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Rudra stopped at Soumya’s door to say goodnight. “So, is your bhatakti aatma at peace now? Now will you stop roaming the corridors at night with a candle in your hand?”
“I did not roam with a candle.” Soumya said unable to stop smiling. “By the way, since when do you call Aai, Aai?”
“Since this afternoon when she told me that she was very proud of me for being an excellent son, brother, and friend.”
Soumya’s eyes became very wide. “She did?”
“Yes. And I am not liking it that you find that so surprising.” Rudra said faking anger.
“No, it’s not about you. It’s about Aai.” Soumya said hastily.
“I know.” Rudra smiled. ” Anyway, we have a rather big day tomorrow. Go get some rest. And don’t dream too much about me.”
“How did you know…” Soumya realized he had made a general statement and she had given out her secret.
Rudra grinned, turned her around, pushed her inside her room, and left.
Soumya tip-toed to her dresser. The night light was lending a mellow glow to the room. The light was just enough for her to be able to see the objects on her dresser top. Thanks to Simran, it was perfectly organized. Therefore Soumya had no trouble finding an old, empty box that had once contained a pair of earrings she had bought. Soumya loosened the twist of the golden foil band on her left ring finger, just enough so that she could slide it smoothly off her finger. With great care, she placed the foil ring inside the container and closed it. “This will always be the most precious piece of jewelry I have ever received, and I will always keep it safe.” she thought lovingly. Then she got into her side of the bed, pulled on the covers, closed her eyes, and within minutes fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Next morning, when Anika came out of the washroom fresh from her shower Shivaay was already dressed.
“Shivaay, did Anya wake up?” she asked casually standing in front of him to look into the mirror.
” No, she is still sleeping, but why are you hogging the mirror. I was not done combing my hair.” Shivaay said miffed.
“Too much. You are a guy!” Anika cried. “How long does it take you to comb your hair? I have long hair, so I need more time! But fine, I’ll do it after Anya wakes up. You go ahead and finish your shringar.” Anika said starting to walk away.
Shivaay grabbed her hand and hugged her placing his chin on her right shoulder and looked at their reflection in the mirror. “Itni jaldi itnaa gussa? You go ahead and get ready. I am almost done, he said ruffling his own hair with his right hand.”
Anika couldn’t help laughing. “Achcha achcha. No need to mess up your style. I really need to wake up that sleepy head. She stays awake till too late in the night, talking to everyone.”
“Let her sleep. What’s the big deal?” Shivaay said still hugging her.
“Arrey , it’s a matter of habit…” Anika was in the middle of the sentence when there was a knock at the door.
Shivaay let go of her, and Anika walked over and opened the door to find a smiling Aashi standing outside.
“Did I disturb you bhabhi?”
“Of course not! I am almost ready. Come in.” Anika said bringing Aashi in. ” Your darling is still sleeping. Your bhaiya thinks it’s no big deal, and I should let her sleep. What are your thoughts?”
Aashi tried to control her laughter and excitement. ” Good morning Shivaay bhaiya? I think both of you should go for breakfast. I want to get her ready this morning. Please.”
Shivaay smiled. ” Anika, before she takes back that offer, let’s get out of here. Yes, Aashi, please undertake the task of waking up this baby Kumbhkarn, get her ready, and bring her downstairs when both of you are ready.” Shivaay gave a quick hug to Aashi and left the room to find Om and go downstairs.
“Fine. Let me know if you need something. Thanks Aashi. You are the best.” Anika said patting Aashi softly on her back, and left the room.
“Step one , done.” Aashi said with glee. Then she went over to Anya’s nook, where she slept in her little bed, completely undisturbed by all the talking. For a moment Aashi just looked at the kid. “God she is so cute! I don’t feel like waking her up. But then, I also want to listen to her and have her make my announcement. Uthaana to parega.” She thought with a sigh.
“Aanoo. Wake up Aanoo. It’s morning. Bhaiya already went to school.” Aashi shook Anya gently, ruffling her hair every now and then.
Eventually, Anya opened her eyes and yawned. She looked surprised to find Aashi in front of her, first thing in the morning.
“Aachi? Mumma where?” She said a little tearful.
“Mumma went to breakfast. I wanted to get my Aanoo ready today. I got new clothes for you. Can I please? Pretty please?” Aashi said kissing Anya’s forehead and making a begging face.
That was enough to change the child’s mood to her natural jovial self. ” Ok Aachi. Lessgo get ready.” She said putting her little arms around Aashi’s neck and hugging her.
Aashi scooped up Anya completely in her arms, gathered a few essential things from Anya’s closet, and walked out of the room talking constantly to the little girl.
“Who is Aachi’s favorite person?” Aashi asked playfully.
“Aanoo!” Anya cried merrily looking forward to seeing the promised new clothes.
In her room, Priyanka got ready to go downstairs. The events of the previous day ran through her mind as she brushed her hair. She felt good about the progress of her work.” I am certain that we will be done today.” She thought happily. ” We’ll just have to do an overview and ensure everything with the caterers. Simran has been a huge help…”
Thinking of Simran brought back memory of the lunch hour from previous day and she started to feel uneasy again. “No! No negative thinking. What will happen will happen. He is not bound to me. He has never given me any confusing signals. And she is a very nice, attractive person. I’ll focus on my opening and that’s it for now.” She thought taking a deep breath in and left her room to go downstairs hastily, not wanting to run into Simran again. Much as she appreciated the girl, Priyanka did not feel like running into the glorious, magnetic aura of Simran just as yet. “I’ll feel stronger once I have eaten something…toast, fruit, maybe coffee…” She kept her thoughts focused on food and walked looking down absent-mindedly mumbling in her head.
“Whoa! Someone is preoccupied this morning.” said a familiar voice as a set of hands held her by her shoulders. Priyanka looked up surprised to find herself looking directly at Shikhar who was barely an inch from her.
“Haan! You? How come…I was just thinking about…food…I mean breakfast then the remaining work for today…Sorry” Priyanka sighed.
“Hey! It’s ok. You were about to bump into me, that’s why I held you. Why are you worried? Your work is going great! I am sure you will be done today.” Shikhar said letting go of her shoulders but not increasing the distance between them.
“Yeah! I thought so too” Priyanka replied seriously.
Shikhar went to her right side and walked with her placing his left hand lightly on her arm. ” Besides, you have Simran helping you. You have nothing to worry about.”
Priyanka felt a hot flash run through her and she felt disturbed by the experience. “No! No negativity.” She cried silently in her head. Out loud, she said in a sullen voice, “yeah, I thought so too.”
Shikhar turned to look at her. The troubled look on her face confused him. Trying to take her mind off her worries he tried to change the topic.
“I am here this early because Om called late last night, and insisted that I come here for breakfast this morning. I am not sure why all of a sudden. But he wouldn’t let it go, so I came.”
“Bhaiya called you for breakfast? Today?” Priyanka looked surprised.
“I know right? When I am going to be staying for the weekend after your opening anyway. But I came…”
They had reached the dining room adjoining the living area. Shikhar greeted Shakti and Tej who sat in the living room, going through their phones. Then he walked over to the dining area with Priyanka. Shivaay and Anika were already there with the rest of the family except Om, Aashi, Anya, and Simran.
“Hey Shikhar! Nice surprise. Come sit.” Shivaay said happily.
Shikhar quickly greeted everyone and sat down. “Umm, actually Om insisted that I come for breakfast, so…where is he?”
“He told me he had to quickly do something before he came downstairs. Aashi is getting Anya ready this morning.They’ll be here soon.”
Shikhar nodded. “Soumya, all ready for your first day of work?” he asked pleasantly.
“Yes Shikhar bhaiya. As ready as I’ll ever be.” Soumya replied controlling her in excitement as she exchanged a glance with Rudra. They had still not figured out when to break their big news.
Everyone carried on with their chit-chat. As Priyanka hung around listening to various conversations, sounds of heeled footsteps made her turn around. She saw Simran walking towards the dining room, looking her usual fabulous self. Before Priyanka could think what she was doing , she instinctively hurried to the empty chair next to Shikhar and sat in it.
A little startled by the sudden action, Shikhar turned to look at her flustered expression. “What’s up with her today? I have to talk to her alone. She is like a nervous deer, all jumpy.” he thought.
Simran came to the dining room, greeted everyone, looked for an empty chair and finding one right across Shikhar, went and sat in it.
“How are you doing today Simran?” Shikhar asked casually.
“Oh great! How are you?” Simran replied brightly. ” How is the work for your NGO going?”
“Well. It’s going well. Thanks.”
Priyanka sat in her chair, looking at her plate, and prayed for mental peace.
“Good morning everyone!” Om’s voice interrupted the buzzing conversation.
“Hey! Where were you? Why did you insist that I come for breakfast today?” Shikhar said as he got up to give Om a quick hug.
“I had a good reason that I’ll tell you right away. But first say hi to Anya.” Om said smiling mysteriously as he moved aside revealing Aashi standing with Anya in her arms.
“Hi Anya dear! How are you? Good?” Shikhar said taking Anya from Aashi.
“Hayee Shika mama. Deeyar. Good.” Anya replied with a big smile. ” Aachi get Aanoo noo close.” Anya said, pointing to her cute little blue jeans with tiny pink flower embroidery all over it. Then she pointed to her short sleeve white top with puffy sleeves. “Noo also.”
“Wow!” Shikhar said, widening his eyes.” That’s a beautiful new outfit. What does it say?” He read aloud the glittery pink words on Anya’s shirt front. “Anya will be the BEST BIG SISTER” He laughed. “Oh that’s nice. Wait! Whattt? Really?” He turned sideways with a shocked expression, to look at Shivaay. “Really? Oh my God! That’s great! Wonderful! Congratulations Shivaay, Anika. Wow! That’s so exciting”
Shivaay looked very baffled. ” For what?”
Anika looked equally confused.
“For this obviously!” Shikhar said pointing to Anya’s shirt, not noticing that both Om and Aashi were now shaking with laughter.
“Anya is going to be a big sister so obviously congratulations to both of you and of course to the entire family.”
“Hain! Shivaay, Anika you did not tell me first?” Pinky shouted half jubilant and half angry.
“Arrey but this is not…” Anika had just begun to speak when Dadi got up and went and hugged her.
” Anika puttar, you have given us so much happiness and are still giving.”
“Dadi, but listen to me…” Anika protested.
“What is this Anika! You did not even tell me?” Shivaay said looking very red in the face.
“Offo, I would have told you if I had known myself! I am not expecting!” She said raising her voice.
By now, hearing all the commotion, Tej and Shakti had also come there. “What’s all this hungama?” Tej asked in a loud voice.
“Anika is expecting and everyone including Shivaay just came to know.” Pinky said loudly
“What? Well that’s good news. What’s the commotion about?” Shakti asked going over to Anika and putting his right hand on her head to bless her.
“Papa, this is not true” Anika said in a pleading voice.
“Then how come Anya is wearing that shirt?” Shivaay asked even more confused now.
“How do I know? I did not dress her. Aashi did!” Anika replied loudly.
“Aashi…” Shivaay turned towards Aashi to question her when he saw her laughing and very red in the face. He stared at her for a few seconds. Then he looked at Anya. He exchanged a glance with Shikhar and a smile broke out on both of their faces. Shikhar handed Anya to a smiling Shivaay and went and hugged Aashi. ” Oh my God! I might pass out with happiness!” He said as he let go and kissed the top of her head. When he turned around , his eyes were red and cheeks wet.
” This is why you insisted?” He said looking at Om.
Om nodded and stepped forward to hug Shikhar. Then he went and gave Shivaay a tight hug.
Anya struggled to get out from in between the two men. ” Out!Out!” she shouted frantically.
Rudra came running and hugged his brothers trapping Anya even more.
“Oooody chaachu! Out!” Anya shouted.
Rudra pulled back and took Anya from Shivaay. He kissed her forehead. ” Aanoo is going to be a didi!”
“Aanoo didi?” Anya tilted her head making her curls touch her right shoulder.
“Yes Aanoo! Aachi will bring a baby for Aanoo to become a didi.”
“Aanoo didi.” Anya repeated, this time with some pride. “Aachi bring baby.”
With brimming eyes, Tej walked over to Aashi, and patted her head.
Aashi hugged him and turned to look at Jhanvi who was looking at the two with barely controlled expression on her face.Slowly, each family member came and showered their love and blessings on Aashi and Om.
“You naughty couple.” Pinky said pulling Aashi’s cheeks. ” How you tricked us. But I am so happy. Time to prepare for another big event. Prinku, start designing baby shower dresses for all of us from now only.” Pinky said chuckling.
As the news sank in, everyone talked out his or her excitement and slowly started to depart for work.
“Priyanka, I was thinking of accompanying you today. Is that Ok?” Soumya asked walking up to her.
“Of course! That will be great Soumya!” Priyanka said secretly relieved to have extra company.
“I’ll go and get my purse.” Soumya said before she hurried upstairs.
Rudra noticed Soumya leave, and followed her. Running up to catch up with her, he was by her side by the time she was at the top of the staircase.
“Today is not the day to break our news.” he said walking with her.
“No. Today we will celebrate this incredible happiness that’s going to come to us.” Soumya said smiling widely.
“We can always tell our news in a couple of days ”
Rudra put his arm around her as they walked. ” I am coming to see Prinku’s boutique today. I’ll come around lunch so we can spend the afternoon together. Where is your ring by the way?”
“Stored carefully in a box. Come I’ll show it to you.” Soumya said as she held his hand and led him inside her room.
Downstairs Simran watched Shikhar play with Anya and sighed a little. Shaking her head, she looked for Priyanka finding her sitting next to Jhanvi.
“I am ready to go Priyanka. Let me know when it’s time.” Simran said walking over to her.
Priyanka nodded trying her best to smile.
“Bye Mom. I’ll get going. We are aiming to finish all work today. We might get late in the evening. But good thing is that Soumya is also coming and Rudra bhaiya will be there for second half too.”
Jhanvi nodded while Pinky cried gleefully, ” Oh my Mata! Pammi, Rudra is also going today. They will spend afternoon together. Verry Nice haan?”
Pammi just grinned giddily while Jhanvi held her head, Simran rolled her eyes, and Priyanka looked extremely confused.
“I am just waiting for Soumya. Then we’ll go Simran.” Priyanka said picking up her bag.
Shikhar watched Priyanka ready to leave and quickly took Anya to Aashi who was talking to Anika.
” Aashi, you are staying home today right. I need to ask you something.” he said handing over Anya to Anika.
“Bye Aanoo. I’ll play lots of games with you when I come to stay for the weekend.” he said planting a kiss on her forehead.
“Bayeee Shika mama.” Aanya said waving at Shikhar as Shikhar waved back.
Once they were by themselves and out of anybody’s earshot, Aashi listened carefully to Shikhar and nodded. Then looking at Simran, she walked over to her.
“Simran, can I get your opinion on something while you are waiting. ” Aashi said ushering Simran towards the dining area while Shikhar walked up to Priyanka.
“I need to discuss something about the NGO. Since Aashi is staying home today can you help me?” he asked with baited breath.
“Of course. What is it?” Priyanka asked curiously.
“I’ll have to show you some documents in my car. Come with me.” Shikhar said a little uncomfortably.
Priyanka eyed him with some suspicion but accompanied him anyway.
” Bye Om. Bye Shivaay.” Shikhar waved as he walked out of the exit door with Priyanka.
Once near the car he opened the door to the passenger seat. Priyanka looked at him with a perplexed expression.
“I’ll drop you off to the boutique. We can talk on the way. Soumya and Simran can come by your car. Text Aashi to let them know.”
“But why?” Priyanka asked still very confused. ” I thought the documents you wanted to show me were in the car.”
“Discussing things will take time. If you come with me, you won’t get delayed for your work.” Then feeling impatient he added, “Priyanka, please. Can you do what I ask without doubting me?”
Priyanka gave him a long look; then she got into the car, closed the door, and looked straight ahead.
Sighing with relief, Shikhar walked around, got into the driving seat, and, with a thundering heartbeat, drove away.
Phew!! Thanks for reading Everyone.Sorry about this ultra-long update. I waited till a natural turning point in the story, to end the update. I hope it’s not too rushed. Also, I have tried to proofread, but might have missed something. Sorry about that. I hope you will enjoy this chapter. Please leave a comment if you can ☺