Jessica looked at her father, almost on the verge of tears.
“I don’t want a new mommy.” She said looking at Radhika with fear. Rajaram was uneasily looking at Radhika and Jessica. He had anticipated some friction from his five-year-old daughter but the sheer pain in Jessica’s voice shocked him.
Radhika’s face was unable to hide her surprise at Jessica’s straight out no.
“But honey, I thought you liked Radhika.” Rajaram asked gingerly. He controlled his emotions and tried to be as gentle as possible. It was essential for him that Jessica was ok with this. She had already told Radhika that Jessica had the veto power on their relationship.
“I don’t want a stepmom.” Jessica repeated herself closing her eyes. Tears started to stream from her eyes. She kept uttering the same phrase punctuated by sniffs and gulps.
“But Jessica…” Rajaram started before Radhika stopped him. She kept her hand Rajaram’s shoulder.
“It’s alright Rajaram.” Radhika said and stooped to face Jessica. She wiped Jessica’s tears and spoke softly.
“If that’s what you want, I won’t be your new mommy. I am sorry that we hurt you like this.” Radhika said.
Jessica opened her eyes and finally a smile spread on her face.
“You promise?” Jessica asked looking from Radhika to Rajaram. Rajaram never thought Jessica’s smile would hurt Rajaram but for once, he couldn’t help himself. He steeled himself. Jessica came first.
“Yes. We promise.” Rajaram said.
“Yes. We promise.” Radhika said. She stood up and looked at Rajaram. Rajaram could see in her eyes the pain he was feeling as well.
“It’s alright Raja.” Radhika said, her voice on the verge of cracking up. Rajaram tried to convey all his love through the silence that was expanding between them. The last time he had felt this pain was when Jessica’s mother was gone.
“Yay!” Jessica’s voice broke the silence and brought back Rajaram and Radhika to the reality. A reality in which they weren’t together anymore.
“I’ll leave.” Radhika said wiping a tear from her eye. Rajaram nodded. He knew this was the last time he was seeing Radhika.
“Don’t resent Jessica, please.” Radhika said softly to Rajaram. Jessica was now perfectly happy and had already started playing with her doll.
Rajaram nodded again, facing away from Radhika.
“Jessica. I’m going. You take care. I love you.” Radhika said and hugged her. She tried to fill the hug with all the love she had for Jessica. Over the past few months, she had come to love Jessica as her own daughter. Leaving her was as difficult as leaving Rajaram.
“Where are you going? We are to go to the park. You promised you would take me today.” Jessica said confused.
“You want to go to the park with me?” Radhika asked uncertainly.
“Of course! You promised. See, I got ready for this too.” Jessica said and showed her the frock she was wearing. It was the same frock Radhika had gifted Jessica a few weeks back.
“You like me?” Radhika asked tentatively.
Jessica slapped her forehead like Radhika was making no sense to her.
“Of course. I love you. Why would I want to go with you otherwise?” Jessica said matter-of-factly.
“And you want me to stay?” Jessica asked.
“But you don’t want us to get married.” Rajaram added. Rajaram looked at Radhika and she looked as flabbergasted as Rajaram was feeling.
“Do you wanna share why?” Rajaram asked curiously.
“I don’t want her to turn into an evil-stepmom.” Jessica said as it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“So you are trying to protect her.” Rajaram asked, this time amused.
“Obviously. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” Jessica said confidently.
“Ok. So, let me get this right. You want me and your daddy to stay together but not get married.” Radhika asked smiling, finally catching up on the joke.
Jessica nodded in agreement.
“Can we please go to the park now?”
“Yes. Just one more question honey.” Rajaram said.
“How would you feel if Radhika lives here with us?” Rajaram asked.
Jessica smiled the biggest smile Rajaram had ever seen.
“That would be so AWESOME!!” Jessica said shouting at the last word. “Will you live with us?” Jessica asked Radhika.
Radhika looked from Jessica to Rajaram, incredulously.
“Huh! I… guess… Yes.” Radhika said laughing.
“Yay!” Jessica shouted and hugged Radhika.