The Last Goodbye
The lake water was still unruffled by wind. The speckles of silver shone against the moonlight, and the croaking of insects near by made the atmosphere convent quiet.
"Say you won't forget me." Khushi burrowed her head further in his chest, allowing her hair to cascade her tearful face.
He was leaving, and she would have to watch him leave. Instead of pushing him away, she engorged herself in his arms, her hands curling around his neck, pulling him closer until the breadth of distance had disappeared between them. Savoring the moment, she held onto him trying to remember his warm scent. How else was she suppose to get through the next four years? He had been offered a scholarship to one of the best university's in London, rejection was not a option available to him. His mother could not afford to send him to school, and the part-time jobs he took up barely lasted through the month.
Tonight would be their last goodbye.
"I won't forget you stripes!" Arnav reassured her.
"You'll call every day?" She asked him. "And if some pretty girl asks for your number you politely refuse, say you already have a girlfriend."
"Yes, ma'am! "His grin deepened, causing his dimples to crease. "You know...I never thought you to be the jealous types."
"If you had to watch me move to another part of the world...I am sure you would feel the same." Raising her head, she tipped her chin upwards. "If someday you fall in love with someone else promise you will tell me?"
"Promise." Arnav teased, leaning forward to kiss away the tears lining her cheeks. "And if one day I return to your doorsteps don't close the door on my face."
Lacing her fingers into his, Khushi gave him a small smile. "Promise."
As soon she said the word, he leaned forward and fused their lips together. One last kiss to remember her by; the memory of it never to erased by another. A promise to overcome any obstacles life threw at them without breaking apart to find each other. If they were destined to be together, eventually their paths would end up aligning.
"Arnav, coffee later?" Shreya slung the ransack on her shoulder as she hurriedly ran to catch up with one of the quickest person she knew. He could be a ideal marathon runner, she often told him. "What's wrong?"
Occupied, he shook his head. "What did you write for the last question?"
Groaning out loud, she struck him on the arm. "Arnav, I am not doing this again. Every time we walk out of the examination hall you make me feel incredibly sad. This was the last exam for our third year...can we please celebrate?"
"What would celebrating include? Drinking and passing out? I'd rather decline." He shrugged when she glared at him. "I am not much of a drinker, you know that."
How could she not since he had passed out in her apartment after guzzling a couple of shots. "Don't drink but at least join us?"
He wanted to refuse but she seemed so optimistic. "Fine. I'll come. Will Akash be there?"
"I called everyone. Akash, Adi, and even Amber is joining us."
Amber was their classmate and also the girl lusting after Arnav. Despite his several attempts to convince her they were not a good match, she would not cease her attempts to ask him out. Each time he would refuse, and each time she would leave with a promise to ask some other time.
"I am not going if she is coming there." Arnav opened the door and stepped out into the almost empty parking lot.
"Oh, come on, she is completely harmless." Shreya joked, walking up to her car. She threw her things in the trunk, and seated herself behind the wheel. "I agree sometimes she can be annoying but still harmless."
"Harmless is what you call a rabbit! Or perhaps a fish. Not Amber." He settled down in the passenger seat and strapped on his belt. "No foul feelings for her but I already promised someone."
"Promise?" Intrigued, Shreya reversed and drove out of the parking lot. "Who is the lucky lady?"
"Stripes." He did not further explain and chose to remain quiet.
"Stripes? Odd name for a lady." Stopping at a red signal, she turned to look at her friend. "How do you know she isn't out there with some Amber?"
Raising his brow, he gave her an incredulous look.
"Don't act smart. You know what I mean." Shreya said.
"Well if she is...I am happy for her." They both had given each other permission to move on, and if he still kept his hope adeptly afloat it was all on him.
The last three years since his move to London, they had not contacted each other. Or even tried to find out the whereabouts of each other. The evening near the lake had been the last time they had talked. Now, he was here prepping for his last year, and then the CPA exam. Where was she in this stand point of her life? Did she hate him or still love him? He did not have the answers to any of these questions, but something told him she was still waiting for him.
Her eyes crinkled with annoyance. "So you'll stay true to her even if she might have moved on?"
Arnav nodded, uncaring of what his friend might be thinking about him.
"Either you are truly, and madly in love with her, or you are a full-fledged idiot!" Switching lanes to take a right, Shreya could not help thinking what a mess her was friend was in. "I bet on the latter. No matter how faithful she was to you, once you leave...you can never truly go back. The circumstances have changed and maybe even the person."
"Papa, I am not ready to get married." Khushi said weakly, tugging on her mother's arm. "I want to start my internship after finishing medical school."
"Khushi, your engagement date has been set for next month. There is no room for argument here. You are getting married and that is final."
"I don't want to get married. You know how hard I've worked! How could you possibly let me throw it away for a marriage that will never make me happy."
Shashi aggressively sauntered towards Garima. "Tell your daughter, no make her understand..she is getting married to Varun. All this talk about studies is useless as I will not change my mind." Gasping for breath, he struck out his index finger towards Khushi. "And if there is someone else, I suggest you forget about him because this marriage will cement mine and Yash's friendship."
Grieved, Khushi screamed. "That's it? You are selling out your daughter for a company?"
"Do not raise your voice at the man who taught you how to speak." Shashi warned. "Consider it what you want...you are getting married to Varun." He then stormed out of the room.
Khushi desperately turned towards her mother. "Ma, you know everything. How can he do this to me?"
"I know sweetheart, I know." Garima comforted. "I know I have always been your friend but today I want to say something only a mother could have a courage to say. You should get married to Varun. Your Papa has your best intentions at heart. He loves you even though he might be displeased at the moment. Don't fret my child he is not throwing you to the wolves. He is saving you from a future filled with disappointment."
"You mean Papa is securing his future?" Khushi bit out angrily.
"Arnav is not coming back, Khushi." Garima countered.
"He said he will."
"Which is why he has not contacted you in the last four years?" Garima huffed, and headed towards the kitchen. "He has moved on Khushi. You should also."
She did not want to believe her mother could ever misguide her, but how could she let go when she was so close to reaching her destination. All these years she had waited, patiently, for that knock on her door. He would come she knew for sure, but maybe she could no longer open the door for him.
"Congratulations, Mr. Raizada. We are please to offer you a position at KPMG India as one of our Senior Analyst. You will be starting from next week."
Arnav remembered his meeting with the KPMG executives, as he stood near the departure terminal ready to board the next flight home. He was eager to return and see if she had waited for him all this time.
Five years stood in between them, yet with one flash of a memory to him it still felt like they were young, and impulsive teenagers, blindly in love with each other.
"Ready to go?" Shreya handed him his travel bag as she stopped near the check-in gate. "I hope you find your stripes."
Arnav smiled. "I hope so too."
Holding out her hand, Shreya entwined it with his. "But if for some reason you don't find her...I hope you know there is a girl here who is crazy in love with you."
His mind raced with confusion. "Shreya, I already..."
She stopped him from saying what she had already heard a hundred times. "I get it. I truly hope you both find the love you have been waiting for. All I am saying is I am here, but I won't wait for you. Because life is crazy, and forever moving, you can't just stop for one person!"
Letting go of her hand, Arnav leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "I love you too."
To hear him say what she craved to hear ever since she realized her one-sided love for the man who could never be her was almost exhilarating. Why almost? Because she knew he only loved her as a friend.
"Khushi, did you check with Ama about your schedule?" Varun asked, taking a sip of the piping hot coffee. "You know I have the trip to the States, you have your house job. I don't want her to be alone in the house since dad isn't back yet."
"I did speak to her, she said she wanted to stay over at masi's house." Khushi applied a hefty sum of butter to her toast, and took a bite. "The last time you went on a trip it got extended, should I expect something similar this time?"
He heard the taunt in her voice and ignored it. "You're afraid I will forget our anniversary?"
"Okay, so you do remember."
Varun stood up and kissed the top of her head. "I'll be back before you know it." Picking up his phone he began to scroll through the messages. "Garima Aunty said she will be coming by later."
"Oh yes, I called her." Glancing upwards, she relented and smiled. "Sometimes I have to wonder if I am her real daughter or not."
Varun chuckled. "You know she treats me like a son because of you." He pushed back the chair, marching over to place his mug in the sink. Then proceeded to clear the table like he did every day for breakfast. "Don't be jealous."
"How does a mother forget her daughter." Khushi wondered, sheepishly.
Patting his hands with the towel, he closed the tap. "Because her son-in-law is quite awesome you see! I'll see you later tonight. I have checked everything on my list but can you go over it again just to make sure?"
Khushi nodded as he left the room. The unfinished toast fell from her hand as she drowned the last few continents of her cup. Getting up from the table she cleared the sink quickly, and made it just in time to bid Varun goodbye.
Lazy afternoons called for music and a nice book. After double-checking her next rotation, she sat down with a book in her lap only to fall asleep after turning a few pages. Reading was not her favorite pastime since it always felt so luxurious to sit there and dwindle time by reading someone else's chaotic tale.
Her own colorful life was enough to flare her imagination.
Her marriage had seemed like jumping into a black hole at that time but she learned there had been a hidden safety net at the bottom. Varun proved himself to be a wonderful husband, slowly she forgot all about her first love. Her mother had been right all along. Love came in imbued hues, while all she was trying to do was retain a washed out color.
The knock on the door startled her. Groggily, she checked her wrist watch chiding herself for falling asleep when she'd been expecting her mother to visit. This was the result of a late night duty which ended somewhere four in the morning.
"You opened the door." Arnav exclaimed.
She heard a familiar voice and felt a queer jolt as she looked toward the patio and saw him. Every nerve in her body became rigid as she faced the one man she once had wanted to find at her doorsteps. He had not changed much, perhaps time had only made him more rugged, and just a little weary.
Glancing at his watch, he raised his brow indignantly. "It hasn't been that long that you have forgotten me?"
"Arnav, what are you doing here?" She spoke softly.
Relief washed over him. "Good, you remember my name." He held out his arm and from his hand dangled a large bag. "This belongs to you." When she looked unsure, he smiled. "Your husband won't mind. Don't worry I don't plan to charm you away from him."
Hesitantly, Khushi took the bag and peeked inside. The striped hats she had given him throughout the school years were stuff inside. "You didn't have to return them."
"It didn't feel right." He explained. "Your obsession with stripes had always fascinated me enough to make me start calling you stripes. Now when I see these hats I feel odd because I remember you aren't mine anymore. So these hats shouldn't be with me either. From today onward you are Khushi. Only Khushi!"
"Did you fall in love with someone?" She had no right to ask him when she was standing in front of him as another man's wife. "Wait, you don't have to answer that."
"A promise is a promise, Khushi."
Hearing him say her name out loud was a new experience altogether. Ever since they met, he had only called her stripes. Now she was no longer that girl, and neither was he the same boy.
"No, I did not fall in love with someone."
Khushi gasped. "You waited all this time."
"I am not saying this to make you feel bad, but someone wise told me...life does not stop for one person."
"Wise, indeed! I hope you don't let her go."
Arnav winked, his fingers circling around the ring box sitting in his coat's pocket. "That's the plan."
"Would you like to come inside?" In her confused state she had even forgotten her manners. "I can make us some coffee."
"Some other time." He turned away and climbed down the steps, making his way to his car.
And he left. Khushi stood there as she watched him leave once again. The first time he had walked away from her life, she had been crushed underneath piles of rubble wondering if she would ever be able to breathe again. But this time she knew they were both going to be okay. While he did not say it out loud, he was also trying to make a new start by returning her memories back to her. No one could renew the radiance of their young lives, now they were heading down their own separate paths in search of their own hearts.
The thing about love was, if it's your first or your last, love was love--it remained faithful to those who cherished it, and who needed it--love was inexplicably innocent like a child. It, eagerly ran into the arms of those, who beckoned it with warmth and security.
I finally found the courage to write this down. I couldn't resist.
If there is anything I want you to take away from this story,it's that don't think of it as a sad story. Which would be completely missing the point of the story.
Please don't take it to heart that Arnav and Khushi did not end up together. I promise you I not being evil.Edited by purpleumbrella - 5 years ago
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