The 7 Innocents

John 7:24
'Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'



Isaiah 64:6
'But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;'


It was when their problems seemed to wane that they escalated. The Australians all disappeared, and the seminary shut down. They were told to run for their lives. Told if they didn’t, their families would die. Told if they did, their families would still die.
They endeavoured to solve the mystery – one that threatened to destroy them and their families – but soon realised that to end it all, they must first find the Australians. But the closer they came to finding them, the more they began to see they should run and never come back.
The question, of course, is why they didn’t call the police.
The answer is simple.
You can’t avoid being condemned unless you’re innocent.
And these men are not.

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37. Chapter Thirty-Six: The 7 Husbands

 

 

The only thing Mehmet really had to do before his wedding was send copy of the contract to Balraj. He had posted another copy of it on the internet, and made sure everyone had deleted the copies of that list that Gopi had given him.

                Things would be fine now. They would get away with everything – and IndAid would get away with mostly everything.

 

Mehmet and Sara’s wedding was certainly the most boring of all the weddings. In fact, the only interesting thing that happened was Mehmet’s announcement. He told them about the BSI.

                ‘It has re-opened!’ He declared. ‘I can finish my masters!’

                The men had begun to settle into routine life, taking care of affairs in Australia and finding jobs wherever they were. Suneep found a job as a music teacher and chaplain at a school near Arjun’s parents’ house, so spent much time there, as did Arjun and his small family, still trying to get to know his relatives.

                Suneep was amazed at the size of Arjun’s family. There always seemed to be some new uncle or aunty coming over for dinner. He imagined Alyssa must be feeling overwhelmed, but she certainly didn’t look it. This pleased Suneep. It told him she had not changed a bit. As for Suneep, he was soon part of the furniture at the house, and Karuna treated him as her child.

                ‘Suneep!’ She said one afternoon. ‘I need potatoes, onions, and lettuce. Please go to the market and get some for me, I’ll send Brayna with you.’

                Suneep never argued with these simply requests, and so he and Brayna had set out.

                The market was very packed that day, so the chore took far longer than it should have. Eventually, though, Suneep elbowed his way through a crowd and brought the need onions. When he turned around, he saw Brayna being confronted by some cruel looking girls. He frowned, and walked up behind the girl defensively.

                ‘Is everything all right?’

                The oldest girl crossed her arms and replied hotly. ‘Oh, go away. It’s not like you can beat us up.’

                Suneep blinked. ‘Why not?’

                The girls’ faces fell instantly, and they left, unsure as to whether or not he was teasing them.

                ‘Thank you.’ Brayna sighed. The two began journeying home.

                ‘Who were they?’ Suneep asked. ‘They looked mean.’

                Brayna shrugged. ‘They only call me names. It’s all right.’

                Suneep nodded, and there was a pause. ‘Hey,’ he finally spoke again, ‘have you ever eaten a raw potato?’

                ‘No. Don’t you get sick?’

                ‘Not always, but I did. I was in agony for a day at least.’

                Brayna laughed. ‘That is very predictable of you, Suneep.’

                ‘Ha, I bet you have eaten a raw onion.’

                The girl smiled sheepishly. ‘Good job.’

                Ten minutes passed before Suneep realised the girl was carrying the bag of potatoes. ‘Oh!’ He cried. ‘That is far too heavy! Here, you carry the lettuce.’

                ‘But then you will have 2 heavy bags.’

                ‘So? I am very strong.’ Suneep replied, raising his eyebrows playfully. Brayna shook her head and gave in.

                The two continued home, chatting happily as they always did. Then, when they reached the house, Karun asked Brayna to make dinner.

                ‘I’ll help.’ Suneep offered, pushing up his sleeves. ‘I am a wonderful cook.’

                Brayna did not believe him, and made that clear with a doubtful raise of her eyebrow.

                Suneep was not as bad a cook as he could have been, though he was a little too clumsy to be considered wonderful. But at least dinner that night was not too interesting.

 

Danny always went grocery shopping with Parvati for two reasons: one, she struggled to carry the groceries herself, and two, not everyone was aware yet that she was now married. It was on one such trip that Danny spotted someone he knew, and froze in absolute shock.

                ‘Who is it?’ His wife following his gaze. ‘Oh!’ She cried immediately. ‘A blonde!’

                Suddenly, Danny started running. ‘Liberty!’ He cried.

                The woman turned around instantly, followed shortly by her husband. Their shock was complete.

                ‘You’re alive!?’ Vijay cried, smiling. ‘Are you all alive?’

                ‘Yes.’ Danny replied. ‘No thanks to you. Didn’t you read the papers?’

                Vijay shook his head. ‘We have been in Australia.’

                An awkward silence fell, during which Parvati approached. Vijay promptly began speaking to her.

                ‘Danny,’ Liberty said eventually. ‘Do you think we could all still be friends?’

                ‘You were never our enemy.’ Danny replied bluntly. ‘You were convinced as we were that it was Vijay.’

                Liberty blushed. ‘Do not worry, Danny. I am happy.’

                Danny smiled a little, understanding what she meant to say: she did not hate her husband.

                ‘Why aren’t you dead?’ The woman asked abruptly. ‘Why didn’t Balraj’s organisation kill you? I didn’t see anything about them in the paper.’

                Danny shifted, wondering if he should trust Liberty. He decided he could at least, and so explained everything to her.

                ‘We made a deal – signed a contract. It was pretty simple really. It involved us destroying the evidence we had against them, and them keeping quiet about us.’

                Liberty frowned. ‘So they get away with it all?’

                Danny sighed. ‘Not really… their group isn’t really trusted anymore. They’ll have hard times for a while at least.’

                Liberty nodded, and Vijay suddenly realised he was being excluded from a seemingly deep conversation.

                ‘I saw Ardi and Mikael in Australia.’ He put in, clueless as to what his wife was talking about. ‘They are very well, and probably staying there.’

                Danny smiled and nodded, pretending for Liberty’s sake to like Vijay. ‘Did you hear the BSI re-opened? Mehmet and Sara, his new wife, are there.’

                The group continued such friendly chit-chat for half-an-hour, until it reached a point where everyone was certain that they were still undeniably friends.

 

 Mehmet stopped in his tracks.

                ‘Balraj Mukul!’ He cried, his heart skipping a beat in terror. ‘Please tell me you are not coming back to the BSI? Or – no! Please do not tell me you are here to shoot me!’

                Balraj smiled, and out stepped Calvin. ‘We’ve worked things out.’ He promised. ‘I received your contract, and it stands. You’re safe, as are we. But – I will say, just to comfort you – we are struggling. Nobody trusts as anymore.’

                Fair enough, Mehmet thought.

                ‘But no, we will not be returning. We just wanted to check up on you. All of you. You’re the only one that’s seen us so far.’

                Mehmet shuddered. ‘You are stalkers.’

                ‘Yes.’ Balraj admitted. ‘By the way, your wedding was lovely. We’re still holding out for Suneep’s.’

                ‘Suneep? Married? To who?’

                This was all foolishness. Mehmet did not want to be talking to these people – these blackmailers, these…. Well, they were one of the only reasons he wasn’t in jail, weren’t they?

                Calvin shrugged and answered Mehmet’s question. ‘That’s why we’re holding out.’

                Mehmet laughed, and the men walked away without another word: avoiding another awkward silence. It actually relieved Mehmet a little and came him a certain sense of satisfaction. He did not want to be friends with these men, and he did not want them to think they were friends. He would never forgive them.

And he could never forget.

Dr. Ashwin had obviously overheard the last remark and approached brightly.

                ‘That will be one wedding I can’t miss.’ He said, making himself laugh.

                Mehmet smiled, trying to hide the melancholy emotions that had suddenly welled up within him. ‘Hmm. It will be a curious day.’

 

Arjun and his entire family arrived at Suneep’s house for dinner, though Suneep himself was nowhere to be found. Brayna smiled as soon as she heard this, and turned to Alyssa, who was also smiling. They knew where to find him.

                The two walked casually into the massive backyard, up to the tree house in the magnificent Boab at the end of the property.

                ‘Suneep!’ Brayna called up to him. ‘Why are you hiding?’

                The man rolled over, and smiled at the two comically, and upside down. ‘Are they gone?’ He asked.

                ‘Who?’

                ‘The Kharan family. Seven daughters and mama insists I must marry one.’ He sat up and turned to face his friends. ‘I hate them. So I hid.’ His face lit up cheekily, and Alyssa and Brayna could not help but smile. ‘I have been reading Calvin.’ He continued. ‘So have not been wasting my time.

                ‘Which means you went on Facebook.’ Alyssa teased.

                ‘Not for long!’ Suneep objected. Then he quickly scrambled down. ‘So? What’s new?’

                Alyssa shrugged and turned to Brayna. ‘I was invited to an 18th birthday party.’ The girl offered. ‘A very big one.’

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. ‘That is fun. Are you going?’

                ‘That’s what I told her. It is for Pushpa Govind.’

                Suneep’s face fell immediately. ‘Govind Paul’s daughter?’

                ‘Yes, that’s her. You know her?’

                ‘Oh, yes. Her brothers…’ He hesitated. ‘They are not safe. Brayna, you must not go.’

                Brayna frowned. ‘But I already said I was going.’

                ‘Please, you can’t.’

                ‘Why? What’s wrong with them?’

                ‘I should not say. Brayna, you have to trust me.’ He held the girl’s gaze intently, earnestly, and desperately hoped she would listen. How was he meant to explain what they had done? She would only tell him to go to the police, and he had no witnesses… it would sound like madness.

                Brayna did not seem inclined to trust Suneep. ‘Suneep,’ she began, ‘it’s fine. I promise I won’t go near them.’

                ‘No, Brayna, it is not fine!’ Suneep cried, beginning to lose patience. ‘Do not make me explain things, just trust me!’

                ‘Suneep!’ A voice suddenly cried. ‘It’s dinner time.’ It was his father, of course.

                Alyssa was surprised when Brayna more or less stormed off, obviously unhappy with what she had been told. The night was very odd after that. Brayna refused to speak to Suneep, and Alyssa tried to reason with her.

                ‘He just wants to boss me around.’ The girl muttered. ‘Because he is tired of being bossed.’

                ‘I understand, Brayna, but maybe you should listen.’

                ‘I don’t want to, Alyssa. Please, I really want to go to this party. Do not stop me!’

                Alyssa backed down, though she knew she would have to say something.  As the group was leaving, Suneep pulled her aside and whispered in her ear.

                ‘Don’t worry.’ He whispered. ‘Let her go.’

                Alyssa looked at Suneep quizzically, and saw his face seemed perfectly relaxed. Perhaps Brayna had been right after all. She left calm and reassured.

 

‘Did you hear about INDependent?’ Arjun asked, as he waited impatiently for the traffic to clear.

                That was probably the only thing he missed about Australia – the clear traffic. With the exception of the Monash, there was nothing even remotely like this in Melbourne.

                Alyssa turned to her husband interestedly. ‘No. What about them?’

                ‘Well,’ Arjun continued, ‘what Mehmet, Bikram, and Chandan kept from us was the fact that Balraj shot Gopi. Mehmet didn’t tell me until yesterday, when I saw an article that mentioned his death in the paper.’

                Alyssa frowned. ‘Why would they keep that a secret?’

                Arjun shook his head. ‘Mehmet said they agreed that it would only worry us. They wanted everyone to be happy, so they didn’t tell us anything – including how Balraj tried to kill them after he killed Gopi.’

                Alyssa’s eyes had gone wide, and she sighed. ‘I thought we were over secrets.’

                ‘I think we are now.’ Arjun returned. ‘But I suppose you’re never really over secrets. That is kind of who we are – it’s why we were chosen in the first place.’

                Alyssa sighed and nodded. ‘I suppose so. And… what of the organisation?’

                ‘Gone. Virtually non-existent. Most of their officials were arrested, others are missing completely. All were fired.’

                Alyssa seemed discontented by this news. ‘And IndAid gets away with it all.’

                Arjun shifted uncomfortably. ‘But so did we… I mean, not you Australians, but…’

                Alyssa laughed here. ‘I know what you mean, Arjun.’ She smiled. ‘But you can refer to us as ‘we’ if you like. I don’t mind.’

                Arjun laughed too, seeing a perfect opportunity to use his wife’s words to his advantage. ‘All right then. We really need to paint the house.’

                Alyssa shook her head, but did not otherwise respond to her husband’s teasing.

 

It was five minutes before Brayna had to go to the party, and she was feeling a little nervous. This was a big deal to her, as Pushpa was extremely popular. Like it or not the girl held the key to making your life a living Hell, as she had not only people, but money. Brayna was often snubbed and ignored, but tonight held the potential to fix all of that. Just the fact she was invited helped.

                She did not wear a sari tonight. Instead she wore Western clothes, an outfit Pushpa had ‘suggested’. She felt a little uncomfortable in the ridiculous heels and small dress, but couldn’t really pick anything wrong with it. The skirt was a few inches above the knee, and the dress had no sleeves. It seemed decent enough though. She felt strangely odd wearing make-up, and briefly wondered what on Earth she was doing.

                ‘Come on, Brayna!’ Akash called, and Brayna knew it was time to go. Her long hair was down, and she flicked it out of her eyes. Then she went out to her brother.

                Almost as soon as she had entered the kitchen the front door opened, and in burst Suneep – dressed up for a party, with his hair spiked at the front, but looking far too formal. His leathers and eye make-up would have been more fitting for this party.

                ‘I’ll take her.’ He declared, shocking Akash.

                ‘No!’ Brayna cried frustratedly. ‘Leave me alone!’

                Suneep frowned at her. ‘I brought my Ferrari.’ Then, suddenly, he walked right up to her and led her to the bathroom. ‘What are you wearing?’ He asked. ‘Wash your face now, and then put something more decent on.’

                ‘Suneep!’ Brayna cried, as Akash walked in.

                ‘Suneep, she looks fine!’ He objected.

                ‘She looks cheap!’ Suneep, waving at the girl and not mincing his words. ‘Though admittedly better than the other girls, who look free.’

                Akash was angry. ‘Don’t call Brayna cheap. She is fine, leave her alone.’

                Brayna, however, was already washing her face, tears filling her eyes. Mehtar entered the room before the fighting really started, and quickly worked out what was going on.

                ‘Akash,’ he said quietly, ‘if she did not wear make-up, high-heels, or at least smaller heels, and had a skirt longer by about 2 or 4 inches, she would be, as you say, fine. I agree with Suneep.’

                Brayna threw off her shoes and walked out significantly shorter. She came out of her room five minutes later with her hair French braided, with a cap-sleeved red dress that touched her knees. She still wore heels, but they were actually decent this time.

                Suneep smiled warmly at her as she came out. ‘Much better.’ He encouraged her. ‘Please do not be fooled by Pushpa. Do nothing you feel uncomfortable with, okay?’

                Brayna nodded somberly.

                ‘She’ll be cold.’ Mehtar called distractedly, reading a newspaper.

                Suneep nodded, and surprised the girl by stepping into her room and opening her wardrobe.

                ‘Suneep!’ She cried. ‘What are you doing?’

                ‘Finding you a jacket.’ Suneep replied, not really thinking about his actions. He found a short blue jacket and held it out. ‘This is cool.’

                ‘That was for the other dress.’

                ‘Wear it, it’s cool. You want to look cool.’

                ‘Red and blue don’t match.’

                ‘They can. Put on the blue shoes, blue ribbon in your hair. They’ll match. Do you have sunglasses? I bought blue ones for you… I would love it if you wore blue.’

                Brayna smiled. ‘Did you say you brought or bought?’

                ‘Bought. I got them just for you. I don’t normally by girl’s sunglasses. See, they will make your outfit match.’

                ‘But Suneep, it’s night time.’

                Suneep smiled. ‘So you will be extra cool, wearing sunglasses in the dark.’

                Brayna cheered up a lot, and slipped into some blue flats. She quickly put a blue bow in her hair and slid on the provided glasses. Putting on the jacket, she was surprised to find she did match.

                ‘It does look cool.’ She said, as Suneep pushed her in front of the bathroom mirror. Akash said nothing, but obviously agreed. Brayna turned around and shocked Suneep by suddenly hugging him. ‘Thank you, Suneep.’

                Suneep was afraid he wouldn’t be able to reply, and only barely squeaked, ‘welcome.’ Then, pushing her away confusedly, he walked out. ‘We should go.’

                Akash seemed relieved to have his changed taken away, and Mehtar had no problem with his daughter’s new driver.

                ‘Don’t crash.’ Was all he said.

                Suneep was careful to make a big deal out of his car when he dropped Brayna off. He gleaned great satisfaction when he heard everyone excitedly whispering about her, the cool girl who had shown up in a Ferrari.

                As he drove off, he began searching for a parking spot – because there was no way he was leaving her alone. Parking his car carefully around the corner, he snuck into the party and situated himself so that he could see Brayna but she could not see him.

                He was already completely bored and exhausted. He’d had a long week at work, and his part-time job at the restaurant kept giving him the right shifts. He’d had a lot of trouble getting off this night’s shift, and it had occurred to him he could use it to sleep. But he was here instead. Stalking Brayna.

                Why? He wondered. She didn’t really deserve this. She was headed for trouble and had ignored his advice. She deserved to get in trouble. But Suneep didn’t want her to. He couldn’t say why.

                The first two hours passed slowly, and very little happened. Pushpa, at least, was happy, and said she was far more pleased with the outfit Brayna was wearing than the one she had given her, even if she had ignored her advice.

                The party only had half-an-hour to go when the girl’s brothers came out. Suneep had been drifting off to sleep, but he jumped up now. He knew these young men far too well to ignore them. It was hard to explain what was wrong with them, because he did not have anyone to agree with him, and he did not like the words he would have to use to do so. Now he thought about it, he supposed he could have just told Brayna that they had gained a reputation in high school for spiking people’s drinks. But then she would have simply promised not to drink.

                He watched them walking around towards the beverages, and knew he should have just told her. Told her that, thanks to these boys, Shaktiah had nearly died. And because of these boys, many of his class mates actually had. He would never understand the sick entertainment they gleaned from the practice, nor how they managed to conceal it from those to whom it would make a difference. He was one of the few that knew, but who believed him? He had learned to say nothing, as people thought him cruel for saying such a thing. It was especially cruel to Pushpa, they said, who was certainly not as shady as her brothers. 

Suneep couldn’t stand and watch the two men do what they did, and before he knew it he was looking them in the eye.

                ‘Vadin.’ The elder greeted him. ‘Going to try and stop us again?’

                Suneep nodded. ‘Unfortunately I can only ask you. You know what happens when I turn you in.’

                The boys snickered knowingly.

                'We're not going to stop.'

                'Stop what?' A confident voice interrupted.

                The boys' eyes filled with fear, and Suneep was relieved to see Pushpa.

                'Spiking your drinks.' He answered. 'They have killed many of my friends by doing so. Please stop them, if at all possible.'

                The girl's face fell, but something told Suneep the girl knew. So now looked like a good time to get out of there. He looked around from Brayna, but was unable to find her anywhere. Then, to his surprise, he found she was right behind him. Suneep grew nervous. Had she overheard the conversation?

                'Thank you, Suneep.'

                Yes, she had.

                'I did not want to tell you.' Suneep replied mournfully.

                'No, it's better this way. I should have trusted you. You are not as simple as I believed. I know better now, and I am sorry. Very, very sorry.' She hugged the man again, and he blushed immediately.

                'Why do you keep hugging?' He asked, wiring her hands off him.

                Brayna frowned. 'You hug Alyssa. I figured it wouldn't bother you. Sorry, from now on I'll shake your hand.' Smiling, she shook his hand. Then, while he shifted nervously, she walked out. Suneep quickly recomposed himself and followed the girl.

                'You are right!' He cried after her. 'Do not ask me why you threw me out.'

                He led Brayna to the car and shook his head to wake himself up a bit more, though he was nowhere near as tired as he had been previously. The drive home was fairly easy, though it was nearly midnight by the time they got there.

                As soon as he had parked the car, Suneep groaned and hit his head on the steering wheel. 'I am so tired.'

                'Me too.' Brayna replied. 'But I had a good time. Thank you for watching me all night.'

                Suneep blinked. 'You were not meant to notice.'

                'I kind of worked it out, Suneep.'

                Suneep smiled and raised his eyebrows. 'Well,' he finally said, 'I had better take you to the door. Make sure no-one kidnaps you on the way.' He chuckled tiredly, before dragging himself out of the car.

                Brayna skipped happily to the front door and entered the house quietly. She found, to her surprise, that her parents and Akash were all still awake.

                'Hello!' She cried excitedly.

                'Had a good night?' Mehtar asked tiredly.  Brayna nodded eagerly.

                'Where's Suneep?' Akash asked, glancing at the door. 'He can't drive home at this time of night.'

Brayna quickly ran out after the man and cried, 'stay, Suneep! Don't die in a car crash because of me!'

                Suneep smiled tiredly. 'I'll be fine, Brayna. Besides, I have to work in the morning and there's nowhere to park my car. I have to walk, and I can't do that from here.'

                Brayna nodded reluctantly. 'Okay then, drive safely.'

                Suneep nodded lazily and slid into the driver's seat. He drove away tiredly, but at the same time with an amount of expertise, so that Brayna was not inclined to worry about him.

                She stood in the dark for a while, enjoying the silence. As she did, she realised just how tired she was and crept back inside.

 

Suneep set his alarm for 6.30, and groaned at the thought of only having 5 and a half hours sleep. He worried that he would sleep in, and so set two more alarms. One for 6:35, and the other for 6:40. He was dismayed when he woke up at 6.

                Suneep fell into a very busy routing over the next few months. He worked nearly 24/7, and slept when he was not working. Besides his family, the only people he saw outside of work were the people at church. He continually wondered why he was working so hard, but fell asleep before he could work out why.

He enjoyed his job at the school, and - as always - the children had taken to him very well. But other than that he didn't enjoy his jobs.

                He had heard Arjun and Alyssa had gone back to Australia, and did not plan to be back until Brayna's 17th birthday. They hoped to be returning with their new baby. The months passed quickly, and when they returned, Suneep cut back on his hours and went to see them. He was thrilled to find everyone else had the same idea.

                'Danny! Parvati!' He cried, nearly crashing into their hired car. 'Mehmet and Sara!' He added, noting they were in the back seat.

                Alyssa had had a boy, a very sweet looking child, and had not named him after anyone.

                'Jonathan Ajay Arjun.' Arjun informed everyone excitedly, but uselessly, as they all already knew.

                'He is so cute!' Ashima squealed, and Chandan nodded. That was probably the most Suneep had ever heard the young wife speak.

                Suneep felt strangely out of place at this gathering. There was Arjun, Alyssa, and their three children, Mehmet and Sara, Bikram and Joy, Danny and Parvati, Chandan and Ashima, and even Josha and Amy. He was content to be out of place, though, so long as no-one pointed it out. But, of course, they could not abide that.

                'When will you get married, Suneep?' Mehmet teased. 'You should have been first.'

                Suneep smiled, but his eyes showed his annoyance. 'Yes, so you have no right to tease me.'

                Arjun's family entered, providing a welcome distraction.

                'Happy Birthday!' Everyone cried, though Brayna's 17th had been yesterday. Suneep felt warmed to see the girl and her family. He hadn't really seen them since Pushpa's party.

                After everyone had gotten over congratulating her on her birthday, they turned back to the small Jonathan. Brayna took this opportunity to speak to Suneep.

                She looked very beautiful, Suneep thought, wearing a mustard coloured Punjabi dress. Her hair was neatly brushed, and Suneep knew she had done nothing all day so as to keep it that way.

                'Today is special?' He asked eventually, curious as to why she had kept it neat.

                Brayna was confused by this remark. 'No. Why?'

                'Your hair is neat.'

                Brayna laughed. 'Thanks, Suneep. It's good to see you too.'

                'No! It was not an insult. Come on, tell me why you have kept your hair so neat.'

                'We're visiting some-one after this.' Brayna replied. 'So I had to. Between you and me, I think I am being set up.'

                Suneep laughed delightedly. 'Already?'

                'Yes. Anyway, did you hear? Pushpa's brothers were arrested last month.'

                Suneep seemed strangely upset by this news, yet also happy. 'That is good, and about time.'

                'Hmm. I am grateful to you for what you did that night. Even re-dressing me. I shudder to think I nearly wore that outfit.'

                Suneep only raised his eyebrows in reply.

                An awkward silence fell, which was unusual, as neither party could think of anything to say.

                'So...' Suneep eventually began, trying to make things seem as awkward as possible. 'Did you miss me?'

                Brayna laughed. 'Ah-uh. Did you miss me?'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows and shook his head. Then the two laughed happily. 'You know, I was thinking the other day,' Suneep began, feeling comfortable again.

                'Amazing.' Brayna interrupted.

                Suneep pretended to ignore this and continued. 'I realise that I have not had to go searching outside for you to tell you it is dinner time for a long time.'

                'I'm sure you could fix that.'

                'I guess so. But I never really liked looking for you. Your backyard is not even big, and you are always so hard to find!'

                Brayna only smiled proudly.

 

After that gathering, Suneep realised he was tired of cutting himself off from everyone, and dropped few hours at work. He began having dinner with Arjun's family again, which was quite the social occasion while the others were still in Nepal. Eventually, though, they left, and Suneep expected the dinner table to be largely empty. He found it was still packed.

                'Suneep!' Karuna cried, smiling brightly. She had taken very strongly to the young man, and continued to grow fonder of him every day. 'Have you met this kind family?'

                Suneep shook his head and looked at the table. Four sons.

                Brayna chatted happily with the eldest man, about two years older than him, and looked very grown up. He didn't know how she had achieved that, but she had, and it was disturbing.

                Suneep was seated next to Akash, and the two began whispering. 'Are you setting Brayna up with him?!' Suneep hissed. 'He is at least 10 years older than her!'

                Akash frowned. 'Of course not! We want her to marry the nineteen year old. But she gets alone with the 26 year old much better, and it makes me uneasy. Look! See how she even looks older?'

                Suneep frowned, and he and Akash glared at the two for the rest of the night.

                The family left late, while Suneep and Akash promptly did the dishes, and Brayna happily started to help.

                'You're not mean to shun the 19 year old.' Akash grumbled.

                'He's 26.' Suneep added.

                Brayna frowned. 'What are you talking about? The 19 year old hates me ¨C he told me so himself - and the 26 year old and I are just friends.' Suneep laughed. 'What? Don't you believe that's possible?'

                'You certainly dress up for him.' Akash muttered.

                Brayna frowned. 'I was told to dress up. I don't do it because I want to. And if I have convinced you otherwise I will wear rags next time!' With this, the girl stormed onto the balcony.  Suneep followed her, though he was not sure why.

                'Sorry.' He said, before thinking. 'Sorry we upset you.'

                Brayna shook her head. 'Do not be sorry, dai. It's all right.'

                Suneep flinched. 'Do not say that.'

                Wait. What was he saying?

                'Bhainee.' He quickly added.

                Strange, he felt like a liar. But he couldn't be. He forced himself to remember what he'd done with Alyssa.

                'Why?' Brayna asked, confused. 'Do you want to be told you're guilty?'

                Suneep smiled playfully. 'Yup.' There was a pause, which he finally broke. 'Do you even want to get married young?'

                Brayna shrugged. 'Only to someone I am very good friends with... so I don't think it will happen.'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. 'Didn't you say you were friends with 'the 26 year old'?' He moved his fingers up and down in mockery of her.

                Brayna rolled her eyes. 'That is not what I meant.'

                'We are friends.'

                'No, you are my dai.'

                Suneep frowned at these words. 'Really?'

                'Yes. That is what you told me.'

                Suneep shrugged. 'But I am your friend too, right?'

                Brayna shrugged back at him. 'That is up to you.'

                'I decide I would rather be your friend, saathi.'

                Brayna frowned, a little concerned. Yet she could not work out what it was Suneep was getting at. 'Okay.' She said at last. 'I will call you dai and saathi.'

                Suneep nodded gladly, and Brayna relaxed. 'I have to go.' He said suddenly. 'See you tomorrow.'

                Brayna followed Suneep inside. 'Okay, and I will wear rags just for you.'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows and smiled. 'You will look beautiful in rags.' Then he laughed and left the house.  Akash laughed too, and winked at his sister.

                'What was that for?' She asked, discomforted.

                Akash raised his eyebrows like Suneep and turned away. 'Nothing, bhainee, nothing.'

 

Something hit Suneep within those 24 hours, and he returned the following evening with a goal in his mind. He was very surprised when, upon entering, Akash pulled him aside.

                'Suneep!' He cried. 'Brayna is to be married to Govind!'

                'Wait, who is that?'

                'The 19 year old!'

                Suneep's mouth fell open.

                'I'm serious!' Akash persisted, a strange glint in his eyes.

                'Well....' Suneep stammered eventually. 'Is she happy?'

                Akash frowned. 'What do you mean, 'is she happy'?'

                'As long as she is happy, it's all right.'

                'Suneep, Govind hates her!'

                Suneep smiled a little, as he realised what Akash was trying to do. 'I just want her to be happy, Akash. Is Brayna happy?'

                Brayna stepped into the room and asked, 'happy about what?'

                'About being engaged to Govind.'

                Akash sighed, as Brayna frowned. 'I am not engaged to anyone ¨C or at least not that I know about. And if I were engaged to Govind, I would be happy at all.'

                Suneep smiled widely. 'That is what I thought.' Then, looking out the window, he saw Mehtar in the backyard and went out.

                He knew what Akash had been trying to do and thought it strange. He needn't have bothered anyway, as what had seemingly hit Akash had also hit Suneep.

                'Suneep!' Mehtar cried as he approached. 'How are you?'

                'Good thank you. How are you?'

                'Also good, thanks. You look very determined today. I imagine you're not coming to me for chit-chat today.' He smiled. 'You know, it's nice to have some-one who speaks to me even when they don't want something. Unlike Mehmet.' He muttered the last part under his breath.

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. 'I think you have worked out why I have come.'

                'Ha! I've been waiting for it, Suneep. Waiting since day one. When did you work it out?'

                Suneep smiled. 'Some time last night.'

                'Very prompt then. That's good. Well, out with it then.'

                Suneep nodded and made a deceleration ¨C or was he posing a question? He wasn't quite sure. Mehtar's reaction was amusing.

                'What?' He cried.

                Suneep's face fell. 'Sir, I thought we were on the same page.'

                'We sort of were!' Mehtar replied. 'But I was expecting something a little more dramatic than that!'

                Suneep laughed. 'Sorry. But I prefer things to be gradual.'

                Mehtar nodded, rather pleased by this. 'Well, you have my blessing. Cut to the chase as soon as you please - tomorrow if you like! So long as we're all there, I'm happy.'

                Suneep smiled. 'Don't worry. I promise you will all be there.'

 

It had become routine for Arjun's family to visit Suneep and his family for dinner once every so often, and the following night was one such day. Mehtar was extremely surprised and disappointed that Suneep had not yet done anything about his grand idea, but knew he would do so in his own good time.

                Before dinner, Brayna, Suneep, Alyssa, and her two oldest children went outside. The three took turns on the large swing, as the children played with the numerous toys set before them by Suneep's mother.

Suneep kindly pushed the girls on the swing, until he crossed over and pushed them so high that they screamed. Then he would laugh and pretend he couldn't hear them.

                'Suneep, you're wicked!' Alyssa cried, considering jumping off the swing.

                'Sorry?' Suneep replied, laughing. 'Did you say something?'

                As soon as the swing slowed sufficiently, Alyssa ran off desperately. Turning to Suneep, she found the man eyed her intently. She had only ever seen that look once before, and that was when he told her he was going to ask Shaktiah to marry him.

                'I should go inside.' She said, collecting her children, who were miraculously still clean.

                Suneep winked at her discreetly as she went inside and Alyssa smiled right back at him. Then he had turned to Brayna.

                'Get on the swing.'

                Brayna shook her head. 'No, saathi! I refuse.'

                Suneep made a pouty face. 'Please? I will not push you high at all.'

                The girl gave in hesitantly, and Suneep smiled. He had been watching her closely for the past day or so, and was certain that her father had spoken of their conversation. He had expected that. In fact, he had been relying on it so as to warm the girl up to his proposition.

                As Brayna sat on the seat, Suneep readied to push. Then he suddenly ran in front of her and knelt instead.

                'Brayna,' he said seriously, 'will you marry me?' The girl's eyes widened and he laughed. 'I am sorry; I cannot look so serious for long. But what do you say?'

                Brayna simply stared at him in shock for a long time. Then she said, 'Papa said you were not yet asking for marriage...'

                Suneep stood up and winked. 'I relied on that, didn't I? See, this is not so sudden. You had an inkling it was coming, and he didn't get to ruin my proposal.'

                Brayna laughed incredulously, and said nothing for a long time. 'Yes.' She finally replied. 'Yes, all right, I will.'

                Suneep beamed. 'Sweet! So shall we tell them now?'

                'Okay.'

                The two chuckled, and walked inside arm in arm. As soon as they entered the lounge room, Mehtar, Akash, Karuna, and Alyssa stared at them, sure something must have happened. Brayna and Suneep decided to have a little fun and turned to the other angrily. They sat cross-legged on either side of the room, and managed to make Suneep's mother frown.

                'What happened?' She asked, as if Suneep were still a child.

                'I asked her to marry me.' Suneep replied grumpily.

                Everyone gasped.

                'What?' Mehtar cried. 'You told me...'

                'Yes, knowing that you would tell her. That way it would not be so sudden.'

                Mehtar smiled at this logic. 'Yes, I see the sense in that.' Then, frowning, he turned to his daughter. 'Did you say no?'

                'No.' She grumbled.

                Alyssa beamed, as did Arjun. 'Then you said...'

                'Yes!' Suneep and Brayna cried together, suddenly smiling.

                Everyone cheered all at once and cried, 'about time.'

                Suneep was not too pleased by these remarks, but ignored them anyway. He supposed it was.

 

Arjun smiled at Alyssa as she finished braiding her hair.

                'You are happy?' He asked, though he often did.

                Alyssa smiled, and nodded simply, as she had learned to do. Then, surprisingly, she began straightening her husband's tie while continuing. 'And I love you very much and would not have married you otherwise, so saying, I did not use you, and I am very happy here with you, thank you.' Arjun brightened up. 'You are very insecure.' She finished, holding him close. 'Though I confess I wonder much the same.'

                Arjun became very serious, though he mocked his wife playfully. 'I am happy. And I love you very much and would not have married you otherwise, so saying, I did not marry you simply to protect you, and am very happy here with you, thank you.' Alyssa brightened up now. 'You are very insecure.' Arjun finished, smiling teasingly.

                His wife leant her head against his stomach - which was as high as she could reach - and sighed. 'Another wedding.'

                Arjun laughed. 'At least it's been a year since the last. Things were really getting ridiculous then.'

                Alyssa laughed too, and went to ready the children.

                If Danny's wedding had been the loudest, Chandan's the most fashion-focused, Bikram's the most ridiculous, Josha's the most dubious, Arjun's the most secretive, and Mehmet's the most boring, then Suneep's was the most serious. That in itself was incredibly strange.

                Dr. Ashwin had been invited, and sat staring confusedly at Suneep for the entire service. The young man smiled occasionally, his eyes lighting up and dimples showing - a rare occurrence - but for the most part he was deathly serious. Brayna matched Suneep's mood, and smiled only when he did. It was as if the two shared the exact same emotions, and was quite sweet really.

                The ceremony was very Western, so there was no Bollywood dancing. It was a lovely day, but, for the most part, Brayna and Suneep were glad when it was over.

                'No Converses.' Brayna laughed when they finally escaped into the car.

                Suneep smiled too. 'Not for today.'

                His new wife moved closer to him and leant her head on his shoulder. Soon she was asleep.

                Suneep could not help but think of Shaktiah. Was he being unfaithful? Should this have been her? None of these thoughts, however, held any weight in his mind. Shaktiah had died, and Brayna was his wife. He loved her, and that was the end of that.

                As he looked down at her and smiled, her realised how much he'd changed in three years. He had once imagined he would look upon his bride and care that he was blissfully happy. It was true that he felt that way, but he did not care. Instead he looked at Brayna and cared for something else entirely. He no longer cared if he were miserable; he even thought perhaps he would never be completely miserable. Either way, none of that mattered, he didn't matter.

                As long as she was happy.

 

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

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