It’s difficult going home on Sunday, but not nearly as difficult as getting through the next few weeks. Christian’s workload isn’t letting up, if anything, it’s getting heavier, and without Ros, he’s travelling more which means I’m spending fewer and fewer weekends in Seattle. By the time midterms roll around at the end of March, I’ve only been home twice, and while it’s been nice spending some time with Kate and building a real friendship with Carter, I’m starting to miss Christian so much that it almost feels like it’s causing me physical pain. Thankfully, today is the last day of classes before Spring Break and, after finishing my Kaleidoscopic Romanticism midterm, I’m off to the airport with Luke, Kate, Carter, and Champ.
As of today, I’m six months pregnant and with only fourteen weeks left until my due date, Kate has decided it’s time to throw me a baby shower. She and Grace have been on the phone making plans all week, so this weekend we’ll be entertaining friends and family at the Grey Mansion before she and Carter continue onto Cabo for the rest of Spring Break. It’s the first time Carter has ever been to Seattle and his nervous kind of elation becomes tangible as we pull onto the tarmac and into the shadow of Christian’s private jet.
“Fancy digs, Steele,” he says, eyeing the plane through the window as we come to a stop.
“It’s top of the line,” I reply. “Doesn’t make the flight shorter though…”
“Good,” he says excitedly, and then he scrambles out of the back seat to retrieve his luggage from the trunk before Luke even has the time to get out of the car to open the door for us.
“Carter, will you grab Champ, please?” Kate calls, holding tightly to his leash while he desperately tries to escape the car.
“Sorry, babe,” he says. He comes back around to guide Champ out of the back seat, while Kate gathers the last of her things and Luke finally makes it around the car to help me out.
“Be good, okay?” he says, the worry apparent in his voice. “Listen to Kommer and Cardella, and don’t do anything stupid.”
“Stupid? Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“Anastasia Steele,” he says bluntly. “The girl who notoriously ditches her security the moment they become inconvenient to whatever she wants to do.”
I frown. “Yeah, well I have a baby to look out for now.”
“I just wish you cared as much about protecting yourself. You’re important to people too, Ana.”
“I know,” I tell him, and he nods.
“Alright, be safe. And have a good break.”
“You too. Call me when you figure out where Leila went.”
“Will do,” he says, and then moves to the back of the car to take my bags to the cargo hold while I turn to follow Kate and Champ up the stairs into the plane.
“Why isn’t he coming again?” she asks once we’ve taken our seats.
“He’s getting his concealed carry for Massachusetts this week. He’s got to take a bunch of classes and a practical test and it’s just easier to get that done when he doesn’t have to worry about me being back at the house alone. Taylor lives in my apartment in Seattle so I guess they agreed it was better for him to stay behind now while I’m on break and have the boss man around than to try and get it done while I’m in school.”
“What about your other security?” she asks, nodding in the direction of Anthony and Cardella, who are sitting on the opposite end of the plane from us. “Don’t they need concealed carry permits, too?”
“No… Christian’s not crazy about guns and he’s not comfortable with them enough yet to have them armed around us. He’s not even crazy about Luke having a gun, but he trusts him and he trusts Taylor’s judgement.”
“And what about Leila?”
I shake my head and roll my eyes. “She just disappeared like two days ago. Luke checked the registration on her car to find out where she lived but when they went to her apartment, she wasn’t there. Kommer has been camping out there for the past couple days, but she hasn’t come home once. Luke can’t track her cell phone… she’s just disappeared.”
“Yeah,” I agree.
“I can’t believe you complain about having to fly back to Seattle all the time,” Carter says, plopping down across from Kate and I. “This plane is amazing. It’s better than my house! I’d actually move in here if I could.”
I let out a blunt sounding laugh. “Well, have fun flying around with Christian all the time. This jet is never stationary for more than three days.”
“Worth it,” he says.
“But it’ll be flying you away from me,” Kate pouts. “That’s really why Ana hates it. It’s the flights back from Seattle more than the flight to Seattle. It’s the flight away from Christian. Are you saying that wouldn’t bother you?”
“Will I get to come see you every weekend like Ana does?”
“Is that enough for you?” Kate retorts. “A couple days a week?”
“No,” he says. “You’re right. I have everything that I need right here.” She smiles at him as he gets out of his seat and moves to the sofa that she and I are sitting on so that he can wrap her in his arms, but their cute moment of canoodling is quickly interrupted by Natalia.
“The captain is ready to take off, Miss Steele.”
“Great, so are we.”
“Can I get you something? Some tea perhaps? Orange juice?”
“A Diet Coke, please. And some champagne for Kate and Carter.”
“Right away, ma’am.” She smiles her very toothy smile at us and then disappears into the nook at the front of the plane. Once we begin taxing over the tarmac, Natalia returns with my Diet Coke and two flutes filled with bubbly pink champagne, and when she hands a glass to Carter his eyes widen.
“Nope, I changed my mind,” he says. “I’m moving in.”
“Shut up,” Kate laughs, and she elbows him in the ribs.
Despite Carter’s excitement, the fight seems longer than usual because Champ doesn’t do very well once we’re in the air. The five and half hour flight is filled with his constant whining and uncomfortable fidgeting, so by the time we land the three of us are about ready to go out of our minds.
“Looks like you weren’t exaggerating about the rain,” Carter says gloomily as he looks out the window at the dark gray sky.
“We’ll be in Cabo on Sunday,” Kate reassures him. “You can handle the rain for a couple days. Especially since we’re staying in Christian’s apartment. It’s difficult to be upset by the weather when you’re spending the weekend in a luxury penthouse.”
“Truth,” Carter says, and then turns to me. “You’re sure Grey is okay with me staying with you over the weekend?”
“Of course,” I lie. In reality, saying Christian was less than thrilled when I asked if Kate, Carter, and Champ could stay at Escala is probably the understatement of the century, but since Kate’s mom has cats and has always stuck firm to Grace’s abandoned stance that boys and girls who aren’t married shouldn’t share rooms, her house wasn’t really an option for them this weekend. At first, I thought about finding them a hotel, but since I’m watching Champ for the week once Kate and Carter leave for Cabo anyway, and Christian is now of the mindset to not deny Kate anything she could ever want or ask for, he eventually consented to having them stay with us. He’s just not very happy about it.
“And limo service from the airport,” Carter says, looking out the opposite window now as we prepare to deboard the plane. “The way the other half lives.”
“Limo service?” I repeat, and, after I too look out the window and confirm that there’s a limo waiting there for us rather than Christian’s SUV, I hurriedly move for the doors. The back door of the limo opens when I exit the plane onto the stairs that reach down to the tarmac, but it’s not Christian that steps out, it’s Ryan, and my stomach immediately drops with disappointment.
“Welcome home, Miss Steele,” he says, stepping to the side to hold open the door for me.
“Where’s Christian?” I ask.
“He’s still in Chicago, ma’am.”
“Still? I thought he was flying home last night?”
“That was the plan, but there were some last minute problems with the deal he’s there to close and he’s been delayed. He asked me to ensure you’re comfortable and have everything you need. He’ll be home early tomorrow morning.”
“I’m afraid so, ma’am.”
I sigh and then turn back to Kate and Carter, who are both now trying to pull a still anxious Champ down the stairs. I help them get him into the back of the limo with us and once the flight crew has stowed our luggage in the trunk, we pull away from the jet and follow the signs to the freeway that lead us into downtown Seattle.
“Escala,” Carter whispers in a mysterious, vaguely spanish accent as we pull up in front of the building, and when we’re inside and he gets a first hand look at the opulence of the lobby and the immediate attention from the staff, he starts walking with an arrogant kind of swagger.
“Stop it,” Kate says, laughing as she pushes him away from the elevator doors.
“What?” Carter replies. “We’re going to the Grey residence, Kate. We’re very important people now.”
“You’re a loser,” she says. He gives her a devious grin as he pulls her into his arms and then makes vicious sounding snarling noises while he nibbles on her neck. She giggles and squirms, but doesn’t seem to be fighting too hard to get out of his grip. I feel the corner of my mouth tick up as I see her face light up with delight in a way that it didn’t for so long and then step to the side, next to Kommer, to try and give them a little privacy together until the elevator arrives. Once we step inside, I wait for the doors to close and then press the button for the penthouse.
“Please enter your passcode,” the robotic voice says, so I reach forward and enter the code on the keypad.
“You changed the code,” Kate observes as the elevator hums to life and whisks us up towards the 31st floor.
“Yeah,” I reply. “I didn’t like Gia having the elevator code, but we changed it and it only took like two more weeks for her to get it again. You can’t give it to Elliot without her finding out.”
“Yeah… he’s pretty easy to get stuff out of if you’re motivated enough,” she says. I roll my eyes as the elevator dings and the doors slide open, and then motion forward for Kate and Carter to enter the apartment first.
It’s a pretty quiet night with just the three of us. I give Carter a tour of the apartment, which he seems overly astonished with. Especially Christian’s office, which I have to pry him out of with a death grip to keep him from messing with anything. I show them their room and give them a minute to unpack and then we all sit down for a late dinner that Mrs. Jones has prepared for us.
“So, you could just ask her to make you anything, at anytime, and she will?” Carter asks, once Mrs. Jones has disappeared again.
“Yep. She’s seriously one of the nicest people I know. I don’t think I would have ever stopped puking my guts out if she hadn’t found those anti nausea lozenges at Thanksgiving.”
“And you have how many extra bedrooms upstairs? Because, fuck the plane, I’m moving in here.” I roll my eyes as he takes a bite of the pasta on his plate. “Oh my god, this is delicious. How do you leave this place every weekend, Ana?”
“Because she remembers that I’m in Cambridge,” Kate says, emphasizing again that he seems to be forgetting her.
“Oh, right.” He nods but the second Kate looks down to take another bite, he shakes his head and mouths, never leave this place again, at me.
After dinner we sit down to watch a movie, but since the long stretches of time I’ve spent in Cambridge over the last few weeks haven’t been punctuated by weekends home, I’m no longer acclimated to Pacific time and find myself falling asleep only a few minutes into the movie. Kate and Carter seem content to stay up and stick it out though, so I wish them both a good night and then make my way into mine and Christian’s bedroom alone.
I’m up earlier than I want to be the next morning and I’m not sure if it’s because of the time difference or the vast amount of empty space in the bed next to me. As I lie there, I stare longingly at the place where Christian should be until eventually I pull his pillow towards me and hug it close to my body, inhaling his lingering scent that still clings to the pillowcase. It’s comforting but doesn’t chase away the loneliness that fills the darkness around me, so the moment the sun comes up, I climb out of bed to start on breakfast for Kate and Carter. Unfortunately, it seems Gail has beat me to it.
“Good morning, Miss Steele,” she greets me. “Can I get you anything?”
“Some tea, please,” I sigh. She smiles as she reaches for the kettle.
“He’ll be home soon,” she says reassuringly. “Taylor asked to have me arrange a pick up at the airport for 9:00 AM.”
I turn to the digital clock on the stove, see that it’s already 7:15, and smile. Two more hours. I can do two more hours.
“Good morning,” Kate chirps behind me. I turn to see her coming down the stairs in a fluffy pink bathrobe that contrasts with the clothes that Carter is wearing. She settles down into the chair next to me, looking perfectly comfortable and at home as she reaches for one of the freshly made cranberry scones Gail has laid out on the counter.
“What?” she asks as I give her a pointed look, but I just smile, shake my head, and reach for a scone of my own.
After breakfast Kate agrees to go on a run with me, mostly because Champ is getting antsy and hasn’t been outside all morning. It is a good way to show Carter downtown however, and it actually pushes me to go farther than I normally would. It is weird not having Luke with us though. Kommer is fine and he runs along behind us without complaint, but his perfect professionalism and stoic nature have still prevented me from warming up to him and his presence now is just a reminder that Luke isn’t here, which makes me miss him more.
When we make it back to Escala, I’m in a hurry to get upstairs and get in the shower before Christian gets home, but Carter, who isn’t used to running everyday, is dragging behind us.
“You doing okay there, babe?” Kate laughs as he trudges through the lobby.
“I don’t know what hurts worse,” he says. “My body, or the fact that a girl who is six months pregnant just ran circles around me.”
We both laugh as I reach for the button to the elevator, but nothing happens when I press it. I can see the illuminated letter g over the doors that tells me it’s in the garage, and I can hear that it’s on and working, moving even, but we wait over a full minute and the doors never open.
“Should we ask the front desk?” Kate asks, pushing the button again, but no sooner do the words come out of her mouth then we hear the high ding and the doors slide open.
“That was weird…” I say as we step inside and push the button for the penthouse. I think we’re all a little cautions as we rise through the floors, wondering if something is wrong with the elevator and we’re about to break down any minute and drop to our death, but I realize exactly what happened when we get to the top floor, the doors open, and we find Taylor standing in the foyer waiting for us.
The elevator can’t be called once you put in the code for the penthouse.
“Welcome home, Miss Steele,” Taylor greets us and I begin beaming so brightly that I almost want to hug him.
“Hi, Taylor,” I say as I quickly move through the foyer to get to the bedroom.
“Your shower is in two hours!” Kate calls after me. “And we have to go all the way to Bellevue. You need to get ready!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I mumble under my breath, but I don’t falter in my stride. I’m single minded in my destination. But when I open the bedroom door, I find that the room is empty and I frown.
“Christian?” I check, but he doesn’t answer. I step further into the room, thinking maybe he’s in the bathroom unpacking his dopp kit, but before I get there, I hear the door close behind me and I jump. When I turn around, Christian is standing in front of the door, giving me a wolfish grin.
“Take your clothes off,” he says, and I smile as I practically leap at him. His arms close around me when I reach up to claim his lips, and while we kiss, I feel the burden of three weeks of longing melt away in an instant.
“I’ve missed you,” I whisper against his mouth.
He moans. “I’ve missed you too. So much.”
His hand moves down and creeps under my t-shirt, but the moment I feel his fingers touch my skin, I squeal and worm out of his grip.
“Christian, I’m all sweaty.”
“Good. You taste better that way.”
“Stop,” I protest, giggling when he moves to touch me again. “I’ve got to get ready to go to your parents’ house. I need to take a shower.”
“But… it’s been three weeks.”
“I know, but I’m the guest of honor. I can’t be late.”
“But it’s been three weeks,” he repeats, more emphatically this time, and I laugh.
“Later.” He pouts as I turn away from him, but I only make it a few steps before I turn around and eye him again. “Well, maybe I can be a little late,” I tell him. He smiles as I dig my fingers into his shirt and drag him to the bathroom and into the shower with me.
He’s still inside of me when Kate begins banging on the bathroom door forty five minutes later, and the ensuing argument between them eats fifteen more of the minutes I have to get ready. Once I’m finally in the ethereal looking baby pink gown that Kate had special ordered for the shower and she’s finished with my hair and makeup, she, Christian, Carter, Kommer, Taylor, and I head down to the parking garage where Christian directs me to the front seat of his Lamborghini, while everyone else piles in the back of the SUV.
Pulling into the long driveway of the Grey Mansion in Bellevue immediately tells me how much effort Kate and Grace have put into the shower. Each of the lamp posts that edge the drive have pink and white balloons tied to them and the pillars beneath the overhang before the front door are wrapped in soft, pink gossamer, which is a theme that continues into the entrance hall and through the living room. The oversized sectional that usually dominates Grace’s living room is gone now and has been replaced by enough chairs to accommodate what looks like thirty or so people. There’s a long table that stretches the entire length of the back wall that is draped with a white tablecloth and is covered in tiny pink cakes and treats that rest in front of a chalkboard that says, it’s a girl! There’s another table off to the left that’s mostly empty, except for the silver trays resting on different levels of platforms and the same vases overflowing with peonies that cover everything else in the room, and a final table to the left that is already overflowing with gifts, despite the fact that the guests haven’t arrived yet.
“It’s perfect,” Kate beams as she takes everything in. “Carter, will you put this on the gift table for me. I’m going to look for Grace in the kitchen.” She hands him a flat, black box tied with pink ribbon and scurries off to the kitchen while I move further into the room to get a better look at the decorations. Before I get too far from him though, Christian grabs a hold of my hand and pulls me back to him.
“There’s a surprise for you in the guest room,” he says, and I raise an eyebrow at him.
“What kind of a surprise?”
“One you’ll like very much, I suspect.” I stare at him suspiciously for a moment, analyzing his tone for any kind of innuendo, but before I’ve made up my mind, he turns and leads me by the hand back into the entrance hall, towards the downstairs guest room.
“After you,” he says, stepping aside to let me walk in first. I narrow my eyes at him and push open the door just in time to see a woman step out of the en-suite bathroom, securing an earring in her left earlobe.
“Mom!” I cry. She turns around, smiles broadly, and then holds her arms open for me to rush into. I hug her as tightly as I can until she pulls away and stares down at my bump with a mixture of radiant happiness and astonishment.
“Look at you, you’re so big! Oh, you’re glowing!”
“Well, it’s been a wonderful day,” I reply, and then reach forward to hug her again. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“Of course. You don’t think I’d miss my only daughter’s first baby shower, do you? It’s your fiancé over there who you should be thanking. He made all of the arrangements.”
I turn and move to give Christian a quick kiss, before helping my mom gather the large pink gift bag in the corner and heading back out to the living room. As we round the corner into the entrance hall however, the front door opens and Elliot steps inside with Gia holding tightly to his hand.
“Mom?” he calls, but stops when he sees us. “Hey there, prego!”
“Hi, Elliot,” I say, and then step forward to hug him. Gia gives me a tight smile before leaning forward and giving me a quick, very awkward hug herself and then reaches out to hand me a chocolate colored box with gold writing over the top that says Roberto Cavalli.
“Thank you, Gia,” I tell her, trying not to be insincere even though she looks as though giving something to me is actually causing her physical pain.
“You ready to go?” Elliot asks turning to Christian, and I immediately round on him with wide, panicked eyes.
“Today’s about you,” he says. “I don’t want to detract from that. Besides, I have my own gift for you but it’s not finished yet.”
“Poor fella,” Elliot sighs as he reaches up to rest an arm on Christian’s shoulder. “Needed the help of a real man to get the job done right.”
“Which is why I’m bringing Reed,” Christian replies pointedly as he shrugs him off. Elliot furrows his brow.
“Reed? Carter Reed?”
“Yeah,” Christian confirms.
“Ana,” Kate’s voice says behind me, accompanying the sound of her heels clacking against the marble floor of the entrance hall. “You have to come see…” Her words cut off when she sees us standing there with Elliot, and both of them seem to be taken back a bit.
“Kate,” Elliot breathes in surprise.
“Hi… Elliot,” Kate replies, and then looks to the now very irritated woman standing beside him. “Gia.”
“Katherine,” Gia replies through clenched teeth. The tension between them is so thick it feels like it can be cut with a knife, and the awkwardness of the situation isn’t lost on anyone, not even my mother who, thankfully, intervenes.
“Well, let’s get these gifts on the table and get you situated, Ana,” she says. “You shouldn’t be on your feet so much.”
“Right,” Kate says. “The caterers are putting out the food. You have to see how cute everything is. Grace went all out.”
I nod and then follow Kate and my mother, ignoring the hissing argument between Gia and Elliot that we leave behind.
We find Grace standing in the living room, looking completely in her element as she directs the men in white jackets, who are laying out trays of English tea sandwiches, pastries, strawberry and goat cheese crostinis, stuffed mushroom caps, shaved tuna on fried rice, and prosciutto wrapped melon balls. She turns as we enter the room and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her happier than she is the moment she lays eyes on me and my very obvious bump while she’s standing in a room that is filled with baby themed food and gifts.
“Anastasia,” she says, the tears in her voice already obvious. “You look so beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I reply, hugging her. “This party already looks incredible. Thank you, so much.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she assures me. We smile at each other for just a moment until the doorbell rings and her attention is distracted once again. “That’ll be the first guests,” she says.
“Which is my cue to leave,” Christian says, wrapping his arms around me. “Have a wonderful afternoon, baby.”
“You too. I’ll see you in a few hours?”
“Of course.” He leans over and kisses me very deeply and then turns to Elliot, standing on the other side of the room, and motions for him to follow him. They move to leave, but before they completely exit the room, Christian turns back to Carter.
“Uh… Reed, I assume you don’t want to spend the afternoon with the girls. There’s a project my brother and I are working on for Ana and we could use your help if you’re interested.”
“Sure,” Carter says, looking simultaneously astonished and overjoyed by the invitation. “You’ll be okay here if I go, won’t you, baby?”
“I’ll be just fine,” Kate says, and Elliot frowns again.
“Baby?” he repeats, but there isn’t time to explain before Christian ushers him out of the room. I frown as I start at the empty doorway they just walked through. Poor Christian is now going to have to deal with that revelation, and then spend the entire afternoon with Elliot and Carter being in the same room with no planned escape route.
The guests are slow to trickle in at first, but at Grace’s insistence I’m not to leave the chair they have specially designated for me. She says I’m absolutely not to lift a finger all day and so I sit and smile as she introduces me to each and every one of her friends. It’s nice though, Mia comes to sit next to me so that we can talk when there’s downtime, and I get to meet Christian’s Grandmother Trevelyan for the first time. Carrick, who’s coming fresh off his latest round of chemo comes downstairs to give me a hug and kiss, but is too weak to stay out of bed for too long. I insist though, that he at least take some of the food as I’m passed off to another one of Grace’s friends.
“Anastasia?” a familiar voice asks. I turn away from Mrs. Hanover, Grace’s favorite tennis partner at her country club, and then feel my mouth drop open when I see Ros and Gwen standing a few feet away, holding onto a package wrapped in silvery paper.
“Hi, Ros,” I reply, unsure of how I’m supposed to feel with her standing there.
“How are you?”
“Well, it’s been a difficult few weeks with Christian being so busy managing GEH all by himself. Being away from him all the time is hard.” My tone is more biting than I mean for it to be and she presses her lips together before taking a step closer so that she can lower her voice when she speaks again.
“Can I speak with you, please?”
“Just for a moment,” she promises. I take a quick, sweeping glance around the room and find that most everyone is engaged in conversation, including Kate and Grace, so I nod and then lead her to the family room off the side of the entrance hall that is very rarely used.
“Okay, what?” I ask, crossing my arms as I turn to face her.
“Ana, look… I know Christian thinks he knows what happened, but he’s wrong. I never contacted PixC, I never pursued any kind of position with them. I mean… why would I? Why would I leave my position as COO of the top performing company on the west coast, a company that I helped build, to take the top job at an organization that was months away from bankruptcy and that I know Christian would take away from me anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I admit. “But the emails…”
“I never wrote those emails!”
“Then where did they come from?” I demand. “I was there the night Christian got the call. PixC was backing out of his deal because they were pursuing you for CEO. It wasn’t something they were considering, it was something already in motion. So, if you never sent those emails, how did that happen?”
“I don’t know who he talked to or why they would say that, maybe they were trying to take some of his leverage away to get a better deal, more control, I don’t know… but I swear to you, I never sent those emails, Ana.”
I purse my lips. It’s difficult to believe what she’s saying when there are multiple parties verifying the evidence that Christian found, but the vulnerability and the brute honesty I hear in her voice is hard to ignore.
“Look,” she continues. “When he… when I left GEH, I talked to Welch. Christian found emails from him on the server too… emails to the different department heads trying to stir up support for forming a board within GEH. He said he never sent those emails either and I talked to some of the department heads who he supposedly contacted and they never received any of those emails. There’s something going on here. GEH is under attack but Christian is so used to people he trusts betraying him that he’s being blinded to what’s really going on. Welch was our best line of defense to protect the GEH servers and he’s gone. I’m the person who has the most access to Christian, the only person who can share his workload, and now I’m gone too. If they could get to me, they could get to anyone. Taylor could be next, and that leaves him open to so much more than corporate espionage. Someone needs to open his eyes to what’s going on and since he won’t talk to me, there’s only one person who can get through to him.”
She gives me a look like the answer should be obvious.
“Me?” I ask, and she nods. “Ros, I don’t know the first thing about any of this. I mean, I honestly don’t even know if what you’re telling me is true…”
“Ana, you know me. You know how much I care about GEH and how much I care about Christian. So, just ask yourself, what would I have to gain from doing something like this? After all the legal trouble, after Christian bars me from ever breaking back into the only world I know… what would I have to gain? And if there’s nothing to gain, why would I throw everything away?”
I frown again, so she quickly jumps in before I can say anything.
“Just… get him to talk to me. If I can just have one real conversation with him, I know that I can make him see reason. Please, Ana. GEH is my entire life’s work.”
I take a breath and nod. “Okay, I’ll try to get him to talk to you, but I can’t make any promises. I know everyone thinks I have the ability to convince Christian to do anything, but at the end of the day, he always does whatever he believes is right, and what he believes is right, is that you betrayed him. That’s been really hard on him, Ros. You couldn’t possibly understand how hard.”
“I do though. I know him, Ana, better than I know myself sometimes, and I would never do this to him.”
“Okay,” I agree. “I’ll talk to him tonight.”
“Thank you,” she says, reaching out to pull me into a hug, and while I hug her back, I suddenly feel a whole new sense of dread cross over me. Either Ros is lying to me right now, or someone is trying to sabotage Christian, isolate him even, and neither of those options mean good things.
“Ana?” Kate asks, behind me. I turn around to see her glancing worriedly between Ros and me. “We’re about to start some games.”
“Okay.” I nod, and then turn to Ros. “Shall we?”
“Of course. After you.”
The rest of the shower is absolutely wonderful, despite the fact that most of the people in attendance are Grace’s friends and I’ve actually never met any of them. The food is amazing, the atmosphere is light and fun, and, even though I’m not opening anything until later this evening when I’m with Christian, the gift table is overflowing.
Kate is in charge of games and some of the things she has come up with have the entire room bursting with laughter, while others turn out to be quite useful. We play two or three games that are aimed at helping Christian and I finally chose a baby name, and while I would never seriously consider 99% of the names that come up, it does at least give me motivation to start taking the whole name thing seriously.
When the party is over, I receive several hugs and wishes of congratulations, and I thank each person graciously for their company and their gifts as they leave the Greys’ house. I’m preparing myself for the clean up as we meander back into the living room, but before I can even reach the table covered in discarded plates and napkins, the catering staff comes in to do the work for us and Grace and Kate both begin ushering me towards the door.
“What in the…” I begin, feeling confused by their persistence as they shove me through the front door.
“We’re not done yet,” Grace chirps happily.
“We still have Christian’s gift,” Kate adds.
“Oh, right.” I smile and then turn to look at the limo pulling up the drive through the gentle spritz of spring rain. When the car stops in front of me, Grace opens the door and begins ushering everyone in side.
“I’m sorry,” Gia interjects. “I thought it was just family from this point on.” She shoots a glare in Kate’s direction and Grace immediately goes on the defensive.
“It is,” she replies harshly. “Kate, after you dear.”
Kate smiles with a little bit of embarrassment as she moves around Grace into the limo and I glare back at Gia as I follow after her, making sure to sit right next to her and even hold on to her hand as we pull back down the driveway and for the remainder of the ride.
“Wait…” I say, when I start to recognize the surroundings of our destination. “This is… this is my house.”
“Yeah,” Kate nods. “Christian’s already here.”
The driver presses the button on the box at the end of the driveway and the gates swing open for us, but before I can get out of the car, Kate wraps a blindfold around my eyes.
“Don’t be scared,” she says as she tries to guide me out of the car.
“Are you sure?” I ask, lowering my voice so that only she can hear me. “You did say Christian was inside and everytime I’ve been blindfolded around him there’s at least a little reason to be nervous.” She laughs and then takes both of my hands to lead me toward the front door.
I can tell we’ve stepped into the house by the smell of sawdust in the air and the echos of our feet moving over the exposed subflooring in the entrance hall. I know all about the extensive renovations being done to update the house, but I haven’t actually been in here since Christian bought it, and now I wish Kate hadn’t blindfolded me so that I can see everything that’s been done.
“Oh good, you’re here,” Christian’s voice echos from above us, and the moment I hear him, I immediately begin reaching for him, even though I can tell he’s on the stairs by the echos of his steps on the wood.
“I’m right here, baby,” he says. “Take my hand.”
I feel his hands slide into mine and then it’s him pulling me forward instead of Kate. The footsteps of his family continue following behind us until Christian stops and scoops me in his arms.
“What are you doing?” I ask, panicked by the sudden, unexpected movement.
“We’re going up the stairs and I don’t want you doing that blindfolded,” he explains. I grip tightly to his neck as he makes his way upstairs and then continues carrying me down the hallway.
“Ready?” he asks as he sets me down.
“Yes,” I reply, and I feel him reach up to take my blindfold off. While I’m still unable to see, I reach forward and touch the smooth wood in front of me, which tells me we’re standing outside a closed door and not next to a wall, and then reach down for the handle. The moment the blindfold is gone, I twist the knob and push the door open, and what I find takes my breath away.
This is the room Christian and I agreed would be the nursery and the room we’ve spent hours and hours fighting about because I didn’t want to hire someone else to get it ready for our daughter. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted her to know that even though we have money, we will never be the kind of parents to pass the responsibility of raising her off to anyone else. That she will always be our main priority and that we will do anything for her. Unfortunately, once my doctor told me I shouldn’t paint, I assumed what I wanted would be immediately dismissed and the completed room in front of me seems to be proof of that. New cream colored carpet, softer than I’ve ever felt, has been installed. Bright white crown molding has been laid into the wall just above the carpet, at the conjunction of the wall and the ceiling, and around the raised circle over the center of the room, which now includes soft, recessed lights that cast a soft glow around the entire room.
The walls, which were once a horrible saturated yellow color, are now a soft taupe, and there’s a new crib framed in a veil of sheer white fabric, a chair that looks perfect for rocking a baby to sleep in, a changing table, and a wall filled with children’s books. Above it all is a magnificent crystal chandelier.
“Christian,” I breathe as I step further into the room. “It’s beautiful.”
“I may have taken inspiration from you Pinterest board…” he admits. I smile and turn around to thank him properly, but stop when I see him. There’s paint on his t-shirt, the same color as the walls, and caulk residue on his fingers and caked over his knuckles.
“Wait… you did this?” I ask.
“Well, Elliot did a lot of it while I was travelling but we painted and brought everything in here today. I assembled the crib.”
“I love it,” I tell him. “This is the best thing you could have given me. Not just the nursery, but that you did it. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He kisses me and then turns me in his arms so that we can look at the room together again. “Did you enjoy your shower?” he asks.
“Very much. I met a lot of your mom’s friends and got to watch her gush with excitement over being a grandmother.”
He laughs. “Yes, I can imagine she’s just about on cloud nine.”
“Mmm. We need to figure out a name for the baby. I guess it’s weird that we haven’t come up with one yet, so Kate organized some games to help give us ideas.”
“Anything you liked?”
“Well, we played one where everyone had 30 seconds to come up with ten names that started with a different letter of either one of our names… this is what your sister came up with.” I reach into my pocket and hand him the paper I saved.
- Amelia, the second
“I appreciate the one she changed,” he laughs. “It’s different, but not really.”
I laugh too. “She certainly has your persistence. But, seriously. Any real ideas?”
“Not really. I’ve thought of a few, but none that I’m overly attached to.”
“What have you thought of?”
“Phoebe?” he suggests, but I nix that idea immediately. “What’s wrong with Phoebe?”
“She’s my least favorite friend,” I reply. “Do you want kids singing Smelly Cat to her all the time?”
He rolls his eyes. “She’s not going to school for several years. I doubt her schoolmates in 2016 will even know what Friends is.”
“How dare you,” I say, accusatory. “Besides, by kids, I meant your brother.”
“Okay, Phoebe’s out,” he concedes. “What about… Elizabeth?”
“Meh,” I say, and he frowns again.
“What’s wrong with Elizabeth?”
“I just feel like it’s so common, you know? How many Elizabeths do you think she’s going to have in her class when she goes to school?”
“You’re not going to try to sell me on something ridiculous like Apple or Sunday, are you?”
“No, I don’t want it to just be weird,” I tell him. “I want it to mean something. I want something strong, unique.”
“Ummm…” I hesitate, knowing he’s going to think weird is actually the perfect word to describe the name I’ve been stuck on for weeks. “Calliope?”
“Calliope?” he repeats, and the doubt is clear in his voice, so before he rejects it, I quickly begin to explain.
“I first read about her when we were in Paris, in the Louvre. She’s the goddess of eloquence and epic poetry and she was the wisest and most assertive of all of the Muses. And that’s part of it, she’s a Muse… It’s said that she inspired Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid. I’m a writer, I kind of like the symbolism of that. She’ll always be my Muse.”
“Calliope,” he says again, more thoughtfully this time. “I don’t hate it.”
“Is that a yes?” I ask, and he moves his head from side as he weighs the name in his mind.
“What would her middle name be?’
“You choose,” I tell him, but then hold up a stern finger. “But not Amelia.”
“Okay, what about… Katherine?”
“Katherine? You mean… after Kate?”
He nods. “She saved my father’s life, Ana, and I won’t ever be able to repay her for that. We may never have another daughter, I’d like to honor her.”
“Calliope Katherine Grey,” I say aloud, and Christian smiles.
“That’s our daughter’s name,” he says.
“Yeah, I think it is.” I smile and then lean up to press my lips into his, but as his kiss intensifies and his fingers reach down to the straps on my dress, I quickly step back to stop the heat between us from progressing any further.
“We can’t have sex in our daughter’s room,” I tell him. He looks around, frowning, and then reluctantly nods.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. Come, they’ve been bringing in your gifts from the car and my mother is probably dying downstairs waiting for you to unwrap all the things she’s bought for you.”
“Okay,” I agree excitedly, and then wrap my hand in his so that he can lead me downstairs where the rest of the family is waiting.