I’m back with another update (this is a long one) and an announcement too…i will be updating bi-weekly i.e on Wednesdays and on Saturdays..because it becomes difficult to juggle writing with work..but i assure you i will be giving out long updates so that you don’t miss me during the other five days 😀
I hope you like this update 😀
Link to the previous episode
I must be in shock. How the hell did the day turn out like this? How does one girl go from having a best friend, a boyfriend, a purse, and a roof over her head to being heartbroken and naked, standing frozen in a strange shower, staring at the wall for half an hour straight? I swear to God, if this is some huge elaborate birthday hoax at my expense, I’m never speaking to anyone. Ever again. Ever.
However, I know it’s not a hoax. A hoax is just wishful thinking. I knew the second I walked through the front door and headed straight for Vikrant that everything Lakshya had said was true. I flat-out asked Vikrant if he was sleeping with Kritika, and the looks on both of their faces would have been comical if they didn’t completely crush my heart and deplete my trust in one fell swoop. I wanted to sink to the floor and cry when he couldn’t deny it. Instead, I walked calmly to my bedroom and began packing my things.
Kritika came into the room, crying. She tried to tell me it meant nothing, that s*x had always been a casual thing between them, even before they met me. Hearing her say it meant nothing to them hurt worse than anything. If it meant something to either of them, at least I could vaguely understand their betrayal. But the fact that she was claiming it meant nothing, yet it still happened, hurt me more than anything else she could have possibly said at that moment. I’m pretty sure that’s when I punched her.
It doesn’t help matters that I lost my job just minutes after Lakshya told me about Vikrant and Kritika. I think it’s frowned upon in most libraries when student workers begin crying and throwing books at the wall in the middle of their shift. But I can’t help the fact that I happened to be stocking the romance section the second I found out my boyfriend of two years was sleeping with my roommate. The sappy, romantic covers on the cart in front of me just really pissed me off.
I turn the water off in Lakshya’s shower and step out, then get dressed.
I feel better physically after finally getting into dry clothes, but my heart is growing heavier and heavier with each passing minute. The more time that passes by, the more my reality begins to sink in. In the course of just two hours, I’ve lost the entire last two years of my life.
That’s a lot of time to invest in two people who were supposed to be the most trusted people in my life. I’m not sure if I would have ended up marrying Vikrant or if he would have been the father of any future children of mine, but it hurts to know that I trusted him enough to possibly fill those roles, and he ended up being the opposite of who I thought he was.
I think the fact that I misjudged him pisses me off more than the fact that he cheated on me. If I can’t even accurately judge the people closest to me, then I can’t trust anyone. Ever. I hate them for taking that away from me. Now, no matter who comes into my life after this, I’ll always be skeptical.
I walk back into the living room, and all the lights are out except for a lamp beside the couch. I look at my phone, and it’s barely after nine. Several texts came through while I was in the shower, so I take a seat on the couch and scroll through them.
Vikrant: Please call me. We need to talk.
Kritika: I’m not mad at you for hitting me. Please call me.
Vikrant: I’m worried about you. Where are you?
Lakshya: I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. Are you okay?
Vikrant: I’ll bring your purse to you. Just tell me where you are.
I drop the phone onto the coffee table and sink back onto the couch. I have no idea what I’m going to do. Of course, I never want to speak to either of them again, but where does that put me? I can’t afford my own apartment right now, since financial aid doesn’t come in for another month. I don’t have enough money in savings to put down a deposit plus get all the utilities turned on until then. The majority of the friends I’ve made since I’ve been going to school here still live in dorms, so staying with them is out of the question. I’m basically left with two options: Call my parents, or enter into some odd plural relationship with Vikrant and Kritika in order to save money.
Neither option is one I’m willing to entertain tonight. I’m just thankful that Lakshya allowed me to stay at his place. At least I’m saving money on a hotel room. I have no idea where I’ll go when I wake up in the morning, but that’s still a good twelve hours away. Until then, I’ll just continue to hate the entire universe while I feel sorry for myself.
And what better way to feel sorry for myself than while getting drunk?
I need alcohol. Bad.
I walk to the kitchen and begin to scan the cabinets. I hear the door to Lakshya’s bedroom open. I glance over my shoulder at him as he comes out of his room.
His hair is definitely brown. Take that, Kritika.
He’s in a faded T-shirt and jeans, and he’s barefoot, eyeing me inquisitively as he makes his way into the kitchen. I feel a little embarrassed for being caught rummaging through his cabinets, so I turn away from him before he sees me blush.
“I need a drink,” I say. “You got any alcohol?”
He’s staring down at his phone, texting again. He either can’t do two things at once, or he’s upset because I had an attitude with him today.
“I’m sorry if I was a b***c to you, Lakshya, but you have to admit, my response was a little justified considering the day I’ve had.”
He casually slips his phone into his pocket and looks at me from across the bar, but he chooses not to respond to my half-assed apology. He purses his lips and cocks an eyebrow.
I’d like to smack that cocky eyebrow back down where it belongs. What the hell is his problem? The worst thing I did to him was flip him off.
I roll my eyes and shut the last cabinet, then walk back to the couch. He’s really being a jerk, considering my situation. From the little time I’ve known him, I was under the impression that he was actually a nice guy, but I’d almost rather go back to my own apartment with Kritika and Vikrant.
I pick up my phone, expecting another text from Vikrant, but it’s from Lakshya.
Lakshya: If you aren’t going to look at me when you speak, you might want to stick to texting.
I read the text several times, trying to make sense of it, but no matter how many times I read it, I don’t understand it. I grow concerned that maybe he’s a little weird and I need to leave. I look at him, and he’s watching me. He can see the confusion on my face, but he still doesn’t explain himself. Instead, he resumes texting. When my phone receives another message, I look at the screen.
Lakshya: I’m deaf, Ragini.
But how? We’ve had so many conversations.
The last few weeks of knowing him and talking to him flash through my memory, and I can’t recall a single time I’ve actually heard him speak.
Is that why Radhika thought I was deaf?
I stare at my phone, sinking into a heap of embarrassment. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I’m sure that feeling betrayed isn’t a fair response, but I can’t help it. I feel I need to tack this onto the “Ways the world can betray Ragini on her birthday” list. Not only did he not tell me he knew my boyfriend was screwing around on me, but he also failed to mention that he’s deaf?
Not that being deaf is something he should feel obliged to tell me. I just . . . I don’t know. I feel a little hurt that he didn’t share that fact with me.
Me: Why didn’t you tell me you were deaf?
Lakshya: Why didn’t you tell me you could hear?
I tilt my head as I read his text and flood with even more humiliation. He makes a very good point.
Oh, well. At least he won’t hear me cry myself to sleep tonight.
Me: Do you have any alcohol?
Lakshya reads my text and laughs, then nods. He walks to the cabinet below the sink and pulls out a container of Pine-Sol. He takes two glasses out of the cabinet, then proceeds to fill them with . . . cleaning liquid?
“What the hell are you doing?” I ask.
When he doesn’t turn around, I slap myself in the forehead, remembering he can’t hear me. This will take some getting used to. I walk to where he’s standing. When he sets the Pine-Sol down on the counter and picks up both glasses, I grab the bottle of cleaning solution and read it, then arch an eyebrow. He laughs and hands me a glass. He sniffs his drink, then motions for me to do the same. I hesitantly bring it to my nose and am met with the burning scent of whiskey. He holds the glass out, clinks it to mine, and we both down our shots. I’m still recovering from the awful taste when he picks up his phone and texts me again.
Lakshya: Our other roommate has an issue with alcohol, so we have to hide it from him.
Me: Is his issue that he hates it?
Lakshya: His issue is that he doesn’t like to pay for it himself and he drinks everyone else’s.
I nod, set my phone back down, grab the container, and pour us each another shot. We repeat the motions, downing the second one. I grimace as the burn spreads its way down my throat and through my chest. I shake my head, then open my eyes.
“Can you read lips?” I ask.
He shrugs, then grabs a piece of paper and a pen conveniently placed on the counter next to him. Depends on the lips.
I guess that makes sense. “Can you read mine?”
He nods and takes the pen again. Mostly. I’ve learned to anticipate what people are going to say more than anything. I take most of my cues from body language and the situations I’m in.
“What do you mean?” I ask, pushing on the counter with my palms and hopping up onto the bar. I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t hear before. I didn’t realize I was full of so many questions. It could be that I’m already feeling a buzz or I just don’t want him to go back to his room yet. I don’t want to be left alone to think about Vikrant and Kritika.
Lakshya sets the notepad down and picks up my phone, then tosses it to me. He pulls one of the bar stools out and sits on it next to where I’m seated on the counter.
Lakshya: If I’m at the store and a cashier speaks to me, I can mostly guess what they’re asking. Same thing with a waitress at a restaurant. It’s pretty simple to gather what people are saying when it’s a routine conversation.
Me: But what about right now? This isn’t routine. I doubt you have many homeless girls spend the night on your couch, so how do you know what I’m saying?
Lakshya: Because you’re basically asking me the same questions as anyone else who initially finds out I can’t hear. It’s the same conversation, just differe
This comment bothers me, because I don’t want to seem like those kinds of people at all. It has to get old, having to field the same questions over and over.
Me: Well, I don’t really want to know about it, then. Let’s change the subject.
Lakshya looks up at me and smiles.
Damn. I don’t know if it’s the whiskey or the fact that I’ve been single for two hours, but that smile does some serious flirting with my stomach.
Lakshya: Let’s talk about music.
“Okay,” I say with a nod.
Lakshya: I wanted to talk to you about this tonight. You know, before I ruined your life and all that. I want you to write lyrics for my band. For the songs I have written and maybe some future songs if you’re up for it.
I pause before responding to him. My initial response is to ask him about his band, because I’ve been dying to see this guy perform. My second response is to ask him how the hell he can play a guitar if he can’t hear, but again, I don’t want to be one of “those people.” My third response is to automatically say no, because agreeing to give someone lyrics is a lot of pressure. Pressure I don’t really want right now, since my life has pretty much taken a nosedive today.
I shake my head. “No. I don’t think I want to do that.”
Lakshya: We would pay you.
That gets my attention. I suddenly feel an option three making its way into the picture.
Me: What kind of pay are we talking about? I still think you’re insane for wanting me to help you write lyrics, but you may have caught me at a very desperate and destitute moment, being as though I’m homeless and could use some extra money.
Lakshya: Why do you keep referring to yourself as homeless? Do you not have a place to stay?
Me: Well, I could stay with my parents, but that would mean I’d have to transfer schools my senior year, and it would put me about two semesters behind. I could also stay with my roommate, but I don’t know how much I’d like to hear her screwing my boyfriend of two years at night while I try to sleep.
Lakshya: You’re a smartass.
Me: Yeah, I guess I’ve got that going for me.
Lakshya: You can stay here. We’re kind of in search of a fourth roommate. If it means you’ll help us with the songs, you can stay for free until you get back on your feet.
I read the text twice, slowly. I shake my head.
Lakshya: Just until you can get your own place.
Me: No. I don’t even know you. Besides, your flatmate/girlfriend already hates me.
Lakshya laughs at that comment.
Lakshya: Radhika is not my girlfriend. And she’s hardly ever here, so you don’t have to worry about her.
Me: This is too weird.
Lakshya: What other option do you have? I saw you didn’t even have cab fare earlier. You’re pretty much at my mercy.
Me: I have cab fare. I left my purse in my apartment, and I didn’t want to go back up to get it, so I didn’t have a way to pay the driver.
Lakshya frowns when he reads my text.
Lakshya: I’ll go with you to get it if you need it.
I look up at him. “Are you sure?” I ask.
He smiles and walks toward the front door, so I follow him.
It’s still raining out, and I know she just put on dry clothes after her shower, so once we reach the bottom of the stairwell, I pull my phone out and text her.
Me: Wait here so you don’t get wet again. I’ll go get it myself.
She reads the text and shakes her head, then looks back up at me. “No. I’m going with you.”
I can’t help but appreciate the fact that she doesn’t respond to my being deaf the way I expect her to. Most people become uneasy once they aren’t sure how to communicate with me. The majority of them raise their voices and talk slowly, sort of like Radhika. I guess they think being louder will somehow miraculously make me hear again. However, it does nothing but force me to contain my laughter while they talk to me as if I’m an idiot. Granted, I know people don’t do it to be disrespectful. It’s just simple ignorance, and that’s fine. I’m so used to it I don’t even notice anymore.
However, I did notice Ragini’s reaction . . . because there really wasn’t one. As soon as she found out, she just propped herself up on the counter and continued talking to me, even though she moved from speaking to texting. And it helps that she’s a fast texter.
We run across the courtyard until we reach the base of the stairs that lead up to her apartment. I begin walking up and notice that she’s frozen at the bottom of the stairs. The look in her eyes is nervous, and I instantly feel bad for not realizing how hard this must be for her. I know she’s probably hurting a lot more than she’s letting on. Learning that your best friend and your boyfriend have betrayed you has to be difficult, and it hasn’t even been a day since she found out. I walk back down the stairs and grab her hand, then smile at her reassuringly. I tug on her hand; she takes a deep breath and walks with me up the stairs. She taps me on the shoulder when we reach her door, and I turn around.
“Can I wait here?” she says. “I don’t want to see them.”
I nod, relieved that her lips are easy to read.
“But cow well you a*s therefore my bird?” she says.
Or I think that’s what she said. I laugh, knowing I more than likely completely misread her lips. She says it again when she sees the confusion on my face, but I still don’t understand her. I hold up my phone so she can text me.
Ragini: But how will you ask them for my purse?
Yeah. I was a little off on that one.
Me: I’ll get your purse, Ragini. Wait here.
She nods. I type out a text as I walk to the front door and knock. A minute passes, and no one comes to the door, so I knock again, with more force, thinking maybe my first knock was too soft to be heard. The doorknob turns, and Ragini’s friend appears in the doorway. She eyes me curiously for a second, then glances behind her. The door opens wider, and Vikrant appears, eyeing me suspiciously. He says something that looks like “Can I help you?” I hold up the text that says I’m here for Ragini’s purse, and he looks down and reads it, then shakes his head.
“Who the hell are you?” he says, apparently not liking the fact that I’m here on Ragini’s behalf. The girl disappears from the doorway, and he opens the door even farther, then folds his arms over his chest and glares at me. I motion to my ear and shake my head, letting him know that I can’t hear what he’s saying.
He pauses, then throws his head back and laughs and disappears from the doorway. I glance to Ragini, who is standing nervously at the top of the stairs, watching me. Her face is pale, and I give her a wink, letting her know everything is okay. Vikrant comes back, slaps a piece of paper against the door, and writes on it. He holds the paper up for me to read.
Are you f**king her?
God, what a prick. I motion for the pen and paper, and he hands them to me. I write my response and hand it back to him. He looks down at the paper, and his jaw tightens. He crumples up the paper, drops it to the floor, and then, before I can react, his fist is coming at me.
I accept the hit, knowing I should have been prepared for it. The girl reappears, and I can tell she’s screaming, although I have no idea whom she’s screaming at or what she’s saying. As soon as I take a step back from the doorway, Ragini is in front of me, rushing into the apartment. My eyes follow her as she runs down the hallway, disappears into a room, and comes back out clutching a purse. The girl steps in front of her and places her hand on Ragini’s shoulders, but Ragini pulls her arm back, makes a fist, and punches the girl in the face.
Vikrant tries to step in front of Ragini to block her from leaving, so I tap him on the shoulder. When he turns around, I punch him square in the nose, and he stumbles back. Ragini’s eyes go wide, and she looks back at me. I grab her hand and pull her out of the apartment, toward the stairs.
Luckily, the rain has finally stopped, so we both break into a run back toward my apartment. I glance behind me a couple of times to make sure neither of them is following us. Once we make it back across the courtyard and up my stairs, I swing open the door and step aside so she can run in. I shut the door behind us and bend over, clasping my knees with my hands to catch my breath.
What an a*s**le. I’m not sure what Ragini saw in him, but the fact that she dated him makes me question her judgment a little bit.
I glance up at her, expecting to see her in tears, but instead, she’s laughing. She’s sitting on the floor, attempting to catch her breath, laughing hysterically. I can’t help but smile, seeing her reaction. And the fact that she punched that girl right in the face without a moment’s hesitation? I’ve got to hand it to her, she’s tougher than I first thought.
She looks up at me and inhales a calming breath, then mouths the words thank you, while holding up her purse. She stands up and brushes the wet hair out of her face, then walks to the kitchen and opens a few drawers until she finds a dishtowel and pulls it out. She wets it under the faucet, turns around, and motions me over. When I reach her, I lean against the counter while she takes my chin and angles my face to the left. She presses the towel to my lip, and I wince. I didn’t even realize it was hurting until she touched it. She pulls the rag back, and there’s blood on it, so she rinses it under the faucet and puts it back up to my mouth. I notice that her own hand is red. I take it and inspect it. It’s already swelling.
I pull the rag from her hand and wipe the rest of the blood off my face, then grab a zip-lock bag out of the cabinet, go to the freezer, and fill it with ice. I take her hand and press the ice onto it, letting her know she needs to keep it there. I lean against the counter next to her and pull my phone out.
Me: You hit her good. Your hand is already swelling.
She texts me with one hand, keeping the ice on top of the other as she rests it on the counter.
Ragini: It could be because that wasn’t the first time I’ve punched her today. Or it could also be swollen because you aren’t the first one to punch Vikrant today.
Me: Wow. I’m impressed. Or terrified. Is three punches your daily average?
Ragini: Three punches is now my lifetime average.
She shrugs and sets her phone down, then pulls the ice off her hand and brings it back up to my mouth. “Your lip is swelling,” she says.
My hands are clenching the countertop behind me. I become increasingly uneasy with how comfortable she is with all this. Thoughts of Ananya flash through my head, and I can’t help but wonder if she’d be okay with this scenario if she were to walk through the front door right now.
I need a distraction.
Me: You want birthday cake?
She smiles and nods.
Me: I probably shouldn’t drive, since you’ve turned me into a raging alcoholic tonight, but if you feel like walking, Park’s Deli makes a damn good dessert, and it’s less than a mile from here. Pretty sure the rain is over.
“Let me change,” she says, motioning to her clothes. She pulls clothes from her suitcase, then heads to the bathroom. I put the lid on the Pine-Sol and hide it back under the cabinet.
We don’t interact much while we eat. We’re both sitting in the booth with our backs to the wall and our legs stretched out in front of us on the seats. We’re quietly watching the restaurant crowd, and I can’t stop wondering what it’s like for him, not being able to hear anything going on around us. I’m probably too blunt for my own good, but I have to ask him what’s on my mind.
Me: What’s being deaf like? Do you feel like you’re in on a secret that no one else knows about? Like you have a leg up on everyone because the fact that you can’t hear has magnified all your other senses and you’ve got superhuman powers and no one can tell just by looking at you?
He almost spits out his drink while reading my text. He laughs, and it occurs to me that his laugh is the only sound I’ve heard him make. I know that some people who can’t hear can still talk, but I haven’t heard him say a single word all night. Not even to the waitress. He either points to what he wants on the menu or writes it down.
Lakshya: I can honestly say I’ve never thought about it like that before. I kind of like it that you think of it that way, though. To be honest, I don’t think about it at all. It’s normal to me. I have nothing to compare it to, because it’s all I’ve ever known.
Me: I’m sorry. I’m being one of those people again, aren’t I? I guess me asking you to compare being deaf to not being deaf is like you asking me to compare being a girl to being a boy.
Lakshya: Don’t apologize. I like that you’re interested enough to ask me about it. Most people are a little weirded out by it, so they don’t say anything at all. I’ve noticed it’s kind of hard to make friends, but that’s also a good thing. The few friends I do have are genuine, so I look at it as an easy way of weeding out all the shallow, ignorant a*s**les.
Me: Good to know I’m not a shallow, ignorant a*s**le.
Lakshya: Wish I could say the same about your ex.
I sigh. Lakshya is right, but damn if it doesn’t sting to know I couldn’t see through Vikrant’s bullshit.
I put my phone down and eat the last of my cake. “Thank you,” I say as I put my fork down. I honestly forgot for a while that today was my birthday until he offered to take me out for cake.
He shrugs as if it isn’t a big deal, but it is a big deal. I can’t believe after the day I’ve had that I’m actually in a semidecent mood. Lakshya can take credit for that, because if it weren’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be tonight or what kind of emotional state I’d be in.
He takes a drink of his soda, then sits upright in the booth. He nods his head to the door, and I agree that I’m ready to go.
The buzz from the alcohol has worn off, and as we make our way out of the restaurant and back into the dark, I can feel myself beginning to succumb to the heartache again. I guess Lakshya sees the look on my face, because he puts his arm around me and briefly squeezes my shoulders. He drops his arm and pulls his phone out.
Lakshya: For what it’s worth, he doesn’t deserve you.
Me: I know. But it still hurts that I ever thought he deserved me. And honestly, I’m more hurt about Kritika than I am about what happened with Vikrant. I’m mostly just pissed at Vikrant.
Lakshya: Yeah, I don’t even know the guy, and I’ve been pretty pissed at him. I can’t imagine how you must feel. I’m surprised you haven’t retaliated with some evil revenge plot yet.
Me: I’m not that clever. I wish I were, because I’d be all about revenge right now.
Lakshya stops walking and turns to face me. He cocks an eyebrow, and a slightly wicked grin appears. It makes me laugh, because I can tell by his smile that he’s mapping out a plan.
“Okay,” I say, nodding my head without even knowing what he’s about to propose. “As long as it doesn’t land us in jail.”
Lakshya: Do you know if he leaves his car unlocked?
• • •
“Fish?” I ask, crinkling my nose in disgust. We’ve made a pit stop at a local grocery store next to the apartment complex, and he’s buying a huge, scaly whole fish. I’m assuming this has to be part of his elaborate revenge scheme, but he could just be hungry.
Lakshya: We need duct tape.
I follow him to the hardware aisle, where he grabs a roll of heavy-duty duct tape.
Fresh fish and duct tape.
I’m still not sure what he has planned, but I sort of like where this is headed.
• • •
When we’re back at the apartment, I point out Vikrant’s car. I run up to the apartment to grab his spare car keyout of my purse, where I still have it, while Lakshya wraps the fish with duct tape. I come back downstairs and hand him the key.
Me: So what exactly are we about to do with this fish?
Lakshya: Watch and learn, Ragini.
We walk to Vikrant’s car, and Lakshya unlocks the passenger door. He has me tear off several pieces of duct tape while he reaches under the passenger seat. I’m watching closely—in case I need to seek revenge against anyone in the future—and he presses it against the underside of the seat. I hand him several pieces of duct tape, trying to contain my laughter while he secures the raw fish with it. After he’s sure it won’t come loose, he slides out of the car and closes the door, looking around innocently. My hand is over my mouth, stifling my laughter, and he’s as cool and composed as can be.
We casually walk away from the car, and once we’re on the stairs to the apartment, we begin laughing.
Lakshya: His car is going to smell like death in a matter of twenty-four hours. He’ll never find it.
Me: You’re kind of evil. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’ve done this before.
He laughs as we make our way back inside. We kick off our shoes at the door, and he tosses the duct tape onto the counter. I use the bathroom and make sure to unlock the door to his bedroom before I walk back out. In the living room, all the lights are out, except for the lamp by the couch. I lie down and check my phone one last time before turning it on silent.
Lakshya: Good night. Sorry your birthday sucked.
Me: Thanks to you, it was better than it could have been.
I place the phone under my pillow and cover up. I close my eyes, and my smile immediately fades when the silence takes over. I can feel the tears coming, so I cover my head with the blanket and brace myself for a long night of heartache. The respite with Lakshya was nice, but I have nothing to distract me now from the fact that I’m having the worst day of my life. I can’t understand how Kritika could do something like this to me. We’ve been best friends for almost three years. I told her everything. I trusted her with everything. I told her things I would never dream of telling Vikrant.
Why would she risk our friendship for s*x?
I’ve never felt this hurt. I pull the blanket over my eyes and begin to sob.
Happy birthday to me.
• • •
I have the pillow pulled tightly over my head, but it doesn’t drown out the sound of gravel crunching beneath shoes. Why is someone walking on a driveway so noisily? And why can I even hear it?
Wait. Where am I?
Did yesterday really happen?
I reluctantly open my eyes, and I’m met with sunlight, so I pull the pillow tighter over my face and give myself a minute to adjust. The sound seems to get louder, so I lift the pillow from my face and peer out with one eye open. The first thing I see is a kitchen that isn’t mine.
Oh, yeah. That’s right. I’m on Lakshya’s couch, and twenty-three is the worst age ever.
I lift the pillow all the way off my head and groan as I squeeze my eyes shut again.
“Who are you and why are you sleeping on my couch?”
My body jumps, and my eyes flick open at the deep voice that can’t be more than a foot away. Two eyes peer down at me. I pull my head back against the couch to put more space between me and the curious eyes to get a better look at who they’re attached to.
It’s a guy. A guy I’ve never seen before. He’s sitting on the floor directly in front of the couch, and he’s holding a bowl. He dips a spoon into the bowl and shoves it into his mouth, then begins the loud crunching again. I’m guessing that’s not gravel he’s eating.
“Are you the new roommate?” he says with his mouth full.
I shake my head. “No,” I mutter. “I’m a friend of Lakshya’s.”
He cocks his head and looks at me suspiciously. “Lakshya only has one friend,” the guy says. “Me.” He shoves another spoonful of cereal into his mouth and fails to back out of my personal space.
I push my palms into the couch and sit up so that he’s not right in my face. “Jealous?” I ask.
The guy continues to stare at me. “What’s his last name?”
“Whose last name?”
“Your very good friend, Lakshya,” he says cockily.
I roll my eyes and drop my head against the back of the couch. I don’t know who the hell this guy is, but I really don’t care to compete over our levels of friendship with Lakshya. “I don’t know Lakshya’s last name. I don’t know his middle name. The only thing I know about him is that he’s got a mean right hook. And I’m only sleeping on your couch because my boyfriend of two years decided it would be fun to screw my roommate and I really didn’t want to stick around to watch.”
He nods, then swallows. “It’s Maheshwari. And he doesn’t have a middle name.”
As if the morning could get any worse, Radhika appears from the hallway and walks into the kitchen.
The guy on the floor takes another spoonful of cereal and looks at Radhika, finally breaking his uncomfortable lock on me. “Good morning, Radhika,” he says with an odd, sarcastic tone to his voice. “Sleep well?”
She looks at him briefly and rolls her eyes. “Screw you, Amit,” she snaps.
He turns his gaze back to mine with a mischievous grin. “That’s Radhika,” he whispers. “She pretends to hate me during the day, but at night, she loves me.”
I laugh, not really trusting that Radhika is capable of loving anyone.
“Shit!” she yells, catching herself on the bar before she trips. “Jesus Christ!” She kicks one of my suitcases, still on the floor next to the bar. “Tell your little friend if she’s staying here, she needs to take her shit to her room!”
Amit makes a face as if he’s scared for me, then turns his head toward Radhika. “What am I, your b***c? Tell her yourself.”
Radhika points to the suitcase she almost tripped over. “GET . . . YOUR . . . SHIT . . . OUT . . . OF . . . THE . . . KITCHEN!” she says, before marching back to her bedroom.
Amit slowly turns his head back to face me and laughs. “Why does she think you’re deaf?”
I shrug. “I have no idea. She came to that conclusion last night, and I failed to correct her.”
He laughs again, much louder. “Oh, this is classic,” he says. “Do you have any pets?”
I shake my head.
“Are you opposed to porn?”
I don’t know how we just began playing Twenty Questions, but I answer him anyway. “Not opposed to the principle of porn but opposed to being featured in one.”
He nods, contemplating my answer for a beat too long. “Do you have annoying friends?”
I shake my head. “My best friend is a backstabbing b***c, and I’m no longer speaking to her.”
“What are your showering habits?”
I laugh. “Once a day, with a skipped day every now and then. No more than fifteen minutes.”
“Do you cook?”
“Only when I’m hungry.”
“Do you clean up after yourself?”
“Probably better than you,” I say, taking in the fact that he’s used his shirt for a napkin no fewer than three times during this conversation.
“Do you listen to disco?”
“I’d rather eat barbed wire.”
“All right, then,” he says. “I guess you can stay.”
I pull my feet up and sit cross-legged. “I didn’t realize I was being interviewed.”
He glances at my suitcases, then back to me. “It’s obvious you need a place to stay, and we’ve got an empty room. If you don’t take it, Radhika wants to move her sister in next month, and that’s the last thing Lakshya and I need.”
“I can’t stay here,” I say.
“Why not? From the sound of it, you’re about to spend the day searching for an apartment anyway. What’s wrong with this one? You won’t even have to walk very far to get here.”
I want to say that Lakshya is the problem. He’s been nice, but I think that might be the issue. I’ve been single for less than twenty-four hours, and I don’t like the fact that although I should have been consumed with nightmares about Vikrant and Kritika all night, instead, I had a slightly disturbing dream involving an extremely accommodating Lakshya.
I don’t tell Amit that Lakshya is why I can’t stay here, though. Partly because that would give Amit more ammunition for questions and partly because Lakshya just walked into the kitchen and is looking at us.
Amit winks at me, then stands up and walks with his bowl to the sink. He looks at Lakshya. “Have you met our new roommate?” Amit asks.
Lakshya signs something to him. Amit shakes his head and signs back. I sit on the couch and watch their silent conversation, slightly in awe that Amit knows sign language. I wonder if he’s learned it for Lakshya’s benefit. Maybe they’re brothers? Amit laughs, and Lakshya glances in my direction before walking back to his bedroom.
“What did he say?” I ask, suddenly worried that Lakshya no longer wants me here.
Amit shrugs and begins walking back toward his bedroom. “Exactly what I thought he’d say.” He walks into his room, then comes back out with a cap on and keys in his hand. “He said you two already worked out a deal.” Amit slips a pair of shoes on by the front door. “Heading to work now. That’s your room if you want to put your stuff in it. You might have to throw all of Sanskar’s shit in the corner, though.” He opens the door and steps outside, then turns back around. “Oh. What’s your name?”
“Well, Ragini. Welcome to the weirdest place you’ll ever live.” He shuts the door behind him.
I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this, but what other choice do I have? I pull my phone out from under my pillow. I start to text Lakshya, because I don’t recall closing a deal last night regarding my living arrangements. Before I finish the text, he sends me one first.
Lakshya: Are you okay with this?
Me: Are you?
Lakshya: I asked you first.
Me: I guess. But only if you are.
Lakshya: Well, then, I guess that means we’re roommates.
Me: If we’re roommates, can you do me a favour?
Lakshya: What’s that?
Me: If I ever start dating again, don’t be like Kritika and sleep with my boyfriend, okay?
Lakshya: I can’t make any promises.
A few seconds later, he walks out of his bedroom and goes straight to my suitcases. He picks them up and carries them through the other bedroom door. He opens it and nods his head toward the room, indicating that I should come with him. I stand up and follow him into the bedroom. He lays the suitcases on the bed, then pulls his phone out again.
Lakshya: Sanskar still has a lot of stuff in here. I’ll box it up and put it in the corner until he can get it all. Other than that, you might want to change the sheets.
He shoots me a wary look regarding the condition of the sheets, and I laugh. He points to the bathroom.
Lakshya: We share the bathroom. Just lock the main door to the hallway and both doors to the bedrooms when you’re in there. I obviously won’t know when you’re in the shower, so unless you want me barging in on you, make sure to lock up.
He walks to the bathroom and flips a light switch on the outside of the door, which turns the lights on and off inside the bathroom, then turns his attention back to the phone.
Lakshya: I added switches on the outside because it’s an easy way for someone to get my attention, since I can’t hear a knock. Just flip the switch if you need to come into the bathroom so I’ll know. The whole apartment is set up this way. There’s a switch outside my bedroom door that turns my lights on and off if you need me. But I usually have my phone on me, so there’s always texting.
He shows me where clean sheets are and then cleans out what’s left in the dresser while I put the new sheets on the bed.
“Do I need furniture?”
Lakshya shakes his head.
Lakshya: He’s leaving it. You can use what’s here.
I nod, taking in the bedroom that has unexpectedly just become my new home. I smile at Lakshya to let him know I appreciate his help. “Thank you.”
He smiles back.
Lakshya: I’ll be in my room working for the next few hours if you need anything. I have to go to the store this afternoon. You can go with me and get what you need for the apartment.
He backs out of the bedroom and gives me a salute. I sit down on the edge of the bed and salute him back as he shuts the door. I fall back onto the bed and let out a huge sigh of relief.
Now that I have a place to live, all I need is a job. And maybe a car, since Kritika and I mostly shared hers. Then maybe I’ll call my parents and tell them I moved.
Or maybe not. I’ll give this place a couple of weeks in order to see how things turn out.
Lakshya: Oh, and btw, I didn’t write that on your forehead.
I run to the dresser and look in the mirror for the first time today. Written across my forehead in black ink, it says: Someone wrote on your forehead.
Me: Morning. How’s the thesis coming along?
Ananya: Do you want me to sugar-coat it, or are you honestly giving me an opening to vent?
Me: Wide open. Vent away.
Ananya: I’m miserable, Lakshya. I hate it. I work on it for hours every day, and I just want to take a bat to my computer and go all Office Space on it. If this thesis were a child, I’d put it up for adoption and not even think twice about it. If this thesis were a cute, fuzzy puppy, I’d drop it off in the middle of a busy intersection and speed away.
Me: And then you would do a U-turn and go back and pick it up and play with it all night.
Ananya: I’m serious, Lakshya. I think I’m losing my mind.
Me: Well, you already know what I think.
Ananya: Yes, I know what you think. Let’s not get into that right now.
Me: You’re the one who wanted to vent. You don’t need this kind of stress.
Me: I can’t, Ananya. You know how I feel, and I’m not keeping my opinion to myself when we both know I’m right.
Ananya: This is exactly why I never whine to you about it, because it always comes back to this same thing. I asked you to stop. Please, Lakshya. Stop.
Me: I’m sorry. . . .
Me: Now is when you return a text that says, “it’s okay, Lakshya. I love you.” . . .
Me: Hello? . . .
Me: Don’t do this, Ananya.
Ananya: Give a girl a minute to pee! Dang. I’m not mad. I just don’t want to talk about it anymore. How are you?
Me: Phew. Good. We got a new roommate.
Ananya: I thought she wasn’t moving in until next month.
Me: No, it’s not Radhika’s sister. It’s Ragini. The one I was telling you about a few days ago? After I decided to break the news to her about her boyfriend, it left her with nowhere to go. Amit and I are letting her stay here until she finds her own place. You’ll like her.
Ananya: So I guess she believed you about her boyfriend?
Me: Yeah. She was pretty pissed at first that I didn’t tell her sooner, but she’s had a few days to let it sink in, so I think she gets it. So what time will you be here Friday?
Ananya: Not sure. I would say it depends on whether I get enough work done on my thesis, but I’m not mentioning my thesis to you ever again. I guess I’ll get there when I get there.
Me: Well, then, I guess I’ll see you when I see you. Love you. Let me know when you’re on your way.
Ananya: Love you, too. And I know you’re just concerned. I don’t expect you to agree with my decisions, but I do want you to understand them.
Me: I do understand, babe. I do. I love you.
Ananya: Love you, too.
I drop my head forcefully against the headboard and rub my palms up and down my face out of sheer frustration. Of course, I understand her decision, but I’ll never feel good about it. She’s so frustratingly determined I seriously don’t see how I’ll ever get through to her.
I stand up and put my phone into my back pocket, then walk to my bedroom door. When I swing it open, I’m met with a smell that I’m positive is exactly what heaven will smell like.
Amit looks up at me from the dining-room table and grins, pointing to his plate full of food. “She’s a keeper,” he signs. “The eggs suck, though. I’m only eating them because I don’t want to complain, or she might never cook for us again. Everything else is great.” He signs everything he’s saying without verbalizing it. Amit usually verbalizes all of his signed communication, out of respect for others around us. When he doesn’t verbalize, I know he wants our conversation to remain between the two of us.
Like the silent one we’re having right now while Ragini’s in the kitchen.
“And she even asked how we liked our coffee,” he signs.
I glance into the kitchen. Ragini smiles, so I smile back. I’m shocked to see her in a good mood today. After we got back from our trip to the store a few days ago, she’s been spending most of the time in her room. At one point yesterday, Amit went in to ask her if she wanted any dinner, and he said she was on her bed crying, so he backed out and left her alone. I’ve wanted to check on her, but there isn’t really anything I can do to make her feel better. All she can do is give it time, so I’m glad she’s at least out of bed today.
“And don’t look right now, Lakshya. But did you see what she’s wearing? Did you see that dress?” He bites the knuckles on his fist and winces, as if simply looking at her is causing him actual physical pain.
I shake my head and take a seat across from him. “I’ll look later.”
He grins. “I’m so glad her boyfriend cheated on her. Otherwise, I’d be eating leftover toothpaste-filled Oreos for breakfast.”
I laugh. “At least you wouldn’t have to brush your teeth.”
“This was the best decision we’ve ever made,” he says. “Maybe later we can talk her into vacuuming in that dress while we sit on the couch and watch.”
Amit laughs at his own comment, but I don’t crack a smile. I don’t think he realizes he signed and spoke that last sentence. Before I can tell him, a biscuit comes hurtling past my head and smacks him in the face. He jumps back in shock and looks at Ragini. She’s walking to the table with a Don’t mess with me look on her face. She hands me a plate of food, then sets her own plate down in front of her and takes a seat.
“I said that out loud, didn’t I?” Amit asks. I nod. He looks at Ragini, and she’s still glaring at him. “At least I was complimenting you,” he says with a shrug.
She laughs and nods once, as if he just made a good point. She picks up her phone and begins to text. She glances at me briefly, giving her head a slight shake when my phone vibrates in my pocket. She texted me something but apparently doesn’t want me to make it obvious. I casually slide my hand into my pocket and pull my phone out, then read her text under the table.
Ragini: Don’t eat the eggs.
I look at her and arch an eyebrow, wondering what the hell is wrong with the eggs. She casually sends another text while she holds a conversation with Amit.
Ragini: I poured dish soap and baby powder in them. It’ll teach him not to write on my forehead again.
Me: WTH? When are you going to tell him?
Ragini: I’m not.
Amit: What are you and Ragini texting about?
I look up to see Amit holding his phone, staring at me. He picks up his fork and takes another bite of the eggs, and the sight makes me laugh. He lunges across the table and grabs my phone out of my hands, then begins scrolling through the texts. I try to grab it back from him, but he pulls his arm out of my reach. He pauses for a few seconds as he reads, then immediately spits his mouthful back onto his plate. He tosses me back my phone and reaches for his glass. He calmly takes a drink, sets it back down on the table, then pushes his chair back and stands up.
He points to Ragini. “You just messed up, little girl,” he says. “This means war.”
Ragini is smirking at him with a challenging gleam in her eye. Once Amit walks back to his bedroom and shuts his door, she loses the confident smirk and turns to me, wide-eyed.
Ragini: Help me! I need ideas. I suck at pranks!
Me: Yeah, you do. Dish soap and baby powder? You need serious help. Good thing you have the master on your side.
She grins, then begins eating her breakfast.
I don’t even get my first bite down before Radhika walks out of her room, sans smile. She walks straight to the kitchen and proceeds to make herself a plate of food. Amit returns from his room and sits back down at the table.
“I walked away for dramatic effect,” he says. “I wasn’t finished eating yet.”
Radhika sits, takes a bite of bacon, then looks over at Ragini. “DID . . . YOU . . . MAKE . . . THIS?” she says, pointing at the food dramatically. I c**k my head, because she’s talking to Ragini the same way she talks to me. As if she’s deaf.
I look over at Ragini, who nods a response to Radhika. I look back at Radhika, and she says, “THANK . . . YOU!” She takes a bite of the eggs.
And she spits them right back out onto her plate.
She coughs and rushes to take a drink, then pushes away from the table. She looks back at Ragini. “I . . . CAN’T . . . EAT . . . THIS . . . SHIT!” She walks back to the kitchen, drops her food in the trash, and heads back to her bedroom.
The three of us break out into laughter after her door closes. When the laughter subsides, I turn to Amit.
“Why does Radhika think Ragini is deaf?”
Amit laughs. “We don’t know,” he says. “But we don’t feel like correcting her just yet.”
I laugh on the outside, but inside I’m a little confused. I don’t know when Amit began referring to himself and Ragini as we, but I’m not sure I like it.
• • •
My bedroom light flicks on and off, so I close my laptop and walk to the door. I open it, and Ragini is standing in the hallway, holding her laptop. She hands me a piece of paper.
I already finished my homework for the rest of the week. I even cleaned the entire apartment, excluding Radhika’s room, of course. Amit won’t let me watch TV because it’s not my night, whatever that means. So I was hoping I could hang out with you for a little while? I have to keep my mind busy, or I’ll start thinking about Vikrant again, and then I’ll start feeling sorry for myself, and then I’ll want Pine-Sol, and I really don’t want to have any Pine-Sol, because I don’t want to become a raging alcoholic like you.
I smile, step aside, and motion her into my bedroom. She looks around. The only place to sit is my bed, so I point to it, then take a seat and pull my laptop onto my lap. She sits on the other side of the bed and does the same.
“Thanks,” she says with a smile. She opens her laptop and drops her eyes to the screen.
I tried not to take Amit’s advice this morning about admiring the dress she had on today, but it was hard not to look, especially when he so blatantly pointed it out. I’m not sure what kind of weird thing he and Radhika have going on, but it rubs me the wrong way that he and Ragini seem to have hit it off so well.
And it really rubs me the wrong way that it rubs me the wrong way. I don’t look at her like that, so I don’t understand why I’m sitting here thinking about it. And if she were standing next to Ananya, there wouldn’t be a doubt in my mind that Ananya is more physically my type. Ananya is petite, with dark eyes and straight black hair. Ragini is the complete opposite. She’s taller than Ananya—pretty average height—but her body is a lot more defined and curvy than Ananya’s. Ragini definitely fills out the dress well, which is why Amit liked it. At least she changed into shorts before showing up at my bedroom door. That helps a little. The tops she wears are usually way too big for her, and they hang off her shoulders, which makes me think she took a lot of Vikrant’s T-shirts with her when she packed her bags.
Ananya’s hair is always straight, whereas Ragini’s is hard to figure out. It seems to change with the weather, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The first time I saw her sitting on her balcony, I thought she had black hair, but it turns out her hair was just wet. After playing guitar for about an hour that night, I looked at her as she was walking back inside her apartment, and her hair had dried completely and was in piles of brown waves that fell past her shoulders. Today it’s curly and pulled up into a messy knot on top of her head.
Ragini: Stop staring at me.
I laugh and attempt to brush away whatever the hell that internal detour was I just took.
Me: You look sad.
The first night she showed up here, she seemed happier than she does right now. Maybe it just took time for reality to sink in.
Ragini: Is there a way we can chat on the computer? It’s a lot easier for me than texting.
Me: Sure. What’s your last name? I’ll friend you on Facebook.
I open my laptop and search her name. When I find her profile, I send her a friend request. She accepts it almost instantly, then shoots me a message.
Ragini: Hello, Lakshya Maheshwari.
Me: Hello, Ragini Gadodia. Better?
Ragini: You’re a computer programmer?
Me: Already stalking my profile? And yes. I work from home. Graduated two years ago with a degree in computer engineering.
Ragini: How old are you?
Ragini: Please tell me 25 is a lot better than 23.
Me: 23 will be good for you. Maybe not this week or next week, but it’ll get better.
She sighs and puts one of her hands up to the back of her neck and rubs it, then begins typing again.
Ragini: I miss him. Is that crazy? I miss Kritika, too. I still hate them and want to see them suffer, but I miss what I had with him. It’s really starting to hurt. When it first happened, I thought maybe I was better off without him, but now I just feel lost.
I don’t want to be harsh in my response, but at the same time, I’m not a girl, so I’m not about to tell her that what she’s feeling is normal. Because to me, it’s not normal.
Me: You only miss the idea of him. You weren’t happy with him even before you found out he was cheating. You were only with him because it was comfortable. You just miss the relationship, but you don’t miss Vikrant.
She looks up at me and cocks her head, narrowing her eyes in my direction for a few seconds before dropping them back to the computer.
Ragini: How can you say I wasn’t happy with him? I was. Until I found out what he was doing, I honestly thought he was the one.
Me: No. You didn’t. You wanted him to be, but that’s not how you really felt.
Ragini: You’re kind of being a jerk right now, you know that?
I set my laptop beside me and walk to my desk. I pick up my notebook and a pen and go back to the bed and take a seat next to her. I flip open my notebook to the first set of lyrics she sent me.
Read these, I write at the top of the page. I set the notebook in her lap.
She looks down at the lyrics, then takes the pen. I don’t need to read them, she writes. I wrote them.
I scoot closer to her and put the notebook in my lap, then circle a few lines of her chorus. I point to them again. Read these as if you weren’t the one who wrote them.
She reluctantly looks down at the notebook and reads the chorus, where she had poured out her true feelings and how she was uncertain about her relationship she was in.
When I’m certain she’s had time to read them, I pick up the pen and write: These words came from somewhere inside you, Ragini. You can tell yourself you were better off with him, but read the lyrics you wrote. Go back to what you were feeling when you wrote them. I circle several lines, then read her words along with her.
I look at her, and she’s still staring at the paper. A single tear trickles down her cheek, and she quickly wipes it away.
She picks up the pen and begins writing. They’re just words, Lakshya.
I reply, they’re your words, Ragini. Words that came from you. You say you feel lost without him, but you felt lost even when you were with him. Read the rest.
She inhales a deep breath, then looks down at the paper again.
PS : i sincerely hope you like the twist