“Do you think you cheated?” the marriage counsellor inquired.
I’m not a cheater. I’ve never cheated on anyone, well not until recently.
Vishal, my husband, sat next to me, refusing to meet my eye.
“I’m not the only one. He did too!” I exclaimed in anger.
Vishal just shook his head, sadly.
How did we get here?
Two Months Ago
Another argument, another meltdown.
Vishal stormed out, leaving me in front of my laptop, seething. I glanced at my wallpaper. Us, on a vacation, looking every bit the perfect couple.
Except, we weren’t.
When we were newly married, we couldn’t live without each other. But now? Living together was the problem.
I had to vent out to someone. Anyone.
For once, the universe seemed to have listened. A chatroom window randomly popped on my screen. I didn’t think twice before clicking, pausing only to enter my name.
No! Backspace, delete. I retyped.
The name of some series I binge-watched. Isn’t the cloak of anonymity comforting in many ways?
Ting! Message from TomCruise84. Accept?
My cursor hovered hesitantly. Accepted!
TomCruise84: Hi, GossipGirl!
GossipGirl: Hi! I’m here to make friends.
Oh, God! I was turning into one of those ‘do-you-want-to-make-fraandship-with-me’ types.
TomCruise84: Nice! What are your hobbies?
I pondered. A younger me sang and wrote songs. But now? With work and home pressure, the music in me was almost dead.
GossipGirl: I like music.
TomCruise84: Me too!
We spent the next few minutes talking about our favourite albums. The clock struck eight.
GossipGirl: I have to go now. Do you want to chat again?
TomCruise84: Yeah. Same time tomorrow?
GossipGirl: It’s a date!
Only when I logged off, did I realize the significance of my words. Would Vishal approve of this friendship? Would I approve of him embarking on such a tryst?
Tormented by guilt, I wondered if I should do a no-show on TomCruise84. Unfortunately, that day, Vishal, and I got into a fight over something trivial.
Irked, I decided to ‘cruise’ along.
GossipGirl: Have you watched Top Gun: Maverick?
TomCruise84: Yes. I watched it with my wife.
Oh! He was married and forthcoming about it, too.
We spent time discussing the movie.
Soon, the short chats became longer. We discovered by accident, that we lived in the same city. This was one of the many things we had in common. I opened up to him about my marital woes, and he confessed about his rocky relationship with his wife. We never told each other our real names or what we did. It was our unspoken rule.
Strangely, my relationship with Vishal began to improve.
Was it the guilt?
Once, I almost got caught. I was hunched over my laptop, grinning like a schoolgirl. Vishal walked in. Luckily, he was absorbed in his phone, and just gave me a cursory nod.
Phew! Close call.
I convinced myself that I was doing no wrong.
As my relationship with my online friend evolved, I began to speculate about who he could be.
That hunk at the gym? That nerd at the coffee shop? That creepy man at the bus stop? Urgh! Please let it not be him.
One day, during one of our chats, I blurted out, “can we meet, please? Just once.”
TomCruise84 is typing…….
My heart stood still for what seemed an eternity. Had I crossed a line?
TomCruise84: OK. When and where?
I let go of a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
GossipGirl: Starbucks, East Coast Park, Sunday.
I texted Vishal that I was heading to the salon. He probably wouldn’t even realize that I was gone.
I reached Starbucks. I didn’t know what my friend looked like, but I knew I’d find him. I wore a yellow summer dress, as promised. I looked around in gleeful anticipation, till I spotted someone familiar.
The last person I’d expect here.
There, in front of me, stood my husband, guilt writ large all over his face.
“Vi…shal…. what are you doing here?”
“Raina? Are you GossipGirl?”
The revelation hit me hard. I felt giddy.
Mission Impossible was Vishal’s favourite movie. He was born in 1984. TomCruise84. Of course!
I was cheating on my spouse, with my spouse. How did I manage to pull that off? And the bigger joke? So was he!
We stared at each other, uncertain and speechless.
Was this an epic romantic moment? Why did neither of us look even remotely happy?
Shock and disbelief. Hurt and betrayal. Our marriage had hit a wall and would probably never recover.
“GossipGirl seemed to be someone who understood me. She was sailing in the same boat as me. I felt a connection, a camaraderie. I never wanted to hurt Raina, consciously,” Vishal confessed.
I blinked back my tears. I understood.
Vishal used to be my best friend. When had we stopped talking?
“Communication is the cornerstone of a successful marriage. Somewhere along the way, you drifted apart. What you need to take away from this unfortunate incident is that there is still a spark. Even as strangers, you connected. Perhaps, this is a second chance to find why you fell in love in the first place,” the counsellor suggested.
Six Months Later, Verve Bar
I adjusted my hair and smoothened my dress, staring at my reflection in the glass.
Thank God I had decided to move on. Sometimes, things happen for a reason.
“May I buy you a drink?”
A handsome man stared at me unabashedly. I nodded, enjoying the attention. After a couple of drinks and an hour of light-hearted banter, he leaned in and whispered into my ear, “my place?”
The heady scent of his cologne hit my nostrils. I smiled shyly and linked my arm to his. We reached my car when we were stopped by an acquaintance.
“Vishal! Raina! You guys look great! Date night?”
Giving GossipGirl and TomCruise84 another chance, was the best decision we ever made.
Image credits: Pixabay