It’s been heck of a week. First, Val says that he is interested in me. Then I panic and run out on him. I still feel terrible about it. But I think this is for the best. I don’t want him getting involved with my problems. I sneak early morning to office every day and get back home late after all the team meetings. The only good outcome was that I get to lead the project. I was afraid that Val would be angry since I interrupted, but he was more than happy and had praised me.
It still feels strange to be praised for the work I do here. Back at home, nobody gave a rat’s ass.
The only thing I would hear from my parents was “You are a girl! we send you to study so you can get a good husband.
By the time it’s Wednesday, I am mixing paint colors, still wondering what I should be painting on my blank canvas, because every time I closed my eyes, I could see Val, standing tall and broad as he runs his fingers along his dark blonde hair that’s loosely falling around his shoulder. My thoughts were interrupted by a phone call. Matt’s name pops up on my phone’s display.
Matt and I met couple of times last month when Pooja hosted family dinner. Matt’s also my doctor. He treated me when I reached here all battered and bruised. He had asked me to go out on a date with him on several occasions and I have declined multiple times, but it never stopped him to keep pursuing me.
I didn’t want anyone thinking bad about my family. I didn’t want anyone to know what I endured, and I didn’t want to be seen as weak. That’s why I never shared about it to anyone.
With Matt, I was not treading on dangerous ground. My heart was safe with him. There were no feelings involved other than just being friends.
But I feel it’s unfair to Matt. I cannot use him to block my feelings for Val.
“Hey, Matt.” I answer the call as I place the paint palette on the table.
“Hi beautiful. How are you?” I smile at his tone. “I am alright, Matt.”
“How’s the little blip?” My hand instinctively goes to my stomach.
“I think he’s fine too.”
“So, it’s a he, huh?” I can hear him smile over the phone.
“I have a feeling.”
“You have check-up due in two weeks. Let’s find out”
I know what’s his next question going to be. This is always how our conversations would go. First, he would ask about the baby and then the date.
“Would you please go on a date with me? This Friday?”
“Please. Just one date and that’s it. Consider it a friendly date. I won’t ask again if you don’t enjoy spending time with me.
“Matt.” I sigh. My heart knew who it wanted, and it wasn’t Matt. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. “Fine, Matt. One date.” I think I can go out. What’s the worst that could happen?
The only reason I agreed to a date is in order to have a familiar friendly person close by and not feel this raging storm in my heart.
“What time shall I pick you up?”
“I will finish my work by 6 pm. Where do you want me to meet you?”
“I will pick you up from your office. Text me the address.”
Once he ends the call, I sink on my bed. What have I done?
It’s just one date. It’s just one date. What could go wrong? There’s no harm. I keep saying to myself.
It’s Friday already, almost time for my date. I close my laptop checking the time probably for hundredth time in last hour. I feel so uneasy about this date and yet I can’t cancel on Matt. He’s my friend and Pooja’s family. I can’t hurt him. But I had to let him know that nothing is going to happen between us.
I pack my things while one of the team members come up to me.
“Hey, Sana. We are all going out for drinks later. Would you like to join us?”
“I can’t. Angel; I don’t drink, and I have a date. You guys carry on.”
“Alright. You enjoy your date and the weekend.”
I smile at her politely and leave from conference room. It’s 6.10 pm by the time I get into an elevator and reach ground floor, as it keeps stopping on every floor.
I walk out to see Matt already waiting with a bouquet of roses in his hand. My favorite.
“Hey.” Matt hugs as he places a kiss on my cheek, giving me a bouquet of roses.
And my mind immediately wanders off to my handsome boss. I wonder what Val would do on a date. No Sana. You can’t go there! You already made it clear to him that nothing can happen between you two and he haven’t bothered you since then. Perhaps, I wanted him to bother me. If only, things were different. Besides, agreeing to go out with Matt itself was a wrong decision. I didn’t want to give him wrong idea
“Hey, you okay?” asks Matt, with concerned look on his face.
“Yes. I am fine. It’s just I don’t want to hurt you.” The response comes immediately from Matt. “Hey, it’s just dinner. I’m sure I will win you over.”
The drive goes by, us discussing about Indian cultures. “I would love to travel someday.”
“To India?” I look at him as he keeps his eyes on road. “Yes.” He replies.
The car comes to halt due to traffic. “What about you? Do you think you’ll ever go back?” he asks, his attention focused on me.
“You know I cannot go back.” I look outside the car window not wanting to meet his eyes as tears threaten to fall. My scars were still fresh from the wound.
“Hey Sana. Are you okay?” He asks as he places his hand on mine. “I am sorry I brought it up.”
“It’s okay, Matt.” The traffic in front of us clears up and Matt had his focus again on road.
“Where do you want to eat? Any special cravings baby mama?”
He’s such a sweetheart, every woman’s dream. He is everything that a girl would want in a boyfriend or a husband. It’s just my heart doesn’t race every time I see him. My heart didn’t skip a beat when he put his arms around me. It does all that things when Valor was around.
My stomach grumbles, reminding me of the cravings I’ve been having. “I do want to eat some Indian snack food.”
“You mean chatpata (tangy) Indian snacks?” His Hindi accent was adorable. I was surprised.
“Yes. How do you know what it’s called?”
“Remember my sister-in-law? Pooja had all these crazy cravings and I had to take her out when my brother was not around.” I roll my eyes at him.
We chat a lot and he takes me to a place where we get all kinds of Indian chat food. I feel content. Then he drops me back to where I am staying.
“Holy fuck. You stay here?” He asks as he opens the passenger door for me.
“Well. It’s my boss’s place and I have been given the left wing of the house.” He puts his arm around my waist and lightly pull me closer to him. Everything in world feels wrong at this moment. I free myself from his arm and tip toe to kiss him on his cheek.
“Thanks for the wonderful evening, Matt. I really needed it.” It was not a lie. I did enjoy his company. I just didn’t harbor any romantic feelings for him.
“So? When can we arrange next date?” He sounds too excited. I didn’t want to give him any false hopes.
“I don’t know, Matt. I don’t see you as a romantic partner. I am sorry.”
“Hey. It’s alright. I won’t give up so easily. I will try and win your heart.” He sounded too confident. How do I make him understand that someone else was already pushing all barriers and making his way inside my heart?
“I will see you soon. Okay?” and I nod at him in agreement. He kisses my cheek and then gets into his car and drives off.
I get inside the house and there’s no sign of Val. I get a call from Pooja stating that she has some final touch ups to do before an event she’s been planning for the weekend and we need to reschedule our get together. Since I too have to attend some fundraising event with my boss, I agree with her.
“So how was your date? You think we can be sister-in-law’s in future?” She is way over her head.
“Pooja. I was just married.”
“The marriage was fake and since you didn’t even love the man, you can move on.”
She cuts me again. “Matt likes you a lot. Just give him a chance, Sana.”
“He’s a great guy, Sana. Besides, he knows you’re pregnant and yet he’s crazy about you. I bet you would never find someone like Matt.”
“Sana, you should move on and be happy with someone who’d love you for yourself. Think about your child. Matt would raise your baby as his own.”
I know that. Matt had a heart of gold. I know he liked me and he’s crazy about me. But it was unfair to him as I didn’t reciprocate same feelings towards him. I had a magnetic pull towards my Greek God of the boss – Valor Lennox.
“Are you done? Can I talk now?” I ask her annoyingly.
“Who stopped you?”
“Well, you did.” I sigh and take a deep breath. “Pooja, I know Matt is a good man and everything you said about him is also true. But…” I regret that pause. I shouldn’t have paused. Pooja was my best friend since our school days. She was two years older than me and yet we happened to be bests of friends and nobody knew me like she did.
“You like someone. Don’t you?” She squeals and then all of a sudden, her voice becomes serious. “Sana, please tell me it’s not your boss. He’s the playboy and you’re probably his next quest.”
“Pooja. I assure there’s nothing going with me and my boss. I am very tired, and I just want to go to bed now. Good night.” I end the call before she could respond and head to my room to get showered and get myself changed into a nightdress.
I hear a car pulled up in a driveway when I am about to go to sleep. I go downstairs to check who it is. I see Val is stumbling, too drunk and unable to walk straight. I run to hold him when I see he’s about to fall.
“Val. Hey, are you okay?” I ask him.
“Hey baby.” He responds back. He reeked of alcohol. But I need to get him to bed.
“You need to be steady. Okay? I can’t hold you any longer.”
“Because you’re too large and heavy, Val.” Even drunk, he seems frustrated now.
“Not that. Why would you go out on a date with someone else and not me?”
“We will talk about this tomorrow when you are sober, okay?”
“Do you promise? You seem to avoid me and run away from me every chance you get. So I want you to promise me.” I look into his eyes and although he was drunk, I could see pain behind those beautiful green orbs. This man was in no way possible what other people portrayed him to be.
“I promise. We will talk about it.” It was the least I could do.
“Now help me get you upstairs to your room. I can’t carry you Val.” I put his arm around my shoulder and guide him upstairs.
“So all I had to do was get fucking drunk so you can call me 'Val' again.” My heart breaks at his admission. He was so upset about all this. I just thought he didn’t care. Well. I did avoid him as much as I can at the work place. But at nights, I was home. He never once knocked on my door or tried to talk to me.
It’s like he read my mind because the next words that comes out of his mouth astonish me.
“You know, every night I would come stand by your door, and think of knocking. Then I would get scared that you will move out of here and I didn’t want you to go. Even though you reject me, this way, I could at least know you are around where I could hear you and feel you close by.” I feel horrible now. We have reached to his bedroom and I gently help him into bed.
I take off his shoes and remove his jacket and shirt. He is still looking at me, longing in his eyes. My heart shatters into pieces every single time thinking that I caused him this agonizing pain.
“You need to get some sleep now.” I get up from his bed, wiping his hair from his forehead and placing a kiss. He pulls my arm making me fall on his chest.
“Please don’t go. They come when you leave.” He whispers. “Who?” I ask.
He looked like a child, terrified of the nightmares and crease appears on his forehead and my fingers automatically reach out to his forehead, wiping it softly. “My demons.”
“I won’t leave then.”
“You promise?” We are still frozen in place, me on top of him and I can feel my heart hammer in my chest. “Yes, Val. Now got to sleep.” I am about to move away from him, but he holds on to me tightly, unwilling to let go.
I stay there entire night as promised. At one point, he grabs a tight hold of me and rest his face in the crook of my neck. I finally doze off to sleep.
My eyes try to adjust the bright light in the room. I groan and put the pillow on top of my face, trying to block the light. I don’t want to wake up.
“I see that you are not a morning person.” That’s the voice I love to hear. Am I dreaming? Suddenly I remember the last night and jolt back up in bed.
“I am sorry.” I say, struggling to find any other words.
“What are you sorry for, sweetheart?” he asks. I’ve noticed the way he always speaks with me. It’s a calm voice that you’d usually use with a child. Unlike at office with the rest of the employees, he wasn’t rude to me, Ever.
“For sleeping in here. But... I promised I wouldn’t leave. Of course, you weren’t in your senses when you asked. I should’ve known better.”
“I meant every word I said, Sana.” I look up to meet his eyes and I notice his expression has gone from soft to serious.
“We need to talk.” I just nod at him. I know I had promised to talk to him. And I am keeping my promise and I will try and reason with him.
“I will meet you downstairs in the study.” He says and I immediately respond, “Okay.”
I move up from his bed and go to shower in my room. I get dressed and go downstairs. I see him in kitchen, making pancakes. He carries two plates of pancakes and walks up to me, guiding me to the study. I also notice he doesn’t wear shoes anymore inside the house. He don’t have to do that, yet he does.
It’s small things like this makes me longing for more. I wish I could give him what he’s asking, but it’s not possible. Is it? The moment my family finds me, I will have to uproot my life once again. And if I am with Val, they will find me. He is a famous photographer and an heir to the business empire. He is a successful businessman and paparazzi follows him everywhere. This is all too much risk. But my heart wants to know how it would feel to be loved by him
We eat in silence. Once we are done, I get up to take dish from him. He follows me back to kitchen.
“You don’t have to do that. You can leave it in sink.”
“No. You cooked; I’ll do the dishes.”
Once I do the dishes, I look up to see him looking at me. His beautiful green eyes shows so much determination and I know I cannot get out of this.
“Look. I know what you are going to say. I am really sorry. But we can’t.”
“We can’t what? You can’t even say the word. Can you?”
I move out of kitchen, walking towards the living room, trying in vain to put some distance between us before my heart and body could betray me. He keeps following me. I feel restless and nervous. My feet leads me to the study.
“You can’t keep running, Sana. We need to have this conversation.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. Val.” I wanted to leap into his arms. But I cannot do it. At this minute, all I could do was fret as I walk nervously, around this huge study.
I am facing towards him now. I know I have promised him that we will talk, and I wanted to keep my promise. I still do. I am terrified to hear what he has to stay. What if he gives me hope and then we both end up having a heartache? I feel this is safer because I don’t think I can deny him anything after he speaks his mind.
“I just want to know why not me?” He sounds broken and I’ve never ever lied to anyone before and there is thousands of things running through my mind, to find the reason, as close to the truth as possible.
“I don’t like you, Mr. Lennox.”
“That’s a fucking lie.” He keeps walking, closing in on me as I keep backing away until I hit the wall. He places both his hands on either side of the wall, keeping me locked there.
“Didn’t I tell you that you’re a bad liar?” He asks, our faces mere inches apart and I can feel his warm breath on my skin. This innocent contact was alone enough to make my heart race and skin tingle for more of him.
“Tell the truth.” He was relentless.
“It is very personal reason. Besides, I don’t want to date you.” I close my eyes, trying to frame the words.
“Bullshit.” He grabs my hand and places it on his chest, where I can feel his heart beating wildly.
“See? This is what you do to me. And I know I have same effect on you too. So, out with the truth now.”
“Val… I’m sorry. I… We can’t.” I thought that was the last of it and although this is what I wanted, I felt hurt. I felt hurt that he didn’t fight for me.
He drives his fist through the wall, hurting himself and moves away from me. I see his knuckles are battered and he is bleeding. I feel knots in my stomach and my heart twist as I caused him pain.
I move towards him, taking his bleeding hand in mine. I hear him hissing and then he snatch his hand from my grasp and abruptly turns around as he yells, “You alone cannot fucking decide it!” His voice was booming. The way he pounced forward, I instinctively move back in the corner shielding my face and my stomach.
He seemed to have realized what happened. I am being hysterical, and I can’t stop shaking with fear.
He moves in closer to me, trying to calm me down. I know somewhere deep in my heart that he wouldn’t let any harm come to me. But my mind is not agreeing right now.
“Oh fuck! Did you think I was going to beat you?” He sounds terrified and hurt.
“Sana, Baby. I would never.” I want to agree with him, but I couldn’t. I am shaking uncontrollably, and I cannot seem to stop.
“Baby calm down. I would never hurt you. You know that. Don’t you?” He was pleading. “Look at me, Sana. Look into my eyes and see the truth for yourself.”
“I....I am sorry. Please leave me alone for some time. I need to be alone.” He walks away defeatedly.
After what feel like hours, I get up and go upstairs. I don’t know if he’s still home or he went out. I can’t see any sign of him. By then, my phone starts to ring. Without even looking at the screen, I pick the call.
“Hey, you okay?” I hear Matt on the other end of the phone call, and I try to keep my voice calm. “I… I am fine.”
“You don’t sound too well.” He sounds genuinely concerned.
“I think I am getting little sick.” It wasn’t a lie. I did feel nauseous.
“I am coming to your place now. Let me see what’s wrong.” He hangs up on me before I could argue.
After few hours, I hear a car drive by. I got downstairs to meet with Matt. Still no sign of Val. He is probably in his room.
“Hey, you don’t look good.” He pulls me into a hug. I rest my face on his chest as I Sigh. This was familiar and a safe space. Over the last month, I had developed a bond with Matt. He didn’t just treat me like other patients. He was there to calm me down every time I woke up screaming from nightmares. Why didn’t my heart race for him? Why don’t I feel good about Matt being close? Why do I only see him as my friend?
“Hey. Everything’s going to be fine. Let’s get you checked up. Where exactly are you staying?”
I am not sure if I should be taking him inside the left wing. I am really not starting to feel well. I guide him to the left wing of the house.
“This is some cute place you got here.”
“Thanks. It belongs to my boss.” After the checkup, he writes me up with some pre-natal and iron tablets.
We need to get an ultrasound done soon. You are stressing too much. This may cause harm to the baby.
“Maybe I should start looking for my own place.” I blurt out.
“What’s wrong with this one?” he asks, and I reply, “My boss stays here.”
“Wait. What? You mean Valor Lennox stays here too?” I nod in agreement.
“He didn’t try anything with you. Did he? He is very dangerous and cannot be trusted.” I get annoyed again like I did with Christina. The Holts were like my family and I know they always wished me good. But when anyone bad mouthed Valor, the uncontrollable rage brewed inside of me.
Before I knew, I was yelling at Matt. “He is not bad person. Why do you people portray him as a monster? You don’t know half of it. He is gentle and caring…” He raises his hands up in defense.
“I don’t want you to get hurt.” And I know he means that. “It’s just you don’t know him as I do.”
“And how well do you know him in past ten days?” He questions and I feel trapped like a caged bird. Honestly, I didn’t know Valor. I didn’t know what his likes or dislikes were. I just knew that he was caring and gentle with me like no one else. He made my heart race million miles per second and his arms were the safest place on earth.
“Sana. I just don’t want you getting hurt. If you want to move out of here, you can stay few days with me until you find your own place.”
“Thanks for the offer, Matt. I will think about it.” I hug him goodbye. We head downstairs and I watch him drive away. It was already five in the evening. I need to get dressed for Gala.
I get showered. I have hard time choosing the dress. Finally, I decide to settle for something simple - A pastel pink colored, off shoulder full length gown. I pin the top part of my hair, leaving the rest half down.
I still have time left. So I dial my most favorite person in the entire world. My brother. Whenever I needed guidance, he was the one who would show me the path. As anticipated, he picks within seconds.
“Assalam Walaikum, Bhai.” I greet him.
“Walaikum assalam.” He greets back. “You know it’s not safe for you to call. I will call you when I am not home. Our cousins keep barging in my home every now and then thinking that you are hiding here.”
“I am sorry to drag you in all this, Bhai.” My brother – Atif has always been my strength and yet I hid so many things that went inside our house when he was away from home. My father and brother never got along, and I didn’t want to make things worse for him.
“Hey. It is my fault. I should’ve been here to take care of you. But I was busy and foolishly in love.” Why did it sound like he wasn’t happy anymore?
“Bhai? Is everything okay?” I ask him, knowing too well that he wouldn’t utter anything if it was bad.
“I am fine, kiddo. Are you okay?” I don’t answer him and try to change the topic. “So, how are Ammi and Baba?”
“I don’t get it. They tried to kill you. Why do you care so much? Every now and then you call me to check on everyone. Why?” I didn’t know how to answer that. A sniffle escapes my mouth, as I try not to burst in tears.
“Kiddo, what’s going on?” He always referred to me as child. We were only 5 years apart. He helped me in running away from home. I was like a baby to him. He was out of country and had begged with Baba not to get me married before he comes back and my family didn’t listen.
“I… I like someone Bhai.” I blurt out. I needed guidance from my brother.
“Isn’t that the good news? You are finally moving forward in life, kiddo. I am so proud of you.” He says and I can’t help but feel it in his voice that he’s miserable and upset.
“But what? Is he not of same religion? Who cares? You should do what makes you happy. Didn’t I always say that to you?” Over the years, he’s been more of a parent to me than my parents ever were. My brother was disowned for marrying a woman from Hindu community. He used to say that he don’t regret and that was a best decision he ever made.
“Bhai. It’s not just about different religion and cultures. It’s very complicated. I haven’t told him I am pregnant. What if he doesn’t want me anymore after I tell him about my past?”
“Then You’ll know how he feels, and you will be able to move on. You can’t make that decision for him though. He will have to choose. You know what to do now. Don’t you?”
I take a deep breath, wiping away my tears as smile curves on my lips.
“Yes, I do. Thank you bhai. And give my love to Sonam Bhabhi and my little niece.”
“Kiddo take good care of yourself and my nephew. Khuda Hafiz.” The call ends. I know what to do now. I want to take a leap of faith and follow my heart. And all my heart wants is Val.
It’s 6.45 pm now. I still don’t see him. I decide to go knock on his door.
“Val?” I don’t get any answer. I dial his number; it goes straight to the voice mail. I was about to knock again, when the door opens up.
He is fully dressed in a three-piece suit. His eyes are ice cold, showing no expression. I see a woman behind him, on his bed, rolled in his sheets. My heart shatters into million pieces. Tears well up in my eyes. I will not cry in front of him. I have tried so hard not to give him this power over me, so he won’t have this effect on me. I feel sick to my stomach. I sprint away from there, running back to my room. I threw up all contents of my stomach, leaving me empty and with rancid taste.
I can feel him behind me. Why did he come?
“Are you okay? Do you want me to call the doctor?”
“No, Thank you. Mr. Lennox. Doctor was here earlier. Give me five minutes to make myself presentable
Well, it’s not a lie. But I can’t look into his eyes knowing there was a woman on his bed, naked and wearing nothing but his sheets.
How could I have been so stupid? What was I thinking? That he would wait around? His reputation precedes him. Everyone warned me, and of course I didn’t heed to gossips like always. Of course he was whoring around when he was pursuing me. I feel dirty. I wipe my tears and straighten up. I have a job to do, a baby to look after soon
That’s going to be enough. My baby is going to be enough for me.