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Mangalsutra

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"You made a profile for me on Shaadi dot com?!" Kelly Kapoor was outraged. Outraged.

Her parents exchanged a look. "Beta," her father started. "We were just trying to--"

Kelly was having none of it. "I told you that I didn't want an arranged marriage!"

"We know, but your last two boyfriends haven't proposed and you aren't getting any younger--" Kelly's mother cut herself off when her husband kicked her under the table.

She hid her face in her hands. There was a long silence. Then:

"A nice, Indian boy responded..."

&&&

"Mummy! I can't believe you're doing this to me." Raj Koothrappali sat on his sofa arguing with the laggy webcam images of his parents.

"Rajesh, don't talk to your mother like that," Raj's father admonished, smoothing his shalwar kameez.

"Easy for you to say. She didn't just ruin your life!"

"Rajesh, there's no shame in having an arranged marriage. And besides, Shaadi dot com is just a service to find people. There's no guarantee the horoscope will match." His father nodded in agreement.

"Or that I'll even like her," he muttered. "I thought you were going to let me have a love marriage!"

"Beta, at this point you'll be married to that Howard child."

Raj sighed.

&&&

Kelly surfed through page after page of so-called eligible bachelors.

"Too short, too hairy, too fobby." She sighed in disgust. "This wasn't even my idea!" she exclaimed to the empty room, before continuing to click. Occasionally she would click on a profile, but too often the English was illegible to the point of unreadability, the netspeak threatening to drive her insane - and she spent her free time on gossip forums. She didn't think she could find worse English. She was horrified to find herself proven wrong.

"Kelly, we found you a nice boy." Her father looked inordinately happy.

"He lives in California and he has a PhD. He's a doctor!" Her mother had been far more excited than she.

"Maybe you should go marry him then," she muttered.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, nothing. But amma, if he lives in California, how am I supposed to meet him?"

Her parents exchanged looks. "Skype!" they chimed. Kelly resisted the urge to scream.

&&&

"You know, Raj, arranged marriages have a long history of success in India. The divorce rate is 1.1% there, while in the United States roughly 40% of marriages are legally ended."

Raj ignored Sheldon. "It's not the marriage I'm against, it's the whole idea of my parents choosing my wife for me." He made a face. "They probably want me to marry some high-maintenance girl with a name like Pooja Patel who has an MD and wants three kids in the next five years." He groaned. "And I bet she'll want her parents to live with us!"

"Well, I for one think only good can come of this." Howard grinned lecherously. "You meet a few dark-skinned babes, wine and dine them for a while, and then part ways no hurt feelings. It's like getting set up on an infinite series of blind dates!"

"Except Indian girls have chastity belts more secure than the Batcave." He sighed. "Face it. Unless I find myself a wife in the next six months, my parents are going to find one for me."

"Surely having your parents find you a wife could be a good thing?" Sheldon looked almost puzzled - a rarity. "Who knows you better than your parents?"

"Sheldon," Raj said patiently. "My parents don't even understand what I do for a living."

"Neither do mine, but you don't see me holding that against them."

Raj shook his head. "Forget it. Man, this is why I need more friends of color."

&&&

Kelly glared at her parents over her shoulder. "I can't write if you two are breathing down my neck like that."

Her parents didn't even pretend to move. "Just write the email."

She quickly typed up a short, terse greeting and invitation to meet via webcam. Her parents made clucking noises of disapproval

"What," she asked flatly.

"At least try to sound like you actually want to meet the guy."

"But I don't."

Her parents sighed wearily.

&&&

"She wants to meet?"

Raj nodded.

"Via webcam?"

Raj nodded.

Howard cheered. "Yes! Cybering is so much better with a webcam."

The entire room (save Sheldon, who was simply nonplussed) shot Howard a disgusted look.

"You two have been emailing for a while?" Penny had a wide, goofy grin on her face. "Aw that's so cute." She paused. "Wait, does she know about how you can't talk to girls?"

Raj's eyes widened and he raced out of the room.

&&&

I'm kind of shy, the note had said.

Seriously, what did that even mean? Like, was he playing hard to get? Was she supposed to like be the one to draw him out of his shell? Kelly sighed. Boys.

Her Skype was running, webcam lens cleaned, and computer was plugged into the wall...just in case. (Okay, and maybe her Macbook needed a new battery. What? She worked customer service for a paper company - battery pack replacements would have to wait.) Her makeup was flawless, the lighting was good, and she was wearing her favorite purple shirt. If this didn't go well, it was definitely not going to be because she hadn't looked h-o-t hot!

She ran over the details she knew about him from their emails. He worked for Caltech, he was a physicist, and he'd been featured in People's 30 Under 30 a few years ago. (She totally remembered that issue - it was the one with the super-hot picture of Zac Efron on the beach, and with the horoscope for her that had totally come true like six months later. Wasn't that just so amazing?)

The doo doo doo of the ringer blared over her speakers. She took a breath and clicked answer.

&&&

Howard burst into the apartment excitedly. "So, how'd it go?"

Raj rolled his eyes from his prone position on the couch. "She talked about Brangelina and clothes for an hour." At Howard's look, he sat up. "No, seriously. She loves Forever 21 and H&M but she's annoyed that she has to drive two hours to get to the closest and she supposes she could go to Philly or Pittsburgh but New York City is so much cooler and she hopes that maybe she'll even see someone famous and then she could get on OhNoTheyDidnt and post pictures about it but she wouldn't be as creepy stalker as those paparazzi people and ooh didn't I love Lady Gaga's song?" He paused for breath and nearly burst into laughter at Howard's expression. "That was pretty much the entire conversation until she realized what time it was and said she had to go because she has work early."

"Oh. Real chatterbox, huh?"

"The fact that he couldn't respond probably encouraged matters," Sheldon commented.

Raj shrugged.

Howard crossed his arms across his chest. "Well, was she hot?"

"Gorgeous."

"Well, there's that, at least."

&&&

"He's, like, probably the best listener ever. He didn't even try to interrupt me once! And he didn't make fun of what I was talking about the way Ryan would/ Darryl didn't even pretend to listen. But this guy was totally nodding along the entire time. He didn't even look bored."

Erin nodded, grinning. "Sounds like a keeper. But was he hot?"

Kelly paused thoughtfully. "Cute, like in a take-him-home-and-feed-him kinda way."

"You okay with that?"

"I am very okay with that."

&&&

Raj is going to New York City for a conference. He emails Kelly the date, tells her he'd like to have dinner with her.

It's not even a lie.

&&&

Kelly puts in for the Friday of Raj's conference as vacation time. She spends Thursday trying on her entire closet of outfits, and part of Friday shopping for accessories.

She may or may not walk out of the mall with some nice lingerie, as well.

&&&

He makes reservations for them at a nice restaurant downtown, a few blocks from his hotel, where the conference is being hosted.

She's nervous, he can tell, because her sentences aren't making sense, but it doesn't really matter. He's not sure how, but he's finding himself utterly charmed by her, and he's starting to see past the makeup and the clothes and the gossip magazines. He still can't talk to her, but she does enough talking for the both of them.

They get pleasantly tipsy at dinner and they walk back to his hotel, where she'd parked.

&&&

She walks with him into the lobby. He hasn't said a word all night, but he's been expressive and she's been blathering on about god-only-knows-what because there's this fluttering in her stomach and a tension in the air. Whatever is going to happen, it's going to happen tonight. It's a tipping point. (Her horoscope had totally backed her up on this one.)

So she stands by the elevators in the middle of the hotel lobby, wristlet dangling from one arm as she wrings her hands and tries not to ruin her manicure as she tells him that she had a great time. She's in the middle of trying to explain that she'd like to see him again (she really, really would, and that surprises her, too) when he smiles disarmingly and her entire train of thought (as much as it was) completely derails.

He kisses her, full on the mouth, and it's just like all of those movies that she loves so much - she melts against him and opens her mouth to the kiss.

Behind them, the elevator dings and when the doors open, he breaks the kiss and pulls her into the car, pushing the button for his floor absentmindedly before pressing her into the wall of the car, hands (unlike his voice) not shy, tongue rubbing against her lip and probing into her mouth. She sighs and crosses her wrists behind his neck.

They stumble, somehow, into the hallway of his floor, manage to get into his room, and he pushes her against the door roughly. She drops everything she's holding, letting it fall wherever. She doesn't even care if her Sephora blush cracks or if her lipstick breaks. All she can feel is his lips and teeth and tongue, and whatever he lacks in words he more than makes up for in this.

His hands feel like they're everywhere, and it's not until she feels knuckles at her back that she realizes that he's gotten her dress half-unzipped before she even noticed. He reaches the limit of the zip just as she's gotten his shirt unbuttoned and his belt undone. Her dress falls away and she's clad in a full, lacy lingerie set, complete with garter belt and stockings, and all a magenta-plum color she hadn't been able to resist. He gapes silently at the sight of her, and she blushes and grins.

He picks her up and she wraps her legs around his waist and they tumble onto the immaculate hotel bed unceremoniously. He kicks off his pants, she pulls off her stockings and garter belt, and their lips meet again and again in kisses that grow increasingly sloppy. He slides one hand into her panties and into her sex. She moans into his mouth as long fingers flex inside of her with a dexterity she hadn't expected.

(She can't know it's from years of PC gaming. Counterstrike did him good.)

Later, when he's thrusting into her, cock hard and thick and inside of her to the hilt, she will clench the sheets and moan loudly and gibber words of encouragement, thanks to an entire pantheon of gods, and indecipherable phrases in broken Hindi, and she will relish this moment for a long time. (She'll be forced to - he draws out every one of her orgasms to the limit, and the pleasure is inescapable. Not that she's complaining. Totally the motion of the ocean, natch.)

&&&

"How was your conference in New York?"

Raj blinks. "It was good."

Howard smirks. "Oh really. See any good sights while you were there?"

"The skyline was nice," he says after a long moment.

"You aren't left the hotel room for three days, didn't you?"

It's Raj's turn to smirk. "Let's just say her mouth is good for more than just talking."

Howard cheers and Raj cuffs him to shut him up, but he's got a grin of his own.

&&&

"You want us to get married?!"

"Beta," her father explains patiently. You two have been seeing each other for some time now.

"I've met him in real life once!"

"I only met your father once before I married him," her mother points out.

"Yes, but that's different!"

Her parents are unamused.

"You're not getting any younger, you know," her father points out.

Her mother's eyes take on a glassy shimmer. "I had hoped I'd have grandchildren by now!"

Kelly turns her eyes heavenward.

&&&

Raj's parents are delighted that they've been talking to each other for six months.

"Oh, can you imagine our grandchildren? They'll speak Hindi! And they'll be able to keep their culture." His mother clapped her hands together joyfully.

His father beamed. "Son, you've made me very proud."

Raj had a woebegone expression on his face. "Wait, wait! I'm not going to marry her!"

His parents immediately sobered and shot him identical flat expressions.

"Well why the bloody hell not?" He was aghast at his mother's language, but she continued on blithely. "You've been talking and emailing with her for almost eight months. Your father and I knew each other eight days before we got married."

"Just ask her. She'll be expecting the question eventually." He huffed a laugh and took Raj's mother's hand in his own. "We found her on the Shaadi site, for goodness sakes!"

&&&

Do you want to get married?

The question echoed in her mind the entire day, and she didn't chatter as much as she usually did. Toby poked his head over the cubicle at ten-thirty to ask if she was all right. Ryan offered to drive her to the E.R. Kelly didn't even surf her favorite shopping sites. She just clicked through solitaire between calls.

She doesn't even remember getting home that evening. The thoughts tumble and jumble in her mind, and there are so many factors. Who will move? When will they marry? What about children? Are they both going to work? What if he gets sent out of the country?

Western style or Indian style wedding?

Her Mac sits on her dining table, taunting her as she sips tea and mulls over the question.

Do you want to get married?

Her mind flashes back to that weekend in New York and she feels herself flush. She thinks of 100-email threads in her Gmail and the hours and hours on Skype and Google Chat. She thinks of the sweater vest she bought him and the Jimmy Choos he bought her.

Her response is short: Yes.

&&&

When Raj announces that he's getting married, his friends cheer and mob him into a group hug. When Penny hears the outburst, she comes over and joins in. Howard starts planning the bachelor party, Leonard wants to know when they can meet her, and Penny clamors for photos. Raj obliges, beaming in spite of himself.

&&&

Kelly comes in wearing an engagement ring that Raj and his parents had Fed-Exed her and the response is immediate. Ryan looks stunned, Michael is offensive, and the others offer her congratulations with a tinge of confusion in their voices.

She doesn't bother explaining how she met Raj (she tells them that their families set them up) or much of anything really. After all, who has arranged marriages anymore?

Ryan asks her what she's thinking and implies that she's getting married for the sake of getting married. The sting of it irks her and before she can check herself she tells him to back off.

"Raj makes me happy, and you don't get to judge me for that." As soon as the words are out of her mouth, she realizes the truth of them and savors it.

Ryan, for his part, looks appropriately chagrined. He offers her polite congratulations and walks away.

Kelly makes phonecalls and checks her email. The ring is a foreign weight on her hand. It sparkles, even under the fluorescent lights.

&&&

She is a vision in the red sari, he thinks, and the whole audience clearly agrees. She is made up and adorned with more jewelry than most Western brides could imagine wearing. Her hands and feet are hennaed and her arms adorned with solid gold bangles. Her hair is parted and pulled back, and a maangtika sits in the center of her forehead, just under the hairline. She wears a nose ring, a bindi, a hathphulor and he doesn't notice any of it except for the sparkle in her eyes and the sheer joy of her expression.

Later, he will barely remember the ceremony - or the day! - itself, but he'll recall the expression on her features as their families showered them with flowers, the moment he had tied the mangalsutra around her neck with yellow thread, and the look they had shared as they had danced at the reception.

&&&

She had changed into gagra choli - a cropped blouse and a voluminous lehenga, or floor-length skirt with sari trim - for the reception, but after, when it is just Raj and her in their suite, they are both in soft terry robes seated on the edge of the bed, suddenly shy. Her horoscope hasn't said anything about this, about what to do here.

She decides to take the first step. She covers his hand with her, fingers gently twining with his. He brings their hands to his lips and presses a kiss to the back of hers. She rises and straddles his lap, pressing her forehead to his, a kiss on each eyelid, more along each cheek. His own hands gently untie the robe and part it open, fingers reaching in to run up and down her sides, thumbs brushing the undersides of her breasts.

She kisses his mouth with vigor then and they tumble backwards onto the bed, her laughter and his eyes communication enough. His mouth and his hands damn near worship her, and she wonders if maybe this is that kind of love that all the songs and magazines are always talking about. She thinks perhaps it could be.

&&&

After, then when they lie tangled in the sheets, naked but for the bedding, he will trace the intricate patterns of the mehendi on her hands with a gentle touch, and she will marvel at him with her large, dark eyes, and he will wonder if, perhaps, one day he can find words enough for her.