“Congratulations, sweetheart!” my mother exclaims. She’s the first person to find me once the ceremony is over and the hundreds of hats sailing through the air have settled back to the ground. The moment I step off the graduation stage, she wraps me in a lung crushing hug. “You did it, baby girl. We are so, so, so proud of you!”
“Come here, sis!” My dad takes me from my mother and somehow manages to squeeze me even tighter while moving me back and forth. “Welcome to the alumni, kid. We’re so happy to have you.”
“Thank you, Daddy.” I hug him again, and over his shoulder I catch a glimpse of Ana in the crowd. She moves out of Carrick’s embrace into Christian’s, and the moment he has her wrapped in his arms, he presses his lips to hers in a deep, passionate kiss that is unconcerned with the hundreds of people milling around them. The red ring he gave her this morning glints in the sunlight and when they pull apart, they’re both smiling as broadly as they can at one another. Even from across the crowded theater, the love they share is apparent.
It makes my stomach clench uncomfortably.
“Hey, what about me?” Ethan asks. I blink and turn my attention from Christian and Ana to my brother, then take a breath before giving him my best smile and stepping into his arms. He groans slightly as he hugs me and my mother quickly clears a space around us to take a picture.
“Don’t let her go,” she says, squatting down, and then we’re flooded with a flash of light. “Okay, now, Ethan, put one arm over her and both of you look right here.”
Ethan rolls his eyes, but does as she says. We pose for three different pictures together, and then I take a few with my dad, then my mom, then my mom and dad, and then Harrison takes a picture of the four of us.
“You know, we need one with Carter,” my mom says, scanning the crowd. “Where did he run off to?”
“Oh,” I say hesitantly. “He’s probably with his family. I’ll see him later at the Arts Center.”
My dad raises an eyebrow. “You sure?”
“You don’t seem very excited. Everything okay, kiddo?”
“Fine. No, we’re great. It’s just crowded and I’m hungry and I don’t really want to stand here taking pictures anymore.”
“Well, we have to get one of you and Ana together in your robes. Where did she go? I saw the Greys during the ceremony.”
“Oh, she’s over–” I point in the direction where I saw her a few minutes ago, but she’s not there anymore. None of the Greys are. “Well, she was right there.”
“Ms. Kavanagh,” Harrison says, hanging up his phone and taking my elbow in his hand. “We need to get you back to the house, immediately.”
“The house? I thought we were going to the Arts Center from here?”
“No, ma’am. It’s not safe. If you’ll follow me.”
“Not safe, what happened? Where’s Ana?”
“Mr. Grey can explain everything once we return to the rendezvous point, but for now I need you and your family to come with me. Now.”
“Is she okay?”
“Ms. Kavanagh, please–”
“Just tell me that she’s okay and we can go.”
He frowns. “Miss Steele and Mr. Grey were escorted back to their vehicle by Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sawyer and we are not to go to the Arts Center. That’s all the information I have.”
I inhale sharply, trying to push the memories of last spring break away when I’d read that Google Alert saying someone had tried to take Ana off the street a few blocks from their apartment. At least I know that if Taylor and Luke have her, no one grabbed her. But being rushed away from graduation and told we can’t go to our party? That has to be because of him. Is he here? How do they know?
“Okay.” I nod at Harrison and reach back for my mom’s hand. My parents look at me with bewilderment, but Ethan, who I told all about what had happened over a frantic phone call on my way to the airport in Mexico, just takes my father’s arm the same way Harrison has ahold of mine, and starts walking briskly to the car. As we go, I scan the sea of faces looking for anyone I recognize. Ana, Christian, Elliot… but I don’t see any of them. Taylor and Luke had Christian and Ana, but what about the rest of the Greys? Who is going to make sure Elliot makes it back to the house safe and sound?
“Harrison, who is with the Greys? Christian’s family, I mean.”
“I’m not sure, ma’am.”
A shiver of trepidation runs down my spine as I step onto the asphalt of the parking lot and then make a beeline to the big SUV my parents rented in Boston. Once I’m buckled into the back seat, and my family is secure inside the vehicle, Harrison pulls out into the long traffic jam inching its way towards the exit, and I pull out my phone to text Elliot.
But there’s already a text there waiting for me.
They told you not to go to the Arts Center, right? Go straight home.
I feel a tangible sense of relief as I text him back.
Yes, we’re on our way home now. See you there?
Yeah, we’re on our way too. Christian and Ana are in the car three ahead of us.
I let out a long breath and relax back into the leather seat, staring diligently out the window until we make it out of the parking lot, looking for the face of a man I don’t know.
“Kate, where are we going?” my mother asks after we pass the Arts Center and continue on towards home.
“Back to the house. Ana and the Greys are meeting us there.”
“But what about your party?”
“It’s fine. We’ll go later, we just need to meet them at the house first.”
“What’s going on, Kate?” my dad interjects, and after a nervous look at Ethan, I take a breath and fill them in on the last few months and just exactly why Christian moved to Cambridge with Ana for the rest of the semester.
“So that’s why he got you a bodyguard,” my dad infers as we step through the back door and into the kitchen. I nod.
“He was worried someone would come after me to get to her. Ana would put herself in danger if she thought it would save me, so Christian hired someone to protect both of us.”
“Is that why you got the dog?” my mother asks, pushing Champ off of her as he runs into the kitchen to greet us.
“No, we didn’t know about any of this when we bought Champ. He’s here because Ana used to go to Seattle every weekend and Harrison wasn’t here before. I don’t like being alone.” I kneel down and rub Champ behind the ears, cringing slightly as he licks my face and slobbers on my graduation robes. “Hey, boy. Where’s Ana?”
He looks up at me with his wide brown eyes and wags his tail. I kiss him on the tip of his nose and then scramble to my feet, but when I come around into the living room, none of the faces that stare back at me belong to my best friend.
“Kate! Have you heard from Christian or Ana?” Grace asks.
I shake my head. “They’re not here yet?”
“No,” Elliot answers.
“I told you,” Carla says to Ray, her voice nearly hysterical. “I told you we should have kept her away from him.”
“I’m sure they’re fine, Carla,” Ray replies. “They’re probably just stuck in traffic.”
“They were in front of us!”
“They have Taylor with them,” Carrick says.
“And Luke,” Elliot adds. “They’re fine. Ana’s super pregnant, they probably had to stop so she could pee. Or… eat. Trust me, nothing is going to happen to her with Christian and Luke around.”
Carla shakes her head. “You all put way too much faith in him. Do none of you remember what happened in March? Have you forgotten that she was in his apartment, that these same bodyguards failed before? You have no idea what…” She stops, takes a breath, and turns once again to look purposefully at Ray. “She’s our baby girl. He puts her in danger over and over again. How can you just–”
“Carla, stop!” Ray exclaims, but before he can continue, Champ begins to bark at the sound of the back door sliding open and I turn on my heel to hurry into the kitchen.
“Ana? Christian?” When I turn the corner, I see them both standing there and the relief is immediate. I trudge forward and pull Ana into a tight hug. “What’s going on? Harrison wouldn’t tell us anything, just that we couldn’t go to the Arts Center.”
“He was there,” she breathes back in a shaky voice. “He called me right after the ceremony and told me he’d killed Leila. Oh my god, Christian…” She pulls out of my embrace and turns to face him. “Leila’s dead. It’s my fault. She saved me and now she’s… Oh my god!”
Tears start to pour from her eyes, so Christian wraps her tightly in his arms and starts to drag his fingers through her hair, trying to soothe her. “Hush, baby. It’s not your fault. Thank god she saved you, but she made the choice to get involved with this fucker in the first place. We tried to find her. She should have come to us. It’s not your fault.”
“She said we couldn’t keep her safe. She said he’d get to her, that he’d eventually get to me. She said we were never going to be safe.”
I bite the inside of my cheek, wanting so much to do something to calm the fear in her voice, but I have to leave that to Christian right now. He tightens his grip on her, holding her head against his chest.
“Hey, you’re safe right now. I’ve got you. No one is going to hurt you.”
She nods, looking slightly pacified by his words and his strong arms around her, but when she pulls away, she suddenly gasps and her hands shoot down to her side like she’s got a runner’s cramp.
Christian’s face melts with worry again. “Baby…”
“It’s just… ah, cramp again.”
“Come on, let’s get you to the couch.”
I step aside so that Christian can lead her into the living room, but the moment they round the corner, they’re berated with questions from the ten people still anxiously waiting in the living room.
“What’s going on?” my dad asks. “Why are we here? I thought we’d reserved the Arts Center for Katherine and Ana’s party?”
“It’s not safe,” Christian says, and then turns to face his own father. “He’s here.”
“What?” Grace says. “Here? How?”
“I don’t know,” Christian replies. He takes a step to move Ana toward the couch again, but Ray quickly gets out of his seat with his arms outstretched for his daughter.
“Are you okay, baby girl?” he asks. She nods but it doesn’t fool any of us.
“So, we can’t go there at all?” Mia asks. “What about the gifts? Taylor took the presents we got for Ana and Kate over there already.”
At all? Wait, we’re not just going to go together? Fuck, Carter was supposed to meet us there. I forgot all about him. “And Carter was going to meet us there,” I add.
“Taylor is on route to the Arts Center to collect Ana and Kate’s things,” Luke answers. “I’m sorry, but in light of the phone call Miss Steele received, he’s going to have to open and examine all of the gifts for anything dangerous.” He turns to me. “But I’m sure if he sees Mr. Reed, he’ll direct him here.”
I nod and then glance over at Elliot, who must have been looking at me through the whole conversation because the moment our eyes meet, he quickly diverts his to the floor. I can feel it in that moment, the same tension between the two of us. It’s awkward and it’s painful, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve brought up Carter’s name again or because he felt the same thing I did when I was in his arms dancing last night and he knows as well as I do that we’re moving towards something inevitable. I turn and look through the open blinds at the street, waiting, I guess, for Carter’s car to pull up along the curb at the front of the house and remind myself that I’m supposed to want it to. Repeating over and over again that I want him here right now.
What the hell am I doing?
“I think you should lay down for a few minutes,” Christian tells Ana. “At least until Taylor gets back. This is too much stress right now.”
She nods again and turns to me, giving me a small, weak smile which I think is meant to assure me that she thinks Carter will be here soon. As she moves with Christian to the stairs, guilty heat floods my cheeks.
“I-I think I’m going to call Ellio– uh, Carter,” I announce awkwardly to everyone else in the room. “I’m going to call Carter. I’ll be right back.”
“Kate…” Elliot says, but I don’t stop to listen to what he has to say.
“I’ll be right back,” I repeat instead, and make my way up the stairs to my room, two at at time. Once I’m through my bedroom door, I dash inside, close the door behind me, and collapse against it. My chest heaves with every breath I take, preemptively holding back the tears that are sure to come. I can’t be like this. My family is here to celebrate graduation. Ana is going to need all the support she can get after once again being terrified by this crazed psycho coming after Christian. And I’m one week away from starting the biggest job of my life. But I know that I’m on a precipice and this fine line I’ve been walking with Carter and Elliot is about snap in half. I have no idea which way I’m going to fall and I have no idea which way I want to. Carter is safe. He comes from a good family, he’s a Harvard graduate, and he wants the same future that I do. But Elliot…
I feel things for Elliot that I just don’t for Carter, no matter how hard I’ve been trying. I don’t think I could feel them for anyone else but him. He’s like a piece in the puzzle of my life. Only he can fit there and when he’s gone, the picture just isn’t complete. His family loves me and accepts me as one of them — even months after we’ve broken up, while Carter’s parents treat me as something between a phase he’s going through and the reason he didn’t get into law school. Elliot was raised by a strong, successful woman so he doesn’t have any issues or feel threatened when I succeed. He encourages me. He pushes me. Carter accepts what I’ve accomplished, but always in comparison to his own victories and failures. Every achievement becomes a competition, a new goal that he has to set for himself. He’s never just happy for me. Elliot and I have so much in common. With him, I know I’ll travel the world and have the most amazing experiences. Carter and I can party together, maybe go to a few of the same concerts… but he doesn’t have the thirst for adventure that I have. That Elliot has.
But Carter wants a family. Carter wants a big wedding with all of his friends and family, and he wants to hold me on his arm at business soirees and charity galas as Mrs. Katherine Reed. He wants three kids (boy, girl, boy) and a big yard for Champ. Carter wants the future I’ve always pictured for myself.
Elliot may have been my greatest love, but he refuses to be my family. Carter is my future.
I’ve chosen Carter.
I inhale deeply, pulling the air all way down through my abdomen and releasing it in a long, slow exhale. Once I’m sure I’ve quelled the uncertainty swirling through my mind, I pull my phone out of my bra and search through my contacts for Carter’s name.
“Hey, what’s going on? I just got to the Arts Center and Taylor is here tearing open all of your packages.”
“Yeah, change of plans. Ana got a threatening phone call so we had to come home. We’re on lock down.”
“Fuck, was it the guy who tried to kidnap her?”
“Looks like it. She’s pretty freaked out, but Christian just took her to lay down. Hopefully she’ll feel a little bit better by the time Taylor gets back and we can open gifts. Or look at the gifts Taylor opened, I guess. That and a good dinner might take her mind off of this for a little bit.”
“So, I’ll see you at your house, then?”
“You’re still coming?”
“Yeah… I mean, if that’s okay. I have something for you too.”
“Oh. Yeah, of course. Obviously it’s okay that you come. I’ll see you soon?”
“I’m on my way. I love you, baby.”
My throat tightens and I have to swallow before I can speak again. “Stop it, you just saw me.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean I ever stop missing you.”
“I know. Me too. I’ll see you soon. Bye.”
I hang up the phone and toss it onto the bed, deciding I need a shower to clear my head. Carefully, I kick off my heels and hang my graduation robes in the closet before pulling my hair up on top of my head, stripping out of my dress, and stepping beneath the hot, cleansing stream of water from my shower head. Steam billows up around me and I breathe it in, allowing it to relax away my tension so I can think clearly. By the time the water has turned cold, I’ve pushed all thoughts of what happened between Elliot and I the night before away and committed myself to the path I’ve chosen.
After drying off and getting dressed again, I decide that I’ve given Christian enough time and am about to go check on Ana, but just as I reach for the knob, I’m stopped by two soft knocks on the door. When I open it, I find Elliot standing in the hallway, waiting anxiously.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” he asks.
Bad idea, Kate. “Uh…”
I pull open the door and he steps into my room, glancing around and thoroughly examining the space we shared for two years before finally turning back to me. “Are you okay?”
“Me? Oh, yeah. It’s a little scary, but I’m mostly just worried for Ana. She’s been freaked out over Leila for weeks. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling right now, knowing she’s… dead.”
“Yeah.” He nods. “I’ve been really worried about what’s going to happen next now that graduation is over and she has to come back to Seattle for the first time since she ran away. I think it’s going to be hard on her, but I don’t know what to do to help her, you know? It’s like, her home isn’t safe and if home isn’t safe, what is?”
My bottom lip starts to tremble, so I press them tightly together and nod. “Yeah.”
“Hey, Katie…” Elliot steps toward me and pulls me into a hug, holding me tightly against him while I work to once again gain control over my impending tears. Thankfully, his embrace is exactly what I need. His warmth and his scent wash away my fear, leaving me feeling a small sense of tranquility that wasn’t achievable before. I bury my face into his jacket and inhale, and as I do, he leans down and kisses the top of my head.
“I’m sorry,” he says quickly, releasing me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t pretend anymore, Kate. I can’t act like I’m fine with you and I barely talking. I can’t pretend like I don’t realize how awkward things are between us now. I can’t keep saying I’m fine with you and Carter being together. I’m not. I’m so jealous of him, I can hardly see straight. When I think about him touching you, it makes me sick. It makes me violent. I want to hurt him. I’m not okay, Kate. Not without you. I want you back. And not because of Carter, but because I am in love with you and need I you in my life.”
“You love me too, Kate. I know that. I felt it. Last night when we were dancing, I felt it. You can’t hide things from me. I know you, better than anyone else in the world. Better than I know myself. I know what’s in your heart.”
“I’m with Carter now, Elliot.”
“Fuck Carter. Fuck everyone in the world that isn’t you and me.” He takes a breath and he jaw clenches, but when he continues, the determination in his voice is stronger. “I’m sorry about Gia. I should have never been with her. I should have never tried to replace you. There is no replacement. I love you Katherine Kavanagh and I want you to be mine again.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Yes it is. This is how easy it is.” His hands move up into my hair at the back of my head and he pulls my lips to his in a deep, passionate kiss that I feel all the way down to my toes. He thrusts his tongue past my lips and tangles it with mine in a way that is immediately familiar and makes me homesick. His taste bears the comfort of a previously forgotten dream that I can suddenly recall with vivid clarity. The way his hands hold me against him feels safe and welcoming as he pours into me the love he so desperately wants me to believe in. Between each brush of his lips, he whispers again that he loves me.
It would be so be easy to say yes. It would be so easy to let myself kiss him back and let him take me for his own again, but nothing’s changed. And for how easy it would be now, it would be devastating later.
After allowing his kiss to linger far too long, I push myself away and stare up into his eyes through the tears welling in mine.
“Please, Katie…” he whispers.
“Kate.” The door opens and Ana sticks her head inside, so Elliot and I quickly jump apart. Her eyes widen with surprise, and possibly a little embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I just… I wanted to tell you that Carter’s here.”
“Thanks,” I reply, and then turn back to Elliot. His eyes continue to plead with mine, but as much as I truly want what is offered in that look, I’m not willing to make the sacrifice that giving in would entail. If Elliot would make me happy in the long run, we never would have broken up. “I can’t.”
Unwilling to look at the pain that’s immediately apparent on his face, I push away from him, then slide between Christian and Ana into the hallway and down the stairs. Everyone is still waiting, looking much more impatient now that there’s a pile of unopened gifts in the center of the living room and the promise of dinner once Ana and I have sorted through everything. Carter is sitting on a pile of Ana’s boxes labeled “books” by the door, and the smile that breaks across his face when he sees me coming down the stairs hits me like a punch to the heart.
“Hey, baby. Have I told you how beautiful you look today?”
“Yeah. Carter, can we…?”
“And there’s Ana,” Ethan’s voice sounds from across the room. “Now let’s get through the gifts so we can eat. That graduation ceremony was like three hours long.”
There’s a murmur of agreement so Carter takes my hand and leads me to the sofa to take my place next to Ana, then sits on the armrest next to me. There isn’t wrapping on anything piled on the floor in front of us, so each member of our family simply picks up their own gift and hands it to either Ana or I. My mother has given me a set of her best pearls, my father a briefcase with my initials engraved into the silver buckles. Ethan’s bought me an alumni sweatshirt, and Grace and Carrick give me a gorgeous custom frame, which I can use to hang my degree up in my office back in Seattle once it arrives.
“Here,” Carter says, picking up the white jewelry box I showed him last week and handing it to Ana. “This one’s for you.”
“From me,” I add. She smiles, opens the hinged lid, and then lights up when she sees the gold chain and diamond H I’d designed for the two of us.
“I have one, too,” I tell her. “They’re custom made, so there are only two of them. I thought it would be a good way to remember that you and I shared this together.”
“I love it, Katie,” she says. “And I’m so glad you’re the one I did this with.” We hug, both of us holding back the tears that come everytime one of us brings up the fact that living together and spending everyday together is quickly coming to an end. It’s silly, really. We’re moving back to the same city together and we’ve already made all kinds of plans for designated lunch days and girls nights, but both of us know it won’t be the same.
When she pulls away, she discreetly wipes the tears from her lower lids and turns to Christian, motioning to the scrapbook sitting on the floor. “Will you hand me Kate’s gift please?”
He does and when she passes it to me, her mouth pushes together in an chagrined pout. “I’m sorry, the lack of wrapping kind of ruins it…”
“A scrapbook?” I ask, flipping open the hardbound cover.
“Mhm. Of all four years we spent here. I’ve been working on it for months.”
I turn to the first page and immediately smile. There’s pictures of Ana and I in crimson sweaters together, pictures of my dad and I, and of the three of us together, surrounded by tiny little football stickers all around the page.
“Look, our first football game!” I flip the page and see the photo of Ana and I in our matching Mario and Luigi costumes that’s been on the wall of our living room since we moved in. “And halloween. Oh my god, Vegas! Will you look at that hair? What were we thinking?”
She laughs. “That the only way to make it through Sin City is to get as close to God as possible.” I flip the page again and this time see pictures of the two of us with Christian and Elliot together in the cabin and on the mountain in Aspen from that ski trip we took our freshman year. Ana and I are in the middle of the photo, sitting on a sofa together, but we’re both leaning into our boyfriends. My cheeks are pink, so we must have just come off the slopes, and my smile is radiant. Elliot has his arms around me, holding me tightly against him, and he grins just as broadly as I do. We look blissfully happy.
I have to close the book. I’ll look at the rest of it later when I’m alone.
“You’re amazing,” I say, turning to my best friend. “I’m going to treasure this forever. Thank you, Ana.”
“You’re welcome, Katie. I’ll be at your house every year on this day and we’ll crack open a bottle of wine and look at those photos together.”
“It’s a date!” She wraps her arms around me and we squeeze each other for half a beat, until Carter takes the book out of my lap, sets it on the table next to the couch, and glances around the room at the rest of the family.
“Yeah. I’ve got one more.” I turn to look over my shoulder and watch Elliot come from the bottom of the stairs, pulling a small box out of the pocket inside his jacket to hand to me. It’s a jewelry box, that much is obvious, and after the conversation we just had upstairs, I’m not sure I want to open this in front of everyone. But Carter has seen it and he already thinks I’m hiding things from him about Elliot.
I press my lips together, ignoring the bitter voice echoing in the back of my mind, and pull open the lid of the box. Inside, there is a pair of sparkling diamond earrings resting on a bed of blue satin. They’re breathtaking.
“Elliot. I-I– I can’t accept this…”
He shakes his head. “I bought them a long time ago. Three years ago, actually. When you left San Francisco while I was still at Stanford. We were fighting when you left because I was mad you’d spent so much of your visit doing homework. We weren’t even talking when I dropped you off at the airport, but when I got back to my apartment… I found that you’d left this note on my pillow.” He reaches into his jacket again, pulls out a very worn piece of crumpled up paper, and gives it to me to read.
I’m sorry I didn’t have much time this weekend, but I hope you’ll forgive me and that you’ll be proud when all this hard work means I graduate Valedictorian. I love you, El. -Katie
“I bought those earrings that day and I vowed to give them to you when you proved yourself right. And you did. Congratulations, Katie.”
My stomach clenches again as I look at the stunning pair of earrings in my hand, and then up into the deep, blue depths of his eyes. “Thank you, Elliot. They’re beautiful.”
“You’re welcome. You deserve it, Kate. You deserve everything.”
And just like that, it’s like I’m back upstairs in my room with his lips against mine again. We stare at each other for a long time, or at least, it feels like a long time. Nothing else exists in that moment but him, and me, and the unspoken words lost in the eye contact we share. It’s almost as though I’m locked there, frozen, until Ana grabs my hand, pulls me off the couch, and drags me with her as she moves to hug Grace. She leads me around the room so that we can express our gratitude to each person sitting around us in turn, but as I smile at the hug shared between my mom and Ana, Carter gets off the couch to get everyone’s attention.
“I have a gift too.”
I turn in his direction and he comes directly towards me, taking both of my hands in his the moment he’s within reach. “Kate, a lot of great things have happened to me while I was here at Harvard. But nothing has been as great as these last few months with you. You’re smart, witty, fun… and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. I love you, Katherine Kavanagh, and I want to love you for the rest of my life.”
My heart feels as though it freezes in my chest as he reaches into the pocket of his slacks, pulls out a black velvet box, identical to the one Elliot had given me moments before, and then slowly sinks down onto one knee.
“Will you marry me?”
There it is. The four words that have been so important to me that I tossed away the man I thought was the love of my life to hear them. My hand is shaking when I pull back the lid, and when I see the beautiful, three carat, princess cut diamond my mouth drops open. It’s beautiful. Perfect. But looking at it doesn’t bring me any sense of joy. I don’t feel the sense of elation that I’d always imagined would come with this moment. I feel empty. Void. And rather than process what this actually means, my brain is racing through different ideas of how to get away from the pointed stares coming at me from all different directions around the room.
Unfortunately, the distraction I’m practically praying for comes in the form of a blood curdling scream from Ana.
I turn and see her grabbing her side again, the way she did in the kitchen, only this time the pain reflected on her face is much more intense. Christian grabs onto her, asking her what’s wrong, but she struggles to stand, even breathe through the pain, so she doesn’t answer for several seconds.
“I–I think my water just broke,” she pants, and my eyes immediately shift to Grace. I didn’t think that was supposed to be painful.
Grace reaches for Mia’s arm as Ana pushes past the pain enough to pull up the long skirts of her dress, and the entire room gasps in horror when we see the dark, crimson blood that soaks the carpet around her feet. It’s astonishing, shocking, how much blood has pooled there in the few seconds that have past since she first screamed. My eyes flit up to her wide, panicked face, and then I let out a terrified shriek myself when her eyelids begin to flutter, then roll back into her head, and she collapses in Christian’s arms.