The admin in one of my Facebook groups recently posted a writing prompt on star-crossed lovers. I’m not always big on prompts because if it doesn’t speak to me I don’t want to force it. But this prompt just so happened to come on the day that I revisited Tahoe’s Moon, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.
I read through the last few pages before I picked up where I’d left off, and realized that my main characters fit the star-crossed lovers mold better than I’d previously considered. I’ve never been much of a fan of that phrase, because it reminds me of Romeo and Juliet. I hate Romeo and Juliet.
But I guess I wrote some star-crossed lovers into my novel anyway. Go figure.
Of course, the book is about much more than romance. But for the sake of this writing prompt, I’ve decided to share an excerpt that will give a glimpse of the difficulties Tahoe and Jonathan face in their relationship.
Once everyone’s plates were empty, I figured there was no longer a reason to wait. “Can I open my present now?” I asked.
They all agreed that it was a fine time, and I pulled the gift bag out. I ripped out the tissue paper and reached inside to pull out… a tee-shirt? I unfolded it and saw the words “Nevada Wolf Pack” across the back of the shirt. It was an oddly average present, especially after the thoughtfulness he put into the last gift he gave me.
I looked up at Jonathan, confused, and saw my parents’ expressions across the table. Bapuji looked shocked, and Biji had her quiet rage face on. What could have possibly caused them to look that way? I turned to Jonathan for explanation, but he was staring at my parents, fear creeping into his eyes.
Although Biji was looking at Jonathan, Bapuji had his eyes on the tee-shirt I was still holding. I turned it around so I could see the front… and my stomach dropped. That’s why my parents looked so upset.
On the front of the tee-shirt was the fierce-looking wolf that was on most UNR paraphernalia. But that was not the problem. The problem was the words circling the image: “Raised by wolves.”
“Tahoe,” Biji said quietly, “would you care to explain?”
“Well, see, Jonathan and I are UNR students, and that’s where we met, and UNR’s mascot is the Wolf Pack, so—”
“Tahoe.” This time, Biji used her Mukhiya voice. It was no use trying to laugh this off.
“I told him.”
“How could you?” Biji switched the conversation over to Hindi so that Jonathan could not understand what we said.
“I’m sorry,” I responded, in Hindi as well. “I didn’t think you’d understand. I had to be honest with him. And he took it really well, like I knew he would.” Not exactly true. I’d hoped he would take it well, but I had not known what to expect.
“If you had come to me first, if I had met him first, I could have given you permission to bring the matter before the Jhund.”
“You know how they are. It would have been mob mentality. They would not have trusted him.”
“It should have been the decision of the entire Jhund, not one young girl. And clearly, they would have been right not to trust him. Look, already he would have you wear your secret on your chest for all to see.” Biji gestured at Jonathan as she said this, and he flinched.
Up until now, he’d been silently watching the exchange like a tennis match. His head turned back and forth rapidly, eyes wide.
“I’m sorry,” he said, noticing the pause in our argument. “I just thought it was funny. I didn’t mean to cause a problem. Tahoe, I just wanted you to know that it doesn’t bother me that you turn into a wolf.”
“Doesn’t bother you?” Biji was outraged. “Why should it bother you? It is a gift. You should love Tahoe because she is Santaan Raksha, not despite of it.”
Jonathan looked terrified now. “That’s not what I meant. I do love her because of who she is. I just— She was worried— When she showed me, she was worried that I’d—”
“You showed him?” Biji stood up out of her chair.
“He would’ve thought I was crazy otherwise…”
“Do the traditions of the Jhund mean nothing to you?” Biji had switched back to Hindi.
“Rajnisha,” Bapuji said. “May I?”
Biji turned to him, as though surprised to find him sitting next to her. She gave a tight nod, her lips pursed thin.
“Jonathan,” Bapuji addressed my boyfriend softly from across the table, “I remember being in your place, years ago. It is scary at first.”
“Harshad.” Biji turned her anger to Bapuji.
“It is, Nisha. I thought I was going to pass out the first time I saw you Change.”
“It is not scary. It is a gift.”
“It is a gift,” Bapuji said. “But to someone who has never seen such a gift before, it is terrifying.” He turned to Jonathan again. “I understand. But Tahoe and Rajnisha don’t. This is all they’ve ever known. When Tahoe started school, we had to teach her that her wolf form was a secret. She did not realize that other little girls could not turn into wolves.”
I smiled. I remembered my parents breaking that news to me. I’d felt so sorry for all the other little girls who would never know what it was to run through the trees under Shashi’s light.
“So I understand,” Bapuji continued, “that your present for Tahoe was well-meant. But we need you to try to see this from our perspective too. Like I said, this is all Tahoe and Rajnisha have ever known. Just like seeing Tahoe Change was scary for you, seeing our way of life threatened scares Rajnisha.”
“Bapuji,” I said, “you know what it was like to see the Change for the first time when it was the entire Jhund Changing at once. I just wanted to ease Jonathan into it.”
“If the you believe the tradition is flawed, you should have spoken to your biji about it. You should have spoken to your Mukhiya about it.”
Biji added, “You had no right to go behind our backs.”
“I’m sorry. I was just trying to make the news easier for him to swallow.”
“As for the shirt,” Biji went on, “I suppose Harshad is right – it seems to have been well-meant.” Her voice had a grudging tone. “But you cannot wear it, Tahoe. We cannot risk our secret getting out.”
“Biji, no one’s going to think of it that way. Lots of UNR students wear shirts like these. Anyone outside of the Jhund who sees it… the last thing they’ll think is that I was literally raised by wolves. No one in their right mind would jump to a conclusion like that.”
“It doesn’t matter what the likelihood is. Any possibility of exposing the Jhund is out of the question.”
End of discussion.