This year marks a decade since the end of my high school years. Like presumably countless other women, I look at those years with a mixture of fond nostalgia and embarrassment. I was the resident nerd, doling out wisdom in one-liners and bad puns and rolling my eyes at juvenile antics. But I was a hypocrite protectively guarding a secret - my first ever all-out massive crush.
If I was the nerd, B was the clown. He was really skinny and tall and popular with both classmates and teachers. He got into trouble, but his pranks were so good-natured that no one ever held it against him. Initially, he was just an innocuous source of amusement to me. But that changed when our class went on an overnight hill station excursion and I saw another side to him - he was helping classmates who were finding it hard to hike and lugging their heavy backpacks for them. I remember thinking: "He is one of the good ones." And that was it - that awareness instantaneously ballooned into a crush of epic proportions.
We were a small, close-knit class and the trip was a time to become even closer. An unfortunate tumble into a pond gave me a nickname "Water Buffalo" - and B teased me mercilessly. Horrified about my unexpected crush, I stumbled to act like everything was normal and went out of my way to be all pal-y with him - like one of the bros.
My unrequited, unvoiced crush continued for the rest of the school year - soon it was time to leave for college. I moved to another city and B went abroad. We kept in touch for a while, but then calls happened only twice a year, on our birthdays, and then even those trickled away into messages on Facebook. From his profile - which I may or may not have stalked - I knew B was still overseas and had become really hot (and way out of my league), with a group of similarly good-looking friends who appeared to take off on backpacking vacations often.
Meanwhile, I graduated, found a job, fell in and out of love couple of times, almost got engaged (but that's another story), and then changed jobs and hairstyles and cities..
And then, one day, my best friend from school called to say they were planning a reunion week at a hotel. I needed a break and impulsively booked my tickets.
B was among the first people I saw when I got there. He loomed over the others - I admit I assumed his recent hotness would have made him a douchebag, but his face still had the same mischief written all over it and he hailed me by yelling out my nickname in front of all the hotel guests.
It was like the intervening years never happened. He was the guy I had a crush on and I was the self-conscious nerd trying too hard not to reveal it. The next few days were a ton of fun with the entire gang rehashing old school stories and having a gala time.
B was still the same old B who was pulling my leg and making everyone laugh, but I also found myself very attracted to his self-assurance, to the way he spoke sense without sounding arrogant or pompous, and to his broad, broad shoulders. *Sigh!* When the girls in the gang got together and gossiped about his hotness, my contribution was a muffled "Yes, yes."
By coincidence, B and I ended up sitting next to each other during meals and we had lovely conversations about the Game of Thrones, and life and the struggles and rewards of growing up. Contrary to his carefree image, he was hardworking and driven, and worried a lot about whether he was dedicating enough time to his parents and siblings.
The more time I spent with B, the more I admired him. I was worried if I was falling for the guy, but also worried whether I'd be an idiot not to at least see if there was something between us. My heart had been broken enough times by then to be wary of any new prospects, but a more optimistic voice asked: "But...what if...?"
I am really bad at reading body language, but even I could sense a strong chemistry between the two of us - I knew B was single, thanks to Facebook and the typical reunion catch-up session, but I was not sure if the flirtatious undertone was my overactive wishful imagination, the impact of a long acquaintance or part of B's new, adult persona.
As it happened, our love lives came up during a post-dinner drinking session where B and I were the only ones sober. I cribbed about the utter absence of eligible and/ or interested men and B asked me about my almost-fiance - I was surprised because only a few close friends had known about the relationship. I told him the abridged version, about how my ex and I turned out to be very different people who were too immature at the time to work at finding common ground. B's response was a solemn "Hmmm."
When I asked him the dreaded question about his personal life prospects, he recounted his two serious relationships. But it never went anywhere near moving in together or marriage, and he was still friends with his exes. To say I was relieved to know he did not currently like anyone would be an understatement.
Later that night, around 2, when I got up to go to the loo, I checked my phone out of habit and saw B had messaged me on WhatsApp about an hour ago: "Hey. Are you awake?"
I replied: "I am now. What's up?"
B's response was instant: "Can I tell you a secret?"
I joked: "Have you killed someone and need help hiding a body?"
B: "I was so crazy about you in school."
OMG. OMG. I paced up and down the room frantically, clutching the phone. My heart was beating really fast and I kept muttering "Shit. Shit. Oh my god!" over and over under my breath, trying not to wake up my passed out friend with whom I was sharing a room.
"Are you kidding?" I finally typed.
"Nope," he replied with a smiley face.
Perhaps it was because it was night and I was not fully awake, but I wrote back: "Did you know I had a massive crush on you? :)"
His response came after a few minutes: "If I had known, I would have definitely asked you out."
He followed that up with: "Is it too late to ask you out now?"
With my heart in my throat, I typed and sent: "Maybe not?"
B: "Could you come me out for a minute?"
I was in panic mode - but also insanely curious - and stepped out with tousled hair and wearing my rumpled pajamas and a sheepish expression. B was standing in the passageway, wearing chinos and a Batman T-shirt. I won't forget his expression - it was this mixture of longing, affection and fear.
Both of us did not speak for a minute - and then we both started giggling and then burst into uncontrollable hold-your-stomach laughter. I finally shushed him, whispering other hotel guests might wake up. He caught hold of my shoulders, pulled me closer and kissed me on the cheek.
I pulled back and looked at him and then we began making out right in view of the hotel CCTV cameras. But I did not care - I was finally being kissed by B...and it was soft and intense and immersive, and I wanted it to go on and on.
B whispered in my ears: "You are so awesome."
I whispered back: "I know."
We only had two more days before the reunion came to an end. B had to leave the country and I had to return to work. The two of us spent the time cherishing our moments together - stealing kisses when no one was looking, holding hands under the table and making up fake errands during the day so that we could go make out in our unoccupied hotel rooms.
I knew B was the guy for me when he made sure to pass me the food I liked, whether it was a roasted boneless chicken breast or an extra-crispy dosa. Our friends of course caught on and teased us endlessly. But we were just too happy to even be embarrassed. I was happy to have the freedom to hold his hand in public.
When B left, I missed him so much. It was weird how, in a week, he had become the most important person in my life. Maintaining a long-distance relationship was not easy - we Skyped back and forth, but we were both in the midst of busy work projects, and the time zone difference and the lack of sleep made me cranky. And there's nothing more annoying than a man who remains good-humoured when you are spoiling for a fight.
But I think B and I are going to make it. In the year or so since our reunion, he has come down to see me thrice and I saved up and visited him once. We have talked about getting married early next year. Sometimes, we discuss what would have happened if we had confessed our feelings to each other in high school. I like to think we needed to separate and take our different journeys and evolve as individuals for us to be a stronger team together. Of course, our shared past is a large part of our present and future…and I am reminded of that every time B calls me by his favourite endearment for me: "Water Buffalo".