Chapter 07

looking_east_on_garfield_st2c_cambridge_ma

It’s gloomy when we pull into the departure lane at SEA-TAC airport. The road and sidewalks are covered by a long, cement overhang, but everything around us as we come to a stop still shines with the moisture from the rain slicking off passing cars. Mia is the first out of the back of the SUV Christian called for us this morning and she bounces with excitement as she waits for the driver to open the back hatch door so she can retrieve her luggage. I, however, am much more reluctant as I pull the car seat holding my sleeping baby out of the car and follow after her. Christian, who scans the cars pulling up to the curb around us as we wait for the driver to hand my purple carry-on over, mirrors my less than enthusiastic attitude.

“He’s late,” he says.

“Not really,” I counter. “We’re early.”  

“Well, I’m not going to leave you until I know you have security.” His mouth thins as, for the tenth time this morning, he clenches his teeth together with irritation. “Sick. Of all the stupid things…”

“I’m not getting on a flight or asking someone to follow Calliope and I around for days when they’re ill. The last thing I need is to miss my first day at GP because I have to stay home to take care of a sick baby.”

“I assure you, your boss’s boss would forgive you.”

“Well, then it sounds like my boss’s boss is very understanding of illnesses keeping employees from performing their duties and therefore understands why Woods can’t be here today.”

His frown deepens. “Don’t do that.”

“Christian, we’re going to be fine. No one on your team knows Cambridge or the security system we installed in the house last year better than Luke. He’s the best person to come with us and the fact that he agreed on such short notice is very generous. He doesn’t owe me his time anymore.”

“I know. Believe me, I am acutely aware of just how generous Sawyer is being.” He turns away from me, seemingly to look at the new group of cars pulling in around us, but I can tell that he’s pouting. It reminds me of what Luke said about Taylor having someone follow him around and Christian’s reason why.

“Mia,” I say, twisting my body so I can face her without fully turning away from Christian. “Will you take Callie for a minute, please?”

She looks up from the text she’s sending on her phone, then nods and reaches out for the carseat. Once my hands are free, I reach up for Christian’s face and force him to look at me.

“You know that I love you, right?”

“I love you, too.”

I shake my head. “No, I mean I love you, Christian. You have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to Luke. Nothing. I promise.”

He takes a breath and slowly the tension melts away from his lips. “I know.”

“Good.” I rise up onto my tip toes so I can kiss him again, and when I sink back onto my heels, he reaches up to hold my face in his hands and brushes his thumbs over my cheeks.

“What am I going to do without you this weekend?”

“Probably get a few good nights of sleep.” I laugh, and while I’m able to coax just the smallest hint of a smile out of him, he shakes his head.

“Without these lips to kiss goodnight or these beautiful blue eyes to wake up to? Never.”

“Mmm,” I hum, pushing myself further into him. “That’s quite the line, Mr. Grey.”

His eyes flash. “But it’s effective.”

With more hunger than before, his hand moves down to grip my jaw so he can hold me in place, but just as his lips being to assault mine, we’re interrupted by an insistent snapping and Ros’ irritated voice as she leans out the window to glare at my husband.

“Christian, let’s go!”

His shoulders slump. “Remind me again why I don’t fire her.”

“Because if you did, you’d spend a whole lot more than a weekend away from your family. Now, get out of here. Go whip your fancy international factory into shape, or at least give him them a good scare.”

“I’m not leaving you until you have security, Anastasia.”

“He’ll be here any minute.”

“No, I’m not…” But before he can get the words out, the passenger side door of the sedan that just pulled up in front of us opens and Luke steps out onto the curb.

“You see,” I say, smiling up at Christian. “There he is.”

He turns and looks over his shoulder at the white car Luke vacated, but I only get to enjoy a few seconds of gloating before the driver’s door opens and my sense of haughty superiority is replaced by surprise. Jade is dropping him off, and that’s very unlike Luke.

“Hey,” Luke calls over to Christian and I as he pulls his luggage out of Jade’s trunk. “You ready?”

“Yeah,” I reply. He nods, then sets his suitcase down on the asphalt so he can pull Jade into his arms and kiss her goodbye. It’s not a quick kiss, it’s slow and meaningful. His hands reach back into her hair as he kisses her and even after she pulls away, he quickly leaves another sweet peck against her lips before fully releasing her.

“I’ll see you Sunday?” he asks, quiet enough that I can only make out the words because I can read his lips. She gives him an elated, sentimental smile in response and nods. Then, with one last kiss, he squeezes her hands, turns for his luggage, and drags it over to Christian, Mia, and me.

“Well, let’s do this,” he says, winking as he moves past me. I nod and turn back to Christian.

“Call me when you land and leave me a message,” he tells me. “I’ll still be in the air when you arrive in Cambridge but I want to know you arrived safe the moment I touch down.”

“I will. And call me when you get to Taiwan, no matter what time it is.”

“Okay.” He leans down and kisses me again, and the amount of emotion he pours into the contact of our lips is potent enough that one would think he was preparing not to see me for months rather than a few days. It feels that way, I guess, and even though we’ve lived apart for weeks at a time before and we’re both going to be so busy over the weekend that we probably won’t even have time to actually miss each other, saying goodbye now has me a little choked up. I don’t like that he’s going to be so far away from me. I don’t like that I’m not going to know where he is, what he’s doing, or whether or not Taylor is with him every second he’s not with me. And it’s been so long since we’ve been apart… I don’t want to miss him, but I already do.

“I love you,” I tell him again, throwing my arms around him and holding him as tightly against me as possible.

“And I love you. Send me pictures of Calliope, and…” He pulls me back so he can look into my eyes and smirks. “Feel free to send nudes.”

I laugh, but when I lean in to scrunch the tip of my nose against his, I inch my lips close to his and say, “Ditto.”

“Alright, love birds,” Mia interrupts. “We’re going to miss our flight.”

“Thank you, Mia,” Luke agrees, rolling his eyes.

I shake my head with annoyance, then hug Christian one last time before stepping back and taking Callie out of Mia’s hands so she can say goodbye to her brother.

“Be good,” he tells her. “Have fun, ask questions, and make good choices.” He glances up at me, standing a few paces behind them. “You never know how the dorm you select could change your life.”

“I will. Love you, Christian.”

“Love you too, Meems.” They hug, but Mia’s phone starts to buzz half a second after he gets his arms around her, so she quickly struggles out of his embrace and takes the handle of her luggage so she can make for the automatic doors into the airport. “Bye, Christian! Have fun in Taiwan.”

He shakes his head, but waves, then turns back to me. “Have a good weekend. Call me.”

“I will,” I tell him. “Bye.”

“Bye.”

I smile and turn to follow after Mia, Luke dragging along beside me. He too looks over his shoulder a few times, until we’ve made it close enough to the ticket kiosks that we can no longer see the people we’ve left behind in the departure lane.

“So, Jade dropped you off, huh?” I ask, trying to sound as casual as possible when really I’m probing for information.

“Yeah, it’s like $40 a day to park here. Not all of us are billionaires.”

“I would have paid your parking, Luke.”

“Nah, it’s cool.” He shakes his head as he slips his credit card into the machine so he can print his boarding pass. I can tell how hard he’s struggling to keep his expression neutral and uninterested, and it probably would have worked on anyone but me.

“Oh my god, you really like her!”

“Yeah, she’s cool.”

“Lucas Sawyer! Don’t play coy with me, I’m your best friend and I want the details.”

“Best friend, huh?”

My expression hardens. “Yes, best friend. Kate’s my sister now, so you’ve been promoted.”

“Oh, good. I’m your spare.”

“And I’ll kill the spare if you don’t start talking right now.”

He laughs. “Solid Harry Potter joke.”

“Luke!”

“Fine.” He sighs. “She and I started hooking up about five, six months ago. It wasn’t supposed to be a thing, but she wasn’t clingy and I could take her out for pizza and beer without her bitching about it not being fancier or ordering a bullshit salad. I like her, so what?”

“So, why didn’t you tell me about her?”

“Because you’re very… excited about things. I just watched you slobbering all over your husband outside and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve needed noise cancelling headphones from just living across the hall from you two. You’re living your fairytale, and that’s never going to be me. I don’t want to get your hopes up.”

“First of all,” I say, indignantly. “Christian and I don’t slobber. We are romantic and in love and, while I’ve never seen it played back for me, I imagine that the sex we have is beautiful. Second of all, I only get excited because I’m happy for you and if you like her and want her in your life then I want to know her and be friends with her.”

He rolls his eyes. “Just get your ticket.”

“Fine, I’ll get it all out of you eventually. Don’t you worry about that.” I turn to the kiosk in front of me, card in hand, and frown. “But… it’s been actual years since I’ve done this. Help me.”

“Rich people,” Mia says, rolling her eyes as she pulls her ticket from the dispensing tray next to me. I narrow my eyes at her.

“You have a trust fund…”

She pushes the handle of Calliope’s carseat into the crook of her elbow and raises an eyebrow at me. “And you graduated from Harvard. Read the instructions.”

“She’s too fancy to read, Mia,” Luke says, then drops his voice to a whisper and looks around like he’s worried someone will hear him. “She’s Anastasia Grey.”

“I hate you both.” They laugh as I nudge Luke out of the way with my body and then slip my card into the machine, following the instructions until I have a boarding pass in hand. Luke and Mia both start applauding for me when I turn around, drawing the attention of everyone around us, so I can’t even come up with a biting comeback.

“Oh my god, stop!” I hiss, covering my face to hide my humiliation and pushing them away from the other passengers printing their tickets. But their continued cackling all the way down the concourse does nothing to alleviate the curious onlookers.

For the first time since I told Mia I’d come with her, I’m starting to regret asking Woods to stay behind.

 

There’s a long line of people winding through a complicated maze of stanchions and retractable belts once we get to airport security. While we slowly inch our way forward and remove our shoes, liquids, and electronics, I realize that I’ve taken having a private jet at my disposal for granted. It’s almost unnerving how close we’re being watched as we place our bags on the conveyor belt and then step through the body scanning machine. Thankfully, they save me a potential meltdown by letting me bring Calliope through the metal detectors inside of her car seat, instead of forcing me to wake her up and carry her through in my arms, but when Luke is pulled aside for a random check, we’re nearly late for our flight.

“I left my gun at home, what more do they want from me?” he asks irritably while we walk as quickly as possible to our gate. “I feel like this is some kind of racial profiling.”

I give him a slanted, sideways glance. “Racial profiling of a 30 year old white man?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Statistically, you are the most dangerous demographic,” Mia says. “White men are more likely to commit mass shootings or become serial killers. I mean, just look at Andrew Lincol…” Her sentence drops as she looks over at me, so I quickly divert my gaze and try to redirect my suddenly derailed train of thought, all the while tightening my grip on my daughter’s car seat. Luke reaches over to push Mia, knocking her slightly off balance.   

“Hey, statistically, why don’t you shut up?”

“You can’t talk to me like that.”

“Yes I can. I don’t work for Grey anymore, you’re fair game. Welcome to the Hurt Locker, internet-meems.”

Mia shakes her head and glances up to the ceiling as we finally begin approaching our gate. “You’re so annoying. No wonder Christian hates you.”

Luke hands his boarding pass to the woman waiting impatiently at the gate and then turns back to glare are Mia. “No, he hates me because, despite his billions of dollars and ridiculously chiseled good looks, he knows that I could still dunk on him in a game of one on one.”

I laugh and hand my boarding pass over, then wrap an arm around Mia so I can drag her down the gangway with Calliope and me, and into the already crowded airplane. Thankfully, our seats take up an entire aisle, plus an additional seat directly across from us, so we don’t have to climb over anyone as we fumble to put our luggage in the overhead bins and then slip into our seats. Mia sits in the lone chair across the aisle, so I buckle Calliope’s carseat in next to the window and take the middle spot while Luke relaxes back into the seat on the aisle.

“Hey,” Mia hisses, to get Luke’s attention as the plane starts to move and the flight attendants begin their safety demonstration. “Just for the record, Christian is, 6’3, and you’re maybe 6 foot… he’d be way better at basketball than you.”

Luke smiles. “Nah, I’m like Muggsy Bogues. I’d kick his ass.”

“Who’s Muggsy Bogues?”

“Oh my god, Amelia. Who do you– I can’t even look at you right now. Look away and think about what you just said to me.”

She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, then settles back into her seat, focusing her attention on the flight attendant, and pulls out the safety cards from the back of the seat in front of her.

 

There’s no wait before takeoff, so it’s only a few minutes from when the safety demonstration ends to when we start nearing cruising altitude. The passengers around us start settling in, isolating themselves with iPods or portable movie players. Callie is somehow, miraculously, still asleep, so I take what time I have before she wakes to relax with the book I’ve packed in my carry-on. The story isn’t my normal preference, but it was written by a new author who has found amazing success in a short period of time. And since I’m just about to start work running the fiction department at Grey Publishing, I figure I’d better get my finger on the pulse of the market sooner, rather than later.

“I’ve moved in with her,” Luke says, pulling me out of the story just as I was starting to lose myself.

“What?”

“Jade and I, we’re living together.”

“What do you mean you’re living together? You moved in with her? When?”

“About a month ago. We were spending almost every night together anyway, it didn’t make much sense for us to have seperate apartments.”

“No, it wouldn’t, but… oh my god, you’re really serious about her.”

He shrugs.

“Luke! Start talking.”

“I just told you we’re living together, what more do you want from me?”

“Details. Explicit details.”

“Look, I love you, Ana. You’re my best friend and I want to talk to you about these things. I’m trying. But… I’m not good at this. I’ve never done serious relationships before and… I’m actually a little freaked out over it.” He takes a breath. “I want to talk to you about her, but you need to let me do it at my own pace, okay?”

“Are you in love with her?”

“Ana.” He groans.

“I’m not trying to be pushy. Really. I just want to know that you’re happy. All the other stuff I can live without or wait until you’re ready to tell me, but if you’re actually in love with her, I want to know that.”

He lets out a huff and sinks back into his seat with reluctant contemplation. I give him a moment, and eventually, he nods.

“Yeah. I think I’m in love with her.”

“Awhhhhhh.”

Don’t make that face at me, Anastasia.”

I try to reign in my grin. “Sorry, but… you’re in love!”

“You’re the worst, you know that?” He shakes his head in dismay, but I can tell that beneath the impassive, unfeeling facade he’s trying to keep up, there’s a hint of pride in his eyes. And yes, happiness.

I beam at him and knock him with my shoulder. “You love me.”

“Yeah, apparently I’m all kinds of soft now.”

“It looks good on you.” I squeeze his hand on the arm rest between us and shift back into my seat so I can continue with my book, but all the questions I suddenly have about this new revelation feel like they’re boiling in my brain.

“Okay, I lied,” I say, setting the book down and turning towards him again. “How did you two meet? Where did you have your first kiss? Is she in love with you too? Has she said it? How did you end up moving in together? And what’s the sex like?”

“Ana!”

“Oh please, you’re my best friend, you can talk to me about your sex life. Do you know how much I know about Elliot’s penis? I could draw you a picture.”

“Gross,” Mia says. She shoots a look of disgust between Luke and I, then puts her headphones in so she’s no longer forced to listen to our conversation. I grin, but keep my attention fixated on Luke.

“It’s fine,” he concedes.

“Fine? You’re going to live with fine?” He gives me a hard, unamused look, but I don’t relent. And, eventually, he gives in.

“It’s incredible, alright? She’s hot and dirty and she can put her legs behind her head.”

“Behind her head, huh?”

“Tip of the iceberg, Ana. Tip. Of. The. Iceberg.

“I’m so happy for you,” I reply with a smile, and he shakes his head again, trying to tell me that he’s done with the conversation. But as I pick up my book again, another thought crosses my mind. “Wait, if you’re living with her, what happened to the apartment I’m paying for every month?”

“Gotta have somewhere to track down all your husband’s enemies. There’s a lot that goes into this whole take-on-the-world-head-first plan that you’ve come up with and if Jade sees the strings on the wall attaching all the pictures and newspaper articles I’ve put together, she’s going to think I’m insane.”

“But you are insane. Remember that time when I was still seven months pregnant and you ate my last pack of Scooby-Doo fruit snacks? That’s not the behavior of a mentally healthy individual.”

He laughs. “Touche.”

“You don’t really have strings on the wall, do you?”

“Nah. But I do work there. I like to think of it as my own personal bat cave.”

“Batman, huh? You really think you can pull off Batman?”

“In terms of muscle tone, near genius intellect, and the ability to whoop someone’s ass? Yes.”

I bite my lip to hold back my laugh. “Mmm, I don’t know. I think you have more of a Aquaman-vibe about you. You know, generally useless…”

He snorts, then covers his mouth to hide his smile. “I hate you sometimes.”

“No you don’t, you’re my Sam.”

“Sam?”

“Yeah, like Samwise Gamgee.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I’m like your servant?”

“No! I’m your best friend too. And you’re the person I know will always have my back. Who will listen to me and be there for me when I need you. You’re the person I’d take into Mordor with me.”

He smiles. “First Harry Potter, now Lord of the Rings? You’re such a goddamn nerd.”

“First of all, how dare you. Lord of the Rings is the greatest story ever told and I will not sit back and let you pretend that you don’t know every single line of The Fellowship of the Ring from start to finish when the movie isn’t even playing.”

“Yeah,” he says, laughing. “It’s actually pretty sick. And Sam is the real hero, so obviously that’s me.”

I laugh, then shift in my seat to continue reading, but just as I get comfortable the plane jolts from unexpected turbulence and the peaceful morning we’ve had so far suddenly melts away as Calliope is yanked out of sleep and starts calling for dada.  

 

It’s very late in the afternoon when we finally touch down in Boston. It takes us nearly thirty minutes to wind our way through the crowded terminal for our checked bags and the shuttle that takes us to the car rental facility, then another 45 minutes of waiting in line before I’m finally handed the keys to the luxury car Christian reserved for us last week. So the sun is almost completely gone by the time we’re loading our luggage into the trunk and buckling a squirmy Calliope in the backseat.

When we pull onto the I-90 West towards Cambridge, Mia immediately becomes absorbed with every sign we pass, trying to memorize as much as she can.

“I-90? That’s cool,” she  says. “At least it won’t take me long to learn the name of the interstate, seeing as the freeway to my house back home is also called I-90.”

“It’s the same interstate,” I tell her. “I-90 starts in Seattle proper and ends at Logan International Airport. It’s the road Kate and I took whenever we had to drive home.”

“Really? That’s so cool.”

“Yeah. It used to make me feel a little better about the distance between Christian and I when I was pregnant. We lived on the same road, so we couldn’t be that far apart. Never mind that that road was 3,000 miles long…”

“Three thousand miles. Right.” Her face falls, so I reach across the seat and take her hand.

“It’s really not so bad. You won’t ever have to drive back and forth and the flight can actually be nice when you’ve got homework or something big to study for. I never had to do a single thing for my Political Journalism Writing class outside of the actual lectures because I did all my assignments and studying on the flight home to Seattle every weekend.”

“So, if I wanted to come home every weekend?”

“Then, we’ll make that happen.” I smile at her. “But you won’t. Trust me, Mia. You’re going to love it here.”

“Oh, no!” Luke exclaims from the driver’s seat. “Ana look at the meth billboard.”

I spin around and gaze up at the quickly approaching advertisement on the side of the interstate. The entire time I lived in Cambridge, that billboard had been plastered with the most disturbing images of broken down drug addicts as part of an anti-methamphetamine campaign. It was gross and drew your attention, so it became kind of a joke between Kate, Luke, and I. As though, had that billboard not been there, we would have all definitely become meth addicts, but instead, we were saved by the disturbing images. However, those images have disappeared, replaced with an advertisement for a local injury law firm.

“What did they do?” I gasp.

“I guess meth addiction has been cured.”

“It can’t be cured. It’s an epidemic, Luke!” I start digging through my purse for my phone, and once I find it, I scroll through my contacts, then press my finger onto Kate’s name.

“Hey, Annie. Did you make it to Boston okay?”

“I mean, the flight was fine, but I wouldn’t say that I’m okay.”

“Oh no, what’s wrong?”

“The meth billboard is gone.”

“What?!”

“I swear to god, Kate. It’s been replaced with an advertisement for a law firm. It’s. Not. There. Anymore.”

“Well, you know what that means? We gotta start doing meth.”

“I always feared this day would come.” We laugh together and, while I start shaking my head at the elaborate plans she immediately starts making for how we’re going to get our hands on a class one felony controlled substance, I start to feel a little sad.

“I wish you were here,” I tell her. “Cambridge isn’t the same without you.”

“And it never will be.” She laughs, then sighs. “I wish I was there too. It’s a little rude that Mia decided to go to college when I’m eight months pregnant.”

“Well, you know how the Greys are. Never thinking of other people’s schedules. Very inconsiderate.”

“I sure do, Anastasia Grey.”

I laugh again. “Well, once my god daughter is born, we need to come back. Maybe while I’m here, I’ll look into tickets for the football season next year. Our girls will be so cute as little Harvard fans.”

“Oh my god, they totally will be! We should… Shit. My contractor is calling me. I have to take this. Talk later?”

“Sure. I’ll probably send you a billion pictures of all our favorite things, anyway.”

“Do it! Love you, Ana.”

“You too, Katherine Grey.”

I hang up and turn back to Mia, but she’s glued to her window again as Luke signals to get over and Cambridge comes into view. The first blooms are starting to color the tops of the trees, but there isn’t yet enough foliage to conceal the red bricks that make up the first few building on campus. As we drive deeper into the city and as we begin to pass places I used to frequent, I feel an odd sense of Déjà vu. I thought coming back here would be a little sad, like I’d be reminded of all the things I don’t have in Seattle that I used to love and I’d realize how much I missed them. But there isn’t any longing to the memories that flood through me when we pass a familiar restaurant or shop, only familiarity. As if I never really left and this past year was just one really long weekend.

“That’s Christian’s favorite place to get breakfast,” I tell Mia when we drive by a small French bakery a few blocks away from my house. “I’m not as big into pastries as he is, but, during my last trimester, nothing could satisfy my cravings like their macarons. I’d get back from class and he’d have a box waiting for me.”

“Awh… you two are so gross.” She smiles as I reach out to nudge her, and then turns to stare back out at the passing store fronts. I point out mine and Kate’s favorite grocery store, just in case she doesn’t make it to Annenberg in time while she’s here, and the laundromat we used when there was no machines available at Grays. Like Christian, she immediately brushes me off by saying she intends to get laundry service, but she is interested in the places we used to get coffee or go shopping. Luke even takes us on a mini tour around the city so I can show her where everything she asks about is located. By the time we finally pull onto Maple Ave, it’s completely dark and most of the restaurants I’d considered taking her to for dinner are closing up for the night.

“We’ll order pizza,” I tell her after we pull into the driveway and start climbing out of the car. “You can make Elliot jealous and tell him we got Angelo’s.”

“Perfect, that’s literally my motivation for everything in life.” She gives me a devious kind of smile as she turns to follow Luke into the house, but I don’t go after either of them. Instead, after I’ve pulled the car seat holding my babbling baby from the car, I take a moment to glance over the house that was home to me for so many years.

Christian has hired lawn care and property maintenance services to keep the lawn mowed and the driveway and sidewalks clear of snow, but there’s still a sense of abandonment that clings to the place. Maybe it’s just because it’s the only dark house on the block, or maybe it’s because Kate’s car is missing from the driveway, but it’s the first place in Cambridge that’s felt truly different to me. And that feeling only intensifies when I finally do go inside.

The place is barren. The kitchen counters are no longer cluttered with appliances or the bowls of fruit I always left out to keep myself from fishing out the bag of potato chips from the cupboard. The dining room table is gone, the decorations have been removed from the walls, as has the rug from the floor, and the fridge is no longer covered in grocery lists, christmas cards from Mrs. Kavanagh, ultrasound photos, or the picture the little girl who lives down the street colored and proudly brought to us as a welcome home present before our Junior year.

The emptiness continues as I move into the living room where Mia is handing her bags over to Luke, only it’s actually a much more stark difference here than in the kitchen. The only furniture left is an old rocking chair that we got from a thrift store when we moved in, but that turned out to be extremely uncomfortable, and an ugly lamp Elliot just had to have from a garage sale we went to down the street. The pictures of Kate and I that used to scatter the walls are gone and the carpet has been completely torn up, leaving unfamiliar, bare, hardwood floors in its place. I glance down at the spot where I was standing, watching Carter Reed propose to Kate only just more than a year ago, and I immediately know the reason why.

“Earth to Ana,” Luke says, pulling me out of the memories of Calliope’s difficult labor, which I only now realize are the very last I have of this house. He’s reaching his hand out for me and waiting expectantly. “You want me to take your bag upstairs?”

“Uh, yeah… There are still two beds in your room from when Taylor was staying here, but Kate’s old room is empty. Will you drag a mattress in there for Mia?”

“Sure thing.”

“Thank you.” I smile, hand over my bag, and he disappears up the stairs two at a time, leaving me alone with Mia, who is giving the empty living room a thorough examination.

“Where’s all your stuff?” she asks.

“Well, Kate took most of it for the apartment she lived in all of three months after we moved back home. Some of it I have. This is what’s left.”

She frowns. “You could have at least left a TV.”

“Yeah, we didn’t have great foresight when we left, but this gives a chance for you and I to hang out. Catch up on life, you know.”

She hums in agreement, but not enthusiastically, and as I watch her move around the room, fiddling with the few things that were left behind and seemingly doing everything she can to stop from looking at me, I frown.

“Everything alright?”

She turns and raises an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, we’re here. College. Harvard. Your first real step into the world. Are you nervous?”

She shakes her head, but very quickly loses the enthusiasm behind the gesture.

“It’s okay to be nervous, Meems,” I tell her. “I was, and I had Kate with me. You’re taking this step all by yourself.”

She swallows. “Yeah. All by myself.”

“Hey.” I cross the room and take her hand, then pull her to the rocking chair and settle down on the floor at her feet. “What’s going on?”

“I’m scared, Ana.”

“Of school?”

“Yeah… and no.” She sighs and looks down at the floor. “I’m scared of what being away from my family might turn me into. I’m… I’m not a very good person.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes. It is. I’m spoiled, and selfish, and I don’t make very good choices. I’ve done a lot to hurt the people that love me over past few years and what happened to you, to Christian… part of that was my fault.”

“No. It wasn’t.” I force myself to push down the fear and emotions that always bubble up whenever I’m forced to talk about the past and take her hand in mine. “What happened wasn’t because of Gresham, or because you worked for Elena. It happened because Andrew Lincoln was insane, and that’s not your fault.”

“But if I would have said something sooner… If I wouldn’t have been such a coward and told Christian what I knew right from the beginning, maybe he would have been able to find Linc sooner and then you would have never…” Her words choke off as she once again looks away from me, so I squeeze her fingers in mine.

“It wasn’t your fault, Mia. You were scared and you thought you were protecting your family. I get that, more than you know. There is nothing in this world I wouldn’t do to keep Christian and Calliope safe.” I take a hesitant breath. “Even if that means keeping a secret.”

“But–”

I cut her off. “We don’t know that it would have stopped anything had you told us sooner. Gresham didn’t lead us to Lincoln, and it was his death that brought him to our apartment that night. If you had said something sooner, my dad might not have been there, and that night might have gone very differently. So, there’s no point in feeling guilty. Believe me. I’ve spent months going over that night again and again in my head, trying to figure out how we could stopped him, and doesn’t do any good. You can’t change the past, so there’s no point in dwelling on it.”

“Is that why you won’t go to therapy?” I raise an eyebrow at her and she blanches slightly. “I’m sorry… I heard Christian telling mom and dad.”

I press my lips together and shake my head. “No. I don’t want to go to therapy because I don’t want to waste Flynn’s time, or mine. I’m just fine.”

“Are you though? I remember what it was like when you were living with us. When you locked yourself in Christian’s room and wouldn’t come out for weeks. I remember Christian sitting at the dining room table with dad, begging him to tell him what to do. I remember Kate sitting against the door, waiting for days for you to let her in, and you never did. I remember hearing you scream in the middle of the night… How are you just okay now?”

“I worked through it on my own,” I tell her, unwittingly glancing up to where I know Luke is overhead. “I found a way to feel safe again.”

“So, you’re really okay, then? This isn’t all just pretend?”

“No, Mia. I’m good. I swear.”

Relief washes across her face and she nods. “You’re amazing, Ana. I really wanna be more like you.”

“No. I think you’re pretty great just the way you are.”

“But… if I made all the terrible choices that I did while I was still living at home, with my parents telling me what to do all the time, what am I going to do when I’m 3,000 miles away from them? From you and Christian? All on my own. I don’t want to be the person I was anymore.”

“So don’t be. Look, the step that you’re about to take is scary, everyone feels the way you’re feeling right now, but you have something that a lot of people don’t have. Perspective. You get to leave home and go out into the world knowing who you want to be. Be that person, Mia. And don’t let anything or anyone stop you from being that person.”

She nods, and gives me a weak smile. “Okay.”

“I love you, Mia.”

“Yeah, me too. Thanks, Ana.”

“You’re welcome. I’m always here to talk, okay? About anything”

“I know.”

I squeeze her hand one last time and turn back to take my shockingly patient baby out of her car seat, and as I lie a blanket over the cold hard wood so I can set her down, Luke comes bounding down the stairs.

“Who’s ready for pizza?” he asks.

“Me,” I reply with a laugh, then pull out my phone and dial the number for Angelo’s while Mia disappears down the back hallway in search of a board game we can use to occupy ourselves for the rest of the night.

Next Chapter

Chapter 06

fifty-shades-of_-grey_-2015-unrated-1080p-bluray-6ch-shaanig-00550

“What about this one?” I ask, coming out of my closet and twirling in front front of my iPhone, which is propped up and resting on the dresser so Kate can see me over FaceTime. The steady tap of her fingers on the keyboard stops and she turns to look at me.

“Mmm, boring. I liked the one with the blush colored skinny trousers.”

“I’m not going to a garden party, Kate. I’m going to a job interview.”

She rolls her eyes. “An interview for a job that you’ve already been offered. I don’t know why you’re freaking out over this.”

“The person who thinks I’m a good fit isn’t the person who will decide whether or not I get the job. I have to impress the CEO. And, based on Christian’s overly optimistic attitude this morning, I’m guessing that’s going to be difficult.”

“Is it a he or a she?”

“She, I think.”

“Then go with the navy pants, the floral top, and the white blazer. Clean. Professional. Pretty.”

“Okay, let me put that back on…”

“Ana!” I turn back to my phone and find her staring impatiently back at me, her head resting in her hand. “You’re going to be fine. I love you, but I’ve got a meeting. I need to go.”

“But–”

“Call me when your interview is over and we’ll make plans to celebrate the job I know you’re going to get. Because you are going to get it, Ana.”

I smile. “Okay. I love you.”

“Love you too. Bye!” The screen goes black as she hangs up. I reach over to pick up my phone and toss it onto the bed while I start digging through the pile of clothes again for the outfit Kate suggested. Once I’m dressed and I’ve made sure my hair and makeup are perfect, I make my way down to my office where I’ve left a copy of my resume, the sales reports from SIP during my tenure, and the plan I’ve written up for how to get GSP off the ground again. But that’s not the only thing I find on my desk.

Sitting there, right in front of my keyboard, is a beautiful carry-all bag by Saint Laurent.  The rolled tote handles and silver buckles make it pretty and feminine, while the smooth black leather is chic and professional. There’s plenty of room inside for my laptop and files, and while I’m going  through the different pockets, I find a note from Christian.

 

I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need it. You truly are incredible.

I love you, Anastasia

-Christian

 

Ps. Don’t go today. Come work for me.

 

I smile, bring the note to my lips and softly kiss the indents from where his pen scribbled across the paper. Then I tuck the note into the pocket of my blazer so I can read it over and over again before my interview, and start filling the bag with everything I’ve prepared for this morning.

Feeling much more confident with Christian’s words of encouragement in my pocket, I head into the kitchen where Kensie is feeding Calliope in her high chair. Her cheeks are flushed red, there’s food all over her tray, and the nanny looks like she’s been through the ringer already. Without even hearing Calliope speak, I can tell she’s not having it this morning and my stomach clenches with anxiety at the thought of leaving her behind with the nanny while I go out to do something that would effectively turn her entire world upside down.

“Mmm,” Kensie says, scooping up a bite of pureed bananas with coconut milk and fresh ground cinnamon. She lifts the spoon and tilts it towards her mouth, but Callie squishes her lips together defiantly then reaches out and bats the spoon away.

“No.”

“Come on, Callie…” Kensie’s body deflates as she picks up the spoon. But, before she can try to feed her the mush again, Callie turns and sees me hovering in the doorway. Immediately, she starts to squirm and reach for me.

“Dada. Dada.”

“No, baby. You have to eat your breakfast.”

The anguish on her face is clear as she tries to stretch further towards me, and when I don’t move to pick her up, that anguish turns to anger, then tears. She screams and kicks, squirming and bouncing in her seat enough that I’m worried she may knock the high chair off balance. The red in her face deepens as she struggles to breathe through the cries trembling in her throat.

It’s too much. I break.

“Oh dear, Calliope,” I say, pulling her out of her chair and into my arms. She snuggles into me, burying her face into my blazer and soaking it in her tears.

“Ana, your jacket!”

“It’s fine.” I hold her tightly against me and bounce her until her tears die down and the only sound she makes come from her soft sniffles. With her tantrum past, Kensie tries to take her from me again, but Calliope’s fists tighten around the lapels of my jacket the moment the nanny touches her and her screams come full force again.

“I’ve gotta go bye-bye, baby,” I tell her, trying suppress the guilt pulsating throughout my entire body.

“No! No!” Her face crinkles with overdramatic agony once again, but I’ve already spent too much time deliberating over outfits this morning. I’m going to be late if I don’t leave right now and that’s not the first impression I want to make.

I kiss her on the head, and then shift so I can pass her off to Kensie. “I’m sorry, I have to leave. I need you to take her.”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “She’ll be fine once you’re gone.”

“I hope so. Call me if you need anything, I’ll have my cell.”

“I will. Good luck!”

“Thanks.” I lean over and kiss each of Calliope’s cheeks one last time and then brush my fingers through the thin, dark curls on top of her head. “Bye, bye, baby.”

She wails again as I turn to go, but before I make it out of the kitchen, she calls out for me and it stops me dead in my tracks.

“No, mama! No, mama!”

“What did she–” I breathe, turning around to face them again. “Did she just say mama?”

“Yeah,” Kensie says, smiling. “Yeah, I think she did. Callie, who is that?”

“No, mama.”

It hits me fast. I gasp and tears spring hot and wet to my eyes. My baby reaches out for me, her fists clenching the air over and over again as she calls out for me. Me. And I can’t go to her. If I give in now, and miss this interview, there won’t be another one.

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn and see Woods hovering in the entryway behind me. “The car’s out front. Are you ready?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.” With a deep breath, I turn back to face my baby and her quivering bottom lip, then quickly dash the tears from my cheeks and try to smile through the hurt I feel with every beat of my heart.  

“I love you, baby girl. Mama will see you tonight, okay?”

“No, mama.”

“Bye.” She starts to scream again as I leave the kitchen and each piercing cry weighs heavily on my resolve, even after I’m through the front door. The very first morning I’ve had to rely on Kensie to get her out of bed and ready for the day, and Calliope’s already in a stage five meltdown. If I get this job, this will be the new normal, and I’m not sure she’s ready for that. While Woods pulls down the drive and through our front gate, my heart feels as though it’s being pulled apart by the conflict my mind is battling over.

Maybe it isn’t a good idea to take a job that will keep me out of the house every day, the way Christian is. Or, maybe this is just further proof that I’ve made a mistake by insisting Calliope never leave my side these last few months. Other mothers work, this shouldn’t be this hard. But it is. It’s agony and it’s the first real struggle I’ve felt over the idea of starting a career.

 

The drive into downtown Seattle does nothing to alleviate my guilt over leaving Calliope, or to quell my nerves over the impending interview. Woods takes the same exit off the freeway we used to take before we moved, then turns north up 4th avenue in the same direction as Escala. This neighborhood is blanketed by the shadow of my old life, and looking at it now just makes me feel worse. That Thai restaurant on the corner was Christian’s and my favorite place to order in from when Gail was off on the weekends and I didn’t feel like cooking anything. The baby boutique we pass as we go through the light is the same store where I bought most of Calliope’s newborn clothes and the blanket that she still has to have with her at all times. Kate and I got our nails done at that salon before my wedding, I dropped my dad’s birthday and christmas packages off at that post office when he was still deployed, and Christian and I walked down that hill when we went to the market on what I now consider to be our first date, post break up. Driving up this street feels like walking into my childhood home decades after I’ve moved away. There’s a sweet kind of reminiscence, but it’s tainted with a pain that comes from the evidence that life here has gone on without me, while I’ve been unable to move on at all.

Relax, Anastasia. That’s what today is about. Moving on.

I glance up at the blue, reflective glass on the face of Escala as we pass, but the confusing medley of the best and worst memories of my life are very suddenly interrupted by the shrill, insistent ring of my phone. Shaking away the daze, I begin fumbling through the bag Christian gave me this morning, pull out my cell, and answer the call.

“Hey, Ros,” I say, surprised to see her name on my caller ID. “What’s going on?”

“Oh you know, just struggling to hang on to whatever last bit of sanity I have left before your husband really drives me over the edge. Same old, same old.”

“Oh, no. What’s he doing now?”

“It’s just this stupid R&D project. I’ve never seen Christian so obsessed with anything in my life. It’s like no matter how many experts, which he brings in himself mind you, tell him that what he’s trying to do physically can’t be done, he won’t be deterred. I’m telling you, Ana, he’s down the rabbit hole and if he doesn’t come out himself, soon, I’m going to put a hose down there.”

I laugh. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m not really crazy about this project myself, but I took vows, so I have to be on his side.”

“What about my side, Ana?” she asks, playful sarcasm dripping from each word.

“Well come up with a project you’re passionate about that Christian thinks is stupid and I’ll back you up. It probably won’t change anything, but the sentiment will be there all the same.”

“Thanks.” Her deadpan reply has us both laughing, but as Woods signals to pull out of traffic and park against the curb in front of GSP, I have to quickly reign it in.

“Hey, I’m about to go into a meeting, is there something you needed? You know, besides venting about how much my husband irritates you.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you about Kate’s baby shower. It’s looking like Christian and I have are going to have to go to Taiwan in the next couple weeks and if I can schedule it so that I won’t miss the shower, I will.”

“Oh.” My heart sinks as I think about spending days at home without Christian, and when I continue, that disappointment is apparent in my response. “It’s on the 10th.”

“Ugh… that might mean we need to go this weekend, then.”

This weekend?

“No, that’s perfect!” I say, a little too quickly. “I mean, Mia got into Harvard, so I’m taking her to Cambridge this weekend for orientation. We’ll be gone. So, it’s a good time for Christian to go away for business.” And he’ll be distracted.

“Oh. Well, I’ll see what he thinks then. If I can get even a few seconds with him, that is. He’s been barricaded in his office with R&D all morning.” She sighs. “Well, good luck with your meeting, Ana. Lunch sometime?”

“Yeah, I’d like that. Bye, Ros.”

“Bye!”

I hang up, then stew in the conflicting thoughts and feelings I’m left with after that conversation. Ros isn’t crazy about Christian’s take over the world plan, either. And that’s the second time I’ve heard someone say what he’s trying to do is impossible. It’s comforting in a way, because I think Christian’s quest for power is a bit antithetical to what he’s after. With power comes notoriety, and his desire for dominion will never be uncontested. The higher he rises, the harder he’ll fall, so to me it seems foolish to climb the ladder at all. But if he fails at this, if he believes that he let the one thing that could keep our family safe slip through his fingers… it’ll destroy him. I know that better than anyone. So, I can’t let that happen. Everything I do, every waking thought I have is about protecting him and Calliope, even if that means I have to protect him from himself.

I just don’t know yet what that means in this case.

“Mrs. Grey, we’re going to be late.”

I look up and make eye contact in the rear-view mirror. “Right. Thank you, Woods.”

He gets out of the car first to open an umbrella for me before I step out beneath the steady deluge of rain falling from the dark, ubiquitous cover of clouds over head. I try not to take that as a bad omen, it’s just February in Seattle.

We step into the building and then make our way to the elevators. Unlike the office I worked in at SIP, Greenwich doesn’t have it’s own building. The office space is located on the third floor of an old, multipurpose building that is cramped in a lot of ways, but that has a lot of character. Even the inside of the elevator is made of old wood paneling with exposed mechanical elements that creak and grind as we climb our way up the building.

When the doors open we’re released into a small reception area with a set of twin doors directly in front of us that bear the name Greenwich Small Press in brass letters. Past that, we walk into an open, industrial looking office with exposed beams and brick surrounding a dozen or so mismatched desks scattered around the hardwood floor.

“Hello,” the young woman behind the reception counter greets us. “Welcome to Greenwich Publishing. How can I help you today?”

I smile at her. “Yes, my name is Anastasia Grey, I’m here to see Mr. Scott Wall–”

“And there she is!” A booming voice interrupts me from across the room. I turn and see Mr. Wallace walking towards Woods and I with a broad smile stretched across his face. As he approaches, he reaches out his hand, which I take in a firm, confident handshake.

“Good morning, Mr. Wallace.”

“Please, Scott. If you’re going to take over the Seattle office, you and I are going to be working very closely together. We should be on a first name basis. Anastasia?”

“Ana,” I correct him, and his grin broadens before he turns to face the receptionist.

“We’ll be in my office, Penny, or… Ana’s office, I suppose.” He turns to wink at me. “Page me when Carmen gets here.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Carmen?” I ask.

“Our CEO. She’s running a little behind this morning, but she’s on her way. Come, I’ll give you a tour.”

Woods takes a seat at reception as Wallace walks me around the building. It’s not much, and since there aren’t many walls to the place a tour seems a little pointless. But he introduces me to some of the people I’d have under me if I were to be hired, shows me the breakroom, and a closet sized cubby he calls the copy room. I try to be gracious, despite my growing nerves, but by the time he takes me to the one and only office at the back of the building, the CEO still hasn’t arrived for my interview.

“And this will be yours,” Wallace says as he ushers me through the door. “Please, have a seat, Ana.”

“Thank you.” I step into the office, taking a quick glance around the space before I sit in the chair on the close side of the desk. It’s not as extravagant as Christian’s office at GEH, or even my own office back at home, but it’s not terrible. A few personal touches could make it feel really homey, and I bet the window on the back wall lets in the perfect amount of light on sunny spring days.

“Well,” Wallace begins, as he sits in the chair behind the desk. “How are you feeling? Nervous?”

“A bit,” I admit. “As weird as it sounds, this is my first real interview since I applied to college.”

“You’re going to be great, and I’ll be here the whole time. Carmen can be a little cold, but your record is undeniable.”

“Luckily, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in dealing with cold CEOs,” I say with a smile, and he laughs until he’s interrupted by a long drawn out beep.

“Mr. Wallace?” Penny’s disembodied voice says over the intercom on his desk phone. “Ms. Gallagher is here.”

“Excellent, send her back.” He gets out of his seat, buttoning his jacket as he stands as though the President of the United States is about to enter the room. Taking my cue, I hurriedly scramble to my feet and turn to face the door. Seconds later, a woman enters and I’m immediately struck by the commanding aura she carries with her. She’s beautiful, and younger than I expected, which shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it is because of who I’m married to. Her skin is dark and flawless, as is her hair. Her nails are beautifully manicured, her makeup is impeccable, and her clothes are the perfect harmony of power and femininity. But just like my husband, it’s her eyes that I’m really drawn to.

The dynamic gray that looks down at me every day has always been my best insight to what’s going on in Christian’s mind. They can be cold and hard like steel when he’s angry or bright and fluid like molten iron when he’s in a good mood. The same seems to be true of Ms. Gallagher. Her eyes are an extremely deep brown, almost black, which I imagine could be warm and comforting when she laughs, or dark and intimidating when she doesn’t. Unfortunately, right now, it’s the latter.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says, reaching out to shake my hand. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. Traffic here is ridiculous. But it’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“A-again?” I stutter, taken off guard.

Her hand, still gripped in mine, stops moving and she subtly raises one of her well groomed eyebrows. “Yes, Mrs. Grey. We’ve met several times. In fact, I was invited to your wedding, or… your fake wedding, I suppose.”

My cheeks heat. “Right, I’m sorry. Christian was just trying to–”

“Waste everyone’s time? Yeah, he’s good at that. I certainly hope that’s not why you’re here today.”

“Uh.. no. Of course not.”

“Good. Then have a seat.” She moves around the desk to where Mr. Wallace is sitting and the second he meets her gaze, he quickly gets to his feet and offers her his chair.

“Thank you, Scott.” She gracefully lowers herself into the seat, so I do the same. As she settles in, Scott hovers uncomfortably behind her, as though he’s not sure if he should stand through the interview or find a different chair. Ultimately, he decides to take a few paces back and lean against the wall, but his I’m trying to look casual but am actually really uncomfortable stance is distracting.

“Alright,” Ms. Gallagher says at last. “Let’s get started, shall we? Tell me about yourself, Ana.”

“Well, I graduated summa cum laude from Harvard last year, and immediately after that I released my debut novel, Escape, which was a New York Times bestseller. I’ve done press, marketing, book tours, so I’m fully versed on the release process. And… let’s see, I’ve spent the last nine months writing, exploring new topics and genres. That’s been a truly rewarding experience, but I’ve realized through some serious introspection and discussions that I’ve had with some of my readers and other writers that what I really want is to get back into publishing, on the business side. Helping others is a true passion of mine and discovering new, talented authors and giving them the chance to realize the dream of seeing their work in print is what really inspires me.”

Back into publishing?”

“Yeah,” Wallace interrupts. “Here, I have her resume–”

“She’s right in front of me, Scott. Why would I read her past experience off a sheet of paper when she’s here, right now, in person? Do you think she’s incapable of expressing thoughts and ideas aloud? Have you brought me a candidate who is incapable of speech or conversation?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good, then if you don’t mind, I’ll ask the questions I feel are necessary to determine whether or not Mrs. Grey here is a good candidate for this position.”

He blanches, like a child who’s just been scolded, then nods. “Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“Thank you. Now, Mrs. Grey, you said you’ve had previous experience in publishing?”

“Yes, I interned for a local publishing house while I was still in school.”

“She’s being modest,” Wallace interjects again. “Anastasia oversaw the transition of SIP to Grey Publishing and much of the success GP has seen over the past two years can be attributed to the foundation she laid during her tenure there. She discovered and signed Boyce Fox herself. And what she did to turn the company around in such a short period of time is impressive when you consider that she was only a junior in college at the time.”

“Her husband’s company, you mean?” She turns to look at me and I can see the skepticism reflected in her eyes and in the lines around the curves of her mouth. “I assume your husband hired you for that internship?”

“Yes, but he wasn’t my husband then.”

“I see.” She crosses her legs and leans back, staring at me. It feels invasive, like her gaze can see right through me and as she does she doesn’t discover anything that gives her a great deal of confidence. “How’d you get to Harvard?”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s an impressive school and as far as I know Christian Grey isn’t on the admissions board, so how did you find yourself admitted to a top tier ivy? Are you a legacy?”

“No, I was actually the first person in my family to go to college.”

“Ah, an overachiever.”

“No.” My voice is curt as the almost dismissive kind of allegation in her tone triggers a defensive reaction. “I work hard for the things I care about. Harvard was a dream of mine from a very young age and I did everything I could to make that dream a reality. It took determination and sacrifice, from myself and from my family. To simply dismiss that as overachieving is quite frankly insulting.”

“Insulting? That seems dramatic.”

“Well, you’re not the first person I’ve met to insinuate that an ivy league education is meant for a specific subset of people, legacies for example, and that anyone not fortunate enough to be born into that small, elite group, is somehow stepping out of their rightful place.”

My words, sharp as they are, draw no reaction out of the woman across from me. She stares back at me with the same mask of cool impassivity I’ve seen Christian use over and over again, and her lack of response to the challenge I’ve not so subtly laid out for her weighs heavily on the atmosphere around us.

“Can’t deny it,” Wallace says with an awkward laugh. “She’s got fire.”

“Mmm,” Ms. Gallagher agrees with a half-hearted nod. She leans forward, folding her hands on the desk in front of her, and continues to probe me with her eyes. “Why are you here, Anastasia?”

There’s an accusation beneath the blatant question that takes me a moment to get past, so for several seconds I’m rendered speechless. And she stares, without remorse or regret, until I find my voice again.

“I’m sorry, have I done something to offend you?”

“Not at all, though I must admit I’m suspicious of your motives. There’s a publishing house just down the street that bears your own name, one you’ve already made your mark upon. So, my question is, why are you here?”

“Because Grey Publishing doesn’t need me, you do. This is what I’m good at, Mrs. Gallagher. I’ve seen the numbers and I’ve researched your authors. You haven’t had a release sell more than 2,500 copies in over eighteen months. And now that the Stormy Nights Saga is over, you have nothing left to make up for the dismal sales of the rest of your titles. Your publishing house is bleeding, I can help you fix it.”

“Help me? Is that what you call it?” In an instant, Ms. Gallagher’s restraint fades away and is replaced with fiery indignation. “I don’t subscribe to the Grey Method of acquisition, Anastasia. If your husband wants my publishing house, he’s going to have to try a whole lot harder than sending his wife to take it for him.”

I blink. “What?”

“We’re not for sale.”

“You think Christian sent me here as some kind of corporate sabotage?” I ask in disbelief. She lifts her eyebrows in a clear indication that she does, and I’m so floored by the audacity of her dismissal I feel like I could fall out of my chair. Anger flairs in my gut, intense enough that I’m unable to think past it enough to hold back the words that come out next.

“Perhaps the reason you don’t subscribe to the Grey Method, Ms. Gallagher, is because you don’t understand it. My husband wouldn’t waste my time trying to cripple a business he wanted, nor would he exhaust the resources it would take GEH to build it back up again. If he wanted your company, all he’d have to do is wait you out because what you’re doing right now is making it real easy for him.”

“I’m aware of our situation, and I assure you I don’t need a Grey to resolve my company’s problems for me.”

“Then good luck, Ms. Gallagher. I truly hope you find someone to run this office who is able to look past a petty rivalry and do what’s necessary to right this ship. Anything else would be a serious injustice to the authors who have put their faith in you and trusted you with their lives’ work.”

I stand up and snatch my briefcase off the floor, but before I turn to leave, I lean over the desk and press my finger into the wood right in front of her. “And for the record, my last name might be Grey now, but I’m still Anastasia Steele, and if you don’t understand what that means, then you’ve got a lot to learn about the Seattle publishing industry.”

The rage allows me to maintain my confidence all the way through the door. I snap at Woods as I storm through the lobby and push through the front doors towards the SUV. Once I’m inside though, my adrenaline rush crashes and tears spring to my eyes.

“Is everything alright, Mrs. Grey?” Woods asks.

I shake my head. “God, I’m so stupid. I don’t know why I ever thought…” My words cut off as my throat starts to tighten and I have to swallow to clear away the choking sobs before I can speak again. “Will you just take me to GEH, please?”

“Right away, ma’am.” He turns to face forward in his seat again, starts the car, and slowly pulls out into traffic. I let my head fall back into the headrest and close my eyes, chastising myself over and over again for letting myself believe once again that my experience and talent would be able to outweigh my last name. But just like with Escape, my connection to Christian is once again all people see in me. The thought is depressing and as we turn up Virginia St. towards GEH, I once again glance up at Escala and feel the remnants of all the darkness it represents to me now wash down upon me like the raindrops currently running in steady streams across the window.

 

We drive for less than five minutes before we pull into the garage below GEH. Just like the rest of Christian’s shiny new building, the garage is huge and over the top. The smooth concrete drive winds its way five stories below ground level, but because I’m in a car with top security clearance we’re waived through the gate on the top floor and directed to a space in between Christian’s brand new Ferrari and Ros’ much more sensible Audi sedan. From there, it’s a short trip to the elevator and then a long ride up to the 29th floor.

The doors open to a huge, open lobby area, with shiny white floors and walls of either flat white or a pale silver stone. The dark gray marble desk, where Andrea and Olivia are sitting, stands stark and imposing in front of frosted glass that has the familiar GREY logo etched into it.

I grip the straps of my bag over my shoulder more tightly as I step into the reception area, and both Andrea and Olivia look up and smile at me as I approach.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Grey,” Olivia greets me.

“Hello, Olivia. Andrea. Is he in his office?”

“Actually, he’s in a…” Andrea pauses, looking conflicted for a moment, then shakes her head. “Nevermind, I forgot for a second who I was talking to. Yes, he’s in his office. Can I get you anything?”

“No, thank you, Andrea. I won’t be long.” I continue forward, past the expensive custom art Christian had commissioned by Seattle’s most prominent artists, and the glass and steel doors that lead into the boardroom where Christian holds meetings with his executive team. Around the corner, I pass Taylor’s office, then Ros’, until eventually I reach the double doors that lead into Christian’s office, the only dark fixture on this entire floor.

I don’t knock before I go in and once the door closes behind me, several pairs of eyes look up at me with annoyance. But the irritation in the gray set behind the imposing desk at the center of the room vanishes almost instantly.

“Anastasia?”

“Hi.” Though my voice is weak, the lingering tremble from the tears I only just managed to stop before getting into the elevator is obvious, at least to Christian. His face melts with worry and then his eyes quickly dart to the men surrounding his desk.

“Leave us, please.”

“Mr. Grey,” Welch argues, but Christian’s eyes flash in warning as he turns to the head of his R&D department.

“I said leave us.”

His shoulders rise and fall as he takes a deep breath, but he nods and gathers the papers spread out across the desk in front of him. One by one the men file past me, though I don’t make eye contact with any of them. Woods is the last to leave and once I hear the door close behind me, my bottom lip begins to tremble again.

“Hey,” Christian says, turning in his chair, but I hurry forward before he can get up and then crawl into his lap. “What’s wrong, baby?”

“It was awful. She was rude, and dismissive, and she thinks the only reason I was there was so I could infiltrate GSP and take it down from the inside so that you could buy the pieces for cheap.”

“Well, that’s…  actually, that’s not a bad idea.”

“Christian!”

He smiles. “I’m sorry. I should have warned you better. The Gallagher Corporation is GEH’s biggest competitor in the green tech industry and Carmen Gallagher and I have gone toe to toe several times over new acquisitions. She hates me, and there was no way you were going to overcome that.”

“So that’s why you sent me? You knew I didn’t have a real chance at GSP and once she turned me away, I’d have to come work for you?”

“I’m not a gambling man, Anastasia. I don’t make a bet unless I know I’m going to win.”  

“Remind me to have that stitched on a sampler.”

He laughs and wraps his arms around me more tightly. At first, I almost want to push him away. He set me up. In true Christian form, he’s laid out the path he wants for me to follow and then blindly sent me down it. If he knew GSP was out of the picture, he should have told me that. But that would probably have made me simply look into other publishing houses in the area, and this way, he has a promise I’ll come work for him.

It’s clever. Manipulative, but clever. But try as I do to be irritated with him, it’s impossible. While he holds me, a lot of the hurt and embarrassment I felt immediately after leaving GSP slowly begins to wash away. I breathe in his scent and feel his lips press against my forehead, and it’s calming. His embrace sends a  familiar kind of comfort through my entire body, until it’s impossible for me to care about the combative interview I just endured, and as the tension relaxes out of my muscles, I snuggle into his chest and hum with content.

He loves me. That’s why he didn’t warn me about Carmen Gallagher. He loves me and he wants me around, even at work.

“Maybe you’re right, as usual,” I sigh. “Maybe Grey Publishing would be better for me. I won’t have anything to prove or any egos to fight. I mean, there’s nothing for me to change or rebuild. I won’t be leading a miraculous turn around or carving out my own path and proving I can make it in this industry without the help of my last name, but I might be okay with just running the GP fiction department. Maybe I’ve already proved what I have to prove. Maybe it’s time for me to show that I’m just as adept at maintaining the status quo as I am at building something new.”

“There’s still a lot you can do, Ana, and I know that you’re going to be great. Carmen Gallagher might not know what you bring to the table, but I do. Like I said, I never make a bet that I don’t know I can win, and I’ll always bet on you.”

I pivot so I can look up into his eyes, and the sincerity I see reflected there makes smile. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“Should I start a list?”

“Yes.” My eyes glimmer with mirth and he smiles, then leans down and kisses the tip of my nose. Between each new reason he gives me, he kisses a different part of my face.

“You’re smart. Funny. Kind. Beautiful. Sexy. Loving. Talented. Warm. And you make beautiful babies.”

“Mmm.” I lean up and nuzzle the tip of my nose against his, which soon melts into a soft, deep kiss. “Speaking of babies…” I say when I finally pull away from his lips. “Calliope said ‘mama’ this morning.”

“She did?”

“Mhm, but only so she could scream at me for leaving her. I’m starting to think its not a good idea to have her home all day, every day, around the same four people. She’s really attached to you and me, and if we’re both going to be working, it might not be such a bad idea to help her make some friends. Make her a little less dependent.”

“You mean… you’re going to let me bring her into daycare?”

I nod. “She’ll be closer to us here than she would be at home, and if we send Kensie with her, she’ll still have one on one attention. Besides, Kate and I met at school when we were really young, maybe letting her socialize with some other kids will give her the chance to form friendships that could last a lifetime.”

“Even if those other kids have colds and germs?”

I laugh. “Even if they have germs.”

“Then I’ll discuss it when Mackensie tonight. And I’ll call Elizabeth to let her know you’ll be starting next week.”

“Okay.”

“Welcome aboard, Mrs. Grey. It’ll be a pleasure working with you.”

“Oh I don’t know about that,” I say, rolling my eyes. “From nine to five, I’m going to be one of your employees, Mr. Grey. Which means you’re going to have to learn to control yourself.” I sit up and lean into him so that my lips are pressed right against his ear. “No matter how many times I forget to wear panties to work.”

His breath hisses between his teeth and his hands twist into the hair at the back of my head so he can tilt my face towards his lips, but as he leans down and covers my body with his, he gets a page from Andrea.

“Mr. Grey, should I dismiss the R&D team or do you intend to continue your meeting?”

“I was just leaving, Andrea,” I answer for him, then turn and give Christian a quick peck on the lips. “We can pick up from here once you get home.”

“I’ll look forward to it, Mrs. Grey.”

After one last kiss, I climb out of his lap and straighten my clothes and make for the door. My cheeks flush slightly as I face the stares of Christian’s R&D team coming back up the hallway, but Andrea smiles as I make my way out of reception, so I smile back and wave while we wait for the elevator.

“Get in touch with Taylor,” I say to Woods as we step inside and press the button for the garage. “We’ll be starting with Grey Publishing next week and you’ll need an office close to mine.”

“Yes, ma’am. How soon after we get back from Cambridge?”

I frown. “Yeah, about Cambridge…”

He turns to look at me and raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“I need you to do me a favor.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 05

dakota-johnson

There’s a certain degree of humility I feel pulling into the parking lot for the conference of the Pacific Northwest Writers Alliance Saturday morning. The events I’m used to attending with Christian are all black tie and held in the city’s grandest ballrooms, with press and a cocktail hour. Today, I’m at the DoubleTree Inn in SeaTac, not even Seattle proper, and the woman in the headset across the parking lot, who is directing the crew carrying chairs and tables into the venue, is dressed in ripped skinny jeans and a long, tartan flannel. There’s no one to take my picture and I don’t have a publicist trying to direct the right kind of questions towards me, the way I do whenever I’m with my husband. It’s small, more down to earth. I’m only just more than nobody, and it’s…

I take a breath.

It’s a good way to start out the day.

“Mrs. Grey?” Woods stands a few paces away, looking at me like he can’t figure out why I’m not in more of a rush to get out of the light drizzle of rain. “I think we’re supposed to go this way.”

“Oh, right.” I smile and then hurry to his side, ducking beneath the umbrella he’s opened and trying not to step in any puddles deep enough to wet the parts of my feet left exposed by my heels. The lobby inside the hotel is busy, and it takes me a moment to find where I’m supposed to check in. Once I do though, the woman sitting behind the cheap folding table perks up and smiles warmly at me.

“Anastasia Steele, welcome.”

“Grey,” I correct her automatically, but then shake my head as I remember that my book was published under my maiden name, as is all the promotional material here today. “Sorry, habit.”

“Don’t apologize, Mrs. Grey. We’re very happy to have you here. I have a packet for you with today’s schedule and some information about the different publishers and authors here today. Other than that, you’re free to mix and mingle or head upstairs, if you prefer. Your publicist is already inside setting up a table for your signing this morning.”

“Thank you,” I say, taking the glossy packet she hands me, and with one last smile, I turn and walk with Woods into the ballroom.

There are all kinds of different booths being set up. I can see signs for several local publishing houses, who are here to give unrepresented authors three minutes to pitch their novels for publication. There’s an editing company advertising their services, a graphic designer who is here to offer tips on cover art, and a man I’ve never heard of scheduled to give a lecture on self-publishing dos and don’ts.

“Excuse me, uh… ma’am? Could you grab that for me?”

I turn and see a woman on a ladder, looking at me bashfully and pointing to a banner that she appears to have dropped.

“Oh. Of course.” She smiles as I hurry over to her, pick up the banner, and then reach as high as I can up on my tip-toes until her fingers close around the vinyl. “Got it?”

“Yeah,” she says, her voice strained as she pivots on the ladder and reaches high above her head to secure the banner to the wall. I wait, making sure she doesn’t drop it again, and once she pulls her hands away, she frowns. “Does that look straight?”

“It needs to go down a little on the right.” I look around the space and see an extra ladder, so I hold up a finger towards her and make my way over to it. “Here, hold on.”

“Mrs. Grey!” Woods exclaims when I pull the second ladder away from the wall. I shoot a warning look in his direction.

“I’m fine, Woods.”

After setting up the ladder, I kick off my heels and quickly climb to the top, taking hold of the banner on my side and moving it up and down the wall until Woods tells us it’s even and we tack it into the drywall. The girl across from me breathes a sigh of relief and starts the climb back to the ground.

“Thank you, so much,” she says. “I was supposed to have help today but, surprise, surprise, I’m here alone. That was really cool of you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I reply dismissively. Again, she smiles and holds out her hand.

“I’m Jennelle.”

I take her hand and grip it firmly. “Ana.”

“Well thank you again, Ana. Seriously, I– Oh my god, now he shows up.” She rolls her eyes and then nudges me with her elbow. “Once all the heavy lifting is done, am I right? Excuse me.” She rolls her eyes and shouts at someone behind me. “Hey, Brad! Thanks for all the help, you jackass.”

I laugh as she rushes past me for the clueless looking guy coming in the back entrance with the loading crews, and feel an odd sense of comfort as I return to Woods’ side. That girl had no idea who I was and that was the first perfectly normal human interaction I’ve had since… fuck, I don’t even know. Maybe this isn’t just about proving something to Christian. Maybe I really am ready for this conference. Maybe this is exactly what I need.

“Ana!” I turn in the direction I hear my name being called and see Lydia waving at me. Feeling much more confident about today than I did a few minutes ago, I stand tall, nod in her direction, and make my way over to her. “I’m glad you’re here, I was starting to worry.”

“Sorry, I got distracted.” She nods and then steps to the side so she can gesture to the station she’s set up for my signing.

“Well, what do you think?”

There’s another banner, bigger than the one I just helped hang, behind the table which has the picture of me from the back of my dust jacket on it. To the side is a long line of velvet ropes that suggest Lydia thinks there is going to be a significant line of people waiting to meet with me, as does the obscenely large pile of books stacked on top of the table and the boxes filled with more copies on the floor behind it.

“This is… a lot of my face, Lydia.”

“Such a good picture,” she says, ignoring the disapproval in my tone. “Calm, reserved, introspective. I love it. Do we need to go over some talking points in case you get stuck with some of your fans?”

I raise an eyebrow at her. “I think I can handle conversation.”

“I know, I just want to be as helpful and supportive as I can be. And, just so you know, the PNWA council has said they will carve out some time for you to give a speech if you wanted to… oh, I don’t know, take this perfect opportunity to give everyone a sample reading from your new book.”

“Lydia…”

“Alright, alright, you know I had to try. So, if you’re not going to give me a reason to track down whoever is in charge, I think we’d better get you up to your room.”

“My room?”

“Well, yeah. We can’t just have you sitting out in the open, it’ll ruin the excitement of having you come out to greet everyone. Besides, you’ll be much more comfortable upstairs. Come with me.”

Her hair fans out spectacularly as she turns on her heel and starts walking out of the ballroom. As I begin to follow her, I raise my fingers to my lips to hide my smile. Lydia can drive me a little nuts sometimes, but, weirdly, every now and then she reminds me so much of Kate that I think I want to hug her. Maybe Kate missed her calling as a literary agent, or any agent really, except that she’s taken to bossing around a room full of scandal hungry journalists itching to be the next Woodworth and Bernstein like a bird to flight. If only I could get Lydia to read me as well as my best friend, I think she and I might be able to take over the world.

I follow her into the elevator and up to the fourth floor where she leads me into a small, empty room. There are some catering trays laid out and a few bottles of cold water, but other than that there’s not much to keep me occupied.

“Alright, is there anything I can get you before I go back downstairs? Ice? Tea? A written statement about when you’ll be releasing your next book?”

“Lydia…”

She smiles. “One day, Ana. I’m gonna break you.”

“Not if I fire you first.”

“You see, that’s the kind of wit that’s going to make your next work an international best seller. You’re funny, kid. Real funny. Now, if there’s nothing else I can get you, I’m going to go eavesdrop on some pitches downstairs. See if there’s someone I can scalp before the publishing houses realize what they’re hearing. You have my number if you need something.”

I shake my head with exasperation. “Have fun, Lydia.”

“You know I will.” She squeezes my hand and winks as she turns for the door.

Once she’s gone, Woods and I talk for awhile and play a few games of cards with a spare deck he keeps in his jacket. The bright side is that it gives me the chance to call Christian and get regular updates on his day alone with Calliope, the bad side is that it gives me a lot of time to think about the number of people I can see flowing into the hotel from the parking lot. I get a picture in my mind of myself sitting at the table Lydia set up in the ballroom, scanning the hundreds of unfamiliar faces, and like a flash from a nightmare, there’s Linc’s face. The vision makes me shudder.

“Mrs. Grey? Are you alright?”

I jump slightly as Wood’s interrupts my thoughts, but quickly recover and smile.

“Sorry. Daydreaming.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Your deal or mine?”

 

We wait for a total of two hours before Lydia finally comes back to get me. There’s a pad of paper in her hand with a few names and phone numbers scribbled across it and she’s beaming like a kid on Christmas morning, so I assume she’s found a few unsigned authors downstairs who have peaked her interest.

“Like fish in a barrel?” I ask, smirking at her, but she shakes her head.

“More like a needle in a haystack. But I brought a magnet.” Her eyes twinkle with excitement, but it fades quickly as she starts ushering me out of the room.

“Let’s go, let’s go. We’re on a schedule here and your turnout was higher than I expected.”

“Higher?”

She smiles. “You’re very well loved in this city, Anastasia. Now, go, go, go!”

I start a little then hurry through the door for the elevator. As we ride back down to the lobby, my stomach is suddenly filled with butterflies. This is my first big event since it happened. My first time getting up in front of people. My first chance to either prove that I’m moving on or fall spectacularly without Christian here to pick me up again.

The doors open and Woods moves closer, following so closely behind me, he may as well be my shadow. I force myself to take several deep breaths, but by the time we make it to the entrance of the ballroom, I nearly chicken out.

“Ready?” Lydia asks.

“Uh…”

“Don’t be nervous, Ana. You’re going to be great. Just keep the conversations short and tell me if you need a new pen before it runs out of ink.”

I’m almost able to give her one full nod before she turns and opens the door, and as I step into the ballroom, I feel my stomach clench like I’ve taken a sudden, dramatic drop. Turns out that the velvet ropes I thought were excessive earlier, weren’t enough. The line of people waiting for my signing must be composed of at least three hundred people, not the hundred Lydia told me to expect, and even with the artful way the conference staff have managed to wind the line back and forth, the gigantic room still feels claustrophobic.

“Oh my god, there she is!” someone shouts, and suddenly the room erupts in screams. I flinch, but manage to recover with a smile, then wave at the crowd as I’m lead to the table stacked with books. Flashes explode from a dozen different places in the crowd in front of me, so I do my best to ignore them and keep up a pleasant excited smile for the first person who walks up to greet me.

It’s hard at first, having one quick, shallow conversation after another. There isn’t enough time to really talk to anyone but I don’t want to make this experience a waste of their money. Especially when so many of them are so kind and well wishing. The sentiment helps with the nerves, and helps me calm down and enjoy meeting people. Warmth floods through me as I hear again and again how much people really did love Escape, and after struggling to connect with one girl who spent the entire time we talked shaking and stuttering, I fear my face might be flushed bright red with a grateful kind of embarrassment.

“Hello,” I say, greeting the next young woman who comes forward.  She starts to shake.

“Oh my god, you’re Anastasia Steele.”

“Yes, I am. And you are?”

“Hailey. Hailey Lewis. Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m meeting you. I can’t tell you…” She pauses, almost like she’s suddenly too choked up to speak. “I’m sorry, I really don’t want to be a spaz… It’s just, last year was really hard for me and then I saw you on the Today show talking about how writing this book helped you, so I decided to read it. It was like you were speaking right to me through the pages and I just had this epiphany, you know? I needed a way to get out what I was feeling, even if that meant finding an outlet that had nothing to do with what happened. So I wrote a book, just like you, and it’s healed me in a way I never thought I could be healed. You’re the one who made me do that. You’re the one who gave me my life back. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for Escape, Miss Steele.”

“Ana,” I reply with a warm smile, and she immediately goes red.

“Ana.” Her voice shakes. “I’m on a first name basis with Anastasia Steele. Oh my god. I’m sorry, but I’m freaking out a little bit. You’re my idol. Really.”

“Well, thank you so much. I only published Escape because I hoped that it would touch someone just like you, so thank you for sharing your story with me. You don’t know how much it really means to me.”

“Of course.”

“You’re a writer?”

“Yeah. I mean, not really. I haven’t published anything, just the book I wrote after… uh.” She stammers again and shakes her head, I think because she doesn’t want to get into the “whys” of what she wrote. I get that, more than she probably knows, so I stop her before she feels like she has to explain more than she wants to.

“I’d love to read it.”

Her eyes grow wide. “Really? Y-you would read my work?”

“Of course I would. Do you have something I could write on?”

“Yes!” She fumbles with her bag in her haste to get inside of it, but eventually manages to remove a spiral bound notebook, from which she tears a single page. I take it and begin to write.

“This is the address for my agent’s office. If you send her a copy of your manuscript, she’ll make sure it gets to me. Just leave her an email or an address I can use to send you feedback.”

I hold out the paper for her, and when she reaches out for it, her hands shake. Her expression has gone completely blank and the way she looks at the paper almost makes me wonder if she’s having some kind of episode.

“Hailey?”

“I’m sorry,” she says, blinking like she’s coming out of a trance. “I’m just trying to convince myself that this isn’t a dream.”

I laugh again. “I promise you, it isn’t.”

Picking up my pen again, I slide one of the copies of Escape off the top of the stack next to me and write a quick, personal message on the inside of the front cover along with my signature, then hand it to her.

“Don’t forget to send your manuscript. I’ll be waiting anxiously.”

“I won’t. Thank you. Thank you so much, Miss– Ana.”

“Bye, Hailey.”

She smiles as she walks away and I’m overcome with the most amazing feeling as I turn to greet the next person in line. Seeing my name in the New York Times was great and watching the number of copies sold grow higher and higher, even months later, felt really good, but this… This has finally given me what I needed from this whole experience. I’ve helped someone. I’ve changed someone. I’m responsible for someone’s passion. That fills me with so much more pride than book sales ever could.

And it’s not even just one person. For hours I hear story after story from people who have been moved by my novel. Some who have found strength, some who have found forgiveness. My goal was to give people hope, but today has shown me that I have been able to do so much more than that and it is a truly, profoundly humbling experience. It’s everything, and as my time draws to a close and the line of people waiting diminishes, I feel like new life has been breathed into me.

“Phenomenal,” Lydia says after the last person in line leaves with a signed copy. “I expected to sell maybe a hundred-fifty copies today, you moved over three hundred. I will never stop being amazed by you, Anastasia.”

“Nor will I,” a voice says behind her. We both turn and I instantly recognize the man approaching us from the restaurant Luke and I went to earlier in the week.

“Mr. Wallace,” I say, surprised. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“This is why I’m here, Anastasia. GSP is here trying to scout some new talent, and since we’ve lost the head of our Seattle division, they brought me in from New York.”

“Oh, well, did you find what you were looking for?”

“I think there’s some good prospects. And, strangely, I think that might have something to do with you. I met with a few authors right after they spoke with you and their confidence was remarkable. Really impressionable. You bring out the best in people, Anastasia. I think you might have a real talent for this line of work. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a calling.”

“Oh, I don’t know…”

“I do. It’s my job to know.” He smiles, then reaches into his jacket to pull out a pen and another business card, which he writes on as he starts to speak again. “Look, I know you said that you’re just focusing on writing, but my boss is in town this week and I really do need to find someone to fill the position we have open with a candidate who will impress her. I’m going to schedule an interview with you for Wednesday at eleven o’clock. Come or don’t come, that’s up to you, but between us, I think you miss it. And I think you know you’d do great things and make a lot of dreams come true if you took this job. What more could you want?”

He holds the card out for me and I can see a time and address scribbled across it. For a few drawn out seconds, I hesitate, telling myself that this isn’t what I want, but his words resonate with me. The way I felt after speaking with Hailey and seeing how excited she got when I offered to read her work, that could be every day for me. And really, he’s right. What more could I want?”

I take the card and smile up at him, but before I have the chance to thank him I hear my name being called from across the room.

“Annie! Sweetheart, she’s right over here. Annie!”

I turn and deflate a little as I see Kim waving animatedly at me, but that small sense of disappointment quickly vanishes when I see my dad barrelling up behind her.

“There she is!” He comes around the table and pulls me up into a giant, lung crushing hug that takes me several seconds to worm out of. When he does let me go, his face glows with pride until he turns to see Mr. Wallace standing on the other side of the table. “Oh, I’m sorry. Are we interrupting?”

“Not at all,” Mr. Wallace says, extending his hand across the table. “Scott Wallace, I’m with Greenwich Publishing.”

“Raymond Steele,” my dad replies, glancing over at me awkwardly. “I’m with… her.”

“This is my father,” I tell him, and Mr. Wallace’s grin broadens.

“Well, congratulations, sir. Your daughter is really something. I bet you’re very proud.”

“Very.” Mr. Wallace shakes my dad’s hand again, then turns to smile at me.

“I hope to see you later in the week, Anastasia.”

“Maybe,” I agree with a nod. He turns to leave and as I face my father again, he raises an eyebrow at me.

“What was that?”

“Oh, he wants me to come work at his publishing house. What are you doing here?”

“Grace invited us to Mia’s party tonight and Christian said you had a signing today. We thought we’d come down here and check it out, see you in action. This is really something, kiddo. You’ve got quite the fanbase.”

“Yeah, it was good. I had fun today.”

“Good?” Kim says, doubtfully. “We saw that line of people, Annie. This is amazing. We are so proud of you, sweetheart.”

Don’t we me.

I bite my tongue and turn to smile at my father. “Do you want to look around a little, or are you ready to head home?”

“Home, I think. I gotta go spoil my grandbaby before Grace gets to her.”

“Okay. I just have to touch base with Lydia and then I’m out of here. Meet you at home?”

“Sure thing, kiddo.” He hugs me again, telling me once more how proud he is before he leaves. I stand there smiling as I watch him go, until he’s nearly at the door and I see him put his arm around Kim, pull her into him, and kiss her hard on the cheek. It makes my muscles tighten uncomfortably and a bitter taste creeps into my mouth.

I think it’s time to have Luke look into this woman.

 

Unfortunately, I’m not released from the conference as quickly as I’d hoped. As people start filtering out, I’m pulled into a separate room where I’m interviewed about the event for the PNWA newsletter. Then I have to stand around and wait for each of the directors to come in and takes pictures with me, first individually, then as a group. The only good thing is being forced to pose in front of the blank canvas backdrop again and again reminds me that I also should have at least one picture for my PixC account. At least it’ll make Jacquiline happy.

When I finally do get back home, it’s not only my father’s car in the driveway. The whole family has already arrived, which means I’m late for Mia’s birthday. I rush into the house as quickly as possible, thinking I’ll find everyone already seated for dinner, but instead most everyone is in the living room. I come around the corner just in time to see Kate reach into a bowl, read what’s written across the paper slip she pulls out, and wave her arms around with wild excitement.

“Okay it’s a person, and they’re very specific about color.”

“Prince!” Elliot yells, but Kate shakes her head.

“No, think 90s television. Fighting, girl power,…”

“Xena, Warrior Princess?”

“No. Super powers.”

“Wonder Woman?”

“No. Elliot, focus. Early 90s television, specific colors, fighting monsters, morphing, pterodactyl…

“Uh…”

“Time!” Mia shouts, springing up off the couch and jumping up and down with her friend Tibby. They hug and start doing a celebratory dance while they sing, “We are in the lead,” over and over again.

“What was it?” Elliot asks, disappointed.

“The Pink Power Ranger,” I say, and the whole family turns to look at me.

“Yes! Thank you, Ana. Come be on my team.” She turns and glares at her husband. “We’re going to need you.”

I laugh as Elliot rolls his eyes, but when I step into the living room, I’m distracted from Kate by the sounds of my daughter struggling in my father’s arms.

“Dada, dada,” she cries, reaching out towards me.

“No, baby. That’s mama,” my dad corrects her, but she continues to say ‘dada’ over and over again until I pull her into my arms.

“You really aren’t going to say it, huh?” I ask, narrowing my eyes at her, and she reaches forward to grab my hair.

“No.”

Everyone around us laughs, but as I turn to give Christian an annoyed look, I realize he isn’t here.

“Where’s Christian?”

“In his office,” Carrick says. “He got a call from Ros, I think.”

“Oh. Well, then I better go check on him.”

“Tell him to hurry back,” Mia says. “It’s our turn again after the parents.”

“I will. And, hey… Happy Birthday, Mia.”

She beams at me. “Thanks.”

I adjust Calliope on my hip as Kim reaches into the bowl and Carrick, Grace, and my father turn their attention to her, then leave to go pull Christian out of whatever work Ros has ensnared him in. When I open his office door, I find him on the phone, absorbed enough that he doesn’t even look up when I enter.

“I know you’re not as invested in this project as I am, Ros, so I’m not going to take your lack of faith here personally, but I’m not giving up.” He pauses, and as Ros responds to him, he starts shaking his head. “Funding has never been an issue before, and it isn’t an issue now. I’ll take care of it. I said I’ll take care of it.” He slams the phone down on the receiver and sighs as he drops his head into his hands. I watch him run his fingers through his hair a few times, and when he finally looks up at me, I cross the room and settle down on the desk in front of him.

“Something wrong?”

He shakes his head. “Nothing I can’t handle. How was your signing?”

“It was good.” He smiles and leans forward to kiss me, but Calliope grabs his lips in her fist before he even gets close.

“Dada.”

He laughs, then opens his mouth to nibble on her fingers, which makes her shriek and start to giggle.

“Alright you two,” I say, grinning. “It’s Aunt Mia’s birthday and we need to go help her celebrate. Don’t we, Munchkin?”

“No.”

Both Christian and I laugh again, but despite her discordant response, Christian takes her out of my hold so I can hop off the desk, and we carry her back out to the living room where our family is finally getting ready for dinner.

With Gail off on weekends and me spending the whole day out of the house, it was up to Christian to have Mia’s birthday dinner prepared, which means it’s been catered. We have an Italian feast laid out before us, and as we pass pastas, bread, and a gooey, cheese covered chicken around, Grace finally concedes and lets Mia open her gifts. From Kate and Elliot, she opens a designer duffle bag filled with custom made leotards and pointe shoes. Carrick and Grace give her some heirloom jewelry from Grandma Trevelyan that they’ve held for her since she was born, and my dad gives her the same bag full of lottery tickets he gave me when I turned eighteen.

“Oh my god, this is amazing,” Mia says happily, pulling out a long ribbon of scratchers. “I’m going to be a millionaire.”

My dad laughs and I turn a smug look on Christian.

“Alright, my turn,” he says, then gets up and disappears into the formal sitting room off to the side of the dining room. When he returns, he’s holding a beautifully wrapped square box that is a mystery to both me and Mia.”

“Thank you, Christian and Ana!” Mia chirps excitedly as she starts untying the ribbon. I shake my head.

“This is all Christian.”

She smiles at her brother, then lifts the lid. But when she peaks inside, she frowns.

“What is it?”

“Well read it, Miss Harvard.”

She scrunches her face at him, then reaches into the box and pulls out an envelope. When she takes out the paper inside, her eyes widen.

“Plane ticket vouchers to Spain?”

“Keep going…”

Mia raises an eyebrow, then reaches back into the box for another envelope. It’s a hotel reservation in Barcelona, followed by rail passes, ferry vouchers, and more plane tickets to get them to France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, The UK, and Ireland. He’s planned a full European tour over the course of the entire summer, and paid for everything to get her around. The last envelope she opens, labeled “Travel Money”, contains over $15,000 in cash.

“Oh my god, you’re sending me to Europe?” Mia asks, once everything she’s opened finally sets in.

“You and four of your friends, female friends. All summer. Ana and I might even join you for part of the trip.”

“Holy mother of…” She smiles and turns to her parents. “I can go, right Mom?”

“All summer? Alone?”

“Not alone,” Christian interjects. “I’ll of course provide security.”

Carrick takes a deep breath and places his hand over his wife’s. “She’s worked really hard in school this year and she got into Harvard. She’s an adult now.”

“I know, but…”

“Please, Mom? Pleeeeeeeeease?”

Grace looks between Christian and Mia, hesitating, but eventually, she lets out a defeated breath and nods. “Fine.”

“Oh my god!” Mia squeals, then reaches over to grab Tibby’s hands. “Who should we take?”

“Whoever kisses our asses the best until we go,” she replies, and the two of them devolve into a fit of laughter.

I bite my lip nervously. “Are you sur–”

“Mrs. Grey?”

My words cut off as I turn to the doorway, where Taylor is looking at me expectantly. “Yes?”

“Sawyer is here to see you.”

“Sawyer?” Christian repeats, his brow creasing. “Why is Sawyer here? I thought you just saw him?”

“I did.” My face gets hot at the inquisitive look in his eye, and I quickly get out of my chair to avoid any further questions. “I’ll be right back.”

“Ana?” Christian’s voice echos after me as I hurry out of the room, but I don’t turn back to him. I give Taylor a dismissive look, then make a beeline for the entrance hall where Luke is waiting with a beautiful, extremely dark haired girl.

“Luke, what are you doing here?” I hiss.

“We have a problem.”

My back stiffens, and I can nearly feel the blood drain from my face. “A problem? You mean with Mr. Kozlowski?”

“No. Immigration came picked him up this morning, he’s on his way to San Francisco right now for an appeal hearing, but I’ve already confirmed that his request for an extension on his green card is going to be denied. This is a much…”

“Ana?” Christian’s voice sounds from behind me again, and I spin around trying to keep the look of guilt off my face. He walks towards us, his eyes narrowing in on Luke.

“Sawyer, what are you doing here?” he asks.

He replies without missing a beat. “Ana invited me to Mia’s party.”

“Did she?”

“Uh… yeah,” I stutter. “I thought, um…”

“She thought it would be a good chance to introduce everyone to my girlfriend. Mr. Grey, this is Jade. Jade, Christian Grey.”

“Girlfriend?” Christian repeats, and the girl standing next to Luke smiles and reaches her hand out.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Grey.”

Christian shakes her hand, and after a confused glance between the three of us, a smile starts to creep across his lips.

“Girlfriend,” he repeats, clearly pleased by the word. “That’s… wonderful! Welcome, Jade. It’s a pleasure to have you. We’ve just started dinner, but I can have a few more places set. Do you enjoy wine? I’ve just opened a bottle sent to me from a vineyard in Bordeaux.” He shoots a smile back at Luke and I, then walks with Jade out of the entryway, asking her questions about how they met.

“You have a girlfriend?” I hiss once Christian is out of earshot.

“Yeah…”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t plan on telling anyone. Believe me, I’m not an introduce-my-girlfriend-to-the-family kind of guy. But Taylor has a tail on me. I did some digging and it’s because your husband is worried about why you and I are hanging out without your security.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, and he gives me a pointed look that says I should know exactly what he’s talking about. “He thinks I’m cheating on him?”

“Don’t act so surprised, Ana. You know he’s never been comfortable with how close we are. But drawing Taylor’s attention to what we’re doing when no one is around will not work out well for us. So… here I am. Girlfriend in tow.”

“Good thinking. And, thanks.”

“Yeah, you owe me huge. This is going to make her think we’re a lot more serious than we are. I don’t know how, but you somehow manage to make every girl I date think I’m just itching to be tied down.”

“Sorry.”

“Yeah, well… Let’s go. It’s not going to help anything if we’re hanging out in private together while everyone else is in a different room.”

He hooks his arm through mine and drags me back toward the dining room, where everyone takes a minute to ask about Luke’s brand new relationship before finally turning their attention back to Mia. Nearly all of the Greys, including Kate, have been all over Europe, so they’re all eager to give her advice about her upcoming trip, and the enthusiastic attitude around the dining room table makes it difficult for me to voice any concern. Especially since I’ve already promised myself I wouldn’t let Christian see me struggling anymore. And that becomes a problem again once we’ve finished Mia’s birthday cake and the party starts to draw to a close.

“Now, I’m just saying…” Grace begins. “If you two wanted a night off, Carrick and I would be happy to take Calliope home with us.”

Christian turns and brushes his hand over my knee. “What do you think, baby?”

“Overnight?”

Grace nods. “We could take her with us to church in the morning and then maybe the zoo. We’ll have her back to you by dinner.”

“I uh…” I swallow, trying to push down the unease creeping up my throat. I can almost feel in the way that Christian is looking at me that he’s put his mother up to this. Not even as a test, which is what it feels like, but because we promised each other after we got back from the Maldives that we were going to do everything we could to keep life from getting in between us again. That means finding time for our marriage. With everything I’ve had scheduled this week and Christian working on his new project, we haven’t had much alone time together. This is the perfect opportunity and there is absolutely no logical reason for me to worry about Calliope spending a night with her loving and devoted grandparents. So, though it kills me, I nod.

“Sure. She’d love that.”

Christian’s mouth moves slightly as he tries to hide his feelings over having the house to ourselves tonight, and Grace beams so brightly, one would think she’d just been handed the keys to Disneyland.

“Great!” she says. “Don’t you worry about a thing, I’ll just go pack some of her things and we’ll get out of your hair. Carrick, will you help Mia take her gifts out to the car, please?”

“That’s okay, I’m going to stay with Tibby tonight,” Mia says.

Grace nods and makes her way out of the dining room, and instead of letting myself sit and fret over the idea of Calliope spending her very first night away from home, I turn and listen to the grilling questions Kate is already launching at Jade. Luke plays defense until Elliot finally makes Kate pull back a bit and Christian gets up with his father to get an extra car seat. I swallow the lingering doubt I have over Calliope’s first sleepover, and pick her up out of her high chair, wiping down her hands with a wet rag before passing her off to Grace. My dad gets up to hug me, Elliot and I pull Kate out of her chair, and Luke quickly ushers Jade out of the dining room before anyone can ask more questions.

“Call us if you need anything,” Christian says, once everyone has made it outside and we’ve secured Calliope inside his parent’s car. Grace waives him off.

“You two don’t worry about us. Enjoy your night.”

“Oh, we will,” Christian says, and for once his mother doesn’t grimace at the implication under his tone. “Thank you again, Mom.”

Grace winks and kisses her son on the cheek before turning to hug me. Carrick is next, but when I pass him off, Christian doesn’t hug him good-bye.

“I need to schedule a meeting with you next week.”

“Schedule? Why so formal?”

“Because I don’t need a meeting with my father, I need a meeting with the mayor.”

“I haven’t made a final decision on who I’m going to put up for police chief yet, Christian.”

“No, it’s not that. I’d just like to discuss the tax incentives the city of Seattle is willing to grant GEH before the start of the new fiscal year.”

Carrick frowns. “Sorry, son. The budget is tight this year and I don’t have any room to help you out.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Christian says, and with those two words, his entire persona shifts. Gone is my good humored husband and Carrick’s son. In his place is the cold, unwavering CEO. “For the people, I mean.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I just think it’ll probably be difficult for a lot of people should I choose to re-headquarter my company in Tacoma, where they are willing to give me the tax benefits I’m asking for. That’s what… 5,000 locals, voters, unemployed? I imagine it will be a difficult adjustment.”

Carrick takes a step away from his son, looking shocked. “Are you… are you threatening me?”

“No,” Christian dismisses him. “No, of course not. Look, I’ll have Andrea get in touch with your office. We’ll meet next week to discuss this further. I don’t know, maybe… maybe you have more wiggle room than you think.”

“I don’t, Christian.”

“We’ll see. Have a good night, Dad. You got her pacifier with the pink elephant on it, right? She won’t go down without it.”

“I-I–”

Christian wraps an arm around me and pulls me away, leaving his father stuttering and looking dumbfounded. I keep waiting for him to stop and laugh, like this is all some kind of bad joke, but he doesn’t. He leads me right into the house and closes the door behind us.

“Alone at last,” he groans, pushing me into the door and covering his body with mine, but I move out of the way when he leans in to kiss me.

“Christian, what the hell was that?”

“What?” I narrow my eyes at him, and he rolls his. “Look, Seattle is an expensive city to run a business in. I’m doing what I feel is best for my company.”

“By threatening the mayor with 5,000 layoffs if you don’t get enough in tax incentives?”

“Well… yeah. It’s a pretty powerful bargaining chip.”

“Bargaining chip? That’s what you’re calling threatening your father’s career?”

“It’s business, Ana. It’s what I would do regardless of who was in office. I can’t treat him like my dad when it comes to work.”

“This basically blackmail.”

He swallows, hard enough that I can see his adam’s apple move. “Look, Ana. This new project I’m trying to launch isn’t cheap. I don’t have enough in the R&D budget to fund it, even with the grant approvals we received from NASA.”

“So, scrap the project.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes you can.”

“No. I can’t. The implications of this project are too great. I need something that is going to take GEH to the next level, to the highest level, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there.”

“Why? We already have more money than we’ll ever be able to spend. Why do you need more?”

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the power.”

“Power?” He inhales sharply through his nose and presses his lips together, like he’s afraid he’s said too much, and I feel a cold chill work its way up my back. “What do you mean by ‘power’, Christian?”

“Nothing. I don’t mean anything. Look, we’re alone. Let’s talk about this tomorrow. Right now…”

He leans in to kiss me, but, again, I move out of the way before his lips can touch mine.

“What do you mean by ‘power’, Christian?”

“Ana…”

“No, I’m not going to fuck you when you’re saying cryptic things I don’t understand and threatening people in our family. We’re going to talk about this now.”

He stares down into my eyes, clearly warring with himself, and when he finally decides how he’s going to answer me, he pulls back, leans against the wall, and looks down at the floor.

“You think you’re the only one all this was hard for? You don’t think seeing Gia holding Calliope in one hand and a gun in the other, or watching Linc put his hands all over you and tell me about all the twisted ways he’s fantasized about you wasn’t the absolute worst moment of my life? That I don’t relive it all the damn time and spend every waking minute replaying that entire night trying to figure out how I could have stopped it? I was powerless, Ana. He was going to take you from me and if your father hadn’t intervened, he would have succeeded. He beat me. And then you fell apart right in front of me and there was nothing I could do to save you. Those few weeks after, when you wouldn’t even talk and you wouldn’t eat and you spent all day, every day, locked in a room with the baby and screamed every time someone came to check on you… I used lie awake at night watching you breathe because I was afraid that you would just… give up and–”

His words stop and his shoulders rise as he takes a deep, calming breath. When he looks up at me, I can see fear in his eyes.

“I was powerless, and now that I know what that feels like, I will never let it happen it again. This project has the potential to make me one of the most powerful men in the entire world. No one will be able to touch us. No one will dare. I’m not worried about money or accolades anymore. I want power. I want to build the kind of empire that controls what’s really important. Information. Policy. World leaders. By the time I’m finished, wars will be fought before anyone ever gets close to you or Calliope again.”

“Christian…” I breathe, and he hangs his head again. I can feel an energy radiating off of him that I’ve never felt before, and it makes my entire body tingle like a million little pin-pricks all over my skin. “Why didn’t you tell me you felt like this?”

“You’re going through enough, Ana.”

I shake my head. “No, I’m fi–”

“Don’t. Don’t say you’re fine.”

“But I am, Christian. Look, I know that it was rough in the beginning, I can’t deny that, but I’m moving on. The Maldives really were good for me. They gave me some distance and let me see the world outside of what happened to us again. I’m doing better. I mean, I let Calliope out of the house. That’s something. I’m taking Mia to Harvard all by myself, I’m doing book signings, I’m meeting Luke for lunch in the city. I’m even thinking about taking a job.”

His brow furrows. “A job?”

“Yeah, I was approached by Greenwich Small Press. They’re looking for someone to step in and run their Seattle division and I’m thinking about going in to interview this week.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to work in publishing anymore. I thought you wanted to write?”

“I do, and this won’t stop me from doing that. But being at that conference today, feeling that energy and talking with all of those unsigned writers felt really right. I think part of the reason it’s been so hard for me to move on from what happened is that I’m stuck. Here. In this house. I don’t have anything to move on to. I mean, you have GEH, Elliot has Grey Construction, Kate has Kavanagh Media… what do I have?”

“You have Calliope.”

I nod. “Yeah, and I love being her mother. But I didn’t go to Harvard to just be a mom. I need something that’s mine, only mine, that I can push myself with and grow with and find success on my own. I told you a long time ago that my dream was to one day run a publishing house so I could help other people’s dreams come true and this is an opportunity to make that happen.”

“I know. That’s why I bought SIP.”

“Yeah, but you bought SIP. This isn’t like that. Greenwich came to me because they knew what I could do and they need me. I earned this.”

“Once again, you’re selling yourself short. I know that you think I gave you Grey Publishing, but I didn’t. Grey Publishing is successful because Boyce Fox’s book sales made us attractive to higher quality authors. You signed him. Grey Publishing is successful because our e-reader brings in enough cash flow to invest heavily in good marketing. That was your project. You were the one who laid the foundation for what it is today, and that has nothing to do with me.”

“But there isn’t space for me there anymore. You gave my job to Elizabeth, remember?”

He narrows his eyes at me. “I think I can find something for you.”

“Don’t you dare, Christian Grey. Elizabeth has done amazing things for GP, and I know because that’s the reason the president of Greenwich was fired. They can’t compete with you. You’re not going to fire her just so you can give your wife a job.”

“I won’t have to fire her,” he argues. “There’s plenty of space for you. We still haven’t hired a permanent replacement for Jack, you could take over the entire fiction department. It’ll give you creative control and you’ll have the opportunity to work closely with authors. And once you have a good team in place, you’ll be able to split your time between work and writing.”

“When did this turn into an offer to work at Grey Publishing?”

“The moment you told me you wanted a job.”

I shake my head. “I don’t want you to hand me a career, Christian. I want to carve a path out for myself, just like you did. It’s validating for me that someone who I’m not married to has approached me with this amazing opportunity, that they need me, and… I think I need them.”

“You won’t be working for yourself, you’ll be working for someone else.”

“That’s not as important to me as it is to you.”

“You’ll be the competition.”

“And I’ll try to take it easy on you.”

Despite himself, he laughs, then takes a deep breath and starts shaking his head. “Just as stubborn as ever. You know this is Harvard all over again.”

“And I won that fight. Over and over and over again. Honestly, you should cave now before I take this job just to spite you and then dedicate my career to burying Grey Publishing.” I give him a defiant look and his expression softens. He raises his hand and places them on either side of my face, staring deeply into my eyes.

“There you are.” It’s the first time in as long as I can really remember that he’s not looking at me like I’m damaged. There is only love and happiness reflected in his eyes and it sends a wave of welcome heat through my body.

“See? I told you, I’m fine.”

“I still think you should come work for me.”

“Well, we can talk about that after my interview. Maybe I won’t like what they have to say. And the guy that asked me to come interview isn’t even the one who makes the final decision. I have to meet with his boss. Maybe they won’t like me as much and I won’t even get the job.”

His expression changes, and after a few seconds a subtle smile plays at the corner of his mouth. “His boss. GSP is owned by a holding company and the CEO– she’s uh… well, she’s… “ He shakes his head. “You’re right. We’ll talk about this if you get the job.”

“Deal.”

“And if you don’t, you’ll come work for me?”

“Maybe. Yeah, I could see that.”

“Then, deal.”

Once again, he tries to kiss me, but I lift my hand to create a barrier between his lips and mine. “And in the meantime?”

He grins. “In the meantime, I plan on taking advantage of this rare night we have alone. I might even… go break into the closet.”

“I meant about GEH and your dad, Christian.”

“I’ll think about it. But I don’t want to talk about this anymore tonight. I want you naked and tied to my headboard.”

I bite my bottom lip. “The closet, huh?”

“Oh yes. You’ve talked a big game tonight, Ana. I think I need to remind you who the boss really is around here.”

So fast that I can’t back away, he bends over and picks me up at the waist, slinging me over his shoulder and making his way for the stairs. I squeal and try to squirm out of his grip but he simply smacks me hard on the behind and continues on all the way to our bedroom.

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