahmedabad, to let me know that he was keeping track of me, and that his connections were widespread. I knew I couldn’t contact you without damaging Di’s recovery.”
“When he passed away,” Arnav said, trying but failing to disguise the disgust in his voice when he referred to her father. “The first thing I wanted to do was get on a bus and come tell you everything. But I came to know through our mutual friends that you had already started dating Karan, and that you had been together for a year.”
Khushi said nothing throughout his speech, letting him get it all out.
“I never forgot the letter I sent you, Khushi,” Arnav said, wiping her tears away and looking her in the eyes, making sure she understood. “I think I was hoping that you still had feelings for me, and the letter would finally give me an opportunity to explain myself. I just didn’t expect it to reach you on your wedding day,” he said, glancing at her attire.
“How is Di?” was the first thing she said when he finished explaining.
Arnav had to smile at that. Classic Khushi.
“Much better,” he said, putting her worries to rest. “She responded well to her surgeries. She came out of her coma a year and half ago, and had been out of the hospital for a year now.”
“Good,” Khushi said. “That’s good.”
“Is that all you have to say?” Arnav asked, a little disappointed. He knew that she wouldn’t kiss him and declare her undying love for him, but he didn’t expect this awkward silence that followed either.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” Khushi said, making shapes in the sand with her fingers. “All this time, I thought you broke up with me because you just didn’t love me anymore. But knowing that it wasn’t your choice…I get it, I get why you did what you did, but I can’t…I can’t help but feel…betrayed?” she asked, confused at her own feelings.
There was relief that he still love her, followed closely by joy. There was a desire to let him know that she loved him too. There was an insane urge to kiss him, something she had missed immensely these past few years. But there was also a nagging feeling at the back of her mind, unable to trust her heart with him again, unwilling to get hurt again.
“Khushi,” he sighed, and took her hand into his. “I understand what you are feeling. I broke your trust and it is hard for you to give it to me again. But I am not asking for that. I am not asking for you to confess your love to me. I am not suggesting we start where we left off.”
She marveled at the way he could, still, tell what she was feeling and thinking, without her having to say a word.
“All I am asking for is a chance,” he said earnestly. “Give me a chance to earn back your trust. And we can fall in love all over again.”
She had not only lost her fiance, but also a good friend that day. And she knew that things between her and Payal needed some work, not to mention the fact that she herself needed to figure out what exactly it was that she wanted, before she ended up hurting more people.
Would it be so bad to have a companion by her side on this journey?
She sighed and placed her head on his shoulder and leaned into him, “I missed you.”
He placed a butterfly kiss on her head, and rested his head against hers, “I missed you, too.”
Hope you enjoyed it, and sorry for the long delay in writing the last chapter.