After all this Time? Always.
Rey was having the worst day of his life. Well, maybe not as bad as the day he broke up with Taani or the day Kriya broke up with him. His network had crashed 15 minutes before his online meeting with an investor would start and then while he was on his way to Swayam's house, Rey had almost met with an accident. Now Swayam was taking ages the open the door. He rang the doorbell insistently and waited impatiently.
"Can't you hold your horses?" A woman yelled at him, and the door opened to reveal Taani leaning on the doorframe.
"Oh! It's you!" She said, flustered and stepped aside.
"Bhai is in his room; the meeting has just started," she continued and turned on her heels. He stood at the door, confused and shocked to see Taani. She must have returned from Jaipur. Why hadn't Swayam warned him?
His mobile beeped, and he came back to his senses. Yes, business meetings first - messed up love lives and college romances could wait.
Much to his surprise, the meeting went off smoothly. Much better than what they'd expected, given the rough times because of Corona and the dip in the economy.
"Hey, umm, so Taani's back..." he said to Swayam, who was putting away his laptop casually, totally overlooking the mess Rey's heart was in.
"Yes. Dad named her a major stakeholder in Shekhawat Industries, so she had to fly down for some meetings."
"I thought she took over the business soon after the divorce?" At least that was the rumor, courtesy Sharon.
"Yes, but she didn't want to come to Mumbai. As she keeps saying, 'This is a cursed city for me," Swayam said, with a hint of sadness. "The city has given Taani nothing but pain. In college, almost everyone bullied her, her first heartbreak happened in the city, she got married to the wrong man in the city, so yeah, this city hasn't done her much good," he went on, and Rey looked down guiltily.
"Hey, Rey, I cannot speak for Taani, but I am not angry at you for the breakup." Swayam was quick to reassure him. Rey tilted his head and raised his eyebrow in disbelief. He knew Swayam was being too generous. Because he had majorly f*cked up with their relationship; there was no denying it.
"I mean I am not angry at you now. But I think we all can agree that we have all messed up with our relationships at some point."
Good ol' Swayam and his good old wisdom! Rey nodded and then noticing it was getting late, bid Swayam goodbye, his mind still clouded with thoughts of Taani,
He walked down the stairs and stopped in his tracks as he watched Taani talking on the phone.
"I want the stats by 9 AM tomorrow. The market is unpredictable as hell right now, and I don't want any mistakes. Is that understood? Good bye!" She spoke firmly and hung up the phone. Then she turned to look at him. Their eyes met, and she smiled politely.
"How did the meeting go?" she asked as she threw her iPhone on the sofa and stood up.
"It was great. Mr. Rathore is a tough nut to crack, but we did it."
"Congrats!" He nodded in thanks and walked to the door. He wanted to stay back and ask Taani all the questions he had, but he knew it wasn't his place or the right time.
"Yeah?" He turned so fast that he almost hit the lamp near him.
"Is it a bad time? Can we talk? I mean, it's ok if you don't want to."
"Yeah, we can talk." He suddenly realized his throat was too dry from all the talking at the meeting and the anxiety that seeing Taani had caused.
"Can I get a glass of water though." She nodded and walked to the kitchen. Rey followed her, wondering what she would say. What did she want to talk about?
He watched as she poured him a glass of water. Her hair was tied up in a bun, but some strands has escaped and were falling over her face. She looked good, much healthier and more radiant than in her college days, and definitely, much better than on her engagement day.
She passed him the glass of water, and they walked back to the living room. They sat in awkward silence, Rey toying with his empty glass and Taani with her phone.
"I wanted to talk to you because I have been seeing a therapist, and she told me to speak to the people I hurt in the past. An exercise, per se, to move on."
Rey nodded, waiting for her to continue.
"And I know, I have hurt you the most. I have been the biggest idiot. I tried to take away your passion, your identity, all so you could become the son my uncle always wished to have. I wanted him to accept you as his son-in-law, and in a bid to achieve that, I tried to take away what you loved the most - dancing. I fell in love with you because of your dance, and I messed our relationship by trying to make you a clone of my uncle, which was weird." She chuckled awkwardly.
"Taani, you don't need to apologize. I was at fault too. I refused to see what you wanted from your partner, and stayed in my bubble."
"No, I was in my stupid bubble. I forgot that I was more than just your girlfriend. I was 22, for God's sake, I shouldn't have been worrying about marriage. I should have focused more on assignments and internships and my career! I don't know who I was then, Rey. I don't even recognize that person anymore. That Taani was a dumbass." She laughed, and this time, her self-judgment was visible on her face.
"If it makes you feel any better, that Rey was a dumbass, too."
"Yeah, we were both idiots!" She rolled her eyes.
"I have been carrying this guilt that I could never become the man you wanted, but I also know I was holding you back. I gaslighted you, tried to manipulate you, and I fooled myself that it was good for you, when in reality, it was just my selfishness, my need to have you for myself," Rey said and sighed deeply, relieved that he could vent out. Taani nodded, acknowledging his apology.
"I... I don't have the right to ask you this, and you don't have to answer, but why did you divorce your husband?"
Taani looked at him for a few seconds.
"Vishwesh and I... we were never meant to be. We tried working on the relationship, but soon realized we were just two wrong people trying to fight a fire in a house that was already burned down." She shrugged.
"Are you happy now?"
"I think I have never felt this way before. These last few years have been the best!" Taani smiled.
Rey looked at her for a long moment, his heart squeezing with a strange, yet familiar sensation. He realized that he had fallen in love with her again. Because this time, she wasn't looking at him for validation, she didn't need anyone, she was her own person. She was unabashedly herself, and she was beautiful. He realized that he had been staring at her for quite some time and reluctantly looked away.
"I should get going, it's pretty late."
"Good night, and thanks for the chat." She smiled and stood up.
"Bhai, Rey is leaving! Get off the phone and hurl your ass down here!"
She yelled towards the staircase, and Swayam walked down the stairs in a few seconds.
"Sharon?" Rey whispered to his best friend.
"Yes, seems like Delhi isn't her favorite place to be."
"Yeah, she was cranky when I called her to talk about the minutes of the last meeting."
They walked to the garage, and Rey sat in his car.
"So, you spoke to her. How did it go?" Swayam asked.
"I know you will kill me for saying this, but I have fallen in love with her again, and I know I'll f*ck it up again, so I'm just going to maintain my distance from her. I'll try to move on, no biggie," he said, trying to sound nonchalant, but his voice said otherwise.
"Boy, are you screwed!" Swayam said, concerned.
"I want you to find happiness, Rey, and I know that running away from relationships isn't going to help. I always hoped that you two would get back together, but you do whatever you think is best for you. You know you can count on me for support!"