Ragav and I talked all the way home, talked of silly superficial things, of old acquaintances, cricket and hot movie stars. We didn’t talk of that girl at all.
When we reached my place, Raghav asked if he could come in.
“Of course!” I said.
“I thought you wanted to go to bed early,” he reminded me.
“Come on in.”
He refused my offer of coffee.
“Yeah, I know it’s not your preferred weekend-night beverage,” I drawled.
“We just had coffee,” he retorted. “Do you want to keep me awake all night?”
“What about a glass of warm milk?” I smiled sweetly.
He reached out to grab my hand and pull me down on the mattress beside him. “Let’s talk,” he said.
He touched my hair where it fell about my shoulders in thick waves.
“I like your hair long,” he said.
“Well, it was long the last time you visited too.”
“I noticed,” he smiled, fending off the implicit complaint.
Had he noticed? Or was he just covering up? The thing was, you never knew with Raghav.
“You looked cute and impish with short hair,” he went on, “but I love how longer hair gives you a mature, mysterious look.”
“He likes my hair!” exclaimed Mandakini. “Even though that girl’s hair is long and straight and shiny.”
I felt all warm and fuzzy, like I always did when Raghav said something nice.
“Maybe because it’s so rare?” suggested Miki demoniacally.
“I don’t suppose you wanted to talk about my hair,” I said aloud. “What is it?”
“Well, actually, I had promised I’d never mention this to you again.”
I looked at him. He seemed reluctant to meet my eyes.
“You really want to talk about that again?” I asked gently.
He looked up. “Why not? Except for the fact that you asked me not to?”
I gave my head a shake to clear it. “You want to talk about you and me getting together?” I said slowly.
“Today?” added Miki in my head. “After he spent the day fawning over that girl?”
“Yeah, Miki,” said Raghav. “Do you mind my raising the subject?”
I shook my head, more slowly this time. “No. We can talk about it if you want to.”
I realised he was still holding my hand.
“Miki, you and I know each other better than anyone else. You do like me, you know. Else you wouldn’t put up with me the way you do.”
“I love you, Raghav. You know that. You’re the only person I can really talk to.”
“But you don’t want to be with me.”
“I don’t think so…”
“That gives me hope,” he said. “It sounds less positive than last time.”
“That’s because I am less positive than last time,” said Miki, but not aloud.
I looked at him. It was funny how I had never really looked at Raghav before. When we talked to each other, we were often on the phone, or we were sitting or walking next to each other. Rarely had I sat across from him and looked at his face. I realised he had large dark eyes with absurdly long lashes – eyes that would make a woman’s face beautiful and that made his otherwise strong square face adorably vulnerable.
He was holding my hand in both of his now, and gently, almost imperceptibly, pulling me forward. Our lips met.
I had never imagined kissing Raghav. If I had, I might have thought it would be like kissing a brother – not that I’d know exactly, never having had one. But I learned that it wasn’t at all like how I imagined kissing a brother would be. It was tender and demanding, and before I knew it we were holding each other in a close embrace. It can’t have lasted more than a few seconds, that kiss, but it seemed to last forever.
At last I opened my eyes and moved a few inches back. His eyes were staring dreamily into mine.
“Miki,” he said softly, and touched my cheek.
I don’t know how long I looked at him. Then I smiled.
“Does this mean yes?” he asked.
It felt like I had fallen back on earth with a thud. “Let’s not talk about that now, Raghav,” I said. “Is that all right?”
“It’s difficult,” he said wryly.
“Okay.” It had always been hard seeing Raghav sad over girl problems – and that didn’t change when the girl was me. I gave him a hug first.
After I had moved away again, I spoke with more confidence than I felt. “No, it doesn’t mean anything, Raghav. I love you, but I’m not in love with you. I am not sure you’re in love with me either. No, don’t argue. I know what you think, but I think you’re wrong. I don’t think this would be a good idea.
“I don’t want to hurt you, okay? But I think we’re both confused and are likely to end up making a mistake. Let’s remain friends for now. We can talk about this again later if you want to.”
He nodded. “But you know I’ll be waiting, if you change your mind?”
“I’ll tell you if I change my mind,” I told him.
“And nothing’s changed between us?”
“I hope nothing ever will,” I smiled.