Hey Guys, sorry i couldn’t reply to everyone’s comment on my previous update, i shall be doing that today. Hope you’re enjoying this story and thank you for all the compliments and appreciation 🙂
Link to the previous episode
Lots of Love,
Why am I so pissed? We didn’t do anything.
I can’t even tell what the hell happened last night before we fell asleep. Technically, it wasn’t anything, but then again, it was, which is probably why I’m so pissed, because I’m so freaking confused.
First he doesn’t tell me about Vikrant for two solid weeks. Then he fails to mention that he’s deaf, although I really have no right to be upset about that. That’s not something I should feel obligated to have been told.
How could he fail to mention in the three weeks I’ve been talking to him that he has a girlfriend?
He’s just like Vikrant. He has a dick and two balls and no heart, and that makes him Vikrant’s twin. I should probably just start calling him Vikrant. I should just call them all Vikrant. From here on out, all men shall be referred to as Vikrant.
My father should be thanking the high heavens that I’m not in law school, because I am by far the absolute worst judge of character who has ever walked the planet.
Lakshya: False alarm. It was just Amit. Sorry about that.
Me: SCREW. YOU.
Me: Don’t even.
A few seconds pass with me staring at my silent phone, and then a knock comes from the bathroom. Lakshya swings the door open and enters my room, holding his hands with his palms up in the air as if he has no idea why I’m upset. I laugh, but it isn’t a happy laugh at all.
Me: This conversation will require a laptop. I have a lot to say.
I open my computer as he makes his way back to his room. I give him a minute to log on, then I open our chat.
Lakshya: Can you please explain why you’re so pissed?
Me: Hmm. Let me count the ways. (1) You have a girlfriend. (2) You have a girlfriend. (3) Why, if you have a girlfriend, was I even in your BEDROOM? (4) You have a girlfriend!
Lakshya: I have a girlfriend. Yes. And you were in my room because we agreed to work on lyrics together. I don’t recall anything happening between us last night to warrant this reaction from you. Or am I mistaken?
Me: Lakshya, it’s been three weeks! I’ve known you for three weeks now, and you’ve never ONCE mentioned that you have a girlfriend. And speaking of Ananya, does she even know I moved in?
Lakshya: Yes. I tell her everything. Look, it wasn’t an intentional omission, I swear. You and I have just never had a conversation where she came up.
Me: Okay, I’ll let it go that you failed to mention her, but I’m not about to let everything else slide.
Lakshya: And this is where I’m confused, because I’m not clear on what you think we did.
Me: You’re such a guy.
Lakshya: Ouch? I guess.
Me: Can you honestly say that your reaction to the possibility of her being at your door earlier was a normal, innocent reaction? You were freaking out that she would see me with you, which means you were doing something you wouldn’t want her to see. I know all we did was fall asleep, but what about the WAY we fell asleep? Do you think she would have been okay with the fact that you had your arms around me all night and your face was practically glued to my chest? And not only that, but what about the fact that I sat between your legs the other night? Would she have smiled and kissed you hello if she had walked in right then? I doubt it. I’m fairly certain that would have ended with me being punched.
Ugh! Why is this upsetting me so much? I bang my head lightly against the headboard out of frustration.
Moments later, Lakshya appears in the doorway between our bathroom and my bedroom. He’s chewing on the corner of his bottom lip. His features are a lot calmer than when he was in here just a few minutes ago. He walks slowly into my room, then sits on the edge of my bed with his laptop on his knees.
Lakshya: I’m sorry.
Me: Yeah. Good. Whatever. Go away.
Lakshya: Really, Ragini. I haven’t been looking at it like that at all. The last thing I want is for things to be weird between us. I like you. I have fun with you. But if for one second I led you to believe that something was going to happen between us, I am so, so sorry.
I sigh and attempt to blink the tears away.
Me: I’m not upset because I thought something was going to happen between us, Lakshya. I don’t WANT anything to happen between us. I haven’t even been single for a whole week yet. I’m upset because I feel like there was a moment, or maybe two, when—as much as neither of us wants to cross that line—we almost did. And you can deal with your actions on your own, but the fact that I was unaware that you had a girlfriend was really unfair to me. I feel like—
I lean my head back against the headboard and squeeze my eyes shut, long enough to force back the tears once more.
Lakshya: You feel like what?
Me: I feel like you almost made me a Kritika. I absolutely would have kissed you last night, and the fact that I didn’t know you were involved with someone would have made me a Kritika. I don’t want to be a Kritika, Lakshya. I can’t tell you how much their betrayal hurts me, and I will never, ever do that to another girl. So that’s why I’m upset. I don’t even know Ananya, yet you made me feel like I’ve already betrayed her. And as innocent as you may be, I’m blaming you for that one.
Lakshya finishes reading my message, then calmly lies back on the bed. He brings his palms to his forehead and inhales a deep breath. We both remain still as we think about the situation. After several quiet minutes, he sits back up.
Lakshya: I don’t even know what to say right now other than I’m sorry. You’re right. Even though I thought you knew about Ananya, I can absolutely see what you’re saying. But I also need you to know that I would never do something like that to her. Granted, what happened between us last night is not something I would ever want Ananya to see, but that’s mostly because Ananya doesn’t understand the process of writing music. It’s a very intimate thing, and because I can’t hear, I do have to use my hands or my ears to understand things that come naturally to others. That’s all it was. I wasn’t trying to cause anything to happen between us. I was just curious. I was intrigued. And I was wrong.
Me: I understand. I never thought for a second that your intentions weren’t genuine when you asked me to sing for you. Everything just happened so fast earlier, and I was still trying to recover from the fact that I woke up in your bed and the lights were flickering. Then you go and flash the word “girlfriend” in my face. It’s a lot to process. And I believe you when you say you thought I knew about her.
Lakshya: Thank you.
Me: Just promise me one thing. Promise me you will never be a Vikrant, and I will never, ever be a Kritika.
Lakshya: I promise. And that’s impossible, because we’re so much more talented than they are.
He glances up and smiles his smiley smile at me, which makes me automatically smile in return.
Me: Now, get out of here. I’m going back to sleep, because someone spent the whole night drooling on me and snoring way too loud.
Lakshya laughs, but before he leaves, he messages me one last time.
Lakshya: I’m excited for you to meet her. I really think you’ll like her.
He closes his laptop, stands, and walks back to his room.
I close my laptop and pull the covers over my head.
I hate that my heart is wishing so bad that he didn’t have a girlfriend.
• • •
“No, she already moved in,” Radhika says. Her cell phone is propped up on her shoulder, and from the sound of it, she just broke the news to her sister that I’ve taken the empty bedroom. Radhika completely ignores that I’m even in the same room with her and continues talking about me.
I know the fact that I haven’t clarified that I’m not deaf is a little mean, but who is she to assume I can’t read lips?
“I don’t know; she’s a friend of Lakshya’s. I should have ignored him when he asked if I would go—in the rain, mind you—and bring her up to the apartment. Apparently, her boyfriend dumped her, and she had nowhere else to go.”
She pulls a seat out at the bar and sits with her back facing me. She laughs at something the person on the other end of the line says. “Tell me about it. He seems to enjoy taking in strays, doesn’t he?”
I grip the remote in my hand and hold it tightly in an attempt to keep from hurling it at the back of her head.
“I told you not to ask about Amit,” she says with a sigh. “You know he irritates the hell out of me, but I just . . . dammit, I just can’t stay away.”
Wait. Did I just hear that correctly? Might Radhika have . . . feelings?
She’s lucky I like Amit, or the remote would be greeting her pretty little head right now. She’s also lucky someone is knocking at the door loudly enough to distract me from hurting her.
Radhika stands up and turns to face me, pointing at the front door. “SOMEONE’S . . . AT . . . THE . . . DOOR!” Rather than answer it, she walks to her bedroom and closes her door.
So hospitable, that one.
I stand and make my way to the front door, knowing it’s more than likely Ananya. I place my hand on the doorknob and inhale a steady breath.
Here we go.
I open the door, and standing in front of me is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever laid eyes on. Her hair is straight and jet-black, and it falls around two naturally tanned shoulders. Her face is smiling. Her whole, entire face is beaming. She’s nothing but a face full of beautiful white teeth, and they’re smiling at me, and it’s making me smile back, even though I really don’t want to.
I was really hoping she was ugly. I don’t know why.
“Ragini?” she says. It’s just one word, but I can tell by her voice that she’s deaf, like Lakshya. But, unlike Lakshya, she speaks. And she enunciates really well.
“You must be the girlfriend!” I say with feigned excitement. Is it feigned? Maybe not. Her entire demeanour is making me feel sunny and happy, and maybe I am a tiny bit excited to meet her?
She steps forward and gives me a hug. I close the door behind us, and she slips off her shoes and heads to the refrigerator.
“Lakshya has told me a lot about you,” she says as she pops open a soda, then walks to the cabinet for a glass. “I think it’s great that you’re helping him through his writer’s block. Poor guy has been stressing for months now.” She fills her cup with ice and soda. “So how are you fitting in? I see you’ve survived Radhika. And Amit has to be a pain in the ass.” She looks at me expectantly, but I’m still loving the fact that she’s so . . . Pleasant? Likable? Cheerful?
I smile back at her and lean against the counter. I’m trying to figure out exactly how to respond to her. She’s speaking to me as if she can hear me, so I reply the same way.
“I like it,” I say. “I’ve never lived with this many people before, so it’s taking some getting used to.”
She smiles and tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear.
Ugh. Even her ears are pretty.
“Good,” she says. “Lakshya told me about your shitty birthday last weekend and how he took you out for cake, but it didn’t make up for you never having the chance to celebrate.”
I have to be honest. It bothers me that he told her he took me out for cake. It bothers me, because maybe he’s right and he does tell her everything. And it also bothers me because he seems to tell me nothing. Not that I’ve earned that right from him.
God, I hate feelings. Or I hate my conscience. The two are constantly at war, and I’m not sure which one I’d rather turn off.
“So,” she says, “we’re going out tonight to celebrate.”
I pause. “We?”
She nods. “Yeah. Me, you, Lakshya, Amit, if he’s not busy. We can invite Radhika, but that’s laughable.” She walks past me toward Lakshya’s bedroom, then turns to face me again. “Can you be ready in an hour?”
“Um.” I shrug. “Okay.”
She opens Lakshya’s bedroom door and slips inside. I stand frozen, listening. Why am I listening?
I hear Ananya giggling behind the closed door, and it makes me wince.
Oh, yay. This should be fun.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay in tonight?”
Ananya shakes her head. “That poor girl needs to have some fun, with the week she’s had. And I’ve been so overwhelmed with my internship and the T word. I need a night out.” She leans forward and kisses me on the chin. “Do you want to get a cab so you can drink, or do you want to drive?”
She knows I won’t drink around her. I don’t know why she always tries her reverse psychology on me. “Nice try,” I tell her. “I’ll drive.”
She laughs. “I have to change and get ready. We’re leaving in an hour.” She tries to slide off me, but I grip her waist and roll her onto her back. I know for a fact that it never takes her more than half an hour to get ready. That leaves a good thirty minutes.
She laughs and slaps my arm. I then lower myself on top of her and drop my mouth to hers. I spend the next half hour reminding myself how much I’ve missed her. I remind myself how much I love her. I remind myself how good it feels when we’re together. I keep reminding myself over and over, because for the past week, it felt as if I was starting to forget.
• • •
Me: Be ready in thirty minutes. We’re going out.
Amit: I don’t want to go, have an early shift tomorrow.
No. He has to go. I can’t go out with Ananya and Ragini by myself.
Me: No, you’re going. Be ready in thirty minutes.
Amit: No, I’m not. Have fun.
Me: You’re going. 30.
Amit: Not going.
Me: Please? You owe me.
Amit: What the hell do I owe you for?
Me: Let’s see, about a year’s worth of rent, for one.
Amit: Low blow, man. Fine.
Thank God. I don’t know what Ragini gets like when she drinks, but if she’s a lightweight like Ananya is, I don’t think I can handle the two of them on my own.
I walk to the kitchen, and Ananya is at the sink, pulling out the bottle of Pine-Sol. She holds it up to ask if I want any, and I shake my head.
“Figured I’d save money if I downed a couple of shots here first. You think Ragini wants any?”
I shrug but pull out my phone to ask her.
Me: You want a shot before we go?
Ragini: No, thank you. Not sure I feel like drinking tonight, but you go right ahead.
“She doesn’t want any,” I sign to Ananya. Amit walks out of his bedroom and sees Ananya pouring a shot from the Pine-Sol container.
Shit. There goes the hiding spot.
He doesn’t even blink when he sees her filling her shot glass. “Make it two,” he says to her. “If Lakshya is forcing me to go out tonight, I’m getting so wasted he’ll regret it.”
I cock my head. “How long have you known that wasn’t cleaning solution?”
He shrugs. “You’re deaf, Lakshya. You would be surprised how many times I’m behind you and you don’t even know it.” He picks up the shot Ananya poured, and they both turn their attention to something behind me. Their shocked expressions force me to turn around and see what they’re looking at.
I shouldn’t have turned around.
Ragini is walking out of her bedroom, but I’m not sure if it’s really Ragini. This girl isn’t wearing baggy shirts or walking around with her hair pulled up and a naked face. This girl is wearing a strapless black dress that’s anything but simple. Her brown hair is down and thick, and I’m thinking it probably smells as incredible as it looks. She smiles past me and says “Thanks” to either Ananya or Amit, one of whom more than likely just told her how great she looks. She’s smiling at them, but then she holds her hands up and yells, “No!” just as a mist of liquid rains down on me from behind.
I spin around, and Amit and Ananya are both coughing and spitting into the sink. Amit is sipping straight from the faucet, making a face that says he didn’t enjoy whatever just went down his throat.
“What the hell?” Ananya says, scrunching up her face and wiping her mouth.
Ragini runs into the kitchen with her hand over her mouth. She’s shaking her head, trying not to laugh, but she looks apologetic at the same time. “I’m sorry,” she keeps saying over and over.
What the hell just happened?
Amit composes himself, then turns to Ragini. He speaks and signs at the same time, which I appreciate. He can’t know how isolating it feels when you’re in a group of people who hear, but no matter what, he always signs when I’m in the room with him. “Did we actually just almost drink an entire shot of cleaning solution?”
He’s eyeing Ragini hard. She answers him, and he signs her response for my benefit. She says, “You two weren’t supposed to drink it. It was supposed to be Lakshya. And no, I didn’t actually put cleaning solution in there, idiot. I’m not trying to kill the guy. It was apple juice and vinegar.”
She tried to prank me.
And she failed.
I start laughing and text her.
Me: Nice try. That was a valiant effort, although it backfired.
She flips me off.
I look at Ananya; luckily, she’s laughing about it. “There is no way I could live here,” she says. She walks to the refrigerator and pulls out the milk, then makes her and Amit a quick drink to wash away the aftertaste.
“Let’s go,” Amit says after he downs the milk and tosses his cup into the sink. “Lakshya is driving cuz I won’t be able to walk in three hours.”
I have no idea where we’re going, but I’m doing my best to appear engaged.. I’m in the backseat with Amit, and he’s talking to me about the band, explaining his involvement in it. I ask the appropriate questions and nod at the appropriate moments, but my mind isn’t here at all.
I know I can’t expect the hurt and heartache to go away this quickly, but today has been the worst day so far since my actual birthday. I realize that all the pain I’ve been feeling hasn’t been quite as bad because I’ve had Lakshya this week. I don’t know if it’s the way he brings comedic relief when he’s around or if it’s because I really was developing a crush on him, but the times I’ve spent with him were the only times I felt remotely happy. They were the only times I wasn’t thinking about what Vikrant and Kritika did to me.
But now, watching him in the front seat with his hand clasping Ananya’s . . . I don’t like it. I don’t like how his thumb occasionally sweeps back and forth. I don’t like the way she looks at him. I especially don’t like the way he looks at her. I didn’t like how he slipped his fingers through hers when we reached the bottom of the apartment stairs. I didn’t like how he opened her door, then placed his hand on her lower back while she climbed inside the car. I didn’t like how they had a silent conversation while he was putting the car in reverse. I didn’t like how he laughed at whatever she said and then pulled her to him so he could kiss her forehead. I don’t like how all of these things make me feel as though the only good moments I’ve had since last week are now over.
Nothing has changed. Nothing significant happened between the two of us, and I know we’ll continue with the way things have been. We’ll still write lyrics together. He might still listen to me sing. We’ll still continue to interact the way we’ve done since I met him, so this situation shouldn’t be bothering me.
I know in my heart that I didn’t want anything to happen with him, especially at this point in my life. I know I need to be on my own. I want to be on my own. But I also know that the reason I’m feeling so conflicted by this entire situation is that I did have a little hope. Although I wasn’t ready for anything right now, I thought the possibility would be there. I assumed that maybe someday, when I was ready, things could have developed between us.
However, now that Ananya is in the picture, I realize there can’t be a maybe someday between us. There will never be a maybe someday. He loves her, and she obviously loves him, and I can’t blame them, because whatever they have is beautiful. The way they look at each other and interact and obviously care about each other is something I didn’t realize was missing between Vikrant and me.
Maybe someday I’ll have that, but it won’t be with Lakshya, and knowing that diminishes whatever ray of hope shone through the storm of my week.
God, I’m so depressing.
I hate Vikrant.
I really hate Kritika.
And right now, I’m so pathetically miserable, I even hate myself.
“Are you crying?” Amit asks.
He nods. “Yes, you are. You’re crying.”
I shake my head. “I am not.”
“You were about to,” he says, looking at me sympathetically. He puts his arm around my shoulder and pulls me against him. “Chin up, little girl. Maybe tonight we can find someone who will screw the thought of that jerkoff ex right out of that pretty little head of yours.”
I laugh and slap him in the chest.
“I would volunteer to do it, but Radhika doesn’t like to share,” he says. “She’s kind of a b*t*h like that, if you haven’t noticed.”
I laugh again, but when my eyes meet Lakshya’s in the rear-view mirror, my smile fades. His jaw is firm, and his eyes lock with mine for a few seconds before he refocuses on the road in front of him.
He’s unreadable most of the time, but I could swear I saw a small flash of jealousy behind those eyes. And I don’t like how seeing him jealous that I’m leaning against Amit actually feels good.
Turning twenty-three has rotted my soul. Who am I, and why am I having these awful reactions?
We pull into the parking lot of a club. I’ve been here a few times with Kritika, so I’m relieved that it won’t be completely unfamiliar. Amit takes my hand and helps me out of the car, then puts an arm around my shoulders and walks with me toward the entrance.
“I’ll make you a deal,” he says. “I’ll keep my hands off you tonight so guys won’t assume you’re madly in love with me. I hate a tease, and I refuse to be one. But if anyone makes you uncomfortable, just look at me and give me a signal so I can swoop in and pull you out of the situation.”
I nod. “Sounds like a plan. What kind of signal do I give you?”
“I don’t know. You can lick your lips seductively.”
I elbow him in the side. “Or maybe I can just scratch my nose?”
He shrugs. “That works, too, I guess.” He opens the door, and we all make our way inside. The music is overwhelming, and the second the doors close behind us, Amit leans in to shout into my ear. “There are usually booths open on the balcony level. Let’s go there!” He tightens his grip on my hand, then turns to Lakshya and Ananya and motions for them to follow.
• • •
I haven’t had to use the secret code Amit and I agreed on, and we’ve been here more than two hours now. I’ve danced with several people, but as soon as the song ends, I make it a point to smile politely and head back to the booth. Amit and Ananya seem to have made a nice dent in the liquor stock, but Lakshya hasn’t had a drop. Other than a shot Amit persuaded me to take when we first arrived, I haven’t had anything to drink, either.
“My feet hurt,” I say.
Ananya and Lakshya have danced a couple of times but that was to slow songs, so I made it a point not to watch them.
“No!” Amit says, attempting to pull me back up. “I want to dance!”
I shake my head. He’s drunk and loud, and every time I try to dance with him, he ends up butchering my feet almost as badly as he butchers the moves.
“I’ll dance with you,” Ananya says to him. She climbs over Lakshya in the booth, and Amit takes her hand. They head down to the lower level to dance, and it’s the first time Lakshya and I have been alone in the booth.
I don’t like it.
I like it.
See? Rotten soul. Corrupted, rotten soul.
Lakshya: Having fun?
I’m not really, but I nod, because I don’t want to be that annoying, broken hearted girl who wants everyone around her to feel how miserable she is.
Lakshya: I need to say something, and I may be way off base here, but I’m attempting to improve on how I unintentionally omit things from you.
I look up at him and nod again.
Lakshya: Amit is in love with Radhika.
I read his text twice. Why would he need to say that to me? Unless he thinks I like Amit.
Lakshya: He’s always been a flirt, so I just wanted to clear that up. I don’t want to see you get hurt again. That’s all.
Me: Appreciate your concern, but it’s unnecessary. Really. Have no interest there.
Me: You were right. I like Ananya.
Lakshya: I knew you would. Everyone likes Ananya. She’s very likable.
I lift my eyes and look around when a Petrichor song begins to play. I scoot to the back of the booth and look over the railing. Amit and Ananya are standing by the DJ’s table, and Amit is interacting with the DJ while Ananya dances around next to him.
Me: They’re playing one of your songs.
Lakshya: Yeah? That always happens when Amit’s around.
Me: Yeah. How’d you know?
Lakshya presses a flat palm to his chest and smiles.
Me: Wow. You can differentiate your songs like that?
Me: What’s Ananya’s story? She communicates really well. She seems to dance really well. Does she have a different level of hearing loss from yours?
Lakshya: Yes, she has mild hearing loss. She hears most things with hearing aids, which is why she also speaks so well. And she does dance well. I stick to slow songs when she wants me to dance with her, since I can’t hear them.
Me: Is that why Ananya speaks out loud and you don’t? Because she can hear?
His eyes swing up to mine for a few seconds, and then he looks back at his phone.
Lakshya: No. I could speak if I wanted to.
I should stop. I know he’s probably annoyed by these questions, but I’m too curious.
Me: Why don’t you, then?
He shrugs but doesn’t text me back.
Me: No, I want to know. There has to be a reason. It seems like it would make things a lot easier for you.
Lakshya: I just don’t. I get along fine with how I do things now.
Me: Yes, especially when Ananya and Amit are around. Why would you need to talk when they can do it for you?
I hit send before I realize I probably shouldn’t have said that. I have noticed Ananya and Amit do a lot of his talking for him, though. They’ve ordered for him every time the waitress has come by the booth, and I’ve noticed Amit do it several times this week in different situations.
Lakshya reads my text, then looks back up at me. It seems I made him uncomfortable, and I immediately regret saying what I did.
Me: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to come out how it probably sounded. I just meant you seem to let them do things for you that they wouldn’t necessarily have to do if you would speak for yourself.
My explanation seems to bother him even more than the initial text. I feel as if I’m digging myself a hole.
Me: Sorry. I’ll stop. It’s not my place to judge your situation, because I obviously can’t put myself in your shoes. I was just trying to understand.
He looks at me and pulls the corner of his bottom lip into his mouth. I’ve noticed he does this when he’s thinking hard about something. The way he continues to stare at me makes my throat go dry. I break his gaze, pull the straw into my mouth, and take a sip of my soda. When I look back at him, he’s texting again.
Lakshya: I was nine when I stopped verbalizing.
His text does more to my stomach than his stare did. I don’t know why.
Me: You used to talk? Why did you stop?
Lakshya: It might take me a while to text the explanation.
Me: It’s fine. You can tell me about it at home when we have our laptops.
He scoots to the edge of the booth and peers over the balcony. I follow his gaze down to Ananya and Amit, who are still both hovering around the DJ booth. When he sees that they’re still occupied, he moves away from the railing and leans forward across the table, resting his elbows in front of him as he begins to text.
Lakshya: They don’t look like they’re ready to leave, so I guess we have time now. Sanskar and I didn’t luck out in the parent department. They both had issues with addiction. They might still have them, but we wouldn’t know, because we haven’t spoken to either of them in years. My mother spent most of our childhood in bed, doped up on pain pills. Our father spent most of our childhood in bars. When I was five, I was enrolled in a school for the deaf. That’s where I learned sign language. I would come home and teach Sanskar, because neither of my parents knew ASL. I taught him because I was five years old and had never had a conversation with anyone before. I was so desperate to communicate I was forcing my two-year-old brother to learn signs like “cookie” and “window” just so I would have someone to talk to.
My heart sinks to my stomach. I look up at him, but he’s still texting.
Lakshya: Imagine walking into your first day of school to the realization that there is actually a way to communicate. When I saw kids having conversations with their hands, I was amazed. I lived the first five years of my life never knowing what it was like to communicate. The school began teaching me how to form words using my voice, how to read, how to sign. I spent the next few years practicing everything I learned on Sanskar. He became just as fluent in ASL as I was. I wanted him to know it, but I also didn’t want to use him as my way to communicate with my parents. So when I would talk to them, I would always speak my words. I couldn’t hear my own voice, of course, and I know it sounds different when deaf people speak, but I wanted a way to communicate with them since they didn’t know ASL. One day, when I was talking to my father, he told Sanskar to tell me to shut up, then had Sanskar speak for me. I didn’t understand why, but he was angry. Every time I would try to talk to my father after that, the same thing would happen, and he would tell Sanskar to tell me to stop voicing my words. Sanskar would translate what my father wanted him to say back to me.
I finally realized my father didn’t want me to talk because he didn’t like the way my voice sounded. It embarrassed him that I couldn’t hear. He didn’t like for me to speak when we were in public, because people would know I was deaf, so he would tell me to shut up every time I did it. One day at home, he became so angry that I was still doing it that he started yelling at Sanskar. He assumed that since I continued speaking my words, Sanskar wasn’t relaying the fact that he didn’t want me to speak. He was really drunk that day and took his anger too far, which wasn’t uncommon. But he hit Sanskar so hard upside the head it knocked him out.
Tears begin to well in my eyes, and I have to inhale a calming breath.
Lakshya: He was only six years old, Ragini. Six. I never wanted to give my father another reason to hit him, so that was the last day I ever spoke out loud. I guess it just became habit after that.
He lays his phone on the table and folds his arms in front of him. He doesn’t seem to be waiting for a response from me. He may not even want one. He watches me, and I know he sees the tears falling down my cheeks, but he doesn’t react to them. I take a deep breath, then reach over and pick up a napkin and wipe my eyes. I wish he wouldn’t see me responding like this but I can’t hold it back. He smiles softly and begins to reach across the table for my hand, and then Amit and Ananya reappear at the booth.
Lakshya pulls his hand back and looks up at them. Ananya’s arms are draped across Amit’s shoulders, and she’s laughing at nothing in particular. Amit keeps trying to grab the back of the booth—it looks as if he’s about to need support, too, but he can’t seem to grasp anything. Lakshya and I both stand up and assist them. Lakshya pulls Ananya off Amit, and I wrap Amit’s arm around my shoulders. He presses his forehead to mine.
“Rags, I’m so happy you got cheated on. I’m so happy you moved in.”
I laugh and push his face away from mine. Lakshya nods his head toward the entrance, and I nod in agreement. Another drink, and we would probably have to carry these two out.
“I like that dress you wear, Rags. That blue one? But please don’t wear it again.” Amit is leaning his head against mine as we make our way toward the stairs. “I don’t like your ass in it, because I think I might love Radhika, and your dress makes me love your ass.”
Wow. He’s really drunk if he’s admitting that he might love Radhika.
“I already told you I was burning that dress,” I say, laughing.
“Good,” he says with a sigh.
We reach the exit, and I notice Lakshya is carrying Ananya now. Her arms are draped around his neck, and her eyes are closed. Once we reach the car, she opens her eyes as Lakshya tries to stand her up. She attempts to take a step but ends up stumbling. Lakshya opens the back door, and she practically falls inside. He scoots her to the other side of the seat, and she falls against the door, closing her eyes again. Lakshya steps out of the way and motions for Amit to climb in. Amit steps forward and reaches up to Lakshya’s face. He pats Lakshya’s cheek and says, “I feel bad for you, buddy. I bet it’s really hard not to kiss Ragini, cuz it’s hard for me, and I don’t even like her like you do.”
Amit climbs inside the car and falls against Ananya. I’m thankful that he was too drunk to sign any of that, because I know that Lakshya didn’t understand what he said. I can tell by the confused look Lakshya is giving me. He laughs and bends down, lifting Amit’s leg, which is still hanging out of the car. He pushes it inside the car and closes the door, and my mind is still stuck on Amit’s words.
Lakshya reaches in front of me and pulls on the handle of the front passenger door, then opens it. I step forward, but the second Lakshya’s hand rests against my lower back, I pause.
I glance up at him, and he’s looking straight down at me. His hand remains on my lower back as I force myself to slowly close the gap between myself and the car. The second I begin to lower myself into the seat, his hand slips away, and he waits until I’m all the way inside the car, then closes the door.
I lean my head back into the seat and close my eyes, terrified of what that simple gesture just did to me.
I hear him take his position behind the wheel, and the car cranks, but I continue to keep my eyes closed. I don’t want to look at him. I don’t want to feel what I feel when I look at him. I don’t like how every minute I spend with him, I feel more and more like a Kritika.
My phone receives a text, so I’m forced to open my eyes. Lakshya is holding his phone, watching me.
Lakshya: She doesn’t do this a lot. Probably not even three times a year. She’s been under a lot of stress lately, and she likes to go out. It helps.
Me: I wasn’t judging her.
Lakshya: I know. I just wanted you to know she’s not a raging alcoholic like I am.
He winks at me, and I laugh. I glance into the backseat, where Amit is draped across Ananya. They’re both out cold. I turn back around in my seat and text him again.
Me: Thank you for telling me all that earlier. You didn’t have to, and I know you probably didn’t want to, but thank you.
He gives me a sideways glance, then returns his attention to his phone.
Lakshya: I’ve never told anyone that story. Not even Sanskar. He was probably too young to even remember it.
He sets his phone down and puts the car in reverse, then begins to back out.
Why is it that the only question I wish I could ask him right now is the most inappropriate one? I want to ask him if he’s ever told Ananya, but his answer shouldn’t matter to me. It shouldn’t matter at all, but it does.
He begins to drive, and he reaches down and turns on the radio, which confuses me. He can’t hear it, so I don’t understand why he would care if it was on or off.
But then I realize he didn’t do it for himself.
He turned it on for me.
After stopping at a drive-thru for food, we pull up to the apartment complex. I put the car in park.
Me: Take the food up and unlock the door while I wake them up.
She picks up our two drinks and the bag of food. She heads up to the apartment, and I walk to the back door and open it. I shake Amit awake and help him out of the car. Then I wake Ananya up and help her out. She’s still too out of it to walk, so I pick her up and shut the door behind me. I make sure Amit walks ahead of me up the stairs, because I’m not positive he won’t fall down them.
When we make it inside, Amit stumbles to his bedroom, and I walk Ananya into my room. I lay her on the bed and take off her shoes, then her clothes. I pull the covers over her, then head back into the dining room, where Ragini has laid out our food. It’s almost midnight, and we haven’t eaten since lunch. I take a seat in front of her.
Me: So now that you know one of my deep, dark secrets, I want to know one of yours.
We both have our phones out on the table while we eat. She smiles and begins to text me back.
Ragini: You have more than one deep, dark secret?
Me: We’re talking about you right now. If we’re going to be working together, I need to know what I’m getting myself into. Tell me about your family. Any raging alcoholics?
Ragini: Nope, just non – understanding humans. My father is a lawyer, and he hates that I’m not going to law school. My mother stays home. She’s never worked a day in her life. She’s a great mom, but she’s also one of those perfect moms, you know?
Ragini: Nope. Only child.
Me: I wouldn’t have pegged you as an only child. Nor would I have guessed you were a lawyer’s daughter.
Ragini: Why? Because I’m not pretentious and spoiled?
I smile at her and nod.
Ragini: Well, thanks. I try.
Me: I don’t mean for this to come off as insensitive, but if your father is a lawyer and you still have a relationship with your parents, why did you not call them last week? When you had nowhere to go?
Ragini: The primary thing my mother instilled in me was the fact that she didn’t want me to be her. She had no education and has always been completely dependent on my father. She raised me to be very independent and financially responsible, so I’ve always taken pride in not asking for their help. It’s hard sometimes, especially when I really need their help, but I always get by. I also don’t ask for their help because my father would point out in a not-so-nice way that if I were in law school, he’d be paying for it.
Me: Wait. You’re paying for school on your own? But if you changed your subject to law, your father would pay for it?
Me: That’s not really fair.
Ragini: Like I said. But I don’t go around blaming my parents for everything. I have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve grown up in a relatively normal household, both of my parents are alive and well, and they support me to an extent. They’re better than most, just worse than some. I hate it when people spend their entire lives blaming their parents for every bad thing that happens to them.
Me: Yeah. I completely agree, which is why I was emancipated at sixteen. Decided to take my life into my own hands.
Ragini: Really? What about Sanskar?
Me: I took him with me. The courts thought he stayed with my parents, but he moved in with me. Well, with Amit. We’ve been friends since we were fourteen. Both of his parents are deaf, which is how he knows ASL. Once I became emancipated, they allowed me and Sanskar to stay with them. My parents still had guardianship over Sanskar, but as far as they were concerned, I did them a huge favour by taking him off their hands.
Ragini: Well, that was incredibly considerate of Amit’s parents.
Me: Yes, they’re great people. Not sure why Amit turned out the way he did, though.
Ragini: Did they continue to raise Sanskar after you left for college?
Me: No, we actually only stayed with them for seven months. When I turned seventeen, I moved us into an apartment. I dropped out of school and got distance education so I could start college sooner.
Ragini: Wow. So you raised your brother?
Me: Hardly. Sanskar lived with me, but he was never the type who could be raised. He was fourteen when we got our own place. I was only seventeen. As much as I’d like to say I was the responsible, mature adult, I was quite the opposite. Our apartment became the hangout for everyone who knew us, and Sanskar partied just as hard as I did.
Ragini: That shocks me. You seem so responsible.
Me: I wasn’t as wild as I probably could have been, being on my own at that young an age. Luckily, all our money went to bills and rent, so I never got into any bad habits. We just liked to have fun. Our band was formed when Sanskar was sixteen and I was nineteen, so that took up a lot of our time. That’s also the year I started dating Ananya, and I calmed down a lot after that.
Ragini: You’ve been with Ananya since you were nineteen?
I nod but don’t text her back. My food has hardly been touched from all the texting, so I pick up my burger. She does the same, and we eat until both of us are finished. We stand up and clear off the table. Then she gives me a wave and heads off to her room. I sit on the couch and turn on the TV. After about fifteen minutes of channel surfing, I finally stop on a movie channel. The captioning has been turned off on the TV, but I don’t bother turning it back on. I’m too tired to read and follow along with the movie, anyway.
The door to Ragini’s bedroom opens, and she walks out, looking slightly startled when she sees I’m still awake. She’s in one of her baggy shirts again, and her hair is wet. She walks back to her room, then comes out with her phone and sits on the couch with me.
Ragini: I’m not tired. What are you watching?
Me: I don’t know, but it just started.
She pulls her feet up and rests her head on the arm of the couch. Her eyes are on the TV, but my eyes are on her. I have to admit, the Ragini who went out tonight is a completely different Ragini from the one lying here. Her makeup is gone, her hair is no longer perfect, her clothes even have holes in them, and I can’t help but laugh just looking at her. If I were Vikrant, I’d be punching myself in the face right now.
She’s beginning to lean forward for her phone when she cuts her eyes in my direction. I want to look back at the TV and pretend she didn’t just catch me staring at her, but that would make this even more awkward. Luckily, she doesn’t seem to care that I was looking at her, because she gives her attention to her phone.
Ragini: How are you watching this without captions?
Me: Too tired to read along right now. Sometimes I just like to watch movies without captions and try to guess what they’re saying.
Ragini: I want to try it. Put it on mute, and we’ll deaf-watch it together.
I laugh. Deaf-watch? That’s a new one. I point the remote to the TV and press the mute button. She turns her attention back to the TV, but once again, I fail to look away from her.
I don’t understand my sudden obsession with staring at her, but I can’t seem to stop. She’s several feet away. We aren’t touching. We aren’t speaking. She isn’t even looking at me. Yet the simple fact that I’m staring at her makes me feel incredibly guilty, as if I’m doing something wrong. Staring is harmless, so why do I feel so guilty?
I attempt to talk myself out of the feelings of guilt, but deep down, I know exactly what’s happening.
I don’t feel guilty simply because I’m staring at her. I feel guilty for how it’s making me feel.
• • •
This makes twice in a row I’ve been woken up like this. I push away the hand that’s slapping me and open my eyes. Amit is standing over me. He slaps a piece of paper on my chest, then whacks his hand against the side of my head. He walks to the front door and grabs his keys, then leaves for work.
Why is he going to work this early?
I pick up my phone, and it says 8:00 A.M. I guess he’s not leaving early.
I sit up on the couch and see Ragini still curled up at the other end, sound asleep. I pull the paper from Amit off my chest and look down at it.
How about you go to your room and sleep in the bed with your girlfriend!
I wad up the note and stand, then take it to the trash can and bury it. I go back to the couch, put my hand on Ragini’s shoulder, and shake her awake. She rolls onto her back and rubs her eyes, then looks up at me.
She smiles when she sees me. That’s it. All she did just now was smile, but all of a sudden, my chest is on fire, and it feels as if a wave of heat just rolled down the entire length of my body. I recognize this feeling, and it’s not good. It’s not good at all. I haven’t felt this way since I was nineteen.
Since I first began developing feelings for Ananya.
I point to Ragini’s room to let her know she should go to bed, then quickly turn around and head into my bedroom. I pull off my jeans and T-shirt and softly slide into bed next to Ananya. I wrap my arms around her, pull her against my chest, and spend the next half hour falling asleep to a broken record of reminders.
You’re in love with Ananya.
Ananya’s perfect for you.
You’re perfect for her.
She needs you.
You’re happy when you’re with her.
You’re with the one and only girl you’re meant to be with.