” They should thank the ruthless fate that separated them when their love seemed still to be at its height. They might suffer, but they did suffer in beauty. They were spared the real tragedy of love. “
-Somerset Maugham, Red
“You don’t know that. My ex-boyfriend looks just like you.”
I regretted uttering this inane statement as soon as I saw the expression on his face. I saw a glint of hope in his dark cunning eyes.
I still cannot believe that it only takes muttering those few words for someone to be absolutely obsessed with you.
Fast forward to a couple of months, Cris was in front of me crying, begging for me to love him back. I was enraged. I was in love but not with him. He had done all he can to come in between me and the man I loved.
It was raining and I was working late. I left my work station to get a cup of coffee from the vending machine installed at the editor’s lounge .
” You too, huh?” Ryan said softly from behind, startling me.
I smiled, shrugging my shoulders . ” Yeah, my deadline is looming. ”
We took our coffee and sat on the sofa facing a large glass window. The rain outside poured incessantly. We sipped our coffee in a companionable silence.
” I like working in the night. It’s more peaceful to work when half of the employees are not here.”
” Yeah, though I don’t like sleeping during the day. It disorients me.”
Ryan chuckled. ” I don’t even notice the difference.”
My heart skipped a beat seeing his smiling face. He did not smile that often but every time he did, it was a ray of sunshine. I reached out to touch a curly lock that escaped from his ponytail.
” I really find these adorable.” I whispered, smiling a little. He took my hand that was holding the curls and gently pressed it to his lips, looking intently into my eyes.
We tried not to make a sound while inside one of the cubicle in the women’s restroom but I could not suppress my giggles when he showed me his underwear, grinning like a little boy . Printed on his boxer briefs were numerous little yellow round smileys. His whole body shook with silent laughter as he pulled me towards him.
I was sitting between Ryan and Cris at the cafeteria. Cris invited himself when he saw Ryan and me on our way there. Ryan was whispering one of his stupid jokes in my ear and I was laughing in spite of myself. Cris hated our happiness. But at the same time he was drawn to it. Cris was in love with our romance.
His jealousy was palpable as he looked at me while I was wiping Ryan’s spoon and fork with a paper napkin.
” Ryan, I spoke to Leo, I told him I want you on my team.”
” Wow, that is great man! Thank you. It is a great opportunity to work with you.” Ryan shook his hand enthusiastically.
I looked at Cris, coldly. He looked back at me, smiling with malice.
Cris made sure Ryan and my schedule never synched. If I was working at night he would assign Ryan to a day shift and vice versa. But Cris made sure his own schedules matched with mine.
” I know what you are doing. It will not work.”
” You just need a chance to get to know me more. I will also include you in a bigger project than this one. Besides Ryan is just a pretty face. You can do better.”
” That is none of your business and I am doing well on my own. I don’t need your help.” I retorted, staring furiously at my computer screen.
” But you don’t have to work this hard if you are on my team.”
I looked at him with utmost hatred.
” Don’t force me to leave this job. I will, you know.”
He went pale and left my room without a word.
” I’m sorry. You know I needed this opportunity. It’s like a regular income for me. It’s like a two year contract. I don’t have to wait for random assignments anymore. And I can learn a lot from Cris.” Ryan told me over the phone.
It sucks to fall in love with a weak man. Why did I even fall for his charms? He was beautiful, I’d give him that. Lack of sleep could really impair one’s judgement.
” I guess we are not on the same page in this relationship.” I paused. ” Oh, excuse me. We are not in a relationship.”
” I am really sorry, Gia. You know I really like you. I am even in love with you but I really need this.”
” So you do not care that he is obsessed with me? ”
” It’s hard not to.” he said with his usual naughtiness. ” A lot of men around here are envious of me.”
I sighed. I thought I had fallen in love with a man. It was heartbreaking to realize I was in love with a boy.
” What is wrong with me? Why not choose me? ”
Though my heart was filled with hatred for Cris, seeing him drunk and sprawled helplessly on the ground, my heart softened a little for him.
” I am not attracted to you. I was just being nice when I said those words. You were feeling so low about yourself.”
” You are so cruel. I was a drowning man. You don’t throw a lifeline like that only to eventually hang me with it. ”
” I’m sorry.”
He grunted and passed out. I called Ryan to help me take Cris home.
” What a memorable christmas party, huh? ”
” He is really a nice person when you get to know him.”
I was putting on the seat belt but my hand stopped in mid air.
” You’re kidding right? Are you advocating for him now?”
Ryan placed his hand on my knee.
” The poor guy is really in love with you, sweetheart.”
I swatted his hand away.
” You have read Somerset Maugham’s short stories, right? ”
” Have you read his short story, Red? ”
Ryan turned his head to look at me. ” Yes.”
” Cris is Neilson and you are Red.”
I heard Cris mumbled something unintelligible from the backseat. Ryan withdrew his gaze and stared silently at the road in front of him.
“The tragedy of love is not death or separation. How long do you think it would have been before one or other of them ceased to care? Oh, it is dreadfully bitter to look at a woman whom you have loved with all your heart and soul, so that you felt you could not bear to let her out of your sight, and realize that you would not mind if you never saw her again. The tragedy of love is indifference.”
― W. Somerset Maugham, Red
Copyright 2013, JMKhapra