When I get home from Cambridge early Saturday morning, I immediately head into my office where I know Elena is waiting for me. The second I open the door, she jumps out of her seat, looking at me with concern, but I brush it off and make my way to the chair behind my desk. My place of power.
“What happened, Christian?” she asks.
“It’s over. I’m done,” I tell her. “I want you to bring me a submissive. I don’t care what she looks like, I don’t care who she is, but she needs to be here tomorrow. Can you do that for me?”
Elena seems slightly bewildered by my harsh tone and her response is slightly discombobulated. “Uh… tomorrow?”
“Yes, tomorrow,” I repeat. “Can you take care of that or not? Because if you can’t, I don’t know what I need you for.”
Her mouth pops open, but when I narrow my eyes at her, she seems to regain her composure, and she nods.
“Good. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”
“Christian…” She protests, but I silence her with a quick, hard glare, and she scrambles up out of her seat. She looks at me one last time, almost as if she’s going to attempt to diffuse the situation, but I’m not in the mood to talk right now.
“Leave,” I repeat again, and she frowns but then turns around for the door. Once she’s gone, I look down at the Macbook closed on my desk and consider trying to find something to work on, but there’s no way I could be productive right now. I’m too keyed up, filled with an angry kind of energy that demands release. My eyes turn to the photograph of Anastasia and I from Bora Bora that is sitting on the corner of my desk and I immediately reach up and swing the back of my arm at it, sending it crashing to the floor.
The sound of the shattering glass ignites something inside of me, and I reach over for the top right drawer in my desk and yank it open, rummaging around inside until my fingers close around the small black velvet box. I open the lid, taking a moment to look at the round diamond earrings I’d tried to give Anastasia the day she left me, and then snap it closed as I nearly launch myself out of my chair and go barreling through my apartment. Once I’m in the great room, I open the door for the balcony, step outside, then reach back and launch the box over the edge with as much force as I can muster. I stand there for a second, watching the box disappear until I can’t see it anymore, and then hurry back into my apartment.
There are two nightstands on either side bed, and inside the cabinet of the one opposite from the side I sleep on, there is a box labeled “Anastasia”. I take it out and then bring it with me to the library across from my office, which is completely bare except for the fireplace on the back wall. I walk towards it, flick the switch to turn on the gas, and then pull back the steel grate. There is a box of matches sitting on the mantle that I use to light the flame, and once the fire begins crackling beneath the hearth, I rip open the box to the lid.
Inside the box, there is a tube of Chapstick that Ana had once left in my car, a hair tie with a few strands of her hair still tangled around it, a loofa that had somehow gotten into my bag instead of hers after our trip to Bora Bora, and a crumpled up piece of paper that is a note she’d once left for me in my dorm. A lump creeps into my throat as I pull the paper out of the box, smooth it out, and read her words again:
You left your phone charger in my room which I assume is why you haven’t answered any of my texts for the last few hours. I’m going to the airport now to pick up Kate and I think she wants to go to dinner so she can tell me all about her weekend with Elliot, so don’t wait for me to go to Annenberg. I’ll see you tonight when I get back. I love you. –A
My fingers trace over the indentations in the paper made by her pen, and as the aching sense of loss creeps back over me, I remind myself that this is done, and then toss the note into the fire. I don’t even bother sorting through the rest, choosing instead to throw the entire box into the fireplace. There’s no need to mourn any of this. Everything represented in this box was lost to me years ago, it just took me until now to accept it.
I stand there for a moment, watching the box burn, until I remember there are a few last pieces of Ana that I have stashed away. The panties I’d kept as mementos of our most memorable times together that Gail had put in my own underwear drawer, not knowing what else to do with them.
I turn around and head back for my bedroom, but the moment I step out of the hallway and into the great room, I’m intercepted by Taylor.
“Sir,” he calls out for me. I turn around to face him, looking at him expectantly.
“Have you gotten ahold of him?” I ask.
“No, sir. His phone is going straight to voicemail.”
“Have you called Welch?’
“Yes, sir. Our best guess is that Sawyer’s phone is either completely turned off or he’s outside of a service area. Either way, we can’t get a trace on either him or Miss Steele.”
“I see,” I reply irritably. “Well, keep trying and keep me informed. The moment you get ahold of him, I want to know. I want to be the one to fire him.”
“Yes, sir,” Taylor nods, and he turns back for his office. I watch him leave and then turn around to face the hallway to my bedroom again. Taylor’s interruption has somewhat dampened the destructive need inside of me and as I consider going back to collect the pairs of Anastasia’s panties from my drawer to toss in with the other keepsakes currently burning away in the library, I realize that I don’t want to. Burning her things doesn’t burn away the love I still feel for her in my heart. As much as I want to in this moment, I can’t just get rid of her. I know I have to move on now, but I can’t just turn this off, and destroying things isn’t a sustainable way to get over this. I need a distraction, a productive distraction, so with one last look in the direction of my bedroom, I turn around and head back to my office.
By Sunday afternoon, Taylor still hasn’t been able to track down Sawyer and the lack of results is grating on me. We have no way at this point of knowing if he’s back in Cambridge and simply has his phone turned off, or if he’s still out in some remote, unknown location with Anastasia. Either way, I’m tired of waiting for my team to come up with answers, so I decide to call the house in Cambridge to get answers myself. If Anastasia is home, so is Sawyer, and if Sawyer is home, I’ll call a courier and have his pink slip delivered right to his front fucking door. I pick up the phone to dial the number, and then wait impatiently as it rings.
“Hello?” Elliot answers, and for the first time, the sound of his voice leaves me with no sense of disappointment. I know she’s not going to answer, I’m not even going to bother asking to speak to her. I just need to know if she’s there.
“Is Anastasia back yet?” I ask, getting straight to the point.
“Hi, Christian,” he replies, ignoring my question. My muscles tense as his rebuff of my question peaks my irritation. I’m not in the mood for chit-chat.
“Is she back yet?” I repeat, firmer this time.
He sighs. “No, she’s not back yet. She…” But then, his voice cuts off, and I hear muffled voices in the background. “Oh… uh, wait,” he says. “Here she is.”
Here she is? What?
“Ana, the phone is for you,” he calls, perfectly natural, as if all this time I really have simply missed her each and every time I’ve called. Once again, I feel a flash of irritation but that all melts away in an instant with one, simple word.
Her voice seems to echo through the room around me, and suddenly everything I’ve thought and felt for the last 48 hours is out the window. There’s no more determination to put this behind me, there’s only the soft, beautiful voice on the other end of the phone and the deep sense of relief I feel finally hearing it. Instantly, the anger, and the pain, and the resentment I’ve been harboring vanishes, but there is nothing left to replace it. My mind goes completely blank and even though I’ve been rehearsing what I want to say to her in this exact moment for two years, I can’t recall a single word of what that was.
“Ana?” I ask, my voice weak as though all of the air has been sucked from my diaphragm.
“Hi, Christian,” she replies.
My heart quickens and I try to think of something, anything to say, but I’m speechless. Stunned. My eyes dart back and forth across my desk as if everything I’ve ever wanted to say to her will be written on a piece of paper right in front of me, but of course, it isn’t. I’m on my own and this is actually happening, she’s actually giving me an opening… Don’t fuck this up, Grey.
“Ana… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Are you?” she asks, and the bite in her tone is just enough to invigorate the fight deep in my gut that’s kept me so persistent over the last two years.
“Of course I am. Truly, deeply, profoundly sorry. I can’t tell you what it’s been like without you. I can’t… I can’t…” I shake my head, and change direction. “I’ll do anything, just please, tell me what you want from me and I’ll do it. Anything. It’s yours. Just tell me what to do.”
My gut clenches again. That wasn’t what I wanted to say to her. I don’t want to leave the ball in her court anymore, and the purpose of the speech I had prepared was to direct the conversation in a way that would shift the power of control to me. I should have told her that I was coming to see her, that I’d sit down with her and we could talk this out so that she wasn’t one button away from ending the conversation.
“What are you sorry for, Christian?” she asks me and I’m slightly taken aback by the question. What am I sorry for?
“Everything,” I say, quickly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, and I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever I can to make that up to you if you’ll let me. Just please… I can get on a flight tonight, I can bring you out here, we could go somewhere else, somewhere neutral, wherever you want to go. The world is yours. Just please, meet with me and talk to me. Tell me what you want me to do.”
There’s silence for a brief moment, the offer hanging in the air between us and I find myself holding my breath as I wait for her response.
“Everything is not an answer, Christian. When you say you’re sorry for everything you might as well say nothing, because that doesn’t tell me that you know exactly what you did wrong. Look, what happened has happened, and neither one of us can change it. I still haven’t forgiven you for what you did, I don’t know what it will take for that to happen, or if I even can forgive you, but what’s worse than all of the lies and betrayal, is what you’ve done since all of that happened. You let your family fall apart, you turned your back on people who love you and want to help you. You’ve been selfish and it kills me to see what it’s doing to Elliot. I can’t even imagine what this is like for your mother. Why would I let you back into my life, when you’ve proved to me that you’re willing to hurt the people who love you the most?”
“I didn’t mean to. Ana, I’m sorry…” I swallow, wanting to say more, but I don’t know what I can say to her that I haven’t already said. I don’t think she wants to hear again that I took the money from Elena to safeguard our future together or that this whole thing happened because I couldn’t, in good conscience, put all of this on Elena the way my family wanted me to. None of that stopped her from leaving me before, so rather than rehash the same things I’ve said over and over again, I say nothing.
“You did though, Christian,” she says. “And, quite frankly, your apology seems pretty empty compared to your actions. If you want to make this right with me, you need to start by making this right with your family. And that includes your dad.”
I tilt my head back as I hold back a huff of frustration. What she clearly doesn’t know is that this thing with my dad isn’t a one sided issue. It can’t just be solved by me giving in… He’s not interested in talking to me anymore than I’m not interested in trying to, yet again, explain myself to him.
“Ana, my dad-“
“Is hurt,” she says, cutting me off. “Your dad is hurt, Christian. You publically humiliated him, you damaged his career and his reputation, you went behind his back to start your company, and you tore his family apart.”
“He’s the one who has torn us apart,” I say, a little more forcefully than I mean to. “He’s the one keeping Mia from me. He turned Mom against me.”
“Look. If you’re not sorry, then that’s fine. I don’t need you to make excuses to me. We’re not a couple anymore, you don’t owe me anything. You do what you want to do, but if you want me to be any part of your life, this is what you have to do.”
I feel a stab of pain at the cavalier way she says, “we’re not a couple anymore”, and have to take a moment to compose myself. That’s exactly what I want, for her to be mine again, but I don’t think she understands how complicated what she’s asking really is. I can’t just go over there… My father doesn’t want to see me, he doesn’t want to talk to me. He won’t even answer my fucking text messages. How the hell am I supposed to just make it right with him?
I suppose, she did say family, and… maybe I could work on a relationship with my Mom and Elliot. They’d be willing to try at least, and if the world of mergers and acquisitions has taught me anything, the more insiders I have on my side, the better. Maybe they could at least get him to sit down with me and I suppose if giving into my father and letting him win is the only way to get Anastasia back… I’ll do it. At this point, I’ll do anything. As long as that’s what it means.
“If I do this…” I say, more cautious now as I set the stakes. “If I try and make this up to my family, you’ll come back to me?”
“If you do this, we can talk about what happened. If you make it right with your family, I’ll give you the chance to show me that you’re sorry and I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’m not going to make any promises beyond that.”
I take a deep breath as I consider this. It’s not really anything. I don’t have any guarantees and generally, I don’t move on anything without guarantees… but it’s also not nothing. She’s offering me a lifeline, a conversation, and if anything is going to happen between us, that is the first step.
“Can I see you?” I ask.
“Not yet,” she says. I feel myself deflate again, and I’m about to try to renegotiate when she continues. “And, just to be clear up front. As long as you continue to have anything to do with Elena Lincoln, you have zero percent chance of having ANY kind of relationship with me.”
My teeth grind together as I remember that Elliot has left her with the impression that Elena and I have started sleeping with each other again, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I have no desire to touch Elena ever again and she has a new submissive, Isaac, who she seems very happy with. In fact, her biggest concern is getting me into my own submissive, but I’ve refused that. I’ve refused everyone for Anastasia…
My stomach drops though as I realize that isn’t true. I’d asked Elena to bring me a girl… to have her here tonight. Fuck, I’d forgotten all about her. I shake my head, reorienting myself. I haven’t done anything yet, I’ll send her away. I’ll send them both away. I’ll tell Elena I don’t want her coming over here anymore, that she is to schedule meetings with me exclusively through Andrea, and only regarding Esclava. I can do that. If I get Ana back, that won’t even be a sacrifice.
“It’s just business,” I reassure her. “Really, Ana. There’s nothing between us. I swear to you. I haven’t had anyone, I don’t want anyone, it’s only you.”
“I don’t care what it is, Christian, business or not. As long as you let her in, you’re keeping me out.”
“Okay,” I agree without thinking, though I immediately regret it as cutting off business ties with Elena isn’t as easy as not letting her into my apartment anymore. In fact, with the way things are going with Esclava, I don’t even know if that’s something I want. “I’ll… um, I’ll work on it.”
“Good. And… let Elliot help you. That’s all he wants.”
“I know,” I agree.
“I’ve got to go,” she says, and I feel a sudden rush of panic. Go? But we haven’t even talked… This is the first time I’ve even had the chance to hear her voice and she’s barely said anything. I’m not ready for her to go…
“No, not yet. Just…” I begin to argue, but again, she cuts me off.
“Make it right, Christian,” she says, and then she’s gone. A second passes and Elliot is back on the phone.
“Hey, Christian,” he says, more cautiously than I would expect. I swallow back the sinking feeling rising inside of me now that Ana has gotten off the phone and focus on the things I can control once more. Ana said make it right with my family, she said let Elliot help me. Well: step one.
“Elliot, you should come back here. We should talk and find a way that I can work this out with Mom and Dad. You’re right, Ana’s right, we can’t keep doing this forever, and you’re the only one who can help me,”
“Yeah, great,” he replies, excitedly. “I’ll be there in a few days.”
“I look forward to it, and I’ll see you soon. Good-bye, Elliot.”
“See you soon,” he repeats. “Bye.”
I hang up the phone and then stare down at it incredulously for a moment, feeling as though the weight of the world has been lifted off of me. That one phone call has changed everything, given me perspective and purpose… There’s hope. Finally, a light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel and for the first time, in a long time, I feel… optimistic.
There’s more I have to do, so I reach down for my phone, but before I can pick it up, there is a knock on my door. I look up, brow furrowed as I wonder who would be disturbing me at home on a Sunday, but when I realize who it is, I feel my stomach sink.
“Come in,” I say, keeping my voice even and aloof.
“Good afternoon, Christian,” Elena says, stepping through my door with an unfamiliar brown haired girl behind her. She motions for the girl to kneel by the door, taking her coat as she falls to her knees in submissive’s pose, but before she turns back to face me, I’m out of my seat and marching towards her.
“You need to leave,” I say, snatching the girl’s coat out of Elena’s hands and throwing it back down to the girl on the floor. “I need you to get out of here and take her with you. Now.”
“What?” Elena asks, obviously confused.
“Leave,” I repeat. “I want you out of my apartment. You’re not to come back here again, or to my office, or contact me in anyway. Do you understand?”
“Christian, what are you talking about?” she asks, now fully disconcerted. I reach out and open the door behind her again, stepping aside to let her pass.
“You heard me,” I tell her firmly. “Go.”
Her eyes widen for a moment as she looks down at the girl scrambling up off the floor, but when she looks back at me, I can almost see the realization form behind her eyes.
“You talked to Anastasia,” she assumes.
“Elena, I told you to leave,” I say again. She moves to the side, motioning for the girl to exit the room in front of her and then turns back to me.
“She’ll just hurt you again, Christian. And it’ll be worse next time. Do you really think you’ll be able to survive when she leaves you again?”
“Go,” I reply flatly.
“Don’t do this, Christian.”
“I’m not going to say it again, Elena. You need to leave, and you are not to reach out to me again. If Esclava needs something, you can schedule a meeting through Andrea, but you will not call my phone, you will not come to my apartment, and you will not come to my office again unless I have summoned you. Am I being clear enough for you?”
Her mouth sets in a thin line and her eyes seem to darken, but she nods. I watch her turn to walk down the hallway, and I briefly consider following her to make sure she gets on the elevator, but I have other things I need to do.
I shut the door and walk back to my desk, picking up my phone to make the call I’d meant to before Elena walked in as I settle down into my chair.
“Christian?” My mother’s surprised voice answers.
“Hi, Mom,” I greet her. “I was um… are you free for lunch sometime this week?” I pause, listening to her take a deep breath before she continues.
“I would love to have lunch with you, Son. But… if your father finds out that I brought Mia to you…”
“This isn’t about Mia,” I interrupt her. “I want to talk to you. I can’t do this anymore and I don’t want to. I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry for everything.” I take a breath. “I want to be a part of the family again.”