Nearly a week passed since the article about Julian and I came out because of Grace. And then three days later, another one came out as well. Kyla helped published an article to lighten the previous lunacy. But things hadn’t died down at all. In fact, it got more heated when a few paparazzi had photograph Julian and I outside his apartment together. It was a surprise they hadn’t caught on we’ve been living together since word got out.
On the weekend, I felt the burden had caught up to me. Sleep wasn’t enough to lighten the pressure, however having Julian beside me did make it easier. He became sweeter and more protective of me. Now the world knows of our relationship, we no longer hide behind a façade as we walk down an aisle or street hand-in-hand. However, at work, I always drew a line on public display of affection.
For instance, during breaks, he’ll playfully catch me off guard and plant a kiss on my cheeks even if there were another staff present. I sometimes succumb to my impulse and smack his arm with a light tone of warning. He seemed to find it amusing how I’m still uptight about it.
“They already know, Zoey. No need to be shy about it.” It was Julian’s excuse whenever I scolded him afterward.
“Even if they did, I still value my stature at work. At least give me that dignity,” I firmly replied.
“I’m sorry. I’ll be more discreet next time,” he stated with a coy smile.
I scoffed. “Discreet? You?”
He innocently smiled and gave me a loving kiss on my forehead. It had become a habit of his to kiss me whenever he promises something he’ll surely break later. But it’s mostly minor things such as these, which I let him get away. I know he only does it to show me every moment he has that he loves me.
After work, we wrapped everything quickly to make it in time for an event tonight. Charlie’s first birthday. Since Julian’s parents weren’t attending, Kyla and Jensen made arrangements to make sure everyone who was in town was accommodated and able to celebrate their daughter’s birthday. Though little Charlie’s birthday was last Tuesday, her parent’s thought it was best to move the actual celebration when people were free of professional responsibilities. And they weren’t holding back on this precious event as well. As a Hawksley, Charlie was treated like a mogul princess.
The party was held at the Grand Ballroom at the Grand Hotel. From the list of guests, Julian warned me this was the actual moment we would be coming out in public as a couple.
“I’m glad it’s my niece birthday we were going rather than a work event or charity gala,” he pointed out as we drive our way there from work.
I started fidgeting as we got close, half listening to what he said. When I didn’t respond directly, Julian grabbed my hand and gave it an assuring squeeze.
“I’ve told you many times, Zoey. You’ll be fine, as you did this past week with the media.”
I snorted. “Yeah, right. All I did was hide behind you. This time I’ll be talking with people you know and be introduced as your… your… ah… you know…” I stuttered from nervousness.
“Girlfriend,” Julian continued with a smile. “Just be yourself. Or be you when you’re around the office facing the board member or the head of departments. Be yourself like you’ve been with me.”
I finally looked at him. “But when I’m with you, I’m not very professional. I’m not poised or elegant. I’m not someone who’s raised with a silver spoon.”
“And I didn’t fell in love someone like that. I love you,” he affirmed.
I know he’d told me this a hundred times, and he might tell me a hundred times more. Though I’ll always see him as the man I love, I’ll always have that moment of weakness in myself. Was I enough for him? Was my love enough to keep us together? I’ve asked this questions long before I was with him, even with Ben, which I wasn’t aware I had been asking deep within me. Maybe these questions had surface because I came to realize that it was enough, my love was enough, but I’m only human. I need to remind myself that I am enough so I won’t forget.
As we reached the venue, it was no longer surprising to see the camera’s flashing outside the car window. We weren’t the only star invited to this event. But we were one of the few that could put these paparazzi into a frenzy as we’re the latest gossip. At last, I didn’t get out of the car with my head down or Julian shielding me from the blinding light. I held my head up and gripped Julian’s hand as we walked hand-in-hand towards the entrance of the hotel. Julian peered at me once and twice, checking if I was okay. My answering smile made him relax as we entered the lobby.
“Mr. Hawksley, good evening. Welcome to the Grand Hotel. It’s been a while. I hope you are well.” From the nameplate written underneath Mr. Garcia, he was the evening manager. He held out his hand to Julian as greeting.
“Antonio, hi. I’m well. I didn’t know you’ll be starting this month,” Julian replied and shook his hand briefly before letting go. “How are things here? Is my brother still running the place well and not to the ground?” he lightly jested.
“Your brother is a fine general manager. Even now after he married,” the man replied. “Though I’ve heard the news, I’m still surprised to see him already with a wife and daughter.”
“Well, you’ll be even more surprised then,” Julian chuckled and gestured to me. “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Zoey Curtis. She’s also my executive secretary.”
Antonio looked at me with wonder before he gathered his expression and gave me a welcoming smile. “Ms. Curtis, I’ve heard such great things. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you as well, Mr. Garcia.”
“I hope Mr. Hawksley is treating you well. He only introduced me to two women since he graduated college,” he softly said to me, covering his lips from Julian’s view. But I’m sure Julian heard him from his mischievous grin.
I peered briefly at Julian before asking, “and may I asked who these women were, Mr. Garcia?”
“It was his sister-in-law, Mrs. Kyla Hawksley. And you, Ms. Curtis,” he winked.
I chuckled and watched as Julian shook his head in disbelief. “So, Julian never introduce you to any of his other girlfriends.”
“Mr. Hawksley is a private man. So if he does introduce a woman to me, it means he has respect and love for this lady.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Mr. Garcia.”
“And from what I heard, he’s also serious about you, Ms. Curtis.” He whispered lightly, his eye teasing as he peered at Julian.
“Oh, okay. I’ll need you to stop there with your teasing old man, or else I’ll call Nan on you,” Julian lightly threatened.
“If you do, you’ll be the one who’ll have an earful. You haven’t called her since we’ve arrived this month.” Mr. Garcia challenged. “And to make it worst, she upstairs already in the venue.”
“What? Is she here already? Why didn’t you tell me, Antonio?” Julian groaned and lightly tugged me towards the elevator.
“Who are you referring to?” I asked no one in particular with confusion.
Antonio had kindly given me a short reply. “My wife used to be his nanny. So if you have a question about Julian, best find her. She’s like his second mother.”
“Don’t tell her things, Antonio!” Julian nearly yelled over him as he kept tugging me away from the man.
I smiled at the new information and waved at him. “Thank you, Mr. Garcia. And it was nice meeting you.”
“Enjoy the evening, Ms. Curtis,” he said to me before turning to Julian one last time. “Good luck, Julian.”
Julian wasn’t thrilled that I persuaded him for more information about the woman who raised him. Once we arrived at the ballroom, he looked a bit agitated and perplexed. Now I’m more curious about this woman even more. Where was she all this time?
It didn’t take long before we found Antonio’s wife. Rather than us finding her, it was she who caught to us first. Her tall and petite frame told me she wasn’t an ordinary nanny. Her graying dark hair was neatly styled into a bun. Her long silver top and navy skirt made her look like a businesswoman rather than a former nanny. Maybe she might be one now since Julian doesn’t need of her service anymore.
“Julian,” the woman called sternly. Her thick British accent reminded me of those Jane Austen movies. “Are you trying to hide from me, dear?”
Julian turned and gave the woman the most plastic smile I’ve seen him wore. “Nan, how are you? I heard from Antonio you were here.”
The woman scoffed. “I'd been in this country for a nearly a month, Julian. Not once have you visited me. But at least you have the decency to call.”
I hide my chuckled with a cough. This was the first time I heard someone scold Julian like an errant child. From my indiscreet sound, she finally noticed me. Her expression didn’t soften at all.
“I see you brought your new lover,” she pointed out and gestured for me to move closer to her. “Let me see you clearly, young lady.”
My smile disappeared. I then followed her instruction. She grabbed my hand and made me twirled slowly. “Uhm…” she said appreciatively. “At least you still have good taste, Julian. But I never understood as to why you’ve dated that wrench Allen girl.” She added, and let me go.
I took a step back beside Julian who now genuinely smiled. “I’m happy you find her appealing, Nan. And I don’t know as to why I dated her as well. It was Mom who introduced us, you know that.”
Hearing that for the first time, I was swept with a realization that explained why his mother was upset about him splitting up with her.
“I do. But your mother and father had been going on business trips that I couldn’t talk to her anymore. Maybe I’ll try and travel back to England and see her so that she won’t make any more match-making schemes for her sons.”
“I don’t think she’ll need to do that anymore, Nan. I got Zoey now,” Julian said proudly. Then it dawns on him. “Oh! Where are my manner?” he cleared his throat before continuing. “Zoey, this the woman who raised me when I was young, Mrs. Dalia Garcia.” He paused and gestured to me. “Nan, this is my girlfriend, Zoey Curtis.”
Dalia held out her hand to me. I took and briefly shook it before letting go. “It was lovely to finally meet the woman who put some sense to this errant child,” Dalia said.
“Nan…” Julian whined.
I chuckled at his response and beamed at the woman. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Garcia.”
“Please call me, Dalia,” she started and grabbed my hand again. “How about we go somewhere to talk? I’m sure you have questions.”
“Ah! Wait…” Julian was about to protest but Dalia stopped him.
“Julian, go do your duty as an uncle and greet your niece a happy birthday. I’ll take care of Zoey for a while. Don’t worry, I won’t tell her things you don’t want her to hear. And I’ll return her to you later.” She argued.
Julian considered her words for a moment before something crossed his mind. “Is Dean with you? I haven’t seen him in years,” he asked.
There was a brief pained look on Dalia's face before regaining her composure and smiled. “He’s not here. He told me he had paper works to do at his new job. He recently got a promotion.” She beamed proudly.
“That’s good. I’m glad to hear he’s well.”
“But this doesn’t mean I’m letting Zoey go, Julian. Now go. Don’t be like me. Join your family and greet your niece a happy birthday.”
I didn’t understand what she meant by ‘Don’t be like me.’ But I didn’t pry as Julian finally took a step away in defeat.
But before he walked away, he reached back to me one last time and gave my hand a quick kiss. “I’ll be back to rescue you, I promise.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll find you once we’re done talking.” I reassured him.
He looked at Dalia in warning, but there was no weight to his threatening gaze. “Don’t tell her anything that might ruin me.”
Dalia waved him away. “Go already, Julian. I won’t.”
With that, Julian left us alone and headed towards the host of the party. I kept in mind to follow him soon rather than later. But it proved to be difficult as Dalia started telling me stories about Julian when he was young. He had always been mischievous and charming, nothing has changed since then.
“But it’s bittersweet seeing him grow up to be the man he is now,” she concluded. “I’ve heard from Kyla about you, Zoey. And I’ve heard nothing but great things, don’t worry.” She pointed out directly when she saw me interject. “Kyla is a blunt woman. I like that about her. It’s something she acquired being around those two young men.” She paused to chuckle. “And I’m happy she married Jensen. He’s not as aggressive as his brother, not as outspoken, but with her, he’s become someone better. And you’ve become someone like that to Julian. You’ve made him to a better man.”
“I think he made me a better woman, rather than the other way around.” I lightly argued.
“From what I heard, you were the one who made him see some sense about Grace. You made him understand what relationship should be between two people. I’ve never seen that boy look at someone like he’d seen life for the first time. And I’m happy he had found love, one that’s true and real.”
Her flattering words stop me from ruining the moment. I could only nod in response. After our serious conversation, Dalia escorted me safely back to Julian’s hands – though I had insisted I could find him easily.
“He won’t forgive me if I left you alone to fend the sharks,” was her brief excuse. She didn’t pinpoint to anyone in particular. But the piercing gazing I finally noticed once I was back in Julian’s side was palpable.
It won’t ever end. But I shouldn’t care about what people think of me. I only need the approval of those who love Julian, and those he loves. They were the only opinion that should matter.
“Are you okay, Zoey?” Julian whispered to my ear once we had a brief moment to ourselves.
“I’m fine,” I replied with a smile.
“Did my Nan say anything disappointing that might make you change your mind about me?” he asked, though there wasn’t a hint of worry in his voice.
“None that I already haven’t seen for myself,” I coyly teased.
“Are you sure? You’ve just met me not too long ago,” he argued playfully.
“Why are you asking me this? Are you having second thoughts?” I feign gasped.
He scoffed and wrapped his arms tightly around me. “I won’t let you go that easily.”
“Then why ask all these questions, Julian.”
“Because I’m also a selfish man, Zoey. I want you to reassure me you have no regrets.” He admitted.
I smiled and gestured him with my finger to lean closer. “Then I have a confession I have to make. I’m also a selfish woman, Julian. I need assurance as well.”
Julian grinned mischievously before giving me a brief kiss.
“What have I gotten myself into falling in love with a selfish woman.”
“I asked myself the same question.”
Hello everyone! Thank you for the support and patience. There's only one chapter left, which is the Epilogue. I will be posting it tomorrow. Have a lovely day and Happy reading unitl then.