Surprise Me Maybe

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Bonus Chapter 2: The Gala Night (Ashton)

He never planned to stand in front of this white mahogany door, let alone ring the bell. He called her several times but she didn’t pick up. It’s driving him nuts. He needs to know what’s going on even if he has to leave his date at the gala party. Consequences can wait.

After twenty seconds which feels like forever, the door opens, revealing the woman that has been playing hide and seek in his head in these past few months. Instead of a high bun she wore earlier at the party, she lets her hair flow loose now, cascading over her nearly bare shoulders. Just how he secretly likes it.

“I saw you leave the gala and you did not answer my calls. I got worried that something happened at home,” he says when those brown eyes stare at him with a questioning look. They look glassy and somber. Did she just cry?

Unexpectedly, she giggles. “Oops, sorry. I haven’t checked my phone. Wait lemme see, where is my phone?” She turns her head to the side table in the hall, then she cackles again as if she sees something funny.

“Charlotte? Are you drunk? Has something happened?”

“Something always happened to me, mister,” she says, a slight slur in her voice. Definitely drunk.

“What’s wrong? May I come in?” He should go back to the party, to his date, but seeing the state Charlotte is in right now, there is no way he’s going to leave her alone.

“Where is Chloe?” he asks as he follows her inside. The sound from the TV gets louder as they approach the living room. Throw pillows are scattered on her cream rug and a nearly-empty bottle of wine towers over a crystal glass on the coffee table. Did she almost finish the whole bottle just now?

She plops down on the couch and leans back. “She’s at Sophie’s. I have the house for myself now, enough room to think.”

“To think about what?”

“About shit.”

“What?”

She giggles again before grabbing the remote control, lowering the TV volume.

Ashton frowns. If it wasn’t Chloe, what was so important to make her run home in the middle of the gala party and get drunk? “Is it Watkins?”

Charlotte raises her eyebrows, looking surprised. “No. It’s not him. Flash news, I broke things off with him last week.”

The words give a twist inside his stomach. Trying to hold back his giddiness, Ashton sits on the spot next to her. “You did?”

She nods with no sign of remorse or sadness whatsoever. “And you know what? It feels good. I’ve been wondering if I will ever find myself again after what happened eight years ago. I’ve been trying so hard, you know. I want to be good for Chloe, for my family, but everything I do always brings pain for everyone. I hurt Chloe, I hurt Ethan, I hurt myself and you...”

“Me?” he asks, turning his body to face her fully. “I have no idea that you hurt me.”

“I did. Trust me, I did.” Her eyes are becoming glassy again, and she blinks, pushing down a tear from the corner of her eyes. “I shouldn’t have dragged you into this. You have a life to live, people to please, needs to fulfill. And I ruined everything the day I came to you to ask you to help Chloe.”

“What are you talking about? You didn’t ruin nothing. If anything, I’m glad you came to me that day.” Tentatively, he extends his hand and wipes the tear off her cheek. He has no idea what she’s talking about, but looking at how defeated she looks right now gives him the urge to pull her into his arms. To keep her safe. But he knows he can’t do that. “Hey, d’you want to talk about this?”

Instead of answering, Charlotte turns her head to him and stares at him with a look he can’t decipher. She then whispers, “Gosh, why does Chloe’s dad have to be so hot?”

“What?” he asks even though he heard her alright. Once his brain registers her every word, Ashton can’t contain his smile.

Charlotte’s eyes go wider as if it just occurred to her she wasn’t supposed to say it. But once her eyes travel down to his smiling lips, she does the unexpected thing. She scoots closer to him and crashes her lips on his.

It takes him a few seconds to recover from her sudden advance. Before she notices it, he parts his lips to welcome her, propelling and accepting, and eventually taking the lead. He groans while sneaking his hands around her waist and pulls her to him. Deepening the kiss, he holds her firmly, delicately, not planning to let her go anytime soon. He’s not sure what draws him to her; all he knows is he’s defenseless.

The gala party has become a distant memory to him right now. One word from her would be enough for him to call his driver and order him to take care of his date. Only if she said stay.

The doorbell rings from the hall, forcing them to pull away from each other’s embrace with great reluctance.

“Are you expecting someone?” Ashton asks, partly complaining.

“Uh, yeah, the pizza.”

The distraction breaks off the magic they just shared. Charlotte seems to gain back her sense and becomes noticeably quiet. His attempt to make things less awkward is only answered by the question he doesn’t want to deal with just yet.

“Shouldn’t you go back to the gala dinner? It’s not done yet, is it?”

“I know, but it doesn’t feel right to leave you like this. And–” he sits down next to her, making sure to keep a respectable distance “–we should talk about...it.”

“I...I don’t know what I was thinking. I think it’s just the alcohol that messed up with my head. You know, just like what you did with your texts the other day. It was just drinking booze. It didn’t mean anything.” She rattles off before stopping abruptly, taking a deep breath, and mumbling, “I’m sorry.”

It didn’t mean anything. The line hits him harder than he anticipated. Ashton leans forward with his elbows pressing on his knees, his eyes on the TV screen. Ignoring the churning in his stomach, he says, “Don’t be.”

“You see, I always screw up. I don’t think before I act and I always get myself into trouble.”

“You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, Charlotte. Everything is going to be alright.”

“Ashton, I swear, the last thing I want to do is to stand between you and Diandra. It’s hard enough for you two to make a room for Chloe, and now I messed up. I made you a cheater.” She takes a deep breath while closing her eyes. “You should come clean with Diandra. Please don’t lie to her, and tell her that I forced you. Just blame me. I deserve it.”

“What do you mean?” Ashton asks, feeling confused. “I shouldn’t lie about the kiss but I should lie about kissing you back? Which one is it then? Should I lie or should I not?”

She gasps. “Oh! Are you going to tell her you kissed me back?”

“I’m going to, yeah.” Deep down, he’s not sure he should. Or that he wants to.

“Oh god.” She buries her face in her knees with a dramatic groan. “I’m going to make you two fight because of my stupidity.”

Diandra is the least of his worries right now. He still wants to know what made Charlotte leave the party, defeated and crying. “Are you going to tell me why you left the party?”

“I, umm... no.” She shakes her head.

Feeling the growing irritation in him, Ashton nods. “I should go back to the gala then,” he says before getting up. “You should eat before it gets cold.”

If she doesn’t trust him enough to share what’s bothering her, so be it. There is no reason for him to be here any longer.

---

The party is at its climax when he returns. It’s getting out of control but everyone has a blast. Max’s teammates, Sebastian and Shanti, are having a dance challenge against the pair from the other subsidiary company while people are standing in a ring around them. The man is trying to slide his colleague under his open legs, but Shanti doesn’t bend backward fast enough. Promptly, her face bumps into Sebastian’s butt, followed by roaring laughter from everyone.

It’s not hard for him to spot his date among the crowd since she wears an eye-blinding golden dress. She knows damn well that he prefers a simple dark nightgown, but Diandra is Diandra. He swears she chose it just to poke his nerves, but he’s not going to take the bait. He’s tired of the back-to-back arguments they’ve been having lately.

“Finally. For a second I thought you forgot about the woman you abandoned at the gala party.” Diandra flashes him a fake surprised smile. Next to her, stand two men he recognizes from the headquarters.

Ashton nods to them before shifting his gaze to her. “My apologies for making you wait this long. An urgent family matter is just impossible to postpone sometimes.”

“I hope Danielle is doing fine. I heard she’s been feeling under the weather lately,” Diandra says.

“Actually, I didn’t go to see my mother. And she’s perfectly well, fortunately.”

Diandra frowns. “Oh? Was it Emily then?”

Instead of answering, Ashton offers his arm to her. “I’m afraid we will have this discussion in the car. We need to leave now.” Glancing at the two men, he nods at them. “Gentlemen.”

Diandra snakes her hand around Ashton’s arm while striding next to him, her body leaning into him. “I don’t understand. I thought it was an urgent family situation.”

“It was.” It’s the only answer he gives before he bids goodnight to the remaining members at the executive table. He then leads Diandra to his black Porsche that is waiting for them by the entrance terrace.

“I went to see Charlotte,” Ashton says once they both settle inside the car.

Diandra stiffens. “You what?”

“When I saw her running to the exit door during the party, I thought something might have happened to Chloe. I called her but she didn’t pick up. I had to go and check myself.”

“You said it was a family matter.”

“Chloe is my family.”

“Why didn’t you tell me it was them?”

Ashton has no real answer to that. “It didn’t occur to me at that time.”

Diandra shoots him with a glare. “Did you hear yourself? Did you hear how disrespectful you are to me?” Her cheeks turn red and her nose flares. “You know how I feel about her and all this stupid situation. Yet you left me at the party, alone, only to drive to her place to check on her? What is wrong with you?”

“I drove there to check on Chloe.” He can taste his hesitation once the words roll off his tongue. Was it only for Chloe? The other part of him knows it’s a big fat lie. “Okay. Maybe to check on her too.”

Diandra heaves a sigh before a bitter laugh escapes her lips. “Really? Are you fucking serious?”

“I’m just trying to be honest, Dee. We know this is how we ended up destroying each other. We’ve never been honest with what we want and feel.”

They fell for each other fast and furiously from the very beginning. They thought it was enough to go ahead against all the odds while lies and deceptions were slowly piling up beneath their dream. He knew it all along she always had this soft spot for his brother, Dickson, but as she said from time to time, their love was bigger than those stupid shenanigans she’s had with him back in the days. On their first date, he told her he didn’t want kids, and she said it was fine because their crazy love was enough to conquer the world. Until it wasn’t. Lies, secrets, and heartbreaks followed afterward.

When she came back into his life this time, he’s learned one thing. He would never make a promise about the future.

“You’re still the same asshole I knew,” Diandra says, turning her head to the window and staring blankly at the busy street. “Everything is about you. About what you want. And you never give a fucking damn about others’ feelings.”

“That’s not true.”

“Sometimes, I ask myself why I got on the same boat which I knew would bring me to the same route and ruin me all over again.” Diandra’s voice is shaken, containing her emotions. “We used to say our love was bigger than all the obstacles we had. It got me thinking, is it the same love that keeps me finding my way back to you? Is it love that makes us want to try again? Even when your attention is now divided for another woman and a child, is it love that makes me want to stay and endure this pain?”

In all honesty, Ashton can’t answer that. If what he had with Diandra was love, then love wouldn’t be a thing he wanted to pursue in life. He cares about her, that’s a fact, especially when he learned she had been going through painful moments in life. Letting her back in his arms felt right at that moment to help her get over it. She needed him, she was familiar to him, and he would be lying if he didn’t enjoy a woman’s company. But he knows it’s not love.

Maybe Diandra is right. Maybe he’s a selfish asshole.

“We’ve tried so hard all these years. Maybe we’ve mistaken love for something else. Maybe this is not love,” he says.

The car stops at Diandra’s family mansion. A huge Mediterranean building is standing tall and proud in front of them. Pines trees line up at the front yard adorned with decoration lights, framing the beauty of the residence.

“What are you trying to say, Ashton?”

“We agreed that this is going to be casual until we can figure it out. Because we don’t want to make the same mistake. But now I can see that we’re not even near where we were left off. We’re somewhere far away. We’re lost. We don’t know where the starting point is nor do we know where we will go after this point.”

“Ashton. Don’t...” Diandra can’t finish her line.

“Maybe you’re right. I’m a selfish man who always thinks about myself. I have to say, when you showed up again this year, it was nice and thrilling to have you again, reliving our past dream. Until it’s not.”

“Stop, Ashton.”

“Don’t you see we’re still doing this? We haven’t been through a week without fighting over the same damn thing and bringing up our past issues in the mixture. We keep dragging each other down again. Things just don’t change, Dee.” Ashton turns her head to look Diandra in the eye. Her grey irises are coated with tears but she refuses to break down. “Let’s just call it a day. At least we know we tried.”

“No.” Diandra shakes her head.

“I’m sorry. I wish things turned out differently for us.”

It takes a good thirty seconds for her to control her raging breath. “You know what? Fuck you! You can go to her or any willing woman for all I care. Or just go fuck yourself. I don’t need you. I don’t need this.”

Watching her open the door and run into the house sends a jab in his chest. He hates to hurt her, especially after all the things she’s been through. He still cares for her but this is not where he wants them to be. And he knows this is final. At least to him.


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