Honest Moments: The Final Christmas

“I knew you’d be here.”

“Well, aren’t you the smartest frog in the well?” her tone of derision didn’t have the desired effect of putting him off. He came closer.

“Are you ok?” he asked gently, “I heard what happened.”

“Shouldn’t you be rejoicing?”

“I’m not that big of a jerk,” he smiled at her.

“Yet.”

“Yet,” he agreed.

She whirled around on her heels. “Don’t do that!” she snapped.

“Do what?” the bewildered look on his face did nothing to calm her down.

“Don’t be all nice and agree with me over everything! I know you’ve been doing that all year and I don’t like it! You hear me? I don’t like it at all!” her eyes blazed and her fists were clenched as if she was just holding back the urge to punch him.

“Ha! I knew it!” an impossibly large smile blossomed on his face, “You can’t stand me when I’m nice, can you? You want me to be a jerk. So that you can shout at me, throw things at me; venting, I believe it’s called,” he guffawed.

She narrowed her eyes at him and rapidly covered the distance between them. With satisfaction she noted the hitch in his breath when she placed her palm on his chest.

“No,” she whispered, “When you’re nice, it makes me want to do this,” and she rose up on tiptoe and kissed him.

He froze. He could feel the softness against his lips, but, couldn’t believe it belonged to her. He could feel her lips gently pressing over his, his lips responding to her touch, her tongue teasing the tip of his lower lip and in that instant, he came back to life.

He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close. The urgency in himself was something he himself couldn’t understand; didn’t care to understand in that moment. He opened his lips and claimed her mouth with his, transferring his sense of urgency to her, letting her get caught up in the rush of it too.

How long they stood there, attached to each other, they weren’t sure. But, when they finally drew apart, hair mussed and lips swollen, she was the first one to laugh.

“Who would have thought?” she gasped as she leaned back against the wall for support.

He just gazed at her, running his hand through his hair, still in a daze, still disbelieving that the event taking up most his dreams over the last couple of years had finally come to pass.

“Hey! Jay!” she waved a hand in front his face, “Hey jerk!”

In reply, he just stepped up to her and planted his lips on hers again.

This time when they drew apart, he was the one to break the silence.

“Now, we are even…” he rasped.

She snorted. “I should’ve known. There’s the kiss-counting jerk I remembered.” She said, smirking.

“Here’s the kiss-counting jerk you like,” he grinned slowly.

“Oy please! You were no ice-lipped rock in what happened just now,” she stared at him contemplatively, “I know you like me,” a simple statement that caused a flutter in her breast.

“How?”

“Girls always do.”

“Then, why did you go out with Matty? Then, Farhan? And then, Dinesh!”

“Wait! That means…you’ve liked me since then?” her eyes widened and a laugh emerged from her throat.

“It’s no laughing matter! Green isn’t my color and you’ve kept me forced in it for almost 2 years!” he snapped with a little heat.

She was laughing again, “I’m sorry! It’s just- I’ve had a crush on you for that long too; I never thought you reciprocated and well, that it’d be better to shift my focus.” She shrugged sheepishly.

“Well, you thought wrong, didn’t you?” he slipped his arm around her waist.

“Not anymore,” she grinned mischievously, “I figured it out when you punched Dinesh today. I supported you and well, let’s say he didn’t take it well.”

He stared at her, eyebrows raised, “You needed me to punch a guy to figure it out? You are dumb, aren’t you?”

She punched his arm in reply, “Shut up and kiss me, jerk.”

**

When Laila finally wandered back to her room, it was dawn and she couldn’t stop smiling.

“Where were you?” Mary’s voice snapped as soon as she entered.

Laila jumped, “Sheesh Mare! You startled me!”

“Laila Mahmood! Where were you until this hour? Do you know how worried I was?” Mary hissed.

Laila cringed. Mary didn’t get angry easily. But, when she did, it could be difficult to calm her down. She walked over and sat on the edge of Mary’s bed.

“I’m sorry, Mare,” she apologised contritely, “I was just…working some stuff out.”

“No! No more of these vague answers!” her friend snapped, “You do this every Christmas! You disappear the night before and morning after, you’re all lost and mysterious and I don’t understand!”

“Mar-“

“Pfft!” Mary pinched her friend’s lips with her fingers, “I know it has something to do with Jay. I’m not stupid. In fact, I know even your break up has something to do with Jay. But, if you believe for a moment that that nosy twit understands you better than your own best friend, I’m sorry, but, you’re gonna have a war upon your hands and it won’t be pretty!” she breathed hard as a tinge of red appeared in her cheeks and let go of her friend’s lips, “And thank you for not trying to lick my hand,” she added grumpily.

“I’ve had it done to me. It doesn’t feel good,” Laila shrugged.

“Yes, I know. The whole school knows, Lai. You weren’t exactly quiet about it,” Mary said dryly.

Laila let out a gust of laughter and silence fell between them.

“He asked me out,” Laila said finally.

“And?”

“And we kissed.”

“In that order?”

“No…I kissed him first. Then, he kissed me. Then, we kissed some more and finally, he asked me out…and I said yes.”

A beat passed as Mary stared at her friend.

“Good kisser?”

“Umm…hmm,” Laila nodded while a pretty blush spread across her face.

“I don’t like him.”

“But, why?” Laila stared at her best friend worriedly, “He’s nice, Mare. And he’s being especially nice this year and you know it. You’ve commented upon it. He’s a jerk, sure, but not all jerk.”

“Why did you break up?” Mary questioned in a sudden turn of subject, holding her friend in her gaze.

“Because…well, he punched Dinesh and I supported him. Dinesh didn’t like it; said if I liked him that much, then, I should be with him and not with him, that is, with Dinesh; and I said maybe I should be and that’s that.” Laila broke the gaze and shrugged uncomfortably.

“So, you’re definitely broken up? Not taking a break or some such shit?”

Laila shook her head.

“And Dinesh knows that?”

“Yes, our fight ended with us talking and we decided to break up. Anyway, we’ll all be leaving school soon and both of us knew there’s no point in continuing if we didn’t even like each other that much. Anymore.”

“What about this thing with Jay then?”

“He likes me,” Laila said simply, “And I like him. We’ll see where it goes.”

Mary looked at her best friend for a while. She knew this reserved girl and she knew it wasn’t secrecy that prompted her to not confide in anyone. But, soon, they won’t be sharing a dorm and…

“CONGRATULATIONS, LAI!!!” Mary threw her arms around her friend and hugged the surprised girl tightly, “I still don’t like him. So, if he puts a toe out of line, then, I’ll kill him. You tell him that, yeah?”

Laila laughed in relief.

“Yeah, I’ll tell him.”

**

“Where were you?” Nikhil’s voice cut across the room like ice.

“Putting things right,” Jay leaned against the window as he waited for his friend to join him.

“With Laila?” eyebrows wiggling, Nikhil dragged himself and a blanket over to the window.

“With Laila,” Jay nodded, a smile growing on his face.

“Congratulations are in order then?” Nikhil also leaned against the window and breathed in the fresh morning air.

Jay nodded happily.

“And one day, you’ll tell me how it happened?”

“Just a few secrets shared, that’s all,” his friend replied.

“Secrets you’ve kept from me?” Nikhil’s voice was cold again.

“You know them now…”

“But, she knew them before.” It was statement, not a question. But, Jay answered anyway.

“Yes.”

Silence engulfed the distance between them and took over the room.

“I like her, though,” Nikhil said at last, in a softer voice.

“Everybody does.”

“Well, she is the school captain,” he chuckled, “I can’t believe you’re going out with the school captain.”

“My best friend is a school captain too,” Jay pointed out dryly.

“Yeah. I can’t believe that either,” Nikhil chuckled again.

“I’m sorry, man,” said Jay after a moment.

Nikhil shrugged. “It’s ok. You got lucky, you know? She’s…good.” He said, turning to face his friend.

“I know,” Jay smiled at the rising sun, “I know.”

**

“You’ll call?”

“I will.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I know you don’t.”

“But, you’ll call?”

“I’ll call.”

He sighed.

“Believe me.” She said.

And he did.

/fin/

Thank you for reading!

Honest Moments: Fourth Christmas

“What’re you doing here?” the voice snapped and she bristled.

“What’s it to you?” she snapped.

“Nothing,” his voice took on the smarmy tone that he seemed to keep reserved for her nowadays, “Just thought you’d be spending the last night with your boyfriend. You do realize you’ll be apart for 3 whole weeks?” he mocked.

She narrowed her eyes and glared at the boy smirking in front of her.

“Did she really have a crush on him? This insufferable jerk!” the thoughts in her brain brought a heat to her face that lit up the darkness they were standing in.

“You’re such a jerk!” she snapped.

“And don’t you know it!” the smirk seemed permanently fixed on his face, “I suppose Matty never treats you like this, huh? All hugs and roses…and kisses?” he leered.

“Shut up! What’s wrong with you?”

And just as suddenly, the smirk dropped from his face and he colored.

“Nothing’s wrong with me!” he retorted with unexpected heat and turned away, “Of course, nobody could possibly be as good as your boyfriend…” his petty murmurs did nothing to the confusion rising in her chest.

“What are you? Five? Girls don’t have cooties. Boys aren’t covered in bogies. People have boyfriends,” she explained as if to an extremely dull child, “Get over it! Or get yourself a girlfriend. Of course, that would require at least an ounce of sense, but, you’re probably allergic to even the spelling of SENSE!”

“S-E-N-S-E!” he whirled around and yelled at her.

“Do not shout at me!”

“Do not mock me!”

“Do not talk to me then, you nonsensical nincompoop!”

“I am nonsensical? I’m a nincompoop? Have you ever even talked to your boyfriend? Or are you too busy to do any talking at all?”

Her eyes widened and fists clenched, “What is your problem with Matty?” she hissed.

He flushed. In a sudden rush of breath, he became aware of his surroundings, his proximity to the girl he liked, but, whom he, he was sure, hated more than anything else in the world in that moment. He took a step back as shame roiled in his belly.

“Nothing. I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I just…I’m sorry. Matty’s a great guy. I’m just…sorry!” and he took off into the night.

**

Laila woke up feeling just as bewildered as she had when she’d gone to bed.

“How could one guy move through so many moods in one night? Heck! In a few minutes of a night!” she wondered as she dressed. Confusion was clouding her head and it was obvious in her haphazard manner of packing and in the worried looks Mary kept throwing her way.

“Lai, you okay?” she asked finally.

Laila didn’t reply. She hadn’t even heard Mary speak.

“Laila!” Mary reached across and threw a pillow at her friend, “Laila!”

“Huh? What?”

“What’s wrong with you today? You’re hardly moving. I know you don’t like going home, but this is the slowest you’ve ever been. I thought you were excited to go home this time with you getting your sister’s room and all. Is everything alright?” Mary peered worriedly at her best friend who was looking at her like a deer caught in headlights. “If you have a problem, you can always come home with me, you know,” she added gently.

“No, no!” Laila finally snapped out of it and shook her head, “Home’s fine. I’m just…thinking.”

“About?”

“Jay…” the name slipped unbidden from her mouth.

“Jay?” Mary wasn’t sure she heard it right, “That usually doesn’t take this much effort from you!”

“No, of course not,” Laila smiled feebly, “I’m just being stupid.”

“Lai, stupid about what?” Mary pursed her lips and puffed out her cheeks, “I no understand nothing!”

Laila laughed, “Nothing to understand, Mary-kins!”

Mary only gave her look of deep suspicion and turned away, “One day, when you’ll want to talk to me about this, I’ll be too busy being Prime Minister and won’t have time for you and then, you’ll regret not confiding in me now!”

Laila laughed, “I just need to talk to that jerk once, that’s it. That should do it,” she zipped up her suitcase.

“Yes, that should do it.”

**

Jay had no intention of talking to Laila today. In fact, he didn’t even want to see her. More importantly, he didn’t want her to see him. But, things had a way of not going according to plan and this was just one of those days.

“Oy!”

He knew that voice. Of course, he knew. For a good part of last year, he had convinced himself that he liked that voice. Not anymore, he thought. But, that didn’t stop the flush he could feel on his neck at the sound of it. Soon, he knew, that flush would’ve worked its way up to his face and he’ll be talking to her in the guise of a freshly ripened tomato. For the umpteenth time, he cursed his parents’ fair-skinned genetics.

He turned warily and tapped his foot to indicate his distaste at the meeting.

“Knock it off! I need to talk to you,” she was already glaring; and within a minute, he tells himself, she’s going to be narrowing her eyes at him. He groaned mentally.

“What about?” he asked, trying not to sound like a petulant child.

She shook her head as she walked towards him, “You really are something,” she murmured, “What happened last night?”

“What do you mean? You were there too, if I wasn’t mistaken. Unless, that was your evil twin! Do you have an evil twin? Though, seeing how evil you naturally are, you’d just be the evil sisters, I suppose!” he smiled toothily.

She gaped at him. “See! This!” she poked him in the chest “This is what I’m talking about! One moment, you look like you’re about to run away from me and the next moment you open your mouth and that diatribe pours out! What did I do to you? Why do you hate me so much?”

“I don-“

“Pfft!” she pinched his lips with her fingers, “Why do you insist on playing with my head like this? The first time we met, you were great! I thought you were the sweetest boy ever! Then, you wake up the next morning and become a jerk! In fact, so many times in the darkness, you’re so nice to me. Then, morning comes and voila! Meet the resident Frankenstein, people! And last night! Last night, you managed the entire gamut within minutes! What a performance, it was too! I bet Freud is turning over in his grave right now wishing he had a front seat entry! STOP TRYING TO LICK MY HAND!”

A sudden silence fell over the corridor as everybody turned to look at the shouting school captain. She didn’t seem to notice however.

“You decide what you want to be, you hear me? Be a jerk or be Mr. Nice Guy. But, do not confuse me by playing around with both as you wish!” she let go of his lips and shoved him back in one swift move and walked away.

Honest Moments: Third Christmas

“Tell me again; why should I help you with this?” she asked the boy kneeling in front of her with a raised eyebrow.

“Because you’re good and helpful and applying for school captain,” he replied without looking up at her.

They were both hidden in a back corner of the library and he was busy fiddling with a little box and a screw driver.

“You do realise that if you get caught, you’ll be in a whole lot of trouble?” she questioned him again, her eyebrow seemingly permanent in its perch.

“But, we won’t get caught,” was the boy’s flippant response, accentuated by a characteristic shrug.

“I haven’t agreed to it yet. So, there’s no “we” about it!” she snapped.

“But, you will!” he insisted.

“Why on earth would you think so?” she exclaimed

“Because you’re good and helpful and…”

“Shut up!”

Finally, he looked at her and grinned. Putting the box aside, he stood up to his full 6 foot glory and towered over her 5 foot 6 inch self, which was currently glaring at him.

“Come on, Loopy! Where’s your sense of fun?”

The glare didn’t soften.

“You know you’re my last resort. I wouldn’t ask you unless I abso-effing-lutely had to.”

The glare sharpened.

“Fine! I can’t ask anybody else! And Christmas is only a week away and it has to be spectacular!”

“What has to be spectacular?” she asked, her eyes narrowed.

“This Christmas present,” he looked down and scuffed his feet on the floor, “Indu’s parents are getting divorced and she’s…she’s taking it really hard…I have to do something!” he met her eye and the desperation in them melted her heart.

“Who’s Indu?” the snap had gone out of her voice and only the softness remained.

“My cousin,” he said gruffly, “My best friend really. She comes home for Christmas and this is her Christmas present. I tell you, Christmas sucks!”

The childish affirmation brought an unbidden smile to her lips.

“So, what do you want me to do?” she took a step closer and looked up at him with a smile.

“If you had only asked that earlier, we would’ve saved all this time,” he said, taking a step forward

“If you had only been honest with me, we would’ve saved all this time,” she retorted in the same tone, taking her own step forward.

They stared at each other, unmindful of the distance absent between them, each challenging the other to look away first. But, his eyes went down to her lips a second before hers and he lost.

A red hue deepened in both their cheeks as they looked away simultaneously.

“So…So, umm…what do you need me to do?” her falsely cheerful tone did its best to break the tension enveloping them both.

“I need you to sneak her into the school.”

“WHAT?”

**

Lips. Curvy, pink lips. Slightly parted and glistening. Inviting and challenging. At the same time.

Jay shook himself and looked down at the ignored chicken on his plate.

“Dude, you ok?” Nikhil’s voice prodded him out of his reverie more than the promise of food in front of him.

“Yep. Just fine.”

Yes, he was just fine. And he hadn’t just been thinking about Loopy Laila’s lips. Not at all. Even if it did make for a snappy alliteration. He was a 16 year old boy. So, those could be any girl’s lips. Really. Maybe even a boy’s. But, most certainly not Laila’s.

Suddenly, his back straightened and his head cleared and his gaze focused. There she was. Walking into the dining hall, laughing with her friends, making a face at the food on offer…there was Laila. And she was beautiful.

He couldn’t help the groan escaping from his mouth.

**

“Was he looking at her?” she wondered as she laughed at something Mary said. After all, she had spent a few extra minutes in front of the mirror with her hair. And her clothes. And her lip gloss… she caught her thoughts and reined them back.

“Who cared if he was looking at her?” she thought now. She only wanted to look good for herself. Not for him. Definitely not for him!

She looked over and caught his eye. And blushed immediately.

“Laila, why are you blushing?” Mary was frowning at her from across the table.

“I’m not blushing!” an auto-pilot response was readily given and just as readily ignored.

“Why is Jay staring at you?” popped the next question.

“Maybe, I have something on my face,” the next auto-pilot response. Then, “Do I have something on my face?” she demanded of her friend, glaring at her in an indication for honesty.

She needn’t have. She had nothing on her face. Mary affirmed with her reply what she had already known. Jay was staring at her.

She blushed again.

**

Honest Moments: Second Christmas

“Hi!”

The voice startled him out of his reverie and he toppled out of the swing.

“Oh! Oh dear! I didn’t mean to startle you! I didn’t know anybody else was here. I just wanted to be alone for a bit. You know, solitude and all tha…You!” She closed her mouth with a snap.

He rolled his eyes at her instant reaction as he dusted himself off.

“What are you doing here, Loopy?” he asked warily.

“I didn’t know you were here,” she snapped in reply.

“Yes, you’ve said that once already,” he said wryly, “But, how about, hypothetically…Just hear me out,” he cut across her as she opened her mouth, “Hypothetically, I’m not me and you’re…well, you.” he shrugged characteristically, “So, just continue with your rant- solitude and all…?” he stopped with a question mark.

She pursed her lips and went through every reason in her head that made him a detestable human being. All of them came up short in front of her desire to talk to somebody who understands. Or at least, who, once, had understood.

“I stayed back with a friend for Christmas,” she began dully.

“So, I can see…”

“Don’t. Interrupt.” She bit out boring her eyes into his. She took a deep breath and continued, “My sister’s getting married in 2 weeks and they…they told me to stay away because I’d be in the way,” her voice cracked and tears pooled in her eyes, “I..” she swallowed, “I wanted to go home; go shopping with them all; take part in all those wedding activities and be excited! I mean, my sister is getting married! Married! And yet, I’m here because I’d be in the way! What kind of a logic is that?” her tears were falling thickly now and she brushed them off her face with an impatient flick of her wrist that somehow touched him more than all of her words did.

Impulsively, he caught hold of that wrist and pulled her into his arms. As his arms went around him and he questioned his own sanity, she clutched at him tight and sobbed on his shoulder. He remembered the last time when he had thought that she was tiny. Apparently, in the one intervening year, she had grown. Now she was almost as tall as him and her head was just right for the crook of his shoulder.

He held her for as long as it took for her tears to dry up. When finally she disengaged herself from his arms, she looked up with a blotchy face and red rimmed eyes, and asked,

“So, what’s wrong with you?”

He opened his mouth to reply…

“And don’t lie this time!” she cut across his emerging voice sharply.

He rolled his eyes again and gave her a look of exasperation that was kept reserved especially for her.

“If I may be allowed to speak?” he asked, sarcasm coating his words liberally. At her curt nod, he continued, “My parents couldn’t decide whose house I would get to spend Christmas at. So, I put them out of their misery and opted to stay here with Nikhil.”

She placed her hand on his arm in a show of sympathy, “I’m so sorry, Jay,” she whispered.

He jerked his head up in surprise.

“That sounds so weird coming from you!” he exclaimed

“What sounds so weird coming from me?” she questioned warily.

“My name! Have you ever called me Jay before? I do believe this is the first time you’re actually using my given name!”

“I…Of course not! I’m sure I’ve used it before!” she spluttered.

“Name once!” he challenged.

“I..no! This is silly. And I’ve got to get back,” she turned away in a huff and waved a dismissive hand at her classmate, “Bye Jerk!”

“See! There you go…calling me Jerk again!” he laughed.

She didn’t deign to reply. She also didn’t deny the smile that had crept upon her face.

**

“Merry Christmas, Loopy!” Jay screamed from across the street.

15 year old Laila blushed bright red and turned towards the offending voice with every intention of throwing something at it.

“Laila, you ready?” came a voice from behind her.

Laila turned back to face Mary, at whose place she had stayed until she could leave for her sister’s wedding.

“Yes, Mother Mary,” she bent down and gave the shorter girl a tight hug, “Thank you so much for letting me stay, Mary.”

“Don’t be silly, Laila. Mom would probably miss you more than me. Come back anytime and she’ll only be too pleased to fatten you up.”

Laila laughed lightly and tried to forget the frown line that had edged itself into her forehead at the thought of going home.

“I hope your house is all fresh and renovated by the time you get back,” her friend laughingly added and at that precise moment, Jay appeared at her elbow and stared at Mary in surprise. Masking his expression quickly, he turned to Laila,

“Can I speak to you for a second?”

“Why?” Laila raised an eyebrow, “You could just shout at me from across the street. I thought that was your preferred form of conversation.”

Instead of replying, he grabbed her elbow and pulled her off to the side.

“Let go of me, jerk!” Laila pulled her arm out of his grasp

“You didn’t tell her?” he demanded before she could open her mouth again.

Laila’s eyes narrowed and glared at the boy that she spent a better part of the school year fighting with.

“No!” she snapped finally, “And don’t you dare go blabbing it about, either!”

“Blab? I?” Jay let out a bark of laughter, “I don’t blab, my dear, I talk. And if it was a secret, you should have mentioned it…”

“So you’ve already gone and blabbed then? How dare you…” his hand was over her mouth, the tip of his index finger tickling the soft flesh of her upper lip.

“Are you also getting a feeling of déjà vu?” he questioned with a mischievous smile on his face.

She didn’t reply. Her eyes were still on his fingers covering her mouth and her chest rose and fell with every breath that she was acutely aware of breathing.

“I didn’t tell anyone, Loopy Laila,” he smiled now, genuinely and she looked at the twinkle in his eyes and wondered how she had never noticed it before.

“And I won’t tell anyone, either. Ever,” he promised her.

And she believed him.

Honest moments: First Christmas


“Couldn’t sleep?” a voice whispered from behind where she sat.

She jumped in her seat, startled at the sudden intrusion of humanity into her solitude. Blushing slightly at her own nerves, she slowly turned around.

He stood behind her in a loose shirt and shorts that just hung off his hips. She blushed again as she remembered that all she was wearing was a nightgown that ended higher from her knees than it needed to.

As she stood up from her crouched position on the floor, his eyes flicked to her exposed thigh and back to her face. His breath caught in his throat and he hoped that she hadn’t noticed.

“What are you doing here?” she asked softly.

“I could ask you the same question,” he replied, a smile playing on his lips.

She smiled shyly. “I couldn’t sleep,” she said, “I keep thinking about tomorrow.”

“Why? Don’t you like home?” his eyes looked puzzled and the thought that it might be too personal a question never entered his head.

“Oh! I- I do! It’s just…” the thought that it might be too personal an answer never entered her head either. “I like it so much more at school. My house gets so crowded at Christmas!” she continued, her voice getting stronger with each word, “There is no place at all for me. It’s like they’ve forgotten I exist while I’m away at school most of the year and now they have to force some space open for me, like add an extra chair at the dining table, make my sister clear all her stuff from my room and then, my cousins come, who are so close to everybody in the family, but me. So, they have all these games that they play or conversations that they have, that make absolutely no sense to me! I just- just feel so…alone,” her voice faded away. She sat down again and drew her knees up to her chin.

“She’s so tiny,” the thought entered unbidden into his head, as he settled himself beside her. He wasn’t sure what he should do. Maybe, he should put his arm around her; or should he pat her on her head? While his thoughts were still actively consuming him, she lifted her head again.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said all that,” she spoke in a small voice. “It’s just that once I start talking, it’s very difficult to get me to shut up. All my friends complain about it.”

He laughed. “No, it’s alright. I hear it’s good to share. Do you feel better now?” he asked, smiling.

She nodded happily. “So, what about you? What do you have to share?” she asked, looking at him in a way that was so honest, he felt bad about lying to her.

“I- I was just exploring. I found this place and thought I would just rest my legs,” he said flippantly, giving her a confident grin.

“Uh huh…” she continued to stare at him until a hint of red brushed his cheek and he looked down at the floor.

“You know,” she began conversationally, “what we are having here, accidentally it might be though, is beautiful. So, please don’t spoil it by lying,” she finished quietly.

He gaped at her. “I- I’m not-” he sighed. “My parents are getting a divorce,” he mumbled.

“Oh!” she scooted closer to him and put her arm around him as much as she could. “I’m so sorry!”

Now, he drew up his knees to his chest and nodded dully. “Christmas sucks!” he declared.

She didn’t say anything, but put her other arm around him in an awkward sideways hug and held him tight as he struggled to not let the tears fall.

**

The Rathivan Academy for Gifted Students stood in the lonely forests of Rathivan, but catered to students from all over the country who managed to gain an admission into its hallowed halls. An entrance exam rumoured to be one of the toughest known, stood in the path of all those who wished an entry.

But, once you are through that exam, opportunities of every possible academic pursuit opened their doors for you. It was for this very chance that Laila had strived for ever since she came across the existence of this institute. When she was 13, through sheer hard work, she had cracked the exam in her very first try and came through with dreams in her eyes and her family’s disapproval at her back.

They disapproved because it took their little daughter far away from them and they had no way to be sure what was going on in her life anymore; because Rathivan Academy was across the country for them and their daughter would be in its boarding facility. Furthermore, she was 13, just entering the dangerous years of adolescence with all of its pitfalls, and for the orthodox Muslim parents of Laila, sending their daughter to a co-ed school, never mind a co-ed boarding school, was never an option. As for Laila’s siblings, her desire to go to a school so far away from them and of which they nary had an idea, only meant that she thought they weren’t good enough for her. So, they turned up their noses at the dreamy-eyed girl and walked away in a huff.

Laila had an argument for each of her parents’ concern, but, she could find nothing in her kitty to win over her sisters. Finally, tired of all the arguing, her parents had given in and promptly set about arranging their lives without her in them.

But, Rathivan Academy more than made up for its reputation in Laila’s opinion and the now 14-year old was very happy for most of the year. She had good friends who stood by her when she got detention at school or a particularly disinterested letter from home, she had good grades that put her in favourable light to all the teachers at school, she found a sport she was good at and a hobby she loved and just last night, she had an amazing conversation with a boy.

Yes, when she woke up on the morning of 21st of December, Laila was in a passably good mood despite the prospect of having to set for home later. Until that is, she walked down from the dormitory with her friends, and was accosted by the same boy that she had had a late night conversation with last night.

“Hi!” she smiled at him in recognition.

“Hey…Umm…can I talk to you for a bit?” he looked distinctly uncomfortable as he ran his hand through his hair.

“Sure,” she looked puzzled and walked away from her friends as they looked on in confusion.

“See, about last night,” he began as soon as they were far enough away, “about last night, it didn’t mean anything and I don’t want you to tell anyone about it.”

Laila felt a little piercing in her heart, but ignored it. “If you don’t want me to tell anyone about what you told me…”

“Oh my God!” he cut her off, “You’ve already and gone and told somebody then?” he glared at her.

Now, she gaped at him and felt the first stirrings of anger in her chest. “Of course not!” she snapped. “I was going to say that if you don’t want me to tell anyone, then I won’t and anyway, that was understood!” little spots of red stood out on her cheeks as her eyes lit up with the fire of anger.

The boy looked a little taken aback. Nobody had ever snapped at him so directly before (except for his mother, but she doesn’t count anyway).

“Fine then!” he snapped back, “Let me just add that just because we had a talk last night, doesn’t mean we are friends or something. You don’t have to sit with me during classes or at meals or call me for study sessions or anything.”

Laila stared at him and with every word he spoke, her eyes had narrowed until she was looking at him through slits for eyes. “You know what,” she finally spoke in a low voice that held anger in each exhalation, “I do not know why I ever came across you or thought that you were even a little nice, because right now, I see that you are such an arrogant, rude and self-obsessed jerk and I’m sorry I ever talked to you at all. You don’t have to worry about me thinking of you as a friend; I don’t ever want to be friends with such a tosspot as you. I hate you!”

Her face red and her eyes full of anger and hurt, Laila walked away from the boy who had made her laugh and cry, all within a day.

**

The day Jay got his acceptance letter for Rathivan Academy, his parents took him out and treated him to the most lavish day in his lifetime. They were proud of their only son and showed him that with all their worth (which was considerable).

6 months to date after that day, Jay got a letter from him mother announcing her intention to divorce his father.

That day, he skipped all his classes and hid away in the little cranny hidden behind an old unused staircase that he had discovered during his first week at school. When his friends questioned him later as to where he was, he feigned illness and went to bed. The next day he woke up and went about his usual way and nobody knew the war being waged with his emotions inside.

He didn’t want their pity, he told himself. He didn’t want their solicitousness; all those eyes following him and waiting for him to breakdown. So, he hid his news and his disbelief and for all the world, he was looking forward to going home for Christmas just as much as everyone else.

Until that night before, when he went in search of solitude and instead found comfort in his classmate’s arms.

The next morning when he woke up, panic and shame were battling inside his chest. Panic that she would tell people about his secret and shame for having broken down, just like he had feared, in front of another person and a girl too! He couldn’t rest until he found her, talked to her, warned her and put all of this shameful incident behind him. That, however, didn’t go exactly according to plan.

He had planned on having a polite conversation, where he would put his side of the argument forward, which she would agree with because he would put it so compellingly and then, they would part amicably and never talk to each other again. But, the moment he started, things got derailed. He lost his tongue…she lost her temper and now, he was sitting on the bus taking him to the airport and wondering what that weird tightness in his throat was.

But then, he was 14 and 14 year old boys are not used to sitting still and wondering. So, in all of his adolescent wisdom, he pushed her out of his mind and went back to discussing holiday plans with his friends.

**