Billionaire's Peeping Piper

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XXI. That Japanese Soup

Piper’s POV:

Jackson lifted a hand, “Hi.”

I stared at it.

No matter how many times he offered his hand, I still can’t find myself taking it.

I noticed how there was a bag in his other hand. “What are you doing here?”

So late at night.

In California.

“Well, I finished a deal in the city, and I thought I could drop by.” He lifted a bag in the air, “I bought Thai food.”

“It better be from Thailand,” I joked.

He lowered the bag, “Um, a Thai person made it.”

I chuckled softly before stepping aside. “I’m joking. Come on in.”

Jackson stepped inside and took off his shoes. He grabbed them and placed them on the shoe rack. His eyes went towards Melody’s boots, but he didn’t question it. Instead, he followed me into the kitchen. He set the food on the table and stood there.

“Jackson. You can take off your coat and sit down.”

He scratched his head, “R-Right.” I settled on the chair, and he did the same. When I didn’t talk, Jackson opened the bag and allowed the scent to travel around the room. “I heard this place is really good. One of the best in the states and-”

“Jackson.”

He took out the containers, “I told you,” he said. “I’m not here for anything.”

Of course, he would know what I was going to say. I’ve said the same lines over and over for the past year and a half.

After Emerson’s disappearance, Jackson was one of my main supporters.

He stayed with me whenever I’m sad or angry.

He would hire investigators to help find Emerson.

He would hire tutors (secret therapists) to help Crystal.

If mom weren’t available, he would help me find babysitters at an extremely low price. I know professional babysitters don’t charge $10/hr—an experienced babysitter who happens to enjoy cleaning for free.

“That smells good,” I said. I couldn’t do it. I can’t have the same conversation with him again...at least not tonight.

Jackson walks towards the cabinets and pulls out a plate. “It is.” He grabbed a fork, “Your taste bud will go crazy.” He puts the food onto the plate. The steam rushed into the air.

He sets the plate in front of me and smiles.

Steadily, I grabbed the fork and twisted the noodles around it. I lowered myself and ate the food. My eyes widened, “Wow.”

Jackson smiled only expanded, “Told ya.”

While I’m eating, I noticed a specific man staring at me. When I looked up, Jackson turned his head. “What’s on tv?” He went towards the living room and grabbed the remote. Jackson looks around then settles down on the couch.

The bright color blaze around the dimmed room, and the sound only fills up the silence.

After I finish eating, I set the plate inside the sink and fill it up with water. I’m not in the mood to wash it.

Jackson was fast asleep on the couch.

I look at the clock - midnight.

It would be 3 am in the East Coast.

I reached for Jackson’s shoulder but stopped. Instead of waking him, I grabbed the blanket and moved it over his body. The urge to touch his cheek was strong, but I didn’t. I shouldn’t. “Good night Jackson.”

The lights in the living room turned off.

***

When I heard a large crash, my body flew out of bed. I grabbed the robe and pulled it on, then rushed downstairs. “What happened? What-”

Melody, who held Dustin with Crystal beside her, all stared at Jackson. Jackson’s hair was messy, and his leg hung off the couch.

“Who are you?” Melody asked. Melody met Jackson a few times, but not enough where she would remember him.

Dustin smiles wildly.

Crystal doesn’t seem happy.

I walk towards them, “Everyone. You remember Jackson, right?”

Jackson waved at them.

“Hi,” Melody said.

Crystal didn’t say anything.

“He delivered some food last night and fell asleep,” I said.

Jackson smiled, “Hi.” He fixed himself a little before he kneels towards their levels. “You must be...Melody?”

Melody nods.

“I heard that you’re a really great student in school.”

Melody’s face turns red, and she attempts to hide the smile.

Jackson reaches for Dustin’s cheek and pinches it lightly. “Hey, there, little bud. How are you?”

Dustin babbled some sounds.

He messed up Dustin’s hair.

Now, it’s time to greet the most difficult child of the household.

“Hey Crystal. How-”

Crystal grabbed Dustin and walked away.

“Crystal!”

Jackson stood up and shook his head, “No. No. It’s fine. I mean, I did come here unannounced.”

“Jackson. Please, don’t defend her.”

“I’m not. It’s just really early in the morning, and everyone is tired. How about some breakfast? I can go grab some.”

“Jackson. You don’t have-”

“What would you like, Melody?”

“I like pancakes,” Melody replied.

“Pancakes it is. And I remember baby Dustin likes bacon, right? I’ll grab some of that.” His eyes hesitantly went towards Crystal. “Would you like anything, in particular, Crystal?”

It’s not a secret that Jackson walks on eggshells around Crystal since Emerson’s disappearance. I don’t know where she gets that idea from, but she thinks Jackson is here to replace Emerson.

Half a year or so ago, Crystal would’ve bounced happily around the kitchen and screamed she wanted waffles or pancakes. Then, she would specify what she wants on it. Finally, she would hug Jackson tightly and shout thank you multiple times.

“I want waffles.” At least her stomach can’t lie.

“Waffles sounds-”

“I also want chocolate pancakes, strawberries, blueberries, whip cream only on the pancakes, french toast, and scrambled eggs.”

“Crystal!”

“It’s fine. I’m hungry too.” Jackson patted his stomach.

“It’s all for me,” she said.

He scratched his head, “You’re growing, so eating a lot is good.”

Crystal huffed a breath.

“Do you want anything else?”

“Syrup.”

“Done.”

“The kind that isn’t fake.”

“I got it.”

“I also want soup.”

“Any kind you got in mind?”

“Tofu with seaweed. That Japanese soup.”

“Got it.”

Crystal gave Jackson one last glance before she took Dustin into the other room. She halted near the door and turned around. Dustin pulled her hair, but she doesn’t seem bothered by it. “And I want it all warm.” With that demand, she left.

I rest my head against my fingers, “Melody, can you please-”

“I’ll watch them.” Melody rushed into the other room.

“Jackson, you don’t have to get all of that. I can pull out the pan and make something.”

Jackson smiled, “It’s the weekend. You should rest. Plus, think of it as fees for letting me sleep here last night.”

“I don’t think a night on my bumpy couch cost that much.”

“Well, it’s cozy. And you don’t get that anywhere.” He stepped backward, “I’m going to go make a phone call.”

A few people arrived and placed the freshly cooked food on the dining table less than an hour later. After the setup, they left. There wasn’t any holiday or special event, but it felt like it.

“Woah!” Melody raced towards us. “Are these all for us?”

Jackson nods, “Dive in.”

“So cool! I want to have breakfast here every day!” Melody circles the table. “Woah!”

“Woah!” Dustin copied her.

Near the age of two, Dustin hasn’t properly talked, but he does imitate often. They say there may be a delay - selective mutism - and told me not to worry too much about it since he can eat and walk normally. There isn’t anything wrong with his brain either.

All I need to do is to talk to him more often and build a comfortable environment.

But, which parent wouldn’t be concerned that their children are almost two and can barely talk.

Melody eyed a freshly put together pile of strawberries pancake. “Cool!”

Dustin slapped his cheeks with his hands, “Cool!”

Melody grinned widely, and Dustin returned it.

With the children’s reaction, I should be relieved, but I’m not. Not with the grumpy unicorn behind me.

Jackson’s smile stops when he sees Crystal. He grabbed a plateful of neatly stacked waffles with everything she loves and went on a single knee. “How is it?” He showed off his billionaire smile.

Crystal grabbed the plate and walked towards the dining table.

Before I could say anything, Jackson said: “I think she likes it.”

When I noticed how happy everyone ate their breakfast, I decided not to bring up a lecture session. I need a break from it too. “Come on. Let’s eat.” I made my way towards the table and settled down.

Jackson stood at his spot.

I looked at him and smiled slightly before I nudged my head.

Jackson walked towards a chair, and steadily he reached for it. He pulled out the chair and sat down. Utensils clang against the plate.

I turned towards the sound to see Crystal staring at Jackson with widened eyes.

“Unicorn. What’s wrong?” I asked.

Crystal’s breaths intensified, and with the tense air, everyone stopped what they were doing.

I reached for Crystal’s arm, “Uni-”

“What are you doing?!” she shouted. “Get off!”

“Crystal!”

“Get off of daddy’s chair!” Before I could say another word, Crystal hops off her seat and stomps towards Jackson. She grabbed his shirt with her chocolate-covered hands and tugged it, “Get off of daddy’s chair! Get off! Get off!"

I stood up, “Crystal Lynn Lun! Where are your manners?!”

Crystal stops tugging Jackson’s shirt and looks at me with teary eyes. Then, it went back towards Jackson, whose mind seemed to be elsewhere. “You’re not my daddy! You can’t sit there!” She rushed towards the front door.

“Crystal!”

The door slammed close.

The chair slid behind me, and I marched after Crystal. When I reached for the doorknob, a hand covered mine. “Jackson.”

“Is it okay,” he said. “If I talk to her?”

Jackson didn’t allow me to respond. Instead, he gently moved my hand away from the knob. For a moment, he paused at the door to mentally prepare for the battle outside. With a deep breath, he opened the door.

Outside the door and on the steps, Crystal cradled herself. With the wind rushed in the air, she cried: “Daddy. Daddy. D-D-Daddy.”

Jackson reached for a coat on the rack and stepped outside.

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