Chapter 05

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Google Alert: Christian Grey

Buisnessweek, April 2nd 2010: Stevies to Take Place Today in New York. Christian Grey, CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings is in New York today is accepting the American Business Award (The Stevie) for Executive of the Year. Over the past two years Mr. Grey has […]


“Where the hell did I put that file?” I snarl to myself as I yank back my comforter in desperation before moving to shuffle frantically through the papers on my desk. The article I had published in The Crimson this last week received quite a bit of feedback from students writing into the editor, so Dr. Ralston has asked me to submit a few more pieces this week. Kate helped me go through the essays I’d prepared so I know which one is going to be picked, but the perfectly edited version I printed out last night is nowhere to be found.

Fortunately, my rare moment of disorganization isn’t all inclusive and I have been able to keep track of my now fully completed manuscript which is held together by a black binder clip in a neat pile on my desk. It’s taken hours and hours of writing, at least one sleepless night, and the near abandonment of all my other school work, but it’s finished, and I’m really proud of it. I gave it to Kate to read yesterday afternoon and she burst into my room in tears while I was sitting at my desk trying to get caught up with my Race in Post War Fiction homework. Now that it’s finished, I really think this novel could be… good, and I have Dr. Ralston’s mentoring to thank for that. I would have never gotten through the ending without his mentoring and if I can believe Kate and what my own instinct tells me, the ending really was perfect for the story.

I smile down at the dedication I’ve written for Dr. Ralston, which I have placed at the beginning of my manuscript so it will be the first thing he reads. I really want him to know how much I appreciate what he’s done for me.

“Ah ha!” I cry triumphantly when I lift a shirt I threw haphazardly on my desk chair the night before and find the manila folder with my article inside resting on the seat. I pick up the file, and the manuscript and put them both in my backpack, then grab a jacket and head out the door.

When I get to the kitchen, Elliot is talking on the phone and I glance at him curiously as I walk around him to grab the orange juice out of the fridge.

“Yes, Mom. Don’t worry, I will,” He says. “Alright, I love you too. Bye.”

“That was your Mom?” I wonder aloud when he hangs up the phone.

“Yeah… why?”

“I don’t know… nothing I guess. I just assumed it would be Christian.”

“I haven’t heard from him today,” Elliot says. “But I didn’t expect to because he’s coming here tonight and he doesn’t know that you’re not going to be here, so I don’t know why he’d call.”

“You didn’t tell him I was leaving?”

“Of course not. He won’t even let my Mother come over to his apartment or his office to see him. Do you really think he would fly to Boston, then drive to Cambridge, and spend an entire weekend away from work just to hang out with me?” Elliot asks.

“Why won’t he let your mom come to his house?” I ask, ignoring the implication of the last part of his sentence.

“It’s because of my Dad,” Elliot says, rubbing his face while he speaks as if he’s trying to wipe away exhaustion. “When he banned him from seeing Mia, Christian tried to get around him by using Mom to see her but Dad was so adamant about keeping Mia away from Christian’s bad influence that Mom said no too. She’s always trying to find a compromise, make everyone happy, so she told Christian if he came over to their house to talk to her and Dad that he could see Mia then, but he refused and now he doesn’t talk to or see either of them. My mom just wants to get him help and he’s not interested so he shut her out.”

“Well, maybe this weekend will change that,” I tell him.

“Yeah, maybe… Or maybe I’m making the same mistake Mom did. If he closes me out too…” He says, his voice cutting off mid-sentence. He sighs and then looks up at me more seriously. “You’re sure you won’t stay?’

“I can’t, Elliot. I have plans.”

“Yeah, alright,” He nods, but I can still hear the disappointment in his voice. I know he thinks I’m the key to making Christian better, but, right now, I think he’s wrong. This all feels very delicate and until he is willing to admit his mistakes and gives therapy a shot, I think it’s best we stay apart. I can’t want this for him and neither can Elliot. If he’s really sorry and he really wants Mia, or his family, or me back in his life, he needs to do some of the work on his own. Part of me feels like any shot of him getting help will be ruined if I give in. Especially because I’m not sure what I would do or what would happen if I saw him again. Elliot is right and Christian does need support, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to help him without giving in and if I’m not, and he hurts me again, I don’t know if I could leave again. It nearly broke me last time and now I know too much about what this side of that decision feels like. I need to know before I get involved with any of Christian’s baggage again, that I’m okay and that I’ll be okay if I come out the other end of this alone.

Just like Isaiah.

“Good Morning!” Kate says brightly as she enters the kitchen. “You ready to go to the gym, Ana?”

“I think I’m skipping it today, actually,” I tell her. “I have an early meeting with Dr. Ralston and I was hoping I would get the chance to talk to Luke beforehand.”

“Really?” She frowns. “Well, I guess if you have to… I’m ready to go if you want a ride to campus.”

“Thanks, Kate.”

She leans over to kiss Elliot good-bye and wishes him a good day at work before we turn to leave the kitchen through the back door and climb into her Mercedes. When we get to school, she heads off towards the fitness center while I make my way to the coffee shop where I know Luke will be waiting for me.

“Hey, Ana,” He greets me when I arrive, and he hands me a cup of coffee ordered precisely the way I like it.

“Thanks,” I say as I take a grateful sip of my latte. “So, are you all set for tonight?”

“I don’t know, Ana…” He says hesitantly.

“What do you mean?” I ask, feeling panicked. He can’t back out now, I need him to go!

“I just think my boss is going to be pissed if we… er… if I go out of town this weekend. I’ve just taken a lot of time off lately and I should probably be here this weekend, you know?”

“You never work on the weekends.”

“Yes I do. You just don’t know because you’re not on campus and I’m really stealthy,” He says, making me smile again despite how hard I try and fight it.

“Is it because I’m a student?” I ask. “Are you not supposed to be my friend or get close to me because I’m technically a client?”

He doesn’t answer but he breaks eye contact and swallows, and I know I’ve hit the mark.

“Luke, you spent the night at my house twice last weekend. How is this any different?”

“I…”

“I’m an adult. You’re adult. What we are or choose to do when you’re not at work is none of your boss’s business. You’re good at your job, that’s all that should matter to him. We’re just friends.”

“I guess…”

“Besides, if he says anything to you, you can just blame it on me. I’m totally fine with that. Tell him I forced you to come.”

“Oh, don’t worry… I will,” He says, and I laugh.

“Perfect! Then, I’ll see you at 6:30?”

“On the dot,” He ruefully concedes.

“Excellent. I’ve really gotta get to this meeting, but I want you to know that I really can’t wait for this weekend. You’re gonna love it, I promise. And, thank-you for coffee.”

“You’re welcome,” He says, and I wave good-bye to him as I head out of the coffee shop and towards the English building.

Crisis averted.

Dr. Ralston has croissants this time when I arrive at his office and he insists I take one as I hold the manilla file out for him across the desk between us. He flips through the articles, nodding as he skims through them and then smiles up at me when he closes the folder and sets it on his desk.

“How’s the novel progressing?” He asks.

“Actually, I have a surprise to you,” I say as I reach into my bag and pull out my manuscript. “It’s finished.”

“Finished?” He says, both surprised and seemingly elated. “Anastasia, that’s wonderful.”

He reaches across the desk to take the manuscript out of my hands and looks down at the dedication on the first page. I can follow his eyes across page as he reads,

To Dr. Thomas Ralston: For making me believe in myself again.

A smile creeps across his lips as he stares down at the page, re-reading the dedication three times before he finally looks back up at me.

“I don’t know what to say,” He tells me. “Thank-you, Anastasia. This means more than you could ever know.”

“No, it’s nothing compared to what you’ve done for me. If it hadn’t been for your lectures or your own line of work, I would have never started writing to begin with.”

“Well, I can’t wait to read what you’ve written,” He says. “I shall make this my sole focus this weekend and we can make an appointment to discuss it next week.”

“Great. Just, send me an email whenever you have a time in mind,” I tell him. He agrees and sends me out of his office with another croissant. I have one class this morning and then a short, three hour shift at the library in the afternoon, so I make it back home around four which gives me a couple hours to take a shower and pack before Luke gets here. I plug in my headphones so I can dance around the room while I gather my things, stuffing my purple suitcase with everything I could possibly need this weekend (and more), and when I’m finished, I heave it onto my bed before heading downstairs to hang out with Kate and Elliot while I wait.

When I get to the kitchen, Kate is just pulling the brisket she’s serving for dinner out of the oven to pour some broth over the top and cover before cooking for the remaining amount of time. It already smells delicious and makes me wish I was staying for dinner… almost.

“What are you doing this weekend anyway?” Elliot asks when I sit down at the table next to him.

“Luke and I going on an adventure,” I tell him, purposefully remaining coy since I know he will be spending the weekend with Christian.

“You mean to tell me the one weekend we can’t hang out together you’re actually going to be cool?” He jokes.

“I’m always cool,” I say defensively. “You’re just too busy watching Sports Center all the time to notice.”

“The Mariners are having a bad season, Ana,” He snaps. “If I don’t support them who will?”

Kate and I both laugh as she closes the oven and joins us at the table. “What are we doing with Christian once he gets here?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I thought we could drink some beers, play some HALO, talk about our deep rooted issues and how making nice with dad and seeing a therapist could make life better for everyone. You know, man shit,” Elliot replies.

“We’re going to have to go to the store then,” Kate says. “We’re out of beer and little miss alcoholic over here finished the rest of the wine last weekend.”

“Breaking Bad was stressful!” I reply defensively. “People got murdered and two planes crashed into each other and killed everyone. You try getting through all that without polishing off a bottle or two.”

“You started watching Breaking Bad without me!” Elliot exclaims.

“Was I not supposed to?”

“Anastasia Steele,” He says with exaggerated disappointment, and then he reaches out to face push me away, “You’re dead to me.”

I laugh and am going to argue my case and blame it all on Luke when a flash of headlights shines through the kitchen window and Kate looks over our shoulders with a confused expression on her face.

“Who is that?” She asks, peering out at a black SUV that has just pulled up to the curb in front of the house. It’s strange, because we have parking in the back. No one ever pulls up in the front of our house…

We both stare out the window, waiting to see if someone is going to get out of the car, but when the driver’s side door opens, I don’t recognize the man that gets out. Kate must though because I can feel her stiffen next to me.

Shit!” She whispers, and I raise an eyebrow at her before turning back and staring at the man, who looks as though he could be a younger version of my father. He’s in his late thirties, well built and has his hair trimmed into a short, military-style buzz cut. He walks around to the back of the car and opens the door, and the moment I see the achingly familiar coif of messy, bronze hair on the man who steps out onto the sidewalk, I’m seized with panic.

“You said he wasn’t supposed to be here until 7:30!” I shriek to Kate.

“He wasn’t, I swear,” She replies innocently, and I can tell by the genuine look of shock in her eyes that she’s telling the truth.

“Fuck!” I hiss, and then sprint out of the kitchen and up the stairs, slamming my bedroom door behind me. Shit, what am I going to do? I can’t just stay locked up in my room, Luke is going to be here any minute… Fuck! Luke!

Would Christian say anything to him? Of course he will. I have a bag packed for the weekend… I know what that looks like and I can remember the fights Christian used to get into with Carter when we were dating at the beginning of my freshman year. I don’t want Luke to walk into a powder keg without warning. He might just light the match to set him off and that’s not how I want to start this weekend.

My heart is thundering as I reach down for my phone to text Luke and ask where he is. I hit send just as I hear the front door open.

“Christian!” Kate exclaims with an air of surprise. “You’re early.”

“Yeah, I was able to get out of the ceremony earlier than I thought,” Christian replies. He sounds tired, his tone completely flat, but hearing the sound of his voice for the first time since I left him standing in the same living room where he is now almost two years ago, hits me like a punch to the stomach, leaving me winded. He’s here. He’s really here. Just down the stairs...

Be strong, Ana.

“Welcome back, Bro!” Elliot says excitedly. I hear a muffled clap and I’m not sure whether or not he’s hugged him or if it’s just a handshake, but after a brief pause I can hear Elliot’s voice again. “Taylor, how’s it going, man?”

“I’m very well, Mr. Grey,” A deep, unfamiliar voice responds.

“Great. And seriously, man, you can call me Elliot,” He says, but he doesn’t get a response. “Well, the guest room is just up the stairs, first door on the left, if you want to set Christian’s bags down.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor says again and, a second later, I hear footsteps coming up the stairs.

“Is Ana upstairs?” Christian asks.

“Yes…” Kate responds hesitantly. “But, Christian… She doesn’t want you to go up there.”

“At all? What is she just going to avoid me all weekend?

“She isn’t going to be here this weekend,” Elliot says.

“Where is she going?”

“She’s going out of town with a friend,” Kate says.

“Which friend?’

“His na-“

HIS!” Christian exclaims, cutting Kate off.

“Yes, his name is Luke Sawyer and… he’s a really great guy,” She continues. There is a long beat of silence and then Christian speaks again in a low, controlled tone.

“Where are they going?”

“I don’t know… Somewhere in Vermont,” Kate answers.

“Vermont?” Christian asks, and beneath the carefully constructed air of control, I hear the smallest hint of pain break through his voice. I don’t know if Kate simply nods or if no one says anything at all, but there is another long moment of silence and then Christian speaks again.

“He’s fucking her,” He says quietly, and even though I have a hard time distinguishing the words, I can very clearly hear a note of anger in his tone.

“No,” Elliot says quickly. “No, they’re just friends.”

“Cut the shit, I know what Vermont means. That was our… where we… I can’t believe she would do this,” He says, his voice getting louder as the angry timber escalates.

“It’s really not like that,” Kate insists, but she stops when another set of car lights pulls up to the house, in the back this time, and I cross the room to see Luke parking in the driveway. Shit, he probably didn’t read my text…

“That’s him. Please, just be nice to him or don’t say anything at all,” I hear Kate pleading through the door behind me. Christian doesn’t respond and as I watch Luke get out of the car and make his way to the back door, I feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest. I knock on my window and wave my arms around to try and get his attention and stop him, but he doesn’t look up. He opens the back door and walks into the kitchen.

“Hey, Luke!” I hear Elliot greet him a few seconds later.

“Hey, is A-na ready?” Luke asks, elongating my name in a confused kind of way when, presumably, he sees Christian standing with Kate and Elliot.

“Yeah, I think so,” Elliot says. “Um, this is my brother, Christian Grey. Christian, this is Luke Sawyer, he works with campus security at Harvard.”

“Uh… Pleasure to meet you, sir,” Luke says, but there isn’t a reply. After a long beat of silence that even feels awkward from up the stairs and behind a closed door, Luke speaks again. “Right, well… um, is Ana upstairs?”

“Yeah, go on up,” Kate says.

“Okay,” He replies, and I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. He must run into the Taylor guy who brought Christian’s bag up to the guest room on his way up because I hear a muffled, “Oh, excuse me, Sir“, and then three soft knocks. I open the door and pull him inside, quickly shutting the door behind him, and then leaning up against it like I expect a bull to come barreling through.

“So that’s Christian Grey, huh?” Luke asks, and when I glare at him, he sighs, and then corrects himself. “That’s you-know-who?”

“I guess so,” I tell him.

“He’s different than I imagined,” He says. “Younger, and definitely different looking. Are you sure you want to go out of town? I think most women would kill to spend a weekend with a guy that looks like that.”

“Awh, I’ll be just fine getting to look at you,” I say sweetly, trying to ignore the images of Christian my brain conjures, and he rolls his eyes before picking up my suitcase and lugging it back to the door.

“Where are they at?” I ask. “Kate, Elliot, and… you know.”

“In the kitchen.”

“Will you go first and pull the car around front so I can go out the front door?”

“Seriously?”

“Please, Luke? I really don’t want to see him.”

“Alright,” He says, rolling his eyes as he leaves the room. I hurry back to my window and wait for him to get in the car before I grab my coat and my bag and sneak down the stairs as quietly as I can. I’ll have to time this perfectly to get through the living room quickly enough for him not to see me from the kitchen.

“I just don’t understand why she won’t even talk to me,” I hear Christian say as I creep stealthily along the wall the separates the stairs from the kitchen.

“Yes you do, Christian,” Kate says.

“I can’t apologize to her or do anything to make it up to her if she won’t even speak to me, Kate,” He replies in a tight voice.

“I don’t think she wants an apology Christian, I think she wants-“

“Anastasia!” Christian calls out, spotting me as I try to bolt for the door. I freeze with my hand on the knob. I can feel them three of them staring at me, waiting for me to turn around or say something, but besides the sound of his voice saying my name echoing around in my brain, my head is completely empty. I have no response, no words at all, and so I simply take a deep breath, pull open the door, and slip out onto the porch, feeling like a coward. Nope, I’m definitely not ready for this yet.

Luke is idling on the curb just down the walk, so I hurry forward and scramble into the car as quickly as I can, refusing to look back at the house.

“Are you okay?” Luke asks.

“Yes, just go,” I tell him, and he sighs and pulls onto the street.

We’re in New Hampshire by the time the anxiousness from my almost encounter with Christian wears off and I feel normal enough to carry on a conversation with Luke. The conversation is interrupted though when about a third of the way to Montpelier, Luke’s cell phone starts ringing over and over and over again. His phone is resting in the cup holder between us but is facing away from me. All I can see of the name on the screen is Jason Ta-.

“Do you want me to answer it?” I ask, when it goes off for the fourth time.

“No, it’s my boss,” He says, and he takes a deep breath before reaching down to reject the call. He’s staring pensively out the window and I’m not sure what I should say to him. I’ve been so caught up in Christian’s arrival… Maybe I really didn’t understand how serious he was this morning. I don’t want him to get into trouble.

“Is it going to be bad when you get back?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” He shrugs, and when I frown and hang my head, he quickly adds, “Don’t worry about it, Ana. I’ll be okay. I wanted to come, I’m excited for… well, whatever it is you have planned. What are we doing anyway?”

“You just keep driving,” I tell him, and he shakes his head with exasperation before turning on the radio so we have music to listen to for the remainder of the drive.

When we finally get to Montpelier about two hours later, Luke drives straight to the hotel where we’re staying for the night, and, once he’s dropped his things off in his own room, he comes over to my room where we snuggle into each of the full sized beds to watch a movie. I still feel bad for getting him into trouble so I let him pick what movie we watch and he chooses on Inglorious Basterds, even though Some Like it Hot is just about to start on HBO.

It’s a bloody couple of hours and by the end, as I’m watching Hitler get shot in the face over and over again, I’m really just confused. I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t realize the movie wasn’t keeping to a historically accurate story line, or if I’m just really tired.

“So, what did you think?” Luke asks when the credits start to roll.

“I have no idea what we just watched,” I laugh.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was there too much color in this one for you?”

“Far too much,” I tell him, as a smile creeps across my lips, and he rolls his eyes. He rolls off the bed across from me and heads to the door. I tell him what time I want to leave in the morning, wish him pleasant dreams, and, once he leaves, I roll over to turn off the lamp next to my bed. I was worried that once Luke left and I was left alone, I’d feel uneasy from the movie we just watched. I’ve never been good with gore or violence, but as I lie there in the dark, the thing that plagues me most, isn’t the violent movie, it’s the memories of the last time I was in Vermont.

It haunts me more than anything Quentin Tarantino could ever come up with.

The next morning, after a quick fifteen minute drive north, Luke and I are standing at the base of Mount Worcester, staring up at the still snow-capped peak.

“Hiking?” He asks, dubiously.

“Yeah,” I tell him, trying to suppress the queasy feeling the idea of climbing my way to the summit brings.

“Why…?” Luke asks, looking at me as if he thinks I’m crazy.

“Because I’m afraid of heights,” I tell him, and his face changes as if he no longer thinks I’m crazy but now actually knows I’m crazy. “Luke… I’ve been having a hard time the last couple years. I’ve been hanging on to the hurt and anger from things that I can’t change. I’m stuck on a ledge that I can’t get off and it makes me feel helpless, hopeless even. I’m tired of being weak and so I’m here to prove to myself that I can be strong. I’m going to conquer this. I’m not going to be stuck anymore.”

“So, you want me to take you up a 4,000 foot summit, even though you’re afraid of heights, to make you feel better?”

“No, I want you to come with me while I prove to myself that not even a 4,000 foot summit is enough to defeat me.”

He looks between me and the trail head for a minute, and I wonder if he’s debating what he’s going to do, but eventually he sighs and gestures me forward.

“Well then, lead the way, Steele,” He says.

I smile back at him, zip up my coat the rest of the way, and take my first steps up the mountain.

It’s easy at first, the ground is hard and not too steep. We make the first hour or so of our trek at a fairly quick pace, keeping up an easy conversation as we navigate the trail through the trees. Then, we hit a wall of rock that shoots up into the air at a steep angle. There is no more path. There is only up.

“You ready for this?” Luke asks, as he glances uneasily at the bluff in front of us.

“I didn’t come this far to turn around now,” I tell him.

We examine the wall to plan out our root of ascent, noting the easiest places to find foot and hand holds, and which areas seem the steadiest. Luke goes first, testing each hold carefully as he navigates his way to the ledge fifty feet above us and I watch him carefully, taking note of what seems easy and the things he seems to struggle with so that I can be best prepared. When he heaves himself over the top, I take a long pull from my water bottle and then put it in my backpack before grabbing hold of the first crevice I can find and using it to pull myself up the rock face. It’s not as easy as he made it seem. Some places are difficult to hold onto while I try and find the next place to grab, and because my limbs aren’t as long as his, I have trouble reaching a few of the different holds. It takes me double his time to reach the top and when he finally helps haul me onto ledge, I feel exhausted. Perhaps I need to add some weights into my workout routine and not just cardio.

“Here,” Luke says as he pulls my water bottle out of my backpack for me. “Take a drink and we’ll find a way back down.”

“Back down? We’re not going back down, we’re not even half way up yet,” I argue.

“I didn’t realize this would be this difficult of a climb. We don’t have the equipment for this, Ana, and once we get a little higher, we’re going to start running into snow.”

“I picked this mountain because it wasn’t easy,” I tell him. “I’m trying to conquer a fear here, not find a new hobby.”

“I don’t know, Ana…”

“Then, wait here,” I tell him. “I’m going to the top, with or without you.”

I put the bottle away, stand up from the rock where I’m sitting, and give him a purposeful look before I head off down the trail again. I hear his low, agitated groan behind me and then a few seconds later, he’s at my side.

The trail becomes much more difficult the higher we climb. This isn’t ideal climbing season and most of the path is slick with mud or washed out from run off down the mountain. We wind through the tight switchbacks, and it’s often slow going as we often struggle to maintain our balance inching our way up the steep trail. Luke was right and after a couple hours, the ground around us is no longer just wet, but covered in a shiny blanket of melting snow. I slip several times on ice concealed beneath the snow but it doesn’t deter me. In fact, the more difficult the trail becomes, the more exhilarated I feel… that is until we reach the second cliff face that we have to scale.

If I thought the last wall was high, I don’t know what word I would use to describe the bluff before us now, and rather than rising into the air at a steep angle, this one is nearly vertical. The foot and hand holds are harder to distinguish, seemingly less frequent, and some are caked with thick, white snow. My natural reaction to panic grips me just looking at the thing but surprisingly, it’s that fear that drives me forward. This is why I’m here.

And I can see the top.

I step forward and grab onto the first hand hold I can find and shove the toe of my boot into a crack to begin the climb.

“Ana, are you crazy?” Luke exclaims when I take another step up the wall.

“Maybe,” I reply. I continue upward, slowly but surely, concentrating not on the ever growing sense of dread I feel building in my stomach, but solely on the task at hand. I don’t look down at Luke, but he’s radiating so much anxiety, I can feel it from here. I can hear him pacing over the gravel and I wonder if he’ll come after me or if he’s more interested in staying on the ground in case I fall. It doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters now is that I reach my goal. I can do this. Fear be damned, I’m strong enough to do this.

I climb on, higher and higher, the anxiety growing strong and stronger the more I press on but I don’t let it have me. I’m single minded: handhold, foothold, handhold, foothold. I reach up and grab a hold of a rock jettisoning out from the mountain face and use it to heave myself upwards but the moment I shift my body weight onto it, it gives out and a large chunk of the granite begins crumbling away to the ground.

The fingers of my other hand lock down onto the sturdy rock they’re gripping to and I instinctively push my body into the wall as sheer terror grips me. Adrenaline courses through my veins as tiny pebbles and dust begin to cloud and fall around me and for one horrible moment, I think I’ve started a rock slide. Tiny, pointed rocks rain down over my fingers clinging to the rock wall, trying to force me to let go, but I fight through the sharp sting and hold on, trembling as I wait for my life to begin flashing before my eyes. I know deep in my gut that I’m about to fall.

“Ana!” Luke yells, and, like an idiot, I look down towards the sound of my name and see him starting to climb up after me. It’s a mistake. I’m much higher than I thought I was and every muscle in my body seizes. I can’t move. I’m frozen here, clinging desperately to the cliff face with trembling fingers and no rope.

“I’m coming, Ana,” Luke tells me. “Don’t move!”

My breathing is too quick and shallow, I know I need to calm down or I’m going to hyperventilate and then pass out and fall. I swallow hard and force myself to take a deep breath, and then another and another until I’ve gained control of myself.

I’m alright.

I’m not hurt.

I’m fine.

Get a grip on yourself, Ana… you’re almost there.

I swallow the tangible lump the fear has left in my throat and reach up again, testing the hand holds now before I shift my weight onto them. Luke calls out for me to stop but I ignore him. Once again the only thing that exists is the mountain beneath my hands, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle that I’m determined to overcome. The higher I climb, the most separated I seem to become from the fear and the faster I move.

Finally, I run out of wall to grab onto and I’m able to reach over the ledge to the top. I dig my fingers into the earth and use my legs to help pull myself up and over the edge. I crawl over the ground until my entire body has reached the flat surface and once it hits me that I’ve made it, I let out a jubilant gasp and my heavy panting becomes laced with laughter.

Scrambling as quickly as I can to my feet, I look around the wide, sweeping valley below and down at the base of the mountain, which is littered with pine trees. The view is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never seen something so incredible and even though I know I’m only a few inches away from a very steep drop that is extremely high in the air, every trace of fear inside of me has vanished. I’ve left it behind. Never in my life have I felt more accomplished than I do right now, graduating valedictorian of my High School, getting into Harvard, finishing my novel… nothing compares to this.

I faced something I knew had the potential to break me and I didn’t cower away. My entire life this fear has controlled me, limited the things I was able to do, but I overcame it and I did it all on my own. Because I was able to do this alone, I know now, there isn’t anything that can hold me back. No matter what, I’ll make it out the other end. If I could do this, I can do anything, and I’ll be okay.

“Ana, are you okay?” Luke asks when he hauls himself over the ledge. He too gets quickly to his feet but rather than take in the reward of the spectacular view around us, he’s immediately at my side, examining me for any signs of distress.

“Okay?” I ask with a laugh. “Luke, I’ve never been so great in my life. Look at this! We did this, we got here!”

“You’re literally insane,” He says when he realizes that I’m not hurt at all, and although his tone is disapproving, he can’t keep the smile off his face.

“Thank-you for coming with me,” I tell him. “Out of anyone, I’m glad it’s you I get to share this with.”

“Ana…”

“No, seriously, Luke. You need to know how much you mean to me. I couldn’t have made it through this… through any of this, without you.”

“You really don’t have to thank me, Ana. It’s funny because when I took this job… on campus, I never imagined I’d get to meet my best friend,” He says, as I step forward into his arms and hug tightly onto him. “I’d do anything for you, Ana.”

I pull away and we stare out at the view for a little while longer, basking in the euphoria of our success until the cold wind starts to seep its way through our coats and we’re both ready to head back to the car.

“Now… how do we get down?” Luke asks, looking dubiously over the edge and I laugh and lead him down the sloping trail over the backside of the mountain that will take us back to the base.

We spend one more night in our hotel room and then start the drive back to Cambridge early Sunday afternoon. The elation of yesterday’s success still hasn’t worn off and as we tell stories and sing along to the radio, I just can’t keep the smile off my face.

When we pull into town though and begrudgingly decide to turn our cell phones back on, the real world seeps in again to burst our perfect, happy bubble.

Luke has nine missed calls from his boss and three not so very nice voicemails waiting for him. As for me, I can’t tell if the complete lack of communication from either Kate or Elliot is a good sign or a bad one. I also am not entirely sure Christian has left for Seattle yet so, as we wind our way through the streets closer to my house, I call Kate to make sure.

“Hey,” She answers after only a few rings.

“Hi, we’re just around the corner. Is Christian still there?” I ask.

“No, he left pretty much right after you did.”

“He didn’t stay at all?”

“Nope. So, there’s plenty of brisket left over if you and Luke are hungry,” She offers.

“Oh no, poor Elliot. We’re driving up the street now. I’ll see you in a minute,” I tell her and then hang up the phone. I feel a horrible sense of guilt as we pull up into the alley behind the house. I know how hopeful Elliot had been about this weekend and I can’t help but feel a little responsible. Maybe he’s right… maybe he can’t do this on his own.

Luke helps me unload my suitcase from the back of the car, but tells me he needs to get back home and deal with his boss before he loses his job.

“It’s really that serious?” I ask remorsefully.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” He says.

“I’m sorry if I got you in trouble,” I tell him. “I really I hope I didn’t mess things up for you.”

“Hey,” He says, reaching out and wrapping me in a hug. “It’s okay, really. I had a great weekend. Thank-you.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” I ask.

“I hope so,” He tells me.

I give him a small, half-smile as he climbs into the car and backs out of the driveway, and then I drag my suitcase after me into the house. The first thing I see is Kate putting a salad together in the kitchen while Elliot sits at the table, looking over some files and talking on his cell phone.

“Hey, how is he?” I ask, coming to stand next to Kate.

“Not good,” She frowns. “That’s his boss on the phone. He’s quitting his job.”

“What?” I ask, but her only response is a nod. I turn to look at Elliot who is silent now, just nodding along with whatever the person on the other end is saying. I take a carrot out of the bag next to Kate’s cutting board and nibble on it while I wait for him to finish with his conversation.

“Okay, thanks, and I’m really sorry about this Craig,” Elliot says. “Alright. Good-bye.” He sets down the phone and closes the folder on the table in front of him, letting out a sigh that feels as if it’s laden with all the problems of the world.

“Hey,” I say, as I walk over and take a seat next to him. “I’m sorry about your weekend.”

“Me too,” He says.

“Why did you quit your job?”

“I’m going back to Seattle for a while. You two only have a little over a month of school left so I figured if I go now, it won’t feel like I’m gone that long and I’ll have the whole summer to try and get through to him before we have to come back.”

“You think he’ll be more receptive in Seattle?”

“I’m hoping persistence will help,” Elliot says. “I’ll be there everyday if I have to. If Andrea is going to keep me out of his office, she better be a hell of a lot stronger than her 120 lb frame suggests, and I’ll go toe to toe with Taylor if that’s what it will take to get into his apartment.”

“What’s your plan? What are you going to do?'”

“I talked to my mom and I’m going to move in with them for the summer. She has access to a lot of resources that she just hasn’t been able to get to him. Hopefully, that’s where I come in. We’re going to go at this united, like a family, instead of coming at him from all different directions.”

“Even your Dad?” I ask, but he doesn’t say anything. I reach out and place my hand over his reassuringly and we sit there quietly for a minute until the silence is interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone on the wall. I turn around, watching Kate set her knife down and moving to answer it, but Elliot stops her.

“I’ve got it,” He says, and he gets to his feet and drags himself over to the phone. “Hello? Hi, Christian. No, she’s not back yet, she…”

“Elliot,” I interrupt him, and he stops. I get up from my chair and  hold my hand out for the phone.

“Oh… uh, wait. Here she is,” Elliot stutters and then calls away from the phone as if I’m not already standing in front of him, “Ana, the phone is for you.”

I roll my eyes and grab the phone out of his hand, and then take a deep steadying breath. You can do this, Steele.

“Hello?” I answer.

“Ana…?” Christian replies, and his voice is just barely louder than a whisper. He sounds like he doesn’t really believe it’s me.

“Hi, Christian.”

“Ana… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Are you?” I ask.

“Of course I am. Truly, deeply, profoundly sorry. I can’t tell you what it’s been like without you. I can’t… I can’t… I’ll do anything, just please, tell me what you want from me and I’ll do it. Anything. It’s yours. Just tell me what to do.”

“What are you sorry for, Christian?”

“Everything. I didn’t mean to hurt you and I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever I can to make that up to you if you’ll let me. Just please… I can get on a flight tonight, I can bring you out here, we could go somewhere else, somewhere neutral, wherever you want to go. The world is yours. Just, please, meet with me and talk to me. Tell me what you want me to do.”

Everything is not an answer, Christian,” I tell him. “When you say you’re sorry for everything you might as well say nothing, because that doesn’t tell me that you know exactly what you did wrong. Look, what’s happened has happened, and neither one of us can change it. I still haven’t forgiven you for what you did, I don’t know what it will take for that to happen, or if I even can forgive you, but what’s worse than all of the lies and betrayal, is what you’ve done since all of that happened. You let your family fall apart, you turned your back on people who love you and want to help you. You’ve been selfish and it kills me to see what it’s doing to Elliot. I can’t even imagine what this is like for your mother. Why would I let you back into my life when you’ve proved to me that you’re willing to hurt the people who love you the most?”

“I didn’t mean to. Ana, I’m sorry…”

“You did though, Christian, and quite frankly, your apology seems pretty empty compared to your actions. If you want to make this right with me, you need to start by making this right with your family, and that includes your dad.”

“Ana…”

“You said you would do anything, that’s what I want. Until you make this right with your family and until you can give me a real answer as to what you’re sorry for, I can’t be in your life.”

“Ana, my dad-“

“Is hurt. Your dad is hurt, Christian. You lied to him, you damaged his career, you went behind his back to start your company, and you tore his family apart.”

“He’s the one who has torn us apart. He’s the one keeping Mia from me, he turned Mom against me,” Christian argues.

“Look, if you’re not sorry, then that’s fine. I don’t need you to make excuses to me. We’re not a couple anymore, you don’t owe me anything. You do what you want to do, but if you want me to be any part of your life, this is what you have to do.”

He’s quiet for a minute and while I wait for his response, I trace my finger over the texture of the wall.

“If I do this…” He says finally. “If I try and make this up to my family, you’ll come back to me?”

“If you do this, we can talk about what happened. If you make it right with your family, I’ll give you the chance to show me that you’re sorry and I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’m not going to make any promises beyond that.”

“Can I see you?”

“Not yet,” I tell him. “And, just to be clear up front. As long as you continue to have anything to do with Elena Lincoln, you have zero percent chance of having ANY kind of relationship with me.”

“It’s just business,” He says quickly. “Really, Ana, there’s nothing between us. I swear to you. I haven’t had anyone. I don’t want anyone. It’s only you.”

“I don’t care what it is, Christian, business or not. As long as you let her in, you’re keeping me out.”

“Okay. I’ll… um, I’ll work on it.”

“Good. And… let Elliot help you. That’s all he wants.”

“I know.”

“I’ve got to go.”

“No! Not yet, just…”

“Make it right, Christian,” I tell him, and then I hand the phone out for Elliot who takes it eagerly.

“Hey, Christian,” He answers, and seconds later his face breaks into a smile. “Yeah, great! I’ll be there in a few days. See you soon. Bye.”

He hangs up the phone, and then stares at it, looking lost and incredulous, like he doesn’t believe what just happened. Then he turns to me, lost for words.

“United front,” I tell him. “Like a family.”

“Anastasia Steele!” He exclaims, wrapping me in his arms, lifting me off the floor, and spinning me around the kitchen. “Thank-you. I can’t even… just… thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!”

“It’s alright, Elliot,” I tell him, and he sets me down and kisses me hard on the forehead before leaping out of the kitchen and running up the stairs, practically whooping with elation.

I turn to Kate who is looking at me with a knowing kind of smile and I shake my head with exasperation.

“I’ll set the table,” I tell her, and she nods, but then wraps me in a hug before I can move.

“Thank-you, Ana. I don’t know if I can express how much I know this means to Elliot.”

“It really isn’t that big of a deal,” I tell her, but she shakes her head.

“It’s everything,” She says, and then she kisses me on the cheek before releasing me so we can set the table for dinner.

Next Chapter

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