Attention passengers, we’re making our final descent into Seattle. Please make sure your trays are in the upright and locked position, and please remain seated with your seat belt fastened for the remainder of the flight.
I look up from the report in my lap and feel a pressure in my chest I hadn’t realized was there release. Christian kissed me goodbye at the airport less than 48 hours ago, but every second I’ve been away from him and Calliope has felt like a day all on its own. He’d worried when I took this job that travelling was going to be hard for me, but having Luke and Calliope with me in Cambridge had given me an overinflated sense of confidence. This weekend has left me exhausted. Not just from the long night at Angela Rowe’s signing celebration, but from the nightmares that made sleeping through the few hours I had available to me impossible.
The plane dips below the clouds, bringing the city and everything that surrounds it into view. I slip my work back into my carry on and stare longingly at the sapphire colored water that I know lies right at the end of my yard. The view conjures memories of Christian and Calliope feeding ducks together, and it makes me smile.
“Glad to be home, Mrs. Grey?” Woods asks from the seat next to me.
“Very,” I reply. “Thank you for coming with me.”
“It’s my pleasure, Ma’am.”
Twenty minutes later, we’re on the ground and I hurry Woods along as we deboard the plane and make for the exit. It’s crowded, so getting out of the terminal means weaving through tightly packed groups of tourists and anxious looking businessmen. It slows me down and makes my heart pound with impatient excitement.
When we come through the final doors at the security barrier, I immediately start looking around for Christian, hoping he’ll have Calliope with him. But when I see a face I recognize, it isn’t my husband’s, and my chest deflates with disappointment.
“Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” Taylor greets me. “Woods. How was your flight?”
“Fine, thank you.” I smile in case he picked up on my less than enthused reaction to seeing him there waiting for me, and he takes the bag slung over my shoulder while motioning for both me and my CPO to follow him towards the exit for the parking structure. “Where’s Christian?”
“Home, I’m afraid. He told me he wanted to spend the morning with your daughter before he has to do some work this afternoon.”
“Oh.” My face falls. After losing what little free time we have together to this book party, I was hoping that he’d want to spend the afternoon together. I know how busy he is right now. He told me before they launched this project that it was going to take up a significant amount of his time. But I was home all the time then. Now, time seems so much more precious. I wonder if whatever he’s got scheduled could be pushed to Monday? Would I dare ask? I know how important this is to him…
Once we get to the car, Taylor holds open the door to the backseat for me, then helps Woods load the luggage into the trunk. The traffic is light going through Seattle, so I don’t expect it will take us long to get home, and I use the time I do have on the commute to check the emails I’ve missed since I had to turn my phone off for my flight out of San Francisco. Mostly, it’s just follow up from the party from last night, but sandwiched in between the congratulations and invoices from the different vendors I’d hired, there’s an email from Abby.
From: Abigail Kyle
Subject: Focus Group
Date: April 1st 2012 09:18 AM
To: Anastasia Grey
Good Morning, Ana!
I just got an email from the people who operate the meeting space where I scheduled your focus group for tomorrow, and they said payment has been denied. I called Mary in accounting and she said corporate didn’t approve it. What do you want me to do?
Assistant to Anastasia Grey, Greenwich Small Press
My teeth clench together. Of course it wasn’t approved.
My fingers itch to type back that she can just put it on my credit card, but there’s no use in continuing to fight this fight if everything I do is just going to fall on deaf ears. I should just stop and call Carmen, plead my case now before we get any further with The Black Rose and there’s no turning back. But as I click out of my email and start scrolling through my contacts for her number, I get a picture of Christian and what would happen if a department head called his cell phone directly to argue about something he already didn’t approve when he was at home with Calliope and me. They wouldn’t have a job Monday.
Tomorrow then. I’ll call tomorrow and have a calm, rational discussion with Carmen about why we should go with Phoenix. She hired me. That means she must trust my judgment.
The thought’s enough to make me put my phone away, but it’s not enough to quell the irritation boiling inside of me. It shouldn’t be this hard for me to push something through. I was hired to right the ship, but every time I try to set a course Scott drops an anchor. He was the one who pursued me, so I can’t understand why he’s playing these… power struggle games with me.
That’s it, I guess. Power. He wanted me to come on board because he knew I was the best fit, but he’s not ready to let go of the power he’d held when he was the only one in charge. For a few months, Greenwich was entirely his. Now I’m here, and two weeks in I’m already challenging his vision. That’s not something I’m going to apologize for. At the end of the day, my name is going to be on this release, not his, and I’m not going to risk my reputation for his ego. But, it is something I can be cognizant of moving forward. I grew up playing chess with my father, and this is no different. Just moves and countermoves. And while Scott may have experience on his side, I have experience dealing with men who desire power. I might be outgunned at the moment, but I’m not certainly out matched.
The car stops and Taylor rolls down his window to punch the code into the box that opens the gate. We sit there, idling, until the iron bars that protect my home groan open and he can pull into the driveway.
“Welcome home, Ana.”
I look up, meet Taylor’s twinkling eyes in the rear-view mirror, and smile. “Thank you, Taylor. It’s good to be home.”
I enter the house through the garage, which was a mistake because it takes me longer to get to the living room than it would have had I asked Taylor to drop me off at the front door. My entire body is itching to get Calliope back into my arms. So, the second I hear the sounds of the foreign language learning videos that Christian insists the baby watch every day, I drop any pretense of patience and bolt to her.
“There she is!” I squeal when I come around the corner and see her sitting on her blanket in the middle of the room, staring up at the cartoons on the TV with complete rapture. She turns her head slowly when she looks over at me, but she doesn’t scream with joy or even smile. Her eyes grow wide with surprise and her mouth rounds out to a perfect little o.
“Hey, Calli-lily!” I scoop her up, and she reaches out for my hair. Her fingers twist and tug on the ends, almost as though she’s trying to decide whether or not I’m real. Once she’s certain, her eyes meet mine again.
“Hi, baby!” I hug her, letting her scent fill my head and wash away days worth of yearning. She clings to me, curling her fingers tightly into my dress while repeating, ‘mama’, over and over again. Kensie is on the couch, smiling up at us, so I turn to her.
“How was your weekend?”
“Great. Easy, actually. Calliope’s an angel and Mr. Grey has been very hands on with her the entire time you’ve been away.” She smiles, like she’s sharing a secret that she shouldn’t. “He slept in the rocking chair in her nursery last night. I woke up in the middle of the night, so I thought I’d check on her, and there he was, fast asleep. If I wasn’t afraid of waking him, I’d have sent you a picture.
“Awh.” My lips pout together and I wrap my arms tighter around my baby and rock her gently back and forth. She yawns and nestles into me, curling up like she wants to fall asleep.
“She was up pretty early, so I think she’s probably ready for a nap,” Kensie says. “We were just finishing up some French lessons and then I was going to put her down.”
“I’ll do it,” I tell her. “Where’s my husband?”
“In his office, I think? He got a call from his assistant over breakfast and I overheard him say something about being booked this afternoon and putting a do not disturb on his email. He disappeared not long after Taylor left to get you.”
I sigh. “Alright, I’ll find him. In the meantime, let’s get you down for a nap, huh?” I look at Calliope and kiss her forehead, speaking with my lips still pressed to her skin. “What do you say, Munchkin?”
I laugh, then wink at Kensie and carry Calliope off to her nursery. She doesn’t want me to let her go, so before I lie her down in her crib I pick a book from the shelf, and sit and read with her in the rocking chair. She fights her eyelids as long as she can, using her fingers in my hair as a distraction to keep her tethered to consciousness. But it’s not long before her eyelashes flutter and she dozes off in my arms.
After lying her down in the crib and taking just a few minutes to stare down at her perfect little face, I venture out in search of my husband. But he isn’t in his office like I expected him to be. He’s not in the gym, or pacing with his phone on the veranda, so I head back up the stairs to check our bedroom.
“Christian?” I call, stepping inside and frowning when I come up empty handed again. The bathroom door is ajar, so I cross the room to check if he’s maybe taking a shower, but stop when I hear the bedroom door close behind me and then several soft footsteps across the carpet. I feel him before he touches me. His warm, masculine scent swirls around me, drawing me to him, heightening every other sense. I shiver when his hands sweep up my bare arms and his face moves into the curve between my neck and shoulder. The gentle kiss of his lips on the sensitive spot below my ear sends a wave of electricity through me, and, instantly, I’m his.
“Welcome home,” he whispers. The deep, need ladened timber reverberating from his chest makes my entire body hum with want. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.”
His fingers drag up the sides of my arms, all the way up over my shoulders to the zipper at the back of my dress, and the barely there scrape of his neatly trimmed fingernails leaves goose bumps in my skin. As he glides the zipper down my back, his lips move from my neck to kiss every inch of skin he exposes.
“I—I thought you were working this afternoon?”
“Oh, believe me, I plan on doing plenty of work. Right here.” His tongue caresses the skin on my back and I tremble.
“Christian.” My voice comes out in a whisper and desire drips from my lips like warm honey. When the zipper reaches its terminus, his hands slide into my open dress, palms caressing my back as he moves them up my body, widening the gap in the fabric, until the sleeves slip from my shoulders and my entire dress pools around my feet.
“Bed,” he whispers.
I turn in his arms to face him and his mouth comes crashing down on mine. His tongue parts my lips. My fingers curl into his hair. The kiss is soft and deep, slow, and yet filled with a desperate kind of need that has me internally screaming for him push me back onto our bed, rip away my panties, and take me until I’m adequately claimed once again.
He doesn’t though. There is no fiery urgency in the way his hands explore my body or how his tongue tangles with mine. Without his hands ever leaving my skin, he reaches down past my behind to the insides of my thighs and lifts me so that my legs curl around his waist. My hold tightens around his upper body as he carries me across our bedroom, forcing him to come with me once he deposits me onto the bed.
His body consumes me. I’m pinned beneath him at every limb, his weight too much for me to move. But I don’t struggle. I don’t want to be free of his touch.
Reaching over his shoulders, he untangles my arms from around his neck and pins them both down into the mattress at either side of my head, though not to restrain me. With the same gentility he used to touch me at the door, his hands move over my forearms, all the way up, until his fingers can entangle with mine. It’s a simple gesture, intimate but innocent, and it sends a wave of welcome heat down my body, between my legs.
I tilt my hips up, grinding my pelvic bone into his erection in a desperate attempt for friction. He smiles against my lips and presses into me, matching my enthusiasm. “Always so impatient,” he says.
“I need you.”
“Mmm, are you wet?”
He releases my hand and reaches down my body. My panties are such an insignificant barrier to him, they might as well not be there at all. When his finger slips through my arousal, he groans into my mouth. “So wet…”
I gasp and cling tighter to him, begging for more through my kiss rather than my words, and he obliges. Two long fingers slide into me while his thumb circles my clitoris. The heat intensifies and my eyes roll back. When my mouth drops open in a silent gasp of pleasure, his teeth tug at my bottom lip.
“I have every intention of making love to you, Anastasia,” he says. “But just because I don’t expect you to submit to me doesn’t mean the rules have changed.”
“You know which rules.” He pushes his fingers as deep inside of me as he can reach, curling them around to stroke the place that has my toes digging into the sheets. “Say it.”
“I-I…” I bite down on my lip and force myself to swallow my panting breaths so I can get the words out. “I only come for your mouth or your cock.”
“And I intend for you to do both.”
I whimper and clench around his fingers, desperate to stave off the orgasm he seems just as eager to coax out of me. I pant his name, claw at his arms, and, mercifully, just as I’m about to lose the battle and fall over the ledge, his hand disappears. The emptiness left behind is both a relief and unbelievably torturous. But he takes pity on me.
With one last kiss against my lips, he moves down my body. While he pauses to suckle softly on each of my nipples, I reach down, dig my fingers into his shirt, and pull it up over his head. He lifts himself enough for the fabric to be removed, then drags the tip of his tongue through my cleavage, down the middle of my stomach, over my hip bone, and across my thigh. I clench again, electrified by only his eyes and the focus with which he stares at his prize between my legs. I want to thread my fingers through his hair, grip at the roots until his mouth falls open with pain and pleasure, and then guide him into me. But I resist. I let him stare. I let him plan. And after a few agonizing seconds of waiting, I’m rewarded with his tongue.
“Oh, fuck. Christian!” Once his name crosses my lips, he begins to suck softly on my clitoris then drags the resulting inundation of my arousal up and round that sensitive bundle of nerves with the flat of his tongue. A pattern starts to develop, three flicks, swirl, long lick. Flick. Swirl. Lick. Flick. Swirl. Lick. My back arches off the bed, my mouth drops open, my eyes close. The wick to my release has been lit, and when he begins to suck again, I fill his mouth with fireworks.
He growls and uses his lips and tongue to work me through my orgasm, dragging it out, drowning me in it until I’m reduced to nothing but a quaking, breathless mess. When I come down and the world comes into focus again, he leaves a final kiss against me and then drags himself up my body again. The tip of his erection plays against my still quaking opening.
“I could watch you come all day, Anastasia.”
“I’m inclined to let you.”
He flashes me that mischievous smile I always feel in the deepest, most secret parts of me. “Good.”
In one smooth motion, he thrusts inside of me and takes my resulting cry of pleasure into his mouth. His tongue dances with mine in synchrony with his movements inside of me, slow and controlled, but filled with love and promise. I hook my leg around his hips, desperate to be closer to him despite the fact that his thrusts push him as deep inside of me as humanly possible. The blunt end of him tests my boundaries while his hands cradle my face with a gentility that I wouldn’t normally expect from him during sex. It’s a silent but powerful gesture. He missed me. He’s glad I’m home. And, he loves me.
“Oh, Ana…” he groans. The sound of my name reverberates against my lips until he kisses me again, and I can’t tell which gives me more pleasure. The reverence in his voice is religious in it’s devotion, yet it’s a pale imitation of the depth of feeling I have for him. For this connection. For the piece of himself he’s given me, and only me. I pull away from the kiss so I can look into his eyes, and when I do his face twists with an intense emotion I can’t read.
“Give me your hand,” he says. I do, and he brings each of my fingertips to his lips before pulling my hand down between my legs. At first, I think he wants me to touch myself. But he lays my hand flat over my pubic bone, my index and middle fingers bookends to the connection between our bodies. “Feel me. Feel the way we move together.”
“Ah…” Even the sharp intake of breath I take shakes. It’s too much to contain. The pleasure, his adoration, the depth of feeling his love making brings out of me. I’m overwhelmed, and the burden of those feelings coil inside of me, tighter and tighter, until everything disintegrates.
My orgasm doesn’t hit me with the force of a supernova the way the first one did. It’s more like a breath of wind spreading flames across the dry foliage of the forest floor. The hot flames of pleasure creep slowly through my entire body, but with enough potency to burn me down to the bone. I feel him everywhere. From the tips of my fingers to the ends of my toes, I writhe with pleasure so intense I’m baffled by my own body’s ability to contain it.
“Oh, fuck!” Christian grunts through clenched teeth. His eyes close, and his expression twists with determination as he struggles to keep his own release at bay long enough to see me through the highest peak of mine. One long sustained note escapes my chest, raising higher and higher in pitch until it’s silent and then… “Ana!”
He pushes as deep into me as he can, then stills. His erection is so swollen that I can feel him pulse with every drip he releases inside of me. I welcome it. I want it. In that moment, lost in the heat of orgasm, I reject every part of my existence that doesn’t exist solely for his pleasure.
Our breathing is synchronized as we come down, and we’re both covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Every part of my body is overcome with a feeling of relaxation so deep, I can’t move. He kisses me deeply, then rolls over and collapses on the bed at my side, his chest heaving with every breath he takes. We lay there in silence for what is probably only a minute or so, though it feels much longer, and then he turns to look at me.
“You’re incredible, you know that?”
I let my head loll to the side and blink at him. “I’m sorry, who are you?” It takes half a second, but his face breaks into a smile and we both laugh until, somehow, we’re kissing again. He leans up on his arms and brushes the backs of his fingers over my cheeks while our lips play softly against each other. When we part, he smiles and looks down at me with the same love I felt a few minutes ago swimming in his eyes.
“How was your trip?”
“It was fine.”
His brow furrows. “Fine? You hosted a party that the San Francisco Chronicle was raving about this morning. It had to have been better than fine.”
I want to roll my eyes. Of course he’s already read all the press. “No, the party was good. There’s a lot of enthusiasm surrounding this release right now and I’m excited to see how that translates to sales.”
“Corporate killed my focus group, and I think Scott is probably behind it.”
Christian snorts. “How fragile does a man’s ego have to be to be so threatened by the success of a colleague at an entirely separate branch all the way across the country?”
“I think it’s more about control. He ran GSP unchecked for months, and now here I am, refusing to just give in to what he wants on the first big release I’ve been given.” I sigh. “Anyway, I’m going to call Carmen on Monday and try to talk her over to my side. You know her, right?”
He shrugs, and I turn so that I’m facing him better.
“What do I need to do to convince her?”
“Oh, no. You’re the competition now. Any advice I give you would be in direct opposition to the interests of my own publishing company. You’re on your own, Mrs. Grey.”
“Shouldn’t there be some kind of loophole where you ignore the whole competition thing and give me advice because I’m your wife and you love me and you want me to succeed?”
He smiles. “I do love you. And I’d give you all the advice you could handle if you wanted to leave and come work for me.”
“I can’t come work for you. I signed a non-compete.”
“Oh, please. I’ll put my lawyers up against Carmen Gallagher’s any day. You want to come to GP, just say the word and it’s yours.”
“No, thank you.”
“Then my lips are sealed.”
“Oh really?” I lean up and kiss him again, coaxing his lips apart with my tongue so I can deepen the kiss. He moans and lovingly runs his fingers through my hair again. When we part, I place one last, sweet peck against his lips for good measure. “How about now?”
“Mmm… no dice.”
He laughs, but turns away from me to pick up his phone, vibrating on the floor next to the bed. I only just get a glance of Kate’s name displayed across the screen before he answers.
“Kate?” He pauses, but I can’t hear what she’s saying. I can only judge the tone of the call by his face, and his expression goes from curious to worry in a split second. “Yeah, she just got home. What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” I breathe, but he holds a hand up to silence me so that he can hear what she’s saying.
“Where’s Elliot? Fuck. Okay, don’t move. We’ll be there in twenty minutes.” He hangs up the phone and leaps out of bed, picking up his clothes and throwing them on as he moves quickly for our bedroom door.
“What’s going on?” I ask, panic rising in my chest.
“Kate’s in labor, and Elliot’s on a job site in Tacoma. We need to pick her up and take her to the hospital.”
“Labor? Oh my god, she’s having her baby!” My smile widens with each word, and despite his hurry, he smiles back at me.
“Yeah. Now get dressed. I’ll get Calliope and meet you at the car.”
I nod quickly and scurry out of bed. The dress I wore on the plane this morning is all business and only looks good with a sky high pair of heels, not something I want wear sitting in a waiting room all day, so I go to the closet, find one of Christian’s t-shirts and a pair of leggings. My hair is a dead give away that I’ve just been fucked within an inch of my life, but there isn’t any time to do anything about it. I sweep it up in a messy bun on top of my head, spritz myself with perfume to mask the smell of Christian and sex, and bolt to the door.
He’s already in the garage by the time I get downstairs, buckling Calliope into her car seat while dismissing Kensie until Monday. Taylor is in the driver’s seat, the engine of the SUV purring gently, so I give our nanny a grateful smile and jump into the backseat.
“Where to, Mr. Grey?” Taylor asks.
“Escala, and hurry.”
Taylor nods and begins to back out of the garage, and I feel like someone just dropped a 100 lb weight in my lap. I hadn’t considered where Kate was, only that I needed to get to her as quickly as possible. Her movers are scheduled for 8 AM tomorrow morning, of course she goes into labor today.
“You alright?” Christian asks, reaching over to grasp my hand. I turn and stare back at him, forcing the fear clutching my windpipe down so that my voice won’t betray me.
“Of course I am. Kate’s having her baby today.”
He gives me a small but warm smile, then reaches into the car seat and brushes his hand lovingly through Calliope’s curls, and once again, I get away with it.
Dread builds inside me the entire drive into downtown, like a rock that’s fallen into the pit of my stomach. I try to alleviate my anxiety by telling myself this drive is no different than the commute I take into work every morning. But any comfort I’m able to find in the lie comes and goes as quickly as it takes for us to pass the GSP building. Only two blocks, and then Taylor signals for the drive to the parking garage below Escala.
For some reason, the small box that contains the sensor for the initial gate is still in the dash of the SUV, so Taylor doesn’t stop to punch in a code before the gate swings open. I have no moment to brace myself before we descend into the dark garage, and the moment the muted light streaming in through the window at my side is obstructed, I feel a wave of cold. There’s a pillar not far from the lane that leads us to the elevator, is that where Kommer was hiding, waiting for us to return that night? Is this where Luke was first pulled out of this very car at gunpoint? My mind is filled with these kinds of questions and when we stop, and I reach for the handle on the door, I say a silent prayer that Christian doesn’t notice my fingers shaking.
“You don’t have to come up,” he says. “You can wait here with Calliope.”
I swallow, both my mind and heart racing. Kate is upstairs, scared and alone. I should go to her. I need to go to her. But the very sight of the elevator, the thought of punching in the code to the penthouse, the image of watching each number tick higher as we rise up to the place where it happened… it all has me frozen, unable to move.
I look back at Christian and nod. “Hurry.”
“I will.” He opens the door and disappears from the safe confines of our car. I watch every step he takes to the elevator and then hold my breath as he steps inside, fighting every instinct that tells me to call him back. Once the doors close and he’s out of my sight, I force my mind to go blank, place my hand over my daughter in her car seat, and focus on Taylor. The piece that was missing last time.
“Three minutes, Mrs. Grey,” he says, making eye contact with me in the rear view mirror. “That’s as long as it takes.”
I nod, let my head fall back against the headrest, and close my eyes.
One. Two. Three. Four…
I get all the way to one hundred eighty-nine when the faint ding of the elevator arriving catches my attention. My eyes snap open and I look up at a scene that I had imagined a hundred times last year, only with myself in the place currently being occupied by my best friend. Christian has a small, pink gym bag slung over his shoulder, one arm around Kate’s waist, and one hand clutched in hers so that she has something to hold and steady herself. Her face is contorted with pain and worry. Her lips are pursed with the release of a long breath, and her free arm carefully cradles her baby bump. They stop as Kate half doubles over with the pain of a contraction, and while I can’t hear the words, I can see Christian lean down and say something to her that makes her nod and encourages her to continue on to the car. It should make me happy to see him supporting her the way he is, it does make me happy. But watching them makes me think of Calliope’s birth, the experience I missed because of my abruption, and I view him leading Kate towards me through the green tinge of envy.
Stop it, Ana.
When they’re only a few feet away, I get out of the car and take Kate’s hands. She’s panting, and I can see in her eyes that she’s scared. Nodding for Christian to put her bag in the back while I lead her into the backseat, I put an arm around her and try to sooth her with my voice as best as possible.
“Easy, Katie. We’ve got you. We’re going to the hospital now.”
“E-Elliot,” she pants. “Sh-she can’t be born before Elliot gets here.”
“I’ll call him,” Christian says. “Find out where he is.” Kate nods, but none of the uneasiness leaves her eyes. I slide into the back seat next to her, and take her hand.
“He’s coming, Kate. He’s going to make it. Just breathe with me.”
Thankfully, Kate acted as my partner in Christian’s absence through countless Lamaze classes the year before, so it isn’t weird coaching her to breath through the entire drive to Northwest Hospital. She clutches my hand so tightly that I can’t feel most of it after a few minutes, and the very tips of my fingers turn deep red, almost purple, in color. But I can tell how much it helps her, knowing I’m there, so I let her squeeze me as much as she needs to for the entirety of the ride.
“We’re here,” I encourage her once the SUV stops in front of the sliding glass doors at the Emergency Room entrance. Christian jumps out of the front passenger seat and opens our door, somehow managing to get her bag from the trunk and still make it back to us in time to hold most of her weight as she carefully steps out onto the asphalt. A man in light blue scrubs rushes towards us, pushing a wheelchair in front of him, and I once again let her clutch my hand while Christian helps lower her down into it.
“Where is he now?” she asks, looking at Christian with desperate eyes.
“He just texted me. There’s an accident on I-5, but he’s gotten around to 167 at Federal Way. He’s coming, Kate. He’ll make it.”
“But if he…” she shakes her head, deciding against whatever it was she was going to say, and looks up at me. “Don’t leave me, Ana.”
“I won’t, Kate. I’m right here.”
She nods again, furiously, like she’s trying to convince herself of something, and the nurse pushes her forward into the ER. They take us straight up to the maternity floor and while Kate and I are shown back to the private birthing suite they booked months ago, Christian is handed a clipboard to fill out her information and tasked with sitting with Calliope in the waiting room and calling both her and Elliot’s parents.
“Breathe, Katie,” I say, looking up at the clock on the wall and trying to calculate how much time is left until I think Elliot is going to arrive. She screams again, through another powerful contraction, and I think I see her involuntarily pushing. Shit… should she be? “You’re doing great, Kate. Keep breathing.” I drop her hand and run to the door, scream for the nurse, and return to her side until, finally, someone comes to examine her.
“Drugs!” she cries the moment the doctor comes into the room. “I want the drugs, give me the drugs.”
“We’ll see what we can do, Mrs. Grey. Let me just get a look here and see where we’re at.” I stand to the side, keeping her fingers interlaced with mine, as he helps her get her leg into the stirrups and dives between her legs. She screams again, pushes again, and the doctor sits up straight. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey, it looks like we’re past the point of an epidural. You’re fully dilated, this baby is coming.”
“What?” she pants. “I-I’ve only been in labor for a little over an ho—OWE!” Another scream, another push.
“I know it’s fast,” the doctor says, scooting closer to the end of the table. “But this is good. You’ll be grateful for a quick labor come tomorrow. Patricia!”
“No, my husband’s not here yet. Ana, she can’t be born before Elliot gets here…”
“I know, he’s coming.”
A nurse scurries into the room with a tray on a cart and quickly dresses the doctor in a plastic gown, mask, and gloves.
“No.” Kate shakes her head defiantly. “No, I’m not going to do this until he’s here. I ca—AAH!” Her fingers crush my hand and I shoot a worried look down at the doctor.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “We can’t wait. You’re going to need to start pushing.”
“No. No, I won’t.”
“It’s not an option. I need you to push for me, okay? In three, two…”
She lets out a distraught sounding sob. “Ana.”
I squeeze her hand, holding her just as tightly as she holds me. “I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere. Now push, Katie. Push!”
The imploring look she gives me gives way to agony in an instant and the room fills with the sound of her pain as she gives her first real push. This is happening, just like that. She’s not just in labor, she’s giving birth, and I’m the only one here with her.”
“Good, Katie,” I tell her as her muscles relax. “You’re doing so good.”
Tears swim in her eyes. “I don’t want to do this, Ana. Not yet. I need more time.”
“We don’t have time. She’s coming, ready or not. But Elliot is going to be here any second and I’m going to get you through this until he comes through that door. You’ve got this, Kate. You can do this.”
“Here we go,” the doctor interrupts. “Big push now, Mrs. Grey. In 3, 2, 1…” She screams once more, and as the sound reverberates off the walls of the tiny room, the door bursts open and Elliot steps inside, looking frantic.
“Elliot!” Kate pants.
He rushes to her side, takes her free hand in his, and brings her fingers to her lips. “I’m here, I’m here. I’m sorry. Are we doing this?”
I nod. “She’s coming. That was her second push.”
“Good. You’re doing so good, baby. I love you so much.”
I sigh in relief and move to slip my hand out of Kate’s, but the moment she feels movement, she tightens her hold around me. “No, don’t go!”
“Okay,” I nod, stepping right back up to the side of the bed. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”
“One more time, Mrs. Grey,” the doctor instructs her. “Big push on 3, 2, 1…”
After her first ten pushes or so, her forehead is coated with sweat, so I wet a towel in the metal sink against the far wall and dab it against her skin. Elliot coaches her perfectly, offering her encouragement when she needs it, and praise once she’s made it through a particularly rough contraction. I can see the exhaustion on her face, but when her eyes meet with Elliot’s, somehow, she finds the strength to keep going.
“Excellent job, Mrs. Grey,” the doctor says. “I can see her head.”
“You can?” She turns wild-eyed to Elliot. “Can you see her?”
He looks between her legs. “Holy shit, there she is. That’s her head!”
“I want to see,” Kate cries. The nurse standing behind the doctor picks up a mirror from her tray and places it between Kate’s legs, but just as she’s about to sit up, she’s hit with another contraction. A tear leaks over her lower lid as the pain once again becomes clear on her face. It’s hard, seeing her like this. Every scream of pain seems to make my chest tighten, like I’m being crushed by a boa constrictor. And it goes on, and on. For all the urgency with which this birth began, I’m surprised by how long it takes for the baby to actually make her grand debut. I always thought waiting was just about dilating, but Kate pushes for over an hour before her little girl really starts to emerge.
I watch her head appear, then her shoulders, and, after a few more pushes, the doctor invites Elliot to take the baby in his hands and he pulls her the rest of the way from Kate’s body. Then it’s over. Just like that. Kate collapses back onto the bed, panting as though she’s just run a marathon, and the doctor holds her daughter up for Elliot to cut the cord.
“Give her to me,” Kate says. “Give her to me.”
Without even cleaning her off, the doctor slides the baby into Elliot’s arms and he carries her over to Kate.
“Here she is,” he says.
She smiles and holds out her arms. “Kennedy.”
“Kennedy?” I look between them, brow furrowed, and Elliot smiles.
“That’s beautiful. Does she have a middle name?”
“Kavanagh,” he answers, since Kate is too busy marveling at her brand new daughter’s face. “We’re all Trevelyan Grey, me, Christian, and Mia. So, we thought we’d carry on the tradition.”
“Kennedy Kavanagh Grey,” I repeat, my grin growing wider. “I love it. Congratulations. She’s so beautiful.”
“Thanks, Ana,” Elliot says, but Kate ignores me. She ignores Elliot. She ignores the doctor and the nurse. She only has eyes for Kennedy, and I have never in the nearly fifteen years that she’s been my best friend, seen her look any happier.