“Riddhima! Get out here!” Sejal yells from outside the ring of skaters. “If you’d so kindly excuse me just for a moment,” I say while rolling my eyes.
“Of course,” Vansh says.
Once I get to the nearest exit, I roll over to where Sejal is standing, along with Ishani and Sia.
“What could you possibly want to talk about so much as to interrupt while we were talking about our love lives ?” I ask venomously.
They laugh in realization.
Sia says, “You were talking about your love life with your best friend? Who also happens to be in love with you?”
“He is not in love with me,” I serenely say as I cross my arms.
“Tell that to the date June 6th, 2015. Ring a bell?” asks Ishani .
I look away. At Vansh , to be specific. He’s talking to Angre in the ring, and Vansh looks somewhat flustered and irritated.
“It’s not like it was the day he told you he was in love with you or anything,” Ishani says sarcastically as she folds her arms.
I continue to look towards Vansh ‘s direction, not saying a single word, nor am I making eye contact with any of them. At this point Vansh looks like he’s about to punch Angre in the face out of aggravation.
Then, quietly as can be, I say, “What did you guys want to talk to me about?”
“Well, we were actually wondering-”
Then it dawns upon me. I point a finger at Sejal, interrupting her with, “You wanted to get Vansh alone so Angre could talk to him and give him advice on making a move on me.” I cruelly laugh. “You all are in on some sort of plan I don’t know about. Well, it’s not going to work, because I’ve never liked him like that and I never will. So you know what-? Go tell Angre or Vansh and see how many shits I give.” I carefully start to waddle towards the entrance to the ring to find Dev.
I start going fast to try to catch up to Dev and get away from Vansh
and Angre quickly as possible.
As I stride up next to Dev, he says, “Hey.”
I don’t look at him. “You couldn’t even warn me about Vansh?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t, Dev. I know you were in on the plan. You know, the one where everyone but me was aware that Vansh was still in love with me? Yeah, that one.”
“Wait, Vansh is still in love with you? Damn, he must be attached…”, he scratches his neck.
“Shut it. You couldn’t at least warn me? I had no clue!”
“Had no clue about what?” Vansh asks as he and Angre roll up to us.
“How spicy the nacho cheese is. It practically burned my tongue off,” I lie while not glancing at a single one of them.
“You’re lying. They don’t even serve nachos here,” Angre reciprocates immediately after the words leave my lips.
I sigh. “Fine. Dev has secretly been crushing on Sia and he hasn’t told anyone until now.” I look at Dev.
“Riddhima! Why did you tell them?” Dev asks. He really has. He just told me a few days ago, but I obviously figured it out long before, being his best friend and all.
“I love you?” I ask with hope for forgiveness.
He glares at the two of them. “Don’t you dare tell her. I was planning on asking her to a slow song tonight and then… yeah.”
And then, as if on cue, the DJ announces he’ll be playing a slow song.
“It’s a sign.” Dev laughs to himself and strides over to where Sia seems to begin skating.
Angre soon heads off to find Ishani , leaving Vansh and me together.
“May I have this… roll?” Vansh asks jokingly.
“Sure.” I shrug.
“So what were the girls talking to you about?” he asks with suspicion.
I shrug again. “They just wanted to know if I knew anything about Dev and Sia.”
“Ah,” he says with a nod, somewhat relieved.
“Oh, and I also mentioned to them that I know you’re still in love with me.”
And with that, I skate out of the rink, quickly taking off my skates and gathering my things.
Surprisingly enough, the bar is pretty busy tonight, the day after roller-blading. Hell, I’d be drinking too just because it’s Monday.
Which is why Ishani , Sejal, Sia, and I are sitting at the bar after our shifts. Ragini would be here too, but she took the later slot.
“So, what’s the history with Vansh, eh?” Sejal says with a nudge of the shoulder.
I take a sip of my beer and smile. “We’ve been friends since pre-school. He used to be so chubby, it was adorable.” I smile, but it fades. Not to a frown, but fades to an even bigger smile. “And now…” I whistle. “We’ve been just friends all our lives and it’ll probably stay that way, but… He’s… He’s definitely changed.”
“For better or worse?” Sia asks.
“And what do you mean by it’ll probably stay that way?” Sejal questions.
“Worse. He’s kind of a prick around others, but to me he’s a little bit softer. We’ll stay friends until he decides to leave town again or something. He got extremely ho-fty, though. Hefty. He got extremely hefty.” I blush and take a sip of my beer.
“You mean hot?” Sejal blatantly says. “‘Cause yes. He is.”
I smack her arm and continue with my mad blush. “Why do you care? You’re dating Aryan!”
“Does that mean I can’t take the time to acknowledge good-looking men?” she asks. “No.”
I roll my eyes.
“Is that… Wait, I’ve never seen it before,” says Sia as she gets me another beer. “… Jealousy?”
I blush my mad blush again.
“I don’t even know what or who you’re talking about, but she’s definitely jealous of someone or something.”
“Ha!” Ishani points. “You are totally crushing on him.”
“He’s been back for four days!” I stand up. “And this isn’t school anymore, Ishani , he’s changed. For better or worse, I don’t know, actually. And I certainly don’t appreciate what went on last night with you guys.” I spin on my heels and walk away, taking my fresh, newly- opened beer with me.
I walk out onto the sidewalk and walk a few steps until I hear a honk.
It’s normal. I’m wearing booty shorts, a tight t-shirt, and combat boots. Standard uniform. I hate working there. Being so… exposed and… ugh. I’m an extreme feminist. Some guys get paid more than women in a certain job. So, what, just because I don’t have a dick I can’t get as much money, even when I work harder? f**k that. So tell me what’s more offensive: Me saying f**k, or women not having equal rights? Certainly the latter option is the better alternative. f**k.
Another honk. “Hey, hon!” A familiar voice shouts. “Do you need a ride?”
Kabir slurs. Of course he’s still found a way to get drunk, even though he was banned from the bar while I was out roller-blading with Vansh. I was told he’d gotten in some sort of fight with one of his whores.
I roll my eyes and keep walking. I’m approaching Rose Residencies, one block away from my apartment.
“I asked you a question, Riddhima,” he says sternly as he possibly can.
“No,” I gritted my teeth.
“Hm, incorrect.” Kabir begins to exit the car.
I realized I missed my turn trying to get him off my trail.
“Listen, Kabir, I’m not-”
He lethargically punches me square in the nose and grabs my elbow, but I quickly punch him once I have the right angle, dropping my beer along the way. With one more hit, he’s out like a light.
“Idiot,” I mumble. I could care less if laid here all night and then got eaten by sewer rats, but then there’d be some… legal troubles. I may be strong, but there’s no way I can lift his fat ass into the car.
Who does one call in a situation like this?
Like, “Hi, yeah, this guy tried to kidnap me and I need to put him back in his car. You’ll be right there, you say? Oh thank you.”
Rose Residencies. Vansh’s address.
Why does it have to be him, of all people? He hasn’t tried to contact me since last night after I ran out. I guess I have no other option though.
I interrupt my own thoughts by knocking on his door. He’s most likely asleep, considering it’s almost one in the morning. I hear a rumbling, most likely his feet on the steps.
He opens the door. “Do you have any idea what t-oh god. Get inside. You’re bleeding.” He lays a palm on my cheek, gently rubbing my nose.
“Vansh, don’t worry about me. Listen, I knocked out Kabir-I’ll explain later-and I need you to get him back into his car since I’m too weak to lift his fat ass.”
“No. I’m taking care of your nose first. C’mere.” He leads me up the steps, and I finally notice him. He’s not wearing a shirt; just pajama bottoms, which reveals the giant tattoo of flames encasing his back. I don’t mention it.
He motions for me to hop on the counter of the bathroom, and I follow orders. He positions himself in between my legs and grabs multiple bandages and aiding stuff.
He shakes his head while dabbing at the blood. “What did you do?” he mumbles.
“I didn’t do anything.” I cross my arms. “It was Kabir.”
His hand immediately stops caressing my nose once he’s done fixing it and looks me in the eyes. Then, in a dangerously low voice, he says, “Kabir. He did this.”
I look away, causing his hands to drift off my cheeks.
“And you knocked him out, correct?” he asks using the same tone.
I give a slow nod. “He was drunk… and he tried to… He tried to, um, get me to come with him. To his house. And my, uh, uniform didn’t exactly help,” I say, putting emphasis on the word “uniform” since I don’t exactly feel comfortable in it.
Vansh ‘s hands lie on the counter, balled up in rage, as he looks at the shower curtain. The sink. The toilet. Anywhere but me. “I’ll be back,” he grunts. Then he walks out of the bathroom and descends down the stairs.
“No, Vansh-don’t.” I grab his arm as I struggle to catch up with him by the front door.
“Riddhima,” he huffs. “He-you can’t-I’m not going to allow this!” he says, stern, but with a certain softness in his voice that may or may not make me want to melt.
Friends. He’s your best friend.
“Thank you, Vansh , but I’m not going to let you go to jail, even if it’s just for a night. I just need you to throw the bastard back in his car so that he’s not lying out on the sidewalk, even though I know you could easily kill him with one hit to the head. Okay?” I ask as I rub his arm up and down.
He looks away again. Then he shakes his head. “Goddammit, Riddhima.”
He rolls his eyes and looks at the ceiling. “Fine, but after this I’m walking you home.”
“I’m perfectly capable-” I begin.
“I know you are.” He opens the front door without shoes and walks in the direction I point to. But he’s not there.
“The coward must’ve woken up and ran away,” says Vansh . “Let me go grab a shirt and shoes and we’ll be on our way, alright?” he asks, already walking back towards his doorstep.
Minutes later he comes back outside in a black shirt, pajama bottoms, and slides.
“Ready?” he asks.
I don’t say anything; just start walking on the sidewalk.
Without taking a single glance at him, I ask, “What’s with the tattoo on your back?”
He doesn’t say anything for a minute, but then, “Yeah. I believe the flames are completely eradicating my past. I like to believe they’re burning what’s left of the old me. I hate to believe that some of me is still existing within. I hate even bearing the thought that I could become the old me. I hate the fact that I could still become who I was five years ago. I hate knowing that I was never good enough. I hate-”
“Stop it!” I yell in frustration and stop walking. “Stop, Vansh . I get why you hate your past home-life, but I don’t get why you hate the other part. You know what I hate? I hate to believe that you’re becoming whoever this -” I gesture my hands to him. “-is, because it’s certainly not the you I’ve come to know and love over the years. I hate bearing the thought that you’re losing your old self. I hate the fact that you’re not the guy you were five years ago. And you know what I hate the most, Vansh? I hate knowing that you’re well on your way there.” As I finish, I begin to run toward my complex, which is just a mere thirty yards away, but feels like an eternal mile.
“Riddhima” Vansh shouts as he tries to catch up, but I soon cut him off.
“No,” I bellow. With that, I unlock my door and I step in.
I slam it shut and slide against it, putting all of my weight on it as I curl up.
I don’t believe in crying. I never have, and I never will. Tears are only meant to lubricate the eyes and nothing more than that. There is no real reason why we humans cry at the behest of emotion. That’s why I don’t do it. I pick myself back up and carry on.
So that’s what I do. I stand up, straighten my shirt, and carry myself to the bathroom to draw a shower.
I forget what happened tonight. It’s over. I forget who I was all those years ago. There’s a new me. I forget about my worries. They’re nothing. I forget about school. It’s unimportant at the moment. I forget about work. It’s sickening. I forget about my friends. It won’t be long until I see them. I forget about Vansh. He’s gone. The new and unimproved version of him is here, and his name is VR. It’s time to forget about him too, because Vansh is just somebody that I used to recognize. Now he’s nothing more than an old friend that is just a few pages in the story of my life that I have barely even begun to write.