“Do we know each other?” I stammered hesitantly, frowning.
“It’s me,” The man muttered thickly. He looked as if he was struggling to quell some intense emotion that was rising within him. He cleared his throat, then said, raising his voice, “It’s me, John Stovall.”
John’s eyes were brimming with tears. When his statement elicited no response from me, he looked at rueful, then asked, “Have you really forgotten who I am?”
John? I pondered. That name sounds strangely familiar…
My eyes darted from him to the little girl standing just beside him. Realization dawned upon me.
John was a member of the Stovall family and “Scarlett”’s relative. I recalled briefly seeing him listed amongst the material that Ashton had given me. John had grown out his beard, which hindered me from recognizing him at first glance.
According to Ashton’s plan, I was to battle John in court over custody rights.
Why do I feel such an overwhelming surge of regret within me now? I wondered. The sight of John and the little girl standing next to each other caused an unspeakable ache in my heart.
I felt sorry for agreeing to Ashton, for using the pretense of “Scarlett” to tear John and the little girl apart.
In the living room, John sat the girl down on the sofa facing me. He then placed the manila envelope he’d brought along with him on the table beside.
Before we’d entered, John had briefly announced, “I’m taking you with me.”
He seemed to be in a great hurry. Once the maid had brought us a round of water, John immediately broke the ice by saying frankly, “The Stovall family and the Moore family have never given up on searching for you. To take care of the child, as well as to accumulate enough funds, we arranged to migrate. We’d even made the entire company move. It was all to no avail, however. That’s why I was only able to finally meet with you today.”
John sounded weary. He’d spoken calmly, but I could detect more than a hint of sorrow in his voice. In front of the child’s inquisitive eyes, however, John had to maintain his composure. He paused and took several long, deep breaths. Lowering his gaze for a while, John’s elegant fingers drumming furiously on the surface of the manila envelope as he contemplated how he should continue.
“I know you don’t remember anything. I’m here for you. Don’t worry about anything else. This envelope contains DNA proof of your relationship with Audrey, as well as a Share Transfer Agreement of half of Stovall Corporation’s shares. When you return, you’ll be the second-largest major shareholder in Stovall Corporation. Just focus on your own happiness for the rest of your life and leave the rest to me,” John finally declared.
Before I could respond, John exhaled, then turned towards the little girl. He took her hand gently, then led her over to me. “Audrey, this is your mommy,” he said tenderly.
Audrey bit her lip and looked at me uncertainly. She turned back to face John, who smiled at her encouragingly and gave her a nudge. Audrey turned back to look at me with an enormous beam on her face. “Mommy!” she called out with a sweet voice.
Audrey had initially appeared more cautious than Gregory had been at our first meeting. She seemed emboldened now by John’s affirmation that this was indeed her mommy. Audrey ran towards me as fast as her short legs could carry her and wrapped her stubby arms around my neck. Sobbing, she cried again, “Mommy! I missed you!”
Audrey spoke in Ustranasion, and even though I wasn’t fluent in the language, I was nonetheless moved by the earnestness with which Audrey cried. As she clung to my neck and wept, my heart broke. I, too, embraced her.
It was the oddest feeling. Just as I had when I’d hugged Gregory, I felt a sudden rush of tears now as I held Audrey’s small body in my arms.
After a long time, Audrey stopped crying. Both of us looked at each other, smiling despite our tear-stained faces.
Audrey’s resemblance to Ashton was uncanny. Their large, dark eyes were practically identical. The main difference, however, was that Audrey’s eyes were soft and gentle, without a trace of the ruthlessness in Ashton’s.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Audrey broke in, saying, “Mommy, it’s my birthday today. Are you going to spend it with me?”
She smiled winningly at me. However, I could see undercurrents of grief ripple beneath her sunny eyes.
As much as I did not want to cooperate with Ashton, I could not bring myself to refuse Audrey and shatter her heart.
Thus resolved, I swallowed the words that were on the tip of my tongue.
I reached out and ruffled her hair, saying, “Audrey, you haven’t met your brother, have you? Gregory will be coming back for lunch later. Do you want to go play in his room for a while? We’ll give Gregory a surprise when he comes home.”
“Sure!” Audrey bounced on her feet happily, clapping her hands in glee. “I have a brother! I want to meet my brother!”