Chapter 1 : Do You Know?
A whirring sound.
“Testing. One. Two. Three. Testing.”
A throat clearing. A soft sigh. A gentle creaking of a body settling into a soft chair.
“Remember the first day we met? I was ten-years-old and sitting in the corner of the ballroom, the classic ugly duckling surrounded by a sea of swans. I didn’t belong. I knew it. My mother was scolding me for getting my dress dirty. My hair was escaping its prison of ribbons. I had a scratch on my arm and streak of dirt on my cheek.
You weren’t that much older. I think 15 to my 10? Your mom pushed you over to talk to me. I know you didn’t want to talk to some bratty little girl, but you were too polite to let on with words. I knew though.
Do you know how I knew? That’s because no one ever wanted to talk to me. People were always telling me I was boring. I tried to be nice. I told you to go away and even ignored you for minutes on end. I tried to set you free. But you ignored my rude conduct and sat down next to me. You started talking to me about the game you were playing on your gameboy. And then you forced me to play with you. I lost. You laughed. I pouted. And then you gave me a piece of candy. Do you know I still have the wrapper? How trite, right?”
A near-silent movement in the chair . . . a gentle shifting.
“All throughout our childhood we were thrown together. I guess it was just our luck that there were no other kids in our parents’ group of friends or business associates. I got used to you. Before long . . . I started to look forward to seeing you. Parties that had previously been purgatory became heaven because they gave me a chance to see you.
Do you know that as pathetic as it sounds, I began to consider you a friend long before you considered me anything more than the pest you had to put up with at those parties? I know, I know. I bugged you a lot. But you made everything tolerable. When I was that small 10-year-old . . . as I went through awkward puberty and slipped into womanhood. All through those awkward stages you were there . . . always happy . . . always shining . . . always handsome. And you talked to me like I was an individual . . . someone with her own thoughts . . . own ambitions and dreams. Up until then I had only ever been an extension of my parents. And a disappointing extension at that, especially because they had to settle for me after losing their more brighter child.”
Silence and then a broken sob.
“Adults only talked to me or pushed their children at me because they wanted favors from my parents. And their kids would play nice in front of them, but when we were alone . . . they would ignore me. And those were the nicer ones. But not you. I loved that about you.”
A beat of silence. A moment of hesitation. A soft sigh and then a throat clearing with a sound of determination.
“Do you know the exact moment I fell in love with you? I don’t. I don’t know when I fell in love with you. When did my heart start beating in anticipation? When did I stop wanting to play with you, but rather want to do more intimate things? When did I start wanting to breathe in your scent . . . touch your warmth . . . soak in your personality . . . burrow myself so deep inside of you that no one could find me? When did I start wanting something more? I guess what I really want to know is . . . when did I grow up?
When I finally did realize my feelings . . . I told myself it was useless. I tried to talk myself out of it. I knew it was hopeless. I knew that I was dreaming big dreams. You were the main star wherever you went, and I was the dowdy heiress. I used to lecture myself for hours before meeting you. I would tell my heart to stop beating so hard. I would tell my breath to remain calm. I told my cheeks to stop blushing. I told my body not to betray me, lest you know the truth. But my body ignored me. I was the classic girl with a crush.
And you . . . you were oblivious. I would say that was a good thing, but for the reason. You didn’t see my crush because you didn’t see me as a woman. I was a buddy. I was a friend. I was one of the guys.”
A low growl.
“I was never … I was never a woman for you. You were never more blind to anything than the fact that I truly was a woman with a woman’s needs. Not to be too crass, I had the breasts . . . I had all my womanly bits . . . but you never saw that part of me. Why, damn it?”
A soft hiccup. A gasp.
“I don’t know why I’m crying over that now. I thought I had accepted it a long time ago. But it’s this damn heart. It just won’t listen.
When our parents arranged our engagement … of course to facilitate the business merger in progress . . . when they did that, it was the happiest day of my life. We would be married. We would be together. We would be linked forever. You might not have loved me, but I knew . . . I knew that you didn’t love anyone else. I knew that you wouldn’t stray once you married . . . you would remain faithful. You would be steadfast and keep your vows. You would be a good father. A good husband. You would ask me for advice. You would talk to me. You would value me.
And I . . . I would have the right to stand by your side. I would have the right to hold your hand. I would have the right to hold you at night and make love with you. I would have your children. I would support you, and you would turn to me when you needed someone. I could call you mine. That was enough for me. Do you know that it really was enough?”
“But then I got that misplaced message. Why did I pick up the phone that day? Why did I have to hear her words? Why did I have to hear her grief? Her tears? Why did I have to hear her breaking heart? Why did I have to hear . . . and know . . . and realize that our relationship might be enough for me . . . but it wasn’t fair to you or to that woman? Do you know how hard I fought that knowledge? I told myself that the world isn’t fair. That we don’t all get what we want. That we all have to compromise, but only one truth kept pushing at my consciousness until I finally had to accept it.
I . . . I wanted you to be happy. I wanted you to have everything you ever wanted in the world. I wanted you to have the perfect love. I wanted you to have the perfect life. I wanted you to be eager when you went home every night because you were going home to the woman you loved. You were going home to your children with her. I wanted you to . . . have more than just enough. I also knew you were too honorable to break the engagement. You had given your word, and you would never break it. Even if it meant breaking your own heart. So, I did it for you.”
A wry chuckle over an amusing memory.
“Do you know my knees were literally shaking when I walked into the office that day? When we were talking I had to constantly tell myself to calm down. I had to find the right words, otherwise you would let honor rule the day. I told you I wasn’t happy. I told you I wanted us to marry for love. I told you that if we presented a united front to our parents, we could gracefully back out of the engagement without destroying the merger. I told you that we could work together and nothing would change. After all, there were no . . . emotions involved. You finally agreed.
And it worked out. Our parents agreed. The engagement ended. The merger went through. It was business as usual. A month later I got the invitation.”
A crinkle of paper. A tearing sound.
“This invitation. I don’t know why I keep the pieces lying around me. It’s not like I need a reminder. You’re getting married. Quietly. A few close friends. Blah blah blah. You want me to be there. And I’ll be there. Quietly supporting you and seeing you from afar. Now that’ll have to be enough.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I hate you for that. Why couldn’t you love me? Why couldn’t I be the one? No . . . no that’s not fair. I have no right to ask that. You can’t love made to order. The heart loves where it will.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It wasn’t unexpected. It wasn’t a surprise. But it was something that I had been dreading. It was a slap in the face. It was the murder of my dreams. You can’t easily forgive a murderer. It takes time.
So, tomorrow . . . tomorrow I’ll see you get married. I’ll raise my glass in a toast. I’ll bring a present. And then I’ll leave early. And life will move on. But, do you know . . . I’ll love you forever, you bast**d.”
A tapping of fingers. An opened drawer, quickly shut. And the sound of footsteps.
“I wonder though . . . I still wonder . . . what was that look I saw in your eyes that day? When I told you that I wasn’t happy? What was that flash of anger? When I told you that I wanted to marry for love and that there were no emotions involved . . . what was that look in your eyes? Sometimes I still ask myself . . . Yes, what is it?”
“Madam, your assistant is here.”
“Oh, thank you for letting me know. Ranjeet?”
“Could you take this recorder? I was trying it out for the company’s use, but I don’t think it’s satisfactory. Delete the audio recording and leave the recorder in my room.”
“Thank you. Now, Ms. Kumar, I want to go ove—.”
To Be Continued
Chapter 2 : May I?