Note: Flashbacks are in maroon italics.
She brought her knees in, her fingers flying across the keyboard as silent sobs shook her. The memory of the shattered hurt on his face as she had told him was seared into her mind, the same exact look that had been on his face tonight.
She wiped her face with the back of her hand, reaching for a tissue. Her head felt as if someone had pressurized it, at the barrier of exploding but never quite there yet. Her nose clogged up as she tried to blow into the tissue, making her cough.
She ran a hand through her hair, drawing a shuddering breath. The words blurred together on her screen but she didn’t need to read it to know that the emotions were spot on. Squeezing her eyes shut, she leaned her head back on the couch, their kiss replaying in her mind.
She could feel it on her lips, the aching familiarity. The warmth had spread slowly from her stomach, sweeping through her body until the air felt cool and caused goosebumps to erupt across her skin.
Fuck, she missed him.
She had never stopped missing him.
She cursed loudly, chucking a pillow at the wall in frustration.
Where would they have been now?
She laughed humorlessly at the question, shaking her head. Raj had been right, she was a stereotype.
She was just so damned tired of missing him. She missed his scent. She missed the way he would absentmindedly wrap her hair around his finger as they were lying in bed at night. She missed the warmth of his embraces, the feel of his mouth against hers, the laughter, all of the conversations, she missed it all, for fuck’s sake.
She blinked back the tears, gritting her teeth. She had lived with the regret for three years, and at this point, it seemed like she would live with it for the rest of her life.
Maybe she would end up living in the “Ananya room” at Pooja and Aman’s house with three cats.
She heard a knock on the door and reluctantly got up, pulling it open.
“Amma?” She blinked blearily, rubbing at her pounding forehead. Radha assessed her daughter quickly, concern immediately flooding her.
“Anu? What happened? Have you been crying? Did you get something to eat? I called you three times, why didn’t you pick up? I was so worried, and Pooja said that you had left the party a little early and I come here to-”
“Amma!” Ananya interrupted, groaning. She moved aside to let Radha step in, closing the door behind her. Radha turned, fixing her with a disapproving look. She opened her mouth to speak but Ananya held up her hand, shaking her head.
“No. Don’t lecture me. We’ve talked about this.” She said, her voice a warning. Radha’s gaze narrowed.
“That was when you apparently were capable of taking care of yourself. Is this how you care for yourself?”
Ananya gave her an exasperated look, rolling her eyes. “You promised you wouldn’t do this to me, Amma.”
Radha pressed her lips together in displeasure but acquiesced, shrugging. “Fine. I’m just trying to help, but don’t listen to me.”
“I just want to help, Anu.” Radha added, her tone softening as worry seeped in. She walked over to Ananya, cupping her cheek. “I don’t like seeing you upset.” She said quietly, running her thumb over Ananya’s cheek.
Ananya sighed. She smiled briefly at her mother before leaning in, wrapping an arm around her and squeezing. Radha waited for a moment but didn’t push, despite everything telling her to push. She bit back the words and smiled instead, gesturing to the food she had brought. “I brought you dal makhni. I made some tonight for Appa.”
Ananya broke into a wide grin, immediately opening the container. She inhaled deeply, her eyes suddenly lighting up. “I love this! I don’t think I realized how hungry I was until I smelled it. Let me go get a spoon.”
Radha watched as Ananya went to the kitchen, a bittersweet pang in her stomach.
She had been trying to give Ananya space, as her daughter had asked. Ananya had insisted that Radha let her make her own decisions, and had adamantly stuck to that.
She was so used to protecting Ananya for every single thing. But after Ananya had dropped out of medical school, Radha had slowly come to realize that she needed to trust that Ananya knew what she was doing for herself.
She blinked, the back of her throat prickling at the memory. She still recalled that awful conversation when Ananya had told her that she was dropping out of medical school, the searing hurt that had cut through her.
Her heart twisted at the memory, the fragments of bitter pain making themselves known again. It had felt as if Ananya was rejecting her, and that had broken her heart. She swallowed, exhaling slowly.
She was still learning. Six months of not talking to her daughter, not seeing her, not hearing her voice had broken her in a way that she hadn’t known. Ananya was her baby.
She watched as Ananya devoured the food, a fond smile tugging at her lips. A tear slipped out of the corners of her eyes and she brushed them away, letting out a breath. Ananya paused, looking up at her mother.
“Amma? What happened? Is everything okay?”
Radha waved her off, embarrassed. She turned her head, wiping away the tears. She smiled at her daughter. “Nothing. I was just thinking of how big you’ve gotten. You don’t need me anymore.”
Ananya shook her head, interrupting. “No, Amma, that’s not true, I-”
“I know I know, you still need me, but in a different way. I’ve heard that nonsense a million times.” She said perfunctorily, masking her sentimentality with dismissiveness. Ananya regarded her mom for a moment, mentally rolling her eyes.
There was a long silence. Ananya could feel her mother’s gaze on her, studying her worriedly. She exhaled, focusing her gaze on the table. “Raj and I had an argument.”
“Oh?” Radha resisted the overwhelming urge to ask more, determined to let her daughter say it as she saw fit. Ananya shook her head, playing with her hands in a nervous habit she recognized.
“Yeah, we… I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to be friends, Ma.” She said, her voice coarse. Radha’s throat tightened, feeling her daughter’s pain as her own. A stab of guilt reminded her of her own role in this.
“Stop it, Ma! Raj is my boyfriend, he just wants what’s best for me.”
“He wants what is best for you? Not your own mother, who gave birth to you? Wah, Ananya, kya baat hai.”
The memory made her cringe, the guilt sharpening as she looked at her daughter’s crumpled face. The sadness was unmistakable, regret piercing her features.
“And we have to be friends. We have too many mutual friends to not be, and I don’t want to put them in a position where they feel like they have to choose between us.” Ananya’s unsaid implications hung heavily in the air, longing lacing her voice.
Ananya continued. “I mean, it was fine when I was in New York, where we weren’t at the same events but now…” She trailed off, sighing heavily. Sadness weighed heavily on her heart, punctuated by an acute sense of longing.
Radha didn’t say anything, instead choosing to wrap her daughter in an embrace. Ananya leaned against her mother, hot tears wetting the kurta she wore.
Raj stared at her name on the screen. A deep settled ache reared its head again, longing tugging painfully at his heart. His chest felt right as he scrolled absentmindedly, no amount of deep breaths enough to soothe the pain.
He didn’t bother to hold back the frustrated curse that tumbled from his lips, slamming his laptop shut. The bitterness of their breakup rose in his throat again, staining the back of his tongue.
He should have been over this at least two years ago.
What was it they said? One week for every month a couple spent together?
Whoever had come up with that had clearly never met Ananya Iyer.
He walked over to the drawer by his bed, pulling it open. It creaked slightly, but the glint was unmistakable, sparkling even in the darkness. He picked it up, sinking down onto his bed as he ran a finger along the edges.
He blinked rapidly, holding the ring gingerly in his fingers. He reached into the drawer, pulling out the photo of them that he had never quite been able to throw out. It had remained there, tucked into the back corner of his drawer for the last three years.
He could still feel the ghost of her lips against his, hear the soft sigh as he tilted her head up to meet his. It was so easy to kiss her, so… different. He had dated a few other women in the last three years, but kissing Ananya again had reminded him why nothing else had ever really worked.
He distinctly remembered one of the last conversations he had had with Nicole as a couple. They had been dating for six months, but there was still that unmistakable distance between them.
“Raj? Where is this going?” He glanced down at the woman in his arms, her delicate blonde hair splayed out across his shoulder as she leaned against him. His stomach felt like lead at the question, and his mind spun all the possible ways he could avoid this conversation.
“It’s going somewhere.” He said lightly, grinning in a way that he hoped would distract her. He cursed internally when her gaze darkened and she straightened, turning towards him.
“Raj.” Nicole said, her voice tinged with exasperation. “We’ve been dating for six months, and I realize that’s not a particularly long time but…” She trailed off, her hazel eyes searching his face.
“Why do we need to define that now, Nicole? Why can’t we just live in the moment?” He asked, frustration showing in his voice. He was tired of having this argument with every woman he dated, the question constantly hanging over their heads.
“You may not have a biological clock, but I certainly do.” She joked. He smiled in spite of himself, shaking his head.
“That’s supposed to be my line, Nicole.”
They looked at each other and he leaned in, kissing her gently. She pulled back from him, her face lined with worry. He felt the trepidation grow within him, recognizing where this was heading.
“Raj, I want a relationship that I know has a future. I’m looking for something serious.” She paused. “Look, I know you were in one serious relationship that from what I can tell, has left you with quite a few uncertainties about relationships. But you have to deal with that. You can’t just keep running from it.” She started, her voice gentle. He stiffened, turning away.
“I’m not running from it. I’m completely over it. I haven’t seen her in over three years, it’s not like I’m pining over her every moment.” He said sharply. He could feel Nicole’s gaze on him, frustratingly knowing.
“No, you may not be pining for her. But you still hold that resentment, and you can never move on unless you let that go.”
“Are you accusing me of still having feelings for her? Is that what this is about? Do you think I don’t care-” He asked defensively, turning to face her once more. Nicole shook her head, holding up a hand.
“You’re misunderstanding me. I’m not accusing you of having unresolved feelings for her, or accusing you of not caring about me enough.” She squeezed his hand lightly, smiling. “I know you love me, you’ve said so. I’m just saying that maybe it’s time that you confront how that experience has shaped you.”
He regarded her for a long moment, and then nodded jerkily, before turning back. Nicole sighed, giving up on the conversation for now. She nestled her head into his shoulder, picking her book back up again.
He and Nicole had broken up amicably two months after that, realizing that they wanted different things in that moment. He had even attended her wedding, thrilled that she had found someone who was ready to give her what she needed. Her words had stuck with him, even more poignant after what had happened tonight.
She would laugh if she heard him tonight. A slight smile tugged at his lips, and he picked up his phone, making a reminder to call her. He placed his phone back down with a sigh, grasping the photo in his hands.
He stared at it, his eyes tracing the familiar lines of the image. He exhaled slowly, his heart sitting uncomfortably in his chest. The anger had left him, replaced by a heavy exhaustion.
He was tired of hating her.
Song: Don’t You Remember
Note: And that’s where I leave you for today, with another Adele song! I hope you enjoyed this chapter — and that the last few have shed some light on where Raj and Ananya are coming from. As always, the follow buttons are on the right, and if you find that you’re not getting notifications, please try unfollowing and re-following. Let me know what you think!