Chapter Thirty: Iktara

Ananya set the bag of groceries down with a heavy sigh, stretching in relief as she heard the pop in her back. She drew her phone out of her back pocket, leaning against the countertop as she scrolled through the notifications.

 

There were the usual work emails, followed by three emails from her publisher labeled as “URGENT”. She rolled her eyes. Ellen thought everything was urgent, right from her needing to add a period all the way to her deadline being in two hours.

 

Her thumb paused on the screen as she stared at the bright blue circle next to the picture of Raj, her heart pounding in her chest as she opened the text.

 

Raj Malhotra: Can I come over?

 

Raj Malhotra: Never mind, I’m on my way. I’ll wait outside if you aren’t at home.

 

It had been sent five minutes ago, which meant that he would be in another ten minutes. Her stomach rolled nervously. It had been a week since Pooja’s wedding, and they hadn’t seen each other since the dance they had shared. He had barely even looked at her after that, conveniently dodging her every time they had to share a space.

 

She shook her head, trying to clear the thoughts from her mind. Until Pooja’s wedding, she had been relatively successful at pretending like Raj hadn’t existed. She had blocked everything out, throwing herself into helping Pooja with last minute details and writing with a frenzy. She had even turned in the last copy of her manuscript two weeks early.

 

But then…

 

Her phone buzzed in her hand, and she glanced down.

 

Pooja Nair: Thought you should see these. The photographer sent a few photos over as a preview and these were in them.

 

She opened the pictures The first one was of her and Raj looking at each other just as the dance ended, a strange mix of nostalgia playing out on their faces. Her hand was still touching his, although just barely, as if she was trying not to let go. Heartbreak was written across their faces, and if she closed her eyes, she could still feel the warmth of his hands leaving hers as she had walked away.

 

She swiped left, the sharp sadness that assailed her too much to bear. Her heart froze as she stared at the screen, and she heard her breath grow shaky. The photographer had caught Raj looking at her as she laughed with Pooja in the foreground. It had clearly intended to be of her and Pooja laughing, but the camera had focused in the wrong spot, capturing Raj instead.

 

His eyes had softened, a hint of a smile touching his lips as he looked at her. His gaze was only on her, a rare moment when he wasn’t conscious of everyone around him.

 

She remembered that look. It was the look on his face after she had rambled for too long about something, mildly amused but indulgent. It was the look he had given her on the couch when they were watching a football game, her entire body sprawled across him in disarray.

 

“What are you looking at?” She asked, making a face at him. He simply shook his head with a smile.

 

“Nothing. Just wondering how someone so small can take up so much space.”

 

He had deflected the question every time, his cheeks reddening slightly while he deftly changed the subject.

 

But there was one time he hadn’t.

 

It was the same look that had been on his face when he woke up before her in the mornings, and his hand would run through her hair once before he pressed a kiss to her forehead.

 

“You have that look on your face again.”

 

“The look of someone who has just woken up?”

 

She let out an exasperated sigh as he began to get up from the bed, tugging him back down. “Stop deflecting.”

 

He looked at her for a long moment, smiling with that same shake of his head. “I’m just thinking about how much I love you.”

 

Her grip slackened, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. She turned her head so he couldn’t see her expression but he gently put his fingers under her chin, lifting her face so he could kiss her. They lingered in the kiss, his hands cupping her face tenderly before he reluctantly let go.

 

“Am I allowed to get up now?” He asked teasingly, easily catching the pillow she threw at him.

 

Her throat was tight as she began to type out a response. She struggled to tamp down the surge of hope, biting her lip as she typed out a response.

 

Ananya Iyer: These are good pictures. Why are you sending them to me?

 

She deleted the words with a sigh, shaking her head. She knew why Pooja was sending her those pictures. She had avoided Pooja’s questions after her wedding about the dance she and Raj had shared, not in a mood to talk about it.

 

Ananya Iyer: It means nothing.

 

She stopped, her thumb hovering over the send button.

 

Fuck. She didn’t even know anymore.

 

The doorbell rang before she could think further. Her heart was in her throat, and no amount of deep breaths eased her nervousness as she swung open the door before he could knock.

 

Her eyes drank him in as he looked back at her. He was wearing a light grey Oxford shirt and jeans, his hair messy from his hands running through it. His hands were shoved in his pockets, his shoulders tense as he stood in the doorframe.

 

“Can I come in?” He asked. She shook herself out of her reverie, nodding as she stepped aside to let him in. He looked around the apartment, his gaze flitting about.

 

“You added that.” He said, nodding at the picture of her and Pooja she had recently put up.

 

She smiled slightly. “It’s from her bachelorette party. It turned out surprisingly well for how drunk we were. I don’t even remember taking that.” She said with a laugh, her voice sounding high pitched to her own ears.

 

He nodded, his gaze going to the ground as he rocked on his feet.

 

“Is there something wrong Raj? Are Ma and Papa okay?” She queried gently.

 

His dark eyes snapped up. “Yeah yeah, of course. They’re fine. Papa’s doing well now. I actually…” He trailed off, muttering a frustrated curse under his breath as he tried to find the words.

 

He let out a sharp breath. “I’m sorry. You’re the one with the words. I never have been.”

 

Her brow furrowed and he closed his eyes for a split second before taking two steps forward.

 

“I want to do this for real.”

 

Blood rushed through her ears as he looked directly at her, his eyes clear. The words were punctuated by emotion, his entire posture relaxing as soon as he said them.

 

“Do what?” She asked stupidly, unable to think straight.

 

“This. Us. I want to give us a chance.” He repeated. She looked up at him, her breath coming in quick succession as she searched his face for any sign of uncertainty.

 

He broke eye contact, his hand rummaging in his pocket as he pulled out a small box. Her eyes widened and she began to shake her head.

 

“Raj, I-”

 

“I’m not proposing.” He said with a laugh. “But this is an engagement ring.” He added. He opened it, the diamond glinting in the light. Her breathing grew shallow, and she looked back at him, confusion marring her features as it mixed with recognition.

 

“Isn’t that the ring you were going to propose to me with?” She asked, her voice cracking with emotion.

 

She didn’t want to believe it. There was no way.

 

He nodded, and she felt all the breath rush from her body.

 

“I kept it. I don’t know why. I could have returned it, and I probably should have but every time I tried I just… couldn’t.” He said, shrugging.

 

The meaning of his words sank in, and tears rushed to the front of her eyes. He took two more steps forward until they were almost toe to toe, and she had to lift her chin to look up at him. He put the engagement ring back in his pocket, his voice growing quiet.

 

“I’m sorry, Anya. I never gave us a chance. I didn’t give you a chance to explain that night you came back and this time… I was one foot out the door the whole time, wondering when it would shatter.”

 

He paused, smiling wryly. “You were right. It never would have worked if we didn’t trust each other. I guess I just needed time to realize that.”

 

She didn’t say anything, and he reached out, brushing the piece of hair out of her face before letting his hand drop again. She felt the absence immediately, a cold wash of air flooding over her cheek. She blinked away the tears that sat at the corner of her eyes, her voice hoarse.

 

“How do I know this is for real? How do I know you won’t run away again?” She asked, her eyes urgent as they flitted across his face.

 

Raj inhaled audibly, wrestling with her question. He didn’t know what more he could offer beyond words of assurance, and God knew she had no reason to believe those again. He almost laughed at himself, realizing that this was how she must have felt – a keen sense of helplessness.

 

He needed to be honest. She deserved that.

 

“Without you, I’m fine.” Her brow furrowed, hurt appearing in her eyes. He shook his head hastily. “Fuck, I’m messing this up. That’s not what I mean. I’ve said that word so many times since we broke up. Yeah, I’m fine, but with you I’m…”

 

He trailed off, smiling softly as his thumb brushed across her cheek. “Happy. You make me happy.” He said simply.

 

She drew a sharp breath, hiccuping.

 

“I couldn’t return the ring because I couldn’t get over you. You’re it for me, Anya. I’m all in.” He said with quiet certainty, echoing the words he had said to her thousands of times.

 

You’re it, Anya.

 

“I can’t go through this again Raj.” She said quietly. “I can’t… pulling myself together is so damned hard and I just… we shouldn’t.”

 

His heart plummeted, and he found himself struggling to breathe as his stomach twisted. It stomach clenched painfully as he said the next words. “I understand.”

 

They stared at each other for an impossibly long moment, unable to move away. He heard Ananya swallow and then she shook her head, blinking rapidly as she wiped at the tears that had slid down her face.

 

“Fuck you, Raj. I can’t walk away from you.” She said, her voice breaking on a humorless laugh. “Three years later, and you still have the same damned effect on me, Malhotra.”

 

He gave her a half smile. “Touche, Iyer.”  

 

“I’m scared.” She said after a moment of silence, her eyes searching his face.

 

He looked at her for a long moment. “Me too.” He said quietly.

 

She bit her lip, inhaling deeply. “But… you trusted me, Raj. It’s only fair that I trust you too.” She said finally.

 

“You’re it for me, R–”

 

He didn’t give her a chance to finish, cutting off her words as he pressed his lips to hers in a fierce kiss. She laughed against his mouth as he wrapped his arms around her waist, almost lifting her off the ground.

 

“I’m all in.” She said as they drew back, her voice cracking with emotion. He kissed her again, his hands cupping her face tenderly.

 

She curled up next to him after sliding on his shirt later that night, her legs still bare against his. He rested his chin against the slope of her shoulder, and she sighed contentedly, nestling her head back against his chest. He absentmindedly wrapped a curl around his finger, his eyes memorizing the angles of her face as warmth bloomed in his chest.

 

“You have that look on your face again.” She said, twisting in his arms. He looked down at her, an uninhibited smile on his face.

 

“I love you.”

 

“You’re just saying that because you had the best sex of your life.” She teased, her smile soft.

 

He grinned. “Who said that was the best sex I’ve had?”

 

She slapped him gently, making a face at him as he laughed. They fell into a comfortable silence as their laughter faded, their breathing the only sound filling the room.  

 

“For the record… I love you too.” She said, tilting her head up to look at him.

 

He leaned down, their lips touching in a soft kiss that spoke louder than their words. He tugged her closer to him, her breathing deepening as her eyes fluttered shut. His sister’s question filtered back into his mind, but this time…

 

He felt… complete.

 

He relaxed into the bed with a smile, his fingers knotted between hers. He would have to remember to tell Anju that she was right, again. His thoughts drifted off as his eyes closed, his face nestled against her shoulder as they fell asleep.


Song: Iktara

Artists: Tochi Raina, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Raman Mahadevan

Film: Wake Up Sid


Note: So this is the second to last chapter (I ended up adding a chapter, so I now have thirty-one. Which is unreasonably stressful for someone as particular as I am about rounded numbers). I’ll go full senti in my next AN, but for now… an update on future:

I will be taking this down at some point to see if I can get it published. That being said, if I can’t, I will put it back up with full access.

With respect to new stories – I have a few ideas in mind. I think I’ll write something fun and less emotionally taxing. I’m also considering writing the love story of a secondary character in this story. I’ll keep you updated. Please follow me on Twitter @chotidesi, or my main blog here for updates on these.

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. Please leave me your thoughts — I love reading them and it really does motivate me to write!

Love always,

MN.

40 thoughts on “Chapter Thirty: Iktara

  1. Sigh! Yeah. Get this out there. Touch the sky, thread your fingers through the stars, pluck the moon. May great destinies be yours – one word at a time! Cannot wait to see this on the shelf!

    Liked by 9 people

  2. That read fab dear. “You are it, Anya” just said it all. Full circle, well done this chapter. Just Loved it. Gonna miss these two characters. Mostly had them at fighting one another’s feelings, can we please have these two together in their element…
    Enjoyed this a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So happy to finally have them together and give each other a chance.

    Ah but this beautiful story is coming to an end….not so excited about that…

    Thank you Meena!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. haw… second last chapter ..:( …
    i was so dam happy whn he kissed ..u know punch in the air… wwoot woot…. bt thn u said its second last chapter … dam …
    oh i so loved this chapter the whole of the story evrything … it was aaa mazing

    Liked by 1 person

  5. F.I.N.A.L.L.Y!
    Way to go Raj, you did it, you took the plunge. Thank you Anju, Anand and Pooja for contributing to Raj and Ananya getting back together! And yes, this story definitel deserves to be published Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. beautiful… it was just as simple as saying out the words loud… so happy to see them back together… even after so many years they can still gel back so easily… this itself shows how strong their bond is..
    god bless you MN… thanks for taking us on this journey..
    eagerly waiting for your senti AN and update… and ofcourse your published work….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful chapter.. you worked through the emotions nicely .. glad that these two put each other out of misery before things had gone too far 🙂

    Good luck with your new stories.. looking forward to them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the song!! Depicts their émotions so well.
    I love happy earings but hate it when a story I love come to an end.
    Waiting for the next chanter and hoping for an épilogue too!! That’ll make it even.
    Waiting for a fun filled story now.
    And can’t wait to hold my own copy of this one. My best wishes are always with you my dear Choti.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Strangely I had chicken for dinner almost everyday(way too many weddings 😂)
    Yes yes!! Finally!!
    I believe in round numbers too can we have one more chapter please??
    All the very best with the publishing, continue writing always..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As I was reading this chapter I realized that I have looked forward to Raj’s and Anya’s journey as much as I look forward to reading an Arshi story. This however doesn’t have the whole “silver screen – fan-girling” about it which makes it almost more real. You have taken us through their his and lows and made us root for them every step of the way. I started re-reading already! The characters and their journey feel very real. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It was a wonderful story dear 😄
    Even being a different story with different characters, it made me come back for it again and again…
    Truly a great writer with superb skills😊😊
    Hope u continue to write..
    Great work❤

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Meena I’ve been reading this on the train to and from work every day and I’m so glad that you’re nearly done, because this was so unputdownable that I would’ve gone mad waiting for another chapter! Can’t wait to read your last one and all the best with getting it published, you really deserve it 😀 Also Iktara is one of my favourite songs ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There you go!!!!
    Fianlly they listened to their heart…They took the leap of faith…now everything’s going to be alright..
    this journey of their love and separation was so much real …and yet equally captivating…
    All the ebst with the publications dear and do keep writing more….
    it was such a pleasure as a reader to be able to read such heart touching love tales….
    😍
    Pavina

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I’m gone for a few days and when I check my email (after finishing a gruelling set of exams) and to my delight there are THREE updates!!
    Made me squeak in joy!
    The transition was so beautiful. From missing each other to talking to people important in their lives who made them realise how much they need each other, this time around Ananya and Raj have truly reached a point where they can be each other’s strenghths and not their weaknesses.
    I love the song references you made. Especially this last one.
    Iktaara has always been that song that reminds me of walking barefoot in the beach (maybe because of the way it was shot in the movie) and of peace.
    And that is where they’ve reached haven’t they? A mutual haven where both of them are safe and there is no space for feeling vulnerable.
    Truly beautifully written chapters.
    I can’t believe its the second last chapter already. I’m so going to miss these characters and how you spun such a truthful story in such an honest way and gave us such a beautiful thing from a simple idea of love between college friends.

    Love and hugs
    M.
    I’m really excited for your other stories. I for one am always game for anything you’d come up with! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  15. And finally, finally they confess.
    He kept the ring, we knew… and he showed her the ring, also said that its not a proposal, giving her space and opportunity to consider and assimilate what was happening. Charming!!!!

    Bravo girl! What an emotional roller coaster it has been… a beautiful one at that ♡

    Liked by 1 person

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