Chapter 10

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“I just think that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family, Ana,” My mother says over the phone as I gather the things I need to take my last test before break. “You’ve only been back together for a few months. Don’t you think we should, I don’t know, take some time to see where this goes before we start changing family traditions for him?”

“First of all, I don’t know what family traditions you’re worried about sacrificing, because we literally do something different every year and I normally spend Thanksgiving with Dad. Second of all, we know where this is going… Christian and I are not going to break up, Mom. This is for real this time. He is my family now and we’re starting traditions together. We’re asking you to be apart of them.”

“So why don’t the two of you come here? He can come here. It seems like we’re always the ones traveling, but we’re closer to you here in Georgia than he is in Washington.”

“Mom,” I groan. “He’s got a bigger family and you don’t have the room for everyone. We’re trying to make this as easy on everyone as possible, and, honestly, I don’t know why you’re not ecstatic. You’re not going to have to cook, you’re not going to have to clean, and Christian is flying you to Seattle in a private jet where you’re going to stay in a penthouse with a full staff. You’re going to have a good time, I promise. I want you with me, please?”

She sighs. “Okay, fine. We’ll come to Seattle.”

“Thank you,” I reply, relieved.

We haven’t told anyone about my pregnancy yet because Christian and I decided to wait until Thanksgiving when we could get everyone together and tell both of our families at one time so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the drama of who to tell first or what would happen if one of our parents found out from someone who wasn’t one of us. Unfortunately, making sure everyone finds out at the same time has been harder than I expected. I’ve been fighting with my mom for two weeks now to try and get her to come spend the holiday with me and the Greys’, which, until this moment, has felt like a losing battle, and keeping the secret from Grace and her baby senses has been like a rabbit trying to hide from a bloodhound.

I’ve only been back to Seattle once since we found out I was pregnant, the first weekend after I told Christian, but just that one weekend was almost enough to blow the lid off of everything. After almost a whole day of non-stop vomiting, I spent that Saturday night in the Emergency Room at the hospital Grace works at for dehydration, and we were only just able to avoid her as she rushed in in the middle of the night for a patient who needed an emergency appendectomy. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum that night and it has been like a neon sign announcing to the world that I’m pregnant. The nausea has been out of control and, after having brunch with the Greys the following day and subsequently running off to the bathroom because Gretchen set a plate of salmon in front of me, I know Grace suspects something. I can hear the suspicion in her voice every time she calls.

Thankfully though, my Contemporary African American Literature professor has assigned a hugely weighted test for the last day before Thanksgiving Break, so I’ve spent the last two weekends at home studying, rather than back in Seattle under Grace’s ever vigilant gaze. Christian hasn’t been thrilled, but I’m relieved. I know I couldn’t have made it through two more weekends without slipping up somehow.

“Okay, Mom, I’ve gotta go,” I tell her. “I’m going to be late for my test.”

“Alright, good luck. Call me when you land in Seattle. You know how I worry having you flying back and forth so much.”

“I know,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I’ll call you. I love you.”

“Love you too, sweetie. Bye.”

I hang up the phone, letting out another sigh of relief, and then look at the snow falling steadily outside my bedroom window. Winter has pre-maturely reared its head in Cambridge and it hasn’t come quietly. Already there’s close to six or seven inches outside and it’s only supposed to get worse over Thanksgiving break.

After one last glance around my room to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, I pick up my backpack and jacket, then grab the handle of my suitcase and head for the stairs. Before this test was announced, I’d actually thought I was going to get out of Cambridge on Wednesday and have some extra time back home. That didn’t end up being the case and after the argument I got into with Christian when I told him I’d be here two days longer than he originally thought, Luke and I have made a plan to get on the plane back to Seattle as quickly as possible following my test, which means that I have to have all of my luggage in the car before we leave.

Kate and Luke are both already in the kitchen, eating breakfast and watching the news through the doorway to the living room, when I make it downstairs. Kate is listening to the weather report with mild interest, but Luke seems to spend equal time glancing at the TV and then back through the kitchen window to the snow falling outside.

“It’s really coming down,” He says nervously, as I pour myself a mug of tea and pull a sleeve of saltines out of the box in the cupboard, which is the only food I’ve been able to manage in the mornings for weeks.

“I heard last night that we’re supposed to get up to five more inches today,” I tell him.

“This is crazy,” Kate says. “It’s way too early in the season for snow like this.”

“That’s called climate change, my dear,” I say, as I too turn to watch the forecast. Unfortunately for those who don’t get to fly across the country for the next week, the huge storm brewing just off the coast that will be dumping snow and freezing rain on the entire Boston metropolitan area for days was just upgraded in severity this morning. While I listen to the weatherman list the all the precautionary measures people should be taking to weather the storm, I actually find myself happy, for once, that I’m going to be stuck on an airplane for hours.

“Jeez, you’d think he was predicting the apocalypse,” Luke says, when he finally holds up the remote to turn off the TV.

“It probably feels that way to some people,” Kate says. “But at least in this, the end of days, the mail still seems to be functioning adequately. You got a letter today, Ana.”

“Me?”

“No, the other Ana,” She says, rolling her eyes and then nodding towards the kitchen counter. I quickly scramble out of my seat and hurry to retrieve the thick envelope and when I look down and see my dad’s messy handwriting, I immediately feel tears of relief spring to my eyes.

Ray has been in an active combat zone for months with no access to the mail system, so I haven’t heard from him since the last letter I got back in August. No one has been willing to say it, I haven’t even allowed myself to consider the possibility, but the complete silence has left the lingering fear in the back of my mind that the worst has happened. Now that I have confirmation that it hasn’t, I can’t rip into his letter fast enough.

Annie,

I didn’t think it was going to happen, but by some miracle it did. I’m back on base, safe and sound, and I’ll be able to call you on Thanksgiving. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the sound of your voice, my darling baby girl. I’ve missed you so much.

Love,

Dad.

I re-read the words a dozen times, wishing there was more, but still feeling overwhelmingly grateful for what’s here. Unfortunately though, his succinct letter gives me too much leeway to overanalyze every word, and the more times I read what he’s written, the more the joy I feel at holding the physical proof of his safety turns into fear. He didn’t think it was going to happen? What does that mean? That he didn’t think he’d get back to a base in time to call me for Thanksgiving or that he didn’t think he’d make it back at all? Was he in danger? Maybe he was hurt. The letter says he’s safe, but it doesn’t say he wasn’t injured. Something could have happened…

Suddenly, the now expected nausea hits me full force and I have to run for the toilet, but I’m not sure whether it’s because of the pregnancy, or the horrifying images of my father on the battlefield that has me wretching up everything inside my stomach.

“Ana?” Kate’s worried voice comes from behind the closed door. “Is everything, okay?”

“It’s… fine,” I call back. I reach up to flush and then peel myself off the floor to rinse my mouth out. It takes a couple deep breaths to calm my stomach, but once I’m sure I won’t throw up again, I turn to open the bathroom door, only to find Luke and Kate standing in the hallway waiting for me, cautious looks on both their faces.

“I’m fine,” I reassure them again, more firmly this time.

“How’s Ray?” Kate asks.

“He’s back on base,” I say quickly, not wanting to speak aloud all the fears now bouncing around in my head. “He’s going to call me on Thanksgiving.”

“That’s good,” Luke says, “You’ll get to tell him about the baby with the rest of your family. That’s what you wanted.”

“Yeah, it’s what I wanted,” I agree, and then I step out of the bathroom to gather my things for class, still trying to shake the sense of unease my dad’s letter leaves me with.

Kate is done with classes until after the break, so while I make my way to campus with Luke, she’s staying behind to finish up the last few items she has for the Crimson before we head back to Seattle. I’m grateful because, unlike Luke, Kate wouldn’t be able to hold back from asking questions about my letter and I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t even want to think about it. My entire body feels stiff with a mixture of fear, guilt, and pain, and the only thing I can do about it right now is try to push the thoughts of what my father may have just gone through out of my mind, think over what I’ve been studying for the past week, and try to distract myself by staring at the snowflakes falling around the car.

Now that we know I’m pregnant, even Luke has started to question whether or not keeping Christian in the dark about Leila is a good idea. The truth is I’m not sure if he’s right or not, but Ray is the reason I can’t bring myself to tell him. I’ve always  felt guilty over the sacrifice my father has made to allow me to get into and stay at Harvard, but that guilt has been magnified ten times over since Christian started paying for my school.

My dad being in Iraq, seeing the things he’s seen and living the way he’s been forced to live for almost four years, that’s all for nothing now. If he hadn’t re-enlisted for another two years after coming home the summer after my Sophomore year, nothing would have changed for me. He’s endured this for nothing, and everytime I think about that, it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. The only thing that I can think to do to make sure that he isn’t completely devastated when he finds out, is to graduate. I have to graduate so all of this means something, and I know in the deepest part of my soul, that if Christian finds out about Leila, that’s not going to happen.

He’s made it clear ever since I’ve come back here that he’s tolerating me being here, but that it’s not what he wants. He wants me home. When I told him I was pregnant, that was the first thing he went to, and even after the tentative truce we made that night about me staying in Cambridge, he’s hinted at least three more times that he’s not happy about the arrangement. Leila will be an excuse, but if she is only here to do me harm, which I’m not even sure about anymore since I haven’t seen her since New York and the more I think about that day, the less and less I’m sure about what I saw, what’s to stop her from following me to Seattle? I’ll still have the same security team back home, would I really be safer there than I am here? I don’t think so. I’m not being careless. I’ve followed Luke’s and Taylor’s rules to the T. I just need to make it six more months. Six more months and I’ll have my degree and I can move home. Everyone will win.

“How long do you think you’ll be?” Luke asks, as we approach the parking lot closest to the building my test is taking place in.

“I’m not sure, it depends on how many essay questions there are. An hour, maybe?” I reply.

“Well, let’s get you there so you can finish and we can get out of here,” He says. “The roads are going to be a disaster getting into Boston.”

I nod and climb out of the car, and while we walk to the Barker Center, we make a plan for getting out of here as quickly as possible. Luke takes me all the way to my classroom, telling me he’ll be back in an hour with Kate and for me to wait for him here if he’s not back by the time I’m finished, and then leaves. Once the rest of the students settle in and the professor enters the room, covered in snow and clinging tightly to a briefcase filled with tests, I force myself to forget about the letter from this morning, about Leila and whether or not I’m making a huge mistake, and focus my attention towards the front of the room.

Unfortunately, the test is much harder than I thought, and I was already prepared for it to be difficult. Nearly every question requires at least three to four long paragraphs to answer and my final two essays are over two pages each. The hour I estimated for Luke quickly comes and goes, but I’m so engrossed in the test I don’t even notice until my phone, along with every other phone in the room, suddenly begins beeping or vibrating.

“Professor Vaughn, what does this mean?” A girl with blonde curls a few desks away from me asks. The professor quickly glances over at his computer, his mouse clicking furiously as he works his way through whatever it is he’s looking at, and then he frowns.

“Campus is being shut down due to the weather,” He says, at last. “Please, finish your exams and then head back home. Any other classes you have today have been cancelled.”

I see some people around me exchange nervous glances, and a few even get up to turn in their tests, despite the fact that they haven’t completely finished. I look up at the clock on the wall and then to the door, where I can see the silhouetted form of Luke pacing back and forth through the opaque window. I’m most of the way through my final essay, so I take a deep breath, re-focus, and then hurry through the rest of it.

It’s nearly noon by the time I leave my class and as Luke nearly drags me through the snow towards the waiting car, I feel a creepy sense of unease cross over me. I’ve never seen campus so deserted while classes are supposed to be going on. The silence around us is almost eerie.

“Oh my god, what took so long?” Kate asks, when I finally climb into the car and we pull out onto the road.

“Sorry, my professor is a sadist,” I tell her. “That test was no joke.”

“Did you do okay?”

“I think so, but we’ll see. Mostly, I’m just happy he didn’t give us any homework.  As it is, I don’t have anything to work on over the entire break and that should make Christian happy.”

Suddenly, the low music playing over the stereo cuts out and is replaced by a flat ringing tone. “Speaking of Grey…” Luke says, reaching down to press the button on the steering wheel to answer the Christian’s call. “Sawyer,” He says in greeting.

“Do you have her?” Christian asks urgently.

“Yes, sir,” Luke replies. “We’re on route to the airport now.”

“Good. My pilot just called and said he wasn’t able to land at Logan. All non-scheduled flights are being re-directed because of the storm.”

“I was afraid of that,” Luke says, leaning forward over the steering wheel to look up at the thick blanket of shocking white clouds above us. “Traffic looks to be pretty heavy, but I’ll have her to the airport as soon as possible. We’ll wait it out.”

“Don’t,” He tells us. “The weather is only supposed to get worse. Go inside, buy tickets for whatever flight is leaving the soonest, and my plane will meet you when you land. I don’t care where it is, or how much it costs, just get off the East coast.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says again.

“I love you, Christian,” I call as Luke reaches down for the button to disconnect the call.

“I love you too, baby,” He says. “Get to me.”

“I will,” I promise. “I’m on my way.”

Luke hangs up and we both look out the windows at the snow again. We’re on the highway now, crawling our way over the snow, and there are several cars on the side of the road, having clearly slid off.

“You girls have your seatbelts on, right?” Luke asks.

“Yes,” I reply. Kate doesn’t say anything so I glance over at her and see that she’s not paying attention to us at all. She’s gaping through her window at a car that looks as though it’s flipped over the median from the other side and is currently resting upside down in the far left lane of traffic.

“We should stop,” She says. “Maybe we can help…”

“No, no stopping,” Luke says.

“But they might be hurt! Someone could be stuck,” Kate argues.

“There are dozens of accidents on this road, Kate,” Luke says. “The police are all around us and they’re better trained to handle this situation. I have to get you two to the airport. If they’ve already redirected non-scheduled flights, I bet it won’t be long before nothing is getting off the ground at all. We’ll be stranded in Cambridge until the storm passes and that could be days.”

Kate bites down on her lip and then looks guiltily out the window at the car  slowly disappearing behind us. I can see the conflict on her face and I feel it too, but Luke is right. Watching the blizzard brewing around us gives me a deep feeling of unease and I’m already worried about what we’re going to be told when we get to the airport. Even if we do get on a flight tonight, I can’t imagine flying through this mess is going to be pleasant.

The normal 30 minute drive into Boston takes over an hour and a half  between the snow, traffic, and countless accidents we see piling up alongside the road. When we finally do pull into the long term parking garage at Logan International Airport, I glance quickly over at the runway and the fact that I don’t see any planes taxiing over the airfield, doesn’t make me feel better.

It’s ridiculously crowded inside, with possibly hundreds of people sitting on their suitcases or fighting to get to the ticket counter. Luke takes my luggage from me and then uses his free hand to pull me over to the departures board, Kate dragging along in the wake we leave through the crowd. I know, like me, his eyes immediately scan every line looking for anything with a departure time, but each and every row is punctuated with the blazing red letters that spell out CANCELLED.

I look over at him, my eyes widening. “What do we do?”

He presses his lips together in concentration as his eyes dart back and forth between the giant windows displaying the still heavily falling snow outside and the ticket counter, and I can tell from the expression on his face that he isn’t sure.

“I’ll see what I can do,” He says at last. “Maybe if I can get Mr. Grey on the phone, we can work something out. In the meantime, you two go wait over there. Don’t move, and don’t let each other out of your sight.”

“Okay,” I nod, and as I reach back to take Kate’s hand, Luke pushes his way over to the ticket counter. There aren’t any seats left, so we make our way to the only place there seems to be room for the two of us to stand with our luggage and then pace back and forth, watching the snow accumulating steadily over the next hour.

“They can’t just close the whole airport down,” I whine. “How long could they possibly keep all flights grounded?”

“Until the storm passes,” Kate says. “And I don’t think that’s anytime soon.”

“No, it isn’t,” Luke says, coming up behind us and surprising us both.

“Nothing?” I ask, and when he shakes his head, I add, “Did they give you an estimate when flights are going to make it out again?”

“No,” He says. “But we should head home. Nothing’s leaving tonight and the storm is getting worse. I don’t want you snowed in at the airport with all these people around and nowhere for you to sleep. Grey will have a heart attack.”

“Well, if we’re just going to drive home, why don’t we just drive to Springfield? It’s less than 100 miles away and there’s an airport. The news says the storm isn’t so bad once you get further inland, maybe Christian’s plane could just meet us there.”

“It took us almost two hours to get here from Cambridge, Ana. Do you know how long it would take us to get to Springfield?” Luke asks.  

“It’s too dangerous,” Kate adds, nodding up to the TV mounted on the wall, which is showing a news report about over 106 accidents that have occurred on the highways in the last 6 hours. “I don’t even know if we should drive home…”

“We’re going to try,” He says, and he picks up my bag and then reaches for my hand before leading us back out to the parking garage. I reflexively reach down to place a protective hand over my stomach. This is bad… and I’m just starting to realize how bad. I might not get home… This storm could last days, maybe the whole week, and if nothing is getting out until it passes, I could miss the whole week I’m supposed to spend with Christian.

It’s worse getting home than it was getting into Boston. The news report about the car accidents wasn’t descriptive enough in how the number of accidents has left traffic at a standstill. They can’t even get the snowplows through the roads as ambulances and firetrucks take priority getting to the injured victims on the side of the highway, so the snow continues to accumulate on the roads making them a slick, tractionless nightmare. My house is only about 10 miles away from the airport and despite the fact that we’re driving so slow I truly believe I could have walked there and back by the time we finally pull onto our street, we’ve nearly slid completely off the road three times. I imagine my heart rate is off the charts from the stress of the drive, and as Luke helps me from the car and safely back into my house, I find myself wishing I could feel the baby inside of me moving or kicking just so that I would know it’s okay. Since I can’t, I’m close to panicking.

We’d turned the heat way down before we left this morning since we thought we were going to be gone for a whole week, so coming into the kitchen through the back door doesn’t feel very comforting. Kate immediately makes for the thermostat and, while Luke pulls blankets and heating pads from the hall closet, I call Christian.

“Hey,” He answers, the relief apparent in his voice. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“We’re fine, we’re back home,” I tell him. “Nothing is getting out tonight, or probably for a few days. I think we’re going to be stuck here until the storm passes.”

“I don’t feel good about that,” He says. “The news says this storm is supposed to get bad.”

“It already is bad,” I admit. “But we’re safe in the house. I’m safe.”

“I want you home, Ana. I don’t want you there… you’re supposed to be with me this week.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be here either, but we’re stranded.” I say, and he let’s out an irritated breath.

“I’d just like to point out that Seattle isn’t in the midst of a superstorm,” He says. “It’s perfectly safe here.”

“Yeah, now,” I reply sardonically. “Talk to me when Rainier blows.” I wait for his equally sarcastic response but it doesn’t come. He’s silent for a long beat, and when he finally does speak again, his voice is quiet.

“I’m worried about you, Anastasia.”

“Don’t be, we’re safe,” I assure him again, reaching down as I do to trace my fingers over my belly. “Luke is going to watch the flights and the road conditions and we’ll get out of here the moment we can, I promise.”

“Stay inside,” He says. “Call me if anything changes, and just to check in. I’m going to be a mess until you’re on a plane back to me.”

“I will,” I assure him. “I love you, Christian.”

“I love you too. Bye, baby.”

“Bye.” I hang up the phone and stare down at it for a moment. I’m not sure exactly when the airports were shut down, but now that I’m stranded in my house, I can’t help but wonder if I could have prevented it. If I’d been less wordy on my essay questions, or maybe just turned in my test when the people who bailed early did, would I be in Seattle now? I don’t know, and I think not knowing is going to drive me insane for as long as I’m cooped up in here.

I make my way back out to the living room and find Kate glued to the news while Luke stands in front of the living room window, probably watching to see if the snow is letting up. It isn’t though, so instead of letting the sight of the white out going on outside crush my spirits even further, I sit on the couch to cuddle under the blanket with Kate and focus on the TV, hoping we’ll at least get some good news about the airports being reopened.

Unfortunately, most of the news stories over the next few hours revolve around car accidents and a house that flooded over in Somerville after a frozen pipe burst in some poor guy’s basement. By the time the later hours of the night creep by, a state of emergency is declared for the entire Boston area, and Kate and I both watch nervously as Luke reaches into his pocket for his phone, and then steps out of the room to talk to Taylor.

“What does state of emergency mean?” Kate asks, and even though she’s trying to keep her voice down so Luke can’t hear her, I can tell she’s scared. “Do we have to evacuate?”

“No,” I shake my head. “It just means that they’re preparing for the worst. It’s good. It means they’ll have more resources to clear the roads and get us out of here sooner.”

“You’re sure?”

Her eyes search mine, looking for any sense of hope, so I do my best to swallow back my own doubt and give her the most reassuring smile I can muster. “Of course, I’m sure.”

“Ana,” Luke interrupts us, hanging up the phone as he comes back into the living room. “You need to call your boyfriend and calm him down.”

“Why? What’s he doing?” I ask.

“When he saw the state of emergency bulletin, he asked what it would take to get the airport open, and Taylor told him the only person who could override the no fly order was the President. He’s on the phone right now trying to get through to the White House.”

“Oh, good lord,” I say, rolling my eyes and getting off the couch. I head up to my bedroom, knowing this could take a while, and it does. I spend nearly 30 minutes doing everything I know to do to placate Christian, but by the time I get off the phone with him, I know everything I’ve said is only going to keep him calm for a few minutes once I’m off the phone. I have a feeling he’s going to call me every five minutes for the rest of the night. I might even have to turn on Skype when I go to bed, just so he can see I’m still breathing once I’m asleep.

Sleep seems to be impossible by the time 11 o’clock rolls around, though. The wind has picked up outside and the silent drifting snowflakes have been replaced by loud, thumping hail bouncing off the roof. The snow covering everything we can see through the windows is now coated with a bright, shiny layer of ice as the hail and freezing rain pour down over the top of the pristine white blanket. The TV signal is cutting in and out, which is driving Kate insane, but Luke seems to be preoccupied by the telephone wires over head swaying violently back and forth in the wind.

“Is there wood for the fireplace, anywhere?” He asks, not turning around to look at us.

“I don’t think so,” I reply, but Kate places her hand on my arm, and then interjects.

“Elliot always kept some in the shed out back.”

“Okay, I’m going to go see what I can find,” He says. “In the meantime, Kate, I want you to go fill both bathtubs upstairs with water and Ana, you can look for matches, lighters, candles, flashlights, batteries, and the first aid kit.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Just go,” He tells me, and then he grabs his coat off the hook by the door and disappears through the kitchen and out into the storm. Kate and I hurry to do what he’s asked of us, and just as I’m climbing on the dryer to reach the back of the cupboard where we keep the first aid kit, the lights above me flicker twice and then go out.

“Ana!” Kate calls, panicked.

“In the laundry room, Kate!” I yell back. My fingers clasp around the plastic handle of the first aid kit, and after I’ve pulled it down at gotten back on the floor, Kate comes through the laundry room door, holding her cellphone up as a flashlight.

“There’s no power,” She says. “The heat’s off.”

“Well, that’s probably why Luke wanted the wood,” I tell her. “Come on, let’s see if he needs any help.”

We walk back out into the living room and find Luke kneeling next to a large pile of wood with his head in the fireplace. Without the heat constantly blowing through the vents, the house is already starting to feel drafty, so while we wait for Luke to build the fire, Kate and I climb onto the couch and curl up under the blanket once again.

It’s so much worse now that we don’t have news reports to give us storm updates. We’re completely isolated in the house with nothing to do but watch the wood Luke brought in from the shed, our only heat source, slowly burn away under the mantle in the living room. We were able to follow some news through our phones for a while but the cell phone towers must go down not long after the city wide blackout because soon, we lose cell service too. It means I’m completely cut off from Christian, and I can only imagine what that’s doing to him right now.

“Ana, when’s the last time you ate?” Luke asks.

“Uh… this morning, I guess. Before my test,” I reply.

“Come on,” He says, reaching for my hand. “Let’s find you something to eat.”

“I’m fine,” I tell him, shaking my head, but he furrows his eyebrows at me and extends his hands out further.

“You’re pregnant, Ana. You need to eat.”

“Right,” I concede, taking his hand and letting him help me off the couch. There isn’t much left in the kitchen since we dumped all our perishables the day before when the garbage was picked up, but there is canned soup in the cupboard. Apparently, it’s dangerous to cook food in the cans, especially for pregnant women, so Luke pours the soup into a pot, telling me it’ll most likely be ruined, and then takes it out to the fire. Using the fire pokers, he creates a bed in the logs to rest the pot on and then sets the soup over the fire to heat. Surprisingly it doesn’t take long and soon, we all have hot soup and crackers to help keep us warm as the cold from the rest of the house wars with the ring of heat contained to only the living room.

Eventually, I can’t stay awake anymore to try and wait to see if the power will come back on, so while Luke brings in a chair from the living room to put by the fire so he can keep it going through the night, Kate and I cuddle up next to one another on the floor. I can feel the tension radiating off of her as we settle in to go to sleep, so I reach over to wrap my arm around her, pulling her into me to try and give her some amount of comfort. After a few minutes, her body relaxes, her breathing evens out, and she drifts off to sleep. I close my eyes too, picturing my cellphone sitting on the rug beside me and the last thought to cross my mind before I drift off is the imagined picture of Christian, 3000 miles away, staring at his phone in panic, waiting for me to call him.

Whether it’s the stress from the day, the noise of the storm, or the uncomfortable floor, I don’t sleep easy that night. I dream that I’m running along the sidewalk a few blocks from my house in Cambridge, the same sidewalk Kate and I run every morning. It’s dark, which is weird, and none of the neighbors Kate and I have gotten close to over the past few years are outside. The streets are deserted and cold, and the unease of it all pushes to me to run faster.

I take a right onto Antrim Street so I can make the loop back home, but I only make it a few paces up the block before I’m stopped dead in my tracks. There standing in front of me, is Leila Williams, staring at me intently. The same knowing smile she wore in the coffee shop in New York plays at her lips, and as I begin to back away from her, suddenly there are hands on me. I scream but am quickly silenced and my struggles are fruitless against the three men,who have come out of nowhere, dragging me back into a van. They lock me inside, keeping me down as they drive away so I can’t see where we’re headed, ignoring my pleas for mercy and to let me go.

When we finally stop, I have no idea if we’re still in Cambridge and I’m taken into a house I don’t recognize. The men from the van carry me into a basement and tie to me to a chair, then leave me in the cold, damp room. The only thing that exists in the darkness around me is the sound of my own heavy, panicked breathing until a man’s voice, which I vaguely recognize but can’t place, speaks to me from somewhere close by.

“Welcome, Anastasia,” He says. “I hope you’re comfortable. You’re going to be here awhile.”

“Who are you?” I demand.

“You don’t know me?” He asks. “I’m hurt. I worked so hard to be kind to you the few months I got to know you. But that’s all about to change.”

“Please,” I beg. “I’m pregnant.”

“Oh, I know. That’s what makes this so perfect. You should really thank me, you know. Grey has told you over and over again how much you mean to him, how much he’d be willing to give up for you. I’m about to help you find out whether or not he means it.”

“Christian won’t give you anything if you hurt me,” I bluff, but he simply chuckles.

“On the contrary, I think the more I hurt you, the more he’ll be willing to give to get you back. And I expect a lot, Anastasia. What do you think I’d have to do to you for him to give up GEH? I’m sure it’ll come at a hefty price.”

“GEH?” I reply, my voice catching in my throat as the fear his threats induce wash over me. “You want his company?”

“Oh no, Anastasia. I don’t just want his company. I want everything. I want him to suffer. I want him to lose everything he’s ever cared about. I want to leave him desolate. And, I’m going to start with you…”

Suddenly, I’m bathed in a blinding light and the room is filled with a high screeching noise. The man, whose face I still can’t see, takes a step towards me, his polished shoes now visible in the ring of light.

“Prepare yourself, Anastasia,” He says, though it’s hard to hear him over whatever the screeching noise is. “This may hurt a little.”

I scream and begin the thrash against the ropes holding me to the chair, but just as the man leans towards me and I’m about to see his face, another voice breaks through the darkness.

“Fuck, Ana!”

The screeching noise intensifies and is followed by a loud crash, and I’m jolted awake by something hard hitting my body. I scream again, for real this time, until I realize that the hard thing is Luke. He’s covering my body with his, shielding me from something, and while I’m not sure what that is, I start to notice a cloud of dust swirling in the air of my living room, mixed with a lot of loud, strange noises, and the smell of gasoline.

“Oh my god!” Kate screams, quickly scrambling out of the blankets next to me and running for the kitchen.

“Kate!” Luke screams at her. “Get back here!” She doesn’t listen though, and I start to hear shuffling sounds mixing with the cacophony of noises I still can’t identify.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Luke asks.

“No, I’m not hurt,” I say quickly, and the moment the words are out of my mouth he leaps off of me and runs after Kate. It takes me a moment to orient myself, to try and sort through the last few seconds and decide what was a dream and what wasn’t. Kate and Luke begin arguing with one another and when I hear the high metal screech from my dreams, I jump to my feet. As I turn towards the kitchen though, I’m stopped dead again, and my mouth pops open in shock.

The kitchen wall is destroyed, a gust of cold air now pouring in through the giant hole left in the side of my house, and there, in the middle of the room where the dining room table used to be, is a car that Luke and Kate are fighting to get into to try and release the driver inside.

Oh my god.

Next Chapter

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Welcome Home!

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Hey everyone!

Thank you for visiting the new and improved wishingmregreywashere.com. Going forward, this is going to be the home of all of my stories including A Different Shade of Fifty, A Broken Shade of Fifty, and A Stronger Shade of Fifty. Chapter 09 of A Stronger Shade of Fifty is up now.

Regular Monday updates will continue.

To subscribe to this site and get email notifications for all future chapter updates, please use the box on the right sidebar of the homepage, or the box at the bottom of each chapter.

I’ve spent several weeks doing a massive editing overhaul of my stories and while not a lot has changed, one major thing has, and that is Carrick’s role in A Different Shade of Fifty and the subsequent fall out for him in A Broken Shade of Fifty.

If you haven’t read a Different Shade of Fifty, Skip this next part.

If you don’t want to go back to re-read, know the difference is that Carrick was not the lawyer in the trial against Elena in ADSOF, a public prosecutor was. Carrick represented Christian to protect his interests, but was only involved in the trial in that he helped provide evidence and resources to the prosecutors office and was the one who conducted Christian’s pre-trial interviews. He was a bystander in the actual trial and was ultimately removed from the courtroom for an outburst when Christian lied. Subsequently, the emotional trauma from the trial left Carrick unable to continue working as a defense attorney, so he sold his firm and now works as a general practice lawyer, doing mostly civil trial work. Other than that, not a lot has changed.

Thank you again everyone. I hope that this move is a great thing for all of us.

Lots of love,

WishingMrGreyWasHere

Chapter 09

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By the time the weekend ends, the strangely intense, periodic bouts of nausea and overwhelming exhaustion haven’t passed, so I’m forced to stay home from school on Monday, and then again on Tuesday.  It leaves me with a deep feeling of regret because I had also skipped classes on Thursday. So, while I’m either bedridden or sprinting to the bathroom as quickly as possible, I’m also desperately trying to catch up on homework. I’d really hoped this was just food poisoning, but when Kate got back from school on Monday, she told me that half of her classes were empty because of a really bad flu that’s going around. It’s the worst scenario because a flu can last over a week rather than a few days like food poisoning, and while I know there’s nothing more that I could be doing to get better, Christian has been his usual, over-worried self.  

“I think the nausea is starting to go away,” I assure him over the phone on Tuesday morning. “I’ve only thrown up once this morning. I’m mostly just tired now.”   

“How many days have you been nauseated?”

“I don’t know, four or five. There’s a flu going around and you know me, if there’s something to catch within 100 miles of me, I’ll get it.”

“Is the nausea made worse or better when you eat?”

“Uh… better, I think.”

“Have you been ingesting excessive amounts of acetaminophen?”

The specifics in his line of questioning suddenly has me suspicious and I frown. “Are you on WebMD?”

“You could be having acute kidney failure, Ana.”

“It’s the flu, Christian.”

“You don’t know that until you go to the doctor.”

“I know what the flu feels like, and if I go to the doctor, they’ll just tell me to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, and I’m doing both of those things already. There is nothing a doctor can give me to make me feel better.”

“What if you have Meningitis or Typhoid… or Dengue Fever?” He asks, his voice becoming more and more panicked as I assume he scrolls through the list of possible conditions on his laptop screen. “Jesus, this says you could be having a brain aneurism.”

“Christian, I promise you, I’m fine. Get off the internet and get back to work or I’m going to call Ros and have her come take your phone away.”

“Go to the doctor, Anastasia.”

“I love you. Good-bye.”

I think I hear him say my name in protest once more, but I’m not positive because I pull the phone away and hang up. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Christian is overreacting and if I wasn’t so tired, I probably would go to the doctor just to placate him. Part of me does love that he cares so much, but, right now, all I want in the world is sleep and going to the doctor is counterproductive to that.

I stretch my tired muscles for a moment and then put my phone on my nightstand, close the book open on my lap, and nestle down in the pillows to take a quick nap before picking my homework back up. Unfortunately, just as I fall into the peaceful place between dreams on consciousness, there is a knock on my door that drags me back to reality.

Fucking Kate.

“What?” I groan, but when the door opens, it isn’t Kate who steps inside, it’s Luke. I sit up in bed, surprised. Since Kate’s slip during Christian’s visit, Luke has been staying at his apartment again, trying to take advantage of me being bedridden to put some distance between us until Christian gets fully over our kiss. I also know that he’s using his newfound free time to look into Leila, so his appearance now has me on high alert. If he’s here, it must be because he’s found something.

“Hey, how are you feeling?” He asks, coming to sit on the bed next to me.

“Fine,” I reply, but when he lifts his hand to check the heat in my forehead, I push him off and stare at him expectantly.

“Well?” I ask.

“Well, what?”

“What did you find out about Leila?”

He sighs. “I’m not here because of Leila.”

“Oh,” I deflate a little. “Then why are you here?”

“You know how sometimes I can be your best friend, and sometimes I have to be your CPO?” He asks.

I narrow my eyes at him. “Yes.”

“Well, this is CPO time and I just got a call from Mr. Grey. I’m here to take you to the doctor.”

“Well, you may as well leave and go and enjoy the rest of your time off.” I tell him, rolling my eyes as I fall back into my pillows. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I don’t think you understand me, Ana. I was told to take you to the doctor, even if I have to carry you down to the car and drive you there against your will.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Please just get up and come with me,” He pleads. “I’m really not in the mood to manhandle you down the stairs.”

I glare at him for a moment, testing him, but when I see the unwavering determination behind his eyes, I sigh and then pull back the covers to get out of bed. He gives me a few moments privacy so I can change from my pajamas into more suitable clothes for public, and the I reluctantly trudge out into the hallway.

The cold November air actually feels a little good when we get outside, but the motion of the car as we work our way through the streets towards Student Health triggers my nausea again. I need something to distract me to keep from throwing up all over the interior of my new car, so I turn to Luke.

“So, have you found anything out about Leila?” I ask, and he lets out a long breath.

“No. Well, nothing that would suggest she’s here as a threat to you. She really is enrolled in Boston University and both her attendance and grades are good. Her parents do live in Hartford and, according to her credit card records, she went home to visit them a few weeks ago. This last weekend, she had Broadway tickets and had done some shopping in Manhattan… Her trip there appears to be legitimate,” He pauses, and gives me a nervous side glance before he speaks again. “Are you sure she had someone following you? Is it possible she just met someone for coffee and whoever she was with was just leaving?”

“No,” I shake my head. “No, he was following me.”

“Okay,” Luke nods, “Well, I’ve given Taylor everything I’ve been able to dig up and he’s going to see about getting Welch or Barney to take a closer look. He’s just got to make sure they won’t say anything to Grey before he tells them what it’s for.”

I swallow, feeling guilt rising up inside of me again. “Luke… maybe I should just tell Christian. He’s not entirely unreasonable, and if he sees everything you and Taylor have done to ensure I’m safe while I’m here, maybe he won’t try to force me to come home after all…”

“You know that I’m driving you to the doctor for a mild flu right now, right?” Luke replies. “He wanted me to take you to the Emergency Room until I talked him down to a general practitioner. I don’t think that man is capable of being reasonable when it comes to you.”

“Well, then I guess I hope you’re right and I’m just paranoid,” I sigh as Luke pulls into the parking lot at the on campus clinic and kills the engine.

“So do I,” He agrees. “But in case you’re not… I could use your help convincing Grey to pay for a home security system without tipping him off. Now that I’m not there all the time, I think it’s necessary.”

“I can do that,” I nod. “I’ll just tell him it’ll make me feel better about leaving Kate behind when I go back to Seattle. She still has a hard time staying in the house alone.”

“Good,” He replies. “Now let’s get this over with so you can get back to bed.”

With flu season in full swing, Student Health Services is packed, and, once I’ve checked in at the receptionist’s desk, I’m given paperwork to fill out and am told that it’ll be almost an hour before the doctor can see me. I spend a good deal of time glancing around at the waiting room at other students and I feel my spirits sink as I watch a girl a few seats away from me curl up into a ball in her chair, looking miserable. Apparently, even though I’ve been sick for days, I haven’t even gotten to the worst of this flu yet. She’s clearly much worse off than I am.

“Anastasia Steele?” A small woman dressed in sea green colored scrubs calls, and I smile at her as I reach over to squeeze Luke’s arm and then get out of my seats. She leads me to a small examination room, takes my vitals, asks for any medications I’m taking or allergies I have, and then sits me down on the exam table. She leaves the room and I have to wait almost another half an hour, this time without Luke to talk to, before the doctor finally comes in.

“Good Afternoon,” She greets me, as she reaches out to shake my hand. “I’m Dr. Young.”

“Anastasia Steele,” I reply. “But Ana, if it’s easier.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ana. What brings you in today?” She asks.

“I have the flu,” I tell her.

“It’s going around,” She sighs. “When did your symptoms start?”

“Last Friday,” I reply.

“And what symptoms have you been experiencing?”

“Nausea mostly. Fatigue. A low fever. Maybe a little dizziness.”

“Any aches or pains? Chills?” She asks.

“No, not really.”

“Has your nausea led to vomiting?”

“Yes,” I reply, and she gets up and walks around me, lifting my shirt a little to press on my lower back.

“Any pain here?”

“No.”

“And have you experienced a sore throat? Congestion? Diarrhea?”

“No,” I reply quickly, and while she hums under her breath she moves back to her computer, in front of me this time, and when I smell her perfume, I immediately feel my stomach lurch. I gag, and quickly reach up to cover my mouth with my hand, but I know from the past few days, once the nausea starts, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Dr. Young quickly reaches for the wastebasket by the door and holds it out for me to throw up into, and when I’m finished, I apologize and take the paper towel she offers me to wipe my mouth.

“Well, you don’t have a fever or any of the other symptoms we’ve seen with this flu,” She says, “But clearly you’ve got something going on. Have you eaten anything unusual lately?”

“Not for the past few days,” I reply. “Toast and crackers mostly. But I did think the clams in the pasta I ate on Saturday tasted funny.”

“Are you sexually active.”

“Yes,” I tell her, feeling the unnecessary embarrassment rise to my cheeks.

“And what do you use for birth control?”

“Just the Ocella.”

“Condoms?” She asks, but I shake my head.

“Birth control pills don’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases,” She says disapprovingly.

“I have one partner,” I assure her. “I’m not concerned.”

“I see.” She writes something down on the clipboard in her hand, and then looks at me again. “And when was your last menstrual period?”

“Uh…” I hesitate. “I usually have it the 3rd week of the month. It’s hard to remember. Ever since I’ve started birth control, my periods have been pretty spotty. Some months I don’t really even have a period.”

“Okay.” She nods, making a note. “Have you gone out of the country recently?”

“No,” I shake my head. “I went to Hawaii a few months ago.”

“Any bug bites?”

“A couple maybe.”

She nods again as she makes another note and then gets up from her chair, setting her clipboard on the desk. “I’m going to order a few different tests so we can get a better idea of what’s going on, so if you’ll take this cup and give me a urine sample, I’ll have the phlebotomist come in to draw some blood.”

“Okay,” I agree. I take the cup and head into the bathroom. It’s awkward and almost a little embarrassing leaving the sample in the small metal box next to the toilet, but the embarrassment isn’t nearly as daunting as what’s waiting for me back in the room. A young man, who doesn’t look like he could be much older than me, is sitting next to the bed I’d just vacated, pulling tubes and vials out of a box.

Needles. I hate needles.

Once I’m back on the bed, he makes idle chit chat and begins wrapping my arm with a rubber band and feeling around for veins. When he actually pokes me with the needle, he asks me questions about my major and my plans for the coming Thanksgiving holiday to distract me, and I have to answer them while staring up at the cabinet next to the exam table. Thankfully though, he’s pretty good at finding a vein and the whole process is fairly quick. Almost as soon as I feel the sharp prick just below my elbow, he’s wrapping my arm with gauze and tape and then wishing me good luck, taking the vials of blood with him as he steps out of the room.

Luke is allowed to come sit with me while I wait for the results of my tests to come back and, while he tries to scare me by telling me I’ve most likely caught some horrific tropical disease, I lie back and fight the unrelenting exhaustion that seems to be my sole personality trait right now.

“Ana?” Dr. Young’s voice asks, tapping on the door.

“Come in,” I reply.

The door opens and I force myself to sit up, feeling a little bit of the dizziness now that I’m no longer upright. She enters the room, closes the door behind her, and settles down in the stool across from me.

“Well, I’ve reviewed the lab results and great news, your blood work looks great and you, my dear, are just as healthy as you can be.”

“So, I don’t have the flu?”

“No. You don’t have the flu.”

“Then what’s wrong with me?” I ask, confused.

“You’re pregnant,” She says, and as I stare blankly back at her, I think for just a moment that I might have hallucinated.

“I’m sorry,” I say, shaking my head slightly, “What?”

“You’re pregnant,” She repeats.

I gape at her, feeling as though all the blood in my body has suddenly gone cold. Pregnant? How could I possibly be pregnant?

“Anastasia?” Dr. Young checks, and I look up at her, feeling my eyes widen with my panic as I try and sort through this in my head.

“H-how…?” I ask.

“Well, oral contraception isn’t 100% effective-” She begins, but as I feel the reality of what’s happening beginning to weigh on me, my denial begins to bubble through my lips and I cut her off.

“No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I repeat, over and over again. “I’m careful, diligent…  I can’t be pregnant. I can’t.”

“Well…” She hesitates. “Our tests have been wrong before. Why don’t you change into a paper gown and we’ll run an ultrasound, just to be sure.”  

I turn to look at Luke, who has gone completely pale, and he gets quickly out of his seat to exit the room. The doctor takes a hospital gown out from the cabinet and hands it to me, then steps out of the room to let me change. It takes me longer to get out of my clothes then it should because I’m shaking so badly I seem to have lost nearly all my coordination, but when I am covered again, I crack open the door and then take a seat on the table once more. Dr. Young comes back into the room a few minutes later, and she’s pulling a heavy machine with her.  

Once she’s set up, she helps me get into the correct position on the table and then pulls out a long stick, which she covers in plastic and lubricant.

“Okay,” She tells me, smiling much too brightly for someone holding a torture device in her hand. “This might be a little uncomfortable.”

I take a deep breath as she pushes the wand inside of me, and then immediately turn to look at the monitor. It’s hard to tell what I’m looking at and everything seems to be a little blurry, but I’ve never been so engrossed in anything in my life. I can’t even feel the discomfort of her searching around inside of me, and when she finds the small, round ball of black, she stops.

“Okay,” She says, pointing up to the screen. “This is your uterus, and this small white bean shape here is the fetus. That flicker you see in the picture, that’s the heartbeat.”

I inhale sharply as I look at the tiny bit of static on the monitor which is irrefutable proof that I am, in fact, pregnant. Dr. Young begins taking measurements and pictures of the baby, while I attempt to control the shakiness of my breathing. This has to be a nightmare. A fever induced nightmare. I’m going to wake up, in my bed at any second…

“Alright,” Dr. Young says as she finishes up and pulls the wand out of me. “It looks to me like you’re around eight weeks along. It’s going to put your due date right around June 18th.”

“How did this happen?” I ask again. “I’m perfect with my birth control. I’ve never missed a dose.”

“Oral contraception can be tricky,” She tells me. “They have to be taken at the same time every day…”

“I have an alarm on my phone,” I interrupt her. “I take it every morning at ten. I even have a different alarm for when I go to the west coast on the weekends so I can make sure that I’m consistent.”

“Have you taken any other medications or antibiotics?” She asks, and while I start to shake my head, I immediately freeze.

Antibiotics.

Fuck, fuck, fuck… when was I sick? The second week of September, that was… eight weeks ago. Fuck!

My birthday. I had a sinus infection on my birthday that I took antibiotics for and Christian and I… oh god.

I think Dr. Young can see the realization hit me, because she starts to nod as she prints the ultrasound pictures from the machine and then begins working on something on the tablet she’s brought into the room with her.

“I’ve been,” I swallow, trying to get a grip on myself. “I’ve been taking birth control and… and drinking.”

“Well,  you’ll need to stop doing both of those things immediately,” The doctor tells me. “I’ll give you some information about the dos and don’ts you should be aware of for the next few months and I can get you a 30 day supply of prenatal vitamins to take home with you today. If you’re interested, the clinic offers a maternity program that is generally more cost effective than traditional OB care, I can include information on the program with the rest.”

I look up at her, my mouth still open with shock. This is really happening. “I-I don’t… I don’t,” I stutter, still unable to form coherent sentences, and as she looks at the shock and panic clearly etched in my expression, the comforting smile she’s held in place since she’s come back into this room vanishes.

“Or… We could discuss other options?” She suggests.

“Other options?”

“Termination?”

“Like… like an abortion?” I clarify, and while she doesn’t nod yes or no, the careful, non-judgemental face she’s making is all the affirmation I need. Could I do that? Do I want to do that? Is that what Christian is going to want? Oh my god, Christian! What am I going to say to Christian?

As the reality starts to set in, my heartbeat quickens and I can feel my breathing become more shallow. I might be about to have a panic attack.

“Anastasia,” Dr. Young says, reaching out and placing a comforting hand over mine. “You don’t have to decide anything right now, we have time. Maybe you should go home, take a few days to process, and decide what you really want. When you’re sure, you can make another appointment and we’ll go from there.”

“Okay,” I agree.

“Do you want your ultrasound pictures?”

“Yes, please,” I nod, and then, because I’ve been such a headcase for the last few minutes and she’s shown me nothing but kindness, understanding, and patience, I add, ” Thank you.”

“Of course, Anastasia.” She hands me the photograph, which I take with shaking hands, several informational pamphlets, and the package of prenatal vitamins she promised, and then smiles at me as she leaves the room to allow me to get dressed again. I place the ultrasound photo on the examination table and stare at it as I pull off the paper gown and slowly slip back into my clothes. The small white spot in the center of the dark circle looks so unthreatening from here, but right now, it feels as though it’s going to cause my world to fall apart.

When I’m dressed, I pick up the picture and turn for the hallway where I find Luke waiting, looking as pale as I’m sure I do. He doesn’t say anything to me, he simply holds my coat up for me to slide my arms into and then leads me through the office towards the car. We’re silent as we pull out of the parking lot and start towards home, mostly because I’m not even sure what to say.

“You didn’t call…” I start hesitantly.

“No,” He replies, “You think I want to be the one to tell him?”

“What am I going to do, Luke?” I ask desperately.

“Well, I think you’re going to have a baby.”

“Am I?” I ask, and his head jerks sharply to the side.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m still in school. Christian and I don’t even live on the same side of the side of the country. I don’t even think he wants kids. I mean, I’m not ready for this. We’ve only been back together for five months, that’s nothing. We’re not married. He hasn’t even met my fath-” I freeze. “Oh god, Ray! My dad doesn’t even know Christian exists. I’m pregnant with a man my father knows nothing about. This is a nightmare! I can’t do this…”

“Are you saying you want to… get rid of it?” Luke checks, and immediately I fall silent. Is that what I’m saying? This whole thing feels so unexpected, definitely not how I have ever planned to have this situation go. But, even being as freaked out as I am right now, do I want to terminate the pregnancy?

I reach down to cover my stomach with my hands, imagining the small peanut shaped blob of white inside that isn’t just a spot on a picture. It’s a baby. It’s Christian’s baby. It’s my baby. It’s a life that we’ve created together through a physical expression of love.

My mind immediately shifts back to my birthday, to that night when this baby was conceived. It had been perfect. In all the times Christian and I have made love, I had never felt more connected to him than I did that night, and in that connection, we made a baby together. Heat floods my body as I once again feel the depth of the love that had filled me that night as I listened to his words and felt his touch, and I know in that moment that, though this was unplanned, it was meant to be. I glance down at my hands and picture the flicker of the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor, and as I imagine that flicker just beneath my palms, I know that termination isn’t an option.

“Ana,” Luke says with cautious anger when I don’t respond to his question. “You need to talk to Grey before you make that decision because I’m not going to…”

“I’m not going to get an abortion, Luke,” I cut him off. “No… I don’t want that. I’m going to keep the baby. Of course, I’m going to keep the baby.”

He relaxes a little and nods. We’re home now, so once he’s pulled up the alley behind our house, he kills the engine and then turns to look at me.

“So what do you want to do?” He asks. “We’re supposed to go to Seattle on Friday, are you going to tell him then?”

And live with this secret for three days?

“No,” I reply, shaking my head. “I can’t wait until the weekend, but I don’t want to tell him over the phone.”

“Well, let’s start by getting you inside.”

I nod and then climb out of the car, dragging my feet as I walk towards the house. I’m so numb that I don’t even feel the difference in temperature when I step through the glass door, let alone notice Kate sitting at the dining room table with food and book propped open in front of her.

“Hey, how’d the doctor go?” She asks.

I stare back at her blankly, still unable to say the words out loud, and as she waits for my response, her face steadily falls into a look of panic. “What’s wrong, Ana?”

“I– I’m,” I take a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”

“What!” She exclaims, her eyes immediately shifting to Luke as though she’s looking for confirmation.

“Oh, you heard correctly,” He assures her.

“Okay…” She replies slowly, clearly still trying to process this new information. “So… just so I’m clear, are we happy about this or…?”

“Happy,” I tell her, though my voice still doesn’t have the conviction I feel growing stronger and stronger with each passing second, so I reaffirm the statement again. “We’re happy about it. I’m keeping it.”

“What did Christian say?” She asks.

“I haven’t told him yet.”

“Ooh,” She says, sucking a sharp breath in through her teeth, like she just saw someone take a horrible fall down the stairs.

“Can you guys give me a minute?” I ask. “I’m going to call him.”

“Yeah,” Luke says, pushing off the wall and turning to leave the room. Kate gets up from the table and turns to follow him, but she stops very suddenly and then rushes across the room to wrap me in a hug.

“Congratulations, Ana.” She says. “I’m happy for you, and whatever he says… I’ll be here for you.”

“Thanks, Kate,” I nod, and she gives me a small, nervous smile before turning to leave the kitchen.

I pace back and forth in front to the oven for a minute, trying to work up the nerve to make the call, but it’s impossible. I don’t know if he’s going to be angry and if he is, I don’t think I’m ready to face that. This is a good thing, a wonderful thing. I want him to feel that with me, and maybe he will. With shaking hands I pull out my phone, find Christian’s name in the recent calls, and then hold it up to my ear.

“What did the doctor say?” He answers immediately, the concern already apparent in his voice.

“Christian, I– I need you to come to Cambridge,” I tell him.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I just need you to come here, okay?” I say weakly, as, for the first time since I found out, I feel tears begin to prick behind my eyes. “Please?”

“Okay,” He says. “I have an important meeting tomorrow at three but, once it’s over,  I’ll get on a pl…”

“No,” I interrupt him. “I need you to come here, right now. Tonight.”

He’s quiet for a heart beat, and the silence breaks the last of my resistance, causing irrational, probably hormone fueled tears start flowing freely down my cheeks.

“I’ll be there in 7 hours,” He says, at last.

“Thank you.”

“I love you,” He tells me, and the way he says it almost sounds as though he’s not sure I’m going to say it back.

“I love you, too. I’ll see you soon, bye.”

I hang up the phone and quickly dash the tears from my eyes. I can’t be like this when Christian gets here, it’ll only freak him out more and I don’t want that. This is scary but the longer I have to think about this little life growing inside of me, to feel connected to it, the more I’m able to feel the resounding joy in it. I’m going to be a mother, I’m going to have a family with Christian, and if he accepts it, shares my happiness, I think this will actually mean that I’m going to get everything I’ve ever wanted.

But only if he’s on board.

I need to get a grip and put on a strong front so I can show him that this is a good thing. It’s scary now, but in the end, it’s going to be wonderful. I take a deep breath and decide to go take a shower, hoping the hot water will help me relax and clear my head so that when Christian gets here, I’m ready to face whatever version of him I’m going to be up against.

The next few hours are the longest of my life. I have homework I should be catching up on since I’ve missed three days of school, but I can’t sit still long enough to work on anything. I can’t do anything but stare nervously out the window.

Christian texts me at about 11:30 to tell me he’s landed in Boston, and in the 20 minutes it takes for him to get to Cambridge, Kate and Luke both disappear upstairs. I’m pacing back and forth across the living room, rehearsing what I’m going to say for the hundred-millionth time, when I see headlights of Christian’s rental car pull into the back alley through the kitchen window. The nerves creep up into my throat, choking me slightly, so I take a long, shaky breath and then remind myself over and over again that he loves me, until I hear the door slide open.

“Anastasia!” He calls, his voice fully panicked.

“I’m in here,” I call back meekly. His footfalls are heavy as he moves quickly through the kitchen, and when he comes around the corner and sees me standing there, waiting for him, he stops  for a moment, looks me up and down, and then practically charges towards me to wrap me in his arms. I see Taylor out of the corner of my eye, shooting a concerned look in my direction before disappearing up the stairs as well.

“I’m here,” Christian whispers against my hair. “What is it?”

“Have a seat,” I tell him as I push out of his arms and gesture to the couch. He backs up slowly, not taking his eyes off of me, until his legs hit the cushions and he slowly lowers himself down.

“I don’t really know where to start…” I tell him, and I watch his adam’s apple jump as he swallows.

“Is it cancer?” He asks.

“What?”

“Is that what’s wrong with you? Is it cancer?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head quickly. “No, I’m not dying, Christian. I’m fine.”

He hesitates for a moment, examining my face as though he’s trying to decide whether or not he believes me, but a second later, he exhales with relief and his entire body relaxes.

“Oh, thank god,” He says. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, Anastasia. Do you have any idea how terrifying the last few hours have been for me?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d go right to death! I just, I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone…”

Immediately, he’s back on his guard again. “Tell me what?”

“Just… I just need you to… what I mean is that…” I stutter, struggling to find the words.

“What is it, Ana?” He demands.  

“I’m… Christian, I’m pregnant.”

The moment the words are out of my mouth, his face immediately goes blank. “What?” He asks, the strength completely gone from his voice.

“I’m pregnant,” I repeat. “About eight weeks. Apparently, the antibiotics I was taking when I had that sinus infection made my birth control fail. I got pregnant on my birthday.”

I pause, waiting to see if he’s going to respond to me, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything. His face is still completely blank, his eyes wide and unmoving. I think he might actually be going into shock…

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, tears welling in my eyes again. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I know you said you wanted to wait and I did too, but it’s happened now and… and I want it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. I want this baby more than I’ve ever wanted anything.” I stop and stare at him, waiting for anything, and it takes forever. I can see it when the initial shock wears off and he starts to process because his eyes start shifting back and forth. Still, I don’t say anything, I let the words sit between us until finally, he looks up at me.

“You’re pregnant,” He says, not a question.

“I’m pregnant,” I affirm, and then, miraculously, he leaps to his feet and kisses me, hard. It takes me a moment to react, but when I do, I’m hit with a tsunami of emotion at once. Elation, joy, relief… they all crash over me, rise up inside of me, until it all comes bubbling through my eyes.

“You’re not mad?” I check, astounded by the happiness I see reflected in his eyes when he pulls away from the kiss to look at me.

“Mad? No. Anastasia, we’re having a baby. You and I… We’re going to be a real family. Forever. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. How could I possibly be mad?”

“You said you wanted to wait,” I say, tears of joy now streaming down my cheeks and over the uncontrollable smile stretching wide across my face. “You said you weren’t sure you even wanted kids.”

“You know me,” He replies, beaming. “I never know what I want until it hits me right in the face, or at least runs into me in dormitory at Harvard University.”

I laugh. “So, you’re happy? Really? You’re not just in shock?”

“Oh, I’m definitely in shock,” He says. “And I’m probably going to be in shock until I hold our baby in my arms, but I promise you, I am more than just happy right now. I love you so much, Anastasia.”

He kisses me again, more passionately this time. I feel his tongue brush my lips, and so I open my mouth for him, reaching up into his hair so that I can hold him to me while we share our jubilation with each other.

“Well,” He says, stepping back once again and reaching up to cup my cheek. “Let’s get you packed. We’ll take whatever you’re going to need for the next few days and then Sawyer can bring the rest. I’ll find someone to marry us first thing tomorrow and then we’re going to find you the best Obstetrician in Seattle.”

“Wait… Seattle?” I ask, my smile faltering a little. “What do you mean?”

“You need a doctor, Anastasia,” He says. “A good one. I only want the best for you and for our baby. But don’t worry, my mother knows everyone, she’ll make sure we have the best.”

“Yeah, but I’m not going home, Christian. I’m not dropping out of school.”

“But… you’re pregnant,” He says, and now it’s him who sounds confused.

“It’s not a disability. I have six more months until I graduate and the baby isn’t due for seven. I’ll have to find an OB in Cambridge, or Boston maybe. I’m not leaving Harvard.”

“What do you mean you’re not leaving Harvard?” He asks, and now I hear the defensive anger rising in his tone. “Of course you are, I’m not leaving you across the country while you’re pregnant.”

“That’s not up to you,” I tell him, “Wait… Is this why you’re happy? Because you think I’m going to move home?”

“Of course not,” He says, but his confidence in his denial lessens when I raise an accusatory eyebrow at him. “Okay, fine. Yes, a little. You’re having a baby. That’s wonderful and I’m happy, but I also want you home. What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with that is that you don’t care what I want at all. Why can’t you understand what Harvard means to me, Christian? I worked hard to get here, I’ve worked hard to stay here, and I made a promise to my dad and to myself that I would graduate. I’m not going to give up my dream of graduating from Harvard six months before I achieve it. Not for anything.”

“Don’t say that I haven’t supported you finishing your education. I didn’t try and stop you when you wanted to come back here,” He argues. “When you said you wouldn’t stay, I accepted it. I don’t want to take this away from you, but this pregnancy isn’t just about you, Anastasia. That’s my baby, too.”

“I never said it wasn’t.”

“Well, if you stay here, I’m going to miss everything. Doctors appointments, lamaze classes, the first time it kicks… What if you go into labor and I’m 3000 miles away?”

“First of all, if I go into labor and I’m still in Boston, we have bigger problems than you being in Seattle because it will mean I’ve gone into labor more than a month early. And, I know that this isn’t ideal and the timing of this sucks, but I’m not going to throw away my dream so that you can go to lamaze classes.”

“So, I just don’t get a say in that?” He snaps.

“Do you really think that you’d be there anyway?” I accuse him, and he narrows his eyes at me.

“I got on a plane at a moment’s notice and flew across the country for you today, Anastasia. Are you really questioning my commitment to you right now?”

“No, but you thought I had cancer. Not every doctor’s appointment is exciting or life changing, Christian. Most of the next few months, I’m just going to go in there to get a regular check up. Can you honestly tell me that you would cancel a lunch with a client, or your operations meeting, or a business trip so you could hear a doctor tell you nothing has changed or so you could go practice breathing exercises with me?”

“No, you would run all of your appointments through Andrea first so we can align your appointments and classes around my schedule,” He says, and before the words are even all the way out of his mouth, I can see the regret in his eyes. “That came out wrong…”

“I don’t think it did,” I say angrily. “Our lives can’t be all about you and GEH, Christian. I’m not giving up my dreams and everything that I’ve worked for to structure my life around what is convenient for you. I’m sorry that you may miss things, that kills me, but I’m not leaving.”

“Well, I don’t agree with that.”

“Tough.”

He takes a deep breath through his nose, clearly trying to calm himself so that he doesn’t explode on me, and while he turns away from me, running his hands through his hair while he paces across the living room, I start again so that I can head off whatever argument I know he’s formulating.

“Don’t act like I’m not home three days a week,” I argue. “Or that I’m not going to be home for over a full week later this month, more than four weeks between December and January, and another week in March. I will make sure that you get to experience this pregnancy with me as much as possible, but I’m not going to drop out of school with six months left just so you have the choice to go with me for a checkup at the doctor’s office if it’s convenient for you.”

His jaw tightens and his lips push together into a tight line as he turns around and sits on the couch. I stand there and wait for him to work through this for a minute, but when the anger recedes and he looks up at me again, he doesn’t look pacified or even defeated. He looks sad, and that makes me feel much worse.

“Fine,” He says at last. “Stay.”

I sigh and then move next to him on the couch, lifting his arm and placing it over me so that I can cuddle into his side.

“I know this is hard,” I say softly. “I’m sorry. I wish this would have happened six months from now so that we could do this the way we both want to. But, if I’ve learned anything over the past three months, it’s that we can make this work. We’re so great now. We’ve learned to communicate and to compromise… we know how to make each other a priority without abandoning everything else in our life. I love you, Christian, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you don’t miss anything. I promise.”

He leans over and kisses my hair. “Okay,” He says at last. “I love you, too.”

“Mmm,” I hum. “You know the doctor told me today that my due date is on June 18th. Our baby could be born on your birthday.”

“I couldn’t think of a better gift,” He says. “Do you have a picture or something I can see?”

“Oh, yeah.” I quickly get off the couch and make my way into the kitchen where I left my purse. The ultrasound pictures are in an envelope inside so I pull them out and then hurry back into the living room to give them to Christian.

“Right here?” He asks, pointing to white little peanut in the center of all the black.

“Mhm,” I nod. Christian brushes his finger over the picture, staring at it intensely until he has to push his lips together to hide the barely noticeable quivering that has begun.

“We’re having a baby,” He says again, and I let out a small breathy laugh.

“Yes, we are.”

“You know… I just proposed to you and you haven’t said anything yet.”

“That’s funny, I never heard a question,” I tell him, and he looks up at me for a moment, then sets the picture down on the table and takes my hands in his.

“Anastasia…” He begins, and suddenly my eyes widen with panic.

“No,” I say quickly, yanking my fingers out of his grasp. “No, no, no. Not like this.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want you to propose to me just because I got pregnant,” I tell him. “What about all the other stuff you said before about not wanting us to be apart for our entire engagement and asking my father?”

“I think it’s a little late to ask your father, don’t you?” He asks sardonically, but I ignore his tone and shake my head.

“No, I don’t. We might be going out of order, but I don’t want us to go into marriage feeling like there’s a shotgun coming up the aisle after us. I want you to propose to me only because you love me and you want to spend the rest of your life with me, not because I got knocked up. I want us to be ready and with me living here, and you living there, and all of the stress that this pregnancy is going to add to our situation, I don’t feel ready. Especially if even your proposal comes as an afterthought to the baby.”

“You want romance,” He infers.

“Yes,” I agree, and he sighs.

“I do love you, Anastasia, more than anything. I do want to spend the rest of my life with you. But you’re right, you deserve the perfect proposal. I don’t even have your ring on me. So I’ll wait, for the right moment.”

“Thank you,” I tell him, and then lean in and kiss him softly on the lips.

“It’s late, we should go to bed,” He whispers against my lips. “Your body needs all the rest it can get.”

“Okay,” I nod, and as if to emphasize his point, a deep yawn forces it’s way out of me as he gets off the couch and reaches for my hand to help me to my feet. He doesn’t say anything more as he leads me up the stairs, but it’s a comfortable silence. His thumb runs lovingly over the back of my knuckles the entire way up to my bedroom until I have to let go of his hand to change into pajamas and then move into the bathroom to wash my face..

He’s quicker than I am at getting ready for bed, so he’s the first to crawl under the covers, and when I finally am able to settle in next to him, the bed is already warm and inviting. He pulls me against him, encircling me with his arms, and when I feel his hand come down to rest over my belly, I feel a warm feeling of comfort that I carry with me until I fall asleep.

Next Chapter

Book Two

a-broken-shade-of-fifty

Living with her best friend and finding the love of her life had truly made Ana’s freshman year at Harvard the best of her life until one life defining moment left her shattered. Now, she must decide whether she’ll help the man she loves overcome the past he can’t escape, or protect her wounded heart and risk losing him forever. (Sequel to a Different Shade of Fifty).

Chapter 1

Chapter 08

Image result for holly golightly

Getting back to Cambridge doesn’t have the calming effect I’d hoped it would after my run in with Leila. This is the first time Christian and Kate have been around one another since Kate and Elliot broke up and awkward does not adequately describe the atmosphere between the two of them. While I spend most of Saturday with Kate, getting ready for the Halloween party we’re going to that night by having my full body painted black and white, Christian mostly stays in my room, working at my desk. The entire time I’m with Kate, he never comes downstairs once. He hasn’t said a single word to her. The most he’s been around her was on the flight home and he hardly even looked at her.

“Okay, take a seat,” Kate tells me, once my body paint is finally dry and I’m able to slip into the black sheath dress. I sigh as I watch her pick up a teasing comb and an aerosol can of hairspray, and then reluctantly sit in the dining room chair she pulls from the table. I spend the next few minutes choking on a cloud of hairspray while Kate creates a stunningly high bouffant and then secures the rest of my hair in a french twist on the back of my head. When she’s sure it’s secure, she leaves me to finish getting dressed while she changes into her own costume. I head upstairs in my bedroom and once I’m inside, Christian turns automatically to look at me, and then does a doubletake when he sees me.

“What in the…” He says, his voice trailing off as his eyes make it up to my hair.

“Well, it looks stupid now,” I say defensively. “I’m not finished yet.”

“You’re a different color.”

I look down, examining the skin showing beneath my dress which took almost two hours of blending different shades of black, gray, and white paint with an airbrush and a professional artist to get right. “Yeah, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a black and white movie. Holly Golightly was gray.”

“Is Kate gray, too?” He asks, but I shake my head.

“No, Lorelei Lee was in technicolor.”

He shakes his head and turns back to the Macbook in front of him, so I continue on into the bathroom, ruffling his hair slightly as I step past his chair.

It’s an extraordinarily humbling experience, holding up a picture of Audrey Hepburn next to your face and deciphering how much you actually look like her. Thankfully, the artist who painted my body also shaded my face so I don’t have to worry about doing much make up. Looking between the photo on my phone and my reflection in the mirror has me convinced that Audrey’s classic beauty cannot be replicated, and attempting such a thing feels like a great way to dig up a lot of deep rooted self-esteem issues, so I settle for simply applying the set of false eyelashes I bought earlier in the week and coating them with mascara.

“Ana!” Kate calls, but her voice cuts off awkwardly, presumably when she steps into my room and sees Christian sitting in the chair by the door.

“She’s in the bathroom,” He says bluntly, and the only thing I hear in response to that is the swishing noise of the taffeta in Kate’s dress as she crosses the room. She’s dressed in the tight pink evening gown and matching elbow length gloves from the iconic Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend number, her hair is rolled up into Marilyn Monroe’s signature retro waves, and her neck, ears, and wrists are already glittering with diamond costume jewelry.

“My lipstick is a little too orange,” She says, stepping into the bathroom. “Do you have a better red than this?”

“Uh… I think so,” I say, reaching into my makeup bag and digging around. The tube is at the bottom as I’ve only ever worn it once, out of curiosity, and immediately decided that red lipstick was not my look. It looks great on Kate though, and once she’s applied the lipstick and drawn on the mole just above her lip, she’s Marilyn perfectly personified.

“Alright, let’s get your jewelry and we’ll be ready to go. I have a tiara and a some pearls, but all the earrings at the costume shop were ugly so I thought you could wear your Cartier.”

“My Cartier?” I repeat, confused.

“Yeah, the earrings Christian got you for Christmas a couple years ago.”

I feel my stomach drop. I have no idea where those earrings are and unfortunately, Christian is sitting about four feet away from the bathroom door right now, undoubtedly listening to every word we’re saying. My teeth sink into my bottom lip, and Kate raises an eyebrow at me.

“What’s wrong?”

I don’t know where those earrings are,” I mouth at her, after glancing nervously at the door. Her eyes widen and I watch her lean back a little to check to see if Christian is looking, then close the door to try and prevent him from hearing us.

“What do you mean you don’t know where those earrings are?” She hisses at me, and though her voice is a soft, barely an audible whisper, I can hear the indignation in her tone. “Those earrings were like, $2500, Anastasia.”

“I know,” I whisper back. “But in those two years when Christian and I weren’t together, I wasn’t particularly concerned with keeping track of the jewelry he gave me. If I was talking to him at all, I probably would have returned them, but I wasn’t…”

“That’s the first thing he ever gave you,” She argues.

“I know that! Don’t you think I know that? I feel awful about it, but I can’t do anything about it now. I don’t remember giving them away so I’m sure they’re here somewhere, I just don’t know where…”

She presses her lips together as she looks at the closed door, and I can almost see her trying to work through the problem she’s posed in her head. “Okay, we’ll look for them after he goes back to Seattle. In the meantime, just go to your jewelry box like you’re going to get them and I’ll say something about how I don’t think you should wear them after all. I have some cheap earrings you can wear instead.”

I nod and she turns to open the door for me. Christian looks up at me as I step out into the room, and I can’t believe how stupid I feel putting on this charade. I should just tell him the truth, that I know he heard Kate bring it up but I think I might have lost them, but I also don’t want to hurt his feelings. I know how much he hates talking or even thinking about the time we weren’t together and that’s not how I want to start this night off with him. Tonight is supposed to be fun. A chance to prove that he and I can do the things normal 22 year olds do without creating some huge disaster.

I can hear the swish of Kate’s dress as she comes out of the bathroom behind me, and once I reach the jewelry box sitting on the dresser, I hear her call out to me.

“Wait, Ana…” She says hesitantly. “Maybe you shouldn’t wear actual diamonds tonight. You’re going to be drinking and dancing, you don’t want to lose them just for a stupid Halloween costume.”

“Uh… good call, Kate,” I say awkwardly.

“I think I have a pair you can wear, I’ll be right back.”

I nod and watch her leave, but the second she’s left the room, Christian gets up from the desk, closes the door behind her and rounds on me.

“You lost the earrings I gave you, didn’t you?” He asks, and I frown.

“I don’t know,” I tell him, hanging my head a little with shame. “When we broke up, I got rid of a lot of the things you gave me, I put away other stuff… I have no idea where the earrings got to.”

He sighs and crosses the room, stopping only inches away from me and holding his arms open. “So, why the theatrics? Why didn’t you just tell me that?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” I admit, stepping into his embrace. “It was the first gift you ever gave me and if I would have known we were going to get back together, I would have kept better track of them.”

“It’s okay,” He tells me. “They’re just earrings.”

“$2500 earrings,” I mumble back.

“Actually they were just over $4000,” He corrects me, and when I let out a displeased sigh, he lifts my chin so that I’m looking up at him. “The earrings I bought for you after the trial, the ones you shoved back into my hand as you turned around to leave at the top of the Empire State Building so you could walk out of my life forever? Those earrings were about $10,000, and I threw them off my balcony in an extremely childish fit of rage.”

“You threw them… off your balcony?” I ask, sounding almost confused, as if the words don’t make sense in that order. “Where?”

“Just… Into Seattle,” He replies, a smile breaking across his face now, and I laugh.

“Well, some person out there had a really good day then.”

“I’m glad someone did,” He says. “I didn’t just get rid of the earrings, I destroyed a whole box of things I had of yours. Small things you’d left in my car or in my dorm room, and I really wish I hadn’t.”

I push out my lower lip in a pout but, once his words fully resonate with me, my face goes blank and my eyes widen with realization.

“What?” He asks.

“Box,” I say, lamely. “I have a box of your things.”

The confusion on his face doesn’t diminish, but I struggle out of his arms and then pull the chair at my desk over to the closet. There are several things stuffed up on the top shelf, all fit together extremely precariously as I usually have to toss whatever it is I want to put away up here and hope it sticks since I can’t reach the shelf without a step stool. In the very back corner, there is an old shoe box I haven’t looked at in over two years and, after I push several things out of the way to get to it, I pull it out and open the lid. The items inside are sparse and seemingly inconsequential, except for the small red box with the word Cartier printed on the top.

“Here they are,” I say, smiling as I pull the earrings out and hold the box up for Christian to see. He walks over and takes them out of my hand, opens the hinged lid, and then looks down at the diamonds inside.

“There they are,” He says, his voice filled with sentimentalism. I step down from the chair, leaving the box on the seat, and when I turn to face him, he pulls the earrings from the velvet casing and slips them into each of my ears.

“These really do look beautiful on you,” He says, brushing his thumb over the drop diamond hanging from the delicate, silver strand.

“You have excellent taste,” I tell him.

“Yes,” He agrees, looking down at me with an adoring smile on his face as he wraps me in his arms. “I do.”

 

Before we head to the party, Christian insists we stop for dinner, so Kate picks an Italian restaurant downtown. Unfortunately, since it’s Saturday night, it’s packed and when we head inside to get a table, we’re told there is a 30 minute wait.

“Excuse me?” Christian asks, clearly confused when the hostess asks if he would like to put his name on the list, which I imagine is because he’s never been asked to wait for anything in his life.

“Yes,” I interject. “We’ll wait.”

“Okay, can I get a name for your party?” She asks.

“Grey,” Christian says emphatically, as though he can’t believe she didn’t already know the answer to that question. Thankfully, the hostess seems unfazed.

“Perfect. We’ll call your name when your table is ready,” She hands us the plastic box, which will light up and vibrate when they’re ready for us, and, as Christian looks down at the thing like some kind of alien artifact, I hook my arm through his and drag him outside to wait on the sidewalk.

“That was… weird,” Christian says as we step to the side of the doors and lean against the stucco of the exterior wall. “Why didn’t you make a reservation, Kate?”

“I don’t think they do that here,” She says, picking up her phone to occupy herself while we wait. “Welcome to the world of the common people, Grey.”

I hide a laugh as I watch Christian roll his eyes and shift towards me. The wait is actually a little longer than the hostess told us it would be, but since Kate is pacing back and forth on the curb talking to Ainsley on the phone, it’s an opportunity for Christian and I to talk and retreat into our own little world together. While we stand there together though, I notice that his eyes keep shifting towards the street every so often, and when it happens for probably the 10th time, I reach up to grab his chin and turn his face back to me.

“What are you doing?” I ask him.

“It’s just weird,” He replies. “We’re standing out on a public street, no security hovering around, and no one has even looked at us. I’m just used to…”

“Being somebody?” I interrupt him. He shrugs, and I give him an almost gloating kind of smile. “I tried to tell you it’s different in Cambridge. No one cares about us here. There aren’t any paparazzi because no one wants your picture… Well, not for money anyway. That girl over there has looked over at you a few times, she probably wouldn’t say no to a selfie.”

I nod with my head and the moment he turns and makes eye contact with the girl I’m talking about, she flushes bright red and immediately tries to hide behind her friend. Christian shakes his head and turns back to me and I giggle at the obvious discomfort on his face. He’s embarrassed. It’s kind of adorable.

“You were right though, this is nice. Being out with you in public and not worrying about what’s going to be in the paper the next day,” He says.

“Sounds to me like you’re trying to argue that you should be the one flying back and forth across the country every week. I accept your proposal.”

“I don’t think so,” He says with a laugh, and then he leans in and lowers his voice. “There are other benefits to being a nobody, you know.”

“Such as?” I ask.

“There’s an alley behind this restaurant that we could check out. How do you feel about a little exhibitionism?”

“Negatively,” I reply with a laugh.

“Aw, come on, baby. Where’s your sense of adventure?” He asks, stepping in closer, snaking his arm around my waist suggestively. I take a step back and look at him indignantly.

“Public indecency is still a crime, Christian.”

“So?”

“So? Just imagine, the Seattle Times, October 31st 2010,” I begin, lifting my arm into the air in front of us to help him envision the headline. “Police records show Seattle billionaire Christian Grey was arrested last night for fucking Anastasia Steele in an alley behind a restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts.”

“Okay, point made,” Christian says, grabbing onto my elbow to push my arm down. I giggle again but am silenced as he leans down to kiss me. The plastic box in my hand begins to vibrate just as the front door to the restaurant opens.

“Grey!” The hostess calls behind us, forcing us to break the kiss to turn around and acknowledge her. Christian reaches down for my hand to pull me towards the restaurant, but I have to stop him to grab Kate.

Dinner ends up being the perfect way to start the evening. Christian’s in a good mood which makes things much easier between him and Kate. He even laughs at a few of her jokes. It has me very hopeful, not only for tonight, but going forward. I couldn’t not have either Kate or Christian in my life so I need them to work together. Since Kate and Elliot broke up, that didn’t look like it was a possibility, but so far, tonight has proved that isn’t true.

“Is that a gray hair?” Kate asks, a broad smile on her face as she reaches over to get a better look at Christian’s scalp.

“Fuck you,” Christian replies, slapping her hand away, but Kate is undeterred.

“I think it is!” She laughs. “Be careful, Ana. Carrick went gray very prematurely and boys do take after their fathers.”

“I’m adopted,” Christian says flatly.

“Oh, right…” Kate says, still trying to contain her smile. Christian narrows his eyes at her and the table is silent for all of three seconds before Christian turns very suddenly to me.

“Do you have a compact in your bag?”

“Yeah,” I say, now joining in Kate’s laughter, and I reach into my clutch and pull out the gold metal case that contains a translucent matte powder and a mirror. He opens it and holds it up, scanning his hairline, and when she sees what Kate’s talking about he gives her a slanted look.

“That’s from Ana’s body paint,” He says, and as the waiter approaches the table to leave the check, Kate completely devolves into a fit of laughter.

After dinner, Christian calls Taylor to have him bring the SUV around and we head straight over to Carter’s house. The moment the car stops, Kate jumps out and begins excitedly fluffing her dress, but Christian hesitates.

“Ready?” I ask him. His eyes shift to me, then to the house, then back to me, and he sighs.

“Let’s get this over with.”

I take his hand and step out of the car, ignoring Kate’s impatient encouragement while we wait for Taylor, Luke, and Ryan to wrap up whatever conversation they’re having. When they’re finished, Luke nods towards me and leads the way up the walk. Kate hurries up next to him, wrapping her arm through his and excitedly babbling about all the things she’s heard Carter has done for this party, while I hang back with Christian and stare at the now familiar house.

It’s a little cheesy… There are decorative ghosts and spiders hanging from the outcropping on the house, and spiderwebs filling the spaces between the banisters and railing. It’s dark out here except for the green light being projected on the front door, and from one of the dark corners of the porch, we can hear spooky music and sound effects playing.

“Do we knock?” Christian asks.

“Of course not,” Kate replies, and once she reaches forward to open the door, we’re suddenly surrounded by the loud, thumping music playing inside.

The living room is more crowded than it was last time I was here as it seems Carter’s regular parties have made him quite a few new friends. The lighting is muted, but not so much that you can’t see, and the floor is covered in glitter from the dozens of fairy wings, mermaid costumes, and the one girl just dressed like Kesha dancing around the room.

“Do you want to drink, or do you want to dance?” I ask Christian, leaning up on my tiptoes to get close to his ear so I don’t have to shout over the music. He nods towards the kitchen and we take a few steps through the crowded entryway before we’re stopped by a girl yelling next to us.

“Oh my god!” She shouts. “Is that Christian Grey?”

Suddenly, everyone within earshot stops dancing and turns towards us, and the general movement of the people around the room seems to cease in a kind of wave away from our epicenter. A hush falls over the room, and even the music seems to get quieter.

“Mr. Grey,” A guy I don’t recognize says, stepping forward and holding out his hand. “My name is David Wright, I’m a business major here at Harvard. I just finished a paper on the Grey Method of acquisition. I’d love to get your insights on some of the questions I had in my research…”

“Mr. Grey!” Another girl says. “You might not remember me, but we had a class together my freshman year. My name is Rebecca Sanders… Can I just tell you what an inspiration you’ve been?”

More and more people approach us, pushing me away to get closer to Christian as they bombard him with questions about his business practices, his speculation on fluctuation in the economy, career advice… Some people are even brave enough to outright fish for jobs. Taylor and Luke are suddenly preoccupied preventing several people from taking pictures, while Christian simply tries to excuse himself over and over again. It’s impossible though, because the moment he answers one person’s question, another one is being thrown at him.

“You brought Grey,” Carter says, coming up to stand next to me and looking completely surprised.

“Yeah, it was a compromise with Kate, but now I’m seeing it wasn’t the greatest idea I’ve ever had…”

“To bring Christian Grey into a room full of business majors about to graduate into a recession?” Carter asks. “No. No, it wasn’t.”

“Not helpful,” I reply shortly. “Can you please…”

“On it,” He says, and he moves away from me into the crowd enclosed around Christian. “Alright you animals, step away from the CEO. He’s off the clock tonight so everyone just back up and go back to your drinks.”

“Mr. Grey, what do you have to say about the alleged coup taking place at GEH? Just last week Bloomberg reported that you may be in danger of losing your company,” A voice I can’t place asks from somewhere in the crowd.

“What?” I exclaim, and immediately Christian’s jaw tightens.

“There is no coup,” He says sharply.

“But the report said…”

“I don’t make it a habit to update any media outlets of the internal workings of my company. That report is unfounded. Grey Enterprises Holdings is thriving, that’s all anyone needs to know.”

The general murmur seems to die down, or at least quiet so that it’s completely covered by the music again, and Christian turns to move through the crowd around him and back to my side.

“I’m sorry I…” I begin, but he shakes his head and cuts me off.

“It’s fine. Are you getting a drink?”

I nod, and then follow after him as he continues to push through the tightly packed bodies around us towards the kitchen. I can’t see his face, but I can tell just from the position of his shoulders that he’s angry.

“Hey,” I say, tugging on his hand to stop him and force him to turn around to face me. “I’m sorry about that, I really didn’t think…”

“It’s fine.” He repeats. “Let’s just get a drink.”

He turns again and leads me into the kitchen, and once we’re no longer in the middle of everything and don’t have people touching us on all sides, I see him relax, at least physically. His eyes rake over the bottles of liquor on the counter as he decides what he wants, but my mind is now too filled with questions for me to worry about alcohol.

“What did he mean back there, about a coup?” I ask. His jaw tenses again and he turns to look at me.

“It’s nothing, Ana. I don’t want you to worry about it,” He replies, but when I don’t drop my gaze, he sighs and continues. “It’s because of that fucking audit. When the feds came in to comb through GEH, the developers in my tech divisions and R&D were forced to hand over their designs and their research, and while those reports aren’t supposed to be released to the public, they’re still out there. Several of the developers petitioned to have their research exempted from the audit, but because I’m sole proprietor, everything created under the GEH umbrella belongs to me, so it all had to be turned over. It raised a lot of red flags for the people who have created and programmed technology because they realized they didn’t own the patents to their own work, I did. It means that if I ever chose to sell that technology, I have full legal right to do so, and they won’t see a dime. Obviously, they weren’t happy when they came to this realization and the sentiment seems to have spread through several departments, including the executive management team. There’s been… suggestions about restructuring the company and creating a board. I’d remain CEO, but the board would assume all control over GEH’s assets and I’d no longer have ownership of my company’s intellectual property.”

“Oh..” I reply. “How…. How do you feel about that?”

He scoffs. “Over my dead body.”

I frown because I’m not sure exactly what all of this means or how big of an issue it really is, but Christian reaches out to tilt my chin up so that I’m looking at him in the eyes and then leans over to kiss me softly on the lips.

“I don’t want you to worry about it, Anastasia. I’m handling it.”

“Okay,” I reply, nodding and trying to sound confident. Tonight is very quickly turning into a disaster. All I wanted was a night like we had last summer, when we went away to Montesano for a weekend and went to that bar together and had an amazing night. For once, he had been able to let his guard down, act his age, and relax. We had so much fun and after everything we’ve been through over the last few months, we need fun.

I reach forward and pick up the bottle of tequila, and two plastic cups, pouring a few fingers worth in the bottom of each, and then hand one cup to Christian.

“Let’s just get drunk,” I tell him, moving closer to him so that I can keep the conversation just between us. “Let’s forget everything, drink too much, and then go home and have hot, wild, uninhibited sex.”

“Why do we need to get drunk?” He asks, raising an eyebrow at me. “Let’s just go home and have hot, wild, uninhibited sex.”

“Because I know what happens when you start drinking, Mr. Grey,” I reply, coyly. “Don’t you remember how good it was the last time? I want to experience that all over again.”

His expression changes, the stress morphing into hunger as he looks down at my mouth, but before he can attack my lips with his, I push the plastic cup further into his grip.

“Cheers,” I say, lifting my cup to his. He taps his cup against mine and I pause to watch while he grimaces down at the silvery liquid before quickly throwing it back. Once he swallows, he immediately makes a disgusted face and shakes his head, unconsciously expressing his displeasure. He picks up one of the sliced limes in a bowl on the counter and bites down into it to mitigate the burn.

“How do you drink this shit?” He asks, “God, it’s terrible.”

“You shouldn’t have dropped out of college, Grey. I can confidently say that two extra years has definitely made me a better drinker than you.”

I tip my cup to him once more and then slam the shot down. Once I swallow, I push away the lime he offers me to show just how much better I can handle the tequila than he can, but before I can open my mouth to boast, I feel a horrible, gut wrenching jolt in my stomach and have to drop the now empty cup in my hand to cover my mouth.

“Ana?” Christian asks, concerned, as my stomach heaves again and I actually have to hold back vomit. I turn away from him and sprint towards the hallway where I know the bathroom is. I don’t think I’m going to make it, the violent heaving is coming more insistently now, and I begin searching for a trash can or even a bowl that I could throw up in should the next lurch of my stomach come before I make it to the toilet.

Thankfully, I am able to hold off until I round the corner into the bathroom, but I’m not even able to close the door behind me before I have to fall to my knees to vomit. The heaving is so violent it’s painful and it comes again and again.

“Stay here,” I hear Christian’s authoritative voice say behind me. “Keep everyone away from the door.”

The door closes and a second later I feel his hand on my back as I, once again, throw up into the toilet. He kneels next to me, rubbing his hand comfortingly over the back of my dress, while I wait to see if I’m going to hurl again.

“Go away,” I whimper. “I don’t want you to see this.”

“Stop it,” He says, softly. I take several more deep breaths, and when I’m confident I’m finished, I reach up and push down on the silver handle before slumping back against the cabinet. My face feels hot from the retching, but as I relax my body, I feel the nausea dissipate. In fact, after a few seconds, I feel perfectly normal again.

“Come,” Christian says, getting to his feet and then reaching down to help me off the floor. “I’ll have Luke bring the car around.”

“No,” I shake my head. “I’m fine. I just don’t think I was ready for that shot.”

“Ana…” He says, hesitantly, but I cut him off before he can insist we leave.

“I want to dance. Come on,” I reach down to grab his hand and pull him from the bathroom. Taylor is standing in front of the door, and I place my hand on his upper arm to nudge him to the side so that Christian and I can pass. We head out to the living room where the music is back into full swing, and I turn around to face him, pushing my body into his and swinging my hips back and forth. He’s still a little reluctant, but when I turn again and press my behind into him, he relents and reaches his hand down for my hips. We sway together for a moment and as I finally begin to feel like the night is back on track, Christian steps back, takes my hand, and simultaneously spins me around and pulls me into him. The movement makes my head spin and, once again, I’m hit hard with a wave of nausea.

I push his hands off of me and make the same beeline for the bathroom. This time though, I’m able to close and lock the door behind me, effectively keeping Christian out, before falling to my knees and emptying what little is left in my stomach. Thankfully, I’m one and done this time and I as get off the floor and rinse out my mouth with water from the sink, I find that, once again, I feel perfectly normal. I don’t understand what’s going on. I’ve barely had anything to drink at all. This has never happened to me. I normally have a borderline amazing constitution for someone my size.

Maybe it was the clams. I think to myself. I’d had shellfish in my pasta tonight and they had tasted a little off. I thought it was the butter sauce but maybe it was bad.

I let out a long sigh as I think about spending the next 24 hours sick with food poisoning, and then slowly turn back for the hallway. When I open the door, I immediately see Christian, leaning against the wall across from the bathroom and looking at me with an I told you so kind of look.

“Can we go home now?” He asks, and I nod. His arms open for me, so I quickly step out of the bathroom, and cling onto him as he places a protective arm over me and leads me through the house. “Should we grab Kate?” He asks.

“You’ll never find her,” I tell him. “Let’s just go.”

He nods, and then follows after Taylor the rest of the way out of the house. The cool night air feels good against my heated cheeks and although I don’t feel the nausea now, I do feel slightly off. I guess this night was just cursed from the beginning and when I’m safely back in the SUV and Taylor pulls away from the curb, I feel the sinking feeling of defeat. No matter how hard I try, it seems as though there is some divine power that is determined to keep my Harvard life, and my life with Christian separate.

When we get home, I immediately go upstairs to change out of my costume and get in the shower so I can wash off the body paint. I look forlornly at the flesh colored streaks that steadily appear all over my body as the paint is washed away, but as I watch the gray colored water swirling down the drain, I feel another wave of vertigo hit and have to double over to throw up again.

“Ana?” Christian calls as he raps his knuckles against the door. “Are you okay in there?”

“Fine,” I reply, wiping a tear from my cheek since the last retch was so powerful it made my eyes water. “Don’t come in here, I’ll be out in a second.”

“Okay,” He says, but I can hear the worry in his voice. After another, calming deep breath I step aside to let the water rinse the bottom of the shower, then hurry and finishing cleaning my body so I can get out and get into bed.

I knew I wasn’t going to want to dry my hair when I got out of the shower, so I had the foresight to not remove the French twist Kate did earlier. When I step out onto the cold bathroom floor and look into the slightly fogged mirror though, I realize that was a mistake. There’s still a lot of paint around my hairline and I look like a mess. I’m able to get most of it off with a damp washcloth but when I start to feel the unease in my stomach again, I give up and make my way out to the bedroom. Christian has made the bed up for me, bringing in extra pillows from the guest room so that I can sit up a little in bed, and he’s left some soda crackers and a couple bottles of blue gatorade on the night stand. My laptop is open on the bed, with my Netflix queue already brought up… In fact, the only thing I’m missing is the handsome billionaire himself.

“Christian?” I call, and seconds later, I hear his footsteps on the stairs and he appears through the doorway.

“What do you need, baby?” He asks.

“Well, I could start with cuddles,” I pout back at him. He smiles at me and then hands me the bottle of Pepto Bismol he’d apparently gone to get from the kitchen. I open the lid and pour a dose into the plastic cup that comes with it, while Christian crosses the room and opens the top drawer of my dresser. He pulls out his gray Harvard t-shirt and tosses it to me, before stripping down to his underwear and crawling into the bed, leaving just enough space for me in the pillowy heaven next to him.

“What do you want to watch?” I ask, pulling the laptop closer to me.

“A thought provoking documentary on the state of the economy and how it ties in with socio-political conditions of the middle class to drive market trends?” He asks, and I smile at him.

Little Miss Marker it is.”

He laughs and leans down to kiss the top of my head, but just after his lips touch my skin, he reaches up and places his hand over my forehead.

“You’re warm,” He notes, and then leans over me to the bedside table where he’s left a thermometer. It reveals I have a low grade fever, so he makes me drink some fluids and then holds me close against him as we start the movie. I only make it about 45 minutes in before I drift off to sleep.

The next morning, I wake up and immediately take an inventory of how I’m feeling. I’m still tired, but it seems as though the nausea has passed. I want to take my temperature again, just to make sure I’m over the worst of whatever this is, but the moment I sit up, I find that the nausea isn’t gone at all and I have to reach over for the small plastic trash can next to the bedside table because there’s no way I can make it to the bathroom before I expel all of the crackers I ate the night before from my stomach. The sound wakes Christian, and, while I want nothing more for him to quietly get up, leave the room, and wait for me to be finished, he turns and wraps his arm around me, brushing his fingers over the skin on my forearm until I stop puking.

“Oh my god,” I groan, feeling absolutely mortified at this point. “Please don’t break up with me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” He says. He gets out of bed and takes the trash can from me, then goes into the bathroom where I hear him rinsing it out in the tub. I sit up, lean against the headboard, and reach for the Pepto still sitting on the nightstand, but as I swallow the dose, I feel the strange feeling of normalcy once again. The nausea has passed as quickly as it came. In fact, I’m a little hungry now.

I pull back the covers and walk over to my dresser to find a pair of yoga pants, but when Christian comes out of the bathroom, he’s less than thrilled to see me up and about.

“Why are you out of bed?” He asks, disapprovingly, and I shrug as I step into my pants.

“I feel fine now,” I tell him. “And, I want some breakfast.”

“I’ll get you something,” He says, “Just lay down.”

“And leave you alone in the kitchen?” I ask, raising a teasing eyebrow at him. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time you cooked?”

He gives me a look that tells me he’s not amused by my joke, but I shrug it off and make my way to the stairs. When I get to the kitchen, I think briefly through the things I know we have, trying to decide what I want to make, but before I make it to the fridge, I feel a strong pair of hands on my waist and then I’m suddenly being lifted into the air.

“Christian!” I giggle, attempting to struggle out of his grip as he moves me onto the kitchen counter.

“Stay put,” He says, seriously. “I’ll make you some toast.”

I cross my arms, but don’t move, and he turns for the cupboard to pull down the bread. He’s very meticulous as he places the bread into the toaster and adjusts the knob to his preferred setting, more so than anyone simply toasting wheat bread has any right to be, but as I watch him finish and then move around the kitchen for butter and jam, I actually think I might be falling even more in love with him. I don’t often get to see the domestic side of Christian Grey, and it’s kind of nice.

“Strawberry or blackberry?” He asks, holding up both jars of jam from the fridge for me to choose.

“Strawberry,” I tell him. He nods, and places the rejected jar back into its place in the door, but before he is able to turn back for the counter, we’re both distracted by a noise on the stairs. Seconds later, Kate, dressed only in an oversized sweatshirt, stumbles into the kitchen, and she’s not alone. Following right behind her, also a little underdressed for polite company and looking slightly hung-over, is Carter Reed.

“Ana! Christian!” Kate exclaims, clearly surprised to see us down here. It’s obvious she was hoping to sneak him out without being caught, which could explain why he hasn’t even put shoes on yet.

“Kavanagh,” Christian greets her curtly. The toast pops out of the toaster, breaking the tension in the room slightly, and Christian crosses back over to me while Kate hurries Carter through the sliding glass door.

“I’ll call you later?” Carter asks, and Kate nods, but pushes him slightly to get him out of the house.

“Sure, sure,” She says.

“I had a great time last night, Kate,” He continues, clearly not affected by Kate’s less than warm demeanor, and he leans over and kisses her softly on the lips before stepping out into the driveway.

“I knew she had someone over here last night, but Reed?” Christian hisses under his breath, buttering the toast in front of him while Kate awkwardly closes the door.  She turns for the refrigerator, pulls out the carton of orange juice, and then moves to pull some Tylenol out of the drawer by the stove.

“Good morning,” She says, looking over at us as she pours her juice. “How’d you sleep?”

“Fine,” I tell her, purposefully directing my attention away and trying to focus on Christian because the atmosphere between the three of us is so tense if feels like it could be cut with a knife, and it makes me uncomfortable.

“Good,” She replies, and then she takes the Tylenol and crosses the room to put the juice away. I almost think this horribly awkward moment is over as she turns to leave, but Christian stops her.

“Isn’t that Elliot’s sweatshirt?” He asks, nodding to the Mariners pullover she’s wearing. Kate looks down, frowns, and then turns an overly confident look back on Christian.

“No, he gave it to me. It’s mine.”

Christian scoffs. “Real fucking classy, Kate.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“How long did you wait after Elliot was gone before you had someone else in your bed? A week? A night? He gave you three fucking years, Kavanagh, and you’re treating it like it was nothing.”

“Excuse me?” She asks, the anger in her voice rising. “Just because I’m trying to move on, doesn’t mean I’m treating my time with Elliot like it was nothing. I wish it would have been different with him, but it’s not. I’m not in a relationship with your brother anymore and if I want to sleep with a guy, who I’ve known for years, I’m perfectly within my rights to do that. Don’t try and paint him as some kind of victim here. You think Ana hasn’t told me about all the bars, and all the stripclubs you’ve been to over the past few weeks with him?”

“He’s not fucking his best friend’s ex-girlfriend though,” Christian snaps back. “He has restraint.”

“So I’m a whore because it was Carter?” Kate asks. “Do you care that I fucked Carter, Ana?”

“No,” I say quickly.

“No,” Kate repeats. “She’s been over him for years, and she only really liked him in the first place because she couldn’t have you. So, why do you care?”

“I would prefer it if you would keep men who have had their tongues down my girlfriend’s throat out of my house,” He says, and Kate lets out a harsh, irritated breath through her nose.

“You’re going to need a new security team then.”

The second the words come out of her mouth, her expression goes slack, her hand flies up to her mouth, and I feel an icy cold shiver work it’s way up my spine.

“What?” Christian asks, turning an angry look on me now.

“I-I…” I hesitate, completely discombobulated as I feel all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

“Nothing,” Kate says, quickly. “It was nothing. I’m just…”

“Shut the fuck up, Kavanagh,” Christian says, turning a murderously angry glare on her, effectively silencing her, and then facing me again. “Anastasia, what is she talking about?”

“I…” I stammer again, unsure of how to say this without making Christian fly off the handle. “It was before we got back together… Before I was even talking to you.”

Christian pushes away from the counter, his hands immediately flying up into his hair as his body starts to tremble with anger.

“Go!” I hiss furiously at Kate, and she gives me an apologetic look before she darts out of the kitchen. I sit there, waiting, watching Christian go through an alarming number of different stages of anger before he finally turns to face me again.

“I asked him point blank,” He says, his voice too low and much too even for my comfort. “He said nothing ever happened between the two of you.”

“It wasn’t his fault,” I say, shaking my head quickly.

“Did you fuck him?”

“No!” I say firmly, vehemently, as I shake my head. “No, I just… I kissed him.” Christian stares back at me, his jaw tight, and his hands balled into fists at his side. I don’t know if he’s waiting for more, or simply too angry to speak, so I start babbling. “I went to a party without telling him and I got really drunk. He came to pick me up, but when we got home, I couldn’t get to bed by myself so he helped me. He was just putting me to bed and I tried to seduce him, but he stopped it. He told me that we could only ever be friends. I swear to you, Christian, that’s all that happened.”

“You tried to seduce him?” He asks, his voice overly quiet again. I stare back at him, unsure of what to say, but it’s him who speaks next. “Did he see you naked?”

“I…” I swallow, and then nod. “I was topless.”

A hard, angry breath breaks through his lips and he immediately steps to the far end of the counter and picks up the keys to my Lexus. It’s not hard to guess where he wants to go right now and since I’ve never really been particularly interested in finding out who would win in a fight between Christian and Luke, I quickly push off the counter and launch myself after him.

“Wait! Chris-” I begin, but the words are cut off as once again, my stomach heaves. Christian stops, the worry breaking through the anger on his face for a brief second as I spin around and throw up into the sink. For the first time since this started, I’m actually thankful when I feel Christian come up behind me and, once I’m finished and I’ve rinsed out the sink, he pulls me into him and takes me back upstairs.

I watch him carefully as I crawl into my bed, waiting for him to turn around and storm out again, but he doesn’t. He closes the door behind him and comes to sit on the side of my bed.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, after several minutes of silence.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asks.

“Because I knew that you’d blame him and it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t want you to fire him, or… worse. I was sad and he stopped me from making a huge mistake. I’m glad he did, because when he said no, that’s when I really knew that nothing was ever going to happen between us. He’s only ever wanted to be my friend and now, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world. But that’s it, Christian. He’s just my friend.”

He sighs and then moves to crawl into the bed next to me so that he can hold me against him. I feel an enormous amount of relief when I reach out to touch him and I don’t feel the tightness in his muscles any longer. I move, trying to cuddle with him in a spooning position, but he reaches around and forces me to turn over so that I’m facing him and his deep gray eyes begin searching mine.

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?” He asks, and, even though I know he’s giving me the opportunity to tell him whether or not I slept with someone else, Luke or otherwise, while we weren’t together, the first thing that pops into my mind when he asks the question is Leila and what almost happened in New York. I stare back and him, chewing on the words that want to come out of my mouth, but that would open a whole new world of trouble. Not just for me, but for Luke and Taylor as well. When Luke talked to Taylor about what had happened, he agreed that telling Christian would mean I’d be forced to come back to Seattle and because I’m so adamant that that doesn’t happen, the two of them have put together a plan and a list of all kinds of restrictive safety precautions which will be presented to me the moment Christian gets on the plane back to Seattle tonight. I know it’s going to feel overbearing but I’ve committed to it if it means I don’t have to back out of the promise I made to my dad, and so now, with Christian staring at me, waiting for an answer, I slowly shake my head.

“No,” I tell him, and instantly a look of relief wipes the residual anxiety away from Christian’s face.

“Good,” He says. I give him a weak smile as he turns me so that we’re cuddling the way

I’d intended to before, but as he expresses chagrin over having to leave later in the evening while I’m still sick, I feel an overpowering sense of guilt for the lie I just told.

Next Chapter

Chapter 07

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After several long lingering moments of our lips pressed together, I roll over on top of him once more, not breaking our kiss, so I can feel his skin against mine. When I do finally pull away and look down into his eyes, the right corner of his mouth ticks up into a sexy, half-smile.

“What are you doing here? What about class and work?” He asks.

“My classes tomorrow were cancelled so, since you were so close, I got someone to cover for me at the library and skipped class this afternoon. I wanted to surprise you.”

“It’s a good surprise,” He replies softly.

“Mmm,” I moan back. “And it’s just the beginning, Grey. Tonight, I plan on being the surprise that keeps giving and giving and giving…” My hand trails down under the covers, brushing the well defined lines of his abs as I reach lower and lower, until my hand closes around him. He moans softly, tilting his pelvis up encouragingly, but just as I begin to move my hand up and down around him, his expression shifts very suddenly and he turns to look at the clock by the bed. When he sees what time it is, his head falls back into the pillow with dismay.

“I have a dinner meeting with a prospective client tonight,” He tells me. “I have to get ready to go.”

“Oh…” I frown. “Right. You’re here on business. Well… I can find something to do while you’re gone. Kate was going to meet up with Ainsley and Eliza and they’ve been wanting to meet me. I’ll call her and see if I can tag along with them until you’re finished.”

“Why don’t you come with me?” He suggests and I raise an eyebrow at him.

“To a business dinner?” I ask. “I don’t know…”

“Why not? We’re going to a five star restaurant close to Times Square. It won’t be exorbitantly long and when we’re finished we could see Wicked at the Gershwin. Just you and me.”

“I don’t really have anything to wear…”

“We can take care of that. There’s a Saks not too far from here, I’ll call ahead and have something ready for you to pick up on the way.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to interfere with business or piss off Ros.”

“Don’t worry about Ros,” He says, rolling his eyes.

“You don’t think it’s all a little too… Pretty Woman-ish?

“You’re my girlfriend, not a prostitute,” He argues. “It’s nothing like Pretty Woman.” He shifts me off of him so that he can roll out of bed, but as pulls his pants back over his hips and re-zips his fly, he pauses and looks down at me. “Although, maybe you shouldn’t order escargot. They made a joke out of that scene in the movie but in real life, that would be mortifying.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about that movie…” I tease him.

“Courtesy of Grace Trevelyan-Grey,” He replies.

“Uh huh,” I say dubiously. “You know, you can admit your love for Julia Roberts movies to me, Christian, I won’t judge you. I’ll even watch Erin Brockovich with you tonight.” He shakes his head with exasperation at the wide, teasing grin that stretches across my face and then leans over to kiss my forehead before turning back for the bathroom.

Thirty minutes later, we’re pulling away from Saks Fifth Avenue and I’m in a brand new, simple, black cocktail dress that looks identical to a billion other dresses in this world but, because of the Monique Lhuillier tags, cost almost two thousand dollars. Christian’s hand is wrapped lightly around mine in the backseat of the SUV but he’s staring pensively out the window at the city. The car is silent, except for the muffled sounds of sirens and traffic around us, and his reticence makes me wonder if he’s worrying about something until we hear a beep from the dash of the rental car that draws both of our attention. Taylor looks down at the screen, pushes a button, and then glances back at us through the rear-view mirror.

“There’s an accident on Madison, sir. Traffic is being re-directed to 5th Ave,” He says.

“Take Park,” Christian replies.

“Yes, sir. That will add several minutes to our commute and we are running late…”

Christian lets out an irritated breath. “Fine, take 5th.”

Taylor nods and then signals for the turn lane while Christian entwines his fingers with mine and tightens his grip on my hand.

“What’s wrong with 5th Avenue?” I ask. He looks over at me, his beautiful face marred with deep frown lines.

“Nothing. I just… I don’t drive past the Empire State Building,” He says quietly.

“Oh…” I bite down on my lip awkwardly as he turns away from me and then squeeze his hand, trying to be reassuring, but as we approach the iconic skyscraper, I feel my own sense of unease. I’d been so anxious to see Christian this weekend, I hadn’t really thought too much about New York, except how I’d hoped this would be the start of new memories. I didn’t really consider how the old ones would change the atmosphere between us. Now, as we approach the Empire State Building and I stare out the window at the sidewalk where I’d once made a panicked decision to run for Penn Station to get away from him, I feel as though the streets around me are suddenly filled with the ghosts of the past. Is that why he’s so quiet? Why he wanted me with him tonight instead of going to meet Kate? I glance at him once more and see that he’s staring down at the floor between his knees, doing his best to remain passive but unable to entirely conceal pain haunting his eyes.

With my free hand, I reach down to unbuckle my seatbelt and then slide into the seat between us.

“What are you doing? Put your seatbelt back on,” He says immediately, but I ignore his protests and put his arm over my shoulder so that I can cuddle into his side.

“We’re almost there. I’m perfectly safe right here,” I tell him.

“You’re not,” He argues, but the force in his voice has disappeared. After a brief moment of hesitation, he sighs, tightens his grip around me, and then rests his head against mine, leaving soft kisses in my hair until we pull up along the curb a few blocks later.

The restaurant we’re going to is inside a hotel, which is very old New York with its high arches and intricate stone architecture. I pause on the sidewalk for a moment, staring up at the details of the building, until Christian wraps his hand around mine and leads me inside.

The restaurant itself has a vintage feel to it, with crisp, white linens on the tables and silk wallpaper covering the walls. Christian gives the maitre’d his name and is told our party has already been seated. He lets out a huff of irritation before he nods and we’re led to a table near the back of the restaurant, where I immediately recognize Ros sitting with two unfamiliar men in sharp, clean suits.

“Ah, here he is,” Ros says, sounding relieved, but when her eyes shift to me, her smile falters a little. “Anastasia, what a surprise.”

“I apologize for being late,” Christian says, ignoring Ros and turning to shake the hands of the men now standing at the table. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. May I introduce you to my girlfriend, Anastasia Steele.”

“Hello,” I say, smiling broadly as I shake each of their hands. They’re both warm to me, which puts me a little more at ease, especially after Ros’s less than enthused reaction, then they each take their seats and pick up their menus.”

“I trust Ms. Bailey has already taken care of your drinks?” Christian asks.

“I don’t have your excellent taste in wine, I’m afraid,” Ros says, as she lowers herself back into her chair. Christian turns to the waiter, mumbles an order, and then pulls out a chair for me. I sit down and prepare myself for what is sure to be a long, boring dinner, but as Christian takes the seat between Ros and I, Ros leans over to him and I’m just able to make out what she says.

“You’re late and you brought your girlfriend with you? This isn’t a vacation, Christian.”

“Later,” He replies, his voice a low warning. I glance over at her and she gives me a tight smile in return.

“I’m sorry,” I mouth at her.

She quickly shakes her head and mouths back, “It’s fine.”

A few minutes later, the waiter returns with a bottle of wine and he fills each of our glasses before taking our orders. I sit back, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible as they begin discussing business, and begin scanning the room. Thankfully, there’s plenty to look at and some interesting people to watch at the tables around us, which helps to pass the time. I reach out for my glass while I covertly stare at a couple canoodling with each other a few tables away, but when I take a drink of the wine, I immediately want to spit it back into my glass.

There’s something off about the taste, like it’s sour or maybe too bitter. The few seconds I hold the liquid in my mouth are pure torture as I try to hold back my gag so that I can swallow. Once I successfully get it down, I reach out for my glass of water, trying to calm the lurching feeling in my stomach that threatens to bring the wine and bread from the table back up, and then glance nervously at the man Christian is talking to as he takes a drink himself. Strangely though, he doesn’t have any adverse reaction to the wine and as he places his glass back on the table, he swallows without complaint. My brow furrows as I pick up my wine, swirl it around in the glass, and then breathe in the aroma. The smell makes my stomach heave again, so I set it back down on the table and lean back in my chair, covering my lips with my fingers while actively trying not to ruin Christian’s meeting by throwing up all over the table.

Unfortunately, I’m not as sneaky about it as I think I am, because each person at the table intermittently glances over at me, but thankfully, the waiter appears with our food in that moment and distracts everyone’s attention.

“Are you okay?” Christian whispers, leaning over and brushing his fingers soothingly over my exposed knee under the table.

“Yeah, fine,” I reply dismissively. “I just don’t really like the wine.”

He frowns. “Do you want me to order you something else? A Riesling maybe?”

Just the word seems to trigger my gag reflex so I quickly shake my head. “I don’t think wine is agreeing with me right now.”

Christian glances up at the waiter as he places my plate in front of me. “Can we have an iced tea, please?” He asks.

“Of course, sir,” The waiter responds, and after checking to make sure we have everything else we need, he leaves the table to replace my drink.

The rest of the dinner goes well, I think. Ros definitely seems to perk up by the end and Christian shakes each of the men’s hands enthusiastically before they step into their town car once we leave.

“And that is how it’s done,” Ros says happily, watching their car drive away.

“I want to get this implementation off the ground as soon as possible,” Christian says, suddenly very serious. “Assemble the team and have Andrea schedule a meeting first thing Monday morning. I want only the best on this: Welch, Simmons, and Connor. Get ahold of the lawyers and have the contracts sent over no later than Wednesday. I’ll need a meeting with finance Monday afternoon. I want the business account set up beforehand so I can immediately allocate funds. This timeline is going to be quick, I want fast turnarounds and no excuses.”

“What about the developers? Welch isn’t going to…” Ros begins, but Christian cuts her off.

“I’ll handle Welch,” He says, a little too sharply. “Just do what I ask and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“If you say so,” Ros says, and she turns to me. “It was lovely to see you tonight, Anastasia. I hope we can get together soon when we can really catch up.”

“Me too,” I reply, stepping forward to hug her goodbye. Apparently, the meeting going well has erased her misgivings about my presence at dinner tonight. Christian steps out into the street to hail a cab, which Ros climbs into, and then comes back to me.

“Are you feeling okay?” He asks, brushing his fingers over my face as he searches my eyes. “Do you still want to go to the Gershwin or should we head back to the hotel?”

“No, I’m fine now,” I tell him. “Are we really just going to be able to show up and get tickets? I thought Wicked was a popular show?”

“I have connections,” He says, with a quick wink. “Come on, we’re going to be late.” He reaches his arm around me and then he leads me through the busy streets to the theater a few blocks away, holding me close against him to shield me from the chilly autumn night.

The next morning, I wake up and blindly reach over to pull myself against Christian, but he isn’t in the bed next to me. I lean up and turn to the bathroom, thinking he might be in the shower, but the bathroom is dark. My body deflates with disappointment and I briefly consider just going back to sleep for a while, and then maybe calling Luke and making him entertain me for the day, but when I turn back around, I see a note on Christian’s pillow.

 

I’m sorry I didn’t wake you, but you looked so peaceful I didn’t have the heart to disturb you. I rearranged my schedule today so that we can leave for Cambridge by 2 o’clock. Please get ahold of Kate and make sure she’s ready to fly out by then. Taylor and Luke are driving your car back to Boston now and will pick us up from the airport. There’s a gym downstairs and a spa, feel free to charge whatever you want to the room.

I love you.

 

I re-read the note three times, and while I’m happy that we’ll be heading home sooner than I anticipated, I am a little disappointed that Luke isn’t here. I was looking forward to walking through the Met this afternoon, and I actually thought he’d enjoy that. Despite the lack of sophistication in most of his interests, he did seem to have a good time at the art museums we’ve visited in Boston a few times. I decide that maybe I’ll ask Kate to join me instead, and since I need to make sure she’s ready to leave when Christian is anyway, I pick up my phone and dial her number.

“Morning, sunshine,” She answers almost immediately.

“How was Whisper?” I ask. “I’m actually surprised you’re up this early. Aren’t you wrecked?”

“I haven’t been to bed, actually.”

“Oh,” I reply, disappointed because I assume she’s probably going to want to come back to the hotel and sleep. “Well, I was going to ask you if you wanted to go to the Met with me this morning since Luke and Taylor are driving the car back to Cambridge right now. Christian wants to fly home by two.”

“Oh… sorry, babe. I’m going shopping with Ainsley and Eliza this morning.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, you want to come? I had to change from what I was wearing last night, so I just left the hotel. We’re getting coffee at this cute little café up the block from you and then we’re going to take Eliza’s town car up to Midtown. We can wait if you want to join us, they’re dying to meet you.”

“I don’t think I can…” I say hesitantly. “Not that I don’t want to, but I don’t have security with me.”

“Ainsley does!” Kate says happily. “Her sister was mugged a few weeks ago so her father hired security for their whole family. We’re perfectly safe, come out with us!”

I bite down on my lip. I have been wanting to meet Kate’s new friends for weeks, but it’s been impossible with my trips to Seattle and their refusal to leave Manhattan. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance…

“Where’s the coffee shop?” I ask.

“Murray and Greenwich.”

So really just around the corner. “Okay,” I agree. “I’ll get dressed and meet you there in twenty.”

“Sounds good! See you soon, Ana!”

I hang up the phone and then scramble out of bed, dialing Christian’s number as I pull clothes out of my suitcase.

“I can’t really talk now, baby…” He answers.

“I know, I just wanted to let you know that I’m going shopping in Midtown with Kate but I’ll be back before two.”

“You don’t have security,” He argues.

“I know, but Ainsley Callaway does.”

“I don’t feel any better about you spending the afternoon with socialites, either,” He says. “I just saw a magazine cover this morning that claimed a bag of cocaine had fallen out of Callaway’s purse on her way into a club last weekend.”

“Well, we can both be sympathetic to false stories printed in magazines…”

“And if it’s not false? I don’t want your name associated with stories like that.”

“We’re just going shopping, Christian. I’ll be on my best behavior and if the paparazzi show up, I’ll grab Kate and we’ll take a cab to the hotel.”

“I know, Ros, I’m coming,” Christian hisses on the other end of the phone. “Alright, if you want to go, then go. Just, stay close to their hired security, and keep away from nightclubs and sex shops this time, please.”

“I’ll do my best. Love you!”

“I love you too, I’ll see you this afternoon.”

It takes a little longer for me to get dressed after I hang up the phone than I intended as Christian’s comment about the paparazzi has reminded me that Ainsley and Eliza are famous for their impeccable fashion sense and I don’t want to be photographed looking frumpy or poorly dressed next to either of them or flawless Kate. Thankfully, I have the Chanel jacket and purse that Christian bought me for my birthday and it adds just enough to my skinny jeans to make it look like I didn’t throw an outfit together out of a suitcase on short notice.

Once I’ve run a brush through my hair and applied some basic make up, I throw on a pair of sunglasses and then head downstairs. I’m running a little bit later than I told Kate, so I thought I would hail a cab, but the streets of the business district of lower Manhattan are congested at 9:30 in the morning and I ultimately decide it’s faster to walk.

When I get to the coffee shop, I find Kate sitting in the corner with two girls, who are both dressed like they’ve just walked off a runway somewhere. I know from previous conversations I’ve had with Kate, and the few magazine stories that I actually remember, that the stick thin girl with platinum hair is Ainsley Callaway and the girl with very full, dark brown hair on her right is Eliza Whitney. Kate looks up and smiles at me, waving her arm excitedly as she gestures me towards the table. Neither Ainsley nor Eliza turn around.

“Ana!” Kate chirps when I reach their table. “I’m so happy you made it, this is Ainsley and Eliza.”

Ainsley looks up at me, giving me an overly sweet smile before getting out of her chair and wrapping me in a limp hug. Eliza on the other hand, is much more reserved.

“It’s so wonderful to finally meet you, Anastasia,” Ainsley says, in a strange baby-talk kind of voice. “Katie has told us so much about you.”

“All good things, I hope,” I smile back at her, and then take the empty seat next to Kate. There’s a hot latte waiting for me and as I take a sip, I shoot Kate a grateful smile.

“So, you’re dating Christian Grey?” Eliza asks.

“Uh… yeah,” I reply, a little taken aback by the immediate question. I’m sure there’s some kind of decorum about getting to know people that we’ve skipped over.

“How long have you been together?” Ainsley asks.

“Off and on for a couple years.”

“How off?” Eliza replies, and I furrow my brow at her. I’ve literally never spoken to this person in my life, and she’s going to start off with when are you going to break up with your boyfriend?

“Lizzie, don’t be rude!” Ainsley exclaims, before turning back to me. “Ignore her, she’s jealous.”

Eliza turns a cold look on her, but rather than get defensive, Ainsley just shrugs. “What? You are. About a year ago, Lizzie tried to corner Grey at a gallery opening on the West Side but he barely said two words to her. It’s become pretty par the course for her. She’s been trying to rope in a billionaire for her very own for some time now, but some girls just aren’t pretty enough, right Lizzie?”

“You’re such a bitch,” Eliza says under her breath and, even though we’re talking about her trying to move in on my boyfriend, listening to Ainsley just opening insult her like that and watching her cheeks flush with humiliation while she takes a drink from her coffee, makes me feel horrible for her.

“If that’s what happened, I don’t think it was personal. Christian’s not like that, he just… I mean, even when we weren’t together, neither one of us were really interested in seeing other people.”

“So he’s like, totally obsessed with you then?’ Ainsley asks, her demeanor brightening again.

“Obsessed is a strong word,” I reply awkwardly. “We love each other.”

“Oh, come on, Anastasia! Own it! When Katie told me you were dating the hottest bachelor on the west coast, I went and read some stories about the two of you, and I saw your Elizabeth Vargas interview. He’s obsessed with you, and why shouldn’t he be? You’re gorgeous!”

Eliza’s jaw tightens and I watch her knuckles turn white as she grips her coffee cup. Kate nudges me a little under the table, so I turn back to Ainsley, who is looking at me expectantly, like she’s actually waiting for me to respond to that after what she just said to her own best friend.

“Thank you?” I reply uncertainly, and she quickly turns to Eliza.

“You hear that, Lizzie? She thinks she’s prettier than you are.”

“I didn’t say that!” I exclaim defensively, but Ainsley simply turns her saccharine smile back on me, ignoring my protest, and changes the subject.

“What do your parents do?” She asks.

“Excuse me?”

“Your parents,” She repeats. “I’ve never heard of a Steele before.”

“You probably wouldn’t have,” I tell her, clearly irritated now. “My father is in the military and my mother is a housewife. Her husband manages a golf course in Savannah.”

Her lips creep slowly creep upwards into an almost vindictive smile. “So you’re no one?”

“She’s not no one,” Kate interjects. “She’s my best friend and one of my favorite people in the world. You would do well to remember that, Ainsley.”

Ainsley looks over at her, but when Kate’s ice cold gaze doesn’t falter under her haughty, superiority, she lifts her fingers to her lips and looks over at me with remorse.

“Oh my god, that came out so rude. I’m so sorry, Anastasia. I didn’t mean like you’re no one, I just meant that like, you didn’t come from money, and that’s incredible. Especially since you go to Harvard with Katie. You must be so smart.”

“Uh huh,” I say, openly disgusted now. I’ve been around privileged little princesses like Ainsley at Harvard enough to know exactly what’s going on here, and it’s like I can taste the power struggle. She’s asserting dominance. Clearly, she’s the authoritarian in her little pack of beautiful rich girls and she wants to make that very clear to me before she invites me in. She tries to hide it behind a sweet, overly girly facade, but this girl is vicious and not only do I want nothing to do with her, I’m not sure I want Kate around her either. But unfortunately, that’s not my choice.

Ainsley winks at me and then places her cup on the table, tossing her long, perfect hair over her shoulder and beaming around at us. “Well girls, 5th Avenue is not going to clean itself out. Let’s get to it.”

Kate and Eliza push their chairs back and slowly get up from the table, but I don’t budge. I’d rather spend an afternoon alone than having Ainsley Callaway metaphorically humping my leg all day.

“Coming, Ana?” Kate asks, but I shake my head.

“I think I’m just going to head back to the hotel,” I tell her. “I’m not really in the mood to shop anymore.”

“You’re sure?” She asks, and I nod.

“Yeah, have fun. And be back by two, please. Christian will freak out if you’re late.”

“I’ll get her back, safe and sound,” Ainsley says. I give her a tight, closed lip smile and then wave good-bye to Kate as they leave the coffee shop, followed by a large man with dark sunglasses I hadn’t noticed standing in the corner behind us. Unfortunately, I’m not actually in a rush to get back to the hotel and sit around, and I briefly consider going to the Met alone, but I know that Christian won’t be happy if he finds out that I wandered around New York all afternoon by myself without security. I take my time to finish my coffee and even linger a while to watch the people passing through the window next to me, but eventually, I have no choice but to get up and gather my things to leave.

I’m just pulling my Chanel jacket over my shoulders when I turn around and immediately feel my stomach drop. A familiar set of bourbon eyes are starting intently at me from across the café. It’s Leila, and she’s not alone. She’s sitting across from a man in a black leather jacket, who has his back to me, but she isn’t looking at him. She’s focused so intently at me that it actually makes a shiver of fear crawl up my spine. What is she doing here?

Immediately, I begin digging in my purse, searching for my phone, but it isn’t there. I look again, shuffling the same things around and even shaking my bag slightly, but I can’t find it. Fuck, did I leave it in the hotel room?

My stomach drops as I remember that I set it on the bedside table after I got off the phone with Kate, but never went back to retrieve it. I don’t have a way to call anyone to come and get me, and suddenly, I find myself wishing I would have left with Kate and her friends. I wish Luke was here with me. I wish Christian, or Taylor, or even Ros would walk through the door and take me safely back to the hotel, but I know that’s not going to happen. I’m alone.

The only thing I can do now is get out of here and get back to the hotel as quickly as possible, so I throw my purse over my shoulder and make a beeline for the door. My eyes are trained on Leila as I make my way out of the cafe and, since she doesn’t move when I do, I almost think I’m overreacting to her being there, until I get to the door and the guy sitting across from her reaches beneath the back collar of his jacket, pulls a black hoodie over his head, and then slowly gets up from the table.

Panic seizes every muscle in my body and as my fight or flight response kicks in, I choose flight and make a run for it. Shoving against the heavy glass door that is hindered by the wind funneling through the tightly packed buildings, I make my way out into the street and walk briskly through the crowded sidewalk towards my hotel. Seconds later, the hooded man from the café appears and he follows after me, his strides longer and quicker than mine. I move faster, actually running now as I try to push through the crowds, but when I turn around to find him again, I see that he’s still keeping pace with me.

Tears prick in my eyes as my mind begins to race with the wild, terrifying nightmares of what could be about to happen, especially since Christian thinks I’m out with Kate and will have no reason to contact me until he comes back later this afternoon and finds that Kate has returned to the hotel without me. What if this stranger grabs me? How far would he get before anyone even realizes I’m gone?

The possibilities make my stomach roil and the tears come faster, blurring my vision, as the fear overcomes me. I round the corner, praying I can just make it one more block to the hotel, that he doesn’t turn the corner after me, that I’m just being paranoid, but the second I turn onto the adjoining street, I suddenly run into something solid, and feel fingers grip tightly around my arms.

“No!” I scream, fighting against the strong hands that now have a hold of me.

“Ana, stop!” A familiar voice commands, and the sound of my name makes me freeze. I turn, look up, and see Luke looking down at me, clearly alarmed, and as I feel the relief of safety wash over me, I break down into tears. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?” He asks.

“I… I think I’m being followed,” I tell him. His head snaps up immediately so that he can scan the sidewalk behind me. I turn too, but I no longer see the man who was behind me. Dozens of people in business suits are moving quickly around us, shouting into their cellphones or hurrying by without giving a second glance to anyone else, but I can no longer see the tell-tale black hood.

“Who?” He asks.

“I…” I hesitate again, scanning the faces around me more insistently. “He was just there. He was behind me. But I don’t see him…”

“What did he look like?”

“Uh, tall. Bulky. He had a black leather jacket and a hoodie.”

Luke reaches down for my hand, holding it tightly as he maneuvers to the corner, keeping me shielded against the building while he peers down the conjoining street. I’m silent, still shaking as my eyes dart between the faces of each person who passes, but after maybe a full minute, Luke turns back to me.

“I don’t see anyone. Ana, you’re shaking. Are you okay?”

“No,” I shake my head.

“Let’s get you back to the hotel,” He says, pulling against my forearm. I go willingly, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from here as possible, to lock myself in my hotel room with Luke sitting right beside me. Even knowing that I’m safe now with my CPO gripping tightly to my arm, I still feel the residual fear of what could have almost just happened, what I’m sure was about to happen, had Luke not miraculously appeared out of nowhere. He was right behind me, he was keeping up with me, he was following me with his eyes. I know it’s not a coincidence that he left when I did, especially since he was with Leila. But where did he go?

When we get to the hotel, Luke leads me straight to the elevator and hits the number for our floor. The doors close and he rounds on me.

“What happened?” He demands.

“I saw Leila,” I tell him, still not fully in control of my breathing. “I was leaving the coffee shop and I saw Leila. She was staring at me, like she knew something was about to happen. I got up to leave and the guy she was sitting with pulled a hood over his head and followed after me. I ran, and he was coming after me, and then I ran into you.” The moment the words come out of my mouth, I suddenly remember that this should have been impossible. There’s a reason I didn’t take Luke to the coffee shop with me this morning, he isn’t supposed to be here. “What are you doing here anyway? Christian said you and Taylor were driving my car back to Cambridge.”

“I knew you wouldn’t stay in the hotel,” He says. “When Grey called us this morning, I thought it was ridiculous that he actually thought you would wait around for him all day, especially since Kate is in town. I asked Taylor if he would be okay taking the car back on his own and he agreed. But, when I came up here to check on you this morning, you were already gone. I found your phone in the bedroom and saw that you’d called Kate, so I called her and she told me she left you at the coffee shop on the corner.”

The elevator doors open and Luke leads me into the hallway and down to the room. I feel immeasurably better once we’re locked inside, but now that the panic has subsided, I don’t know what we do from here.

“Luke, I don’t feel safe with Leila around. I believed her when she said that she was just here for school, but she’s not. She’s following me. I saw her on campus with Christian, then at that party, and now here. She followed me here and I think… after what just happened, I think she wants to hurt me.”

Luke reaches out and pulls me into him, holding me closely against his chest as I continue to shake. “I won’t let her,” He promises. “I’ll look into her. If she’s planning something, I’ll find out what it is and I’ll stop her. I’ll keep you safe, but you have to help me, Ana.”

“How?’

“No more going out on your own,” He says firmly. “I don’t care if you’re going to the coffee shop on the corner, or to class, or to the store to pick up a gallon of milk, you don’t go anywhere alone.”

“Okay,” I agree hurriedly, and honestly after what just happened down on the street, that doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice. I don’t want to be alone. I never want to be in that situation again.

“Good,” He nods, but as he stares down at me, I can see the tension building behind his eyes.

“What?”

“I just… I don’t know what I’m going to say to Grey.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s already uncomfortable having Leila living in the same city as you. If I tell him that we perceive her to be a real threat to your safety, he’s going to try and pull you out of school and bring you back to Seattle.”

“Oh,” I hesitate, and then look away because I know he’s right. I’d honestly expected him to ask me to come home when I’d told him she had moved to Cambridge in the first place. If he knows that she’s following me…

“I can’t leave Harvard,” I argue as I look back up at him. “My dad…”

“I know,” He cuts me off, and then takes a deep breath. “But you said yourself you don’t feel safe. I don’t want to put you at risk, maybe… maybe you should go home.”

I stare back at him, feeling almost a little betrayed by his suggestion, but when the imploring nature of his gaze doesn’t diminish, I let out a defeated sigh and drop my head, covering my face with my hands.

“Ana…” Luke says after a few moments, and when I turn to look up at him again, there are tears in my eyes.

“What did I do to deserve this, Luke?” I ask him. “I’m a good person. I’m nice to people, I do whatever I can to help people when they need me. I worked hard to get into Harvard. I didn’t get in because I’m a legacy or my parents have a lot of money. I sacrificed, my father sacrificed. It means everything to me.”

“I know,” He agrees.

“So why do I have to lose it?” I demand, the tears more insistent now. “What did I do? All I did was fall in love and now it’s like everyone around me is trying to ruin everything I’ve worked so hard for. People fall in love everyday, all over the world, and they don’t have to lose anything. So, why do I?”

“I don’t know, Ana.”

“It’s constant, Luke. Ever since we’ve been back together, it’s just one thing after another. Like the universe is trying to force me to choose between Christian or Harvard. I don’t want to choose. If I choose Harvard, I hurt Christian. If I choose Christian, I hurt my father. If I give up either one, I hurt myself. Why is it like this?”

He moves to sit next to me on the couch, wrapping me in his arms and pulling me into his chest, letting me cry into his shirt while he gently rocks me back and forth.

“I can’t choose, Luke.”

“You don’t have to choose,” He says at last. “I’ll talk to Taylor. We’ll come up with a plan to keep you safe, and to keep you in Cambridge. I don’t know how, but we’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I won’t tell Grey about Leila.”

“You won’t?”

“No. But Ana, you have to help me here. We have to be smart about this. If I don’t tell Grey that I know Leila is a threat, and I keep you here, and then something happens to you…”

“Okay,” I nod, and then I let out a long, breath to try and relieve some of the anxiety of this morning. “I’ll be perfect, I promise.”

“Good,” He says. We’re quiet for another few minutes, while I try and sort through everything that’s happened and attempt to relax the tension still gripping tightly to every muscle in my body. After reading Christian’s note when I woke up, I thought I was going to be bored all day, but that has certainly not been the case. Boredom actually sounds really good right now.

“You’re still shaking,” He tells, me, rubbing his hands comfortingly over my arms. “Why don’t you go lay down for awhile?”

“Yeah,” I agree. “Thanks, Luke.” He nods as I turn and head back for the bedroom. Once I’m inside, I shrug out of my jacket and then climb into the bed, hugging a pillow tightly and taking deep, calming breaths to try and regain my full composure before Christian gets back.

Next Chapter

Chapter 06

Image result for conrad hotel new york

“Are you sure you’ve got it all?” I laugh as Carrick pulls the second suitcase, which he had to buy in order to bring back all of the Harvard gear he bought over the weekend, out of the back of my Lexus.

“I think so, but if you see something in The Crimson Store that I missed, well… Christmas isn’t too far off,” He winks at me and I laugh before pulling him into a tight hug.

“Thank you for coming,” I say for probably the millionth time this weekend. “I’ve loved every second of it.”

“Me too,” He smiles. “I really love you, Ana. You’ve made my son so happy and you’ve done so much for my family, I just don’t know if you realize how much you mean to us. It seems like since the day we met you, Grace and I have prayed that you will one day be apart of our family. I think of you like a daughter and to have you ask me here for Dad’s weekend… it feels really nice to know that you think of me a little like a father.”

“Of course I do,” I reply. “You and Grace have been family to me when I didn’t have anyone else.”

“We’ve tried,” He nods. “I just wish your father could have spent one of these weekends with you.”

“He would have loved it,” I reply, biting down on my lip as I feel the sting of the emotion his words cause to bubble up in my throat. He leans down to kiss my forehead and then sighs and turns around, waiting patiently while Kate says goodbye to her own father. “Ready, Alec?” He asks.

“Almost,” Kate’s dad says, and then he releases Kate and gives me a hug as well. “Come see us the next time you’re in Seattle, Ana. It feels like forever since we’ve had you around.”

“I will, Mr. Kavanagh,” I promise. He places a kiss on my cheek and then takes a few steps, but has to wait as Carrick hugs Kate. When she pulls away, there are tears in her eyes.

“We really miss you, Katie,” Carrick says. “We didn’t think it would end up this way with you and Elliot and it’s been hard, especially for Grace. We love you and we just… we just don’t want you to be a stranger, okay?”

“Okay,” Kate nods. “Give my love to Grace and… and Mia.”

“I will,” He replies, but this time his voice is thick, as though he too is holding back tears. I press my lips together and blink as I turn away, unable to look at the pain between them any longer. It’s been five weeks since Kate and Elliot broke up and it’s been more devastating on everyone than even I anticipated. This is the first weekend since the breakup that I haven’t flown back to Seattle to be with Christian and that’s been really hard on Kate.

The first time I went home, I left Luke behind so that Kate would have someone in the house with her, but Christian wasn’t very happy with that. So, when I left the following weekend, Kate decided to go spend a few days in New York because she felt safer in a hotel surrounded by thousands of people than she did alone in the house on our quiet street. Her first night there, she decided to go out to some club opening to try and get her mind off Elliot for the first time since their breakup, and that’s the night she met Ainsley Callaway and Eliza Whitney, two of New York’s most notorious socialites.

She’s been back to New York every weekend since and every Monday, without fail, she’s plastered all over the tabloids, dancing in nightclubs, falling drunk out of limos, and even changing dresses with Eliza in a back alley for all the photographers to see. She’s completely reverted back to the girl she used to be before she started dating Elliot, maybe even worse, and Christian has twice threatened to kick her out if she doesn’t get her act together, but there’s no way I would let him put my best friend out while she’s clearly in pain. I know that’s what this is, pain. I recognize it. It’s what I did when Christian and I first broke up, though maybe not to the extent she is, and she was always there for me. I’m not going to turn my back on her.

Elliot’s been more inconsistent with the way he’s handled the break-up. I haven’t seen him once in all the times I’ve been to Seattle, he hasn’t come to brunch at his parents’ house even one time, he doesn’t answer my phone calls, and when he does reply to my texts, it’s usually in one word answers. The only person he seems to allow to see him is Christian, and while Christian had told me he was fine, that he’d just buried himself in work to try and keep his mind occupied, I didn’t like the similarities between the way Elliot was handling this and how Christian handled our break up. I said something to Christian about it, so he took Elliot out on the town one night to try and get him out of his rut, and then again a few days later… Soon after that, Kate was showing me paparazzi photos on her phone of Christian and Elliot coming out of a strip club. The fallout from that one took several days for us to work through and when we did, we both agreed that from now on, we’re just going to let Kate and Elliot work this out on their own.

“Ugh,” Kate groans, dashing tears out of her eyes with the back of her hand as we climb back into the car. “Never get close to a guy’s family.”

“Well, my guy’s father just spent Dad’s Weekend with me, so I think I’m past that point,” I tell her.

“Yeah, well lucky for you, you aren’t going to have to deal with the same bullshit from Christian that I did with his brother. I’m trying to move on and having Carrick around hasn’t made that any easier.”

I purse my lips together to keep myself from reacting to her choice of words. She’s in the anger stage of her grief and I have to keep reminding myself of that because each of the snide little remarks she periodically makes about Elliot, which I know she doesn’t even mean, hit me like a punch in the gut.

“Carrick loves you,” I tell her instead. “All the Greys do.”

“I know, and I love them,” She says. “And that’s why it sucks. I haven’t just lost Elliot, I’ve lost my second family. Once we graduate and I don’t live with you anymore, I’ll probably never see them again.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” I try and reassure her, but she just shrugs.

“Maybe at your and Christian’s wedding, I guess,” She says. I take a calming breath and focus on the traffic in front of me, not wanting to drag this conversation out to the point where we’re both, yet again, in tears. Thankfully, she changes the subject. “Have you made up your mind about Halloween yet?”

“Well… yes,” I hesitate. “But you’re not going to like it. Christian’s in New York this week so… he’s coming here next weekend. I’m sorry, Kate, but I can’t go.”

“Ana!” She groans. “You’re with him every weekend!”

“Not this weekend,” I argue, but she just shakes her head.

“But you were with his Dad, not me. I never see you anymore.”

“I live with you, Kate.”

“Barely,” She grumbles as she slumps back into her seat and I shoot a hard, accusatory glare at her. I may leave every weekend, but the fact that we never see each other isn’t all my fault.

“You know, you could skip some of Carter’s parties during the week and hang out with me at home,” I snap.

“Or you could come to Carter’s with me,” She replies, equally as huffy. “You’re 22 and you live like you’re 45.”

“I do not, I just prioritize my time. I have a lot of work to get done during the week and I can’t spend the time I do have getting shit faced with a bunch of frat guys.”

“You didn’t used to be that way,” She says, and I glare at her again, but she’s undeterred. “I made plans for us, plans that you agreed to, and that I’ve been really excited about. I told Ainsley and Eliza they were finally going to get to meet you, I got us on the list at a hot new club, I’ve booked a room in a hotel in the middle of Manhattan… you promised me, Ana.”

“Don’t act like you told me the whole story before you got me to promise you, Kate. You asked me if I would do something with you on Halloween, and I said yes because Halloween is on a Sunday night and I thought I’d be back from Seattle. You didn’t tell me you wanted to go away for the whole weekend.”

“Why would we do something on a Sunday night when we have school the next day?” She asks. “Obviously everything is happening on Saturday, and you know I go to New York every weekend, just like you go to Seattle.”

“Kate…” I begin, but before I can argue anymore, she holds her hands up in a conciliatory gesture and continues.

“Look, Ana. I know you’re in love, and I know you miss Christian, and that you want to spend as much time with him as you can, but with this new bi-coastal lifestyle… you’re wasting your senior year. What do you want to say to Ray when he gets home? That you took full advantage of life at Harvard and appreciated every second that you got to be a student? Or that you wasted your time flying across the country twice a week to visit a guy he doesn’t even know exists?”

“That’s low, Kate,” I reply, glaring at her.

“I don’t mean for it to be,” She says. “And I’m not saying you should stop visiting Christian. I’m happy that you’re in love and finally in a good place with him again. I’m just saying that the every week thing is getting a little ridiculous, this is your chance to be young. You have your entire life to spend with Christian Grey, but you only have seven more months to be a college student. You’re never going to get this time back, and you’re wasting it.”

I feel a deep sinking feeling inside of me as the impact of her words hits me. I’ve thought about these last few months of school almost as a roadblock, something I have to get through to get what I really want, which is to graduate from Harvard and then be with Christian. I haven’t really put much thought into what it will be like when my time apart from Christian is over. I won’t be a Harvard student anymore and that’s been such a huge part of my identity for so long, something I’ve held as my biggest point of pride, I think I might actually be devastated when I graduate.

“Look, I’ll compromise with you,” Kate says. “We don’t have to go to New York next weekend. We can stay in Cambridge and find something to do here. Believe it or not, Carter is having a Halloween party that he has invited me to. Come with me to that, in the coordinating costumes we planned, and you can bring Christian.”

“You think Christian is going to want to go to a party at Carter Reed’s house?” I ask doubtfully.

“He could go home instead…” She replies.

“Kate…”

“Please, Ana,” Kate pouts. “I miss you. I need my best friend right now.”

I let out a long breath and, after an awkward drawn out silence, I nod. “I’ll talk to Christian.”

“Good,” She says, chipper again. “Now, can we please get some food on the way home? I’m starving!”

When we get back to the house, we find Luke on the couch in the living room watching the end of the early game on TV. One of the consequences of Kate now being single and ready to mingle is that I’ve woken up several times in the last few weeks to find strange men in my house. Obviously when Christian found out, to say that he was less than pleased could quite possibly be the understatement of the century, and as a result Luke has basically moved into our guest room. He hasn’t been here all weekend because I needed the extra room for Carrick, but now that Carrick and Mr. Kavanagh are gone, I’m back to being under 24 hour surveillance.

“There you are,” He says, as we walk through the door. “What took you so long? The game’s about to start. Go Cardinals, right?”

I roll my eyes. Luke always roots for whatever team is playing against the Seahawks. “First of all, you shut your mouth, Lucas Sawyer, or I’ll shut it for you, and second of all, I need to make a phone call. I’ll be right down.”

“Yeah, it’s probably a good idea that you call Flynn,” He nods in agreement. “You’ll probably need a long session after the ‘Hawks go dooooown.”

I slap him upside the head and then head for the stairs, taking them two at a time until I get to the top and close myself off in my room. My fingers almost seem to shake a little as I dial Christian’s number. I know he’s not going to like what I’m going to tell him, but Kate’s right… I did promise her Halloween and if she’s willing to compromise for me, I need to do my part to be there for her.

“Hey, baby,” Christian answers. “I was just about to call you. Ros and I are about to take off.”

“Looks like I have a sixth sense,” I joke. “But, I actually did call for a reason. I have a request for you but I don’t think you’re going to like it…”

“What?” He asks, more cautiously now.

“Well, a few weeks ago, Kate asked me if I would dress up with her for Halloween and I agreed because Halloween was on a Sunday and I thought it would be after I got back home from visiting you. What she meant though is that she wanted me to go to New York that weekend with her…”

“I don’t want you around Ainsley Callaway or Eliza Whitney,” He interrupts me. “They’re paparazzi bait and the last thing we need is more media attention.”

“I know, so we came up with a compromise,” I take a breath. “We’re going to stay here next weekend, and we’ll go to Carter Reed’s party instead.” There’s a long pause while I wait for his reaction, but it doesn’t come. He’s silent, and I know that’s not a good sign. “You can come.” I say quickly. “I know you were planning on coming here next weekend and you still can. It’s going to be fun. There will be music, and dancing, and plenty of people who would love to talk to you about…”

“No,” He says before I’ve even finished my sentence, and his outright refusal without any kind of discussion kind of pisses me off a little.

“What do you mean, no?”

“I mean no, Anastasia. I’m not going to a college party.”

“Why? Because college students are so beneath you? I know they’re not nearly as highbrow as the girls you find dancing at Kitten’s Cabaret.

“Stop it, Ana. You know I didn’t mean to end up there and I’ve apologized to you for that.” He says, but my anger has taken over now.

“So, let me get this straight. You ask me to go to one of your boring business parties or charity galas, and I’m just expected to ask what time you need me to be ready, but when I have something I want you to do with me, the answer is just no?”

“You know those are completely different things,” He argues.

“No, I don’t. But I am just a college student who enjoys going to campus parties so I guess it makes sense that I wouldn’t be on your level of sophistication.”

“I’m not doing this with you,” He says. “I said no, I meant no.”

“Well, then I guess don’t bother coming here this weekend because I have plans with my best friend.”

“Ana…”

“No, don’t Ana me. I fly to you every weekend, Christian. I get on a plane every Friday and fly 3000 miles to be with you, and then fly back two days later, and I hate it. I hate being on that plane so much now that I get nauseated when I drive to the airport, but I do it for you because we both agreed that we would put each other first and that is the only way I can get to you. I’m asking you to give me one night so that I can keep a promise to my best friend, who I’ve practically abandoned during a really rough time in her life in order to keep my promises to you, and you won’t even consider doing this one thing for me.”

“And why would I?” He snaps. “What the fuck do I owe Katherine Kavanagh? You want to talk about people going through rough times? What about Elliot? She ended their relationship, not him. She broke my brother’s heart. All of this, this is because of her selfish choices. She can go to hell.”

“Christian Trevelyan-Grey!” I snap, angrily. “You don’t get to talk about my friends like that. Especially not Kate, who has never said a bad word about you in her life.”

“I have to go,” He says, bluntly. “I’m not going to Carter Reed’s house. We can discuss your plans when I get to New York.”

“No discussion needed,” I scoff, and then hang up the phone and throw it angrily down on the bed. I’m fuming as I rip my shirt off to put on a jersey for the game, but I’m so angry that even sitting next to Luke on the couch and watching the Seahawks beat a division rival 22-10 doesn’t put me in a good mood.

“What’s wrong?” Luke finally asks when the Seahawks seal their victory with a 24 yard field goal and I don’t even cheer.

“Nothing,” I grumble, but he raises an eyebrow at me in disbelief so I sigh and begin to vent. “Christian’s being a jerk.”

“So, what else is new?” He laughs, but when I don’t crack a smile and instead turn to glare at him, he adopts a more serious demeanor. “How’s he being a jerk?”

I tell him about Kate and about what Christian said to me on the phone but when I’m finished, he looks back at me like he’s not sure what to say.

“What?” I ask irritably, but still he hesitates for a moment before answering.

“Just so I’m clear, do you want me to be on Kate’s side…?” He asks.

“I want you to tell me what you think.”

“Well, I don’t think he should go to Reed’s party.”

My mouth drops open slightly. “You don’t think he’s being a little bit unreasonable?” I demand.

“No,” Luke says. “Look, he’s not in college, Ana. I mean, you guys are the same age or whatever, but you are afforded a little more leeway than he is because you’re a student. He’s not. A lot of his company’s success is tied to his image, and that took a hit this summer. What if someone gets a picture of him that looks bad or could be taken out of context, like that picture that leaked of you and I at that nightclub last summer? What if someone makes up a story about something he did there that suddenly 30 students, who could be looking for tabloid money, are suddenly willing to collaborate? He has to be careful and I’ve been to some of the parties on this campus… I’ve taken you out of some of the parties on this campus, they don’t always go well.”

I stare back at him, feeling the anger pulse inside of me, and for a brief moment, I think I hate him too because I know he’s right, but I don’t want to admit it. Unfortunately, Luke knows me better than almost anyone else in the world, so when I turn away and scowl at the TV, he knows there’s more that I’m just not willing to say out loud.

“Are you mad at him because you’re the one doing all the traveling?” He asks. “Do you feel like you’re the only one putting in effort?”

“I don’t know,” I reply softly. “Maybe. Mostly, I’m worried…”

“Worried about what?”

“What I’m missing by dedicating every weekend to him. What I’m giving up every time I choose him over whatever is going on here. And then, on the flip side of that, how miserable I would be if I didn’t go to Seattle every week. A weekend at a time is not enough. I miss having him around all the time. So much that even when I’m with him, I miss him, because I know I’m going to have to leave in just a few hours.”

“It’s almost as if…” He pauses and lifts his hand to hold his chin thoughtfully. “Long distance relationships are difficult.”

“I’m not going to talk to you if you’re just going to make fun of me,” I tell him.

“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to make fun of you. Ana, you’ve picked a difficult path and while I think you’ve picked a path that is worth it for you and the one that was really your only option, you have to be honest with yourself about what you want and what it’s going to take for you to be happy, and then find a way to make that happen. Maybe you need one weekend a month home with Kate, maybe you need one night a week where you can go out and enjoy yourself, and maybe you need to quit your job at the library because you don’t need it anymore and quite frankly you don’t have time for it.”

“They need me,” I shake my head.

“They don’t though… not enough for you to be this unhappy. You have too many obligations to too many people, you’re forgetting yourself. Find the compromise that works for you… and for Mr. Grey, because he signs my paychecks.”

I slug him in the arm, but smile at him. I don’t know how he does it but Luke always manages to put things in perspective for me. It’s like he knows how to make the world smaller, more manageable.

“Thanks, Luke,” I say gratefully, and he lifts his arm over my shoulder and pulls me into him.

“Anytime, Banana,” He says. I let out a long breath, now feeling guilty for fighting with Christian earlier, and the feeling only seems to grow stronger as the hours pass. I know he’s flying across the country and I am very well aware how long that flight takes, but by 9:30 that night, I’m so anxious to make up with him that I can’t sit down.

“Ana, will you please knock it off?” Kate gripes at me while I pace back in forth in front of the coffee table. She’s trying to simultaneously finish a research paper she’s been putting off while skimming through a new article sent to her by one of the writers for the Crimson.

“I can’t,” I complain. “He should have landed by now…”

“So call him,” Luke suggests. He leans over to see the TV around me and I’m about to step in his way again on purpose, but suddenly my phone begins vibrating in my hand and when I look down I see Christian’s name flash across the screen.

“Finally,” I say with relief as I dart out of the room to take the call in private. I hesitate for one second, preparing myself for whatever version of Christian is waiting for me on the other end of this call, and then lift the phone to my ear.

“Hi…”

“I’m not wearing a costume,” He says flatly.

“What?”

“To the party,” He clarifies. “I’m not wearing a costume.”

“No,” I agree, relieved that he seems to be as ready to stop fighting as I am. “I was talking to Luke earlier and… I think you’re right. You shouldn’t go. Too many things could go wrong.”

He’s quiet for a moment and then sighs. “No, you’re right.” He says at last. “You’re the one who’s had to sacrifice things so that we could be together and that’s not what I want. I only ever want to give you things, not take them away, and right now I’m taking away part of your Harvard experience. If you need one night to go out with Kate so that you can keep a promise, I suppose I can give that to you. And, I’d rather that be in Cambridge than in New York, even if it is at Reed’s house.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Thank you, Christian,” I tell him.

“But I have conditions.”

“Conditions?”

“Yes,” He says. “The first being that I’m not wearing a costume.”

“Wait…” I hesitate. “You’re coming? But, I thought…”

“Of course I’m coming. You think I want you around Carter Reed while you’re drinking and with only Kate there with you. Someone needs to keep an eye on you.”

“I was going to bring Luke,” I tell him.

“And so will I. Along with Taylor and Ryan.”

“You’re going to bring a full security detail to a Halloween Party?”

“Condition number two,” He says. “Condition number three is no pictures, not even with Kavanagh. The media have gotten enough stories about the two of us off her Facebook account.”

I bite my lip. Kate isn’t going to like that one but he does have a point… both our Hawaiian vacation and my birthday were plastered all over the society pages of the Seattle Times because of pictures I took with Kate. “Okay.” I agree.

“Condition number four is that I want my PR team to approve whatever costume you’re going to be wearing just in case pictures do leak of the two of us online. The last thing I need is for pictures of us out in public with you half naked. I won’t be able to ignore it if the media starts slut shaming you.”

“I’m going as Holly Golightly,” I tell him. “I will hardly look any different than I have at all of those charity things you’ve dragged me to over the past few weeks.”

“Good. Then my last condition is that we make an early appearance, and an early exit. If anything gets even slightly out of hand, we leave. If my security team sees any underage drinking or illegal substances, we leave. If anything seems off, or uncomfortable, we leave. No arguments.”

“Deal,” I tell him.

“Good,” He pauses again. “And, I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t just dismiss you like that.”

“I’m sorry, too. Sometimes I forget that even though you feel like my entire life, our worlds are still very different in some ways.”

“Seven more months,” He says.

“Seven more months,” I agree. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

“First thing,” He agrees.

“Good. Enjoy New York. Go kick the business world’s ass.”

He laughs. “I will. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Bye.”

I hang up the phone and stare down at it wistfully. I’m almost a little discombobulated. I’d expected him to be angry and ready to fight with me, but instead… I got a real life, honest to god, Christian Grey compromise. And I don’t know if it’s the surprise I feel over what just happened or the fact that it seems like we’re finally figuring out how to just be happy with one another, but suddenly, I’m aching for him. He’s in New York, only a few hours away, and somehow, that distance feels harder than the 3000 miles that lie between here and Seattle.

“Luke!” I call, making my way back into the living room. He turns and looks at me over the back of the couch expectantly.

“Yes, my dear?” He asks.

“I need you to arrange something for me, and I need you to find a way to keep it a secret from Christian.”

My classes are cancelled on Friday because of the holiday, and after I find someone to cover for me at the library Thursday night, I decide to skip my afternoon class and make an impromptu and very secretive trip to New York. Kate has decided to come, since she’ll be missing her actual weekend with Ainsley and Eliza, and for once it’s not me who is holding us up.

“It’s a three hour drive to New York, Kate!” Luke calls irritably through the still open sliding glass door. “We don’t have all day.”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” She says, as she scurries outside, pulling a giant suitcase behind her. Luke raises an eyebrow as she passes her luggage to him.

“You know we’re going for two days right?” He asks her.

“I’m going to Whisper with Ainsley and Eliza,” She says. “It’s supposed to be out of this world, but there’s going to be a lot of media there for the opening and I have to look perfect. I know it may come as a surprise, but it takes a lot to look this good.”

Luke presses his lips together as she gestures up and down her body and suppresses a laugh. “Nah, too easy,” He says, shaking his head. She slaps him as I reach up to close the hatchback.

“Okay, okay, let’s go!” I exclaim, waving my hands as I shoo each of them to their side of the car. Luke climbs into the driver’s seat while Kate and I each take our place in the back, and after we spend a few more seconds arguing over having to listen to Luke’s music, we pull out of the driveway and head south.

The car ride feels interminable, definitely a downgrade from the limo ride I took when Christian and I made this same drive almost two years ago, but when we finally cross the bridge into New York, my breath catches in my throat and I immediately push the long drive out of my mind. I haven’t been back to New York since I left Christian standing at the top of the Empire State Building and I’ve forgotten how much I once loved this place. Christian is in New York all the time for business, this is a place we’re going to visit together often. My only hope is that this weekend can be the beginning of new, happier memories, that will replace the old and make this place feel as exciting as it once did.

“Where are we staying?” Kate asks, interrupting my thoughts as we crawl through the traffic headed into lower Manhattan.

“The Conrad Hotel.” He says as he flicks on his blinker to pull over to the curb. I turn to look through the window on the right and see Taylor standing on the sidewalk in front of a tall glass structure with the word CONRAD mounted over the wide front doors. I feel a familiar rush of excitement the moment my eyes fall on him, as his presence is a silent reminder that Christian is here.

“Miss Steele,” He greets me as I step out of the car.

“Hi, Taylor,” I reply. “Is he here?”

“No, Mr. Grey is in a meeting downtown,” He confirms. “But if you’ll step inside with me, I’ll escort you up to his suite and Sawyer and Miss Kavanagh can check into their rooms.”

I nod, waiting while Luke pulls my luggage out of the backseat and hands the suitcase to Taylor, and then follow him through the doors and into an impressive 15 story atrium that feels a little daunting as I stare up into the open space above me.

“This way, Miss Steele,” Taylor directs me, and I have to bite my tongue to stop myself from once again asking him to call me Ana. For the very brief period I had him as my CPO last summer, it seemed like we’d made enough of a breakthrough where he’d be comfortable calling me by my first name. Since he’s been back with Christian though, it’s been nothing but Miss Steele.

I wave over my shoulder to Luke and Kate as I step onto the elevator and Taylor leans over to press the button for the 16th floor. When the doors open again, I follow him down a long hall to the corner room.

“Is Ros in this hotel too?” I ask as he opens the door.

“Yes ma’am. Just down the hall.”

“Oh,” I nod. I step past him into a small living room furnished with a L shaped couch and a desk in front of large windows overlooking the Hudson. It’s immaculate, showing zero signs that anyone is staying here. There is a hallway on the left that leads me into a large stone bathroom, which again looks as though no one has occupied it yet, except for the small black bag of toiletries sitting on the counter.

“The bedroom is through there, Miss Steele,” Taylor tells me. “Would you like me to unpack your bag for you.”

“No!” I say, a little too quickly, and I feel the heat of my blush rush to my cheeks as my mind races through the things tucked securely away inside my suitcase.

“Very well,” He nods, and he hands me my bag. I thank him, and then follow him back out to the living room to see him out. Once I’m alone, I hurry back into the bedroom, throwing my suitcase onto the bed and quickly pulling open the zipper. I have no idea how long it will take for Christian to get back so I have to hurry.

Inside my suitcase, along with my own toiletries and some clothes for the next few days, is one of the pink bags Christian purchased from Agent Provocateur, which I take into the bathroom with me while I take a shower and re-do my hair and make-up. When I’m clean, I reach into the bag and slip on the bra that does great things for my breasts, but leaves little to the imagination. The bondage style underwear is slightly more complicated to get into, and when I turn around to check out my behind in the mirror, I’m almost a little embarrassed by how revealing it is. The thin straps of black fabric that criss cross over my backside somehow seem more explicit than if I was wearing nothing at all.

“Christian’s going to like it,” I whisper aloud to myself, trying to boost my confidence, and then I head back into the bedroom to retrieve a pair of silk thigh high stockings,which make my legs look long, slender, and perfectly smooth.

I’m just securing the straps from my garter belt when I hear the electronic chime of the key card from the other room, followed seconds later by the sound of the door opening and Christian’s voice.

“They signed a fucking contract,” He says. “It’s not my problem they didn’t think about patent rights when they came on board.”

Immediately, I’m gripped with panic. He’s not alone. Taylor knew I was up here, why didn’t he stop him from bringing someone up here?

My head shoots back and forth as I debate the merits of running into the bathroom or crawling into the closet, but when Christian speaks again, I realize he’s answering a question nobody asked. A quick, sly peek through the door reveals that he’s simply on the phone, pacing back and forth through the sitting room, and I relax. Crisis averted.

After taking a calming breath, I climb onto the bed, trying to look seductive, but after listening to Christian’s phone call for five minutes without him coming back into the bedroom, the boredom and impatience make it too difficult to focus. I’m just about to walk out into the living room to jump him myself, when I hear him finally being to come up the hallway.

“I don’t have time, Ros,” He says as he steps into the bathroom. “We’re booked solid for the rest of the week. Dinner tonight, and an early meeting in the morning… Wait. Hang on a second.”

His voice cuts off and suddenly he appears in the doorway of the bathroom. His face is weary, almost alarmed, but when he sees me laying on the bed, that changes immediately.

“I’m going to need to call you back,” He says, his voice almost hoarse. “Something’s come up, push dinner thirty minutes. I’ll meet you at the restaurant.”

He hangs up the phone without another word and lets his hand fall unceremoniously to his side as his eyes rake over me once again. I give him a small, coy smile as I sit up on the bed, resting on my arms so that I’m leaning forward to give him the best view of my bustier-enhanced cleavage.

“Hi,” I whisper, but he doesn’t answer. He continues to stand there, gaping at me, until eventually he lets his phone drop to the floor and he reaches up to tug at his tie. In the next second, he’s across the room, shedding his clothing as he closes the distance between us, and I bite down on my lip as he crawls over me on the bed. With his thumb, he pulls my chin to free my bottom lip and then attacks my mouth his. His tongue is insistent, ruthless as it invades my mouth, and while I moan into him, I reach up and begin to help him pull his clothes from his body.

When he’s naked from the waist up, his belt is lying somewhere on the floor across the room, and his fly is open, his hands begins their greedy exploration of my body. I suck lightly on his tongue while his fingers find my breasts and the nipples completely exposed through the sheer fabric. He pinches it tightly and I gasp, so his mouth moves down to my jawline, his teeth grazing my skin. I can feel his erection pressing into my thigh and immediately, I feel the heat pooling between my legs.

“Christian,” I moan, squirming beneath him. His hands reach down my body, spreading my thighs further open so that he can better position himself between my legs. In one fluid motion, he pulls his erection free from his boxers, pushes my panties to the side, and begins to circle the head of his cock around my clitoris. I only just have time to enjoy the first touch of him before he eases down to my opening and then slams inside of me.

“Holy fuck!” I scream, unprepared for the invasion but simultaneously overcome by the deep satisfaction that comes along with it. It’s so quick, unexpected, but there’s something about the uninhibited need and urgency that is unbelievably hot. He slides backwards and then forces himself into me again, deeper this time and I moan before moving my lips back to his. He reaches under my thigh and lifts my right leg over his shoulder, using it as leverage so he can thrust faster and harder while he buries himself inside of me.

Our tongues tangle together in a desperate kind of way as we try to express the longing we’ve felt for one another while we were apart, the joy we feel being together again, and the lust overpowering us both. I gasp again when his hand reaches into my hair and he tugs harshly at the roots, yanking my head backwards so that he has access to my neck, and I respond by raking my fingernails down his back. He changes his pace, slowing slightly, but making each thrust inside of me sharp and purposeful. This isn’t love making, this is carnal, passionate, fucking. He’s claiming me, and though it’s not what I had anticipated, in this moment, the rough brutality feels so necessary and I want to respond in kind.

I reach into his hair and pull harshly, eliciting a harsh, pain filled breath as I pull him off of me and onto his back. In the next second, I swing my leg over his hip, straddling him. His hands move to my underwear, and he pushes his thumbs through the thin, sheer fabric, shredding it as he breaks through and begins to pull them apart with his hands, leaving my panties hanging off of me in tatters as I slide back down onto his erection. When he’s fully buried inside of me again, I pause for a moment, enjoying the fullness and rocking my hips back and forth, forcing him to reach every part of me before I begin to move up and down. He begins thrusting upward in time with my movements, and soon I’m covered in a thin sheen of sweat and I’m panting from the excruciating pace and the overpowering pleasure.

“Oh god, Christian!” I scream, throwing my head back as my entire body begins to heat. He sits up and buries his face into my cleavage, sucking hard enough on the swell of my breasts that I’m sure I’ll have hickeys tomorrow. I moan and begin tugging at his hair once more, and when I pull a little too hard, he bites me. I yelp, but as he soothes the sting away from his tongue, I’m surprised to find that, just like the times he’s spanked me, the sharp sting of pain actually heightens the pleasure and the heat building inside of me begins growing more and more tangible.

“Yes!” I cry out, “Oh god, I’m going to come!”

Christian’s hands move to my hips and he moves me, pushing me onto my stomach on the bed while he moves behind me and forces my legs open with his knees. I feel him push on my upper back so that my breasts are pressed into the mattress while he simultaneously pulls my hips into the air. A high, keening cry escapes my lips as his hand comes down hard on my ass once, and then he thrusts inside of me again, and begins to move in and out of me. I squeeze around him, desperate to climb back to where I was only moments ago, and it doesn’t take long for me to succeed. His fingers are digging into my hips, pulling me back against him while he dives in and out of me, again and again, and it takes only seconds before heat inside of me begins to boil over and the electric shocks of my orgasm rockets through me.

“Fuck, I’m coming!” I scream, and while I lose myself in the euphoria, I hear his harsh, visceral groan, and then feel the slight ripple of his release inside of me.

When my orgasm finally comes to an end and my body begins to unwind, I relax into the comforter, rolling onto my side as Christian settles down on the bed next to me. He leans forward and presses his lips into mine, tenderly this time. I take my time with this kiss, enjoying it and the juxtaposition of the gentle sweetness with the raw savagery that existed between us only a few moments ago. Eventually though, I pull away and then lean back to look in his eyes, smiling while I appreciate the fact that I have him here, in front of me, again. He reaches up, brushes my hair back from my face, and finally speaks.

“Hi,” He says, and then leans forward to kiss me again.

Next Chapter

Chapter 05

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The next morning, Christian and I have to go to brunch at his parents’ house, and while I’m sitting in the living room helping Mia go over a paper she’s written for her English class, I find myself continually glancing nervously up at the clock. Christian has promised to have me to the airport by noon which means that I’ll land in Boston somewhere around 8:30 EST, but it’s already 10:30 and our meal isn’t even ready yet.The next morning, Christian and I have to go to brunch at his parents’ house, and while I’m sitting in the living room helping Mia go over a paper she’s written for her English class, I find myself continually glancing nervously up at the clock. Christian has promised to have me to the airport by noon, which means that I’ll land in Boston somewhere around 8:30 EST, but it’s already 10:30 and our meal isn’t even ready yet.

“I don’t get semicolons,” Mia pouts as I mark yet another one out of her paper with a red pen.

“Don’t use them,” I tell her. “They’re superfluous and if you can’t use a period or a comma where you want to place your semicolon, then you need to rewrite your sentence. Keep it simple.”

“An English major who doesn’t like semicolons?” Christian interrupts. “How will people know you went to college?”

“I just talk about any J.D. Salinger book that isn’t Catcher in the Rye,” I reply offhandedly. “Are your parents ready for us?” He nods, so I tell Mia to email me her paper and I’ll send the edited version back to her by the end of tonight. She agrees and quickly pulls up her email on her laptop while Christian helps me to my feet.

We head into the kitchen to grab the dishes from the cabinet so we can set the table, and the lack of complaining as we pull plates and glasses from the cabinets makes me realize that we’re missing someone.

“Where’s Elliot?” I ask Christian while I pile forks and knives onto the plates in his hands.

“I don’t know,” He shrugs. “Mom, where’s Elliot?”

Grace turns around from the kitchen sink, frowns, and then looks down at her watch. “That’s weird, he should be here by now. Mia, will you call your brother?”

She nods and pulls her phone out of her back pocket, but only seconds after she’s lifted the phone to her ear, she pulls it away again.

“He sent me to voicemail,” She says.

“Well, he’s probably driving then,” Grace says, but Christian doesn’t look so sure. He takes his own phone out of his pocket and dials Elliot’s number, but when he too gets his voicemail, Christian leaves a message.

“Hey, we’re waiting on you and we don’t have all day. Hurry up,” He says before quickly hanging up the phone. We take the dishes into the dining room and set the table while Grace and Carrick carry food in, but by the time we’ve all sat down, Elliot still hasn’t shown up.

“This is what happens when you let him move out of the house, Mom,” Christian says irritably, but Grace simply purses her lips and glances up at the clock on the wall.

“We’ll wait a few more minutes…” She says. “In the meantime, we can catch up with each other. That’s what brunch is for.”

“How’s Harvard, Ana?” Carrick asks.

“Good,” I smile back at him. “I’ve got a heavy course load this semester, but it’s all interesting so far. I’ve been given a lot more responsibility and control in my work study at the library, we’re moving forward in publishing my book, and, even though Christian thinks our rowing team isn’t up to par, I read this morning that our football team destroyed Holy Cross last night, so it looks like we’re going to have a pretty good season.”

“That’s good, we’ll need it if we’re going to compete with Yale this year.”

“Yeah,” I nod, and then bite my lip. I hadn’t decided yet if I was going to ask him this, but seeing the look of Harvard pride reflected on his face right now makes me think that I should. “I was actually going to talk to you… Dad’s weekend is October 22nd-24th and Bob came last year, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to make it this year. I was wondering if maybe you wanted to come? We’re playing Princeton, it should be a good game.”

“You want me to come spend Dad’s weekend with you?” He asks, and I nod hesitantly.

“I mean, if you can. I know it’s a long trip, and you’re busy, and you’re not really my dad but…”

“Anastasia,” Carrick interrupts me. “I’d absolutely love to come and spend dad’s weekend with you.”

I smile at him, feeling my cheeks heat with embarrassed gratitude, until Christian squeezes my hand under the table.

“So I take it that means you’re not coming home that weekend?” He asks.

“Nope,” I shake my head. “But you can come to Cambridge if you want.”

“Like hell he can,” Carrick argues. “It’s dad’s weekend. He’s not a dad.”

“But he could be…” Grace interjects, and immediately, Christian’s face sours. “I’m just saying,” She continues. “We’re almost through September. Ana’s going to graduate in less than nine months…”

“Not gonna happen, Mom,” Christian cuts her off. “We agreed over the summer that Mia is going to be the one to give you grandchildren and since she can’t date at least until she’s graduated from Juilliard, you’re in for a wait.”

“So this wouldn’t be a good time to tell you I’m pregnant?” Mia asks, and suddenly the room goes quiet and we all turned shocked looks on Christian’s little sister. “I’m kidding.” She says, putting her hands up in the air in front of her. “God, can’t anyone in this family take a joke?”

“Not when they’re not funny,” Carrick says. Mia rolls her eyes and it looks as though Christian is about to tell her just how unfunny he finds teen pregnancy to be, but luckily for Mia, he’s distracted by his phone vibrating on the table.

“Elliot’s not coming,” Christian says after picking up his phone and reading his text.

“What do you mean he’s not coming?” Mia asks. “He’s never missed a free meal before.”

“I don’t know. It just says, ‘I’m not going to make it. I’ll talk to you later’.”

I frown as I look over at the screen on Christian’s phone and read Elliot’s text. Immediately, I wonder if it’s because of Kate since she’s cut herself off a lot this week too. In fact, I don’t think she ever responded to the text I sent her yesterday apologizing for not letting her know when I got to Seattle. The thought makes me want to call and check on her, and I briefly consider excusing myself to do just that, but Carrick begins passing around the dishes full of food for us to begin, so I decide I’ll call her on the way to the airport. It’s already almost 11 and I can’t afford to waste anymore time.

Instead, I turn my focus to Grace’s meal, but it’s hard to shake the empty feeling hovering over us because of Elliot’s absence. Everyone seems to notice, even Mia, who tries to cover her chagrin by pushing her potatoes around her plate. There’s no way to shake the feeling that something is missing, but Grace makes the best of the situation by keeping up constant chatter and encouraging conversation between Carrick and Christian.

“I was thinking after brunch we could go out on the boat,” Carrick suggests. “We haven’t been fishing since Hawaii and the salmon are running right now.”

“I’d love to, Dad,” Christian says regretfully. “But I have to take Ana to the airport. I promised I’d have her on the plane by noon.”

“Oh,” Carrick replies, clearly disappointed.

“You should go,” I chime in. “It’s not like you’re going to miss anything if you don’t watch me get on the plane, and Taylor can drive Luke and I to the airport.”

“You’re sure?” Christian asks, and I nod.

“Of course I’m sure.”

“Okay,” He agrees, and then turns to nod to his father. I send a quick text to Taylor and Luke, and once breakfast is over, Christian takes me upstairs to his old bedroom so that we can say goodbye to each other without his family hovering over us.

“I’m going to miss you,” He says, taking me into his arms and holding me tightly into his chest.

“Me too. A weekend really isn’t long enough.”

“No, it isn’t,” He replies. “You’ll be back next weekend?”

“I promise,” I agree, and he lets out a heavy sigh before leaning down and capturing my lips with his. I kiss him back, reaching up to tangle my fingers in the roots of his already messy hair, and he reaches down for my behind. I moan slightly when he squeezes me and then pulls me into him so that I can feel his rapidly growing erection against my stomach.

“A quickie?” He asks, a slightly challenging look behind the glint in his deep, gray eyes.

I bite down on my lip. “Okay, but we have to be quiet. I think your mom is in her bedroom on the other side of the wall.”

“We’ll tell her we’re making babies,” He jokes, and when I giggle, he grabs me by the waist to toss me on his bed, then leaps after me.

Just over twenty minutes later, Taylor and Luke arrive, and while they move my bags from Christian’s car to the Mercedes SUV, I say a quick good-bye to Grace, Carrick, and Mia.

“Have a safe flight and call us sometimes, please. We miss you too,” Grace says as she pulls me into a tight hug.

“I will,” I promise.

“See you next week, kiddo,” Carrick says, giving me a hug as well.

“You too,” I reply. I lean over to kiss Mia on the cheek before I take Christian’s hand and walk with him out to the car where Luke and Taylor are waiting.

“Call me when you get home,” He says sadly.

“I will. Have fun with your dad.”

He nods and kisses me once more. His hands grip tightly to my arms, and I wonder for a minute if he’s going to refuse to let me go, but eventually, he does and he helps me into the back of the car, shuts me inside, and then stands in the driveway as we pull away and turn onto the street.

By the time we land back in Boston, it’s already dark, and when I see the headlights waiting for us on the tarmac, I feel a wave of relief. Kate didn’t answer the phone when I called her just before we took off, and I’ve been worried she was going to forget to pick us up the entire flight. As we get close enough to see the car though, I realize that I don’t recognize it. I peer through the windshield, wondering if perhaps Kate has called a driving service, but then I recognize the person behind the wheel. It’s Carter Reed.

“Carter?” I ask as the passenger’s side window rolls down.

“Hi, Ana. Kate asked me to come pick you up. I hope that’s okay.”

“Is she sick?” I ask, but when his face falters, I feel a deep, foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach. “It’s fine.” I tell him. “Just give us a second to grab our bags. Could you pop the trunk?”

“Sure,” He replies, and after I’ve helped Luke load everything up, I climb into the front seat and buckle myself in while Carter pulls away from the jet and towards the on-ramp to the freeway.

“Private jet, huh?” He asks. “Not too shabby. I’ve got to admit, I was a little nervous about driving right onto the tarmac, but you drop Grey’s name and you can get anywhere. I wonder where else that works?”

“Hmm,” I hum, disinterestedly. “What’s going on with Kate?”

He frowns again. “I don’t really know, honestly. She called me at like, 2 o’clock in the morning on Friday really freaked out and asked if I could come stay with her until you got back. I said I would but I haven’t really seen much of her all weekend. She’s been locked in her room. She hasn’t even come out to eat.”

“At all?” I ask, shocked, and he shakes his head.

“Nope. The only words I’ve heard from her all weekend are, ‘Will you go pick up Anastasia from the airport at 8:30′. Honestly, if you guys didn’t have NFL Sunday Ticket, I’d be kind of pissed.”

“Well, thank you for coming to get me,” I say sheepishly.

“Oh, no. That’s not what I meant. I’m happy to pick you up, it’s just… I mean, your house is kind of quiet, you know? I’ve spent most of the weekend just doing homework and watching Netflix. It would have been nice if Kate had hung out with me or something.”

“I’m sorry,” I say regretfully. “Thank you for staying with her though. I was worried about leaving her alone. She’s never been good at that since, well, you know what happened a few years ago…”

“I remember,” He says, nodding solemnly.

As we pull onto the freeway, my phone begins buzzing to life with all of the things I’ve missed since we left Seattle, and while I expect the notification on my phone to be a text or a voicemail from Christian, it isn’t. It’s a Google alert.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

TMZ, September 19th 2010: Trouble in Paradise? Anastasia Steele, girlfriend of Seattle billionaire Christian Grey, was photographed boarding Mr. Grey’s private jet alone this afternoon without the handsome mogul even making an appearance to see her off. Sources close to the couple say they’ve been running cold for quite some time now and are definitely headed for a split […]


“Ugh,” I groan, and then toss my phone into the backseat where Luke is sitting. “Will you please disable that Google alert? I think I’ve read enough about what the media has to say about Christian.”

“Okay, Grandma,” He laughs, and when I turn around and give him an indignant look he brings my phone close to his face and scrunches his features together while adopting his best old lady voice. “Now let’s see here, how do I work this newfangled Google contraption?”

“You’re so annoying, Luke,” I laugh, and he smiles at me as he hands me back my phone. Once the laughter dies down though, my mind drifts back to Kate. The closer we get to the house, the more the apprehension inside of me begins to grow. Something is wrong and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to finally get answers as to what’s going on when I get home, but with the nervous fear I’m feeling right now, I’m not sure I want to know.

When we pull up into the alley behind the house, I can see Kate moving around in the kitchen, so I quickly thank Carter for a ride again, then bolt out of the car and through the sliding glass door. She jumps a little when I step into the kitchen, which seems odd as she should have been able to see us pull up through the window, but as I look at her deeply sunken and horribly puffy eyes, I wonder if she’s really aware of anything. She looks dazed.

“Hi, Kate,” I greet her nervously. She turns towards me and tries to smile, but her bottom lip begins to quiver and, in seconds, she breaks down in tears. I cross the floor, hurrying to wrap her in a hug, but the instant I have her in my arms, she almost collapses and I have to hold her weight.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, panicked, but she can’t answer me through her broken breathing. We stand there for what feels like a long time while Luke brings in the bags from the car and then awkwardly disappears into the living room. Before long, she becomes too heavy for me to hold anymore, so I slowly lower us onto the floor and I gently rock her back and forth, running my fingers comfortingly through her hair while I wait for the tears to subside. They don’t, though. Not even an hour later.

Luke eventually heads back to his apartment, locking the house down before leaving the two of us alone, and while I wonder if I’m about to spend the night on the kitchen floor trying to console my clearly devastated best friend, the kitchen phone starts to ring.

“Hold on a second, babe,” I say, as I untangle myself from her and hurry to pick it up. I assume it’s Christian, wondering why I haven’t called him since I landed, but it isn’t.

“Kate, it’s Elliot,” I tell her, but she looks over at me, tears still streaming down her face, and shakes her head.

“I’m-I’m-I’m n-ot here,” She sobs, but as I give her a questioning look, she peels herself off the floor and runs from the kitchen.

“Hey, Elliot,” I answer hesitantly.

“Ana?” He croaks back.

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Can I talk to Kate, please?” He asks, ignoring my question, and I swallow.

“She’s uh… She’s not here right now,” I reply, flinching as even I’m not convinced by my lie.

“Please, Ana,” He begs, and I think I actually hear tears in his voice. “Please, give her the phone. I have to talk to her, please. Please don’t let her shut me out.”

“I-I,” My eyes begin to water and I can feel the sting of impending tears in the back of my throat as I stand there wanting to give him what he’s asking for but knowing I can’t. When I speak again, my voice is barely a whisper. “I can’t, Elliot.”

The phone goes dead without another word and as I place it back on the receiver, I swallow hard to force back the tears. When I’m sure I’m not going to break down crying, I head up the stairs to Kate’s room, opening the door without knocking.

“Why did I just lie to Elliot, Kate?” I ask.

“Because I did it for you for two years,” She replies through her tears.

“What’s going on?”

She looks up at me, taking several deep breaths as she tries to compose herself enough so that she can speak clearly. “We broke up,” She says at last. “It’s over between us. Done. Finished.”

“What?” I breathe. “What happened?”

Her hand shoots up to her mouth as she starts to sob again and I quickly close the bedroom door behind me and move to the bed so that I can hold her once more.

“He didn’t propose,” She says. “I thought he would p-ropose by the end of the summer but he d-d-didn’t. We’ve been together for three years, I’m graduating soon, we bought that house together… I thought he was going to propose.”

“So?” I press her. “You broke up with him just because he didn’t propose to you?”

She shakes her head. “When he didn’t, I didn’t understand why. So, over your birthday weekend, when Christian put us in that hotel, I asked him when he was going to ask me to marry him and he told me that he wasn’t. He doesn’t want to get married- to anyone. He thinks that marriage over complicates things and since he doesn’t want kids, he doesn’t see the point. He doesn’t want kids, Ana. I want to get married, but I think I could have let that go as long as it meant I could be with him forever and that we could have a family. But he’s adamant that he doesn’t want that, and I won’t give up kids. If I know that he’s never going to make me a mom, I can’t waste any more of my life on a relationship that is never going to make me feel fulfilled.”

She starts crying again but all I can do is stare blankly back at her. I don’t know how to respond to that. Clearly, she’s devastated and Elliot is too, and I want them to be together because I know they love each other, but this is a real reason to break up. If Elliot isn’t willing to give her a life that will make her happy, then even staying together now is just postponing the inevitable. They want different things, they aren’t compatible.

“Maybe…” I hesitate, as I once again have to fight off tears. “Maybe he’ll change his mind.”

“And if he doesn’t? If I stay with him for five, ten more years, and he never gives me a child, then what? I’ll resent him, but… it’ll be my fault. He’s made what he wants very clear and this hurts now, but it’ll hurt worse if we don’t cut our losses before we get any deeper into this.”

“How did you… I mean, you’ve been together for three years. You’ve never talked about this before?”

She shakes her head. “No. I don’t know… I didn’t want to bring it up when we were first dating because we lived on opposite sides of the country. I thought I’d scare him off. Then he moved here and it still felt new for a long time because we hadn’t been in the same city before and I guess I just never ended up asking. He’s so dedicated to his family, with everything he did for Christian, I just assumed… But that should have been a clue, I guess. He already has his family.”

“I’m so sorry, Kate,” I tell her, and she sniffs and nods.

“It’s okay, it’s for the best. I’m still in love with him and I think I’m always going to love him. I don’t hate him. I want him to be happy and, once the pain stops, I hope that we’ll be friends. I can’t imagine my life without him. Besides you, he’s… he’s my best friend.”

“I know,” I nod and she devolves into tears again.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, can you please go?” She sobs.

“Are you sure? I could sleep in here, we don’t have to talk…” I offer, but she shakes her head.

“No, I want to be alone.”

“Okay,” I say, sadly. “I love you, Katie.”

“I love you too, Ana,” She says. I lean over and kiss her hair and then slowly back out of the room, closing the door behind me. Once I’m alone in the hallway, her sobbing grows louder as I imagine she starts to fall apart in her bed. The sound feels as though it’s ripping my heart in two because I know exactly what this feels like. I remember, very vividly, after Christian and I broke up not being able to move, or to speak, or to do anything by cry until it hurt so badly I would throw up. The pain of losing someone you truly love is devastating and knowing that my best friend is going through that right now, destroys me.

I shamble back to my room, not knowing if I want to close my door to try and block out the sound of Kate crying or leave it open so that I at least know when it stops. Ultimately, I decide to close it because I still haven’t called Christian. I have to finish my paper tonight and I know that I have a lot of work to do still, but now that I’ve spoken to Kate, I have a million questions bounding around in my head. Christian and I have talked about our future before, about marriage and about kids, but now… I’m not as certain that we’re on the same page as I was before. He’s told me that he wants to marry me someday, but he’s never actually proposed. He’s never even gotten close or dropped any hints that he’s even thinking about it. He asked me to move in with him a week after we started dating and now we’ve been together for four months, an eternity on the Christian Grey timeline, and… nothing. Even today at brunch, Grace made a comment about us having kids and he immediately rebuffed her. Does that mean he never wants them, or that he just doesn’t want them now?

I launch myself across the room and begin digging through the bags Luke has left in my room for my phone, and once I have it, I dial Christian’s number.

“There you are, I was starting to worry,” He answers almost immediately. “Why didn’t you call me when you landed?”

“Do you want to get married?” I blurt out, completely ignoring his question.

“Right now?”

“No, not now. But, you know… someday.”

“What are you… Of course I want to marry you. I’ve been desperate to marry you since I was nineteen years old.” He replies, and while I feel the relief crash over me as I hear his reassurances, some of my earlier worries creep back into my mind, and that comfort wanes slightly.

“Then why haven’t you asked me?” I ask him, and he pauses before answering.

“I was going to. In Hawaii, I was going to. I have the ring, I had the perfect moment, there with you, on the beach… but then you said you wouldn’t stay. You said you wanted to go back to school and I don’t want to spend our entire engagement living on opposite ends of the country from one another. I want to experience it with you. Besides, the more I’ve thought about that night when I almost proposed, the more I’m glad I didn’t.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I… I want to ask your dad for permission to marry you,” He says. “And, I can’t do that until he gets back from Iraq.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I do,” He reaffirms.

I let out a long sigh of relief. “Okay, so we’re going to get married someday. But… what about kids? You said to your mom this morning that you weren’t going to have kids…”

“That’s because if she had her way, I would have impregnated you this afternoon,” He says, dryly. “Wait… you did take your birth control today, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” I say, rolling my eyes at the slight edge of panic in his voice. “But you do want kids?”

“If I’m being completely honest, I don’t know. I never really thought about having children before you and now, when I do think about it… I- I just don’t know. But, if you want to be a mother, Anastasia… I will give you children. I’d like it if we would wait a few years so that we can be married and just enjoy each other and I can be selfish with you, but there isn’t anything in the world I wouldn’t give you, and that includes children.”

“I love you, Christian,” I tell him, feeling my heart swell to the point of bursting as he yet again demonstrates the depth of his love and devotion for me.

“What brought all this on?” He asks, and I have to take a breath before I answer.

“Kate and Elliot broke up,” I tell him.

“What?” He asks.

“Elliot told Kate he wasn’t ever going to marry her or have kids with her and she broke up with him.”

“When?”

“Sometime this weekend, I guess. I don’t know, she’s a mess. It’s kind of hard to talk to her right now. Elliot called and she had me turn him away but, he sounded devastated.”

“I need go over there,” He says quickly.

“Yeah, I think you do,” I agree.

“Finish your homework, Anastasia. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”

“I will,” I assure him. “I love you, Christian.”

“I love you, too. Bye.”

I hang up the phone and take a deep breath, thankful on the one hand that I have someone who loves me so entirely the way Christian does, and then heartbroken on the other as I think about what Kate has lost. So many things are going to change now. It’s always been easy having my best friend dating my boyfriend’s brother. She’s always been there for family gatherings and on holidays. She’s always been right by my side, by Christian’s side, when we’ve gone through hard times. Now, she’s just going to be… absent. She won’t be at the table on Thanksgiving, she won’t open Christmas presents with us, we’ll never spend another Father’s Day together. When we graduate, she’ll leave with her family, and I’ll leave with mine. Those two will never coincide again.

I take a deep breath as I try to push away the sadness ingrained in that thought, and then move across the room to pick up my backpack so that I can continue work on my paper. I set up on my desk, and start reading, thankful that at least the clacking noise of my nails on the keyboard is loud enough to drown out Kate’s strangled sobs still echoing down the hallway.

Next Chapter

Chapter 04

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“Ana, you’re killing me,” Luke says, leaning against the door to my bedroom and staring at me with a look filled with his exasperation. “Do you know what time it is?”

“I know, I know,” I reply, just as irritated as he is. I start digging through my hamper, looking for Christian’s Harvard t-shirt. It’s at the bottom and, since I’ve slept in it almost every night this week, it desperately needs to be washed. I’ll have to do that when I get back to Seattle, or ask Gail to do it. Either way, it has to come. It’s already lost all of it’s Christian smell.

“Tick, tock. Tick tock,” Luke pushes me again, and I turn to glare at him.

“That’s really not helping.”

“No, what would have helped is if you had done this any other night this week so I could have had your bags in the car when I picked you up from school tonight. We were supposed to be on that plane over an hour ago. Who do you think Grey is going to yell at for you being late?”

“I’m sorry, Luke. How was I supposed to know my meeting would go long?” I say irritably. He shakes his head in response, clearly annoyed, but I ignore him.

My toothbrush, shampoo, and all of my other essential toiletries are in the bathroom, and I’m halfway through packing them into a small cosmetics bag when I remember that I have all of this stuff waiting for me at home already. I grit my teeth together as I silently curse myself for wasting more time that I don’t have, and then angrily pick up the birth control and vitamins I take every day and storm back out to the open suitcase laying on my bed.

“Will you please take my backpack down to the car so that I don’t forget it when we leave,” I ask Luke, and he lets out a short huff.

“Is that going to be any time in the next century?”

“Not if you don’t the drop attitude and help me,” I reply, pointedly. He takes a deep breath and moves into the room to pick up my backpack off the floor next to my bed, actually grunting a little in surprise as he feels its weight. I’ve packed it nearly to the point of bursting with everything I need to finish my paper and three classes worth of reading assignments.

He leaves the room, mumbling to himself about women taking forever as he leaves, and while I reach down to zip up my suitcase, I stick my tongue out at him.

Kate is waiting downstairs, flipping through a magazine, and when I drop my suitcase on the floor behind her, she looks up.

“There you are,” She says, and I want to roll my eyes. I get it. I’m late. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” I nod.

She gets up off the couch and grabs both our coats from the hooks by the door and then walks with me through the kitchen and out the back door, where we find Luke waiting next to the open hatchback of the Lexus. Kate and I haven’t talked much since the party on Tuesday. I was honestly surprised when she offered to take Luke and I to the airport this morning, but since I’m undoubtedly going to see Elliot this weekend, I was hoping I’d get the chance to talk to her before I left for Seattle.

“You’re sure you don’t want to come?” I ask Kate as I hand my suitcase to Luke, hoping she’ll change her mind so that I can corner her on the plane.

“No, we don’t have time for anymore packing,” Luke snaps as he slams the trunk closed and makes his way to the passenger’s seat.

“Ignore him, he’s in a bad mood,” I tell her.

“It’s fine,” She says, shaking her head. “I’ve got a ton of work to do this weekend anyway. Having an empty house will actually be good thing.” I deflate a little, because not getting to talk to her isn’t the only concern I have about leaving her on her own all weekend. In general, Kate is still extremely uncomfortable when she’s alone, a lingering effect of the terrifying stalker episode from our freshman year.

“Are you going to be okay?” I reply uncertainty. “Taylor is in Seattle so I can leave Luke here with you if you want.”

Her response is cut off by two, sharp blasts on the horn and Kate raises an eyebrow at me. “A whole weekend with that? A girl’s dream come true.”

I laugh. “I guess I’ll take him then,” She smiles and when we hear the horn once more, we both roll our eyes and climb into the car.

Unfortunately, traffic on the I-90 is fairly heavy and as Kate tries to weave her way through the tightly packed cars as quickly as possible, even I start to feel a little anxious. It’s seven thirty already. I was supposed to be in the air an hour and a half ago. Even if I was in the plane, taking off right now, I wouldn’t land in Seattle until almost 10:30 west coast time, 01:30 my time, which will basically mean I’m going to have to go straight to bed the second I get to Escala, and I’m not taking off right now.

I frown as I realize that all the delays tonight have essentially caused me to lose a night with Christian, and while I slump back into my seat, the music playing on the radio cuts off, and fills the car with the long drawn out ringing tone from my phone.

“It’s Christian,” Kate says, looking down at his name on the digital display in the dash.

“Answer it,” I tell her. She reaches for the button on the steering wheel that connects the bluetooth and, once the ringing stops, I answer.

“Hi, you’re on speaker.”

“Why aren’t you in the air?” He asks immediately. “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?”

“My meeting with Dr. Ralston went long, and it took me longer to pack than I expected, and now we’re stuck in traffic.”

He lets out an exasperated sigh. “How close are you?”

“Ten minutes,” Kate tells him.

“Fine. I’ll call and have them prepare for take off so you can leave the second you board the plane.”

“Thank you,” I tell him. “I’m sorry I’m late. I love you.”

“I love you too. I’ll see you in a few hours,” He says, and even though his words are perfectly pleasant, I can tell he isn’t happy. Especially when the phone clicks off without him even saying goodbye to me.

“I told you,” Luke says, in an airy, superior kind of way. I reach up to the front seat and flick the back of his ear.

Finally, we take the turnoff for the airport and are able to get onto the tarmac without any further delay. Christian’s jet is already roaring with life, the lights on the wings and on the tail blinking impatiently at me. I hardly even have time to give Kate a hug and thank her for dropping us off, before Luke is rushing me forward, carrying all of our bags.

“See you Sunday!” I yell back to Kate as I’m dragged towards the stairs that lead up into the plane.

“Love you, Ana! Fly safe! Text me when you land!” Kate calls after me.

I nod and then make my way up the stairs. Natalia is there waiting for me, smiling as I come through the open door and move down the aisle to the nearest seat.

“The captain is ready to take off,” She tells me, “Should I give him the go ahead?”

“Please,” I nod, and she flashes me another dazzling grin.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Some tea, please. And a blanket.”

She nods again and then turns to head up to the cockpit to give the pilot the green light, and as we begin taxing over the airfield, Luke hands me my backpack so that I can start on some of my reading.

There are a few planes in line ahead of us, so it takes probably another half an hour before we’re in the air, and once we’re at cruising altitude, Natalia sets a cup of hot Twinings in front of me, and hands me one of the plush blankets that are so soft and luxurious, they make me want to forget all about my homework and just cuddle into the seat and take a nap. It’s a long flight, just over 5 ½ hours, and by the time we’re crossing over the great plains of South Dakota, I find myself nodding off.

“Doing okay over there?” Luke asks, looking up from the screen on his laptop, which he’s using to watch some war movie.

“Yeah,” I reply, but even as I speak the word, a deep yawn forces its way out of me and leaves me feeling even more exhausted. I look down at my phone, as the time hasn’t updated from when we left Boston yet, and I groan when I see that it’s midnight because we still have two hours left before we land.

“There’s a bed in the back,” Luke suggests. “Why don’t you go try to sleep?”

“I’m fine,” I reply, shaking my head and trying to focus on my reading again. It’s too difficult though as the bleak, and arduous plot of Les Miserables does little to hold my attention. More than once, I have to go back and read 3 or 4 pages again because I start zoning out and realize I haven’t retained a single word of what I’ve read. I make it another forty minutes before I have to resign to the fact that I’m not going to be able to fight sleep any longer and I have to put the book down and make my way to the bedroom in the back of the plane. The bed is cold, too big for one person, and not nearly as comfortable as it looked before I wedged myself under the too tightly tucked sheets. Still, my head barely hits the pillow before I’m out so cold, not even the jolt of the plane touching down at SeaTac is enough to wake me. I am roused from the blissful darkness of dreamless sleep though when I feel a pair of soft, warm lips press into mine.

“Hey,” Christian’s voice whispers in the darkness. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Mmm,” I hum, as I begin to stretch my tired limbs beneath the blankets. I know I have to get up, but the hour or so of sleep I’ve gotten hasn’t been enough and when I finally do manage to pry my eyes open, it takes a gargantuan amount of effort.

“You sure you don’t just want to sleep here tonight?” I ask Christian, and he lets out a breathy laugh.

“No. Put your arms around me. I’ll carry you to the car.”

I do as he asks, groaning slightly as he pulls me from the bed, and then cuddle against his chest as he takes me out of the plane, down the steps, and into the warm SUV waiting for us on the tarmac. I must sleep the entire way home because it seems like only seconds pass from when Luke closes the door behind me to when Christian is gently nudging me awake again in the parking garage under Escala.

“We’re home,” He says softly. He climbs out of the car on his side, while I move slowly to exit mine. Christian gets to me faster than I’m able to get out of the car and, while I’m vaguely aware of Luke and Taylor taking my bags out of the back of the SUV, everything going on around me seems to take on a dream like quality until the elevator doors open and we’re released into the foyer of our apartment.

For a brief moment, I find clarity as I look around and feel the welcoming sense of home wash over me. It’s been a little over three weeks since I’ve been here and part of me wondered if it would feel strange to be home, but it doesn’t. It feels like I never left. Like I could be coming home from SIP or maybe an exceptionally late dinner with the Greys. Everything is exactly the same except for…

“It smells different,” I mumble sleepily, picking up on notes of something sweet and spicy as we head into the living room.

“Gail put out fall decorations,” Christian says, gesturing to the dining room table and the giant autumnal centerpiece silhouetted in the moonlight through the windows. “This whole apartment has smelled like cinnamon for a week now.”

“I like it,” I mutter in approval.

“I’m glad,” He replies, and I feel his lips press into my hair as he leads me back down the hallway towards our bedroom.

The second I’m through the bedroom door, I begin ripping my clothes off, desperate to be out of my jeans and curled up beneath the plush down comforter on our bed. I try pulling my jeans down my legs as I walk around to my side of the bed, but in my exhausted state, I’m not the most coordinated and I trip and fall in a very dramatic fashion onto the bed.

Christian laughs and crosses over to my side so that he can help remove my jeans and then turn down the bed for me. I settle down into the pillows while he gathers my discarded clothes from the floor to put in the hamper, and by the time he crawls in bed next to me, I’m nearly asleep again.

“I’ve missed you,” He tells me as he wraps his arms around me, but I can only manage a low hum in response. His hand begins to slide up my bare sides, towards my breast, and once his fingers find my nipple, he begins leaving a line of soft, sensual kisses along the curve of my neck.

“I can’t tonight, Christian,” I whisper. “I’m so tired…”

He lets out a long, drawn out breath of disappointment so I reach down and pull on his hand so that his arm wraps tighter around me.

“Hold me,” I mumble. His body shifts so that he’s pressed fully against me, and as I feel him squeeze me, I try to tell him that I love him, but my words are so garbled with sleep I’m not sure what they sound like to him.

The next morning, I’m wide awake at 4 A.M. Christian is wrapped around me, sleeping peacefully, and while I’d like to lay here, enjoying the feel of him against me and eagerly await what will come when he wakes up, I really do have a ton of work to do this weekend and I figure it’s better to get as much done before Christian wakes up as possible.

With as much care as I can manage, I slip out from under Christian’s arm and step onto the cold wood floor. I decide to take a page out of his own book, and slip a pillow into my place so that hopefully he’ll be able to sleep longer without realizing I’m gone. After placing a soft kiss on his hair, I tip toe quietly out of the room, retrieve my backpack from the floor in the foyer, and then make my way up to the office Christian made for me over the summer, where I spend the rest of the morning.

Unfortunately, I thought I’d made good progress on my paper when I’d put it down on Thursday, but when I open my laptop and look down at the page count, I find that that is not the case. A low, frustrated groan escapes from my chest as I begin reading through the last tab I had open and start scribbling notes on the pad of paper next to me. Nearly two hours later, I’ve only just begun work typing the bulk of my paper when Christian knocks softly on the door.

“Come in,” I say distractedly, not looking up from my laptop screen. The door opens and he slips inside, moving around the desk and placing each of his hands on the arms of my office chair so that he can force me to spin around and look at him.

“Good morning,” He says, leaning down to kiss me.

“Good morning,” I reply. “How’d you sleep?”

“Better than I have in weeks. Do you want to go out to breakfast this morning or would you like to cook? Gail’s going to be here this weekend, I could ask her to make something. Or we could go to my mom’s. You choose.”

“Actually, Christian…” I hesitate. “I’m kind of swamped. This paper took more research than I thought and I still have almost 7 pages to write. I really need to focus…”

“Oh,” He replies, slightly taken aback. “Well, I suppose that’s fine. I’m sure I can find something to work on. You’ll come find me when you’re finished?”

“Uh huh,” I agree quickly, reaching up to peck him on the lips once more as I turn back to my laptop. He hovers over me for a minute, and I’m not sure if he’s going to say something to me or is just reading over my shoulder, but eventually, he turns and leaves the room.

The rest of the day is a frustrating cocktail of stress and aggravation as I slowly drudge my way through page after page of this paper while constantly fending of interruptions from Christian. I know he just wants to spend time with me, I know he misses me, I know it’s hard to have me in the apartment but still inaccessible, but I told him this was what I had to do before I came and he said he wanted me here anyway. Now we’re both irritated with each other and it’s bad enough that by the time seven o’clock rolls around, I’m starving, but the last thing in the world I want to do is go downstairs and be cornered by Christian again. Unfortunately, the growling in my stomach becomes so distracting, I realize I’m going to have to bite the bullet and face him if I plan on getting any more work done tonight.

With a sigh, I get out of my seat and head out of my office, feeling like a misbehaving child as I creep down the hallway to see if Christian is in the great room. Part of me is hoping I’m going to luck out and he’ll have locked himself in his office so that I can sneak down to the kitchen without being seen and avoid the fight all together, but when I get to the stairs I can see that that isn’t the case. Like a predatory animal, he’s stalking back and forth in front of the fireplace, talking to someone on the phone.

I take a deep, bracing breath, preparing myself, and then slowly start to descend the stairs, but when I hear what he’s saying on the phone, I pause.

“I don’t give a fuck what they think, Ros, it’s still my company. I’m not just CEO, I’m sole proprietor and I have no problem cutting any one of them loose if they don’t get behind that. No one is irreplaceable.”

He’s quiet for a minute, staring into the orange and pink sunset through the windows, and when he speaks again, it’s a brief, harsh good-bye, and he hangs up the phone.

“Hey,” I call softly to get his attention as I make my way down the rest of the stairs. “What was that? Is everything, okay?”

“It’s fine,” He says shortly. “Are you finished yet?”

“No, I was just…”

“Jesus Christ, Anastasia!” He exclaims, turning away from me and running his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Do you realize that you’re leaving in sixteen hours?”

“I know, and I’m sorry I’ve been busy, but I have to get my homework done.”

“I understand that, but I’ve barely seen you. You were late getting here, you’ve spent the entire day upstairs… I didn’t even get to wake up with you. If you’re not even going to make an effort to spend time with me, why are you here?”

“I told you I didn’t have time to come this weekend, Christian. This idea you have that I’m going to come home every weekend and be able to give you all of my attention is unrealistic. I’m a student and I have responsibilities. I don’t have time to travel across the country twice a week, every week.”

“No, but you have time to go to parties at Carter Reed’s house,” He says coldly.

I blanch. “That was… I didn’t know it was his house, Christian. Kate..”

“I don’t give a fuck whose house it was, Anastasia. I’m not pissed because of Carter Reed, I’m pissed because you spent a whole night out drinking with Kate and then you tell me that you don’t have time to sit down and have fucking dinner with me. You’ve been too busy to show up when you say you’re going to, or to make love with me when you got home. I miss you, Ana. It’s hard having you so far away from me all the time. This whole thing is bringing up a lot of…” He stops, swallows, and then changes direction. “You have to make time for me. We have to make each other a priority. I worked thirteen hour days the week before your birthday so that I could have uninterrupted time with you when we were together. I’m fine if you need a couple of hours to do homework while you’re here, but I’m not fine with you using the little time in the week that I have with you to do things you should have been doing during the week while you were in Cambridge.”

I look away from him, feeling the guilt crash over me as I realize he’s right. I did try to get through the work I had before I came out here, but I also watched American Idol and Grey’s Anatomy with Kate last week. I stayed up late with Luke on Thursday to watch football, I did go to a party, and I spent a lot of time working on my query letter when I should have set more realistic expectation with Dr. Ralston. I’m not used to time begin a commodity, but now that I can see how much wasting my time during the week has hurt the man that I love, I realize how precious it really is.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “You’re right, I was irresponsible. You are my priority, Christian, and I’m going to spend the rest of the time I have here with you.”

“Really?” He asks. I nod.

“Yeah. I can um… I can finish my reading on the flight home and I can pull an all-nighter tomorrow if that’s what it takes to get this paper done. But I’m all yours for the rest of the weekend.”

“Good,” He nods, and he takes the few steps between us to wrap me in his arms and kiss me.

“Can we eat?” I ask, looking up at him. “I think I’m actually dying.”

He laughs. “Do you want to order in?”

“Mmm,” I mumble. “Can we order from that Pad Thai place on the corner that I like? I’ve been craving those spicy noodles ever since I’ve been back in Cambridge.”

“Sure,” He replies, smiling down at me as he reaches into his pocket for his phone so that he can order.

“I’m just gonna go save everything on my computer and then jump in the shower, okay? Fifteen minutes?”

“I’ll be waiting,” He says, and I kiss him once more before darting up the stairs to my office.

After a very rushed shower, I head downstairs to the extremely welcome smell of Thai food filling the living room. I take a seat next to Christian and immediately begin dishing a very generous serving of noodles onto my plate while he responds to something on his phone.

“Is everything okay at GEH?” I ask, remembering his phone call from earlier as I take a welcome bite and turn to look at him.

“It could be… better,” He admits ruefully. “Business is fine, it’s just… internal things. I’ve got it under control. I don’t want you to worry about it.”

“You’re sure?” I check and he nods.

“How was your week?”

“Fine,” I shrug. “Stressful, but fine. Has Elliot said anything to you about what’s going on between him and Kate? I know there’s something wrong, but Kate either brushes it off like it’s nothing or gets mad and shuts me out.”

“No,” He says. “But he has been a little… clingy this week. He’s called me three or four times a day, every day, and he’s been over here every morning to run with me. I thought he just missed Kate but he makes it sound like they’re not talking very much.”

“No, they’re not,” I agree. “And Kate…” I’m about to tell him about what I’d almost witnessed at the party last Tuesday, but I’m not actually sure if that’s a good idea. Christian is Elliot’s brother and if I tell him I thought Kate was maybe thinking of cheating on him, Christian would definitely tell Elliot and it could cause all kinds of trouble for them. I don’t want to make anything worse and so instead of telling him about the almost kiss, I hurry to think of something else. “Kate’s been upset.”

“Well, hopefully they figure it out soon,” Christian says. “I love my brother but he’s driving me crazy.”

He looks up at me, waiting for my response, but the word crazy has reminded me of the other thing I have to tell him.

“Christian…” I begin hesitantly, and he furrows his brow.

“What?” He asks, carefully.

“Do you remember when we were on campus last week and I thought I saw Leila Williams?”

“Yes.”

“I think… I actually did.”

“What do you mean?”

“I saw her again… at that party at Carter Reed’s house.”

He drops his fork. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” I nod. “I talked to her.”

“You talked to her?” He snaps, angry now, and I raise my hand in a conciliatory gesture.

“She cornered me in the kitchen,” I explain. “I asked her what she was doing there and she told me she’s enrolled in Boston University. She lives in Cambridge now.” I watch the muscle in his jaw twitch and his hands ball into fists on the table, so before he can launch into an angry tirade that will probably include me not going back to school, I start on the damage control.

“I don’t think she’s there because of me,” I tell him honestly. “She says she has family in Connecticut and she’s there to study art history. She didn’t seem very concerned with the fact that I was there, she even told me to get over myself when I suggested she was there for me, and… I believe her. Boston University isn’t cheap and it’s not like she has money to be throwing away on college tuition just so she can follow me around.”

He takes a deep breath but his body doesn’t relax. “I don’t like this, Anastasia. I don’t want her anywhere near you.”

“I know, and I told her to stay away from me. Luke knows she’s there, he’ll keep an eye out for her and he’ll protect me. And… I mean, she’s jealous and manipulative, but I don’t think she’d actually hurt me. Even when she was trying to get revenge on you, all she could do was spread lies about you to the media, but Cambridge isn’t like Seattle with the press and stuff. Nobody cares who I am there so she can’t really do anything to me that way either.”

He still doesn’t look pacified but he nods. “I don’t want you going anywhere alone,” He says, firmly. “If you leave the house, I want someone with you at all times.”

“Okay,” I agree. I think he’s being a little overprotective, but since Luke is with me everywhere I go anyway, it’s not a difficult promise to make. He gives me a long, lingering look to let me know that he’s serious, and when I let him know once more that I understand his conditions, he nods and reluctantly moves on.

After dinner, Christian helps me clean the dishes and then suggests we watch one of the black and white movies he’s brought up from my old apartment, but I’ve been sitting all day staring at a screen and I’m kind of in the mood for something a little more interactive.

“What do you say we play a game?” I ask him, and he looks down at me dubiously.

“You’re not going to make me play Monopoly again, are you? Because I swear to god, Ana, if I don’t get to fuck you tonight, I’m going to lose my goddamn mind.”

“I was thinking something much more risque…” I say coyly. “Like, maybe, strip poker?”

“Strip poker?” He asks. “I’m not really much of a poker kind of guy…”

“Good, then I’ll get to see your dick.”

“Oh, baby. We don’t have to play cards for that to become a reality for you,” He says, lowering his voice. He reaches down for the buttons on his trousers, but I stop him.

“We do if you want to get me naked,” I tell him. He pouts and I give him a wide smile as I turn back towards the game room we stocked over the summer. “I’ll get the cards, you prepare yourself to lose.”

“I never lose, Anastasia,” He taunts me.

The game goes fairly well in my favor for the first few hands as Christian was right, he isn’t very good. Once he starts to get the hang of the game though, he also starts winning and soon we’re both sitting at the dining room table, stripped down to our underwear.

“Pair of sixes, ace high,” I say as I lay my cards out on the table, and Christian clicks his tongue.

“I’m sorry, baby. That’s not going to be good enough to beat my three queens.”

I make a face as I stare down at the cards in front of him, then sigh in defeat and reach up for the hooks on my bra.

“Oh no,” He says, shaking his head. “I want your panties.”

“Will I get them back?” I ask, raising an eyebrow at him.

“That depends on how memorable tonight is,” He says. “Take them off.”

I smirk at him and get out of my chair, turning so that my behind is only a foot or so away from him, and then bend over at the waist to give him the perfect view as I slowly drag my panties down my legs.

“Oh, Ana,” He moans. His hands grip firmly onto my ass and he presses his thumbs into my lips to spread me open. I hear the low groan of his chair against the marble floor as he leans forward but, when I feel his breath, I quickly stand up straight before his mouth can touch me.

“What are you doing?” He asks, as I turn and toss my panties into his lap.

“Getting back to the game,” I say innocently. His brow furrows, like he can’t possibly understand how we could go back to something as trivial as playing cards now that I’m sans-panties, and I smirk. When I sit back in my chair, I place my right foot on one of the joints on the legs of the table, and the other on the armrest of his chair, holding them open to give him an unobstructed view. He stares between my legs, the hunger obvious in his eyes.

“Your deal, Christian,” I tell him.

“You win,” He whispers, but his eyes stay transfixed between my legs. The very tip of his tongue brushes the bottom of his top lip and I can tell he’s aching to fall to the floor and devour me, but this little tease has suddenly made the game much more interesting. I’m not ready for it to be over. Slowly, I reach down between my legs and place my fingers over my center, blocking his view, but touching myself does nothing to quench the longing that is blazing like fire in his gaze.

“Fuck, Ana…” He groans, but I shake my head.

“Deal the cards, Christian.”

With a great deal of effort he tears his eyes away from me and starts dealing us each a hand. When I move my hand away from between my legs and reach down to pick mine up, his eyes immediately shift down again, and I click my tongue disapprovingly.

“Focus, Christian,” I tell him, and he lets out an aggravated huff before picking up his own pile of cards. Once we’ve started the hand, I can see the great deal of effort he puts into keeping his eyes off of me, trying to hide the extent of his desire, but his body betrays him. His erection has grown to the point where it’s broken through the hole in the front of his boxers, and every now and then, I catch him reaching down to adjust it.

“How many do you want?” He asks me.

“Just one please,” I say, tossing the two of clubs from my hand face down onto the table. He takes one off the top of the pile and I pick it up, smirking a little as I look down at the king of hearts that gives me two pair. He also takes one card, glances down at it, and then looks up at me expectantly.

“What do you say we make this more interesting?” I ask him, and he raises an intrigued eyebrow at me.

“Go on…”

“If I win this hand, you have to come visit me next. In Cambridge.”

He rolls his eyes. “You have a roommate, Anastasia.”

“What do you call Gail and Taylor?” I ask him.

“Staff,” He replies. “Who live in their own quarters and who I know aren’t listening and won’t walk in on us if I choose to fuck you on my kitchen counter. “

“I’ll send Kate to spend the weekend at Luke’s,” I counter. “Or we could get a hotel. Or we could just do whatever the fuck we want and Kate can deal with it. The point is, if I win, you travel to me. You sit on a plane for 5 ½ hours. You deal with the jet lag.”

He narrows his eyes. “Fine. But if I win, I get to do whatever I want with you tonight. Total. Power. Exchange. For the rest of the night.”

“Kinky fuckery?” I ask, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Oh, yes,” He nods, and I fight the smile tugging at the corner of my lips.

“Deal.”

“Then play your hand, Miss Steele,” He says, nodding to me. I bite down on my bottom lip and slowly lower my cards so that he can see them.

“Kings and Aces,” I say confidently, and his face falls.

“That’s really too bad,” He says, and just as I’m about to begin my victory gloating, he sighs, turns his cards towards me, and I can see that he has a full house. “I’d really have liked to have more time to plan tonight.”

I mash my lips together indignantly and then reach forward with my leg to nudge him with the ball of my foot, but he grabs onto my ankle and lifts my leg so that he can lavish his tongue around my toe. I let my head fall backwards as I enjoy the feeling until he stops suddenly.

“Get on your knees, Anastasia,” He commands and, because he’s won fair and square and I’ve agreed to the terms, I have no choice but to comply.

I slide out of the chair, folding up the sweater I was wearing to put under my knees, and then settle down on the floor. Once I’m comfortable, I look up at him expectantly.

“Suck my cock,” He tells me.

I reach forward to help him remove his boxers and then grip him firmly by the base of his erection while I slowly lower my mouth onto him. He lets me set my own pace for a moment, and besides leaning forward once to unsnap my bra and pull it down my shoulders, he mostly just sits back and enjoys the feeling of my lips and tongue moving around him. After a while though, he stops me very suddenly by pulling me back.

“Wrap those beautiful breasts around me,” He says, reaching down to hold his erection straight up. I look at him confused for a moment, unsure of what he means. “Push them together and move them down around my cock,” He clarifies. “I’m want to fuck them”

I do as he asks, pressing my breasts together and then leaning over his lap so that he can slide his erection between them. He moans as he begins to move, and so, holding pressure around him, I begin to slide my breasts up and down over him. Soon he’s really thrusting upward, matching my pace, and I’m surprised by how turned on I am by this.

“Fuck, that looks so good,” He says, his eyes blazing down at me. “Stick your tongue out, lick the tip of my cock. Oh, Ana…”

I do as he asks and look up at him, not concealing how much I’m actually enjoying this, and just as his ab muscles begin to clinch, signaling that he’s getting close, he reaches down and pulls me off the floor.

“Get on the table,” He tells me, brushing the cards to the floor with his arm. I do, placing my knees close to the edge of the table while he bends down behind me to pick something up off the floor. “Bend over and give me your hands.”

This is difficult as I have to lower my chest and head all the way down on the table before I can reach my hands behind my back. He grabs onto them, holding them both with one hand while he wraps fabric around my wrists to bind them together. I’m slightly confused because he wasn’t wearing a tie or anything else I would imagine he could use to restrain me, but when I look back, I can see the deep purple lace from my panties resting on my fingers.

“Is that okay?” He asks, tugging on the thin fabric to test whether or not he’s tied it too tightly.

“Yes,” I respond, and I’m immediately met with a harsh slap on my ass. I moan as I’m reminded how much I really love it when he spanks me, and he does it again.

“Yes, what?” He asks.

“Yes, sir.”

“Mmm,” He moans. I hear the scraping of the chair on the floor behind me and once he’s settled down in the chair, he grips tightly to each of my hips and then brings his mouth to my now aching core. I let out a ragged breath as I feel his tongue make contact with my clitoris, and just as my thighs begin to tremble, he pulls away and slaps me hard on the ass again.

“What was that for?” I ask indignantly.

“My pleasure,” He responds, and then he does it again. I feel the muscles deep inside of me clench as he hits me a third time and a shiver rocks over my body. “You like that, don’t you, Anastasia?”

“Yes, Sir,” I breathe. He hits me twice more, harder each time and while the first slap sends a jolt of pleasure through me, the second rocks me forward a little too violently, and my face slams into the table.

“Ah! Yellow!” I cry out and immediately, he stops.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” He asks, his voice suddenly alarmed.

“No, not really,” I assure him. “But my face isn’t attached to the table, Christian.”

“Sorry,” He says, but as he reaches up to untie my hands, I move them away from him.

“I didn’t say red,” I protest. “I don’t want you to stop.”

“Let’s get you on the floor then,” He says, after a moment’s hesitation. He grips me by the hips, holding me up as he guides me to the ground, and once he has me laid over the table again, his hand reaches down between my legs.

“Oh, yesssss,” I hiss as I feel his long finger sink into me. He adds another, using it to stretch me and then search for the place inside me that is guaranteed to have me unraveling in his hands. The moment he finds it, my muscles tighten and he lets out a low, pleasure laced groan while he begins tracing slow circles inside of me. Soon, I’m panting, squirming desperately over the unrelenting surface of the table, and he begins thrusting his fingers into me harder.

“Are you going to come, Anastasia?” He asks.

“Yes, Sir,” I mewl. “So close…”

“Look back at me,” He commands. “I want you to look at me while I make you come. Your orgasms are for me tonight, Anastasia. Your pleasure is mine.”

I do as he asks, and the moment I see the possessive heat burning in his steely eyes, the dam breaks and I come, hard, around his fingers.

“Christian!” I scream. “Oh, fuck! Christian!”

“That’s it, baby,” He encourages me. His pace doesn’t falter and it has me flying. I’m gasping, writhing uninhibitedly over the table, and before I come fully down, he removes his fingers and then slams inside of me, invigorating the fire again. He’s relentless, savage almost, as each hard thrust is accompanied with the harsh, high grating sound of the table moving over the marble floor. He grabs ahold of my still tied wrists, using them for leverage as he ravages me, and as wild, and passionate, and unencumbered as this is, I find myself somehow wanting more. I want his hands to hold me tighter, his thrusts to take me harder, and while I know that if he did, he would probably hurt me, I almost don’t care. There’s a trust between us now that allows me to lose myself in the darkness of the kink with him. I know he would never intentionally hurt me. He won’t even punish me, something he made clear the last time we explored this kind of sex together. This about fantasy and the pure unadulterated sexual gratification we both get from mixing pain with pleasure and from my complete surrender to his desires and expert touch.

“Oh, fuck! Yes!” I scream as he slaps me again. “Harder, Christian!” His hand massages the part of my ass where he’s hit me, soothing away the sting before he spanks me again, and when his hand pulls away and comes down hard on my ass once more, the tight ball of concentrated pleasure deep inside of me shatters and sends shockwaves through every part of my body.

“Fuck! Ana!” He growls. “You’re going to make me come.”

I whimper and the second the tremors of my orgasm cease, he pulls out of me and quickly yanks the knot in my panties loose so that my hands are freed.

“On your knees,” He commands me, and I hurriedly turn around and lower myself down onto the ground in front of him again. He’s stroking his cock, his face screwed up in concentration, and for a moment I think he wants to come in my mouth, so I lean forward to wrap my lips around him, but he stops me.

“Lean your head back,” He tells me. “Hold your breasts together.” I give him a strange look but do as he asks and a few seconds later I feel hot, wet liquid dripping down over my breasts, accompanied by his low, satisfied groan. His body shudders slightly as he comes down, but when he’s finished, he reaches out for my hand to help me to my feet and then pulls me into him. His lips come down on mine and I’m a little surprised by the gentility of the kiss. He’s been so rough and because I promised TPE for the rest of the night, I expected his kiss to continue that, for his lips to be hard and possessive as he claimed me with his mouth, but instead I’m met with sweet and loving tenderness. It almost knocks me off balance. I’m still reeling from the mindblowing, animalistic sex, and here he is, doing a complete 180 on me.

“Let’s go get you cleaned up,” He whispers softly against my lips. “Then you can pick a movie for us to watch in bed together.”

“I get to pick the movie?” I ask, surprised. “What happened to total power exchange?”

He chuckles. “I’m ordering you to pick a movie so that I can hold you in our bed for the rest of the night. That’s really what I want.”

“Your wish,” I reply with a smile.

“I love you, Anastasia,”

“I love you too, Christian,” I tell him, and he kisses me once more before taking my hand and leading me back towards our bedroom.

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