Second Chances (Short Story)

"Well... well... well... look who it is!", his hands spread out, a big smile on his face and a genuine surprise along with happiness in his deep light brown eyes.

She turned, perplexed and then, the way her eyes lit up, he did not need any proof about the joy she felt on seeing him then and there.

"Whoa!!!", she exclaimed, as she moved forward and hugged him.

Best friends through college, everyone was surprised that they never ended up being a couple. Spent so much time together, even their parents suspected they were having an affair. And yet... for each other, they were just best friends.

"How many years now? 7? 8?", all memories pouring out in his head like a torrent.

Time seemed to have taken a toll on both of them. Once the prettiest girl in college, she had picked up some weight and her fatigue showing in the pronounced dark circles. For someone who was very picky about her appearance seemed visibly different in simple tees and jeans. He was still lean and yet showed signs of weathering through his eyes. The gelled and styled hair now changed into a formal crew cut, with the stubble showing signs of grey.

"You're the one who ran away... left me alone!", she punched his arm.

Back in the day, they couldn't have imagined a world where they didn't talk to each other daily... planning, gossiping, partying. And yet, like everybody else, life does not play fair; things change even before you can realize or plan for it.

"What do you mean 'ran away'? I went for further studies!", offering his defense. "Do you know costly it was calling home back then... with the student loan piled up, I didn't have the money to call as often as I wanted"

"So, you just forgot about me?", her eyes wide open and eyebrows lined up in a bitter frown.

The receding calls and emails were all but inevitable. Distance has been known to ruin the best of relationships. Theirs was just another one victim out of the thousands out there in the world.

He hugged her again... gently this time.

"And you have no clue how much I regret that... not having tried harder. Even today, I see our pics, get nostalgic and curse myself for have lost contact with you. I tried searching for you on Facebook and through other friends, but you pretty much dropped off the grid. I had all but lost hope of seeing you again", he looked like he meant every single word of what he had just said.

"Lies!", she shot back.

"Nope... I messed up. Sure. But I missed you a lot and till date, you are my closest friend... irreplaceable. We were... are, very different, aren't we?", trying to convince her.

She smiled... "I'm not on Facebook anymore. You won't find me there...".

"What?? No more of those famous pout pictures? Who the hell drops out of Facebook?", he was genuinely surprised.

"People with stories like mine... But screw that. Give me your number, you wouldn't want to lose me again, won't you?", she was smiling as she unlocked her phone to take his number and yet he could feel the sadness in her. 

"Is everything ok with you?", years had passed and yet he knew her every emotion and expression.

"What? I'm perfectly fine and running late too...", she hugged him tight... "Don't you dare lose touch again!"

"Cross my heart", he smiled.

He was feeling really happy tonight, having finally gotten his best friend back. She seemed to have trouble in her personal life, but who didn't at that age. His own life was in a middle of a mess that he couldn't sort out. Maybe, just maybe, it was fate that brought them together to help each other; to be the light in their otherwise dark lives.

"Never off that phone aren't you?", the hint of sarcasm in his wife's voice shattered his thoughts. They had been having troubles lately and the fighting had been too much to handle for him. Both wondering what went so wrong in the last few months to spoil their happy married life.

"What did I do now? I have done nothing to piss you off. Just here by myself", rolling his eyes in frustration, breathing loud to control his temper.

"That's the thing... you never do anything! It's always me! Spending your whole day on that phone, doing God knows what!", she clearly did not appreciate his tone and expression.

The fights lately had been for no real reasons, lasting for days. Good days were scarce and they both felt their marriage go downhill. They loved each other and cared too, but, somehow that spark between them had gone missing and that was turning both of them miserable.

Not wanting to make it worse, he picked up his phone and keys, leaving in a jiffy. Out into the dark night sky, away from all of this, with only himself for company.

"Where were you the entire afternoon?", her husband demanded as she walked in, head held down.

"At the supermarket... picking groceries, like I told you", came a meek reply.

"I didn't know that basic groceries takes this long...", he said, affirmatively.

"It's the weekend, you know how long the queues are?", now getting irritated at being interrogated. 

They had been through a lot together and while they had stood with each other through those times, it had silently driven a wedge between the two of them. In trying to fight the world, they had not realized that somewhere, sometime, they started fighting each other and pushing each other away.

She could not sleep that night. Tossing and turning while her husband slept without a care in the world. Finally, giving up she plodded on the couch in the living room, wondering where her life was headed, what future was in store for her. And every one of those took her back to the chance encounter with her best friend this afternoon.

Beep Beep...

"What's up? You awake?"... The message was a welcome surprise for him, sitting on the terrace all alone with the wind in his face, a half burnt cigarette in his lips and staring into nothingness.

"Wide awake. Can't sleep. What are you doing up so late?"

"Can't sleep either. How have you been? I was so happy to see you today :) Missed you a lot :-*"

":) I've been ok. Boringly ok. Missed you too... Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot :)"

"I've known you real close and I know something is wrong with you. Are you really ok?"

"I'm fine dear. Don't worry. Just tired I guess :("

He knew she was lying and she knew he understood her very well to know she was.

"Meet tomorrow for lunch? A lot to catch up on :)", she finally sent after a few minutes of deliberation and being unsure even hesitant. She knew this would change her life forever, he needed to know if he was ready for it.

"Sure :) Pick a place. I'll be there"

Sitting there at that restaurant, after a long time, they seemed happy for a change. For a while now, they had forgotten what that felt like. As they spoke, laughed and reminisced all problems went away and the world finally seemed better. All those moments of fun and terror from their college days, they couldn't just stop talking.

That night as they settled into bed, the world seemed different and they finally slept in peace.

"Why didn't we ever get together? As a couple I mean?", he was trying to get into her head.

That one lunch had triggered a series of lunch dates. They were loving each other's company, just like old times, re-living days gone by, as if in those moments they had actually traveled through time to that exact moment with a chance to relive the moment. Only this time, there was an attraction, a chemistry that was never there before.

"We never really saw this side of us, did we?", she smiled, just like old days, the charm and the pink in her cheeks now back. He couldn't have asked for more.

"Yea. Life would have been very different, wouldn't it? Just imagine...", he replied, looking into her eyes and the hint of blush she was trying to hide.

"Anyways... I gotta leave now. You can't have long lunches daily, you know", winking as she said the words.

Walking her over to the car, he put his hands on hers, fingers locking into hers and she was glad he did. The walk, albeit a bit awkward, was a big step ahead for them. Almost as if all the lies they had to tell and stories to cook up at home to meet like this clandestinely, was in reality completely worth the risk.

"See you tomorrow?", she hugged him tight as she said the words.

The smell of her skin, the touch of his fingers on her waist, their hearts beating in rhythm. There was chemistry there and the universe had brought them together for a reason and they were starting to realize that at this very moment. Getting out of that embrace was not easy for either of them, as if time had stood still, frozen at that moment or maybe deep down inside they wished that it had. The feeling of being in each other's arms, the comfort and the joy was something they both had been seeking in a long time.

Parting slowly, looking into each other's eyes, feeling each other's warm breath on their face. He moved in to kiss her, lips that were soft and eager, lips that did not resist, lips that wanted more. The moment far beyond special in their otherwise uneventful lives. The smile on her face and the twinkle in her eyes, an image that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

She was still smiling, lost in her own world as she entered her house and locked the door behind her. Turning around, her smile turned into fear as she saw her husband sitting on the couch, staring at her, waiting for her. 

The kiss was still reeling in his head and he couldn't stop thinking of her since she left in her car that afternoon. The haunting smile and the sweet face etched deep, was all he could think of. Unable to concentrate on work, he had left early that day. His brain was buzzing and his heart in overdrive.

Finally, after months of deliberation, he finally knew how to fix his life. It would not be easy to get together with her, but it was well worth a try. The first step would be to talk to his wife, to get out of denial and tell her that it wasn't working out and they were probably better away from each other. No more fighting and no more misery. A step towards seeking out their own happiness.

Stepping into the house, his heart was pounding. He had planned to start with the most obvious choice of words "We need to talk". But as he entered, what he saw was not what he had expected. The moment he stepped in, she greeted him with a smile. There were candles set out all over the living room and dinner waiting for them at the table.

"We need to talk", she said and smiled.

"What's all this?", the confusion on his face pretty obvious.

"This is my way of saying, let's start over. I know things haven't been great between us lately and we did not try anything to fix or sort it. The distance between us growing daily and the bitterness... I was gnawing at me...", there was genuine warmth in her words.

"You want us to start over?", his mind was juggling a million thoughts. This scenario was most definitely not one of them.

"Yes... We need it. It's like we have become two strangers living under a roof. It's not been easy for the both of us and I felt that something needed to be done if we wanted to keep our marriage. And I know deep inside it is worth a shot. Don't you?", she said, looking at him with tears rolling down her cheek.

He did not know what to say. Here he was about to call off the marriage and then this, he just could not break her now, after all, that she had done for him. Images flashing through his head, college, marriage, honeymoon, times together and home and then finally, the kiss. He was completely lost, lost to this world in a moment of complete chaos; stuck between his mind and his heart.

At that moment, he chose what he felt was the right and sincere thing to do, to live up to the promises he had made and to honor his vows. I shall take care of you through best and through worst, in health and in sickness, and happiness and in sorrow. He leaned forward and took his wife into his arms, kissing her forehead.

Life had offered him a second chance; maybe just not the exact way that had imagined.

Beep Beep...

Lying in bed, his phone flashed with a message from her.

"Hey. You there?"

"Yeps. Wide awake. Not sleeping?"

"Nope. About today. We need to talk"

He knew this moment would come up, not so soon though. His wife sleeping next to him, facing him, maybe after how long, trying to give happiness another shot. Stuck between two women he loved, he had chosen one and had to now break the other's heart. And these were both already broken women he had to make life worse for by picking one. Never had he felt so low about himself, but, he had made his choice today.

"Yea... we do. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have put you in that position"

"No. Don't be. It was a long time coming. I don't blame you"

"And yet. We are both married. Aren't we? :("

"Treat it like a good memory. Something to make you happy when times are low. It changed my life for sure :)"

"?? What changed?", he was puzzled

"My marriage was broken. We were trying for a kid for years and failing. Doctors and medicines, all failed. But today it all changed."

"What happened?"

"I'm gonna be a mom :) He was home today with my report, waiting for me :) :)"

"Whoa! Are you? Wow!"

"Yes. Finally. Life is definitely gonna be different. Thank you so much"

"Congratulations!!! And thank you?"

"I had given up hope on everything in life, but the last couple of months with you in my life I changed. I became happier. I think that worked!"

"Wow. I'm happy for you", his hands were typing but his mind had no clue how to react. Too much had happened in a day for him to comprehend.

"Though that means we can't meet that often. I hope you understand :(", she sent back

"I do. Don't worry for the rest of the world, the last few days did not happen"

"And for us?"

"What happened was exactly what we needed :)"

From broken relationships to a completely new path in life, both had gotten their second chance. They meeting and then getting close, perhaps, the universe's way of helping them through the last lap of struggle. The much-needed hope to push them past the finishing line towards their destination in life.


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