Chapter 28

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I go to bed that night alone and I’m asleep before Christian joins me. When I wake up the next morning, the after effect of our argument the night before is blatant. Christian is on his side with his back to me, rolled over as far to the edge of his side as he can go, and so am I. I roll over onto my other side and stare at him sleeping peacefully across from me, so far away, I couldn’t touch him if I wanted to. Do I want to? I don’t even know the answer to that right now and honestly, that makes me extremely uncomfortable. I don’t want it to be like this between us, but I’m at a loss. I don’t know how to fix this…

I gnaw on my lip as I roll out of bed and start an emotional inventory, trying to sort through exactly what I’m feeling and what I want. But I don’t feel anything. I’m numb.

This is all just so confusing. I love him, I want him, and part of me feels like I need him, but I feel like I’m being hit by a train every other day and it’s too much. This isn’t sustainable, I can’t keep doing this, but leaving…

No. No, I can’t leave. If I walk out, it will break Christian apart and the ripple effect will have devastating consequences for all of the people that I love. I can’t do that to Elliot, or Grace, any of them… But I can’t do this either. I take a deep breath, exhaling slowly as I make my way to the kitchen to start the coffee, unable to come to any conclusions. I don’t think there are miraculous solutions to what we’re going through.

“Good morning, Ana,” Gail says as I step into the kitchen and it makes me jump.

“Gail,” I say, stepping back and placing my hand over my heart while I reorient myself. “You scared me, I wasn’t expecting anyone to be down here. How are you feeling?”

“Much better,” She says. “Can I make you some breakfast?”

“Uh, sure… Thank you,” I tell her and she turns around for the refrigerator as she sets to work making breakfast. I watch her for a moment, enjoying the soft sounds of eggs frying in the pan and her low hum as she retrieves butter and jam for the toast.

“I saw the cake you baked for Mr. Grey’s birthday,” She says. “It was beautiful.”

“Oh, well there’s plenty left over, help yourself,” I tell her. “Take some back for Taylor too.”

“I’m sure he’d like that,” She smiles at me and as she sets a plate down in front of me, she looks up and smiles. “Good Morning, Mr. Grey.”

“Mrs. Jones,” He says flatly, coming up behind me, and my heart sinks at the still too cold tone of his voice.

“Would you like some breakfast, Sir?” She asks.

“No, I’m on my way out.”

I frown. “It’s Saturday. Where are you going?”

“Out,” He says, plainly and I turn an accusatory look on him.

“To her?”

His body tenses as he looks up at me. “To Flynn.”

“Oh,” I say, relaxing back into my seat and feeling a little guilty over my assumption. No, I shouldn’t feel guilty. If he wasn’t lying to me about her all the time, I wouldn’t always have to question his motives.

“I’ll be back in a couple hours,” He says and he leans over, kisses my hair, and then leaves. I stare after him until the elevator doors close and sigh. Hopefully he’ll come back from his session in a better mood and we can talk about what happened last night.

I try to pass the time that Christian is gone by hitting the gym upstairs, but I haven’t been keeping up with my daily jogging routine so I’m not able to run for as long as I would like. I come downstairs thirty minutes later, completely wiped out and only having completed just over three miles. I take a shower and even spend extra time blowing out and straightening my hair, but by the time I’m finished, Christian still isn’t back.

I head out to the living room, deciding to read and wait for him to return on the couch, but the second I sit down, my phone rings.

“Hey, Luke,” I say, as I pick up.

“Hey, what’s going on? I haven’t heard from you in a few days.”

“Oh, yeah. Christian’s birthday was yesterday so we’ve been busy.”

“Really, how was that?”

“It was… fine, I guess. He bought a yacht and we had dinner at home,” I tell him, as I play with one of the loose strands in the blanket draped over the back of the couch. I don’t really want to talk about Christian’s birthday so I change the subject. “Have you found anything on Elena leaking photos to the press?”

“Not yet,” He says, the disappointment clear in his voice. “If she’s sending them from a fake account, I have to get into TMZ’s system to find where the emails are coming from before I can find a way to trace it back to her. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that I can’t use Welch without Mr. Grey finding out, so I have to do it on my own. My hacking skills leave something to be desired…”

“Yeah, well… It might not matter. I don’t even know if Christian would do anything about it if you found the proof anyway.”

“Uh oh,” He says, cautiously. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” I say quickly. “I just… I found out he’s still talking to Elena about personal things last night.”

Luke is quiet for several beats, and I picture him sitting on the other line, brow furrowed and eyes darting back and forth as he tries to think of something to say to make it better. But I know from this morning, there aren’t words to fix this. There can only be action and at this point, I need a little more give from Christian.

“Do you want me to come and get you?” He asks at last.

“No,” I tell him. “Running away isn’t going to help anyone, and you’ll be permanently fired if he thinks you’re the reason I’ve left. Besides, I promised his family that I’m here to stay and to help. I think I’m the only one who can. I’m not ready to give up on him yet. I just… I don’t want let him go.”

“You’re sure?” he asks.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks, Luke,” I tell him.

“Are you happy, Ana?” He asks and his question takes me so much by surprise that my breath catches in my throat. Happy? Now? I don’t know how to answer that…

The elevator pings and my head jerks to the side as Christian steps into the foyer. I’m glad to note the brief feeling of relief that crosses over me when I see him. I’m happy he’s home, that’s a good sign.

“I’ve got to go, Luke,” I say quickly.

“Ana…”

“I’ll call you later,” I tell him and I hang up the phone and watch Christian walk into the great room. His face is marred by the same sense of stress and fatigue he came home with the last time he saw Flynn, and I look worriedly at him as he comes up behind the couch.

“Hey,” I say cautiously and he swallows.

“I love you, Anastasia,” He says, his voice shaking slightly, like he’s about to give me bad news, and it freaks me out. What did he talk about with Flynn? “I know that you’re mad at me and you deserve to be, but I… I just need you to know that I love you. More than anything in this world, I am in love with you and I’m sorry that I lied to you last night. I don’t know why I-” He stops abruptly, shakes his head and then continues with new direction. “I called her last night because I was struggling with… some things. It had nothing to do with you, it was about me, and she was the easy person to talk to. She tells me what I want to hear. She doesn’t make me deal with any of my shit, it’s just easier.”

I open my mouth, trying to think of what to say to him but nothing comes out. Thankfully though, he’s not looking for a response because as I sit there, trying to force myself to speak, he holds a hand to stop me.

“I’ve resented you for running away from me two years ago. I’ve worn that around like a chip on my shoulder and I’ve used it to justify a lot of the things I’ve done, that I’m still doing. But you’re right, Ana. I run away from you all the time. I did it when things got hard for me back at Harvard, I did it when I was in New York last week, and I did it again last night. I’m sorry. It’s difficult for me to talk to you when I’m uncertain of myself because I don’t want you to see me that way. I want to be everything to you. I want to move mountains and do the impossible. That’s how I want you to think of me. I want to think that I’m worthy of you because I’m terrified of losing you again. But I think I’m about to so, I want to tell you that I love you, and that I’m sorry for what happened last night, and that I’m trying. Really, I am.”

I feel the pricks of tears behind my eyes at his vulnerable confession and he stares down at me, waiting for reassurance. “Do you know what I think about when I look at you, Christian?” I ask him. He swallows and shakes his head. “Principles of Helicopter Flight, 3rd Edition.”

His brow furrows. “What?”

“It was a book recommendation you made for Astor Harrington. I’m an English student, I judge people a lot based on the books they read. He told me it was boring, like you, and I wanted to see what he meant. I work at a library and I have a lot of free time on my hands, so I looked through it and he was right. It was the most complicated, technical, dull book I’ve ever picked up. But you read it, and you knew everything from it because you wanted to fly helicopters. Christian, you built one of the most successful companies in the country at nineteen. You win awards for your business acumen. You’re on lists of the most important people, and you won Man of the Year. I know how incredible you are, but those aren’t the things I think of when I think of you. I think of your ambition, your tenacity, your will, your perseverance, and your heart. You’re generous, and kind, and you have a capacity for love that is mind boggling at times. You don’t have to move mountains and do the impossible to be worthy of me Christian. You already are, flaws and all. I don’t want you to be perfect, I’m not perfect. I just want you to be honest with me and let me in.”

“I’m sorry,” He says again. “I don’t want to fight with you, Anastasia.”

“I don’t want to fight with you either.”

He walks around the couch, removing the barrier between us, and sits next to me. I crawl into his lap and his arms wrap around me, holding me tightly to him. We sit there for a moment, not saying anything.

“Are we okay?” He asks.

I take a deep breath. “I meant what I said, Christian,” I tell him. “I don’t care what Flynn says, I can’t do this with you and her anymore. You can’t have us both. She goes or I do.”

“Hard limit,” He agrees with a nod. I stare at him for a moment, waiting for any hesitation, but it doesn’t come. My lips press together and nod.

“Then, yeah… I think we’re okay,” I tell him.

“Good. I uh… I have some things to take care of this afternoon, but maybe tonight we could order in and watch a movie. I hear you’re fond of It Happened One Night. I’d love to watch it with you.”

“Ugh, no. I’ve seen that way too many times,” I say with a giggle and he smiles down at me.

“I love that sound,” He tells me and he leans down and kisses me softly. It’s sweet and tender and as I feel the love pouring from him again, I feel the tension in my body relax. “I’ve got to get some work done. Pick a movie. Thinking of holding you on this couch tonight will help get me through the day.”

“Okay,” I sigh, and he kisses me once more before getting up and heading off to his office.

The next morning, I wake up feeling a rush of excitement. It’s Father’s Day and after months of waiting, I’m going to get to talk to Ray today. I immediately turn to my iPhone on the nightstand and check for any missed calls, but thankfully, there aren’t any. I double check that the volume is turned all the way up, and then take it with me as I climb out of bed.

It’s a long morning as I wait anxiously for my phone to ring. I find myself looking down at it every few seconds, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, and double checking the volume on the ringer over and over again. Of course it never changes, but I’m inpatient. Unfortunately, these calls aren’t scheduled, so I have no idea when it’s going to come in and after everything I’ve gone through over the past few weeks, I need to talk to my dad.

“Ana, you’re going to kill your battery checking it over and over like that,” Christian scolds me as we pull into his parents’ driveway later that afternoon, and I look over at him in panic.

“Did we bring a charger?” I ask.

“Relax,” He says. “There are only eight thousand iPhone and iPod chargers in this house. You’re not going to miss his call, I promise you. You don’t have to watch your phone like it’s a bomb or something.”

I nod and then step out of the car. Christian wraps his hand around mine as we make our way up the long walk to the door, and I slip my phone into my back pocket so that I won’t be tempted to be rude and stare down at it like a crazy person while we’re greeted by his family.

“Mom? Dad?” Christian calls as we step through the front door.

“In here!” Grace calls back and we walk into the living room to find Grace and Carrick sitting on the couch together. Grace gets up, her arms held open wide for each of us, and Carrick follows behind her.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad,” Christian says, handing him a plain, metallic colored gift bag, but Grace snatches it away.

“Not yet,” She chides him. “We’ll open gifts after lunch.”

“Fine,” Christian says, rolling his eyes. “Where is everyone?”

“Out back,” Carrick says. He nods his head to the back door and as Christian claps his hand on his father’s shoulder and then begins walking towards the back yard, Carrick turns and wraps me in a hug.

“It’s good to see you, Ana. I’m so happy we have you here to celebrate with us,” He says warmly.

“Thanks, Carrick,” I smile.

Grace wraps her arm around me as we follow Christian out the back door where we find Mia, Elliot, and Kate throwing a football to one another.

“Christian!” Elliot calls, excitedly. “Excellent. Come get in on this. We’ll play a little two on two.”

Christian nods to his brother and then turns to me. “Do you want to play?” He asks.

“I think that would ruin two on two,” I say pointedly.

“We’ll make it work. Elliot needs an extra person on his team anyway, he’s terrible,” Christian says and I laugh.

“You go ahead, I’m going to wait for my Dad to call.”

“Come join us when he does,” Christian says, kissing my forehead, and the he waves to his brother and runs out into the lawn.

“I forgot your Dad is calling today, Ana,” Grace says brightly as she pours me a glass of iced tea. “That must be exciting for you.”

“Yeah, I’ve been neurotic all morning waiting for my phone to ring,” I reply.

“He’ll call soon,” She says, patting my leg reassuringly as she takes the seat next to me. Carrick sits too and we watch the game taking place a few feet away in the yard.

“How’re you and Christian doing?” Carrick asks.

“Fine. Okay. I don’t know. We have good days and bad days,” I reply and his brow furrows.

“Is something the matter?”

“He’s talking to Elena Lincoln again. I caught him a couple nights ago on the phone with her in his office.”

“What?” Carrick asks, sitting up a little straighter and I shrug. “What were they talking about?”

“Does it matter?” I ask him and he shakes his head.

“I suppose not. So, what do we do?”

“I don’t know,” I reply honestly. “We talked about it and he apologized. I think he’s having trouble in therapy but I don’t know over what. Every time he comes back, he’s a mess. I’m worried that he’s feeling overwhelmed and maybe regressing a little bit.”

“Then we just need to reassure him,” Grace says. “Let him know that he doesn’t have to turn to… her. He has all of us.”

“I know, but like I said, I have good days and bad days,” I repeat, and Grace grips my knee once more.

“You’re doing great, sweetheart. And we all owe you an unbelievable debt of gratitude for what you’re doing for our son. We really do love you, Anastasia.”

“I love you too, Grace,” I tell her, smiling affectionately over at her. “Really, I can’t tell you how much having all of you has helped me deal with Ray being away. So, thank you for taking me in.”

“It’s our pleasure, Anastasia,” Carrick says. He winks at me just as Elliot and Kate come up to the table to get a drink. Christian hangs back in the yard with Mia, trying to teach her how to throw a spiral, while Elliot grumbles about when lunch is going to be ready.

“How come you’re not with your parents today?” I ask Kate.

She sighs in a melodramatic kind of way. “They’re in Los Angeles visiting Ethan. Apparently they see me all the time so, since they clearly love him more, they’re spending Father’s Day with him.”

“Yeah that’s it,” Elliot says, rolling his eyes.

“Hey do you want to go shopping tomorrow?” I ask her, as she sits down next to me, looking relieved to be out of the hot June sun.

“For what?”

“There’s a charity ball or something we have to go to on Tuesday. Christian said he invited all of you.”

“Oh yeah,” Kate says, recognition dawning on her face. “I was just going to wear my mom’s couture, but if you want to go shopping, I’m more than happy to go with you.”

I laugh and pick up my tea as the Grey’s staff bring our lunch out to the table. We’re having Italian Chicken, stuffed with mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes and artichokes, and cool summer salad with a strawberry vinaigrette dressing. Grace calls Christian and Mia over to the table and Kate rolls her eyes when Christian kicks her out of the seat next to me so that he can sit down. While the food is being dished out, I sneak another glance down at my phone. Still nothing.

“He’ll call,” Christian assures me, and I give him a small smile as I begin to eat.

“So I was thinking we should plan a family vacation for this summer,” Grace says happily. “We could all go to the house in Montana or maybe spend a week in Catalina?”

“We should go to Hawaii,” Elliot says through a mouthful of food. “Kate’s been talking about wanting to go to an active volcano.”

“I could do Hawaii,” Grace says. “What do you think, Ana? Maybe your parents could join us?”

“I was actually thinking about flying her parents out here on the Fourth of July like we talked about on Friday. I bought a yacht the other day and I’d like take everyone out, so I thought it would be the perfect occasion.”

“Fireworks on international waters?” Elliot chimes in excitedly. “Fuck yeah.”

“Oh my god, Grace,” Kate says, nearly fawning. “You have to see this yacht that he bought. It’s incredible. Like, you’re going to die.”

“Well, I think that sounds wonderful then,” Grace says. “So, just the seven of us for Hawaii then?”

“Six,” Mia says. “I can’t miss dance rehearsals, and there’s no way I can get that much time off work.”

“You can’t stay home alone, Mia. You’re only sixteen. You’ll have to speak with your boss to get some time off to spend with your family.”

“She’s not that understanding,” Mia says and Grace narrows her eyes at her.

“You’ll have to figure something out.”

“You could just pay for Juilliard and I wouldn’t have to,” Mia says bitterly and Carrick turns a sharp glare on her.

“Enough, Mia,” He says and she mashes her lips together in a tight line and stares down at her plate, pushing her salad around with her fork rather that eating it.

“So, when shall we go?” Grace asks, changing the subject. “Maybe the last week in August before Ana and Kate go back to school?”

“Make him plan it,” Elliot says, gesturing to Christian. “He’s the one with the busy schedule.”

Everyone turns to look at Christian and I, but he leaves it up to me. “Do you want to go to Hawaii?” He asks.

“Can we? A week off is a lot of time to be away from a two and a half month internship and you couldn’t even make it through one day off on your birthday.”

“I’ll make it work. Boeing says my jet will be ready by the June 28th so we’ll have it available to us. We could maybe just take a long weekend, instead of a whole week.”

“You’re the boss,” I shrug. He frowns at my dismissive reaction but turns to his mother and nods.

“Excellent,” She chirps happily. “Well, should we do presents?”

“I’ll get them,” Mia says, standing from the table and disappearing into the house. She returns a few seconds later, two wrapped packages and Christian’s gift bag in her hands.

“Thank you, Princess,” Carrick says, smiling at her as she takes the packages. “Should I open yours first?”

“Sure, but you know what it is,” She says, smiling coyly at him and he shakes his head, takes a deep breath and peels back the dark blue wrapping paper. It’s a tie… an, interesting tie. Light blue and covered in tiny pictures of different kinds of cartoon sushi. I give an awkward sideways glance to Mia, wondering what she was thinking and hoping her feelings won’t be crushed when he looks down at it with the grimace it deserves, but, to my surprise, Carrick laughs.

“This great, Mia. I think this is the best one yet. People are going to love it at the LSA convention next spring.”

Mia smiles broadly, clearly pleased with herself but I’m just confused until Christian leans over and explains.

“She gets him an ugly tie every year. It’s a tradition. He thinks they’re funny.”

“Oh,” I say, relieved. I thought I was going crazy for a minute.

Next Carrick picks up the package I assume must be from Elliot and when he rips away the paper, his reaction is what I would have expected for Mia’s gift.

“It’s a sonar for your fishing boat,” Elliot explains.

“I know what it is,” Carrick says. “But I already have one.”

“Yeah…” Elliot says, drawing out the word. “I may have broken that last week when Kate and I took the boat down the lake.”

Carrick narrows his eyes at him. “Then you can install this one.”

“That’s a deal,” Elliot says and Carrick sighs as he picks up Christian’s gift bag, reaches inside and pulls out a rectangular, green box.

“No…” Carrick says, shocked as he looks down at it.

“Open it,” Christian encourages him and Carrick’s eyes widen as he opens the hinged lid and finds a platinum colored watch inside with the word Rolex printed across the black face.

“Christian…” Carrick says, breathless as he stares down at the watch with disbelief. “I can’t… this is too much.”

“No,” Christian says, shaking his head. “It’s what I wanted you to have. I know you’ve always wanted one.”

Carrick’s face breaks into a wide smile as he pulls the thick links of the watch out of their velvet casing and slips it onto his wrist. There is a buzz of excitement around the table as everyone takes a closer look at the inordinately expensive watch and Carrick sits there, speechless.

“Way to make us look bad, asshole,” Elliot says, punching Christian in the arm, but Christian just smirks back at him.

“Wait there’s a card,” Carrick says, pulling a long envelope out of the bag and Christian tenses next to me.

“Uh, you… you should read that later,” He says and as Carrick raises an eyebrow at him, Grace waves a hand dismissively at Christian.

“Oh nonsense. Go on, Carrick. What does it say?” She asks.

Carrick peels back the flap on the envelope and pulls out a letter folded neatly inside. As he begins to read the words silently to himself, I feel Christian slump back into his chair, clearly embarrassed. Carrick’s brow furrows as he continues reading through the letter and then his entire face softens. I watch him lift his hand and place his fingers over his mouth, and as he finishes the letter, I think there are tears welling in his eyes.

“Come here, Christian,” Carrick says, pushing away from the table so that he can stand and Christian gets to his feet and walks to his father, who wraps him in a tight hug.

“I love you, Son,” I hear him say in a low voice. “I always have, okay? And I always will.”

“I love you too, Dad,” Christian says and when Carrick releases him, I hear Grace gasp through her teeth and she covers her mouth to hide the fact that she’s crying.

“Mom,” Christian says disapprovingly, but she waves him away.

“This is just… this is everything that I’ve wanted,” She says, her voice weak. She reaches over and squeezes my hand. I squeeze back but feel a little awkward because I know that the gesture is a silent thank you for bringing Christian back to his family, but after what happened on Friday, I don’t know that I’ve done anything…

Good days and bad days.

“Alright, alright,” Elliot says, as he also stands from the table. “Enough of this mush fest. It’s a beautiful day, let’s play some ball.”

“Yes,” Christian agrees, clearly eager to move the attention off of him and Carrick. “Want to play another round, Meems?”

“Sure,” Mia says, picking up the napkin off her lap and throwing it onto her only half empty plate.

“I think I’ll play too,” Carrick says. “It’s been awhile since I’ve played out back with my kids.”

“Wanna play?” Christian asks, looking down at me. “Looks like we’re going to need a third.”

“My dad still hasn’t called,” I say, shaking my head and yet again, checking my phone.

“He might not call all afternoon,” Carrick says, “I’d hate for you to sit here all day and then not hear from him until tonight. We can take a timeout if he calls, bring your phone with you.”

“Yeah,” Elliot agrees. “Besides, I know what this is really about, and don’t worry, Ana. You can be on my team so you don’t have to lose with your boyfriend.”

I glare at him. “I saw you throw earlier, Elliot. I’ll take my chances with Christian.”

“Game on then, Steele,” He says with a challenging smile. He tosses the football at me and I catch it, roll my eyes, and get out of my chair to follow them out onto the sloping lawn.

The next thirty minutes are grueling. Mia isn’t much help as a teammate since she’s not very big and she’s too concerned about injury to do any of the physical contact work. It’s not rare for me to look over in the middle of the play and see her texting. Christian does the best he can with Kate and Carrick blitzing him on every down and I have difficulty getting open down field as Elliot seems to have made it his sole mission in life to tackle me to the ground as many times as he can.

“Give up yet?” He asks, as he rolls off of me for probably the tenth time and I groan.

“Ease up, Elliot,” Christian warns him and Elliot hold up his hands, innocently agreeing, but then shooting me a sly, not in a million years kind of look. I shake my head and walk back to the huddle with Christian and Mia.

“You’ve got to get open, Mia,” Christian says. “Ana’s getting creamed out there.”

“Yeah, Ana doesn’t have a dance recital coming up. I can’t risk an ankle or a knee injury.” She argues.

“Maybe I should take wide receiver,” Christian suggests but I shake my head.

“I can get away,” I assure him. “Have Mia hike the ball to you in the shotgun so you can buy me a few seconds to get down field. I’ll run a left out, and get out of bounds at the first down.”

Christian’s face shifts as he looks down at me with interest. “You’re so sexy when you talk football to me,” He says and he leans down and kisses me.

“Huddles are only forty seconds long,” Elliot calls over to us, “There’s no kissing in football.”

“Prude,” Christian says, standing up and shooting a pointed look at his brother before we line up on the line to put my play into action. Christian calls for Mia to hike the ball and I take off, running straight at Elliot, who sets himself firmly in my path like he expects me to barrel into him, but then stop at the last second and make a quick cut left. Elliot stumbles as he tries to run after me, so I turn towards Christian, just in time for the ball to land in my hands.

I run as quickly as I can, but Elliot is faster than me so once I’m sure I’m past the first down line, I step out of bounds to avoid him. He doesn’t stop when I do though, so I scream and begin to run again.

“She’s out of bounds, Elliot!” Christian calls after him.

“I don’t see a line!” Elliot shouts back, laughing evilly and I scream and run across the yard, stopping only when I get to the pool and can’t go any further. Shit, dead end.

I turn and see him stalking up behind me, trying to be stealthy and my eyes widen. “Elliot…” I say in a warning tone but he grins wickedly at me.

“You’ve made a horrible mistake, Ana,” He says and he charges again, hooking me around the waist as he dives past me.”

“No! No! No! No!” I scream, but it’s too late. His arm wraps around me, I fall backwards and with a spectacular splash, I fall into the chilly water. When I surface, I can hear both Kate and Christian yelling my name, but I’m too panicked to reassure them I’m okay. Oh no…

“My phone!” I scream, reaching down and feeling my pockets. It isn’t there and for a brief, wonderful second, I think maybe it had fallen out when I was running across the lawn. That hope comes crashing and burning to the ground though when I look down and see the small, rectangular outline of my iPhone resting on the bottom of the pool below me.

Sucking in a deep breath, I dive for it, my fingers wrapping around the glass a few seconds later, and then I kick off the bottom and scramble out of the pool. I begin pressing the round home button frantically, praying the screen lights up, but it doesn’t. It’s black. Completely dead.

“No!” I howl, as I feel tears begin to choke their way up my throat. Christian runs up behind me and looks down at the black screen of the phone in my hands which I am still hopelessly trying to turn back on.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He screams down at Elliot, but Elliot just bobs in the pool, staring up at me with shock. His face is completely ashen.

“What do I do?” I ask through my tears as I look up at Christian.

“Can we forward her calls to my phone or your phone?” Kate asks.

“We’d have to do that from her phone,” Christian says, shaking his head. “Fuck.”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his own, perfectly functional iPhone, and then puts it to his ear.

“Taylor,” He barks a second later. “I need a phone, now. I don’t care what it is, but it needs to have Anastasia’s SIM card in it. Yes. Which store? Good, I’ll call ahead and make sure you don’t have any problems. Hurry, Taylor.”

He hangs up and then wraps me in his arms as I sob and continue to try and coax my phone back to life, praying for some kind of miracle.

“Ana, I’m so sorry,” Elliot says as he climbs out of the pool. “I wasn’t thinking. I-I’m so sorry. So, so, so, so sorry.”

His apology rakes on me, just reaffirming that what’s happening is real and it tears me apart. The tears burst out of me more fiercely and Christian wraps me tighter in his arms, trying to calm me down.

“That’s not helping, Elliot,” He snaps.

“Let’s get her back up to the house,” Kate says. “She’s soaking. We need to get her a towel.”

It’s torture sitting on the Grey’s back porch wrapped in an oversized beach towel, even though the hot sun has me mostly dry after only a few minutes,and staring down at my lifeless phone, praying Ray hasn’t called while we wait for Taylor to get here. Christian’s family sits around the table, trying to make small talk but they’re only ever able to get a few words out at a time before whoever is speaking inevitably looks nervously over at me, like I’m a dangerous snake that could strike at any second. Elliot sits in the chair farthest away from me, staring at me the whole time, and looking so guilt ridden that, if I wasn’t so panicked right now, it would break my heart.

Christian’s phone buzzes on the table and he snatches it up so quickly, he almost dumps Kate’s iced tea onto her lap. “Taylor,” He answers sharply, listens for a second, and then hangs up without another word. “He’s here.”

I launch myself out of my chair and sprint after Christian into the house. We make it to the entrance hall just as Taylor steps through the front door. He immediately holds the new phone out to me and I take it, holding down the buttons simultaneously as the apple icon appears, taking its sweet time to boot up. My heart is racing as I watch the pre-programmed apps pop up on the home screen and then everything feels as though it comes crashing down around me when a notification pops up that I have a new voicemail.

“Oh no,” I breathe, I feel Christian’s hands wrap around my upper arms, trying to comfort me. He doesn’t say anything and I think that’s because he knows there’s nothing he can say right now.

“Ana…” Elliot says, in a hollow voice. “I am so, so, sorry. Can we do something? Can we call someone? How do we make this right?”

“We can’t,” I tell him, shaking my head. “He’s not on a base. This was a… a one shot deal kind of thing.”

“Oh, Ana,” Kate says, wrapping her arms around me as I start to cry again.

“We’ll put together a care package to send to him,” Grace says. “Maybe we can even make a video of you so he can see you. We can bake and get some of his favorite things that he’s been missing.”

I nod as Christian takes me out of Kate’s arms and leads me back into the living room. Grace heads back into the kitchen to get pie, hoping dessert will cheer me up, and I sit down on the couch and call my voicemail to listen to my Dad’s message. My gut clenches when I hear his voice, the disappointment in having to talk to my voicemail ringing clear in each word.

“Hey, kiddo. It’s Dad. I’m sorry I missed you. I uh, I hope you’re having just the best summer that you can. It’s your last one and I want you to enjoy yourself before you have to get a job and start going to work every day. I can’t believe I just said that… Your last summer vacation. I really just don’t know where all the time has gone. Sometimes, I still think of you as a little girl running around the backyard in your Princess Belle dress and catching frogs to scare your mom with. I’m so thankful for those memories. I know I didn’t help make you, but I can’t tell you what an honor it’s been watching you grow up and how much I’ve loved being your dad. I’ve been thinking about that a lot today. I love you with all of my heart baby girl and I am so proud of you. You are my life’s single greatest accomplishment and I want you to know that. I miss you, Annie. I think about you every day. Write me real soon. I love you. Bye.”

Tears bubble up inside of me again. Christian puts his arm around me and I lean over onto his chest, trying to get ahold of myself. I know this is making Elliot feel terrible and it was accident, I know that, so I need to get myself under control. If I want to cry later, I can do it at home.

“Can I get you something, Ana?” Elliot asks, when I’m finally able to stop my sobbing.

“No. Thanks, Elliot,” I say, shakily.

“Ana, I’m sorry,” He tells me again, but I shake my head.

“It was an accident. I know that. It’s okay, Elliot. I’ll write him a letter tonight explaining what happened and we can send a package. He’ll like that. I’ll even put extra cookies in for him to share with his buddies. I’m sure that will make him popular, at least for a day.”

“If I can do anything…” He tells me.

“I’ll let you know.”

Elliot gives me a sad smile and then Grace reaches over for my hand. I glance over at her, aiming for gratefulness, but I’m not sure if I succeed. It’s not that I don’t feel that way. In many ways, the Grey’s have been my family while Ray has been gone and the concern and the love, and the understanding I see in every one of their eyes right now, reaffirms that. Today is supposed to be about Carrick. I need put on a brave face.

“This is silly,” I say, sitting up and shifting Christian’s arm off of me. “We’re supposed to be celebrating. What should we do?”

I turn to look at Carrick, implying he should be the one to choose and he looks back uneasily at me for a moment before glancing to each of his family members in turn.

“Uh… we have the Wii hooked up down here. We could have a bowling tournament,” He suggests.

“Another opportunity for Elliot to lose?” Mia smirks. “Sounds good to me.”

Elliot glares at her. “Alright, start it up. Looks like I need to remind you fools who you’re dealing with here.”

Kate laughs and then follows Mia to the cabinet and helps her hook the cables up to the huge flat screen TV hanging on the wall while Christian, Elliot, and I move furniture out of the way.

The games turns viciously competitive far too quickly as Christian and Grace bowl two perfect first rounds with Kate and Mia both only a few pins behind them. Carrick and I are too busy laughing at Elliot who remains firmly in last place and gets more and more frustrated each time his turn comes around, to focus too much on catching up to Christian and Grace.

“This thing is broken,” Elliot hisses when he throws another gutter ball.

“Not as broken as your face,” Mia throws back at him.

“I’m going to break your face if you keep giving me lip, little girl,” Elliot threatens and Grace smacks him with one of the couch pillows.

“That’s enough,” She scolds both of them. “Whose turn is it?”

“Mine,” Kate says, jumping up. “Prepare to lose, Christian Grey.”

“Oh, yes, please, show me how it’s done, Kate,” He says sarcastically but she ignores his tone as she turns back for the TV. There is a low buzzing on the coffee table and I look down to Christian’s phone, the good mood I’d managed to build back up since the phone call disaster wiped out in an instant when I see Elena Lincoln’s name flash across the screen.

“Strike!” Kate yells excitedly, turning around for the expected congratulations of everyone in the room, but we’re all staring at Christian. He reaches over to pick up the phone, and I take in a deep breath to steady myself and hold back the torrent of emotion I can feel brewing inside of me, but he doesn’t answer it. He rejects the call, turns his phone completely off, and then tucks it back into his pocket. I exhale a little and feel the corners of my mouth curl into a small, thankful smile. He squeezes my hand and then groans a little as he gets off the couch.

“Alright, Kavanagh,” He says as he snatches the WiiMote out of Kate’s hand. “You put up a good fight, but I’m gonna go ahead and put this game away.”

Christian is quiet as we ride the elevator up to our apartment later that night, the fingers of his left hand entwined with those on my right, and each of us holding onto tupperware containers of food Grace insisted we take home with us. I’m not really sure the reasoning behind his sudden reticence, it’s weird after the great day we’ve had with his family, and so it has me worried.

“That was fun,” I say, trying to encourage him to speak. He nods but his eyes don’t move away from the numbers ticking steadily higher over the elevator doors. “Are you thinking about work?” I try again.

“No,” He says at last, but he doesn’t elaborate further. I frown, but decide to give him a little more time before I try again. Before we reach the 22nd floor though, he squeezes my fingers and turns to look down at me.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to talk to your dad today,” He says regretfully. “I wish there was something I could do.”

“I know,” I reply. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault. These kind of things happen. I’ll do what your mom suggested and make him a video. He’ll like that.”

He nods again as the elevator doors slide open and we step into the entryway. To my surprise, Taylor is standing in the foyer, waiting for us.

“Good evening, Mr. Grey. Miss Steele,” He says, formally. “Did you enjoy your evening?”

“Yes,” Christian replies, but his voice is short now. “But I’d like to see you in my office, Taylor.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds and he turns around and walks purposefully towards Christian’s office.

“Christian…” I say hesitantly. “Don’t yell at him. It’s not his fault I missed the call. He did everything he could.”

“Put these in the fridge for me,” He replies, handing me the tupperware in his hand and completely ignoring my request. “This shouldn’t take long. I’ll be in to get in bed with you in a minute.”

He leans down and presses his lips chastely against my cheek and then releases my hand and follows after Taylor. I watch him go, feeling a little guilty as I imagine the lecture it seems Taylor is in for, but do as he asks and take the leftovers from the Grey’s to put away in the fridge. It is getting fairly late and I know my day off on Friday has left me with a ton of work to do tomorrow, so I get myself a glass of water and walk back towards the bedroom, pausing for a second to glance at the light streaming into the back hallway from under the door of Christian’s office, and then head off to bed.

Next Chapter

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