Momma to Momma
Every time the year-end approaches, I always remind myself to not shop too close to Christmas day, yet here I am.
With twelve paper bags dangling from my hands and a few boxes piling up in my arms, I stride along the insanely busy shopping center corridor, tailing Chloe and Diana. The girls are walking with bouncy steps, hand in hand while sweeping every store window with their eyes. Sophie, who is practically hidden behind a stack of boxes in her arms, struggles to keep up with our speed.
“It’s so stupid that we can’t borrow the trolley to bring these to the car,” Sophie grumbles while sticking her head to the side so that she can see what is in front of her.
“If they let us, they will need to let the others too, and then there will be no trolley left for people who need to shop,” I reply. “What time is your appointment with the salon?”
“At four. What time is it now? I can’t see my watch.”
“Girls, what time is it now?” I shout to the pair in front of me.
Diana fishes her phone out of her sling bag. “Fifteen to four.”
“Oh, no! We don’t have time! We need to head to the salon now!” Sophie squeaks.
“Okay, don’t panic! I will bring these–” I glance at my shopping bags “–to the car and I’ll come back to grab yours, okay? You and the girl can just go ahead with the hair treatment. I’ll be there in a jiffy!”
“You’re a lifesaver, Char!” Sophie breathes a sigh of relief before she shifts her gaze to the kids. “Girls, to the left, now!” she commands, followed by happy squeals from Chloe and Diana.
“Have fun!” I say as I make my way to the parking lots.
Christmas is in five days and I need to get everything I need this weekend. I won’t be free until lunchtime on the twenty-fourth, thanks to my Japanese client, and there is no way I can squeeze a few hours in between my work schedules to buy gifts. Sophie, who proclaimed that she had bought everything she needed last week, decided to come along. Her original plan was to have a relaxing afternoon massage in a salon with the girls, yet she ended up buying more stuff than Chloe and I did.
After sticking all my bags in my car trunk, I jog back to the mall to collect Sophie’s shopping bags. I’m planning to stroll around alone afterward to find something for Ashton. I’ve been indecisive about this, and with Sophie and the kids hot on my heels, I couldn’t think peacefully about what I was going to give to him for Christmas. Or if I should do it at all.
“I’m going to look around to see if I can find some cute Christmas accessories,” I inform Sophie when I find her in the hair-wash room. I pick up all her stuff and hug them to my chest. “What time is the dinner reservation again?”
“It’s six-thirty. We will have early dinner so that the kids have plenty of time to relax before bed,” my sister replies.
“Sounds good. I’ll be back before six-thirty.”
“You can get him a tie, or a pair of winter gloves, or a silly knit hat. Something nice but not too big,” Sophie rattles off before I have a chance to exit the room.
“What?” I ask even though I know what she’s trying to do.
“I know you want to find something for him,” Sophie partly closes her eyes as the hair-washer rubs her temples in a circular motion. “I’m just giving you some ideas.”
I can’t help but smile at my sister. I’m not sure how she can read my mind from time to time. “Thanks, Soph.”
The shopping center is getting busier every minute. People are just plain brutal when they realize they don’t have enough time left while their shopping lists are still ten pages away. I need to move faster if I still want to get something nice for Ashton and maybe some extra things for myself. After visiting a few stores, I head back to the first merchandise store I checked earlier. I knew it would be a good fit for him once I laid my eyes on it.
Noticing that I still have plenty of time, I make a trip to check on some dresses. I don’t typically buy a new dress only for Christmas Eve since I always spend it with my family. A comfy dress and a snuggly sweater is always my first choice. But it’s different this time because I have a party to attend.
Luckily, Danielle will be coming alone to Martha’s party. While Dickson is going to do what he’s going to do, Emily and the kids will be staying in her husband’s hometown for the rest of the year. I wouldn’t be worried about Ashton’s mother. As much as she adores Diandra, she is still a Knight who wants to protect her kingdom. She will not carelessly leak any unnecessary information that can taint her family’s name. I have to say, despite being a total bitch, that woman has a brain.
“Charlotte?” A soft voice from behind me stops my hands from rubbing and feeling the red dress in my hand.
I turn around and my eyes stumble upon a redhead who is smiling at me in anticipation. The very person who has been haunting me in these past months. “Diandra,” I breathe. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I know,” she replies. “I thought I would steer clear of the Christmas rush too, but here I am. Shopping for Christmas is just addictive. Besides, I’m not feeling that heavy yet.”
Since she mentioned it, my eyes begin to roam over her figure. Her body is now visibly fuller with a slightly round belly. Her skin looks fresher and has more colors compared to the last time I saw her at Ashton’s apartment’s mailroom. Apparently, the pregnancy glow is now kicking in.
Following my eyes, Diandra looks down at her belly and instantly rubs it. “I know I’m not really showing yet, but the guy is already super wriggly inside,” she says as she chuckles, but I can sense the uneasiness in her voice. I know preeclampsia often leads to having a small baby but it’s definitely the last thing she wants to hear right now.
“Don’t worry about the size. The baby will pick up the pace in time,” I assure her. “Once you hit the eight-month mark, he’ll be so big that he barely has room to move around. You’ll start complaining about not being able to see anything under your belly.”
Diandra laughs as her eyes twinkle. “Thank you. I really hope that will be the case.” She rubs her belly once again, making me wonder if Ashton ever put his hand on her belly just to feel the baby’s movement. The experience he never had with Chloe.
I shake my head to get rid of the negative thoughts. It’s not Diandra’s fault that Ashton was not there during my pregnancy. I look up at her again and smile. “How are you feeling by the way? I heard it’s been a tough one, and you were so sick back at Chloe’s party.”
“I was.” Diandra nods. “But luckily, the boy decided to give his mom a rest when we were nearing the end of the second trimester.”
“Ah. That’s good news.”
Diandra shifts her gaze to the red dress that I’m still holding in my hand. “Don’t you need to try it on?”
“Oh, no, not really. I was actually looking for something... calmer.” I put the dress back on the hanging rack.
“Why? Red looks good on you. I would pick it if I were you,” she says as she brushes her bangs and tucks it behind her ear. “I know Ashton will like it.”
“What?” I can’t believe my ears. Did I just hear what I thought she said just now?
“I...” Diandra turns her head to the store entrance. “Can we maybe talk a little bit? I mean if you’re not in a rush.”
“Sure. We can talk. Let’s find a place we can sit.”
Once we leave the store, a middle-aged man with shopping bags in his hand is smiling at us. I’m not surprised that Diandra has an assistant who follows her everywhere to ensure her well-being during the pregnancy. Luckily, as we find an empty spot on the fountain edge in the center point of the shopping mall, he stands several meters away, keeping himself out of the hearing distance.
Two months ago, I would never have dreamed that I could sit side by side with the woman who’s carrying Ashton’s baby without having an embarrassing breakdown. Time heals, that’s for sure.
Ever since Ashton showed up in my driveway and asked me to take him back a couple of weeks ago, he’s never left my mind. He’s also the reason for my sleepless nights because my head just can’t stop playing all the scenarios in my head. I never doubt that he’s the man I want, but with the baggage that he’s carrying right now, can I live with it? Can I go through the day without having the jab of jealousy every time I hear him spending the time with the boy mama?
I know it won’t be permanent, but the first four months will be intense. Ashton might need to spend the night at Diandra’s house if he wants to learn how to take care of the baby. Will I be able to handle that? Can I trust him? But the biggest question is, can I trust myself?
“You must have heard about me and Dickson.” Diandra’s voice pulls me out of my chattery mind.
“I’m not sure which one you’re talking about.”
“The one that caused the two brothers to fight.” Diandra straightens out her legs while leaning back slightly, her hands on the concrete fountain edge to support her torso.
“Ah, yeah. That stupid fight.” I chuckle at the memory.
“It was,” Diandra replies as she nods. “I heard you accidentally got hit when you tried to separate them.”
“Yep.” I nod. “But no harm done, just a bit sore on my butt for a day or two. At least, it stopped them, otherwise, one of them would need to run to the emergency room.”
“I’m sorry for that,” Diandra says out of the blue.
“Why? It wasn’t your fault.”
“Well, partly it was,” Diandra replies while staring blankly at the tile floor. “Dickson was under the impression that I was still together with Ashton. I was aware of it, yet I let him believe what he believed because I wasn’t ready to talk about my real situation with him. With my family shamelessly forcing the marriage into Ashton’s face while I was learning that my relationship with Ashton had come to an end, I just felt lost and alone.”
My chest tightens for her when I hear her explanation. It must be very hard for her, let alone dealing with the pregnancy.
Diandra sighs. “And Dickson is always an easy escape, you know. We’ve been having... complex things from the very beginning. We’re so good when we’re together but you know, he’s a dick. I never considered him as a partner but I’m not sure why I kept coming back to him when my life hit rock bottom.” She waves her hand in a dismissive gesture. “I won’t bore you with my shenanigan with him. So, when we slept together a few weeks ago, I let him think that the marriage plan was still on. And little did I know, he used it to show Ashton what kind of a woman he’s about to marry. He was trying to break us up.”
“Oh my god. Is that why he did what he did? What a dick!” I gasp.
“That he is,” Diandra agrees. “But he’s not that bad when his missing brain cell suddenly jumps back in place.”
I laugh at her remark. “True. He can be a total asshole but he’s not a total evil, either. I believe it’s just how he was brought up that makes him him.”
“So, if I told Dickson that the marriage plan was off, he wouldn’t have sent the picture to Ashton, and there would’ve been no fight.”
“You didn’t know. And you were still trying to get your balance back. I wouldn’t be too hard on myself if I were you.” Well, in all honesty, if they never had that fight, Ashton would probably have never shown up in my driveway that night.
After some pause, Diandra turns her head to me. “I thought having a baby would be the ultimate reason for me and Ashton to become a real couple again. But I was wrong. I forgot that he didn’t want to have a kid, to begin with, so, a kid will never be the reason for him to be with someone. Ouch, I need to stand up again. Sitting too low hurts my back.” With that, she tries to prop herself up and I quickly grab her hand to help.
“Let’s have a slow stroll,” I suggest and she answers with a nod.
As we walk side by side along the mall corridor, she continues talking. “After our last break up a couple of years ago, we reconnected last spring, but I knew something had shifted. He was there but not really there, if that makes sense, and it made me nervous. Plus, my insecurity of not being able to have a baby got the best of me.”
“Lots of women in the world can’t have a baby, but it doesn’t decide how much they’re worth.”
“I know. But once you experience it, sometimes you just can’t help feeling it. Especially when you always saw yourself becoming a mother one day,” she mutters as she sighs. “As for me, it made me very clingy and needed a lot of validation from people around me, especially Ashton. It was terrifying. And I was in that state when we bumped into each other.” Diandra shakes her head. “I must have been an ultimate headache for you.”
“Well, kinda,” I answer matter-of-factly.
“I’m sorry for that too,” she says, earning her an earnest smile from me. “So, Ashton and I had a very long talk last week, having our closure.” The sadness flashes in Diandra’s grey eyes. “However, we will still need to figure out what to do after the baby is born. We need to have clear rules to make it easy for us when we find our own partners. Like, how far they are allowed to be involved in our baby’s life, which surname he will carry, and etcetera, etcetera. You know the grip.”
“I just don’t want to give you a wrong idea about us spending time together.”
I frown, not sure where our talk is heading. “I honestly don’t get why you have to tell me this to begin with.”
“To fix the damage I made, of course.” Diandra glances at me with an expression I can’t decipher. “He loves you. Don’t you see that?”
“I...” I’m trying to find an answer to that. Ashton loves me. Even though I haven’t heard the words straight from him, it’s enough for the butterflies to do a happy dance.
“And I have no idea why you guys aren’t together now. Oh, my boy is kicking me!” Diandra squeals, stopping abruptly while putting her hand on her belly with joy. She then turns her head to me, her eyes searching my face. “Is it because of me and this baby that gives you doubt about him?”
After carefully thinking about the answer to her questions, I finally nod. “Yeah. It’s just hard for me to picture how the three of us will do this together. Maybe it’s the insecurity in me that holds me back from believing that this will ever work.”
“It will be challenging, I know. But when Ashton loves someone, he falls deep. It would take a lot of attempts to make him stop loving the person. He is stubborn like that.” Diandra stops smiling, her eyes fixing on mine. “Don’t do what I did, Charlotte. You shouldn’t let that man slip away.”