The perk of switching into a challenging job when we break up is we can channel our frustration into something positive.
My days are all about back-to-back video meeting calls, attending international gatherings, and worldwide correspondence with my targeted clients. Some days go with promising potential deals and some days are total disasters. Not to mention when I’m stuck with what I thought was a language barrier. But then I learn that it’s more of an accent problem. Some clients speak very fluent English but the way they pronounce the words makes me stumble sometimes, and there goes my short attention span.
Dickson isn’t as bad as I thought even though Max is still my favorite boss in this company group. If his brother is into precision, Dickson is more into speed and invasion. Sometimes, he comes up with brutal ideas which can easily get us into cultural appropriation problems since we are dealing with overseas clients. Nonetheless, he’s the man if we need someone to brainstorm.
Luckily, I have Sean as my mentor; the guy from the old marketing team. Despite his less invasive moves, he has more experience dealing with our targeted market. Sean is the antidote of the wild Dickson.
“Can you maybe put a scarf on?” Sean asks when we’re about to start the video calls with a client.
Sean winces slightly. “To cover your chest?”
“What?” I look down to make sure that my boobs aren’t popping out. Well, they’ve been staying obediently in their place under my V neckline which shows a little part of my cleavage. “There is nothing wrong with my breasts.”
“I know, your breasts are great but I know these guys. Trust me, you will thank me later.”
I narrow my eyes on him. “That’s sexual harassment!”
Sean shrugs. “Welcome to the real world. They won’t push it to the point where you can sue them, of course, but I know you won’t like it. But you’ll see, we will milk them dry.”
I let out a deep sigh. “I don’t have a scarf with me, thank you for the last-minute advice. Look at the corner now! I need to turn my blouse around,” I grumble while making a mental note to go to the store this weekend to buy scarfs in all colors and stick them in my office drawers.
Sean obediently turns around to let me quickly fix my blouse. “So, how are things going with the baby-daddy stuff? Have people stopped staring at you by now?”
“I guess so. It’s been two months since the news was out,” I reply, trying not to strangle myself with my chiffon blouse. “But uh, some girls still blatantly asked about when will Chloe take her father’s last name.”
Sean chuckles. “You guys are still The Remington’s celebrities for now. At least until we have a new gossip to brew.”
I gulp. He’s right, though. It’s just a matter of time until they hear about the baby bump which I don’t understand why it hasn’t come up to the surface yet. I’ve been preparing myself for this, for Ashton and Diandra announcing the good news which will be followed by people looking at me with pity gaze. But no matter how prepared I think I am, it still gives me shivers every time I think of it.
But I don’t want to think about it right now. Or never.
“Okay, I’m done,” I announce, putting both my hands on my waist. “How do I look?”
I’m glad I chose to move to the headquarters because there is less possibility of bumping into Ashton at work. Actually, the chance is almost zero since we work in different companies and on different floors. The only time I had to communicate with Knight & Co’s people was when I was close to wrapping up the deal and had to discuss the actual product availability with them. It’s funny that my hidden reason for the transfer was to give my relationship with Ashton a chance. Yet here I’m, feeling relieved that we live in separate worlds now.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I still have to see him every Saturday when he picks up Chloe. And it’s hard.
Since we are the adults in this situation and don’t want to create discomfort for our daughter, we always try to act civil towards each other. Something like exchanging a few words about what Chloe needs for the day, or sometimes we don’t need to say anything at all. But I know we always avoid each other’s gaze. Once his car leaves my driveway, the air that has been stuck inside my lungs start to circulate again. It’s been seven weeks since we broke up, and I don’t know if we will be able to get over this awkwardness anytime soon.
“Are you angry at Ashton?” Chloe finally asks. Ashton just left after dropping her home from their daddy’s day out.
Her question stops me from seasoning the meat I’m baking. “No,” I reply in a casual tone before resuming my cooking. “Why do you ask?”
I hear the screeching sound of the breakfast stool being dragged. “He looks sad lately and he hasn’t eaten with us for some time.”
“And that’s because I’m angry at him?” I ask calmly while my heart starts to thump harder against my chest. Chloe is too observant for her own good, and I knew she would pick up the tension between her parents.
“I don’t know. Maybe he did something that made you mad. Because you didn’t want to go with us to see Charlotte and you don’t smile as much around him. Has he been naughty, Mama?”
“No, sweetie, it’s not that. Mama is just... tired because of this whole new thing at work. It has nothing to do with your father.” I turn around to face her, swallowing the growing lump in my throat. I lied to my kid again. “I will smile more next time when he comes to pick you up. Okay?”
“Okay.” Chloe’s green eyes are fixed on mine. “And will you come with us next time? Hugh and Martha are throwing a party on the twenty-seventh. They would love us to come.”
“Oh, what’s the occasion?”
“It’s Martha’s birthday, but also a late Christmas party.” Chloe tilts her head, looking unsure. “Or is it an early year-end party?” She then shrugs. “I want to come, Mama, with you.”
I bite my inner cheek, thinking about what I should say. My first thought is ‘hell, no’, but when I see my daughter’s pleading gaze, I lose the battle. “I’d love to.”
A small grin grows in the corners of her lips as she says, “Cool.” With that, she jumps off the stool and disappears into the living room with her new magazine.
Once she’s out of my sight, my smile turns into rigid stretched lips. What have I just done? Agreeing to Chloe’s proposal to go with her to the party while knowing Ashton will be there too? What about the rest of the Knights? Are they invited too?
My breath hitches in my throat. If they do, they will meet Chloe and probably tell her about Diandra carrying her half-sibling. Or worse, Diandra is coming too with her noticeably bump and going to announce that she’s expecting Ashton’s baby. Shit, shit, shit! I haven’t prepared my daughter for this news because I’m still waiting for the official announcement before breaking it to Chloe.
I need to talk to Ashton about this.
“This month’s profile looks good, guys!” Dickson concludes. “I know we still need a few months, probably by the end of the first quarter next year, to see the money coming. But we’re pushing it in the right direction now. Good job!”
Everyone in the room applauds before we start to collect our stuff and hurry out of the room. The meeting today is longer than usual, taking up half of our lunchtime, due to several issues that need to be addressed. Plus, Christmas is approaching. Things tend to get slower out there during the last months of the year, and it’s a cue for us to work at double speed.
“Having your lunch at your chamber again today?” asks my boss with a playful tone, prompting me to chuckle.
“Yep. No need to point out how miserable my office social life is,” I reply as I stand up.
Dickson cackles. “Look at me! Who wants to even sit with me and have lunch together. When they see my face, all they want is to gossip about my past life. I gave up on office social life a long time ago, Charlotte.”
I hug my files into my chest. “They don’t forget fast, huh?”
“Nope.” Dickson pops the ‘p’. “I know they’re doing exactly the same thing to you.”
“Yeah, but ever since I moved here, I’ve never really put any effort into making friends, either. I mean, I like talking with everyone in this team, but it’s just different.”
“Because we all have a penis?”
I laugh. “No. I don’t have gender preferences for making friends. Never mind,” I wave my hand in a dismissive gesture, “maybe I’m just the one who is off lately.”
Dickson leans back on his backrest and slowly rubs his clean jaw. One thing that differentiates these two siblings about their appearances, Dickson will never leave his house without being fully shaven, while Ashton sometimes keeps his stubble for a day or two. “What happened? Trouble in paradise with the loved one?” he asks carefully.
I purse my lips, wondering what Dickson actually knows about me. “You can say that.”
“Ditch him. If he brings you down more than bringing you joy, he’s not worth it then. Life is too short for that. Besides, there are plenty of men that you can enjoy being with without giving you complication.”
In all honesty, I’m starting to think that Dickson knows more than I gave him credit for. The question is, how much does he know? “Well, it’s done. It’s in the past now.”
“Good. You know what? You should go with us this weekend after work. We’re going to grab some drinks and chill.” Dickson offers. “You look like you need a little cheering up. What do you say?”
“I don’t know about that.”
“I know you need to be home for Chloe. But going out occasionally to relax is good for your mental health, you know,” he replies. “And you haven’t really spent time with us outside work. I’m starting to think you dislike your teammates.”
“No, that’s not the case,” I mumble even though deep down, I agree with him. I’ve been withdrawing myself from my social life. “I’ll see if someone can take care of Chloe for the night.”
I throw the last bite of donuts into my mouth when Dickson sticks his blond head into my room, grinning from ear to ear.
“I’ve been waiting for you all my life,” I retort, still with my mouth full of donuts. After turning off my computer screen, grabbing my bag from the bottom drawer, and snatching my winter coat from the back of my chair, I jog to the door.
“Sorry for being–” Dickson glances at his wristwatch “–thirty minutes late. The conversation with Mr. Jun was longer than I expected. It’s Saturday morning there, and he’s still working like a bull.”
“Well, what I can say is I’m lucky I don’t work for him. Or I will never get to see my kid the whole week,” I reply as we stride to the elevator.
“And I have bad news,” Dickson says with a flat tone while leaning on the elevator wall.
“What bad news?”
“It’s just the two of us now. Sean and Bram bailed on us at the last minute, and Leo is coming later with his girlfriend.”
As agreed, we’re going to have some drinks tonight. It’s supposed to be the team thing but apparently, not tonight. It’s going to be just Dickson and me, and maybe Leo, if he and his girlfriend don’t decide to bail too.
“Are you okay with it?” Dickson’s eyes search my face.
“Yeah, of course. Chloe is going to the circus with my sister and her kid, anyway. Too late to change plans.”
Once we step out of the building, the cold December wind caresses my face as the Friday night traffic is welcoming us with the humming sound of the cars from the street, high pitch honk splitting our eardrums occasionally. People are piling up at the bus stop, or lining up at the side of the streets to wait for available cabs. I’m just glad that we don’t have to drive right now.
Not wanting to trouble ourselves with the hassle of finding a spot to park, we’ve decided to leave our cars at the office parking lots and just go to the bar on foot. Dopium is only a couple of blocks away anyway.
“Have you eaten?” Dickson asks.
“No, not yet.” I shake my head. “But I’m not that hungry. Thanks for the donuts, by the way.”
“The donuts weren’t for dinner. We can stop by somewhere to get something to eat before hitting the bar,” Dickson suggests. “There is a delicious hotdog vendor down the street. The sauce is very unique and so creamy.”
Hearing Dickson’s explanation about the food, my tummy makes an audible growl. “You eat at a street-food vendor?”
“Of course! Do you think I’m that high and almighty like Chloe’s dad?”
Speaking of the Knight and the Knight shall appear. It’s when I catch the very person striding toward us from the corners of my eyes. In one blink of an eye, Ashton is standing in front of us, in his black coat, looking as broad and handsome as usual. My traitorous heart skips a beat.
“Good evening! I hope you still can make it to the doctor’s appointment on time, Brother,” Dickson chirps. “It’s going to be one hell of traffic tonight.”
Instead of answering his brother, Ashton fixes his eyes on me, a little bit longer than necessary, before shifting his gaze to Dickson. “I hope so,” he replies as he glances at the black Porsche in front of us. A driver is standing by its back door, waiting for him.
“Good luck then! I hope Dee won’t get too pissed when you show up late.” No matter how casual Dickson’s tone is, I can feel the mockery and bitterness in his voice.
“What are you guys doing here?” Ashton asks, ignoring his brother’s provoking.
“We’re going to get something to eat and hit the bar to chill afterward. Just enjoying Friday night to the fullest.”
Ashton turns his gaze to me. “Chloe isn’t home tonight?”
Before I can say something, Dickson beats me by a millisecond. “She’s with Sophie. Now, we won’t hold you any longer. And this young lady needs to be fed.” Ignoring Ashton’s eyes that are boring holes in his head, Dickson put his hand on the small of my back, ushering me to start walking. “Enjoy your little family night, Bro! Say hi to Diandra from us! Ciao!” With that, he waves his other hand at his brother.
Still not able to find my voice, I glance back at Ashton while staggering away with Dickson’s hand guiding me. It's too dark to make out Ashton’s facial expression but he remains on his spot, unmoved and eyes on us until his driver walks to him and hesitantly talks to him. Ignoring the familiar jab in my chest, I turn my head and take a deep breath before walking ahead, matching Dickson’s speed.
Yes. I just need to keep my head on what’s in front of me, not the one that I’ve left behind.