Surprise Me Maybe

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All's Well That Ends Well

The video call with my Japanese clients ended earlier than I expected. It’s probably because they are efficient talkers or they sensed my struggle to focus. Either way, it’s time to pack my bag and go now or I will be home too late. The traffic around Christmas Eve is always terrible.

Mom reminded me again to come before seven because dinner will start earlier than usual. Dad is not feeling well at the moment and it’s wise to let our old man have his rest because we’ll still have Christmas brunch at Sophie’s house tomorrow. The moment that everyone, especially Chloe and Diana, has been waiting for: opening the gifts. Speaking of which, it reminds me of the gift I have prepared for Ashton.

I slowly open my drawer and the red box I put there yesterday is still sitting in place with its golden ribbon glowing against my office light. I’ve been thinking about all the scenarios of how to hand him his gift but I settle with none. Meanwhile, Christmas Eve is only a few hours away.

Tracing the ribbon texture with my forefinger, I’m contemplating going to Ashton’s office and handing it to him right now. Is he even in his room? Maybe I can just drop it at Andy’s desk. But what if Ashton is not there and won’t be back until Christmas is over? Maybe I can just drive to his place and leave it at his door.

The knocking on the door pulls me out of the inner debate. My boss is standing at my door, showing his famous grin. The black eye he wore after the office fight with Ashton has long gone, so is his swollen jaw.

I smile back at him. “I like the new look. You look fresh,” I say, noticing that he has trimmed his hair noticeably short, almost bald.

Dickson walks to me while rubbing his hand over his almost non-existent hair. “Me too. New look, a new beginning. But I know it gives a more dangerous look,” he replies before crossing his arms across his chest and posing like an underwear model.

I laugh. “Oh no no, this is bad news. More girls are going to fall into your trap. I need to warn them.”

“Please, like they’re going to listen to you.”

“Still cocky, I see.”

“We call it a Christmas spirit. Full of hope.” He slips his hand into his pocket and retracts a small black box. “Speaking of Christmas, here. It’s not a lot, but I hope you’ll like it.”

I frown when Dickson shoves the gift into my hand. “But I didn’t get you anything.”

“Too bad.” He shrugs. “Open it.”

I undo the ribbon while I plop down on my desk. When I pull the box’s lid, a golden Christmas bulb with a picture of me grinning while hugging Chloe is staring back at me. I pull the string and let the bulb dangle on my finger. “This is beautiful! Thank you! Now I really feel guilty for not buying you anything.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s an official apology gift for what happened a few weeks back by the way.”

Actually, Dickson came to my office the next day after the fight to apologize personally and to make sure I was fine, but we haven’t talked further about the issue ever since. Our workload has been in the way and Dickson hasn’t been around as much.

“This is so sweet of you. Chloe will love this.” I carefully place it back in the box and put it in my open drawer, next to Ashton’s gift. “How are you doing, Dickson?”

Dickson looks down as he purses his lips, shifting back and forth on his feet. “I’m doing fine. Well, if you want to know how it is going between me and Ashton, we did talk, brother to brother, and agreed to rest the case.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” I smile at him earnestly. “Money really isn’t worth it if we have to raise hell in the family anyway.”

“My family is already hellish. What difference would it make?” Dickson shrugs.

“It’s not too late to fix it, no?”

“Maybe,” Dickson replies as he walks to my window, looking up at the grey sky.

I bite my lips, weighing the question I want to ask him. “Hey, Dickson, you said you and Emily had plans to prevent Ashton from marrying Diandra. Was sleeping with Diandra one of them?”

Still with his eyes on the sky, he shakes his head. “No. It wasn’t. It was more a spontaneous idea. Not the smartest one, though.”

“Okay. What were the original plans then if I may ask?”

“You’re a curious cat, aren’t you?” Dickson retorts, making me chuckle. He turns around and sits on the window sill. “Diandra’s parents aren’t noble people, especially when it comes to business life. Emily and I were compiling data of their hidden track records and going to use it against them. If they didn’t drop the marriage scam, we would expose their sins in public.”

“Oh, damn. That would raise a war,” I gasp. “But wasn’t it going to be hard for Diandra to handle that while having to go through the tough pregnancy.”

“True. It would be a war for everyone. But Diandra never really got along with her family. She’s been a rebel. That’s why she applied for an executive assistant position back in the day. She wanted to prove to her family that she could live without them.”

“Oh, wow,” I mumble. “Yet, she caved back in.”

“She had no choice. Her parents can be very persuasive and she’s their only kid.” Dickson takes a framed photo of Chloe from the top of my filing shelf next to him and examines it. “At the moment, their company is going through a critical time. They are walking on thin ice now. One wrong move, they can lose investors. It’s where we wanted to hit them.”

“And how did they react to Ashton’s rejection?”

“Furious, of course. But what can they do? Threatening Ashton to not be able to see the child in the future? It’s not their decision to make.” Dickson puts back Chloe’s photo before getting up, slipping his hands into his pockets. “Anyway, Emily, Ashton, and I have agreed that whatever happens in the future, we will split the share fairly for our kids. No more baby boy superiority.”

“Would Danielle agree to it? It’s her late husband’s will.”

“We’re going to see how to bring this matter to her. Emily will do the dirty work because Mom always has a soft spot for her.”

I have to say, despite being dysfunctional as a family, these people can be an amazing team when it comes to money. I just need to remind myself that I will never set foot in this family drama. And Chloe needs to be prepared for what is waiting for her when she deals with the Knights.

We stay rooted to our spots for a while, busy with our train of thought, until the brisk footsteps from the hall, followed by people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other pulls me out of my bubble. Half of the people on this floor take their day off today, but the unlucky ones like me have to stay at least until lunchtime.

“You should go by now if you want to make it in time,” Dickson says.

“I know. The traffic is ridiculous,” I reply.

“And a half of them are those who have to shop at the last minute for Christmas gifts.”

I chuckle. “I used to be one of them. It’s fun, you know. Competing with others to hunt gifts in the last minutes keeps your adrenaline pumped up. You should try sometimes.”

“No, thank you.” Dickson smiles and starts to walk to the door. “But I meant it when I said you should go now. And I’m not talking about going home.”

“Oh?”

Dickson glances at the drawer that is still partly open. “He’s still at his office. You should go now because–” Dickson looks down at his Rolex watch “–in two hours, we will be heading to the family party together.”

“Ah okay. Have fun at the party. And–” I smile at him widely. “–be good.”

Dickson scoffs. “I’ll try. Not promising anything, though.”

Dickson might not be the kindest person on earth and his mind is full of games, but coming from the Knight family, what do I expect from him? Life isn’t a Cinderella fairy tale, where people have to endure all unpleasant situations during their childhood yet grow into unbelievably passionate and kind adults. But in all honesty, I can sense that Dickson still has a good heart deep down there. Maybe one day, he will discover it himself.

“So, Ashton is going to be your plus one for the feast, huh?”

“Looks like it. At least we can share our pain for having kids but not being able to spend Christmas with them,” Dickson replies, sending me a dull jab in my chest.

“I’m sorry. I hope you still can see your daughter tomorrow?”

He shrugs. “We’ll see.”

“Okay, I need to go now,” I say as I grab my bag and my coat before slipping Ashton’s gift inside its pocket. “Merry Christmas, Dickie.”

“Nooooo! You didn’t just call me that!” Dickson whines.

“Too bad. I like the sound of it already!”

Dickson rolls his eyes as he pivots on his heel, but instead of striding toward the hall, he turns around again. “Hey, Charlie. Even though I still think my jack-ass brother doesn’t deserve you, I’m glad that you came into our lives,” Dickson says, flashing me his beautiful smile. The smile he’s never worn since I met him.

“Me too.”

“Merry Christmas, Charlie.”

---

I want Ashton back in my life and I’m going to make it happen before the year ends. Or maybe sooner.

After the talk with Diandra, every thought that has been weighing me down begins to fade away. I didn’t doubt Ashton when he said he wanted to be with me during our midnight talk, I was just struggling to see myself being with him while the baby will soon become a part of our life. Could I accept the new bundle that was going to steal Ashton’s heart? Could I overcome my jealousy toward Diandra and the baby when Ashton had to spend time with them? Could I handle witnessing Ashton dividing his attention for Chloe and the boy?

Now I can see how hypocritical it sounds. I hated Diandra for not being able to accept Chloe’s existence several months back. I was pissed at her and called her out for wanting to have control over Chloe’s and Ashton’s relationship, or for wanting Ashton for herself. Seeing the way she learned to accept Chloe’s existence in the end and bravely faced the fact that Ashton chose me over her, Diandra showed how far she has grown into an amazing person.

And what does this leave me? The same immature Charlotte who wants to have Ashton only for herself despite his situation? The childish Charlotte who can’t accept her man’s past life? The impulsive Charlotte who chooses to run instead of working on this together with the man she loves?

The man I love.

Yes, this is the reason I’m standing in front of Andy’s desk right now, begging him to let me into Ashton’s room. Because it's time to welcome back the man I love into my life.

“But you don’t have an appointment, Charlie,” Andy tries to explain. “I know you’re Chloe Knight’s mother, but Mr. Knight has informed me, firmly, that he doesn’t take any visitation for the rest of the day.” Andy changes his voice into a whisper, “And you know how scary he can be.”

I raise my eyebrow. “When did Chloe’s last name become Knight? Anyway, just tell him I’m here.”

“Why don’t you call him from your phone? and tell him yourself?”

“Really?” I glare at Andy. I know I can just do what he suggests, but it also doesn’t cost him any calories to pick up the phone and tell Ashton that I’m here to talk to him.

And my stubbornness wins. I stomp to Ashton’s door, followed by Andy jumping out of his desk, blocking me from walking ahead. Of course, he will not stop me. I look up at the camera above Ashton’s door and wave dramatically. “Hello, sir! I need to talk to you! Can you let me in, please? Your assistant isn’t letting me in because he said you’re scary!”

“Charlotte, nooo!” Andy grabs me by the waist and ushers me away from the camera. “I had to spend hours shredding papers because I let his mother in the other day. Please don’t do this to me now, Charlotte, I’m begging you. He still has boxes of papers to be shredded inside his cupboard!” Andy shrieks in horror. “And I need to be home on time today.”

I’m about to reply to Andy when the door in front of us swings open, revealing the man who makes our hearts beat faster for all different reasons.

“Char? What’s going on here?” Ashton narrows his eyes on Andy’s hands on my waist. “Hands off her!”


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