And I’m on my way, I still remember
This old country lanes
When we did not know the answers
And I miss the way you make me feel, it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill
He watched the crisp, white flakes cover the ground, hoping that the snow would let up enough for his flight to take off. He had spent years away from the first place he had ever called home, but now that he was on the verge of going back, each second felt like a decade.
“It’s really coming down, huh?” someone said next to him, pulling him out of his thoughts.
He turned to look at the person who had spoken and found a woman in her twenties staring out the airport windows, much like he had been doing a moment ago.
“Yeah, I was just hoping they wouldn’t delay our flights,” he replied.
She turned to him and smiled, “Tell me about it. You’re going to Goa, I presume?” she asked, tilting her head towards the gate number in explanation.
“Yes, and you?” he asked, just to be polite.
“Goa as well,” she replied and let out a happy sigh. “I am meeting up with my husband there for a vacation.”
At her declaration, his eyes drifted over to her ring finger and found her twirling her ring unconsciously.
“Are you off for a vacation as well?” she asked, pulling him out of his thoughts for the second time.
“No…no, I…” he replied, a smile touching his face for the first time that night. “I am off to a wedding.”
“Yours!?” she asked enthusiastically before wincing. “Sorry, I…I am a wedding planner, and I…well, I do love a happily ever after.”
He laughed at her explanation before replying, “No. It’s actually a childhood friend of mine. And you might be happy to know, he is marrying his childhood sweetheart.”
“Aakash…” he called, walking out of the hidden path that led to the beach. They had discovered it a few years ago and the path, as well as the small corner of the beach it led to, had become theirs ever since.
“Aakash, are you…” he started to call, only to find the person he had been looking for sitting on the beach, staring at the ocean. “Dude, what the hell?”
Walking over, Arnav plopped down next to him and glared. His friend continued to stare at the horizon, his expression dazed.
“Do you know how long we have been looking for you, you idiot?” he yelled, only to be ignored. “Anjali Di was ready to send out a search party and you know how well that would have gone.”
When Aakash still failed to respond, Arnav frowned and proceeded to hit his friend over the head.
“Ouch, what the…” Aakash exclaimed, rubbing his head as he turned towards Arnav. “What was that for?”
“What was that…” Arnav repeated in disbelief. “Did you listen to a single thing I just said?”
“I…well, I…no?” Aakash replied, wincing.
Staring at his friends lost expression, Arnav’s protective instincts kicked into gear. No one messes with his friends but him.
“What’s going on? Why are you here? And for god’s sake, why do you have that Devadas expression on your face?” Arnav asked, not pausing long enough to let Aakash answer his questions.
But the goofy smile that spread on his friend’s face did manage to take him by surprise.
“Dude…did you actually, finally lose it?” Arnav asked.
“Maybe,” Aakash answered, sighing happily.
“You do know you look insane right now? Will you tell me what the hell is going on or should I hand you over to Anjali Di?” Arnav threatened.
Normally, the threat of his big sister being involved in any part of his life would have terrified Aakash, but that day his grin only got bigger.
“Payal kissed me,” Aakash whispered reverently, before going back to staring at the water.
“Wait…what?” Arnav asked.
“She kissed me, Arnav. Me,” his friend repeated. “This is the best day of my life.”
Arnav shook his head, “Why am I not surprised that you made her do all the work?”
“Flight 2760, London to Goa is now ready for boarding…” The announcement drew him out of his memories. Wishing his temporary neighbour a safe flight, he headed over to board the flight.
A knock on the partition drew his attention away from the movie he had been watching, hoping to expedite the passing of time, or at the very least, reduce his attention to it.
Removing his headphones, he was greeted by the smiling face of the air hostess.
“Would you like a drink, Sir?” she asked politely, poised with a glass to attend to his wishes.
“Yes, I’ll take a Gin and Tonic, thanks,” he replied.
The air hostess’ smile turned into a grimace before she caught herself and placed it firmly back in place.
“I am so sorry Sir, but we are out of Gin. We do have an array of beers or, if you would prefer, wine?” she asked, handing him a drink menu for his inspection.
He took the menu and scanned the list just to be polite, all the while knowing he would settle for one beer or another. However, an item on the menu caught his attention and with a small smile, he closed the menu and told her, “I’ll take the Merlot.”
He heard a rustle and turned to find Anjali settling down next to him, a blanket wrapped around her to ward off the chill. Without saying a word, he turned his attention back to the view.
Minutes passed without either of them speaking and he sighed.
“I don’t want to talk,” he said finally, hoping she would leave.
“Then it’s a good thing I am not here to talk, isn’t it?” came the reply, and he grit his teeth.
He wasn’t surprised, of course. When had she ever done anything other than exactly what she wanted?
A few more minutes passed in silence before he heard a noise next to him. For a second, he hoped she was doing as he asked, but she dashed his dreams with her next sentence.
“I come bearing gifts,” she said, just before a bottle of wine came into his line of vision.
“What…how?” he asked, turning to look at her in shock.
“Do you want answers or do you want to get drunk?” she shot back.
He looked from her to the bottle she was holding a couple of times before swallowing and saying, “Get drunk.”
“Good choice,” she smirked, and unwrapping herself from the bedsheet burrito she had turned herself into, she revealed a couple of plastic glasses as well.
“What if uncle or auntie notice?” he asked, glancing around nervously to make sure no one was around.
“This is not my first rodeo, Arnav. Relax,” she replied, pouring a glass and handing it over to him. When he still looked terrified, she sighed and said, “Every time I do this Mom thinks Dad had a late night drink, and Dad thinks Mom got a little too excited with her italian cooking…again.”
A small laugh escaped him at that reply, but at her answering smile he sobered immediately.
Looking away, he started to say, “The divorce…I don’t know where I…what I…” but his voice cracked.
Taking a deep breath, he hesitantly took a sip of the drink, hoping it would help, only to immediately make a disgusted face.
“You drink this by choice?” he asked.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” she shrugged.
They went back to the comfortable silence after that, occasionally refilling their glasses, her more than him.
“I am scared,” he whispered.
“I know,” she replied, placing a hand around his shoulders and pulling him closer.
Blinking back tears, he said, “Thanks, Anjali Di.”
And if the next day, Anjali’s parents had noticed a missing bottle of wine, or heard the suspicious sound of someone being sick, they never brought it up. For a while back then, Aakash and Anjali’s family had been the rock he had needed.
The thought of seeing them again after so long only made him all the more eager.
Arnav hesitantly entered the house he hadn’t been to in more than a decade. But much to his surprise, far from being awkward, it felt like coming home.
“Arnav?” came a call, and he turned to see NK’s mom walk into the foyer. “It’s been so long!”
“Hi Auntie,” Arnav said as he was pulled into a hug.
“How have you been? It is absolutely unacceptable that you haven’t visited in 12 years, Arnav,” she reprimanded, pulling away from the hug.
“Sorry,” he replied bashfully.
“Well, head to the terrace. That’s where all of them are,” she said, moving away from him, but just as he was about to head up, she said, “And oh Arnav? Try not to kidnap anyone, okay?”
He laughed, remembering the antics he and NK had pulled as kids.
“Did you leave the letter on the kitchen counter?” Arnav asked, pacing the floor of the tiny storage room they had locked themselves into.
“Mmhmhm…” came the reply, and he turned around to find his friend trying to talk through the cloth in his mouth.
He walked over to NK and removed the cloth, hoping for a more intelligible response.
“Yes, also, is this really necessary?” NK asked, looking at his tied hands and legs.
“It is in case they decide to check,” Arnav replied, peering through the tiny slits in the door to see if Auntie had walked into the kitchen yet.
“Then shouldn’t you be tied up too?” NK argued, only for Arnav to shush him.
“I hear something,” Arnav whispered.
When he looked back into the kitchen, he saw NK’s mom pick up the letter and read it.
“She’s reading it,” Arnav said excitedly.
NK mumbled something but Arnav ignored him because at that moment, something unexpected happened. Putting the letter back where she had found it, NK’s mom went about grabbing dishes and ingredients in the kitchen, as if her only son’s life and safety hadn’t just been threatened.
“Does your mom not love you, NK?” Arnav asked, confused.
“Of course she does,” NK said, before frowning and asking, “Why?”
“Because she just completely ignored the letter we left her,” Arnav replied.
“What? Why?” NK asked, shocked.
“Why should I know?”
“What is she doing now?” NK asked, instead of replying.
The answer came in the form of a delicious aroma wafting into the closet.
“Making Pakoras,” they said in unison, and NK’s stomach groaned in interest.
“Do you think…?” NK started to ask, only to have Arnav reply with a resounding “No!”
“These are delicious,” NK said between stuffing pakoras into his mouth.
Arnav glared at him, but his mission to kill NK with his laser vision was interrupted by NK’s mom placing a kiss on his hair, “Aranv beta, the next time you two plan a kidnapping, make sure you don’t use the handwriting of someone whose papers I have been correcting for the past three years?” she said, making NK and Arnav’s eyes widen.
“Look who’s here. The man, the myth, the legend,” Anjali said as soon as Arnav walked onto the terrace.
“Good to see you too Di,” Arnav replied, rolling his eyes and laughing.
Anjali pulled him into a hug, “If I had know it would take my idiot brother getting married to bring you back to India, I would have gotten him hitched long ago.”
“I am overwhelmed by the love,” Aakash said.
“Oh, stop whining,” Anjali replied, pulling away from the hug. “Payal dotes over you enough for all of us.”
Then it was Aakash and NK’s turn to hug their friend.
“NK, what is this I am hearing about a potential other wedding?” Arnav asked, making NK turn an interesting shade of red.
“It’s a wonder he could stop stuttering long enough to talk to a girl, let alone propose,” Anjali said, looking at their friend’s distress. After all, what were friends for if not to make a bad situation worse?
“And you wonder why I haven’t let you meet her yet!” NK replied indignantly.
“What about you, Di? Anything in the works?” Arnav asked, taking pity on NK.
“Oh no!” Anjali replied vehemently. “No, no, no. I am very happy in my singlehood…” she said, and paused for added effect, “…and all the perks that come with it.”
“Di!” came three groans in unison, making her laugh.
“What? I was talking about all the free time and freedom you have, you gutter-heads!” she countered, smirking.
“Uh huh,” Aakash said suspiciously.
“Besides, being a wild-life photographer who travels 90% of the time is not conducive to a relationship,” Anjali replied.
With that, the conversation moved on the discussion about the wedding, and more importantly, teasing Aakash about the wedding.
Just as Arnav was starting to look around distractedly, someone walked onto the terrace, halting the catch up session the friends were having.
“Hey, Arnav, you remember Khushi, right?” Akash asked, tilting his head towards his cousin who had stopped next to him.
Arnav’s amused gaze landed on her, and his smile slipped into a smirk without his conscious effort.
“Well,” Khushi asked, her eyes twinkling, after a few moments passed without a reply, “do you?”
“Khushi Kumari Gupta,” he said, in lieu of answering her question directly.
“Is this seat taken?” he asked, walking over to a woman seated at the bar. He had been watching her for a while, trying to gather up enough courage to walk over and start a conversation. And if it hadn’t been for his friend quite literally pushing him off his stool, he might not even have managed it.
“Nope, you can…” she replied, turning to him only to be shocked into silence.
“Hello,” he smiled, his brows knitting in confusion at her widened eyes and surprised expression.
“Arnav…” she whispered, much to his surprise.
“Do I know…?” he started to ask just as a spark of memory lit up his face. “Khushi? Khushi Kumari Gupta?”
By the time he had finished his question, she had recovered from her shock and was smiling widely.
“Well, the Kumari part is up for debate,” she replied, wincing as soon as the last word left her mouth. “Guess I had more to drink than I thought.”
He laughed, watching a blush spread over her cheeks despite her best effort to act nonchalant.
He took the seat next to her and said, “Wow…how long has it been?”
“Ten years?” she guessed, sipping on her drink to cool her rapidly heating skin.
It was shock enough to find a childhood acquaintance in a hole in the wall bar in London, but that childhood friend being the crush she had never forgotten would have made a lesser woman swoon.
“I can’t believe you are all grown up,” he said, knowing it would rile her up. Being called a kid had driven her up the wall when they were little, true as it might have been.
“You were a kid too, Arnav,” she replied, rolling her eyes.
He smiled, happy to know that he could still press her buttons.
“So…Khushi Kumari Gupta,” he started, pausing to see her shaking her head and muttering something under her breath. “What brings you to this part of the world?”
“Studies,” she replied, turning to him. “What’s your excuse? Last I heard, you were going to a university in America.”
“I work for a law firm in London,” he replied, watching her keenly. He had every intention of asking the woman out when he had approached her earlier, and knowing who she was did not change that. If anything, it only made him more eager to get to know her…again.
“How is everyone doing? I speak with the rest of the gang from time to time, but you, Khushi Kumari Gupta, have been elusive,” he said, smirking.
“You will never let me live that down, will you?” she groaned.
“Well…that’s depends on you, Khushi,” he replied. “Take me out on a date and I could be persuaded to forget the first five minutes of our conversation.”
She raised an eyebrow at that, playing it cool, even as her heart did cartwheels in joy, “Glad it didn’t take you another ten years, Arnav Singh Raizada.”
He walked over to her as their friends watched on curiously, and extended his hand, as if going in for a hug but instead, he pulled at the chain she had tucked away and looked at the makeshift locket she had on.
Looking up from the ring she had had tucked away ever since she had returned home, he smiled at her.
Her answering smile lit up her entire face, the one he had fallen madly and deeply in love with, and he could not resist tugging her closer for a kiss.
Amid the gasps and one resounding “Finally!”, they pulled away, chuckling.
“Welcome back,” she whispered, gazing into his eyes before wrapping her hands around him and pulling him in for a long overdue hug.
He smiled. It was good to be home.
AN: Writer’s block is a real bitch. One that demands you struggle through it or die trying. This OS was my attempt to get back into the writing game after being away from a word doc for 2 months. I hope you enjoy this OS, and if you don’t…lie to me.
I have a few people to thank for inspiring this piece of writing.
- Ed Sheeran – my bae, obviously. Dude single handedly saved my 2017.
- @Bookmarked11 [Jen – Yours] and @Bingalalala [B – Bloom] for writing about childhood love and making me all nostalgic. Seriously, all 0 0f you haven’t read their stories, check them out.
- @Mirabell0, for that joke that will always remind me of you. To read more about what I am talking about, go check out her FF, Second Chances.
- And finally, to my brilliant beta @DabbaVader for putting up with all my crap with minimal complaining (she only called me a drama queen 3 or 4 times, that’s a record). I would never get out of a writer’s block without you, so thank you.