He hears the familiar sounds in his neighbourhood and pauses, paying closer attention to the noises. They're more frequent nowadays, more violent, and he worries about someone in the large mansion. He sits next to his window, unable to focus on his studies, and simply watches in anticipation. There are silhouettes behind the curtains, voices yelling at their most vulnerable target, and soft sobs follow. His hands close in a fist, eyes shut, anger bubbles within him. His breath catches when he sees her exit the house from the backdoor, the door that faces his room. Her eyes are puffy, and her face is soaked in tears. From this distance, he can guess it was one of the regular quarrels in her family between her mother and father. But this time, she looks worse than usual. She often leaves home and goes to a friend's house. He wishes she does the same today. Instead, she stands in front of her house, looking up at the sky, and he can feel her sigh in resignation. Blood rushes in his veins, eyes water, and he finally gathers courage to leave his room. In her long white gown, untied hair, she's more beautiful than he remembers. He wants to tell her she reminds him of Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. As he moves closer, her eyes fall on him and their gazes lock.
"You heard," she says with a sigh. There's an embarrassed look on her face.
"I'm so sorry for the inconvenience. My family-"
"I can understand," he says.
It's then she pays him attention as though she's seeing him for the first time. "Do you live here?"
He nods again.
"I never knew."
He shrugs his shoulders and continues to look into her eyes. Neither of them speaks for a long time.
"I don't even know your name," she says.
He smiles. The mention of her name warms him. She's stepping down from the stairs and staggers before Ranveer holds her hand.
Her touch is electric, warm, and feels like home. Their hands linger there in the comfort of each other and they both appreciate the warmth against the cold of October.
"Do you want to go on a walk?" he asks, uncertain if he says the words right; if he said what he meant to. His heart beats louder than the noise from the world outside. But he can see her nod. They begin to walk. She wraps her shawl around her tightly and he puts on his jacket. It's 9 pm and the stars peak from the moonless sky. For a long time he stays silent, listening to the sounds of their footsteps, his own breathing, and the crickets.
"It's quite cold," she says. He nods in response. "What do you do?"
"We're in the same class," he says sheepishly. He sees embarrassment seep into her eyes again.
"You're in my class?"
He nods again, this time with a smile.
"Wow, you're a wizard! Can you disappear, too? How come I never noticed you?"
He shrugs his shoulders. She's the most popular girl in school, and always surrounded by people, students looking for her attention. It surprises him how her will to live surpasses her grief she faces every night at home.
"You didn't answer my questions," she says.
"What am I supposed to say? What do you want to hear?"
She clicks her tongue at not being answered, and Ranveer smiles. It brings a smile on her face, too. He's floating in the air. Her smile is more beautiful than he remembers from school.
"No, seriously, Ranveer, how did I never notice you? You live near my house. How's it possible?"
"I think you have enough people to keep you busy?"
"Can you answer one question without a question?"
He laughs. For what seems like a split second, he feels her eyes linger on his face when he laughs. He realises he needs to be careful at what he expresses.
"Well, it's the truth, isn't it?"
"You don't have friends at school?" she asks.
He shakes his head. "I have two best friends. Devarsh and Pratiek."
"I don't think they're at our school?"
"No, they're in the government school. I'm here because of my uncle. Plus, I love sports."
"What sports do you play?"
"Ugh, I hate football!" She makes her face and says nonchalantly before regretting her words. "I'm sorry," she adds. "I just don't-"
"No, don't worry. I've never seen you around, so I guessed."
"Do you want to do something in sports when you're out of school?"
He shakes his head. "I want to be a writer!" He's sure his eyes sparkle, and his voice has a ring to it.
"Have you written anything for school?"
He doesn't know why. He's terrified of being judged, of being laughed at. There's a reason he hasn't made a single permanent friend in his new school in a year.
"Would you show me what you're going to write?"
"Ishaani, it's really not that good."
"But it's your dream to be an author! You have to start from somewhere, right?"
She's right, but he's terrified.
"You're afraid?" Her words are kind and his heart melts at the way she says them. She isn't mocking him.
Uncertain of saying anything else, he nods.
"I can understand. I've been there."
"How did you get over that fear?"
"First you'll have to show me what you write!"
She's grinning and his heart flutters at her sight. The rest of the journey is silent with the exception of her questions about his parents and his family, since she hasn't seen any of them around either.
"They're not here," he answers. "I look after my uncle's old library and his shop. He's spent his life here and now went to his children who live somewhere else. I had only one year of school, so he suggested I stay here and study.t"
His eyes go back to her smile again and again, and he wants her to smile more. That night when he returns home, he's happy. When he falls asleep, he thinks about her, her smile, her hair falling loose on her shoulders. He knows he's selfish but he wishes another fight ensues tomorrow and he gets to see her tomorrow too.
It's been days and the night walk with Ishaani has become a routine. He loves to spend his time with her. She does as well. He blushed when she told him this. But this evening, she has warned him of not speaking to him again if he doesn't show her his written works.
"They're incomplete," he says.
"I don't care!"
He has no other way to save this friendship other than to yield into her demands. He remembers her smiles when he agreed. She will be home any time. He's cleaned the house, and much to the chagrin of Devarsh and Prateik, he has requested them to stay by his side. They know he has feelings for her and they warn him against them.
"She's way out of your league, you know that, right?" Devarsh says.
Ranveer pretends he doesn't hear Devarsh's words and moves on to minding his own business. Devarsh and Prateik do like her and appreciate her company, but he knows they're afraid for him. And truthfully, he is, too. She's going to move out of the town into a city for her higher education. He plans to take admission in a local college. She will move on with her life once she leaves this town. He can wait for her forever but she deserves someone better than him.
When Ishaani arrives, the house is a riot, and Devarsh and Prateik panic more than him, taking care of the last remaining things. It's the first time she's come into his house, and her eyes are wide in surprise. She sees the posters of sportsmen and rolls her eyes. Her gaze lingers on a stack of books, neatly placed in the bookshelf. She runs a light hand over the wooden chair, and a smile warms her features. He can't keep his heartbeats from escalating. She's here, in his little heaven.
"You have a beautiful house," she says.
Ranveer smiles at her in acknowledgement.
When she's done reading several chapters of his book about the pirates and an abandoned port haunted by the ghosts, she sighs, gives him a look he does not understand. She's silent for a long time, as he waits with bated breath.
"I'd pay to read this."
"Thank you very much for making me read something for the first time."
"You don't read?"
She shakes her head. "I don't get enough time for that."
He knows she has a busy schedule. From school to tuitions to the music and dancing classes. She hardly gets time for herself.
"What are your favorite books?"
He tries to enlist the number of books he loves. "Lord of the Rings," he says. "That's my most favorite book ever."
"What's so special about it?"
"Why don't you find it out yourself?"
"You know I can't read!"
"I thought you knew how to read, though." He chuckles.
"I know that, smartass!" Ishaani throws a pillow at him and he dodges. "I've never read a book in my life."
"You need to try before. You have to start from somewhere, right?" He reminds her of her 5 own golden words.
"Okay, fine. Do you have the book with you?"
Ranveer hands her over the Book and she gasps. "It's long!"
"Of course it is. What did you expect?"
He knows both Devarsh and Prateik are getting bored, neither of them into reading or writing, but this is a moment he's going to sacrifice his friends' entertainment for the sake of spending some more time with Ishaani.
Ishaani has become a regular reader of his stories. She scoffs him for leaving his stories incomplete, questioning him why and when is he going to finish them.
"I don't have a solid idea yet," he says. The truth is, he doesn't know how his stories end. There's no concrete idea in his mind he can settle with.
Diwali is close and he's to leave for home to see his parents during the vacation. It's for the first time in his life he's reluctant to leave school and head home. He sees tears in her eyes when he tells her.
"It won't be a good Diwali at all!" she says, stifling a sob. He agrees. He will keep thinking about her, worried about her.
"I'll call you, okay?"
How dependent they've become of each other it strikes him now as he prepares to leave for the railway station. He says goodbye to Ishaani and his friends, but it's the first time he does not want to leave. He wants to be with Ishaani. The holidays take the longest time to pass as he waits for the schools to open and gogg back. While at home, he thinks about her. How his harmless crush developed into something so strong that he finds it hard to spend a day without seeing her. He does not want to come across as someone too desperate for her attention and give her wrong signals, so Ranveer waits until he is back. The first thing he does when he's at the railway station is make a phone call to her.
"You're here!" Her voice fills him with warmth, colours, and feelings he knows only she can invoke. He's speechless briefly, and then answers. He can feel tears in her words, and smiles that she, too, felt his absence the way he did.
Ranveer still does not harbour any hopes even when he sees her burst into tears at his appearance. She's ecstatic seeing him, mutters words he half understands and spends his time savouring her sight. He knows one day, he would not have any of it. It's only a handful of months before they part their ways. He tells his friends he's ready for what is about to happen, about her leaving the town, and it would not affect him. But deep down Ranveer knows he cannot stop himself from feeling the dread seep into his soul. At night he's anxious, barely sleeps, until he sees her the other day. He loves to hear her speak, her voice, her laughter, and wonders how could his life even have existed before meeting this girl.
For the first time, at Ishaani's insistence, Ranveer submits one of his stories for the school magazine and is elated when he sees it's published.
"It's just a start! You have a long way to go," she says, as they sit near the temple watching the sunset.
"When are you planning to leave, Ishaani?" he asks and Ishaani looks at him as though she did not want to discuss the subject with him. She shrugs her shoulders and continues to stare in the distance selling as the sun dips lower.
"I'm not sure," she says, eyes still fixed before her.
Is he imagining the uncertainty in her voice?
She looks at him, and the mask of pretentious confidence has slipped. "I'm not sure I want to go," she says.
This is not right, he tells himself. She wanted to escape her domestic life, her parents, and move away from this place. He explains how important it is for her to move out.
"There's still some time. And I don't want to waste the time we have in imagining what the future holds."
He still writes continuously and has a reader base in the form of his schoolmates as well as the teachers. He writes short stories and has to hide his face every time Ishaani wants to know the progress of his novels. He doesn't know how they end.
It's exam time and he and Ishaani have just emerged from their exam halls after the last exam. Ishaani has to leave for Delhi. Her father is more than happy to take her there. Ranveer sighs, holding back the tears that threaten him, and wishes her luck. She's going to go on a long trip and will be returning just in time for the enrollment in the university. She says she's going to miss him. All the time she's gone, Ranveer finds himself pining for her. His eyes look for her everywhere, and he sees in her every face. She's there in the temple beside him as he watches the sunset. She's there with him in his thoughts when he chokes on tears, just thinking about how he is going to deal with things once she's gone. If that wasn't enough, Prateik dropped another bomb on him - want after she gets married?
His hands shake and he urges tears back in place, forcing a smile on his face. There's a stone on his chest, and he can't breathe. He pretends he will be alright and it isn't a big deal. Deep down, he knows the truth.
It's not normal and his life is never going to go back to be where it was two months ago. He's not wrong. The cuts he received all this time are getting deeper. His friends request him to confess his feelings to her but he denies.
She's way out of his league.
Ranveer spends most of his time writing and reading. More often than not, he thinks about the days he first saw her; the moments that changed his life forever; of the days that resemble the most pleasant dreams. The first day of his school, his friendship with Devarsh and Prateik, and Sharman, who now lives in Ladakh with his parents.
When the time of enrollment in the university comes, Ranveer takes the admission in a local college, and starts giving tuitions to his juniors for earnings. He can't afford to burden his parents with his finances anymore. They're already upset with him for not choosing a better career option. Meetings with Ishaani have become rarer with time. He longs to see her, desperately waits for her to return home, and when she does, it's the happiest moment of his life. He cannot stop smiling, and he's stopped being subtle about his feelings. Not because he doesn't fear rejection anymore, but because they don't get enough time for him to spend it in restraints of his unrequited love.
She's his muse, and when she's not around, he finds her in the pages of his unfinished novels, in strangers' faces, in the trees beside which they walked years ago. Everything in his world is tinted with her essence. She's his light, his life, his inspiration, his motivation. He writes poems about her.
"I want you to be a published author," she says.
And that's what he's aspiring to be. He wants to make her happy.
Years pass by. Whenever Ishaani asks him how he's doing with his books, he has to make an excuse because he still doesn't know how to finish his books. He's struggling with the endings. He doesn't like the disappointed look in her eyes, and wishes he could do better than this.
This is the day, he's going to give her a surprise that she's been expecting from him. Whenever she visits this week, he's sure going to tell her his first book has been accepted by a publication house. He doesn't know how to end the book, but this is an arrow in the dark.
Ranveer is left disappointed when Ishaani does not turn up on Friday, and her parents leave as well. She doesn't answer his phone calls.
"I'm not really sure why. I haven't spoken to her in a week," Disha, her best friend, tells him. Ranveer doesn't tell her he'd spoken to Ishaani two days ago and she was going to come home. He spends the next one week waiting, and waiting for Ishaani. With both Devarsh and Prateik out of town for their further studies, he's all alone in his room, tossing and turning in his bed, looking at the stars, listening to the faint sounds of temple-bells. He prays for her safety. Several days later he finds out she's moved out of the country for her further education.
Ishaani returns for a few days the week her parents divorce. Her face is unrecognisable. Her teary-eyes fall on him in a hopeless stare, unblinking, as she sighs, holding back the teagrs. He knows he cannot comfort her, cannot take her pain away, no matter how desperately he wishes he could. For the next several days, she's in his house, barely conscious of her surroundings, unable to cry, unable to express herself, until one day she finds her voice. It's cracked, broken, and so unlike her. Life has drained out of her completely.
"Why does it even hurt so much?" she says. "My parents made my life a living hell. Shouldn't I be happy they won't be together anymore?"
Ranveer sits quietly before her, tears in his own eyes, his heart sinking at the despair in her voice. Ishaani keeps mumbling the words he doesn't understand but he's happy she's letting it all out instead of keeping them inside of her. Two weeks later, Ishaani leaves, without saying goodbye to her father, but crying her heart out in front of Ranveer. She says she's going to miss him.
Once she's away from him, he's restless again, this time more than anytime before. He's constantly worried about her, the words in his books affected by his mental state. He thinks of so many things he could have said and done while she was here. He wonders when he's going to be able to say anything at all. Devarsh feels guilty for often being harsh on her.
"I've been such a dick to her!" he says. "I didn't know there was so much going on."
Ranveer is quiet. He regularly visits the temple where Ishaani and he often went to. He prays for her happiness, for her peace, for God to give her pain to him. It's one of those days an epiphany strikes him. He prays for Ishaani to fall in love with him. He's never looked at any other girl the same way. He's never felt for anyone the same way.
He loves Ishaani.
Even if her relationship with her parents is volatile, she'll need their permission to marry. He's a nobody in this world and her father is a civil servant who moved to their town years ago prior to his retirement. They would never consider him for their daughter. Yet he prays for a miracle because... Ishaani. He cannot imagine a life without her. So far, all of her absences were marked with a hope that she will return. He cannot live with the thought that one day, she will not.
His poetry book is published. Ishaani cannot hold back the happiness when he informs her. He doesn't tell her the struggles it took him to get there, or how hard it was to get there, but the look in her eyes tells him she understands and knows.
"I'll be home next week and we'll celebrate!"
The anxiety returns and he's questioning himself again. But this time, he's made up his mind to tell her how he feels once she comes home. He's been thinking about it for a long time. But for once, he needs to let her know of his feelings. He's chosen the place, the words he's going to say. They sound nice to him and he hopes they would melt Ishaani, too.
Much to his disappointment, Ishaani's return is delayed by several more weeks. And when she does return home, she doesn't come to meet him. Thinking she's tired from the journey, Ranveer visits her, excited, jubilant, with her favourite blue orchids, expecting to invite her over to the small restaurant where he'd be confessing feelings to her.
"Wow, I didn't think you could be so lazy!" he says, dropping on the sofa next to her bed. He ignores the way she avoids him and continues. "Oh, well, I've been waiting to see you for two days!"
Ishaani gives him a half-hearted smile as she offers him tea.
"No, I don't drink tea anymore."
She's surprised and he sees her sigh. "What would you drink?"
She smiles, but it's... different. It's not warm like he remembers her. What has changed? He was dreading this. Has she changed? Ranveer shakes off the uneasiness from himself and waits for her to come back. But his heart finally sinks - or it breaks? - when he sees a ring on her finger.
"What's that?" he asks, pointing towards her ring.
The words hit him in the form of stones, bricks,, harsh rains suddenly lash out at him.
He vaguely remembers placing 5 the glass on the floor, the cool liquid unable to faze him. His vision is blurred, heart crushed, but he knows he's frozen in place. He can't move. And when he finds out he can move, he's leaving her home. He doesn't know if she's trying to stop him or not, but he can't bring himself to look at her.
It's been days and Ishaani hasn't come to see him yet. And he makes no effort to go to her house either. He needs to get used to her out of his life.
He's clearly miserable.
Pratiek returns home sooner than usual, and is shocked to find Ranveer passed out on the floor. When Ranveer wakes up, he finds his heart heavy, body too weak to properly move. Pratiek suggests they need to talk to Ishaani but Ranveer declines. It's not a good idea.
That evening, Pratiek comes along with a bottle of Old Monk that tastes bitter at first, but Ranveer can't help but gulp it down in one go in order to find solace in the dizziness this liquid brings.
The morning starts later than usual for him the next day when Ishaani wakes him up. She scowls at him, exasperated when she finds a bottle of alcohol on the table beside him.
"That's none of your business, Ishaani," he tells her, rubbing his eyes, delighted and despaired at her sudden appearance.
"Oh, is that it?" She crossed her arms across her chest and the lines of anger on her face deepen.
They stare at each other for a long time. Ishaani is the first one to look away. "Why are you avoiding me?" Her face is calm against the morning sun.
A thousand thoughts buzz around his head, none apt enough for him to express himself without giving away his feelings. "I've been busy." He chooses the lamest, most cliche words. She doesn't buy them and looks at him. When he looks at her a little longer, Ranveer feels he sees sadness in her eyes.
"Are you happy?"
His question catches her off-guard. She breathes deeply, looks straight towards the rising sun, and smiles. He hates he can't read her well enough.
"How've you been?"
"What keeps you so busy that you can't find time for me?"
"I published my first book. It's a poetry, but yeah!"
The spark in her eyes returns for the first time in days and her eyes widen in surprise. "How come I've not read it yet?"
"Guess you're busy with your wedding preparations?" He can't hide the hurt and the bitterness from his voice.
"Well, then, I'm going to buy it." She ignores his tone.
He rolls his eyes. "I kept this for you." Ranveer hands her over a copy of his book. She's impressed. She reads the first few words of the page and sighs.
"This sounds so good."
"From the first line?"
She shrugs. "How have you been, Ranveer?"
His eyes meet hers, meticulously hiding every emotion. Words aren't spoken, love letters locked in a closet.
"I've been alright." He says with a smile, making an effort to light things up.
She smiles but something is missing from her smile. It's not the same.
"When is the marriage ceremony?"
The newly-formed ease shatters ruthlessly and the gloom returns.
A lump rises in his throat.
"You'll be there, won't you, Ranveer?"
"You're my closest friend!"
"Friends leave. It's your life partner that's going to be with you. Stick to him."
Ranveer knows he was harsh with his words but there was only so much he could endure. He's going to need to learn living without Ishaani. As the preparations of her marriage start, Ranveer, as her friend, is asked to help her father. He often finds Ishaani reading the book and she passes him a smile as she sees him. He wonders if she can read herself in his words, feel how amazing, how special she is, and how much he loves her. It wouldn't change anything now, but maybe...
Devarsh requests him to talk to Ishaani once before all is too late. But he knows better. It already is too late. Chirag, her fiancé, is a surgeon. And he is a struggling writer. There's no way Ishaani will be happy with him.
"Have you finished the book?"
"I'm still halfway through it."
"How did you like it?"
She pauses before answering in a small nod. "It's good."
Ranveer hates how things are so different between them. How she's so changed. He wants to go back to make things right. But he doesn't know what he could do to make anything alright. She is getting married. It was inevitable. What's so special about it?
It was meant to happen.
He's drunk again and has been sitting outside the temple for 3 hours. Both Devarsh and Pratiek will be attending the ceremony in New Delhi, thanks to their parents. Ranveer spoke to his own parents, hoping to find something that would make him feel alive. He's been too ungrateful to the people who brought him to this world and he doesn't know how to make up for all that he has done. He feels like a failure. For the first time in his life, Ranveer doesn't know what he's supposed to do. And how can he stop being what he is.
A lost, broken man. The cuts go deeper. And it hurts much more today. It feels like death. He doesn't want to think of his life from this moment on. Ishaani would leave the town in a few hours and nothing would be the same between them. A part of him still craves for a miracle. A hope still burns, a silent lamp on the verge of extinguishing. There's a pain in his chest. He regrets not telling her how he felt about her. For a moment, it feels his confession could have changed their fates.
The night grows deeper, consuming everything it touches in its expedition. Stars are bright, but in the distance, a cluster of clouds causes the lightning bolt to illuminate the world. Is it going to rain today? The unseasonal rains mean God is crying. God was crying for him. It hardly takes another moment for the clouds to expand in the skies and let the rains fall. Within moments, he's drenched. Life is not better, but he finds some respite. His mind goes blank. Tears. Too many tears. Is it the world that's falling apart or him? The time's drawing nearer.
He groans when the cars appear on the highway and he knows she's in one of them. He wanted to see her as a bride, but it would kill him. The rain eases down. The wind picks up. His insides are falling apart in pieces and he can't do anything about it.
Suddenly, there are footsteps behind him. He's too tired to turn around and see who it is, but the voice knocks the breath out of him.
"Ranveer!" Ishaani is out of breath. Her face is glowing in sweat. She's wearing a simple dress, a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. When he looks at her, she runs towards him, taking him in a tight embrace.
Tears leave his own eyes. Is this real? She's here? What's going on?
"What do you think of yourself?" she says, separating from him.
"W- what do you mean?"
"You're drunk? Again?"
"You were supposed to be leaving for Delhi."
"Don't change the subject, Ranveer."
"You could have spoken to me once!"
Her hand is on his chest. "I'm happy this heart beats for me."
"I know. I read the book."
She laughs. "Seriously, Ranveer, you left everything on a book? What if I'd never read it? What if-?"
He looks down, sighing. "I can't believe."
"That I love you?"
His heart gives the most violent jolt at her words as he repeats the moment in his mind. Her laughter rings in his ears again and he's back to reality.
"I always thought you didn't love me." She shakes her head.
"Of course, dummy," she says with another laugh. "I always felt you'd prefer someone more like you... someone as artistic as you are. And I'm an idiot."
He tells her she's not an idiot. He struggles in his expressions, words a broken, fumbled mess. Ishaani laughs and tells him she's happy he can speak. She's waited for him to say these words for years and when he does, it feels unreal to her. His cheeks turn red when their eyes meet and they leave the temple, hand in hand, eyes glowing in the lights of the street lamps. For the first time in his life, Ranveer circles his arm around her waist, pulls her close, and she laughs, snuggling up to him. When she looks at him this time, he stares at her, their faces move closer, and in an unreal moment, their lips meet in a slow caress. He pulls her towards him and her hands go into his hair, breaths become heavy. When they part, they're panting, and there's a blush on her face.
Ranveer reflects on the previous days, finally concluding the cause of her aloofness, her sarcasm laden words. He mentally slaps himself for not seeing through her. She tells him she's choosing her own life and Chirag understands.
Being loved by the person you love was indeed the best feeling in the world, wasn't it? When they're walking home, Ranveer realises. Cuts heal. Scars disappear. Not everyone in love is as lucky as he is and he's never going to take her for granted.
He makes her a promise with a kiss on her forehead.