Two Steps from Love

The flight landed at 8:00 am, a few minutes ahead of schedule. Varun stepped out of the airport to be greeted by a cold breeze. He waited a few minutes and then got into a cab. “Hitech City,” he told the cabbie since he intended to go directly to work. While the driver put the baggage in the boot, Varun slid into the backseat of the car. Just when he settled back to relax, his phone rang. He quickly took it out of his pocket and was thrilled to see the caller id. He anxiously answered but there was no hello.

“Are you busy today?” Amrutha asked directly.

“Never for you!” he replied instantly. His voice was gentle, caressing even. Amrutha paused, surprised at the emphasis. They had known each other for more than a year now, and he had never spoken like that to her.

She recalled their last phone call, and couldn’t resist, “Even for old nags?”

He bit his lip. So she didn’t forget…yet. “I’m so sorry I was rude.   You called me at the wrong time, you know, ” Varun explained penitently.

She smiled to herself. He apologized so beautifully it was impossible not to forgive. “It’s no big deal. Happens!” she consoled him.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, as her voice sounded low.

“Well!…” she managed to stop herself. If she narrated her story now, could she handle the emotion? “I’ll tell you when we meet,” she said instead.

“Sure. But I just got back from Bangalore and I’m heading straight to work. Do you want to come home this evening? Dinner? Coffee? Or both.” Varun offered.

“No dinner, thanks, but coffee sounds good. Text me when you get home. Bye.” She wanted privacy, not so much the coffee. And she did not want to talk about her personal problems in a crowded restaurant.

****

It was almost 8 o’clock by the time Amrutha reached Varun’s apartment. He lived on the 10th floor of a high-rise in Madhapur. It was one of those new constructions with more amenities than one ever really used. She went through the secure and plush lobby quickly. Today, she was in no mood to admire it though. The elevator made a few halts and she was on the 10th floor. Varun opened the door just when she reached it.

“Hi,” he said with a happy smile. He was away just for a few days but he had missed her a lot. She smiled back and headed straight to her favorite sofa and plonked down. She had stopped complaining about the rest of the furniture a long time back. There was no use at all. All said and done it was a bachelor pad. That too of a 30 year old who knew what he wanted and more so, what he didn’t want!

Varun shut the door and strolled leisurely to the armchair opposite her. He observed her keenly. She was dressed in a pale blue salwar-kameez and looked prettier than ever before. She was 26 years old but looked younger. Her lipstick was brighter than normal today, but the little makeup she wore didn’t disguise the dark circles under her eyes. Clearly, there was something wrong, he thought. He didn’t want to rush her though.

“Wow. The coffee smells divine,” she said leaning back on the sofa and throwing her handbag aside.

“Almost done,” he got up quickly and went over to the kitchen. “Did you eat?” he asked looking back at her.

She nodded. He brought back two steaming mugs, white for her and black for himself and set them down on the glass-top coffee table between them. She leaned forward to look at his mug and exclaimed in a voice of exasperation, “how can you drink black coffee in a black mug?”

He didn’t answer but just smiled. “Thank God, you are not wearing black.” She looked with relief at the maroon T-shirt. The color sat well on his fair skin. Reluctantly, she withdrew her attention from him and stared desolately instead at the steam rising out of the cups.

He frowned. “What happened?” Avoiding his gaze, she moved her focus to the windows. It was dark outside. “Amrutha,” he prodded gently.

She remained silent … her heart longed to say one thing, but she felt compelled to talk on a different subject. “Amrutha!” Varun sounded more insistent.

Finally, she turned towards him and said bluntly, “Srikanth dumped me!”

“WHAT? You’re kidding me!”

She studied his handsome face. There was shock and nothing else. What the heck were you expecting? she asked herself. Amrutha was unhappier than ever before and struggled to hide her true feelings. “Apparently, I’m not good enough for him,” she continued in a sad little voice.

“Don’t be ridiculous! He wouldn’t have said any such thing. So when did this happen? How? And why?” he bombarded her with evident concern.

“If only there were answers to all those questions! I too have a lot of questions but no answers, Varun!”

She seemed deeply hurt. Varun was dejected.   He guessed she would have shed many tears at home – she loves Srikanth a lot, he thought and sighed. His hand went up to his forehead as he stared absently at the floor.

“Yesterday, Srikanth asked me to meet him at Pizza Hut.” Amrutha narrated. “First he said, Tulips, then somehow he changed his mind.   I mean, who dumps a girlfriend over pizza? It’s so cheesy!!” she remarked with contempt.

Varun quickly looked up at that. She was pouting and he tried not to laugh. “So, you would have preferred to be dumped at Tulips?” he was unable to control his laughter any longer.

She looked at him resentfully. “Yes. Though, I was expecting something else altogether.” His eyebrows went up questioningly.

“Well, a ring, dammit!” she explained. “Sometimes you act so dumb.”

“I AM dumb! You can judge a man by the company he keeps,” he retorted smoothly, the laughter disappearing as quickly as it had come. Ignoring the dagger-like look he received, he asked her, “so you expected him to propose to you and here you are complaining about pizza?” She didn’t respond.

“What pizza did he order for you by the way?” he asked sarcastically.

“Double cheese, of course.” She was incorrigible and that made him angry. He shot out of his chair and paced around the room. He came to a halt a few feet away from her and tried to scrutinize her face. It was wholly impossible to gauge her thoughts.

She didn’t prolong his suspense. “I would have rejected him anyway. He just injured my ego by depriving me of the pleasure of dumping him.“

“So love is a game for you? I didn’t realize I had such shallow friends.”

His words stung. “Well, now you know! Shallow and dumb. I don’t even know what the hell I am doing here,” she got up quickly and grabbed her bag. “And I certainly don’t want to be in your way, in case Siri is coming to spend the night. I guess the company of your ‘deep’ friend must be more welcome. Girlfriend I should say!” she corrected herself swiftly.

He stiffened. “That’s highly unlikely.”

“Oh, you’re going over to her place then?” Why am I trying to hurt myself? She thought despairingly. The bitterness didn’t escape him.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Amrutha regretfully realized she was out of line. Pushing her hair back with her free hand, she nervously ventured to look at his face. He looked stern.

“I am sorry, Varun. Really, sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me.” She turned away from his hard gaze and walked quickly to the door but he was faster. Just as she was turning the door-knob his hand closed on hers and prevented her from opening the door. Shaken, she turned around, only to backup into the door. He stood very close to her and didn’t move an inch. She had to look up to see his face. She could feel his breath and her heart started racing.

In a moment, he stepped back and folded his arms over his chest. “Sireesha and I broke up too! Last week,” he added, preempting her question.

It was her turn to be stunned. She wrinkled her forehead trying to think back, and as realization dawned, she exclaimed. “Oh! So now I know why you were so mad and upset! And you snapped at me for just asking! Why couldn’t you tell me? I knew something was wrong.   You can’t share anything with me, can you? Maybe you don’t need me at all.” Her voice grew more agitated with each sentence. “And why the hell are you staring at me now, instead of answering me? Oh wait, I shouldn’t nag right?” said Amrutha exasperated at his continued silence.

“Well, I can only talk when you shut up. You are busy speculating, so be my guest!” he retorted angrily. He was beginning to see through the façade but still, he was cautious.

“Oh, go to hell! And take your secrets with you,” she snapped turning back to the door. “Amrutha!” Something in his voice made her stop. “I wasn’t upset because Siri and I broke up.”

Her curiosity got the better of her and she turned around. “No?”

“Are we going to have our entire conversation at the door?” he asked.

“Yes. I don’t care. So are you going to tell me?

“Your coffee is getting cold.” He was stalling of course…still unsure of his ground. How much could he reveal before it became too much?

“It’s already cold, and I am in no mood for coffee right now,” she snapped.

He walked away deliberately towards the center of the living room.

“And perhaps you are in no mood to talk right now.“ He turned to look at her. God, he looks sad! Amrutha continued in a much softer tone, “look, Varun, I get how you feel. I mean, who better than me, right? I am so sorry. Anytime you feel like talking, just give me a call.”

Apparently, he was so engrossed in studying his fingers that he didn’t say a word.

“I can’t believe Siri dumped you, though, Varun.” At that he looked up.

She didn’t.”

“WHAT?” Amrutha shouted. She let her bag drop to the floor, came swiftly up to him and asked incredulously, “You did? You did? But why?” This was all so strange.

Suddenly, Varun decided enough was enough. He was going to tell her and see what happens. Slowly he started. “Siri wanted to go out last Sunday.  Dinner date. And a movie I think. But I had already promised to go with you to the party, right? She got mad when I told her and gave me an ultimatum. She said I have to ‘unfriend’ you or there’s no future for her and me.”

“Oh shit! Are you telling me, I am the reason you guys broke up?” Amrutha asked, all upset. “Do you realize how terrible that makes me feel? I wish you didn’t. Imagine my position – ruining a best friend’s relationship. It was just a stupid party, and you could have canceled.”

He watched her silently.

“No…” Amrutha continued slowly as she was digesting it all. “It wasn’t the party…it was about our friendship. I guess she was insecure. Poor thing. It would have been hard, but we would have done it.  Ended it, I mean.” Stepping back to increase the distance between them, she added sadly, “It’s not too late.”

That wasn’t what he hoped to hear. Varun clasped his hands so tightly that they turned red. “You called me that very day. Remember? You instantly knew something upset me. How did you know, Amrutha? How did you know when I told you nothing?”

“Not a big deal. We have been friends for a while now.”

“Yes, friends, indeed,” he said with bitterness.

She was puzzled at his tone. “And I nagged you to tell me, and obviously you didn’t want to tell me all this and instead you lost your temper…” she completed the story for him.

“I wasn’t upset over the break up,” Varun repeated quietly. Her brows went up. “I was upset that the girl I was in love with wasn’t my girlfriend but Srikanth’s.” Amrutha froze. She wasn’t sure if she heard him right. How much she longed to hear this, and how long she waited! How much she prayed! Yet, she couldn’t believe this was happening. Varun looked steadily at her and drank in all her expressions.

Amrutha’s heart was now thudding in her chest. But she couldn’t move. He took a few tentative steps towards her and waited. She rushed into his arms and he clasped her so tightly, she could hardly breathe. He was overjoyed and smiled into her hair. She threw her hands around his neck, buried her face in his chest and burst into overwrought tears. He whispered soothingly into her ear and tried to calm her down. She cried more and he said, “Sshhhhh, that’s enough already. How can I kiss you if you don’t stop crying?”

She laughed through her tears and looked up at him. His smile faded and he wiped her tears with his thumbs. Framing her face with his palms, he gazed deeply into her eyes. “I love you so, so much, it hurts! Ever since I realized my feelings, thanks to Siri, it was awful for me. I had no clue you felt the same way.”

“Yes, aren’t we both idiots?” she asked playfully.

You, more than me,” he promptly replied. She was about to retort hotly, but he didn’t give her a chance for revenge. He bent his head quickly and his mouth covered hers. He kissed her so passionately that shivers ran down her spine. She tried weakly to push him away, but there was no use. He gave her a respite by pressing kisses all over her face and returned to her lips, insistent. She gave in and returned his passionate kisses, her fingers playing in his hair. A long time later, she broke free, and they slumped onto the sofa. “Varun, wait… you never gave me a chance.”

“For what?”

“To say, ‘I love you’.”

“Well, say it now! ” he said smiling.

“I just did,” she laughed.

“No, you didn’t, sweetheart!” said Varun.

She swallowed. It felt so lovely to be called that! She sent a silent thank you to fate. He grabbed her waist and pulled her onto his lap. She held onto his shoulders for support and slowly and shyly, bent her head. Her hair fell forward and caressed his face. He closed his eyes, enjoying the moment completely. First, she kissed his cheek, then bit his ear. Softly, she whispered into his ear, “I love you.” Another kiss on his lips. “Like crazy!” She sat back to devour him with her loving eyes. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed suddenly.

“What’s wrong?” he asked in quick concern.

“I just realized, I will be miserable without you.”

Varun ecstatically pulled her back into his arms.

 

The End

 

 

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