9th April, 2011
A steady babble of talk and laughter echoed from the room. The two girls within were whiling the afternoon away doing what they liked most – spending time with each other. They were the best of friends, and understood each other remarkably well. As Emma Campbell, the quieter of the two, stretched her legs out and stifled a yawn, she looked across the room at her best buddy, Ruth Coleman, and smiled. She thought of that day over two years ago, when she had seen Ruth for the first time. They had met on the first day of college, and had instantly hit it off. All through their freshman and sophomore years, they had been inseparable partners in crime. They had rarely had any misunderstandings, and over the course of two years, they had generated a swelling tide of memories filled with fun and happiness.
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“And that’s how it happened… Emma? Emma? Are you listening?” Ruth’s voice jerked her out of her reverie. “Oh yes, tell me Ruthie. I was just thinking back to the time when we first met.” Ruth’s frown melted and was replaced by a reminiscent smile. It was always a pleasure to think of all the good times they’d had. They sometimes wondered how two of the most unlikely people such as themselves could have ended up as thick friends. Emma was creative, emotional, and believed in love. She trusted people and believed in second chances. Ruth was practical, sensible, and had both her feet on the ground. Nevertheless, they celebrated their differences and had no secrets between them.
“Emma, there’s something I need to tell you,” began Ruth. “It’s about Jake. He asked me out a few days back. Initially I was too shocked to think and I just said no. But I’ve been thinking it over and I really like him a lot. We’ve been good friends for a while-him and me. And I think I’m in love with him! So maybe I should just say yes.” The words came out in a rush, and Ruth looked confused. It took Emma some time to let the news sink in, but once it did, she beamed. Her best friend was in love! Ruth, who had always mocked the very concept of falling in love, was finally getting there herself. Emma couldn’t have been happier. She pulled Ruth into a hug, and saw her friend sigh with relief. They spent the rest of the evening talking about Jake, and barely noticed how time flew by. Before they knew it, night had fallen. Emma stood up with, tired but excited, and kissed Ruth goodbye. “I’ll see you soon, Ruthie. I hope you can bring Jake along too. I’d love to meet him.”
17th July, 2011
“Hey Emma, this is Jake. Jake, Emma,” said Ruth, introducing her best friend and her sweetheart. That was how it happened – Emma’s first meeting with Jake. They shook hands, and Emma looked into his eyes as she smiled. In that fleeting moment, she felt an instant connection with Jake, and she knew without a doubt that they would get along very well. They exchanged their phone numbers, and the three of them spent the afternoon chatting up and playing games. ‘If two’s company, three’s a pleasure,’ thought Emma, as she began to concoct dreams of the three of them chatting up in the same, carefree manner, spending everyday as they were now, and remaining thick friends for life. For the first time in months, she was really happy. ‘Jake,’ she thought, ‘he’s so much fun to be with. Ruthie, you’re really lucky. And I’m so happy for you.’
Late that evening, Emma was back in her own home, munching chocolates and chips and reading her favorite book. Her phone beeped, and she looked up distracted.
‘Hey there?’ It was a text message from Jake. Emma beamed. ‘Hello Jake,’ she replied.
That one spark was enough to set their lives on fire; their friendship deepened as text messages shuttled back and forth between them, interrupted occasionally by calls. Somewhere along the way, Emma fell for Jake, although she refused to admit it to herself. Her thoughts were in clamoring confusion as the good old battle between the head and heart raged on within her.
He’s committed to Ruth, your best friend. You are supposed to be happy for her, Emma.
I am. But, Jake and I are perfect for each other. How can I just let this slip by?
Slip by? You aren’t even supposed to be thinking this way. You shouldn’t have fallen for him at all.
But I have, okay? And I can’t do anything about it. I am totally in love with him.
Great! So now you’re going to take him away from Ruth? You know how happy she is!
Don’t be silly. Of course I won’t do that! I love Ruth and I want her to be happy too.
Oh I see! So you’re going to pretend that you’re really happy for the two of them, while silently crushing on Jake? Perfect!
Pretend? No I’m not pretending okay? I am genuinely happy for Ruthie. Don’t you dare doubt that! It’s just that I’ve fallen really hard for Jake. I can’t help that, alright?
Well then, pick yourself up and move on. Just forget it. Don’t get yourself into something stupid.
I am not doing anything stupid. I know my limits and I don’t intend to cross them. So skip the lecture.
Have you seen the texts you two send to each other? Even I, with all my practicality, haven’t failed to notice ‘the fragrance of unspoken love’ that runs through them. If that isn’t stupid, what else is?
It isn’t stupid. Surely nothing dramatic is going to come of it. Give it a rest. Goodnight.
Fine! Let’s just hope at least he’s sensible enough.
Day after day, Emma was faced with one haunting question – Ruthie or Jake? Her head or her heart? Only one thing appeared clear to her in spite of her tumultuous thoughts, like a blinding flash of lightning across darkened skies; she loved Jake. Not the kind of lukewarm, selfish love that people boast of. Not even the crazy infatuation that grips a young girl. She loved him with all she had, and even more. Sometimes, she felt that the world was too short to express her feelings. A million hearts, she knew, would be too few to shelter her love.
5th August, 2011 – The morning
As Emma stepped out of her home that morning, her conscience pricked her. The previous day, Jake had repeatedly asked to meet up with her. She had been fine with it, as long as he informed Ruth. After much persuasion, he had agreed to let Ruth know that he would probably meet Emma the next day. What he hadn’t told Ruth was that he would be accompanying Emma on her way to her guitar class that morning. “Ruth’s possessive, Emma. You know that,” he had explained.
“Yes, but I don’t want you hiding stuff from her on my account. It could create problems…”
Jake had interrupted her. “Relax, Emma. No such thing would happen. Besides, I’m just going to join you on your way to your class. That’s not wrong, alright?”
They had argued the whole of yesterday, and she had finally relented.
“Hello, my dear Emma.” The sight of Jake washed her guilt away. They chatted happily all the way, and before long, they found themselves on the deserted flight of stairs leading to her class upstairs. She was about to climb them, when he held her back. She wheeled around and found herself pulled into his embrace. Looking up, she saw reflected in his eyes the same love that was bursting for expression within her. Looking down at her, he found in her eyes the consent he sought. Slowly, he kissed her face – her cheeks, her chin, her forehead and the corners of her eyes. Part of her head was struggling to force some sense into her, but it was fighting a lost battle. Wave after wave of passion crashed onto the shores of her heart, and for the first time, she let life take its own course. And a fine course it would take!
Jake, meanwhile, seemed to have come under a spell of inspiration. With a rather bold and determined spirit, his lips began to seek hers. She turned away, almost getting back to her senses. Undaunted, he persisted. As was wont to happen, she gave in and surrendered.
Nearly an eternity later, they embraced one last time before half-heartedly parting ways.
All through the day, Emma’s thoughts had a life of their own. She found herself happy after a long, long time.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, a storm was brewing.
5th August, 2011 – The endless night
As night fell, Emma prepared herself for what she thought would be the happiest, most peaceful sleep she’d ever have.
Then her phone rang, and the call that followed was her death sentence.
”Listen, Emma, promise me you won’t cry?” Jake’s voice sounded decided, yet apprehensive. Even as she vaguely heard herself respond, she knew what was coming.
“Look, I really like you Emma. In fact, I love you. But I can’t hurt Ruth either. I think it’s best if we don’t speak to each other. We shouldn’t be a part of each other’s lives anymore.”
“But Jake, we could at least be friends, like we used to,” she pleaded.
“Emma, I cannot simply remain friends with you, okay? You know what I mean. I’ve thought it out. I’ve made my decision.”
With that, he hung up.
Weighed down with despair, she sank down to the floor. How cruel of life to let her plummet from the zenith to the nadir in a matter of seconds! Yet, despite the apparent hopelessness of her predicament, her heart beat with the faint sound of optimism. She would not let him walk out of her life; for his sake as well as her own.
All through the night, she implored, entreated, and endeavored to piece together the fragments of her shattered life. Sadly though, every stab she made at reconciliation seemed futile. Exhausted, she drifted off into an uneasy sleep, her head resting in her damp pillow, soaked with the tears she had shed, while deep within her lay the pain of unshed ones.
6th August, 2011
Emma Campbell woke up as a different person. She decided to let her head do the thinking. Yes, she had made a mistake, but no, she wouldn’t let it affect her logic. Ruth did not know anything about what had transpired between her and Jake the previous day. Honest as she was, Emma would have admitted it all to Ruthie, but one thing held her back. She did not want to spoil Ruth’s happiness. Jake would never let his Ruth down again; he’d admitted that last night. So no matter how much it hurt, Emma decided she would never cross paths with Jake again, if she could help it. She forced herself to bounce back, and be a good friend to Ruthie. Her choice was made. Her head had won the battle. Ruthie, once again, became her priority.
That night, Emma sat down on her bed, with her journal open before her, reflecting upon how the last twenty days had transformed her, and she began to pen down her thoughts.
“I have just been through one of the most defining moments of my life. In retrospect, this is what I found – that sometimes, life’s lessons don’t come easy. Sometimes you’re just thrown off the cliff and you’ve got to build your wings on the way down.
These past few days, I’ve had to make some pretty tough choices. Choices between what’s right, and what’s easy, between what I wanted, and what I needed. I was lost for a while, and it seemed to me that I might never be able to choose. But then, I have learned one of life’s most important lessons – that when faced with a tough decision, close your eyes and listen to that voice deep within. It always gives you the right advice. Yet again, sometimes even though we make a decision, our hearts might still be holding on to what we desire. Nevertheless, we have to cherish those memories and move on.”