“I beg your pardon?” I ask, hoping I heard her wrong.
“You heard me, Charlotte Garnett.” Danielle leans back to the chair’s backrest without breaking eye contact. “A woman popping up into my son’s life out of nowhere, with his child. Do you think I won’t catch your true intention?”
“And what is my true intention?”
“Please, we don’t need to beat around the bush. Let’s just go down to business and make this easy for all of us.”
“The problem is, I can’t proceed with this conversation if we don’t have a mutual perception about the issue. So, please, enlighten me,” I reply, feeling the irritation start to grow in me.
Danielle fixes her gaze on me for several seconds as if she wants to find any sign of me playing a game with her. She then breaks eye contact and crosses one leg on top of the other, sighing.
“Very well,” she breathes. “Everyone knows Knight is a family with money and power, and it’s not uncommon that people try to exploit us from any direction, especially through the stupidity of my children. Even Emily, my most sensible child, fell into this kind of trap. Hence, instead of moving forward and growing, we keep being dragged down by these unnecessary situations.”
“And your point is?”
“Before this goes too far, let’s get this settled right here and right now. How much money do you want to leave us in peace?”
I frown at her question. So, she thinks it’s all about money. That I’m bringing my child to them in an exchange for money. I get her general concern about people trying to rip them off, but does it give her a free pass to judge me at our first meeting?
“Wait, leaving your family in peace as in cutting the ties between Chloe and your family?” I ask. “Also with her father?”
“No. That’s not what I meant at all,” Danielle replies. “We love to have Chloe in the family. She has Knight blood running in her body after all. Therefore, we will not deny her. Let me tell you how it works, Charlotte. Since Chloe is a family member now, we’re willing to support her education financially or her other expenses if needed. Even when she wants extra facilities such as vehicles or a place to live when she’s older, we’re happy to provide them. We even encourage her to have our last name to make it easier for her future.”
My frown gets deeper and deeper every second. I know this is a huge offer for Chloe. Every mother will love to hear that her child’s future is secured. But when the offer is coming from the very woman in front of me, it feels like a trap. I still don’t know what she wants from me exactly.
“What I want to stress here is,” Danielle adds, “you don’t have any ties with the Knight family. Thus, all the privileges are only for Chloe, not for her mother. In other words, we don’t want you to use your child for your personal benefit.”
“Personal benefit as in getting money from you?” I ask, my voice hardened. Even the question tastes disgusting on my tongue. Yikes.
“Yes. I don’t want you to use Chloe to keep getting money from us, for your advantage. I will not allow that.” Danielle takes a sip of her orange juice before turning her attention to me again. “I understand that raising a kid is expensive nowadays. And judging from your position in the company my son’s leading now, money can be a struggle. Therefore, we are willing to offer you some interesting amount of money. It’s to express our gratitude for taking good care of Ashton’s daughter during his absence. But it’s going to be a one-time thing. We are more than happy to take over the rest of the child’s expenses from here if you like, but again, we only pay for her expenses.”
I’m speechless. No, I’m struck dumb with Ashton’s mother’s bluntness. Does she seriously think that I’m that desperate? Do I even have that look? First Diandra, now Danielle. I begin to wonder if Ashton ever thought this way about me earlier.
I clear my throat which suddenly has gone dry. “Thank you for your generous offer but I can’t accept it,” I say, my hands clutching the chair’s armrests. “For your information, I never forced Ashton into this. I’m not even asking him to pay child support. So, if he decided not to get involved with Chloe’s life, we would do just fine. I might not own a company but I earn a reasonable income and it’s more than enough to give my daughter a proper living.”
“Is that so?” Danielle raises her eyebrow, looking intrigued. “Interesting. You didn’t apply for a position in Knight & Co for nothing, did you? I’m quite sure you had planned it all along so that you could put your claws on my son. Very well played, Charlotte, I must admit. Pray tell, what do you want from him if it wasn’t money then? Is it power? Do you want him to marry you so that you can wear our last name and take over the control?”
This woman is unbelievable! I bite my lower lip to refrain from spewing harsh words at her. Hold it, Char! She’s Chloe’s grandmother! Hold it...
“Did you know that we tend to judge people from our own level of conscience? And you have shown me yours, Mrs. Knight, loud and clear. It baffles me that Ashton was raised by someone like you. It must have been a painful experience for him.” Oh yeah, screw being polite.
Danielle slit her eyes as her jaws clench and her lips form a straight line. “Careful with that sharp tongue of yours, young lady. I’m not a person you want to cross.”
“Watch me,” I challenge her. “To be frank, the idea of letting Chloe connect with this family has become less and less appealing every second. My daughter doesn’t need a rich family with no self-respect.”
“Watch your language!” Danielle seethes. “You like it or not, she has our blood in her body which means she’s a Knight. We will do anything in our power to give her her rights.”
“Please, don’t trouble yourself,” I scoff, earning a glare from Danielle which makes the hairs on my neck stand. But I will not show this woman any sign of fear. Honestly, she reminds me of Cruella de Vil from one of Chloe’s children’s books.
“I’m tired of dealing with this love-child issue in this family. Don’t push me to seek legal advice for this, Charlotte,” she threatens.
“I’m not stopping you. But I will do anything in my power to protect my child, which is keeping her away from this family. I’m her mother, I have a full right to decide what’s best for–”
“Mama?” Chloe’s voice stops me. I slowly turn my head and see my kid shifting on her feet by the garden entrance with a flower in her hand. I’m not sure how long she’s been standing there and how much she’s heard.
“Hi, sweetie, you’re just in time. We’re going home now.” With a shaking hand, I throw my napkin to the table and get up while reverting my gaze to Danielle. “Now, if you excuse us. We have no more business to be here. Thank you for the luxurious lunch, and good day.”
Chloe’s been quiet on our way home. She must have heard the heated argument I had with her grandmother, but she was perceptive enough to not ask me any questions when I told her we needed to leave. Hugging her fluffy unicorn pouch with one hand and the sunflower dangling from her other hand, she followed me to the car, leaving the perplexed Danielle and Emily.
At this point, I don’t care about what they think about me. Ashton’s mother has no right to talk to me that way. She may have money and the power that people would die for, but she can’t buy people’s respect, especially when she has no fucking clue how to respect others. How dare she think I’m using my child to dig for their money. Or worse, using her to trap Ashton.
I forgot to tell him that I was leaving. He was still somewhere inside the house with Dickson when Chloe and I marched to our car. How will he react when he goes back to the table and finds Chloe and her mother aren’t there? How will he handle it when Danielle tells him what happened? Maybe he will jump in to defend me, but it’s also possible that he’ll get pissed after learning I disrespect his mother.
Deep down, I wonder if he knew that his mother was going to have this kind of conversation with me. I honestly don’t know where he stands.
The sound of a vibrating phone slaps me out of my jumbled thoughts. I glance at my yellow tote bag that is sitting on the floor of the passenger seat and decide to ignore it. Instead, I peer at Chloe from my rearview mirror.
“Are you okay?” I ask, realizing I haven’t talked to her since we left Danielle’s house.
Chloe nods. “And are you alright, Mama?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Ashton’s mother made you upset?” Her question sounds more like a statement.
“Hmm. A little bit. But it doesn’t matter now,” I reply as I extend my hand to turn on the radio, attempting to change the vibe in the car.
“It’s okay, Mama. We are not coming back there again, ever.”
My hand freezes on the radio button as I keep my eyes on the road. “What?” I squeak.
“We don’t need to see the Knight family ever again.”
My breath hitches in my throat while feeling the tight knot forming in my stomach. Did she say this because of what she saw at that garden terrace? Did I just demonstrate how to hate others in front of my child? Which in this case, is her flesh and blood? What have I done?
“Sweetie,” I pause before swallowing a lump in my throat. “I… we need to talk about this when we’re home. Whatever you saw and heard, they’re still your family, okay?”
Chloe looks away and stares at the view behind the window. “They are not my family. They’re Ashton’s family. They’re cruel and they want to hurt you. I don’t want them,” Chloe replies, stressing the word ‘not’.
I let out a sigh, cursing at myself inwardly. Way to go, Charlotte!
Danielle insulted me, true, but the way I reacted was probably a little bit overboard. No, scratch that, what I did was wrong. I was too busy attacking her back to defend my pride and without realizing it, I burned the bridge between Chloe and her family. And worse, my child witnessed it. It’s not like they hate Chloe; they want to have her in the family. They’re just still questioning my motives.
Can I blame Danielle for having suspicion about me? Maybe not. But the way she treats me is unacceptable; it’s downright degrading. But then again, I could have played it elegantly. I didn’t have to go lower to her level. I shouldn’t have taken the bait. Again, I let my impulsiveness get the best of me.
I push the radio button and set the volume low, just enough to lessen the tension in the car. Chloe hasn’t said anything for a while and I let her. She probably needs some space to process while it gives me time to find a way to fix the damage I created.
“Sometimes, we just don’t get to choose what kind of family we have,” I start, glancing at my daughter to see how she reacts. “When I was younger, I fought with your grandma a lot and I didn’t like aunt Sophie. I always thought having a different family would be cool. But now, I can’t be happier that I have them as my family.”
Slowly, Chloe shifts her gaze from the window to the rearview mirror, her green eyes on me again. “Why did you fight with grandma a lot? Where was I?”
“Because we just couldn’t see things the same way. And you weren’t born yet.”
“Do you and grandma see things the same way now?”
“Umm,” I bite my lower lip, thinking what to answer. “No, not entirely. But now, we always try to see each other’s point of view and learn to respect that.”
Chloe tilts her head as if she’s trying to digest what I just told her. “How?”
“By listening to what each other has to say, telling each other how we feel about it, and trying to avoid doing things that can make each other angry.” I glance at her. “And I failed today, I didn’t listen to Ashton’s mother. Instead, I chose to make her angry, and it’s not good.”
“Okay,” Chloe mumbles before looking out of the window again.
I steal glances at the mirror while trying to guess what is going on inside her head right now. “What do you mean with ‘okay’? Does it mean you’re going to see them again?”
“No. I still don’t want to see them,” she replies firmly, making me whimper inwardly. “Can we stop to get ice cream, Mama?”
I want to push the topic further but then I decide to drop it. For now.
“Of course. But aren’t you full?” I ask with a forced lighter tone.
“Not really. And the lunch was not that great anyway.” Her voice is flat and distasteful, making my stomach churn once again.
“Ice cream it is!”
After grabbing our ice cream and devouring it on a bench under the friendly September sun, we finally head home. Despite the unsettling feeling that is too stubborn to leave me, I try to be present and chatty during our ice-cream convo. We deliberately avoid the topic about the Knight family, but when we see Ashton’s black Mercedes in our driveway, I know the day is not over yet.
“What does he want now?” Chloe grumbles.