Colleen Houck

“I took hold of that scourge -filled ship and crushed it between my limbs, hurtling it into the second sun, the red one that gave me strength. But I was too late." Terraformer

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  • Tiger’s Destiny Deleted Chapter-Diwali

    February 1, 2014

    I loved this chapter and it was heartbreaking to cut. Some of the pieces we moved to different places but I’m very happy that you have the opportunity to read it in it’s entirety.

    TigersDestiny_final cover 4-25


    Chapter 6                   Diwali-Festival of Lights



    After I got dressed, Nilima hustled me into the McLaren and we headed to town.  “Now will you tell me what’s going on?”  I asked.

    “Next week is Diwali and I’ll need your help to get ready.”

    “What is Diwali?”

    “It’s a festival of lights where we celebrate life, show gratitude for our blessings, and give gifts to those we love and cherish.”

    “Huh.  Sounds like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day all rolled into one.”

    “Diwali is a five day celebration with gifts, decorations, fireworks, and many other traditions.  We will use the Fruit to make most of the food and the Scarf for clothing but we will need to purchase gifts for everyone.”

    “Okay.  I’ll follow your lead.”

    When she dragged me into the market, my mouth dropped open.  It really was like Christmas.  Everything was decorated with red and gold.  Boxy lanterns hung from wires over the shops.  She hauled me from store to store picking out dozens of items and had them wrapped, bagged, and sent to the house.  She purchased literally hundreds of tiny clay lamps that looked like small bowls but with spouts for the flame and said I would be helping her set them up.

    She perused bottles of colored chalk powders she said was for a rangoli design.  When I showed frustration at her inability to take the time to explain, she pointed to a corner of the shop while she bartered for a good price.  The corner of the store had several chalk paintings displayed on the floor.  The beautiful designs were randomly patterned and some featured the small clay lanterns that she’d already bought.

    Finished at that store, we headed to a large jeweler who specialized in expensive hard-to-find jewels and exquisite handcrafts.  She said we needed something gold and something silver.  “Pick out whatever you like but remember that your gift should be personal and symbolize the love you feel for that person.  It must be wrapped with sentiment and emotion.  If you pick something useful try to also make it lovely.  When the person opens it, it should infuse them with warm feelings,” Nilima coached.

    “So a paper weight would be a bad choice then.”  She frowned at me.  “Sheesh, Nilima.  I’m teasing.  I’ll do my best.”

    After shopping was over she put all of us to work in the house.  The only one not involved with all the preparations was Mr. Kadam.  He remained in his room and only allowed us to visit with him briefly before he once again insisted he needed time to himself.  This didn’t bother Ren and Kishan as much as it did me and one day I knocked on his door and insisted he speak with me.  He allowed me to enter and I sat in his leather recliner as he pulled a chair out from his desk.

    “What is it, Miss Kelsey?”

    I knotted my fingers together.  “Why do you close yourself off from us?  You never used to do that.  I miss you.”

    “I…do not mean to offend.  I’m merely busy.”

    “But you’ve always been busy and you never isolated yourself from us before.  I could help.  I could listen to whatever is bothering you.”

    “Nothing is bothering me.”

    I looked up at him and noticed he wouldn’t make eye contact.  “Yes, there is something bothering you.  Don’t you trust me?”

    He sighed deeply.  “Miss Kelsey, of course I do.”  He continued softly, “It…it’s myself, I don’t trust.”

    “What do you mean?  Please talk to me.”

    “There are some things in this world that a person must face on their own.”  He tilted his head and considered me.  “If you had a child that was learning to walk, would you pick him up and carry him each time he fell or would you encourage him to keep trying?”

    “To keep trying, of course.  Unless he was going to seriously injure himself.”

    “Yes.  And if you saw sharp corners or broken glass in his path, would you not clear the way for him?”


    “And what if your child was trapped in a house of burning flame?  What would you do then?”

    Without hesitation, I answered, “I would run in and save him.”

    “Yes.  You would.  In spite of the danger to yourself, you would endeavor to protect your precious ones.”  He smiled.  “That is precisely what I needed to hear.  You have given me great comfort, Miss Kelsey.”

    “But I haven’t done anything.”

    “You have done more than you know.  You have a heart pure and loving.  It is a priceless gift that you have offered to all of us.”

    “You’re my family.”

    “Yes.  We are.  Don’t worry so over me.  I promise that I will be with you all to celebrate during Diwali but for now I must remain vigilant, for I have much to accomplish in a very short time.”

    “Alright.”  Impulsively, I wrapped my arms around him.  He gently enfolded me in a warm embrace and pressed his cheek against my forehead.  He patted my back and I felt a teardrop land on my nose.

    He sniffed and wiped his eyes.  “I must be getting sentimental in my old age.”

    “You’re not old,” I insisted.  “Call me if you need me.”

    “I will.”  I exited and he shut the door quietly behind me.


    Day 1—Dhan Theras

    At sundown on the first day of Diwali, we followed Nilima around the grounds as she led us in a lantern ceremony.  She carried the small statue of Durga with her and said, “As we light these lamps, may we drive away the darkness.”  She handed the long match to Kishan who lit the next one.

    He said, “May we awaken the light within ourselves.”  He handed it to Mr. Kadam who lit the next one and declared, “May we find the courage to embrace our destinies.”  He handed it to me and, after thinking for a moment, I added, “May we overcome the pains of the past and look to a new future.”  I gave it to Ren who upbraided softly, “May we learn to follow our hearts wherever they lead us.”

    After that, we entered the house and, filling our plates with sweets, we retired to the peacock room where Mr. Kadam began telling a story.

    “There once was a king who had a young son.  An oracle was consulted on the occasion of his son’s sixteenth birthday.  Unfortunately, the oracle didn’t have very good news.  He told the king that his son would die by snake bite on the fourth day of his marriage.  The king, distressed at this news, vowed that his son would never marry.

    “Years passed and many princesses were brought to meet the royal family with the hopes that the young prince would look favorably upon one of the young ladies.  When this happened, the king leaned over to whisper in his son’s ear.  He’d say, ‘She’s too thin,’ ‘That one’s too heavy.’ ‘She looks like a hawk-nosed bird.’ ‘Her hair is looks like straw.’

    “The son learned from his father to become very finicky where young ladies were concerned and soon the king didn’t need to whisper in his son’s ear for the young prince would find a reason to reject the girl as soon as she appeared.

    “Years passed and the king, feeling confident, left the prince alone to care for the business of the kingdom while he attended to other duties.  One morning, after the prince sat upon his throne and prepared himself to hear the cases of the day, there was a commotion at the door.  Despite the guards attempt to stop her, a young woman dressed in the clothes of a commoner stormed up to stand in front of him.  She glared at the prince with fire in her eyes and accused him of wrongly imprisoning her father.

    “She gestured wildly at the soldiers who seemed cowed in her presence and said that a farmer who was jealous of her father’s herds claimed he stole them.  Her father had been arrested without the opportunity to have his case heard and the other farmer had taken possession of the unfortunate neighbor’s property.  A line of witnesses stood beyond the door waiting to corroborate the girl’s testimony.

    “When she finished speaking, the prince sat shocked.  No woman had ever spoken to him in that manner before.  As was his habit, he began to categorize her faults.  She had a smudge on her cheek.  One eye was perhaps a bit bluer than the other one.  Her hair wasn’t cut in the current fashion.

    “But soon those thoughts fell away and as she verbally accused him of being a half-wit, and an incompetent boy who knew nothing about running the kingdom, he couldn’t help but notice the curve of her figure, and how her eyes gleamed.  He saw the shine of her black hair and imagined wrapping it around his hands.  He suddenly longed to feel a woman such as her in his arms.

    “He called the witnesses and found her claim to be true.  Her father was released and when she returned to offer her thanks, he smiled at her rebellious expression as she sunk into a stiff, proud curtsey.  Surprising himself as much as the court, he stood and took her hand.  ‘Please, rise,’ he said.  Then to the astonishment of all, asked her if he may have permission to call upon her.  She said no, which only caused the prince to become more delighted with her.

    “His persistence won out in the end and she came to love him as fiercely as she’d once reviled him.  Though the king tried his best to list the girl’s faults, the prince would only nod his head, agree, and laugh with happiness.  Reluctantly, the king agreed to the match after seeing the passion with which they loved one another.  He rationalized that his son, though his life be cut short, would at least have known love.

    “The two were married and in desperation, the king confessed all to the new bride as he danced with her at the wedding.  The new bride patted the king’s arm and told him that no snake would take her husband from her the first week of her marriage.  So determined was she, the king felt some comfort.

    “On the fourth night of their marriage, the new bride set out every piece of gold, silver, and jewelry that had been bestowed on them as wedding gifts.  She did not allow her husband to sleep that night, and they both kept constant vigil as they watched carefully for the serpent.  She lit lamps, placing them in every available place on the floor and kept them going all night long.  To keep her husband awake, she told him stories and sang to him.

    “Late that night the god of death, Yama, arrived in the guise of a cobra, but his eyes were dazzled by the lights and the wealth heaped on the floor.  He swayed to the lilting songs of the new princess and at dawn, unable to fulfill the prophecy, he left.

    “On this night, we keep the lanterns lit and we rise in the morning showing gratitude for the blessings of a life renewed.  Death has been turned away and it is time to celebrate life and love and family and friendship.”

    Kishan held my hand and as I put my head on his shoulder, Mr. Kadam began another story.  Ren captured my other hand and twined his fingers in mine as we all listened.


    Day 2—Narak Chaturdasi

    An overly perky Nilima knocked softly on my door at four in the morning.  I mumbled something I was sure was incomprehensible and rolled over.  She bustled in anyway and clapped her hands loudly.  “It’s time to get up, Miss Kelsey.”

    I leaned up on an elbow with my eyes closed and my hair in my face.  “What terrible thing did I do that caused you to bother me at this hour?”

    “It’s time for the traditional bath.”

    I yawned.  “You want me to take a bath?  Now?”

    “Yes.  Come, I’ll get it ready for you.”

    She disappeared into my bathroom and I heard the jet of water as the tub began to fill.  Keeping my eyes tightly closed, I ignored her and buried my head under the covers.  The scent of roses stirred me and, reluctantly, I shoved aside the covers and shuffled into the bathroom.  “For the record, you all are crazy.  We don’t take any midnight baths on Christmas or even during Thanksgiving.”

    “No more whining.  The boys are already up and you’ll miss breakfast.”  She tested the water to make sure it was hot and sprinkled in hundreds of rose petals.

    I snickered.  “Did the boys have to bathe in roses too?”

    “No.  I got different oils for them.  Now I’ll leave you alone.  When you get in your bath, you are supposed to soak and think about the upcoming year.  As you rise from the water, leave the old Kelsey behind and then the girl we meet at breakfast will be a shiny and new Kelsey.  Your bath should leave you feeling refreshed, invigorated, and ready to face whatever lies ahead.”

    “Did you already do this?”

    “Yes.  I’ve already finished my bath.  I’m a brand new Nilima.”

    “I’m not sure I’m very fond of the perky, new you.”

    “Be that as it may, you will bathe.”

    “What if I fall asleep?”

    “Don’t.  You should finish your bath before the sun rises.  New clothes will be waiting on your bed.”

    With that, she left me alone, staring at a full bath.  I mumbled, “When in Rome,” and began unbuttoning my pajama top.

    Despite my protests, the hot rose oil bath was wonderful.  My muscles relaxed in the steamy water and I thought about how much my life had changed since meeting Ren.  I tried to channel all the bad things, like Lokesh and sharks and Kappa, and imagined them washing away down the drain.  As I slowly sponged the silky water over my arms, I wondered if the new me would be able to figure out my love life.

    I focused on what I wanted to have with Kishan.  As I lay back in the tub, I planned out our lives.  Assuming we’d survive searching for the fourth gift, we’d offer it to Durga and then the boys would be men full time.  I’d finish college and Kishan would…what would Kishan do?  Maybe he’d take over the company or partner with Ren.  Perhaps he’d want to stay in India.  I bit my lip.

    I hadn’t thought of remaining in India.  I loved the house but I also wanted to live in Oregon.  Maybe I’d really get a job working for Mr. Kadam.  I’m sure I could be helpful somehow.  Would we get married?  Live in my room here?  No.  Ren would be here.  We’d have to move away.  I couldn’t be married to his brother and still see him.  What if he didn’t want to get married?  No.  I was pretty sure he wanted marriage and a family.  What if he didn’t want to move?  How would I face Ren day after day?

    That evening Nilima and Mr. Kadam planned an elaborate fireworks show.  We set up lawn chairs outside and watched as they shot off some very expensive mortars.  When the light faded, we started a bonfire and Mr. Kadam shared another story.

    “A demon named Narakasura stole away with sixteen thousand women but, try as they might, no man could defeat him, so a woman was sent to defeat the demon.  Her name was Satyabhama, and as she entered the battlefield she pretended to swoon in front of Narakasura.  He lowered his sword and approached her and that is when she rose up and cut off his head.  The credit for this deed was not given to her however, it was given to Krishna for it was he who allowed her to enter the battle field and gave her the use of his chariot.  As a sign of gratitude, the freed women bathed Krishna, massaged scented oil into his body, and then married him.  This is one of the reasons it has become a tradition to rise early on this day to bathe.”

    I folded my arms.  “I’m not sure I like that story.  The women do all the work, pamper the guy, and then become one wife among thousands.”

    Kishan stretched out his long legs and crossed them at the ankles.  “What’s wrong with that?  I don’t think we followed the tradition properly.  Kelsey should have slayed a demon first then give me a bath, followed by a massage with scented oil, and at the end of day she could join my harem if I deemed her worthy enough.”

    I snorted.  “In your dreams, maybe.”

    He sighed dramatically.  “I guess I’ll have to live with just the dreams for now.”

    Ren smacked the back of his head and Kishan sprang up and attacked him.  The two changed to tigers and began rolling around in the trees.  Nilima rolled her eyes.  “Men.”

    “Exactly,” I agreed.

    Day 3—Lakshmi Puja


    When I rose the next morning, I found a gift on my bed.  A small wishing tree pillow with hundreds of colorful embroidered ribbons made to look like papers.  One of the papers was twisted open and I could just make out the wish in black thread.  It said, “I want her to trust me.”

    The third day of Diwali was spent eating and gambling.  I agreed to play but insisted that no kisses were to be added to the pot as prizes and that that included all physical forms of affection.  Kishan teased me mercilessly about this and even Ren disagreed with me this time but I was adamant and wouldn’t participate until they agreed to follow my rule.

    Nilima was an exceptionally good card player.  Rummy was the game of the day and we’d bet little prizes like Ren writing a poem for the winner or Kishan agreeing to help prepare Nilima’s flower beds.  I got into the spirit of the day and enjoyed playing and keeping score.

    When we finally agreed to stop the games, I ended up with a stack of IOU’s including a back massage from Ren as well as an hour of him playing and singing for me on the guitar, a hour’s lesson in throwing the chakram from Kishan, two books from Mr. Kadam, and one of Nilima’s favorite necklaces.  But I had to give up a brand new journal I just bought to Nilima, I had to prepare and serve Kishan’s favorite meal to him, and I had to be Ren’s slave for a day.

    I laughed when Kishan purposefully lost a hand so he wouldn’t win a poem from Ren but as he gathered the cards Ren teased Kishan by making up silly lines for him anyway.  He started with, “Once there was a very black cat,” and we all ended up contributing rhyming lines until Kishan growled and left the table in a huff to refill his drink.


    Day 4— Govardhan Pooja


    On the fourth day, when I emerged from the bathroom, I found my bed had been made and a large bouquet of lilacs rested on my pillow.  As I was pouring a glass of papaya juice at breakfast, I felt arms slip around my waist.  I knew it wasn’t Kishan even before he spoke—my heart told me.  I set down the pitcher of juice and leaned back against him.

    He sighed and ducked his head to murmur quietly, “I miss you.”

    “You see me every day.”

    “You’ve put up a barrier between us.  Can’t you feel how right it is when we’re together?  Just touching you is electric.  You feel this too, don’t you?”

    “Yes.  But it’s not meant to be.”

    “I don’t believe that.  Besides I don’t want to argue with you.  Today is the day of Diwali when we celebrate romantic love.  Husbands and wives especially show their affection and gratitude for each other.  I would be remiss if I didn’t find a way to express my feelings for you today.  Did you get your flowers?”

    “The lilacs?”  He nodded and turned me around to face him.  “Yes,” I answered.  “They were pretty hard to miss.”

    “What’s your answer?”

    I stared at a spot on his shoulder and repeated quietly, “When a man gives a woman a lilac he’s asking her a question.”

    “You remember.”

    I touched my palm to his cheek.  “Did you think I would forget?”

    He closed his eyes and leaned into my touch.  Slowly, he opened his beautiful blue eyes and said, “I love you, Kelsey.  What I feel for you is more than gratitude, more than attraction, more than affection.  I never wrote a poem with exclamation points until I met you.  You’re the air in my lungs, the blood in my veins, and the courage in my heart.  I’m an empty shell without you.”

    He cupped my face with his palms.  “You illuminate my soul with the warm glow of your love and devotion.  Even now, I can feel it and it sustains me.  You can deny what you feel with your words but your heart is still mine, iadala.”  He stroked my cheekbones, leaned towards me, and hesitated, letting me know I could pull away if I wanted to.  But I didn’t and he closed the gap between us.  He kissed me sweetly and tenderly and seductively and my mind went into thought lockdown.

    The kiss was over before I wanted it to be.  He smiled, said, “I thought so,” and left the room whistling while twining a hair ribbon around his fingers.  Suspiciously, I touched my hair.  It was all mussed and tumbling down my back.  I sat down at the table to eat and Kishan strolled in freshly showered after his morning workout.

    “Good morning, bilauta.”

    “Good morning,” I mumbled guiltily.

    He filled a plate and set it down next to mine, then brushed my hair aside and kissed my neck.  “I like your hair down.”

    I groaned and stood up, mumbling, “You and everyone else.”  I played with it for a minute and realized if I left it down, I’d be thinking of him all day.  I turned to Kishan.  “I’m going upstairs to braid it.  Be down later.”

    Confused, he murmured, “Okay,” then speared some fruit and watched me as I made my way upstairs.  After I braided my hair, I pulled out a book I’d taken from the library on festivals celebrated in India and studied the Diwali festival.  I wanted to do something special for everyone and for Kishan especially.  I had the Scarf make me a beautiful green lehenga and asked Nilima for help.  She agreed to my idea though she told me it was not normally done but said that they would all appreciate my gesture in the spirit in which it was given.

    I dressed carefully that afternoon and she came to my room to decorate my hands and feet with a henna design.  It took several hours but when she was done, I felt the time had been well spent.  My feet were beautiful.  She left the hand with Phet’s drawing alone but did an elaborate design on my other hand.  Kishan admired my clothes and my bare feet with great enthusiasm and kept trying to guess at what I was planning, but I wouldn’t share.

    That evening when we gathered together to light the lamps and tell stories, I asked if I could do something special to help celebrate the day.  Everyone agreed with great curiosity.  Nilima brought out a tray with flower garlands and a vermillion paste she had prepared for me.  I started with Nilima first since she already knew what I was going to do.  She stood in front of me and I picked up a garland made with fragrant gardenias.

    I placed it around her neck and took her hands.  “You have been more than a sister to me, more than a friend.  You have prayed for me.  You have gone without food so that I might benefit from your sacrifice.  Quietly, you work behind the scenes to make sure we are all comfortable and cared for.  You often provide what we need before we realize we need it.

    “I believe, as Durga does, that such loyalty and devotion should be rewarded, and I pray that such a deserving woman will attain her heart’s desire.  Nilima, I honor you tonight.”  I picked up a jeweled bindi, peeled the paper from the back and pressed it gently in the center of her forehead.  She hugged me and sat down.  I asked Mr. Kadam to rise.

    When he stood before me, I gave him a garland as well.  After I’d settled it to my liking over his shoulders, I said, “Anik Kadam, you are my friend, my mentor, and my father.  You’ve gently guided me over rocky paths where I could have easily fallen.  Yours has always been a voice of wisdom, a voice of calmness, a voice of faith.  Durga said that your name will be remembered.

    “I would like to make a promise to you tonight that my children will call you grandfather, that the lessons you’ve taught me as well as those you’ve taught to Ren and Kishan will be passed to them, and that I will speak of and remember you fondly all the days of my life.”  I glanced towards Ren and Kishan who were sitting on the couch.  Ren nodded soberly and Kishan smiled.

    I smiled back and briefly thought of the future; including the possibility that Kishan and I might live in the United States.  “Though I hope we are never to part, know that wherever you are in the world, I will be thinking of you and wishing for your health and happiness.  If there is anything I could do, any wish I might grant you, I will do all in my power to see it accomplished.  Anik Kadam, tonight I honor you.”

    I dipped my finger in the red paste and made a little circle in the middle of his forehead.  His eyes filled with tears and he hugged me tightly as they ran down his cheeks.  “Thank you, Miss Kelsey.”

    I nodded against his shoulder and Kishan stood up next and clapped his hands.  “My turn.”  I smiled at his exuberance and picked up his garland.  When I set it about his shoulders, he captured my hand and pressed a kiss on the palm.  I took both his hands in mine and began.

    “Sohan Kishan Rajaram, when I first met you, I told you that I knew who and what you were.  That was not true, for you are much more to me now than your name, and much more than a black tiger.  You are brave, and strong, and loyal.  You’ve been more patient with me than I had the right to ask.  You’ve been a constant, steady presence at my side and that support means more to me than you know.

    “I wouldn’t have survived Shangri-la or the Seven Pagodas without you.  You carried me tirelessly through the snowy mountains and saved my life time and time again.  The Ocean Teacher said that a strong man is like a rock that others can cling to for he will not bend though the winds may howl.  That’s what you are to me.  You’re my rock, my raft in the ocean.  When the sun burns me, I find solace in your shade.  When the waves crash, you hold them back.  When the arrows fly, you place your body in the path as my shield.

    “I pray to be worthy of you.  I pray for you to have the full life of love and happiness that you dreamed of and wished for in Shangri-la.  I hope that I will be able to shower upon you all the affection you deserve, wipe from your mind all the years of loneliness and heartache, and make your life’s path a journey full of adventure, laughter, and love.  Kishan, tonight, I honor you.”

    Kishan smiled, squeezed my hands, and leaned forward to kiss me tenderly.  When we broke apart, I dipped my finger in the red paste and swirled a circle on his forehead.

    As he sat, I turned to Ren who was leaning forward staring intently at his hands.  He glanced up at me then turned his gaze away.  When he finally stood, I got the impression that he wanted to escape but I smiled at him and beckoned him closer.  He sighed and approached me.  “You don’t have to do this, Kelsey.”

    I picked up the garland.  “Yes, I do.  If you’ll let me.”

    “You know I can refuse you nothing.”

    “Good.  Now bend your head.”

    I placed the garland over his head and took his hands.  I felt the warm electric connection I always felt when we touched and as I looked into his eyes, I forgot what I’d wanted to say.  He squeezed my hands gently and I started.  Quietly, I spoke.  “Alagan Dhiren Rajaram, I—”

    I lost myself in his blue eyes and emotions and words that were inappropriate for me to express flowed through my mind, lapping against my consciousness like soft ripples.  My eyes filled with tears and I trembled.  Several times I opened my mouth to continue but couldn’t find my voice.

    He lifted his hand, wiped a tear from my cheek with his thumb, and said gently, “I already know, priya.”  I nodded and wiped my eyes.  “Will you still honor me with a tilaka?” he asked.

    Finding my voice at last, I picked up the dish.  “Of course.”  My finger trembled as I made the mark on his forehead.  “Ren.  Tonight, I honor you.”

    He took the dish from me.  “And, I you.”  He smiled as he swirled the paste on my skin, then kissed my hair.  “This was a wonderful thing for you to have done.”  I nodded weakly and after setting down the dish, he took my hand and led me back to the couch where I sat between him and Kishan.




    Day 5—Bhai Duj


    The last day of Diwali was the day we’d chosen to exchange gifts.  It was unlike how I’d celebrated Christmas.  There was no tree to pile gifts under and everyone didn’t watch as you opened your presents.  This gift exchange was a very private affair.  The giver and the receiver were to seek each other out during the day and they were to be given time alone to interact with one another and express their feelings of love.

    Mr. Kadam was the first to find me.  He came to my room and knocked on my door before the others had even woken up.  I invited him in to sit and curled up in the golden chair across from him, still in my pajamas.

    “What did you need?” I asked.

    “Need?  Oh, nothing.  I came to give you your Diwali gift.”

    “Oh.”  I jumped up.  “Wait just a minute.  I have yours too.”  I handed him the present wrapped in red paper with gold ribbon.  He smiled and accepted the gift.  When he cracked open the lid of the spice box, he smiled in wonder, and lifted it to his nose so he could smell the remnant of the spices.  He carefully examined the carved spoon and ran his hands over the polished battle elephant design on the top.

    “I thought of you when I saw it,” I added.

    “It’s a wonderful gift, Miss Kelsey.  I used to own such a box, in fact.”  He ran his hands across the smooth wood then set it down on the table.  “Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome.  Happy Diwali.”

    “Happy Diwali to you as well.”  He leaned forward and said, “My gift to you is not something I can wrap.”

    “Please tell me it’s not another car.”

    He smiled.  “No, it’s not.  Though, I would have enjoyed making such a purchase.”

    “I’m sure you would have.”

    “Yes.”  His smile faded as he became lost in his thoughts and once again I worried over the changes I saw in him since he’d returned.  He straightened and said, “I’ve asked the boys for permission to give this to you as technically, everything I own belongs to them.  They readily agreed.  Miss Kelsey, I’ve decided to give you…my library.”

    “Your library?  What do you mean?”

    “I mean that all the books that I own now belong to you.”

    “I…I’m overwhelmed.”  I sat up and said, “I guess I don’t really understand the gift giving of Diwali.  Why would you want to give me all your books?  I can always borrow them if I need them.  I wouldn’t want to move them from where they are.  I’m probably missing the point, aren’t I?”

    “No, you are correct.  Gifting a library of books is not a normal Diwali gift.  In this case, I wanted to present you with something that will have the most meaning for you.  Your parents once owned such a library, did they not?”

    “They did.  Most of their books were sold off after they died.  I only kept a few.”

    “Then this library will be the beginning of your own collection.  Whether you leave them here or take them with you when you marry, they are yours.”

    “Would it be alright with you if I left them where they are for the time being?”

    “Of course.”

    He stood and I got up to hug him.  “Thank you for your generosity.  It’s a priceless gift you’ve given me.”

    “It is nothing.”

    “There are many costly books in your collection.  It’s not nothing.”

    “The gift you have given me is of even higher value.”

    “I don’t think the spice box balances out your library.”

    “I was not thinking of the spice box, I was thinking of the gift of honor you gave me last night.  I will treasure your words forever.  Thank you,” he paused, “daughter.”

    “Thank you, father.”

    He hugged me again and left me to prepare for the day.

    Kishan swept me up in his arms the moment I entered the kitchen and, though I protested that I was starving, he said, ‘Too bad,’ and carried me down the steps to the dojo.  His gift had been small enough for me to stick in my jeans pocket so I was ready in case he cornered me.

    He set me down on the springy floor and spun me around.  He’d set up a small table for two and had prepared a brunch using the Golden Fruit.  Placing his hands on my shoulders, he leaned close to my ear.  “Our last romantic dinner was interrupted so I thought we could try again.”

    I put a hand over his and said, “That’s a great idea.”

    He dipped me back for a quick kiss, and then bustled me to my chair.  He’d made a buffet on a side table that included my favorite breakfast foods as well as his and he took the liberty of filling my plate and spread the cloth napkin across my lap.  Just as we finished eating he clicked a button on a remote and soft music began to play.

    He stood and asked, “May I have this dance?”

    “Yes.”  I grinned and took his hand.  He spun me around until I was laughing too hard to stand on my own, then he pulled me close and pressed my hand against his chest.

    “Happy Diwali, Kishan.”

    “Happy Diwali, Kells.”  After a moment, he said, “Think we’ll get interrupted if I try to kiss you?”

    “I don’t know.  Anything’s possible.”

    “That’s why I locked the door.  I didn’t want to take any chances this time.”  He pulled me close and dipped his head.  When his lips met mine, I kept my hands on his chest and kissed him back.  When I started to break away, he made a sound of protest and pulled me closer.  He angled his head and the kiss deepened.  Running his hands down my back, he squeezed my waist gently.  I pressed against his hard chest and he reluctantly let me go.  “What is it?” he asked.

    “It’s me.  I…I don’t deserve you.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “It’s just…I feel guilty.  Do you remember when I told you that I had a talk with Ren about us and that I was sticking with you?”


    “Well, what I didn’t tell you is that he’s not taking it very well.  He’s not backing off.”

    “I would have expected that.  That shouldn’t make you feel guilty.”

    “Right, but that’s not all.  Since he got his memory back, we’ve kissed.  Several times.”

    “How many times is several?”

    “Less than a dozen, more than two.”

    “And did you initiate any of these kisses?”

    “No.  But I didn’t exactly put up much of a fight either.”

    “He wouldn’t have let you anyway.”

    “He wouldn’t have forced me if that’s what you mean.”

    “No, but he’s persistent enough.  We’re a lot alike in that area, it seems.  I did the same thing to you in Shangri-la, if you recall.”

    “Yes,” I replied glumly.  “But this is different.”

    He rubbed his jaw.  “Not technically.  You were his girlfriend then when I kissed you, even if he wasn’t there.  Does he know about that?”

    “Yes.  He knows.”

    “Then I guess I had it coming.  There’s something else bothering you though.”  He studied my expression briefly.  “I see.  You don’t want to hurt him.”


    “Why not try what you did with me?  Ask him not to kiss you again.”

    “I don’t think he’ll agree.”

    “If he doesn’t, I’ll intervene.”

    “I don’t want any fighting.”

    “I won’t fight him.  I’ll just explain calmly that you have chosen me and that he needs to respect your wishes.”

    “I’ve tried.  It doesn’t work.”

    He pulled out a chair and had me sit, then he sat across from me.  “Do you love him, Kells?”


    “Do you love me?”


    “You’re sure you want to choose me?”


    He smiled.  “Good.  I promise I’ll do my best to make you happy.”  He put his arm around me.

    I sighed and leaned my head on his shoulder.  “Kishan…we’ll have to leave him.  I can’t be with you the way I should be with him around.  It’s too painful for all of us.”

    He kissed my forehead.  “Then we’ll leave.  After we find the fourth object we’ll go.”

    “You’d leave India for me?”

    “In a heartbeat.”  He brought my hand to his lips and kissed my fingers.

    “You’re not angry with me?”

    “No.  I could strangle him for tearing your heart in two this way, but I’m not mad at you.”

    I got up, sat in his lap, and put my arms around his neck.  “See?  I still don’t deserve you.”

    “You’re right.  You have a lot of catching up to do.  Give your boyfriend a proper kiss, woman, and then I want to open my present.”

    With my heart lightened, I gave him a sweet kiss and then pulled his present from my pocket.  He tore into it like a little boy.  He loved the Tibetan ring with the engraving that translated meant, “You are the jeweled lotus of my heart.”  Immediately, he put it on his finger.

    I opened mine and was delighted to get a silver framed picture of him.  He made me promise to put it next to my bed and then he wished up a giant chocolate fudge cake since our original one had been lost at sea.  We laughed and shared the decadent dessert as we spoke of a future beyond India.


    Later that afternoon, with Nilima’s present in hand, I cornered her in her room and had her open her gift.  She loved the pink sapphire and diamond jewelry set and confessed she’d been eyeing those particular pieces at the merchant’s shop.  She rushed to the mirror to try them on and we perused her closet to figure out the best outfits for her to wear them with.

    Half an hour later, she apologized for completely forgetting to tell me about my present.  She grabbed my hand and pulled me into my room.  With a flourish, she opened my closet and marched me over to the back wall.  My mouth dropped.  The entire wall meant for shoes which normally housed my two pairs of sneakers and a pair of well worn hiking boots, was full of shoes in a variety of colors and styles.

    “Nilima!  What did you…do?”

    “Though Ren is constantly adding clothing to your closet, I’ve often scolded him for ignoring appropriate footwear.  He insists that you like to be comfortable in your sneakers.  I told him that shoes are something women will tolerate despite a loss of comfort.  Still, I tried to pick shoes that would be easy on your feet.  Many of them are slippers made by the Scarf.”

    I picked up a pair and felt the cushioned soles.  “They’re wonderful!”  I hugged her.  “And exactly what I needed.  Thank you!”

    “It was no trouble.  Besides, I can now sneak into your closet to borrow them.”  She laughed.

    “Feel free to purloin my shoes whenever you wish.”

    We matched up shoes to various clothes and by the time we were done, it was early evening.  At dinner we enjoyed a final feast of varied foods and when the meal was over, Ren excused himself and stood behind my chair.  “May I give you my gift now, Kelsey?”

    Kishan squeezed my knee under the table and I set down my napkin and placed my hand in Ren’s.  “Alright.”

    After running to my room for his present, I followed him out the front door.  He kept walking and eventually made his way to our practice field behind the house only turning to me when he thought the footing might be difficult.  He’d gathered wood for a fire from shop like dkbræ and with a snap of my fingers, it was lit.  When the fire was crackling, I accepted his offered hand, and sat next to him.  I gave him his gift first.

    I’d intended to get a gold ring for Ren with Sanskrit carving around the outside but decided a ring was a girlfriend gift.  Instead, I got him a beautiful notebook with an embossed Chinese dragon on the outside, thick paper, and a Chinese calligraphy set for his poetry.

    When he saw the notebook and paper he seemed happy.  He thanked me but the light in his eyes dimmed a bit and I sensed he was slightly disappointed.  I knew he’d seen Kishan’s ring and had heard him brag about it loudly all day.  It made me wonder if Ren had expected something similar.  The gift was supposed to reflect the depth of my emotions and I knew that nothing on earth would have been adequate in this case.  How could I have boxed up something to represent my feelings for him?  It would have been an impossible task.

    He left me briefly and retrieved a gift he’d hidden at the foot of a nearby tree.  I opened the box wrapped carefully in golden paper and inside found a wooden music box with a painted white tiger on the top.  I touched the polished reddish-brown wood and, on closer inspection, I

    realized that the tiger was an exact likeness of Ren.  The stripes were identical.  “It’s you,” I said as I traced a stripe.

    “Yes.  I sent the artist a picture.  The wood is from the boswellia tree.”

    I lifted it to my nose and inhaled.  “I can smell the frankincense.”

    “Open it,” he said.

    I opened the music box and it began to play my song—the one Ren had written for me when we were apart—the one he struggled with when he lost his memory.  I listened to the familiar notes and gasped when it continued past the point I remembered.  The sad music of separation changed.  I could almost hear the hope, the determination in the sound that then crescendoed into a burst of happiness.  I knew that this was a representation of our time in Oregon and smiled.  So poignant was the melody, it was almost as if I were experiencing those emotions anew.  Then the music dipped and became dark and quiet.

    My heart beat along with notes that were so sad they brought tears to my eyes.  But slowly, the music rose.  It swelled with a sweetness that filled my soul.  The melody circled back to the happy notes but this time the notes were in harmony.  The song was fuller, more complete.  When it ended with a burst of joyful sound, and the notes faded like twinkling stars at dawn, I shut the lid and closed my eyes.

    He was content to remain quiet and after a minute, I opened my eyes, wiped the tears away, and smoothed my hand over the lid.  “You finished it.”

    “Yes.  What did you think of the ending?”

    “It was…unexpected.”

    “You think it presumptuous to assume the ending will be a joyful one?”

    I sighed.  “You won’t give up, will you?”

    “I don’t plan on it, no.”  He took my hand and turned to me.  “What is it, iadala?  What’s keeping you from me?  I can see that you’re frightened.  A future with me scares you but I can’t figure out why.”  He tucked some loose hair behind my ear.  “Please, talk to me.  I’d rather argue with you than be shut out like this.  What have I done wrong?”

    “Ren, I can’t ask you to be different than you are.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “You’re always going to be the Prince and High Protector.”

    “My kingdom no longer exists.”

    “No.  But it will always be a part of you.  It’s who you are.  Even in college, people came to you, asked your advice.  You always put others before yourself.  You’ll always be a hero, a prince, a champion, a king.”

    “Is this about you not being a princess?  Does this have something to do with the radish thing again?”

    “No.  I know that you love me for me and I know that you don’t care if I’m royal or not.”

    “Then, I don’t understand why you’re speaking of this.  Why is being a hero a bad thing?”

    “It’s not a bad thing.  It’s a very good thing, a noble thing.  It’s just that I—”

    I opened my mouth and almost blurted out my mortal fear.  Stubbornly, I grit my teeth and said nothing.

    He rubbed my back and said, “Kelsey, I’d move heaven and earth if that’s what you needed me to do.  Trust me to be the man you need.  I want to build a life with you.  I want us to be together, always.  I know that being with someone requires compromise and putting the needs of the other person before my own.  If there’s something you need me to change, something I need to work on, tell me about it.  I know I’m not perfect.”

    “No, you pretty much are perfect.”

    He growled in frustration.  “Kells, I know you love me but I need you to trust me too.  I can’t fix something when I don’t know what’s broken.”

    “What’s broken is me and it’s not something you can fix.”

    “What can I do?”

    I wiped at an escaped tear.  “Nothing.  I don’t want you to do anything.  No.  Wait.  There is something I want you to do.”

    “What?  What is it?”

    “I need to ask you not to kiss me anymore.”  He said nothing.  I went on.  “I’m trying to be with Kishan and when you kiss me it’s confusing.  I feel guilty.  It makes my heart hurt.”

    “Your heart hurts because you’re ignoring it.”

    “Please, stop.  I can’t think anymore.  I feel like I’m being emotionally ripped in two.”

    “Kelsey.”  He raised my hand to his mouth, inhaled deeply, and sighed.  “I don’t want you to hurt.  I don’t want you to feel guilty.  If the price of being near you is that I must watch you be with my brother then I will suffer through it.  But don’t ask me to leave your side.  My heart is in your hands and I cannot live without it.”

    “I don’t want you to hurt either.  I know seeing me with him is hard.”

    “It’s more painful than being tortured by Lokesh.  At least there, I healed, and there were times when I was left alone.”


    “Shh, priyatama.  Stop your tears.  I can’t bear to see you cry.  I still believe there’s a happy ending for us, that the promise in the song will someday be realized.  I’ll just have to practice patience until then.”

    He produced a handkerchief from his pocket and dried my eyes.  I started to move but he held me back and said he just wanted to sit with me alone for a while.  He put his arm around me and I relaxed against him and stared into the fire.

    We sat companionably together for more than an hour.  I played the song a few more times and thought about how very difficult it would be to say goodbye to him, to turn my back on someone so precious to me.  I thought about Mr. Kadam’s story about his son.  He’d held that bird so tightly, it had died.

    In my situation, I had two birds.  Both of them would eat out of my hand.  Both would sit with me and be my companion.  Both of them loved me.  But one of them loved me so much that he’d face down any enemy, even those stronger than him.  He’d sacrifice us being together and race off to flap his wings in the face of danger.  If I held him back tight enough to restrain him, he’d die.  He’d suffocate in my grip because he’d be so determined to fly off to face down the enemy.

    Danger followed me and it was just a matter of time before he’d rise up to defend me once more and, at some point, someone would come along who could destroy him.  In a way, keeping him at a distance was what would ultimately keep him alive.  Maybe if he didn’t care about me anymore, he’d stop risking his life.

    Shuddering, I thought about his battle with the giant shark.  Kishan sat with me in the boat but not Ren.  He had to go off and be the hero.  He dove into the ocean all by himself to kill that monster, giving no thought to how it would affect me if he died.  If I hadn’t been alert enough to help, he would have been fish food.  Something not even he could have come back from.

    Finally, he rose and pulled me to my feet.  Together we walked back to the house and I set aside the thoughts of my heart and concentrated on the work we still had to do. We were to leave the next day to travel to a temple of Durga so we could get the last weapons needed for the final task.  Thinking of the days ahead helped me to focus.  For now, I’d battle to save both of my tigers and worry about the battle for my heart later.

    This entry was posted in Bonus Material, Tiger's Destiny.

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    Author Bio
    Colleen Houck

    New York Times Bestselling author Colleen Houck is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, paranormal, science fiction, and romance. When she's not busy writing, she likes to spend time chatting on the phone with one of her six siblings, watching plays, and shopping online. Colleen has lived in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, and North Carolina and is now permanently settled in Salem, Oregon with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.