Sankeerthi was running through the steps, ready for her morning jog wearing her track suit. She just reached the ground floor when she heard the familiar whistling sound floating from behind. She smiled and sat pretending to tie her shoe lace so that he could catch up with her. She looked back, exposing his long hairy legs in shorts, hoody covering his face and regular Nike shoes he looked so gorgeous to her she forgot her shoe and lace and sat glaring at him. Tugging her neatly tied hair he ran with challenge in air to catch him. Sankeerthi got up and started to chase Leeroy with all her might. With his twinkling smile on his face he ran with all his will just few meters ahead of Sankeerthi, gradually she reduced her speed, enjoying the moment after a long time. It has been so many days since she saw him this carefree, laughing and irritating her every chance he got. He might have masked his sadness from outside world but he couldn’t from her.

With his eyes on Sankeerthi who was chasing him he failed to see the nearby lamppost and banged his head to it. With one hand to his just bumped head he collapsed to ground with pain. Sankirthi tried to hide her laughter but when she failed to do so she laughed so loudly her eyes started to water. Lying on the nicely trimmed lawn he glared up at Sankeerthi moaning with pain. Her laughter was replaced by concern when Leeroy closed his eyes holding his bump on his head. She knelt beside him examining the bump saying it will be alright, she is there but when she realized he is pretending she chuckled “Too small for your big body”

“I think I have hurt my head badly, my head is spinning, I can see two of you. I feel like puking, I think I am suffering from concussion. Holy cow!!”

“That’s why they say keep your eyes on the road while walking, Concussion my ass!” She said extending her hand smiling at Leeroy who was still lying on the grass. A board written in bold letters “walking , sitting on lawn is prohibited” was mocking at them.

He looked at her concern face even though she was smiling and then at her extended her hand. He slowly held her hand pretending to get up and slowly he pulled her down. Sankeerthi who was un-expecting Leeroy’s wicked game fell to the lawn behind him. With eyes focused on the clearing sky she lay there for a moment ignoring the people who were looking at them as if they are making love in public place. Forgetting all her worries about her future, her mother, she just lay there beside Leeroy living the moment glaring at the sky, rising sun. How she wanted the sky to absorb her from this world for eternity. With her forefinger slowly raised towards the sky she kept staring. Leeroy held her finger in his

“Did you do it for me ?I know you didn’t like when your mother lectured you on spending time with me….”

Sankeerthi tried to free her hand from Leeroy’s hand and get up. She was not ready to talk to him about the ordeal she went through not now not ever, she wanted to tell him that on his face. But instead she said

“Let go of my hand Roy, I rather jog then sit and talk about my boring past” without looking at him.

Once on her feet she looked at him and said “I did it for myself Roy, myself nobody else”.

With her head phones on she started to run without looking back whether Leeroy followed her or not. With her project work almost done she was looking forward to her new job. With her friends all excited about graduation day she didn’t give much attention to it. She was desperately waiting for the day when she will officially join the new job, other things bored her already. If she performs well they might send her to client location, another country and she can finally leave her home, her hating mother, her boring home behind. She increased the volume of her Ipod when “knocking on heaven door” started to play.

Leeroy pulled her to nearby bench and stared at her with concern.  With arm around her shoulder he moved bit closer to her hoping she will broke her silence. Sankeerthi tried to concentrated on anything but Leeroy, with those eyes filled with concern and worried look he looked so tempting to her to tell her pain, her crazy act which left her partially paralyzed her till her last breath .She thrust her hands in her pockets scared to death that she will touch Leeroy in broad day light with people glaring at them and kept on looking at the trimmed plants in front of her as if they have some precious plants from another planet, inhaling Leeroys mind fucking sweat smell. When patience’s seems to be running out Leeroy pulled her headphone and waited, counting every second

“If you run from your past it will haunt you till your death, so stop running and face it with all your might”

“It is easy to tell Roy, its damn fucking easy when you are on the happy end with loving father and understanding mother. If my past will haunt me then let it haunt me anyways I am life without soul”

With her voice shaking and eyes filling with tears Leeroy held her hand and sat there saying nothing. She could see his hands all set to pull her in his embrace but for some reason he stopped may be he was scared his action will cause her trouble later on. Saying all the things he wanted to say in silence Sankirthi sat next to him getting all the comfort from Leeroy in silence. It is magical when mere presence brings out the peace and solace you longed for without saying a word.

Sankeerthi had expected questions after questions to fire from Leeroy like bullets, but when he chose to stay silent she just gazed at their locked hands.

“All the years I just waited for the opportunity, now opportunity is knocking at my door with ocean full of promises and I have to walk away. “.

She turned so that she was face to face with Leeroy

“But you love USA, it was your dream to settle down in US, Roy”

“Sometimes we have sacrifice Ki”. He looked at her palms as if he is reading them and said “Mom has cervix cancer”. He paused for a while as if he is carefully choosing his words.

“She is dying, I never told you because she was recovering, and never imagined situation will be so out of control.” It was Sankeerthi who pulled him in her embrace absorbing all the catastrophes of the just dropped bomb. That’s how she wanted to be her back to the people and face to Leeroy when he needed her the most without caring about the bystanders and the curious neighbors. With his face pressed to her neck she stroked his back saying she will be always there for him and Lydia will be alright. He held her more tightly like a kid hugging his teddy bear while having his nightmares in the lone dark nights. When she felt him relaxed she let him go but held his hand in hers.

When she felt somebody’s stares on them she held his hand more tightly and looked around. There was her mother standing and staring at her with disgust and her facial expression screamed her hatred. Sankeerthi stared back hoping her hatred reflected clearly on her face. With eyes still glued on her mother she pulled Leeroy and started walking out of the park holding his hand. Determined, she walked with wicked smile on her face to burn her mother’s body alive.

. Her mother hated him since childhood for no reson, after her elopement drama with other guy her mother still didn’t believe it was not Leeroy who was involved.

“Why don’t you take me for a morning ride on your girl, suddenly I feel suffocating here”. Leeroy who failed to noticed Sankeerthi’s mother was surprised to hear her request. It was so unlike her, she never asked for a ride. Happy to take her around he started the bike.

Sitting on the pillion seat Sankeerthi observed the almost empty roads. With street dogs getting up from their sleep, yawning and stretching their legs, she wondered why roads cant be the same whole day. With her body shivering to the merciless morning breeze she leaned forward to get some warmth from Leeroy.

Leeroy stopped his bike near a crowded tea shop and looked at Sankeethi questionably. When she just glared at him with “WHHAt” look he said

“What is with your sudden interest with ride and all?”.Sankeerthi ignored him and walked to the tea shop.

Sipping her hot smoky tea she looked at Leeroy who was busy examining his bike’s wheels “you should go back to US Roy, that’s your dream, chase it, live it and own it. You will be at peace at least with yourself. Don’t worry about you mom, I am there and even your dad is there she will be alright”.

After a minute which seemed like a hour, he smiled; which didn’t reach his eyes and said “I wont be going to US Ki, mom needs me, she may not tell me but I know her, I just cant leave her in this situation. Well achieved dreams are void if you don’t have the people you love around you to celebrate. I will get ample of opportunities to dream and live them but I got only one mother and she may not be around all time”

Sankeerthi took a sip of her tea and said nothing. She was touched to see the strong bond between a sick loving mother and caring son. She didn’t force him because she felt he is doing the right thing

Leeroy slowly stepped forward and pulled back her hair covering her scar from her forehead and stared at her face. She knew it he wont let go of the things which bug him so easily. When she tried to turn away he said holding her hand “What you did was stupid stunt Ki, couldn’t you just talked to me about it before acting upon it. I thought we were good friends. You being crazy, acting in pit of anger to teach a lesson to your mother; I understand but why any other guy? I would have been happiest person to play the role in your fake eloping drama.

Sankeerthi stared at him with surprise wondering how he knows the truth.

“Don’t look at me like that, I am not a fool like your parents and those stupid cops. I know you from almost 11 years Ki and I also know your instincts. And I also know I am the only guy you have kissed so far”. Saying he winked at her

Sankeerthi stood there wondering why her parents were not like him, to trust her in spite of her cooked up story.

“Even though you didn’t do anything you were punished, if you think you have tortured your mother well then you are wrong. You went through hell to prove your hatred towards your mother. Relations don’t work that way Ki. You can win hatred with love but you can never win hatred with hatred”

Sankeerthi pulled her hand and walked away keeping her empty tea glass cup on the table so fast that Leeroy had to run to keep up with her.

“I don’t want to talk about my mother Roy, not now, not ever. Sometimes I wonder why I was not born as orphan; at least I wouldn’t know what it is to have mother who hate you from the day of your birth. Having a mother and being an orphan is unbearable thing Roy, you will never understand that, you are so lucky in that case”

She looked at her watch as if she really cared about running time and said “we better hurry up”. Ride back home was quiet; lost in their world both were busy wondering about each other.

**********

Lydia was recovering, with Leeroy taking care of her every needs, she seems to be happiest and strongest person. Sankeerthi visited her every day, taking some fresh flower or some novel she picked for her from the library. They talked about new residents, watchman’s love story of 10 years with neighbor building maid. There was not a thing which they didn’t talk about. While Lydia sat there changing the channels listening to her, Sankeerthi sat beside her turning the pages of some business magazine on table, talking nonstop all the time. Its not the topic which mattered it just company which they loved; each other’s.

One fine evening they were talking as usual when Leeroy joined them. With their talk traversing every corner of the world Leeroy lost track and buried himself in sports channel.

Lydia who was bored watching men in one color chasing the ball,other men hitting the ball and her son who was almost jumping from couch, biting his nail. After focusing her eyes on Sankeerthi who was lost in some page of business book fascinated by their successful story said

“So what you wearing for your graduation day?Sari? Salwar may be a dress?”

Sankeerthi threw the magazine on the table

“Don’t know Lydia, will wear something old. Anyways nobody can see your dress beneath that black bat man costume”

“Why don’t you buy a dress, I can help you to pick one, our driver Leeroy can drive us around.

Sankeerthi smiled at Lydia and said “Thank you but that’s ok, you see I am keen on getting my final marks card rather than throwing that black hat in hair”

Leeroy whose ears suddenly became alert on mention on graduation day asked curiously “Your father is attending?”

Sankeerthi laughed out so loud that her eyes were watering

“Last thing my father wants is to show his face in my college. I am cool with that so nothing to worry”

“When is it again? May be me and mom can make fun of you in your bat man dress”

Sankeerthi threw the newspaper at him, after telling the dates she said “I am not sure of myself attending the ceremony so forget it. Why waste time on some boring speech and ceremony”. She changed the topic as easily as changing the dress

************

Darkness was overpowered by the brightly lit lights. With the announcer calling out student’s name who were graduating and family members cheering, it looked like a carnival but boring one without the Samba dancers. Sankeerthi was waiting in a queue to be her name to be called when her phone started to ring. When Leeroy’s name displayed she wondered why on earth he is calling in the evening that too probably its gym time. She said “hello” closing her one ear, with little hope she could be heard over the screaming speaker.

“Hey bat man how long you going to stay in that queue?”.

Sankeerthi held her phone and started searching for Leeroy. If few minutes ago she was sad soul, her worries were drifted out like clearing of the blue sky after dark clouds. It could be some ceremony she is not interest to attend but there were people to watch her climb those steps and graduate.

“Turn around Batman”. When she turned she saw Lydia and Leeroy waving back at her. She gave them a broad smile and waved back. At least there were people wo were happy to see her graduate.

When her name was called she walked those steps proudly, received her degree from the chief guest and looked in direction of Lydia and Leeroy. So what her parents were shamed of her but there were people who were proud of her.

When finally ceremony got over she ran towards Lydia and Leeroy. She hugged Lydia who was looking stunning in sari and said “Ohh Lydia, thank you, it means a lot to me”.

Lydia hugged her back, wiped her tears and said “We wouldn’t miss it girl, smile it’s your day”

Leeroy pinched Sankirthi’s cheek and said “you did it batman, you did it”.

Sankeerthi beamed with smile. She was climbing the steps of her success one by one she thought

Lydia said “come on Roy, drop me home and take the girl out for a fancy place to celebrate”

Leeroy eyes were focused on the road while Bnagalore’s evening traffic was driving every driver crazy. Lydia gave gift wrapped box to Sankeerthi and said “Your graduation gift Sankeerthi”

“It was not necessary Lydia, but thank you.”

“Call your father and inform that you will be staying at your friends place tonight. “

Sankeerthi looked at Lydia surprisingly not understanding what she is trying to tell. Lydia patted Sankeerthi’s back and said “US return guy going to take you for a party, buckle up gal for some shooters, gin and tonic, but before you go, wear that dress “

“Mom, you spoiled the surprise” Leeroy said changing the gear

Lydia dramatically covered her mouth with her hand and said “ohhh, I was not supposed to tell you what is there in that gift box,..”

Sankeerthi laughed and said “Its ok Lydia , thank you again”

After dropping Lydia home, Leeroy turned his car in direction of Indiranagar, never sleeping place in Bangalore. A Place Pubs are more than the traffic signals

Leeroy said “open the box, mom picked it for you. Her excitement was driving me crazy. Even for my graduation day she wasn’t so much excited.”

Sankeerthi started to un-wrap the box slowly, lifted the dress from the box and held in front of her eyes for examination. With made for each other white flowers on black cloth it was elegant dress. Sleeves cut short till shoulder blade, length shortened to match the sleeves till the knees she loved the dress. The thick black belt was lying back in the box , waiting to be lifted up for same admiration.

“It’s lovely Roy, its beautiful. Thank you again”

Roy laughed and said “I just paid the bill, it’s my mom you should thank. She is with good fashion sense”

Leeroy just smiled, focusing his eyes on the road.

Sankeerthi shocked him by kissing him on his cheek and then sitting in total silence zipping her lips.

“What is that for?”

“For being nice to me”, Sankerthi said looking out of the window. She still wondered how lame her life would if not for Leeroy and his family

Rest of the way the silence ruled majestically but it was sweet. When you have ears to listen silence it becomes magical.

Sankirthi was just coming out of the washroom now dressed in her black and white dress, red stilettoes, lightly applied red lipstick and hair left free to enjoy their freedom while Leeroy stared at her holding his ground, too nervous to comment on her appearance. She smiled and walked towards him with her bag hoping he would make fun of her but to her amazement he just guided her holding her elbow. The dress marvelously fitted her lean body and she looked beautiful, she was sure about it but when Leeroy just walked without uttering a word she started getting her doubts. She made a move towards the washroom and said “maybe I should change,…..”. Leeroy held her hand and looked anywhere but her and said”Let’s go Ki, you look just fine, I feel suffocation I need a drink”

It was open terrace, with crazy crowd dancing to some rock music holding beer bottles like there are no worries she started to enjoy it. Sankeerthi was standing near terrace eage, waiting for Leeroy, ad was watching the minute world below.

“Spectacular view isn’t it?”

She turned towards a total stranger who was glaring at her with twinkling eyes.

What’s with these men, cant a woman enjoy her own company for a little while

She chuckled cursing Leeroy for taking so much long time to get their drinks.

“I am Saurab” he extended his hand expecting Sankeerthi to take it in her hand and shook it.

But to his surprise she stood there glaring at his face and then his hand. Then she  gave one of her best smile in his direction still not taking his hand in hers

Thinking fish is in his net the man took a step forward towards her when Leeroy said with a firm but gentle voice “There you are darling, I thought I lost you in this crowd”.

There was a twinkle in Leeroy’s eyes which was hard to miss. Sankeerthi giggled and walked towards Leeroy and said “Oh darling, there you are, I missed you already, what took you so long…”. With the lone stranger disappearing in midst of other strangers they both laughed together sharing their joke. He handed her a cocktail glass and said “It is time for a toast”. Sankeerthi took her glass and waited patiently.

Leeroy looked at her “In any moment of your life don’t ever feel alone, if you could take the pain of turn around you will find me just behind you smiling. It is not because you need me it is because I want to be there for you” Sankirthi’s eyes were filled with tears. Leeroy pulled her in his embrace for a brief moment. Then he raised his glass and said “To the hard, stubborn ass woman who wont budge no matter what”

They clicked their glasses and sipped their drinks, people were enjoying, dancing living the moment lost in their mortal happy world. So what it did not last forever at least they had the moment in their pocket. Leeroy pulled her to the dance floor and said “Let’s dance Ki, night is raw, we are young, time is golden…..” Sankeerthi followed Leeroy to the dance floor in midst of strangers who were shaking their hips and laughing. How Sankeerthi loved the surrounding, nobody cared who you really were, all were lost in their own world, all thanks to the alcohol for its magic. How she wished her life was like that, so carefree, so wild

Sankeerthi danced to very tune they played drinking cocktail after cocktail, telling Leeroy how grateful she is for bringing her here, and how she is enjoying every bit of it.

Leeroy pulled her towards the corner and said “you have to eat something Ki, booze with empty stomach is not good”

Sankeerthi giggled and said “come then Roy, I will eat you, once I am done with you I can eat my mom”

Leeroy smiled and said “yeah, swallow that mom of yours”

He fed her some food while she sat whining all time like a kid. He was caressing her hair and was telling something she looked at him and burst into tears.

Holding her in his arms Leeroy assured her everything is alright, he will be there always whenever he needed. Still sobbing in his arms she said “what would I have done without you Roy. I would have been a mass of living meat with no soul and life”. She hugged him more tightly and said

“Promise me you will never leave me”

Leeroy held her even more tightly and replied “Promise love, I will never leave you, you know that”

With her eyes still watering she looked at his assuring face, promising eyes and her hands automatically moved to touch his cheek

Slowly she moved closer till she could hear his heart beat and feel his breath on her face. She lifted her lips and kissed him slowly wrapping her arms around his neck. She hung on to every little second, kissing him scared that if she let go of him her he might vanish.

Her eyes were watering, remembering the every single moment they were together; hugging Leeroy more closely she hoped for the night to never end

Leeroy kissed her back showering with her all assurance. He slowly said “This is the second time you kissed me, you may not keep the count but definitely I am”. Sankirthi chuckled wiping her tears, he always had the knack to make her laugh even when she was all weepy .Leeroy held her close in his arms saying nothing then again its Leeroy whose actions spoke louder than his words

Arms all wrapped around each other with her head still resting on his chest, listening to his heart beat she felt so happy and content.

When the music stopped for a while he said “I will be back, and don’t go on kissing some punk thinking its me.” Saying he winked at her and vanished in the crowd

Sankeerthi stood wondering what made her kiss Leeroy, the mind sinning  liquor or her true love for him. She liked him and even he liked her in his own way but he wouldn’t love her. She had seen his high level female friends glaring at him. By kissing him she made the things complicated for both of them she felt.

“Hope you are not thinking about that kiss!!” saying Leeroy handed over a small glass with rim coated with salt and piece of lemon.

“Remember this day Ki, the day you were graduated, the day you kissed me for the second time and you had your first tequila shot”.

Leeroy pulled her to dance floor while Sankeerthi was still recovering from gulping the burning liquid. “Tequila always brings out the best in you” he whispered in her ears. Sankirthi let the music guide her and danced like never before. She closed her eyes and felt redemption. She could smell the freedom just few yards away from her annoying mother, home.  She opened her eyes and felt like freedom she just found is slipping away. With fear of losing it, she started to run, to catch the freedom, her freedom, her dear freedom, which she longed so dearly. With head hitting the pillar, Sankeerthi blacked out from rest of the glorious memories, passing out on the floor with a big bump on her head still looking cute and innocent in her newly worn graduation dress.

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