Dear No One

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Big Bang Theory

Copyright: CBS

"So if you're out there, I swear to be good to you,
But I'm done looking
For my future someone.
When the time is right, you'll be here, but for now,
Dear no one,
This is your love song."

Tori Kelly, "Dear No One"

For the first weeks after Howard's launch into space, Raj missed him with an intensity that was almost physical. He would tell a joke, or make an observation he was proud of, and instinctively look to his left. The empty seat at the cafeteria table where his friend should be, the empty cushion on Sheldon and Leonard's couch, or the empty spot in the hallway would pull the pride or humor out of him at once, like a black hole absorbing the light of all the stars nearby.

When he Skyped with Howard, watching the reluctant astronaut float in front of the screen and joking bravely about how much he missed gravity, Raj couldn't help but think, I know exactly how you feel. Howard's marriage to Bernadette had severed something between them – something invisible and intangible, but as real as the cable connecting an astronaut's EVA suit to the airlock.

Without it, Raj felt adrift.

He got on his friends' nerves with his complaining. He got on Bernadette's nerves asking for news from Howard, until her gentle compassion swung over into a shrill demand to back off. He went on several online dates, only to misjudge his alcohol level and end up either silent or obnoxious. He took long walks with his new dog, Cinnamon, and tried not to feel resentful of the fact that the little Yorkie was Howard and Bernadette's gift. "Someone to cuddle with," they'd said, as if even the cutest dog in the world could replace the love and friendship of another human being.

But one evening, as he was walking home from a movie night with the gang, Raj found a different feeling settling over him. It might have come from all the wine he'd drunk, so he could talk to Penny, Amy and Bernadette without the help of his trusted interpreter. Or it might have been the fact that almost everyone had been in a bad mood, which, paradoxically, had made him feel a little better.

Their voices rang in Raj's ears all the way home: Bernadette chirping like a baby bird (when she wasn't screeching like a harpy); Stuart moaning about the lack of profit from his comic book store; Sheldon sounding ever more stilted and arrogant the more he battled his Texan drawl; Leonard nasally pleading with Penny to forgive him for whatever he'd done this time; Penny's exasperated shout of Oh my God!, and last but not least, Amy's blunt monotone pointing out how stupidly everyone was behaving.

He loved them all … but, dear gods, it was nice to come home to peace and quiet.

(Well, relative peace and quiet, considering the dog.)

There were days in this apartment when he woke up, flung his arm over the cool and empty bedsheet on his left, and seriously considered never waking up again. But there were also days when he took a certain pride in his independence.

(Fine, his parents helped him pay for the apartment and the car. But at least they were all the way in New Delhi, and when they annoyed him, all he had to do was close the chat window.)

He cooked his own meals, cleaned his own bathroom, filed his own taxes; that way he could be sure it was done right. And if he had no one to talk to, at least he had no one to disturb him: no Mrs. Wolowitz roaring out updates about her bowel movements, no Sheldon organizing safety drills at three a.m., and most of all, no Leonard and Penny having noisy sex in the room next door.

Cinnamon came running to welcome Raj, tail wagging, nails clicking across the hardwood floor. Raj bent down to ruffle the dog's black-and-tan fur.

"Missed you too, homegirl," he said, laughing as he placed a plastic shopping bag up on the kitchen counter, out of reach of Cinnamon's eager nose. "Why yes, those are chocolate chips you smell. Picked them up on the way home. I'd offer you some, but rushing you to the vet with food poisoning would certainly put a damper on this evening."

Cinnamon yipped, as if to say she couldn't agree more.

Raj booted up his laptop, started one of his favorite playlists, and began unpacking things from the cupboards: a mixing bowl, scales, measuring cups. He hummed along absently to "The Girl From Ipanema" as he shook out butter and flour into the bowl. If he wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies at eleven p.m., that was no one's business but his own.

"Can you imagine if Leonard tried this? Excuse me!" he tried to mimic Sheldon's haughty American voice. "Paragraph whatever, subsection so-and-so of the Roommate Agreement clearly states that the production of baked goods after nine p.m. constitutes an unacceptable fire hazard Bazinga! I want cookies too!"

Out of habit, he looked over his shoulder for a silly grin and a pair of laughing blue eyes, and was halfway to holding out his hand for a fist bump. But, of course, there was nothing over his shoulder but empty air, and the sound effect he made when exploding his fingers apart fell very flat.

"Count yourself lucky you're not human, my friend."

Cinnamon wagged her tail and licked a crumb of sugar off the floor. There was something strangely reassuring about the indifference of an animal; by now the dog had probably forgotten all about the man with the bowl haircut and plaid shirt who had first bought him from the shelter. Cinnamon lived in the moment. That was all she needed.

"Yeah, okay," said Raj. "I get your point. But it's not as easy as it sounds."

Having said that, though, he pushed his hair back behind his ears and sternly resolved to stop feeling sorry for himself, at least for this one night.

In between tossing the cookie dough together, preheating the oven, filling two trays and waiting for them to bake (it was a recipe he could make in his sleep), he danced around the linoleum in his socks, holding his arms in his best approximation of a ballroom dancer's frame. An Enrique Iglesias song came up on the computer. Raj didn't know much Spanish, but "te quiero" and "mi corazon" were fairly easy to pick out.

He tried to imagine, if only for a second, the partner some parallel-universe version of himself must be holding in his arms.

He didn't know if it was a good sign or a bad sign, but Howard refused to appear. He could remember his friend in all sorts of situations – Howard wearing tattoo sleeves, spiky hair and a devil-may-care grin; Howard and his Ma shouting at each other through a closed door; Howard misquoting Raj dreadfully in front of a pretty girl; Howard making his wedding vows to Bernadette.

But he couldn't picture them dancing.

The closest they had ever gotten was on Disco Night at the roller-skating rink, when Raj had taken Howard's hand and spun him around. He'd been deliriously happy at the time, but in retrospect, what he remembered most about that evening was the painful embarrassment written all over his best friend's face.

They were the kind of people who could dance side by side, but never together. It was a fact he should learn to accept.

Who was it, then, his elusive future partner, if not the man who had been his whole world for the past ten years?

Faces, bodies and – yes – genders blurred together in Raj's mind's eye as he remembered all the beautiful people he had been privileged to meet in this lifetime: Penny, Bernadette, Emily, Lakshmi, Sheldon's new assistant with her auburn hair and fascinating research topic, the eager young student he took home that night he bribed Sheldon to be his wingman with a Green Lantern toy, Stuart Bloom with his charming awkwardness … who knew what trouble his susceptible heart would lead him into next?

In the meantime, to paraphrase Samantha from Sex and the City (his friends could say what they liked about his "girly" side, but that show was awfully smart), he had been in a relationship with himself for thirty years. Perhaps he should enjoy the quality time while it lasted. And if – when – if Miss or Mister Right finally came along, he would go through hell and high water to make them happy.

Beep beep beep! The oven timer shattered his fantasy, making him smile ruefully to himself, and step carefully around the excited Cinnamon, who seemed to take the noise as a personal challenge. The smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies filled the room.

"Maybe I should take these to work tomorrow," he said. "They do say love goes through the stomach. D'you think Miss Jensen would like them?"

Cinnamon perked up her ears with what looked like sardonic disbelief.

"Tell you what. I'll share them with my friends. But the rest of them are going into a tin, where I can eat them all by myself, and as Sheldon would say, to H-E-double-hockey-sticks with my diet. And that, my dear, is the benefit of living without roommates."