The following day, Anika decided to return to school after all Shivaay had said he would be busy with a meeting. She had arranged for a child care service while she was at work.
Finding the childcare centre had been easy but leaving Shivani there was the tougher part. She was howling as I passed her to care taker. She held out her arms.
“Don’t worry, Miss. Raichand.” The carer tried to assure me. But my little girl was crying. “She’ll settle down once you leave. They all do.”
Others may. But this was my girl. Shivani’s little face was bright red with tears spilling over her cheeks. Her desperate wails increasing in volume.
“Maybe I should call work and tell them I can’t make it.” I said nervously.
“Of course you shouldn’t.” the woman said. “She’ll be fine. I’ll take her to look at the toys while you leave. Feel free to phone as soon as you get to work but I am sure you’ve got nothing to worry about. Come on, Shivani.” she told Shivani with a smile. “Let’s go and look at the nice teddy bears over here.”
I could here her cries as I made my way out. My heart squeezed in aguish at the thought of Annie crying till I got her. But I had to protect her, for it was obvious that my little girl considered me to be her mother. If Shivaay were to find out who I really was now, Shivani would be the one to suffer, for I felt sure he would evict me from the child’s life as soon as he possibly could.
The Pre-school was a few blocks away. I had to drag my legs towards the school. How the hell did mothers deal with leaving their kids in schools and sending them halfway across the globe.
I love my job but I love my baby more. If the push came to show that I would have to quit work for Shivi, I would swallow my pride and accept the allowance from Shivaay.
“Hi Anika.” Nia Chauhan, the principal of the school greeted.
“Hi Nia.” Nia looked around horrified.
“Anika, I may be your best friend from childhood but here I am your boss. Come to my office, we have to talk about your absence. Zoe said that you called in sick.” She hissed.
Nia Chauhan, my best friend from pre-school had been the one to offer me the job. She knew about Annie, my fears, my dreams everything. She had pulled me from any bad influence. Her parents were in her life. She had a huge family yet she had kept in contact with a nobody like me.
I followed her like I was going to get scolded or something.
As soon as she closed the door, she looked concerned.
“Are you OK now?” She came and sat next to me abandoning her so-called Principal chair.
I slowly shook my head.
She held my face. “Don’t tell me that useless sister of yours is troubling you again.” She said angrily. “I saw her latest conquest. It is all over E-star.”
My eyes went wide. Nia’s face went pale. “You did not know, did you?”
I shook my head. She went behind her table and took out a magazine. She handed it to me.
I almost choked when I looked down at the article.
There was a photograph of Annie outside one of New York’s best known casino, dressed in a revealing dress that left little to the imagination, her arms flung around the neck of well known golf personality who had dubious reputation around women. The caption hinted that, according to casino staff sources, last Friday night Annie and her male escort had engaged in a drunken noisy night upstairs.
“Hey Bappa.” I shut the magazine and shoved it at Nia. “This is just what I need now.” I exclaimed in horror. What would happen when Shivaay saw this.
“Are you all right?” Nia peered at me in concern.
I met her gaze. “I have to tell you something but you have to promise not to tell anyone else.”
Nia grimaced. “Sadly you know I have never told your secrets to anyone. You know that. I have always been mum about it.”
I grimaced. “That’s exactly right. Mum is what the world will refer to me from now.”
Nia’s eyes went wide. “Oh my god! You are pregnant?”
Trust her to think that a virgin could become pregnant.
I rolled my eyes. “Of course not idiot. Shivi is my baby.”
Her eyes went wide.
Then I started the story of my past few days. Nia’s eyes went wider with horror.
“Are you crazy?” Nia had gotten to her feet in agitation. “What the hell are you thinking? Shivaay Singh Oberoi will eat you alive when he finds out! You could go to prison or something!”
“What else can I do?” I asked in irritation. “Just had Shivani over to a man who has never been part of her life. Shivani needs me. Annie was going to give her up for adoption but this way I can keep her and give her the love she deserves. It’s a small price to pay.”
“A small price?” Nia gaped at me. “What do you know about this guy?”
I couldn’t help a tiny smile from creeping up my face. “I know he adores Shivi and she adores him.”
“And what about you?” Nia gave her usual no nonsense principal look. “What does he feel about you? Does he adore you too?” She asked in an annoyed voice.
“No.” I whispered looking at the crowd.
There was a short silence and I looked up to see her contemplative gaze trained on me.
“I think I’m starting to get the picture.” Nia said. “You’re falling in love with him, aren’t you?”
“I hardly know him.” I whispered.
You must feel something for him because, knowing you as I do, you would never agree to marry someone if you didn’t respect and admire them at the very least.”
Seeing her put my secret thoughts into words was like driving a stake through my heart. Yes, I did respect Shivaay. In fact, if circumstances were different, he was exactly the sort of man I could come to love. He had qualities that my prince charming would have. He was fiercely loyal and protective and his sense of family was strong.
“Come on, Ani” Nia continued. “I can see it in your eyes.”
“You’re imagining things.”
“Maybe I am, but I’d watch it if I were you” Nia cautioned in her motherly tone. “You’re not the hardhearted b*t*h your sister is. You are going to get yourself seriously hurt if you don’t take care.”
“I know what I’m doing.” I said dismissing any of her arguments. “Anyway, I don’t have a choice. I love Shivi and would do anything to protect her.” Dismissing any of mine as well.
“Sounds like you and that future husband of yours have rather a lot in common, don’t you think?” Nia mused as she opened the door. “You both want the same thing and are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to get it.’”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Telling Nia was a bad idea. She was seeing things in ways I had specifically tried to avoid.
“By the way, call the center, I know you want to check on Shivi. Also, today you can paint as the kids have gone to the animal farm and will be back in the evening.” She said as she stepped out of the office.
I looked at the phone on the table contemplating whether to call. Finally I decided to and rang up the centre.
“Hi Miss. Raichand. Nothing to worry your little angel is fast asleep.”
I sighed sending a silent thanks to Ganapati Bappa. I hung the phone and went to the art studio and picked up a canvas and placed it on the stand. I tied my hair into a ponytail. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what I wanted to draw. Suddenly Shivaay and Shivani came into my mind.
Painting had been something, I had started when I was 15. One of our foster parents had been an artist. Hers had been the best house we stayed in. She had realised how hard living with Annie had become for me and to relieve me of the stress, she had introduced me to painting. After we had been shifted from there, I saved every cent we got from our foster families to go for art classes. I still painted when I felt emotions clog up in me. Nia sometimes sold my work to her friends when the school needed money. I had got some letters from artists to come and intern under them but how could I leave my sister. Maybe I should have because it was with my protection that she could do all the nonsense in the world. She always knew I would protect her. Maybe I should have taken up Mr. Omkara’s offer last year. But now there was no point in thinking about that.
“Wow.” I heard a voice behind me. Nia was standing there. I looked at my canvas. Shivaay and Shivani looked so real. They could have just stepped out.
Nia sat next to me. “You know Anika, when I think about it, I feel Shivani, you and Shivaay were just meant to be. I mean look, when someone hears Shivani’s name, no one would think that it is not yours and Shivaay’s child.
That was when I realised that coincidence. Never in my wildest dreams, had I thought of such a thing when I named my princess that Annie had rudely rejected.
“Anyways, Anika you can leave now. Shivi, must be missing you now.”
I nodded and rushed off to the center.
I had not stepped into the house with Shivani when the phone rang.
“Anika?” Annie’s voice sounded in her ear. “Is that you?”
“Who else would it be?” I said tersely.
Annie laughed. “Well, for a minute there I thought you sounded just like me.”
I had to clench my teeth. “That is so not funny. You do realise that all because of your stupid actions I will be marrying Rudra’s brother in a matter of days, don’t you?”
“Lucky you.” Annie said. “I’m sure you’ll be more than adequately compensated. A billionaire to call your own.”
“His money means nothing to me.” I snapped.
“Good.” Annie said. “Then you won’t mind sending it to me.”
“What?” I stiffened.
“Come on, Anika. You’ll be loaded. We talked about this the other day, remember? I expect you to share your good fortune with me until I marry Raj. Besides, we’re sisters, twin sisters that too.”
I drew in a breath. “I am not taking his money.”
“Don’t be stupid. he’s giving it to you in exchange for marriage. You have to take it.” She hissed.
“I have no intention of doing so. He is giving me rights to keep Shivani in exchange of marriage.”
“Listen.” Annie’s voice hardened. “I need money and I need it now…so you better take it because If you don’t then I’ll tell Shivaay who you really are.”
I swallowed, my hand growing white. “You can’t do that. He’ll take Shivi away from me.”
“Do you think I care?” Annie stated and I knew she didn’t.
“How can you be so callous? You’re her mother, for God’s sake!” I cried in desperation.
“If you don’t take the money and give it to me I will tell him how you’ve deceived him. Somehow I don’t think he’ll take all that kindly to the news.” She threatened.
I could believe it, but this wasn’t about me at all. It was about Shivani. I loved her and couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing her again. So I would have to suck it in or tell the truth. But telling the truth would mean him simply removing Shivani from my custody and would no doubt be relieved that he didn’t have to bind himself to me after all. He would have no regard for my feelings as the child’s aunt even if I were to plead with him to allow me a place in Shivani’s life.
“I haven’t got any money yet.” I argued finally. “The marriage doesn’t take place for another few days. Shivaay told me I won’t get the allowance until I sign the marriage certificate.”
“Well, when it’s all done I want you to send me it. All of it. I’ll give you my bank details.” Annie laughed.
I put the phone down and a few minutes later, the numbers messaged in my phone made my stomach sink to the ground.
My sister had just sold her child.