I let out an accomplished sigh of relief as I make the very last edit on my Eighteenth Century Literature final. I’ve done it. I’ve completed my first year at Harvard University. A broad smile crosses my face as I stand from my seat and hand my blue book to the professor at the front of the class. He wishes me a good summer, a gesture I return, and then… I’m free.
The warm late May air feels extremely comforting on my face as I walk back to Grays Hall. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and everything is right with the world. That is until I see Christian moving up the walkway across the yard from me carrying a heavy looking box.
While I was taking my final exam, he and Elliot have been helping the movers load the moving truck that will take all of the things from our dorms to the new house. Unfortunately, these past couple weeks haven’t exactly been the easiest between Christian and I. I’m not over what happened in the trial and even though we’ve tried to sit down to talk it through, multiple times, nothing he says or does makes it okay for me and I can’t bring myself to say the things I need to. It hurts too much, especially when I think about what this has done to his family. It always ends the same way. He gives me the excuse that he did what he truly felt was the right thing and I get too frustrated arguing with him about Stockholm Syndrome that I have to end the discussion before I can even tell him how much this has hurt everyone he loves, including me.
Carrick still isn’t talking to him, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, Grace has had to take a sabbatical from work she’s been so upset over it all, and poor Mia has just been confused and anxious since she has no idea what’s going on. She’d called Christian in tears when she found out he wasn’t coming home for the summer, but he couldn’t change that now even if he wanted to. Carrick doesn’t want him home for the summer.
As for us, I really don’t know how we move on from here…
I turn to walk through the front doors of Grays Hall and am almost knocked over by Elliot carrying a throw rug over his shoulder and a box under his arm.
“Oh! Sorry, Ana,” He says.
“That’s okay, do you need any help?” I ask.
“It’s just a few more small things.” He says. “I think we’ve got it.”
“Okay,” I tell him, maneuvering out of the way so that he doesn’t smack me with the other side of the rug. School ended for Elliot a week ago and he flew in to help us move our things to the new house and then accompany Kate on the drive back to Washington. To my surprise, or maybe not at all, Elliot doesn’t seem fazed by what happened with the trial. He and Christian sat down earlier this week and Christian told him all the things he said to me, and Elliot seemed to accept it. I wonder though, if that’s just because Elliot feels that someone has to be on Christian’s side. He’s always held a kind of caretaker position for his little brother. I know how deep his love for Christian is, and it’s possible, maybe even probable, that Elliot is just unselfish enough to put his own feelings aside and support his brother.
Can I be that selfless too?
That’s the crux of the issue and the only question that is standing in the way of us moving on. If Christian and I are to have any kind of future, I have to be able to accept what has happened, take his word that it really is all over, and move on. The alternative is for me to break it off with him, and since that notion is too painful to even fathom, I need to learn to accept what is and move past this with him. Hopefully, that’s what this summer will be about. In a few hours, we’ll be alone in our new house and it will remain that way for the next two and a half months. Surely, in all that time, I can find some kind of closure for this.
I ponder the thought as I make my way up the stairs. Once I get to the third floor landing, I notice both mine and Christian’s doors are open and when I turn to walk into my dorm, I see Kate packing the last of her things into a suitcase.
The room is completely bare, no curtains, no pictures on the walls. Even the bedding has been stripped away. The only thing left of me in this room is the small purple carry-on suitcase that rests on my bare mattress.
I look forlornly around the room. It feels bittersweet to be leaving. This was the first place where I truly lived on my own, the place where I got to begin my journey in college, the place where I first fell in love. I think back to my very first day at Harvard, how I had paused outside of the door to really absorb this new step in my life, and I feel grateful as I truly believe I have lived this year to the fullest. Now it’s over, and I’m determined to leave the bad memories behind, and pack with me only the good.
“It looks kind of sad, doesn’t it?” Kate asks, when she turns around and sees me lingering in the doorway. “You know, all the bad memories with that whole stalker thing aside, we’ve had some really good times in here.”
“Yeah, we did,” I tell her. She zips her suitcase closed and then walks over to me and wraps me into a tight hug.
“I’m so happy I get to share all of this with you, Ana,” She tells me. “Really, I wouldn’t want anyone else.”
“Me too, Kate.”
“I’m going to miss you all summer. What am I going to do without you for two months?” She asks.
“Probably send me bossy texts about buying furniture,” I laugh, and she laughs too. We hug again just as Elliot and Christian come up behind us and knock on the door frame.
“Ready?” Elliot asks Kate, and she nods as she pulls away from me, wiping a tear from her cheek.
“Yeah,” She says, and then turns back to me. “I love you. Call me every day, and text me all the time, and get Skype on your computer so we can watch movies together on Sundays.”
“I will,” I promise. “I love you too. Drive safe!”
“Alright, alright!” Elliot says, pulling us apart as Kate hugs me yet again. “We’ve got to get going if we’re going to make it to Cleveland tonight.”
“Okay,” Kate says, frowning. “Bye, Annie.”
“Bye, Katie,” I tell her. She smiles at me as she turns to leave the room. I hug Elliot goodbye and then wave as they disappear into the hall, leaving Christian and I alone.
“Are you ready?” Christian asks.
“Yeah,” I say as I take one last look around the room.
“Good, because I have a surprise for you,” He says, and I raise an eyebrow at him.
“A surprise? I think I’ve had enough surprises from you to last me a while,” I tell him bitterly.
“It’s a good surprise,” He promises, and he reaches out for my hand before he leads me out of the room for the last time.
I turn in my room keys downstairs and follow him out around the Old Yard to the street that runs behind Grays. Parked on the side of the curb waiting for us is a long black limousine.
“You got a limo to take us a mile and half home?” I ask, but he shakes his head.
A driver gets out of the car and opens the door for us, and once we’re settled in, the limo pulls away from the curb and begins driving, not towards the house, but towards the freeway.
“Where are we going?” I ask, but Christian simply offers me a tight lipped smile.
“You’ll see,” He says.
A little over three and a half hours later, I stare out the window, mouth agape with shock, as the New York skyline comes into view. My cheeks hurt from smiling so broadly as the car makes its way past landmark after landmark until we finally pull up in front of the Plaza Hotel. The driver gets out of the car and opens the door for Christian and I to get out. Once he pulls our luggage from the trunk, Christian slides a tip into the driver’s hand and then gestures me forward.
Two men in uniform open the door for us to pass through into the lobby and the moment my feet touch the cool marble floor, I’m overwhelmed by everything around me. We check in and are led up to our room by a hotel employee, who loads our luggage onto a cart before walking us to the elevators. Once the bellhop opens the door to our room and I step inside, my hands fly up to my lips as I try to cover my outrageous smile. The room is unbelievably elegant with a huge king sized bed taking up the majority of the space and modern furniture and finishes surrounding it. While Christian thanks the bell hop and closes the door behind him, I hurry over to the window and take in the fantastic view of New York.
“Is it everything you hoped it would be?” He whispers in my ear. I smile as I force myself to look away from the view and turn to face him.
“I can’t believe you did this,” I tell him. “I mean, New York! I’m in the Plaza Hotel!”
“That you are,” He says, looking pleased as I continue to grin up at him with giddy excitement. Leaning up on my toes, I press my lips to his and he moans softly and moves my lips apart with his tongue. Since the trial, he’s treated every kiss we’ve shared as a precious fleeting gift and I wonder if it’s because he’s constantly worried it will be our last.
“I’m sorry,” He says when at last he releases me. “I didn’t handle the trial the right way. I should have just called the whole thing off. Refused to testify.”
“Yeah, well…” I reply awkwardly. I don’t want to tell him it’s okay, because it’s not, but I guess, if I’m really going to try and move on with him, I have to let him off the hook at some point, no matter how much it kills me inside to do so. Maybe, this is more of a forget situation than a forgive. That doesn’t seem to be how he feels though because he presses on, determined to talk this through until I forgive him.
“You haven’t talked to me much about how you’re feeling over the last couple weeks,” He says. “I know it was hard for you, but I need to know that you’re okay. We won’t get through this if you’re not honest with me.”
Honest? I want to laugh. Like he has any business lecturing me about being honest… but he’s right. We need to talk if we’re going to move on. Well, brace yourself Steele, this is going to hurt like a bitch.
“It hurt,” I tell him. “Not only because you hid how you were feeling from me but also because you protected her. When you told your parents about the two of you, I thought it was because you’d finally realized how wrong what she did to you was. But now, I don’t think that’s the case. I think you did it because I wanted you to do it and now you regret it, and you lied to protect her because some part of you still cares about her.”
“Anastasia…” He hesitates. “You have to understand that for a very long time, she was everything to me. Not in the way you are, not even an iota of the way you are, but for four years, my day, every day, began and ended with her. I know you only see her age and her threats and the punishments, but it wasn’t always like that. When I didn’t want to go to school, she was the only person who was understanding about it. I could talk to her about anything and she didn’t try to analyze everything I said as some cry for help for my shitty childhood. After everything she’s done to us, to you, I never want to see or speak to her again, but for everything she’s ever done for me… I couldn’t go through with it. She saved me from becoming a monster, and now I’ve saved her. I’m not indebted to her anymore. I can let it go.”
I cringe, feeling as though someone is literally gripping onto my heart and twisting it when he talks about her. I don’t understand how he doesn’t hate her…
“I’m really sorry that you see it that way,” I tell him. “You’re a good person. You’re generous, considerate, and caring. That’s who you are, not who she made you. That’s who you are in spite of what she did to you. She didn’t save you, she didn’t help you. She sexually abused you when you were a child and instead of paying for it in prison, she’s sitting at home sacrificing babies, or eating the hearts of virgins, or whatever evil things she does in her free time.”
He chuckles slightly but then looks seriously at me once more. “You might be right, you might be wrong, but the uncertainty I feel in that statement would have plagued me for the rest of my life.”
“So, why did you deny everything?” I ask. “She wouldn’t have gone to jail for having sex with you if you were over the age of consent. You didn’t have to lie about all of it. You made your whole family look like liars and now Mr. Lincoln is going to lose at least half of everything he has, and he shouldn’t. She’s going to make out a king after her divorce, she deserved to at least lose that.”
“I didn’t know what to do,” He says. “They didn’t let me see the other witnesses testimony so I didn’t know what to say and what not to say…”
“So it wasn’t about taking care of her then? About making sure she’d be okay once you cut off contact with her?”
“No,” He says. “I don’t care about that. Like I said, I’m not indebted to her anymore.”
“Okay,” I finally acquiesce. “Look, I’m never going to agree with your decision, and I’m never going to like it, but I can’t change it. You did what you thought you had to do, and as much as it kills me to see you still so blinded by what she’s done, I don’t have a choice but to accept it to move on. I still think you need to find a way to make this okay with your parents, but… okay. We’ll be okay. It’s done with, it’s over. Let’s just not talk about her anymore.”
“I love you,” He tells me. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I never want to do that.”
“I love you too,” I reply. “Not even this could ever change that.”
He kisses me again and as his arms wrap around me, pulling me close to him, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me. Nothing has changed really, but I said what I needed to say, told him he hurt me and how it’s still affecting me, and got some answers I needed. And just this one step is like moving a mile in the right direction. As I kiss him again and feel the love emanating from him, I know we’ll be okay… Eventually.
“Let’s go see New York,” He says, and it’s the perfect thing to lighten the mood between us. I smile up at him, my excitement rising out of control again as he grips my hand and leads me out of the room.
The next few days are some of the very best of my life as I explore the city I’ve been enamored with my entire life and feel as though I’m falling in love with Christian all over again. We take walks through Central Park, stroll through Times Square with the lights shining all around us, tour Carnegie Hall and the New York Public Library and endless museums. He takes me to shows on Broadway and to dinner in famous restaurants. We visit Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and Madison Square Garden. The city provides an endless list of things to see and Christian ensures everything we do is absolutely top of the line. We have the best tables, the best tickets, and he takes me shopping in the best stores that line Fifth Avenue. When Kate calls me to tell me she and Elliot have arrived back in Seattle a few days later, she’s positively fuming with envy.
“I can’t believe he didn’t say anything!” Kate says. “I would have loved to go to New York to kick off the summer.”
“I think he wanted it to be just the two of us,” I tell her. “It’s been incredible, Kate. It’s exactly what we needed after the whole trial ordeal.”
“I wonder if…” She begins but her voice cuts off.
“Well, I mean… it all sounds very romantic. A room at The Plaza, tickets on Broadway, dinners in fancy restaurants. You don’t think he’s planning on asking you a very important question, do you?”
“No, Kate,” I say, rolling my eyes even though I know she can’t see me, but then, as I really think about the time we’ve spent here and how hard he’s worked to ensure everything was absolutely perfect, doubt begins to creep into my mind. “Why?” I ask her. “Did he say something to you?”
“No. But he took you to your favorite place in the world, you’re spending the summer alone together. It seems pretty perfect to me… also, Elliot will owe me $20, and we both how much I love to win a bet.”
I laugh. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you,” I tell her. “But I think this is more of an I’m sorry, please don’t hate me trip than anything.”
“Well, if he does propose, I expect you to call me immediately, before anyone else, which I know is entirely unreasonable of me to ask, but also fairly expected, don’t you think?”
“Sure, Kate,” I laugh, and then look up as Christian comes out of the bathroom, freshly showered and wearing a suit. “Hey, I’ve got to let you go. I’ll call you when we get back to Cambridge?”
“Sure. Love you, Ana.”
“You too, Give my love to Grace, Mia, and Carrick. Bye,” I say, and hang up. I look at Christian with a raised eyebrow. “You look fancy.”
“I’ve got another surprise for you,” He says. “Get dressed.”
“In what? If we’re going somewhere nice, I don’t really have anything to wear. I already wore that nice dress you bought when we went to see In the Heights.”
“Go look in the closet,” He says, as he slips cuff links through the slits in his sleeve. I get off the bed, staring wearily at him through narrowed eyes, and make my way over to the closet. There is a dress hanging inside that shimmers once the light hits it. I pull out the elegantly embroidered material with metallic gray, gold, and black. It’s fairly short, but the long sleeves and modest neckline make it suitable for day wear. There is a pair pumps sitting on the floor of the closet made of mesh and tiny crystals with the word Louboutin scrawled across the sole.
“What are we doing?” I ask, but his only response is a sly smile.
“Get dressed,” He tells me.
Forty five minutes later, I’m standing at 350 5th Avenue staring up at the iconic building that reaches so high into the air, I feel the familiar sense of dread triggered by my fear of heights just looking at it.
“The Empire State Building?” I ask, and Christian gives me a mysterious, half kind of smile as he reaches for my hand and leads me forward. He pays the man standing behind the main desk for us to ride up to the observation deck and once the elevator begins to rise into the air, I start to second guess my decision to come up here.
“Are you sure about this?” I ask nervously as I watch the floor number over the elevator creep past 80. Christian looks down and smiles, squeezing my hand reassuringly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll stay far away from the railing so you can’t look down, you can’t miss this view,” He says, but as he turns to look at the floor number, which has just hit 90, I notice the tension in his jaw line. He swallows hard as we continue to rise into the air and I realize… he looks nervous.
The elevator begins to slow as the floor number rolls over to 86. There is a pinging sound and the doors slide open, releasing us into a small, square, glass room. Christian leads me through the double doors, and we step out onto the observation deck.
A gentle breeze, cooler up here than down on the ground, blows against my face as I stare out at the city below, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. The view literally takes my breath away. There is no noise from the street below, only the whipping sound of the wind. We make the full circle around the deck, taking in the view of the park and of the buildings that surround us and yet are still far below. In the distance, I can make out the tiny form of the Statue of Liberty standing proudly in her harbor.
“Christian, it’s beautiful,” I tell him, awed. He steps behind me and wraps his arm around me, holding me tight against him.
“It’s the world,” He whispers in my ear. “And it’s at your feet.” I hear the echo of his voice in my memory telling me he’d give me the world one day and it makes me smile.
“Look at you,” I say, “Making good on your promises.”
“I intend to. I truly do,” He says, and he reaches down to take my hand and turns me so that I’m facing him. He smiles down at me for a second and then reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small, square black box with the words Tiffany & Co printed over the top.
My heart stops.
Oh. My. God.
“Here,” He says gently, and I reach out to take the box from him, wondering I should be offended he isn’t getting down on one knee. With shaking hands, I lift the top of the box but instead of a ring, I find a pair of round diamond earrings. They’re exquisite, bright and clear, and probably weighing around two carats each, and yet I feel a sinking sense of disappointment that it isn’t an engagement ring.
“They’re beautiful,” I manage to say, covering my chagrin with a smile.
“They’re celebratory,” He says.
“What are we celebrating?” I ask, and he takes a deep breath before he continues.
“I got the money,” He tells m,e and I feel the smile on my face slowly fade away.
“What do you mean?”
“The money for GEH, uh, Grey Enterprises Holdings, that’s what we’re calling the company. It came through about a week and half ago. Ros and I put a bid in for a small fiber optics company in Seattle. They accepted our offer this last Tuesday. She’s filing our Articles of Incorporation with the Washington Secretary of State as we speak.”
“So… you’re leaving then?” I ask, and I feel the threat of tears begin to sting my eyes as what he’s telling me begins to sink in.
“Well, it’ll take a while for our licenses and the different permits we need to come through. I’m going to spend the summer here, with you, just as we planned, but yes, once the term begins and Kate and Elliot return, I’ll be moving back to Seattle. Ros and I won’t be returning to Harvard in the fall.”
“I-I-” I stutter, but I can’t form a coherent thought to respond to him. I’m actually speechless as I attempt to process what’s happening. A few seconds ago, I thought he was about to propose and now, he’s telling me that he’s leaving… for good.
“Hey,” He says, wrapping his arms around me. “I know this is going to be difficult, but we’re going to work it out. I’ll get an apartment for us in Seattle and if you arrange your schedule so you only have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I can fly you out to Seattle when you get out of class Thursday, and you’ll fly back Monday evening. As my company grows, I’ll be traveling to the East coast all the time and I’ll make time to come down to Cambridge to stay with you when I can. And you’ll come home to me for all the holidays. It’s not ideal, but it’ll only be until you finish school and then we’ll be together all the time.”
“So… you want me to live in Seattle four days a week and then fly all the way across the country for three days and then do it all over again every week for the next three years?” I ask.
“Yes, and I know it’s a lot but you’ll have more time than you think. You can do homework on your flights, think of all the extra time you’ll have to catch up on your reading. And maybe it wouldn’t have to be every weekend. I could come to Cambridge one weekend a month when my schedule allows it.”
“Christian, surely you see how ridiculous that sounds. I can’t simultaneously live on opposite sides of the country. What about campus life, and study groups, and my job?”
“You wouldn’t have to work,” He says. “I’d take care of you. You can schedule your study groups for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I can’t really give you campus life, but isn’t it worth giving up to be together?”
“Christian…” I reply hesitantly, feeling a tear fall down my cheek as I feel myself being pulled apart by the decision to be made. “Of course I want to be with you. I love you, more than is probably good for me, but… Harvard is my dream. I mean, my dad literally went to war so I could be here.”
“I know that,” He says, looking me in the eyes. “I’m not asking you to give it up.”
I don’t know how to respond to him. In truth, I’m still flabbergasted. I wasn’t prepared for this even being a possibility. I thought they didn’t have any prospective investors and both he and Ros told me they were giving up.
Put me in shackles, I’m your willing prisoner.
That’s what he told me the night after it all came out, after he told me that he’d lost his very last option, getting the money from Elena.
I freeze. The moment I think her name, a horrible, disgusting thought comes into my mind, so terrible that I can’t allow myself to even entertain the idea. I look up at him suspiciously.
“Where did you get the money?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” He replies.
“You told me you were giving up, that you’d run out of options and that you were going to have to wait a few years before you tried again. So where did the money come from?”
“It turns out we hadn’t quite exhausted all of our options,” He says evasively, and the way he diverts his eyes from mine as he speaks makes me actually believe I’m right, and bile creeps up into my throat.
“Did Elena give it to you?” I ask, struggling to maintain my composure as I fight off the torrent of tears that I know is coming.
“What makes you think that?” He asks, but I’m not going to be distracted by his side stepping the question.
“Did Elena offer to give you money to start your company if you lied for her on the stand?” I continue, but he doesn’t respond this time. I see his eyes dart back and forth as he wracks his brain for an excuse. He’s going to lie… again.
I’m not going to fall for it this time.
“She did, didn’t she?” I ask again. “That’s why you didn’t just lie about how old you were when it started, but that you had never had sex with her, because infidelity would still be enough for Mr. Lincoln to take his money in the divorce and you needed to make sure that she would get at least half of his money so that she could pay you, so you lied about it all.”
“Ana-” He begins, but I hold my finger up in front of his face to stop him. The depth of this betrayal is infuriating, but in this moment, I welcome it. The anger helps me fight back the tears and the crippling agony I know is just on the other side of this argument. There is no way we’ll move past this now. Whatever tenuous bond existed that held us together over these last difficult weeks, just snapped completely in half, leaving us both stranded on opposite sides of a chasm that neither of us will find a way to cross.
“Don’t,” I tell him, my voice hard. “I don’t want to hear another word from you until you admit to me what you have done.”
He doesn’t say anything, but I can see fear in his eyes now.
“Admit it, Christian. You traded your testimony for startup money,” I demand. His gaze bores into me as I see him physically brace himself.
“Yes,” He says, and with involuntary quickness, my hand flies out, and I slap him, hard, across the face. He doesn’t react, he just continues to stare back at me with the same disbelieving, panicked look in his eyes.
“I can’t believe how selfish you are,” I spit at him. “Do you know what this has done to your mother? Your father? Do you even care? You’ve lied to me over, and over, and over again. There are a lot of things that I would forgive for you, Christian Grey. But this… this is not one of them.”
I push the earrings back into his hand and turn to storm back to the elevator, but he reaches out and grabs my elbow, effectively stopping me and turning me back to face him.
“Ana, wait!” He says, alarmed, “What are you-?”
“Don’t touch me!” I yell, attempting to wrench my arm out of his grasp, but he doesn’t release me.
“You can’t leave,” He breathes. “You can’t run.”
“Let me go, Christian,” I warn him.
“No!” He says again. “No, no, no!” He’s searching now, looking desperately around as if the words he needs to say to make this all better will suddenly fall out of the sky and into his lap. They don’t though, there isn’t anything he can say, and so he turns a pleading look back to me. “Please, Anastasia.”
At last I’m able to pull my arm free of his grasp. “You know, I used to feel sorry for you, for everything she’d done to you physically, emotionally… but you’re right. You’re not a victim,” I tell him coldly. “You’re a whore, and she’s paid for you now.”
He doesn’t try to stop me when I turn this time and I hurry across the observation deck and through the double doors to get away from him. A family of tourists pour out of the elevator just as I reach the doors and I slip inside and begin pounding furiously against the door close button. I can see Christian through the glass just outside the room and I think he comes out of whatever stupor he’s in as, suddenly, he begins running for the double doors.
“Ana!” He calls out with desperation, but the elevator doors close just before he can reach me, and I dissolve into tears as I make the descent to Fifth Avenue.