“Truck should be warm by now.” Laksh stamped his boots, knocking off snow,
as he stood just inside the door. “You ready to go, Swara?”
Swara turned from the window where she’d watched Sanskar’s neighbor clear
the snow from the windshield of his truck. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Laksh pulled a hooded sweatshirt from a hook by the front door. “Put this on.”
“Thanks.” She slipped the fleece around her and smiled at the elderly man.
Following him to the truck, her footsteps were heavy, but less from the soggy
ground than the sadness weighing her down.
“You sure you wouldn’t like to stop at Sanskar’s and get your own coat…or
anything else?” He put the truck in reverse and backed out onto the road.
“Wouldn’t be any trouble since we’ll pass right by.”
“I’m sure.” Swara didn’t mean to sound as icy as the weather but any
reference to Sanskar—to Sanskar—chilled her soul.
She stared out the window into the growing dark, not wanting to watch for
Sanskar’s place, but drawn to where she’d left her heart. The golden glow from the
windows flickered through the trees before the cabin came into view. Tears stung
her eyes. She could smell the wood burning in the fireplace, feel his arms around
“Sanskar might like to ride to the airport with us. Should we stop and ask?”
Swara shook her head and forced herself to look at the road. She shut her
eyes, damming the threatening tears. He’d made a fool of her. He’d played her,
gained her trust and love, only to smash her feelings without any explanation. She
never wanted to see that manipulating, heartless man again.
“You and Sanskar—”
“There is no me and Sanskar.”
“His name isn’t Sanskar. He’s not who you think he is.” Why the hell should
she protect his identity?
“He’s Sanskar. He might have another name, another life before this one, but to
all of us in Elridge, he’s just Sanskar.” Laksh gave her a serious, narrow-eyed glance
before turning his attention back on the road.
“You don’t know the real man. His name is Sanskar Maheshwari—”
Swara stared at Laksh, dumbfounded. She closed her gaping mouth when Laksh
snickered at her.
“I’m probably the only one around here who does know, but that’s Sanskar’s
“Why would he hide his identity?”
“I don’t think he’s hiding, exactly.”
“No? Then why are you the only one who knows?”
“Can’t say. We all have secrets, and our reasons are our own.” His voice was
quiet, the slushy road sounds nearly blocking out his words.
“Why, Laksh? Why did he change his name and move here?”
“I said I knew his real name, where he came from. Don’t know much more.
When and if Sanskar ever decides to tell me, I’ll listen. But it really doesn’t matter.
He’s one hell of a man, whatever he calls himself.”
“Oh, yeah, one hell of a man.”
They rode in silence for a few miles. The fact that Sanskar had told Laksh who he
was didn’t mitigate her anger. Sanskar, not Sanskar. But they were one and the
same. All those years ago, she’d loved Sanskar—a childish love but love
nonetheless—and he’d hurt her. What she felt for Sanskar—the love, anger, hurt—
was history repeating itself.
“The first winter Sanskar was here, Jenny Martin lost her husband. Sanskar went
to her house every day, though he didn’t really know her.” He held up his hand
when she opened her mouth. “Before you jump to conclusions, Jenny’s a grandma.
But he was there, doing all the chores, helping her get the house ready to sell.” Laksh
nodded at her as if he’d relayed the news of the week.
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“A man’s actions speak louder than words.”
Swara hugged the fleece around her. Sanskar’s actions were loud and clear.
He’d concealed the truth. That said it all.
“I was down with a broken leg a while back. Sanskar was handy whenever I
needed something done.”
“Fine, Laksh. I understand he’s a Good Samaritan.”
“There’s a lot more to the man.”
“Like what? How can you be sure if you don’t know why he’s here? Why he
lives under an alias?”
“I could tell when he first moved here, he needed to set something right.”
“What do you mean?” Swara squinted to see his face in the dim light of the
truck cab. If he knew something, anything that would absolve Sanskar for his
deceitful actions, she wanted to know. God, was she still harboring a sliver of
“Sorry, Swara. I don’t know exactly what I mean. It’s just a feeling. But he’s
a good man.”
She shook her head and turned away from him.
“When he was with you…happiest I’ve ever seen him.”
“You don’t understand, Laksh. You can’t know…” She leaned her head back and
closed her eyes.
The good neighbor took the hint, and they rode in silence the remaining miles.
Swara dozed; pleasant dreams of Sanskar’s kisses laced her slumber. She jerked
awake when Laksh turned a sharp corner and pulled into a parking space at the
The engine noise died, and Laksh opened his door. “I’ll walk you in.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“My orders were to make sure you were delivered safely.”
His only response was a smile.
Tears came from nowhere. “Well, consider your task accomplished.” She
swiped the tears away with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “Oh, jeez, sorry.” She
dabbed at the wet spot with her hand. “Look, let’s just say goodbye here. There’s
no need to walk me in. You’ve been so very kind and helpful. Can I pay you for
“You most certainly cannot.”
“Then I’ll give you back your hoodie and—”
“No, no.” He shut his door and waved a hand in the air. “You keep it. You can
return it when you come back.”
“Laksh, I’m not—”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
She leaned across the cab and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Goodbye, Laksh.”
“Until next time.”
There was no use arguing with him. She hopped out onto the asphalt of the
cold parking garage, pulled the hoodie tighter, and walked to the elevator. As the
doors closed, she waved goodbye to Laksh. Goodbye to what might have been……
Swara flipped open another file, but her gaze refused to settle on the page.
Silence echoed through her open office door. Down the hall, a single strand of
garland sparkled and twisted as air moved from the heat she’d turned up. Someone
had left a holiday candle in one of the cubicles, and the scent of spiced apple
drifted to her. She pulled her cashmere sweater close and ignored the fact that her
favorite lay at the foot of Sanskar’s bed. A shiver ran over her skin. Chilled by the
slushy city streets, she needed warmth. Sanskar’s steaming body came to mind, and
she snarled aloud. Those long, slow hours making love were in the past.
Her hand slid across the wide desk, sending the file to the floor. Anger and
pain combined in a dangerous cocktail. If he were here, she’d show him pain. Her
fist slammed down, and she winced. She didn’t need him. She didn’t need a man,
Rising to her feet, Swara rubbed her arms as she paced to the wide windows.
Nightfall lent sparkling beauty to the street below. She’d been so proud to occupy
the corner office of her own business. Years of hard work and dedication had
taken her to the top of the advertising industry. Her mother would have been proud
of her accomplishments. She pressed her hand against the cold glass.
What was Sanskar doing? Did he regret letting her go?
Why? Why? Why? The why pounded like hammer blows inside her skull, and
a tear trickled down her cheek.
Rubbing it away, she straightened her shoulders. Sanskar wouldn’t talk to her,
wouldn’t explain. And she’d let him get away with that? It wasn’t like her. She
spun away from the window.
Her mother’s smile glinted from a candid photo on her desk. The breath
caught in her throat. Her mom had loved Sanskar. Her big heart had welcomed the
lonely boy. Though he had only a single neighbor and a big sloppy dog, shedding
love like loose hair, Sanskar’s life now held more affection than it ever had in his
youth. She rubbed away another tear.
Had she judged him too harshly? She’d blamed him for not talking to her, but
had she asked the right questions? Pain closed around her heart and squeezed.
Her hand shook as she reached for the phone……
“Truck should be warm by now.” Laksh stamped his boots, knocking off snow,