Priya was walking along the beach. Listening to the waves, feeling the wet sand under her feet and letting the summer air play with her hair.
” You look high. Did you really miss the beach that much? ” Kartik and Nina asked her.
” I missed India. I missed this. ” She said waving her hand towards the sea. ” But most of all I missed your sad sad SAD sense of humor and Nina’s totally unwarranted relationship advice.” She said to Kartik and Nina while playfully taking both their arms. They were walking as a trio now.
” You seriously haven’t dated anyone in the States? ” Nina elbowed Priya.
” Nope. I realized you were the love of my life Nina. ” She said sticking her tongue out. Nina rolled her eyes and groaned.
” She is planning on dying alone Nina. You might as well stop asking her the dating question. Has she ever dated anyone? I am starting to think she is incapable of love and emotions. ” Kartik said.
Priya just laughed. ” Now is that a bad thing Kartik? To die alone? ”
“Shut up Priya. You can just date people. I know love doesn’t happen everyday. But how will you know if you won’t put yourself out there? ” Nina asked.
” Haha you sound like mom. Except for the fact that she thinks marriage is dating. ” She laughed easily. Nina and Kartik joined too.
” But seriously Priya. You are young, reasonably pretty and well read. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to have something special with someone? I have a girl in my life. Nina has her guy. ” Kartik tried to reason.
” Well. Lucky me! I have a girl and a guy in my life. ” She said pointing at Kartik and Nina.
Kartik made a face. ” And you say my jokes aren’t funny. ”
Priya laughed. ” Fine. I really don’t like talking about this stuff but here’s my take. I don’t believe in casual dating. I believe in love. And when I find a guy I really care for, I am going to date him. In that order. I won’t date because I need a guy in my life. ” Priya continued.
” And how exactly are you going to find a guy you love? ” Nina asked.
” When I am older and have done all the things I want to.” Priya replied.
” Yeah because love is just a dress you can pick right Priya? Next you are gonna say you will fall in love at a particular time and date!” Kartik mocked.
” No. But I am pretty sure that’s my mother’s concept.” Priya winked.
” Let it be Kartik. This one is not going to listen. She didn’t listen to Kush only. Her best friend for years. ” Nina said.
Kartik was waving his hands and saying something without a sound. But the damage was done.
Priya replied quickly, ” Please do not talk about him when I am around. He made my life hell. You know I ran into his parents the other day. I couldn’t even talk to them properly. I feel guilty for something I haven’t even done. ”
Nina put her arms around her friend, ” And what wrong did he exactly do Priya? He fell in love with you and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s all right? And Kartik I think you can stop waving. We need to talk about this sooner or later.”
Priya looked disbelievingly at Nina, ” That’s all? He stopped hanging out with me. I gave him his space then too. But when I tried to be friends with him he always said that wasn’t enough. That he couldn’t just be friends. He yelled at me umpteen number of times. I stopped hanging out with our gang because of him. He gave up a really good university just to be a few miles away from me. All this for what? Nothing. He broke friendships and my relationship with his parents. You still think I should cut him some slack? ”
Nina replied calmly, ” You were his first love Priya. He loved you too much and he wanted that from you too. People do crazier things in love. ”
” Ugh… For Christ’s sakes, stop saying love so many times. He had a silly stupid crush on me. That’s all.” Priya said looking clearly annoyed.
” Yeah. Because people have crushes for years. And because people tell their parents they would marry their crushes some day.Sure, Kush had a crush on you. That was all it was. ” Nina smirked.
” I can’t believe you are taking his side. Kartik, will you tell her? ” Priya was talking to Kartik now.
” We aren’t taking anyone’s side. Look you both are our friends. Its sad that it went this way for you guys. You guys were always great friends. Maybe its time for you guys to put things behind and talk to each other.” Kartik said patting Priya’s shoulder.
” Kartik, I have tried doing that. I miss being friends with Kush. He was like my wingman for everything. But remember how he said he didn’t want to be just friends? You were there that day. ” Priya said sadly.
” Maybe now he does. You guys are a little different now. More mature. Maybe you can sit and talk things down?” Kartik said.
Priya was looking at the sea again. What if he still isn’t over me? I can’t lead him on by talking.
” Priya, Kush is here. He is also here on a vacation. I think you should meet him. If not for him, at least for aunty. ” Nina said pleadingly.
” What happened to Aunty? Is she alright? ” Priya’s eyes were full of concern.
” Oh she’s alright. Its Kush. He is an alcoholic now. Its hard to believe its our Kush when you look at him now. He is in a bad shape Priya. We need to get him to quit drinking and help him clean up. Aunty is really worried. You know how Kush was the golden boy of our gang. Its hard to see him like this. We all thought he would achieve great things. ” Kartik was talking in a flow now.
Priya closed her eyes and tried to put back the tear that was about to escape her eyelids. Oh God, why did he have to fall in love with me only? He is destroying his life for nothing. I can’t let Kush do this anymore.
“I want to talk to Kush. Can we guys go for dinner? All of us? ” Priya asked.
” Sure. Thanks Priya. ” Kartik beamed. Nina hugged Priya, ” Thanks man. Proud of you. I know this isn’t exactly an ideal situation. ” Priya just smiled. God be with me.
Few hours later,
Where is she? I wan’t to see her. I know she won’t talk to me. But just once, a glimpse of her. The long hair, the pretty eyes and the million dollar smile. Damn that smile. And her voice. The way she talks without any artifice. Could I ever fall out of love with a woman like Priya?
Kush walked towards the table where Kartik and Nina were seated. His eyes frantically searched for her.
” Hey” Nina hugged Kush.
” Nice to see you man.” Kartik said with a fist bump.
Kush smiled. I hope I don’t look too bad. I don’t want her to know about my addiction.
“Did you call Priya, Nina? Where is she?” Kartik asked. He hoped Priya didn’t bail out at the last moment.
” Yeah Kartik. She’s just dropping her mom off at home. She will be here in 5. ” Nina replied eyeing Kush carefully. He appeared visibly restless. How can someone love a girl so much she thought.
5 minutes and she’ll be here. I haven’t seen her in over a year. Is she still mad at me? Did she miss me? As much as I missed her? DID SHE MISS ME AT ALL? I heard she isn’t dating anyone. Well, its Priya. She doesn’t date. What if she fell in love with someone? Did he love her too? WHERE IS SHE?
“Hey guys! Nice. My favorite table. Love the view from here!” She said in a singing voice.
Kartik and Nina were smiling at her. Kush stood up the minute he heard her voice.
” Hi man. Long time. No see. How are you? ” She said stretching her hand for a hand shake. What have I done? He looks wasted in every way. I am never gonna forgive myself for this. Where is the Kush I knew? The easygoing, fun and happy guy?
Kush just nodded. Damn this woman gets better and better. That smile is going to give me a few more sleepless nights. Do I even sleep now?
Priya sat opposite to Kush between Nina and Kartik. Nina and Kartik seemed to be struggling to look for a topic of conversation. They should be the ice breakers.
But surprisingly Priya spoke first, ” How are aunty and uncle Kush? I’ve met them a week back at the mall. They were saying you guys were going on a trip somewhere. When is it? ”
Nina squeezed Priya’s hand and smiled at her proudly.
Kush seemed to be struggling for words, ” Fine.” He managed.
Awkward silence followed. Kartik and Nina gave up. They knew the situation wasn’t going to improve if Kush spoke in monosyllables. They got busy with ordering food instead.
” Ummm… How are…your parents…Priya? ” He asked. I want to hear her talk.
FINALLY. ” They are good. Mum keeps asking about you. You know we are having Nina and Kartik over this weekend. Why don’t you join?” Priya asked expectantly.
Kartik and Nina looked at each other disbelievingly. This is going better than they thought. Priya seemed to have taken the reins.
All three looked at Kush for an answer. ” Me? Oh okay. I will come.” Kush replied. Is all the anger of last summer gone? Is she finally understanding me?
Oh thank God Kush! Mum is going to be heartbroken if she sees him like this though. Should warn her in advance.
They all talked like old times for the rest of the dinner. Kush seemed to have loosened up. Just a bit though. Nina could still see him steal a glance at Priya when she looked elsewhere. Priya seemed to be very careful always saying the right thing. She wasn’t really herself.
” Okay guys, Lets go. ” Kartik said. ” Priya will you drop Nina? ” he asked.
” Actually Kartik, you guys go. I want to talk to Kush for a while. You know, catch up a little. ” She said startling everyone. Nina almost opened her mouth.
Talk to me? ” Have a good night guys. ” Kush said. ” Will see you around” he said. He was clearly driving them away.
After they left, Priya came and took the chair next to him. Hope I am doing the right thing.
” Hey” he said looking visibly ecstatic. This is slow torture. Why did she have to be so damn amazing?
Priya laughed. ” So dude, How are you? How is the masters going on? Is it pure drudgery like in my case? ” She said casually.
Talk something Kush. Why can’t you open your damn mouth. This woman was your best friend before you fell for her. He just laughed.
” So you’re not gonna talk to me huh? ” Priya looked at him directly.
” Haha. Nothing like that Priya. ” He replied.
” Good. I will make you talk anyway.” She said.
” Okay. How are you Kush? I know that’s a pretty complex question but I am kinda worried about you.” She said carefully choosing her words.
She knows? About my addiction? ” You heard about the drinking then? ” He asked trying not to look at her. This is not how I want her to see me.
” I did Kush. But I am not gonna give you a hard time about it. I meant how are you? How are you feeling? ” She said trying to catch his eyes.
” I am ok I guess. ” He said averting his eyes.
” Hmm. Talk to me my friend. Like old times. I want to know. ” She asked.
FRIEND? ” Priya, you know things changed. I don’t just see you as a friend now. You know the mere presence of you in this room, makes me all giddy and nervous. That’s not friendship. ” He said looking out the window and back at her.
That’s sad. I loved our friendship. ” Good. You are talking! That too in long sentences. ” She laughed.
Did she just not here what I said? Why is she killing me like this? She thinks I am some charity? I have to leave before she calls me a friend again and makes me believe it… Oh , Priya! Why are you doing this? I want to stay.I want to talk but not like this. ” I got to go Priya. Bye. ” He got up instantly.
” Please man. Wait. Please. I don’t want to lose you again. ” Priya begged. I really screwed up his life. Why me? Why did he have to love me?
” You don’t love me Priya. You are just trying to fix something you can’t. You are trying to be a good person. I don’t want your sympathy. I want your love. I am happy like this. Drinking lets me drown the pain. I like it. ” He said looking at her with a wry smile.
” But, I feel responsible. I want to make this right. I know you love me very much. But I am just saying it might fade away. You will move on. You just aren’t trying. You can’t possibly love someone forever. That too someone who doesn’t love you back. ” Priya said.
” Look Priya. When I am 70 and about to die, my feelings for you will be the same. I still would want to see your smile and listen to your voice. Whether you believe it or not, this is real. And just because you don’t feel the same, I am not going to love you any less.” He said in a final tone.
KUSH! Don’t do this to me. Look at you. I destroyed you. I need to fix this. I am not running away from this again. I need to get him back on his feet. ” Okay. I understand. So, what do you want to do? I am in. I may not love you the way you wan’t. But we can try and see if things work out. ” Priya said. I hope I am doing the right thing.
Did she just say we’d try being together? Priya and me. Finally. ” Go on a date with me. We can go anywhere you want. Just say you will go out with me. ” He asked looking at her apprehensively.
” Okay. Pick me up tomorrow. We’ll hang out at the beach. ” She said. Hope I can show him why we can’t be together. I don’t know how long I can keep up with this charade. He is my BEST FRIEND.
” Thank you Priya. Beach is perfect. I always wanted to have our first date at the beach.” He said happily.
” Bye. See you then. ” She got up. He followed her out and held the door for her. She managed to smile.
The next day.
Priya and Kush were sitting on one of the benches on the pavement. They seemed to have lost track of time. They were talking about everything and nothing. Catching up on things that happened in the past year.
Feels just like old times. Why can’t we just have this Kush? Our friendship wasn’t something that started yesterday. I wish I can make you realize how it is to be good friends again. ” So you just said it to pull his leg? ” Priya asked.
” Yeah I did. You should’ve been there Priya. His expression was epic!” Kush burst out laughing.
Priya also joined, laughing till her stomach ached. ” You look very happy today Kush. Smile more often. The brooding silent guy look doesn’t suit you.” She said playfully.
” Now that you are here with me, there is nothing to brood about.” Kush said lovingly.
Priya smiled and looked away. I was always there. You drove me away.
Then he said it. ” I love you Priya. ” and he held her hand.
Dammit Kush. What are you doing? Priya tried hard to smile. She didn’t want to look at him.
Why does she look so sad? Doesn’t she want this? Is she shy? Am I making her uncomfortable.But she didn’t take her hand back. ” Look at me Priya. “ Kush demanded.
Priya looked at him hesitantly. Kush looked at her for a long time and left her hand. He got up and started walking away.
” Kush! Where are you going? What happened?” Priya called after him. He knows its never gonna work. Will he do something stupid now? I can’t let him fall in that habit again.
He looked at her and said, ” Priya, you couldn’t handle me holding your hand only. How is this going to work? I don’t want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Leave me alone. I will be fine. I don’t need your sympathy. I need your love. But I realized I will always be a friend to you and nothing more. ”
Priya got up. ” Kush listen to me. Yes. I am not in love with you. But I love and care as a friend. I can’t let you ruin your life.” She was walking with him now.
” You don’t understand Priya. I am madly in love with you. Can’t get you out of my mind. Its almost next to impossible. There hasn’t been a single day where I haven’t thought about you. Sometimes, I feel like I am walking around with this huge vacuum within me. There is no getting over you. I think this is “it” ” Kush said angrily.
Priya remained silent for a few moments. God, will he never find love with someone else? Will he never get over me? I can’t believe I’ve done so much damage without knowing.
” What about your parents? Don’t you love them? What about your friends?” Priya asked.
It was Kush’s turn to remain silent. I don’t know. No one seems to matter anymore.
” No matter who’s there or not, you aren’t there. And it hurts. That’s why I took up drinking. To numb all the pain.” Kush said sadly.
Priya didn’t say a word. She was just looking down and trying to hide her tears.
” Please don’t cry Priya. I am not worth your tears. ” He said.
” Thanks Kush. Thank you for loving me so much. I am sorry. I don’t know what else to do. ” Priya said carefully avoiding his eyes.
” Its alright Priya. There is no hope anyway. Be happy. ” Kush said looking at her.
” Its not alright Kush. You can’t waste your life. There is more to life than just me. You might not care about your friends or family. But they love you. You know how many people are lucky enough to have that? I am not going to let you throw away all that. I am going to be your friend whether you like it or not. I will help you fight this. And I don’t care if you have an addiction now. I am going to get my friend back. I missed you. I am not going to lose you forever. ” She said controlling her sobs.
He started walking away. She’s right. I hurt a lot of people. I have responsibilities to fulfill. But I love her.
She held his arm. ” You are hurting the girl you love. Is this what your love is? You are just gonna leave her miserable. Kush, you are hurting me. If you go away now, I am always going to be blaming myself for your life. I will never be happy. ” Please stay.
He looked at her with an unfathomable expression. He stopped walking.
After a while, he finally spoke. ” I don’t know what to do Priya. I am hurt. I just don’t want to live anymore sometimes. I can’t stop thinking about you. I don’t know how I got so messed up. I feel helpless sometimes. There is no hope for me. ” He held his head in his hands.
” There is. Remember the time when I had to give a speech in college and I was so nervous. You said that I had to think it would go great, I had to believe it with my all. I did great Kush that day. All because of you. I still think about those words every time I have a big presentation coming up. Every time. ” She said .
Kush looked up and smiled. ” So you still think of me a couple of times? ” He asked. His smile was widening.
” Well not much. Just sometimes. Like when I see someone wear a sweatshirt when it is scorching hot outside” she continued.
” Hey! It makes my face look good. ” He said playfully.
” Please wear that ridiculous sweatshirt now. ” She said putting her hands together. ” Please! You definitely need it.” she laughed.
” Do I look that bad? ” He inquired touching his face.
” No. You look ok. ” She said trying to hide her amusement.
” I look like sh*t. Don’t I?” He asked.
” Yeah. You kinda do. ” She laughed. ” You look like a drunk monkey with a beard.” She elbowed him.
” Oh Please! This beard is dope.” He said looking all smug.
“Sure it is” she said. They both burst out laughing.
A year later.
WHERE IS THIS WOMAN? Kush was breaking crowds searching for Priya. The stadium was packed with fresh graduates wearing black gowns and their families posing for pictures with them . Kush could hear the band playing. He almost got into a picture with a family. He apologized and walked into another group. Where is this one? He took off his graduation cap and started calling her number.
Suddenly his vision was blinded. Someone has closed his eyes. ” I know its you. Now come on now. ” Kush said.
Priya emerged into his sight with a broad smile. ” Kushal Manishankar, Top Of class . How does that feel ? ” She said holding an imaginary microphone.
” It feels ok. I am used to this! Winners don’t talk much you know. ” He said faking an air of arrogance.
She laughed and gave him a warm hug. ” Congratulations my boy! You made your friend proud.” She said in a singing voice patting his back.
” You know its all because of you Priya. ” He said looking at her.
” Now come on. Are you gonna cry like a girl? Spare me the drama. ” Priya said making an annoyed face.
” Idiot. I was thinking of saying something really emotional and you kill it. ” He said smiling.
” I know. Who is that girl in the pretty red dress by the way? ” She asked.
” Please Priya. At least act like you are straight sometimes! Stop ogling girls.” He laughed.
“Shut up dude. I am serious. She’s been looking this way every 30 secs. Go talk to her. ” She said smiling at the girl.
” That’s Nisha. Ravi’s cousin. She’s really nice. I’ve been thinking about asking her out actually.” He said sheepishly.
” You were! I like Nisha already. Now go talk to her. ” She said shoving him away.
” Wish me luck!” He smiled.” And hey we are meeting later for dinner right? My treat! ” He asked.
” Yes sir. We are . Now go! Give the poor girl a break. Her neck must be hurting from all the looking. ” She laughed.
Kushal grinned and walked towards Nisha.