“How was your weekend?, Yvette, their office manager, asked, half turning from a coffee machine that was squirting coffee noisily into an oversized ceramic mug.
“It was great”, he replied. Waiting for his turn to fuel up, Aman suppressed a yawn. “We missed you at the barbecue though. How was your road trip?, he added, rubbing his stubble absently with one hand. Having slept through his alarm – an occurrence that was unusual but not entirely surprising given the relative sleeplessness of the night that had preceded it – he’d barely had time to shower and none to shave.
Picking up her mug, she took a sip before regaling him, with brevity and wry humor, with an account of her long weekend – one that had involved a road trip and a family union almost too meticulously planned in it’s insistence on matching T-shirts and all. In midst of this flow of words, her eyes paused on his face. Although for just over a fraction of a second, it was enough to make him conscious of the night and it’s many shadows once again.
He was stirring in sugar when, as if on cue, Mira walked into the staff room, clad in scrubs and that intense self contained air he’d come to associate with her. He allowed his spoon to drop and clatter against the stainless steel sink before turning toward her.
“Morning, Dr. Agarwal”, she said in her habitually somber voice, with just a promise of a smile as usual teasing the corners of her mouth.
“Morning, Mira”, he looked down into his mug, into the still slightly swirling motions of his beverage, “How was your weekend?
“It was good”, she said distractedly, opening the fridge door and making place for her lunch. Straightening, she looked at him, “We…my daughter and I…went to this outlet mall. Got some great deals”.
“Really? What did you find? Yvette asked and even as she turned toward her and continued with the conversation, Aman excused himself and walked out, heading toward the private offices at the other end of the premise.
Anita’s happiness as they drove back from the park, he reminded himself apropos of nothing, the fact somehow seeming to answer whatever had managed to keep him awake last night even without his full registration and acknowledgement of the same. She had almost seemed like the person she was two years ago before…he…
A warm glow of satisfaction settled in his heart as he shrugged into his white coat. Inhaling sharply, he clicked on the first patient, his brain dismissing thoughts not related to medicine or patient care for the time being.
He headed out of his office toward a patient room, a part of him hearing Mira’s soft laughter – a rarity rarer than the blue moon – wafting from the staff room. She probably was still talking to Yvette. He found herself wondering what it was that they were talking about that made her laugh so…
He called Anita as his car crawled amidst bumper to bumper rush hour traffic after work, amidst vehicles trying to squeeze through a notorious bottle neck of the freeway he normally took to his apartment.
“Having second thoughts?, he joked as his phone rang for quite some time before she answered, just as he was thinking of trying again later and about to hang up.
There was a pause before she answered. It made Aman mentally kick himself and wish he’d kept his ill advised joke to himself. He relaxed when she chuckled and responded in kind, “Second thought? Are you kidding me? I just got done with my sixth thought. How about you? Hope you’re keeping up with me”.
Relaxing, Aman laughed with her. “Let’s just say, I’m not far behind. And, Anu, if you ever come back to the second thought – the most dangerous of all thoughts, I am told – please let me know”.
There was a short pause again before she answered, “Of course, I will”.
“Are you back in Uni?
“Yes. Came back earlier today. Still trying to get settled in”.
“I can’t believe I’m halfway done already”, she added, “It hit me suddenly as I was driving back here and I still can’t wrap my mind around it”.
“You were still in high school when we first met”, Aman said softly, his eyes focused pensively on the horizon ahead.The traffic had thinned and his car glided down unhindered on the middle lane.
“You cradle snatcher, you”, Anita said with mock accusation in her voice and Aman couldn’t help but burst out laughing, his heart filling with a soft fondness he’d always felt for her.
“You really are one of a kind”, he said.
“I should hope so”, Anita said wryly, “unless I’ve been cloned without my knowledge in the past”.
“Somebody has been watching Orphan Black”.
“No, I haven’t, although I’m aware what it’s about. All I watch these days is Suits and Great British Baking Show. What about you? Still on Football, Shark-tank, Football, Shark-tank, rinse and repeat”.
“Pretty much”, he laughed, “What to do, I’m a boring old man, a creature of habit”.
“Look who we have here. An oxymoron. A boring old cradle snatcher”.
“Well, I’ll take oxymoron over moron any day”.
“Did you know that the word oxymoron is an oxymoron itself? A fusion of the Latin versions of sharp and dull”.
“Interesting”, Aman said, suppressing a yawn. The paucity of sleep last night seemed to be finally catching up with him. He listened with an indulgent smile as she went on to recall related and unrelated trivia in whichever order they happened to pop up in her razor sharp and seemingly tireless brain. ‘Queen Of Trivia’ – that was what Khushi used to call her.
He sighed and pounced at the first lull in their rather one sided conversation.
“Are you free this Saturday? I was thinking of going to this A R Rahman concert. I know you enjoy his music…
“I would love to. How much are the tickets though?
Aman sighed again. Although he usually was the first one admit – to himself or to whosoever challenged his ideas – that he was comfortable and content to remain ‘old fashioned’ in certain ways, he didn’t quite get Anita’s insistence on sharing the cost of every single outing they planned or her very new age aversion to the word ‘date’ in general.
“I have complimentary tickets”.
“Again?, Anita exclaimed with a laugh, “Are you sure these pharmaceutical companies are not trying to bribe you?
“They are”, Aman smiled, easing his car around the exit ramp, “But they don’t always succeed. So, it’s decided? I will come pick you around six?
Khushi attempted logging onto her Facebook account and realized she’d forgotten her password. Again. She went down her most commonly used passwords list with no luck, finally giving up to tap defeatedly on ‘forgot your password?’. Facebook no longer interested her like it used to at a time when it was relatively new and she relatively younger. Even back in the days when she logged in almost every single day, she rarely posted or liked anything and was mostly content to browse through newsfeed, clicking on random items – vacation photos, kitten videos, announcements – that piqued her interest. At times when she inadvertently revealed her steadily accumulated knowledge of happenings and events in the lives of their common circle of friends and relatives, it would amuse Anita to no end – leading to her mercilessly ribbing her for being a silent stalker.
And that was exactly what she was being today, she thought guiltily, as she logged on using her new password and typed Lavanya Kashyap in the search bar.
There was a new profile picture, she noticed at once, one that sent ridiculous bubbles bouncing through her blood stream. She read her new relationship status – engaged to Neville Mallick – with a silent whoop and immediately chastised herself for such an idiot. But, yes, she admitted to herself, for reasons she still didn’t like dwelling upon, for reasons that were not entirely selfless, this was a woman who featured regularly in her prayers, a woman whose happiness – present and future – counted greatly with her…
Not hearing Arnav until he was close behind, she slammed the laptop shut noisily, turning back to look at him. Hey, she smiled at him, hoping earnestly that her smile wasn’t as stupidly guilty as she felt it to be. Of course, the amused flicker in his sharp eyes told her at once that it was.
“Were you being naughty, Khushi?, he asked with a laugh, standing behind her and running his hands along her almost bare shoulders. “It’s okay. You can share with me. I won’t mind…
“Shut up”, she laughed, turning her head back to meet his dancing eyes, “I was just checking Facebook”.
Arnav settled next to her with a beer can and as he turned football on, Khushi continued to revel in that indescribable joy that lightening of weights – often those one has previously been unaware of – brings to one’s being. Arnav turned to look at her again, his eyes glinting with mock – suspicion and with just a chuckle and no warning, she slid onto his lap and straddled him, bunching his T-shirt with both hands.
“Whoa”, Arnav said, putting the can away on an end table.
Even as his eyes blazed up at her, he deadpanned, “Clue number two. Whatever my wife was caught watching has made her very horny. Hmm…connecting the dots…
“Shut it”, Khushi said again before deciding to follow her words with action by pressing her impatient, hungry mouth against his.
He groaned, matching her onslaught in equal measure, if not more and his hands, finding their way under her camisole, pressed her closer.
She felt his manhood stir, pushing insistently even as they kissed. And as she came within moments of spontaneously splintering already, he rose – with them intimately joined still – and walked over to what had, of late, become a favorite wall of theirs…
Later in the evening, they lay on the couch together, packed like sardines, with Arnav claimed by football once again and Khushi reading a book. Arnav stretched and yawned loudly – with unnecessary noise just for the heck of it – and even as Khushi frowned at him for it was annoying, Arnav extricated himself, yawned again, and called it a night.
Anita’s eyes were fixed on Audrey Hepburn’s poster as she lay and tried to keep her head as clear of thoughts as possible. Lately, while on one hand, her thoughts had become increasingly unpredictable and difficult to follow, on the other, she was finding herself increasingly confused about herself, her choices, about everything in life. The best course of action, she’d decided, was not to think too much and to take one day at a time.
And if taking one day at a time involved lying in bed and staring vacantly at that large, black and white Audrey Hepburn’s picture, so be it.
She knew she would eventually get out of bed and take her books down and try to think what she planned to do with her life in general, career wise and otherwise, but right now she needed a break from her own thoughts. She was tired and she had no idea why.
At the tail end of one full hour, she sighed and sat up in bed. She did feel better insofar as convincing oneself one were a goose for doubting one’s decision about something can. And after she’d settled herself at her desk and opened her laptop, she thought of Aman’s affectionate brown eyes and decided she really was a goose.
A sense of calm trickled down slowly as the minutes ticked and she focused wholeheartedly on the printed material before her.
She had no explanation whatsoever for the urge that made her type and send ‘Where are you?. It sounded like a demand, she realized soon after she’d sent it. It sounded like she were beckoning a presence that was always there, dissolved in the surrounding air. It sounded like she had every right in the world to.
“I’m right here”.
The apartment reeked strongly of cat litter – a litter box that had been pooped and peed upon to it’s maximum capacity without being scooped even once. Swearing under his breath, he sprayed Febreze generously all around, long enough for his roomie to pause in the ongoing noisy copulation with girlfriend to protest he couldn’t breathe.
Telling him to fuck himself, Arian walked over to the kitchen and placed his grandma’s soup in the fridge’s furthest corner. As an afterthought, he fished out a sticky note from a drawer, scribbling threats of castration and worse to the person touching it before slamming it onto the Tupperware container.
His bedroom was small and sparse with a full bed, a desk and a window overlooking a huddle of historic buildings in collegiate gothic architectural style.
He lifted his guitar from the bed and stretched himself on it instead, cradling it in his arms.
His phone lay beside him and after a long time, he picked it to get to his little stash of stored pictures. After rapid swiping motions, his finger paused at the picture he was searching for.
It was a selfie Regina had taken of the two of them at Amsterdam airport a year ago. With their heads were close together, they appeared supremely happy…perhaps they even were at the moment. His eyes didn’t linger however, they looked over Regina’s shoulder at someone cluelessly strolling into their picture.
A Song For Arnav & Khushi:
A/N: Thanks for reading and your kind words 🙂 Next chapter same time, same day next week. Hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving with your family and friends!