13. Rigid arms
“No!”, I screamed into the empty walls of my room and smashed my mobile on the wall. The sound of the screen cracking echoed in my room and with my eyes wide in shock, I ran to my mobile, trying to bring it back to life. I hit the phone repeatedly on my palm and wailed in despair.
Why was I like that? Why did I do that? How will I call him now?
The answer arrived with a knock on my door. I jumped to my feet and unlocked the door to find Aarav standing there in all his formal glory. I knew I looked a total mess, especially in front of this impeccably dressed man, but I didn’t care.
“What’s wrong?”, he asked, but before he could finish his question, I demanded his phone.
Seeming to notice the urgency in my voice or perhaps it was, he handed it over to me without any question. As I paced to and fro in my room, I dialled the number Dev had forced me to memorize for safety reasons. With my heart in my throat, I waited for the line to connect.
“The number you are trying to reach is currently unreachable”, the woman said and my heart stilled, absolutely still and my body followed. I stood absolutely still as my mind flashed thousands of snippets of his lifeless body clutching his broken phone, trying to reach me but failing every time.
My eyes watered and the heart that was previously still started beating three times faster.
I had to find him.
Nothing could happen to him. Not on my watch.
“Are you alright?”, asked he, only then did I notice that he was still there.
“Do you have Liam’s number?”, I asked of my husband.
“No, but I have Shanaya’s”
I didn’t bother asking how he got it, knowing Shanaya she gave it to him, again, for safety reasons. I searched her name in contacts and called. My heart beat in sync with the ringing and it finally relaxed when Shanaya picked up.
“Shanaya”, I exhaled.
“Um.. Riya?”, greeted her confused voice.
“Yes, send me Liam’s number, please”
“Okay, why? Whose number is this? And why do you sound so tensed?”
“I’ll explain later, just send me his number”
“Okay, okay”, she agreed, and soon after I hung up, his phone dinged with a notification.
Finding the number, I called Liam right away.
“Hey, it’s Rex. Is Dev alright? Did you reach him yet?”, I asked frantically and started pacing again. The sound of his final crash stull reverberated in my ears. What if… what if… I couldn’t let the thought complete. I forced myself to think of no negative scenarios but wasn’t entirely successful.
“Yes, I… he is alright. Just a small cut from where he punched the mirror, but otherwise he is fine. I’ll clean up after him and call you later”, and before I could protest, Liam hung up.
A huge ball in my throat dislodged, but it formed again. Was he telling the truth? He sounded… panicked. Why did he sound panicked? A small cut wouldn’t warrant that now, would it?
What if he was lying?
What if Dev really was in serious danger?
I chewed the insides of cheeks, begging myself to not let the tears fall, begging myself to think something not so frightening. Dev would be fine. He has to be. I kept repeating the mantra inside my head. Liam would help him, I knew he would. And yet I couldn’t swallow the fear that kept growing larger by the second.
Two warm hands grabbed my shoulders and I stilled. Was this the part in the nightmare that I realised it was a nightmare?
Hope bubbling in my chest, I turned around only to find the same Aarav of my nightmare staring right back at me. He wore the same grey trousers and shirt with a black tie dangling from the collar. His pink lips started moving and in that same movement, my hope died.
This wasn’t a nightmare.
This really was real.
His hazel orbs stared into mine and in those swirling yellows and browns, I found my escape. I found comfort in those intense eyes; they seemed to tell that all was good, that I had nothing to worry about.
His smooth, authoritative voice reached my ears next and they seemed to repeat the same message.
My knees dropped to the ground. “How would you know?”, I whispered in a voice that sounded so unlike mine. This was happening a lot lately.
“How do you?”, he asked and a confused frown equipped my forehead.
What did I know? Nothing, only that Dev was injured and I had no way to reach him.
My head rolled up to look at him and asked, “What do you mean?”
“How do you know?”
“What do I know?”, my eyebrows furrowed.
“How do you know?”, he asked in his same authoritative voice, and I feared I had gone mad and was now running his words on loop. Even so, with clenched teeth and fists, I asked, “What the bloody hell do you mean?”
“How do you know he isn’t alright?
The little anger that had emerged dissipated into a pool of dread.
“Dev”, I moaned and looked down between my knees, “I… I… he was drunk, very drunk and he was so angry at himself. He blamed himself. I heard a crash,” I sniffled, “a huge thud and then the line disconnected.”
Rigid but warm arms enveloped me and I looked up to meet his hazel eyes.
“Your friend’s with him, right? He will take care. You have nothing to worry about”, he patted my head awkwardly.
His arms around me were awkward and rigid, but the heat emanating from him was comforting; it was better than no one.
“My friend”, I chuckled sadly, “My friend is right. Dev never had any friends. He worked furiously on his company and reserved all his free time for me. ‘You are enough. You are all I need’, he always said when I worried about his social life, funny how I couldn’t give him the same commitment. He thinks he wasn’t enough, but he was, he really was”, I looked up at him, begging him to believe him.
I love Dev. He was enough. Please believe me.
“But I couldn’t run away from him. You… you… didn’t see their faces that evening; they looked so destroyed and I believed them when they said that they had no other option. I trusted my parents, why wouldn’t I? They thought the best of me.
I didn’t know they were lying. How would I? If I did, I never would have… never would have..”, I stumbled over my words, dropping my head on my knees as my eyes continued their waterfall. His arms turned even more rigid, digging almost painfully on my sides. But compared to the pain I felt inside, it was nothing.
Aarav stayed with me the whole time I cried over Dev, mumbling unintelligible words. Sometime later, I didn’t know how long; it could have been days or hours or mere minutes, I wouldn’t know.
I didn’t want to call Liam, afraid I would delay the care Dev needed. I couldn’t call the rest, not for their lack of trying, they had texted and called relentlessly signalled by Aarav’s continuously beeping phone with unknown numbers, but because I didn’t have the energy to explain anything to anybody.
Aarav’s warm body was the only source of comfort and that made me feel guilty. Dev had no one to comfort him. While I was bitching and moaning about my fate, I still had my friends. Dev had no one. He was all alone.
He had trusted me with his heart and I had broken it, ruthlessly.
I betrayed him, and before today, I hadn’t even considered his pain; only caring for my own. I had blamed it all on my parents, but weren’t I responsible too?
Weren’t I responsible for finding an alternative? Explaining everything until he understood?
Deep in my own pain, I had forgotten all about him.
Who did he have, if not me?
And how did I forget that I was his?
Aarav’s phone started ringing and like all the times before, I ignore it. He picked it up though.
“Hello”, I heard him speak and before long, he was offering the phone to me mouthing ‘Liam’.
“Liam?”, I asked in a high-pitched voice, awaiting news.
But what he said was nothing like what I wanted it to be.