The vehicle was stuck in traffic for a long time, the eerie silence in the car amidst the surrounding honks of vehicles around them, reminding Avanti of the lull before the storm. She had visited the Kulsreshtras in spite of her unwillingness today with a sole purpose of finding answers but landed up with more questions instead. Keshav always knew her whereabouts and she should have known better than to rely on Kamya’s information. And Kamya… what was she thinking…? she had thrown a bouncer which Avanti just couldn’t gauge…she was still stunned at the turn of events. She could only imagine what Keshav was going through. Though Keshav didn’t really show, she knew he was hurting and miserable at what Kamya had done and she wanted to help him…desperately… but didn’t know how to get through that invisible hard walled barriers he had erected around himself. She sat at one end of the passenger seat and turned to look at Keshav who was staring outside his window with an unfathomable look. She knew, the quieter Keshav was, the bigger was the storm brewing inside him. She was scared for a while but her baba always said, smooth seas do not make skilful sailors and she was his warrior princess who never bowed in the face of challenge. In fact, now she was facing the greatest test of time… the challenge of prevailing uncertainty.
As the car cruised forward at an excruciatingly slow pace in traffic, Avanti recalled the events of the evening. She especially liked Mrs. Rama Kulsreshtra…the woman oozed warmth and love and she could see that Kamya thrived in the household. What was the grudge…? Why couldn’t Keshav see reason and why could a brilliant businessman of his repute fail to solve a long-standing family feud… And he was the only one hurting badly as an outcome of all this… Kamya too suffered now, but she would eventually get over it with the Kulsreshtras strongly supporting her in every way. Avanti was, in a way happy for Kamya because she felt Sahil was perfect for her…having known her family history. But then…what about Keshav…? He must have felt betrayed at the moment…somehow like a ping pong ball his trust kept getting hit, vacillating on either side and he seemed lost. What about the research and the black book that was still missing? Did it perish with her father…? Had her baba taken it along that day? Keshav didn’t believe so… it was high time she upped her ante and found things on her own… at least the direction of search. But first she had to help Keshav get through this tumulus phase of his life and hopefully once things settled with her findings, she could work on bridging the gap between Keshav and the Kulsreshtras. She knew it was tough but as her baba had taught her, in face of adversaries it’s the mindset that was important. If she had the will then she could either find a way or make it!
As the car halted Keshav couldn’t wait to open his side of the door and rush towards the elevator without waiting for her. He didn’t even instruct the driver like he usually did. She had to literally sprint in her saree and was in time before the elevator doors shut. The elevator rode in silence but the tension between them was palpable. It was not until they entered the house that Avanti broke her silence. She had enough… “…Keshav… please wait…let’s talk…”
“…Avanti…I don’t want to talk… just…leave me alone…” He barely whispered and started to walk briskly towards his room.
“…No Keshav this is not done…” She rushed after him.
He stopped in his tracks and turned around facing her. He had an expression that screamed lethal “…What is not done Avanti…? You of all the people… You went to their house in spite of all I had shared with you…?”
“…Keshav… Kamya had requested… but I didn’t know…”
“…enough Avanti… I …I had thought there was more into this relationship… after our time in Hyderabad…I thought… we had it going for us…. But I expected too much…guess I was wrong…” He spoke softly with a neutral face but his eyes revealed his inner turmoil.
“…Keshav… you have to answer that for me…don’t you think so…? After going out of radar ever since you left Hyderabad… Do you even know what I went through…?” Avanti couldn’t hold it in anymore. The anguish built up in the last couple of days began to break the barriers. “…I have been through so much of agony Keshav…You didn’t even bother to reply to my texts or call back… what do you think I must make out of the situation…?”
“…Avanti I was busy with workload…literally buried and I hoped you would… understand… so… was this some kind of retribution…? Did you want to teach me a lesson… well… congratulations…you succeeded…”
“…Keshav this is NOT FAIR…” her heart was breaking…couldn’t he hear it?
“…Fair…? You want to talk fair…? You know what’s not fair…? My pathetic life is not fair… my own sister rebelling against her brother who lived his life for her, is not fair… my sister marrying my sworn nemesis is not fair… my wife… who I thought loved me, shaking hands with the enemy is not fair…”
Avanti saw his hands trembling and knew she had to put an end to this unending argument between them. “…Keshav…look… you can’t blame me for what has happened especially since I know nothing about your life except what you have shared… you don’t open up your cards and expect me to understand you…? Don’t you think I am at a disadvantage here? Keshav…I know, just like baba you have this silly notion of keeping thigs from me to protect me…but I don’t need it… Just bring it on…let’s face everything together Keshav…” She went closer to him holding his trembling hands and held them tightly even as he tried to pull them away. “…Keshav…” she said softly. “… baba always said, whenever we think we are playing our cards right, God shuffles the deck…So nothing is in our hands…. Keshav…” She felt him loosen up as he sighed…his hands going limp in hers as if she had taken out the air beneath his sails. She held his face between her palms and she could see a sheen of moisture in his eyes as he furiously blinked them away. Her voice trembled as she continued. “…Keshav I know you are… hurting… so let it out sweetheart… I am here for you and come what may…I am not leaving… Just let me in…please Keshav… let me in…”
Before she could finish, he slammed his lips on her and pulled her close to him. He feasted on her tender lips with a vigour determining how starved he was. She gave in totally, circling his neck and matching his passion with her own. She had missed him so much… After a moment they stood panting as he hugged her closer to his chest and she held his hard torso. She revelled in the moment and realised life without Keshav was unimaginable.
“…Yea…?” He whispered still holding her close.
“…Have you eaten anything…? Let’s have dinner…” She couldn’t eat at the Kulsreshtra’s because of the mounting anxiety.
Keshav nodded releasing her and as he went back to his room to freshen up, she didn’t say a word to let him have his space. Meanwhile, she retreated to the kitchen having changed into comfortable home clothes, hoping to sort her thoughts before she saw him again. She was glad at least things between them hadn’t soured beyond repair, as she touched her swollen lips and hoped it would get better… in the next half an hour or so, they quickly had their dinner. She could see Keshav had relaxed a little but was a far cry from his chirpy self… She held his hand and took him to the terrace garden. They sat on the swing holding hands and she waited for Keshav to vent out. She saw him with that faraway look and knew he was most hurt by what Kamya had done and even now he was definitely thinking about his sister. He had spoken the harsh words out of rage then, but Avanti knew Kamya meant the world to Keshav and he was the over protective brother who couldn’t face the strings being cut…notwithstanding the family feud.
“…Kamya…” Keshav began to speak in a soft voice. “… was a little over three when… when… our mother…uh… committed suicide. My mom was suffering from chronic depression and my father’s wayward ways…only made things worse… I…I was seven and I found her…bo…body…” She felt his shudder as he tightened his grip on her palm. She moved closer to him and he put and arm around her shoulder holding her close to him. She placed her cheek on his chest and loved the feel of his heartbeat right beneath. He placed his chin on her crown and continued. “…I couldn’t get through the nightmares for years… even today at times I see her… my mother lying lifeless on the bed…in fact that’s my only prominent memory of my mother… I don’t know if I had to blame my father for it… I barely knew him… The next thing I knew at sixteen was, he had passed away… leaving us under a heavy pile of debt. Everything we had was gone in a jiffy and I… it was a struggle Avanti, Kamya was just twelve…” He held her further close and she hugged him tight…trying to give him her all as he relived his painful past.
“…Avanti… I tried… God knows I tried… my childhood was rotten but my adolescence and young adulthood was worse… I didn’t even know our finances were that bad… and then I got to know about Rohini Jaiswal and the twins… I had lost it totally and would have hit rock bottom if not for your father… he was the life boat that helped me find my way to the shore… After that I have slogged my guts out to bring back Novo Supremo from the brink of bankruptcy to where it stands today… and now… when I am working towards a very important goal…partly your father’s dream too… Kamya had to…” his voice cracked and he halted to rub his face. “…Avanti…it just pains me… how could she do this to me…after everything we have gone through…”
Avanti sat up straight and held his hands. “…Keshav listen to me please… I met them today… the Kulsreshtras. I don’t know your history beyond what you have told me but I know for certain there is a lot more than what meets the eye…. Keshav… you have to understand… Kamya loves Sahil and the Kulsreshtras dote on her… in fact Mrs. Kulsreshtra was fondly remembering your mother…”
He drew his hands away from hers and stood. “…Enough Avanti… I can never forget Srinivas uncle’s snub and the way he had looked down upon me… when I had gone to beg him to help me out… Even today… Avanti… that hurts the most… the people I had thought were the closest to me abandoned me outright…what more is left…? I can’t forget the past Avanti… I just can’t… I have made my decision and I will hope you stand by that too… We will have nothing to do with Kamya…”
He stood hands in pockets looking at the twinkling landscape spread before him. She went and stood next to him…determined not to give up as yet. The ball had set to roll and she wasn’t going to let it stop. “…Keshav… what about Rohini Jaiswal…? She had got her guy today…he seemed decent… so why aren’t you letting her go…?”
Keshav turned towards her and chuckled. “…Avanti… I have been blessed with an extended family… but the baggage they got along outweighs the pros… Rohini Jaiswal is the last person I trust, to be a good judge of people’s character. The very fact that she had married my father who was old enough to be her father then… knowing about his drunken stupors and womanising habits…proves it all. She was a gold digger… but fate played its own card… She got pregnant… and then she was stuck…”
“…But Keshav she played her part, isn’t it…? Kamya seems comfortable with her and the twins adore you…so…what is it now…?”
“…Avanti… its only because she took care of Kamya during her growing up years that she is still at the receiving end of my monthly allowance and I am generous about it… Otherwise I would have thrown her out five years ago…” He spoke in a tone dipping malice.
“…what happened…five years ago…?”
He walked towards the terrace railing and the cool breeze calmed her insides making her relax and she hoped he could relax too. “…I had a deal with Rohini Jaiswal when she had first arrived broke at my doorstep… She would stay at home and take care of the kids and the household chores while I worked my guts out to rebuild Novo Supremo…. I also promised to consider the twins as my siblings and took them under my wing right away… We both kept our parts of the deal and all was fine till five years ago. One day I was unwell and got home early… we lived in three BHK flat close to the company…I had planned on moving to a larger place soon… But then on that day, I found her in bed with some guy much younger to her, a college student. I found out she got that guy home very often and I would have overlooked the fact considering she was young and had her needs as well… but I couldn’t take that risk with Kamya and Nirvi around… and then I found out the guy was extracting information from her regarding the company… She had access to the little study where I often sat late into the night with my documents…and she made copies of certain contracts and served him on a platter… my fault was that I was swamped with workload and cyber security slipped my mind totally… I actually booked that guy but had to withdraw the complaint because Rohini was involved too… it would have affected my siblings if she would have gone to jail… or even had a case against her…”
“…So that’s why you sent her to Hisar…?”
“…Yes…that was the best punishment I could think of because the lady is vengeful and I couldn’t risk my sibling’s well-being with her trying out tricks to get back at me. She wouldn’t have spared her own blood…I couldn’t stand being in the same house as her and Mrs. Sinha helped out with everything else at home back then…You know Avanti…the saddest thing about betrayal is…it never comes from your enemies… so…I… it’s difficult for me to trust…today Kamya proved it as well…”
“…Keshav…?” She held his hand and he turned facing her. “…I don’t know about anyone else but here is a promise, that no matter what… I am here by your side… always… so just don’t go incognito on me…ever again… its terrifying… just talk to me OK…? I want to share your pain Keshav…I want to understand you better…”
He held her shoulders and looked at her a wave of confusion passing over his beautiful features. His eyes burning with a combination of emotions and she just wanted to turn to ashes by plunging into their depths. “…Avanti… I was… today my PA told me about Kamya’s call enquiring about my return back home… and I suspected something… and then when I got to know you went there… I was afraid…”
“…Afraid of what, Keshav…?”
“…I thought…I would lose you too, Avanti…I can’t…I…”
“…Keshav I am right here… with you… but why didn’t you text me or call after you got back…? I was afraid as well…”
He held her hand and they started to walk back inside. “…Avanti I am sorry for being bull-headed… I was caught up with research and put in long hours…” he pressed her hand and sighed heavily. “…I really wish we could have got that black bound book… none of my scientists can match your father’s brilliance…”
“…Keshav… I have something to share…”
He stopped midway of locking the door to the terrace entrance. “…what is it…?”
“…Um… I think baba’s plane crash wasn’t… I mean… an accident…I mean…”
He quickly held her arms and with a face that suddenly hardened like a stone… he spoke softly. “…Avanti…. for God’s sake please stay out of this… I know Rahul is sleuthing around for you…but there is a lot more than you can even think…”
“…then tell me Keshav… what are you hiding… I must know…”
“…and what will you do once you know…? If and a big IF… there was foul play what will you do without proof? Go after the bad guys guns blazing…. just that you don’t possess guns…and if it’s actually what you suspect then it’s way too dangerous…”
A sense of disappointment washed over her. “…should I just let it pass then…?”
“…Avanti…look up here…” He raised her chin with his index finger. He looked lethal as the shadows of the night lamps from the terrace seeping in through the crevices of the door and the grills around it, made strange patterns on his face. But the determination in his eyes were unmistakable. He continued not losing contact. “…do you trust me…?” When she nodded he said. “…in that case leave all this to me… I am working on it… Akshat is trying his best with the police and… we will find something for sure… but for now… Avanti…don’t…get involved…please… and I promise you the moment we get something concrete you will be the first person to know…”
She nodded and as they walked down the stairs, he hugged her close to him caressing her arm. He took her close to his room and she looked up at him questions evident in her eyes. He held her face in his palms and smiled. “…Avanti I am… not… not so good at communicating… so I don’t even know how to ask this… uh… Avanti…will you move in with me…?”
She was thrilled to no end, the turmoil of the last couple of days suddenly disappearing. “…Keshav… are you sure…? I mean … you didn’t even speak to me or text me after leaving Hyderabad… and today…after…”
“… Avanti…I …” he said softly as he rubbed his hand over his face and it was then she realised how tired he looked as if he hadn’t slept for days. “…Avanti…I am so sorry… I was…I am…in a mess… it’s like I am drowning and in spite of knowing to swim, my limbs fail to move….” He held her arms again. The grip tightening as he poured out his emotions. “…I just didn’t know…if I should drag you down with me… so…I retreated…literally… but Avanti… I… can’t do this anymore…call me inconsiderately selfish…but… I can’t stay away from you…it’s the worst ever feeling… please…don’t be angry… I am sorry… but…” He struggled to find words and she was overcome with emotions her love for him only increasing multifold by the second.
She hugged him tightly digging her head into his chest taking in his mild traces of the Montblanc he must have used in the morning like he usually did. The tinge of fragrance was very much masculine…it was just totally him…and he held her close to him. They stood embracing each other for a while the ticking of the clock and the racing of his heart the only sounds indicating their presence. He took her hand and pulled her towards his bedroom and that night as they slept in each other’s arms fully clothed, Avanti glanced at Keshav’s sleeping form. He had gone to sleep almost immediately after hitting the bed and pulling her close for a quick goodnight kiss. As she heard his slight snores she smiled and even as sleep claimed her, she knew she was in way too deep with him and it was definitely a forever… she only hoped she would soon know what ailed him…
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