Chapter 22

It Was Always You

Dear friends,

I thought it would be a good idea to refresh your memories about the couple who will feature in Remembering You, my new book that’s supposed to go live on 24th January. I feel I may have been a little ambitious and bitten off more than I can chew, but that’s something for later.

Anyhow, in case you haven’t read the first book in the Destination Wedding Series - It was Always You, you might miss quite a bit of subtext in the second book which is out soon. I recently posted the prologue of the second book, right here as a sneak preview for those who subscribe to the newsletter.

Here’s the first time we see Khalil and Kimmy interact and since it’s not their story, I obviously haven’t gone on into much detail. But I’m hoping that you all will enjoy this love story as well, as much as I have, writing it.

Writing update - 34k words done. Which means I have another 20 to 25k words to write in this book. I’ll be honest. I’m not daunted. At the same time, I feel I may have become a little over-confident. My deadline to upload the final version of the book on Amazon is on 20th January and I have less than 17 days to do this. Yikes. Maybe I am getting a little daunted now.

Chapter 22

Khalil checked on his parents and saw that they were sleeping. They were exhausted after the flight from Bangalore, followed by the seaplane ride to the island. They hadn’t been too enthused about travelling so far for the wedding. His father had tried to dissuade Naima’s father for a long time, saying it was an unnecessary waste of money but Haider uncle hadn’t listened.

‘What’s the point of earning all this money if I can’t spend it?’ he’d argued genially.

Even so, it was a lot of money he was spending for his only daughter’s wedding. Khalil was uncomfortable too but he had gone along. His family decided not to take even their immediate relatives along because they didn’t want Haider uncle to spend more money on them. His parents were wealthy but they were uncomfortable by this excess show of wealth.

His younger sister, however, was excited and she looked at him and smiled widely. ‘This is so cool!’ she said as she looked out at the ocean from the French windows. ‘There’s a private pool also, apparently,’ he told her wryly, his hands in his pockets. ‘You act like you haven’t been to vacations before.’ He rolled his eyes.

‘You guys never take me to the beach. And even then, you’re all so stuffy. This is fun! I like my new bhabhi’s family already,’ she said.

Khalil grinned. Born nearly 12 years after him, when his parents hadn’t really expected to become parents again, Ghazal was all of 16 and turning into a pretty young woman. He knew his parents worried about her excessively. She had a slight limp when she walked, the result of a fever that had affected one of her limbs when she was a toddler. Ammi worried that she wouldn’t get good proposals because of it and that annoyed him. There was more to Ghazal than her ability to get a good match.

Anyhow, he felt more fatherly towards her than like an older brother and he looked at her indulgently as she walked towards the other set of windows that led to the private pool. He followed her and she let out a little squeal of excitement again. Vacations had been a little difficult, to be very honest. Ammi never wanted to go anywhere because she didn’t want Ghazal to tire easily or people to stare at her, which wasn’t fair.

Together, they sat down at the edge of the pool. She was wearing a long maxi type dress that she pulled a little up and dangled her feet into the water.

‘It’s so deliciously cold!’ she said, beckoning him to do the same. Smiling, he rolled up his trousers a little and followed her actions. The water was indeed satisfyingly cold. After the humidity of the island and the general sunniness, this was a relief.

Briefly, he wondered where Naima was. He hadn’t heard from her in days which was strange, given how she had texted him constantly after their engagement. He had been a little hesitant in opening up with her but she’d bulldozed him around until they’d become friends.

‘Thinking about Bhabhi dearest?’ Ghazal asked with a mischievous grin. He shrugged.

‘Actually I was. Can you believe that I’m getting married the day after tomorrow?’ he asked with a smile.

‘I know! It’s so exciting. And I’m actually very, very glad we’re doing it here,’ she said, hugging his arm.

‘Why?’ he asked her, puzzled.

She sighed expansively. ‘Relatives are such a pain!’ she said. ‘Thank goodness they're not here. Can you imagine Amara Phuppu if she were here? She’d be complaining about every single thing!’

He nodded and chuckled. ‘You’re right. Although that’s not really why Abbu didn’t bring anyone along,’ he said. She waved away his explanation.

‘Whatever,’ she said.

‘We have to get ready for this high tea thing by the way,’ he reminded her as she splashed the water in the pool with her feet.

‘Speak for yourself. I’m ready,’ she said.

‘That should be my line,’ he said as he got up from there. Maybe now that he would see Naima again, he would be able to get rid of this weird uneasiness in his chest.

*

Much later, they were seated in the restaurant with Haider uncle talking to him effusively. His parents had a somewhat pained expression on their faces when they saw the many excesses here - a welcome band had struck up a cheerful tune when they had walked inside and they had been greeted with flower garlands. It was all a bit over the top.

His parents were also quite taken aback at the number of relatives that Haider uncle had brought with him. His eyes were trained to the entrance however, because he was still waiting for Naima to show up.

Uzair was here, overseeing everything and oddly, his eyes kept travelling to the entrance as well. A young woman walked inside and he stared. She was wearing a knee-length dress and she had short wavy hair. Her eyes sparkled with laughter as she lifted her camera and took photos. She walked over to the wedding planner whom he had met a couple of times before.

She hadn’t changed at all. If anything, she had only become prettier, more voluptuous and sexier. She said something to Aditi who nodded and pointed in his direction. He stiffened. She walked up to him and as she neared, recognition dawned in her eyes that grew wide.

‘Oh my god! Is it really you Khalil?’ she asked as she walked up faster to him. Khalil smiled. They hadn’t seen each other for nearly a decade.

He nodded. ‘Imagine seeing you here,’ he said, standing up and offering his hand. She took it and he could have sworn they both felt that tiny tug, that spark because she looked at him, startled as she withdrew her hands from his.

He sat back down and introduced her to his parents. ‘This is Kimmy. She was my junior in college. I had no idea she’d become a wedding photographer,’ he said. ‘Kimmy, my parents and my sister, Ghazal.’

Kimmy smiled and shook hands with everyone. Ghazal was looking at her rather intuitively.

‘This isn’t my regular job, you know. I do this sometimes when Aditi wants something special for her clients. And when the pay is good. In my actual life, I’m a stuffy software tester,’ Kimmy said.

‘What?’ Khalil was surprised. She had never seemed to be the kind to take up any stuffy job, no matter how lucrative it was.

‘And here I am, covering your wedding,’ she said with that same wide smile that had often felt like a knife in his heart. She took some photos and then he realised contritely that Naima had already come inside and he hadn’t even realised it.

Kimmy turned around and took some rapid shots. Naima was wearing a mauve anarkali outfit that had short sleeves and left her arms bare. Her dupatta was in a slightly darker colour and was slung carelessly around her shoulders and she had a slightly lost look on her face.

She saw him and smiled. Her steps faltered for some reason as she walked up to their table and her mother joined her sedately. She showed her off to them like Naima was some sort of prize. This entire situation was so awkward he thought, as Kimmy continued taking photos.

She kept smiling as she checked the photos and went on doing her job. He noticed a man standing up in the corner and filming Kimmy, which was weird. A woman with bright orange hair pulled the man back down and whispered something into his ear furiously.

There were far too many people here, and yet, Naima’s eyes kept seeking something or someone else even though he was right beside her. They had made place for her beside him and she had sat down hesitantly.

She smelled great and her hair fell around her in a silky curtain. Ghazal was quite entranced by her. As should he, because up close, he could see how exquisite her features were. He had almost forgotten how pearlescent her skin appeared. He swallowed and smiled in Haider uncle’s direction.

He heard the rapid fire sound of the camera as Kimmy took photos of them as Haider uncle stood up and welcomed his family for the wedding. When Kimmy lowered her camera, their eyes met. Hers were guileless and clear as she smiled back at him. After all, she had barely known that he’d existed in college.

While he’d been silently in love with her all these years.

Read It Was Always You here.