The exhaustion disappears the instant I feel Dr. Baker’s hands on my arm, removing the last of the wires monitoring my heart and the IV from the port in my elbow. I stare almost in disbelief as the last line is removed from my body.
“Do you think you can sit up?” Dr. Baker asks.
“Yes, of course,” I reply, enthusiastically.
Christian reaches his hands out and my whole body feels as though it’s shaking when I take them. Slowly, he helps me into a sitting position, and then to swing my legs off the side of the bed. I was reduced to oral pain killers last night, rather than intravenous, so moving is a little painful, but I do everything I can to hide it. I won’t let anything make Dr. Baker change her mind now.
“Alright. Easy, baby,” Christian says as I pull against his sturdy grip and try to stand. The pain spikes as my weight is transferred to the floor and when I groan, he hurriedly reaches for the wheelchair a few feet away.
“How is that, Ana? Any pain, dizziness, nausea?” Dr. Baker checks.
“No, I’m fine. I’m ready.”
“That’s very good news,” she says, smiling and then looking up at Christian. “I think we’re ready to downgrade her from the ICU. We’ll move her to a private suite on the maternity floor so she’s closer to Calliope. I’ll continue monitoring her there, but if she continues to progress as well as she has been, I don’t think she’ll need to be here much longer.”
“Really? So, she’s in the clear? There’s no longer any reason for us to be concerned…?”
“I don’t think so,” Dr. Baker assures him. “We’ll keep her a couple more days, but she’s really made a remarkable recovery, very quickly. You were right, Mr. Grey. She just needed to do things in her own time. She’s going to be fine.”
He lets out an elated breath. “That’s excellent news. Thank you.”
“Christian. Baby!” I exclaim, turning around and giving him a frustrated look.
“Oh, right. Let’s go. Thank you again, Dr. Baker.”
“Of course. Go enjoy your baby. She really is beautiful, Anastasia.”
I nod eagerly and Christian begins to push me forward. My nerves mount as we make it through the door and travel the long, bustling hallway towards the elevator. The NICU is only a floor down from my room but even just the short elevator ride feels as though it goes on for an eternity. My entire body is trembling with anticipation, like a runner trying to hold his position at the starting mark of a race. I hate that I’m confined to this chair. I hate that I can’t sprint to her the way I want to. Every step it takes to get to the NICU is agony, and I think it’s because, despite Dr. Baker’s assurances, I haven’t entirely accepted this is really happening yet. I’ve been denied this so many times, I feel as though any minute something will go wrong or someone will change their mind and I’ll be dragged back to my room. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t just a dream until we round the corner and I see Kate, Mia, and Elliot hovering outside the doors that lead into the NICU, dressed head to toe in the same light pink medical gowns I’ve seen Christian peel off a hundred times after returning from Calliope’s bedside.
“There she is, there she is,” Mia says giddily.
“Hey, Meems,” I greet her as we come to stop. She hesitates for a moment, and then leans forward to give me a tentative hug that grows more ardent when I don’t immediately shatter into a thousand pieces like a china doll. “I’m so happy to see you up and around. You really scared us, you know.”
“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again, promise.”
“I’m holding you to that,” she says, pulling away with a large smile plastered across her face. I return the gesture and then look to Kate.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“Great. Dr. Baker says I’m going to be fine. Is she really in there? Calliope?”
“Yeah.” She smiles. “She’s really in there. You have to wear this though.” She holds out the sheet of pink plastic in her hands and I quickly slip my arms through the thin sleeves. Next, Elliot hands me a mask and paper-like covers for my hair and feet, and once I’m completely covered, Christian wheels me over to a hand sanitizer dispenser.
“Alright,” he says as I rub the alcohol over my hands. “Let’s go.”
I take a deep breath when he pushes me through the doors and we begin passing several plastic boxes surrounded by worried looking parents. I glance at each one, wondering which of the incubators is holding my daughter, but as we make it near the back of the NICU and I see Grace and Carrick cooing over a box filled with baby pink blankets, my search is over.
“Isn’t she the most perfect thing you’ve ever seen?” Grace asks. “I could just eat her up.”
“I’d settle for just being able to hold her,” Carrick replies. His finger strokes softly against the plastic casing just as we come up beside them, and when Grace looks up and sees me in the chair, her face immediately breaks into a smile.
“Ana, darling. Come here. There’s someone who wants to meet you very much.” I smile as she steps aside and lets Christian push me right up to the side of the incubator so that I can peer through the clear plastic at the tiny baby inside.
Despite the fact that I’ve thought of nothing else but this exact moment for almost three days, I’m unprepared for how seeing her for the first time makes me feel. I’m immediately absorbed in the small, delicate features of her face, the curve in her lips, the flutter in her eyelids as she sleeps. As I stare at her, memorizing her, counting each of her soft little breaths, I feel my heart begin to ache. Not from sadness or pain, but from overwhelming love. It’s instant, irreversible, and all consuming. Grace, Christian, Dr. Baker, Kate, my dad… they’re all right. She’s absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen a face so perfect, so angelic, as my daughter’s. She’s mesmerising.
“She’s so small,” I whisper as I place my hand against the plastic box surrounding her.
“But she’s already putting on weight,” a voice says behind me, and I turn to see a doctor in a white coat smiling at me. “You must be Anastasia?”
“My name is Dr. Craig, I’ve been watching over Calliope for the past few days. You should be very proud, she’s a fighter.”
“Just like her mother,” Christian says.
“I’ve heard,” Dr. Craig says, her smile widening as she looks up at him. She takes a step closer to the incubator, and her eyes seem to warm as she looks down at my baby. “Ah, do you see the way her mouth is moving?”
I look down and watch my baby’s lips pucker and relax a few times before she falls still again and then nod.
“She’s trying to suckle. We have her on a feeding tube now, but I think she’s ready to try eating on her own. Are you up to it?”
“Me? I can feed her?”
“Of course you can, Anastasia. I know this can be overwhelming, but she’s really yours. All yours.”
I let out an almost incredulous sounding laugh through the smile that’s so big, it makes my cheeks feel sore, and Dr. Craig reaches down to place a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“Dr. Baker told me she’s having you moved to this floor. Why don’t you go get situated, and we’ll bring her to you in just a minute.”
“Wait, she’s leaving the NICU?” Christian asks.
“She’s breathing on her own, she’s gaining weight, she’s maintaining her body temperature… I think she’s ready to give it a try, at least to breastfeed. In fact, once she’s eating on her own, I think she should be just about ready to go home.”
“You have a very strong willed daughter, Mr. Grey. Good luck with her, you’re going to need it.”
Grace gasps and when I turn to look at her, I see her reach up to cover her smile with her hand as tears of joy well in her eyes. It’s a trigger, and immediately, I feel my own bottom lip begin to quiver.
“Let’s go,” I say, looking up at Christian from my chair. “I wanna hold her.”
He reaches for the handles on the back of the wheelchair and I glance down at Calliope once more.
“I’ll see you in minute, okay? I love you.” My fingers move against the plastic shield between us, trying to grip it as though doing so will make her feel my desire to squeeze her, and with one last lingering look, Christian wheels me away.
The room the NICU nurse leads us to is really just a few doors down, which makes me happy. As long as Calliope has to remain in the NICU, I want to be as close to her as possible. Now that I’m no longer confined to my room in the ICU, I should be free to spend as much time with her as possible, the way Christian has been able to for the last six days.
“Here you are, Miss Steele,” the nurse says, motioning us through the door to my new room. I smile at her but when I get a glimpse of Taylor behind her, looking as though he’s interviewing (maybe even interrogating) a male nurse just down the hallway while Luke takes his picture, my smile falters.
“What’s that about?” I ask Christian, nodding in their direction.
“Oh, they’re just screening the nursing staff. We need records and documentation of anyone who may come in contact with you while you’re here.”
“It’s just a precaution. Don’t worry about it.” He gives me a placating smile that I immediately see through and my eyes automatically narrow in suspicion.
“What happened? And don’t lie to me.”
He takes a steadying breath. “We’ll talk about it later.”
I press my lips together in frustration, but decide not to push the issue until after I’ve had time with him and Calliope together, alone. He probably thinks I’ll forget or maybe will just let it go, but I won’t. I haven’t forgotten what happened just before my abruption. I know he’s here somewhere.
Christian and the nurse help me get into bed and for a few minutes I’m surrounded by family, talking happily amongst each other about my daughter and the lives they’ve put on hold back home over this past week while Calliope and I hung in limbo. Kate was supposed to take her place as Vice President of Kavanagh Media on Monday, and now that she’s no longer worried about me, she happily shares her excitement about this next step in her life with the Greys. Even my dad ignores the game Elliot found on TV to share in the joyful atmosphere of the room.
“I’ll get used to it,” Kate says airily. “Brand new apartment, a corner office on the 22nd floor… You’re on the 8th floor at GEH, aren’t you, Christian?”
“Yes, Kate,” he replies, his voice deadpan. “You are clearly superior to me in every way.”
“Takes a strong man to admit it.” She laughs but then moves across the room to give him a hug from the side and as he squeezes her back he tells her that he’s proud of her and kisses her on the top of her head.
“We all are,” Carrick agrees, and then turns to look at his son. “When are you moving into your new building, Christian?”
“We’re just waiting on the final inspection from the city now,” Elliot answers for him. “Once we get the approval from them, he should be ready to move in anytime and I can move on to the Amazon campus expansion.”
“And my house,” Christian interjects. “Now that Calliope is born, I want to get her and Ana out of Escala as soon as possible.”
“And we can start planning the wedding!” Mia chimes in.
“Oh, speaking of the wedding,” Carrick turns around and picks up the leather bag he left in the chair under the window and pulls out a folder filled with official looking documents.
“The hospital staff brought Calliope’s birth certificate by this morning. You can make Christian official.”
“If I must,” I say, giving him a coy smile. He raises an eyebrow at me as I take the document and the pen that Carrick hands me and begin filling in the information.
“Detroit,” Christian says when I get to father’s place of birth, and I give him a hard, sardonic look.
“I know where you were born, Christian.”
“I just want to make sure it’s accurate,” he says defensively. I shake my head, scrawl my name across the signature line for Mother, and then slide the document over to him. Once he’s added his own perfect signature under father, there’s a noticeable change in his expression. Something between relief and pride.
“And that’s it,” Carrick says. “Calliope is officially on the record.” I smile as I hand him the birth certificate, but rather than place everything back in his bag, he hands me another document. “This is for you. It’s a medical power of attorney that I’d had drawn up after we found out what Carla had done. This will appoint Christian as your designated agent and he’ll be able to make healthcare decisions for you if for any reason you’re unable to do so for yourself. It’ll hold you over until you get married.”
“Oh.” I take the document and pick up the pen again, but as I sign the line at the bottom of the page, Christian looks away. I’m glad that Carrick had the foresight to have this done for us, but thinking about being in another situation like this so soon seems to put a damper on the great mood that fills the room. Thankfully, just as I hand the signed document back to him, there’s a knock on the door and a nurse pushes a small cart in with a box resting on top that holds my baby.
“Someone’s hungry,” she chirps as she pushes Calliope to my bedside. When she stops she looks at Christian and smiles. “Daddy, do you want to hold her?”
He nods, though his gaze is focused entirely on our baby. He seems almost dazed as he steps forward and reaches into box to lift the tiny pink swaddle of blankets into his arms. The moment she’s pressed into his chest, the small fussy noises she’s making stop and Christian’s face breaks into a breathtaking smile. He gives her the same look that up until now had been reserved solely for me, a look of pure love and adoration, and as I watch him hold and comfort our daughter for the first time, my heart feels as though it swells to the point of bursting.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Grace cries, stepping up to the other side of my bed with her phone out. “Look here, Christian.”
“Mom…” he objects, but before Grace can push her point, Carrick drapes an arm over her shoulder and pulls her back.
“What do you say we let Ana and Christian spend some time with the baby alone, huh? It’s almost lunch time, we can go out, get some real food, and come back to enjoy Calliope after they’ve had their fill of her.”
“Come back in thirty years,” Christian says. His father laughs and then nudges Grace around the bed so they can say their goodbyes. I cycle through hugs with the entire family, as does Christian, and after Mia has kissed Calliope’s head for the 8th time, Elliot is finally able to usher everyone, including the nurse, through the doors and Christian and I are alone.
“What do you say, little girl?” Christian coos to our daughter. “Are you ready to meet your mom?”
The baby doesn’t make a sound, but he leans over my bed anyway and gently places Calliope into my folded arms. Again, I’m floored by how tiny she is. Holding her is almost the same as holding nothing at all, but I can feel her. I can feel what little weight there is to her, I can feel her warmth, and I can feel the tiny movements she makes as she fidgets in her sleep. It finally feels real, like she’s actually mine and I’m going to get to keep her, and as I stare down at her beautiful, peaceful face, I once again feel as though I could cry.
“Have you ever loved anything so much?” I ask through the impending tears. Christian reaches out to place a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“Yes, I have.”
I glance up at him and feel my body melt when I see the loving way he’s staring at Calliope and I. He leans down and softly presses his lips into mine and when he pulls away from the kiss, I can’t hold back my ridiculous smile.
“I love you,” he says.
“I love you too. More now that I think I ever have before. This is perfect, Christian. Everything is finally perfect.”
To my chagrin, Calliope doesn’t take to breastfeeding. We try on and off for hours but she’s never able to latch, even after I have a lactation specialist come guide us through the entire process. Dr. Baker tells me it’s most likely because she doesn’t yet have the strength to latch to my breast and while I fear after the fourth failed attempt that they’re going to take her from me and reattach her to the feeding tubes in the NICU, a nurse comes in with a special bottle made for premature babies, lays my daughter in Christian’s arms, and, miraculously, she begins to eat.
“Of course she does it for you,” I complain as I stare longingly at him bonding so personally with our baby.
“Here, you can take her,” he says. He shifts towards me but never takes his eyes off Calliope and when I hear the reverence in his voice, I know that I’m not going to be able to separate them.
“No, keep her,” I concede. “Just… tilt her towards me and hold her still so I can see her.” He does, and we both watch her as if she’s the most engaging thing in the world until her bottle is finished and she falls back asleep.
Now that she’s eating on her own and she’s done well for the few hours we’ve had her in my room, the doctors decide it’s time to see how she does overnight outside of the NICU as a trial run so we can discuss taking her home from the hospital. For the next 24 hours she’s under intense observation at my bedside while I’m nearly permanently attached to a breast pump so we can build up a supply to bottle feed her. It’s terrifying having her only feet away from me, with no nurse or doctor hovering over her 24 hours a day, but it’s also wonderful. For the first time, it feels like Christian and I are parents. We’re allowed to feed her, to change her, and to hold her whenever we want to, and when I give her a bottle for the very first time and she opens her tiny gray eyes and stares up at me, the hope I’ve held onto since I awoke in the hospital vanishes and is replaced with absolute certainty. I see the strength and determination in her eyes that I feel in my own heart. She’s healthy, strong, and she’s not going anywhere. Once I’m sure of that, the remainder of our stay here feels very unintimidating.
We spend a total of ten days in the hospital and as the final days tick past us, more and more of our family leaves to head back to Seattle. Grace, Carrick, and Mia fly out on Friday to make it back for Mia’s ballet auditions on Saturday, and Kate and Elliot leave Sunday morning to get back for work. When we’re preparing to be discharged on Monday, only my father is remains with behind with us.
“What’s left at the house?” I ask, as Christian wheels me out to the parking lot where Taylor is waiting with a rental car, since my Lexus has been returned to the dealer.
“Not much,” he replies. “The movers took what Kate is keeping last weekend and Taylor had the rest of the security team load everything you wanted on my plane this morning.”
“So there’s no reason to go back?”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
I press my lips together and my mind begins debating what I want before we leave Cambridge for the final time. It feels wrong to just get on a plane without taking a moment to reflect upon the place where so much has changed for me, but as I imagine taking one last walk through the empty halls that will no longer hold any feeling of home, I’m not sure I’ll get the closure I intended to. That’s something that Kate and I should have done together, pausing to reminisce and laugh at every bump or nick in walls. And I can’t stop imagining the blood stained carpet or the memories the very idea of it conjures. No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to return, but I already feel the poignant sense of longing for the house that feels as though it built me.
“Ana?” Christian asks.
“No, we don’t need to go back. I don’t think I’ll get any closure there anyway”
“Well, what if you don’t need closure at all?”
“What do you mean?”
“This place is important to you, baby. It’s not like you’re never going to come back here again. What if we didn’t sell the house? You could keep it so that you could come visit anytime you wanted. Come back to stay a few days with Kate sometime, or bring Calliope to the Harvard vs Yale game every year. Maybe she can live there when she comes here herself.”
I glance up at him and the picture his words give me instantly changes my dismay into something beautiful and sanguine. The feeling of loss is replaced with visions of my daughter running through the back yard in a Crimson sweatshirt, laughing while Christian and I chase her. I think about escaping to the quiet solitude of the empty house for a weekend to put the finishing touches on my next novel, evoking the same inspiration from the four walls of my bedroom that got me through my first book.
“Yeah,” I tell him, smiling. “You’re right. I’m not finished with this place, we should keep it. Thank you, Christian.”
“No,” he says as we come to a stop at the curb and he reaches down to take Calliope out of my arms and kisses her softly on the forehead. “Thank you.”
I spend most of the drive to the airport splitting my attention between staring out the side windows at Cambridge disappearing behind us and worrying over every small bump the car makes and how it could possibly be endangering Calliope. It doesn’t bode well for the flight, but at least once we’re in the air, I can hold her in my arms, which feels safer and more comforting than having her buckled in the carseat in the seat next to me.
“She’s beautiful, Mr. Grey,” Natalia says once we’re at cruising altitude and she can come check on us. “Is there anything I can get for either you or Miss Steele?”
“We’re fine,” Christian says, but he turns to my dad who is sitting across the aisle and a few seats back from us. “Ray?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “But… I would like it if you’d join me back here for a moment to have a chat, son.”
Christian takes a deep breath, exhaling in one long breath, and his body slumps a little, but he nods and turns to me. “I’ll be right back.”
“We’ll be here,” I reply. “Good luck.”
They move to the seats at the very back of the plane, which means I can’t hear what they’re saying, and it has me nervous. Especially because I can’t see my father and every time I glance over my shoulder at Christian, all I see is pain or disgust reflected on his face. I expect them to be gone for… 30 minutes or an hour tops, but when the pilot flips on the fasten seatbelt light and tells us to prepare for landing at SeaTac, Christian still hasn’t returned. In fact, when we begin our descent, it’s my dad that slips into the seat next to me, not Christian, who is occupied with the security team at the back of the plane.
“Well?” I ask. He frowns.
“Your mom left a lot out. A Lot out. That’s… that’s some rough stuff.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “But we got through it and it’s done now. We’ve put it behind us and we’re very happy together.”
“Which is incredible. I’m so proud of you, Ana. The strength it must have taken for you to get through all of that, to stand by him…”
“He’s worth it,” I assure him.
“You know, I think you’re right. I don’t think any father ever thinks there’s a man out there who’s good enough or who deserves his daughter, but this one, this one I like.”
He smiles at me and then looks down at the sleeping baby in my arms. “Can I hold her?”
“Of course you can.” Moving as little as possible, I slide her into his arms, and once he’s able to pull her against him, his face melts with the same look of pure devotion she seems to elicit from everyone she touches.
“She’s such a pretty baby,” he whispers. “I thought you were the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen when I first met you, but she may have you beat, kid.”
“She definitely does,” I agree.
“You know, if she has even an ounce of your spirit, you’re in for a whole world of trouble.” The plane bounces as we touch down and before I answer my father, I glance quickly out at the glow of the city lights over the horizon coming from Seattle, waiting for the sense of foreboding that plagued me before I escaped this city what feels like a lifetime ago, but it doesn’t come.
“You ready for it?” my dad asks.
“I really am,” I tell him. “I can’t wait.”
I feel extremely tired as we step into the elevator at Escala and begin the journey up to the apartment. Not in the way I did when I was pregnant or in the hospital, but in the way you do after you’ve spent too much time on vacation. Like we’ve had too much of a good thing and now it’s time to relax, decompress, and get back to real life. Kate texted me to let me know she’d brought a crib over to the apartment, since we were expecting to be in the new house by the time Calliope arrived and never put in a nursery at Escala, so all I can think about in the elevator is putting her to bed, saying goodnight to my father, pouring my first glass of wine, and drawing a long relaxing bath to share with Christian. A smile crosses my face as I imagine it, but the dream comes to a crashing halt when the doors open and we hear Kate and Elliot’s voices coming from the kitchen.
“Oh my god, don’t you dare!” Kate squeals.
“I can’t stop it, it’s acting of it’s own accord. There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry, Kate.”
“Elliot…” We hear her scream and then the sound of shattering glass, but as Christian moves Calliope’s carseat behind his back while taking a protective step towards me, and our security team rushes for the kitchen, we hear her laugh.
“Shit, we broke a wine glass,” Kate says. “And it’s Baccarat.”
“Way to go, Kate.”
Christian gives me a side glance over his shoulder, rolls his eyes, and then moves further into the apartment again. Before I follow him though, my dad kisses me goodnight and heads for the stairs that lead up to the guest room, leaving us to survey the damage on our own. Luke and Kommer step aside to let us pass as we walk through the living room and once we can fully see into the kitchen, we find Elliot still holding the sidespray from the sink and Kate gathering the broken pieces of the deep bordeaux glass they’d knocked off the rack. She glances up as she picks up the final shattered piece from the floor, sees us standing on the opposite end of the counter, and her face immediately shifts to a look a chagrin.
“Christian! Ana! You’re home…”
“Oh… hey, bro. Welcome back,” Elliot adds guiltily. Christian glances between them, shakes his head and places Calliope’s car seat on an oversized barstool pressed up against the counter.
“What are you two doing in here?”
“Well, we thought you might be hungry so we came to make you dinner,” Kate says.
Christian narrows his eyes. “I have a housekeeper.”
“We just wanted to make sure you had everything you needed. I wasn’t sure where you wanted to put Callie for the next few weeks so we set up a crib in one of the guest rooms upstairs and a bassinet in your bedroom. I also brought Ana a motherhood survival kit I put together filled with all of the things the internet told me she can’t live without.” She quickly moves from the kitchen to the dining room and pulls a giant basket off the table that seems to be filled with lotions, supplies, and a ton of assorted goods from The Honest Company.
“Awh, Kate,” I say, my bottom lip jutting out as I quickly glance through everything she’s put together for me. “You’re best godmother in the entire world.”
“I know. Mia and I also went to Barnes and Noble last night and bought every children’s book we could find. They’re up in the room with the crib but I should warn you, there’s like 200 of them. I fully intend for you to raise my goddaughter to be a scholar.”
“You’re unbelievable and so incredibly generous,” I say, smiling at her and moving around the counter. “Thank you so much, Kate.” She accepts the hug I give her but only for a moment as she quickly pushes me away and demands to hold the baby. I laugh, take her hand and lead her to the car seat.
“Yes, Kate is very generous,” Christian says, glancing over the basket and then shooting a pointed look at Elliot. “She’s doing an excellent job upholding her title as godmother.” Elliot gasps and places a hand over his chest, like he’s deeply offended.
“You didn’t really think I would forget you, did you Christian?”
“Yes,” he replies flatly. “Yes I did.”
“That hurts, bro. And after all the time I took meticulously wrapping this present for you…”
He too walks over to the table, but instead of picking up a basket, he pulls a square package from one of the dining room chairs, wrapped messily in birthday themed paper, and places it on the counter in front of his brother. Christian smiles, claps Elliot on the shoulder, and begins to tear away the paper. Once he’s got the package opened, he reaches inside, frowns, and then pulls out a bottle of lotion and a box of tissues.
“It’s going to be a long six weeks for you,” Elliot says solemnly. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Christian rolls his eyes and throws the items back in the box. “You’re such a fuck, Elliot,” he laughs.
“Oh, yeah?” he replies in good humor. “Who do you think put your crib together upstairs, you douchebag?”
“You mean it wasn’t Kate? Great, now I have to go up there and make sure it’s not going to fall apart and kill my baby in the middle of the night.”
Elliot laughs. “You could do that. Or we could go into the library, have a drink to celebrate your daughter, and let these girls catch up a little bit.”
“Yeah,” Christian agrees with a smile. “I think that’s exactly what we should do.”
He comes back to me, kissing me softly on the cheek before going to Calliope as she sleeps peacefully in Kate’s arms. Then both he and Elliot disappear down the long hallway towards the library.
“Ana, I’m obsessed with this baby,” Kate says. “She’s so freaking pretty. You’re like… champion babymaker.”
“Mmm,” I hum in agreement. “I can’t describe it to you, Kate. I love her so much it hurts.”
“And she smells so good. Ugh, I want one.”
I bite down on my lip as she leans down, inhales Calliope’s scent from the top of her head and then places a gentle kiss on each of her round cheeks.
“Speaking of which…” I begin awkwardly. “You seem to be spending a lot of time with Elliot, here… back at the hospital… I’m sorry but, where’s Carter?”
The adoring smile on her face falls, her body deflates a little, and she continues to look at Calliope, not me, as she answers.
“I’m not really sure. He’s… probably back in Georgia, I guess. He didn’t really want to talk to me after.”
She sighs. “He asked me to marry him, Ana.”
“I know. Clearly, it was the biggest shock of my life.” She lets out a morbid kind of laugh but doesn’t continue, so I push her a little. “So… you said no?”
“I didn’t love him,” she says. “I thought maybe I could, one day, but… I don’t think it works that way anymore. At least not the kind of love I want.”
“What do you mean?”
She takes another breath before she answers me. “This is going to sound horrible but, when we were in the hospital, before Christian knew about Calliope or if you were going to be okay, I spent a lot of time just… watching him. He was devastated. I’m glad you didn’t see him like that, Ana, because it was bad. Really bad. But it was bad because he loves you so much. If you would have died, his whole world would have been destroyed. You consume him, and as terrifying as that makes the idea of losing you to him, it makes what you two have together…” She pauses as she tries to find the words.
“Beautiful?” I suggest. She presses her lips together and shakes her head.
“It’s more than that. It’s what makes life have meaning. I want that. I want someone whose world begins and ends with me. I want someone who would sacrifice anything, who would walk through fire if that’s what it took to make me happy. But also, I want someone who I love so completely, so passionately, that I can’t envision a world where they don’t exist. I want deep, meaningful, true love, Ana, and I was never going to have that with Carter.”
“Okay, that’s fair. If you didn’t love Carter, you shouldn’t have married him. But… what about Elliot? How does he fit into this?”
She bites her lip. “I’m in love with Elliot, and I love him the way that I want to love the man I’m going to marry. I can’t deny that anymore, and the longer we’re apart the more I have to admit to myself that that love is unshakable. I love his family, I love his sense of adventure, I love the person that he is… I could happily spend the rest of my life with Elliot Grey, but… I don’t know that he loves me the way I need to be loved. If anything is ever going to happen between us again, I need to know that he does, and that he will. Forever.”
“Well, I hope it works out. Selfishly because he’s going to be in my life from now until the end and I can’t go through anymore Gia’s… More selfishly because I love you, Kate, very, very, much, and I want you to have everything in the world that your heart desires.”
“I love you too, Ana,” she smiles. “And I love this baby. Oh my god, I love this baby!” I laugh as she tightens her hold on Calliope and leaves feather light kisses all over her face. Calliope stirs for a moment, but just enough to squish her little face together in protest before her features smooth out and she’s lost to her dreams again. When Kate looks up at me, the pouting look of adorable overload on her face makes me wonder if she’s about to burst into tears, and once again I feel my heart swell.
A timer goes off behind me in the kitchen, so Kate kisses Calliope once more before placing her back in her carrier and coming around the counter with me to pull the lasagna she’s made out of the oven. I move to the cabinet to take out plates for the four of us and to set the table, but before I reach for the door, my eyes fall on a box resting on the counter across from me.
“What’s that?” I ask. Kate looks over her shoulder at the box and then turns back to the bread she’s pulling from the oven.
“Just mail. Whatever wasn’t forwarded to Cambridge, I guess.”
“Oh…” Curiosity gets the better of me so I cross the marble floor to begin sorting through the letters and packages inside. There’s nothing here for me, everything I touch has Christian’s name on it, minus a few letters from my mother which I fully intend to ignore, until my fingers close around a battered looking manilla envelope addressed to me, but with no return address.
“Who’s that from?” Kate asks, glancing over at me as she slices the bread.
“I don’t know, it doesn’t say.” My fingers probe the package, which is surprisingly heavy for something delivered in just an envelope, but as I feel around the edges, I’m able to identify the familiar shape and weight inside.
“It’s a manuscript,” I say.
“Did Random House do any editing?” Kate asks.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think so…” I quickly rip open the flap, reach inside, and pull out the rudimentary bound stack of papers. When I look down at the title page though, it’s not Escape or even Escaping Neverland that I see printed there. What I do see, sends a cold chill over my entire body, like my blood has suddenly turned to ice.
“What is it?” Kate asks. I turn the manuscript to her so she can read the title.
The detailed first hand account from the broken southern girl that built America’s most powerful CEO
By: Elena Lincoln