Joined: 13 March 2007
Chp 1, 2 - pg 1
Chp 3 - pg 4
In your presence…
For in your presence…I loose my essence…
Rose Matthews checked the time on her black bangle watch for the third time in the past five minutes, she sighed as the silver numerals on it indicated 8:30 am. "God! Five more minutes Ambreen, and then I'm ditching you " she said fisting her palms, and resumed her brisk pace in the lobby of her friend Ambreen's apartment building.
Two minutes later Ambreen still hadn't appeared from any of the four elevators, frustrated, Rose decided to buzz her friend, she punched 543 on the buzzer, the familiar ring sounded and she heard someone say "Hello?"
"Ambreen! You're still at home, I've been waiting downstairs for fifteen freakin' minutes now…we will be late again! You promised…" she screamed on her, but before she could remind her friend of her promise to be on time, especially today, she heard another softer voice on the phone, "Beta…" the voice said, it was Ambreen's mother referring to her as 'daughter', it was common in their culture for elder people to refer to young people as their children, infact her dad often called his own sister 'beta' or child.
"Ambreen says she has left the apartment five minutes ago…" her mother said, hiding a chuckle, Rose grinned as she heard her best friend screaming at her mother "Mama! Why did you tell her I said that…" , "Samiha Aunty please ask her to come down this instant or I'm leaving…" Rose said, realizing she wasn't angry at Ambreen anymore, even though she did this every single day, and everyday she made her mother lie for her. "Ok, beta, she has left now, infact she banged the door, tell her not to do that, have fun today, and don't forget to come over for lunch, because I want to know all about today…", "Yeah Aunty no banging doors, and I'll come by for sure Aunty, you know I can't resist the food you make…Bye!" Rose said, as she clicked the pound key, to disconnect the line.
She saw Ambreen Sheikh making her way towards her, a sheepish look dancing in her clear grey eyes, set on a fair beautiful face. Her head was covered with a pale pink scarf or 'hijab' matching her pink churidar, a matching pink shawl was draped carefully around her, it covered most of the embroidery on her neckline and below. Churidar's were a typical South-Asian dress, consisting of a long tunic, tight above and at the waist, and below the waist the tunic was loose almost like a frock, the pants were tight and long, so that they had to be scrunched up on the ankles, which made it appear as bangles or rings were encircling the ankle. Infact the word 'churi' came from 'bangles'. Rose smiled inwardly, as she looked at her own dress it was maroon and of the same style as Ambreen's, the dark crimson shade contrasted perfectly against her fair skin. Well, atleast fair according to her own standards, she liked to think of herself as fairly fair, even though her skin bordered slightly towards wheatish. Her dark brown hair cascaded in layers a little below her shoulders; she tucked a short strand of her hair behind her ears, which were adorned with small crimson coloured droplets. And yes, a maroon beaded shawl or 'dupatta' hung carelessly on her shoulder, this type of dress would be incomplete without a shawl.
Ambreen was her best buddy since grade six, although they knew each other since kindergarten, it was during grade six that their seating arrangement was near each other, and since then as they say 'it was history'. Everyone knew that Ambreen and Rose were best friends, and ofcourse more recently Sarah Thomas had joined in, and become a close friend of theirs. But, it was Rose and Ambreen, who shared everything with each other, perhaps because they both had no sisters, infact Rose had lost her mother when she was just eight years old, so she was very close to Ambreen's family, specially her mother.
"Ms. Sheikh, do you have a watch on you?" Rose asked her dark brown eyes, glinting with humour and a touch of irritation, "Rose, darling I'm so sorry, I promise I won't repeat this again, this is the last time you'll reach school late, I promise" Ambreen said, her bangle-clad hand pinching her throat through her scarf as she promised, Rose smiled at that gesture. "You're right about that, because tomorrow onwards I'm walking to school without you" Rose said seriously. "Whatever darling, I know you will do no such thing, because…you looove me" Ambreen chuckled, as she pulled Rose out of the building, encircling her fair, slightly chubby hands on Rose's elbow. Rose sighed, "Shut up Amby! You're so annoying, first you spend so much time dressing up…then you ask your mother to lie to me, and then you have the nerve to assume that I love you…" , "Yes, darling…I know you're saying all this because you are deeply in love with me…" Ambreen teased yet again, "Ambreen! Were you even listening to a word I said?" Rose asked exasperated at her friend, who was seriously not making any sense. "No, I wasn't" Ambreen said, "That's it, leave me…" Rose said, trying to pull out her elbow, "Roosee, darling I'm sorry, I swear I won't be late ever again, for as long as I live…" Ambreen finally said, a little desperation creeping into her voice, as she realized Rose could be serious about not walking to school with her.
But before Rose could smile and accept her apology, they heard a car honking behind them. When Rose turned, the colour that her cheeks had gained with their brisk walk, drained from her face, and her heart pounded dangerously as if screaming for freedom from the ribs enclosing it. It was him, James Thomas behind the wheel, their friend Sarah, who was his sister, sat beside him. Sarah had light brown eyes which matched perfectly with her hair, and fair skin, good looks perhaps ran in her family because her brother was just as handsome.
Rose sighed dreamily, taking in his appearance in one swift glance. He was wearing a loose grey T-shirt, which hung low on his chest, but he had worn another white one inside, so it hid his body completely from her, not that she wanted to look at his chest, God! that was not what she was intending to think about, what she wanted to think about though was how much the colour grey suited his tanned skin. His face was unshaven, but it suited him, infact if she could advise him, she would ask him to always maintain this look, because he looked Oh! So handsome with his light brown eyes, and straight dark hair, and that smile that forever danced on his lips. But even as she was thinking, all this, she knew she was being dragged by someone, and as soon as she realized this, she frowned, Ambreen was pulling her towards the car. "Ambreen!" she said frowning at her bossy friend, who always took the liberty to pull her wherever she wanted. "Ambreen, we can walk!" she said irritated, "No, we can't I've made you late, and now I'm going to fix it…" Ambreen said solemnly, "Ambreen's right Rose, come on, we're already late!" Sarah said, at which Rose finally gave in because frankly she knew they were right, they were going to be very late, and it sucked if you were late, especially on a day like today.
It was just his presence that unsettled her. 'James', her heart sighed once again as she slid in to the car, a familiar strong male perfume floated in the air, she loved this perfume of his, infact over the years this scent had become a description of his personality for her. "So, why are you girls all decked up?" James asked. She loved his voice, it was deep and resonating, it wasn't gruff, it was clear, almost commanding. Before anyone could answer, Ambreen said excitedly "Today's International Day, so we dress up according to our culture, everyone even the teachers have to dress up!". Ambreen was one of those people that jumped into conversations that other people were having and blended in easily, so it was no surprise that she was the first one to answer when she was actually part of the conversation. Rose didn't care who answered James, but secretly she liked to think that he was asking the question to her. Maybe it was because she always had a secret crush on him, it was since the first time she had seen him at Sarah's house, he was wearing grey then too, she was in grade 8, him in 11, and he had smiled at her. That smile has whisked her heart away. She remembered sighing all the way home, as she remembered his handsome face, but even then she knew that he would only look at her as his sister's friend, a little girl, a sister, damn! How she had wished she was his age, then she could perhaps be his friend, and talk to him and perhaps then he would like her, or maybe one day she would bump into him as she came home, and they would talk and he would fall in love with her. But nothing like that ever happened.
That was back then, when she was stupid and immature, now she was…well she was more mature, she didn't wish for things that could never happen, she was more realistic now, so now all she wished was that some miracle would happen and he would love her, and miracles did happen, it was true, so she hoped for a miracle, something that would somehow bring them together. Anything! Because now it was more than just a grade eight crush, she really truly liked him now, and yet she always carefully avoided the word 'love' even in her thoughts.
"Yeah, and we all planned on wearing the same sort of dress" Sarah pitched in, just as excited as Ambreen. "Interesting, they didn't have this day three years back when I was in high school" James said, "Yeah, they started it the year after you graduated" Rose spoke up for the first time, her voice barely audible. Surprised that she had spoken, he looked up at her through the rear view mirror, and smiled. He liked Rose because Sarah often talked about her, infact he wondered how the three of them had ended up as best friends, well Ambreen was just like Sarah…always in a hyperactive mode, but Rose she was different, she was introvert, intelligent…some would call her a nerd, but he refrained from that phrase, because he knew that nerds were those who stuck their noses in books 24/7, she couldn't, because from what Sarah had told him, her mother had died when she was just eight, since then she had to take care of her younger brother, tutor him, not to forget the cooking and cleaning, she could barely study, and still she managed to get A's. He admired that quality of hers, she was focused. And yes, she rarely talked atleast he had never seen her talking much.
She was about to smile back at him, when she felt an elbow softly hitting her on her waist, she turned to look at Ambreen, and before she could stop her, she saw her winking suggestively. She mouthed a 'shut up' to Ambreen, and quickly looked up at the mirror, wishing that he hadn't seen the exchange between her and Ambreen, and he hadn't, she sighed in relief.
Ambreen was the only person in the whole wide world who knew about her secret crush on Sarah's brother, and frankly at times like this Rose cursed herself for confiding in Ambreen. Ambreen looked at her and said "What? What did I do now?", to her dismay, Sarah looked behind and said "What are you guys whispering about? And Rose why are you blushing?"
"Blushing? No, no…It's just I'm feeling a little warm, that's all" Rose finished nervously. 'Oh God! I hope he didn't hear her' Rose whispered to herself. She hated both of her best friends right now, infact she really felt like punching Ambreen to wipe of that knowing grin from her face. James was oblivious to the exchange between the girls, because he had just spotted his friend Irfan Asrar on the bus stop. He stopped his car with a jolt and honked at Irfan, "Hop in Bro!" he shouted at the top of his voice.
Some of the older ladies at the bus stop eyed him as if he had disturbed them, not that they were doing much except reading the celebrity section of the free newspaper, more like eyeing the flashy dresses of the latest celebrity.
Irfan, a young man of 20, grinned widely as he sat in the car, bumping a little on Ambreen as he sat, she flushed and quickly moved away towards Rose, "Oh, Sorry" he said, and turned his attention to James "Where you heading?" , "I'm just dropping them off to Ivory Collegiate, and then to the University" James replied.
"Yo did you start studying for electronics?" Irfan asked, "No! Did you?" James asked, raising his eyebrows, "No" Irfan laughed, running his hands through his dark hair, his hands lingering at the back of his head, "I was kinda hoping you had started, because I'm totally lost in that course" he chuckled.
The two guys talked on, but all Ambreen could think of was that Irfan was sitting beside her, she was always so witty, and active, but at the rare times when he was around, she wanted to just melt into the crowd. The fact was that she had fallen in love with him since the first time she had seen him. She remembered that moment to this day, he was laughing heartily, the back of his right hand was placed over his mouth, his knuckles precisely resting on his lips to hide his open mouth, and his left hand was slapping his loose jean clad thighs, it was as if he couldn't help slapping himself as he laughed. And then he had run his right hand through the straight, black hair, disturbing them, and giving him that carefree look, that some girls in the school were crazy about, including herself. And he had said chuckling "Man! My stomach's hurting", to James. That's precisely the moment when she had fallen in love with him. It was that day in the cafeteria, when she was in grade 9 and he in grade 12, she had seen him for the first time then, and she had fallen for him, and since then she had compared every single guy that she had even the least bit of crush on to Irfan, none had surpassed him yet, and they never would.
Now that she thought about it, it was a defining moment in her life, if her history teacher had asked her to write the defining moment in her life, she would have definitely written about Irfan laughing and herself staring at him, but sadly no one would ever ask her to write about her life…much less the defining moment of her life…
Rose had known about it even before she confided her feelings about Irfan, somehow perhaps it was because of the very obvious smile that had danced on her lips whenever Irfan passed her by. "I'm so happy for you Amby!" Rose had said hugging her, as if she was getting engaged to him. But that's how they were, she and Rose would never dare confess their feelings to Irfan or James, but when they talked with each other about the two guys, it was as if they were betrothed to them. She smiled at the thought, as the car came to a halt outside their school. She was about to step out of the car, when Irfan said "Have fun, Ambreen!" startled at being addressed she looked at him with her clear eyes, his dark brown ones stared back at her, and then he glanced away smiling, she stammered a 'Thanks', cursing herself for staring at him. As she got down the SUV in a hurry her leg twisted, "Ouch!" she howled, "Are you okay?" everyone asked at once, "Yes, just a pebble" she said smiling calmly, even though her leg was hurting, but she could not afford to be embarrassed, not infront of Irfan. She rarely met him, and she was not going to ruin this perfect moment when she and Irfan had talked. This could be the second defining moment of her life and their love story!
The SUV zoomed off as soon as the three girls reached the newly renovated school building, which now had a more modern steel and black theme, as opposed to the drab brown bricks. Rose wondered if James had glanced back at her, admired her attire, and secretly wished he could have talked more with her, but she would never know, she sighed. "What's up with you two? Rose I can understand is usually quiet around everyone, but what happened to you? You looked nervous and…" Sarah paused to pull Ambreen's cheeks, and continued "and very beautiful I'm sure Irfan noticed you!" but before an appalled Ambreen could punch her or catch up to her, Sarah ran away, her light brown hair catching the sunlight and shimmering. "Rose! Run after her, I can't and she's taking advantage of my situation!" , "No way Amby! I'm not doing anything like that because you're forgetting that I'm mad at you!" , "Ha! Why are you mad at me? Sarah said you were blushing, not me, and it's not like James heard her…" Ambreen said frustrated with her leg and her friends, 'was she that transparent that even Sarah could see through her? What if…what if…Irfan had noticed? Oh who cared! Irfan had taken her name…' she sighed dreamily but her dreams were shattered by the annoying voice of Rose who said "You're forgetting that you were the one who started it all, you winked at me, why do you have to make it so obvious?" , "So, what if I do make it obvious, what's the worst that could happen, James would know, what's wrong with that? Anyways one of these days I'm going to have a talk with James" Ambreen said, "You will do no such thing Amby! I'll…I'll kill you before that" Rose said heating up, colour beautifully adorning her already red cheeks. "But what's wrong with letting him know you can't seal your lips and expect him to fall in love with you!" Ambreen retorted ignoring Rose's threat. "And would you like it if I told Irfan how you feel about him? How you can't talk to him whenever he's around because you…you love him" Rose retorted even angrier, but she calmed down when she saw the hurt in Ambreen's eyes.
Ambreen smiled a sad smile and asked her "Will they ever know how we feel?"
Rose didn't reply, instead she took Ambreen's hand and rushed into the school, because some questions are best left unanswered...
A marriage prospect?
Rose and Ambreen rushed to the third floor, but as they were about to enter the chemistry class the Canadian Anthem had started, and they had to stop in their tracks. If there was no one around perhaps they would quickly sneak into their class. Ms. Chan, their physics teacher, however, was standing right near the stairs, monitoring the hallways for late comers, and if Ms. Chan was monitoring the hallway, it was wise to stay put, because well, Ms. Chan was known for sending even innocents who look mutinous down to the Main Office.
As the familiar notes of the anthem 'Oh Canada!' began Rose sighed, she hated being late, especially when she woke up around 6:30 am, for a 9:00 am class, most people she knew woke up an hour and a half later than her. She had to make breakfast for her father, Christopher, and her younger brother, Edwin, every morning. So she had no option but to wake up early. Her dad always tried to help whenever he could, but she usually had the breakfast ready before he could help, because as much as she needed the help, she also knew that her father needed a little more rest, because he worked a full-time job and she knew it tired him.
Once everything was ready she and her father would get down to the hardest thing, waking up Edwin! He was a nuisance, and she didn't understand how he could sleep so much, he was in grade 9 for God's sake, it wasn't like he had anything much to study, even if he did she never saw him studying. So, she and her dad would take turns in between drinking their tea to wake him. Yes, tea was a must, they were Indians after all. And even though her father had immigrated in his early-twenties to Toronto, he still wanted the scent of tea water bubbling in the air, just as it had back home in Bombay. Anyway, Edwin usually wouldn't budge in the first few tries, so, sometimes when she was really tired of shouting, she would sprinkle water on him. Then he would get really mad, and wake up with his hair all scattered, and utter a war-like cry, which usually meant "I'm going to kill you". At times like that, she thought he looked much like an early-man. He would run after her, with murder in his eyes, his motive clear as he shouted 'I told you I was gonna wake up in five, why did you…why did you pour water!', he would whine, and then remembering his anger he would shout again, 'why!'
If she hadn't gotten used to this routine, he would probably catch up to her, but she was quick and prepared. She would run, as soon as she had poured enough on him to wake him, and then shut herself in her father's room before he could catch up. By the time he made it to the door, she was safe. He would bang the door, uttering curses, but all that did was alert her father. That was the best part, because then her father would scold him for the nuisance he created every morning, and she would silently scream in success! It was like adding a chocolate dipped cherry onto a chocolate cake. She needed this, this little excitement every morning, it revived her, and quenched her thirst for the entire day…perhaps that was the reason she remained docile for the most part after.
But, she sighed, even though she woke up early every morning, she was always late for and running to school because of….Ambreen ofcourse! Even though they usually made it on time, they were always…always panting as they entered their class, and the fear of being late was always at the back of their minds, well atleast her mind, she didn't think Ambreen cared about it.
When the anthem ended they ran to their chemistry class, Mr. Blaine smiled as he assessed their south-Asian attire through his wrinkled spectacled eyes, "Come on in Ladies, you're looking gorgeous, you can expect a lot of heads to turn your way..." he said chuckling.
"You're looking handsome too Sir! I'm sure we'll catch Mrs. Blaine daydreaming today!" Ambreen gushed in, while the class chuckled at Ambreen's comments. Mrs. Blaine, his wife was also a teacher in their school.
"Man in a green skirt! I don't think so Ambreen!" Mr. Blaine chuckled, referring to his Irish kilt.
Rose wondered how her friend could be so frank and yet so popular among the teachers, and in the school. Personally, she could never talk so freely with teachers, the fact was that she couldn't come up with witty retorts like Ambreen, and even if she did think of something clever to say, she didn't have the nerve to voice it.
As they walked towards their bench, Pooja Sinha, another one of their friends, who was dressed in an ethnic orange tunic, and black jeans, whispered "Someone's looking hot!" to Rose, whose lips curved at the comment, and she wondered whether that one person who's thoughts mattered the most to her, had also thought the same of her.
Soon Rose was fiercely scribbling down, trying to write down every bit of what came out of Mr. Blaine's mouth, because she believed that anything and everything teachers said was game for exams, and she was right, most of the time. They were learning entropy and enthalpy today. "Entropy is a state of disorder, it drives reactions, because reactions tend to prefer a higher entropic state, much like our rooms, no matter how much you clean them up, they end up disordered, and then your parents, or in my case my wife scolds you! Reactions don't have any such fears, so they don't fear going into a disordered state, whereas enthalpy…" Mr. Blaine continued, while Rose thought to herself, as she jotted down the definitions, that if it wasn't for Edwin her room would never be disordered. Infact it was one of her criteria for choosing her husband, "thou shall never live in disorder". She smiled as an image of James crossed her mind, his room was always clean.
Beside Rose, Ambreen was twisting her lips in a frown, her fair, slightly plump fingers, fidgeting with her pen. It seemed like she was concentrating very hard on the concepts, but after a while she leaned towards Rose and said "I don't get a word he's saying! I hope there's no surprise quiz today, but if there is, can you please show me your answers?" Ambreen's face looked hopeful, "No, Amby, I will do no such thing, it'll just make you depend on me, and cheat, and the marks won't be yours…" Rose replied, "God! You're such a …a pain in the…in my backside Rose…why can't you help your best friend? And when she's pleading to you…you're a cold-hearted lover Rose…" Ambreen finished dramatically. "I never said I love you…" Rose replied back calmly, noting the fact that Ambreen always used words like backside instead of 'ass', she was very particular about not using 'bad-words' as she called them.
Kevin, and Asian boy, who sat near Pooja, looked behind with an amused look on his face. He always heard the two whispering, and it was usually Ambreen declaring her undying love for Rose. He chuckled, and showed thumbs up to Ambreen, and winked at Rose. Rose just wanted to die then, "Amby! I'm seriously going to kill you one of these days" Rose whispered angrily, as the familiar bell rung indicating that the first period had ended. "I promise we will punch her later, come on we'll be late for bio" Sarah said in her lazy drawl, as Ambreen grinned and once again encircled her arms around Rose, pulling her out of the class.
Sarah sat beside Rose in the biology class; it was a sort of unspoken arrangement between the three friends, they took turns sitting with each other. In their next class 'World Issues' Ambreen sat beside Sarah, and the class after that was 'English' where Ambreen and Rose sat together again. Sarah was taking only three credits this semester, because she had the six credits, that she needed to graduate, Ambreen on the other hand took as many credits as she could because she always had the fear of failing a course at the back of her mind, and it was a genuine fear because she really had to work hard to earn the marks she got. Rose was a completely different story, she took all the courses she could, even though she had a total of 9 grade 12 university level credits now, and she had an average greater than 90%, in her credits so far. She took as many courses as she could, because she felt incomplete unless she had four lectures everyday!
You might wonder how the three of them ended up with the same schedule, with the same teachers…let's just say they took a lot of trips to the counsellor's office. They did this every year, ensured that they changed their timetable around, until the three of their timetables looked identical.
"Ah, my favourite class, my favourite teacher, this is where I belong!" Rose sighed happily, as she sat near Sarah.
"Rose you know that its comments like these that make you a nerd, don't you?" Sarah said, each word in the sentence accompanied by a beautiful movement of her eyebrows, as she adjusted the shawl of her yellow churidar.
"God! I hate bio, why did God make bio!" Ambreen whined as she slid into her seat behind Sarah.
"What's new Amby, you hate every course, and God didn't make bio…" Rose frowned, as she tucked another loose strand behind her ear, she seriously needed more pins to control her hair.
"God made life, and so he made humans, and humans invented this biology course" Ambreen replied.
"Get a life you guys! Why do you always talk about studies? Sometimes I wonder how I ended up with you two…" Sarah sighed tired of their continuous chatter; if she could describe her friends in one word it would be 'geeks', but she loved them nevertheless.
"Ooooh Sarah's too cool for us!" Ambreen sniggered, and before Rose could high-five her, Mrs. Brown started the lecture.
The biology class was usually quiet busy, with Mrs. Brown's monotonous lectures, and notes, that almost everyone besides Rose hated.
The period after biology was lunch, so the trio headed down to the cafeteria. They usually brought home-made lunches, except Sarah who usually bought something from the nearby seven-eleven store. Pooja who also hung out with them during lunch, left for seven-eleven with Sarah, leaving Rose and Ambreen alone.
As soon as she thought Sarah was out of ear-shot, Ambreen gushed in "Irfan talked to me!" her lips pressing into an excited giggle.
"Hmm and James smiled at me" Rose said blushing, her dimples deepening, as she looked dreamily at her sandwich.
"You know I really think he likes you"
"So you're a psychic now?" Rose asked, raising her eyebrow, even though she wanted to believe her.
"It's a gut feeling, infact I'm sure in a few years from now you guys will be married" Ambreen sighed happily.
"And I will call you and Irfan over to our house, for dinner, and play match-maker" Rose pitched in.
"I never said you'll marry before me, infact me and Irfan will probably call you guys for lunch, and play match-maker" Ambreen giggled, a bit of her sandwich flying out of her mouth as she did so, "oops, sorry…" she said sheepishly.
Rose shook her head, and said "Just look at us Amby! I hate to admit it, but we are losers". "Yup losers with a big L" Ambreen chuckled, making an 'L' with her thumb and index finger, and sticking it on her forehead. "I mean we've been in love with them for the past what, four five years? But we're still stuck where we started, we should do something about this" Ambreen continued seriously, her eyebrows creased, as if in deep thought, as she took a sip from her plastic water bottle.
"It's not love Amby, it's infatuation, I mean I like him a lot" Rose said touching her heart out of habit, "but it can't be love…I have hardly talked to him, I know deep down that its just attraction…yes, pure and basal attraction …" she said slowly, the last few words almost to herself; as if she had forgotten she was in company. And then suddenly she lost the pensive air, and tucked a stray tress, "Here's an idea, you think up something" pointing her index finger at Ambreen, "because I" she said pointing to herself "have better things to do than cook up some scheme…plus…I've to cook today, Edwin-the-pig has gobbled up all the chicken from yesterday, how can one person eat so much!" she whined.
"Don't worry about it, I'm sure Mom's going to give you a huge parcel of food" Ambreen chuckled, not bothering to counter her friend's assertion that what she felt for James was merely attraction, because she knew better. And who could understand what Rose felt for James better than her? She had understood Irfan, loved him for the way he was, and it wasn't by talking with him…she had just been around… unnoticed by him, that hurt, not being noticed. But, it was worth it, because that way she could look at him at her pleasure, and gauge him like she could never have if he would so much as look at her, because with his eyes on her she could never think. It was the same with Rose, she mused, but Rose always underestimated her feelings for James. She blanketed her feelings under the absurd word 'infatuation'. How Rose could casually dismiss her emotions, her love, with attraction, she could never understand. If there was one thing she wanted more than Irfan to love her back, it was for Rose and James to be one.
When Pooja and Sarah returned from seven-eleven, the two girls quickly changed the topic to a less-secretive one, a more exciting, less-depressing one. They discussed about the upcoming Prom. "I am wearing black, I think I look best in black, apparently black also makes you look slimmer…" Ambreen said raising her eyebrows, as if she was the first one to pass on this secret.
"Amby nothing can make you look slim!" Rose rolled her eyes, and bit back a chuckle. Before Ambreen could retort Sarah said, "Amby you look fine, just the way you are!", "Yeah, besides you're not fat!" Pooja pitched in trying to cover up Rose's remark, the last thing they wanted was to start another one of Ambreen and Rose's feuds. It was exhausting listening to them talk back and forth.
"Yeah, I know I'm not that fat" Ambreen said, reassured about her slimness once again. Her friends were truthful in their own way; personally she liked Sarah's reassurances that she was perfect, better than Rose's, who had in all these years not once said – Amby you are not fat. But her bitterness about Rose soon changed when she felt a hand tweak her cheeks, "Would I be able to do this, if you were any different?" Rose chuckled when Ambreen narrowed her eyes at her. "Yes, Rose I wouldn't want to deny you that pleasure, now would I?" Ambreen said dismissing Rose with a smile.
When the last period ended, Rose sighed happily. Yes, she loved her classes, but that didn't mean she didn't wait for them to end…because even though she rarely admitted, school was exhausting. Besides, the three of them were having lunch at Ambreen's, it was always fun at her place. She could almost picture it, the warm, delicious food laid down on the oak dining table, Ambreen's mother, coaxing them to eat, indulging them as a mother would. There in her house, she felt like she was a child and not a grown-up.
She didn't have to worry about heating the food she had prepared, or washing the dishes after. All she had to care about was eating, talking and laughing. She loved the feeling, however brief it was…that she had nothing to worry about, because someone was there to take care of things. Yes, Samiha Aunty was like a mother to her, indulgent, loving, and constant. Samiha aunty with her timeless beauty, and her long braid, would be waiting for them to give a play-by-play of how the teachers had dressed, and what their friends had worn. She was so easy to talk to that she had to catch herself sometimes, before she let her most deepest secrets slip by. Sometimes she suspected Samiha Aunty knew much more than she let everyone believe. If there was one thing Rose envied Ambreen for, it was her mother, and a mother like her, who was in truth more a friend than a mother. Heck! How often were you, even blessed with a mother? She laughed at herself, who was she kidding? Everyone had the pleasure of a mother, everyone except her. Her lips curved slightly, as she remembered her own mother, with her short dark hair, she always wore it short, her loving eyes, and the way she would always bring her a toy…pampering her. The feel of her embrace, the warmth of her voice, and her sweet scent, every detail…every little detail of her mother, was etched into her mind and all these details did, was bring her pain…yes, physical pain somewhere around where her heart was…
The walk towards Sarah's house was silent because she had been caught up in her thoughts. Ambreen was perhaps busy in her own.
As they were waiting at the front steps of Sarah's house, Rose noticed that the garage door was open, with the same car parked that had dropped them to school. James was home. Her heart beat quickened just at the thought of him nearby. She saw him walking into the garage, he was washing his car. The long sleeves of his grey jersey were carelessly rolled up to his elbows, revealing his tanned hands that held the garden hose. His loose black jeans rolled above his ankles, were drenched.
She tucked the binder closer to her unsteady heart, when he looked up at them and grinned, "Sarah said she'll be there in a minute". She veiled her joy at seeing him twice in a day, with a casual smile. She was good at that –masking, well sort of, the only person who could see through her was Ambreen, and thank God for that!
"Okay, tell her we have all the time in the world!" Ambreen grinned, because Sarah's one minute usually meant ten or more.
"You're no different Amby!" Rose frowned. Her friends were always late, and it forced her to wonder how she had ended up with the two most unpunctual people in the world?
In reply Ambreen punched her, "Ouch!" Rose said rubbing her shoulders, even though she wasn't hurt, "Oh, sorry Rose! I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry." Ambreen bit her tongue, as she rubbed Rose's shoulder, she had to stop this habit of hers or one day she would end up charged for physical abuse. Rose chuckled and pulled Ambreen's cheeks as she said "Oh Amby! You're so gullible", but was soon embarrassed because Ambreen hugged her "You know I love you for this don't you?"
"Ambreen" Rose whined as she struggled from Ambreen's bear-hug, all her plans to be classy and cool around James went down the drain whenever Amby was around.
James chuckled at that. He liked Ambreen, she was energetic, full of life and he always enjoyed a good laugh when she was around. But, he realized he found Rose's reactions even more hilarious than Ambreen's jibes. The way Rose would try to hide her embarrassment by smiling, her lips pressed to each other, her dimples deepening involuntarily…as if she could hide it all with her smile.
Just then the door opened and an 8-year old girl emerged, "Rose! Ambreen!" and that's all they heard, as they were dragged inside the house.
"And how're you Sophia?" Rose stroked Sophia's long braid, she was Sarah's little sister, with the same brown hair and features that made Sarah beautiful, her eyes though were unusually like James…light brown, infact she usually admired those eyes of his more on Sophia's face rather than his own. "I'm fine! But you guys never come to chill anymore!" Sophia complained, crossing her hands over herself and narrowed her eyes at the pair. "It's grade twelve, Sophie, we're so busy, there's so much to study! But I promise you this summer I'll make up for all our 'chillin'" Rose said as she kneeled down to Sophia's length. "I don't want to go to grade twelve ever, because I don't like studying, I'm no good at anyway…and I hate colouring in the same brown colour, why does a house have to be brown anyway? why can't it be pink? And…and then I won't be able to play with you! Yes, Rose no grade twelve for me…." Sophia decided and smiled at the frown on Rose's face, encircling her tiny hands around Rose's neck "Nope, no grade twelve" she repeated as she shook her head in emphasis. "But… but…" Rose said flustered "you have to study Sophie! Because you will also go to a university just like me and Amby and Sarah, you'll complete your education just like us, because its important…that way you land up with a good job, and you'll know you've achieved something…besides you're a bright girl" Rose smiled triumphantly, convinced that her argument was persuasive enough for Sophia, and flicked Sophia's nose affectionately. She was unaware that James was enjoying their conversation, leaning across the door leading to the garage, or she would have been more conscious.
"It's just like her to take everything so seriously…especially when it comes to studying…She's just a kid Rose…" Ambreen smiled, shaking her head at James.
Rose looked up…a faint blush warming her cheeks, when she saw James looking down at her, a warm smile adorning his handsome face. There was a strange fraternal look in his eyes, whenever he looked at Sophia, it was a look that said he would do anything to see his little sister smile, and the thought warmed her.
James…was complex, she mused, as she looked away from him, and into Sophia's eyes. The similarity that met her in Sophie's eyes…was disturbing, sometimes. He was focused, brilliant...she had heard from Sarah, about the numerous scholarships that he earned after graduating from high school, the job offered to him merely as a second year summer student, and now in his third year, he was working as a summer student at a globally recognized firm. Her dimples involuntarily deepened, he was a go-getter, and her idol. His determination to get what he wanted, by reaching out, and capturing it, excited her, because it reminded her of herself. Her lips curved briefly, he reminded her of herself in so many ways, that her heart had almost…almost grown used to the sudden jolts that it experienced, whenever she drew a similarity between herself and him. It is said that opposites usually attract but she disagreed with it, it wasn't true. Well, positive charges did attract negative ones, ionic bonds formed between opposing dipoles were proof to that, but that was science, and this was real life. Then again science was reality too, but she shook her self mentally, this was not the point she was trying to make. The point was to be attracted to someone…to like someone…you have to understand them. And you can only truly understand someone if you thought like them, if you felt as they did, if you saw the world from their eyes…and that was only possible if you were like them…not their opposite. Yes, that was it that was her point, she and James, they were not opposites…and so she lov…liked him, Oh! so much.
James loved his younger sister; she was 12 years younger to him, and the closest to his heart. He liked the way Rose talked to her, as if she was a grown-up, just like Sarah did. It was perhaps one of the reasons Sophia could never stop talking about Rose to him…it was always "Rose said I'm her favourite…Rose said do this…Rose said you shouldn't have stopped talking to your friend…" On an impulse he crouched beside the pair, "Well, shorts, there's nothing we can do now, because our Rose has decided that you will study, by the way what programs will she apply in?" he asked turning towards Rose. She smiled embarrassed at her pushiness, and scooted away from him, when she felt his arms brushing against her. "I don't want to work either!" Sophia announced smugly, and chuckled when Rose's eyebrows rose appalled at the idea, "Mom doesn't work!" she added, as if that settled everything.
"Relax" James said, before Rose could retort and convince Sophie otherwise. His light eyes shifted between her dark ones, as if seeking their attention, "Just relax Rose, not everything rests here, not everything…" he said tapping her shoulders. She smiled when his lips turned briefly, "I am relaxed. And I think I don't think, what you think I think" she bit her tongue, realizing she didn't make any sense. She wasn't sure if it was his proximity that caused it, or the fact that she was aware Ambreen was behind her, having the time of her life, and wishing that she had bought some popcorn. "I'm confused" Sophia drew her eyebrows in concentration, her tiny hands still wrapped around Rose. "Me too Shorts. Imagine that! After practicing all those tongue twisters, we are still behind…Rose is just too quick for us!" he said, barely trying to hide the smug expression on his face. Rose wanted to say something witty, something that would wipe that grin of his face, she wasn't stupid! Oh! Why did she have to make a fool of herself, everything was going so smoothly, and now her big mouth had ruined her close-to-perfect image.
But whatever retort Rose would have come up with, Sophia's was better, because she brushed him off, like an insignificant fly, wiping the haughtiness from his face.
"Okay James enough, now Go! Go!" Sophia pushed him, "I want to tell her something".
"So? I want to hear it too" James said, not budging even when Sophie pushed his strong shoulders with all her strength. "James! I share secrets with Rose only! I'm just going to have to… Mom! Mom James is troubling me!"
James quickly closed his hands over her mouth, "Fine shorts! I'm leaving, you can tell Rose all your secrets for all I care" he stood up, tugging her braid, "Have fun!" he said to Rose.
She could see a flicker of curiosity and a hint, just a hint of annoyance flash across his face, when Sophia whispered "He's just jealous!"
She couldn't help but snigger at him along with Ambreen and Sophia, when he tripped on his way upstairs.
When Sophia was sure James was gone she whispered to Rose, "I said I don't have to go to a university because…because Sarah isn't going either…"
"She isn't? How do you know?" Rose asked quickly, "She told me, a few days back, and I wanted to tell you as soon as I could, but I didn't have your number, and…and she told me not to tell anyone...but you won't tell nobody right?" Sophia asked worried, that she had spilled her sister's secret. "No, I won't" Rose said solemnly, but already her mind was rushing on the reasons why Sarah had never mentioned this, why she wasn't studying further. Now that she thought about it, she realized Sarah had never taken part in their conversations about their universities…their future. She decided to get to the bottom of it, Sarah had to go to a university because everyone did, and they were all going to a university, all three of them! But, even as she thought of it, she knew it was too late, she wished she would have known before and could have changed Sarah's mind.
They left Sarah's house, promising Sophia that they would visit her soon. It was 5:00 pm, and still there were no signs of the approaching evening, because summer days were lengthy. The glittering sun blended well against the pale blue back drop, wisps of clouds laced the sky here and there. The area was residential, so the streets were usually quiet, except for the occasional chatter of children that drifted from the community playground. A flock of sparrows eating crumbs across a bush, fluttered away as they passed them. But, the trio did not care for how the sun was blinding the rest of the world, or how quiet the street was, or that they had disturbed the little party of sparrows.
While Ambreen was wondering, as her stomach grumbled, if her mom had cooked her favourite mutton pulao, Sarah was twirling her hair smiling occasionally as she thought about someone, and Rose, well Rose was preparing for attack. "Sarah did you get acceptance from any universities?" Rose asked a little sharply, as they turned a corner.
Ambreen rolled her eyes, muttering 'count on Rose to bring up the most detested topic, who cares about school? I'm hungry!'
Sarah took a deep breath at the question, and remained silent, as she eyed the white tulips adorning the church courtyard, that passed by. After walking for a while, she sighed and said, "No, I didn't".
"Didn't what?" Rose pressed. When Sarah remained silent and looked away, Rose stopped her and asked "Didn't what Sarah? Why don't you ever talk about what programs you applied to, what universities you chose? "
Ambreen realized from Rose's tone, which she rarely heard, that she was mad.
"Rose?" Ambreen said a little uncertainly, but before she could complete her sentence, Rose silenced her by quietly saying "What's up Sarah?"
Sarah sighed, closing her eyes, taking a deep breath, her collar bones visible briefly…before she said "Fine, I'm sorry I hid it from you and everyone at home, I'm not studying further…"
"But, why? You've perfect grades; you can easily get into any university…" Ambreen said concerned, while Rose didn't say anything because she was disappointed in Sarah. For Rose it was unimaginable, she felt education was an important part of life, and most of all she felt let down by Sarah, all those years they had planned on going to the same university...all those years…Sarah knew how much they had planned for this, the final leap…the point where they would start fresh…it was so important to them, to her…and yet, Sarah had taken this important decision all by herself.
"You guys…I'm…I'm…I'm getting married, I was never interested in studying after I graduated, anyways I can always study after can't I?" Sarah gushed nervously wringing her slender fingers, and grimaced as she heard Rose curse, and as Ambreen bombarded her with the five W's "What? Who is it..? When did this…Where…Why…so soon?"
"Who is it? And when did this happen!" Rose demanded angrily.
Sarah's lips curved at that, "Relax Rose! God! You talk as if I'm pregnant! Anyway, I have known him for a long time he's like family, a year older to James" she smiled "everyone knows him, mom-dad adore him…Sophie loves him…and I love him! Oh Rose! Amby! He loves me, he makes me so happy…whenever I see him, talk to him, my life just seems to fall into place…and I figured, well we both decided to marry, I mean what's wrong with it? We both love each other and we're old enough to make our own decisions, so yeah I'm getting married!" Sarah said excitedly, clasping her yellow shawl to where her heart was joyously beating. She noticed the brief knowing smile that crossed Rose and Ambreen's face, as if they knew what she was talking about…as if they knew what it was like to be…to be in love…
"And no one knows about this? What are you going to do? What if they know you haven't…what if they don't approve…what if…" Rose said as millions of possibilities that could shatter Sarah's happiness came to her.
Sarah and Ambreen chuckled at the sudden change in mood, "Don't worry I have it all figured out…I'm telling James first, he always understands, I know he will listen, and then I'll just leave it to him, to talk with Mom and Dad, he'll convince them…It'll work out, I know it will, it always does…" she said confidently.
"How dare you hide such a huge thing from… us!" Rose said, suddenly annoyed. This was serious, she realized. Her friend was determined and getting married.
"I was going to tell you". Soon Sarah thought guiltily.
"Yeah Right!" Ambreen said, rolling her eyes at Rose, "Did you plan on telling us before or after you were happily married?"
"Fine. I'm sorry. But, I think it's my turn to be mad at you, God! Aren't you even a little curious about his name? I mean" she rolled her tongue "I'm totally fine with not telling, but in case you run into him, I would prefer if you guys know he's taken!" Sarah giggled mischievously.
"Yeah! What is his name? That should have been the first thing you said to us Sarah, his name!" Ambreen said and added suddenly interested in her manicured nails, "Anyway you don't have to worry about us, because trust me our tastes are very different".
"Well I was going to… but our friend here was making me nervous, with all her anger…What did you say? Tastes are different! I'll show you, you little…" Sarah ran after Ambreen. After a lot of panting, and huffing Ambreen finally managed "I'm sorry Sarah!" her hands on her heart, she gasped "…not" and she pulled out her tongue, but before either she or Sarah could run again Rose caught her and said "I'm warning you don't test my temper, I want to know the guy's name Now!"
"Hm. That's no way to ask his name" Sarah stalled, but at the dark look in Rose's eyes she said "Fine! It's Dave". To her frustration they chuckled, because it was the first time they had seen Sarah blushing.
Ambreen hugged a smiling Sarah as she said "Oh come here! I'm so happy for you!". They pulled Rose, who was standing nearby as a spectator, into their embrace, "Sometimes you're so formal, I swear it makes me so mad!" Ambreen said to Rose.
Rose chuckled as she fell into the embrace, "I hope everything works out". "Don't worry Rose it will" Sarah whispered, "Sometimes if you believe enough, and want it enough, you get it"
The lunch at Ambreen's place was a noisy affair, while Sarah was talking about Mr. Blaine who had worn a kilt and how he had complimented Ambreen and Rose, Rose was busy complaining about being caught late by Ms. Chan again, who by the way had worn a beautiful violet Kimono, and Ambreen unabashed was telling her mother how very dashing the guys were looking in their sherwani's, apparently black seemed to be the fashion this year among guys.
They had initially planned on hiding Sarah's imminent marriage plans from Ambreen's mother, fortunately or unfortunately though one look and Samiha aunty knew there was something different in their eyes. Eventually, Sarah blurted out her plans, which were calmly heard by Samiha, she rarely gave advices, so she smiled silently and said she was happy for Sarah and her choice. She refrained from saying that she slightly disapproved of this method, of taking a decision as huge as marriage without her parent's approval, because it was not her place to say it. Afterall, Sarah was not the same as Rose, there was a subtle difference in the two friends of Ambreen, with Sarah she somehow knew her advice wouldn't be welcome, and that was fine because we do not give everyone a right to interfere in our lives. But with Rose she could say anything she felt, and it was always, always welcome, it was a strange connection they shared. Rose had dark, very dark eyes, and they always seemed to seek approval or disapproval from her own eyes. She wasn't sure if she was worthy of it, but Rose almost considered her as a mother. It brought a strange contentment to her heart, the fact that someone not related to her, could think of her as a mother, and so when it came to Rose, Samiha felt and cared too much about her to not speak anything but the truth.
When Ambreen and Sarah had retired to the room, to discuss about Sarah's plans and their own prom plans, Rose stayed back to help with the dishes. It wasn't really to help out; sometimes she felt she did it purposely to catch moments alone with Samiha Aunty. "So, how did you make it on time?" Samiha asked, and smiled at Rose when she said uneasily "Oh. Um. Sarah's brother dropped us". "Ah, James is it? I've seen him around, very handsome I must say", "Aunty!" Rose said appalled, and turned to pick up the plates, or rather to hide her pink cheeks. "So? It's the first thing that comes to mind, you have to admit he's handsome, besides Ambreen talks so much about how good he looks that I'm bound to feel that way" she winked "but apart from that I can't say much about him, after all beauty cannot be a measure of character can it?"
Rose wanted to strangle Ambreen for talking so much about him; didn't she have Irfan to think about? "But, he is very good, he's intelligent and so ambitious" Rose wasn't sure where the conversation was leading, but she felt the need to defend James. "Yes, and all that is fairly common, I mean you are just as focused, beta (child)" she paused to ruffle Rose's hair, there was a look of pride in her eyes just then, and looking out the balcony she took a breathe and said "but there are other things more important in life, ultimately its not the appearance or the brain of a person that matters, what matters is how he treats you, if he cares for you enough to understand you." she said looking at Rose intently. Rose had the distinct feeling that somehow the topic was now focused on her and James, which was strange, because she couldn't remember how this conversation had started in the first place. But, Samiha aunty never put her on a spot, she quickly looked away and said, "Khair (anyway), I am getting carried away, Ambreen usually scolds me when I get off topic, she says I get boring when I start handing out advices to her" she chuckled.
Rose smiled; she wanted to tell Samiha Aunty how much her advices were welcome, to what depth she understood and considered her words. She wanted to tell her how much she meant to her, the extent to which she envied Ambreen when she smiled at Ambreen with that look in her eyes, and how when she smiled that same smile at her she wanted to cry for what her own life lacked, but she stayed silent.
Because sometimes, sometimes there was no need to convey your feelings, sometimes the person you felt strongly about knew how you felt, much better than your words could ever convey.
But, not always, not always were you blessed so…did James care for her enough to understand her? Did he even consider her? Or was she always carelessly dismissed from his thoughts as someone unworthy to invade his thoughts? Had he ever felt for her? Yes, she had seen him look at her sometimes with that smile he always granted Sophie.
But then again, what did his smile amount to?
The heart has a strong tendency to create…to dream…specially when there is no reality, it tends to imagine, and that's what scared her what if her feelings were never reciprocated?
And what about herself, did she like James just because he was handsome? Just because he was smart, goal-oriented? No, her own feelings were true, very true…because she liked him…oh hell! Loved him…yes, she loved him for the way he was a constant pillar in Sarah's life, didn't Sarah say she could always rely on him, wasn't Sophia always joyous around her brother, didn't she always wait for him to come home, wasn't he the ideal son, brother…? Didn't that mean he would be an ideal man too?
She told herself that she had looked at his character closely, and that's why she loved him, because he was perfect for her. But, she didn't dare ask herself if she would still like him, if he wasn't perfect? The fact was she couldn't say no, she would still love him, and if she did, then didn't that mean that she was merely attracted to his looks and not his character, his self?
Yes, love was extremely confusing at times…the line between attraction and love was very thin, and awfully blurry. So, when thoughts such as these, popped up in her ever-active brain, yes her brain was always supplied generously with blood and oxygen, so her neurons were always firing impulses, ideas. Anyway, when such thoughts came to her, she would push all of her feelings into a rusty old chest named Love, and lock it with a key on which five precious letters were engraved: J-A-M-E-S, and then she would hide both the key and the chest in the different valves of her heart the atrium and the ventricle, perhaps the key should go in the left atrium, because pure blood was collected there, and…Ah, she stopped herself in time, because she realized with dismay that she was a nerd afterall!
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Hey Sweetness... I haven't read it yet... Its my treat for the end of the week... But dude, am I ever excited! Thank you terribly for the dedication aur meri fan-ness ki laaj rakhne ke liye Anything from you is like another cup of ice-cream (forget the cherry... I like without!) Thanku thanku and thanku!! Milte hain break ke baad...
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