Chapter 14

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There’s a lot of commotion around the table as Elliot pulls out his phone and hurries out of the dining room. Gia gets out of her seat to follow after Elliot, while I open my arms for Mia, who seems nearly on the point of hyperventilating as she stares at the pale blank face of her father. I can hear Grace get up from the table next to me, but I can’t bring myself to look at her to see what she’s doing, my eyes are focused solely on Christian, who now looks ashen-faced.

“Lay him down on the floor,” Grace tells Christian as she kneels next to them, and I’m impressed by the clear authority in her voice. I know she’s a doctor, and I know she’s trained for this exact situation, but if I were in her shoes and it was Christian on the floor, I’d break down and be completely useless.

Once Carrick is on his back on the ground, Grace places a finger on the pulse point on his neck and then tilts his chin backwards before leaning over to check if he’s breathing. We’re all silent, afraid to make a sound that could distract her, and after a few seconds with her ear just a few inches above Carrick’s face, she opens his mouth and exhales a long breath of air into his lungs.

“Oh my god,” Mia cries as she begins to break down. “Daddy…”

“Take her in the other room,” Christian tells me. I nod and then wrap my arm tighter around Mia, having to pull her alongside of me as she doesn’t really seem to be able to move. We head into the living room where I see Elliot pacing back in forth in the entrance hall on the phone, trying to calmly explain the situation.

“Your mom is doing CPR,” I tell him as I guide Mia to the couch. He freezes, giving me a look filled with fear and uncertainty for just a split second before he relays what I’ve told him into the phone. We wait a few more minutes, Elliot checking through the windows by the front door every three seconds, until finally he tells the operator on the phone he can see the ambulance and he hangs up.

“Elliot,” Gia says, trying to wrap her arms around him, but he pushes her off.

“Not now,” He says urgently. He opens the door for the medical team, who rush into the house. Mia starts shaking next to me as we watch Elliot turn around and guide the line of paramedics through the living room and into the dining room, so I pull her into me and gently rock her back and forth, unsure of what else to do to comfort her.

“It’s okay,” I whisper, “It’s going to be okay.”

Gia watches us uncomfortably while Mia cries into my shoulder, but I forget about her once the paramedics reappear with Carrick on a gurney and make their way back out through the front door with Grace trailing close behind them. Christian comes up to me, still looking as though he’s in shock, and I immediately shift Mia away from me and into his arms.

“What’s happening?” She sobs.

“I don’t know, Meems,” Christian says, his voice weak. “I don’t know.”

“Mom is going to the hospital in the ambulance,” Elliot says as he moves over to us. “We should meet her there.”

“Yeah,” Christian agrees, and then turns back to me. “I’ll call Taylor and have him come for you and your parents. I’ll call you once I know what’s going on.”

“No,” I shake my head. “No, I’m going with you.”

“Ana, I don’t know if you should be in a hospital…”

“I don’t care,” I argue. “I’m going with you. I’m not leaving you at the hospital by yourself.”

His Adam’s apple jumps as he considers the strength of my resolve, but when it’s clear I’m prepared to fight him on this, he nods, and then turns to my parents, who look very unsure of what they should be doing as they come out of the dining room.

“Bob, Carla, I’m sorry dinner was cut short…” Christian begins, but my mom quickly shakes her head.

“No, don’t worry about us,” She says.

“I’ll have Taylor come collect you. Will you be okay waiting here?”

“Of course. And please, let us know if there’s anything we can do.”

“Thank you,” Christian says.

“Alright, alright, let’s go,” Elliot says, pushing us towards the front door, and as Christian nudges Mia to follow after him, Gia comes for Elliot again.

“Elliot, maybe I shouldn’t come. Maybe you should just have family there…” She says.

“Yeah,” He agrees. “Here, take my keys. I’ll get a ride home from Christian. You can stay at my house if you want to or you can go home. I’ll get my car later.”

“Oh,” She says, looking down at the car keys Elliot pushes into her hand and I hear the disappointment that is immediately apparent on her voice. Clearly, she was hoping Elliot would ask her to come and now that he hasn’t, she doesn’t have any other choice but to leave. He leans over and kisses her on the forehead before taking Mia’s hand and leading her outside.

“We should take my parents’ car,” Christian says. “My mom will need a ride home and I can’t fit all five of us in the Maybach.”

“Okay,” I nod and then follow him to the utility room where he finds the spare key to his parents’ SUV and then out to the garage.

The drive to Bellevue Medical Center is tense, and it’s only made worse when we pull into the parking lot and call Grace to find out where we should go, and she tells us Carrick is being lifeflighted to Northwest Hospital. They won’t let her in the helicopter so Christian heads inside to collect her and once we’re back on the road again, towards Seattle this time, the intensity in the car is magnified by the profound silence. Everything around us, the traffic, the lake, the road signs that we’ve all read a hundred times, seem to take on a surreal, dream like quality as Christian races down the freeway into North Seattle.

I see the exit we took yesterday that goes to our new house, the house across the lake from Grace and Carrick. Christian had suggested we buy a sailboat to sail back and forth on nice days, and I remember that it was Carrick who first taught Christian to sail. I have dim memories of my first Thanksgiving here, being out on Carrick’s boat with Christian and Elliot, and watching them tying knots and pulling ropes, sailing deep into Lake Washington as if it were second nature to them. Christian loves being on the water, something clearly instilled in him by his father, and as I catch glipses of the water through the trees and buildings around us, fear spikes within me that this is all about to represent loss for him.

Once we find parking at Northwest, we all practically sprint inside. We’re directed to the ICU but all they can tell us is that Carrick is still being examined, so they direct us to the waiting room where a dozen other families, with equally worried looks on their faces, sit all around us, and they leave us there with nothing. I take a seat next to Christian, but he’s only able to stay still for a few minutes before he begins pacing back and forth. Mia is curled up into Grace’s side, crying again, and for the first time I see tears begin welling behind Grace’s eyes as well. Elliot simply stares at the wall, his face completely blank and unreadable. No one says anything. We just… wait.

Hours pass, and besides a few nurses who come to tells us what tests are being run and that they don’t have any information for us yet, we hear nothing. We have no answers, and as the time slowly ticks past, I can feel the increasing sense of impatience, anger, and fear radiating off the man I love.

At around seven, my mother calls for an update so I excuse myself and head out for the main lobby to take her call. It becomes more and more obvious that we’re going to be spending the night here tonight as each hour passes, so my mother promises to put together a bag for each of us, which Taylor will bring by later.

“Thank you, Mom,” I tell her.

“Of course,” She says. “And… I didn’t really get a chance to talk to you earlier. How’s Ray?”

“He’s… Um, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, Sweetie? What’s wrong?”

“Today was the first day I ever told him about Christian,” I explain. “I had to tell him about Christian and the baby all at once and… I think I might’ve broken him. You should have heard his voice, I can’t get it out of my head. He sounded so sad.”

“Why haven’t you told him about Christian?” She asks. “You tell Ray everything.”

“You know why,” I whisper back.

“Well, baby, I don’t know what to tell you. It sounds to me like you dumped a lot on him today and he’s gonna need some time to catch up. He loves you though. You’re the most important thing in the world to him. He’ll come around.”

“I hope so,” I reply, trying to keep the tears out of my voice. “What about you? I know I’m still young and you’ve always worried about me having a baby before I was ready like you did.”

“Anastasia… Being a mother is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It’s not easy, lord knows it’s not easy, but I think that you will be able to handle it just fine. You’re more prepared than I ever was and, if I can say one thing about Christian, it’s that he loves you and he’ll be there to support you. More than the money and the things he’s able to provide for you, that’s what’s going to make the difference.”

“So you’re not upset?” I ask.

“I wish you would have waited a while,” She admits. “I wish you would have graduated first, travelled a bit, gotten married… But if this is what you want and this is what’s going to make you happy, then I’m excited for you.”

“Thanks, Mom. I’ve gotta go, I don’t wanna miss anything…”

“Okay, call me when you know what’s going on.”

“I will. I love you. Bye.” I hang up the phone and let out a long breath. It’s been an exhausting day, and for the first time in weeks, I know that has nothing to do with my pregnancy.

Taking yet another of the nausea lozenges out of the package in my pocket, I begin to make my way back towards the waiting room, but am stopped when I hear a familiar panicked voice behind me.

“Grey? Carrick Grey?”

“I’m sorry, are you family?” The receptionist responds.

“No, I’m… uh, I’m a friend…”

“I’m sorry, but I can only give out patient information to immediate family. Perhaps you could call…”

“No,” The familiar voice interrupts her. “I’ve already… Just tell me where he is. I don’t need to know about his condition, I just need to know where to go.”

I turn around and see Kate standing there, her finger pressed urgently into the countertop of the receptionist’s desks, and when I can see that she’s about to be denied again, I quickly make my way over to her.

“Kate?”

“Ana,” She says with relief. “What’s going on?”

“We don’t know,” I tell her. “How did you…”

“Mia texted me,” She says. “Where is everyone?”

“In the ICU waiting room. Come on.” I reach for her hand to take her with me and when we make it back in the waiting room, both Grace and Mia look up and immediately rush to her with their arms open.

“Grace,” Kate says as she wraps her arms around her. “How is he?”

“We don’t know yet,” Grace says. “We don’t know anything.”

“I’m so sorry,” Kate whispers into her hair. “I can’t imagine… but it’s gonna be okay. He’s going to be fine. He’s so strong.”

“I know,” Grace nods, and the second she releases Kate, Mia takes her place.

“Hey, Meems,” Kate says, brushing her fingers through her hair soothingly as she holds her as tightly as she can.

“You came,” Mia says, almost as if she doesn’t believe it.

“Of course I came. I wouldn’t let you go through this alone. You know… you were supposed to call me this week. I thought we were going to have lunch?”

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, the tears starting to flow down her cheeks again.

“Sorry for ditching me?” Kate teases her, pulling her away and giving her a very transparently fake stern look. For the first time in hours, Mia laughs, and then steps aside as Christian walks up to us.

“Are you okay?” She asks him. He nods, and then lets out a long sigh before hugging her.

“Thank you for coming,” He says, and when he releases her, all she does is nod, but it’s all that’s needed. That’s the way Christian and Kate are together. She steps to the side, looking past Christian to Elliot, who is standing in front of his chair, seemingly frozen, staring at us all uncertainly.

“Excuse me,” Kate whispers. She places her hand on Christian’s arm to push him aside, and then very quickly crosses the space between her and Elliot. Without a word, she simply wraps her arms around him, and though it takes him a second to overcome his momentary shock, he too encloses her in a tight hug and then buries his face in her hair. They stand there for what feels like a very long time, silent, holding each other, and the intimacy in that moment is almost heartbreaking.

“Katie,” He whispers as she pulls away, and Kate places her hands on each of his shoulders and stares very purposefully into his eyes.

“He’s going to be okay,” She tells him. They stay like that, embraced together, for a long moment. He stares deeply into her eyes, looking as though there’s something he’s trying to tell her, but, in the end, he doesn’t say anything. He simply nods and hugs her again.

The waiting game continues until the very late hours of the night. Eventually, I fall asleep with my head in Christian’s lap, but I’m the only one who seems to be able to find sleep, and I think that’s only because I have a human growing inside me, sucking away my energy with every passing second. I’m abruptly awakened at around 3 AM though when Christian very gently eases me off of him so that he can stand. I turn, blinking through the bright light of the waiting room, towards the doors that lead into the intensive care unit, and see a doctor standing there in light blue scrubs.

“How is he?” Grace asks, but the doctor leads her back over to the chairs to sit her down before answering. Immediately, I feel my stomach drop.

“We’re still waiting on some lab results,” She explains. “But a PET scan has shown what look to be mets on his brain, which would account for the confusion and loss of consciousness.”

“Mets?” Elliot repeat.

“It’s cancer,” Grace breathes, looking down into her lap. Her mouth is open, like she’s having trouble breathing, and Christian immediately wraps an arm around her.

“Is it?” Christian asks her. “Is it cancer?”

“Like I said, we’re still waiting on some lab results,” the doctor says evasively. “But there were a few moles on his back that I removed and am currently having biopsied.”

“Moles,” Grace repeats, as though she were expecting this answer. “I’ve been telling him to go to the dermatologist for months but he said I was overreacting. He told me doctors see cancer everywhere.”

“Is he awake?” Christian asks, but the doctor shakes her head.

“He was intubated when he came in to help him breathe, and he woke up once, but his reaction to the tubes in his throat was volatile, so he’s been sedated.”

“He still can’t breathe?” Mia asks.

“At the moment, no.”

“Oh my god,” Grace says, moving her hand up to her mouth to hide her trembling lips.

“I’m so sorry,” The doctor says soothingly. “I know this is a lot to take in, but I’m going to need to ask you some questions, see if we can get some more information, and have you sign some forms.”

“Of course,” Grace nods. “Of course. I’ll sign whatever you need me to.” She gets out of her seat to follow the doctor, and the moment they’re out of the waiting room, Mia buries her face in Kate’s sweater again and begins sobbing. Elliot sniffs hard, and when I look up at him, I see that even his eyes are red, and his mouth is tight, like he’s trying to hold back tears.

“Come on,” Christian says, clapping his brother on the shoulder. “Let’s take a walk.”

Elliot allows himself to be led away by Christian and once they’re gone too, it’s just me and Kate, holding a nearly hysterical Mia.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” Kate repeats over and over again, as she rubs her hand over her back. I lean over and kiss the top of her head, looking over at Christian and Elliot through the waiting room doors. Christian has him by the shoulders and Elliot just continually nods his head up and down, looking as though he’s trying his best to hold it together. It seems like Christian is giving him some kind of pep talk.

“Did you know that Ana’s pregnant, Kate?” Mia asks, looking up at her with tears swimming in her eyes. “She told us at dinner.”

“Yeah, I’ve known for a few weeks,” Kate replies, smiling down at her. “It’s pretty cool, huh? You’re going to be an aunt.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure they’re going to name the baby after me,” Mia says, trying to smile through her tears.

“Oh, is that so?” I ask, nudging her playfully and, as she wobbles slightly, her smile finally breaks through.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. I have pretty good amount of pull when it comes to my brother.”

“No denying that,” I laugh.

We look up as Christian, Elliot, and Grace return, and Grace takes Mia from Kate and sets her down in the chairs again.

“You should probably go home and get some sleep,” Grace tells her.

“You too,” Christian says, dragging the backs of his fingers softly up my arm. “It’s late and I don’t think you should be spending a lot of time here.”

“No, I want to stay with you,” I argue, but he shakes his head.

“I know, and I appreciate it. I just don’t think you should be hanging around the ICU. There’s a lot of sick people around us and I don’t want to put the baby at risk. I want you to get a good night’s sleep, and to eat a real meal. Besides, your parents are at our house and they’re going be to be leaving tomorrow. You should spend some time with them.”

“I don’t know…”

“I’m not asking, Ana,” He says firmly. “I’m going to call Taylor and have him come pick you up.”

“I can take her home,” Kate offers. “Mia too.”

“If I have to leave, I want to stay at Christian’s,” Mia says. “He lives closer and I want to be here when the doctor can tell us exactly what dad has.”

“Okay,” Christian nods, and then turns to hug me.

“Call me if you need me to come back down here,” I tell him. “Really, I’m just a phone call away.”

“I’ll call you in the morning,” He promises. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I lean up to kiss him, and, after letting my lips linger against his for a moment, I turn away, place an arm over Mia’s shoulder and then follow Kate out to her car.

The roads are surprisingly busy on the way back to Escala, and I realize too late that it’s because it’s past four in the morning now, and Black Friday shoppers are on the move. As we wait at the stop light next to the Westlake Shopping Center, and I see the dozens of excited shoppers coming through the main doors loaded down with their shopping bags, looking as though they don’t have a care in the world except for what they may have just done to their bank accounts. Yesterday when I woke up, I thought the worst thing that could happen would be that I would miss my dad’s phone call, but I’ve never been so wrong about anything in my life. In hindsight, knowing how that call really went, missing his call might have been the highlight of yesterday.

When we get back to Escala, my parents are asleep, so Mia takes the 2nd spare bedroom while Kate comes and crawls into bed with me. My body is aching for sleep but part of me wants to go up to my office and start writing a letter to my Dad. Unfortunately, in this moment, I don’t even know what I would say. I don’t know how to undo what I’ve done.

“I need a vacation,” I whine as I fall into the pillows and fight off the sleep desperate to overtake me.

“You are on vacation,” Kate says ironically.

“Well then a vacation from my vacation,” I tell her. “I need a deserted white sand beach, a mostly naked Christian Grey, and a pina colada.”

“You’re pregnant, you can’t have a pina colada,” Kate says.

“Well, then the mostly naked Christian Grey. Except if I don’t get the beach, he might as well be fully naked.”

“Speaking of which, Gail has washed these sheets since the last time you guys had sex, right? I’m not lying in the DNA of your abandoned children right now, am I?”

I laugh. “No promises.”

“Great.” She rolls her eyes. I move closer to her and rest my forehead against hers, feeling a wistful sense of loss as I realize the comforting sense of having our family feel complete once she showed up tonight isn’t real. It’s an echo of the past, a past that won’t come to be again because Elliot has chosen a new path.

“Kate,” I begin quietly.

“Hm?” She hums back.

“Elliot has new a girlfriend.”

She pulls away from me, staring at me with confusion for a moment like she doesn’t understand what I’ve just told her, but when she sees that I’m not joking, here eyes widen and she sits bolt upright.

“What?” She asks, and when I nod, she begins shaking her head. “No, he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He might be fucking someone else, but he’s not in a relationship. It’s too soon. He wouldn’t move on that soon.”

“No, Kate,” I say gently. “She’s his girlfriend. He brought her to Thanksgiving dinner.”

“You’re kidding me,” She says, trying to cover the hurt in her voice with disgust. “Wha– I mean, who the fuck is she?”

“Her name is Gia,” I tell her. “She’s an interior designer at his company. I don’t think they’ve been dating long, but they are dating.”

Her eyes fall down to the comforter and, after giving her a minute to go through whatever she needs to go through with this news, I see her bottom lip begin to quiver.

“He brought her to Thanksgiving dinner?” She asks, and when I nod, she has to turn her face away from me.

“Kate?”

“Our anniversary was in September. We started dating at the end of September and he didn’t introduce me to his parents until December. It took months… Jesus, how is he already in a new relationship? We’ve been broken up for what? Two months? That’s all I get? Two months? Christian gave you two years, I get two months? Didn’t those three years mean anything to him?”

“Of course they did, Kate,”

“Why does he even want a relationship?” She asks, her anger peaking now. “If marriage is out of the question for him, what’s even the point? So that three years from now he can break up with this one too, make her feel like this?”

“I don’t know…”

Suddenly, her eyes widen with new realization. “Oh my god, what if he isn’t against marriage? What if he was just trying to spare my feelings and it’s not that he doesn’t want to get married, it’s that he didn’t want to marry me?”

“That’s not it,” I say quickly. “He loves you, Kate. He doesn’t think he can have you because you wouldn’t talk to him, remember? It’s not you.”

“Really? Because I can’t even imagine being with someone else like that right now but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for him,” She says. “And to think, I went down there tonight like an idiot…”

“Everyone was glad you came tonight,” I assure her. “We all love you, we all miss you. I can’t tell you how weird it felt not having you with us at dinner tonight.” She shakes her head as a single tear falls down her cheek, so I reach over and hold onto her. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you this, but when we got back from Cambridge, Elliot was waiting in the car. He was there, waiting for us to get back, for you to get back. He wasn’t there for me, Kate. I could see it in the way he watched you drive away… I saw it in the way he held you tonight. What you had together means something to him. He’s still in love with you.”

“He has a girlfriend,” She says. “He’s made promises to another girl.”

I push my lips together, unsure of what to say to that, and then watch as she starts crying again. I had thought, maybe, that Kate had started to move on. She’s been going out less, she’s been more her old self, and even though she still goes to New York every weekend to be with Ainsley and Eliza, I thought that was mostly because she didn’t want to be alone. Seeing her now, I know I’ve been lying to myself, seeing only what I wanted to see. She’s still as devastated now as she was two months ago.

“I’m sorry, Katie,” I whisper, pulling her back into me and holding onto her as she cries. It’s like deja vu of that night I came home last September and held her on the kitchen floor, only tonight, she doesn’t push me away. She lays next to me and lets me hold her together while, on the inside, she falls apart. And when she finally drifts off into an uneasy sleep, I think to myself that I want nothing more than to just hit the restart button on today, do everything over again, or maybe just never get out of bed.

 

My parents have to go back to Georgia the next morning, so after breakfast, I take them to the airport, promise to keep them updated, and then have Luke take me back to Northwest as quickly as possible. I spend another day by Christian’s side at the hospital, but it’s late in the evening before we get any answers about Carrick, and when the doctor comes to tell us, she pulls us aside into a private room. Christian pulls out a seat for me, but he can’t sit down himself. He stands behind me, his hand clasped firmly in mine, resting on my shoulder, as we stare expectantly at the doctor.

“I’m a doctor too,” Grace says as she takes her seat. “I don’t need you to coddle me, I don’t need you to dumb anything down. Just tell me.”

She takes a deep breath. “Your husband has metastatic melanoma,” She says. “It’s stage four. We’ve removed the cancer from the skin, but it’s spread to his lymph system and scans show mets on his liver and his brain.”

“Is he going to die?” Elliot asks.

“Untreated, he has about six months,” She says.

“And with treatment?” Christian asks.

“This particular type of cancer is fairly aggressive, and requires treatment equally as aggressive. If your father elects to undergo treatment, he’ll need chemotherapy, brain surgery, and a liver transplant.”

“He’ll do those things,” Mia says. “We’ll make him. He’ll do whatever he has to do.”

“What’s his prognosis if he undergoes treatment?” Christian asks, and the doctor takes a deep breath before she answers.

“A year, maybe two.”

“Oh my god,” Grace says, gasping as she reaches up to cover her mouth with her fingers. I shift my chair towards her and pull her into me, squeezing her tightly as she tries to hold back the torrent of sobs desperately trying to break through her lips.

“So, say he elects treatment,” Christian says. “What’s the next step from here?”

“Surgery,” She says. “As quickly as possible. And, we’ll need to get him on the transplant list. Liver transplants can be difficult, but children have historically been found to be ideal matches, so if any of you are willing, I suggest you get tested to find out if you could donate a piece of your liver to your father.”

“We’re not his real kids,” Elliot says. “I mean, we’re adopted. We’re not genetically related.”

“We’ll still get tested,” Christian says.

“Well then, if one of you is a match, after surgery, he can start IL-2 treatments.”

“Chemo?” Elliot checks.

“Yes.”

“Then let’s get tested,” Elliot says. “What are we waiting for?”

“Is my father awake?” Christian asks. “Does he know?”

“Yes,” The doctor says. “I spoke with him just before I came to speak with you.”

“How is he?”

“He’s calm. He understands what we’ve told him. He hasn’t given us an answer as to how he wants to proceed.”

“Can we see him?”

“I think it’s better to give him a little time,” The doctor says. “We’ve only just been able to remove the ventilator and he’s still dealing with some confusion. This is a lot on top of all that.”

“Well, we’re getting tested,” Elliot says. “We’re getting tested right now.”

“Of course,” The doctor nods, getting out of her seat. “Come with me.”

She leads us up to several patient rooms on a sterile floor where we’re supposed to wait for phlebotomist to come in and take blood samples. The actual testing process is long and exhausting. Over the next few hours, Christian, Elliot, and Mia have to give tissue, urine, and blood samples, undergo an antibody screen, have PET scans themselves, and have a psychological evaluation.

We’re not going to have the results of the tests for a few days, so once everyone is finished they direct us back downstairs where, once again, we wait.

“Grey?” A nurse we haven’t seen yet calls a few hours later, and we all look over at her and slowly make our way over to her.

“He’s asking for his family,” She says. “Are you ready to go back?”

“My girlfriend is pregnant,” Christian says. “Is it safe for her to go into the ICU?”

“It’s one of the cleanest floors in the hospital,” The nurse assures him. “Follow me.”

When we step through the doors, we have to sanitize our hands and then we’re led back into the ICU to a private room filled with muted light and the almost constant sound of beeping coming from several different monitors. Even though the nurse just told us he’s been asking to see us, Carrick looks like he’s asleep now, though the serenity he may have found in sleep is not enough to prevent Mia from darting forward and practically throwing herself on him.

“Daddy!” She cries. He grunts, probably having the wind slightly knocked out of him and opens his eyes.

“Hey, Princess,” He replies hoarsely.

“Watch his IV, honey,” Grace says as she takes the seat next to the bed. “How are you?”

“Believe it or not, I’ve had better days,” He says, groaning slightly as he sits up to get a better hold on Mia. “How long have you all been here?”

“Since yesterday,” Elliot says.

“I’m so sorry,” Carrick says. “This has been the worst Thanksgiving. Christian and Ana were trying to share this wonderful news with us, and I’ve ruined their big announcement.”

“Nothing is ruined, Dad,” Christian says.

We pull as many chairs to the bed as possible, which only ends up being enough as Mia refuses to get out of the bed next to Carrick and Christian pulls me into his lap. For a while, we keep up fairly light conversation, Grace even gets a brief moment of reprieve the the heavy of the day to gush about becoming a grandmother, and after I’ve told them absolutely everything about my pregnancy, it seems as though Elliot can’t hold back anymore and he asks the question I know has been on his mind since we talked to the doctor.

“They said that you haven’t made your decision about your course of treatment,” He says quietly, and when Carrick frowns, he begins talking again too quickly for his father to respond. “You have to get treatment, you have to fight this, Dad.”

“Did they tell you the prognosis?” He asks. “Did they tell you treatment may only buy me six more months? Is that extra time going to be worth it if I’m going to be sick and weak from Chemo?”

“What if it isn’t six months?” Elliot asks him. “What if it’s another year, or two, or five?”

“Treatment means more birthdays,” Grace says softly. “More Christmases, more family vacations.”

“Or it could mean that the family spends Christmas in a hospital rather than at home, around our tree,” Carrick says.

“I’m going to college soon,” Mia interjects. “You went with Christian and Elliot to their first days, I want you there for mine. I need my Daddy, I’m not ready to face the world without you.”

“Mia, treatment might not even get me to your high school graduation. Wouldn’t you rather spend the next few months with me, doing the things we love together, than spend another year where I’m too sick to do anything with you. What if chemo makes me so sick I can’t even sit through one of your ballet recitals?”

“Then I’ll do it in your room,” She replies as tears well in her eyes.

“Ana is graduating in May,” Grace says. “She needs you there, Carrick. You’re the only one who can understand how big that really is, how hard it really was for her. You’re a Harvard man, you have to be there for her.”

“I don’t think I’ll be doing much flying if I’m going through cancer treatments. Not going through treatment is the best way to get me there, Grace,” He says.

“Not if it only gives you six months.” Elliot says. “Dad, we’re all just starting out. We have so much to accomplish still. Everything Christian has done, everything I’m doing, everything Mia is going to do, that’s all because of you and what you’ve given us. We want you to see it. Please.”

“Elliot, I don’t think you’re being realistic here. We’re talking about a year with  treatment.”

“Or two,” Grace says. “It could be more than that, it happens all the time. The doctor can’t know how well you’ll respond to treatment until you start treatment.”

“Which means it could not work at all,” Carrick argues. “I don’t know…”

“What if treatment means you get to see the birth of your first grandchild?” Christian asks. “What if means you get to hear their first word, or see them take their first steps? You’re right, it might not work, but what if it does?”

“Miracles happen, Daddy,” Mia whispers. “You could get better. You could be cured. But if you don’t try…”

“We all got tested,” Elliot tells him. “One of us could be a match to get you the liver transplant you need, and then it’s just a few surgeries and chemo. You can handle that, you can handle anything. We’re all going to fight with you, Dad, and that’s all we’re asking. Fight.”

“How’s it going in here?” The doctor asks, knocking softly against the door as she enters the room, and as we all turn to look at her, nearly everyone of us has to wipe a tear away.

“Fine,” Carrick tells her.

“Great,” She says. “Are you in any pain at all?”

“No.”

“Okay, I’ll come check on you again in awhile,” She says, but as she smiles around at all of us and turns to leave the room, Carrick calls out to stop her.

“Dr. Boydson? How soon do we need to start treatment?” He asks.

She takes a deep breath. “As soon as possible.”

“Then we should get started.”

“Okay,” She agrees. “I will put in a referral to Dr. Behringer, our chief neurosurgeon. We’ll start there.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Carrick says, and she nods and turns to leave the room.

“Daddy!” Mia cries, the overwhelming relief apparent in her voice as she hugs Carrick as tightly as she can.

“Easy, sweetheart,” He groans, and she gives him a sheepish smile as she pulls back a little.

“Thank you,” She says.

“Of course. It’s for you. I’d do anything for you, Mia. And for you, and for you, and for you…” He looks around the room at each of us before settling on me. “And for this grandchild, who I really can’t wait to hold in my arms.”

“I’m just glad he or she will get the chance to know you,” I tell him.

“Me too,” He says.

“Well would you look at that,” Elliot says, managing to break a smile. “I never thought I’d say this, but it turns out Christian having irresponsible, unprotected sex has really helped this family out. Thanks for not wearing a condom, bro.”

“Anytime,” Christian says seriously, and while he, Elliot, and I laugh, both Carrick and Grace shake their heads.

Carrick insists that we all go home that night to sleep and after much argument, it’s decided that Grace, Elliot, and Mia will take the SUV back to Bellevue while Taylor comes to pick up Christian and I to take us back to Escala. He’s quiet on the drive home, and it has me worried.

“Do you need to talk?” I ask quietly, but, without turning to look at me, he shakes his head. I press my lips together, not wanting to force him to talk about it if he’s not ready, and then reach down to grip his hand. He glances down briefly at my hand wrapped around his, and then sighs.

“We haven’t had any time,” He says. “This family just started working again and now it feels like we’re on the verge of falling apart.”

“I’m so sorry, Christian,” I tell him. “I wish I knew what to say to make this better for you.”

“I know,” He nods, and as I watch him take a deep breath and see the pain he’s trying to hold back behind his eyes, I know there is one thing I could do to make this better for him. The one thing he’s asked for but that I’ve never let myself actually consider.

“I’m supposed to go back to Cambridge tomorrow,” I tell him, and he nods. “But.. what if I didn’t?”

“What do you mean?” He asks, turning a sharp look on me.

“What if I stayed here? I could email my professors, see if I can have work sent to me here. If they don’t object, maybe I don’t have to leave tomorrow.”

“Finals are in three weeks, Anastasia,” He interrupts me.

“I know,” I nod. “It’s bad timing, but maybe I can work something out. Maybe I can’t. I don’t know. Either way, if you need me here, I’ll stay.”

“I always need you,” He says. “But this isn’t just going to be a couple weeks, Ana. This is going to be months, hopefully years. Are you saying you want to drop out of school?”

“No,” I shake my head. “No, I’m going to finish. But, if your dad is going to fight this, maybe I could, I don’t know, take a semester off. Help out here. Be here with you for at least the first few months until we know what we’re up against.”

“And then go back after the baby is born?” He asks. “So, both you and my newborn child will go live across the country while you finish up your last semester at Harvard? You won’t have Kate to live with anymore, you’ll be all alone. And so will I. I don’t want both you and the baby away from me, it’s hard enough with you just being pregnant.”

“Oh…” I reply, because I realize now how much I really hadn’t thought this offer through. I guess he’s right. Now that I’m pregnant, Harvard is now or never.

“Harvard is important to you, and it’s important to your dad,” He says. “I feel like you’ve been trying to tell me that for months, years even, but I just didn’t understand the gravity of what it meant to you until I heard your Dad on the phone. Until I saw your face… If you don’t finish, he’ll blame me, rightfully so, I suppose, and he’s so important to you… I don’t want to be in opposition to him. You need to focus on school so that you can come home to me the right way, with no regrets. I don’t want you to give up anything for me.”

“I just don’t want you to have to go through this alone, Christian.”

“I’m not alone. My family is here and even though you’re on the other side of the country, it doesn’t mean you’re not with me. You’re always with me. Just phone call away, right?”

“Right,” I nod and then sigh. “So, I guess I have to leave tomorrow then.”

“Yeah, I guess you do.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I love you so much, Christian.”

“I love you too, baby,” He says. He leans over to capture my lips with his and I cling to him, holding him as close to me as I can without unbuckling my seat belt and crawling into his lap, until we pull into the parking garage below Escala.

Next Chapter

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Chapter 13

Image result for thanksgiving table

I wake up the next morning feeling an odd sense of deja-vu. Just like last Father’s Day, I feel a rush of excitement the moment I wake up that, after months of waiting, I’m finally going to get to talk to my Dad again. But, unlike last time, I’m not facing only the nerves of telling him all about the first man I’ve ever loved. This time, I also plan on telling him that his twenty-two year old, still in college, sweet, pure little girl, who was a virgin when he left, is now pregnant out of wedlock by a man he knows nothing about. Just the thought of saying those words out loud to him triggers my morning sickness earlier than usual, and I immediately have to push Christian’s arms off of me and scramble out of bed for the toilet. Thankfully, I’m finished throwing up by the time he comes into the bathroom behind me.

“I seriously cannot wait for this to be over,” I moan as I dip my hands under the cool water of the faucet and press them against my face.

“You’re almost through eleven weeks. The doctor said by fourteen, your symptoms should dramatically decrease.”

“That’s still another month,” I pout. “But, on the plus side, I’ve lost four pounds since you knocked me up. Who said pregnancy has to make you fat and undesirable?”

“You’ll never be undesirable, Anastasia,” Christian says. “I’ll think you’re just as beautiful when you’re nine months along as I do right now.”

“You mean when I’m puking every fifteen minutes?”

“I mean right now, with you standing in front of me looking like the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Liar,” I say, though I’m unable to control my smile.

“Test me,” He says. “Get in the shower with me.”  

“I can’t. One of us needs to be around my phone at all times in case my dad calls. In fact, what am I doing in here?” I turn around and leave the bathroom, listening to Christian’s disappointed sigh as I close the door behind me, and then make for the bedside table where I’ve left my phone. When I look down at it though, I immediately feel my cheeks heat with an emotion just this side of panic. My phone is on the charger, but it isn’t charging and apparently hasn’t been all night. I’m down to 13% battery.

“Fuck,” I hiss as I jiggle the charger around in the port on the bottom of my iPhone, but nothing happens. I bite down on my lip, trying to figure out what to do, until I remember there is a spare charger in my office upstairs. Praying that it’s the charger and not the phone, I immediately bolt out of the bedroom and up the stairs to retrieve it. When I get there though, it isn’t plugged into my computer.

“Gail!” I yell, coming out of the room and running back towards the stairs. The door to the room my parents are staying in opens, but I only offer them a quick good morning as I hurry past, in search of Christian’s housekeeper. Usually, she goes to stay with her sister for the holidays and I’m worried she may have already left, but I’m in luck. She’s just heading for the elevators, luggage in tow, when I get down the stairs.

“Gail,” I say again, slightly breathless. “Do you know where the charger from my office is?”

“Oh, I think Mr. Grey was using it. It’s in the downstairs office now.”

“Thank you,” I tell her, gratefully. “And Happy Thanksgiving.”

“You too, Ana.” She winks at me and then waves as I turn for Christian’s office. I have the strange feeling that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be when I get to Christian’s desk and begin looking around. Unfortunately, the charger isn’t plugged into any of the ports on his computer nor any of the outlets on the wall, so I figure it has to be in one of the drawers, which only heightens my guilty unease. When I open the top drawer though, I freeze.

Sitting there amongst the containers of paper clips, boxes of staples, and few pens resting neatly in the wells built into the drawer, is a black velvet box with the words Harry Winston engraved on the top.

Is that it?

Suddenly, I feel as though I can’t catch my breath. A million different arguments start bouncing around in my head, some encouraging me to open it, to see the ring Christian has picked out for me, some telling me to shut the door and pretend I didn’t see anything at all. I stand there for a moment, warring with myself. I want to open it. I want to see the ring that will stay on my finger for the rest of my life so badly, it feels like it’s eating me up inside, but I know that Christian will want to see my face when I see it for the first time. The only reason this box is still sitting in this drawer is because he promised me romance, a perfect proposal, and he deserves that from me too.

With a regretful sigh, I quickly shut the drawer, leaving the box untouched, and continue searching. I’m just moving some files aside in the bottom drawer to look when I hear Christian’s voice from the door.

“What are you doing?” He asks.

“Uh…” I stutter. “Looking for a phone charger. Mine stopped working.”

He narrows his eyes at me and then slowly crosses the room, stepping around me to open a cabinet on the left side of his office chair. He leans down to reach inside, and as he does, I notice what look like a few books stacked next to one another in a line, one of which has a title that catches my eye.

“Wait a minute, what is that?” I ask, but he pulls the charger out and quickly closes the door.

“Nothing, here you go,” He says evasively, but I give him a defiant smile and then reach for the handle on the cupboard.

“Ana…” He says, a warning, but I ignore him and look inside. There are three or four books inside and I read each title carefully as my eyes move down the line, What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding, The New Father: A Dad’s Guide for the First Year, and Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad: How to Get Both of You Through the Next Nine Months.

He’s reading baby books.

I bite down on my lip as I try to contain the smile seeing them lined up there brings out of me, and softly close the cabinet. He gives me an almost embarrassed look as I turn to face him, but I reach up and rest my hand against his cheek.

“I love you,” I tell him, and then lean up to press my lips into his. His lips are slightly tense at first, but quickly soften as he wraps his arms around me. I moan slightly when I feel his tongue cross my lips, but as I grant him access, the persistent morning sickness rears its ugly head again and I have to pull away.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” I cry, as I hurry away from him towards the bathroom. “This has nothing to do with you!”

My nausea seems to be particularly terrible this morning, so I spend most of the time before we have to go to the Greys’ hiding from my parents in my bathroom, pretending to get ready. It’s difficult to focus on putting on makeup and doing my hair though, because, when I’m not doubled over the toilet, I’m anxiously glancing over at my phone, which, thankfully, is charging on the charger I got from Christian’s office. I know from experience that he usually calls later in the day, but, after Elliot’s cute little pool trick on Father’s Day last summer, I’m paranoid about missing his call again, so I can’t seem to look away from my phone for more than a few seconds at a time.

“Anything?” Christian asks, coming up behind me.

“Not yet,” I tell him as I press a cool washcloth to my forehead and try taking deep breaths to calm the nausea. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through dinner.”

“Here,” He says, and I look at his reflection in the mirror as he reaches into the pocket of his slacks and pulls out what looks like a small container of mints. “Gail found these at the market and bought them for you. They’re suppose to help with the nausea.”

I turn around and take them, looking at them cautiously as I peel back the lid, pull one of the drops from the container, and pop one into my mouth. They’re good, peppermint, but, most importantly, I start to feel the nausea disappear only a few moments after having it in my mouth.

“Oh my god, these are amazing,” I tell him.

“Good, I thought they’d be helpful for dinner tonight since you always seem to be squeamish around food. Now, that we know they work, I’ll have Gail buy a case.”

“Thank you,” I reply, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. He swats my behind as I turn back towards the mirror to finish applying mascara, and to covertly check my phone once more, and leaves me alone again. I feel elated to finally have relief from the ever present nausea, but unfortunately, my losange isn’t the miracle cure I thought it was. The moment it’s gone, the nausea returns in full force, and I have to immediately start sucking on another one. Apparently, this is going to have to be a constant thing. At least they’re peppermint. I can probably get away with people just thinking I’ve developed an Altoid addiction.

For some reason Christian decides he needs to change again right before we’re supposed to leave, but rather than wait for him, I make my way back out to the living room to wait with my parents, making sure to pack the one charger I know still works with me before we go. My mother has gone all out. Her makeup and hair is done as though she’s on her way to a photoshoot and she’s wearing an elegant, black cocktail dress that sparkles with sequins and is accented by my grandmother’s pearls around her neck. She looks beautiful, but definitely over done. We’re a family who usually wears sweatpants on Thanksgiving and eats in front of the TV, so I warned her beforehand that the Greys dress up for the holiday. Perhaps I should have been a bit more specific.

“Oh…” She says awkwardly when I come out of my room in a simple heathered gray sweater dress over tights and a pair of knee high black boots. “When you said dress up, I didn’t think…”

“You look great, Mom,” I say, trying to placate her since I know she doesn’t have anything to change into, but she frowns.

“I think I have a sweater that might be a little more appropriate,” She says. “But I’m not sure I have…”

“Are we ready?” Christian asks behind me, and when I turn to look at him, a huge smile breaks across my face. Apparently, he saw my mom first because he comes out of our bedroom dressed in his best three piece designer suit.

“Ready,” I say smiling at him, but as I reach out for him, he takes my hand, kisses my fingertips, and then steps past me towards my mom.

“Carla,” He says, offering his arm to her. “Shall we?”

“Yes,” She says, smiling so broadly at him she can’t keep her mouth closed. Bob gets off the couch, shaking his head good humoredly before taking my hand, tucking it into his elbow, and leading me towards the elevator after Mom and Christian.

It takes forever to make our way through the holiday traffic to Bellevue, but as we approach the Greys’ house, my mother’s eyes widen with shock.

“This is where Grace and Carrick live?” She asks, her eyes raking over the extravagantly large house and grounds that I’ve become so accustomed to over the past few months.

“And Mia,” I add.

Her hand comes up to her chest as Bob helps her out of the back of the SUV, and while we make our way up the walk, my parents end up falling behind us as my mom stops to marvel over each of the design elements Grace has encorporated into her home.

When we step through the front door into the entrance hall, I can see my mom is itching to explore, but before Christian’s even taken her coat off her shoulders, Grace comes sweeping into the room, preventing her from darting off to the stairs.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” She says excitedly as she opens her arms for Christian.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Mom,” He replies. “I’m sorry we’re late, traffic was a nightmare.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Elliot isn’t here yet so you’re not even the last to arrive.”

“Elliot isn’t here?” Christian asks. “But he just lives up the street…”

“Well, perhaps he’s just taking a little longer to get going today,” Grace says. “He’s had quite the week at work.”

“He is coming though, right?” I ask, handing my own jacket to Gretchen, who has appeared through the formal living room off the left of the hall. The only time I’ve seen Elliot since he and Kate broke up was in the car when I got back from Cambridge the other night. He hasn’t been to brunch on Sundays, or out on the yacht with Christian and I even once. He even declined our offer to go with him to a Seahawks game a few weeks ago and it’s made me wonder if he’s going to miss Thanksgiving too.

“He told me he was,” Grace confirms, “But if he doesn’t get here soon, we’re going to have to start without him. The chef should be finished with dinner soon. Now, let’s get away from the door. It’s cold in here and your sister has been anxiously awaiting your arrival all morning, Christian.”

Christian reaches down to take my hand and leads me into the family room on the other side of the stairs, while Grace moves around me to hug my mother. We find Carrick and Mia sitting on the sectional, watching the football game together, but the moment they spot us, Carrick reaches for the remote, turns off the game, and gets up to hug us.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Son,” He says, moving to Christian first.

“You too, Dad. How’s the…” He begins, but his voice is quickly cut off as Mia shoves herself against him, knocking the wind out of him as she wraps him in a tight hug. “Hey, Meems,” He chuckles.

“Hey,” She says. “I have a favor to ask.”

“Oh do you?” He replies, and she nods before taking his hand and leading him out of the room.

“Hey, Ana,” Carrick says. “Any word from Ray yet?”

“Not yet,” I tell him, holding up my phone. “But I’m being very vigilant.”

“Just stay away from the pool, huh?”

“Right,” I laugh. My mother and Bob come into the room behind me so Carrick moves to greet both of them, while I covertly slip another of the nausea drops into my mouth and then take a seat on the couch. Christian and Mia return a few seconds later, Mia looking slightly more jubilant than before, and, as Christian takes a seat next to me and tries to catch up on the conversation going on between our parents, I lean over to him to find out why.

“What was that about?” I ask, but he shakes his head dismissively.

“There’s a ballet she wants me to take her to see in New York over Christmas,” He says.

“Oh, so we’re spending Christmas in New York?” I ask.

“No,” He shakes his head. “I have other plans.”

“Then why is she so…”

He leans down and presses his lips against mine, silencing me, and then gives me a small, private smile. “Why won’t you ever let me surprise you?” He asks, but, when I open my mouth to reply, he stops me again by placing his index finger on my lips, “You’ll see.” I narrow my eyes at him, but don’t get to press him anymore because Grace turns the conversation on me.

“Ana, we’re so relieved to have you here, safe and sound. The news reports about that storm on the East coast had us terrified for you.”

“Oh, yeah… it was intense. We weren’t prepared for it since we were supposed to be leaving, so we didn’t really have food or… anything. Then the power went out, and then cell towers, and then that car drove through my house…”

“Car?” Grace gasps. “What car?”

“Oh, you didn’t know about that part?” I say awkwardly, and when she shakes her head, still looking too shocked to speak, I start over, telling the story of what had happened in great detail, until Elliot’s voice interrupts us from the entrance hall.

“Mom?” He calls.

“We’re in here,” Grace says, hurrying to get out of her seat to go and greet her son. The whole family follows after her,  but when we step past the stairs into the entrance hall, we all stop as though we’ve simultaneously hit a brick wall together. Elliot is standing there, but not alone. He’s currently helping an extremely pretty blonde out of her coat, and when he hands her jacket to Gretchen, they turn to face us and she smiles broadly at everyone.

“Everyone, this is my new girlfriend,” Elliot says. “Gia Matteo.”

My mouth pops open slightly. Girlfriend? I turn to look at Christian but even he looks a little surprised, and so, with this new revelation, I find myself examining this girl more closely. Her platinum blonde hair is long, shiny, and perfectly straight. Her pale green eyes shine behind thick dark lashes, and, behind her full, soft lips, are perfectly straight, white teeth. She’s not just pretty, she’s beautiful, but I can’t help but notice her astounding resemblance to… Kate.

“W-welcome,” Grace says, taking a moment before she overcomes her shock and moves across the entryway to wrap Gia in a hug. “It’s so nice to meet you. I wish that I could say my son has told me all about you… I’m Elliot’s mother, Grace, and this is his father, Carrick.”

“Pleased to meet you,” She says, in a soft, airy voice. She turns to face us, and Christian takes a step forward and holds his hand out for her.

“Hi, I’m Elliot’s brother, Ch-”

“Christian Grey,” She finishes for him, blushing slightly. “Yes, I know who you are.”

“Uh, great,” Christian says. “This is my girlfriend, Anastasia Steele.”

“Hi,” She says, turning to smile very briefly at me before looking over at Mia.

“And this,” Elliot says, as he reaches out to muss Mia’s hair, “Is the formally tiny human known as Mia, my little sister.”

“Hey, Mia,” Gia says excitedly. “You know, your brother tells me that you love to shop. I think you and I are going to be great friends.”

“Sure…” Mia says awkwardly.

“Excuse me, Dr. Grey?” Gretchen says, stepping out of the family room, “I’m sorry to interrupt but dinner is being served.”

“Excellent,” Elliot says. “I’m starving.”

“Then let’s get to it,” Grace says, stepping aside to let everyone file past her towards the living room. I see her wrap her arm through Elliot’s, leaning in to speak quietly with him as they walk, but before I can turn to follow after him, Christian reaches down for my hand to stop me.

“So… he has a type,” Christian says, clearly picking up on the similarities between Gia and Kate just as I have.

“Oh my god, right?” I whisper back. “It’s almost a little freaky.”

“Freaky?” He repeats, chuckling, and I roll my eyes.

“Yes, freaky,” I affirm. “How come you didn’t tell me he was dating anyone?”

“I didn’t know,” Christian says. “It must be new.”

“Well, then it’s a little soon to be bringing her to Thanksgiving dinner, isn’t it?”

“I brought you here for Thanksgiving before we even started dating,” He argues.

“Exactly, we weren’t dating. That wasn’t me meeting your parents as your new girlfriend, I was just a friend.”

“Trust me, that was not my intention for that week…” He says, and as I suppress a laugh, he reaches down to touch my stomach. “Are you ready?”

My teeth sink into my bottom lip. “Can we wait until my dad calls? If I can… I want to tell him first.”

“Well… we’ll give him to the end of dessert. I don’t know how long everyone is going to stick around tonight.”

“Okay,” I agree, and after a quick kiss, he takes my hand again and leads me back into the dining room.

There’s a ridiculous amount of food on the dining room table, including a gigantic turkey that looks so picturesque it could be in a Norman Rockwell painting. Christian pulls out a seat for me next to my mother, and I take the bowl of potatoes being passed around. Thankfully, the fact that I have to refuse the wine Carrick offers doesn’t draw a lot of attention as Gia refused just before me, claiming she doesn’t drink anything that isn’t clear. I glance down at the green beans and small helping of skinless turkey that make up everything on her plate, and she winks at me.

“Gotta watch your figure, right, Anastasia?”

“Right,” I nod, turning my gaze away.

“Well, Ana,” Carrick asks, as he sits down. “Have you heard from Ray yet?”

“Not in the last few minutes,” I tell him, as I glance down at my phone.

“Well, make sure you stay away from the pool, huh?”

“Thanks, Dad,” Elliot says, and I give him a slightly confused look as I watch him reach out to grab Elliot’s shoulder, wondering if the repeated joke is solely for Elliot’s benefit.

“So…” Grace says, once she’s made sure everyone has enough food and has started eating. “How did you and Gia meet, Elliot?”

“Work,” He says simply, but Gia reaches over and lightly rests her hand over his forearm.

“What he means to say is that I work for Grey Construction. We met one day when we both got on the same elevator.”

“You work for Grey Construction?” Mia asks. “Like… as a construction worker?”

“No,” She laughs. “I’m an interior designer. I’m actually doing the design work for your building, Mr– uh, Christian.”

“Is that so?” Christian asks.

“Yes. I just finished the design for your executive suite, actually. Now that the main superstructure of the new building is up, I believe I’ll start being included in the meetings between you and Elliot.”

“Well, I look forward to seeing what you come up with,” Christian says. “I actually just started the process to buy a house this last week, but it’s fairly outdated. I’m going to be in the market for an interior designer. If your designs are good, perhaps I could steal you from Elliot for a while.”

“Perhaps,” She says softly, smiling over at him, and as I glance between them, I suddenly feel extremely uncomfortable. There’s something about Gia that I don’t like, and I don’t know if it’s her breathy voice, the way she’s ogling my boyfriend across the table, or the fact that she just isn’t Kate, but whatever it is, it has my teeth on edge.

“So, design,” I interject, forcing Gia to look at me. “Is that your… passion, then?”

“Oh, no,” She shakes her head. “Not really. I’m good at it. I’ve always had a knack for that kind of thing, but the truth is I can’t wait to leave it all behind me and focus on more important things.”

“Such as?” Carrick asks.

“Oh you know, seeing the world, charity work…” Her voice trails off and I see Carrick’s eyes narrow at her, but Grace cuts him off before he can say anything.

“Christian, you didn’t tell us you were buying a house,” She says. “Where is it?”

“Laurelhurst,” He says. “Right across the lake.”

“Oh, I adore that neighborhood,” Gia says. “When I was a little girl, my mother would take us to go look at all the beautiful houses and there was one estate that was down at the end, on the last block, right on the water. It’s really old, but it’s gigantic and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

“That’s the house,” Christian says, and Gia’s smile widens.

“Really? I have always dreamed of living there. To get the chance to design it would be a dream come true! And, if you’re anything like your brother, I think you could use my help.”

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the decoration in my house,” Elliot says defensively.

“You have a neon beer sign with an NFL logo on it in your living room,” Gia argues.

“Yeah, and if I don’t plug it in on Sundays, the Seahawks will lose. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good,” He says. Gia rolls her eyes, but he ignores her and looks over at me. “Speaking of which, I’m missing my favorite gameday hat. It’s not here, so I think I must have left it in Cambridge. Can you bring it back for me the next time you come home?”

“Oh,” I begin. “Well, Kate actually gave me a whole box of your things that she thought you might want and I left it at Escala. It might be in there.”

“She did?” Elliot asks, his voice weaker now, and as I nod, I notice Gia’s lips tighten before she looks back over at me.

“You know Kate?” She asks, her voice raising in pitch slightly when she says her name.

“Yeah, since I was a kid,” I tell her. “She’s my best friend. We live together, go to school together…”

“I see,” Gia says shortly. An awkward silence falls over the table which remains until it’s eventually broken by my phone vibrating next to my plate. I glance down at it, see the unfamiliar, out of country number, and feel my stomach seize with nerves.

“Excuse me,” I say, reaching down for it and quickly hurrying away from the table.

“Give Ray my love,” My mom calls after me, but I don’t respond as I turn the corner for the formal living room where I know I’ll be out of earshot.  I take a deep breath to prepare myself as Christian appears behind me.

“Ready?” He asks.

“No,” I shake my head, but answer the phone anyway. “Hello?”

“H-l-o,” The broken fragments of my father’s voice come through the phone.

“Dad?” I ask.

“A-n-s-a, c-n -he-r m,”

“Dad, are you there?” I immediately walk over to the window, trying to get better reception even though I have full service. “Dad?”

“H-ld -n.” I wait, realizing after several seconds that I’m holding my breath, but when I hear him speak again, his voice comes much clearer. “Ana? Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” I breathe with relief. “I can hear you. Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” He affirms. “I can hear you. Happy Thanksgiving, baby girl.”

A wave of cold crosses over me as I really get to hear my dad’s voice. There’s something different about it, something distant or hollow.

“How are you?” I ask him.

“I’m… I’m okay,” He says, but I find very little reassurance in his words. “I’m back on base now and I don’t think I’ll be going so far again so, I’m okay.”

“Where were you? What happened?” I ask him.

“I had to go to the border for a while. It’s… it’s tough over there. We got into some tight spots and I uh– I lost… I lost a good friend.” His voice chokes off slightly and as I listen to him I vaguely remember something Taylor once told me once about Luke and why he doesn’t like to talk about his time in the service.

That last year we spent patrolling the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was not exactly filled with things I’d like to tell my grandchildren about one day.

I swallow back the bile that rises into my throat. Iraq borders Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia… all countries I’ve heard horrible things about on the news.

“I’m so sorry, Daddy,” I say, tears now starting to break through my voice as I imagine what he’s endured since last summer.

“Don’t cry, baby,” He says. “I’m okay. I’m going to come home soon and this will all be worth it when I see your face again, when I watch you march across that stage and accept your degree from the school you worked so hard to get into.”

“I don’t know if this is worth anything,” I cry.

“I do,” He says. “You’re almost there, and I just… I can’t believe it. But I don’t have a lot of time, so let’s not focus on the heavy stuff. Tell me about you. I want to know everything thing I’ve missed. How’s school?”

“It’s fine.”

“Are you going to make the Dean’s List again?”

“I think so.”

“And how’s your book going? You said you were going to start trying to get it published this fall, right?”

“Yeah, it’s going… I’m in the query letter process. We haven’t heard anything yet, but my professor says it’s still really early.”

“It’s going to get published, I know it is. I believe in you.”

“Dad…”

“Come on, Ana,” He says. “Talk to me, sweetie. How’s Kate, how’s your mom?”

I look up at Christian and see him staring at me with a blank expression. He’s waiting for me to talk about him, and, even though he’s trying to hide it, I can see some doubt in his eyes. We’ve been here before, me on the phone with my dad and Christian standing just a few feet away from me. I didn’t say anything about him then, and I wonder if he’s afraid that’s going to happen again.

I swallow hard, pushing down all the fear and guilt, take a deep breath, and turn my attention back to my father.

“Dad, I do need to talk to you about something,” I begin.

“Well, that’s what I’m here for. Shoot.”

“I’m… well, I’m sort of, I mean… I’m-I’m seeing someone.”

“Oh?” He asks.

“Yeah, and we’re serious. Really serious. I’m in love.”

“Really?” He asks. “That’s amazing. Tell me all about him, well, except that he’s the luckiest guy in the whole world, because I already know that.”

I let out a short laugh, but it quickly turns into tears.

“Annie?”

“Dad, I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just… this guy that I’m seeing… Christian, his name is Christian, he’s been in my life for a while.”

“A while?” He repeats.

“Yes,” I tell him, pausing for a minute before I continue. “I actually… Well,  I met him my very first week at Harvard. We were friends for a while, just friends… but we started dating later that year.”

“Wait… what?” My dad asks. “Your freshman year?”

“Yeah.”

“Ana, you’re a senior…”

“I know. We started dating in January, so I didn’t get to the chance to talk to you about him on the phone when it happened and that’s how I wanted tell you. I wanted to be able to talk to you about him, so I was going to wait until I got to talk to you in the summer, but… we broke up before I got the chance to tell you.”

“You-you broke up?”

“Yeah, for about two years. But, we got back together this last summer and we’ve been dating ever since. I’ve wanted to tell you. I’ve wanted to talk to you about him so much, but it’s been so complicated and it just never seemed like the right time… but now I just feel so stupid. I wish I would have told you a long time ago because I want you to know how amazing he is. He’s so smart, and kind, and giving, and… he loves me. He really, truly loves me, and I love him.”

“I just… your freshman year, Ana?” He asks, his voice laced with disbelief. “I mean, why didn’t you… why… were you together when I talked to you over the summer?”

I swallow. “Yes.”

“Yes?” He asks. “So… why didn’t you…”

“It’s just been really complicated. We’ve been through a lot and it hasn’t always been easy but we’re so good now.”

“Okay…” My dad says, and if possible, his voice seems even more distant than before. “I– I don’t really know what to do with that.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m so sorry. I didn’t do this right, I know that, and I wish I could go back, but… but once you meet him, once you get to know him, you’re going to love him. He owns a company that…”

“Wait,” My dad interrupts me. “He owns… I thought you said you met him at Harvard? How much older than you is he?”

“He not,” I tell him. “I mean, we’re the same age. He left early to get started.”

“So he’s a dropout?” My dad asks.

“No, I mean… well, yeah, I guess… but it was what was best for him. His company is huge and really successful, he’s successful. He’s made more than a billion dollars, and he’s done it all on his own. He’s building a life for us. He can take care of me, he wants to take care of me, because he loves me. I’m never going to need or want for anything. Isn’t that everything you’ve ever wanted for me?”

He’s quiet for a minute and his hesitation has my nerves peaked again.

“Dad?”

“You think that what I’ve always wanted for you is a man to take care of you? You think that I pushed you when you needed to be pushed, that I worked two jobs to get you into advanced curriculum programs, that I encouraged your wildest dreams and told you there wasn’t anything you couldn’t accomplish, that I re-enlisted in the military so that I could pay for you to go to the school you deserved to go to so that you could end up as some billionaire’s trophy wife?”

“No, it’s not…”

“I did those things so that you could take care of you. I wanted you to achieve your dreams and become a success on your own. I wanted you to have a career. I wanted you to change the world with your brilliant mind and unwavering persistence. I wanted you to be strong, and independent, and never want for anything because of what you could do.”

“I will,” I tell him. “I mean, I’m not going to just be some trophy wife. Christian isn’t like that. He wants me to achieve my dreams too. I mean, he bought a publishing company last summer just so that I could get real world experience…”

“Wait,” He stops me again. “Stop right there. Anastasia Rose Steele, are you telling me that that amazing internship you told me about, the one that I bragged about to anyone who would listen and went on and on about how much you had accomplished… are you telling me that you didn’t earn that? Are you telling me that this boyfriend bought it for you?”

“No,” I say quickly. “I mean, he did buy it, but he only put me in charge because he knew I could do it and that I was the best person for the job. I earned my spot there, Dad, and did my job really well.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and when he speaks again, his voice is almost a whisper. “I really thought you were doing something amazing, kid. I thought, somehow, you had faced adversity and refused to let it defeat you. That’s the girl I raised.”

“What do you mean? That’s the girl I am,” I tell him. “That hasn’t changed.”

“I don’t know,” He says. “You’re really throwing me for a loop here. I feel like I don’t know anything about what’s been going on with you at all. I mean, what are you going to tell me next? Did he have someone help you write your book?”

“No,” I reply. “No, we weren’t even together when I wrote that. I’ve been working really hard, Dad. I know what you gave up to get me here, and I don’t take that for granted. You know me. You know what this means to me.”

“So, there’s nothing else you need to tell me?” He asks, and at this point, hearing the accusation in his voice, I actually almost chicken out. I was prepared for him to be shocked, upset even, when I told him, but the anger is devastating. I don’t want to make this worse than it already is, so for a brief moment, I consider not telling my dad about my pregnancy, but even as I consider it, I know that will only make things worse in the end when he does find out. This is how I got where I am.

“Yes,” I say quietly, my voice shaking. “I do need to tell you something else.”

“What?” He says, on guard again.

It takes me a long time to speak again. The silence between my father and I is so tense it feels almost tangible, but it’s like I can’t force myself to say the words. And he waits. He doesn’t push me, he doesn’t tell me to spit it out, he just… waits.

“I’m pregnant,” I say at last, and, as the words sit between us, I wait for him to react. But still, nothing. The seconds drag on like hours and it’s agony. I don’t know if I’m waiting for anger, or tears, but not being able to see him, to read his face, is too much. “Please say something,” I ask when his reticence becomes too much for me to bear.

“I love you,” He says, his voice deathly quiet. “You know that I love you more than anything else in this world, and that nothing could ever change that. You know that I will support you, no matter what, and that I will always be there for you. But right now, I am disappointed in you, Anastasia, and that is something I have never had to say before.”

I’m speechless. I stand there, trying to find something to say, but there’s nothing… My dad has been angry with me before. I have been on the receiving end of some epic Ray Steele lectures, but never have I heard that anger filled with so much sadness. It cuts through me, right to my heart, and suddenly, I feel like I can’t breathe.

“Daddy, I’m sorry…” I cry.

“I’ve got to go,” He says.

“No, wait… please.”

“I have to go, Anastasia,” He repeats. “I love you, but… I have to go now.”

I hear the phone click, and then silence. He’s gone, and as I pull the phone away from my face, I break down into tears.

“Hey,” Christian says softly, closing the space between us and then immediately wrapping me in his arms. “Don’t cry.”

“I think I just broke my dad’s heart.”

“No, baby… He’s just in shock. Trust me, I know the feeling. This is a lot to take in at one time, but he’ll come around. He loves you.”

“He told me he was disappointed in me,” I sob. “He’s never owed me anything. When my mom left, he could have let me go and never looked back, but he didn’t. He stepped up to be my dad when he didn’t have to and he has given me everything. And I’ve turned out to be a disappointment.”

“No,” Christian says. “No, you are amazing, Anastasia. Look he’s… he’s thousands of miles away from you. He misses you and he’s missing all these important things happening in your life. That’s got to be hard, and he’s taking it hard, but I promise you, when he comes back and sees all the incredible things you’ve accomplished, he’s going to be so proud of you, and of the woman you have become. Just like I am.”

I look up at him, leaning my face into his hand as he brushes a tear away from my cheek, and then take a deep breath. “I don’t know if you’re right.”

“I am,” He assures me. “This baby is a blessing. Don’t forget that. This is a good thing. Let me show you…” He takes my hand and then pulls me back with him into the dining room where the rest of our family are talking and laughing amongst each other.

“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” Christian asks as we approach the table. The laughter dies down as seven pairs of eyes turn to look at us. He raises a glass in the air, glances down at me one last time, and then looks at everyone around the table. “I just want to thank Bob and Carla from coming to spend the holiday with us. It was important to both Ana and I because we have some really good news that we want to share with all of you. I think you all know how deeply in love with this woman I am, and I have even more reason to be now because Ana is pregnant. Next summer, we are going to be having a baby.”

There’s a brief beat of silence as Christian’s words settle over everyone, but the silence is shattered by a nearly ear piercing scream. Grace leaps up out of her seat and practically runs around the table with her arms held open for Christian and I .

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” She shrieks. “When? How far along?”

“Almost twelve weeks,” I tell her, and tears begin to well in her eyes. “I’m due on June 18th.”

“Christian’s birthday. Oh, a birthday baby. Come here, come here!” She pulls me into her, and as she holds onto me, she starts to cry. “Anastasia, sometimes I think that you were sent here to answer all my prayers, you darling girl. And my baby boy, a father. Come here, Christian.” She releases me and immediately clings onto him. “You are my favorite child.”

“Hey!” Elliot exclaims.

“Give me a grandchild and we’ll talk,” Grace says, before hugging Christian tightly again. I laugh as Mia gets out of her seat to hug me.

“This is such great news. Congratulations, Ana.”

“Thank you, Mia.” I reply, smiling back at her as I turn to hug Elliot.

“Congratulations,” He says.

“Thanks, Elliot.”

“You are going to be the most amazing mom. I’m really happy for you,” He says. “Except… I’m never going to be able to look at you again without knowing you let my brother jizz inside of you.”

“Oh, like a lot of times,” I laugh. He rolls his eyes and kisses me on top of my head before passing me off to my mom, and even though she hugs me, I can feel the tension in her body.

“Are you happy?” I ask her.

“I-I don’t know,” She says, the shock apparent in her voice. “Yes, but… what about Harvard?”

“Well I’m not due until June and graduation is in May. I’m going to graduate.”

“That’s going to be really hard,” She warns me, “Pregnancy is very difficult.”

“I know,” I nod. “But I have to.”

“Well, if anyone can do it, you can,” She tells me. “Congratulations, Ana.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I reply, holding her tightly. I pass her off to Christian, and as I accept a hug from Bob, the sound of clinking china breaks through the low murmur of excitement all around us. We turn and see Carrick standing at the table holding his glass in the air, and so everyone rushes around to raise their glasses as well.

“It was three years ago when Christian brought Anastasia home for the first time,” Carrick begins, “But when Grace and I went to bed the first night we met her, she looked over at me and told me that Christian had found the one. I thought she was crazy, Christian and Ana weren’t even a couple, but she saw something in his eyes the first time she saw him look at her that told her all she needed to know. It took me a little while longer, but eventually, I saw it too, and I still see it. I see it every time he smiles at her, I hear it every time he says her name, I can feel it in this room right now.”

He stops, giving me time to lean up and give Christian a quick kiss before he continues.

“This has really been the most incredible love to watch blossom. It’s been nearly three years to the day since Christian first introduced us to Ana, but it only took that one day for Grace to know that he was in love. The very first day we met her, Grace told me, just before we went to bed, that she knew that Christian had found the one…”

“Dad,” Elliot interrupts him. “You already said that.”

“What?” Carrick asks. “Did I?”

“Yeah,” Mia nods.

“Oh…” He shakes his head slightly. “Well, all I want to say is that… Is that…” He wobbles slightly, enough that he has to catch himself on the table as he leaves too far forward, and as the room fills with the sound of clinking china from the table being jolted around, I feel Christian tense next to me.

“Dad?” He checks, the worry apparent in his voice.

Carrick’s face goes blank and his eyes begin dancing back and forth as though he’s confused. He looks at each of us, but there is no sense of recognition in his eyes. Christian and Elliot immediately both move towards him, but they each only take a few steps before Carrick’s eyes roll back in his head and he collapses.

“Dad!” Christian yells. He lunges forward, falling to the ground in order to keep his father from hitting his head on the tile floor, and as he holds his unconscious body, he looks up at Elliot standing over him in horror.

“Elliot, Call 911.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 12

Image result for lamborghini reventon

The long plane rides, jet lag, and the constant feeling of never being settled over the past few months has made me forget how much I really love being home. Besides being surrounded again by the familiar city and the comforting, ever present rain, having long and numerous days where Christian and I can curl up together in front of the fireplace and read a book, or even spend an afternoon out on the sound on the yacht has felt oddly indulgent. Even when he has to go into work, there’s something about just being in our apartment that makes me feel close to him, though that could be because I’ve been using the time alone to talk with Barney from his R&D department to see if he can help me on a gift I’ve planned for Christian for Christmas.

When Monday comes, and I immediately feel an overwhelming sense of relief that I don’t have to fly back to Boston, I realize that I’ve convinced myself that having three days a week at home is enough to feel like Christian and I aren’t really living apart, but even just the first few unrushed days home makes me see that isn’t true. I’m home sick, and now that I know that, I think going back to Cambridge at the end of the week is going to feel impossible. Especially because with dead week and finals just around the corner, I probably won’t be able to fly home for any of the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. That is  if I can go home at all…

“What time is my Mom’s flight getting in?” I ask Christian as I clear away the last of our breakfast dishes Wednesday morning.

“Not until this evening,” He replies.

“Are you going to work today?”

“No,” He shakes his head. “I’m keeping my phone on, but, physically, I’m yours for the rest of the week.”

“Mmm,” I hum approvingly as I feel him come up behind me. “Well, whatever will we do until my parents arrive?”

“Actually, I have some errands to run this afternoon and I’d hoped you go with me before we go to the airport.”

“Errands?” I repeat, curious, and he wraps his arms around me, resting both his hands over my stomach.

“Yes, some… shopping.”

I turn in his arms and look at him suspiciously, but he gives me an innocent, and extremely sexy, smile, then leans down to kiss my lips. I moan softly into his mouth and pull my body close to him, repeating a silent prayer in my head that the ever present morning sickness doesn’t rear it’s ugly head and break us apart. I briefly wonder if he’s worried too, because he seems hesitant at first, but once I slip my tongue into his mouth, he reaches down for my hips and lifts me onto the counter, pulling me close to the edge so I can feel his quickly growing erection between my legs. A shiver of anticipation washes through me when he reaches down for the hem of my t-shirt, but before he’s even begun to pull it over my head, we hear the ping of the elevator and seconds later Luke steps into the great room, followed closely by Taylor.

“One of these days,” He begins, whispering against my lips. “I am going to fuck you on a kitchen counter.”

I laugh and then take his hand as he helps me back onto the floor so that we can both head back into the bedroom to change for whatever shopping Christian has planned for the day. I move to the dresser to find a pair of jeans, but stop when I see him take one of his best suits off the hanger.

“What are we doing?” I ask, unsure whether or not I should also be dressing up, but he doesn’t answer me. Instead, he moves to my side of the closet and pulls out a navy, knee length Diane von Furstenberg sweater dress, one of the many additions that has been made to my closet in my absence, and hands it to me.

“Wear this,” He says.

“So, fancy errands, then?”

“Fancy errands?” He repeats, smiling again, and I shrug before stripping out of my clothes and changing into the dress Christian picked out.

We head back out into the living room, but as I begin to slip my coat onto my arms, Taylor steps forward and pulls Christian aside. I pause, looking over at them curiously, and when I hear Taylor say, “It’s Welch, sir,” Christian immediately turns towards his office without another word.

“It might be a minute,” Luke tells me, nodding towards my coat, so I let out a long, drawn out breath, drop my coat on the couch, and then turn the news on the TV to get an update on what’s going on on the east coast.

The state of emergency still hasn’t been lifted from the storm, and the past few days has been non-stop footage of rescues, flooding, devastated houses and business, looting and crime, and pleas for donations and supplies. Today though, there seems to be some hope. The snow has stopped, and the transformers that were damaged in the initial wave of the storm have been repaired so power has been restored to a lot of the homes that have been without it since last Friday. Most of the news seems to focus on New York, where the devastation was the worst, so I have to watch the ticker at the bottom of the screen for an update on Boston. It takes a moment, but eventually, I see:

Boston: Emergency crews deployed to clear roads and free thousands of people trapped in their homes

“We would still be there, Luke,” I whisper, my voice shaking slightly as I think of all the people, even in my own neighborhood, who didn’t get out like we did.

“Well, they’re getting out now,” He says reassuringly as he comes to sit on the couch next to me. “Cambridge was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. We should at least be grateful for that.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “But, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So many people aren’t going to be able to sit down and have dinner with their families because they’re going to have to deal with the aftermath of the storm. It’s not fair.”

“I know,” Luke agrees, and after a few more seconds of watching the reporter on the TV talking in front of a Red Cross station, I decide that I’m going to ask Christian to donate to the relief effort. We can’t be there right now to help those who need it, but we can do something. I got out and I’m okay, because I had Christian. If he hadn’t come, I’d still be there, and with how dire our situation was Saturday, with no food and a quickly dwindling heat supply, I can’t imagine where we’d be now…

Christian comes back down the hallway then, looking tense and a little pissed off. He takes the his coat from Taylor and then looks expectantly at me.

“Are you ready?” He asks, his voice a little too sharp.

“Yeah,” I say quickly. I reach over for my own coat, then take his hand and allow him to lead me back to the elevator, wondering if I should ask him what’s wrong or what’s going on with Welch. When I look over at Taylor though, I see him very subtly shake his head.

So… something bad then.

I bite down on my lip, holding back the questions that desperately want to bubble out through my teeth, and then untangle my fingers from Christian’s so that I can wrap my arms around him instead. He’s still for a moment, but just before we hear the high ping that announces the elevator’s arrival, I feel his body relax a little, and his lips press softly into my hair.

When we pull out of the garage under Escala, I don’t pay much attention to where we’re going until I see Taylor signal for the I-90 towards Bellevue.

“Are we going to your parent’s house?” I ask, but Christian, who is looking down at his phone, simply shakes his head no. My lips press together as I glance out the window and at the water around the floating bridge, but my curiosity is getting the better of me.

“Are we going to Elliot’s house?” I ask hopefully.

“No,” Christian replies.

“Then where?” I ask. He looks over and smiles at me, reaches down for my fingers and brings them up to his lips, and then turns his attention back to whatever it is that has him so preoccupied on his phone. Clearly, he isn’t going to tell me.

“Sawyer, what’s the status on the Cambridge house?” Christian asks, as we pass through the long tunnels on Mercer Island and he loses cell reception.

“Emergency crews were deployed this morning,” Luke answers. “The roads are supposed to be cleared by this evening.”

“Good, then hire a crew to start work on the structural damage first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke replies. “Though, it may be difficult to get workers there in the morning with the amount of work that has to be done throughout the city and… well, the holiday.”

“That’s not my problem,” Christian says. “Find someone available and pay them whatever it takes. Unless…” He glances over at me and I give him a wry, exasperated look.

“I’m going back to Harvard, Christian.”

“And if the house isn’t fixed?” He challenges me. “If it takes me oh… three, four weeks to have the damage repaired?”

“Then I guess I’ll have to stay with Carter until finals are over,” I reply sweetly, and he immediately frowns, then looks back up at Luke.

“The house has to be livable by Sunday. Do whatever it takes to ensure it gets done.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

“Taylor, where are we on Leila?” Christian asks, and, suddenly, I feel my the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I have to work really hard to keep the look of panic off my face. I look up and make eye contact with Taylor in the rear-view mirror for a split second before he answers.

“Nothing to report, sir,” He says. “It appears as though she’s gone home to spend the holiday week with her family in Hartford.”

“Hmm,” Christian hums disinterestedly as we make it out of the tunnel and he has cell reception again.

“You’re…” I hesitate, unsure if I want to draw more attention to the topic or not, “You’re watching Leila?”

“Of course I am,” He says dismissively, still not looking up at me. “You’re pregnant, I’m not taking any chances anymore. Your safety is imperative to me.”

“So, only since we found out I was pregnant?” I ask, before I can stop myself, and he looks up at me suspiciously.

“I suppose… why?”

“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head quickly. “I just… I didn’t know you were worried about it.”

“You know me,” He says. “I’m worried about everything.”

“Right,” I try to smile, but I’m afraid it’s more of a grimace as I look up at Taylor again. He glances back at me, his expression unreadable, but soon looks back at the road as we pull into the parking lot in front of a luxury car dealership.

“Ready?” Christian asks, excited now as he slips his phone into his jacket pocket and reaches for the door handle.

“A car dealership?” I ask, but he simply smiles and climbs out of the car.

I’m a little shocked as I make my way around the SUV to take Christian’s hand and I glance over the cars we pass by: Mercedes, Bentley, Rolls Royce… even a few I’ve never heard of before but look like the kind of sleek sports cars you see on magazine covers or in spy movies. We head inside and are greeted by a man in an impeccable black suit, who greets Christian by name.

“Mr. Grey, welcome back.”

“Thank you, Lewis,” Christian says. “Is she ready?”

“Of course, sir. Please, follow me.”

I feel Christian’s fingers tighten around mine as we head through a side door off the main gallery room and into another room with polished white floors framed and blinding white walls. It all looks very clinical.

“I’ll have them bring it in now,” Lewis says, “Would you care for some champagne while you wait?”

“No, thank you,” Christian says, turning to me and giving me a sly half-smile. I roll my eyes as Lewis nods and turns to leave the room.

“This all seems like a lot of production,” I say, once we’re alone.

“Of course it is,” Christian replies. “This is really special.”

“You’re buying another car?” I ask, thinking of the Mercedes SUV out in the parking lot and the Maybach in the parking garage back home, not to mention my Lexus back in Cambridge.

“Of course,” Christian says. “I gave my Bugatti to Elliot. The Maybach is fine but I need something with a little more… speed.”

I raise a questioning eyebrow at him, but suddenly, the room is filled with the low groan of the garage door on the wall to the left of us opening, and I turn to watch as a sleek looking sports car pulls out onto the white floor in front of us. It’s unlike any car I’ve ever seen before, low to the ground, painted a matte smoky gray, and has huge black wheels. The engine is extraordinarily loud, and, when it comes to a stop in front of us and the driver gets out, I actually gasp when the doors open vertically, instead of horizontally like I’m used to. It’s like the Delorean from Back to the Future if it had been built by Batman.

“The Lamborghini Reventon,” Lewis says, coming up behind us again. “Ordered from the manufacturer specially for you, Mr. Grey. Only twenty of these beauties exist in the entire world.”

“It’s beautiful,” Christian says, looking down at the car almost hungrily. “Tell me about it.”

He releases my hand and follows Lewis around the car, listening to the extremely detailed list of specifications and features of the car. It takes him nearly twenty minutes to tell Christian everything there is to know and after they look over every single inch of the exterior and interior, Lewis gives Christian a challenging smile.

“Do you want to take it for a test drive?”

“Yes,” Christian nods. “Ana?”

“Uh… sure,” I say, and his face breaks into a wide smile. I take a step forward towards the car and slip into the front seat after Christian pulls open the door for me. Immediately, I realize that I’m never going to be able to get into this car by myself as the door opens so high over my head, I can’t reach the handle to pull it back down. Christian doesn’t have a problem though, and for a brief moment after he’s closed me inside, I’m alone in the car, surrounded by the smell of new leather, and I can feel the vibrations from the engine in my seat.

“Alright,” Christian says excitedly, once he’s closed himself into the driver’s seat. “Fasten your seatbelt.”

“You know, there isn’t room in here for a car seat…” I say pointedly.

“I have cars that can accommodate a car seat,” He tells me. “This is for us.”

Us,” I repeat, rolling my eyes.

He wags his eyebrows at me for a moment and I shake my head with exasperation, pulling my seatbelt over me as he shifts the car into reverse and we pull backwards through the garage door and swing around the building towards the parking lot. I wave at Luke and Taylor through the window as Christian pulls onto the street, though I don’t think they can see me through the darkly tinted windows, and then settle back into the seat as Christian flirts with the speed limit all the way back to the freeway.

Once we’re back on the I-90, and he has open highway in front of him, he hits the gas, weaving through the sparse, late-morning traffic all the way back to Seattle.

He looks like a kid on Christmas as he revs the engine and glides seemingly effortlessly across the five lane highway, and his excitement is so infectious I find that even I can’t keep the smile off my face. I don’t know how far he plans on actually driving, but we make it all the way to North Seattle before he finally signals for an exit off the freeway. Once we merge off the I-5 though, he doesn’t turn to head back. Instead, he takes a right and makes his way deeper into the university district until we pass a sign that says Laurelhurst. We wind our way through the unfamiliar streets until he slides into an empty parking place on the side of the road in front of a small ice cream shop.

“Come on,” He says, and I give him a confused look.

“Ice cream?”

“It’s one of your cravings, isn’t it?” He asks, and when I nod, he leans over, kisses me softly on the lips, and then gets out of the car.

Once I’ve secured a single scoop of mint chocolate chip on a sugar cone, Christian takes me by the hand and leads me out of the shop. I’m obviously not allowed to eat ice cream in Lamborghini so, since it’s a surprisingly mild and dry day for late November, we decide to take a walk through the neighborhood.

It’s actually really beautiful here. This block is lined with interesting shops, high end stores, and carts with fresh flowers on the sidewalks, and, once we make it a few streets over into the residential area, we’re treated to magnificent views of Lake Washington and block after block of amazing houses, with children laughing and playing together in the streets. It’s winter, so it’s hard to see now, but as I look at the trees lining the road, I imagine that it’s absolutely beautiful here in the spring and the summer.

We make it to the largest house at the end of the block and, suddenly, Christian pulls gently on my hand to stop me.

“What do you think? He asks.

“About what?”

“The neighborhood,” He clarifies, and I shrug.

“It’s beautiful,” I tell him. He smiles and then turns to the gate blocking the walkway to the house in front of us and enters a code into the box above the handle. I look at him suspiciously when I hear the lock click open, and his smile only broadens as we make our way inside and up the cobbled walkway.

“What are we doing?” I ask as he reaches out to open the front door, without so much as knocking.

“You’ll see,” He says.

My eyes widen as we step into the grand entrance hall. There are two staircases curving down towards us from the second floor and between them, a hallway punctuated by a floor to ceiling length window that gives us an amazing view of the lake behind the house.

“Mr. Grey?” A woman’s voice asks, and I turn to the left to see a woman with black hair tied back in a bun on top of her head looking at us expectantly.

“Miss Kelley,” Christian greets her. “I hope we’re not too early.”

“Not at all,” She says, smiling broadly at the two of us. “You must be Anastasia?”

“Uh… yes,” I reply, only just remembering myself as she reaches out to shake my hand.

“Olga Kelley,” She introduces herself. “I’m the real estate manager for this property. Shall we take a look?”

“Please,” Christian says, motioning her forward, and as she takes the steps through the entrance hall into the main room, I stop Christian so that we fall behind out of earshot.

“Real estate manager?” I ask him, and he smiles down at me before wrapping his hand around mine and leading me after Ms. Kelley.

The house is enormous with five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and over 8,000 square feet of living space. Though Ms. Kelley tells us the house was built in 1928, it looks newly renovated on the inside, with the exception of a few rooms that are covered in wood panelling. It’s three stories, if you include the finished basement, and comes complete with a full gym, movie theater, a garage that has multiple levels, and an enormous wine cellar. The master bedroom is the only bedroom on the first floor, but is bigger than the entire downstairs of my house back in Cambridge, with his and hers closets and a bathroom that has a tub big enough to swim laps in.

Once we make our way through the house, Ms. Kelley takes us through the backdoor to view the rest of the property and immediately, my mouth pops open. I’m standing on a terrace high over the back yard, but it isn’t just a backyard, it’s a park. The expansive lawn slopes right down to the water’s edge and includes a tennis court, a pool, and a professionally manicured garden. The terrace I’m standing on is enormous, more than large enough for us to fit everyone we know comfortably, and comes complete with a full outdoor kitchen on the other side of the covered sitting area.

I walk to the railing next to the first set of stairs that leads down to the lawn, and stare out over the water, simply amazed by how stunning the view is.

“There’s a private dock down on the water there,” Christian says, coming up behind me. “We could get a sailboat and spend summer afternoons out on the lake. My parents’ house is just across the water. We could sail back and forth when the weather is nice.”

“You really want to buy this house?” I ask, turning to look at him.

“I do,” He nods. “But only if you love it.”

“I thought you liked the penthouse and being in the middle of the city?”

“I do. I did,” He says. “But we’re having a family, Ana. I don’t want to raise a baby in Escala. It’s thirty stories in the sky and is covered in marble with sharp corners. That place is a death trap. Besides, our child should have a yard and neighbors with children to play with. We could have a life here.”

I look up into his eyes and feel warmth wash over me as I begin to imagine our future here together. Summer barbeques with the entire family out on this very terrace, teaching our children to swim from the dock in our own back yard, Christmases around the giant fireplace in the family room, movie nights in the home theater in the basement. It’s so perfect it feels like a fantasy, and as I feel his hands slide down to my belly, I know we wouldn’t just have a life here, we would be truly happy here.

“I love it,” I tell him. “I love everything about it.”

“So you want to take it?”

“I do.”

He smiles down at me and then presses his lips into mine. It’s hard to kiss him since I can’t control my smile as I continue to imagine the future in this house with him, and when he pulls away, I feel as though I must be beaming.

“Stay here,” He tells me. “I’ll let Ms. Kelley know that we’ll take it.”

“Okay,” I nod, but before he turns away, he reaches up to cup my cheek, again looking adoringly into my eyes.

“Welcome home, baby.”

It takes a while for Christian to work through the initial details with Ms. Kelley and get her the right contact information with his people to start the process of buying the house, and after I’ve recovered from my near heart attack from hearing the $14.5 million dollar price tag, he leads me from the house and back up the street towards the Lamborghini.

“A new car and a new house,” I say as we start back towards the dealership. “This has been quite the productive day for you, Mr. Grey.”

“The house is for the baby,” He clarifies. “But the car is for me, and before I decide to buy, I need to make sure of one thing first…”

I look at him curiously as he turns, not towards the freeway, but deeper into North Seattle. He winds through streets, which are are lined with houses not nearly as nice as the one we just came from, until he reaches the deserted University of Washington campus a few blocks away.

“What are you doing?” I ask, when he pulls into a parking garage in a remote corner of campus.

“Test driving,” He says mysteriously, but, as he winds around the corners, climbing higher and higher into the garage, he reaches over and brushes his hand over my knee. Oh…

The moment we’re stopped in a parking stall on the third level, he reaches over to me, brushing his hand through my hair and pulling me into him so that he can kiss me. I lean across leather armrest between us, eagerly matching the passion he pours into me as our tongues entwine together.

“Come here,” He says, reaching down to grip onto me so that he can pull me over the console between us.

“Christian, we’re in a parking garage!” I protest.

“I know,” He says. “But there’s no one here.” I bite down on my lip, hesitating for a second, but then climb out of my seat and into his lap so that I’m straddling him in the driver’s seat. It’s a tight fit, so he reaches down and pushes the seat back as far as it will go to give me enough room, and once I’m settled over him, I lean down to take his lips again. His hands slide down and begin tugging at my dress so that he can pull it up around my waist and he’s free to grab onto my ass. I feel him starting to get hard beneath me and if fuels the fevered lust running through me.

I gently nip his lower lip and tug it slightly with my teeth, and as I do he groans and presses his pelvis up into me, his hands gripping my ass more tightly. I reach up to hold each side of his face, my fingers running up into his hair, and digging into him as our kiss becomes more fervent. I begin grinding back and forth in his lap and he groans a deep, low sound into my mouth that makes my entire body tighten with desire.

“Is this what you had in mind when you told me to wear this dress?” I ask as I pull away from his mouth and move down to his chin, nibbling my way up his jawline.

“A man can dream,” He says, and when my teeth capture his earlobe, he groans again. “Oh, fuck, baby.”

His hands move to the side of my face, turning me so that he can kiss me again, and as my fingers begin exploring his body, gripping tightly to his suit jacket, he pulls away, and does one last scan of the parking garage.

“No one’s here,” He says, “We’re all alone, and I want you.”

“I want you,” I whisper back.

“Good,” He says. “Then start with my belt.”

I move my hands down to Christian’s waist, clumsily fumbling with the buckle in my over anticipation to get his pants open. As I do, he lifts me slightly off his lap so that I’m hovering over him on my knees, and then reaches around to touch me through my panties. I whimper slightly as I feel his finger flick softly back and forth over my clitoris, heightening my arousal.

“Perhaps I should have asked you to be naked under this dress,” He says, his fingers continuing to tease me. “Of course, this is our first time truly attempting something this public. If that isn’t memorable, I don’t know what is…”

“Don’t you dare, these are my favorite pair,” I tell him firmly, and before he can argue, I finally am able to release him from his pants and wrap my hand around his erection. His breath hisses through his teeth as I grip him tightly and then move my hand up and down over him.

“Then take them off,” He says, his voice husky with need. “You’re ready for me, and I for you.”

I release him so that I can reach down to slide my panties off, but the moment I touch the band beneath my dress, I see the conundrum I’ve gotten myself into for the first time. There isn’t a lot of room for me to move with me settled on his lap, how am I supposed to…

“I need to get off of you,” I say, moving his hands away from me and shifting slightly so that I can climb back into the passenger’s seat, but he grabs me again, holding me firmly in place before reaching beneath me and, in one fluid motion, tugging my panties to the side and thrusting up into me. I cry out as I feel myself stretching around him and then move back so that I can sink fully onto him.

“Yes,” He hisses. His hands grab onto my hips while he slides down into his seat, taking me with him, and then thrusts up into me again. I begin to move with him, rising and falling as best I can under the low roof of the car until my legs begin to burn. Soon the windows begin to fog over, but something about it makes everything hotter and Christian’s animalistic instincts take over. His hands are everywhere, pulling desperately at my dress, yanking my hair to expose my neck to him, reaching around to grab my ass… When I lean back against the steering wheel, using the dash and the door to steady myself so that I can help him hit that place inside of me that will cause me to unravel, he even slides his hand up my body and around my throat, his fingers gripping tightly to my jaw and just under my chin as he pushes into me again and again.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I whimper in time with each of his movements and he lets out a low growl.

“Almost there, baby?” He asks.

“Yes,” I reply, my response reduced to only a harsh sounding breath as my body begins to heat and I feel sweat beading over my skin. With his free hand, he reaches between my legs, finding my clitoris with his thumb and masages me in time with his thrusts.

“Christian,” I whimper. “Fuck, I’m going to… I’m going to…”

“Scream for me, baby,” He commands me. “There’s no else to hear you. Scream my name.”

I gasp again, my entire body now reduced to an erotic cocktail of heat and sensation. I’m close, only seconds away, and when he presses his thumb against me harder and begins moving it faster over my clitoris, the dam breaks and I explode, shouting his name as I spiral off into oblivion.

“Fuck, Ana!” He cries out. His hands move to my hips, forcing me down on him until he is as deep inside of me as possible, and he stills, pouring his release into me. I collapse on top of him, panting heavily as I revel in the post-sex haze that relaxes my entire body.

“Yes, I’m definitely buying this car,” He says softly into my ear, and I giggle.

“I think you have to now.”

He chuckles too and then helps me off his lap and back into the passenger’s seat. After rolling down the windows and turning on the defroster to clear the fog away, we take a moment to readjust our clothes and then, with one final kiss, Christian puts the car in reverse and turns us back towards Bellevue.

It’s nearly dinner time by the time my mom and Bob land at SeaTac. It takes awhile after the flight touches down for the crew to the get everything ready for my parents to be able to disembark, and as Christian and I wait in the front seats of the Maybach, I see him glance down at the leather on the steering wheel forlornly every few minutes. I know he wants to be driving his new Lamborghini, but there isn’t room in the two-seated car for my parents.

When the doors finally open and my mother appears on the staircase that leads out of the plane, I open my own door to step out onto the tarmac and she immediately bolts to me.

“Oh, Anastasia!” She cries, her voice laced with overwhelming relief as she wraps her arms around me. “I was so terrified watching the news. Thank god you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, Mom,” I tell her, attempting to covertly push her away as whatever perfume she’s wearing hits me like a wrecking ball. We’re not announcing my pregnancy until tomorrow, but it’ll be pretty obvious if I throw up all over her.

“Christian,” Bob says, reaching out his hand.

Christian shakes it firmly and nods toward the plane. “Welcome to Seattle,” He says. “Did you have a good flight?”

“Wonderful,” Bob says. “Although Carla spent most of it snooping…”

“I wasn’t snooping,” My mother says defensively. “My daughter is on that plane twice a week. I just wanted to make sure she has everything she needs.”

“I assure you, it’s well stocked,” Christian says, and my mother nods and then holds her arms open for him. I glance up at Christian, wondering how he’s going to react since I know he’s not great with people touching him, but, to my surprise, he steps forward and allows my mother to hug him.

“It’s very good to see you, dear,” My mom says when she finally releases him.

“Likewise, Carla,” He replies. “Shall we get home? My housekeeper is preparing dinner as we speak.”

“Sounds good,” She smiles. “We’re starving.”

Christian smiles, nods, and then helps Bob load their bags into the trunk of the car, and as we make our way home, Mom and I listen to Bob and Christian talk about the Maybach and then Christian’s subsequent excited descriptions about the Lamborghini in the parking garage back at Escala. They’re so lost in their car talk that when we get home, Christian drops my mother and I off at the elevator, but ignores Taylor’s offer to go park the car, deciding instead to park himself so he can show off his new toy to my step dad.

My mother has been here before, over the Fourth of July weekend last summer, so I don’t have to give her a tour, but I do take her up to the guest room and sit with her while she unpacks and we wait for Christian and Bob to come upstairs. It’s awkward being in this room with her, sitting on the bed and listening to her give me a play by play of life in Savannah. Especially when I glance over at the chair next to the door and remember the last time I was in that chair, Christian had me tied up with leg restraints and handcuffs…

Thankfully, Mom doesn’t have much for the weekend, so it doesn’t take her long to unpack, and just as she tucks her suitcase into the closet, Christian knocks on the door.

“Dinner is ready,” He tells us.

“Perfect,” My mom smiles back. We let her walk ahead of us so that I can hold Christian’s hand as we make our way down the hallway, and while we go, I feel a sense of surprised happiness at my mother’s attitude. Even after her heart to heart with Christian last summer, she still hasn’t been the most accepting of Christian and I being back together, and I know she doesn’t approve of me travelling home nearly every weekend from school. It’s one of the things that has me most nervous to announce my pregnancy tomorrow, and I think it has Christian nervous too because, when we get downstairs and I see the dining room, I can tell he’s clearly trying to impress her.

The table is beautiful, set with what must be new china and Christian’s Baccarat wine glasses. There are long tapers in the center of the table, illuminating the fall themed floral centerpiece with soft, flickering candlelight. We’re having Filet Mignon for dinner with salad and spiced pears, which both my mother and stepfather seemed over joyed with. Everything is perfect, that is until Christian brings out the wine…

“This is one of my favorites,” He explains as he fills my mother’s glass. “It’s from my special reserve collection.”

“Delicious,” She replies with delighted approval after taking a sip. He smiles down at her and moves to put the bottle in the bucket at the end of the counter but my mother reaches out to stop him.

“Oh, Christian, Ana hasn’t gotten any.”

“Oh…” He says awkwardly, holding the bottle over the bucket and looking down at me like he isn’t sure what to do.

“That’s fine,” I say quickly. “I uh… I actually haven’t really been loving wine over the past few months. I think I had a bad glass a little while ago and it’s kind of put me off it for a while.”

“Oh,” My mother replies, furrowing her brow, but before she gets to ask any follow up questions, Bob unwittingly comes to my rescue.

“You know that’s going to happen to you with tequila,” He says. “I got sicker than I’ve ever been off tequila one night and now I can’t even stand the smell of the stuff. It seems like everyone I know has a similar story.”

“Right, I’ll keep that in mind,” I reply.

The rest of the dinner goes off without a hitch and we actually end up sitting at the table for a few hours, having a really great time. I can tell that my mother is really trying with Christian again, and, when she asks about GEH, she actually seems genuinely interested to hear him talk about it.

“What about you, Ana?” She asks, turning to me. “Anything new and exciting going on in your life?”

Christian almost chokes over the sip of wine he takes and I have to use every ounce of self control I have not to glare at him.

“Yeah, actually,” I begin. “Christian and I just bought a house this morning.”

“What?” She asks, looking between us with surprise.

“Yes,” Christian nods. “Up in Laurelhurst.”

“Laurelhurst?” My mom repeats, with something close to shock echoing in her voice. She didn’t live here with Ray long, but apparently it was long enough for her to get acquainted with the best neighborhoods in Seattle. “Doesn’t Bill Gates live there?”

Christian shakes his head. “No, he grew up there, but he lives in Medina now. Actually, not too far from my parents’ house in Bellevue. Paul Allen lives on our street though.”

“WHAT?!” I exclaim, turning a quick, sharp glance on him. “Are you telling me that the owner of the Seattle Seahawks is going to be our neighbor?”

Christian laughs, “Yes, but I don’t think team practices are held in his backyard.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean John Schneider, or Pete Carroll, or Matt Hasselbeck won’t get invited to a dinner party at his house. A dinner party that we could also be invited to as his new best friends. Seriously, Christian, woo him.”

He laughs again. “I actually do need to get in touch with him. I’ve heard that he petitioned to have a helicopter pad put on his property but it was blocked by the HOA. I’m going to have to help him find a solution to that problem.”

“I feel like you’re not focusing on the Seahawks right now…” I accuse him.

“Those damn Seahawks.” Bob says, rolling his eyes, but as I turn to glare at him, we’re all surprised to hear the ping of the elevator come from the foyer.

“Who in the world…” Christian begins, but before he even finishes the sentence Ros comes storming into the living room looking livid.

“Christian Grey!” She shouts. “You fired Welch?”

Immediately, Christian stiffens and sits up straighter in his chair. “Yes, I did,” He replies calmly.

“And you didn’t think to talk to me about that first?”

I look over the table and see my mother and Bob exchange awkward glances with one another, and I think Christian sees it too, because he gestures over to them.

“Ros, this is Mr. and Mrs. Adams, Anastasia’s parents. Bob, Carla, this is my COO and partner, Rosaline Bailey.”

Partner?” Ros repeats in an incredulous sounding breath. “Can I talk to you alone for a moment, please?”

“Of course,” Christian says, taking our interlocked hands from under the table and pulling them up to his lips so that he can kiss the back of my fingers. “Excuse me for a moment, please.”

Mom, Bob, and I all turn to watch them walk out of the living room, but even after hearing the door to his office slam close, we can hear them yelling at each other, and each sharp barb makes me flinch. I’ve heard Christian and Ros get into it before, but I’ve never heard them yell. I’d always thought they’d had that rare, perfect working relationship where somehow they just meshed really well together and were always on the same page. I’ve even made jokes in the past with Christian about how Ros is his work wife, because she’s the only one at GEH that really gets him, and who can talk him down when he gets angry… Apparently, he doesn’t have that same skill set with her.

“Welch was a key member of our executive team, someone who has been with us since the very beginning, Christian. You didn’t even think to consult me before you just let him go?” Ros practically screams.

“Consult you?” Christian shouts back at her.

“Yes, consult me. We’re in this together, remember? You and me. These past few months, it’s like I’m not even here, or you don’t care what I have to say or what direction I think we should be going in. You bought SIP without telling me and then just gave it to me with no warning, I had no idea you were even chasing Lincoln Timber until I got the email with the rest of the team saying it had been acquired, and you didn’t tell me you were going to sell Grey Construction to your brother. Now, you’re firing key members of our executive team and I have to find out from HR? What the hell is going on?”

“I’m the CEO, Ros. I made those decisions, this decision, as the CEO, for the best interests of my company. Welch was toxic and I wanted him gone immediately. Had I been in the office today, yes, I would have informed you of my decision, but regardless, it was my decision. I didn’t know Menke would speak to you before I did. I would have told you Monday.”

Told me?” She repeats. “Christian, we’re partners! We have to make important decisions like this together, but instead, I’m just left to play catch up while you do everything on your own. Just like you do everything else.”

“Yes, I do make decisions on my own, and we’re going to break profit records again this year.”

“I’m not saying that you’re not good at your job, Christian.  I am the Chief Operations Officer. You have to discuss things with me that are going to affect the operations of our company. I am your partner, not your subordinate. We built this company together, we are supposed to run it together.”

“Together?” Christian spits at her. “Tell me, if we’re supposed to run this company together, why is it GREY Enterprises Holdings? Why is it MY name over the door? I don’t see Bailey anywhere in the letterhead.”

I cringe as Christian’s words echo down the hallway towards us followed by a silence so poignant it’s nearly deafening. It seems to go on forever, but when Ros finally does speak again, her voice is full of venom.

“Fuck you, Christian,” She says, and a second later, we hear the door slam again. She comes back into the great room, her face flushed, and she’s clearly fighting back tears.

“Ros,” I say, getting up from the table as she hurries for the foyer.

“I’m sorry if I ruined your dinner, Ana,” She says, dismissing me. “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.” She turns and walks into the foyer, and I get up from the table to go after her, but the elevator is there waiting and she’s able to disappear before I catch up with her. Christian is already back to his seat by the time I make it back to the dining room, and as he looks up at me, I put my hands on my hips and give him a stern look.

“What?” He asks.

“What?” I repeat, incredulously. “What was that?”

“You know,” Bob begins awkwardly as he gets out of his seat, “We’ve had a long day with the flight, and it’s almost 11:30 our time. I think we’ll head to bed.”

“Yes,” My mother says, getting up eagerly behind him, “We’ll see you in the morning.”

Mom walks over to me and gives me a quick hug and kiss on the cheek and after we watch them walk up the stairs and hear their door close behind them, I turn back to Christian, waiting for him to explain what’s going on. He stares at me for a minute, clearly hesitant to have this discussion with me and possibly challenging my resolve, but when I don’t break eye contact, he sighs.

“Gail,” He calls, breaking eye contact with me and looking towards the kitchen.

“Yes, sir?” She responds. I turn and see her peeking through the archway between the dining room and kitchen, glancing nervously between us as the tension in the room is now tangible.

“Dinner was delicious, thank you, but we’re finished now.”

“Yes, sir.”

He nods and then crosses the room towards me, taking my hand and then pulling me with him into the bedroom. Once we’re inside, I move to sit on the bed and then stare at him expectantly again.

“Okay, maybe I was a little hard on her…” He admits finally.

“Hard on her?” I repeat. “Christian, she left here in tears. Why would you say that to her?”

“Look, Ros is good at her job, excellent even. She shares my vision, I can count on her, and she’s loyal, almost to a fault. But that loyalty is a double edged sword. I didn’t tell her about Welch because I didn’t want to fight with her about it. I’m just… I’m tired of fighting with her, with everyone. I needed him gone and she would have tried to stop me. It’s my decision, my company, and I don’t need Ros or anyone else telling me how to run it.”

“Why did you need him gone so suddenly?” I ask, “I’ve worked with Welch before, on the eReader we designed. He’s good. I mean, you’ve said that yourself…”

“He’s an instigator,” Christian says, and I raise an eyebrow at him.

“What?”

“Remember what I told you on Halloween? The developers in my R&D and Technology department are becoming more and more insistent  that I hand over control to a board. They’re collectivizing, threatening walk-outs… and that sentiment is starting to spread through the company. I’m starting to hear noise from my manufacturing division, fiber optics, hell even SIP has thrown their support behind the idea.”

“So what does that have to do with Welch?”

“He’s behind it. He’s uniting everyone, pushing them to follow his lead. Taylor found a few emails on his server, he’s been talking with everyone, even Jack Hyde.”

“Oh,“ I say. “Well, what are you going to do then? I mean, if he’s already got everyone pushing for a board…”

“I’m going to find someone who understands my vision and will keep their team on track. I’ve said it before, no one is irreplaceable and Welch is no exception. He’s good, but a lot of people are good, and firing him is going to send a message. I’m not going to tolerate insubordination. This is my company and I will not relinquish control. Not after what I had to sacrifice to get it.”

I bite down on my lip and break eye contact with him for a split second, but nod. “Okay. If that’s what you think is best, then I won’t argue with you about it. Just… just don’t alienate Ros. You need her. You need people you can trust and people who have your best interests at heart around you, and that’s Ros. She’s always been there for you, and she wants the same things as you. Don’t push her away.”

“Okay,” He nods in conceit. “She’s taking the jet to San Francisco tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I will have flowers and a handwritten apology waiting for her.”

“Good,” I nod, and then cross the room to wrap my arms around him. He holds me for a minute and then tilts my chin up so that he can kiss me. I melt into him, smiling a little when I feel his tongue begin to play against my lips, and when I open my mouth for him and push my entire body flush against him, he moans.

“It’s been a stressful night,” He says.

“Yeah, what else is new?” I reply, but he gives me a mischievous look.

“Nothing, which I why I know the best way to relieve this stress.” He reaches down and lifts me by the back of my legs, forcing me to tighten my hold around him so that I don’t fall, and I giggle as he makes his way across the room and then tosses me onto our bed.

Next Chapter

Fifty Shades Darker: Now A Major Motion Picture

First of all, if you haven’t seen the movie yet:

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I don’t remember ever being more excited for anything than I was for the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. Sure, I was fully on the Jamie Dornan is #NotMyChristian train, and there was just something about the Dakota lip biting poster that was plastered all over movie theaters everywhere that I found extraordinarily unappealing, but I was hype. Crazy hype. February 13th 2015 was not a chill day for me. It was a Friday and I didn’t get any work done. I sat at my desk and I listened to interview after interview about the movie on my iPhone and stared at the clock like I was afraid glancing away for even a second would make the world explode. But I made it through the day, and that night, when I finally got to witness the spectacle that was Fifty Shades of Grey, I was not disappointed (unlike apparently everyone else in the fifty community)

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From the very beginning, I was sold. Even IN the movie theater, I was pre-planning my #JamieDornanIsTheOnlyChristianGrey tweets and fighting the urge to get on Fandango and purchase tickets for the next seven days. When I left the theater, I got in the car and googled when Fifty Shades Darker was coming out, and that’s when my Fifty high was doused with an ice cold bucket of reality.

Fifty Shades Darker: February 10th 2017

2017. Twenty MOTHER FUCKING seventeen. I have a handy dandy countdown app in my phone that I immediately plugged the date into and it told me: 728 days.

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How the fuck was I supposed to fill 728 days?! Well, let me tell you. I re-read the books, read GREY, found a fellow group of obsessives, and oh yeah… may have started a ridiculously long FanFiction which I’m convinced I will be writing until the end of time. I was suddenly ravenous for ANYTHING Jamie Dornan was in, I was stalking E.L. James twitter like crazy, waiting for filming updates, and when they FINALLY did start filming, I was checking for pictures and videos DAILY. Then came the trailers, the teaser clips, the talk show interviews… and FINALLY, 2 years and two days later, it arrived. Fifty Shades Darker was in theaters and I had tickets, a tub of popcorn, red vines, and the largest Diet Coke money could buy.

I was ready.

Maybe it’s because it’s been two years of anticipation. Maybe it’s because I’ve been talking about this so much with the internet peeps. Maybe it’s because, between all the clips and teasers we’ve gotten over the past few months, it felt as though I had already seen the entire movie, but when I left the theater after my initial viewing, I was having an existential crisis.

It was okay. I didn’t hate it. But I also didn’t love it.

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I felt betrayed, devastated. I replayed it in my mind over and over again trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong. Thankfully, I know myself, and that I’m very over analytical. Even just thinking over every scene of the movie, I realized how critical I was being. I’d gone into the movie keeping track of everything that was left out, everything they had changed, and to see how many of the foreign actors simply couldn’t pull off an American accent: See Bella Heathcote.

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I needed to see if again, knowing what to expect, and I’m so happy that I did, because the second time, I loved it.

The Good:

Jamie Dornan: 

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Good god, is he even human? I’d like to take this moment to formally retract ALL of the complaints I had about Jamie Dornan from the first movie. His acting was really great, his accent has vastly improved, and his body… hot damn. There was life to Christian. He was funny and adorable and FINALLY a person, not some autistic sex alien sent to Earth to seduce all the virgins of the world. The way he looked at Anastasia, the way he smiled at her, the way he held himself around her, there was love (though not really, more on that later.) Jamie Dornan gets no criticism from me. Five Stars.

Dakota Johnson/Anastasia: 

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Dakota has done for Anastasia what E.L. James and three books couldn’t, and that’s turn this character into a multidimensional, interesting person, who I not only want to hang out with on weekends, but who also feels empowering. She’s cute, she’s funny, she knows what she wants, she knows her limits, and she sticks to them. She was a powerhouse in this movie and that scene where she put Jack on his ass was awesome. Dakota is able to bring a lightness to Anastasia that I think is absent from the books and it’s not only welcome, it’s necessary.

The Grace: 

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I was not expecting this, but this was probably my favorite scene of the whole movie. They were just so damn cute together. Everything from the “So this is where your tying knots expertise comes from” line to Christian’s made up story about the old sea widow had me reduced to a puddle of warm goo on the movie theater floor. I’m not one of the people who hate the Taylor Swift/Zayn song, I actually have listened to it every day up to the premiere, but I do wish it hadn’t been so loud. There were some cute dialogue moments that were definitely over powered by the music, including Dakota’s incredibly adorable, “I’m doing it, I’m the captain!”

The Sex:

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Those who were disappointed by the sex in the first movie, are not going to feel the same after this one. It’s not only more numerous than the first movie, but it’s also much more explicit. Jamie Dornan sucking Dakota Johnson’s nipples anyone? We got some of Christian’s dirty talk, we got some good old fashioned kinky fuckery, and Christian went down on Anastasia in basically every sex scene. Good on you, Christian. Good on you.

Jack Hyde:

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Okay, I admit it. I have a thing for villains. I need drama to survive and where does drama come from? A really great villain, and Eric Johnson as Jack Hyde was absolutely incredible. He was believable playing the good guy part, the subtly of his growing obsession was spot on, and the final spiral down was flawless. That scene where he cornered Ana in his office and tried to coerce her into have sex with him was actually terrifying, and even though I knew what happened, I was still on the edge of my seat. I can’t say enough good things about Jack Hyde in this movie. If Fifty Shades Darker didn’t ALSO star the has-to-be-some-kind-of-Greek-demi-god Jamie Dornan, he’d have my vote as best male character 100x over.

Mia’s Hair: 

Remember this?

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Well it’s this now,

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And I think we can all rejoice. And Christian’s “It’s very blonde” reaction was just icing on the cake for this NECESSARY change.

Christian’s Apartment:

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Loved it. Every detail. It not only feels like a real place now, but also much more opulent. This is where a billionaire would live. And that wine cellar wall? Pure Christian Grey. I would still like to know where Ana’s department store… errrr closet is though. Or where it was in Fifty Shades of Grey…

The Bad:

Elena Lincoln: 

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And not in a good way. Look, I know everyone hates Elena Lincoln, but I’m fascinated in the potential she has as a character. Unfortunately, this movie lived up to NONE of that. She was so… frail. This woman is supposed to be a bad ass dominatrix, and yet, she came a cross as meak, soft spoken, jealous lover rather than a wicked bitch desperate to keep her place of power. She’s the ultimate bady, but she was so overshadowed by Jack Hyde that I almost forgot she was even in the movie.

This Entire Scene: 

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This is going to be a long one because there isn’t one thing I hated about this scene, it was basically all of it. Number one, when Anastasia turns around and sees Leila, she IMMEDIATELY starts with the whole, do you want to see Christian? He’s downstairs. He loves you. I’m nothing. I get why she did it, this was a terrifying situation and she was really just doing whatever it took to survive, but that also started before a gun was ever even brought out. She didn’t try to talk her down first, didn’t even ask her what she was doing or how she got in. She just immediately jumped into the Christian stuff and that felt weird to me. Number two, when Christian came in I actually thought, oh good, here comes Jamie Dornan to save this train wreck of a scene. I think he played the Dom role very well at first, especially that quiet, whispered “kneel”, and then he started… petting her? What the fuck was that? Even as a Dom/Sub relationship in that moment, that’s rewarding her for breaking into your girlfriend’s house and pulling a gun on her. And I get that they needed Anastasia to see a bond between them for her to get mad to get to the whole next part, but that should have been done through Christian DOMINATING Leila, because that’s what Anastasia can’t do for him… be submissive. Instead of those stupid hand motions, they should have been commands. I needed more and I didn’t get it. It made it so when Ana was walking through Seattle later, I was like, what are you even thinking about? That was super weird, do you really think Christian was into that? But that brings me to…

Christian, the Submissive: 

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Ughhhhhhhhhh.

Let me start with the one positive. When Jamie came out of the kitchen and said the, “Where the fuck have you been?” line, I was like that is it. He was Christian Grey in that one line and I was overjoyed. Then the rest happened.

I don’t even know where to start here. The whole “argument” felt so rushed. He literally went from “I’ve had people out combing the streets to find you” angry to on his knees in like 3 lines of dialogue. There was no build up to that moment, so when it happened, I was like, what the fuck are you doing? They didn’t even really explain what he was doing so if you didn’t read the book, it’s very possible that that was all just very confusing. Then they both exchange some horrible lines and Christian lets Ana touch his chest, and he doesn’t even flinch. He’s not over the touch issues, he was giving that to her because he was giving all of himself to her in that moment. The acceptance of her touch comes later. It was very glossed over and, as one of the most pivotal moments in the entire series, I think this was the biggest failure of the movie. Thank god for the dream sequence that immediately follows and that adorable cuddle because, had that been left out, I think it would have taken me the entire rest of the movie for me to get the taste of this horrible scene out of my mouth.

The Script/Pacing:

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^Not an actual line from the movie.

Was the script better than the first? Yes. Low bar to set, but yes, it was better. Was the pacing better? No. This movie is much more fast paced, a lot more happens, but so many things were rushed. I’ve already talked about the Leila with the gun and the Christian submissive scenes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Anytime this movie needed to build on emotion, it was rushed and ultimately fell flat. The gallery, Elena’s outing to Grace… There were so many conversations that felt clunky and unnatural simply because a character needed to bring up X so we could move onto Y, but they needed to do it quickly because this movie has to be under 2 hours. Did anyone else think that Ana jumped to “You’re buying SIP” real fast? How about Grace slapping Elena? Sure she may have heard the “You taught me to fuck…” line, but what if he had been 21? She didn’t get any of the anguish from Christian that she overheard in the book because, chop chop, we gotta fit in more sex scenes. Hey, maybe this is one of those things that’s going to be fixed on this amazing extended DVD we’re supposed to get. God hope so.

Dear Universal. Can you please make a fan version of Freed, and really every other book to movie picture you make from here on out that’s 5 hours long? We won’t mind, I promise you.

Also… I love you, Anastasia? Not once was this uttered in the movie. Not. Even. Once. How in the actual fuck….? E.L. James, you have some explaining to do.

The Sex: 

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Wait, what? But you just said….

I know, I know. Here’s my problem with the sex.

  1. Did anyone else feel like some of these sex scenes where just shoved in there because the main complaint about the first one was that there wasn’t enough sex? Maybe this goes back to my pacing issue, but the spreader bar scene especially seemed just slapped in there. Confession time: I’d trade the spreader bar scene for more time in the submissive Christian scene. I said it, I don’t regret it.
  2. We’ve been through two movies of these beautiful humans having sex, and, as I mentioned before, Christian was particularly giving in the oral department. Number of blowjobs Ana has given to date: 0. What kind of man puts up with that non-sense?
  3. Does Anastasia ever wear a bra?
  4. Look Jamie, I know it’s not your choice… but pants on in every scene? Come on! #ShowTheD

and finally…

Seattle: 

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Okay, I know this is probably not going to bother literally anyone else, but it made me cringe the whole way through the movie. We didn’t see a lot of “Seattle” in FSoG because they were in Portland (See: WMGWH’s least favorite city) for half the movie, and then when they were in Seattle they were in Christian’s apartment.

Now I will say this. For those of you who haven’t been to Seattle before, the view from Christian’s apartment is OUTSTANDINGLY accurate. I would believe it if someone went to the top of the actual Escala building and took one of the 3D panoramic pictures to turn into set screens for the windows because not only are the buildings and landmarks accurate, they’re accurate in relation to Escala. The Sea Wheel, Century Link Stadium, The Space Needle, Harbor Island, the Sound itself, all perfectly in place. I think maybe that’s what built my expectations up so high because when we got into the actual Seattle, those expectations were crushed.

I know this movie was filmed in Vancouver and not Seattle, but TIL that Vancouver looks NOTHING LIKE SEATTLE. Scratch that, the area they filmed SIP in looks exactly like Pioneer Square. I was fully emerged at that point until…

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So if you know me, you know that I show preference towards a certain football team from the Pacific Northwest… This is a screenshot from just outside of Ana’s office, a set that is seen SEVERAL times throughout the movie, over and over again, and that flag in that box, that’s the 12th man flag. Except it isn’t. This is:

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The color, the font… it’s all wrong. I know you guys don’t care. But I do. A lot. And it’s freaking all over this movie. Good on whoever was the set designer for knowing that Seattle is crazy ’bout them ‘Hawks, but bad on Universal for not paying the licensing for the actual 12th flag and subjecting me to this bullshit for 2 hours.

Anyway, overall, I did like the movie. Much better the second time, and I’m hoping even more the 3rd, 4th, and 5th time… but it had it’s drawbacks. Is it better than the first, I could argue that after my 2nd viewing. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll at least like the movie, if not love it. There was a lot in here that felt like it was kept just for the die-hards, so I appreciate that.

What I don’t appreciate is knowing that the 3rd film is already finished but we still have to wait to see it for 363 days, 02 hours, 22 minutes and 46, 45, 44….

Oh well, I guess in the meantime I’ll just be

WishingMrGreyWasHere

Chapter 11

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“Kate!” Luke screams at her. “Get back!”

“I can help!” She argues. He glares at her, but she’s undeterred, choosing instead to climb onto the hood of the car, which is slanted at a precarious angle from the way the car came through the side of the house, and knock on the windshield. “Hello? Are you hurt?”

“I think he’s unconscious,” Luke says urgently. “We need help… an ambulance.”

“But the cell towers are down,” Kate reminds him.

“We might be able to make emergency calls…”

“Luke,” I interrupt him. “There’s a lot of fluid coming from under the car.”

He looks down at the river of different colored liquids quickly flowing across the floor. Most of it is a shiny dark brown, which must be oil, but there are streaks of red and green cutting their way through the inky puddle.

“Fuck,” He hisses as he glances nervously back towards the once merry, low burning fire now dancing threateningly in the fireplace. I can feel my head starting to feel a little light from some kind of fume hanging in the air, and since it smells of petrol, I have a horrifying feeling of what it may be.

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Kate says as she too worriedly glances down at the fluid rapidly coloring the kitchen floor. “If something sparks…”

“Yeah,” Luke nods, though his face shows that he’s still not convinced that’s the best course of action. “Ana… put out the fire.”

“The fire?” I repeat. “But we don’t have heat.”

“We don’t have a lot of options right now,” He says. “I can smell gasoline in the air.”

I bite down nervously on my lip but then nod and start closing the vents to cut off the oxygen feeding the fire, while Kate and Luke argue how best to get the unconscious driver out of the car. I can hear the sound of breaking glass and when I turn, I see Luke standing on the slightly upturned side of the car, holding onto the wall for support, as he stomps down on the back passenger window. Once he’s cleared away all the glass, he slowly lowers himself into the car, into the backseat. Kate climbs up to the open window and after a few long minutes of not being able to see what’s going on, I see her reach down into the car and then pull up a skinny looking kid who doesn’t look as though he could be older than 19.

I want to rush forward and help them pull, but after only one step towards the car, I feel my stomach roil, finally reacting to the soup from earlier, and I have to throw up in the bucket Luke brought to set next to the couch earlier. The recovery period after I’m finished expelling the contents of my stomach seems much more difficult as I take the deep steady breaths which just end up pulling more of the petrol fumes into my lungs.

“Ana?” Kate asks, looking up at me with concern as I have to reach out to grip onto the couch for support.

“She shouldn’t be breathing in this shit,” Luke shouts from inside the car. “Tell her to go upstairs until we figure out what to do.”

Kate looks back towards me and I nod, signaling that I heard him, and then make my way to the stairs. I can tell immediately once I’m above the gas line as the air very suddenly begins to smell clean. Unfortunately, it’s also very cold upstairs, and as I make my way into my room and immediately crawl into bed to try and get warm, I start to appreciate the gravity of this new problem. We don’t have any heat, we don’t have the ability to build a fire, there’s a car with mechanical and electrical damage in my fume filled dining room room over a river of combustible fluids, and there’s a giant hole in the side of my house forcing in freezing cold air.

Suddenly, this isn’t just about waiting out the storm anymore.

I reach down into the front pocket of my sweatshirt for my phone, praying Luke is right and that I can still reach an emergency number even though the cell towers are down. I’m already so cold that it’s difficult to get my fingers to move over the screen, but after I successfully dial 911, I bring the phone up to my ear and say a small prayer that someone can help me before I burn through the 5% battery that is all I have left.

My breathing is loud as I wait, listening hard for any sound, but after several seconds of nothing, I pull the phone away to look at the screen and see clearly that the call is not going through.

“Please, please, please,” I whisper, but after another minute of staring at the 911 number on my screen, my phone goes black and can’t be turned on again. I feel like I want to cry as a violent shiver trembles through my whole body, and as I throw my phone onto the bed, I hear the thumping sounds of Kate and Luke coming up the stairs.

“Ana?” Luke calls.

“I-In here!” I reply, forcing my voice through the harsh broken breaths that are all I can make out through the shivering. The door to my bedroom opens and Kate and Luke come inside, each holding onto an end of the boy they pulled out of the car. I watch silently as they place him on the floor, and then reluctantly pull back the covers for Kate to crawl into the bed with me. Luke straddles the boy on my bedroom floor and begins checking his vitals. Once he’s sure he’s breathing, he starts talking, trying to get him to wake. It takes several more minutes, but eventually, the boy’s eyelids begin to flutter and he starts to stir.

“Whoa there,” Luke says gently. “Don’t move. You’ve been in an accident and we don’t know if you’re hurt.”

“Where am I?” The boy asks, his voice filled with terror and confusion.

“You’re in a house on Maple Avenue. You slid off the road and came through our exterior wall. It looks like you may have hit your head pretty bad from the jolt of the accident.”

“Yeah, it hurts,” the boy agrees.

“Do you know who you are?” Luke asks. “Do you know you’re name?”

“Son,” He replies, but his voice is getting weaker and it looks as though we may be close to losing him again. “Hyun Son.”

“And are you from Cambridge, Hyun?” Luke asks, trying to keep him talking.

“No. No, I’m from Korea.”

“What brings you to Massachusetts?”

“MIT. I’m an engineer. The heat went out in my apartment and it was too cold to stay. I tried to leave. The roads are bad.”

“I can see that,” Luke says.

“Speaking of which,” Kate interrupts, as we both shiver under the covers that don’t seem to be doing anything to provide warmth on my bed. “What are we going to do without the fire? The last weather report said the temperature had dropped to 13 degrees and that was hours ago. The snow turned to ice. We can’t stay here.”

“Can we go to a hotel?” I ask.

“A hotel isn’t going to have heat either…” Luke says.

“But it also won’t have a giant hole letting in the all the cold air,” I tell him.

“Didn’t we learn anything from a car barrelling through the dining room wall?” Kate interjects. “We shouldn’t be driving anywhere.”

“So what do we do?” I ask. Both Kate and I turn to Luke, waiting for his miraculous solution, but while he glances uneasily between us and the rapidly fading Hyun, we hear a voice float up the stairs towards us.

“Anastasia? Katherine? Are you here?”

Kate and I both look at each other, and then immediately scramble out of bed to run for the hallway. At the bottom of the stairs we see Ms. Simmons, the reclusive but very kind widow who lives across the street, peering cautiously up at us.

“Are you girls alright?” She asks, clearly nervous. “I saw the accident through my front window.”

“We’re okay,” Kate tells her. “The driver needs medical attention, but Ana and I are fine.”

“I tried to call 911 but we don’t have any reception. You haven’t had any luck making outgoing calls have you?” I ask.

“No, I had an old emergency radio that lasted a little while, but it’s dead now too. Almost all of the communication towers from Augusta to Charleston are down, they’re calling this the worst storm since Katrina.”

“Oh my god,” I say, automatically reaching up to cover my mouth as I think of Christian in Seattle, unable to get ahold of me, and watching the news reports.

“Ms. Simmons,” Luke says, coming up behind us. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Anastasia is pregnant. The car downstairs is leaking chemical fumes and we don’t have any way to contain heat with the structural damage to the house…”

“You should come with me,” Ms. Simmons interrupts him. “Of course you should come with me. I have plenty of room for all of you, you’re most welcome.”

“Thank you,” Luke says. “Kate, help me get Hyun downstairs. Ana, go now.”

I nod and then hurry down the stairs towards Ms. Simmons, who holds her arm out and wraps it around me as she leads me across the street through the deep, completely frozen snow.

It’s a welcome feeling stepping into her house from the freezing cold of outside, but I can’t help notice that the heat pouring out of her small, iron, pellet stove isn’t even as good at heating the space as the fireplace in my living room was. The one plus side of the stove though, is that she can heat things on top of it, so once she’s settled me down as close to the heat source as possible, she wraps a blanket over my shoulders and then hands me a hot mug of black tea.

“How far along are you, dear?” She asks once she’s taken the seat next to me.

“About 10 weeks,” I reply. “It was a surprise. A good surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.”

“Well, the best things in life usually do come as a surprise,” She says, warmly. “I think I’ve seen your boyfriend before. The tall, young man who’s usually wearing the suits?”

“Yeah,” I nod. “He owns a business in Seattle. He loves a good suit.”

“He’s very handsome,” She tells me.

“Yes, he is,” I agree, smiling now. “And he’s wonderful. When I found out I was pregnant, I was afraid to tell him because I thought he’d be angry, you know, bad timing and all… but, he wasn’t. He was so happy, and I didn’t expect that. It’s made me really excited to start a family with him. I’m so worried about him right now, watching all of this and having no idea if I’m okay. He… tends to overreact when he’s not in control of things and he’s probably freaking out.”

“That just means he loves you.”

“I know… I just, I hate for him to worry. Especially since I’m pregnant.”

“Are you getting married?”

“Yes. I mean, we’re not engaged yet, but we’ll get married. He proposed… well, kind of, but we’ve decided to wait to think about marriage until I’m done with school and can move home to be with him.”

“Well, congratulations, Anastasia. It seems you’ve got many wonderful things to be grateful for.”

“I do, thank you.”

The front door opens and Kate and Luke come in, Hyun’s arms slung over each of their shoulders as they struggle to get him into the house. He looks to be completely out of it again, making both Kate and Luke a little unsteady on their feet, and it has me worried about how serious Hyun’s condition is. Once they’ve laid him out on the floor again, Luke begins doing the few things he knows from his military training to try and help, but he doesn’t wake up again so all we can do is make sure he’s breathing and continue to try to call out to 911 until both Kate and Luke’s phones are dead as well.

Now that we’re finally decently warm in Ms. Simmons’ living room, I’m starting to feel tired again. She brings pillows and blankets from a hall closet for Kate and I to share, which is fine since the room still feels cold enough that we need to cuddle close together to feel even slightly comfortable. We all agree to take shifts to keep an eye on Hyun, but both Luke and Kate insist I sleep first.

“Are you okay, Ana?” Kate asks, wrapping her arms tighter around me as I shiver a little.

“Yeah,” I nod. “I’m fine. A little cold, but fine. However, you may have to ask that again when I wake up and the not-only-morning-sickness hits me full force. I don’t know how long we’re going to be here and that’s not going to be fun without running water.”

She’s quiet for a moment, and then I hear her sigh. “How does this end, Ana? There aren’t any rescue crews going door to door, no one even knows we’re here.”

“The storm won’t last forever, Kate. The power will come back on, they’ll clear the roads… we just have to wait it out.”

“That could be days, maybe longer. My family is waiting for me… you’re supposed to spend Thanksgiving with the Greys and your parents so you can announce your pregnancy. What if the phones don’t come back on? What if Ray calls and you miss it?”

“It’s going to be okay,” I reply, immediately dismissing her concerns because I can’t bare to think of them myself. “We won’t be here that long. A few days tops.”

“I hope so,” She says. We both fall silent and once I feel the change in Kate’s breathing that I’m sure means she’s fallen asleep, I reach down and place my hand tenderly over my stomach.

“It’s going to be okay,” I whisper as I trace my finger over my sweatshirt. “I know your dad is doing everything he can to get us out. He knows we’re here and he’s going to find a way to get to us. He won’t leave us here.”

The next day is one of the most simultaneously boring and stressful days of my life. With the morning comes the return of the storm, and we’re only gifted a few precious seconds of daylight before the thick cover of shocking white clouds returns and begins dumping fresh powder over the hardened ice blanket left behind from the frigid temperatures the night before. Hyun is in and out all morning and his clarity seems to worsen each time he wakes, which makes Luke think he might have a brain bleed, but we still can’t call out. We’re completely cut off from the outside world and the only thing we have to distract our minds from the horrible reality of the situation is an underwhelming collection of Mary Higgins Clark novels I found in the back office.

Ms. Simmons’ wood burning stove isn’t quite up to the herculean task of fighting off the cold temperatures determined to pour into the house through the thin, single paned windows, so I spend a great deal of the day huddled under a blanket as close to the stove as possible, reading through You Belong to Me. It’s difficult to stay focused on reading though as I keep picturing Christian pacing back and forth across the great room of our apartment, slowly losing his mind as the hours tick by without any word from me. But that concern quickly takes a back burner when Luke tries to add fuel to the stove late in the afternoon and discovers the wood pellet supply used to fuel the fire, is running dangerously low.

With everyone’s priorities suddenly shifted, Kate and I do what we can to prolong the life of the wood we do have, mostly by using aluminum foil and old bedsheets to try and insulate the windows to keep more heat in the room so the stove doesn’t have to burn so hot. Luke spends the remainder of the afternoon on Ms. Simmons’ sun porch attempting to hack the wood we had stored for our fireplace into mulch with an axe, but it’s slow going. Once I’ve done everything I can think to do, I spend most of the rest of the day making my way back and forth to check on Luke and to bring him hot drinks because he’s out there for hours and the sun porch feels like an icebox.

“There’s soup,” I tell him, well after the sun has set. “Well, broth anyway.”

“I’ll be there in a second,” He says, taking a deep breath before raising the axe over his head to pound into the wood again.

“Luke, you’ve been at it all day. You’re not going to be able to keep up this w-way, the wood is too hard.” I shiver.

“We have to do something,” He says. “My job is to keep you safe and right now, that means keeping you warm.”

“What about you?” I ask. “It’s f-freezing out here.”

“I’m fine. Go back inside.”

“No, you’re not. You’re not Superman, Luke. You’re going to get sick.”

“Ana….”

“No, I’m not going back in unless you come with me,” I say firmly. “And if I don’t go in right now, I’m going to die, so you’re literally endangering my life staying out here.”

He looks up at me for a moment, clearly irritated, but eventually lets out a harsh breath of defeat, drops his axe next to the pile of wood, and steps forward to join me in the house. Kate is stirring the pot of chicken broth sitting on top of the stove and, between standing in the cold arguing with Luke and hardly eating anything all day, I’m suddenly ravenously hungry for it. She picks up a bowl, and dishes me a full ladle of the steaming liquid, but when I step forward to take it, my body seems to forget how to move correctly and I nearly fall to the ground, but Luke reaches out to catch me.

“Whoa,” I say, shaking my head slightly as I work through the weird disorientation. “Head rush.”

“Are you okay?” Kate asks, her alarmed eyes widening as she automatically looks down to my stomach.

“Fine. I just…”

“You’re not eating enough,” Luke says. “You’re pregnant, you need calories. All you’ve eaten today is dry cereal and tea, and you barely ate yesterday.”

“I’m sorry,” Ms. Simmons says. “I’m not much of a cook so there isn’t much food in the house. I usually order in…  I think I have some crackers.”

“Please,” Luke says gratefully, but I shake my head.

“Don’t fuss, I’m fine. I just need to sit down.”

Ms. Simmons smiles down at me for a moment, but disappears back into her kitchen anyway as Luke lowers me onto the floor next the fire. I reach up to take the cup of broth Kate offers me, but even after that and a whole sleeve of Ritz, I still don’t feel any better.

“Maybe you should try to sleep?” Kate suggests, rubbing her hand over my back comfortingly as I lower my head between my knees. “You’re under a lot of stress, that can’t be good.”

“Yeah,” Luke agrees. “And I’m sure you’re not getting good sleep with so much going on anyway. You should be resting as much as you can.”

“Okay,” I nod, but just as Luke reaches for the pillows and blankets folded on the table next to him, he stops. There is a loud, thumping sound, like something hitting or running into something else over and over again, coming from outside, and a bright light comes shining through the thin cracks left between the foil and the molding around the window.

“Snow plows?” Kate asks, perking up, and when I shrug she immediately jumps to her feet and runs for the window, peeling back the foil just enough so that she can see through.

“What is it?” Luke asks.

“It’s a helicopter…” She says, sounding confused. “Wait, maybe someone saw the accident and was able to get through to 911. It could be lifeflight.”

Luke and I both get up from the ground, and Kate tears back the foil more so that the three of us can all see, though it’s hard to make anything out through the droves of snow still falling outside.

“That’s not lifeflight,” Luke says as the helicopter settles down into the road and the cockpit door opens. A man steps down onto the snow, shielding his face from the flakes still whirling around him as the propellers of the helicopter haven’t completely stopped spinning yet.

“Anastasia!” The man yells, and the second I hear his voice, I gasp.

“It’s Christian!”

Immediately, I launch myself off the couch for the front door, wrenching it open just in time to hear his panicked cries from across the street as he stares at the car still buried in the side of my house.

“Anastasia! Jesus Christ, Anastasia!” He shouts again as he begins charging through the snow towards the house.

“Christian!” I call out, and he stops. I run out into the snow, not dressed nearly warm enough to wade through the knee high blanket, but not caring as I make my way to the middle of the street where I’m able to run into his arms.

“Anastasia,” He repeats, the fear still clear in his voice as he holds me as tightly against him as he can. “Thank god.”

He pulls me away from his chest, but continues to grip me tightly by the arms as his eyes rake over me, looking for any injuries, but even as he examines me there’s a constant string of “you’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay” bubbling through his lips.

“I’m okay,” I assure him. “I’m fine.”

“What happened?” He asks, turning to look at the car buried in the dining room wall.

“There was accident… the roads are really bad. Can you get us to the hospital? The driver is in really bad shape.”

“The driver?” He repeats, looking back at the car and then shaking his head, “You need to get to the hospital. You’re shaking, god you must be freezing.” He shakes out of his coat and wraps it around me just as Luke and Kate finally make their way to us.

“I’ve never been so happy to see you in my life,” Kate says, rushing towards us and pushing herself into Christian so she can wrap her arms tightly around his middle. Christian looks slightly taken aback for a second before he reaches down to pat her awkwardly on the shoulder and then pulls her off of him.

“Are you okay?” He asks.

“Yes,” She nods.

“Good, get in the helicopter. Both of you,” He tells us, and then turns to Luke. “How bad is the driver?

“Emergent,” Luke answers. “He’s been in an out of consciousness for the last 24 hours and it’s getting worse.”

“Is he inside?”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says. Christian nods and they both disappear back into the house. It looks like there’s room for five people inside the helicopter, but there are six of us and one who is injured, so I have Kate come sit in the front with me. The harness isn’t made to go over two people and when Christian and Luke get back, carrying Hyun between them, with Ms. Simmons trailing wearily in the back, I can tell Christian wants to say something about Kate sharing a seat with me, but ultimately decides against it. It’s clear we’re the only ones small enough to share a seat, and the only other option is to leave someone behind.

It takes them awhile to get everyone loaded and strapped into the back seat, but once the doors are closed and Christian has powered up the engine again, glorious, welcome heat begins to fill the cockpit. Christian hands me a set of cans, then passes headphones to the other passengers that don’t have microphones. After he’s done all of his pre-flight checks, he takes hold of the control between his legs, and after a horrible jerk from the wind and a bumpy kind of drag from the too deep snow, he eases us into the air.

“It’s not an easy ride going through the storm.” Christian warns us. “Hang on.”

Kate looks over at me, reaches down to grip onto my hand, and then we both hold onto the metal bars that run along the curved edges of our seat. The wind beats against us and the helicopter jolts every now and again, forcing Christian to adjust and move to keep us level and on the course set by his radar. Not easy is an understatement for what we go through on the flight home, and yet, I’m more relaxed next to him in the air, than I’ve been since I left to take my test what now feels like 10 years ago. We’re getting out of here. Only now that I’m certain of that am I able to fully realize I’ve subconsciously been worried that might not have been the case.

As my mind races through the worsening situation I’m getting out of, what would have happened if Christian hadn’t come for us, my nausea is triggered and, since there isn’t anywhere for me to throw up in the helicopter, I take a long, calming breath and then think of something to distract myself.

“How did you get here?” I ask Christian. “You didn’t fly this helicopter all the way from Seattle, did you? This isn’t Charlie Tango.”

“No,” He says, continuing to concentrate on the open airspace in front of us rather than turning to look at me. “The moment I lost communication with you, I got on a flight to Albany. I was going to do whatever I could to get my plane to you, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know if you were okay, I didn’t know if you had heat, I didn’t know if you were trying to drive out of Cambridge… the news has reported over  75 fatalities in the last 48 hours, most of them from car accidents. I didn’t know if you were safe or…”

“I was safe,” I reassure him. “Luke has been amazing and Ms. Simmons… she saved us.”

“You look pale,” He says, glancing over to me for the first time. “Do you feel okay?”

“I’m fine,” I tell him.

“She almost passed out right before you got here,” Luke chimes in from the back seat. “I’m pretty sure she’s dehydrated, and she needs to eat.”

I glare at Luke over my shoulder, and when I turn to face forward again, I see that Christian is looking over at me like I’ve betrayed him or something.

“Thank you, Sawyer,” He says sharply, and then turns forward to focus on the snow still falling around the helicopter. “When we get to the hospital, I want someone to look at you and I want you to have an ultrasound.”

“Okay,” I agree. I can hear the low moan of Hyun finally rousing again in the back seat and the sound makes Christian turn around, but we’re suddenly violent jolted by the wind again and he has to concentrate his focus on piloting again.

The flight takes almost an hour and a half with the weather batting us around, but the farther inland we get, the easier the flight becomes. When we finally clear the clouds and the snow and see the lights of Albany coming towards us through the clear night sky, the sense of relief I feel is so overwhelming, I nearly start to cry.

“Tower, this is Echo Charlie Delta-Delta November entering ALB airspace northbound on heading zero-three-zero,” Christian says into the microphone protruding from his headphones. “I have a passenger on board who requires immediate medical attention, requesting clearance to land at Albany Memorial Hospital.”

We wait in silence for a moment, until a disembodied voice finally comes through the crackling white noise in my headphones.

“Roger, Echo Charlie, please stand by.” It takes several minutes this time, but eventually the voice echos in my headphones again. “Echo Charlie, this is tower. You are clear to land. Please continue on Eastbound heading seven-zero-seven to Albany Memorial Hospital.”

Christian immediately reaches forward and begins making the corrections to the on-board navigational system to get him on the correct heading and a few minutes later we’re hovering over the tall red brick building, onto a helipad that looks to be surrounded by hospital personnel.

There’s a lot of confusion in the commotion around me once we land. The doors are thrown open and we’re quickly ushered out of the helicopter so the medical team can get to Hyun. I nearly stumble trying to get out as fast as possible, but Kate grabs ahold of me and seconds later, her hands are replaced by Christian’s.

“OB?” Christian asks one of the doctors holding onto the gurney that I assume will take Hyun down to the emergency room.

“Second floor,” She dismisses him, and he immediately pulls me tighter against him as he hurries us both for the stairs.

“Kate, stay with Sawyer!” Christian calls over his shoulder. “Sawyer, Taylor is waiting with the pilot who will come for the helicopter. Let him know we’ve arrived.”

“Yes, sir!” Luke calls back, and then Christian takes me through the door and down the stairs into the main building of the hospital. I can tell by the number of ambulances I got a brief glance of outside and the tense atmosphere around the doctors and nurses scurrying through the hallways of the hospital that they’re slammed. This must be where a lot of storm victims are being transferred to, and while I’m worried about seeing the faces that will put a number to the devastation caused by the storm, I’m relieved to find that the Obstetrics and Gynecology floor is relatively empty.

It’s fairly late at night, which means that there’s only one doctor on duty, but Christian somehow manages to get us seen right away. My vitals show that Luke was right. I am dehydrated and my low blood pressure suggests that I need food, but otherwise, I’m completely fine. Christian asks for an ultrasound so the doctor can check on the baby and, as they wheel the heavy machine into the room, I realize this is the first time Christian will have the chance to hear our baby’s heartbeat.

“Are you ready?” I ask, squeezing tightly to his hand while the doctor prepares the instruments for the exam.

“Ready,” He nods.

“Okay, please lift your shirt for me,” The doctor asks, and, when I do, he scoots closer and takes a brief pause. “Alright, Anastasia. This might be a little cold.”

My breath hisses between my teeth as he touches me with the cool plastic probe covered in blue gel and begins moving it all over my skin. Christian is staring at the monitor more intensely that I think I’ve ever seen him watch anything before, but after several seconds, nothing has come up on the monitor yet.

“How many weeks are you?” The doctor asks.

“Ten,” I reply, “Ten and a few days.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find…” He says, letting his voice trail off, but when he still doesn’t find anything, I feel Christian’s hand squeeze more tightly around mine. It almost feels as though my heart has stopped, but when I turn to look at Christian, his perfectly stoic face doesn’t betray any of the emotions he’s feeling. I know him well enough though to know he’s hiding a rising sense of panic behind his stone facade. I bite nervously down on my lip, but as I turn to look at the monitor, I see it. The fuzzy white peanut flicker once in the pool of black on the monitor, only it doesn’t look like a peanut at all anymore. The baby has a defined head, a body, even little nubs for arms and legs. The picture has completely transformed and it’s only been a few weeks.

The doctor reaches forward and flips a switch on the side of the monitor and suddenly the quick flickering of the image is accompanied by the rapid, gentle thrumming sound of the baby’s heartbeat. I stare at it for a moment, mesmerised, before I remember Christian standing next to me, seeing this for the first time, and I turn to look at him again. His mouth has popped open a little, and his face has softened the smallest degree, but his actual expression is hard to read. It’s definitely not the happiness that radiated off of him when I first told him I was pregnant, but it’s not anger, sadness, or regret either. His brow is furrowed and the way he’s stares at the image makes him look as though he’s trying to solve a difficult equation.

“Well, great news. Everything here looks perfectly healthy. You’re developing very well for 10 weeks, I’d say you’ll probably be able to find out the gender before Christmas.”

“Gender,” Christian repeats absentmindedly, but when both the doctor and I begin to stare at him, he seems to gather himself and nods. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“My pleasure,” He replies. “Would you like a DVD to take home with you?”

“Please,” I smile, and after the doctor burns the disk, hands it back to me, and shakes both our hands, he wishes us safe travels to Seattle and then leaves the room so we can have some privacy while I clean up.

Christian takes the empty chair across the room while I wipe the gel from my stomach and grab my sweatshirt to slip over my head. He’s holding his phone in his hand and looking down at it, but his fingers never move. He’s just… staring.

“What’s wrong?” I ask him, my worry over his reaction now heightened too far for me to hold back anymore.

“Nothing,” He dismisses me quickly, but when I don’t drop my accusatory gaze, he sighs, leans over so that his elbows are resting on his knees, and scrubs his face with his hands.

“I have really good parents,” He says at last.

“I know,” I agree.

“But… really good parents. My father’s a lawyer, he had his own firm to run, but he never missed even one of Elliot’s baseball games or was ever late to pick me up from piano lessons. He taught me to ride a bike, he taught me to sail… he used to sit at the dining room table every night to do my homework with me. My mother is a pediatric surgeon, and even after she went back to work, she was room mother in every one of my classes in Elementary school. We had home cooked meals every night, we got the best education money could buy, we had tutors to teach us to play instruments and speak foreign languages. My parents were present, they cared about all of us. They told me they loved me every day, even when I was a fuck up in High School. I had really good parents.”

“And you’ll be just like them,” I assure him. “All of those things, they’ve instilled in you. I know how deeply you can love and I know that you’re going to be there for our children, just like your parents were there for you. You’re going to be an amazing father, Christian.”

“That’s not…” He begins, but his voice cuts off when he breaks eye contact with me.

“Then what is it?” I ask.

“She still got to me,” He says, and when I furrow my brow at him with confusion, he continues, “Elena. My parents did everything right, everything they could to protect me, and Elena still got to me. She was my mom’s best friend, they had no way of knowing. They trusted her. It would be like if Kate…”  He shakes his head. “If they couldn’t protect me from Elena, how the hell am I supposed to protect this baby from someone just like her?”

“Oh…” I breathe.

“Ever since you told me you were pregnant, the nightmares have come back,” He says. “I’m happy that you’re having my baby, I really am… but I’m terrified, too. I don’t know if I can handle this…”

“Hey,” I say, moving into his lap and wrapping my arms around him. “You’re going to handle this perfectly.”

“I don’t know, Ana.”

“Would it help if I told you that… well, I think you’re going to do better than I am?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re so good with Mia, and from what you’ve told me, you’ve always been that way. I’m in awe of the bond you have with her. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, or any cousins, or even family friends with small children. I’ve never had any practice with babies and I don’t know the first thing about raising children. My mom isn’t exactly the best example… what if I’m a terrible mother?”

“You won’t be,” He says gently, and when I look up at him, he leans forward and kisses me softly on the lips.

“We’re not going to be perfect,” I tell him. “We’re going to make mistakes and we can’t protect them from everything. We can only do our best to make sure they’re safe and that they feel they can always talk to us when they don’t feel that way. I can’t promise you that nothing bad is ever going to happen, but no matter what the future holds, the best we can do is make sure that this baby knows that he or she is loved and that that love doesn’t come with conditions. We know how to do that.”

“You’re right. We do,” He agrees. “Are you finished?”

“Yes.”

“Then, let’s get out of here. I hope you know I’m never letting you out of my sight again.”

I roll my eyes. “It’s going to be a little hard conducting GEH business in the middle of my Advanced Poetry Writing class.”

“I think you’re missing the point entirely,” He says, but I simply give him a wide, defiant grin as I walk past him through the exam room door, and back out into the waiting room.

When we get back to Seattle, there are two cars waiting for us on the tarmac. The first I know is Christian’s SUV, which I assume Ryan must be driving, but I’m not sure who the second one belongs to until we step off the plane and see Kate’s mom immediately dart out of the front seat to envelop her daughter in her arms. They’re both crying all over each other, even Ethan seems to get a little emotional when he steps forward to give Kate a hug, and, as Mrs. Kavanagh turns her emotions onto me, Mr. Kavanagh steps forward and shakes Christian’s hand.

“We can’t thank you enough, Son. Err… Mr. Grey,” He says.

“Christian,” He corrects him. “And it’s my pleasure. Have a good Thanksgiving.”

“You too,” Mr. Kavanagh says. Kate waves goodbye to both Christian and I from under her mother’s arm as she’s led back to their car, and once she’s tucked safely inside, Luke takes my bags and begins loading them into the SUV while Taylor opens the back door for us. I go first, but as I step through the back door, I jump in surprise because there’s a body in the backseat I hadn’t expected.

“Elliot? What are you doing here?” I ask, sliding into the middle seat to leave room on my other side for Christian, and trying to work through the shock. Elliot has been MIA for months, a total recluse, and now, suddenly, here he is.

“I just…” He pauses as he turns to look out the window at the Kavanagh’s car driving away over the rain soaked pavement. “I just wanted to make sure you got back okay.”

“Oh,” I reply, feeling my heart sink a little as I can still hear the pain in his voice. “Well, thank you. It was kind of scary for a while, but we’re fine. We’re uh… we’re all fine.”

“I’m glad,” He says, but after a long exhale, he turns to look out the window again and is silent for the rest of the drive home.

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