Natasha watched as Raj pipetted into the glass cuvette, his jaw taut. When others were watching, the smiles came easy — but she knew him too well to not notice the shadows that darkened his eyes.
He had stayed stubbornly silent, refusing to discuss whatever had happened. Natasha couldn’t help the strong resentment that bubbled up towards Ananya for putting him in this position again.
“Stop it, Natasha.” Raj said dryly, stretching his back as he stood up. She met his gaze, eyes narrowing.
“I didn’t do anything.” She responded pertly.
“I can hear you cursing Anya in your head.”
“She hurt you. Did you think I would throw a party instead?”
“It was mutual. She didn’t do anything wrong.” He repeated, his voice steady even as her words echoed in his head. He willed himself to drown them out, intently focusing on the samples in front of him.
“Forgive me if I’m not inclined to believe you.” Natasha commented sarcastically. He gritted his teeth, dangerously close to losing his cool.
He didn’t want to talk about this. Not now, not ever.
It hurt too fucking much.
He felt her hand on Natasha’s shoulder, squeezing gently. He turned to face her, immediately feeling guilty for lashing out at her when he glimpsed the concern evident in her face.
“I just hate seeing you hurt.” She said, her tone softening. “And it’s not good to keep everything bottled up like this.” She added. “You don’t have to tell me, but hell, tell someone. I don’t care if it’s a random, angry blog post on the internet, if that’s what you need to do.”
He rolled his eyes in spite of himself, snorting. “I’m not writing a blog post about my fucking disaster of a personal life.” A hint of bitterness seeped into his voice, not unnoticed by Natasha.
“Thank god. I would almost be concerned if you had.” She said, and he smiled reluctantly.
She watched him stew in his thoughts silently, staring blankly at the samples in front of him.
“Do you want to go get lunch?” He asked tiredly, a wan smile on his face. She followed him silently as they walked across the street, sitting down at one of the small tables with a container of overpriced Asian food.
They ate in silence for a few minutes before he spoke. “I couldn’t give her what she needed.” He said finally, looking up from picking at his food.
Natasha watched him curiously, her brow creasing in confusion. He leaned back in his chair with a sigh, staring at an arbitrary spot behind her.
“She asked where this relationship was going, whether I had any intention of a future. I… couldn’t bring myself to say yes.”
“Why?” Natasha asked, interrupting his furiously swirling thoughts.
He snapped back to attention, the words not quite sitting right on his lips. “Because… I can’t trust her again. That would be stupid.”
“But she makes you happy.” Natasha said, like it was the easiest thing in the world. A memory slipped forth unbidden.
“Raj, stop it. We’re not watching NASCAR when we could be watching a different sport. Literally any other sport.”
“You lost the bet!” He exclaimed, snatching the remote back from her wandering hands. She pouted, her legs tossed casually over his, pillow clutched to her chest. He raised his eyebrows as her pout deepened and she reluctantly acquiesced, rolling her eyes.
He glanced at her suspiciously for a moment as she settled back. That had been far too easy. When they had dated in college, she had been known to argue for hours over things like this.
“I’m not nineteen anymore. I know when I’ve lost a battle.” She said with a touch of exasperation. He put his hands up, adjusting himself on the couch as he settled in.
She looked so innocent in her oversized Wisconsin sweatshirt, the logo worn from washing. Her hair was put up into a messy bun, and the sweatshirt nearly covered the shorts she was wearing. She leaned her head back, her eyes closing as a contented smile settled on her lips.
She opened a single eye, frowning. “What are you looking at? You got what you wanted.” She groused playfully, pushing a piece of hair out of her face.
He couldn’t help but smile at her exasperated expression when it fell right back, warmth spreading through him. He reached forward, brushing it out of her face tenderly. She looked at him in surprise, mild confusion appeared on her face.
“What?” She asked, her voice softening.
He shook his head, pressing a kiss to the inside of her palm. “Nothing. I’m just happy.”
As a smile bloomed on her face, he realized how much he meant those words.
He shook himself out of his reverie when Natasha tilted her head, her voice breaking through. “Raj?”
He struggled to swallow the sudden tightness in his throat, surprised by how sharp her absence felt.
Fuck, he missed her so much.
“Raj, are you okay?” Natasha asked more insistently, placing her hand over his. He flashed her an easy smile, shaking his head.
“I’m fine.” He winced as he said the words, already anticipating Natasha’s raised eyebrows.
“You didn’t even try to make that convincing.”
“It’s over. It’s done with. I finally got the closure I needed, so I can move on.” His voice cracked as he finished the sentence and he ducked his head, trying to mask his expression. He knew he was lying as he spoke, each word falser than the last. He didn’t want to see Natasha’s sympathetic head tilt. “It’s fine. It’s just the standard pain after a breakup. I’m sure it’ll be fine in a month or two.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself, Raj?” She asked pointedly, never one to mince words.
Anger bubbled up even though he knew she was right. “I don’t fucking know, okay? This was supposed to be fucking easier, and it’s really not. It shouldn’t hurt this much. It was wrong, we were wrong.” He snapped. “Stop trying to tell me it was right.”
She said nothing, merely looking at him expressionlessly. He stared back at her, crossing his arms across his chest as he attempted to regain composure. He remained in stony silence, and she made no attempt to mollify him as they stood up, tossing their containers into the trash.
“I’m sorry.” He said as they crossed the street, dropping his sunglasses down to cover his eyes.
“You don’t need to apologize, Raj. You needed that. I know it wasn’t directed at me.” She said softly, wrapping an arm around his waist to pull him into a hug.
She paused, turning to face him before she spoke again. “Look, Raj. It’s your decision — but that moment when you went quiet? For the first time in the three weeks since you guys broke up, you were smiling. A real, genuine smile, not that fake bullshit one you put out for everyone else. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that you were thinking about Ananya.”
He stayed conspicuously silent, but she saw the flicker in his eyes behind his sunglasses.
“I’m not going to sugar coat things for you, Raj. You’re welcome to make your own decisions, of course — but I will give you my honest opinion.”
He gave her a half smile, his fingers squeezing gently around her shoulder. “I know. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
He ruffled her hair fondly and she smiled, changing the subject to something lighter as they walked back into lab.
Ananya sighed heavily, leaning her head back against the couch as she sank down. Her heart remained stubbornly at the pit of her stomach, the food tasteless as she put it in her mouth.
Three weeks, and they hadn’t spoken once.
She had thought about texting him, wanting to maintain a friendship. But every time she had seen his name on her phone, the dull ache in her chest had sharpened.
This was supposed to be easier. She was supposed to have gotten closure.
She laughed scornfully to herself, shaking her head. It hurt worse now than it had before, because this time…
He couldn’t trust her. He never would.
He had good reason for it, and she had even expected it — but no amount of bracing had prepared her for the hollow emptiness that she was left with.
She groaned when she heard the knock on the door, not wanting to see anyone. She had avoided the missed calls from Pooja, not wanting to break the wedding, instead choosing to hole up in her room and write. She snorted.
That was the one thing it had been good for. She was ahead of her deadline, for once.
The knock came again, this time more insistently. With a frustrated exhale, she got up, swinging it open with a glare on her face.
“You certainly inherited your mother’s glare.” Vishwanathan Iyer stood on the other side of the door, holding a bag. She immediately took it from him, placing it on the side table as she buried herself in a hug. She could hear his quiet laugh against her head as he wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close.
“Where’s Amma?” She mumbled into his chest as he smoothed her hair down.
“She’s on her way up. You didn’t respond to one of her five phone calls in thirty seconds so naturally her assumption is that you’re dead.” He said with a fond smile, shaking his head. Ananya simply rolled her eyes, her lips stretching up in spite of herself.
“It is a perfectly valid concern, Vishwa.” Her mother said from the doorway, appearing behind him. Her sharp glare immediately morphed into one of concern as she took in her daughter, stepping forward and cupping her face. “Have you been eating? You look awful.”
“Wow Ma, you really know how to flatter me.” Ananya retorted sarcastically, shutting the door behind them. She heard Radha sigh heavily behind her as they walked into the kitchen, feeling her gaze on her back. “I’m fine, Amma.” She said, not trusting herself to turn around.
“You can’t lie to your mother, Anu.” Radha said with uncharacteristic softness, pulling her into a hug. Ananya swallowed tightly, tears stinging her eyes as she leaned into her mother. Her chest heaved with a sob, but Radha held her close even as she tried to turn away.
“I miss him, Amma.” She choked out, hot tears staining her cheeks. “I miss him so much. I was supposed to get closure.”
She held Ananya as her daughter cried, her shoulders shaking with sobs. She looked over her head to meet her husband’s eyes, guilt weighing her down.
If she hadn’t interfered, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened.
Vishwa silently shook his head from the doorway, walking over them as he rubbed Ananya’s back. He reached around, squeezing Radha’s hand in a quiet reminder.
Stop blaming yourself.
“I know, kanna.” Radha responded quietly. “I know.”
Song: Maana ke Hum Yaar Nahin
Artist: Parineeti Chopra
Note: I hope you enjoyed the update! It’s a little on the short side, so I’ll try to update ASAP. To all those in America, I hope your Independence Day weekend was filled with grilling and fireworks. As always, follow buttons are on the right — if you find that you are not receiving notifications, feel free to follow me on Twitter @chotidesi or unfollow and refollow again.