It was the loud noise of the alarm clock of Dad’s mobile phone that woke me up. Last night had been one of the worst nights. But every night lately, seems to be the worst one. They all seem to follow the same pattern, the incessant pounding of the door by Dad, carrying him to the bedroom, listening to his drunken whining and him abusing literally every human being in the colony. 

I wasn’t able to sleep until 4 am last night. I quickly cleaned up the mess made by Dad, packed my staple diet of bread and butter and got ready for school. I proceeded to my usual seat at the back end of the room. Everybody, as usual, ignored me. After all, I said to myself, who would want to talk to the boy in the shabby clothes and with bruises on his hands and face. I already wished for the lunch hour to come. It was the only time that I would feel alive during the whole day. 

He was the only one in the entire school that talked with me. He belonged to the other section. I don’t know what made us discuss and share our thoughts with each other. Maybe, it was because he was as lonely as I was. He was loaded and had a lot of friends once. Then his father was arrested on charges of corruption, and his life changed completely. The entire school shunned him. I found him in the bathroom cubicle one day, crying his heart out. I felt an instant connection towards him, an irresistible urge to console him. I took a deep breath and knocked on the cubicle door. The crying suddenly stopped; I waited for a few minutes. The door opened quietly, and he hesitantly stepped out. He was Varun Malhotra!! The demigod of the school! And to see him in this state; eyes red, stains on his shirt and blazer, hair disheveled was quite shocking to me. I skeptically approached to console him. I then spent the rest of the lunch hour trying to calm him down. We then began to meet every day for lunch.

Our daily meetings and conversations invariably followed a pattern. We used to sit in a corner of the dining room during our lunch hour and more often than not the point of our discussion seemed to revolve around our respective lives, he talking about his father’s ongoing court case and me trying to resurrect his confidence by making him believe that all is going to be well one day. After a moment, the plates would shift with me being the depressed and downcast mess talking about my father with him playing the role of counselor. These sessions of gloom seemed to bring us closer. He was living away from his parents in an attempt to distance himself from the intense media scrutiny and I, with all due respect to my father am basically alone. In a strange sort of sense, unknown to both of us, this loneliness appeared to offer us solace. We were both in a way shunned by the society and over these similarities, we formed a bond, a connection. 

Days passed and Varun seemed to come out of the shell he built around himself. He used to open up to me and I realized that my assumptions were all wrong about the most popular boy in school. He grew up in the shadow of his highly successful father and always had trust issues as a kid. He never seemed to be able to place his faith in someone around him. Everyone around him was either trying to please him to earn the favor of his father or was deliberately distancing themselves from him branding him as the stereotypical snobby rich kid. He started to doubt his own talents as the compliments from his teachers never seemed to be genuine. His friends always wanted to talk about the new game his dad bought for him. He had no one to talk to about his insecurities and was always left alone with servants falling head over their heels trying to please the future master. His words surprised me as I always assumed he had nothing to worry for, he could literally get anything he wants in a heartbeat but here he was, a lonely and blubbering mess. It just made me want to leave all my inhibitions behind and hug him telling him that he could trust me and that I always going to be there for him. I started to feel

more and more comfortable around him as he shared many of his childhood stories and wished that he found a friend like me earlier. 

He was growing in confidence as the days progressed and there was a fresh spring in his step as he approached me one day asking him to join him for a game of squash. I was a noob when it comes to sports but I couldn’t say no to his radiant face brimming with confidence. He came to the game in a set of tight fitting Adidas T-shirt and his short. I just couldn’t take my eyes of his perfectly toned muscular body and admonished myself for even thinking in such a gross manner. I couldn’t sleep that night as images of the game and Varun continuously flitted my mind. I started to feel uncomfortable around him from that day onwards blabbering in his presence and embarrassing myself with some stupid acts to earn his admiration. I couldn’t place these feelings together. What were these feelings I was experiencing? They all felt new to me and it seemed to me that I was touching unchartered waters but I couldn’t push them away. They lingered in my mind giving me sleepless nights. I started fantasizing about him and this bond between us seemed to be greater than friendship, at least from my viewpoint. I wanted to get these feelings out but was afraid of the consequences. What if he laughs at me and dismisses them or worse, he stops hanging out with me. These thoughts occupied a greater part of my mind in the school and I couldn’t concentrate at all in my classes. So, it’s no surprise that I flunked my mid-term exams. All the conversations with Varun, which seemed fun earlier now seemed to have an added burden, with me trying desperately to find the word or a gesture conveying his feelings towards me. This continued for several days and Varun started noticing that I was not my usual self. I was generally a shy introverted boy just focusing on my courses but now I have become completely mute. I no longer paid attention to the classes and even started avoiding Varun. I used to skip lunch break lest I should meet him and avoided his gaze at the Morning Prayer. 

One day, as I was following my now usual routine of scurrying away after my classes, Varun caught up with me, took me roughly by my hand and pushed me into an empty classroom. He then bolted the door and turned to me, glaring daggers at me. He then started shouting at the top of his voice. What’s wrong with you? Why have you been avoiding me? Have you realized that I was dangerous and a bad influence just like the others? He then calmed down and looked straight into my eyes whispering, I’m sorry if I had done something wrong. Please forgive me for shouting at you. You are my only friend here now and if you desert me too, I don’t know what’ll become of me. Seeing him like that broke my heart. I just wanted to shout out, I love you Varun. I never want to leave you but again the feeling of losing him stopped me. He saw me staring at the ground and asked me more gently, Is something wrong with your father? Is it about your midterm marks? Tell me anything, I won’t judge you. You helped through my tough times and I’m sure I can repay the favor. Hearing him say that filled me with a sense of optimism. Maybe, I can share anything with him. He wouldn’t distance me if I reveal my true feelings for him. Emboldened with these thoughts, I slowly took his hand and told him that I’m sorry for being aloof and promised that I would share everything with him. He then asked me my problem and since it was my birthday the next day, I thought it would be the perfect moment to reveal my hidden feelings. So, I shrugged off his questions and asked him to join me for lunch the next day at our personal spot in the dining hall.

I woke up early the next day and went over my speech for the lunch date coming up. They say, when in doubt, turn to the basics. I’m going to precisely do just that. I planned on fashioning his favorite cake with generous helpings of butter and jam with the crust heated to a medium brown. My mom used to make these for me when I was little and I learnt making these cakes after her death. Varun seemed to take a particular liking to these cakes and so I delicately prepared two of these cakes and bought some candles to go with them. Time seemed to run at a slow pace that day as I eagerly waited for the lunch hour. As the clock struck 1:00, I immediately raced out to the dining hall and took my spot at our favorite table. Varun came after 10 minutes and by then, I had set up the cakes and candles. He took out his usual lunch of toasted bread and peanut butter while I lit up the cake with candles. He looked at me in confusion and then said with a smile, “You don’t have to make me a cake every time we have a fight”. I replied, “This cake is not for making up for our fight. It’s for taking a leap of courage on my part. 

I don’t know how to say this. I think I have known this for a long time but just haven’t tried to organize my thoughts. I have done it now and it is pretty simple. I love you”. Varun looked at me for an instant and then laughed; Cut the crap out man, What’s with this sappy stuff?

Are you a girl? Of course, I like you too. You are my best friend but you have got poor choice of words, dude. Which guy says “I love you” to his male friend? Hearing him say these words shocked me but I consoled my fleeting heart saying that he has only misinterpreted my words and his words are just a farce. I wished with all my might although my logical mind suggested otherwise. Picking up my courage, I again said, Varun, you have probably not got me. I meant I want our relationship to be more than friends, like lovers to use the exact word. Varun stared at me for a long time with a deadpan expression. After what seemed an eternity, he said, “Please tell me you are kidding”. The quivering hope in me died just then. No words crossed my mouth. I remained mute. Varun then got up and shouted, “How could you even think in such a manner? I’m disgusted with you. I can’t believe I was this close to a homosexual. I should have guessed it. You and your girly acts! Thank God, you didn’t make a move on me. Don’t you ever dare come closer to me again”. He then threw the sandwich he was holding at my face and rushed out of the dining hall. I thought I would die with embarrassment at that instant. I was literally holding my breath willing God to take my life. My face was splattered with the peanut butter Varun threw at me and in my hand was the knife I had brought to cut the cake. The world seemed to come to a standstill. People around me were muttering excitedly. I could make out some of them. “I knew it. I always had a feeling”, said a girl I had never even seen. People started to distance away from me as if I was some sort of infection they could catch if they ventured closer. Tears streaming down, I ran back to my home not caring for my books or even the traffic on the road. I was motionless on the couch, I don’t know for how long before I heard the ring of the bell. My father, a bit less drunk than usual saw me looking detached and asked me what happened. No words came out of me. I was a man of few words but now I had no words. He urged me to tell him what’s wrong. I just stared at him. Frustrated, he left the room and began his usual ranting. At that instant, I realized that I lost the will to live. I’m just a body with no soul! A carcass that is set to rot at the judgmental stares of the people!

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