Surprise Me Maybe

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The Knights

If Emily Knight is ridiculously gorgeous, Danielle Knight is inhumanly beautiful.

I met Emily, Ashton’s big sister, on my first day working at the Remington Group. She was practically my savior since she threw the coffee at her brother’s face; the coffee I spiced up with ghost chili sauce. Unlike Ashton, she shares the same hair color with Dickson, which apparently they inherit from their mother. Emily is somehow friendlier than the night she paid a visit to her little brother’s office.

Danielle is another story. An intimidating vibe wraps the air around us just because of her presence, prompting me to stay alert. I would have steered clear of her if Chloe was not expected to come to this family lunch. In most cases, animals choose flight over fight, but when their kids are in danger, fight it is. I guess this is where humans and animals share the same trait.

Danielle sits on her throne, which is the red chair at the end of the table in her terrace garden, silently watching my daughter while Ashton is guiding Chloe to approach his mother. Judging from Ashton’s age, she must be at least sixty years old now. However, gravity seems to deny her existence since she looks as if she is in her thirties. There is almost no trace of wrinkles or age spots on her face. Her skin is smooth and glowing, putting her broken-white satin blouse to shame.

“Mother,” greets Ashton stiffly while resting both his hands on Chloe’s shoulders. “This is Chloe, my–” he glances at me “–our daughter.”

Danielle’s lips stretch, forming a smile, but it doesn’t reach her green eyes. “Hello, little girl.” She doesn’t even shake my daughter’s hand.

I walk closer and offer my hand in a manner that I won’t accept a refusal from her. “I’m Charlotte, Chloe’s mother. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Knight.” I don’t even want to encourage her to call me Char or Charlie because clearly, this isn’t a friendly visit.

If Danielle is surprised by my confidence, she doesn’t show it. She looks up at me, eyeing me from head to toe before standing up. Then her delicate fingers wrap around my palm. Once she shakes my hand, the delicacy can go down the drain. This freaking woman has iron hands! I have to grin widely to cover my wince. Luckily, Danielle’s posture is small and slender, which makes me somehow glad that I was born tall and built because it helps me feel less intimidated in a situation like this. Hey, size does matter, right?

“Likewise. I’m Danielle, but let’s cut off the formality. You may call me Dani. And, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable,” she says, her smile growing more prominent but it’s unsettling in a way.

I look down when I feel a small hand search for mine and Chloe presses herself on my hips. I know she feels the tension and she needs her mama. This is the reason why I’m here, to protect her from a potential holocaust. I secure my hand around my daughter’s back and squeeze her arm gently as I smile at her reassuringly. “Come, sit next to Mama.”

I take the seat closer to Dani so that Chloe can take the one farther away. I know I’m building a barrier between my daughter and her grandmother whilst I should do the opposite. But at the moment, I don’t care. This is not the atmosphere I find the ideal for my kid and I need to be a bit territorial. Surprisingly, Ashton doesn’t seem to mind. He nods at me slightly as he takes the seat in front of me, next to his big sister. I wonder if they’re still fighting now, but the awkward gesture between the two says enough.

One finger flick from Dani sends her servant, who has been standing by the door, to the kitchen. In the next minute, several servants bring all the meals and beverages to our table. Various kinds of bread, butter, hams, cheese, and jam are presented on expensive dish plates, along with shiny silver cutlery. The next ones are salads, fruits, and drinks that are arranged at the end of the table. My family is bigger than the number of people who are sitting at this table right now, and we eat more than average people do, but we’ve never had a lunch like this. How much money do rich people waste on every lunch?

“Do tell me about yourself, Chloe,” Dani starts. “How old are you?”

“Seven,” Chloe replies timidly.

“What school are you attending now?”

Chloe frowns, looking unsure. “School with teachers and playground.”

“Public school,” I correct her. I always encourage Chloe to answer all the questions that are directed to her. But for some topics, she still needs help.

The rigidness seems to wear off as we start with our meals, making me wonder if the tension was built because of hunger. No, it can’t be. They’re not me who get cranky when hungry. Probably, it’s because our focus is now shifted to the activity of picking the bread, cutting it, smearing some butter, pouring the juice into the glass, and so on. A distraction is the best antidote to the tension.

“Have you ever considered sending her to a private school?” Dani shifts her attention to me now. “It has better qualities than most public schools.”

“I have. But I personally find a public school offers more diversity and provides her more room to learn and grow.”

Dani smiles before bringing a golden napkin to dap on the spot around her lips. “I understand that public schools are financially friendly, but for the sake of the child’s future, good parents should aim for the best education for their child, no matter how much it costs them.”

“Watch it, Mother,” Ashton warns.

“What?” Dani glares at her son. “I’m just giving her piece of mind based on my own experience in raising my kids well. It might benefit her and the kid.”

“Define well.”

Dani narrows her eyes on Ashton. “Are you going to start this in front of your own child?” she hisses under her breath.

“Then quit offending Charlotte with her choice of parenting,” he shoots back.

“I’m not trying to offend her. I’m just sharing my knowledge because–” Dani points her fingers at him and his sister “–look at you two. You all have grown into successful people. And Dickie, too!”

Ashton opens her mouth, about to reply to his mother when a masculine voice vibrates from the kitchen door.

“Well, well, I haven’t even announced my arrival and you guys are talking about me already!” With that, a tall blond man saunters to our table, wearing a huge grin on his face. He stops at Dani’s chair and gives his mother a peck. Patting Ashton’s shoulder, he bends over to kiss Emily on the cheek before walking to the chair next to her. The Knight siblings are now sitting in proper age order.

Once settled in his seat, Dickson shifts his gaze on me. “I believe we haven’t officially met even though I saw you in the bar last Friday–”

“Bar? What bar?” Ashton asks.

“Dopium. I was there meeting D, but she ditched me because she needed to talk to a friend, who turns out to be the mother of Ashton’s daughter.”

Ashton raises his eyebrows, turning his head to me. “I didn’t know that.”

“It wasn’t planned. I was there with the whole team to celebrate the end of my probation period. And I bumped into her.”

“Okay, enough intro! Now, give this man a chance to introduce himself properly.” He extends his hand. “Dickson Knight. But please, do not call me Dick or Dickie. Just Dickson.”

“Charlotte Garnett.” I shake his hand before introducing Chloe to him.

“Welcome to the family, Chloe.” Dickson beams at my daughter.

“Thank you,” Chloe replies, still with her timid voice.

After having a short chat about my daughter, the conversation soon shifts to their family business. I’ve learned that Ashton’s family owns a number of recreational and sports resorts with worldwide business exposure. Danielle used to be the CEO until several years back before she passed the throne to Emily. Soon after, Dickson was voted out from the Knight & Co’s CEO chair. Not wasting a good use of his skills, Dickson then helped Emily fix its defective marketing system.

Keeping myself quiet, my eyes bounce from one Knight to another Knight while studying every one of them. It’s incredibly weird that these people talk to each other so formally. At some point, I forget that we are at a family lunch feast.

If I look at my family, we are like peasants in front of these people. Well, happy peasants because even though we aren’t rich, our feast is always full of love and laughter. We don’t even have the dress code to sit at our dining table. I smile at the thoughts and turn my head to my daughter who is trying to finish her panini. Her eyes are fixed on the servant who is standing still by the kitchen door.

“Is it yummy?” I ask her while brushing her bangs backward and tucking it behind her ear, answered with a bobbing head.

“I wish my daughter could eat so neatly like you,” Dickson says, chuckling. “She’s a total disaster during mealtime.”

“She’s three. What do you expect?” Emily interjects.

“You have a daughter too?” I can’t help asking it. While I know Emily is married with two daughters, Ashton never prepared me with his brother’s personal life info.

“Oh, Yes. But her mother and I aren’t together. Like you and Ashy,” Dickson replies, earning a growl from the person in front of me.

“Have you talked again with his mother about your daughter taking your last name?” Danielle asks.

Dickson grabs an orange from the fruit basket before juggling it, earning a displeased look from his sister. “I have. She said she will think about it.”

“Hmm,” Danielle hums. “Does she want more money?”

Dickson shrugs. “Maybe. Well, she wants to be a Knight. But I can’t marry her. Don’t wanna.”

“Can you stop doing that?” Emily glares at his hands and the juggling orange. “It’s irritating to see.”

“That woman just talks too much to the media,” Danielle adds.

Dickson puts down the orange next to his plate. “I will talk to her again, okay?.”

Danielle’s jaws clench and her eyes twitch. I wouldn’t be able to catch it if I didn’t sit this close to her. “I want it fixed by next month. This has been dragging on too long, and this is getting absurd. You need to be able to control that woman,” she commands with full authority, giving me shivers.

“I’ll see what I can do,” replies Dickson.

The rest of the lunch goes slightly easier afterward. Dickson, despite what Ashton has warned me, is a smooth talker and surprisingly, he becomes the bridge of family communication. While Ashton doesn’t get along with his mother and sister, there is also a slight tension between Emily and Danielle. Now I start to see how troubled this family is despite their big name.

When the servants finally take all the plates from the table, Dickson turns his head to his brother, jerking his head slightly toward the house, earning a nod from Ashton. Then the two men stand up.

“Ladies, we’re going to have something to discuss. In private. Excuse us,” Dickson announces.

“I’ll be right back in fifteen,” Ashton murmurs in my direction and I have no choice but nod.

Once they disappear into the house, the tension that has been suppressed under the surface bounces back up. I’m about to try to strike up a casual convo with Emily when Danielle clears her throat. “Emmy, will you show Chloe our little playground? I believe she will love to explore it.”

“Sure,” Emily replies before standing up, walking to Chloe, and bending over to her. “Hey, baby girl, wanna see an awesome place in the backyard? It’s my daughters’ favorite place, too! I bet you wanna check it out.”

Chloe looks up at me, looking torn between leaving me alone with Ashton’s mother and the temptation to see the playground. I nod and smile at her reassuringly, prompting her to get up and take Emily’s hand.

The two aren’t out of my sight yet when I hear Danielle’s voice again. “How much do you want?”

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