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.
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.
“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.
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!