Pooja and Natasha’s smile widened into grins as they caught sight of the couple walking towards them, their hands linked together. The shadows that had haunted them had finally evaporated, and Raj and Ananya had finally given themselves a chance.
“Well, well, well if it isn’t the star-crossed lovers.” Pooja said with a smile that was a tad bit too smug, a matching one on Natasha’s face. Ananya rolled her eyes as they sat down across from them in the booth, glancing around for Anand as Aman smiled into his coffee.
“Star crossed lovers, my ass. You know I don’t believe in soulmates.”
“Neither do I.” Raj agreed. “Relationships are hard work, not destiny.”
“Please, if there’s any couple that was destined for each other, it was you two.” Anand piped in, sliding next to Natasha. Raj shot him a withering look, and he shrugged nonchalantly. “You know it’s true.”
“E tú, Basu? One word from your almost wife and you’re agreeing?”
Anand snorted, but he couldn’t stop the smile on his face. He and Natasha were getting married in a little under a week, in a small intimate ceremony at the local Catholic church as a tribute to her Irish roots. To appease his parents, they were following it with a large, Desi wedding for their family in India.
“Wait until you get married, Malhotra.” Aman said wryly, shooting Pooja a warm look. Ananya grimaced playfully as Pooja kissed him. Her best friend still hadn’t lost the honeymoon phase, and their happiness would have been nauseating if she didn’t love them so much.
“Slow down, we’ve only been dating for six months.”
Pooja let out a bark of laughter at Ananya’s words, shaking her head. “You two were practically still dating over the last three years with the amount of pining you did after each other.”
Ananya’s cheeks reddened but she didn’t even bother denying it, exchanging a small smile with Raj. She felt his hand curl around her waist, drawing her close as the conversation swirled around them.
She had meant her words. The happy endings she so easily doled out in her novels were far from what happened in real life.
Raj felt his stomach drop to the floor as he stared at the offer letter that had fallen out of her dresser.
It was happening again.
Blood rushed through his ears, anger consuming him as he reread the words on the letter, offering her a position at their company headquarters in San Francisco.
He was such a fucking idiot.
He hadn’t even known that she had been interviewing. He vaguely heard the door opening and he didn’t think twice before he stalked out of the bedroom to see her placing her bag down, her back turned to him.
She heard his footsteps and turned around with a brilliant smile. “Hey.”
He lifted the letter, and her brow crinkled in confusion. “What’s this?”
She took the letter from him, her stomach turning around as she read the words. She had been interviewing to keep her skills in shape, since it had been a while since she had looked for other opportunities. She hadn’t expected to get the offer until the letter had arrived yesterday, and she had gotten so caught up in writing that she had completely forgotten about it.
She looked up, his face inscrutable as he crossed his arms across her chest. “I can explain.”
“Really? How are you going to explain? The same way you did four years ago where you just told me you were leaving?” He asked venomously. She reared back, her face crumpling in hurt. For a second, he wondered whether he had jumped to conclusions prematurely, but the thought was drowned out by the betrayal he felt, so reminiscent of everything he had been fearful of.
“You’re not even going to give me a chance?”
“Why the fuck should I?”
Her face had gone stone cold, and she took a step back from him. “Because I would have told you that I was just looking at opportunities and trying to keep my interviewing skills fresh. I just got the letter yesterday. I was going to tell you.” She said sharply, her eyes flashing in anger. His eyes widened in surprise but she kept going, too hurt to care. “Instead of giving me the chance to explain, you just assumed the worst of me.” She paused, her eyes stinging. “That hurts, Raj.”
“Ananya, I –“
“You know what? I’m not dealing with this right now. I’ve had a long day. We agreed when we did this again that the past was the past and that we wouldn’t throw it in each other’s face. I need some space.”
He remained silent, his thoughts churning as she grabbed her bag and walked out of the door. He sank down on the couch, squeezing his eyes shut as he realized what a huge mistake he had made.
That had been their worst fight, and they hadn’t spoken to each other for a week afterwards. He had been too embarrassed of how he had treated her to ask for her forgiveness, and she had been utterly heartbroken.
But he had shown up on her doorstep a week later, holding a wilted bouquet he had bought that morning as he sat on the stairs waiting for her to arrive.
She rolled her neck as she walked up the stairs, exhaustion taking over as the smile she had pasted on for the work day slipped away. She dug through her purse for her keys, muttering a curse underneath her breath as she rummaged.
His voice made her head snap up, and he stood up from the step he was sitting on, holding a bouquet of wilted tulips. She stiffened, her eyes sweeping over him.
He looked like hell, dark circles under his eyes and scruff on his cheek. His outfit was impeccable as usual, but it was clear that he wasn’t himself, the usual mischief in his eyes extinguished.
She steeled herself and sidestepped him as she finally found her keys, opening the door.
“Can I come inside so we can talk?” He asked, shifting from foot to foot in her doorway. With reluctance, she nodded, reaching around him to shut the door as he stepped in.
She folded her arms across her chest, waiting for him to speak in stony silence. He raised his gaze to look directly at her.
He gave her an exasperated look but she simply shrugged, exhausted. “What else do you want me to say Raj? This is exactly what I was worried about. I can’t be in a relationship where I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“I know. I was an idiot. I should have waited for you to explain but I was just so angry and afraid.”
“That’s no excuse.”
He nodded. “I know. I waited a week because I couldn’t face you. It was unconscionable.”
There was a tense silence as they stared at each other, unable to figure out how to close the abyss between them. She rubbed her forehead, her eyes weary. “Where do we go from here?”
“Will you be able to forgive me?” He asked baldly.
She stayed silent for a long moment. “I don’t know why I should trust you again.” She said finally. “I thought we had agreed to move on and we can’t throw our past mistakes in each other’s faces every time we fight.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“Why should I trust that?”
“Because I think we should get couple’s therapy.”
Ananya’s eyes widened in surprise, but he pressed forth. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but I want to make this work, Anya. I’ve spent the last week looking at far too many Cosmo articles – but the one thing they all said is that it’s a process, and it’s one we have to work on together.”
She stayed silent, her face unreadable.
“I think it would be easier with professional help, at least for a little bit – that way we would have some guidance.”
“Or maybe this isn’t meant to be.” She said quietly. His face fell and she sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I love you, Raj. But we have to consider the possibility that maybe…”
“No.” He said sharply. “I want forever with you. I refuse to give up just because some past issues have cropped up. I’m not running away again. I did that the first time, and I won’t do it again.”
She stared at him in shock, his words overwhelming her. She felt the tears rush to the front of her eyes and looked away, embarrassed.
“Fuck Anya, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just…” He shoved his hands into his pockets, looking more uncertain than she had ever seen him. “I love you.” He said, his voice breaking. “I want to make this work. We can try this and if it still doesn’t work we’ll…” He trailed off, unable to say the words.
She regarded him for a long moment and then nodded slowly. “Alright. Let’s do it.”
The relief on his face was palpable and she stepped forward, taking the flowers from his hand. He shook his head and set them on the side table, wrapping her in a hug. “This week sucked, Anya.”
She nodded against his chest, inhaling his familiar scent. “I love you too, you know.” She said, her words muffled. She tilted her head up and he kissed her softly.
“We’ll make this work. I know we can.”
She squeezed his hand and he looked down at her, pressing a kiss to the top of her head before he turned to respond to something Anand said. He looked at her questioningly but she shook her head, engaging in the conversation around brunch.
“Everything okay?” He asked, turning to look at her as they walked out of the restaurant. She nodded, leaning her head against his shoulder.
“Yeah. I was just thinking about us.”
“What about us?” He asked, lacing his fingers through hers as they walked down State Street.
“I was just thinking about that fight.”
He stiffened, turning to her with concern. She immediately shook her head, smiling. “Not in a bad way. I was just thinking about how much work we’ve had to put in to get to where we are now.”
“Was it worth it?”
“Stop fishing for compliments.” She said, elbowing him gently. He grinned shamelessly, drawing her closer. They walked in easy silence, allowing their own thoughts to take over.
“I’ve been thinking.” He said, looking down at her.
“God help us all.”
“Was that really necessary?”
She merely laughed, her eyes crinkling at the corners and he couldn’t help but laugh with her. Her lips lifted into a contented smile as their laughter faded, and she looked up at him, gently pulling him to a stop.
“It was worth it.”
His face softened, and he squeezed her hand tenderly. “Remind me to thank Mihir and Archana for getting married.”
“Please. It was only a matter of time before we met again.”
“Ah, but if it hadn’t been for the romantic atmosphere of a wedding…”
“My feelings for you at the time were not exactly romantic.” She noted dryly. She twisted in his grasp, her gaze narrowing. “Are you leading this conversation somewhere that I should be picking up on?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “Nice try, Iyer. I only propose to girls I’ve been dating for at least a year.”
“Not if my mother has a say in it.”
“Remember what happened the last time she had a say in our relationship?”
Ananya directed a furious glare at him, and they continued their bickering as they sat down on the steps that led down to the lake. Raj slid his hand into the pocket of his jeans as she continued to argue with him. He smiled quietly as he felt the smooth, cool surface of the ring.
His arm slipped around her waist as the sun dipped below the horizon, the sky lit up in brilliant color just before it faded to black.
Song: Begin Again
Artist: Brooks Dixon
Note (warning, it’s a long and cheesy one): I started this journey three years ago. It was my first foray into writing my own characters, and it’s been a challenge. Since I started writing, my life has changed significantly. I started writing this in high school, and when I went to college, I was overwhelmed and my whole life was changing – as a result, I took 9 months off from writing this.
But throughout this experience, the one thing that has remained constant is the support of my readers. It sounds cheesy, but I don’t think I can ever overstate how much your comments mean to me. There have been many, many times that I have wanted to quit – hell, I stopped writing for 9 months because I was frustrated and didn’t think I had a story to tell. Every time that has happened, I have come back to read your comments. From the ones that simply say “I enjoyed this update” to the people who have let me into their thought processes while reading, they’ve encouraged me to keep going, reminded me that I have people who want to read.
This story means a lot to me. Raj and Ananya are a combination of many people in my life – I’ve drawn on my own experiences, on the experiences of friends and family, and in the process, these two became a part of me. Letting them go has been incredibly hard after having them in my head for three years, but I’m really, really glad I could give them a story I’m proud to tell.
To me, writing has always been a symbiotic relationship. My writing would not hold the meaning it does to me today without my readers, and for that, I am forever grateful. Thank you for bearing with me through the irregular updates, the angst, and my many promises that these two would eventually find their happy ending. Thank you for letting me share a part of myself through this story.
Huge, huge shoutout to Asha, for being my editor, my first pair of eyes, and my cheerleader. A special thanks to Ruchi, Jigs, Mirabell, and Charu for being there while I talked through the story. Lots of love to Meera, theincandescentlights, Kishmish, thephoenixenigma, savvz, felix felicis, Thumbi, and the many many readers who have been with me since the beginning – I apologize if I have forgotten to name you, but you mean just as much.
I hope you guys will join me on my next journey – I want to keep writing, and I hope you will be there to read it. I’m working on a happier romantic comedy, and also Pooja’s story – I don’t know when I will post (it will also likely be irregular updates), but I encourage you to follow me on Twitter @chotidesi or follow my home blog, Inkwell (click on the name to be directed to the page) where I will post updates on the status of my future work.