“Mamu!” Nicholas slammed against his legs before he had time to react, a blur of motion as he ran. Raj bent down, swinging his nephew up into his arms before placing a loud kiss on his cheek. Nicholas giggled, patting his face with chubby hands.
“Hi Nick.” He looked up, adjusting the toddler on his hip with a short exhale as he caught his sister’s gaze.
“He’s really grown since the last time I saw him.” He paused, a mischievous smile playing at the corner of his lips. “And so have you.”
Anjali’s shot him a halfhearted glare, one hand resting on the curve of her lower belly as she walked into his apartment. “What happens to all your gentlemanly attitude when you see me?”
“I remember that I’m also a little brother.” He grinned, pressing a kiss to the top of his sister’s head as she gave him a one-armed hug. “I’m glad you could come, Didi.”
Nicholas squirmed in his arms, reaching for the toy that Anjali held. She gave it to him as Raj released him, allowing him to run off. Anjali turned back to Raj as they settled on his couch, keeping an eye on Nicholas in the center of the room as they talked.
“How are you doing?” Anjali asked, turning a concerned gaze to her brother. Raj mulled over his words, his eyes still trained on Nicholas.
Anjali leaned back, her head tilted as disbelief fleeted across her face. “Really? You’re doing better?”
Raj tossed her a glance. “Did you expect me to be sobbing on the floor?”
Anjali punched his shoulder, rolling her eyes. “No. I expected you to be standing in the rain with tears streaming down your face.” He snorted, smiling. “I just… she’s been a part of your life for so long, you know?”
He swallowed, nodding. “It has been six weeks.”
“It had been three years.” Anjali countered, emphasizing the word meaningfully.
Raj pressed his lips together. “There’s no point in lingering over it.” He said with finality. He ignored the visceral tug at his heart, reminding himself for what felt like the millionth time that he was moving on.
Anjali stared at him quietly for a long moment, and he turned to her, smiling. “Really Di, I’m fine.”
She nodded, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “I know.” She paused, laughing slightly. “But you know, in the last five weeks, I haven’t heard you say that you’re happy. Just that you’re fine.”
Her words were light, but he hadn’t missed the pointed inflection in her tone. He remained stubbornly silent, his jaw taut with tension. She touched his shoulder and he turned, letting out a long breath. “What do you want me to say?”
“The truth.” She responded simply. His face whitened and she shook her head. “I haven’t pressed you on this, Raj. The first time you broke up, I let it go. You were clearly devastated, and I didn’t want to make it worse. This time, you’re fine.”
She said the word almost scornfully. “And while that’s dandy, at least last time, you felt something. This time, it’s like you’re just… empty.” Her voice softened, her gaze drifting over his face in concern.
“Spare me the dramatics, Di.” He snapped, rolling his eyes. “There’s no need to pull out the Hindi movie dialogues. Ma does enough of that already.”
“I know, she told me. She’s worried about you too. She asked me if Ananya had broken your heart again. But I couldn’t fucking tell her because when it comes to her, you shut down like I’m asking you to reveal a state secret.” She responded, her voice quiet so as not to attract Nicholas’ attention, but not lacking in frustration.
He threw up his hands, exhaling angrily. “What do you guys want? A written statement declaring that yes I was involved with Ananya Iyer again? A tell all expose on how she fucking picked up and just left for Columbia without ever asking me? A dramatic romance novel on how even after what happened, I can’t seem to fucking forget her?”
He inhaled sharply as soon as the words left his mouth, snapping it shut. Anjali stared at him with wide eyes, softening in empathy. He looked away, his lips pressing into a tight line.
“That’s what happened?” She asked softly, urging him to look at her.
He closed his eyes, nodding slowly. “Yeah. That’s what happened. I was going to propose and she…” His breath whistled through his teeth.
“Everything makes so much more sense now.” Anjali mused, almost to herself.
“Yeah, well.” He shrugged, trying to shake it off.
“And you were afraid to trust her again so… you broke up with her?”
“Actually, she broke up with me.” Anjali’s eyebrows shot up and he hastened to explain. “She said that I had to be all in. It wasn’t fair to either of us for me to be one foot out the door the whole time.”
“Hmm.” Anjali made a noise of agreement, her eyebrows knitting together in thought. They sat together, leaning against the couch with their own thoughts.
“I miss her so much.” He said tightly after a long beat, his voice hoarse.
“But you also don’t want to commit to her?”
Raj fell silent, his jaw ticking. “I’m scared.” He said shakily, vulnerability punctuating his words.
Anjali squeezed his hand. She stared at him for a long moment, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Do you remember when I started becoming serious about Javi?”
Raj snorted. “Of course I do. You were so lovesick, it was hilarious. You still are, for the record.” He said, grinning mischievously in spite of the serious conversation.
Anjali glared at him playfully before sobering. “Remember how terrified I was to tell Mama and Papa?”
Raj let out a whistle, nodding. “God, yes.”
“I was scared they wouldn’t approve because he wasn’t Indian, and because the whole giant Catholic Latino family was literally the exact opposite of everything Mama wanted.”
“And look at them now. Javi can do no wrong, in the eyes of Ma.”
“You were the one who convinced me to tell them. It was about a year after we started dating, and I was still sneaking around and you told me that if I didn’t tell them, I wouldn’t give them the opportunity to prove me wrong.”
Raj raised his gaze to meet hers, his mouth opening slowly. “I totally forgot about that.”
Anjali nodded, smiling. “I was going to break up with him before that. It was getting too serious, and I didn’t think it would last with Mama and Papa’s disapproval.”
Raj’s eyes widened in shock. “I didn’t know that.”
Anjali shrugged. “It didn’t seem relevant since I ended up telling them. You told me to give it a chance. And so I did, and I’ve never regretted it.”
“What are you implying?” Raj asked, his eyes narrowing defensively.
Anjali shook her head. “I’m not implying anything. I’m just telling you what you told me. Sometimes, people will prove you wrong in a good way. You just have to give them the chance to.”
Raj sighed heavily, resting his head against the couch. “Is it worth it?”
“That’s not my decision to make, is it?”
Raj made a face. “I hate when you sound like Ma.”
They sat in silence for a while, the only sound the clicking of the wheels of the little truck that Nick had against the floor.
Raj swallowed the lump in his throat, his heart pounding in his ears. “I don’t want to get hurt again, Anju. I… I don’t think I could put myself back together again.” His voice cracked, and he cursed quietly under his breath as he swiped at the tears.
Anjali stared at him for a moment, a knowing smile playing at her lips. “But you’re not quite complete without her, are you?”
Song: Phir le Aaya Dil
Artist: Arijit Singh
Note: I hope you enjoyed this chapter — it’s another short one, I know, but if I combine chapters, then I end up with 29 instead of 30 total and I’m a little too OCD to do that (my boss calls me the “OCD one” because of how stressed I get when things are out of order). That being said, I’ll update next on Tuesday, July 18th with another part to make up for it 🙂
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