Neapolitan City

Chapter 61: The Return of Goddess Laxmi

Ranveer and Ishaani stood in front of the threshold, their hands interlocked within each other’s, their souls shivering. They had finally reached the place where it had all started - the place where life had first given them each other. The house was just as they remembered it to be - tall, graceful, elegant, a pillar or power and strength. Yet the two of them noticed that the house looked like a house, not a home.

Gone were those days where the house echoed with the playful voices of the children and the roots of stemming love. The house was only an empty castle now, standing tall on its strong foundations, but hollow on the inside. The house was quickly made habitable on a short notice and Ranveer and Ishaani were both surprised at the speed with which the affairs were handled.

Sitting on the sofa in the living room were Amba and Kailash, discussing something, and Ishaani felt her heart break. The two people before her eyes were no longer the same ones that she had grown up to known, for they had aged twice as fast as would have normally happened. Kailash sat on the couch with a hunch on his back, his head nearly bald, while his trouble face had more wrinkles over them.

Amba sat beside him, her hair in its usual bun, yet her face was blank, as though she had never known what it was to express. Her features had not aged as much as Kailash's, but she had the same aura of loneliness about her that Kailash gave out.

Ishaani felt Ranveer shudder beside her and she made her grip stronger over his hand. She dared to take a look at him and her heart broke almost instantly, for the pain and shame that had appeared over his features made her heart bleed. Ranveer looked at her, his eyes red and teary and Ishaani shook her head slightly, her eyes pleading him to be strong, even though she didn't feel remotely the same.

The two of them did not realize that Nitin, Falguni and Baa were standing behind them, waiting for them to enter. Both of their minds were lost in the realms of the past where the two people before them had the one thing they didn't have now - happiness. Ranveer and Ishaani did not know for how long they stood like that before Kailash's attention fell over them, and the couple could have sworn that what happened next was nothing short of magic.

The aged features on Kailash’s face suddenly transformed into one of himself from twenty years ago as he walked towards Ranveer and Ishaani, a huge smile on his face, tears accompanying it alongside. He walked up to the door where the couple stood, and hugged Ranveer, while the latter held on to his father, crying into his shoulder unabashedly. The father and son spent several minutes doing the same, talking and crying simultaneously, speaking of how much they loved and missed each other, before they broke apart.

Kailash saw Ishaani standing next to Ranveer, her own face tear-stained, and smiled. Ishaani instantly bent to touch his feet, but he caught her arms midway, shaking his head and giving her a bear hug. Ishaani was stunned, for this was the last reaction she expected from the man who she believed hated her just as much, but it felt comforting to be in the arms of the man she once considered her second father. The two of them separated, and Kailash whispered softly.

"Thank you for giving us our son back." Ishaani shook her head, her lips trembling, before Amba appeared at the doorstep. Ishaani felt her breath get restricted in her chest as the memory of her last conversation with the woman kept playing in her mind with unusual clarity, something that made her gulp in fear.

It was now Ranveer's turn to increase the strength of his grip on Ishaani's hand and reassure her that he was by her side. Amba stared at the two of them curiously, eyeing them intently for a few minutes before she sighed tiredly. Ranveer looked at his mother's plight and smiled sadly, and that seemed to have snapped her into her senses

She brought forward the aarthi ki thaali in her hand and gave the couple a small smile, genuine in its intent. Ishaani gave her a smile in return and Amba took their aarthi, while throwing flowers and grains over their heads. She put a tilak and tika on their heads respectively and allowed them to take blessings from the lit diya in the thaali, along with handing them over the prasaad.

Amba handed the thaali over to Kailash, while Ranveer and Ishaani both touched her feet. Amba put her hands over their heads, and moved inside, the couple and Ishaani's family following suit. Ishaani and Ranveer heaved a sigh of relief. So far, things were going better than they expected it to go. They both entered the house, a smile growing on their faces as the memories from several years of their lives played before their eyes. The helpers of the house had gotten the luggage from Nitin and had deposited them in the rooms that they would be staying in for the next five nights.

The next three hours passed uneventfully, as Baa, Falguni and Nitin conversed with Amba and Kailash in a courteous manner that was enough for Ranveer and Ishaani at the moment. Ishaani was initially surprised and taken aback when conversation flowed cordially from both sides, before Ranveer whispered in her ears that Parul and Devarsh's marriage has eased the overly strained relationship between the Parekhs and the Vaghelas.

Just when the house doused itself in a sticky silence, a distraction came in the form of Ishaani's brothers, Parul, and Naina, Prateik's fiancée, and Manas, along with Aditya. An electric banter flew around the air as conversation continued once again, some smooth, others awkward.

Lunch was by far the most awkward time of the day as some family member or the other would stare at Ranveer or Ishaani every now and then as though they were antique pieces in an exhibition. By the end of lunch, Ishaani's hormonal temper got the better of her and one acid look to Sharman drove him to look into his own plate, everyone else following suit.

The sordid affair of lunch being terminated, everyone gathered into the hall once again, while Ishaani and Ranveer stood before them, nervously staring at several pairs of expectant and guilty eyes.

"So. We are all here today." Everyone gave Ishaani an acknowledging look, their faces suddenly blank. Ishaani took a deep breath and continued. "Ranveer and I are expecting a baby."

The house remained in the same, prickly silence, before Kailash sprung up and hugged the couple, kissing them both on their foreheads. Kailash’s action worked like the shock of a current as Devarsh, Parul, Prateik and Naina followed suit and hugged the couple, Sharman, Manas and Nitin joining them almost instantly. Conversations seemed to begin suddenly yet smoothly, and the next fifteen minutes were as though the four years of estrangement had never happened.

Devarsh, Prateik and Sharman hugged Ishaani, muttering profuse apologies to her continuously, while she only smiled and apologized back in return. The boys turned to Ranveer and did the same, and he smiled back, letting the matter drop altogether, seeing that Ishaani's brothers were genuinely guilty and ashamed of how they had handled the situation four years back.

Manas gave both Ranveer and Ishaani an apologetic look, while they patted his shoulder guiltily. Manas shook his head in understanding and gave them a happy look pointing towards Aditya, who was sitting over Falguni's lap, a bar of chocolate in his hand. Nitin joined next and gave the couple a side hug, his happiness on the news etched over his face, and Ishaani couldn't help but feel the usual essence of euphoria fill her heart up.

Nitin was followed by Parul, who let the boys make amends first before she hugged Ranveer eagerly, telling him how much she missed him and did the same for Ishaani next, her face now a mixture of elation and tears alike. She then introduced Naina to the couple and the three of them conversed for a few minutes before they let the couple have some breathing space.

Baa, Falguni and Amba waited for the din to fade gradually before Falguni and Amba got up and hugged their respective kids, before interchanging and doing the same for the other one, a gentle smile on their faces. Baa got up last, and Ranveer and Ishaani quickly hurried to touch her feet, Baa catching hold of theirs arms as restraints as she raised them upwards.

Baa took off the chain around her neck and made Ishaani wear it, the latter staring at it dumbfounded. Ishaani made to protest, but Baa caught her hand firmly, her eyes conveying the message that no argument was to be entertained. All of the members settled down after five minutes, as Parul looked at the couple and spoke eagerly.

"Bhaiyya, bhabhi, you must tell us!"

"About what?"

"About how the two of you met again, ofcourse!" Ranveer and Ishaani smiled, taking a seat finally, before Ranveer began narrating the story, Ishaani filling in the gaps here and there. The families listened to them attentively, taking in every detail into account, as the couple proceeded with their telling. Everyone gave the couple a gentle smile when Ranveer narrated about the time he proposed to her in the hot air balloon and gasped when Ranveer mentioned about his near fatal accident.

The narration coming to an end after an hour and a half, everyone relaxed back, letting the incidents sink in. The rest of the day passed off smoothly, with the elders retiring to their respective rooms and the youngsters sitting and conversing animatedly. Even though there was certainly a striking awkwardness at times, Ranveer and Ishaani noticed that the latter's brothers were making a genuine effort to set things right with the two of them.

Even though Ranveer did mental grudge the fact that he gave in too easily as compared the notes he had made mentally as to how best he would handle each one of them for hurting Ishaani, he saw that Ishaani looked happier than he had seen her in some time and her happiness ultimately made him ease up.

The lot left at 8 in the night, leaving the house eerily silent with only Ranveer and Ishaani's parents, plus Baa. They segregated together again in the dining room for a quiet dinner, that was peaceful yet slightly unnerving at times. After dessert was served, all of them made their way to their respective rooms, Ranveer and Ishaani sleeping in the room that they always slept in. They quickly emptied their suitcases and arranged their clothes in the cupboard, before they tiredly made their way to bed.

"Wow. The room looks just the same. It might have been yesterday when we last slept here." Ranveer smiled at Ishaani's statement.

"It looks as though we have gone back in time now. Funny, how that happens," said Ranveer, who looked around the room in a nostalgic manner. Ishaani looked at him intently, before speaking in an awestruck tone.

"Today was pretty surreal now, wasn't it?" Ranveer nodded his head, before admitting truthfully.

"It feels like a dream. Any moment I'll wake up and see that we are still in Vari, and Timmy will be barking his head off." Ishaani gave Ranveer a sweet smile before speaking in an understanding tone.

"You really miss them now, don't you?" Ranveer sighed, as he stared at Ishaani soulfully, his eyes have a guilty look in them.

"Yes. You know, it felt so good seeing them all after so long. I'm glad that our families want to give it another shot at making amends and making relationships smooth. But what I didn't realize is that Vari is our home now as well and we have another family back there as well." Ishaani nodded her head while she gave him a reassuring smile. After a few minutes, Ishaani spoke again.

"Did you speak to Kaka and Kaki?"

"Yes. A heartfelt conversation with both of them after lunch." Ishaani gave him a broad smile, her face gleaming with happiness.

"How did it go?"

"Much better than I expected. Infact, it feels like everyone has changed around here in these four years." Both of them gave each other a meaningful look before Ishaani enquired in a concerned tone.

"How has Kaki been holding up?" Ranveer shrugged slowly, his eyes meeting her own transparently.

"Good. I apologized and apologized for being such a miserable son, but she tells me that she was responsible for pushing me to the edge. But otherwise, she and Baba are fine. You know, when I saw them initially, I felt miserable, terrified of what I'd done to them. But now that I spoke to them, they are better than I expected them to be. And they have been quite accommodating about you as well, too. You've won over Baba's heart long ago truly, but you seemed to have made just as strong of an impact on Maa as well. She even went so far as to say that Goddess Laxmi returned home with your return."

Ishaani stared at him agog, clearly unable to believe what had just been said. It took several minutes for the sentence to sink in before she coughed awkwardly and spoke in a dumbfounded tone.

"Wow... th-that's huge." Ranveer smiled at her and Ishaani asked nervously now. "Were they happy about the baby?" Ranveer couldn't help but smile at the innocent worry with which she asked the question. Ranveer squeezed her hand reassuring.

"Thrilled. Once the shock wore off, Maa was thrilled. So was Baba." Ishaani lied down on the bed, while Ranveer did the same. The latter switched off the lights in the room, dousing it into complete darkness, save for the moon light that streamed in gloriously. The only thing that could be heard was the calm and even breathing of both of them. Ishaani let a few minutes pass by before she spoke plainly.

"We couldn't have wished for anything more."

"I know." Ranveer stroked Ishaani's hair lovingly before he spoke gently. "Did you get a chance to talk with Falguni Maa and Nitin ji?" Ishaani turned her head to the left to see Ranveer smiling at her and she could help but feel her heart flutter as the moonlight streamed over his face beautifully, making his eyes glow an even stronger shade of chocolate. Bringing her mind back to the conversation with great difficulty, she replied.

"No... Not yet." Ranveer gave her a smile, as he stroked her cheek.

"No problem. You can have a conversation tomorrow." Ishaani nodded her head and spoke in a meditative tone.

"I was so nervous and anxious. I feel pretty much relaxed now." Ranveer noticed Ishaani fidgeting with her feet restlessly and asked her in a concerned tone.

"Do you want me to give you a feet massage?" Ishaani shut her eyes tiredly, her voice now drowsy as she was on the verge of falling asleep.

"Naah. I think I'll go off to sleep. The jet lag is still pretty strong."

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