“I have a solo,” Mia says Friday morning as she eats a sliced apple on the plate in front of her while Grace pulls her hair up into a tight bun on top of her head.
“You mean you’ll be dancing all alone with hundreds, maybe thousands of people watching you, criticizing you, waiting for you to screw up, and in that lonely, seemingly endless moment the entire success of the show, which dozens of people have spent countless hours on, will rest on your shoulders?” Elliot says.
“Elliot,” Grace says disapprovingly.
“Let him talk,” Mia says coolly. “I’m not nervous, I’m solid as a rock. I’m going to kill it.”
“Or kill one of the dancers,” Elliot adds.
“Elliot!” Grace chides him again, more forcefully this time.
“She’s going to do great,” Christian says handing me back my copy of Frankenstein.
“Have you ever seen a ballet before, Ana?” Grace asks.
“No,” I admit, looking up from the essay I’m writing. “Ray always preferred contact sports over the arts.”
“Ray sounds like my kind of guy,” Elliot says. “The only dance I’m interested in is Shaun Alexander mowing people over on his way to a touchdown.”
“The only dance you’re interested in is doing it with your girlfriend,” Mia says.
“Amelia Grey!” Grace exclaims, shocked.
I hear Christian attempt to cover a laugh as Grace lectures his little sister.
“She’s right though,” Elliot says, snatching the last apple slice of Mia’s plate.
“Elliot! Enough from you today!” Grace exclaims with exasperation.
When Mia is finished eating and is dressed for her recital, she and Grace load up in the car and head out for the last rehearsal before her performance this evening. Christian and I finish the remainder of our homework on the coffee table in the living room while Elliot watches re-caps and analysis from last night’s football game.
“Don’t you have any work to do?” Christian asks Elliot, disapprovingly.
“It’s called Thanksgiving BREAK, Christian,” He says, not taking his eyes off the TV. “You need to learn to live a little, bro.”
Christian shakes his head and looks back down at his books.
“Man, I wish mom hadn’t given Gretchen this weekend off. I’m starving. Dad better bring something home with him,” Elliot complains.
As if in answer to Elliot’s words, we hear the quiet rumble of the garage door open. A few minutes later, Carrick appears carrying plastic bags with red Chinese characters on the sides.
“Sorry I’m late,” He says. “I’ve been stuck in union negotiations all day. I brought home Chinese, is that okay?”
“Egg roll me,” Elliot says, finally rolling off the couch to attack the food.
“Christian, would you grab some plates from the kitchen?” Carrick asks.
Christian says nothing but instead slams his book closed, a little too hard, and storms off to the stairs.
“So he’s still not talking to me,” Carrick says sullenly.
“I’ll get them,” I volunteer and Carrick smiles at me as I walk to the kitchen. When I return there is a Chinese food buffet spread across the coffee table and I hand a plate to Carrick and Elliot, who are eating rice out of containers with chopsticks. I make up a plate of food and take it up to Christian, thankful Mia pointed out his room the last time I was up here. The door is closed so I knock hesitantly.
“What?” Christian snaps through the door.
“It’s me,” I say.
The door opens and he looks down at the food I’m holding out for him. His expression softens as he takes it.
“Thank-you, Anastasia,” He says and I smile at him before turning back to the stairs to help myself to what’s left.
An hour later the food is put away and we’re all dressed for the ballet.
“Shotgun!” Elliot calls as we step into the garage.
Carrick walks around his Mercedes and opens the driver’s side door.
“I’m going to take the SUV,” Christian says flatly, not looking at his father for approval. Carrick looks at him, surprised, but I think he decides the fight isn’t worth it because he doesn’t say anything. I frown but follow after Christian to the shiny black SUV on the far side of the cavernous garage.
Christian waits a few minutes for Carrick to get a head start and then pulls out of the garage and down the drive way. I stare at my fingers as we drive in silence.
“Do you know yet?” He asks, quietly as he turns onto the I-5 towards Seattle.
“Know what?” I reply, confused by his question.
“You said you needed time to think,” He says. “You’re leaving me twisted in knots over here, Anastasia.”
“I don’t know, Christian. No, I don’t know yet. I wasn’t expecting all of this and to be honest I’m confused by the whole situation,” I admit.
“So ask me. Tell me what you need me to clarify for you and I will. I’m not trying to hide things from you, I’m not trying to lie to you. I don’t want to play games.”
I feel my teeth sink into my bottom lip as my mind races through the hundreds of questions I have. Which one is the most important?
“Do you love her?” I ask, my voice barely more audible than a whisper.
“No,” He says flatly. My brow furrows as I think about what that means. How could he possibly deal with the things that vile woman has done to him, all the things she put him through, and the risks involved with those things if he didn’t love her. Is it all just about sex and if it is, is that all it will be between us?
“What?” Christian asks, exasperated by the look on my face that demonstrates the concerns running through my mind. He looks half mad, frustrated that he doesn’t know what I’m thinking, but I don’t know how to verbalize the questions racing through my mind. In truth, I just need time. I need time to figure out if I can manage all of his baggage because I know, deep down, that I’m already in this too deep and if I’m not careful, this will bury me. I look down at my fingers twisting together in my lap and shake my head, too tied up to speak anymore.
“Please, Anastasia,” He says softly. “I can’t take it away, I can’t change it, but it’s over. It’s you I want, only you. Nothing in the past matters. All that matters is you and me.”
“I don’t know, Christian…” I repeat hesitantly.
“When?” He asks. “When will you know.”
“I don’t know,” I say again, feeling torn between my feelings and his. He drags his fingers through his hair, resting his left arm on the window rest and biting down on his forefinger as he thinks about what I’ve just said. The rest of the car ride is silent and the tension in the air between us is so thick, it’s almost palpable. I look out the window, watching Seattle fly by, while my thoughts, my emotions, and my common sense are all at war with each other. Every fiber of my being is screaming at me to just move past it and be with Christian. It’s all I’ve wanted since the day I met him and yet a small voice in the back of my head stops me as it continually repeats the thought that is the very essence of my fear.
What if he wants to do this to you?
Fifteen minutes later we pull up to Benaroya Hall in Seattle. It’s crowded and once we park, Christian exits the car and takes me by the hand as we navigate our way through the people to find his family in the auditorium. We walk towards the usher handing out pamphlets and just as we are about to enter the theater, we are met by black sequins and expertly styled blonde hair.
“Christian,” Elena purrs. “I was worried when Carrick and Elliot showed up without you that you wouldn’t make it this evening.”
“What are you doing here?” Christian asks irritably.
“You don’t think I’d miss little Mia’s dance recital?” Elena says with false shock. “She’s my God-Daughter after all.”
Christian frowns at her but doesn’t say anything more to her. Instead, he turns to me.
“Let’s go, Ana,” He says, grabbing me by the forearm and pushing me forward but Elena reaches out to stop him.
“I need to go outside for some fresh air. You should join me,” She says, the sweetness in her tone replaced with the cold demand.
“No thank-you,” He says tightly, cringing at her grip on his chest. She glowers at him but there are too many people around for her to say anything more without making a scene so she lets him go and Christian leads me quickly into the auditorium. We take our seats next to Elliot and Christian begins flipping violently through the ballet program.
“Are you okay?” I ask him, quietly so that Elliot can’t hear.
“It’s fine,” He says, though I can still hear a hint of anger in his voice.
The minutes tick by to the beginning of the show and the seats around us begin to fill in. I can see from the program in Christian’s hand that the ballet will be lengthy so I decide I should use the bathroom before the show begins. I excuse myself and hurry up the aisle, knowing I don’t have much time before the curtain raises. The usher at the door points me in the direction of the restrooms and I make a bee-line to the bathroom doors. The bathrooms are empty and I know this means I’m cutting it pretty close. I wash my hands with hasty fervor and as I reach for the paper towels, the door behind me creaks open and in walks the bitch troll.
“Anastasia,” She greets me and I glare daggers at her in the mirror. Christian’s family isn’t around and now that I know what she’s said about me to Mr. and Mrs. Grey and what she’s done to Christian, there is no need for me to feign politeness anymore. Quite frankly, I find myself wishing bathrooms in opera houses came stocked with baseball bats. She smiles at my less than friendly greeting and I expect her to choose a stall but instead she walks next to me and leans against the sink.
“Can I help you?” I ask, not bothering to hide my loathing as I throw the paper towels in the wastebasket by the sink.
“No, dear, but I can certainly help you,” She says. I roll my eyes and am about to walk away when she grabs my arm and pulls me back.
“Look,” She says. “I don’t know what you think you’re going to get out of this, but I can tell you right now, Christian is not the man for you.”
“Oh really?” I say flatly, completely disinterested in anything she has to say.
“Really. Christian isn’t going to dote on you or buy you flowers on your birthday. Christian is single-minded. He wants to fuck you. That’s it. And really, I don’t blame him. You’re a beautiful girl, Anastasia, but that appeal won’t last forever. You see, you may hold a certain fascination to him now but eventually he will tire of you. His sexual desires are shall we say… exotic?”
“I think perhaps it’s you he’s tired of,” I snap. “Or maybe he’s realizing that you’re just a little too.. well aged for his tastes.”
“Please,” she scoffs. “You think you know Christian’s tastes? I’ve known every one of his darkest desires for years and will do things for him you would never dream of doing.”
“And yet, he still wants me and not you,” I say, and her eyes darken.
“Okay, Cupcake. I’m giving you a chance to make a clean break now before you get hurt. If you don’t want the out, fine, but I’ll…”
“You’ll what? Tell you best friend that you’re fucking and beating her son and have been since he was fifteen years old? Or will you tell your husband that you’ve been having an affair with a man half your age? Because if that’s the case, I’ll help you make the call. Or maybe it would be a better idea to just call the police you fucking pedophile.”
“You little bitch,” She she snarls, moving threateningly towards me but I’m out of time for this horrible woman. I turn around and leave the bathroom, shooting her a look of pure hatred as I exit. When I’m out of the restroom, I take two deep, calming breaths and then squeak through the doors just in time to take my seat as the lights darken and the curtain rises.
“What’s the matter?” Christian whispers. “You’re shaking.”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it.” I say, trying to cease the tremors of rage that are vibrating through me. I focus on the ballet before me and actually find that the music and fluid dancing has a calming effect. When Mia takes the stage a broad smile sweeps across my face and I turn to look at Christian, who watches his little sister dance with a mixture of pride and love reflected in his eyes. He glances over at me, smiles, and takes my hand on the arm rest. We look back in time to see Mia perform a spectacular leap into the arms of a male ballerina and twirl away with grace not common for a girl of thirteen. Christian squeezes my hand and in that moment, nothing matters. Only that I’m here with him and here to see the love he holds for his little sister.
When we get home that night, Christian, Elliot, and I head to bed early. We all have early morning flights to catch and as much as this week with the Grey’s started out amazing, I have to say that I’m extremely relieved to be going home to Cambridge. I think it will be easier for me to sort through this without being constantly surrounded by Christian’s family or the bitch troll herself.
I snuggle into the covers, thinking of my own bed back in my dorm and how much I’m going to miss this one once I’m back. I really haven’t ever slept in a more comfortable bed.
The next morning, Christian wakes me early and I rush around the room re-packing all of my toiletries and clothes. Grace apologizes over and over again that Gretchen wasn’t there to launder my clothes and pack for me, but I assure her I prefer to do the task myself.
Our flight to Boston leaves an hour or so before Elliot’s plane to San Francisco, so he’s being dropped off with us and we arrive at SEA-TAC with plenty of time to make it through the security gate, though Christian seems to be in a rush to leave.
“I’m going to come to Cambridge soon,” Grace promises Christian as she wraps him in her arms at the security gate. “Until then, don’t be a stranger.”
“Sure, Mom,” Christian says, still clinging to the aloof persona he’s been utilizing since Thanksgiving night. Grace looks hurt by his response but she covers the pain with a weak smile and brushes his cheek with her fingers before turning to me.
“Thank you so much for coming, Anastasia,” She says. “It was such a pleasure to meet you. We’ll have to go to lunch when I come for a visit.”
“Absolutely. I’d love that Mrs. Grey. Thank you for everything. This week really was a lot of fun and I can’t thank you enough for having me for the holiday.”
“You’re more than welcome, dear,” She wraps her arms around me and kisses my hair. When I pull away, she looks fondly at me one last time before moving on to Elliot. Mr. Grey reaches out a hand for me.
“Thank-you for a wonderful week, Ana,” He says. “Grace and I hope to see you again real soon.”
“Thank-you, Mr. Grey,” I say formally, feeling uneasy knowing what he suspects of me. Elliot and I turn to wait for Christian who is crouched down holding Mia tightly. A single tear falls down her cheek as Christian rubs her back and whispers something in her ear.
“You promise you’ll come back?” She sniffs, pulling away to look at him.
“Yes, I’ll only be gone a few weeks. Christmas is going to be here before you know it and I’ll be back for almost a whole month.”
She nods sadly, but is pacified by his promise.
“Love you, Meems,” He says.
“I love you too, Christian.”
“Oh Mia, I can’t leave you!” Elliot wails, stepping forward to give her a hug and making a huge scene with playful dramatics as he pretends to weep at the idea of leaving his baby sister behind.
“Whatever, Elliot,” Mia says, pushing him off of her. “You’re so weird sometimes.”
Elliot kisses her on the cheek and hugs his mom one more time and then we turn to walk through security. Christian turns to follow us without saying a word of good-bye to his father.
Once the employee takes my ticket and ID and sends me through, I turn to wave at the Grey’s one last time and then follow after Christian through the metal detectors. When we make it into the central terminal, we leave Elliot as he heads off for Terminal C and Christian and I make our way to Terminal A.
We sit next to each other in silence in the chairs by our gate while we wait for our flight to board. Christian is reading another one of his textbooks, while I skim through the essay’s I have to turn in tomorrow. I’m shocked I was able to find any time for school work with all of the activities the Grey’s planned for the week. I guess it’s a good thing I’m just not that interested in Sports Center and that’s all Elliot ever has on the TV.
The stewardess calls our section to board the plane so we gather our things and just as I tuck my essay into my carry on, Christian’s phone rings.
“Ros?” He says, answering the call. I turn to look at him and watch the look on his face morph from curiosity, to horror and finally anger.
“What do you mean it fell through?” He demands. “What the fuck happened?”
He paces back and forth practically screaming at his phone, looks up to me, and waves me off, telling me to board the plane. I frown, but turn around and hand the stewardess my plane ticket. There is more room in the plane this time and I’m able to get my carry on in the overhead compartment without any trouble. I take my seat and wait for several minutes before Christian appears. He roughly shoves his bag into the overhead compartment next to mine, then slides into the window seat next to me and pulls out his phone, texting furiously.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Fine,” He snaps, and I feel myself shrink back into my seat at his rebuke. When the cabin doors close and Christian can no longer text on his phone, he shoves it into his pocket and pulls out a book. I guess he doesn’t want to talk about whatever Ros said on the phone.
The tension in the atmosphere around Christian seems to radiate heat, and I feel an overwhelming need for distraction, so once the plane is safely in the air, I plug my headphones into my iPod and drift off to sleep for most of the long flight.
Christian and I are met at the gate by a man in a suit holding a sign that says “GREY”. Christian grabs me by the hand and I follow in his agitated wake, dragging my luggage behind me until we reach another shiny black town car. We slide into the back seat and almost immediately, Christian is back to texting on his phone.
The drive back to Cambridge is dreary and I watch the increasingly familiar scenery pass by through the rain streaked window. I listen to the slosh of the tires on the wet road and the sound of Christian furiously pounding on the keys of his blackberry, something that doesn’t stop until we reach campus.
When the car pulls up to the curb by Gray’s hall, Christian reaches into his pocket and gives the driver a $50 bill. I frown, wondering if I should have offered to tip the driver since he paid for the car and a wave of disappointment in myself crashes over me as I realize this is exactly the kind of behavior that would make Christian’s dad suspect me of using him for money. As the driver pulls our luggage out of the trunk and wheels the cases over to us, I make a silent vow to stop allowing Christian to pay for me.
We walk up the wet, leaf strewn path up to the dorms. Campus is once again buzzing with life but Christian and I seem weirdly removed from it, like we’re walking together in a silent bubble as students mill around us. We walk up the steps to the main entrance of Gray’s Hall and Christian holds the door open for me and I slip inside. The warm, familiar room is a welcome sight and I feel relieved as we make the trek up the stairs to our room.
When we reach the third floor, I pause at the door to my dormitory, waiting expectantly for Christian to say something to me. He unlocks his door and sets his bag on the floor of his room and turns back to look at me, tension clearly etched on his beautiful face.
“Thank-you for taking me home with you,” I tell him. “I had a wonderful break spending time with you and your family.”
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you came,” He says though there is a detached sort of politeness to his tone. I feel my lips curve into a frown and he reaches out to cradle my cheek in his palm. I look up and his eyes soften the slightest degree.
“You’ll think about it?” He asks quietly.
“Of course I will,” I reply. He nods, caresses my cheek once more and then turns back into his room, closing the door behind him.
I turn to open my own door and as I step into the small room, I feel odd not being greeted by Kate. I’ll have to pick her up from the airport tomorrow morning and I’m excited by the prospect. I’ve missed my best friend and now more than ever I feel like I need her advice and support. I wonder what she’ll say when I give her the skirt, blouse, and shoes I took from her closet back home? I wonder what she’ll say about me going home with Christian? I want to groan as I imagine the inquisition I’ll have to face, and I while I unpack, I practice my answers to the questions I know she’ll ask so I don’t accidentally let the floodgates burst and tell her everything I now know about Christian and Mrs. Lincoln.
When my belongings are folded neatly in their drawers or tossed into the clothes hamper and my toiletries are tucked back in their proper places, I jump in a quick shower and head to bed with my hair still damp, wondering what Christian is doing right this moment across the hall and trying desperately not to think that a simple “Yes” would probably mean I would get to spend the night with him.
What if he wants to do this to you? The voice in the back of my mind says, and a shiver runs up my spine at the thought.