The waiting room of Dr. Flynn’s office is small with an eclectic assortment of outdated furniture and several back issues of Better Mental Health Magazine. The only sound in the room is the steady click-clacking of the receptionist’s fingers on her keyboard, but the quiet has a soothing effect on me. I spent most of the way over here crying in the front seat of Elliot’s truck, but now, sitting in this slightly moth eaten chair alone with my thoughts, the tears have stopped and I feel a welcoming sense of calm.
It makes me wonder if perhaps Dr. Flynn is pumping something more than lavender fragrance through the air vents.
“Ana,” Dr. Flynn calls as he steps through the door on the other side of the waiting room. He waves me forward and I get out of my chair and walk into his office with him. The room looks almost exactly like I would have pictured it, right down to the dark-chocolate leather chair sitting directly across from the padded chaise lounge. I sit nervously on the edge of the couch, feeling like some kind of mental case.
“Thank-you for coming to see me, Anastasia,” Dr. Flynn says when he sits in the chair across from me. “What can I do for you today?”
“It’s been a bad day,” I say quietly.
“I thought that might have been the case. It looks like you’ve been crying, is everything okay?”
“No, I’m not okay. He’s doing it to me, lying to me, all over again. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train or at least that one is chasing me down, but now I can’t step off the tracks without setting myself back in school or letting down all the people I care about. I don’t know what else to do… so, I need you to say more things about the victim grooming or the traumatic bonding or whatever other horrible thing has happened to him that make people willing to look past things like this.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Dr. Flynn suggests.
“He hired someone to spy on me while I was at school,” I tell him, as the tears spring to my eyes again. “He paid this guy named Luke to pretend to be my friend so that he could keep tabs on me. He deliberately put someone in my life without my knowledge to gain my trust and when he didn’t like how his fake friendship was progressing, he took Luke away from me and brought him back here to Seattle. I’ve spent the last five weeks trying to figure out what I did wrong, what I did that made Luke stop talking to me and it turns out he just never cared about me at all. He was never my friend, he was just some guy doing his job.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that, Anastasia,” He says, reaching over to hand me a box of tissues. “This news must have come as quite the shock.”
“Yeah, it did. So if you could just start with whatever it is that you do that will make me forgive him…” My words trail off.
“Is that why you’re here? You want to forgive him?”
“Well… yeah, I have to. I’m kind of stuck here. I’m his intern. I live in his freaking building… I’m not going to be able to avoid him like I did in Cambridge so I guess I just have to find a way to get over it. That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? You’re his psychiatrist, you’re supposed to make me want to be a part of the team and help him get better.”
“Ana, I’m not Christian’s psychiatrist right now, I’m yours. I’m here to help you.”
“No, Christian’s the one in therapy,” I say defensively. “I’m not in therapy.”
“Well, if you’re not in therapy, then you’ll understand why I’m a little confused to see you on my couch instead of Christian.”
“Well… I-I,” I stutter and then stop, because I don’t have an answer for that.
“Why are you here, Anastasia?” Dr. Flynn asks.
“I told you, he hired someone to follow me around and I mean for years. I’ve known Luke since the beginning of my Sophomore year.”
“I don’t mean why are you in my office, Ana. I mean, why are you here, in Seattle? You’re an intelligent young woman with an impressive academic resume from the most prestigious school in the United States. Surely you had your options when it came to choosing a summer internship. Why is it that you chose to work for Christian?”
“He paid for my tuition last year.”
“So… you feel indebted to him?”
“Sort of… I didn’t ask him to pay for it. I didn’t want him to pay for it. He just did it, and he did it behind my back like he does everything else. So, now I have to try and find a way to repay him. This was kind of my only option.”
“So you took the internship for tuition money?”
“Well, I think this situation is very simple then. I don’t see any reason why you have to forgive him.”
“If you’re here for tuition money, you don’t need to have a personal relationship with Christian at all. All you need to do is show up to work everyday and do what is required of you until the end of the summer.”
“But he’ll be there too. I can’t see him every day and not talk to him. I can’t be his intern and be mad at him all the time.”
“Why not? Do you always maintain close, personal relationships with your employers?”
“No, but this isn’t just some employer, this is Christian. I’m close to his whole family and we have a history, a long history that’s complicated and… I mean, even if he pisses me off, I still care that he’s getting better, and that he’s working on his relationship with his family, and that he’s getting away from Elena,” I pause but Dr. Flynn just stares impassively at me, almost like he doesn’t believe me, and so I continue, feeling some weird, compulsive need to defend my choices.
“It’s important to Grace and to Elliot that Christian gets help and that he gets to a good place. I want that for them. I care very deeply about them and… I mean, I care about Christian, too. I want it for him, too. He’s my first love and I saw first hand how awful his relationship with Elena was. Just because I’m mad doesn’t mean I want him to be constantly miserable or stuck in this cycle of abuse. He can be a real ass, but he doesn’t deserve that. He’s smart, and hard working, and, when he’s not around the awful bitch troll, he’s caring and generous. I want what’s best for him.”
“So, even though you’re struggling with forgiveness for Christian, you still care about him and want what’s best for him,” He sums up. “Why is that, do you think?”
“Because I love him,” I say too quickly for me to call back the words.
I look guiltily up at Dr. Flynn who raises an eyebrow at me. “So it’s not just tuition money?” He asks.
“No, it’s not just tuition money,” I admit. “Don’t judge me, okay?”
“Why would I judge you?”
“Because he lied to me, and betrayed me, and hurt me, and I still love him. I mean, what he did to me really screwed me up for what felt like a long time. I should hate him. When I talk about him, it should be in terms of my biggest mistake or regret, but that’s not how I feel. I know that after what happened, after breaking up with him, that that should have been it and I should have moved on, but I just don’t know how to fall out of love with him and it makes me feel weak, and stupid, and hopeless. I wrote a whole book about it and I still can’t move on. I mean, you want to talk about traumatic bonding, well there you go.”
“There is no correct way for you to feel, Anastasia. There are no shoulds, there are only ares. It sounds to me like a lot of what you’re struggling with comes from telling yourself what you’re feeling is wrong, but, nothing you feel is wrong, Ana. You feel what you feel, and that’s okay. You and Christian were in love, deeply in love from what I’ve gathered from speaking with the two of you. I don’t believe that your connection with him is because of traumatic bonding.”
“Really? Because he hurt me and obviously I seem to be ready to line up for more.”
“Well if you think that’s a possibility, we should talk about it. Did Christian ever physically abuse you?”
“Was there ever a time when you experienced doubt in him or in your relationship and he tried to turn it around on you or made you feel like you were acting crazy?”
“Did he attempt to isolate you from your friends or family?”
“No… I was closer with my mom when I was with him than I’d ever been before and he gave me a new family in the Greys.”
“Did he use lies or try to manipulate you in order to undermine your self-esteem?”
“No, he basically put me on a pedestal.”
“Did he attempt to continuously keep you low on money so that you couldn’t leave him?”
“Obviously not. He’s always been very generous.”
“Did he tell that you he loved you?”
“Do you believe he meant it?”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like an abusive relationship to me. Quite the contrary. It seems to me that you shared a very healthy, loving bond.”
“But he betrayed me and everyone that he loves. He railroaded his father’s career, he basically broke his mom’s heart, he lied to me over and over again, and now with this Luke thing… there’s only so much one person can take.”
“I think what I’m hearing is that the underlying issue here is trust. Is that correct?”
“Exactly. I mean, I want to be here. I want to help him and I want to be in his life, but what if I let him back in and he hurts me all over again? After today, it seems less like a possibility and more like an inevitability. I can’t go through this again. It’ll break me this time.”
“He made a poor decision, Anastasia,” Dr. Flynn says. “Not just with the trial but with this Luke person too, and he can be regretful and apologetic but he can’t erase what he did. What you do with what has happened is up to you. I don’t believe he’s being malicious in his actions. As hard as it is to see, I do believe that his intentions are good, his execution is just poor. Now, I may have more insight into his state of mind than you do because it seems to me that, rather than talking through your issues with Christian, your instinct is to run away when you get scared. You’re protecting yourself, and that’s a completely understandable reaction, but this hurt isn’t just going to go away. You either need to deal with it or let it go. Do you want him out of your life again?”
“No… but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be pissed off that he hired somebody to follow me around without my knowledge. I can be pissed off that he paid someone to be my friend and got me to confide in him as some kind of twisted way to stay in my life when I was very clear that I didn’t want to have anything to do with him.”
“Of course you can. You’re entitled to a reasonable amount of privacy and he violated your trust. We’ve already discovered that trust is an issue with you. Frankly I feel like anger is a completely natural reaction to the situation.”
“Then why do I feel like this? Why can’t I just let him go?”
“What do you think?” Dr. Flynn asks.
I stare back into his piercing blue eyes that feel as though they can see right through me. Just his stare is like a battering ram, forcing it’s way through the walls I’ve built around my feelings for Christian, until I’m forced to admit what I’ve refused to allow myself to think over the last two years.
“Because I don’t want to,” I say quietly.
“Then what do you want?”
“Right now, I want to get over this Luke thing so that I can go to work tomorrow without humiliating myself again by screaming at the company’s CEO.”
“Then what?” He asks, and I look back at him confused.
“What you mean? Isn’t that enough for now?”
“You’re thinking day to day, Anastasia. I assume that’s because limited, short-term planning was the coping mechanism you used after all this trauma, but I want to know your end goal. What does moving past all of this look like for you? When you imagine yourself in a happy, healthy state of mind and well-being, what do you see?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I think to even be able to imagine that place I’d have to deal with everything that’s happened. I know it’s necessary, but I just don’t want to and I don’t know why.”
“Because it’s hard.”
“But I still want to help. I think that I’m the only one that can. I just don’t know how I can help him if I don’t trust him.”
“Ana, if you’re not ready to give him a chance to prove to you that he wants to change, then you won’t be any help to him. I can hear how hesitant you are to open this door and I can sense how difficult it will be for you to trust him again. That might not go away, and if you feel like his betrayal is too much for you to forgive, that’s okay. It is not your responsibility to save him or try and make him better. He has a family that loves him very much and wants to help him, you can leave this to them. This is your choice, but if you don’t want to try, you need to let him go because this game you’re playing with yourself where you are pining over him one minute and hating him the next will be extremely damaging… to both of you.”
“But… I don’t understand. That’s almost exactly the opposite of what you said to me last night. You said that my role in Christian’s recovery was important.”
“And I think it is, but only if you’re all in, and from what I’ve gathered from this conversation, you might not be. It’s not my job to push you into this. That has to be your decision, Anastasia, and no one else can make it for you.”
“So what do I do then?” I ask, but he shakes his head.
“What do you want, Anastasia?” He asks.
What do I want? Well, if I’m being honest with myself, what I want is to get back what I had before all of this ever happened. That’s the Christian I miss. That’s the Christian I love and the Christian I can’t let go. But that’s just not possible…
“What are you thinking about, Ana?” Dr. Flynn asks after what feels like several minutes of silence.
“That what I want is to go back to before the trial and to just spend one more minute with the Christian who made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. Who could make everything else around us disappear with just the way he looked at me. To the Christian who changed who I am as a person because he loved me so deeply that it opened my eyes to what love really was. But that’s unrealistic. He’s changed now.”
“He’s still there, Ana,” Dr. Flynn says quietly. “Deep down, past all the of the anger and all of the hurt, he’s still there.”
“So, how do I get him back?”
“Is that what you want?”
“Yes, that’s what I want.”
“Well, then we’ll start by working through some of your trust issues and try to get you to the place where you can accept that he’s still the person you used to love, even though he hurt you. We need to figure out what it’s going to take for you to forgive him. You’re hanging onto a lot of pain. We need to find what it’s going to take for you to be able to let go.”
“I just need to know that he’s sorry and that Elena Lincoln is unequivocally out of his life, for good,” I tell him.
“No, that’s what he needs to do, Ana, and while that’s important and you won’t be able to move on without his participation in this process, that’s not what it’s going to take for you to heal.”
“I don’t understand what that means,” I admit.
“Well then, I think we should start by setting up a few standing appointments for us to explore this more together. I’d like to see you a few times a week, even if it’s just to check in to make sure that you’re handling everything alright. In the meantime, I think it’s important for you to establish boundaries between you and Christian and for you to be very clear with him about what those boundaries are until he makes the necessary progress for you to feel comfortable increasing the level of intimacy in your relationship. You two have to start communicating if you’re going to move past this together and since it seems to be very hard for you to keep a dialogue going when the conversation moves into painful territory, I think establishing those boundaries will make this easier for you.”
“What do you mean by boundaries?”
“Limitations or rules about how you two interact with each other, especially physically.”
“Physically? You mean, like… no sex?”
He laughs. “No, I don’t think you should have sex, but I’m thinking even smaller than that. No physical contact at all, no matter how innocent it may seem. When you spend time together, it should be pre-planned and it should be casual. Keep your relationship light and fun… friendly. You should talk about your feelings and your concerns with him and I would challenge you to not only listen to him, but to really hear what he has to say. I don’t want you to fight with him unless it’s constructive. Honestly, I’d love to have a joint session with the two of you, if you are willing, so that you can both express yourselves in a safe, productive environment.”
“I can do that.”
“Excellent, then I will discuss that with Christian in our next session together and see if we can’t work something out.”
“Then I’ll have you go work out our schedule with Clara, my receptionist, and we’ll get to work.”
“But what about Luke?” I ask.
“What about him?”
“I’m still mad.”
“Well of course you are, you haven’t had any kind of resolution. We can talk about it in your next session and try to work through that anger, but there is no quick fix for me to give you.”
“But I have to see Christian at work tomorrow.”
“Then maybe you should talk to him,” Dr. Flynn suggests. “This sounds like an excellent opportunity for you to share your feelings with him and explain how his actions have hurt you.”
“But… but…” I stutter, but, again, Dr. Flynn just stares impassively back at me and I let out a huff of irritation. “Fine, but don’t be surprised if he misses his next session because I’ve literally ripped his head off.”
“As long as you feel that’s constructive,” Dr. Flynn says. I roll my eyes at him and storm back towards the waiting area.
“See you in a few days, Ana,” Dr. Flynn calls out as the door closes behind me. I approach the desk and wait patiently as Clara looks through Dr. Flynn’s schedule for openings. She gives me a calendar with my appointments marked on them and I leave the office feeling flustered.
That didn’t help at all.
Well, except that I know what I want now. And there’s a plan… sort of.
I grit my teeth together. Dr. Flynn did warn me that none of this would be easy, I just didn’t realize it would get this difficult this fast. Really, I have to stop avoiding the confrontation. He’s right and the real reason we’re stuck in this place is because I’ve refused to deal with the issue. If I really do want to get back to what I had with Christian, and I do, then I’m going to have to do my part and talk to him, no matter how bad it hurts.
I groan as I realize that, despite my best efforts, therapy seems to be working.
The sun is sinking low in the sky as I make my way down the street back towards my apartment. Thankfully, Dr. Flynn’s office is just around the corner from Escala so it’s not too far to walk, and I use the few blocks I have to travel to rehearse what I want to say to Christian tomorrow. I guess this whole “boundaries at work” thing is going to have to be delayed until after the Luke issue gets resolved and, as I try and force myself to accept that, I kick a pebble on the sidewalk as a way of expressing my dissatisfaction. I already feel like I embarrassed myself in front of the entire eighth floor today and I don’t think starting drama with Christian at work is going to make working alongside Andrea and Leila for the summer any easier.
When I get back to Escala, I walk into the elevator with the intention of going straight to bed once I get upstairs, but then I hesitate when my eyes fall on the button for the penthouse. I purse my lips together while I war with this new decision. I know what I need to do and this could be my chance to avoid having this discussion at work. Dr. Flynn told me to set boundaries between Christian and I, and I know that’s necessary but, technically, I already told Christian I’d come over tonight… Surely, that means I’m not breaking the rules.
Satisfied with my justification, I pull out my cell phone and dial Elliot’s number but it goes to voicemail so I try Kate.
“Hey, Ana,” She answers. “Elliot told me what happened with Luke, are you okay?”
“Not yet,” I tell her. “Do you know the elevator code to get into Christian’s apartment?”
“You’re going to Christian’s apartment?”
“Yeah, I think it’s better to talk about this now rather than at work tomorrow, but I don’t have the code.”
“You’re going to talk to him?” She asks, surprised.
“Apparently,” I reply.
“Oh. Well the code is 091088,” She recites.
“Thanks, Kate,” I tell her.
“Sure. Call me if you need anything, even if it’s late. I’m here, Ana. Let me know how it goes.”
“I will, thank you. Love you, Kate.”
“You too. Good luck!”
I hang up the phone and then reach forward and press the “PH” button. Again, I hear the robotic voice come through the speaker in the wall.
“Please enter your passcode.”
There is a small number keypad next to the speaker and so I reach out and diligently press 0-9-1-0-8-8, and the moment I enter the last number, the elevator hums to life and I’m whisked up to the 30th floor.
It’s slightly disorienting when the elevator arrives because I discover there isn’t a hallway or even a front door. When the elevator doors slide open, it’s directly into Christian’s apartment and I feel a little guilty. If I’d known the elevator would just let me off into Christian’s entryway, I would have called him for the code. I thought I’d at least get to knock on a door…
I step forward into a high ceilinged foyer and I’m immediately overcome with a strange sense of unease. Kate wasn’t exaggerating about Christian’s apartment. I can see into the living room from where I’m standing and, even from here, I can tell how spacious it is. I can see part of the amazing view of Seattle, but, like his office at GEH, everything that I can see is completely barren. If I didn’t know for certain that Christian lived here, I’d swear the apartment was unoccupied.
I take a tentative step forward but before I even make it out of the entrance hall, I hear footsteps echoing through the vacant apartment and a man in a sharp, black suit, who I vaguely recognize as the same man who I saw get out of the car through my kitchen window in Cambridge, comes around the corner.
“Miss Steele?” He asks with surprise, though perhaps not as much as the surprise I feel that he knows who I am. We’ve never even been introduced…
“Yes, uh, Taylor, right?” I reply.
“Yes ma’am. Can I help you?”
“Is Christian here?”
“He’s in his study,” Taylor says, and he turns around and leads me through the living room, down a side hallway, and then knocks gently on a closed door.
“What!” I hear Christian snap angrily, and Taylor turns the knob and eases the door open enough for him to stick his head inside.
“I’m sorry for the interruption, Mr. Grey, but Miss Steele is here to see you.”
“What?” Christian says again, although this time his voice is shocked rather than angry. “Let her in.”
Taylor opens the door the rest of the way, stepping aside for me to pass, and I walk into the office to find Christian sitting with Elliot in the two chairs placed directly in front of his desk.
“Ana?” Christian asks, as if he doesn’t really believe I’m here.
“Hi, Christian. Can we talk?” I ask.
“Yes, of course. I’d love that,” He says quickly, and then he turns to look at Elliot, who quickly vacates his seat and hurries across the room.
“You okay, Ana?” Elliot asks, placing himself in between Christian and I, but when I nod, he grips my shoulder affectionately and then disappears through the door with Taylor. Christian and I stare at each other for a minute and I realize that he’s waiting for me to speak first.
“I’m not fired, right?” I ask as I begin walking forward to take Elliot’s seat.
“For leaving work.”
“You mean, you want to come back?” He asks, hopefully.
“If I still have a job.”
“Of course you still have a job,” He says. “Ana, I’m so sorry. I fucked up with this whole Sawyer situation, I know that, and I’m sorry.”
“I just don’t understand… How could you possibly think this was a good idea? I mean, seriously, what were you thinking?”
“I told you, I just couldn’t stop worrying. I was obsessing over it. Six people died in Grays our first year, you were attacked in your own dorm room. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I was terrified something might happen to you and I wouldn’t be there to stop it. I hired Sawyer to keep you safe. I never intended for him to be apart of your life. He was supposed to be invisible, but you caught him watching you one night when he was following you back to your car from the library, so he made up a lie about being campus security and you believed him. I didn’t tell him to lie to you but… when he did, I didn’t bring him back either, and I should have. I’m sorry. I thought it was a good enough story to keep him there so that he could protect you and that’s all I cared about. I never intended for you two become friends. You’re just too charming for your own damn good.”
“So because I believed the lie, you think that’s an excuse to try and control my life?” I ask as I narrow my eyes at him.
“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t. He was just there to look out for you. I wasn’t using him to control you. I hardly ever even talked to him, Taylor was his contact.”
“Really? Then how do you explain Carter Reed?” I ask. “That night when Kate and Elliot were at your mom’s birthday dinner, Carter was studying at my house, and you called, and he answered the phone, and then Luke showed up a little while later and chased him out. You really expect me to believe that was a coincidence?”
He pauses and then sighs.
“I panicked,” He admits. “I hadn’t had to face the idea of you moving on with someone else yet and when I did, and when it was that fucking douchebag, Reed… I panicked. I did call him that night, and I did ask him to find out what was going on at the house, but I promise that wasn’t the norm. Very little rational thought went into my phone call to Sawyer that night.”
“First off, there’s nothing going on between Carter and I. He’s just my friend, but even if he wasn’t and I really was trying to have that kind of relationship with him, that’s none of your business. You don’t get to dictate who I have in my life, especially since you’re still involved with…”
I stop myself from saying her name and take a deep breath. This is going to be more difficult than I thought.
“You can say it, Ana,” Christian says, but I shake my head.
“Why did you bring him back here?” I ask. “I didn’t know he was working for you, his cover was fine. You knew we were friends, why did you make him leave?”
“Because he forgot what his job was,” Christian says.
“He knew I was coming into town that weekend you went off with him to Vermont. I know Taylor made my expectations of him very clear for that weekend, and not only did he completely disregard his orders by taking you out of town and stealing the first chance I had to see you since you left me, but then he took you up a fucking mountain with absolutely no regard for your personal safety. I hired him as a CPO and clearly he was unable to adequately fill that role. You should have never been able to talk him into something that reckless.”
“Christian, he didn’t take me out of town. I was going to go with or without him, and since Kate and Elliot had to stay behind with you, either he was going to go with me, or I was going to do it alone. I had no intention of seeing you that weekend, he didn’t take that away from you. Besides, he didn’t even know what we were doing that weekend. The mountain climbing was my idea and I kept it a secret from him because I knew that if I told him beforehand, he’d try and talk me out of it, or try and stop me. I was going up that mountain because it was something I needed to do. You can’t say he forgot what his job was because going up that mountain with me was his job. He was just making sure I was safe.”
“Do you know how incredibly stupid that was, Anastasia?” Christian asks in a low voice. “You don’t know the first thing about mountain climbing. You took no safety precautions… You could have been seriously injured, or killed. Do you know what that would have done to me? Do you know what that would have done to Kate or Elliot or… your dad?”
I flinch. “I wasn’t really thinking about that at the time.”
“Don’t try and change the subject, Christian. This isn’t about the mountain, this is about Luke. This really hurt me. He was my best friend, he felt like family and you know, with Ray gone, that’s something that I’ve missed. Do you know how much time I’ve spent over the past few weeks trying to figure out what I did to make Luke want nothing to do with me? I thought that because I’d made him lose his job, that he hated me and he would never speak to me again, and that killed me because I really believed he was my friend.”
“That’s my fault, too,” He says, dejectedly. “He put up a fight for you, Ana. He did everything he could to stay in Cambridge, but I wouldn’t listen. When he got back, I was so angry about the whole situation that I told him if he contacted you again, he’d lose his job. In fact, if Taylor hadn’t stepped in, he wouldn’t have been transferred, he would have been unemployed. I issued him a new company phone so he wouldn’t have your number and so that you couldn’t contact him. He didn’t abandon you, he doesn’t hate you. Your friendship was real, not something I forced him into to keep tabs on you.”
“You forbid him from talking to me?” I ask in a low breath.
“I’m sorry, Ana. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It seems like everything I do to try and keep you safe or make you happy ends up just hurting you and that’s not my intention. You deserve so much and I want to give it to you, but somehow I always seem to fuck it up. I know you’re pissed at me and you should be. This is my fault and I own that. If I could change it, I would. If I could do it over, I would tell you upfront, try to explain, even if I had to do it through, Elliot. The way I handled this was stupid and it was selfish. I can see that now and I’m really sorry.”
“The lies have to stop, Christian,” I tell him. “Seriously, no more lies, no more secrets.”
“No. No more secrets,” He agrees.
I take a deep, cathartic breath and exhale loudly. “Then since you were honest with me and I do believe that you’re sorry, I accept your apology and we can try to start over.”
“Yeah,” I tell him, and I’m surprised by the amount of relief I feel. It’s like all the tension in the room has evaporated and once again, in the absence of anger, there is a sense of comfortable familiarity between Christian and I.
“I’m sorry I called you a psychopath,” I tell him. “I was angry and it just kind of came out. I can understand why you were concerned and you didn’t deserve to have me say that to you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, Ana,” He replies and, slowly, a small smile crosses his lips. “It’s actually not the first time someone has called me that. Perhaps it’s something I should discuss with Flynn.”
“Oh, Flynn…” I sigh, and then I look back up at Christian, because there’s something that has been nagging at me. “Can I ask you a question?”
“You could have just fired Luke once I accepted the internship and I wouldn’t have ever found out what you did, but you didn’t.”
“That’s not a question.”
“Okay, why didn’t you?”
“He’s a good employee,” Christian shrugs, but I raise an eyebrow at him and he exhales sharply. “I didn’t fire him because… he’s your friend and I love you. I didn’t fire him because I didn’t think you’d forgive me if I did. I knew that if I didn’t tell you, somehow, you’d find out eventually and there would be no coming back from that. I don’t want to lie to you anymore. I don’t want to keep secrets from you. I want us to move past this because more than anything else in the world, I just want you.”
I feel my blood heat at his confession because, for the briefest moment, I see just a glimmer of the Christian I used to know. Maybe Flynn is right, that Christian is in there somewhere and even after everything that’s happened, I still feel a rush of joy hearing those words come out of his mouth.
“Have you forgotten?” He asks, quietly. “Don’t you remember what we had, what it was like before all this shit happened?” His gaze is intense, baring into me, and it makes my skin tingle. I bite down on my lip, trying to stay coherent as all the memories I indeed have not forgotten come to my mind. As he stares at me, waiting for my response, he drags his index finger across his bottom lip and I shudder slightly. The memories of his mouth are especially vibrant…
Stop it, Ana. Boundaries.
“No, I haven’t forgotten,” I tell him. “But I’m not ready for that kind of relationship between us, Christian. There’s still just so much left unresolved. I can’t even think about any of that unless I feel like I can trust you again.”
He nods and then it’s quiet between us. I glance around his office, looking for something to distract me from my wayward thoughts, but there’s nothing.
“Why are you living like this, Christian?”
“Like what?” He asks.
“Like this,” I say, gesturing to the walls around us. “With no furniture or anything on the walls. Why is your apartment so empty? And don’t tell me it’s because you can’t afford to furnish it, because I won’t believe you.”
He laughs and then glances around the office. “I don’t know,” He says after a brief pause. “I just haven’t really noticed.”
“I don’t think that’s true. You furnished my apartment, after all. I know you’re a busy guy, but there are people you can hire to decorate for you.”
“I just don’t see the point,” He says. “I’m the only one that’s ever here and I have a place to work, a place to sleep, and a piano. What else do I need?”
“How about a place to sit or a place to eat?” I suggest. “Seriously, this kind of freaks me out. It feels like we’re squatting or something and the real apartment owners are about to bust in any second and have us arrested.”
He laughs again. “Well, fortunately, I’ve made several large donations to the Seattle Police Department. I think they’d go easy on us.”
“Oh nothing warms the heart like good old fashion police corruption,” I say with a giggle, and he smiles at me, a genuine, warm smile that reminds me just how beautiful he is, and again, just like in his office, and I feel the tingle again.
Don’t look at his mouth. I warn myself.
“Are you hungry?” He asks. “I could have Mrs. Jones make us something for dinner.”
I roll my eyes. “So you can’t remember to furnish an apartment, but you can remember to hire someone to clean it?”
“Furniture doesn’t feed me,” He says, standing up and holding his hand out for me. “Come. Let’s get something to eat.”
“Do you have forks?” I ask sardonically, purposefully avoiding his hand as I get to my feet. Dr. Flynn said no touching.
He frowns at my aversion, but continues with his easy tone. “Plates too, if you’d believe it.”
“So you do live here?” I ask with a laugh, and he shakes his head with exasperation before leading me out to the kitchen.
Mrs. Jones is an attractive woman, probably in her early forties, who seems to be so excited for the chance to cook for more than just one person that she shows off a little. While she busies herself about the kitchen, Christian turns to look sheepishly at me.
“When I asked you to dinner earlier, I’d planned to have someone set up a table for us. After you stormed out of my office this afternoon, I didn’t expect to see you tonight so I never made the arrangements.”
“So… a picnic then?” I suggest, optimistically. His expression is dubious, so I take the place mats and the dishes Mrs. Jones has laid out on the counter and place them on the floor in the living room next to his piano. He smiles a charming, boyish grin, and disappears into the kitchen for a bottle of wine.
Mrs. Jones’ Thai peanut and chicken pasta is delicious, especially since I haven’t had anything since the salad I hardly picked at over eight hours ago, and Christian and I enjoy the meal and the crisp white wine together while we reminisce over memories from our freshman year. I think I’d forgotten how easy it is to talk to him, how much I love to hear him laugh and see him smile.
“I think you’re over exaggerating,” Christian says as he pours me another glass of wine.
“I am not, you were grumpy all the time!” I say defensively.
“Only because you seemed to be a magnet for every horny asshole on campus looking to find their way into some girl’s panties.”
“Like you?” I ask.
“Hey, I may be an asshole, but at least I was suave about it.”
“Suave?” I repeat, not hiding my laugh at his choice of word.
“Oh yeah. I charmed the pants of you… literally,” He says, and his eyes glimmer wickedly.
I laugh again. “Still, you had your moments. Do you remember that time when you got mad at me for like three days just because I had a class with Astor Harrington?”
“Don’t go re-writing history, Anastasia. You didn’t just have a class with him, you were with him every time I saw you on campus,” He says, and his expression sours. I wonder if that’s because he’s just remembered the reason why Astor was around me all the time…
“It wasn’t all the time,” I say, circumventing the Elena topic, yet again, before he can bring it up. “You just overreacted. Remember when I told you I was thinking about going back to Georgia for the summer and you dragged me into the bathroom on the airplane to argue with me about it? Typical Christian overreaction.”
“If I remember correctly, that argument ended very well for both of us,” He says with a smirk. “Besides, if I was prone to overreaction it was only because I was usually irritated by Ros being such a constant pain in my ass. Not that that’s changed…”
“Ros!” I shriek. “I didn’t get to see her today!”
“Well, you should see her tomorrow,” He says. “She works about twenty feet away from your desk. She has a new intern this summer too”
“Oh I know,” I say, rolling my eyes as I take another sip of wine.
“Do you?” He asks, his curiosity peaked.
“Yeah, he was in orientation with me. I didn’t talk to him much but he really comes off as a sexist prick.”
“Really?” Christian ask and then laughs so hard his head tilts back a little. “Well, that’ll be a fun summer project for Ros. I can’t wait to see what happens the first time he says something to piss her off.”
“That was what I thought,” I say. “Poor guy.”
I turn to place my wine glass back on the floor and as I do, my hair shifts over my shoulder and falls into my face. Christian reaches up and brushes his fingers against my face to capture the loose strand and then tucks it behind my ear. I freeze as the contact sends a shiver down my back. I look over and see something dark and tantalizing in his gaze that immediately sends a wave of heat over my skin.
“Uh…” I say awkwardly. “Speaking of work, I should, um… I should probably go.”
“Go?” He asks.
“Yeah, we’ve both got an early morning.”
“I think you should stay,” He says in a low voice that is almost a whisper.
“No, I shouldn’t,” I reply.
“You know why,” I reply, and he takes a deep, resigned breath and then gets to his feet, reaching out his hands to help me up. I shake my head and get to my feet on my own.
“Why do you keep doing that?” He asks.
“I uh… I saw Dr. Flynn tonight. He thinks that if we’re going to try and work this out, we need to have boundaries and one of those boundaries is that we can’t touch each other.”
“Flynn said that?” Christian asks irritably.
“Yeah, he said that if we’re going to hang out it needs to be pre-planned and casual. We have to keep this platonic for as long it takes for us to work out our issues.”
“I’m not entirely sure I agree with his recommendation,” Christian says.
“Well, I do. Boundaries are important for me right now,” I tell him. He gives me a pained look and then sighs.
“Fine,” He agrees, and then gestures for me to walk ahead of him towards the foyer.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” He asks when I push the elevator call button, and it’s hard to ignore the uncertainty in his voice.
“Bright and early, Mr. Grey,,” I tell him.
“Good. I look forward to it, Miss Steele,” He says as the elevator pings and the doors slide open. I look up at him once more and in the moment when our eyes lock… I feel it. It’s like a charge of electricity or a magnetic pull between us. He looks down at me, his eyes focused on my lips, like he’s going to lean down to kiss me, and for a brief moment, against my better judgement, I want him to. I’m nearly lost, feeling warm and flushed, and I don’t know if it’s the wine or the way he’s looking at me.
New rule, no alcohol around Christian.
“Goodnight, Christian,” I whisper as I come to my senses and step into the elevator. I reach out and press the button for the 14th floor and then give him a small smile until the doors close and the elevator begins to descend.
When I get back to my apartment, I dump my bag onto the table in the entryway and head straight back to my bedroom. It’s only 8:30 but I think I’m just going to go straight to bed. Today has been long and emotionally draining and I’m just ready for it to be over.
And it’s only day one. I think to myself as I crawl into the bed and immediately close my eyes. The last thing I’m aware of before I drift off to sleep is the image of Christian standing in front of me as I got ready to head back downstairs, only when conscious thought ends and dreams take over, I don’t get on the elevator.