She walked up the stairs, relieved that she had managed to find the building. Now the only concern was to find the apartment. The fifth floor of the skyscraper and there it was, merry sounds floating out through the open door. She always preferred stairs over the elevator. Well, most of the times. A familiar face smiled at her as she was welcomed and lead by her hand into the apartment. Adi, one of her close friends was now the proud owner of this new apartment and he had gathered his close friends to celebrate. Amidst all the warm smiles she did not notice the face that stared at her from the moment she walked in. His face registered a pleasant surprise and a many year’s old familiar gleam floated back in his eyes. He stood frozen, all forgotten, in and about the room, except her. She still had not noticed him. He did not mind. Usual of her to not immediately start searching people in her vicinity, he got more time to watch her cheerful face and expressions and gestures as she chattered as usual. When the gathering around her thinned did she turn her gaze towards the balcony and noticed him standing. It was her turn to hang midway, every sense of hers. He still smiled in the same crooked way and the sparkle in his eyes was still the same. The beard was the only difference from the last time she had seen him but it only added to his handsome features. Her face suddenly broke into a shy smile as he waved at her. She was about to walk over to him when her friends called her. She looked at him again and turned on her heel, dazed at his sudden presence. Adi was showing her around but suddenly every view seemed to have her reverting back to the balcony.
The entire day was lost between gossips, food, laughter and noticing that he still stared at her the same way. Flitting in and out of conversations, the warm glow that bubbled inside struck up another conversation in a language that only they knew. A little time off and they wandered slowly towards sanctity of the balcony. The sun was in to give a last glimpse before it vanished. They continued to look at the view, trying to attempt conversation.
“Barbeque, campfire and tents on the lawn people. Every inch is booked for us today. You can stroll around till you all are damn hungry” Everyone laughed as Adi called out to the small crowd.
“Let’s go” His eyes never left her face.
“Sure” Sara couldn’t get herself to meet his gaze.
They walked together, out of the apartment. Something slid down her stomach as the elevator made for the ground floor. Their classmates called out for them to join but she excused herself as he walked away, unable to refuse. Sara wanted to savour every ounce of luck that she had been bestowed with. Singing and dancing everyone was engrossed in enjoyment as they drifted away from each other, towards their friend circles. As most settled themselves cosily, she preferred to walk herself towards the other silent portion of the greenery. It sloped down from here, towards the basketball court.
The grass was warm. She sat down, half hoping that he would return. She slept on the lawn, staring at the stars for a long time. It had been one of her favourite past time hobbies. She did not notice him walk towards her until he spoke.
“Mind if I join?”
“Surely not” He slept beside her, not too close, not too far away. An arm tucked below his head, another resting on his stomach.
Ned remembered her from when she was an avid reader. And he never liked reading books. She loved narrating stories from the books she had read and that became their daily routine. The boy who wasn’t much into literature took interest in asking her to narrate new stories while he noted and loved the way she told them.
She recommended a few books for him to read, loving his keen interest only to know he returned them to the library without reading them. Somewhere she stopped asking him to read, wondering why did he even bother asking her to narrate books if he did not like reading. Somewhere, she understood why. Friendship shook hands with love as they pampered the new bond between two best friends.
“Who do you think came up with the idea of constellations, do you think?” Sara quipped.
“Definitely not me”
“That was a very lame joke.” She titled her head to watch him smile.
“Do you know any or maybe can find one?”
“I can try.”
He fell silent as he literally searched for one.
She was looking towards the opposite side when he suddenly slide his hand in hers quickly and pointed with the other in a certain cluster of stars.
“That one, right there. See?”
“Where exactly?” She found it difficult to follow where he was pointing while feeling the warmth of his hand in hers. He tried a couple more times and when she could still not understand she asked him to draw the shape it resembled. He paused, his mind whirling.
“Did you really find something or was it just an excuse to hold my hand?”
She laughed as he fumbled to think for words knowing he was caught. She felt him decide whether to withdraw his hand or let it be. She laughed and held his hand in hers and lay it over her stomach. They continued chattering for a long time. A cold wind blew as they moved closer to each other.
“Now I think you are finding an excuse to move closer.” He teased.
“Oh, it’s not an excuse. I am moving closer” With that she filled even the remaining gap between them. He was awed at how brave she had gotten. Back in high-school, the bravest girl in all antics found it difficult to even stand close when it came to being in love. They lay there, without uttering a single word for a long time. Ned couldn’t bear being this close to the woman he couldn’t be together with.
“I think we should go”
He got up.
“Could you stay for a little bit more?” He never really had the heart to leave.
As he lay back down, she snuggled close to him as he held her and moved to keep her head on his chest. Ned couldn’t help but know himself blush too. He was happy she was here. He was sad she had been away.
“Are you falling asleep Sara? Should we go back?”
“No, its okay. I am fine. It feels nice here.”
“Ned, do you remember be sometimes.”
He propped himself up, turned on his side, his head resting on his palm. He looked at her face and was silent for a long time.
“I could never forget you.” She caressed his cheek and pulled him closer. Her lips touched his. Slowly, they kissed. She pulled away and looked at the man she had loved during her college. They had then never said how much they loved each other although they had no need to. The day they parted was when they had visited college to collect their marksheets. When she left the building, he stood on the stairs in front as she turned behind following her instinct. That was the way they parted, in silence, just the way they had fallen in love. It hurt because they had to stay apart. The years that followed during graduation, he avoided contact and she avoided trying, knowing it was good for both the way they were. Religion would have been a barrier to disappoint their parents, but deep down, they couldn’t be torn apart, no matter the time, no matter the distance. And here they were together again.
She was telling him about the times when she had fallen asleep under the open sky at her native place and how her grandpa would lovingly pick her up and carry her back to her room. And in the morning, would complain and pretend of having a back ache because she was too heavy to carry. She was describing to him some full moon story when she slowly drifted off to sleep.
He gently stroked her back, lying wide awake. Ned did not want to be unaware of the entire she was with him. After a while, he lifted her, not having the heart to wake her up. The stories she told were true, she was heavy to lift, he smiled to himself. He carried her to the camp tents as his friends watched. He lay Sara on her bed and covered her with a blanket. She stirred awake to find him looking at her and she mumbled.
“Ned don’t leave me this time, unsaid and unknown. Just stay for some time atleast.” She drifted off to sleep.
He looked at her sleepy face, her mouth slightly open. He bent forward to kiss her forehead for a long time. Morning was still a long way. He went back to engraving every little detail of her face, not knowing if luck would favour them again. His storyteller was being woven again into him, into his story.
He sat unaware of the world outside the camp tent they were in, his eyes moist.