“That’s quite the haul you’ve got there,” The librarian intern, Ryan, says to me as I leave work. It’s a Thursday and I’ve picked up an extra shift to cover for my fellow work-study library assistant Amanda, who has gone home for the Thanksgiving holiday already.
“It’s okay for me to take this many out at one time, right?” I ask as I sling the heavy bag overfilled with books over my shoulder.
“Sure,” Ryan says, “I know where to find you if you don’t bring them back.” I laugh and wave good-bye and head out the door.
A shiver runs over me as I walk from the library and back to Grays. Fall is beginning to fade and I can taste the coming bite of winter in the breeze as I walk. Dark leaves fall over me like a rain shower as I pass the hallowed trees around the yard and, for some reason, it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because the grounds of this beautiful campus will be so solitary over the next week. Everyone will have gone home for the holiday and I will remain here, left alone to my books and the quiet.
I heave the door open, relieved almost immediately by the wave of heat from inside the building. It’s days like today when I’m glad Kate demanded we move into the “Harvard Hilton” rather than the less expensive dormitories. Jose said his room has been so cold the past few nights he could have sworn he saw his breath when he woke up.
When I trek up the stairs, I pause briefly at the door, pursing my lips as I wonder whether or not Christian is at home. Since the incident a few weeks ago at the Halloween party, things have been a little awkward. Kate is furious with Christian for one thing. When we got back to our dorm that night, Elliot texted Kate and told her he was very sorry but he had brought Christian back to his hotel and he was going to stay with him that night. Apparently, Christian has an ugly history with getting into fights and Elliot was worried about his temper that night. Kate probably would have been understanding if it hadn’t not only been Elliot’s second night in town, but also his last. Kate drove him to the airport the next morning and that was it, most likely until Christmas. It’s been a little over three weeks and Kate still hasn’t spoken to Christian, no matter how many times I explain that it wasn’t his fault.
As for Christian, he’s been fine when I’ve seen him, but that’s the problem, I haven’t really seen him at all besides class. Not even for our Monday night study sessions. Apparently whatever he and Ros are working on is going well and they’re putting in extra hours to ensure it continues to go that way. I wish he would have one night free, I haven’t really had the chance to thank him for sticking up for me at the party Halloween night, or talk to him about what almost happened before Carter showed up. I don’t know when he’s going home for Thanksgiving break, but I hope I can see him one night before he leaves.
I open the door and walk into my room and find Kate dressed in teeny pajama shorts and a sports bra, dancing around the room with her ipod clipped to her bra strap and earbuds in her ears. Her suitcase is open on the bed, and still only partially filled with bikini’s, shorts, sundress and sarongs. She turns to throw in a few pair of sandals when she sees me standing at the door, staring at her with amusement.
“Ana!” She says, startled and embarrassed by me walking in on her very personal jam session. “I didn’t think you’d be back so soon.”
“I can see that,” I say as I drop the bag of books on the floor with a loud, definite thud. “Practicing for something?”
“My brother always says he doesn’t think I’m smart enough to Harvard… My backup plan if this fails is exotic dancing,” She jokes.
“Hmmm… Better work on your booty shake then, Kate. You’re rhythm is a little off.” I say with a teasing smile.
“My booty shake is perfect,” Kate says defensively, folding yet another bikini and packing it in her suitcase. “Don’t you worry about that.”
“Oh, never fear,” I say. “Your booty is really one of the things in life I worry the least about.”
She turns around and shakes her ass at me as she saunters over to her wardrobe looking for sunglasses in her pile of accessories. I laugh and decide to help her pack. We order a pizza in for dinner that night and decide to rearrange the furniture so we can push our beds together and watch old movies, like a real sleep over.
Luckily, classes the next day are a breeze. Professors aren’t covering any new material or giving out new assignments as half of the student body has already left for the break. Most of my classes are spent as helpful review for our final exams that we’ll take in a few weeks and I’m grateful for the notes and study guides the professors give out. Looks like I’ll have plenty to keep me busy over the next week by myself.
When I get back from classes that day, Kate is practically jumping up and down with impatience. I’m her ride to the airport and even though her flight doesn’t leave for another 3 hours, she’s freaking out that she’s going to miss her flight.
“You’re fine, Kate,” I appease her as if I’m speaking to a child. “We’ll go right now, you’re going to have plenty of time, trust me.”
I help carry one of Kate’s bags out to her Mercedes, which she is lending me this week since Annenberg is closed and I’ll have to go out to get food. The parking lot is full of students loading up cars and saying their good-byes and we’re actually in a bit of a traffic jam as we try and weave our way through cars to leave campus, which does nothing to help Kate’s anxiety. Fortunately, once we’re on the highway heading towards Logan International Airport, the traffic clears and we’re able to make up time.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Kate asks me for the millionth time as I take the exit to the airport.
“Yes!” I say, exasperated. “I’m a grown up, Kate. I can entertain myself for a week.” She looks at me anxiously and it makes me feel horrible because I know, no matter how many times I’ve told her that I will be fine, she feels guilty for leaving me alone on a “family holiday”.
When I drop her off at the gate she gives me a huge hug and promises to bring me something fabulous back from the Bahamas. I tell her I’ll miss her and wish her a fun and safe trip and then watch her walk away until she disappears behind the automatic doors.
I’m surprised, when I get back to campus, how quickly the parking lot seems to have emptied. I pull into a space at the front of the lot, something that would have caused me to buy a lottery ticket on a day when all the students were here it happens so rarely. Unfortunately, it’s merely my first taste of what’s to come and as much as I’ve prepared for this, as much as I have to preoccupy myself, I already feel a little lonely.
I turn to lock Kate’s car and as I scan the parking lot forlornly one last time, I notice Christian’s car is still there and it makes me wonder who is taking him to the airport. Maybe I should text him and see if he needs me to give him a ride, although I guess it fairly likely that he’s already left. Perhaps he got a ride with Ros.
Grays itself feels huge without the usual dozen or so people in the sitting room or wandering through the halls. I go to bed that night, already counting down the days until Thanksgiving break is over.
The next morning, I’m awake pretty early so I decide to get a jumpstart on my reading and lay on my bed with the door open, actually enjoying the silence in the hall. I jump slightly every so often when a door opens and closes as the students straggling behind leave their dorms for break, but for the most part, the quiet is like being back home in Montesano, laying on my bed while Ray is still at work, reading my favorite books.
I’m just getting into one of my very favorite stories, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe, when I hear another door open and look up to see Christian locking his door, a small suitcase at his feet and a messenger bag thrown over his shoulder.
“Anastasia?” He asks, surprised to see me when he turns around.
“Hi, Christian. I thought you would have left already.”
“No, I had some things to finish up with Ros last night so I rescheduled my flight for this afternoon. What are you still doing here? Aren’t you going back to Vegas for the holiday?”
“Oh, no.. not this one. I’ll go home for Christmas.”
“You don’t want to spend Thanksgiving with your family?” He asks, creasing his brow.
“No, I do. I just can’t afford to fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and the dorms are closed over Christmas break so that’s kind of the one I have to go home for.”
“So, you’re just going to stay here by yourself?”
“Yes,” I tell him. He shakes his head as if this is an unacceptable answer and pulls out his phone. I watch him type furiously on the keys of his blackberry and wonder who he’s talking to. I hope he’s not yelling at Kate for leaving me alone.
“I’ll be fine,” I say to pacify him. “I’ve got lots of books to keep me company and a few essays to finish. It’ll be nice to have the whole break to work on them.”
“Take them with you then,” He says, slipping his phone back in his pocket. “And whatever else you need for the week. You’re coming home with me.”
“What?” I ask, unsure I heard him correctly.
“I’ve just booked you a ticket on my flight, you’re going to come home with me and spend Thanksgiving with me and my family.”
“Christian, that’s very kind of you to offer but I can’t…”
“Yes, you can. Pack your things or I’ll pack them for you. We’re on a deadline, Anastasia, our flight leaves in a few hours.”
“Christian…” I hesitate but he drops his bag and I know he’s going to make good on his threat to pack for me.
“Okay, okay!” I say in defeat. I get off the bed and get down on the floor, lying flat so I can pull my carry-on suitcase out from underneath it. The purple fabric is already covered in dust bunnies from just the few months it’s been under there so I hastily wipe them away and begin rummaging through my things, collecting what I need. Fortunately, college life means that I don’t have much space for all of my belongings to be spread out, so it doesn’t take me long to collect all the essentials. I grab my keys and follow Christian out the door, my suitcase rolling behind me.
“Are you planning on leaving your car at the airport?” I ask as we make our way out the the parking lot but then I see a black town car idling just next to where I parked Kate’s car the night before. The driver gets out of the car and rushes forward to collect our bags.
“Mr. Grey,” He says in a professional tone as he opens the back door for us. Christian holds open the door to the back seat and then slides in after me. While the driver places our luggage in the trunk, he pulls out his blackberry to make a phone call.
“Hi, Mom,” He says. “One of my friends from school couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving so I’m bringing her back with me. Elliot knows her, she’s actually his girlfriend’s roommate. That’s okay, isn’t it? Yes mom, I said, her. Good, we’re just leaving campus now so we should land back in Seattle in about 10 hours or so. Yes, I’m excited to see you too, Mom. I love you, too. Good-bye.”
He hangs up the phone and we drive off down the same route I took just yesterday to bring Kate to the airport. When we arrive, the driver opens our door for us, removes our luggage from the car and Christian leads me into the airport. He prints our tickets at a self-help kiosk and we weave our way through the crowd of people flying out of Boston for the Thanksgiving holiday. Security is a nightmare and it takes us nearly an hour and forty-five minutes to get through. By the time we finally make it into the terminal and get to our gate, our flight has already begun boarding. Christian and I go straight to the stewardess at the gate, hand her our tickets and board the seemingly over-packed plane. There are so many people aboard I wonder how he was able to just book me a flight.
I pull my copy of Mrs. Dalloway out of my carry-on and then Christian helps me make sure it’s secured in the overhead compartment. I hate to admit it, but I’m happy he booked us seats in business class rather than coach because every seat behind us comes in rows of three, but where we sit, it’s just the two of us.
“Would you like the window seat?” He asks before sitting down.
“No, thank-you,” I say. “I’ve never really been one for heights.” He smiles and takes the window seat and I squeeze in after him. We wait as the rest of the plane fills up and passengers take their seats. Once, a woman falls over on top of me while attempting to maneuver around someone standing in the aisle trying to force their overstuffed bag in the compartment.
“I’m sorry!” She says apologetically and I assure her there is no harm done, but Christian’s jaw tightens with irritation.
“I absolutely abhor flying commercial,” He scowls. “One day, I’ll have a private plane and I’ll never have to deal with any of this shit again.”
The cabin doors close and we begin taxiing over the tarmac towards the runway. The stewardess stands at the front of the plane to give the safety demonstration and as we turn on to the runway, I begin to shrink into my seat.
“Are you alright, Ana?” Christian asks.
“Yes.” I say meekly. “I’ll be fine once we’re in the air. It’s the taking off and landing part that I’m not a big fan of.”
He takes my hand, squeezes it twice, and the gesture does make me feel a little better. I feel as though my stomach is flattened against the back of my seat as the plane leaves the ground and flies off into the air. It takes about ten minutes, but eventually we level out and I feel okay again. Christian is reading a book called Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, which doesn’t interest me in the slightest, so I open Mrs. Dalloway and we spend the next hour or so reading next to each other in silence, which is slightly difficult at times because even though he has his own book to hold, he never relinquishes my hand.
The stewardess comes around after a while and offers us cookies and drinks, which we both gladly accept. I wish there would have been enough time in the airport to grab something to eat. I hadn’t gone to breakfast before Christian collected me and I’m pretty hungry.
We have a layover in St. Paul that gives us just enough time to grab some Pizza in the airport terminal, something Christian doesn’t seem thrilled about, and then we’re once again whisked off into the air towards Seattle. This time, rather than reading, Christian and I plug our headphones into the armrest and watch a movie together. I slouch sideways in my seat, leaning my head on his shoulder and he takes my hand again and rests his head on mine. I feel so warm and safe sitting next to him.
This is how it should be.
When we finally touch down in Seattle, I feel an overwhelming sense of comfort. It’s like I hadn’t realized how much I missed being home, being in my own time-zone, until I got back. We exit the plane and walk through the airport, which is finally familiar to me. When we make it through the doors to the waiting area, Christian gestures ahead to his family. I see Elliot first, smiling, holding the shoulders of a small, thin girl, probably around thirteen, with long, raven colored hair, who is nearly bouncing up and down with excitement. Next to them, a woman I’d place in her late forties, early fifties, with sandy blonde hair stands beaming at us. She’s holding hands with a man who also looks to be in his early fifties with light brown hair peppered with flecks of gray.
“Christian!” The girl, who I assume is his sister Mia, squeals as she finally breaks free from Elliot’s grasp and races forward. Christian lets go of the handle of the suitcase and wraps her in a warm hug as she catches him around the waist, nearly knocking the wind out of him.
“Hey, Meems.” He says affectionately. Christian’s family walks towards us and Elliot is the first to pull me into a one armed hug.
“Hi, Ana,” He says warmly, rubbing my shoulder. “Glad you came!”
“Anastasia!” Christian’s mom says, and it looks as though she’s nearly bursting with happiness. “How wonderful of you to join us for the holiday. It’s so rare we have the opportunity to meet Christian’s friends.”
“Yeah, because he doesn’t have any friends,” Elliot teases.
“Shut up, Elliot!” Mia cries indignantly.
“Yeah. Shut up, Elliot,” Christian agrees.
“Okay, kids. Let’s get home. I’m sure Christian and Ana are ready for a home cooked meal and some well deserved rest.” Christian’s dad says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ana.” He adds. “Elliot has told us wonderful things about you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Grey,” I say.
“Please, call me Carrick.”
“Carrick,” I repeat with a smile.
We walk through the airport and out to the parking garage where we pile into the Grey’s SUV. It’s a tight squeeze in the backseat, but it’s surprisingly, or unsurprisingly really, nice to be situated so close to Christian. We drive around Seattle towards Bellevue and I smile as we pass the familiar landmarks that make this home.
When we get to the Grey’s home in Bellevue, I’m astonished by the size of the property. The grounds are expansive, nearly park like. The driveway itself takes nearly ten seconds for us to traverse in the car. The house is enormous, larger than any house I’ve ever seen and I’m awestruck as I step out of the SUV and look up at the windows emanating warm, welcoming light.
I’m overwhelmed by the wealth around me. I know what it costs to live in the Seattle area and this house, these grounds, we’re talking millions of dollars. I suppose it makes sense though, Christian does attend Harvard and he has a private room in the most expensive dormitory on campus. Then there’s the designer clothes, the Audi… not to mention Elliot’s attendance at Stanford and his monthly cross country flights from San Francisco to Boston. I wonder what type of law Christian’s dad does? Or maybe, Mr. Grey or Mrs. Grey come from money as well.
“Do you like it?” Christian asks when he steps out behind me and notices me gaping at the house.
“Like it?” I ask, the incredulity in my voice apparent. “It’s practically the Four Seasons!”
He laughs. “Homier though, I think.”
I follow him up the stone walkway that winds through the perfectly manicured lawn up to the front door. The entrance way in the house is as grand as the exterior suggests. It has high ceilings with a large crystal chandelier, shiny stone flooring and a stately winding staircase to the second floor. We are greeted at the door by a young looking woman with blonde, braided pigtails who takes Mrs. Grey’s coat.
“Is dinner almost ready, Gretchen?” She asks as she hands over her purse.
“Nearly, Dr. Grey,” Gretchen says. “We’ll be ready to serve in about fifteen minutes.”
“Wonderful,” Christian’s mom says. “Christian, will you show Ana to the guest room so she can get settled in before dinner?”
“Yes, over here, Ana,” Christian says gesturing down the hallway down the right to the entrance way.
“I wanna take Ana to the guestroom!’ Mia pouts.
“Lead the way then,” Christian says, stepping aside for his sister to go first. She smiles up and him and bounds forward. We follow Mia down the short hallway and she opens the door to a large room. I step inside and am again overwhelmed. The room is filled with a king sized bed covered in luxurious linens and overstuffed pillows. There is a silky looking chaise lounge beneath the window decorated with soft cream and silver curtains and a huge flat screen tv mounted on the wall across from the bed.
“There’s a bathroom over here,” Mia says, walking across the room and opening a door on the far wall. “And there is a closet at the back behind the sinks if you want to hang any of your clothes up.”
I walk over and look into the bathroom. It’s made entirely of a pale tan sandstone and there is a jacuzzi tub and a shower. At the back of the room, I can see the dark space that l assume is a walk in closet.
“You’ll be okay down here alone?” Christian asks.
“Okay?” I ask, overwhelmed. “Can I move in and stay here forever?”
Christian laughs. “I don’t know how many correspondence courses Harvard offers.”
“Who needs college when you have all of this?” I ask dreamily. “And to think, I was going to stay in Cambridge over the break.”
“I’m glad you came,” Christian says warmly and I look up at the pleased expression on his face.
“Me too,” I say.
“Do you want me to take your suitcase up to your room, Christian?” Mia asks. Now that the excitement of showing me the room has worn off, I think she’s anxious to go and eat dinner.
“I’ll get it, Meems,” Christian tells her and then turns back to me. “Make yourself at home. Dinner should be just about ready. I’ll meet you in the dining room.”
“Um… where is that?” I ask hesitantly.
“It’s not that big of a house, Ana,” Christian says. “I’m sure you won’t get lost.” I look at him pointedly and he sighs and continues.
“Go back down the hallway and walk past the stairs into the family room. The kitchen is off to the left and the dining room is on the other side of that.”
“I would have gotten lost,” I say and he rolls his eyes me.
“I’ll see you at dinner,” He says and he turns around, and leaves the room with Mia. I stare at my surroundings once more before wheeling my suitcase through the bathroom and back to the closet. I want to keep most of my things in here, the room is too pretty to mess up with clutter. I pull out my clothes and put them into the dresser drawers built into the walls of the closet. I didn’t really bring anything nice enough to have to hang up and I’m starting to regret it. What if Christian’s family is one of those families that dresses up for Thanksgiving dinner? Usually on Thanksgiving, I spend the whole day cooking and then Ray and I eat dinner on the couch in sweatpants and watch football. I decide to ask Christian about it and if I need something nicer, I’ll ask him to drive me over to Kate’s so I can raid her closet. Hopefully they haven’t changed the garage code since I’ve last been there.
I place my bag of toiletries on the counter and tuck my suitcase neatly into the corner of the closet. Quickly, I check my reflection in the mirror and grab a hair brush from my bag to comb all of the tangles out of it. After, I make sure there is nothing in my teeth, I hurry out of the room towards the Grey’s dining room where everyone is already sitting around a large, polished wood table.
“I saved you a seat next to me, Ana!” Mia says with a smile. I smile back and sit next to her, across from Christian. Gretchen places a piece of grilled chicken on my plate and asks if I would like anything to drink. I ask for a glass of iced water and she disappears in the kitchen to get it. Wait staff is definitely weird, I think as she sets the glass in front of me, I feel as though I’m in a restaurant.
“Would you care for some broccoli, dear?” Christian’s mom asks, passing me a bowl with steamed broccoli which looks to be covered in sea salt and parmesan cheese.
“Yes please, Dr. Grey,” I say and she smiles sweetly at me.
“There’s no reason to be so formal. Please, call me Grace.”
“Thank-you,” I say, taking the bowl from her and helping myself to a portion of broccoli.
“You take some broccoli too, Mia.” Grace says sternly, and Mia frowns.
“Ah mom, Elliot doesn’t have to eat any broccoli,” She complains.
“That’s because Elliot is an adult.” Elliot says, referring to himself in the third person.
“No, that’s because Elliot hasn’t been passed the vegetables yet. You can give them to him when you’ve taken some for yourself, Mia.”
As Mia takes a tiny scoop of broccoli onto her plate and passes the bowl to Elliot, Grace hands me a bowl of rosemary seasoned red potatoes and I gladly take them.
While I savor each delicious bite of dinner, I listen to the wholesome, loving family conversation. Carrick talks about a case he’s recently finished while Grace tells us that she would like to do some kind of craft project and some baking for the children spending Thanksgiving in the hospital. Together, they catch Christian and Elliot up on everything they’ve missed being away at school and tell them to make time for Mia’s dance recital at the end of the week.
“How is school going, Christian?” Grace asks as the meal dies down.
“Fine,” He replies, not looking up from his food.
“So you are doing well in your classes? Elliot told me last week he thought you might be struggling with your course load.”
“I’m fine, Mom. I’m still keeping down a 4.0, I’m just busier than I anticipated.”
“And your rowing, how is that going?” Carrick asks, joining in the barrage of questioning from the opposite end of the table.
“It’s fine. We had some trouble with one of our teammates, but once he left it’s been smooth sailing. We won five of our last six meets and we’ve got a strong team to continue on in the spring.”
“But you’re enjoying it?” His mother asks. “It’s not too much on top of your schedule?”
“Yes, I enjoy it and no, it isn’t too much for me to handle. I’m handling everything fine.”
“We’re very happy to hear that,” Grace says with a smile and then turns to me. “And what is it you’re studying at Harvard, Ana?”
“Literature,” I tell her and she nods.
“And are you a legacy at Harvard like Katherine?” She continues.
“No, I’m actually the first in my family to go to college,” I say and both she and Carrick look at me puzzled.
“What is it that your parents do?” Carrick asks.
“Well my mom is just a stay at home wife, but my step-dad is in the military. He’s currently deployed in Iraq.”
“Oh, well how wonderfully brave.” Grace says.
“So, you’re on scholarship to Harvard then?” Carrick asks and I’m confused by the uneasy look on his face as his eyes flash back and forth between Christian and I.
“Mostly,” I say. “I’ve gotten some scholarships and aid from the military and have loans for the rest.”
“I see…” Carrick says.
“I think that’s wonderful, dear. You should be very proud of yourself,” Grace says, giving Carrick a warning look.
“How is school going for you, Mia?” Elliot asks, obviously trying to change the subject. Mia tells us all about Jr. High and how excited she is to go to High School the next year until we’ve all finished our dinners. As our plates are collected, we head into the living room where Gretchen brings us hot cocoa and we watch a movie on the Grey’s huge TV. Just spending this evening with them is like getting a sense of family that I’ve never really experienced before. Everyone is so relaxed and comfortable here together. It’s nice.
When the movie is over, Christian’s parents decide to call it a night. Carrick takes Mia, who fell asleep during the movie, into his arms and carries her off to bed.
“Are you tired?” Christian asks me as Elliot flops across the couch and starts flipping through channels.
“A little,” I tell him. “It is midnight back in Cambridge right now.”
“Then let’s go to bed,” He says. I nod and turn to say goodnight to Elliot who waves me off as if my addressing him is far less important than the infomercial he’s just flipped to.
Christian walks me to the stairs and pulls me into a tight hug.
“I’m really glad you came with me,” He says, kissing the top of my hair.
“Me too,” I say.
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
He starts up the stairs and I turn down the hallway to the Grey’s guest room. Closing the door softly behind me, I go into the bathroom, change into pajamas, brush my teeth, and wash my face. I didn’t realize how soft and squishy the carpet in this room was until I walked across it barefoot and I wiggle my toes around in it just before I climb into bed.
The sheets I envelop myself in are softer than any I’ve ever slept in and there is the slight hint of a jasmine scent to the bed set. I smile at how nicely events have turned in my favor, to be here, spending a whole week with Christian at home, without the interruptions from school. The sweet thought carries me off into a restful sleep, as I snuggle deeply in the comfortably warm bed.