Wordplay

This wasn’t new to her. But every time she did it, she was as nervous as she was the first time. She mustered courage and confidence, paired with more certainty of acceptance than rejection, and walked up to Rajan.

“I waited to see if you’d say something. I do not want to live under the fake label of friendship anymore. I am attracted to you and would like to ask you to go out on a date with me.”

“What? You must have misunderstood. I’ve never looked at you that way,” Rajan replied.

“But… but.. yesterday, you said you admired me deeply and you felt like kissing me,” she stuttered.

“Yes?!” his tone turned into defensive arrogance. “I do feel like kissing you. Kiss as an adjective, not as a verb.”

“Excuse me?” she shrieked in an intentionally loud voice, confused.

“Kiss as a verb is the ‘act of kissing’, you know, like the ones you see in an Emraan Hashmi movie. Kiss as an adjective is the ‘better description of a feeling’, like the description of my admiration or endearment for you. I would say the same thing to any of my friends, honestly. I cannot believe you would confuse one with the other and question the sanctity of our friendship. I’m so disappointed in you.” Rajan concluded.

That was the most repulsive bucketload of shit she had heard. Fuming, she walked away that day and swore to herself two things: one, she would never let a guy lead her on under the pretext of false friendship, two, she would never ask a guy out.

***

Ram and her, they definitely started out as friends. She was trying to get rid of her old dining table, so she could buy a new one. He found that out through a common friend and offered to take it, for money, while she had strictly refused.

“The dining table is almost five years old. It’s not in its best condition. I got it for $100. I couldn’t really accept money for it. If you didn’t offer to take it, I would have simply trashed it anyway,” she explained.

“How about we make even deal, something that both of us are comfortable? Maybe I buy you dinner, or bottle of wine, perhaps?” Ram suggested.

an even deal, comfortable with, a bottle of wine” she mentally corrected him and said, “I’m a whiskey girl. How about a bottle of Woodford Reserve instead?”

“Done.”

They had been friends for a few weeks before he invited her home for dinner. After a sumptuous meal, a movie and couple of drinks later, she was ready to call it a night.

“I’ll walk you home. Wait,” Ram hurriedly stood up.

“No! My apartment is about 500 feet away and I’m an adult. I don’t need you to walk me home. I’m fine.”

“You don’t need me, but I want to.”

need me to…. “her mental voice edited.

“I’d  walk home with my girl-friends, so I guess it’s alright for Ram to walk me home. We are friends now,” she justified.

They walked the 500 ft lost in conversation.

***

“Are you busy this weekend? How about movie tomorrow?” Ram asked.

a movie,” she subconsciously corrected, “How hard is it to use articles while speaking in English?”

“My friend is visiting from out of town and I promised to entertain her all weekend,” she answered.

“Oh! So you’re busy? Would you mind if I tagged along?” he asked cautiously.

“Well, I’m not sure. I’ve known this friend for 25 years now, and we have a whole history going. Our conversations may not even make sense to you. Frankly, you might be bored. Do you really want to hang out with us?”

“Absolutely. Especially if she is such an important friend for you. I would love to get to know her, make good first impression, and learn more about you from her, get to know you even better.”

friend to you, make a good first impression.”

She was a little skeptical. His words, their conversations had started to slightly get more perplexing. The point of perplexity wasn’t the grammar anymore. But she hesitantly said yes anyway.

Her friend, Ram and her, they spent the next two days exploring the city. There was axe throwing, bar hopping, dinner on the cruise, an aquarium tour and golfing involved. He made every effort to ensure that the friend from out of town was engaged. He asked a lot of questions about her, wanting to learn about little bits of her past; what she was like in school, what her nickname was, what sport she enjoyed playing, which teacher vehemently hated and punished her, who her first crush was, all the minute details that nobody else had shown genuine interest in. When she listened to their conversation, she almost found it cute. His eyes got big in wonder as he learned about her adventures, he laughed whole heartedly at the silly stories, and he teased her playfully about the notorious incidents.

“This one, your friend. I tell you, she is irresistible. She has two things that are infectious; her enthusiasm and her laugh. Ease with which she always breaks into smile and her uncontained, zealous spirit are my favorite things of her,” Ram said at the end of the day, to her friend.

The ease… a smile… about her….” Her mind chirped.

***

“Do you see what I see?” her friend asked.

“What do you mean?” she said, feigning foolishness.

“You idiot, Ram likes you. He’s into you. Do you not see it? He spent the entire day asking, seeking, learning about you, gathering anecdotes about your life. I saw the way he looks at you, smiles at you, makes sure you are comfortable, inquired if you were cold on the cruise, argues with you, playfully mocks yet stops teasing you when he realizes he’s going too far, all of it, it mandates his interest in you. Ask him out, will you?”

“I’m not sure anymore. Guys. They are complicated. I can’t ignore the ‘hints’ but I’ve been scarred in the past. Remember Rajan? His speech on English language when I asked him out on a date. Also, have you noticed how Ram refuses to acknowledge the existence of articles and constantly uses prepositions incorrectly. I don’t think I can be attracted to someone who does that. Okay, forget the grammar, you know I’ve…..”

“Yes, yes,” her friend interjected with an eye roll, “you’ll never ask a guy out. I’m simply saying that Ram wouldn’t say ‘no’ to you, all the signs are there. You’re being an idiot if you choose to ignore them.”

***

After dinner at his place, she stood up, put on her shoes and waited for him. It was now a tradition, their tradition. He walked her home every night after dinner.

That night, as they walked next to each other, he simply outstretched his left hand, took her right hand into his and continued walking. Neither did he say a word, nor did she pull away, and so they continued to walk the remaining 485 feet in silence and comfort.

Had she grown to like him a lot more? Was she attracted to him? She tried to find answers to these questions as they stood outside the door of the apartment. She faced him to say, ‘good night’ and began to slide her hand away from his grip, only to realize that he pulled it back.

“I have a little something for you,” he said and paused.

She looked into his eyes, with a mixture of anticipation and hesitation. He slid his right hand into his pocket and took out a small bottle. It was a less-easily available Willet Pot Still Woodford Reserve Mini bottle. The excitement in her eyes particularly evident.

“I was flying by Memphis, saw this in one of duty-free shops. I got two bottles. One for you, and one for me,” he smiled shyly and handed her his bottle.

through Memphis… one of the duty-free shops… I didn’t know you like bourbon too,” she exclaimed in surprise.

“Well, I’ll blame it on you. Your choice, your taste in bourbon is infectious.”

She was unsure what to say. He had said many words, they just weren’t the ones she wanted to hear.

***

He had been sick for two days. She went over to his apartment, made a cup of tea for his sore throat, handed it to him and sat herself on one end of the couch. He sat at the other end.

“I can’t believe you are going vacation for two weeks. How did you even accumulate that much vacation time? I don’t want you to go. My viral fever, it is infectious. Come over here,” he said signaling her towards himself, “I could pass along my germs for you. You and I, we could be sick together and you wouldn’t have to go away for two weeks.”

on vacation…” the grammar Nazi began proof reading while her heart terminated the exercise. It didn’t matter, the poor English, the Articles, the prepositions, his awful taste in music, his childishness, his jealousy, his mediocre sense of dressing, nothing mattered anymore, except him.

“I’ve been planning this vacation for four months now. As much as I want to stay back, I really must go,” was all she could say.

He was too sick to walk her home that night, but before she left, they stood by his door, he reached out and hugged her, and continued to hug her for two minutes.

“I’ll miss you,” she said, unsure what else to add.

“And I adore you, you have no idea how much I do.”

He had said many words, they just weren’t the right ones.

***

While on vacation, she realized how much she wanted to be with him, and was convinced that he wanted the same, and decided to ask him out upon her return.

Yet again, with confidence and the certainty of acceptance, she sat at her, his, five-year-old dining table, the one that had started it all and gathered the strength to say,

“Ram, I’m attracted to you. The way you show respect to me, understand me, comfort me, adore me, walk me home, give me really long hugs, hold my hands, look at me, don’t judge me for my choices, have that little twitch in your smile when you are losing an argument to me, express that harmless jealousy when I talk about my ex, everything, I like all of it. I could play dumb and flirt with you for another six months while you do the same, but it is not worth my time. I feel that we are way past being just friends. So, I need to know if I can take you for dinner. Consider it a date?”

“What? Why would you think that I’m interested in you? You have clearly misunderstood my intentions. You’re nothing but a good friend,” Ram hissed sharply.

“But.. but… you said, you’d miss me while I was gone for two weeks, that you wanted to pass your infection to me…. ” she stammered.

“Yes?!” his tone turned into defensive arrogance. “I did say that I wanted to give you my virus. I spoke about infectious, not contagious transfer. I would say that to any of my friends honestly.”

“Excuse me?” she said, clearly shocked, trying to make sense of what he said.

“Infectious diseases spread through environment. Not all infections are transmitted contagiously, through physical contact, you know. Some infectious bacteria or viruses can be transferred via nonphysical avenues. My viral fever is infection, but I didn’t meant that I want to contagiously transfer you. I cannot believe you would confuse one for the other and put our friendship in jeopardy. I’m so disappointed in you.” Ram concluded.

the environment… an infection…” the grammatist in her no longer cared. She stormed out, refusing to validate his theory with a response.

***

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