It has been days since the talk I had with Ashton on my porch that afternoon, and I haven’t heard much from him except for the dinner appointment which will be on Friday. This is becoming a pattern we have. Ashton is around during weekends, being Chloe’s dad, being a part of us, but he’s back to the despicable CEO role during the week as if we never cross paths outside work.
Chloe frowned less and less every time I brought up Ashton’s name, which is good. After the day we met Ashton’s family, I slowly told her that Ashton had nothing to do with the scene she saw at lunch. On the contrary, I was also not innocent because I insulted his mother. And it’s the very reason why she has to stay over at my parents’ house on Friday. Because I need to talk to her grandmother, Danielle Knight.
“What if she gets angry and makes you upset again?” asked Chloe this morning when I broke the news about the dinner during our trip to her school.
“Then there is nothing I can do about it. The point is, I have a good intention to fix our problem,” I replied. “And Ashton will be there too to support me.”
“Isn’t he afraid of his mom?”
“Uh, why would he?”
She shrugged as she answered, “You and aunt Sophie are afraid of grandma sometimes. I’m also afraid of you when I’m being naughty.”
“Well, Ashton is not being naughty at the moment. So, I’m sure everything will be fine.”
The shuffling noise from behind me pulls my mind back to my office cubicle. Shanti drags her chair and positions it between mine and Gina’s, forcing me to avert my gaze from my computer screen. Shanti’s eyes twinkle and her lips twitch, the signs that she has piping hot tea to share.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” she squeals.
“You don’t need to summon me three times. I heard you alright, but I need to hurry up,” Gina retorts without turning her head, her fingers dancing on her keyboard.
It’s only 9 AM. Gina and I are doing our morning routine which is replying to emails before we leave for our client visits. On normal days, we won’t start any office gossip until everyone is done with their clients for the day, but today doesn’t look like one of those.
“Oh trust me, you don’t want to be the last person to hear this! This is fresh from the oven but it spreads so fast like a bushfire. You gotta hear this now, girls.” Shanti tries to suppress her excitement, causing her voice to thrill.
Gina groans. “Shan–”
“Our daddy has a baby!” Shanti blurts.
All of a sudden, the world seems to freeze. If Gina looks confused, I must look like I’ve just seen a ghost.
“Baby as in a new lover? Or a baby human that pops out of a vagina?” Gina asks, lowering her voice to match Shanti’s.
“The vajayjay baby.”
“Huh? Whose vagina then?”
Keeping my fake curious look, I shift uncomfortably in my chair while deep down, I hope that they don’t catch my uneasiness. How has my vagina become our morning topic?
“Don’t know,” Shanti mumbles. “But the best part is this V-gal is an employee in the Remington group, but her identity has not been revealed yet.”
“Maybe it’s Diandra?” Gina speculates.
“No! She is working here at the moment, in this very building. We just don’t know yet which subsidiary company and which division she is in,” Shanti replies. “Rumour has it that she hasn’t worked here for long which means our daddy must have something to do with her joining Remington.”
“Nepotism is a blessing,” Gina says in a sing-song.
“This V-gal must be also the one who ruins Mr. Knight’s and Diandra’s relationship,” Shanti continues with her analysis. “I heard that she’s some kind of gold digger. She’s so going to use the kid to milk our CEO dry. My poor daddy.”
My stomach churns at Shanti’s last line. This is exactly what I’m afraid of. Office gossip is often misleading and sometimes, it can ruin someone’s reputation in one blink of an eye. The worst part is, people tend to swallow the juicy parts instead of trying to verify the authenticity of the story. Because it’s simply fun. The facts might slowly tackle the false opinions but in most cases, the ruined image is too stubborn to leave in time. It’s not uncommon that someone decides to resign and start fresh in a different company because the emotional strains just aren’t worth it.
“Da bitch is ripping off the right guy, though. I stan her and her vajayjay,” Gina murmurs.
“Anyway, someone swore that they saw Mr. Knight with a woman in his car–”
Shanti’s line is cut by someone clearing his throat behind us. When the three of us turn our heads to see the source of the distraction, Max is standing behind my cubicle wall, leaning forward with his elbows pressing on its top cap.
“Sorry for intruding on your important morning meeting, ladies, but I need my papers for the ten-AM meeting like–” Max glances down at his wristwatch “–ten minutes ago.” With that, our boss shifts his gaze at Shanti, who is now making an audible gulp.
“Oh my god, I totally forgot! I’m sorry for getting sidetracked. I’m fetching them now!” she squeaks while dragging her chair back to her desk, creating the same shuffling noise.
“Sorry, Boss. This... unnecessary morning meeting won’t happen again,” Gina says while I nod in agreement, still having problems finding my own voice. Looking displeased, Max shakes his head as he turns around and strides back to his office, making us both wince.
Gina waits until Max disappears behind his door before murmuring, “Not gonna lie. I’m kinda feeling sorry for Diandra if this was true. She might be a bitch, but she’s the woman Mr. Knight keeps on coming back. They sound like they’re quite a pair, you know. Now, things are getting very challenging for her because of this V-gal.”
I swallow an imaginary lump in my throat. “Th-that’s possible.”
Ever since the family drama with Ashton’s mother last weekend, Diandra has totally left my mind. I did plan to ask Ashton about the kiss, but the idea went down the drain because I had more important issues to deal with.
But why do I need to ask him again? Isn’t whatever he decided to say to her that night totally his business? Ashton and I are just partners in parenting; we are not a couple. I shouldn’t stick my nose into his personal life. But again, it was my tongue that I stuck into his mouth that day. I should at least know where I stand in this situation so that I know what to do when I meet his ex again.
Hypothetically he did tell her, then I’ll know enough what to do to Diandra. But what if he didn’t tell her about the kiss? Would I urge him to come clean about it? For what reason? To break them up when they aren’t even together? And considering Diandra still wants to win him back, is the pain of betrayal necessary for her right now?
These circling thoughts are getting confusing now. I need to get back to this when I’m done dealing with the Cruella de Vil.
The dinner goes smoothly.
Smooth as in no glasses, plates, or forks flying around the dining table. Our talk is as stiff as it was at lunch last week, and I’m sure it’s not going to change any time soon. Danielle is true to her reputation: a tormentor and a borderline bully. If I didn’t think of Chloe’s future relationship with Ashton’s family, I would have jumped on the table, grabbed the woman by the neck, and screamed in her face until her short blonde curls stood erected, creating an electric-shock hair look. But the last piece of sanity in my head prevents me from doing that.
The only thing that makes me stay put on my spot is Ashton. He’s the most sensible one among us at the moment and acts as referee during our dinner conversation. Good thing that Danielle receives more yellow cards than I do, as she deserves.
The action that earns me a regular glare from Ashton is when I bounce my legs restlessly every time Danielle starts to poke my nerves. Then he will rest his hand on my thigh, urging my leg to stop fidgeting. Little does he know, I’m enjoying the gesture a little bit too much. So, I do it again and again, secretly, just to feel his hand on me.
“So, we’ve agreed on a few things tonight. Firstly, Charlotte doesn’t make an appearance for money, thus–” Ashton turns his gaze to Danielle “–you, Mother, have to stop bugging her with the question. Secondly, Charlotte will let Chloe spend time with us during special days as long as Chloe agrees to it.”
“Wait,” Danielle raises her hand to hold her son from speaking further. “How do I know that Chloe’s decision isn’t being controlled by her mother?”
I narrow my eyes on her. “She is my daughter. Of course, my opinion plays a big role in her choices, but I never manipulate her into making a certain decision. I assure you that this is about Chloe, not about me. And that’s exactly the reason I came here tonight. It’s for Chloe, not for me,” I feel Ashton’s hand on my thigh again, giving me a soft squeeze. Okay, he earns it. I press my lips together and force a smile at his mother.
“Now, let me say this again. Charlotte is totally on board with the idea of letting Chloe get to know the Knight family. No more money talk or accusation of her hidden intention for us. We’re going to move forward from now on,” Ashton concludes, his hand still on me and I like it.
Danielle switches her gaze back and forth on me and Ashton, looking unconvinced. I know she’s trying to find a crack in the conclusions Ashton just drew for us.
“Fine. But I want it all written to make sure we both keep our ends of the deal.”
“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Ashton replies. “Please, Mother, don’t make this more difficult than needed.”
Danielle clenches her jaws. “You’ve become softer, Ashton.”
“I have?” Ashton raises his eyebrows but his expression says enough that he isn’t intrigued with his mother’s provoke.
“You have fallen into her trap,” Danielle accuses, making me somehow glad that the table blocks her line of sight. Otherwise, she would use our physical contact to prove her points. “Look at yourself, son. You agree with every single thing she says as if she’s your boss and soon, you will agree to her demand for entering into matrimony and give everything you have to her.”
“For the love of god! I’m not going to stoop that low!” I say in exasperation. “Ashton and I are partners in parenting Chloe. Of course we’ve talked a lot and have to agree to a lot of things to make this work. But it’s all about it! I won’t ask anything more from him!”
In the next several seconds, Danielle and I stare at each other like two female warriors probing each other’s power. In the next second, her green eyes send an invisible but deadly emerald laser in my direction. Reflexively, my brown pupils also spew a glowing brown liquid to meet her attack in the middle, fighting for dominance. I might have come here to offer peace and rebuild the bridge I have burned, but it doesn’t mean she can resume talking shit about me.
“Okay,” Danielle finally speaks first.
“Okay?” I ask.
“I’ll play by your rules. For now,” Danielle replies and it ends our argument.
The rest of the dinner is awkward as hell, but I’m glad that Ashton does most of the talking and lets me peacefully finish my half-melted banana boat. His hand has left my thigh for some time; I can’t even remember when he retracted it. Deep down, I wish he kept it there.
When we finally say our goodbye, I feel like Thor’s hammer is being lifted off my shoulder. As Danielle and her Rolls Royce leave the restaurant entrance, Ashton and I hop on his car that the valet guy has just collected for us. Ashton insisted we go to the dinner appointment together since he probably wanted to make sure I wouldn’t bail again this time.
Contrasting his active approach at our dinner table, Ashton doesn’t speak much during our trip to my house. Not that I mind it. We both need to wind down after dealing with the blonde tornado.
“Pff, that went pretty well, surprisingly,” I mutter in a light voice as Ashton stops his Mercedes in my driveway. I unbuckle and jump out of the car before making my way to the driver’s door to bid him goodnight. To my surprise, Ashton kills the engine and gets out of his car. “Are you… do you want to come in?” I ask.
“Maybe,” he replies as he takes a few steps toward me with his eyes boring into mine. Instinctively, I take a step backward, but then he moves forward again. We keep on doing that until my back hits my garage wooden door.
Slowly, he extends his hands to either side of me and presses his palms against the closed door, trapping me in.
“W-what are you doing?”