Beginning of Chapter 09
I’ve never wanted to leave Cambridge less than I did late Sunday afternoon. Whatever Ana has doesn’t seem to be getting better and she’s refusing to go to the doctor. I’ve called to check on her every spare second I’ve had, but despite her assurances that she’s getting better, today is the second day she’s stayed home from school and Ana never skips class. It also doesn’t help that I’m still internally boiling with rage and reluctant jealousy over Kate’s slip up about Ana exposing herself and trying to tempt Sawyer into sleeping with her while we were still separated. She says he turned her down, but I’ve seen Ana’s body. There’s no way he wasn’t at all interested. Protective of his job, maybe, but definitely intrigued. Does he still think about what he saw? Does he picture her when he’s alone at night? Does he daydream about what might have happened had he said yes? When they’re together, when she wraps her arms around him and he can breathe in her intoxicating scent, does he ever think about broaching the subject again?
A vile taste creeps up into my mouth as I shake the uncomfortable thought away and turn my attention back to the agenda in front of me. Ros is nearly finished with her updates on the newly re-branded Grey Publishing, and I can’t afford to be caught focusing on anything other than this meeting right now. Not with the current internal unrest brewing in my most important departments.
“Thank you, Elizabeth,” Ros says. “And thank you for your hard work on the Keith Brooks signing. I thought we were going to lose him to Greenwich, but you really came through for us in the end. Now let’s just get his novel edited and prepare Jack to get out there to help him sell his work.”
“Absolutely. Thank you, Ms. Bailey.” Elizabeth smiles as Ros nods, then they both turn to me. I glance down at my watch, mentally calculating the time until I get out of this meeting, then look back at my agenda.
“Welch, we got the call from Rosenstein and Associates this morning, they’ll be faxing over a signed contract this afternoon. I want you to assemble a team to get started on a full systems integration overhaul before end of business today. They expect their technology to be up and running by January 1st, so we’re not going to have a lot of turnaround time on this one.”
“January 1st?” Welch repeats back, baffled. “Sir, it’s November. A full system overhaul in that amount of time would mean dozens of hours of overtime for my guys and they’re already swamped with our acquisition load…”
“I understand what it means, but Rosenstein is an important client that will open up a whole new pipeline in New York. This is a huge get for GEH and we need this implementation to go off without a hitch.”
Welch presses his lips together, looking at first as though he’s just going to accept what I’ve told him, but ultimately can’t. “Mr. Grey, the holidays are coming up. With the current attitude of some of my developers after that audit, I think this has the potential to turn a small problem into something big. I can’t put anymore on my guys’ plates.”
“Are you telling me you can’t handle your team?”
“No, sir. I just…”
“Then there shouldn’t be a problem. Hire if you need to, but not for Rosenstein. Only the best for this one. I’ll send you over the details this afternoon, and I’ll expect your email regarding who you’ve selected for your implementation team before I leave this evening.”
He takes a deep breath and nods. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Alright…. Elliot. Where are we on the new building?” My brother blinks at me, slightly taken aback by the change of subject, but he recovers quickly and begins reading the updates he and his foreman have put together for the meeting. While he once again readjusts the timelines he’s given me over and over again, I look at my watch.
Why hasn’t she called me?
Finally, the meeting ends, and I’m the first body out of the room. Andrea scurries out of the conference room after me, asking about meeting notes and follow-up appointments with some of the department heads, but I wave her off.
“Olivia, has Anastasia called for me?” I ask the receptionist. She shakes her head, and I frown. “Fine. Andrea, forward me the outstanding items from the meeting and cancel everything else on my calendar. I don’t have time for anymore meetings today.”
“Uh… yes, sir.”
I give her a sharp nod and take the folder off the top of the stack of documents she holds in her hands, then disappear down the long hallway to my office. Once I’m shut away inside, I put the “Do Not Disturb” on my email, reach for my desk phone, and begin dialing Ana’s number.
“Hello?” she answers after a few drawn out rings, and, instantly, my gut clenches at the weakness apparent in her voice.
“Hey, did I wake you?”
She yawns. “No, but you probably would have if you called me five minutes from now. I’m so tired. I haven’t been able to stay awake for more than a few hours all day and it’s really not helping my missed homework situation.”
“Are you eating?”
“A little. Kate brought me some oatmeal this morning, but I threw it up almost immediately.”
“I think it was just the honey, though. You know how much I hate honey and I haven’t really been nauseous at all since the oatmeal. This is the last of the nausea, I’m sure of it. I’ll be fine by tomorrow morning.”
I grind my teeth together. At first it was food poisoning, next it was just a benign stomach bug. But she’s been sick for days, ever since she surprised me in New York, and for all her excuses, she sounds worse every time I talk to her.
“You should go to the doctor.”
“I’m fine, Christian. Really.”
“You don’t know that,” I argue, and for good measure I pull up WebMD on my laptop.
“Really, I’m okay. I think the nausea is starting to go away. I’ve only thrown up once this morning. I’m mostly just tired now.”
I find fatigue on the list of ailments on the screen in front of me and click on the checkbox. Next I find nausea and a pop-up box appears, so I read it aloud as a question to her. “How many days have you been nauseated?”
“I don’t know, four or five. There’s a flu going around and you know me, if there’s something to catch within 100 miles of me, I’ll get it.”
Oh no you don’t, Ana. I click five days and a second pop-up box appears, which I also read to her. “Is the nausea made worse or better when you eat?”
“Uh… better, I think.”
The next pop-up asks if it’s possible she’s pregnant, but I answer no without checking with her because I’ve seen first hand how diligent she is in taking her birth control. A small working icon appears and then another pop-up box. “Have you been ingesting excessive amounts of acetaminophen?”
She’s quiet for a beat, which I use to answer the last of the questions based on what she’s already told me, but as my eyes sweep over to the resulting list of diseases, she speaks again and her voice is accusatory.
“Are you on WebMD?”
“You could be having acute kidney failure, Ana,” I reply, reading the third result from the list.
“It’s the flu, Christian.”
“You don’t know that until you go to the doctor!”
“I know what the flu feels like and if I go to the doctor they’ll just tell me to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, and I’m doing both of those things already. There is nothing a doctor can give me to make me feel better.”
My fingers tighten around the mouse as I listen to her arguments and continue to read through the list WebMD has populated. “What if you have Meningitis or Typhoid… or Dengue Fever? Jesus, this says you could be having a brain aneurysm.”
“Christian.” She sighs, and I can hear the patience in her voice beginning to wane, like she’s tired of arguing with a disobedient child. It pisses me off. “I promise you, I’m fine. Get off the internet and get back to work or I’m going to call Ros and have her come take your phone away.”
Oh sweetheart, I can handle Ros. “Go to the doctor, Anastasia.”
“I love you, Goodbye.”
“Anastasia!” There’s a click and the phone goes silent. I stare at it in disbelief for a moment and then feel the frustration her previous arguments stirred in me begin to boil out of control. If she thinks she can just dismiss me because I’m on the other side of the country, she clearly doesn’t fully realize just who she is dealing with.
I swallow and push aside all of the residual anger and irritation I’ve been harboring towards Anastasia’s CPO and pick up my phone again.
“Sawyer, Anastasia is still ill. I want her to go to the doctor.”
“Yes. I know, Mr. Grey. I’ve suggested she go to student health myself but she thinks it’s best to just try to wait it out and see if she gets better on her own.”
“I don’t care what she thinks, I want her to go to the doctor. You’re going to take her to the emergency room.”
“I can try, but…”
“No, you’re going to take her. Even if you have to pick her up and carry her to the car. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.” He takes a breath. “I think she’ll throw a fit if I pull up to the hospital though. There’s a student health clinic on campus that will be able to treat her today without an appointment. I think she’ll be more receptive if we start there.”
“That clinic is not equipped to deal with Typhoid.”
There’s a pause, and when he speaks again, I can tell that he’s choosing each of his words carefully. “While that might be true, they do have the ability to determine whether or not she really does have the flu, and she won’t have to wait as long to see a doctor as she would if I took her to the ER. If it’s more serious than she thinks it is, I’ll take her to the hospital immediately, and we’ll have a doctor call ahead so she’s seen right away.”
I pause to consider. “I suppose that’s true. And if it is serious, they could transport her by ambulance to Boston, which would be better equipped than the general hospital in Cambridge. Fine, take her into the clinic, but call me if she’s being moved.”
I hang up the phone without another word and turn my attention back to my laptop screen, letting the satisfaction I feel knowing Anastasia is finally getting proper medical care get me through the first few outstanding items in my inbox. As I continue through my work though, my mind starts to wander back to the list of conditions I’d scanned on the internet. Dengue Fever is fairly improbable as it’s spread through insect bites and the cold winter climate of Cambridge isn’t ideal for a thriving mosquito population. Some of the others though are more concerning and as I send off my 6th email, I can’t help but look back at the list again.
“Aortic stenosis,” I read aloud. With my mouse, I navigate to the link that takes me to an article about the disease and begin reading.
Aortic valve stenosis — or aortic stenosis — occurs when the heart’s aortic valve narrows. This narrowing prevents the valve from opening fully, which reduces or blocks blood flow from your heart into the main artery to your body (aorta) and onward to the rest of your body. Left untreated, Aortic valve stenosis can lead to heart failure, stroke, blood clots, bleeding, heart rhythm abnormalities, infections that affect the heart such as endocarditis, or death.
Death? Quickly, I close the window and return to the list. Iron Deficiency Anemia, Thrombocytopenia, Celiac Disease, West Nile… I have to physically close my laptop screen when I start reading through another screen that details all of the complications that can arise through the treatment of Leukemia. My breath comes out in short huffs and my fingers begin impatiently tapping on the wood of my desk. It’s been a little more than an hour, so she should be there by now, and I haven’t heard anything from Sawyer.
“She’s going to be fine,” I tell myself, taking a few deep breaths. “She’s probably right. It’s just the flu.”
In truth, the only reason the paranoia is getting to me is because she’s so far away. I’d feel better if she was here where I could ensure she was being taken care of. Where I could feel her forehead and know if she was still running a fever. Where I could make sure she was regularly taking medicine, eating well, and resting enough. Where I could see for myself how sick she really was, and not have to trust what she’s telling me or take clues from the way her voice sounds. These are the parts of the distance that are unbearable, and as I sit there trying to get back to work I can feel the tick in my jaw that starts every time I consider asking Ana again to come home.
I know she won’t. I know she shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to physically stop myself from asking her to stay every time she has to leave.
My phone buzzes and I look down at the text from Sawyer.
They just took her back to see the doctor.
They just took her back? So much for the clinic meaning she wouldn’t have to wait… I grit my teeth as I prepare to reply to his text, but I’m distracted by a knock on the door. It’s Andrea, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and yet another stack of papers in the other.
“The contracts were just faxed back from Rosenstein and Associates, but they’re unsigned. They’ve… made some changes.”
She looks nervous as she places the documents in front of me, and as I glance down at the text on the plain copy paper, I see why. The document in front of me doesn’t even closely resemble the terms to which we agreed last weekend in New York. From the responsibilities of my team to what they’re willing to pay for GEH’s services, the contract has been greatly skewed in Rosenstein’s favor and it only serves to intensify the anger that’s plagued me all afternoon.
“Get Ros in here,” I tell Andrea through clenched teeth. She nods and quickly scurries from my office.
As irritating as this unexpected roadbump is, it keeps me from obsessing over Anastasia. Ros is just as outraged as I am over the changes to the contract and after we both tear through it line by line, we call our legal team into my office and get Rosenstein on the phone. Apparently, their CFO and a few key board members weren’t pleased with the deal the company president had agreed to, so they were hoping they’d sneak most of this through without me either noticing, or caring enough to argue. I’m young, so this isn’t the first time a client has tried to take advantage of what they presume to be inexperience, but getting caught red-handed using unethical business practices works in my favor. In the end, Ros and I are able to renegotiate terms to almost exactly the way our deal was previously structured, and over half of the changes agreed to benefit my company more than theirs. By the time I’ve sent the new contracts over via email and hung up the phone, Ros is practically beaming.
“You know, Christian, you never cease to amaze me.”
I nod, but turn to my lawyer. “When they return the signed contracts, I want them reviewed by legal. Let’s be absolutely sure we’re not setting ourselves up for a petty contract dispute before we begin administering services. A lawsuit is the last thing GEH needs right now.”
“Yes, sir,” he says. He gathers his notes from the phone call before getting out of his chair and leaving my office. I glance down at the clock. It’s been nearly two hours, and I haven’t heard from Anastasia yet.
What could possibly be taking so long?
As if in answer to my question, my cell begins buzzing on my desk. I look down and see Ana’s name spelled out across the screen.
“Hold on a second, Ros,” I tell her, then answer the call. “What did the doctor say?”
“Christian…” Her voice is shaking, and it immediately has me on alert. “I–I need you to come to Cambridge.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“I just need you to come here, okay? Please?”
“Okay.” I look down at the screen of my laptop and then quickly pull up my calendar to glance over what I have on my schedule for the next few days. Most of this can be pushed, or done remotely, but I have a meeting with the Oregon State Committee for Technology and Economic Development tomorrow regarding a statewide fiber optics overhaul similar to the one we did for the State of Washington last year. It’s a multi-million dollar deal, so I can’t miss it. I could take my plane to Salem though, rather than Charlie Tango, and fly to Cambridge immediately after. “I have an important meeting tomorrow at three but, once it’s over, I’ll get on a pl–”
“No,” she interrupts me. “I need you to come here, right now. Tonight.”
My stomach drops and my body turns cold. Tonight? Fuck, this is serious. She’s not going to tell me on the phone, which means that whatever the doctor told her is bad. Really bad. It has to be. I know she’d never call me away from work if it wasn’t.
It’s difficult to speak at first because the possibility of every wild theory I came up with after what I read online earlier actually coming to fruition makes my mouth go completely dry. But after I manage to swallow the lump obstructing my throat, I find my voice again. “I’ll be there in seven hours.”
“Thank you,” she replies. I can tell by her voice that she’s crying and it makes every hair on the back of my arms and neck stand up. When I speak again, my voice is shaking too.
“I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll see you soon, bye.”
The phone clicks off and suddenly I feel like I’m stranded alone on a desert island. I can’t move quickly enough, though there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to rush to whatever devastating news I’m about to receive. But Ana is alone right now, and whatever this is she needs me to fight it with her.
“I have to go to Cambridge,” I tell Ros as I jump out of my chair. “I won’t be back for the rest of the week.”
“Cambridge? Christian, you can’t go to Cambridge right now. We have the state meeting tomorrow…”
“Cancel it. Or go without me. I don’t care, I have to go.”
“Cancel it? Christian, this deal is worth millions, hundreds of millions. What’s wong?”
“Ana. There’s… something wrong with Ana.”
“What?” Her voice is suddenly shrill and it grates on me. “What happened?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll call you tomorrow. Maybe– maybe we can have Andrea set up a Lifesize number and I can call into the meeting. Or maybe we can just reschedule. I’ll figure it out once I know what’s going on.”
“Okay. Don’t worry about what’s going on here, I’ll handle it.”
“Thank you.” She nods and then leans over to kiss my cheek as I reach down to pick up my briefcase. I raise an eyebrow at her and she gives me an awkward smile before stepping aside to let me leave. Taylor’s office is only a few steps away from my door, so I stop there first and knock to get his attention.
“We need to get to Cambridge. Now. Call ahead and make sure my jet is ready to take off.” Good man that he is, he doesn’t ask questions. He simply takes his jacket off the back of his chair and pulls out his phone to make the necessary calls. Ros has rushed ahead of me to call the elevator and I give her a last grateful nod as Taylor and I step inside and make our way down to the parking garage, where we climb inside my Mercedes SUV and tear out onto 5th Ave.
The rain beats loudly against the roof of our car while we make our way down the highway, but I hardly notice it. We’re driving towards Boeing, not SeaTac, as that was the only way to ensure my plane was ready immediately. It’s unfamiliar though, so it takes us awhile to navigate onto the airstrip and board. Neither Taylor or I have anything but the clothes on our backs, not even a phone charger, but that all seems very inconsequential. Now that I don’t have the physical act of moving from point A to point B to occupy my thoughts, the only thing I can think about are the “what ifs.” What would be terrible enough that she couldn’t tell me over the phone?
My mind is already full of ailments from my web research earlier, and the first thing that my mind recalls is Meningitis. It pops up all the time over college campuses, and if not caught soon enough it can lead to any number of brain issues, even death. But I know from stories Elena has told me about her sister that you have to progress pretty far before you reach the point of no return, and Ana was completely coherent on the phone. Scared, yes, but she didn’t slur or have any difficulty speaking. That could mean it hasn’t progressed far enough to be life threatening. But if that were the case why wouldn’t she tell me over the phone? No, meningitis doesn’t seem likely.
One by one I go through each and every ailment I can remember. I’m able to dismiss most of them in the same way I did meningitis, until I remember Leukemia. Fatigue was the main symptom and she’s been complaining about being exhausted for a while, even before New York. I thought it was just school and travelling but, maybe not. She’s lost weight, she’s been nauseated, she had a low grade fever when I left… I pause, trying to remember the other symptoms from the list I read on Mayo Clinic.
Leukemia makes the patient more susceptible to infections, and her allergies a few weeks ago developed into a severe sinus infection out of nowhere.
Leukemia. It’s Leukemia.
Once I’m sure, it’s incredible how fast I work through the resulting emotions. Panic, fear, and pain all give way to determination. This isn’t an automatic death sentence. I won’t let it be. I won’t let her leave me. I’ll find her the best oncologist in Seattle. No, fuck that. In the world. We’ll do everything right. We’ll have her on the right medication, and I’ll make sure she takes it absolutely diligently. We’ll speak to a nutritionist to make sure she’s eating exactly the right foods. Once I get her home, I will ensure there is absolutely no stress in her life to make the battle she’s about to fight any more difficult than it already will be. I will help her heal. I will get her through this because there is absolutely no other option.
For the remainder of the flight, I repeat that last thought over and over again, trying to keep the mental images of Ana suffering through treatment out of my mind. She’s strong, she can do this. I’ll help her do this. I’ll carry as much of it as I can for her. I won’t let her down and I won’t let her go.
We touch down in Boston late, but the moment I slide into the passenger’s seat of the rental car Taylor ordered for us from Seattle, I pull out my phone to text Ana.
Just landed in Boston. I’m on my way.
She must be watching her phone, because her response is nearly immediate.
I’m waiting. I love you.
I love you too, Anastasia. So very much.
Seeing the words on the screen and knowing how scared she must be is painful. I slide my phone into my pocket and then turn to look at Taylor. “Get us there as quickly as possible.”
Thankfully, the late hour means the highway between Boston and Cambridge is mostly deserted. So, ignoring all posted speed limit signs, Taylor pushes the pedal to the floor and we fly over the wet pavement, getting to Ana’s house in record time. As we pull into the driveway on the side of the house, I notice all of the lights downstairs are on, but I can’t see Ana through the kitchen window. The moment the car is in park, I hit the pavement and practically sprint into the house.
“I’m in here.” Her voice is tentative, shaky, and I imagine it’s because she’s paralyzed with fear. Don’t worry, baby. I’m here.
When I come around the corner from the kitchen and see her standing in the middle of the living room, looking helpless, I pause for just a second to take inventory of her. She’s pale, incredibly pale, and I remember from my reading that it could be because the blood cells damaged by the cancer can lead to anemia like symptoms, including abnormally pale skin. The evidence is there, right in front of me, and suddenly my own assurances about how we’re going to get through this seem weak and almost foolishly optimistic. I can’t bare the distance between us anymore. I need to hold her.
I cross the room with long strides and pull her into my arms. She hugs me back, but the gesture is weak. I can feel her trembling beneath my hands.
“I’m here,” I reassure her. “What is it?”
“Have a seat,” she says. I step backward toward the sofa, keeping my eyes trained on hers, and then slowly lower myself down.
“I don’t really know where to start…”
Then I will. “Is it cancer?”
She blinks. “What?”
“Is that what’s wrong with you? Is it cancer?”
“No!” she says, her voice both emphatic and incredulous. “No, I’m not dying, Christian. I’m fine.”
Not dying? Not cancer? It takes a second for those words to sink in, for me to accept them, but as I search for a lie in her eyes and come up short, I feel an entire day’s worth of tension leave my body and I’m suddenly overcome with relief.
“Oh, thank god. Don’t you ever do that to me again, Anastasia. Do you have any idea how terrifying the last few hours have been for me?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d go right to death! I just… I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”
Fuck. Just because it’s not cancer doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. She did still call me all the way out here. “Tell me what?”
“Just… I just need you to… what I mean is that…”
Her reticence is maddening. “What is it, Ana?”
“I’m… Christian, I’m pregnant.”
The words hit me like a slap in the face. At first, they sound foreign, and it takes me a second to work out what she’s actually said, but certainty over the word doesn’t make what she’s said make anymore sense. “What?”
“I’m pregnant. About eight weeks. Apparently, the antibiotics I was taking when I had that sinus infection made my birth control fail. I got pregnant on my birthday.”
Antibiotics. Antibiotics! I’d been so focused on the illness that made them a necessity that I hadn’t even thought about the side-effects.
“I’m sorry,” she continues, tears welling in her eyes. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I know you said you wanted to wait and I did too, but it’s happened now and… and I want it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. I want this baby more than I’ve ever wanted anything.”
Baby. That’s the word my brain picks out. Not pregnancy, baby. We’re going to have a baby. An infant that is going to live with us, and need constant care. Who will grow into a child, and a teenager, and an adult… I’m going to be a father. In the blink of an eye, I’m suddenly going to be responsible for an entire human life, not just in terms of existence, but in shaping and molding that life into a person with character and morals. How do you teach a baby to talk, or walk? Fuck, it’s going to need to learn how to hold a spoon, and how to match socks… Match socks? No, it’s going to need to learn colors! Everything! We’re going to have to teach it everything. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to be a father. Hell, I didn’t know how to be a child!
My breathing starts to come in panicked pants. What the fuck am I going to do? This isn’t just my child, this is Ana’s child and I can’t…
Suddenly, my train of thought stops. Ana’s child. I am the father of Anastasia’s child. No matter what happens, she’s tied to me because we are going to share a son or daughter. We’re going to be a family, not just by marriage, but by blood. This one uniting factor that cannot be undone or taken away.
She can’t leave.
“You’re pregnant,” I repeat, looking up at her, and she nods nervously.
“I’m pregnant.” The moment the words pass her lips I leap to my feet, take her in my arms, and kiss her hard. What I feared was going to be devastating has actually turned out to be miraculous. She’s mine, irrevocably. I’m not ever going to lose her. When I pull away from the kiss, I’m beaming.
“You’re not mad?” she asks, a single tear rolling from the corner of eye, down her cheek.
“Mad? No. Anastasia, we’re having a baby. You and I… We’re going to be a real family. Forever. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. How could I possibly be mad?” Forever. The word is really true now, and when I say it outloud, a wide smile stretches across her face.
“You said you wanted to wait. You said you weren’t sure you even wanted kids.”
“You know me,” I say, my happiness radiating down over her. “I never know what I want until it hits me right in the face, or at least runs into me in a dormitory at Harvard University.”
She laughs at my joke, and then shakes her head, trying to reign in her smile so she can speak. “So, you’re happy? Really? You’re not just in shock?”
“Oh, I’m definitely in shock. And I’m probably going to be in shock until I hold our baby in my arms, but I promise you, I am more than just happy right now. I love you so much, Anastasia.”
I can’t hold back the joy bursting out of me, so I pull her into me and claim her mouth with mine once more. She accepts my tongue as I push it past her lips and then tangles her fingers through my hair, tugging lightly at my roots in the way she knows drives me crazy.
This perfect woman, who I feel I’ve spent an eternity chasing and fighting to hold onto, is now, and forever will be, mine. Now that she’s pregnant, there’s no reason to wait for us to marry any longer. I don’t have her ring with me, but we don’t need it to get married. It’s only Tuesday, so we can go to the courthouse first thing in the morning, sign the necessary documents, and when I give her the ring I designed specifically for her, I’ll be giving it to Mrs. Grey. My wife. She’s going to be my wife and she’s happy about it. I can feel the elation in her kiss. We’re going to be a family, and she’s absolutely jubilant. That’s the sweetest part of all of this. She wants me just the way I want her. Forever.
I step back and stare back at her in near disbelief over how perfectly tonight has turned out. “Well, let’s get you packed. We’ll take whatever you’re going to need for the next few days and then Sawyer can bring the rest. I’ll find someone to marry us first thing tomorrow and then we’re going to find you the best Obstetrician in Seattle.”
Her smile falls as her face crinkles with confusion. “Wait… Seattle? What do you mean?”
“You need a doctor, Anastasia. A good one. I only want the best for you and for our baby. But don’t worry, my mother knows everyone. She’ll make sure we have the best.”
“Yeah, but I’m not going home, Christian. I’m not dropping out of school.”
What is this? “But… you’re pregnant.”
“It’s not a disability. I have six more months until I graduate and the baby isn’t due for seven. I’ll have to find an OB in Cambridge, or Boston maybe. I’m not leaving Harvard.”
“What do you mean you’re not leaving Harvard?” I demand, my anger flaring again. “Of course you are. I’m not leaving you across the country while you’re pregnant.”
“That’s not up to you.” I open my mouth to argue, but she cuts me off with a sudden look of realization. “Wait, is this why you’re happy? Because you think I’m going to move home?”
“Of course not.” My tone is dismissive, but she sees through my easy lie. “Okay, fine. Yes, a little. You’re having a baby. That’s wonderful and I’m happy, but I also want you home. What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that is that you don’t care what I want at all. Why can’t you understand what Harvard means to me, Christian? I worked hard to get here I’ve worked hard to stay here, and I made a promise to my dad and to myself that I would graduate. I’m not going to give up my dream of graduating from Harvard six months before I achieve it. Not for anything.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “Don’t say that I haven’t supported you finishing your education. I didn’t try and stop you when you said you wanted to come back here. When you said you wouldn’t stay, I accepted it. I don’t want to take this away from you, but this pregnancy isn’t just about you, Anastasia. That’s my baby, too.” And I need you both close to me far more than you logistically need your degree.
“I never said it wasn’t,” she argues.
“Well, if you stay here, I’m going to miss everything. Doctors appointments, lamaze classes, the first time it kicks… what if you go into labor and I’m 3,000 miles away?”
“First of all, if I go into labor and I’m still in Boston, we have bigger problems than you being in Seattle because it will mean I’ve gone into labor more than a month early. And, I know that this isn’t ideal and the timing of this sucks, but I’m not going to throw away my dream so that you can go to lamaze classes.”
“So I just don’t get a say in that?”
“Do you really think you’d be there anyway?”
The ember of anger burning inside of me suddenly roars to life. “I got on a plane at a moment’s notice and flew across the country for you today, Anastasia. Are you really questioning my commitment to you right now?”
“No, but you thought I had cancer. Not every doctor’s appointment is exciting or life changing, Christian. Most of the next few months, I’m just going to go in there to get a regular check up. Can you honestly tell me that you would cancel a lunch with a client, or your operations meeting, or a business trip so you could hear a doctor tell you nothing has changed or so that you could go practice breathing exercises with me?”
“No, you would run all of your appointments through Andrea first so we can align your appointments and classes around my schedule.” The words come out of my mouth before I can call them back, and as I hear them fall flat in the charged space between us, I can’t help but cringe. “That came out wrong…”
“I don’t think it did,” she says through clenched teeth. “Our lives can’t be all about you and GEH, Christian. I’m not giving up my dreams and everything that I’ve worked for to structure my life around what is convenient for you. I’m sorry that you may miss things, that kills me, but I’m not leaving.”
“Well I don’t agree with that.”
I glare down at her but she stares back into my eyes with petulant defiance. I’ve never wanted to put her over my knee more than I do in this moment but this is not my first rowe with Anastasia. I’m not going to win this fight by shouting at her or dishing out punishments. She can be logical, I just need to find a way to make her see reason.
“Don’t act like I’m not home three days a week,” she says, cutting me off before I can speak. “Or that I’m not going to be home for over a full week later this month, more than four weeks between December and January, and another week in March. I will make sure that you get to experience this pregnancy with me as much as possible, but I’m not going to drop out of school with six months left just so you have the choice to go with me for a checkup at the doctor’s office if it’s convenient for you.”
What the hell am I supposed to say to that? That three days a week in Seattle still means four days a week in Cambridge? That I don’t care about her Thanksgiving or Christmas or Spring breaks because no matter how much we both want them to be, they’re never enough? That the distance is so much harder than I anticipated it would be and with how difficult it’s been up until now I know it’s going to be impossible now that I know she’s carrying our child? I turn and move to the couch, letting my head fall into my hands as I summon the strength to follow Flynn’s advice. Try seeing things her way.
She didn’t ask for this anymore than I did. She took the proper precautions to ensure this didn’t happen to the best of her abilities, I didn’t. She’s the one who is at risk of losing something here, whereas I’m only looking to gain, and that’s not right. As much as it kills me everytime I come home to our empty apartment, when I see the blank space in my closet where her clothes used to hang, when I stare at her vacant pillow at night, all of those things are temporary. A brief blip in time that will be over for good in May. If she leaves Harvard now, she’ll never get to come back, especially once the baby is here. This is it, her last shot at her dream, and if I take it away from her, force her to give it up, I will be going against every promise I’ve made to her. I’ve always said I wanted to give her the world. Right now, it looks like that means my world. Or, at least, the very best parts of it.
I turn a look up at her, defeated. “Fine. Stay.”
She bites down on her lip and then moves onto the couch next to me, lifting my arm and placing it over her shoulder so she can cuddle into my side. “I know this hard. I’m sorry. I wish this would have happened six months from now so that we could do this the way we both want to, but if I’ve learned anything over the past three months it’s that we can make this work. We’re so great now. We’ve learned to communicate and to compromise… we know how to make each other a priority without abandoning everything else in our life. I love you, Christian, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you don’t miss anything. I promise.”
Surprisingly, her words are comforting, and I think it’s because the part of this that is so wonderful, the part where this child cements my future with Anastasia, hasn’t changed. She’ll still be mine. The mother of my child. We will be a real family. Forever. Even if that forever is delayed until the baby is actually born.
I pull her more tightly into my side and then lean down to plant a soft kiss in her fragrant hair. “Okay. I love you, too.”
“Mmm,” she hums in return. “You know, the doctor told me today that my due date is on June 18th. Our baby could be born on your birthday.”
I smile. “I couldn’t think of a better gift. Do you have a picture or something I can see?”
“Oh, yeah.” Pushing out of my arms, she scrambles off the sofa and disappears into the kitchen, returning several seconds later with an envelope in her hands. I take the picture she pulls out and stare at the black and gray static displayed there, focusing on the small white blob in the center.
“Mhm.” She nods and I reach down to brush my fingertip over the bright spot. It doesn’t look like anything. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was just a disturbance in the photo. A flaw. But it isn’t. It’s a child, my child, and while I stare at it, my previous doubts and nerves begin to take hold of me again.
“We’re having a baby.”
Ana laughs softly at my side. “Yes, we are.”
“You know… I just proposed to you and you haven’t said anything yet.”
She narrows her eyes again. “That’s funny, I never heard a question.”
I blink and run through the conversation in my mind again. She’s right, technically. I told her we’d find someone to marry us, but I never actually said the words, will you marry me? She wants a proposal. How I’m supposed to do that without a ring, I’m not sure, but after tonight, and the things I’ve given up amidst this debacle, this is the thing that will make it alright.
After placing the picture of our child on the table, I reach out to take both of her hands in mine, and then stare deeply into her eyes. “Anastasia–”
“No!” she practically shouts, yanking her hands out of mine. My eyes widen with horror. “No, no, no. Not like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want you to propose to me just because I got pregnant. What about all the other stuff you said before about not wanting us to be apart for our entire engagement and asking my father?”
It’s not me who wants us to be apart right now at all. “I think it’s a little late to ask your father, don’t you?” I ask instead, shifting a pointed look down to her stomach. She shakes her head.
“No, I don’t. We might be going out of order, but I don’t want us to go into marriage feeling like there’s a shotgun coming up the aisle after us. I want you to propose to me only because you love me and you want to spend the rest of your life with me, not because I got knocked up. I want us to be ready and with me living here and you living there and all of the stress that this pregnancy is going to add to our situation, I don’t feel ready. Especially if even your proposal comes as an afterthought to the baby.”
I feel the last of my elation deflate. She really doesn’t understand what she means to me. How the idea of marrying her was never an afterthought, but always my end game. But I suppose, even in my own fantasies, this isn’t how I proposed to her. I’ve always wanted it to be big. Something she would never forget and that would make her eyes well with tears when I finally pulled out the ring I so desperately want to give to her. I’m asking her to marry me, not negotiating an acquisition.
“You want romance.”
I take a breath and nod, silently chastising myself for ruining this moment for both of us. “I do love you, Anastasia. More than anything. I do want to spend the rest of my life with you, but you’re right. You deserve the perfect proposal. I don’t even have your ring on me. So I’ll wait for the right moment.”
“Thank you,” she says, and the tension melts away from her lips before she leans forward and kisses me again. The warmth of her kiss washes away the harsh sting of rejection, but as I bask in the feel of her body pressed against mine, the adrenaline of the unknown and the excitement of this news begins to wear off and I suddenly feel tired. But on the bright side, this unexpected pregnancy has bought me an extra night with her in my arms.
“It’s late,” I tell her. “We should go to bed. Your body needs all the rest it can get.”
She yawns as I get to my feet and reach out for her hand to lead her up the stairs to her bedroom. My thumb caresses hers as we walk. Somehow, it feels much more secure there now than it ever has before and even when she pulls away so she can undress and get ready for bed, the warmth of her hand still lingers in my palm. Everything feels much more permanent now, and it’s serene. When she returns and snuggles into my embrace in her bed, I feel content. Happy. Home.
My hand slides down to her stomach, and although I know it’s just my imagination, I believe for a moment that I can feel our child’s heartbeat through her skin.
The best of her.
The best of me.
Our love made tangible.
As her breathing slows and I hear her drift off into peaceful sleep, I bury my face in her hair and take in her warm, comforting scent. I didn’t think it was possible, but somehow, tonight, I’ve fallen even more in love with her.