Cambridge has a strange, almost alien quality to it now. I recognize everything that passes by the windows of the rented SUV, but in a way, it feels like I’m looking at something I’ve only ever seen in a dream. Nothing feels real and I realize, as I impatiently drum my fingertips on the armrest of the door, that it’s because I’m not only weary of the fact that, in a few minutes, I’m going to see Anastasia for the first time in almost two years, I’m still in disbelief. It feels as though I have waited an eternity for this day to finally come, but now that it’s here, I don’t believe it’s real.
We pull onto Maple St and I lean towards the middle of the car so I can have a clear view of the street and the house slowly approaching on the right. The house looks warm, the soft golden glow of the lights pouring from the front windows are both comforting and welcoming. There’s a Mariner’s flag hanging from a pole mounted on the front porch, a clear indication of Elliot’s presence, but the large, slightly unruly peony bushes planted on either side of the walkway are wholly, and entirely Ana.
As the car comes to a stop in front of the house, I peer eagerly into the front window and my stomach drops like I’ve just taken the plunge on a roller coaster when I see her. She’s standing next to the dining room table with Kate and Elliot, laughing. Her hair is longer and she’s noticeably thinner, but nothing has changed in terms of how beautiful she is, how her smile seems to light up the room, and suddenly, I have to stop myself from bolting out of the car and running to her.
“Are you ready, sir?” Taylor asks from the driver’s seat. When I nod, he climbs out of the SUV to open my door for me and while he makes his way around to my side of the car, I take a few, deep breaths.
This is it.
The walkway to the house feels as though it’s ten miles long and when I knock on the door and listen carefully to the flurry of commotion inside, the wait feels interminable. Finally, the door does swing open, though I’m disappointed when I only see Kate and Elliot standing in the entryway.
“Christian!” Kate exclaims, clearly shocked to see me. “You’re early.”
“Yeah, I was able to get out of the ceremony earlier than I thought,” I tell her as she steps aside to let me into the living room. In truth, I’d purposefully gotten out of the awards ceremony as quickly as possible so I could get to Anastasia sooner, but when I look around the open rooms, I don’t see her. As I search for her one last time, my eyes fall upon the place in the middle of the living room where two years ago I’d spent hours just staring at the front door before I was finally able to peel myself off the floor and leave the house. I hadn’t taken anything with me and now I wonder if anything I left behind is still in this house somewhere. Perhaps Anastasia has kept something of mine, the way I have small keepsakes of hers.
“Welcome back, bro!” Elliot says, dragging me out of my thoughts with a clap on the shoulder. I turn to look at him, wordless as being in this room has me reliving one of the worst moments of my life, and he frowns and turns to greet Taylor. Once Elliot has directed him to where he can take my bags, he turns to me again, but I stop him before he can say anything.
“Is Ana upstairs?” I ask. Elliot gives Kate an uneasy look so I turn to her and she takes a deep breath before nodding.
“Yes… but Christian, she doesn’t want you to go up there.”
My brow furrows. “At all? What, is she just going to avoid me all weekend?”
“She isn’t going to be here this weekend,” Elliot says, and as I take in his words and the look of uncertainty he gives me, I realize what’s going on, and it feels like all of the oxygen leaves my body. I’m early… I wasn’t supposed to be here for another hour which means that Ana was probably planning to be gone by the time I got here. She had no intention of seeing me this weekend, of talking to me, of letting me explain… She really wants nothing to do with me.
Just like Elena said…
“Where is she going?” I ask, noting that, in the absence of the hope I’d held for this weekend, my voice now sounds dead.
“She’s going out of town with a friend,” Kate says.
“Which friend?” I continue to press her and she sighs.
“HIS!” I exclaim, cutting her off.
“Yes, his name is Luke Sawyer and… he’s a really great guy.
I repeat the name in my head and feel a surge of anger. Before I’d even flown to New York, I had Taylor brief Luke on our arrival this weekend. He was to ensure Anastasia was home from school on time for my arrival and then he was to take the place of Ryan on my security team for the weekend, assisting Taylor and keeping out of sight. Nowhere in that briefing was he given instruction to take her out of town.
“Where are they going?” I ask, struggling to suppress the anger in my voice.
“I don’t know,” Kate shakes her head. “Somewhere in Vermont.”
I stare back at her, feeling as though the temperature of the room has just dropped several degrees and someone has hit me square in the stomach.
“Vermont?” I repeat. The control I have over my voice slips as the quiver of pain I feel at the images of Sawyer taking Anastasia to the cozy bed and breakfast retreat where I realized I would spend the rest of my life with her come unbidden to my mind. Kate nods, wounding me further. I knew that Sawyer and Ana were friends, but this… This is more than that.
“He’s fucking her,” I say, feeling the anger boiling again beneath the pain. I cling to it, encourage it, because this ultimate betrayal from Saywer, and the clear indication that Anastasia has moved on, has the potential to actually break me in this moment. Only a few minutes ago, I’d believed that this weekend was an opening, a chance for me to repair what had been broken between myself and Anastasia… Now, I realize it’s the final nail in the coffin. I’ve really lost her.
“No,” Elliot says, breaking into my morbid train of thought once again and trying to reassure me. “No, they’re just friends.”
“Cut the shit,” I snap back at him. “I know what Vermont means. That was our… where we…” I can’t even verbalize the significance I feel towards that place in regards to Anastasia because then it feels as though I’m gifting that significance to Sawyer. How could she take him there? How could she try to re-create what we had with someone else? Did it ever mean anything to her? Is that why she’s been so willing to just completely shut me out in the first place? I feel a deep stab of pain and shake my head as I refuse to allow myself to believe that. It’s a defense mechanism, because revisiting the possibility that Anastasia never really loved me is too much for me to bear.
“I can’t believe she would do this,” I growl, angrily, and even Kate reaches out for me this time, though I quickly dodge her touch and storm angrily back towards the kitchen.
“It’s really not like that…” She argues as she follows after me, but before she can elaborate further, a set of headlights pull up into the back alley and flood the kitchen with light. I feel adrenaline begin to course through me and my muscles tighten, preparing for a fight.
“That’s him,” Kate says, almost regretfully. “Please, just be nice to him or don’t say anything at all.”
I stare coldly back into her pleading eyes, unwilling to make any guarantees, until she turns to the door. It almost seems as though she’s trying to place herself between me and where Sawyer will soon appear. The room is dead silent except for the thunderous thudding of my heart which I can feel pounding behind my eardrums until the glass door slowly slides open.
“Hey Luke!” Elliot exclaims, stepping in front of me like a human shield, trying to cover up what he’s really doing by vigorously shaking the fucker’s hand.
“Hey,” Sawyer replies, clearly unsure of how to act at Elliot’s sudden, overzealous greeting. “Is A-na ready?” His eyes shift to me and suddenly he falls quiet. Clearly, he’d expected to be gone before I’d arrived as well.
“Yeah, I think so,” Elliot says, interrupting the tension between us. It feels so thick it’s almost tangible. “Um, this is my brother, Christian Grey. Christian, this is Luke Sawyer. He works with campus security at Harvard.”
“Uh… pleasure to meet you, sir,” Sawyer says, brightening a little as though he’s suddenly remembered his role. He takes a step towards me, his hand held out for mine, but I don’t move. I stare at him, letting the anger I feel show through so that he knows what will happen if he goes through with this.
Sawyer’s smile falters a little and his hand falls uncomfortably back to his side. We stand there in tense silence for another beat and then he takes a step back and turns towards Kate.
“Right, well… um, is Ana upstairs?” he asks.
“Yeah, go on up,” Kate replies, and even her voice is tensed now. I watch him slowly back out of the kitchen and this disappear around the corner. Each one of his footfalls on the stairs echos through the kitchen until I hear a bedroom door open and then slam shut.
“There’s bourbon in the cabinet,” Elliot says, pointing to the highest cupboard over the refrigerator.
“What do you mean there’s bourbon in the cabinet?” Kate asks, narrowing her eyes at Elliot but he shakes his head with exasperation.
“It’s emergency bourbon,” he exclaims. “You want to fight with me about that now? Good God, woman, there’s no time!”
Kate rolls her eyes, but she nods and she pulls out a stool so she can find the liquor.
“Why don’t you have a seat, Christian?” Elliot suggests, gesturing me towards the dining room table and I shuffle towards the chair closest to me, feeling a little dazed as the adrenaline begins to wane.
“Here,” Elliot says, handing me a drinking glass filled with ice, bourbon, and some dark soda that turns out to be Diet Coke. I grimace after the first sip but then drink nearly all of it in my second long pull. Taylor comes back down the stairs, but when he lets me know that he’s leaving for the night, I’m still so disoriented that I hardly acknowledge him.
“I can’t believe she’s just… moved on,” I say, more to myself than either Kate or Elliot.
“Christian, I don’t really know where her head is at in terms of starting a new relationship, but, I promise you, she and Luke are just friends,” Kate says.
I give her a slanted look that tells her that I don’t believe her, but she brushes it off by shaking her head and launching into an evidence laden explanation that only a journalist student would think was convincing.
“I’ve never seen them hold hands,” she begins, ticking each of her examples off on her fingers. “They’re here together all the time and I’ve never seen them in any situation that I would call romantic, I’ve never seen them kiss, I’ve never walked into a room and had them scramble away from each other… Every time he spends the night over here, he sleeps in the guest room and she’s never spent the night at his house. And, trust me… I used to live across the hall from you and she’s not very good at hiding the fact that she’s having sex. We would have heard her.”
I take the last gulp of bourbon from the glass and stare down at the table. That does actually pacify me a little, though only because I desperately want to believe that what she’s telling me is true. Still, it’s been two years. Just because it isn’t Sawyer…
“Have there been others?” I ask, looking up at Kate and she raises an eyebrow at me.
“Men,” I clarify.
“Oh…” She hesitates and I feel my stomach clinch again. “I don’t really know. There were some guys she was kind of, uh… flirting with a few months ago, but I don’t think it was ever serious. She partied a lot last year and I honestly couldn’t tell you if she hooked up with anyone or not, but she never told me that she did. She never brought anyone back here though and Luke always made sure she got home.”
“She was partying?” I ask. My mind flits back to freshman year, how I’d gotten her into my bed the very first time because she’d been drinking. How I’d almost coaxed her back there on Halloween that year after we’d both had far too much of that toxic jungle juice everyone was passing around. The first night I really did have her, she tasted of vodka and lime.
“Oh yeah,” Elliot chimes in. “Ana’s never met a bottle of tequila she didn’t like. She’s all kinds of crazy now.”
“Elliot!” Kate snaps, shooting him a warning look. They exchange some kind of silent argument, but I pay very little attention to them as, in that moment, Sawyer comes down the stairs. He looks uneasily between the three of us and then turns to Kate.
“Have a good weekend,” he says and as he walks back through the sliding glass door, I turn to look for Anastasia, but she hasn’t followed him.
Has she changed her mind?
Suddenly hope returns and Kate turns and smiles at me reassuringly. “She was having a rough time and she didn’t always deal with it well, but that’s mostly behind her now. She’s calmer. Usually, she just writes and she’s more focused on school than ever. She has a new professor who’s been mentoring her with her writing, and I think he’s really helped her get her priorities back in line.”
“Has she said anything about me at all?” I ask and Kate frowns.
“Well… not really. She doesn’t really like to talk about you. I think it hurts her.”
“But that’s a good sign!” Elliot exclaims. “That means she probably still has feelings for you.”
“I just don’t understand why she won’t even talk to me,” I say, leaning back in my chair and gripping tightly to my hair as I run my fingers through it with frustration.
“Yes you do, Christian,” Kate says, avoiding contact with me now and I turn to glare at her.
“I can’t apologize to her or do anything to make it up to her if she won’t even speak to me, Kate.”
“I don’t think she wants an apology, Christian. I think she wants-“ Kate begins, but suddenly a flurry of movement catches my eye and I see Anastasia bolt from the stairs to the front door.
“Anastasia!” I call out, and miraculously, she stops. Her hand is frozen on the doorknob, but she stops. I slowly rise from my seat, anticipating the confrontation I’ve been waiting to have for two years.
Come on, baby. Look at me.
I watch as her shoulders slowly rise and fall, and after a long, drawn out, exhale, she pulls the door open and disappears into the night. The sound of the door closing behind her seems to echo through my head and resounds in my heart. The visual of her walking through that door to get away from me is like a horrible episode of déjà vu, except this time… the message she conveys is absolutely clear. It’s like she’s just closed the door on any hope there was that this could be mended between us and in this moment I don’t think a bullet to the chest could be more painful.
Elena was right. You should never love people. Love just makes you vulnerable. Love gives people the chance to absolutely destroy you.
“I’m done,” I say, and both Kate and Elliot turn to look at me.
“What?” Elliot asks.
“I’m done,” I repeat. “I’m going back to Seattle.” Moving away from the table, I stalk quickly into the living room and pull out my cell phone. Once I’ve let Taylor know that we’re heading back to the airport, over Elliot’s fervent and obnoxious objections, I climb the stairs and remove my bag from the guest room. Ana’s door is just across the hallway and I give it one last lingering look before I disappear down the stairs where Elliot is waiting for me.
“Please don’t go, Christian,” he pleads with me, but I shake my head.
“There’s nothing for me here, Elliot,” I reply flatly.
“I’m here,” he continues. “Christian, I’m here. I’m your family, I’m your brother, and I’m here for you. Let me be here for you. I miss you, please don’t go.”
“Let it go, Elliot,” I say coldly, shrugging his hand off my shoulder. “I don’t have a family anymore.”
His face screws together as he looks away from me, thinking on his feet, but I take his moment of distraction to walk forward for the door and slip out on him the way that Ana just did to me. Taylor pulls up alongside the curb just as I come down the walk and I don’t wait for him to get out of the car before I climb in and throw my suitcase over the back seat.
“The airport, sir?” Taylor asks.
“Yes,” I nod. I turn to see Elliot and Kate standing on the porch and as we pull away and I watch Kate wrap her arms around him, I hesitate. Closing the door on Elliot is closing the door on any chance I would have to reconcile with my family, and it means I’m officially giving up on Anastasia. Am I really ready for this?
I swallow, trying to force down the doubt. I can’t live this way anymore, it’s too painful. This is the right decision, and there is one person I know can help me through it.
“And get Elena on the phone, I want her waiting for me at my apartment when I get back to Seattle,” I tell Taylor as he pulls off of Ana’s street.
“Yes, sir,” he nods.
“I’m going to fire Luke Sawyer. Not you, Me. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” he says, and we sit in silence for the remainder of the drive back to Boston, and the entire flight to Seattle.