The clutch was sitting idly beside the rocking chair, and the sunlight shone on the room, erasing all the gloomy air inside.
Jackson woke up three days earlier, then he went through rehab before finally being able to walk. But he looked clumsy, so I knew he hadn’t fully healed just yet.
“I thought the kids would be here too,” Jackson joked.
I sniffled. “I was too excited when John told me you’re awake.” I fumbled for an explanation. “So I totally forgot about it. We can go straight back to see them though, Jackson. You should see them. After all, you’ve risked your life for them.”
“I’m not in a hurry.” Jackson smiled warmly. “I can always see them after this.”
I knew he was a really nice guy. “Have you forgiven me?” It took everything I had to ask, but the moment I did, everyone fell silent, much to my worry.
A short while later, Jackson looked at John and chuckled, “I see. You were right, John. Everyone’s been worried about me. Looks like I’m more trouble than I’m worth, huh?”
Well, that was depressing, and it ended the conversation for me. Of course, everyone would worry. Someone close to them was in the ICU after all.
“Let’s not talk about that.” Jackson shifted the topic and looked at me happily. “I told my lawyer to withdraw the case. Summer and Audrey are your daughters, Scarlett. That will never change.”
I felt a surge of gratitude and affection for him. “Thank you, Jackson.” Tears welled up in my eyes.
Reconciliations were always touching. Even John, the tough guy, sniffled quietly. “You were a b*stard, Jackson, but that sleep did you good. Now that you’re not trying to take my niece away, you aren’t that annoying anymore. The reports about you are taken down, so just open up the clinic after you’re healed up. A diamond always shines no matter where it is, you know.”
“Thanks, but I’m not planning to reopen my clinic.” He looked at me, feeling crestfallen. “I’ve talked with Lydia, and I’ve decided to return to M Country.”
“Yeah. You gotta recharge yourself.” K City had nothing but malice for him. There was nothing memorable for him in this ice-cold metropolis.
Jackson had a look of resolve in his eyes. “No. I’m going back to take over my family’s business.”
“Why?” Jackson never liked business, so why did he change his mind?
Jackson’s face fell, and his veins popped. “My brother’s the one who acquired my data and leaked it to the media. Seems like he’s getting too comfy as the heir apparent. It’s time for him to pay the price.”
Somehow Jackson looked different. I could see something dark within his eyes—a dark ambition.
Even so, I couldn’t give him any advice. An eye for an eye seemed about right, and most people would do that. Jackson used to be a gentle soul who’d take all the beatings from his family, but he had had enough. It was time for him to take back what was rightfully his.
A near brush with death wasn’t bad news, apparently. Jackson wanted me to support him, so I gave it to him. He was an old friend, after all. I was going to lend him some money as a seed fund, but all Jackson wanted was my promise, so I glossed it over.
I felt like a heavyweight had been unloaded from my shoulders. Even my soul felt light, so I stretched my arms in John’s car.
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The sun’s warmth graced me, but I blocked out its light, though I squinted at it. “It’s a good day.”
“It is,” John answered. We came to a crossroads, but John made a right turn. It was in the opposite direction of our home.
“I thought we’re going home.” I started to panic. All I wanted to do then was to find out what happened in the basement.
“No, no, no.” John didn’t even look at me. “It’s a good day, and the good news won’t stop coming. Next stop, here we come.” He blabbed about his plan, but I didn’t get a word of it.
I frowned, but there was nothing I could do. All I could do was go with the flow.
Trips were fun, but not when I was in a hurry. What a waste of time. I called Ashton.
It beeped, but then the call was hung up. Maybe it wasn’t a good time. I stared at the call record for a few moments before texting him: Call me when you’re done. It’s urgent.
Ashton didn’t reply, much to my worry. Then John came to the airport. Alright, that was odd, so I didn’t budge.
John only noticed my absence when he was about to enter the airport. Then he shrugged. “What are you doing? The plane’s landing soon.” He gave me a weird look.
I crossed my arms, annoyed and refusing to cooperate. “You’re getting in the way of a crucial matter, John. This person better be important, or you’re going to get it.”
John chuckled and came back to push me into the airport. “I’ve always delivered, haven’t I?”
My patience ran out after fifteen minutes of waiting. I pointed at the time on my phone, shoving it in his face. “It’s almost one. Who are we waiting for, exactly?”
And then someone patted my shoulder. “I’m back, Scarlett.”
I turned around, and what greeted my eyes was a woman in sunglasses. She spun around, her fishtail skirt sticking to all her sexy curves tightly. The woman was also wearing stilettos, and she radiated nothing but sexual allure. I’d probably flirt with her if I were a man.
But none of that was comparable to the surprise I felt when she took off her sunglasses. “Oh, Emery! It really is you! Oh my god, you slimmed down so much.” I hugged her tightly.
I knew Emery well, but I couldn’t believe that she managed to recover in a mere month or so. Her back was fair and smooth, totally unlike what I saw in the clinic.
Emery had her usual triumphant grin again. “I couldn’t stand it, so I spent tons of money to fix it up.”
She paused to look around before lowering her voice to a whisper. “And that’s the only part that’s healed. I got my scars under cover. Pun not intended. Right, let’s leave this until we get home. Chop chop, don’t want the paparazzi to take my picture.”
As amusing as usual. Emery had always been a straightforward one. I didn’t expect her to come back so soon though. I thought she’d stay in M Country for a while longer to get back to her old self.
The way back was filled with laughter, because Emery and John would always crack dumb jokes. Emery regaled us about the stories and plastic surgery in M Country, and they were refreshing.
Then we stopped laughing the moment we came back.
“You’re back.” Hunter was tending to the plants, but he looked awkward.
Instead of a neat look of an academician, he let his hair hang awkwardly, and he was wearing nothing but a grey tracksuit. Well, he did look like a gardener.
Emery’s laughter earlier was replaced by disgust. “Why are you still here?”
John and I went away. It wasn’t our place to tell someone else how to deal with their personal matters.
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Then Xavier ran up to Hunter. “Play with me, daddy!”
Hunter put the gardening equipment down and picked Xavier up. “You promised me you’d finish your homework, Xavier,” he whispered. “If you’re a man, you’re going to see it through no matter what.”
Xavier pouted unhappily, but he didn’t throw a tantrum. Oh, he was taught well. Since Xavier had calmed down, Hunter went back to the house. “Let’s talk inside.”
Emery didn’t blow up in front of the kid, but she still looked irked. And no, she wasn’t following because she relented. I knew her too well.
Emery yanked Xavier away from Hunter the moment we entered the living room. Xavier didn’t recognize her at first because she was gone for more than a month, and she had heavy makeup on. The boy kept struggling, but he quieted down the moment she spoke.
“Mrs. Eriksen,” Emery called the servant. “Take Xavier upstairs. It’s study time.”
Emery called the shots in the house. Xavier knew that, so he let Mrs. Eriksen take him away.
Once her son was gone, Emery turned back to Hunter. “I thought I said I don’t want to see you or anything related to you in here. Did you lose your class along with your job? Can’t you understand simple English now?”
After Hunter’s extramarital affair and assault were made public, his institution voided the contract the very same day. They also made a notice that slammed his actions. Because of that, his career was ruined, and he lost his source of income.
I only found out about it after John told me. Emery didn’t do it though. Hunter was too famous for his own good after marrying Emery. He had a lot of enemies who were just waiting for the chance to beat him while he was done, and Hunter gave them that chance.
The higher they were, the harder they fell.
Hunter was deep in his thoughts, then he looked at John and me with a frown. The heck? What’s that supposed to mean? Are we an eyesore now? This is Emery’s place. You’re the unwanted guest here.
John realized that faster than I did, so he raised his chin and squinted at Hunter. It was as if he was saying “We’re staying here. Bite us.”
Emery didn’t notice the silent tussle between them, though she was still impatient with him. “Cat got your tongue?”
Hunter sat on the sofa beside Emery, ignoring us. “I’ve been taking care of Xavier and tended to everything in the house in your absence. I realized I’ve been too harsh on you. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think we should give it one more shot.”
John and I looked at each other, then we gasped. The heck? How could he even say that after what he did?
Emery laughed mirthlessly. “Alright. Tell me this: what about Delilah and the baby?” She threw him a mocking look.
Hunter had a serious look on his face. He stared down, resolving himself, then he answered, “Xavier’s still young. He should grow up with both his parents there for him. My parents persuaded Delilah to withdraw the lawsuit after the marriage. She’ll deliver the baby, and we’ll give her a house and a million. Then that’s the end of it between us. My parents’ relatives are going to raise that kid.”
Getting a decent house in K City and paying a million in compensation was going to take a lot out of Hunter, especially after losing his job.
Still, he was a piece of trash. All he cared about was himself. Even if he was better looking than Emery, that didn’t mean he could tell anyone how to live their life.
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Emery spoke our minds though. “You cheated on me, but you’re asking me to date you again for a stupid excuse like that? And you want me to forgive my would-be killer, and you want that woman to deliver your baby? So I don’t even have a say in that? Sometimes I wonder if we’ve not dated long enough, Hunter. You don’t seem to understand me at all. What makes you think you can tell me what to do?”
At that point, even Emery thought it was pointless talking to him. She shook her head in disdain. “Get out. Before I change my mind about sparing you.”
Hunter’s face fell as she glared at Emery intently. But then he remembered how terrifying an angry Emery was, so he shot up. “I’m Xavier’s father. Nothing can change that. I’m bowing my head here so everyone can live in peace, but you burned that bridge, Emery. You’re gonna get what’s coming for you.”
Emery tossed him a dark look. “Is that all? Right. F*ck off.”
Hunter frowned, but he couldn’t say anything, so he stormed out. I looked in his direction, then I realized there was a sports car at the gates. “Can I borrow one of your cars?”
“I thought John took you here.” Emery gave John a weird look. “What are you guys doing?”
“Just tell me, yes or no,” I insisted.
Yep, I could imagine John’s smug look without even turning around, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to let him take me around anymore. We did meet some important people, but I could have met them some other day, and it would still be the same thing. Not Ashton though. I wouldn’t rest until I saw him safe and sound with my own two eyes.
Emery lent me the most expensive car she had. I quickly went to it, then John knocked on the window the moment I revved it up.
Dammit. “Take your jokes somewhere else, John. I don’t have time today.”
“I’m not stopping you, so easy with the attitude.” John leaned against the car languidly. “I wouldn’t have opened the firm if I knew you’d be working yourself to the bone. Just when I finally managed to take you on a day off, you just had to run off no matter what.”
Wait. What was that? Was he actually complaining? Gosh, men were getting weird. Where’d the stardust crusaders go? Well, I didn’t have time to fool around, so I floored the accelerator and dashed toward Thora’s hospital.
Unbeknownst to me, John made a call the moment I left.
I went to the same elevator and descended down the basement. Then I quickly went to the place I came the night before, but nobody was there to stop me. The corridor was mine to explore, so explore I did. My first stop—the room Ashton was in.
Darkness. Nothing but darkness. I fumbled around for a switch, then I flicked it on. The lights shone brightly, but the room was empty. Well, that’s it then.
I went back up, feeling nothing but emptiness inside. Everything around me looked ethereal when I came back out. I couldn’t understand what happened. There was no need for Joseph and the bodyguards to guard that room if it was empty, and if it was, then why did he knock me out?
There was only one possibility. Someone moved everything in the room somewhere else. John was acting weird that morning too, so it was plausible.
I wasn’t looking where I was going, being deep in my thoughts. Eventually, I bumped into someone.
“Oh, sorry, sorry.” I moved aside to let him pass, but he backed me against the wall, then I looked up.
The moment I met Ashton’s gaze, I leaped to him, giving him the tightest hug I could. I was afraid he might leave me again if I didn’t.
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“What’s wrong?” Ashton sounded husky, but also gentle.
“Nothing.” I tightened my hug. “What did you guys do in the hospital after I left?” I grumbled. “Are you doing something dangerous behind my back, Ashton?”
Before he could say anything, I continued, “I don’t care what the answer is, but remember to live. Survive. I won’t allow you to die before your time.” I almost screamed that out loud, praying that the Gods could grant my wish.
Ashton said nothing. He held the back of my head and pulled me closer so I could take in everything about him.
We quickly separated in case we were seen. Then he took me to the safety exit’s staircase. I gazed at him as I talked about the events the night ago. All I wanted was an explanation from him. A reasonable one, at least.
Instead of answering my question, he gazed at me for a few moments. “I don’t keep secrets from you. I’ll let you know about it as soon as I could.”
I did not expect him to agree so quickly, so I froze up for a second before nodding. “Thank you.”
Ashton kept to his promise. He picked me up in secret at the Stovall residence and drove around the urban area a few times before going into a biotech company.
Joseph was already waiting when we arrived. He didn’t seem surprised to see me. “Hello, Mr. Fuller, Mrs. Fuller.” He bowed at us as usual.
“Hey,” Ashton answered curtly, but I pulled a long face. Yes, I was still salty about the chop. I could still feel the pain on my neck even then. That was a constant reminder of what Joseph did.
Ashton went in easily, and I followed. The place wasn’t as mysterious as the hospital’s basement. Once I got out of the elevator, I was greeted with a high-tech office.
The office looked cold, and glass canisters lined the whole place. A human-sized glass container stood in the middle of the office. It was filled with a clear liquid, while a green test tube was fixed in the middle. There seemed to be air going in from both ends, since the liquid was bubbling.
I fell into a trance looking at the container.
“You’re here, Mr. Fuller.” A familiar voice snapped me out of it. When I looked in its direction, I saw a gray-haired, elderly man shaking hands with Ashton. He was probably the guy who reminded Ashton about the time that night.
“I’ll need you to explain it to my wife,” he commanded calmly.
“Yes.” The old man smiled and came to me. “I’m the project manager, George Sanchez. I’m a certified microbiology professor, and the suppressants you have been taking are made by my team.”
“Hello, Professor Sanchez.” I forced a smile, though I felt more at ease than when I first came in.
“Look, Mrs. Fuller.” George pointed at the green test tube smugly. “This is the antidote we just made last night. We’ll switch locations every time one antidote is made for safety purposes. In case the enemies find out about it. We were doing inventory last night and getting ready for the transfer. You know, when your condition acted up.”
“My condition?” I didn’t remember that happening. “Impossible.” I was confused. “I took my suppressants before coming out last night.” I looked at Ashton subconsciously. Are they trying to gloss this over with that cheap trick?
“That’s what suppressants do. They suppress. The toxins have mutated,” Ashton said. “You can’t stay out of contact for more than three hours from now on.”
I pursed my lips and thought about the veracity of his reply. Ashton seemed to see through what I was thinking, so he asked, “What? Do you really think Joseph was the one who knocked you out?”