A/N: Just wanted to give a quick heads up- we're nearing the end of the fic. We'd crossed the half-way mark a few chapters back. And as always thanks a lot to everyone who read/liked/commented- invested their time in any way, in this story. :)
Chapter 17 - Interview
The aroma of freshly brewed tea is what Khushi inhaled as she woke up the next morning. Stretching her hands, she picked up her shirt from the floor and put it on. The un-tucked shirt fell a little above her mid-thigh.
She walked into the drawing room to find Arnav pouring tea in a cup.
"You made tea for me! That's a surprise." Khushi grinned, arching her eyebrows.
Arnav smiled and offered her the cup. "You say that like I have never cooked anything for you. Remember the time I made you breakfast, when you were ill."
She sat on a chair and took a sip.
Clearing his throat he began, "So... about last night..."
"Yeah... about that..." she too spoke in phrases.
Khushi knew this obligatory morning-after-sex talk was weird when the two people involved had not defined the relationship. With her and Arnav, it was weirder given that he was a spirit. But last night was so wonderful for her, she didn't want to bring up the conversation and dampen the happiness she had experienced.
"Was it... Did you... like it?"
His question took her by surprise and she giggled, "Did you not hear me shout by the end of it, embarrassingly loudly I might add."
He nodded, a smile tugging at his lips. "Right."
"Arnav," she spoke earnestly, "Last night, after a long time, I didn't feel lonely. I never really thought that I craved for companionship but now that I have it, it was blissful. I have no regrets. Do you?"
"No, of course not." He replied swiftly, "Last night was... great... more than great."The color in his cheeks was rising. "You were amazing."
Khushi looked away and took a sip of her tea, feeling giddy in her stomach.
"You seemed to be quite in charge last night, you know..." he trailed off.
Her ears perked up, "Are you asking me if it was my first time?" she asked bluntly.
"No!" he exclaimed immediately, "That's not what I was implying. Sorry if you thought that."
"It wasn't." She leaned on the backrest, pressing the warm cup against her lips. "There was a guy, a couple of years back. We dated for a few months."
"We were young and thought it was love but then life happened, pushed us in different directions, we made different choices, parted on good terms." She explained without any probing from him.
"I am sorry," there was sincerity in his voice.
"It ancient history." She then diverted her attention to him, "What about you? Given that you were a billionaire and, well..." she paused for a moment before teasing, "...average on the eyes, I am sure you must be really popular with the girls."
"Average on the eyes? Really?" He smirked to which she chuckled. He shrugged his shoulder circling back to her question about affairs, "I can't recall. But from what I have read, I was a workaholic. I doubt I had a string of affairs."
"Hopefully we'll find out soon enough," she referred to the impending meeting with Anjali two days later. "Not about the affairs. About your life I mean," she added.
Khushi left for office soon after. When she came back, they spent their time preparing for the meeting. On the phone and later on the email Anjali's assistant had re-informed her she would be getting only 20 minutes with Anjali. They had to frame their questions carefully.
However, no matter how hard they tried, Khushi found the transition, from normal questions to murder, quite impossible. She couldn't just start talking about Arnav and the conspiracy theory that he was harboring in his mind, amidst the interview.
Arnav was adamant that she ask Anjali, point blank. Khushi scoffed at the idea saying that she would probably be thrown out by security if she accused Anjali of murder in her own house.
Between the planning and preparation, Saturday rolled by and Sunday morning arrived. Arnav and Khushi reached the Raizada mansion- the huge white house- from Arnav's flashbacks.
They were waiting in the lobby of Anjali's home office. Arnav tried to venture in the nearby space, as far as his bond with Khushi would let him. The sitting area had 2 huge portraits of Arnav and Arnav's father. Garlands of fresh flowers were hung around the portraits.
A few minutes later, at exactly 11am, a young girl, probably Anjali's assistant let Khushi through a huge oak door. Anjali's home office had a dark paint, a strict contrast to the light coloring of the outer and inner walls of the house.
Anjali stood in the centre of the room. She wore a navy blue saree, complimenting her petite figure, and basic pearl earrings. Her hair was let loose falling in light waves. The woman exuded more grace and confidence in person yet there was tenderness to her.
Khushi gulped and straightened her grey skirt with her palms. She had put on a navy blue shirt tucked in the waist with the skirt. She was trying to look her professional best.
Anjali extended her hand, welcoming Khushi. Khushi shook it as the assistant closed the door behind her. Anjali directed Khushi to two chairs placed opposite one another. She was really doing this. There was no going back now.
Khushi took her seat facing Anjali. She felt sweat forming on her forehead despite the AC cooling the room. It was one thing to plan for a fake interview, but now it was real. She had gone ahead in what could be the most dangerous thing she had ever done in her life. One mistake and she could lose her job and if things got worse, probably face legal action.
Arnav, who till now had been intently observing Anjali, placed a hand on Khushi's shoulder, sensing her anxiety. He gave her a reassuring squeeze, gesturing her to go on.
Before she could speak, Anjali commented, "You seem too young to be an editor.
Shit! Khushi almost muttered aloud. Was Anjali catching on? Khushi had vastly overstated her position from an editorial assistant to an editor.
Khushi mentally composed her thoughts, "And you seem too young to be a CEO, yet here we are.
Anjali smirked at her response and nodded. "Why is an editor personally interviewing me? That doesn't entail your job description.
Khushi was certain that her heart must have been beating so loudly that Anjali might hear it. She calmed herself down, rather tried hard to. She couldn't mess this up.
"I am the co-writer too. The primary writer already has the material on you. It's coming along well, she put up a fake smile, "We just need to polish and refine it. Given your prominence, we thought it would be best if I handled it.
Calling Anjali a prominent figure helped her cause. Anjali gave a nod of approval and, fortunately for Khushi, let the topic go. Khushi took out her list of questions and a tape recorder. Turning the recorder on, with Anjali's approval, she cleared her throat and began. She thanked Anjali for taking the time out and started with a couple of questions about her work.
Anjali went in details about how she built a life for herself- starting as a lowly management trainee in the company, making her way to the top by her hard work, despite of being the owner's daughter. Khushi nodded her head but her eyes kept wandering to the clock on the wall behind Anjali. Time was ticking by and she had yet to ask anything remotely close to Arnav.
Arnav also was getting impatient. "Ask her about me, he spoke loudly over Anjali's voice.
"I saw a picture of your father and brother outside. It must have been horrible to lose both family to a car crash in the same year, Khushi felt uneasy bringing a completely different subject when Anjali was talking about her stint as a CEO.
Anjali narrowed her eyes for a second. Khushi's breath caught in her throat. She relaxed when Anjali spoke, "It was a difficult time for me. Khushi waited for Anjali to add something but she didn't.
"Umm... There were rumors that you and your late brother didn't gel along well with each other, Khushi's inside were squirming as she said the words. She was prodding a person about a dead family member; something that is usually unpleasant and a bad memory for people.
"Step brother, Anjali corrected her. "We are a huge business. People will have difference of opinions and clashes are bound to happen. Sometimes, we were at loggerheads, but that was restricted to the professional space. In personal relations, we were cordial to each other. Arnav and I shared mutual respect for one another. Our company was our strongest link and we both, despite of the friction, were working toward the same goal- the success of our business.
That sounded like a fair answer. Moreover it sounded like a conclusive answer- that Anjali had said all that she wanted to about Arnav. Khushi bit her lip, thinking of how to prod her further. A bead of sweat ran down her forehead.
"Erm... Was it a shock to find that Arnav had died in a car crash just like your father?
If she could, Khushi would have visibly flinched at her own words. She was appalled at her own insensitivity. She would have stopped if not for Arnav who was saying, "It's okay. I know it's difficult for you but this could be our only chance.
Anjali stiffened, then responded in a tone seeped with disdain; "These questions feel more suited for a juicy entertainment gossip column than a book about successful businesswoman.
"I am sorry, Khushi apologized sincerely. "I didn't mean to be insensitive... It's just that we are publishing a book about you and I would like to delve a little deeper than the usual questions- to understand your dynamic with the people around you. It helps me understand and write about you better. She then picked up the tape recorder and switched it off, "These personal questions are just for me. It will not get printed. It's strictly off the record.
Anjali thought for a moment, "I would sue you if I read about this. You have 2 minutes. She spoke in a monotone. It made Khushi uncomfortable but hopeful at the same time.
"I wanted to know about Arnav. Khushi stated, relaxing a little for the first time that morning. "And you." she added as an after thought, "Arnav and your relationship given that he was your only immediate family."
Khushi could feel Arnav stiffen beside her as Anjali sighed, ready to answer. "Like I said, Arnav and I respected each other, despite of our different ways of working. On a personal level, we were civil to one another. Arnav was a workaholic. His work was his life. There was no place for anything or anyone else. You'd always find him in the office or travelling for work. The company was all he had. I doubt if he even had a friend."
Anjali paused for a moment before continuing, "He was overstressed and over worked- he desperately needed a break but he never took one. He was fatigued most of the time. On the morning of his accident, he was just getting back from office, after spending a couple of sleepless nights there. That's when he rammed against a truck. It happened near our house, 2 blocks away."
"Oh, I am sorry." Khushi felt like she had to insert something, even though Anjali was narrating her side of the story with as less emotion as a news reporter puts in their stories.
"A passer by called me from his phone. I was his emergency contact," she paused, raising her eyebrows, "Me- a person who he barely acknowledged outside the office- goes on to show how lonely he was. He passed away while we waited for the ambulance. You must have seen the media coverage during his final rites. There was a horde of people who had come to pay their respect, after his cremation. Ironically not even one of them had any real connection to him."
Khushi could tell Anjali's eyes had glistened for an instant, just before she regained her composure. "And that's about it. I think."
Khushi nodded, her mind swirling with all that Anjali has said. She wanted to talk to Arnav that instant. He was standing behind her; she couldn't tell what was going on in his mind. She waited for him to prod her, in case he wanted her to ask her more about him but he was silent.
Khushi asked some general questions about Anjali's future plans for the company, which she answered with enthusiasm. Khushi didn't listen to any of Anjali's words. She wanted to get out of there with Arnav. But she had to fake it till the end.
Arnav said nothing on the ride back home. On reaching the house, he straightaway went to the balcony and just stood there. Khushi thought it would be best to give him some time.
Was he reflecting on what he had learnt or was he disappointed with her? That she couldn't unearth more from Anjali? This was very important to him and he had spent weeks obsessing over it. Did she ruin it by being too cautious while questioning Anjali? Should she have tried harder?
She was waiting anxiously to talk to Arnav, to ask him if she had goofed up. The sun set outside and the sky turned a hue of red. Not being able to take it anymore, she ventured to the balcony.
"Arnav? Are you all right?" came Khushi's soft voice.
Arnav had been standing there for so long, immersed in his own thoughts that he had forgotten she was equally invested in all this, as much as he was.
"I am sorry," he apologized, turning to face her, "I shouldn't have shut you out."
"No, that's not it," she countered. "I was worried for you. Are you angry with me? I couldn't probe Anjali further about your murder. I tried really hard," she emphasized on the last line.
"I know you did," he placed a hand on her arm, "Thank you for everything. You put your self on the line today for me."
She frowned, "I couldn't do much though."
Arnav shook his head, "You did more than enough. We found out whatever we wanted to know about me. Anjali was telling the truth- about our relationship, about my life and my death."
"You can remember everything?"
"No, I sensed it." He ran his hand through the length of her arm and intertwined his fingers with her. "I could sense her aura, she was being honest about everything. She did feel emotional once too, while talking about me."
"Didn't meeting your sister spark any kind of change?"
Arnav sighed, "I barely had any connection to her when I was alive. Why would anything change in death?"
Khushi curled her fingers against his, "At least we know for sure no one wanted to actively hurt you. Your death was truly an accident."
Arnav sighed, "I was picturing my life- I had no friends, I had no family, all I had was my work. I wasn't close to Anjali yet she was my emergency contact. And my accident- it was all because I was not alert since I was toiling at work. It could have been avoided if I had just not been so overworked and stressed out."
Khushi opened her mouth to say something when he interrupted, "I was miserable Khushi. Anjali didn't say the exact word but she might as well have. I was sad and lonely."
"Just like I have been my entire life," Khushi interjected.
"You didn't choose to be lonely," Arnav's voice was low, "But I did."
"We don't know that," she countered. "In hindsight we can think of a lot of ways we could have improved our lives but we can never know for certain that we would have been in a better place. Each action that we took, each decision that we made, brought us here. And I wouldn't change anything about that if I get to be here with you."
Arnav raised his eyes, "Khushi..." he whispered.
"I love you, Arnav, a tear rolled down her cheek. At that moment, she didn't bother about the ramifications of her statement. Only that it was the simplest truth her heart could muster up. "I was alone, there was a void in my life but meeting you, changed that. You fulfill me in every way. I can't recall a time when I have been more at peace than I am now.
In a long time, Arnav felt his eyes moisten. He was regretting something that may or may not have changed his life. Yet, meeting this girl standing in front of him, was the best thing that had happened to him- in his life and in his death.
He raised his hand and wiped a tear off her cheek.
"Khushi," his voice found the courage that he was lacking the night they made love, "I love you too."
Edited by ErisedWitch45 - 2 years ago
Topic started by ErisedWitch45
Last replied by Eccentrica