Pooja wrapped Ananya in a warm hug. “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.” She said, drawing back. Ananya nodded as they walked over to the couch, reaching over to the side table to pull out coupons for pizza.
“I know, these last few weeks have been crazy.”
“I cannot wait for this wedding stuff to be over. I just want to be married to Aman, and not have to worry about fittings and picking flowers.” Pooja said with an exasperated sigh, rubbing at her forehead.
“I finally got the next draft in to my editor and managed to finish up some testing at work, so I can take a breath for a week before it gets nuts again.”
Pooja turned to look at her with a smirk. “Plus you managed to squeeze some time in to do research for those sex scenes, didn’t you?”
Ananya flushed. “I… maybe.” A smile spread across her face as she bit her lip, unable to withhold the smile that took over her face.
Pooja’s eyes widened at the lack of denial, replaced by an uncharacteristic acceptance. “Things are going well?”
Ananya hesitated for a moment, nodding slowly. “I don’t want to jinx it. But… yeah.” A true smile played at her lips, her eyes softening.
Pooja studied her. The shadows that had lingered behind her eyes had been replaced by a tentative light. Even when Ananya had been dating Jack, she hadn’t seen the ease in her smile that was there now, she realized.
“It’s always been Raj for you, hasn’t it?”
Ananya looked up from dialing the number of the pizza place, swallowing audibly. Pooja regarded her quietly, a soft smile on her face. “Even when you were dating Jack.” She added.
“I loved Jack.” Ananya said, a hint of defensiveness tinging her voice.
Pooja shook her head. “I’m not saying you didn’t.”
“I never got closure.”
“That’s what all this is about. Closure.” Pooja drawled sarcastically, raising her eyebrows.
Ananya fell silent, drawing a long breath. “I… I don’t know, Pooja. It’s different this time. We’ve changed in three years, but it still just feels so… easy with him.” She smiled almost disbelievingly, shaking her head. “It’s never been that way with anyone else, and I tried dating other people. You remember. The only person it sort of worked with was Jack, and even with him, I found myself unconsciously wondering whether committing to him would mean that Raj and I would never…”
She trailed off, laughing. “Wow, I sound like such a bitch when I say that.”
“No you don’t. You sound like someone who was considering her relationship.”
There was a moment of silence. “Are you happy?” Pooja asked, somewhat repetitively.
Ananya paused. “Why do you ask?”
Pooja stayed silent for a minute, considering her words. “You’ve been quiet about this relationship. Not that you’re usually shoving it in everyone’s faces, but… it’s like you’re scared to mention him.”
Ananya let out a short laugh. “You really do know me, don’t you?”
Pooja grinned, shrugging. “There’s a reason I’m your best friend, you know. It’s been… what, eight years now?”
“Almost. We met our freshman year of college. God, I can’t believe it’s been that long.” Ananya groaned, placing her face in her palms. “Where did the time go?” She mumbled into her hands. Her nose crinkled as the words left her mouth. “I sound like one of those old people.”
“Ah, we’re four years away from thirty.”
“Don’t remind me.”
I’m scared.” She said after a beat, vulnerability peeking out as her fingers twisted in her lap. “I want this to work so badly, and I’m scared that if it doesn’t…” She exhaled, leaning her head back. “I don’t want to think about how that would be.”
Pooja remained silent for a moment. “How has he seemed about it?” She asked finally.
Ananya paused, her brow furrowing as she thought. “Honestly… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Pooja’s eyebrows shot up. “You haven’t talked about this.”
Ananya shook her head slowly. “No, not really. We have… never really talked about what we are or where this is going.”
“Even when you started dating again?”
A faint blush stained Ananya’s cheeks again, darkening as it rose up her neck. “We ah… weren’t really doing much talking when that happened.” She muttered, her face flaming as Pooja’s smirk widened.
“I see. Have you tried to talk about it?”
Ananya swallowed the sudden tightness in her throat, avoiding Pooja’s eyes. Uneasiness crept up her arms. She knew they had been avoiding the conversation, afraid of what it could bring.
“Are you afraid to ask him?” Pooja’s voice softened with empathy as Ananya nodded, drawing an unsteady breath. When she looked up, the light reflected off of the sheen of tears.
Ananya laughed shakily, sniffling. “Look at me crying over a boy like I’m twelve again. God. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I just –” Pooja stopped, biting back the rest of her sentence. Ananya’s gaze shot to hers, her brows lifting in silent query. “It’s not important.” She waved it off, but Ananya wouldn’t let go.
“No, tell me.”
Pooja held her breath for a moment before releasing it. “I’m worried that you’re right.” She said reluctantly, concern evident in her gaze. Ananya froze, her breathing growing shallow. Pooja pushed forward, voicing her strongest fears as her heart roared in her ears. “I’m afraid that he’s too scared to commit again, and he’ll break your heart.”
Ananya’s chest tightened sharply at the words. “Right.” She struggled to loosen the knot in her stomach, drawing shaky breaths as the tears stung at her eyes. Pooja reached forward, squeezing her knee.
“Look, I could be wrong, okay? I’m just thinking about worst case scenario because I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Pooja’s voice broke slightly, and she blinked back her own tears. “Seeing you that devastated was so hard, Anu. I don’t want to see you like that again.” She said strongly.
Ananya’s gaze lifted, searching her face for some sign of reassurance. Her voice was small when she spoke, fear resonant in her words. “It won’t happen, will it?”
Pooja gave her a long stare. “I hope it won’t.” She said, not committing.
Ananya laughed humorlessly, shaking her head. “I hate you a little bit for that answer.”
“You know you would say the same thing.”
Ananya nodded, leaning onto Pooja’s shoulder. “I know I would. I needed to hear that.”
“You also need to have that conversation with him.” Pooja reiterated. She felt Ananya stiffen against her shoulder, no response coming from her. “You know that right?”
“Yeah. I know.” She said finally. “Can we watch that movie? I need a pick me up after that.”
Pooja nodded, pressing the play button. Ananya slipped into the romantic comedy, grateful for the unrealistic expectations and happy endings afforded by fiction.
She swung the door open, coming face to face with Raj on the other side. He gave her a lopsided smile, lifting the box he held.
“I brought cupcakes.”
Her eyes lit up as she took it from him, going up on her tiptoes to press a soft kiss to his lips. His hand steadied her, deepening it with a sigh. Her grip loosened on the box and she pulled back with a start, grabbing it just as it started to fall.
She grimaced, looking up at him sheepishly. “We should probably put this down before we do more of that.”
He merely shook his head with a chuckle, taking it from her and placing it on the table.
“Why the cupcakes?” She asked, as he followed her into the kitchen. He leaned against the counter, folding his arms across his chest with a shrug.
“Felt like it. It’s a new place up on Monroe, and I drove by and thought you would like it so I picked some up.” He said easily. Her heart skipped a beat but she determinedly clamped it down.
She couldn’t let herself feel right now.
She could feel his gaze on her as she continued to wash the plates, and she looked up at him, brushing her hair behind her ear self-consciously. “What?” She asked. He smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he looked at her.
He reached out, brushing the soap suds out of her hair. “You have soap in your hair now, genius.” He said lightly, his voice teasing. She flushed uncharacteristically, particularly conscious of how his words made her feel.
Stop it, Ananya.
His expression changed, recognizing that something was wrong. She hastily turned away, trying to clamp down on any sign that something was bothering her before he could pick up on it. “Is there something I should know?” He asked, getting straight to the point.
She cursed inwardly, shaking her head and flashing him what she hoped was a convincing smile. “No, I just had a long day at work.” She said, opting for a partial truth.
He regarded her quietly for a long moment, as if deciding whether or not he wanted to believe her. “Are you sure that’s all it is?”
She swallowed audibly, not answering. His gaze intensified, and he raised his eyebrows. “Come on Anya, you know I know you well enough to read through that.”
“It’s not important right now.” She hedged, still refusing to meet his gaze. She busied herself drying the dishes, ignoring the increasing force of his silence. He finally sighed heavily, reaching for the towel in her hands.
“Are you going to talk to me or…?”
“For fuck’s sake Raj, let it go.”
“If you want me to let it go, let’s deal with this.” He asserted, crossing his arms over his chest. “You avoiding it isn’t going to fix the problem, and it’s clearly causing you trouble because you won’t look me in the eyes or respond to anything I say the way you usually do.”
“I don’t want to address it.” She snapped, taking the towel back from his arms as she turned and walked towards the fridge. She could feel his concerned gaze on her back, her stomach knotting as the words sat on the tip of her tongue.
She grabbed a bell pepper from the fridge, and he watched her for a while longer, his gaze following her movements. She was tense, her knuckles pale as she sliced the vegetables. He stepped closer to her, his hand gentle as he touched her shoulder.
She stilled, swallowing audibly. Her gaze turned up to his, her eyes searching his. She set the knife down, inhaling and exhaling deeply as she turned to face him. She considered her words for a long moment.
“Where is this going, Raj?” She asked finally. Her eyes were wary as she spoke, blunt words shadowed with vulnerability. Apprehension wound itself around his stomach, squeezing uncomfortably. His mouth went dry, the reassuring words he had stocked up slipping from his mind.
“Where is what going?” He questioned stupidly, even though he knew exactly what she was referring to. She regarded him for a moment, shaking her head wryly.
“This is why I didn’t want to discuss it. I knew you would react like this.”
He tensed, struggling to retain composure as defensiveness crept up. “I haven’t even reacted yet, Ananya.” He said evenly, failing to keep the edge off of his voice.
She drew a deep breath, effort evident as she smiled tightly. “It’s fine Raj, we don’t have to talk about it.”
“Clearly, we do have to talk about it.” He responded, his voice sharp. “It’s affecting you.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Where do you think this is going?”
She threw up her hands, exhaling sharply in frustration. “Don’t just fucking throw the question back at me.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.” He said, hedging for time.
She stared at him incredulously for a moment. “I want you to say what you think, not what you think I want to hear.” She snapped, anger lacing her voice.
They stared at each other for a long time. Their breathing sounded far too loud in the silent room, realization slowly dawning on her. Her face crumpled in disbelief, and her throat tightened.
“You don’t want to commit.” She said, her voice a broken whisper. She closed her eyes, tears causing her lashes to clump together. He knew he should tell her she was wrong, but he found himself frozen in place, unable to counter her words.
Because she was right.
He was terrified.
She stared at him, her eyes heavy with sadness. She smiled humorlessly, biting her lip. “Pooja was right.”
His gaze narrowed. “What did Pooja say?”
Her jawline hardened as she heard his tone, immediately defensive. “She mentioned that she was worried you would be afraid to commit again after what happened.”
“Why was she talking about our relationship?”
“Really Raj? She’s my best friend.” She responded sharply.
“So you just jumped to conclusions?” He asked accusingly, his voice sparking with anger.
“Fuck Raj, stop trying to put this on me because you don’t want to admit it’s true.” She said scathingly, her eyes blazing as her voice grew shrill. Tears flowed freely down her face, her breathing shaky as she hiccupped.
“Maybe it is true! I’m terrified of committing. I’m scared that you’ll fucking break my heart again and I’ll be left behind to pick up the pieces. Why the fuck would I trust you again?” He threw the words in her face acidly, his voice echoing in the otherwise silent apartment.
Her face paled as she stared back at him with glassy eyes. He heard her inhale, raising her gaze to meet his with an unsettling calm. He struggled to even out his breathing, squeezing his lids together for a moment.
“Anya.” He reached for her as her name left his lips, but she shook her head, a sad smile painted on her lips.
“No, Raj. Not again. I’m not going through this again.” She said firmly, her voice quavering on the last word. Panic gripped him, and he shook his head as his stomach dropped to the floor.
He couldn’t lose her. He didn’t want to lose her. He couldn’t do this again.
“Anya, no, that’s- that’s not what I-” He struggled to find the words, tears blurring his vision. His fingers curled around her wrist but she gently uncurled them, raising her palm to cup his face.
“No Raj. We aren’t doing this to each other.” Her throat hurt from the tears she was desperately trying to hold back, forcing her voice to stay steady. “Raj, look at me.” She tilted his face to look at her as he blinked back tears. She didn’t even realize when her own had spilled over, her eyes stinging painfully.
“I can’t make you trust me, Raj.” She said quietly as his eyes searched her face, as if he was memorizing her features. “That’s something you have to do on your own.”
“I believe you Anya, it was both of our faults and -”
She cut him off gently, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter, Raj. We have to trust each other, and until that can happen… this won’t work.”
“No, I’m not – I don’t blame you, Anya, I know -” His voice sounded desperate to his own ears, his heart shattering as she took a step back from him.
“I’m not mad at you, Raj. I just…” She drew a shuddering breath, streaks of tears lingering on her cheeks as she forced herself to inhale. “What happens if you can’t ever trust me? Do we stay in this in between state forever?” She laughed humorlessly, shaking her head. “I can’t do that Raj. I can’t make this harder for us than it already is. We have to let go.”
Her heart shattered as she said the words. Emptiness filled the crevices, her chest tightening painfully. “I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.” She said, the words unconvincing to her own ears as she forced herself to step further away, willing herself to be immune to the heartbreak written across his face.
They stared at each other for a long moment, the silence oppressive.
“I think you should leave, Raj.” She whispered, turning away as the tears spilled over once more. The door shut with a quiet click, his footsteps fading as he walked down the stairs. She sank down against the floor, finally allowing herself to give into the heaving sobs.
On the counter, a slightly smashed cupcake sat in a box, uneaten.
Song: If You’re Gone
Artist: Matchbox Twenty
Note: *ducks behind a bush for cover* Don’t kill me. I promise they will get their happy ending — they just need to overcome a few more of their inner demons to do so. Please let me know what you think! Even if it’s just to say I want to slap you for doing that to them 🙂
I really, really appreciate all the support from you guys about publishing this. The readers make the journey of a writer, and it’s so lovely to have such a supportive group reading your work. I am forever grateful.
As always, please drop a comment to let me know what you think if you have the time. Follow buttons are on the right, and if you find yourself not receiving notifications, try unfollowing and refollowing again.