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*Entry For Fanfiction Royale*
Jai, Rushali and Neer. They were the inseparable trio. But as time moves on, everything separates. All the laughter, happiness, smiles, good days- they all bury beneath the power of time. Now the only way left to fix it all is- Home.

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3. 30 March, 1994

“As we roll down this unfamiliar road”

30 March, 1994

It was a six!

The ball slammed against the bat and in the blink of an eye, it flew up to the sky. Everyone watched it fly freely up in a great velocity. Mouths were open, eyes were gawking up at the sky, and everyone stood still. They all watched the red leather ball swiftly move like a bullet, piercing through the air. Until it finally smashed against the window, disappearing into a house.

All eyes which were stuck up on the sky a few seconds ago were now glaring at Neer.

Before anyone could say anything, he rolled his eyes and threw his bat to the ground. “Okay, okay, I’ll go. No need to look at me like that.”

Every time someone shattered some window, the whole group of players would get scared. They weren’t scared about paying for fixing the window as much as they were scared about ending up in front of some crazy owner of the house.

But Neer wasn’t scared at all because he knew that house very well. He visited it almost every day.

It was his best friend’s house.

It was Rushali’s house.

He confidently walked up in front of the door and gently knocked it.

Mrs. Bhatt would be pleased to see him.

It all happened just as he imagined it.

Mrs Bhatt opened up the door. Her eyes lit up and she stepped aside to let him in.

“Hello, Neer. So what made you come here after so many days? Got bored of studies or were you really missing us?” Mrs Bhatt teased him. She loved his and Jai’s company and always teased them whenever they didn’t visit.

The odour of food filled the house. He could listen to the loud sound of the exhaust coming from the kitchen so he realised Mrs. Bhatt might not have heard the window shatter.

He laughed. “Of course I was missing you. Actually I was missing you so much that I purposely broke one of your windows with my six. Just so I could come to visit with an excuse of retrieving the ball and meet you and Shelly.”

Mrs. Bhatt opened her mouth out wide and laughed, flashing her white teeth. She grabbed his ear and softly pulled them. “Intelligent boy. You should break our windows often.”

She gestured him to go up the stairs. “Now go and find it.”

Neer climbed halfway up the stairs when Mrs. Bhatt spoke again. “One more thing,” she said, raising her palm up in air. “Don’t go to Rushali’s room. She does not want any ‘disturbance’. She is with her best friend having some ‘serious conversation’. So don’t disturb. It’s ‘private’.

She gave emphasis on certain words and quoted her fingers around them. Neer knew right then that that’s how Shelly might have told that to her mother without the quotation thing.

He let out another laugh. Mrs Bhatt pressed her fingers against her forehead and threw them in the air, gesturing her mind was blowing. She shook her head and laughed.

He reached the top of the staircase and found the ball lying on the floor beside the window with other little pieces of glass lying on the floor.

He turned his head towards the other pair of stairs which led towards Rushali’s room. He really wanted to go. He met her everyday at school but always loved looking at her when she wore her pyjamas at home.

He walked up the stairs and was about to reach the doorknob just before he stopped halfway. He heard his name being mentioned inside.

“Hey hey, no need to cry, you understand?” Rushali’s voice was audible outside the room.

There were a few silent sobs that were clearly not Rushali’s voice but someone else’s.

“I just... I can’t help it,” the other voice said in a trembling tone. Neer identified it to be Samira’s voice- his classmate.

He was confused as to why she was at Rushali’s house. Rushali was a year younger and as far as he knew Samira, she wasn’t the one who talked to her juniors.

“He won’t even look at me. I tried a lot but he just doesn’t care,” Samira said, struggling to steady her voice.

“Shh. It’s not that he doesn’t care. I know Neer, he’s a wonderful person.” That comment from Rushali brought a smile to Neer’s face.

He remembered why Samira was here. He knew that she liked him a lot, everyone knew about it. It wasn’t a big deal. It kind of made him uncomfortable at times knowing that she liked him a lot. Actually, she loved him.

“Hmm... I guess he likes me...” Neer huffed at her comment. Never in my life. He thought. “He lent me his pen one day during Physics class because I was out of pens.”

Ridiculous. He thought. I lent it because you were embarrassing the hell out of yourself and were completely panicked because you didn’t have a pen to write. I was ashamed for some reason and lent you that pen. I didn’t even care for you to return it back.

He wanted to laugh out loud. But he saved his laughter for some other time because he didn’t want to get caught eavesdropping.

“That’s nonsense! That doesn’t mean he likes you, dumbo.” Neer predicted Rushali would say that.

But instead, she said, “Look, he does that, okay? He does that all the time. He’s likes being around girls.”

He didn’t understand where she was going with this.

“What do you mean?,” Samira spoke up his mind.

“Girls are all over him. He’s a playboy! He just does all those things to get your attention. He’ll try to impress you, date you, kiss you and then dump you being all miserable.” 

Everything froze around Neer. He froze. He didn’t believe it. Why would Rushali say something like that? She knows him and she knows that he isn’t like that at all.

 Anger brewed up in him and he wanted to punch the door open and yell. His fingers tightly gripped on to the doorknob and he tightly closed his eyes as he seeped in the remaining words coming out of the room.

“No... How could you say that? He’s your best friend.” Samira sounded as surprised as Neer felt.

“He’s my best friend, that’s why I know it. Dammit.” Rushali was getting impatient now.  “He cheats on girls and gets bored with every single one of them. Hell, he even kissed-“

Before the next word spilled out of her lips, the door flew open and banged against the wall of the room. Both heads jerked towards the door.

Both of their eyes were wide and shocked as they watched their gossip victim in front of them, catching them red handed. He liked calling it a gossip. That was a myth. That myth was an imagination. The horrible imagination of the only person he trusted. 

Neer was breathing heavily. His hands tightly gripped on to the door frame, refraining from reaching out to her. He clenched his teeth hard and tried hard to stop his tears from falling.

Samira’s hands flew up to her mouth.

A tear dropped fell from Neer’s eye.

Rushali stood still.

The only sound that could be heard in the silence that dawned was the sound of that one tear drop falling on the floor. That one sound of betrayal came out loud and clear.

 “Neer,” Rushali whispered.

But that was it, it was enough.

He turned around and stomped out of the room. He ran down the stairs as fast as he could, ignoring Rushali’s pleas for him to stop.

She rushed behind him, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was filled with regret. But regret couldn’t take back her words.

He ran towards the playground faster than he had ever run in his life. Everyone was sprawled on the ground, waiting for him to get the ball.

“What took you so much time?” on the boy asked, getting up on his feet.

He didn’t listen to him and ran past him towards the wicket.

Swiftly, he jumped and lifted his leg. In one graceful motion, the moment he set his other leg on the ground, he spun the ball in his hand, with all the strength he had, on the wicket.

It struck the wicket with a loud clashing sound.

The wicket knocked out of the ground.

Everyone stared at the wicket, gaping. Eyes moved back and forth from him to the wicket and back to him.

“How’d you do that Neer?” another boy asked, utterly impressed and surprised at the same time.

“Betrayal,” he mumbled and picked up his bat, heading out of the park.

Everyone looked at him walk away, confused at his response.

He was confused, too.

★☆★

Rushali didn’t want it. She didn’t want any of that to happen before she went away. She cursed Samira that she came to her house.

It was her fault too, she felt it. Her whole body was shaking with regret. None of the words that slipped out of her mouth at that moment was true. She was completely aware. None of the words meant anything to her. She spoke them out of sheer jealousy.

That afternoon she called at his house several times. Jai and his mother were the only ones to pick up the phone each time she called.

“What happened? I don’t understand anything, Shelly. What happened between the two of you?” Jai was worried. Neer locked himself inside the room for hours and didn’t come out.

He saw him clearly fuming the moment Neer entered the house and locked himself inside his room. He didn’t know about anything that happened and Neer sure didn’t tell him anything.

Rushali’s lips quivered and tears fell down her face like waterfall. She let out a low sob.

“You are crying?” asked Jai from the other side of the phone. He was completely confused.

Rushali, without being able to speak, put down the receiver back to its place. She couldn’t face him, not right now.

Regret was consuming her and she knew she would cry in front of him. The last thing she wanted was to cry in front of him.

The next day, Jai visited Rushali. He was treated with one of Mrs. Bhatt’s light sarcasms and laughed, and Rushali knew he was feigning it.

It was clear in his eyes that he knew everything that happened. Maybe not from Neer- he was too stubborn to tell- but from Samira, who might have visited him later that day.

The moment they closed the door to her room, Rushali turned and hugged him tightly. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek on her head.

“I didn’t mean it, Jai,” she whispered through the choking tears.

“Shh,” he comforted her. “We never mean it, but it’s always mean.”

She gasped for breath and exhaled shaky breaths.

“Stop it, it’s not a joke.”

He pulled away and cupped his palms over her wet cheeks, then looked straight into her eyes.

“I am not joking, Shelly. And don’t worry. He won’t be angry for long... But what you did was not good.”

She nodded against his palms and started crying harder.

She pulled away and wiped her tears with her trembling fingers. Her eyes were red and so was her nose.

Her eyes were speaking more than Jai could think.

She looked at him for one long minute, and then exhaled a deep breath.

“I like him, Jai. I like him a lot.” That’s all she wanted to say but words failed to slip out of her mouth. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish. She wanted to say something but something inside intercepted them.  

She knew she broke a heart. A heart that trusted her, a heart that never thought it could be betrayed by her.

She dropped down at the edge of the bed and covered her face with her palms.

“I couldn’t bear the idea of him and Samira together. I knew he would fall for her too. She is so beautiful. So I...”

She broke down and her eyes became two insatiable dams.

Jai sat down beside her and pulled her against him.

“Shh,” he whispered. “Don’t worry. I know you didn’t mean it. Even I don’t like Samira and I would have done anything to keep her away from Neer. But... Shelly... Neer heard everything and he doesn’t know why you said it. He is hurt. It would take time for him to settle down. After all, he can’t be upset with you forever.”

Shelly nodded her head but in half agreement. She just wanted to talk to him before she went away.

 

It was five days until she was leaving Regalia.

And five days went by without seeing Neer.

She visited his house but he didn’t step out of his room whenever she visited. She waited in the playground every afternoon and sometimes looked out her window to see if he was there.

She wrote him a letter to meet her in the park and slipped that note through the door gap at the bottom.

But he never came.

In the last day before she was leaving for Suncity, she waited for him at the park.

But he never came.

In the last hour before she left for Suncity, she knocked at his door.

But he never came.

When she was leaving in her car and when everyone was waving her good bye, he eyes searched only for Neer.

But he never came.

 Neer. Neer. Neer.

That’s all she wished for when her fist tightly pressed on to her fallen eyelash and she closed her eyes.

But he never came.  

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