Dickson’s green eyes are fixed on me. “What do you think?”
I struggle to swallow while moaning. “This is illegally delicious!” I squeal before licking the remaining sauce from my lips.
“If you ate it slowly and took a normal bite-size, it would’ve tasted even better,” Dickson replies before sticking his last bite of hotdog into his mouth.
“I know.” I wipe a napkin over my mouth before throwing it into the bin. “I didn’t know I was that hungry.”
After a ten-minute walk from our office building, passing a quiet alley and another busy business street, we finally found the hotdog vendor across a small park. It’s nothing fancy but it’s extremely busy. Luckily, they served the food at the speed of light. It didn’t take long until we could devour our hotdog while standing on the pavement.
“How did I not hear about this place before? I’ve been here for almost a year!”
“I bet you’re more of a restaurant person,” Dickson guesses as we start walking to the bar.
“Nope,” I reply. “I’m more of a home-cooking person.”
Dickson raises one eyebrow. “Sounds boring.”
“I know, but I have a kid who needs to be in her bed at eight. It’s not practical to bring Chloe out for food unless it’s the weekend. But Saturday is Ashton’s day. So,” I say, shrugging, “we can probably try more things when Chloe is bigger.”
“Ah, okay.” Dickson slips his hands on his leather jacket’s pocket. His playful demeanor suddenly changes. “I don’t get to see my kid that regularly.”
“Oh. Why not?”
Dickson brushes his finger through his shiny blond hair before hiding his hand inside his pocket again. “Her mom and I aren’t really on good terms. She kinda turns my kid against me to get what she wants.” He then looks down at me. “Ashton is a lucky bastard that he can see Chloe every week without any drama.”
“I’m just trying to give Chloe what she deserves,” I murmur. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning because it had always been just me and Chloe since she was born.”
Well, it’s definitely not easy now either, given the situation. But I want to let Chloe get all the time she can have with her dad before the baby’s arrival. I don’t think Ashton will manage to see her every week afterward.
“Have you thought about changing the arrangement when the baby is born?” Dickson asks. I swear he can read my mind.
I shake my head. “I’m not sure. I don’t even know what’s going on right now. I mean, why is there no announcement or anything public about the baby? Knowing Ashton, he would want to make it public, right?”
We stop at the zebra crossing and wait for the light to turn green. A cold wind blows through my hair, pushing my brown lock onto my face and blocking my sight. I brush it back and tug it behind my ear.
“They still need to wait for the paternal test,” Dickson explains casually but enough to make my eyes widen.
“They what? But I thought... Ashton knew it was his.”
“Oh yeah. From the estimated date of when the baby was conceived, it was around when they were still seeing each other. But it’s more for claiming a legal heir since they’re not married. He did that too to Chloe, I believe?”
“Right,” I mumble, wanting to ask more but the light turns green. I jog to keep up with Dickson’s wide stride as we cross the huge intersection diagonally. The bar should be in the next two blocks from this point if I remember it correctly. “But it’s been two months since they found out. They should have the result by now?”
“That’s the thing. They can’t do it yet.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve heard about how Diandra’s doing now.” Dickson’s voice sounds uneasy.
“How is she doing?” I ask carefully.
“Not so great. She has issues with high blood pressure. And the doctor doesn’t recommend the prenatal paternity test yet.”
“Preeclampsia,” I mumble, suddenly feeling awful for her. Her content and hopeful face during our last meeting pops up in my head, making my chest tightened.
“Right. That’s the term! Preeclampsia,” Dickson replies. “She is under a strict diet and exercise schedule to make sure everything is fine. But you know, everyone is nervous now. Ashton, my mom, her mom, everyone. It feels like it’s the pregnancy of the whole family.”
“I bet. But it must be very hard for her, though. She’s been waiting for this for a very long time. I hope everything goes well until the baby is born.”
It takes a few seconds before Dickson replies, “Yeah.”
The bar is packed. For some reason, everyone seems to hit Dopium tonight, probably to get away from the crazy traffic out there. If we came later, we wouldn’t be able to find a spot to sit, even if it’s behind the bar counter where we are now, squeezed between people coming and going to order drinks.
Dickson and I sit next to each other, shoulders almost pressing to make sure we don’t create a gap to allow anyone to steal the space between us. The disco music in the background is muffled with the buzzing sound of people chatting, laughing, and squealing. The joy of Friday night.
Ever since we talked about Diandra’s situation, something about Dickson has shifted. It’s hard to put a finger on it but he’s just not as teasingly and as talkative as usual.
“How many guys have you dated since Chloe was born, Charlie?” asks Dickson out of the blue. His voice starts to slur and his eyes look bleary. He hasn’t held back from drinking since we arrived a couple of hours ago.
“Whew! I don’t know how many, to be honest,” I reply while chuckling, feeling quite relaxed from the alcohol I took earlier. “A few. Maybe more.” I shrug. “I’m not sure.”
“Did you fall in love?”
That’s a good question. Since Ethan, I don’t think I have fallen for anyone. Feeling attracted maybe, or infatuated. But being in love like I was with my college sweetheart? I don’t think so. With Ethan, I gave everything in me; I lost myself in him. I know it’s unhealthy but that’s how much I loved him.
After Chloe was born, I went out with some guys, but none of it ended up in a serious relationship. Until Ashton. Well, I’m not sure if my short period of dating Chloe’s dad can be considered a serious relationship since we were just in the phase of probing each other. In the dark. Maybe it was just a strong infatuation —if that term exists, because I was still capable of thinking what was right and wrong when I was with him.
“Maybe I did,” I reply truthfully. “I don’t even know where the line between love and infatuation is anymore.”
“It’s easy,” he slurs. “After you try to move on with different guys but still want to keep coming back to the same dude, then there you are.”
“Yeah?” I mumble while playing with the stem of my mocktail glass. “I was in that state once. My long-lost ex suddenly popped back up into my life and he wanted me back. I thought he was the one I’d been waiting for, but then I learned that he was not.”
Dickson turns his head to me, his eyes looking intrigued. “Why not?”
I shrug. “I don’t know why exactly. Maybe I just needed closure.”
“Ah, yeah. Sometimes we need that.” Dickson bobs his head before chugging down the rest of his vodka. He then waves his glass at the bartender.
“You would be so wasted if you don’t stop drinking now.”
“That’s the idea of hitting this bar, no?” he replies as he chuckles. “Sometimes, I’m allowed to be useless and miserable. Well, I’m useless anyway; my life is useless.”
“Your life is not useless, Dickson.”
“I ruined the company I ran, I impregnated a bitch who is now becoming a leech in my family, meanwhile, the woman I love is pregnant with someone else’s–” Dickson stops abruptly, probably realizing that he just gave away too much information. “Shit.”
“Don’t worry. I knew it already.” I smile at him reassuringly. When he doesn’t react, I bump my shoulder softly to his. “Hey, this is why we hit this bar, isn’t it? Be buddies and be miserable together. I swear I will act as if you never said anything about her after tonight.”
“Last one for you tonight, man,” says the bartender while refilling Dickson’s glass. He then shifts his gaze to me, lifting one eyebrow.
“I’ll have another Citrus Frizz,” I say as I push my empty glass to him. I had one liqueur shot and a glass of cocktail earlier tonight. If I want to drive home in an hour or so, I need to stick to zero-proof drinks for the rest of the night.
“Does she know by the way?” I focus my eyes on Dickson again. His face has turned redder from the drinking, or probably it’s the violet lighting from the dance floor.
“Oh.” I bite my inner cheek, thinking of what to say next. I can ask anything I want and get a straight answer from him right now. He’s too tipsy to control his tongue. “How did she handle this then? I mean, knowing that you love her all this time?”
Dickson scoffs. “Like it’s going to change anything. She’s set her eyes on my little brother from the very beginning. I’m just a hobby for her. Not that I’m complaining because I’m not a relationship type of guy. Sex with her is incredible; I’ve never been with a girl like her, you know. But once she finds her way to get Ashton back, she’ll drop everything. That bitch.” Dickson shakes his head while smiling bitterly. “But I don’t know why I can’t say no every time she crawls back on my bed. See?” He glances at me, “I’m useless.”
I say thanks when the bartender brings my drink before I turn my head back to Dickson. “I wouldn’t think so. You can’t control who you love.”
“Well, you can control your dick.” He chuckles.
I take a sip from my mocktail. “When was the last time you and Diandra saw each other by the way?”
“Three months ago, a little before she found out about the pregnancy.” Dickson plays with his half-empty glass, eyebrow furrowing. “After Ashton broke up with her, she flew to South East Asia to escape from the situation for a while. She asked if I wanted to come with her but I couldn’t at that moment. After a month or so, she was at my door again, looking for a distraction.”
I’m lost for words. This whole brother rivalry thing is getting really painful to hear. How could Diandra get herself in between and string along with two siblings like this?
“Well, of course, she was using me to forget him. And I didn’t mind. Man was I pathetic. Now that she’s getting the life she wants, which is having the baby from the man she’s been pining over, I can stop wondering if whatever shit we had was real.” Dickson raises his glass, urging me to make a toast. “Charlotte Garnett, tonight is the night you hear my vow that–” he hiccups “–Dickson Knight will never make a fool of himself in front of–” he hiccups again “– Diand... no, in front of all the women in the world.”
I raise my glass to him. “Amen!”
After he chugs down the rest of his vodka, he takes my hand and pulls me up. “Enough being sissy. Let’s dance!”
“What?” I squeak as I grab my mocktail with me before letting him drag me farther onto the dancefloor. “But don’t we need to check where Leo and his girlfriend are right now?”
“They are not coming!” Dickson replies before grabbing my hand to spin me.
“How do you know?” I ask, answered by Dickson twirling me again. But then he takes out his phone and shows me Leo’s message.
The hard beat music begins to pump in our veins while the blinking LED lights and disco balls flash against our faces. Despite the fun, the alcohol begins to leave my system while Dickson is getting drunker and clumsier. I cackle every time he makes a stupid move. With a glass of mocktail in one hand, I have to grab Dickson’s arm now and then to make sure he doesn’t stray too far and bump into others.
He glances down at my glass and grins. “Oh! You haven’t finished your cocktail! You’re not drinking alone. Wait, gonna grab another drink.”
“This isn’t a cocktail. I believe they–”
“I’ll be right back! Stay there!”
“–won’t serve you,” I finish my line but he’s already out of my sight. Thinking that there’s no point in chasing him, because he will go back empty-handed anyway, I shrug and chug down the rest of my drink while keeping on swaying my hips and enjoying myself. When was the last time I danced like this? Just me and my drink, and not caring about the rest? Right, it was the night when I met Ashton nine years ago. The difference is, I was totally wasted that night.
It’s been ten minutes and Dickson hasn’t gone back to the dance floor. Deciding to look for him, I make my way out of the crowd. He starts to make me worried.
When I manage to spot him, he’s sitting on the barstool, leaning forward with his head lying flat on the counter while the bartender is talking to him.
“Dickson? Are you alright?”
“I think he’s falling asleep,” says the bartender. “He needs to go home.”
“Okay,” I reply as I shake Dickson’s shoulder softly. “Dickson, wake up. We need to go now.”
Dickson moves his head to the side. His eyes flutter open and he grins once he sees me. “No, I was about to get some more drinks. We still need to dance some more.”
“No more drinks or dancing for you tonight, dude. My guys will help you to your car,” the bartender interjects.
“Yes,” the bartender and I chorus.
After some grunting, whining, and speaking in gibberish, we’re now sitting in a cab. The guys from the bar refused to carry him to our office building, of course. If they could, they would just drop him on the pavement without batting an eyelash. Luckily, we could find a taxi and left the damn bar immediately.
“What is the address?” the taxi driver peers on me from the rearview mirror.
I’m thinking of stopping by at my work building to grab my car and drive Dickson home, but I have no idea how to carry him to the basement with his current state. He’s freaking heavy. It leaves me with the choice of bringing Dickson to his home with this taxi. The problem is, I don’t know where he lives and he barely talks coherently right now.
Then I give the driver my address.