Chaar

A brief recap – Khushi Gupta, a model based in NYC, meets up with her school friends and old acquaintances at their 10 year reunion and quickly old friendships rekindle. She is ecstatic to be catching up with her best friend from school, Akash Malik, but has a secret that she isnt quite ready to share with the world – she is dating Akash’s cousin and their fellow school mate Arnav Singh Raizada. Arnav on his part is not exactly thrilled at his girlfriend’s refusal to acknowledge their relationship in front of Akash and their other friends. But that turns out to be the least of his worries as Khushi and Akash have a massive showdown regarding Akash’s reluctance to reveal his identity as a homosexual to his parents or friends and Khushi’s ignorance of the hardships her friend has to go through. Khushi is shocked to learn that Akash’s decision to not own up to his sexual preference publicly may have, in part, to do with Arnav and an apparent disapproving reaction he had years ago.

“Khushi, whats wrong? You’re scaring me and where’s Akash? Khushi…Khushi! What happened?!”

And it was almost like an out of body experience for her as she heard a voice floating to her ears before realising it was her own,

“YOU! YOU STAY AWAY FROM ME!”

Arnav felt as if someone had punched all the air out of him, his guts twisting in a painful knot as Khushi all but pushed him away, her eyes red rimmed with tears but also with fury, her body twisted in an ugly fashion as she glared at him – her hair falling around her face. He had never seen Khushi looking so unkept, so broken and something within him broke too with every shaken, angry sob that heckled her body and he took a step forward again, swallowing the pain as she took a step back.

“What happened, Khu? Whats wrong?” he was surprised himself at how level his voice sounded even though he felt like a storm was ravaging his insides but he was glad too. It would help no one if he was to lose his temper too. He had been there and done that with Khushi and now he knew what worked best when she was worked up. And so he tried again, “Khu, if you don’t tell me whats wrong, how will I ever fix it sweetheart?”

And that did it. With a poorly disguised wail, she had launched herself in his arms – uncaring who saw them like this. Her head burrowed in his chest, her arms holding him close – hands pressed against his back.

On Arnav’s part, he ran the fingers of his one hand gently through her midnight black locks while the other hand rubbed soothing circles on her back even as he kept silent – knowing she needed this comfort if she was to ever come forward with what had propelled this breakdown.

It was only after a few minutes had passed since Khushi had buried herself in Arnav’s arms, did she finally raise her tear stained face and seemed to take in her surroundings – her warm brown eyes glassy with moisture. And it was a few seconds after that did she seem to have realised that she had been seeking solace in the arms of the man she felt the most anger towards in the current situation and she tried hauling herself away, only to be held firmly by her arm.

“Whats wrong?” he repeated his query only to be rendered silent at the look of sheer loathing she threw his way.

What could he have done to warrant such hatred…because there was no other way to describe the expression on her face. No matter how hard he tried to find another adjective, it was ‘hatred’ that he kept coming back to. It wasn’t just spelled out in the way she looked at him, but also spewed out of her accusing eyes, emanated from her body which had grown warm to the touch and Arnav let out a slow breath, as if hoping that the relaxation it came with would permeate through to her. But it didnt.

She pushed him away with all her might, her body shaking with rage as she raised an accusing finger at him,

“YOU. You did this! You ruined everything! HOW COULD YOU?! I thought you were a bigger person than this…how could you do this?! How could you betray me like this…how could you betray him like this?!”

**********

“Akash? Whats the matter? Arrey! Are you leaving?!” Aditi asked the agitated young man as he all but threw back the chair as he wrestled his jacket out of it but to no avail. It was like he had not heard her at all and in fact he hadnt.

How could he when blood was literally pounding in his ears. Khushi’s words which were laced with her ignorance pricked him like a thousand pins and all he wanted to do was to get away from her, and from everyone else as well. He needed, he craved silence – away from the meaningless din that seemed to be ever present-

“Akash! Where are you going?” Aditi’s voice pestered him out of his thoughts and an irritated sigh left him and seeped into his rebuke to her.

“To hell!”

And before she could shake herself out of the stupor his uncharacteristically harsh words had put her in or before Aman could come to the defence of his girlfriend, Akash was out – feeling decidedly worse.

************

“Khushi, what are you talking about?” Arnav’s patience was running thin with each time he found himself asking the same question but he held on to the last strands of it tightly, reminding himself of the previous times they had been in a similar situations and how losing his temper had not helped at all with curtailing Khushi’s. In fact, it had made the situation even worse pushing them close to a break up on more than one occasion and that was something he was not willing to dwell upon tonight. He had decided this course of action the last time they had had a fight regarding Khushi’s reluctance to present him as her boyfriend in front of her New York friends. That had been the last time he had lost his temper at the same time as Khushi, realizing hard and fast that it would only propel her to push him away faster than he could even imagine. She always did that. She pushed away people when they started getting too close to her, when they started scaling the walls down and specially when she realized that they were now in the position to make demands of her and more importantly she of them, demands which may or may not be realized.

Arnav had observed it all. Not only with himself but also with Akash, realising fast that the reason Akash and Khushi had remained friends for so long was because Akash never encroached upon this inner sanctorum of sorts that Khushi liked to have all to herself. He hovered right on the boundaries but he never tried to force his way in resulting, ironically, in him being granted an entry. And so he had decided to wait his turn for the same, knowing that for him Khushi was the one and if to reach the very core of her heart, he had to battle some angularities of character along the way, so be it.

But today it seemed like his control could slip and so he held on to it even tighter, the only give away signs of his mounting frustration being the short breaths he took at regular intervals and how he closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds as if reacquainting them again and again with the situation would force him to understand what he stood to lose better.

And it was working but he wasn’t quite sure if it would continue to succeed in its endeavour.

************

It all felt like a jumble of thoughts and feelings swishing through her insides, rambling incoherently at her, bruising her with memories of the past and the harsh words of the present and the sinking realization of wrong judgments.

No longer could she hear the pleas of the man standing in front of her. Her mind was abuzz with the accusations levelled by the man who had just left, the man who was one of the very few who she was genuinely close to, the man who she had no idea she could have hurt so much with a few words, the man who had been betrayed by the man in front of her.

How could have Arnav done this? How could have Arnav been so callous? How could he have been so close minded and so petty and so…heartbreaking? How?

She wanted answers.

She needed answers.

She needed them so that she could tell her heart that her mind had always been right in keeping him away, like she had kept everyone else.

People were not to be trusted.

Even if you fell in love with them.

*************

“Whats wrong Khushi? You’re scaring me now! Do you want to get out of here?! Lets just get out of here and then you can tell me what happened between you and Akash? I cant see you like this baby-”

“Its not about what happened between me and Akash. Its about what happened between you and him.”

Arnav had been midway to the door, her small hand clasped in his large one when her words stopped him and he looked back, surprised and, almost as if subconsciously, cautious.

“What do you mean? Nothing happened between me and Akash…what are you talking about?”

She made to remove her hand from his grasp but he held it on tighter, something telling him that if he allowed her to leave him today, there might never be a chance for them again.

Khushi looked down at where their hands were joined, the lines on his palm meeting the ones on her – fate lines they called them and for a brief moment an intense sadness gripped her heart.

Many people, including Arnav, thought that she was unaware of how good the two of them had it with each other. They all thought that she was not thankful for the man she had found, for the promise of a life he came with but only Khushi knew how wrong they all were.

She had known it since that first time she had woken up to Arnav by her side and looking at him had brought with it a warmth which enveloped her entire being instead of the cold dread the others had brought with them.

She had known it since that first time she had received a ‘Good Luck’ text from him before a big fashion week and then had walked out to him sitting in the front row with a smile that lit up her insides.

She had known it since that first time she had heard him whisper those three words of surrender and had felt tears prick the back of her eyes even she snuggled closer to him in her pretension of a sleep.

She had known it before they all had.

She had known it before Arnav had.

And now her worst fear was about to come true.

The fear that had always played on her mind but the one she had felt herself capable of conquering for the first time because she had Arnav by her side.

The fear that human beings were designed to move on and that if she stayed where she was, she would stagnate.

The fear that people would leave her behind and so if she allowed less people in her heart, less would be the pain when they would eventually part ways.

But for the past few months, she had started thinking that maybe she had been wrong. Maybe if you found the right person, then you could move along with them as they would with you.

But…

“I cant believe I fell in love with a man like you. I cant believe I allowed someone as…petty and small minded and as disgusting as you to…God! I was so stupid! I always knew you were going to break my heart, I just never thought it would be like this but its good that I got to know all this before…God! I cant even look at you right now!”

Had Khushi been even the slightest aware of her surroundings, she would have noticed at how Arnav had slowly let go of her hand and how his own had curled up into fists and how the words he spoke next came out in a controlled whisper and just how raspy his voice had suddenly become.

“And what did I do to break your heart?”

She looked up, the fire in her eyes matching the coldness in his,

“You couldn’t stand in support of your own brother, how will you ever stand in mine? And just because someone joked he is gay? You know what, he is gay! Like no joke, HE IS GAY! NOW WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?! HIT ME LIKE YOU MUST HAVE HIT THAT OTHER GUY?! OR YELL AT ME?! HUH?! WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?! TELL ME! FUCKING HOMOPHOBE, TELL ME?!”

There was a moment of the kind of silence that is shriller than the loudest of noise before a small but firm voice broke through it, a tone of defeated finality lining the words.

“No Khushi, I won’t hit you or yell at you…because I am not twenty years old any more. I grew up…unlike you, I just grew up. And now I am going to grow out of this…this thing between us because I am just…I can’t…you don’t want it, Khushi. You don’t want me and now I am tired of trying to make you want me as much as I want you. So…I am going to go now. Aman and Aditi are still outside, I think…they will give you a ride. I am just…have a good life, Khushi and I hope that some day you will allow someone inside that heart of yours and I am sorry I tried so hard to do that when you obviously weren’t interested. Bye.”

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A/N – Sorry for the long absence. I will try and be more regular.

Also suggestions please, should we add a discussion tab on the blog so that if anyone wants to share anything (publicly) they can do so and we can all discuss it? You can of course send me any messages or queries via email or Twitter or even IF 🙂

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Teen

“Tu idiot hai Akash?! The whole world must have come to know with the way you behaved yesterday!” Khushi berated her friend in hushed tones as the two loitered behind on the pretext of buying candy at the sickly sweet looking kiosk, their friends a little further away from them.

“Oh shush, Khushster! You were supposed to help you know!” Akash whined, for the 100th time since last night, as he picked out his favourite candy – the lemon sherbet.

“How could I help?! You got so bloody panicked that everyone knew something was up and then that dunderhead cousin of yours jumped in like a frog – idiot man, sorry idiot men!” Khushi paid for candy, swatting at Akash’s hand as he made to take out his wallet with a firm “You paid for all of our candy in school – its my turn now!”

“But Khushi…do something! I cant handle so much stress!” Akash popped in a lemon sherbet in his mouth, taking a moment of sheer bliss out of his agony filled rant to exclaim just how much he loved this particular candy before laughing at how Khushi’s face scrunched up as she ate a piece herself.

“I cant understand what you like in this?! Its soooooo khatta!” she complained before diving in for a strawberry flavoured gummy bear, “You know teri problem kya hai Bear…you get too nervous. Why cant you just play it cool? Also why cant you just tell people that you’re-”

“Gay? You think I should tell people I am gay in this fucked up society? Khushi, they have a problem with grown up heterosexual relationships…imagine what they would act like if I was to announce that I like men.” Akash had stopped now, his entire stance agitated as he unseeingly stared at the flower decorations decking up the mall and Khushi could not help but take his fist in her free hand, rubbing it gently before speaking out, as gentle as her touch but firm too,

“Bear, we are not living in like a village okay jahan khap panchayat hoti hai…its Delhi man! Its a metropolitan city and you’re from an educated family-”

“What are you two doing? You do realise that there are three other people here, don’t you? You cant just wander off on your own!” Aman’s annoyed tone interrupted the two best friends as they sprang apart and looked at him guiltily before Khushi assuaged the situation seeing just how useless Akash’s tongue had become once again, mentally rolling her eyes at her best friend’s utter lack of maturity when it came to Aman Mathur – his crush for as long as Khushi could remember!

“Sorry Aman but you know Bear and me na…humein toh bass mauka chahiye! We can talk for hours about nothing but we are sorry…lets go now! We are getting late for the movie!” Khushi hooked her arm around Aman’s as she led him away from Akash who looked like he would still need a few moments to gather his bearings, not realising that in her attempt to catch a break for her best friend, she had managed to ruffle the feathers of her boyfriend.

And ruffled his feathers were.

Arnav Singh Raizada was livid. Not only had he had to first impose his presence upon people, something he absolutely hated to do (in fact before yesterday he had never even felt the need to do so at all!) but now after facing the humiliation in his stride, he was not only being ignored by his girlfriend but was now actively being made jealous by the very same person – the reason for him having stooped so damn low in his self estimation!

To be fair, Khushi had been giving him the cold shoulder since last night. The message she had sent his way before switching off her phone at the reunion party had been the last of their correspondence till the morning when a very sullen her had picked up a very amused him at the metro station. He had then sought to thaw his girlfriend and had succeeded a great amount too – she had thrown one of those famous half smiles of her his way even if she had sobered up almost instantaneously at the glee on his face but Arnav was certain that had their journey to the mall been longer (damn the empty roads!), he would have earned a full fledged smile from the ice queen!

But now all his hard work seemed to have gone down the drain, more specifically a drain named Aman Mathur. What was Khushi even thinking pandering around the damn mall arm in arm with that thickheaded jock (at this point, Arnav was inclined to not remember that ‘that thickheaded jock’ was his own Cricket teammate in school and like his own self, had left his cricket days behind right there – in school). And before Aman Mathur, she had been stuck at the hip with his idiot cousin! Going by the pattern, Aditi was more likely to get lucky next than him!

“Arnav, whats wrong with you…Are you okay? What are you muttering about so angrily?” Aditi’s concerned voice broke through his inner monologue and Arnav turned around to face the girlfriend of the very same thickheaded jock (also a drain) and an idea lit up in his mind, in turn lighting up his own face.

Two could so play this game.

And draping his own arm around the petite woman’s shoulder, Arnav pulled himself closer to Aditi and replied, “Nothing Aditi! Was just thinking about something…anyway, shouldn’t we get to the theatre now…we are probably getting late!”

And it worked.

Even if not on his errant girlfriend, the arm draping did work on the thickheaded jock whose head decided to get thin real fast and Arnav could only just bite back a smile at how fast Aman had disengaged himself from Khushi and rushed to his girlfriend’s side, glaring at him before taking hold of her waist and steering her towards the theatre. Arnav looked behind to see the effects of his handiwork on Khushi’s face, fully expecting to see her glaring at him but was surprised to see her engrossed in her phone as if she hadn’t even noticed Aman’s departure, which to be fair to Khushi, she hadnt and was hence not very clued in when Aman’s arm around hers was replaced by Arnav’s.

It was only when he whispered a “Hi” in her ear in that trademark husky tone of his that she realised the switch and reacted with a start, “What are you doing?! Where’s Aman?!”

“Sent him off with his girlfriend because I wanted to spend some time with mine…is that okay with you?” Arnav replied, the arm around her own arm now snaking around her waist – an adorable grin  gracing his face as she pouted before realising the ‘errors’ in her way and tried pushing him away.

“Arnav! I am still angry with you, so move away!”

“Khu, I am sorry for butting in yesterday…I just wanted to spend some time with you…if you want me to make an excuse and leave, I will…just please don’t be angry…” and this time his little play worked on his errant girlfriend as the frown on her face melted away and was instead replaced by a tenderness that seemed to wash over every fibre of his being.

“No, stay…I like having you here…but we have to maintain a distance Arnav…till we tell people, specially Akash…” she gave him that little nose twitch – one which got him every single time before extracting herself from his arms and casting a furtive glance at Akash – relieved to find him dragging his feet over to them, his eyes fixed on the floor.

“And when do you think we will do that?” Arnav asked, his fingers itching to run through her long locks and feel their softness caressing their callouses.

“Soon…”

“Khus-” but it seemed like this was the limit of the mercy of the love Gods upon him today – Khushi had forgiven him but the conversation he was most itching to have with her would have to wait for another time as Akash finally caught up with them.

“What are you guys doing here? Lets go inside…Khushi, sit with me please? You owe me that much!” and with that Akash dragged away Khushi, not giving any attention to the momentary delay Khushi had in accepting his proposal or the way her eyes stayed on Arnav’s disappointed ones or the silent, almost imperceptible shrug she gave him or the adoring nose twitch or the reaction Arnav had to the very last action – as if catching something mid air and holding it close to his heart. Akash even missed the look of pure jubilation that crossed Khushi’s face at the said reaction – his own heart feeling entirely too heavy and full to notice all that was happening around him.

_________________

“Damn this is a nice place, no? Who knew this area would get so cool!” Khushi said in a sing song voice even as she swayed to the Beyoncé remix playing in the background, her drink swaying dangerously in the martini glass before she gulped it all in in one go.

“Khushster, have you become totally Amreekan? HKV was always ‘so cool’!” Akash countered his best friend, rolling his eyes at just how foreign Khushi sounded when she made statements like this.

“Okay fine whatever…now come with me – lets dance this place down!” and with that Khushi had grabbed both of his hands and putting them around her shoulders, pulled him in the middle of the dance floor.

“I cant believe these two are still such good friends…its so nice to see these school bonds actually stand the test of time, no Aman, Arnav?” Aditi remarked, even as she accepted a glass of lemonade from Aman – having decided that she would be the designated driver for the night. The group had decided to travel back from their pub run in Hauz Khas village in one car and had Khushi’s car picked up by her parents’ driver.

“Its quite strange actually how their bond works…I mean I know for a fact that they haven’t talked for the longest time but you get Khushi to India and all she wants to do is hang out with Akash…its like the distance and all the time they didn’t communicate at all ceases to matter once they just start talking, you know…” Arnav quipped, the tequila shot in his hand almost falling off when Aditi responded with a “How do you know all this, Arnav?”

“I…you know…I mean…Akash is my cousin, you know…and uh…I did meet Khushi once or twice or something in USA and she didn’t…I mean I didn’t see her chatting with Akash…and after all Akash is my cousin so I know…you know…I know things…you know?” with that pathetic attempt to mask what he had all but given away, Arnav excused himself to try and get more drinks for the group – being infinitely grateful to Aman, the thickheaded jock he had wanted to kill earlier in the day, for being as distracting as he was – spying from the corner of his eyes as Aman led a clearly confused Aditi to the dance floor and hoping fervently that by the time they got back, Aditi would have forgotten all about this little awkward moment.

Or else Khushi would have him for breakfast. And not in a good way.

But he needn’t have worried about Khushi having him for breakfast – at least for the reason he was fretting about – because at the moment Khushi was having the time of her life swaying to some classic Ricky Martin songs with her Bear.

“God! I love Ricky Martin!” Khushi screamed out loud but with the club’s decibel levels, it only reached her companion’s ears – his reply (“God! ME TOO!”) only reaching hers as well, making her double up in laughter.

“Khushster…lets step outside…I cant even hear myself think in here!” Akash punctuated his speech with glances at the balcony’s door and with Khushi’s nod, led them both away from the commotion and into the stifling but silent air of the hot Delhi evening.

“So…how is Amreeka?” Akash asked, leaning against the balcony rails, his eyes on the crowd inside.

“Its good but we both know you didn’t drag me out here to talk about the States…lets continue our conversation from before…Akash, you need to tell your family – its been like 12 years since you have accepted it to yourself! This cant be healthy!”

“Khushi, do you really think this is my first choice?! How do I tell these people Khus-” Akash started, feeling the familiar strains of frustration, guilt and anger rising up within him at the mention of the topic so intrinsic to him yet one which he could never fully accept as a part of himself, at least not in front of the world at large…not yet.

“Akash, these people are your family and your friends! Why do you always think so negatively?! And as I was saying earlier, you are lucky that you’re not in some village with those khap panchayat things, you’re living in a metropolitan city like Delhi-”

“Oh will you cut the crap about metropolitan cities and khap panchayats?! They are both the reality of India today, yes, but they are not mutually exclusive! Khap Panchayats may not be the name of the moral police in Delhi but it is there nonetheless!” Akash snapped at his friend, his hand raising on its own to run through his hair, waves of tension rolling off him.

“Fine moral policing is there but does that mean you will stop being true to yourself?!” Khushi tried reasoning with her friend, fervently wishing that they had been in a much more private space than they were for the route the discussion was taking but knowing nonetheless that it was too far gone to be curtailed now, not without incurring Akash’s wrath. He had been on the edge about his sexuality for a while now – the few long distance conversations they had in the past bearing testament to the fact. He had come out to her in their last year of school but Khushi knew just how difficult it had been for the young man in front of her – he may have the jolly happy-go-lucky personality but Khushi knew how much it took for him to be that way with the constant pressure he took upon himself with regard to just one facet of his self – his sexual preference. And all Khushi wished for her best friend, her Bear, was that he would let go of all his inhibitions and embrace his identity fully and completely, which included letting the world know who he was.

“You really don’t get, do you? Me being true to myself is not about me becoming an actor or taking up sculpting or giving up my job and deciding to travel full time?! Me being true to myself means telling my parents that I am not ‘perfect’ in the sense they believe me to be, that I am not going to fulfil their dreams of getting them a bahu and giving them grandkids…me being true to myself means letting down a lot of people for something that should actually not let down anyone at all!”

Akash looked away from the crowd that he had been staring at dispassionately and instead fixed his companion with a gaze that spoke of the eons of hurt that he had been carrying within himself and Khushi could not help but feel tear up. She threw her arms around the man who had been that one constant friend in her life whom she knew she could trust with her life even if they hadn’t really talked to each other for months before, a sigh escaping her as she felt a shudder run through her friend even as he grasped her closer.

“Akash…I get all of it but…you have to do this…you have to tell them. You are carrying around so much…guilt but for what?! They will be fine, Akash. They will be fine with it…your parents, Arnav…he is your cousin and he is of our age. He will understand and he can help you with your parents and the rest of the family! And I get that there is moral policing but what can they even do?! They will run their mouths for some time but then they will also shut up…you just have to let go of this secret because its ruining you…I have so many gay friends in New York and they all had such issues coming out to their loves ones but they did and they are so happy and satisfied now…and it doesn’t really matter in the public sphere – like who gives a fuck if they are gay, its their work that matters, its the kind of person they are that matters…” Khushi continued speaking her words of comfort and encouragement, never realising that Akash had extracted himself out of her arms and was now once again staring resolutely at the party going on inside, the only telltale signs of him listening to her being just how palpable the energy around them seemed and how aware he was of every movement either of them made.

A silence greeted her as she finished her monologue and sighing she made to gather him in a hug again, only to be left feeling cold and suddenly very sober as he stepped a breath away from her, his body language telling her without words to stay away. But before she could comprehend exactly what had gone wrong in the last few moments, Akash spoke up,

“You know what Khushi…why don’t you shut the fuck up? You clearly have no fucking clue about how it feels to be not just hated, but actively be disgusted for what you are, for whom you love, okay? You have no fucking clue so shut the hell up about it! You are living in America and giving me lectures about coming out here – do you realise that I can fucking go to jail because I happen to love someone with a penis instead of a vagina?! You don’t because you are so fucking far away from the reality here! And I have just about had it with your complete ignorance and utter disregard for the fact that we lead different kind of lives in these two countries! And what was that about my parents? ‘They will understand’…oh yeah, what the fuck will they understand?! And how the fuck do you know what they will or will not understand?! Its not like you have any clue about them since you left from here and then hardly ever bother to call or keep in touch?! So yeah, news flash Khushi – things here are not the fucking same as what you imagine them in your pretty little head to be like! And Arnav – he is the fucking biggest homophobe I know! ‘Our age’, ‘will understand’ – what a load of crap! He understands nothing – someone once joked about me being gay and you know what was his reaction?! Actually…you know what?! Why don’t you go and ask him! Go on! Go and ask what was his reaction when his cousin was called gay a few years back? Go right now because for fuck’s sake, I don’t want to talk to you any more and explain why exactly have I not done all this wonderful rainbow spouting shit you think coming out is like!”

And with that he was gone with a swish of the revolving door, the air hitting her like a thousand bricks and the tears that she had felt just a few minutes earlier making their reappearance stronger than ever and before she knew it, she was sobbing – only realizing the fact when she was addressed by one very concerned voice.

She could hear him asking her what had gone wrong and where was Akash.

And it was when she felt him take hold of her shaking shoulders and bring her closer to his embrace that the haze of confusion and shock finally started to ebb and Akash’s words came back to her, clearer than those being spoken by the the man with his arms around her –

“And Arnav – he is the fucking biggest homophobe I know! ‘Our age’, ‘will understand’ – what a load of crap! He understands nothing – someone once joked about me being gay and you know what was his reaction?!”

“Go and ask what was his reaction when his cousin was called gay a few years back?”

“Khushi, whats wrong? You’re scaring me and where’s Akash? Khushi…Khushi! What happened?!”

And it was almost like an out of body experience for her as she heard a voice floating to her ears before realising it was her own,

“YOU! YOU STAY AWAY FROM ME!”

__________________

A/N – All that glitters is not gold…

If you have any questions, concerns, queries – please do leave a comment. If you wish for our conversation to be private, please do DM me on Twitter or PM me on India-Forums.

This chapter is dedicated to all who struggle with their sexuality and sexual preference – ideally neither should be an issue for struggle at all but we live in a screwed up society where we would rather propagate hate than love. Anyway, know that you are loved and accepted by so many across the globe and they all hope you find the strength to live your life on your terms and with the acceptance you desire but more importantly deserve ❤

Do

“That was close…” Khushi murmured, the laughter on her lips dying down as she turned around to face Arnav only to find him already giving her “the look” she had anticipated she would be at the receiving end of as soon as Akash had interrupted them.

“Khushi, you better promise me that you tell Akash and whoever else you want to tell about us during this trip or so help me God I am going to kiss you senseless in front of everyone right here right now!”

Khushi flinched at the sheer conviction underlining his words, unconsciously wrapping her arms around herself and taking half a step back. She knew that Arnav had been wanting to tell everyone about their relationship for a while now but had been respecting her wish to keep it private. In fact she was the one who had cajoled him into coming to the reunion on the condition that this would be the trip she would spill the beans but now that they were here, she could feel herself flaking on the decision and even worse she knew Arnav could feel it too. But now was not the time to run away from the roar of the lion, Khushi berated herself sternly, she had to take it face on if she did not want to become this particular lion’s food that he would devour…quite literally!


And it was with this rather disturbing yet strangely delicious (the rising colour on Khushi’s cheeks was testament to the latter) thought, Khushi decided her future course of action and in the next instant her face sported the biggest, the sweetest, the bestest smile and she took a step closer towards Arnav, eliminating the distance she herself had created a moment ago and took hold of his tense hand in hers for the briefest instant before letting go – taking a lover’s satisfaction in just how that small touch affected him. The anger that had been flashing in his eyes dissipated and she felt him sigh and his fingers stretch to caress hers without trying to catch hold of them.

“I just don’t like all this chhupna-chhipana, Khu. All this hiding business is not my cup of tea and you know that…” he complained and Khushi couldn’t help but crack a smile at just how adorable he sounded.

“I know, Aru-”

“Dont call me that! It makes it sound like I am a girly girl!” came Arnav’s quick response and Khushi rolled her eyes. He was such a big baby when it came to nicknames – which was ironic considering how he loved giving almost everyone and everything nicknames…the man had a nickname for his favourite hairbrush for God’s sake – Mr. Sexy Hair.

Not even kidding.

He had actually named his HAIRBRUSH ‘Mr. Sexy Hair’.

MR. SEXY HAIR!

The first time she had heard him take the name, she had felt her heart sink – all because she had thought that yet another handsome as hell man she was developing a crush on was going to turn out gay like more than half the hotter than hot models around her – and then she had cursed rather loudly (and crudely or so Arnav would argue anyway) about how God was punishing her for only he knew what by making all hot crush-worthy men around her gay and how unfair it was considering that she actively supported the LGBTQ movement!

This little tirade of hers had had three consequences –

  1. Arnav had told her just how much far from being gay he was with rather explicit examples of what she did to him;
  2. Arnav had asked her out on a date; and
  3. Arnav had introduced her to Mr. Sexy Hair aka the sodden hairbrush.

But now thinking about it, Khushi could not help but be rather thankful to Mr. Sexy Hair – if the name had not literally shocked her tongue into a reflex action speech, maybe she and Arnav would not even have gotten together! Khushi was still thinking about how she planned to kiss that stupid (but adorable) comb the next time she saw it when she heard and then saw Arnav actually snap his fingers in front of her face,

“Kahan madam?”

“Sapnon ki duniya…” she replied with an exaggerated wink, happiness flooding her every sense at how Arnav rolled his eyes even as a smile threatened to erupt at the corner of his lips – she was forgiven, at least for the minute, and she could live with that, at least for the moment.

And it was indeed just for a moment as she would know soon enough.

_______________

“Khushster, are you free tomorrow?” Akash asked her as they swayed lazily to the last strands of a much loved classic of the early 2000s, the answer to his query delayed as the song ended and a wave of nostalgic applause thundered through the auditorium. As the last of the claps subsided, he took Khushi by the arm and led her to the nearby table where Arnav was sitting, look rather grumpy and glum having refused to dance with at least 10 girls who asked him to and then having the audacity to brush off Akash’s proposal as well with that trademark irritated growl of his.

He repeated his question as Khushi took a big swig from the bottle of water kept on their table

“The whole day I am free, just for you Bear! Tu bhi kya yaad rakhega!” Khushi finished with a flourish making Akash mutter something about “Drama Queen” before listing out his plan for the next day, “I thought we could go for a movie and lunch date and then hit all of our regular spots for a bit of wild partying…Aditi will join us too, Aman may come as well I don’t know about him…what do you say?”

“I say-”

“Akash, would you mind terribly if I join you guys tomorrow?”


Two faces turned towards the speaker of these words – both with round, wonder filled eyes but for different reasons. Akash because as far as he could remember Arnav had never ever (and he could vouch for it with his much loved Atlas mountaineering cycle) tried to invite himself to something he had not been included in from the get go, specially with him. They were cousins, of course, and on generally decent terms but their social sets had always been quite distinct from each other ever since school.

If Akash was shocked, Khushi was positively scandalised! What the hell was Arnav playing at?! He was not the kind to try and budge in on other people’s plans so it would be no wonder if Akash were to get suspicious! This was so not fair – he had promised her she would get to decide how to break the news of their relationship to Akash but if he did things like this, Akash would be breaking things over her head for hiding something so huge for a considerable period of time!

Which of course was not what Khushi messaged him because:

  1. It was too damn long to type; and
  2. Despite being so damn long, it did not AT ALL signify the amount of fury she was feeling which the message she did send to him (right after a very confused Akash agreed to his cousin’s odd request before turning his attention back to Khushi and was now waiting for the said Khushi to finish sending a “really important” message). The message read –

“You continue with these little tricks and I assure you there would be NO news to break. AT ALL.”

“Sorry Akash…just this ass at work – had to message him or else he would totally ruin things!” Khushi explained to her friend as she put back her phone inside her purse but not before making a show of switching it off after she caught Arnav’s amused expression from the corner of her eyes on receiving her furious text making her even more furious.

“So we are all on for tomorrow?”


“Yep, I guess WE are all on for tomorrow!” pat came the reply but not from the one Akash was expecting it from. It seemed like today was the day Arnav Singh Raizada had earmarked for shocking the crap out of him and a sighing Akash could do nothing but accept it as such.

Thankfully for Khushi and her future as a law abiding citizen (because at that exact moment she had been planning how she could murder Arnav and pass it off as an accident), Aditi and Aman decided to interrupt their little party and made themselves comfortable on the white cloth laden round table.

“So Khushi you on for tomorrow?” Aditi asked in her trademark warm voice and Khushi felt her anger ebb away – Aditi Guha had that effect on people. She was just so damn sweet, that too without being equally damn fake, for anyone to have any sort of grudge against her and that Khushi knew for a fact.

“Yep…I am coming. Arnav will be joining us as well…hope thats cool?”

The result of this declaration was somewhat similar to the one already described above – while Aman could only gape (rather unintelligently and for quite a long period of time in Khushi’s opinion), Aditi too could not hide her shock but she was the first to recover and the one to welcome Arnav to join the most graciously amongst the four original invitees.

“So what time do we meet tomorrow and where?” Aditi asked, her cellphone already out and ready in her hands to Google, Bookmyshow and Zomato in that order.

“How about we meet for any afternoon-evening show at Select, have a late lunch-early dinner at Smoke House and then check out the scene at HKV?” Khushi’s offer was readily accepted and plans started being made about who would pick up whom.

“Aman, why don’t you pick up Akash on your way and then you two can pick me up-”

“No! I can come with Khushi…yep Khushi can pick me up, cant you Khushster?” came Akash’s rather panicked voice literally making Aditi jump and Khushi sigh (inwardly) in sheer frustration – what was with these Raizada and relations?! Why couldn’t they ever just play it cool?! But before she could reply and soothe out Akash’s nerves, Arnav had already taken charge,

“Dont be silly, Akash. Your place is on Aman’s way to Aditi’s house while Khushi is nowhere close. In fact Khushi can pick me up on her way to Select, I will meet you at the metro station. Done? Done.”

Damn you, stupid-never-playing-it-cool Raizada and relations, Khushi thought savagely even as Akash kicked her none too lightly under the table – his eyes clear in their demand – FIX THIS – but how could she?!

As usual Arnav’s tone had carried a note of finality and though Khushi could feel Akash’s eyes become more helpless and hopeless by the second, she felt rather helpless herself – if she countered Arnav’s suggestion, she would not only be inviting his wrath but also providing more fodder to any doubt Akash’s panic could have planted.

And hence the only thing Khushi Gupta could realistically do in such a sticky situation was scream to herself – Stupid-Bloody-Never-Playing-It-Cool-Thickheaded Raizada and relations!

______________________

A special message for Sita aka LadyR – Happy Birthday! I dont want to go into detail here (because it would be entirely too long a message then!) about how much you have come to mean to me as a friend and how much your support and words of advise have meant to me but just wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for whatever you ever want to do! ❤

A/N : Some people have commented upon the title of this story and want to know what exactly it means – well guys, Idhar Udhar is a phrase used to refer to a number of situations – here and there, talking about here and there ie gossiping, small talk or even just talking in general 🙂

Ek

“Fuck! Khushi Gupta, is that you?! Actually in the bloody fuckin flesh?!”

The not so delicate tone with which this sentence, full of well meaning profanity, was spoken reached the ears of the woman who it was directed at and she couldn’t help but laugh – really laugh – the-throw-your-head-back-and-laugh kind of laugh even as her limbs moved on their own accord and she threw her arms around Akash Malik, his own enveloping her in the bear hug he had been famous in school for and evidently he hadn’t lost his touch – not in the ten years that had passed since they had all graduated!

“Akash ‘Bear’ Malik! How are you?!” Khushi greeted him as she stepped out of the hug and held him at an arm’s length, mock inspecting him – chuckling merrily as he flexed his muscles for her benefit before lessening the distance between them and once again pulling her in for a hug.

“I am fine, Khushster! As hale and hearty as I was at 17! You on the other hand look like…shit.” he finished his sentence with a his finger scratching his chin before ducking quickly to avoid Khushi’s fist as it rounded on him.

“Ass! You haven’t changed a bit have you! Still as offensive as ever!!” Khushi countered the insult thrown at her, her mind going over the many many times Akash’s special brand of humour had gotten him (and many times her!) in trouble – best friends as they had been during the last few years of their school life – from teachers to fellow students – no one had been spared by Akash ‘Bear’ Malik! In fact, his nickname had come about not only because of his love for distributing bone crushing bear hugs but also his absolute thickheadedness and obstinacy when it came to this weird sense of humour of his just like a bear on a mission!

“At least I have an ass – where did yours disappear Khushi Gupta?! I know you are a hotshot model and all now but you didn’t have to literally work your ass off for it, you know!” he winked at her making her roll her eyes and regale him with tales of just how hard a model had to work to save her ass (even if physically non-existent) in the cutthroat world of fashion.

“Beta you come back home! This American fashion world is killing you slowly – one body part a time!” he exclaimed in mock horror making Khushi giggle but just as she was about to reply, the two friends were interrupted by a long arm which tapped Akash on the shoulder and Khushi’s eyes travelled upwards from the fingers resting on her best friend’s shoulder to the man attached to the said hand – stopping only when they met her honey gold met his molten brown orbs.

Arnav Singh Raizada.

Prankster extraordinaire but merit student.

Basketball champ and great debater.

Akash’s cousin and their batchmate yet never her friend.

“Arnav! So you did make it, huh? What happened to all the ‘who the hell wants to go back to school?!’ bravado I had to listen to since the invite came in!” Khushi broke out of her reverie of thoughts as her best friend greeted his cousin with a hug while still berating him, the smile on both their faces making one appear on hers too.

“You remember Khushi right? And Khushi, this is Arnav – that dude who gave no attention to us smalltime people during school!”

Khushi laughed along with Akash at that while Arnav smarted under his cousin’s good natured ribbing, a slight colour rising up his neck but shaking off the spotlight he had been expertly put under he met Khushi’s outstretched hand with shook it, taking just a moment to admire how soft and delicate her hand felt under his rough and callous one yet the handshake was anything but delicate – it was, instead, firm and purposeful and Arnav immediately felt the loss of contact as she pulled away her hand.

“So you didn’t want to come to the reunion? Why so? Don’t you have like a legion of fans waiting to welcome you home!” Khushi couldn’t help but ask the question which had been waiting patiently at her lips, ready to be thrown out to the world or more specifically to Arnav Singh Raizada’s world and it was with a characteristic smirk that pat came the reply making her remember all those times when she had witnessed Arnav tackling questions, big or small, with the famous smirk firmly in place,

“Well a star does get tired of their fans sometimes, Khushi Gupta…you should know that…I have heard that you have become quite a famous model in the magical land across the seven seas?” He ended his rebuttal with a naughty wink making Khushi blush and Akash roar with laughter at just how shy his friend still was – supermodel be damned!

“Geez Arnav! You shouldn’t trouble Khushi with too much praise…she has evidently still not learnt to handle it all, have you now Khushster?”

“Oh shut up! I can handle praise all right…its just hot in here, okay! Go and get me something to drink, Bear!”

“Aye aye madam supermodel. Your humble servant is here for you!” came the tongue in cheek reply and Khushi punched Akash on the shoulder – pushing him towards the refreshment stand which had been set up way back in the auditorium which was decked up in a way reminiscent of how it would be decorated during all school functions making Khushi sigh wistfully in remembrance of school time memories – her eyes roving around as she took it all in…10 years! 10 years had passed since she had last been standing in this place – her home of 14 long and beautiful years – and much to her shock and embarrassment Khushi felt tears prick at her eyes and she could do nothing but sputter out in laughter even as she dabbed carefully at the corners of her eyes with the pads of her fingers before she spied a pristine white handkerchief waving in front of her.

“I am just offering my assistance to the weeping damsel and not calling a truce, just so you don’t take this as my white flag!”

Khushi shook her head at the man’s theatrics but took the handkerchief offered regardless, wiping away the thin sheen of tears and almost giving it back before a devious plan germinated in her head and laughing on the inside, she pretended to blow her nose rather ferociously in his handkerchief before holding it out – a sweet smile perfectly in place – till the moment raucous laughter took its place at the disgusted expression on her companion’s face!

“No one would believe you are a supermodel, Khushi, with all these antics you pull!” He muttered in distaste, not touching the square piece of cloth she was of so graciously offering him back.

“Well it doesn’t matter if people believe or not, its a fact – both that I am a supermodel and that I love pulling these ‘antics’ as you call them!” Khushi said before pulling yet another ‘antic’ – that of sticking out her tongue at him before nearly swallowing that same tongue as he snaked an arm around her lithe waist and pulled her close almost making her stumble if not for his broad shoulders that she caught hold of in haste – their noses almost touching just as their lips were and Khushi could feel his hot breath on her lips making them moist and unconsciously her tongue peeked out once again but this time to lick at her lips nervously and he groaned,

“Stop doing that Khushi…”

“Doing what?” her voice came out in a husky whisper and his eyes darkened while hers widened at the bodily response she felt to her words-

“WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING?!”

And the moment was broken as the two being addressed in this not so very delicate tone sprang apart hurriedly and turned to look at the gaping face of Akash Malik as he, well gaped, at his best friend and his cousin – both the exact same shade of red but before his brains clogs could start working properly, Khushi spoke up.

“Nothing! He was just…I stumbled okay! Models stumble too, you know, and Arnav was just helping me get steady, thats all! Such a drama queen you are, scared the crap out of me with that shriek!”

All of this was said rather hurriedly and had Akash been a bit more sober he would have realized it too but he was not – in fact, he was soon going to be the reason behind most people losing their sobriety. He and the 11 mini bottles of vodka that he had just emptied in the punch bowl, the remaining three settling in his own self.

“Whatever you say…by the way did you know Aman Mathur and Aditi Guha are a couple even now?! Who would’ve thought that those two would still be a couple 10 years later! I just saw them canoodling at the drinks counter!” Akash finished his tale with a rather big sip on the glass of punch he had gotten for.

“Everyone except you…and your opinion doesn’t count because it was coloured by the fact that you had a huge crush on-” Khushi’s mouth was clamped shut by the hand of her best friend as he told her with his eyes as well to shut it and shut it she did, much to Akash’s relief. Not wanting to risk Khushi’s big mouth opening again, Akash tried to shift his companion’s attention towards “all the shit dancing in need of desperate help” before jimmying off to do just that – leaving in his wake two laughing individuals.

“That was close…” Khushi murmured, the laughter on her lips dying down as she turned around to face Arnav only to find him already giving her “the look” she had anticipated she would be at the receiving end of as soon as Akash had interrupted them.

“Khushi, you better promise me that you will tell Akash and whoever else you want to tell about us during this trip or so help me God I am going to kiss you senseless in front of everyone right here right now!”

_________________________

So…what do you think?

Also please read the ‘About’ section…pretty please with a cherry on top…or would you prefer Arnav? (*naughty naughty ;)*)