Surprise Me Maybe

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Epilogue

Women's first world problem during their last trimester of pregnancy is sneezing. When the air is expelled with force from the nose, the force makes the muscles in the wall of the bladder push some urine out. It's the exact reason why I groan while climbing the stairs right now, heading to my room.

"Are you alright there?" Sophie asks from the living room, a bunch of blue and white balloons dangling from her hand.

Holding on the railing of the stairs while my other hand supporting my belly, I look down at my sister. "Yeah, I just need to change. Again."

"I told you. You should consider wearing adult diapers."

"Eeww," I reply, scrunching my nose before resuming walking to my room.

Once in my bathroom, I clean up and put on clean pants, for the third time today. I will run out of maternity clothes if it keeps happening, and it's not going to be handy. When I was pregnant with Chloe, I didn't even bother to buy any of them because she was pretty small. I could just wear almost anything I had in my wardrobe. But this time, I swear my belly will explode like a volcano if this little guy doesn't decide to slide out of my vagina sometime this week.

Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I trace the slightly black circle around my eyes with my fingers. I've tried to cover it up with concealer this morning but it's too stubborn to completely disappear. A silent proof of my sleepless nights from the aching back and cramping feet. Why did I agree to have another baby again?

My train of thought is disrupted by the dancing curtain behind me that must have been poked by the wind. I left the window open purposely this morning because carrying an unborn child makes me feel like a walking heater. Ashton has been reminding me that we have another button next to the heating switch which is called the air conditioning button, but my ears have decided to go partially deaf to the suggestion.

I want a fresh natural breeze in our house and he has no say in this.

Inhaling the petrichor that is now filling my bathroom air, I pivot on my heels and saunter to the window. Maybe it's time to close it or the coming rain will sneak in and create a mess. As my hand reaches out to pull the casement sash, my eyes catch the movement down there. A girl with a red hoodie walks carefully along our wooden yard fence and then stops under the neighbor's big tree that has grown slightly to our side. She stands patiently on her spot with both hands inside her hoodie's pockets, looking up at the tree above her.

"Hey," a soft voice comes from my open bathroom door, startling me. Emily leans on the doorframe, her blue eyes assessing me.

"Your mom asked me to check on you. Are you okay?"

I put my finger on my lips, signaling her to be quiet before jerking my head to ask her to join me. Ashton's sister walks tentatively in my direction and takes the spot next to me as I scoot to the side.

"Who is that? Chloe?" Emily asks.

I put my finger on my lips again while nodding. Grinning like a maniac, I turn my head again to spy on my daughter as I whisper. "She's meeting the boy next door."

Emily's lips make an O shape before smiling. "That boy who always wears a black hat?"

"Psst, lower your voice. She can hear us from there. And yes, that boy," I say without taking my eyes from my daughter who is now busy checking her phone. She must be texting the boy, probably asking why he hasn't shown up.

"She won't hear us unless she has a dog-hearing ability," Emily replies.

I roll my eyes. "You have no idea. She can even hear what is still in your head. She's scary like that," I say.

Emily chuckles. "She's very observant, just like her father."

"Yeah. And also very private, just like Ashton."
Emily nods. "True."

"On the other hand, it makes me a bit nervous lately, you know. I've been wanting to fish information about her and that boy, but she never gave me a clear answer. It's frustrating."

"She's thirteen, Charlie. It's time for her to have a little privacy. Don't you think so?"

"I know." I sigh, rubbing my belly. "But I can't help feeling being left out. She used to tell me everything. Like, everything. And now it feels like she is starting to build a wall between us. Maybe not a wall. It's more like a see-through curtain, if that makes sense. She's still the Chloe I know but she's started to need me less and less."

"Tell me about it. I guess this is the phase of having teenage kids, you know. Most of the time, I also feel clueless and don't know what to do with my kids considering how my mother handled us during our teenage years. Something I don't want to give to my kids."

"I can't believe it!" Chloe groans, glaring at us. "Are you guys spying on me?!"

"What? No, of course not!" I squeak. "We're just having chit-chat while enjoying the... spring breeze."

Chloe crosses her arms over her chest, eyes peering at me. "Right. Having a chit-chat while enjoying the wind. In the bathroom."

"Actually," Emily replies while leaning forward to reach for the casement sash, "we were about to close the window because it's raining soon. And we need to get the surprise party ready before your papa is home."

"Don't be late for the party!" I squeal behind Emily, waving at my scowling daughter.

Once Emily shuts the window and slides the curtain closed, blocking us from my daughter's scrutinizing glare, we break into giggles.

I have to say, I love this part of Emily. She might be closed up and always builds walls around her to prevent people from coming closer, but she's actually not that bad. Her cold demeanor is just the defense mechanism in dealing with the world and the situation her family had thrown at her. Plus, we never had a chance to get to know each other personally because of her tight schedules as the CEO of the family business. Or maybe we both just didn't want to make time for each other purposely.

Sometimes, it's just nice to have our family at arm's length instead of letting them come too close. That way, we know that we're there for each other without having to snoop at each other's business.

"Let's go downstairs and get the party ready." Emily offers her arm to me, prompting a smile to break through upon my face.

I wrap my fingers around her arm. "Let's."

---

The next few hours are a blur. Sophie, Mom, and Emily have been busy in the kitchen to get the meals for the party done. Danielle offered to send her servants to help out but I kindly refused it. It's a family party and I want it to be private. Hell, I didn't even plan to throw any party at all considering my struggle of approaching labor day. However, Sophie and the girls convinced me otherwise.

My dad and I are sitting on the couch, watching Chloe, Diana, and Emily's oldest daughter finalizing the party decoration. Chloe came back not long after the spying incident and she still gives me mild scowls now and then, but I only answer them with my guilty grin.

I know Emily is right. Chloe is entering the age where she wants to find her own world, apart from her attachment to her mother, to build her identity and self-image in a larger society. The way she's grown into an independent teenage girl makes my chest explode with pride, but at the same time, I miss the days when she still wanted to cuddle with her mama day and night. Maybe every mother just will never be ready to see their kids grow up so fast.

"Okay, everyone!" Sophie storms out of the kitchen. "It's almost time. Let's get rid of the ladders, the tools, and the rest of the unused decorations! And Char," she says as she turns her head to me, "you need to hide in the kitchen. When Ashton walks in, you come out with the birthday cake. Don't forget to light the candle first."

It's then we hear a car entering our driveway, sending everyone into a panic state.

"No, no, no! He can't be here this early! His flight is landing in fifteen minutes, right?" Sophie squeaks as she runs to the window to check before making an audible relieved sigh. "It's Danielle and Emily's girls. Thank god!" She jogs to open the door while shouting at us, "Get back to work, everyone!"

In the next thirty minutes, we all settle in our respectful spots. My parents, Emily, Danielle, and Sophie are standing behind the partition wall that is adorned with blue and white balloons and a big '40' number in the middle of it. The kids are squeezing in behind our enormous couch with birthday trumpets in their hands while trying to suppress their excited giggles. Meanwhile, I'm sitting in the kitchen, waiting religiously while staring at the blue birthday cake in front of me.

Excitement and tension are thick in the air which make me feel a bit uneasy for a moment. It must be the reason for the cramp in my lower belly right now. With a silent groan, I get up and lean forward to the table to ease the discomfort.

"A car is coming! Everyone, quiet now!" Sophie's high pitch voice distracts the building tightness inside me, making me think that I was just imagining it.

Hurried footsteps are echoing from the front porch before it stops by the door. If Sophie doesn't stick her head from behind the wall and points her finger at the cake in front of me, I will definitely forget to light the candle. The door bursts open right at the time I get the candle ready.

"SURPRISE!" everyone yells, followed by the squeaking trumpets before the commotion stops abruptly. The next thing I hear is people complaining about whoever is standing at the door.

"My birthday is still in July. Isn't it too early to celebrate it now?" Dickson cackles. "But I don't mind. Who's crazy enough to turn down yummy food and fancy drinks? And look, I'm back to forty now!"

"Dickson, close the door and get in here!" Emily shouts. "Ashton can be home at any second now! Hurry!"

"There's a car coming! It must be Papa now!" Chloe squeals as everyone dashes back to where they were hiding. And the quietness takes over.

Faintly, I can hear the engine stop before the car door is slammed closed. Then the steady but confident footsteps approach the front door; the footsteps I recognize even in my sleep. Smiling at the dancing fire on the candle in front of me, I position myself at the kitchen door, waiting for the moment Ashton walks in.

When the door swings open, everyone jumps from their hiding place and screams, "SURPRISE!"

Ashton freezes. He stares at our living room that looks like a display corner in a party supply store. He then quickly sweeps everyone's face with his eyes before they stop at mine. A grin slowly grows in the corners of his lips, but before he can say anything, Chloe sprints toward her dad and throws herself at him, giving him a bear hug. She murmurs something in Ashton's ear, prompting her dad to laugh.

Everyone starts the birthday hymns as I trudge to where Ashton and Chloe are standing. The heat creeps in my cheeks when I feel his green irises on me with the intensity that can pull me to him against the gravity. The gravity that lately has manifested into an aching back, a cramping belly, growing nausea, and the exhaustion from the sleepless nights. But the way he's looking at me right now makes me forget about them for a moment.

All I can see is the man I adore and the very man who always makes me feel like I'm the most important person in the world. He is also the man to whom I made a vow that we would be together, hand in hand, embracing the life ahead with its ups and downs; the man I call husband.

"Happy birthday, handsome," I say as I extend the cake to him. "Now, make a wish and blow out the candle."

Still grinning, Ashton does exactly that, followed by clapping hands and screaming trumpets. I hand the cake to Chloe before stepping closer to my husband and giving him a kiss he deserves.

"So, they say life begins at forty, huh?" I mumble on his lips as I cup his face with both my hands. His face hasn't shown any sign of aging except for his eyes that scream maturity and confidence of people at his age. His hair has turned slightly lighter but no gray hair is present yet.

"Nuh-uh. My life began when I met you that night at a party and we conceived Chloe," he replies, earning various reactions from everyone around us.

"Uncle Ashton! Really?"

"Please, can I not hear this right now?"

"When did you become this cheesy?"

"I'm glad I can do much better than this in seducing women!"

"Okay, okay, too much information!"

I can't help but laugh so hard at their reactions, especially when I see Chloe roll her eyes while crossing her arms over her chest. But my laugh becomes a horror shriek when I feel something pop in my lower belly, followed by warm liquid gushing down my legs. Slowly, I look down at the wet patch on the floor where I'm standing right now.

"Isn't that...?" Sophie squeaks.

"It's the time!" My mom shouts.

"Hospital, now!" Ashton grabs my hands, guiding me to the door. "Her hospital bag is at the bottom of our wardrobe. Can you get it, Chloe?"

"Just go, you two! We'll bring over everything she needs!" Sophie ushers us to the door. "We'll be right behind you!"

"How do you feel? Can you walk?" Ashton asks, his voice thick with concern. "Should I carry you?"

"Of course I can walk!" I reply before taking a deep breath as another blow of contraction hits. My hand grips my husband's arm so hard, making him slightly wince in pain. I groan as I hiss between my short breathings. "Okay. Let's kick this kiddo out of my womb tonight!"

---

After thirty-two contractions and five pushes, our baby boy's cry splits the air in the delivery room. The pain was more excruciating than when I gave birth to Chloe but the process was definitely faster.

"Let's see what we've got here," the midwife says as she lifts the baby to let me see my little bundle for the first time. "A healthy baby boy!"

With his eyes still closed, his little feet are jerking in the air as he screams at the top of his lungs. The midwife carefully places him on my stomach before she starts drying him up. I can't help but reach out to his little hand when it slides out of the towel while they're working on his umbilical cord. The hand is so small and still coated with the birthing custard. It grips me fiercely once I slip my pinky finger into his palm.

"Hi, kiddo, welcome to the world," I murmur.

Ashton's happy sobs next to me make me realize that he has been right beside me all this time. His hand never left mine every time I struggled with the contraction pain and he was right there with me when I pushed.

He stares at his son with an awe expression as he extends his hand and carefully touches the little fingers that are holding me. "You've been so brave kicking your way out of your mama's womb. How do you like the world, son?" he asks but is only answered by our baby crying harder.

"Oh, no. Maybe he likes it in there more," I reply.

"I promise you, boy, you won't regret being a part of this world. You've got a cool mama and uh, not so cool papa, but your big sister is definitely the coolest one so far. You'll love her the second you meet her."

"Oh, I didn't know that Chloe is cooler than I am."

"Well, she is, but you're still my favorite," Ashton replies before giving me a quick peck on the mouth. "And you did great, Mama, as always. I love you."

Once I'm clean and look decent enough to take a visitor, Chloe storms in with a big grin on her face. She jogs at me as her eyes never leave her little brother who is curling up on my chest.

"Hi, sweetie," I greet. "Your brother is asleep. He's too tired from the delivery process, I guess."

Chloe smiles. "He's beautiful," she mumbles before turning her head to me. "How are you, Mam? You look like you can also use some sleep." Leaning in, she kisses my forehead and caresses my hair which is still a bit wet from the sweat.

"Oh, yes. I need one after all those sleepless nights."

"You do that. Papa and I will deal with the rest of the people. Okay?" Chloe says, earning a nod from me. It's when the little guy on my chest shifts slightly before starting to breathe audibly. "Is he snoring?" Chloe asks, frowning at her baby brother.

"This is how a newborn breathes. You did this, too."

"Oh."

"So, have you guys chosen a name?" I ask as I switch my gaze back and forth between my daughter and her dad who is now standing behind her.

"Chloe did," Ashton replies.

Chloe clears her throat. "Yes, I did. So, his name is Hudson and it means an explorer. Later when we're older, we will go explore the world together."

"Hudson. Hudson Knight. I love it," I mumble before glancing down at my baby boy. "Hey, Hud. Did you hear that? Your sister already has a huge mission for you even when you're not two hours old yet!"

"Actually," Chloe interjects, her eyes twinkling, "I have a better idea. Why don't we go on a mission together? The four of us!"



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