I groan as the alarm on my phone pulls me out of the last dregs of sleep. It’s Monday, spring break is over and it’s back to reality. Not that it was much of a break… I’ve been killing myself for months trying to finish my first full manuscript, but the days when the words flowed from me as freely as a faucet turned all the way to high are over, and it’s been weeks since I’ve made any progress. The truth is, I don’t know how the story ends… because I’m still living it.
I sit up and push my laptop across the mattress. I really need to stop trying to work at bedtime. I’ve turned into a fairly restless sleeper and one day, I’m going to wake up and find my laptop on the ground broken into smithereens.
My phone is still vibrating furiously on my bedside table, so I reach over to turn off my alarm, and the moment I do, I see a Google notification flash across the screen.
Google Alert: Christian Grey
Seattle Times, March 22nd 2010: ABA Recipient Announced. Grey Enterprises Holdings CEO, Christian Grey, is to be honored as Executive of the Year at the 8th Annual American Business Awards ceremony taking place in New York on April 2nd for his outstanding work with […]
Of course he is.
It’s been nearly two years since I broke up with Christian Grey, and yet, he’s still as big a presence in my life as ever. Maybe it’s because I spend every day with his brother Elliot, or because I’m still living in the house we picked out together when we were happy, or maybe… it’s because, for all my talk, I still can’t let him go. Something clearly demonstrated by the Google Alert still open on my phone.
I clear the notification and scramble out of bed to get dressed to go to the gym with Kate. In the very beginning of my P.C. (Post Christian) days, I’d taken up running as a way to clear my mind and work out some of the physical anxiety caused by his absence. I hated it at first but now, I can’t go a day without it. I’ve officially turned into one of those “gym people” that I used to hate.
“Good morning, Ana,” Kate greets me cheerfully when I get to the kitchen. “Did you make any progress last night?”
“No,” I reply solemnly as I grab everything I need to make a bowl of cereal and drag it to the kitchen table with me. It’s not unlike Kate, sleuth reporter extraordinaire, to know about my writer’s block, even though I haven’t really talked to her about it.
“You’ll get it,” She reassures me.
Kate is much better about breakfast than I am, but that is also probably because she takes it upon herself to make breakfast for her boyfriend as well. After he graduated from MIT last year, Elliot got a job as an engineering consultant at a large company in Boston. He hates it because he doesn’t get to actually design or build anything, but unless he wants to find a job somewhere else and leave Kate behind in Cambridge for her senior year at Harvard next year, he’s stuck. I think she feels bad about it because lately, she’s done everything she can to make things easier for him.
There’s been a pretty drastic change in Elliot’s personality over the last two years. He’s not as jovial as he once was and I’m not sure if he’s just growing up, or struggling with hating his job, or worse, becoming hardened from being stuck in the middle of one of the worst family feuds since the Montagues and the Capulets, his father on one side, and his brother on the other.
Kate sets a plate of toast, bacon, and a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table. Once she has her own plate filled, she takes the seat next to me, but the second she sits down, the phone hanging on the wall by the fridge begins to ring. Kate groans.
“I’ll give you a hundred dollars to answer that,” She pleads, but I narrow my eyes at her.
“Fat chance,” I reply. She sighs and drags her feet to the phone.
“Hello?” She answers. “Hi, Christian. Nope, you just missed her. No, I don’t know when Ana’s going to be back but I can tell her that you called.”
Elliot comes into the kitchen then, picking up a piece of toast off the table and turning to look curiously at Kate.
“Is that Christian?” He asks, and I nod as I take a bite of cereal. Of course it’s Christian. It’s always Christian. Elliot turns back to Kate and motions for the phone.
“Hey, Christian…” She says. “Elliot wants to talk to you, hold on for a second, okay?”
“What’s up, Christian? How’s the world of mergers and acquisitions?” Elliot asks as he takes the phone from her. “Oh, well that sounds… boring as shit, actually. Hey, are you really going to this thing this weekend? Really? ‘Cause if I take Friday off work and fly all the way out to Seattle and you’re not there, I’m going to be fucking pissed. Alright… well, I’ll see you this weekend, I guess. Laters, bro.”
“What was that?” Kate asks when Elliot hangs up the phone.
“I need you to skip class on Friday, is that okay?”
“I guess, but how come?”
“It’s my mom’s birthday and when Dad asked her what she wanted to do, she said all she wanted was a dinner with the family. The entire family.”
“Wait, all of you?” I ask, dropping my spoon in surprise. Elliot shrugs.
“My mom doesn’t hate, Christian. She wants to see him. She misses him and so does Mia.”
“But, your dad…” Kate hesitates. “He and Christian are going to be in the same room together?”
“Looks like it,” Elliot says, and Kate gives me an uneasy sideways glance.
I know that Carrick hasn’t seen or spoken to Christian since the trial almost two years ago. He took what happened that day really hard, so much so that he nearly lost his license to practice law after he’d had a break down in court defending a man who’d been accused of kidnapping and murdering a seventeen year old girl a few months later. Shortly after that, he sold his practice and went to work for the Washington state prosecutor’s office for a while, until he eventually settled at a small general practice firm where he now mostly represents clients going through divorces, bankruptcy, or who have committed misdemeanor crimes. Elliot doesn’t think he has the same sense of satisfaction in his work anymore and is maybe even thinking of retirement. It’s added fuel to the fire between Carrick and Christian, and now the more success Christian finds in the business world, the more unlikely it seems that Carrick will ever forgive his son.
“Look,” Elliot begins. “It’ll be fine. Dad will sit on one side of the table, Christian will sit on the other, they won’t talk to each other all night, it’ll be awkward as fuck, and then Christian will leave. Honestly I’m getting really fucking tired of all this shit. It’s been two years, everyone needs to get the fuck over it. Shutting him out or letting him cut himself off from us isn’t helping anything. He needs us all now more than ever.”
I blanch and Elliot looks at me regretfully. “Um… well, it’s different for you, Ana. I mean, I get it. He lied to you, and you can’t trust him, and all that is fine, but he’s family to us, you know? I mean, it’s not like my Dad can shut him out forever. For you…”
“It’s fine, Elliot,” I tell him, and then turn to Kate. “Look, I have to finish some things up on campus before class today so if we’re going to go to the gym, we need to leave.”
“Okay,” She says, taking a long drink of orange juice and getting up from the table. I gather all the things I’m going to need today, including a change of clothes for after the gym, wish Elliot a good day at work, and head out the back door to Kate’s Mercedes.
After a long, sweaty run, I take a shower and head out to grab some coffee before class. When I get to the coffee house, I run into my friend Luke Sawyer, who I met at the beginning of my sophomore year. He was hired as part of the security initiative put into place over that summer in response to Kate’s stalker incident the year before. A few days after school started, he had walked me back from the library to Kate’s car, which I had borrowed so I could stay on campus later. I liked him instantly. He was funny and had some great stories. After that, I saw him a few more times on campus and, eventually, we became friends. Now, besides Kate and Elliot, he’s probably the best friend I have at Harvard. He’s a little older than me, but only by a few years. It’s nice though, he’s mature.
“Hey, Ana,” He greets me. “Just getting back from the gym?”
“Yeah, and I’m running a little bit behind this morning,” I tell him as try and balance the books in my arms with the coffee the barista hands me.
“Here,” He says, taking the books out of my hands and chuckling. “Why don’t I walk you to class?”
“My hero,” I say gratefully, and he rolls his eyes.
“It’s literally my job,” He laughs, then he opens the door for me and we set off towards the English building.
Courses are much different now than they were my freshman and sophomore years. I only have one lecture class, Representation of Race in Post War American and British Fiction, and the rest of my classes are more directed study. My favorite is my Advanced Fiction Writing course, not only because it gives me time to work on my impossible manuscript, but because it gives me a chance to get insight from Dr. Thomas Ralston, who is not only the head of the English Department here at Harvard, but who has also written dozens of books that have changed my outlook on countless things. He’s the reason my focus has shifted from literature to writing.
I take my regular seat at the front of the class and wait eagerly for Dr. Ralston to begin. He starts the class with his usual Q & A session where students can ask his advice for where they are in their own writing or questions about writing in general. I always take accurate notes, transcribing every word he says verbatim, and it’s helped me on more than one occasion. When the Q & A session is over and he gives us a thought to ponder for the day, he turns the class over to us, allowing us time to work on whatever writing project we have going.
I open my laptop and stare down at the last sentence I was able to type out on my manuscript, which was written nearly six weeks ago. It’s frustrating not being able to move forward from here, but I can’t figure out how the characters will realistically overcome the obstacles I’ve given them. Everything seems so insurmountable, but the idea of not giving them relief or resolution in the end is just too much for me to handle. I’ve lived this life with them for almost a year now, it would break my heart to leave them wounded.
By the end of class, no progress has been made. I morosely place my laptop back in my bag and as I do, I’m approached by Dr. Ralston.
“Anastasia, do you have a minute to spare after class? I’ve finished reviewing the draft you submitted and I’d like to talk to you about it in my office.”
“Sure,” I tell him, standing eagerly and following him out of the classroom. He leads me up a flight of rickety stairs at the end of the hall and opens the door to his office for me. I take a seat across from him at his desk and wait anxiously for him to begin.
“How’re things going, Anastasia?” He asks.
“Slowly… I’m having trouble with the ending.”
“Well, I have to say that I’m very impressed by what I’ve read so far. Mental illness is an extraordinarily difficult topic to explore in fiction and you’ve done it beautifully. Your depiction of living with depression is truly moving.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’d love to work with you more on this. I think you have something special here. Perhaps with some fine tuning, this work could be publishable.”
“Really?” I ask, shocked.
“Absolutely. It’s a remarkable piece.”
“I’d love any advice you could give me, sir. Thank you so much!”
“Absolutely, it’ll be my pleasure. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I am the faculty advisor for The Crimson, the paper here on campus. We’re always looking for writers with a fresh perspective to submit content. Perhaps you could draft a few pieces for my staff to review? If you’re any good, you could become a regular contributor.”
“Really?” I ask again, feeling as though I must be positively beaming. I don’t know whether or not I should bring up the fact that the editor of The Crimson, Kate, just so happens to be my best friend in the whole world and that unless my piece is submitted anonymously, the review will be biased… but, I decide against it. It might not be the most ethical thing to withhold, but being published in The Crimson is a really big deal. Besides, Kate wouldn’t put anything in there if she didn’t think it was good enough.
“Your writing is really outstanding, Anastasia,” He continues with a smile.
“I’d be honored. I have some samples I can bring to you later this week.”
“Then I shall let my staff know to expect them.”
“Thank you, Dr. Ralston,” I smile. He shakes my hand and I leave his office feeling as though I’d like to skip across campus. The Thomas Ralston is going to mentor me through completing my first novel AND he’s recommending me to be published in The Crimson! The vindication is overwhelmingly satisfying.
I dig in my bag and fish out my cell phone, scrolling through my contacts until I find Luke’s name.
“What’s up, Ana?” He asks when he answers.
“You’ll never guess what just happened!”
“Should I try?”
“Meet me in the Quad. You’re going to flip.”
“You’re joking!” Luke says when I tell him the good news. I shake my head, smiling broadly at him and he pulls me into a hug. “Congratulations, Ana! That’s awesome!”
“I’m dying a little,” I tell him. “Now I just have to go home and decide which pieces I want to send to The Crimson.”
“I’m sure whatever you pick is going to be fantastic. You’ll remember me when you’re famous, right?”
I laugh. “I don’t know… I think I might be having trouble already. What’s your name again?”
“Shut up,” He says, shoving me playfully. I giggle as I grab onto his jacket to prevent myself from falling over, and he looks guiltily back at me as he helps steady me on my feet. He always forgets that my inability to stay firmly on two feet at any given time is practically a disability.
“Well, I better get going. It’s getting late and it’ll take me a while to walk home. I’ve got loads to get done,” I tell him.
“Sure, you know where I live. It’s not that far.”
“It’s getting dark… let me go with you.”
“Thanks Luke, I’ll be okay.”
“Hey, my job is to ensure the safety of the young women on this campus. You don’t intend on preventing me from doing my job, do you?” He asks seriously.
“No, I suppose not,” I tell him, and he motions me forward. I shake my head at him exasperatedly and then hook my arm through his as I being walking in the direction of my house. On the way home, he tells me about his day and the weird things he’s seen on campus. Fortunately, a lot of the new programs Harvard has put in place to protect the student body have been really successful. Unfortunately for Luke, most of his days are filled with little more than people watching, which is, more often than not, completely dull.
When we get to my house, I ask if he wants to stay for dinner, but he says he has to get back to campus. I give him a grateful hug for the escort and then wave goodbye as he disappears down the street and around the corner.
“Kate, I’m back!” I call when I walk through the front door of our townhouse.
“In the kitchen!” She calls back. “There’s mail for you on the breakfast bar.”
I hurry over to the kitchen and pick up the stack of letters addressed to me. Two of them are junk, one is my phone bill, one is a letter from Ray, and the last one bears the logo of the company I applied to for an internship in New York this summer.
“Oh…” I say nervously, turning the envelope over in my hands.
“That’s for your internship, right?” She asks excitedly as she stirs a pot on the stove. “Open it!”
I bite down on my lip and scan the letter. It’s good news… and bad.
“Well?” Kate asks.
“I got accepted…”
“Ana, that’s great!” She replies. “Congratulations!”
“It’s an internship,” She shrugs as if this should have been obvious.
“But, I can’t take an unpaid internship. Especially not in New York. How will I pay for a place to live, or food, or all of my other bills?”
“Maybe your parents could help you out?” She suggests.
“No, they can’t afford that. Mom and Bob bought my books again this semester and I can’t ask my Dad for money… Not after everything he’s already given me to keep me here.”
“Well, we’ll figure something out,” Kate reassures me, but I shake my head.
“There’s other places I can apply. New York was always kind of a pipe dream anyway.” Honestly, I don’t even know why I want to go back there. My last trip to New York was memorable for all the wrong reasons and I still have the emotional scars to show for it.
“I can see if there’s anything available at my Dad’s company,” Kate offers. “You could live with me so you wouldn’t have to worry about a place to live or any other expenses.”
“Maybe,” I reply, noncommittal. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the office, it’s just that I know Kate is working there this summer and, as much as I love her, I don’t want our internships to become competitive. Kate has a thing with being the best and I really need a solid recommendation at the end of the summer for my resume. Graduation is fast approaching and soon, I’m going to have to start looking for jobs in the real world.
“You know, there is one person you could ask who I bet would be more than willing to offer you a position for the summer…” She says carefully, and I glare at her, knowing immediately who she means. “I’m just saying,” She continues defensively. “He owns a really big company and a personal recommendation from him at the end of the summer could go a long way.”
“I already live in a house he bought,” I tell her, a little too harshly. “I don’t need to be anymore beholden to Christian Grey.”
“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, Ana. Besides, Carrick bought the house… It’s just Christian’s name is on the deed.”
“Not anymore,” Elliot says as he enters the kitchen and kisses Kate on the cheek. “He bought the house from Dad last year.”
“What?” Kate asks.
“Yeah, Dad sent him some legal thing that told him he had to sign the deed over or pay for the house. Christian sent him the money.”
“So, Christian’s our landlord?” I ask, but Elliot shakes his head.
“I think he’d have to charge us rent to be considered a landlord.”
“And you didn’t think to mention any of that?” I ask irritably. Elliot looks at me like he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do anymore.
“I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about him!”
I shake my head, pull the letter from Ray out of the envelope, and immediately smile when I see his messy handwriting. He tells me about what he’s been up to lately, about some of the people he’s grown close to over there, complains about the food, and tells me for the hundred millionth time how proud he is of me. It’s a bittersweet kind of feeling. He seems to be doing okay, but… I miss him. His two years in Iraq turned into four immediately after my sophomore year. I saw him for three days over this last summer before he had to go back. The entire time I’ve been at Harvard, our relationship has been reduced to sporadic letters and phone calls on Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
In a weird way though, it’s good. I never told Ray about Christian when we were still together. I didn’t want to put something that at the time felt so momentous in a letter. I wanted to at least do it over the phone… but Christian and I broke up before I got the chance and now, I’m grateful. Unlike my mother, Ray doesn’t call me every time Grey Enterprises Holdings is in the news or ask me if I’ve heard from Christian lately. He doesn’t give me looks of pity every time there is a child molestation case on the front page of the newspaper or ask if I’ve thought about dating yet. Even when he wrote me to ask about the care package sent by the Greys over that first Christmas, I was able to play it off by saying it was from a friend, who he now thinks is Elliot.
Christian and Ray are completely separate parts of my life, and I prefer it that way.
As I read more of the letter, I come across a part that is a little confusing:
Mr. Anderson wrote to me, you know, our neighbor in Montesano? He’s been looking after the house for me while I’m over here, mowing the lawn, and getting the mail. He told me that the checks I’ve been sending to Harvard to pay my portion of your tuition have been returned. Now, I know you’ve been in school, so maybe you should check with the admissions office to make sure there isn’t a problem with your enrollment. I’d hate for you to lose credit for all the work you’ve done.
Let me know what you find out. Love you, Annie, and miss you every day.
I stare down at the letter confused. What does he mean the checks have been sent back? Shit, what if my enrollment didn’t go through and I’m not actually getting credit for all these classes? No… If I wasn’t enrolled, the professors would have no record of me. I’ll have to go down there tomorrow and find out what’s going on. Maybe my scholarships were just bigger this year and I just didn’t realize it. I did make the Dean’s List the last four semesters…
“Hungry, Ana?” Kate asks as she dishes a bowl of soup and passes it to Elliot.
“Yeah,” I tell her, setting down the letter and getting my own bowl out of the cupboard. When we sit down to dinner I tell Kate and Elliot what happened with Dr. Ralston and she beams at me and begins asking which of the short essays that I have saved on my computer I plan to send into The Crimson.
“What about that one… oh, what was it called? Feminism is the Dirtiest F Word. I’ve really wanted to do a piece about institutionalized sexism in elite education,” She suggests.
“Maybe,” I say. It’s not a terrible idea, even if the professor who graded me on it didn’t seem to like it very much. I have a feeling though, that has something to do with the “institutionalized sexism” Kate is talking about. I didn’t hold back in that essay…
“I can’t believe you’re book is going to get published!” Kate squeals. “Elliot, isn’t that amazing?”
“Uh… yeah,” He says, looking up from his phone which I’m sure he’s using to check baseball scores. “That’s the sad book, right?”
“It’s not sad,” Kate says defensively. “It’s moving.”
“It’s pretty sad,” I laugh. “But don’t get ahead of yourself, Kate. He said he would work with me on it. It’s not like it’ll get published just because I finish it.”
“It’ll get published,” She says confidently. “It’s so good, Ana.”
“Thank-you,” I tell her, feeling heat rush to my face as I blush.
After dinner, I help Kate clean the kitchen while Elliot screams at the Mariners on the TV. Apparently they haven’t been having a great season… When we’re finished, I tell Kate that I’m going to work on my manuscript some more and she smiles, nodding excitedly as I turn for the stairs. In my room though, with my laptop open on the bed in front of me, the same familiar feeling of uncertainty plagues me. Apparently, the idea of working with my favorite professor and the possibility of getting published hasn’t re-sparked the creativity in my brain and I still have no idea where to go from here.
I stare down at the screen for what feels like forever. I hear when Kate and Elliot go to bed through my door and still, I’ve got nothing. I guess I’ll call it a night… Maybe tomorrow I can go for a run along the river and try to figure this out in my head. It worked last year when I got stuck on that impossibly long term paper for Nineteenth Century Women Writers.
I close my laptop, remembering to place it back on my desk rather than leaving it on my comforter this time, and crawl into bed. As I lie there, trying to figure out what to do about this ending, my mind begins to drift and I wonder idly what Christian would think about everything that’s happened today. He’d probably say he wasn’t surprised and that he’d known it was only a matter of time before my name appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. He was always good at that, making me feel like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish. I miss that, I miss a lot of things about him.
My nights are lonely now and it gives me too much time to think. As I lie there, staring at the dark ceiling above my bed, I wonder what he’s doing at this very moment. It’s 12:30 here so almost 10:00 in Seattle, maybe he’s in bed too. I wonder if he watched the Mariners game tonight like Elliot did or if he’s too busy running an empire for things like that now. I wonder if he thinks of me when he lays in bed at night, the way I always think of him.
He still calls every day so I know he hasn’t forgotten about me, though that’s what I should want. I should want him to move on, maybe even find someone else, and be happy… But there is a selfish part of me that is glad that isn’t the case. It’s the same part of me that can look past the hurt, and pain, and, in the darkness of my lonely bedroom, admit that even after all these years and after everything that’s happened, I’m still in love with him.
As I begin to drift off to sleep, the last thing I wonder is whether that will ever not be true.