From Chapter Five of FOREST OF THE DARK
Rudra had been rejected in love twice.
When he was in seventh grade, he had fallen in love with Rashika, a girl with dark hair tied in a braid that fell to her waist. She had chocolate brown eyes, long lashes and a cute smile. The day he had asked her out for ice cream and she had accepted, he was certain that his love would last forever. They had spent a jovial afternoon scoffing down chocolate chip ice creams and talking about school and their classmates.
Rashika liked him, that much was certain. They went out after school every day; sometimes for walks along a nearby beach and sometimes for ice cream. They were teased by their classmates as lovers and not once did Rashika deny it. He immediately took it as her acceptance to be his formal girlfriend.
Then just before they went off to college, Rashika told him bluntly that they were never boyfriend-girlfriend and she had been going out with another guy as well.
Rudra had been heartbroken and was sure that he would never find and accept love again. He’d scolded himself for being so naive and promised that in college, he would only date girls but never get serious with them.
On the very first day, he had fallen head over heels, all over again. He had been waiting by the notice board, looking for his name and his assigned classes, when a girl an inch shorter than him, had stood beside him. She smelled like spring flowers and when they had looked at each other, he had felt a spark- something he had told himself at that time that he had never felt with Rashika.
She had smiled at him and looked over to find her name on the list. Like a true gentleman, he moved to the side to give her space and knew that she had found this gesture charming. Her cheeks turned pink and her eyes shied away from him. She wasn’t looking at him but her finger traced the names on the sheet and stopped at her name- Preeti.
It had been an easy way for him to find out her name. As it turned out, she was in none of his classes, but with one of his friends- Dhiraj. He used this as an excuse to stand waiting in front of the class in the pretext of looking for Dhiraj while his eyes scanned the small crowd for her.
She had the most beautiful brown eyes he had ever seen and her dark hair was long and luxurious. She had the kind of charm that one found endearing and while she had walked into college alone, she had made tons of friends by the end of the semester.
Dhiraj found out about his feelings for Preeti and introduced them. The shy girl he had seen on the first day was no longer in front of him. Preeti had started talking to him as if they had always been friends. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to be just her friend.
At nights, he would remind himself of the solemn promise he had made to himself in high school—to never fall in love again—but Preeti had invaded his mind and overpowered his resolve.
Every day he would go to college with a big smile on his face, and whenever she was absent he would sulk. Nothing felt nice without her. Through her, he met Maya who possessed the same effervescent personality found in Preeti. They became fast friends and one day when Preeti had not attended college, she had asked him straight up if he liked her friend.
Rudra admitted he did and Maya had decided to help him set up a romantic proposal. Unfortunately, what they had not known then was that on the days Preeti was not attending college, she was spending time with Abhi—a boy from a nearby college who had just asked her out.
On Valentine’s Day, Rudra dressed up in a dark jacket and clean jeans, combed and gelled his hair and applied generous amounts of cologne. With a bouquet of red roses, he’d walked right up to Preeti, fell to his knees and told her he loved her.
Preeti had stared at him with her mouth agape and disappointment and surprise in her eyes. Then a smile appeared on her face, as she asked him if he was joking.
Rudra’s heart shattered. He got up and told her that he had loved her ever since he had laid eyes on her, but she had taken his hands and told him politely that she was dating Abhi and they were getting serious.
Rudra was left humiliated and heartbroken. He cursed his heart for fooling him again and took a semester off to mend himself. Preeti texted him often, apologizing and asking if they could still be friends. He always replied with a yes, but deep inside, he couldn’t bring himself to ever see her again.
Upon the insistence of his family to complete his education soon, he went back to college, maintained a distance from Preeti and concentrated on his studies. Preeti would ask him if they were still friends and he would make excuses about studying for a test.
When they graduated, Rudra was willing to stop ignoring Preeti and accept that she was in love with someone else. He didn’t approve of Abhi when he saw him at the graduation ceremony, but he would never reveal that to Preeti or any of his friends.
After college, he went to work with his brother at a modeling agency where he proved his photography abilities. His brother handed him an assignment and that was when he met Mahi—an upcoming model.
Mahi was tall, had a dusky complexion and flawless skin. Her hair was silky and her smile was sensual. She walked up to him after the shoot was over and asked him out. Rudra couldn’t say no.
They dated for several weeks and he could see that Mahi was becoming serious. Whether he was or wanted to—he couldn’t decide. At nights, when he was alone with his thoughts, he kept thinking about Preeti and wishing that she had never met Abhi.
Mahi had told him all about her relationships; Rudra couldn’t when he was never really in a serious relationship to begin with. However, Mahi had started to become suspicious and the day before he was to leave for his trip, she had gone through his phone and found pictures of Preeti.
They had a huge fight, with Mahi accusing him of cheating on her. He tried to tell her that Preeti was with someone else, but she had stopped him with one question:
“Are you still in love with her?”
The pause that had lasted for a few seconds was answer enough for Mahi. She had stormed out of his house and refused to take his calls.
When he met his friends, he had been distracted. When calling hadn’t worked, he had started to text her, asking her to give him a chance to explain. She didn’t respond until he sent her his fiftieth text. Then she had replied with: I NEVER WANT TO SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN! LEAVE ME ALONE!
In anger, he flung his phone on the dashboard, only to realize his friends had noticed his aggravation, especially Preeti who let out a tiny gasp.
The rest of the trip, he had spent in silence. He could see Preeti throw him curious glances from the rear view mirror and he had a hunch she knew that he had a girlfriend.
I wonder what she thinks about me being in a relationship...
He wanted to smack himself in the head for still thinking about Preeti after she had told him quite bluntly that she would never want to be in a relationship with him.
He had been distracted by these wandering thoughts when he saw a bright white light and then suddenly there was a feeling of being pushed and pulled at the same time, then a hard shove that caused his seat belt to break and throw him through the glass and hit something hard.
Looking down at his hands, his fingers trembled with the splash of blood. Blinking, he sat up. He could feel the minutes pass by, yet he could not stop himself from gaping at the blood on his hands. His blood.
When a thread of sense wound around him, he tore his eyes away from his hands and looked ahead. The car must be a mess, he thought. His friends... oh no... his friends...
“Preeti!” He yelled at the top of his lungs. A fit of coughing followed and a few droplets of blood sprayed out, but that didn’t stop him from pulling himself up and staggering toward the road.
“Preeti! Where are you?” He stumbled, but dragged himself forward. Where was everyone? Where was the car? Where were his friends? Where was Preeti?
“Rudra?” A woman’s voice coming from behind, stopped him. Whipping his head around, he saw a woman standing by the tree. Was it her? Was it Preeti?
His mind couldn’t make out anything but a dark figure. He wiped the blood out of his forehead and eyes and saw the woman walk into the forest.
“Stop! Preeti!” The voice hadn’t belonged to Preeti, but he couldn’t imagine who else it could be. Maya? No...
He pushed himself up, let out a hoarse cry and staggered after her. He stumbled on a branch and fell onto the dry leaves and twigs that covered the ground. A resounding snap was heard and then the sound of footsteps.
There was someone standing over him and when he looked up, he only saw a dark face. The woman kneeled and placed a gentle hand on his forehead.
“You’re hurt,” she said in a soft tone.
“You’re not Preeti,” he mumbled. His vision was clouding with darkness and he could feel something warm trickle down his forehead down to his shirt where it formed a thick pool that seeped through to his skin.
“No, I’m not.” The woman’s hand brushed his hair and patted it as if she were a mother.
“My friends... they were in the crash too... Preeti... they all must be hurt as well. We need help,” He croaked. His hand traveled to his chest and he felt something sticking out.
It’s my rib. I have a broken rib!
“You’ll be fine,” The woman told him, expressionlessly. She bent down and kissed his head. “I’m here to take care of you.”
“Who are you?” he asked.
The woman put a cold bluish hand under his chin and raised it so that he could look up at her face. When he saw her face, Rudra screamed.
Continue Reading: FOREST OF THE DARK