Surprise Me Maybe

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Secret Lovers

We need to talk.

The line gives me a thrill all of a sudden. I don’t know what to expect but my anticipation shoots through the roof right now, and I don’t want Ashton to see it.

Faking my nervousness, I put my hand on my chest and gasp dramatically. “Are you breaking up with me, Ashton?”

“What?” Ashton looks at me with a confused look.

I cringe at my own dry joke. “You started with the infamous breakup opening line. We need to talk,” I mimic his deep voice mockingly. “Gosh, I hate how it sounds.”

“Oh, sorry. Let me try again. Char,” he says, clearing his throat, ”we need to talk.”

I give him a deadpan face as I cross my arms over my chest. “You don’t mess with a woman who is having a hangover, especially after spending the night sleeping on the floor, Ashton.”

“I never dare to mess with you, Char,” Ashton puts his hands in the air, giving a surrender gesture. “I just want to talk before I leave.”

“Alright.” I nod before walking to the garage roller door and leaning on it. “What do you want to talk about?”

“About us.”

I gulp. “Okay.”

In one blink of an eye, our playful banter evaporates into thin air, replaced by awkward silence. It’s getting hard to keep my eyes on him because the tension is becoming too much. I rub my hand over the back of my neck while looking down at my feet, waiting for him to talk more.

“So, do you want to do it?” he finally starts.

I glance at him through my eyelashes. “Do what?”

“Us. You and me together, to see if we work?”

I blink. And I blink again. Five minutes ago, I tried to convince myself that whomever he is seeing tonight isn’t my business, and now, he said this? “Wait, I’m too slow right now. Lemme rephrase it,” I reply. “Are you suggesting we date?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” That’s all that I can say. While I’m suddenly becoming speechless, the excited butterflies in my belly are squealing uncontrollably that I almost believe he can hear them.

Ashton raises his eyebrow. “Oh? I’m not sure how to interpret that answer.”

“Sorry,” I squeak, “you just caught me off guard.”

“I figured.”

Weighing what I’m going to say to him, I lift my gaze and force myself to look him straight in the eye. “I’m not going to lie that I’m tempted, but what if we don’t work? Not only us, but Chloe can also get hurt because of it. I’m just afraid we would mess things up.”

“I thought about it for a while because I’ve been worrying about the same thing. But if we keep this between us, for now, we should be able to avoid the unnecessary dramas and the external pressure of having to make this work.” Leaning in his car hood, Ashton puts one leg over the other while his eyes never leave my face. “I do believe we’re mature enough to accept it if we don’t work, without affecting Chloe in the process.”

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that. Being an adult is my everyday struggle and not acting on my impulsiveness is my eternal battle. I’m definitely the last person on earth people will come for advice on how to behave maturely. I couldn’t even hide my irritation fifteen minutes ago when Ashton told me that he was meeting someone for dinner, just because Diandra was the first name that popped up in my head.

Diandra. “What about Diandra?” I ask spontaneously.

“Huh, what about her?”

“Aren’t you guys... talking again?”

“Yeah, and?”

I bite my inner cheek, realizing that Ashton doesn’t know about the talk I had with Diandra. “We had a chat when we met at the bar last weekend–” I glance at him in anticipation “–about you.”

He raises one eyebrow. “Okay?”

“Well, she came to apologize for what she did that night at the party, which is nice of her, and the conversation rolled from there. She said this time she wants to do it right with me, with Chloe, and especially with you,” I explain, stressing the word ‘you’. “And she doesn’t know we kissed, does she?”

Ashton shakes his head. “No, she doesn’t. And I don’t see the need to tell her all the details about us.”

“But you were still with her. I believe it’s called cheating, Ashton. I’ve been feeling guilty about it.”

“You were drunk, Char. Okay, I kissed you back and I wasn’t drunk, but trust me, we didn’t break up because of it.” Ashton pinches the bridge of his nose before adding, “In case you didn’t know, Diandra and I had some kind of agreement because of our history; we had trust issues earlier. So, when we saw each other again this year, we agreed to do it differently. It was a lot more casual than we’d done before.”

“I don’t get it. You were together but not together?”

“Something like that.” Ashton nods. “We tried to see each other regularly but no commitment involved, yet. I just wanted to see if we could last three months without creating a battlefield like we used to.”

I frown. “Now I understand why you said it was complicated when I asked you about her at the hospital.”

“Yeah.”

“But are you sure she was on the same page with you?”

Instead of answering, he crosses his arms over his chest. “I don’t see the significance of your question to our topic right now.”

Of course it’s significant! Everyone knows, even Diandra is sure as hell that Ashton will keep coming back to her, no matter how toxic their relationship sounds. Their bond is undeniably strong considering they’ve been doing this for years.

“Mama?” Chloe sticks her head out from the door of our garage.

I turn my head and smile. “Yes, sweetie?”

“What are you doing there?” she asks, her eyes shifting from me to Ashton.

“Mama needs to talk with Ashton a bit.”

“Okay,” Chloe bites her lower lip. “Can I use your phone to talk to Diana?”

“Of course,” I reply, earning a toothy grin from her before she disappears into the house again.

After making sure Chloe is not in the ‘eavesdropping’ distance, I shift my focus back to Ashton.

“Don’t you... want to see if you and Diandra still can work it out?” I ask and regret it right away. What if he considers it?

“What is there to see? We tried recently, but it still didn’t work. And enough is enough.”

“What if she changes, Ashton?” I argue, not sure why I keep pushing. Maybe I just want to find the crack between his reasons, the crack that might save me from heartache in the future. “She apologized to me and realized that she was wrong. What if she is willing to change for you? She sounded remorseful.”

Ashton chuckles cynically at my question. “People don’t change, Charlotte, not that way. Okay, maybe some do, like what you saw in romance movies, or whatever.” Ashton shrugs. “Either way, I don’t want a woman to change for me. If she wants to improve, it needs to be for her own good.”

Ashton’s words throw me back to my previous relationship. This was what I did in the whole two years with Ethan. I wanted to be everything he wanted me to be, and it didn’t end well.

“Bottom line is, I don’t want her. I want to try this with you and see where this brings us,” Ashton concludes calmly, but it’s enough to make my stomach somersault, poking those rebellious butterflies once again.

“But I don’t have a lot to offer. You know how I am, right?” I ask, wincing at my own question. “If you look closely, very closely, you will see how far I am from being... a normal adult? Not to mention all the stupid mistakes I made, and still a lot more to come.”

He smiles at me, his eyes softening. “I know you’re a bit weird sometimes, and reckless, and impulsive, but you’re also kind, brave, devoted to your family, funny and the list goes on. Who is perfect anyway?”

“True,” I mumble, feeling the heat creeping up in my face.

“I’m a simple guy when it comes to my feelings, Char. I feel what I feel and I act on it. If it works, I’m a lucky man. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work, and I’ll move on,” he pauses before propping himself up and walking to me. Slowly, he caresses my reddened cheek, prompting me to close my eyes. “We know we’re both feeling it right now. Why not just explore it and see where it leads us?”

I open my eyes and force myself to look him straight in the eye. Despite all the fears, doubts, and blabbering thoughts in my head, my heart decides otherwise. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

Ashton’s fingers freeze, a wide grin slowly growing in the corners of his lips. His eyes twinkle. “Yeah?”

I nod as I smile, suddenly feeling shy under his gaze. “Yeah.”

---

Ashton cancels his agenda for Sunday and I beg Sophie to take Chloe for the day so that Ashton and I can spend time together, just the two of us. Well, of course, I have to tell my sister about what is going on since Sophie’s nose is actually longer and sharper than the elephant’s. Dating Chloe’s father has been her idea after all.

The summer is in full swing right now. Despite the humid and sticky weather, our Sunday is total bliss. We’ve decided to drive to his place since sitting under the cool breeze from the air conditioning sounds way more appealing than being cooked alive in my sizzling-hot living room. Besides, we can do whatever we want here without having to worry that Chloe, Sophie, Diana, or even Mom walks in on us out of nowhere.

Ashton’s place is huge. It’s a two-story apartment with three bedrooms. The interior is set in Scandinavian style with muted blue tones, almost gray, which gives a cold and uninviting vibe. Doesn’t he feel lonely to go home every night to a place that looks more like an interior design showroom than an actual home? But who am I kidding? He barely lives here. Even his office room at work feels more alive compared to this inhumanly tidy and untouched living room.

After debating for thirty minutes on what movie to see, we end up picking The God Must Be Crazy just to have some laughs. We’ve also ordered some pizzas and other naughty snacks despite Ashton’s objection. I know him and his weird obsession with healthy eating habits but I refuse to acknowledge it for now. We need to give ourselves a break and just be bad sometimes. It’s called life balance. Right?

“You need to install air conditioning in your house,” Ashton says as he settles next to me. He then urges me to lay my head on his chest while I carefully rest my feet up on the sofa, afraid of staining the white fabric.

“I know,” I mumble. “I’ve been planning to do it but I wanted to wait until I got my permanent status in the Remington Group.”

Ashton clicks his tongue. “You’re hurting my feelings, Char.”

“How so?” I turn my head to look up at him but instantly get distracted by his chiseled jaws covered with the five o’clock shadow. Is it legal to be this hot?

“You indirectly told me that we didn’t pay you enough during your probation period.”

“No, it’s not that.” I chuckle at his reply. “It’s... hard to explain.”

“Try me.”

“Okay. Let’s see where I can start.” I nibble my lower lip. “As you know, I wasn’t born into a wealthy family with unlimited money–” I point one finger at his chest “–like you.”

“Like me.” Ashton grabs my forefinger and keeps it in his hand.

“My parents earned a decent income but it was basically just enough to raise Sophie and me properly without having to strangle themselves financially. Sophie and I got everything we needed, and we were sent to good schools so that we had more choices for our future, and became independent human beings. But being independent was my worst struggle because of how I was.

“When I was younger, I used to live day by day and refused to learn how to become a reasonable adult. I didn’t have savings because I spent all my allowance on traveling or whatever tempted me at a time. Until the day Chloe came into my life.”

Ashton’s fingers brush my hair delicately, causing me to pause. “Go on. I’m listening.”

“So, after our daughter was born, I was forced to change, and the most challenging one was how to be a reliable provider for Chloe. I might have gotten lucky with jobs because of my qualifications, but I’m also prone to become an impulsive money spender. To help me control the urge, I made a vow that I will spend a large amount of money on leisure things only when I achieve a certain goal, you know, as a reward for myself. So, this air conditioning is my reward for passing my probation with good performance appraisal results.”

“Getting air conditioning is nothing leisure.”

“Says the person who grew up having it all his life.” I roll my eyes.

“You can send the bills to me,” says Ashton in a commanding tone.

I knit my eyebrow, turning my head to look up at him again. “What?”

“You should make a call tomorrow and order the central air conditioning for your house. And let me take care of the rest.”

“I can’t believe you.” When Ashton looks down with a confused look, I continue, “I told you about how I am and how my mind works because I wanted you to understand me. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not dating you for your money, Ashton.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he replies carefully. “It’s just... men’s intuition to provide for their family and to give them the best life. Nothing against your dignity. I swear.”

I fix my gaze on him, trying to find any sign of pretense but of course, I detect nothing. He’s just too advanced on this poker-face game after all.

“So, are you becoming my daddy now?” I ask teasingly.

Ashton glances down at me, raising one eyebrow. “So, is this how you wriggle yourself out of a serious discussion? By shifting it to naughty topics?”

I laugh at his remark. “Whatever it takes to make it work.”

“Well, it doesn’t work on me.” He pokes the tip of my nose. “So, let me pay it?”

“No,” I reply before turning my head back to the TV screen, feeling his finger twitching on my hair.

I just don’t get why men do this. Instead of listening to their women’s blabber, they focus more on solving the problem. Women can fix their own shits for god sake. At some point, they just need to be listened to and to be understood. That’s all.

“Let me pay a half of it then?”

“Nope.”

“Twenty-five percent?”

“Try again and I’ll go home.”

“Okay, okay. Jeez.”


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