Chapter 36

Image result for a midsummer night's dream fairies ballet

Annie,

I got a care package from your friend Elliot’s family yesterday. His mom (that’s who Grace is, right?) sent a ton of baked goods that have made me a very popular man. We missed a shipment last week and our food situation is not the most appetizing right now, mostly MREs, so being able to pass out muffins and cookies to the guys has really lifted the morale. Be sure to thank her for me, okay?

Katie also put in a letter catching me up on her life, and I really appreciated that. She’s always been such a good friend to you, and I think I’m going to send her a letter to let her know that I’m proud of the woman she’s grown into. I don’t have an address for her, but I can send it to you, right? Are you living with her this summer?

I’ve never met Elliot, but I’m looking forward to doing just that. He seems like a guy I could get along with. He sent me all the details of what’s happened with the ‘Hawks this off season. Why didn’t you tell me we got a new coach?! I mean, Pete Carroll did amazing things at USC but he wasn’t great when he was in the NFL. Can’t be worse than Jim Mora though. 4-12 last season? I still haven’t lived that down with the guys over here… Especially since four of the guys in my squad are Saints fans. It’s been rough… haha. Do me a favor, if you see Hasselbeck while you’re in Seattle, give him a pep-talk for me, okay?

I hope your internship is going well. I was almost floored when you told me all about it on the phone last month, I can’t believe how well you’re doing for yourself. I’ve been bragging about you a little bit (okay, a lot), and I think some of the other guys are a little jealous about how well my daughter is doing. Especially since McCurdy just got a letter from his wife saying his eighteen year old daughter is pregnant so she’s not going to school in the fall. I’m so glad you never got mixed up in anything like that. I worried about it, being from a small town, but you had a level head on your shoulders and focused on getting into Harvard and then dedicated yourself to being the best you can be. You really make me proud, Annie. I’m still holding out hope that I’m going to get back to the States in time to see you accept your degree, although I’m not sure you’ll want me there. Would you get embarrassed by seeing your old man cry in public?

Anyway, I wrote to tell you that things are getting a little rough over here. It was looking like it was dying down and we might even get sent home before our tour was finished, but then some new group came up on our radar with some kind of new insurgency. They’ve started attacking American soldiers and some of the infrastructure we’ve put in place here, so I’m not sure we’re going anywhere. Not for a while at least. They’re still underground, but they seem to have a network with another country that I can’t really tell you about, but it means that I’m heading out of Baghdad and going to a more remote area for the next few months where we won’t really have access to the mail system. I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to write you again, or if I’ll get any of your letters, so if I don’t talk to you for a while, I don’t want you to worry.

I love you, and I miss you, and I can’t wait to get home and wrap my arms around you again. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell you enough how proud I am of you, Annie. I think about you every day, and you never fail to put a smile on my face.

Love you,

Dad

I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to pull myself together. I’m supposed to be getting ready for Mia’s opening night at Seattle Center, but the stress from work and all this legal trouble, and now the feeling of regret I have over reading my Dad’s letter is bubbling uncontrollably out of my eyes. I’ve been so busy and distracted over the past few weeks, I’ve only written one letter to my dad and I only responded to the questions he asked, assured him I was doing fine, and attached a few pictures. I thought I had so much more time to write to him about all of the things I want to tell him, and to figure out a way to say all the things I’m not sure I want to tell him, but apparently, that’s not the case.

I look up at my reflection and try to blink away my tears. I’m already running late and I’m not really close to being ready. I need to focus and get through tonight. I can deal with this later…

I shake my head as I reach for the makeup I’ve already spread out over the counter and get started on my face. Compartmentalization is my entire life right now.

I lean over the counter and start dabbing concealer under my eyes, trying to hide the puffiness left over from crying, but am distracted by a knock on the door behind me. I look up and see Taylor’s reflection in the mirror.

“Oh,” I say, surprised, and then quickly look down to make sure my robe is still fully closed since I don’t think Christian would appreciate Taylor getting a view of me naked in the bathroom. Thankfully, it is. “Is Christian home yet?” I ask him.

“Not yet, Miss Steele. Ryan called and said he’s still in a meeting with Miss Bailey, but they should be home soon.”

“Okay,” I nod, actually feeling a little relieved. At least I won’t be the reason we’re late…

“You have a visitor, Miss Steele,” Taylor says and I furrow my brow and turn around.

“A visitor? Who?’

“Luke. He’s waiting in the foyer.”

I bite down on my lip as I decide what to do. I haven’t seen Luke since that night we caught Elena, and I don’t really want to turn him away without at least saying hi and apologizing for being so distant, but I don’t have time to sit down and have a real talk with him.

“Okay, give me two minutes to get dressed and then send him in here,” I tell him. He nods and turns around as I set the concealer back down on the counter and hurry out of the bathroom for our closet. The dress Christian’s personal shopper had sent over this morning is hanging on the door in the closet and, because I haven’t seen it yet, I nervously pull open the zipper on the bag to peak inside. It looks fairly basic, no intricate designs or excessive bling. Just soft, black fabric.

I pull the dress off the hanger and hastily slip it over my head. The slit on the dress goes pretty high up my thigh and the thin halter neckline leaves little to the imagination, but the classic tailoring is elegant and the neckline covers all of my cleavage so I don’t feel overly exposed.

I reach up, trying to connect the clasp around the back of my neck to secure the dress, but I can’t figure it out. My fingers fumble clumsily with the complicated closure, getting nowhere, when there is a knock on the door behind me.

“Need some help?” Luke asks.

“Thanks,” I reply. He crosses the room, takes the straps from me, and easily fixes them together. I turn around and smile at him gratefully.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called,” I say, motioning for him to follow me back into the bathroom. He sits on the counter as I slide my robe back on to protect my dress while I finish my makeup.

“It’s cool. I’ve been following all the press you and Grey have been dealing with, I can’t imagine that’s been easy. How are you holding up?”

I take a deep breath and lower my foundation brush as tears prick in my eyes again. Unfortunately I can’t hold back the wave of emotion that hits me, so rather than answer him, I cover my mouth to muffle my broken sob.

“Shit, Ana…” Luke says guiltily. “I didn’t mean… I mean, I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it. I wasn’t trying to make you cry.”

“No, it’s not you,” I say, taking a deep breath to steady myself. “I’m sorry. I got a letter from my dad today and it’s made me all emotional.”

“He’s okay, right?”

“Right now, but he says they’re moving him to a more remote area. He’s not going to be able to write me for… I don’t even know how long.”

“Have you told him about Grey yet?” He asks.

“No,” I say, feeling the wash of shame again. “I’ve been trying. I started a letter that I’ve probably re-written eight different times, but it’s still in my desk at work. There’s just so much to say and I want it to be perfect, to be able to explain everything the right way… Then all this business with the trial started and-“

My voice chokes off and Luke reaches out and places his hand over mine. “What’s going on, Ana?”

“I’m scared, Luke,” I whisper.

“Why?” He asks. I shake my head and start with the makeup again.

“I’ve just had this bad feeling about the trial and I can’t shake it. I think Christian’s going to go to prison, and I can’t do anything about it.”

“And you don’t want to tell your dad about him if he’s going to be in jail when he comes home?” Luke infers. I take a breath and shake my head.

“That’s not something my dad would ever look past or understand. He’s a military man, he’s kind of black and white when it comes to the rule of law.”

“So… why is he doing it then?” Luke asks. “Grey, I mean. He’s the one who filed suit, right? He could drop it. I mean… he’s only connected to the club through the salons, isn’t he? Why doesn’t he just close them down? She can’t launder money without the salons, I’m sure she’ll get caught eventually.”

“He’s doing it because of Mia,” I croak, as I try to fight back tears again. “Elena crossed a line, Luke. I don’t know if he’d be able to let it go if she hadn’t gotten Mia involved… maybe he could have just closed the salons and we could have moved on, but she did, and now he’s willing to go to prison if that’s what it takes to get revenge for what she did to his little sister.” I look up as I feel a tear roll down my cheek. “He’s not thinking about himself, he’s not thinking about his company… he’s only thinking about Mia and I’m scared I’m going to lose him.”

“Hey…” Luke says, jumping off the counter and taking me into his arms. “It’s gonna be okay, Ana. His dad’s a lawyer, right? I’m sure they’ll figure something out.”

“I don’t know,” I say shaking my head. “I’ve lost a lot of my ability to hope when it comes to Elena Lincoln.”

“Well, whatever happens… you’ll always have me, and Kate, and Elliot. You’re not alone, Ana.”

“He’s the love of my life, Luke. Losing him last time nearly destroyed me. I can’t do it again, not like this. I want him. I want a wedding and I want kids… I want a life with him. He’s finally come around and seen Elena for what she is, and we’ve moved on. This is the part where we’re supposed to get our happy ending. He had nothing to do with this, he didn’t know it was happening. He shouldn’t have to pay for it. He loves me, and I love him, but I’m going to lose my future with Christian because of her, and it’s not fair.”

“Ana… I-” Luke begins, but he stops as I really begin to cry, and reaches out for some more tissues. I take them gratefully and then turn back for the mirror, trying to salvage my make up the best I can.

“You really don’t think it’s going to go well?” Luke asks and I shrug.

“I just really don’t know, but nothing good ever happens when she’s involved,” I tell him.

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe I could…”

“Ana?” I look up in the mirror and see Christian standing in the bathroom door. Luke turns abruptly, looking as though he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t, and then gives me an uneasy glance.

“I’ll… call you later. Okay, Ana?” He says.

“Sure,” I nod. “See you later, Luke.”

Christian steps aside to let Luke out of the bathroom, and once he’s gone, he turns back to me and frowns.

“What’s wrong?” He asks.

“Nothing,” I reply, shaking my head. “It’s just stress…”

“Baby…” He says, and he closes the door behind him and takes my hand, pulling me into him. “I know this is hard, but I’m doing everything I can. I promise you, I’m not going to give up without a fight. I won’t let her win.”

“I know,” I nod. I want to talk to him about how scared I am to lose him, but worrying about me and what all of this is doing to me, isn’t what’s best for him right now. We made this decision together, he’s moving forward and I need to be part of his support system. Knowing how terrified I am will only hurt him more and make this harder on him than it already is.

“I’m going to take a shower,” He says, kissing my hair. “Will you be ready to leave in twenty minutes?”

“Yes,” I nod. He releases me so that I can turn back for the mirror and he can make his way to the shower.

There are cameras lining the walkway up to the main entry again when we pull up in front of Seattle Center half an hour later. Christian steps out of the back of the Maybach first and then turns to reach down for my hand to help me out of the car. I take a deep breath and then smile as we walk up the walkway towards the main entrance. There is a woman standing at the end of the carpet and, once we’re about halfway up the walk, she smiles and then holds her hand up in a gesture for us to stop. Christian takes a deep breath, puts his hand on my waist so that he can pull me into his side, and then turns to face the flashing lights. I do my best to keep my smile as I turn to face each of the shouts that echo around us, but I’ve had to become so numb tonight, I’m not certain what my face is doing right now.

We stand there for only a second before Christian takes my hand again and leads me up the stairs towards the main entrance. The inside is architecturally beautiful, slightly industrial looking glass and steel. The red, carpeted floors are packed with people in eveningwear milling about and several of them turn to Christian with looks of delighted surprise as we make our way towards the theater entrance. He introduces me to several people, some with names I recognize, others I don’t. Each brief conversation focuses on business or offers for games of golf. Christian is polite, graciously accepting their invitations, but he inevitably pushes me away from each new person very quickly.

We find the rest of his family huddled together near the temporary bar serving champagne near the entrance and Grace smiles broadly once she spots us and immediately waves us over to them.

“How’s Mia doing?” Christian asks, accepting the glass of champagne the waiter hands him, and nodding politely in gratitude, before turning back to his mother.

“Cool as a cucumber,” She says proudly. “She’s been working so hard this week. I think it’s been really good for her to get her mind off everything.”

“Good,” Christian nods. He takes a sip of his drink while Kate proudly displays the sapphire and diamond bracelet Elliot bought for her to celebrate having their offer accepted on a new house.

“I uh… I found out who Elena has representing her.” Carrick says, sounding uneasy as I suppose he isn’t sure this is the best place to discuss trial business.

“Who?” Christian asks.

“Anne Novik,” He grimaces. “She’s good. She used to be the lead prosecutor for the state of Washington before she became a defense attorney. My old partner went against her once and she made him look like some hack from legal aide.”

Christian nods and takes another long drink of his champagne. I reach out for his hand, trying to look reassuring, as we hear a loud voice echo through the hall behind us.

“Grace!” A woman with umber colored hair calls. She waves animatedly as she walks towards us. “Oh dear, it’s simply been too long.”

Grace smiles and accepts her hug and the kiss on the cheek the woman gives her, then steps back to glance over her outfit.

“What a beautiful dress, Constance,” She says, and the woman waves off the compliment but looks extremely pleased with herself.

“This old thing, I’ve had it forever,” She replies dismissively. “And, hello again, Carrick. It’s good to see you.”

“You as well,” Carrick replies politely, but he gives a sideways look to Elliot that says he has no idea who this woman is.

“These are my children,” Grace says, gesturing the Christian and Elliot. “Their sister Mia is performing in tonight’s show, but this is Elliot and Christian. Boys, this is Constance Sinclair, she’s on the board of the Seattle Arts Commission with me.”

“Pleasure,” Constance says, nodding disinterestedly at Elliot before turning to Christian. “But of course I know who you are, Mr. Grey. We met at the gallery opening for Aivakovsky last spring, remember?”

“Of course,” Christian smiles, reaching out to shake her hand.

“I didn’t realize Grace was your mother,” She smiles. “I’d have asked her to get you on board with a number of projects the Arts Commission has been trying to get off the ground for months now.”

“Perhaps that’s why I kept her a secret,” Christian winks, and Constance let’s out a false laugh before turning back to Grace.

“You have a lovely family, dear. I hope we can all get together at the club sometime and maybe discuss some…”

“Oh my god,” I gasp, interrupting Ms. Sinclair as I see a flash of very unwelcome blonde hair over Carrick’s shoulder.

“What?” Christian asks, looking down at me with concern, and I nod subtly in the other direction.

“Elena is here,” I say quietly. I feel Elliot tense next to me immediately as he catches sight of her too, but when he turns to hand his glass of champagne to Kate so he can turn and begin walking towards her, Carrick reaches out to stop him.

“Don’t make a scene,” He says carefully. Elliot takes a deep breath to calm himself but I can see a tremble rock through him as he forces himself to stay put.

“I’m sorry, what…?” Constance says, looking puzzled as she glances at each of the Grey men, who all have noticeably changed their postures to reflect their tension.

“Come with me, Constance,” Grace says. She manages to smile as she reaches out to wrap her arm over Ms. Sinclair’s shoulder, but her voice is tight with barely controlled anger. It’s in that moment I have to wonder if Grace is removing Constance from her family, or removing herself from Elena.

“Let’s go inside,” Elliot hisses, but Christian shakes his head.

“No, I don’t want her anywhere Mia. We need to have someone remove her,” He says sharply.

“And how are you going to do that?” Kate asks.

“I’m Christian Grey,” He says flatly and, as Kate rolls her eyes, I glance up again and see that Elena has definitely noticed us standing here.

“She’s coming over here,” I whisper quickly. Christian turns to look at her again and then takes a deep, bracing breath as he wraps his hand around mine and subtly places himself mostly in front of me.

“Hello,” Elena says, smiling sweetly when she finally approaches us. “Don’t you all just look like quite the perfect family tonight.”

“What are you doing here, Elena?” Carrick asks, his voice tight and she lets out a soft laugh and shakes her head like he’s missing something obvious.

“It’s little Mia’s opening night. She’s told me all summer about how hard she’s worked on this show, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. She is my god daughter after all…”

Elliot yanks his hand out of Kate’s and takes a step forward, but Carrick moves quickly into his path, blocking his way. Elena laughs again and then turns to Christian.

“I want to talk to you,” She says, the first note of seriousness to her tone. Christian shakes his head.

“You can go to hell.”

“Christian,” She pouts. “This is all getting very messy and I know that’s not what you want. Just give me 10 minutes. We can work all of this out.”

“I’m not interested in working things out with you, Elena,” Christian says darkly. “The only thing I’m interested in is seeing you go to prison for what you’ve done to my little sister.”

“You’re not going to get that, Christian,” Elena replies, speaking to him now as if he were a child. “Trust me, this, what I’m trying to do right now, is about you, not me. I’m trying to protect you. I don’t want this to turn out badly for you, but it will unless you drop this foolish lawsuit and we all forget any of this nonsense happened.”

“That’s not going to happen,” He says and she sighs.

“This is your last chance, Christian. Please don’t make me hurt you.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” Someone says behind me, and I turn around to see a burly looking security guard looking sternly down at Elena. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”

“For what reason?” Elena snaps.

“It seems your ticket to tonight’s performance is no longer valid. I’m here to escort you off the premises.”

Elena’s mouth pops open with mortified shock, but she quickly regains her composure and gives each of us an indignant, slightly haughty look before gripping onto the long skirt of her gown and storming angrily away. Before she’s out of earshot though, she turns back to Christian one last time.

“You’ve done this to yourself,” She says viciously, and then she turns again and disappears into the crowd of people now making their way into the theater. We stand there for a few minutes, looking at each other with confusion as we all wonder what just happened.

“Shall we find our seats?” Grace asks, slipping her arm through Carrick’s when she rejoins us again.

“Did you…?” Elliot asks, and Grace smiles at him.

“I’m on the board,” She says simply, and then she steps back, tugging gently on Carrick’s arm to lead him back into the theater.

“Ready?” Christian asks, holding his arm out for me. I smile and nod, then clasp my fingers around the inside of his elbow as we follow after his parents. Before we step onto the balcony level though, I shoot one more nervous glance towards the main entrance, like I expect Elena to be standing there, staring through the glass at us like the grim reaper.

Not very long after we take our seats, the lights dim and the music begins to rise from the orchestra pit in front of the stage. Christian hands me a program and while the first fluttering of lights appear on the stage, I quickly glance down at the green font that looks as though it’s made of vines and spells out the words, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The cast list is on the inside cover and I quickly find Mia’s name.

 

Peaseblossom (fairy) ……………………………………………. Amelia Trevelyan-Grey

 

“There she is,” Christian whispers. I look up as Mia dances towards center stage. Her costume is stunning, different shades of pinks, greens, blues, and white tangled together in the the graceful cloud of her billowy skirt. Her hair is rolled up into a tight bun, but adorned with soft white flowers. Her makeup is fantastical with glitter and long swirling lines around her eyes that drip down her face. And, when she stands on the very tips of her toes and spins, the delicate fairy wings on her back seem to flutter.

I smile as I follow her around the stage with my eyes. It’s very hard to pay attention to the story or the music, I’m so enraptured by her dancing. About half way through the second act, when Mia briefly takes center stage to perform a jump and an elaborate spin, I chance a glance at Christian, who is fully engrossed in the show. He’s smiling absentmindedly down at the stage, his eyes alight with wonder as he watches his sister spin again and then hold her leg high into the air where she holds it for a long time in an impressive show of strength and balance. Once she seamlessly eases into the background again, he glances down at me with a look of such pride that I can’t help but beam back up at him.

“That was amazing!” Kate says, when we step back out into the main foyer after the ballet ends. “Did you see that leap Mia did in the second act? You should have put that girl in gymnastics, Grace.”

“She was wonderful, wasn’t she?” Grace replies. There is a smudge of mascara in the crook of her eye from wiping away tears.

“Definitely Juilliard material,” Elliot says pointedly towards his father.

“Christian!” Mia’s excited voice rings through the crowd and we all turn to see her bounding up towards us, sending small showers of glitter onto the red carpet with each bouncing step. Christian turns and holds his arms open for her and she hugs him tightly. “You’re here! I wasn’t sure you would come.”

“Of course I’m here,” He says, “It’s your opening night, where else would I be?” She grins up at him for a moment and then turns to her mother, who immediately begins to shower her with praise.

“We should do something to celebrate such a successful opening night,” Carrick suggests, “What do you think?”

“Yes!” Mia says, “We absolutely should.”

“Have you eaten, dear?” Grace asks. “Perhaps we can take you out to dinner?”

“Oooh, at that place on the water with the lobster bisque that I like?” She replies.

“Where ever you want to go,” Grace says.

“Uh… are you sure we should go out and eat in public?” Elliot asks nervously. “I mean, with the paparazzi following Christian everywhere…”

“It’s Mia’s night,” Christian says, “You should go where she wants to go. Anastasia and I can head home…”

“No!” Mia exclaims. “I want everyone there. It won’t be any fun without you and Ana.”

“Why don’t we bring everyone back to Escala?” I ask, looking up at Christian. “It’s closer than Bellevue and we could make something to eat at home.”

“Is that okay with you?” Christian asks Mia and she nods.

Grace and Carrick hang back to wait for Mia while she changes out of her costume, and Christian leads me out towards the front where Taylor has brought the car around. Kate and Elliot have to wait for the valet, so Christian and I get home with a few minutes to ourselves. I think he has a different idea than I do about what that means because when I head into the kitchen and begin pulling things out of the cabinets and cupboards to begin making a late dinner for everyone, he looks severely disappointed.

“I can have Gail do this,” He says, coming up behind me, placing his hands on my hips, and kissing my neck.

“That’s okay, I don’t mind,” I reply.

“I do though. You look a little uncomfortable in this dress… why don’t we go find something more suitable for you to change into. In the bedroom. Right now.”

I laugh. “Because, as coy as you’re being Mr. Grey, I can decipher your code and we don’t have time for any shenanigans before Elliot and Kate get here.”

“I can be quick,” He smiles. “Just give me a minute and thirty seconds.”

“A minute thirty, huh?” I giggle. “I don’t know if that’s something to be proud of…”

“Au contraire, mon amour,” He says. “The ability to get you off in that amount of time is most definitely a point of pride for me. I’ve considered putting it on my resume.”

“Christian Grey: Businessman. French speaker. Sex god,” I say, decisively and he laughs.

“Alors laisse moi te ramener à notre chambre te montrer à tel point je suis un dieu du sexe.”

“Ooh, that is kind of hot…” I moan, and then turn so that I can kiss him. As he brushes his tongue across my bottom lip though, I hear the ping of the elevator echo through the foyer and great room, and then Elliot’s voice comes soon after.

“Christian? Ana?”

“In here,” I call, smirking at Christian as he frowns and then untangles his arms from around my waist. I turn back to the counter to start chopping vegetables for the salad I’m making. Kate offers her help, so Christian has to step aside to let her. He pours a glass of wine for Kate and I, places the bottle in a bucket of ice for when his mother gets here, and then takes two beers out of the fridge for him and Elliot.

“How bad do you think I could beat you in a game of Call of Duty right now?” Elliot asks.

“Probably pretty bad,” Christian says, and Elliot grins.

“Only one way to find out.”

I look over my shoulder, and Christian rolls his eyes and shakes his head dejectedly as he reluctantly follows Elliot out of the kitchen towards the game room. Kate and I spend a few minutes alone together and she tells me all about the beautiful new house that Elliot has purchased for them while I pull some cold chicken out of the fridge and begin to slice it.

“Where is the house at?” I ask her and she takes a deep breath, frowning slightly.

“Down the street from his parents,” She says. I bite down on my lip to try and hide my smile, but she sees it anyway. “He just likes being close to his family, Ana. I can understand that. In fact, I love that about him. It’s how I know he’s going to be a great dad one day.”

I have to chew on the inside of my cheek at those words. Elliot has said he doesn’t want kids. I wonder how serious he is about that. Kate seems to want them…

“Hello?” Grace calls from the great room, and Kate sets her knife down to wave them over and pour her a glass of wine. I dump the chicken onto the bed of greens in the salad bowl and then toss everything together with Gail’s homemade caesar dressing.

“Mia, will you go get the boys?” I ask, as I carry the bowl to the table. She nods and disappears while Kate and Grace bring out plates for everyone.

“I’m just saying it’s embarrassing, Christian,” Elliot says as they come back into the great room. “You really need to practice. We share the same name, I can’t be associated with someone who is that awful at killing nazi zombies.”

“I think my time is better spent focusing on more productive hobbies, Elliot,” Christian says. “You can have xbox, I’ll keep flying helicopters.”

“You can fly helicopters in Grand Theft Auto,” Elliot says. “Maybe we should try that instead of Modern Warfare.”

“Enough, Elliot,” Grace chides him. “Tonight is about Mia.”

We all take our seats around the table, taking turns showering compliments and congratulations over Mia, which she clearly loves. She makes us each recount our favorite parts of the ballet, quizzing us as though to make sure we really were paying close attention. I ask her about the small dance solo she had in the middle of the second act and she goes on and on about how difficult it is and how she had originally been cast as Moth, but the dancer who they had cast as Peaseblossom couldn’t hold on point long enough so she was re-cast.

“It’s such great exposure,” Mia says. “We aren’t allowed to record the actual performance because of copyright laws, but someone recorded just my solo in rehearsal the other day and I think I’m going to send it in as part of my application to Juilliard. It really is a difficult number, and I happen to be amazing at it.”

“I’ll say you are,” Christian praises her and she lights up again.

“Uh, excuse me, Mr. Grey,” Taylor interrupts us, and Christian turns to look back at him, clearly a little irritated by the interruption.

“What is it?” He asks, and Taylor glances over the table like he’s unsure he wants to say whatever it is he has to say in front of everyone.

“Sir, I was just alerted by the front desk that you had a package delivery that needed a signature. I sent Ryan down to get it and… he was served with a subpoena.”

“A subpoena?” Christian repeats.

“For what?” Carrick asks, setting down his fork and zeroing in on Taylor.

“It’s from Mrs. Lincoln’s lawyer. She’s asking for documents and some security footage from GEH,” Taylor says.

“What kind of documents?” Carrick asks.

“The security sign-in records for the executive suite,” He replies, reaching out to hand the subpoena to Carrick. “There are several dates listed.”

“Do these dates mean anything to you?” Carrick asks, turning the paper so Christian can see. He leans over, reading each line carefully and I get a look at the paper, but there are only dates and times listed. No additional information.

“October 21st 2009, November 17th 2009, February 12th 2010, March 22nd, April 8th…” Christian reads aloud. “No, I don’t recall anything particularly memorable happening on those dates. Not with GEH anyway.”

“Do you have access to the GEH server from here?” Carrick asks, turning to Taylor, and he nods. “Show me then.”

Both Christian and Carrick get out of their seats, and after exchanging a brief look, both Elliot and I get up to follow after them to Taylor’s office. Taylor sits at his desk and pulls open the Grey icon from his desktop that I recognize from my own computer at work. He logs into the Intranet, but when he gets to the next screen, his interface looks very different from mine. He has to enter about four different passwords, but eventually a small box comes up that he can enter the date and times from the subpoena into, and security footage begins rolling.

It’s silent because the footage is from before Christian’s security overhaul, and it must be from last winter because both Andrea and Leila are seated behind the desk wearing sweaters and scarves. Andrea picks up a file from her desk, gets up, and carries it out of the shot and all we have is Leila answering phones for about 30 seconds.

“What is this?” Christian asks, but just as the words come out of his mouth, the glass doors open and Elena walks into the lobby with a pretty, young, brunette girl following closely behind her. Leila smiles at both of them, and then places a clipboard on the counter for the brunette girl to sign in. She then takes her ID, carries it off to the photocopy room, and, once she returns, puts the copy of her ID into the guest access binder. Leila hands the girl a guest badge and directs them to the hallway down to Christian’s office. Once Elena and the girl disappear from sight, Carrick turns incredulous eyes on Christian.

“What is that?” Carrick asks angrily, but Christian is still staring, unbelieving, down at the footage on the monitor. His mouth slightly agape.

“That… I-I-” He stutters, and then he takes a breath and turns to look at his father. “Dad, I didn’t touch any of those girls. I didn’t ask to have them brought to me. She was trying to help me move on from Anastasia… she thought if she introduced me to a submissive, that I would… but I didn’t. I swear to you, I didn’t. Ever. I never touched any of them.”

Taylor fast forwards through the footage about ten minutes until we see Elena and the girl walking back down the hallway.

“Ten minutes?” Carrick asks, his voice an accusation now. “That’s an awful long time to have someone in your office for nothing to have happened.”

“We talked…” Christian replies, defensively. “Elena, I mean. She was the only person I had to talk to then, but the girls… Elena made each of them kneel by the door and she left them there while she came and sat across from me at my desk. We talked for a few minutes, but the girl never moved away from the door. Elena offered her to me, I said no, and they left. Look at her!” He points to the girl in the footage. “She doesn’t have a single hair out of place. Does that look like a girl who was just fucked to you?”

Carrick inhales sharply and then look back down at the subpoena in his hand. “These dates, are we going to see the same thing on each one of them?”

Christian diverts his eyes. “Probably.”

“How many girls did she bring to you?” Carrick asks.

“I don’t know. Five, maybe a few more. But I swear Dad, I never touched a single one of them.”

“Did you know about the club, Christian?” Carrick asks, and now his voice is deadly serious. Christian looks back up at his father with shock.

“Of course I didn’t know! Elena is in the lifestyle, actively in the lifestyle. She’s had two different submissives over the past two years and I’ve met both of them. I just thought she’d met those girls through regular channels. She said she thought they might be a good match for me since they all kind of looked like Anastasia…” I cringe at those words and he mashes his lips together in regret at having said them. When he continues again, his voice is tight with anger. “There are at least four different BDSM clubs in this city, and a few of the people in the lifestyle hold parties to introduce potential submissives to dominants. I thought that’s where those girls had come from. I had no way to know she was pulling them out of the pool of girls she had working for her in an illegal, underground prostitution ring. I never. Touched. Any of them.”

“This is pretty damning, Christian,” Carrick says in a low voice. “All she has to do is show that the girls on the security sign in sheet are girls that had worked for her in the club and… I don’t know how we’re going to get you out of that.”

“We put them on the stand,” Christian argues. “We have them sworn in and then make them admit to the judge that we have never had any sexual relationship.”

“And if they lie?” Carrick asks and when Christian’s lips push together in a tight line, Carrick shakes his head. “I won’t put them on the stand. I need… I need some time to figure out what to do.This isn’t good, Christian. If you want to…” He pauses and swallows. “If you want to back out, now is the time to do it.”

“No, I’m not letting her get away with this again, Dad. Mia deserves better than that,” Christian says firmly.

“You understand what I’m telling you, don’t you?” Carrick asks. “This implicates you Christian. If criminal charges are brought at the end of this trial, this evidence could mean that they’re brought against you. I don’t think I’m going to be able to get you out of this. We have no proof that you were in no way involved, and this seems to be a pretty clear indicator that you were. As your legal counsel, I am advising you that if we go to trial with the evidence stacked against you, there is an almost certain chance that you will be arrested and a criminal trial would mean prison.”

“Will she go too?” Christian asks. Carrick takes a deep breath.

“I can probably convince the judge she was a co-conspirator, yes, but…”

“But nothing. That’s all I care about. Do what you can for me, but I understand the consequences. There is no way that I am letting her walk away from this, Dad. I don’t care if that means I have consequences to face too.”

“I don’t agree with that,” Elliot says, shaking his head.

“You’d rather watch the woman who almost had our little sister raped walk free?” Christian asks him incredulously.

“Of course not, but this isn’t the only way… “

“Well, I’m open to suggestions,” Christian says.

“I work in construction,” Elliot says simply and when both Christian and Carrick give him a questioning look he continues. “You’ve got some pretty scary guys on your team, Christian. Maybe Elena just disappears. Maybe there’s no trial because there’s no one to have a trial against.”

“What are you saying, Elliot?” Christian asks.

“I’m saying that Elena always viewed herself as part of the foundation of GEH. I can make that a reality.”

“No, no, no,” Carrick says, reaching up and covering his ears. “I’m not hearing this.”

“Sir, I could…” Taylor chimes in. “I could make it quick and I wouldn’t leave a trail.”

Christian looks at him for a moment, pondering, and I see Elliot nodding out of the corner of my eye. Carrick’s jaw is tight as he starts to walk away, but when Christian looks down at me he shakes his head.

“That’s not who I am,” He says. “We still have a little over a week before the trial. We’ll figure something out. Dad, you have all of my resources at your disposal. Just tell me what you need from me, and it’s yours.”

“Okay,” Carrick nods, but he still looks dejected. “I’m going to call Stephanie and have her meet me in the office. I’ll probably be there most of the time over the next week and a half while we try to figure this out. Taylor, send me everything you send to Elena’s lawyer, no matter how little it might seem. Christian, I want detailed accounts of every single interaction you’ve had with these submissive girls, and I want them notarized. Have them to me by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay,” Christian agrees. Carrick nods and turns to leave, and while Christian begins issuing rapid fire instructions to Taylor, I follow Carrick to the door to catch him before he steps onto the elevator.

“Carrick!” I call, and he turns somber eyes on me. “Give it to me straight,” I tell him. “I need to be prepared for what’s going to happen so just tell me the truth, okay?”

“He’s not going to get out of it,” Carrick says. “If I don’t put Mia on the stand and prove there were underage girls in the club… Then in a criminal trial, I might be able to get him five years. There’s no way he walks away from this, not with that footage. It’s the nail in the coffin, Ana. He’s not going to get out of this.”

My eyes well with tears and I let out a shaky breath as the elevator pings and Carrick turns to step onto it. He gives me a sad, helpless looking smile and then reaches out for the button to the garage. The doors close, and he disappears. Leaving me alone, feeling like I’m drowning.

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