Anita’s mouth tasted of oranges and sunshine when having reached The Universal Parks, Orlando, later that morning, she and Arian, fingerprints and tickets duly scanned, finally drifted through it’s arched entrance.There was a faint tinge of guilt too and although she recognized and acknowledged it, she neither understood fully yet it’s many facets, nor allow herself to dwell on it. What stoked her fire and drove her that day was a pressing need to collect moments, to commit them to memory. To breathe them and to impress them upon her mind.To live them and to stow them away for unknown days in future. Her heart rejoiced in the here and now; it sang with an ebullience that frayed faintly at the edges at times. Only, she didn’t allow herself to dwell on that either.
They edged past the iconic globe, where a small crowd lingered, waiting for their turn to pose for pictures. They dove right into into the river of serious park goers – a sea of humanity struggling valiantly despite sweltering heat and tedious long lines to everything from restrooms to rides to crushed ice to ‘vacation like they really meant it’.
Wandering through the orange groves earlier on, they’d agreed upon wisely, given their paucity of time, to focus mainly on the Wizarding world.
And as they followed the signs to the Diagon Alley, Anita felt her skin taking in the pervasive carnival like atmosphere, the unapologetically manufactured cheer that followed them wherever they went under the blazing blue skies. A fresh surge of excitement shot through her veins.
Perhaps it was the place – the noise, the people, the atmosphere – or perhaps it was the fact that she felt curiously protected and shielded by their respective sunglasses…
Whatever the case, Anita found herself relaxing – was glad to – not missing at all the awareness, the tension, the discomfort from all that jazz from earlier on. She was happy, most comfortable, to be friends only with him. Or so she told herself then – as she were to discover later on in life.
Although, there were still many moments even that day when she paused, mostly for a fleeting moment or two, to wonder if she were deluding herself.
Like when they were more than halfway to their destination, striding through San Francisco’s Fisherman’s wharf, Arian nodded toward a vacant bench overlooking a sad looking down sized ocean.
Arian pulled a map out and slid his sunglasses up his head to study it. After a moment, he turned to look at her and the impact of his gaze was like a tangible force, especially when fringed by those sun kissed and ridiculously long eyelashes – what a dreadful waste on a man.
Anita, who had her water bottle raised to her lips, halted in mid gulp before swallowing with more effort than the action warranted. Even as she focused on what he was saying, she couldn’t help noticing that his irises seemed more blue than gray under the open sky. Were they merely reflecting the sky, she wondered, or was the color their own. She wondered with a sudden silly curiosity she had no business feeling what their original color was.
“How do your legs feel now?, he was asking her with what appeared to be genuine concern, “I feel kind of bad. A car would’ve been more comfortable”.
“Oh please don’t. I loved the ride, stuff legs and numb butt and all”, she dismissed his concern with a laugh, meaning every word she said. His eyes stilled over hers and catching a flicker in their irises, she looked away for a weighted moment before spotting a Ben and Jerry’s kiosk close by and jumping to her feet.
“I feel like an ice cream. Do you want one too?”, she said looking down at him, fighting against a sudden shyness she felt shimmying across her eyes. She heard him sigh – an oddly eloquent sigh – before unfolding himself to tower over her.
They walked over to the kiosk under cover of inconsequential conversation Anita doggedly kept going about weird ice creams flavors – especially what was the weirdest ice cream flavor they’d ever tried.
“Horseradish, hands down. And it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Then, on a road trip across Alabama once, I came across chocolate covered bacon ice cream. I couldn’t finish it. Just the thought makes me want to puke. They should make that illegal instead of sticking ice cream cones in your back pockets”.
Anita had heard of that very strange Alabama law and something about the dead pan manner Arian said it was so funny that she couldn’t help laughing out loud as they stood in line and waited for their turn.
“What’s with Alabama and weird laws?, she said, wiping a tear.
“Here’s another priceless gem”, he chuckled, “Boogers may not be flicked into the wind at any time of the day.Talk about lethal weapons”.
Anita stared open mouthed for a moment before breaking into giggles, “You’re pulling my leg”.
“No, I’m serious”, he chuckled, “You can check. Makes a lot of sense right?”, he added sarcastically, “especially when you compare them to gun laws”.
“It’s outrageous”, Anita shook her head before adding with a teasing little smile, “Did you learn that in school?
“I wish”, he said with a rueful smile, “that would have provided some much needed comic relief. Law school curriculum has been incredibly dry and monotonous so far. Consider that a fair warning”.
“With my LSAT score”, Anita replied wryly, “I have far worse things to worry about than law school curriculum. Like scoring worse or equally bad in the December test and getting into no where but a shitty bottom tier Law School that has an equally shitty bar exam pass rate, where, at the end of three years, I not only find myself unemployed and neck deep in debt but also struggling to pass the bar exam. And even if I’m able to pass the bar exam, all the big firms will pass me by because, of course, they will consider themselves above me and my law school. And then, maybe I’ll have no choice but to become a street lawyer – who knows, a personal injury lawyer maybe?
She paused embarrassed and took in a deep breath, “That was a long rant”.
Arian looked visibly amused but didn’t say anything thankfully except for a clipped comment about her sounding a bit like A Series Of Unfortunate Events but that it was perfectly fine with him.
“Maybe”, she added with a wry smile, feeling considerably lighter after unloading all of that, “I’ll be the new queen of billboards”.
That made him laugh and the sound of his laughter – the good natured crinkle of his eyes – and the fact that she had caused it made her heart glow with a smile that eventually made it’s way up to her lips.
“I can visualize the billboards mushrooming all over Ohio”, Arian grinned as they moved along with the crawling line, “Car accident? Injured? I’ll Fight For You. #Bigmoney 1-800-CAll ANU”
Even as she grinned at the visual, he sobered and an air of hesitation surrounded his stance. “You’ll be fine”, was all he said however, “Just give it your best shot. And I can be of any help, do let me know”.
They’d reached the front of the line and a brisk young woman manning the counter commanded their undivided attention. Anita, after asking what flavor he wanted, ordered and paid for both of them, waving away imperiously at his wallet he fished out from his jeans pocket. “It’s ok”, she said, “I got it”.
“Fine but lunch’s on me”, he said firmly, accepting his ice cream cone and tucking his wallet back in place.
They were finishing their fast melting ice cream in silence cutting their way down a bustling path when they crossed the columned ‘Museum Of Antiquities’ entrance to one of her and Khushi’s all time favorite rides -the ‘Revenge Of The Mummy’. The couple of time they rode it in the past, on two separate occasions – they had loved it more for the ambience cultivated carefully around tomb diggers, sarcophagi, scarab beetles and ancient Egyptian curses than for the thrill of the roller coaster itself.
And when she impulsively spoke her thought out loud – finishing off the last of her cone and licking clean a finger – he immediately insisted on turning back to it.
“No, it’s ok”, she protested, “I insist that we stick to our plan”.
“No”, he countered with that little smile of his – one instilled with that impossibly perfect ratio of self confidence, mischief and bashfulness she never saw or noticed in anyone else before.Even as he spoke, he tugged her by the hand toward the faux museum entrance, “I insist we do everything that you want to. It’s your day”.
And she was too preoccupied with the way his hand felt – cool and firm and comforting and indulgent – to think of a suitable thing to say. As they joined the tail end of the line which, luckily for them, wasn’t as long as expected, she knew all she needed to do was to give the slightest indication, the subtlest cue and he would let go of her hand at once. Perversely, for the exact reason, she kept her hand dead still in his grasp. She kept her head averted and pretended to be far too engrossed in a wall full of hieroglyphics to notice, pay attention, or give unwarranted import to their casually joined hands.
After a short while, she hazarded a quick sideways glance at him. He seemed to be just as preoccupied as their line, en route to the start of the ride, ascended rough hewn steps into a ancient Egyptian tomb. She surveyed his dim lit profile for a moment and something about the set of his features, something about the steady pressure of his hand, told her that he was just as good as pretending as she was, that he was just as aware of the intimacy of their clasped hands as she was. That he was just as reluctant to end it as she was…
The last thought, like a douse of cold water, brought her back to her senses. With her heart throbbing heavily, she disengaged her hand as casually as possible, raising it to tuck away a non existent strand of hair.
They had reached the docking platform for the ride and even as they stepped in and buckled up, Anita’s pre ride rush of excitement was tempered with a sadness she didn’t much care for, a strange sense of loss for something undefined she didn’t even know what it was like to truly possess.
“Can I hold your hand if I’m terrified?, Arian brought his head closer and whispered, his voice sounding oddly intimate as their cart careened down the roller coaster tract into a faintly lit tunnel – a reproduction of an ancient archeological dig. She whipped her head sideways and looked at him. He smiled, just a little curve to his lips that seemed knowing but reassuring, kindly but amused – like he had read every thought zapping across her head and was trying to tell her that everything would be alright – if only she would allow it to be.
Their eyes connected intently for a fraction of a moment before Anita aligned herself – her features – back into what she had always believed to be her normal self, or what she had always presented to the world as her normal self – except she felt she didn’t know herself any more.
“I thought redheads were supposed to be hotheaded and brave”, she grinned at him, effectively pulling the two of them back into a safer zone, “And like my sixth grade English teacher – an absolute terror – would have said. Yes, you can but you may not. Woman up, Arian”.
“I thought you were not into stereotypes”, Arian said.
“I’m joking obviously”.
“So am I, obviously”.
“Are you tired of being asked if you have a temper? Do you really get that a lot?
“Well, the questions kind of change as you grow older”, Arian chuckled, “Now the fuckers are more likely to ask if my carpet matches my drapes”.
Anita stared at him for an uncomprehending second before getting him. Even as she shook her head and chuckled, her cheeks glowed warmly under the cover of semi darkness. She was glad when their ride commenced with a laughably eerie soundtrack and an ominous rough jolt forward.
The high from the ride lasted all the way to London – faux London – and Anita exclaimed gleefully as they turned a corner to find a scaled down but beautifully detailed reproduction of King’s Cross Railway Station in full sight. They paused for a few moments before the Knight bus chatting up with the bus conductor and checking out the shrunken head before making their way toward the Wizarding World, hidden, true to story, behind London townhomes. When they finally hit Diagon Alley – where the attention to detail was absolutely fascinating to behold – Anita wanted to start exploring at once whereas Arian suggested that they have lunch first as he felt frail with hunger and didn’t want to pass out on her like a Victorian heroine of yore. With his height, solid built and almost tangible aura of vitality, he looked far from frail and perhaps the most unlikely person in the world to pass out on anyone. They stepped into Leaky Cauldron and as they waited to be seated, Anita studied the place critically only to concede that it came pretty close to how she had visualized it from descriptions.
They both ordered fish and chips and butter beers and as they waited for it, the smell of food made her realize she was famished as well. The cool dark interior of the restaurant was a welcome change from the heat and sun and Anita inhaled deeply as she settled in her seat. Their knees touched under the table for a brief second and Anita shifted her position as if stung. Feeling gauche and stupid, she looked up across the table at him but he was busy studying his phone – or so it appeared.
He looked up and smiled – that vapid social smile often used to fill in conversational gaps – and Anita smiled back and followed it by blurting out an observation about the weather. Weather? Seriously, Anita?
No that Arian seemed to find anything odd about her brilliant conversation opener. Or so it appeared.
He discussed weather somberly for a full five minutes or so before looking her squarely in the eye and winding her with an unexpected, “So, how’s Aman?
Collecting herself soon enough, she replied, “Good” and wracked her brain to add something sensible to it. She cleared her throat. “You know, he’s a busy private practitioner and lately, with his father – who is also his business partner – semi retiring, he has been even busier. He’s pretty passionate about his job…
She paused and bowed her head, began to fold and unfold a paper napkin, “But that’s one of the things I like about him…and I’m busy with studies too so I like it like this”.
When she finished speaking, she raised her head and their eyes clashed.
He was the one to look away first this time with a murmur that sounded – but not quite sounded – like he was happy to hear that.
“How about you?, she spoke after a pause – with a lightheartedness that she didn’t quite feel, “Meet anybody interesting in Chicago?
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky
A/N: Dear readers, sorry for disappearing without a note. I was sick for the past week or so with seasonal allergies, Asthma and rest of the jazz Spring brings to me every year. Only, it was really bad this year!! Thanks for the concern ❤ I’m feeling much better now.
Hope you like this chapter, would love to know what you think of it 😊