My cellphone ringing on Christian’s nightstand wakes me earlier than I intended the next morning and I groan. I try to reach over and grab it, but the moment I move, Christian, who is still asleep next to me, wraps his arms tighter around me, unconsciously holding me in place. With the very tips of my fingers, I’m able to pull the iPhone off the charger and answer it.
“Hello?” I croak.
“Hey, Ana. Did I wake you?” It’s Elliot.
“It’s 5:30 in the morning, so… yeah,” I say disapprovingly.
“Sorry, there’s a problem with some equipment down at the job site this morning so I’m headed down there to take care of it. I’m not going to be able to pick you up this morning.”
“Oh… that’s okay. I’ll figure it out. Thanks for calling.”
“Sure. We should hang out sometime this week. The Mariners are in town. I can call Christian and see if we can use his box seats. Maybe if you come, he’ll come along too.”
“Maybe,” I tell him, noncommittally. It’s a little awkward having Christian pressed against me, naked, after a long night of passionate love making, and trying to pretend to Elliot that I’m still trying to keep distance between Christian and I. “I’ll talk to you later,” I tell him.
“Bye,” I hang up the phone and collapse back into my pillow, pushing myself backwards into Christian’s chest and he gently nuzzles my hair.
“Who was that?” He asks.
“Your brother,” I tell him. “He can’t give me a ride to work today so I’ll probably have to call Luke and ask him.”
“I could take you. We’re going to the same place after all.”
“I don’t think showing up at work with you is the best way to keep our relationship on the down-low, Mr. Grey,” I say, sleepily, nestling my head deeper into my pillow as I try to fall back asleep.
“Then… I’ll drive one of my cars,” Christian suggests, apparently determined to keep me awake. “Taylor can drive you.”
“Taylor is your right hand man, Christian. I don’t think that’s any less suspicious.”
“Kate then. Kavanagh Media isn’t far from GEH, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind picking you up.”
“It’s fine, Christian. I don’t think Luke is going to care. I don’t want to make Kate go out of her way if I’m going to the same place as Luke anyway.”
I hear him exhale sharply behind me and then he leans in and kisses my naked shoulder. “I’m going to head down to the gym, do you want to join me?”
“I think I got plenty of exercise last night,” I tell him sardonically. “But not enough sleep. Wake me when you get back and I’ll take a shower with you.”
“I can hardly wait,” He says. He tilts my face back towards his to kiss me goodbye and then he crawls out of the bed and disappears into his closet. I’m asleep before he emerges again.
After a long, steamy shower that takes far longer than I have time for thanks to a certain CEO and his seeming insatiable desires, I pull on the dress I was wearing yesterday, stealthily stuff my panties in my purse and then hurry out of Christian’s bedroom. He’s in his office getting caught up on the emails he missed all day yesterday so I knock quietly on the door to get his attention and when he looks up, I hurry inside.
“I’m going to head downstairs and get ready for work. I just wanted to come say goodbye,” I tell him. “I’ll see you in a little bit?”
“Mhmm,” He mumbles, turning his eyes back to his computer screen as he begins typing out an email to Andrea. I lean down and tilt his chin towards me, forcing him to look at me, and then kiss him goodbye, but as I pull away he gives me a disapproving look.
“Miss Steele, I’m shocked. I am your boss and this is highly unprofessional behavior.”
I roll my eyes. “My apologies, Mr. Grey. I’ll try to contain myself.”
“See that you do,” He replies jokingly. I laugh and then saunter out of his office, purposefully swinging my hips just a little as I go. When I get back to the door, I turn back to look at him and see that he’s shaking his head and smiling with amusement as he returns his focus to his work. Oh, how I wish we had just one more day together before we had to step outside of our bubble.
I pull out my phone as I make my way to the elevator but once I dial Luke’s number and bring the phone to my ear, the doors open and I see him standing there with Christian’s other security guard, Ryan.
“Luke!” I gasp as Ryan makes his way through the foyer. Luke stares at me, shocked for a second, and then, slowly, a knowing smile begins to creep across his face. I can see it in his eyes, he knows he’s caught me.
“Well, good morning, Ana,” He says, trying to suppress a laugh. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“Mr. Grey asked the entire security team to meet this morning for a debrief. What are you doing here?”
“I was just… I-I left something here the other night that I needed to get,” I tell him.
“I did!” I say defensively, feeling the blush creep into my cheeks.
“Sure,” Luke says, not even trying to hide his teasing smile now.
“Luke, stop!” I reply, laughing. “Seriously, I had to get my… phone. I left it here on Saturday and I needed it to call you because I need a ride to work today.”
“You’re sure you want me to take you? I mean, maybe there is someone here better suited for your needs than I am…”
“Luke Sawyer!” I exclaim, and he laughs.
“Fine, live in denial,” He tells me. “If you need a ride, I’ll be ready to go in forty five minutes.”
“Then I will meet you downstairs.” I reply. He looks me up and down a couple time and then laughs again and I reach out and slap his arm.
“Stop!” I exclaim, and I try to sound incensed but I’m laughing now too.
“What’s going on out here?” Christian’s voice says behind me and I turn around to see him staring earnestly at Luke and I. Luke’s disposition changes immediately.
“Nothing, sir,” He says, his voice now serious and even.
“I don’t have all morning, Sawyer,” Christian says, and Luke nods and walks forward through the foyer without a backwards glance at me. I give Christian an apologetic, please-don’t-be-mad-at-Luke kind of smile and I see the muscle in his jaw twitch as he turns around and walks into the living room.
I don’t understand his problem with me being friends with Luke. It’s his fault after all. I wouldn’t have ever met Luke if Christian wasn’t such an overprotective, borderline stalker. He’s just going to have to get used to Luke and I hanging out together, this tension is bad for everybody. I sigh as I step into the elevator and push the button for my floor, wondering how I’m going to make him see that there’s nothing to be worried about with Luke.
We’re friends, good friends, but just friends.
Forty five minutes later, I’m dressed in the same navy and white polka dot blouse I wore last week, though this time I’ve paired it with a long cream colored pencil skirt and nude pumps, and I’m making my way down to the parking garage where I find Luke waiting for me, idling in his car a few steps away from the elevator.
“Thanks for the ride,” I say gratefully as I climb into the front seat.
“Thanks for working at the same place I do,” He says, as he pulls out of the parking garage and onto Virginia St.
“Did you get in trouble with Christian… I mean, with Mr. Grey?” I ask.
“No,” He says. “But, I don’t think he likes me very much. I think he preferred it when I was on the other side of the country. Unlike you, who he seems very happy to see.”
“I can’t imagine why he would be happier having you far away,” I say pointedly as Luke’s irritating I-know-what-you-did-all-weekend smile returns. I give him an indignant look and he laughs.
“You didn’t even make it a week,” He says through his raucous laughter, and I try to keep the guilt off my face as I prepare to deny his accusation.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, cut the crap, Ana,” Luke says. “He told us you two were back together.”
“What?” I ask, a little too harshly as I turn a piercing gaze on him. “What do you mean he told you we were back together?”
“We’re his security team, Ana. He can’t exactly lie to us,” Luke says as if this is obvious. “Our job is to protect him and everyone around him. If you two are dating, that includes you.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I say. “So, what? Is he just going to have you following me around everywhere again?”
“Not me,” Luke says, shaking his head. “I think you’re going to get Prescott again.”
“Great,” I grumble, and he gives me a sympathetic smile.
“I know you don’t like her, and I’m sorry. I feel that’s kind of my fault… but she’ll come around eventually. I didn’t really like her at first either, but I came around… kind of.”
I give him a look that expresses my lack of confidence in coming around with Prescott and he frowns before changing the subject.
“We’re still doing the movie this week, right? I’m not on call tonight, if you’re free.”
I shake my head. “I can’t, I have therapy tonight.”
“Oh, well… let me know, I guess.”
He pulls into the garage under GEH and parks in the long line of reserved spaces near the front of the garage. As we walk into the elevator, he tells me about his weekend, and this new girl that he met when he was canoeing down at the WAC over at the University of Washington. I press him for the entire way up to the 8th floor, using the subtly intrusive interviewing skills I’ve acquired after years of living with Kate, and am surprised at how shy he seems to be to talk about her.
“I think you really like her,” I say, giving him a knowing smile as he swipes his security badge and then holds open the door for me.
“I think you’re… intrusive,” He says, awkwardly, and I laugh. I’m intrusive? Leila and Andrea both turn to look at us as we walk through the door, and I’m a little relieved to see that it looks like they’ve only just gotten here too.
“Good Morning, Ana,” Andrea says brightly.
“Good Morning,” I tell her. She says hi to Luke who returns her greeting with warmth, but when he acknowledges Leila, there is a noticeably colder edge in his tone. He turns and waves to me as he disappears around the corner towards the security office and I make my way around the desk to put my things away.
“You two seem pretty friendly,” Andrea says, and I shake my head. What is with everyone today?
“We’re friends,” I tell her. “Just friends.”
“Why?” Leila asks disapprovingly and Andrea rolls her eyes.
“You’ll have to forgive, Leila,” She says. “They’ve been at odds ever since Luke was brought in here a few weeks ago.”
“How come?” I ask.
“Because he’s rude,” Leila says, shortly.
“He’s not rude, he just doesn’t do what you tell him to do and you can’t handle it when you feel like you’re not the one running this office.”
“Yeah… so rude,” She says and Andrea laughs before sitting down to log into her computer.
“How was your weekend, Leila?” I ask, trying to be more friendly to her. Her smile falters and she turns back to the screen in front of her.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” She says, and I raise an eyebrow at her and turn to Andrea who is smirking to herself.
“What happened?” I ask, concerned.
“Her life was ruined,” Andrea replies for her and Leila shakes her head.
“It’s not true, I just don’t believe it.”
“What?” I ask, and again Andrea replies for her.
“We were having lunch together yesterday and about halfway through our salads, she got a tweet from some celebrity gossip twitter page she follows that said Mr. Grey has a secret girlfriend.”
“It’s just not true,” Leila says. “I’ll bet you anything, it was his sister.”
“And the canoodling?” Andrea asks.
“Made up,” I add, agreeing with Leila, and they both turn to look at me. “You know how celebrity gossip sites work. They exaggerate everything. I was hanging out with my friend Kate this weekend, and she’s dating Mr. Grey’s brother. I think I do remember her saying something about him spending the weekend with Mia.”
“See,” Leila says smugly to Andrea and then she gives me a rare, appreciative smile. I sit down at my laptop and begin reading through the emails in my inbox, none of which seem to be important, until I hear the lock on the door click open.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” Leila says. I look up to see Christian and Taylor walking through the door and I’m surprised to see that he’s holding multiple cups of coffee.
“Good morning, ladies,” He says, and then he frowns at me. “Oh, Anastasia. I’m sorry, I forgot you’re here now. I went to the coffee shop on my way to work this morning and I picked up coffee for Andrea and Leila but…”
“That’s quite alright, Mr. Grey,” I say, wanting to roll my eyes at his transparent attempt to seem like he doesn’t care about me. “I’m much more of a tea drinker myself.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” He says. “Andrea, I’ll be ready to go over my schedule for the day in ten minutes. In the meantime, I need you to get in touch with Miss Menke in HR and have her forward me everything we have on the GEH non-fraternization policy.”
“Yes, sir,” Andrea says, making a note the pad of paper in front of her.
“Have you been in touch with Lincoln?” he asks and I freeze. What? Lincoln? My fingers hover over my keyboard, motionless, as I wait intently for whatever Andrea says next.
“Yes, sir,” she says. “I expect arrival just before 9:30.”
“Good. I’ll be leaving early this evening, around 5:30. I have an appointment in town.”
“Yes, sir,” Andrea says again.
“Thank you for the coffee, Mr. Grey,” Leila says, smiling broadly, and he nods.
“Don’t mention it.”
I gape after him as he picks up his own cup of coffee and disappears back towards his office without a glance back at me. Shit, she’s coming here? Now? Fuck, what am I going to do? Should I try and stop him from meeting her? Maybe I should go downstairs and try and get her away before anyone knows she’s here. But what would I even say to her?
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
“I wonder what he wants with the non-fraternization policy?” Andrea muses allowed as she begins typing an email to HR. “Maybe his secret girlfriend works here. Did Ros say anything about it to you, Ana? You two hung out this weekend, right?”
“No,” I reply, and then I want to curse myself as I realize that this is my opportunity to alleviate any suspicion of Christian and I. “I mean, yeah… I think she said something about an office relationship, but it didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Grey.”
“Oh. I bet it’s Mr. Warren down in the telecommunications department. I swear you can taste the sexual tension between him and his secretary. It’s weird that he would want the policy though, instead of just firing one of them.”
“Maybe he’s suddenly become okay with the ideas of bosses having relationships with their secretaries,” Leila says hopefully. “He did remember my coffee order.”
Andrea rolls her eyes.
I spend the next hour and twenty minutes nervously working through a project Andrea has given me for the day and wondering if I should text Elliot and let him know that Elena is on the way here. I glance down at the phone on the desk what feels like every thirty seconds, dreading the call that I know is going to come in, but every ring is a false alarm until exactly 9:30.
“Christian Grey’s Office, Leila Williams speaking, how may I direct your call? Thank you, Jocelyn,” She says and she hangs up the phone and turns to Andrea.
“Lincoln is downstairs,” She says, and Andrea immediately reaches forward, picks up the phone and dials Christian’s extension.
“Mr. Grey, Lincoln is here,” She says, and then nods and hangs up the phone. A few seconds later, Christian comes around the corner and places a file folder on the desk.
“I’ve made edits to these documents, please see that Miss Menke gets them immediately,” He says.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Grey,” Andra replies.
“Miss Steele, will you come with me please?” He says and I swallow hard as I get out of my seat. What is he going to do? Take me downstairs where Elena’s waiting? Is he crazy?
But then again… maybe this is it. Maybe he’s going to tell her that he doesn’t want anything to do with her anymore and he wants me there for moral support. If that’s the case, I probably should be there, if anything just to make sure she doesn’t try to pull some manipulative bullshit to change his mind.
Leila raises an eyebrow at me as I get out of my chair so I shrug and give her a look to tell her I’m just as confused as she is, and surprisingly she buys it. She looks, almost sympathetically at me and I don’t understand why. Maybe she thinks I’m being fired and he’s escorting me out of the building, although it seems unlikely that that would be Christian’s job… Maybe she knows Elena and she feels bad that I’m going to have to be in her presence. That’s certainly enough for me to feel bad for anyone.
I follow Christian to the elevator, and once the doors close, he reaches over and takes my hand, stroking the backs of my fingers with his thumb.
“I think we’re doing pretty well,” He says. “No one seems to be any the wiser.”
“Mhmm,” I mumble and he raises an eyebrow at me.
“Was the coffee too much? I thought it might be a good way to put some distance between us, but I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings… I could have Taylor run out and get you something if you want.”
“No, it was fine, Christian,” I tell him.
“Then what’s wrong?” He asks, but the elevator begins to slow as we approach the 5th floor and he moves a few steps away from me, releases my hand and puts on a straight face as the doors open for two men in suits, holding briefcases.
“Mr. Grey,” One of the men greets Christian but he only nods as we continue to the first floor.
Once we’re released into the lobby, I begin looking nervously around the for the tale-tell sign of Elena’s strikingly blonde hair, but I don’t recognize any of the people around me. As we approach the front reception desk, I’m surprised that Christian begins walking towards a stern looking man in a black suit, rather than also looking around for Elena.
“Ah, here he is,” The girl sitting at the desk says with a smile. “Mr. Griffin, this is Mr. Grey.”
“Thank you for be so accommodable on short notice, Mr. Griffin,” Christian says, reaching out and shaking his hand firmly.
“It’s our pleasure, Mr. Grey. It’s waiting for you just downstairs,” Mr. Griffin says. Christian gestures for him to lead the way and I give him a suspicious look as we follow him back to the elevator and Mr. Griffin pushes the button for the parking garage. What the hell?
When the doors open, we walk past the line of cars in Christian’s and his security team’s parking places until Mr. Griffin stops at a small, glossy red, SUV. I look at it curiously for a moment and relief floods over me when I see the word Lincoln MKX across the back in shiny silver letters.
Lincoln as in the car. Not Elena.
Mr. Griffin walks Christian around the car, which is apparently next year’s model and isn’t even on the market yet, and explains the car’s specs, all the different features, and the luxury extras that have been added. Christian asks several questions about the safety specifications and after a long drawn out explanation from Mr. Griffin, Christian closes the passenger’s side door and nods.
“I’ll take it,” He says and Mr. Griffin’s face lights up.
Christian gives him his personal finance adviser’s information to finalize the paperwork and arrange payment, and after ironing out the last few details, Mr. Griffin shakes Christian’s hand one last time and then makes his way back to the elevator, leaving us alone with the car.
“What do you think?” Christian asks, turning to me.
“About the car?” I ask. “Uh… it’s new? I don’t know, don’t you have an SUV already?”
“It’s not for me,” He says. “It’s for you.”
“What?” I ask, feeling my stomach drop.
“For you to get to work. You won’t need Elliot or Sawyer anymore, you have a car.”
“Christian, you can’t just give me a car.”
“Of course I can. Just think of it as renegotiating the terms of your internship,” He says. “It’s a company car. I own it and if you want to give it back at the end of the summer, you can. But as your boss, I need to ensure you are able to get to work on time. Next week you won’t be in this building anymore. I can’t spare my security staff to drive you around during the day.”
“What do you mean I won’t be here? Where will I be?”
“Tomorrow,” He says, evasively. “It will be announced tomorrow.”
“Does anyone else have a company car?”
“Sure,” Christian shrugs. “I’ve given cars to most of my security staff, Gail, even Andrea has one.”
“What about Leila?”
“Leila?” He says, his brow furrowed. “Why would Leila need a car? She doesn’t run errands.”
I turn and look at the car frowning, and Christian sighs.
“It’s just a car, Anastasia. I thought you’d be happy, it’s brand new and you haven’t had a car since I’ve known you. Honestly, I was expecting a little more excitement than this.”
“I can give it back at the end of the summer?” I clarify.
“If you want to.”
“It is kind of beautiful…” I admit reluctantly.
“It is,” He agrees. “And it’s yours. Enjoy it.”
Looking quickly around the parking lot to make sure that no one is around, I lean in and give him a quick kiss and he looks at me sternly.
“I thought you were going to control yourself, Miss Steele?”
“Sorry,” I tell him insincerely, and he smiles before pulling me behind the car and kissing me for real.
The rest of the day passes by fairly uneventfully. Andrea is mostly busy preparing for an important meeting taking place the next day, which has her in and out of the office, so Leila is pretty much on her own fielding calls and dealing with people coming through the doors looking for Christian and Ros. After spending an entire afternoon observing her, I actually find that I’m fairly impressed by Leila. She handles everything extremely well and efficiently. She’s hospitable and courteous to all of Christian’s business associates and the high level staff of GEH. She’s even warmed up to me a bit. Maybe she was just having a bad week last week, or maybe, after half-lying to her about my weekend plans, she’s just ruled me out as a rival for Christian’s affections and so she doesn’t feel the need to be cold to me anymore. Or maybe Andrea talked to her about how she was coming off. They had lunch together this weekend so I assume they’re friends and she was probably worried Leila might get in trouble. Especially since they know I at least have a close relationship with Ros.
At five thirty, I begin packing my things and as I wish Leila a good night, Christian comes around the corner with Taylor and Prescott in tow. I frown as I realize that apparently, Luke was right. I am going to get a security detail, and it isn’t going to be him.
“Miss Steele,” Christian greets me with a stiff nod as he comes to stand next to me at the elevator. “Leaving early tonight?”
“Oh… uh, yeah. I have a commitment that I couldn’t get out of,” I tell him, and he nods again.
“I see. Well I do hope your plans are more engaging than mine. I’m meeting a business associate tonight, trying to hash out some details of a merger we’re currently in the middle of.”
“Well, I hope that goes well for you, Mr. Grey.”
“So do I,” He says, and as the elevator pings to announce it’s arrival, I turn to face the doors, trying to hide my smile from Leila.
“Ana, you remember Prescott?” Christian says when the elevator doors close and we begin our descent to the parking garage.
“Yes, hi again,” I say, unable to hide my uncomfortable displeasure as I turn to acknowledge her. Why can’t it be Luke?
“I’d like you to take security with you wherever you go,” Christian says. “For my own peace of mind.”
“Is that negotiable?” I ask and he frowns.
“We’ll talk about it tonight,” He says. I sigh, but nod in agreement.
When the doors open, Prescott follows me to my brand new car and I smile broadly as I climb through the driver’s side door. The inside of the Lincoln smells brand new, and the black leather seats are still cool and tight. It’s strange to think that this car is mine, I haven’t ever had my own car before, let alone one this nice. My parents haven’t even had a car this nice.
“Just follow Taylor, ma’am,” Prescott says, gesturing to the black SUV pulling out a few spaces down. I roll my eyes and put the car in reverse, looking carefully over my shoulder as I back out and then turn forward towards the exit. I don’t need her direction and, quite frankly, I don’t want it either. If this is what it’s going to be like having her tag along all time, I know this summer is going to feel interminable.
The Lincoln handles great, better even than Kate’s Mercedes and I suppose that probably has something to do with the fact that her car is almost six years old and this one hasn’t even technically been released yet. The downside though, is parking. Usually, that’s not something I have to worry about, but now that I do, I remember that parking in downtown Seattle is terrible. There is no lot or garage connected to the building where Dr. Flynn’s office is located so I have to follow Taylor down the street and around the corner to a public garage a few blocks away.
Once we’re parked, Taylor escorts Christian and I through the garage and down a side street to loop back around to Dr. Flynn’s building. After last weekend, walking with Christian in public has me worried, but Christian must have already thought of the possibility of photographers as we take a route to the back door of Flynn’s building without ever coming into view of the street. Or, maybe this is just how he always gets here… I suppose that as much as I don’t want anyone suspecting we’re dating, he doesn’t want anyone to find out he’s in therapy.
Clara, Flynn’s receptionist, is much more attentive this time around than she was the last time I was here and I don’t know if that’s because this is a confirmed appointment rather than an emergency drop in session, or because I’m with Christian. Based on her seeming inability to form coherent sentences and the fact that she physically gets out of her seat to open the door for us though, I assume it’s because of the latter. This is the downside of dating someone who looks the way Christian does, the longing stares of women everywhere we go.
“Hello, Christian. Ana,” Dr. Flynn says, smiling as he comes into the lobby to get us. We make our way into his office and to the couch across from his tall backed chair. As we sit down next to one another, Flynn looks between us expectantly.
“How was your weekend?” He asks.
“Fine,” Christian answers
“Were you able to spend some time with one another?”
“Yes,” Christian answers again.
“What did you do?” Flynn asks, turning to me.
“We went shopping and we watched a movie and we spent some time with his family,” I reply.
“That sounds wonderful,” Dr. Flynn says. “Did you have a good time?”
“Yes,” I tell him.
“Good. Ana, in your last session we had talked about maintaining boundaries between the two of you while you both worked through your issues together. Did you share what those boundaries were with Christian?”
“And, Christian, how did that go over, maintaining physical distance between the two of you?”
“It was fine,” Christian says. “We had sex.”
I’m taken off guard by his casual admission and turn to look at him, stunned. First his security team, now Flynn… what part of keeping this a secret doesn’t he understand?
“You did?” Flynn asks, surprised.
“Many times. Oh, and we’re back together,” Christian says and this time, my mouth actually pops open with shock.
“Really? Well, I’m happy to hear that,” Dr. Flynn says, before turning to look at me. “What changed for you, Anastasia?”
“Uh, I-I…” I stutter at a complete loss for words. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about this, Christian.”
“You want me to lie to our therapist? I thought you asked me to take this seriously?” He says and I frown. He kind of has me there. I suppose Flynn is safe. He can’t tell anyone what we say to him in therapy, so it’s not like it’s going to get out if we talk to him about our relationship. We are going to need help getting through some of this tougher stuff together and Flynn seems to be okay with the fact that I broke the rules…
“I don’t know what changed,” I say, looking at Flynn. “I just didn’t want to be apart anymore. Spending time with him this weekend brought a lot of comfort and old feelings back for me. It reminded me why I loved him so much in the first place, what made us so good together and I didn’t want to wait to try to get back what we used to have. I thought we’d be better and come out of this stronger if we worked through this together, rather than apart.”
“Why do you say used to have?” Christian asks. “Nothing has changed, Ana. Not in the way I feel about you. Are you telling me that it’s changed for you?”
“Well… kind of. I don’t trust you the way that I used to, Christian. I don’t think I can get completely back to the way it was until I feel like I can trust you again.”
“I don’t understand,” He says, and I can hear anger building in his voice. “I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do. I’ve reached out to my family and done everything they’ve asked of me to make it right with them. I’ve even confessed what I did to my father. What more can I do?”
I turn away from him and shake my head. “You still talk to Elena.”
“I’ve told you before, Anastasia, that’s just business. She’s moved on, all of that bullshit is over between us.”
“No, it isn’t,” I tell him. “What about last Friday?’
“What about Friday?” He asks, and the anger in his voice is obvious now.
“You told me that you called her when you felt like you were getting out of control. That’s not business, Christian. That’s very, very personal and the fact that you left that out when you promised me that there was nothing going on between you two makes me feel like you’re hiding something from me.”
“You’ve lost me,” Dr. Flynn says, “What happened last Friday night?”
“It was nothing,” Christian says dismissively, and I let out a harsh laugh.
“So it’s fine to talk about all the sex we’ve been having because you don’t want to lie to your therapist, but you’ll just skate over Elena?”
“I’m not skating over anything,” Christian says, through barred teeth. “There’s nothing to talk about in regards to Elena. She’s nothing to me, Anastasia.”
“If you think that’s true, then she’s manipulated you even more than I thought.”
“She’s not manipulating me, Anastasia. You don’t know what it’s been like here, you’ve been gone.” He says, raising his voice now. “I don’t care about her, I don’t think about her, I don’t need her. I am the CEO and sole proprietor of the fasting growing company in the United States. People like Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers call me for advice. I am in control of everything around me, even the very economy of this city. I’m the most powerful man in Seattle. Elena Lincoln is nobody and she has absolutely no influence over me.”
I look back into his fiery gaze and I know he’s mad, but I’m not going to concede on the Elena issue.
“What about the salons, Christian?” I ask. “She needed help and you bent over backwards to make sure she was okay.”
“You’re just emphasizing my point,” Christian says. “She came to me. I don’t rely on her, if anything she relies on me. I have the power in any interaction I have with Elena and I choose to keep our relationship strictly professional.”
“Except when you get upset,” I throw back at him. “And then she’s right back in the driver’s seat.”
“I’m confused,” Dr. Flynn says. “What happened last Friday night?”
Christian glares at me and then takes a deep breath before recounting what happened with Mia last weekend and our conversation afterwards.
“That sounds like amazing progress to me,” Dr. Flynn says when Christian finishes.
“But he admitted that he wanted to call Elena,” I argue. “He admitted that he uses her for emotional support.”
“But he didn’t on Friday,” Dr. Flynn says. “He tried to find another outlet and when you both allowed yourselves to be open with each other and communicate honestly, Christian avoided contact with Elena Lincoln all together and Ana, you didn’t run away. I’d say I’m very proud of both of you.”
“But what if I hadn’t been there?” I ask and then turn to Christian. “What if Mia hadn’t called me that night and you were alone? Would you have called her then? If I had come over that night after Luke left, would she have been in your apartment? Would you have been at hers? I can’t be around all the time, and I can’t worry that if something happens and you get upset and I’m not there to talk you down, that you’re going to go running off to her. That’s how she gets to you, Christian. She prays on you when you’re vulnerable. It’s what happened two years ago and if you don’t cut her completely out of your life, it’ll happen again and I can’t go through something like the trial again. I won’t.”
“She doesn’t do anything to me, Anastasia. I’ve told you, it’s different between us now. She’s moved on, I’ve moved on. Nothing like the trial will ever happen again. I’ve told you that I’m sorry, why can’t you just accept that I’m sorry?” Christian says, fuming.
“Because you can’t tell me what you’re sorry for!” I argue, and now, I’m angry too. “How can you promise me that it won’t happen again or even say you’re sorry if you don’t even know what it is you’re apologizing for?” I ask, and Christian loses it.
“I can’t read your mind, Anastasia,” He shouts back at me. “You don’t talk to me, you shut me out. How about instead of hanging this elusive concept of forgiveness over my head, you just tell me what you want me to be fucking sorry for and I will apologize to you.”
“See, I knew it! You’re not apologizing because you’re actually sorry, you’re apologizing because you just want to appease me.”
“Of course I want to appease you, you’ve been punishing me for two fucking years and I don’t know what it is that you want from me. I’m constantly walking on eggshells around you, just waiting for you to bolt again. I want you to trust me, Ana, you can trust me. I won’t hurt you again. I’ve learned my lesson and I don’t know what to say try and earn your trust back except that I’m sorry.”
“But you don’t know what you’re-” I begin, almost yelling now, but Dr. Flynn cuts me off.
“Okay, let’s take a breath,” He says. “It think we should go about this a different way. Ana, your trust issues with Christian, did they exist before the trial?”
“No, I trusted him completely. That’s why it was so devastating to me. I never dreamed he was capable of doing something like that.” I tell him and as the anger and hurt begin to overwhelm me, I feel the sting of tears in my eyes.
“Okay, Christian, Ana uses words like devastating when she talks about what happened with the trial. What do you think it is about what happened that she would feel devastated by?”
“She hates Elena and I protected her,” He says bluntly. “She’s pissed because she thinks that I chose Elena over her, but I didn’t. It wasn’t like that. In this deal that I made with her, I wasn’t trying to protect her. I was clear that she was to never contact either of us or anyone in my family again. I was trying to build a life for us. I wasn’t choosing her over you, Ana, and if that’s what you’re angry about, then I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intention and I’m sorry.”
I feel the first real tears begin to roll down my cheeks as he apologizes to me, and because I’m afraid the silent tears will turn into sobs if I try and speak, I don’t say anything in response. We sit there in tense silence until Dr. Flynn gently presses me to speak.
“Ana, how do you feel about what Christian has just said to you? Do you feel that he protected her and that his decision that day was him effectively choosing her over you?”
I shrug and pull the tissue away from my face so I can speak. “Partially. I don’t know… It’s hard to…” I begin but my voice chokes off with the sobs I was afraid of before.
“Well, I think it’s important that you’re clear what is hurting you so that Christian can understand,” Dr. Flynn says. “What if we try to keep emotions out of this as much as possible and you just tell me your perspective of what happened in the trial.”
I take a deep breath. “He sold me a lie. He sold everyone a lie. He went behind my back, behind his father’s back, and around a restraining order AND a no contact order, to set up this whole plan with… that woman. He sat in an examination room with his father and went through all the motions knowing that he would…” My voice cuts off for a second, but I force myself to press on. “I still, to this day, don’t even know how it happened. I don’t know if he reached out to her or if she reached out to him. You didn’t just break the law, Christian, you let me and your entire family walk into that courtroom thinking that justice was going to be served, and we were completely blindsided.”
“My family wasn’t looking for justice, my family was looking for revenge,” Christian says darkly.
“How can you say that?” I yell at him and Dr. Flynn holds up his hands to stop me.
“Christian, does what Ana just said give you a new perspective of what she needs from you when she asks for an apology?”
“I lied,” Christian says, shortly. “Okay, I lied. I know that was wrong and I did it anyway. If that’s what it is, then I’m sorry, but Ana, I just couldn’t do it. The relationship that Elena and I had wasn’t something she did to me, it was something she did with me. I knew what is was that we had, she was very clear from the start. I had every opportunity to end it but I didn’t because I didn’t want to. She didn’t force me into this. It would have been just as much of a lie for me to get up on that stand and say that she molested me as it was for me to say nothing ever happened. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I had a hand in sending her to prison for something that I had equal part in.”
“Look, I know that you felt guilty and pressured, but you didn’t tell me any of that before hand,” I tell him. “You just did it and then expected me to accept it. I had no say in this future that you said you wanted to create for us. Did you honestly believe when you took me to the top of the Empire State Building that I would be happy for you? That I would see this money as some kind of justice?”
“So it’s the money then? You want me to be sorry for the money?” Christian asks, his anger peaking again.
“It’s not the money, Christian. I understand the money. She offered it to you because she knew that more than anything else, you wanted to start your company. That’s all you talked about and I know you talked about it with her. She knew how hard it was for you facing the rejection and the failure that you did when you couldn’t make a deal to get the money to start your company and so she played the victim card and then dangled a carrot in front of you that she knew you couldn’t refuse. I get that, I don’t blame you for that. It’s not the money.”
“Then what is it?” He yells at me.
“You lied to me, Christian. You didn’t trust me, and then you left me…”
“You left me, Anastasia. I would never leave you,” He interrupts me and I look back at him incredulously.
We spend the next hour going through the events of the trial over and over again, but we always end up at the same place. He can’t apologize because he sees what happened to analytically instead of seeing what his actions did to me, to his whole family, on an emotional level. He can’t see how his betrayal changed my perspective on the world, how it ruined me, and until he does I don’t think he’ll ever really know what I need from him. The problem is, no matter how Dr. Flynn tries to redirect us, I can’t seem to be able to articulate to him what the trial really did to me. I just don’t have the words for what it really felt like.
“I can’t talk about this anymore,” I say through my tears as we approach the end of our session. My cheeks are raw and sting from wiping away my tears and I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted.
“Okay, then let’s take a break,” Dr. Flynn concedes. “We can start here in our next session.”
“Fine,” Christian says. He stands up from the couch as I gather all of my discarded tissues to throw away in the small trash can by the door and then leads me out of the room, leaving anger in his wake as he moves. He’s practically trembling as we schedule our next appointment with the receptionist and he remains silent on the way back to our cars where both Taylor and Prescott are waiting for us.
“I’ll see you back at home?” Christian asks, and the anger in his voice breaks for the first time with the uncertainty in his question. I nod and he looks like he’s going to reach out for me, maybe wrap me in his arms, but he stops himself and then climbs into the back seat of the SUV.
Prescott has to drive as, once I’m back in the Lincoln, I have a hard time holding back my tears again. I wonder what it’s going to take for Christian to understand. It’s not that I’m afraid to tell him how I feel, I just don’t know if I’m able to do it correctly. I don’t want to hurt him, I don’t want to rub the pain he caused in his face, I just want him to understand what I went through after the trial so he knows why I need him to show remorse. The problem is that I’ve compartmentalized everything, buried everything, rid myself of as much of the hurt as I was able to and now, I’m actually struggling to bring it all back up again. I know that if we’re going to move forward from here and be happy again that he has to know what this was like for me. I just need to figure out how to tell him.
And then it hits me.
I know exactly how to tell him.
When make it back to Escala, we step into the elevator and Christian reaches out to press the button for the penthouse but I stop him.
“My floor,” I tell him and his jaw tenses.
“Is this what therapy is going to do to us?” He asks, turning furiously away from the elevator panel to face me. “We were fine before we went to see Flynn, it was almost normal again. I’m not going to do this if it’s going to drive you away from me.”
“That’s not what’s happening, Christian. I want you to come with me. I just need to give you something.”
He looks at me suspiciously for a moment and then turns back to the panel to press the button for the fourteenth floor. I take hold of his hand, trying to reassure him and calm him down as we walk through the hall to my apartment and once we’re inside I ask him to sit on the couch while I make my way to my bedroom. I pull open the bottom drawer of my nightstand and take out the one full copy of my manuscript that I’ve brought to Seattle with me. My fingers brush nervously over the title page before I take a bracing breath and return to Christian.
“Here,” I say quietly as I hold out the manuscript for him and his brow furrows as he reaches out to take it from me.
“It’s my book,” I tell him. “Maybe this will help you understand what I need from you.”
“You want me to read it?”
“No, I don’t,” I say honestly. “But now, I think maybe it’s important that you do.”
“Okay,” He says. “Then I’ll start tonight.”
“Okay. I just… I can’t watch you read it so…”
“So, I’ll see you in the morning then,” He says, and he tucks the manuscript under his arm as he gets to his feet. I stare at him nervously. I don’t know how he’s going to react to what’s in that manuscript and part of me is dreading finding out.
He leans over and kisses me tenderly on the lips and I give him and shaky smile as he turns to leave. Once he’s gone, I can’t stop picturing him upstairs reading through the novel, reacting to what I’ve written, and it drives me crazy. I do everything I can to find something to distract me, reading, watching TV, obsessively cleaning my bathroom, but nothing works. I even try going down to the gym, but it isn’t enough to relieve my apprehension.
By midnight, I find myself pacing frantically back and forth across my bedroom floor. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve gone through each chapter in my head over and over again, the less I’m convinced having Christian read my book was a good idea. I may have been a little harsh in what I wrote and while it’s fine for fiction, if he’s reading this as my analysis of what happened in the trial, it might be a little too much. But then again… no, I don’t know if it is. It was bad and as much as I don’t want to hurt him, he needs to know what it was really like.
Eventually, after I realized I’ve stayed up way too late for a Monday night, I crawl into bed and try to convince myself that this is necessary. It’s how I feel, it’s what I went through. I can’t change that to protect him, and if it’s going to help us move forward, no matter how painful it is, it has to be this way.
I’m not exactly sure when I drift off, or how long I actually do get to sleep, but when a sudden, loud knock bangs its way into my consciousness, I bolt upright and look around the room, needing a second to orient myself. The alarm by the bed tells me it’s nearly five o’clock in the morning, and part of me wonders if I dreamed the sound that woke me until I hear the knocking again. I look curiously at my bedroom door, climb out of bed and make my way out to the living room.
When I open the door, I find Christian standing in the hallway, dressed in the same clothes he was wearing when he left last night just after 7:30 last night. He stares at me blankly, looking ashen faced.
“I was hoping by the time I got down here, I would know what to say to you,” He says tonelessly.
I feel a harrowing sense of dread as I look at him, feeling as though my worst fears in giving him this book have been confirmed. Since I’ve been in Seattle, I’ve reluctantly grown accustomed to the look of doubt and even fear in his eyes, but this… this is much worse. He looks almost hollow, and the pain of seeing him like this hits me like an arrow through my heart.
“Come in,” I tell him, stepping aside to let him in. I hold my arms open, wanting to hold him just to offer him some kind of comfort, but the second I touch him, he shrugs me off. As he walks into the living room, I notice that he doesn’t move with his usual kind of predatory grace but instead he seems to shamble forward. He places my manuscript on the table in front of the TV and then turns around to face me.
“I finished it,” He says and I swallow as I mentally prepare myself for what he’s going to say. “I didn’t realize this is how you saw it. I didn’t see what this trial meant to you and believe me, if I had, if I’d know it was like this, I never would have done it. I just thought it was because you hated her or you were mad because I took the money… I didn’t see what I was doing. I promised you the world and I destroyed it right in front of you. Then I took you to New York, paraded you around your favorite city as if it would make everything okay and the whole time I was lying to you. It was like I was taunting you with what I did. God, no wonder you cut me out, no wonder you refused to see or speak to me. How can you even look at me?”
I feel my lip begin to quiver as I fight back tears. The pain in his voice cuts through me like a knife and I want to offer him some kind of solace, some reassurance, but I don’t know what to say to him. He might be on the verge of a breakthrough but this is too intense for me to handle alone. He’s spiraling in front of me and I don’t have the knowledge or the experience to deal with this the right way. I need Flynn… Flynn should be here.
“Come here,” I tell him, moving towards him but again, he rejects my touch.
“I knew that I broke your heart, and I was sorry for that,” He continues. “But I didn’t realize that I completely shattered you. I took away the innocence that I loved so much about you and left you wounded, and jaded and unable to trust anyone around you. You were right, when I made this decision without even talking to you, I left you. Worse, I abandoned you after promising you forever and I left you desolate. I don’t deserve you, Anastasia.”
I stare back at him, unbelieving. No. No this isn’t what I want, and now, seeing him this way, I feel like I’ve made a mistake. He wasn’t ready for this and by forcing this on him, I’ve just broken him more. The self-loathing I hear in his voice makes me sick. He’s the world to me. I just want him to see what Elena is and get away from her influence, I don’t want to break him down.
“Yes you do, Christian. You’re a good person. I know in my soul that you are and that you would have never done anything like this if it wasn’t because that woman had been abusing you and manipulating you for so many years that you couldn’t tell the difference between right and wrong anymore.”
“So what if you’re right? What makes what she did to me any different than what I did to you?”
“I know who she is, Anastasia,” He interrupts me. “I think you all think I look at her through rose colored glasses but I don’t. She’s cold, calculating, driven, and selfish, but so am I. There was a time, before I knew you, when I thought that maybe I loved her. It wasn’t the kind of love you found in Jane Austen novels but I didn’t think that kind of love really existed. And then I met you, and I fell in love with you and, by some miracle, you fell in love with me too. You showed me that real love does exist in this world and I realized that what Elena and I had wasn’t love, not even close. But anything she’s ever done to me, she never did under the pretense of love. She was clear what we were. What I did to you, I told you I did because I loved you. I put this on you, on my love for you so I wouldn’t have to face what I did. I took the love that you gave to me and I used it to try and manipulate you into ignoring what I had done. That’s immeasurably worse than anything Elena has ever done to me. If you think she’s evil, then what does that make me? I don’t know, maybe Elena and I… maybe we deserve each other.”
His words hit me like a slap in the face and I stand there, dazed, until eventually, I feel tears spring to my eyes.
“No,” I tell him. “You do not deserve Elena Lincoln, no matter what has happened. Everything you did, you did because she manipulated you into thinking it was okay. She manipulated you into thinking that what you had was consensual, that she was helping you… and then she dangled the money in front of you because she knew that was what you wanted more than anything else. You didn’t make this decision, she did, and then she helped you justify it to yourself. You made a mistake, Christian but you’re not a terrible person and you do not deserve what happened to you, and you do not deserve having a person like her in your life.”
He shifts uncomfortably, looking away from me as his face crinkles with pain. I move forward, pushing myself into him, wrapping my arms tightly around him so that he can’t push me away, but he doesn’t try. Instead he pulls my chin up so he can look me in the eyes.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you when she first contacted me,” He says, quietly. “I’m sorry that I hid my reservations from you. I’m sorry that I went through with it at all. I’m sorry that I hurt you, I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you, I’m sorry that I leaned on you but never really let you support me. I’m sorry I put this on you and I’m sorry that it’s taken me two years to admit that what I did was wrong. It was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. I hurt you, Anastasia, but I will never hurt you again. If you’ll let me, I will spend the rest of my life making this up to you.”
“That’s not what I want, Christian. I don’t want to spend the rest of our lives rehashing this over and over again. I want closure. I want to put it behind us and move on and I want to do that with you by my side. I just needed to know that you were sorry so that I could trust you when you said you’d never hurt me again.”
“I am, Anastasia. I can’t tell you how sorry I really am.”
“Then I forgive you,” I tell him and he takes a deep breath and leans down to kiss me. I can feel his weight on me, like he’s having a hard time staying upright and I realize that he’s stayed up all night reading this book. That’s the second night in three days he hasn’t slept at all. I know that it’s nearly morning, but he should at least try and get some sleep before he has to go to work. Or maybe, he shouldn’t go to work…
“You should get some sleep,” I tell him, when he pulls his lips away from mine. “You look exhausted.”
“I think sleeping will just make it worse at this point,” He says. “But… I’d like to lay down with you.”
“Okay,” I tell him and I take him by the hand and lead him to my bedroom. We crawl into bed together and he wraps his arms around me as we lay there in silence, watching morning arrive through my bedroom window. I can feel his steady, even breaths, his heart beating in his chest, and it feels incredibly soothing after everything we’ve been through since last night.
I feel lighter now, as if his admission, his apology, and my forgiveness have somehow lifted an incredible weight off my shoulders. I’m at peace, for the first time in a long time and even though I know that Elena is out there somewhere, and I know that she’s going to do something to try and get between us again, I don’t care.
I think he knows what she is now. He knows what he did was wrong and I believe him when he says he’s sorry. Elena can do whatever she wants, but I can finally say that I trust him enough to know that no matter what she does, he’s not going to let her come between us again.