Arnav looked at Pavan in confusion. Pavan was silent and didn’t show any emotion when he expressed his wish to marry Khushi. But this question, he didn’t understand “Why?” he repeated asking for clarification.
“Why now? After all these years? You had stayed away from her after we left India. Not even once you have tried to meet her or asked about her to me in all these past years. What happened now?”
Arnav knew Pavan would not easily accept his love; after all he was the son of the man who destroyed Pavan’s parents. He was ready for any scorching fire from Pavan because he loved Khushi and couldn’t imagine a life without Khushi. “I always loved her. I don’t know from when, but she was always there in my life. I might not have tried to meet her or talk to her in person but I watched her from far. I was scared to face her again. What if she hates me for being the offspring of the man who killed her papa and mama? I wasn’t courageous to face her rejection”.
“And now you are ready?” Pavan was direct and sharp
"Yes. I won’t decline that I was afraid and guilty and scared to face her again; that’s one reason why I kept away from her even when she came down for Akash’s wedding. But then when we cleared our differences and it was just like those old days. My actions and feelings aren’t simple and they are not always logical when it comes to her. She just sweeps me off my feet. With her, I always feel out of control and I was confused and wanted to decide what to do about the fact that I am in love with her. Should I keep away from her for her own good? I know you wouldn’t be happy with me courting her. You are always protective of her. I respect that greatly. It was during that time I met GK (Mr. Nair), who told me a story – about his lost chances with his Lakshmi"
“Arnav, I hope I didn't disturb your business schedules by playing along with NK’s prank” Nair apologized.
“No, not at all. It's a pleasure to meet you! I didn't know you were here, I mean I didn't hear any such news in business circles. May be I might have missed out” Arnav replied honestly.
Nair smiled and replied “No one knows that I am here except my two personal managers, business will go on, its entrusted with efficient staffs. Well, I didn't call you to talk business, just wanted to meet you. I have heard a lot about you in business as I told you earlier but then when I came to know you are the cousin whom Khushi always keep telling me about. I wanted to meet you. She and NK gave me a different picture of the gigantic ASR and I was interested in meeting him and today I saw him”. Nair smiled at Arnav who looked mildly confused but smiled and took a seat near the man.
GK smiled warmly at Arnav “If I had a daughter she would be exactly like Khushi. Because Lakshmi was exactly like her. Oh Lakshmi was my uncle’s daughter; we grew up together in a joint-family in Kerala. We were of the same age, playmates, classmates. When did love bloom between us? we didn’t know but there wasn’t a moment in our lives of not being in love with each other. Even when now when she has left me alone, I love and live in her memories".
"Fate didn’t like our happiness and togetherness Arnav. When we were mere youths, fate separated us. Our families decided that Lakshmi would make a perfect wife for my brother. I wasn’t aware of my brother’s feelings for Lakshmi until the day her family declared the marriage. I adored my brother and couldn’t or wouldn’t go against him. My dad had left my mother when I was barely a year old and my mother couldn’t bear that heartache. She was barely living and within few years she passed away hence I was taken care my brother. He was my father and mother and my everything. How could I go against him and demand his happiness. I watched my Lakshmi getting married to my brother. I saw her accusing eyes and helplessness but I was a coward then Arnav. I left home and never returned until I received a call from a hospital saying that my brother and wife met with an accident and it’s critical".
"By that time I was rich and had established myself in hostel business. I rushed to the hospital and doctors honestly admitted that they tried their best but the chances of my brother’s survival is less. When I was allowed to meet him, he berated me for holding back about my love for Lakshmi, for spoiling our lives. They were coming to meet me while they met with the accident. Lakshmi had confessed to him about her love for me on their first night itself but I had left home by then and my brother wasn’t able to locate me. He protected Lakshmi all those years hoping one day I would return. When my first hotel was opened, the news reached him and he was coming to meet me to return my Lakshmi to me. I lost my brother that day Arnav but god gave back my Lakshmi. I nursed her back to life and we were starting our lives together when she was diagnosed with cancer. I fought with the fates this time with all the power and money I had but I lost again. She was expecting our child when she fell ill Arnav. If the baby had been born, she would have been Khushi’s age”
Arnav just sat there in stunned silence listening to the great GK’s life story. He hadn’t asked nor was curious but as he heard, he felt a familiarity and there was nagging throb in his heart for this old man in front of him. GK was lost in old memories, he resumed after taking a deep breath “Arnav, you would be wondering why this old man is burdening you with his old tales of pain. Khushi loves you. I don’t know whether she has realized it or not but you means a lot to her. And you love her. Don't you? Isn't that fear of something bad happened to her made you rush here?"
"Our insecurities always holds us back from expressing what we feel later leading to lot of regrets and uncomfortable and unanswerable questions. I had always wondered if I had been courageous to express my love for Lakshmi to my brother back then, we could have had at least few years of happiness and a family together. I would not have been this empty then. Business accomplishments can never give the satisfaction that one smile your loved one gives you. Already you both have lost some time but it isn’t late Arnav...
That deep look GK gave Arnav spoke volumes.
"The talk I had with GK gave me the clarity which I very much needed, showed me the direction to correct the mistakes I made. I wanted to grab whatever moments is left in my life to be with Khushi.That's why I am asking her hand in marriage to you".
"I am sorry Arnav, I can’t trust you with my sister. That day when I lost my parents but got back Khushi unscratched, she clung on to you and NK. But when we came to know who was behind the accident, you walked away, leaving my baby alone. Do you know how much she longed for you then? You left her. Left her alone all these years". All those bitter memories plagued Pavan and he accused Arnav.
"What did you expect me to do then Pavan? I myself was destroyed. To realize the man whom you respected and called dad was a criminal and he had manipulated and used me to kill the two people whom I adored like parents......and then my amma.....her murder in front of my eyes..and his suicide.....how was I...how could I ....It was not me who Khushi needed then.. It was you.... Only you could make her feel safe and protected and like the princess, her dad used to make her feel". Those memories of a hated past shifted through Arnav and he felt the helplessness and guilt gnawing within him.
After a long silence Pavan asked “What about Lavanya?”
Arnav took a deep breath, looked Pavan in eyes and said “Lavayna is just a good friend of mine. When Mami and Nani posed problems for Akash’s marriage by stating my unmarried status, to get them off from my back and to ensure Akash is married to the girl he loves, I had to stage a fake announcement”
“Bhai, I never want to put Khushi in a spot where she is forced to choose between us. You are like a god to her who she believes and trust blindly. Your approval matters very much for her. I love her with my whole being and I know she feels the same for me. But we will never go against you. Only the day when we have your permission and blessings I will marry Khushi".
"What if I marry her off to another guy?" Pavan challenged as Arnav was exiting the room.
Arnav smiled but didn't turn back as he replied "Her happiness matters to you more than anything".
Pavan was still in the library pondering over his conversation with Arnav. He didn't go back to the mandap to witness the never ending marriage rituals. He was conflicted over his emotions, fears and wishes. How was he supposed to take this decision for Khushi. He knew his sister's heart but there was Arnav's history too to consider. He hadn't noticed Anjali's presence until she called out his name.
"Aha..Anjali..Sorry I didn't hear you. What happened? Do you need something?"
"Yes. I need something" She sat opposite to him and looked at him in eye. " I need Arnav's happiness - his Khushi"
Before Pavan could say anything she continued "I know how difficult it is for you to accept Arnav, Pavan. For years now I have seen you both grow apart and I did nothing to stop that. Even we grew apart right?"
Pavan looked at Anjali and both their eyes glazed over the old shared childhood - those carefree days, laughs and fun..
"Anjali it wasn't intentional"
"I know. We all were caught in our griefs. I think, the day I lost Mama, I lost everyone. Arnav wasn't that my old Chotte anymore. He grew overnight and he became a strong support for me where I was supposed to be strong for him and take care of him. He withdrew from everyone emotionally, wore this hard metal shell around his heart and I couldn't identify him anymore. It was when Viren came to my life I show that old Arnav behind that cold mask. He cared for me and wanted to make sure that history won't be repeated. Viren had to go through various grilling and third degree treatments to be qualified to marry me. I saw my Chotte was afraid to trust and show his emotions hence he hides his feelings behind that ASR mask. The only time I have seen him vulnerable is when Khushi is mentioned. When she came back here, I saw my old brother. I want him back Pavan, I want my old Chotte and if Khushi is the key to his happiness, I am not ashamed to beg you for my brother's happiness. I want to see my family whole and happy Pavan. Don't you desire the old happiness Pavan?".
Payal entered the Raizada mansion officially as the Raizada bahu by knocking off the rice kalash but soon she was lifted by Akash into arms midst all the jeering and teasing. Everyone was occupied in engaging the newly married couple in numerous games and finally Akash had to pay off Anjali, Khushi, Lavanya and push NK, Sunny, Alexy out of his way to enter his bedroom. Khushi had noted Pavan and Arnav hadn't lingered for all the post-marriage rasams. Finally when her duties as the bridegroom’s sister and as sister-in-law was done, she went in search of her Bhai. She found him sitting on the garden swing with a drink. Noiselessly she crept on him and hugged him from behind saying in her cheerful voice
“Bhaiyya...am soooooo happy today”
Pavan smiled “Of course you would be. I saw you had a great time by making Akash miserable”
She smiled but then her heart raced; in a low unsure voice she made her confession “Bhaiyya....actually..... I did something today without asking your permission”
“It is nothing new. What mischief did you and NK do this time?”
She didn't answer but unwinded her left hand from Pavan neck and extended her hand in front of his eyes to show him the ring. After a beat she said “Arnav took me to Lucknow today morning Bhaiyaa. To mama and papa"....she came around and sat next to him watching the surprise in her brother’s eyes... “I said yes when he proposed me Bhaiyaa”
Pavan saw the familiar ring and heard his sister. It was expected but it didn't fail to surprise him.
“Yes...I always loved that silent boy who would look at me curiously from his corner of eyes thinking I don't know him watching. Khushi smiled recalling those old memories...I was ecstatic when he became friends with me, when he allowed me to be with him..... You remember he would not obey anybody but then he would not object to anything I want or to anything I say. For me he would anything. He always made me feel special....I....I missed him Bhaiyaa...I didn't know why he had pushed me away all those years...I waited...waited all those years hoping he would come.....when I could talk again...I wanted to talk to him...but he never called and I was scared that he was angry with me....how was I supposed to make him my old Arnav? Then when Akash Bhai told me about his engagement I thought he ......I was angry and sad when I met him again...but then when Nair uncle told me that he might not know how to bridge the long gap like me...I thought may be he right..Arnav isn't that friendly kind..it was always me who had to bring him out to light from dark....When I did confront him, he broke down Bhaiyya....
Here she turned to Pavan...."Have you forgiven him Bhaiyaa?"
Before he could say anything, she took Pavan’s hands in hers and pleaded
"He isn’t guilty Bhaiyya..You shouldn’t punish him for what his dad did. I think more than us he was the broken one. You were strong for me and NK. But for him, he hadn’t let anyone close to him. He stayed away from all relationships. Even Di’s prayers couldn't soothe him for years. He was afraid to trust again. If he daring to trust and love again I want to make him believe in love and relationships again. I want to show him that love isn't all thorns. I can’t hurt him Bhaiyaa. I can’t, just like I can’t hurt you...You both are important to me. Will you give him a chance? For me?"
NK who was a silent spectator to this whole talk came forward and sat next to Pavan and Khushi. He took a deep breath and said “I am with Khushi in this Bhaiyya”. He turned to look at Pavan “he makes her happy and it’s a chance for us to be that whole and happy family once again. Won’t you consider it?”
Pavan looked at his siblings - his twins - his babies - both waiting for his answer - he took both of them in a bear hug and said " Yes. For happiness and family"
A/N: Coming up next - Epilogue!
A/N: Coming up next - Epilogue!