Rich People’s Problem
I’m running as fast as my shaky feet can bring me. I don’t even know where I am right now. Everything around me is just unclear and dark, but the growling sound in the back of my neck is the sign that I’m not in a safe place. I need to run and run until I finally find an exit. But once I burst out of the door, I’m welcomed by the beach scenery.
Everything looks calm and serene all of a sudden. The coconut trees sway together, following the music that comes out of nowhere. Then...
Y aserejé-ja-dejé de jebe tu de jebere seibiunouva majavi a de bugui a de güididípi...
My eyes flutter open and are welcomed by my bedroom ceiling. I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize it was just a dream, but the continuously singing ringtone from my phone somewhere across the room makes me groan. Cussing, I crawl out of bed.
“Hello,” I croak once I manage to retract my phone from my bag. My room is still pretty dark but I can see my reflection in the mirror. My hair is a replica of a lion’s mane and my eyes barely open. I plop down on my bed again.
“Good morning!” Sophie chirps from the other side. “You said that Chloe’s dad is going to pick her up earlier today, right? Was it nine or eight-thirty?”
My sister’s question is like a bucket of cold water being thrown at my face. “Shit!” I jump up and quickly roll the blind on my bedroom window. “What time is it?” The December sun is still lazily beaming behind the horizon, reflecting a spectrum of orange hues in the sky.
“It’s eight-thirty! But worry not, we are almost there! Tell Ashton to wait a bit if he’s already there, yeah?” Sophie rattles off at the same time I hear a roaring car entering my driveway.
“He’s here,” I squeak as I stride to the bedroom door. Once I reach the upstairs hall, I’m greeted with an earth-shattering snore from the guest room. The exact growling sound in my dream. “Fuck, fuckity fuck! Dickson is here too, sleeping in the guest room. Ashton can’t see him here. You gotta get your ass here, Soph! Now!”
Snatching my winter robe, I run down the stairs with my wobbly feet, still groggy from an improper waking up, and dash to the front door before Ashton has a chance to ring the bell. Right when my hand reaches the doorknob, the doorbell screams, splitting the stillness —ignoring Dickson’s snore— in my house.
“Goddammit,” I curse under my breath before pulling the door open. “Good morning.”
My breath hitches in my throat when I see the man before me. Ashton’s hair is still wet from the shower and being pulled backward while his jaws are cleanly shaven. His brown leather jacket hides his white shirt and a pair of black denim pants snuggle his long legs. How does he look this gorgeous when I’m still trying to collect the pieces of my soul? But when Ashton’s eyes shift to my hair —with the expression I don’t even want to describe right now— and travel down my unevenly tied robe until they stop at my oversize tiger slippers, I shrink into half of my actual size.
“Have you just woken up from a nightmare?” he asks as he frowns.
This is the first time we are alone since we broke up. On the usual daddy’s day out, Chloe is always the one who opens the door and greets her father. I would just stand at a respectful distance and hand Chloe’s stuff to Ashton before wishing them a good day and closing the door. And now here we are, thanks to Sophie.
“Yeah,” I mumble while quickly pressing my rebellious hair against my head, forcing it to lie flat.
“What nightmare?” he asks.
I wave my hand in a dismissive gesture. “Stupid stuff. Just a growling monster who is chasing me around.”
Speaking of the devil, the devil shall appear. It’s when I hear footsteps climbing down my stairs. Shit! Out of reflex, I push the door forward to prevent Ashton’s eyes from seeing who is about to show up.
“That must be Chloe?” A faint smile appears on Ashton’s lips as he moves his head to the right, followed by me shifting to the left to block his line of sight.
“Chloe will be here soon. She’s with Sophie and they’re on their way.” I glance at my driveway, praying for Sophie’s car suddenly falling from the sky. “She spent the night at Sophie–” My line is cut abruptly by the sound of a man clearing his throat behind me.
“Who is that?” Frowning, Ashton tries to peek again.
“Charlie?” Dickson’s rough voice is like a Thor hammer smashing the lego house I’m just trying to build. In the next second, I hear his footsteps coming closer and there is no way that Ashton can’t spot him.
Ashton’s eyes instantly narrow when he sees who has just emerged from my hallway. “How... what are you doing here?”
“Good morning to you too, little brother, and that is a good question. What am I doing here?” Dickson replies. I’m sure he was born smirking because that’s what he is doing now effortlessly despite his hangover state. “We had some drinks last night and then we danced, and... I can’t remember the rest.”
“He’s...” I turn my head to Dickson. “You were drunk. I was–” Before I finish my line, Sophie’s honda civic is roaring into my driveway, farting a few times before the engine stops.
“We are here!” My sister squeals at us as she jumps out of her car and opens the back door to help the girls with their stuff. “Sorry for being a tad bit late. I think there is something wrong with my car. I need to call Dad to have his guys fix it. Char, can I use your car for a couple of hours? Diana has to...” her voice falters when she notices the tension in the air. “Oh, hi, everyone! Good morning!” She waves at us with an extra-wide grin on her face.
I wince at my sister, sending her a silent cry to help me get out of the awkward situation. “Hi, Soph. Alas, you can’t use my car because I don’t have it with me now,” I say.
“Where is your car?” Sophie asks.
“Still at work. We... I mean Dickson and I couldn’t drive last night.”
“How much did you drink?” Ashton asks.
“But drunk enough to take a cab home instead of driving?”
“We...” I pause, realizing that I don’t need to explain shit to him. I shrug. “I guess.”
Hearing my answer, Ashton’s jaws clench, but before he can say something, Chloe runs to me and nuzzles against my abdomen before she turns around to observe the situation.
“Why is Ashton’s brother here, Mama? Did he sleep in our house?” Chloe asks.
“Yes, sweetie. He was too tired to drive home last night. Mama had to take him home so that he could rest a bit.”
“Why didn’t Ashton pick him up? Aunt Sophie always does that when you can’t drive.”
“Well, your daddy was too busy with his... little family member. It was better not to bother him,” Dickson replies for me, earning a glare from me and Ashton.
“Little family? Who? Me?” Chloe asks, looking confused.
“Don’t,” Ashton hisses at his brother as I instinctively cover Chloe’s ears.
“Okay, everyone!” Sophie squeaks. “Time to get moving. Chloe is here and ready for daddy day. And Ashton, can you maybe give me and Diana a lift? We really need to be somewhere else now.”
“Of course,” Ashton replies, his gaze still fixed on his smirking brother.
Without wasting any second, I grab Chloe’s scooter from the small storage room under the stairs and shove it into Ashton’s hands. Then I pull my daughter into a bear hug.
“Have fun, sweetie. See you before dinner time. And, don’t forget to drink plenty of water.” I squeeze her in my arms while inhaling her familiar soothing scents.
After nodding against my hair, Chloe unwraps her arms from around my neck, still eyeing Dickson with her emerald green irises. After I fix her beanie hat and give her a peck on the lips, she jogs toward her father’s car where Ashton is already sitting behind the steering wheel. He keeps his eyes straight ahead, not giving me a single glance while waiting for everyone to finish buckling up.
I close the door and stomp to the kitchen where Dickson has disappeared into. He leans over my breakfast table, looking down at the phone in his hand while another hand is holding a glass of water.
I walk slowly to him like a lioness confronting danger. “What was that for?”
“First, don’t you need to offer your guest a proper drink?”
“You have your water. And now you need to answer me, Dickson. Why did you try to pull a stupid stunt in front of my daughter? Chloe doesn’t know about the baby!”
“I didn’t know that you hadn’t told her about the baby yet.”
“Even if we had, that was not how you responded in front of a kid!” I reply. “Chloe is too young to learn about anger and sibling jealousy. You’re a brother and a father, too. You should have known better how much it can destroy a kid.”
“Okay, fine!” Dickson puts his hands in the air, a sign of defeat. “I’m sorry I was a little bit carried away. I just wanted to play around with Ashton, nothing against Chloe. I swear.”
I put one hand on my waist and my other hand rubs my forehead. I don’t understand him at all. He was opening up, raw, and genuine last night, but now he’s back to the brutal and full-of-hidden-motives Dickson I know at work. “Whatever is going on between you and Ashton, please leave me and Chloe out of it. I want to keep a zero drama with the father of my child.”
“A zero drama, huh?” Dickson chuckles as he shakes his hand.
“Yeah. What’s wrong with that?”
“How long are you going to keep pretending, Charlie? Just like me, you’re also hurt from this whole situation. Diandra might be a bitch to you, but Ashton is the ultimate ass here.”
I frown as I feel my body tensing up. “What are you talking about?”
Dickson looks me in the eyes, his smirk hasn’t left his lips. “I know about you and Ashton. Diandra told me about the bathroom drama at Chloe’s party.”
Of course Diandra told him. “Whatever happened between me and Ashton, we’re past it and we’re both moving forward now.”
“Just like that? After what he has done to you?”
Needing to block this man from mentally exploiting me, I cross my arms against my chest. “I’m not sure I’m following. What has Diandra told you precisely?”
“It doesn’t matter what she told me. I can see it myself.” Dickson straightens up his posture, towering over me as he locks gaze with me. “Ashton always knew that he belonged to Diandra. Yet he led you on and even worse, he kept you hidden so that the world wouldn’t see what he has been doing behind his high and almighty name. He’s been toying you, Charlie. Don’t you see how disrespectful the way he treats you?”
Ignoring the sharp blow from Dickson’s words, I reply, “I believe you misjudged the situation.”
“Ah, and he even has your loyalty.” He clicks his tongue. “Instead of making him pay for what he has done to you, you chose to defend him. Amazing.”
“What are you doing, Dickson? From the very beginning, you insisted that Diandra and Ashton are made for each other, that no other woman has a chance with Ashton. For a second, I thought you genuinely supported them being together. And now this? You want me to take revenge because he’s going back to Diandra? I don’t understand what kind of game you’re playing.”
Dickson walks to the faucet and refills his empty glass with water. After chugging it down, he puts the glass down on the sink and turns around to face me again. “That day, I just wanted to see if you were involved with Ashton because I couldn’t really tell from our earlier brief encounter. And we were going to be working together. So, I wanted to know my people and where they stood.”
“Why didn’t you just ask?”
“Would you answer and tell me the truth?”
I bite my lower lip, choosing my wording carefully. “Depends on the questions. I might not lie to you, but I probably wouldn’t tell you the whole truth.”
A grin grows in the corner of his lips while he waves his forefinger at me. “I knew liked you for some reason,” he says as he chuckles.
“Thank you, but I can’t say the same to you right now,” I reply. “I still don’t understand where this conversation is going.”
Dickson leans back on my kitchen counter, his hands sliding into his pockets. “It’s a boy,” he says. “They’re going to have a baby boy and you know what it means.”
“I honestly don’t.” And I don’t know how to feel at the moment. I’m truly glad that Diandra can finally get pregnant but I can’t lie, my heart just dropped when I heard about the baby’s gender. He’s going to have a son with her. Will he prefer a son to a daughter?
“He’s going to be the Knight who inherits the first chair of our family throne because he is the first male born in his generation. He will have a full right to navigate the family business once he hits the proper age.”
Huh, I’ve never heard of this. Ashton never told me about this inheritance scheme in his family before. But again, we don’t have a baby boy. Maybe that’s why.
“It’s getting chaotic lately. I never planned to get married, let alone have a kid. So did Ashton. But look at us now,” Dickson explains. “When Ashton brought the news about Chloe, we all agreed to split the company share for Emily’s kids, my kid, and Chloe when they are older. But with Diandra coming into the picture, bringing a baby boy, it will change the whole game. This is... unexpected. And knowing her family, she would be pushed to pursue what the boy is entitled to.”
It takes me a while to digest what Dickson just told me. Ashton never brought up this issue before. Chloe is going to get her share in their family business? “I’ve never heard of any of this,” I mumble. “But with all due respect, I believe Chloe will do just fine even if she doesn’t get the share.”
“Do you know how much it’s worth? And how much it can do for Chloe’s future?”
To be honest, I have an idea, but would that be enough reason to be involved in this messy family conspiracy? How they mix business and family relationships is already giving me shivers.
Dickson walks in my direction and plops down on the breakfast stool in front of me. “Listen,” he says carefully. “Diandra’s family is now demanding Ashton to marry her to save face from bearing a bastard child. But I know they’re after our money and control. They hide behind this reason because of the limitation my late father gave in his will: the first male born must be a legitimate child. So, they need to get married before the baby is born.”
“Wait, they want to make Ashton marry her before the paternity test?” My stomach churns. The image of Ashton standing at the altar in his tuxedo flashes in my head. His smile is wide while waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle with her big bump.
“Yes. They plan to get Ashton to marry Diandra first and do the test after the baby is born, given the situation.”
“What if the paternity test comes back negative?”
“Then he’s shit out of luck.” The cynical tone in Dickson’s voice makes my skin prickle. It’s unsettling to see how much love and hate he carries for Diandra and Dickson. And he lives with this battle inside him all this time. “But we can’t let the marriage happen. I’m not gonna let Diandra’s family rob what is ours.”
“But will Ashton even agree to this arrangement? Have you even talked to him?”
“Ashton doesn’t talk. He never does. Who could guess what my brother’s going to do? He’s a wild card in the family. And it’s not like he doesn’t love Diandra. So, anything can happen now.” Dickson shrugs before fixing his eyes on me. His pupils dilate and the corner of his mouth twitches. “Emily and I have plans. We’re going to hit Diandra’s family first before they can steal from us. And the clock is ticking. So, are you game?”