Chapter 6: A Bend In The Road
"Where have you been the whole day?!" Muskaan exclaimed, her long curly hair gushing behind her as she marched into Riddhima's room.
"Um, sorry, i went for a walk, forgot my phone.." Riddhima mumbled.
"Well done. My life's in a midlife crisis and you forgot your phone." Muskaan muttered sardonically, as if it were Riddhima's fault that she was having the crisis.
Riddhima rolled her eyes and let her talk; she had guessed this sort of a reaction. Only, like always, she had expected Muskaan to spare her some thought too.
"What's up?" Riddhima sighed, massaging her temple.
"Where were you yesterday? You just disappeared?" Muskaan exclaimed.
"You knew I was drunk. I always gets drunk. You know me. Do you know what happened?" Muskaan cut in between.
"You were with Rahul, you were safe!" Riddhima shrugged, sighing. "So I partied a little too!"
"You KNEW?! You didn't stop me from snogging that creep!" Muskaan shouted.
"No, Riddhima you're supposed to be my best friend. You're supposed to stop me from doing anything stupid. How could you have let me mess this up? How could you, I trusted you!"
"You're really going to blame this on me?! You were the one who got drunk enough to do it!" Riddhima's eyes widened at her best friend's unfair accusations.
"And you were sober enough to stop me!"
"Muskaan, the way I saw it, you were just getting what you wanted since a very long time. I wasn't going to take you away from the one night you were actually happy!" Riddhima said quietly.
"You're no one to decide that." Muskaan seethed. "All you had to do was sto-"
"I'M NOT YOUR BABYSITTER!" Riddhima bellowed, which made Muskaan's words die in her throat. Muskaan looked at her with slight amusement, the earlier expressions of anger slowly fading. "I am your best friend. If i see you're happy, I'll leave you to it. You want me to stop you from doing something stupid, then fine, I will. Here goes. JUST TELL HIM YOU LOVE HIM, Muskaan." Riddhima said, softening her tone. "Stop doing this to him. He's been tailing after you since ages. And I know this because I used to be in touch with him sometimes, after you guys broke up. He's been through hell too. He used to keep calling me to check up on you. He has his own issues Muskaan. And sometimes people make mistakes…" Riddhima shrugged, thinking about Armaan. "Horrible mistakes, which hurt us to our very core. But you have to learn to let go if you ever want to be happy.." Riddhima looked at Muskaan with earnest eyes. "Not many people are lucky enough to have what you do Muskaan. Believe me on that." Riddhima whispered.
"I can't deal with this right now.." Muskaan muttered after a long pause. "I'll call you later-" Saying so, she marched out of the apartment before Riddhima could even let go off the breath she didn't know she was holding on to.
"Its impolite to just plug in your earphones when you have company. It makes people feel unwelcome." Armaan whispered, removing one of Riddhima's earplugs and toying with them.
"And when has that ever stopped you from annoying people?" Riddhima asked, cocking an eyebrow. Armaan grinned at her, "What are you listening to anyway?" He frowned, placing the earphone in his ear. "One Direction?!" He scoffed; Riddhima rolled her eyes. "Gee, I thought you had class, babe!" Armaan smirked, making Riddhima's lips curl into a slight smile at the endearment. "I prefer listening to music when I'm travelling.." Riddhima smiled. "and yes, One Direction. I like them-"
"You love them. You're one of those crazy, screaming girls who would cry if they met Harry Gay Styles. Who's last name is Styles anyway. Maybe his parents knew he was gay as soon as he was born-"
"Shut up!" Riddhima scowled.
"The next station is Baker Street. This is an all stations metropolitan line train to Aldgate. Please mind the gap, between the train, and the platform."
"That's our stop!" Riddhima sighed, plugging her earphone back in. She couldn't say she was dreading spending an entire day of research with Armaan; after their talk, she felt like they had a distinguished bond between them, one that she had never had with anyone; not even Muskaan. 'Don't think about her', Riddhima chided herself. It had been 4 days since she had spoken to her best friend; it wasn't out of choice - Muskaan had taken their week off as an escapade and had run off to her Aunt's. Without informing Riddhima. Riddhima couldn't say she wasn't hurt, but she understood. She understood her best friend's actions. But unfortunately, that understanding wasn't an ointment for her wounded heart. Riddhima hadn't told Muskaan about her chat with Armaan. She never got the chance. And now Riddhima didn't think she had it in her to relive it anyway, not that she thought Muskaan was interested in it.
"You're sort of a loner aren't you?" Armaan teased, removing her earphone again, his blue eyes smirking.
"I am." Riddhima shrugged. "Its not a bad thing." Riddhima frowned. Was it? She knew she was a loner, she always had been. First, it had been imposed - lack of friends, lack of freedom. But now she had adapted to the loneliness; she could almost call it home - almost. It was a safe kind of loneliness. Comfortable. A place where nothing and no one could hurt her, nor disturb her sense of peaceful withdrawal. But it was also dark and cold.
"Its not..I'm just wondering how you do it!" Armaan smiled.
"Well, you get used to it-"
"This is Baker Street-"
"C'mon, let's go and get this done!" Riddhima grinned, walking out of the train, Armaan following her.
"You get used to it" Her words echoed in his mind. While he kept thinking about how he never wanted to be best friends with his own loner self, he made a silent promise to himself to make sure he at least broke Riddhima's relationship with her's.
"You coming?" Armaan jolted out of his thoughts at the sound of her voice.
"Yeah, sorry…" Armaan raced to keep up with her. "So, um…I wanted to ask, how's stuff with Muskaan and Rahul.. I saw them together the other day at the party."
"No idea.." Riddhima shrugged, feeling a pang in her gut at Muskaan's name.
"Thought you were close?" Armaan frowned.
"We are, but I'm not her baby-sitter, so excuse me for not having a minute-by-minute account of her life." Riddhima snapped.
"Everything okay?" Armaan asked, ignoring Riddhima's 'stay-out-of-it' tone.
"Yes, its fine…" Riddhima sighed. "I just haven't spoken to her for a while now"
"Best buddy tiff?" Armaan teased.
"Sort of. She blames me for whatever happened between her and Rahul that day!" Riddhima muttered in her best nonchalant tone.
"Why would she blame you?" Armaan asked curiously. Riddhima gave him her nastiest 'enough-questions' look, and he knew he had pushed his luck farther enough. "Should we just walk around town for research or do you have places in mind?" Armaan asked, changing the subject. Riddhima relaxed and smiled, "I don't know..Maybe we should just walk around for a bit, see if 'inspiration hits us'." Riddhima scoffed, repeating their tutor's words.
"You're the boss!" Armaan grinned.
"Does that mean I can fire you?" Riddhima asked hopefully.
"You can try, but this employee of your's is really persistent!" Armaan smirked; Riddhima rolled her eyes. "You do that a lot you know. Roll your eyes. Is that normal for you, or am I a special case."
"You observe me a lot you know. Is being a stalker normal for you, or am I a special case?" Riddhima retorted in the same tone; all Armaan could think while smiling at her reply was - this girl's got nice comebacks.
Why hasn't she called? Rahul sighed, staring listlessly at the ceiling. Maybe he should call. It had been 5 days. 5 whole days of thinking about her while he slept, ate, worked, ate a bit more and stared at the wall of his room. He was beginning to think that thinking about her had become as easy as breathing for him. And it had been like that ever since they broke up.
As depressed as he was however, at the lack of confrontation he had anticipated between them, he couldn't suppress the incessant glee he felt every time he thought about that night. He could still feel her breath lingering on his lips; he could almost hear her faint voice as he kissed her. The feel of her skin beneath his hands, the way she clung on to him. The way she slept in his arms after what had been the best night of his life. He had obviously assumed them sleeping together would have thawed the invisible layer of ice between them. He also knew she had been drunk out of her mind. And as much as he tried to blame himself for taking advantage, he defended his actions by one simple explanation - they loved each other. Drunk or not, he knew she would never have done this with anyone except him. At that thought, he picked up his phone with renewed determination, but instead of calling Muskaan, he called his next best option -
"Hey Rahul" She answered the phone in two rings.
"What's up?" Riddhima asked, rolling her eyes. She knew exactly why Rahul was calling her. To talk about Muskaan. Rahul and she rarely had anything else to talk about.
"Um, wanted to ask if you've spoken to Muskaan lately?"
"Nope, haven't done nothing of that sort" Riddhima sighed. She caught Armaan looking at her as they walked along the street. She gave him a small smile and gestured two fingers whilst he nodded.
"Well..I'm sure she told you about what happened that night-"
"You guys kissed. And she's at her Aunt's thinking things through-"
"Kiss? Wow I at least expected her to be a little more specific" Rahul scoffed, his happiness leaving him. So she had run off to her Aunt's. He should have known.
"What do you mean?" Riddhima frowned; she stopped walking and saw Armaan halt in his tracks as he looked behind at her questioningly.
"Well, if she still wants to think things through after we slept together, honestly-" Rahul muttered, his anger causing him to overlook the deep silence over at the other end of the line.
"Well, you'll just have to speak to her about this, I'm done playing the third wheel between you guys" Riddhima retorted, and without another word, Rahul heard the line go dead.
They slept together. Riddhima didn't understand why it affected her. It didn't concern her. At all. Except that her best friend in the world didn't tell her about it. She suddenly felt betrayed. Why wouldn't Muskaan tell her the truth? Riddhima rolled her eyes; this hadn't been the first time. Muskaan had never told her about her first kiss with Rahul. It had taken her a month to confide in Riddhima. She had later told her that her first kiss with Rahul had been her first kiss ever. And so Riddhima had let that go; she understood. To some people, this might have sounded stupid, she thought. Not confiding in your best friend about your first kiss isn't that big a deal. But in the girl world, it is. Its like the bro-code in female la-la land. Besides, a part of Riddhima believed, that on some level, Muskaan hid it from her because she knew Riddhima had never been kissed herself. Her suspicions had been proven right when she found out that the first person to find out had been one of their common friends Riya. Riddhima always thought it had something to do with the fact that Riya had kissed a hundred other guys, and Muskaan probably felt Riya would understand what she was talking about. Obviously, at the same time, it meant Riddhima wouldn't understand; because she had never been kissed. And she didn't have a boyfriend. Boohoo.
This explanation had only mounted her feeling of hurt.
And today was no different.
"You okay?" She looked up at Armaan and the earnest concern in his eyes almost made her thoughts tumble out of her mouth. She almost confided in him all over again, when her mouth betrayed her - "I'm fine" She smiled, and Armaan looked convinced.
"I see a huge crowd there, want to check it out?" He asked, as they started walking again; for once, Riddhima was glad he hadn't probed into the mysterious phone call.
"Yeah, let's go!" Riddhima cleared her throat. "Ah should've known" Riddhima grinned, looking at an old bearded man playing a fast, prancing guitar tune.
"What?" Armaan asked curiously.
"Street artists. One of the best things about this city." Riddhima answered. She waved to the player as she noticed him waving at her.
"Why's he waving at you?" Armaan asked uncertainly.
"Because, whenever I come to this area, which is often, i always dance around a little bit, even if its for two minutes. He always tells me I'm his source of highest income!" Riddhima laughed; the guitarist beckoned her to join him, but she shook her head, pointing at Armaan. The old man raised his eyebrows and gestured a kiss at her, before winking and signalling a thumbs up at her.
"Yeah I think he got the wrong impression about us" Armaan grinned, as he winked back.
"Well, seeing that its the first time he's ever seen me with a guy, it was a given. And although i dance to his tunes, he's still a stranger, so I'm not going to be bothered to correct him."
"Huh!" Armaan mumbled.
"Now i see what the old baboon was talking about!"
"What do you mean?"
"Exploring. I just explored something about you!" Armaan wiggled his eyebrows.
"And what's that precisely?"
"That the girl who likes to blow off some steam by kicking the crap out of her punching bag, has a soft side to her; she dances in the street like some lame Bollywood movie"
"Bollywood's not lame, first off. Second, its not soft, its actually really brave to go there in front of a bunch of people you don't know and dance. Plus, its another way of blowing off steam. Sometimes it makes you believe everything's perfect, like just for that one moment, you believe the world's the best thing that's ever happened to you."
"Do you want to be a writer?" Armaan asked, and the seriousness of his tone told her he wasn't asking her as part of some joke.
"What makes you think that?"
"My mum used to write. And I used to read her work, and she used to talk a lot like you. Her writing was pretty much the same. Endlessly deep." Armaan shrugged, grinning sheepishly.
"We should move ahead, we have all of Central London to explore!" Riddhima cleared her throat, ignoring his question and his sweet little comparison between her and his mother.
However, Riddhima's ignorance only gave Armaan a confirmed answer to his suspicions. Riddhima wanted to be a writer.
"Armaan?" She asked as Armaan sipped his coffee.
"How long have you been in London?"
"Well aside from weekend trips all my life, I'd say a few months. Why?"
"I'm just surprised that you've never seen the city as you are doing today" Riddhima shrugged.
"What makes you think that?" Armaan frowned.
"Well for one, you were really surprised about the street player. You'll find millions of them here"
"Well, I've never looked into the local side of it. Apart from the great bars, I've mostly been to tourist attractions. Haven't ever had anyone to go with" Armaan shrugged. "When did you move to London?"
"Well after high school-" Riddhima looked up, clearing her throat. "I didn't want to stay anywhere near our lovely city of Grange Town."
"I'm sorry!" Armaan murmured guiltily.
"So I moved her right after. I told my parents that I just needed space, and that I couldn't live with the idea of being trapped there. I needed a new start, and they fussed around a little, but they came around eventually. Moved here shortly before college"
"And you love the city!" Armaan smiled.
"Yeah. For the simple reason that you can get lost in the crowd, and still know where you are. The first time I went around London Bridge, I was alone, my friends had all gone off in different directions, and I had no idea where I was. It was about five in the evening, and almost twilight, and I just-" Riddhima laughed. "It felt wonderful. No restrictions, no one around to judge me or anything. Just my music and me. And obviously it might seem funny to some, but I loved getting lost there. Also, I wasn't really lost, I found my way to the station within thirty minutes or so; i followed the sign posts. But still it was wonderful. Just walk around, no thoughts, no worries, nothing. Just you and-" Riddhima stopped as she noticed Armaan's knowing grin. "Fine, yes, i want to be a writer!" Riddhima rolled her eyes.
"So what has Ms. Writer enjoyed most about the city, apart from getting lost?" Armaan grinned.
"Well, sometimes I just take off and walk around here or any other area I take a fancy to. And I love exploring food places. This here, is one of my favourite cafes." Riddhima smiled.
"Really?" Armaan frowned, looking around him. "Most girls I know love Starbucks!" Armaan smirked.
"I know, but I'm not a fan of big franchises. I don't like Starbucks, I would rather have my hot cocoa in a local cafe. And look at this place, its so cozy. I come here really often. You see those shelves there in the corner?" Riddhima pointed at a book rack in the far end of the cafe. "Its got some of the best collections, and the oldest editions of the books. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens-stop looking at me like that!" Riddhima thumped Armaan on his head.
"What? I'm just observing. That's what we're supposed to do. Observe. And I just observed how your voice goes all high pitched and dreamy when you talk about something really passionately" Armaan smirked. "You're so cute!" Armaan shook his head. "What? Now why are you looking at me like that?"
"Just thinking how a few years ago being observed by you was one of my main agendas!" Riddhima chuckled.
"And now?" Armaan asked mischievously.
"Drink your coffee."
Later that day, while Riddhima crammed over extra research books in the library, Armaan put up their presentation, piecing together bits of their day's work.
"And….done." Armaan sighed.
"Great, I'm exhausted!" Riddhima yawned.
"Hi guys!" A voice called from behind.
"Hi Nikki!" Riddhima grinned then turned to look at Armaan with a smirk.
"Hey!" He cleared his throat. Riddhima suppressed the urge to fall from her chair and laugh.
"Late night's work, huh?" Nikki peered over at all the books.
"Yeah, project stuff!"
"Well, I'll leave you guys to it, should get going. See you!" Nikki waved, and glanced at Armaan expectantly, before shuffling away behind an aisle.
"Just ask her out already!" Riddhima rolled her eyes at Armaan's open mouth.
"I did!" Armaan gave her a smug look.
"And she turned you down?"
Armaan looked at Riddhima's face, and from the smile on her face, you'd think Christmas had come early.
"Oh my days, this is brilliant!" Riddhima burst out laughing, as Armaan sulked. Noticing his fallen expression, Riddhima got up, still laughing and raced behind Nikki's retreating figure.
"Hey Nikki!" Riddhima called out. She looked back at Armaan's wide eyes, asking her 'W*F?!'. "Um, Armaan's a little shy-"
Ignoring his threatening voice, she continued, "Would you mind going to dinner with him Friday night?" Riddhima asked straight out. Nikki looked at her strangely, then behind her at Armaan who's face was blank.
"Sure!" She smiled uncertainly and turning on her heel, practically ran out of the library.
"And that's how its done!" Riddhima grinned, sitting next to Armaan. Looking at his seething eyes, she muttered "Oh unclench, I was tired of you looking at her like a puppy. And as much as i loved seeing you get turned down by a girl, i was disgusted with the 'Hi Armaan's and 'Hi Nikki's. So mushy and disgusting-"
"So says the person who reads romantic books while she shops-"
"Unlike your sickening love story, I read those which have some sort of meaning and depth in them. Your story on the other hand, as boring as working at this time of the night. So i'm gonna call it a day. Goodnight. And Friday night, don't forget!" Riddhima chimed, picking up her books and marching out. Armaan's jaw was tensed as if still angry, but as she looked behind one last time, Riddhima swore she saw a grin as clear as the moon was on that cloudless night.
Its not much, and frankly, i don't know why I feel something's terribly wrong with it. But I've been staring at it since weeks, and its time I let go of it. So there. Thoughts please? And thank you for the comments on the previous chapter, and the sneak peeks.
Happy Wednesday :) x