Avanti watched Keshav’s stooped form dragging itself out of her room, gradually blurring as fresh hot tears flooded her eyes and made their way out even as the door clicked shut behind him. She threw herself on the bed and sobbed into the pillow. She had raised her voice in frustration at Keshav, but it was she who felt the hurt piercing her heart. In spite of what Rahul told her or the circumstances of her marriage she couldn’t get herself to hate or even doubt Keshav. Something about the man tugged at her heartstrings. Just then she heard her phone pinged alerting her of incoming messages. Wiping her eyes, she sat upright and checked them. Rahul had been true to his words and had sent the pictures of the documents he had told her about. With a list attached for her reference:
- Agreement of the transfer deal between Feather Folks airlines Pvt ltd and Novo Supremo with the signed authority being Keshav Goyal a year ago.
- Letter of official request for the commercial charter aircraft JC369 for use on -23rd June- to return on 27th June from Frankfurt Germany signed again by Keshav Goyal with beneficiary as Dnyaneshwar Rane. It had met its fateful end on 23rd itself.
- Details about the pilot Commander R.S Gadgil who was ex air force and had over 200 hours of flying recorded in his name.
- Details about three other members, one representative of R and D, Novo Supremo and other two were crew members.
- Maintenance of aircraft JC369 exclusively by an outsourced company Shanbad enterprise and the contract signed a month prior to her father’s passing. They had cleared the aircraft for flying on 23rd June. There was the signature of the maintenance engineer for the day, Shansunder Valmiki with a contact number.
Avanti sat up frowning…deep in thought. The inspector in charge of the investigation had told her then, that the aircraft had developed a technical snag which unfortunately proved hazardous. Eventually it was declared an accident and she had been too upset and busy handling her family to notice anything amiss. Keshav had been taking care of the formalities for them. Did he counter check…? Given the resources at his disposal…it would have been possible for him. But he had been busy as well… salvaging what was left of the project without her father being around. Why Rahul suspected Keshav… was beyond her but as she sat upright, she decided she would do her own sleuthing. It was imperative that she find out the presence of any foul play with the so-called accident. As she drifted off to sleep, she realised it was important for the truth to emerge not only for her closure but also to reinstate her complete trust in Keshav…
The next day she woke up late in the morning after a disturbed sleep. Keshav had already left for office and Mrs. Sinha was busy with the preparations for lunch. Avanti walked into the kitchen to get some tea for herself and wondering if she had to text Keshav…his voice had gone bad last night and guilt ate at her. She had wanted to ask him so many things… they only threw accusations at each other and she landed being hurt and hurting him further. No…that wasn’t the way to go about it. As she sipped her tea lost in thought Mrs. Sinha patted her shoulder. “…Its fine Avanti… He will get over it… it’s all new for him…I think he will take a little while…He may look tough from the exterior but he is a great guy Mr. Keshav… Can I say something…if you don’t mind…?”
Avanti smiled and nodded. “…you can tell me anything Mrs. Sinha… you know that… don’t you…?”
“…Uh…About Mr. Keshav…he has seen a lot of upheavals in his life…that man… he has lived for his family… for his employees and no matter what curve ball life threw him… he has bounced back… I have seen him earlier as well when he was a little boy… my sister was his nanny and I helped with other household chores in their home…. That bungalow is long gone now… but… there are too many painful memories for him, which have stayed…” Mrs. Sinha sighed and looked back at Avanti taking a break from stirring the stew. “… Avanti, last couple of years… somehow I felt he isn’t… you know…his old self… He seems to be giving up… and that’s unlike him. He doesn’t say anything to anyone but I …I have seen it many times. I don’t know what it is… whether its Kamya or the twins or that step mother of his… no idea at all… but something has been eating him up… I saw him happy the other day with you after a long-long-time…” Mrs. Sinha smiled and went back to her cooking even as Avanti tried to figure out what she just heard. “…Avanti…today…Mr. Keshav didn’t eat anything… he didn’t even speak or look at me like he usually does… he just left home… I thought I should let you know…”
“…thank you, Mrs. Sinha, … I will take care of it… and thank you for telling me about him…” Avanti smiled and left the kitchen. She had made up her mind for now. She had her work cut out for her and strangely that gave her the calm she was yearning for. She saw that Keshav had not taken his medicines for today from the kit and she picked them up with her. She then quickly filled the tiffin box with the fresh lunch prepared by Mrs. Sinha and left for Vedshastra as soon as possible. It took her longer than usual because she didn’t have the car at her disposal and getting an OLA took a while. Finally, it was nearing 1PM by the time she reached Vedshastra. She went straight to the third floor where Keshav had got himself an office made and walked slowly through the corridor leading to his cabin. The floor was empty as the employees of the research lab and the attached storage unit had gone for lunch and she wondered if Keshav would be busy. She looked around shuddering at the thought of Keshav being hurt…and hoped that the chemical leak was just an accident as it was now turning out to be. In fact, she was happy to see a barrier that had been put between the two wings separating Keshav’s from the laboratory unit. She hadn’t called him or texted him and she wondered what he would think of her visit.
As she moved towards the cabin, she peeped in through the glass wall partition stepping inside the waiting area. He hadn’t appointed any receptionist so there was no one to stop her … but what she saw broke her heart into zillion pieces. Keshav was hunched on his chair with his head in his hands…with the same despondent body language as she had seen him last night. She couldn’t take it anymore as she opened to door and barged inside. He startled and looked up, his eyes red as if he was sick… oh God he hadn’t eaten anything…was he getting that episode again…? She placed the bag on the floor and moved towards him even as he stared at her with surprise written on his handsome frowning face. She crouched before him and sat on her heels. Taking his hands in hers she looked at him. “…Keshav are you upset or angry because of what I said…? In that case… why are you torturing yourself…? Why are you ruining your health…? You didn’t eat your breakfast… And you look sick. You haven’t even recovered from the last….” Before she could say anything more, he bent grabbing her head and pulling her closer slammed his mouth on hers.
That was probably what she needed as well; she circled her hands around his neck as she kissed him back with all she had. He tugged at her hair and she gasped… that was the opening he just wanted and his tongue made its way into her warm softness. He tasted of the coffee from the machine which she had had numerous times whenever she had visited her father and she hated it… she held him closer as if her life depended on it and he tightened his hold as well getting her closer to sit on his lap. As their tongues met it was nothing short of a short-circuited electricity surging through her veins and she was flying up higher and higher…. It was well over half a minute when they withdrew and he touched her forehead with his as they panted life into their aroused selves.
“…Avanti…” he spoke in a terribly hoarse voice and immediately a bout of cough caught him in its clutches. Avanti immediately stood up and rubbed his back as he pulled her close and dug his head into her midriff. She held him close and softly ran down her hand on his back till she felt his taut back muscles relax. She only wished she could know what was troubling him so much….it was definitely more than the laryngeal inflammation.
“…Keshav… don’t say anything please… just nod a yes or no… OK…?”
He moved back and nodded as he rubbed a trembling hand over his face.
“…did you eat anything here in the morning…?” she asked him. He nodded in affirmative and pointed towards a plate kept on another neighbouring table. She saw few bits of poha. Ok…so had something…she was relieved.
She took out two plates and served the stew and boiled rice which Mrs. Sinha had meticulously packed in a casserole so it stayed warm. “…here… first eat lunch and then take your medicines…. We can talk later OK…?”
He chuckled silently and nodded as they both dug into the delicious lunch. She knew it was one of his favourite food and she was glad she had come. After a while as they sat facing each other, she spoke. “…Keshav…about yesterday…I didn’t intend to say… I mean I didn’t intend to hurt you …Ok…? But then you can’t be careless about your health… you know you can’t afford to be sick… You haven’t taken the medicines for the throat… last night as well as today morning… Listen to me carefully…” She looked into his eyes and moved her chair closer as she held his hands. “…I know… saving Vedshastra is a priority for us, getting that formula prepared by baba is of utmost importance… I mean who but I would know, wouldn’t I …? It’s not only my father’s life which had revolved around it… we had to… get married… with this in mind… we have gone through a lot. But all said and done, I wouldn’t want anything to jeopardise your health… just promise me something…” She again looked at him. He was listening to her intently and the grip on her hand had tightened. He probably was as anxious as her. “… Ok… from today… we are in this together… I know I don’t have the pharmaceutical or chemical knowledge…. But that’s fine…there are many other things here… I will be…um… your receptionist or something… But you will share everything with me…however cataclysmic or heart-breaking it may be… is that ok…? I am not questioning your decisions Keshav… because I trust my father’s judgement… And he trusted you.”
He sighed and leaned back on the head rest shutting his eyes. She guessed he must have pulled an all-nighter after their squabble last night and her conscience ate at her. He needed his rest for the trauma his throat had gone through…rest all could wait. “…Keshav lets go home now… enough for today…” She had thought he would argue but surprisingly he nodded and in the next half an hour they wound up work and left for home. They didn’t speak in the car while he just dozed off and back home, he silently walked into his room shutting himself in and she hoped he would get his much-needed repose. As she got back to her room and freshened up, she looked into the mirror. Her lips still tingled where he had kissed her and she smiled coyly. Just then her phone buzzed… it was an unknown number.
“…Hello Avanti… this is…Rohini Jaiswal…your…uh…step mother-in-law…”
“…Oh…um… hello …um…what is it…?” She was caught unawares and didn’t know how to react.
“…look Keshav must have hardly told you anything about me or our family in general… I know him…” she heard a sigh at the other end. “…Anyway, we haven’t got acquainted as yet… I would like to meet you… How about tomorrow for tea…?”
“…Um… actually I will be at work… what about Friday… the company is closed… so it’s a holiday for me…”
“…uh…ok…will do… I will text you the address… and Avanti…?”
“…don’t tell Keshav anything about it… he doesn’t like me at all so I don’t want any trouble coming your way…”
Avanti took a moment and then agreed before disconnecting the call. She had thought her problems in life were grave enough to worry. But here was her husband who dealt with multiples of such problems and never swayed… her respect for him grew a notch higher. She missed his voice and hoped he would recover soon.
That night Keshav had dinner before she emerged from her room and he gestured he was working late. She nodded, surprised at his emotionless expression… but his eyes they spoke about his inner turmoil… they were a reservoir of something brewing there and she wanted to find out what it was. But at the moment she left him alone. Later that night she couldn’t sleep a wink and as she came outside and glanced towards the shut study, the light was on and she knew he was working. She went to the kitchen and prepared her special recipe of honey-lemon tea…it always helped soothe her throat during her performances and she wanted him to feel the relief as well. Besides she also wanted to check if he had taken his medicines. Kamya had texted her earlier that she was going to be away in Delhi for next couple of weeks and that Keshav had to take his medicines regularly. Avanti had promised her she would see to it… well she had to keep the promise…
She took the tray towards the study and knocked before slightly opening the door. He was busy reading a bundle of papers and as soon as he saw her, he gave her a tired smile gesturing her inside. She had worn her favourite comforting night outfit, her pink t-shirt on white loose track pants… She felt comfortable and also a little conscious before his scrutinising eyes. He looked hot in her favourite grey knitted sweat shirt that he usually wore at home. She looked around the study as she sat on a little couch nearby and placed the tray on the small centre table. Though she had often been here she had never had the time or inclination to observe the room. It was then she saw his beautiful collection of books across genres on the wall to wall book shelf… she watched open mouthed at the never-ending spread before her. She definitely had lots to explore… On the wall adjoining the shelf was a framed picture of Keshav and Kamya as little kids… they were so adorable she couldn’t help smiling. There was another framed picture of Keshav smiling free spiritedly into the camera…probably from his modelling days. He looked much younger and she hoped she could help him get the peace of mind someday… and the smile back on his face.
Shaking her head, she poured tea in two cups and walked towards him, placing his cup on his study table. “… here… take a break now… feel the goodness of this special tea… it will soothe your throat…” As she turned to leave, he caught her hand and pulled her towards him… she landed on his lap her hair all over her face with the movement even as she held his hard shoulders for support. He weaved his fingers through her unruly locks and tucked the strands behind her ears as he glanced into her eyes… his eyes holding a different emotion than the one she had seen earlier and she just wanted to drown into their alluring depths. He pulled her down towards him and they kissed…but unlike earlier in the day…there was no urgency in them…it was slow and sensuous…. The caress of his lips much softer this time. As his tongue roamed around her lower lip within, her heart caught… his beard softly tickled her sensitive mouth as they fused closed to each other, with his other hand he held her torso and pulled her closer so she was completely touching him chest to chest… even as he continued exploring her softness.
She heard a moan and realised it had its origins in her throat and at that moments he realised why she was here… his tea! Supporting herself with her hand on his chest, she moved back as he frowned, she silently laughed and pointed towards the tea. “…Have… have you taken your medicine…? Um…Kamya di had texted earlier to remind you about it…” She tried to move away from him but he held her tight and for the next few moments as he sipped the hot beverage, he held her close… not that she was complaining as she took in the fragrance of his shampoo, with her hand around his shoulder.
Finishing his tea, he turned towards her and moving her hair aside, placed a few light kisses on her shoulder close to him. “…Avanti…” He said with a voice much better and audible now compared to morning. “…I am fine…” he muttered into her ears and her heart pounded. She was a novice and didn’t know what to do or how to react. All she wanted to do was kiss him senseless and maybe more…
“…Keshav… I…um…have to go to bed early… very tired today… um… you finish your work soon …OK…?” She didn’t know why, though she didn’t want to be anywhere, but in his arms, she knew there was a lot of unsaid matter between them which had to be sorted. He only chuckled as he let her go this time.
She finished her tea and as she took the tray back to the kitchen, she was sure of one aspect that she was completely into this marriage now… for the long haul. Well if wishes were horses…
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