“So what’s the deal with you and Ananya?” Raj glanced up from playing with Nick, adjusting the baby on his lap as his sister sank down into a chair next to him. He shrugged, trying to maintain nonchalance.
Anjali’s gaze narrowed. “You just danced through three songs with her.”
Raj stiffened, his heart pounding in his ears. He had most definitely not realized that they had danced through three songs together. He must have been seriously lost in his thoughts to not realize that.
Then again, they had always been able to just be with each other.
He cursed the voice at the back of his mind that reminded him of all the little things about their relationship. This was supposed to be fucking gone by now. It had been three whole years, more than enough time to get over her.
And he had been over her. That is, until she had come back, and everything had just come tumbling back again.
“Raj?” His sister’s voice gently interrupted his thoughts, concern in her eyes. He smiled wanly, shaking his head.
“Uh, I just… I don’t know, we decided to put aside whatever happened between us for the day. That’s all.” He muttered, a smile crossing his face as Nick gurgled contentedly. He could feel Anjali’s gaze on him, unnervingly astute. “It’s really nothing, Di.” He said, flashing her a quick grin that he hoped was convincing.
His sister stared at him for a moment longer, considering her words. He directed his gaze back to her. “Ask what you want to ask, Di. You know I won’t mind.”
“Why won’t you tell me what happened between you and Ananya?”
Raj froze. He let out a slow breath, turning to face Anjali more fully. “Because I didn’t want to impact your relationship with her.” He said honestly. Anjali stared at him for a moment, watching as Raj turned his attention back to Nicholas. A soft smile broke out over her face as she watched her brother and her son engage, with Nicholas clearly thrilled as Raj bounced him up and down.
Anjali’s attention was abruptly taken away when Radha Iyer stumbled over her foot. Anjali immediately reached out to steady her. Radha turned to her with a smile, grateful.
“Anjali beta, thank you so much. I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” She asked, reaching forward to give her an embrace. Anjali returned it warmly.
“I’m fine, thank you Aunty. Bas, Nicholas has kept me busy.” She gestured at her son, catching a glimpse of Raj’s stoic face. Radha met Raj’s gaze, giving him a small smile.
“Hello Raj. Your mom tells me that you’re doing research in a lab?”
Raj smiled politely, but Anjali could tell that it wasn’t quite genuine. “I am, Aunty. Excuse me, I think Aman is calling.”
He gave her a curt nod, swinging Nicholas up into his arms as he walked away. Anjali watched as they walked towards Aman, her brow furrowed in confusion.
She looked back at Radha, who seemed to want to say something more but withheld herself. Anjali knew that Raj and Radha Iyer had never particularly gotten along well, but this… Raj had rarely, if ever, been so curt with someone elder to them. Particularly to his ex-girlfriend’s mother.
Radha smiled briefly, shaking her head. “I should get these to Kamala. Would you excuse me?” Anjali identified as regret in her eyes, guilt playing out across her features.
She glanced over at Ananya, accidentally meeting her gaze. The other woman’s eyes widened and Ananya hastily pulled her eyes away, clearly embarrassed. She followed Ananya’s gaze over to where Aman was standing. Anjali’s brow furrowed in confusion, before realization dawned on her.
She had been looking at Raj.
Pooja glanced over at Raj from across the room before shifting her gaze back to Ananya, who had finally pulled her gaze away from him and was playing with her fingers instead. They were waiting for the photos to be taken of the groomsmen, and Pooja nudged her best friend. She nodded her head at Raj, who was playing with his nephew.
“So you and Raj danced together.” She said slowly. Ananya tried to remain unaffected but Pooja could see right through her. She chuckled inwardly. Ananya often forgot that Pooja could read Ananya just as well as Ananya could read her.
“We did. You did dare me to dance with the next guy I saw.” Ananya said, raising a single eyebrow. Pooja shrugged.
“I never said you should dance through three songs with him.”
Ananya turned to look at her incredulously. “There is no way I danced through three…” She trailed off, pressing her lips together. “I can’t believe we danced through three songs together.”
She turned suddenly to Pooja. “He didn’t tell Di about why we broke up.” She stated urgently, running a hand through her hair. “I just… I don’t know what to make of it. I’m just so fucking frustrated.”
Pooja’s eyes widened in surprise at her outburst. Ananya shook her head, closing her eyes. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be — this is your day, Pooja. We shouldn’t be talking about Raj fucking Malhotra.”
“I’d rather talk about this than discuss whether I want jasmine or marigolds at my wedding.” Pooja said dryly. Ananya laughed, her heart easing as she wrapped an arm around Pooja’s shoulder. Pooja pinched the bridge of her nose, rolling her eyes. “My mother is fascinated with all of the endless possibilities. I just want to pick some damned flowers and get married.”
“Hey, you signed up for this. I told you to elope, but no one ever listens to me.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be handling all of this anyway? I thought the bride’s best friend dealt with all the nitpicky details so the bride could relax.”
Ananya simply shook her head, smiling. Pooja nudged her again, and Ananya turned her gaze to her friend’s. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it? We’ve got at least another hour of this shit to wait through.”
Ananya looked away, her eyes drawn to Raj. She found herself smiling as she watched him talk to Aman, Nick propped on his hip. He had always been comfortable with children, and she could see the adoration in his eyes as he looked down at his nephew. Her heart tightened and she turned back to Pooja, shaking her head.
“I’ll be fine. I just need time to get used to seeing him again.”
“Pooja! Could you and Ananya come over here for photos of the bridal party with the groom’s party?”
Pooja gave Ananya a worried look before reluctantly turning away to face the photographer. Ananya drew in a breath, smiling widely for the camera.
Ananya sighed as she took another sip of her wine. She looked out over the city, the gleaming dome of the capitol visible from the terrace of Pooja’s apartment. Pooja and Aman had invited the bridal party and the groomsmen over for a party that night, so they would all get a chance to relax after the engagement ceremony from earlier.
Ananya had escaped to the terrace for a while, needing a break from people. She took another sip of her wine, leaning against the railing with a sigh. Her thoughts were tangled up with Raj, frustration bubbling at the surface.
She was tired of tiptoeing around their past — of tiptoeing around him. She didn’t understand him. After all, he had been the one to ask for distance, but when she had tried to give him that…
She shook her head with a frustrated sigh, downing the last of her wine. She let the glass hang over the railing, feeling vaguely like a depressed heroine in one of those awful romance novels.
The door creaked open behind her and Ananya jumped, turning around. Her heart leapt into her throat when she met the gaze of the man she had been avoiding. He cleared his throat, his silhouette outlined in the doorway.
“I didn’t know that you were up here.”
She shrugged. “Yeah well. I just needed some alone time.”
He nodded curtly, pressing his lips together. “I’ll leave then. I’m sorry I interrupted.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re welcome to stay here, it’s a public terrace.” She snapped, the words coming out harsher than she had intended. She bit her lip, flashing him a smile to soften the words. He walked towards her, leaning against the railing next to her, his own glass of whisky in his hand.
He tilted his head towards her empty wine glass. “Wine? Classy.”
“Mm.” She murmured, looking down at her glass.
“Could you be any more stereotypical?” He asked.
“Could you?” She retorted, gesturing to his glass of whisky.
“Fair enough. But I don’t have a biological clock ticking.” She gave him a glare, rolling her eyes.
“I know. My best friend is getting married, and I’m single and drowning my sorrows and jealousy in wine.” She deadpanned, throwing up a hand. He laughed, the corners of his eyes crinkling. She sucked in a breath, turning back to look out at Madison as she brushed her hair back from her shoulder. They stood in silence, staring out at the city.
“Did I tell you that I met Julia Quinn?” She said suddenly, breaking the silence. He turned to face her, his mouth open.
“No! You met her? When? And how was it?”
“It was amazing. I can’t even tell you — I was such a fangirl.” She said, laughing. He shook his head, rolling his eyes.
“Only woman I know who would fangirl over a romance novelist.”
“Hey! It’s a perfectly valid genre and a lot of people read them.” She said defensively. He raised an eyebrow. “It is.” She insisted, her cheeks heating up.
“I never said it wasn’t.” He said, putting his hands up in surrender.
“You’re laughing at me!”
“Oh come on, I laughed the first time too when I first found your sexy stories on accident.” He said, snickering.
She moaned, putting her face in her hands. “I’m still so mortified by that. And you read them aloud to me dramatically.”
“Her eyes were drugged with want, and she murmured his name, her hands reaching for his belt-” He said, his voice dropping to a husky whisper. She groaned between her laughter, slapping him on the chest.
“Stop it! It’s so embarrassing that I used to write that way.” She looked up at him, still laughing. Awareness swept in of just how close they were standing, and she swallowed nervously, her heart pounding in her ears. She was very conscious of his proximity, tilting her head up to look at him.
The alcohol had loosened the tight control he held over himself. The guard had come down in his eyes, revealing the man she had fallen in love with seven years ago just a little bit more. She let out an unsteady breath, blood rushing through her veins. He had stepped closer to her, his eyes briefly dropping down to her lips.
She felt him stiffen as she went up on her tiptoes, her lips hovering over his. “I-” She stopped, pressing her lips against his instead of continuing with words. Her hands went up to his cheek, but he stayed stiff. She drew back, mortified.
But before she had a chance to run, he drew her closer, wrapping an arm around her waist as he closed the distance between them. She sighed into his mouth, the kiss both strangely new and familiar. He opened his mouth over hers, pulling her flush against him as his nose pressed against the side of her cheek. Her body flooded with warmth as their kiss deepened, one hand sliding into his hair.
They pulled back slowly, staring at each other for a moment. Realization crept in and she dropped her hand from his chest as he stepped away from her, his gaze still on her. She turned to walk away, her breath shaky.
“Stop doing this to me.” He whispered, his voice cracking slightly. She stopped, mere feet away from him. His jaw trembled, his tone rising, hurt poignant in his eyes. “Just… stop.”
“You’re drunk, Raj.” She said quietly. He shook his head, pressing his lips together as the tears stung the back of his eyes.
“See that’s the thing, Ananya, I’m not.”
“I’ve had some wine, you’ve had some whisky, I think we both need to-”
“Shut up!” He snapped, cutting her off. She took a step back. “I know that you’re not drunk, so don’t even try.”
“Are we really going to do this here?”
“When else do you suggest that we do this?” He drawled. “Or would you rather we continue tiptoeing around the fact that we dated forever?”
“You were the one who didn’t want to talk about it!” She exclaimed, anger flaring within her. “You told me you wanted space!”
“Just like you did?”
“I never fucking meant it to be permanent!” The tears spilled down her cheeks, her voice shrill. All of the emotions of their breakup, the pain and the anger swamped her. She drew a hiccuping breath, fighting to keep herself from crying further.
“You can’t just choose when you want things Ananya. That’s not how life works.” He said harshly, not a touch of forgiveness in his voice.
“Did you ever stop to think what it was like for me? Or were you too busy wallowing in your own fucking misery to understand that maybe I was hurting too?” She asked sharply, her voice breaking.
He stood silently, sucker punched by the hurt in her voice. The tears slid down her cheeks in a wet mess, her nose red and her face splotchy. But it was the pain in her eyes that stayed with him, unable to look away as she forced him to confront what he had been avoiding.
She laughed humorlessly, shaking her head. “I didn’t think you had. I’m not denying that I was at fault — mostly at fault. But I am sick and tired of you putting all of this shit on me.”
“You threw in the towel on four years of our relationship, how the hell did you expect me to react when you fucking packed your bags and went to New York to do something you didn’t even want to do?!” His voice shook with anger and hurt, the lights glinting off the sheen of tears.
“It wasn’t fucking easy for me either. I was between my mother and you, who was I supposed to choose?”
“You picked running away over our relationship, Anya.”
“No, I picked taking time to think over putting myself in a position where I would make a decision I would regret.” She bit out.
“And how did that work out for you?” He asked sarcastically.
“Not so well.” She said honestly, surprising herself with the words. She swallowed hard, needles prickling at her throat. They stared at each other for a poignant moment before Raj looked away.
“You broke my heart.”
She sucked in a sharp breath at his raw words, every emotion displayed on his face.
“You were it, Ananya. And then all of a sudden, you weren’t.”
She pressed her lips together, squeezing her eyes shut as the tears slipped out from between her lashes.
“I broke mine that night too, Raj.” She whispered, her voice barely audible.
She stared at him for a moment more before she turned on her heel and began to walk away, wiping at the tears with the back of her hand.
“Why did you kiss me?” He asked softly.
She turned back to him, meeting his gaze directly. “Why did you kiss me, Raj?”
He watched as her silhouette disappeared down the stairs, squeezing his eyes together as the tears stung at his lids. He let out a long breath, turning his gaze up to the sky. With a sarcastic raise of the glass, he downed the rest of his whisky, staring after the empty door.
Song: Phir Bhi Yeh Zindagi
Artists: Farhan Akhtar, Vishal Dadlani, Divya Kumar, Alyssa Mendonsa, Sapna Pathak
Movie: Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)
Note: I hope you enjoyed the chapter! I’ll admit, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. As usual, follow buttons for both email and through WordPress are on the right side — if you find that you aren’t getting notifications, try following and unfollowing. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this, and I would love to hear what you think 🙂