“Why is he here?” Kathy blatantly asked, gesturing at Julian like he wasn’t there.
“Kat!” I gapped and lightly slapped her arm in warning.
“What? I’m just asking. Why is he here?” She pressed on. Not the slightest bit affected.
It was then my family looked at me for a response. Their studious and piercing gaze made me sweat. My head was spinning. How was I supposed to respond?
It took a moment, but I was able to choke out a word. “Well, he’s…ah… he’s here because…” I stuttered and cleared my throat before trying again.
However, Julian beat me to it. “Pardon my intrusion. I wanted to pay my respects since I’ve taken so much of your daughter’s time since she’d became my executive secretary.”
It was then my mother walked around Kathy and me. She offered her hand in greeting, which Julian take and briefly shook. “Mr. Hawksley. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She briskly paused and took a step back. “It’s Zoey’s job. We understand the importance of her work. There’s no need to be so formal and visit us to explain the situation yourself. Unless there were other reasons as to why you’ve made this sudden visit.” She hinted with a smile.
“Mom!” I nearly yelled in disbelief.
Not a minute ago, she was all for me and Ben. Then she found out he cheated on me, which might have shocked her. But here she was with a look of hope, glancing between Julian and I. Sometimes I don’t get whether her emotions were serious or not. However, for one thing, she’s on my side.
In the corner of my eyes, I saw Julian smiling in amusement. My mother’s intuition seizes to amaze me. I was caught in a compromising position again. I was a fool for feeding him the idea of meeting my family. Of course, Julian saw the opportunity. He had been too obvious how he’d wanted to make this meeting happen. And I’m foolish enough to believe it was all in my head. I should know some of his theatrics by now.
The sudden deafening silence in the room after my outburst spoke volume.
Then my mother spoke again. “I’ll just get back in the kitchen. We’d love it if you join us for lunch today, Mr. Hawksley if that wasn’t your intention.” She sweetly said. Sometimes I forget where my older sister got her tenacious character.
“Actually, it was. But then…” he trailed off when he met my gaze.
I let out a heavy sigh and nodded. “Please, Mr. Hawksley. It’ll be rude for your not to join us.” I sounded so monotonous my brother and brother-in-law started chuckling under their breath.
Julian arched his eyebrow. “Thank you for your enthusiasm, Ms. Curtis. I’d love to stay and join with your family for lunch.”
It was then Kathy started laughing like she got the inside joke. Jeremy and Mateo, even my father, chuckled along with her. Everyone stared between Julian and me like we were the lead stars of a soap opera, waiting in anticipation on what might happen next.
I scoffed at Julian, irritated at his response.
Julian’s answering smile only fueled whatever suspicion my family had between us.
“Will the two of you keep on pretending until one of you breaks?” Kathy remarked.
“At least you found someone better, after that prick cheated on you, Zoe,” Mateo added in jest. But there was a sharp edge to his voice.
It was then a bead of sweat trickled down my neck. My father didn’t know about Ben yet. Even though he’s the least expressive, he could be a ticking time bomb whenever it’s about my sister and I’s well-being, especially if it involved with men we’re dating. Any decent father would go berserk if their daughter is being played for a fool.
Without losing a beat, Mateo quickly detected my sudden change of mood. He didn’t live with two sisters and not learn a thing or two about women. So he didn’t say it in a round-a-about way and addressed the elephant in the room. More like pushed the topic front and center. If he didn’t, nothing would be said and it’ll lead to more drama and complication. He knew from experience from my sister and mine’s teenage dating days.
“Zoe, tell dad about Ben,” Mateo said with distaste. Everyone’s attention was back to me. “And what the heck happen?”
My dad interjected. “What’s this about Ben?”
Peering at my Kathy, she was no help. She looked intrigued about knowing as well. To my surprise yet again, Julian stepped into my rescue. At first, I thought he’ll find some topic to avoid the question, but then he started doing a retelling of what happened the weekend in New York. I was too awestruck he had the guts to even do it. I couldn’t stop him at all. I stood there like a statue. I listened with the rest of my family like I wasn’t the main character of the story.
“He what now?” Mateo interjected in rage when Julian got to the part about how we found out he was cheating on me.
“Oh, honey. I’m sorry to hear that. Are you okay? Where are you living now?” My father walked to my side, reaching out to give me a brief hug. “You should have told us. Matty and I would have gone with you to get your things – and maybe teach that child a lesson about morals and being human.” The cool and levelness of my father’s voice sent chills down my spine. He was serious.
“Thank you for your kind words, dad. But I’m good.” I firmly replied, assuring him.
“Even if I might be busy, Zoey, I’ll help out as well. But my skill is limited only on knowing how to cut his guts open.” Jeremy, Kathy’s husband, joined in as well. He was saying it out of jest but there was seriousness in his eyes.
“Thanks for the offer, Jeremy. But I’m all good. I got in a good smack or two.” I smoothly lied.
Julian interjected again. “Don’t worry everyone. I didn’t let Zoey out of sight since then. I can’t prove it, but I can assure you I got her back,” he paused and met my father’s gaze, “Mr. Curtis. No need to worry, sir.”
“Then I will hold you to that, Mr. Hawksley.” My father said.
“Please, sir. Call me Julian.”
He nodded and held out his hand. “She’s in your care, Julian.”
Julian accepted his outreached hand and firmly shook it. “Thank you, sir. I will take good care of Zoey.”
I glanced between my father and Julian in disbelief. It was like Julian was already asking him for my hand-in-marriage, and he was willingly giving me away. This wasn’t how I pictured everything. And beside me Kathy started giggling and nudging my arm, cooing sweet words how I got the best boss – which wasn’t really what she meant. Of course, everything wasn’t said out loud. But clearly, they all knew.
I sighed heavily. My family is something.
I was able to sit through lunch without getting any teasing remarks from my family. Occasionally, I got non-verbal cues and mischievous grins from my sister. But other than that, they were well behaved as I expected them to be. After our meal, I overheard Julian talking on the phone. I saw an excuse and went with it. I wasn’t sure who he was talking to but picked on the top of my head who he has planned meeting this evening. His family.
“Everyone, Julian needs to go. He’s meeting with his family today.” I informed with a second thought. Not even aware of how it sounded.
“Oh! So, it’s meet the family day today?” Kathy teased. And this was her first direct approach on the subject of my relationship with Julian since we finished eating.
“Yes, it is,” Julian playfully replied, before I could interject.
I groaned and rolled my eyes. “I’m not going with him. I’m heading back to the apartment.”
Now that I’ve addressed another unspoken news, I couldn’t get out of it. I was slowly digging my own grave.
“Oh yeah! Where are you staying now? I’m sure Ben got the apartment. I told you to have the lease in your name.” Kathy stated.
I peered around everyone except Julian. “Ugh… I’m… I… Ah…” I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m staying with April. You know that.” I scoffed, trying to play it off how unbelievable I sounded.
Kathy arched his eyebrow. “Right?”
“Actually, Zoey’s staying where my previous secretary was accommodating. The lease had been paid until the end of the year. So I offered it to her.” Julian cut in, sounding so real even I believe him.
“You could have told us that, Zoey.” Kathy paused and looked at Julian. “That’s nice of you, Mr. Hawksley.” She smiled in defeat. It looked like she expected a different response.
“I’m grateful that you took care of Zoey’s personal life as well, Julian. If it’s a bother, we’re open for her to stay with us,” my father informed.
I gave my family a loving smile, which they returned.
“You could have told us if you didn’t have any place to go to my dear.” My father said to me.
“I know, dad. Thank you for the thought, but I can’t commute that far every day.” I truthfully admitted. “But I’ll make it an option when Mr. Hawksley might kick me out,” I added with a jest.
“Like I’ll kick you out, Ms. Curtis.” There was a flirty edge to his words.
And Kathy, being her, easily noticed it. She chuckled under her breath and winked at me.
“Anyways,” I clasped my hand and redirected the conversation away from my living situation or any topic that’ll address my relationship with Julian. “We’re going. I’ll see you all next time.” I headed to my father first and gave him a brief kiss before going to my mother, doing the same.
Julian followed and shook both of my parent’s hand, giving them a few pleasantries to show his gratefulness.
“Good luck on your first meeting, Zoe. And you did well today, Mr. Hawksley,” Kathy commented, giving me a mischievous grin.
I grabbed Julian’s arm, seeing him open his mouth to give her a reply. “Bye, everyone,” I said again, cutting him off.
However, Julian was able to get a word out before he exited the living room. “Thank you so much, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis. It was lovely to meet everyone.”
As we exited the house, I stared at Julian who met my gaze. “What?” he asked.
“Unbelievable. Just…ugh,” I groaned.
“What did I do?” he feigned innocence.
I shook my head and got my phone out as it started vibrating, an incoming call from Jeffery. I answered on the second ring. He informed us he’ll arrive in front of my parent’s place in a minute. And as a promise, I saw the car turned on the curb and arrived not a minute later. As we got in the car, I was still not in a good mood – obviously – but Julian was ready for round two.
“Your family is such fun and lovely people. So just a heads up, though you’ve met Jensen and Kyla already, my mother’s not an easy woman to please.” He cheekily said.
I groaned again but otherwise didn’t say anything. I give up.
Julian gave Jeffrey the restaurant where we’ll be meeting his parents. I may not live a lavish lifestyle, but I’m not ignorant of how wealthy people live their lives. And hearing the name of the restaurant, I knew I was in over my head. This was out of my league.
“I think I'm underdressed for that place,” I dryly said, studying my plain top and navy blue slacks. I didn’t even bother wearing a blazer to complete my pants suit outfit today – since I expected to be somewhere in a less expensive place (like in April’s apartment, already in my pajamas and eating popcorn while we watched chick flicks). This was far from the afternoon I envisioned.
“You look fine, as always, Zoey. There’s nothing to worry. As long as you stick with me, you’ll be fine.” Julian smiled sweetly.
“Right? Since I’ve stuck with you, I’ve been in all sorts of trouble lately.” I dryly replied.
“Whoa! Don’t give me all the credit here.” He cheekily said.
I sighed heavily then finally smirked. “You’re right. I’ll admit half the blame was on me.”
“I hope you weren’t completely bummed out by all your misfortunes. At least I’m one of those you didn’t include to that list.”
“Depends on how today will go.” I smugly informed.
“I see. You have the upper hand now, huh? I should have met your parents last.” He sighed dejectedly.
I rolled my eyes at his remark. Whatever timeframe he had in meeting my family, it would all come down with the same result. Julian has a charm that makes you warm up to him easily. You’ll instantaneously jive with his theatrics. Even though I pretend to be blind throughout that lunch meeting, I knew well my family saw through our façade. The fact they’ve gone along with it stood a testament they’ve understood what kind of person Julian was – and they were loving him. It says a lot about who I am – and how doom I’ve been since I met him. There was no escaping the inevitable. Julian Hawksley was an unavoidable force I had no way of escaping. And I was trapped by his presence the first time I laid eyes on him – no matter how much I rejected the idea of it. He found his way in my mind, then slowly to my heart. Not long my family would find the same feeling.
But I’m not so sure I’d get the same greeting and acceptance with Julian’s family. When I met his younger brother, Jensen, and his wife. All I got are mix signals and different personalities. Julian and Jensen were the same yet different in so many ways. There were like thunder and lightning. They exist in with the same environment but had a different function in bringing all sorts of catastrophe. Julian was the thunder, who is loud and has a boisterous presence in a room. And Jensen was lightning, which you won’t see until he had struck – and sometimes he’s not aware how powerful his presence and words could be in a situation.
For instance, how this day came about. If only Jensen hadn’t said anything about his parent’s coming over so suddenly, I would have easily avoided this disaster. Now I have to admit my defeat. This was happening. And I should have done more mental preparedness rather than focusing on how to get away.
As the car stop in front of the restaurant, there was no turning back. Julian was kind enough to remain silent the rest of the drive while I straightened out my cluttered thoughts and gathered my wits.
This was the first time he spoke up since our little banter. “Are you ready for this?”
I looked at him dead in the eyes. “What do you think?”
He smiled and chuckled. “You’ll be fine, Zoey. Don’t fret.”
“Yeah, right. I know you’re loving how I’m cowering in fear right now.” I scoffed.
Julian held out his hand. Unlike before, I hadn’t thought twice when I reached out and accepted. He gave it a gentle and assuring squeeze.
“I have faith in you, Zoey. You won’t be here if I wasn’t confident.”
“I’m glad at least one of us believed in me. Because, truthfully, I don’t.”
“You’re the person I choose to be with right now. That alone speaks volume.”
“How so?” His words did its best to distract me, which I knew what he was trying to do.
He raised our hands, which he still held, and placed it on top of his chest close to his heart. “Because this had been beating this fast since I met you.”
My blood rushes through my cheeks, making me flushed. “Oh god, that so cheesy even for you,” I remarked.
Julian laughed. His playfulness eased a bit of the tension in my body.
“I’m glad you found that amusing.”
“Thanks for being a lame person for me.”
“No need to thank me. It’s all part of the job. And I’m all yours.”
This is not healthy for my weak heart. I bashfully looked away.
Thank you so much for the patience everyone. I've just returned from my month trip outside the country. Last weekend, I was airborne with a 16 hour flight and 12 hours stop over at another country. So I really have no time to make an update. When I arrived, I had to get settled back at work and my jetlag was something. Anyways, I'm back. Thank you again for the patience. Thank you for reading and the lovely comments as well. I appreciate it.
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