Andy makes an audible squeak when he hears Ashton’s voice. Letting my waist go, he stammers, “Char... M-ms. Garnett requested to meet y-you, sir. I’ve told her you’re not expecting any disturbance but she was...”
Andy’s voice is disappearing into a muffled noise in the background because all I can hear at the moment is my thumping heartbeat. Ashton Knight is standing before me, looking tall, dark, and handsome as usual. Only, he appears thinner now, and his pellucid green eyes that never failed to captivate me have turned dull.
Ignoring his assistant’s jabber, Ashton fixes his eyes on me with a gaze I can’t decipher. Did he expect me to show up at his office? Does he want to see me? Does he still want me? I would give away all my scarves collection in my office drawer if I could hear what he’s thinking right now.
“Can I come in?” I ask tentatively. “I mean, if you’re busy I can come back next time.”
“No,” he replies. “Please, come in.”
“Okay. Thank you.” I nod before hesitantly walking into Ashton’s room, leaving the perplexed Andy.
I roam my eyes over my surroundings; the space I haven’t seen for a while. Instead of a plain desk with a computer screen, calendar, and pen holder, I see Chloe’s grinning face in a golden photo frame now sitting on his table. Next to his keyboard is the blue mug Chloe decorated for him a while back.
“You may leave if you’re done with today’s work,” Ashton says to Andy before closing the office door behind him. Instead of coming to me, he stays on his spot, eyeing me while waiting for me to start.
Shifting my eyes back to him, I hug the coat in my arm closer to my abdomen while weighing what I should do next. Should I talk about the weather first, or just hand him his gift and go? I brush my hair back, suddenly feeling nervous under his gaze. “I talked to Dickson earlier. He told me that you’re still here,” I start before sliding my hand into my jacket’s pocket, searching for his gift. “I just wanted to give you this before I go home.”
Staring at the red box I just retracted from my coat, Ashton walks slowly in my direction before taking the gift from my hand, our fingers brushing in the process. “I left your gift at home. I thought I would give it to you tonight after my family party. Would you still be awake?”
The late-night meeting in my driveway has always been our thing since the day he left Diandra last summer. I smile and nod. “Yeah.”
Ashton tips the gift box in his hand, glancing at me. “Can I open it now?”
I shrug. “If you like. But uh, I don’t think I want to be here when you’re doing it.”
“I will die in embarrassment?” I wince at my answer.
“Good. I want to witness it,” he replies. As he pulls the golden ribbon, he looks up at me. “Can I? Will you stay?”
Looking at his pleading eyes which remind me of Chloe’s every time she begs for a naughty snack, I sigh in defeat. “Fine. Open it,” I reply.
Once he manages to get rid of the wrapping paper and throws it into the bin, he pulls the little furry guy out of the box. “A buffalo... plush?”
“A talking buffalo plush,” I correct him.
“Oh?” Ashton flips the buffalo to examine it. “How do I make it talk?”
“There is a button under his tail. Yep, right there in the ass. Not the red one. Yes, that one.”
“Interesting spot indeed,” he mumbles as he looks closely at the buffalo’s ass.
For a second I want to snatch the plush from his hand, thinking it’s a stupid and cheesy idea after all. Maybe I should’ve written him a letter instead of making a voice recording. A voice recording with a grunting buffalo as an intro. Really, Charlotte? What were you thinking?
Once Ashton pushes the button, a loud and long grunt splits the stillness of the office room, making me wince. He laughs at the replica of his own grunting sound, but after the intro is finished, his laugh falters, waiting for what comes next.
“Okay, I think it’s a silly idea. It’s just me talking basically–”
“Pssst,” Ashton holds his hand up to stop me from talking further as the sound of me clearing my throat vibrates from the recording.
I want to disappear right now.
“Hi. Umm, this is my fifth attempt to make this recording, and I think I twisted my tongue somewhere during the process (a strangled and awkward laugh). Anyway (clearing throat sound), about the midnight talk we had a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been thinking and... I think I know what I want now. No, not I think; I KNOW what I want. (A little pause). You see it’d been hard for me to accept this whole situation, to share you with someone else’s baby, but then I realized how selfish it sounded.
“I also have my past, my mistakes, my failures that I still need to carry with me, which might cause some problems in the future. I should be able to see that you also have yours. And at the moment, you’re carrying one of the heaviest baggage from your past. And guess what? What I did is run (sad laugh). Yes, I’m still the impulsive and borderline immature Charlotte. I just wanted to accept you as a perfect human being, without past life, without burden. I only wanted to have the good parts of you because it was easy. (A little pause). But I’ve made up my mind now.
“You and I might have our separate pasts, aside from Chloe of course, but in the next five or ten years, what you’re going through right now is not going to be just your past. It’s going to be OURS. Because from now on, I will be right by your side while you have to deal with all of this mess. I will help you carry your baggage, and (a faint sniffle) we will go through this. Together.
I love you, Ashton Knight.”
Another loud and playful buffalo grunt thunders across the room, ending my voice message before the silence takes over.
The thick silence.
I keep my eyes down, staring blankly at the floor, waiting for Ashton to say something. But nothing from him. What I can hear now is the humming sound from the heating fan on the ceiling and my own breathing. Forcing myself to lift my gaze, I observe his face through my eyelashes.
Ashton is standing still on his spot, staring at the furry brown guy with teary eyes. Feeling my eyes on him, he slowly looks up at me, and our gazes meet.
“Say something?” I ask, half whispering.
Instead of answering, Ashton breaks into small sobs as his tears escape the corners of his eyes. In one swift motion, I drop my coat and my bag before throwing myself at him. Seeing him cry like this makes me want to wrap him in my arms and promise him that everything is going to be alright.
“Thank you,” he murmurs between his sniffles while holding me tight into his chest. “I love you so much,” he mumbles in my hair. “I really do.”
“I know,” I reply. “It just took me forever to see it.”
He shakes his head. “I fucked up. Big time. I thought I’d lost you.”
I detach myself slightly to look up at him. “I’ve been busy with my fears and insecurities, too, and I pushed you away in the process,” I say, carefully wiping his tears with my fingers, prompting him to close his eyes and lean into my touch. “You see, we both learned our life lesson and it shaped us to become better persons, and helped us grow into a stronger couple.”
Ashton opens his eyes and presses his lips against my hand. “I like the sound of it. We will grow together as a couple,” he mumbles, earning an eager nod from me.
The next thing he does is cup my face with his hands and lean in. He kisses my forehead, my cheeks, my chin, and my nose. I close my eyes when I feel his lips lightly brush against mine, prompting me to open up and welcome him back.
His kiss is tender yet protecting, shielding us from fears and doubts that once lingered around us. I love how he guides me but also gives me room to explore him, to claim what is mine. Once our lips find their rhythm, I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him closer to deepen our kiss.
Smiling between our kisses, Ashton moves his hands to my waist and slowly ushers me to the couch. It’s when my feet stumble into a small object on the floor. I break the kiss and look down.
“Oh no, my little Asston!” I shriek as I bend over to pick up the buffalo plush. “I can’t believe I stomped on him,” I groan as I check the little furry guy’s condition. “Why did you drop him?”
“I was kissing you and holding you,” Ashton replies, scratching his hair while sticking his head closer to his new buffalo friend. “Is your voice recording still there? I better not lose it.”
After turning it, dangling it, shaking it, which would’ve made it puke on me if it was a real buffalo, his happy grunt finally roars again, mixed with our relieved sighs. I push the stop button before it plays my voice recording further.
“Why did you stop it? I want to hear it again.”
“You can hear it for your bedtime story later and cuddle with your little Asston afterward.”
“Wait, did you name him Little Ashton?” Ashton asks, raising one eyebrow. “I thought it was reserved for my certain body part.”
“No, not Ashton, but Ass-ton. It’s your original name by the way,” I explain, putting the Little Asston carefully on the coffee table. “At least it was your name on my phone in my early months working for you.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. How come?”
“Did you even notice how much of an ass you were?”
Ashton plops down on the sofa while pulling me onto his lap. “Hmm, I was a hot ass guy that made you shamelessly fantasize about me?” he guesses as he leans in and kisses me once again, not giving me a chance to reply to him.
He slips his tongue between my lips this time, exploring me further, and of course, I let him. For the next few minutes, our kiss becomes more urgent and needy. Our breaths start to pick up pace as Ashton’s hands stroke and squeeze my lower back. Before the lust clouds my mind completely, I break the kiss but keep our noses pressed into each other.
“Easy there, boy, we’re going to be late for Christmas Eve if we don’t stop now,” I murmur against his lips.
“I don’t mind being late.”
I pull back while giving him a deadpan look. “Mom is starting dinner early and I promise Chloe we’re going to braid each other’s hair before we head there.”
Hearing Chloe’s name, Ashton smiles but I can see the sad glimpse in his green eyes. “I wish I could join your family dinner.”
“You can if you want, but well, you have your family duty. You need to be at the extravagant Christmas party that the notorious Knight family is throwing tonight.” I purse my lips. “I have an idea. Why don’t you come with us tomorrow to Sophie’s house? We’re having brunch after opening the Christmas gifts. Chloe will be ecstatic to have you there.”
“I won’t miss it for the world,” Ashton replies, pulling me to him again when I’m about to get up from his lap. “So, we’re doing this for real this time.”
“Just so you know, we’re not going to hide this from the public. They will know that we are dating, and we can kiss whenever and wherever we want.”
“Yum.” I make a slurping noise, earning a chuckle from him. “Wait, Dickson said that you never dated a peasant. What changes, mister?”
Ashton raises his eyebrow. “He said that, huh?” he asks as he shakes his head. “I guess that’s true.”
I frown. “Okay. I’m not sure how to feel about it now.”
“Being a Knight, women approach me with all kinds of ulterior motives, but high chances are, they want me because of my money. It’s hard to tell if they date me because of who I am or what I have. And I never bothered to ponder about it because I didn’t have time for it. Thus, I just dated women from my class, then I knew it wasn’t money that they were after.”
I squint my eyes at him. “I’m not from your class. Are you sure I’m not here for your money?”
Ashton laughs and pokes the tip of my nose. “You picked me up during my darkest moment, while other women would just drop me and move on. You can have all the money I have if you want. I don’t mind because you’re worth more than that.”
His words are like a bulky warm marshmallow wrapping me during the snowy days. Soft, sweet, and fluffy. “That is one of the sweetest things you have ever said to me,” I murmur as I caress his cheek.
“About you having all the money I have?” Ashton asks, earning him a big pinch on his cheek. “Ouch!”
“That’s what you get for inflating my ego to the size of an elephant then popping it again.”
He grins at me. A toothy grin. “So, are you ready to let the world see us as a couple, Ms. Garnett?”
“I’ve never been this ready, Mr. Knight,” I reply. “But if you don’t let me go now, sir, I will be coming super late for dinner with bush-maze hair. Chloe needs time to braid it properly.”
“Okay, okay.” He gives me a peck on the lips before unwrapping his arms from around my waist.
Glancing at the wall clock, I curse inwardly. I need to drive like a madwoman to get myself home in time. As I re-adjust my uneven dress, Ashton picks up my coat from the floor before helping me put it on.
“I’m still coming to your place after the party tonight by the way,” he says as we make our way to the door. When he pulls it open, Andy is still sitting on his chair, making me wonder why he hasn’t left. Didn’t he say he was dying to leave early for Christmas Eve?
The man smiles brightly when he sees us. “I’m about to leave now, sir.” Despite talking to Ashton, Andy’s gaze switches back and forth between me and Ashton.
“Alright,” Ashton replies. “Thank you for today, and Merry Christmas, Andy.”
Andy blinks before a happy smile grows from the corners of his lips. “Merry Christmas, sir. And–” he shifts his gaze to me “–to you too, Charlotte.”
“Merry Christmas, Andy.” I turn my head to Ashton. “And Merry Christmas to you too, sir.”
Ashton raises his eyebrow. In one swift motion, he grabs my hand and pulls me to him. Before I can say anything, he slams his lips on mine with the intensity that knocks the air out of my lungs. He then pulls back slightly and mumbles, “Merry Christmas, Char. And I’ll see you tonight.”