I quickly knelt down next to Gregory and pacified him, saying, “Silly boy, Mommy only left for a while. How could I have left you behind? Didn’t we agree that we’d stick together?”
However, Gregory could not be so easily appeased. He frowned in deep thought. After a moment, his eyes lit up. Extending his tiny pinky towards me he claimed, “We didn’t make a pinky promise last time, so it didn’t count. Now we have to!”
I put on an unsmiling face and hooked my pinky with Gregory’s. He cheered up considerably afterward.
Looking down at Gregory clad smartly in a tuxedo, I guessed that the three of them were heading out to dinner. In a friendly manner, I asked, “Are you going out to dinner tonight, Gregory?”
Before Gregory could reply, Ashton cut in with a low voice, “We’re going to meet my parents. You have to come too.”
We’re going to meet the Hall family? I thought, amused. I guess today isn’t a wasted trip after all.
I smiled cheerfully at Ashton, then replied, “Sure! Let me go back and change. Wait here for me.”
“It’s alright,” Ashton commanded, halting me in my tracks. “You can come as you are. There’s no need to be so formal.”
Without another word, Ashton got into the van parked just outside the yard.
I shrugged and followed after him, holding tightly onto Gregory’s hand. At least I’ve saved some time and trouble going back to change.
I was actually supremely interested to meet the Hall family. They must be a callous bunch who attempted to wipe out their own son and daughter-in-law without blinking.
We boarded the van. I sat in the back with Gregory while Ashton sat in the front. We seemed to have come to a mutual understanding that the earlier matter with John would not be discussed.
Gregory was thrilled to see me and naturally chattered on endlessly, filling me in with all the news from school that I’d missed in my absence.
When the van was idling at a traffic light, I suddenly thought of Audrey. Experimentally, I asked, “Gregory, you don’t really like to mix with the younger children at school, do you? Do you find them dull? If you have a younger sister who’s very childish, would you dislike her?”
“Of course, I won’t!” Gregory declared stoutly. “I’ll stay with my sister always and protect her. I won’t let anyone bully her!”
The firmness with which Gregory spoke made an amusing contrast with his still-babyish voice. A picture of Gregory and Audrey holding onto each other suddenly surfaced in my mind.
I laughed, then ruffled Gregory’s hair. I looked at him fondly, commending, “You’ve really grown up into a fine young man, Gregory!”
Looking up, I saw Ashton sneakily watching us through the rearview mirror. However, Ashton looked away from the mirror the instant our eyes met, All that remained was the stiff, icy look on his face.
He issued me with another look of utter contempt that doubled up as a warning.
Ashton didn’t seem to care that I had told Gregory about Audrey. It felt like he had full assurance that he would be able to acquire custody of both Audrey and Gregory.
Time flew by as I was thus occupied in thought. It seemed as if we’d arrived at the Hall residence within mere minutes.
Ashton led Gregory and me forward while holding onto Gregory’s hand, I followed closely.
“Mr. Ashton, Mr. Gregory,” the maids standing by both sides of the door chorused as we entered. The living room, however, seemed to be completely still. I presumed that we had arrived earlier than we were expected.
Upon further inspection, however, I realized that I had jumped too quickly to conclusions.
The entire Hall family had already assembled, and they filled the living room. They’d spread themselves out on the sofas but remained oddly hushed. Some were flipping through the papers while others scrolled through their phones. No one exchanged a single word. A suffocating silence hung in the air.
At the sound of our incoming footsteps, Tiffany’s head snapped up. The moment her gaze landed on me, she looked aggressive.
Ashton, however, stepped forward, placing himself squarely between Tiffany and me. Ashton’s sturdy body formed a solid barricade that prevented further escalation of the tension that charged the air between us.
Tiffany sulked. She flung her phone away from her, crossing her arms in front of her chest in annoyance.
Ashton ignored her completely. He strode into the room with the two of us in tow, paying no attention to the various looks that were suddenly focused intently in our direction.
We’d barely taken a few steps into the room when Tiffany said incredulously, “Ashton, have you been too busy with work after firing me from the company? We’re having a family dinner tonight. It’s not the time for you to bring random strangers home.”