Shimla was always cold; every time of the year and Nia hated that about it. It was even chillier once you entered the woods than when you walked on the road, at least the road got some sun. She sighed deeply as her friends started to come to a halt right in the middle of the woods. Her so called ‘friends’ included her so called best friend Rihanna, her roommate, Naina, her classmate and Rihanna’s boyfriend, Neil and a strange kid from Math class who was apparently Neil’s best friend, Aarav.
Neil, surprisingly enough for Nia, took out a cigarette and everyone settled down beside the rocks. Strange biology kid got his own cigarette while Rihanna wanted to share Neil’s. Nia rolled her eyes at them all. What a bunch of losers, she thought.
“Ri, I said I was hungry and wanted to get food not stoned if you didn’t hear me at all,” She said, shoving her hands in the pockets of her furry coat. “Besides it’s freezing, don’t you want to go somewhere warmer?”
“Nia, you dumb dumb, if we go somewhere warmer, people will take notice of us smoking and report it to Father Renly and besides, the smoking helps you stay warm on the inside.” shrugged Rihanna, taking a drag. Nia let her shoulders fall and wondered if she had lost her mind.
“Don’t worry we’ll feed you some pizza soon enough,” said Naina, rubbing her arms. She wasn’t smoking and she was okay with the three of them blowing puffs in her face. Nia wasn’t.
To her surprise, Neil lost his wits completely and asked her to take a drag.
“I don’t want to,” She replied quickly. She’d lost her mother to a car crash and her father to a smoking addiction so she didn’t any more of that, she knew.
Aarav watched this from behind the rock. He was starting to sense how uncomfortable Nia was when Neil stood up.
“There’s no harm in trying Nia, take a drag, come on…” said Neil.
“What part of this don’t you get, Neil? I don’t want to, so step back.” She said, raising her eyebrows.
Aarav dropped his own blunt and stomped his foot on it. He knew Neil, he knew how crazy he could get and he needed to do something about it even though it didn’t seem like this girl needed any help, he just felt the need to.
“Come on, Nia, don’t act like a wussy,” Neil coaxed.
“What is your damage?” Nia asked, giving a major side eye to Rihanna who couldn’t seem to control the situation.
“Neil, enough.” Aarav intervened, he walked over to Nia. “Let’s go,” he said, grabbing her by the arm and continued walked back the walk they came.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Nia whined, struggling to break free from his grip. Once Aarav felt her trying to wriggle out, he let her go.
“Look, Nia, you don’t know Neil like I know him. A second more and he would’ve forcefully put that cigarette down your throat,” he explained.
“And you thought ‘oh why sir, lets swoop in and save the poor girl!’” Nia said, trying to imitate his deep voice and failing, “but you know what Mr. Hissy Hero, you didn’t have to. I was about to walk away myself,” She told him.
That was the first time Aarav saw her for what she really was and to him, she was someone who was confident and knew what she was doing. Hard to find in a small town girl but there she was, unafraid and fierce, he could almost see her fire.
“Now, if you’re done staring at me weirdly enough, I’m hungry,” Nia announced. But he wasn’t done staring at her and oh boy, she could tell.
About an hour later, they managed to find their way back to where they could actually see people. Aarav was quick to buy her a pack of Lays but that was all he had money for. 12th graders didn’t really have allowances back then; they were supposedly still kids. To his amazement, she accepted whatever he gave he had given her without any fuss.
When he’d made sure she was fine and hungry no more, he started to leave without saying goodbye. Goodbyes were meant to be used wisely, he believed, they meant you were never going to see each other again. He wanted to see her every day. Every single day. Somewhere between finding their way out of the cold woods into the sunlight, he’d lost his heart to her.
But just as he slipped quietly onto the road again, a loud whistle roared around the hills.
“See you tomorrow, Aarav,” said Nia, grinning a hurricane at him. He nodded, oh yes he was going to.