The Emerald Isle Tales

Magic, Life, Love

Epilogue: The Never Ending Story – II

To the most amazing, loving, wonderful woman I have ever known – my dearest grandmother!

Happy Birthday, Amma. 

Epilogue_II_Inside_2

Reach the stars

Fly a fantasy…

Dream a dream

And what you see will be…

 

Rhymes that keep their secrets

Will unfold behind the clouds

And there upon a rainbow

Is the answer to a never ending story

~Limahl~

 

Her fingers flew over the keys, the music rarely dipping even as the old wood creaked into the song. She didn’t need to look at the keys to know which panel was chipped, which one needed just a little extra pressure. She had played the tune long enough to be able to gaze at the blue expanse of ocean and the diamonds scattered on the water by the blazing, yellow sun high up in the sky. At this time of the day, almost noon, there was nothing and no one to obstruct the view that she had first fallen in love with more than a decade ago.

Krishna Annah Singh Raizada, known only as Annah to everyone except her family, since the day she had decided that was the Christian name she wanted – one that connected her to the O’Reilly lineage, loved this part of the Isle more than anything else. The parlor held the first few memories of the winter of 2012 that had brought her here. It was the only place – that had been left untouched by alterations that had happened over the years. The parlor and the lighthouse.

She smiled at the sight of the lighthouse, still as fading and old world as Kathy-Ma wanted it to be always. Except the stairway, of course. No one could argue with her Papa when he put his mind to something – not even Kathy-Ma. She still felt weak and drained when she remembered the long, never ending arguments when she had announced her decision to formally train as a pastry chef at the Culimary Arts Insitute in New York. Between her two fathers each childishly warring over who would actually get to pay for her education, it had been difficult to even stand let alone insist that she wanted to pay her way through her life, at least when she could. If it hadn’t been for Ma who had cared two hoots about the two men who each towered over her with angry glares and clearly outlined logical arguments on why one was more qualified to pay for her tuition than the other, Krishna would have stayed put in Goa and ensured she never spoke to either of her fathers thereafter.

PJ had remained unabashedly detached citing her need to avoid punching both men in the face and Tally – well, her aunt could pretty much laugh through any situation. And so she had. And made fun of both Arnav and Shay – neither of whom cared much for her rather sarcastic and, in Krishna’s opinions, well deserved barbs. It had been the end of that fight when her fathers had both turned to Kathy-Ma and demanded that she allow them to pay for the lighthouse repair and the merger of Sun Cottage and the Isle properties respectively in return for allowing Krishna to pay for her own tuition.

“It was their plan all along, you know.”

Krishna stopped playing as she heard Kathy-Ma’s ever so lilting voice float in from the entrance.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have barged in.” Khushi apologized softly as she walked in, carrying a sleeping five year old Anahita in her arms.

Immediately Krishna’s eyes softened. Ana was her youngest and hence favorite cousin-cum-sister and she looked so much like her Papa that it was impossible to not fall as much in love with her as Krishna was. “She fell asleep? At this time?”

Khushi smiled and settled down on the large couch, adjusting the little girl who didn’t so much as budge. “You have to play just a few strains and she goes right to sleep, thereby living right up to her middle name.”

Krishna chuckled. “Aurora. Sleeping beauty indeed.”

Khushi smiled and allowed her fingers to thread through her daughter’s hair. For a moment, Krishna felt a piercing pain in the region of her heart, just as she always did when she watched any of her cousins with their mothers. A part of her told her that it was stupid to miss the mother she never even knew, especially when Kathy-Ma, PJ and Tally had been no less than mothers to her all these years. But the other part urged her to feel that pinch, even reveled in it as the only way of keeping her mother’s memory alive. If anything, Anjali Singh Raizada deserved it. Blinking back her tears, she forced herself to look into her Kathy-Ma’s eyes.

Unfortunately for her, her Kathy-Ma saw through most minds with careless ease. And so it was no surprise that Khushi’s eyes were soft and full of borrowed grief. With the afternoon sun slanting through the large windows and lighting up the part of the parlor that she sat it, her Kathy-Ma looked nothing less than an angel. The years, a baby and all the work she did at the Isle and otherwise had done nothing to her appearance. If anything, she only looked more ethereal with each passing day.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t mean to read your…”

Krishna shook her head forcefully. “It’s not you, Ma. I just keep forgetting to check myself. And honestly, I don’t want to be hiding any of my thoughts from you. Not just yet, anyway.” Krishna finished with a small smile. “Plus, you at least don’t do it to annoy me. Leah on the other hand. I hate that girl. Can someone please tell her that she is only ten?” She said with a mock-angry tone, referring to her half-sister who had just turned ten earlier in the year – a celebration she had missed and never heard the end of thereafter.

Khushi chuckled. “Sometimes I forget that the two of you are separated by more than a dozen years of age, Krishna. What did she do, by the way?”

“Nothing. She just reads my mind sitting all the way here in Goa with such ease…and it is rather inconvenient having to shoo her off in the middle of a conversation.” Krishna said, throwing her hands up in the air.

Once again, Khushi chuckled. “She takes after Ally then – Payal’s worst nightmare has come true after all.”

“How does everyone take after Tally, I wonder?” Krishna said with a curious smile. “You insist I am like her – which I think I am. Leah. Even Gillie and Jenny. No wonder ManU keeps insisting Tally and he need to have another child. To think at least Gillian and Jennifer should have taken after their father.” Krishna finished with a wry grin.

“I am fairly sure your ManU isn’t getting his wish. Not if the scene at breakfast was anything to go by.” Khushi said wryly making Krishna laugh. Gillie and Jenny – Tally and ManU’s six year old twins had decided to test their mother’s patience to its breaking point with their food tantrums this morning. If it hadn’t been for Granny H’s intervention, Krishna was sure she would have finally seen her Tally break down into frustrated tears..

“But you are right.” Khushi frowned for a moment and then grinned widely “We not only have only girls in this generation, all of them are eerily like Al. The woman is rigging the entire gene pool.”

“Not Ana yet. She is all Papa. We have hope, Kathy-Ma.” Krishna held up crossed fingers and immediately the two women burst out laughing only to be silenced when Ana whimpered in her sleep and snuggled into her mother’s arms. As Khushi adjusted the little girl and patted her back to sleep, Krishna shook her head and thanked her stars silently for giving her what her twelve year old self would have never dreamed of – a family. She had two fathers, two mothers, an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, cousins. She had a full life, a happy one. She couldn’t let small, irreversible regrets take away from everything she had been blessed with.

When she looked up, Khushi was crooning softly in Ana’s ears, her face aglow with such warmth, Krishna wished she were a painter to be able to capture that moment for eternity.

When the little girl was asleep again, Khushi looked up at Krishna. “You want to tell me what’s on your mind? You’ve been preoccupied since you’ve been back.”

Krishna smiled. “Of course you saw it. Sometimes I wonder how you manage to go about normal work like a mortal, Kathy-Ma. What is it you cannot do now?” Over the last decade, following the night she had witnessed the O’Reilly magic at its peak, Kathy-Ma’s powers had exponentially increased. She had confessed on multiple separate occasions on being able to read minds, control the weather, alter emotions, see the future and even transport herself to any location she wanted to be through her thoughts. And yet, she lived like an ascetic, using none of her powers to do anything more than what could help her family and friends. In addition to managing the Isle with Tally, she had setup an organization that helped people, especially teenagers, deal with alcohol and drug addiction. And though a large part of her funds came from the ARC and from ManU and her Dad’s joint venture – Liquid Gold – a chain of high end resto-pubs that had just inaugurated their seventeenth establishment in country, everyone who could volunteered to help.

“I cannot read your mind now that you’ve closed it off.” Khushi said softly. “You can talk to me, you know that.”

Krishna bit her lip once again and then sighed, her shoulders slumping visibly. “I feel like such a fraud, Ma. I am training to be a pastry chef when I know that anything I cook up is going to taste like magic irrespective of what I do. I feel like I am cheating everyone and everything. The other day, Chef Olsen asked me to be sous-chef on this event he was responsible for and I…I messed up. I mean the Ragu was burnt. The entire kitchen reeked of it. Chef Olsen was so barking mad. And then…one taste and…”

“You know most people would be thrilled with that kind of…” Khushi said with a smile and then shook her head. “I understand. But look at it this way, despite not really needing to do any sort of training – you are making sure you learn everything there is to learn about cooking. If your magic were to disappear tomorrow, you would still be a great Chef. That is worth something.”

Krishna knew Khushi had a point and yet she couldn’t help but feel less than elated.

“You should talk to Arnav. Ask him about deals he backed off from because he was able to read the other party’s mind and pinpoint the threshold of the acquisition.” Khushi offered.

Immediately Krishna cheered up. “He is such a hero, isn’t he? No wonder the magic never left him. I think Rowena just couldn’t take that away from him.” She knew her voice reverberated with pride. But then she was unabashedly proud of her father. Nothing could ever change that.

“He is just as proud of you.” Khushi whispered softly.

Krishna grinned and then hit her head lightly. “I did it again, didn’t I? How do you think silently, Ma? I just can’t seem to be able to do that?”

Khushi shook her head. “How do I offer advice when I should check my own eavesdropping?” A second later however, she spoke again, this time her voice lower and somber despite a touch of light hearted teasing. “Are we allowed to mention the book now?”

Krishna felt her face warm up. “You read it.” She said softly and then looked away. Following her friends’ comments on the story, she had, in a moment of unpremeditated action, emailed the story to the four women in her life – Kathy-Ma, PJ, Tally and Granny H. And she had regretted it ever since.

Well, at least you didn’t send it to Dad, Uncle A and ManU

Shut up, Leah. And don’t you have homework to finish? Krishna rebuked with a frown and then forced herself to look at Khushi. “What did you think?” Her brow creased with worry.

Khushi smiled, a small blush streaking across her cheeks, making her look even more beautiful if that was possible. “It was beautiful. I can’t believe you were listening so carefully every time any of us was narrating any little anecdote over the years. I can’t believe you actually spun a story out of it all. How did you even think of doing this?”

“I don’t know,” Krishna shrugged. “I knew years ago that I needed to write it all down and make a story out of it. I guess the one thing that stood out in when Granny G told us about the curse and the O’Reilly sisters’ story was how there was nothing written, nothing that someone could refer to. There should have been. I guess….yeah that was it. I just wanted to keep the story safe forever. Someday Leah, Gillie, Jenny and Ana should read it. They should know.”

When she stopped talking, Khushi’s eyes were shining brightly. “You took our story and made it something else, sweetie. Thank you for doing this for all of us.”

This time, it was Krishna’s turn to blush. “You are just being nice, na? Like you always are?” She pouted. “I mean, you really won’t tell me if it was all crap, will you?”

Khushi looked at her plainly, her face devoid of any expression. And then she shrugged. “Fine, don’t trust me. Ask your Tally or PJ – you trust them to be honest, I hope?”

“Aw –Ma – I didn’t mean…” Krishna stumbled over her words and then saw the impish smile on Khushi’s face. “Ha ha. Very funny.”

“I learn the art of emotional blackmail from you, your Ladyship.” Khushi said matter-of-factly. “Do you want to do something with it?” She asked a second later, “Maybe get it published. I’m sure either Aman or Arnav will have some networks in the…”

“No no no.” Krishna shook her head vigorously. “I never wanted to be an author. This is not even about my writing. This is just our story…And I just wanted someone outside of our family to read and tell me honestly if it is written well. That’s why I even asked my friends to read it. I would never…” For a second the memory of green eyes that had discovered her secret flashed in front of her and she blinked the image away lest Kathy-Ma saw it. Now THAT would be bad.

“None of them guessed this was your story?” Khushi asked curiously.

Krishna shrugged. “I go by Annah – they don’t even know that I have another name. I’m sure they passed off Raizada as an indulgence. They don’t know all your first names. So…”

Khushi nodded. “And what did they have to say about it?”

“All of them have a crush on ManU.”

Khushi chuckled. “Why am I not surprised?”

Krishna smiled and then continued thoughtfully. “They liked the story. Or at least they said they…” Krishna saw Khushi raise her eyebrows and then shook her head. “Fine, they like the story. But they think I should have included how Papa found out about your shared birthdays.” Then she cleared her throat. “About how he proposed.”

Khushi smiled, her face alight with joy as understanding dawned in her face. “And you didn’t know how to respond because you don’t actually know.” Sheguessed softly.

“He didn’t actually ask me how to propose. I had so many ideas all ready for when he asked me, you know?” Krishna grumbled even as Khushi laughed out loud at her words. Then she fell silent, before shrugging slightly “If you don’t want to tell me…that’s…fine of course. I can imagine that is personal.”

“There you go again with your emotional blackmail master weapon. Really Krishna…”

But Khushi didn’t get to complete her statement as another voice, deep and soothing, barged into their conversation

“After all that you’ve written about us, K, I don’t think personal means anything anymore.”

Krishna whirled around to see her Papa walk in to the parlor, immaculately dressed and handsome as ever, the not-so-slight white in his sideburns making him look positively distinguished. Not that he needed anything external to add to his inherently magical self, she concluded with a grin.

As she watched he walked over to her and gave her a quick peck on the cheeks before he turned to look at Khushi. Like always, to Krishna that moment seemed like a moment she was witnessing from behind a crystal ball that held just the two of them, the connection between her Papa and her Ma, so beautiful, it had only strengthened her resolve that she would settle for nothing less when it came to finding love.

She watched as Arnav Singh Raizada bent to kiss a sleeping Ana lightly before he kissed Khushi too and settled down on the couch beside her.

“You read it.” She said, trying to curb her rising embarrassment. “You gave him the document.” She glanced at Khushi accusingly.

To her surprise, Khushi merely shrugged. “He needed to know just how wonderfully you’ve written it all.”

“This is so embarrassing,” Krishna muttered under her breath.

“More than the first time you had your period?” Arnav asked with a smirk, his eyebrow raised in a well-defined, teasing arc.

Krishna’s cheeks flushed with blood. “God, Papa…”

“Arnav,” Khushi frowned at him with a shake of her head, her mouth still curved in a smile. “Don’t embarrass her. I don’t want to regret giving you her work.”

Arnav grinned and held his hand up. “Fine.” Then he turned to Krishna. “So you want to know about…”

Krishna shook her head, pushed the piano stool she was sitting on away and rose. “I don’t want to know anything.” She said quickly. “I should check on Leah. I promised to take her to Anjuna today for the bazaar.

“K – come on…I am just as embarrass…”Arnav interrupted but left his statement incomplete.

Krishna looked at her Papa in surprise. He looked genuinely contrite. It didn’t help that his wife was literally glowering at him.

“What…?” He turned to Khushi, bewildered. “I am offering to tell her…”

“Never mind, Arnav.” Khushi frowned and patted Ana’s head lightly.

Krishna smiled to herself as her Papa said something in response and she found the perfect exit to escape. She would speak to Kathy-Ma later. And then she would ask. Her Papa, was incorrigible.

—————

Summer, 2013

“I feel like a cow!” Payal said as she turned to her left and then to her right, her lips turned down in a pout as she looked at herself in the mirror.

Khushi rolled her eyes and continued to check off things that needed to be taken care of for the evening.

“How many times do you want me to envy you out aloud, Payaliya?” Ally yelled from the bathroom. “But since I am in a good mood today, here you go again -I should have known you would be one of those annoying women who only have a neat little baby bump without any other additional weight anywhere. There, are you happy now?”

“If it wasn’t your wedding day, Aditi Alannah O’Reilly Gupta to be Mathur in a few hours – God that is a mouthful. Do something about it once you are married okay?” Payal replied as she tried to suck in her stomach making Khushi laugh out aloud.

“Payal – that is not going to work, you know right. Stop fidgeting. You look stunning. Pregnancy suits you.” Khushi said, putting her notepad aside.

It was true. In the deep forest green bridesmaid dress that fell over all her curves easily, her dark hair and dramatically made-up eyes stood sparkling. The fact that her face glowed almost round the clock these days, only added to the beauty that Payal was at the moment. Khushi felt a strange sense of calm when she saw her friend and she couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to experience impending motherhood.

Stop thinking about that. Or I might need to do something about it right away.

Khushi looked away, hiding a smile as Arnav’s voice rang in her head, his voice seductive like the ocean lit by a full moon sky.

I thought you didn’t want to share our time for a few years? She returned in silence as she rose from the bed and walked over to the mirror to glance at herself once before Payal and she needed to make their way down and towards the wedding enclosure that would host the reception later in the evening.

You could always convince me.

“Do you realize that you are very transparent about this silent talking thing that you do with him?”

Khushi looked up in surprise even as she stumbled against the dresser and winced.

Payal was smiling at her with twinkling eyes. “I’m strangely glad that you both have that magic binding you. If I didn’t know better, I would say Rowena was a closet romantic.”

Khushi grinned back and chose to say nothing. When Arnav had discovered that his magic still pulsed in his body as strongly as ever, she hadn’t even been surprised. Rowena had finally done for her what she never even considered doing for Ciara.

Smiling to herself at the thought, she walked over to the tall mirror that Payal had been standing in front of and looked at herself, for a second longer than she usually did. The same forest green that hinted at mystery and striking beauty, looked strangely molded to silence of the deepest variety – one that she experienced in its full glory every time she was with Arnav at the alcove. Her hazel eyes borrowed from the reflection of the hugging bodice and glittered brilliantly, like the deep green emeralds she had worn to the Halloween dance last year. It seemed like it was such a long time ago when she had danced with that masked stranger and here she was just months later, exchanging silent thoughts about having babies…

The door to the bathroom opened with a small click and Khushi and Payal watched in silence, both dispelling every thought in their head as Ally walked out of bathroom.

If Payal had kept her wedding gown simple and elegant, Ally had literally pulled out all stops for her wedding gown. True to the declaration she had made when she was eight, Ally opted for drama and extravagance. Her wedding gown, snow white in a ballgown style with a fitted bodice, a cinched waist and a full organza tulle skirt that flared to occupy a radius of at least two feet around her, was simply spectacular. And in the absence of the dramatic makeup that was usually her style, her simply scrubbed face with barely there face paint and simple diamond hoops that Khushi had gifted her for the wedding, she looked every bit the fairytale princess, she had scoffed at in the years following her tenth birthday.

“I guess I look stunning” She remarked with barely contained glee and instantly Khushi and Payal burst out laughing.

“What, being a bride doesn’t come with a modesty clause, you know?” She remarked flippantly as she eased her way to the mirror.

“I wouldn’t know, Ally.” Khushi said with a smile. “But even if it did, I am sure you wouldn’t be above seeing right through it.”

Ally chuckled and shrugged. “I do look stunning.” She turned to Payal – “Your turn.”

Payal laughed and to Ally’s surprise, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You look stunning. I know Aunty G is happy today.”

Ally’s smile softened and she blew a kiss at Payal and then at Khushi. “Thank you.”

“We should get going, Payal before ManU starts calling like Shay did at your wedding.” Khushi said with a smile.

“Trust Krishna to come up with that name. It sounds like I am marrying a football team,” Ally replied wryly and then chuckled. “There’s a thought.”

“Poor ManU. So much to live up to.” Payal added and the three women burst out laughing.

Settling down a few minutes later, Khushi shook her head. “Al, Arnav will bring you to the Church. We are going to leave Aunty H and the others.”

Ally nodded and took a deep breath. “I’ll see you in a while.”

With that Khushi and Payal hurried out of the room in a swish of rustling fabric and warm smiles.

“I can’t believe she asked him to give her away.” Payal commented as Khushi helped her down the stairs.

Khushi laughed softly. “I think Aman and Ally expected us to think Shay would give her away and that Arnav would be his best man. And changed the order just to throw us off. I really wouldn’t put it past them. But I think she didn’t expect Arnav to agree. Those two are strange. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are arguing their way down the aisle.”

“I think we should all wish each other luck to get through the ceremony alright” Payal said with a dramatic sigh before they stepped out of the Isle into the morning sun.

The ceremony was as beautiful as Khushi had dreamed of and both she and Payal had to admit that there was a weirdly comforting sense of completion when she saw Ally walking down the aisle on Arnav’s arm. Krishna had looked resplendent, this time right in the middle of things – a bridesmaid just like Khushi and Payal had been. In her own forest green gown, she had looked stunningly like a glimpse of the beauty she was going to be in the future.

Now hours later everyone had changed into more relaxed attire and on their way to having all their tired senses dulled by delicious food and ever flowing wine. Dusk was falling beautifully around them even as the first strains of music began to fill the air with music. Khushi watched as Aman led Ally to the dance floor. They looked at so much peace with each other, beautiful in the way their gazes lingered and fingers intertwined ever so lightly.

“Dance with me?”

She turned to smile up at Arnav who was holding his hand out to her. She nodded and put her hand in his and allowed him to lead them up to the dance floor. Even as she did, she saw Shay and Payal step on to the floor. For a moment, Payal’s eyes caught Khushi’s and Khushi smiled. Who would have thought that hearts half-alive just months ago would be brimming with such joy? The thought should have scared her, as the thought of extreme happiness always had in the past. Not anymore. In whatever had happened since Halloween of 2012, Khushi had at least learned to live without the fear of the future, if nothing else.

She nodded at Payal and two friends parted gazes to look back at the men they loved.

“No masks today?” She inquired with a teasing smile, referring to the Halloween ball.

“None needed anymore.” Arnav replied as he twirled her around swiftly only to catch her by the waist. “If the alcove were a woman, she would be you.”

Khushi smiled. For all his terseness, Arnav was quite the wordsmith when he wanted to be.

“I am trying to be eloquent here.” Arnav said with a smile as he dipped his head to kiss her mouth. “Not to mention trying to forget the conversation we were having earlier in the morning.”

Khushi looked up at him and grinned. “Why are you trying to forget it, I wonder, when keeping it fresh in your memory would be so much more…ermm..fun.”

Arnav’s hands tightened around her waist as he pulled her closer, molding her against him, uncaring of the audience around them. “Are you teasing me, because…”

Khushi shrugged and winked at him before she rested her head on his shoulders.

Immediately she felt a deep sigh ruffle his entire frame.

“Khushi,” He whispered softly.

“Hmmm?”

And just like that everything around them swirled, so quickly, Khushi didn’t have time to gather her bearings or catch her breath till they came to a grinding stop in the alcove. As she pushed herself away from him even as his hand remained curved around her waist, she saw that they were at the alcove, the clouds above them casting a grey curtain on the sky. It was a familiar scene and just as she expected, the pace of her heart picked up.

“Arnav,” She began but Arnav shook his head and pointed her to the direction of their favorite palm.

Immediately the images cleared and she saw him, the eighteen year old Arnav leaning against it, his back taut with tension.

Khushi turned around and saw her own sixteen year old self standing at the entrance, her eyes still alight with hope even as her face was cast with worry.

It was the same scene of heartbreak that she remembered with such clarity in her memories – the morning of their shared birthday –and yet…

No sooner had the realization of the setting dawned on her, the clouds parted and the sun streamed through, filling the alcove with a pale gold light, dispelling any hint of sadness. It was not going to hurt. Not anymore, she realized as she saw her younger self walking up to Arnav as he turned around. There was still anger etched in his face, eyes sunken and low. But there was no cigarette, no smoke.

“You aren’t going to wish me, Angel?”

Arnav’s hands tightened on Khushi’s waist as his younger mirror spat out the words.

“Happy Birthday.”

There was sound of angry laughter that seemed to come from the eighteen year old.

“I wanted to come last night, Arnav.” She began.

Khushi closed her eyes but there was still no pain. He wasn’t going to hurt her. She needed to believe.

And as if her sixteen year old self had heard her, the younger Khushi stepped forward. “Wish me too.”

There was confusion in eyes that weren’t drugged with coke anymore. It was not a memory. It was a wish. It was hope.

“You mean…”

“I mean…we share this day. It’s my…”

Khushi looked up in surprise as the images of their younger selves flickered and disappeared, leaving only an alcove bathed in golden sun and covered with azure skies.

She looked into caramel eyes that stared at her hopefully. “You knew.”

Arnav nodded with a rueful smile.

“Since when?”

“That evening in Ireland when you refused to tell me your birthday.” He stepped closer to her and cupped her face, his eyes now urgent. “How much longer were you going to protect me, Khushi? Don’t you believe that I can do better?”

Khushi shook her head, too overwhelmed to say anything. She simply placed her head on his chest and allowed the moments to pass. He knew. He finally knew. She felt the first rays of a smile burst open in her heart as her lips curved.

“I didn’t want to do this without telling you that I wish I could change the past. I can’t, I know. But the future is ours.”

She looked up and nodded. “It is.”

Arnav stared into her eyes and Khushi felt everything around them come to a standstill. They weren’t at the alcove. They weren’t in an illusion he created. They weren’t in the wedding enclouse, dancing as the music played on. They were alone. Together.

“Marry me, Khushi.”

She should have been surprised by the suddenness of his proposal. But she felt only joy in her heart as it exploded into a brilliant sunny rainbow full of colors. She was a fool to have ever doubted the significance of this moment in the grand scheme of things. Whenever it happened, it was going to be special and this way.. She should have known this is how he would do it. It was so uniquely him, so beautifully them. It was never going to be a question or even a discussion. It was just going to be this.

Perfect.

She looked up into his eyes that were already smiling down at her in happiness that didn’t need to be contained or be wary of anymore.

“When?” 

 

Epilogue_II_Inside_1

 

THE END

 

(The Author’s Note can be found on the right hand panel)

 

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Epilogue: The Never Ending Story – I

Epilogue_I_Inside_1

Reach the stars

Fly a fantasy…

Dream a dream

And what you see will be…

 

Rhymes that keep their secrets

Will unfold behind the clouds

And there upon a rainbow

Is the answer to a never ending story

~Limahl~

 

She drummed her hands impatiently against the newly polished wood of the otherwise, old, worn out and yet classically designed table. The aroma of cinnamon, powdered sugar, vanilla, coffee and celebrations that wafted towards her from the counter to her right and the kitchen beyond, did little to calm her nerves. Her eyes remained focused on the rapidly swinging glass doors that manned the entrance to the small café as patrons swarmed in and out at a pace that most times made her head swim.

In a characteristic nervous gesture she had strangely inherited from her family, she chewed on her lower lip. Did they have to choose this day to be late? She glanced at the watch on her wrist and grimaced at her own impatience. It was still thirty minutes to go to the time they had agreed on. There was no need for her to be anxious. And definitely no need for her to berate them for an imagined delay.

Shaking her head, she picked up her hot chocolate and took a generous swig, hoping that the warmth would bring her some peace.

It did. For all about two minutes.

Sighing, she looked around her and at the teeming café. Her gaze stayed for a brief second at the window where she could see the reflection of a beautiful young woman with ebony hair falling all around her face in huge waves, eyes as dark as the midnight sky, cheeks were tinged with a deep rose that was only enhanced by her recent foray from the icy outside to the warmer interiors of the café. She smiled at her own image and looked away, unaware that there was a girlish pride in the way her eyes twinkled. She had been told multiple times that she was stunning and though she mostly brushed that away as the fascination the Americans had for the olive hue of her skin that always seemed to shimmer, she couldn’t help believing it every once in a while.

Shaking her head, she scooped up a bit of chocolate cake with her gleaming silver spoon and looking at it for a moment before she put it in her mouth – like she did with most of her food these days. Shaking her head with a slight grin, she shook her head and looked around her again.

“Hot chocolate AND chocolate cake? You must really be fond of chocolate.”

Well done, Mr. Holmes, she drawled silently and rolled her eyes in her head, before she her head around to see the most stunning pair of green eyes staring back at her. Framed by lashes thicker than any man should be legally allowed, she thought to herself.

Smiling politely instead of saying what she really wanted to, she turned away from those eyes, trying to ignore the face that stunned her with its beauty. This time she picked up the mug of hot chocolate and took another sip.

“Whatever it is, it must be really important.”

This time, she allowed her shoulders to slump visibly, sighing deeply as she did. She was still not very comfortable with strangers striking up conversations randomly – which much to her uneasy discovery seemed to happen a lot in this country. The occasional hellos in elevators, smiles in the coffee shop queues, polite nods while crossing each other through revolving doors entering establishments – were okay of course.

But this…And especially at this time, when she was just moments short of her receiving her verdict…

She turned slowly to face the pair of green eyes that were twinkling at her and finally allowed herself to look at him properly. She was wrong. He was not handsome. He was positively stunning. His face sharp and angular, high cheekbones, an aquiline nose, hair darker than hers and skin just a shade lighter. He was either from the Indian sub-continent or of Latin American descent. Either way, he was too good-looking for her liking.

She rolled her eyes at the voice in her head and smiled again at the bo..No! she couldn’t call this man a boy. That would be a joke. Blashphemy, even. Though she was positive she could correctly place his age at mid to late twenties.

“You have beautiful eyes – the color of the richest emeralds, of deep tropical forests”

It was the incongruity of his compliment that was evidently intended to evoke a corrective response from her that ended her own personal reverie and made her blush. Thankfully, the red in her cheeks could easy pass off as a reaction to the cold and the reflection of the sweater she was wearing. So she cleared her throat. “Look…”

But before she could say anything, he held up his hands with a smile that dimpled into his cheeks. God, she groaned. Did he have to do that?

“I thought you were going to say that to me. I get that a lot.” He explained as if it was supposed to make immediate sense to anyone.

When she felt her eyebrow touch her hairline, he grinned that lopsided grin again. This time, however, her resolve was stronger.

“I’m sorry…I am just waiting for some friends and not really good company right now. If you would excuse me…”

Be polite. Be polite. Just because you could potentially have a crush on him before you stop talking doesn’t mean he is hitting on you. She chanted instructions to herself ignoring the chuckle in her head. Stop it. She ordered in her most serious silence

You are doing it, Di. Call me when you are done.

She shook her head only to see him staring at her curiously. A minute later, however, he nodded. “I understand. I’ll go back to my…”He looked around him and picked up the Christmas specials menu on the table and pointed to it, “my menu.”

Smiling, and not to mention grateful that he had backed off rather easily, she turned away from him and picked up her mug when…

“Annah Singh Raizada, you crazy woman. Do you have any idea what the last week has been like?”

Annah looked up to see her friend glaring down at her and chuckled, the man who had her interest held in his forest green eyes, now forgotten. Before she knew it, the entire set of people she had been waiting to see, shuffled into empty seats around her, shrugging of their coats and filling the empty table up with bags, coffee mugs, keys, notepads and the folders she had handed to them exactly a week back.

“So you guys read it?” She asked anxiously as her heart beat picked up pace and literally lurched out of her heart in anticipation. This time, she went right ahead and chewed her lower lip deliberately.

For a second there was pin drop silence around her as four pairs of eyes stared at her blankly. And then it was mayhem.

“Of course we read it.” Grace said with a loud shriek, and then shrunk back into her seat as she realized she had been too loud and that many people from other nearby tables were now looking at the group of five girls rather curiously.

“Why the hell are you even here for this course? I mean, I know you bake like a dream but…You should be majoring in ..well…whatever authors major in before they earn millions” Haley added, unaware of the little commotion that they seemed to be causing with their over excited voices

“Are you sure you are writing for the first time?” Li asked in her usually quiet but tinkling voice, her face cast in a peaceful smile.

Annah felt the beginning of a small smile curve her lips when the fourth voice finally made itself present.

“Ermmmm….I am sorry…But I…”

She looked at her four friends in succession as their words buzzed in her ears before Annah’s eyes came to rest on Sameerah’s guilty face.

“Sorry, Ann. I just couldn’t read after a while. I have been working such crazy hours after school…Tim’s being such a jerk – I finished my dinner shift at two in the morning. And you know how I feel about this genre of story-telling. It isn’t my favorite genre and..”

“Sam, please” Annah shook her head, “You don’t have to apologize. Thank you for trying.” She said with a smile as she reached out to pat the back of her friend’s hand.

“God she must really be nervous to let you off this easy, Sam.” Hayley drawled and immediately Sameerah burst into giggles.

“You are so easy today, Annah. I was kidding. I mean last week was crazy. If I didn’t need the money for tuition, I would have quite my job and posted a horrible review for Tim’s cooking on my blog. But once I picked up the Tales, I just couldn’t put it out of my mind. It was so beautiful. It makes me want to pack my bags and head to Goa right away.”

“Or Ireland, off the coast of Galway.” Grace added dreamily.

Annah smiled and let out a deep breath as she leaned back in her chair. “So you didn’t think I was completely nuts to write paranormal romance?”

“Well you are nuts but not because you chose to write about magic. Or love.” Hayley said as she leaned forward, her eyes now narrowed. “And please don’t call it paranormal romance – that sounds..well the description doesn’t fit this story.”

Annah grinned. “Sorry.”

“But,” Hayley put her forefinger up superiorly, her brows creased in a knitted loop. “How could you end like that? What happened to their birthdays?”

.Annah blinked in confusion. “You mean…”

“She means the reason Kathy didn’t show up at the alcove? What happened when he found out? How did he find out?” Sam piped up leaning towards Annah as she placed her forearms on the table in front of her.

“I bet he always knew.” Grace added and immediately Li nodded in agreement.

Annah frowned. “What do you mean what happened? If they shared a life together – it would come up some time. But it’s not important, is it? She could have fallen asleep for all that it mattered?”

She looked at the four of them as they stared back at her incredulously.

“She isn’t kidding. She truly believes that the discovery of their shared birthdays is unimportant.” Hayley said, throwing her hands up in the air. “Are you listening to yourself? It was the reason Kathy thought they were soulmates. It is important. And we need to know. I mean how did he deal with that? What did he do to make up for it?”

Annah’s smile dimmed as she realized her friend was perfectly serious. Dammit, she swore in her head.

Don’t swear. Or I’ll tell, Ma.

Annah ignored the reply in her head and looked at her friends who were continuing to discuss the story.

“Did he really retain the magic? How come it didn’t all go back to Kathy? Did Rowena mean that Morgan had magic before he met Ciara? Is that what inherent means?”

Annah looked at Li and shook her head. “No. Morgan didn’t have magic. But I think Rowena meant that he was worthy of magic as much as any of her blood. He had proved that over a lifetime. Yes, he retained magic. Almost all of it. What he gave back – was Rowena’s faith.” A weird sense of pride erupted in her chest as the words rang out firmly and her friends looked on in awe.

“I though as much but maybe you could have been clearer.” Li replied softly, ever so polite with her feedback. Annah nodded, grateful for her honesty. “Thank you, Li.”

“Okay, so that is sorted. But there is so much more. How did he propose? Did he move to Goa? Did Ally and Kathy have a double wedding…”

“No they didn’t.” Annah replied immediately and then cringed. She needed to do slightly better if she needed them to believe. “Ally got married in summer and Kathy had a Christmas wedding later that year.”

“And the birthdays?” Hayley insisted again, making Annah want to pull at her hair till her scalp hurt.

“You really want an answer to that?” She asked with a deep sigh. Her years’ worth of work was still incomplete.Why couldn’t she have paid more attention?

“It’s your imagination. Just come up with a story. But tell us. It is important.” Sameerah added seriously. “I mean, if you send this to a publishing house, they’ll want to know too. It’s all about closing the loops in story-telling.”

Hayley snorted and Grace giggled as Sam winked at them. Annah rolled her eyes. “I am not actually about to send this to a publisher, you know.” But she didn’t have time to finish as a now familiar lazy drawl tore its way through to the table.

“But what if this is not her imagination. What if Annah just didn’t do her research well enough know exactly what happened with the birthdays?”

She turned her head slightly, her eyes wide in shock as she watched the man she had tried to ignore walking up to their table. As she watched incredulously, he gave Sameerah a hug, nodded at the others and slid into the last empty chair at the table.

“What if this is actually real?” He whispered with a low, almost seductive growl.

Annah sat stunned as he continued to stare at her, his eyes seeming to see through her very soul. There was an uncanny, eerie silence at the table. She felt like someone had discovered her biggest secret, one she had learned to live with such aplomb after years of making silly mistakes.

“What rubbish…” She stammered and cleared her throat. “Plus, I’m sorry who…”

“Crap! I am so sorry, Ann.” Sam interrupted. “This is Arjun, an old family friend. Neighbors, actually. He is studying journalism at Columbia.” She then turned to Arjun. “And this is Annah, the author whose work you spent the night reading and couldn’t wait to meet in person.”

It was going to be a day full of shocks, Annah decided and turned to glare at her friend. “You gave him my story?” She hissed. She had no idea why the thought that this man had read her work made her uncomfortable. Maybe it was his comment about her story not being a work of fiction at all. Maybe it was his stunning green eyes that seemed to see more than she wanted them to.

“Of course. He studies journalism – this is his area of work. I wanted to see what he has to say. Plus, he might have publishing house connections.” Sam said airily refusing to give Annah a chance to respond. She turned to Arjun who was looking at the entire exchange with amusement dancing in your eyes. “So you think this is real? That magic is real?” She asked, wiggling her eyebrows.

“I certainly wish Aman is real. The man is spectacular. Where can I find one of him? Is India full of such dreamy men, Ann?” Grace asked with a sigh as the other girls giggled.

Normally, Annah would have giggled right along. But at the moment, her attention was particularly captured by Arjun Rao who was still staring at her intently.

For a moment everything around them died to silence and there was nothing but what she saw in his eyes and vice-versa. What she would do to have her Papa’s mind reading abilities at this point.

And then Arjun shook his head and grinned again, dimples flashing dangerously. “I wish it were real. But like a young – and insanely more fun hero said – there is no such thing as magic.”

Immediately, Annah bristled, ignoring years of practice that usually helped her keep a stoic face when she encountered non-believers. Thankfully for her, her friends erupted into loud Nos and kept Arjun occupied as she steadied her thoughts and trained her face to remain pleasant.

“Hello, earth to!”

She blinked as Sameerah waved her hand in front of her face. “Are you listening? You need to work on something – maybe an epilogue or another chapter somewhere and tell us at least about the birthday, if not everything else.”

Annah smiled and shook her head. There was going to be no winning this argument. So she nodded. “Okay” She acceded and then watched as Arjun laughed at something Grace was saying, his manner more charming than any she had ever witnessed. And that was saying something given the family she came from.

How had this man simply wormed his way into her circle of friends? Annah wondered.

And why is it bothering you so much? I think someone is falling in love.

Shut up, Leah. Act your age.

“How long have you lived with this story?” Arjun asked as he took a swig of coffee and looked at her curiously.

Once again, the phrasing of his question surprised her. She cleared her throat and looked away, picking up her mug of hot chocolate she replied. “I have been writing it for the last year or so.”

“Oh yes she has. We’ve heard the – I need to write, I’ll take a rain check on the party line too many times to count in the last year.” Li said with a smile.

“Come on! It hasn’t been that bad. I party with you guys.” Annah said with an apologetic smile.

“Not as much as you should be, honey. The number of guys who ask us to join them with the hope of ensuring you come along is staggering.” Grace laughed, evidently exaggerating.

“Now you are all just pulling my leg. Stop it.” Annah rolled her eyes and the rest of them chuckled and let it go.

When she looked around the table, she found Arjun’s eyes still trained on her. In the next thirty minutes, despite conversation that ranged from her story to Arjun’s work to other books and stories that they all liked, Annah found herself stealing glances to look at the man at their table, every time unsettled by how their gazes clashed without missing a beat. When Li finally reminded them that they had a International Cuisines class to attend in the next ten minutes, Annah breathed a sigh of relief.

As Arjun shook hands with the rest of her friends, Annah waited patiently, happy that their meeting was over. With her trip back home scheduled in a couple of days for the Christmas and New Year holidays, she would forget this chance encounter with Arjun Rao easily enough.

“It was nice meeting you.” She said politely as she put her hand in his as the others made their way towards the exit of the café.

“Sorry about earlier. I recognized you from one of the pictures on Sameerah’s facebook page. But I didn’t want to say anything till she introduced us.” Arjun explained with a smile, his earlier flirtatious self disappearing, putting Annah at ease instantly and almost making her regret that she had just been happy at the prospect of not seeing him again.

Nodding with a smile, she turned as they walked towards the exit behind her friends. “Are you headed back home for the holidays?” She asked as she glanced at him.

“Yeah. I fly out to Mumbai over the weekend. And you?”

Annah smiled. “Friday. I can’t wait to be home. Especially with..”

“Christmas is a special time, I am sure.” He said softly.

As Annah looked up at him, pausing when he put his hand on the brass handle at the door, she once again felt like he was still suggesting he knew…

“Happy holidays. Have great trip back home.” She wished him a second later, ending the conversation swiftly as he opened the door and allowed her to step outside into the cold morning.

She had just taken a couple of steps when he called out again.

“Krishna?”

Stopping dead in her tracks, Krishna Annah Singh Raizada turned around with a jerk only to see Arjun Rao  leaning against the door, his eyes twinkling as he nodded at her victoriously. Tearing her eyes away from his face, she shook her head and hurried away as the first flakes of snow for the season made their way down to the earth.

 

 

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Chapter Seventy Two: Love Will Find A Way

This one is for you – dear friend - thank you for staying with this story!

Book Three_Chapter Seventy Two_Widget

Like dark turning into day

Somehow we’ll come through

Now that I’ve found you

Love will find a way

 

I was so afraid

Now I realize

Love is never wrong

And so it never dies

There’s a perfect world

Shining in your eyes

 

And if only they could feel it too

The happiness I feel with you

They’d know

Love will find a way

~From The Lion King~

 

“Why is he looking so…so tensed?” She shook her head without blinking. “Rather why does he always look so…foreboding? It makes me nervous.”

“Well, thank God there are some things that make you nervous.” Payal whispered softly and then silence reigned for a few minutes as Aditi snorted distractedly. “I agree, though, he looks…” And then she sighed deeply, “Only Arnav Singh Raizada can look positively drop dead gorgeous while looking so somber.”

Once again, Aditi snorted in that ungainly, inelegant manner. “You are married to Shay and you think Arnav Singh Raizada is gorgeous? Are you sure you didn’t hit yourself in the head this morning, Ho Ho Ho?”

“Ho, Ho, Ho? Really?” Payal asked incredulously and yet it was evident that she hadn’t torn her eyes away from the subject of their discussion. “Shay is handsome, sexy as hell, no doubt. But Arnav has a…dammit…someone stop me now. This is ridiculous.”

Aditi snickered. “I always knew you would turn turncoat first. Traitor. Pregnancy hormones, I guess, Payaliya.”

“Pftt…But that doesn’t answer the question. Why is he looking so worried? Actually come to think about it, she looks worried too.” Payal said softly, dropping her voice one notch lower. “Maybe they think it’s not the answer. Maybe…”

“No. That can’t be it. The fact that all of us could see Rowena’s last act, that we now know the curse word for word is proof enough that we have discovered the solution AND that it will happen. Mom mentioned something about everything becoming clear once we had discovered the answer. I know she did. That can’t be it.” Aditi repeated thoughtfully, as if replaying the entire argument just to convince herself.

“Maybe we should ask her.” Payal said quietly. “Maybe they need help to think through the whole thing.”

“But they already know we are here to help anyway we can. All they need to do is ask. This is not the time for foolish pride. I can’t imagine Khushi doing the entire pride thing. But she does have a very strong need to take on the responsibility for everything. I don’t understand why…”

At this point, Aman could hold himself no longer. He turned around, chuckling as he was met with a rather embarrassed Payal and a disgruntled Aditi. “You both haven’t changed one bit. For a minute there, I was almost convinced we were sixteen again.” Aman said, shaking his head. For the past few minutes, while trying to get his own work out of the way so that they could all get ready for the first trial of the magic restoration session – as Aditi had termed it, he had tried to keep his mind away and his energies focused so that he wouldn’t butt in on the girls’ conversation. But like when he was younger, something about the guileless, almost teenager-ish conversation that had just transpired between Aditi and Payal was too tempting to ignore.

“And as always, you just had to join us, didn’t you, Aman Mathur. I always knew you were a gossip…”

“Do you want a repeat of last evening, Alannah?” Aman said softly, as he deliberately allowed his gaze to settle on Aditi’s mouth. He had quite enjoyed kissing her to silence in the parlor last evening, especially because it had made her blush – something he loved seeing for the pure sense of fulfillment it gave the sixteen year old boy in him who wanted payback for all the years of blushing that she had put him through.

“Just you dare.” Aditi growled but not before Aman could hear the husky tinkle her voice took on when passion threatened to take over between them. And he saw the beginning of a blush in the brightening of her eyes and the warmth of her cheeks. It was enough for him to forget about the company they were in and he leaned in only to have Payal coughing rather loudly.

“You know, it might just be a tad embarrassing for some of us.” Payal said, raising her eyebrow meaningfully at Aman as she turned to wink at Aditi. “Just a tad,” She added coyly.

Aman grinned and leaned in, instead, to place a kiss on Payal’s cheek, surprising her and earning a laugh from Aditi.

“Keep your hands off my wife.”

Aman turned around to see Shay walk over to sit beside Payal, his eyes not wavering from Payal’s as they smiled at each other, love shining in both pairs in equal measure. Aman smiled, his heart warming at the sight. He may have always been closer to Aditi and Kathy, but Payal’s happiness or the lack of it thanks to her unrequited feelings for Shay had always pained him. To see that it was a matter of the past, was absolutely heart-warming. And it confirmed what Aditi had just said to Payal – they had found the curse and its answer and that everything else, was just a matter of time.

“Ahem, as someone wise just told me a few moments ago, you know it might be a tad embarrassing for some of us.” Aditi drawled as Shay kissed Payal’s mouth lightly and pulled her into the crook of his side. “You know, just a tad.”

Shay simply smiled back at Aditi and then glance towards him. “What’s going on?” He asked as he picked up a mini-puff that had been served with evening tea and popped it into his mouth.

Aman looked at Arnav and Khushi who were still engrossed in their respective activities – Arnav on his laptop, typing what Aman could only presume were his comments on the tens of emails that came through for his approval; and Khushi on the Isle’s desktop, trying to match supplies stock with their latest accounts statement. He turned to look at Shay but not before he caught Payal and Aditi staring forlornly at Arnav and Khushi. “These people think those people are worried.” Aman said lazily.

Shay frowned and looked at Arnav and Khushi before he raised his eyebrow at the women seated next to him. “And what makes you…”

“I can tell. Don’t you begin to doubt that now.” Aditi said firmly albeit with a small frown.

Shay smiled and shook his head. “Maybe they are just immersed in work. Which is more than what I can say about the four of us.”

Aman chuckled ruefully. “Touche! But I hear you are all set to remedy that situation with a trip to the Emerald Isle?”

Shay looked at Payal and nodded. “As soon as Dr. Thomas gives us clearance. And as far as the destination is concerned, PJ here…”

“Ireland was always on my list.” Payal interrupted firmly and then turned to wink at Aditi.

“Oh? Then why the tickets to Egypt?” Shay teased.

“Dead Pharaohs and scary mummies when travelling solo, imagining yourself to be heartbroken forever. Romantic highlands and cozy little islands when on your honey moon.” Aditi explained in a boisterous, travel website commercial imitation. “It’s quite simple, you see?”

Aman grinned at Aditi and held back an urge to yank her to his lips again. Even in her half hearted playfulness, Aditi’s banter managed to remind him just how much he loved every little bit of her – the fun loving girl, the deeply thoughtful woman, the ever optimist, even the high energy interferer of sorts that she was capable of morphing into. “Is that a hint, sweetie?” He asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Ha. When I want something, there will be no need for hints.” She said and wiggled her brows suggestively, underlining the implication of her wods. And this time it was time for him to blush. Aman looked away, suppressing a smile. Only Aditi Alannah Gupta could make a grown man of thirty – him, blush.

“Ally, please…” Payal groaned, catching on just as quickly as Aman had himself. “Stop with the…”

“I meant I will tell my fiancé explicitly that it is going to be Ireland for us too in May!” Aditi threw her hands up in the air and then shook her head at Payal who was rolling her eyes with Shay grinning at the two of them by her side. “What did you think?”

Aman chuckled and then winked at Aditi who was smirking away at him and Payal. “Done.” He confirmed only to see her blow a kiss his way discreetly before she let her gaze flick back to Arnav and Khushi. Immediately, he turned to frown at the couple in question. And then suddenly, he saw what Aditi and Payal were talking about. Though there was nothing in either Arnav or Khushi’s manner to suggest that they were preoccupied with anything but work, the niggle settled down in his head, the same one that prompted, not to subtly that all was not well. “You said all of you saw Rowena’s last act?” Aman asked softly, not tearing his eyes away from Arnav and Khushi who were now smiling at each other, in that strangely intimate way that seemed to exclude everyone else from their world the moment they were connected by a gaze.

“Hmmm” Aditi responded absently.

“In the last three months, I have wished for magic more often than I have in the last three decades.” Payal said with a sigh. “I really wish Rowena had shared the sight with us non-magic folks too.”

Aman smiled at the statement and almost nodded when the thought struck him.

Non-magic people.

“He saw it too?” He asked and then turned to look straight at Aditi. For a moment, he simply stared as confusion shadowed her eyes and eventually settled into a glimmer of understanding.

“He saw it too.” Aditi repeated before she looked at Arnav, this time with a curious glint in her eyes.

—————

“All set?” Khushi asked Arnav softly as she came up behind him, just as he was putting his laptop away.

Arnav turned around and blinked for a second before he smiled and held out a hand which Khushi took without hesitation only to be pulled up against him as he buried his head into her mid-riff. A shock of awareness, of need that seemed to find the most inconvenient times to rear it’s beautiful head, sent shivers down her spine as she allowed her fingers to thread through his hair.

As if on cue, he raised his head and looked up at her, the emotion in his eyes as raw as it hadn’t been since early in the morning. Gently she lowered her head and kissed him, smiling as she heard him murmur in approval as he tugged at her waist and forced her on to his lap, his mouth seeking hers more potently as her lips parted as they always did under his wilful insistence. The kiss grew dark and desperate as easily as it always did as a slow flame began to lick its way up from the pit of her stomach.

Khushi tightened her fingers around the strands of his hair, unwittingly tugging at them more fiercely than she intended, making him groan as nipped the soft skin of her ear lobe in a hoarse whisper.

“Sorry!” She apologized immediately; mortified that she had actually caused him enough pain to wince out aloud.

“I am too. If it weren’t for this…” Arnav looked at her as he pushed her hair back and behind her ear before bending to kiss the side of her exposed neck.

“Magic restoration attempt 1.0, as Ally refers to it.” Khushi supplied only to have Arnav smile back at her wanly.

She almost expected him to calmly point out that there was going to be no 2.0 event because they were going to succeed in one go. When it didn’t come, she knew it was time to talk it out of him.

“You are worried.” She concluded as she noted the slight edge to his voice – one that couldn’t be explained by desire.

Sighing softly, he raised his head and looked into her eyes. “I shouldn’t have been able to see it.”

She had the confirmation she had been silently seeking since the vision of Rowena’s final act, the curse itself had descended upon them. When she had woken up that morning, the knowledge that the last part of the O’Reilly sisters’ story had come to her, had filled her heart with hope that they had indeed chanced upon the answer, at last. But one look at Arnav’s eyes and the realization that he had witnessed the curse and everything leading up to it with just as much clarity had sent her joyous mind into a confused tizzy. After all, Rowena’s magic had nothing to do with Morgan. Even in the story, it was evident that Ciara’s gift to Morgan had torn that part of the O’Reilly magic away from Rowena, far enough to keep her away from any insight into his story. Then, it made very little sense that the act had been shared with Arnav, who was Morgan’s heir and therefore outside Rowena and the curse’s immediate purview.

“If you weren’t supposed to see it, you wouldn’t have seen it. Maybe it was Rowena’s way of saying thank you for finally…”

Arnav threw his head back and laughed, much to Khushi’s chagrin.

“Why are you laughing?” She asked with a frown.

“Somehow the image of Rowena being thankful for anything is unsettling. From what I saw, she seemed like she…”

“Was another version of you” Khushi finished wryly.

Arnav raised an eyebrow. “But I am thankful for so much.” He declared softly, still laughing at her with his eyes.

Khushi rolled her eyes and pushed herself away from his lap, ignoring his grumbling protest even as he continued to hold her hand and twist his fingers with hers. “Think what you want. But I think she really did want you to see because this is her way of saying thank you. I cannot imagine living in peace with the thought of having cursed generations of your own blood to misery, death and loneliness.”

She pried her hands away from his and walked out of the door into the verandah where a gently, soothing breeze was fluttering. As always, her eyes found the alcove and she breathed in deeply. They had decided against stepping into the alcove for the event with little objection from the other. The alcove was their private space and there were too many memories there to allow the combined O’Reilly magic a free reign there.

A minute later, just as she expected, Arnav was standing next to her, his own eyes fixed on the horizon in the distance as the sun dipped into the ocean with an inaudible dunk, leaving across the skies a riot of warm colors ranging from hot pinks to pale lavender, golden amber to burnt orange and finally a soothing, ocean blue coursing across the universe in a somber blue streak. It was a beautiful evening, almost perfectly in contrast with the evening that had witnessed the curse that had been thrown into their worlds amidst fury and betrayal.

“She didn’t actually live with the guilt. Maybe if she had, this would have been over a long time.”

Khushi turned her head to look at Arnav in surprise. A part of her had expected him to laugh at her naiveté, her childish need to imagine the best in people – even Rowena who she had every reason to bear a grudge against. Instead, he had replied with the most somber of answers, reflecting the pain that had receded in his heart and yet remained lurking in the shadows – like she knew it would for years before he was truly free, before she was truly free.

“She lived.” Khushi whispered and closed her eyes, trying to think of Rowena. And yet it was not Rowena’s image that came to her. It was Gail’s. “Ma,” She whispered and the wind immediately rustled in her ears.

“We should go.”

Khushi looked at Arnav and nodded, taking his hand as they stepped back in to the room even as the colors on the sky’s palette morphed and darkened, as a lone star peeked out and the outline of the full moon blossomed into a large, white, glowing ball of cold fire. It was time.

—————

Krishna edged closer to PJ as she watched the four adults in front of her take their place in a large, invisible circle. Or was it a square? She shook her head. There was no need for her to be nervous. None of the four people who she loved so dearly looked anywhere close to nervous.

“Stop chewing your lips. It’s going to be fine.” Aman admonished softly as she looked at him guiltily and released her lower lip free.

“It’s going to be spectacular.” PJ whispered from the other side. The three of them, along with Granny H, were standing just outside the fence of the Isle and if it weren’t for a bright, almost eerily large moon, brilliantly aglow over the heads, in the middle of the night sky, they had no chance of being able to see the outlines of the four people in question.

Aman, PJ and Granny H were all just as relaxed as the others had looked. And yet, Krishna was almost sure it was all just as act. How could they not worry? Had they not heard the same story as she had? This was about curses. And death. And so much sadnesss. Even if they claimed to know that this was the end, it ought to be some level of scary?

Stop worrying.

The wind, almost non-existent so far, whispered in her ear.

How can I not, Granny G? This is huge. She replied to the wind, using the only person she could talk too without being looked at in that condescending, slightly indulgent manner that her family did whenever she raised any doubts about the event.

It is huge. But they know what they are doing. All of them do. You are about to see something that you will never forget for the rest of your life. So…

Yes, yes. I should stop worrying. Krishna grumbled in her thoughts. Granny G, of course, did have a point.After all, what she was expecting to see was no less than the clashing of wands between Harry and Voldermort. Except, this time, she had live access. The thought immediately cheered her up as a small smile stole up her face.

There. That’s better.

Krishna grinned some more and crossed her arms across her chest. She would have tapped her foot impatiently too, if it wasn’t what came on blazingly in front of her, blinding her even its warm, almost fuzzy hue.

—————-

Hannah saw the small spark that erupted into blazing flames almost immediately and her lips curved into a small smile

You should have been here to see this, Gillie. She whispered in her mind as she absorbed the beauty of the fire that was burning bright in the center of the circle that had one of her family manning each corner with pride and power bursting forth in equal measure. But could you have borne to witness this from the sidelines? She mused with a wry smile. Her sister was missed today but maybe, Hannah reasoned, Gail wasn’t here because the Heavens couldn’t allow the injustice of making her step back.

I am here.

Hannah smiled as she heard the words. A part of her had waited silently for her sister to make her presence felt. And the same part told her that Gail was making herself apparent on occasion and not with any sense of permanence. Even in death, she would have principle.

And I was always meant to be in the gallery. The stage was always theirs.

Hannah closed her eyes and smiled the circle began to glow, one witch at a time, painted with a pale blue haze that shrouded Ally and Arnav and a warm golden curtain that fell around Kathy and Shay.

It looked like an ornament of spectacular beauty – the sight of her four children standing tall, merely outlines of themselves as the fire in between sputtered and sizzled into a glowing emerald green.

Poetic, her sister whispered in Hannah’s ear. Poetic, indeed.

—————

 

Book Three_Chapter Seventy Two_Inside_4

 

She watched from the winds as the circle now glowed stronger. She had no idea how any of them was doing it except on each of their faces, there was peace like nothing she had never known in her six odd decades of existence.

A small blue flame erupted in the region of Arnav’s heart as she allowed her vision to find the focal point of this event.

Believe, she whispered and she saw the flame grow stronger as little licks of blue flame swirled up in giant curves and wrapped themselves around Arnav in shroud of electricity.

Believe she repeated again as she directed her gaze to Kathy. As she watched, Kathy’s hands rose up, the glowing gold of power in her body shimmering like the sunlight in the desert. A small cavern appeared in the space above her palm a slow smile flickered on her face.

Believe, she urged as Shay’s aura brightened. Without any hesitation, the golden arc of his magic slashed through his heart and surged along the circle, pausing softly when it touched Ally, the golden flames urging Ally’s cobalt to make way for the circle. It might have been violent in the way it unleashed. But there was nothing more calm than the colors that flickered in Shay’s beautiful eyes. There was love, so strong, she almost felt a dash of envy for never knowing something that pure.

And then Ally opened her eyes and looked directly into hers.

Believe, she whispered and Gail felt the gilded cage around her disappear.

She had known love like that and in that one single gaze, her own blood had reminded her just how much she had to learn.

Gail smiled, truly free at last as she watched Ally smile with confidence as her magic held Shay’s, the bolt of blue threading with flames of gold as they made way to Kathy.

No sooner had the third thread of Kathy’s gold spun itself around the combined rope of Shay and Ally’s power, half the circle alight with a beautiful, almost celestial glow, the blue of Arnav’s rose, turning a deep electric purple as it borrowed from the woodless fire in the center of the circle and arched across to Kathy, joining the magic in a sealing bind.

Believe, they whispered together, the sound loud enough to echo across the universe and a volcano of light, fire, water, wind, earth and heart churned through the circle and exploded in the skies.

Gail could feel the tears that she couldn’t shed anymore, flowing down her non-existent face as the world lit up and the sound of shattered glass, musical and tinkling filled them all.

The circle was complete She smiled as all the energy from Arnav swirled and found its way back, merging in Kathy’s heart. And just as silently, Arnav stepped away from the circle as the universe calmed down again. The golden-azure rope of power now formed a perfect circle, threading through Kathy, Ally and Shay, pulsing with the power of their combined heartbeats.

It was over.

Goodbye, Gail whispered and closed her eyes, allowing all four of them to see her once before she rose, lighter than air and merged into ether. It was only as the scene before her was almost faded away, that she saw the glow of a small emerald flame just outside the circle, shrouded in Arnav’s heart.

—————

 

Book Three_Chapter Seventy Two_Inside_5

 

A gull cried in the distance as the waves crashed onto the shore. There was light everywhere and yet, she couldn’t tell what time of day it was.

“Welcome.”

She turned around to see a woman gliding over to her, her raven hair blowing around her face even as hazel eyes sparkled in what could only be termed as peace.

“Rowena.”

The woman smiled and looked out at the ocean even as a second gull joined the first one with a high pitched mating call and another wave crashed over the first one, stopping short of their feet.

“Gail.” She acknowledged.

“Heaven?” Gail asked with a smile as the two of them stepped forward to allow the waves to wash their feet.

“Or hell.” Rowena answered mysteriously before she turned to smile kindly. “There is no answer.”

Gail smiled and looked back straight ahead as she realized that she wouldn’t be able to see Shashi this way. If this was the way.

A tinkling sound forced her to look at Rowena again. “Don’t mock me.” Gail pleaded. “I would give up…”

“No, you wouldn’t.” Rowena shook her head. “It was me you identified with when you heard the story for the first time, didn’t you? I knew then. I was there.”

Gail looked at her in surprise.

“I was always there. Across the years, beyond the oceans of home.”

Gail raised her hands to dab at her cheeks, surprised that there were tears, surprised that there could be tears.

Rowena only smiled as she turned her head to the right, looking at something along the pristine expanse of sand running along the brilliant blue waters.

“But you aren’t me. You are what I wish I was.” Rowena whispered. And then she turned to look at Gail. “Go,” She tilted her head and stepped back.

Gail strained her neck as her brow knit in a frown. And then she saw him in the distance, standing like she had always remembered him, peaceful, wearing a smile that was so beautifully Kathy and Ally in essence, the only thing the sisters shared, the best inheritance they could have ever received.

“Shashi,” She whispered.

Rowena was smiling at Gail, strangely alike in the way her head titled to the side indulgently. For a second, she imagined she was looking into a mirror. Or a mirage.

Gail took a step forward and then hesitated. “Before I go, there is one thing I need to know…”

Rowena raised an eyebrow. “Still looking for answers?”

Gail shook her head ruefully. “I don’t know anything better.”

“I guess, I can’t blame you.” Rowena laughed, a beautiful, haunting sound. “I don’t promise to answer.” She nodded.

Gail looked at the woman in front of her curiously. “He didn’t actually lose his magic, did he?”

Rowena smiled that mysteriously smile again and looked away. For a second, Gail was almost disappointed. Except, such feelings had no place in her heart anymore.

“How can anyone lose the magic that is inherently their own?” Rowena asked rhetorically and then shrugged.

A small movement in the distance caught Gails’ attention, diverting her attention away from the clues in Rowena’s voice. It was Shashi and he was now looking at her directly. Gail knew then that no answers were important anymore. They had the oldest magic of them all. What was the need for anything else? Armed with the ultimate answer, Gail turned to look at Rowena, ready to reassure her ancestor that she had no more questions.

 Except when she looked, there was nothing but air that ruffled against her hair in a gentle pat.

 

Author’s Note: I’ve cried wolf so many times now, that I myself can’t believe that the end -is finally here. Thank you all for everything you have given the Isle and by extension to me. With a heavy heart, I finally say that what remains is only two parts of the THE END.

 

Epilogue – The Never Ending Story – I: Mar 31, 9PM IST

Epilogue – The Never Ending Story – II: Apr 1, 9PM IST

Final Author’s Note: Apr 1, 9PM IST

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Chapter Seventy One: Tears In Heaven

Time can bring you down,

Time can bend your knees.

Time can break your heart,

Have you begging please, begging please.

 

Beyond the door,

There’s peace I’m sure,

And I know there’ll be no more

Tears in heaven.

~Eric Clapton~

Book Three_Chapter Seventy One_Inside_1

 

November 1712

Oileán Iathghlas (Emerald Island)

Oileáin Árann (Aran Islands),

Éireann (Ireland) 

 

“Careful, Ma’am”

Rowena paid little heed to Connor’s voice though it had become increasingly difficult to not notice the glimmer of something uncomfortable in his ever lowered eyes. Her personal attendant in her husband’s estate had once casually remarked just how smitten Connor was with the Countess when she thought she was out of Rowena’s earshot. Rowena had dismissed the statement to one given to usually innocuous gossip that whispered in the estate’s corridors. But in the days following her husband’s death and her subsequent ousting from the estate, when Connor had refused to leave her side, unwilling to consider even his own waiting wife and children back home, Rowena had realized that her servant, actually did feel a lot more for her than was probably warranted.

As the thought crossed her mind, she turned around to see Connor watching her keenly and as always his gaze flicking away almost as soon as it met hers.

Rowena blinked, thrown by the suddenness of the exchange and shook her head before she picked up her skirts and jumped over the boat onto muddy waters of the shore.

It happened almost instantly. She didn’t even have the time to let her hood fall back when the images flooded her mind, much as visions of the past and the future always did. She saw the bolt of blue first and the curse rang out loud in Niamh’s angry words. Rowena’s heart raced, her eyes flipping back in her head as the intensity of her niece’s emotions seared into her soul and in her mind, Rowena turned her attention to the subject of Niamh’s anger.

It was his fear laden ocean green eyes that she saw first and in them she saw the swimming image of her dearest niece. Of Ciara.

Rowena’s eyes blinked open as she felt the fire begin to climb its way from her fingertips through her veins across her entire body. In that moment, Ciara ceased to matter, the numerous images of her eager willingness to learn what Rowena had to teach, her ability to surprise even an otherwise cold hearted middle aged witch into warm smiles and heart full of love, disappeared as blinding red-hot rage filled Rowena’s hearts.

Sorcha, her sister had abandoned magic.

Ciara was Sorcha’s daughter, after all.

She should have known. Her magic was never going to be safe. It was never going to be enough for her nieces, like it had been for her. She had been a fool to imagine that it would.

“Countess,”

Rowena whirled around, her wavy, raven hair, now flying about her in a mad scramble against the rising winds and the howls of non-existent wolves on the island. “Don’t call me that.” She roared and whirled back around, walking quickly, her sturdy working boots making it easy for her to ignore the sludge on the shore.

As she made her way through the beach, the clearing in the woods up to the garden that she loved and finally into the cottage, the images of everything that had transpired in the last few days found their way to her brain. She saw Niamh carrying a nearly dead man in her arms towards the cottage. She saw Breanna brewing her magic to help revive the man in question. But most clearly she saw the kind hazel eyes that belonged to her youngest niece as they stared at the sleeping man, the way her lips moved in silent prayer, the way her cheeks blushed under the return of her own rather generous affection as the man regained health, the way he bent lower to kiss her in a promise to marry, in a promise of forever.

Fool, Rowena wanted to scream. There was no such thing as forever. There never had been for their people. She had seen in her own life enough to believe that their magic only had danger from those who didn’t understand what a precious gift it was. She had seen her mother being burnt at the stake, urging her daughters away. She had seen what her husband’s family was capable of the night they had all but thrown her out of the house, taking what was hers. Even when Donovan had been alive, all he had cared about his love for her. He had allowed her, her secrets. But he hadn’t allowed her the luxury of knowing that she had the luxury of an understanding companion. No. Rowena had been alone. And she had worked hard to make sure that her nieces never had the chance to have their heart broken like that. She had always known that Niamh didn’t approve of her methods. And a part of her had worried. But with Breanna’s sane mind and Ciara’s unswerving devotion, the fear of rebellion had never truly taken root in her heart.

At the end of the day, Rowena had been betrayed, by her own misplaced trust more than anything else.

“Rowena,”

It was Breanna’s soft voice that broke into Rowena’s hazed mind.

Rowena stared at her oldest niece, taking in the sunken eyes, the pale face creased with worry lines that made her look much older than her two and twenty years, made her look like she was looking at her younger self. As she remained silent, she saw Breanna’s eyes soften into a plea, urgent and desperate. And it was the sight of helplessness she feared the most that shook her to response.

“You failed me. Most of all, you, failed me, Anna. I thought you understood.”

Breanna’s eyes glimmered with tears. “She loved him.”

Rowena threw her head back and laughed, the sound guttural and bitter even in her own ears. “Yes, she must have. Your mother did too.”

“Don’t you dare talk about our mother like that.”

Rowena turned to see Niamh walking out of the small room to the left where presumably Ciara was housed. As expected, her middle niece was blazing with anger, glowing a pale blue as she stared at Rowena.

“Niamh, please.”

Rowena held up her hand to stop Breanna as she stepped forward to pacify her sister. “Allow her to speak her mind today, Anna.” She continued to stare back at Niamh. “It angers you that I talk of your mother and sister so because you agree with me, don’t you, Niamh? Isn’t that why you cursed that man? The intensity of that curse isn’t lost on me. So, don’t you dare to take that tone with me. Not when it was I who fed you, introduced you to magic, cared for you…”

“All you cared was your precious magic, Rowena. You didn’t care for us. We were subjects for your little experiment. How any of us felt was never of matter to you. You clearly know what happened behind you. You know that Ciara- your favorite niece – is lying there, nearly dead and yet all you have to say is…”

“Enough!” Rowena roared as her Niamh’s words pierced through her chest. “You ungrateful wretch. You think I don’t care…you think I….”

“That’s not what she means, Rowena.” Breanna hurried forward, the fear in her voice making it tremble like the windows were in their panes.

“Stay back, Anna.” Rowena warned and turned again to glower at Niamh who was now positively glowing with rage. And as she continued to stare, her eyes fell on the slightly open door behind Niamh. For a second, her heart twisted painfully at the thought of her dearest Ciara lying behind the door, half dead, her powers with her no more. She had been her favorite, her magic so much more powerful than Rowena ever expected to, her kind heart almost endearing to everyone who laid his or her eyes on her. She had come to trust Rowena implicitly, never asking, never judging.

In that moment, Rowena’s resolved weakened. She wanted to put her anger aside and rush to her niece’s side.

Closing her eyes painfully to drag in a deep breath, she allowed the moment to pass. This was no time for weakness. Ciara had betrayed her in the worst way possible. She had betrayed the O’Reilly magic. She had ignored the only thing Rowena had ever asked of the girls.

“She brought this upon herself.” Rowena stated coldly, tearing her eyes away from the door and fixing Niamh with her stare. “She brought this upon all of us. You have no idea what can happen if that man decides to share his information with the world.” She looked at Breanna who had tears in her eyes. “You have no idea.” Rowena whispered and turned away, ignoring the fact that Connor was standing at the entrance to the cottage, having heard everything that had been said. She closed her eyes and whirled around into the wind.

When she opened her eyes, she was in her suite. With a quick flick of her hand, she urged the flames in the fire hearth to blaze. And like always the element of flame obeyed her command and burst through. She needed to do something. Her anger with Ciara aside, the real threat was the fact that their magic now resided in an outsider – someone who not only didn’t believe in the powers but also had no instinct or instruction to deal with what flowed in his veins.

She quickly assembled a few of her most prized herbs and crystals – lavender, amethyst and her precious large clear quartz shaped as a large diamond and spread them on the table before her. Taking her seat by the table, she allowed her palms to rest softly against the items and closed her eyes. It was her preferred way of using her sight to actively seek answers that she didn’t have at the moment. As the images in her mind shifted and settled down, travelling miles to assimilate the information she needed, the lavender herb burst into burning embers and smoked, filling the room with a thick perfume.

She saw him almost immediately then – the man with green eyes – Morgan Donohoe – the man who now held O’Reilly magic in his veins. She saw, trying to train her mind to rid itself of anger so that she could see clearly what he was doing, so that she could somehow trace her way to him and take back what Ciara had foolishly given away.

As soon as the thought crossed her mind, it went blank – like someone had cast a giant raven blanket over the image. As much as she tried for the next hour, the blanket refused to dissolve into nothingness.

It was then that she realized that Ciara’s magic had truly travelled out of the blood and out of her control. There was no way of resurrecting her niece’s folly – not without the one carrying it wanting to repair the mistake. As the realization sunk in, Rowena’s single minded focus transformed, once more, into boiling rage. The blood in her body fumed like lava being spewed from a vicious volcano. She could feel the absence of Ciara’s powers in the air and the awareness only seemed to fuel Rowena’s growing helplessness and thereby rage.

She closed her eyes again and tried to focus. She needed to see if Morgan Donohoe was about to betray their heritage to the Lord Lieutenant. If he did, then she needed to make sure she and her nieces were safe. They would need to run, to hide once again. Everything she had done since the day her mother had given up her life to save her and Sorcha would come to naught and she couldn’t allow it. She couldn’t allow one naïve girl’s mistake to wipe away everything she had lived for.

But try as she did for the next hour or so, nothing came to fore. Nothing. It was as if the fates were mocking her – Rowena O’Reilly had been reduced to being as good as a powerless mortal and there was nothing she could do about it.

She grabbed the crystals and the burnt lavender ash and flung it into the hearth. The fire hissed and turned a deep purple, burning with the intensity of all the powers Rowena had directed through the stones and the plant in the last hour and more.

Once again, picking up her skirts she hurried down the flight of stairs, the glow from within, enough to light up the path for her even as evening fell heavy and dark. Clouds rumbled in the distance as the winds continued to howl. The parlor, the large kitchen and the adjoining rooms were bathed in darkness save a lone candle that flickered ominously at the entrance. It was silent in the house except the sounds of the elements outside. Rowena, however, paid no heed to any of it and barged into the small room where Ciara lay pale and lifeless – flanked by her sisters on each side. Niamh and Breanna were sitting in silence, each holding Ciara’s palm in their hands. She could see the ointment that Breanna had applied to Ciara’s chest, right above her heart – the center of her power. And yet the ointment lay dull and insipid. If it was working, the area of her chest covered by the ointment would have glowed a dull amber – the color of life.

“Awake.” She hissed and strode forward, ignoring the way Niamh moved forward as if to protect Ciara from harm. Rowena placed her hand over Ciara’s heart and closed her eyes. In an instant, she saw green eyes flash in front of her and then nothing. She pulled her hand back, as if stung. When she turned her palm around, it looked like it had been singed to the bone.

When she looked up, amazed with what had happened, both her older nieces were staring in equal wonder.

“Looks like she outdid you, finally, Rowena.”

It was the wondrous laughter in Niamh’s voice that hurt more than the singe in her hand. In that moment, she knew she had failed them and herself. If her nieces could believe that Ciara’s destruction is what she wanted, then…

 

Book Three_Chapter Seventy One_Inside_2

 

“Rowena” Breanna’s voice was a distant echo as Rowena saw the world around her spin in heavy, thick black fumes – the tornado that now loomed in the distance as she stood at the edge of the cliff, the night falling around her like black ink even as it began to pour. The curtain of water was so thick that Rowena couldn’t see her palm when it was held up at her arm’s length. As she continued to stare, the ether of wind merged with the liquid that poured from the skies and before she knew it, there was warm golden glow emanating from the tip of her finger, glow strong enough to pierce through the curtain of rain.

“Rowena,”

It was Breanna’s voice again. Her oldest niece had always been the one with the best intuition even if she did not possess the power of sight like her youngest did. The urgency in her call made it evident that Breanna knew what was coming her way even when Rowena didn’t know herself.

She ignored her niece’s plea and blinked softly so that the fire leaped and blazed all around her, creating a circle of giant flames that only seemed to grow stronger as the elements fed off each other.

She could see the words churning in her head. She could feel the need, the urge to protect surge through her heart to her mouth. Her mother had once told her that magic always tried to save itself – sometimes through genetic transfer down the bloodline, sometimes through sacrifice, and sometimes – when the witch in question was of immense power, through the power of words, of curses that changed the course of destiny till the wrong was righted again.

“Please…don’t do it. She made a mistake. We all did. What good can come of this?”

Rowena looked up to stare at Breanna and instantly the elements came to whirling standstill. The drops of rain lay suspended mid- air, strewn about by wind that evaporated to vaccum. The leaping fires stilled and the sky halted in its path. The universe had come to a screeching halt as the world twisted, turned and squeezed into the space that separated her nieces and her.

And in that deathly, deafening silence, the words tore out of her chest and echoed against the rocks.

In the eternal quest of love

May magic never pay the price

Till the answer doesn’t find its way

May the question never truly arise

For one can live not without the other

Till this spell with the sun does rise

In the choice between power and heart,

May the claws of death, make the ways part

Free my blood shall be the day

Magic finds a place to stay

And grows stronger across the tree

They were then and they shall be three

As the half that broke and shattered

Finds a way back to its mate

The spell shall lift and misery shall end

So shall be the circle of fate

 

Rowena stared, her eyes now all black as the color of her irises poured out into the whites and took over.

“The generations will now pay the price for what Ciara has unleashed upon them, for what the two of you failed to protect. I asked but always just one thing of you and that very thing you betrayed me with. There shall be no peace for me from this day forward. But you shall know it too.”

Her voice rang out clear and concise even as Breanna’s shoulder’s slumped and Niamh remained frozen where she was.

“She used her instinct to give it away and hoped fate would play its part to give her heart what it craved. So now the centuries will wait, three to the count, till instinct and fate couple to allow the magic to be whole again. There will be no memory of this curse. And there will be no respite from knowing. If anything, the knowledge will seal the death of love and magic shall emerge victorious. There will be nothing but the choice that will live on – a choice that will always choose magic over love. Till Morgan’s blood meets Ciara’s, till the siblings of a tree find the strength to fight, the will to save both – till the bloods resurrect what was killed so viciously today.”

“Countess, please…”

This time it was Connor who had come running, his eyes, a clear, kind blue as they finally looked straight at her.

“Rowena,”

The plea in Connor’s voice broke the spell and Rowena’s rage stilled.

“Don’t curse your own blood so. They are the girls you loved. The only ones you loved for so long. And they loved you back.”

Rowena smiled as she realized that there was nothing left in her body to counter what Connor was saying. She knew it was time to leave, to disappear till her body faded away. She had poured everything she had in the words that had just left her mouth. Now there would be nothing except the memory of this day. Someday, someone would see her. And they would know why she did what she did. This was the only way.

“Go back home, Connor. And wait. Someday, your own blood will see them together. They will be at peace again soon after. You will have your wish.”

She blinked back an unexpected rush of tears as she looked at the cottage in the distance. And her heart whispered softly one last time. Ciara.

And then there was nothing but emptiness. It was the end.

It was the beginning

 

Author’s Note: To everyone who has ever read any part of this story and felt any emotion at all – even boredom – Thank you! The Emerald Isle Tales would be nothing without any of you!

Last chapter: Love Will Find A Way: Mar 29, 2014 – 9PM IST

Epilogue: The Never Ending Story – I: Mar 31, 2014 – 9PM IST

Epilogue: The Never Ending Story – II: Apr 1, 2014 – 9PM IST

 

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Chapter Seventy: Because You Loved Me – II

 

You were my strength when I was weak

You were my voice when I couldn’t speak

You were my eyes when I couldn’t see

You saw the best there was in me

Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach

You gave me faith ‘coz you believed

I’m everything I am

Because you loved me

~Celine Dion~

Book Three_Chapter Seventy_Inside_1

Khushi opened her eyes and waited for the blurry edges to recede as the contours of her room came back into focus. Blinking softly to allow the inky darkness in the room to settle down and the moonlight to slant off the edges and illuminate familiar outlines, she turned her head to look to her right. Of course, she wasn’t entirely surprised when she saw that the bed was empty, the slight depression in the worn out mattress and the crumpled sheets that lay at her feet being the only indication that there had been someone else by her side.

That and the languorous ache that was swirling in her stomach. She recognized it instantly for what it was – need that had been relegated to the back-burner as they fought with demons that needed a lot more than magic to fight. They had stayed in the alcove for hours, just basking in the luxury of silence and of shadows finally having been forced into the sun and dispelled with words of reassurance; with kisses and caresses that evoked real serenity and not the cheap imitation that they had both lived with for thirteen years now.

She put her foot down on the cold floor below her and pushed herself up, stretching slightly as she glanced at the clock that blinked a glorious green reading an hour after midnight. She gathered her hair up to a high pony, straightened her camisole, pulling on the cardigan that lay uncharacteristically strewn on the headboard. She walked across to slip her feet into her slippers and threw the door that opened into a small verandah open. As always, her eyes flicked directly to the alcove without conscious thought and just as she expected, she saw the faint glimmer of a blue light peeping out of the foliage.

Arnav, she whispered, aware that these might be the final moments of their ability to communicate this way.

The silence she had come to expect buzzed in her ear and then, like a current of swirling breeze the thought and the single word made its way to her.

She smiled and shook her head at the absolute authority in his call and yet it was neither offensive nor presuming, just the mark of the eerie unspoken bond they shared. Clearly he had been unable to sleep. She couldn’t blame him. With the solution now in sight, the need to iron out the details of the actual event was too potent, too evident in the urgency she felt in his pulse as the weariness of the past ebbed and the shackles he had lived with finally came off.

She quickly stepped back inside, closing the door behind her as she hurried outside her room, down the stairs and out of the Isle, her pace quick and eager as she walked across the sands towards the alcove.

The blue haze that she had glimpsed from the window grew stronger as she neared the little enclosure. She could now see though peep holes left by arching shrubs the glitter of blue flame reflected from the surface of the lake and instantly her heartbeat picked up. In sheer contradiction, the speed of her walking slowed down as she allowed her body and her mind to find the harmony she needed to see what she knew awaited.

A minute later, she stood at the small clearing, a natural arc of two tall shrubs that made the perfect entrance to the alcove, her eyes glimmering as it caught the blue, her heart churning as she absorbed with barely concealed awe, what she could only term as a sight she would cherish till the day she stopped breathing and beyond.

In the center of the alcove, a few feet away from the lake, stood the man she loved. Except he wasn’t just the man she loved. He wasn’t just the father of a wonderful teenage girl. He wasn’t just the owner of a thriving, successful business. He wasn’t just one of the country’s leading young entrepreneurs.  Tonight he was Arnav – the unwilling wizard, the magician who had hidden beneath years and centuries of cursed living, of guilt and grief, of trauma and tribulations.

Khushi watched as she stared at the vision before her – standing tall in his trademark all black attire and yet aglow with a dull blue aura that only seemed to grow stronger as it radiated out of his solar plexus and cast two large spheres around him – one horizontal and one vertical to create a complex maze of light and slow fire. It was nothing like she had ever seen and yet the visual seemed as familiar as would a daily occurrence.

As she continued to watch, Arnav held his hands out, curving them slightly as if holding a large flower in his hand and the blue began to pour out of spheres that surrounded him and into his hands, like gently flowing water, like brilliantly ablaze wildfire, like the wind that whispered in awe in her ear, like the sky that seemed to touch his head, like the earth that rose around him in a protective little cave.

A slow warmth began to swirl in her stomach and she knew immediately that he had been right, that his solution was the answer. She could feel the beginning of gently thrumming within her heart as her magic churned through her veins, warm and potent. Instantly the elements arched invisibly across their positions to meet the tip of her fingers –the tingle of water, the whisper of the breeze, the edge of the earth, the ether of the sky all merging to find a way through to her bloodstream. She looked at the beginning of a pale golden glow throbbing at the edge of her palm and smiled, still amazed that she was able to do what she was doing with no instruction at all. It had always been like this for her. Even when she had first discovered her magic, as a child, it had come to her as naturally as breathing. Magic is instinct, her mother had said with a smile and it had made sense to Khushi even at the age of six.

Maybe it was Gail’s words or maybe it was the fact that she now saw Arnav looking at her, his eyes glinting in the pale blue light that surrounded him, steady like a healthy heartbeat – pulsing, slow. She felt her eyes close as the magic within grew stronger. When she opened her eyes a second later, the golden glow had radiated up her palms, down her torso and now surrounded her in a golden sphere around her body, much like an aura.

Khushi, Arnav whispered and turned his body slightly so that he was facing her.

They stood there, each aglow with the essence of their powers, strong and urgent.

Khushi extended her arm outwards, mesmerized as she saw Arnav do exactly the same at exactly the same instant – their own personal dance. The blue flames that he held between his palms seemed to leap, trying in short bursts to cover the distance between Khushi and him. In the same moment, her own golden blazes arched towards him, straining with efforts as bursts of sparkles hissed silently and spat as the magic once split recognized its counter.

She waited in anticipation, her heart now pounding in her chest as the sounds of the elements in their highest energy orbits roared, spinning around them in an uninhibited, wild, almost feral rhythm. It felt close, the moment that many other moments across continents and centuries had waited for.

For a second, her guard slackened and she peered into Arnav’s eyes, the question in her heart finding voice in her thoughts.

Is this it?

She had known that they would figure out the technicalities and yet the ease with which the transfer seemed to happening with, threw her off.

And as if that had all it had been waiting for, the spell broke and everything around them went silent, dark and still in less than the blink of her eye.

Khushi’s hand fell back to her side and she looked up at Arnav, now illuminated very faintly by the pale glow of the moon above him.

“What happened?” She whispered, disappointed with herself that she, her moment of doubt, had caused the beauty that she had felt in her heart to come crashing to a ear splitting halt. Without waiting for Arnav to answer, she stepped into the alcove and hurried up to him, coming to stop only when her arms were around his waist and his lips were muttering whispered endearments into her hair.

“It wasn’t going to be this easy.” He said, his voice just loud enough for her to hear. She pressed her cheek against his chest and closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of his body.

“No.” She acknowledged and tightened her arms around him. And then she said the words that had lodged themselves in her brain since she had first laid eyes on him as she had stood at the edge of the alcove. “It would be such a shame to see you lose this…” She pulled back from the embrace and reached out and placed her hand just above his heart, where the center of the blue light had resided. “Does it have to be this way?” She said childishly even though she knew the answer.

Arnav smiled and bent to kiss her mouth, his lips a mere brush against hers. Only it was akin to a dried twig grazed by the wind. The flame erupted between them in a flash and before either of them knew it, the desire they had kept hidden and on a leash for so long, freed itself and coiled around their linked bodies.

Khushi,” Arnav groaned and pulled her closer as he deepened the kiss, his lips insistent against hers, tongue skilfully finding the seams of her mouth as it plunged into the depths, swept across her lips. Arrows of pleasure, heightened by the slow thrumming of magic in her body, shot through her veins, biting in their strength, almost forcing herself to keel over in surrender as the kisses grew urgent.

“Here,” He whispered hoarsely, repeating what she had once said in a moment of abandon, as his hands pushed her cardigan away from her body, exposing her bare arms to the wind. She didn’t argue as she realized that she needed to give in just as much as she needed him to take over. She didn’t pay heed to the fact that what had been so significant and beautiful had turned into something so carnal and raw in less time that it took for her thoughts to travel to him.

Instead she tugged at the T-shirt that he was wearing and pulled it out of his denims, sneaking her hands inside so that she could feel the smooth warmth of his skin, the ripple of muscle beneath her touch.

“Tell me if you are cold” He said softly as he allowed her fumbling hands to tug his shirt over his head and then proceeded to do the same to hers, his action just as impatient even if his hands were more skilled . She shivered but shook her head, momentarily struck by a bout of unexpected shyness. As if sensing the slight shift in her, Arnav reached to her and pulled her back into his embrace, burning skin meeting burning skin as his fingers drew hypnotizing circles on her back.

Just like that her hesitation disappeared and she pulled away to tiptoe and kiss him full on the mouth again. This time, she allowed the magic that had been silently coursing through her to find its outlet. A small flame of the deepest, richest fire, stole its way around them, enveloping them in a warm circle of amber thread even as drops of water, sprinkled from the skies on to her cheeks.

Arnav’s hands slid up her waist, his breath catching in an urgent hiss as she dug her blunt nails into the skin of his back. He cupped her breasts and broke away from the kiss, dipping his head as his lips traced a trail down her the column of her neck, down to the valley between her breasts. He took his time teasing her till she couldn’t think straight anymore, till he couldn’t resist taking what she offered, what she urged him to take without thought.

An involuntary moan escaped her lips as her head fell back. It thrilled her that his own grip around her waist tightened.

I won’t let you fall. Not alone.

Open your eyes. Look at me.

She opened her eyes and looked into caramel ones that burned bright with desire that seared her skin where his gaze touched her.

She raised her head, once again confident in her ability to arouse such desire in him. And before she knew it, she was kissing him again, this time never missing a beat as she urged him to divest off the rest of his clothes, aiding him to do the same to her. It didn’t matter that it was now raining steadily around them, the giant sphere of blue light keeping them secure in the vacuum it created.

They sunk to the floor of the alcove, the earth a springy mattress of soft sands and soothing foliage. A soft breeze fanned their now heated bodies and Khushi felt a layer of perspiration break over their entangled limbs.

“Did I ever tell you how glorious you look – every bit the tempting witch – sexy, beautiful?” He rasped as he cushioned her body with his embrace. She knew he was holding her still to make her more comfortable against the raw earth. Except, there was only one way she was really going to be comfortable now. And she needed to tell him that.

She kissed his chest, using her teeth to nip at his skin almost impatiently eliciting a tortured laugh from him, a guttural sound from the depths of his soul. Smiling, she allowed herself to explore his body, till her touch drove him crazy and brought back the manic edge in the way he looked at her, primal and fierce – a look she knew was mirrored in her own eyes. Everything about their lovemaking, the way she pulled him closer till he was joined with her, was as basic as the magic that they shared was, as intense as the fire that they housed in their hearts.

As they found their rhythm, as everything around them thrummed with electricity and heat, as the elements drummed loudly in their ears, falling into a violent harmony with their slickened bodies, Khushi and Arnav looked into each other’s passion glazed eyes, seeing themselves truly for the first time in the glimmering depths of the other. It had been one thing to share the burdens of a lifetime and another to finally give themselves away to each other without secrets or shadows. And so as the tempo built to a crescendo and waited for a moment before it tumbled over the threshold into the bottomless abyss below, they rose up to the heavens higher and higher till they conquered peaks they knew they deserved to scale, till they finally grazed the edge of forever.

————-

 

Book Three_Chapter Seventy_Inside_2

 

“This is the other thing I missed about Goa all these years.” Arnav whispered as he took a large swig of water from the bottle and screwed the lid back on before he carefully placed the water bottle by his side.

“And what was…” Khushi bit her lip as she realized that she had spoken the involuntary question out aloud even though she knew the answer. Her cheeks flooded with warm blood as she acknowledged that her question could easily be construed as fishing.

Arnav, however, was too quick for her even when there was silence between them. He chuckled and pulled her closer so that she was resting her head against his shoulder. “You.” He answered and despite the smirk that was clearly laced in his tone, she could sense the sincerity that strummed beneath the words. And she smiled almost impishly and snuggled back into him.

“On second thoughts, I think I will be able to read your mind in any situation – magic or otherwise.” He continued, still laughing gently against her head.

Khushi turned to look at him, his face freshly scrubbed and dried, his eyes betraying none of the sleep that should have been heavy in them given that it shortly after three in the morning. After their sojourn in the alley, they had spent several passion-spent moments in the rain that had lulled into a soft drizzle as they waited for their energies to replenish. It had been silent between them and around for long moments where nothing but their heartbeats filled their ears. Once the haze had lifted, their drenched state had come back into focus, sending them both into bouts of uncontrolled laughter. In the first few moments that the sound of their unbridled joy had burst through the alcove, Khushi had been unaware of anything except the incredible lightness she felt all the way through her soul. And when the laughs had subsided, her eyes had trained on the man she held in her arms, the man who had still been laughing, his face alight with hearty, male enjoyment. Her own laughter had come to a complete halt, her wonder, wide-eyed and large hearted taking over as she witnessed Arnav’s first true expression of happiness. It was a vision she would carry with her to her grave, she concluded, right along with the vision of him and his magic.

And it had been that thought that finally brought an end to his laughter. He had leaned in and kissed her, whispered promises that she had now rejoiced in the knowledge of.

They had donned their dripping garments and walked back towards the Isle, smiling and in complete harmony with each other. Once back in their room, they had changed into warm, freshly laundered clothes and then without needing to check with the other, headed out of the room, towards the kitchen on the ground floor where Khushi quickly fixed them both two mugs of coffee and a leftover chicken sandwich each. Carrying the beverages and the snacks in a small box, they walked out of the Isle and towards the lighthouse where they were now seated, sandwiches eaten and coffee drunk.

“Do you really believe that things might change between us?” Khushi asked softly.

Arnav smiled. “I thought you were confident they wouldn’t.”

“I am. I am asking you.” She insisted.

“I definitely hope it will help us take things slowly.” He chuckled wryly.

As the meaning of his words dawned on her, Khushi felt herself blushing again. Rolling her eyes with an affected look of indifference which she was sure didn’t fool him, she raised her eyebrow.

Arnav sighed and absently caressed her forearm. “I don’t know. Sometimes I feel it will be just the same. And others…I guess we will have to see.”

Khushi pushed herself away with a frown. “Nothing will change. You wait and watch.” She vowed, almost as if she was throwing the challenge open to the fates. “How did you think of the answer anyway?” She asked, remembering suddenly that they had never discussed that part.

Arnav looked at her with a surprised tilt of his brow. “You said it to me, remember? You have to stop reading my mind. In Ireland.”

Khushi stared in wonderment. Would this man ever cease to amaze her? The moment wasn’t easy to recollect but it came to her nevertheless. It had been a moment laced with the edges of passion and a comment thrown carelessly about. And yet, he had figured it out, he had been the one to discover the answer. If this wasn’t fate, what was?

“And why do you think we couldn’t finish it back there?” Khushi asked, deciding to pick his brain, now confident that she would find all her answers there. She had a theory about why the magic hadn’t been able to cross the distance between them. Now she just needed him to…

“It can’t be done without the other two. Shay and Aditi – they need to be there. The story – the circle of fire.” Arnav answered.

Khushi smiled and nodded, glad that her own estimate hadn’t been off even by a word. “I think that will make at least Ally very, very happy. She would have hated to be in the sidelines. She has spent too many years there in her own estimate already.”

Arnav chuckled. “Yes, I can see why that is a problem.” A minute of silence later, he shook his head with an almost soft faraway look. “She is alright.” He whispered.

This time, it was Khushi’s turn to laugh out aloud. “Coming from you,…” She trailed away and closed her eyes as she leaned into his chest, reveling in the solidity of his person, the strength of his breathing and the gently warmth of his breath as it fanned her face.

 

 Author’s Note: Thank you all for reading and for leaving a word, two or like behind :)

Next update: Mar 27, 2014 – 9PM

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Chapter Sixty Nine: Because You Loved Me – I

Happy Birthday, Dad! I hope you NEVER read this

Book Three_Chapter Sixty Nine_Inside_1

You gave me wings and made me fly

You touched my hand I could touch the sky

I lost my faith, you gave it back to me

You said no star was out of reach

You stood by me and I stood tall

I had your love I had it all

I’m grateful for each day you gave me

Maybe I don’t know that much

But I know this much is true

I was blessed because I was loved by you

~Celine Dion~

The sound of a distant thunder clap finally ended the silent pretense of sleep that Shay had been toying with for almost an hour now. And though the sound of imminent rain was unexpected, it was not the object central to Shay O’Reilly-Gupta’s musings. Taking a deep breath, he turned around to face the beautiful woman who was sleeping by his side, one hand curled slightly under her head and the other just inches away from his torso, as if she had shied away from touching him subconsciously. And that broke his heart. To know that she loved him, had always loved him enough to never say a word and to know that despite being with him, some part of her still held back from reaching out, from asking what she deserved.

Shay’s gaze flickered to her face as a small smile curved her lips even as her long lashes rested peacefully against her lashes, covering unblinking eyes. Was she dreaming of him? Of their unborn child?

A surge of overwhelming protectiveness course through him without warning, a feeling so strong, it threatened to claw at his heart till it could do nothing but bleed. He knew what the emotion he felt was. He had realized he loved Payal with all his heart when he had seen her walking down the aisle, her eyes glued to his as something had exploded in his heart. And yet, knowing it hadn’t changed anything.

You and Payal, be to everyone what Shashi and I couldn’t. Show them all that love comes in all forms – as Anjali once and as Payal now.

But first, tell Payal.

Gail’s last words to him echoed in his ears as he raised himself on his left elbow and reached out to tuck a wayward strand of thick, ebony hair away from Payal’s face. As he did, he allowed his fingers to graze the smooth skin of her cheek.

How could he tell her he loved her? How could he let her believe that he was capable of loving her as much, if not more, a as he had loved another woman once? How could he expect her to believe him when she had seen what he had shared with Anjali with her own eyes, lived in the knowledge of that, years thereafter?

And Anjali? She had been the only woman he had loved for so long – the mother of his daughter – the daughter who in a matter of weeks had become the focal point of his universe? How could he face them both without them questioning, even silently, what could easily be termed as betrayal?

Yet, was any of the above reason enough to belittle the fact that he did love Payal and that she, the mother of his unborn child, the mother and friend to his daughter, the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, deserved to know? Hadn’t Gail’s death had only reinforced what the news of Anjali’s demise had sparked off in his heart? That life was too short to be wasted on things that couldn’t be changed – even his own guilt?

Shay took a deep breath and leaned in to place a soft kiss on Payal’s flushed cheek, inhaling her scent – cinnamon and vanilla – as he did. As expected, Payal’s eyelashes fluttered, tickling his skin as he gently moved away. He watched as her eyes fluttered open. She had beautiful eyes. Even full of sleep that was transforming before his eyes to gentle wonder, Payal Joshi’s gaze was enough to send his entire being into a tizzy. If the emotion that he had felt before had been overwhelming, the feeling that now gripped his heart was positively tumultuous. And just like that, he knew it was time.

“I love you.” He whispered as her pupils contracted and her lashes blinked back and forth in succession.

He waited for the words to sink in to his own heart as it joined the only other declaration of love he had made years ago. Oddly enough, the feeling was as liberating as it was real. Saying the words out aloud made him feel lighter than ever. And somewhere, he hoped and prayed that it was Anjali who had given him the strength to do this now.

He smiled, dispelling all thought from his head to focus only on the woman next to him.

“I love you,” He repeated, this time the words stronger than before, confident in their own essence. He watched as she blinked again as the realization of what he was saying pierced through the sleepy haze.

“You don’t have to…” She began, the large doe-shaped eyes worried and troubled.

Shay pushed himself up and pulled her up to a sitting position as well. He took her hand in his, absently fingering the engagement ring and the wedding band that lay nestled below it on her ring finger. He lifted his other hand and pushed her tumbling hair away from her face to reveal the long column of her neck. Immediately, a shiver went running through her body.

That much was enough for Shay.

He pulled her closer and kissed her on the lips. “You asked me for silence the day you told me you love me. Today I ask you for the same. Will you allow me to tell you how I feel? Will you allow me to tell myself – loudly – just how much you mean to me?” He said softly as he parted her lips with his tongue and found hers in a slow, languorous dance. The kiss was as erotic as it was packed with feeling. He could feel her yield under his touch as the other hand, slid down her arm and curved around her back, pulling her closer so that their bodies were touching. “I love you. I don’t know when I fell in love with you or if I love you more or less than you love me. But I know that it is the kind that I know will only grow stronger each day, as it already has since the day at the lighthouse when we made our own magic happen, since the day you declared you take me as your husband.”

Shay stopped as his voice stumbled, the emotion suddenly too strong in his chest.

“Shay,” Payal whispered, her eyes bright and brilliant as the doubt from before began to disappear. “You really…” She began and the tears fell from her eyes. “Sorry  -it must be the hormones – I don’t usually bumble all over…especially when you are saying…”

Shay chuckled as his heart swelled some more with love. He pulled her closer. “I like that you can bumble a little every now and then.”

Payal made a face and brushed her tears away. “It won’t happen very frequently, I promise you that.”

“Oh?” Shay asked with a raised eyebrow as he slid the shoulder off her large, faded sleep shirt to a side, exposing a smooth shoulder. “That sounds like a well disguised challenge.” He rasped as his lips touched her skin. “We will have to see about that.” He slid his other hand up her thigh, grazing skin lightly even as she sucked her breath in. He kissed her shoulder even as his other hand slid up to trail softly up her still barely curved mid-riff and up to her un imprisoned breasts. As he cupped her fullness and heard the soft moan that came from sensitivity heightened by her pregnancy, he felt her hands thread into his hair and pull him up to meet her gaze.

The mixture of love, desire and the confidence that his own revelation had brought with it, was as heady as the scent of vanilla and cinnamon that was uniquely her.

“I love you.” She said, her voice reverberating with strength, the same strength he had witnessed in her so many times over the years, the strength that made her who she was, the woman he loved.

Shay smiled and pulled her back into a kiss as they allowed the rain to splatter and splash against the windows, lost in the fire that was being kindled in their bodies to notice the glow in the alcove or the change in the elements around them.

—————–

It was the same loud thunder clap that woke Aditi up from her slumber too. Or was it the dream? Ally wouldn’t know but it was around thirty minutes past one in the morning when her eyes flew open and went directly to the door that opened into the balcony. The first few drizzles had already heightened to a steady downpour, strong and urgent. Aditi frowned and shifted only to find herself restrained by the arm that was curled around her waist. Involuntarily her lips curved into a smile, almost shy in the way the color in her cheeks deepened and Aditi rolled her eyes. If Aman knew just how much she could blush, he would tease her endlessly and then they would end up doing exactly what they had intended to do before unwillingly giving into tired minds and bodies and in the process falling asleep rather inelegantly – a tangle of limbs.

She pushed his arm away softly and quickly leaned in to place a kiss on his exposed cheek, pushing his jaw up to close his open mouth with a chuckle. But it was the sight of the slight red of broken blood vessels on his eyelids that completely broke her heart. In some ways, Aditi had been fortunate in the best way the situation could allow for. She had seen her mother’s departure coming. She had the luxury of letting that realization sink in and she had been given the chance to bid her mother adieu. Aman on the other hand, had no idea her mother’s death was imminent. He had not the chance to say goodbye and the loss had hit him hard. It was evident in the way his eyes had brimmed over during his eulogy and what had warmed her heart even more was the fact that he had not shied away from showing just how much Gail’s death had meant to him. She had never known practically that another’s grief could make one forget about their own. When they had lost Shashi years ago, in some way, it had pulled strings that held the O’Reilly-Guptas together, breaking many in the process. This time, not so. She had felt the resolve in everyone around her – Khushi, Shay, Aunty H, Payal, Aman and Arnav – to make this something that would bind them together. Maybe it had been Gail’s last piece of everlasting magic, after all.

Placing another kiss on the corner of Aman’s mouth, Aditi, slipped out of bed as gently as she could. She quickly grabbed her large night shirt and pulled it over herself before she padded over, bare-foot to the window which would…

Wham!

The open window next adjoining the door leading to the verandah crashed against its pane and Aditi cringed. Turning her head slightly to make sure Aman was still sleeping, she hurried and pulled the window close, leaning back as the rain followed her movement. Within moments, the front of her shirt was drenched and by the time she had the window closed and had spotted the dimly lit alcove in the distance, her clothes were dripping, making her shiver in the otherwise warm room.

One look down and she sighed in despair as she realized that she would have make more noise the process of opening her wardrobe and extracting something else to wear.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind, she felt herself being yanked and pulled up against a hard form. Blinking rapidly, she looked up to see Aman looking at her with intent that left nothing to her imagination. “You’re awake.”  She whispered raggedly, her breath now coming in short bursts as she realized she was pressed against a hard, rather immodestly dressed man who in all the devilish glint in his eyes looked like he could send her tizzying down the pleasure spiral.

“Of course. Would be an idiot to sleep through you looking like this. Remind me to thank the weather Gods.” Aman whispered back, dipping his head to kiss the slope of her breast that was exposed rather shamelessly as the now wet night shirt hung low on her torso.

“Aman,” She urged. She had intended the tone to come out as discouraging and yet it didn’t surprise her that she sounded like she was pleading with him to finish what he had started.

“If you want me to stop, you are going to have to do better than that.” He growled in her ear as he nipped it slightly.

“And if I want you to finish what you…”

Aditi didn’t get to finish her statement for the next half hour. And after that, she didn’t remember what it was that she had been saying, Lying sated and still trying to regain the normalcy of her breathing as rain hummed quietly against the brick tiles that floored the verandah.

Aditi looked at their interlinked hands and allowed her fingers to caress his as she snuggled closer to his chest. She savored the way he breathed in and out softly, a gently, vital sound even as his heart beat echoed in her ear. Their love-making had been as always laced with passion enough to make her scream out aloud and worry endlessly about the sound carrying to other rooms at the Isle. And yet, tonight, there had been a certain desperation that made her want to cry.

“I love you.” She said softly as she craned her neck to look at Aman’s face, not surprised to find that his eyes were closed though there was nothing in his matter to suggest that he was any less alert than he had ever been.

Immediately, Aman’s fingers tightened around her hand and he pulled it up and kissed them lightly, his lips still warm and soft from their shared kisses. She smiled and rolled over on to her stomach and looked up at him. At the precise moment, he opened his eyes, beautiful caramel eyes as loving and warm as his lips had been. She raised her eyebrow in silent question after placing a quick kiss on her chest.

He took a deep breath and held her hand against his heart. He met her eyes with uncharacteristic somberness – one that almost made her wish she had something funny to say that would put the twinkle back in those caramel depths.

“I wasted so many years being away from this place. Some days I would miss all of you so much…I would feel like taking the next ride into Goa and simply walk back in to your world – my world as it had been for eighteen years. I could have been here earlier. We could have been together..I could have been there for Gail as she had been there for me when I was younger. I had promised after Uncle Shashi’s death that I would be her son. And I..”

Aditi’s breath caught in her throat. In all her life, she wouldn’t have imagined this was what was going through Aman Mathur’s mind. The Aman Mathur who had held everything together, handled everything with such nimble elegance, that she had half envied him.

“And now. I am so scared. All this time, I knew that when we got married, when we became parents, Gail would be around to guide us through it, help me be the father I never had. She’s gone. She didn’t even have a chance to see us finally…” He stopped talking and closed his eyes.

Aditi simply let him hold her hand as she watched his eyes flutter beneath closed lids.

“If you want to push the wedding out, Al, we should.”

Aditi smiled and leaned forward to kiss him even as she held his hand tight between her fingers. “You are having second thoughts about marrying me? That’s not very good news.” She said lightly, using humor as the only tool she could use without completely breaking down herself. In the last three days, Aman had been her pillar. He had allowed her to cry, to mourn in the way she needed to. She needed to do that for him. She wanted to do that for him.

“We are already married in my head, Al. The wedding is only a formal…”

“Then it will happen as scheduled. My first reaction was to ask you to push out the date as well, Aman. But what purpose would that solve? If anything, Mom’s..” Her voice failed her on the word death. “If anything,” She began again, “this has only made me realize just how futile all these delays are. In fact if not for your juggling between your work and Goa, I would have suggested pulling the date up.” She said honestly even though the thought had only just occurred to her.

Aman opened his eyes again and smiled. “You are serious about that.” He said a second later as the seriousness of her own admission sunk in. And then he smiled. “I did it. I am shifting base to Goa.  Given the amount of work I do with hospitality, having a base here makes a lot of sense. And being close to Mumbai physically helps. ARC is my biggest client but I am hoping to transfer a lot of ARC related business to my partner. That way, I won’t even have to travel to Delhi that much. Once this financial year is over, it will be done. Officially and everything.”

Aditi grinned and placed a smacking, loud kiss on his parted lips, unable to control her extreme joy anymore. “You are…how did you get to be this wonderful?”

Aman shrugged. “I always was. You just didn’t see that part of me.”

It was enough to shut Aditi up immediately.

“Hey, I didn’t mean…”

But Aditi shook her head and smiled. “I knew. All along. After that kiss…If it hadn’t been for Papa’s…No…I don’t think it is fair to blame his death for what I did to the chance of us. I was scared, Aman. Of what I felt. Of what had happened to Khushi. Of what happened to Anjali. I know now why Arnav and Shay did what they needed to. But at sixteen – all I knew was to never give anyone that much power over myself. And I never did. No one ever stayed long enough to begin to matter. So you see…ironically, I made sure that it was always you. No one else ever even had a chance.”

“Al.” Aman said, this time putting his other arm around her and enveloping her in a giant hug.

“You think I didn’t know that you were jealous of all the boys I ever dated after and before that kiss. You think I was any less jealous of the girls you showed even a remote interest in? The truth is, the more I ignored you, the more difficult it became to continue doing that.”

“Is that why you made sure I walked in on you kissing Benji the afternoon before I was due to leave Goa for college?” Aman asked gently.

Aditi closed her eyes painfully and nodded, not trusting herself enough to speak and put her own childishness to words.

“And it worked.” Aman concluded a second later. “I stayed away using that one visual to help me tide through the last decade, the days when I would speak to Father Sequeira and hear him say something about the Isle that made me want to simply pack up and come back – even knowing that we might never be a possibility.”

Aditi shook her head as her heart broke painfully and self reproach consumed her. “What fools we’ve been.” She whispered to herself.

“I am not going to disagree.” Aman sighed and then forced her to look up and into his eyes again. “Not anymore. I don’t want to push the wedding out if you don’t want to do that, Al. I want to be married to you. And as terrified as I am, I want to have babies with you someday.”

Aditi smiled and nodded, tears threatening to spill over any moment now. “Babies? Plural? Why don’t we take one at a time and work from there?” She countered lightly.

“No way. I know I want at least three kids. And hopefully all close in age so that they…”

“So that they can drive us crazy.” Aditi drawled. And yet, she could easily picture herself with Aman, three children and smiles that never ended. She had never thought of herself in the domestic avatar, having long discarded any notions of happily ever afters. Today, however, was going to be the dawn of a new day. She could hope now. And so she did.

“I am hoping that we will have at least one pair of twins. Of course, with your genes, it will probably be girls – which would be perfect. Two little girls who look like..well me…you already have K who looks uncannily like a mixture of Khushi and you.” Aman continued, snatching Aditi away from her more somber thoughts to lighten the mood instantly, brightening everything them in the trademark Aman Mathur way.

Aditi chuckled. “She does, doesn’t she?” She could fee the pride in her voice and in that moment she realized, not for the first time how blessed she was. And she was about to be blessed some more when she married this wonderful man, she loved. Her first love. Her best friend. Aman. The man with molten caramel eyes  and a heart of gold. The man whose loving eyes were twinkling again now as he smiled down at her, his eyes dreamy and full of hopes, hopes that seemed to mirror right back through her own soul.

“I love you.” Aman whispered into her ear and Aditi smiled some more before she closed her eyes and saw her mother smiling at her. We’ll be fine, Mom. We’ll all be fine. Just like you wanted us to be.

Author’s Note: Next update – Mar 25, 2014

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Chapter Sixty Eight: Let It Go

Book Three_Chapter Sixty Eight_Inside

My power flurries through the air into the ground

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around

And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast

I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Let it go, let it go

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn

~Idina Menzel~

Khushi looked at their intertwined hands as their fingers threaded in and out of the crevices in between, warm skin against cold as the heat seeped from one to the other. She took a deep breath and sighed as her eyes burned and the memory Arnav had shared with her faded away into nothing.

“I’m sorry.” Arnav whispered and leaned into the crook of her neck.

Khushi closed her eyes and breathed in deeply again. “You don’t need to apologize anymore, Arnav. I…I am sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me by your side. I wish I had made the effort to…”

Arnav tugged at her hand and forced her to open her eyes, giving her no time to blink away the tears.

It was only when she saw the sheen in his eyes that the impact of what he had allowed her to see sunk into the depths of her heart, the one that had fallen in love with him as a young girl, the one that continued to love him for years. He had suffered, just as much as she had, more than she had. It was not just an apology – it was the worst kind of guilt anyone could live with. “I turned eighteen, became an adult but at the end of the day, I was just a mean kid, someone who had no business declaring anything that meant something, let alone the fact that I loved you. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t mean a word of what I threw at you. I wish I could tell you that somewhere deep down, I distanced myself to protect you.” His voice broke and littered around her heart in coarse whispers, like sand that sometimes flew into her eyes as the wind blew too strong. “I can’t. I meant everything I said. I used the words to hurt you because I wanted to. I knew what would be poison for what we shared and I used it because I wanted to cause pain. I wanted to…”

Khushi shook her head. “Don’t do this, Arnav. It doesn’t matter. I know we needed to see this together but we know more now, we are older, we are stronger….this memory should just be that…an unpleasant memory, something we needed to go through to be where we are today. I don’t want to spend the rest of our lives worrying about a what-if that we have no control over.”

Arnav smiled and leaned forward to kiss her briefly before he leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, his face drawn into tired lines. “The worst part is that the morning I said all those things to you was not the end of it. It was infact, only the beginning of what I would spend the rest of my life regretting.”

Khushi blinked away tears that hovered in the back of her eyes, her heart twisting painfully as she witnessed the boy and the man she had loved, without any of his masks – raw and uncurtained. She didn’t know that a part of her, the naïve fifteen year old that hadn’t grown up, had almost selfishly expected him to be the strong man he was always.

“Arnav, if this is about Lavanya and your..what they said to me at school, why you didn’t stop them,” Her breath caught as her words tumbled out of her mouth in a rush. “If this is about why you told them about us, the alcove.” The piercing pain she had felt as a teenager who had been laid open to ridicule was now nothing more than a dull throbbing in her heart as she spoke.

Arnav shook his head with a rueful half smile and opened his eyes. “It’s not that, Khushi. I cannot deny that what I allowed them to do to you was abominable. I hate myself for that  – I always will. But in all my life, the one thing that has remained constant is that I have never cared about what people think or say. That day, specifically though, interrupting and asking them to stop hurling all that at you – would have proved to them just how much you meant to me. It was a cowardly ploy but I needed to let them think they could hurt you to prove that you didn’t matter. Just like I needed you to know that you didn’t…The truth is that day I was fighting a war with myself, a war between the urge to pummel them to a bloody mess and the need to find another way to hurt you. I chose the latter. I am not proud of it. In fact quite the opposite but in that moment, for my own sanity, it was the only thing I could do. I had exposed my vulnerability to you. I could not afford to show that side to Lavanya and Jadhav. They had found a crack in the wall, in my ability to be unfeeling, the bastard who just wanted to have fun. And I needed to be that.”

Khushi heard the words that should have been no worse than a knife through her heart with serenity that surprised her. She knew he had just confessed to being a cruel, intentionally hurtful person, that she should’ve felt either anger or betrayal or at least satisfaction of having him finally admit his own guilt without the embellishment of pretty words or apologies.

She felt nothing but a strange sense of calm. And in that moment, she knew that she had finally let go of the past and the hurtful words that held up the last of the crumbling wall between them. And she wanted, needed, hoped that he could do the same. If they needed to spend a lifetime together, they needed to start without the shadows that plagued them. “It doesn’t matter, Arnav. It was a childish incident…When I think about it…I can’t believe I let that affect me enough to…” She closed her eyes and calmed her racing heart as the images of the stormy, grey seas that had swallowed Shashi Gupta flashed in front of her eyes.

“Khushi…”

She blinked and looked at Arnav as the burning behind her eyes pricked softly. And yet, it was the sheer torment in his eyes that twisted the knife she she realized was buried in her soul. He had seen the stormy seas in her thoughts. And her father.

Arnav let out a harsh curse, his voice broken and hoarse as he pushed himself up to stand and walk away from her towards the lake in long strides.

“Arnav,” Khushi whispered as she saw him stand tall with his back facing her, shoulders bunched in tension. She could see the ripple of muscle in his back even as he stayed still, palms clenched at his sides into powerful fists. She blinked and yet the slow glow of cobalt fire that seemed to radiate from him didn’t dim.

What if the storm was beyond your control because someone else’s magic was acting in addition to yours?

She watched helplessly as she heard his own admission from a moment that she had not allowed to progress to the pinnacle of revelation that she now knew was imminent.

I’m sorry you lost him to that storm. But it wasn’t just you. I know now. And I think I knew then too. Only…

Khushi shifted and then quickly rose to her feet, dusting the sand off her clothes even as her eyes remained fixed on Arnav. She took a deep breath, willing herself and him to calm down. They needed to get through this. And she needed to let him tell her in his own words. They had carried guilt for too long and the catharsis would be complete only when all was said and done. She needed to give it the time it needed. And in the process, if there were going to be wounds that bleed, she needed to be prepared for them. Hers and his.

She could feel the breeze begin to pick up gently and swirl around him. She heard the ocean calm into a gentle lullaby. And a few minutes later, she knew that her efforts were paying off because the tension in his muscles seemed to lessen as his shoulders relaxed and his fists opened, fingers closing and opening alternately in a measured rhythm.

She watched silently as he bent slightly to lift a pebble from the ground. He twisted his upper body slightly to turn and look at her, his eyes now shuttered as they had the ability to be in his most vulnerable moments.

He smiled, the smile of pain as he held the pebble out for her to see in his palm and then without blinking, turned back and flicked the pebble into the waiting lake, his movements bearing none of the gentle technique he had once showed her, even bragged about. Khushi knew then what he was making her see. She watched as the stone flew across the air in an arc, spinning carelessly as it did. And yet, when it hit the water, the lake parted and held it in its layers, the wind aided its slightness and the pebble skidded across the surface in seven neat jumps creating seven neat pools of ripples before the pebble sunk to the bottom of the lagoon.

On the outside, it was a magic trick a wizard was demonstrating with careless ease. And yet, it bore no semblance of pride. The act almost seemed defeated.

This was no gift. This was a curse worse than the one she had thought her family had lived with for generations.

“I think I knew that something was different from the moment I first hurled a pebble into water after witnessing someone showcase his talent at this. I think it must have been the summer before I met you. No matter what I tried to do, when I wished to see it skid like that, the pebble would. For the longest time, I assumed that it was just one of those talents you couldn’t explain. Not that I was particularly interested in trying to explain.”

Arnav stepped back from the lake and turned to look at her. “When I met you, the day you tripped and stumbled on top of me, I could hear every single thought that crossed your mind with almost shocking ease. And I knew, even in that dazed state, that you saw that too, that you seemed to read me just as easily.”

Khushi smiled despite the situation as she remembered the moment he was referring to how surprised she had been when she had realized he could read her mind.

“It happened every time I met you. Maybe it was even part of the reason I sought you out, despite knowing that everything about us was wrong.”

“It was never wrong. It was just…”

“Unexpected.” Arnav supplied with a short smile of his own, his eyes softening for a second as he allowed his gaze to roam over her face, lingering over her mouth, peering into her soul. “It was not what it should have been, Khushi. And I bear most of the blame for it. I was in no position to fall in love, to have you fall in love with me.”

She wanted to reach out and wrap her arms around his waist, pull his warmth into hers, maybe even allow the fire that always seemed to simmer beneath the surface to blaze through the shadows of yesterday till they disappeared into vaccum.  But she remained where she was, holding her hands back as he smiled at her, the look in his eyes reading her actions just as easily as he could read her thoughts.

“The drugs made it easy to believe that it was a figment of my own imagination coupled with your very expressive eyes and face. I didn’t want to believe it might be anything else. Definitely not supernatural. Not magic. And I would have succeeded…” He shook his head, “if not for you and my…mother”

Khushi blinked silently.

“You refused to let me forget that what we had was not normal – not mortal. I was okay as long the others were calling you names. I could ignore that. But when you…How could I ignore what you were saying, what you were claiming?”

 

We are supposed to be witches – magic people.

I thought you knew that we could…that we could hear each other’s thoughts?

 

Khushi looked at him sadly. “It was the truth.” She whispered, knowing that she didn’t need to convince him anymore and yet unable to withhold the heartbreak she had caused for him.

“I know” Arnav said, stepping forward to cup her throat as he bent down and kissed her softly. “But given what I saw at home…the pujas, the rituals, the astrology,…” His voice cracked. “And given what I knew happened behind all of that, what it was a cover for..”

Khushi closed her hands over his and tightened her grasp, using silence to tell him what words couldn’t without taking away from the moment.

“And that’s what makes it ironic that I finally accepted the existence of my own magic in the wake of what I did to you.” He said softly, the sheen in his eyes glimmering dangerously. “The moment I left you in that alcove, the rain…Initially I didn’t put it down to what I was doing…what I was feeling….”

Khushi frowned. “The storm…” She whispered.

“You remember the last thing you said to me before you turned away?”

How could she not remember? It was the only thing she had repeated to herself for thirteen years, hiding away all the hurt and the anger.

It’s not your fault.

 

“I had spent hours closing my mind to yours and yet when you said those words, I heard them as clearly as I had ever heard anything else.” Arnav said, stepping back and shoving his hands through his hair, tousling it further. The mask slipped away again as torture etched in every line that creased his skin. In a matter of moments, it felt like Arnav had aged years. “I was so angry, Khushi. And in my anger I discovered my ability to cause the ocean to rise in huge swells, my ability to whip up a tornado that seemed to channel my rage into the wind and the sky. I stood there at the edge of the ocean, reveling in the way the sea turned grey to black. I saw as the ocean thrashed about, causing havoc in its wake even as a single wave refused to touch my skin. I watched as the clouds thundered and clapped noisily. It happened for hours together and I reveled in the destruction that was taking place around me.”

Khushi closed her eyes against the fire that burned behind her lids.

Whatever it is, it is playing havoc with too many things outside of your body and your own. Look outside.

It’s not me.

The conversation Gail had initiated as the storm had worsened played in a continuous loop in her head. Her mother hadn’t known either. She had assumed it had to be Khushi who was causing the storm. Just like she had assumed it herself.

It’s not an unexpected cyclone like the weather department is concluding, Khushi. And it is linked to whatever happened with Lavanya. Ally didn’t slap her because she called you a freak. Even though all of you including Lavanya insisted that is what happened. You are not thirteen anymore. I know something else happened. I heard the whispers. You can talk to me, Kathy. You know that. I know I havent been half as attentive as I should have been all these months – ever since your father…

How many people had blamed themselves for what happened in that storm, Khushi wondered. How many people’s lives had altered irrevocably thereafter? And for what?

He broke off and stepped further away from her. “My mother – she knew. Maybe it was magic of its own kind that she had warned me of it just hours ago. She tried to talk to me – to help me calm down…She  even…apologized…the fear in her eyes…” Arnav shook his head and turned around to face her. “She called Gail a day later…but…she couldn’t make contact. It was only then that she became aware of what had happened at the Isle – about your…about Shashi Gupta.”

Khushi watched in abject silence as tears tumbled down her face.

“I killed your father, Khushi.”

“Arnav,” Khushi interjected immediately, unwilling to let him continue in the same vein. “You didn’t…”

“I caused that storm, Khushi. I did it. I cannot take it away, as much as I try to.”

The sheer agony etched in his face shattered her into a million fragments. Having lived with the same guilt for years, she knew just what it meant and yet it was now worse, much, much worse.

“It couldn’t have been just you, Arnav. I….I was upset too,..I added…”

“No, Khushi.” He whispered as she saw the blood vessels in his eyes burst and cast the whites into a dull, heart wrenching red. “The winds may have blown stronger because of your pain. But they gathered into a gale because I did it, I watched as it happened. I made it happen.”

Khushi walked up to him and threw her arms around him, crushing him to her with all her might. “No,” She whispered into his ear even as the tears from her eyes soaked his shirt. She felt him stand, his entire stance rigid and taut. Increasing the pressure of her hands on his back, she pressed herself closer, urging him with all her heart to let go of his guilt. She closed her eyes and thought of her father, using his smiling, serene face to allow her the strength she could pass on to Arnav through her embrace.

She allowed her hands to soothe the small of his back, cringing as she met nothing but a broken, rough edges of a soul battered by the cruelty of life.

“You loved him. And I took him away. I wish I could give him back to you. He deserved to live. The drug addict, bastard teenager that I was, should have been the one to go. And I would have…”

Khushi’s hands stilled and her heart froze, the blood in her veins turning to ice as she heard the softly uttered words.

She pushed back from his embrace and looked into his eyes.

She saw it immediately, the blurred images of him, lying broken and almost dead – the secret Gail had shared with her. He had been dying then…”The drug overdose – twice…” She whispered, horrified by the thought of how it might have been deliberate. “Oh God…”

He shook his head. “The first time…I didn’t do it on purpose. I smoked cigarette after cigarette to get rid of the guilt, of the pain of what I had done to you, to quell the urge to come rushing to you and apologize…It didn’t work. For the first time, the cocaine failed to help me forget.”

She stared at him blankly. “The deaddiction attempts made your body immune to the regular doses.” She guessed.

Arnav nodded. “It happened suddenly. Before I knew it, I had passed out. I…I lay there…without being discovered for hours before Anu…she realized I was missing. She had overheard our mother tell me about your father…she knew…somehow she knew…If she hadn’t come looking for me…”

Khushi stepped forward as fresh tears rolled down her face. She raised her hand.

Arnav’s face remained pale and unmoving. “The second time – I did it knowing, wanting to…And again Anu…it was she….She saved my life twice, Khushi. And I couldn’t save her. My magic killed who should have lived and it failed to save the one who needed saving. It’s the only solution, Khushi. Take it back. Take back what Ciara gave Morgan. I don’t deserve it anymore than he did. Magic is meant for those with pure hearts, for you. Not for me.”

“Don’t…”

Arnav smiled, a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, eyes that remained bloodshot. He cupped the back of her neck. “De-addiction and therapy helped, Khushi. You helped. I know that killing myself was never the answer, that allowing myself to drown in guilt is useless. But I am sorry and I am responsible for what happened. All of it. If that changes anything between us..”

She shook her head, swallowing the tears that clogged her throat. “No!” She said firmly. She might be able to blame him for hurling cruel words at her, for wanting to hurt her. But she couldn’t blame him for her father’s death, she couldn’t hold that against him. She couldn’t deny that a part of her would always wonder what if…but as she had realized in the last few months, what-ifs were not the answer to life. Love was. And she loved him just as he loved her back. When she spoke, her own voice was broken and rough but it rang aloud with conviction, she felt reverberating in every cell that made up her body. “You brought up a beautiful, happy child in Krishna. You built a business, employing people, creating value – helping people build better lives. You did…That is the essence of life at its purest – creation, not destruction. It is what my father valued the most, strived to be himself – a good father, a good human beingWords failed her. She wanted to tell him that he had done more than most people could even imagine. She couldn’t hold him responsible for her father’s death. Having spent a lifetime leading a broken life, she knew it would be difficult. “I spent all my life blaming myself for Papa’s death, Arnav. But can anyone be responsible for that? Is there anything that assures us that if what we shared didn’t create the storm, my father would still be with us? That there wouldn’t have been anything else that took him away?”

Arnav closed his eyes painfully. “The curse.”

“The curse.” Khushi acknowledged. “It was always real, Arnav. It was not just a story. It took people we loved away from us. My father, my grandfather, God knows how many men and women before that.”

Arnav stayed silent as Khushi’s words echoed around them, reminding them of what lay ahead. And so when he spoke again, Khushi knew he was right. He always had been.

“And so it is time to put an end to it. So that Krishna doesn’t have to live with what we do, what Gail had to, what Shay will –  the guilt of being the reason behind the death of someone we loved with all our heart.”

“And you think the answer is…” Khushi said the words out aloud, like they needed to be said.

“Is for the magic I carry to go back to where it belonged, Khushi. To you.”

She fell silent. When he had told them all about the solution in the parlor earlier in the afternoon, she had instinctively known that he was right. And yet, now it seemed unfair that he would be stripped of his magic because he didn’t believe he was worthy of it.

“Are you worried we will lose what we have if we aren’t able to read each other’s thoughts?” Arnav asked gravely, his face earnestly cast in worrying lines.

Khushi shook her head. “I told you it wouldn’t change anything between us. What we have is not because of the magic in our blood. It is us. You and me – the magic that we are together.” As she said the words out aloud, she realized that she believed it with all her heart. His magic, his heritage, his link to the curse had never been the reason for why she believed in him. Their connection had been enhanced by their ability to read each other. But it had stayed intact despite the years they spent not even seeing each other. She wasn’t going to allow doubts to mar their future. They had paid their dues, more than most people had to in a lifetime. Now it was their chance at happiness. And they were going to take it.

“I’ll miss this.” Arnav said with a smile as he leaned against her forehead. “I’ll miss knowing the words you use in your head, the strength in your thoughts when you believe in something, the shock that you rarely exhibit in your voice, the happy laughter that I can hear in your silence before it makes way to my ears.”

Khushi looked into his eyes and smiled. “We’ll have more.”

Arnav closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “We’ll have forever.”

Khushi nodded and pulled him into his embrace, her heart soaring as he finally gave himself to her, his body molding into hers as he pulled her closer and pressed her closer to himself.

“I love you.” She whispered. “I love you.” She repeated loudly, the words echoing around them.

And I love you.

Khushi heard the words in his thoughts and smiled.

Author’s Note: To everyone who still takes the time to drop in a word, to press the like button – Thank you. Your support means a lot to me – especially now.

Next update on Mar 23, 2014

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Chapter Sixty Seven: Careless Whispers

For exoticfizz – you literally asked for this!

Book Three_Chapter Sixty Seven_Inside_1

Time can never mend

The careless whisper of a good friend

To the heart and mind

Ignorance is kind

There’s no comfort in the truth

Pain is all you’ll find

~George Michael~

August, 1999

He watched as the pebble that should have smoothly skidded along the surface of the lagoon, sunk with an unmistakable deathly finality and cursed loudly, his voice echoeing in the silence as it cut through the breeze and bounced against tall tree trunks, rustled against leaves and tortured him with mocking laughter.

He glanced at his watch, his blood thrumming in anger.

12.05 a.m.

No! He shook his head and walked away from his position by the lake and placed himself where he could see the small clearing that led out of the alcove and hinted at the house in the distance. There were no lights twinkling in the windows like before. The house was bathed in eerie darkness, the silver of the non-existent moon too weak to make it shine.

Khushi

He whispered, the broken sound almost a plea.

No! He said again, this time aloud. She would come. He had asked her to come and she would and he would be able to forget about his mother, about the words that refused to stop ringing in his head, the images that refused to fade away into obscurity.

There is something you should know about your birth.

Magic.

You…have the magic, don’t you

You know you do…don’t you?

Khushi…

Why are you surprised? This…I thought you knew that we could…that we could hear each other’s thoughts?

He closed his eyes and squeezed them painfully till tears smarted behind his lids. The throbbing in his temples had now taken over completely, beating against every pulse in his body, making him want to scream. He knew his face had probably lost all the freshness that it had glowed with just minutes ago. He knew that his eyes probably burned and that the sunken hollow was beginning to hint again. He felt the despair in his blood, the images from that afternoon four years back haunting him with a vengeance.

Khushi, he whispered again, his belief that she would come deserting him for the first time that evening. He had asked one thing of her. He needed her today – his Angel and she…

For a second, the memory of the helplessness that had filled her eyes came rushing to the fore. He had asked her to sneak out of her home in the middle of the night to come and meet him. He had known even then that he was forcing her to do something she wasn’t comfortable with. But there had been an unspoken promise in her eyes as she had finally nodded. He couldn’t have been mistaken about that?

He ran his tongue over his lips, cursing again as he felt the cracked skin peeling to reveal rough edges. He could feel the raw, rancid taste as his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

He needed a smoke. It would all be okay if he had just one puff…then he could wait for her in peace, he could give her as long as she needed.

 

“There is a family in Palolem..Gail…O”Reilly…there is talk that they…that they are magic people too…”

She may know. People say she is a witch…her daughters are…Kathy…yes that’s the girl’s name…Gail may know what you can do…we should go…He said the weather…”

 

Kathy

Khushi.

His Khushi.

 

He clenched his fist and walked determinedly towards the small clearing. Maybe if he went closer to the house, he would see her at the window – like he had once seen her – playing the piano.

As he walked, the wind picked up pace, swirling around him, laughing at him in his ears.

Fool, the wind screamed. He ignored it. He wasn’t a fool. He loved her…and she loved him back. He couldn’t allow his mother to overshadow that. It didn’t matter anymore. His mother didn’t matter anymore. His past didn’t matter anymore. He had a future. He had a future with his…

Fucking fool, the wind laughed cruelly, howling in pain as Arnav sliced through it, not allowing the way the wind tore into his body to stand in the way of his pursuit. He kept up his speed, ignoring the way a million needles of pain erupted all over as he dragged along the sand. Khushi’s home was now visible more clearly and his eyes immediately flew to the first floor. He scanned the windows, all bathed in the absence of light, all eerily silent.

Khushi, he whispered and the breeze laughed with him, a tinkle in his ears, taunting, teasing.

He stood at the periphery of the large home, his eyes roaming around every window searching for her, a shadow, a ray of feeble light. He didn’t know how long he waited except that with each passing second, his conviction weakened and his desperation grew. His hair was mussed with the constant running of fingers through his mane, his stomach roiled and everything that could hurt, did.

And then suddenly, a small pale golden bulb came on on the right window on the first floor. It was then that he saw her – smiling as her sister threw her arms around her neck and the two of them embraced.

His fists clenched of their own accord, the blood that had been swirling in pain around his heart, blazing as rage fumed into the air around him. Here he was, waiting for her and she…He watched as she stepped back and said something to her sister, her eyes flitting briefly to the window as the other girl continued to talk, the light illuminated their faces lightly. The halo around Khushi’s head seemed to mock his pain and his anger even as she stepped away from the window.

Fool, the wind scorned in his ear, the laughter now just a distant memory as the elements screamed taunts at him.

Come for me.

Fucking fool.

Without a word, he turned on his heel and walked away. He needed a smoke. He needed his cigarette. He needed…He knew where he would find his fix and he knew he needed to be there now.

“People say she is a witch…her daughters are…Kathy…yes that’s the girl’s name…”

“We are magic people.”

Come for me.

He walked even as the memories screamed in his head. He could feel the veins burst in his eyes as warm liquid trickled down. If he allowed his fingers to touch his face, he would see blood trickling down his cheek. The fire in his lung burned through his skin, scorched his throat.

He needed a smoke.

Fool.

He was a fucking fool.

———————-

“Arnav,” Ali shouted boisterously, his voice booming against the rocks in Arpora. “How are you?”

Arnav grimaced as Ali ambled over and gave him a big hug, his eyes curiously glinting in the darkness. He could smell the coke in the air, he could see the dazed euphoria in his friend’s slightly blurry irises.

“Raizada” The other boy nodded, the mocking in his voice a lot more evident than it had been in Ali’s welcome. “We thought we’d lost you to the good side, mate.”

“Cigarette,” He croaked, pulling himself up to his full height. It had always been his biggest ammunition, the ability to look down at Ali and Jadhav as he spoke, exerting his physicality to aid his natural leadership.

Ali hurried and extracted a thin, white cylinder from his back pocket. But it was Jadhav’s deep set, almost cruel gaze that threatened his sanity. “I thought you quit.” He said quietly, the smile almost ghostly in his pale face.

“I’ve told you to keep the pressure off your pea sized dick of a mind.” Arnav threw at him carelessly and stepped forward to take the cigarette from Ali who was now watching them both almost nervously.

Jadhav threw his head back and laughed out loud. “I thought you were the one thinking with his…”

“Did your father discover that pot of gold finally, Jadhav?” Arnav said scornfully, his voice betraying none of the hesitation he felt. The truth was he had been the fool, the one to do exactly what he had always mocked in the others. The truth was he had been the one who had…

“My father might not have discovered gold, Raizada. But maybe you’ve discovered that you are a wuss after all.” He said with a snort. Arnav stared as Jadhav took a deep puff and blow the smoke out in ringlets, every move screaming barbs at him. “All that bravado – it was a farce, was it not? Deep down, you are the scared little Momma’s boy? Or should I say the pussy who…”

Arnav reached out and grabbed Jadhav by his collar, pulling him up roughly. The slight flash of fear in the other boy’s eyes was enough to reassure him of his position. “You might want to watch your tongue.”

Jadhav smiled and shrugged himself away. “Tch, tch, Arnav. Looks like the witch got to you.”

The anger was instantaneous. And with it came a wave of shame. Fool, the wind whispered as he felt the blood leave his face in a painful whoosh.

“Rajiv, please…” Ali whispered, coming over to stand in between two boys, his eyes nervously darting from one friend to another.

Arnav ignored Ali and stared at his other friend, his eyes never blinking even as everything his mother had said echoed in an endless loop in his head. He couldn’t blink, he couldn’t give up. He knew that it was essential to maintain the veneer of superiority. He needed it. His armor, his only defense against his own mistake.

It was Jadhav who blinked and looked away first. “Have that ciggie, bhai. You look like you could kill someone. I don’t want to die. Not before I can screw a Russian chick.” He winked as the leer rolled off his tongue. “Take a drag and tell us all about it. Tell us if she was worth it. And if she wasn’t..don’t worry. Lavanya is still waiting for you to take her” He winked again, his face easing into an almost friendly demeanor even as his eyes remained brittle.

Arnav took the cigarette from Ali and quickly lit it up, inhaling deeply as the smoke made its way into his lungs. The drug coursed through to his brain in a rush, giving him a stronger kick than he remembered. And then there was nothing but numbness. For a second, everything blurred and stilled. His heart beat raced as the pulse in his wrist leaped. A bitter, cold tingle spread in his body and rose dangerously to his throat. He had to hold himself straight to avoid crumpling to the ground, to avoid coughing. He couldn’t..Not now…

When he opened his eyes and took the second drag, the voices in his head had muted to soft inaudible whispers. No one called him a fool anymore. He could see Jadhav and Ali engaged in some sort of banter.

“Rajiv, shut the fuc…”

“Scared that Raizada will beat you to pulp for trying to take a chance with his girl?” Jadhav said, punching Ali in the arm. “If at all, Lavanya is still Arnav’s type?” The question was subtle but Arnav knew he was being needled.

He ignored the barb and took a third puff. He held the smoke in his lungs as he walked over and slid down against the large rock even as his friends continued to laugh out loud.

Khushi, the wind whispered in his ears but he was now long past caring. Nothing could touch him anymore. Not her.

Fool.

He threw his head back and closed his eyes. He was not a fool. He would not be a fool.

“She has been waiting for you for days now, Arnav. I think she really cares for you.”

Arnav opened his eyes, his heart lurching at Ali’s somber, almost worried voice.

“Lavanya,” Ali explained, his voice barely more than a whisper. “And no, I didn’t try to…Jadhav is being a jerk. I would never..In any case, she likes you..In fact she was here just an hour back, wondering if you were with us. She wanted to wish you. You shouldn’t have dumped…”

Arnav stared at his friend blankly as the words tried to sink in and failed.

“She said she’d find you tomorrow. She said you needed to be careful around that witch…”

Arnav closed his eyes. He could feel the bones in his hands crackle as he clenched and unclenched in murderous rage.

“Hell, she is sure that girl cast some spell on you…”

This time he couldn’t keep his words in check. “Enough, Ali. You want Lavanya, I get it. You are welcome to her.” Arnav said, knowing that he was being callous. Except it didn’t matter. He could see the disapproval flash in hazel eyes except this time it seemed to fuel his need to be cruel.

He took another puff, waiting for the rush to fill his brain and help him forget. A part of him wanted to run far far away from his friends. The other part, the part that had spent the last hour or so being tortured by memories and words, wanted to stay with Ali and Jadhav, take solace in the unfeeling, cruelty that he was capable of in their presence, the mirage of power that he had once been used to – before she had made him believe things that weren’t true, before he had believed in hope, before he had been a fool.

“Shut up about Lavanya, fucker. She is known territory. Raizada, come on…tell us…how was the witch girl – any magic there?”

Arnav’s teeth cracked against each other as his jaws ground in anger. He took another deep puff before he looked into Jadhav’s eyes. “There is no such thing as magic.”

————

He felt her presence immediately as the wind brushed against his cheek. Despite the haze in his head, the moment she entered the alcove was enough for his body to stiffen instantly even as a tiny sliver of hope begged for him to hold back what he knew he was unleashing with little thought. He raised his hand, allowing the slim cylinder to rest against his now withered mouth as he dragged the smoke in. He felt the smile on her face die even as the smoke refused to dull the pain in his chest – pain he refused to feel.

He heard her thoughts, the wild panic as she realized he was smoking and cursed again. There’s no such thing as magic. He repeated it like a chant, not caring that it shouldn’t have been this difficult if it was untrue.

He closed his eyes, still facing away from her. The image of him and Lavanya came bursting forth in a rush, throwing him completely off for a second. He opened his eyes, surprised by what he saw. And then it dawned on him. It was her memory of the time she had walked in on Lavanya and him. For a second, he felt like she had pushed a dagger through his chest.

No!

He couldn’t allow her to take over again. He didn’t owe her anything. She on the other hand…

A distant rumble echoed in the skies and he saw her automatically look up. He didn’t need to see to know that the sky was cast gray and dark. It had been the way since morning, a fact that he hadn’t failed to notice, a fact that seemed to hint at his involvement in the brief moments that he led his guard down in.

He steeled himself, crushing the need to understand cruelly as he turned around. It was instantaneous  -  the derision that was swiftly replaced with anger and then nothing except cold fury as he stared at her. As their eyes clashed, he brought his right hand up and placed the cigarette in his mouth, dragging the smoke in an open challenge. He needed to do this. For himself, he repeated silently.

For her, the wind whispered.

He watched as she finally trudged along, her hands lying limply by her side. The bleak hopelessness in her eyes as she finally came to stand before him should have torn him apart. Except how did anyone tear a broken soul?

“You are here. Thank you, Khushi.” He said with a sneer.

He waited for an answer, knowing that there wouldn’t be one. And in an instant, the connection between them broke till he heard nothing but silence in the space between them. It was sheer panic that forced him to speak, though when he did, his words were cold, his tone icy in sarcasm. “You aren’t going to wish me, Angel?”

His angel. Except she hadn’t been. Not when he…

“Happy Birthday.” She whispered, cutting into his thoughts with hesitant softness. There was a time when her gentleness made him want to cast away his own edge. Today, it grated.

“Always the prim one, Khushi.” He said, throwing the cigarette away carelessly. He saw her wince as the felted tip burned bright and with it so did some grass on the ground before the embers died. The air around them was enveloped in an offensive, pungent odor. He watched her as she took a step back.

“Sorry about that. This place doesn’t have an ash tray,” He said with a laugh.

“I wanted to come last night, Arnav.” She began.

The smile he had trained on his face disappeared and the blood pounded in his brain. He forced his eyes to lose the haze that threatened to spiral out of control and waited till silence resumed its rightful place. Except it was shortlived. The memory of standing for hours at the alcove waiting tortured him and without warning, he stepped forward.

“Make it up to me now, Angel.”

His hands were around her waist and before he knew it, his mouth was crushing hers. His tongue plundered her mouth, holding nothing back as he poured his desperation into the kiss, taking what he craved. His teeth nipped every bit of lip and skin he encountered. He ignored the fact that she winced as her teeth grated against his.

She pushed his back, clearly using all her strength and the fear he had toiled to keep hidden, reared its ugly head. He tighteneded his hold, pressing her closer, taking solace in the way her body molded against his. “I’ve let you go too often, Khushi. Not today. You made me do things I never do for anyone. Now it’s time for payback.” He said, leaning again to kiss her. Khushi thrashed in his grip and pushed her face away so that he met with nothing but air. He breathed in sharply as angry cuss words tumbled out of his mouth. He was forcing himself on her, hating himself as his fingernails dug into her waist, piercing the thin summer dress she was wearing, with ease. And yet, he seemed to be possessed with a need to hold her with him, take her in the only way that she would be his, the only way things like last night wouldn’t happen. The mere memory of last night, however, fueled his rage. One hand snaked up and grabbed her hair, pulling her face to his so that his mouth found hers again in a kiss. His mouth was insistent against hers, bringing blood where his teeth grated against her lower lip. She hissed and pushed at him but to no avail. His other hand clutched at her dress, stinging as he found the underside of her breast.

Maybe it was the sheer tremble of panic that shot up in jolts in her body. Maybe it was smell of fear around her as his mouth found hers again and ground harder. Maybe it was the silent plea in the way her hand curled around his arm, her nails digging into his skin. His grip slackened and she took that moment to push again, this time managing to break free. He stepped back, once again, forcing himself to keep his eyes away from hers for as long as he could.

When he finally allowed her to look at him, a wail broke out and echoed around them as the wind swirled and howled like a hundred dogs in pain. He could feel the fire in his eyes blazing, hiding cleverly the incinerated ash that he was, behind it. Her eyes seared into his soul – large, forgiving, making him roar in repressed anger.

“It hasn’t come to this yet, Khushi. I am not about to force myself on you. You aren’t worth that much effort. And effort it would have been.” He snorted. “You are nothing. Not a patch on those who you look down upon oh so condescendingly. You with your fanciful notions of right and wrong – following some little rulebook Mommy wrote down for you – probably just to make her own life easier.”

He waited as his words slashed across her chest and bled in his. She stared at him, hope evident in the way she scanned his face in a silent plea. It broke him. It needled him. And he continued to speak.

“But those you seem to despise are a lot more forthright about who they are. Like Lavanya. Like Ali. They don’t stand on some pedestal and judge me because they think I am squandering my life away. They don’t issue stipulation that makes their friendship conditional on me behaving like the way they deem fit. You and your idealistic jabber, Khushi. I was a fool to fall for all that crap. It wasn’t worth it. It was never worth it.” He threw the words at her carelessly but the feeling behind each word was clear as crystal.

“All this because I didn’t show up at midnight last night?” She asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

The muscle in his jaw ticked as he swallowed.  Her voice threatened to drown him, to break through the wall around him. He closed his eyes and forced himself to remember the image of her smiling in that window as he had looked on in desperation. “It was the one thing I asked for, Khushi. But you couldn’t give it. Did you look out from your window and laugh thinking about how I might have been waiting? Does it give you pleasure to know that you almost had Arnav Singh Raizada eating out of your hand – enough to make him wait like a stupid lovesick teen in the middle of the night for something as silly as a birthday? Did you tell your sister about it? Is that what gets you off – this sense of control I allowed you to have over me?”

“Arnav, you don’t…” She began but he stopped her. He couldn’t allow her to talk. He couldn’t allow her to explain. He didn’t want explanations. He didn’t care about rationality.

“Oh yes I do. You think I haven’t noticed just how much pleasure you seem to get out of having me chase you? And like an idiot – someone who couldn’t think clearly, I waited. Every time. Not any more, Khushi.” He bit out. “Not any more.”

We are magic people.

Magic.

The screaming echoes in his head helped him ignore the helpessness in her face, the shock in her eyes, the hurt in the way her body trembled. He could see her try to reach him, the way…No…he couldn’t allow himself to think like that, like their connection was…real…There is no such thing as magic. He needed to remember. He couldn’t allow people like his mother to screw with him anymore. Not even Khushi.

“Lavanya was right. They are all right about you and your family. You are a bunch of freaks aren’t you? Magic – isn’t that what you said you had?” He threw his head back and laughed out aloud. “Bullshit.” He spat out. “Is that how you get people to come stay at your inn? Magic? And once they are there, is that what you do? Magic? Is this playing hard to get, virgin act part of the magic? To have someone lose their mind with all the teasing?” He asked bitterly. “That must be it. No wonder there are so many women in that house. I can imagine the “magic” that goes on.” He sneered, surprised by the potency of his own poison.

Khushi felt her hands turn to ice as the implication of his words sunk in. “You are calling us whores?” She asked, unable to believe the venom that was spewing from his mouth.

A thick shard of glass pierced into the area of his chest. He shrugged it away, not caring the fact that blood seemed to seep into his eyes. “Well, well. We know the words, don’t we? Looks like the mask is slipping, Khushi.” His voice remained firm, something he took great satisfaction in.

“Why are you saying all this?” She asked. He could see the tears swimming in her dry eyes. For a second, her strength, her need to keep up her own walls, made him feel almost proud of her. But in the next moment, it was gone. “I thought you…I thought we had…You’ve never said this before. I thought you understood that people are just being mean. I thought you didn’t believe in…”

The skies rumbled again and the wind now started blowing hard around them. Her hair blew into her face in barely controlled fury. Her dress plastered against her. He glared, not paying heed to the fact that his energy seemed to seep out of him and control everything around – the skies, the clouds, the wind, the water.

“ There is never smoke without fire, Khushi. If the world calls you names, there is no way it is just because they are..mean.” He said condescendingly. “I am living proof of that. You’ve heard the rumors about me – all of which have always been true. Rumors are rarely baseless, Khushi. Not about me. Not about you. Oh I believed alright. I just didn’t think much of them because of what I thought was waiting for. I thought I would get lucky.”

He almost smiled as she frowned. And with his words he broke through the veil of innocence. “Oh, come on. I just wanted to sleep with you. But I am glad I didn’t. It would have been awful. You can’t even kiss properly.”

She did nothing but stare at him. He could see the absence of feeling in her defeated stance, the emptiness in her eyes.

A flash of light cast a strange eerie glow over them. The sky was now a stormy, thunderous gray, the rumbling more frequent than ever. Storm. She could hear it coming. From within.

“Why now?” She asked.

He wanted to throw his head back and laugh. Why, she asked. How was he supposed to answer? How was he supposed to believe that she made him want to?

“Because when you didn’t come last night, I finally realized that this was a lost cause. That everything I was doing was hardly worth it.” He said with a superior laugh. “Can you imagine the lengths I went to, to impress you? The months I spent chasing you. I actually broke up with Lavanya. I stopped smoking. What a waste.”

He saw her recoil and step back. Away from him

“But better late than never. Too bad though, Angel. You would have learned something from me. You would have thanked me later.”

He walked up to her and put his hand out to graze her cheek. He wanted to remember the texture of her cheek. He wanted to forget what it meant the last few months to have her in his world, the ray of devious light, as devious as magic. He wanted her to turn way, to reject his touch. But she remained still. He knew she was trying to speak to him, maybe even convince him that his was not him in his proper senses. It was that which pushed him over the edge.

“Oh come now, Khushi. Stop looking like the victim. You should have known better. You knew everything about me. And yet you came to me.  You put yourself up for all of this. Maybe that was the plan – to “reform” me and use that as a testament to your “magic”?” He said with a soft laugh, demeaning and derisive. “It almost worked, Khushi.” He whispered and then stepped away.

She remained silent. And he continued. For the last time.

“I think we’ve played long enough, Angel. Time to get back to reality. Shame, it didn’t culminate the way I hoped. But it was fun.” He said. “I’ll see you here again tomorrow?” He asked sarcastically and then laughed out aloud, the echoes of his almost manic laughter the final straw as the clouds rumbled and burst open, drenching them with a fury she had never experienced. He stepped by her side and blew her a kiss and hurried away from the alcove, killing the urge to look back, taking with him the tears in her eyes, the hurt in her heart. He knew he would carry that image for the rest of his life. It was the only thing he deserved.

Book Three_Chapter Sixty Seven_Inside

Author’s Note: How could I not have a chapter titled Careless Whispers!

Next Update: Mar 19, 2014 (and I can finally say this some confidence (deep breath) – the last chapter will be Ch-72 titled Love Will Find A Way!)

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Chapter Sixty Six: When The Last Curtain Falls

Book Three_Chapter Sixty Six_Inside

Even though I still sting from the words that you threw at me

There’s no pleasure at all from watching you fall to your knees

‘Cause the tables have turned

And I’m finally learning to live and forgive and let go

There’s no sweet revenge at loves angry end and we all need to know

When the last curtain falls with a final goodbye

~George Jones~

There was pin drop silence in the parlor as Arnav stopped speaking and glanced at everyone once before he dropped his arms back to his side and leaned back on the arm chair he was seated on.

Aditi looked on in sheer disbelief as Arnav’s words still hung in the silence, richocheting off each of them with fluidic ease.  She glanced at Khushi who was staring at Arnav with a sort of inspired awe, a small smile teasing her lips as the light behind her glowed stronger, making her look every bit as much magic as she was.

Khushi, Aditi whispered in her head and her sister blinked slowly before she turned to catch Aditi’s eye. Did you know?

Khushi shook her head. Not before today, no. But I think Ma did. They spoke about it briefly before…

“Well, you’ve certainly started out in the right direction, correcting what I personally think was the biggest mistake Ciara made three centuries ago, anyway.”

Aditi turned to look at Aman who had spoken with remarkably calm voice. Maybe being outside the inner circle helped put things into perspective because nothing in Aman’s voice suggested that he doubted any part of Arnav’s proposed solution.

“It makes perfect sense. Almost makes me wonder it wasn’t one of us who thought of it.” Shay drawled with a lazy smile as he continued to caress the back of Payal’s hands absently as he had been since they had settled down into the session. If it hadn’t been easy acceptance she heard in his voice, Aditi would have sent up a small prayer of thanks to the Gods for letting her friend have what she truly deserved to at last.

“And Gillie knew. She didn’t tell me the details but there was a twinkle in her eye when she spoke of it, sadness that she wouldn’t be here to see it happen.”

This time it was Aunty H who had chimed in, her voice lighter than it had been since the morning Aditi had walked into her mother’s room to find her aunt sitting with her mother’s cold, lifeless hand in hers.

And just as if she knew she was being too quiet in a room otherwise bursting with cautious enthusiasm and not-so-silent support, Payal spoke next in a wonderous whisper “Full circle. Of course…” – almost reminiscent of her step-daughter who was thankfully busy with school work to be part of this session and disallow Aditi her only chance to break the stupor everyone seemed to be in.

“Er…not to be party pooper or anything here…” Aditi interrupted, unable to contain herself any further. She had never thought of herself as a wet blanket. In fact, she was the epitome of cheerful hope if ever in the last few years. After all, despite periods of marked disappointment, had she not been the one who had kept up her search for her magic? Had she not been the one who had literally snatched her powers from fate and made the first step to hope beyond the curse. If now, she was the one who was going to halt the little party in front of her eyes that was cruising along like a smoothly oiled steam boat, wasn’t there good reason to take notice?

She waited for a second as the occupants of the room trained their eyes on her, the expression in each pair of eyes ranging from mildly amused to mighty tickled. She glared at the latter – her fiance’s molten caramel irises and narrowed her eyes at the former – her future brother-in-law’s equally molten chocolate.

“We seem to be forgetting a small little detail here, are we not?” She asked, clearing her throat once, ignoring the fact that Khushi’s eyes twinkled as if she had expected the spanner from her twin. “How exactly are we going to do….ermmm…this?” She waved her hands between Arnav and Khushi. “Because the story doesn’t exactly tell us how….does it?”

There was pin drop silence in the room again and just for a moment, Aditi felt like a heel for taking away the moment of hope with such cruelty. She looked around at the contemplating expressions on all their faces, including Aman’s usually mischievious eyes that had toned down in their natural glimmer.

“Yes, a spell of some kind would have definitely helped.”

Arnav’s dry, sarcastic rough edged voice cut through the beginning of melancholy and dispelled it as low rumbles of laughter erupted from different corners of the room.

Aditi narrowed her eyes in anger as she glared at Arnav. Did he have to be so self assured? She flicked her eyes over to her twin. Control your man.

Khushi grinned and shrugged. I’m not getting in the middle of this.

Well, too bad. You are in the middle of this…in fact you are all of…this…Aditi flayed her hands about even as Arnav’s chuckle deepened.

Are you angry you didn’t think of it before I did? He asked with a gently raised eyebrow, perfectly cast smirk.

It was innocuous enough to make help her calm down a little and genial enough to tease a smile on her lips. Aditi shook her head. I’m not that vain. She vowed, staring right at Arnav only to have Aman’s arm curve around her waist. In one quick motion, he pulled her closer and pressed a soft kiss on her parted lips, making her blush by the very public display of possessiveness. Aditi looked at Aman in question as he leaned back and stared into her eyes.

“Stop doing that silent conversation thing with him. I can handle sisterly bonding – not him, not like this,” He pointed out with nod of his head in Arnav’s direction. Then he leaned closer and whispered in her ear. “I don’t want to hate Arnav.”

It was enough to make Aditi laugh, aware that her face was flushed with pink warmth, that everyone had been witness of this little exchange and between Khushi, Arnav and Aman, they had successfully out maneuvered her concerns.

“Ahem…not to interrupt the cosy foursome…” Shay said easily, coughing with barely concealed amusement. “But she does have a point, you know.” He said as he leaned forward in his chair and stared at Arnav and then at Khushi. “How?”

Aditi watched as Arnav and Khushi looked at each other. For a second, it seemed like everything around them blurred. Not for the first time, Aditi felt like she was witnessing something almost celestial as she saw them exchange silent thought and words none of them could hear. It was beautiful, melancholically so to see them share something that they were willing to give up because it was their solution, their idea of righting a wrong. She knew then that the how was not important. They would figure it out and Shay and she would provide the access to the O’Reilly power the event needed, that it would happen despite them not knowing anything about how to proceed from here on. Aditi looked at Shay even as her cousin smiled back at her.

—————-

She could feel the difference in the air even as she stepped into the alcove in the dense winter afternoon, the silence around her broken only by the sound of the pebble hitting the surface of the lake and skipping its way through the water, creating soft ripples that even the breeze didn’t dare to create. She watched as the muscles in his back rippled and his arm flexed ever so slightly, the fabric of his navy t-shirt molding itself to his forearm, veins rippling along the length of his hand as if transferring the power to what she knew was a smooth, cold pebble held deftly between his fingers. And then it flew, invisible to her eye except for the next set of eight skippy ripples that it created before sinking to the bottom of the lake.

Khushi smiled and blew a small kiss towards him, giggling as the wind swirled and caught in his hair, playfully caressing his thick mane – enough to make him turn around and look directly at her.

As always the distance ceased to matter and everything around them came to a stand still. She saw the fire blaze in his eyes as he raked over her form, her own light-hearted playfulness forgotten as his gaze seared through her skin and drenched her soul with its open flame. She saw him let go of the third and last pebble that he was holding in his palm and step forward. It was only then that she realized that she had stopped walking.

Picking up pace, she glided over to him, now ignoring the changed alcove, the cleaner, neater, now manicured surrounding with nothing to mar its beauty. In that moment, she was all of fifteen again, giddy with excitement as she walked up to him, their gazes never dropping, never blinking.

Before she knew it, he was in her arms, his mouth caressing her lips, softly molding them in a kiss as she clung to him, aware that they were pressing closer with each passing second, bodies melded together as a strong breeze flapped against them. His hand curved around her neck, angling her face further as he kissed her thoroughly, with heat quickly rising between them in thick smokeless flames. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back as his lips grazed along the column of her neck. The slight stubble on his jaw scratched against her skin, forcing it to break out in raw invisible bruises that screamed pleasure in intensity.

“Too long…” He rasped as he nipped her skin and soothed it with a kiss. “The rain – once more..” He whispered throatily as his hands tugged at her floral top and pushed it down exposing her shoulder and the top of her breast. She threaded her fingers into his hair and pulled his head up, forcing herself to open her eyes and look into the cloudy mirror in his.

“We can’t…not if you were serious about wanting me to yourself for a few years.” She had intended the words to come out as a joke, but every utterance sounded like a desparate plea of frustrated passion, wanton in the way she secretly hated having to halt what could have been a trip to the moon and back.

He groaned and tucked his head in the crook of her neck, not bothering to pull her top back up, his lips still driving her insane with the way they stroked her skin, teasing her to the brink of dementia. “Witch,” He teased and she smiled at the word – once said in anger, with the intention to hurt, then said in wonder as the implication on him dawned and now said with rueful submission, the acknowledgement of inevitability.

“You can’t call me names. At least not yet.” She whispered as she allowed her palms to revive their memory of the contours of his body, deliciously warm even through the cloth of the T-shirt that separated their skins.

He looked up and into her eyes, leaning forward to rest his forehead against hers. He breathed in deeply, inhaling her scent as he curved his arm around her waist with one hand and pushed her hair back and cupped her jaw with the other. “One last time?” he asked her softly and Khushi knew she could do nothing but nod her head.

One last revelation. One last apology

One final barrier.

————–

Taking Flight, Five canada geese fly up through the fog at sunrise

August, 1999

Arnav splashed his face with water several times, the cold liquid almost refreshing in the way it washed away any remnants of pain and craving. Not that he needed any refreshing. He was literally buzzing with emotion, packed with more energy than he had experienced in a long, long time – and all this without the power of coke. He looked up into the mirror and smiled slowly as he realized that his eyes were brighter than ever, the sunken hollow under them hardly visible in the blazing light above the huge gilded mirror. He lifted his face even as water ran amok along his neck and soaked the upper part of his T-shirt and quickly pulled the face towel hanging nearby to dab his face dry.

Brushing his hair neatly and straightening his damp T-shirt, he glanced at the mirror one last time and couldn’t help the small smile that stole up his face. He looked…well…groomed…He had shaved after what felt like ages, his hair was tamed with a combination of hair products that he had never paid any attention too, surprised that his bathroom was even stocked with things like hair gel.

He could almost see the expression in those eyes as she saw him. She would be stunned, her eyes would widen in her face and then her lips would curve, almost shyly as she would realize that he had made the effort. She would know of course, that it was on her account because of the number of times she had disapprovingly shaken her head at him when she found him in his preferred state of unkempt carelessness. And when he kissed her tonight, her skin wouldn’t bruise with reddish stains as it had on previous occasions, torturing him with thought of having hurt her when she had done nothing but help him forget his own. Arnav smiled at the thought and felt his heart hammer in his chest. His hands automatically reached out to the pocket of his denims, patting lightly over the carefully placed bracelet.

He stepped back with one last glance at himself, chuckling as he realized that he was still wearing black – just as he was sure she would be wearing white. Darkness and light. Not for long – he breathed in deeply and walked out of the bathroom, ignoring the mess that his room was in. As he walked out of the room and in the small passageway that led to the stairway, he glanced at his watch.

11 p.m.

He still had an hour before Khushi would show up. He knew he didn’t need to hurry but for some reason, he felt so alive, so full of energy, of something he hadn’t felt in years, he just couldn’t stay in the home that had him caged for so long.

Arnav hurried down the stairway, taking two down at a time before literally jumping over the railing and landing on his feet with a goofy grin on his face. Even though it was dead silent around him, dark with only an occasional night yellow lamp glowing softly, in Arnav’s world, it was a bright, sunny day.

Khushi, he whispered as he patted his pocket again and quickly made his way across the large living room.

“Arnav.”

The voice came screeching into his world even as bright white lights flooded the living room, dazzling him into immobility. The incredible thudding of his heart slowed almost immediately as the thrumming in his blood came to a crashing halt as a cold, icy dread started to spread through his finger tips.

He turned around, the smile on his face long dead as the familiar mixture of revulsion and anger came seething back, making his eyes glow as ice turned to fire and blazed through his body.

He saw his mother walk out of the room, her hair neatly tied in a bun, her face as strained as it had ever been since that afternoon more than four years back.

“You are going somewhere.” She said silently, the edge in her voice audible even through the roar of rage in his head.

Arnav stayed silent, as he preferred to do when either of his parents attempted to speak with him. He looked away, blinking rapidly as images of her debauchery flashed in front of his eyes. It was a nightmare that he would live with the rest of his life. He had foolishly hoped that time would fade the memory into oblivion. He had been wrong. If only, the image had been clearer…a few seconds of memory tortured hours with their painful revival – every time…

He swallowed the bile that had risen to his throat and blinked.

“You look…you don’t look hung over…Anjali was telling me you’ve quit…Good…Your father…”

He looked at her as she said the words and then there was that familiar flash in her eyes again. Guilt? No, he bit back a laugh. Ambika Raizada was guilty of nothing.

“Your father,” She reiterated with a firm voice, reminding him subtly what they had been drilling down his throat  for so long, “would be pleased to know. After all, you’ve cleaned up just in time for your eighteenth birthday.”

He watched expressionlessly as she stepped forward. And this time, he saw the small flicker in her eyes, one he had never seen before. It made him curious. It made him want to run away.

Khushi…

His throat was parched, his mouth felt like dried cardboard as Ambika Raizada stepped closer and looked directly into his eyes.

“You look like him…”

It took him a couple of seconds to realize what she meant and then before he knew it, he had taken a step forward. At over six feet, he now towered over his mother, his eyes boring down into hers with anger like nothing he had ever known before.

“You dare…” He clenched his fists together, the need to pick up something and throw just so that it would shatter this illusion that was his mother, was so strong, his teeth rattled with the effort it took to keep his voice down. “Don’t…” He warned, his voice a low growl as he closed his eyes and stepped back. He could feel the vein in his temple throb violently. A window rattled and thrashed in the distance, making his mother jump as she turned her head in the direction of the sound.

Her eyes widened as if something had dawned on her. He stepped back and turned away, determined to leave before things really got out of hand.

“Wait.” She called out, the quiver in her voice too telling as he halted mid step. He wish he could just ignore her and walk out. He wished he could swear out at her like he had when he was thirteen. Except he couldn’t. She didn’t deserve it.

Khushi…

He whispered her name, tried to think of what he had been waiting for.

11.15 p.m.

He needed to leave.

“You turn eighteen tomorrow. It’s a big milestone. I…There is something you need to know about your birth…”

He stilled again, unable to avoid turning to face his mother, the woman who…She dared to talk about his birth…after everything. The throbbing between his brows resumed in full force, driving him insane with uncontrolled rage, rage he couldn’t let out of hand…not today…

“I know enough.” He bit out, hoping that the warning in his voice reached his mother.

He began turning away when Ambika spoke again. “No. You know nothing. You never gave me a chance…”

“I don’t give a fu…I don’t care for anything you have to say. Now, if I may leave…” He said through clenched teeth. He could still hear the teeth rattling against the pressure of grinding. Blood red smears floated in front of his eyes. He swallowed, his throat constricting painfully as he took a step back while still facing his mother.

“He wasn’t Indian…”

“Then you must have been very glad I don’t have non-Indian features. It would have made it rather awkward, don’t you think?” Arnav asked sarcastically, surprised that his anger was allowing him to keep an even tone when all he wanted was to yell.

“Arnav…”

“Enough…” he bellowed, cursing under his breath immediately. “I don’t want to listen to this bullshit…I am NOT interested. He could have been a Martian for all I care…” He knew he was shouting now but he was beyond caring. It didn’t matter that he could hear her footsteps. It wouldn’t be the first time Anjali walked in on a confrontation between him and his parents. But it would be the last.

“You may think very little of me…”

Arnav snorted but it didn’t halt Ambika Raizada.

“But I am still the woman who gave birth to you, to whom you owe your life of luxury. You will listen when I talk. Do you understand that?”

Ambika was hissing, her eyes blazing with anger just like her son’s. And yet there was something in her face that was different. If only Arnav had been in the mood to care,

“So suddenly you want to be my mother?”

“I am your mother. Don’t forget that. You owe m…”

“I wish I could forget, Mother. I really really wish I could.” He spat out and stepped back. This time he turned around and took two giant steps away from him. Through the corner of his eye, he could see a movement in the distance. His father…Avinash Raizada was travelling. Which meant that it was Anjali who was eavesdropping on the scene. He bit out a dry laugh. As if there was anything to eavesdrop…The yelling was echoeing in the room with a vengeance.

“Magic.”

It was enough to still him. Whatever it was, it was not what he expected to hear. And with a strange trepidation lacing the voice that delivered the word.

Once again, he couldn’t help but turn around. And in his mother’s eyes he saw none of the blazing anger anymore. They were urgent, afraid…almost…manic.

“He had magic. He showed…me…” Ambika’s voice was slightly wild as the air in the large circular room swirled and tugged at her hair. Arnav frowned and looked around. There was no window in the distance and yet..

“He said you would have it to…he said you needed to know…I was supposed to tell you when your magic showed or when I thought you were old enough.”

Arnav shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing. “Are you crazy? What the hell have you been drinking? Or is it smoking?” He asked, a strange, curious fear unfurling in his chest. Once again, he heard the crash of a window against its pane. For a second, it felt like the sound was his…”This is ridiculous…”

“There is a family in Palolem..Gail…O”Reilly…there is talk that they…that they are magic people too…He had known…I had seen them together once…”

Arnav wanted to step forward and shake his mother when the name finally registered itself in his head. O’Reilly…

His mother was still talking and this time, he heard what he needed to hear. “She may know. People say she is a witch…her daughters are…Kathy…yes that’s the girl’s name…Gail may know what you can do…we should go…He said the weather…”

And as if on cue the window banged against its frame once more, this time making Arnav jump.

He stepped forward and did what he wanted to, put his hands on his mother’s shoulders and shook her. There was something in her eyes, something he had never seen before…not that he had ever paid any attention to his mother…

“You…have the magic, don’t you?” She asked in a whisper. “You know you do…don’t you?’

 

We are magic people.

Witch

Freak

Why don’t you retaliate?

I thought you knew that we can hear each other’s thoughts

 

Khushi….

 

He stepped back..this was insane…his head was spinning, there was loud banging noises in his head. He felt nausea sweep up to his mouth…What the hell was his mother on about…and Khushi…

He needed to get away.

“Stay away from me…” He warned as his mother stepped closer.

He turned away, closing his mind forcefully as he hurried outside.

Author’s Note: Thank you for reading and for staying with me so patiently. The confusion in the first part about the exact solution – is intentional. But there is enough material to help you guess, I hope. :)

Next update – Mar 15, 2014, 9 pm IST

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Chapter Sixty Five: The Edge of Forever

Book Three_Chapter Sixty Five_Inside

With you

I see a lifetime with you

And if one thing is true

It’s that God knew someday I’d be standing

On the edge of forever with you

~Richard Marx~

“Do you think she is really gone?”

Khushi turned her head to look at Ally. Like her own, the tears seemed to have dried up in her twin’s eyes as well but the smudges of grief still marred Ally’s face with the same gravity as she knew they did hers.

Khushi looked away and took a deep breath. She closed her eyes, trying to see if she could see the last smile her mother had given her in that vision. Her eyes burned, tired with the effort of keeping awake but the image of Gail didn’t come into focus easily.

“Krishna says she can hear her.”

This time Payal had spoken, her own face drawn with lines that seemed to exaggerate her already tired state.

“Does that really happen? Can you both hear her too?” Payal asked softly, never taking her eyes off the horizon even as she leaned on the railing.

“Careful.” Khushi pointed out and pulled her friend back, unable to keep the twinge of worry from creeping into her voice. Her mother’s mortality had suddenly reminded her of how precious life was, how potent the fear of loss and the agony of having to survive in the wake could be.

Payal smiled ruefully and caressed her still flat stomach but stepped away, holding the railing with her palms as she looked at Khushi gratefully. “Thank you. I keep forgetting.”

Khushi smiled back and shook her head. “You look so tired. Are you sure you don’t need to see the doctor?”

Payal shook her head and shrugged. “Not other than my regular visits. I feel fine otherwise…And I was fine till…” She trailed off but Khushi knew what she was going to say. All of them were fine, more than fine before her mother’s passing. Now, there just seemed to be a gaping hole that none of them knew how to fill. “I feel like Aayi died all over again.” Payal said softly.

Khushi’s heart broke as she remembered the time Payal had lost her own mother to a long battle with cancer. Gail and Hannah had been mothers to her ever since. In many ways, Payal’s loss was almost twice as poignant.

“I am so sorry you haven’t even had a normal newly married life yet, Payal. Something or the other keeps coming up”

Khushi looked up at Ally who was looking at their friend sadly and realized just how true her twin’s words were, how she had failed to see what she would have noticed if she had not been so self-involved.

“I didn’t marry a normal family, did I?” Payal asked with a chuckle and then her eyes became calm, serene like they had rarely been before the wedding. “I have my whole life in front of me for romance, Al.” Payal vowed. “Shay has been wonderful. Hours before the wedding, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.” She said with a small smile. “And now, I cannot but revel in the knowledge that this is what I had always dreamed of. Sure, it hasn’t been traditional in the truest sense of the word, but clearly nothing about my life has been traditional at all.”

Ally smiled and gave Payal a quick hug, making Khushi’s dry eyes well up with little warning. She sent a small prayer up to the heavens, thanking God for the lovely people her life was strewn with, people who stood by each other in tough times, solid as a pillar.

“You didn’t answer my question. Do you think it’s possible that Krishna actually hears Aunty G’s voice?” Payal asked again as the three friends resumed their roles in the moment of companionable silence as evening splashed its colors across the skies.

Khushi nodded but it was Ally who spoke. “I can’t hear her. I don’t think Khushi can either” Khushi nodded again at Ally’s silent question, “But she has always claimed she can hear Granny Fiona. So I guess, it does happen.”

Khushi chuckled at the unwilling grumble in Ally’s voice. “You can’t blame her for not talking to you, Al. The two of you always had a slightly rocky relationship.”

“She was a crabby old bat.” Ally said fiercely and then quickly apologized up at the skies. “Sorry, Granny Fi.” She looked at Payal who was also chuckling softly. “You didn’t know her. She was miserable. Bring me this, get me that. Behave yourself. Sit properly. Ask your mother to serve food already. Those candies are not for you. Look how well-behaved Kathy is. Even Shay. Why must you be so pig-headed? If only your mother had listened to me about a whacking every now and then” Ally mimicked in a high, shrill voice.

Khushi clucked and shook her head. “She was grumpy but she was sweet.”

“She was sweet because you always did what she wanted and never uttered a word in protest. Kathy, the angel of God.” Ally shook her head.

By now, Payal was laughing out aloud. “I am not surprised she didn’t think you were God’s gift to Grandmothers, Al. Just listen to yourself. She was your grandma” Payal exclaimed.

“You are just lucky you had a lovely Aaji, Payalia. Fiona O’Reilly Abraham was not your average grandmother. But she did have the best ideas on the use of magic. Do you know that Madame Alannah was actually inspired by her?” Ally asked with a smirk.

This time both Khushi and Payal turned around to look at Ally with questions in their eyes.

Ally laughed out loud and shook her head. “She did it once. I was not supposed to know but I walked in on one of her sessions with someone from the village. She bribed me with ten of Mom’s best chocolate chip cookies to keep it a secret.”

Khushi and Payal looked at each other in awe and then turned to look at Ally. “You blackmailed her?”

Ally shrugged. “I didn’t need to. She was so scared of Mom and her finding out that she was doing these “sessions” behind Papa and her back. You remember how it was when Papa…”

Khushi waited for the piercing pain to strike as soon as Ally mentioned their father. She saw the stillness in her twin’s eyes in that exact moment. Except this time, the pain came, duller than ever despite wringing her heart with just as much intensity. She closed her eyes, only to see the only image of her parents together and smiling she had in her memory.

She opened her eyes, not surprised to see tears flowing down Ally’s cheeks even as Payal’s glimmered. Did the tears ever really dry, she wondered even as she looked up as the first stars broke out into the open, twinkling amidst orange flame.

“They are together.” Khushi whispered and the breeze picked up, swirling around them in a reassuring caress.

The three of them fell silent, each using that brief moment to send a wish of rememberence to the woman that Gail O’Reilly-Gupta was.

Ten minutes later, a small sound of someone clearing his throat, broke the silence around them.

Khushi didn’t need to turn to know that it was him standing at the entrance to the gallery at the lighthouse. But Ally’s words confirmed Arnav’s presence just the same.

“Does your magic include floating? How come we didn’t hear the stairway squeak under your weight?”

Arnav smirked and shrugged. “Maybe it does.” He responded mysteriously and immediately directed his gaze to Khushi.

How are you?

Khushi smiled at the concern in his thought and nodded imperceptibly.

“I guess we should be heading back to the Isle now, Aditi.” Payal said with a smile as she glanced at Khushi and Arnav before slightly nudging Ally by her elbow. Not that her twin needed any nudging, Khushi realized as she saw the twinkle of teasing laughter in Ally’s face.

Khushi rolled her eyes.

“How are you doing, PJ..I mean Payal?” Arnav asked, his face a light shade of dusty pink as he realized he had used Krishna’s way of addressing Payal.

“As well as I can be. Thank you for asking, Arnav.” Payal responded equally politely, making Ally giggle.

Once again, Khushi saw Ally and Arnav’s eyes lock in a battle of smirks before Ally and Payal began walking away.

“You don’t need to leave.” Arnav offered and yet the lack of an enthusiastic call to stay back was evident in his voice.

“Oh, we aren’t leaving to give you two time together. God knows, you had enough of that in Ireland away from prying eyes.” Ally said sweetly. “You are free. That means Aman is free. I have better things to time my entries and exits around new lovers.” Ally waved her hand around airily.

Arnav chuckled and shook his head even as Payal winked at Khushi and the two women hurried away, the stairway, creaking with meaningful playfulness as they descended in a fit of silent and not-so-silent chuckles.

“Are you sure you are all going to be thirty this year?” Arnav asked, his voice strangely louder than usual, as he walked over to Khushi and bent slightly to kiss her mouth.

“I heard that!” Ally’s shout floated up to their ears and immediately Khushi understood the reason behind Arnav’s raised voice.

“You aren’t any better than her,” She whispered as Arnav snuck his arm around her waist and pulled her closer.

Khushi sighed and leaned against his shoulder, sighing again as the warmth of his body stole into hers, making her shiver once before spreading like fire in her blood. “Thank you for helping with moving the guests to Aqua. Between you and Aman, you handled everything,” She said softly. Aman and Arnav had practically taken over all the practical things the family needed to care for as they left the cousins, Payal and Aunty H to grieve the way a loved one’s death deserved to be.

Arnav didn’t say anything but Khushi felt his hands squeeze her closer for a second in acknowledgement.

She closed her eyes as the breeze patted her cheek lovingly.

He rubbed his hand over her bare arm, silently urging her to talk in the way only he seemed to be able to.Ever since the vision of her mother bidding them adieu when they had  been on their return from Dublin to Delhi, Arnav had given her every inch of space she needed. He had held her close as she cried, silently through the hours on the flight. He had steered her through the terminal in Delhi, all the while, taking charge even as he called Akash to have Krishna travel to Goa in the next available flight. He had watched from the sidelines as she had hugged her sister and cried endlessly, their tears only growing stronger in shared sorrow. He had carried Gail’s frail body down to the living room and placed it in the coffin. He had silently taken over from Shay as her cousin struggled to manage the Isle and the preparations for the funeral and the memorial service. He had allowed Krishna to find her own outlet for grief as she stepped away from him and sought solace with her new family, the one that her Granny G had been part of.

For all of what he had done, Khushi had been silently grateful, aware that he was right by her if and when she needed him.

She closed her eyes and savored the feel of his fingers on her arm, soothing. In that moment, she could have been touched by the sea and it would be no different. The sea. Arnav. She smiled even as the words came tumbling out finally. “In some ways, I was hoping that this time would be easier. We had time to say goodbye, she smiled when she last saw us, she went with hope and reassurance that everything would be taken care of behind her. And yet, I feel like someone is tearing my soul to pieces when I walk in and see the chair that she loved so much, the picture of all of us from one Diwali in the past, the scent of her perfume that still lingers in the parlor…” She trailed off.

Arnav took a deep breath and continued to caress her arms.

“And the worst is I know the pain never goes away. When Papa died,” She sucked in her breath, “there was at least hope that something would be different in years. Now…I know it never will be,,,all that will happen is that life will take over and piercing loss will not have time to show itself every minute, like it does now. But someday, when I am hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree next year, when I flip through the guest register at the counter, I’ll remember something innocuous from the time with her and it will still be the same….the truth is I will miss her….always…”

He nudged her to lift her head and turn to look at him. The evening around them had darkened enough to reflect the glimmer of the early winter skies in his eyes. Khushi watched as he pressed a kiss against her forehead, her eyes closing again as she felt his lips on her temple. “Do you miss Anjali?” Khushi asked as they settled on to the floor of the lighthouse, using the small rug that Ally had brought with her earlier in the afternoon, to sit on.

“Some times Krishna does something or tilts her head in a way that is so much like Anu, I feel like she is right there in front of me, smiling like she used to on the few good times we shared.” Arnav confessed, his voice low and heavy as he threaded his fingers through her hands.

Khushi nodded with a wistful smile and leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes as she did. “Thank you.” She whispered, grateful for his presence more than she had ever been.

He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles softly. “Remember the day Aman and Aditi got engaged?” He asked softly.

Khushi opened her eyes to look at him and nodded.

“He told your mother he had found a way to be your son.” Arnav said with a smile. “You once implied I was jealous of Aman.” He said, holding her fingers, staring at their entwined hands. “That day…”

Khushi stared at him in wonder as he kissed her knuckles again. “The day I came back and asked her to meet me, the day I told her that my wait was over, that I was coming back…She looked at me with such…”He shrugged, “Pride…I think that might have been the closest I’ve had to a parent. I’ll never forget that”

She smiled, unable to hold back the moisture that sprang into her eyes again. “Arnav,” She whispered.

Arnav shook his head. “She was a good person. Good people should be missed when they are gone.” He whispered and pulled her closer so that she was resting against his chest again.

“She liked you.” Khushi said with a smile.

Arnav chuckled softly. “She trusted me to be with you. That’s more than I can ask for.”

Once again, silence fell around them as Khushi rememebered the number of times she had seen Arnav and her mother together, the number of times she had wondered what it was that bound them together. It was her, she realized. It had always been her.

“You are never going to ask me what she meant by that last statement of hers to me, are you?”

Khushi smiled against his chest. The truth was that the conversation had replayed in her head a hundred times since the vision. But in the events that followed, the importance, the weight of those words had diminished. Though, if she were honest to herself, she would accede that even if she hadn’t been mourning, she would never have broached the subject till Arnav brought it up himself.

“Why?” Arnav asked quietly.

Khushi shrugged. “When it’s time for you to tell me, you will. I trust that.”

“Do you trust me enough to let me talk about it with everyone else present in the room?” Arnav asked quietly.

This time, Khushi lifted her head and looked into his eyes. She could see the faint shadow of his thoughts, of the answer that he and her mother had seemed to know, share in secret. She smiled and nodded. “I trust you.”

“It may change things …” Arnav began and Khushi shook her head resolutely.

“No. It won’t.”

Arnav looked at her, doubts lingering in his eyes as the clouds rumbled in the distance.

“I trust you.” She repeated with a smile.

—————-

Despite the day that it had been , it ended. And with morning came another day filled with activities that kept them on their toes, tugging at their emotions as it rolled by. It was past noon when they finally settled down in the small parlor with the usual cups of coffee, the discussion low and muted as light conversation remained spattered in the early afternoon. Sunlight streamed in through the window in generous dollops even as memories, tears, reminiscent smile, thoughtful words lingered. The memorial service for Gail O’Reilly Gupta had been scheduled for earlier in the day followed by lunch which had been taken care of by Shay and Hannah with no help from anyone else. The number of people who had attended the service at the Isle had been heartwarming but when she thought about it, it made sense that even those who had interacted with Gail not more than once or twice over the years, had taken the time to pay their respects.

The scent of the strong bitter brew mixed with the fading aroma of incense made the air heavier than it needed to be and yet the room was buzzing with anticipation, with almost every one present, glancing furtively at Arnav and Khushi to kick off the session.

“We seem to be doing a lot of this lately, haven’t we?” Aman whispered as he plonked himself next to Khushi on the couch. “We missed you at the last one, though.”

Khushi turned around and smiled. “You look tired.” She said softly, noticing the way his eyes drooped, his face drawn with the strain of all the running around that the men had been doing.

Aman shrugged and sipped his coffee. “As long as the service was…”

“It was beautiful. Simple and elegant just the way Ma would have liked.” Khushi reassured him, placing her hand on Aman’s. “And your eulogy – Ma must be so proud.”

Aman smiled and looked away. It had been a rare sight to see Aman Mathur with his guard down, with his voice leaden with grief. But when he had stepped in front of the audience to talk about Gail, when he had addressed her as the mother he never knew, there had been not a single dry eye in the crowd. In that moment, Khushi was sure that she had felt Gail’s tears in her eyes, just like she did now.

Shaking herself out of the shroud of sorrow that threatened to take over the brilliance of the day, she smiled.

“But since you’ve demonstrated how well you do at organizing events, I think you might be planning all of your wedding on your own.” Khushi teased lightly.

Aman chuckled and sipped some more of his brew. He fell silent a second later, cradling the mug between his palms, as if using the warmth to make up his mind. “I think we might push the wedding out for a bit. I don’t want to do it when Al is…”

Khushi looked at him sadly and smiled. She turned to look at Ally who was talking to Arnav, the two of them strangely at ease with each other. Arnav had insisted on keeping the Isle guests away slightly longer to allow the family to try and ease their way back into the schedule. As was expected, he found his idea opposed rather vehemently by Ally who had strangely inherited Gail’s ideas about what was proper and what wasn’t. Knowing that she would be steam rollered by both of them, Khushi had stayed away from the discussion much to Ally’s frustration and Arnav’s amusement.

“Ma would not have wanted you to delay anything on her account.” Khushi offered softly. “Especially something that she was so happy for.”

Aman looked at her and smiled.  “At time, you look so much like her….” He said and shook his head. “I’ll talk to Al. You tell me about your trip to Ireland and well…” He jerked his head towards Arnav. “Him.”

Khushi smiled, not even bothering to hide the soft blush that stole up her cheeks.

“That man has a way with the women I love.” Aman sighed. “Speaking of which, I think Ally is going to kill him.”

This time Khushi couldn’t help but chuckle. “They are quite a pair.” She said, watching as Arnav replied to Ally’s question. She couldn’t hear the discussion but she was sure he was being too calm and composed for Ally’s liking. Once again, she shook her head.

“They are. Every time I think of Niamh and Morgan from that story, there is no one else I can picture.” Aman confessed, his eyes staying put on Ally’s form.

Khushi smiled in response and picked up her coffee mug.

“That is what this is about, isn’t it? The curse?” Aman asked finally.

Khushi gulped down the coffee, thankful for its power as it filled her with renewed energy. She would need it, she realized as the importance of this small meeting sank in once again. “Yes.” She whispered and Arnav turned around to look at her, their eyes meeting across the room as everything came to a stand still.

He nodded at her and she excused herself from Aman’s company, just as Ally excused herself from Arnav’s. The sisters met mid-way and smiled at each other.

Finally. They whispered together and resumed their rightful places.

Author’s Note: At the risk of chappals, groans and sighs at the end that never seems to approach – looks like we will see the magic seventy number after all.

Next update: March 11, 2013, 9pm IST

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