I sighed in relief when it was over. Pair by pair, we’ve gone our separate ways. However, we lingered by the entrance for a minute to exchange a brief kiss and farewell. As for me, I fell silently behind Julian, trying not to cross paths with his mother. Emma still didn’t look comfortable around me. For a mother, it was understandable to be protective of your children. But her aloofness was obliviously not about being protective of Julian.
When it was Julian’s turn to give his mother one last kiss of goodbye, he kept her within his embrace, whispering something to her ear. I was close enough to overhear but kept ignorant to the exchange out of courtesy.
“Thank you for being polite as much as you can, mother. But she’s worth it,” Julian said.
“I know, dear. I’m not solely against your relationship. However, I’m very defensive if the public would start criticizing you for it,” she replied.
“I’ll take full responsibility for my actions, as I had, mom. I just want you to be there and support my decision.”
“Of course, I will be, my dear. What kind of mother I’ll be if I won’t?” Emma scoffed and slowly let go of their embrace.
Julian kept her an arm away before kissing her cheeks again. “Thank you, mom.”
“I love you, my dear.”
“I love you too.” He whispered softly.
I inched myself away from the two in fear I was trespassing a very vulnerable mother and son moment. However, Emma turned to me with my tight lip smile. I waited for her to speak for fear I might say something unnecessary and further ruin my chances of making her like me. And for some reason, I’m more concerned of that than anything else at the moment.
“Zoey,” she lightly called. I took a steady step closer as Julian step back to give room for us. “I know I was being rash a moment ago. I have no right to judge you based on the little information I have. It’s not fair. So, if you’re willing, I’d like for us to have lunch or dinner sometime and get to know each other better.”
I was too shocked at her offer that Julian had to nudge my arm for me to snap out of it.
“Ah, yes,” I chocked. “Yes, of course, Mrs. Hawksley. It’ll be my pleasure.”
She finally gave me a genuine smile. “Good. Then, I’ll ask my secretary to get back to you when I will be in town again.”
I nodded. “Of course, ma’am.”
She chuckled at my formality. However, she didn’t correct it.
When Julian’s father, James, turn to say his goodbye, it was brief and homey, like how I always greeted my own father. The gesture made me genuinely smile.
Once they’ve gotten around everyone, and lingered longer to coddle little Charlie on the stroller, we patiently waited for them to get in their vehicle and watched them drive off towards the main street. It was then I saw everyone relax, including me. It was funny seeing Jensen and Julian had the same expression as I am. They were their parents. They shouldn’t feel any pressure around them.
Kyla walked up to me and held out her hand for a hug, which I gladly accepted. She gave me a light squeezed and whispered, “you did great.” And then step back to let go.
I smiled at her assuring words. “Is their mother always like…?” I trailed off, not sure how to phrase it.
Kyla chuckled and nodded. “Oh, trust me. You didn’t get the full force of her wrath. When Jensen and I have to meet her to announce I was pregnant and we’ll get married, I thought the woman would have buried me with her death glare.”
I shuddered at the thought. “How did she warm up to you?”
“Emma is all talk, Zoey. Having these two rascals as sons, who they are, and how they attract people – especially woman, I won’t hold it against her. But show her how genuine your feeling is for her son – how you love him – then she won’t have a chance to hate you,” she said and briefly glance at her husband with such loving affection I suddenly felt shy. “I did.”
“Thank you for the advice, Kyla. I’ll keep that in mind.” I smiled once she met my gaze again.
“Oh! But one more thing,” she added with a jolt. “Don’t let anyone’s opinion bother you, especially the media. Since I’m used to them before as a marketing executive, it wasn’t a nuisance when the tabloid printed things about the early stages of our relationship. Only close family knew that I was already pregnant when we got married. But these tabloid people talk, and very harshly as well.” She dryly informed.
My eyebrow furrowed, trying to picture my face in some magazine with the headline pertaining to my relationship with Julian. But I couldn’t. This wasn’t something those people would be interested in.
“Trust me on this, Zoey. They will talk about it once word gets out, especially how Julian and you are constantly together twenty-four seven. They’ll notice or someone would tip them off.”
“I don’t care if people noticed. But who in their right mind would meddle and tip off the tabloid about a relationship between Julian and me?” I wondered out loud.
Kyla smiled and shook her head. “You don’t see it, do you?”
“Julian and you are the type of couple people would want to read in a gossip magazine. The general population of women fantasize about being in a relationship with a handsome CEO, who would sweep them off their feet. They are sort of like the modern knight in shining armor.”
I nodded in understanding. She was right. How could I not see it clear as day? Maybe it might be because I sometimes forget who Julian was. I only see the man I’m with. Julian who’s charming, cunning, funny and sweet. Julian who makes my heart beat. Julian who gives me a headache sometimes with his stubbornness – well, more like our clashing stubbornness. And Julian who made me believe in love after I lost faith to love again.
Julian Hawksley. The man who I love.
A smile crept to the edge of my lips. Kyla arched her eyebrow. She might have thought I was delirious for a second until I spoke.
“I’ll be fine, Zoey,” I stated.
Kyla beamed and abruptly grabbed me into another tight embrace. This time I reciprocated without surprise. After a brief hug, Kyla let go and gave one last good luck as she returned to her husband and daughter. Jensen only gave me a quick wave of farewell before the two got in the car that pulled in front of us. I recognized the man getting out driver’s seat. He gave Julian and I a nod as a greeting before helping out Jensen with the stroller. Once they were gone as well, Julian and I were finally alone. I took this opportunity to corner Julian about today.
“You just gave me a heart attack when you suddenly announced to your family were… um… together,” I stuttered, which gave less weight to my words.
Julian briefly raised his hands like a guilty criminal. His lips twitching as he held back his amusement. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel that way, Zoey. I was just…” He trailed off, unsure how to phrase it right.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Well, anyways, what done is done. But don’t put me in that sort of situation again, okay? Or else,” I firmly warned.
“Or else what?” He inquired. He wasn’t trying to sound haughty but he did.
I pursed my lips and arched my eyebrow. “I’ll see if you can manage your week without me. You’ve already taken today off. I’m sure you’ll lose your way by Monday.”
Julian’s eyes hardened in slight fear. “Do you mean I’m not free tomorrow?”
I smiled wickedly. “You’re the one who said make time for today. You’ll have a hell of a packed schedule tomorrow.”
Julian grumbled under his breath. “And here I thought having your secretary as your girlfriend I’d at least get some free time from work.”
I snorted and shook my head. “Was that one of the reasons why you're dating me?”
Julian grunted and lightly jest, “not anymore.”
I bit my lips to hide my amusement, but it didn’t last long. On cue, Jeffrey finally arrived and cut off our conversation. But we didn’t get in the car yet. I tugged Julian’s shoulder down so that his face was within the same level of mine. I then gave him a brief kiss on his cheeks, catching him off guard.
“That’s just a treat for today.” I teased.
Julian mischievous grin came back. “Oh! Just a treat? Nothing for tonight?” he wiggled his eyebrow suggestively. Now, it was his turn to catch me off guard. My face started heating up from his suggestive manner. I pursed my lips, thinking.
“Really? You’re going to think about it.” Julian laughed.
I smirked and got in the car. “God help me that I love this man,” I whispered in plea.
“What was that?” Julian asked.
“Nothing.” I beamed and looked at him as he got in.
Julian studied my face for a moment before closing the door. “I’ll get you to tell me once we get home.”
I smiled. Home.
As expected, Sunday was packed with so much meeting. By the end of the day, Julian and I as we lay down in each other’s embrace under the thick duvet in his bedroom. Normal nights like this are precious. Our body gravitates towards each other without need for words. That night, sleep overcome us at the same time. And a smile of contempt creep at edges on my lips.
But on Monday morning, we got a change of pace. My phone suddenly rang as I was able to take my empty bowl of oatmeal to the sink. It was April. I picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, April. This is rather an early call for you,” I teasingly greeted at my best friend.
“From your mood, I presume you haven’t read or seen any entertainment news, have you?”
My eyebrow furrowed at her question. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll send you a link. Don’t freak out, okay. And tell Julian… is he there?” She paused, her purpose for calling shifted. “Let me talk to him, please.”
“What’s wrong, April? Did something happen in the news about Julian?” I inquired with worry. I looked up at Julian who just finished eating. Once he heard me say his name, it caught his attention.
“What is it?” Julian asked as he got the empty bowl, his and mine, and discarded them down on the sink.
“She wants to talk to you.” I informed and handed him the phone.
“Hello, April. Is there something wrong?” he asked when the receiver was by his ear.
There was a long paused as Julian listened. I stood in front of him, trying to listen to April’s muffled voice across the small speaker. I watched Julian’s expression harden as he kept a poker face. My stomach dropped as idea swirled in my head as to why Julian seemed guarded. As time passed, and I nearly forgot about the meeting only half an hour from now, Julian finally spoke.
“Okay. Thank you so much for letting me know, April. I’ll take it from here and tell her.” He firmly said and ended the call. He didn’t bother let me say my goodbyes and ask her myself.
I had no choice but ask him. “So? What did she say?”
Julian looked like he was trying to lessen the blow of whatever news he had to tell me. But I wasn’t having it. “Spill it, Julian. Or so help me, I’ll let you do the accounts by yourself…” I threatened half-heartedly.
“I’ll tell you but listen first before reacting, please,” he lightly begged.
I considered it a moment and nodded. “So?” I urged him again.
He took a deep breath. “I don’t know if there’s a proper way to say this, but the tabloid finally caught up with us. Someone had tipped them off and they’ve finally printed an article. April told me what they’ve written isn’t something you’ll want to read with a full stomach…” he trailed off as my silence grew more deafening.
“I’m so sorry, Zoey. I didn’t mean to put you in this situation… given my past, I should have warned you about something like this happening at a point in our relationship –” Julian abruptly stopped when I held up my hand in front of his face.
“You don’t have to explain yourself, Julian. Kyla warned me last Saturday. I thought I’ll have more time to prepare for it, but really, no matter how much time I have I still won’t be prepared. I just have to man up and face this.” I stated and go through my text message as April sent me the link of the article.
“I don’t think you’ll want to read it now…” he suggested and idly watched as I finally open the article.
My eyes scanned through the words, my breath short, my hand tight as I gripped my phone. The more I read the more tension I feel in the pit of my stomach. Julian was right. I need a strong stomach to read this.
“Zoey? Are you okay?” I hadn’t noticed Julian was already by my side, his arms wrapped around my shoulder in comfort. “Stop reading... It’s all nonsense anyway. They don’t know a dime about you. These people’s job is to make up stories.”
“But stories have a root, Julian,” I muttered dryly. “Did April tell you who rat us out?”
Julian was silent.
“It’s either your ex or mine. Which is it, Julian?” I asked when he didn’t respond.
“It’s was Grace.” Julian whispered in reply. “She knows someone from that magazine.”
As I finally got a name to pin on the blame for this mishap, I looked up and met Julian’s gaze. My anger slowly subsided, though I’m still heavily annoyed. “I won’t hold this against you. This time, she just openly provoked me.”
Julian planted a soft kiss on my head as comfort. “I’m sorry she dragged you into this. I won’t blame you if you did hold it against me. I should have handled her. She was my problem.”
“Well, before, yes. But not anymore, Julian,” I argued. “This Regina George needs a good reality check.”
Julian chuckled at my pop culture reference. “That’s a good one.”
I smirked at his praise. “Now this plastic has outright open fire, I’ll let her eat those bullets she’s throwing at me.”
“Don’t do anything reckless.” Julian lightly said, though there were some seriousness underneath it.
I nodded and smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t go all medieval. As long as you’re not against me taking this witch down.”
He laughed and shook his head. “I’m not. If you need anything, just tell me. I got the contacts of some really important people in that industry,” he said mischievously.
“If you did, then why did this witch beat us to it?”
“Because I’m positive you don’t like our relationship going public… yet, I presume.”
I smiled. “You know me too well.” I stepped away from his grasped and grabbed my purse. “I’ll call Kyla. I think it’s high time I appreciate your sister-in-law.”
“You’re going all nuclear from the start? Damn, I forget how unexpected you’ll be.” Julian stated with feigned shock.
I stuck my tongue out like a kid and nudge him towards the door. “Let’s discuss this further on the way to work. We are going to be late.”
Julian chuckled but followed. Jeffrey was already there waiting for us for at least ten minutes. When I told him why we took so long – since we hardly been this late whenever he picked us up, Jeffrey held the same opinion as I was. He drove us safely to the office while giving me words of assurance. For that, I was grateful for his concern.
Once we entered the office, I noticed the silent whispers of my co-workers. Of course, they’ve already heard or read about the article. But I knew better than listen to gossip and allow it to affect my work now.
It didn’t take long before Kyla finally made a quick trip to my cubicle after the meetings adjourned first thing in the morning. Before I would have thought of running away when I see her, now I was waiting in anticipation to ask for her advice.
Her welcoming smile tells me she was ready for battle.
Hello everyone! There is approximately three more chapter to go. So I will be updating those respectively on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday next week. Thank you so much for the support and comments. I truly appreciate them so much.
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