Bonus Chapter 4 - The Love of His Life
Staring blankly at the road as the cascading rain obscures the golden meadow, Ashton is torn between driving ahead or taking a U-turn. He left the girls at the Bonerz farmhouse with great reluctance, but he knows he’s doing what he should do.
After hearing the news about Diandra having a C-section, Charlotte urged him to go to the hospital immediately. Little did she know that the anguish in her eyes was visible to Ashton. Despite her vow to support him during the baby’s arrival, he knows how much this situation hurts her. Fuck, he wants to go back to her now and pull her into him, whispering to her ear that whatever happens, he will never leave her side. He needs to tell her once again that he loves her so damn much.
But it’s Charlotte. She wouldn’t want that. That woman never wants to be treated like fragile porcelain glass. Because she’s nowhere near fragile. If anything, she’s the one who holds him up through this difficult moment. Yes, Charlotte is his rock.
Thinking back, he has no idea when he started to catch feelings for her. He only knows he started to see her as more than just an employee on the day she showed up at his office door, demanding to talk with him. If other employees made a detour to avoid bumping into him, the girl deliberately walked to his chamber. She even dared to disturb his lunch with Diandra.
“Sir, I need to talk,” she said. Her eyes were somber and her sticky hair was pulled into a messy ponytail. He wondered if she went to work like this.
“It’s... Can we talk, please? Alone?”
He hated when someone didn’t answer him directly. “Can’t it wait until the lunch break is over? I’m having company right now.”
To his surprise, she shook her head firmly. “I’m afraid not, sir. It’s urgent.”
Ashton narrowed his eyes on her, not believing his ears. What was her problem? She’d moved back to the fourth floor for weeks, and according to Max, she was beyond happy to get her job back. She performed extremely well too, which was good because she would bring more revenue than predicted. The girl was on fire.
However, the fire that flashed in her eyes that day gave him a twist in the guts. She definitely didn’t come to him for a raise. She wanted something more than that; something lethal. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know, but the urgency in her tone didn’t give him room to wriggle himself out of it.
When she finally dropped the bomb about Chloe, his world stopped spinning.
“This... is a prank, isn’t it? You know I won’t appreciate any kind of bullshit, don’t you?” he asked, hoping that Charlotte was being Charlotte; the girl who was up for his ass.
“No, sir, this isn’t a prank. Why would I joke about something this serious?” She lifted her head to meet his eyes, and his heart leaped. “Chloe was conceived over eight years ago in a frat party before the Christmas break. I was drunk and not in the right mind when I crashed into the party. Then I bumped into a guy on the dance floor. He had a pair of beautiful emerald green eyes, and they drew me in. We then went up to one of the empty rooms and had sex. The next morning, when I realized what happened, I panicked and ran home. I believe I left my black scarf behind; the one that must have been used to tie me up. Well, I can’t remember the details but I woke up with my scarf wrapping around my wrist.”
The more she talked, the harder it was for him to breathe. He staggered back until he hit the meeting room door while the memory from eight years ago rushed back into his mind. He didn’t want to believe it. It must have been a joke. But the agitation on her face indicated she wasn’t messing around with him at that moment.
The questions he’d pushed to the back of his mind came to the surface and started to unravel. That was why she felt so familiar. And the nagging feeling about her daughter’s green eyes suddenly made total sense. He was looking at his own childhood eyes when he saw Chloe that day.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” he asked, demanding an explanation for everything that bounced up in his head.
“Fear, I guess, and uncertainty.”
He didn’t get what she meant that day, but judging from the way she looked him straight in the eye, he knew she was telling him whatever it was in her mind.
Fuck! He had a kid. He had a fucking kid. The thought was swirling in his head for the rest of the day. It felt surreal. He woke up childless and suddenly he was a father.
It took him over a week to finally accept the news. His doubts slowly turned to convictions. The more he learned about the kid, the more he experienced unexplained emotions. He couldn’t tell if it was a feeling a father should have for his kid, but all he knew was the girl’s safety had become his number one concern. He started to check what kind of neighborhood Charlotte lived in, and to which school Chloe went.
What was happening to him? He never wanted to have a kid in the first place! Children meant headache. But every time Chloe’s bright eyes and her toothy grin invaded his mind, his stomach fluttered. It was crazy and low-key ridiculous. The DNA test had not confirmed anything yet but he was already letting himself into the mess. What if the test came back negative? What if she wasn’t his child?
After his family doctor delivered the result of the paternity test, Ashton became immobile, staring blankly at his desk lamp for a good thirty minutes. Panics, fears, relief, and excitement tangled into one big ball of emotions. Meanwhile, his brain ran miles in a second, struggling to process everything. He couldn’t contain it, and there was only one person he wanted to share it with.
He then dialed Charlotte’s number.
After finding a spot to park his car, Ashton jogs to the hospital entrance under the cold drizzle. He’s just lucky that the rain isn’t as pouring as when he left the farm. Following the hospital directory board, he finally arrives at the maternity hall.
“They just finished with the C-section, but the midwife and the nurses are still inside for further procedure. Ms. Durrand left a message that you may come in if you wish.” The nurse by the counter looks down at a small paper in her hand before looking up at Ashton again. “But you don’t have to, her mother is inside with her.”
“Thank you.” Ashton nods and saunters to the waiting room, weighing his decision. Should he wait here or go inside?
Deep down he feels guilty for the lack of enthusiasm he’s having right now. This is the arrival of his maybe baby boy. Shouldn’t he feel the excitement? At least, he must feel the kick of being a father and do what a father should do. Fears slowly creep in as he thinks he might not be able to connect with the baby at all. Or maybe the connection will grow once he sees him.
Deciding to listen to his brain, he makes his way to the door with a green light on. He washes his hands before he puts on the blue hospital gown, just as the nurse instructs him. Holding his breath, he opens the second door, ready for whatever comes his way.
It’s when a loud cry split the stillness in the C-section room, followed by happy murmurs from everyone. Two women in blue curbs stand by the surgical table but the operating light is no longer on. On the other end of the table, Diandra’s pale face contrasts the twinkling in her eyes when a nurse pulls the infant incubator closer to her. She stares at her little bundle, examining every inch of him. When the baby screams on the top of his lungs again, Diandra shushes him and sings him a lullaby.
Slowly, Ashton walks toward them; no one seems to notice his arrival yet. They are either busy with the rest of the procedure, or with the crying baby. The newborn lies on a white sheet behind the incubator glass, his black hair peeking under his oversized hat while his small red hand punching in the air. Ashton’s mind goes blank when he takes a better look at his face.
“Ashton.” Diandra’s mother’s voice pulls him back to the current moment.
Diandra turns her head to him and smiles. “Hey, you’re here.”
“Yeah. Sorry I was late. I was at Hugh’s farm, and the rain was slowing me down.”
“It’s okay. Thank you for coming.”
“How was it? How are you?”
“Good. The baby was early but he is as healthy as he can be.” She reverts her eyes to her little bundle, prompting Ashton to look at the baby again. The little boy is calming down now. “And as you can see, we don’t need a paternity test after this.”
Ashton is about to reply but Diandra’s mom beats him. “I still don’t understand. He doesn’t look like you or him at all.”
“Baby’s face will keep changing,” says the nurse. “He will look like either of his parents. I can even see he has his mother’s lips! He must have his father’s hair and eyes! So cute!”
Diandra’s mother glares at her. “You don’t get it, do you? He is the father.” With that, she points her finger at Ashton, followed by a strangled noise from the nurse’s throat. “The baby is not supposed to look like that!”
“Mom,” Diandra calls, her voice stern. “Enough. Ashton is clearly not the father. Deal with that.”
“No, this can’t be. How can you...”
“I just had a baby. Can you be happy for me for once?”
“No, honey, you don’t understand–”
“Ma’am, maybe it’s time to have a break and have some tea in the waiting room.” The nurse glares at Diandra’s mother.
“I’ll see her out,” Ashton says before looking down at Diandra. “Are you okay being alone here, Dee? I’ll be right back after making sure she calms down.”
“Of course. And I’m not alone,” she replies, a wide smile on her face. “I will never be alone.”
Diandra’s mom still has trouble accepting the reality that Ashton isn’t the father of her grandson. Luckily, her husband arrived soon after Ashton escorted her out. While the husband is trying to talk sense to his wife, Ashton makes his way back inside.
He still wants to make sure Diandra is fine and taken care of even though the boy isn’t his. He’s not sure how she is taking this situation. If she is disappointed, she doesn’t show it. But from how she looks at her now sleeping son, Ashton knows Diandra is happy; she’s never been this happy. She left him years ago because she wanted to have children. Now that she’s got what she always wanted, not having him as the father shouldn’t be an issue.
Deep down, Ashton is happy for her.
“You don’t have to stay, Ashton,” Diandra mumbles after the nurse brings her baby to the NICU.
“I know. But considering your parents are quite dysfunctional at the moment, I will stay until you’re settled in your room.”
Diandra smiles and nods, exhaustion blanketing her face. “Thank you.”
When Diandra is finally ready to be transferred to the patient room, Ashton makes sure that she and the baby get first-class treatment. He knows this isn’t his responsibility, but for the sake of their friendship, this is the least he can do for her. Also, she was the one who talked Charlotte out about having him back.
Shit. He hasn’t called or texted her since he left her at Hugh’s house. She must be worried sick waiting for the news. Knowing her, she must be walking back and forth in her living room like a madwoman right now. However, he wants to bring this news to his girlfriend in person. This is too important to share through text, even a phone call.
“I’m going home. I wish you all good night, and again, congratulations on the new member of the family,” Ashton announces his departure.
Danielle, who has been there for some time, gets up from her chair. “I shall go, too. Everyone needs a good rest now after this long day.” She kisses everyone before marching out of the room and catching up with her son’s steps along the hospital corridor. “As weird as it sounds, I’m glad about how things turned out.”
“Good to hear.”
“Join me for a late supper?”
“I’m afraid I have to decline. I need to go see my girls.”
They stop in front of the elevator door. After Ashton punches the button, Danielle clears her throat.
“I took Charlotte and Chloe home.”
“You did?” Ashton raises his eyebrows. “I’m surprised. Did you manage to get her home without scratching each other’s eyeballs?”
Danielle rolls her eyes, her lips tight in a thin line. It’s hard for Ashton to say if his mother is annoyed or holding a smile. “You should learn to see me from a better angle, Ashton.”
“Why do you think I have not, Mother?”
“Okay, okay. I get your point. I might not be the best mother on earth, but you need to understand I just want what’s best for you.”
The elevator bell makes a ding sound. Ashton steps forward after the doors slide open, holding the open button for her. Since there are a few others in the car, he decides to wait for what he needs to tell her.
Once they hit the ground level, they walk in silence to the main entrance. His mother digs her hand into her LV bag before she retracts her mobile phone. Ashton stands there patiently until she’s done calling her driver.
“I understand that you want to look out for me, Emily and Dickson, and that you want what’s best for us. But I need to tell you this. Charlotte is the best thing that ever happened in my life, and I want you to accept that.”
Danielle looks at him with a stoic expression, neither agreeing with him nor differing from him.
“If you hurt her,” Ashton continues, “you know that you’re going to have to deal with me.” He then leans forward and kisses his mother’s cheek. “Goodnight, Mother.”
With that, he turns around and strides to the parking lot. The rain must have stopped for a while judging from the absence of the water droplets on his car. Not that he cares. The only thing that matters to him now is driving as fast as he can to see his girlfriend, Charlotte Garnett. The mother of his child. The love of his life.
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