I stare morosely out the window as Christian and I pull away from the cabin Monday afternoon. It’s been an amazing weekend, the kind that – despite the lack of cell service or internet access – you hope never comes to an end. Christian takes my hand and holds it in place on the armrest between us, and I sigh as I turn to face the road ahead of us.
We stop for lunch in a small town just over the border in New Hampshire and the fact that we’ve re-entered to civilization becomes immediately apparent as both of our cellphones start vibrating furiously with incoming texts, voicemails and emails. Christian pulls into a diner just off the main road and, once we’re seated at a table, we both begin looking through our phones to catch up on our lives.
Most of what I’ve missed is from Kate. I scroll through the missed texts which seem to grow more and more urgent as the weekend progressed.
Today has been amazing. What did you and Christian do? Are you two still fighting?
Elliot and I rode bikes over the Golden Gate today at sunrise, it was incredible. You definitely need to come with me one of these weekends!
Hey, what are you doing?
Why are you ignoring me?
Are you mad at me or something? I’m sorry if what I said at the bar the other night about you and Christian having sex embarrassed you 😦
Why is your phone off? Please call me when you get this.
Elliot tried to call Christian but his phone is off too. What is going on with you two? I’m starting to think you’ve been murdered. Please call me so I know you’re okay!
It’s been two days and nothing? You’re really starting to freak me out!
Anastasia Rose Steele!
I’m getting on a plane back to Boston right now and you’re my ride. I still can’t get ahold of either you or Christian! Please tell me that you’re coming!
Boarding my connecting flight, I really hope you’re going to be at the airport! I get in a 3:15.
I frown down at the screen of my phone. I really should have let her know I was going to be unavailable all weekend. I can picture her, sitting on a plane wrapped up in a tight ball of anxiety.
“I have to pick up Kate at the airport at 3,” I tell Christian. “Can we do that before we head back to Cambridge?”
“Sure,” He says distractedly. He doesn’t look up from his phone and I frown as I realize our bubble has been broken and the outside world has returned to sour Christian’s mood. We order food and eat in relative silence before hurrying back to the car as we’ll only just make it back in time to pick up Kate.
“Thank you for a wonderful weekend,” I say as he navigates his way through the increasingly familiar streets of Boston.
“You’re welcome,” He says. “It really was a great weekend.”
I smile at him as we pull into the parking garage at Logan International Airport. Christian holds my hand and together we walk to the security gate where we wait patiently for Kate. When I finally see her break through the crowd of people filing through the automatic doors, I notice her looking worriedly around the waiting area. Eventually, her eyes fall on me and there is the slightest look of relief that crosses her face but it’s quickly replaced by an irritated scowl.
“What’s her problem?” Christian asks.
“She’s been trying to get ahold of me all weekend. I didn’t have the chance to tell her that I was going to be out of cell service,” I reply and let go of his hand to walk forward and greet Kate.
“Hi,” I say hesitantly.
“Hi?” She repeats incredulously. “Hi? Ana, where the hell have you been all weekend? Why haven’t you responded to any of my texts or answered any of my calls? I was legitimately scared I was going to get back here and find out something horrible had happened to you.”
“I’m fine, Kate,” I say, fighting the urge to roll my eyes at her overreaction to 72 hours of no contact. “Christian took me to Vermont this weekend and we didn’t have cell service.”
“Vermont?” Kate asks, the anger in her expression dissipating quickly in favor of curiosity. “Really? That sounds so… romantic. What did you do? Where did you stay? Tell me everything.”
“You first,” I tell her. “We honestly didn’t do much so I’m sure your weekend will be much more exciting to hear about.”
She smiles brightly as we walk back to join Christian.
“How was your weekend, Kate?” He asks, reaching out to take her bag to carry back to the car. I beam at him as Kate gratefully hands him her suitcase.
“It was really good. Elliot and I had a wonderful time and I adore San Francisco so I was glad to spend some time there.”
“How is Elliot?” Christian asks.
“He did have to spend a good deal of the day on Sunday working on some things he has to get in early since he’ll be flying out here Wednesday, but for the most part he was wonderful.”
My stomach drops suddenly as Kate inadvertently reminds me of Elena’s imminent arrival this week. I’d nearly forgotten…
“Ugh, the ballet,” I groan involuntarily, and Kate looks at me curiously.
“You don’t like the ballet? I’m kind of excited.”
“Oh.. uh no, it’s not that. I just forgot. I have a lot to do this week,” I say quickly, glancing up at Christian who looks stoically ahead.
“Well, I was hoping you wanted to go into Boston with me tomorrow and go shopping. We need something formal to wear.”
“I’ve already taken care of that,” Christian says.
“What do you mean, you’ve taken care of it?” I ask suspiciously.
“I ordered something for you from New York. It should be waiting for you when we get back.”
I feel the all too familiar pangs of guilt as I imagine the cost of the dress waiting for me back at school.
“You’ll still go with me though?” Kate asks as we climb into Christian’s car. “I wish I would have had more time to prepare. I have a dress that I wore to a charity event my father’s company put on last year that would have been perfect, but there isn’t time for my mom to ship it to me.”
“Of course I’ll go with you, Kate,” I tell her. “I work tomorrow but we can go after I get off?”
“Sounds like a plan,” She says. “Christian, did you make hotel reservations for everyone? Elliot said you hadn’t gotten back to him and he was going to book something this weekend but he didn’t know where your parents were staying or if you had already made the reservations.”
“I haven’t. Hold on,” He says. He presses a button on the screen in the dashboard console and scrolls through a list of contacts before selecting Seattle Children’s Hospital. The soft background music is silenced and replaced by the ring of the call.
“Seattle Children’s Hospital, how may I direct your call?” A chipper female voice answers.
“Dr. Grace Trevelyan, please,” Christian says.
“Are you a patient?”
“No, I’m her son.”
“Hold one moment, please. I’ll see if she’s available.”
He turns onto the road that will take us back to Cambridge as hold music sounds through the speakers until Grace picks up.
“Elliot, honey, I have a patient waiting, can I call you back?” She asks.
“Oh,” She says, surprise obvious in her tone. “What happened? What’s wrong?” Her alarm is disconcerting and I suppose it’s because Christian doesn’t call her very often. I think of how much effort Grace puts into keeping her kids close and the isolation Christian has put between himself and his family makes me sad. Another horrible consequence of his relationship with the bitch troll.
“Nothing is wrong, Mom.” Christian reassures her. “I just wanted to know if you made hotel reservations for everyone or if I should?”
“Oh,” She says relieved. “No, your father booked rooms for us at The Liberty. We thought Elliot would stay with either you or Kate.”
“Okay, thanks Mom.” Christian says.
“I love you, dear. Call me later tonight.”
“I will,” He replies. He presses the red button on the screen and the phone goes out and music begins to fill the car.
“I can stay with Christian so you and Elliot can have our room.” I offer, turning around to look at Kate, but she shakes her head.
“I can’t skip any classes this week which means he’ll be alone all day Thursday and Friday and won’t be able to get back in if he decides to leave.”
“I’ll book a room,” Christians tells Kate before he turns his head to look at me, “Do you want to stay in Boston Thursday night?”
“My early class is on Friday,” I tell him.
“I’ll get you back,” He promises, so I shrug. It seems kind of silly for us to stay in an expensive hotel room 30 minutes away from campus when we have class the next day but I suppose Christian probably wants to be close to his family.
“We should find something going on Wednesday night,” Kate says. “That’s generally party night for off campus students, isn’t it? Do you guys know of anything?”
“No, but I’ll look around,” Christian says.
“Maybe Jose knows of something?” I add, he was the one who invited us to our first off campus party after all. Kate nods and picks up her phone to call Elliot and let him know that we have made reservations for the weekend. Once she hangs up she spends the rest of the trip home telling us about her trip to San Francisco.
“Oh, and there was this guy down on the wharf that-” She says excitedly but Christian cuts her off.
“Kate, isn’t that your car?” He asks, suddenly pointing through the front windshield as we pull into the parking lot.
“What? Oh my god!” Kate gasps as she sees what Christian is pointing at. We scramble out of the car to Kate’s Mercedes and find the back passenger window completely smashed in.
“Don’t touch anything,” Christian says urgently, as he pulls out his phone and dials the police.
“What happened?” Kate asks, looking helplessly at the shattered glass all over the asphalt around her back tire.
“It doesn’t look like they took anything important. Your stereo is still there, your GPS, all your chargers and AUX cables…” I say, scanning the interior of the car through the front passenger window. “Did you have anything else in the car?”
“Uh… My gym bag, I think, and some notebooks for school. But they’re gone.”
“You’re sure you left them in there?” I ask.
“Yeah, but why would someone want my gym bag?”
“I don’t know… Did you have anything in it?”
“My iPod, I think… I can’t remember. But even if I did, they would have had to go through my entire gym bag to find it.”
“They wouldn’t have taken the gym bag if they just wanted your iPod,” Christian says, as he hangs up the phone. “It’s easier to spot someone carrying a bright pink duffle bag across campus than something they could have easily just slipped into their pocket.”
The police arrive a few minutes later and Christian and I wait for Kate by his car while she gives a statement. When she’s finished I wrap an arm around her and walk with her back to Grays. She’s shaking the whole way as the initial shock and adrenaline wears off.
“I need to go meet with Ros for a while, do you need anything, Kate?” Christian asks once we’re back upstairs and inside our room.
“No, I don’t think so,” She replies quietly.
“I took some pictures of your window on my phone, I’ll email them to you. Call your insurance company and file a claim. Do you want me to make an appointment at a shop in town to get your car fixed?” He asks.
“Please, and… thank you, Christian,” She says, and she seems surprised by his help. He nods and I hug him good-bye before he turns to leave the room.
“Are you okay, Kate?” I ask when the door closes behind him.
“Yeah, just… it’s weird, you know? It feels really personal. I mean, yeah, he got my iPod but he also just took a bunch of dirty clothes. It freaks me out. I would have rather he pulled the stereo out of my dash.”
“I’m so sorry, Katie,” I say, sympathetically. She nods and picks up her phone to dial her insurance company. She’s on the phone for over an hour detailing everything about the robbery that she can. I can hear in her voice that she’s really freaked out and I feel terrible because I don’t know what to do besides offer reassuring looks of sympathy whenever I catch her eye.
Once she’s off the phone, she calls Elliot to tell him what happened and then we head down to dinner to meet Christian and Ros. Ros is shocked when we tell her and she presses Kate for details, but Kate remains fairly reticent. I don’t think she wants to talk about it anymore so instead, I try to turn the conversation to Elliot’s impending arrival.
“So, what’s the plan for Wednesday?” I ask, and immediately, Christian’s face hardens. Ros looks hesitantly at me. Clearly, Christian has asked her if she knew of anything going on and the answer isn’t good.
“I’ve only heard of one party so far…”
“Where?” I ask, and she looks nervously to a table on the other side of the hall. I follow her gaze and see Astor Harrington sitting with a group of guys laughing about something.
“Oh,” I say, slightly crestfallen.
“What’s the problem? You guys know him,” Kate asks, perking up slightly at the prospect of a night out with Elliot.
“Not in a good way. I don’t think either Christian or I could get an invite even if we begged,” Ros says.
“And we wouldn’t beg,” Christian adds seriously.
“Yeah, but he’s like in love with Ana. Make her go ask him,” Kate says.
Ros and I both turn to look at Christian, her expression expectant, mine nervous. He looks back at me and I can’t read him.
“Do you want to go?” He asks evenly.
“I mean, if we can’t find something else… I want to go out with Kate and Elliot,” I say diplomatically.
“Then you should ask him,” He says, and I stare back at him incredulously. He looks back at me very seriously. “I trust you, Ana.”
I smile at him, feeling as though I’m on cloud nine. This weekend has changed everything. We’re finally on the same page as one another and it’s bliss.
He gets up from the table and kisses me quickly on the top of my head before turning to Ros. “I’m going to finish drafting that UN proposal tonight, I’ll send it over to you by 11:30. Do you have those statistical analysis work books done?”
“Good, email them to me when you’re finished,” He says, and then he looks at Kate. “I’m going to head over to the hardware store and get some cellophane to put over your window, I think it’s going to snow. I have a break in my schedule at 12:30, I can follow you to the auto shop and give you a ride back to campus, if you’d like.”
“Oh, uh… yeah. Thanks, Christian!” Kate says, nearly flabbergasted, and I feel a warm rush of delight to see him helping to take care of my best friend.
“Don’t mention it,” He says quickly. “Just text me when you’re ready.”
Kate nods enthusiastically and Christian leans down to kiss me good-bye one last time before leaving for his therapy session. The moment he’s left the table, Ros rounds on me beaming at me with a 10,000 megawatt smile.
“What did you do to him?” She asks reverentially.
“Nothing!” I say, feeling my cheeks heat as I find it impossible to wipe the ridiculous grin off my face. “We just had a very good weekend.”
“Well, keep it up. I could get used to this new, improved, laid back version of Christian,” She replies happily.
When we’re finished with dinner, Kate and I walk the couple blocks down Massachusetts Avenue to the GAP. Kate wants to get new workout clothes and a new duffle bag so she can go to the gym tomorrow, and as she places her items on the checkout counter, I can see that worried, almost fearful look has returned to her eyes. I really hope the police find something out about what happened.
We walk silently back to campus but before we get to Grays, Kate stops me.
“Did you ever pick up your dress?” She asks.
“Oh, no. I’ll meet you upstairs?” I say, turning to walk over to the mail room, but Kate shakes her head and follows after me. The guy standing behind the attendant counter in the mail room hands me a long, rather thick shipping box and Kate eyes is excitedly, which makes me glad as I think it’s a good distraction from her concern about her car.
Back in our room, I place the box on top of my dresser and attempt to settle down to do my homework but Kate wants to see the dress Christian bought, so I pull out a pair of scissors and pull open the cardboard shipping box to reveal another box that is charcoal gray with the words Alexander McQueen New York embossed over the lid.
“Oh my god!” Kate squeals excitedly, lunging forward to pull out the box. I roll my eyes as she opens the lid for me, setting it down carefully as if it’s something fragile and precious, and then pulls out a long, black satin gown.
“It’s so pretty!” She says with awe as she touches the fine black fabric. “Can I try it on?”
I roll my eyes, seeing the dollar signs flashing in my mind, but there is nothing I can do about it now, so I nod. She smiles broadly and rushes giddily into the bathroom, returning moments later in the dress. It’s strapless with a tightly fitted bodice and extremely smooth lines. The skirt is also well fitted but surprisingly falls gracefully around Kate’s tip-toes.
“This is amazing, Ana,” Kate says, examining herself in the mirror. “I admit it, I’m jealous.”
“Me too,” I laugh. “It looks way better on you than it ever will on me.” Kate frowns and I look at her curiously.
“Maybe I should just ask my mom to take my dress over to the Greys’ house and see if Grace will bring it. I don’t know how we’re going to go shopping in Boston without a car…”
“I’m sure Christian would let us use his,” I offer, trying to be helpful. “I’ll ask him tomorrow.”
She nods and then disappears back into the bathroom to change again. When she returns she gently places the gown back into the matte gray box and then busies herself packing her gym bag while I get a start on the homework I didn’t finish.
I open my laptop and scroll through my emails. Most are just spam messages from the University or teachers sending out reminders for class. I do have one from Astor, which fortunately does in fact have Carter and Aiden Cc’d on it, confirming our study group on Thursday. They’ve both replied that they’ll be there and since I’d already accepted in person with him last week, I don’t reply.
Once I’m finished with my homework, I think briefly about going to stay with Christian but since Kate’s mood has definitely soured since the Wednesday night party discussion, I decide I’d probably stay with her. I send Christian a text message telling him I won’t be over, and then settle into bed, pulling out a book instead of going straight to sleep since I want to be awake in case Kate decides she needs to talk or something. She doesn’t say anything though, beyond regular small talk, and 30 minutes after I’ve started reading, she too gets into bed and we both go to sleep.
The next day at school is significantly better than last Friday. Class is easy as I discover I’m one of the few people who finished the reading assignment for Paradise Lost and am able to help lead the class discussion. By the time I get to work, I’m in a really good mood.
Ryan gives me some books to shelve in the beginning but most of my shift I spend at the circulation desk printing labels to stick onto the spines of the new books that have come in over the weekend. It’s mindless work, which is probably why I actually notice Astor as he walks up to my desk this time.
“You sure seem to spend a lot of time here,” I say as I finish with the label in my hand.
“Best place to study on campus,” He says with a shrug. I want to roll my eyes, but I refrain because today I actually do need something from him.
“How was your weekend?” He asks.
“Good. Christian and I went out of town.”
“Oh?” He asks, his interests peaked. “Let me guess, he took you an exhibit where you spent hours watching paint dry?”
“No, he took me to a cabin in the woods and we spent hours reading about international trade laws and embargos,” I reply pointedly.
“Well, I learned how human rights violations can affect trade,” I say innocently, and he rolls his eyes.
“Yeah that was annoying, but I knew he’d find a way out of it eventually. Doesn’t it get tiring dating someone always gets what he wants and never has to face any consequences?”
“If you think that’s true, you just don’t know him very well,” I say, fighting the pang of sadness I feel as I think of the physical scars Christian carries around with him. He’s faced consequences more than any of the rest of us, more than anyone ever should have.
“Is that why you haven’t responded to my email?” He asks, and I look at him confused, worried for a minute that he can read my thoughts or something.
“Because you were out in the forest or whatever?”
“Oh… no. I already told you I’d come to the study group on Thursday,” I say dismissively. He nods and I think he’s about to walk away so I force out the words in a too fast torrent.
“I hear you’re having a party tomorrow.”
He stops and smiles back at me. “I might be. Why, did you want to come?”
“Well, yeah… if it’s cool.”
“But you’ll bring Grey?” He asks, his eyes narrowing.
“His brother is dating my best friend and he gets into town tomorrow. We were trying to find something to do and your party sounded like fun,” I say. “Come on, you’ve got the chance to be the bigger person here.”
He takes a long pause, then shakes his head, and reaches out for a pen and scrap of paper, which he scribbles his address on.
“It starts at nine, don’t be late,” He tells me. I smile gratefully as he turns to leave. Well, that’s taken care of. Kate should be pretty happy about that at least. I wonder how her car thing went today with Christian?
I spend the next few hours finishing the daunting project of labeling the large stack of new books and shelving them. It takes me right up to the end of my shift and once six o’clock strikes, I’m out the door to meet Christian, Kate, and Ros for dinner.
Kate and I eat quickly as Christian has agreed to let us use his car to head downtown so we can go shopping, but she pouts the entire time we’re in Boston since the mechanic has told her she won’t be getting her car back for a few days. Finding a dress she likes does seem to perk up, though. She looks stunning in the flowy, royal blue, chiffon gown she’s purchased, and that night, when we’re back in our room, she puts it on to do her homework, refusing to take it off until we have to go to bed. I laugh at her as I get up to head across the hall for the night.
“You’re not staying here tonight?” She complains.
“Don’t worry, one night alone won’t kill you. After all, Elliot will be here tomorrow,” I tell her, and she winks at me as a broad smile crosses her face at the idea.
“Goodnight, Kate,” I say as I roll my eyes.
“Goodnight, Ana,” She replies, and I close the door behind me, trying desperately to wipe all thoughts of Kate and Elliot out of my mind as I make my way to Christian’s room.