Cami was the first to speak. “Your Aunt and Uncle will be home soon.”
“Yeah. I know.” Ash gave Cami one last gentle kiss, then lay watching her as she began to rise from the bed.
“Akash! What is this?” His Aunt Priya’s shrill voice was a pitcher of ice cold water on Ash’s head. His heart pounded in his throat as his aunt strode toward Cami, who was trying to cover herself with her arms. “You little tramp!” Aunt Priya drew back her hand and slapped her, hard, across the face.
“No, Auntie-ji!”Ash cried. “Stop!”
“You get away from my nephew right now!” Aunt Priya gathered up Cami’s clothes and threw them into the hallway. “You get out of my house!” Cami’s eyes streamed with tears. With one hand pressed to her reddened cheek, she fled the room.
“Cami!” Ash tried to run after her, but Aunt Priya blocked his path.
“How dare you dishonor your poor dead parents like this, Ash,” she said. “I am almost glad my brother is not alive to see what you’ve become. You are never to see that girl again. Do you understand?”
Ash stared at his aunt for a moment. “Forgive me, Auntie-ji,” he said. “But I love Cami. I won’t stay away from her.” He left her standing there, shocked and outraged, and raced out the door in search of Cami. But she was already gone.
Ash called Cami every day afterward, three, four, five times a day. But she did not pick up. She did not return his texts. He went to her house, but no one answered the door. Desperate to talk to her, he parked himself on her front porch until at last she came home.
“What are you doing here?” Cami’s voice sounded cold, detached.
Ash felt his courage slip. He had wanted to tell her that he loved her. That he was miserable without her. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and inhale the sweet fragrance of her hair. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” Cami folded her arms.
“Look, we can’t be together, okay?” Cami let out a puff of frustration. “Your family hates me. And I…and I…”
Cami stared at the ground. “I think your aunt is right.”
Ash felt a hot surge of anger, remembering his aunt’s hateful words. “Fuck my aunt.”
“Don’t say that!” Cami’s eyes flashed with anger. “She’s your family. She cares about you. And you need them more than you need me.”
Ash shook his head, even though he knew that she was right. “I need you,” he said.
“For what?” Cami threw her hands up in the air. “What do you want to do – run away together? Drop out of school? I love you, Ash, but this isn’t going to work. We—”
“Don’t say it!” Ash turned away. He did not want to hear her say the words.
Ash couldn’t breathe. He sank down against Cami’s fence, wrapped his arms around his knees, and stayed like that for a very long time.