End of Chapter One
I feel a little giddy on the elevator ride up to the suite of the Four Seasons. Christian has always loved surprises, but I’m not usually on the receiving end of the fanfare. I fully expected to have to lock myself away in my bedroom all weekend with something to study and pair of headphones, or even to retreat down to my office at the Crimson and get a headstart on next week’s issue, but instead, I’m finally going to get at least two gloriously uninterrupted nights with Elliot.
I don’t know who is more excited over that prospect. Me, or my vagina.
When the doors open, I fiddle with the key card I’d gotten from the front desk as I step into the well lit hallway and glance at the room numbers and signs to figure out where I’m supposed to go. Of course, we’re as far from the elevator as humanly possible, but it’s a corner room and I’m pretty sure this side of the building has a river view. With an excited smile, I slip the plastic card into the lock, wait for the electronic chime, and push the door open.
“Elliot?” I call, stepping into the warm glow that fills the room. There’s a loud creak as he leans back in the chair at the desk against the long, scenic wall so he can see me in the small entryway. The moment our eyes meet his face breaks into a smile.
“Hold on, Mike,” he says, then places his hand against the mouthpiece on the phone. “Come over here and kiss me.”
Some of the disappointment I feel over the fact that he’s clearly still working wanes a bit as I cross the room, wrap my arms around his neck, and softly press my lips into his. He moans and swipes his tongue across my bottom lip, but I pull away. Until he’s off the phone and fully focused on me, the good stuff is going to have to wait.
“Are you almost finished?” I ask.
He nods. “Yeah, I think so. Why don’t you go change into something much less comfortable and once I’m done, I’ll help you take it off?”
I can’t help the smile the salacious promise in his bright blue eyes brings out of me, so with a last quick peck, I hurry back to the bathroom in search of the naughty lingerie he’s brought for me to model for him. But the bathroom is empty. So is the closet, and the cabinets in the bedroom. There’s no bag on the bed, or in the armchair, or even in his own suitcase. There’s nothing, and since he’s fully absorbed in his conversation on the phone again, I simply remove my bra and the flannel I’ve been wearing all day, slip one of his t-shirts on over my leggings, and wait.
Twenty minutes pass and instead of wrapping up his conversation, Elliot has to conference more people in. So, rather than stare at the back of his head any longer, I fish the remote out of the drawer next to the bed, turn the TV to an old re-run of Friends on TBS with the volume way, way down, and scroll through the article submissions waiting in the inbox of my email on my phone. I get through every single one of them before he finally finishes his impromptu meeting and hangs up the phone. When he turns around to face me, his face falls in disappointment.
“That’s not dirty lingerie…”
It’s been two weeks since we’ve seen each other. Two long weeks where we’ve gone from sleeping next to each other every night to a few brief phone calls throughout the day, and I’ve been sitting behind him for an hour and twenty minutes and… he hasn’t even turned around to look at me. Not even once.
“No, I didn’t find it and I didn’t want to interrupt your work so…”
His brow creases in confusion. “Find it?”
“The dirty lingerie you brought.”
“I didn’t… I thought you and Ana went to Agent Pro— uh… you know, the fancy lingerie store this afternoon?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t buy anything.”
He stumbles backwards in mock shock. “Okay, first question. How dare you?”
I’m not quite ready to be done being mad at him for his less than warm reception, and his response makes me wonder if he’s aware of that. The Office? He’s pulling out the big guns.
“Ana and Luke were with me the whole time. You’ll have to forgive me for finding a lack of sex-spiration.”
He smiles and then leaps onto the bed, crawling over me with his eyes fixed on my lips. “Oh, baby. You know how your puns drive me wild.”
I laugh but the sound is cut off by a sudden, deep kiss that burns through the last of my anger. Reluctantly, or maybe a little too willingly, I surrender and let myself enjoy the feel of his weight pressing me into the bed. Fighting is pointless now anyway. I miss him too much to waste any of the time I have with him now doing anything but this.
With a soft moan, I wrap my arms and legs around him, pulling him into me and opening my mouth for his tongue in one smooth motion. His hands move up to the side of my face, cradling my cheeks tenderly while his mouth moves aggressively against mine. Soon, we’re out of breath, panting. When my lips break from his, he doesn’t relent. Instead, he captures my bottom lip between his teeth and tugs gently before he sucks it into his mouth. It has me instantly wet, and my breath shakes as I tilt my pelvis up for him, silently begging for his attention.
“You need to lose some clothes,” he whispers into my mouth. I nod and his hands move down to the hem of the t-shirt I’m wearing, but instead of hastily yanking it up over my head, he slips his hands beneath the fabric and slowly moves them up my skin, dragging the material with him as he goes. A trail of goosebumps lie in the wake of his touch, brought out by the intimacy of the gesture and the gentle caress of his kiss against my lips. When his hands finally reach up and cup each of my breasts, my whole body shudders and the muscles between my legs clench.
“No bra.” His tone is approving as he toys with my hardening nipples.
“Mmm, Elliot,” I moan. “Use your mouth. I want your mouth on me.”
“Everywhere.” I reach up, tangle my fingers in his hair, and push. He doesn’t fight against me. He moves easily down, kissing me along my jawline and neck, then collar bones, until he can trace the deep valley of my cleavage with the tip of his tongue.
The moment he’s at my tits, his hands go wild. He kneads each of my breasts so intensely it borders on painful, and his lips latch against the inside swell with enough suction that I’m sure I’ll have a hickey when he finally pulls away. That doesn’t bother me though. Elliot has always been good about never leaving proof of a wild trist where it can be seen outside the bedroom. But I not-so-secretly love it when he marks me.
“That’s it, Katie,” he growls into my breast. “Moan for me.”
“Keep going. Further down.”
I can feel him smile against my skin. “You want me to eat your pussy, you’re going to have to say it. You know how I like it when you talk dirty to me.”
“Eat me, Elliot. Fuck me with your tongue.” The words leave my body in nothing more than a breath, but the moment the sound crosses my lips Elliot’s hand dips down into my leggings. I grind against his fingers, lifting my hips so he can pull my leggings down as he nestles between my thighs.
“Oh fuck, Kate,” he whispers, dragging the pad of his thumb against my clit multiple times, making my body jump and convulse with anticipation. “You’re already so wet.”
He leans in and flicks his tongue over me again and again. When he pulls away, his breath hisses between his teeth. “Like fucking honey.”
“Don’t stop, baby. Make me come.”
He hums in approval at the desperate lilt to my voice and uses his thumb on me again. “All in good time, but I need a minute to get reacquainted with you, baby. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to look at your gorgeous little cunt.”
“Elliot!” I whimper.
“Oooh, saying my name like that though–” His voice cuts off as his phone starts vibrating furiously on the desk a few feet away from us, and he turns to look at it. “Son of a bitch, hold on…”
He gets off the bed, glances down at the number on the screen of his phone, and curses under his breath. Then, to my horror, he answers it.
“This is Grey. What? When?” He pauses and listens intently to whatever the person on the other end of the phone is saying. I wave my arm in frustration to get his attention, then gesture up and down my body to remind him he has me fully naked and waiting for him. He gives me an apologetic look, mouths that he’s sorry and that he’ll be done in a second, and then returns to his phone call.
Are you fucking kidding me?
“And it’s good?” he says into the phone. “They are? That’s great. That’s really, really great! Send it over to me now, I’ll look over it tonight, and send it back to you by tomorrow morning. No, it’s going to be tight with GEH but we can manage. Thanks, Julia.” He hangs up the phone and turns back to me.
“Babe, we just got Microsoft!”
“Microsoft. They’re completely re-doing their campus in Redmond, so Grey Construction submitted a bid and they selected us.”
Suddenly, the burning want between my legs is extinguished, and I have to fight to keep my face from showing the horror his words ignite inside of me.
“I-I thought you were doing Christian’s building?”
“I am. It’ll take a few months to get the right permits in place and for us to be able to break ground. By then, most of the engineering work for Grey House will be finished, or at least nearly finished, so I’ll be able to step away and let the interior-build staff and designers take over while I focus on Microsoft. This is a huge contract, Kate. This one client alone is going to keep Grey Construction solvent for… years, all on its own. Give me time to develop some of those sustainability projects I’ve told you about. Not to mention the other business this will draw. This is just like Christian’s first contract with Amazon, the big one that gave him capital to expand. Fuck, this is so great! We’re going to be set, babe.”
“Elliot…” I hesitate, like I’ve been hesitating ever since he took the helm of Grey Construction. “Don’t you think you should… I don’t know, pace yourself?”
“Yeah. You have a ton on your plate already, are you sure you can take on any more?”
“Of course I can.”
“I don’t know, Elliot. You’re already so… uh, busy.”
“A little, I guess. But that’s good. I think I’m on the right track. Before my first day as CEO, I took Christian out to lunch to get some advice and he told me the biggest thing I had to focus on was not being afraid to succeed. That’s his secret. He never accepts that something is too big and that the only small startups that exist are the ones who view themselves as small. I took that to heart, and now look!”
“Okay, but Christian has a partner. You don’t. With just GEH and the inner city housing developments you’ve been working on, you’re already just barely treading water.”
“You think I’m in over my head?”
“No, of course not. You are brilliant and you have the potential to be very successful in the next few years. I’m proud of you. But I don’t think you’re weighing the personal cost of growing at the same kind of rate GEH did with what you’re giving up.”
“I don’t think I’m giving anything up.”
“Really? Because ever since you’ve taken over at GC, I almost feel like I’ve lost you. You didn’t come drop me off at school when I came back, like Christian did with Ana, we don’t have any plans for upcoming weekends, and when I do get to talk to you on the phone, you give me like two minutes and then you have to go. I understand that this is all new for you and it takes time to adjust to your new responsibilities, but I expect that you are going to adjust and eventually, all of this work you’re putting in all the time is going to slow down. Right now, with me here and you in Seattle, it’s good that you’re busy, but once I graduate and move home, I want to start our life together, Elliot.”
“And we will. Baby, what do you think all of this is for? I want to start our life together too, and I want it to be perfect. I want to be able to take you anywhere in the world you want to go. I want us to have everything we could ever want and never need for anything. I want to give you the life you deserve.”
“Yeah, but when? After five o’clock, or seven if you’re busy? On weekends? On the one week a year you can pry yourself away from work long enough to take a vacation? You think that’s the life I want?
“Kate… I don’t know what to say to you right now. I can’t just not work, especially now that I have a company to run. People’s livelihoods depend on me, I can’t purposefully slow Grey Construction’s growth just so I can spend more time at home.”
“I know, and that’s not really what I mean. I’m really impressed by how well you’ve taken on this new role. I just…” I stop, not really sure what it is that I do mean. He moves to the bed and places his hand on my still naked leg, rubbing his thumb reassuringly over my skin, just above my knee.
“I didn’t know you felt like this. I know I’ve been busy, but believe me, the last thing in the world I want is for you to feel neglected.” He presses his lips together. “But I didn’t make the decision to stay home when you left for school… You told me not to come back to Cambridge with you, remember?”
“Yeah, but only because I was mad at you, not because I didn’t want you here to say goodbye to me. You were supposed to come anyway.”
“Mad? Why were you mad at me?”
Oh right. He doesn’t know.
This is a very difficult subject for me to talk to him about, mostly because I’ve avoided talking to him about it for too long.
His not proposal.
In the beginning, when he was in Stanford and I was in Cambridge, I really didn’t want to take our relationship too seriously because, well I knew his reputation, and as hard as we fell for one another, and as much as I really, really loved him, long distance relationships never work out and I was always prepared for him to call, say he couldn’t do this anymore, and then just… disappear. But he didn’t. He moved here and it would have been the perfect time to talk about our future together, except that then, his family fell apart. He was so devastated by what had happened and by the fighting between Christian and Carrick that the only thing I felt I could do was be his support system. He was already the only thing holding his family together, I didn’t want to add more pressure on him. Now, we’ve been dating for three years and the marriage thing feels somehow more delicate, like even bringing it up will make him feel like I’m fishing for a ring or pushing him to ask me before he’s ready. I don’t want that. I want him to propose, but I want him to want it just as much as I do. Only, time keeps passing and he’s had ample opportunity to propose in exactly the right way, but he hasn’t yet.
I swallow. “You know, Christian bought Ana an engagement ring. Months ago.”
“Yeah…” His voice trails off, telling me that he has no idea what I’m talking about. “So?”
“So, he’s going to propose to her. It’s her birthday today, he might even propose tonight.”
“I don’t… Is this you changing the subject? Are we done fighting?”
“We’re not fighting, Elliot. I just… I want to know how you feel about Christian and Ana possibly getting engaged tonight.”
He continues to stare at me, unsure for a moment, until he finally shakes his head. “They won’t. He won’t propose to Ana until she moves home. If I know one thing about Christian, it’s that he won’t drag out their engagement. He’ll want to be married within a week after he proposes, even the same day if he can manage it, but he knows Ana won’t marry him until after she graduates.”
“But he has the ring. I’ve seen it. They’ve only been back together for like four months and he already has the ring. Hell, he’s had it since June.”
“Yeah, but that’s Christian. He needs to lock her down and he’s not going to feel comfortable until he does. Which is stupid as fuck. From what I can tell, they’ve got a good thing. They’re happy. I don’t know why he wants to change it.”
“Because he loves her and he wants to be with her for the rest of his life.”
“Okay, but you don’t have to get married to be together forever. In fact, half of marriages end in divorce so it kind of seems like getting married and spending your entire life with someone is an oxymoron.”
“Wait, are you telling me that you don’t believe in marriage?”
“Not really. I mean, out of all of the friends I had growing up, my parents are the only ones who never got divorced. And divorce has been a real possibility for them several times. Recently, even.”
“Yeah, divorce is always a possibility, but you shouldn’t avoid the whole institution just because it might fail. I mean, what about when you have kids? Don’t you think it’s important to be married to the person you have children with?”
“I guess, but I don’t think Christian wants kids. He and I have always told my mom that if she wants grandchildren, she needs to invest heavily in Mia.”
I’m stunned. It’s like he’s hit me with a one-two punch. He doesn’t want to get married. He doesn’t want kids. If both of those things are true, what the fuck are we even doing?
“Wait, stop.” I’m shaking now, holding back the flood of tears I know are imminent, and possibly even vomit. “Are you telling me that… you don’t ever want to have kids with me?”
He stiffens. “Wait, I thought we talking about Christian and Ana?”
“Answer the question, Elliot. Do you want kids someday?”
“I— I thought we were on the same page about this. I mean, you’ve never talked about having children…”
“No, you’re right. I haven’t. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want them, or that I don’t want to marry you. I do. I need both of those things in my future. I’ve been waiting for you to propose all summer.”
“Are you being serious right now?”
“When you say you don’t want to get married and that you don’t want kids, does that mean you don’t want them now or that you don’t want them ever?”
“Kate, I–I thought you felt the same way I did. I didn’t try to hide this from you. I thought you were happy the way things were, that we wanted the same things–”
“I am happy. Right now. But, I won’t stay that way if you’re never going to give me children. So I need you to tell me the truth, Elliot. I need you to put your feelings for me aside for one second and be honest. Do you think this is just the way you feel now and that in a few years you’ll change your mind? Or is this really, really how you feel?”
He takes a long pause, and I watch his adam’s apple bob in his throat before he eventually shakes his head. “No. No, I’m not going to change my mind.”
Neither of us move as his words hang between us. He’s waiting for me to react. I’m waiting for the impact of what he’s just said to hit me. When it finally does, my body feels like it’s collapsing in on itself and a horrible, devastated sob forces its way out of me.
“Excuse me,” I cry, turning away and hurrying for the bathroom before my legs give out and I’m no longer able to hold myself up anymore. He follows after me. I can both feel and hear him a few steps back, but I can’t stop. I’m seconds away from completely falling apart and I don’t want him to see it. For the first time in our entire relationship, he doesn’t feel safe.
“Katie, please wait…”
I slam the door to the bathroom behind me, lock it, and then sink to the floor. The sobs coming out of me are so deep and powerful that after only a few seconds crying on the bathroom floor, my abs start to hurt. I can hear the pain almost as acutely as I can feel it.
How did this happen? How could I have misjudged him so entirely? I do my best to wipe my eyes, even though the moisture I’m able to wick away is almost immediately replaced by the continuous wave of tears pouring out of me. Tears that won’t stop because I know exactly how this happened.
It’s his family.
Time and time again, I’ve watched him sacrifice little pieces of himself for each and every one of them. He never misses family get togethers. He looks for reasons to spend quality time together, especially with Christian and Mia. He’s always there when they need him. I’ll never forget the anger that only I saw after he found out about Christian and Elena, or the guilt he was riddled with because of what Mia went through last summer. The first time I ever saw him cry was sophomore year, when Christian didn’t show up for Christmas. He is the quintessential family man. How can he possibly not want a family of his own?
“Katie…” I hear him call through the door. “Please come out and talk to me.”
Talk? About what? This is an impasse. I know that no matter what happens in my life, I will not feel fulfilled if I never have children. It’s what I’ve wanted my entire life. From the first time I picked up a baby doll, I knew that being a mother was something I had to experience. It’s a calling too powerful for me to ignore and I’ve never been the kind of girl to give up on a lifelong dream. It’s not in my blood. So if he’s not willing to give me babies, we’re wasting our time together.
With a long, painful breath, I quell my tears and slowly peel myself off the floor. Everything feels as though it’s moving in slow motion as I twist the knob and pull back the door, and when I see him standing there, waiting for me and looking hurt, confused, and terrified all at once, it knocks the wind out of me. The love I have for this man isn’t something that can just be callously tossed aside. What we have is powerful, life-changing, and rare. If he isn’t it for me, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to find anything close to what we have together again.
He’s my soulmate.
Or at least, I was really sure that he was.
“Is there a compromise here?” I ask quietly.
“What do you mean?”
“Five years?” His face crinkles, and tears start to prick my eyes again. “I can’t not have kids, Elliot. It’s a deal breaker for me. I can give you some time. You can build your company and we can travel and we can do everything that you want to do before we settle down, but… I have to have kids. I’ll give you five years.”
He presses his lips together, then looks down at the floor, and for a terrifying second, I think he’s going to tell me no.
“Can I think about it?” he asks at last, and while it isn’t a no, it hurts just as bad as one. How did we get here? Five minutes ago, his face was buried between my legs and now we’re talking about whether or not we can even be together or if we’re going to break up.
Holy shit, we might be about to break up.
“Yeah,” I croak. “Of course.”
He nods, takes a deep breath, and reaches out for my hand. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now…”
I swallow the lump in my throat and try as hard as I can to at least wipe the doubt and devastation off my face. It’s not as easy as I’d hoped.
“Julia was sending you something to look over, right? You should… do that. I’m just going to take a bath and think for a little while.”
“Okay. Can I, um… Can I get your anything?”
“No. I’ll be okay, thanks.”
But I’m not okay. I’m not okay at all. I fill the tub with nearly scalding hot water, but it can’t burn away the cold feeling that grips me like a frost in the dead of winter. I sink down low in the tub so the water covers my ears and try to force the kind of cavernous echoing sound of being under the water to drown out my thoughts, which run on a kind of continuous loop of everything Elliot and I have shared that makes our relationship so important to me. Like that time Grace and I were flipping through old photo albums and she told the story of his first science fair, where he’d won first place for a capillary bowl he’d built that he said was going to revolutionize the way energy was utilized in the United States.
“At eleven years old, he’d created perpetual motion,” Grace says. “Of course we didn’t have the heart to tell him that perpetual motion didn’t actually exist and even the capillary bowl had an energy source in the form of low boiling point gases… but I always knew he’d grow up to be my little engineer. And he did.”
“Perpetual motion, huh?” I ask, smiling as I turn to face Elliot. “Aiming high.”
He rolls his eyes. “Well, I’m sorry that I didn’t fully grasp the laws of thermodynamics at the age of eleven. Full understanding of that didn’t come until I was at least twelve.”
Even just remembering the embarrassed pink that colored the tips of his ears as his mother gushed about every one of his primary school accomplishments makes me smile, but that smile disappears as quickly as it came. I have so many amazing memories with him. Like, sitting in the passenger’s seat with the windows down and the radio turned up while we drove along the beautiful coastline in the late months of summer, soaking up the sun. His smile and laughter as I clung to his middle while the jet ski he was piloting skimmed across the water. The feel of his hands wrapped around mine on the very first night we spent in the house we bought this summer. He’d pulled me around the kitchen island, dancing with me in the glow from the refrigerator and the electronic clock over the range. No music. Just him. Just me.
I pull the plug on the drain, step out of the bath, and wrap myself in one of the towels folded on the shelf near the counter. I expect Elliot is going to be buried in work, possibly even back on the phone with his colleagues in Seattle, but he isn’t. When I open the door, I find him sitting on the edge of the bed, his elbows on his knees, and his head hung below his shoulders. He looks up at me as the sliver of light from the bathroom cuts through the darkness just enough to pull him out of the shadows, and after we gaze deeply into each other’s eyes for a long, drawn out moment, he gets off the bed, wraps me in his arms, and kisses me more deeply and passionately than he has in years.
“I love you, Kate,” he says.
“I love you too, Elliot.” We kiss again, but this time, he doesn’t stop at holding my body close against his. He sweeps me into his arms and carries me back to the bed, and there, we make love, showing each other everything we can’t say with words. When we’re finished, wrung out and exhausted, I lie there wrapped in his arms and think that everything is going to turn out okay. Elliot and I are meant to be, and while this seems insurmountable now, we’ll work through it. We always do. As long as we love each other, we’ll always find a way. His hold tightens around me and I allow the comfort I feel in his embrace to pull me into a deep, comforting sleep.
But when I wake up in the morning, he isn’t in the bed next to me anymore. He’s sitting in a chair across the room, his packed suitcase at his side, watching me sleep.
“Hi,” I whisper, my voice still thick with sleep.
“Good morning,” he replies. “I didn’t want to wake you, but… I have to go.”
“Back to Seattle. I got an email early this morning. The GEH building failed an impromptu city inspection yesterday afternoon, I have to go handle it. I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
He gets out of his chair and walks over to me, falling on one knee next to the bed and leaning in to kiss my lips as softly as he can.
“Don’t… don’t make any decisions, okay? I’ll come back next weekend, or maybe you can come with Ana the next time she flies home… we’ll talk. We’ll work this out.”
“I love you, Katie.”
“I love you too.”
Another kiss and he’s gone. I watch every step he takes until the door closes behind him and the electronic sound of the lock clicking back into place fills the room. In his absence, I don’t feel any of the hope I was filled with the night before. Somehow, everything looks different in the pale gray light of dawn, and as I pull back the sheets and re-dress in the same clothes I wore shopping with Ana yesterday afternoon, I realize that something was broken last night. Maybe we put a bandaid over it when we needed to, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to put it back together again.
And as I gather my purse and glance back at the sheets that still smell of him, I feel utterly and completely alone.
Middle of Chapter Four
The car ride is tense. Ana is fidgeting in the back seat, glancing anxiously at the tightly packed traffic around us, and Luke is stewing in the seat next me, furious with her. We’re nearly two hours late getting her to the airport and both of them are lamenting what Christian is going to say about their late arrival in Seattle tonight. Personally, I’m happy to have the extra time.
Elliot was supposed to fly back here this weekend so he and I could talk, but surprise, surprise, something came up at work. He asked me to come with Ana back to Seattle, but flying 3,000 miles and then being asked to wait around until he’s finished with whatever new crisis has come up at GC doesn’t seem like a good way to start the conversation about how seriously he’s taking the future of our relationship. Besides, I have things to do here too. Ana may be willing to sacrifice her time studying or fulfilling her school obligations to fly to Seattle every weekend because of Christian’s work schedule, but I’m not. I won’t make myself smaller for Elliot, or for anyone for that matter.
Taking a breath, I try to push away the anger that’s been slowly festering inside of me since last weekend. Elliot has been the greatest boyfriend I could have ever dreamed up, he doesn’t deserve the kind of thoughts I’ve had about him this week. I need to remember that he didn’t do this on purpose. I need to remember that he’s made sacrifices for me in the past. I need to remember that I love him. Nothing is set yet. Maybe he did think about what I told him, and maybe he’s changed his mind.
The music we have playing at a background level suddenly cuts off and is replaced by a loud ring from the bluetooth connection through Ana’s phone. I glance over at the LED display on the dash to read the name on the caller ID then glance at Ana in the rearview mirror.
“It’s Christian,” I tell her.
“Answer it,” she says, continuing once I do. “Hi, you’re on speaker.”
“Why aren’t you in the air?” Christian’s angry voice demands without greeting. “My pilot just called to tell me you haven’t even arrived at the airport yet.”
“I know, I was going to text you just before I took off. I’m running late…”
“Two hours late?”
I watch Ana’s reflection cringe at the bite in his tone. “My meeting with Dr. Ralston went long, and it took me longer to pack than I expected, and now we’re stuck in traffic.”
“How close are you?”
“Ten minutes,” I answer for her, then reach down to flick on my blinker so I can merge into the exit only lane that will take us to the airport.
“Fine,” Christian says. “I’ll call and have them prepare for take off so you can leave the second you board the plane.”
“Thank you,” Ana says. “I’m sorry I’m late. I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll see you in a few hours.” There’s a clicking sound before the music starts playing again and as I pull up to a dead stop behind the car in front of us once again, I feel a strange tightening in my stomach. That usually happens because I don’t really like the way Christian talks to Anastasia when he’s angry, but this is different. It’s difficult to hear Christian and Ana express their love for one another right now because I know how much they mean it. I have zero doubts about how much Christian loves Anastasia. Even though I believe Elliot when he said that Christian doesn’t want kids either, I also know that if Ana told him that she needed children to be happy and that their relationship would be over if he wouldn’t give them to her, she’d already be pregnant.
Maybe that’s selfish of me to expect. Maybe I’m being selfish. I don’t know. I never thought in a million years we’d end up here, and now that we are, I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what to think or feel…
Getting to the airport is like getting a front row seat to the influence of Christian Grey. We drive up to the private entrance to the tarmac and all Ana has to do is give her name for us to be waived through and directed to the huge jet with GREY etched in huge letters on the side. The moment we stop, Luke jumps out of the passenger’s seat, pulling Ana out of the car before I’ve even given her a proper hug good-bye.
“See you Sunday!” she calls to me as she’s being dragged to the stairs leading into the plane. I open my door and stand on the plastic covering on the edge on the inside of the car so she can see and hear me over the roar of the engines.
“Love you, Ana! Fly safe! Text me when you land!”
She can only nod in return before she disappears through the door and they close her inside. A few crewmen scurry around the cargo hold, tightening bulkheads, but only seconds pass before everyone begins backing away, and waving to the pilot that they’re clear for take off.
“Ma’am, you’re going to need to get off the tarmac!” one of the employees calls to me. “For your own safety.”
I nod and give him a small smile before slumping back into the car and navigating my way off the airfield and back towards the freeway. Traffic doesn’t seem to be so bad going into Cambridge, probably because it’s after eight now, so I make it home in okay time. But once I come through the back door into the dark, empty house, an unwelcome, familiar sense of foreboding comes over me.
“Hello?” I call uncertainty, but the only answer is my own weak voice echoing through the kitchen and living room. It doesn’t make me feel better, so I immediately start going through every room in the house, flipping lights on.
There’s no one here. I know that. But if I’m upstairs, my brain starts conjuring images of someone picking the lock on the door and sneaking undetected into the laundry room, or maybe the bathroom, to hide and wait until I fall asleep. If I’m downstairs I can’t shake the feeling that someone is hiding in Ana’s closet. Before I know it, I’m googling Dylan Abernathy’s name to make sure that he wasn’t released from prison and I somehow wasn’t notified.
I thought enough time had passed that I would be able to do this, but clearly I was wrong. So, after scouring the internet for proof that someone is coming after me and coming up empty handed, I go into my bathroom, lock the door, and dial Elliot’s number.
“Hey, baby,” he answers, and, instantly, I’m in tears. “Kate? What’s wrong?”
“Ana’s gone and I can’t do this… I can’t be in this house by myself. I’m freaking out right now. I can’t stop thinking about somebody breaking in.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Baby, you’re okay. No one is coming to get you, okay? Calm down. Take a breath.”
I do, and it helps a little. “I can’t do this, Elliot. I know that I’m overreacting, but I just can’t. I can’t stay here by myself.”
“Okay, what do you want me to do? Can I call and book you a hotel room for the weekend? Would that help?”
“I want you to be here with me.”
“I do too, but I can’t. Is there… someone you can call and have come stay with you?”
My breath hitches as tears pour down my cheeks. “I-I don’t know.”
“Do you want to go stay at the Hyatt?”
“No. No, I’ll be okay. I’ll figure it out.”
No. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Okay. Call me before you go to bed. I love you.”
“I love you too. Bye.” I hang up and let my head slump against the back wall. I know that he’s right. I know that being locked in my house on a very well lit street with very attentive neighbors means that I’m safe staying here alone, but knowing that doesn’t make me feel better. This fear that I have is irrational, but unshakable.
I try a bath first, hoping the hot water and lavender will calm me down, but the drip from the faucet onto the smooth plane of water in the tub just makes the silence all around me seem somehow louder, and more unsettling. So, I decide to get rid of it. After getting out of the bath, I turn on some music in my room, lock the door, and try to focus all of my attention on the paper I have to write before next weekend, but the music just means I can’t hear anything going on outside of my room and after twenty minutes I’m convinced there’s someone sneaking around downstairs.
This is what it’s going to be like every time Ana leaves. What the fuck am I going to do?
Thinking maybe the best thing for me to do is just go to bed and try to sleep, I log off my computer, change into my pajamas, and crawl under the covers, but getting myself to go to sleep is impossible. I stare into the darkness, shaking, listening hard for any kind of sound, and sometime around two in the morning, there’s a loud thump that sounds too much like someone walking up the stairs.
I scream and leap out of bed, checking that the door is locked before I turn back to my nightstand and pick up my phone to dial the number of the only other person I know well enough in Cambridge to ask to come stay with me.
“Kavanagh?” Carter’s very tired voice answers after several rings.
“Hey, Carter. Um…. Ana’s in Seattle and I’m kind of freaking out being by myself. Would you… um… would you come over here?”
“You want me to come over to your house at two o’clock in the morning?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have anyone else to call. Please?”
He sighs. “I’ll be right there.”
“Thank you. Oh my god, thank you so much.”
“Yeah. See you soon.” He hangs up the phone and I immediately feel a wave of relief. The doors are locked downstairs, which means I’m going to have to let him in when he gets here, so I once again go through the house and turn every single light on before I settle down on the couch and hug my arms tightly around my body, waiting for him to arrive. When he knocks on the door, I jump and then hurry to answer it.
“Wh-who’s there?” I call nervously through the door.
“Carter,” he replies. With a deep breath, I unlock the door, pull it open, and when I see him standing there, I have to stop myself from throwing my arms around him.
“Thank you,” I tell him, stepping aside to allow him through the door.
“Sure, your house is nicer than mine is anyway. Are you okay?”
I shake my head. “No. I thought by now I could spend a couple nights by myself, but clearly… I can’t. Ana’s going to be gone all the time this year, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
He shrugs. “Call me.”
He takes my hand and leads me into the kitchen, pushes me down into a chair at the dining room table, and then goes to the fridge. “You’ve got some wine in here, do you want it?”
I nod, and then wait while he pulls the bottle from the fridge, finds the wine glasses, and pours me a full glass. When he hands it to me, I down it in one long gulp.
“Jesus, you really are freaked out.”
I nod. “Yeah, I don’t know why I thought I’d be able to handle this.”
“Because of that guy, right? The one that shot a bunch of people in your dorm freshman year?”
“Yeah. Because of him.”
“That sucks, I’m sorry. He’s in jail though, isn’t he? So he can’t come after you again.”
“You know that. I know that. But the part of my brain that keeps me from being terrified about it apparently doesn’t.”
“Well, you got any weed? That’d probably calm you down.”
I shake my head. “No, I don’t smoke, and if we brought any in here, Christian would have a heart attack and then I’d be homeless. I’ll be okay, I just need people around, I guess. Thank you for coming. You didn’t have to and I really, really appreciate that you did.”
“Of course. I’ve always been able to get more work done over here anyway, like when I came to study with Ana all the time last year. This way, with her out of the house and me still here, she won’t think I was stalking her all that time.” I laugh, and then reach for the bottle of wine again.
“I have no idea how I’m going to get through this year if she’s going to be travelling back and forth. I might have to talk to her about us getting another roommate.”
“Why didn’t you go with her? I mean, your boyfriend lives in Seattle too, doesn’t he? Don’t you want to go see him?”
I raise my eyebrows as I take another long drink from my glass. “Things are a little, tense between Elliot and I right now.”
“Long distance relationship getting to you?”
“No, it’s not that. I um…” I pause, and examine him closely. “Carter, do you want to have kids? In the future, I mean.”
“Uh… yeah, I think so. Maybe. I think I have to find a wife to do that first but that means I’d have to find a girlfriend and you’d be surprised how hard that is.”
“Probably because you’re stalking Ana.”
He laughs. “Probably. I think… fuck, I think I might have made what she and I had bigger than it was, you know? We were only together for a couple of months, but… I really liked her and I still do. She’s great and I’ve wondered a lot over the past couple years if she was, like, the girl I was supposed to be with. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to find anyone else. I don’t know… maybe I just never got over feeling like Grey stole her from me.”
I raise an eyebrow and give him a hard look. “She broke up with you because you were an asshole.”
“Nah,” he shakes his head and pours his own glass of wine. “I’m pretty sure it was Grey.”
I roll my eyes. “Well, I hate to break to break it to you, but if soulmates exists, then Christian is Ana’s.”
“You don’t believe in soulmates?” He’s smirking as he asks the question, but he doesn’t understand the real chord he’s struck.
“I did,” I reply, my voice a little more sullen now. “I thought I found mine. Now, I’m not so sure…”
“Well, if it’s not the long distance, what is it?”
“I just… think we might be on separate paths.” I take a drink, and stare at the liquid swirling around in the glass after I place it back on the table while I continue. “I’ve been waiting for him to ask me to marry him and he told me last weekend that not only will he never propose, but that if I choose to stay with him, we’re never going to have children.”
“Which you want?”
“More than anything.”
“More than him?”
I take a deep breath and finally look up from my wine glass, searching his eyes for the answer to the question I haven’t even asked yet. “How do I answer that?”
I don’t like the way that word falls on me. It makes me feel hot and unsettled, like I’m suddenly guilty of doing something I know I shouldn’t. But Carter doesn’t offer me any reprieve from the discomfort. He stares at me in silence until I finally reach for the bottle of wine again and tip the last three drops into the bottom of my glass.
“I guess we killed it,” I say softly.
“Well, then I’m going to get to bed,” he says. “You good?”
“Yeah, thanks. The uh… the guest bedroom is up the stairs and on the left, at the end of the hallway.”
“Thanks. I’ll… See you tomorrow?”
I nod and he picks up the backpack he left on the floor by the door before moving up the stairs and leaving me alone in the warm glow of the kitchen. The overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety is gone, which I’m grateful for, but with Carter gone to bed, it’s quiet again. And in the quiet, I have too much space to think.
I know that I can’t hide in the timeframe I’ve given Elliot to make his choice forever. Eventually, he and I are going to have to face this and because this is my issue, I’m the one who will most likely have to push it. But I don’t know that I’m ready for the consequences of this talk yet. I’m fairly certain the hot flash of guilt I felt when Carter told me I needed to be honest about my feelings over the future means that, if Elliot’s going to make me choose, I’m not going to choose him. There are a lot of things I would sacrifice for Elliot Grey, but having a child is not one of them. If he tells me no, then he and I have gone as far as we can go with one another and we’ll have to break up.
But I’m not jumping for joy at the thought of being single again. Not because I’m afraid of being lonely, but because I’m afraid life won’t be as bright without Elliot in it. He’s the man who taught me that a life that isn’t filled with adventure isn’t really a life that has been lived, but that has merely been survived, and because of him I’ve lived every second of the last three years without regret. Because of him, I’ve experienced things I never world have. Because of him, I’ve worked to improve myself and the way I treat and respond to others. Because of him, I’ve truly loved. He’s seen me at my best and he’s seen me at my worst, and yet he still loves me as much as he did the first time he ever said the words. I know that. And I know that even though work is an issue for him right now, his heart is in the right place and it hurts him to be away just as much as it hurts me. That’s something we would work through, because above all else, we love each other.
And leaving him would mean leaving his whole family. Grace and Carrick have been like second parents to me. We’ve spent holidays together, we’ve gone on vacations together, and Carrick was the one who held my hand in the courtroom the day Dylan Abernathy was sentenced. I really love them. Mia has grown to be one of my closest confidants and best friends, as if she were my sister. And Christian… he’s somehow gone from the biggest pain in my ass to a man who I’m proud to know and who I am grateful for everyday because of the happiness he brings into my best friend’s life. They’re all family.
But they’re the only family he’ll ever give me.
I know what I have to do, and if I wait until I want to do this, it’ll never happen. And as I finally feel resolution in my decision, my phone rings. When I look over at it, I see Elliot’s name and picture displayed on the screen. Like fate.
“Hey, you never called me. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I called Carter Reed and he’s going to stay here with me until Ana gets back.”
“Oh, well… that’s good, I guess.” But his tone does not suggest he believes that having a single guy staying with me alone in the house for the weekend really is a good thing. “Are you going to bed, then? It’s almost three there.”
“Yeah, I haven’t been able to sleep. I was actually thinking about you.”
“Really? Sexy things?” He chuckles, and my heart suddenly seems to thud more heavily in my chest.
“No, about what we were talking about last weekend. I gave you a compromise, have you thought about it?”
“Kate… do you really want to do this on the phone?”
“No, but I need to do it right now. Have you thought about it?”
“I mean, what you gave me isn’t a compromise, it’s an ultimatum.”
“It’s what I can live with, Elliot. I’m willing to give you some time, but I’m not willing to give up having a family.”
I hear him take a deep breath. “Kate, I love you. And I want to make you happy, I think that I can make you happy, but I have no interest in raising children. I don’t want to be a father and if I were to go along with this and do the whole marriage thing and have a few kids… I think I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I don’t think I would find fulfillment in that life, and quite frankly, I’m already tired from raising the family I already have. I have nothing left to give to anyone else, and that’s not fair to you or to any children we may have. But, I do believe that we can be happy just you and me. I’m never going to grow complacent in our relationship, I will always treat you like I’m still trying to win your heart. I want you to be my partner in life and I want us to really go out into the world and live our lives to fullest. I want to go off the beaten path and try things we never thought we could or would try. I want to experience this world, and I want to do it with you. Only you. You’re enough for me, Kate. You’re all I want.”
I press my lips together and blink back the moisture that’s beading in my eyelashes. “That’s the problem, Elliot. I don’t know that you’re enough for me. Not because I don’t love you, but because I feel that part of my purpose in this life is to be a mother. I can’t turn my back on that.”
“Look, I don’t want to devalue your feelings about this, I understand that this is something you’ve wanted for a long time, but if we don’t have kids it doesn’t mean we won’t have children in our lives. Ethan wants kids, Mia wants kids, the odds are pretty high that Christian and Ana will have an accident someday, so we’ll have nieces and nephews. Maybe you and I could volunteer in some impoverished country somewhere and help build a school for some kids and get to know them. We could do outreach programs, take some underprivileged kids out for the time of their lives whenever we can. I think we can fill this need without giving up our freedom.”
“That’s why I was giving you five years. So we can go do all that, and experience what you want to experience, before we settle down.”
“But that’s the thing. I don’t want to settle down. Okay, I can agree with you and say, yeah, let’s give five years a shot, but when those five years pass, I know, deep down, that I’m not going to feel any differently about this than I do right now. This isn’t something you change your mind about.”
“No, it’s not.” My voice breaks, and the tears pooling in my waterline break over the edge and begin pouring down my face. “So, I think this is over.”
“Good, and look. I know this is hard for you, but I swear…”
“No. Not this conversation. Us. I’m breaking up with you, Elliot.”
He’s silent for a long few seconds, and when he finally speaks again there’s a definite note of panic in his voice. “Breaking up? Wait… No, Kate–”
“I’m sorry, Elliot. I love you, I really do, but for as certain as you are that you’re not going to change your mind, I’m not going to change mine. You were right before. I guess that was an ultimatum. I’m not negotiating with you. There’s nowhere for us to go from here and not calling this what it is now and going our separate ways isn’t going to change anything. It’s just going to make it that much more painful in the future.”
“No, you’re wrong. This isn’t insurmountable, we can work through this. I know we can, I believe that we can. Look, you’ve had a hard night. I’m going to book you a flight back to Seattle for tomorrow morning and then I’m going to clear my entire schedule so I can devote the next two days only to you and we can talk, okay? Just go to bed, don’t make any decisions, and we’ll talk when you get here.”
“I’m not coming to Seattle, Elliot. You know as well as I do that there’s nothing left to talk about. You’ve made your decision, I’ve made mine. I’m sorry, but I’m done. This is over.”
As my tears start to come more freely, I hear him getting choked up too. “Please, just get on the plane…”
“I’m not going to do that, I’m sorry.” He tries to argue again, but his words come out in an incoherent torrent that is too easy for me to cut off. “It’s late and I’m tired. I’ll call you later, okay?”
“No, don’t hang up the phone. Just… stay. Please. Talk to me, let’s figure this out. We just need more time to figure this out.”
“Goodbye, Elliot.” I hang up and turn off my phone, and the moment the screen goes black, I feel a crushing sense of loss. Maybe it would have been easier if he’d been on the same page as me about ending things, maybe it would have hurt more. I don’t know. But the pain I feel building inside of me is incredible. Unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I made this decision, I know it’s the right decision, and yet, I’m devastated by it.
Just a few days ago, I thought I knew exactly where my life was headed, and now I feel as though I’m floating in an endless ocean, alone, with no sense of direction, and nothing on the horizon. The loneliness in the sentiment is so poignant, it might drown me, and for a moment, I can’t breath. My body feels heavy, but I drag myself up the stairs and into my room. Once I collapse on my bed, the gut wrenching sobs take over, and I cry until I fall asleep. When I wake up the next morning, I cry again. I don’t eat and I don’t speak to anyone. When Carter comes to knock on my door, I don’t answer. I just cry, and sleep, and ignore the piercing sound of the phone ringing down in the kitchen.