Chapter 54: The Stars of our Heaven
The next morning, Ranveer and Ishaani both sat over the table in stony silence, refusing to acknowledge the other's presence. Claudine sat opposite them with Fred and George in the pram, who were looking at the somber atmosphere with interest. Martin was asleep, courtesy of Fred and George who refused to sleep the whole night and ended up keeping Martin on his feet till 6 in the morning.
Claudine stared at both of them sitting sullenly, jabbing forks over their plates much harder than was necessary. She sighed, eating her bowl of oats silently, hoping for someone to break the icy cold atmosphere of the room. Finally, when Claudine had given up hope of any conversation in the morning, Ishaani spoke up.
"Fine day, isn't it? One to cherish life and its beauty." Claudine couldn't help but bite her cheek to prevent herself from laughing at the lameness of the statement. Apparently Ranveer had the same views on the subject, for the next minute, he snorted out loud.
"People can do better than that." Ishaani gave him a cold look.
"Well, people can even do better without shoving the topic of death forcefully in every conversation." Ranveer retorted heatedly, while Ishaani took a bite of her pancake.
"Well, in my defense, I don't fantasize getting stabbed." Ishaani gave him a skeptical look, her lips twitching mercilessly.
"First of all, it was something I blurted out once. Once! I don’t fantasize about it. And in my defense, I'm not the one waiting for a third time." Ranveer huffed, waving his hand airily in her direction, while Ishaani dropped her fork and turned in his direction.
"Let Claudine decide." Ishaani nodded her head and turned to look at Claudine, who gave them both a disinterested look. Fred and George squeaked from the pram noisily.
"Yes, Claudine, what say you?" Claudine gave the two of them an exasperated look, wondering where she got involved into the conversation from, before cocking her eyebrow up in Ishaani’s direction.
"Does this look like a court hearing to you?" Ishaani clicked her tongue impatiently.
"Just give your frank opinion." Claudine rolled her eyes before speaking heatedly.
"Hmmm, alright. In the matter of Vaghela v/s Vaghela, all I have to say is that I do not talk to a bunch of blithering, bumbling band of buffoons!" Ranveer and Ishaani stared at her dumbstruck before speaking outrageously, in unison.
"Hey!" Ranveer and Ishaani looked at Claudine affronted, but the latter gave them a cold look.
"Don't look at me like that. I know better than to pick sides over here. So please excuse me, I need to take Freddie and George for a stroll." Ishaani and Ranveer looked at Claudine guiltily, still refusing to make eye contact with each other. Ranveer spoke softly.
"Claud, take some rest. I'll take the kids for a stroll." Ishaani nodded her head solemnly.
"Yeah, Claud, go and have a nap. I'll take the kids for a stroll."
"No, I'll take them." Ishaani gave Ranveer a skeptical look and snorted.
"Yeah right, because you look like you could do with a nap as well." Ranveer gave her a deadpan look, pushing his chair behind and getting up.
"I'm perfectly alright, thank you. Atleast my cheeks aren't blotchy red."
"I'm taking the kids. Decided." Ishaani got up and walked towards the pram to see Fred and George staring at her curiously. The moment Ishaani took him into her arms, Fred burst out into a fit of screeching wails. Ishaani looked frightened as Ranveer walked towards her, clicking his tongue with mock disapproval.
"Well, it looks like it has been decided who they want to go with." Ishaani set Fred down on the pram half-heartedly as Ranveer picked up George in his arms. The reaction was instantaneous - George broke out into an even bigger bout of wailings and Ishaani gave him a triumphant look.
"So much for that, smarty pants!" Claudine looked at both of them hopelessly before Ranveer quickly put George back in the pram. Claudine walked up to them and shook her head dejectedly.
"Well, I guess Freddie and George don't like the buffoons either. Never mind, I'll take them for their walk."
Claudine took the pram away from Ishaani's grip and slowly strolled it along, leaving the couple highly abashed. Both of them looked at each other desperately, unable to bear the children's rejection.
"Sorry!" Ranveer and Ishaani both spoke in unison, looking pleadingly in Claudine's direction. Claudine turned behind, confused.
"We said that we are sorry!" Claudine smirked at them before she knelt down, looking at Fred.
"What was that, Freddie?" She gently stroked his cheek and he giggled. "Oh, so you could not hear what God Pa and God Ma said. Hmmm... Would you mind repeating again?" Ranveer and Ishaani glared at Claudine before Fred giggled again, entertained by the course of events. Sighing, both of them looked at Claudine and spoke audibly.
"Sorry." Claudine looked at Fred and asked lovingly.
"Are you happy now, little one?" Fred giggled for the third time in response and Claudine smiled. "That's like my boy."
Ranveer and Ishaani looked at each other hesitantly, still not ready to let the matter rest. Apparently, Claudine had the same view, for the next moment, George was addressed next.
"Now what's that you are saying, mon petit?" George clapped his hand together and Claudine got to her feet. "Well, George says that as much as your apology was audible, it was not heartfelt. He also wonders why you are apologizing to me when it is to each other that you must do the same." Ranveer and Ishaani now gritted their teeth in frustration and Ishaani spoke irritably.
"The kids are barely two months! How on Earth would they understand something like that?!" George gave an angry wail and Ranveer pinched Ishaani.
"Ouch! What was that for?" Ranveer shrugged his shoulders, shuffling his feet uncomfortably while trying to choose his words carefully. Giving up at long last, he spoke with resignation.
"I'm sorry." Ishaani looked at Ranveer guiltily before speaking morosely.
"I'm sorry too." Ranveer gave her an uncertain look before asking childishly.
"Truce." Both of them smiled at each other before Ishaani walked towards Ranveer's embrace and drowned herself into his essence. Ranveer smiled into her hair before speaking softly.
"You were right. I was getting paranoid over something far less realistic." Ishaani looked at him soulfully before speaking.
"You wanted to know my answer yesterday. If there were ever to be a third time, God forbid, then two things are most appropriate to happen. Either I will tether you to life or you will tether me to death. It’s as simple as that."
"Because neither of us can survive with half a soul or a dead heart." Ranveer looked at Ishaani curiously before speaking firmly.
"We will never mention this topic between us again."
"Wrong. We will learn to deal with this topic eventually, and overcome our fear. As you said, bad blood over one's wounds won't do any good." Ranveer nodded his head, before speaking with exasperation.
"God, we are such idiots." Ishaani smiled ruefully, speaking grudgingly.
"On any normal occasion, I would have asked you to speak for yourself, but I handled the situation most poorly yesterday."
Ranveer and Ishaani stared at each other for a few moments before Ishaani pulled Ranveer close to her, eliminating all space between them. Their lips met passionately, meeting and parting feverishly, their topic of discussion flowing away. Ranveer ran his hands over her back through her blouse and kissed her neck heatedly before Claudine's voice cut sharply, putting an end to their heated session.
"We are still here, you know! The kids didn't have to see your PDA!" Ranveer and Ishaani looked at Claudine dazed, but remained silent. "Seriously, get a room!" Ranveer and Ishaani looked at each other and smiled. Interlocking his fingers within her own, Ranveer slowly led Ishaani away from the hall, smiling shyly, Ishaani doing the same. The latter however managed to look behind and wink at Claudine, while mouthing a 'Thank you', Claudine giving her a gentle smile.
Ishaani woke up, cold sweats breaking out over her forehead throughout. She was afraid that she had yelled out in her sleep, and Ranveer would have been spooked awake. It was why the silence in the room comforted her so much, calming her nerves and helping her breathing to even out eventually.
She looked around, surprised at the miracle that Ranveer's sleep had remained intact, but stopped short. The bed was empty, and the blanket rather abruptly thrown off. Puzzled, she quickly got up from the bed, immediately putting on her gown. She checked the bathroom and all the other rooms in the house (save Martin and Claudine's), but to no avail. She could not understand where Ranveer could have gone off suddenly, but her heart was still, knowing that he was alright.
She tried his phone but it buzzed from her room. Frowning, her mind deep in thought as to where he must have been, Ishaani shut her eyes, letting the sole feeling comfort her that no warning bells were going off in her mind already.
Ishaani smiled, knowing what to do next as a sense of purpose overcame her suddenly, disciplining her frantic mind. She let instinct take over and followed where her feet took her, never questioning, but a tad bit curiously nonetheless. She felt the pleasant March wind dance around her body as she proceeded further, the wind refreshing her mind and the fragrance of blossoms enveloping her. She entered the garden area, the lamps lighting the garden serenely.
Her eyes sought what she was looking for instantly, and she smiled. Ranveer lay near the middle circumference of the grass over a picnic cloth, staring straight up at the sky. Ishaani walked up to him and gently set her slippers away, laying down beside him silently. Ranveer remained oblivious to her presence, lost away in his own train of thoughts, when Ishaani spoke softly.
"The view is beautiful, isn't it?" Ranveer jerked his head in her direction, a small smile crossing over his features.
"The best." The wind blew around them lazily, while the stars remained magnificently above them, shimmering like glitter, spread throughout the canvas in a blend of black and the darkest of navy blue. They could hear the fireflies buzzing along the lamp posts lazily while the leaves of the trees rustled merrily.
"How come you didn't sleep?" Ranveer looked at Ishaani restlessly, before turning his attention back towards the sky.
"Didn't get sleep." Ishaani sighed, her voice lowered to a peaceful whisper.
"It will take time before you get accustomed to it." Ranveer turned his head in her direction once again before looking at her beseechingly.
"I think telling you the truth was the right decision, just not the best time for me." Ishaani nodded her head, the pleading tone in his voice begging for understanding. Ishaani smiled at him, her own train of thoughts fusing alongside.
"It’s funny, you know. All this time, I thought that you were hiding the truth from me when you were actually protecting me from it. You are my sin-eater now, aren't you?" Ranveer looked at her, the term catching him unawares.
"Sin-eater? That's new." Both of them looked towards the heavenly sky before Ishaani spoke wisely.
"It would have never been the right time for you as long as you were living in denial." Ranveer shut his eyes, his mind falling through endless space, a meditative bliss filling him up. He opened his eyes and spoke truthfully.
"That's there again. But I didn't know it would affect me this bad. Look what happened yesterday." Ishaani smiled to herself, Ranveer's rigidity amusing her.
"Now I understand how you must have felt when I used to be persistent. And God knows how annoyingly childish I have been." Ranveer chuckled lightly, letting the breezy wind clear the gathering clouds before speaking with awe.
"Doesn't it frighten you? Death?" Ishaani looked at Ranveer's curious eyes that were staring into her own with the same expectancy. Ishaani sighed.
"No, it doesn't." Ranveer nodded his head, his heart happy that she was ready enough to hold him, breaking his fall.
"Is that why you have managed to be so strong when I kept buckling?" Ishaani shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly.
"Maybe." Ranveer blinked his eyes as a few fireflies flew above their vision. After the elapsing of several minutes, he spoke blankly.
"Why?" Ishaani looked at him, smiling softly.
"I... don't know. It's confusing. I should be conflicted about death for taking away the people I love, but I'm not. It’s like... death makes me stronger. I am my strongest self when challenged by it. It’s strange... terrible even. But it’s what it is."
Both of them looked above the sky as a shooting star passed. Both of them shut their eyes and opened them, smiling ear to ear, as though the intoxication of the night had finally wriggled its way into their veins. Ranveer looked at Ishaani, a new spirit overcoming him, the Ranveer from the past few months emerging within him once again.
"Why are we doing this?" Ishaani looked at him curiously, the change in his tone catching her attention.
"Letting this come between us." Ishaani chuckled, thinking about the absurdity of the answer that just came across her mind.
"I guess we aren't used to being happy for so long." Ranveer shook his head, amused by her answer.
"It's silly, isn't it?" Ishaani nodded her head, smiling shamelessly.
"Downright foolish, if you ask me. We should be celebrating life and its joyous spirits, celebrating love, anniversaries, birthdays, kids and what we have, but all we do is keep fretting over things that do not exist." Ranveer looked at her suddenly, a worried look on his face.
"Do you think we need to see a shrink or something?" Ishaani pondered over his question for some time before replying reluctantly.
"No... Not really." Ranveer looked at the heavens, before the next question left his lips with a sincerity that touched Ishaani.
"Why is it so difficult for us to accept light?" Ishaani stroked his head lovingly before speaking softly.
"Ranveer, you of all people should know better. We've lived the last three years of our lives in total darkness. When we met each other again, we both never had hopes that things would resurface the way it did. You took the first step, I followed. We removed the darkness from our hearts, exposing it to a light we had forgotten. The light was bound to burn some time, since our wounds are raw, even though healed."
"But why am I fixated?" Ishaani smiled, knowing that this was the best time to make him overcome his fear.
"Because you refused to accept it. It haunts you now. Just hold my hand and let me lead you through this." Ranveer nodded his head, a newfound determination taking over his mind.
"We'll both walk out of this fine." Ishaani smiled at him confidently before Ranveer spoke hesitantly. "You still haven't told me though."
"About what your verdict is on your father." Ishaani sighed tiredly, and Ranveer interlocked his fingers within her own once again.
"I'm tired. I will think about it someday... someday. For now, I just want to sleep in your arms."
Ranveer stroked her hair slowly before leaving a small kiss over her forehead. She shut her eyes sleepily, her eyes suddenly surrendering to the will of her fatigued mind. She turned herself over into Ranveer's arms, her head finding the crux of his neck, a small smile unconsciously making its way to her face.
Ranveer looked at Ishaani's face and smiled, the foreboding in his heart fading away gradually, leaving only a tingling sense of anticipation in its wake. Ranveer saw the ring over his finger gleaming in the streaming moonlight and shut his eyes.
The last thing striking his mind was the distinct feeling of Ishaani's even breathing and her unique description of him that he voiced out mentally, sleep claiming him almost instantly after that.
The skies and the heavens smiled upon them as the stars shone brighter, the stars of their heavens merging to form a momentary gleam in the sky. The heavens knew what awaited them, and could only smile as they saw the two souls building their path to a destiny that was already written for them.