6 months 2 weeks 4 days prior to New Year’s Eve
Aman: I’ve found Happiness.
NK: I know.
Aman: I mean I’ve found the One.
NK: I know. Fuck man, no need to rub it in.
Aman: Not my one, Arnav’s one.
Aman: When you get back from the Tokyo conference, I need you to stop by Kumar’s Catering on the Lower East Side.
NK: Need I mention the disaster of the last two?
Aman: Did I preface the last two with The One? She’s it.
Aman: There’s this indescribable sense of certitude. She’s incongruously familiar on the mind.
NK: How the hell did you get a nickname like Shark, when you’re fit for the theater?
Aman: What is the courtroom, but another stage?
NK: Fine. You have the benefit of doubt. Tell me about her.
Aman: Gracious of you. You know how you sound? Like my brother. And the world could do without two ASRs.
NK: Noted. Well?
Aman: She’s a new waitress for the diner.
NK: Are you out of your fucking mind?
Aman: Since when did you turn into such a snob?
NK: It’s not about being a snob. The vultures who circle him would eat her alive.
Aman: I have admissible evidence that proves otherwise. She may look like a kitten, but a lioness lurks. Just go and take a look.
NK: Why am I held responsible for the burden of proof when you’re the lawyer.
Aman: The necessity of checks and balances.
NK: What’s her name?
NK: Are you shitting me?
Aman: Want an affidavit?
6 months 2 weeks prior to New Year’s Eve
NK: Pretty. Ok, I get the fuck me eyes.
Aman: Check out the ass.
Aman: A gentleman appreciates beauty wherever he sees it.
NK: Did you get that from Dapper Decorum?
Aman: I see you also follow their Twitter. Brilliant kids.
NK: With a handful of followers.
Aman: Imagine when they’re discovered. We’re ahead of the mass.
6 months prior to New Year’s Eve
NK: I’m a 6’4” man dressed as a homeless street person and she just came right up to me to ask if I had enough money for the subway. She’s insane.
Aman: Which makes her fucking perfect.
5 months 3 weeks prior to New Year’s Eve
NK: Had one of our guys drop a wallet full of cash in front of her yesterday. She just handed it back, not even a dollar missing.
Aman: Hell, I would’ve taken a dollar.
5 months prior to New Year’s Eve
NK: Fuck me. She just paid for my coffee with her tip money.
Aman: Meet me at Gramercy, 8 sharp.
NK: This a date?
Aman: You paying?
Aman: Then, no.
Gramercy Tavern, New York
Aman looked at NK expectantly across the stately leaflet table of Gramercy’s private dining room. “Well?”
“I’ll call Chet, we’ll dig.”
“Pull the usual employee’s background check, but that’s it.”
Aman leaned back in his chair, studying the rustic chandelier and wood-beamed ceiling thoughtfully. He gave the same perusal to the amber tumbler in front of him. Minutes later, he picked it up, throwing back the entire content of bourbon before answering.
“Arnav was fourteen when we first came to New York. The first thing he did was go to the mill with our uncle. When I was fourteen, I was enrolled in the best local high school and playing varsity soccer. Every evening we would both come home at seven covered in sweat, mine from practice, his from labor. After dinner, I plowed through my homework assignments, and then spent the rest of the evening on the phone with some girl.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“I need this off my chest NK. And fuck, besides you I don’t trust anybody to not go to the nearest media outlet and vomit all this back to some reporter.”
“As long as you know I consider this overtime.”
“Dammit asshole, I’m spilling my guts here!”
NK’s expression turned serious. “Go on.”
“We still shared a room then. I woke up one night, it was close to one am, and Arnav was hunched over the desk, pouring over my assignments. He was so engrossed he didn’t even hear me. The next morning, everything was stacked just as I left them. All throughout high school he did it. I never asked him about it since he took pains to hide it. For years I never gave it much thought, until he came home three years ago after speaking at the graduation ceremony.”
“Yeah. It’s something to be proud of, but he looked at the framed diploma with such acrimony. He tossed it behind some drawer, but he kept the shirt. You know what I saw beneath that bitterness? Yearning. And it clicked then. He would’ve given anything to have earned it. Instead I got an Ivy League education, he paid for.”
“He doesn’t expect-”
“That’s just it. He doesn’t expect. Why the fuck not? He should. He’s one of the most influential men in the world and yet, he has shit to show for it. He’s always been more father than brother. He’s strong. Jesus so strong mentally, nothing could knock him down. But dammit NK, Arnav isn’t living. And I’ve had my head so far up my ass, I didn’t see it. His first million came at 24. He sweated blood for it. Mine was deposited into a bank without fanfare the day I turned 21. Handed to me on a fucking platter! He’s trained himself to have zero expectations from all us. If Nani presents him with an arranged marriage he’ll do it for her. Well fuck that. I’m also a Raizada and damned if I will let him make this sacrifice too.”
“You’re …different. This Anjali’s influence?”
“A woman, the right one, points your compass in the right direction.”
“I get all that, but why don’t you want a look into this girl?”
“Because a girl named Khushi must be a sign right?”
“Logically? No. And from the standpoint of a lawyer, it’s suicide.”
“What of the standpoint of a human being? Does being a lawyer or a businessman take us out of the running? When did we become so cynical?”
“It’s called being cautious.”
“I want a woman who’s fiery enough to breathe him back to life. Thaw that frozen organ he calls a heart. Hell sometimes I don’t know if he’s alive. He operates like a fucking robot. There’s a man beneath that. It’s selfish, but I want my brother back. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Aman paused as a server entered the room to refill their drinks.
“Sometimes, it’s sheer dumb luck. Like finding a woman who’s pretty, but not pretentious, someone who with a little effort could take a man to his knees, but doesn’t play the games. She’s soft, you’ve seen it, but there’s a backbone behind it. We are so dependent on each other; you know she’s taking on all of us. I don’t want any prejudice on our part. I’m going to love her, NK, because she’s going to give him what he needs.”
“And what’s that?”
“All my life I just stood by and took from him. Hell it wasn’t until I looked through Anjali’s eyes that I really saw my reflection. The man in the mirror… he shamed me. Youth passed him by and now life is passing him by. The fuck I’ll let love pass him by as well. He’s overdue.”
“He doesn’t share your sentiment.”
“He may have delivered that first million on his own, but I had a hand in amassing our current net worth. And it wasn’t done by going against my instincts. I could be wrong, but hell I need to bet on something more substantial than AR’s general ledger. So we do a criminal background check, not doing so would be senseless, but otherwise we accept her at face value.”
“What of skeletons? We’ve always operated on the principle of better safe than sorry.”
“Everyone has secrets. Anjali and I lasted because she took on mine, and trusted me with hers. An expiration date for a relationship depends on how many secrets the couple shares and how much they trust each other with those secrets.”
“Fuck me. Aman, the romantic, who knew?”
“Oh your turn will come and then we’ll see. I think a dreamer will do for you.”
“What would I do with a dreamer?” NK scoffed.
“If Arnav is ice then you’re a fucking rock. You’re so glued to the ground with your practicality it’s a wonder the sky isn’t foreign to you. A girl with dreams tucked in her heart is a good balance.”
At NK’s stare, Aman grinned.
“Hell it’s greedy, but I want it all for us. What do we have to show for the last six years, but a neat row of numbers in the bank and a series of forgettable lays more interested in our greens than anything else? Best night of my life was a bare faced Anjali in some seriously ugly frog pjs telling me she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the bad boy, but she loves the good man beneath.”
“She sure dug deep for that,” NK raised his drink in toast.
“It took more than a shovel,” Aman agreed readily, clinking glass against glass.
Placing his emptied tumbler down, NK gave Aman a raised eyebrow, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
“Robert Burns wasn’t a lawyer from Princeton… and are you really going to side with a Scot poet from the 1700s?”
“Arnav is not going to like being manipulated.”
“We aren’t manipulating anything… just engineering a desired outcome.”
At NK’s skeptical look, Aman exploded.
“He lives in grey while he gives those around him colors; he’s due an explosion of fireworks. From now on, I plan to be his equal. And if I have to fight him, I will. And if I have to fight you, I’m ready for that too.”
NK studied Aman, an unusual gleam in his eyes, “You’re a good man, Aman Singh Raizada”
“I’ve walked amongst the best. Now, you in?”
“All in, mate.”
3 months prior to New Year’s Eve
Subject: Vendor approval list for NY’s party
Arnav: Kumar’s Catering? We’ve never used them before.
NK: They came highly recommended.
Arnav: You vetted them?
Arnav: Fine. Send them the contract.