The Results Are In!

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CHRISTIAN IS THE FATHER!

haha, jk. (Although, not really… he is. To be clear)

It looks like the majority of you are okay with posting the next chapter in its entirety next Monday with a teaser on Friday. I will also be announcing my next story tomorrow, not posting a chapter, just posting the title and a short summary, plus some quick facts that I know a lot of you will want to know before deciding whether or not you want to read it. But I hope it will all make you really look forward to it, because I am so excited. I think it’s going to be some of the best stuff I’ve written 🙂

As for this post, I will now be using this to officially be taking requests for outtakes. 

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If you haven’t read the outtakes for Different and Broken (you should do so because the outtakes for Broken are my favorite of the whole series), they are scenes from a different character’s perspective, or a scene we know about or have a vague idea about, but didn’t actually get to see because Ana wasn’t there. For instance, maybe you really want to see Kate and Elliot’s break up, or you want to know what was really going through Christian’s head when Ana told him she was pregnant, or maybe you’ve just always had a burning curiosity about what Luke and Taylor talk about while they’re waiting around for Christian and Ana to finish doing it all the time. Just put a description of the scene you want to see and the character’s perspective you want to see it from in the comment section of THIS post, and once we get close to the end of Stronger, I will go through the comments, note which scenes I think will be interesting for everyone or will add new insight to the story.

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Note: Please leave your comments/requests on THIS POST ONLY. I won’t go through the reviews of every subsequent chapter to find outtake requests.

If you want to find this post in a few weeks after it’s been buried under new chapters to add another scene or idea for outtakes, it will be categorized under the wishing… section in the top menu bar. Just click the word “wishing…” and you’ll find all of my non-chapter posts.

Also note that while I am willing to accommodate as many requests as possible and I know there will be more for Stronger because so much of the story is shrouded in mystery, I will not be able to accommodate ALL requests. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’d just have to re-write Stronger from Captain Conspiracy’s perspective. haha

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Actual photograph of Captain Conspiracy. Photo Credit: Leila Williams

Thanks again for your understanding after I didn’t post this week. I know a lot of you said very kind things to make me feel better about it, but I really do hate not having something to give you every week. I’m going to be better. No more missed posts until the end of Stronger, I promise. That’s only like 8 weeks… 9 weeks? Or maybe 20, who even knows. Sighhhhhhhh.

xoxoxo

WishingMrGreyWasHere

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Author’s Note

I’m the worst.

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I’m moving this weekend and while I was going to desperately try to not let that affect my posting schedule, this week IRL just became waaay to busy for me to find any writing time. I know, I know, this is starting to happen way too often and this definitely isn’t the way I want to run this site, so I have a proposition for all of you.

Chapter 38 looks like it’s going to be a monster, but there is a clear cut transition scene in the beginning/middle where I could theoretically split the chapter. I have about 3,000 words of the beginning part finished and would probably only need to write about 1,000 (ish) more until I get to where I think I could split the chapter. This could be finished today and posted either tonight (Midnight Eastern Standard Time/9 PM Pacific Standard time, US) or tomorrow morning at the time I would usually post on Mondays. Then I will do everything I can to finish the rest of the chapter by next Monday to continue posting as usual.

Pro: no missed updates, just one late one.

Con: shorter chapters, and while there is some important information in both sections, there’s a lot of fluffy goodness (desperately needed, right?) but splitting the chapter over two weeks could feel as though it’s dragging the plot out.

The other option would be to keep them together and post it all as one giant chapter next Monday. IDK. I’ll let you guys vote.

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Because I do feel bad, and I don’t want you guys to think I’m okay with not posting as often as I have been, in addition to letting you choose how you want the next chapter posted, I will give you another option of something I can give to you in pennance.

Option 1:

I WILL have this entire chapter posted by next Monday, so I can give you a teaser later in the week, probably Friday, like I did with chapter 37.

Option 2:

I’ve finished the detailed outline of my next story that I will begin posting AFTER I finish A Stronger Shade of Fifty, and the outtakes, so I can post a brief summary of that so you’ll have an idea of what’s coming in the future. Because I’m hype about it!

Option 3:

I can start the post for outtake requests where you all can leave comments about which scenes from A Stronger Shade of Fifty you would like to see from a different character’s perspective, or scene’s we’ve missed because Ana wasn’t there… or unconscious… This will remain open until the story has concluded so you can continue adding scenes until the Stronger is finished.

Option 4:

All or any combination of options 1-3.

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Again, I’m sorry there’s no update today. I really hate that I don’t have anything to share, especially since it feels like there weren’t really extenuating circumstances, I just didn’t finish. I hate that, and I am sorry. I’ve been reading your comments all week, and I love all the speculation! I think before the big baddie gets revealed, I might post a poll just to get an idea of who you think it is! Should I give a hint????

very vague hint:

Over the course of all of the comments/reviews, in all of the chapters of Stronger, someone HAS guessed correctly who it is. His name (or at least description of who he is) is out there, but which guess is correct? I am eager to see your speculation continue 🙂

So, in the comments of this very unnecessarily long Author’s note, please leave your vote of what you would like to have posted this week, split the chapters or post all as one next Monday, and your votes for the options listed above.

Again, I’m really sorry I don’t have anything to post this morning. But I promise on all things good in this world (See: Jamie Dornan) that I really am going to make it a priority to see that this doesn’t happen again.

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Distracting Jamie Dornan Gif

xoxo

WishingMrGreyWasHere

 

Chapter 37

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Within the next thirty minutes, the great room is filled with Christian’s family. Elena’s book has a total of thirty chapters so we split it into five chapter increments between myself, Christian, Grace, Carrick, Kate, and Elliot and begin combing the pages for anything that could be damaging to Christian, GEH, or our family if it were made public. It takes only minutes for the room to be filled with the sound of pens scratching over paper as we note the page numbers of every horrifying thing she says.

“Oh my god!” I look up at Kate and watch her gag so hard she has to cover her mouth, as though she’s worried she may actually throw up. “Jesus Christ, don’t read chapter seven.”

“What?” Christian demands. He leaves his place on the couch next to me and moves to Kate, taking the book out of her hands and scanning the page she’s reading. It’s obvious in his reaction when he finds the passage that gave her such a hard time.

“Don’t read chapter seven,” he confirms, and despite the fact that I know from Kate’s reaction and the look on Christian’s face that I really don’t want to know, my fingers are suddenly itching to flip back through the pages to read what Elena has said. I stop myself though. Kate has the unfortunate job of reading through the chapters written about Christian’s time as her submissive and Elena has been graphic. Extremely graphic.

“At least she’s not shying away from the fact that she’s the villain,” Elliot says with disgust as he turns the page of his section. “There’s no way she can publish this. She’ll go to prison.”

“She’s already in prison,” Christian says.

“And we have to make sure that isn’t what she intends for you with this manuscript,” Carrick says. “Focus on what you’re reading.”

Kate takes a breath, nods, and turns her eyes back to the pages in her hands, and as Christian takes his place next to me again, I also have to physically prepare myself to continue reading. I’ve been given the chapters that cover Christian’s send off and subsequent first months at Harvard, and what I’ve read so far has me disgusted, angry, and feeling a way towards Christian that I haven’t felt since before we started dating. Like I’m once again an extra in this twisted relationship he shared with her. An intruder.

As I end Chapter 12, I learn, based on the date, that right before Christian kissed me for the very first time, he’d just had phone sex with her. That’s why he was late for the party that night I got drunk with Jose. It wasn’t because he was lost, it was because he was sitting in his car outside whispering dirty things into her ear until she got off. Perhaps that’s why he lost control and kissed me when he took me back to his dorm. She’d left him turned on and unsatisfied and I was just a warm body, drunk and willing, in front of him. Maybe he was picturing her…

Quickly, I shake the unwelcome thought away and turn the page to start the next chapter.

Chapter 13

Anastasia Steele

“Great,” I whisper. Christian looks over at me and once he reads the chapter title, he reaches out to take the pages from me.

“Baby, don’t… you don’t need to put yourself through that.”

I shake my head. “You think I’m not going to read the vile things she has to say about me? You don’t think I need to know what she plans on telling the entire world about how I came into your life?”

“Ana, it doesn’t matter what she says or what anyone thinks. We know that she’s going to try and make you out as the thing that’s ruined me, but you know that you are the best thing that…”

“Don’t!” I quickly withdraw from his outstretched hand. “Don’t touch me, Christian. Not right now.”

“Ana…” There’s hurt reflect in his voice after my rebuke and while I know that’s it’s not fair to hold him responsible for anything said in this manuscript or to punish him for what Elena has written, I can’t help the way this is making me feel. Reading all of this, learning details he’s kept secret from me for years, is ripping open wounds that I thought had healed a long time ago and somehow, despite the ring on my finger and the beautiful baby sleeping soundly in a basket on the floor only a few feet away from me, I’m suddenly once again the insecure nineteen year old girl from three years ago who wanted a boy that couldn’t love her back. I need space, and so I get up and move to the other side of the couch to sit next to Kate.

“Do you need a glass of wine?” Kate asks, but I shake my head and turn my attention back to the pages in my hand so I don’t have to look at the torment in Christian’s eyes.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard her voice. My husband was gone (again), I’d been drinking, and I was lonely. Solitude has never been my forte, it gives me too much time to think. My head was swimming with alcohol and memories of my lost sister and I needed a distraction. It was late in Cambridge, past the time I expected Christian to have parted ways with his brother for the night, so I picked up my phone and dialed his number, thinking at least I could distract myself with my vibrator and another round with my submissive. My dutiful, obedient, faithful submissive.

“Hello, Christian Grey’s phone.”

Those are the first words Anastasia Steele ever spoke to me, and to say they came as a shock would be grossly understated. Christian had been forbidden to have any form of contact with the opposite sex while he was at Harvard. He was mine after all, and I had no intentions of sharing him. But one week into his very first semester, I’d already caught him breaking the rules, and even over the phone, there was something about this girl that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I knew she was trouble. What I didn’t know was that she would eventually lead to the complete and utter annihilation of everything I’d worked so hard to build.

“Fuck, here it is,” Carrick says. I glance up from the page I’m reading and feel my gut tighten when I see the look of foreboding on his face. Once he has Christian’s attention he looks at the manuscript in his hand and begins reading.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect that day. I’d hoped that what I’d said to him made a difference but I knew, deep in my heart, that I’d lost all the power I’d once held the day Anastasia Steele opened her legs for him. For the first time in almost 25 years, I was vulnerable, and though I’d refused to show it, when Christian took the stand I felt as though I was going to cry, or scream, or maybe just vomit all over the table in front of me.”

“I can’t recall most of his testimony. It’s all hazy to me now, like the vague memories you’re left with the morning after a night of too much drinking. But the most important question I remember with perfect clarity. The prosecutor asked, ‘were you subjected to any sexual contact, initiated by Mrs. Lincoln, on April 14th 2003’, and before the judge, Anastasia, his family, and God, Christian responded with an absolute and resounding, ‘no’. He lied. He’d done as I told him to do and lied. Starting GEH was that important to him. Important enough that he committed felony perjury and betrayed everyone who loved him, all for money he would have gotten anyway if he’d just waited three more years.”

“Somehow, after months of feeling him slip from my grasp, I’d reeled him back in. I knew with that one word that he’d lose the trust and support of his family and the love and devotion of the girl who’d stolen him from me. He was mine again, and even as he told me that he never wanted to see or hear from me again, even as I transferred the money to start his company that I’d promised in exchange for his lie, the money which was supposed to be the last exchange we ever had, I knew he was mine. He fought it. He’d spent months alone following the trial, single and shunned from his family, and he never reached out to me. Not until New Years Eve, 2008, when he’d called me just before midnight, feeling rejected again by the love of his life. The moment I heard the vulnerability in his voice through the phone, I hooked him, brought him back into my control, and together, we built an empire.”

“She said it…” Elliot says. “She said you lied under oath for money. That GEH was built on a bribe.”

“So what do I do?” Christian asks his father. “How do I keep this from getting into the hands of a publisher? Sue for defamation of character? For libel?”

“You can’t sue for libel if what she says is true,” Carrick replies. “She isn’t lying, Christian.”

“She’s writing about me without my permission. She intends to make a profit off my name, surely there is something I can do to stop it.”

“Technically… she’s writing an autobiography. You were a part of her life and she’s telling her life’s story. What she’s written is factual. She doesn’t make assumptions…”

“Doesn’t make assumptions?” Christian interrupts him. He flips back through the pages he’s reviewed, scans the text, and chooses a passage to read aloud. “It’s taken years of deep introspection to divine what makes her hold over him so much stronger than mine. She’s not more clever or more manipulative. She offers him no competitive advantage in the business world while I have time and time again helped GEH expand and prosper. She’s not willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead because her moral compass is stagnant and absolute. No, the power she wields over him is much more simple, instinctual even. As much as it wounds my ego to admit, Anastasia Steele is better at sucking dick than I am.”

Elliot snorts and then covers his mouth to hide his growing smile, and Grace turns a sharp look on him.

“This isn’t the time, Elliot,” she admonishes him.

“What?” he replies, innocently. “I thought we were debating the factual accuracy of what was written? Is he arguing that’s not true?”

“Of course it’s true,” Christian says, but the moment the words are out of his mouth, he frowns and shoots an apologetic look at me. “I-I… What I mean to say is… Shut the fuck up, Elliot.”

“What about her NDA?” I ask. “Don’t all GEH employees have to sign one?”

“Yes,” Christian says, perking up slightly. “Yes, they do.”

He disappears into his office, though none of us continue reading in his absence. Mostly everyone stares at Carrick, but while Grace, Elliot, and Kate all look hopeful, I can’t ignore the regretful impatience clear in his expression. Like he’s dreading having to give someone bad news.

“Here it is,” Christian says, brandishing the papers towards his father as he comes back into the great room. “Signed, March 19th 2009. Elena Lincoln.”

“So she can’t publish anything about Christian without being in violation of this NDA,” Kate says. “He can stop her. He can sue for an injunction.”

“No.” Carrick shakes his head. “You can’t sue for violation of an NDA until there’s been a violation. Writing this novel, sending it to another covered entity under that NDA with no clear threat to do anything with it is not a breach. Until this manuscript is placed in a publisher’s hands and a judge rules that this autobiography is in violation, she hasn’t broken your agreement. If both of those things happen, you may be awarded damages and maybe those damages will be significant enough to offset the profits she’ll make from selling her story, but by that point…”

“By that point, the damage has been done,” I answer for him.

“Exactly.”

“So what do I do?” Christian says, his frustration clear now. “How do I stop this?”

“You give her what she wants,” Carrick says. “She sent it to you, not directly to a publisher. Clearly, she wants something from you.”

“She didn’t send it to him,” I argue. “She sent it to me.”

“Knowing that you would tell Christian,” Carrick says, but I shake my head.

“No, if this were meant for Christian, if she wanted something from just Christian, she wouldn’t have involved me. She knows that I’d never agree to Christian associating himself with her in anyway again. If that’s what she wanted she’d have been more secretive. She’s reaching out. She thinks showing me her hand will bring me to her.”

“Which it won’t,” Christian says dismissively.

“Won’t it?”

He looks down at me with a furrowed brow. “Of course not. You’re not going to a prison, Ana. Absolutely not.”

“We don’t have a choice, Christian. This isn’t just about avoiding embarrassment or a scandal that could hurt your business. This is about you once again facing criminal charges. We can’t just ignore this.”

“She’s right,” Elliot agrees. “And we all know Elena won’t just give up if you don’t give her what she wants. This is a clear threat, and she makes good on her threats.”

“But what could she possibly want from Ana?” Kate asks. “If she wanted a buy out, she would go to Christian.”

“And she’s in prison. It’s not like money is going to do her any good when she’s behind bars,” Elliot adds.

“No,” Carrick says. “But she’s only got five years before she’s on parole, four and some change now. Coming out to a big payday could help her in a lot of ways.”

“But again… if it was money she was after, she would have written to Christian,” Kate says. “Whatever she wants has to be something she can only get from Ana, or from both of you, and really… there’s only one way to find out what that is.”

“We have to go talk to her,” I agree. “Together, as a united front. Be clear right off the bat that she’s not going to separate us, come between us, or play us against each other. Not anymore.”

Christian shakes his head. “No, you’re not going.”

“Christian…”

“No, Ana. I’m not taking you to negotiate with Elena Lincoln.”

“Why? So I don’t mess up whatever deal you’re going to make with her with my stagnant moral compass? Because you think that what she wrote about me here was correct? That I’m not as clever or shrewd as she is and that somehow I’ll go in there and fall for whatever master manipulation technique she has planned for us? I’m not useless, Christian. There is nothing she could say or do that would blind me to what she really is or what she’s really trying to do. I can handle myself against Elena Lincoln.”

“You think I’m worried about Elena?” he asks, and when I cross my arms, he lets out a humorless laugh and turns towards the foyer.

“Taylor!”

It takes a few seconds, but Taylor rounds the corner from the security office and stands expectantly in the entrance between the foyer and the great room.

“Yes, sir?”

“Will you bring me the box you found in Anastasia’s graduation gifts?”

Taylor glances uneasily at me. “Uh… sir?

“Please.” Taylor nods and disappears back into his office for a moment, and when he returns, he holds out a small, brown gift box with a piece of twine wrapped around it. Christian takes it in his hand and then looks up at me.

“You asked why security had been tightened in the hospital, why Taylor was interviewing the entire nursing staff? He found this box on the gift table when he went to collect your things from the arts center after graduation.”

He tosses the box to me and when I catch it between my hands, it rattles. I feel a sense of foreboding when all six pairs of eyes turn to watch as I unravel the twine and slowly lift the lid. Inside, nestled carelessly at the bottom of the box, there’s a small golden locket, which, unfortunately, I recognize immediately.

“This is Leila’s,” I say quietly. “I asked her about it when I first started working at GEH. There’s a picture of her grandmother inside of it, she wore it every day. She was… she was wearing it the day she saved me.”

“Open it,” Christian says, but when I glance up and see the hard look on his face, I’m not sure that I want to. This is it. Proof that he got to her. He wasn’t lying. Leila really is gone.

I reach into the box, tangle my fingers through the long gold chain, and slowly pull it out. The small heart locket twirls innocently as it dangles over the box, but it’s like staring murder in the face and the sight of it makes me sick. Part of me hopes that’s what has Christian overreacting so much, that it’s the locket itself, the physical proof of Leila’s death, that has him so paranoid, but when I pry open the hinge and see what’s inside, that hope is squashed.

The locket no longer contains the photograph of Leila’s grandmother. Instead, it’s my face that looks up at me. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s me… it’s hard to tell because the face of the girl inside is obscured by a smear of something that looks horribly like blood. The juxtaposition between the smile on my face in this picture and the dark red color shrouding all of my features until I’m nearly unrecognizable is a clear and deliberate threat. Silent, but powerful.  As I close the locket in my hand, the saliva pooling in my mouth begins to sting my cheeks, and while I try to swallow it, I glance nervously down at Calliope.

“Have you considered that this could be a ploy by him?” Christian asks. “That Elena never meant to send that manuscript to you, that someone else did, and that if we go down to the prison to speak to her about it, we’ll find that something else is waiting for us? What if that package had your name on it because was meant to draw you out of this apartment, to isolate you so that he can try to take you again? Once we’re inside that prison, we’re not in control anymore. We have to do everything the guards in charge tell us to do, go where they tell us, and we already know he’s bought off the police. I highly doubt that’s where his power stops.”

“So, we take security…”

“No.” He shakes his head again. “That’s not good enough anymore. I don’t care if you have Sawyer with you, or Taylor, or the whole fucking military. I’m not going to knowingly put you in harms way and whether this is a trap being laid by him, or Elena playing games, this is a risk. I refuse to take the bait, Ana.”

“So, what do you want to do, Christian?” Carrick asks.

“Tomorrow morning, Taylor and I will drive up to Gig Harbor alone and I will talk to her. If she really is behind this, I’ll put an end to it.” He looks over at me again. “I promise.”  

“And how do you propose to do that?” Elliot asks. “Elena isn’t exactly best known for being reasonable. Or… sane.”

“I know how to handle her. She’s manipulative and self-serving, but she’s not stupid. There’s a way to stop her and, within reason, I’ll take care of it.”

“Great,” I snap, throwing what’s left of my part of the manuscript down on the couch and jumping to my feet. “So we’re right back to where we started. You and Elena will make your deals together behind closed doors and I’ll… what? Sit at home and trust you? Hope that this time it won’t be as bad as perjury or a secretly funded underground brothel?” I scoff, not bothering to hide the disgust on my face before turning back to him. “I really thought we were past this, but I guess we never will be.”

I reach down to scoop the basket that holds my sleeping baby into my arms and storm angrily from the great room to our bedroom. There’s too much anger inside of me, too much pent up energy begging for some form of violent release, but I can’t even pace while I’m holding Calliope for fear the movement might wake her. My jaw clenches as I hold back the furious scream I so desperately want to release into the room until my eyes fall upon the beautiful, frilly, white bassinet Kate has set up against Christian’s side of the bed. After taking a deep breath, I lay the basket over our comforter, gently reach down to take Calliope in my arms, and lay her down inside of her perfect little bed.

Her face bunches together as I withdraw my arms, but she doesn’t wake. She looks serene, peaceful, and while I watch her lying there without a care in the world, I feel the passionate anger inside of me recede and tears over the feeling of loss and rejection that consumes me every time I think of Christian’s involvement with Elena begin to well in my eyes.

It’s the same hurt I felt reading through Elena’s words tonight, so maybe, beneath the anger, that’s really all I’m feeling. I know Christian has changed. I know now that he would never make the same choice that he made when he was 19, so I shouldn’t worry about him speaking to her anymore. But she’s the problem. Not just for the horrible things she’s put us through or that we know she’s capable of doing, but on the basser level of what she represents. A time when loving Christian wasn’t easy. A time when he was satisfied, fulfilled even, with someone else, someone I hate. That she’s the only other person he’s ever shared his body with, when I never have, and while I never want to, the fact that he has feels as though it gives her some kind of power that I’ll never be able to take no matter how far he pulls away from her. Maybe that’s not fair, maybe that’s unreasonable and illogical, but the pain I feel from knowing that at one time he took pleasure in sleeping with her is very, very real, and it’s never felt more potent than tonight, after reading her describe it to me in clear, explicit detail.

The door opens behind me and closes with a soft click, but it remains so quiet inside the room that I can hear each and every footprint across the carpet until they stop directly behind me.

“I would never betray you,” Christian says quietly, and I once again have to take a deep breath to stop the tears leaking over my lower lids from becoming much more forceful before I turn around to face him.

“Not intentionally,” I agree. “But whatever she wants… you know it’s not going to be as simple as money.”

“I know.” He nods. “But I also know my limits, and yours, and I’m not going to cross those lines just to make a deal with her.”

His eyes are sincere but not comforting, so I look away from him and down at the floor. He reaches up and brushes his thumb over my cheek to wipe away my tears.

“You don’t believe me?”

“That’s not it. I know you want to do right by me, Christian. I trust that at least.”

“Then why are you crying?”

“Because you fucked her,” I whimper. “While you were chasing me, and kissing me alleys, and fuming over Carter and Jose, and making me fall in love with you… you were fucking her. And I knew you were, it’s just… I’ve never had it spelled out in front of me in black and white before. I never had to face the actual crossover between the two of us before tonight. That hurts, Christian. She hurts me. You being around her hurts me, and I can’t just go back to feeling like I’m on the outside of this connection that you have with her anymore. I don’t want you around her, I don’t want you alone with her. If you’re going down there, the only way that I am going to be okay with it is if I am by your side.”

“Ana… it’s not safe.”

“So we make it safe,” I argue. “We hold more power than you give us credit for. We’re not prisoners, so we don’t have to let them separate us. If they try, if they tell us our security can’t be around us or that I need to leave your side for any reason, we’ll leave. We just leave. We’ll come back here and we’ll figure out another way to stop her. But you know as well as I do that we’re better when we’re together, Christian. The only time anyone is ever able to gain the upper hand is when they come between us. That’s what she wants to do, that’s what she’s going to try to do. Let’s show her that she can’t.”

He doesn’t answer me right away. Instead, he looks over at Calliope in the bassinet next to us, and after staring at her for what feels like an eternity, he finally meets my eyes again, sighs, and nods.

“Okay. We go together, and we stay together.”

“That’s all I’m asking,” I reply, and as he nods again, I step forward to wrap my arms around his neck and take his lips with mine. This kiss is healing. The moment I feel the heat of his mouth on mine, it seems to wash through my body and ease away the pain and uncertainty Elena’s words have plagued me with. When I pull away, Christian’s mood is markedly improved.

“You know…” he says. “I’d forgotten about Jose. Whatever happened to him?”

I shrug. “He was kind of weird after you and I broke up. He tried to move in way too fast and came on a little too strong… Luke scared him away pretty quick.”

Christian smiles. “Remind me later to give him a raise.” I laugh and kiss him again.

 

The nerves of everyone in the apartment the next morning are palpable, but I don’t know if mine are more severe because of the impending meeting with Elena, or the fact that I’m about to leave my baby in someone else’s care for the first time.

“I pumped this morning,” I tell my father as I cling tightly to Calliope in my arms. “There’s enough milk in the fridge to get you through until we come back. We have a bottle warmer in the boxes with all the baby stuff in the dining room, you can use that or just run the storage bags under hot water from the faucet. Don’t the use the microwave. There’s diapers and wipes and extra clothes in her bag. If she gets fussy…”

“Ana, sweetheart. We’re going to be okay,” my dad assures me. “Trust me, I’ve had a daughter before and we did just fine.”

“Right, of course.” Though it feels as though it may rip my heart out to do so, I step closer so he can take Calliope from me, but the moment she’s out of my arms, I immediately feel bereft.

“We have our phones,” Christian says, and I’m pleased to note he sounds just as nervous as I do. “If you need us for any reason, don’t hesitate to call. We’ll come back right away.”

“Don’t worry, Son. I’ll take care of your little girl, you go do what you have to do.”

Christian nods and then takes my hand. “You ready?”

“Yeah.” I lean over to kiss Calliope’s cheek one last time, then do the same for my father, and after forcing myself to turn away from them both, I let Christian lead me to the elevator where Taylor and Sawyer are already waiting for us.

It’s an hour drive to the Washington State Women’s Correctional facility, and I spend every second of it dreading what’s to come. I know Elena has a price in mind for the manuscript she sent to me, and while I have no idea what that is, I know it’s going to be steep. The longer I have to guess what that price may be, the more nervous I get.

We’re greeted outside of the prison by a severe looking guard, who takes our names from Taylor and then has us escorted through the gates to the main entrance where Christian and I are both searched for weapons or contraband. Once we’ve been cleared, another set of guards lead us down a long sterile hallway and as we approach a desk where even more guards are seated, I glance through the window behind them and realize we’re able to see right into the prison. The inmates are visible, just on the other side of this wall, and in spite of myself, I feel a tiny pang of fear. I didn’t realize we’d be this close…

“You must be Christian Grey,” one of the guards says as we come to a stop in front his desk.

“Yes.”

“Here to see inmate number 24783, Elena Lincoln.”

“That is correct.”

He glances up at us and narrows his eyes. “Wasn’t it you who put her in here in the first place?”

“No, I think it was the prostitution and money laundering that did that…” Christian says dryly, and I feel myself cringe when I see the guards reaction.

“What’s your business here today, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

Christian’s face hardens. “We’re here to see an old family friend. Surely, that’s not a concept that’s foreign to you.”

“No, it’s not,” he agrees, his voice cold. “Inmate number 42783 is classified by Washington State Women’s Correctional Facility to be a non-violent inmate. This means that she is entitled to unsupervised visits with those who have been approved by the board, in this case you, but you are also entitled to have a guard present should you feel it is appropriate.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Christian says.

“Fine. Hanson!” A guard sitting a few seats away stands and looks over at us expectantly.

“Yes, sir?”

“Please show Mr. Grey and Miss Steele to interview room number three. Rodgers over here will fetch the inmate.”

“Yes, sir,” Officer Hanson says. “Mr. Grey, Miss Steele, if you’ll follow me.”

Christian nods and turns to follow the officer past the desk and up a hallway to the right, and as I fall in behind him, I give a shy smile to the guard Christian spoke with. He narrows his eyes suspiciously and the hard, angry lines etched in his face remain firmly in place. As we move forward down the hallway identical to the one that led us to the desk, I can feel his eyes following us, and both Taylor and Luke fall in line behind me, both close enough that their hands brush my arms as they walk. Clearly, he makes them nervous too.

“Alright, Mr. Grey,” Officer Hanson says when we come up to a steel door with a large number three printed next to it. “This door doesn’t open from the inside to ensure the inmate remains secure. I will be just outside, so if you need anything, you can use that phone to dial the front desk or just bang real hard on the door and I’ll be here to respond.”

“Thank you,” Christian says. He steps aside to let me enter first and both Taylor and Luke move forward to each side of the door, like sentries put in place to protect an important diplomat. We both take a seat at the unassuming metal table in the middle of the room, and glance around at the cinderblock walls that feel cold and suffocating.

“Let’s make this quick,” Christian says quietly. “I don’t like the feel of this place.”

“It’s a prison,” I remind him. “I don’t think you’re supposed to.”

The door opens again and Officer Hanson steps inside, followed immediately by Elena, who’s dressed in orange and has cuffs around her wrists. She doesn’t look at us while they uncuff her or offer her thinly veiled threats about being right outside the door. In fact, she doesn’t even turn in our direction until the guards step out of the room and close the door behind them. Once they do, she faces us with a broad smile and I feel my heart sink a little. I’d actually forgotten, through my hate colored memories, how beautiful she was, and after everything I read last night about her and Christian, it’s not a pleasant reminder.

“Christian,” she says, her seductive tone only heightening my aggravation. “You look incredible. You’re much…” She lifts her hands up to her shoulders and holds them there, demonstrating the bulk Christian has added to his upper body over the last few months. “Have you started a new workout regimen?”

“Boxing,” Christian replies flatly, and her smile widens.

“Mmm, you always did like a good fight.” She bites down on her lip. “And it’s starting to look like a fight may love you. You really do look…”

“Enough, Elena,” Christian says, but her smile doesn’t falter.

“Sorry, I’ve spent a lot of time around too many women and like I told Ana last spring, they don’t allow conjugal visits unless you’re married and Andrew just doesn’t count anymore. Not that he’d come down here if I asked.”

“Do you blame him?” I ask icily.

“Oh yes,” she affirms immediately. “For most things actually.”

I scoff. “You’re right. It was so unfair of him to break his marriage vows and molest teenagers behind your back. Oh wait, that was you.”

“You think he didn’t cheat on me?” she asks. “You think all those long trips he took were solely business related. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has children out there somewhere. And.. speaking of children, I expected you to look much different, rounder. I guess I didn’t receive a birth announcement.”

“Funny how that happened.”

“Hmm.” She takes the seat across the table from us and folds her hands on the table. “So? Did we have a boy or a girl?”

We didn’t have anything. You’re not and will never be a part of our child’s life, Elena. If I have my way, she won’t even know your name.”

“So, a girl then,” Elena says, and I roll my eyes.

“We’re not here to discuss our baby,” Christian interrupts. “We’re not here to make idle chit chat. We’re here to find out what it is you want.”

“What I want?”

“For the book,” I snap. “The tell all. The manuscript you put into an envelope with my name written on the front and sent to Escala to drag us all the way down here.”

“Oh… that.”

I let out a huff of frustration and Christian reaches over to place his hand over mine. “What do you want, Elena?” he asks again.

She smiles again and leans over the table. “I want back in the game.”

“What game?”

The game. My favorite game. You know… you watch prison shows on TV and they make you think there’s a certain glamour to this life, intrigue, hierarchies, schemes, and plots… but it’s not true. Most of these women are just here getting their GEDs and participating in vocational programs. Honestly, I’m so bored I could die.”

“Could you?”

“Ana,” Christian chides me, before turning back to Elena. “I don’t know what game you’re talking about, Elena.”

“Then let me make it clear for you. You use you influence, power, money… whatever it takes, to get me out of here, send me off to a quaint but lavish seaside villa in French Polynesia or perhaps along the Mediterranean, and make it so I don’t have to worry about money for the rest of my life, and I’ll give you the name of the man who wants to destroy you.”

The impatient look on Christian’s face vanishes immediately and is replaced with blank shock. “What did you just say?”

She leans in closer. “Better yet, I’ll help you bring him down. Destroy him before he can destroy you. Let’s face it, Christian. You’re outmatched here. You’ve never been a schemer and you have no idea what you’re up against, how deep this goes, or how close he’s gotten to your inner circle. I can help you. I can protect you, and Anastasia, and your precious little baby… Calliope.”

I stiffen. “How did you…?”

“Like I said, this shit goes deep. He’s not going to stop until he ruins you and you can pivot and maneuver out of his reach all you want, but eventually, he’s going to catch up to you. Eventually, he’ll take everything you hold dear away from you and leave you broken.”

“How do you know who he is, Elena?” Christian asks, and she raises an eyebrow at him.

“You think I wanted to write this book? You think I was just dying to tell the world our story so that when I get out of here, if I get out of here, I’ll be greeted as a child predator? No, I was commissioned. Threatened really. If I didn’t write that book, I’d end up just like Hyun, or Leila, or the countless others you don’t even know about.”

“Who is it?”

“Uh uh uh. That’s not how this works. That name is the only thing I have, so if you want it, you’re going to have to pay the price.”

“God damn it, Elena. Tell me who it fucking is,” Christian says, his anger rising, but she’s not intimidated by him.

“No.”

“You think he’s the only one who can threaten you? You think I won’t go to extremes to get what I need from you when what you’re withholding from me equates to Ana’s safety? What’s to stop Taylor or Sawyer from using whatever excessive force it takes to make you talk? What’s to stop me?”

“Decency,” Elena says simply. “Your conscience. The love you have for Anastasia, who would surely be implicated in anything you chose to do to me. And the love you have for the daughter you want to see grow up, in person, not from behind the bars of a jail cell. You see, that’s the difference between you and him, Christian. There’s nothing in this world he wants more or that is more important to him than seeing you suffer. There’s no punishment too great or too terrifying to dissuade him. That’s why you need me, because I’m the only person in your life who will do whatever it takes. I’m the only person who’s a match for him.”

“Give me the fucking name, Elena!” Christian roars.

“You know my terms.”

He shoves away from the table so violently I actually cringe and both Luke and Taylor move closer to the table as he begins pacing.

Elena sighs and leans back in her chair. “Christian, we can go back and forth all day if you want, but you know in the end that…”

“Did you help him?” he cuts her off.

“What?”

He storms around to her side of the table, leaning so far over her chair that his nose is nearly pressed against hers. “Did you help him? Besides writing this book, what have you done to help him?”

I glance between them nervously, watching the power of wills warring with one another. Christian is furious and his size and temper are terrifying in conjunction, but Elena has a pathological, blood thirsty need for control and so she stares blankly into the eyes of the beast with no sense of remorse or fear.

“Did you help him” Christian repeats.

“Yes,” she finally responds. “In the beginning. Welch was my idea, and Ros. I told him who to go after, when, and how. I gave him the names of the people inside your company most willing to turn on your for a pay out. I told him that the best way to get to you was to make you distrust the people closest to you, the ones who would never betray you, the ones who stand by your side no matter what, because once you’d pushed them away, there was no way you could stop him. You’re always at your weakest when you’re isolated and it’s so easy to isolate you.”

“What about Anastasia?”

She shakes her head. “No, I knew that was a lost cause. You’re too in love with her. She could fuck someone right in front of you and you’d take her back in the end. There’s no way to isolate you from her. I’ve tried that, and look where it’s got me.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Christian says. “Did you have anything to do with the plan to kidnap her? With the threats he’s made against her?”

“No,” she says. “Blood and gore isn’t really my style and the things he has planned for Anastasia…” She shudders and Christian’s knuckles turn white as his hands curl into fists on top of the table.

“Ana,” he says, the deathly calm in his voice more chilling than the rage he displayed only moments before. “Let’s go.”

“Go? But we haven’t solved anything. Her book… her…”

“She not going to publish the book,” he interrupts me. “Not if she has any say in it, and if she’s already sent it to him, we’re wasting our time here anyway.”

“And what about him?”

“We’ll handle it. I’m not making a deal with her to lessen her prison time.” He turns back to Elena. “In fact, in five years, I will be here doing everything in my power to see that you don’t make parole. You deserve every second you spend in here, you evil bitch.”

“Christian, I promise, I’m trying to help you,” Elena says, but he ignores her and reaches his hand out to help me out of my seat. I take it, stand, and begin moving towards Luke and Taylor, but Elena’s voice stops us again.

“Christian, please!” she practically shrieks. “You don’t understand how far he’s willing to go, what he’s willing to do… He’s fucking insane. He’s never going to stop coming after you.”  

His back stiffens and he slowly turns around to face her again. “Good,” he says, with the same frightening calm. “Because the next time he comes for Anastasia or my daughter again, I won’t be unprepared and I’ll fucking kill him. When you see him again, you tell him that.”

“Please,” she repeats, begging now. “Get me out of here. Let me help you.”

“Give me the name, Elena.” He stares her down and for the first time since I’ve known them, she cowers slightly under his glare.

“I can’t,” she whispers. “He’ll kill me too.”

“Then you can burn in hell.”

He turns back to me, takes my hand, and without a second look over his shoulder at the trembling woman who, just seconds ago, held all the power, he bangs on the steel door and leads me back out to the hallway.

“We’re finished,” he says to Officer Hanson. He nods and first directs the guards outside to collect Elena, and then leads us back down the hall to the main front desk. As we pass, the main guard watches us with an almost venomous kind of vindictiveness clear on his face.

“You have yourself a real nice day, Mr. Grey,” he says coolly, and while Christian doesn’t stop or respond, he grips tighter to me and pulls us more quickly towards the main door.

There’s no pause as we get into the back of the SUV, even to put seatbelts on. The moment the doors close behind us, Taylor hits the gas and Christian starts barking commands.

“Taylor, I want new background checks and investigations done on anyone who has come into contact with myself or Anastasia in the last sixteen months. My family, Kate, Ros, Flynn, lawyers, doctors, our security team, employees at GEH, everyone. No one is exempt, everyone is a suspect. I want to know every detail you can find, specifically anything that could connect them to Elena Lincoln or a mutual acquaintance between us.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds.

“Sawyer, I want to know who has been in that prison, who sorts her mail, who monitors her phone calls, who approves her visitors, and who those visitors have been. No one goes in to see her from this moment on without me knowing about it.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke says.

“We’re not just playing defense anymore,” Christian says. “We’re going to find this motherfucker, and when we do, he’s going to wish he’d never heard of Christian Grey.”

Next Chapter

Thank you!

This weekend I surpassed over 1,000 followers and I wanted to take a quick second to thank each and every one you. Leaving FanFiction was a scary thing at first. I thought I would lose my entire audience and sharing this story with you is seriously the highlight of my week, each and every week. But it’s actually been great being able to post here, on my own site. So, thank you for coming along with me. Thank you for debates in the reviews and your constant encouragement. I truly hope the end of Stronger, and this series, lives up to your expectations, and I hope, when it’s over, you’ll all continue on with me to the next adventure.

tenor

I don’t have a bonus update, I just don’t have the time to turn out chapters the way I used to anymore. BUT, here’s a little teaser for chapter 37, courtesy of Elena Lincoln 😉

I’ll never forget the first time I heard her voice. My husband was gone (again), I’d been drinking, and I was lonely. Solitude has never been my forte, it gives me too much time to think. My head was swimming with alcohol and memories of my lost sister and I needed a distraction. It was late in Cambridge, past the time I expected Christian to have parted ways with his brother for the night, so I picked up my phone and dialed his number, thinking at least I could distract myself with my vibrator and another round with my submissive. My dutiful, obedient, faithful submissive.

“Hello, Christian Grey’s phone.”

Those are the first words Anastasia Steele ever spoke to me, and to say they came as a shock would be grossly understated. Christian had been forbidden to have any form of contact with the opposite sex while he was at Harvard. He was mine after all, and I had no intentions of sharing him. But one week into his very first semester, I’d already caught him breaking the rules, and even over the phone, there was something about this girl that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I knew she was trouble. What I didn’t know was that she would eventually lead to the complete and utter annihilation of everything I’d worked so hard to build.

See you Monday!

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xoxo

WishingMrGreyWasHere

Chapter 36

vidasi

The exhaustion disappears the instant I feel Dr. Baker’s hands on my arm, removing the last of the wires monitoring my heart and the IV from the port in my elbow. I stare almost in disbelief as the last line is removed from my body.

“Do you think you can sit up?” Dr. Baker asks.

“Yes, of course,” I reply, enthusiastically.

Christian reaches his hands out and my whole body feels as though it’s shaking when I take them. Slowly, he helps me into a sitting position, and then to swing my legs off the side of the bed. I was reduced to oral pain killers last night, rather than intravenous, so moving is a little painful, but I do everything I can to hide it. I won’t let anything make Dr. Baker change her mind now.

“Alright. Easy, baby,” Christian says as I pull against his sturdy grip and try to stand. The pain spikes as my weight is transferred to the floor and when I groan, he hurriedly reaches for the wheelchair a few feet away.

“How is that, Ana? Any pain, dizziness, nausea?” Dr. Baker checks.

“No, I’m fine. I’m ready.”

“That’s very good news,” she says, smiling and then looking up at Christian. “I think we’re ready to downgrade her from the ICU. We’ll move her to a private suite on the maternity floor so she’s closer to Calliope. I’ll continue monitoring her there, but if she continues to progress as well as she has been, I don’t think she’ll need to be here much longer.”

“Really? So, she’s in the clear? There’s no longer any reason for us to be concerned…?”

“I don’t think so,” Dr. Baker assures him. “We’ll keep her a couple more days, but she’s really made a remarkable recovery, very quickly. You were right, Mr. Grey. She just needed to do things in her own time. She’s going to be fine.”

He lets out an elated breath. “That’s excellent news. Thank you.”

“Christian. Baby!” I exclaim, turning around and giving him a frustrated look.

“Oh, right. Let’s go. Thank you again, Dr. Baker.”

“Of course. Go enjoy your baby. She really is beautiful, Anastasia.”

I nod eagerly and Christian begins to push me forward. My nerves mount as we make it through the door and travel the long, bustling hallway towards the elevator. The NICU is only a floor down from my room but even just the short elevator ride feels as though it goes on for an eternity. My entire body is trembling with anticipation, like a runner trying to hold his position at the starting mark of a race. I hate that I’m confined to this chair. I hate that I can’t sprint to her the way I want to. Every step it takes to get to the NICU is agony, and I think it’s because, despite Dr. Baker’s assurances, I haven’t entirely accepted this is really happening yet. I’ve been denied this so many times, I feel as though any minute something will go wrong or someone will change their mind and I’ll be dragged back to my room. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t just a dream until we round the corner and I see Kate, Mia, and Elliot hovering outside the doors that lead into the NICU, dressed head to toe in the same light pink medical gowns I’ve seen Christian peel off a hundred times after returning from Calliope’s bedside.

“There she is, there she is,” Mia says giddily.

“Hey, Meems,” I greet her as we come to stop. She hesitates for a moment, and then leans forward to give me a tentative hug that grows more ardent when I don’t immediately shatter into a thousand pieces like a china doll. “I’m so happy to see you up and around. You really scared us, you know.”

“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again, promise.”

“I’m holding you to that,” she says, pulling away with a large smile plastered across her face. I return the gesture and then look to Kate.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Great. Dr. Baker says I’m going to be fine. Is she really in there? Calliope?”

“Yeah.” She smiles. “She’s really in there. You have to wear this though.” She holds out the sheet of pink plastic in her hands and I quickly slip my arms through the thin sleeves. Next, Elliot hands me a mask and paper-like covers for my hair and feet, and once I’m completely covered, Christian wheels me over to a hand sanitizer dispenser.

“Alright,” he says as I rub the alcohol over my hands. “Let’s go.”

I take a deep breath when he pushes me through the doors and we begin passing several plastic boxes surrounded by worried looking parents. I glance at each one, wondering which of the incubators is holding my daughter, but as we make it near the back of the NICU and I see Grace and Carrick cooing over a box filled with baby pink blankets, my search is over.

“Isn’t she the most perfect thing you’ve ever seen?” Grace asks. “I could just eat her up.”

“I’d settle for just being able to hold her,” Carrick replies. His finger strokes softly against the plastic casing just as we come up beside them, and when Grace looks up and sees me in the chair, her face immediately breaks into a smile.

“Ana, darling. Come here. There’s someone who wants to meet you very much.” I smile as she steps aside and lets Christian push me right up to the side of the incubator so that I can peer through the clear plastic at the tiny baby inside.

Despite the fact that I’ve thought of nothing else but this exact moment for almost three days, I’m unprepared for how seeing her for the first time makes me feel. I’m immediately absorbed in the small, delicate features of her face, the curve in her lips, the flutter in her eyelids as she sleeps. As I stare at her, memorizing her, counting each of her soft little breaths, I feel my heart begin to ache. Not from sadness or pain, but from overwhelming love. It’s instant, irreversible, and all consuming. Grace, Christian, Dr. Baker, Kate, my dad… they’re all right. She’s absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen a face so perfect, so angelic, as my daughter’s. She’s mesmerising.

“She’s so small,” I whisper as I place my hand against the plastic box surrounding her.

“But she’s already putting on weight,” a voice says behind me, and I turn to see a doctor in a white coat smiling at me. “You must be Anastasia?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Dr. Craig, I’ve been watching over Calliope for the past few days. You should be very proud, she’s a fighter.”

“Just like her mother,” Christian says.

“I’ve heard,” Dr. Craig says, her smile widening as she looks up at him. She takes a step closer to the incubator, and her eyes seem to warm as she looks down at my baby. “Ah, do you see the way her mouth is moving?”

I look down and watch my baby’s lips pucker and relax a few times before she falls still again and then nod.

“She’s trying to suckle. We have her on a feeding tube now, but I think she’s ready to try eating on her own. Are you up to it?”

“Me? I can feed her?”

“Of course you can, Anastasia. I know this can be overwhelming, but she’s really yours. All yours.”

I let out an almost incredulous sounding laugh through the smile that’s so big, it makes my cheeks feel sore, and Dr. Craig reaches down to place a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“Dr. Baker told me she’s having you moved to this floor. Why don’t you go get situated, and we’ll bring her to you in just a minute.”

“Wait, she’s leaving the NICU?” Christian asks.

“She’s breathing on her own, she’s gaining weight, she’s maintaining her body temperature… I think she’s ready to give it a try, at least to breastfeed. In fact, once she’s eating on her own, I think she should be just about ready to go home.”

“Already?”

“You have a very strong willed daughter, Mr. Grey. Good luck with her, you’re going to need it.”

Grace gasps and when I turn to look at her, I see her reach up to cover her smile with her hand as tears of joy well in her eyes. It’s a trigger, and immediately, I feel my own bottom lip begin to quiver.

“Let’s go,” I say, looking up at Christian from my chair. “I wanna hold her.”

“Okay.”

He reaches for the handles on the back of the wheelchair and I glance down at Calliope once more.

“I’ll see you in minute, okay? I love you.” My fingers move against the plastic shield between us, trying to grip it as though doing so will make her feel my desire to squeeze her, and with one last lingering look, Christian wheels me away.

The room the NICU nurse leads us to is really just a few doors down, which makes me happy. As long as Calliope has to remain in the NICU, I want to be as close to her as possible. Now that I’m no longer confined to my room in the ICU, I should be free to spend as much time with her as possible, the way Christian has been able to for the last six days.

“Here you are, Miss Steele,” the nurse says, motioning us through the door to my new room. I smile at her but when I get a glimpse of Taylor behind her, looking as though he’s interviewing (maybe even interrogating) a male nurse just down the hallway while Luke takes his picture, my smile falters.

“What’s that about?” I ask Christian, nodding in their direction.

“Oh, they’re just screening the nursing staff.  We need records and documentation of anyone who may come in contact with you while you’re here.”

“Why?”

“It’s just a precaution. Don’t worry about it.” He gives me a placating smile that I immediately see through and my eyes automatically narrow in suspicion.

“What happened? And don’t lie to me.”

He takes a steadying breath. “We’ll talk about it later.”

I press my lips together in frustration, but decide not to push the issue until after I’ve had time with him and Calliope together, alone. He probably thinks I’ll forget or maybe will just let it go, but I won’t. I haven’t forgotten what happened just before my abruption. I know he’s here somewhere.

Christian and the nurse help me get into bed and for a few minutes I’m surrounded by family, talking happily amongst each other about my daughter and the lives they’ve put on hold back home over this past week while Calliope and I hung in limbo. Kate was supposed to take her place as Vice President of Kavanagh Media on Monday, and now that she’s no longer worried about me, she happily shares her excitement about this next step in her life with the Greys. Even my dad ignores the game Elliot found on TV to share in the joyful atmosphere of the room.

“I’ll get used to it,” Kate says airily. “Brand new apartment, a corner office on the 22nd floor… You’re on the 8th floor at GEH, aren’t you, Christian?”

“Yes, Kate,” he replies, his voice deadpan. “You are clearly superior to me in every way.”

“Takes a strong man to admit it.” She laughs but then moves across the room to give him a hug from the side and as he squeezes her back he tells her that he’s proud of her and kisses her on the top of her head.

“We all are,” Carrick agrees, and then turns to look at his son. “When are you moving into your new building, Christian?”

“We’re just waiting on the final inspection from the city now,” Elliot answers for him. “Once we get the approval from them, he should be ready to move in anytime and I can move on to the Microsoft campus expansion.”

“And my house,” Christian interjects. “Now that Calliope is born, I want to get her and Ana out of Escala as soon as possible.”

“And we can start planning the wedding!” Mia chimes in.

“Oh, speaking of the wedding,” Carrick turns around and picks up the leather bag he left in the chair under the window and pulls out a folder filled with official looking documents.

“The hospital staff brought Calliope’s birth certificate by this morning. You can make Christian official.”

“If I must,” I say, giving him a coy smile. He raises an eyebrow at me as I take the document and the pen that Carrick hands me and begin filling in the information.

“Detroit,” Christian says when I get to father’s place of birth, and I give him a hard, sardonic look.

“I know where you were born, Christian.”

“I just want to make sure it’s accurate,” he says defensively. I shake my head, scrawl my name across the signature line for Mother, and then slide the document over to him. Once he’s added his own perfect signature under father, there’s a noticeable change in his expression. Something between relief and pride.

“And that’s it,” Carrick says. “Calliope is officially on the record.” I smile as I hand him the birth certificate, but rather than place everything back in his bag, he hands me another document. “This is for you. It’s a medical power of attorney that I’d had drawn up after we found out what Carla had done. This will appoint Christian as your designated agent and he’ll be able to make healthcare decisions for you if for any reason you’re unable to do so for yourself. It’ll hold you over until you get married.”

“Oh.” I take the document and pick up the pen again, but as I sign the line at the bottom of the page, Christian looks away. I’m glad that Carrick had the foresight to have this done for us, but thinking about being in another situation like this so soon seems to put a damper on the great mood that fills the room. Thankfully, just as I hand the signed document back to him, there’s a knock on the door and a nurse pushes a small cart in with a box resting on top that holds my baby.

“Someone’s hungry,” she chirps as she pushes Calliope to my bedside. When she stops she looks at Christian and smiles. “Daddy, do you want to hold her?”

He nods, though his gaze is focused entirely on our baby. He seems almost dazed as he steps forward and reaches into box to lift the tiny pink swaddle of blankets into his arms. The moment she’s pressed into his chest, the small fussy noises she’s making stop and Christian’s face breaks into a breathtaking smile. He gives her the same look that up until now had been reserved solely for me, a look of pure love and adoration, and as I watch him hold and comfort our daughter for the first time, my heart feels as though it swells to the point of bursting.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Grace cries, stepping up to the other side of my bed with her phone out. “Look here, Christian.”

“Mom…” he objects, but before Grace can push her point, Carrick drapes an arm over her shoulder and pulls her back.

“What do you say we let Ana and Christian spend some time with the baby alone, huh? It’s almost lunch time, we can go out, get some real food, and come back to enjoy Calliope after they’ve had their fill of her.”

“Come back in thirty years,” Christian says. His father laughs and then nudges Grace around the bed so they can say their goodbyes. I cycle through hugs with the entire family, as does Christian, and after Mia has kissed Calliope’s head for the 8th time, Elliot is finally able to usher everyone, including the nurse, through the doors and Christian and I are alone.

“What do you say, little girl?” Christian coos to our daughter. “Are you ready to meet your mom?”

The baby doesn’t make a sound, but he leans over my bed anyway and gently places Calliope into my folded arms. Again, I’m floored by how tiny she is. Holding her is almost the same as holding nothing at all, but I can feel her. I can feel what little weight there is to her, I can feel her warmth, and I can feel the tiny movements she makes as she fidgets in her sleep. It finally feels real, like she’s actually mine and I’m going to get to keep her, and as I stare down at her beautiful, peaceful face, I once again feel as though I could cry.

“Have you ever loved anything so much?” I ask through the impending tears. Christian reaches out to place a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Yes, I have.”

I glance up at him and feel my body melt when I see the loving way he’s staring at Calliope and I. He leans down and softly presses his lips into mine and when he pulls away from the kiss, I can’t hold back my ridiculous smile.

“I love you,” he says.

“I love you too. More now that I think I ever have before. This is perfect, Christian. Everything is finally perfect.”

 

To my chagrin, Calliope doesn’t take to breastfeeding. We try on and off for hours but she’s never able to latch, even after I have a lactation specialist come guide us through the entire process. Dr. Baker tells me it’s most likely because she doesn’t yet have the strength to latch to my breast and while I fear after the fourth failed attempt that they’re going to take her from me and reattach her to the feeding tubes in the NICU, a nurse comes in with a special bottle made for premature babies, lays my daughter in Christian’s arms, and, miraculously, she begins to eat.

“Of course she does it for you,” I complain as I stare longingly at him bonding so personally with our baby.

“Here, you can take her,” he says. He shifts towards me but never takes his eyes off Calliope and when I hear the reverence in his voice, I know that I’m not going to be able to separate them.

“No, keep her,” I concede. “Just… tilt her towards me and hold her still so I can see her.” He does, and we both watch her as if she’s the most engaging thing in the world until her bottle is finished and she falls back asleep.

Now that she’s eating on her own and she’s done well for the few hours we’ve had her in my room, the doctors decide it’s time to see how she does overnight outside of the NICU as a trial run so we can discuss taking her home from the hospital. For the next 24 hours she’s under intense observation at my bedside while I’m nearly permanently attached to a breast pump so we can build up a supply to bottle feed her. It’s terrifying having her only feet away from me, with no nurse or doctor hovering over her 24 hours a day, but it’s also wonderful. For the first time, it feels like Christian and I are parents. We’re allowed to feed her, to change her, and to hold her whenever we want to, and when I give her a bottle for the very first time and she opens her tiny gray eyes and stares up at me, the hope I’ve held onto since I awoke in the hospital vanishes and is replaced with absolute certainty. I see the strength and determination in her eyes that I feel in my own heart. She’s healthy, strong, and she’s not going anywhere. Once I’m sure of that, the remainder of our stay here feels very unintimidating.

We spend a total of ten days in the hospital and as the final days tick past us, more and more of our family leaves to head back to Seattle. Grace, Carrick, and Mia fly out on Friday to make it back for Mia’s ballet auditions on Saturday, and Kate and Elliot leave Sunday morning to get back for work. When we’re preparing to be discharged on Monday, only my father is the only one who remains behind with us.

“What’s left at the house?” I ask, as Christian wheels me out to the parking lot where Taylor is waiting with a rental car, since my Lexus has been returned to the dealer.

“Not much,” he replies. “The movers took what Kate is keeping last weekend and Taylor had the rest of the security team load everything you wanted on my plane this morning.”

“So there’s no reason to go back?”

“Not if you don’t want to.”

I press my lips together and my mind begins debating what I want before we leave Cambridge for the final time. It feels wrong to just get on a plane without taking a moment to reflect upon the place where so much has changed for me, but as I imagine taking one last walk through the empty halls that will no longer hold any feeling of home, I’m not sure I’ll get the closure I intended to. That’s something that Kate and I should have done together, pausing to reminisce and laugh at every bump or nick in walls. And I can’t stop imagining the blood stained carpet or the memories the very idea of it conjures. No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to return, but I already feel the poignant sense of longing for the house that feels as though it built me.

“Ana?” Christian asks.

“No, we don’t need to go back. I don’t think I’ll get any closure there anyway”

“Well, what if you don’t need closure at all?”

“What do you mean?”

“This place is important to you, baby. It’s not like you’re never going to come back here again. What if we didn’t sell the house? You could keep it so that you could come visit anytime you wanted. Come back to stay a few days with Kate sometime, or bring Calliope to the Harvard vs Yale game every year. Maybe she can live there when she comes here herself.”

I glance up at him and the picture his words give me instantly changes my dismay into something beautiful and sanguine. The feeling of loss is replaced with visions of my daughter running through the back yard in a Crimson sweatshirt, laughing while Christian and I chase her. I think about escaping to the quiet solitude of the empty house for a weekend to put the finishing touches on my next novel, evoking the same inspiration from the four walls of my bedroom that got me through my first book.

“Yeah,” I tell him, smiling. “You’re right. I’m not finished with this place, we should keep it. Thank you, Christian.”

“No,” he says as we come to a stop at the curb and he reaches down to take Calliope out of my arms and kisses her softly on the forehead. “Thank you.”

I spend most of the drive to the airport splitting my attention between staring out the side windows at Cambridge disappearing behind us and worrying over every small bump the car makes and how it could possibly be endangering Calliope. It doesn’t bode well for the flight, but at least once we’re in the air, I can hold her in my arms, which feels safer and more comforting than having her buckled in the carseat in the seat next to me.

“She’s beautiful, Mr. Grey,” Natalia says once we’re at cruising altitude and she can come check on us. “Is there anything I can get for either you or Miss Steele?”

“We’re fine,” Christian says, but he turns to my dad who is sitting across the aisle and a few seats back from us. “Ray?”

“No.” He shakes his head. “But… I would like it if you’d join me back here for a moment to have a chat, son.”

Christian takes a deep breath, exhaling in one long breath, and his body slumps a little, but he nods and turns to me. “I’ll be right back.”

“We’ll be here,” I reply. “Good luck.”

They move to the seats at the very back of the plane, which means I can’t hear what they’re saying, and it has me nervous. Especially because I can’t see my father and every time I glance over my shoulder at Christian, all I see is pain or disgust reflected on his face. I expect them to be gone for… 30 minutes or an hour tops, but when the pilot flips on the fasten seatbelt light and tells us to prepare for landing at SeaTac, Christian still hasn’t returned. In fact, when we begin our descent, it’s my dad that slips into the seat next to me, not Christian, who is occupied with the security team at the back of the plane.

“Well?” I ask. He frowns.

“Your mom left a lot out. A Lot out. That’s… that’s some rough stuff.”

“Yeah,” I agree. “But we got through it and it’s done now. We’ve put it behind us and we’re very happy together.”

“Which is incredible. I’m so proud of you, Ana. The strength it must have taken for you to get through all of that, to stand by him…”

“He’s worth it,” I assure him.

“You know, I think you’re right. I don’t think any father ever thinks there’s a man out there who’s good enough or who deserves his daughter, but this one, this one I like.”

“Told you.”

He smiles at me and then looks down at the sleeping baby in my arms. “Can I hold her?”

“Of course you can.” Moving as little as possible, I slide her into his arms, and once he’s able to pull her against him, his face melts with the same look of pure devotion she seems to elicit from everyone she touches.

“She’s such a pretty baby,” he whispers. “I thought you were the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen when I first met you, but she may have you beat, kid.”

“She definitely does,” I agree.

“You know, if she has even an ounce of your spirit, you’re in for a whole world of trouble.” The plane bounces as we touch down and before I answer my father, I glance quickly out at the glow of the city lights over the horizon coming from Seattle, waiting for the sense of foreboding that plagued me before I escaped this city what feels like a lifetime ago, but it doesn’t come.

“You ready for it?” my dad asks.

“I really am,” I tell him. “I can’t wait.”

 

I feel extremely tired as we step into the elevator at Escala and begin the journey up to the apartment. Not in the way I did when I was pregnant or in the hospital, but in the way you do after you’ve spent too much time on vacation. Like we’ve had too much of a good thing and now it’s time to relax, decompress, and get back to real life. Kate texted me to let me know she’d brought a crib over to the apartment, since we were expecting to be in the new house by the time Calliope arrived and never put in a nursery at Escala, so all I can think about in the elevator is putting her to bed, saying goodnight to my father, pouring my first glass of wine, and drawing a long relaxing bath to share with Christian. A smile crosses my face as I imagine it, but the dream comes to a crashing halt when the doors open and we hear Kate and Elliot’s voices coming from the kitchen.

“Oh my god, don’t you dare!” Kate squeals.

“I can’t stop it, it’s acting of its own accord. There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry, Kate.”

“Elliot…” We hear her scream and then the sound of shattering glass, but as Christian moves Calliope’s carseat behind his back while taking a protective step towards me, and our security team rushes for the kitchen, we hear her laugh.

“Shit, we broke a wine glass,” Kate says. “And it’s Baccarat.”

“Way to go, Kate.”

Christian gives me a side glance over his shoulder, rolls his eyes, and then moves further into the apartment again. Before I follow him though, my dad kisses me goodnight and heads for the stairs that lead up to the guest room, leaving us to survey the damage on our own. Luke and Kommer step aside to let us pass as we walk through the living room and once we can fully see into the kitchen, we find Elliot still holding the sidespray from the sink and Kate gathering the broken pieces of the deep bordeaux glass they’d knocked off the rack. She glances up as she picks up the final shattered piece from the floor, sees us standing on the opposite end of the counter, and her face immediately shifts to a look a chagrin.

“Christian! Ana! You’re home…”

“Oh… hey, bro. Welcome back,” Elliot adds guiltily. Christian glances between them, shakes his head and places Calliope’s car seat on an oversized barstool pressed up against the counter.

“What are you two doing in here?”

“Well, we thought you might be hungry so we came to make you dinner,” Kate says.

Christian narrows his eyes. “I have a housekeeper.”

“We just wanted to make sure you had everything you needed. I wasn’t sure where you wanted to put Callie for the next few weeks so we set up a crib in one of the guest rooms upstairs and a bassinet in your bedroom. I also brought Ana a motherhood survival kit I put together filled with all of the things the internet told me she can’t live without.” She quickly moves from the kitchen to the dining room and pulls a giant basket off the table that seems to be filled with lotions, supplies, and a ton of assorted goods from The Honest Company.

“Awh, Kate,” I say, my bottom lip jutting out as I quickly glance through everything she’s put together for me. “You’re best godmother in the entire world.”

“I know. Mia and I also went to Barnes and Noble last night and bought every children’s book we could find. They’re up in the room with the crib but I should warn you, there’s like 200 of them. I fully intend for you to raise my goddaughter to be a scholar.”

“You’re unbelievable and so incredibly generous,” I say, smiling at her and moving around the counter. “Thank you so much, Kate.” She accepts the hug I give her but only for a moment as she quickly pushes me away and demands to hold the baby. I laugh, take her hand and lead her to the car seat.

“Yes, Kate is very generous,” Christian says, glancing over the basket and then shooting a pointed look at Elliot. “She’s doing an excellent job upholding her title as godmother.” Elliot gasps and places a hand over his chest, like he’s deeply offended.

“You didn’t really think I would forget you, did you Christian?”

“Yes,” he replies flatly. “Yes I did.”

“That hurts, bro. And after all the time I took meticulously wrapping this present for you…”

He too walks over to the table, but instead of picking up a basket, he pulls a square package from one of the dining room chairs, wrapped messily in birthday themed paper, and places it on the counter in front of his brother. Christian smiles, claps Elliot on the shoulder, and begins to tear away the paper. Once he’s got the package opened, he reaches inside, frowns, and then pulls out a bottle of lotion and a box of tissues.

“It’s going to be a long six weeks for you,” Elliot says solemnly. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

Christian rolls his eyes and throws the items back in the box. “You’re such a fuck, Elliot,” he laughs.

“Oh, yeah?” he replies in good humor. “Who do you think put your crib together upstairs, you douchebag?”

“You mean it wasn’t Kate? Great, now I have to go up there and make sure it’s not going to fall apart and kill my baby in the middle of the night.”

Elliot laughs. “You could do that. Or we could go into the library, have a drink to celebrate your daughter, and let these girls catch up a little bit.”

“Yeah,” Christian agrees with a smile. “I think that’s exactly what we should do.”

He comes back to me, kissing me softly on the cheek before going to Calliope as she sleeps peacefully in Kate’s arms. Then both he and Elliot disappear down the long hallway towards the library.

“Ana, I’m obsessed with this baby,” Kate says. “She’s so freaking pretty. You’re like… champion babymaker.”

“Mmm,” I hum in agreement. “I can’t describe it to you, Kate. I love her so much it hurts.”

“And she smells so good. Ugh, I want one.”

I bite down on my lip as she leans down, inhales Calliope’s scent from the top of her head and then places a gentle kiss on each of her round cheeks.

“Speaking of which…” I begin awkwardly. “You seem to be spending a lot of time with Elliot, here… back at the hospital… I’m sorry but, where’s Carter?”

The adoring smile on her face falls, her body deflates a little, and she continues to look at Calliope, not me, as she answers.

“I’m not really sure. He’s… probably back in Georgia, I guess. He didn’t really want to talk to me after.”

“What happened?”

She sighs. “He asked me to marry him, Ana.”

“I know. Clearly, it was the biggest shock of my life.” She lets out a morbid kind of laugh but doesn’t continue, so I push her a little. “So… you said no?”

“I didn’t love him,” she says. “I thought maybe I could, one day, but… I don’t think it works that way anymore. At least not the kind of love I want.”

“What do you mean?”

She takes another breath before she answers me. “This is going to sound horrible but, when we were in the hospital, before Christian knew about Calliope or if you were going to be okay, I spent a lot of time just… watching him. He was devastated. I’m glad you didn’t see him like that, Ana, because it was bad. Really bad. But it was bad because he loves you so much. If you would have died, his whole world would have been destroyed. You consume him, and as terrifying as that makes the idea of losing you to him, it makes what you two have together…” She pauses as she tries to find the words.

“Beautiful?” I suggest. She presses her lips together and shakes her head.

“It’s more than that. It’s what makes life have meaning. I want that. I want someone whose world begins and ends with me. I want someone who would sacrifice anything, who would walk through fire if that’s what it took to make me happy. But also, I want someone who I love so completely, so passionately, that I can’t envision a world where they don’t exist. I want deep, meaningful, true love, Ana, and I was never going to have that with Carter.”

“Okay, that’s fair. If you didn’t love Carter, you shouldn’t have married him. But… what about Elliot? How does he fit into this?”  

She bites her lip. “I’m in love with Elliot, and I love him the way that I want to love the man I’m going to marry. I can’t deny that anymore, and the longer we’re apart the more I have to admit to myself that that love is unshakable. I love his family, I love his sense of adventure, I love the person that he is… I could happily spend the rest of my life with Elliot Grey, but… I don’t know that he loves me the way I need to be loved. If anything is ever going to happen between us again, I need to know that he does, and that he will. Forever.”

“Well, I hope it works out. Selfishly because he’s going to be in my life from now until the end and I can’t go through anymore Gia’s… More selfishly because I love you, Kate, very, very, much, and I want you to have everything in the world that your heart desires.”

“I love you too, Ana,” she smiles. “And I love this baby. Oh my god, I love this baby!” I laugh as she tightens her hold on Calliope and leaves feather light kisses all over her face. Calliope stirs for a moment, but just enough to squish her little face together in protest before her features smooth out and she’s lost to her dreams again. When Kate looks up at me, the pouting look of adorable overload on her face makes me wonder if she’s about to burst into tears, and once again I feel my heart swell.

A timer goes off behind me in the kitchen, so Kate kisses Calliope once more before placing her back in her carrier and coming around the counter with me to pull the lasagna she’s made out of the oven. I move to the cabinet to take out plates for the four of us and to set the table, but before I reach for the door, my eyes fall on a box resting on the counter across from me.

“What’s that?” I ask. Kate looks over her shoulder at the box and then turns back to the bread she’s pulling from the oven.

“Just mail. Whatever wasn’t forwarded to Cambridge, I guess.”

“Oh…” Curiosity gets the better of me so I cross the marble floor to begin sorting through the letters and packages inside. There’s nothing here for me, everything I touch has Christian’s name on it, minus a few letters from my mother which I fully intend to ignore, until my fingers close around a battered looking manilla envelope addressed to me, but with no return address.

“Who’s that from?” Kate asks, glancing over at me as she slices the bread.

“I don’t know, it doesn’t say.” My fingers probe the package, which is surprisingly heavy for something delivered in just an envelope, but as I feel around the edges, I’m able to identify the familiar shape and weight inside.

“It’s a manuscript,” I say.

“Did Random House do any editing?” Kate asks.

“I don’t know. I didn’t think so…” I quickly rip open the flap, reach inside, and pull out the rudimentary bound stack of papers. When I look down at the title page though, it’s not Escape or even Escaping Neverland that I see printed there. What I do see, sends a cold chill over my entire body, like my blood has suddenly turned to ice.

“What is it?” Kate asks. I turn the manuscript to her so she can read the title.

 

Monster.

How a Broken Southern Girl Built America’s Most Powerful CEO

By: Elena Lincoln

Next Chapter

 

Chapter 35

baby come back

Consciousness comes and goes like the beat of a heart. I know there are people around me, I can hear their panicked voices, but they sound far away, like I’m hearing them from underwater. I try to cling to the sound, searching specifically for Christian’s voice, but it’s so far away. I’m slipping and I’m afraid that I’ve gone too far until someone moves my body and my resulting scream of pain brings me back from the edge.

“Stay with me, Ana,” Grace says. I open my eyes and find that I’m lying on the living room floor. Grace opens my legs and then reaches under my dress to remove my panties, discarding the blood sodden fabric next to her, as she examines me.

“Here, Mom,” Mia says, flying down the stairs with Grace’s medical bag in hand. Grace nods to her and removes a pair of gloves. She reaches between my legs, making me whimper with pain again, but she only just touches me before she withdraws her hand and shakes her head.

“It’s got to be a placental abruption, a bad one. This baby needs to be delivered right now, and we need to get Ana into surgery or we’re going to lose them both.”

“L-lose?” Christian repeats, sounding dazed, but Grace ignores him.

“Elliot where are we on that ambulance?”

“They said they’ll be here in five minutes.”

She shakes her head again. “Not good enough, she’s losing too much blood… she needs blood.”

“Here,” Christian thrusts his arms towards her. “Take it. Take all of it.”

“What’s her blood type?” Grace asks, looking to my mother, but she just looks down at me, pale and shocked.

“B negative,” my dad says, stepping forward. “Same as me.”

“Congratulations, then. You just bought yourself a ticket on the ambulance ride. Pull your sleeves up.”

Christian shuffles to the side while my dad kneels down in the blood soaked carpet next to me and allows Grace to begin prepping his arm for a blood transfusion line. My whole body begins to shake as a wave of cold washes over me, and while my teeth start to chatter, Christian takes my hand.

“Hold on, baby,” he says, his voice shaking. “We’re going to get you to the hospital. You’re going to be okay.”

“Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t, I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here. Stay with me, baby.”

I shiver again as I feel the needle Grace is holding pierce my skin, and then shake off the impending darkness that’s trying to take me once more.

“C-C-Christian…” I stutter, knowing I don’t have long before I lose the battle and slip under again. “S-ave Callio-pe. I chose Calliope.”

“Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be fine, Ana. You’re both going to be fine. Just stay with me… we’re going to have a baby today.”

“Calliope, Christian.”

“Stop it. You are going to be fine, Anastasia.”

But I don’t know if that’s true or not, because as I lie there watching his eyes well with tears, the blackness overcomes my eyes and I’m lost again.

 

There’s no sense of time passing in the lack of consciousness. Sometimes I can see what I think is light, but I can’t hear anything and I can’t feel anything. There’s nothing and it’s terrifying. My baby is being taken from my body but I can’t feel her, so I don’t know when or if it’s happened. Grace said I was supposed to go to surgery, but I don’t feel any pain or movement. The black is all there is and all I can do is wait, helpless, with no idea when or if it will ever end. For awhile, I’m convinced it won’t, so I almost give up fighting it. But then I remember Calliope, and I think I can almost hear Christian, so I begin to push against the heavy abyss threatening to pull me down once again.

Fighting is exhausting. Again and again, my strength seems to fail and the darkness gets deeper, but then sometimes I feel like the dim light I’ve tried to hold onto is growing stronger, like I’ve almost reached the surface, but I can’t ever be sure. For a brief period, I almost think I feel something touch me, though I can’t decipher who it is or what part of my body is being touched. Then taste comes back, but it’s bitter and it stings the way alcohol does. Finally, after what feels like an eternity, I start to hear voices again, muted at first, but growing more concrete the more I concentrate on them until I can not only decipher the words, but also who’s speaking them.

“But what if she doesn’t, Elliot?” Kate sobs. “What if she never wakes up? What if she’s already gone?”

“She’s not. Okay, you listen to me, she’s going to be just fine. She’s too damn stubborn to go like this and Christian wouldn’t let her if she tried.”

“But the doctors said…”

“The doctors are idiots. Kate, Ana is going to wake up and she is going to be fine. Look at me… she’s going to be okay.”

Kate?

Slowly, I start to feel my body again. Not in the true sense of the word, but at least that it’s there. Everything feels numb, but I have legs again, and hands. I feel as though I’m being pulled back to earth and while I listen to Kate sobbing somewhere in the darkness next to me, I will myself to speak, but I can’t.

I try again, but nothing. Something is choking me. I try to take a breath but it’s cut off, like there’s something lodged in my throat. Panic begins to set in and, finally, my eyes spring open, bringing white, blinding light back into my world. I glance down and see that there’s something plastic covering my mouth, keeping me from breathing, and instinctively, I reach up to bat it out of the way. I’m weak, extremely weak, so my hand only just barely brushes against the thing obstructing my breathing, but the sound is enough to catch Elliot’s attention.

“K-Kate…” He says uncertainly.

“Oh my god!” I hear the scrape of her chair over the linoleum as she rushes to my side and begins fumbling with the plastic box in the bed next to me. “Ana? Ana, can you hear me?”

I reach for the thing that’s choking off my air and find that it’s connected to a tube. My fingers wrap limply around it and I try to pull, but the movement is so anemic it hardly moves.

“No, no, no!” a woman in light blue scrubs cries as she rushes into the room. “Leave it, dear.”

Leave it? I can’t breathe!

I try and take another breath, but end up coughing. Thankfully, the nurse or doctor or whoever she is begins to deconstruct the tubing in my mouth.

“Elliot, Christian is with Calliope,” Kate says quickly.  “Go get him right now.”

“Christian, right…” Elliot says, almost distracted. “What about Carla?”

Kate glares at him. “No, fuck Carla. When Ana finds out what she… We’ll call Ray once we know, but right now, go get Christian.” He nods and darts from the room just as several more medical staff come through the door.

“Anastasia, my name is Dr. Lapp,” the woman in light blue scrubs tells me. “The blockage you feel in your throat right now is intubation. I will remove it, but I need you to relax, okay? Can you do that for me?”

I close my eyes and will my body to stop fighting, but it’s difficult because it feels as though she is yanking my throat out of my body as she removes the tube. I cough and take deep gasping breaths, but each one of them burns. As air floods into my lungs, it actually makes me feel lightheaded, not stronger, and for a moment, I fear the blackness is going to return, but I refuse to let it. Now that I’m back in the light, I can’t allow myself to go under again. I need to know what happened. I need to know where my daughter is and that she’s okay. I brace myself while the doctors surround my bed and as I try to gain control over my breathing, Christian bursts into the room.

“Ana!”

I glance over at him and am shocked. He looks haggard. Worse than I’ve ever seen him. His hair is in disarray, there’s inexplicably several days worth of facial hair on his chin, and his eyes are marred by deep black circles. As he walks towards me, peeling away the light pink medical gown from his body, I see that he’s wearing the same clothes he was on graduation day. His shirt is still spotted with my blood. Still, as he glances over me, his face morphs into a melting pot of emotion so intense, I wonder for a moment if he’s about to have a breakdown. “Oh, thank god.” he breathes. “You’re awake. Thank god, thank god, thank god…”

I try to speak again when his hand clasps mine, but I can’t. My throat is too raw. All I can do is let out a hoarse, painful breath that means nothing. He looks up at the doctor with wide, panicked eyes.

“Is she…”

Dr. Lapp shakes her head. “We’re not sure yet, Mr. Grey. We’ve only just taken out her intubation. She hasn’t spoken yet.” She turns to me. “Anastasia, do you know who this is?”

I look between the doctor and Christian, confused by the question. Why wouldn’t I know who Christian was? I try again to speak, but am only able to make the same, incomprehensible wheezing sound, so I settle for nodding my head, and Christian’s entire body sags with relief.

“What about her?” She points to Kate and I nod again, so she moves onto Elliot. “Him?” Another nod. “Good, Ana. That’s very good. Do you know where you are?”

I take a breath again, forcing my voice this time, but the words comes out so hoarse it sounds like the strangled death cry of a zombie from some horror movie. “Calliope?”

“What was that, Anastasia?” Dr. Lapp asks.

“Calliope.” I try again, and this time, my voice is a little stronger, clearer, but the doctor still doesn’t seem to understand me.

“I-I…”

“She’s asking about our daughter” Christian explains, but I’m confused by the inflection in his voice. It’s like he’s overjoyed and in incredible pain all at once. Oh no… where is my baby?

“Oh, I don’t have…” Dr Lapp begins, but Christian cuts her off again, kneeling down by my bedside as he speaks.

“She’s here,” he reassures me. “She was born on May 7th at 4:53 in the afternoon. She’s 17 ½ inches long and weighs 4 lbs, 7 ounces, no… 9 ounces now. You made a perfect baby, Ana. She looks just like you and she’s absolutely wonderful.”

Relief washes over me.

“I-I want her,” I croak. “Bring her to me.”

He frowns, but Dr. Lapp intercedes before he can answer me.

“Ana, your surgery was successful, but not without complications. The blood loss you experienced before and after surgery was significant. We need to run some tests to check your organs and your neurological function…”

“I want my baby,” I say, trying to be firm even though my voice comes out in only a very painful whisper. “I want to see my daughter.”

“I can’t bring her to you, Ana,” Christian says. “She’s in an incubator. She’s okay, but she’s premature and she had a traumatic delivery. She can’t breathe on her own yet and she can’t eat on her own… she can’t leave the NICU.”

“W-what?”

“Don’t worry, baby. She’s doing well,” he adds quickly. “She’s getting bigger and stronger everyday.”

“Everyday? Wait… how long was I out? What day is it?”

“It’s Tuesday, the 10th.”

“The 10th?” My eyes begin darting back and forth as I count the days between today and Saturday. “Three days? My daughter has been born for three days and I haven’t… I haven’t…” My breathing sharpens as I feel the threat of impending tears and it aggravates the pain in my throat again. Calliope is somewhere in this hospital fighting for her life without my help, my love, my support… and she has been for days. She needs me.

Though I still feel incredibly weak, I reach down for the tubes connected to the inside of my elbow and begin scraping at the tape holding them in, trying to yank them out of my arm.

“Ana, stop,” Christian says, but I ignore him.

“I’m going to her. You’re going to take me to her right now.” My head starts to swim and my vision grows dimmer, but I’m determined. I’m going to go to my daughter’s bedside.

“Anastasia…” Dr. Lapp says. “You’ve had major surgery, you’ve only just regained consciousness. You still have a catheter in… I can’t let you get out of this bed.”

“Then you’re going to have to sedate me.” I wince with pain as I try and sit up and realize that it’s not just my throat, my entire body aches. It doesn’t stop me though, I won’t let anything stop me, but before I can even pull the thin hospital blanket from my lap, there are three different sets of hands on me, holding me down, and I’m not strong enough to fight them off.

“Miss Steele, you need to sit back.”

“No! No, I have to see her.”

“You will, as soon as we…”

“No, let me go. Please!” I struggle to pull my arm out of an orderly’s hands and my breath hisses between my teeth as the IV rips out of my skin. Dr. Lapp says something to the nurse next to her about bringing her arm restraints, so Christian takes my hand from the orderly on my right and forces me to look at him.

“Ana, Calliope is getting the best care that she can get right now. She is in good hands and she’s doing better every single day. Every hour. Soon, she’s going to be strong enough to go home and when she is, she’s going to need her mother. You can’t fix her right now. The best thing you can do for Calliope is to take care of yourself, do what the doctors tell you, and get better. Please, baby. Lay still.”

I stare into his pleading eyes and then break down into tears. “Christian, she’s been in this world for three days and I’ve never seen her. I have to see her.”

“I have pictures,” he says, reaching for his phone.

“Me too,” Kate interjects behind him, and both she and Elliot step forward with their phones out.

“This is going to have to wait,” Dr. Lapp argues. “It’s imperative that we begin tests to evaluate her condition as soon as…”

“Please,” Christian says. “One minute. Just let her see that her child is safe and alive and then you can run all the tests you need.”

Dr. Lapp hesitates, but nods and waves toward the door for the staff around me to leave the room. She quickly re-inserts my IV before she follows the others out, and once she gone I hastily pull Christian’s phone from his hands.

There aren’t the hundreds of pictures here that I want, in fact there aren’t even ten, but as I pull up the first one, I immediately start crying again.

“She’s so beautiful,” Christian says, settling down on the bed next to me. “My mother thinks she has my eyes because they’re gray now, but I’m hoping they’ll turn blue like yours. She does have your mouth though, and your dark hair. She’s perfect.”

“She’s so tiny,” I say through my tears as I flip through the photos. Her color is wrong. There’s too much purple in her pigment. She has tubes and wires covering her, coming out of her, and just the sight of them makes my heart physically ache. She looks so fragile and every instinct in my body is telling me to go to her, to protect her, to make her better… Seeing her that way, knowing I can’t go to her, that Christian will stop me if I try, is unbearable. I have to give his phone back to him. Looking at her on the screen of a phone is just torture right now.

“How long until I can see her?” I ask. “An hour? Two? When?”

“I don’t know, baby. I don’t know…”

“Well then get the doctor back in here. The sooner I do their stupid tests, the sooner I can get to Calliope.”

He nods and gets off the bed, pushing past Kate, Elliot, and Luke, who I hadn’t noticed standing in the corner before, to bring Dr. Lapp back into the room. As she returns with her staff and a whole new slew of medical equipment, I have to say goodbye to my family. Kate leans over and hugs me so gingerly, it’s like she’s afraid I might break. Elliot doesn’t even try, instead he leans over to kiss me on the top of my hair and tells me never to scare them like that again. I give him a weak smile and then reach out for Christian.

“Mr. Grey,” Dr. Lapp pushes him, glancing towards the door, and he nods.

“I’m going to be close. I’ll be back the second they let me, I promise.”

“Stay with Calliope,” I tell him. “Don’t ever leave her alone.”

“Never,” he agrees. “My parents have been with her ever since they were let back into the NICU and I’ve only left her when I’ve been with you. We’re taking care of her, I promise. Just get better, okay. She’s ready to meet you.” Tears prick my eyes again and Dr. Lapp lets out an irritated sigh.

“Mr. Grey.”

“I’m going,” he says, standing from my bedside, but not releasing my hand. “I love you, Anastasia. So very much.”

“I love you too,” I reply. “Go be with our daughter.” He nods and slowly exits the room, Luke hovering close behind him, and the moment the door closes I break down. Tears flow freely down my cheeks as the doctors begin prodding me, hooking me up to different machines, and piercing my skin for blood samples. They wheel my entire bed into a different room to give me an MRI, and when they truly move me for the first time, I feel the residual pain from my surgery like fire inside of my body. Once I’m in the claustrophobic tube I lie there, completely impotent, my body battered and riddled with pain, thinking only of making it through this torture so that I can get where I’m truly needed.

Calliope. At the end of this, they’ll take me to Calliope.

Unfortunately, the test results take hours to come back, and when they do, they’re not good. Dr. Baker is back on shift, so she comes to give me the devastating news about my weak heart and low blood cell count that means my blood isn’t clotting well. I’m at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest, sepsis, and even just bleeding out, and until they have my blood condition under control, I can’t leave this room. Dr. Baker tries to reassure me by telling me what a miracle it is that my neurological function and memories seem to be fully intact, but it’s difficult to find solace in simply maintaining something I didn’t realize I was in danger of losing when I know my daughter is in critical condition somewhere on one of the many floors of this hospital and I can’t get to her.

“So, where do we go from here?” Christian asks Dr. Baker, gripping tightly to my hand from the chair next to my bed.

“Unfortunately, we’re not exactly sure what is depleting her cell count. This kind of treatment is beyond my scope of knowledge,” Dr. Baker says. “I’ve requested a consult from a hematologist but it’s a very rare specialty and this hospital only has credentials for one doctor, who is currently in upstate New York at a conference. He won’t be here for a few days.”

“A few days?” Christian repeats incredulously, and Dr. Baker nods.

“I’ve sent him all of Ana’s charts so he can review them before he actually sees her but it will take him a few days to get back to Cambridge. In the meantime, we’ll be monitoring Ana’s condition around the clock and giving her the absolute best care possible.”

“But until she sees this specialist, she won’t be able to visit the NICU?”

“That is correct, Mr. Grey.”

My head falls back into my pillows as I fight the torrent of emotion this delay creates within me. The sound of my sobs seems to overpower Christian arguing with Dr. Baker about finding another doctor, about flying one here from anywhere in the US, from Europe if need be, but apparently there are all kinds of administrative roadblocks to prevent that from happening. I’d have to be transported to a new facility and right now, that’s impossible. There’s nothing we can do but wait, and every second that passes feels as though it’s going to kill me. Christian’s face is marred with agony as he holds me the best he can through the tubes and wires still connected to my arms and fingers while I cry long into the night, until eventually, I cry myself to sleep.

 

The next morning, I wake up and am surprised to find Christian isn’t at my side. Instead, it’s my father sitting in the chair closest to me and Luke in the chair resting under the window. Their eyes are both locked on the TV over my bed playing a baseball game but my father’s hand is wrapped around mine at my side.

“Dad?” I ask groggily, and he jumps in surprise when he hears my voice.

“Annie? Oh my god, you… you really know who I am?”

“Of course I know who you are. Where’s… where’s Christian?”

“He had to go down to the NICU, so I told him I’d sit with you. They’re taking Callie off the ventilator.”

“What? They are? Does that mean she can come down here?”

“No, not yet. She’s gotta gain a little bit more weight before they take her out of the incubator, and I don’t know if they’re gonna bring a newborn baby into the ICU, sweetie. Especially a preemie.”

“I’ve got to get out of here,” I wail, the desperate tone returning to my voice as I start to cry again. “I need to see my daughter. Please, Daddy, do something. Help me. I’ve missed her whole life so far, I can’t stay here anymore.”

“I know, baby. I know.” His voice begins to break too. “But I promise you, she’s doing just fine. The doctors are all very impressed by her and that man of yours is doing everything he can to get you to that baby as soon as humanly possible.” He pauses. “He… he really loves you.”

“I know,” I reply, but he shakes his head.

“I didn’t. I mean, I knew you said it, and it’s not that I didn’t believe you, it’s that… I didn’t see the way he loves you.” His expression shifts into something much more painful, so I squeeze his hand to get him to look at me again.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” He looks up and there are real tears in his eyes now.

“I’m so sorry, Ana.”

“For what?”

“I was with you the whole time,” he begins. “I was giving you blood so I rode here in the ambulance and went directly into the OR with you. There was so much blood, and I’ve seen blood, believe me, but this… I didn’t know how you were going to make it through this. When they got you onto the surgery table, the doctors pushed me out of the way and told me I’d have to go to the waiting room with the rest of the family, but everyone was so distracted trying to save you, that I was able to sit right outside the operating room and no one even noticed.”

“I kept waiting for the sound of the baby crying. It felt like it was taking forever and I thought, ‘how long could it possibly take to open you up and deliver the baby?’. But I never heard her. Someone came through the doors not long after I’d left you, pushing a plastic bin filled with blankets as quickly away from the OR as they could, but they didn’t look at me. They didn’t say anything, so I waited. For a very long time.”

“Finally, someone came out and saw me sitting there. He was covered in blood, in your blood, and he looked like he’d just seen death. I swear my heart stopped. I was sitting there, preparing myself to hear that you’d died on the table, but that’s not what he told me. He said that you’d experienced very serious complications during surgery and that he’d like to speak to your mother and I about the repercussions of those complications. I went straight to the room they were going to put you up in to wait and a few minutes later they brought in Carla. When the doctor finally came in, he told us that the amount of blood from your abruption meant that it took them too long to find the tear inside of you to repair, and when they did, and they started to sew you up, your heart stopped. Again and again. Between reviving you and making the repair, you’d lost too much blood. Your heart was weak, your blood pressure was incredibly low, and with the amount of blood loss you’d experienced… the damage was already too great. He didn’t think you were going to be able to wake up, and if you did, there was a great possibility, almost certainty, that you’d suffer from severe brain deficiencies. You’d lose your memories, your motor function, everything that made you, you.”

“I realized then that that’s why they were letting us wait in your recovery room. They were gifting us time because they were certain we were going to lose you. I asked about Callie, your mother had already gotten an update on her when she was in the waiting room, so the doctor really just talked to me. He told me that she was placed into an incubator, put on a vent, and would be under intensive observation for the next 72 hours. If she made it through the first three days, they believed that her chances were good, but those first 72 hours were critical.”

“I was still reeling from the news about Calliope when they finally brought you in, and when I looked at you, I was shocked. You were so pale, you looked like a ghost. There was tube in your mouth and all kinds of tubes coming out of your arms. I thought, there’s no way she’ll make it out of this, she won’t make it through the night, and while you’re mother and I sat there, holding your hands, I actually thought to myself, where was Christian? Why were you slipping away from this world while the man who told me, to my face, that he loved you was nowhere to be seen? I’d heard him promise you as you bled in his arms that he wouldn’t leave you, but he did. He wasn’t there, and it made me angry. I told Carla she may have been right about him, that there was no way he wouldn’t be here if he loved you the way he said he did, and while she agreed with me, the doctor who was examining you, uh…. Doctor Baker, I think her name was, she told me that he was in the waiting room. She said your mother had asked the staff not to let anyone who wasn’t immediate family receive any kind of information about your condition or the baby’s. She said he’d been asking to see you every chance he got, but they had to turn him away, they couldn’t tell him anything. She said if we’d let her, she’d love to bring him back right then.”

“He didn’t know. He had no idea how your surgery went, how your recovery was going, where his baby was… and it had been almost a full day. I didn’t think that was fair. So, I got up and I went out into the waiting room to talk to him. But when I came through those double doors and saw him, he looked up at me and the look on his face… It was like I was watching a man burning alive. He was in so much pain, I could see it.”

He has to stop to collect himself, but I don’t say anything. I just stare at him with wide, pain filled eyes until he speaks again.

“I told him that you were alive and in recovery, but that it didn’t look good. I told him that you’d lost too much blood and the doctors thought you were already gone, that it was the machines keeping you alive now. You would have thought I shot him if you saw the look on his face, the pain, the helplessness… He looked up at me and begged, actually begged me to see you, so I brought him to your room. Your mother was furious when she saw him, but he didn’t look at her. He didn’t speak to her. He pretended like she wasn’t there. He sat in my seat next to your bed, took you hand, and started talking to you. I almost thought he’d gone crazy because he kept pleading with you not to follow Calliope, that he knew you’d want to, but he couldn’t live without you.”

“It didn’t make any sense. Callie was in bad shape too, but she was alive. She was in the NICU and the doctors hadn’t given us the grim prognosis for her that they’d given us for you. So, I told him, ‘Christian, Callie’s fine. She’s being taken care of right now,’ and he first looked at me like he didn’t understand what I said, and then at your mother. The pain on his face was gone instantly and replaced by fury, and as I listened to what he was screaming at her, I understood why. Your mother had stopped the hospital staff from giving him or his family any updates on the baby, and so after they’d told her about Callie’s condition, she’d told him that Callie was stillborn. That she’d never lived. She lied, and as I looked at your mother, the woman I’d been married to for sixteen years, it was like I suddenly didn’t recognize her. I didn’t understand how someone could be so cruel, and while the doctors rushed in to restrain Christian to try and keep him from attacking your mother, I grabbed her by the arm, dragged her out to the waiting room, and told her not to move again.”

“The rest of his family was still there, Grace, Carrick, Elliot, Mia, and Kate… Luke and Taylor too. They didn’t know what was going on, they still thought you’d lost Callie. Grace looked absolutely devastated, Kate was shaking… so I let them know what was happening. I think Carrick threatened legal action against Carla for lying to Christian about Calliope. I don’t what’s going to happen between her and the Greys, I don’t know if this is forgivable, and I didn’t know if I should say something at the time… I was going to, but then Christian was brought back out to the waiting room by two security guards. You’d coded again, and he was refusing to leave you, so they had to physically remove him. I thought he might try to chase them back into the ICU, but he didn’t. He just slumped into a chair, burning again, and I did the only thing I knew to help him. I took him to the NICU, and I introduced him to his daughter.”

“That helped, for a while. It probably would have done more if her color had been better, but he stared at her for a long time, throughout the entire night and most of the next day. He sat there, holding her hand through the side of the incubator and told her all about you, about the life he wanted for her. We all came to check on him over and over again, but he wouldn’t leave. He’d ask us about you and when we didn’t have anything to tell him, he’d ask us to go. Elliot finally got him out of there by convincing him that he at least needed to try and eat, but they came back just as the doctors came to talk to your mother and I. They were telling us that your heart couldn’t keep up anymore, that you had coded three times through the night and your blood count was in freefall… They reminded us of the improbability of you ever waking up, of you being in a practically vegetative state if you did, and then asked if we wanted to discuss withdrawal of care.”

“That’s why I’m sorry, because it was something I was ready to consider. I’d seen you and how frail you looked. I thought you were trying to go and I didn’t think you’d want the kind of life the doctors were talking about, but Christian… he flew off the handle. He wouldn’t hear it and when they let us back to say our good-byes, he refused to leave your side and refused to let anyone touch you. He was threatening everyone, I was pretty sure he was ready to fight anyone who came to take him away… Elliot tried to calm him down, make him see reason, but he said you always did things in your own time. He said that you just weren’t ready to wake up yet, but that you would and you would be fine. He wasn’t ready, and I couldn’t do it with him like that. I wanted to give him the time to accept what I thought was inevitable, so I told the doctors we were going to give you some more time. They continued your treatments, monitored your heart and your organs throughout the night, and somehow, miraculously, you improved. Your heart had been in A Fib, but it just… normalized. Your vitals grew stronger, your color started to come back… We waited another full day and then, you woke up. Like nothing had happened at all. I’ve never felt worse than I did when Kate came and told me that you were awake, because I was ready to give up on you, every one was, but not him. He fought for you, Anastasia. He refused to give up on you. He protected you. And now I know. Now I see the way he loves you. Whatever else is in his past, we can work through it, I’ll find away to work through it, but I trust your judgement now, Annie. If he’s what you want, I finally believe that he deserves you.”

I wipe away the tears flowing freely down my cheeks, and nod. My dad gets out of his chair and pulls me, gently, into a hug.

“But I don’t understand…” I say while his arms are still around me. “Why didn’t the doctors tell Mom instead of Christian about Calliope? Why would they let him think she was gone? Why didn’t they take him back to her the moment she was stabilized in the NICU?”

“Because I’m not her father,” Christian’s voice says from the doorway, and both my father and I start as we turn to look at him.

“What? Of course you…”

“Not legally,” he cuts me off.  “We’re not married, Ana, and the State of Massachusetts doesn’t assume paternity for unwed couples until the mother signs the birth certificate and names the father. You were unable to do that so guardianship and the ability to make medical decisions fell to Carla because she’s your next of kin. My father knew the law, it’s the same in Washington, so he’d already warned me that I was going to have to prove I was Calliope’s father. I was having my cheeks swabbed for a paternity test when your mother got the news about our daughter. She told me Calliope was… that she…” he shakes his head, unable to say the words. “She knew that if you… died, that I would fight to take Calliope from her and she wanted to avoid a custody battle. I think she thought this would be easier.”

“I would never have let that happen,” my dad interjects. “Carla has never been able to see or to admit to herself that a girl needs her dad. She tried to take Ana from me when she ran off with that son of a…” He stops, swallows, and then continues. “I wouldn’t have let your daughter grow up without knowing you, Christian.”

“Thank you, Ray.”

I stare at Christian for a moment in utter disbelief until the shock wears off and I’m left with nothing but anger. No, not anger… rage. Blinding, consuming rage that let’s me forget about the horrible pain and instead has my entire body shaking.

“Where is she now?” I ask through clenched teeth.

“In the waiting room,” my father answers. “Now that you’re awake… I think she’s afraid to come see you. I think she’s ashamed, which is impressive for Carla…”

“Bring her to me,” I tell him.

“Ana…”

“Bring her to me, right now!” Christian and my dad both fall silent as the forceful timber of my exclamation echos through the room. They both hesitate for a moment, looking as though they’re not sure whether or not it’s a good idea to do as I’ve asked, but eventually, my father nods, gets out of his seat, and leaves the room.

“I’m sorry, Christian,” I whisper once we’re alone. “I can’t believe she would do that… I can’t believe…”

“Hey.” He moves quickly to occupy the seat my father vacated and takes my hand in his. “You don’t have to apologize for her. If anyone should be apologizing, it’s me…”

“You?”

“From the moment the paramedics put you in the back of the ambulance, I’ve been going over this and over this in my head, trying to figure out what happened. What we did wrong… We knew you were bleeding, I shouldn’t have just accepted it was something as simple as a scrape. If I’d have taken you to the hospital, they could have delivered Calliope earlier in the afternoon and you both would have been safe. Instead, you almost bled out on the table and Calliope was so oxygen deprived, she was blue when she was born. I almost lost both of you. For awhile, I thought I had.”

“Christian…”

“And I shouldn’t have been so rough with you the night before graduation. What if I injured you? What if I’m the reason you…”

“No, stop. This wasn’t your fault, Christian.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Yes, I can. The doctors said I had a placental abruption, right? Well, I’ve known that was a possibility for months, since Dr. Baker first told me I was developing  pre-eclampsia. If this is anyone’s fault, it’s mine. I should have taken her warnings more seriously, I should have worked harder to manage my stress better… Besides, I’m the one who didn’t want to go to the hospital, remember? I put graduation ahead of my own baby’s life. What kind of mother does that?” I fall silent for a moment, letting the impact of my own words wash over me, and then break down again. Christian gets out of his chair and sits on the bed next to me, holding me and rocking me back and forth as he tries to soothe me.

“Baby…”

“Christian, I have to see her. I can’t look at pictures anymore or videos on your parents’ phones. She’s been inside of me, protected from the world, for seven months and now she’s just gone. It’s like she’s disappeared and if I don’t see her today I’m going to… I-I… I just can’t. I can’t. Please, Christian.”

“I want you to hold her, baby. I want to bring her to you. I’ve spoken with the hematologist Dr. Baker called, offered him double his salary, and he’s getting here as quickly as he possibly…”

“Ana?”

We both glance  up and see my mother and father in the doorway. She looks at me uneasily, almost as though she’s afraid of me, and honestly, right now, she should be. I’ve never been so angry with anyone in my life, not with Christian when we first broke up, not even with Elena, ever. Even though I didn’t agree with their actions, I could understand them, see the motivation and the reasoning they used to justify what they had done, but this… this was just cruel. If my father wasn’t here, if I hadn’t woken up to fix what she had done, she would have ruined the lives of everyone I loved. That’s something I can’t forgive.

“Sweetheart, I’m so happy that you…” she begins in a breathy kind of voice that’s ladened with impending tears, but I cut her off before she can really start.

“I want you to go back to your hotel, pack your bags, and get on a plane back to Georgia. I have nothing more to say to you except for that I don’t want you around me or my daughter. Don’t call me again, don’t come visit me, don’t send me letters in the mail. We are done.”

“Ana, please…”

“Good-bye.”

She stares at me, dumbfounded, for a moment. Her body seems frozen which means she isn’t leaving, and while she stands there trying desperately to find something to say, I glance over at the corner of the room to where my CPO is seated.

“Luke.”

He nods and gets out of his seat to physically remove my mother from my room, and as his hands clasp around her forearms, she seems to overcome her shock and starts pleading for me to listen to her. Luke looks back at me but I shake my head and in the next moment, my mother is gone, leaving us only with the sound of her increasingly frantic cries as she’s pulled down the hall.

“Ana, you don’t have to… I’m not asking you to choose between your mother and I,” Christian begins, but I shake my head again.

“You’re not, she is, and this isn’t the first time she’s asked me to do this. She made me feel like I had to choose her over my dad when she ran away with Stephen. I shouldn’t have chosen her then, even for the few weeks that I did, and I’m not going to do it now.”

“But your parents…”

“I still have the only real parent I’ve ever had. The one who would never betray me the way she did this week, the one whose love is more than just words. Right, Dad?”

“Always, sweetheart.”

Christian lifts my hand to his lips so that he can kiss each one of my fingertips as my father comes to sit on my other side and focuses his attention back on the game still playing on the TV over my bed. The atmosphere in the room changes as we sit there, becomes more relaxed, and while I settle back into my pillows and try not to feel like the worst mother in the world, Christian plays with the engagement ring I was only just able to put back on my finger last night.

“You a baseball fan, Christian?” my dad asks as the innings change.

“Not for the fucking Red Sox,” he replies lightheartedly. “My dad and brother are diehards for the Mariners. In fact, he might have words for me just for allowing this shit to be played in Ana’s room.”

My dad laughs. “Yeah, well I guess that’s what you get this close to Boston. You know, babygirl, if you’d just had your baby the way we’d planned, we could be home right now, watching real baseball.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry I’m inconveniencing your baseball game right now,” I say sarcastically. “How could I be so inconsiderate?”

“I don’t know, it’s not how I raised you,” he says, smiling but not looking away from the game.

I reach out and slap him across the arm, but when he turns to look at me, and probably to make fun of me for how weak that slap actually was, there’s a knock on my door and a new doctor I’ve never seen steps into my room alongside Dr. Baker.

“Miss Steele? I’m Dr. Wong, the hematologist Dr. Baker asked for.”

“Finally,” Christian hisses irritably under his breath, but I pay him no mind as the sudden appearance of the doctor I feel as though I’ve waited years for, the last doctor to stand between me and Calliope, has my full attention.

“Yes, yes…” I stutter. “How is my blood count? Can I see my daughter now?”

“No, and unfortunately the tests you’ve had done are inconclusive as to what your condition really is. I’m not sure what is depleting your cell count but if we don’t get it under control you risk developing permanent anemia or cardiac arrest.”

“So what do we do?” Christian asks, his voice urgent now and his hand gripped tightly around mine.

“We’ll start with an iron transfusion and overnight observation. If her counts aren’t better by tomorrow, we’ll have to consider steroid therapy.”

“Tomorrow?” I squeak. “I can’t wait until tomorrow. I haven’t seen my baby….”

“Anastasia.” Dr. Wong sits on the side of my bed and turns to face me. “Unfortunately, the iron transfusion is your best option right now. If we have to put you on steroid therapy, we’ll also have to give you an immuno suppressant. My understanding of what Dr. Baker has told me about your daughter’s condition is that she was born premature and has her own immune system deficiencies. If you’re placed on an immuno-suppressant, you will be unable to have any kind of contact with her until you’ve completed therapy and your system has stabilized.”

“What?” Panic rises inside of me but Christian squeezes my hand reassuringly as he addresses the doctor.  

“What time frame would we be looking at for her to complete that kind of therapy?”

“If the therapy is successful and we’re to ensure all of her symptoms and the related risks have been resolved, a minimum of four weeks.”

My breath catches in my throat, and stays there, choking me. My chest begins to heave as I struggle to take in oxygen and my head starts to feel light. Four weeks? I can’t go four weeks before I see my daughter… I can’t go another day.

“Four weeks is unacceptable. I can’t… Please. I need to see my daughter, now. Please, let me see her…”

Dr. Baker steps closer to the bed. “Ana, I know you need to see her and we’re doing everything we can to get you to Calliope. I promise, we haven’t lost sight of that. But we don’t just want you to see her today, we want you to take her home and have her every day. You’re not out of the woods yet, please let us help you.”

“I know how hard this must be, Anastasia,” Dr. Wong says. “But if the transfusion is successful, which I’m optimistic it will be, you could be able to visit your daughter as early as tomorrow morning. Let’s give this a try and worry about the other possibilities later, okay?”

I frown. I’m not happy with any of the options presented to me but I know that I have no other choice, so I nod. Dr. Wong smiles down at me and leaves the room with Dr. Baker. Twenty minutes later, I have a new IV and I spend the rest of the night counting each drop of the dark liquid from my iron transfusion as they drip with agonizing slowness through the tube and into my arm.

 

It’s a long night as Dr. Wong wakes me every 2 ½ hours to take my vitals, which means that I’m never really able to get any sleep. By the time morning comes, I’m so tired that I nearly sleep through the blood draw I have to go through so Dr. Wong can reevaluate my blood cell count. When he’s finished he tells me the results will take some time so I’m allowed to get a few more hours sleep, which is probably the only thing that keeps me from going out of my mind. Unfortunately, I’m able to sleep a little too well. The exhaustion seems to weigh so heavily on me while I sleep that when I’m finally being nudged awake, it’s almost difficult to open my eyes.

“Ana. Wake up, baby,” Christian says softly.

“Hmm,” I hum sleepily.

“Come on, wake up.”

I groan as I pry open my eyes and squint up at him through the sunlight pouring through the windows of my room.

“Did the results come back?” I mumble.

“Yeah, they did.”

“And?”

He pauses, and then smiles. “Let me help you out of bed. I want to take you to meet our daughter.”

 

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