Chapter Thirty One: Begin Again

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.

 

“Hey.”

 

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.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Great.”

 

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.

Love always,

MN.

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.

Chapter Twenty Nine: In My Veins

The loud drumbeat immediately assailed his ears, the bass reverberating through the room. He slid out of the way of giggling girls in sparkly skirts, bright flowers in their hair as they wove through the legs of the adults in the room.

 

He caught sight of Anand and snaked through the crowd, his foot tapping to the beat of their own will.

 

“You made it!” He exclaimed, pulling his best friend into in a hug. Anand grinned, bumping fists with him as they pulled apart.

 

“I couldn’t miss Pooja’s wedding. Another band is covering for us so I can attend this.” He said, wrapping an arm around Natasha. She was dressed in a forest green sari that had clearly been gifted to her by Anand’s mother, her thick red hair falling around her face in waves.

 

She gave Raj a one armed hug, grinning up at him. “Long time since I’ve seen you.”

 

“Yeah, all of eight hours.” He retorted dryly. “If you didn’t look so beautiful, I would have ruffled your hair.” He said with a wink, to which she blew him a kiss.

 

“Quit hitting on my fiancée, Malhotra.” Anand interrupted, smiling as he pressed a kiss to Natasha’s forehead. Raj merely grinned, shaking his head.

 

“Where’s the poor groom-to-be?” He asked, glancing around.

 

“I think his mother recruited him for some pooja or another.”

 

Raj snickered, earning a groan from Anand. “That wasn’t even meant to be a pun.”

 

“And yet it was one anyway. How’s Pooja holding up?”

 

“Last I saw, she was torturing Ananya with panicked last minute texts.” Anand said wryly, before immediately biting the inside of his cheek.
“Spare me the pitying head tilt.” Raj said, flashing an easy smile despite the lurch in his stomach at the mention of her name. He hadn’t seen her in three months, their schedules with their friends carefully planned so they didn’t overlap.

 

“But you’re not quite complete without her, are you?”

 

Anjali’s words rang in his head insistently. He sucked in a breath, determinedly silencing them. He caught Anand’s concerned look and let out an exasperated sigh.

 

“I’m fine, man. There’s no need to treat me like I’m going to break every time someone says her name.”

 

“But are you happy?” Anand asked.

 

Raj threw up his hands. “What is with everyone and this nonsense about happiness? I say I’m fine, I mean it. I’m working on getting over it. It’s a process.”

 

Anand opened his mouth to respond but closed it again when Natasha gave him a look of warning. “Sorry, I promise I won’t ask again. Did I tell you that we might add another guitarist?” Anand asked, smoothly changing the subject. Raj smiled gratefully at her, and she returned it.

 

They conversed casually for a while, allowing the wedding to whirl around them as they awaited the start of the ceremony. He was relieved for the distraction, taking his mind off of the fact that he was inevitably bound to run into Ananya at some point in the night.

 

He didn’t want to think about that right now.

 

He was over her.

 

He repeated the words to himself internally as the conversation continued around him. He had made progress, the pit in his stomach giving way to an unsettling acceptance of what had transpired.

 

He just needed time. It would heal over eventually.

 

“Anand, could you do me a –”

 

Raj stiffened immediately at the achingly familiar voice that broke into their conversation, trailing off as she realized that he was there too. He could feel her inhale, pasting a smile onto her face as she stepped into his line of sight.

 

Fuck.

 

Her hair was pulled into a stylish bun that sat at the nape of her neck, a few loose curls framing her face. She was wearing a deep plum sari, with large earrings dotted with pearls dangling from her ears. A small bindi sparkled from between her eyebrows, her eyes lined with a delicate swipe of eyeliner that made them look even larger than usual as she stared back at him.

 

Anand cleared his throat, glancing between the two of them.

 

He swallowed, dragging his eyes away from hers as he ran a hand through his hair. He could feel her gaze on him, the nervous gesture not unnoticed.

 

“You wanted me to do something?” Anand asked gently. Ananya shook herself, smiling tightly at Anand.

 

“Uh, yeah, I was just wondering if you could just give this to my mom when you see her.” She thrust a box in his hands, keeping her eyes carefully away from Raj.

 

“Of course, no problem.”

 

“I should go help Pooja. I’ll see you guys later.” Ananya fled as Raj kept his gaze determinedly on the ground in front of him, his entire body tight with tension.

 

“You still want to pull the ‘I’m over it’ card, Raj?” Anand asked as soon as she was out of range, fixing him with a pointed stare.

 

“I haven’t seen her in three months, cut me some slack. I was shocked.” He said defensively, avoiding Anand’s eyes.

 

“By the fact that you still have feelings for her?” Anand asked, not mincing words. He ignored the sharp pinch Natasha gave his arm. “I haven’t seen you look that less convincing at “not having feelings” since your freshman year of college when you used to “study” with her.”

 

“It’s not fucking relevant.”

 

“Look man, it might work on everyone else, but I’ve known you since college, and I’ve been privy to your entire relationship — the best parts of it and the shitshow that happened after.”

 

“So you know exactly why we broke up then, and this shouldn’t even be a damn conversation.” Raj snapped, his eyes flashing in anger.

 

Anand didn’t look the least bit intimidated, pushing forward. “It’s been three years. Get your head out of your ass and realize that she’s a different person now. We all make mistakes, and you have definitely made plenty of your own three years ago that you would not want to be held accountable for today.”

 

Anand paused, his voice softening. “She makes you happier than anyone else I’ve seen you with. I wouldn’t tell you to go for it if I thought she would hurt you again. She’s grown up, and so have you. Give yourselves — not the college version of yourselves, the people you are now — a chance to have a real relationship.”

 

Raj’s gaze drifted to Ananya, who stood on the opposite side of the room, her back to him. She turned as if she felt his eyes on her, looking directly at him. She tore her eyes away from his before he could read them, determinedly turning back to the conversation she was having.

 

“I need to use the restroom.” He muttered, turning away from Anand before the other man could say anything. Even in with the steady drumbeat, he could hear his own footsteps as he walked out of the room, echoing with the words inside his head.

 

“But you’re not quite complete without her, are you?”

 


 

The ceremony was quicker than usual, since Pooja and Aman hadn’t wanted to drag it out to be longer than two hours. Raj had barely noticed the time passing, his mind instead preoccupied with the woman standing behind the bride.

 

He watched as the couple took their final orbit around the fire, their fingers locked together. Unlike the movies, Pooja had kept looking back at Aman, clearly trying to make him laugh as he valiantly struggled to stay serious.

 

As they sat down, they turned to look at each other. Raj felt like an intruder as he watched the outside world fall away for them, oblivious to the hundred family members and friends watching them. Aman cupped her face, kissing her softly as a silly smile lit up both of their faces.

 

His chest tightened as the room fell silent for a split second before it erupted in teasing cheers, the bride and groom flushing. He saw the imperceptible squeeze that Pooja gave Aman’s hand, smiling up at him in a personal joke as she shook her head at the cheering.

 

He looked away, only to find himself looking at Ananya instead. The carefully placed smile had disappeared, leaving a poignant wistfulness on her face. She looked up, and he knew she could read the same expression on his face.  He could almost feel her fingers threaded through his, the possibility of what he could have had a ghost in front of him.

 

He wanted it. He wanted to give them a chance.

 

He squeezed his eyelids together for a moment, letting himself linger on what he had been fighting for three months. When he opened them, she had looked away, the fleeting look replaced by a constructed smile.

 

He felt his mouth pull up as Pooja and Aman walked over to Ananya, who engulfed them in a tight hug. Their mouths moved as they murmured to each other, and Ananya reached up to cup Pooja’s face, wiping away the tears with her thumbs with a laugh.

 

The enthusiastic beat of the drum started up again, the whole room clapping for the couple as the ceremony drew to a close. He slipped into a chair at the edge of the terrace, enjoying the view out over the lake. Small lights twinkled from houses on the other side, moonlight rippling across the gentle waves that lapped at the shores.

 

“How are you doing?”

 

He glanced up to see Anjali standing in front of him. He tilted his head, quickly scanning the rest of the terrace for the tiny body of his nephew. He smiled when he saw Nick dancing on top of Javi’s feet, resting precariously on the toes.

 

Anjali followed his gaze, her face lighting up with happiness. “They’re adorable, aren’t they?”

 

Raj nodded, a fierce warmth filling him as he continued to watch his family. He turned to his sister, who looked radiant in her simple peacock blue silk sari, paired with her old Bharatanatyam earrings.

 

“You look beautiful, Di.”

 

She smiled wryly. “I appreciate the compliment. It’s hard to feel beautiful when you can’t see your feet.” She raised an eyebrow. “Are you holding up okay after seeing Ananya?”

 

He shrugged. “Not really.” He said honestly. “Anand really ripped into me earlier.” He added with a sardonic laugh.

 

“It’s about time someone did.” Anjali retorted. She stepped closer to him, wrapping an arm around him.

 

“He wasn’t wrong.” Raj admitted. “And neither were you.”

 

“That’s a rare admission. I don’t think I quite heard you right though, can I hear that again?” Anjali teased, grinning at him.

 

Raj rolled his eyes with a smile. “I never gave us a chance. And… I wish I had.” He added, biting back the heavy sigh.

 

“You can still take that chance.” Anjali looked over his head, nodding at the approaching woman.

 

He turned in her hold, catching sight of Ananya walking towards them. She came to a stop in front of them and Anjali extended her arms for a hug.

 

“You look lovely, Di. How many months along are you now?” She asked, smiling at his sister.

 

“I can’t even remember. I’m just ready to be able to bend over again.” Anjali responded with a laugh.

 

“Nick has gotten so big.” Ananya commented.

 

Anjali smiled proudly, nodding. “He has, hasn’t he? I’m convinced it’s all the chocolate my brother sneaks him when he thinks I’m not looking.” Anjali turned a glare on Raj, who put his hands up.

 

“That’s pure speculation.” He let his eyes drift from Anjali’s to Ananya’s, taking in the sight of her. She had changed into a deep blue sari paired with a gold blouse that dipped low in the back, a simple diamond pendant hanging in the shadow of her chest. Her hair had been let down, hanging in messy waves around her shoulders.

 

“Hey.” She said quietly, looking at him. He barely heard Anjali excusing herself, the crowd fading out around them as he stood up. “I just… wanted to come say hi.” She said, nervously tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

 

“I didn’t want us to be those exes that just glared at each other from across the room, you know?” She babbled on, her words tumbling over each other.

 

“You’re beautiful.” He interrupted her. Her eyes widened, and he hastened to correct himself. “I mean, you look beautiful. Tonight.”

 

Every night.

 

The words rested on the tip of his tongue, unsaid. Her eyes dimmed for a second but she masked it easily with a smile. “Thank you. But Pooja is the one you should be saying that to.”

 

He gave her a half smile. “I think Aman’s lovelorn eyes say enough for everyone.”

 

She laughed, and he felt the unfulfilled feeling lift from his chest at the sight. She sobered, growing wary as she shifted from foot to foot.

 

“I should -”

 

“Would you dance with me?” He asked at the same time. Silence stretched between them as she stared at him, and he could see her warring with herself. She swallowed, and the light caught the sheen of tears in her eyes.

 

“I don’t think I should.” She shook her head, taking a step back just as Andrew Belle’s voice crooned the beginning strains of the song.

 

She froze, and her throat moved as she swallowed, laughing incredulously. “It’s the first song we danced to at that wedding of your grad student.”

 

He offered his hand for her to take. She stared at it for a moment before placing her hand in his, threading her fingers through his as he rested his hand on her lower back. He could feel the heat of her skin against his thumb, and inhaled deeply, her familiar perfume easing the tension that had been in his shoulders for months.

 

“But you’re not quite complete without her, are you?”

 

 

The question lingered in his mind as it had all night. With a quiet sigh, he drew her close as she leaned her head against his chest, his fingers curling around her waist.

 

“Just for tonight.” She murmured.

 

He didn’t respond, the words ringing hollowly in his chest. They rocked back and forth as the music surrounded them, lit by the faint glow from the fairy lights above.

 

Oh, you’re in my veins

And I cannot get you out… [In My Veins, Andrew Belle]


Song: In My Veins

Artist: Andrew Belle


Note: Special internet cookies for anyone who can guess the TV show I’m referencing with this song – it’s one of my favorite TV shows.

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.

Chapter Twenty Eight: Teri Khair Mangdi

Ananya glanced up from her laptop as a shadow fell over her keyboard, her stomach twisting with nervousness as she met the older woman’s eyes. Uma Malhotra stood in front of her with her hands clasped around a dark blue purse, her hair pulled neatly into a bun that sat at the nape of her neck.

 

Ananya immediately stood up, her hands folding into a namaste out of habit. Uma smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

 

“May I sit down?” She inquired politely.

 

“Of course.” Ananya said, despite the nervousness that knotted her nerves. Uma took a careful seat across from her at the coffee shop, her eyes gazing around the small area with a discerning eyes.

 

“I took a chance that you would be here. This was where Raj introduced you to me.” She said after a beat. Ananya nodded, shifting in her seat uncomfortably as Uma’s gaze turned towards her. She nodded towards Ananya’s laptop, her words genuinely curious. “Were you writing? I apologize if I interrupted you.”

 

Ananya closed it, shaking her head. “I was, but it’s no issue. I was hitting a block anyway.”

 

“What is going on in the story? I read your first book. It was very well written.” Uma said. Ananya struggled between happiness and embarrassment, realizing that her ex-boyfriend’s mother had read the sex scenes she had written.

 

“I was just finishing up a scene between Isabelle and her best friend, Maya. Isabelle’s struggling to decide whether she should take another chance with Andrew.” Ananya said, realizing how closely her words mirrored real life as Uma’s expression changed.

 

There was a tense pause as the words settled between them, memories of the past rapidly flooding the space.

 

“You are probably wondering why I am here.” Uma stated.

 

Ananya shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. Uma smiled wryly. “I know you better than that, Anu.”

 

Ananya flushed with a sheepish smile. Uma studied Ananya with an unsettlingly knowing gaze, drawing a deep breath. “The last time we met… I was less than polite to you. I apologize.”

 

“You had every reason to be.” Ananya responded, genuinely meaning the words. Uma brushed her off.

 

“I came here today because Raj is devastated.” There was a hint of accusation in her voice, her gaze sharpening as she regarded Ananya. Ananya’s eyes snapped to hers, immediately guarded. Her heart clenched sharply, palms going clammy as Uma’s words sunk in.

 

Had Raj told them what happened?

 

“Raj didn’t say anything. I was concerned because he was withdrawing into himself again.” Uma added, her voice gaining an edge.

 

“So you came here to yell at me?” Ananya asked, unable to keep the regret and bitterness out of her voice. Uma’s jaw tightened at her harsh words but Ananya couldn’t find it within herself to apologize, her hurt getting the better of her. Her mind assailed her with memories she had fought to forget, heartbroken and angry words rattling inside her head.

 

“Maybe it is true! I’m terrified of committing. I’m scared that you’ll fucking break my heart again and I’ll be left behind to pick up the pieces. Why the fuck would I trust you again?”

 

She shoved the memories down as she had since they had broken up, determinedly locking them up into a box.

 

Just like three years ago.

 

She ignored the taunting voice in her mind, instead raising her gaze defiantly to Uma. She held it for a long moment before Uma sighed, running a hand over her hair in a gesture so reminiscent of Raj that…

 

Ananya looked away, swallowing the pain that immediately throbbed in her stomach.

 

“I didn’t come here to yell at you, Ananya.” Uma said, her voice faintly exhausted. “I am not your mother.”

 

But you once were like one.

 

The thought flashed through her mind unasked, and Ananya saw her emotions reflected in the older woman’s eyes for a split second before she looked away. The words stung more than they should have, and Ananya resented the hurt.

 

For fuck’s sake, what else did you expect?

 

“I came here to understand you.” Uma said, after another tense silence. Ananya withheld the scoff, and Uma continued. “I want to understand what is going on. All I see right now is that you hurt Raj, and while that makes me furious, Navin and I know that there has to be another side to this.”

 

She paused, a rare moment of vulnerability in her voice. “The Ananya we knew loved Raj, and I simply cannot fathom that…” She drew a long breath, her voice steely again. “Raj won’t tell me, and I do not know why. He always had this innate sense of honor.”

 

“I just want to understand.” She spoke the words so quietly that Ananya wouldn’t have heard them if she hadn’t been listening.

 

Ananya stared at the table, struggling with her emotions. She didn’t know what to say, a hundred thoughts running through her head as Uma’s question forced memories long suppressed back to the surface again. It was a time lapse of their entire relationship, from the moment they had met on the dock her freshman year to the smashed chocolate cupcake that had lain on her countertop, uneaten.

 

Her eyes stung with tears, with one simple thought standing out among the rest.

 

She missed him.

 

She heard a rustle and before she could react, Uma reached across the table to place a hand on Ananya’s for a second. Ananya’s fingers curled in surprise and she drew away, self-consciously placing her hands back in her lap.

 

“I am sorry.” Uma said quietly.

 

Ananya looked up in shock, blinking rapidly as she belatedly realized that the tears that sat at the corners of her eyes were evident for the other woman to see. She resented the sympathy in Uma’s eyes but yet, all she wanted to do was cry into Uma’s arms as she would have three years ago.

 

Flush it down Ananya, flush, flush —

 

She let out a choked laugh, shaking her head.

 

Who was she kidding with this? Pandora’s box never stayed shut, and this was her personal Pandora.

 

Instead, she spoke, the lump in her throat reflected in her words. “Raj and I broke up for the first time because I accepted Columbia medical school’s offer. We had been fighting for a few weeks about what I wanted to do with my life, because I didn’t want to be a doctor and Amma wanted me to be one.”

 

Ananya forced the tears down, the angry words of their fight ringing in her head. “I knew he wouldn’t agree with my choice. I didn’t want to fight again, so I took the coward’s way out and accepted it without telling him.”

 

Uma’s face hardened but she said nothing, and Ananya continued, the words spilling out of her. but he… just didn’t understand. My mom means so much to me and I just couldn’t break her heart. She had my best interests at heart.” Ananya said firmly, her eyes glimmering with defiance.. “I don’t regret making that decision, but…”

 

She fell silent. “I would do anything to not have hurt him.” She said quietly. “We got into a huge fight, and I assumed he just wanted a break so he could collect his thoughts but when I came back a little while later apologizing and asking to talk again, he told me he was done with me forever.”

 

She drew a shaky breath, forcing herself to continue. “The next time we saw each other was at Mihir and Archana’s wedding, and since then… we kept fighting our feelings for each other.” She laughed humorlessly. “So we… ended up in this weird in between place where we weren’t quite dating, but we also were. I asked Raj where this was going and…”

 

The words stuck in her throat, tears that she had successfully kept at bay rushing to the front of her eyes. She muttered a curse under her breath and followed it quickly with an apology, the tears sliding down her cheeks against her will.

 

Why did this still hurt so much?

 

“I’m sorry.” She said quietly. “I haven’t really talked about this since we broke up.”

 

“I understand.” Uma responded, regarding her silently for a moment. “I wish I had known.” She added, hurt in her voice.

 

“I thought he would have told you.”

 

“He didn’t want me to see you badly.” Uma smiled slightly, shaking her head. “He wasn’t wrong, I guess.” Uma said after a moment. “I would have been furious with you.”

 

Ananya stayed silent. Uma thought over her next words for a long moment. “Raj cares about you deeply, Anu.”

 

She made a noncommittal noise and Uma continued, more insistently. “He does, Anu.”

 

“But yet, he can’t find it in himself to trust me.” Ananya retorted caustically.

 

Uma didn’t flinch at her tone, her gaze steady. “You know very well that those are two very different things.”

 

Ananya looked away, chastened. “I don’t want to be in a relationship that has no trust. I’ll always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Ananya said quietly after a beat of silence.

 

“I wouldn’t want you to. You deserve better than that.” Ananya barely contained her surprise, and Uma smiled reluctantly. “I do care about you, Anu. You became a second daughter to me.”

 

Uma paused. “I was angry with you. But I understand why you made the choices you did now.” She reached across the table, urging Ananya to look at her. “I just wish I had known sooner. It’s the past, and… Raj isn’t blameless in this situation. It always takes two hands to clap.”

 

Uma continued to talk, her voice gentle.

 

“In those three years… he was fine. He pulled himself back together, threw himself into his thesis, dated a few girls but it was… different. He became cynical.”

 

Uma exhaled. “But when you came back again he…” She looked up. “He had that same spark in him again.”

 

Ananya’s heart clenched painfully, reminding her of what she had lost. His face flashed through her mind, heartbroken as he asked her to reconsider. She repeated the phrase she had said to herself over and over again since they had broken up, willing herself to believe it.

 

I’ll be okay. I’ll get over this.

 

Uma stayed silent for a long moment, considering her words. “He loves you, Anu. He always has.”

 

All of the breath left her in a rush, forcing her to confront everything she had avoided. Ananya looked away, unable to bear the weight as her feelings flooded through her, refusing to let her stuff them back into the box.

 

Uma stood up, pausing before she turned to leave.

 

“And I suspect that you still love him too.” Uma said quietly, giving voice to the words she had so determinedly repressed.

 

I do.

 

The words sat on the tip of her tongue, appearing before she could think twice. She bit it so hard she felt the metallic taste of blood, swallowing the words back down.

 

She couldn’t love him.

 

But she knew she was lying to herself as she said the words, leaving a deeper emptiness in her heart than before.


Song: Teri Khair Mangdi

Artist: Bilal Saeed

Movie: Baar Baar Dekho


Note: I apologize for the delay! I know I promised an update last Tuesday but my boss assigned me an editorial to write, so I spent my week reading papers and doing intensive editing. I hope you liked this chapter — we’re in the home stretch here, so all this pain and angst is slowly coming to a head. Thank you so much for sticking with this story.

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.

Chapter Twenty Seven: Phir le Aaya Dil

“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.

 

“Better.”

 

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 🙂

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.

Chapter Twenty Six: Maana ke Hum Yaar Nahin

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.

 

“Fine.”

 

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.

 

“That easy?”

 

“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.

Love always,

MN>

Chapter Twenty Five: If You’re Gone

Pooja wrapped Ananya in a warm hug. “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.” She said, drawing back. Ananya nodded as they walked over to the couch, reaching over to the side table to pull out coupons for pizza.

 

“I know, these last few weeks have been crazy.”

 

“I cannot wait for this wedding stuff to be over. I just want to be married to Aman, and not have to worry about fittings and picking flowers.” Pooja said with an exasperated sigh, rubbing at her forehead.

 

“I finally got the next draft in to my editor and managed to finish up some testing at work, so I can take a breath for a week before it gets nuts again.”

 

Pooja turned to look at her with a smirk. “Plus you managed to squeeze some time in to do research for those sex scenes, didn’t you?”

 

Ananya flushed. “I… maybe.” A smile spread across her face as she bit her lip, unable to withhold the smile that took over her face.

 

Pooja’s eyes widened at the lack of denial, replaced by an uncharacteristic acceptance. “Things are going well?”

 

Ananya hesitated for a moment, nodding slowly. “I don’t want to jinx it. But… yeah.” A true smile played at her lips, her eyes softening.

 

Pooja studied her. The shadows that had lingered behind her eyes had been replaced by a tentative light. Even when Ananya had been dating Jack, she hadn’t seen the ease in her smile that was there now, she realized.

 

“It’s always been Raj for you, hasn’t it?”

 

Ananya looked up from dialing the number of the pizza place, swallowing audibly. Pooja regarded her quietly, a soft smile on her face. “Even when you were dating Jack.” She added.

 

“I loved Jack.” Ananya said, a hint of defensiveness tinging her voice.

 

Pooja shook her head. “I’m not saying you didn’t.”

 

“I never got closure.”

 

That’s what all this is about. Closure.” Pooja drawled sarcastically, raising her eyebrows.

 

Ananya fell silent, drawing a long breath. “I… I don’t know, Pooja. It’s different this time. We’ve changed in three years, but it still just feels so… easy with him.” She smiled almost disbelievingly, shaking her head. “It’s never been that way with anyone else, and I tried dating other people. You remember. The only person it sort of worked with was Jack, and even with him, I found myself unconsciously wondering whether committing to him would mean that Raj and I would never…”

 

She trailed off, laughing. “Wow, I sound like such a bitch when I say that.”

 

“No you don’t. You sound like someone who was considering her relationship.”

 

There was a moment of silence. “Are you happy?” Pooja asked, somewhat repetitively.

 

Ananya paused. “Why do you ask?”

 

Pooja stayed silent for a minute, considering her words. “You’ve been quiet about this relationship. Not that you’re usually shoving it in everyone’s faces, but… it’s like you’re scared to mention him.”

 

Ananya let out a short laugh. “You really do know me, don’t you?”

 

Pooja grinned, shrugging. “There’s a reason I’m your best friend, you know. It’s been… what, eight years now?”

 

“Almost. We met our freshman year of college. God, I can’t believe it’s been that long.” Ananya groaned, placing her face in her palms. “Where did the time go?” She mumbled into her hands. Her nose crinkled as the words left her mouth. “I sound like one of those old people.”

 

“Ah, we’re four years away from thirty.”

 

“Don’t remind me.”

 

I’m scared.” She said after a beat, vulnerability peeking out as her fingers twisted in her lap. “I want this to work so badly, and I’m scared that if it doesn’t…” She exhaled, leaning her head back. “I don’t want to think about how that would be.”

 

Pooja remained silent for a moment. “How has he seemed about it?” She asked finally.

 

Ananya paused, her brow furrowing as she thought. “Honestly… I don’t know.”

 

“You don’t know?” Pooja’s eyebrows shot up. “You haven’t talked about this.”

 

Ananya shook her head slowly. “No, not really. We have… never really talked about what we are or where this is going.”

 

“Even when you started dating again?”

 

A faint blush stained Ananya’s cheeks again, darkening as it rose up her neck. “We ah… weren’t really doing much talking when that happened.” She muttered, her face flaming as Pooja’s smirk widened.

 

“I see. Have you tried to talk about it?”

 

Ananya swallowed the sudden tightness in her throat, avoiding Pooja’s eyes. Uneasiness crept up her arms. She knew they had been avoiding the conversation, afraid of what it could bring.

 

“Are you afraid to ask him?” Pooja’s voice softened with empathy as Ananya nodded, drawing an unsteady breath. When she looked up, the light reflected off of the sheen of tears.

 

Ananya laughed shakily, sniffling. “Look at me crying over a boy like I’m twelve again. God. I’m so sorry.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. I just –” Pooja stopped, biting back the rest of her sentence. Ananya’s gaze shot to hers, her brows lifting in silent query.  “It’s not important.” She waved it off, but Ananya wouldn’t let go.

 

“No, tell me.”

 

Pooja held her breath for a moment before releasing it. “I’m worried that you’re right.” She said reluctantly, concern evident in her gaze. Ananya froze, her breathing growing shallow. Pooja pushed forward, voicing her strongest fears as her heart roared in her ears. “I’m afraid that he’s too scared to commit again, and he’ll break your heart.”

 

Ananya’s chest tightened sharply at the words. “Right.” She struggled to loosen the knot in her stomach, drawing shaky breaths as the tears stung at her eyes. Pooja reached forward, squeezing her knee.

 

“Look, I could be wrong, okay? I’m just thinking about worst case scenario because I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Pooja’s voice broke slightly, and she blinked back her own tears. “Seeing you that devastated was so hard, Anu. I don’t want to see you like that again.” She said strongly.

 

Ananya’s gaze lifted, searching her face for some sign of reassurance. Her voice was small when she spoke, fear resonant in her words. “It won’t happen, will it?”

 

Pooja gave her a long stare. “I hope it won’t.” She said, not committing.

 

Ananya laughed humorlessly, shaking her head. “I hate you a little bit for that answer.”

 

“You know you would say the same thing.”

 

Ananya nodded, leaning onto Pooja’s shoulder. “I know I would. I needed to hear that.”

 

“You also need to have that conversation with him.” Pooja reiterated. She felt Ananya stiffen against her shoulder, no response coming from her. “You know that right?”

 

“Yeah. I know.” She said finally. “Can we watch that movie? I need a pick me up after that.”

 

Pooja nodded, pressing the play button. Ananya slipped into the romantic comedy, grateful for the unrealistic expectations and happy endings afforded by fiction.

 


 

She swung the door open, coming face to face with Raj on the other side. He gave her a lopsided smile, lifting the box he held.

 

“I brought cupcakes.”

 

Her eyes lit up as she took it from him, going up on her tiptoes to press a soft kiss to his lips. His hand steadied her, deepening it with a sigh. Her grip loosened on the box and she pulled back with a start, grabbing it just as it started to fall.

 

She grimaced, looking up at him sheepishly. “We should probably put this down before we do more of that.”

 

He merely shook his head with a chuckle, taking it from her and placing it on the table.

 

“Why the cupcakes?” She asked, as he followed her into the kitchen. He leaned against the counter, folding his arms across his chest with a shrug.

 

“Felt like it. It’s a new place up on Monroe, and I drove by and thought you would like it so I picked some up.” He said easily. Her heart skipped a beat but she determinedly clamped it down.

 

She couldn’t let herself feel right now.

 

She could feel his gaze on her as she continued to wash the plates, and she looked up at him, brushing her hair behind her ear self-consciously. “What?” She asked. He smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he looked at her.

 

He reached out, brushing the soap suds out of her hair. “You have soap in your hair now, genius.” He said lightly, his voice teasing. She flushed uncharacteristically, particularly conscious of how his words made her feel.

 

Stop it, Ananya.

 

His expression changed, recognizing that something was wrong. She hastily turned away, trying to clamp down on any sign that something was bothering her before he could pick up on it. “Is there something I should know?” He asked, getting straight to the point.

 

She cursed inwardly, shaking her head and flashing him what she hoped was a convincing smile. “No, I just had a long day at work.” She said, opting for a partial truth.

 

He regarded her quietly for a long moment, as if deciding whether or not he wanted to believe her. “Are you sure that’s all it is?”

 

She swallowed audibly, not answering. His gaze intensified, and he raised his eyebrows. “Come on Anya, you know I know you well enough to read through that.”

 

“It’s not important right now.” She hedged, still refusing to meet his gaze. She busied herself drying the dishes, ignoring the increasing force of his silence. He finally sighed heavily, reaching for the towel in her hands.

 

“Are you going to talk to me or…?”

 

“For fuck’s sake Raj, let it go.”

 

“If you want me to let it go, let’s deal with this.” He asserted, crossing his arms over his chest. “You avoiding it isn’t going to fix the problem, and it’s clearly causing you trouble because you won’t look me in the eyes or respond to anything I say the way you usually do.”

 

“I don’t want to address it.” She snapped, taking the towel back from his arms as she turned and walked towards the fridge. She could feel his concerned gaze on her back, her stomach knotting as the words sat on the tip of her tongue.

 

She grabbed a bell pepper from the fridge, and he watched her for a while longer, his gaze following her movements. She was tense, her knuckles pale as she sliced the vegetables. He stepped closer to her, his hand gentle as he touched her shoulder.

 

She stilled, swallowing audibly. Her gaze turned up to his, her eyes searching his. She set the knife down, inhaling and exhaling deeply as she turned to face him. She considered her words for a long moment.

 

“Where is this going, Raj?” She asked finally. Her eyes were wary as she spoke, blunt words shadowed with vulnerability. Apprehension wound itself around his stomach, squeezing uncomfortably. His mouth went dry, the reassuring words he had stocked up slipping from his mind.

 

“Where is what going?” He questioned stupidly, even though he knew exactly what she was referring to. She regarded him for a moment, shaking her head wryly.

 

“This is why I didn’t want to discuss it. I knew you would react like this.”

 

He tensed, struggling to retain composure as defensiveness crept up. “I haven’t even reacted yet, Ananya.” He said evenly, failing to keep the edge off of his voice.

 

She drew a deep breath, effort evident as she smiled tightly. “It’s fine Raj, we don’t have to talk about it.”

 

“Clearly, we do have to talk about it.” He responded, his voice sharp. “It’s affecting you.”

 

“What do you want me to say?”

 

“Where do you think this is going?”

 

She threw up her hands, exhaling sharply in frustration. “Don’t just fucking throw the question back at me.”

 

“I don’t know what you want me to say.” He said, hedging for time.

 

She stared at him incredulously for a moment. “I want you to say what you think, not what you think I want to hear.” She snapped, anger lacing her voice.

 

They stared at each other for a long time. Their breathing sounded far too loud in the silent room, realization slowly dawning on her. Her face crumpled in disbelief, and her throat tightened.

 

“You don’t want to commit.” She said, her voice a broken whisper. She closed her eyes, tears causing her lashes to clump together. He knew he should tell her she was wrong, but he found himself frozen in place, unable to counter her words.

 

Because she was right.

 

He was terrified.

 

She stared at him, her eyes heavy with sadness. She smiled humorlessly, biting her lip. “Pooja was right.”

 

His gaze narrowed. “What did Pooja say?”

 

Her jawline hardened as she heard his tone, immediately defensive. “She mentioned that she was worried you would be afraid to commit again after what happened.”

 

“Why was she talking about our relationship?”

 

“Really Raj? She’s my best friend.” She responded sharply.

 

“So you just jumped to conclusions?” He asked accusingly, his voice sparking with anger.

 

“Fuck Raj, stop trying to put this on me because you don’t want to admit it’s true.” She said scathingly, her eyes blazing as her voice grew shrill. Tears flowed freely down her face, her breathing shaky as she hiccupped.

 

“Maybe it is true! I’m terrified of committing. I’m scared that you’ll fucking break my heart again and I’ll be left behind to pick up the pieces. Why the fuck would I trust you again?” He threw the words in her face acidly, his voice echoing in the otherwise silent apartment.

 

Her face paled as she stared back at him with glassy eyes. He heard her inhale, raising her gaze to meet his with an unsettling calm. He struggled to even out his breathing, squeezing his lids together for a moment.

 

“Anya.” He reached for her as her name left his lips, but she shook her head, a sad smile painted on her lips.

 

“No, Raj. Not again. I’m not going through this again.” She said firmly, her voice quavering on the last word. Panic gripped him, and he shook his head as his stomach dropped to the floor.

 

He couldn’t lose her. He didn’t want to lose her. He couldn’t do this again.

 

“Anya, no, that’s- that’s not what I-” He struggled to find the words, tears blurring his vision. His fingers curled around her wrist but she gently uncurled them, raising her palm to cup his face.

 

“No Raj. We aren’t doing this to each other.” Her throat hurt from the tears she was desperately trying to hold back, forcing her voice to stay steady. “Raj, look at me.” She tilted his face to look at her as he blinked back tears. She didn’t even realize when her own had spilled over, her eyes stinging painfully.

 

“I can’t make you trust me, Raj.” She said quietly as his eyes searched her face, as if he was memorizing her features. “That’s something you have to do on your own.”

 

“I believe you Anya, it was both of our faults and -”

 

She cut him off gently, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter, Raj. We have to trust each other, and until that can happen… this won’t work.”

 

“No, I’m not – I don’t blame you, Anya, I know -” His voice sounded desperate to his own ears, his heart shattering as she took a step back from him.

 

“I’m not mad at you, Raj. I just…” She drew a shuddering breath, streaks of tears lingering on her cheeks as she forced herself to inhale. “What happens if you can’t ever trust me? Do we stay in this in between state forever?” She laughed humorlessly, shaking her head. “I can’t do that Raj. I can’t make this harder for us than it already is. We have to let go.”

 

Her heart shattered as she said the words. Emptiness filled the crevices, her chest tightening painfully. “I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.” She said, the words unconvincing to her own ears as she forced herself to step further away, willing herself to be immune to the heartbreak written across his face.

 

They stared at each other for a long moment, the silence oppressive.

 

“I think you should leave, Raj.” She whispered, turning away as the tears spilled over once more. The door shut with a quiet click, his footsteps fading as he walked down the stairs. She sank down against the floor, finally allowing herself to give into the heaving sobs.

 

On the counter, a slightly smashed cupcake sat in a box, uneaten.


Song: If You’re Gone

Artist: Matchbox Twenty


Note: *ducks behind a bush for cover* Don’t kill me. I promise they will get their happy ending — they just need to overcome a few more of their inner demons to do so. Please let me know what you think! Even if it’s just to say I want to slap you for doing that to them 🙂

I really, really appreciate all the support from you guys about publishing this. The readers make the journey of a writer, and it’s so lovely to have such a supportive group reading your work. I am forever grateful.

As always, please drop a comment to let me know what you think if you have the time. Follow buttons are on the right, and if you find yourself not receiving notifications, try unfollowing and refollowing again.

Love always,

MN.

Chapter Twenty Four: Moh Moh ke Dhaage

Natasha studied Raj from across the lab bench, her green eyes narrowed thoughtfully. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what felt different about him, and he had been remarkably evasive whenever she asked him anything. She cleared her throat pointedly, but he was oblivious to her presence as he reached for a pipette.

 

“Raj.” She said his name a little more loudly, trying to get his attention. as he crooned the words to whatever song he was listening to underneath his breath, his hips shimmying as he moved to grab some media to grow his cells in.

 

He finally looked up when she snapped her fingers in front of his face, coming to stand right in front of him.

 

“What?”

 

“I was wondering if you wanted to get dinner with me tonight at Shortstack. I’m craving pancakes and you can never go wrong with breakfast food.” She watched him closely, testing the waters.

 

He paled slightly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Uh… I would love to but I have plans.” He said, skirting around it.

 

She raised an incredulous eyebrow. “If you’re going to avoid something, at least do a good job of it.”

 

He had the grace to smile sheepishly. “Sorry.” His phone vibrated and he reached for it, his mouth pulling into a smile as he responded to whomever had texted him, a dimple appearing on his cheek.

 

Her eyes narrowed for a moment as realization kicked in, her grin widening like the Cheshire cat. Raj looked up and groaned, recognizing her expression.

 

“You’re seeing someone.” She said gleefully, clapping her hands together.

 

“I never said that.” He replied curtly, hoping to put an end to the conversation. He didn’t want to talk about Ananya — not yet, anyway. They needed to sort the relationship out for themselves first. It felt too private, and he didn’t want to deal with anyone judging their fledgling reconnection quite yet.

 

Was it their relationship he didn’t want judged or did he not want anyone to judge her?

 

He ignored the voice at the back of his head warning him that he was lying to himself if he didn’t acknowledge that some part of it was his uncertainties about their relationship, leaving him restless.

 

You’re getting in too deep. Can you really trust her after everything?

 

The same voice piped up, a reflection of the underlying doubts he desperately wanted to keep at bay. Natasha poked his shoulder, jolting him out of his thoughts.

 

“You cannot get away with that. Why won’t you tell me who it is?!” She exclaimed, her voice gaining a mock hurt edge. He snorted, shaking his head.

 

“Have you realized that your name rhymes with Bipasha Basu? Wait — do you even know who she is?” He asked, referencing a once popular Indian actress. Natasha glared at him, her green eyes glimmering with determination.

 

“Don’t change the subject. Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“You weren’t there.” He said with finality, hoping it was the end of the conversation. Her arms folded over her chest and he groaned internally, knowing he was in for it. With a sharp sigh he placed his pipette down, turning to face her. “Look, it’s not a big deal okay. I just want to see where it goes first.”

 

“At least give me her name.”

 

“No.”

 

“First letter?”

 

“Definitely not.”

 

“A?”

 

“What are we, twelve?” He retorted, pointedly ignoring her as he snapped the lid shut, grabbing the timer. She fell silent for a moment, clearly reconsidering her approach.

 

“Fine. I just thought I would ask because you’ve seemed… different.” She said, her voice softening. Raj’s fingers stilled over the timer, his body stiffening imperceptibly.

 

“Different?” He asked. Natasha resisted the urge to smile at his obvious attempt to keep his curiosity about her observations hidden. He always forgot how well she knew him, even though it was inevitable after spending three years across from him in lab every single day.

 

“Yeah. You seem happier.” She chose to go with honesty, foregoing the sarcasm. He inhaled audibly, the realization once again coming to the front of his mind. He found himself recalling a moment when they had been cooking together, the barest hint of a smile tugging at his lips unintentionally.

 

“Are you?” She asked, looking at him, despite the fact that the expression on his face spoke volumes. Her question shook him out of his trance and he cleared his throat, a familiar fear beginning to mix with the joy.

 

Careful, you’re letting yourself get too close.

 

“I am. It’s been good.” He said simply, the smile lingering.

 

“You thought about that for a long time.” Natasha probed gently.

 

He should have known that she wouldn’t let this go that easily. He pulled his lip between his teeth, considering his words as he struggled with the odd mix of feelings.

 

“I’m uncertain about the relationship. Not about how she makes me feel.” He said carefully, raising his gaze to meet hers.

 

It was rare that he confided that much this easily, and Natasha studied him carefully, an odd premonition settling in her gut.

 

It couldn’t be.

 

“What makes you uncertain?”

 

He paused a long time before answering, his voice quiet when he finally responded. “I don’t want to get hurt again.”

 

She paused, her eyes softening as she recognized the hint of fear in his voice. “Not every girl is Ananya, Raj.” She said softly, touching his shoulder.

 

A strange look passed over his face, and the niggle was back. A shadow of a smile crossed his lips. “I know.”

 

She nodded slowly, unsure of what to make of his expression. “Alright, well… I guess I will just wait for you to tell me then.” She said, trailing off dramatically. He rolled his eyes, the hint of a fond smile touching his lips as she turned back to her own bench.

 

She pulled her hair up into a bun, making a sound of annoyance as her hair tie snapped. “I’ll be back, I’m going to go grab another hair tie from our office.” She didn’t know if Raj had heard her as he continued to sing underneath his breath, his feet moving to the beat of whatever song he was listening to.

 

Natasha walked into her office, rummaging through her desk for a hair tie. She jumped when the door clicked, creaking quietly as it opened, with Ananya peering out from around the corner. Ananya’s eyes widened.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was just…”

 

Natasha straightened as Ananya trailed off, replacing the words she was going to say with a smile. Before she could respond the door opened again, revealing Raj.

 

“Ready to go?” He asked, completely oblivious to Natasha’s presence. Ananya’s face paled and she shook her head imperceptibly, glancing over at Natasha.

 

Raj caught sight of her, his stomach rolling uneasily. Natasha’s eyes widened as her suspicions were confirmed, and she looked between the sheepish pair. Raj rubbed the back of his neck, stepping into their office more fully.

 

This was becoming too real.

 

A warning screamed in his head, reminding him that he had wanted to keep this quiet so that he could have time to figure out whether it would actually work.

 

And to figure out whether he could trust her again.

 

He looked over at Ananya.  She stayed silent, leaving him to make the decision for himself.

Guilt flared in his chest as he saw the wall rise in her eyes, as if she was afraid that he would deny their relationship.

 

He had been about to, hadn’t he?

 

He silenced the voice in his head, turning to face an expectant Natasha. “We’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks.” He admitted. The words left him with a lingering doubt, and he wondered whether he had made the right decision.

 

There was no turning back now.

 

His gaze drifted, looking past her to meet Ananya’s eyes. She met his gaze warily, trying to discern his comfort with the situation.

 

He didn’t like seeing that when she looked at him.

 

He surprised himself by the strength of his desire to rid that expression from her face, his heart immediately jumping to reassure her doubts. He took the step to stand next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist and squeezing gently as he looked down at her.

 

Ananya’s expression softened from wariness into a smile, and he couldn’t help but return it. The unease in his chest dissipated, and she leaned into his grip.

 

A strange sense of protectiveness overcame Natasha as she watched the couple. She hadn’t been there when they had broken up, but she had seen its impacts on Raj over the course of the last three years. He was skittish, afraid of giving his heart up for fear of it being broken again.

 

For all she liked Ananya, she couldn’t help but feel a distinct urge to tell her to stay away from him.

 

She exhaled slowly and directed her gaze back to Raj, who had stepped away and was putting on his own coat. Ananya glanced around the office, her eyes pausing on the picture of Raj and Natasha at the tri-professor barbecue that took place every summer. Regret fleeted across Ananya’s face but it was gone as quickly as it had arrived as she curiously took in the rest of the office.

 

She studied the other girl, unsure of how she felt about this. She accidentally caught Ananya’s eyes. The other woman looked almost nervous, her fingers twisting as she seemed to look for something from Natasha.

 

Approval.

 

Natasha gave her a smile and Ananya relaxed slightly. She had seen how protective Natasha was of Raj, and she wasn’t sure how the other woman would take to their relationship. She knew Natasha wasn’t exactly thrilled, gauging from her reluctant expression.

 

She glanced at Raj, who seemed oblivious to the dynamics in the room as he fiddled with a document on his computer. She touched his upper arm and he turned to look at her. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the intensity in his eyes, his gaze only focused on her.

 

“I’ll just be one second.” He murmured, turning back to his computer quickly as he closed out of the program. He let out a sigh of relief, running his hand over his face as he exhaled. He faced Natasha. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

 

Natasha glanced fleetingly at Ananya before giving Raj a warm smile, nodding. “Of course. Don’t think that this is the end to our conversation about this little development though.” She added pointedly.

 

He snorted. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m sure we can sit down and do a full analysis of my deepest thoughts in the middle of doing a protein purification.” He responded, not bothering to mask the sarcasm.

 

They walked out of his office, their hands entwining. Raj leaned down to press a kiss to the top of her head in an unexpected moment of tenderness. Ananya’s eyes were soft as she looked up at him, smiling.

 

Natasha watched them thoughtfully from the door as they disappeared around the corner. With a shake of her head, she put her headphones in as she made her way back to lab.

 

Raj could handle himself. And if it went south as she feared it would… she would be there.


 

“Oh my god did you start the next season of Shameless?” She called as he hung up their coats, rummaging around the cupboard for a sweatshirt. She grumbled to herself under her breath as she saw the growing pile of laundry, mentally adding it to her checklist of things she needed to get done this weekend.

 

She grabbed a sweatshirt and slid it on, wiggling into it as she walked out of her room smack dab into his chest. He grabbed her by the waist, and his amused chuckle vibrated in his chest as he steadied her, gently tugging the sweatshirt all the way down.

 

“Sorry.” She muttered sheepishly. He merely shook his head with a grin, stepping to the side to let her pass.

 

“To answer your question, yes, I did start the next season of Shameless. You know, the inconsistencies in it really bug me sometimes.” He said over the sound of the running tap, leaning against the counter as she washed her hands.

 

Ananya grimaced, shaking her head. “I think years of watching Indian soap operas has made me immune to that.”

 

Raj snickered, handing her a pot. “Does Amma still watch those?”

 

“Unfortunately.” She responded, making a face. “Those idiotic shows all have the same plotline and same lack of logic. Did I tell you about the one where the girl dresses up as a guy and the hero is convinced that he’s gay because he’s attracted to her?” She asked, rolling her eyes.

 

“This one sounds like a new one. I don’t think my mother has discovered it yet.” He noted dryly.

 

“Thank your stars. It’s got that girl from the reboot of the one I used to watch that I hated.”

 

“The one with the crazy abusive hero?”

 

“That describes at least 75% of them.”

 

“Good point.” He conceded, leaning against the counter as Ananya set a timer for the pasta. “It’s even worse now. Since I don’t go home as often, I’m guilt tripped into watching them with her sincerely. If I dare to laugh at it, I get an angry glare for not appreciating quality time together.”

 

Ananya laughed, nodding. “That happens here too. Whenever I go home for a night, Amma makes me watch some show with her. My dear father is extra happy because he’s relieved of the duty for a night.”

 

“And she won’t even compromise to watch an hour of the baseball game with me. Full guilt trip about how she never gets the remote with my father around.”

 

She shook her head in disappointment. “I still can’t believe you’re a baseball fan. Football is so much better.”

 

“That’s because you have no baseball team to speak of.” He retorted.

 

“I have the Brewers!” She exclaimed. He merely raised his eyebrows, and she glared. “Please, you’re a Cubs fan. They were good in the early 1900s.”

 

“At least we appeared in the World Series. Please remind me how many times the Brewers have been in one.”

 

She opened her mouth to argue but couldn’t come up with anything. “They’re an up and coming team, okay?”

 

“They’ve been “up and coming” for like 20 years.” She stuck her tongue out at him, earning a laugh. “Very mature, Anya. That makes for such a convincing argument.”

 

“Shut up and help me drain this pasta.” She muttered, thrusting the colander into his hands as he continued to laugh.

 

“So how did you and Natasha meet?” Ananya asked as they sat down for dinner, curling up on her couch. They hadn’t felt like going out today, and instead they had cooked together. Raj’s face immediately broke into a smile.

 

“She was using the centrifuge I needed for something that was time sensitive, and I got mad at her and we got into an argument. She came back and apologized later, and we ended up sharing an office.”

 

“Trust you to make a friend out of an argument.”

 

He scoffed, shaking his head. “Please. Like you’re any better.”

 

Her mouth opened in protest, her brow crinkling. “I… what is that supposed to mean?” She asked indignantly.

 

He shrugged, opening his palms. “Don’t you remember that date we went on with Pooja and Michael?”

 

Her eyes lit with recognition and she broke into laughter, shaking her head. “Of course I remember. I thought you were really cute, but that you were such an ass.”

 

Raj rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Full disclosure, I kept trying to bait you into an argument so you would keep talking to me.” He paused, her words sinking in. “Wait, what? You thought I was cute back then?”

 

Ananya looked at him incredulously. “Of course I did. I thought it was obvious.”

 

“I didn’t know you thought that! Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

 

Her mouth opened and closed, and she shrugged. “I… I don’t know, I thought you already knew. Pooja kept dropping hints, but you had just broken up with your long term girlfriend and we were friends and…”

 

He closed his eyes, exhaling loudly as he shook his head with a laugh. “Damn it, Ananya. I kept trying to figure out whether you liked me or not and you kept giving me mixed signals.”

 

“Pooja kept leaving us alone! Why do you think she mysteriously stopped coming to our study sessions?” She asked, stifling laughter. He groaned, leaning his head back.

 

“I was nineteen! How much do you expect of a nervous guy?”

 

She merely shook her head, laughter bubbling out of her. He couldn’t help but join her, her happiness contagious. As their laughter faded, he looked over at her, reaching for her hand.

 

She raised her eyes to meet his, her fingers sliding between his. She could feel the gentle pressure of his grip against hers. He squeezed lightly with a lopsided smile, the warmth that had defined their relationship creeping its way past the bitterness.

 

“I wish I had just realized.” He murmured, a faint hint of regret in his voice.

 

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

 

He raised a questioning eyebrow, and her expression softened as she spoke. “Our friendship was always what I loved the most about dating you.”

 

He placed a hand over his heart. “Not the sex? I’m devastated, Iyer.” He teased, faking heartbreak. She rolled her eyes, swatting his shoulder as she smiled.

 

“But it’s true.” He paused, dropping his eyes to his hands. “It’s what hurt the most when we broke up. I found myself heartbroken and without the person I would have talked to about it.” He added.

 

“Me too. There were days when I just wanted to pick up the phone and call and…” She inhaled sharply, blinking.

 

“Why didn’t you?” He asked suddenly.

 

She searched his face for a long time, her eyes reflecting everything they had shared. “I didn’t want to hear you say that you didn’t want to talk to me.” She said quietly, her voice barely above a whisper. His eyes held understanding, and he reached for her hand, running his finger over the lines on her palm.

 

Her hand cupped the side of his face as she leaned in. Their lips melded together in a soft kiss, deepening slowly as they savored the feeling of being together. They chose not to say the words in their heads, wary of making promises that could be broken.

 

They adjusted themselves so her head rested on his shoulder, their hands still tangled together as they sat together. They were determined to live in the moment, silencing thoughts on what this could turn into.

 

For now, this moment was enough.


Song: Moh Moh ke Dhaage

Artist: Papon


Note: I had some extra time to write, so it’s an early update — I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I have to say, I like the male version of this song much more than the female — anyone else agree?

As always, please drop a comment to let me know what you think if you have the time. Follow buttons are on the right, and if you find yourself not receiving notifications, try unfollowing and refollowing again.

Just as a side note — after this story is finished, I am considering trying to publish it. As a result, I will have to make the blog private while I try to get that done. I will keep you guys updated on whether my efforts are successful, and you can always keep tabs on Twitter (follow me @chotidesi). But we’ve got a little bit yet for that to happen 🙂

Love always,

MN.

Chapter Twenty Three: Start of Something New

He found her immediately on Wednesday, her hair pulled into a loose ponytail that was practically falling apart. Her body was hunched over her laptop, her fingers moving rapidly across the keyboard as she typed up her chapter. She leaned back for a moment, her lips pursed as she scanned the words critically.

 

He breathed in deeply, the image so piercingly familiar that it almost hurt. He had walked in on her doing this so many times, either staring at her phone as she waited or curled up in bed next to him.

 

Could he do this again?

 

She looked up just then, her eyes crinkling into a smile as she saw him. She gave him a small wave, adjusting her stuff to give him more space as he sat down on the stool across from her.

 

“Hey.” She looked almost as if she couldn’t believe it, staring at him for a split second too long. She blushed when he looked directly back at her, his head tilted in a silent question. “I just…” She paused, wondering whether she should tell him the truth. “I didn’t expect you to come.” She finished honestly.

 

Her words stung.

 

Did he come off as that fickle?

 

She immediately saw his expression, scrambling to fix it. “Not that you would stand me up. Just that…” She shook her head with an easy smile, waving it off. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. Not today.”

 

He breathed a sigh of relief, nodding. “Not today.” He agreed.

 

“So what did you do in lab today?” She asked, eager to change the topic.

 

“Ran a gel. It didn’t work, as usual.” He responded, making a face.

 

“What were you running?”

 

“I was checking to see if a PCR worked. It didn’t. RecA is too damn picky.” He said, exasperation lacing his voice. He nodded towards her laptop. “How’s the writing?”

 

“It’s okay.”

 

There was an awkward pause as they stared at each other, struggling to fill in the spaces that had arisen from three years of silence. Her stomach turned as it stretched longer, and she wondered whether she had made a mistake.

 

What if they had lost the connection?

 

What if this would ruin the pieces they had?

 

“Weather’s nice.” He said finally. She stared at him for a moment, incredulous, only to see his eyes dancing with humor. With relief she broke into laughter, the discomfort of the situation easing over mutual acknowledgement of the awkwardness.

 

“I’m so sorry. I haven’t done this in awhile.” He added, shrugging with a wince.

 

“Nothing could top the awkwardness of that date with one of Pooja’s ridiculous Tinder dates. He wouldn’t stop talking about his miniature pony collection.”

 

Raj let out a bark of laughter, shaking his head. “I almost forgot about that. God, he was terrible. I can’t believe she went on to date him for… what was it, another month and a half?”

 

“And when she broke up with him she realized that he hadn’t even known they were dating.” She snickered, shaking her head. “That girl has had so many poor relationships.”

 

“She seems happy with Aman though.” He said, sobering slightly. Ananya’s smile softened, and she nodded.

 

“Aman’s a great fit for her. He tempers her more impulsive tendencies with how utterly stable he is.”

 

Raj’s mouth curled in amusement, the fondness evident despite her sarcasm. “You two have quite a friendship.”

 

“I’d do anything for her.” She responded emphatically. “Regardless of our disagreements on general life approaches.” She paused. “If it hadn’t been for her, we might never have ended up together.”

 

He blinked, clearly surprised. “What?”

 

“She was the one who convinced me to go for it.” Ananya said with a small shrug. “I was wearing that hot pink bra you used to really like that night.” She added, a teasing smirk playing at her lips. His eyes darkened, his jaw working as he fought to keep his face neutral.

 

She pressed her lips together but her shoulders shook as she lost the battle with her laughter. “You’re still so easy.”

 

“Only when it comes to you.” He responded easily, letting his gaze drop down to her lips. Her laughter was replaced by a sharp inhale, her eyes smoky as she met his gaze. The distance between them suddenly felt too large, and he wished they were in a booth where he could feel the warmth of her against himself. The sounds of the coffee shop faded away as they stared at each other, wanting desperately to be somewhere else where they could give in.

 

“We should probably order food.” She said, her voice faintly strained. He nodded, his hand grazing the dip at her lower back as they walked up to the counter. She looked back at him just as they approached the counter, her lips softening slightly.

 

“Cheesy foccacia, please.”

 

He shook his head, a snort escaping his lips.

 

“What?”

 

“You haven’t changed your order in three years?” He asked.

 

“Have you?” She countered. His gaze dropped guiltily and she smiled in satisfaction, turning back to the woman behind the counter. “He’ll have a chocolate chocolate chip waffle.”

 

The woman glanced between them, smiling knowingly at him. “She knows you well.”

 

Raj stiffened beside her for a split second, and then let himself relax. “She does.” He responded simply. Her gaze turned to him in surprise, her heart skipping a beat at quiet acknowledgement of their past, untainted by bitterness.

 

He felt her eyes scanning his face as he handed his credit card forward. He looked down at her, his forehead crinkling as he raised his eyebrows in question. She shook her head, her body leaning into his as they walked back to their table.

 

“Did I tell you that Di is pregnant?” Raj asked as he sat down across from her.

 

“She is?!” Ananya exclaimed, her smile too broad to be realistic.

 

His gaze narrowed and then his mouth fell open in realization. “You knew?!”

 

Ananya’s eyes darted away guiltily and he leaned forward, accusing. “You didn’t tell me?!”

 

She held up her hands in surrender, her voice pitching higher with guilt. “I… I had a suspicion but I wasn’t sure. I figured she would want to tell you.”

 

“Come on! That’s the kind of thing I want to know.”

 

“Are you really mad?”

 

“Yes!” She fixed him with her gaze and he rolled his eyes. “No, I’m not. But still, you could have told me about your suspicion.”

 

“I’m just surprised that you never noticed. For all your bragging about noticing everything…”

 

“I was a little distracted by someone else.” He retorted dryly. Her cheeks flushed and he grinned, enjoying the way they darkened further.

 

“So how many months along is she?”

 

“Four. Just out of the first trimester.” He said, pride and excitement shining through his voice. She couldn’t help but smile with him, his joy infectious. “I’m so excited to have another kid to spoil. Di’s already complaining that Nick is far too spoiled for his own good.”

 

“You’re really good with him. It’s obvious he adores you.”

 

“The best part is when I get to hand him back to Di.” Raj joked. Ananya shook her head, and there was a short silence before he spoke again, his voice more serious. “I always thought I would have a kid by now.”

 

Ananya’s face registered surprise. “Really?”

 

He shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t know. Don’t you ever have these arbitrary milestones in your head of where in your life you’re supposed to be by now?”

 

“I did. And then I learned that life never turns out as you planned.” She said wryly. She paused. “I always thought I would be married by now. But kids…? I don’t know. I guess I never took the time to really think about it.”

 

Raj raised his eyebrows disbelievingly. “Ananya the planner has never considered children in the three years we’ve been apart? You had our life planned down to the minute when we were dating.”

 

She froze for a moment, uncertain of what to make of his candid tone. She laughed uncomfortably, her mind spinning as she hastily tried to figure out whether it was appropriate to respond as lightly. She couldn’t help but be wary, wondering how long this blissful peace would last.

 

Raj stared at her, realizing that something was off as she fell silent. “Is everything alright?”

 

Her eyes snapped back to his, a tense smile on her face. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She said, her voice a little too cheery.

 

He didn’t take his gaze off of her, and she smiled easily, strain showing in the lines around her lips. “Anya, this won’t work if we can’t be open about how we feel about this.”

 

His stomach clenched as soon as the words left his lips, turning over with nervousness.

 

That was it. They were doing this.

 

He had put it out there, and he hadn’t even thought about it.

 

But he didn’t feel like he wanted to take the words back.

 

He heard her breathe in, considering his words. She finally nodded, swallowing visibly. “Alright. I was trying to figure out how okay it is for us to talk about what happened… without apologies, without anger and arguments. It seems too… peaceful. And that makes me nervous.”

 

His stomach relaxed as she voiced the thoughts running through his own head, her eyes scanning his nervously.

 

“I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know what to make of this. And…” She bit her lip, taking a long pause before she continued. “I don’t know if I believe that… this is real.” She said finally.

 

He stared at her for a long moment, his expression inscrutable. “I’m scared.” He said, exhaling. “I don’t know if this will work and I don’t want to get hurt again. But it’s clear that being just friends is… difficult for us.” He added wryly.

 

He pressed his lips together, considering his next words for a while. “But… regardless of how this ends, I think it will give us closure. And isn’t that what we really need?”

 

She struggled to keep her face from falling, her heart dropping at his words.

 

It was practical, and yet… nothing about her own feelings were practical.

 

What if she fell in love again… and he didn’t?

 

She could feel his gaze on her so she smiled up at him, masking the apprehension that settled in her stomach. “Uh… yeah. Closure. That’s what we need.”

 

He reached forward, taking her hand in his. She looked up, taken aback by the sudden gesture.

 

“I want to do this, Anya.”

 

She searched his gaze, before leaning over the table, pressing her lips to his in a soft kiss, her fingers resting lightly against his cheek. She sat back down and he squeezed her hand gently, exhaling.

 

She moved to change the subject, talking animatedly about a new restaurant that had opened up in the Atwood neighborhood. A steady warmth grew in his heart as they talked. He found time slipping away before he had realized it, the sky growing dark outside as they conversed.

 

He couldn’t help but feel unsettled by the realization that the two hours he had spent with her had been the happiest he had felt since…

 

He swallowed. He knew he should be reminding himself of all of the reasons he should be careful around her, but instead his mind stubbornly reverted to everything he had fallen in love with.

 

He shook his head, and she looked at him curiously.

 

“Is everything okay? You just zoned out for a bit there.”

 

He hesitated. He didn’t want to put words to his emotions, and instead reached for a safer topic.

 

“Remember when you told me Andrew was having trouble making it work?”

 

Her brow crinkled in confusion. “You were thinking about my writing…?” She asked, slightly disbelieving.

 

He moved to clarify, gesturing. “I’ve always been interested in your writing. Remember all those times we sat on the dock talking through your plot?”

 

A fond smile broke out over her face, and she nodded. “Of course I do. You were the first person I told about my dream.” She said, her voice soft. “You gave me the courage to follow my dreams, even if it was a little late.” She stated honestly.

 

The emotion in her voice stunned him, a potent combination of gratitude and intense affection. If he closed his eyes, he could still see a nineteen-year-old Ananya, her face alight as she talked about the plot of her book. His heart skipped a beat as he recalled the intimacy of those late night conversations.

 

He cleared his throat. “You always looked so happy talking about it.”

 

She looked nostalgic as she nodded, and he knew she was thinking of the same nights he had been thinking of.

 

“Do you want to go there again? We can grab pizza on the way, and just sit on the docks. They close in half an hour anyway.” He said suddenly, before he could think the better of it.

 

Her face immediately broke out into a brilliant smile as she nodded, standing up. They made their way over to the lake, his arm drawing her close as the cool night air whispered over them. He found himself smiling as he watched her talk, her arms gesturing dramatically as she explained something, contentment sweeping through his entire body.

She paused in the middle of her sentence, tilting her head.

 

“What?” She asked, a self conscious laugh at the end of her words. She brushed her hair back from her face but it fell right back.

 

He leaned closer to her and her words trailed off as his fingers brushed the side of her cheek, gently cradling it. He melded their lips together, taking his time as he kissed her. She went languid in his arms, her arms drawing him closer as their tongues tangled together.

 

They drew back for a moment, his half lidded gaze drifting over her face. She smiled and his heart tripped, a feeling of elation that he only found with her. At the back of his mind he felt the realization, giving voice to what he had fought against for years.

 

She made him happy.


Song: Start of Something New

Artists: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Drew Seeley


Note: Thought I’d throw it back to my elementary school days and good old Disney for this chapter — Zac Efron, floppy hair, and the stirrings of young love 😉 I hope you enjoyed the chapter.

As always, the follow buttons are on the right, and if you find that you’re not getting notifications, try unfollowing and refollowing again. If you’ve got time, please let me know what you think with a comment 🙂

Love always,

MN.