Surprise Me Maybe

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Surprise Me

“You guys kissed again-” Chloe scrunches her nose “-in the mouth.”

Ashton and I detach ourselves from our embrace and grin at our daughter who is standing next to Ashton’s car, waiting for us to get in. With a big golden box in her hand, she stares at us impatiently.

“That’s what a couple do. They kiss a lot,” I say as I close the door behind me. I know Chloe understands the idea, but she’s just not used to seeing me openly kiss a man in front of her because I always kept my dating life separate from her.

“But Martha is waiting. You can kiss again when we’re back, right?” she replies. “Hurry up! I hate being late.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ashton chirps as he jogs toward Chloe and helps her place the gift carefully in the backseat.

Wrapping the emerald green cashmere scarf Ashton bought me as a Christmas gift, I make my way to the car as my feet dance on the walking path, avoiding the pooling water. It has been a rainy and cold week which crushes our dream of having a white Christmas. But it doesn’t matter because it can’t take away our happiness of being whole again as a family.

I broke the news about me dating Ashton to Chloe two days ago, and the approval grin on her face was enough to soothe my anxiousness. Little did I know that Chloe had been suspecting this since the day she found us sleeping and cuddling on the floor four months ago.

“So, since you and Ashton are now dating, he’s your boyfriend, right?” Chloe asks from the backseat as we drive to the farm, her eyes shifting back and forth to me and Ashton.

“Yes,” I reply.

“But how come? He isn’t a boy anymore.”

“Literally speaking, you’re right. He isn’t a boy; he’s an old man-”

“Hey!”

“-but the word boyfriend is more figurative expression,” I explain, ignoring a protest from the man next to me. “It means someone you date and he’s a male. And it applies to all ages.”

“What are you going to call him? Babe? Honey? Boo Bear?”

I bite my inner cheek. Where did she learn about all of these nicknames stuff? “I’m not sure about that. I will need to give it some more thought.”

“Are you going to marry him?”

“Uh, good question.” I purse my lips while glancing at the smirking Ashton. “We’ll see about that.”

“Is he going to move and live with us?”

“That’s also something we need to see after some time. But he will come and have dinner with us more often for sure.”

“He can stay the night in the guest room and go to work in the morning from our house. Or-” her eyes widen “-maybe he can bring me to school before he goes to work!”

Ashton clears his throat. “Ladies, I’m here. Why are you talking about me as if I’m not sitting here? Do you think the car can drive by itself?”

Chloe rolls her eyes. “Because Mama is the boss. If you say yes but she says no, it’s going to be a no.”

I break into laughter before turning my head to Ashton. “In your face!” I say it silently but I’m sure he can read my lips’ movement. He might be the scary boss at work or a ruthless businessman who makes his opponent shiver when they have to go against him, but not in my kingdom.

“One of these days, we’ll need to talk about the concept of power,” Ashton grumbles.

It’s raining again when we enter Hugh’s farm. A few cars are already there, including Danielle’s black Roll Royce. Martha grins widely when she sees us running toward the house under the umbrella her husband brought for us.

The Bonerz’s huge farmhouse is adorned with golden and red ornaments. A big Christmas tree is standing proudly in the center point of the living room, but the colorful Christmas lights are hanging merrily in every corner of the house. Instead of electric heating, they use real fire which explains the hickory scent once we enter the house. A flowery Christmas garland snuggles around the fireplace with gigantic angel statues sitting on top of its mantel.

“Congratulations to you two! No, to you three,” Martha squeals after I congratulated her and handed her her gift. “Ashton told me. I knew you’re the one he’d been looking for.”

“Oh. I didn’t know he told you already, but thank you, Martha!” I reply with a wide grin on my face.

Martha puts her hand around my arm while guiding me to the living room. “I know he still has a lot to learn. Abraham, his late father, was quite a unique man, and their relationship was always challenging. Life hasn’t been so kind to him but believe me, Ashton is a good man.”

Martha brings me to the couch near the fire, where Danielle is sitting with the rest of the guests. I straighten my posture and nod at her to acknowledge her presence, answered by her raising the wine glass in her hand to me. Okay, she’s good at playing civil in front of the public, as usual.

“Everyone, this is Charlotte Garnett, the mother of Chloe, Ashton Knight’s daughter,” Martha introduces me to her guests who are mostly also in their sixties. From the way they carry themselves, they must be coming from wealthy families and probably bearing important last names.

It’s when I feel a hand snaking around my waist, and the familiar scent that makes my butterflies twirl invades my nostrils. “Ah, you guys have started without me, I see,” Ashton says as he hugs me sideways closer to him.

“I’m sorry, Ashton. It’s not that we don’t love you anymore but boy, we see you far too often. It’s time to move on and we can admire the real beauty,” replies a bald man in a red sweater with a gigantic deer’s head, followed by roaring laughter from everyone.

“Okay, fine! Since you call my girlfriend a real beauty then I have to agree with you on that.” Ashton’s reply is answered with people chorusing ‘awww’, making me shy all of a sudden. Ashton is about to say something when his phone chimes in his pocket. He checks the screen quickly before excusing himself to take the call somewhere else, leaving me with the rest of the party guests.

I frown when I see him stride back to the room with tense jaws in the next few minutes. “Is everything alright?” I ask with a low tone as he comes closer, making sure the chattery people in front of us can’t hear us.

“Diandra is in labor. I need to go to the hospital.”

“What?” I gasp. “But the baby isn’t due yet! Is she alright?”

“I don’t know yet. They’re preparing for a C-section right now.” Ashton glances at Chloe who is cackling while rolling on the floor with other kids next to the Christmas tree. “I don’t wanna leave you here-”

“Just go, Ashton,” I cut him firmly. “I can call Sophie to pick me up, or anyone here might be able to bring us home. Don’t worry about us. You need to go. Now!”

Ashton looks unsure for a while before nodding and pulling me into him. “I will call you. I love you.”

I give him a quick peck before I see him make his way to his mother. He bends over to talk closely into her ear and then bids everyone goodbye as he marches to the door.

The rest of the party feels like a slow-motion movie to me. I’m there but I don’t feel like I’m a part of them because my mind is somewhere else. Will the baby make it? Will Diandra make it? I really thought that her pregnancy issues were under control. Did she go through a lot of stress at home that caused her to go through a premature birth?

I fidget with the stem of my wine glass while busy with all the questions in my head when I hear a female’s delicate voice next to me. “I bet you’re also not in a celebrating spirit right now,” Danielle remarks.

“You can say that.”

“Maybe it’s time for us to leave this party then?”

“Maybe. I should call my sister to pick me up shortly.”

“I will be passing your house on my way to the hospital. It’s more practical for you to take a ride with me.”

I glance at her while forcing a fake smile, not wanting to give people an idea that my relationship with Ashton’s mother is more dramatic than a soap opera. “Pardon?”

“You heard me.”

“And why are you offering me a lift?”

Danielle sighs. “No reason, really. Look, I know we don’t have the best relationship, but I can see how my son sets his eyes on you. I guess I need to live with that, don’t I?” she explains, still in a low tone and with her eerily charming smile on her face.

I turn myself to her, trying to search for any sign of wicked game in her eyes.

“Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t like you, Charlotte, and I know you don’t like me, either. But we have Ashton and Chloe. Why don’t we just act as two mothers who are trying to give the best for their children?” She moves her hands as she speaks. “My son is going through a difficult situation at the moment. Let’s not make things harder for him than they already are. At least, that’s what I can do to show my support.”

I listen to Danielle’s every word while my eyes are on Chloe. My daughter and her new friend are sitting on the window sill, dangling their feet while devouring their lollipops. The joy in Chloe’s face is what I’m looking forward to every time I wake up in the morning. I guess this is where all mothers find their common ground; their children’s happiness comes first.

I sigh as I nod. “Alright. Let’s go then.”

She nods. “We will be leaving in fifteen minutes.”

---

The trip home is awkward, but Ashton’s mother meant every single word she said. With Chloe’s scrutinizing eyes on her from time to time, the pair sit next to each other in the backseats while I take the passenger one. No word needs to be spoken. Only Aretha Franklin’s voice from the car’s audio is what keeps the time rolling.

Once home, I call Sophie to ask if Chloe can stay over. In case I have to drive to the hospital in the middle of the night, I know someone is watching over her.

Minutes feel like days and hours feel like years. It’s been six hours now since Ashton left for the hospital, and I haven’t heard from him. Has the baby been born? What does he look like? Is Ashton holding his second child now?

I walk back and forth, feeling beyond restless. Should I call him? Or maybe I can just text him to check on him. No, I should wait a little bit more. I peek at my window to see if Ashton’s car is magically entering my driveway. But of course, it’s not the case. I turn on the tv and turn it off again while checking my phone every ten seconds. Still nothing.

I jump when my phone rings, quickly snatching it from the breakfast table but my shaky hands fail to grab it probably and I drop my phone.

“Dammit!” I cuss when I see my phone is shutting down. I quickly turn it on again, but once the jingle chimes, it goes directly to shut down again. “You gotta be kidding me!”

Groaning, I stomp to my computer desk where I can charge my phone. I hope it works even though I knew my battery wasn’t empty before I dropped it. “Don’t you dare die on me, you lil shit! Not now!”

It’s when I hear a car entering my front yard. Grabbing my coat, I dash out and run to my driveway while watching Ashton park his black Mercedes behind my car.

“I’ve been waiting for your call. How was it? Is everything alright?” I ask once Ashton opens his door. His hair looks unkempt and his face is pale, yet he forces a smile and nods.

“I called you but you were out of service?”

I wave my hands in a dismissive gesture. “It’s dead. I’m charging it now.” I come closer to him and examine his face. “So?”

Ashton leans back in his car. “The surgery went well. It was a pretty long procedure, but Diandra is fine, and the baby is safe and sound. He has to stay in the incubator for some time, though.”

I’m not sure how to feel when I hear it. Glad that everyone made it? Happy for his new little bundle? Slightly sad because I’m feeling left out from their happiness?

“How are you feeling?” I ask as I hug my coat tighter to my torso.

He tilts his head, looking like he’s trying to process his own feelings. “I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure?”

“I saw him. I saw the baby.”

I frown. “Yeah and? I thought you said he’s doing fine?”

“True. Even though he’s smaller than the average baby, the Apgar test showed a decent score. And he cried so loud.” Ashton chuckles. “I have to say, he is one of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. A beautiful Asian baby.”

It takes a few seconds to catch his last line. “What?”

Ashton drops his head. I’m not sure if he is crying or laughing right now, maybe both, but his shoulders are shaking from the bursting emotion. “The boy isn’t mine.”

“Oh.” That’s the only word I can muster. I stand rooted to my spot, utterly dumbfounded as my brain decides to bail on me. My mouth is hanging open, ignoring the cold wind that can freeze my tongue if I don’t close it soon.

Ashton lifts his gaze to me. “It’s just the three of us now,” he murmurs in a shaky voice, pulling me to him by the waist. Noticing that I’m still too flabbergasted to react, he brushes my rebellious brown lock and tugs it behind my ears while waiting patiently until I can find my voice again.

“I feel bad for feeling glad that he’s not yours. But oh no, I’m sorry that she has to find out this way. I hope she’s not too upset.”

“At this point, she’s glad that her baby made it alive. I was there when they brought her to the incubator room, and for all these years I’ve known Diandra, I’ve never seen her this happy and content. I believe she doesn’t really care about the rest at the moment.”

“Ah.” Ashton’s explanation warms up my heart. “I know the feeling. Once Chloe was born and she was placed on my chest, it was one of the greatest moments in my life. I might not have realized it at that time, but it was the moment that changed me. I became very brave and determined to give the best life for my child. At any cost.”

Ashton smiles. “And you proved it.”

“We still have a long way to go and it will be more challenging every year,” I reply as I scoot over to his side and lean back in his car. Sliding my hands into my pocket, I glance up at him. “Are you okay by the way? I mean, after months of thinking that the baby was yours, that you’re going to be a father of a baby boy, and suddenly poof, there is no baby.”

“I guess so. Well, I knew I was going to do the paternity test first, but I have to say, I was almost sure that he was mine, because of the timeline.” Ashton sighs. “There was a time we weren’t careful because you know, she couldn’t conceive and we were pretty drunk. I thought it must have been the night when the baby was conceived.”

“Oh!”

When Ashton hears my breath hitch in my throat, he adds, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gone into the details. I was just-”

“The baby must have been conceived when she was on vacation! It’s right after you two broke up,” I squeak, ignoring his apology.

“Oh.”

“Damn. I hope she knows who the guy is.”

Ashton chuckles softly. “That would be handy, yeah.”

We both fall into silence, busy with the thoughts that bring us to a thousand miles away from where we are standing right now. My hair is dancing in the air from the tease of the wind, mimicking my swaying coat hem. Slowly, Ashton slides his hands into mine and interlaces our fingers, prompting me to look down at our joint hands. I give him a small squeeze.

“So,” I mumble.

“So.”

“No baby for you, huh?”

“Yep. No baby.”

I look up at him. “What now? What are we going to do?”

He shrugs before staring down at me, his eyes twinkling. “Surprise me.”

I smile as I shift my gaze to the evening sky, embracing the cold breeze that caresses my face. “Maybe.”


-END-



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