“Get your hands off of her, you evil, vile bitch!” I scream as I cross the street into the alley, and both Elena and Mia turn to look in my direction. They both stare at me, frozen, but Elena’s hand doesn’t move away from Mia’s arm. I lunge at her, intent on slowly tearing her limb from limb, but I’m halted very suddenly in mid air by Taylor’s arm wrapping around my middle and pulling me back so that he can hold me firmly against him, keeping me away from her. Elena’s eyes widen with shock as she realizes it’s me. Her mouth falls open and several incoherent sounds bubble out of her. While Taylor subdues my anemic attempts against his hold, my eyes shift to Mia. Her cheeks are red and wet, her eyes are puffy from the tears still leaking down her face.
“Let me go!” I protest, but Taylor’s grip doesn’t slacken.
“Miss Steele, calm down. Please,” He says, and the subtle note of pleading beneath his tone breaks through the blinding fury, which has colored my vision red, just enough that I’m able to regain control of myself and remember our situation.
“Anastasia,” Elena says, clearly shocked and definitely not pleased to see me standing outside of her bar. “What are you doing here?”
I want to scream at her. I want to tell her what I know and promise her complete and utter destruction. I want to vividly and graphically describe to her all the things that I know Christian will do to her when he finds out what she’s doing. But thankfully, a small, rational part of my brain holds me back. I don’t know what our next move is from here, but whatever it is, I know it’s better if Elena doesn’t know we’re onto her for as long as possible. I don’t want to ruin everything just for an unnecessary throw-down with the bitch troll, no matter how satisfying it may be. Besides, right now, the priority needs to be to get Mia out of here as quickly as possible, and to get Elena’s hands off of her.
“We’re looking for, Mia,” I reply, coldly. “Now. Let. Her. Go.” Each of my words is a hard staccato as I glare into her cold, blue eyes.
Her jaw tightens at the implied threat in my voice, but she does as I ask. Her hand falls to her side and, once she’s free, Mia immediately runs to me. Taylor’s arms unwind from around my middle so that I can hold onto Mia and pull her quickly away from Elena. There is an unexpected movement in the darkness next to me, and when I turn towards it, I see Luke standing there, ready to grab onto both of us and bolt. As Mia melts into my arms, clinging onto me as though her life depended on it, both Luke and Taylor step forward to place themselves between us and Elena, and her gaze ices over as she stares at me between their broad shoulders.
“Anastasia, I can explain,” She says quickly. “I was just driving by and I saw…”
“I don’t want to hear it,” I snap, interrupting her. “Fuck off, Elena.”
I tighten my grip on Mia, pulling her up so that she’s supporting her own weight and we turn back towards Taylor’s car parked on the other side of the street. Elena calls out to me again, a note of panic in her voice as we walk away from her, but I ignore it. She’s going to be onto us now. She probably assumes Mia will tell us everything we already know, so I need to get back to Christian as quickly as possible, and I need to get the shaking girl in my arms back to the safety of her home.
“M-my car,” Mia protests.
“Don’t worry, we’ll come back for it, Miss Grey,” Taylor says. “You shouldn’t drive right now.”
“You’re staying with me,” I tell her as I open the back door of Taylor’s car. Once she’s inside, I climb in after her and she buries her face into me once more. I hug her tightly, rubbing my hand over her back soothingly as Taylor gets into the driver’s seat, and once he’s closed his door behind him, he makes eye contact with me in the rearview mirror.
“Should I call Mr. Grey and have him meet us at Escala, Miss Steele?” He asks.
“No,” I shake my head. “Let’s take her home. Christian is there and she needs to be surrounded by family right now.”
He nods and pulls away from the curb. I see Luke’s headlights cutting through the empty darkness down the street, and then turn to follow us, which makes me feel better. I don’t expect Elena to come after us, but until I’m back in Christian’s sight, I want as much security around as possible.
“Ana, it wasn’t.. It wasn’t…” Mia begins stuttering through her tears. “I’m not doing drugs.”
“I know,” I assure her. “We know what that bar really is.”
“Yes,” I nod. “Mia, what were you thinking? How did this happen?”
She looks at me, eyes glistening, until her face crinkles and she devolves into tears once more. I try to get her to answer me as we merge onto the I-90 East towards Bellevue, but whatever has happened tonight has her really rattled. She can’t get more than a few words out at a time so I decide the best thing I can do is to just hold her and try to comfort her and calm her down enough so that when we do get home, she can explain what happened to Christian and her parents.
“You ready?” I ask her gently once we stop outside of the Grey’s house, but she shakes her head.
“They’re going to kill me, Ana,” She says. “What if they kick me out? What if they turn me away like they did to Christian? I’m not like him. I don’t have a big company to get me through. I don’t have anywhere to go…”
“Mia, of course you do,” I assure her. “You have me and Christian, and you have Elliot. We would never leave you on your own, but your parents aren’t going to turn you away. I promise you. We all love you, and we’re all here for you. No matter what.”
She takes a deep breath and then nods, so I wrap my hand around hers and we climb out of the back seat of the car. She’s trembling slightly as we make our way up the walk, but it’s nothing compared the violent shudder that rakes over her when we get inside and hear the hurricane that is Christian Grey roar from the other room.
“Mia!” He yells, as he storms into the entrance hall. “Where the fuck have you b-” His voice cut off when he gets a look at Mia, and when she sees him, she instantly starts crying again. Christian closes the distance between us in only three or four long strides, and then pulls Mia into him, holding her tightly into his chest as she once again loses her ability to remain upright and crumples in his arms. He sinks down to the floor, cradling his nearly hysteric little sister, and then looks up to me with a mixture of confusion and pain. I stare back at him, unsure of what to say. It’s in this moment that I realize, as damning the evidence we have against Elena is, once he knows, it’s going to gut him.
Suddenly, I don’t want to be the one who has to tell him. I want to protect him, and reassure him, but there’s nothing I can say that can make this okay. I take a deep breath and brace myself for the pain that’s about to come.
“Mia, what’s the matter? What happened?” He asks, and she lets out two, loud sobs.
“Wh-where’s Mom an-n-d Dad?” She cries.
“They’re out driving through the streets looking for you,” Christian says. “Elliot and Kate have been stopping by each of your friends’ houses… Talk to me. What’s going on?”
He looks up at me again, expecting me to answer, because he probably knows that his sister can’t right now, but before I start, I turn to Taylor.
“Call the Greys and have them come back here,” I ask him, and he nods and then disappears back out the front door.
“What’s going on, Ana?” Christian asks again. I take a deep breath and then sit down on the floor next to him.
“There’s something you need to know…” I begin hesitantly, and his face morphs from confusion to trepidation.
“What?” He asks, as though he actually doesn’t really want to know the answer.
“Remember when I told you that Luke was looking into Elena?”
“Well, tonight, he found something. Taylor and I met him down in Beacon Hill and we found out that Elena has been running an underground BDSM club where men come and pay her to have sex with submissives that work for her.”
“It’s more than just that…” Mia interrupts me and as I turn to look at her, her hand flies up to her mouth and her eyes widen with panic.
“What do you mean?” Christian asks, but she shakes her head.
“Nothing. I can’t say anymore,” Mia says, and Christian turns to look at me, his brow furrowed, but I shrug and shake my head to tell him that I don’t know what she’s talking about either.
“Mia, I’m your brother and I love you. You can tell me anything,” Christian assures her. “I won’t be angry with you, I promise.”
“No, I can’t tell you,” She says. “I signed an NDA.”
“What do you mean you signed an NDA? Who gave you an NDA?” He asks.
“Elena Lincoln…” She answers weakly and all of the color drains out of his face.
“What did she do to you?” He asks, all the strength from his voice gone, but Mia just continues to cry into his t-shirt.
“I can’t tell you,” She says. Christian grabs onto her arms and pulls her back so he can look into her eyes.
“You can tell me, Mia. You’re sixteen years old, a minor, which means you can’t enter into a legal contract with anyone. Even if our parents signed, you couldn’t be held to an NDA. She can’t do anything to you if you tell me, so tell me. You have to tell me.”
“What?” Mia asks, clearly confused now. “But… but she told me that if I said anything, I could go to jail and she would sue my parents.”
“Of course she told you that,” Christian says angrily. “But she lied. Trust me, Mia. I deal with non-disclosure agreements every day. I know the rules, and I know the limitations. A sixteen year old cannot sign a legal contract. So, tell me what she did.”
Mia’s face scrunches together, not with tortured sorrow this time, but with anger. Her eyes dart back and forth as she processes what Christian has just said. I watch her mouth snap closed, her lips pressing together in a tight line, and when she does look up at Christian again, there is new determination behind her eyes.
“Ana’s right,” She says firmly. “Well, mostly right. She owns a club where dominants come and pay to have sex with submissives, but there’s more to it than that. There are also a few dominants who work there, two men and one woman, who perform services for people who want to be submissive. They teach people too, people who want to learn about the lifestyle.”
“I don’t understand. How do you know this? Why would she tell you any of this?” Christian asks, but Mia shakes her head.
“She didn’t. I’ve seen it. I work there,” She admits and immediately, Christian’s jaw tenses.
“What do you mean, you work there?” He asks, and I can’t tell if it’s anger or fear that is making his voice shake.
“At the beginning of the summer, Mom made me get a job. I was mad about it at first, but after I thought about it, I realized that if I worked, I might be able to save enough money to go to Juilliard without Dad paying my way. So, I got a job waiting tables at a restaurant, and it was fine, but it didn’t take me long to work out the math and realize that there was no way for me to get even close to the amount of money I would need. Even just for my first year’s tuition. I was only making $7 an hour and tips… Then, about a week after I started working there, Elena came in.”
“Into the restaurant?” I clarify, and Mia nods.
“She asked me what I was doing there and I told her. I told her that my Dad wouldn’t pay for any other school but Harvard and she was… understanding. She was nice to me. She agreed with me that I’d never make enough money waiting tables and then told me to come over to her house after I got off that night and she would see what she could do to help me. She gave money to Christian, I thought she would just give me money too… but she didn’t.”
“What did she do?” Christian asks, and his voice is so weak, it sounds like an echo.
“Well, first, she told me that she missed me. She said she missed all of us and she wished that she could find a way to have a relationship with our parents again so she could see Elliot and I, as well as you. She talked to me a lot about how unfair our parents were and how it was clear that they didn’t support their children. She told me all the ways they tried to hold you back, and that now they were doing the same to me. She said she wanted to see me achieve my dreams, and that she could help me accomplish that, the way she’d helped you accomplish yours… And then she asked if I could keep a secret. I told her that I could and then she told me she ran a business where I could make a lot of money in a really short amount of time. I knew about the salons, I thought that she meant the salons… but when she gave me the address for where she wanted me to meet her the next day, it wasn’t a salon. It was a bar.”
Christian looks at me, and I nod, but we both quickly turn our attention back to Mia as she continues.
“She took me into an office and, after I signed the NDA, she explained to me what BDSM was and how it had helped her and how it had helped you. Then she told me about the club in basement and how many girls it had helped who worked there. She said it could help me too. Not just to help me pay for Juilliard, but it could make me a better dancer by showing me how to control my body. She said it would strengthen me, help my endurance, my flexibility, and my tolerance for pain.”
“Mia…” Christian says, his voice fearful as he braces himself for what Mia is about to tell him, but she shakes her head.
“I told her no,” She says. “I told her that I… I’m still a virgin and that’s not how I wanted to… well, you know. I didn’t want to do it.”
I see Christian visibly relax as it seems Mia has eased his worst fear, but I saw her in the alley tonight, I heard what Elena said to her. I know there’s more…
“She told me she’d find me something else to do, that I wouldn’t have to have sex with anyone, but that if I helped out, she’d pay me $500 a week. She said she just wanted to help me. I agreed, and she told me to come back the next day. I’ve been working there ever since.”
Okay… now I’m the one confused. “What do you mean by working?” I ask.
“I was hostess mostly. When the men came in, I would take their coats and drink order and then I’d take them in to see Elena so that she could explain the rules of the club and introduce them to the girls. I’d go to the store to get things for the girls since they couldn’t leave during business hours. I’d clean the rooms when they were… uh, finished. It wasn’t a great job, but Elena paid me every week and I was saving a lot of money for school. Then, a few weeks after I started, a guy came in and saw me, and he started asking about me. He liked me, and he wanted me. At first, Elena was on my side. She told him I wasn’t an option, but about two weeks ago, she started pressuring me to do it. She told me that I could make more money. I’d start at $2000 a week, instead of $500, but I told her I wasn’t interested. She said the guy was a very important customer, that it was important for us to make him happy, but I told her I wouldn’t do it. Then Elena started getting mad at me. She would yell at me and call me ungrateful. Every time I would come into work, she would call me into her office to ask if I’d come to my senses yet, but I always said no.”
Her voice starts to break again as tears well in her eyes, but she quickly brushes them aside and continues.
“When I came in tonight, I was late because I had to sneak out. She was already mad at me for missing work last weekend when you came and took me to the yacht and, obviously, because I wasn’t doing what she wanted me to do. I half expected her to fire me, but instead, when I got in, she just told me to go clean the back room. I went back there, and… he was there waiting for me. He had rope in his hands and the second I got through the door, he grabbed me. There’s this bed in the room. It’s flat and it has a leather mattress, like a long couch cushion, and there’s a frame built around it with these big, gold rings for the rope. That’s where he was taking me, but I fought him. He kept telling me to submit, over and over again. He just kept saying, “Submit to me, Amelia”, but I wouldn’t. When we got to the bed, I put my feet against the frame and shoved back into him, twisted in his arms so I could break free from his hold. It took me a minute, but when I was able to turn around in his arms so that I was facing him, I bit him, and he let me go. I ran, and he tried to grab me again, but I got out. Elena saw me and she came after me, but I got outside and that’s when Ana found me.”
She reaches down for the hem along the loose collar of her tank top, which I only now realize looks stretched out as though someone has been tugging on it violently. Her hands move over the fabric in the same way a girl in a horror movie would once she looks down and realizes she’s drenched in blood. It’s like she’s afraid to touch herself.
“I can still smell his cologne on me,” She whimpers.
Christian’s entire body is shaking with anger as Mia starts to cry again. He wraps his arms around her, squeezing her tightly and telling her over and over again that she’s safe now, and that he won’t let anyone hurt her.
“I’m sorry, Mia,” He whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
She pulls away, hurriedly dashing the tears out of her eyes and tries to regain her composure. Once her sobbing has stopped, Christian gently brushes his hand across her face to release the strands of hair caught in the wetness on her cheeks, and the way he looks at her is so… conflicted.
“Why didn’t you come to me?” He asks, and she looks at him confused. “If you wanted money for school this badly, why did you go to Elena instead of me?”
“I tried,” She sniffs. “I told you I wanted to go but that Dad wanted me to go to Harvard so he wouldn’t pay for it, and you said you thought Harvard would be good for me.”
“I did think Harvard would be good for you, I still do. But if your dream is Juilliard, I’ll pay for you to go to Juilliard, Mia. I wouldn’t deny you anything. I want for you whatever it is that will make you happy.”
“You do?” She asks, “You’ll… you’ll give me the money?”
“Of course, I will,” He whispers and she throws her arms around his neck and starts crying again, thanking him over and over again. He hugs her tightly, trying to calm her, and then looks up at me expectantly.
“What were you doing down there? Why didn’t you come straight here once Sawyer called you?”
“We needed evidence. Luke said everything he had as proof could disappear, so we went down there so Taylor could get inside and find something concrete.” I tell him. “I was in the car down the street with Luke, while he hacked into Elena’s security system so that we could keep Taylor from being seen.”
“And what did Taylor find?” Christian asks.
“A lot,” I tell him. “This is why her salons are so profitable, Christian. She’s been laundering the profits of this illegal underground prostitution ring through Esclava. Taylor found hundreds of transactions between the BDSM club and the salons on her computer. He downloaded everything, he got video of the interior of the club… We have proof. We can send her to prison.”
He looks down at Mia, who, right now, looks small and fragile in his arms. Her eyes are swollen from all the crying and her cheeks are bright red and stained by the tracks from her tears. She looks so broken and the look of pain and anger behind Christian’s eyes as he stares down at his baby sister, the knowledge of what almost happened to her working through his mind, is heartbreaking.
I jump slightly at the sound of the door opening behind me and then Grace’s anguish filled cry fills the hall around us as her shoes clack against the stone floor.
“Mia!” She shrieks, holding her arms out for her daughter. “Oh thank god, you’re alright.”
Christian lifts her so that his mother can pull her into her lap and, as he peels himself off the floor, I can see his body trembling with rage.
“Where was she? Carrick asks, coming up behind me and putting his hand on my shoulder.
“She was with Elena,” Christian replies in a cold, flat voice that is almost a little scary. I can feel Carrick’s body seize next to me, and Grace’s mouth pops open with shock, her arms instinctively tightening around Mia, as she turns to look at us.
“What?” She asks, her voice raising an octave. “What do you mean she was with Elena?”
“I mean, that she’s been…” Christian begins, but he stops when the door opens again and Elliot bursts through, looking slightly panicked as his eyes scan the room. That fear melts away though, once his eyes fall on Grace and Mia on the floor, and he rushes forward to hug his sister.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” He asks, though the anger in his voice is overpowered by the profound sense of relief. “You scared us half to death.”
Mia sniffs, but she hardly acknowledges Elliot as he yanks her off the ground and into his arms. Instead, her almost fearful gaze remains fixed on her father, who is still staring expectantly at Christian.
“What?” Elliot asks, the relief giving way to dread. “What’s happened? What did you take?”
“It’s not drugs,” Christian says at last. “Mia hasn’t gotten mixed up in drugs, she’s gotten mixed up with Elena. She’s spent the summer working in an underground BDSM club that Elena is operating illegally and laundering the profits through Esclava to cover it up. Elena’s been trying to get her into submissive work.”
The room is silent when he finishes speaking and Christian’s hand balls into a fist again as he tries to hold back the anger visibly rippling through him. Grace and Carrick turn back to Mia, who then takes a deep breath and recounts the story again.
“Two,” Carrick breathes when she’s finished, his voice so weak it sounds almost ghostly. He looks as though he’s going to be sick. “Two of my children, and I didn’t…”
“I’m going to kill her,” Christian says. “This is beyond… I’m going to fucking kill her.”
“I’ll go with you,” Elliot says, with more anger than I’ve ever heard from him before, but as he and Christian start to make their way across the entrance hall, Kate steps in their way, holding her hands out in front of her and bracing herself like she expects them to try and barrel through her.
“Stop,” She says, firmly. “What are you going to do? Go down there and beat her up? All you’re going to accomplish is getting yourselves thrown in jail for assault while those poor girls who didn’t have Taylor and Ana show up to rescue them tonight remain stuck where they are.”
“It’ll be hard to keep her business going when she’s dead,” Elliot spits viciously. “She tried to help a man force my sixteen year old sister to have bondage sex with him tonight, Kate. What the fuck else am I supposed to do?”
“Well, for starters, has anyone called the police?” She asks, and everyone turns their gaze to me.
“No,” I shake my head. “Once I saw Mia… I didn’t think about it. All I could think about was getting her away as quickly as possible, and getting the evidence we had back to Christian.”
“What evidence did you get?” Carrick asks.
“Uh… Taylor said he downloaded her entire book of business off her computer, so he got proof of the money laundering and the connection to Escala. He was wearing a body cam when he went in so he has video of everything he saw inside, but I don’t know exactly what that was.”
“So we call the police, right?” Kate asks, but Carrick holds up a hand to silence her, his eyes darting back and forth as though he’s trying to work though something complicated in his mind.
“Carrick?” Grace pushes him.
“Give me a second,” He says, quickly. “I need to think.”
“About what?” Elliot asks, a disgusted note in his tone. “What could there possibly be to think about? We have proof of what she’s doing, Christian still owns Esclava so he has access to whatever shady dealings she’s been doing through the salons, let’s take this bitch down.”
“Elliot, that’s the problem. Christian owns Esclava,” Carrick says, and when everyone looks at him with confusion, he takes a breath and continues. “Look, nobody here wants justice for what that monster has done to my children more than I do, but in this case, justice for Mia will mean consequences for Christian. Serious, legal consequences.”
“What do you mean?” Grace asks.
“She’s laundering money from an illegal prostitution ring into a business that Christian owns, and the profits from that business are funneled directly into GEH. He’s the responsible fiduciary for Esclava, and it’s his name on everything. Not Elena’s. I’ve seen the financial records from the salons, I’ve been looking at nothing else for days trying to prepare for this sale… Just a few weeks ago, Christian used cash reserves from the salons to do an overhaul of his security system, which means that illegal funds have now touched and benefited every department in his company.”
“So what does that mean?” I ask.
“It could mean a lot of things. But GEH is a fast growing company that made a lot of money very quickly. It’s going to call his entire business model into question and he’s going to face inquires from the state as well the Federal Trade Commission, the IRS… maybe even the FBI.”
“Okay,” Christian says, staring into the open space in front of him and nodding slightly as he works through what his father has said. “So, what would I be looking at as a result of those investigations?”
“It depends on whether or not they want to make an example out of you. For a company of your size and revenue margin, I’d say best case scenario, if their investigations don’t find cause to shut you down entirely, you’re only on the hook for a few million dollars in fines. Depending of course how much money has actually gone through Esclava.”
“That’s best case scenario?” Kate gasps, and Carrick nods.
“And what’s the worst case scenario?” Christian asks.
“The judge finds reason to believe that Christian knew about the club and did so willingly and consciously aid the crime and attempt to cover it up. You’ll be facing money laundering, tax evasion, conspiracy, and sex trafficking. If that is the case, you’ll lose your company, have all of your personal assets seized, and you’ll go to prison for anywhere from ten to… twenty five years.”
“But he’s innocent,” I argue, “He had no idea…”
“Can you prove that?” Carrick asks, and I feel my back stiffen as I hear the confrontation in his tone.
“What do you mean? You don’t actually think he had anything to do with this do you?” I spit back at him.
“No, I don’t. But can you prove beyond a doubt, or give me some kind of concrete evidence that I could present to a judge that Christian knew absolutely nothing about an illegal operation pumping possibly tens of thousands of dollars into his company?”
“I-I..” I stutter, but I don’t know what to say to that. How do you prove someone didn’t know something? A lie detector? I don’t actually think those are admissible in court because they’re so easy to beat.
The room is silent as we all contemplate the implication of what Carrick has told us, trying to find some magical solution… but it’s just not that simple.
“I don’t care what the consequences are,” Christian says, breaking the silence at last. “She’s not getting away with this. Not this time, not again.”
“Are you sure about that?” Carrick asks, raising an eyebrow at his son.
“What do you mean, am I sure? Of course I’m sure.”
“Christian, you’re angry right now. You’re focused on Elena and getting back at her, and I understand that. But what happens when you get a little separation from what has happened and you really get a chance to consider what is at stake? What about Ros?”
“Ros?” Christian asks, like he doesn’t understand the word. “Ros isn’t the fiduciary, I am. I’m sole proprietor and I make this decision, not her.”
“No, she doesn’t have a say, but she’s one of your closest friends, and one of the few people who has remained by your side and never left. She may not be sole proprietor, but GEH is her baby, just like it’s yours, and her entire livelihood. Just like it’s Elliot’s livelihood, and now Ana’s. Are you willing to let them lose it? If this goes badly, and you lose everything, you will be leaving Ana with nothing. There won’t be a skyrise apartment for her to live in while you’re in prison, no money to support her, and she’ll forever be connected to you and this case, which means she could have trouble finding a job. Are you prepared to deal with that?”
Christian’s mouth pops open as though he’s going to protest, but no words come out. He looks down at me, brow furrowed, and a look of tortured uncertainty is set firmly in his eyes. I reach out for his hand, and grip it tightly before turning back to Carrick.
“But what you’re talking about isn’t likely, right?” I ask. “It’s a worst case scenario. You’re the best lawyer money can buy. Surely you can handle this, Carrick.”
“Maybe,” He says. “Maybe not. Honestly, if I was presented this case, and it wasn’t one of my children, I would want to be arguing for the other side. If I was on the other side… I would consider it a lock. If it wasn’t Christian… I don’t even know if I would take it.”
“This isn’t about me,” Christian says, jaw tight. “This is about Mia. This is about doing right by Mia.”
“Do you think justice for Mia is watching her brother carted off to prison for a crime he didn’t commit?” Carrick asks. “To have her family torn apart once again by the conniving, evil schemes of Elena Lincoln?”
“No!” Mia cries. “No, I won’t let that happen. I’ll lie. I’ll say whatever I have to, I don’t care. I’m not going to let Christian go to jail for my mistake. He had nothing to do with this.”
“Nobody wants that,” Elliot says.
“Wait. So, what are we saying here?” I ask. “We can’t do anything? Elena just goes free?”
Carrick puts his hands out in front of him conciliatory. “I’m just saying that whatever decision we make, we should make as a family. If we go forward with this, I need to know that this is what you really want, Christian, and that you’re prepared to face the sentence that may be handed down to you.”
Everyone turns to Christian, waiting for his answer, but he’s staring off into space again, lost in thought.
“I need a minute,” He says, and Carrick nods and then reaches down to help Grace and Mia off the floor so he can lead her and the rest of his family into the back room. I follow after them, but stop when Christian calls my name. He takes my hand and walks with me into the formal living room off the right of the hall where I watched him and Mia playing music over the first Thanksgiving we spent together. That feels like a lifetime ago…
He pulls me down onto the couch, not speaking for several, long moments as he gathers his thoughts.
“What are you thinking about?” I ask him, and he takes a deep breath.
“You,” He says.
“Christian, I shouldn’t be a concern right now. I’ll be fine, this is about you…”
“That’s not what I mean… ” He says, and he turns to me, looking as though someone is about to take him to be executed. “Ana… I wasn’t just going to call you.”
I raise an eyebrow at him, not understanding. “What do you mean?”
“When I was calling you everyday, back in Cambridge, that wasn’t my plan. I was going to do more. I was going to show up at your door and beg your forgiveness. I was going to whisk you away to anywhere in the world you wanted to go and show you again how much I love you and how much I need you. I was going to fight for you. I just wanted to cross the billion dollar mark first. When I came for you, I wanted to be able to prove my worth. I wanted to show you that I could give you anything and everything you could ever desire. That I could give you the world… That’s what a billion dollars meant to me, but instead, this is what it’s gotten me. My sister, Ana… My sixteen year old sister.”
He puts his face in his hands and I wrap my arm over him, pulling him into me. “Christian, this isn’t your fault-“
“I let Elena go,” He disagrees. “She’s walking the streets, because I allowed her to. This business that she’s running is a direct result of my decision. It’s entirely my fault.”
“No, you had no way of knowing that this would happen. You even audited those salons, remember? Even your financial experts didn’t find anything. You did what you did two years ago, but that doesn’t absolve her of the responsibility for what she’s done. This is her fault, Christian.”
“No,” He shakes his head. “Don’t make excuses for me, Ana. This is my fault. And, the real poetic justice is that after everything I’ve been through, after everything I’ve put you through and my family through… I could lose everything I’ve worked for. And I don’t even care. I might even deserve it. I don’t care what happens to me, but if I do lose everything and I go to prison, I leave you with nothing. If that happens, what was the point in any of this?”
“Christian…” I say, feeling my throat thicken as tears well up inside of me at the sight of him so riddled with pain and guilt.
“Ana, I can’t let her get away with this,” He interrupts me. “I can’t let her walk away again. Not after what she’s done to me, to us, to my family, to those innocent girls she has working for her. I can’t let her win again, just to protect myself. I won’t be able to live with myself.”
I swallow the rapidly growing lump in my throat and try to blink back the tears that are welling in my eyes. “Okay,” I say quietly, nodding as if it will somehow strengthen my resolve. “Then we fight it.”
“And if it doesn’t go our way?” He asks.
“It will,” I assure him. “It has to. There is a balance in the world, Christian. Some kind of divine force that allows good to conquer evil and for truth to overcome lies. I believe that, and whether it’s God, or Karma, or a giant flying spaghetti monster, it allows what is right to win over what is wrong, and Elena is wrong. You’re innocent, Christian, and no matter what happens, we’ll find a way to prove that.”
“I don’t want to lose you, Anastasia. I can’t live through that again.”
“You won’t, Christian. I’m not going anywhere. I love you, and that’s never going to change. You are the love of my life, Christian Grey, and if this is what you want, then I’ll be by your side the whole way. You, me, your family… we’re going to figure this out. We’ll protect you, and we’ll help you fight. We’ll do whatever it takes.”
He looks up to me, his gray eyes searching mine, until he takes a deep breath and then nods. He leans over and kisses me gently, his lips lingering for only a second until he pulls away and rests his forehead against mine. His fingers reach down to tangle together with mine and we get up off the couch and walk side by side to join his family in the other room.
They’re all sitting on the sectional in the family room. There are shouts echoing back and forth across the room as they all argue amongst themselves, except for Grace, who sits silently on the sofa with Mia still wrapped in her arms as she gently rocks her back and forth. The raucous noise dies almost instantly though when Kate sees Christian and I enter the room and she directs everyone’s attention to us.
“We’re going to turn her in,” Christian says, and to my surprise, Elliot stands up and shakes his head.
“No,” He says. “No, this is not how we make it right. Dad’s right. Christian going to jail for a crime he didn’t commit is not justice for Mia. There has to be another way.”
“What way?” Kate asks.
“He could just close down the salons,” Carrick suggests. “Don’t sell them, just close the doors and take away her ability to legitimize the money coming into the clubs. It’s very probable that the IRS will catch onto her eventually…”
“Probably? Are we okay with probably?” Kate asks. “And what about the other girls that work there? No one cares about what happens to them in the meantime? This is about more than just, Mia. This is about Elena facing the consequences for everyone she’s hurt. Going to the police and taking her to court is the only way she doesn’t win.”
“We’ll find a different way,” Elliot snaps. “I’ll go over there and take care of her myself if that’s what it takes, but I will not let her rip my family apart again!”
“Why don’t we take a vote?” Carrick suggests. “Find out where everyone stands and try to come to a consensus.”
“No!” Christian says, his voice firm and commanding so that everyone falls silent and turns to face him. “There is no discussion, there is no vote. I’m am going to go into the other room, and I am going to call the police. I’ll file suit first thing in the morning. Dad, you can represent me, or I can find someone else, but either way, I’m not letting her get away with this. I’m not going to wait for the possibility that the IRS might catch her after god only knows how many more years, I am going to ensure that she has to pay for what she’s done, and soon. I’m going to be the one to bring her down, for what she did to me, for what she did to Mia, and for what she’s still doing to every single one of those girls still there. I will fight this with everything I have in me, but to do that, I need your help. All of you.”
We all turn to Carrick, waiting for his reaction because we know that his support is key for the rest of the family. He stares back at Christian, mulling the decision over in his mind until he takes a deep bracing breath, gets up off the couch, and nods.
“Okay then. Call the police. Let’s get started.”