She dozed off. Finally. After struggling for a long time with the heavy book on her desk. Her frequent, faint grumbles gave away to a soft snore that I bet only I could hear, not even he.

One exam a week. On Fridays. First semester stress. She has stopped going to the lab these days, and her rare visits to her boyfriend has given away to her spending the whole day here at our office. He eggs her on at times, rubs the back of her jacket, tells her to not give up.

The frequency of hanging out with his other batch-mates has reduced. He studies here all day, and even discusses the physics behind her biology. Heck, he is always studying with her. She explains terminologies to him, because he is bad at it. He explains the concepts of polarization and dispersion and diffraction to her, because she is not very sure about these.

Sometimes they fight. His arrogance rubs off on her, and she gives him the silent treatment. Sometimes her over-attachment to him irritates him. Their fights are cute, they don’t last too long. And they always laugh at the end. As if, they fought for a good laugh. As if, they both knew they were kidding all the while.

They always take a break together. They go to the grocery and bring back a lot of food. And chocolates! She always offers me when they open something new. I used to decline politely, but nowadays I am frank around her, sometimes even asking for more. She smiles sweetly as she indulges me.

Earlier when she used to come in looking for him and he wasn’t there, because she invariably “forgot the phone at the lab,” she would ask me if I knew where he went, and since I never did that, would request me to call him. These days, she just smiles and I hand her over my phone after dialling him. She smiles like a kid. Sometimes I wonder whether she even owns a phone. Because heck! Nowadays she doesn’t even go to her lab. Or has she never gone back there after forgetting it there?! If so, she must have a peaceful life: I envy.

And then, out of nowhere, she dozes off. On her laptop. She is so cute that she even takes a nap cutely. And we smile over her back, acknowledging this fact. Earlier, whenever we found each other having a meal alone, we would join. Trivialities used to soon lead to an awkward silence. These days, we still do that, because she sometimes goes for lunch with her lab-mates (her only interaction with them), but we have so much to talk about. Apparently, we always had, but had never discovered it. Her presence in our lives, directly or indirectly, has eased us up to ourselves.

That day, she opened a packet of nutties, and one popped up and fell to the floor. She picked it up, but was unsure whether to have it or not. I noticed, and said, “Five second rule!” Before he could protest, she had said “Yes!” and popped it in to her mouth. And then, he started scolding her. She was cute even in her absolute confusion whether this rule applies, as him and I started debating it. He won, and she got an even bigger scolding, “You should at least wait before the judgement has been passed!” We both had a good laugh, only he was still a bit angry.

Sometimes he takes very long for his calls. Those are the calls with his father. Everytime that happens, and it happens very rarely, he comes back a bit disturbed. Earlier, that used to rub off on his friends. These days, she understands instantly, and they go away for a walk. He comes back cool as ever. Life goes on.

That day, she asked me what I do. I told her a sentence, and she smiled because she didn’t understand anything. Aaah, that smile! I wonder how it manages to stand for so many of her reactions and still pull them off so perfectly. We talked for a while. For the first time, one-to-one. It felt good. After a while I told her to go back to her studies, and she so promptly did.

I hadn’t seen her for two days. Maybe she was studying from her room, our office-space also becoming monotonous. Earlier, I never noticed when someone was missing in the office. I never noticed who came and who went. I just cooped up in my cubicle, behind my keyboards, and typed away the time I was there. These days, I notice her absence. And her boyfriend’s too. Maybe they are studying together in her place, her flat-mate comes here everyday. Who knows how far they have gone…

She finally showed up yesterday. Alone. She told me he was not feeling well enough to come, but she hadn’t studied properly the whole of the previous day, so she had to. So she turned up alone. I wondered what was up with this couple. How would they cope a whole day without each other?!

She asked me if I wanted to go for a tea. My typing had slowed down and my mind was a bit tired, so I said I wouldn’t mind. So, we went. And suddenly, I found myself in his space. After the tea she said she wanted chocolates, and whether I would like to come buy with her. I went. She got more than enough for the two of us, and one more for him, and wouldn’t let me pay for any of that.

While walking back, I lifted the weight and asked her what I was so curious to know all day. “Yes,” she said, “we did. He wanted more and I wasn’t ready for it, and then he was so mean.” I could sense her hurt, I could sense her anger. To her, her exams mattered way more than sex, and he had hurried a bit. I comforted her by rubbing her back. She smiled back. For the first time, I saw pain behind her smile. One more emotion covered.

We took a walk by the sea, and she asked me so much about myself that no has asked me in the whole of my PhD! In between, he called her, and I took her leave. She returned to the office in a while.

Her chair is always right next to mine. That’s because he sits on the left of his cubicle, and so do I, bounded by the placement of our respective keyboards. And he keeps her laptop on the right of his desk, getting sandwiched between us. In fact, she is always closer to me than him. Even in his absence, she came here to study. Her lab-mates give her work otherwise, she said. And she liked missing him. Aah, probably their first big fight!

When I came back from the restroom, I found she had dozed off again. She had kept her hair loose today, instead of the usual bun. For the first time I got to see the texture of her hair. I loved how it casually lay over her back, smooth and silky, but a bit scattered. I felt like touching it, but I refrained myself. As I started typing my Thesis, I had to force myself to not think about it. To wonder what it could have been like playing with her beautiful hair. Did she like mine?

When she woke up on her own, she said she felt disgusted. With the exams, and with her situation. I could understand. I had been through this all five years back. I told her that everyone goes through it, it will pass. She nodded, as if she understood.

She said she was hungry, but didn’t want to go eat. “I will survive on the chocolates!” I scolded her, and told her to come with me for dinner. She smiled and readily agreed. We had a quite dinner. I tried not to discuss anything about her current situation, especially the imminent exam.

While walking back to the office, she said, “I wish I could stay back today.” I told her she could, actually, there was a dorm just for this purpose. She said she knew, and it was already full, too many people had opted for this option and she was late in deciding. I hesitated a bit, but finally put it across the air between us, “You could sleep in my room.” And to clear the air so that she didn’t misunderstand, I hurriedly added, “I have a sleeping bag and an extra pillow.” She readily agreed, saying I was an angel. I asked her if that would improve her situation with him, to which she replied, “Let him miss me. Let me see how much he really loves me. Or does he do all this for the sex.”

I couldn’t say anything more. After a while, I felt like going back to my place, and asked her if she was done. She gave me a cry-face, which screamed no. I said that’s okay, I will wait. So I started watching a video that I had been postponing since time immemorial.

After I finished watching, I checked back with her and found her dozing on her laptop again! Now I was angry. I woke her up and started packing her stuff. I scolded her for taking too much pressure and almost ended up ordering her to help me pack. She did, with a smile. And that melted my heart. We had a good laugh. About her stupidity!

She instantly fell in love with my hostel-room. She loved it, she said. She didn’t want to change, to which my protests and offers of my own clothes fell in to deaf ears. I gave in and we had slept in a while. At least she had. I heard her snoring.

In my half-sleep, I couldn’t help but fascinate making love to her. What if I had played with her hair? What if I had kissed those lips that produce those diverse smiles? Claimed them as mine, and only mine? I quickly reminded myself that she had a boyfriend, that they do make love to each other. And the enormous dichotomy I found myself in didn’t let me sleep. Although my entire body had frozen, I couldn’t do anything even if I wanted to. But my imagination did a lot of things to her.

I don’t know when I finally fell asleep. When I woke up, I found her making near-silent movements in order to not wake me up. I looked through one eye and realized it must be early morning. Her silhouette looked so lovely. She was sneaking out to the restroom. I couldn’t see her eyes. These are the hours when I sleep the tightest, so I went back to my slumber.

Or so I thought. A slight noise of the door woke me up as she came back in and made her way to her sleeping bag. I forced both my eyes open, and looked at her. There was more light on her face. Does the sun come up so quickly?

“You are so cute,” she said. “Tell me something new.” She laughed, but instantly her laugh gave away to a serious face. I saw passion in her eyes. She came forward towards my bed. And just like that, she kissed me.

I let myself go. Every nerve within me took in the pleasure of kissing this beautiful woman. I didn’t know what she found cute in me, I had lied for the laugh. And I think she knew that. I think she knew how desperately I needed company. I think she knew how alone I was. I think she knew everything about me. Is that why she included me in their conversations, offered me chocolates? His other friends hadn’t become her friend as well, right? Was I really special?

Soon, my thoughts began to wane. Her kiss had swallowed me by now, numbing my presence. Half-asleep yet fully awake, I could not think anymore. And as if to acknowledge that, she came over me. She started ruffling my hair, and caressing my cheeks. Then she bit into my ears, and I moaned. For the first time ever, I called her by her name. She loved it, she said, hearing me call her name out loud.

I felt no guilt as I held her around her waist and swung myself upon her. I felt no guilt as I kissed her with all the love I had never given anyone all those years after our break-up. I had not been to bed with a man after him. Today, I knew why. Because only a woman could satisfy me. Only a woman knows where and when and how to touch. It takes to have a clitoris to love a woman as much as she deserves. It takes to have a vagina to know when to stop. So I loved her back with all my pent-up passion. And I felt no guilt. Because I knew, he would never be able to give that to her.

Disclaimer: Although there are situational parallels from my life, this story is entirely fictional, and any resemblance to any person living or dead is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

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