Well, that hadn’t accomplished much. As Laksh walked down the sidewalk of the seedy
area of Boston, he decided that his little trip to Ragini’s pet foundation had been the exact
opposite of constructive.
It was bad enough Ragini had announced she could never return his feelings, but he
had to go and get all worked up over the whole family shelter thing.
Scowling, Laksh went down the stairs and into the humid heat of a subway station. He
paid the fare, went through the stile and looked up to see a train pulling into the station.
Instead of getting on the train, however, he crossed his arms and leaned against the old,
tiled wall of the station. He watched broodingly as the train closed its doors and hummed
He wasn’t ready to go anywhere, he was too…depressed. Depressed beyond any
depression he could remember experiencing. Because, hell, he didn’t get depressed.
But that shelter had brought back memories, memories he’d prefer to have kept
buried. He remembered when they’d come to the house of the friend with whom he’d been
staying while his parents went off on their exotic vacation. They’d told him his parents had
been killed. On impact, they’d said. Child Protective Services had been mentioned. Laksh
had been terrified.
Fortunately, someone had remembered he was cousins with Sanskar. Dp had come.
Yes, for his dead brother’s son he’d actually bestirred himself. Papers had been shuffled
and signed. For that, Laksh would always be grateful to his uncle.
He had not gone to Child Protective Services.
But today, seeing that little kid with his cancer-ridden mother…Laksh remembered
how close he had come.
Down in the quiet subway station, he shook his head, trying to shake the dread-filled
feeling away. But it wouldn’t go, especially now that it was attached to the little talk he’d
had with Ragini. Ragini, who thought he was like her roving, philandering father.
And so wanted nothing to do with him.
Laksh rubbed his mouth and watched another train come into the station. He glared at
the halting train and admitted he bore some resemblance to Ragini’s father. He was a
Maheshwari, after all. They were not the most constant or responsible of men — Sanskar being
an exception. Laksh had never taken on a responsibility in his life. He’d certainly never
considered taking on the responsibility of being a husband. And ‘husband’ was obviously
what Ragini was looking for. A constant, reliable, worthwhile husband.
Laksh winced. He couldn’t hack being a husband, let alone a worthwhile one. But on
the other hand, he had a sinking feeling that his emotions toward Ragini were not nearly as
temporary as, out of pride, he’d led her to believe. Hell, he’d probably been denying he was
in love with her for a couple of years.
Too bad he couldn’t have kept on denying it.
Laksh stood there and watched the next train, too, hum its way out of the station. He
wondered when he was going to be willing to get onto a train. He wondered how long he
was going to go on feeling this terrible aching inside. He wished, oh how he wished, that
he could just stop wanting.
“Wow, it’s crowded in here, today,” Swara said to Sanskar, gazing around at the long
tables at Durgin Park restaurant where Sanskar had taken her for one of their now-frequent
lunch dates. Every seat was filled.
“Tourist season has started in earnest,” Sanskar replied. As though the admission that it
was already the middle of June meant nothing to him, he cut into his family-style steak
with gusto, then looked up and smiled at her.
The date did mean something to Swara, but his smile warmed her and she returned it.
Things were going really well, she had to admit. Over the past several weeks, the
quality of her relationship with Sanskar had intensified. They spent time together; quality
time and not-so-quality time. They went out for romantic drives, but they also had dinner
at home. There were times of great s*xual intimacy, and there were whole evenings spent
at the movies with Sahil.
Yes, things were going very well, indeed. There was just one little sticking point, one
tiny little thing that hadn’t happened. And here it was, the middle of June.
Before Swara could start to dwell on that one missing thing, their tête-à-tête was
interrupted. Down the long table from them, two women rose from their seats. One of
them, tall, elegant, and blond, perked up. “Sanskar,” she said, and smiled.
Sanskar leaned back in his seat the better to see the woman. “Ah, Ragini.” He answered
her smile. “How are you?”
Ragini. Yes, Swara remembered now. Ragini Galodia, oh so proper. They’d met her
way back when at the opera. At the time, Swara had thought the woman had feelings for
Sanskar, but now, watching the calm ease of her smile, Swara changed her mind. This was
“I’m doing well.” Ragini started toward them. She gestured toward her companion.
“This is Andrea Shapiro. She runs the Boston Family Aid shelter. You know, the one I’ve
spoken to you about. Andrea, this is Sanskar Maheshwari and his wife, Swara.” Ragini smiled in
Swara’s direction. Swara smiled back, suddenly liking the woman much better.
“Oh, yes.” Sanskar stood and shook Ankita’s hand. “Hear you’re doing good work
down there in South Boston. Expanding, aren’t you?”
As Swara watched, a strange expression crossed Ragini’s face. “I, uh, well it looks like
that might happen, after all. We got a check, a rather large check…from Joe.”
“Joe?” Sanskar looked surprised. “He’s the biggest skinflint there ever was.”
“Yes.” A line formed between Ragini’s brows. “That’s what I always thought, too.”
Sanskar laughed. “Well, congratulations. You must have spun quite a tale to convince
Joe to help you get your down payment.”
“Ah, that’s just it. I didn’t say a word to Joe Esterley. This check just…came.”
“You didn’t happen to have a word with Joe, did you?” Ragini seemed keen for an
Sanskar pursed his lips. “Wish I could take the credit, but I’m afraid I didn’t.”
Ragini frowned, clearly troubled. “Then, you don’t suppose it was — ?” She broke
off with a sudden, nervous laugh. “No, no, I’m being silly. It couldn’t have been. Anyway,
it was nice seeing you, and you, too, Swara.”
All parties bade farewell but Swara thought Ragini was looking troubled again as the
two women walked off.
“Wonder what that was all about,” Swara said.
“Hm?” Sanskar glanced in the direction the women had taken as he sat back down. “Oh,
I don’t blame Ragini for being curious. Joe is a notorious miser.”
“No, it was something more…” Swara frowned as she wondered what had bothered
Ragini so about that check.
Sanskar’s smile across the table at her was fond. “Well, if that’s your take on it, I imagine
you’re right.” He tapped the back of her hand. “You seem to have a sixth sense about
Swara looked over at him in surprise. He thought that? And here she was, wishing she
did have a sixth sense — about him. Oh, how she wished she knew his true feelings.
Meanwhile, Sanskar wrapped his fingers around her hand and his eyes got dark and
intense. Swara could almost hear the words. Almost. You had a sixth sense about me. You
knew I needed you, that I love you.
And she did know that, kind of, almost. Sanskar showed it in moments like these, and a
hundred others, moments of caring and consideration. He showed it so often and so much
that in a way she felt like a jerk for needing the actual words.
But, still, all the same…why didn’t he say those words of love, if they were so true?
Even Sahil thought he should say them. Every morning after Sanskar went off to work,
Sahil would corner Swara and ask, “Did he say it yet?” Yes, even nine-year-old Sahil
thought the words were crucial, indicating some level of commitment.
“I should let you finish your lunch.” Smiling, Sanskar let go of her hand and his gaze lost
Swara felt a crash of disappointment. He hadn’t said it. Again, he hadn’t said those very
important words. In all the wonder of how well things were going, it was the one little
thing that wouldn’t happen.
“Ahem, yes. This lobster is delicious.” Swara managed to smile as she picked up a claw
and nibbled. Not for the first time, she considered starting the discussion herself, telling
Sanskar that she loved him.
But somehow that wouldn’t be the same as Sanskar coming out with the words first. It
seemed important he make himself vulnerable. She wanted to know he could trust her.
And so through all these weeks she’d been waiting, hoping Sanskar would take the
plunge. And now there were only two weeks left to her trial period. That was it. Two
Sanskar glanced at his watch. “I hate to say this, but — ”
“I know.” Swara held up her free hand. “You have a meeting.”
Sanskar wiped his mouth, leaned across the table as he stood, and kissed her. “I’ll pay on
my way out. Sure you don’t want Jackson to drive you home?”
“I’m sure.” Two weeks, Swara thought.
Sanskar hesitated, then leaned across the table to kiss her again. “See you at home,” he
Swara met his eyes. “Yes,” she said, gruff herself. “See you at home.”
She watched him walk through the crowded restaurant, straight, tall; all masculine
grace. A great warmth curled around her heart. She loved him so much. It was impossible
to imagine he didn’t love her back.
Or almost impossible, anyway.
Sanskar was still basking in the pleasant after-effects of his lunch with Swara at Durgin
Park when he waltzed through Mrs. Barnes’ unoccupied office. Boy, did he love spending
time with Swara, any kind of time. Meanwhile, he pointedly refrained from glancing toward
the wall on the left, where a calendar held prominent reign. Sanskar did not want to think
about the date.
Whistling, he scooped his messages out of his executive assistant’s holder. The name
on one of the pink slips, however, stopped his whistle between his teeth.
Dp had called.
It was a typical Dp call, made at noon Boston time. Sanskar’s father didn’t actually
want to speak to his son. The message on the slip was inscrutable.
“On the way,” it said.
Frowning, Sanskar continued on to his office. He closed the door behind himself. On the
way? Was his father planning to come — here? Sanskar’s jaw tensed. Slowly, he continued
around to the other side of his desk.
He reached for a piece of paper, something on which to compose a rude missive
telling Dp exactly where he should go. The hell Dp was coming — now. For months
Sanskar had been launching messages, trying to get Dp to come and deal with his prodigal
nine-year-old son. And Dp thought he ought to show up now, when — when —
Sanskar stood behind his desk. His frown deepened. When — what? What had
changed, such that he no longer needed, or even wanted, his father to do his duty by
Rubbing the message slip between his fingers, Sanskar sank into his desk chair. Oh, it
was true he’d taken Sahil under his wing a bit. He’d gotten the kid that tutor he needed.
Under Swara’s approving eyes, Sanskar had taken Sahil to the movies and shot some baskets
with him out back. He’d even enjoyed himself in the process.
But had anything essentially changed? Sanskar tapped the edge of his desk with one
finger. Resentment bubbled. For the first time in weeks, he was being forced to peer at
reality. He’d been putting off reality ever since he’d stepped out of the swan boat with
Swara. Hell, he’d stopped even bothering to make excuses for his extended dip into fantasy.
Indeed. The main reason Sanskar had been getting along so well with Sahil was
because he’d been enjoying himself with Swara so damn much. He milked every moment
with her for all he could get out of it, and he could get a lot. The more he discovered,
probed…invaded, the deeper he fell in. The woman was nice. She was so responsible she
was still paying the medical bills from her mother’s long illness. On the other hand, she
could have a wicked sense of humor when inspired. Sanskar chuckled to think of the times
he’d been on the end of it. Being with her made him…happy.
Releasing a long breath, Sanskar flattened his palms on the desk. He’d been happy and,
admittedly, drifted further and further into fantasy. While taking walks with Swara through
the summer-thick woods, he’d imagine how the setting would look with her in the fall,
when the leaves started to turn, or in the winter, under the first snowfall. While sitting in
the dining room, with Swara on one side of him and Sahil on the other, Sanskar would
imagine the scene a year hence, five years. Sahil would get taller, maybe sport a pair of
glasses. Swara would lose her athletic edge, particularly if there’d been a pregnancy or two
Sanskar hissed out a breath and rose from his seat. Swara pregnant? He’d gone off the
deep end. He was fantasizing living with Sahil and Swara like a real family. With babies!
And yet — And yet — Sighing, Sanskar paced toward the window. And yet, he had
been thinking about such a life, maybe even planning for it. Sanskar might avoid looking at
calendars, but he was perfectly aware of the date. Two weeks. There were only two
weeks left in the trial period marriage. His time with Swara was about to run out.
Stopping at the window, Sanskar gazed outside. With Dp’s message on the desk behind
him, he could feel the real world crowding in, the one that wanted him to face reality, the
one that said he had no significant relationship with Sahil, the one that told him he had
no claim whatsoever on Swara. He felt the panic that always came as he brushed up against
that world. It was a world that insisted this joy could not last. Swara wouldn’t love him
forever. He had two weeks before all that came crashing in on him. That was all.
Sanskar crossed his arms over his chest. He glared out the window. Two weeks and
everything was over, unless… Slowly, he smiled. He uncrossed his arms.
Unless…he chose not to face reality even then.
He breathed in and out. His panic eased. He didn’t have to face reality. He could go
on pretending. That was the plan he’d been considering, very privately, for some time now.
He could go on pretending. The concept was actually quite logical. So what if feelings
changed and the marriage broke down…eventually? That was eventually, and not
inevitable. Some marriages worked. Theirs might. And if it did break down, eventually,
they’d be no worse off than if they deliberately cut things short in two weeks.
The marriage didn’t have to end in two weeks. He could ask Swara to stay. He would
ask Swara to stay.
Sanskar rubbed the window frame. Would Swara agree to this proposal? His incipient
panic flared up again, but he quickly tamped it down. Swara was experiencing much of the
same joy that he was, Sanskar was certain. But unlike Sanskar, she didn’t question the integrity
of this emotion. She believed in it. She believed in the endurance of her feelings for Sanskar
the same way she believed in love and home and family. Her faith would play right into
He only had to phrase the thing right.
Sanskar spent another long moment gazing out the window, then turned and went back
to his desk. Picking up the phone, he fired off a telegram to Dp, telling him, “your
presence no longer required.”
From Durgin Park, Ragini and Andrea walked across the plaza to Government Center
where they had a meeting with a city planning director about the proposed expansion of
the family aid shelter.
A smile played about Ankita’s lips. “You seem awfully curious about that check of
Ragini blinked and felt the little dart that stabbed her every time she thought about
Joe’s check. “It’s a mystery, that’s all. I’ve never known Esterley to donate a sum to any
Andrea lifted one of her dark eyebrows but she didn’t pursue the matter further, for
which Ragini was grateful. The minute she’d opened the envelope and seen that check
from Joe y, that large check, her stomach had gone into a free fall. Two thoughts
had occurred simultaneously in her mind. One was that Joe was, indeed, a
notorious pinchpenny — and the other was that he was a bosom buddy of Laksh
Was it possible…Laksh had engineered that big check?
Ragini swallowed as she opened the glass door at the base of Government Center and
held it for Andrea. If Laksh had done that… Well, why?
Ragini realized she was standing there, holding the heavy glass door, while Andrea
was already in the lobby, waiting for her. She’d completely lost track of what was going
on while pondering why Laksh might have engineered that check.
Shaking her head at herself, Ragini walked through the door, rejoining Andrea. Laksh
might have had nothing at all do with Joe’s check. It was definitely safest for her sanity to
assume he was uninvolved.
But as she and Ankita waited for the elevator, Ragini worried her lip and couldn’t
help wondering…if Laksh had arranged that check. And why