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Between U 'N' Me Prologue

I woke up to one of the most beautiful mornings of my life. I was in bed, still wrapped in the memories of the past few nights that had made my life worth living. I was scared to get up, scared if I would be released from the embrace of those wonderful moments. But I had to get up, I wanted to welcome this morning like had welcomed every morning since I began my life in this place. I slowly walked to the kitchen and made a mug of hot coffee. The rays emanating from the sun started to pierce through the curtains. I walked towards the balcony and pushed away the curtain to let the mild rays fall on my cold skin. I stood there admiring the splendid sight that unveiled before my eyes as I was nestled among the creations of nature. The purity of the placid lake, the sounds of the birds that chirped away and the shades of green wherever I turned made me feel warm in spite of the chill breeze that now blew at me with full force. It was a break of another dawn, another new beginning towards the endless journey to attain perfection, another gifted opportunity to erase the past and become who I always wanted to be. As I was enjoying the sense of philosophy that Mother Nature had instilled in me at such an early hour of the day, I heard his footsteps behind me. I waited not turning to look at him. The sound of every step he took towards me, made my heart skip a beat. I could now feel his presence by my side. I took a sip from the mug to hide my smile. His eyes were on me, I was melting away like the dew on a leaf that I was looking at now. He took the mug from my hand gently and placed it on the floor. Now he turned to me, and cupped my face with his hands. He looked deeply into my eyes and whispered 'Good Morning Sweetheart’, hearing the strength in his voice, I could feel my limbs go week. Before I opened my mouth to greet him, his lips were on mine and what I felt at that instant cannot be described by words of any language. A deafening sound filled my ears when I was lost in the beauty of his touch. ‘Damn it, I knew it!!! It was too good to be true’ I woke up to one of the worst realities of my life.

Chapter 1 The Worst Day of My Life I looked at the clock with disgust and I could imagine a wicked smile on its face on spoiling my dream. I had half the mind to bunk school and continue my dream. But that's not the way dreams worked. Good dreams once vanish; never come back, no matter how hard you try. This I could firmly tell from my years of experience in trying to continue with broken dreams. As such going to school was not on the top of my list of ‘favorite things to do’, to make it worse I had just been disturbed from a wonderful dream. ‘It could’ve at least lasted till the kiss ended.’ I shouted to the void that filled my room. Another deafening noise tore my ears. This time it was my cell phone. I knew who it was. My best friend Eddie, No one else calls me at this time. ‘Hi Eddie.’ ‘Good Morning Jess, why do you sound dull?’ ‘Can we bunk school?’ ‘No way, I am coming to pick you up in an hour get your lazy ass off the bed and take a shower.’ ‘Pick me up? What do you mean pick me up? Aren’t we walking to school today?’ ‘Don’t spoil my wonderful morning with your endless questions, just do as I say.’ ‘But Eddie’, Wonderful he had already hung up on me. Now I had absolutely no choice. Disturbed by the alarm in the middle of a fantastic dream, struck by realization that I have to go to school-my least favorite place in the world, and got hung up on the phone by best friend- the worst morning of my life ever. After half hour I was at the breakfast table where Dad was drowned in his newspaper and mom in her ‘Times crossword’. I took my seat and helped myself to few servings of cereals. ‘Why do you look dull honey?’ Mom enquired with concern not taking her eyes of her crossword. ‘School’ I replied in a weeping tone. She didn’t comment further. She was aware of how much I hated school. She always told me that looking at my happily smiling face, while I returned home every evening was priceless. ‘Hey Jess, have you decided about your electives for next year?’ asked Dad as he looked up from his newspaper. ‘What electives?’ I asked puzzled. My senior year would be over in 2 months and I would be entering college in 5 months. What electives was he talking about? I had no clue. I could see my mom suppress a smile from the corner of my eyes. I understood instantly. My dad had forgotten again that I was in senior year.

‘Dad, I am in senior year now’ I couldn’t help admiring the lost puppy look on his face. My mother bursts into fits of laughter which was joined by my dad. I was still not in a mood to laugh and hence restricted myself to a smile. My dad was a very hardworking business man constantly striving to increase his ‘ever average’ sales pitch. As a result he had trouble remembering a hell lot of personal details. But mom and I never complained as we were only concerned about the love and affection with which he was quite generous. As for money we had enough to eat, dress, celebrate and save. ‘Mom… You know? Eddie said he is going to pick me up today.’ ‘Well, maybe he is stealing the car out of the Morgans’ notice.’ ‘Or maybe they are out of town Mom.’ ‘Or maybe he is going to give you a ride in his bike like your 5th grade’ my came up with another possible explanation. ‘Leave the poor guy alone’ ordered my dad and we obeyed. I looked at my watch and knew it would be at least 10 minutes before Eddie comes, not wanting to waste any time, I begun to read the copy of ‘Twilight’ I had borrowed from Vanessa yesterday. I was in the chapter where Edward saves Bella from the accident and it had really moved me. Probably the dream was just the extension of the excitement I had felt reading the book. As I lost myself once again to the magic of Stephanie Meyer’s words, yet another deafening noise filled my ears. It was a car’s honk and it could be Eddie. When I looked out of the window, I was shell shocked at the sight of a red convertible that stood in my driveway. I motioned my Mom to have a look. ‘Don’t keep him waiting darling, he looks excited.’ ‘Okay mom, will be back with all the details in the evening.’ I hurried quickly out of the door, pushing the Twilight copy safely into my bag. My eyes widened into surprise as I shot a closer look at the car. ‘Audi TTS Roadster?’ ‘What?’ ‘Eddie that's the car you are driving.’ ‘Oh well who cares, its expensive, its sexy and I can take a ride with my best friend, that's all matters.’ He sounded nonchalant. ‘Did you steal it or are your parents out of town?’

‘I told you not to spoil my morning with your stupid questions’ he hit the audio button and my words were lost to Linkin Park’s screaming emotions. I hit the off button and stared at him, he knew it was over and it was dangerous to push me further. ‘Alright, I said I wasn’t interested to go to Dominic’s next year unless I get some perks during last six months of high school. Simple story isn’t it?’ he said with his usual hearty laughter. ‘You asked them to bribe you to go to a college that I would kill for?’ I was unable to digest what his words meant. ‘Oh come on Jess, had I agreed we wouldn’t get to enjoy these perks, plus we will be going to Dominic’s with this babe. What did you say it was? Audi Roaster’ ‘Roadster, you freak.’ ‘Yeah whatever.’ ‘Are you trying to make fun of me? You know too well that I’m way too ‘middle class’ to afford Dominic’s.’ ‘Oh come on! With your scores you would get the scholarship like a piece of cake.’ ‘Yes why not? 12,000 students all over the state with multiple talents applying and Dominic’s is dying to offer a scholarship to a girl with nothing but scores.’ My morning couldn’t have gone worse. The thought of not attending Dominic’s almost made me cry. To make things worse Eddie wouldn’t be in the college that I would be going to. ‘We have six months dear, we’ll figure out something, else we will go to some other college together, who the hell cares about Audi Roaster.’ ‘Roadster’ I scowled at him and hit the audio button again. We were almost reaching school and I had slightly recovered from my ill temper. ‘Stop the car here; I will see you at the corridor.’ ‘Why?’ he asked puzzled bringing the car to a smooth halt. ‘Oh come on, I don’t want to get those creepy stares and false admiration from kids who didn’t even know we existed till they saw this car.’ I opened the door to step outside while he pulled me and shut the door. ‘But I want to, It will be quite amusing.’ he said with one of his cruel smiles which I hated. He found a spot sooner than I expected. As I stepped out of the car covered with embarrassment from head to toe, I could hear people whispering, exclaiming and sighing. To top things up Eddie suddenly put his arms around my waist as we walked. I couldn’t help freaking out.

What was that for?’ I asked as I pushed his hands away when we entered the corridor. It was a relief to see a sea of familiar faces that welcomed us with smiles. ‘That was to keep those chicks away from me or rather from my Audi.’ he said as he again wrapped his hand around my waist in a teasing manner. ‘Eddie that really creeps me out.’ ‘Oh come on! I am your best friend.’ ‘That’s exactly why it creeps me out, now get your hands off my waist I said with my teeth gritted. ‘No way babes’ he held me closer as he let out a wicked laughter. We kept fighting as we walked to the classroom. Lunch hour arrived faster than I had imagined, Eddie and I walked to his convertible to take a ride when Vanessa interrupted. ‘Hey Jessica, how was the book?’ ‘Still in the part after the van accident.’ ‘Isn’t it awesome?’ ‘I dunno yet, but Edward is awesome.’ ‘God he is such a heartthrob.' ‘I dunno what you guys find in him, he is not even as macho as Jake.’ Eddie interrupted and we both turned to burn him with our stares. ‘Ooh that was scary, come on Jess we need to take a ride in the Convo, you can Rev the book later.’ ‘Convo? Rev?’ Vanessa asked in a confused tone. ‘He means his convertible and he is saying we can review the book later, Eddie is fond of short forms, he feels long words are waste of time. Funny isn’t it?’ I felt Eddie’s fingers nudging my shoulder from behind. ‘Ok Vanessa, got to go, will give you a call once I reach home, Bubye.’ ‘Bubye have a nice ride.’ ‘Thank god she left, why don’t you become my mouth piece Jess?’ ‘Why? I don’t think you are dumb, you can perfectly talk.’ ‘Great discovery, that's not the point, I try with all my might to save time and energy by using short terms and you waste the same amount of energy and time explaining them.’

‘How else do you propose they understand?’ ‘I don’t propose them to understand at all’ he made an imitation of me. ‘Well then you should start speaking your short language with me, cos I am the only one who understands your stupid creations.’ ‘Nah, thanks for the offer but you’re the only person I love wasting my time and energy on.’ he once again circled his hand around my waist in an attempt to make me angry. ‘You either get your filthy hands off me or I run back to school right now.’ ‘Lets see how you run.’ he tightened his grip. We fought again till we reached his Audi. The only nice thing about this worst day was that, it was getting over quickly. It was past 3 and we were back in his Audi after school. He listened patiently to my dream and how upset I was for not having dreamed it fully. ‘Well, it was not about the dream, the house, your life or even the guy right? , It was just the kiss wasn’t it?’ ‘Shut up you moron.’ ‘Come on, tell me the truth.’ ‘Well… Yes, sort of, but I didn’t even see his face.’ ‘Who cares, you still kissed him, was he a good kisser?’ ‘I don’t know, I have never kissed anyone to compare.’ ‘Well… then…. want my help?’ ‘What?’ I shouted at the top of my voice and it seemed like a low screech when he begun to laugh. ‘Why are we driving to my place by the way?’ ‘Cos we are going to get your night clothes, you are having a night cap at my place today, you can sleep in till noon tom, it’s not a school day.’ ‘What? Night cap at your place? What about Mr. and Mrs. Morgan?’ ‘What about them?’ ‘Are they out of town or something?’ 'Didn’t I tell you about the perks this morning? I dunno how you manage those scores with such a tiny brain Jess.’ I remained silent not wanting to retaliate. ‘So what about your mum and dad, they won’t have a problem right?’

‘Nah, they won’t they would only be surprised at your new found freedom.’ As we drove to my place listening to an Indian melody, I felt that the supposedly worst day of my life wasn’t gonna turn out that bad after all. Chapter 2 The Best Night of My Life It was past eight, Eddie and I were back in his room after dinner. I visit this room almost every day. This is where I spent most of my evenings completing homework with Eddie, but it looked different to me today, especially now. ‘Eddie, your room looks different.’ ‘Oh come on, you come here every day and I don’t even clean it, you do it most of the times, so if anything looks different, it’s because of you.’ ‘Not that Eddie, it looks sort of more beautiful in the night.’ ‘Well, it will look even more beautiful now.’ He switched off the light and pulled me by the wrist to lie next to him. I couldn’t understand what was happening at first and then I looked up. The ceiling had come alive with the mild brightness of stars. The contrasting beauty of the fluorescent light against the pitch dark that surrounded the room, made me spellbound. ‘When did you get this done Eddie?’ ‘It was always there, just that you never noticed.’ ‘Hmmm... Eddie, what happened to all your girl friends? Why don’t you date anymore?’ ‘This is the millionth time you are asking this question.’ ‘If you had answered it the first time, it would have never reached the millionth time.’ ‘You won’t give it a break, will you?’ ‘Nah, not until I know the answer.’ ‘Do you remember the accident last year?’ ‘Yes, the one that took away all your freedom, how could I forget?’ ‘Small correction, took away my freedom until this morning.’ ‘Now don’t deviate, what about it?’ ‘When I lay there unconscious and opened my eyes every now and then, sometimes I saw my mom, sometimes my dad, sometimes the girl who was with me in the car but you were the only one who was always by my side whenever I opened my eyes.’

We both remained silent. The memory of Eddie lying motionless on the bed always made my heart heavy. He then continued. ‘I decided then, that none of the girls completed my life the way you did, I decided my best friend was enough to make my life complete in every sense.’ When he finished his explanation, my eyes were filled with tears. He gently wiped them away and switched on the light like that was going to switch my mood back to normal and surprisingly it did. ‘But you can’t stay single forever right? I am gonna be married someday, so should you.’ ‘Who is even thinking of staying single? Don’t flatter yourself.’ he said as he switched on his laptop. ‘What are you waiting for then? To find a girl like me?’ ‘If I wanted a girl like you, it would have been you, I do want a girl like you but she should also be very different from you. I mean very similar yet very different.’ ‘Sorry Eddie… I lost it.’ ‘Hmm… let me explain tiny brain, she should be passionate about her career like you are, but not in a bookish, academic way, she must be into music, dance or drama. She must be crazy headed like you but should not bug me with never ending questions like you do. The list goes on.’ ‘So my questions bug you?’ ‘They do, but I like them, if she keeps questioning me like you, I wouldn’t get a chance to miss you right?’ ‘Well, you turn out to be smarter than I thought’ ‘Well spotted… after 10 years.’ ‘Well, you know Vanessa is a nice girl.’ ‘Whoa! No, don’t try and hook me up with that Vampire lover.’ ‘Why not? She just likes the character what’s wrong? She is a nice girl really.’ ‘Guess you haven’t read the book entirely. No girl who has finished the book sees that Vampire hunk as a character. They literally consider him their boyfriend. Try telling her he is fictional, you will know what I mean.’ ‘Well, you already seem to know her better than I do.’ I suppressed a giggle that escaped my throat. ‘It’s a general observation of a universal Edward phenomenon that’s gripping the world, nothing to do with your precious Vanessa.’

‘Well whatever, that reminds me I should call her, give me your phone.’ ‘You can talk to her at school, I am not letting you waste my money on that vampire loving chick, come here… we still got to watch this week’s one tree hill.’ ‘Oh yeah, I forgot completely, give me a minute, I will just change and be right back.’ I hopped away towards the washroom when I heard Brooke Davis’ voice. 'Hey don’t you dare watch it without me, I will break your laptop’ I warned and disappeared into the washroom. Chapter 3 Times change, Lives change and So did She 'It has been nearly a week since Jess had a night cap here. A week might not sound as a long measure of time in the normal sense of the world, but considering the way things have changed with Jess, last week looks like an entirely different era. Not that we don’t talk or hang out anymore, not that I don’t pick her up for school every day, not that we don’t do our homework together every evening, yet the Jess who was with me a week ago, what I felt in her presence, seems like a distant dream. There is someone new in her life. Someone who she cares a lot about although she doesn’t agree. Someone, I ‘m scared would take her away from me forever. Ben, Ben Cerratos, the Hollywood superstar whose films I used to love and she used to hate has become an integral part of her life. Why? And How? I am yet to find the answers. The only thing I know is I did a big mistake by not accompanying her on the day of school trip. I would have never left her behind, I would have never let them start the bus without her, she wouldn’t have been rescued by Ben and he would have never invaded into our lives. It’s entirely my fault. I can’t even talk to her about this. She would think I am being possessive or at the worst jealous. What I’m being is protective; I can’t let him hurt her. I am sure he is just using her for some reason. What I don’t understand is why is she letting him use her? She is not an immature teenager like other girls I have seen, to really believe that Ben Cerratos is into her. Or is she blinded by infatuation? My head is bursting with million questions and I need to find the answers.' I put my pen down without the heart to continue further. I decided to call Jess and dialed her number. The line didn't get through. I guessed she must have forgotten to charge her phone as always. It was 9 O' clock; it wasn't too late to visit her. I informed my parents that I would be home within an hour and begun to walk the road that lead to her place. As I entered her gate, I saw her standing at the window talking to someone over the phone. She waved at me with a smile, her face clouded with surprise. I waved back and motioned her to get the door. She hung up on whoever she was talking to and disappeared from the window. I waited impatiently at her doorstep for a minute before she opened the door. 'Hi Eddie Come on in.' I was relieved that she was happy about my visit. I entered and noticed that the house looked deserted. 'Where are your parents?' I was curious to know.

'I sent them away for a romantic dinner. A gift from Ben actually.' she sounded casual. 'That's really nice of him Jess.' I tried to hide all my anger and succeeded at it too. I followed her room pondering how to begun my interrogation. 'So is everything alright with you?' she asked with concern as I settled in the couch. 'Yeah, pretty much, I gave you a call and the line didn't get through, so thought would take a nice walk.' I tried to sound as though there was no real purpose behind my visit. 'Oh Eddie, I am so sorry, I got a new phone this evening and it comes with a new connection, I was going to text you tonight.' 'New Phone? What's wrong with the old one?' 'Nothing’s wrong with the old one, Ben gifted this one. Comes with a whole lot of nice features.' 'Ben seems to be quite generous towards you.' I took the phone from her hand to examine it. 'You sound sarcastic.' Her forehead cringed. 'Well, I don't intend to say anything against your new friend Jess, but just be careful.' 'Careful about what Eddie?' 'Seriously Jess, don't you find anything unusual in his behavior?' 'I have known him exactly for a week and he has been pretty nice to me since we met, How do you expect me to judge whether his behavior is normal or not?' I knew I had gotten her upset now but I wasn't going to give up yet. I needed to finish this conversation. 'Exactly my point, he hardly knows you and he is now bestowing you with all sorts of expensive gifts? Doesn't this seem abnormal? What's more abnormal is your response to all of this. The Jess I knew would never put up with such things.' She remained silent. I took the opportunity to continue. ‘Come on Jess! From what I see, it just looks like he is trying to use you for some reason. You need to make it clear to him that you're not as immature as other girls to think that he is really into you.' 'Eddie stop it! Stop it now! Your assumptions are too farfetched. What do you know about that guy? Have you even spoken to him? Leave alone talking to him, have you even asked anything about him from me so far? Since I returned from that goddamn trip, all you have done is retreating into your own shell. It’s not like I haven't noticed it. I just didn't want to make assumptions like you. Now my doubts are confirmed. 'Jess don't get me wrong please' I tried to interrupt with no luck. 'Let me finish Eddie. I don't know where you get these weird ideas about Ben using me. For heaven's sake he is a celebrity and can have as many girls as he wants at the snap of his fingers. So if you want to talk about this issue, we can. But you need to shed your insecurity, jealousy, possessiveness or whatever crap that is blinding you. You need to understand that I have a life

outside of our friendship and whether you approve of it or not I need to live it. So stop treating me like I'm your private property.’ ‘Is that what you think of me Jess? You have known me for 10 years and is this what it comes down to? Jealousy? Possessiveness? Insecurity? Why didn't you think for a minute that I am trying to protect you from being hurt? Doesn't matter anymore Jess. Listen to me, I can no more put up with your 'Ben is an angel and he saved my life' nonsense. So when you are ready to think clear and be honest with me, we'll talk. Thanks for the most wonderful conversation of my life.' Without another look at her face, I hurried outside. My heart was heavy although knowing Jess, I had expected these consequences. The pain was unbearable, yet I was now relieved that I didn't have to put up a face with her anymore. I knew I had taken the right decision and I also knew it wouldn't be too long before Jess realized the truth. It was not just because I trusted my judgment, I had more faith in the kind of person she was and even more faith in our friendship. Satisfied with my new found clarity I headed home with a hope that the morrow would bring about a change. Chapter 4 Tough Roads Ahead ‘That didn't go really well, did it?’ Ben asked in his thoughtless tone which I had gotten used to in a week (that I hated the most), reappearing into my room from the closet. I remained silent for the fear of exploding. He comfortably settled in the bed next to me. ‘Although I must say you are a terrific actress or even better dialog writer, you have promising career options in Hollywood Jessica.’ I wasn't sure how to react to this. I opened my mouth to retaliate when he said ‘What was that last bit? About you not being his private property? Brilliantly done, yet I think you carried it a little too far, didn’t you?’ ‘Are you done with your critical analysis? I thought I asked you not to overhear. Oh wait! I forgot Ben Cerratos is too adamant to do what people ask him to, right Ben?’ ‘Oh come on Jessica! I am least interested in your affairs with your best friend. You were shouting at that guy with such intensity that it was impossible not to hear. I am still surprised how the neighbors aren’t here.’ ‘Very Funny Ben.’ ‘ No Jessica, its exactly opposite of funny, you need to work on your sound system when your temperament is high. I have one tiny doubt though. Would you please clear that up for me?’ ‘What now?’ I asked turning my face away from him. ‘Would you have defended me the same way If I wasn't hiding inside your closet?’ I didn't know how someone could be so thoughtless and blunt.

‘No Ben, I would have kissed his feet and said you are right Eddie, Ben is a moron.’ I was disappointed at the fact that my words had no effect on him.

‘Well we have a lot of time for such fights, I think its time now, your parents will be home in a while. Be ready tomorrow, I will pick you up from school. Alright?’ I was too frustrated to respond. ‘Oh come on honey! Don't be a spoil sport! I was just kidding’ His so call attempt to convince me was shocking. But coming from Ben it was like apologizing. ‘Fine. See ya tomorrow.’ I said with a smile. He walked towards the door and turned to look at me when he was about to exit. ‘Jessica.’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Don't forget to give that guy my deepest condolences for having you as his best friend. Have a good night.’ A surge of anger rose inside me and I wanted to throw something at him. But he had already left and I was relieved. I started to think about what happened between me and Eddie. The thought was painful but I knew it wasn’t right to evade it. I had meant every word I spoke to him. Although his importance in my life was greater than Ben's, I needed him to realize that we both have a life outside of our friendship and he needed to live it too. From a long time I had wanted to convey this to Eddie, but was always unsure of how to do it. I was scared if he would think I am beginning to avoid him or that I had outgrown our friendship. But today when he was beginning to feel possessive of me, I plunged at that opportunity. Not that it was the only reason for my anger. His insecurity was unbearable. After 10 years of sharing a strong bond, how could he feel that way? Would it take just one Ben Cerratos to tear apart what has been holding us together for this long? I knew that by tomorrow Eddie and I would be talking again. But I also knew the problem wasn't going to stop there, as long as I have Ben in my life, the problem with Eddie will continue to exist. Suddenly, I felt a loud voice inside asking me to break whatever bond Ben and I had developed during the past week to set things right with Eddie. But I also knew that would be a stupid move. As much as I hated Ben’s mean side and sometimes wanted to see him break, my cruel intentions towards him were short-lived. Deep inside, I cared for him and I was sure so did Ben. I decided that I would find a way to deal with Eddie, after all he is my best friend and how hard would it be to convince him of Ben's genuineness? Suddenly I felt scared. I was not scared of the difficult path I would have to tread; I was only scared of how many hearts I was going to break on the way. With the hope that somehow I would find the strength to face it all, I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep.

Chapter 5 Winds of Change I woke up feeling somehow peaceful, which was abnormal considering the incidents of previous night. Another abnormality was a dreamless night, not that I was complaining. With all the action going on in my life from the past week or so, I hardly needed a prince charming kissing me in my dreams. It was 8 O’ clock and Eddie would be calling any minute now for a peace treaty. With this happy thought, I hopped away to take a shower. The cold water succeeded in washing away whatever little tension the uninterrupted, peaceful sleep had failed to. I ran the entire day’s schedule in my head and realized I was going to meet Ben after school. I needed to wear something that would impress him. Not that his opinion mattered but the thought of Ben appreciating something was amusing to me. I skimmed through my wardrobe and discarded all the flashy, glamorous, stylish dresses, being in Hollywood Ben must have been bored of them. I picked up a simple, white, cotton gown with blue floral patterns. With one last look at the mirror, I shoved my mini make up kit into my bag and hurried down for breakfast. My favorite pan cakes helped in elevating my mood further. Suddenly the thought that Eddie hadn’t called yet flashed through my mind. May be he wanted to resolve our fight in person. I finished my breakfast, kissed my parents goodbye and waited in the lawn for Eddie. His Roadster showed up in five minutes and I smiled to myself unable to contain my happiness. Just when I thought everything was going to be alright soon, his car sped past me and Eddie shot me a brutal look. For a minute I didn’t know what was happening. We have always had fights but none of them lasted for long, I was afraid this one was going to. Without further delay I started to walk to school. The moment I took a step outside my gate, my new phone begun to ring and it was Ben. ‘Good Morning Sweetheart’, surprisingly he didn’t sound sarcastic or thoughtless. But I wasn’t ready yet to forgive him. ‘Morning’ I replied with no enthusiasm. ‘You sound too dull, are you still mad at me?’ I remained silent, not wanting to answer him. ‘Listen Jessica, if you’re expecting me to apologize, then you know me too well. So drop that sullen mood of yours.’ ‘What do you want Ben, I thought I was free from your torture till the evening.’ He completely ignored my harsh words and went on ‘What are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be getting a ride to school?’ ‘I am walking to school.’ ‘Too egoistic to take a ride with him?’ ‘Nope, he shot a murderous look at me and sped past my home, does that make you happy?’

‘Well… after what happened last night, you should be happy that he didn’t run his car over you.’ ‘Ben, I don’t remember asking your opinion on this issue. Plus don’t spoil my mood even before I get to school.’ ‘You mean? Your already spoilt mood?’ ‘Okay you know what; this is not helping a bit. I will catch you in the evening.’ I hung up without giving him another chance to irritate me. I had barely crossed ten blocks; I heard a car stopping by my side. ‘Get in Jessica.’ Damn! It was Ben’s voice and I knew my day couldn’t get worse. Surprisingly he drove in silence till we reached the school. Eddie still stood there talking to some boys from the football team. As Ben’s car stopped, he turned and looked at us for an instant before continuing his conversation. ‘Hmmm, so this fight seems pretty serious huh?’ ‘Ben, Can we please save this for the evening?’ ‘I was just going to ask you not to make things worse by talking to him today.’ ‘Why what’s wrong? Why can’t I talk to him and make things right?’ ‘Are you really going to give up your ego and talk to him after the way he ignored you this morning Jessica? Shouldn’t he be the one to take the first step?’ ‘Well Ben he is my best friend and I don’t mind my ego being wounded a little for the sake of our friendship.’ I scowled as I got out of the car. ‘Well, last night things looked different.’ Ben’s lips widened into a mysterious smile before he took off. As I turned to walk, I felt at least a dozen pairs of eyes looking at me. Well, I had forgotten, I had just gotten a ride with Ben Cerratos. Eddie was at least 10 steps ahead of me. I ran towards him and stood facing him. He raised his eyebrow as if he had seen a stranger blocking his way. ‘Are you ignoring me now?’ ‘Didn’t we make ourselves pretty clear last night?’ ‘Eddie? We fight all the time.’ ‘Excuse me; are you having some kind of amnesia? Last night wasn’t just a fight. You accused me of things I wasn’t guilty of; Possessiveness, jealousy, insecurity. Plus you said it yourself that you had a life outside of our friendship. You asked for it Jess, and now you have it. Enjoy your new life with Ben Cerratos.’ he walked away and kissed a girl who seemed to have been waiting for him near his locker. ‘Already Eddie?’ I thought to myself and walked to the class.

I couldn’t pay attention to the lectures throughout the day. Eddie wouldn’t even sit next to me. He was busy making out with his new found girl friend. But if this was his attempt to make me jealous, it was a feeble one. I was used to Eddie having girlfriends from when we were 10 and his was barely going to make any difference. During lunch, I found him sitting alone in class. I took the opportunity to make things clear to him. ‘Look Eddie, if you think your new found girl friend is going to make me jealous then you are wrong.’ ‘Well unlike you I don’t assume nonexistent jealousy, anyways got your message, you can leave.’ ‘Eddie. How long are we going to do this? What do you want me to do?’ ‘Never mind Jess.’ ‘Tell me Eddie please because I wanna make things right between us.’ ‘Stop seeing Ben. Stop letting him use you.’ ‘Eddie, Ben is not using me and…’ he raised his hand and gestured me to stop. ‘I am not doing this again with Jess, either you are blinded by infatuation, or you are not telling me something. Which one is it?’ ‘Neither.’ ‘See my point now? Either accept you are carried away by Ben and we’ll talk about it or tell me what’s going on, I will try to understand. But don’t fool me and for heaven’s sake until you decide to do one of the two, don’t bug me.’ He stormed out of the class leaving me shell shocked. Although I wasn’t happy with the dragging hours, I was scared that as soon as school was over I had to see Ben. I wasn’t ready for his cold, unkind comments. But school did end and Ben was already waiting for me. He was surrounded by a bunch of girls; he was signing autographs as he shot a beautiful smile at me. I have never noticed that he smiled with such charm. He said something to the girls pointing at me and they all dispersed after shooting a cruel look at me. He smiled again and I couldn’t help admiring. ‘Nice Smile!’ ‘Nice Dress!’ ‘You saw me in the morning in the same dress.’ ‘Well, this isn’t the first time I am smiling too.’ ‘But you’re smile is different today.’ ‘I am just trying to say that although we are always surrounded by nice things, we don’t always notice them.’ He said as we both settled in his car.

‘For example’ he stopped looking at me. ‘For example?’ I repeated in confusion He took my hand, kissed it and said ‘I never noticed until now how beautiful that ring looks on you.’ Although I was flattered, I was too shocked by his kiss to say anything. ‘You look embarrassed.’ he commented as he keyed the car to start. ‘Well I am a bit.’ ‘First gesture of romance that’s why? You should get used to it, don’t you think?’ he smiled again but this time with a tinge of mischief. ‘I will Ben, just takes some time.’ We both maintained the silence as he drove for what seemed like half hour. ‘Where are we going?’ I asked out of curiosity. ‘First to a boutique and then to my most favorite café in this world.’ ‘You’re gonna do some shopping?’ ‘Yes for you, we need to get you dressed before we go to the café.’ ‘I thought you liked the dress.’ ‘I do and you look pretty, trust me. But considering this is going to our first date officially, which means your first entry into my glamorous world; I thought you might not want to be underdressed in the eyes of our spectators.’ ‘Are your friends gonna be there?’ ‘Yeah some of them, but I promise there will be no intervention from them, we are going to be left alone. There might be some friends from press though, who might click away few pictures when we don’t notice. So, boutique or café? I am fine with anything honey.’ ‘Boutique, you got me scared with the press talk.’ We stopped in front of a small shop which hardly looked like a place Ben would shop in. ‘This place is run by my best friend’s sister; this is the place where she stores all her new designs before they are out on the market.’ ‘More of a high class store room than a Boutique.’ ‘Well yes, but she doesn’t want to waste the space so she has rented it free of cost to a growing designer for his business. So it’s his boutique plus her high class store room.’ He explained as we entered the shop.

‘Hi Ben, what a surprise?’ the woman in the counter walked towards us and hugged Ben. ‘Claire, this is Jessica Evans and Jessica this is Claire’ he introduced us as he flashed his rare beautiful smile at the other employees of the shop and they all returned his gesture. ‘Claire I want a pretty dress for the lady.’ He explained. ‘What’s the occasion?’ she asked not in a curious tone but to genuinely choose a dress accordingly. ‘Just a casual date at Harrison’s.’ he replied as he motioned me to take a look around the shop. I left them to their discussion and begun to browse through various sections. There was a shirt with white and blue checks that caught my attention. I couldn’t help wondering how good it would look on Eddie. I stood there touching its sleeve with a deep sigh. ‘Would you like to try this on sweetheart?’ Claire asked holding a beautiful brown knee length skirt with a red tank top. ‘Sure’ I said and took it to the dressing room. It fitted me perfectly well and I had to agree that Claire’s choice was perfect. I came out of the dressing room and Ben was seated in the couch. ‘Perfect.’ ‘Carla’ he called the girl who was at the men’s section. ‘Could you please pack Ms Jessica’s dress and keep it safe? We will take it later.’ ‘Sure Ben.’ she beamed with satisfaction for some reason I wasn’t aware of but it looked like Ben understood. As we left the shop I asked Ben ‘Why was she glowing with happiness?’ ‘Are you jealous already?’ ‘Ben!’ ‘Alright, cos I remembered her name.’ ‘Oh, I always forget that you are a super star.’ ‘Nice. That means I am simple and down to earth right?’ ‘Yes but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mean and arrogant most of the times, although you have been nice this evening.’ ‘Missing the mean Ben huh?’ ‘Nope not at all, could you ask mean Ben to stay away? At least for this evening?’

‘Well all I can do is try, haven’t you heard? Old habits die hard.’ We drove for about five minutes before stopping at Harrison’s, a huge glass edifice which looked more like a pub than a café. We entered the mildly lighted building and a lot of familiar celebrity faces smiled at Ben. We settled in a corner and carried on with a casual conversation. ‘Have you gotten used to the place now?’ ‘Yeah pretty much.’ I said as I took a sip from my coffee. ‘You adjust quickly to changes; I wish I could do that.’ ‘Yeah but that doesn’t mean that I love changes, in fact they are really annoying. I love the comfort the years of routine offer.’ ‘Well I can’t agree more.’ I was done with my cup of coffee and Ben had finished what seemed like his 5th glass of frappe. ‘So are we leaving yet?’ I asked since we had exhausted all topics. ‘Not for another half hour.’ He said as he took a look around the room. ‘So talk something.’ ‘I have a better idea to keep you from being bored.’ ‘What would that be?’ I asked curious. Suddenly his face was too close to me and his lips too close to my ear. I was wondering what secret he was going to whisper. ‘This’ he said and kissed me as he gripped my hair tight. I was speechless even inside my mind. I didn’t know how to react as I was still wondering what was happening. As I tried to figure things out my first kiss ended and I sat as if struck by a lightning. ‘Am I that bad a kisser?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Cos you weren’t kissing me back or were you too much astonished by my art of kissing?’ ‘Well neither, because I wasn’t even judging the quality of your kiss.’ He remained silent not knowing what to say. ‘Listen Ben, it wasn’t your fault. The kiss was too sudden and I wasn’t prepared so by the time it was over, I hadn’t even realized what had happened. Plus I don’t have a previous experience to compare and tell how good or bad you were. I am sorry Ben.’ ‘Jeez, are you kidding me? Was that your first kiss?’ ‘Unfortunately yes, Unfortunate not because of you, because it was sudden.’

‘I am sorry, but by the end of the day, I will make up for my stupidity, promise. So how did things go between you and Eddie? What did he say?’ ‘I thought you didn’t want me to talk to him? Now you are interested in hearing what happened? ‘Well, if I had asked you to take the first step, you would have never listened, so I had to use the reverse psychology.’ ‘Well, you turn out to be thoughtful than I thought.’ ‘And you turn out to be more predictable than I thought.’ I explained to Ben about my rude encounters with Eddie and he listened with patience. We both decided that Eddie will take some time to get adjusted to the changes in my life. As we made our way to the car, a few faces looked at me with shock which was probably the reaction to our PDA. ‘I am sorry about the kiss again.’ He apologized as we entered the car. ‘It’s alright. We had to kiss sometime right? I was prepared for it, but not in the public at least.’ ‘Well what did you expect? A rehearsal inside four walls before I declare my affection for you in front of the whole world? He chuckled. ‘Sort of....’ ‘You are crazy.’ he said and begun to drive. I noticed that we weren’t heading towards home and decided to clear my doubt. ‘Why are we driving again to the Boutique? Oh to give back the dress right?’ ‘No silly, the dress is yours, but what would your mom think if you went home in another dress? I don’t want you to be lectured on sex talks. Not when you don’t even kiss me back.’ He tried to suppress a giggle. ‘The mean Ben is back.’ ‘Well, this is the teasing Ben.’ ‘They are all the same for me.’ We reached home in half hour after leaving the boutique. As he parked his car, I noticed that my mum was talking to someone who was hidden by the wall. Ben and I walked towards the door when I saw Eddie coming out. I was nervous as hell about how he was going to react.

‘Hi Jess, some of your books were at my place so I left them in your room.’ ‘Hi Ben, nice to meet you.’ he said extending his hand for a shake. ‘Same here Eddie.’ he returned the gesture. With that he hurried outside the gate. A part of me was relieved that there was no scene as I had feared, but a part me was hurt looking at Eddie look at us like he was a stranger in our world. We entered the house spoke with Mom for a few minutes. She then asked ‘Jessica, don’t you want to show Ben your room?’ ‘Sure, come on Ben.’ I said and climbed the stairs. ‘Are you sure Mrs. Evans?’ he asked when I was halfway on the stairs. ‘Come on Ben, I trust you kids. Plus you guys are dating.’ She smiled. I saw his cheeks flush for the first time and he followed me to my room. ‘Nice room Jessica.’ he commented as he jumped to my bed to settle in it comfortably as I closed the door. ‘Oh stop the act now. Are you sure Mrs. Evans?’ I imitated him and he threw fits of laughter that was nice to watch. It looked as if he was laughing to his heart’s content in a long time. Without wanting to disrupt his happiness, I lounged settled next to him. ‘Listen, I really wanna make up for that kiss.’ ‘Well you have already by keeping mean Ben away whole evening.’ ‘No way, that’s hardly a compensation.’ ‘Then what do you have in mind?’ ‘I will show you but you must promise that you won’t mistake my intentions.’ ‘Promise.’ Show me I was eager to know. He took out something from the carry bag that had my new dress and it was the shirt I was looking at in the shop. ‘You seemed to like it a lot. Were you thinking of Eddie when you were looking at it?’ He asked as he gave it to me. ‘Yeah, thanks Ben, how did you know?’ ‘Well I told you, you are more predictable than I thought. You were looking kinda lost when you were seeing it.’ ‘There is hardly anything to mistake about this.’ ‘Well that’s just the first part.’

‘What’s next? Bring it on!!!’ He leaned closer to me and I understood what he had meant. Since I had to get used to it sooner or later I closed my eyes as a sign of invitation. He kissed me tenderly for the first few seconds after which it grew more sensual. One of his hands was ruffling my hair while the other was holding my hand warmly. I felt his genuine need to give me a beautiful second kiss as a compensation for spoiling my first one. He stopped after what seemed like a one long minute, but a beautiful minute. His lips moved to my ear and said ‘You are hopeless, I pity myself. I am not gonna be kissed back unless I am filming I guess.’ Before he moved his lips away I grabbed his hair and begun to kiss him. He wasn’t going to remain still like me. He kissed back and it was hard to judge who was being fiercer. But it seemed more like a need to prove each other’s ability and a fun game than an act of sensuality. But when it came to an end we both knew we had enjoyed it. ‘Damn!! You are good!’ he said as he tried to straighten his hair. I felt too shy to say anything. ‘I must get going now, or things might get out of hands, what say? He winked at me. ‘Oh! Don’t flatter yourself Ben. You are a damn good kisser, but I kissed you back only because I wanted to prove that I can be good at anything.’ He smiled at me, looked into the mirror for any sign that might hint my mother of our little make out session. After he was sure that he looked exactly the way he had when he came in, he kissed me on my cheeks and said ‘See you tomorrow Jessica, and thanks for the nice evening.’ ‘Bye Ben!’ ‘Bye.’ He said and left my room.

I lay motionless in my bed after he left, thinking of everything that had happened today and the contrast between each incident. Eddie who had always been understanding started to behave ruder than I thought. He was not even ready to consider the possibility that Ben could like me genuinely. Ben who had always been thoughtless, mean and cold suddenly turned out to be this understanding friend who I needed the most now. And about the 'Kiss', I didn't want to think about it right now but it was impossible to block the thoughts. I wasn't in love with Ben, I probably might never be, but what happened between us today was something special and something memorable. If we remained friends for ever, I would consider this day as the first milestone in our journey.

Chapter 6 This is what I call 'Dark Times'

'I am going through the most painful phase of my life. It was so difficult to be rude to Jess all day long. But I had to do it. I had to make her realize what she was doing, and there is no better way than doing it the hard way. Plus that was not the only reason for my behavior. My ego had been wounded beyond repair the previous night and I could not act normal to the person who had caused the wound, although it was someone I loved the most. This morning I decided to take her for the ride and try to solve the issue on our way to school, but the moment I saw her face I could think of nothing but the bitter words she had thrown my way without thinking. When she spoke to me before entering the school I almost felt like giving up the battle, but the fear of losing her forever stopped me. I wanted my old Jess back and I was ready to be away from her for a few days to get her back completely. Now I know what I had to do. I will just have to ignore her, act as if nothing about Ben affects me and carry on with my normal life like her absence didn't make a difference or at least pretend that way. Knowing Jess, she would never be able to take it. I had to push her to the maximum extent and that’s the only way out and no matter how much pain it takes on my part, I am ready to endure it. Although I am clear about the plan, my mind is still wandering in an unknown darkness. I feel as though something unexpected, something dangerous is waiting to attack me as I walk further into it. Sometimes I feel she is stupidly trusting Ben but that’s not how Jess is, so I start to think she is hiding something from me. But not for once I get the feeling that Ben and his relationship with Jess is genuine. I am confused. I am not even able to make my mind think in a coherent way. She thinks I have hooked up with Rachael to make her jealous, why would she think that? Rachael is now my only way of distraction. Rachael doesn't need a devoted boy friend, she just needs someone rich and popular to hang out with and I need someone to spend meaningless time with to take my mind of Jess. Both our problems solved. And what’s her problem anyways? Is she the only one who should have a life outside of our friendship? Damn It! But what's wrong if I was happy with having no life outside of our friendship. Jess is all that I need now. I can't live without her even for a moment. This loneliness is driving me crazy. I need to do something to take my mind off things.' I put my pen down and climbed on the bed to reach the loft. The loft door opened after some struggle as it had remained untouched for a long time. I took out the box that had my most precious possession- My Guitar (next to Jess of course). I took a T-shirt that lay on the floor to clear the dust that was accumulated on my instrument. Guitar was something I used to be good at besides being a good friend. Well I should stop relating everything to Jess. My Guitar used to be my best friend before Jess moved into the neighborhood. After we became friends I was so happy to have a human companion that I had no time for anything else. Then came distractions like other girls, the possibility of playing guitar was then ruled out. Because whatever time I had after dating my then girlfriends, I spent it with Jess or was it the other way round? I looked at my long forgotten best friend with gratitude and started to play some of my favorite tunes. Not bad, I hadn't lost the touch yet. I drowned myself into the marvelous world of music and there was nothing else on my mind. There was music and I was creating it, and the feeling that I was creating something that gave me peace of mind and pleasure instilled in me a sense of pride. I didn't know for how long I played because when I woke up next morning the guitar was still in my arms. My mind was relieved of stress. I felt a certain amount of clarity that I needed the most. I knew what I had to do. Jess had chosen her path and it was my turn. Although my plan of driving her to the edge remained the same, I now felt the need to focus on all good things that were left in my life. With this new found clarity, I started to get ready for the school. I took a new route to school to avoid passing her home. I was too determined to make her feel that I didn't care anymore. I parked my convertible at my usual spot and started to collect the books

from the backseat. I heard another vehicle coming to a halt next to mine. The screeching of the wheels was annoying to hear and I looked up to see who it was. Damn! It was Jess and Ben. I decided to ignore them. So gathering my stuffs, I got out of the car. 'Ben! Didn't you get any other place to park? I don't want to drive him nuts first thing in the morning' I heard Jess whisper to Ben gritting her teeth. ‘Sorry Honey, I don't keep track of your friends' cars and their parking spots'. ‘What a rude way to reply’ I thought as I locked my car. It felt good knowing she was still concerned about not hurting me. I heard them talking to each other about their plans for the evening and suddenly the sound had stopped. I turned back to look at the most painful sight. Ben was kissing her and her hand was ruffling his hair. I tried to calm my mind with all the effort it took. I tried to tell myself I shouldn't spoil my plan by giving in to this pain. But everything sank into insignificance when I saw my best friend being misused by that bastard. There was nothing I could do to stop them. I hit my hand on my car's window in one swift movement and the glass shattered into pieces like my heart. The sound succeeded in breaking them away. I walked into the school without turning to look back at them, with blood pouring from my hand. 'Hey Eddie, What’s wrong with your hand?' Vanessa hurried towards me and clutched my bleeding hand. I was too much in despair even to answer. The bleeding was the least of my concerns. She dragged me to the first aid room and did the necessary dressings. She kept asking me questions which I didn't hear. The only image that was playing in my mind was Ben kissing Jess. ‘It’s about Jessica isn't it?’ The moment her name was spoken I answered instantly 'Yes.' 'You know what Eddie? You are overdoing it?' I couldn't understand a word of what Vanessa was saying. 'What the hell are you talking about Vaness? I don't get you?' 'You are overdoing the driving her to the edge part Eddie.' she said as though she had read my mind. 'Know what Vaness? Thanks for your help, it was really sweet of you, but I am not discussing about my best friend with you.' I tried to free my hand from her but she had a tighter grip on it and the wound hand wasn’t working to my advantage. 'Listen to me Eddie, I heard you guys talking in the class yesterday. I could make out from your answers that you are trying to drive her to the edge so that she yields to your ways but you are overdoing it. You know how Jess is right? You try to push her away from you too much, she never comes back. Be careful.' I had to agree that Vanessa was saying the right thing. 'So what do I do Vaness?' I sounded like a hopeless idiot.

'Take it slow and keep your cool. Every now and then give her hints that you care, yet ignore her, that will drive her even more crazy because then she would have no clue of what's going on in your mind. She will want to know and she will come to you'. 'I think you are right Vaness, thanks for the advice.' She left my hand took a piece of paper from a notebook she had placed on the table, wrote down something and handed it to me. 'If you need someone to talk to, call me' she said and left the room. Vanessa's advice made me feel better that my stupid act of breaking the windows was not stupid after all. But I had to agree that I needed to do less violent things to show Jess I cared if I wanted to apply Vanessa's 'confuse' theory. I walked to the class with my plastered hand. Jess stared at me with an expression that I was so familiar with. It meant she was at the peak of her temperament for the stupid stunt I had pulled. I immediately turned my face away and walked to the other end of the room to sit next to Rachael. It was our English class and the teacher hadn't turned up for a long time. After half hour Mr. Wilkes walked into the class and apologized for his delay, He said he wanted us to engage in some group activity of writing a combined review of some books. He divided the whole class into 8 groups of 4 people each and put Rachael, Vanessa and not to mention Jess in my group. It was a good thing considering my new plan but a bad thing because I would be risking her wrath to a great deal. Jess got up from her chair, pulled another close to mine and sat without saying a word to any one of us. The book given to us was 'A Pair of Blue Eyes’ and I was sure Jess hadn't read it. 'Have any of you read the book? It’s a pathetic one.' Vanessa commented as she passed it to Rachael. 'Nope.' we all said in unison. 'Okay, since none of you are interested in this activity, I will write the review, you can make out with your girl friend Eddie and Jess happy day dreaming about Ben.' she said in one breath and opened her notebook to tear a paper of it. Mr. Wilkes had left the class announcing he would be back in another half hour. Jess took her new phone and begun to text. ‘What happened to your hand honey?' asked Rachael. 'An accident that I want to forget darling, can we not talk about it?' I tried to sound polite. 'Rachael, your boyfriend saw me kissing my boyfriend on the parking lot and broke his car window out of anger, in short, a self created mess' Jess corrected my explanation. 'Don't listen to her honey she thinks everything in this world revolves around her these days, ouch! My hand hurts, do you mind running to the first aid room to get me a pain killer from Mrs. Hamilton?' 'Sure honey.' She obeyed and left the room. Vanessa seemed completely unaffected by what was going on. 'Will you please leave my girl friend out of this Jess?'

'I will, if you spare Ben such stupid stunts next time you see us kissing.' 'Deal.' I said and shifted next to Vanessa and asked her about the storyline of the novel she was reviewing. Rachael came in with a pill and a glass of water. I thanked her and swallowed it. Rachael held my other hand and I continued to listen to the story from Vanessa occasionally making romantic gestures at Rachael. Jess was busy texting. After 5 minutes had passed, Mr. Vincent, the students' council head entered the class with a piece of paper. 'Good Morning Students, I am here to make an announcement, The Traditional Westmont Fest is approaching and I am here to get the list of students' name who would like to perform.' He turned to Jess and asked 'What about you Ms Evans would you like to enroll your name in anything?' 'She is too busy kissing Ben.' I whispered so that only she could hear. 'No Mr. Vincent, I am tied up with a few things right now' she said with a smile and turned to me. 'Yes I am busy kissing Ben, any problem? And if you have time left from pulling crazy stunts and making out with Rachael why don't you participate?' she retaliated. I stood up and called Mr. Vincent to my attention. 'Yes Eddie, would you like to participate?' 'Yes Mr. Vincent, put my name under Music, I am going to play guitar' I heard Jess let out a giggle. 'From when does Eddie play guitar? Did he play it outside your window to ask you out Rachael?' 'Jessica, stop irritating him, didn't you know Eddie plays guitar from childhood? Listen guys I know you have problems but leave me out of this. Behave at least when people are around.' she said and stormed out of the room. 'Damn Jess, I asked you to leave her out of it?' 'You never once told me in 10 years that you played guitar.' 'Well that used to be my only company until you came along Jess, now that you are not in my life anymore, I am seeking comfort in it. Thanks for making my day.' I scowled at her and walked out of the room to console Rachael. The rest of the school hours passed on with Jess and I exchanging murderous glares between classes. I told Rachael that I would pick her up for dinner at 7 and left to the parking lot. Ben was already there waiting for Jess. I saw that my window's glass was perfect without even a single scratch and I understood Ben must have fixed it. 'Thanks Ben, but really needn't have done it.' I told as I stood next to him.

'I understand that I had caused the damage, so I made sure I fixed it.' he spoke as he turned to look at Jess who was now talking to Vanessa. 'This is not the only damage you have done Ben, I hope you fix the other one as well.' I said pointing to Jess. 'How may I help you?' he asked not taking his eyes of her. I caught his chin, turning his face towards me; I looked into his eyes with blazing anger and said 'Leave Jess alone.' He did nothing but smiled and turned to look at Jess who was now hurriedly approaching us. I got into my car and left to relieve her of any assumed stunts. Chapter 7 Ray of Hope ‘Well that used to be my only company until you came along Jess, now that you are not in my life anymore, I am seeking comfort in it. Thanks for making my day.' These words kept coming to my mind throughout the time I was trying to pay attention to the following classes. Every now and then I looked at Eddie with anger and he was kind enough to return my gesture. I was still unable to digest the fact that after being his best friend for 10 years, I didn’t know he played guitar. I have asked him so many times in the past about his hobbies, interests and talents. He had endlessly spoken about watching TV series, playing baseball and his interest in different genres of music but not once had he mentioned that he knew how to play guitar. As for me, I have never ever hidden anything from him, from the moment I woke up from bed to the moment I went back to bed; I kept him informed of everything. He knew everything about me from how I loved to have snakes as pets in my childhood days, how I hated the concept of birthday parties as a kid that put me on spotlight to how much I wanted to learn to horse ride irrespective of my fear of speed. He had just said that it used to be his companion before I had come along, how he could hide something so important from me. I might be sounding too childish whining over something petty, but it doesn’t rule out the fact that it hurt to know of my best friend’s talent in an art after 10 years. Everybody has their own secrets and if it was something on those lines, I would have respected it. But how could something as sacred as art be hidden? I tried to relieve my mind of these thoughts with all my might but being in the same class with Eddie didn’t help a bit. The moment my morning had started with Ben’s returning cold indifference, I shouldn’t have expected anything better from the day. Only last evening I thought I had found a good friend in Ben. But all his kindness, patience and thoughtful acts now only seemed like a rare visitors to his characters. My mind drifted to the annoying memories of this morning. I was having my shower when my phone started to ring and I ignored it knowing it would be Ben and I could call him after getting dressed. I got dressed and packed my school bag in 10 minutes and reached for the phone to call back Ben. There were already 5 missed calls. I didn’t know what he was so impatient about. I dialed his number and he picked up even before the first ring ended. ‘Jessica, I have been calling you for almost half hour, where the hell have you been?’ I felt like a dragon was spitting out fire.

‘I was having a shower when you called first and then was getting dressed, everything alright Ben?’ ‘Everything would have been alright if you had attended my call the first time, I have gotten you a waterproof phone because I can talk to you even if you are drowning in the ocean.’ ‘Ben stop this okay? Don’t I have the freedom to even to have a bath peacefully?’ ‘Nope. Not if you choose to be Ben Cerratos girlfriend.’ ‘Okay I am sorry Ben, What’s the matter?’ ‘I have a shooting scheduled at 9:30, so I was going to ask you if it was okay to send my driver today. But you wouldn’t pick up the phone, so I am now coming to pick you up.’ ‘You could send the driver even now.’ ‘I have sent him to run another errand, so I am coming.’ ‘Ben, this is really unnecessary, I can walk to school as usual.’ ‘Walking to school is no more gonna be usual Jessica, guess you haven’t seen today’s paper. News about us has broken out and you are no more just a high school student. Apart from having to maintain a status as a celebrity’s girlfriend, you have to avoid walking to anywhere, if you don’t want to be stalked by media.’ ‘I will ask dad to drop me today Ben.’ ‘Jessica, your dad has a meeting at 9 with my brother about the new business deal, remember? Buying you that phone was an absolute waste, if your brain can’t remember important things, use the reminder option. Now go wish him luck.’ ‘Fine if you have no time to waste, may be you shouldn’t be wasting it trying to insult me.’ ‘I am not, I am already driving to your place, have your breakfast, I will be there in 5 minutes.’ He said and hung up. I then walked to the dining hall feeling dazed by what had happened. Ben had proven me wrong for considering him a human with kind feelings like the rest of us. I was brought back to the class room scenario as Eddie gave a loud thud by hitting my desk as he left the class to wake me up from the daydreaming. It was lunch and I walked to the cafeteria. Eddie, Rachael and surprisingly Vanessa were seated at the same table. I bought myself a glass of lime juice and settled as far as possible from them. As I sipped my glass of elixir, I begun my day dream from where I had left. I wished my dad luck, kissed my mom goodbye and hopped away to the porch where Ben was already waiting. I got into the car and noticed he was looking stunning wearing just a pair of blue jeans, plane white shirt with his long sleeves rolled up to his elbow and a pair of goggles. I couldn’t take my eyes of him for a while. His stub made him look even hotter. Although I wanted to say a few words of compliment, I curbed the urge considering how he had yelled at me before a few minutes.

You are not talking with me or what?’ he asked after a couple of minutes. ‘I am just scared that I would kindle the monster in you.’ ‘Nice words of encouragement for a guy who is getting back to work after a break.’ ‘It’s not my fault Ben; I really can’t keep up with your split personality, trust me.’ He remained silent, which was very surprising. ‘I don’t know what you are trying to be. One day you are this completely understanding friend and the next day you are this super annoying boyfriend who doesn’t even let me have a bath.’ There was no answer yet. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ I stressed again. ‘Not now’ I could feel a cloud of mixed expressions in his face and decided it was best to leave it at that. When we reached school, he parked the car right next to Eddie’s. We exchanged a few unpleasant dialogs after which he said he would meet me in the evening. I knew he was really tense about the meeting. So I gave him peck on his cheek and said ‘All the Best, Ben.’ He could have left it at that. But he suddenly got all romantic and kissed me and all I could think of was Eddie watching us. We heard a glass shatter and broke away to look at Eddie walking towards the school with his hand bleeding. I immediately tried to get out of the car but Ben held my hand to stop me. ‘What? He is bleeding Ben; I need to talk to him.’ ‘Listen to me Jessica, he is not in the right state of his mind, If you try talking to him now, it will only make matters worse, let him calm down a bit, talk to him after an hour or something okay?’ I felt that his words made sense and obeyed. ‘Jessica, use your phone, keep me informed of what’s going on with you in the class, I will be able to text. Okay?’ ‘Thanks, I will.’ ‘And pick up the damn phone when I call.’ ‘Yeah Okay’ that’s how my morning went. I realized that lunch was nearing its end and walked back to class. For the remainder of hours I kept doodling in my notebook some meaningless shapes and Eddie’s name in different fonts. After school I met Vanessa near the parking lot. ‘Hi Vanessa, have a minute?’ ‘Hi Jessica, temme’

‘Here is your book, thanks it was awesome, do you have the next three sequels? I would love to read them.’ ‘Sure, will give them to you tomorrow, so this thing with Ben and Eddie is getting tougher day by day huh?’ she asked casually but I could sense concern in her voice. ‘Yeah its pretty crazy, hope it will get better.’ ‘I don’t think so, guess you should go stop them before they end up doing something crazy’ she pointed to Ben and Eddie. Eddie and Ben were talking and I could see Eddie’s anger even from about 20 feet away, I rushed to them to try and avoid any unwanted scene but by then Eddie was inside his car and I was relived. ‘What was he telling you?’ I asked Ben ‘Chill! He was just thanking me for fixing his windows.’ ‘You did that? Cool. By the way why did you have to kiss me in front of him?’ ‘I expected that question much earlier. It’s for him to get used to the idea of ‘us’. I just wanted to tell him I wasn’t going anywhere. Get inside the car now.’ ‘Anything important happened in class?’ ‘Nothing other than what I texted, what about you?’ ‘Nothing other than what I texted.’ ‘What plans for now?’ ‘I am dropping you at home and coming back at night to stay over.’ ‘What? Are you crazy? It’s creepy to have your boy friend stay over with parents around Ben.’ He smiled mischievously and I knew he had something in mind. ‘Okay Genius, shoot, what’s the plan?’ ‘Your dad successfully closed the deal and has to fly to L.A. with my brother tonight, and your mom is accompanying him.’ ‘Wow Ben, thanks, it’s really something big for him.’ ‘I know, so now do you mind me staying over? Not just for today, but the entire week till they are back?’ ‘Well, its creepier to have your boyfriend stay over when no one is at home, why do you want to stay over anyways?’ ‘Just getting you used to the idea of staying with me, you are gonna move in with me within a couple of months remember?’

‘Yeah I do.’ ‘So get used to the idea of annoying and erratic Ben.’ ‘Well I have already since your phone call this morning.’ With that he again went off into silent mode. He dropped me off at home, congratulated my parents, assured them he would take good care of me and left winking his eyes at me while at the door. My parents were leaving at 5 within an hour and Ben would be here by 8 so I had 3 hours in between. I decided to take a quick visit to Eddie’s place as my last attempt to set things right between us. I also decided that if Eddie refused to understand, I would quit trying and wait for him to come to me. Life without Eddie seemed so incomplete. Although I had meant it when I told him I needed a life outside of our friendship, I needed him by my side to share the happiness I experienced through that life. Without him that life outside of our friendship had lost its meaning and I also knew from inside how much he would be suffering without me and suffering more than I am. I wanted to put an end to his pain. There was a ray of hope that everything was going to be back to normal soon and that was the only hope I had been holding to since Eddie left my home that night. Chapter 8 The Struggle ‘Hey Jess, come here honey I need to talk to you before we leave, gonna miss you a lot baby.’ My mom said as I climbed the stairs to my room. I quickly ran to her and gave her a hug. ‘I will miss you too mom, is everything packed?’ ‘Yes dear, your dad is checking if he has gotten the necessary documentation ready. So Jess honey, what’s going on? You, Ben and the whole tension?’ ‘Mom…there is no tension between me and Ben and definitely nothing sexual yet, if that’s what is bothering you.’ She laughed and continued to clarify ‘Come on Jess, I trust you and I know you wouldn’t do anything that would upset me or your dad. By tension I meant Eddie.’ ‘Mom, did Eddie tell you anything?’ ‘Does he need to tell me anything? It’s quite obvious you guys are having problems. Its Ben isn’t it?’ ‘Yes and trust me its driving me crazy but I think Eddie will understand eventually.’ ‘Hope so dear, alright, you take good care of yourself and don’t make Ben do all the cooking when he is here. I know you hate to work but treat that guy well.’ ‘Come on Mom, of course I won’t make him cook. Alright mom, you carry on, I will quickly change and be back. Need to run to Eddie’s place for a peace treaty. Alright?’

‘Sure Honey.’ My parents were gone at the stroke of 5. I called Ben to tell him not to be here before 8 and started walking to Eddie’s place. The door was open and when I entered Mrs. Morgan was watching a soap opera. ‘Hello Jessica, dear. How are you? It’s been a couple of days since you showed up.’ ‘I am fine Mrs. Morgan, thanks, have just been busy with a few things. Is Eddie at home?’ ‘Yes dear, your mom had called up earlier to tell me she was leaving for a week, I asked her to let you stay with us but she said you would be having company.’ ‘Yes Mrs. Morgan, a friend is coming to stay over.’ ‘Well, that’s nice. I will send over breakfast and dinner every day from tomorrow, you could manage lunch at school.’ ‘Thanks Mrs. Morgan, that’s really nice of you but you need not take trouble, guess I can manage by myself, if not its just a 5 minutes’ walk, right?’ ‘Yes dear, you are welcome anytime. You go meet Eddie now; he has been looking all evening.’ ‘Okay, I will see what’s wrong’ I said and left to Eddie’s room that was on the second floor. His door was closed, I thought of knocking but I decided not to disturb him as I heard a mild sound of guitar. I slowly opened the door and sat on his study table. He was sitting right opposite to me with eyes closed and completely absorbed in his tune. It was one of my favorite melodies and it was divine to hear Eddie playing it. I waited until he finished. He opened his eyes and wasn’t shocked to see me. ‘Why did you never tell me about it?’ ‘Jess I was five years old when I used to play this. I was damn good at it. But I was too young and lonely to consider this a talent or an art. This was simply my companion in all aspects. My means of escape when I longed for someone of my age to talk and play with. As much as I loved it, I hated it too because whenever I played, I only thought why can’t I be talking or even fighting with a human friend. When you came along, the emptiness in my life disappeared and I never wanted to bring those awful memories back, so I stopped playing. But when things changed between us now, I have realized that this is not just a means to escape from the pain I am going through. It makes me feel proud of myself, it makes me feel worthy of myself and I am happy to be rediscovering my passion.’ ‘Good for you Eddie.’ I couldn’t bring myself to say anything more. I got down from the bed, walked towards him and lay on his bed beside where he sat. For a few minutes nothing happened, everything remained still. Eddie then hesitantly lied next to me. I wasn’t able to take the pain anymore. I turned towards him, buried my face in his chest and begun to cry hard. I cried very rarely and when I did, it was hard to stop and Eddie knew this. He placed his hand on my head and kept stroking my hair as a consolation.

‘I miss you Eddie.’ I said in the midst of my sob. ‘I miss you too Jess.’ ‘Is everything gonna be okay between us, Eddie?’ ‘Yes Jess, its gonna be okay, don’t worry, don’t cry, I can’t take it.’ I was locked in his embrace for more than an hour after which he released me and started to get ready. I still lay in his bed watching him. ‘Have plans with Rachael?’ ‘Yeah picking her up for dinner, what about you? Meeting Ben?’ ‘Yeah’ I stopped with that scared to give out any details. He removed his shirt and put on his favorite black T-shirt. As he pulled it down his chest he asked ‘Want me to drop you somewhere?’ ‘Yeah, at home.’ ‘Okay come on let’s go.’ He said and gave his hand to me. I happily took it and followed him to the convertible. Once inside the car, both of us didn’t speak at all. I had hoped him to say something. I assured myself that he would call after his dinner with Rachael. ‘Here we are, and I guess Ben is already waiting for you.’ He said pointing to Ben who was sitting at my door step, keeping both his palms on his cheeks. He was too cute to watch. ‘So Eddie… Is everything alright now? Between us?’ ‘Jess, as much I hate to say this, its not. You are just making it difficult for us. My mom was already pissed off with my accident this morning. I had a tough time convincing her. I didn’t want another scene in there, that’s why I remained calm. It’s never gonna be okay between us Jess. At least not until you get rid of him.’ ‘So whatever happened in your room was just an act?’ ‘I am afraid so.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Thanks Eddie, for the ride, and for everything.’ I got down from his car with tears, slammed the door shut and ran towards my home. ‘Hey Jessica, are you okay?’ Ben asked as he put his arm around me. I kept crying. He took the key from me and opened the door. I ran to my room asking Ben to leave me alone for a while. I was glad that for once he obeyed. I took about half hour to compose myself and descended down to the living room. Ben was watching Taylor Swift on Mtv. ‘Sorry Ben that was the worst way of welcoming someone for a stay over.’ I said as I sat next to him.

‘That’s okay. I am your boyfriend, I need not be welcomed.’ He said putting his arm around me. I leaned on his shoulder and closed my eyes. He gently pushed away a strand of hair from my face that was causing me discomfort. ‘Thanks.’ I moved closer and put my arms around his neck. For a while he was alright. After a few minutes, I sensed him feeling uncomfortable and moved away. He kept switching channels, without turning to look at me. I have never seen Ben feeling so self conscious before. There was a mix of shyness, fear and embarrassment in his face. ‘So what plans for tonight?’ I tried to make him comfortable by breaking the silence. ‘Dinner at any of your favorite places?’ he answered with a question. ‘Ben, if you take me to my favorite places, you can’t eat peacefully. Plus your female fans will strangle me to death.’ ‘Fine, we will order from your favorite place, which one is it?’ ‘You are under estimating my talents you know? I can cook, if you don’t mind.’ ‘Well, guess it will be a risk worth taking, cos if ends up as a disaster, I will be careful in future.’ I smiled and proceeded to the kitchen. ‘Jessica, I need to get refreshed, I will be back in an hour’ he said and left to my room. I rummaged the kitchen to see what was available. Although I hated to do any household chores, cooking was bearable. Plus I needed to make an impression. I decided that an hour was enough to make French onion soup, two bowls of nachos and the ever simple Mac-n-Cheese and set to work. Dinner was ready within 50 minutes. I set the table for us and sat eagerly waiting for Ben to come down. I rechecked if everything was perfect at the table. ‘Napkins, check, Forks, Check, Plates, Check, spoons Checks, Water, Check.’ I slowly said to myself when I heard Ben coming down. ‘Smells, good, Mac-N-Cheese, French Onion Soup…ummmmmm what’s the other one?’ He sniffed and said ‘Nachos.’ He walked towards the door. The bell rung and after a couple of minutes he walked toward the table with a bottle of wine. ‘Since this is our first homemade dinner, I though why not celebrate it?’ he sat opposite to me gently placing the wine on the table. He looked super sexy in his loose slacks and black, sleeveless night shirt that exposed his muscular arms. ‘Let me bring the glasses’ I excused myself into the kitchen for the fear of making my admiration too obvious. Now I had to agree that I was stupid for teasing all my girl friends for going head over heels on Ben. After all he was ‘Hawt’. I tried to delay going back to the table. I wasn’t in love with him and he knew it too. Neither was he. But we were both enjoying these initial stages of our relationship. But being in the same room with someone as hot as him for a week could definitely evoke lust, which I now feared more than love. I walked back to the table and placed the glasses on it.

‘Were you bringing glasses or making them?’ I was too distracted by his good looks to respond and sat to eat the food that he had served in the meantime. He poured the wine and raised his glass for a toast. ‘For……’ he thought for a long time and said ‘You, me and us.’ ‘You, me and us.’ ‘Feels good Jessica, this is a day to be remembered. May be we’ll tell our grandkids about it.’ He said, his expression not revealing anything that meant he was joking. ‘Oh, Ben, please... Don’t put that image into my head.’ ‘Am I that bad?’ ‘Well you are very nice sometimes, but the other side of you…leave alone grandkids, I don’t even know about getting married to you.’ I saw his face turn into that unexplainable expression and I knew I had done a stupid mistake. ‘Are you the only one who can insult me? Don’t I have the same rights?’ I asked jokingly. He smiled and we ate peacefully having some pleasant conversations. After dinner, he completely refused to let me clean up. He religiously cleared the table, did the dishes and put them back in their racks with some assistance from me. I watched him with the same admiration that was now becoming too annoyingly frequent. ‘So what next?’ he asked as he wiped his hands with the towel that hung near the wash basin. ‘Your wish, my command’ I said as I made a bowing gesture. He laughed wholeheartedly and for the first time I noticed how his blue eyes and deep dimples looked even more stunning when he was happy. ‘Let’s watch a movie, what say?’ ‘Sure, but no horrors.’ I said firmly. ‘Romance?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Which one?’ ‘Remember me?’ ‘The DVD isn’t out yet Jessica, the movie released only a week back.’ ’So what? Let’s watch it online.’ I suggested. ‘Your boyfriend is an actor and is against piracy, so pay some respect to his profession.’ He said as he settled in the sofa and put his legs on the glass table after clearing the vase from its place.

‘Oops sorry.’ I cursed my stupidity and sat next to him. ‘Let me have a look at your DVD collection.’ He said and left the sofa. He searched through my collection slowly, picking every DVD and passing comments on them while I was sighing from within at how hot he looked and how much the lust that I had feared had already developed. ‘Why can’t he kiss me now? Should the parking lot in Eddie’s presence be the only place for his romance?’ I mumbled to myself. ‘Did you say anything?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘You were mumbling.’ ‘Well it’s is a school night, it would help if you pick a movie soon, so that I can go back to sleep. Talking of which you can sleep in my room and I will sleep downstairs at my parent’s bedroom.’ I tried to sound casual. But from within I was eagerly waiting for him to say yes because I could definitely not stand sleeping in the same bed with this man. ‘Don’t be silly. You are not gonna be allowed to sleep alone when you move in with me, so better get used to it now.’ He had finally picked a movie. He inserted the disk, switched off the lights and sat next to me. ‘Which movie?’ I asked curious to know his taste. ‘Notebook.’ ‘Shouldn’t I be the one to Notebook you? What are you trying to do?’ I giggled. ‘Come on Jess, I am not trying to notebook you, haven’t watched the movie at all.’ ‘What you have not watched notebook? , not even once?’ ‘Nope. Now let’s watch the movie okay?’ he said as they started to display the cast. ‘Why did he have to choose the movie with the most romantic kiss ever?’ I mumbled to myself again. ‘What are you mumbling again, if you want to go to sleep early, you can leave Jessica.’ He sounded a bit harsh. ‘No Ben, I was just mumbling about how hot the hero looks and why you had to choose it to tempt me.’ I moved closer and leaned on his shoulder to make him feel that I was interested in watching the movie with him. I realized after a while that sitting closer to him after all was a bad idea. But it was blissful to watch him watching the movie with keen interest. Every now and then he would comment on the acting and other technical stuff about the film and I would respond with interest. I suddenly felt

an urge to touch his hair. I slowly begun to ruffle it and he didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t realize that the movie was over and I kept ruffling his hair. He suddenly caught my hand moved it away from him and asked. ‘Nice movie, what were you trying? To put me to sleep? ‘Nah, I always do this to my dad and Eddie, now I miss them so……’ I lied without feeling even a tinge of guilt. ‘Nice you found replacement, let’s go to bed now.’ He pulled me to my room. Once inside, I went to change to my night dress. I chose the least revealing gowns of all. Although I knew Ben would have met sexier gals in his profession, I didn’t want to put him to test. Because if he lost his control, I would surely give in considering my current state of mind. I didn’t want any such complications in our life now. I was happy with those sweet kisses that came frequently. I went back to my room after brushing and washing my face to find that Ben had locked the door, switched off the main lights switched on the night lamp and was already in bed. He said he had created a pillow bridge between us to make me feel at ease. I looked at it for a while, teased him for his stupidity, and removed the pillows to comfortable lay next to him. ‘I have a confession to make.’ He begun slowly and his tension was visible. He was trying to swallow his nervousness and it was obvious through the bulge in his throat. ‘Tell me Ben.’ I moved closer, rested on my elbow and looked into his eyes. ‘This doesn’t help, can you please not look at me?’ he pleaded. ‘Nope.’ I refused point blank. ‘Well then listen to me’ he caught hold of my head, made me lie on the pillow. He was now looking into my eyes deeply, his hands still clutching my hair. ‘About the issue we left incomplete this morning, about my split personality disorder as you call it. I have grown up being alone. Always alone. No one to share my inner most emotions. My mother was my only source for solace but she died when I was 10. From then on it was a long lonely struggle to get to where I have come....’ he stopped in between unable to continue. ‘I understand Ben; it’s just that it’s hurting sometimes.’ ‘I have been around people Jessica, always. I have always been surrounded by a crowd since I entered this field at the age of 15 but I was never with them. There was no one I could trust completely, no one in whom I can confide in. That may be my fault, not letting people in. But that has had a great effect on how I behave with people.’ ‘You asked me what I was trying to be. I am not trying to be anyone Jessica. I have always bottled up my extreme and significant emotions to myself and as a result whatever insignificant anger and stupid thoughts that come to mind, I let them out. No matter what the situation is, I just react quickly without thinking whether it would hurt people or not. This is how I am and this is

how I am gonna be. Erratic and unpredictable. Till today, I have not bothered to explain this to anyone, cos it didn’t matter what they felt. But matters what you think and how you feel about me. It might be just 2 weeks since we met but you have been a great company and I respect that. If………’ I put my hand on his lips to stop is words. ‘Shhhhhhh... Don’t try so hard... All you had to say was it’s in my nature to be this way and I would have understood without a question. But it was nice knowing you better through your words. Don’t worry Ben; you don’t have to suffer the loneliness anymore. I am here for you.’ I said and gave him a tight hug. We lay in each other’s arms for a few minutes after which his discomfort returned. He gently moved away from me. ‘Thanks Jessica. This means a lot. Good night.’ He said and turned away from me to sleep. Only before a few minutes I had been washed all over with lust for this man. But suddenly the feeling of sympathy and the need to be good companion to him became predominant. I slept with a peaceful thought that although I was away from Eddie. I was at least helping someone feel less lonely. CHAPTER 9 Blessing in Disguise It was the first time since the Ben debacle; I was having a peaceful sleep. Somehow the way Jess had broken down yesterday made me optimistic. I was sure she would come back to her senses soon. It was hardly seven and the intercom woke me up with its annoying tone that my mom had set intentionally. ‘Mom, it’s hardly seven.’ I complained. ‘Wake up Eddie; you have to run to Jessica’s place.’ Her words sent shivers down my spine. ‘What’s wrong with her mom?’ ‘Will you come downstairs quickly?’ She hung up. For a second I couldn’t move or think. I rushed into to the bathroom to splash some water on my face, took my car keys from the table and scuttled away to the living room. My mom was nowhere in the vicinity. I heard her calling my name from the kitchen and I hurried catching my breath. I came to a halt holding the slab and tried to breathe. ‘What happened to Jessica?’ ‘Eddie? What’s wrong with you? I just said you had to run to her place, nothing is wrong with her. Look at your face.’ She laughed. ‘Mom this isn’t funny at all. You woke me up from my sleep even before seven and scared me to death. What’s the hurry anyways?’

‘Don’t be irritated honey. I wanted you to take some breakfast for her.’ ‘Mom don’t you think it’s too early for breakfast? Since when did you start to wake up so early?’ ‘Eddie, now stop questioning me, she has to get ready for school, now if you don’t drop this off at her place quickly, she would be wasting time making breakfast. Run now.’ The last thing I wanted right now was to begin my day with a fight. Considering the way I had treated her last evening, she would definitely find a way to provoke me. But explaining these things to my mom would end up worse than the fight, so I took the breakfast basket and it felt a little heavy. ‘Mom, Jess will not eat so much don’t you know? Plus I haven’t even brushed so I will come back and eat here.’ ‘It’s not for you Eddie, one of her friends is staying with her.’ ‘What? She told you that Ben is staying over?’ I blurted. ‘Who is Ben? Does Jessica have a boyfriend now?’ ‘Oh come on Mom, I meant Benita.’ I tried to sound casual. ‘Eddie I am really getting sick of your short forms, now are you leaving or should I drop it at her place myself?’ ‘Nope, I am leaving.’ I couldn’t believe that Jess was letting Ben stay over. Dating him was an entirely different issue but staying with him while her parents were out of town, was unacceptable. I regretted for behaving with her rudely last evening, now I had even lost the right to question her about this issue. I decided to just drop the basket and return without another word. When I rung her doorbell, I heard her bedroom window open in a few seconds. ‘Nobody dangerous, I can get the door, you stay in Bed.’ Ben’s voice was once again successful in arousing my fury. ‘Good Morning Eddie, come on in.’ said Ben as soon as he opened the door. ‘Nope, I must get back, Mom just asked me to drop breakfast for Jess.’ Even before I finished my words, I heard her hurried footsteps and she stood next to him wearing his shirt on top of her nightgown. My rage had reached its saturation point. ‘Hey Eddie, why are you standing outside? Come on in.’ she invited and Ben to my relief left us alone and went back to her room. I hesitated for a minute and then followed her to the kitchen. ‘I had told Mrs. Morgan not to take the trouble. Tell her thanks on my behalf.’ She said taking the basket from my hand.

‘She has never woken up this early even for me Jess, she thought you and your girl friend who is staying over would get late for school. I pity her really.’ ‘What are you implying?’ she stared. ‘Look into the mirror and you will know what I mean.’ ‘Listen, I don’t have any mood for puzzle games early in the morning, so if you have to say something just spit it out.’ She said as if she really didn’t understand anything. ‘Yeah I am sure you have more important games to play. Now what? Are you even planning to come to school is Ben’s shirts?’ ‘Damn It Eddie! This is not his shirt.’ She said giving stress to every word she spoke. ‘Oh so now you are telling me this is not his shirt and it’s yours and you have started to wear shirts on top of nightgowns, some kind of new trend?’ ‘Last night I was feeling cold and this was the only shirt in his reach and he gave it to me. Do I have to give you hourly updates of my actions?’ ‘Honey I am going for a run, where is my I-Pod?’ Ben interrupted us from Jess’ room. ‘I kept it under my pillow Ben’ she shouted back but without any irritation in her voice. ‘So does your mom know about this?’ ‘About what Eddie?’ ‘About Ben staying over. What else would I talk about?’ ‘I honestly don’t have a clue. But she does know that he is going be here most of the time. Also unlike you she trusts her daughter.’ ‘And in return what she gets is her daughter…’ I was struggling to complete my sentence. ‘Her daughter what Eddie?’ she demanded. ‘Well do I have to say it? That shirt says it all.’ ‘Gosh Eddie, this is not Ben’s shirt, this is your shirt.’ Was she out of her mind? Was she trying to convince me that she was wearing my shirt which I had never ever seen before? ‘Are you drunk Jess? Did he get you drunk and?’ ‘Its not here Jessica.’ Ben interrupted again and this time I wanted to punch him. ‘God save me, these guys are driving me crazy.’ She whimpered looking up at the ceiling. ‘Then look under the damn bed, do you want me to come upstairs?’

‘Nope. Got it.’ I heard him coming downstairs and remained silent. ‘I will be back by 8, get ready.’ He kissed her forehead and headed to the door. ‘Tell me now; did he get you drunk before?’ ‘Shhh... He has not even crossed the door Eddie, shut up for a minute.’ She walked to the living room, closed the door and came back to the kitchen. She quickly begun to unbutton her shirt. ‘Jess what are you doing?’ I asked turning away from her. I felt her hands on my shoulder trying to turn me to face her again. ‘Look here, look at this.’ She pointed to the price tag that was hanging from the shirt. ‘When I had gone shopping with Ben, I stood there looking at this shirt, wondering how it would look on you. When we got back, he gave it to me saying he had bought it thinking that I had wanted it for you. I didn’t even have the need to explain it to him Eddie. He understood. But I have been trying to make you understand that he is a nice guy from the past two weeks and now you accuse me of cheating my parents and secretly sleeping with Ben. I didn’t think you would stoop this low.’ She spoke with tears in her eyes. ‘I am sorry Jess, how was I supposed to know? I am really sorry Jess.’ I tried with all my might to console her. ‘We are done Eddie. We are done forever.’ She threw the shirt on my face and stormed out of the kitchen. What sort of a stupid was I to jump to conclusions like that? The sight of shirtless Ben and Jess standing next to him wearing the shirt had gotten me blinded. She was never going to forgive me for this. But I knew if I didn’t set things right between us then, it would be too late. I sat at the couch in the living room hoping she would come down. An hour passed but no luck. In the meanwhile, I called my mom from the landline to tell her I will be late. Ben came in after a while and shot a suspicious look at me. ‘What did you screw up now?’ he asked as he walked to the fridge to grab a bottle of orange juice. ‘Is it that Bad?’ he asked as he sat next to me and took a gulp from his bottle. ‘It wouldn’t have been if you had…’ ‘Shhh.’ He gestured me to stop and continued to drink from his bottle as he looked at Jess who was now walking towards us.

She shot a disgusting ‘why are you still here?’ kind of look at me and walked to the kitchen to have her breakfast. Ben followed her. I was still determined not to leave before she forgave me for my stupidity. ‘Looks like you have gotten your Best friend upset earlier than usual today’ Ben asked as he sat opposite to her and filled her glass with the juice. She continued to have her breakfast in silence. ‘What’s it Jess?’ he forced her to answer again and I wished she would ask him to leave her alone. ‘It’s the sex Ben.’ ‘What Sex?’ he asked confused, now turning to look at me and turned back to her again. ‘The sex we had last night after which I wore your shirt Ben. How could you forget it? It was so good!’ I felt her rage in every word she spoke. Ben turned away from her to spit the juice as he laughed. He walked to the service area, brought the mop and wiped the stained floor and put it back in its place. Jess had finished her breakfast and was doing her final check on her bag. Ben then walked towards me and said in a low voice so that only I could hear. ‘You’re dead meat mate.’ And walked to her room. I sat there confused without knowing how to start. ‘Can we leave Ben?’ she shouted at the top of her voice. Ben descended down the stairs in a few minutes, a little over dressed to be her driver. ‘Sweetheart, my agent just called and I have to meet him regarding something important. Could you please go with Eddie today?’ he pleaded as he put his arm around her waist to pull her close. ‘I will walk to school.’ ‘No you won’t. Eddie will take you and you are going and I will be back 8ish okay?’ ‘Fine.’ She said halfheartedly. As he released her and turned away, she pulled him back to kiss him. I hid my face in my palms to avoid the painful sight. ‘Love you Ben.’ She shouted as he stepped out of the door. ‘Love you too honey.’ I heard him say as he pushed the door from outside. ‘Jess will you please listen to me?’ I implored ‘Now don’t waste my time Eddie. I still have couple of your jeans in my wardrobe. Please go have a shower and come back soon. I don’t wanna be late to school and wear this.’ She threw the shirt on my face once again and I obeyed her immediately.

We were in my convertible after about 15 minutes. I drove slower than usual to prolong the time I had with her. ‘If I had walked, I would have already reached.’ She complained looking out of the window. ‘Should we go to school today?’ I asked summoning all my courage. ‘Nope. You can drop me and go wherever you want to. May be I will go in and send Rachael to keep you company.’ ‘Jess, I know I messed it up. Give me a chance to explain please. Just one chance. We both have our equal share of mistakes. Let’s talk about it today. Can we?’ ‘Why didn’t this enlightenment dawn upon you when I was begging you yesterday Eddie? Just because you have made a blunder now, you want to set things right to free yourself off the guilt?’ I knew it. I knew this would be her exact words, but I had to try. ‘I am a self centered bastard, can we talk now please?’ ‘Drive back to my place.’ She said as she removed her hair clip and threw it to the backseat. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I started to drive in my usual speed. This was going to be my one chance to talk sense into her and I wasn’t going to screw it up. I quickly made up my mind to take it slow. Being blunt and honest with Jess just didn’t help. Now I was going to try the next option. The only way open was to be close to her and help her see things clearly. Suddenly what I read a long time ago flashed in my mind. ‘Keep your enemies closer.’ And that’s what I was about to do with Ben. She hurled her bag on the couch and brought a glass of water for me when we reached. She then closed the door and walked to her room without saying anything. I followed her hesitantly and settled in her bed. She disappeared into the bathroom and turned on the shower. I instantly knew she was going to take at least half hour and decided to take a mini nap. I woke up after what seemed like an hour and Jess was sitting across me at the couch reading a magazine. I looked at the clock and realized I had slept for two hours. ‘Sorry, I dozed off.’ There was no reply. ‘Sorry for my stupidity this morning.’ Still no answer. I walked to her and snatched the magazine and threw it on the bed. I kneeled down in front of her and held her hand in mine. Her face showed no sign of anger or sadness. ‘Listen Jess. We both screwed it up. You could have been a little less rude that night and I could have been a little more patient this morning. Talking about everything, will take us nowhere. Can we forget everything and start over?’ ‘Do you want me to forget that you almost called me a slut this morning?’ I felt a million needles poking my already wounded heart.

‘I never said that Jess.’ ‘But that’s what you meant.’ ‘Jess, I don’t know the right way to explain this. But this is how a guy’s mind works. May be if you had had a brother or if you had seen me behaving the same way, if I had had a sister, you would have understood. I am not saying I treat you like a sister, I don’t. You are my best friend, my life and everything I have ever had but there is no reason for this feeling not to be as pure as what I would have had for my sibling. Leave alone you sleeping with Ben; I can’t stand it even if some random guy looks at you with wrong intentions. I have experienced that pain every time you wear a pretty dress and the whole school becomes restless. I do want you to fall in love Jess. But I want to make sure you fall for the perfect guy. You were right, I am possessive and I am insecure that Ben will spoil everything that we had shared. But I am not jealous and I never was because he doesn’t have something that I want and can’t have. What I have is better than what he will ever have. I have 10 years of trust, love and understanding which I treasure more than my life and maybe that’s why I am very careful about not losing it.’ She sat still looking at me for a long time or at least that’s how it felt. She then spoke with the same expressionless face. ‘I understand all of it Eddie and I am sorry too for being unreasonably rude that night. I just wanted to you to enjoy life apart from spending time with me. I was scared that I was making you miss out on important things. You never hung out with other guys in school, took part in any game or even went to watch a movie without me. It was starting to freak me out and what had happened that night was an outburst of all that I had been bottling up for the fear of how you would react if I told you. I know that it’s hard for you to understand what’s going on between me and Ben. I know it all happened too fast. I don’t expect you to back me up but just try not to be prejudiced. Am I asking for too much?’ God she made me go crazy with that last bit. ‘No Jess, you are not. I will do my best. I promise.’ I said and hugged her. Later in the afternoon, we made lunch together and were watching ‘Remember me’ online while having it. She teased me endlessly for dating Rachael and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was around 6 when I told her that I would have to leave. She walked me to my car holding my hand and I felt like I had come back from coma after a long time. Such was life without my Jess. I couldn’t resist my temptation to irritate her while I entered my car. ‘You know what Jess? I read about Elvis Presley always having a thing for teenage girls, couldn’t help thinking about you and Ben.’ She punched my shoulder hard with all her strength. ‘Ouch, that hurt Jess.’

‘Yep, that was meant to hurt and Ben is just 22, so give your perverted mind some rest and concentrate on your studies, guitar and Rachael while I take care of my love life.’ She said with a mischievous smile. I threw a flying kiss at her direction before I turned my car to head to my place, which she caught as she winked her eyes. Chapter 10 My Boyfriend and I ‘Somebody is glowing.’ Said Ben teasingly as he entered my room. ‘Don’t worry; I am not having an affair behind your back.’ I was completely immersed in the magazine I had been reading since Eddie had left. ‘I’m not surprised at how that’s the only thing on your mind always, it’s your age. You will get past that stage.’ He spoke as though he was consoling me for having contracted a deadly disease. ‘FYI, I was talking about the “patching up with best friend” kinda glow.’ ‘Ha, you don’t even know what happened Ben.’ I flipped the page eagerly to read Josh Bernstein’s column. ‘I might not have the explicit details yet, but I sure as hell know the difference between the gloomy Jessica I had been seeing from the past few days and the one that’s sitting right in front of me now.’ He clarified as he sat on my bed. ‘Thanks to your made up emergency call from the agent Ben.’ ‘Anytime Baby, aren’t girls supposed to be reading fashion and entertainment magazines at 18? What are you doing with a travel magazine, isn’t that supposed to be the concern of people who are taking you for a vacation?’ he snatched the magazine from me to have a look at it. ‘Not if I plan on starting my own agency before I am 25.’ I snatched it back and continued from where I had left. ‘You still have seven years for that honey.’ He got up from the bed and begun to pace the room in a restless manner. ‘I don’t like to be complacent when it comes to my dreams.’ I said mockingly. ‘Hmmm, you are an expert when it comes to trapping people with their own words, aren’t you?’ he asked as he begun to examine my dressing table. ‘Well, a small correction, I am a fast learner.’ ‘Do you even use these things Jessica?’ he asked picking together at least half a dozen bottles of nail paints from the table. ‘I do, on rare occasions.’

‘Well, then lets make it a rare occasion.’ He resumed his pose in front of me and took one of my feet and placed it on his lap. ‘Yew... Ben, what the hell is wrong with you?’ I asked retreating my foot from his hold. ‘Jessica, just read the damn magazine and let me do my job.’ He ordered and took back my foot in his lap again. I was totally unprepared for something like this. Considering the fact that as far as I recall, I have never even asked my mom to paint my foot nails, I felt awkward. But knowing Ben, protesting would only make things worse, so I decided I might as well get done with it. I felt the chillness of the liquid spread through my nails. I carefully avoided looking at Ben or even at my own foot and instead continued to read. But my mind couldn’t comprehend the meaning of the words I saw. ‘I don’t remember asking you to remain silent.’ His hold tightened on my foot and I cringed a bit. ‘I am reading this really interesting column by Josh Bernstein.’ ‘The Into the Unknown guy?’ ‘Yep, the same.’ ‘Do you wanna meet him?’ he sounded very casual and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘Gosh, are you friends with him?’ I now closed the magazine and placed it next to me, eagerly waiting for Ben to answer. ‘Don’t we all belong to the same industry? Duh!’ He continued to paint my nail with beautiful designs and color combinations. I was astounded at the expertise with which his hand was moving. There was not even a single flawed stroke. ‘Looks like someone has had a lot of experience with nail art.’ My eyes were carefully following his movements. ‘Hmmm… My ex was a model, remember?’ I marveled at how calmly he spoke without letting his concentration wander from the intricate task he was involved in. ‘Yeah how could I forget that? You guys were the constant target of the media.’ ‘Do you mind changing the subject? Natasha is the last person I wanna think about while I am having a kinda moment with my beautiful girlfriend.’ ‘Okay stop freaking me out Ben, Kinda moment I believe.’ ‘Don’t shrug silly.’ ‘I am done with this one.’ He said about 2 minutes later, now carefully placing my right foot on the bed and taking my left in his hold.

How come you never dated anyone before? No one up to your mark?’ he questioned as he started with the first coat. ‘On the contrary, I always thought I wasn’t up to their mark. Never had the nerve to approach any guy.’ ‘Their mark? You are talking in plurals? This is interesting. How many of them?’ ‘Well I don’t keep track of the guys I hopelessly gape at, but you could say roughly at least 4.’ ‘And none among them asked you out?’ ‘Well, I doubt if they even knew I existed. A couple of guys from my class did drop few hints but Eddie scared me to death with their histories so I stayed away.’ Ben stopped painting my nail for a few seconds to take a laughter break. ‘That guy has really got your back.’ He now begun with the designs. ‘Yeah, I like that, although sometimes the whole possessiveness issue gets to my nerve.’ ‘I was always under an impression, girls enjoyed their best friends or boyfriends being possessive about them. You turn out to be weird in this issue as well.’ ‘When someone is sure of their position in your life, what’s the need to be possessive? I trust Eddie and I know no one can replace me in his life. So I don’t care whether he dates a single girl or a dozen of them. Am I not right?’ He remained silent as though he hadn’t heard my words at all, so I rephrased the sentence, in an attempt to know his take on the issue. ‘Do you think possessiveness is an important aspect in any relationship?’ ‘Wrong question to wrong person Jessica, I haven’t owned anything precious like you guys to know how it feels.’ I wanted hit my head hard for getting Ben upset, while we were having a nice time. ‘Here we are done.’ He beamed as he placed my left foot close to my right and shot an admiring look at his own art. ‘Its fabulous, am I allowed to flaunt it?’ ‘Sure why not? But I prefer keeping the explicit details between us.’ He winked his eye and placed the bottles back on the table. ‘Can I tell Eddie?’ ‘Do you have to ask?’ ‘Hey Ben, toe nails are done, what about these?’ I asked childishly as I raised both my hands to show him.

He nodded his head in surprise with a smile and got back to the bed with the bottles. It was done quicker this time. We ordered dinner around 9 and had a heated argument about Hugh Jackman’s and Tom cruise’s choice of movies while we ate. The week passed quietly without any sign of turbulence. My parents were back from the trip, successfully completing the formalities for the deal. I knew no bounds to the happiness I was experiencing, especially since school life was nearing its end. Eddie had developed a tolerable attitude towards Ben. I appreciated the way he resisted his temptation on passing offensive remarks about my love life. Ben on the other hand was busy traveling from one city to another for his films. Although we kept in touch through constant texting and phone calls, I had to admit that I missed his presence by my side, especially, his twisted sense of humor. During the one week we had stayed together, the intensity of the lust I had developed for Ben started to weaken. However, there was no sign of it disappearing completely. The true feelings I had for Ben came as a package with the lust factor and enjoying them wasn’t a difficult art to master. Not when he looked so dashing effortlessly. I waited impatiently for his return. I had so many insignificant tales to recount and so many significant ones to listen to. Every passing moment of the day, every ticking hour of clock had the memories of the past week engraved in them. With my heart drenched by such warm feelings I drifted to sleep hoping to meet my prince charming in my dreams again. CHAPTER 11 Intimacy Issues Someone had said, “Sometimes Good things happen in a really messed up way.” It sounded appropriate to the changes my life had witnessed in the past two months. My initial frustration over Jess dating Ben had begun to vaporize gradually, not that I approved of Ben now, but I had developed more tolerance towards him. I never believed people when they spoke of life changing moments until I experienced it myself. ‘I understand all of it Eddie and I am sorry too for being unreasonably rude that night’ these words constantly echoed in my mind. I kept wondering for days how someone could so utterly understand. Her unreserved honesty and clarity of thought had me spellbound. One of the many things I loved about Jess, she was never blinded to her own mistakes. She indeed made me realize that her intentions were to make me aware of the important aspects of life I was missing out on. For the past 10 years, my world had been revolving around a single person and that thought is definitely bound to scare anyone. Until that day I had never given much thought to what I wanted in life or who I wanted to become. Jess gave me a reason to change. I begun to sense the desperate need to emerge as a person she had always been dreaming to see. I didn’t want to change just for her happiness, but I wanted to feel worthy of all happiness life had bestowed upon me. My initial plan was to take up a random subject to attend Dominic’s with Jess, graduate and take care of my father’s business. All that used to matter was being around Jess. The plan remained fairly unaltered but now I had clear cut goals to work towards. After giving a reasonably decent performance at the fest, I felt a burning desire to enhance my knowledge in music. Hence, I decided to take private music classes while at Dominic’s. As for my core subject, I had to major in finance to join my father’s firm.

While constructive changes were taking place with respect to my professional life, something that astounded us both regarding my personal life was the strong bond that I shared with Rachael. She turned out to be more understanding, trustworthy and loving than I had imagined in my wildest dreams. Another pleasant surprise was my friendship with Vanessa. She had shown unflinching support since the day she had dressed my bleeding hand with concern. We had much more in common than we both had expected. Now my time was equally shared between the three girls and my passion for music. Jess seemed totally unaffected by my ever growing fondness for Vanessa. But I wasn’t complacent either; I was always on guard for no one knows when that sleeping volcano would erupt. As for Ben, his relationship with Jess had been quite smooth and steady. There was not even a single sign of disturbance. They argued every other day on some issue on which their thoughts completely differed. Yet it was only an attempt to arrive at the right conclusion. After what would seem like a battle of two deadly enemies, they would casually laugh about something as though the previous moments of revolt didn’t occur at all. Their fights never lasted more than half hour. What I found abnormal was the absence of fake break ups that every couple goes through. My only explanation to this: They had known each other only for a very short span of time. I was somehow hoping that as months pass, she would realize their conflicting natures and the complications involved. I could never imagine Ben as the perfect guy for Jess and vice versa. Although I did appreciate the ease with which they adopted to each other’s lifestyle. I didn’t know much to comment about Ben in this regard, but as for Jess, she had always been a terrific learner. She never hesitated to be an active part of his social life. Be it a movie premiere, press release, private party or a T.V. show, If Ben needed her by his side, she never gave it a second thought. She did enjoy being on spotlight but the sudden rise to fame and media attention hadn’t changed a thing about her. When she was with me, she always remained the 5 year old Jess I had met. I couldn’t see her any other way. I needed to relax my mind that had just gone through an intensive thought process. I picked up my I-pod and browsed through my collection to choose a song that would calm my senses. As I planned to settle for Ronan Keating’s ‘When you say nothing at all’, I heard a knock at my door. ‘Come in.’ Jess entered with a bright smile. It wasn’t just her lips that widened beautifully but her eyes smiled as well. I always loved the way her hair looked just after it had been washed, just like now. She wore a black altar neck top that matched the color of her eyes. ‘Since when did you start knocking? I asked as she sat next to me on the bed. ‘Since you stopped caring about keeping your make out sessions with Rachael private.’ She took the I-pod from my hand, coiled the headphones over its body and placed it on the side table. ‘I would have been smart enough to lock my room Jess.’ ‘Who knows what haste you guys might be in?’ ‘Experience speaks.’

‘Absolutely Eddie, the experience of hearing from people who watch you kiss every square inch of her neck at school.’ ‘I give up.’ I raised both my hands in surrender. ‘I was thinking since the weather is nice, why don’t we go for boating?’ I pushed the curtains to look at the cloudy sky. ‘Jess, its gonna be pouring in while. Are you sure you wanna go to the lake?’ ‘I wanna go boating, right now! You coming or what?’ ‘Alright, give me five minutes to change.’ I picked up the legendary shirt that had brought us back together and wore it on top of my t-shirt. ‘Let’s go, Jess.’ ‘You look damn good in that shirt you know.’ ‘Thanks Jess.’ After picking up her Jacket from her place, we drove to the lake. The place looked deserted. Usually it was filled with people of all ages, some of them boating, some fishing, and some jogging while some just sat on the stone benches lost in deep thoughts. We walked to the counter, paid for the boat ride and selected a small pedaling type one that involved minimum effort on our part to operate. It always took about a couple of minutes for Jess to settle comfortably inside the boat. Till then it was my habit to remain silent. ‘Are you feeling bad about school getting over in a week?’ she broke the silence. ‘Nope. We are gonna be attending college together, what difference does it make?’ ‘Won’t you miss Rachael and Vanessa?’ ‘Not if they follow our trail.’ ‘Well that’s a news to me, Vanessa doesn’t tell me anything these days.’ ‘Poor soul, don’t blame her, you are either busy with Ben or me, you guys hardly talk.’ ‘Someone is getting all defensive about precious Vaness.’ She teased as she hit my shoulder with hers. ‘So Eddie, how does it work? Handling two girl friends at the same time?’ I knew she wasn’t going to give it a rest. ‘Oh slight correction Jess, 3 girlfriends; you are leaving out the most important one.’ I said as I circled my hand around her waist. ‘Oh don’t you start that awful habit of yours again.’ She complained and moved away to sit in front of me and I couldn’t help laughing.

‘So what plans for holidays?’ she started with her questions again. ‘I was thinking of us going for a small trip to Florida. What say?’ ‘By Us you mean…?’ ‘You and me Jess.’ ‘No Vanessa? No Rachael?’ ‘Yes and no constant texts and calls from Ben.’ I made my terms clear since I wanted her just for myself. ‘That’s difficult but I guess I can manage, I am in. But let’s do it a couple of weeks before leaving to Dominic’s alright?’ ‘Any particular reason?’ ‘Yep. Ben has booked me from the day school gets over till couple of weeks before college starts.’ ‘Nice. So what are the love birds up to?’ ‘Just the usual, reading his scripts, arguing, being socially active, etc but it’s gonna be his place instead of mine.’ ‘Why don’t you move in with him for these 3 months? Will save him the trouble of being your part time driver.’ ‘Well that’s the plan.’ ‘What? Are you serious? You’re moving in with him? When did he ask you to?’ I didn’t have the faintest idea that my joke would turn out to be the truth I had always feared. ‘We decided about a month ago.’ ‘What about your parents?’ ‘Dad was a bit hesitant but Mom convinced him. After all who could understand young love better than people who eloped at the age of 20?’ she winked her eyes as she splashed some water on me. It took me some time to recover from the impact of the shock she had imposed on me. She understood it too and hence diverted her attention towards the flock of birds that were now flying above forming a nice pattern. ‘Aren’t you scared?’ I asked after cautiously trying out various combinations of questions in my head to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding. ‘About being so close to Ben? Yes a little. New place, new people and even Ben is going to seem a little different for while till I get adjusted, but I am sure he will try and make things simple for me.’ She answered with confidence.

‘Why do you trust him, Jess? I genuinely wanted to know and it looked like she understood that too. ‘Well, when I look into his eyes, there is never a tinge of pretense or remorse in them. He never fears to be blunt about his opinions. He never lies to make me feel better. With him, whether I like it or not, I always have to come to terms with hard truth. We differ in a million aspects but he has never once asked me to change for his sake. So, trusting him becomes very easy. Still not very easy for you to understand, right?’ ‘Yep, you are right Jess. Won’t you miss him? After joining college? Have you guys spoken about it?’ ‘Yeah, Kinda, we decided to be good friends once I leave for college, cos things are gonna get hectic for both of us and it wouldn’t be possible to meet often. If in spite of the growing distance, our feelings grow stronger, we will do all it takes to make things work.’ She sounded totally calm when she explained her future plans with Ben. There was no trace of pain in her voice when she said the words ‘growing distance’. Once again she had surprised me with her level of maturity. It started to drizzle. We wrapped up our boating session and decided to enjoy the blissful scenery. We sat at the stone bench holding hands. After a while, Jess leaned on my shoulder and closed her eyes. We sat in silence for an immeasurable length of time. The sound of the rain and winds grew louder but we remained unaffected by it. I suddenly felt her phone vibrate inside my pocket. I pulled it out very slowly not wanting to disturb her. Ben was calling; I canceled the call, switched it off and put it back into my pocket. We were in no mood to leave yet. I wanted to prolong this moment and if possible forever. Ben’s car appeared out of nowhere in a while, but I didn’t care to make her aware of it. He looked at us as he drove, smiled and took off without making much noise with his engine. I then put my hand around her shoulder and held her close to my chest. There was no need for words to convey that we were celebrating the end of one phase of our friendship or rather the beginning of the next. I gently kissed her forehead and she smiled in acceptance. Chapter 12 Intimate Friendship Leaving family apart, is there anything in the world better than having someone in life you can always count on? Someone, you know will always love you for what you are, someone who will never misuse your trust. Money, fame and success did matter but would that all make sense if there was no one to share it with? I asked myself these questions while I was lost in a warm embrace with Eddie. We had come to spend sometime in the lake but somehow had lost the sense of time. I had always heard people say that there is only a thin line between friendship and love, may be they are true but in my case what I have for Eddie is too strong that it cannot be altered into anything else. The weather was getting erratic by the minute, we were drenched from head to toe and the winds were making us shiver but I wasn’t ready to leave yet. His hand slowly moved from my shoulder to my waist turning me towards him for a closer embrace, I complied without hesitation. My hands were caught in between us in an inconvenient manner so I wrapped

them around his neck. I had never been this close to a guy, but it didn’t feel awkward, instead it felt like I had done this a million times before. Eddie and I had spent hours together talking, listening to music and doing other random stuff and this didn’t feel any different, only it was more divine, ecstatic and meaningful. I felt as though I was outside my own body watching us and yet enjoying the intimacy simultaneously. At that moment, nothing mattered. My future, my goals, Ben nothing but only the fact that I was with Eddie and I didn’t want anything else right then. I couldn’t think past the moment. It felt as though our minds were connecting too because after a few minutes our holds slackened at the same time. I held his shirt with both my hands and looked up to meet his eyes; I saw in them the reflection of what I had been experiencing the whole time. He gently brushed his nose against mine and said with a smile, ‘let’s never do this again, it’s too much to take, I almost died out of happiness.’ On the contrary I had felt like I was living the first second of my life. ‘Fine by me, but you should tell it to your stupid brain which started it first.’ I now walked towards his car trying to hide my smile. ‘Yeah right! I started it by forcing you to lean on my shoulder didn’t I?’ he retaliated. ‘Come on! I do that all the time, you were the one behaving oddly.’ ‘And I am sure my odd behavior had gotten you so upset that you got even closer to me.’ ‘I just didn’t want to be a spoil sport; you were enjoying it too much.’ ‘And you weren’t liking it a bit right?’ He now blocked my way to get to the car. ‘Eddie, it’s almost 8, are you gonna get me home or what?’ I tried to sound serious and he instantly fell for it. Once inside the car, he took my phone from his pocket, switched it on and handed it to me without a word. I dialed Ben’s number and he picked up even before the first ring ended. ‘Hey honey, I was at the lake with Eddie, just switched on my phone, had you called in between?’ ‘Nope, I reached your place an hour back and your mom said you were with Eddie. She has planned a surprise dinner for all of us, so you guys get home soon.’ ‘Alright, see ya soon!’ I hung up the phone and looked at Eddie who was now driving, his face fogged with confusion and irritation. ‘Drive to your place, you need to change. Mom has planned a surprise dinner for us.’ He changed the direction and drove towards his place in silence. ‘What? Now you are not talking to me again?’ ‘Let’s just say I am making my stupid brain understand a few important things.’

‘Good for you.’ I turned my face and looked outside the window humming the tune of his favorite song. We had a brief conversation with his parents and proceeded to his room. He removed his shirt, threw it on the bed, picked up a pair of jeans and disappeared into the bathroom. I rummaged his wardrobe, picked up a towel and dried my hair. I handed him a chocolate brown T-shirt which he tossed on the bed and chose a grey one. When we reached my place, Ben was helping mom set the table and dad was watching BBC. Eddie took the seat next to my dad and they begun with their usual father-son conversations. I smiled at Ben and left to my room. When I came down, I walked towards Ben and put my arms around him and said loud enough for Eddie to hear. ‘How was your weekend? Missed you so much.’ ‘Work was good. Missed you too.’ He then bent closer to my ears and whispered ‘Be careful Jessica, your dress might catch fire; Eddie’s eyes are emanating sparks of jealousy.’ ‘Tell me about it.’ I gave a gentle punch on his chest and we walked to the dining table. Dinner started at quarter to 9. The smell of broccoli soup, mashed potatoes and lasagna were quite inviting. But I was too happy even to eat. All I could think was the lake and myself in Eddie’s arms. ‘Mom I am too full, I will just share from Ben’s plate. You don’t mind, do you?’ ‘Ofcourse not.’ He said and fed me a spoon. ‘What did you guys have?’ my mom and dad questioned at the same time. Eddie looked at me suspiciously and I answered before anyone noticed it ‘Your beloved son was so excited about boating after a long time to eat anything. I was starving to death and finished an entire packet of almond cookies.’ I lied coolly. ‘Hmm... The soup is yummy, don’t you think a pinch of spice would make it more perfect Eddie?’ everyone knew how much he loved broccoli soup. ‘Its perfect Jess, too much spice always spoils the taste.’ He said casually and took another spoon of it. We spoke about Ben’s future projects, dad’s business, Eddie’s music lessons and much more throughout the dinner. Eddie avoided talking to me as much as possible. After dinner, when he said he had to leave, I told my mom I would walk him to his car and followed him. ‘You don’t have to do this, I can go by myself.’ ‘Don’t flatter yourself; my jacket is at the backseat.’ His anger heightened further and it was evident in the way he loudly shut the car door after he got in. I entered the car, picked up my jacket and put my hands around his neck from behind.

‘If you are done teaching lessons to your brain, tell it not to fall for Jess’ stupid pranks.’ I kissed his cheek and he closed his eyes. ‘You said you had almost died Eddie, whereas I felt like I was reborn.’ I continued. ‘Beauty of certain moments lies in the dearth of its verbal expression, what’s the whole point of having Eddie in life when you can’t understand things looking at my eyes?’ I said as I got outside. I saw him bend over the steering wheel with a deep sigh of relief and then he took off without another look at me. When I got back in, my mom said Ben was waiting for me in my room. ‘One of these days you have to stop torturing that guy. So much for putting up with you.’ He said as soon as I entered. ‘There is no use of having a best friend if you don’t get to give frequent dosage of meaningless tortures.’ ‘Well, it’s too complex for me to grasp, let’s leave it at that.’ ‘How come you haven’t commented anything about my glow yet?’ I smiled mischievously and lounged next to Ben. ‘Perhaps I am not sure if I want to know about the pinch of spice you added, that made him lose the taste for life.’ ‘Okay Genius, you win, I lose.’ He turned towards me resting his head on his palm, supported by his elbow. I was waiting for him to ask something but all he did was just look at me. It wasn’t the ‘I am trying to figure out what’s going on in your mind’ kind of look, it was rather ‘I don’t care what you had been up to but I am happy now you are with me’ kinda look. If it had been before 2 months I wouldn’t have said anything, but now we had become too close for me to keep my thoughts to myself. ‘Yeah I am happy too that you are here. I did really miss you.’ I said with a smile. ‘Are you still freaked out about moving in with me?’ he asked as he moved a strand of hair away from my face. ‘More than I care to admit.’ ‘But I am not giving you a choice here, do you understand?’ ‘I don’t want a choice Ben.’ ‘Let’s go shopping tomorrow.’ ‘What for?’ ‘I don’t want you to disturb anything from this room. Let it be as it is. Don’t move a thing.’ ‘Are you insane Ben? Why are you bent on wasting so much money?’

‘We are not arguing about this. We are going tomorrow and that’s it. I will take all the stuff to my place and get them arranged.’ ‘Fine. Who doesn’t love shopping? I was just considering being a wise spender for once but now that you have rekindled my shopaholic instincts, I am gonna shop till you get on your knees and beg me to stop.’ ‘Oh you would love watching that won’t you?’ ‘Love is an understatement. I would give anything to see you beg me. It’s my alma mater. I will capture that moment and replay it for both of us for the entire life.’ ‘Looks like your cruel instincts are on fire today.’ ‘You bet. By the way Eddie and I have planned to take a mini vacation to Florida before joining college.’ ‘I pity that guy.’ He sounded like he meant it. ‘Pity yourself Ben.’ ‘In two months I have learnt to handle you well dear, but being with you for 10 years, he hasn’t learned a thing yet. May be I should enlighten him on this subject.’ ‘Yes you should, if you have a death wish.’ ‘Wouldn’t that be even more gratifying to watch?’ ‘No doubt about that.’ I agreed and checked my phone for any texts from Eddie. ‘Looks like someone is getting edgy to talk to Eddie. So I will leave you guys to your privacy.’ ‘You are the best.’ I said as he bent down to kiss my forehead. ‘Good night Jessica.’ And then he was gone. Later that night I received a text from Eddie saying ‘I will get back to you for this one.’ ‘Don’t talk about things you are utterly incapable of.’ We had continued texting till 2 in the morning after which I had the most wonderful sleep of my life. Chapter 13 “Change alone is eternal, perpetual, and immortal” Arthur Schopenhauer’s words reflected in my mind. The day I had feared the most had come. Although, I was looking forward to move in with Ben, some unknown fear had engulfed me. The way things had gone for the past few days, it didn’t seem at all like I was moving in with him for two and half months. Convincing my parents was not a Herculean task, I thanked god for such broad minded parents. Eddie wasn’t convinced, yet there was nothing he could do about it. I had expected to bring with me at least one suitcase of my belongings, but Ben had refused point blank. All I had to do was get dressed and get inside the car with him after biding goodbye to my folks. May be he had done it to make the transition easier for me. I looked at his face from the corner of my eyes. He looked calm; there was no

sign of happiness, or anxiety. Was he not scared even a bit? Or was he an expert at hiding his emotions? I had absolutely no clue. I had known this man for barely 2 months, but he had earned my trust in this very short time. ‘Scared?’ he asked sensing my emotions through the unusual silence that prevailed between us. ‘Nope’ I lied not wanting to express my weakness. ‘Why are you silent?’ ‘Missing them already’ ‘You will get used to it and you have to get used to it. Dominic’s is farther than my place.’ ‘Thanks for the encouraging words Ben.’ ‘Come on Jessica, I am just saying the truth and you want to start fighting already?’ he asked raising one of his eyebrows. ‘Okay tell me about your place at least now.’ ‘You will see it yourself in a while.’ ‘Some hint, apartment, duplex, condo, villa what’s it?’ His lips widened into a mysterious smile and he continued to drive without bothering to answer. ‘Ben, I hate that smile, where are you taking me?’ ‘Chill Babes, I am not kidnapping you out of the city.’ I knew there was no use arguing with Ben when he wanted it to be a surprise. I switched the radio station and listened to my favorite host Andrew Carson. The car came to a halt in front of the 21 storey building engraved with the words ‘Hotel Warwick Internationals’. ‘Ben, don’t tell me you stay at a suite in Warwick.’ ‘Can you ask your crazy mind to rest for a while?’ ‘Come with me.’ He said as he got down from the car, handing the key to a man that immediately approached us. He then gestured me to take his hand and I had no choice but to obey. I was too confused even to notice the beauty of the building. We entered the lift and the operator pressed 21 as he greeted Ben. As we departed the lift, I saw about 10 people standing in front of a black door, smiling at us. ‘Welcome home.’ they all said in unison as we approached them. ‘Thank you.’ I replied with a smile. I had always imagined Ben an aloof person. So many people taking part in his happiness was a shocking idea.

A fat lady who looked like an African took my hands from Ben and led me into the house or rather suite, I was still undecided. ‘Have your seat Ms Evans; I will get you something to drink. You are fond of teas I have heard, which one you would prefer?’ she asked as we entered the living room. ‘Well, I have not been introduced.’ I said with a hesitation, pausing at each word. Ben to my relief came to my rescue. ‘She is Mrs. Baina, my chief cook.’ He said putting his hand around her shoulders. He then introduced me to the 2 assistant cooks, Jennifer and Mike, Mark, his driver and rest of the maids whose names I couldn’t keep track of. ‘We will have your specialty Mrs. Baina.’ He said and took a seat. I sat next to him without saying a word. The room was spacious and well lit by natural light. To my right were huge glass windows that unveiled the sight of the entire city. The ivory & red contrast of the paints rendered a classic look but the furniture and paintings on the wall brought in a touch of modernity. He switched on the wall mount television, tuning into one of my favorite shows, but my concentration couldn’t wander from the sight of the city that was seen through another pair of windows next to the television. Jennifer placed two glasses of what looked like peach tea on the table in front of us and left us to Mrs. Baina. I took a sip from it and realized why he had called it her specialty. ‘This is the best of this kind I have ever had Mrs. Baina.’ I was at loss of words to complement her. ‘I do what I can. I am glad you like it Ms. Evans. What will you have for lunch?’ ‘I don’t eat meat. So any other specialty of yours will do.’ I tried to keep the words as simple as possible. ‘Sure Ms. Evans, now I will leave you two to your privacy.’ She said and disappeared. ‘Are you going to show me the rest of the penthouse or what?’ I questioned Ben who was now enjoying his glass of tea. ‘At your service Ms Evans.’ He said and took my hand. ‘What do you want to see first?’ ‘My room?’ ‘You mean our room?’ ‘Well yeah.’ His words sent a tinge of fear through my mind. The same unknown, inexplicable fear. ‘This is one of our bedrooms, the smaller.’ led me into a room that was at least twice as big as mine. The walls had a light brown wood finish and the purple furniture and cupboards rendered a

perfect contrast. I walked towards the bed and sat at its edge, slightly touching the soft material that covered it. There was an LCD wall mount on the wall opposite to the bed. A lamp almost as tall as me, stood near the foot of the bed. ‘Do you like it?’ ‘Its okay, not up to my expectation though.’ I tried to hide the giggle in my voice. ‘Then you might like the next bedroom. Come on!’ ‘Oh shut up Ben, it’s beautiful.’ I walked to the door that was next to the entry door, guessing it would be a balcony, but it turned out to be the bath. I have never seen such a luxurious bath in my life before. Not even in movies. But what alarmed me more than its amenities was how everything in it wasn’t single, except the bath tub. It was a couple’s bathroom. Although I had complete trust in Ben, the sight didn’t fail to increase my nervousness. ‘Looks like someone has got this one designed with a purpose.’ I shot a suspicious look at him. ‘You can’t expect an actor to lead a socially inactive life, can you?’ ‘You turn out to be more social than I thought.’ I said as I sat in front of him in a chair. ‘Does it matter now?’ he asked as he took my hands in his. ‘Not a bit.’ I assured him. ‘Come on; let’s get to the interesting part.’ He dragged me by my wrist and led me to another room that looked like an entertainment room. It had a single bed with a lamp on its side opposite to which stood a cabinet that held the television and at least 50 books. ‘This is where you read and watch movies?’ ‘This is where you will read, watch movies and whatever that is you want to do. It’s the guest room that I converted to your room. The books, there are few of your favorites and the rest are the ones you have never read.’ ‘Ben you need not have done this. Why do I need a room?’ ‘Well let’s see, I am not expecting any guests for these two months, so it wouldn’t hurt for you to use it. What if Eddie visits? Would you want to hang out with him in our bedroom? What if you and I have a huge fight? Don’t you need a room to retreat till I apologize?’ ‘You think too much.’ I said and started to browse through the collection of books. ‘Kettle calling pot black.’ ‘Whatever Ben.’ I ignored and continued to browse the books and DVDs. ‘Looks like you are gonna to spend more time with these books than your boyfriend. I thought you wanted to take a tour of the entire house.’

I had lost the track of time browsing through this never ending collection of books and movies. I was sure that I would never get bored here. I turned to look at Ben who was now lying on the bed, his palms intertwined behind his head for support. ‘I want to but can I look at the books for 5 more minutes please?’ I asked like a baby begging for an extra candy as I stood close to his bed. ‘Absolutely not’. He pulled me closer to lie next to him and I panicked, accidentally landing on top of him. Both his hands closed around my waist to prevent me from falling off the bed. My heart beats raised and I was sure he could hear them thumping. I was embarrassed by the thought. We neither said anything nor looked at each other for a second. He then slowly released the grip and I settled next to him. ‘I am sorry, didn’t expect you would panic’ he apologized staring at the ceiling. ‘No problemo.’ I pretended as though it was no big deal at all. ‘That’s your wardrobe. Your clothes, accessories and cosmetics are all in place.’ ‘Thanks Ben, I am overwhelmed by your treatment.’ ‘We are dealing with Jessica Evans after all.’ I frowned and stood up gesturing him to show me the rest of the rooms. We entered the master bedroom that was on the west side of the penthouse. The walls were painted in black and white delivering a contemporary look. Hung above the bed was a modern art which I failed to decipher even after looking at it for more than five minutes. The sun light penetrating through the two large windows and the plant placed adjacent to the bed brought a fresh touch to the ambience. I suddenly realized that Ben was silent since we entered the room and searched for him. He had disappeared. ‘Ben?’ ‘Yes?’ came his voice from my right. I looked closer in the direction and realized that he was sitting on a chair facing the window slightly slouched. The white chair looked like a half broken egg also resembling a Vodafone zoozoo. ‘You like?’ ‘Are you kidding me Ben? I love and I adore. I have a question though.’ ‘Shoot’ ‘Why do I feel like entering a different house every time I enter each room?’ ‘Cos that’s the way it’s indented to be. Wouldn’t it be boring to stay at the same house for months together?’

‘Well, in that case I am surprised how you manage with just 5 or 6 different houses.’ ‘That’s why I keep changing the interiors every now and then. Had you visited last month, it would’ve looked entirely different.’ ‘You are crazy Ben.’ ‘Yep if crazy equals innovative thinking.’ ‘Next room please, before you start with your self boasting talks.’ ‘Oh come on I never do that.’ ‘Humor me! That’s the only thing you do most of the times.’ We continued to argue until I was awestruck by the simple yet striking look of his office. The walls were painted in white and with matching working desk, chairs, flower vase, photo stand, cup-boards and racks. Placed in the racks next to the desk were a camera, few photo frames with some paintings, and a few other novelties that looked like they had been gifted. They all had been bordered in black matching Ben’s chair. The wall opposite to the rack had a 29 inch wall mount television. I suddenly thought that a laptop was missing in this room and then laughed at my stupidity for not thinking of Ben’s palmtop. ‘Simple yet trendy. So this is where you break your head with all your producers and directors huh?’ ‘Correction. This is where they break their heads with me.’ ‘Wow, being with me has started to cure your blindness to your faults Ben.’ I said exploring the rack that was stacked up with Ben’s awards. ‘Had to learn Jessica. If both us remain blinded to our own faults our relationship might suffer, so I decided to change for our sake.’ He said with the evil smile that I had gotten used to. After the sumptuous meal I found Mrs. Baina and appreciated her with all adjectives I could remember. I also insisted her on teaching me the art. ‘Well, you say I am good Ms Evans but Ben couldn’t stop talking about your mom’s Broccoli soup. How did she make it spicy?’ she asked in a curious tone. ‘Its Spanish version Mrs. Baina and I will get you the recipe if you promise to teach me your skills.’ ‘It would be my pleasure to teach you my dear. Might come handy in future.’ She teased now looking at Ben. ‘Thanks. Let’s get started from dinner and please call me Jessica if you don’t wish to alienate me.’ ‘I don’t mind calling you Jessica dear, as for your other wish you will have to wait till tomorrow. We work only from morning 8 to evening 8. Mr. Cerratos insists on making his own dinner.’

‘Oh I didn’t know that. How good a cook is Ben? I hope I don’t get food poisoned tonight.’ ‘Don’t worry about that honey, I have had some training under Mrs. Expert and you will see the results tonight. Now why don’t we relax for sometime while Mrs. Baina and the others have their lunch?’ Ben said now standing next to me, holding my hand. ‘Sure, then see you in the evening Mrs. Baina.’ ‘Yes dear.’ She said and left the living room. ‘Shall we?’ Ben asked almost getting up from the sofa. I raised my eyebrow in confusion. ‘Don’t you want to enjoy a siesta?’ ‘Oh yeah, I am pretty full even to walk.’ I said and took his hands following him to the master bedroom. I didn’t realize where I was when I woke up after what seemed like a couple of hours. I couldn’t see the skies as Ben had brought down the blinds before sleeping. I reached for the switch and toggled it on. It was quarter past eight; I hurried to the bath for a quick shower. I expected Ben to be in the living room watching or playing something but instead he was busy in the kitchen. I stood at the door silently watching him cook with an air of expertise. He wore a pair of quicksilver lean cut cargo shorts with a white waist length shirt that exposed his body enough to revive my subdued desire. ‘Hey sleeping beauty’ his voice brought me back from a short-lived fantasy. ‘Hey! Why didn’t you wake me up? I wanted to help you with dinner.’ He took a spoon of soup from the ladle to have a taste. ‘You have about 60 days and some more to that Jessica. Ready to eat?’ he asked now turning towards me. ‘Hell no, I still haven’t digested Mrs. Baina’s lunch.’ ‘Then tell me when you are ready. Come on lets go.’ He said and started to walk towards the main door. ‘Where are you going?’ there was no answer from him. He pulled the keys from a hanger and waited for me to exit. ‘Tell me now; else I am going to sleep again.’ I insisted. His hand stretched to reach for my wrist and pulled me outside the door in one swift movement. ‘Ben, I hate you.’

‘Me too.’ He locked the door and walked towards one end of the corridor pulling me along. He pressed the code on the digital combination lock embedded on the wall and the door to the terrace opened unveiling the sight of a swimming pool. He removed his foot wears and walked towards the pool. He sat, with his hands behind his back, palms pressed to the floor and legs dipped into the water. I took a walk around the pool enjoying the breeze, starlit sky, and more than anything the view of the city lights from such a high altitude. The silence between us aroused my inexplicable fears again. I stood facing the city lights wondering if he was experiencing something similar. But his behavior till date showed no signs of want for a physical intimacy. As far as I could see, he was only trying to know me better. If my assumptions were true, it would make my 2 month’s stay less complicated, if not… I didn’t even want to consider that possibility. Although there was nothing wrong about the desire growing within me, I was scared that if expressed, the consequences might complicate things between us. Especially because of the separation that would befall us at the end of 2 months. I walked towards the pool and sat next to him keeping a safe distance. ‘I love the breeze.’ I broke the silence in an attempt to strike a conversation. It always helped when he talked. ‘Then you should enjoy it completely.’ He inched closer to me removing the clip off my hair. ‘Let it sweep your hair, you will feel more wonderful’ he said and placed the clip in my palm. ‘You look different.’ He said moving his legs inside the water and making lot of ripples. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Usually you are either happy, sad, angry, frustrated or simply at peace. But today its nothing or I dunno if it’s a mix of everything. Are you alright?’ ‘It takes a while getting used to a new place. I have never stayed anywhere besides Eddie’s place for 18 years. So this is sorta weird. But I am enjoying myself. I love the house, I love its ambience, I love the way you have taken care of every little detail for my stay, I love Mrs. Baina and……’ I paused before letting the words slip and there was no way Ben hadn’t noticed it. ‘And….?’ He asked with a teasing smile. ‘And I love the fact that I am going to have a wonderful time here.’ I bit my lips and looked away from him to hide my embarrassment. ‘Its getting colder, don’t you want to go back in?’ he asked after about an hour of silent star gazing. ‘No I like it here.’ ‘Well then excuse me for a few minutes.’ He said and went out of the door. After a few minutes two people entered carrying two chairs and a small table. The table was set with a candle in between. When we sat to have dinner, I put out the candle. ‘The moonlight seems enough, do you mind?’ I asked looking at his perplexed face.

‘Nope, not when it’s so close’ this time his eyes twinkled when he smiled and melted my heart in the light they radiated. Chapter 14 Part I – Stranger in the Mirror I woke up feeling quite uneasy. I was having a peaceful sleep and I felt Ben turn in the bed, his gentle movement was successful in putting an end to my peace. He hadn’t realized I was awake. He removed his shirt placed it on the bed and begun to do pushups for a couple of minutes. “What a beautiful sight to wake up to” I thought to myself. He rose from the floor, took the glass that was on the side table, filled it with water and swallowed it in a gulp. He then started to pace the room in a restless manner. ‘Why are you so restless in the morning? Nice body by the way’ I had no clue what made me say that but I knew I shouldn’t have commented on his bare body. ‘Oh you are awake? Sorry I didn’t know.’ He picked up the shirt and wore it. ‘Come on Ben not like I haven’t seen you shirtless before’ what the hell had gotten into me, I had no clue what so ever. I felt as though some spirit had entered my body and was controlling my speech. ‘Movies are different.’ He paused for a while and that evil smile sought his lips. ‘Well if you are so fond of it I don’t mind’ he started to unbutton his shirt and got closer to me. I wasn’t going to let him get to me this time. The new spirit inside, dictated me to play along. I got closer and started to help him unbutton his shirt. ‘God you are unbelievable, I give up’ he moved away. I threw fits of laughter and he kept staring at me as though he wanted to say something. ‘You didn’t answer my question Ben, what are you so nervous about early in the morning?’ ‘It’s the first day of shoot at Finding You, remember?’ ‘Yeah I do, So you are gonna talk to him about the script Ben?’ ‘What about the script?’ ‘Ben, how could you forget? We talked about it the whole week since I came here. About staying true to the original script?’ ‘ Oh that, should I start it the first day of the shoot Jessica?’ ‘Ofcourse you should. Isn’t it better to make your stands clear before you begin work?’ ‘Well I dunno, Don’t you know that Willis is ready to do this role, so if I am not careful, the producer wouldn’t blink to choose him’

‘Listen Ben, Wills might be more popular than you but he is gonna charge them like crazy that’s the reason they chose you over him. Plus you are not in your struggling phase any more Ben. Its high time you start doing roles for self satisfaction.’ ‘You are right Jessica, but I am so used to the idea of pleasing people. Its hard to change suddenly.’ ‘Well, there is a firs time for everything. If you keep waiting, you can wait forever. But when you turn back and look at your life after a few years, I don’t want the missed opportunities to stare back at you Ben. Think about it.’ ‘Thanks Love. I will he bent forward to kiss my forehead and proceeded to the washroom. ‘Thanks Love? What’s this new addition to the list of his endearments?’ I wondered to myself and closed my eyes in an attempt to get back my lost sleep. Ben came out from wearing a bathrobe after half hour. ‘Why are you up so early anyways? Sleep in Jessica; I will have Mrs. Baina wake you up for breakfast.’ ‘You are the one who woke me up by turning and twisting in the bed. I can’t sleep now. Oh gosh, is this going to be like this every day? We should sleep in separate rooms.’ ‘What’s gotten into you Jessica? You don’t sound like yourself today.’ ‘Tell me about it’ I muttered to myself. ‘Did you say something?’ ‘Nope’ I lied. He got dressed in half hour and was ready to leave. I followed him to the living room to lock the door. When I got back to the bed room, the clock displayed 7 A.M. I decided to have bath and read a book till Mrs. Baina arrived. I grabbed a towel and headed to the bath in my room for a change. The beauty of my room had taken me by storm when I first saw it a week back but now I was even more spellbound looking at the interiors of the bath. It was set in an ivory red background and a well-appointed bath tub stood in the middle. As much as the luxury surrounding me was overwhelming, there was no denying that I was enjoying this special treatment. After all it’s every girl’s dream to live a life of a princess. I indulged myself in the beauty bath for about half hour. I wrapped my towel around my body and walked to my room. I stood before the dressing table mirror thinking if I looked sexy enough to arouse Ben’s desires. Suddenly my eyes wandered away from my reflection. I saw a stranger lying on my bed reading a magazine. I screamed at the top of my voice, holding on to my towel like my dear life. He instantly tossed the magazine and looked at me with a perplexed expression. We both stood still for a moment not knowing what to do next.

‘I am leaving. Don’t worry alright? I am leaving.’ He said hurriedly and exited my room. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Yet the incident was quite disturbing and I decided to get the help of the security as soon as I got dressed. I grabbed the dress that my hands found and fit into it. I walked to the living room and almost choked when I saw the same man sitting there at ease watching television. ‘What the hell are you still doing here?’ ‘Shouldn’t I be the one to ask you the question?’ he said getting up from his seat. ‘Listen, if you take one step towards me I swear I will…’ I stopped for the lack of words. ‘You will? Don’t you girls usually leave before the maids show up? Its almost 8, Ben wouldn’t like this.’ ‘Excuse me? What do you mean? How dare you speak to me like that? Who do you think you are to barge into my house like this and call me a slut?’ ‘No No, you got it wrong. I didn’t mean any disrespect to you. I apologize for that. I only meant Ben likes to keep his private life private.’ ‘What do you know about Ben?’ For a second the stranger looked at me with an unexplainable expression and then proceeded. ‘Well its funny I am at the answering end. First of all you use my room which I am sure you have done without Ben’s permission and to top it up you call this your house and now you are questioning me about my extent of knowledge on my best friend?’ ‘Best Friend?’ I bit my lips and asked him in an apologizing manner. ‘Yep. I am Aaron, Aaron Dirk and you would be?’ he said extending his hand. I shook his hand with a smile and asked ‘If you are his best friend how come you don’t know about the girl he has been dating for about 2 months?’ ‘Oh. That’s news to me. I was away concerning my work for about 6 months. I am extremely sorry Ms?’ ‘Jessica Evans’ I said with a smile. I sat on the sofa with my hands held onto my head and started to whimper ‘I am so sorry Aaron. I had no clue. Ben is going to be mad at me.’ ‘Don’t worry Ms Evans, this can be our secret.’ ‘Nah, I don’t want to deprave him of the fun.’ ‘Then be ready to be teased for lifetime.’

‘You too and please call me Jessica’ The maids arrived in a while and the atmosphere lightened up. Breakfast with Aaron went on peacefully. I learned that he was a painter and traveled a lot attending several conferences and exhibitions. He explained to me in detail the meaning of every painting hung in the house with patience. ‘So… why haven’t you done a painting of Ben yet?’ I asked with curiosity. ‘I don’t specialize in portraits Jessica. But if you insist, I could do one for you. But Ben wouldn’t be patient enough to sit still for hours together.’ ‘Oh come on. You call yourself his best friend and you are an expert painter. Don’t you have his picture captured in your mind by now?’ ‘Good point. It doesn’t work that way always but I can try.’ ‘I am sure if you are desperate to paint something it will be captured in your mind.’ ‘You are not giving up are you?’ ‘Nah.’ ‘I wonder how Ben found a girl with beauty and brains this time. It’s only the beauty usually.’ ‘Thanks.’ The door bell rung and it was another surprise visitor. It was Eddie. I ran to him and threw my arms around him. I introduced him to Aaron and with the way their conversation started I could tell they would get along famously. ‘How come you are not dating this guy?’ Eddie whispered in my ears when Aaron was on a call with Ben. ‘Shut up Eddie.’ ‘No seriously Jess. Give it a thought. Look at him. He is an inch taller than Ben, blue eyes, dark hair, has your favorite ‘non-clean shave -stub’ look. He is smart, talented, and successful. I bet he is not as mean as your Mr. Cerratos. What’s the problem?’ ‘If you don’t shut up now, I swear I will make you regret it.’ ‘Alright, just give it a thought that’s all I can say from what I see he has started to adore you already.’ I punched his stomach with my elbow and he went back to being silent. ‘Ben will be back only by 7 and I need to run home. Guess I will meet him for dinner tonight. You both have fun.’ Aaron informed us after the call. ‘It was nice meeting you Aaron.’ Eddie shook his hand with Aaron.

‘Same here Eddie. Why don’t you join us for dinner tonight? It will be great.’ ‘Sure why not? See you in the evening then’ Eddie surprised me with his answer. ‘See you Jessica.’ He touched his fingers to his temples and left. ‘What are you trying to do Eddie?’ ‘What am I not allowed to have dinner with you guys?’ we spoke as I showed him around the house. ‘Eddie that’s not what I mean. You know you are acting weird right?’ ‘You mean by saying yes to the dinner offer? Yes I do. But I have taken it as my life’s mission to hook you up with Aaron Dirk, the painter’ he kept his voice low. ‘Well have fun. I am happy with my man.’ ‘We’ll see Jess we’ll see.’ ‘Why do you hate Ben so much?’ ‘I dunno but what I know is he is not right for you. You deserve better.’ ‘Change of topic. I shouldn’t have asked you Eddie.’ ‘No I am glad you asked Jess, do you want me to explain further?’ ‘No Thanks.’ ‘Tell me something interesting Jess, how was your first week at Ben’s?’ We were now resting on the bed, my head close to his chest, our hands intertwined. ‘It going on pretty good Eddie. He usually leaves for work early. I spend my time learning cooking from Mrs. Baina, reading and watching movies. When he is back, he rests for a while and then we have fun making dinner. Sometimes we got for a walk at a private trail that is close by. Sometimes we just talk for hours together discussing his script. The best part was dinner in moonlight by the poolside the first day I was here. So romantic.’ ‘And?’ ‘And what?’ ‘That was the best part? I thought the best part usually comes after a romantic dinner.’ ‘What do you mean Eddie?’ ‘You know what I mean Jess.’ ‘Well this talk is getting awkward.’ I moved away from him. He inched closer closing his arm around my waist and positioned my head again on his chest.

‘What’s Awkward? Now you are not ready to discuss your sex life with your best friend?’ ‘First of all there is no sex life, even if there was, you are the last person I wanna discuss it with.’ ‘Ha.. Now comes the truth. So I have become the last person you want to discuss something as important as your sex life with and here I thought things were never gonna change between us.’ He said teasingly. ‘Eddie, that’s not it, I am girl and you are a guy and it’s awkward to talk about such things.’ ‘Well then how come it’s not awkward when we watch a make out scene together or discuss an adult book?’ ‘It’s not awkward because I am not the one having sex there. Explaining these things to you would be like giving you a live performance of it Eddie. Gosh it’s disgusting even to say those words.’ ‘You are weird today. I mean you are extra honest today.’ ‘Whatever. You still got your answer. There is no sex going on so you have nothing to fear Eddie.’ ‘Now that’s the disadvantage of knowing someone for way too long....’ He got up from the bed and begun to smoothen his wrinkled shirt. ‘You are leaving so early? What’s the rush Eddie?’ ‘I will be back for dinner anyways. Got to meet my girl friend. Unfortunately not all of us get to move in with the love of our lives.’ ‘Love of your life? Rachael? That’s interesting.’ ‘Hmmm well let’s imagine I didn’t say that. Come on give me a hug now.’ We hugged for a brief second and he kissed me on my cheek before he left. I sat there for immeasurably long time thinking about what was going to happen during the dinner. I somehow felt something that was to go terribly wrong and hoped my instincts become erroneous just this time. Part II Storm I have never wanted time to move faster than I had now. Either I wanted it to move so fast that I miss the gloom that was going to befall me in a few hours or I wanted it to stop and never move. Because the thought of dinner with Ben and Aaron when Eddie was fixed on hooking me up with someone I hardly knew, evoked a fear that seemed to engulf my entire existence. In fact there was nothing to worry about it. ‘What could possibly go so wrong in a dinner attended by 4 civilized people?’ I asked myself as a consolation and begun to concentrate on the cooking lessons Mrs. Baina was imparting.

Something about the day was terribly wrong. From the way it had started with my unusual verbal outburst followed by the strange encounter with Ben’s best friend and a shocking visit by Eddie to the way it ended with the dinner plan and ‘sex talk’, everything was bizarre. It seemed like an eerie indication of a mild yet an unnecessary storm. A door bell put an end to my wild imaginations. I was partly relieved and alighted from the dining table to open the door but Ben was already on his way to the kitchen. He hugged me, kissed my forehead and whispered me to follow him. I knew by the way he held me that something had not gone right. He led the way to the other bedroom, the smaller of the two. I locked the door and sat on the bed, waiting for him to refresh and talk to me. After a few minutes, he settled in the bed next to me. He took my hand and placed in his head and I begun to ruffle his hair. He closed his eyes and tried to relax but I knew from his face that he was too disturbed. ‘Talk to me Ben.’ ‘Tough day, that’s all I can say.’ ‘What happened?’ ‘Can we do this later? I just need some peace and quiet now Jessica, keep ruffling my hair. Makes me feel better.’ ‘I thought you would be home only by 7. Shouldn’t you give a call to Aaron? May be talking to him will help.’ ‘Listen honey, I have had a very bad day. I spoke to the director about sticking to the original script. We argued a lot. He was shocked to see me so rebellious. Now he has asked me for some time to think about it, so the shoot was cancelled and everyone in the set is pissed with me. I am sure this news is gonna hit the papers tomorrow. So all I need now is a bit of peace. Come here.’ He said and pulled me closer to lie next to him. He held my hand and took a deep breath. ‘You did the right thing Ben. I am really proud of you today.’ ‘Thanks Jessica.’ ‘And there is no need for you to worry about the movie or the fans. Those who know you will accept you. So please don’t be upset. I don’t like to see you this way.’ ‘Damn it Jessica. You have no idea how hard this is for me. As much as I am happy about breaking the shell, its scaring the hell outta me and all I ask for is few moments of silence. Can’t you understand that? Am I not even allowed to be upset for a while?’ ‘Why are you being mad at me? I am just saying you are unnecessarily taking the burden.’ ‘Well I am a human and I have the right to be upset about things that disturb me. All I expect from you is a bit of understanding and acceptance. Not everyone is born brave like you.’ ‘Don’t start a fight with me okay? It’s not my fault. Don’t take out your frustration on me.’

‘Well I am not. I didn’t speak a word. If you had kept your mouth shut and had let me sleep it off, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.’ He said with a rampant rage and left the room. I was shocked to see him behave this way. I had by now gotten used to the mean side of Ben but this was the first time I was subjected to his ferocity. What shocked me more than his anger was what Mrs.Baina had told me about his cool temper. She had filled me in, in the morning on how patient he always is with everyone irrespective of how worse things got. I decided to take a shower to clear my head of the confusions, fears and a million questions. I headed to my room and picked up the bathrobe. I started to fill the tub with water but it wouldn’t stand. I realized that the drain flange had broken and needed a replacement. I picked up the phone that was attached to the wall and connected to Mrs. Baina through intercom to inquire about the tools to fix it. After insisting on calling the housekeeping crew, she disclosed the location of the tools. I wore my bathrobe and picked up the tools from the rack that stood behind the glass screen. I needed a cloth to wipe the new drain flange clean before fixing it. I went into the room and rummaged the bottom most drawer of my wardrobe for a handkerchief. I heard someone coming in and guessed it would be Ben. ‘Jessica I am sorry about…’ he paused as I got up to face him. He looked at me with a baffling expression. ‘What are you doing with a plumber’s putty in your hand?’ ‘The drain flange broke. Just trying to replace it.’ ‘How did you know where the tools were?’ ‘I called Mrs.Baina and asked.’ ‘And… It didn’t occur to you to call the housekeeping crew Jessica?’ ‘Why are you getting worked up about this Ben? It’s just a 10 minutes job and I had taken off my clothes. I thought it would be easier to finish the job and go back to bath than changing again to call the crew.’ ‘Don’t you remember anything I told you before you got here Jessica?’ he now held my elbow tight. ‘Listen, you may not bother about the entire world but for me what the outside world thinks about me still matters. What my fans think still matters. As much as I would love to be like you, I am still learning. I don’t want the head lines tomorrow talking about how I use my girl friend to save money spent on plumbers. So please do me a favor and take bath in one of the other rooms while I get this fixed.’ ‘I am sick and tired of your fears Ben. I am sick and tired of the way you constantly get scared of what your fans would think when some news would break out. They are not living your life Ben, you are.’

‘If you are sick of me, you can leave me right away. Changes don’t take place overnight Jessica. It’s a huge process, and if you don’t have the patience to stick with me through the rough times, then I regret my decision. I thought you were better than that. As for my fans Jessica, they brought me here and they are important.’ ‘You regret the decision don’t you? You know what? I do too. Because it’s been about 3 months and I don’t see any change in you. Stop giving me the crap about -Rome is not built in a day- and look into yourself Ben.’ I walked away from him, my eyes filled with tears. I don’t know for what amount of time I sat there crying after a bath, but I knew the length of time was too long because I could feel the pain in my eyes. I thought about the first time I had met Ben and mused over the incidents that followed. The memories of the day seemed distant and vague like a long forgotten dream. The throbbing pain I felt inside was not caused by Ben’s anger but by his words. Not for one second I had ever thought that I had made a wrong decision that night. His regret over his choice ripped my heart. In spite of the pain he caused to me now, I wasn’t able to hate him or hate myself for being here. Because every moment I had spent with him was worthwhile and expecting it would have been the same for him was my fault and not his. I heard the door being latched and looked up at Ben who now approached me wearing a somber expression. A sudden mask of shock and pain clouded his face when he looked at me. He sat next to me in the bed taking my hand in his, gently stroking it. My tears grew stronger with his touch as I tried to control them. He then wiped my tears and said in a low voice. ‘I didn’t mean what I said Jessica. I don’t regret being with you. It was the smartest thing I have done in my life. I just need sometime. Is that too much to ask?’ I could sense the sincerity in his words and the realization of my mistakes dawned on me. ‘I was too hard on you Ben. It was my fault. Forgive me please.’ I saw a few drops of tears escape his eyes. My pain grew stronger and I put my arms around his neck to comfort myself. ‘Hey don’t cry okay? It makes me weak.’ I said looking into his eyes. He wiped his tears and once again wiped mine completely. He then freed himself off my hold. I realized that a bit of intimacy always disturbed him. So I inched away a little turning away from him. I suddenly felt his touch, his hand circling around my waist with strength to pull me towards him. I showed no sign of resistance and followed the force his hand imposed on me. I refused to think of the intentions to his action or what was going to follow. A few seconds later I realized that my lips were locked in his. I had no idea how it happened or who initiated it. All I knew was, it was happening, and I either needed to respond or retract. My lip melted under the burning touch of his and it felt as though we were kissing for the first time which in a way is true. My hands gripped his hair for support. He caught both my hands and held them behind my back as his lips left mine to find their way to my throat. All these days I had been under the impression that the physical intimacy I had been longing for was an outcome of pure lust but he was proving me wrong. The desire growing inside me was the result of emotional closeness that was developing between us. The need I had been feeling inside was to make the cycle of what we had been sharing for this long complete. As I realized

he truth, I decided not to hesitate any more. His hands freed mine and I grabbed the opportunity to position myself comfortably on the bed pulling him closer by his shirt. My back was now pressed against the softness of the material covering the bed and Ben’s forehead touched mine, his eyes closed, nerves twitching. The hot breath radiating from him set me on fire. I cupped his face and brought it closer to mine. I could hear his heart thumping louder than mine. I saw a momentary hesitation in his face before my lips closed over his. I let my teeth play rough on his lips to show him my want and hunger. Fortunately he reciprocated with the same intensity. I wanted him to kiss me till my lips started to bleed, and it looked like he was going to. We kissed for an inestimably long span of time, when our tooth failed to the job, our tongues took their place. After a point I couldn’t continue with his momentum, I gasped breaking away for want of air. He wasted no time as his nose slowly traced its way to my throat. His hands found the end of my shirt and pushed it away slightly to feel the skin under it. I pushed him away with all my strength to take the dominance. He was now on his back. His eyes opened for the first time looking into mine. I blushed and it made him smile. I kissed his forehead and then every inch of his face. His face begun to smoothen into peace. I unbuttoned his shirt kissing every part of his chest the openings revealed. He then threw it on the floor and pulled me in one deft movement to lie on top of him. Our lips met again with passion. When the kiss reached the heights of frenzy, his hand moved against my back under my shirt. When it reached the metal hook of my inner wear, it came to a halt. I couldn’t understand the reason behind his hesitation. He broke away from the kiss and gently made me lie next to him. He then turned to me resting on his elbow. He took my hand and kissed it looking into my eyes deeply. ‘We shouldn’t be doing this dear.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Cos it’s wrong.’ ‘You don’t want it Ben?’ ‘Does it look like I don’t want it?’ ‘Then why?’ I enjoyed the way his lips still lingered to my wrist. ‘Cos we are still not sure of what we have for each other. I mean the past few moments might have proved how much we like each other but you should save the rest for the love of your life. Plus you are going to move away from me in………..’ ‘Ben. I understand what you mean but I like you, I like you enough to experience this with you and I know it’s the same with you. So why not?’ ‘Because you still have a lot left to see in life and when you find your man of your dreams I don’t want you to regret this. There is a splendor in losing your untouched beauty to the love of your life, I have lost that opportunity but I don’t want you to Jessica.’ ‘And what if I fall in love with you in future?’ I saw light flicker in his eyes when I mentioned those words.

‘In case that happens, we will continue from where we left. It’s six. Let’s get ready for the dinner.’ He said and alighted from the bed picking up his shirt. ‘You think we can go back to normal after all this Ben?’ ‘Lets try what we can Jessica.’ ‘What if I tell you that I don’t have a control over myself Ben? Will you ask me to move out?’ I asked teasingly walking towards the door. He pulled me by the wrist to face him and said ‘You are not going anywhere. Don’t even think about it. I will do whatever it takes to keep you here for the next two months. Deal is a deal right?’ I enjoyed the smug in his smile. ‘In that case we have to find a middle ground’ I kissed his lips and walked to my room to change for the dinner with the relief that the storm had ended and it had ended in a way I never imagined. Chapter 15- Point of Origin I had to agree with the words of our wise ancestors about the dead silence that follows a storm. The quiet that surrounded the house following an action packed romance in our bedroom seemed unfamiliar. I stood in front of my excessively filled wardrobe, confused what to wear for the evening. I heard Ben’s footsteps approaching me. ‘Black or red?’ I asked holding two evening gowns in my hand. ‘Neither.’ He said and hung them both back in their places. ‘Why?’ I was sure he could sense the disappointment in my voice. ‘Something simpler than the black one and less gaudy and sexy than the red one will be perfect for a casual dinner with friends.’ ‘I have to agree with that.’ ‘How about this one?’ He held out a maroon gown that looked simple yet strikingly elegant. ‘Thanks Ben. Looks Perfect. Now if you could excuse me. I will change into this and meet you outside.’ Instead of approaching the door, he walked to the bed and sat at its edge. ‘Why? I though just a few minutes before you wanted to break the boundaries between us to explore new horizons. Why don’t we start from here?’ ‘Ben stop kidding and get out.’ ‘Since the time is limited and our friends will be on their way, I am letting you off the hook now.’ He smirked and left the room. ‘How very generous!’ I muttered to myself.

When I heard the door bell at the strike of 7 Ben and I said ‘Eddie.’ ‘Aaron.’ In unison. He held my hand and led me to the door to clear our doubts. I was surprised to see both our guests beaming at us. Aaron looked quite different and unbelievably stunning. He wore a pair of expensive denim that accented the great shape of his legs. His muscular body that I thought was nonexistent in the morning was perfectly outlined by the black T-shirt. Above it he wore a shirt that matched the color of my gown and had left it unbuttoned. It was good to see how Aaron and Ben comfortably begun to catch up with the happenings of the past few months. Although I had to agree, the idea of Ben being close to someone besides me was quite shocking. Eddie and I left them to their privacy and proceeded to the pool area where the dinner was being arranged. ‘Why are you staring at me from the moment you came in?’ I asked Eddie who was now walking in front of me. ‘You are glowing.’ ‘Thanks. Isn’t that a good thing?’ There were no words from him. ‘Come on Eddie, talk to me.’ Suddenly I realized what he was referring to and I begun to explain. ‘Eddie its nothing. Nothing major happened. We didn’t even get past the first base.’ It was awkward to discuss the details with Eddie. ‘That’s good. But I am just imagining the kind of light you will emanate if you get past the first base. Gosh!’ his mood reverted to normal. Dinner begun at 8. Eddie was successful at his first attempt that made me sit next to Aaron. Ben sat facing me and Eddie was next to him. ‘So it’s time we all get to know each other better. So Aaron, let’s start with you. What do you like besides painting?’ ‘I enjoy reading. Nothing compared to getting lost in the beauty of words.’ ‘Wow. Jessica enjoys reading too. What about you Ben? Do you love reading?’ ‘I certainly do. But my liking for books is limited.’ It was painful to see how Eddie made everything Aaron said look like I shared a connection with him, while indicating Ben didn’t share the same interests. It was surprising to see how Ben remained impassive although by now he must have understood Eddie’s intentions of insulting him.

‘You and Jessica could be soul mates.’ Eddie said with laughter and Aaron joined him without a comment. ‘I swear they could be Eddie. Its funny isn’t it? In spite of sharing no common interests, how you have taken that place in her life when it should have been someone like Aaron. May be you’re in for a replacement. So be careful with Aaron.’ Ben commented casually and continued to eat. Although Eddie kept his cool, I could sense the deep hurt that Ben’s words inflicted on him. ‘This could apply to you as well.’ Eddie retaliated with a smile. ‘Nah. Our relationship goes beyond sharing likes and dislikes. Doesn’t it honey?’ ‘Absolutely Ben.’ I said casting an evil grin in Eddie’s direction. What seemed strange was how Aaron remained unaffected by the tension between Eddie and Ben. He couldn’t consider it anything beyond a simple conversation where friends always insulted one another. As peculiar as his untouched innocence seemed, it also seemed beautiful. ‘Hey Ben, you never told me how you guys met. Mind taking a stroll through the memory lane again?’ asked Aaron looking at me with an unexplainable smile. ‘Oh my god! Not again. I have heard it a million times from Jess. I just hope your version is a bit more interesting or at least non-boring.’ Eddie interrupted before Ben answered. Ben looked at all three of us, gulped his wine in one shot and begun to talk. I was hearing the sound of his words, I could grasp the meaning of each word he uttered, but I utterly failed to put them together and make sense out of it. The moment Aaron brought about the subject, my mind drifted to the day I first met Ben. The memories seemed far yet clear as crystal, like it happened only a few moments back. The day had started with a disappointment that Eddie wouldn’t be accompanying me to the most boring tradition of our school, annual trip to St. Vincent mount and the church that stood atop it. I thought of bailing out too but my instincts told me to do otherwise. I took it as an opportunity to be alone and sort out a few things. Three things to be exact, Eddie’s increasing dependency on me and lack of life outside our friendship, my plans after high school considering no miracle was going to get me to Domonic’s and some way to make my boring, painful, mundane life interesting. When the trip started, I left out the two most important things I should have been sorting and concentrated on whining over how utterly simple, boring and predictable my life had become. But what I never expected was to find a single solution to all the three problems. When we reached the hill top after a long trek of about two and a half hours, we spread out. Some set out to find a spot to make out with their lovers, some stood admiring the city view, some first time visitors begun to take pictures with friends and I headed to the church as the first thing, as I had been doing for years. Only that time, without Eddie. After a sincere plea for making my life interesting, I walked around the church. We were warned not to wander off far from the church and stick together with other students owing to the increase in criminal activities in the area. But then, what the hell? When have we students ever listened? I saw a broad road stretching below the stairs from the church, in the direction opposite to the road we used. With the hope that I could easily get back before the stipulated time, I decided to see where it lead.

As I walked for a while, I found large, beautiful oak tree. I decided to sit under its shade for a while. Everything was perfect, the mild rays of sun amidst the cool breeze erasing the weariness, the relief that I had time to do what I wished to without thinking about Eddie or my parents, the view of a cottage that stood at the end of the road, everything seemed simple and beautiful. So did my life. But I didn’t want simple, for once I wanted it to be complex. So complex that my head would split thinking about managing so many things at a time. Complex yet thrilling and exciting. I sat there wondering why vampire boyfriends, wizard schools and tree hill sort of fun have to be confined to the periphery of a fictional world. I had only realized that the time had slipped away too fast when the darkness begun to close in on me. I frantically ran towards the church only to find the bus had left without me. I took my cell from my pocket to call Eddie but the signal was weak. The darkness grew stronger but surprisingly my fears didn’t. The thought of the oak tree made me feel safe and walked back to sit under it. I thought about walking to the cottage, but there were no lights coming from that end, so I assumed it had to be deserted. My last wish was to be spotted by a bunch of criminals to be raped and murdered brutally. But something told me that wasn’t going to happen. As if someone had heard my words, I saw a light coming from the direction of the cottage. A man holding a flashlight walked towards me. He was about 6 foot tall, well built and wore a pair of shorts and a jacket. His silhouette seemed familiar. I hid behind the tree, not sure whether he was to be trusted or not. My breathing grew louder, tried to control it. I began to sweat in spite of the chill that surrounded me. I felt a grip of firm fingers around my waist pulling me away from the tree. I came face to face with the man whom I instantly recognized as Ben Cerratos with the help of the flashlight. ‘I am not letting you do this Miss. Whoever you are, come with me.’ He now walked towards the cottage, pulling me by the wrist. ‘What are you talking about? Leave me alone, you are drunk.’ I tried to free myself but in vain. His hold was too strong. ‘I might be drunk, but I am sober enough to know what you are up to and it’s not going to happen. Not again. Not in front of my own eyes.’ ‘What in the hell does that mean?’ ‘You will know in a while.’ We then entered the cottage. He switched on the mains and the power restored brightening up the place. He then locked the door and pulled me to one of the bedrooms. He pushed me to the bed and latched the door close. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked very calm as he pulled a chair to sit in front of me. ‘Jessica.’ By now I knew he was too drunk and decided not to annoy him to do something erratic.

‘Why Miss Jessica? You are young, beautiful and your eyes tell me you are smart. You don’t look poor, sick or hurt. Then why? Why would you want to end your life? Give me one good reason and I will let you do it.’ ‘What in the hell? I thought the drinks were playing the trick on you but you seem completely out of your mind. Why would I end my life?’ ‘Oh! You weren’t trying to commit suicide?’ he sounded surprised. ‘No.’ ‘Then it’s my fault. It’s just that, I have heard too many such occurrences in the vicinity. I just got confused. I apologize.’ ‘That’s ok.’ ‘So what are you doing here? You seem young to be wandering off in this place at this hour.’ ‘Well, it was a school trip and the bus left.’ ‘Want to call your parents?’ he extended his blackberry and I grabbed it. ‘Tell them you are safe and they can come to fetch you in the morning. No vehicles allowed after 6.’

‘I will. Thanks.’ I said and entered the balcony to make a call. First I called Eddie and then my parents. They were a bit relieved after hearing I was with Ben Cerratos. I learnt for the first time not only trust but even fame breeds trust. When I entered the room again, he sat still, his eyes closely following my every action. He looked at me like I was a piece from some art exhibit. ‘Thanks Ben.’ I handed his phone and his eyes widened in further astonishment. ‘So you know who I am.’ ‘Come on. Every citizen of this country knows Ben Cerratos.’ ‘You sound sarcastic.’ ‘Please don’t take it personally but the sarcasm is aimed at the stereotypical characters you play in every movie and yet how it becomes a blockbuster.’ ‘Excuse me? Are you actually poking fun at my career?’ ‘To be precise about your choices.’ ‘Well, Miss Jessica, what do you know about my choices, my talent or even the industry?’ ‘You can call me Jessica.’

‘Tell me Jessica. Do you have any idea of how extremely hard it is to survive in this field? And it’s no piece of cake to reach where I have today? You might be a Ben hater but people out there just love me and my work.’ ‘I am starving. Do you have anything to eat Ben?’ ‘Yes. But you still haven’t answered me.’ ‘We could talk while we eat. Why don’t you fix the dinner? I will have a shower and meet you in the kitchen.’ ‘Hey Jessica.’ He called after me as I was about to enter the bathroom. ‘Take this.’ He said and threw a bathrobe at my direction. After a refreshing hot bath I slipped into a pair of night pajamas which Ben had left on the bed. I looked around to find something to wear on top but all I found was a rack of neatly arranged clothes of Ben. I chose a shirt with red and blue mini checks and wore it. As I was about to leave the room, Ben entered with a tray of food and water. ‘Thanks.’ I said when he handed me my plate of noodles. ‘You look good in my shirt.’ ‘Thanks again. Listen Ben, I have to agree that I am clueless about your tough journey in your career, your superfluously competitive industry but I do know the Ben I saw in his first movie. There was a charm in you, your role might have been insignificant in that movie but the talent you displayed was spectacular. I could see the hunger for learning, the passion to accomplish more and the willingness to work harder in your initial years. Like you had said in that intervieweveryday is a challenge and I look forward to face it from the moment I wake up every morning. That couldn’t have been a lie. In the years that followed, you started to settle for easy ways. The warrior in you gradually started to perish. It was as though you had found that your fans loved you as this sweet, romantic, sensitive guy and you started to play the same role with varying story lines. With an action, drama or horror every now and then. Am I right Ben?’ His eyes were now fixed on mine. The smile when I started to speak was now replaced by a grave expression. I wondered what he was thinking about. ‘Give me a minute,’ he said and started to pace the room and then gulped a glass of water liked he had this morning. He spoke after a few seconds of deep thinking ‘It was a bad idea, Jessica I mean talking to you about all this. Finish up your dinner and go to bed.’ He was about to walk out of the room when I interrupted ‘Hey Ben.’ ‘Yes?’ ‘You don’t have many friends to talk to do you?’

‘Nope. Why?’ ‘Listen. This is a weird situation for both of us, I mean, me staying over. But why not make a good time out of it? You look like you need someone to talk to; I can be that friend for you tonight and tomorrow we can go back to being strangers.’ I said with a smile. ‘Thanks Jessica. I appreciate your concern but I think I will pass.’ His lips widened in a sincere smile as a token of gratitude before he left. The hiking had drained out all my energy and I decided to get a good sleep after dinner. I closed the balcony door and pushed away the curtains to let the moonlight in. I switched off the air conditioner and snuggled into a blanket. Considering the strange incidents that were happening from the start of the day, it was unusual that I was having a peaceful, dreamless night. I suddenly felt warm and woke up to see why. To my right, the fire place had been lit and Ben sat next to me in a chair watching me sleep. ‘Hey’ I whispered in my semi sleepy voice. ‘Hey, I didn’t mean to wake you up. Go back to sleep.’ ‘For how long have I been sleeping?’ ‘Four hours.’ ‘Wow, no wonder I am feeling fresh.’ I stretched my arms and sat up. ‘Looks like you haven’t slept at all and it also looks like the effects of alcohol have worn out.’ ‘You are right.’ ‘So why are you creeping me out by watching me sleep?’ ‘Well, I was wondering if that offer is still open. You being my friend just for the night.’ I couldn’t help but laugh at what he had said. It was strange how he looked like the one who had lost his way and was looking for help when it should have been me. ‘Sure. The pleasure is mine Mr.Cerratos.’ ‘I know we haven’t spoken much but I bet we could have been good friends in an alternate universe.’ ‘Yep, if you had not been Ben or I had been Julia Roberts or should I say Natasha Williams.’ At the mention of the names he held his head tightly in his plans and looked down when he said ‘We broke up.’ ‘What? You and Natasha broke up?’ ‘To be precise, she broke up with me last week.’

‘Oh so that explains why you are here and why you got drunk so bad.’ ‘Yep.The press has been having a ball time and I am not able to take the pressure.’ ‘What went wrong?’ ‘Let’s just say, she realized I am not the one for her. It’s not in my nature to talk disrespectful of a woman, so let’s leave it at that.’ ‘Okay. Sure.’ ‘The press is driving me crazy about this break up and my first ex is trying to find a way to get back into my life.’ ‘Do you still like her? Your ex girlfriend?’ ‘Which one? Never mind. I have no feelings left for both. In fact I dunno if I have any feelings left at all.’ ‘Let’s not get side tracked. You never told me what happened to that Ben in the first movie. I still miss him.’ ‘He lost his purpose.’ ‘And why is that?’ ‘I worked very hard to get that role Jessica. It was a long, painful struggle. Till date, I consider it my greatest achievement, getting that role. The years that followed were even more difficult. In this industry, what’s more difficult than achieving something is to sustain the success. The fact that people loved me made things more difficult. There was a constant rise in expectations and I had to work harder than ever to meet the exceeding expectations every time. After a while I looked around, I started to feel pathetic about myself. I had all this money, fame and power but there was not a single soul to share it with. It was like I was struggling for nothing. I felt like I was fighting a lost cause. So I quit. I quit and took the easy way. I still have the things that I had then in terms of materialistic wealth and I still don’t have what I wanted. So nothing has changed much.’ ‘Ben.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You fought hard for your first role didn’t you? You gave it everything you had; you literally put in your life into that project didn’t you? What was your cause then? What motivated you? You said the boy from the first movie, lost his purpose. May I know what his purpose was to work so hard to get that role?’ ‘You have decided not to give up on me, have you?’ a beautiful laughter escaped his lips and he continued to speak. ‘It was to prove to myself that I am capable of doing something great. It was also a tribute to my mom who believed in me no matter how impossible my dreams seemed. When she died I

couldn’t let her belief in me fade away, I wanted to do something for her, so that she could look down from above and feel proud of her son.’ He looked up involuntarily while he spoke and took a deep sigh. ‘So you don’t want to work towards the greatness now? You don’t want her pride to remain unaltered forever? It’s beautiful how you took all the effort for her, but don’t you think she will be more disheartened to see her son settle for mediocrity when he has the capability to reach great heights? How did you decide to let her down like that Ben?’ ‘It wasn’t difficult. I became an expert in blocking away the guilt.’ ‘Well Ben, I have done what I had to. My job is over. Now it’s for you to decide whether you want to alter your course to open up a world of limitless possibilities or to remain a prisoner of fears your entire life.’ ‘Oh don’t think I am going to let you off so easily. By the way, what fears are you talking about? I thought I was fearless and you snatch away the one nice quality I thought I possessed.’ ‘Your fears are complex Ben. I don’t know how to explain them. Do you remember the interview you gave last month? You said your life seems empty and you have tried various activities but nothing helps. Instead of wasting your time on cliff jumping and scuba diving, why don’t you start by looking within yourself? May be you gotto start by identifying your fears?’ ‘Jessica, let’s assume I have decided to fight back. But the situation now is not conducive for a change. The issue might seem trivial to a fighter like you, but with two girls trying to tear the image I have built with so much care, I won’t be able to think with clarity.’ ‘Oh please, I am no fighter at all. My life is utterly simple and boring that I have nothing to fight for. My greatest prayers these days are to spice up my absolutely pathetic life to relive me of the mundane activities.’ ‘You are funny you know. I mean in a good way.’ ‘Thanks. So your problems are your ex girl friends and If I find a way to solve that, you would be back in track?’ ‘Well, you could say that.’ ‘Simple. Get a new girl. The press will shut up about the break up and your ex will stop bothering you.’ ‘Are you insane? I am still paying for the damages my thoughtless relationships have inflicted on me and you want me to jump into another relationship? Plus, I might be an actor but I am no good at breaking a woman’s heart. Not all actors are evil you know, in contrary to the prevailing notions.’ ‘Well, then hire someone to be your girlfriend. May be hiring is not such a great idea. Someone who you trust and someone who would do this for your well being.’ ‘What are you implying?’

‘Look. Get one of your trustworthy friends to act as your girl friend. But not just for a few months but for a considerably long time.’ ‘I lost you totally Jessica.’ ‘Look the question of debate among your fans now is your good man image. Immediately hooking up with another girl isn’t going to help a bit. If you show them you do care for the girl really, then they are gonna love you more. So if you are up for some excitement, get a girl.’ He smiled mischievously and asked me ‘The question really is are you up for some excitement?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Why don’t you be my girl friend?’ ‘Are you insane Ben?’ ‘No, since you are the master mind behind this, no one else could execute it better. Plus it’s better that it stays between just the two of us.’ ‘I can’t do it Ben.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Listen talking to you frankly about this issue is a whole different thing but doing something like that- It’s not me Ben. I don’t do such things. I hate to keep secrets within my family. I hate to lie to them. Plus you need to get someone who really cares for you. Someone who will be willing to take that risk for your good.’ ‘I just thought you fit that description better than anyone in my life. It’s strange and sad and it might even sound sloppy, but there isn’t anyone in my life who gives a shit about me even as much as you do. I do have a friend but I don’t want to rope him in into this. I have no intentions of pretending to be a gay.’ ‘And you call me funny Mr.Cerratos?’ ‘Will you do it?’ ‘Ben, don’t be ridiculous. Plus I don’t do anything without motives. What’s in it for me?’ ‘You just confessed about your absolutely boring life. I sure as hell can help spicing it up.’ ‘That’s tempting but not a good enough reason.’ ‘Listen Jessica, since this is the night of frankness and honesty, I would like you to tell me the truth. You might be an amazing human analyst but I have some of it in me too. Is boredom your only problem? I bet there is something more to those eyes that constantly think of a big dream.’ ‘You can’t be so sure of solving my issue Ben.’

‘Well don’t underestimate the power of money and fame. Their roots go deeper than you know.’ ‘So you are buying me aren’t you?’ ‘You can call it that if you wish. I would prefer to call it two new friends helping each other out. What say are you in?’ ‘Do you know anyone influential in Dominic’s? That’s my dream. At this point, a dream that may remain unrealized.’ ‘Well that’s easy. I told you money goes deeper than you know. I will secure you a seat.’ ‘How? You’ll pay for my education and my parents will watch without any protest? It will wound their ego Ben.’ ‘I never suggested that. What’s your father?’ ‘A Businessman.’ ‘Then that’s convenient. I will help his business grow. You help my self esteem grow. Sounds good?’ ‘Sounds Interesting. Considering I have agreed, what are the rules?’ ‘Simple. The secret stays just between you and me no matter what.’ ‘What’s the stage plan?’ ‘We use this incident as a base and let our friendship grow. Then in a week we make a few public appearances together. The press will cover it and we continue putting up a good show say till you join college?’ ‘Sounds like a plan.’ ‘You need to be ready to face the intimacy issue though.’ ‘What intimacy issue?’ ‘We can’t make public appearances just holding hands you know. The farthest we go will be a kiss and you will have to move in with me after your school gets over. This is a part of your image building plan.’ ‘Kiss huh?’ I sighed. ‘Don’t worry, I am a good kisser.’ ‘We will see about that.’ ‘Call your parents in the morning and tell them I will drop you home.’ ‘Alright.’ ‘Go to sleep now. I will see you in the morning.’

‘Good night.’ He closed the door from outside and in a few seconds again opened it partially to let his head in. ‘Hey Jessica Thanks.’ ‘You are welcome and think about it again. You shouldn’t trust a stranger.’ ‘Trust is a big word. Let’s just say I am up for some excitement.’ With this he was gone, leaving me surrounded by a pool of questions that I answered carefully one by one the whole night before deciding wholeheartedly to get into the play. I suddenly realized my name being pronounced in three different ways and looked up at the faces of the three men I was having dinner with. ‘I am sorry guys. I was just lost in thoughts.’ None of them said anything and they continued to have their desert. The silence that prevailed was eerie. There was something strange about them. Eddie looked relieved, Ben looked happy and Aaron looked like he was in pain. I had no idea what Ben had spoken about the day that brought about so much change in the atmosphere but I decided not to question about it. After the table was cleared. I walked towards the parapet wall to admire the city lights, Aaron followed me. Ben and Eddie sat by the pool talking which was extremely weird to look at. There was an air of comfort surrounding them. ‘You seem more interesting than I had thought.’ Aaron said standing next to me. ‘You seem more mysterious than I had thought.’ I revealed with sincerity. ‘That I am. Would you like to come by and visit my studio tomorrow? May be I could try doing the portrait you wanted.’ ‘Wow. That’s a great idea. What time?’ ‘Say about 11 in the morning? I will pick you up.’ ‘Done.’ The way the day had begun and ended seemed very strange. The turbulence that had prevailed in the morning and the clarity that had dawned upon me after revisiting the memories seemed totally disconnected. But I wasn’t going to spoil the moment by dwelling too much in it. After the guests left, Ben stood at one end of the pool with a beautiful smile; his arms open in an invitation. A kind of smile that I have always wanted to but have never seen before. A smile that had a new found confidence, warmth, affection, trust and a great deal of courage in it. For the first time since I saw him in his first movie, he seemed complete. Complete as a man should always be. Complete in terms of clear purpose, well defined goals and the strength to accomplish them no matter what it took. I walked towards him and embraced the new person he was to celebrate the triumph of the battle we begun together.

Chapter 16- Confusion ‘I could get used to this, you know?’ I told Ben while we were locked in an embrace by the pool. ‘I am scared I already have.’ We sat at the edge of the pool, our legs into the water till the ankles. Ben put his hand over my shoulder, pulling me closer to him. It was the first time I ever felt; he touched me without a hesitation. ‘So?’ I decided to start the topic which I knew he had been carefully avoiding. ‘So?’ ‘Where does this leave us?’ ‘Where does what leave us Jessica?’ ‘I know you are a good actor Ben, you don’t have to prove it to me. Our little make out session before the dinner. Where does that leave us?’ ‘I dunno you tell me.’ He said looking away. ‘So now what? You won’t even look at me. Is it so embarrassing that we did it? Are you ashamed of it?’ I was hurt by his indifference. Hearing my words he turned towards me. Looking deeply into my eyes he said ‘I want to look at you for as long as it is humanly possible Jessica. I am not ashamed of anything. I am in fact proud of it. Tell me now, where does it leave us?’ his fingers held my chin. ‘Like I said we have to negotiate.’ ‘What are your terms?’ he smiled with a tinge of mischief. ‘I just have one in my mind; we kiss whenever we feel like. Simple isn’t it?’ ‘Woh! That’s dangerous than you know. A kiss forms the basis of everything that comes after it, so you never know when you slip while you kiss. We need to restrict the number of kisses. Five times a day.’ ‘What? Are you insane?’ ‘Nope. Take it or leave it.’ ‘How do you define one single kiss?’ ‘You break away, it marks the ending.’ ‘Then get ready to be lip locked for hours together.’ ‘I am depending upon my hectic schedules to save me from giving in to the temptation.’

‘We’ll see about that.’ I felt his hands slide to my waist. ‘I wish you had worn a shirt?’ ‘Why though? I don’t see you having any problem now.’ ‘Well, easy accessibility you know.’ ‘Ben. Mark my words. You’re so dead and you’re so gonna slip.’ ‘We’ll see about that.’ He imitated me before taking out his phone to make a call. ‘Mr. Kevin?’ ‘I have decided to drop out of the movie. Send me the re-drafted contract. I will sign it tomorrow. Thanks.’ ‘Are you out of your mind Ben?’ ‘Nope. I just didn’t want him to agree with sticking to the original script out of fear of losing me. Plus I won’t be able to do the role wholeheartedly when the director keeps wondering how different the movie could have been if I had agreed.’ ‘What happened to all those talks about inability to change overnight?’ ‘This is just the result of six months’ ordeal Jessica. I am glad you were always by my side.’ ‘I always will be Ben. So what’s the next step?’ ‘I am calling a press conference tomorrow to announce I am ready to read scripts from new directors and producers.’ ‘Why? What’s wrong with the old ones?’ ‘The old ones have lost their purpose like I had.’ ‘Great move. Next?’ I was eager to know what new decisions he had made regarding his career. He placed the phone next to him and leaned closer. ‘I am planning to make out with my girlfriend if she is willing.’ ‘Let’s get started.’ I put my hands around his neck and kissed him. I broke away, gasping, after what seemed like one long minute. ‘Do you mind if we implement the terms of our negotiation from tomorrow?’ I asked taking in more breath. ‘Sure. What do you have in mind?’ his forehead was soaked with sweat. ‘Just a bit of innocent…..’

His lips found mine again before I completed the sentence. I stretched on the floor pulling him along. He traced every inch of my neck with his sharp nose and I held on to his hair, notwithstanding the sensation. His lips then planted soft kisses that drove me even crazier. ‘Don’t do that. It’s making it hard for me to exercise control.’ ‘Let me do the honor of making it harder.’ I heard his whispher. He freed his hair from my clutch. He placed my hands by my sides, palms facing the sky and held them tight with his. He then slowly begun by kissing my forehead. His lips then gently caressed my nose, cheeks; lips, chin and then finally they found my hot spot- my throat. His hands held mine with impossible force while his mouth closed hotly over my throat. Every nerve in my body pounded with the desire to touch him more intimately but hands were tied in the literal sense. A pressure of ecstasy begun to build up with vigor inside of me, which exploded every time his lips touched my skin. It felt as if he wasn’t able to stop himself despite something was asking him to and I wanted to see how far he went. Another voice from within asked me to stop him but I found no possible way to do that. As his kisses grew intense, his hold on my hands grew weaker. I used the opportunity to gently push him away. I rolled away from him but he was quick in pulling me close again. His forehead was pressed against mine. He slowly brushed my nose with his and said in a low voice that sent waves of pleasure through me ‘You are killing me.’ ‘So are you Ben’ ‘What do we do now genius?’ ‘You tell me, my brain is on a temporary hold.’ ‘Will you listen to me?’ ‘Of course. Do I have a choice?’ ‘Nope. I don’t think so.’ He said biting his lips that broke into a smile. He then kissed my forehead and moved away stretching on the floor, facing the sky. I was now lying next to him, my head resting on one of his fore arms. ‘I was wondering if we could talk for a while like real couples do.’ ‘Are we a real couple now?’I asked curious to know his answer. ‘I am afraid we are.’ We spoke on varying subjects for a long time until I snuggled onto to him to sleep peacefully in the warmth of his protective arms. I woke up to the mild rays of the sun that produced a sensation of subtle heat in my body. Ben sat next to me facing the pool.

‘Good Morning.’ I mumbled. ‘Good Morning. It’s just 7, do you wanna sleep some more?’ ‘Yep. But in my bed. Will you take me please?’ He stood up and lift me off the floor with ease. When he walked carrying me in his arms, it felt as though I was being cradled to sleep. After he put me on the bed, his lips found mine for a brief caress. I smiled to myself. ‘Kiss One’ he said and walked towards the bathroom. ‘That’s a good morning kiss Ben.’ ‘A kiss is a kiss.’ He had now disappeared. ‘You are not being fair Ben Cerratos. I hate you.’ I said loud enough for him to ear and closed my eyes in an attempt to sleep off my disappointment. I woke up finally after a bad dream of kissing a stranger. I decided to wash away the bad dream and proceeded to bathe. It was 9 O’ clock and Ben would be leaving in a few minutes. I decided to join him for the breakfast. I had no mind to change from the comforts of my bathrobe. The door opened and Ben came in with the breakfast tray. I was relieved. He sat by my side, placing the tray on the bed. He gently gave a peck on my cheek before taking the tray back in his lap. The smell of scrambled eggs and coffee made from Mrs. Baina’s hand grounded coffee seeds, were inviting. I took the mug and took a sip. Ben took a spoonful of eggs and fed me. I ate without any complains. ‘What time is the press release?’ ‘At ten baby, why?’ ‘Will you give me 10 minutes? I could change and join you too.’ ‘Don’t mistake me honey but I want to do this thing alone. Plus you need to get ready to visit Aaron’s studio.’ ‘Oh I completely forgot about that. Let me at least walk you to the door.’ He kissed me on my lips before leaving and I grabbed the opportunity for revenge. I was aware that he preferred brief kisses when we were surrounded by the maids, but I kissed him with passion for one whole minute before breaking away. ‘What the hell was that?’ he asked with laughter in his voice. ‘Kiss 2.’ He shot an embarrassed look at Mrs. Baina and left after another kiss on my forehead. I chose a long red skirt with minimal frills and a white top with old fashioned sleeves. I also found a poncho that matched my skirt. Aaron was late by fifteen minutes owing to the traffic. He

wore slacks of light brown and a loose white shirt with full length sleeves which he had rolled up till his elbows. He bore the same ‘stub’ look and a charming smile. ‘I apologize for the delay.’ ‘No sweat. Shall we leave?’ ‘Sure.’ He led the way to his white Lamborghini. ‘Are you in love with him?’ he asked after 5 minutes of driving in silence. ‘Nope. But I think I am getting there. Why do you ask?’ ‘No reason. Just a question.’ ‘Looks like too much thought went into asking a question without reason.’ All I got back in response was a smile. We drove for long before entering a deserted long road. At its end stood huge house with a sprawling lawn. The exterior of the house represented a villa while the interiors were contrastingly modern. His studio looked messier than I had expected. The paintings weren’t arranged in any pattern. The walls were crowded with graffiti and paintings of different genres but it was difficult to differentiate between them. Finally we settled in his living room where he placed a photo of Ben before he began the portrait. ‘So how does this work? You draw completely from your mind or from the picture?’ ‘The picture is for reference sake. For an artist such as I’m, its only till our brush touches the canvas, we are aware of what we want to do. After that we give ourselves to our instincts. Sometimes we end up painting something totally different from what we have in mind.’ ‘That sounds weird.’ ‘Weird but true. It’s true for every artist. Whether you are a singer, dancer, painter, actor or writer, this is what happens.’ ‘I am not surprised why I don’t know. I am not into art. I admire them but I possess no talent of that sort. My only strong point is I talk well.’ ‘Yeah. You must be very convincing while you talk. I guessed that from what Ben spoke yesterday.’ ‘I wasn’t listening to Ben yesterday. I was just lost in his thoughts.’ ‘I could see that. He is sincerely falling in love with you. That’s what his speech conveyed.’ ‘Hmmm… so that’s why you asked me this morning? Don’t worry I won’t hurt Ben.’ Again there was nothing but a smile. I sat by Ben’s photo for about couple of hours endlessly talking on random subjects. I couldn’t help but admire the way his hand moved with swiftness

and expertise. His eyes were fixed on his canvas but he spoke without letting his concentration wander. I was surprised at how he listened and responded to everything I had been saying, not missing a single detail. When he was finally done, he moved few inches away from the canvas looking at the portrait with a deep thought. He then breathed a sigh of relief and motioned me to have a look at it. My mind failed to fully accept what my eyes were witnessing. I saw myself painted the way Aaron looked at me the first time, wrapped in a towel, water dripping from my hair, my eyes filled with fear for the stranger I was looking at then. It was perfect only irrelevant to the existing situation. ‘Aaron... Is this some kinda joke?’ Aaron stood dumbstruck too when he realized finally what he had painted. ‘I warned you. I apologize for my insensitivity.’ ‘What do you mean you warned me? I don’t get it. Do you care to explain?’ I now turned to face him. ‘Jessica, you said it yourself an artist can draw only what he desperately wants to.’ ‘Oh my God! Please tell me I didn’t hear you say that. What in hell are you talking about? I am your best friend’s girl friend and I cannot be that person in your life Aaron.’ ‘We will see about that.’ ‘What the hell does that mean? Don’t you see, you were looking at his picture throughout the time you drew but all you could paint was me. Don’t you see that?’ ‘I don’t see it that way Jess.’ ‘I don’t care. Thanks for your time. Coming here was the biggest mistake. We can’t be friends anymore.’ I snapped at him and turned away. He caught my hand to pull me closer. His arm circled around me, making it impossible to move away. Our eyes met for a brief second before he kissed me. His kiss sent a raging impulse through me. I wanted to push him away and slap him. But something was stopping me. I knew he meant a lot to Ben and I decided to do nothing erratic, instead I insulted him by being unresponsive to his kiss. When he was done he slowly released his grip and we both turned to look at Ben who stood motionless like he had been struck by a lightning in the doorway.

Chapter 17 It was one of those moments where you feel the earth could split and swallow you or a van could squish you so that you will never have to think about the consequences of the proceeding moments. But that never happens in reality does it? I sat in Ben’s car waiting for him to leave the house like a violent storm. I was waiting to be interrogated mercilessly. Although I wasn’t the

accused, I could have evaded the situation. A girl always knows from deep within when someone is attracted by her. Although I hadn’t acknowledged the fact, if I had paid more attention I could have avoided the catastrophe. But instead I chose to be swept away by the flattering attention that Aaron bestowed upon me. I was so taken aback by his talent that I wanted to learn more about his art. Had I known that I would have to inflict such pain on Ben, I would have never let this come this far. My eyes kept wandering to the gate. After what seemed like five minutes Ben walked towards the car whistling. His casualty only increased my fears further. It was not the way the Ben I knew would react. He opened the car door, slid inside and started the engine gently. ‘You wanna talk about it?’ I broke the silence after a few minutes. ‘We can if you want to.’ He said turning to me. ‘So you mean you don’t want to know anything? Any explanation?’ ‘Jessica, you are looking me in my eyes and asking if I need explanations. The fact that you are still able to face me with your head held high explains everything. I know you are not the one who needs to give an explanation.’ ‘So he did?’ He nodded while keeping his eyes on the road. ‘What was his excuse?’ my voice was filled with anger. ‘His reason Jessica not excuse. His reason is that he likes you. He is attracted to you and he wants you. So he kissed you.’ ‘He hardly knows me Ben. Did you punch him on his face? Else turn the car I am going to.’ ‘Relax. He has been my friend for a long time and we decided ages ago that we will not let a girl come between us, if we love the same woman, we let her choose. So…’ ‘So….? You are ending that sentence with a so? So you think this attraction or whatever he calls it is mutual? You think I am going to walk away from you Ben? Unbelievable.’ ‘I didn’t say that. You don’t know him. In future when you know him better you might actually like him and it’s not wrong Jessica.’ ‘Great! This is just great. My boyfriend thinks I might fall for his best friend and has no problem with that. What’s wrong with you damn it?’ I hit my seat hard with my fist. ‘Relax alright? Let’s go home and discuss.’ ‘Discuss? What’s left to discuss?’ I said and looked out the window. When the car pulled over in front of the gate, I got down immediately and ran upstairs. I didn’t stop to greet the maids or even talk to Mrs. Baina; I ran straight the bedroom pushing the door hard behind me.

He entered the room after a while. He removed his shirt and hung it on the peg carefully. He then threw a mischievous look at me like a father who admires his daughter when she fights with him for a silly cause. He slowly walked towards me and slid in the bed next to where I sat. He rested his hands behind his head so that it raised his face enough to look at me. I turned my face away. He waited for a while and held my hand. I turned to look at him and there were tears in my eyes when they met his. He pulled me closer rested my head on his chest. He then circled his hand around me. His other hand stroked my hair with tenderness. He kissed my forehead and said ‘I don’t doubt what you have for me. I am only saying you might have something more than this for someone else. Can you dispute that?’ ‘Future is far Ben. I only have about 9 more weeks with you. You want to ruin that?’ ‘Nope. I am sorry. My fault. Let’s not ruin the moment. In fact let’s do something constructive.’ ‘I am really not in a mood okay?’ ‘Well that’s too bad. I was willing to bend the rules... No problem.’ ‘Ben that’s not fair….’ I said putting my arms around his neck. ‘Then why don’t you teach me what’s fair?’ he whispered as his lips parted mine. My lips begun to shiver the instant his touched mine and he broke away sensing my fear. ‘Hey Jessica... Don’t do this to yourself. It’s not your fault.’ ‘May be it is Ben. May be I just enjoyed the attention I was getting from him that I totally ignored the consequences.’ ‘Listen baby! We are dating and we are happy but this doesn’t mean your life belongs to me. I just want to be tied to you by love and not by meaningless conditions alright?’ ‘Yeah…’ ‘Come on! Now if I take a beautiful actress out for dinner tomorrow you wouldn’t mind right?’ ‘Nope. Not at all but I won’t be here when you are back.’ Ben laughed with a satisfaction of seeing me jealous for the first time. ‘Let’s just cuddle up and remain silent what say?’ he asked and I inched closer to him as he circled his arm around my shoulder. I lay my head on him and held his shirt tight with my fingers. For the next few days I tried with all my might to push away the memories of what had happened with Aaron. But every time I tried harder, the more I was drenched with guilt. Three weeks passed quietly. There were no calls or visit from Aaron. One early morning I lay beside Ben nestled in his warm embrace.

We heard a knock at the door. Usually he would have bothered to move away from me before letting anyone in but this time he just didn’t care. ‘Come in.’ he said Aaron entered the room hesitantly and Ben tried to move away from me. I tightened my grip and he understood that he had no permission to move. One strange thing about the situation was how painless Aaron’s face looked looking at us and how painful Ben’s face looked putting Aaron through this. ‘Jess I need to talk to you.’ Aaron said assuming a seat in front of us. ‘Tell me.’ ‘Let me leave you two…’ Ben started to say something but I interrupted before he could move away. ‘You are not going anywhere. There is nothing I want to talk to him alone.’ ‘Jessica... Listen... this is not about taking your side or his alright? This is not the place I want to be in right now. Okay? I hope you respect that. See you two in a while.’ He said and walked out of the door leaving me alone with a monster I loathed with all my heart. ‘How dare you?’ I said looking straight into Aaron’s eyes. ‘I am sorry. I am sorry for the action but not for the intention behind it. I sorry I expressed it that way.’ ‘What the hell that’s supposed to mean? Don’t you have any respect for your friend? He loves you so much. Any other guy would have..’ ‘Jess… Listen… I can’t let him be an excuse for not pursuing my desires. As much I am happy he loves you, I don’t want him to be with someone who could love someone else more.’ ‘Well you are damn right! I might love someone more than Ben but I will make sure it’s not you.’ ‘You don’t know me yet Jess.’ ‘First of all stop calling me Jess. Second of all, I agree I don’t know you and something about that day tells me that I never want to.’ ‘Don’t be like that okay? I slipped that day. I agree. I apologize but it was purely an expression of the respect and affection I hold for you.’ ‘It was cheap alright? It was damn cheap, at least it felt cheap.’ ‘So you did let yourself feel it?’ ‘I can’t believe you are asking me this. Of course I felt it. When a cheap minded pathetic human puts his tongue into my mouth, there is not much option left for me... Is there?’

‘Jess. That’s who I am. Impulsive and passionate and for the first time I saw a fire in someone that could match mine and I got knocked off completely. Do you blame me? Give me a chance okay? Let’s start over as friends.’ ‘I can’t believe you are asking this.’ ‘Are you scared that you might fall for me?’ ‘You know what? You think very highly of yourself. It takes more than your cunning charm to make me fall in love with you.’ ‘As long as you agree that I do have some charm, I have nothing to argue. I will make a deal. I will not attempt to impress you or manipulate you. I will just try and be a good friend. Will you give me a chance?’ ‘I already gave you one and you blew it. You lost my trust Aaron.’ ‘I am sure I will regain that trust, if you let me.’ ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Well… Apart from giving yourself the satisfaction by proving I am not good enough for you, you could give Ben some peace. Else he will always wonder if you would have liked me more, had you known me.’ ‘You are just pathetic. I just can’t believe you are using him. Anyways I am in.’ ‘Just try to forgive me and start over wholeheartedly okay? Else its gonna be difficult for all of us.’ ‘I can’t promise you that.’ ‘No problem. I will take care of that. See you tomorrow.’ ‘Tomorrow?’ ‘Yeah… Long distance friendships don’t work for me. I will be here to work on regaining the lost trust. Bye.’ He kissed my forehead before leaving and it sent sparks of fury inside me. Ben entered after half hour by which I assumed Aaron would’ve briefed him about our conversation. ‘Hey. Are you feeling better?’ he asked as he closed the door and walked towards the bed. ‘Not until I break his nose.’ ‘Then why didn’t you do it?’ he asked laughing as he hugged me again. ‘For you.’ I said and snuggled in his arms. He let out a huge sigh and kissed my forehead. We remained silent for a long time before I dozed off. I woke up in the middle of the night to find Ben wide awake staring at the ceiling.

‘Ben…’ I called out in my sleepy voice. ‘Yes love....’ ‘You were joking about that beautiful actress and dinner right?’ He laughed out loud and kissed my forehead once again. ‘Of course I was joking. Why do you ask?’ ‘Well, you might always love someone more than you love me. Can you dispute that?’ ‘Can I take a rain check on answering that one? We both are not yet ready to deal with it.’ ‘Alright Ben. I love you.’ Ben’s hold tightened on me. He kissed my forehead once again and walked out the room. I was too drained emotionally to even think of following him. I closed my eyes and went back to the world where everything was so safe and peaceful. Chapter 18 The dream I had was very vague. I didn’t have the exact details. But it was scary. It was one of those sorts that arose a disturbed feeling in your mind. I inched closer to Ben who was laying next me. I tried to open my eyes but I was unable to. I felt his hands pulling me closer. It felt different. His touch felt very different and I forced my eyes open. Ben was standing right in front of me, getting dressed. It was as though I was dreaming. Shock washed over me and I looked to my right and there he was. Eddie. Smiling at me, his eyes emanating warmth. ‘Good Morning Jess.’ He said and kissed my forehead. ‘Good Morning.’ I snuggled in his chest and closed my eyes again. ‘Guess she has had a bad dream.’ I could hear Ben’s voice. ‘Yeah I figured so.’ ‘This whole new found sense of brotherhood you both are practicing... It’s sorta scary.’ I mumbled. I heard them both laugh heartily and it was music to my ears. I heard the door knock and pulled my sheets closer. Aaron was the last person in this world I wanted to meet first thing in the morning, but now that he had come, there was nothing I could do. ‘Rise and Shine Jess.’ He said handing over a bunch of flowers. ‘Thanks.’ I said with an evident fake smile. ‘Be Nice Jess.’ Eddie whispered in my ears. Ben left for work after having breakfast with Aaron, while I had mine from the comfort of my bed with Eddie.

‘So you wanna hang out with me today?’ I asked Eddie ‘I want to... But have plans with Vanessa and Rachael. You and Aaron could join us.’ ‘From when did Aaron become a part of our social circle?’ ‘Okay. I did hear everything about that day. Ben briefed me about it. Honestly I don’t blame that guy. Who could resist being in the same room with you Jess?’ ‘You did.’ ‘That’s because we grew up together.’ ‘I don’t like this conversation.’ ‘Okay. I just wanted to spend some time with you. Guess what? Let’s catch a couple of movies this weekend and hang out after dinner till early morning. Okay?’ ‘Okay!’ I smiled at him before he disappeared closing the door behind. I was in a mood for a warm bath. I chose the bottle of lavender oil and added a few drops to the water in the bath tub. I wore a white gown with blue floral patterns with long sleeves. When I left the bathroom, Aaron was lying on the bed reading a magazine. ‘Have you heard of the term privacy?’ I snapped at him ‘Have you heard of the term kindness?’ ‘Nope… Not at all.. Especially when it comes to the likes of you.’ ‘I thought you were gonna give me a chance to be your friend.’ ‘I thought you were going to work on regaining the trust.’ ‘Well then you should let me.’ ‘You should start knocking the door and wait for an answer before barging into my room. Not to mention using our bed.’ ‘Our?’ ‘I meant Ben.’ ‘If you are done with your abusive banter, I have something for you.’ He bent towards the floor and picked up a package and handed it to me. I opened it with no interest but what unfolded in front my eyes was truly magnificent. It was a painting of Ben standing in a Beach looking at a girl or rather me, who stands watching the waves, her back turned to Ben. There was immense love, pride, fear and confusion in Ben’s eyes. It was as though Ben was standing right in front of me.

‘Wow... I am speechless. It’s… It’s amazing Aaron.’ I looked up at his smiling face. He stood his hands inside his pocket and head inclined towards me. ‘Thanks.’ I said sincerely And he nodded in a way of acknowledgement. ‘What did you do to that one?’ ‘Well… It’s gone… I painted this one on top of that.’ ‘But you liked it....’ ‘I loved it… But what’s more important is your trust… I am willing for any bargain.’ I nodded in silence unable to find any words. ‘So ready?’ ‘Ready for what?’ I couldn’t understand his question. ‘For our day out?’ ‘Oh... Alright. Gimme sometime to change.’ ‘Nah. You look pretty already. Just grab your jacket. Let’s leave.’ While seated in the car I asked him out of curiosity ‘Where are we headed?’ ‘You will see for yourself in a few minutes.’ ‘I hate suspense…’ ‘Do you? You don’t seem like that.’ He turned towards me and said with a teasing smile. ‘Alright! Enough character analysis. Keep your eyes on the road.’ I said and started to look out the window. We drove into a road that was lined with trees on both sides. We reached a small patch of green land. It had a stone bench and a small river extended from its end. When he parked the car and got out, I was still sitting inside hesitantly. I didn’t know what his intention was to bring me to such a secluded location. He shot a mocking look at me like he had read my mind and proceeded to open the car’s back door. He took out what looked like Picnic baskets. He walked towards the patch of green land and spread a blanket. He then took out some bottles and boxes and arranged them on the sides. He walked towards the car and opened the passenger door and extended his hand and said ‘Have little faith in me Jess.’ I took his hand and followed his lead. After we sat in the blanket, he offered me a bottle of soda.

‘Help yourself with the cookies.’ He said and got up. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked confused. ‘To the car. Need to get the party started right?’ he said raising his left eyebrow. He came back with another basket and put it behind where he sat. He took out his I-pod from his pocket and connected the speakers to them. He then started his playlist. ‘What’s your favorite book?’ ‘Well… Pride and Prejudice.’ ‘Very apt for the situation isn’t it?’ ‘Very funny.’ I made an angry face. ‘Wanna read it now? With me?’ ‘What do you mean with you?’ He took out a hard bound copy of pride and prejudice from the basket and opened it. He positioned himself to lean on the foot of the stone bench and said ‘Come here.’ ‘No way.’ I stared at him ‘Don’t be a spoil sport Jess. This is a little exercise for trust building.’ He said and pulled me closer. I didn’t retaliate. I was tired of being angry. He made rest on his chest and he held the book open in front of me so that both of us could read it. ‘Why don’t one of us read it aloud?’ I asked turning my face to him. The closeness had a terrifying effect on him while it should’ve been on me. ‘No way! Read!.’ He held my chin and turned it towards the book. He was a fast reader than I. He would wait for me to finish the page and then we would proceed to the next. Sometimes he started late to make up for the delay. Every now and then I would laugh or express anger, where he would stop and ask the reason. An argument or discussion would begin. After coming to a conclusion we would continue again. After reading half the book, I snatched it from and tossed it on the blanket after closing it. ‘What?’ there was disappointment in his voice. ‘Enough reading for today.’ ‘It’s only like 11.’ He picked up a cookie took a bite and offered me the rest. I took the piece into my mouth right from his clutch. He let out a satisfying chuckle.

‘It’s just eleven Jess. I am not taking you home now.’ ‘Let’s talk.’ ‘Sure. That’s even better.’ He sounded cheerful. ‘Where had you been to for the past few months?’ I began my interrogation. ‘Liechtenstein.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘It’s a country.’ ‘In which universe?’ ‘It’s a small alpine country that lies between Austria and Switzerland.’ ‘And what were you doing there?’ ‘There was art exhibition where a lot of painters had displayed their work. I stayed there for a few months, derived inspiration, did some paintings and submitted them. They got approved and now they are at display.’ ‘Wow.. That’s great.’ ‘What sort of a place is it?’ ‘The sort I would like to take you someday.’ ‘In your dreams..’ I said and moved away from him. ‘Oh come on now! Don’t spoil the moment.’ He grabbed my hand and pulled me closer once again to rest on his shoulder. We sat there for at least 4 hours discussing and arguing about various forms of art. He promised to take me to a sculpture exhibition the following week which I was looking forward to. When we reached home, Ben was in the kitchen, sitting at the dining table and cutting vegetables for Mrs. Baina. I ran to him and sat on his lap wrapping my arms around his neck. He kissed me on my lips and turned to greet Aaron who was now walking towards us. I alighted from his lap and proceeded to help Mrs. Baina leaving them to talk. I was astonished at the way Ben remained unaffected by the fact that I had spent an entire day with his best friend who claims to be in love with me. Late in the night when I was lying in Ben’s arms, he kept stroking my hand. ‘It doesn’t bother you a bit does it?’ I asked looking into his eyes. ‘It does… a little… but very little…’ he locked his lips with mine for a brief moment. ‘So do you approve of my friend now?’ he spoke genuinely trying to defend Aaron.

‘I do. But never ever in my life I will approve of what he did.’ ‘I am not asking you to.’ I slowly traced the line from his forehead to his chest with my finger. He closed his eyes as though in total surrender. I inched closer. Holding his shirt button, I whispered ‘Can we please do something about the 5 kisses per day deal?’ ‘Don’t do this to me Jessica.’ ‘Please… loosen the rules a bit.’ I spoke while kissing his neck. The way he remained motionless made me realize, he was surrendering himself. He let me undress him without any hesitation or even slight opposition. But his eyes remained closed till I took off every bit of cloth from his body. It was strange how it was the first time I was seeing him or rather any man naked yet how it didn’t feel even a bit awkward. I lay there watching his beautiful body. The perfect lines of his torso, the way they lead to his strong and firm legs. He slowly opened his eyes to look at me. I felt no awkwardness in them too. There was a new found chivalry in his face. After a mischievous smile, he returned my gesture. Whenever I blushed as more and more of my skin was getting revealed, he planted a kiss on my cheeks. He then pulled me closer and I felt my entire body against his. It was as though each vein in my body was being filled with a strange sweetness. As opposed to what I had imagined, his kiss was softer than usual. His lips lingered to every inch of my face and neck before moving further. When he was making advances, I pulled him by his air and asked ‘Do we have everything we need Ben.’ ‘We don’t need anything Jessica. We are not going overboard.’ He answered and continued with showering his love. After a few minutes we lay in each other’s arms catching our breadth. He gently pulled a sheet above our bodies. The warmth made the moment even more complete. ‘God… you are awesome… I can actually see seven different colors in front of me. For a moment there it was as though I was in a parallel universe.’ ‘You are awesome too Ben. I learnt the true meaning of ecstasy today.’ ‘Well that’s not surprising considering my experience , is it?’ ‘Well… let’s not even go there. I hate to think of it.’ He turned to me and kissed my forehead and spoke in my ears. ‘I have never quite felt so much loveliness before. So you don’t have to worry at all.’ ‘I was this close to closing the deal, you know?’ I said with disappointment He let out a gay laughter and said

‘Closing the deal? That’s what you call it? You make me look like a gigolo.’ ‘Yew… Ben….’ We continued to talk for a while and then I didn’t know when I fell asleep but I woke up to one of the most beautiful mornings of my life in his arms and this time it felt even better than my dream. CHAPTER – 19 ‘Jess, we’re not going on date. For god’s sake wear any damn dress. Let’s leave.’ ‘How rude! We are gonna hang out after such a long time Eddie and you don’t grant me the pleasure of dressing up! What misery has befallen Ms Jessica Evans!’ I rambled as I stood looking at the mirror holding two dresses, one in each of my hands. ‘Well. I do know you have been spending a lot of time in that room of yours with classic literature. Now please pick a dress soon Jess. We have a movie to catch in an hour.’ ‘Alright Alright. I will be back in 5.’ I finally got dressed in a chocolate brown, sleeveless , double V neck Jersey gown. Eddie let out a sigh of relief and led the way to his car. ‘Have you informed Ben that you won’t be home for the night?’ Surprised by his question I shot a sarcastic look at him. ‘What?’ he asked as he started the engine. ‘What did he say that night? I cannot understand the reason behind this Metamorphosis.’ ‘You were very much present there weren’t you? I am not gonna give you the pleasure of hearing praises about Ben Cerratos. Nothing of that sort is gonna escape my lips.’ ‘Oh come on Eddie. Tell me. I have no idea of what he spoke. The moment you opened the subject, I got lost in thoughts… Just tell me what made you change your mind. I need to know nothing.’ ‘Well, I never understood the reason behind his love for you. I was constantly irritated by the way he was showering luxuries on you and showing you off to everyone like you were one of his possessions. But that day I realized that he deeply respects you and cares for you.’ ‘I am glad you did.’ ‘Me too.’ He said with a smile as he maneuvered the steering wheel to make a turn. We reached the movie hall half an hour earlier. We loitered around the hall looking at the banners of upcoming movies. ‘So, how was the date with Mr. Artist?’ Eddie whispered when the movie was nearing climax

‘Shhh… Don’t talk now.’ I tried to silence him ‘Oh come on! We know how this is going to end. This is no ‘edge of the seat’ thriller.’ ‘Eddie. Shut Up!.’ And he knew it was his cue to obey. After the movie while we were making our way towards the exit, Eddie pointed out a group of college girls who were looking at me and having a secretive conversation. When I looked at them, they stopped their chattering and stared at me with their awe filled eyes. I smiled at them and walked away. ‘So where are we headed?’ I asked Eddie as I held his hand. ‘I am in a mood for some Indian food.’ ‘Ah… too spicy Eddie… I was thinking of Mediterranean.’ ‘Mediterranean like Moroccan?’ ‘I was thinking more of Greece.’ ‘I get it. I get it. But I am no mood for one of your food experiments today. Plus you are vegetarian and have fewer options in Mediterranean. So better follow my orders today.’ ‘Alright. I will ask Mrs. Baina to cook Mediterranean tomorrow. We can go have your Indian food today.’ ‘Whoa! Did I just hear Jessica Evans boasting?’ ‘Oh Yeah. One of the many advantages of being Ben’s girlfriend.’ I suggested that we dine at a restaurant we have never been to before. So Eddie made a few calls to get a list of Indian restaurants in the neighborhood. We then decided to leave the car in the movie hall’s parking lot and walk. I also suggested that we could catch another movie after dinner, to which he refused point blank. ‘Are you going to tell me about your date?’ Eddie spoke while I was savoring my crispy, spicy starter. ‘First of all it was not a date. Second of all there is nothing extraordinary about it for you to get so excited.’ ‘Oh Yeah Jess. The guy kissed you, you fought with him. He struggled with himself for about 3 weeks before he pleaded with you to give him another chance and you consented. The next day you guys go out and it’s not a date at all.’ ‘What are you driving at? I am not two timing okay?’ ‘Well… I wasn’t suggesting that. But there must have been some sexual tension.’ ‘None from my side… as far as Aaron, I didn’t bother to investigate into his feelings.’

‘So you like him?’ ‘He is tolerable.’ Eddie’s lips widened into a sarcastic smile at my words and then he continued to eat without saying a word. The traces of sarcasm still lingering to his lips. ‘What?’ I asked unable to comprehend the reason behind his behavior. ‘You like that guy don’t you?’ he asked as he held my glance with his. ‘I told you he is tolerable.’ I answered without moving my gaze. ‘Well I know the meaning of tolerable in Jessica’s dictionary. But if you wanna carry on with this game, you are most welcome to. It’s quite interesting for spectators to watch, you see. I pity Ben though.’ ‘I have absolutely no clue as to what you are blabbering about. If you care to explain about it go ahead, else I don’t mind a change of topic.’ We both remained silent till we finished our main course. ‘So when is your next date?’ Eddie asked after taking a spoon of his dessert. ‘Eddie?’ ‘Come on! I am enjoying this love triangle. Don’t be a spoil sport.’ ‘There is no triangle. Ben and I form a perfect straight line.’ ‘From where I come when two guys have feelings for the same girl and the girl is some way or the other related to both, it’s called a love triangle. So when are you meeting him next?’ ‘He is taking me to a sculpture exhibition next week. Care to join?’ ‘Nah. I wouldn’t want to intrude into your privacy.’ ‘Ben is coming as well.’ ‘Oh then count me in. I wouldn’t miss the fun for anything in this world.’ I nodded my head in disbelief and continued to relish the dessert. ‘Eddie.. Can we go to the lake tonight?’ ‘Lake… that lake? Whoa No. Not today and not again ever. I don’t wanna relive that rainy day.’ ‘Eddie…’ ‘You really wanna go there.. Don’t you? Alright. What the hell!’ ‘Thanks…’

‘You don’t have to thank me silly.’ ‘I am going to miss this place Eddie.’ I spoke looking at the lake. Eddie was sitting at the foot of the stone Bench, leaning back on it for support and I was lying on his lap holding his hand. ‘I don’t know if I am going to miss anything at all.’ He said ruffling my hair gently. ‘When did you become so devoid of emotions? I thought you were a sentimentalist.’ ‘Think of it Jess. We are going to be in the same college, same dormitory and if we get our way, could even be roommates. What more could I want?’ ‘Good point. I can’t contest that and what do you mean by if we get our way?’ ‘We could rent a place and stay together you know if we don’t get accommodation together inside the campus?’ ‘Yeah we could. But I want complete college experience. So at least for the first year I want to be live inside the campus.’ ‘Alright. In that case I wish you get a cute roommate.’ ‘I thought Rachael was joining Dominic’s.’ ‘She is… but haven’t you heard? Variety is the spice of life.’ ‘Who are you? And what have you done to my Eddie?’ We both laughed at it and talked about a few more things for couple of hours. ‘It’s almost 11. We should leave.’ ‘Let’s sleep here Eddie.’ ‘Are you crazy?’ ‘Come on. Its summer and it will be fun.’ ‘What’s gotten into you today?’ ‘I just want to spend some quality time with my friend. Do you blame me?’ ‘Quality time sleeping near a lake?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But we leave early morning before the sunrise.’ ‘Deal.’ He got up and helped me to stand and dusted the dusted the sand off his jeans. ‘Let’s go home and get some blankets.’

‘Sure.’ I agreed ‘You want to say hi to your parents?’ ‘That would be nice.’ We drove to his place and picked up all the necessary things for the night. We then dropped by my place for about half hour before coming back to the lake. Half past midnight when I was lying peacefully in Eddie’s arms admiring the starlight sky, my phone rang. Eddie looked at it with a teasing smile and passed it on to me. I understood who should be the caller from his smile. ‘Hi Aaron.’ I said picking up the phone. ‘Did I wake you up?’ he sounded concerned ‘Nope. I am wide awake. What’s up?’ ‘Would you like to come over for breakfast tomorrow? ‘I am out with Eddie actually. I will be out all night. So I will be sleeping in at least till noon. So…’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘Somewhere near my parent’s home.’ ‘I can pick you up in the morning.’ ‘Aaron, what’s the rush? We are meeting up next week anyways.’ ‘I have a guest who is coming over for breakfast tomorrow. His name happens to be Josh Bernstein.’ ‘Holy Crap. Did I hear you right? Did you just say Josh Bernstein? What time is he coming?’ Aaron laughed while he answered ‘At 8.’ ‘I will be there at 7.’ ‘Do you want me to pick you up?’ ‘Be at Ben’s at 630.’ ‘Sure Jess. Good night.’ ‘Thanks Aaron. See you in the morning.’ I tossed the phone aside and sat upright.

‘That’s a pretty good news pal. You are meeting Josh huh?’ ‘I can’t believe this is happening Eddie.’ ‘That guy is making really smart moves, I must agree.’ ‘Oh shut up. I am tired of this Eddie.’ ‘Alright. Let’s go back to star gazing then.’ He said and pulled me to lock me up in his arms. Chapter 20 ‘Holy Crap! It’s six. Wake up Eddie.’ He slowly opened his eyes and looked around himself confused. ‘Where are we?’ ‘Eddie.. I have to leave come on.’ ‘Give me a minute will you?’ he rubbed his eyes with his palm, looked around again, shook his head and spoke ‘Tell me now. Why are you so tense?’ ‘It’s six. I am supposed be ready by 630 and I am not even at Ben’s.’ ‘Relax. Give Mr. Artist a call and tell him I will drop you at his place by 7. Alright? Let’s go home now.’ ‘But wait. I have nothing good to wear. I mean I do at my place but I have better clothes at Ben’s.’ ‘Don’t worry that’s already taken care of. Come home.’ ‘What do you mean taken care of? You still not out of your sleep, are you?’ I hit him behind his head to bring him back to the real world. ‘Ouch! Jess! Just come home alright?’ he pulled me with one hand and carried the pillows and blankets in the other and headed to the car. Confused, I gave a call to Aaron and informed him I would be at his place by 7. After we reached his place, I hurried to his bedroom and he followed. I picked up a towel and soap and headed to the bathroom. ‘Eddie, what are we going to do about the dress?’ I shouted as I filled the bathtub with water. ‘Just have your bath peacefully.’

After a while he knocked the bathroom door and I opened it enough for us to look at each other’s face. He handed me his bathrobe and asked me to be quick. It was the quickest bath I must have ever had in my life. When I was done with it, I saw Eddie, looking at half a dozen gowns spread on the bed with a confused look. ‘Wow. Rachael’s? I asked as I dried my hair with the towel ‘No silly. I got these for our mini vacation.’ ‘Eddie. You didn’t have to spend so much. Your parents are very lenient with your allowances, I understand that. But this is unnecessary.’ ‘What do you think I have been doing all the time you were gone? I was bored to death and took up some summer jobs. Now you can’t question me can you?’ I walked towards him and put my hands around his neck and hugged him for a brief moment. ‘Thanks.’ ‘You are getting late. Now wear this purple one.’ ‘Why are all these dresses below knee length? And what’s with the necklines? I see some conspiracy here. I am definitely not wearing these for vacation.’ ‘Shut up and wear the purple one, I will have my bath.’ I dressed up in the purple gown, the white slippers and earrings that I had worn the previous day went well with the dress. As promised Eddie dropped me at Aaron’s at 7. Aaron invited Eddie for the breakfast which he declined politely. ‘Nice Dress.’ ‘Thanks.’ It felt strange entering the house considering my previous experience there. ‘Make yourself comfortable Jess. I am not going to kiss you.’ ‘You can’t even if you tried. I will slap you.’ I meant every word I spoke ‘Oh yeah? Like last time?’ ‘Do you want me to leave Aaron?’ ‘Of course not.’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ ‘What do you want?’ ‘You mean it’s not ready yet. He is gonna be here at 8 and breakfast isn’t ready yet?’ I made my way to the kitchen.

‘He loves Caribbean breakfast. So get on to it quickly.’ I ordered him. ‘Oh. So now you are telling me what Josh likes?’ ‘Why is he coming to meet you by the way?’ ‘Cos I asked him to.’ ‘And why is that?’ ‘Cos one of my good friends happens to be his huge fan.’ He spoke as he gathered the ingredients. ‘You asked him to meet you for me and he agreed? Is he that jobless?’ ‘Or you can say he likes to make time for his friends every now and then.’ ‘Alright quick. I am gonna set the table. The breakfast better be great.’ I said and made my way to the dining room. When the doorbell rung at 8, I almost jumped out of excitement. ‘He is here. He is here.’ I felt a strange mixture of happiness and nervousness. ‘Brace yourself Jess.’ Aaron held my hand and led me to the door. Josh Bernstein looked way hotter and way smarter than in the television. He wore his iconic cowboy hat and smiled at me with warmth while Aaron introduced us. At breakfast, I questioned him nonstop about his various expeditions for which he answered with unwavering patience and immense interest. Aaron remained silent for majority of the conversation. After an hour, when he was about to leave, he took out a copy of his book, borrowed a pen from Aaron and signed it for me. Aaron walked him to his car and I decided to leave them to their privacy. I sat in the living room couch, holding the book, unable to believe what I was holding. ‘You turn out to be smarter than I had thought.’ Aaron spoke as he sat next to me. ‘Yeah... Whatever... Thanks… Thanks a million. It was a dream come true.’ ‘Yeah... Whatever…’ he imitated me and I punched his shoulder without much force. ‘So shall we leave?’ ‘Where?’ ‘Duh! Home. I haven’t seen my boyfriend for a day.’ ‘Alright come on.’ He held out his hand and I took it without hesitation. When I reached home, I found Ben in his office bent over his table. His head immediately rose as he heard my footsteps.

‘Jessica. Where the hell were you? Your phone is switched off and Eddie isn’t picking up. You got me worried. You were supposed to be home early morning. What happened? Is everything alright?’ He spoke as he walked towards me and held my shoulders. ‘Honey I am so sorry. I had no idea my phone went out of charge.’ ‘Jess you left your phone in the car.’ Aaron entered the office and handed the phone to me. I saw Ben’s expression change from the mixture of worry and anger to confusion and it finally became calm. ‘You didn’t tell him. You are unbelievable.’ I spoke to Aaron taking my phone from him. ‘Tell him what?’ ‘Of course about the breakfast. I thought he knew.’ Ben walked towards his table, took a script in hand and started to walk out the room, flipping its pages. ‘Jess. Last time I checked you were his girl friend, not me.’ Aaron snapped at me and called after Ben. ‘Wait up buddy. I need to talk to you about the exhibit.’ ‘So, how was breakfast with Josh?’ Ben asked after Aaron had left. ‘It was the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me Ben.’ ‘Really? I thought that would be me. I am disappointed.’ I laughed at his joke and pulled a chair to sit across him. ‘I am sorry. I should’ve called. I really thought Aaron would have told you. I got late, I got tense and….’ ‘It’s alright. Just remember to do it next time and you should really stop taking out your anger on Aaron for everything. It wasn’t his fault.’ ‘I know. I will work on it. Eddie is coming with us tomorrow. I am so excited.’ ‘I am not really an art person you know. But I am looking forward to the dinner.’ ‘What dinner?’ ‘We have a special invite to the dinner they are organizing. You will get to meet the sculptors as well. Plus good food and good music, not to forget the hot waitresses.’ ‘Don’t you dare Ben.’ ‘You got me really worried you know.’ ‘I know. Ben….’

‘Yes?’ ‘I have only about 4 weeks left here…..’ ‘Listen. I don’t want to put any pressure on you okay? We both know we are going to miss each other. I think the time we are going to spend apart is necessary now. If you meet someone new, don’t be afraid to accept it. If distance doesn’t hamper our feelings then you know I will do anything to make it work.’ ‘And don’t you dare meet anyone new.’ ‘I will try. Can’t promise anything.’ I grabbed him by his shirt and kissed him for more than a minute when we broke away, he said ‘Have Mercy!’ imitating my all time favorite Jessie Katsapulous. Chapter 21 I was reading out a script to Ben, he was listening keenly, his eyes closed and head rested in my shoulder. I sat, my legs stretched across the bed and back supported by the head board, ruffling his hair as I read. Every now and then he would stop me and ask for my ‘valuable inputs’ as he referred to my opinions. After half hour I flipped the script on the bed. ‘What? We are barely done with half of it and its good.’ Ben spoke his eyes still closed. ‘I wanna make out.’ His eyes opened instantly and he looked at me with a curious smile. ‘What did you just say?’ his voice filled with smile ‘I said I want to make out with you.’ ‘God. How do you do that?’ ‘Do what Ben?’ ‘How could you talk about something like that with such innocence?’ ‘I dunno. Are you gonna kiss me or what?’ Even I couldn’t disagree that I sounded like a persistent child. He held the back of my neck and pulled me closer to him. He then kissed my forehead. ‘Is that all?’ I pleaded. ‘Not my fault. I can’t do anything more with a cute kid.’ I smiled and cuddled him. ‘Have you decided what you are wearing for the evening?’

‘Not yet. I have to pick a dress, curl my hair, file and paint my nails. Being a girl is so difficult. Life is so easy for men.’ ‘Not when you are in Hollywood.’ ‘That’s true. What time are we leaving?’ ‘At 330. The exhibition opens for the evening session at 4. The dinner starts at 7. ’ ‘Damn. I just have like 4 hours. But I am in no mood to get ready.’ ‘Then let’s skip the whole thing. What say?’ he teased ‘No way.’ ‘You look pretty already. You don’t need to do anything more you know.’ ‘I know. But I want to. When I go to college I might lose interest in dressing up?’ ‘Why is that?’ ‘Cos I won’t have an admirer then.’ ‘You will have them in plurals then.’ ‘But none I want to impress.’ ‘Speaking of admirers, one of your chief admirers will be here any minute.’ He said looking at his watch. The door flung open exactly at the same time Ben finished his sentence and Aaron entered with a package in his hand, which he placed on the bed as he sat on the floor. ‘Nice timing. I was just talking about you.’ Ben spoke. ‘Aaron. Don’t be offended. Have you ever heard of the phrase – knocking before you enter?’ I sat upright and spoke looking at him. ‘For all you know, we could have been having sex.’ I continued. ‘With the door unlocked? Plus Ben knew I was coming over.’ ‘Give it a rest you two. This is becoming really annoying.’ Ben stopped me before I answered. ‘Princess. Why haven’t you started to get ready yet?’ Aaron asked looking at me. ‘I have no mood to go through that superfluous ward robe. It’s too hard to pick one.’ ‘Problem solved. I have gotten you a dress. Have a look. A little gift from my sister.’ ‘Oh thanks.’ I said and begun to open the package. Ben grew eager to look at the dress and sat up, his head closer to mine bent down towards the package.

‘But why all the men in my life are bent on buying me clothes? Eddie has gotten me half a dozen gowns for our vacation you know Ben?’ ‘Did you hear that Ben? So I am a man in her life now. Good improvement don’t you think?’ Aaron spoke minus any awkwardness in his voice. ‘Pretty good I say’ Ben replied as he helped me take out the carefully packed gown. It was a beautiful, A-line, floor length chiffon gown. It had an asymmetrical plait in the waist. It was strapless, just the way I loved. I was imagining Eddie’s expression when he would see me in it. ‘It’s beautiful Aaron.’ I spoke looking at him and he nodded with a smile acknowledging my sincere appreciation. ‘Yeah. She has never worn anything in mauve before. All right kids. I am going to take a shower and have lunch. Have a tele- meeting for an hour before we leave. You two be good to each other, I hear any noise you both are grounded.’ Ben jumped off the bed and disappeared from the room. Aaron raised one of his eye brows in a way of asking what I was going to do next. I shrugged my and pouted, in a way of saying I didn’t know. He then walked to the ward robe, picked up a towel and a bath robe. He walked towards me, motioned me to get up from the bed and forced me into the bathroom handing me the towel and bathrobe. When I got out of the bath, I was relieved to find he wasn’t there. But my happiness was shortlived. ‘Chop chop princess. So little time and so much to do.’ ‘Why are you so excited about this thing anyways? Haven’t you ever been to a sculptor exhibit before?’ I asked as I sat at the dressing table. ‘If you haven’t guessed the reason for my excitement yet, I will be forced to admit against my will that you are after all not as smart as I had thought.’ He took out the hair dryer from the drawer and handed it to me. ‘I don’t know what you are trying Aaron but I am sure it’s not going to work with me.’ I said not wanting to play with his emotions. ‘For now, I am trying to be a good friend, is that wrong?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘I have a huge favor to ask of you. I know it’s not possible. But please promise me you will try.’ ‘Okay.’ I said in a confused tone. He kneeled on the floor, took my hand and begun to speak

‘Can you please forget what happened that day at my place and try to be my friend without judging me? It’s not fair to ask. I know. But I am sincerely trying to get back into your good graces and it’s not gonna work if you keep judging me based on that impulsive kiss.’ ‘Alright. I will try my best.’ ‘Thanks.’ Ben entered the room asking us to join him for lunch but he stopped abruptly looking at the way Aaron was holding my hand. There was no anger in his face but only guilt that he had interrupted something. Aaron didn’t leave my hand or move away seeing Ben and neither did I which in my opinion was the right thing to do. We both looked at Ben expecting him to say something further. He composed himself within a few seconds and spoke ‘Good. You two kids are really getting along. Keep it up. I am starving so I am not going to wait up.’ He said with a smile and walked out without waiting for us to speak. I was relieved to see the way Ben took it and I could sense the same emotion looking at Aaron’s expression. ‘Are you done with your manicure and pedicure?’ Aaron asked getting up from the floor. ‘Yup’ I replied curtly ‘Fine. Then time for some nail paint. Get here.’ He said and walked towards the bed picking up a mauve nail paint, some cotton and a bottle of nail gloss. I was in no mood to have another argument so I obeyed him. Plus I was too lazy to work on the makeup myself, so I gladly accepted the help. ‘Was your ex- girl friend a model too? Or you guys training from Natasha together?’ ‘Duh! I paint for a living. Remember?’ he said looking up at me. ‘Princess?’ he said after a while... ‘Yes?’ ‘About the entering without knocking… I know there is no such thing going on between you two.’ He said with a teasing smile. ‘ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I know you guys are not having sex.’ ‘I don’t believe this. Ben couldn’t have…’ ‘Oh stop it. You know him too well. It’s doesn’t take a scientist to figure out whether a couple is having sex or not.’ For some strange reason instead of directing my anger towards Aaron for bringing up the topic, I retreated into my sadness shell thinking of what I was missing with Ben.

‘You look sad and I don’t like it a bit.’ ‘Why wouldn’t he do it Aaron? He tells me I am special then don’t you think I deserve it more than any other girl he has been with?’ ‘He is scared Jess.’ ‘Sacred of what? What’s there to be scared of?’ ‘Sex changes things Jess. You are leaving in a month and at this point when things about your relationship are undecided, he cannot afford to take a risk like that. Can’t you see he is hopelessly falling in love with you? And if he gets closer it will only ruin him. Give him sometime alright?’ ‘I guess you are right and Thanks.’ ‘Anytime princess.’ He said with a wholehearted smile. At quarter to three the door bell rung and I knew it was Eddie. I ran to the door forgetting I had just gotten dressed. ‘Whoa! You look hot women!’ ‘Thanks Eddie. You look great too.’ He wore a white tuxedo that complemented his charming smile. There was something different about the way he looked, as though something about him had changed and his smile that was a mixture of pride and mischief confirmed my doubts. ‘Eddie what’s with the smile?’ I shot a suspicious look at him as he entered the door and closed it behind him. He said nothing but continued to give the same smile that intrigued me further. ‘I did it.’ He said in a triumphant tone. Aaron and Ben who were about to enter the living room, walked towards us. ‘Congrats Man.’ Aaron said patting Eddie on his back and Ben shook Eddie’s hand and pulled him closer for a brief hug. ‘What’s happening here? I need an answer now.’ I was starting to lose my patience. Aaron came around me and whispered gently in my ears. ‘Something that’s not happening in your life.’ ‘Eddie?’ I said questioningly with a smile of excitement ‘Yes.’ He confirmed my doubts yet again. ‘God that’s so awesome.’

‘Yes and you have no idea how awesome.’ ‘Get in here into my bedroom. I want the details now.’ I pulled him and started to walk towards my bedroom. I then latched the door and looked at Eddie with a teasing smile. He was now lying on my bed, hands behind head quite relaxed, with a smile that revealed he still wasn’t out of the after effects. ‘First of all Jess.’ He began hesitantly biting his lips. ‘I broke up with Rachael.’ ‘What in the hell? Then who are you….’ ‘Vaness.’ ‘Are you out of your mind Eddie? How could you…………?’ ‘Jess listen to me now okay? Rachael and I had a very mature and understanding break up. We realized that we weren’t in love with each other and merely needed each other when we started to date. And taking things up to going together to Dominic’s seemed overboard. We spoke about it and we parted as good friends.’ ‘Alright! And now you are in love with Vanessa?’ I asked sarcastically ‘No. Will you let me talk? I was feeling very lonely after Rachael left from my house. Although relieved in way, I was sad. I called up Vaness and she came over to talk to me. One thing led to another and before we realized what was happening, we had both…. You know what I mean.’ ‘So you two are together now?’ ‘No… We did enjoy what happened. In fact it was very beautiful considering the closeness we had shared for the past few months. But that’s all is there to it. ‘ ‘Is she still coming to Dominic’s with us?’ ‘I dunno. It’s for her to decide.’ ‘Spare me the juicy details, but how was it?’ ‘It was difficult at first and then it got better and better to the extent one cannot imagine.’ ‘Were you nervous?’ ‘Nah. Because we didn’t plan it. We weren’t thinking at all. So I wasn’t nervous.’ ‘Didn’t you want your first time to be with someone special?’ ‘Jess, life is too long to determine who is gonna last with you for a lifetime and who isn’t. All that mattered to me was it was with someone who loved me and respected me for what I am. And I will cherish this for my entire lifetime and I will always be proud of what happened and never ashamed of it.’ ‘But what about the girl you are going to fall in love with? Doesn’t she deserve to be the first?’

‘I will make sure I give her something that I have never ever given anyone else in my life. Isn’t that enough Jess?’ ‘Yes. That’s enough.’ ‘If you are done with the investigation, can we join the rest of our party?’ ‘Sure.’ We walked to the living room hand in hand. ‘Princess. Help me with the tie.’ Aaron handed me the tie that matched my dress. He wore a mauve dress shirt beneath his light tan tuxedo. ‘You had to wear a shirt matching my dress, didn’t you?’ I asked tightening the tie. ‘After all you are my princess and we are gonna be the star couple of the evening aren’t we?’ his teasing surfaced yet again. ‘In your dreams. Wanna know what makes a star couple?’ I walked towards Ben, who had donned a semi formal look with chocolate brown tuxedo and held his elbow. Eddie hurried to the passenger seat winking at me as soon as Ben took the driver’s seat. I scowled at him and entered the backseat door which Aaron held open. ‘Aaron. I have been meaning to ask this to someone for so long and you are the right person. What’s so special about Mona Lisa? What’s so interesting about her smile?’ ‘I can give you technical answers any painter or Google will give you but the truth is, it beats me. That woman is not even pretty. In fact I admire The Last Supper and Virgin and the Child more.’ ‘What’s your favorite painting, by far?’ ‘It’s hard to single out. Lady of Shallot and Ravi Varma’s lady with the lamp have always been special.’ ‘The James William Waterhouse version?’ ‘The same.’ ‘I always felt that one lacked something. ‘ ‘I know what you mean. There is supposed to be a mixture of fear, happiness and relief in her face and instead there is only sadness and even that is not very intense.’ ‘Exactly. So why don’t you re paint it?’ ‘Are you kidding me? You want me to paint the Lady of Shallot?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Pardon me; I think it’s not fair to the artist. How would you feel if someone rewrote Pride and Prejudice because they weren’t satisfied with it?’ ‘Oh come on Aaron. It’s not the same. James William’s work was his interpretation of Tennyson’s description or probably the Arthurian legend itself. It’s not his imagination you are stealing. I am just asking you to paint your interpretation.’ ‘Good point. I will give it a thought.’ Noticing Eddie and Ben who remained silent like they have been introduced to a parallel universe, I changed the topic in which everyone engaged until we reached the Renaissance Square. Aaron and I darted off with enthusiasm to the Lady Marianne hall, while Eddie and Ben took their own time to reach. Lady Marianne was a huge hall with several divisions that was prefect to display the categorized sculpture. I spent most of my time in Allegorical sculpture section and Aaron helped me in understanding the allegory. Next we moved on to the marble section where we surveyed the human figures carefully. ‘Michael Angelo’s David or Bernini’s David?’ Aaron asked as we all walked towards the Lady Julianne Hall for dinner. ‘Bernini’s craftsmanship is sure to be worshiped but Michael Angelo’s David leaves me spellbound every time I look at it. I wonder how it looks in real. From one angle David’s smile emanates satisfaction which could be interpreted as his pride after slaying Goliath but from another angle, the smile is lost and his face looks serious as though he is carefully surveying his enemy before the war.’ ‘Interesting isn’t it?’ Aaron smiled waiting for me to speak more. ‘But the real competition is between Michael Angelo’s David and Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina.’ ‘It’s really surprising to find that you love the Rape of Proserpina. I imagined you would be furious at Bernini.’ Aaron chuckled as we all took our seats. ‘Why? It’s a masterpiece. The lady’s agony and the man’s arrogant smile have been captured brilliantly and the best part of the sculpture is the flesh where Pluto holds her thighs. And if at I had to be angry, it would be on Pluto and not on Bernini.’ I clarified. The hall was wide and well lit with decorative chandeliers. The shady atmosphere of the room transferred me to the Victorian era. The other part of the room had a stage, where musicians performed, and it overlooked the dance floor. After the first round of drinks, I was introduced to a few sculptors. We conversed for a while and returned to our table where Eddie and Ben were engaged in an animated conversation. The sight was blissful to watch and it was one that I had been longing to see. As soon as I neared the table, their conversation stopped abruptly. ‘What’s going on here?’ I asked suspiciously.

‘Men’s talk. You wouldn’t even want to hear.’ Ben answered. ‘No I would love to.’ ‘Well, do you remember the statue of the half naked lady in the ivory section? We were comparing…. ‘ ‘Alright. I got the Idea. Enough.’ I said and took a sip from my glass of martini aperitif. Aaron adjusted his chair facing mine and extended his hand as he sat. ‘May I have a dance with the princess?’ he smiled. I looked at Eddie who tried to hide his smile. Ben nodded his head in the manner of granting permission while sipping his martini. I hesitantly took Aaron’s hand and proceeded to the dance floor. When I looked back at Ben, he was again engrossed in a conversation with Eddie. As I stepped into the dance floor, the musicians begun to play Anne Murray’s ‘May I have this Dance’. Aaron took me in his embrace and we started to Waltz. ‘You never told me which of the two Davids you prefer.’ ‘Right now I prefer nothing more than the princess in my arms.’ He pulled me closer and I couldn’t help but blush with my head bent. I expected him to tease me immediately, but no words escaped his lips. Curious I looked up at him after a few seconds, there was no smile or traces of mockery in his face, just his eyes looked deeply into mine, notwithstanding its intensity, I looked down immediately. A strand of hair fell on my face which he gently blew away. ‘Stop doing this Aaron.’ I didn’t know if I was warning him or pleading with him. ‘Doing what?’ ‘Flirting, seducing, whatever you wanna name it. ‘ ‘I didn’t realize I was doing it.’ ‘Oh sure. You were just following your impulses.’ He let out a laughter and continued ‘Am I having any luck?’ ‘Yes, you are. I am drenched from head to toe with embarrassment. More so because my boyfriend is seated across the hall and I am letting another man flirt with me.’ ‘Relax Princess. What if I hadn’t kissed you? You would have still felt the same?’ ‘Of course not.’ ‘Hmmm… See my point? Don’t judge me based on that day. I thought you were going to try.’

I let out a huge sigh and the song came to end. When I was about to turn and leave the dance floor, I felt Aaron’s hand circle around my waist, pulling me closer for the next dance. My heart raced a bit and I started to tremble slightly under his touch. ‘What is it Jess? You don’t trust me or you don’t trust yourself?’ ‘Stop it please. Why are you doing this Aaron? Why won’t you leave me alone?’ ‘Look at me Jess.’ He ordered and I disobeyed. ‘Please look at me Jess.’ I slowly lifted my head sighing heavily again, to look into his eyes. He remained silent for a few seconds till my awkwardness faded and then began to speak ‘If you hate me and you don’t want me in your life, tell me now. I will never ever disturb you again. The last thing I want to do is hurt you or Ben. You have to understand that I highly respect what he has for you. All I am trying to do is have fun with you till you are here. So tell me now and I will wake away.’ ‘I don’t hate you Aaron. In fact I have begun to enjoy your company. You are a very good companion but…. ‘ ‘But you are scared. You are scared that I will again kiss you, you are scared that Ben will be hurt by something I might do.’ I nodded in agreement. ‘The truth is yes, I do want to kiss you. God every time I see you I want to hold you close and never let go but I know it’s wrong. I have suppressed those feelings. All I am expecting is for us to be good friends. And I expect you will understand. Is that too much to ask?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘So will you try to understand?’ I nodded and looked down once again. ‘Good. So you are going to ask me to your senior prom or what?’ ‘Why would I take you to my prom when I have the most amazing boy friend in this world?’ I teased back. ‘Because of the simple fact that he is too famous and he cannot attend a prom without causing a chaos even if he wanted to.’ ‘In that case, I will go alone.’ ‘Oh come on! Look at this. We are dancing so well. ‘ ‘Why do you want to go the prom with me anyway Aaron?’

‘Why do you think? For the after prom sex of course.’ He said laughing and I couldn’t help joining him. Chapter 22 With only three weeks left for the end of my stay, Ben and I started to spend more quality time. He worked less and took interest in everything regarding my college admission. My transcripts were sent, admission was confirmed, Eddie and I got a two bedroom apartment inside the campus and Ben even made it a point that I had a part time job from the second week of college. It was like a fairy tale to see my once unachievable dreams becoming a reality. As for Aaron, he had become a regular visitor. The times when Ben was busy working, were all spent in Aaron’s company. Most of the days he would join me for lunch and we would have endless conversations on art, architecture, travelling, archaeology and much more. There were days when I would visit him and watch him work on his paintings for hours together, without saying a word. Aaron had become an important part of my life. I never thought I would have a friend besides Eddie, but Aaron was someone with whom I could hold intellectual conversations for hours together. There was always something we would both learn from each other. We never ran out of topics or talked about anything outside the circle of intellectual subjects. After the day at the dance, he never did or said anything that made me feel uncomfortable. It was as though he had realized how important Ben was to me. In spite of so many things happening in my life, days seemed to move with a steady pace unhurriedly, just the way I had wished them to. It was one of those rare, pleasant, mildly sunny mornings, rare because I had woken up early enough to enjoy the morning. Mrs. Baina and the rest of the cooking staff were on a 2 day break. I decided to cook pancakes for breakfast. I took out the measuring cups, mixing bowl and spoons from the cabinets and washed them. As I sifted the flour and added milk, I heard the rustle of newspaper and smiled to myself at the thought that Ben had woken up. I switched on the coffee machine and brewed him a mug of Café Latte. He walked towards me, took his coffee, bent his head towards my neck from behind and a planted a brief kiss before walking to the dining table. I worked in silence preparing batter for the pancakes. After a few minutes I felt his hands circling my waist from behind. His face rested next to mine. He stood without saying word, watching me beat the batter. After I was done with the batter, he released me allowing me to move to the other end of the kitchen to take the pan. As I lighted the stove and placed the pan on it, he moved beside me. I could feel his eyes moving all over me. I blushed slightly but managed to keep my eyes and concentration on the pancakes. I turned off the flame after finishing up with the pancakes and looked up at his face that radiated mischief not only through the smile but also through its eyes. He pushed the plate of pancakes away from my hold and lifted me off the floor with ease. ‘Hey… Aren’t you hungry?’ I protested. ‘Sure I am. Very hungry indeed.’ He whispered and kissed me on the way to our bedroom. After half hour, I was lying in his arms, both of us covered till the neck with a silky white sheet. ‘Ummm… How do you do that?’ He voice low and soft as though he was moaning.

‘I think every girl is an expert at it, guess it’s inborn.’ ‘No No… That could not be it. I know. Trust me.’ He argued. ‘Well then what do I say? Consider yourself lucky.’ ‘Damn lucky.’ He pressed his lips gently on my palm. ‘Good Morning Princess.’ I heard Aaron’s voice. Ben and I immediately glanced up to see the embarrassed look on Aaron’s face. ‘Whoa! I am sorry. You are right Jess, I should’ve knocked.’ He said and walked towards the door. ‘Hey Aaron. Stay. It’s fine.’ Ben got out of the bed and stopped him. ‘Excuse me? What do you mean its fine? Do you even realize I am naked?’ I said pulling my sheets closer to my body. ‘I am hungry. I am gonna have Pancakes.’ Ben said biting his lips in embarrassment and walked out the door. Aaron pulled a chair and sat across the bed. ‘Didn’t you just hear me? What are you still doing here?’ ‘Oh Please, like I have never seen a naked woman before and I am dying to. You are covered from your toe to neck. So stop overacting.’ ‘You men are unbelievable. So what brings you here?’ ‘I found this very old translation of Homer’s Odyssey and thought you would be excited to read it with me.’ ‘Of course I would be. How old is very old by the way?’ ‘I am afraid very old, the texts are in old English.’ ‘And how the hell do you propose to decipher it?’ ‘Online Old English Dictionary.’ He beamed. ‘That’s interesting. Give me half hour. I will get dressed and be at the living room.’ ‘Yes princess.’ He planted a kiss on my forehead and left the room. And as weird as it may sound, it didn’t feel awkward. It purely seemed like an affectionate gesture towards a friend. It was around 6 in the evening, with difficulty we were successful in completing 50 pages of Odyssey and decided that we needed a break. The piece was totally worth the ideal. However we both missed the true essence of reading it in the language it was written. Not that the translation

was lagging in any area. But I strongly believed no matter how true the translator was to the literary piece, the pleasure of reading it in its own language is unparalleled. For a change Aaron and I started to speak on trivial topics like our fears, childhood experiences and greatest desires. It happened so that while describing an incident, I accidently revealing the fact that I totally couldn’t tolerate anyone tickling me. He grabbed me by my wrist, pulled me closer, held me in the circular prison of his arms and started to tickle me. I begun to shout hysterically but he wouldn’t stop. I tried with all my strength to push him on the ground and begun to tickle him back. After a few seconds we ended up tickling and trying to stop each other at the same time. Ben entered the room at that instant and shot a murderous look at me and walked away without a word. Aaron and I released each other and stood confused as to what to do next. ‘You better take care of that. I will see you tomorrow.’ He left me alone to face a dreadful storm. ‘What just happened there?’ I asked Ben who was seated in his chair in his office, his head bent on the table. ‘Shouldn’t I be the one asking you the question?’ He spoke lifting his head. ‘What does that supposed to mean Ben?’ ‘Don’t you think you are going overboard with Aaron?’ ‘I thought you didn’t have a problem with us being friends.’ ‘I don’t Jessica, as long as friendship doesn’t go up to the level of supposedly innocent foreplays.’ ‘This is unbelievable. Would you have felt the same if it was Eddie?’ ‘No because Eddie is your friend.’ ‘And so is Aaron’ ‘Eddie is not in love with you. Eddie doesn’t have a hope that someday you might fall in love with him. Eddie doesn’t go back home and wonder how wonderful it would have been to have kissed you on the lips instead of kissing your forehead.’ ‘I can’t believe you are talking about your Best friend like this.’ ‘I don’t blame Aaron. I am only asking you not to encourage him.’ ‘So you don’t trust me do you? Plus Aaron has accepted me as his friend. He doesn’t touch me with wrong intentions.’ ‘I never said he did. I am only asking you not give him false hope.’ ‘He is not a kid Ben.’

‘He is a man Jessica and most of all he is a human. Having traces of hope is his second nature. Plus I don’t want to see my girlfriend wrapped up in the arms of a Man who is insanely in love with her. ’ ‘I thought you knew him. I thought you knew me.’ ‘Now you are acting totally immature.’ ‘I am sorry to say. But I can’t go through with this. We cannot be together anymore. Especially not when you don’t trust me.’ I expected him to be shocked. I expected to see immense pain cross his face. But he was calm and said with complete acceptance ‘I understand that.’ I stormed out of the room, my eyes filled with tears. Ben and I wouldn’t look at each other for the first few days. He would lie next to me maintaining a safe distance. Eddie and Aaron were shocked when I first told them about the break up. Aaron even tried to talk to us about this but Ben refused to let Aaron interfere in his private matters. After a week Ben and I got back into talking terms. We started with having a quite breakfast and now although there is no romantic element in our relationship, we have comfortably gone back to being good friends. I had to agree that I was disappointed to see him taking this so well. I had expected him to be shattered. As for me, it was as though the romantic feelings I had for him had been carved out of my heart and thrown away. It was just not possible to have such feelings for someone who didn’t trust me completely. For the first few days I was expecting Ben to come to me apologizing, but now I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Last week, Ben had invited my parents home for dinner. Aaron and Eddie as well joined the party. It was a day worth remembering, with all my favorite people in the world. My parents thanked Ben for taking very good care of me and also added that they wouldn’t have trust anyone else so much. Days begun to fly and before I knew, it was my last day at Ben’s. Mrs. Baina and the rest of the staff expressed how much they were going to miss my presence. Ben assured them that I would visit during the holidays. It was my last evening at the house that I had grown so fond of. Tomorrow I would be gone and looking at Ben, seated in the balcony, reading a script, I wondered if he would miss me. I wondered if I would miss him. I walked towards him and sat on the floor next to his chair. He put touched my head for a brief caress. He then passed the script to me and asked ‘Wanna read?’ ‘Sure.’ I took it from him with a smile. After a while he interrupted and asked ‘Don’t you want to go to Aaron’s before leaving?’ ‘I think I should.’ I said putting down the script. ‘Want me to drop you? He can drop you back.’

‘No. It’s alright. Do you mind if I drive myself.’ ‘Nope.’ He said taking the script off the floor and went back to reading. When Aaron saw me at his doorstep he wasn’t surprised a bit. It was as though he was expecting me. He closed the door and led me to the studio. He unwrapped the Lady of Shallot painting and I couldn’t control my tears. It was just the way I had always imagined. Lady of Shallot wore a white gown of thin material. It was the scene where she looks at Lancet through the window. Her eyes expressing an emotion that meant she has finally found the purpose of her life. Unable to withstand the happiness, I hugged Aaron for a long time. When I released myself from his hold. He said gently ‘Have a great life. Goodbye.’ I neared him once again to kiss him. The kiss was brief and had no response from him as he was surprised. He then grabbed me by my hair and kissed me intensely for more than a minute. I kissed him back. When we stopped ‘Don’t worry. I take this just the way it was intended. Nothing more.’ ‘I knew you would. Else I wouldn’t have.’ I smiled and he smiled back. ‘So you are going to tell about this to Ben?’ ‘I don’t think so. I would have if we hadn’t broken up.’ ‘You mean you would have still kissed me.’ ‘Of course. But I still don’t forgive you for our first kiss.’ I teased. When I came back home, Ben was still in the balcony, staring at the sky. I fixed pool side dinner for us like he had done on our first night here. We had a quite dinner and took a stroll around the pool, hand in hand without speaking a word. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but in the morning I found myself in his arms by the pool. It felt as though I was back home after a long time. I brushed away the feeling and woke him up. It was 8 and Eddie would be picking me up at 9. I insisted on not taking anything from Ben’s place. He complied. I got ready in half hour and waited for Eddie. The doorbell rung, Ben got the door and Eddie came running inside with uncontrollable enthusiasm. He lifted me off the floor and spun around. ‘Alright alright. Put me down.’ I said with laughter. Ben watched us admiringly with a smile. Eddie then hugged me and said ‘I missed you so much Jess.’ ‘I missed you too Eddie.’ ‘Shall we leave?’

‘Yeah. Give me a minute.’ I walked towards Ben. ‘I will wait downstairs.’ He gave Ben a brief hug and left us to our privacy. Ben walked towards me with an inexplicable smile. He then circled his arm around my waist and pulled me closer. He planted a long kiss on my forehead and let me go. Somehow I felt he didn’t want me to say anything. I looked into his eyes for a few seconds and left without a word. Before a few days, my life had felt so complete. Leaving Ben behind especially after we had broken up was not an easy thing to do. My heart was heavy. But at the same time I was looking forward to my new life. I had once again gone back to the stage of being a crescent, sometimes diminishing, and sometimes growing. But this time I was in no hurry to become complete; after all I had my entire life to do that. Chapter 23 I was happy that the infinitely long period of my sleepless nights was finally coming to an end. It was my last day at this house, the house where I was born, the house that had witnessed every stage of my life, the very house where I played around, fought and grew up with Jess. Yet there were no traces of pain or sadness in my heart because finally my dream was going to come true. A life with Jess was waiting at the end of this night. I had missed her more than I had realized. Although I started to approve of Ben and was happy about her new life, the distance was unbearable. The last few weeks after her break up with Ben, I restricted myself from meeting her. I wanted to feel the complete sense of missing her. I wanted to know life for what it would be without her before embarking on our new journey. The break up with Rachael, the aftermath with Vanessa, the happiness it brought to me at the moment and for days after the incident, nothing affected me as deeply as anything related to Jess. For a moment it scared me. I wondered if it was it alright to love someone so deeply? Someone who is going to be married, have a family of her own someday in future, someone so independent and with her own priorities, will I have to bear the dire consequences of this obsession in future? The next three years is going to bring us closer than ever before and what after that? Will I be able to take the pain if she moves away? A million questions filled my mind. I shrugged and pushed them all away. Because deep inside I knew Jess loved me just the way I loved her and nothing could ever come between us. No matter how many times she fell in love, how many friends she might make, how many children she might have, I knew she can never love anyone the way she loves me. With that comforting thought, I decided to give some peace and quiet to my heavy eyelids. ‘Wake up Eddie, you will get late.’ I felt someone trying to wake me up with all their might. I opened my eyes to see Vanessa. I didn’t know what came over me at the moment; I pulled her close for a brief kiss. ‘Eddie, enough already with the romance. I can’t take any more of it. Get ready now.’

‘Yeah I know. That was a goodbye kiss.’ I pushed my sheets away and walked to the bathroom. Vanessa sat there questioning me about my baggages and arranging them to be taken downstairs. She kept counting and recounting them while I got dressed. ‘Don’t you think 11 baggages are a little too much for a guy?’ ‘Not if half of them belong to the guy’s best friend.’ ‘Oh got it.’ She said and begun to take them downstairs one by one. When she came up for the last couple of bags, I held her hand and pulled her to my side. ‘You could still come with me you know, if you want.’ She took my hand that was ruffling the back of her head in hers and spoke ‘And make things more complicated between us? Come on… You are starting a new life and it should be done without any baggage from the past.’ ‘You mean to say you wanna begin a new life without any baggage from the past?’ ‘Not necessarily. But I am up for the new things life may bring to us. Plus we are good as friends. I love it. You better keep in touch.’ She gave me a brief hug and ran downstairs. I reminded my parents once again to pick up Mr. and Mrs. Evans and reach the restaurant on time for lunch. When I rung the doorbell at Ben’s I was too impatient to see Jess. The moment he opened the door, I ran to her, to take her in my arms. When the moment for their goodbyes arrived, I gave Ben a brief hug and proceeded to wait in the car for Jess. I expected Ben to accompany her, but after about 10 minutes I saw her walk towards the car alone. Her face a bit sullen. I looked up the huge building and could see what looked like miniature Ben look down at her. I smiled to myself at the stupidity of the two breaking up with each other and opened the passenger seat for her. She got in with a smile that lighted my whole existence. ‘How are you feeling Jess?’ ‘Relieved’ ‘I don’t get you.’ ‘It’s hard to stay in a house alone with someone you still love yet can do nothing about it. And I am feeling great. Happy. Our dreams are finally coming true, aren’t they?’ she held me hand. ‘Definitely.’ I kissed her palm and steered the wheel towards the first step of our new journey. CHAPTER – 24

I felt as though my life was being taken away from me, when I released her after a brief embrace. It was as though a sweet, little angel was right beside me all the while, doing everything she could to set my life on the right track. Now that the angel was going far, far away from me, I doubt if there is any meaning to my life at all, especially when I don’t know if my angel will ever return again. Considering how close we had grown in the past few months, I could have set things right between us before she left. When I saw Aaron, holding her in his arms, something fierce erupted in my chest, something that made me want to snatch her away from him but I resisted the impulse. Because knowing Jess, I couldn’t blame him for being in love with her. Who wouldn’t be? She is such a beautiful creature both from inside and outside. It is as though her inner beauty exudes in her twinkling eyes and innocent yet captivating smile that could melt even a heart made of stone. All I had to do was go up to her and explain myself in a better way; she would have understood me effortlessly. But doing that didn’t seem like a fair thing to do both for her and myself and most of all to what we had. I didn’t want to put any sort of burden on her. I wanted her to start her new life without the pressure of having to cope up with a baggage from the past. I know she is in love with me and I am madly in love with her. But for this to work out, she needs to understand how much she means to me, to understand that, she needs to fall in love with me twice as hard as she already is. And I think, this distance between us will help a great deal in bringing about clarity in our relationship. With these thoughts making my chest heavy with grief, I walked to the balcony to take one last look at her. I could see the miniature Jessica, walking to the car. What was I saying a few seconds back? Yes.. I am madly in love with her. Life is funny because for a long time in my life, I didn’t even think I was capable of love. That’s exactly why I love Jessica, she made me believe in things that I thought were impossible. She saw right through me and knew what was wrong with me and how I saw the world and with her wonderful self, she was able to make everything right. I remember the first time I saw her, her eyes were filled with fear for the first few seconds, and then the fear vanished and she became indifferent. Yes, there was no fear, no worry, her eyes were a pool of clarity, something that I so rarely see in people these days. Just when I had thought she was completely indifferent, she surprised me with her speech of ‘warrior of the lost cause.’ I was surprised at how she could talk her mind so openly to a stranger and that too a celebrity. Most of my fans have only praised me for the roles, I have myself despised doing, but when she pointed out the exact moment when I had given up the spirit of hard work and struggle, it was though someone had slapped me hard and it was a slap I couldn’t remain indifferent to. I am not a person of trusting nature, for me trust comes with years of association, at least that’s how it was until I met her. When that night kept becoming longer and as we kept talking, I was surprised by how I didn’t want the night to end. I wanted to keep talking to her or just be by her side. That’s what prompted me to ask her to stage the play with me. After the way I heard her speak, I neither cared about the press or my ex girl friend’s torture, I had something more important to do in my life, I knew I had to change, I knew I had to find the lost warrior in me.

But I also knew, I couldn’t do it alone. I was scared if I let her go, the inspiration will fade away and I will take the easier way out once again. Also I wanted to know her better. And it would seem so foolish to tell her all this. So I decided to play by her rules. I have never believed in love at first sight, neither do I believe in it now. I was awestruck with admiration when I met her but looking back now, it seems nothing compared to what it has developed into. I have heard most people say, they never knew when they fell in love or when they crossed that thin line between friendship and love. But I can go back and point out to that single moment that made me realize there was nothing more beautiful in life than loosing myself in her beautiful existence. It was a couple of weeks before she moved in with me and after a couple of weeks I had acknowledged the intense crush I had for her. I was also completely aware of her never ending struggle to suppress the lust she had for me. It always felt awkward whenever we both were alone and at proximity. I had the habit of moving away from her whenever she ruffled my hair or rested her head in my chest for a long time and I was aware that it annoyed her. That day I decided to play a little with my angel. It was going to be our first major public appearance. We were going to walk the red carpet for the national awards together and later join the dance and the dinner. She was very nervous about the event. In an attempt elevate her lust and tease her more, I decided to look extra good. I wore her favorite maroon t-shirt and a denim jacket. I picked up a beautiful ivory, knee length gown and matching earrings, necklace and bracelet for her. I sorta remembered seeing a pair of matching slippers in her wardrobe. It was around 3 in the afternoon, her dad was at work and Mrs. Evans left to visit her sick friend as soon I told her I was going to be with Jess till evening and then take her out. After closing the door, I ascended the stairs to her room hurriedly. Before entering her room, I heard her bathroom door open, I went inside to look at her wrapped in a white towel. She looked divine. Her eyes flickered with fear and desire and she blushed mildly. I blocked her way from getting out of the bathroom. She looked up into my eyes and remained silent for a few seconds. I decided not to say anything. She composed herself and said ‘Not a very nice way of saying Hi , Ben.’ I lowered my face closer to hers and I could say for sure her heart raced at that moment. I gently whispered in her ears ‘ Hi… you look beautiful in this outfit.’ ‘Yeah right.’ She said and pushed me away with one hand. I instantly circled my hand around her waist and pulled her closer. I noticed that her eyes closed for a brief second out of nervousness and anticipation. ‘I mean it, I love the way you look but unfortunate for the public and rest of the Hollywood, only I get to see my girlfriend this way, so I got this for you, try it out.’ I said and gave her the bag I was carrying in my other hand, she took it without a word. ‘Could you wait outside till I change?’

‘Nope.’ I said as I walked to her bed and settled in it comfortably in my usual posture, legs stretched across the length of the bed and hands behind me, supporting my head. ‘Ben…’ she whimpered. ‘Do you trust me?’ ‘Ben? Where is this coming from? Ofcourse I do.’ ‘Then, prove it. I am not going outside or I am not turning, I am just gonna lie here and close my eyes.’ I don’t know what made me say that. I still don’t know if it was my cruel instinct that wanted to tease her or the insecure Ben inside me who wanted to know if she trusted me that much. Although the desire to touch me and feel me filled every inch of her body, undressing before me or the thought of me watching her naked body was something she couldn’t have gone through with then. I was confident of that. I expected her to casually consider my challenge a joke or to storm away from the room angrily. Instead she turned , closed the door, walked towards me, stood right beside me and begun to unwrap her towel even before I closed my eyes. I instantly turned the other side, filled with shock I said ‘Oh my god Jessica, you are unbelievable. I was just joking.’ ‘Well it didn’t seem like you were.’ I remained silent. After a few seconds she spoke ‘Ben, I am naked now, completely naked. Could you pass me that bag.’ I took the bag and extended it to her without turning. ‘I can’t reach it Ben. Turn around.’ Damn she was such a tease. I shut my eyes, as tightly as possible and turning I walked towards her. She took the bag from me and heard her unwrap the dress. After a few seconds I could feel that she was standing very close to me. My eyes remained shut. She put her hands around my neck and said in a low voice ‘Open your eyes. I am dressed.’ I opened my eyes to look at my little angel and realized why the fairy tales always depicted the angels beautiful. ‘I trust you Ben, I trust you not only because I knew that you would never open your eyes, I trust you because not for a second when those eyes remained closed, you had a temptation to open them, or not for a second with those eyes closed you would have imagined how I would look without clothes.’ I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I lowered my head and our foreheads touched.

She was right, all the time my eyes remained closed, I was only scared to death if by mistake my eyes would open and I would do a great dishonor to someone who respected me beyond what I had deserved. That moment I realized how I never cared about anyone as much as I did about her. But it was sorta hard to take in. It felt as though my heart was filled with joy and someone had hit it with a hammer and made it bleed at the same time. My face was still close to hers. She didn’t make an attempt to move away. I closed my eyes once again to feel completely what had dawned upon me at that moment of intimacy. I put both my hands around her waist, I could feel her breath becoming heavy. I opened my eyes and said ‘I think we should practice.’ ‘What for?’ she asked, still not moving away. ‘For the dance that comes after the awards.’ ‘Oh I didn’t know dance was in the agenda, you only scared me with the whole public kiss thing.’ ‘Is it scarier than the kiss?’ ‘Actually both are equally scary.’ ‘Then, don’t you think we should practice?’ ‘Absolutely, we should.’ Those words being spoken in her voice in a very slow and low tone, just didn’t help. I picked my phone from my pocket, switched on ‘Sway’ at full volume and tossed the phone on her bed. We grooved to the voice and words of Michael Buble and she really did sway, we both did in each other’s arms. And when the song ended, she was still in my arms. ‘So.. Should we practice? For the next scary part too?’ I asked innocently. She let out a smile at the corner of her lips and said ‘Oh yes, else I might mess it up there.’ My hands slowly clutched her hair, I expected her to close her eyes, but they looked into mine deeply. Notwithstanding the sensation, my lips found hers. We kissed for a long moment. When we were short of breath, we broke away for a few seconds and kissed again. We slowly moved towards the wall. When she rested against it, my lips slowly moved to her neck. The moment I kissed her neck and traced it with my nose, I could feel that she was in ecstasy. Her hold tightened, clutching my hair even more tight. And when were in the middle of the frenzy of passion, we heard the door bell ring and we both were brought back to realm of reality. She ran downstairs to get the door and when she returned back, we both acted like nothing had happened.

But that was a longtime ago. It seems like an entirely different time of life. Now that she is not around every good memory seems so distant that it feels like it was a beautiful dream that I had so engrossed myself into that I completely forgot the reality. And then I thought of Aaron, his unrequited love. I knew they shared something special. Something she had never shared with anyone. But I also knew she never loved him the way she loved me and she never would. His pain made my pain seem more bearable. For, I was still lingering on to a thin ray of hope which someday might grow into bright flash of a blissful light, from which my angel might appear once again.

Between U N Me  

Teen Romance Novel