I enter the ballroom with Aiden in my arms and the first person to spot me is Abby who has somehow found herself with the other two girls.
“OH MAI GOSH! What a cutie!!!” She squeals as she approaches us.
Elaine and Myra follow her to encircle me. Aiden appears shy but he doesn’t actively avoid them. I remain still so he can stare at the three fawning girls.
“Why does he remind me of someone?” Myra tilts her head curiously as she places her hand on her chin.
“Now that you mentioned it…” Abby inspects Aiden from top to bottom curiously.
Elaine appears confused so she asks them, “Someone you know?”
I see Abby scrunching her face hard trying to figure it out while Myra gazes at an empty space possibly trying to reimagine the person Aiden reminds her of. I smile knowingly seeing these two that are trying their best.
Elaine, however, seems to see someone behind me. She turns her gaze briefly onto Aiden and back to somewhere behind me. Her lips slowly turn upward with her eyes curve as she comes to an understanding.
I try to turn around but a hand wraps around my shoulder, stopping my turning motion.
“It seems like my child is popular with the ladies, hmm?” The usual teasing voice rings by my ear.
I glance at the smirking Ryan who places his face close to mine while his hand hugs my shoulders casually.
Both Abby and Myra appear to make the connection immediately. Abby even slaps her fist onto her palm as she gasps in realisation.
“He’s yours?” Myra asks amusingly as she continues to look at Ryan and Aiden back and forth.
“He’s mine alright,” Ryan smirks.
Myra immediately plays with her fingers as if counting something while Abby squints at Ryan.
“How old is he?” Abby asks while continuing to scrutinize Ryan with an unamused look written all over her face.
“Four.” Ryan raises an eyebrow as one corner of his lips turns upward.
“Oh, not that young after all,” Myra comments after appearing to figure it out.
“What do you mean?” Ryan asks as his eyes curve in mirth.
“You’re like 27 or something now? So you should have Aiden around 23 I guess.” Myra plays with her fingers as she tries to explain.
I bury my face onto Aiden’s body in an effort to hold back my laughter while Abby doesn’t bother trying to hide it as she laughs out loud. Myra turns confused as she looks at Abby who can barely stand properly while laughing so hard tears are coming out of her eyes.
“Did I say something wrong?” Myra scratches her head while making an effort not to mess with her bun.
Ryan’s smirk has disappeared completely at this point as he watches Abby doing her best trying to stand. Ian even moves closer to her to help her but that just makes Abby cling to him as she continues laughing so hard.
“I’m the same age as your boyfriend, you know.” Ryan’s sounds annoyed after being labelled older than he really is.
Myra’s eyes widen as she points at Ryan questioningly then points at Adam as if she can’t believe it. “Really?”
“Yes.” Ryan insists.
“Naa... I don’t believe you.” Myra dismisses him with no fear.
Abby manages to calm herself down with only occasional giggles escaping her lips.
Ryan turns to the approaching Adam and says, “Reign in your girl, please.”
“Too bad for you, I’m the one holding the leash,” Myra smugs at Ryan as she tugs on Adam’s necktie.
Adam, who doesn’t know what’s going on, turns to look at everyone with a confused face. Myra squeezes his cheeks before letting go and sticks her tongue out at Ryan.
“If I’m 27 then so is he since we were classmates and you know that.” Ryan truly is annoyed by Myra.
Adam immediately steps in front of Myra and says, “Chill. She’s messing with you. What’s going on anyway?”
“Myra counted how old Ryan would be to have that child,” Abby chimes in after she has completely calmed her laughing fit.
I put down Aiden because he starts struggling in my arms. Possibly because it’s getting crowded around us so he might be feeling uncomfortable. He doesn’t like to be easily seen by everyone especially when all eyes fall on him. I consider his request as good timing because my arm is getting tired.
“So this is my nephew?” Ian says as he approaches Aiden and puts out his hand for a handshake.
Aiden plays with his shirt shyly before looking up towards me then at Ian. I rub Aiden’s back as encouragement. He seems to understand it as he takes Ian’s hand. Ian makes sure that the handshake is brief to which Aiden takes it as a chance to hide behind me out of shyness.
“Since when do you have a kid anyway? How come I didn’t know this?” Abby finally finds the right time to interrogate Ryan.
“If we calculate the math that Myra got wrong, I had him when I was 20,” Ryan goes back into his teasing mode.
“Ha-ha. Very funny,” Abby mocks.
“He adopted Aiden about two weeks ago,” Ian explains much to Ryan annoyance since he can’t continue to trick Abby anymore.
“How come the child looks so much like him then?” Myra slides in her question smoothly.
While they are conversing with each other, Aiden tugs my hand. He points at the dessert bar so I take that as an opportunity to excuse myself from the crowd. Aiden and I walk happily to the dessert bar.
Standing nearby is Eric, Sam and Rick who didn’t join the fun from earlier. The three of them are discussing something in a low voice. I notice they are glancing at the area where the others are standing while I pass a cookie to Aiden.
I make sure to grab a paper plate so Aiden can hold it as he eats the cookie. I even grab a few things for myself and Aiden in case he wants something else.
“Go talk to her,” I hear Rick say to Eric while slapping his arm.
“No, I can’t. She doesn’t know me,” Eric mumbles.
I try to narrow down the person they are talking about since there are other guests aside from mine. The majority are my relatives that my mother briefly introduced to me. Yet I still feel that they are talking about someone from the group where Ryan and Abby are standing around.
“She’s coming closer,” Rick adds.
At this point, I finally realise who they are talking about because Elaine starts walking closer to us. She’s looking at me who is sitting at the side with Aiden.
“Are you alright?” I ask when she closes the distance between us.
She nods before saying, “I’m not sure if I can contribute to their conversation so I decided to bother you if you don’t mind having my company.”
I shake my head, “Of course not. I’m happy to have you as our company.” Aiden's cheeks are bulging as he stuffs his face with the cookie I gave him. It’s tempting me to poke.
Elaine picks up a cupcake for her to munch on as we do some people-watching from this corner.
I quietly take a glance at Eric’s group and notice that Rick and Eric are playing something sort of a tug of war. I unintentionally give a small snort out of delight.
“Is something wrong?” Elaine asks softly.
I shake my head at her hoping that she doesn’t notice two grown men are acting like kids. I decide that it’s best to mind my own business and chew on a cookie, just like Aiden.
Suddenly a shadow overcast on the three of us and I see Rick smiling at us.
“Hi, Luke. How have you been?” He asks me.
I swallow the cookie before answering awkwardly and glancing at the exasperated Eric in the distance. “I’m fine… Thank you for asking…”
“Yes. It’s good that you’re fine,” Rick nods while appearing satisfied then he turns to Elaine and acts as if he has only realised her presence, “Oh, who is this? Care to introduce us?”
“This is Elaine… She’s a friend of mine from school.” I reply slowly while trying to figure out his motive.
“I see. I see. From school. Hm, speaking of school. I also happen to still remain in contact with my school friend. He’s here today. Would you like to meet him?” He poses the question to Elaine who blinks a couple of times before turning to me.
I shrug at her and she decides to nod at this random guy who suddenly approaches her to talk about his school friend. I suppose she feels like it's only polite if she goes with it than if she rejects it.
“Eric! Come ‘ere!” He suddenly shouts as he waves at Eric to come toward us.
Eric's first reaction is to turn in the opposite direction but Sam stops him and turns him back towards us. Eric talks to Sam in a low voice which makes Rick squint at them. Rick then trudges toward Eric before grabbing his friend and dragging him all the way to us.
I cough to hold back my laughter.
Rick then points at Eric before proudly introducing him.
“Hey, this is Eric. My school friend from way back when. Isn’t he a looker?”
Elaine doesn’t know how to respond to that as she looks at me as if asking for help so I reply, “Yes. Eric is quite a good looking man. Did you know he owns a bookstore? I’m sure you’d enjoy going there.”
Hearing about the bookstore, Elaine's face lights up.
Rick notices this and adds, “Yeah, you should get him to give you some discounts so you can buy his books at a cheaper price.”
Ryan appears out of nowhere and adds, “Just ask him for a free book and he’ll probably can give one or two to you.”
“Why are you here?” Rick asks Ryan in a lower voice but still audible for all of us.
Ryan merely glances at him before turning to me to say, “Your mother is looking for Aiden.”
“Oh, really?” I get up on my feet and check on Aiden who has finished his cookie for quite some time.
I help him stand upright before patting him down to brush away any crumbs on his suit.
“We’ll be taking Aiden to see my mother. Eric can accompany you while I’m gone. If that’s okay with you?” I say to Elaine.
She nods her head and replies, “It’s fine. I’m sure your mother is waiting to see him already.”
“Well, I think Sam is calling me so I should go too,” Rick adds and leaves right after patting Eric’s back.
I tell Aiden to wave at Elaine before leaving together with him and Ryan.
When I feel like we’re no longer within Eric’s and Elaine’s ear range, I ask Ryan, “Did my mother really ask for Aiden?”
“Hmm? Yes, she did.”
“Oh, is that so?” I suspiciously look at him as we continue walking.
“It’s true. I didn’t lie.”
“Oh okay then but those two…” I trail off while glancing at Eric talking to Elaine.
Ryan smirks and that tells me a lot.
“Oh my! Is this the adorable Aiden you were telling me about, Ryan?” My mother’s voice immediately greets us the moment we step into the drawing room.
My father is there as well as Abby and Ian. There are no other guests here.
My mother seems to know my unasked question and says, “I made sure to not let the other guests come in here for a while. Ryan tells me that Aiden is a shy kid so he would appreciate fewer people around.”
I realise that my mother is being considerate of Aiden and nods with understanding. Abby and Ian are sitting at the corner minding their own business so it’s mostly my mother who is crowding Aiden right now.
“Hi dear. How old are you?” She asks in a softer voice than I have ever heard from her.
Aiden plays with his clothes but this time Ryan doesn’t answer for him. He encourages Aiden to reply on his own. Aiden puts out four fingers and says, “For,” quietly.
My mother makes an exaggerated face while exclaiming, “Four?! You’re a big boy already! Do you mind giving me a hug?” She asks while spreading her arms.
Aiden turns to look at Ryan and Ryan only says, “It’s okay if you don’t want to.”
Aiden appears hesitant but nobody forces him to move into my mother’s arm. This makes Aiden feel braver as he takes step by step closer to her. Finally, he reaches out to wrap his arm around her before letting go and running back to hide behind my leg.
My mother squeals a little and says, “What a precious child.”
I nod to agree with her.
“Come, bring him to sit with us.” My mother moves to the sofas and sits next to my father before gesturing at the sofa across from theirs.
I bring Aiden to sit in between Ryan and myself on the sofa. Ryan grabs a cookie to pass to Aiden. He is about to eat it but pauses as he notices the stare coming from the opposite side.
Aiden gets off the sofa and heads toward my father. He then reaches out to pass him the cookie. My father takes the cookie before thanking him in a quiet voice.
My mother and father create a space between them because Aiden tries his best to climb up. He succeeds with the help of my father boosting him up as he climbs. My father breaks his cookie in half and passes the other half to Aiden.
Aiden happily takes it and starts nibbling on it.
“How about you leave him with us and you go entertain your friends?” My mother suggests as she pats Aiden’s head.
I turn to Ryan and he says, “Up to you.”
I stare at Aiden and see that he is comfortable with my parents as he continues to eat his cookies. This puts my restless heart at ease.
“Okay. Sure.” I agree with it and take my leave with Ryan.
Abby and Ian follow us and the four of us rejoin the group. We see them gathering in a circle that they created with the chairs. They’re playing a game of charade and we join them on their next round when the team gets redistributed.
At some point, they end up watching me open everyone’s gift. They claim it would be better if they can see my reaction as I open each and every present from them.
Elaine and Eric both give me a book, showing that they are of similar mindedness. Myra gives me a fitness watch while Adam gives me two tickets to an indoor extreme park. Sam gift is an exclusive looking stationery set that is engraved with my full name. On the other hand, Rick gives me a smart night lamp shaped like a mushroom while claiming he doesn’t know what teens like nowadays.
Ian's however gives me something far more expensive than everyone. His gift is a card and he tells me that with it I can put in a customised order for gaming equipment set under his name at the shop written on it. I try to reject it but Abby insists I take it and put his money to good use, rather than letting him have an excess of money to raise a mistress outside. We all laugh at her remark.
Abby on the other hand gives me a brand new journal and a scarf. Both of them have my name on them. The box it is contained in shows that she hand picks it and gives it a lot of thought on the gift.
I thank everyone profusely and end up putting it all away in my room when it is time for them to leave. Time passes by so quickly when you spend time with the people whose company you enjoy.
Before everyone starts taking their leave, my mother comes along and says that it’s time for the final event of the day. She makes all the guests that are attending today gather around. All of a sudden there is a loud noise as one of the servers today drops his tray of food. It becomes a commotion as Sebastian scolds the young server.
I step in to stop it only to feel someone tapping my shoulder. I turn around to see a three-tier birthday cake with a lit candle.
“Surprise!” My mother says and explains that the incident of the dropped food is a ruse to distract me as they wheel in the cake.
My mother takes me to move closer to the cake and everyone starts singing happy birthday. When the singing ends, she tells me to make a wish and blow on the candle.
I close my eyes and make a wish.
The birthday celebration ends after everyone has a bite of the cake including my relatives.
Now, there is only Abby, Ian, Ryan and Aiden that hasn’t left yet.
Overall, the day has been so much fun.
I end up walking around in the garden with Ryan as the sky turns to an orange hue. We stop by the flower beds as I stare at the sky in awe.
Never did I notice that the sky could look so beautiful at this hour…
I notice a gaze on me so I turn to Ryan and catch him staring. “What are you staring at?” I ask while raising a brow as best I can but I end up raising both.
I pause and stare at him before trying to brush it off by saying, “Stop joking around already. Anyway… Thank you for the watch.”
Ryan doesn’t reply but starts to approach me slowly. I become weirded out by his quiet attitude so I unconsciously take a step back.
“I’m not joking,” His voice is low as he stares deep into my eyes.
I laugh awkwardly and ask, “About- About what?”
I like you.”
I feel like my eyes would pop out of my head as I stare with wide eyes at Ryan.
“I- heh… You’re - You’re pulling my leg again aren’t you?” I seriously hope he is because my brain is crashing and I can’t think of anything. Not even a way to redirect this conversation to something else.
Ryan maintains his straight face as he replies, “No. I’m not. I’m in love with you.”
My foot takes a step back but almost loses its footing. Ryan grabs me to stabilise my body so I won’t fall. I mumble a thank you to him but then our eyes collide.
Time seems to slow down and I just react reflectively and push him away. Ryan is startled as he gets pushed back. Luckily, he has a stable footing so he doesn’t fall to the ground.
“S-sorry. I… I… I don’t think of you that way…”