Nikhil’s head felt like someone had squeezed it through a liquidizer. Whiskey burn stung his brain as if he had snorted the stuff instead of pouring it down his gullet. He leaned into the polished brass railing, letting the wind pummel his face. The ship, all twenty-four floors of behemoth decadence, was like the damn Burj Al Arab speeding across the Caribbean. And yet the only way to know they were moving was to watch the waves. His fingers released the glass sitting on the railing and it flew into the night, disappearing long before it hit the inky water.
He imagined hopping on the railing, imagined being that glass. Boom! And it would be over. Finally, there’d be peace.
The sky was starting to ignite at the edges, as though the glass of Jack he’d just tossed into the night had splattered amber flecks across the horizon. It would go up in flames soon. All of it orange and gold when the sun broke through the rim of the ocean. It was time for him to leave. The last thing he needed was the mockery of another breaking dawn.
“Sir, why don’t you stay and watch today?” A man leaned on his mop, staring at Nikhil from under his windblown hair, that tentative, guilty look firmly in place. The look people couldn’t seem to keep off their faces when they talked to Nikhil—the one that announced, rather loudly, that they were terrified of intruding. Because The Pathetic Dr. Joshi with the giant hole in his heart might break down right before their eyes.
“Very beautiful it is, no?” The man pointed his chin at the burgeoning sunrise that had just pumped Nikhil’s lungs full of pain and waited for a response. But while the blazing pain in Nikhil’s heart was functioning at full capacity, the booze incapacitated his tongue. He wanted to react, wanted to have a conversation with the man who was obviously starved for it. He searched for words to say, but he came up empty.
Now there was a word: empty.
Still empty after two years.
The deck hand’s smiling mouth drooped into a frown. He turned away and started working the spotless floor with his mop. Shit, had he just thought of the man as a deckhand? Jen would have clonked him upside the head for it. Jen would’ve—
“What’s your name?” Conversation was better than the high definition telecast of memories that kicked off in his brain.
“Gavin.” The man looked surprised. “From Goa. In India.”
Great. Goa. Jen’s favorite place in the whole world.
The steady boat pitched beneath Nikhil’s feet. His stomach lurched. The world summersaulted around him. He leaned over the brass railing and tried not to throw up his guts.
He failed. When the heaving stopped, the world was still spinning too fast. He lifted his T-shirt and wiped the foul-smelling puke off his mouth. Gavin from Goa was walking across the deck with a bottle of water in his hand.
Nikhil should have thanked him, should’ve told him he was fine. Instead he turned toward the stairs. In the light of day he could talk to people, pretend to be alive, but now when the world was as dark as his insides, he couldn’t. The stairs dived into the lower deck. He grabbed the railing and stumbled down, landing on his ass on the last step.
The smell of chlorine from the three-tiered pool cut past the smell of regurgitated Jack on his shirt, setting off the churning in his stomach again. He pulled himself up and dragged himself to the elevator, rubbing his face on his shoulder like the snotty, cranky brat he used to be. But no tears came to dilute the unrelenting burn of wanting.
How could it be that he was still here? The sunset, the sunrise, it was all still here when she was gone.
He wanted her back. God. Please. Give her back to me.
“Look what you’ve done to yourself, Spikey.”
His head snapped up. He didn’t remember stepping out of the elevator, but he spun around now, his breath loud in the absolute silence. The brightly lit corridor swirled around him. The bloodred carpet, the gold-striped walls, every inch of garish splendor echoed that word.
There wasn’t a soul in sight.
He followed the echoing word across the hallway and around the corner, his racing heart dragging the rest of his body along. He turned the corner, expecting to see nothing. Expecting to chase the sound the way he’d been chasing his dead wife’s memories for two years.
A shadow clad in black stood all the way across the corridor. A wisp of dark against the overpowering gold of the walls. Bright red strands cascaded around her face and into her jaw in a razor-sharp edge. Hair he knew better than he knew his own name.
He reached out and leaned into the wall, but the ship continued to seesaw beneath him. She held steady for a moment and then she was gone, melting around the corner.
He sprang after her, running until he was standing in the spot she’d been in. Another long corridor stretched out in front of him. It showed no signs of life, only an endless line of doors connected by endless golden molding, and the endless buzz of the lights overhead.
The walls closed in around him, forcing him to stumble forward. His breath ricocheted against the heavily textured wallpaper.
And then there she was again, a flash of red hair peeking around the corner. He ran at it, at her. But his drunken legs tripped over themselves and he splattered flat on his face, arms and legs splayed like a dead arthropod someone had swatted into the floor.
When he lifted his head she was gone.
His face fell back on the rough, deep pile of the carpet with its polythene smell, and everything went black. Everything except the panacean sound of that name.
Only one person called him that.
Jen, his wife. And she’d been dead for two years.
She won the American Library Association’s award for best romance in
2014, is a RITA Finalist, RT Reviewer Choice Award Nominee, and winner of the RT Seal of Excellence. Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog. Find out more at sonalidev.com.
2 Copies of A Bollywood Affair & The Bollywood Bride – winners choose format (INT)