After brushing my hair neatly, I finally looked in the mirror and spotted a red patch on my neck. I took the concealer from my handbag and started applying it to the area. I didn’t realize when I zoned out until the ringing of my phone startled me. I peeped at it and saw the caller ID of my son. I sighed shakily and looked in the mirror towards Kabir, who was putting his watch on. I turned around and called him out. “You know, I think we should stop this now.”

Kabir looked up at me strangely and smiled. “What are you talking about?”

I sighed, disheartened, and turned back to look in the mirror to avoid looking into his eyes. “This whole sneaking around thing. I honestly just can’t do this anymore.” I started touching the area with concealer more heavily now, but the hickey just wouldn’t disappear.

He came behind me and smiled goofily at me through the mirror. He said, “Then you should file up for divorce now. I think it is time. What say?”

The fact that he was taking this so lightly made me annoyed. I stood up and moved away from him towards my bag, then I took a turtleneck and frowned up at Kabir. “That isn’t possible. What am I going to say to Rihaan? He will not understand. I can’t leave my family for a mere affair.” As I said those words, hurt flashed through his face instantly. He opened his mouth to say something, but I spun around to go to the ensuite.

I came back after wearing a turtleneck to find Kabir sitting on the bed with his arms on his knees. Moreover, judging by the look of betrayal on his face, I knew I shouldn’t have put the words like that.

Kabir stood and looked at me, “we love each other, and anything you say will not change the truth. And, I have decided everything for us. You do not have to worry about it.”

When I kept looking at him blankly, he took my hand and dragged me to the bed. I sat there quietly with a million thoughts floating in my head. He crouched in front of me and spoke gently, “Natasha, you do not deserve him. Just give him a divorce, and then we will move to London. I’m serious. Okay? Just divorce him. Everything will fall into place after that. Rihaan also likes me. He is minor, and you will have his full custody.” My eyes were filled with tears after hearing Kabir’s innocent words, but despite everything, I shook my head gently.

He sighed, “I can earn enough money from my gallery to make a living for us, Natasha. Or even if it will not be sufficient, I’ll work more jobs. You can move your company to London also. And I’ll support you completely on that. Or you do not have to work if you do not want to. Nevertheless, I know you love your company. And I’ll support you, Natasha. In everything. I’ll not let you or Rihaan suffer ever. Pease? Please think about it.”

When I heard him plan a future for us, I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing. Because I knew it was never going to happen. There was no future for Kabir and I. He was too earnest. Like a pint of ice cream at midnight. You know you shouldn’t be eating it, but that is what makes it tastes so good.

In that instant, my fear was all-consuming as anything I had ever experienced. I prayed for a sign that it was still a dream, a bad dream, but what seemed an eternity, there was nothing except the truth. I watched as Kabir closed his eyes, and when he finally opened them, he couldn’t meet my eyes. I realized then that he was as terrified as I was. He was terrified of what our future would hold for us.

Kabir finally spoke. “It is going to be fine.” With such intensity he said, I knew he was determined to make things okay. I just did not know where his determination would lead us.

But suddenly, Rihaan’s face flashed through my mind, and I got away from him as if he was burning. “NO!!!” I did nothing but yell at him at the top of my lungs, daring him to disagree with me again.

“No, Kabir,” I repeated myself clearly for him to understand. He raised an eyebrow at me. He is looking at me like I’m some five-year-old kid who is throwing a tantrum. “Okay. Let’s sort this out some other day. All right?” It ticked me off more than before, and I found myself questioning everything we ever had.

His hazel-green eyes mocked me, and I felt the urge to prove him wrong in every way. Suddenly, I saw everything very clearly for the first time. Suddenly, I became aware of all the unfair things that I had neglected. Suddenly, I felt like his love had blinded me.

“How amazing! You think everything is fine. I think things are terrible. We see life so differently. Avoiding this talk will not help anyone. I can’t live another day through my life knowing I’m betraying my family. We are done, Kabir. Really.” I clarified again, but knowing him, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I would say this. Kabir being persistent is good, but then, it was going to make things hard for me. He would try to persuade me again. He would say some sweet words to me, knowing it would work on me just like the last hundred times it did. However, that was what I liked about him the most. He was expressive. He was kind and gentle to me, unlike my own husband.

“Natasha, Arjun does not appreciate you. Why can’t you see that? He takes credit for your success every time he gets the opportunity.” Kabir said, narrowing his eyes at me.

I could feel blood creeping up past my neckline. Looking at the other side, I sighed, “That is not what Arjun means.”

He gave me a disbelieving look. “I have seen him talking about you in Award Functions. You are successful today only because he allowed you to work. Really? Allowing someone means you are in a position of authority, of control. And that is not fair. Strong and independent women like you don’t need anybody’s consent to work. You started your company from scratch. And look at where you are now—businesswomen of the year. Do not let him treat you like shit, Natasha. Please!” I pondered over his words for a moment, but he did not know that Arjun was changing. Slowly indeed, but he was.

I couldn’t let anyone say I failed to be a good wife. I couldn’t let my son live with his time divided between his mother and father. Rihaan was only seven then. It was going to affect him mentally. He loved his dad too much. He idolized him, and he was right to do so. Arjun was not a bad dad. He was an amazing person, and according to Forbes, he was among the top ten businessmen in the world. Arjun Suri was everything a person wished to be. He just did not have time for me. And I couldn’t be selfish and think about my happiness only.

“Let me go.” The three words, so simple yet hold so much power.

His body jerked back at my words as if physically hurt and shocked by them all at the same time. “What?” he breathed.

“Let me go.” I took a deep breath and gathered all the courage inside myself to repeat what I’d meant to say for weeks. Although my voice still broke at the end, barely able to say the last three words.

He took a step towards me, but I stepped away. And with that single step, his face fell and crumbled until I could see the pain clear as day on his face. “I do not understand…” he trailed. “What does that mean?” he asked.

I wiped at my face, tired of crying and hating that I was also crying in front of Kabir. I hated showing that side of me. It was weak, and he already owned so much of me.

“Natasha, listen to me,” he started, but I refused to let him finish. “Let me go,” I yelled. “Please,” I begged. “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t live like this, I can’t look at my son every day and remember what we did, I can’t anymore…” I trailed. “I simply cannot, Kabir. Please!”

My whole body was hurting. Kabir had to let me go. He had to! I couldn’t do this with him anymore. I loved Arjun, but I loved Kabir more. And it was hurting me a lot, more than I wanted to admit, to end something so pure. I had to choose between them. But when I asked myself honestly, Kabir was never the option. It was always Arjun, my family. I made a mistake. And I knew I should redeem myself. I was wrong to love Kabir. I was wrong to let him love me. I was wrong to let him believe that we could be something someday. It was all wrong, and it all needed to end. It had to end. I wanted to be happy and love Arjun more, but I couldn’t with Kabir looming over me and waiting and questioning me.

“Shh,” he breathed as his fingers wiped the uncontrollable tears that had fallen from my eyes. The salty tears soaked his hands, but he did not stop holding my face and pulling me close to him. He dipped his face so that he could look at me, and I meant really, looking at me. His eyes crawled over every inch of my face as if I had the answers to all of life’s questions written somewhere on my face. “Let you go,” he whispered.

I nodded as I choked back another sob. “Let me go,” I repeated.

The pad of his thumb caressed my cheekbone tenderly. “I love you, Natasha—”

I shook my head, repeating, “No,” over and over again, trying to get him to let go of my face.

Kabir wouldn’t release my face or my body and tightened his hold on me, refusing to free me of him. “Natasha, I love you, and that is why I’ll let you go,” he said finally.

I stopped my weak attempts at getting away from him and still at his words. “What?” I breathed.

His bright hazel-green eyes held mine, and his lips trembled lightly. “Because you want me to, because I know this can’t go on forever, and because I love you so damn much that I just want you to be happy,” he paused as his eyes began to glisten. “Even if it is not with me.” His last words really had hit me hard, and more tears began to fall onto his skin.

“Kabir,” I breathed his name, unable to find any other word for that moment.

“I’m letting you go,” he said as he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Thank you,” I said so quietly that I was unsure he even heard me.

“I love you, Kabir Dewan, but sometimes loving each other is not enough.” After speaking my heart out, I took my duffle bag and car keys. My eyes were stinging with hot tears.

“The least you can do is talk through these things with your husband. Know your worth. You deserve better. Do not avoid things. Avoidance sounds like a harmless word, but that one word can cause severe damage to a relationship.” He spoke as I was about to get out of the door.

My heart squeezed in pain as he said that. Knots in my stomach ached, and they had pulled tighter as the knots grew. How could I do this to him? How could I hurt Kabir in this way? My thoughts spun as the knot pulled, making my heart hurt in a way I had not felt in a while. Because my heart was not breaking for me this time, it was breaking for Kabir.

He took a sharp intake of breath, and I knew he was about to say more. I turned and looked directly into his eyes, unable to listen to him anymore. “Goodbye, Kabir,” I said.

There was a slight pause before he again said, “Goodbye.”

And with that, tears burst from my eyes because out of everything that had happened. It was the worst because it made me feel real.

We were really over. Done. Never again.

Kabir let me go.

The sky was filtered with red and orange hues by the time I came outside. Like someone had smeared a paintbrush across the horizon to make a canvas transitioning a beautiful day into a clear night.

Solitude. To most people, when the sun went down, it signalled the end of the day. But for certain people, when the sun went down, and the moon shone, it provided shelter. A silent promise that whichever part you chose to reveal in the dark, it would remain there, in secret.

I stepped inside my car and breathed deeply, closing my eyes for a moment. I tried to keep my tears from flowing but failed.

The ringing of my phone alarmed me, and I looked at it to see Rihaan calling me again. I composed myself for a second and then picked up the phone.

“MOM!!” He did not even make it to a greeting before he laughed, loud and wild. I smiled instantly despite everything that had happened in the last hour. “Calm down, Rihaan. How was your day? And tell me why you are so happy?”

“Awesome. Listen, Mom,” Rihaan shouted through the phone so loudly that I had put my phone away for a while. He was always shouting. He never spoke in a reasonable tone. Who knew where that came from. “Daddy is home. He came back early because he said he missed me a lot.”

My breathing was ragged and erratic, but I was glad Rihaan couldn’t notice. “Well, that’s great.”

“Yes, mom. When are you coming back? I want to play with you both.” I could feel him pouting like a tiny baby.

“I’ll be back till bedtime, but do not wait up for me. Okay?” I could tell he would be hoping for a different answer but wouldn’t say a word for my respect.

He murmured. “Fine, mom. Dad…” I heard Rihaan talking to Arjun, and I felt my stomach begin to clench. Words were becoming hard to form, my thoughts were beginning to scatter.

“Mom, Daddy is showing me how to play football. So I’ll call you later.” I swallowed, forcing the tightness from my throat. “Okay, Play Safely. I love you, baby.”

“Love you too, mom!” He hung up, and finally, the tears came back.

I felt like I had finally experienced true love, and it was, in fact, like seeing a shooting star for the first time. It was breathless, perfect and magical and sadly, short-lived.

It was almost three AM by the time I reached home. Assuming everyone was sleeping, I entered quietly into the house and had started walking upstairs. But the creaking of the door froze me. I turned and saw Arjun standing outside his workspace. He looked at the wall clock and then stared at me. I knew he was looking at me for answers. However, I couldn’t give him one.

My throat was hoarse from all the sobbing and crying on the way back. My eyes were red and puffed as well. Feeling guilty, I lowered my gaze and just stood there, waiting for him to say something. A minute passed, and when he didn’t, I looked up to see him smiling sadly at me. A faint little sad smile was curving his lips. There was something in his eyes which I couldn’t pinpoint, but it hooked me at my place.

I did not know how many minutes or hours passed while we kept looking at each other. But suddenly, Arjun turned and headed inside the room and closed the door without giving me another glance.

And I just stood there staring at the closed door of his room. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to forget that day.

A day I have not forgotten yet.

“Natasha!” A voice startles me. I look around subconsciously, and notice that the museum is getting crowded with each passing time. I wonder since when was I lost in my thoughts.

As I stare at the name, Kabir Dewan, peeking out from one corner of a painting covered in white sheets, I realize I do not feel anything.

“Come on. Aren’t you bored yet?” Out of nowhere, Arjun hugs me from behind. With a smile on my face, I shake his hands from me and lean towards him. However, before I can say anything, Rihaan answers loudly. “Yes, I am!”

We both turn to look at him to see him smiling big with a camera in his hand that Arjun gifted him recently on his eleventh birthday. “Let’s go, mom and dad. I want to eat ice cream now!”

“No, let’s head to McDonald’s.” Arjun breaks away from me and walks towards Rihaan. “But I want ice cream!! Please, Dad!” Rihaan begs. Arjun tries hard to look tough, but I know he would give his son whatever he wants.

I study the other visitors around, but nobody bothers to give a second glance at the painting. I wonder in a gallery full of people why Kabir’s painting is covered, and why nobody tries to unveil it, it is not like the painting is restricted or something.

I look back at the painting and want to look inside it. However, as I’m about to turn it, I realize I shouldn’t. I block out the old memories and focus on making new ones.

Arjun and Rihaan keep on bickering about what to eat while I look back at the covered painting one more time and then proceed to move towards the exit with my family. Leaving that painting untouched. Leaving my past untouched.

THE END

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