Surprise Me Maybe

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Daddy's Day Out

The heat of the sun caresses my face, slowly pulling me out of my deep slumber. Reluctantly, I open my eyes and see the streaming sun rays peeking between the branches that are swaying gaily above me. I’m not sure how long I’ve been snoozing on my sunlounger in my backyard. My plan to start the book I’ve been wanting to read this weekend went down the drain once I surrendered to the tease of afternoon hibernation.

But it was a good nap. I needed it.

Stretching my torso, I turn my head to check the time and to see if there is a message from Chloe’s dad. It’s 4:30 PM and still nothing from him, which means things have been going well. A melancholy feeling blankets my heart; I miss my girl already. Since the day she was born, my weekend has always been about us, and suddenly, things have changed. But she’s spending time with her dad, catching up on the eight years of his absence. She needs this more than anything.

I slowly prop myself up with a grunt. This lounge chair can be very possessive to its owner sometimes, hardly letting me go. After picking up my book, water bottle, and phone, I saunter to the house while squinting my eyes from the brightness of the August sun. We are lucky enough that there is one big tree in our backyard, where Chloe and I can spend our afternoons when the temperature inside the house becomes uncomfortably hot. That reminds me that I should install an air conditioner once my permanent employment at Remington Group is settled.

Once inside, I go straight to my fridge to see what I can make for dinner. It’s when Chloe’s dad flashes on my screen.

“Hey, how is it going?” I greet as my eyes roam over my veggies rack.

“Good,” replies a deep voice that makes my tummy somersault instantly. He sounds tired but I can sense his smile.

“Mama! I rode a pony today! Her name is Charlotte!” I hear Chloe scream and cackle in a high pitch uncontrollably, a sign that she’s reaching her limit for the day.

Ashton laughs before adding, “I’m sorry we are a bit late. We’re about to head back and it probably takes forty minutes for us to get there. Is that okay?”

I grab a package of mixed veggies and close the fridge door. “It’s fine. How is she? Did she drink enough?”

“She’s enjoying herself. Yeah, I think she did drink enough,” he murmurs before I hear his muffled voice talk to my daughter in urgency. “Chloe, stop bouncing. You’re already sweating too much. Here, drink some more.”

I’m about to ask if he wants to stay for dinner but I change my mind. He always refused my offer lately. It was either because he had a dinner appointment —which I didn’t know with whom and I shouldn’t even care— or he had to get ready for a business trip. I don’t want to sound like a broken record only to get rejected again and again. A girl can have a little pride, can’t she?

“Alright. I’ll see you guys soon,” I say.

“See you in a bit.”

“See you, Mama!”

I chuckle as I hang up. Chloe has been spending her Saturday with her dad without me for eight weeks now. The first time was pretty intense. Instead of bringing back Chloe at 5 PM —the time we agreed on, Ashton was already in front of my door at 2 PM with my girl standing next to him, looking beaten and ready to throw herself at me. No, there was nothing tragic happening during their daddy’s day out. She was just drained from the intensity of being alone with her dad without her mama around. After lunch, she wanted to go home.

The second time was much better. Unlike their first failed attempt, Ashton let Chloe choose where to go and what to do. She, of course, picked our favorite park to show her dad around as if she was the owner of the place. It went pretty well, and they got back home a little before five; no trace of stress or exhaustion on our daughter’s face. Learning from that, Ashton now always includes Chloe in deciding the agenda for daddy’s day out.

Despite being more and more relaxed around her dad, Chloe never drops the idea to include me in their plan. Exactly like what she did this morning during breakfast.

“Are you coming with us, Mama?”

“No, sweetie,” I replied. “This is a daddy’s day out, meaning it’s a special time for you and your daddy to get to know each other. He wants to know a lot of things about you and you can learn about him, too. This is important for you two.”

“I’ve learned enough about him.”

“Have you?” I raised my eyebrow, intrigued.

Chloe bobbed her head. “He doesn’t talk much, but when he does, he talks so weird.”

“Weirdly how?”

Chloe shrugged. “Ashton asks questions like Mrs. Crosswood even though he isn’t a teacher.”

I chuckled. “True, he isn’t a teacher and I hope he never considers becoming a teacher, ever. And what else have you learned about him?”

“He doesn’t smoke, he has more than one car, he has a lot of money, his phone always makes a sound, and he can speak four languages!” Chloe raised her hand and stuck out four fingers in the air.

“Oh, wow!” I tried to match her enthusiasm. “That is so cool!”

“I told you I knew about my father.” Chloe grinned proudly before chugging down her orange juice. “So, are you coming with us?”

I played with my glass that had been empty for a while. Do I want to? The anxious butterflies in my stomach answered enough. But should I?

“You know what, after your birthday next month, I will see if I can come along once in a while. Not every Saturday though, maybe every first Saturday of the month. How about that?”

It took a few seconds for Chloe to finally grin at me, showing her missing upper lateral milk teeth. “Sounds good.”

Well, at least my answer will stop her from asking the same question every Saturday morning for now.

Not that I don’t want to be there for Chloe. I just think it’s not a good idea if I’m always present during the bonding time between her and Ashton. If I’m around, Chloe tends to cling to me and make me do the work. On the contrary, if I send her alone with Ashton, she will be forced to come out to build a connection with her dad by herself.

To be honest, I’m feeling a little miserable and left out. It had always been only Chloe and me until Ashton entered our little bubble recently. Sharing Chloe is something I have yet to learn, even though it’s with her own father. Sometimes I wish I could be more involved in their bonding process for the sake of my possessiveness to my kid, but there has to be a boundary. Ashton and I aren’t a couple. We don’t do stuff together every weekend because we have two separate lives. I don’t want to give Chloe the wrong idea and crush her hope one day if Ashton and I end up with someone else.

The problem is my crush on her dad gets more and more prominent lately. It’s frustrating and unhealthy. We’ve talked about this and agreed to just focus on Chloe for now. But every time my mind goes back to the night we shared a kiss, a part of me wishes Ashton showed a little sign that the kiss meant something to him.

He just doesn’t.

I guess being a ruthless CEO for a rapidly growing company trained him to be a romantic-less human being. All he knows is pushing everyone forward and bringing everything to the top for the sake of the company’s advancement; no time for a meaningful love life. Even with his former lover, Diandra, he didn’t give enough room for her to wiggle.

So, what chance do I have again? Almost nul.

And why am I even thinking about this right now? I’m not looking for a chance with him. Hell, I’m not even planning to get involved romantically with anyone in the near future. This transition is hard enough for all of us. What I need to do now is focus on my daughter.

The screaming doorbell pulls me out of my inner blabbering. I set the stove to the lowest temperature and put the lid on my saucepan, partly open, before striding to the front door.

“Mamaaa!” Chloe’s voice is even louder than the doorbell. “We’re home!”

After quickly adjusting my red sundress in front of the mirror at my entrance hall and making sure I look somewhat presentable, I pull the door open. In the next second, two pairs of green eyes are on me. The first pair belongs to a tall man with dark chestnut hair framing his devastatingly handsome face. His pale skin has now turned slightly orange from being exposed to the sun more than he’s used to. The second pair of eyes belong to my daughter whose striking resemblance to the man next to her, except for her light chestnut lock.

“My little chipmunk! I missed you so much! How was your day?” I chirp as I bend down to give my daughter a proper hug.

“It was awesome. I rode a pony the whole afternoon! Her name is Charlotte!”

“I heard that. You told me on the phone, remember?”

“Oh, ya!” Chloe giggles before pulling herself away and continuing her daddy-day report. “But Ashton didn’t want to ride Charlotte! He said Charlotte was too small to fit him.”

I open my mouth, trying to find a proper answer while Ashton suddenly coughs hard. It’s when I notice Chloe grin weirdly, her hands cupping her crotch. I frown and scoot over from the doorway.

“Go! You should’ve said it right away that you needed to pee, young lady,” I say sternly.

“Sorry!” she squeals as she sprints to the toilet, leaving me alone with Ashton who is still fighting to calm down his remaining cough.

“Are you alright?” I ask as I take Chloe’s bag and scooter from his hands.

“Yeah,” he answers while clearing his throat, his face visibly red. “I was just...”

“Choking at her words, I saw,” I finish his line, earning a chuckle from him. “Kids are just amusing sometimes. They say weird things from time to time without even realizing it. Are you staying for dinner, by the way? I made extra pasta sauce today,” I ramble as I put Chloe’s stuff next to the coat stand before I freeze immediately.

Did I just ask him to stay for dinner? So much for having a little pride left.

Just when I’m ready to hear his refusal and lose the rest of my dignity, his deep voice takes me by surprise. “I’d love to.”

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