Love Is…

"Sanam! Give Aahil his iPad back. Now!" Zoya said sternly to her four year old daughter, who had taken her patient's source of comfort away from him, thus making him huddle in a corner of the therapy room she used at the clinic she worked in.

Zoya Khan was a psychologist who specialised in treating Autistic children. From before she'd even studied it, she'd met Aahil and was immediately drawn to him because he reminded her so much of her deceased brother, Haider.

Her husband, Asad Ahmed Khan, had introduced her to the previous psychologist that worked there when they were still courting and had made it sort of his own personal mission to get Zoya to achieve her dream of working with children on the Autism scale. She would forever be thankful to him for that first introduction, because it had led her to Aahil.

Aahil was very high up on the scale. He didn't talk. He didn't interact with anyone, besides his parents and that was very rare too. That is, until Zoya came along. He'd taken an immediate liking to her and vice versa. In no time at all, Zoya had brought about a change in him that no one ever thought would happen.

She still remembered their first interaction as if it was yesterday.

*Flashback*

Zoya immediately went to Aahil. She didn't say anything, just sat across from him. He looked up once from his iPad and Zoya smiled at him. He ignored her and went back to playing.

Asad watched the interaction silently as he sat with some of the other kids. Zoya peeked over to see what Aahil was doing. He was playing "Bubble Basher" but was only targeting the green bubbles. "Green is my favourite colour too" Zoya said softly.

He looked at her again and a look of recognition passed his face. Most people wouldn't have taken it much to heart, but to Zoya, she knew what that hint of a look had meant.

Slowly, he would start opening up to her. It may take time… lots of time, but she would get through to him. She made a mental note to bring in round shaped sweets for him next week when she came by, because he only ate round shaped foods.

"I'll see you next week, ok?" she said and got up, not expecting a response.

But what happened next had shocked her. He tugged on her jeans and she looked down at him and smiled, trying to hide her surprise. He tilted the iPad up so that she could see what he was trying to show her. It was "Bubble Basher" once again, with only green bubbles on screen.

"How did you do that?!" Zoya said, her voice full of wonder for the little genius. Aahil just shrugged and went back to playing, his attention now completely diverted from Zoya.

*End of Flashback*

"Sanam!" Zoya, tried again. She felt her sleeve being tugged. "It's ok. She can have it" a seven year old Aahil said, before walking away. Zoya looked back at him and then sighed.

When she'd first met Aahil, he wouldn't even say "Hello". After just a year of working with him closely, his vocabulary had more than doubled.

She'd even managed to convince his parents to get him out of the special needs school. Being with other "so-called normal" kids was helping him even more so.

But Sanam? Sanam was the biggest help of all. One day, about two years ago, Sanam went to work with Zoya. Little Aahil was fascinated by her and stayed by her throughout the therapy. Zoya had noticed a significant difference in him that day and had started bringing Sanam in with her regularly.

"Sanam" was the first word he ever spoke to Zoya. Or more correctly – to Sanam. She had giggled in delight as only a two year old could. Aahil had fled to the corner of his room with the iPad because Zoya had looked shocked and exclaimed excitedly, "Aahil! Oh my GOD, Aahil!"

Aahil's fascination never waned. He stayed close to Sanam whenever she was around. His emotions starting looking as they were almost intuitive. Zoya couldn't have been prouder of both her kids.

If Aahil was fascinated by Sanam, then Sanam was equally, if not more fascinated by the little boy.

One day, Sanam tripped over a toy lying carelessly in the playroom and fell down, splitting her lip open. Zoya was flabbergasted when Aahil teared at Sanam being hurt.

They were told that Autistic sufferers had no emotions. "What rubbish!" Zoya had thought. "Of course they have emotions… they don't know how to show them… but they have them, damn it!"

"Abbu, what's wrong with Aahil?" a five year old Sanam asked her father when he was tucking her in for bed. Asad, slightly taken aback by his daughter's question, continued tucking her in snugly as he thought about how to answer her in the most honest way possible.

"Abbu, answer!" Sanam whined.

"Sanam… There isn't anything wrong with Aahil. He is just a little different from other children. He's special" Asad answered, hoping it would answer his precocious daughter's question sufficiently.

"But… I offered him half of my sandwich today and he screamed at me when I tried to give it to him" she said, her eyes wide. Asad sighed. They always had to make sure that Sanam's sandwiches were cut into triangles.

Hell hath no fury like a five year old that gets sandwiches cut into squares, when all they wanted was triangles.

"Sanam, you know that Aahil only eats foods that are shaped in circles" Asad explained.

"I know, but I wanted him to try something else" she said innocently.

"Princess, you shouldn't force someone to try something if they don't want to, ok?"

Sanam nodded, but her nose was scrunched up. She did that when she was thinking over something; much the same as his wife.

"Goodnight Princess" Asad said and kissed Sanam's forehead but she called out to him as he reached her door.

"Is he angry with me?" she asked her father.

"Of course not, baby. You know Aahil can't be angry with you" Asad said.

"But I want to be in his class!" an eight year old Sanam cried. Zoya hugged her and exchanged a look with Asad. He shrugged helplessly. They'd just been called to Sanam's new school. Incidentally, it was the same school that Aahil attended, but a few grades above Sanam.

They didn't tell her that it was the same school, and knew from conversations that Zoya had with his teachers, that Aahil spent lunch breaks in class with his iPad.

So she had been happy there for a while. But today, she'd caught sight of Aahil in his uniform, walking past her class with the rest of his class.

She'd kicked up such a tantrum that her teacher, another teacher and the principal couldn't restrain her. As a last resort, they'd had to call Aahil out of his classes to help calm her down while they called for Zoya and Asad to come to the school.

The teachers who had been struggling with her a few minutes before, watched in amazement as Aahil sat down next to her on the floor, his precious iPad clutched in his arms. Sanam sagged against him.

Aahil gave nothing away; sitting rigidly next to her as she clutched onto him for comfort. Eventually, she started muttering angrily about him not telling her that they were in the same school, even on their play date and sleepover last weekend.

"Sanam…" Aahil said helplessly, trying to calm her while under the intense gaze from the teacher and principal.

"He is in another grade, Sanam. Three years older. You can't be in his class" the principal explained gently. In fact, Aahil was showing such promise in his class, that it was obvious they were holding him back and he needed to skip a grade or even two.

Sanam clutched onto a visibly uncomfortable Aahil as the principal inched closer to them. She knew Aahil didn't like anyone touching him, but the principal scared her. He was about to reach down to separate her from Aahil, but Aahil surprised them all by holding his arm out.

"Please don't, sir. She's already upset" he said quietly, making the principal step back and nod at him.

Zoya and Asad's eyes widened when they were led into the office, seeing how Sanam was holding onto Aahil and though he was uncomfortable, he wasn't reacting to it.

The principal had met them outside and filled them in on what had transpired.

Asad and Zoya both kneeled down before the children. Zoya reached for Aahil gingerly while Asad did the same with Sanam. She let go of Aahil and hugged her father, crying again. Aahil ran out of the office as fast as he could, while Zoya looked on after him.

"This… this attachment she has to him, is frankly… unhealthy. He is frightened of her" the principal told them. Asad handed Sanam to Zoya, motioning for her to step out of the office with Sanam and stepped close to the principal.

"There is nothing unhealthy about their "attachment" as you call it, ok? You have no idea what you're talking about. And I don't pay these exorbitant fees so you can tell me things like this about my daughter. Aahil is no less than a son either. They have grown up together. He isn't frightened of her. He's frightened for her. You don't get that, clearly, so please… we will handle Sanam, but keep these opinions to yourself" Asad had said in a menacingly low voice.

Now they were back home and had to explain gently but thoroughly as to why Sanam couldn't be in the same class as Aahil. They also explained that the principal told them that Aahil is even going to be skipping two grades.

"Can I play with him at lunchtimes?" she asked them. "Sanam… I will check with Aahil first. He might like being alone at that time" Zoya had answered. Sanam handed Zoya her mobile. "Ask him. Now, please Ammi" she begged.

"Sanam, I will see him at school in the morning. You know he doesn't like talking on the phone" Zoya said.

"And Princess. No repeat of today. Please?" Asad asked, rubbing his nose with hers. "I promise, Abbu" she said solemnly.

And from the next day onwards, Sanam spent every lunch break with Aahil in his class.

Two years later, Aahil moved to high school. Sanam was inconsolable at first. Her only friend was gone. She was all alone. Aahil fared no better without Sanam.

On the weekend after that first week of school, Sanam insisted on an entire weekend sleepover. Friday night at her place; Saturday night at his.

The parents were starting to become concerned. They had no o0ther friends besides each other and they weren't sure of it was helpful to either of them.

Asad once again reiterated that they were best friends, they'd just been torn apart, and that they needed time to deal with the separation.

He never for one minute believed that their attachment was unhealthy.

Sanam eventually starting making friends. She'd always been friendly and bubbly and sweet, but Aahil was the only person her age who knew that.

For Aahil, high school was tough. He was bullied for being different, for being too young, for being quiet, for being too intelligent. He was not as lucky as Sanam to make any friends.

That year, for the first time, Sanam asked her parents for a birthday party. She wanted to invite five of her friends, along with Aahil. Asad and Zoya were so happy about her making other friends that they agreed immediately.

Sanam waited outside Aahil's high school the day after her parents agreed to let her have the party. It was a Wednesday and Zoya had a therapy group that day so she couldn't collect her. When Sanam saw the driver, she was disappointed. She had planned to make Zoya stop by Aahil's school so she could personally invite him to her party.

The driver was fond of Sanam and noticed her long face. "What's wrong, Sanam beta?"
She explained her dilemma about wanting to invite Aahil to her party first and face to face. The driver pulled over and got out of the car with his phone.

"Sure, you can take her there, and take Aahil home too" Asad said.

Sanam smiled when she spotted Aahil. He was walking through the school gate with his head down, clutching his iPad.

Sanam saw two boys walking behind him, throwing what looked like scrunched up paper balls at his back. "HEY!" she screamed in her nine year old voice. Aahil looked up at the sound of her voice and walked quicker.

He stopped just in front of her. "Leave it. Why are you here?" he asked. He knew her so well. Even at nine, she was like the older, more protective one.

"What, leave it? Do they always do that to you?" she asked.

"Aahil son, get in. We'll take you home" the driver said, not wanting any trouble with Aahil, Sanam and the older boys who were obviously harassing him.

They jumped into the back seat.

"You didn't answer my question" she said.
"You didn't answer mine either" he retorted.

"Fine. I'm having a birthday party next Saturday. I came to invite you" Sanam said happily.

"Who is going to be there?" Aahil asked warily.

"Just some girls from school" she said.

"Sanam..."

"Please don't say no. They're my friends. You'll like them and I won't even have the party if you don't come"

They'd spent every birthday together since they met. Aahil shrugged. "Ok"

Sanam nearly hugged him but the fearful look on his face stopped her. He saw her crestfallen face and moved closer to her in the seat. She looked confused.

"You can hug me" was all he said. Sanam hugged him tightly and quickly let go. Aahil almost smiled.

The day of the party finally arrived. As usual, Aahil was on time. He stood at the door in front of his parents holding a box in one hand, and his iPad in the other.

Sanam eyed him curiously. Aahil gave her the same thing every year – hairclips. He knew she loved them and he made sure to pick out ones that he was sure she would love every year.

When he had noticed she never wore the ones he gave her, he had asked her about it.

"Oh, I've kept them away. I can't wear them! What if I lose them?" she'd answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

But that box was too big to hold hairclips? Or maybe he'd got her like, a hundred pairs or something.

He shoved the box into her hands and walked right past her to sit on the couch and play "Bubble Basher".

Soon after, Sanam's other friends arrived. They all noticed the older, sullen-looking boy on the couch but no one said anything immediately.

Aahil slyly watched as Sanam played around with her friends. One girl ran up to him. "Won't you join us? You're Sanam's best friend, Aahil, right? I'm Sanam's best friend in school" Nida said with pride. Aahil ignored her.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked him. Sanam caught that and stopped running with her friends. "There's nothing wrong with him. He just likes to be alone sometimes" Sanam said, pulling Nida away.

Sanam insisted Aahil stand to her left and Nida to her right during the cake cutting. Aahil just stood there for Sanam's sake. He hated all of this. Loudness, parties, shrieking little girls…

Everything was going well, until Nida insisted she feed Sanam a piece of birthday cake, but instead of feeding Sanam, she forced her way through and tried to feed Aahil, smearing the cake all over his face.

He started screaming uncontrollably, bringing the parents running out into the dining room from the kitchen.

Aahil ran away from them and up the stairs.

"Why did you do that?! He only eats round foods!" Sanam screamed at Nida. "How dumb is that?! He was just standing there! I thought it would be fun" Nida defended herself.

"You don't know anything! Don't force him to do anything!" Sanam yelled angrily.

"Sanam, relax. He is so weird… I can't believe you're screaming me about this" she said, obviously miffed.

"Ok, everyone… calm down please" Zoya said, desperately wanting to diffuse the situation.

Sanam gave her friends one last glare. "I'm going to find Aahil. Party's over" she said before turning on her heel and walking away.

"Aahil…" Sanam called at her bedroom door. He was clutching his iPad to his chest and rocking slightly. He'd cleaned the frosting from his face and was back to his old neat self again.

"I'm sorry about that" she said, sitting near him on the bed. He just handed her the box he was holding earlier. He'd grabbed it on his way upstairs.

"You want me to open it?" Sanam asked.

Aahil shrugged.

She ripped it open to find a beautiful journal. "Aahil, I love it! Thank you" she said. "I will write in it every day" she promised him.

That was the last time Sanam had a birthday party with anyone other than Aahil.

"I'm so excited" a thirteen year old Sanam texted Aahil. No reply.

"I wish you would've agreed to come with. London is going to be amazing!" she texted again.

"I don't fly" came the response.

"So, you're going to spend your entire life here in India? Don't you want to see the world?" Sanam exclaimed.

"I have everything I need here. I will never get on a plane" he replied.

Sanam knew his fear of flying. That had nothing to do with his autism, of course. Many people, the world over, have a fear of flying. But his autism intensified his fear.

"Well, I will miss you" Sanam texted when Asad came by to tell her they were leaving for the airport.

"I know" was Aahil's reply.

Sanam sighed. He couldn't express his feelings, she already knew that. Still, it was the first time they would be apart for so long. It would've been nice if he had said he would miss her too.

Grabbing her small carry-on bag, she made her way downstairs.

"Dear Diary

London is most certainly amazing! I am loving every minute here… except, I have this feeling that something is missing. I just can't put my finger on what it is.

I made Abbu take me to the famous London School of Design today. I'm pretty sure that this is where I want to be when I finish school.

The city is alive! It's bustling with people and everyone seems to be in their own world.

Like, you walk on the street and you're surrounded by crowds, but you still somehow feel alone…

Does that even make sense? I'm not sure. But when ever do I make much sense, huh Diary?

Anyway, I haven't spoken to Aahil in a week. I hope he is ok"

Love always

Sanam"

The day they got home from the airport, they found Aahil sitting on the steps of the porch. Sanam jumped out of the car before Asad had even stopped properly and launched herself into his arms.

"He's doing so well. He didn't even flinch" Zoya remarked. "Hmmm, forget flinching… He's hugging her back, Zoya" Asad said in astonishment.

Asad and Zoya exchanged a smile as they noticed Aahil putting his arms around Sanam for the first time.

An eighteen year old Zoya stood at Aahil's front door holding a large container. "Sanam beta, come in!" Aahil's mother, Tanveer welcomed her. "Thanks Aunty"

"What do you have there?" Tanveer asked, looking at the container. Sanam grimaced. "I need to ask Aahil something… so I thought to butter him up, I made… round samosas" Sanam said nervously.

Tanveer laughed and cupped Sanam's cheek. "You are so good to my boy, Sanam. Go on, he's in his room" she said.

"Sanam, hi" Aahil greeted her. College was doing him good – who would've thought? He was starting to come out of his shell more and more.

"Hey. I brought you something. I made samosas" she said quickly and thrust the container into his hands. He looked at her incredulously. "You know I don't eat samosas…" he said warily.

Sanam flicked her hand up as she paced around nervously. "I made them round, ok?" she almost snapped. Aahil raised an eyebrow at her.

"Are you ok?" he asked, standing in front of her and stopping her from pacing.

"Yes. I just… I wanted to ask you something, but you can't say no" she said, looking down. "I will say no if I have to. What is it?" he asked.

"I want you to come with me to my prom, please? I really, really want to go, but I… I want to go with you" she blurted out.

Aahil took a step back.

When he was in high school, no one questioned him about not going to his prom. He had enough of the bullies that didn't understand him during school hours – why would he subject himself to that after hours?

"No" he said and turned to look out of the window of his bedroom, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Knowing his drama queen, she was about to burst into tears any second now.

And… he couldn't stand her tears.

"Aahil please! It's just one night. School hasn't been easy for either of us… but for one night, I would like to get all dressed up and feel like a princess… and I won't have a good time, if you aren't there" she pleaded, trying very hard not to cry.

She knew her tears didn't affect him, but she didn't want to break down either.

"You'll be fine, Sanam. You're eighteen; you're bubbly and friendly. I am sure you'll have a better time without me" he stated.

"We have to take a partner" Sanam said feebly. Aahil clenched his fists at his side. "No one has asked you?" he asked.

"Yes, someone did but I want to go with you!" she snapped. She'd never lost her temper with Aahil; she was always gentle with him, but she couldn't stop herself today.

"Say yes to him, then. Problem solved" Aahil said.

Sanam stomped out of his bedroom and out of the house. He watched her get into the car from his bedroom window.

"Sorry Sanam…" he whispered to himself.

Asad looked up from his newspaper when Sanam stormed through the door and ran upstairs. "Sanam, is everything ok, Princess?" he asked, but she didn't stop to answer him.

He folded his newspaper neatly and takes a deep breath before heading up to go check on her. He knocked on her door softly when he saw that she was face down in her bed, crying into her pillow.

Asad went to sit on the edge of her bed and rubbed her back soothingly.

"What is it, Sanam? Where did you go?" he asked gently. Sanam muffled something into her pillow but Asad couldn't make out what she was saying. Just then, his mobile rang and he took it out of his pocket to see it was Aahil calling.

"Baby, I'll just be a minute" Asad said, getting out of Sanam's room quickly. Aahil never called; only texted and that too was rare.

"Hello, Aahil?" Asad answered. Aahil spoke quickly; so fast that Asad had trouble hearing what he was saying. "Aahil beta. Calm down. I don't get what you're…"

"Ohhh…" Asad said in realisation as Aahil calmly told him what had transpired.

"I'll… take care of it. Don't worry. She will be alright" Asad said.

Asad stood in the hallway for a while, his brain working a mile a minute. He couldn't talk to Sanam now; not while she was this upset. He needed Zoya's take on things first, and she was away on a conference. He decided to try and call her. Hopefully she would be on a break.

"Hi babe!" Zoya answered in her usual effervescent manner. "Zoya…" Asad sighed as he took a seat on the couch. "What? What's wrong?" she asked, sounding panic-stricken.

"I think… And I may be wrong here… but I think our daughter…" Asad was having a hard time saying what he thought. He didn't know for sure, but Sanam was eighteen now. They hadn't seen this coming. Neither did she, probably.

"Our daughter, what Asad? Is Sanam ok? What is going on?" Zoya almost yelled into the phone.

"I think she's in love" Asad breathed out.

"WHAT?"

"She's in love and she told you, and not me? I'm never going on conference again…" Zoya muttered angrily, making Asad chuckle. "She didn't tell me… It's what I think" Asad said and then proceeded to tell Zoya about how Sanam came home and then what Aahil told him.

"I… I never thought… You think that they are…?" Zoya asked.

"I don't know what to think, Zoya. Sanam is really upset. Aahil doesn't know what to do. He said she screamed at him and stormed off when he told her to go with someone else. I think he's confused"

"Go talk to her, Asad. I need to go back in. But call me later" Zoya sighed. She wished she could be at home and be there for her daughter.

"Really, Sanam?" Rehan asked eagerly. Sanam's heart dipped a little. Rehan seemed to really like her and he sounded so excited that she had said yes to him. She didn't want to go with him particularly.

If she had her way, she'd have dragged Aahil to her prom kicking and screaming, but she would never do that to him. She knew that pushing him never worked. But she really wanted to go to her prom.

She'd never been one of the cool kids at school – that was cemented at her ninth birthday party, but for one day, she wanted to get all dressed up and feel beautiful.

She forced a smile. "Yes Rehan. I'm being serious… that is, if the offer still stands?" she said. "Of course it does, Sanam. I'm really happy you said yes" he said.

"Thanks for asking me, and uhhh… sorry for getting back to you so late" she said.

"Who was that?" Asad asked, stepping into her room again. "Oh. That was Rehan. He asked me to the prom and I said yes" she said. Asad could see how forced his daughter's smile was.

"You don't seem happy, Princess?" Asad asked, approaching this from a different angle.

Sanam got up. "Of course I'm happy, Dad. Rehan is a good guy. You will love him!" she said, faking her smile once again.

"Yes, but do you…?" Asad thought in his mind as he hugged his daughter.

Asad and Zoya would just have to keep an eye on things.

"Dear Diary

So, I asked Aahil. Idiot. He said no. I knew he would. Why am I doing this to myself?

Doing what exactly, Sanam? He's my friend. No wait, scratch that. He's my BEST friend.

That's why I wanted him there with me. I know I promised to never force him to do anything he didn't want to, but God damn it! It hurts that he said no.

I don't even know why it hurts… but it bloody well does!

Now I'm stuck with Rehan for the night. Yes, the same one that looks at me with the puppy dog eyes. I think he might really like me. But he doesn't know me. Not like Aahil does.

Oh God, I'm thinking of the idiot again. Whatever.

Back to Rehan. I want to look awesome on prom night. But what if I look so super awesome that Rehan wants to lick my face… like the puppy he looks like.

Oh God! What am I even thinking of?!

One day, I will read this back to myself and laugh.

One day…

Anyway, maybe its better Aahil said no. It would be nice to be told that I look nice or something and I'm pretty sure that Rehan will fulfil that.

But… what if he tries to kiss me? Aahil wouldn't kiss me. Wait. Why am I thinking of Aahil kissing me? I think my tummy just did a flip flop.

But no. What am I thinking? Aahil is my best friend. Best friends don't kiss. But his lips… they're kissable.

But wait.

He would scream blue murder if I tried kissing him. I won't even try. Never.

Ok. I need to stop writing now. I am giving myself a headache and that tummy flip only felt nice the first time around.

Love always, Sanam"

"What do you want?" Sanam asked Aahil rudely when he knocked on her door. "I came by to tell you I will be at your prom" he said, and Sanam's head whipped up at him.

"Why?" she asked and continued trying to ignore him as she played with her journal.

Aahil took a seat on Sanam's bed. "They asked me to come back to hand over some prizes. Apparently I'm a former star student" he continued.

"Whatever. I have a date" she said, as she rolled the journal around and around. Aahil's eyes widened as he took in that information, but Sanam wasn't looking at him and so she missed it completely.

Sanam looked up then; Aahil was looking at her. She found her eyes drawn to his lips and wondered how they would feel… against hers.

Aahil followed her eyes.

"What are you doing?" he asked in a low voice, noticing that she had unconsciously leaned forward. Sanam jerked back abruptly.

"Nothing. I was… nothing" she muttered.

"Baby, you look amazing!" Asad said as he stepped into Sanam's bedroom. Zoya smiled at him as she put the finishing touches on Sanam's hair.

Sanam got up and twirled around. "Princessy enough?" she asked her parents. "Very!" Asad chuckled.

Sanam wore knee length a blush pink sleeveless dress with flat silver sandals, and her hair was curled to perfection by Zoya and pinned all to one side.

"I came by to say Rehan is downstairs" Asad said.

Asad and Zoya exchanged a look when they noticed Sanam's smile falter slightly.

"Y'know, Aahil will be there too. He's some star student so he'll be handing out some prizes" Sanam mentioned in what she hoped was a casual manner.

Asad and Zoya exchanged another look; one of concern this time.

Aahil watched as Rehan and Sanam stood around in the large, decorated hall talking to friends, mingling and generally looking very happy.

Well, Rehan did anyway. Sanam looked a little… off.

She looked… beautiful. But he could tell her smile was forced. His heart squeezed painfully. Sanam finally caught sight of him and he looked down but she already saw that he was looking at her.

"Aahil! This is Rehan. Rehan, this is Aahil, my best friend that I told you about" Sanam gushed. Aahil kept his eyes glued to Sanam's arm linked with Rehan's.

They looked very comfortable together.

Rehan put his hand forward to shake Aahil's hand but Aahil made no move to do the same.

Sanam put her hand over Rehan's. Aahil felt weird seeing her do that. "He doesn't shake hands with anyone" she said quietly, looking at Aahil the entire time.

"No problem man" Rehan said cheerfully and deftly entwined his fingers with Sanam's.

Aahil felt some kind of emotion he couldn't name, at seeing Rehan so easily able to touch Sanam.

"So, Aahil… isn't your best friend looking beautiful tonight?" Rehan asked, trying to make conversation with him.

Aahil looked into Sanam's eyes.

"Yes, she's the most beautiful girl here" Aahil said softly and then turned to walk off.

Sanam felt the breath knocked out of her when she heard Aahil's words. She watched as he walked away from them.

"Dance?" Rehan asked, as he surprised her by twirling her around. Sanam forced a smile. "Sure" she said as he led her onto the dance floor.

As they swayed to the music, Sanam raised her gaze and noticed Aahil staring at them. Rehan noticed too. "You're in love with your best friend" he whispered in her ear. She couldn't tell if it was a question or a statement.

"No…" but she could hear the lie in her voice.

Of course she loved him! Hearing him say she was beautiful… they were the most beautiful words she'd heard in her life.

But… he didn't love her.

"Then go out with me? I really like you, Sanam" Rehan said. Sanam looked at Aahil one last time before she said, "Ok"

Three months later:

"Sanam, what's wrong?" Zoya asked as her daughter plonked herself on the counter in the kitchen. "I'm breaking up with Rehan" Sanam said dejectedly. "Oh honey, why?" Zoya asked, rubbing her back.

"I just… He likes me too much. Way more than I like him. Way less than I like-" she cuts off as she realised what she was about to say.

Zoya nodded sagely.

Her daughter didn't have to finish the sentence to know what she meant. Zoya wondered if they had done this. Encouraged a love that was only hurting their precious Sanam.

"You're right. This is a brave thing to do, Sanam" Zoya offered what comfort she could, considering the tough situation. Rehan was a good boy and he really liked Sanam, but that isn't the road to happiness.

Zoya could only hope that Sanam would find her happiness someday.

In all this time, Sanam had barely met with Aahil. He was really busy with his research at the lab he worked at, and Sanam had been busy with Rehan and her final exams.

Rehan was nice and sweet and did anything Sanam wanted him to, but for all that he was; there was just one thing that he was not – and that was Aahil. Sanam had realised that she couldn't be near Aahil and not with him. Not anymore.

She applied to The London School of Design a few weeks after her prom.

Rehan hadn't taken the breakup as badly as Sanam thought he might and for that, she was relieved. But what he had said did shock her and she realised her decision to leave India was a good one.

For nothing else but her own sanity.

When she'd told Aahil that they broke up, all he had said was "Ok". Sanam didn't know what she had been expecting, but "Ok" certainly wasn't it.

"It was always him, wasn't it?" Rehan had said sadly. Sanam nodded. "I'm really sorry, Rehan"

"Don't be. I hope you get all the happiness you deserve. I hope he knows how lucky he is" Rehan had said before he kissed Sanam on the forehead and left.

"Dear Diary

Sanam broke up with Rehan. I should feel sad for her. But I don't. I didn't like the way he was always touching her.

I didn't like that it was so easy for him. It's not like that for me.

Why can't it be easy like that for me? I want to hold her hand… and feel if her hair is really as soft as it looks. I want it to be easy for me to be able to dance with her like he did that night of the prom.

I've tried. I really have. You know how hard it was for me to even look at the toast I made the other day cut into triangles. I really tried eating it, but I couldn't.

Even for Sanam, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

So, she broke up with Rehan. I can't keep hoping she breaks up with every guy that she goes out with and stay single all her life for me. I can't give her… what any of them can.

What she deserves.

I need to work on my feelings. I need to figure out what I do one day when she meets "him".

That him that is going to take her away from me forever. That him that is going to be able to hold her hand and take her out to places where I don't want to go.

That him that is going to be able to kiss her…

One day, she's going to meet "him" and I won't be able to do a damn thing about it!

Aahil"

A few days after her breakup, Sanam got her acceptance letter. After doing her five second happy dance, she grabbed her mobile. He was still the first person she wanted to share good and bad news with.

"I just got my acceptance letter to The LSD!" she texted Aahil.

Aahil was in shock when he got her message. She was leaving? Leaving India, her parents… him?

"I didn't know you were applying. When do you leave?" he texted back. Sanam was still dancing around her room.

She sobered up when the thought of actually leaving hit her and she slumped on her bed, willing herself not to cry.

It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

"Registration opens in a week… so… in a few days, I think"

Aahil didn't reply.

He didn't know what he was doing, or why. All he knew was that he needed to see her and talk to her.

"Aahil?!" Zoya called when he barged into the lounge, where she was leisurely drinking her coffee and flipping through a fashion magazine.

"Sanam. Where's Sanam?" he asked desperately. "Her room… but-" Zoya trailed off when Aahil ignored her and ran up the stairs two at a time.

"Why are you running?" he asked, barging into her room. Sanam looked up from writing in her journal. "I… I'm not running. What are you talking about? What are you doing here?" she asked in shock.

He walked over to her and scrunched his eyes up. "You're leaving…" he whispered. Sanam nodded and took his hand in hers.

"I have to. It's too hard…" she whispered back.

He looked confused for a second and was about to ask what she was talking about but she continued. Now that she'd started talking, she didn't want to stop.

"You don't want me to leave? Come with me!" she begged desperately, clutching his hand to her chest where she felt her heart beating rapidly.

He pulled his hand away.

"You… you know I can't… Maybe its better you go" he said, getting off her bed and going to stand at her window.

Sanam had had enough. Today was the day. She could feel everything spilling out of her in his presence. She was leaving. He should know why.

"I love you, Aahil. I have always loved you. And staying here… being close to you, but not as close as I want… it's killing me" she said, tears falling from her eyes.

He didn't look back at her.

"You know I can't love, Sanam. I don't know what it feels like… I don't know how. And you deserve better than that" he said in a low voice that cracked just a little bit at the end.

"What rubbish!" she screamed, startling him. He nearly turned back to look at her, but decided it against it. He could hear how angry she was, and he'd never dealt with her unleashing her temper on him before, though he'd seen it directed at others often enough.

Zoya heard her scream but decided not to intervene. They were no longer children. They were in a tough situation and they needed to survive it on their own.

"Of course you know what love is and how to love! Love is the reason MY name was the first word out of your mouth! Love is why you let me take your damn iPad away and no one else can. Love is why you couldn't take your eyes off of Rehan at me at the prom that night!"

Sanam took a deep breath. "Love is why I can touch you the way you won't allow anyone else to…" she ended softly, going behind him and putting her hand on his shoulder.

"You love me, Aahil. I know you do… Come with me" she pleaded.

"Love isn't enough, Sanam. You… you will expect things… things you are deserving of… things I can't give you" he replied softly.

She leaned against his back and cried. "Do you want to struggle with me for the rest of your life? I don't know how to feel… love, jealousy… happiness… all those emotions. You know this already!" he said, his entire body shaking.

"It won't be a struggle! And expectations? All I expect is to eat round shaped foods forever. I won't tell you to try new things. I learnt that lesson at five years old. I will expect that you allow me to use you as my support and trust that you will protect me, even if you think you don't know how. I learnt that at seven. At nine, I learnt that I would protect you from anything too and I would expect to always do that. At thirteen, I learnt that being away from you hurts. But not more than being near you and not with you. I expect you to be with me. Come with me, please Aahil…" she cried.

Aahil stepped forward out of Sanam's hold. This was going to be the hardest thing he would ever have to do. He would have to let her go.

All these things… she made a good case, but he was unconvinced. He couldn't stand the thought of her being miserable and giving up on living life just to be with him.

"I'm all you know, Sanam. Maybe it's time you find out what else there is in the world" he said softly, removing her from him and making her sit on the bed.

"I… I will really miss you" he said and walked out of her bedroom… out of her life.

His heart twisted as he heard her sob in her room when he'd stepped out. Tears stung his own eyes as he walked out of the house, ignoring Zoya calling him.

He sat in his car and let the tears fall. He'd never cried before. He'd never felt anything get to him like this.

It hurt.

Physical pain was what he was feeling at never seeing his Sanam again.

"Aahil beta. She's leaving today. And she's miserable. It hurts me to see her in such pain and I don't feel good about letting her go so far away in this condition" Asad said into the phone.

Aahil remained silent. "You know, I would never ask this of you, under normal circumstances… but this is about the girl we love" Asad sighed.

Asad wasn't an idiot. He knew how Aahil felt. Sanam had confessed everything to him the day before. She seemed more solid about leaving then, but now that the time had come, she was crumbling.

Zoya was also in a state because her baby was leaving. Sanam being so devastated hadn't helped the situation much.

"Aahil, are you there?" Asad asked when he got no response. "What time is her flight?" he asked. Asad smiled.

Sanam needed a proper goodbye, and only then would she leave happily.

Sanam said a teary goodbye to her parents. Asad kept looking around distractedly and so did Sanam.

"Sanam, promise me that you're not going to cry on the entire flight?" Zoya said.

She looked at Asad. "Maybe I should come with you. I can go check if there are any cancellations or if there are spare seats…" Zoya said.

Asad put his arm around her. "Relax. Sanam will be fine. Won't you, Princess?" Asad asked, smiling even though his heart was breaking.

Where the hell was Aahil?

Sanam blinked back her tears. "Of course I will be. My new life starts now" she said, faking a bright smile and a cheerful tone.

Eventually, she had to go through the boarding gates, where Asad and Zoya couldn't accompany her. She hugged them both one last time and walked through.

She turned back when she was far enough so that they couldn't see her tears and showed them an enthusiastic thumbs up.

She could see her mother crying still. God, she would miss them.

And Aahil? Couldn't he have come say goodbye? Who knew when she would be back? She cried harder as she thought of him and sat down close to her check in gate.

"Sanam!"

Sanam whipped her head around when she heard the faint scream. She would know that voice anywhere. She wiped her tears away aggressively and stood up looking around.

"Sanam!" she heard again. Aahil was here to say goodbye.

She caught sight of him running through her blurry eyes because the tears wouldn't stop.

In the next moment, he was right in front of her. "How'd you get in here?" she asked. He smiled at her. SMILED!

Then waved a ticket in her face. Sanam was confused and she looked it, but then her eyes widened. "You're coming with me?" she asked in amazement.

He nodded. That's when she noticed the bag he had in his hand.

"You don't fly. You said you'd never get on a plane" she said in a small voice, not quite believing that this was happening.

"For you, I will. I still can't eat toast cut into triangles though" he said with a smile and Sanam almost choked.

"Did you just joke? Are you really here, or am I imagining this?" she asked, looking around to see if people were staring at her for talking to a figment of her imagination.

Aahil took her hands in his. "I'm really here. There are a lot of things I can't do Sanam… I will work at it and I will try – for you. But the one thing that I really can't do, is live without you. I love you" he said.

Sanam threw her arms around him and hugged him close. He hugged her back, holding her tightly against him. She pulled away and he reached forward to wipe away her tears.

"You don't have to" she said, taking a step back, knowing that he hated touching a mess - and because he never cried, tears were an alien mess to him.

He stepped towards her again and cups her face. "I want to…" he whispered, leaning close to her. She leaned forward too and was about to place her lips on his but then stepped back abruptly.

"Sorry… I didn't mean to" she said.

Aahil wound his arm around her waist and pulled her to him. "Sshh. Stop moving, Sanam" he said softly, before leaning forward and kissing her cheek gently. Sanam was taken aback and so squirmed a little, trying to move out of his embrace.

"I thought I told you to stop moving? I'm not done…" he said, and Sanam stilled immediately.

Aahil leaned in again and kissed her other cheek. Sanam could feel her face heat up, knowing just how hard she must be blushing right now.

He pulled back and brushed his fingers across her cheek. "Beautiful…" he breathed. "Aahil…?" Sanam whispered, wondering what he was up to.

He leaned in once more and Sanam's lip quivered as her heart beat erratically. She could see this wasn't easy for him, and yet it seemed like it was the easiest thing in the world for him.

She was finally going to be kissed by Aahil.

But… he pecked her nose softly and smiled. He took her hand in his and lifted it to his heart so she could feel how fast his heart was beating. It matched her own heartbeat.

She lifted her gaze from their interlocked hands to look him in the eye. Aahil was staring right back at her. She could read his emotions… it showed all over his face.

No one could love her more than he did.

Slowly, they inched closer and closer together… until their lips brushed together in a soft, sweet kiss.

"Aahil, I love you" she whispered. "I love you, too" he said and then hugged her again. Leaning close to her ear, he whispered,

"You were right. I do know what love is… when I am with you" he said.

The End