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

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33 thoughts on “Chapter 07

  1. I wanted to tell you before reading your most recent post, how upset I was when I read you author’s note last Monday. I can not tell you how I look forward to each and every one of your updates through the years. You are a wonderful writer and I am very grateful that you share your work with others. Your stories are yours. They may be times when a story line goes different than one expected. Again, its your story. Expect the unexpected. That’s the beauty of life. That’s the beauty of your work. In closing, I want to reassure you that for all those who are trolls, there are many more that will follow you and your works til the end of the earth.

    Excuse me, I am now going to read your most recent update.

    Thank you for making my Mondays a little brighter.

    Z

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I continue to love this story, thank you for the update! I have to admit that I was spoiled in way bc when I stumbled upon this series three of the books were complete. I was glued/hooked and bc they were complete I rarely commented, I mean I had to click next, not comment!
    With that said, I apologize for loving every chapter of this next book and failing to leave supportive comments each week. I trust your vision for this story and the characters and felt it wasn’t important to just say “thanks, still loving it.” But really- thanks and still loving it!

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  3. I just wanted to say thank you for writing these stories. I love each and everyone of them. I was so thankful when you said you would do this one. I appreciate all you do and look forward to my Monday’s when I can read the next chapter. Please do not get discouraged and know there are so many who love you and your stories. I am sorry that there are some that are negative and unkind. That is uncalled for. To those that don’t like the story just don’t read it and move on. No need to be mean and hurtful. While I may not agree with Ana on her choices I have faith in you and know you will make this a wonderful story and look forward to your writing. Thank you again.

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  4. I wish with all my heart that readers would remember this is your story and they are privileged to have you share your talent so freely with us. I hope you know there are many more of us that know that and respect your craft than the few idiots who get in the way.

    Great update as always. I wish Ana wasn’t hiding from Christian and vise versa but time will reveal all. Thx

    Like

  5. Great chapter as always. Nice and low-key but still important….you’re especially good at subtle. ☺️

    Happy for Luke, happy for Mia and her newfound self-awareness.

    I thought you described very well that “you can never go home again” feeling; just the right balance of memory+melancholy.

    Excited for next update when L and A get down to business.

    Like

  6. P.S. How is it you are 99.9999% typo free week to week? I write for a living and I’m not that good. Grammar kudos to you. 😀

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  7. I feel for Ana because she’s not ok. I’m scared for her too! It’s not good to keep secrets of this magnitude but then I see why she is keeping her undercover ops with Luke. She thinks it’s helping her better than seeking help. She felt so out of control with everything that happened. Christian is going to be devastated when he finds out and he will find out. Ugh!!! Great chapter!

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  8. Do happy Luke found someone to be happy with. I like how you r developing Mia’s chapter since the beginning of this journey. She was the youngest Grey so we have witnessed all of her growing g pain. I get the feeling she will do just fine in Cambridge on her own with some great advice from her older sisters. I can’t wait what else like and Ana uncover.

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      1. Yeah, we have no idea how he is coping with Calliope and vice versa. Actually, I suppose Champ IS actually Kate’s dog, though, so wonder how Champ will cope with mini-Kate?

        Like

  9. I clutched when Woods called in sick. I wondered if he was part of the original Lincoln gang. Then Luke arrived! And in love. And living with a wonderful someone. It seemed strange that they were flying commercial like plain folks though! I don’t blame Mia for being edgy about being at Harvard by herself. Hopefully, Christian will assign a CPO to her for safety and reassurance that she is not alone. Ana had Kate and Christian to support her. I am glad Mia aired some of her own misgivings about handling herself mature in the future, and brought up the fact that Ana hasn’t sought therapy after the blazing attack that rained down on Ana’s family.
    Tara, I like the glimpse back at how Ana handled the aftermath of nearly losing everyone at Escala during Lincoln’s bloodbath. Kate sitting outside Ana’s door night after night. Christian going crazy to find something way to reach her. Ana screaming into the night. A neutral therapist who doesn’t know Ana would be a good start. Destroying the people who supported Lincoln’s plan of revenge is a start, but uncovering the whole of this operation could destroy Ana as well.

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  10. Ana found a way to feel safe again, that’s by digging the past and dealing it with Luke to protect Christian and Callie? Only when they’re safe does she feel safe. They should have a CPO on Mia, she’s afraid of making wrong choices, being away and alone. Hopefully she’ll have a great experience. Love the PDA before they left each other especially Ana’s assurance to Christian. Even she’s doing something behind Christian their love is deep and strong and Ana always makes Christian feels better. I worry on her mission but having Luke around is a lot of reassurance. Thank you, Tara, can’t wait to find out what’s happening next. Xoxo daytona

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  11. Great chapter. I hope she called Christian and left a message or there will be hurt feelings.
    Mia will do fine in the dorms and for sure will make friends.
    Now what are Ana and Sawyer up to??
    Can’t wait for more. Thank you.

    Like

    1. Yes, Ana went through a lot to get just her and Sawyer there in Cambridge. WHAT are they up to, and how will they keep Mia from suspecting anything is what I really want to know. Obviously, Leila had connections in Harvard that were used to keep up with Ana while she was there. I wonder what Ana and Sawyer have turned up. I’m hoping that none of the professors were involved, but who knows how far it could reach? There are also STUDENT connections that may have been involved. So I’m intrigued for what Ana and Sawyer will learn here.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for the update. Mia is still feeling the guilt of not being forthcoming about the past and Ana is still the one helping her to forgive herself and forget. I do believe Ana had recovered without any therapy because she did not hide nor ignore how she was emotionally and mentally affected by it until she herself was able to pull out of it and now basically free of nightmares. She has made herself become a stronger person. Some people do have the ability to overcome adversities without getting professional help. They are only in Cambridge for a few days to enrol Mia but Luke and Ana have other plans to uncover the tracks that Lincoln had made over there. Even in his death there have to be left over operatives that had helped hiim and could still continue and Christian can’t think that they are very safe now since he is dead. Christian won’t leave Mia by herself at Cambridge without a CPO. Luke has a serious girl in Jade and hopefully she stay as a good person in this story. A background check is needed. Enough of my rant, and until next update. Thank you again, Tara.

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    1. I don’t think Ana HAS overcome her demons yet—she has just found a better way of hiding and ignoring them. This chapter lets us know just how bad it DID get for Ana.

      And yes, Ana IS strong. And looking to therapy is NOT a sign that she is weak. Even CHRISTIAN recognizes that therapy CAN help one deal with and move forward from trauma. However, NEITHER Ana nor Christian have exactly found the best coping mechanisms at the moment, even with participation in therapy. Ana is on a quest to save the family by hunting down every possible low-life that could hurt her family, while Christian is on a power-trip that involves making unwise-and-potentially-damaging decisions for his company.

      Neither Ana nor CHristian can acknowledge (yet) that their coping mechanisms have the potential to devastate not just themselves but others. But like every stage of grief AND getting through trauma, you have to go through it and manage one’s mistakes through the process.

      And Mia still has her OWN issues, but she at least recognizes that she makes bad choices that affect others. In some ways, THAT is the thing that Ana and Christian still need to realize.

      But this chapter shows that the real Ana is still there under the surface, despite the damage. And she DOES have the potential to come out of all this stronger than she was. For that, though, she WILL have to admit that she needs help and is NOT an island. And while Christian may preach to Ana about therapy, Christian needs to re-learn some of the PRINCIPLES of therapy himself in finding a healthy way to move forward.

      It is interesting that Ana and Christian are BOTH trying to control things behind the scenes in potentially unhealthy and bad ways. Still, both are motivated by a NEED to keep their family safe. So they still value their family and one another, and that is WAY better than Andrew Lincoln. Still, it seems that both Ana and Christian are in need of a wake-up call to their real issues. And I suspect that is on the horizon. . . .

      And ANA was the one to insist CHristian go to therapy in the first place in ABSOF. And it wasn’t therapy alone that did it for Christian—he learned the most when involving ANA in the process (such as when they dealt with the actual issue of their break-up and Ana’s feeling of betrayal. All the therapy in the world would not have helped Christian see Ana’s viewpoint. It was only AFTER reading Ana’s book that made Christian realize how his whole family had felt. AND Christian did NOT ever feel truly victimized by Elena until AFTER Ana pointed out to him about WHY he felt the need to make sure Ana understood safety words and the like. Only AFTER Christian could empathize with another’s point of view did he realize how he, himself was impacted in turn.).

      So Ana AND Christian’s therapeutic breakthroughs often HAVE occurred because of something between one another that led to new insight and an understanding of what Flynn was trying to get them to see on their own. So I DO believe Christian is right that it will somehow take BOTH of them to make it through, as well as having the therapeutic tools to process it together.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. You are so cute and funny at times. Keep going but I will never want it to,end. Do I need to get a life. Luv Ana and Luke but Christian is………

    Like

    1. It is funny that Christian could somehow be okay with Sawyer being Ana’s protection in Cambridge on a regular basis and yet so uneasy about SAWYER being the one to accompany Ana AND MIA to Cambridge now. Christian seems to never get over his uncertainty and insecurity about possibly losing Ana to someone else. It may actually be because Christian actually does NOT have any power over Sawyer, and Christian is seemingly all about the power right now.

      You’d think Christian would feel better now that Jade is in the picture, and Sawyer is obviously living wiht her. Still, Christian needed Ana’s reassurance that nothing could possibly happen. Thankfully, Ana does not take Christian’s seeming distrust personally—she KNOWS that Christian really DOES trust her, he just can’t help himself from being jealous of the relationship that Sawyer and Ana do have.

      And this chapter really shows you how buddy/buddy Ana and Sawyer are. They KNOW each other’s fandoms (loved how easily Sawyer got Ana’s Potter references and Lord of the Rings, which they both clearly love). AND the joking that obviously went on between Ana, Sawyer and Kate over the meth billboard. I didn’t even realize how much I missed that buddy interaction until this chapter, and I hope Tara finds more reasons to show it. Yes, we need plot, obviously. But I love the “between” moments, such as this, where we get to see all the reasons WHY we like these characters and their interactions.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Everytime I am about to write Mia off, she shows some depth. Here, she recognizes that she has NOT made good choices, over and over again. I was glad to see Mia truly invested in seeing and learning about Harvard and the area. She really DOES seem to have made the choice to come to Harvard for good reasons. Still, this IS Mia we are talking about.

    This chapter also reminds you about the BEST about Ana—her ability to empathize with others. She is encouraging to Mia and does NOT blame her. Which gets Mia to open up about her concerns regarding Ana. Mia really DOES value Ana as a sister, which shows that MIa CAN value good relationships.

    And I LOVED the comment from Christian about the importance of DORMS at Harvard and how they can change one’s life. No matter how much personal baggage Christian AND Ana carry, there is still the vast and incredible love between them.

    And I enjoyed seeing the buddy/buddy Sawyer and Ana back. I’d really missed that. I felt that same nostalgia and loss that Ana did when realizing how long it has been since we have had the Kate/Sawyer/Ana friendship debates and interaction that regularly occurred in the Cambridge setting. You often got to see Ana fangirling over the games with Sawyer pretending to root for the “enemy” team and Kate and Sawyer fighting over best-friend-status. I can’t help but wonder how much Jade will contribute or take away from the existing relationships. Yes, it is moving forward. BUT it makes you nostalgic for the past, too.

    Loved Kate and Ana planning their “crimson babies.” I love the idea of the Harvard house holding Mia and later the “Grey girls,” naturally assuming that there will be a BIG push by Kate and Christian collectively to see BOTH of their daughters attend Harvard. (AND just think of the POTENTIAL for stories with Calliope and mini-Kate. Hint, hint.)

    MOST IMPORTANTLY, you see the OLD Ana, or the BEST of Ana, is still inside her. AND that the best of Ana still comes out when she is trying to help someone else. While it has been misdirected in her compulsive hunt with Sawyer, I’m also hoping that this chapter reveals CLUES to Ana AND Sawyer being able to re-focus their lives on the positive. At least, eventually. Here, Sawyer is actually moving on with his life and starting a meaningful relationship. Which he hopefully WON’T want to risk by spending all his time on the bat-hunt.

    There IS sadness and lingering trauma-effects in this chapter–you actually see it in MIA as well as Ana. Mia’s guilt over what has happened to Ana and her natural uneasiness at moving forward as a result of all the trauma she has incurred is obvious. She is trying, though. AND Ana seems closest to normal when trying to help others move forward. She is so encouraging and understanding of everything that Mia is going through.

    This chapter really brings on the hope. Which I know might come crashing down by whatever Sawyer and Ana are ACTUALLY in Cambridge for. I’m just hoping that Mia doesn’t get enlightened and think that Ana just used her as an excuse to be in Cambridge for her “quest.”

    This chapter is seemingly the calm before the storm. BUT it also showed us that the real Ana, the inherently GOOD Ana, is still in there. AND that she really is trying to be there for others. Let’s see how the next chapter affects everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I started reading from the beginning of your stories AGAIN. Your series is one of the best on the internet. You have developed many of the characters and made many of your readers have emotional ties to this story. Your Ann has always been strong. The way she stood up to Elena the first time in the bathroom at Mia’s recital, showed she wasn’t scared and wanted to do what was right. Your Ann is doing the same thing now. I can’t wait to see what Luke and Ann do.

    I like how you are developing Mia’s character now. Based on what we have read in your pervious stories, we are always waiting for the next shoe to drop. This is what keeps us coming back. I wonder and worry about Jade’s placement in this story. I’m sure Luke didn’t do a background check on her. I hope she is just what she is, his girlfriend.

    We don’t know what Luke is doing for employment currently. Ann is paying for the apartment. Is she also paying him? I would think that working for Christian Grey for three years would have brought in a healthy six figure income. It seemed strange that he would worry about parking fees.
    Thank you again for your time and story that you have given us. Is tomorrow Monday?

    Like

  16. Ana should so send him nudes of Callie. LOL He just ask her to send nudes but not of whom. 🙂

    So Luke and Jade are living together and Luke just admitted to he thinks he loves her. Ana probing him for more answers even the intrusive ones was great. LOL when Ana told him that she could draw a picture of Elliott’s penis. Does Christian know that? LMAO Is Ana going to become friends with Jade? Is Jade on the up and up or…?

    Ana can be very profound and had a great conversation with Mia. Now Mia gets to decorate the house in her own style. Hopefully Mia follows Ana’s advice and doesn’t get into any more trouble? She seems to be a magnet for that.

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  17. Wow, just wow! I love the Luke/Ana friendship. The depth of it and the humor of it. It rings so true in my head as I read it. You have painted such a perfect picture of these two, hard-headed, funny and smart individuals. You have even nailed down a solid showing of them in their own “fandom” in movies.

    I sincerely hope that the development of a relationship with Jade/Luke is not the pressure from the comments of some in the four book adventure. (I thought forever how to be P.C. with that question, but alas, there it is, just dumped there. LOL ) But, with that being said, even if it is, it is so well written and presented that it flows with the story. So maybe she was in the mix the whole time, regardless, I am smitten with the strenghth and purity of Luke and Ana’s bond in friendship.

    I also think that you put some wonderful reminders in the conversation between C and A as they were parting on their trips. It is nice to have the reminder that they are still lost without each other. It goes along way to remind all the readers in this series that the characters know they will not be happy without each other, and that bodes well for the final chapters.

    Mia’s is going to Harvard- I would have sent her to Yale. (wink)

    Thanks for a great chapter.

    AJM

    Like

    1. I may be in the minority, but I think it actually DOES make perfect sense that Luke is only just now looking for and finding love. The back story that we know of Luke is basically that he fought in the armed forces with Taylor, saw some horrible things (as you would expect) while in service, and then went into full-time security. Which, of course, left him little time for a life, since he was always having to follow someone else for a living.

      After the injury, though, Sawyer finally had some time for himself. And while he has (obviously) been using a lot of that time to help Ana on her quest, it naturally WOULD give him more time to have a life of his own.

      And given how easily Sawyer relates to Ana and enjoys her friendship, you can see that Sawyer is NOT awkward with females. (And yeah, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Sawyer met Ana under different circumstances if there had never been a Christian Grey. But under those kind of circumstances, I actually DON’T think that anything would have happened, because Sawyer seemingly was NOT looking for anything permanent. Maybe that is because of all the trauma he has been through in the past—obviously, Sawyer would have lost people in the war/fighting. So maybe it has taken all the way until now for Sawyer to realize that he actually WANTS something premanent and worth fighting for on the personal homefront.)

      And I even think Ana is part of the reason WHY Sawyer wants someone himself—he CAN see how much Ana and Christian love one another and might actually want something like that for himself. After all, we saw how much Ana and Christian’s relationship influenced KATE and what she wanted for her significant other.

      (Plus, I, personally, would love to see Luke and Jade have a baby that is somewhat close in age to Calliope and Mini-Kate. After all, said baby would be likely to be around Calliope and Mini-Kate a lot due to the machinations of Ana, and I can just see Miss Calliope forming her own “gang” of minions, as I see Calliope being the natural ringleader. After all, with Ana AND Christian’s genes running through her, I can’t help but see Calliope being a dominating force in the universe, with her minions expected to follow and keep up!)

      So I’m actually LIKING the Luke/Jade angle. Gives loads of possibilities for that Calliope book we’re forcing, er–coercing, Tara to write next, of course! (Really, if we all put that thought in print enough, the weight of the universe will have spoken, and Tara will realize that any resistance on her part to such an endeavor would be useless and truly futile.)

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great chapter. Love what is going in with luke, it is like he is finally part of the squad. He is starting his life and I am more than happy to be able to see even the start of it.
    Can’t wait for Monday

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  19. I just went back to read this fic, a lot of things going on, but now i had the time to return this wonderful fic.
    I’m loving part four, i think despite this new coping mechanism that Ana has found, she needs to go to therapy.

    Like

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