“It’s your story. Feel free to hit ’em with a plot twist at any moment.” ~Unknown
Khushi walked through the revolving doors of Gupta Incorporated, coming to a stop at the center of the elegant spacious lobby. She marveled at the stamps of the Gupta’s hospitality brand that surrounded her. One would think they were inside one of the many luxury hotels owned by GI instead of the corporate headquarters.
Being back here after so long, she realized that nothing had changed. Not that an update was necessary. The grandiose classic-style decor could withstand many years to come without looking outdated.
Ever since coming here as a child, she had been drawn to this building. And, it was no different today as she placed her hand on her chest. Her heart warming at the memories of her dashing through this lobby straight to the elevator bank without a care in the world. All the while squealing to her heart’s content, hearing her own voice echo as it ricocheted off the marble walls, whenever visiting her Dadaji and father.
She might have wanted nothing to do with joining the family business eight years ago, fighting endlessly with her father. But, there was one thing that held true all of her life, she was proud of being a Gupta, and admired the empire built by the two men she loved.
Gupta Incorporated had been a second home for her in her earlier childhood days. There had been many a time when she had insisted on spending the day here, not wanting to be home in the care of her nanny after Samaira had left them. Then, when things became too much at home with Mahini, she had become her Dadaji’s shadow, following him wherever he went citing that she missed him. And, not being one to ever say no to her or see her distressed, her grandfather had obliged, bringing her to the office. Though he had made it a point to give her insights into the family business, teaching her all that there was to know. At times, seeking her input on a matter he was working through. He used to say, early education of the business world would set her on the right path to success. And, it most certainly had when it came to starting up Shutter.
It felt good to be back, despite the reason why she was here. Deciding to feed off the positive energy rushing through her veins, she took a deep breath then made her way towards the main desk.
“Hi, I’m Khushi,” She smiled, “Khushi Gupta.”
The stocky, bull-necked man in his fifties, Luis, according to the name tag on his blazer, wrinkled his grey eyebrows as he inspected her. She assumed her surname might have had something to do with it, trying to make out whether or not she had any relation to the owner.
Khushi had dressed the part to blend in with GI’s semi business dress code. Underneath her black fall quilted jacket, she had on a pink silk blouse tucked inside her dark grey dress slacks with her designer flats.
“I’m here to…” She didn’t need to finish her sentence, hearing a familiar female voice coming to her aid to avoid going through the security clearance.
Khushi turned to find her father’s executive assistant hurriedly approaching her. When they came face to face, they both went in for an embrace at the same time.
“Hi Victoria, it’s so lovely to see you again.”
Victoria sent her a wide smile, taking a hold of her hand once they pulled away. “Look at you, all grown up. So, beautiful. Your father’s going to be thrilled to see you here.”
“And, you haven’t changed one bit, forever twenty-one just like Daddy.” Khushi complimented, embarrassing the woman as her cheeks brightened with a dark shade of pink. No one looking at Victoria would say she was forty-six years old.
“Not even close. My boys are practically adults themselves now, and with age, life catches up.” She waved a hand over herself for added measure. “Now, come on, let’s sneak you upstairs. Your father’s still at the end of day debrief meeting with the executive team. I made sure they met with him in the boardroom instead of his office after you messaged me earlier to ask about his schedule.”
Not wasting any more time, they headed up to the executive floor where her father’s office was located. The next few minutes were filled with non-stop chatter. Both women shared an equal fondness for one another, courtesy of the two men, her Dadaji and father, that linked them together for over twenty years.
Similar to today, when the moment she had reached out to Victoria for her father’s schedule, along with informing her that she was on her way to the office, Victoria had always dropped whatever she was doing to put her through to her Dadaji or father whenever she needed them. It didn’t matter what meeting they were in, Victoria made sure they knew she was looking for them, allowing them to decide whether or not they wanted to speak with her or call her back when they were free.
Now thinking back on it, over the years, her father always took her call, even if it was to inform her that he would call her back. Not once had he pushed her aside, unlike her often rejecting his calls, and pushing him away.
Stepping back inside this building that held a significant part of her past, brought forth her own flaws when it came to her relationship with her father.
“I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Victoria,” Khushi said just as the elevator stopped at their destination. The woman blinked silently, understanding that Khushi was grateful for more than her assistance today. As the doors opened and they walked off the elevator, Khushi continued. “Squeezing me into Daddy’s schedule today must not have been easy with him returning back this morning from his business trip to Los Cobos.”
“It was no problem at all, and I can bet your father would much rather see you than sit through any more meetings. Plus this is the perfect time for him to call it a day. Did you want me to make reservations for you both anywhere in particular for dinner?” Victoria smiled, leading them through the floor lined with offices.
“That won’t be necessary. I can take care of it depending on what Daddy’s in the mood for. Doubt he would want to go out after being away the past few days.”
“Knowing your father all these years, he would never miss an opportunity to spend time with his children. Especially with you, since you’ve been away. He’s a much happier man now that he has his baby girl back home.”
Khushi nodded, exchanging a knowing smile. It wasn’t only her father, she too felt the same being back in the same city as her family.
As they approached the working space with cubicles, Khushi noted that despite it being almost six o’clock on a Wednesday, there were quite a number of people in the office with no signs of it clearing out soon.
“It’s past business hours, I hope my father’s not making you work late this evening. If he gives you a hard time, just let me know. Now that I’m here, I can deal with him.” Khushi’s raised eyebrow made it clear what she meant, along with her teasing smile that had Victoria laughing as they approached the open section outside her father’s office.
“I love working for your father, he’s one of the kindest men I know. While on the exterior he might come across tough at GI, but he means well. He’s been good to me all these years, even your grandfather, God rest his soul, when I worked for him. There aren’t many men like them or a company like GI where they promote a work life balance. We’re like a family here, and if we need to work late every so often then so be it. I don’t mind, neither do they.” Victoria motioned to the group looking up at them as they walked past the work area.
“My father’s lucky to have such a wonderful, hard-working group of people looking out for him.”
Khushi stated a fact that was well-known in the corporate world when it came to Gupta Incorporated. And after getting a tiny glimpse, it was evident with the tight-knit group working diligently after hours.
After spending a few more minutes catching up, Victoria opened the door to her father’s office, urging Khushi to wait for him there until he was done with his meeting.
“Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink, Khushi?” Victoria asked as they stood at the doorway.
“No, thank you, I am good for now. If I need anything, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
“Just call out for me, I’ll be at my desk.” Victoria glanced at her watch, then smiled. “The meeting should be ending in a few more minutes”
Khushi nodded, then turned to walk inside, one slow step at a time, dropping her bag along the way on the table in the sitting area in the middle of the room.
What was once her Dadaji’s office, now belonged to her father. Of course, it had gone through a transformation after her father had taken over ten years ago. Though there were a few familiar pieces that belonged to her grandfather scattered around. Getting a closer look, stepping further inside, there was no mistaking that this office belonged to her father.
Her eyes shifted to the wall recognizing the landscape photo of the skyline that she had taken during summer break after her first year of college. A soft smile curved her lips, remembering how her father had brought along the printed copy during her first exhibit and made her sign it.
Spotting the traditional rich brown desk, she walked up to it, her heart brimming with nostalgia. She instinctively ran her hand across the top, making her way around the desk, stopping behind the chair that had been left slightly pulled out.
She knew it was a childish thing to do, but couldn’t resist spinning the chair. Not once but several times, amusedly looking on. If it weren’t for the incoming call on her phone, she was certain the spinning game would have continued.
“Hi Love, have you reached your parent’s place?” She asked softly after accepting the call, resting her hand on the table.
“I’m just getting off the freeway, so I should be there in a few minutes. Thought I’d give you a quick call since I just got off the phone with the lawyer. The closing date for our new home has been confirmed.”
“Really? We’re all set to move forward?” Her smile stretched wide as she sat down on her father’s chair.
“We are, Sweetheart! Next Friday, nine days till the penthouse is officially ours to move in. We can do the closing at the lawyer’s office anytime in the morning, so let me know what time works best for you.”
She nodded, even though he couldn’t see her.
“Are you still at Shutter?” He asked a moment later after having been met with silence.
“No, actually I’m at GI,” Sitting at the edge of the chair, her eyes swept the room before gazing out the window at the night sky. “Daddy’s office.”
“Why? I thought you were meeting him at home?” There was an uncertainty in his tone given why she was meeting her father.
“That was the plan but I wasn’t sure how his day was going to turn out for him after his trip. So, here I am, taking the first free time slot on his calendar. I’ve already delayed this conversation, and didn’t want to push it anymore.”
“It’s going to be all fine. In fact, I bet he’ll be thrilled to know that you’re finally moving out of the shoebox.” He laughed at having been caught in the middle with NK on his back at not having found Khushi better accommodation.
“Hey, don’t bad mouth my cozy home. You love that place more than I do.”
“That, I do, and that building, which is going to be yours in a matter of a couple of months. Listen, Khushi, I just pulled into the driveway.”
“I would wish you luck, but you won’t need it with your family.” She pouted, suddenly feeling a bit on edge with time creeping closer to her father’s arrival.
“Neither will you, NK will understand. I’ll message you when I am leaving, and we can meet up wherever you want to stay tonight.”
“Your place. Don’t ask, the loft is a mess right now.” She responded instantly, “Say hello to everyone, and I’ll see you later.”
Switching off her phone, she rested it on the desk. In an attempt to relax her nerves, she sank back on her father’s chair, and closed her eyes.
Perhaps she should listen to Arnav’s advice, and take out some time for herself before the madness of their upcoming move to the penthouse, as well as Leia’s wedding set to take place in a month.
Lately, she seemed to be on high alert assuming the worst about everything. But in reality, her life couldn’t be better. It was perfect. Everything was falling into place, professionally and personally. Shutter’s doors were now open, and running smoothly. Including the surge of visitors flocking in to view her pieces. Leia and she had already begun talks about the expansion to represent up and coming photographers that had reached out to them after learning she was no longer with Dalal Agency. Arnav had managed to make headway with his talks in securing her the building. While it wasn’t official as of yet, it was only a matter of time before the owner was ready to accept her offer. Finally, after some back and forth with negotiations on the penthouse, it was theirs. Fully furnished, and move-in ready.
Once she spoke to her father about her future plans, only then would she be content.
Hearing a familiar sound of a camera snapping a picture, her eyes opened to find her father standing a few feet away from his desk, dressed in a black suit and a light grey dress shirt. With her eyes open, and sitting upright, he clicked another shot of her.
“Adding this to my collection of you sitting on that chair.” He smiled, raising his phone to show off his photo taking skills. “I think I have one from every year up until Bauji passed away. He loved it when you would sit there, pretending to be our boss.”
“Not true, how about when you made me intern during my summer break when I was in college. I used to sit here, while I waited for you to go home on a few evenings.” She pushed back the chair, and stood up.
“Made you sounds a bit mean, don’t you think? Can’t we look at it as gaining experience at one of the world’s top hospitality companies?”
“Whatever makes you happy, Daddy.” She went into her father’s arms, and swallowed thickly with her emotions getting the better of her.
“You smiling is what makes me happy.” He pulled away, and kissed her forehead. For him, she gave a bright smile, a reflection of how she felt being here with him after years of keeping her distance.
“You like my surprise?” She wrapped her arm around his shoulder, and squeezed him.
“I love it! Feel free to stop by as often as you like. Perhaps next time during the day, so everyone can meet my celebrity daughter.”
“Daddy!” She shook her head as he took her hand before she could move away from him. They both walked over to the sofa, and made themselves comfortable. “I’m not a celebrity…”
She gasped as her father rolled his eyes, stretching his arm along the back of the sofa.
“So, what do I owe this visit to, from my daughter?” He asked with an amused smile at her frowning.
“Can’t a girl drop in on her father to check up on him? I mean you left town suddenly, dropping a simple text on our family chat group.” Raising her fingers up, she quoted his message, “Will be out of town for a few days.”
“By no means was it my intention to worry you children, but there was an urgent matter at the new site that I needed to attend that had me getting on the jet early Sunday morning. But, I’m back now.” He crossed his leg, resting his ankle on his knee. “Speaking of Sunday, I loved your feature in the Times. The writer did a remarkable job capturing the essence of Shutter and KKG, a very well written article. I’ve asked Victoria to get it framed.”
“Not you too?” She smacked her forehead as her father shook with laughter. “Arnav practically bought all of the papers from the newsstand near Shutter.”
“That man is a keeper, he’s good for you.”
“And, for you. The bromance is going strong.” She sat up, tucking her leg underneath the other. “Kinda weird if you ask me, being friends with your daughter’s boyfriend.”
“Would you rather I disapprove of him?”
“Oh God, no. I like that we can agree on one thing in my life. Arnav.” Tossing him a mischievous smile, she winked.
“Speaking of Arnav, where is he this evening?”
“Home…” Before she could say anymore, he spoke.
“That means you and I can have dinner tonight.”
She nodded with a small smile, working up the courage to approach the real reason behind her visit.
“Perfect, let me have Victoria…” It was her turn to stop him, placing her hand on his knee as he was about to stand up.
“I’ve already informed her that I’ll take care of it. Let’s do something casual tonight, but first, ” She paused long enough for her father to sense that something was weighing on her. Taking his hand in hers, she said, “I was hoping we could talk before heading out to dinner.”
“Sure, what is it? Something happened? Did Samaira…”
“No, Daddy, I’m fine.” She smiled in an attempt to wipe away his concern. “Actually, more than fine. I’m finally moving out of my so-called shoebox.” She pronounced with an exaggerated shrug, her excitement coming across in her tone and wide smile.
“That’s excellent news!” He leaned over, and hugged her. “I knew Arnav would come through, a little later than I had hoped, but this is terrific. Where? When? Come on, give me all the details.”
“The new high rise in the center of Rose Hill, we went to see the property Sunday evening, and I loved it so much that we made an offer that night. Arnav actually just informed me that the closing is next Friday morning.”
“I know exactly which building you’re referring to, and now that I can visualize it, it’s just the type of place that you would go for. Would you mind if I checked it out? Maybe Arnav can arrange something for tomorrow or the weekend.”
“I’m sure we can work it out, though no talks about the finances. We have it covered.”
He raised his hands up, “I’ve learned from my mistakes, no butting in with my checkbook. But,” He paused, “I hope you use your trust fund, or the payouts from your share in GI. It’s yours to spend as you please, right now it’s just sitting there in your account. Untouched. Think of it as an investment in your future. And, I assume your new place has a hefty price tag given the neighborhood and the building.”
“You’ll also be happy to hear that I plan on making another real estate purchase, the building where I am at now to expand Shutter. And, since the landlord will only budge if I make a lucrative cash offer, it looks like your wish of me withdrawing from my trust fund might come true.”
“This just gets better and better. My baby girl is setting her roots in New York, and on the way to owning not one but two properties!” He raised his hand for a high five in exultation, but little did he know what she had yet to disclose.
“As for the penthouse in Rose Hill, the total price is more than what I had originally budgeted for, but,” She paused, looking directly into his dark eyes. “With Arnav and I going in half and half, I’ll be able to cover the cost out of my own savings.”
A crease appeared between her father’s eyebrows, taking in what she had divulged. However, it didn’t take him long to put two and two together.
“You both are moving in?”
“We are. It’s the perfect home for us to start our life together.” She didn’t hold back despite the blank expression staring at her. “How do you feel about us living under the same roof?”
“I’m not orthodox, Khushi, I would think you know that.” He tilted his head, then added, “Actually, I think it’s a great idea. This move will give you both an opportunity to see what your life will be like as a couple. There’s a difference between being in love and living together. Everything is out in the open, along with the many facets of one’s personality exposing who we truly are, and our expectations of a life partner. Some good, and some not so much. Not that Arnav isn’t perfect for you, but this will allow you to understand him, and he, you. A trial run of sorts before committing to marriage.”
“What if I told you we have no plans of getting married?”
“Like I’ve mentioned before, and speaking from experience, there’s no rush. You’re more than entitled to explore your relationship, to live in the moment without the added responsibilities that come after marriage.” He squeezed her hand, a reassuring smile on his face. “Though, you won’t get any objection from me should you want to get married now. You already know what I think of Arnav, and after meeting his family on Friday, I can see they’re good people. I think the two families will get along quite well, which is important since not only are you marrying Arnav, but it’s also a union of the Raizadas and the Guptas. And, seeing how traditional the Raizadas are, I’m guessing that they would want their eldest son to be married before their daughter, right?” He asked more to himself, aware of the answer. Then as the realization hit him, his face lit up at the possibility, “Wow, my daughter is going to get married.”
Her father’s face shone with an unmistakable glow of happiness. The sight caused Khushi’s heart to constrict with what was to follow.
She was aware of her father’s dreams for her since she was a child. One of which was shattered with her not accepting her position at GI working alongside him choosing to go off on her own. And now, she was about to do it again.
“There will be no wedding in our future… ever.” She held her breath, allowing her father to take in what she said.
He looked away, rubbing a hand across the dark stubble shadowing the lower half of his face.
“No marriage? At all?” He turned to face her, and she merely shook her head in response. “I would understand if you told me that neither one of you was ready for it now, which I fully support. But, why the abrupt finality of not getting married?”
“Our decision might seem sudden, but it isn’t one that we have taken without thinking it through. Can’t two people just be together, like you said a few minutes back, live in the moment… Is a piece of paper really necessary when one is committed to the relationship?”
Her words had sparked something with her father as he frowned, placing his hands on his knees. He shifted slightly, straightening against the cushion.
“It’s more than a piece of paper, Khushi. Marriage is a lifetime union of two people who promise to be there for each other. Till death do you apart. Many term it as the highest goal for human beings, to live with unconditional love.”
“Which can exist without the institution of marriage.” She retorted.
“Perhaps,” He lips clamped shut for all of two seconds, acknowledging her statement, “But then, marriage isn’t just some random relationship. Not when it gives one security, a name, husband and wife.”
“Are you really saying marriage guarantees two people will stay together always no matter what?” She firmed her voice before continuing. “You from all people know that doesn’t exist. When things are no longer benefitting one, or the other, one can choose to walk away. Anytime they damn well please.”
“If you’re using my two failed marriages to influence your decision whether or not it’s right for you, then I have to say, don’t do that.” He replied, his eyes simmering with a storm of discontent. “What I shared with Samaira and Mahini wasn’t even close to what you have with Arnav. There’s love and commitment from both sides. My marriage with Samaira was doomed from the very first day. And Mahini, do I need to say anything?” A statement rather than a question, based on his matter of fact tone.
“Fine, agree,” Her eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward. “Daddy, I’m asking you to be open about this, and respect our decision.”
“I’m trying to, Khushi, I really am. However, I can’t grasp why you’ve made such a drastic decision, and that too, so suddenly.” His frustration evident, dragging his hand through his hair.
“It isn’t like that.” She placed her hand on his shoulder.
“To me, it is. You’ve never objected to getting married in all these years. In fact, ” He shifted to his side to face her, taking her hand in his. “Last year at the wedding we all attended in Dubai, you had made a comment about first finding a man when I mentioned I was looking forward to seeing you as a bride. Not just then, but there have been several occasions where you were fine with the idea of marriage. What changed, Khushi?” He asked, then his eyes widened, “This wasn’t your idea, was it? It’s Arnav.”
She shook her head, “No, Daddy, it’s our decision, one we made together.”
“You don’t need to defend your boyfriend. Arnav shouldn’t have you doing his dirty work, he should be here having this conversation with me.” He raised his index finger, pointing at the empty chair directly across from them.
“I disagree.” She snapped. “You’re my father, and you need to hear this from me, just as he needed to talk to his family. Alone. That’s what Arnav and I agreed on. There will be plenty of opportunities after today to get together to discuss. But for now, you and I need to go through this.” She stopped, meeting the coolness in her father’s eyes. An expression she knew all too well, having gone head to head with him many times in her younger years. She hated it. “Believe me, I have thought this through with Arnav, and we both are aligned that marriage represents a contract, a piece of paper, it does not define our love for each other.”
“I find this whole thing perplexing. Arnav, a man who deals with contracts on a daily basis, should understand the significance of having a piece of paper that is law binding. It’s there to protect the couple, and without it, you can be left there standing with nothing.”
“Then perhaps it was never mine to begin with.”
“Stop feeding yourself that nonsense. You deserve better than that load of crap that marriage means nothing.” He stood abruptly, then pulled off his suit jacket, and threw it on the empty chair. He rubbed the back of his neck and stepped closer to the window, overlooking a city now covered in darkness, while city lights lit the inky night.
A tense silence filled the room for a moment, or two, or even an eternity. All she could do was sit there and watch her father standing in front of the wall of floor to ceiling windows. If she were to guess, he would be turning over their conversation with an extra dose of vexation. She smiled inwardly at having captured this very avatar eight years ago. The difference being, this time she was responsible for his brooding mood.
“After Samaira” He turned to face her, breaking the silence. “I had vowed that I would never marry again. I wanted nothing to do with it. There was no way I was going to give someone the power over me, where they could hurt me. But then it changed with Mahini. Do you know why?”
She swallowed thickly and nodded. While her father had never openly admitted or explained the reason behind marrying Mahini. She knew.
“Of course, you do, my smart little girl who’s always been wiser than her age.” He smiled wryly, walking back to where she was seated on the couch. He took a deep breath, and sat down beside her. “When I found out Mahini was pregnant, I was lost given that I had no intentions of getting tied up in a lifetime commitment after what I had gone through with Samaira. There was no room in my life for a wife. Even after the initial shock and anger towards myself for allowing this to happen, I was firm with my decision. So, I was ready to set her up with whatever she needed, and co-parent with her after the baby arrived. But, there was one thing that gnawed at me whenever I saw your sweet innocent face, and thought about my unborn child. How could I bring a child into the world where he or she would have been called a bastard, an illegitimate being born out of wedlock? What kind of man does that make me?”
“Commendable, Daddy.” She gave him a small smile.
“I owned up to it, taking accountability by marrying Mahini despite my reservations. I had to for my unborn child’s sake, who would have to face the brutal taunts that society would throw at them. I refused to sit there and watch it happen.” He vented out his anger, then let it simmer back down to throw her a question. “Now, you tell me, what happens to my future grandchild when the time comes? What will he or she say to the world when they are being called names for no fault of their own?”
She cringed, shutting her eyes, and shook her head. “No.”
“Wait, have you also decided to give up on your lifetime dream of being a mother? Guess, it was easy for you to say no to marriage, so to not have a baby wouldn’t be that far-fetched.” His eyes filled with challenge, staring at her.
“Stop it will you?!” She said, her voice turning bitter. “I am not giving up anything that I don’t want to. Yes, I will not be getting married. But, I will have children when the time is right. As for what society has to say to my child, well, I think the world has evolved. And for those that have narrow minded thinking, then neither my child nor I will be going anywhere near them. The fact that you are hung up on it surprises me. I thought you were a bit more progressive than that, Daddy.”
“I am, but I’m also a traditionalist at heart, and understand the significance of marriage for a woman. As a father, I want that for my daughter. This isn’t child’s play, baby girl. There are consequences of not having that piece of paper as you call it.”
There was nothing that she could say which would make her father see this whole thing any differently. Their disagreements had put a strain on their relationship in the past, cutting a little too deep. But, they had come far to be able to get through the intense conversation that had taken place this evening without either of them not listening to the other, or worse, storming off.
Her eyes filled with tears, but she was her father’s strong, determined daughter, and pushed them away. Though, not before he saw the torment in her eyes, grasping her thoughts as he voiced them to her.
“We’ve been through so much together, my baby girl.” He put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to him. “There is no way we are going to allow our differences with your decision to not marry come in between us. You have your views, and I have mine, which don’t align. What’s important for me is your happiness, and whether I like it or not, a future with Arnav. Unconventional, but it’s your life. I’ve learned the hard way by interfering in the past, pushing my decisions on you. But, not anymore. All I can do now is be there for you, no matter what.”
And, she knew he always would be.
Sorry about the slight delay, the chapter turned out longer than I had planned, as well as madness taking over our home in making my daughter’s birthday special for her. ❤ I may or may have not gone overboard, but couldn’t resist filling our home with balloons!
I do hope you enjoyed this chapter, would love to know your thoughts 😉
Till next time, keep smiling, while I’ll keep writing and ballooning for my eldest son’s birthday coming up next week!