Chapter 42: The Refusal
...would you please marry me...
...my answer is No...
Arnav couldn't believe his ears. Stunned, he was frozen for a few seconds as Khushi's NO rung in his ears. His breath was stuck in his lungs and his eyes cracked with the realization dawning on him - she didn't want him. She wouldn't choose to be with him. Nothing he could do would ever suffice.
That couldn't be true - a part of his heart screamed. Everything over the last several weeks - her care, her support, her trust, her affection, falling inhibitions - everything that he was sure symbolized love simmering under the surface came back to him at once. How could he be that wrong?
But of course, he couldn't scream his protest out aloud. That was, after all, the promise he'd made himself long ago. It had to be her choice, her decision. His hands slipped away from hers and fell down lifelessly as he slipped back on his legs and shut his eyes tight, trying to take stock of the ruins of his hopes and dreams, trying to - somehow - find a way to keep breathing even if there wasn't a point any more.
She saw it.
She saw the blood in his eyes as soon as she uttered her No. Immediately, a deep regret flooded her followed by a sharp ache that choked her breath. As his hands left hers and fell away, she felt stripped of her own life-support and pushed into a lonely void so deep, she almost cried aloud. If he hadn't shut his eyes at that very instant, he would have seen her leap towards those hands, desperate to grab them back. A stifled sigh escaped her lips as she tried to pull herself back with the rationalized echos of what she had done and why. It had only taken a few moments and every inch of Khushi's existence hated her for doing it - for causing so much pain to her Arnav, and indeed, to herself - but the fact was, it was done. She had been afraid of this choice for days now, pulled in two directions by her hopes and her fears and deeply unsettled by the prospects of either losing Arnav or stepping up and having him. Suddenly, the choice had sprung up in front of her for real in a moment when stepping up felt impossibly scary. Reverberations of Manorama's words from only a few minutes ago engulfed her. She was in the kitchen, splitting her attention between Arnav's favorite nargisi koftas and calming a mind that Anjali's insinuations had greatly unsettled, when she had heard loud screaming and coughing from Manorama's room.
"...you brought a roadside characterless woman to my house"
Her feet stopped at the door when those words hit her ear. Roadside. Characterless. Her.
"I cannot believe you are justifying your mistress and screaming at your Mami for her. She must be really good in bed..."
She could hear Arnav fighting for her, yet her eyes were fixed on Manorama. On the hatred and disgust in her eyes, so different from the love and compassion she had felt only minutes ago. Love which couldn't withstand the dirty truth of her life. Compassion which was no longer available to her, now that she was no more than a certified s**t.
"...you've found yourself another cheap, gold-digging wh**e"
That's how the world saw her. That's how Manorama's neighbors saw her - a pretty characterless thing trying to trap a rich divorcee. That's how Manorama saw her too, despite everything else she had known about Khushi the person over the past several weeks. That's how the world would always see her.
Yes, that's not how Arnav saw her. But was it enough? More importantly, was it fair to him? The burden of her past would always stain her, but the more their lives intertwined, the more the stain would percolate into his life, swallowing his happiness in its darkness. She knew - in her heart of hearts, she was certain - that Arnav wouldn't care for that. But could she let him pay that price? Would she be happy watching him live with the cost of her taint? The questions were too many, the pain too intense and fresh, doubts too strong, time too little and the choice - the choice that Arnav gave her - too difficult.
And then, just like that, it was made.
Forced into a corner, she gave in to the doubts. She made the rational choice. She couldn't be with Arnav. She shouldn't be with Arnav.
But choices have consequences, and as she saw Arnav breaking down in front of her, the weight of that realization pulled her down as well. She slumped on her knees, next to Arnav, too afraid of the storm beneath his hooded eyes.
"Arnav, please...please try to understand" she urged desperately "I don't want to hurt you. I can't...I can't see you like this...but..."
"...but you can't give me what I want" he completed the sentence, opening his eyes, his voice quivering but stable.
"Arnav, I am sorry. It's killing me to see you in pain. But you...you'd find someone else...someone much better...I can't..."she pleaded, folding her hands in front of him.
"It's not about who I can find. I don't want anybody other than you." He said holding her hands. Khushi looked away, not able to see the desperate plea in Arnav's eyes.
"Arnav please...don't do this...please..." she pulled her hands and stood up, turning away from him.
A couple of minutes later Arnav stood up. "I am sorry Khushi. I shouldn't push you. As I said before, it's your choice. I asked what I had to ask, but I am not going to take away your choice about your life like I and others have done in the past. Just answer me one thing, please, if you can." He held Khushi by the shoulder and turned her around, but she refused to look up to face him.
"Do you..." his voice broke with the last shreds of hope he could muster "did you ever...even a little...love me?"
Khushi felt her heart physically constrict inside her. She turned away again as she swallowed the words forming in her throat.
Her small, impure, tainted love. But love nevertheless.
Deep, all-consuming, insane love but love nevertheless.
Love that wanted her to turn and dig herself in Arnav's chest. Love that wanted her to not care about anybody else in the world and simply scream the fact that she couldn't imagine a life without Arnav - that he was, for her, the very definition of love and happiness. Torn within, she took a step ahead, moving further away from Arnav, but couldn't move no more as the pull of his love wouldn't let her escape. Yet, her love was no match. Her love would destroy Arnav's life that had already survived too much damage. And what did she know about love anyway? Her mother's definition of love had given her nothing but pain. Her father had only shown to her that love cannot withstand the realities of life. And she herself? Hadn't she thought once upon a time she loved Shyam? Hadn't she believed his words and gestures to be symbols of true, everlasting love? Hadn't she even mistaken Arnav's feelings once before and built a castle on the basis of her blind faith in him, only to realize that he had contracted her for three months and had always planned on sending her back when he had had his fill? No, she didn't blame Arnav for it. She knew and trusted him with not even an ounce of suspicion that he did not want to send her back to prostitution, and that he truly cared for her. It wasn't about Arnav - everything he had done more than proved his intentions. It was about her. Her lack of confidence in her own feelings. Her non-existent belief in love. The lack of worthiness she saw in whatever it was she felt. It was too weak and would never match up to what Arnav deserved. It would never be enough.
And despite all of that, it was still love.
So what could she answer Arnav? Did she have the courage to lie? Did she have the courage to say the truth?
"I..."she uttered after several anguished minutes of silence, then turned to face Arnav. "I..."she tried again, lifting her eyes to see Arnav for the first time. The words choked inside her as she saw disappointment wash over his face and before she could do something he spoke up.
"I got my answer Khushi. Don't feel so guilty. That's not what I wanted. It's my fate. I am sorry."
"Ar..."she whispered, her voice barely audible.
"It's fine. Leave it. Now let's go. We are not staying here any longer." He swallowed his pain and walked towards the door. His destiny had made its decision. Khushi's no and her guilt-filled silence had told him what he needed to know and finally killed all hope he had been nursing for weeks. He had just assumed, hadn't he, that just because Khushi was grateful, nice and affectionate to him, she would harbor the same kind of dreams he did. Who could blame her for not wanting to love and live with a man who couldn't be loved by the woman who raised him, the brother who grew up with him and the wife who took marital vows with him? Surely Khushi had no intentions like them to take advantage of him and therefore, she had no incentive to fake-love him like they had. She was honest and he needed to accept that. She was too good for her. He didn't deserve to be her life-partner.
Now, all he wanted to do was run into a dark corner and allow the overwhelming pain to hit him. But not here, not in this house, not in front of Khushi. He breathed deep to find some control.
"Arnav but Mamiji..."
"Mami would be fine." Arnav stopped and turned his face towards Khushi. "I'll make sure there are enough people to take care for her."
"But Arnav you can't...she's your family...I will go, but you should stay..."Khushi protested, still rooted to her spot. This was exactly what she didn't want.
"Arnav stop...this is your house...she'd be hurt...she needs you...you can't do this for me...think of Anjali" she continued to protest but he started walking towards the door again.
"And I am not going anywhere with you anyway. I don't want to live with you any more. So you don't need to leave. You stay here, I am leaving. You can't force me." She screamed in panic.
Arnav stopped, turned and crossed his arms. Khushi's stubbornness combined with the emotional volcano inside him was making his temper flare. Rather, anger seemed to be the only allowable, ventable emotion right now to a broken Arnav.
"Fine. But this is London, not India. I brought you here, so you are my responsibility." He said in a stoic tone.
"Arnav, please...I am sorry..."Khushi pleaded, tears leaking her eyes, her tone different from the panicked screams of a minute ago. "But Mamiji and Anjali are the only family you've got. You can't turn your backs on them. Don't make a rash decision you'd regret, please."
"I don't have a family" he pronounced, silencing Khushi. "I thought I had one, or at least a shot at one, but you just told me I was delusional." His penetrating gaze into Khushi reminded her of Payal and the bond she'd come to share with Arnav. They were a small family, weren't they? Maybe, she could herself walk away from Arnav, but how was she going to explain everything to Payal? The question stunned her into silence as Arnav continued to talk.
"I don't shy away from my responsibilities. Anjali and Mami would be taken care of. But nobody can hurt, harm or insult Arnav Singh Raizada's friend and expect me to stand quietly." He said, stressing on the word friend.
"You are still my friend, aren't you?" He spoke slowly and seriously, in a tone that made it clear to Khushi that there was no room for negotiation here. He wasn't going to stay back.
Stunned, all Khushi could do was nod.
"Then come. I'd ask the servant to pack our stuff and send to the hotel. Tomorrow morning, we are going back to India. Then you can go wherever the hell you want. I'd make sure you're taken care of too."
Flight BA201 to Mumbai has been delayed by 3 hours. The flight will now depart at...
"f**k" Arnav muttered under his breath. He had just walked through security at the London Heathrow airport. He looked behind him, Khushi was in a parallel security line, a minute away. Neither had spoken a word to each other since they'd left Anjali's house, both lost in their own private hell. He'd just waited in the car outside the hotel this morning and she had shown up as per the note he'd sent this morning, slipping in the car quietly.
The intervening night had been painful, but now that those tears had been shed, the silence was hurting more as neither had dared to look straight at the other person in the last twelve hours. Staring at Khushi's sad face as she picked up her purse and walked towards him, her eyes stuck on the floor ahead of her, Arnav cursed himself for proposing to her. In his delusional hope, he had completely destroyed whatever relationship they had. Why, why, why did he open his mouth? Why did he tell Mami Khushi's truth, believing that her exuberance over his intention to marry Khushi and her prevailing high opinion of Khushi would be enough for her to develop the empathy needed to understand Khushi's truth and accept her wholeheartedly? He was wrong - even after living with Khushi for a month and knowing her so well, Mami hadn't looked past a misappropriated label. Her insults had broken Khushi's heart, and it was in a desperate bid to apologize that he had laid bare his heart.
Everything was great until last evening. Now, he was truly left alone in his life, and to top it all, he could sense Khushi's guilt about not being able to reciprocate his love as she sat next to him in the waiting lounge. That guilt was enough to take away the scrapes of happiness with Khushi and Payal he had found with so much trouble. He did not know what to say or do any more but the vibes of Khushi's pain were surprisingly harder to bear than his own pain at this moment. Suffocated, he stood up.
"I am going to check if there's an earlier flight they can move us to." He said before walking away.
He was at the customer service desk 30 feet away when he felt Khushi's eyes upon him. A side glance confirmed his feeling and the look of longing in her eyes surprised Arnav. Suddenly, something Anjali had said last night on the phone came back to him. Anjali had apparently come back home after they'd left and discovered most of what had transpired. She had immediately called, urging Arnav to return but he'd refused. She had also expressed anger at her mother's behavior and told Arnav she supported him, Khushi and their love.
"Thanks Anjali. Khushi is not how..."
"I know bhai. I know her enough and more than that I trust you and your choice enough. Don't worry about the past bhai. Don't even care about what Mom thinks. She'd come around, and even if she doesn't, don't let her orthodoxy ruin your happiness. Your happiness lies in each other. Marry Khushi, bhai, and never let her go."
"I asked her to marry me. She said no. She doesn't love me."
"She's lying! Bhai, don't believe her."
"Bhai! I know you're hurting but think about it. She is probably too hurt with what mom said. And then you left the house. I bet she said no because she doesn't want to be the cause of your fight with mom and she knows you'd choose her over mom if mom doesn't accept her. Go back to her and force her to admit she loves you."
"Anjali, let it be. I told her how I felt and I gave her the choice. It's her life. There's too much history between us for me to force her. I cannot build a relationship on force. If she loved me, she would have...I told her I loved her and she said no. That means I am not good enough for her."
"Anjali please. I want to stay alone for some time. You take care of Mami. I will call you from India."
At that time, he hadn't believed Anjali, drowning in his pain. But now, looking at Khushi he wondered if Anjali was right? What if she had lied and said no only so that he didn't break his relationship with Mami? He remembered how stubborn she was being to send him to reconcile with her. After all, hearing Mami's cruel words would have hurt her even more than they had hurt him. And then, when he had asked her if she ever loved him, she had stayed silent but she did not say no. What if...
His head bursting, Arnav walked towards the store in front of him, desperately in need of some water to cool his mind and think rationally about the whole situation. What if he wasn't wrong before, when he believed in Khushi's love, but was wrong now to take her rejection at face value?
Arnav sat down at a nearby spot and emptied the entire bottle of water as he tried to think of the events of the previous night again and wondered about what to do next. Fifteen minutes later, he was no closer to an answer, but he decided to talk to Khushi one more time and walked back towards the lounge where he'd left her. But as he got there, Khushi was nowhere to be seen. Panicking immediately, his eyes darted in all directions.
Where had she gone?
They were inside the security clearance area of the airport, so walking out of the airport wasn't going to be that simple. That meant she was still inside. But where?
He looked around, then decided to check the restrooms and ran towards the nearest ladies room which was a few hundred feet away. He was almost there when his eyes caught the yellow of Khushi's dupatta at a corner, making him stop instantly. But the next moment, as he turned to get a fuller view, his breath stopped in shock as he realized the person whose embrace she was in.
"Call me" Arnav heard him say as he walked closer to them. He handed what looked like a business card to Khushi and walked away. Khushi mouthed a thank you and put the card in her purse, having not realized that Arnav had stopped less than fifteen feet away, and then she turned to walk to the ladies' room. Shocked, angry, hurt, a speechless Arnav stumbled his way back to the lounge.
Topic started by teekay
Last replied by TwilightStar_JP