“…how could you do this to me Avu…? Why do you still want to stay with that man after what he has done…” her mother asked as they sat in her room where Keshav left them alone before going back to his. Avanti knew he was disturbed by the sudden unannounced arrival of her family but she had to sort it out before talking to him. Fortunately, he promised to have lunch on time before she shut the door to her room. She looked at her sister who looked around the room snickering at her choice of decorations and arrangements. But then Arpita and she were poles apart when it came down to choices. While she loved pastel shades and simplicity in everything, Arpita was all for flamboyance.
“…Aai… I am not leaving my husband and that is final…in fact we have baba’s blessing too…”
Her mother and Arpita both looked stunned. “…What…what do you mean baba’s blessings…Avanti…?” Arpita spoke in an angry tone. “…baba wasn’t even around when you got…married…”
Avanti then told her about the letter Keshav had received. Her mother stood up from the rocking chair and walked towards her. “…Avu bala… I don’t know what your father saw in that…Keshav. All I know is…ever since your baba…got acquainted with that man and his father before that… nothing has been going good for us… and then…”
“…Avanti…?” Arpita interrupted. “…why on earth didn’t baba speak to me directly and put me through the humiliation…?” She paced the room back and forth as she continued. “… I never liked Keshav in the first place…it was just… I wanted to do something for baba for once and so… I went through that engagement and torturous courtship…” Arpita then walked close to her mother and put her arm around her shoulder. “…thank God Aai had her senses intact and she saved me from tying the knot that day…”
“…What are you saying…?” that Avanti was shocked was an understatement.
“…Aai… well… actually Keshav had already told me about his condition the day before the mehandi… and had forbidden me from revealing it to you… he was all set to go for a contract marriage agreement and I was to give in…because you Avanti…YOU convinced me it was for the best… but then I couldn’t help it and told everything to Aai…and she made me run away…”
Avanti sat on the bed with a thud. What was going on here… why was only she in the dark… everyone seemed to know everything around her…
Her mother came to her and patted her head. “…Avu bala… by the time you decided to get married to him that day it was too late for me to do anything… and you were determined… but now…Now we can overcome everything… in fact Arpita has found a buyer for Vedshastra… he is an acquaintance of a director friend of hers… So… we can sell that headache and you will be free too… just…”
“…ENOUGH…PLEASE…ENOUGH… both of you…” Avanti screamed. “…first of all…I am in this marriage for good…it may have begun with a contract but now we are legally married forever…so my question of leaving Keshav doesn’t arise….” Both her mother and sister stared at her. This was probably the first time she had raised her voice. “…Second point… Vedshastra is our legacy and baba’s dream…I will not allow its sale…no matter what. And as you know I have the majority power at the moment and so I -will- not -allow -it…” She was panting and just at that moment Keshav knocked at the door.
“Avanti…” he called out. “…Are you alright…?” She opened the door and hugged him tightly to compose herself. She then turned to face her mother and sister, while he held her by the shoulder.
“…both of you please go home… my decision stands unchanged…both about my husband and Vedshastra…”
“Avanti you made a huge mistake marrying this guy…” Arpita reprimanded her. “…someone who had only lied…”
“…what about YOU tai…? What about the lies you have been feeding us for years…?” Avanti asked even as Keshav hold on her shoulder tightened.
“…Wha…what are you talking about…?” Arpita appeared hassled and their mother only looked on.
“…I know you were a very disciplined professional and frugal with money and money management… I am aware of your various investments and honestly… tai… I was proud of you… baba would have been proud too… why did you have to project a different image at home…?”
“…that’s because Avanti I was tired of being the goody two shoes girl that baba always wanted… and by the time you came along and took up that role… being a rebel was the only way I got his attention… you won’t understand all that Avanti… you are too selfish and cruel… you got everything served on a platter… baba’s love and affection… freedom to pursue any crap career…a husband…money… You are just too self-absorbed…”
“…that’s enough Arpita…” Keshav spoke in his lethally soft voice. “…not a word more against my wife…”
“…you can keep your wife Keshav…” Arpita huffed. “…but Vedshastra also belongs to me… and I want it to be sold and my…my share of the money…”
“…in case of Vedshastra at the moment…I am the major shareholder and decision maker… so I go with my wife’s wishes… As for money…if you need something…”
“…Oh please…Keshav…keep that charity act for yourself and that dimwit sister of mine… I know how shrewd you are…somethings up with Vedshastra and you want all the profits isn’t it…?”
Avanti wanted to speak but Keshav pressed her shoulder and spoke instead. “…What is your plan Arpita…? Why do you want it sold… you know nothing about the business so why the sudden interest in Vedshastra…?”
Arpita folded her hands and the look on her face was so menacing Avanti wondered if she ever knew her sister. “…look Keshav…” Arpita continued. “…I am getting married next month to this wonderful man… who also happens to be the director of my next series…where I play the main lead… He has a friend who is in the same industry as yours and has showed interest in buying out Vedshastra…after I had shared how worried I was about it…” She sighed. “…So it’s better to sell it to him and he is offering us way more than the market value for that piece of crap…”
“…NO…NO MEANS NO…” Avanti screamed again and Keshav had to restrain her as she shook with annoyance and shock all at the same time. Tears rolled feely down her cheeks… who was this woman before her and what had she done to her sister…?
“…Arpita…Aunty…” Keshav spoke softly. “…I think it’s better we have this discussion on another day… as you see…my wife is upset… Arpita, text me the details of the buyer and I will check him out… I will get back on that… I promise… but for now…please…”
Arpita left the room in a huff, her gown irritatingly swishing around with the rushed movements followed immediately by her annoyed mother. Avanti couldn’t hold it anymore and her legs gave away… fatigue was setting in given the events of the yesterday and today combined and she almost collapsed in Keshav’s arms.
A little later she woke up in their room and felt a cool cloth of her face. She opened her eyes to see a worried Keshav wiping her brow. “…hey… you OK Avanti…?”
She nodded tearing up. “…I really don’t understand Keshav… what had come over Arpita…?”
“…And I thought only I had a problem with my family…” he chuckled and said. “…Look Avanti… give her sometime… Something tells me this Kolhapur visit is going to be important…”
“…Keshav… can Vedshastra sustain itself… I mean…”
“…Avanti…” Keshav sighed. “…I won’t lie to you… things are tough…we are in a tight position because of the delay… in fact I have only one shot at making this formula… my flowers…they are coming in full bloom very soon… if the formula isn’t ready then they will wither away and years of my…. hard work will go down the drain…”
She sat up with his help on their bed and held his hand in hers. “…Keshav…I have a good feeling about Kolhapur too…about meeting baba’s mentor… but whatever happens Keshav…I leave the decision about Vedshastra to you… and I will always stand by you, Huntington or not…”.
Keshav hugged her tightly and they sat in the room for a long time each lost in their own stream of thought but united in their concern for each other and finding the needed solace and calm in each other’s arms.
A day later they reached Kolhapur late evening. The award ceremony was to be held the next morning after which Avanti had secured an appointment to see her father’s mentor, Dr. Pradhan. Keshav had surprised her by booking a penthouse in the heart of the city. As she looked around the chic but warm interiors, Keshav hugged her from the back and kissed her neck. “Avanti…” He whispered into her ears, his baritone along with his warm breath on her ears caused the fluttering in her tummy, making her forget all her worries momentarily. “…Sweetheart…” he continued even as her heart made the somersaults. “…we couldn’t go for our honeymoon… so… uh… though it doesn’t compensate… it just a little… I mean…”
She turned around and crushed her lips to his even as she circled his neck and he pulled her hips close grinding his arousal to her abdomen and she was a goner. He lifted her and dropped her on the soft bed which was strewn with rose petals. Her favourite flower heightened her sensitive senses… even as he ravaged her lips his hands feeling her body all over igniting the embers of passion pushed deep within by the worries holding her to ransom these past couple of days. He kissed her like there was no tomorrow, not that she was complaining… the orgasmic waves already finding roots in her lower abdomen. She couldn’t wait any more as he showered her with kisses all over…whispering sweet nothings… that made her eyes fill. She didn’t even know when he took off her clothes and his too…joining her on the bed and pulling her close to him. For a few seconds they lay facing each other and like a flash of lightening he moved on top of her devouring her mouth and moving slowly down her neck, upper chest and as he fondled her full globes, he looked at her and she shuddered anticipating his next move. He took one inviting peak into his warm mouth and she was almost undone… He pinched the other counterpart even as she moaned under him. He sucked and gently bit the tiny nub and she raised her torso further pushing the traitorously erect nub into his waiting mouth. His tongue continued its onslaught and in the next instant she screamed his name as the waves of passion rocked her body making her fly out of control… He showed no mercy and continued his torrential display as he moved lower kissing and sucking her abdomen… She was writhing under his ruthless unleashing of ecstasy. He moved down to her core and blew over her mound and she shivered with the cold feeling over her wetness… his mouth continued its storming as it latched on to her delicate nub and his tongue moving in and out of her secret place wet with her fresh release, driving her to the edge of yet another cliff. He sucked her most intimate part and replaced his tongue with his fingers…his pinched her clit and in the next instant she had her headlong descent from the tallest cliff in the world as her body rocked with the spasms of her orgasm… she had barely settled when he plunged into her depths, his rock hard member sheathing itself completely in her womb. He moved on top of her covering her completely with his taut body and held her hands above her head as he rocked into her body… she heard the slick sounds of their union clash with the AC humming… and withing two strokes her body spasmed around him yet again milking every ounce of his release as he screamed her name and fell besides her holding her close to him…
They lay joined to each other for a while as he kept kissing her head and she scribbled on his firm chest with her fingers. “Avanti… you continue that… and we will have to skip dinner…” he chuckled and held her close. She didn’t want to let go of him… how she had longed for moments like these where he would be carefree and relaxed. She just hoped for the sake of his health… their visit to Kolhapur would yield results. And there was an important topic that needed his attention too.
They dressed and had a quick dinner ordered from a nearby restaurant and though it had gone cold she loved the small talk with Keshav as they ate. Later as they lay next to each other, she resting her head in the nook of his arm as he played with her hair she decided to speak up on the issue that was pushed to corners of oblivion every time. It only resulted in Keshav hurting more. “Keshav…?”
“…Yeah…” he drawled on lazily.
“…can I ask you something… for both of us…?”
He stopped what he was doing and rose on his elbows facing her with a frown on his handsome face. “…What is it Avanti…? You know you can tell me anything…”
“…Keshav don’t be angry please… this is about Kamya…”
Keshav’s face contorted and she could feel the change in the air in the room. He laid back on the bed on his back covering his eyes with his hand and ignored her.
“…Keshav…please don’t do this… she is your only family… and you have to listen to the entire story before…”
“…Avanti…please…I don’t want to talk about them… Kamya is no longer related to me after what she did…”
“…Keshav… now you are being unreasonable… Kamya and Sahil want to reconcile…”
“…So, they sent you…? Are you their lawyer…?” He spoke, his voice sparkling with anger, but face still covered.
“…Keshav please listen once to what Sahil has to say and then decide whatever it is…I will always be on your side…”
Keshav abruptly stood and started to pace the room. After what seemed like ages he spoke. “Avanti… my heart is thoroughly worn out and bruised beyond repair…” he said softly and it broke her heart to see him so heartbroken. “… I …I was a walking corpse for years without any emotions or feelings…just doing my duty and working hard for my family… but there were times when things went beyond my endurance levels and I almost gave up. But…at that time my father had just died and the only legacy he had left us was debt… I didn’t even have the luxury to end my life…”
“…Keshav…” She rushed to him and held him. “…don’t you ever think like that…”
He moved her apart and held her shoulders. “…Avanti let me come clean…there were three instances when I had almost given up. First… when my father died and I was totally clueless… second when I … I newly got diagnosed and very recently when your mother refused to send you with me from the hospital…”
“…but you know what, Avanti…? First… it was your father who gave me hope and helped me to stand on my feet… when I got diagnosed…again it was your father and Kamya who were there for me and by the time the third instance came along…I was seasoned to face heartbreaks…but still… had you not arrived when you did…” He rubbed his face and she saw moisture pool in those beautiful browns.
“…Keshav… I know its painful…but facing the nightmare of your past gives you the power to build a magical future… please Keshav…” she held his hands. “…please let’s do it together… for your closure… otherwise it will only trouble you more…there is a lot you don’t know…”
“…Avanti… I can’t… “
“…You are not alone Keshav… I am with you…every step of the way… just…just once Keshav… just hear him out…please… for Kamya’s sake… she will soon be moving away… you have been there for her… you faced so much but never gave up… because of her Keshav…so would you be happy if you let her go with things left unsaid…?” Keshav stood limply and she held him tightly and spoke into his chest. “…Keshav I promise you… you won’t regret this…” He didn’t speak anything but she knew she had managed to penetrate the hard exterior he had built around him.
The next morning, they reached the university auditorium by 11 AM. The place was tastefully decorated with floral arrangements at the entrance and there was a huge poster adorning the wall detailing her father’s contribution to the field and the university. Avanti’s eyes filled remembering her beloved father as she saw his file photograph printed on the poster. She remembered having selected his suit for him for the photoshoot he had reluctantly agreed for. Her baba hated showbiz for the superficial attitudes and everything that came along with it. He had been heartbroken when Arpita had chosen the same field which he had detested from the start. Suddenly Keshav’s warm arm hugged her from the side towards him and she was broken out of her reverie. “Don’t…don’t cry Avanti… you should be proud of your father and celebrate his life… he was a great man… his goodness and legacy is carried forward by his younger daughter…don’t you forget…” He pressed her arm and she wiped her tears smiling. He had barely spoken after their faceoff last night and she was glad he hadn’t completely blocked her off. She texted Kamya to join them for dinner after her return from Delhi and as expected Kamya was over the moon. She promised to call Avanti on her return with Sahil and visit them.
The award was presented to Dnyaneshwar Rane and Avanti accepted it on his behalf to a thunderous applause from the crowd. She was touched by the respect and love showered upon her baba and choked while giving her prior prepared thank you speech. But every time she faltered, her eyes found her husband and his encouraging smile gave her the much-needed impetus to face the moment on the dias. Soon after the award ceremony there were photo ops and after the quick lunch, they visited Prof Pradhan at his residence.
Dr. Pradhan was a frail old man who could barely walk without help and his son helped him to join them. But the drawback was only in his physical condition. Mentally he was sharp as a tack…just like Avanti had heard. He congratulated Avanti on her marriage and reminisced the ‘good old days’ of the times when her father was his student. Avanti though she loved hearing about her baba… she was also running out of patience for the important purpose of her visit.
“…Um… Dr. Pradhan… there is something I want to talk to you about… um… my baba’s last project… we need your help to figure out…” She said even as Keshav took out the folder he had duplicated again after the first copy was stolen. But as she passed it on to Dr. Pradhan he held up his trembling wrinkled hand.
“…my child… I am in no position to help out… my mind isn’t what it used to be at one time… but there is something I have to give you…”
Avanti tried to hide her disappointment as she and Keshav exchanged looks. Dr. Pradhan gestured to his son who nodded and he went inside and came out immediately with an envelope. Dr. Pradhan handed over the envelope to her and said. “…Avanti… your father was extremely well prepared for any kind of adversity… a few days before his… uh…passing… he had couriered this letter to me…to hand it over to you in case of his untimely death…” Avanti gasped and gripped Keshav’s hand as she eyed the letter with her name writer on it in her father’s beautiful handwriting. “…Avanti…” Dr. Pradhan coughed a bit before he continued. “…I am sorry this took so long… but I wasn’t aware of the accident until a couple of months ago and my health didn’t permit me any excitement… so I told my son here and he went ahead…Avanti I wish you all the best…”
Avanti and Keshav left Dr. Pradhan’s house each of them silent on their way back to their penthouse. Avanti kept staring at the envelope… her name blurring every time as fresh tears continued their foray… Her father was a man of his word and she knew he had kept it… for Keshav’s sake she hoped he really did…as she clutched the envelope to her chest she wondered; did it have the whereabouts of the black book…?
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