“I don’t know, it was still dark…” Elliot’s eyes look into nothing while he answers the questions from the police. He’s not dazed or overcome with shock. It looks as though he’s reliving a memory.
Reliving a nightmare.
“They were already in the room by the time I woke up. Christian and I had been drinking, I was still a little drunk… At first, I thought it was him coming to fuck with me. But then there were more of him, of them. One held me down, one wrapped the tape around my head, and one zip tied me to the headboard. I was helpless before I even knew what was going on.”
“Then what happened?”
“They walked out of the room. I tried to shout for help, but I couldn’t move my mouth under the tape. I was trying to get out of the zip ties when I heard them fighting with Christian downstairs. It sounded bad, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even call out to him…”
“Did you hear anything about what they wanted, or where they were going?”
“No, they never said a word. The only thing I heard was…” He looks up at the still demolished foyer, and his face melts with something between pain and disgust. “That.”
The officer conducting the interview sighs, adjusts the recorder on the coffee table, and then turns to me. “Mrs. Grey, is anything else missing? Cash you had on hand? Jewelry? Any valuables?”
I don’t answer.
It’s not real.
Everything in front of me is happening as though I’m watching it on a television screen. I can see my family sitting around me, I can hear the police asking questions, and I can understand the answers they get in return. But I can’t interact with any of it. I’m in a daze. A completely inert state of unbeing. I can’t speak. I can’t move. I can’t even look at anything except the empty space in front of me.
“Nothing is missing,” Taylor grunts from the far side of the sofa. He makes several pain-filled noises as he shifts to sit more upright. The ice pack he holds to the side of his brutalized face never moves. “They were in, they were out. They only wanted him.”
“Yes,” the officer agrees, dejectedly. He reaches forward and stops the recording, then gives a sympathetic smile to Elliot. “Thank you, Mr. Grey. That’s all the questions I have for you.”
“I wish I could give you more,” Elliot replies, his voice breaking with each word. “You are going to find him, right?”
“We’re going to do everything we can.”
Elliot grimaces as he swallows back the emotion clawing up his throat, then sniffs hard and moves to Kate. She kisses and throws her arms around him, squeezing him as tightly as she can while he sobs silently into her shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, baby,” she says, wearing her own pain as loudly as Elliot does. “I’m so sorry for what you went through.”
“I didn’t go through anything. It was Christian—“ He starts to sob again, while Kate runs her fingers gently over his scalp.
“They’re going to find him Elliot.”
“Yeah. They have to.” He pulls away from Kate, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself, and then he turns to me.
“What can I do, Ana?”
I can’t look at him.
“Well we’re going to start by getting everyone together,” Grace intervenes. “I just got off the phone with Ray and he’s on his way down. He asked me to make you a cup of tea.”
A teacup appears on the table before me, and I actually manage to look down at it. It’s familiar. It comes from a set that Christian bought for my apartment on the 14th floor when I worked for him as an intern. I’d had to bring them up here with me when I’d agreed to move in with him because he doesn’t drink tea. I remember putting them in the cabinet on my first official day living here and realizing, even then, how much they represented the way he cares about me. The way he’s always thinking about me.
I didn’t speak to him for two years, and he remembered to buy me tea cups.
Tears well in my eyes, but I can’t move to brush them away. I stare at pretty pink flowers on the china that look like the dozens of bouquets he’s sent me over the years, and the tears stream unimpeded down my face until I feel Kate’s fingers reach over to catch them. She leans away from Elliot and wraps an arm around me, but it doesn’t make me thaw. I sit. Still. Staring at the teacup.
I wonder if I look as dead as I feel?
“Mia’s on her way,” Carrick says, stalking into the room and brandishing his cell phone with an erratic kind of energy that is deeply unsettling. “I’ve chartered her a flight out of Boston, she’s going to be here in a few hours.”
“I still don’t think she needs to leave school,” Elliot says. “She hasn’t even been there for a week and if we’ve learned anything over these past few years, it’s that she’s a hell of a lot safer in Cambridge than she is here.”
“Elliot,” Kate hisses in admonishment. Her eyes go wide with an unspoken lecture and her head tilts in my direction, but I’m not phased by his blunt statement. It washes off me just like everything else. There’s no point mincing words or trying to paint this any other color than the dark shade of horror it is.
“I don’t care,” Carrick continues. “I want us all together.” His eyes move over all of us, as though he’s taking a head count, and then his eyes go wide with a newly realized fear. “Where are the babies?”
“They’re at Chri– Ana’s house,” Grace says, stumbling painfully over her words. She walks to her husband and wraps him in an unsettled embrace. “They’re with Mackensie and the rest of her security team.”
“Well, get them here immediately!” Carrick argues. My eyes flash up at him like he’s just threatened me, but I don’t have to break through the parasitic void to fight him because Taylor does it for me.
“They’re most secure at the residence,” he says. “Mr. Grey’s approved emergency protocol says the kids should be put in lockdown. Ana should be there too, but—”
“But she’s not going anywhere,” Luke says from across the room. It’s the first time he’s emerged from the security office since he first got here. Now, he looks exhausted. Kate nods in agreement.
“Not until Luke finds him.”
The police officers still wandering through the apartment scoff, and Luke’s jaw flexes irritably. He turns intense eyes on me, communicating something he doesn’t want the rest of the room to know. I’m not even sure that it is, but the message I get from it is that he’s watching me. I don’t know what he’s looking for, but the warning makes me think he sees an avenue through this. One he doesn’t want to put me through. One that he’s afraid I’ll figure out.
And suddenly, I’m aware of absolutely everything around me.
“You are going to find him, aren’t you?” Elliot asks.
Luke frowns. “Of course I am. It’s just going to take me a minute to get through everything that’s trying to stop me. In the meantime, I could use some coffee if there’s any made.”
“I’ll get it,” Jade says.
She’s been sitting in an armchair on the other side of the room, burying herself in her phone and trying to stay invisible in the middle of our family crisis for hours. I was surprised, actually at how fast she got here. Or that she even came at all. Luke called to tell her where he was and that he wasn’t sure when he’d be home. Instead of being upset, she drove straight here, left him to do his work, and came to sit with me. When I wouldn’t talk, she just nodded, moved to the chair she’s in now, and let me be silent, filling the lonely emptiness in the room with her presence.
She gets up, and Luke pulls her in for a grateful kiss before she heads into the kitchen. Grace starts sobbing softly from the other side of the sectional again, which she tries to hide unsuccessfully behind her hand, and Carrick takes the seat next to her so that he can hold her through it. His eyes bounce between Luke and Taylor.
“How did this even happen? How did they get in here?”
Taylor grimaces. “Escala.”
“We own the apartment, not the building. So everything we do, we have to give to the building owner. They have the code to the elevator for liability reasons, and we’re only allowed to have recording cameras in common areas because of an agreement we made that states Escala owns the footage and has the right to turn the cameras off at their discretion. They don’t, so it’s never been a problem. But they can. Whoever came at us, did. Nothing broke through our firewalls, every breach Luke has found came from the Escala side. That’s why the garage footage is gone, but not the footage in the apartment.”
“But he doesn’t even really live here,” Carrick argues again. “He’s only been here a few nights, how did they even know to look for him here?”
“Probably something to do with this…” Luke interjects. He walks across the room and puts his cellphone on the table. A video starts to play on the screen with a logo for a paparazzi website I’ve blocked on all my devices stamped over the picture in the left hand corner.
Through the shouts and tightly packed bodies, the shiny black door of the Maybach opens and Christian steps out onto the sidewalk in the same suit he was wearing at my doctor’s appointment yesterday. He looks annoyed as he pushes through the first wave of photographers, and as the angle changes with him, I see the blue glass doors of Escala. There’s a very distinguishable clock on a post next to the door that clearly shows the time of his arrival.
“Why wasn’t he dropped off in the garage?” Kate asks, rounding on Taylor. His face falls.
“He’d asked me to go get him bourbon. I dropped him off at the street entrance so I could go to the liquor store.”
Jade returns with a coffee cup that she gingerly passes to Luke. He takes a deep drink, grimacing slightly as it scalds his throat, then wraps an arm around his girl and pulls her into his side. Elliot’s knees bounce anxiously, until he eventually pulls himself off the sofa and begins to pace.
“There’s got to be something we’re overlooking. There’s got to be more we could be doing.“
“I’m not overlooking anything, Elliot,” Luke assures him. “I’m going to find hi–”
His sentence cuts off with the ping of the elevator, and everyone’s eyes turn toward the foyer as though they expect it to be Christian who comes through the doors. As though they think it would be that simple.
As if they truly believe we’re going to get out of this without devastating consequences.
The steel doors slide open and Ros’s heels begin clacking their way across the foyer into the living room. Grace goes to her immediately, throwing her arms around her while Christian’s best friend begins to word-vomit her sympathies.
“Is there any news?” she asks, nervous eyes darting first to Taylor, then to Luke, and finally Carrick. They all shake their heads, so she turns to me.
Her hand flies up to her chest and her face crinkles with unspoken consolation. She moves toward the sofa as though it were a calling, and slides into the seat next to me. “How are you doing, Ana?”
I can’t even yank my hand out of hers, the way I want to.
“She’s…” Kate begins, and immediately stops as the words fail to materialize. Ros nods, and gets up to hug Elliot and Carrick, but I can’t quite make out the words they exchange with one another. I glance around, waiting for a sign. Looking for clarity. Praying for some epiphany that will put some light at the end of this macabre tunnel. My internal pleas are interrupted by a sudden, discordant jingle…
“That’s Ana’s,” Luke voices aloud for me.
Kate leans across the table to dig through my abandoned purse, but when she has my phone in her hands and she looks down at the screen, she frowns.
“It just says ‘unknown.’”
The police officer who interviewed Elliot perks up, then snaps to his colleagues currently going over the security footage at my dining room table. “It could be them,” he says, and it’s like I suddenly come to life. Whatever heavy force was holding me down, whatever thing was choking back my voice… all of it disappears, and I practically leap from the couch to snatch my phone from Kate’s hands.
“This is Anastasia Grey,” I start, and an unfamiliar British accent responds.
“Good evening, Mrs. Grey. Are the police officers with you tracing this phone call?”
I swallow, ensuring my voice won’t shake before I continue. The officer who interviewed Elliot is coming towards me with a black box in his hand, similar to the one that Luke had used to record the call Lincoln made at my graduation.
“They will be.”
“Then I’ll keep this brief. Rosaline Bailey entered your apartment a few minutes ago. Would you be so kind as to hand her the phone, please?”
So they are watching us.
“Ros?” I turn to look at her and her eyes go wide. “No, Christian… What about Christian? Where is he? Is he okay?”
“I don’t have much time, Mrs. Grey.”
“I… Look, I’m the one you want to help you, okay? My name is on everything that Christian’s is and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get him back safely. I can give you anything he can, so just tell me what you want for him, and I’ll give it to you.”
He sighs. “The only way you can give me what I want, is by handing the phone to Rosaline Bailey.”
My heart hammers against my ribcage while I hesitate. Each second feels precious while Christian’s fate hangs in the balance, but… this is my only line to the man who has him, which makes it the only line I have to him. It’s not so easy to give up…
“Please,” I beg, my bottom lip beginning to tremble. “Please let me talk to him. Let me just hear that he’s okay.”
“I’m sorry, that’s impossible. Please give the phone to Ms. Bailey.”
“Please,” I plead again, only becoming more desperate the more the man reveals. “Please, just tell me what to do to get him back…”
“Give the phone to Ms. Bailey, Mrs. Grey.”
I close my eyes, fighting against the insurmountable force that tells me to keep the man talking and keep him talking to me, and pass the phone to Ros. She reaches out with a shaky hand, but pauses before regaining her composure and slowly pulling the phone to her ear.
“This is Rosaline Bailey,” she says. For several seconds, I watch the myriad of emotions move across her face in silence. First trepidation, then revulsion, then fear, and finally, anger.
“No, I can’t do that,” she says, so firmly I could scream. There’s another long pause while the man on the phone makes his counter argument, but that’s only met with another denial from Ros.
It’s too much for me to hold back. I lunge at her with the same intense purpose I did with Kate and take the phone back. “I can do it. I will do it. Just tell me what you want.”
The voice sighs impatiently. “You’re not the person who can help me, Anastasia…”
“Like hell I can’t. Just give me the number. Ten million? A hundred million? A billion? I don’t care, you can have all of it! I just want my husband back.” I’m shrieking, on the edge of hysterics, and the man on the phone sighs impatiently.
“I don’t want your money,” he says, and then to my complete and utter horror, he hangs up the phone.
“No!” My scream echoes through the deathly silent room while I go into my contacts and try to call the unknown number back over and over again. Each time the call fails to connect, my anguish blooms a little bit further out of my control. I round on Ros. “What did he want?”
She cowers slightly under the force of my words, which I think has more to do with guilt than fear. She glances nervously at the other faces around the room, then looks directly at the police.
“He wants me to dismantle Endurance. He wants everything we’ve developed and manufactured to be destroyed and all of our data erased. He wants it to be like it never existed and for us to bury it deep enough that I will never exist again.”
Her denial reverberates in my mind and nearly has me falling back on the couch in disbelief. That’s it?
“So do it!” I scream at her. She mashes her lips together and shakes her head defiantly.
“I can’t. We have contracts with governments all over the world and the man has been nominated for a fucking Nobel Prize. This technology is bigger than we are now. This is an evolutionary point in human history and nothing can be allowed to step in its way. Christian knew that before anyone else did, and I guarantee you that the reason they’re calling me right now is because he’s telling them the same thing I’m telling you.”
Carrick blinks at Ros in shock. “What did you say? He’s nominated for a Nobel Prize?”
I hold up a hand in my father-in-law’s face, cutting off Ros’s response. “I don’t give a fuck what he’s nominated for. They don’t give the Nobel Prize posthumously.”
I can feel it coming, the break they’ve all been tiptoeing around. It starts like a crack in the fortified walls in a dam. Small, almost inconsequential. The waves of grief compounding on top of it chip it open further and further until I’m only holding on by a few crumbling bits of plaster.
Luke sees it coming, but he doesn’t come to me. “I’m on it, Ana.” he tells me. “I’m going to find him.” Then he turns around and marches back into the security office.
On the precipice of a total meltdown, I turn away from Ros and the rest of my family, and hurry towards our bedroom. The door sounds so final when it slams behind me, like an ending I’m not prepared to face.
I fall into the bed, the first great sob of the hysteria pulling in the scent of Christian from the sheets. I wrap myself in them like a cocoon while I shake with a grief so profound it shakes my very essence. The tears stream in endless currents down my face, beyond the point I should have any left. Every part of me feels as though it’s being ripped apart, and then somehow ripped again. It goes on and on, the pain only compounding with each passing second, until eventually, someone comes to check on me.
The door creaks a little as my father eases it open. He stands in the doorway for only half a second, taking in the devastation before him, and then he moves to the bed beside me. His arms coil around me, as if I could be fused back together with enough pressure.
“He’s going to be okay, Annie,” he whispers into my hair. “Christian is so much stronger than any of us, he’ll get through this. He’d fight the whole world to get back to you.”
“What if he doesn’t win, Daddy?”
“Nonsense. He changed the laws of physics. Does that sound like a man who loses to you?”
I take a few breaths against his shirt, and soak in the comfort he’s trying to give me. It doesn’t do much, because there’s something about that sentiment that rings like a warning. But the little reprieve I’m able to take from his love gives me the strength to choke back my tears and at least look up at him. In a way, he seems unfamiliar through the glassy layer of despair that coats my eyes. Everything is distorted. Darker, like some of the light has been taken from the world. But there’s hope staring down at me through my father’s eyes, and every part of me wants to believe in it. Even if I know it’s an empty lie.
He reaches for my face and wipes the tears from my cheeks. “Have you eaten anything?” I shake my head, because it’s all that I can do, and he gives me an understanding smile. “Kim came up with me. I’ll have her fix you something, okay?”
“Looks like I’m two steps ahead of you, Ray.”
We both look up and see Kate standing in the doorway. She holds up a brown paper bag and a large cup with a wide red straw. My dad smiles and claps his hand over the blanket that covers my leg.
“I guess I’ll leave you girls to it, then.” I nod and he leans over to kiss my forehead, capturing my chin between his fingers before he climbs out of bed. “I’m here, Annie. If you need anything, I’m just down the hall. If you want to talk or you want someone to cry on… I’m waiting for you, okay? No matter what time it is, I’m here. Just come find me.”
I try to respond, but in the absence of the unrelenting torment, I’ve gone numb again. It doesn’t matter, he understands me better than anyone in the entire world. He smiles back at me, and kisses me one last time. As he leaves the room, he squeezes Kate’s arm.
She winks at him, then hops into bed with me and gives me a look like she’s about to let me in on a secret.
“I know you probably don’t want to eat, but hear me out. Elliot went down to Dicks and…” She holds up the bag in front of me. The bottom so coated in grease I’m almost worried it will give out. “Deluxe cheeseburger, large fries, and an extra thick chocolate milkshake.” She holds it out to me with confidence that would normally be well earned, but there’s nothing about consuming way too many calories that appeals to me right now. There’s nothing that appeals to me right now period. There’s only the absence that Christian has left behind and the desperate need I have to bring him home.
“Come on, Ana,” Kate says dejectedly. “You have to eat. It’s not just you anymore, remember?” Her eyes move down to my stomach, and I feel a wash of blame sweep over me. I hang my head.
“He was right, I didn’t see this from his side.”
“He’s terrified of losing me because it feels like this, and I haven’t felt this. This… this…” I lift my hands, like it’s even possible to demonstrate the enormity of this loss. Of this hurt. “He’s been living with this for days, and I… I ran away. He wanted to be home, I told him he couldn’t be there. He did come home, and I asked him to leave again. I didn’t see this from his side because if I did, I would have done everything I could to help him through this pain. I could have called Flynn. I could have assembled a team of experts. I could have bought a fucking hospital and just moved in for the next nine months, but instead… instead, I told him I needed space. That I needed to be away from him. Because I didn’t understand this pain. His pain… He was here because of me.”
“Don’t do that to yourself, Ana. He could have done all of those things too, but he got a vasectomy instead. You didn’t know this would happen, and you don’t know that this had to happen here. Maybe it would have happened anyway, and maybe it would have happened where you and Calliope were…”
I narrow my eyes at her. “Do you know the only directive my security team has? Me first. Always me first. So while I was safe at home, behind my gates that are locked with codes no one else has, under the surveillance of my cameras that no one else can turn off, guarded by my entire armed security team, he was here. Without them. If he would have been home last night, Taylor wouldn’t have been alone. He would have had Evan, and Smith, and Harper, and Wyatt… I would have been there.”
“And they would have just taken you too.”
I turn away from her, scowling into the nothingness around me. “I think I would have preferred that. Any imminent threat of danger would be easier than this. Than not knowing what’s happening to him… or what will happen next. I can’t do this!”
“He’s going to be okay, Ana. We’re going to make a deal to get him. Eventually, it will come down to money. We’ll pay it, and we will get him back.”
“No, Kate. They’re never going to give him back.” I turn to her, and lay out the part of this she hasn’t seen yet. The parts I didn’t see until the phone went dead. The parts that keep her sitting upright, while I’m struggling to maintain the functions that are supposed to be done unconsciously. “Why would they give him back? They said they wanted Endurance destroyed and Christian is Endurance. He’s the creator. He’s the visionary. It’s all in his head.” And suddenly, the warning I took from my father makes sense, and it stirs the existential fear inside of me. “He doesn’t lose. He wouldn’t even lose to me, there’s no way in hell he’d let himself be beaten by the people who invaded his home and took the power from him that he put his entire life’s work on the line to get. He’ll just start from scratch and somehow end up with a product that’s better and more impressive than what he built the first time. And then they’ll come back. Or someone else will come…” I let the words trail off as my head hangs in misery. “They’re not giving him back, Kate.”
As tears fall down my face, she hugs me again. “Annie…”
“I can’t lose him, Kate. I can’t, I–” A ghost of the words he’s said to me over and over moves through my head, and I feel the weight of their poignancy. “His heart beats, my heart beats… not just correlation, sequential.”
“Luke isn’t going to let you lose him, Ana. We’re going to find him. And the team of people who kept you safe are going to bring him home.”
I take a trembling breath, feeling my entire body fill to the brim with pain. Because I don’t know if I believe her. I don’t know what comes next and every second I live in this torturous purgatory waiting for whatever terrible judgement fate plans to hand down gets harder and harder to bear. I can feel myself unraveling as it happens, but I can’t stop it. I spiral down and down until there’s nothing left but grief.
Kate’s arms hold me together, and she stays there clinging to me until the sun comes up the next morning and my stomach starts to roil.
I stumble to the bathroom, wiping tears from my face as I bend over the toilet to vomit. But nothing happens. I wretch and wretch and wretch, but I have nothing in my stomach to throw up. It’s painful, and starts a whole new wave of tears that brings Kate to the floor next to me.
She passes me the bottle of anti-nausea meds that was in my purse. “You have to eat something, Ana. Please.”
I give her a helpless look, but once the contractions in my stomach stop, I nod and take her hand. She leads me out to the living room and we find everyone still spread out, restless and bleary-eyed. The police have left, but Ros is still here. Kim is in the kitchen stirring something on the stove, and Grace is on the sofa with Mia wrapped under her arm. Every pair of eyes around the room turns to me.
“She wants to eat something,” Kate says, answering the unspoken question in their gazes.
“Good,” my dad says.
“I’m making oatmeal,” Kim calls. “I’ll bring you some.”
I nod to her, numbly, then shuffle towards the empty place on the sofa that my dad creates for me. Mia gets up like she wants to come cuddle into my side, but she stops when a trilling jingle sounds from the other side of the room. Automatically, I look down at my phone, still on the coffee table, still plugged into the device the police gave me, but it’s silent. Ros is the one who dives into her bag, and when she looks at the screen her nervous eyes shift to Taylor.
He pulls himself off the couch, groaning in pain but not letting it slow him down in the slightest, rips the device out of my phone, and brings it to Ros. He slips it into the charging port, then nods for her to answer the phone.
My breath catches in my throat.
“Hello?” Her voice is shaky and her eyes dart nervously back and forth, then widen very suddenly. “Christian?!”
I launch myself at her faster than I think I’ve ever moved in my life. I watch her cringe as she listens to whatever he says, then shake her head as she answers. “No, she’s right here, she’s fine. Yeah, Calliope too. They’re both okay. They’re safe. What about you?” She pauses for a moment, listening very intently, but whatever is happening on the other end of the phone only seems to confuse her more.
“Christian?” she suddenly calls in panic, and I react before I realize what I’m doing. My hand darts out and snatches the phone from her, and I bring it to my ear with the whispered pleas for him to be okay already tumbling from my lips.
“Christian! Christian!” I call, but the line’s gone dead. There’s nothing but silence, and my wild eyes snap up to Ros. “What did he say?!”
She shakes her head. “He said don’t do it. He asked if they had you or Calliope, and then he told me not to do a fucking thing. Then there was shouting and…” She cringes again and looks away from me, and I crumple to the floor under the weight of this whole new wave of pain. Both Ros and Kate bend down and place soft hands on my shoulder, whispering reassuring words… but the only thing that breaks through the sorrow is the voice of my former CPO.
“I’ve got him,” Luke says, and when my head jerks up toward him, I see that he’s talking directly to me. He holds my gaze for just half-a-second, letting me feel the truth behind what he just said, then his eyes move around the room. “I know where he is, and I’m going to go get him. Who’s coming with me?”