Surprise Me Maybe

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Dark Days

Diandra’s words knock the wind out of my lungs. I can’t breathe. I need air.

The next sixty minutes is a complete blur to me. Diandra must have misinterpreted my inability to move as my willingness to listen to her happy babble about her pregnancy; about her anxiousness for only having five months to prepare for the arrival. I’ve seen Diandra in all kinds of emotional states since I knew her, but this is a different Diandra. She looks genuinely happy and content.

After forcing myself to congratulate her, I dash back to my car and drive to my house. At least the universe is kind enough to let me be home safe and sound. Once I park my car in the garage, I trudge to my bedroom and crawl on my bed, crouching in a fetal position.

Confusion, betrayal, humiliation, anger, and sorrow intertwine into one big ball of numbness. I can feel it bouncing inside me, but I can’t seize it, let alone unravel it. I just feel numb. Shouldn’t I cry now? But why can’t I cry?

Feeling the faint tightness in my chest, I close my eyes to mentally block my brain from processing the reality I have just discovered. But the more I try, the more all those negative thoughts circulate in my mind.

Ashton found out about the pregnancy last Saturday, in the morning Diandra came to his place. I knew there was something off about him, yet he chose to lie to my face. Strangely, he was very needy that night, making me believe that he missed me and wanted to have quality time together. We had sex, we talked, then had sex again, and cuddled for the rest of the night until the time he had to leave. After making sure Chloe was still fast asleep, he went home at four in the morning, bringing the untold truth with him.

How long is he planning to keep this information from me? Until Diandra’s belly is big enough to hide the bump? Or until he figures out how to get out of this twisting situation and ditch me without creating a drama?

I begin to believe that he chose me just because I’m a convenient option. He doesn’t have to split his non-existent free time for his child and his date since Chloe and I are a package deal. Now that he’s going to father another child, a child from the love of his life, it’s just a matter of time until he realizes which package is going to offer him a better deal.

The growing tightness in my chest is getting prominent, making it hard to breathe. My head throbs as the conversation Diandra and I had two weeks ago plays in my head.

“I know you’re too blind to see now because you’re in love. I can’t blame you because what’s not to love about him? But you’ve only known him for months. It should be me who said ‘I wouldn’t be so confident if I were you’.”

She’s probably right. I trusted him, yet he did this to me, keeping me in the dark as if I don’t matter, as if what we had in the past month meant nothing to him. Maybe I don’t know him after all.

What do I do now? Wait for him and see what he wants to say? Maybe we can still work it out. But how? By juggling between taking care of their newborn with Diandra and having a daddy’s day out with Chloe? And maybe spending time with me if he has a little time left? Or by buying a big house so that the five of us can live together as a happy family? Or maybe he will ditch her for me so that we can focus on our little family and ignore the fact that one of his children out there lives in resentment?

None of the options make sense to me. But what hurts me the most is he lied to my face about the talk he had with her that morning. No matter how bitter the situation is, I prefer to hear it from him than finding out this way. I feel left out and humiliated. Don’t I count? Don’t my feelings count?

Anger rises from the pit of my stomach before it starts pumping through my veins, slowly but surely. The corners of my eyes start to sting, followed by a tear sliding over the bridge of my nose before it wets my pillow. Another tear falls, accompanied by another, and another. I crumple the sheet into a ball in my palm and squeeze it as hard as I can until I feel my nails digging into my flesh, hoping that the pricking sensation can take over the torment in my chest.

It doesn’t.

Why is he doing this to me?

---

I ask Mom to take care of Chloe for the weekend because I don’t want my daughter to see me like this. Of course, I don’t tell the real reason to my know-it-all mother. Having a severe cold seems to make sense since I still have my nasal voice from hours of crying.

“Are you sure I don’t need to come? Do you have enough food? I’ll send you some tomorrow morning.”

“No, Mom. I have everything, don’t worry. I just need to sleep it off and I’ll be fine again in a day or two,” I assure her. “These first weeks in my new role are really wearing me off.”

“Okay,” Mom replies hesitantly. “Let me know if it gets worse. I can always make your favorite soup to help you eat.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I murmur, holding back the tears that are about to burst again. “Gotta go, now. And call me on the home line if there’s something urgent, I need to get away from my phone and people from work during my rest.”

Deciding that I don’t want to deal with anyone else for now, especially Ashton, I switch off my phone once I hang up. I stay in my bed for the rest of the evening, lying in the dark and staring blankly at the wall. The lights from the passing cars down the street illuminate through my bare window and dance on my bedroom wall. The only reminder that the world is still spinning, that life still goes on out there.

My chest is tightened up again when Ashton’s face invades my mind, followed by the familiar pricking sensation in the corners of my eyes. I cry again until I fall asleep.

----

I wake up in a jolt with a severe dryness in my throat. For a second, I lose track of time because my bedroom feels brighter than usual. When I turn my heavy head to the side, I notice my blind cover is still up, allowing the beaming street lights into my room. It’s dead quiet now, no more cars passing or other typical noise coming from the street. It must be some time past midnight.

The scenes from the past several hours rush back to my mind, followed by the same intense jabs in my chest. Why did I wake up? Why can’t I just keep sleeping until the pain is over?

With the remaining strength in me, I finally force myself to crawl out of bed, change into my pajamas, and trudge down to my kitchen. It’s two in the morning and I haven’t eaten anything since I got home, but the food is the last thing I need at the moment.

After chugging down a glass of cold water, I decide to lie down on my couch and turn on the TV, hoping it will help stop my jumbled mind from straying too far. But once I see a pregnant woman swaying her hips on the screen, I burst into tears again.

---

Feeling the glaring light hovering over my face, I open my eyes before immediately shutting them again. I roll to the side, trying to escape the light until my back hits something soft behind me. The couch’s backrest. Apparently, I fell asleep in my living room. I prop myself up with a loud groan, but the splitting headache hits me with full force, making me whimper.

I don’t know what time it is but the sun shines freaking bright already, contrasting my gloomy spirit. The birds chirping in the backyard and the sound of cars occasionally passing by tells me that a new day has begun, ready to embrace the world. But not my world, because it has stopped rotating for me.

The aching feeling in my chest doesn’t go away as I try to function for the whole morning. For a moment I’m tempted to grab a bottle of wine to escape the pain, but I decide against it. I can’t keep running to alcohol every time my life hits rock bottom. I need to face this while sober.

In an attempt to distract myself, I take the mower from the garage and trim my backyard lawn. Still, I break into tears now and then, but it’s alright. I just need to go with my feelings and let them out. Lucky that the mower is loud enough to hide my sobs, otherwise, my neighbors would be so worried about me. The next attempt is to vacuum the whole house, hoping it sucks all the dust and the remnants of him being in this house.

Still having plenty of time to tire myself out before dinner time, I grab my cleaning tools and work on the bathroom. I have to say, it feels extremely cathartic when I wail so loud while scrubbing my bathroom tiles. By the time I’m done with it, my shower floor is shinier than ever.

---

I wake up with soreness all over my body from the previous day’s hard harbor, but the optimistic impulse begins to grow in me. I will be over this. I’ve learned about the painful fact and given myself time to deal with it. And it’s time to call it a day.

Today is the day when Charlotte Garnett takes control of her feelings and is back on the game.

I call my mom to tell her that I’m going to pick up Chloe after I’m done with the groceries in the afternoon. Even though I’ve done my monthly groceries last week, I have the urge to buy some more. What can I say? New life, new appetite, and new food stock. And yes, going through heartbreak is not cheap.

I’ve just finished arranging all the things I bought into the kitchen cupboard when I hear a doorbell. Huh? I thought I told Mom I was going to drive to their house to collect my daughter. And why did she ring the bell? Doesn’t she have my house key?

“I just got home and–” I stop abruptly when I see who is standing in front of me. My whole body goes tense immediately. “What are you doing here?”

The Ashton Knight I know —if I knew him at all— is the man who is broad, confident, and has no regret for what he has done, regardless of right or wrong. But the man before me now looks like a beaten kitten, lost, and sad.

“Your phone is off. I couldn’t reach you,” he answers.

“I turned it off. You shouldn’t be home until tonight anyway,” I mutter, my hand holding my door, blocking him from inviting himself in.

“I know. I took an early flight. Diandra texted me.”

I scoff. “Of course.”

“Char–”

“What do you want, Ashton?” I ask with a dangerously low tone. “Throwing another lie to my face? Is the humiliation you gave me not enough?”

“I’m so, so sorry. I’ve been wanting to tell you about it–”

“Too bad, your baby momma beat you into it.” I chuckle bitterly. “You had one week to break the news to me; seven days to share the very important news with your girlfriend. But it seems like you’ve decided on what is important for you. Do you see us as a joke, Ashton? Is that what I meant to you?”

“No!” he replies, half shouting, half whispering. “You have to understand that this is also very hard for me to take. I just did what I thought right at a time, at least until I figured out what to do.”

“So, have you figured it out?” I challenge him, but only answered with his silence. “Just as I thought.”

“She’s going through a tough pregnancy, Char, and I can’t just ignore it as if I have nothing to do with this situation. It’s my baby she’s carrying.” His voice comes out as a whimper but it’s enough to take the last string of hope in me. “I still need more time to figure out how to fit everyone into one big picture. To make it work for all of us.”

“I’ll make this easy for you, Ashton. Go to her and be with her. Do what you need to do. The unborn baby needs you more than anything else and the clock is ticking.”

“Char–”

“I always knew that us seeing each other was not a good idea from the very start anyway. You, with your past, your family, your position, are too much for me to handle.”

“That’s not true-”

“I thought I could, but damn was I wrong. Very wrong.” I close my eyes as I suck in my breath. “I think we should retreat to our earlier role, only as Chloe’s parents.”

“No, no, no,” he replies, panic flashes in his eyes. “I don’t want us to end.”

“But I do,” I whisper, my grip tightening on my door to support my balance. My eyes start to blur.

If Ashton looked defeated when he showed up at my door ten minutes ago, there are no words to describe his current state. For the first time in my life, I see his eyes turning bloodshot and his green pupils dilating as tears begin to pool in the corners of his eyes.

“Don’t do this, Char.”

“This is just too much, Ashton. I just can’t see myself doing this with you. We’re barely a couple and now I have to share you with your other little family,” I mutter with a trembling voice, suppressing the emotions that are about to burst out. I can’t cry in front of him. “I don’t...I can’t be with you. Not like this.”

“Please, Char,” Ashton begs.

“I’m sorry.” A tear rolls down on my cheek. “I wish things worked differently for us.”

Ashton drops his head and stays rooted on his spot for a while until he mumbles in defeat, “Me, too.”


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