“When I grow up, I want to be a superstar.”
Or maybe …
“I want to be a doctor.”
But no, maybe …
“I want to be a lawyer!”
Maybe it should be …
“… a zoologist.”
Then again …
“I want to be a teacher.”
But what about …
“I want to be a writer.”
“When I grow up …”
I had so many dreams when I was young. I went through so many different futures, as I thought about the countless possibilities. I wanted to do everything. There were no limitations. No worries. I was invulnerable … in my own eyes. I never thought about limitations … or boundaries. I never thought about social mores or following the rules.
I was who I was, and I was damn proud of it.
Then how … how did I end up here today?
Memories of past dreams haunt me on a daily basis. I struggle with the reality I live in now. I sit here, thinking about all I could have been, and I regret. I regret from the bottom of my heart that I married him instead.
Chapter 1: Final Break
She stared down at the broken picture frame in her hand, and then reluctantly bent down to pick up the shards of glass glistening on the floor. She flinched as one pierced her flesh, and a drop of blood appeared.
“You’re still hurting me,” she muttered to the picture on the floor. “What am I doing here?” she murmured, after a pause.
“Anjali, what’s the matter?” She started at the voice coming from behind her. “Get up, let me take care of that,” her mother ordered, clucking as she began to pull her daughter away from the mess she had made. Or, rather, from ANOTHER mess she had made.
“You’re not saying anything,” Anjali finally murmured, after gazing at her mother pick up the pieces of glass. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”
“What are you talking about? I feel like I haven’t shut up since I came,” her mother protested. “I’m all talked out.”
Anjali shrugged, staring down at her clenched fingers.
“I just told you that I am divorcing my husband,” she finally whispered hoarsely. “I told you that our marriage has been a farce since the beginning and that for the past year, while I have made noises of going to join him on the west coast, it has all been a lie … and you don’t say anything.”
Her mother stared at her, her lips pursed.
“What do you want me to say?”
“I … I don’t know,” she finally said, shrugging her shoulders helplessly. “I want you to say something. I need your advice.”
“Did you take my advice when I asked you to try in this marriage?” her mother finally asked quietly.
“I begged you not to pressure me …” Anjali murmured disjointedly.
“I know that you did not want to agree to the arranged marriage, but once you gave in, I asked you to make an effort. Rahul is not a bad man,” her mother finally said hesitantly, afraid of her daughter’s wrath bursting forth. There was only silence. “He was not a bad man when you married him two years ago. What has changed that you would so suddenly decide on divorce?”
“It wasn’t sudden,” Anjali argued back. “It wasn’t. I tried, mom, I tried. But he doesn’t give me anything back. I could just be another body to him. He doesn’t love me.”
Her mother could only stare at her.
“That would have been fine,” Anjali finally murmured. “I could have stayed with a man like that.”
“But, he is having an affair. And nothing … nothing could keep me in a marriage like that. An affair, his affair, is disrespect of me and the vows we made. An affair leaves no room for further compromise.”
There was complete silence between the two women.
“This is my life, now,” Anjali said, staring defiantly at her mom. “I did what you wanted. Now… now you have to let me do what I want.”
“But … what will people say?” her mother finally asked. “They will talk. Say horrible things about you, our family.”
“I don’t care about other people; I just need to know that you understand me. But, even if you can’t understand me, I want you to say that you won’t stand in my way.”
“Are you sure that he is having an affair?” her mother finally asked, the question bursting out of her.
“I saw the two of them together with my own eyes,” Anjali finally answered. “Wrapped in each other’s arms. He was happy with her, mom. He was so happy, never like he’s been with me,” she said, forcing the words out.
“You’ve already made your decision to break this marriage,” her mother finally said. “Then, there’s nothing left to say, is there?”
Anjali stared at the broken picture frame, lying abandoned on the floor. “You got that wrong, mom. There’s nothing left to save,” she finally whispered.
Chapter 2: Fool Me Once …
THREE YEARS AGO …
“Honey, meet him once. For me?” her mother’s cajoling tone rang over the line.
“How many times have I said this, mom? No means no.” Anjali rolled her eyes, and felt like she was saying this for the 100th time. “I don’t want to get married right now. I’m not ready, and that can only lead to unhappy results,” she sat back, knowing that this conversation would go on for a long, long time. Her mother had started this whole thing as soon as Anjali had turned 22, pressuring her into blind dates so that she could be married like her friends’ daughters back home. “Besides, I want to study. I took time off to get real world experience, but I’m ready to go back to school. I want to get my Masters. I have two more years to go.”
“But if your husband says that he is fine with your studying, then why would there be a problem?” her mother asked, uncomprehending of her daughter’s viewpoint. “If he lets you do it after you get married, I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Mom.” Anjali sighed and then took a deep breath. “I don’t want to have to ask someone else if it would be alright with them for me to continue my education. It is my right to get an education. I want the complete freedom to do that. Also, I can’t be a traditional wife. I can’t fulfill that role. Not while I am studying. A husband expects certain things. You know how it is in the South Asian culture. I can’t be that wife.”
“This one … this man is exactly who we’ve been looking for,” her mother said eagerly, ignoring all the denials that had been come before. “He was born in India, but he was raised here. He thinks exactly like you. Growing up in this environment, you will share the same views. There will be no cultural clash. No unrealistic expectations. You will be happy, my daughter.”
“Can you guarantee that?” Anjali burst out angrily. “How do you know? What is his mother like? What about his father? Where exactly did he grow up? All of that has bearing on the man he is today.”
“Well, I …” her mother’s voice trailed off.
“Mom, do you remember your relationship with dad? Do you remember how he controlled your every movement? Do you remember how suffocated you were in that marriage? You used to come and cry to me!” she shouted in frustration. “You put me in the middle of your hellish marriage, and showed me exactly what was going on between the two of you behind closed doors. Dad was raised here too … and he was still a traditional male! Expectations don’t change if you’re not willing to change yourself!”
She was so angry. Why didn’t her mother understand that marriage wasn’t everything? It wasn’t always about following the traditional path.
“And then … when you got divorced, all of our family and all of your friends turned against you. They thought you were stupid. They thought you were pathetic. They began to avoid you, as if you had the plague.”
“That won’t happen to you,” her mother said hesitantly, after a pause. “You’re much more smarter than me. You’re beautiful. Your husband won’t be disappointed in you. He won’t have any reason to pick on you. You will be happy.”
“Mom,” Anjali said with a sigh, “Your horrible marriage … it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t because of you that dad cheated. It wasn’t because there was something wrong with you. Why would you still think that?”
“I … I don’t want to talk about it,” she replied abruptly.
“I want to marry for love, mom,” she finally confessed brokenly. “I want to marry a man that I want to spend the rest of my life with. Not someone I have to live with because society has decided that it’s time for me to marry or die a spinster.” She laughed cynically, as the words left her mouth.
“Let’s meet for dinner. I want to see you,” her mother finally said.
“And we’ll drop the subject of the marriage?” Anjali pressed.
“For now,” her mother promised.
Anjali smiled. “Then I’ll be happy to see you for dinner. I’ve missed you.”
“Bye, my baby.”
The silverware tinkled in the dining area, the sound muted in such august surroundings. Looking around, Anjali stared at the damask curtains, the candlelight and the flowers. ‘What the hell has happened to mom? When did we start eating at places like this?’ she wondered silently. Gazing at the centerpiece, she started planning her next day’s schedule.
“Hi. Anjali?” a deep male voice spoke from above her head.
Anjali’s head swung up and her startled eyes met the gaze of the man standing in front of her.
“My name is Rahul Khan. I believe our mother’s talked on the phone, and set up this blind date?”
Anjali’s mouth dropped open, as she realized her mother had played her for a fool.
Chapter 3: Where the Heart Leads
“You’re not saying anything?” he finally remarked at her continued silence. “It’s like I’ve been talking about myself all night. You haven’t said anything about yourself.”
“There’s not really much to say,” she finally said hesitantly. “My mom kind of tricked me into coming here,” she admitted reluctantly. “I thought I would just sit through the evening, and not bore you with my life story, since it won’t really come to anything.”
“It won’t come to anything?” he asked, flashing an incredulous smile. “You’ve already rejected me without giving me a chance?”
Anjali stared down at her hands, struggling to find the words. How could she tell him, this complete stranger, that she couldn’t get married right now? She had no faith in marriage. No faith in the bonds that were created when a man and woman said those words.
“I wanted to continue my education,” she muttered, a trembling hand coming out to grab at her glass. “And I’m only 24,” she continued, “I don’t think I’m ready for the compromise that comes with marriage. I honestly believe that my immaturity would ruin any chance at a good marriage.” Her hand hit her glass, causing it to fall over. She shrieked in surprise when the liquid moved over the table at lightning speed, and landed in his lap.
“Shit!” the expletive burst out, and he jumped up, brushing fiercely at the liquid.
“Oh, God! I am so sorry. So sorry,” she said, flushing miserably. Getting up, she rushed to his side, using her napkin to dab at the water.
“Umm, I think I’m fine now,” he said gently, after a few minutes.
“No, no. Just let me … I’m so sorry for being clumsy.”
“I think that people are getting the wrong idea, “ he said, moving away.
Anjali looked up at him, and then down at where her hands had been. The water had fallen in his lap. Her hands had been … on his groin area. Jerking her head around, she saw the eyes of the other diners on them.
“Oh my god,” she muttered, blushing again. Getting up, she slinked over to her side of the table. “I am so sorry,” she mumbled, staring at her food.
“Now that you’ve gotten intimately acquainted with certain parts of my anatomy, don’t you think that you should agree to the marriage? You know me better than most women out there.” Anjali eyes flew to his face, her mouth opening in shock. He started laughing, his amusement loud in the hushed atmosphere of the restaurant.
“I said I was sorry,” Anjali blurted out in anguished tones. “Are you going to sit there and make fun of me now?”
“It’s just … you’re so cute,” he said gently. “I couldn’t help but tease a little bit. It was just water. Why are you acting like you’ve done something heinous? Mistakes happen.”
Anjali looked at him, wondering at his gentle tone. He was smiling. If this had happened to her father, he wouldn’t have been so understanding. Her mother would have been in tears by now; brought to that state by the cutting words her father would have thrown at her.
“I don’t believe in marriage,” she blurted out. “I didn’t want to be here. I want to continue my education.”
“And you think your husband wouldn’t let you do that?”
Anjali shook her head. “Husbands are controlling. They’re domineering. They can be verbally, and even physically abusive. They cheat. Lie. They oppress you, and make your life hell. How could I trust a man like that?”
He stared at her for a moment, thrown by her outburst, and then his gaze softened in understanding. “Not every man is like your father,” he said.
She blanched at the statement, and the knowledge revealed with those words.
“I know everything,” he said. “Let me reiterate my words. Not every man is like your father. I’m not pressuring you into anything, but I would ask you for something.”
“Give me a chance,” he urged her. “Get to know me.”
She stared at him, looking into his eyes. She wanted to peer deep inside of his soul, wanting to discover all of his secrets. She wanted to know the depth of his sincerity. A part of her … a small part, but a part of her nonetheless, wanted to see that face for a little while more. She didn’t want to reject something just because of her father’s perfidy.
“I’ll … give us a chance,” she said with a glorious smile.
Chapter 4: Don’t Walk Away
THE PROPOSAL …
“Anjali, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
A bouquet of pink roses. Candlelight. Champagne chilling in an ice bucket.
And before her, a diamond ring in hand, knelt the man she had come to love.
He looked gorgeous. His smile tugged at her heartstrings. At this moment, she just wanted to grab hold of him and never let him go.
But … he had never said the words.
ONE MONTH BEFORE THE PROPOSAL …
“Rahul, I’ll talk to you later,” she said with a laugh, before gently putting down the phone. Staring at her watch, her eyes widened in surprise when she saw how late it was. She was going to miss class again if she didn’t hurry!
As she hurriedly got ready and then began to drive to school, she thought back over the past few months. She hadn’t talked to anyone as much as she had talked to Rahul in the last five months. She didn’t know how it happened or when, but suddenly he was the closest thing she had to a best friend.
Before Rahul, she had kept away from people. Her father’s horrible behavior around her friends had ensured that she never got close enough to any person to bring them home. And that aloofness and desire to hide her family’s problems had directly lead to a lack of friends.
She smiled, thinking about the conversation they had been having before she’d rushed off. He wanted to see a play tonight. With her. The thought of seeing him that evening made her heart beat just a little bit faster. She wanted to be with him. She wanted to talk to him. She wanted to listen to him share stories about his day.
But marriage … did she want to marry him? Did she want to tie herself to this one man? Did she want to give him the power to hurt her? To belittle her? To make her life hell?
But marriage wasn’t only that. Marriage was about trust. It was about companionship. And it was also about love.
And the question then became … was she in love with him? Her still rapidly beating heart said yes.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE PROPOSAL …
“Who’s that girl that Rahul brought today?” a shrill voice said from the bathroom stall next to Anjali’s, making her jump in surprise. “I thought our yearly get-together was for just family.”
“Don’t you know?” a second voice responded from the other side.
“No, that’s why I’m asking,” came back the quick reply.
“It’s his bride-to-be.”
Anjali flushed at the words, her cheeks heating at the feelings of happiness those words aroused in her.
“Really?” the first speaker asked, shocked.
“Yeah, why? You think she’s too ugly?” the second speaker teased back.
“No, of course not. She’s a sweet girl. But I never thought …”
“I never thought that Rahul would get over Pooja. Hello, remember her? They were so good together. And they’ve known each other forever. Next-door neighbors. Schoolmates. Friends. I really thought that those two would get together.”
“She chose a modeling career over him,” the second voice replied.
“But … it’s only been a year. Do you think that he might be settling for whoever his mother wants now?”
The two women exited the stalls and washed their hands.
“I don’t know, but it’s his business. He’s an honorable man,” the second speaker replied. “If he makes this commitment, he will stick to it.”
“Even if he doesn’t want to? Even if Pooja returns one day?”
THE PROPOSAL …
But that didn’t matter. She would be best wife she knew how to be, and he would … he would return her love one day.
“Yes. I will marry you.”
SECOND WEDDING ANNIVERSARY …
“Transfer? What do you mean?” Anjali asked in confusion.
“It means exactly what it sounds like. It was decided today that I’ll be transferring to the company’s west coast branch in one month.” Rahul stared at her, awaiting her reaction.
“And you just said yes? You didn’t even think of …,’ Anjali broke off uncertainly, unsure of what to say.
“Think of what?”
“About me? About asking me? I’m your wife,” she began, forcing the words past the lump that had formed in her throat.
“It sure doesn’t feel like it,” he muttered beneath his breath.
“What?” she asked, turning to him.
“Nothing,” he replied brusquely.
“I can’t just pick up and leave, and you just said yes! It’s across the country. I have a life here, Rahul,” she suddenly burst out.
“You’re not going,” he said abruptly.
“I’m going alone,” he said, staring at her. “You can stay here. I don’t need you there.”
“But … why …” her voice trailed off, as he turned and stalked away from her.
“Why … don’t you need me there?” she asked the silent room.
“Why don’t you want me there?”
“Rahul … what did I do wrong?”
Chapter 5: All the Pain I Lived Through
TWO DAYS AGO …
Soft laughter. Tinkling. Some people would call it charming. To a wife, it was like a knife through the heart. Anjali stood at her husband’s office door, hearing that laughter come through. She wouldn’t have even heard that if someone hadn’t left the door open.
Her hand gripped the doorknob, as her mind tried to grapple with the reality before her. Rahul was here. In his office. He’d been here for a week, and he hadn’t bothered to call. He hadn’t come home. He hadn’t told her anything. If his secretary hadn’t called her this morning, assuming that Rahul would be home, she wouldn’t have even known that her husband had come back after four months of near silence.
“I love you, Rahul,” the female voice murmured throatily.
She flinched softly as she heard those words spoken. She waited to hear the words returned, but there was only silence. For a moment, she was relieved. Rahul had never said those words to her. Never. Not once in the two years they’d been married. Never in the three years they had known each other. But at least … he wasn’t saying them to this strange woman, either.
“I haven’t seen you in two months,” the female voice complained. “Why haven’t you kept in touch? I was expecting to hear from you after my visit.”
There was a moment of silence, and then the creak of a chair came through loud and clear.
“You shouldn’t be sitting here. Anyone can walk in. You don’t want to give the wrong impression, right?”
Anjali peeked around the door, and her eyes widened as the sight of a strange woman sitting on her husband’s lap met her eyes. The woman’s arms were wrapped around Rahul’s neck.
“I’ve missed you,” the woman said petulantly. “When are you going to tell her?”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Rahul said implacably. “Now, I really think that you should get up.”
“Rahul, don’t you know how much I love you?” the woman demanded, turning her head for a moment. Turning back to him, she moved closer and planted her lips against his.
Anjali stepped back, away from the door. She felt numb, nothing else getting through. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms, trying to melt the ice that had begun to form inside. Rahul was back. He hadn’t come home. He hadn’t called. She didn’t mean anything to him, nothing. She’d tried to stop herself from worrying when his calls had started decreasing in frequency. She’d tried to call him, only to get his voicemail more often than not. She’d tried to e-mail, only to have her e-mails go unanswered. When she realized that he was avoiding her, she’d stopped trying. But never … never had she thought that he would be capable of cheating on her. She’d never thought that he could be like her … father.
Betrayed. She felt betrayed by the man she had loved. The man she had sacrificed everything for. She felt torn apart. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to get control of herself. Her nails bit into her waist, as she came to the realization that her marriage had meant nothing to the man sitting in that room. That’s why he had found it so easy to leave. That was why he’d stopped calling. That’s why he was in there, in another woman’s arms.
There was soft laughter once more, coming around the door. Only this time, it held a note of triumph.
Rubbing her temple, Anjali thought back to that face she’d seen for a moment. She’d seen a picture of the woman in Rahul’s mementos. She hadn’t asked even then who that woman in his arms had been. She’d never had the courage to ask. She’d never had the courage to face that answer. But a part of her had known.
But now … no more questions were needed.
It was Pooja.
The model. The perfect woman.
The woman her in-laws still considered the perfect wife for Rahul. Someone, against whom, she could never match up.
Her husband’s ex-girlfriend.
Her husband’s current lover.
THE PRESENT …
“What are you doing?”
She froze, surprised to hear that voice. Turning, she moved back to the chest of drawers and pulled out the last of the underwear. Moving back to the suitcase, she stuffed it in, packing it tight.
“Anjali, what are you doing?”
Turning, she finally met his eyes.
“I’m packing your clothes,” she said. The calmness in her tone was in direct contradiction to the shimmer of tears in her eyes.
“But … why?”
“Why? Don’t you know?”
Turning her back to him, she moved her gaze over the room, empty now of all of his possessions. It had taken her only half an hour to pack. Thirty minutes. He had left her a long time ago, but it had taken her this long to figure it out. Now … there was only one thing left to do.
“I want a divorce.”
Chapter 6: Changed
“Divorce,” she replied, glaring at him. “At first I thought I would leave, go away. Maybe go to my mom’s, but then I realized that I was acting as if I had done something wrong. I wasn’t the one who did something wrong, Rahul.”
“And I did?” he fairly growled at her, incensed by her words. His heart had begun to beat rapidly, when she had said divorce. He wasn’t ready for divorce. He didn’t want a divorce from Anjali.
“You did,” she fired back, folding her arms, trying to keep all of the anger inside of her. But it couldn’t be contained. Looking around, she wildly grabbed a hairbrush and threw it at him. He cursed as it hit him in the head. Before she could find something else to throw, he was there, in front of her, his hands coming out to grab hers, to hold them behind her back.
“Just what is wrong with you, Anjali?” he shouted at her.
“Wrong?” she shouted back. “There is nothing wrong with me.” She struggled briefly, but he stilled her movements and brought her closer, pulling her fully into his arms.
“How could you?” she asked, after a moment of silence, giving up the fight. She rested her forehead against his heart, wanting to pull in his warmth. Her body was cold. So cold. “How could you?”
“Anjali, talk to me,” he urged her.
“You’ve been back for a week,” she finally muttered, her tone bitter. “You’ve been back, and not once have you been home. In whose house were you sleeping?”
“Anjali … I’m sorry.”
“In whose bed? In whose arms were you sleeping, Rahul?”
“What are you saying?” he began angrily, shocked at her words.
“I went to see you today.”
His body stiffened at her words.
“I saw you,” she said, the hurt evident in her tone. “I saw you with her. In her arms. Kissing. She was in your lap, Rahul.”
“It wasn’t what yo—“
“Don’t!” she shouted the word at him. “Do not say those words. Every time my father cheated on my mother … every time he slept with another woman … every time she caught him … he said those words to her. Don’t make a mockery of me by saying those words to me.” Her voice was like ice, sharp and hurting. “You left me here, Rahul,” she said faintly. “You left me and went away. You were gone for months, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times you contacted me. You didn’t come back to visit. You ignored my e-mails, were non-responsive on the phone. You left me. It just took me this long to realize it.” She pulled away, finding it easy to do so now that his arms had loosened from around her. She moved across the room, putting much needed distance between the two of them.
“You could’ve walked all over me. You could’ve ignored me, and maybe even made me feel like dirt and I wouldn’t have walked away,” she said softly. She heard his sharp exhalation at those words. “You could’ve treated me like a servant, made me feel unwanted, you could’ve done anything you wanted, and I would have taken it. As sad as it is, my love for you, my undying hope that you could love me back, and my upbringing would’ve induced me to stay. But this … this is something I could never accept. This is something that I could never forgive. This is something that I will never forget.”
“Anjali,” Rahul began hesitantly, trying to find the words to take away her heartbreak.
“I was the perfect wife to you,” she said, turning to look at him. “I did everything I could to … to win your love, then why …? Why did you have to cheat? Why did you go to another woman? Why did it have to be Pooja?”
He flinched at the words.
“I made myself into everything that you could have wanted in a woman, and you still rejected me. I gave up so much for you. And you …”
“Rahul? Say something!”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it?” he finally said, clenching his hands. “I never asked you to change. I never wanted you to change. Do you want to know when I made that decision to take that transfer? The company had offered it to me multiple times, but I hadn’t said yes before. Do you know why I decided to leave?”
She shrugged, not caring anymore.
“It was when I saw what you had become. You’re right, you were the perfect housewife. You were everything that a man could want in a woman. But I am not that man. You were no longer the Anjali I had known before our marriage. You had changed beyond recognition. And you were no longer the woman that I had wanted … the woman that I had fallen in love with.”
Chapter 7: Never Let Go
“I was everything that a man could want in a wife. And for that you punished me?” Anjali asked incredulously, glaring at him with the force of all of the anger that was boiling up inside of her right now.
“I wasn’t trying to punish you,” he snapped back, moving towards her. His movements were quick and jerky, a direct contrast to his usual coolly confident moves. It was as if he couldn’t keep control of his body.
“Don’t come any closer,” she yelped, moving across the room. “You were punishing me,” she said. “You abandoned me. Moved across the country. Didn’t reply to e-mails. Didn’t return my calls. It was, as if, by moving away, you’d erased me from your mind. I was too unimportant. You could barely make yourself talk to me, when I finally did get you on the phone!” she shouted the last, finally allowing all of the anger that had been brewing inside of her for the past few months to come out.
“Anjali, you have to understand,” he began helplessly, trying to find the words to explain his conduct.
“I don’t have to understand anything,” she said, gaining control of herself. She erased all emotion from her face, and turned to look at him calmly. “And today, I saw you in her arms. She kissed you. She visited you … while you’d never even asked me to visit. And I don’t even know how long this has been going on. I’m not going to ignore this. I’m not going to close my eyes. I’m not going to become my mother!” she shouted the words, flinging her hand out angrily.
There was a sharp crack and the crash of broken glass hitting the floor. Anjali gasped when fire raced up her arm, the pain was sharp and swift where her hand had cut itself on the broken glass. She began to tremble, watching the blood drip to the floor.
“Dammit,” Rahul cursed softly, moving to her. Taking out a handkerchief, he reached for her hand, intent on stopping the blood flow.
She angrily pulled away. “Don’t touch me! I can take care of myself. I don’t need your help. I don’t need you.” Saying the words, she moved to turn away.
“Stop acting like a child!” Rahul shouted, grabbing hold of her hand once more. Ignoring her efforts to get free, he wrapped the cloth around her hand. She squirmed as the pain worsened before settling into a dull ache. Pulling her by the hand, he took her to the medicine cabinet. Pushing her down on a chair, he began to gently clean the wound, all without saying a word. He stiffened slightly as a warm drop landed on his hand. Looking up, he caught her wiping away the last of her tears.
“I promised myself that I would not cry for you anymore,” she muttered, looking away from him. “I’m not going to cry anymore.” She jerked her hand away, and got up to leave. Reaching out, Rahul grabbed her hand, his hold steady despite her immediate struggles.
“I did not cheat on you,” he said quietly.
Anjali froze for a moment at the words. But her lips twisted into a sneer, and she stared down at him. “I guess you’ll be saying now that you didn’t kiss her? You didn’t hug her? You didn’t love her?”
“Anjali, I did not kiss her,” he replied. “She kissed me. I pushed her away.” He sighed. “I did not hug her. She hugged me. I didn’t invite her to visit. She came.”
She waited, but he said nothing more. “And what about … did you ever love her?” she asked, her voice hoarse from the strain.
“A long time ago,” he answered softly. “I thought that she would be the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. But she chose something else, and I …”
“And you picked me as your rebound girl,” Anjali completed the sentence for him. “You married the woman your mother wanted as a daughter-in-law. You tried for two years and then you just got tired. And you dropped me like yesterday’s news when Pooja came back to you.” Her tone was bitter, as she spat the words at him.
“That’s not true,” he protested, staring at her in surprise.
“You said that you love me? How can I believe that?” she asked with a sad laugh. “You’ve never even said the words, and we’ve known each for three years. We’ve been married for two of those years. And yet, you’ve never said the words. How can I believe this newfound love of yours?”
“It’s not newfound,” he protested. “I don’t want a divorce. I’m not cheating on you, why don’t you believe that?”
“I might believe that you aren’t cheating on me,” she finally said, reflectively. “I always thought you were too honorable for that. And, to be honest, I never suspected that you were until today. If you say so, I’ll believe that.”
He began to smile in relief.
“But I don’t think you love me. I do think that you’re tired of this marriage. It might just be the best thing to get a divorce.” Her voice shook, as she pushed the words out past the lump in her throat. “I don’t like myself anymore. I’ve changed so much,” she said musingly. “I’ve given up so much. And all that’s left is this hollow shell that serves no purpose, because even you don’t want it. Maybe it’s for the best.”
His face darkened as he listened to her speak. Reaching out, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, wanting her to stop. She stood there quietly, taking his abuse. Sighing, he stopped and pulled her into his arms, tucking her head under his chin. For a moment, he stood there quietly, enjoying the feel of her in his arms once more. If she had her way, he would never get this chance again.
“I’ve loved you since the first moment I really knew you,” he confessed finally. “Do you remember that day on the beach? It was our fifth date. A picnic for all our friends. You were everywhere, helping everybody. Taking care of parents, friends, children, alike. You saw to everyone’s comfort before seeing to your own. And you were so patient with the children. When I asked you about it, you told me that this was what you wanted to do. You wanted to teach children, and shape inquisitive, young minds. You said that teaching was your passion. Children were your passion. I saw … I saw that you valued family. You valued a career. You valued yourself. And I fell in love. You say that you’ve never heard me say these words, and you’re right. I’ve never had the courage to. I said them so many times to a woman that found it easy to walk away. I was afraid that if I said them to you, I might lose you too. And then … controlling myself, and, not saying them, became a habit.”
She pulled away, staring at him. “That’s just … stupid,” she blurted out.
“I didn’t say it was rational, I said it was a reason … the main reason I didn’t say I love you,” he shot back. He tightened his hold on her. “And then I saw you change. Your every thought became about me. You focused on me, above everything and everyone else. You gave up your education. Your passion just died away. And I became afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“That one day you would realize all that you had given up … and you would start resenting me.”
“I could never …” she began hotly.
“Admit it. Don’t you resent me now?”
She stopped, thunderstruck by his words. “That’s because you left,” she murmured weakly.
“I left so that you could use this distance between us to think about where we are. I kept communication to a minimum, so that you could focus on yourself. I needed for you to find out if this was the life you truly wanted, or whether you were settling. I’d be happy with whatever I get from you, but I need for you to be happy, too.”
Anjali sat down, shocked by his words. She hadn’t realized that he knew how much she had sacrificed in trying to win his love. He was right. She had begun to secretly resent him. She had become bitter about her sacrifices. And if he hadn’t left, she would have let those feelings fester and poison their relationship eventually.
“I love you, Anjali,” he said, putting out a hand to cup her cheek. “I love you. I want you in my life, not some shell of a perfect wife.”
She cradled his hand to her cheek, and then turned her head to place a kiss in the center of his palm.
“I love you, too,” she replied, smiling. “We don’t have to get a divorce.”
He sighed in relief, and pulled her into his arms. Laughing, he began to whirl her around, giddy with relief. His plan had been so simple, and yet it had gone so horribly wrong. He had never wanted a divorce. When she had uttered those words, he had realized how close he was to losing her. Setting her down, he bent low to kiss her welcoming lips. His touch was gentle, hesitant, not wanting to push her into anything that she wasn’t ready for.
Anjali growled softly, and tightened her arms around him. “If you ever try to leave me again, you’re dead,” she said to him. He began to laugh softly. Grinning, she pulled his head down for another kiss.
Lying in his arms, later that night, Anjali listened to his steady heartbeat. Rahul was right; their marriage hadn’t worked for the last two years because she’d forgotten herself in her desire to be what she thought he wanted. But now … they would build a future together in which the both of them could be happy with each other and with their own selves.
Reaching for his hand, she twined her fingers with his, holding tight.
She was never going to let go of this hand again. His hand tightened on hers, and she knew that Rahul would never do anything this stupid again.
Now, the only thing that was left was to live happily ever after.