He found her immediately on Wednesday, her hair pulled into a loose ponytail that was practically falling apart. Her body was hunched over her laptop, her fingers moving rapidly across the keyboard as she typed up her chapter. She leaned back for a moment, her lips pursed as she scanned the words critically.
He breathed in deeply, the image so piercingly familiar that it almost hurt. He had walked in on her doing this so many times, either staring at her phone as she waited or curled up in bed next to him.
Could he do this again?
She looked up just then, her eyes crinkling into a smile as she saw him. She gave him a small wave, adjusting her stuff to give him more space as he sat down on the stool across from her.
“Hey.” She looked almost as if she couldn’t believe it, staring at him for a split second too long. She blushed when he looked directly back at her, his head tilted in a silent question. “I just…” She paused, wondering whether she should tell him the truth. “I didn’t expect you to come.” She finished honestly.
Her words stung.
Did he come off as that fickle?
She immediately saw his expression, scrambling to fix it. “Not that you would stand me up. Just that…” She shook her head with an easy smile, waving it off. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. Not today.”
He breathed a sigh of relief, nodding. “Not today.” He agreed.
“So what did you do in lab today?” She asked, eager to change the topic.
“Ran a gel. It didn’t work, as usual.” He responded, making a face.
“What were you running?”
“I was checking to see if a PCR worked. It didn’t. RecA is too damn picky.” He said, exasperation lacing his voice. He nodded towards her laptop. “How’s the writing?”
There was an awkward pause as they stared at each other, struggling to fill in the spaces that had arisen from three years of silence. Her stomach turned as it stretched longer, and she wondered whether she had made a mistake.
What if they had lost the connection?
What if this would ruin the pieces they had?
“Weather’s nice.” He said finally. She stared at him for a moment, incredulous, only to see his eyes dancing with humor. With relief she broke into laughter, the discomfort of the situation easing over mutual acknowledgement of the awkwardness.
“I’m so sorry. I haven’t done this in awhile.” He added, shrugging with a wince.
“Nothing could top the awkwardness of that date with one of Pooja’s ridiculous Tinder dates. He wouldn’t stop talking about his miniature pony collection.”
Raj let out a bark of laughter, shaking his head. “I almost forgot about that. God, he was terrible. I can’t believe she went on to date him for… what was it, another month and a half?”
“And when she broke up with him she realized that he hadn’t even known they were dating.” She snickered, shaking her head. “That girl has had so many poor relationships.”
“She seems happy with Aman though.” He said, sobering slightly. Ananya’s smile softened, and she nodded.
“Aman’s a great fit for her. He tempers her more impulsive tendencies with how utterly stable he is.”
Raj’s mouth curled in amusement, the fondness evident despite her sarcasm. “You two have quite a friendship.”
“I’d do anything for her.” She responded emphatically. “Regardless of our disagreements on general life approaches.” She paused. “If it hadn’t been for her, we might never have ended up together.”
He blinked, clearly surprised. “What?”
“She was the one who convinced me to go for it.” Ananya said with a small shrug. “I was wearing that hot pink bra you used to really like that night.” She added, a teasing smirk playing at her lips. His eyes darkened, his jaw working as he fought to keep his face neutral.
She pressed her lips together but her shoulders shook as she lost the battle with her laughter. “You’re still so easy.”
“Only when it comes to you.” He responded easily, letting his gaze drop down to her lips. Her laughter was replaced by a sharp inhale, her eyes smoky as she met his gaze. The distance between them suddenly felt too large, and he wished they were in a booth where he could feel the warmth of her against himself. The sounds of the coffee shop faded away as they stared at each other, wanting desperately to be somewhere else where they could give in.
“We should probably order food.” She said, her voice faintly strained. He nodded, his hand grazing the dip at her lower back as they walked up to the counter. She looked back at him just as they approached the counter, her lips softening slightly.
“Cheesy foccacia, please.”
He shook his head, a snort escaping his lips.
“You haven’t changed your order in three years?” He asked.
“Have you?” She countered. His gaze dropped guiltily and she smiled in satisfaction, turning back to the woman behind the counter. “He’ll have a chocolate chocolate chip waffle.”
The woman glanced between them, smiling knowingly at him. “She knows you well.”
Raj stiffened beside her for a split second, and then let himself relax. “She does.” He responded simply. Her gaze turned to him in surprise, her heart skipping a beat at quiet acknowledgement of their past, untainted by bitterness.
He felt her eyes scanning his face as he handed his credit card forward. He looked down at her, his forehead crinkling as he raised his eyebrows in question. She shook her head, her body leaning into his as they walked back to their table.
“Did I tell you that Di is pregnant?” Raj asked as he sat down across from her.
“She is?!” Ananya exclaimed, her smile too broad to be realistic.
His gaze narrowed and then his mouth fell open in realization. “You knew?!”
Ananya’s eyes darted away guiltily and he leaned forward, accusing. “You didn’t tell me?!”
She held up her hands in surrender, her voice pitching higher with guilt. “I… I had a suspicion but I wasn’t sure. I figured she would want to tell you.”
“Come on! That’s the kind of thing I want to know.”
“Are you really mad?”
“Yes!” She fixed him with her gaze and he rolled his eyes. “No, I’m not. But still, you could have told me about your suspicion.”
“I’m just surprised that you never noticed. For all your bragging about noticing everything…”
“I was a little distracted by someone else.” He retorted dryly. Her cheeks flushed and he grinned, enjoying the way they darkened further.
“So how many months along is she?”
“Four. Just out of the first trimester.” He said, pride and excitement shining through his voice. She couldn’t help but smile with him, his joy infectious. “I’m so excited to have another kid to spoil. Di’s already complaining that Nick is far too spoiled for his own good.”
“You’re really good with him. It’s obvious he adores you.”
“The best part is when I get to hand him back to Di.” Raj joked. Ananya shook her head, and there was a short silence before he spoke again, his voice more serious. “I always thought I would have a kid by now.”
Ananya’s face registered surprise. “Really?”
He shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t know. Don’t you ever have these arbitrary milestones in your head of where in your life you’re supposed to be by now?”
“I did. And then I learned that life never turns out as you planned.” She said wryly. She paused. “I always thought I would be married by now. But kids…? I don’t know. I guess I never took the time to really think about it.”
Raj raised his eyebrows disbelievingly. “Ananya the planner has never considered children in the three years we’ve been apart? You had our life planned down to the minute when we were dating.”
She froze for a moment, uncertain of what to make of his candid tone. She laughed uncomfortably, her mind spinning as she hastily tried to figure out whether it was appropriate to respond as lightly. She couldn’t help but be wary, wondering how long this blissful peace would last.
Raj stared at her, realizing that something was off as she fell silent. “Is everything alright?”
Her eyes snapped back to his, a tense smile on her face. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She said, her voice a little too cheery.
He didn’t take his gaze off of her, and she smiled easily, strain showing in the lines around her lips. “Anya, this won’t work if we can’t be open about how we feel about this.”
His stomach clenched as soon as the words left his lips, turning over with nervousness.
That was it. They were doing this.
He had put it out there, and he hadn’t even thought about it.
But he didn’t feel like he wanted to take the words back.
He heard her breathe in, considering his words. She finally nodded, swallowing visibly. “Alright. I was trying to figure out how okay it is for us to talk about what happened… without apologies, without anger and arguments. It seems too… peaceful. And that makes me nervous.”
His stomach relaxed as she voiced the thoughts running through his own head, her eyes scanning his nervously.
“I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know what to make of this. And…” She bit her lip, taking a long pause before she continued. “I don’t know if I believe that… this is real.” She said finally.
He stared at her for a long moment, his expression inscrutable. “I’m scared.” He said, exhaling. “I don’t know if this will work and I don’t want to get hurt again. But it’s clear that being just friends is… difficult for us.” He added wryly.
He pressed his lips together, considering his next words for a while. “But… regardless of how this ends, I think it will give us closure. And isn’t that what we really need?”
She struggled to keep her face from falling, her heart dropping at his words.
It was practical, and yet… nothing about her own feelings were practical.
What if she fell in love again… and he didn’t?
She could feel his gaze on her so she smiled up at him, masking the apprehension that settled in her stomach. “Uh… yeah. Closure. That’s what we need.”
He reached forward, taking her hand in his. She looked up, taken aback by the sudden gesture.
“I want to do this, Anya.”
She searched his gaze, before leaning over the table, pressing her lips to his in a soft kiss, her fingers resting lightly against his cheek. She sat back down and he squeezed her hand gently, exhaling.
She moved to change the subject, talking animatedly about a new restaurant that had opened up in the Atwood neighborhood. A steady warmth grew in his heart as they talked. He found time slipping away before he had realized it, the sky growing dark outside as they conversed.
He couldn’t help but feel unsettled by the realization that the two hours he had spent with her had been the happiest he had felt since…
He swallowed. He knew he should be reminding himself of all of the reasons he should be careful around her, but instead his mind stubbornly reverted to everything he had fallen in love with.
He shook his head, and she looked at him curiously.
“Is everything okay? You just zoned out for a bit there.”
He hesitated. He didn’t want to put words to his emotions, and instead reached for a safer topic.
“Remember when you told me Andrew was having trouble making it work?”
Her brow crinkled in confusion. “You were thinking about my writing…?” She asked, slightly disbelieving.
He moved to clarify, gesturing. “I’ve always been interested in your writing. Remember all those times we sat on the dock talking through your plot?”
A fond smile broke out over her face, and she nodded. “Of course I do. You were the first person I told about my dream.” She said, her voice soft. “You gave me the courage to follow my dreams, even if it was a little late.” She stated honestly.
The emotion in her voice stunned him, a potent combination of gratitude and intense affection. If he closed his eyes, he could still see a nineteen-year-old Ananya, her face alight as she talked about the plot of her book. His heart skipped a beat as he recalled the intimacy of those late night conversations.
He cleared his throat. “You always looked so happy talking about it.”
She looked nostalgic as she nodded, and he knew she was thinking of the same nights he had been thinking of.
“Do you want to go there again? We can grab pizza on the way, and just sit on the docks. They close in half an hour anyway.” He said suddenly, before he could think the better of it.
Her face immediately broke out into a brilliant smile as she nodded, standing up. They made their way over to the lake, his arm drawing her close as the cool night air whispered over them. He found himself smiling as he watched her talk, her arms gesturing dramatically as she explained something, contentment sweeping through his entire body.
She paused in the middle of her sentence, tilting her head.
“What?” She asked, a self conscious laugh at the end of her words. She brushed her hair back from her face but it fell right back.
He leaned closer to her and her words trailed off as his fingers brushed the side of her cheek, gently cradling it. He melded their lips together, taking his time as he kissed her. She went languid in his arms, her arms drawing him closer as their tongues tangled together.
They drew back for a moment, his half lidded gaze drifting over her face. She smiled and his heart tripped, a feeling of elation that he only found with her. At the back of his mind he felt the realization, giving voice to what he had fought against for years.
She made him happy.
Song: Start of Something New
Artists: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Drew Seeley
Note: Thought I’d throw it back to my elementary school days and good old Disney for this chapter — Zac Efron, floppy hair, and the stirrings of young love 😉 I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
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