Ishani was roused by the strange, unwelcome noises coming in the way of her peaceful slumber. Her surroundings were rather dark before things began to come in focus and revealed the dimly lit room, and the window that cast a soft glow of silvery lights from the bulb somewhere out of the mansion. She breathed in the cold January air, letting her fatigue delay its obvious assault a little longer. She felt something in her palms, clutched and sweaty, her chest ached with an agony that crushed her all over again. The letter. When she thought she was wide awake, Ishani took several more deep breaths and dared looking around her. Her heart skipped several beats when she spotted Ranveer looking at her, concern obvious in his eyes. Tears streamed out of her eyes and she forced her gaze away from him.
"Ishani, are you okay?"
She closed her eyes, ignoring the effect his voice had just had on her. It felt like warm butter or honey that healed her wounds. It was like warmth in the blizzard of the poles; clean, fragrant air after a long travel in a smoky town. She couldn't allow herself to feel good. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
Ishani nodded but knew he wasn't convinced. He kept looking at her, seated on the floor beside her, and Ishani was sure she would pass out very soon if he didn't look away. She wanted him to go and leave her to herself but couldn't bring herself to say harsh words anymore.
"You don't look too well," he said again.
"I want to-" The words seemed insignificant and Ishani wasn't sure what she wanted anymore in life. Presently, however, she told him she wanted some rest. Ranveer complied to her request and lifted her up, then settled her on the bed, covering her with a comforter. Her heartbeats were irregular at their proximity, and for the first time in months, Ishani let herself bask in the beauty of the emotions that came with her being close to him.
"Can you stay here, please?" Her imploring eyes met his and Ranveer nodded, as though in slight confusion, but agreed. Ishani moved aside to the bedside, making room for them both. He was surprised but sat there next to her.
"What's wrong, Ishani?" he asked, and the gentleness in his voice crushed her a little more. Ishani began to wonder if it was a good idea to have him with her.
"Can you please lie down?" She wanted to be as close to him as possible.
Always a gentleman! Any other day, she would have laughed at his nervousness and chivalry, but tonight she wanted to be with him. Wanted to feel what being so close to him felt like. He lay down next to her and Ishani covered him in the comforter, too.
"Why do I feel you're not well tonight?"
His question was answered with a drop of tear that left her eye. Ishani let out a shaky sob but said nothing more.
"Ishani, what happened?"
"Why did you let papa do that to you? Why did you agree to his demands of not talking to me?"
He was taken aback by the question and took some time contemplating to answer her.
"I thought it was a secret," he said at last. " Nobody knew about it except-"
"You, Chirag, Papa and Pranav."
"How many more secrets are there that I must know?"
"How do I know you're telling the truth? After so many lies you expect me to believe you blindly?"
"Believe me, it was all for you."
"What could have compelled you to agree to my father's outlandish demands?"
"I was indebted to him. I couldn't say no."
"You knew what it would do to me, right?"
Ranveer bit his lip and swallowed. "You did have someone. I thought I wasn't needed. And even if I was, I couldn't stay around."
Ishani shifted slightly and lay on her back, staring upwards at the ceiling. "It was you. Always you."
He was silent.
"And I was so stupid. Why don't you hate me? I spent my days trying to form judgements, and making you miserable. I thought I hated you. I almost did. If I'd lost someone thinking it was because of you, Ranveer, God knows what would I have done!"
"I was angry initially," he said with a sigh. "I wanted to erase you from my life even if it meant killing myself. I have more of you in me - your words, habits, memories, laughter, feelings - than anything of my own. I soon realised I'd never be able to get rid of you, no matter how hard I tried. It was only Puneet - as I believe you know by now - who saved me. He doesn't realise but his friendship was the only thing that kept me going on and gave me some hope after Baba was gone."
Suddenly Ishani felt a devious envy towards Puneet, and everyone Ranveer had come in contact with in his struggling days. They had been with him, giving him hope, keeping him going while she lived her life away at the carcass of his broken love. Ishani was silent for a long time, not looking in his direction, but could often feel his gaze on her. She was afraid of feeling or thinking too much that revealed her vulnerability before him. She was tired of being so weak, so lonely and so broken that her body ached. Her head throbbed painfully while the memories swarmed in and out of her thoughts.
"I can't fall asleep," she said. The intent was to hear his voice but Ishani regretted the words as soon as she spoke them. He deserved to rest.
Ishani looked at him and realised she felt easier than before. It hurt but looking at him was comforting in a way she couldn't explain.
Ishani tilted her head slightly and pressed her lips to his forehead. It seemed the right, most natural thing to do. She couldn't express her gratitude, her feelings to him verbally and hoped this would do. Her heart stopped when she gazed at him. His serene, calm, face hardened with the experiences of life met her soft, sad eyes. He removed the tendrils of her hair falling down her cheeks and let his hands linger there briefly, gently caressing her cheekbones. Her breath hitched and she leaned into his touch, eternally thankful when his thumb traced an invisible line over her lower lip. Her lips parted slightly in invitation and her eyes closed at the relief and agony his touch brought. The longing and passion he generated with his mere touch was deep and insane, and, behind her closed eyelids, Ishani couldn't stop envisioning more than just a kiss. Her wish was fulfilled when he crashed his lips on hers. His one hand supported him on the bed while his free hand went messily in her hair, pulling her to him. She returned the kiss with equal rigour, pulling and gently biting his lower lip. Ishani couldn't ignore the tingle between her legs when Ranveer deepened the kiss, pulling himself above her, an action that conjured the images in her mind she would otherwise be ashamed to think of, but wanted nothing more than for them to come true right now. Her one hand found itself in his hair, mirroring his own actions, and another was set on his jaw. Ishani moaned into his mouth when she felt his tongue demanding access to her mouth while he pushed her top up and slid his hand beneath it, just below her breasts. He knew how to tease her! It was going too fast and the little sense her mind could consider was beginning to slip away. Her responses seemed to encourage him and he brought his lips to her chin and then the exposed skin of her shoulder blade.
"Ranveer!" A loud moan escaped her lips and this snapped Ranveer in his senses. He quickly threw himself away from her, unable to look into her eyes. Ishani, too, came into her senses, breathing rapidly, wondering why she had suddenly let go of herself. Even if she felt slightly embarrassed and taken aback, Ishani couldn't stop feeling a little elated, too. And a little alive.
She placed her palm on his shoulder to tell him he did nothing wrong when she was the equal participant in the act. When he didn't look at her, Ishani moved ahead so that she was face-to-face with him. She cupped his cheek and looked into his eyes.
"I'm not upset," she whispered. "I'm not angry either."
She saw him relax. "I - I-"
"I know," Ishani breathed, unable to look anywhere but his lips. Butterflies fluttered in her belly and her cheeks turned crimson at the memory of a few moments ago. She couldn't help but press her lips to his once again to relive what they'd begun. There was nothing sexual about it, but she loved the feeling of it.
It was like coming home.
If Ishani thought there would be awkwardness and silences because of what transpired between them several nights ago, she was completely wrong. If anything, Ishani found herself longing for him more and more. She was miserable. Far too miserable but the cause wasn't any other emotion than what she was beginning to feel for her best friend. Yes, they talked now. They talked more than just the business things. When he wasn't looking at her, Ishani couldn't help herself and savour his form.
Now when she thought of it, Ishani realised the feelings weren't new. She'd just been blind to acknowledge them before. Perhaps her morals hindered her from regarding the new feelings while she and Chirag were still not divorced. Perhaps she just wanted to prove him wrong that even if she was not his wife anymore, she would never look at another man. But little did she realise then that Chirag was another man, not Ranveer.
When her mother visited her, she saw visible changes in her daughter's appearance. She looked more lively. Her cheeks were more red than before and a faint smile curved her lips. And more often than not, she found Ishani humming something to herself and wondered what could be the cause of this happiness. She wanted to know but waited until Ishani was ready to tell that herself.
Gauri noticed the change too. And she felt the same changes in her cousin that once happened to her and wondered if Ishani had accepted her feelings towards Ranveer. Other than these two fools, it was obvious to anyone who saw them together. Gauri was most relieved to find Ishani in better shape than she had expected while handing her over the letter. Gauri hoped that Ishani would tackle things better should she and Chirag happen to cross paths. She had to move forward. Chirag was a past. A mistake. There was no reason to dwell on him anymore.
Ishani glanced at her family, along with Ranveer as they got ready to leave. She was most delighted to see Pranav, whom she had invited to thank as well as to make him feel welcome. He was going to be her cousin's husband. Baa had no power over their decisions anymore and Ishani smiles thinking about it. Years ago, they couldn't breathe without her permission in her house, and today, the change was warmly welcome.
Pranav thanked her for dinner and congratulated her for something. Before she could ask why, he was dragged out by Gauri. Her mother gave Ishani and Ranveer a warm pat on their shoulders and a queer smile that neither of them understood. However, their three guests seemed satisfied with keeping them in the dark.
When the guests had left, Ishani turned around to watch Ranveer watching her, unaware she was aware of it. She looked at him and smiled. He smiled in response. She'd missed this. Missed him. She couldn't thank Pranav for his letter. Her respect for her father might have tainted a little but she'd found Ranveer; and something more as well. Perhaps she had found her home.