Beautiful update as always!!!
Chapter 15 - From a Stranger to a Friend (Feb 18-21)
Once they were back to the Hooda House, Zoya had swiftly made her way to the guest room. She stayed in for better part of the day and evening. Aditya knew what she was going through. 2 years back, he had gone through the exact same thing. The only difference was Aditya was caught completely off-guard by Pooja and her affair whereas Zoya had some inkling about Yash's indiscretion.
Though nothing could soften the blow. To find that the love of your life, the one person who should've been blindly trusted, was betraying you was a gut wrenching experience, to say the least.
So he gave her time and space. From his own experience he knew that the last thing she wanted was some outsider who could never gauge what she was going through, telling her that it would all be okay.
Nonetheless, after dinner with his family, where they all inquired about Zoya's absence and Aditya gave an excuse that she was down with a headache, Aditya took a tray of food upstairs, to the guest bedroom. He knocked on the door and called out her name, letting her know that it was him.
She didn't open the door but spoke in a hoarse voice, "I am fine, Aditya. I am just tired."
He could tell from her voice that she been crying. "I understand," he stated, "I brought some food. I'll leave it outside." He put the tray on a table near the door. Before heading back he spoke again to the closed door, "Zoya, if you need anything... someone to talk to... just know that... I am here."
He waited for some time and just as he was about to leave, she responded. "Thanks."
Come morning, the first thing Aditya did was check up on Zoya. He noticed that the food tray which he had left last night, was untouched. She hadn't eaten anything, in over a day.
He picked up the tray of now stale food and dropped it off in the kitchen, asking the cook, to prepare something fresh. With a tray of toast, butter, eggs and orange juice balanced delicately on one hand, Aditya knocked on the door with the other, "Zoya, it's me. Can you please open the door? I got you breakfast."
"Just leave it outside," came her voice.
"No." He responded firmly, "You didn't eat your dinner. You need to eat something now. Else you'll fall sick."
There was no response from her.
He knocked again, "I'll not leave till you open the door."
Moments later, he heard rustling of bed sheet, meaning that she was getting out of the bed. Faint footsteps approached the door and the door-knob turned, as Zoya pulled the door open.
She was in yesterday's clothes- a white top and jeans, her hair was disheveled, her face was red and her eyes, puffy from crying. She wiped her face with her palm and took the breakfast tray from him. She turned around to close the door when Aditya put his hand on it.
"Please eat something."
"I will," she sounded tired.
"In front of me," he said. He knew that once he left her, she would not eat anything. "I will leave you as soon as you do."
Zoya grumbled, "You don't get to boss me around."
"I wasn't-," he began when she cut him in, "You are no one to me, you are not my family, you are not a friend. You are practically a stranger! You have no right to tell me what to do."
"Zoya," he tried to placate her, "I know how difficult this is for you. If there is anyone who can understand what you're going through, it's me. This may seem like the end of the world but I promise you it'll get better. You will just have to let someone help you. I didn't, I shut everyone out and I regret it."
Her voice was rising and so was her anger. Tears clouded her eyes. "I don't need a life-lesson. I can take care of myself."
This was exactly what he had done 2 years back. He had never told anyone the reason why Pooja and he broke up. He had inkling that Shakshi, Pooja's mother knew. Shakshi was their family friend and had been very close to Aditya. After he started drifting apart from his parents due to his father's indiscretion, Shakshi and Pooja were there to support him. In due course of time, they had become closer to him than his own parents. And when Pooja cheated on him and he needed someone to turn to, he found no one.
Arjun had been there for him Aditya had refrained from sharing anything about the incident with Arjun. He was young, and nave and more importantly he didn't want to burden his young brother with his problems. So Aditya dealt (rather tried to) with his issues on his own. He lashed out at people, he started being angry all the time, his mood was surly and he found it more and more difficult to stay among people- it suffocated him. Over the years, he did get over and now only certain days reminded him of Pooja's betrayal. But things would have been so much better if he had just found the courage and shared his issues with someone- had someone to talk to, to look after him.
This is why he knew that no matter how irritated Zoya was in his presence, he couldn't leave her on her own. She hadn't informed any of her family members or friends that she was in Mumbai or what she was going through. If left alone, the wound in her heart would only fester, just like it had with him.
"Just leave me alone," she said, annoyed.
Aditya took a deep breath and shook his head. "No. Not until you eat something."
Zoya clenched her fist, "Just because you have helped me in the past and I am staying in your house, doesn't mean that I need to take all this."
She walked over to her suitcase, the one he had gifted her, and zipped the bag. Taking it off the table, she picked up her handbag, ready to leave.
Aditya blocked her way, "Zoya please, calm down. You don't have to leave."
She fiddled in her hand bag and took out a wad of cash, "Here," she placed the cash on the table, "This is my share of our expense in Ireland. Thanks for everything."
She was about to walk away when Aditya grabbed her arm, "I am not letting you go. Not like this."
She struggled in his grasp, "Let go off me."
He shook his head and held her arm firmly, "No. At least call your family or some friend."
"I can take care of myself," she huffed, angrily, squirming her arm in his grasp.
"I know you can. But right now-." He was saying when she cut him in, "For God's sake don't start with your lecture again! I don't need anyone. I just need to be left alone. How difficult it is for you to understand?"
"I understand that," his voice was firm and so was his grip, "I have been through the same thing-."
"I don't care!" she exclaimed, "Yash and I were in love okay. And he just... just... "" her eyes brimmed with fresh tears, "I don't understand how he could do that..."
She had let go off the suitcase and was not struggling anymore. Aditya loosened his grip on her arm but not letting go fully. The anger in her voice had mitigated.
Tears rolled down her red cheeks, "How could he?" Her shaky voice had started to break, "How could he fool me like that?... For a year... And how could I have been so foolish that I didn't see what was happening right under my nose?"
She wiped her face with the back of her free hand, as more tears flooded her eyes, "I am such a fool..."
Aditya let go off her arm and placed his hand on her shoulder lightly. She looked at him with teary eyes, "Will it ever stop hurting?"
He nodded, "In time."
In time; it'll stop hurting.
He had said these words calmly and Zoya knew it was the truth. There were no wounds, which didn't heal with time. This would too. But at this moment, her rational sense doesn't prevail. The rationality was buried deep, underneath hordes of emotions- despair- at losing the person she loved, hopelessness, betrayal, anger and regret. It seemed liked every emotion was heightened.
Ever since she found out- exactly a day ago, there had been a whirlwind of feelings in her. Aditya's calm words of advice sounded sane. After all, he had gone through something similar.
He was still standing there, with his hand lightly placed on her shoulder, reassuring her, telling her that he was by her side if she needed anything, telling her that he will listen. It gave her a teeny bit of strength- a faint hint of light at the end of the dark tunnel.
She was fortunate that she had him through all this. She wanted to thank him, she wanted to apologize to him for dragging him in her problems. There was so much she wanted to say to him but she couldn't find the strength in her. After hours of crying and thinking where she went wrong with Yash, she didn't have any energy left in her.
"Sit here, please," his soft voice drew her out from her thoughts. She obliged without any resistance and sat on the bed. He kept the tray of breakfast on the side table and sat next to her. "Just eat something. Anything."
She wasn't hungry. On the face of betrayal, hunger and sleep felt trivial to her. Yet, her body felt weak.
She took the bowl of fruits from the tray and ate a piece of apple, and then another few pieces. She shook her head when Aditya lifted the toast. For now, she was done. He didn't force her further.
He left the tray on the side table near her bed, covering it with the cloche. He stood up and spoke gently, "If you want some fresh air, you can use the terrace on the 2nd floor. The staircase to it is on the end of the corridor to your right. No one should disturb you there. I'll come back with lunch."
He lingered for a bit, "Zoya, I am here for you. It'll be okay. You'll see." Saying so, he headed out, closing the door behind him.
It'll be okay, she said to herself. It will.
Zoya took a warm shower later that day, letting some of her fatigue drain away. She stood underneath the shower head for a long time, sometimes getting lost in her thoughts about the past- the day she met Yash, the day he told her that he loved her and they day she... found out his reality.
She had cried so much in the past 1 day that she couldn't any more. It felt like her eyes had run dry.
As promised, at close to 2pm, Aditya came with her lunch. He sat with her silently as she ate some rice and vegetables. He didn't force her to talk or bombard her with questions. He simply stayed with her.
This went on till the next couple of days- this routine of him bringing her meals, sitting by her. She started finding a strange comfort, a sense of safety in his visits.
After 3 days of being cocooned in the room, Zoya stepped out and ventured into the terrace. It was nearing dusk and the sun was setting, bathing the sky in an orange hue. She leant on the railing, looking below at the lush green lawn of the Hooda House.
She spotted Aditya and his brother, Arjun, sitting on the lawn chairs, talking. A fleeting thought crossed her mind- how much had Aditya done for her. From helping her the first time they met in the flight to helping her reach Dublin to coming with her till Mumbai and everything that he did after that.
Aditya- a person whom she didn't even like the first time they interacted, yet now it felt like she wouldn't have gotten through the past 3 days without him.
Her lips broke into a small smile as she looked at him, gesturing about something to Arjun.
Knowing Aditya had been like unfurling a mystery. Each layer surprised her. If there was any silver lining in this horrible mess was meeting him, getting to know him. She didn't know when from a stranger, he had become a friend.
Suddenly, Aditya looked at the terrace where she was standing. Their eyes met and even in the partial sunlight, she could see the surprise and relief on his face. His lips curled into a big smile and she returned it.
She really didn't know what she would have done without him.
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