They hated each other since the moment they had met. She was from London and he was from upstate New York. One would think they would get along well. He was from a family of bankers and she was from the league of hoteliers. One would think they would pair up pretty well. But apparently, that wasn’t the case.
They became hardcore rivals since the moment the first question was asked in the mathematics class. Scholars by birth, each of them with their own brooding ego raised their arms to answer it. They gave each other the stern, dark look that steadfast competitors give each other. She arrogantly ignored him while he superciliously pretended he hadn’t noticed her. They both failed pretty badly in their act of pretence because their cheeks were glowing an annoyed shade of red.
‘Yes, Ms. Waters’, the professor said.
Irene stood up to her full height, 5 foot 7 inches, her dark brunette hair falling till her waist, her spectacles sliding down her nose and her ego resting high up on her head. She looked at her peers with a look of triumph on her face and confidently answered the question, giving a bit too many details. Impressed, the professor appreciated her and bided her to sit down. With an identifiable smirk, she settled back into her seat, but not before she had given him the most sarcastic smile she could muster.
Ryan was pretty disappointed that he wasn’t given the chance to illustrate his knowledge but he knew he would have to wait his turn. He just glared at his notebook instead. After a detailed explanation of the topic, the professor left the class. Irene got up from her seat and made her way out of the classroom with the heavy stack of her notebooks, her sack half falling off her hand. Ryan’s eyes followed her, as did most of the class’s. He noticed the entire class staring at her back. Hastily, he picked up his bag and quickly made his way out.
As Ryan walked into the physics laboratory, their third hour for the day, he noticed Irene sitting on the 5th table, with annoyance clearly visible on her face. As his eyes scrolled down the list for the year’s laboratory partners, he perfectly understood the reason for her rage and the same anger boiled up inside him.
Table No. 5: 1. Irene Waters.
- Ryan Winchestor.
He stared at the two names for quite a while before he was able to make himself walk to their appointed table. Plopping down on the seat beside her felt like he was betraying himself. Almost as if he was breaking the promise he made himself. The promise he had made the moment he had seen her-that he would one day show this woman her level, show her that she is nothing. He looked down at the sheet kept on their desk. Thankfully, they didn’t have to work together that day.
They didn’t utter a single word to each other during the entire two hours that they spent in the lab, at the same table. Everyone just concluded that the hatred must be in their genes or that both of them were so incomparably intelligent that either both of them had to become lovers or sworn enemies. Apparently they had mutually chosen the latter. Little did they know what life had in store for them.
As soon as the bell rang, Ryan left Irene with her packing and haughtily banged out of the lab. Irene didn’t even spare him a second glance. She just packed at her pace and left for the locker room without a word to anyone. By that time, the two of them had become an interesting topic for gossips and also the centre for many staring eyes. However, neither of them had time to get involved in those college controversies nor did they care.
Later that day, Irene strolled into the canteen to find that all the tables were taken, except for the one beside the dustbin, which was normally empty. She picked up some fruits and salad and made her way to the lonely table. As she scanned the canteen, she noticed a big group of students from her class sitting at a far table. They all looked away as soon as her eyes met theirs. She just smiled to herself and looked on. The canteen was full of unknown sophomores. Some bored, some overly enthusiastic.
Peeling off the cover, she dug into the salad. That’s when Ryan walked in. He bought himself a sandwich and looked around. He spotted Irene, gave her an annoyed glare and walked straight out. That’s when she could take no more. She dumped her food into the dustbin and busted out of the canteen. She ran into the grounds with the one thing that could calm her anger – As you like it, by Shakespeare.
Dropping down on a rock below a tree, she opened the book to the page where Orlando meets Ganymade and read as tears streamed down her cheeks. She couldn’t understand why everyone hated her so much. A million questions came to her mind. Why did she have to endure everyone’s stares? Why could she not be accepted the way she was? Why couldn’t she be like those popular girls who had hundreds of people swarming around them?
The bell rang in the distance and she hastily picked herself up and ran into the corridor. Quickly splashing some water into her eyes, she walked into the classroom. To her relief, he wasn’t in any of her classes for the rest of the day. When the final bell for the day rang, she strolled back to her car in the parking lot. As she roved her Porsche out of the drive, she saw him speed down the road in his Ferrari.
Ryan broke through the evening traffic, swinging his huge car through the tiny alleys. He was angry, but didn’t know exactly why. After all, Irene didn’t say or do anything that could potentially hurt him. But, he just thought that maybe it was because his mind had accepted that finally he had met his equal – both in intelligence and ego. Still, his heart and brain were continuously at war. His brain commanding him to be her rival, while his heart convincing him that they could be friends.
The days flew by and the hatred and anger just seemed to grow along with time. Two people, from different countries, from different family backgrounds, but with similar ego and identical intellect, had grown from being strangers to being worst adversaries. They couldn’t stand each other at all. The time they had to put up with each other during the laboratory periods was the most dreaded time for both of them. They hardly talked and pretended that neither of them noticed the other.
However, it is said that genuine hatred makes one spare so much time thinking about the hated that they become an integral part of their life and are missed when they suddenly disappear. And that is exactly what happened between Ryan and Irene. The vacations dawned on them and the college was closed for two long months. Irene went back to London to her family to spend time with her beloved while Ryan went to France with his parents. Irene’s father decided that she needed some refreshment and so they flew to Paris to attend a ball they had been invited to.
On the day of the ball, wearing the most amazing blue evening gown, her hair braided up, Irene walked into the ballroom looking like a princess. Admiring eyes stalked her every move as she accompanied her father while he introduced her to various dignitaries and guests present. Everyone seemed to know and respect her father and they all adored her. But, she got bored pretty fast.
‘And this, Irene, is the world’s leading bank’s director, Mr. Winchestor,’ her father said.
The name rang in her ears and her head shot up. She looked at the man – 6 foot tall, with dark black hair, all suited up with an appropriate dinner jacket and sparkling black shoes. Ryan was a carbon copy of his father, except for his blue eyes – which must be inherited from his mother, she supposed. And she was right, because right beside Mr. Winchestor stood Mrs. Winchestor wearing a beautiful green gown and an antic hat.
‘Hello Mr. Winchestor,’ she said. She was surprised that she rather liked the two of them. They were all sweet and polite. A complete opposite of their son, she decided. But, then she gave it a second thought. Was Ryan that bad after all? He had never said anything bad to or about her nor had he ever insulted her. She wondered why she hated him so much. Or did she hate him at all. Maybe it was just envy. Maybe, her mind had accepted that she had met her equal.
‘I would love to have dinner with you today, John,’ Mr. Winchestor was saying, ‘We have to discuss the implications of our new venture on both our firms.’
‘Yes, I understand Brian. But, I have promised my daughter all my time on this vacation. So, only if she doesn’t mind, my family will happily accompany you,’ her father said.
‘I don’t mind’ Irene spoke.
‘Very well then,’ said her father, looking rather surprised. ‘How about meeting at The Ritz at 8?’
‘Suits us’ said Mr. Winchestor.
The evening wore on as the music went from slow to fast and then slow again. Irene was asked to dance by countless bachelors but she simply wasn’t in the mood for a dance. She settled at a counter and ordered a coke. Her parents were lost in the crowd. As she drank the coke, she glanced around. She was shocked that she knew nobody. However, everyone seemed to know who she was. Because just as she turned to order another coke, a voice behind her called.
‘Ms. Waters, would you care to join your Harvard adversary on the dance floor?’
The voice was unmistakable. Even though Irene hadn’t talked to him much, she could have recognized his voice anywhere on this planet.
She whirled around and came face to face with the speaker and saw her worst fears come true. Ryan Winchestor – her worst enemy was standing right there in his black suit, with a tie and well made-up hair, looking like a handsome gentleman – asking her to dance with him.
She was rendered speechless. She just stared at him wondering what to say. He looked into her eyes and whispered, ‘Don’t worry. We are still enemies,’ he chuckled. ‘This, I’m doing on my dad’s command. And let me add, they are watching us right now; just don’t turn to look.’ Irene laughed on her stupidity that she thought Ryan was really asking her to dance, and on her dad’s childishness. She gave Ryan her hand and they graced the dance floor.
As they twirled and stepped around, Ryan noticed how lean and beautiful Irene was. How her long gown ended just by her ankles, how her heeled shoes made her almost as tall as himself, how her dimples made up for the world’s most prettiest smile and how her brown eyes creased every time she smiled proving the genuinity of that smile. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed all this back in college. But, now that he had, it was hard to hate her.
Irene laughed and smiled all through the dancing. Ryan seemed to be a wonderful dancer. She smiled every time he whirled and lifted her as if she was as light as a feather. She saw a bright smile alighting Ryan’s face every time she smiled. And the most amazing part was that his eyes and dimples showed that he was genuinely happy.
They danced for about half an hour before the music drained out. Laughing and smiling, they made their way down from the dance floor.
‘You’re not so bad on the floor.’ said Ryan, chuckling. ‘Well, you too are not as bad as was expected from my stark enemy.’ Irene smartly replied.
‘Ohh, stark.. I caught my cue, ma’am,’ said Ryan bowing sarcastically. ‘Have a nice evening.’ And he pretended to leave. ‘You too, Mr. Rival.’ Irene said, giggling.
That made Ryan turn around, ‘Ms. Rebel, I actually thought you enjoyed the dance. Even though I asked you just merely because my dad forced me. But, I rather thought I charmed you.’
‘Well, Mr. Rival, I’m very hard to charm and a rather good actor. So, when I noticed our fathers watching us carefully, I had to show that I’m pleased. Otherwise, I’m a pretty tough challenge,’ Irene nonchalantly mocked.
‘Challenge, huh… Challenge accepted Ms. Rebel.’
‘Yeah yeah.. I know I mesmerized the gentleman in you, but Mr. Rival, I’m sorry, there is nothing for you here’ Irene taunted.
Ryan laughed mockingly, ‘Mesmerized? I’m pretty tough to engage Ms. Rebel. Not so easy there.’
The clock had struck 7 and so they parted ways but not before Ryan kissed Irene’s hand just like any British gentleman would do and Irene smiled and told him how much fun she had.
Both of them got late for dinner. When Ryan entered the dining hall, a waiter laid him to the appointed table where his parents were dining with the Waters. He settled in one of the two empty seats and waited. After a short while, a few drinks and chats about the weather, Irene entered into the hall. She caught his eye, the moment she entered. A long dazzling peach gown, sparkling diamond earrings and her hair falling down her back, she walked with a grace that made her seem like a goddess. All eyes in the room seemed to be fixated on her as she made her way to their table.
Ryan pulled the chair for her to sit and whispered as she sat, ‘Mesmerized indeed, Ms. Rebel.’ She smiled and secretly blushed. She looked at him and instantly fell for his charm. He looked like a true gentleman. With a white shirt, black coat and trousers, a dark tie and polished shoes, he was indeed the most handsome man sitting in the dining hall right then. She leaned towards him and whispered, ‘Charmed as well.’
‘Challenge won’ he replied smiling.
Through the dinner, the fathers discussed about their firms while the mothers reviewed every other item available on the market. Ryan and Irene talked about college, life, football and their dreams. And their friendship grew stronger and stronger. They realized how much they had missed out on happiness just by being enemies. Both their hearts knew that they had found their equals, that they could not hope to find anyone more suited to themselves than each other.
When the dinner ended, the two of them reluctantly bid their goodbyes but promised to meet the following morning before their respective return flights. That night, before sleeping, both of them accepted to themselves that they had been wrong in their original judgments about each other, having realized the fact that they were indeed similar yet unique. They had never let their hearts rule over their brains, but now, both – their hearts and brains – were screaming the same thing, they were better together than away.
The following morning, as decided, Ryan met Irene at her doorstep and they started walking down the road towards a tiny yet famous cafe for breakfast. They greeted each other a good morning and walked on in a comfortable silence. As they reached the bridge over the river Seine, Ryan turned around to face Irene. He took her hand and looked into her eyes and uttered three simple words which made all the difference.
‘I love you.’
Irene just looked into Ryan’s deep blue eyes and wondered in her mind – what took him so long.
‘Ms. Irene Waters, I, Ryan Winchestor have fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with the one woman I truly hated, with the girl who I imagined to be egoistic and rude, with the lady who I thought was utterly over smart. But..’
‘Enough with the exaggeration of my displeasing qualities I think,’ said Irene, smiling.
With a hearty laugh, Ryan continued, ‘But… I came to realize that she was just a mirror of myself, in almost every aspect. I cannot hope to find a more perfect young woman than you. I wish to spend the rest of my life looking into those brown eyes which seem to withhold the deepest secrets and desires which my heart wishes to share.’
Irene looked at him and whispered, ‘I’m not flawless, Ryan Winchestor.’
‘But, you are, Irene. You are.’
And they just stood there, looking into each others’ eyes, and thinking about their past and future. Two people, from different countries, from different family backgrounds, but with similar ego and identical intellect, had grown from being strangers to being worst adversaries and finally to being the most loyal and beautiful lovers.