PROLOGUE

They got out of the lift and entered the basement. It was dark and a light was flickering in the distance, like in any horror movie. Somewhere between entering the lift and getting out of it, Agastya and Ruche came close and held hands, almost as if out of instinct. Neither of them spoke nor did they want to do anything to acknowledge the fact that it was their final day of seeing each other as they had over the last 6 weeks.

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They started walking towards the car, still not having exchanged a word since they bid adieu to some colleagues and promised to meet the others at the bar. Agastya stopped in his tracks and squeezed her hand. Ruche, who was walking a step ahead, looked back to see his pale face, devoid of any emotion. He was hurting. Obviously not physical, but his heart was burning, there was a pit in his stomach, a lump in his throat and his eyes were moist. 

Ruche could almost feel his pain within her. By now, she knew him well enough to know exactly what was going through his head. Somewhere deep down, she was hurting too. She’d obsessed about this moment just 24 hours ago, talked to Agastya about it for over an hour and yet eventually, neither of them could make any sense out of it.

The seminar was over and it was time to say goodbye. However, they were still going to be in the same city. They still lived and worked within an hours drive from each other and could always catch up post-work or over the weekends; and yet, this goodbye felt like an emotional anchor – but for good reason.

The seminar had been like an alternate dimension altogether. In many ways, a vacation – being able to spend hours together every day over a long period of time without without having to explain or give excuses to anybody about why they saw each other everyday. No excuses for making post-seminar plans and coming home late or for holding hands in the car and driving around pointlessly while listening to soft should touching music or for going to secluded places and stargazing while sipping on some hot-chocolate. They knew now, that their honeymoon period was over and it was time to go back to reality. Back to facing unpleasant bosses and clients, long work hours, curious parents and other daily drama. 

She walked towards him, not letting go off the grip, squeezed his hand and rested her idle hand on his cheek. She graced his cheek delicately, looking straight into his eyes. Her gaze was soft, but stern. Sad, but passionate. She came closer. He could feel their breaths sync in rhythm and in the next instant, she just wrapped her hands around him and hugged him reassuringly. 

They stood there for a few seconds, neither of them making an attempt to move. Agastya could feel Ruche’s breath on his neck, her perfume that he’d come to love and the scent of her washed hair. He did not want to let her go. But at the back of his mind, he knew he did not have much time. Their colleagues had already left for the bar and as had been the unsaid agreement between them, they did not want to raise any eyebrows. He slowly loosened his embrace and Ruche got the hint. They looked at each other again only this time, Agastya planted a light peck on her cheek. She could feel the smile on his lips.

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They straightened themselves and took a deep breath, as if readying to go to battle, and walked towards the car. Like clockwork, they threw their bags on the back seat, Agastya loosened his tie, Ruche took her blazer off and took control of the aux. Agastya turned the ignition on, one hand on the steering and other on the gear and waited patiently, until Ruche rested her hand on his. That had been their thing for weeks now. Agastya smiled amidst that security and drove off towards the bar.

Both Ruche and Agastya sat silently, trying to fully comprehend what had just happened. They’d held hands and hugged before, but this was unlike anything from the past. The magnitude of those flowing emotions was so strong and alien, that they couldn’t find words to explain it. And if they could, no words could ever do justice to how they were feeling. But soon enough, as they drew closer to the bar, the vibe in the car changed. A long – wild – alcohol filled night awaited them, as they got off the car and headed towards the bar, now maintaining a platonic level of distance between them. 

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