“It is not only about having lots of money.” she argued as she tried to keep pace with Jamie. “We see so many people living in big mansions, possessing the costliest cars and bragging about their recently acquired branded assets, going to the doctors the most often.” Annie said as she got into the car. “So, what does it prove, people go to the doctor for regular check-up too?” he asked, irritated by the fact the conversation was going to continue longer. He was in no mood of talking. When Jamie’s mother had asked him to drop Annie home, he wanted to refuse. But then he saw his little sister look at him awaiting a positive reply, he could not deny. Annie was Jamie’s sister’s classmate, 2 years younger to him. “You didn’t get me, I meant they fall sick too often, they do not live a life of roses.” she explained. “Ok.” he said bluntly and pretended to concentrate on his driving. He just wanted to drop her as soon as possible.
He had promised Sophie to be at the coffee shop by seven, and it was already 6:30. There was heavy traffic on the road and Annie’s house was another hour away. “You look worried Jamie, everything fine?” she asked again. “It’s getting dark, you should be home soon, and your parents must be anxious.” he said, without giving a second thought to his words. Annie smiled, he was worried about her. She wished the drive never came to an end. Going ahead, the signal turned red. “How’s Sophie?” Annie asked with a sigh deep within. Jamie didn’t expect the question. Annie had always been a little cold towards Sophie. Surprised he turned to look at her for the first time that evening. In the yellow street light, her dishevelled hair was shining. Her face glittered as she looked out of the window to check the signal. He continued studying her face. She is pretty, he realized. She turned still waiting for her answer when she saw him staring blankly at her. And then their eyes met, neither said a word but it seemed their eyes spoke a language the lips could never translate. In her eyes there were hidden feelings she carried with her ever since she had known what love was. They were feelings which she would never tell him, feelings Jamie would never know. She looked away as quickly as she could, afraid Jamie would know the secret she had hidden from the world. “She’s doing well.” he replied, feeling at a loss of words. Annie continued to look the other way.
As the road took a turn, both their thoughts drifted to Sophie. In the past 2 years, this was the first time Jamie had felt this way looking at any other girl other but Sophie. He adored his girlfriend, she was beautiful, and many other boys in high school wanted her but Sophie loved Jamie, and he was proud of that. Suddenly he was hit with the thought that was it only his ego which was his attachment to Sophie? Did he really love Sophie? The more he tried to introspect, the emptiness in his heart increased. He just wanted to run away from there, forget Sophie and Annie. ‘Annie’, he remembered. As a reflex he turned to look at her again. Annie was the same girl he had known since his childhood as his sister’s best friend. The trio had spent uncountable days playing games, fighting, pulling each other’s legs, doing completely crazy stuff the outside world never understood. Thinking about the days of the past, Jamie smiled in spite of himself. She’s grown up to be a beautiful girl, he seemed to notice in all these years. Annie in the meanwhile was busy looking out of the window. For Annie, Jamie was her first love. In the beginning she had thought Jamie would feel the same way for her sooner or later. The day Jamie came to tell her about Sophie, Annie felt choked. It was too much for her to take. As she tried hard to control her tears, she saw Jamie’s eyes beaming with happiness as he told her about his girlfriend. Back home that day as she hid her face in her pillow, tears rolling down her cheeks, she knew some wishes never come true. But she cherished Jamie’s friendship and that was enough for her. Still lost in her thoughts, she saw some kids playing in a park. “You remember those days when we played hide and seek in the old garage?” she turned to ask Jamie. “Yeah, things have changed so much in the past years, I never seemed to notice.” Jamie replied as though putting his thoughts into words. “Yeah.” Annie said with a sigh.
With the next traffic light turning red Jamie slowed down the car and changed the song in the music player. It was ‘count on me’ by Bruno Mars. “We had made so many promises of friendship in those days.” Jamie said with a sarcastic laugh as he tried to relate to the lyrics of the song. In the past two years, their friendship had changed. They rarely spoke to each other. The thought of losing Annie’s companionship suddenly terrorised him. These things never bothered him earlier but sitting beside this same girl he had known since childhood he felt something within him had altered. Emotions he could not understand. “Do you still trust me the way you did earlier Annie?” he felt this fear speak out. “Yes Jamie. We just grew up. Our preferences differed. We talked less. But I still count on you the way I always did and I always will. You hold an irreplaceable position in my life.” she replied with a smile as she quietly touched his hand sensing his trembling voice. At the mere touch of her hand, he felt a shiver run down his spine. His heart beat increased and it stirred feelings in him he never knew. Looking through the glass with the turmoil in his mind and his heart beating loudly, he knew Annie’s house was another ten minutes away. He wanted the time to stop there. She had suddenly given a new meaning to his life. He was afraid of these feelings, he wasn’t supposed to feel any of it. He already had a girlfriend. Then why being with Annie was like filling up the emptiness in his heart?
And there sat Annie with the fear that she had said more than required. “Why is he so silent?” “Did he understand something?” “Oh! I messed it up.” she kept on saying to herself. They both sat quietly having no explanations for their emotions. As her house approached, she wished he just said something before she left. Words her love had wanted to hear forever, but he never said anything. “You are being foolish again. He doesn’t love you.” she reminded herself as the slowed down the car near her house. As always she said the first goodbye. “Bye.” he said. “Do come over again. I’ll miss you…I mean, we’ll miss you.” he corrected himself. Those words were enough for Annie. She was extremely happy. For a moment she wished to run and hug him and say all that she had wanted to tell him since what seemed to be eternity. Her love had never been demanding. Yet this was the happiest moment in her life, as though it was a reply to her love. “Yeah sure.” she replied as she waved him a final goodbye.
Jamie turned the car and as he left he turned back once again to look at her. He would surely miss her. As he pondered over this past one hour he had spent with her, he thought if he was falling for her? “She isn’t a bad choice.” he thought. “After all she too is pretty.” But today it was something more than just physical beauty which struck him. Her simplicity, truthfulness about who she was and her humility was what touched his heart. Being with her that day he realized he could be his true self in her presence. He did not have to fake a smile when he did not want to and she seemed to understand all of it. They could talk of anything on this earth and he enjoyed it even if he wasn’t in a mood of talking. Things were not the same way with Sophie. She wasn’t wrong, it’s just that Annie understood him like no one else. There were so many thoughts running in his mind that he was finding it difficult to concentrate on his mind. As he tried to shift his attention, he realized he had left behind the coffee shop long back. He quickly texted Sophie that he wouldn’t be able to make it as guests had turned up in his house. Lying was the only option, cause if he went to meet her that day she would read feelings in his eyes which neither would like. Annie had helped him grow up that evening. Now he knew that his feelings for Sophie were merely built on his ego and her beauty. It wasn’t love for sure, not that his feelings for Annie could be termed as love. There was a lot to ponder over, many decisions to be made. This time it was a choice to make. His mind was uncertain but his heart knew the answer. But at the end of the day he just knew that this was a journey he would never forget, a long drive which he too wished should have never come to an end.