Entering the restaurant, we were both greeted by the maître d’. He was all smiles once he recognized Julian, which I’ve grown accustomed by it now. He immediately accommodated and ushered us to our seats. We walked past a couple of tables in the middle of the room that was already taken by couples, white-collar workers, and even business executives. A few of them noticed Julian and stood up just to greet him. Because of this, it took some time for us to reach our table. I smiled along as Julian greeted each one.
When we finally reached our reserved table, it was occupied by two familiar faces. A little baby on a stroller was also between them. She must be Charlie. Julian gave his brother and sister-in-law a quick hello before fussed his way to his niece. His voice high pitched than usual.
“Hey there, little Charlie. How are you today? Did you have a lovely afternoon nap? Have you just woken up?” he kept on asking as took her out of her stroller.
Kyla chuckled. “She’s just woke up. We were out on a stroll before we got here.”
“I thought we’re having dinner rather than afternoon tea and cakes,” Julian said. “When I got a call from Jensen, I expected mom to ring me up… but it’s all good. She’d been calling me less and less since you had Charlie.”
“If you’re so bitter about it, dude, have a kid.” Jensen playfully suggested.
Julian snorted. “You didn’t even plan this one. Why would I plan to have a baby now?” He coyly commented.
Jensen glared at his brother. “Really? You’re still making fun of me about that.”
“It never gets old.” Julian smugly remarked, and suddenly their fight became a playful brotherly banter. “Well, at least, I didn’t give mom a heart attack when you unexpectedly told her you’re getting married because you got your girl pregnant.”
It was then Kyla jumped in. “Like you got the balls to get anyone to stick with you long enough, Julian.”
That held Julian’s tongue.
My stifled laughter got everyone’s attention. Kyla and Jensen turned to me with goofy smiles.
“Hey, Zoey, I’m glad you’ve taken time to join us,” Kyla said. “I’m sorry you got stuck working for that guy over there.” She rolled her eyes at Julian.
“Was it your personal choice to be here because my brother can be…?” Jensen trailed off as he met Julian’s glare. “Right. Got it. He definitely forced you to come along.” Jensen stated, not a bit fazed by his brother’s silent threat.
“Actually, not a few hours ago, we dropped by Zoey’s parent’s place,” Julian announced like it was a normal thing. Of course, it wasn’t since Jensen and Kyla looked as baffled as I was this morning.
“Wow!” The two said in chorus.
“I think I stood corrected.” Kyla breathlessly muttered.
I manically waved my hand in contempt. “No. No, you got it wrong. It’s not like that. He just invited himself along.” I rashly explained.
Kyla’s smile grew while Jensen chuckled in amusement. “You sure know how to mess with her, Julian,” Jensen said. “If I were you, Zoey, don’t let him get away with it.”
I sighed in defeat. “I did though. I really tried.”
“Of course I’ll get away with it.” Julian haughtily announced.
Jensen arched his eyebrow at his brother’s words, then turned to me with an apologetic smile. “Then I have some good news for you. Would you like to make a quick getaway? My parents aren’t quite as close to this place yet. Last time I heard from mom, they’re still on the freeway.”
My heart jolted with the joy of the possibility. This was it. My last chance to escape. The glimmer of hope I’ve been waiting. I never thought it was Julian’s own brother, the same person who had a part on putting me in this mess, had given me a semblance of salvation. However, like all my luck today, it had gone down the drain before I even got to act on it.
“I see everyone is already here.”
Everyone turned in unison at the couple behind us. I could feel my heart stop as we stared at the new company. They looked to be around their sixties, but on the younger side. The man was in a navy suit and white polo, giving a contrast to the obvious white and grey streaks of his dark brown hair. And the woman wore a light beige fitted dress and nude wedges, which accentuate her figure and height. Her chestnut blond hair was flowing down below her shoulder, bouncing as she moved.
“Julian, dear, aren’t you going to properly greet your parents?” The woman asked condescendingly as she took off her Gucci sunglass.
“Mother, I didn’t know you’ve arrived. Jensen said dad and you will be a bit late.” Julian replied and walked up to the woman, giving her a kiss on both of her cheeks. He then turned to the man and gave him a one-handed hug. “Hey, dad, how’s business in England holding up?”
“Everything is running more smoothly now that Rufus is back with my team,” he smugly replied. His eyes glistened with amusement when Julian’s gallant smile fade.
“I’m still not over how you took away Rufus from me, dad.” Julian childishly grumbled.
“You’ll get over it,” he replied with an even more mischievous grin as his eyes darted in my direction. “And I can see this is the infamous young lady who took Rufus’s place. From how he described her, I understand the charm.”
It was then Julian’s mother finally noticed me standing idly behind Julian, who block me from his parent’s view. Julian peered around and took a step back, giving his parent’s a better look. His father gave me a welcoming smile. However, her mother wasn’t as pleasant looking.
I took the initiative and held out my hand towards Julian’s father. He gladly accepted and we shook hands.
“Mr. Hawksley, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” I sounded a bit stiff than usual.
“Glad to meet you as well, dear.” He said as he let go. “And please call me, James. There’s three Hawksley present. It’ll get confusing at some point.” He lightly added, chuckling.
I smiled and nodded. “Of course, sir.”
“This is my wife, Emma,” James introduced as the woman beside him kept still, her eyes studying me from head to toe. “Honey, I think you’ve heard of her from Rufus. She’s the one who replaced him.” James whispered aloud to his wife.
The woman nodded but didn’t say anything.
It hinted James to continue talking. “Julian didn’t say you’ll be joining us today.”
At last, that caught her attention.
“This is a family affair. I’m sure the young lady is only here since Julian has been at a meeting. Were you, dear?” Emma turned away and didn’t even bother addressing the question to me. Her eyes boring in Julian’s direction.
Yup. That’s it. She hates my guts. I kept my facial expression passive like I haven’t heard her.
“No, mom. Zoey’s here to join us.”
“Join us?” She inquired yet again. She wasn’t welcome with this idea at all.
“Julian, if it’s a bother…” I sheepishly trailed off. His mother’s watchful gaze landed in my direction.
“That’s rather new,” she added after I kept quiet a good second. “Even Rufus never joined us for a family luncheon or soiree.” She paused and turned to Julian. Her eyebrow arched in question. “Is there something going on?” She asked.
She didn’t even have to gesture between us for emphasis.
I felt a bead of sweat forming on my temple and a cold chill down my spine. Julian’s mother had such a sharp eye. There was no hiding from her at all. From the beginning, I had no way of hope going through this meeting without a headache.
Then Julian spoke. “Who told you, mom?”
My heart quickly dropped. These two didn’t even give me a few seconds to process everything. Let me hide in a hole right now.
I watched the mother and son’s terse exchange.
She sneered. “It doesn’t matter who told me, Julian. You know this girl a couple of weeks before you break it off…”
“Was it Grace?” Julian cut her right off. His stance changed. He moved a little closer and hide me behind his back.
His mother’s answering silence spoke volume.
“Mom, I’m no longer with Grace. I’m dating Zoey, now.” Julian firmly announced.
“You can’t possibly be serious. I think that’s below you, Julian.” Her mother gasped as I did.
I felt my face heat up at her remark, however, Julian got ahead of me again. “You don’t know what’s below or above my standards, mother. And knowing Grace had the guts to tell you about Zoey and me, it goes to show I made the right choice,” he icily said. There was a brief cold silence as he paused. “Now, if you’ll keep on saying things like that to Zoey or me, I don’t think we’re no longer welcome here. So we’ll show ourselves out of the door. I don’t want to make a scene.” He ranted.
It was then his mother peered around the restaurant. A few of the guest had been eavesdropping on our conversation. Their watchful gaze turned away when we’ve noticed them. She straightened her posture and shook her head.
“No. I want you two to stay and join us. I hardly get to see my two sons. I’m not letting my own pride get away with it.” She dryly admitted.
Julian’s stiff shoulder relaxed. He moved closer to his mother and gave her a brief hug. “Just get to know her, mom, you’ll see what I see as well.” He muttered softly to her ear, which I overheard.
Her eyes flickered in my direction for a second then looked away as Julian let go. She let out a heavy sigh and nodded. “Whatever you say, Julian.”
“Still the favored child,” Jensen muttered teasingly behind us, who I hadn’t noticed had stood up as well.
Once the tension subsided, Jensen and Kyla took over and enveloped Mr. and Mrs. Hawksley into a warm embrace and brief kisses on their cheeks. Both also softened some more when they greeted little Charlie from her stroller. They lingered there for a moment before we all finally sat down. All of that happened in a span of a dreadful five minutes of my life that I’m not happy to relive again. Nonetheless, the day was still long and we haven’t even ordered anything to eat. So help me god, let me get through this.
After we gave our meal order to the attending waiter, Jensen, Julian, and their father fell into a business-like conversation. It didn’t last long as they were scolded by both women. I, on the other hand, kept myself occupied with the cool glass of water. I watched the family banter like they were a sitcom on television.
“No business talk gentleman, you know that.” Emma tersely warned.
“I’m sorry, mom.” The two brothers said in unison.
“My apologies, Emma. I know the rules.” James replied.
“You know I don’t like to keep on repeating myself, James,” she said.
Her husband grabbed her hand and lightly kissed it. “No more business talks, I promise,” James said.
Emma’s face softens at her husband loving gesture.
“Anyways, mom, I don’t want to address any more business talks. But is it really not possible for you to stay with us until next week. It’s Charlie’s first birthday,” Jensen inquired.
“I’m so sorry, Jensen dear. Your father and I already planned the trip to Australia months ago. It wasn’t until last month we were informed we’ll be there for two weeks. I know we shouldn’t have made it too close to little Charlie’s birthday. But this family doesn’t get to where it is now without making little sacrifices. And we’re here now, Jensen. I thought you’re happy we made time for her.” Emma painstakingly said. She looked truly heartbroken at the decision.
James sadly interjected as well. “If we have any other way, you know we would have stayed, Jensen.”
Jensen remained calm and nodded. “Of course,” he briskly replied. “I understand the situation. I’m grateful you did take this time to visit us here with such a hectic schedule. I hope you’ll make some time for us as this holiday, at least.”
Emma cut in enthusiastically. “No worries, my dear. I made sure my calendar that month is clear as day. I have the whole family already booked for a getaway.”
Kyla smiled and said, “Thank you so much for planning ahead of time, Emma.”
She turned to her and beamed. “No worries, Kyla dear. Your side of the family is also included on the guest list, just a heads up if I ever forget to tell you later in the year.”
“You shouldn’t have. You’ve spoiled my mother and sister too much already on my birthday.” She bashfully informed. “Though I thoroughly enjoyed the spa treatment, my mother and sister were more into it than I was.”
She smiled. “I adore your mother’s company. Tell her my regards, Kyla.” Emma informed.
Right on time, the conversation around the table was cut short when the waiter served our meal. I was then occupied by a mini cake and tea while I continued observing the interaction between the Hawksley. My plan on being a silent audience throughout the meal didn’t last long when Jensen and Kyla mixed me in the discussion.
“I forgot to ask. How did the lunch meeting with your family go?” Kyla asked.
Jensen added before I replied, “Did Julian do anything remotely embarrassing?”
The questions caught their parent’s attention. In the corner of my eyes, I could see Emma straining her neck a bit and kept her eyes from looking in our general direction. James wasn’t subtle at all and looked at me with a smile.
“Ah… yeah… He wasn’t a handful like usual,” I remarked, which made Julian defensive.
“I’m not a handful.” Julian snorted.
I snorted as well and countered, “Oh, yes you are.”
“Then, tell me, how am I being a handful?” He teasingly challenged.
I turned and studied the amusing look on nearly everyone’s faces as they listened in to Julian and I’s conversation. But that didn’t stop Julian at all.
When I didn’t reply, he pressed, “How am I a handful, Zoey?”
I pursed my lips, unable to reply. Not with this group of people as an audience.
The edge of Julian’s lips tugged into a grin. He suddenly reached out and brushed back my hair before leaning closer. He placed a soft kiss on my forehead. His abrupt show of affection caught me off guard. For a moment, I caught myself smiling at the gesture. As Julian leaned back to study my face, I bit my lips to hide the smile. Julian’s eyed glistened, knowing he won me over like many times.
I was too oblivious to notice our public show of affection also caught the attention of onlookers that’ll cause my normal daily life to change. Then I knew being with Julian would mean my life will never be the same. But I’d happily accept the trade for short moments like this with him. And his mother I’ll just have to deal with. If it was easy, life would be boring.
Hello everyone! Here's an early - probably late - update. I was supposed to post this earlier in the week, but I did some minor rewrites to the chapters. So it took time. But I finished writing the last chapter already. It's sad to see this one done, but happy how the story ended. I hope you would too.
I will be updating another chapter tomorrow. Enjoy this until then. Have a lovely day!
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