His skull was being pounded by unrelenting hammers from both sides and his eyelids seemed leaden or glued shut. Strong sunlight streamed in through the window and as he tentatively moved to turn on his back, it made his already closed eyelids clench together in protest. He lowered a forearm upon his eyes, frowning as memories from late last night filtered in slowly in disjointed pieces.
Fuck. He swore softly under his breath. They’d gotten drunk together last night – not completely wasted but enough for him to wake up with little to no memory of climbing up the stairs and crashing into bed.
As moments from last night continued to filter in, patching holes in memory, he struggled to piece together a complete picture. Her hand clasped in his. Her body – light and free as a sprite – moving and swaying against his, her feet hardly seeming to touch the floor. The ever increasing crush on the dance floor. Her skin against his lips. A smile found its way to his lips slowly. An ache his mind was still too obfuscated to recognize yet continued unabated in his heart.
Not for long. Another thought forced its way to interrupt the flow, to snatch away the last vestiges of sleep. Forgetting his head, he bolted upright and winced. He noted two things. One – he was naked under the covers, his clothes lying in a heap at the foot of the bed. That was expected. When drunk, not that he made a regular habit of it, his mind always instructed him to strip to the skin before hitting the bed – without his having the least memory of it. The first time it had happened, he had patted around, hilariously in hindsight, to see if there was anyone else in the bed with him. Not that he had reason to worry because drunken hookups had never really been his thing.
Two – The time. It was close to one. Thanksgiving Day. He was supposed to be at Grandma’s at one to be able to drive her back in time for dinner. And…his heart sank in a free fall deep within his chest he had a flight to catch later in the evening.
As he swung off the bed, there was a sharp knock at the door.
It was Jeff. “Arian, are you up?It’s close to one”, his voice filtered through the door coldly, “You volunteered to drive mom…”.
“I know”, Arian snapped, heading for the bathroom, fighting back an upsurge of irritation – for want of a better word – that invariably followed his voice, his words…his presence, despite the resolutions made in recent grown up years to acknowledge his overtures, his awkward as hell, unforgivably overdue attempts to salvage their relationship, “I’ll take care of it”.
Despite the melancholy, he hummed a tune as he showered and changed. It was the same melancholy that spun itself around them as the evening progressed. It was the same song that had Anita leap to her feet gleefully, “That’s my ringtone”, she’d said with an accompanying hiccup, “I always wanted to dance to this song with somebody. And, guess what, guess what, it’s going to be you!
He had taken one look at the too wide grin on her face and groaned. “Great”, he’d thought to himself wryly, “She’s gone and made herself drunk. Exactly what we needed”.
He had been completely blindsided. She had been sipping her second martini in what he presumed was contemplative silence when she startled him by jumping to her feet with the happy declaration that she wanted to dance with him.
He definitely hadn’t seen seen that coming and when she took hold of his arm and attempted to pull him up, he might have been a little dazed as he allowed her to.
Gripping her arm tightly with two hands, she had dragged him toward the dance floor, maintaining her almost painful hold as if she expected him to bolt or vanish.
Midway, she had stopped abruptly and frowned, her head arched as she listened to the music closely.
“It’s not the same song”, she’d said distraught, her artificially volatile chemical mood swinging toward tears now, “I thought it was. I really thought it was. It’s not my ringtone”.
Biting back laugher, he hadn’t been able to resist pulling her in a hug. “It is, sweetheart. Listen carefully”, he’d said, rubbing her back to get her to relax, “They mixed it with electronic beats. In a second, you’ll hear your ringtone again. There you are. The marimba rhythms are back! Happy?
She had nodded, and then looked up to peer into his eyes, her eyes almost crossing in their struggle to focus. Even as he had turned his head to the side and inhaled a chuckle, she observed suddenly, sounding inexplicably sad, “You call everyone sweetheart. You even called that ice cream lady at the park sweetheart”.
“Not everybody”, he had protested laughing and before he could add to that, she had stepped back in sudden confusion. She appeared to be struggling to remember where she was dragging him to. “Where were we going?
This time, he, fully sober, well, maybe, a little bit buzzed, had stepped closer to wrap an arm
around her waist and pull her close again. “We are going to dance floor and you’re going to show me how it is done”, he had said softly as barely skimming his face across her hair, he drew her scent in. She smelled of shampoo and something else – light and floral. She had felt so right in his arms and even as she squirmed after a while and he released her reluctantly, he felt his blood turn to fire. He led her by the hand through ghostly blue lit aisles navigating through people with gleaming pale skins.
When they reached the dance floor, it was still not as tightly packed as it would be later in the night.
Crisscrossed by strobe lights, deafened by music, and jostled by high or over enthusiastic dancers, he smiled down at her and she beamed right back, her teeth seeming unnaturally white. “Are you ready, Arian?, she had asked, “Are you ready to be blown away?
He remembered being blown away by the way his name sounded on her lips and the extent to which it affected him. He also remembered thinking how trusting her eyes were as they smiled up at him and how guileless her smile.
“Absolutely”, he’d said, “Show me how it’s done. I’m all yours”.
“Alright”, she’d said carefully, mindful of her words’ sudden tendency to either rush, stall or bump into each other that evening, “So here’s how you do it. You hold my right hand with your left and my waist with your left”.
“Like this?, he had said, pulling her flush against him, their
gazes immediately finding their way to each other.
“Yeah”, her voice had been barely a whisper and her chest heaved chaotically against him for air.
“So, what do we do next?, he’d asked, holding her gaze, moving their bodies together in the night club two – step – which was as far as his knowledge of dancing went.
“I don’t know”, she’d replied and the way she seemed to address his mouth, her gaze dipping down to it, sent a shot of desire rushing through his veins.
When she looked up to meet his eyes again, she seemed lost, confused. “I don’t know”, she said, “I forgot. I don’t know how I forgot”.
“Don’t fret”, he had said, twirling them around one way, then the other, and then laughing at his madness, “We can continue doing this until you remember”.
She remained silent and let him have his way with her, moving together as one, to their own music, in their own private space.
“Do you think it’s the Martini?, she had asked at one point, completely seriously, their bodies pressed closer than before.
He had just laughed at that, having no idea what Martini was supposed to have caused and no inclination to find. Her serious worried drunk face was so sweetly alluring that all he had been able to think of was how her mouth would taste if he were to lean in and kiss her long and deep, how her body would feel pinned under his.
His fingers sank deeper into her flesh and he cajoled her fingers apart to weave his in. He could have held her like this for a whole day, a year, an eternity. One song, blended into another another but he hardly noticed. With his restraint stretching thinner at every passing beat, he remembered wanting more and more. Their bodies became taut with tension and their breaths shallow, yet he held on to her, their faint swaying barely noticeable and their feet rooted to one spot at the periphery of the dance floor.
He had leaned in and inhaled her hair again, sometimes resting lightly his cheek against it’s softness, sometimes nuzzling against the curve of her neck, her ear.
“Stop”, she’d finally protested when he slipped an earlobe inside his mouth. Straightening, relaxing his hold, he had tried decoding her eyes, trying miserably to read the emotions swirling amidst their haze.
In the end, he had just joined their foreheads in frustration, “Oh Anita, what am I going to do with you?
She had stayed absolutely still in his arms, and he had no idea for how long they stood like that, mingling their breaths.
“Arian?, she had said after a while.
“Hmm?, he had said, tucking a stray tendril of hair beneath a ear.
“I don’t want to dance any more”, she stated when he met her eyes, her sentences punctuated by hiccups, “All these people around us – they look like zombies with their pale pale skin, like they – they just crawled out of graves. It’s like a zombie apocalypse”.
Looking around he had laughed and dropped his hands back to his sides.
“I think I’d better take you home”, he’d added, taking her hand again when she wavered unsteadily trying to walk.
“I’m fine”, she’d declared, trying to wriggle her hand out of his hold “I want to have one more drink before leaving”.
Freeing her hand, she tried to stride off toward the bar, her purportedly purposeful confident air spoiled by her inability to walk in a straight line.
“Anu, I don’t think that’s a good idea”, he’d said catching up with her, “Let’s go home”.
“No”, she’d said in a stubborn voice, “I said, I’m going to get another drink before leaving”.
He followed her all the way to the bar and even helped her perch on a stool, where she ordered a shot of kamikaze for both of them.
The rest of the night progressed with even his mind becoming too clouded to file away a seamless record of reliable memories. En route to his grandmother’s house, he slowed his car to a halt at a red light. Did they order another round after the first, he wasn’t sure, all he remembered was the hilarity that had ensued. Everything and everybody was funny – even throwing up on the side of the road as they waited for their Uber. And all he wanted was a quiet romantic evening filled with music and meaningful conversation! He grinned at the road ahead as the light turned green and his foot released the brake slowly.
He remember the ride back home had seemed exceptionally long and their driver had blamed the traffic on it being the night before thanksgiving and last minute shoppers. That had triggered Anita to start making an imaginary grocery list in a serious voice with him finding every new item more hilarious than the last.
“Green beans” and he had howled with laughter, “Stuffing” and he had leaned against the seat weakly, wiping tears of mirth.
Despite everything that hadn’t gone as planned last night, Arian couldn’t stop grinning at the memory as he sped along the highway.
At one point last night, he remembered Anita declaring loudly out of the blue that Aman was a good man. That he was very very very good man.
As far as he remembered, in response, he had glared out the window and stated, equally loudly, that he didn’t care for Aman. What he remembered more distinctively was the stab of jealousy that had prompted and accompanied his statement.
And after that or maybe before, Anita had started to cry and he had drawn her closer with her head resting on his shoulder. He remembered insisting that he needed to kiss her to make every thing better and that it made her cry even harder.
And wait, he frowned, did Anita call Arnav to open the door for her? He thought he remembered snatches of their conversation but he didn’t remember seeing him as he waited in the cab at the curbside until Anita was safely inside the door.
Like a flower bending in the breeze
Bend with me, sway with ease
When we dance you have a way with me
Stay with me, sway with me
A/N: I made an Index ! It was long overdue but finally it’s done. As I put the index together, I realized that this story (SF&SS) is more than 100 chapters long now! Thank you for not losing interest (I wouldn’t really blame you, if you did!) Thank you for still being here and for all your encouraging words 🙂
Next chapter, the last of Part III, next week.