“Be loud about the things that are important to you” ~ Karen Walrond
She was supposed to be working against a tight deadline as per strict instructions from Leia, after having put off her photo submission for a prestigious photography contest, but was failing miserably. The folder with the finalized selection of photographs from her tour in Africa glared from her Macbook, but instead of focusing on narrowing down on her selection, her attention was elsewhere.
One area in particular, sitting at the table in the dining room in Arnav’s penthouse. With its open floor plan, the kitchen was to her left and the great room on the right, her gaze, though, kept wandering straight ahead to the opening leading in from the main hallway. Her eyes yearning for Arnav to come strolling in flashing his handsome signature tugged smile as he always did returning home from work whenever she was here.
It didn’t help that she had surrounded herself with silence since her arrival after wrapping up at the gallery around seven o’clock, which was a couple of hours ago. She couldn’t remember a time when she had sat around like this. But after what happened a couple of nights ago, she was a bit anxious, and had foregone turning on the music or switching on the television like she normally would.
She glanced over to the great room, her eyes landing on the corner where she had found Arnav sitting with a drink in his hand a couple of nights ago on Wednesday. Seeing him lost in deep thought staring out the window, where he hadn’t noticed her walking up to him, she had known all was not well. He didn’t even need to say anything for her to realize things hadn’t gone as either of them had expected with his family. The conversation had affected him, and she couldn’t fault him.
Which was why she had walked away leaving their argument unfinished, as he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to have a rational discussion. And, the last thing either of them needed were hurtful words uttered that they would regret after all was said and done.
But they needed to talk before going into an extremely jam packed weekend. She didn’t want it to linger over them in the coming days where they had a lot going on to get things in order for their move to Rose Hill and their close friends’ engagement dinner party on Sunday at Leia’s parent’s home. It needed to be tonight. But, leave it up to Arnav to work late like he had last night, sneaking inside the loft at close to eleven o’clock. They had merely exchanged a few words before he crashed out on the bed out of sheer exhaustion after a long day.
She knew he would be home soon based on a text she received from him a couple of hours ago stating he would meet her here after the event he was attending wrapped up.
As her phone lit up with his message stating that he was in the car on his way home, she could feel her heart beating rapidly against her chest. Sending him a quick reply with a kissing emoji, she took a deep breath.
Knowing well what was ahead of her, she wasted no time in immersing herself in picking a photo for submission. It was a no brainer having had set aside her favorite photo months prior with this particular contest in mind. She spent a few minutes applying her final touch-up. Just when she was satisfied with the photo after giving it another glance over, Arnav came into view dressed in his usual business attire. A classic custom-fitted navy suit with a white shirt, minus the tie, with a couple of buttons open at the neck. She wouldn’t be surprised if he had shoved the tie in his jacket pocket or the front pouch of his briefcase.
As always, she was rewarded with his smile, and as always, in spite of it being four months into their relationship, it never failed to melt her heart every single time.
“There’s my sexy AF girlfriend, already in her nightly attire.” He winked, coming to stop in front of her, and rested his hands at the edge of the dining table.
“Someone’s in a good mood,” She slouched back, folding her arms across her chest. Her gaze followed his, at something having caught his attention, adorning a sly smirk. It wasn’t her laptop, but her chest with her cleavage on full display courtesy of her skimpy camisole. She didn’t bother fixing it as he slipped off his jacket, and draped it over the chair.
“How did things go at your event? It went on quite late.” She asked as he dropped a kiss on top of her head, then took a seat beside her.
“The usual schmoozing, and walking away with a few prospects on closing in on a couple of high profile properties. And, since we were hosting the event with the developer, I needed to stay till the end.” He leaned in closer, resting his chin on her shoulder. “What are you working on? I’ve never seen that picture before… one of yours?”
She smiled, and nodded, “This week sort of slipped away, and I need to submit this before midnight.” Seeing him look up at her questioningly, she clarified. “It’s for the annual photo contest that I had mentioned to you a few weeks back. I had a few of my favorites saved for this submission. It’s a big one.” She shrugged with her finger tracing circles on the keyboard.
“If this is the one you’re submitting, you’re going to bring home the prize. The colors of the jungle, the pack of the mighty lions, are all so vivid. Despite the darkness, you’re held captive wondering what happened next.” He placed a kiss on her shoulder, “Now stop looking at me, there’s not much time left for you to get this in.”
Seeing that she was still sitting there like a statue, he pulled away, and sat back, motioning to her laptop.
How was it that he had a knack for understanding the depth of her photography without her explaining it?
“Just a few minutes,” She said, then turned to face her screen, opening the submission page. “This was meant to be done before you got here, but…”
“You were distracted.” He simply stated, before going quiet as he stared straight ahead over at the great room.
There was no questioning what was on his mind, similar to her, he was recalling Wednesday night. Perhaps this would make him open up when she broached the topic of contention with him.
As she was attaching her photo to the online form already filled out by Leia earlier, the sound of his chair scraping against the floor had her peek a glance in his direction.
His shoulders slumping with one hand pushing back his hair, and the other on his phone. A message caught his attention, as he leaned forward with both hands working on replying at super speed. The man was skilled with how efficiently he navigated through his work on a mobile device without missing a beat.
“All done, and now, I’m all yours to kick off our weekend.” She proclaimed a few moments later with a wide smile, closing her laptop.
“I love the sound of that.” He placed his phone on the table, and took her hand in his.
Seated at the edge of her chair, she leaned forward and embraced him, and his arms instinctively tightened around her. Neither was in a rush to let go, staying in each other’s arms.
“Now, tell me how was your day?”
He sat back in his chair after hearing her question, and rested his ankle on the opposite knee, then rubbed his forehead.
“Where to begin?” It was a statement rather than a question. “I had a meeting at GI this afternoon, and saw your father,” He shook his head, “Scratch that, I saw NK.”
“Did Daddy say anything?” She couldn’t stop herself from blurting out, aware this was the first time they were meeting after Khushi spoke to her father.
“It was NK that I met with, not your father,” He said, “He was all business, not a word about us, or you, which means there wasn’t anything said about our upcoming move.”
“That’s good, I guess.”
He laughed as she gave him an awkward shrug not sure what to make of her father and Arnav’s interaction.
“I suppose you can look at it that way,” He placed his index finger on his phone in front of him, then spun it around. His gaze dropped to the spinning device, “Then right before I was leaving for the event this evening…”
“My father called?”
“Not yours, mine. Papa thought I would be home, and wanted to check in on me,” He paused, “It was the first time that we connected since Wednesday.”
She said nothing, seeing him a bit despondent staring ahead at nothing in particular. Her heart feeling heavy as he began to speak, his tone soft.
“I don’t ever recall disappointing my parents. Always doing my best not to get into trouble, given they had enough to deal with. I did well in school, helped around the house, being there for my grandparents and my sister. Even going as far as working my ass off after losing my athletic scholarship so not to put any financial burden on my parents. I was determined to succeed in order to take care of my family and make their dreams come true. They deserved it, especially my parents, my mother, for all their sacrifices over the years to give my sister and I a better life in this country. And now, for the first time in my life I have let them down.”
Her eyes met his pained ones. As she leaned in closer to him, placing her hand on his thigh, his body tensed up. Taking his hand in hers, she squeezed it.
“My love, you mean the world to your family, they love you. This is just a case of different viewpoints. Trust me, disagreements between parents and children are bound to happen. You have to give it some time, I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“But, Khushi, you didn’t hear him today. He didn’t have to come out and directly say anything, I could sense his disappointment. To be honest, time isn’t going to help. Not in this situation with their traditional views on marriage. It’s going to make it worse. This one decision of mine is going to come in between my family and I, that I’m certain of. Unless I… we…” He stood abruptly, not able to say what could put an end to the objection from both sets of parents.
He raked his hand through his hair, and began to pace in front of her with burdened shoulders.
She intently watched on, continuing to sit in her chair, then decided to raise the question that had been left unanswered. There was no avoiding it any longer.
“Arnav, I’ll ask you again, are you second guessing your decision?”
He stilled with his back to her, before slowly turning to face her. She tilted her head slightly, urging him to open up as he had moments before. They needed to be honest with each other just as they have been since they met.
“No, I am not.” He stated with conviction, tightening his hand into a fist. “What I need people to understand is that I don’t want to go down the path of following the pre-ordained decision that is an accepted tenet of our so-called society. People might find it hard to understand my stance on the institution of marriage, seeing I’ve had perfect role models with my grandparents and parent’s marriage. However, that does not mean that’s the path I have to follow. For once in my life, I want to live life for me with the woman I love the way I deem fit. It’s a choice that I’ve made for myself.”
A small smile curved her mouth. Yes, he had been struggling with the adversity that had been brought upon the people he loved due to his choice. But, she admired him for staying true to himself as she had hoped he would.
Pushing back her chair, she stood.
“At the end of it all, that’s what matters, my love. It’s your life, and only you can decide for yourself how you want to live it. You shouldn’t be forced into something you don’t believe in.”
“What about you?”
He caught her off guard with his question as well as the unmistakable glint in his eyes.
“What about me?” She frowned, repeating his question.
“Aren’t you pushing aside a future that you had envisioned for yourself for my sake?”
“No, not at all,” She shook her head, rushing to him, and cupped his cheeks. “I thought we had agreed what was best for us. For our future.”
“We did, Khushi.” He paused, and for a moment looked regretful. “I can’t help but think that maybe my mother is right.”
“About?” She interrogated as he looked away. “Talk to me, Arnav, please.”
“I am being unfair to you by not marrying you, and formalizing our relationship. And, what about our child…”
Her mouth dropped open, followed by a slow burn of anger beginning to rise in her chest “What the fuck?!”
It was her turn to pace, continuing to swear under her breath, trying to absorb what he had said. She had already heard the so-called consequences from her father, and didn’t need a play by play of what his family might have said. She knew.
Not one to ever hold back, she faced him, and looked him in the eye.
“You listen to me, Arnav Singh Raizada, and listen good, because I am only going to say this once.” She waited for his acknowledgment which came with a nod. “Unfair would be if you forced me to go along with your choice. But, that’s not the case. Yes, like the rest of the world, I was raised with the notion that marriage was a path in life that one followed. Though, seeing my father’s two failed marriages, it’s never appealed to me. I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. For me, I could take it or leave it. And, don’t think of this as a compromise from my end. It’s not. I understand you, and agree with your choice. As well as being more than capable of dealing with those that might have something to say about it to me. It’s not their life, but mine.” She stated firmly, then her expression softened, “It’s my choice to start our journey as life partners as we move into our new home. The beginning of our forever.”
She put her arms out, “Are you with me, Arnav?”
He stared at her for a long moment, allowing her words to soak in. She meant it with all of her heart. She didn’t need marriage to be with Arnav. He was all that she desired, and she knew he felt the same when without saying anything, he pulled her into his arms.
She found her place of solace, resting her head right above his heart as her arms wrapped around his back.
For a long, endless moment, they remained that way.
He pressed his lips against her hair, and finally whispered, “I’ll always be with you, Khushi, as long as you’ll have me.”
They were committed to one another. Not only did she believe in him, but trusted him to do what was right by her and their relationship.
As the weekend proceeded, it was hard to overlook that he continued to be affected with not being understood by his parents. It was upsetting to stand by and watch him trying to come to terms with how his relationship with his parents will suffer due to the choice he made for himself.
Arnav was physically with her, but his mind and heart weren’t. On Saturday, he had been detached when they met up with a designer at the penthouse. The joy of their upcoming move was sucked out of him. He had left her to make all of the decisions to customize the space to their taste. She had gone along with it, already being aware of the changes he wanted incorporated.
But, it didn’t stop there.
There were several instances in the past couple of days where he would zone out, unaware of what was happening around him. The worst was yesterday where he had distanced himself throughout the intimate gathering to celebrate their friends’ engagement, and kicking off their upcoming wedding in less than four weeks. He had opted to keep to himself. By no means was he rude or disrespectful to Leia and Aseem’s family and the few close friends present, he just wasn’t himself.
Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t get across the wall he was beginning to build around himself.
Who better than her to know the impact of being at crossroads with your family. Relationships suffer. Her father and she had been at each other’s throats for years constantly arguing not seeing eye to eye on anything, causing them to drift apart in her teenage years. And, that’s not what she wanted for Arnav. Not when he had a loving and close-knit relationship with his family.
She would do anything in her power to wipe away the sadness that surrounded him these past few days. Hell bent on doing just that, she had arranged to go out to Long Island to meet Arnav’s mother. Alone.
It was a little after eleven o’clock when she pulled into their driveway, and got out of the car. A gust of cold air assaulted her as she walked up the steps to the front door. She wondered sardonically if she should take it as a sign of what was waiting for her. Laughing inwardly at the comparison as she did so.
Of course, she had been proven wrong the instant Harika opened the door without her having to knock or ring the doorbell.
“Welcome Khushi,” Harika greeted her with a warm smile, and an equally warm embrace. “Please come in, it’s chilly today.”
“Hi Auntie, it’s lovely to see you again.”
Harika moved to the side to let Khushi in. Khushi followed the same routine she had during her previous visit, by slipping out of her shoes near the front door, then took off her light fall jacket. She was about to hang it on the coat rack set near the entry, but Harika smiled, taking it from her.
“I guess I should have checked the weather before getting dressed this morning.”
Khushi looked down at her knee length, emerald green dress with short sleeves, compared to the comfy sweater and trousers that Harika was wearing. Clearly she hadn’t been thinking straight when she pulled the dress out of her wardrobe, still getting used to the change of weather. But then, dresses were her go to now that Shutter was open to meet with visitors coming through the gallery.
“Namaste Dadi.” Khushi waved, noticing Arnav’s grandmother dressed in a light yellow saree, walking down the stairs.
“Hello Khushi bitiya, we’re so happy that you’re here,” Dadi approached her after getting off the last step, and immediately engulfed her. “I hope there wasn’t any trouble getting here.”
“Not at all, the traffic was light since it’s after the morning rush though not sure what it will be like getting back to the city.”
“You drove here by yourself?” Dadi asked.
Khushi nodded, then looked over at Harika.
“I remembered Auntie mentioning her being home on Mondays, and I was hoping to speak with her, actually the both of you.”
“Of course, you are welcome here anytime,” Harika smiled, then led them to the living room. “Can I get you something to drink or eat, Khushi, Amma?” Harika asked after Dadi and Khushi sat down on the sofa.
Both women shook their head, and Harika took a seat on the chair beside where Khushi was seated.
“Hopefully you’ll be hungry in a little while, and we can have lunch together. The three of us.”
“Harika’s prepared something special, your favorite, Indo Chinese, after you called this morning about coming over.”
“That’s very sweet of you, thank you, Auntie. And, I would love to have lunch with both of you.” Khushi extended one hand towards Harika and the other to Dadi, squeezing their hands once they placed theirs in hers. “You must be wondering or probably know why I am here today.”
Harika looked over at her mother in law, then at Khushi, and nodded. While Harika opted not to say anything, Dadi responded.
“Arnav informed us about your upcoming move,” Dadi said with a small smile, “Congratulations, and I pray that Devi Maiya fills your home and your lives with happiness.”
“Thank you, Dadi, and as long as we have our family’s blessings with us,” She deliberately looked at Harika before continuing, “As well as support, then for sure we’ll be happy in our lives. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.” She sighed and straightened her shoulders at the same time. “For as long as I can remember, and based on the childhood stories shared by my family, I’ve always been open and honest, sometimes too honest, but my intentions aren’t to hurt anyone’s feelings or be disrespectful. I do it in order to be understood as well as understand others point of view. I am aware that not everyone will share my opinion, and I respect that. I would hope that they would also respect mine. And, the choice which Arnav and I have made of not getting married isn’t a popular one.”
“Every single person in this house is delighted that Arnav has found someone that he wants to spend the rest of his life with. And, I’ll also be honest, I worried that my son would never settle down. Perhaps that is why I kept pushing him in hopes to get through to him. And then, you came into his life; I can’t thank you enough for showing Arnav that there’s more to life than his work.”
“While we’re still working on finding that work life balance, what helps in a relationship is that we’re both understanding and supportive of each other. Not just in our careers but in everything. Including in our views of how we see our future together. His outlook is as important as mine.”
“I knew it. Arnav was forcing his opinion on you. Didn’t I tell you Amma?” Harika blurted, “That’s why you agreed with his decision in not giving your relationship the proper name it deserves.”
“Absolutely not. This is a choice that we both made taking into consideration what marriage means to us. Arnav has witnessed two wonderful marriages, but I haven’t. What I have experienced is that there are no guarantees in life. Contrary to what our society dictates, not everyone wants or needs to be married. You can be in a lifelong committed relationship without a piece of paper.”
“But, it’s not how the world works, Beta,” Harika interjected, “As a woman, I would think you would want that assurance of being someone’s wife.”
“Assurance which many peg with a marriage certificate, doesn’t make one stay in a relationship. One can walk away… the woman that gave birth to me is a perfect example. She left my father and I without so much as looking back. So, tell me why should that matter to me? Why should I give importance to the institution over what Arnav and I share?”
Harika silently leaned further back in the chair, unable to answer Khushi.
“There are certain traditions that are a part of the circle of life which are carried from one generation to another. Times will change along with the outlook on this age old tradition, similar to my grandson, and while we might accept it, the road we have to walk along in the world that we live in, won’t be easy. Especially with the majority leaning on one side.” Dadi tilted her head, placing her hand on Khushi’s arm.
“Dadi, I am strong enough to face anything or anyone that might have an issue with our choice to not marry. I’ve been doing it all my life. As a Gupta, people don’t see me for who I am, they see my family name and what’s attached to it, making their own assumptions that I am a spoiled rich brat or privileged because I come from money.”
“But, they’re wrong.” Harika stated.
“Exactly, my point. The way I see it, people are always going to have a say or issue about something or another. They love gossip and drama, and those aren’t the people I associate with. It has never bothered me before, nor will it ever.” Her gaze moving from one woman to the other, until she met Harika’s, “What truly matters to me, to us, is our family keeping an open mind to understand our choice. I know it might be difficult given the dreams you’ve had for Arnav’s future, but think about what he’s going through right now. All he wants is his family’s support as he steps into a significant part of his life, sharing a future with the woman he loves in their new home.”
There was a long drawn out silence after that and after what seemed like an eternity, Dadi finally spoke.
“When you put it the way you do, it’s true, people will say what they want. It’s up to us to stand by our children, and if we are with them, they can’t be touched. And, who even cares about those types of people, they’re gossipers. We as a family need to share in Arnav’s happiness with Khushi.”
Tears shone in her weary eyes as Harika bowed her head. She was at a loss, mulling over her son’s decision from the moment he had come over to tell them. Along with her husband, she had found herself unsure on what was wrong or right. But maybe, there was no right or wrong.
Apologies, it looks like I have defaulted to a two week delivery of a new chapter with quite a bit on my plate at the moment. Please know, I will do my best to post as time permits.
All I can say is thank you for your support, and I hope you can reward me with your thoughts 😉
Till next time, keep smiling!