"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!" they screamed simultaneously.
Khushi feigned shock. She let her eyes bulge and her mouth hang comically open. Gasping, she dramatically lifted her hand to her chest and uttered...
"For me? Really? You shouldn't have!"
This had been a tradition for quite some time now. The concept was simple enough to fathom. Khushi Gupta didn't like celebrating her birthday so it was only natural that the staff made sure her party was a highly anticipated fixture on the years calendar. The day was meticulously planned from start to finish. In the morning the entire ward would gather to sing her another year older accompanied usually by some elderly patient on the piano forte. After spending sometime talking, laughing and opening presents with both patients and staff, she would be offered a smorgasbord of surgeries to choose from. The afternoon would be spent thus, learning about and exploring her favourite thing in the world...the human heart.
On the back of this adrenaline high, Shagun, Meg and Jahnvi would doll her up, ready for a night of debauchery and recklessness. Once sufficiently inebriated, the girls and Matt would haul her back home, leaving Khushi to nurse her hangover in the privacy of her own home the next day. The night out on the town was sponsored by the valiant Oilver Danes, who would voluntarily offer his services for the graveyard shift, enabling the younglings to let their hair down.
At first all the attention had made Khushi uncomfortable. Prior to her migration to Cleveland, birthday's only served as a painful reminder of a life that could only be attained in her dreams. For the most part she would just ignore the entire day but when loneliness came to giver her company at night, she would cry herself to sleep...rueing this day upon which she was born. Slowly though, it had become something to look forward to....a reason to celebrate the small blessings in her life. Never had it been said but it was quietly understood that the reason the day was so meticulously planned was so that she would never be alone. Something for which she was grateful.
This was her family now.
So every year she would pretend to be surprised at all of their arrangements, play acting her way to glory. It had become a sort of joke between them all.
A very large, questionable looking cake floated toward her, alight with numerous candles. From nowhere a silly party hat was attached to her head; people blew on children's party horns and thin strings of streamers were popped into the air as they sang to her in loud and out of tune chorus. She giggled at the hilarity of the situation and blew on the little flames and just as she did every year, Khushi thanked god for the little blessings in her life. A small addendum however was made to the silent prayer, her eyes still shut....
Thank you for sending me Arnav, God. I don't know what I have done to deserve him but thank you.
Loud thunderous applause and whistles broke out as she cut the cake.
"Time to break out the walking stick then Gupta?" Matt teased gently, giving her a side hug. Khushi in response smeared his cheek with cake, a roguish smile on her lips.
"Only today Gupta....only today." he grumbled, letting her get away with the indiscretion. Oliver interrupted them and kissed her gently on the forehead. Handing her a present he wished her a happy birthday. Khushi frowned...
"You know my rule about presents."
"Oh come on Kiddo....let me spoil you."
Biting her lip, she contemplated opening the meticulously wrapped present.
"Khushi open it or I will." Shagun called out.
Unable to curb her curiosity any longer, she ripped the wrapping in a hurry. In it lay a hardback first edition copy of Gray's Anatomy. She wrapped her arms around her boss cum father figure. "Thank you, thank you, thank you." she whispered repeatedly.
"Stop it kiddo..." he teased. "You're ruining my reputation." Giving her a quick hug he left the others to it. "I'm going for a consult now. By the time I come back you better have chosen what surgery you want in on."
Making sure that their boss was well out of ear shot, Jahnvi pounced..."So what did hotwa give you?" she asked unable to contain her grin.
Khushi shrugged. "He's in Atlanta on business. I've barely seen him these past few weeks ...apparently work is hectic. Plus he doesn't even know it's my birthday."
"WHAT!" Meg shrieked. "How can he do anything romantic if you don't tell him it's your birthday."
"Because I don't want him to do anything of the sort. Knowing him it would be totally lame and cheeseballish." She smiled fondly. "He is a cheeseball sort of a guy."
Meg sighed, leaning her chin on her palms. "I bet he would have been totally romantic. Your hotwa is soooooo perfect!"
Shagun added..."I don't know about perfect but his ass is pretty fine..."
Khushi looked at them scandalised. Jahnvi laughed and agreed "He does have a perfect butt."
Matt looked uncomfortable. "Perfect is overrated."
Khushi, having recovered from the shameless objectification of her boyfriend, laughed and pulled Matt's cheek...."Nawww....jealous Parker?"
Matt watched the girls walk away laughing, a feeling of dread settling over him. Khushi had no idea what was coming.
Arnav's heart almost stopped as she walked out of the foyer, surrounded by her friends...laughing freely. Khushi hadn't noticed him yet and for that he was glad. It gave him time to adore her to his heart's content. The girls had dressed her to the nines today. Emerald green strappy stilletos walked a touch unsteadily as she struggled to find her stride. The long creamy columns of her legs stretched upward, disappearing under yards of black velvet, hanging off her well sculpted shoulders, clinging to her every curve and showing off the slight swell of her breast. Just as he lifted his gaze toward her face, she turned toward him, catching the swirling depths of his caramel eyes. Gently a soft smile broke across her face, so beautiful in its constitution that he found himself paralysed, helpless in the face of that incontrovertible charm.
Khushi's poor heart lost its innate sense of rhythm as she caught sight of him. Arnav stood across the street leaning against his car, his hair flying away with the breeze, arms folded across his chest...adoring her. No other word could suffice in conveying his regard of her. The palate of midnight blue and white, in which he was outfitted, acted only as an accessory to his effortless appeal. Yet over and above this was the truth that her heart screamed aloud, rejoicing in its victory..... he had come. A slight quiver of her lips gave her away. Unspoken dreams and fancies found flight as ran toward him and threw herself in his arms. Buried deep in his chest, she lay bare her vulnerability...
Wrapping his arms around her he buried his nose into her hair and breathing deeply stated...
"I had to Gupta." Warm fingers brushed against her flush cheeks, their lingering trail generating a fiery static, brushing the few stray stands behind her ear. With a chaste kiss, Arnav looked upon her eyes... "Happy birthday my darling girl."
As he kissed her, Khushi felt her stomach tighten. Her newly found friends flapped their wings, sending her on her way to the warmth of a heaven that had become her drug of choice. Wolf whistles and lewd remarks disturbed the happy couple's reunion. Khushi pouted as he drew himself away...grinning at her crazy friends.
Cuddled into his warmth, she looked up at him concerned. Running her fingers over his eyelids, she noted... "You look pale...weak."
Kissing her nose, he shrugged it off. "Work...forget about it. Why did I have to get a call from Meg to find out that it was your birthday? Why didn't you tell me? "
"You were busy."
"I'm never busy for you Khushi." She nodded understanding that he meant business. It had become an unconscious habit of his to use her first name when he was serious about a certain matter. "I wanted to do so much for you."
"Well you know my birthday now so next year I exp...."
"Oi love birds are you coming or do you want us to book you a room?" Shagun yelled from across the road.
Arnav laughed and looked at Khushi naughtily. "What to do you reckon?"
"Let's get drunk Raizada!" Khushi declared linking her arm with his, dragging them onward and upward.
PLEASE LISTEN! I PUT SONGS IN FOR A CERTAIN EFFECT.
The club pulsed around them, its patrons merry in their drunken stupor. Music blared from the speakers, laser lights pulsed casting the club in its pinkish tinge as white smoked hissed onto the dance floor, snaking its way around ankles and in between legs, slowly dispersing into a thin mist. They squeezed in and around the throng of people trying to find an empty booth. Occasionally a wandering hand would grab at bare skin and the girls shuddered at the unknown touch. Sticking like glue to Arnav, Khushi let him lead the way...
"I got us a booth booked."
The girls sat down gratefully, already cursing their choice of footwear while the men went to organise drinks. Khushi drummed her fingers on the table top impatiently....
"So what are we toasting to today?" asked Meg
"Hmmm...the twenty eight year old virgin?" Shagun suggested with a devilish smirk.
Khushi who was in high spirits, sat back against the plush lounge chair and smirked a smirk of her own. "We're toasting to my last hours as a twenty eight year old virgin." Biting down on her lip she couldn't help but giggle as her cheeks flushed red.
Jahnvi's eyes almost popped out of their sockets. "You mean....?"
"Tonight's the night. I've waited long enough..." Looking over at Arnav, she caught his eye and smiled. "He's the one."
Suddenly the atmosphere changed as the girls huddled around her. "Don't push yourself into this. If you're not ready it's nothing to be ashamed about." Meg held Khushi's hand, trying to understand her motives.
"Yeah. Your age doesn't matter. It need's to be right for you Khush." Jahnvi reassured her.
Shagun simply shrugged..."If he hurts you, I'll just cut his balls off."
Meanwhile an altogether different conversation was taking place at the bar. Chaos was the appropriate term to describe the ordering process. Elbows pushed and shoved, wedging themselves in any given free space, attempting to inch closer to the bar counter. Once at the counter, it then became a contest as to who had the better developed vocal cords. Arnav waved over one of the harrowed looking bar tenders.
"I need six premium tequila shots with lime and a bottle of your finest champagne."
Acknowledging the order with a wave of the hand, the young man signalled upward to his colleague on a ladder. A bottle of the finest tequila was dropped from a distance of about two meters, free falling into the bar tenders waiting hands.
"You still haven't told her." Matt accused as they waited. Arnav looked at him tiredly. "You're getting worse Arnav . It's written all over your face. You shouldn't even be here. "
Arnav noticed Khushi staring at him from the booth, smiling contently, a soft blush on her cheeks. He smiled back. "It's my girls special day. Let me have this one night Matt. One night where I'm not constantly thinking about my own mortality."
"It's not fair on her."
"You don't think I know that? Do you really think I'm that selfish? I tried staying away from her...I did. I just...forget it. There's no point thinking about that now. Let her have tonight."
Matt put his hand on Arnav's shoulder. "I know you love her. I'm not doubting it. You're a good guy but the longer you wait to tell her the harder it's going to get."
Arnav looked at Matt, frustrated by his own fate. "Why me?"
Matt answered simply..."Why her?"
Grabbing the tray of drinks they headed back to the girls. Plastering a smile on his face, Arnav let his troubles take a back seat for tonight. A chorus of applause broke out as the girl's caught sight of beverages. Passing around the champagne flutes, Matt then proceeded to pop the bubbly. The liquid frothed over the top of the bottle, earning an ear splitting grin from Khushi. Trying to conserve the liquid gold, Matt ran the bottle over the glass tops.
"To love and to life." Arnav proposed, looking at Khushi. She rewarded him with a quick kiss on his cheek.
"To love and to life" they all chorused. Several drinks later and the mood was significantly silly.
Khushi stood up abruptly, screaming over the noisy crowd. "Let's dance!"
Arnav and Matt grimaced. "Uhhh....you girls go. We'll join you in a bit."
Khushi pouted. Arnav pleaded..."Go have fun with the girls."
Shagun already impatient yelled...."I'm the only married woman here and I don't get to go out often enough. Move your ass Khushi Gupta!"
Rolling their eyes at the men, they traipsed off to the dance floor, the crowd swallowing them up. Arnav watched with fascination as Khushi let loose, a likely result of the alcohol running rampant in her blood stream. The gentle sway of her hips sashayed the skirt of her dress, as she grooved to the rhythm, oblivious to anything and everything else. With her hands thrown up in the air, she let her head rock from side to side creating the most hypnotic movement with her long locks. Involuntarily Arnav found himself leaving Matt mid conversation and walking toward Khushi. Sliding in behind her, he wrapped his sinewy forearm around her waist and drew her into him. Smiling victoriously, she let her head rest back against his chest, intertwining her fingers with his and they moved with the underlying rhythm, their bodies as one. The beat of the song began to build, heralding the climax and the conjoined mass of people began to move faster and faster.
An uncomfortable tightness settled itself deep within the walls of his chest and Arnav knew something was wrong. The lights were too bright from him, his vision began to blur and the sound of the music distorted. Khushi too caught up in the dance didn't notice as he staggered away from her, pushing his way through the crowd, desperate for some fresh air. It was only the glimpse of his jacket from the corner of her eye that brought to light the fact that Arnav wasn't with her anymore. She frowned noticing his uneven gait and watched as Matt followed him out of the side door exit.
Uneasiness clawed on to her skin, biting away till she could no longer bear it. Trusting her gut instinct she followed the boys, desperately pushing her way through gyrating and sweaty bodies. So much was her desperation that she almost broke out into a run. Pushing the side exit door open, she ran out into the alley looking left and right for them. Suddenly she heard a frantic voice and turned around...
"I need an ambulance on the corner of Delenger and Harborne Street.." Matt was yelling into his mobile.
Her heart beat loudly in her ears as her brain registered the information her eyes were relaying. Arnav lay crumpled on the cold street, pale as ghost...unconscious.
DUN DUN DUN!!!! Cliffhanger I know but it's important. Thank you to all of you who left a comment...it really makes my day and helps me analyse how the story is going. Also it makes me smile and love all of you for the passion you have about my story. For those of you who asked for my Index...here it is....
Also a lot of you are calling Arnav and Anjali selfish. Don't be so quick to judge. I will hopefully shed more light on this in the future. Some of you readers have the right idea about Arnav's intentions and some of you are waaaay off. Though once again I will wait and develop this in the story a bit more. But if you want to know Arnav's point of view then re-read the last chapter where Anjali is talking to Khushi about being afraid but think of it from Arnav's perspective. That is how I had originally imagined it anyway.
Lots of Love