“Carla, please…” I say hoarsely into the phone.
“Christian, she doesn’t want to talk to you,” Ana’s mother tells me for what feels like the hundredth time this summer. “I’ve asked you before, and now I’m telling you. You need to stop calling here.”
“I just need one minute. One time. I need to know how she’s doing. I need to know that she’s okay.”
“She’s okay,” Carla says. “She’s a big girl, she can take care of herself. She doesn’t need you calling and checking on her. She doesn’t want you to call here anymore, so please… stop calling, Christian.”
I take a deep breath and hang up the phone without another word, then toss it onto the couch next to me. As I fall back onto the armrest, a sharp pain reverberates through the back of my head, making me curse. The couch Ros picked out isn’t ideal for moping and lounging around. It’s sleek and modern, beautiful, but not very comfortable. She’d meant it to be more for decoration than practical use because, in her mind, we’d be in the office nearly all the time. And, she is. Me? Well…
After I’d left Cambridge, I didn’t have anywhere to go. I stayed in a hotel room for about a week before Ros found a small apartment for the two of us to share while we built the company. It’s been good in some ways, at least Ros always makes sure there’s food in the refrigerator, and bad in others. To be honest, I’ve been useless. My world has been devastated and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve done what I can for GEH in the brief moments of clarity that have peppered the endless days of this torturous summer, but even that hasn’t been much, and so the company that feels as though I’ve sold my soul to start up, is completely stagnant. We own the rights to what used to be FiberLink’s fiber optics technology, but hardly anything has been done with it. If GEH launched today, we’d be nothing more than a discount internet provider, which would undoubtedly be purchased by xfinity or CenturyLink within months of opening the doors.
I know that I need to shift my focus, to start building the empire that I’ve been working towards for the last four years… But I just don’t have the will or the desire to do anything right now. I feel… broken. Alone.
The restriction in my chest returns and, as I lie there wondering how long this misery can possibly continue, I hear the door to the apartment open, followed by the steady clack of Ros’s heels against the wood floors.
“Oh good, you got out of bed,” she says, as she throws her keys down on the counter and starts sorting through the mail. “What do you say we try a shower today?”
I glare at her, but it doesn’t deter her persistence. “I’m just saying, this rugged man look you’re going for with the whole beard thing… It doesn’t vibe well with the sweatpants and t-shirt you’ve been wearing for three days straight.”
“Who cares?” I say, throwing my arm over my face to block out the light pouring in through the windows Ros refuses to cover.
“Well… I think a lot of people care.” She moves across the room and pulls my arm away from my face, forcing me to look at her. “GEH is not going to survive like this, Christian. We have to do something. I need you to work your miracles or we’re going to go under… and soon. It’s crunch time.”
“I’ve told you what to do,” I say, and even though we both know that’s only a half-truth, she doesn’t call me out on it. Still, I’m not off the hook.
“Christian, you’re the Grey of Grey Enterprises Holdings,” she says. “You’re not just the idea man, you’re the face of the company. Now, I need you to shave that face and get out there and let the people we’ve hired and the clients we’re trying to attract see you. A confident you, so that when we walk into an RFP meeting, we don’t look like a bunch of kids who dropped out of college and don’t know what they’re doing.”
“I don’t know if I can do that right now.”
She rolls her eyes. “Are you going to re-enroll in school and go back to Harvard?”
“Well then you don’t have another choice. We’re not just talking or dreaming about this anymore, Christian. It’s real now. This is our shot, our only shot. It’s high stakes and I need you to be all in. Look, I know this thing between you and Ana sucks right now but do you think you’re going to win her back or make her realize that leaving school was for the best if you let your company fail? If you want Ana back, then becoming a success is your only option.”
I shake my head. “She doesn’t pay attention to stuff like this.” I gesture to the contracts on the table in front of me. “She wouldn’t even know what was going on with GEH if we were still together.”
“Okay, this is breaking about a thousand rules of girl code, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret about women. You’re her ex-boyfriend, she is going to be watching you like a hawk and borderline stalking you for… a while. If you had a facebook page, she’d be on it every day looking for pictures of you with girls, looking for signs that you are moving on or aren’t moving on. I won’t be surprised if she uses Elliot to spy on you. Girls can be crazy, Christian. It’s why you should never fuck with us.”
“You really think so?” I ask.
“I promise you. If GEH is in the news, Anastasia Steele is going to see it. So let’s get GEH in the news. Let’s make her see that you made the right choice. Don’t let all of this be for nothing.”
Her words hang between us, finally resonating with me. It’s a challenge, a way for me to get to Ana that I can control, and it gives me the first sense of purpose I’ve felt in months.
“Okay,” I nod. “Then, let’s get to work. Let’s make some news.”
“Great!” Ros says, jumping up and beaming at me. “But first, take a fucking shower. Seriously, Christian. It’s an issue.”
I sigh and roll my eyes, but turn around and walk back towards my bedroom to grab clean clothes, and then to the bathroom Ros and I share. As I strip down, staring at the too long facial hair on my chin in the mirror over the sink, I embrace this new sense of determination. Ana can’t ignore me forever, she can’t pretend that I don’t exist or that we never happened. I won’t let her. I won’t hide and I won’t give up.
I will make her see me.
“What if you bring her to me the day before? I just want to give her the presents I bought for her and maybe take her ice skating or to see The Nutcracker. I’ll drop her off for Christmas Mass.”
“Christian, you should be at Christmas mass. You should be at home with your family. Christmas is about family. This is when we should all be healing and coming back together.”
“Mom…” I say hesitantly, but she cuts me off so that she can hurry through her family togetherness speech for the billionth time.
“Why don’t you meet us at Saint James on Christmas Eve and after mass we can all come back here and talk this out? Elliot and Kate are going to be here, I’m having dinner catered. It’s going to be fun. We want you here, Christian.”
“I’m not going over there,” I say firmly. “I’m not going to sit next to him in a pew at church or listen to his backhanded comments over Christmas dinner. I know what he expects of me, and I’m not interested in groveling to my father, I’m interested in spending time with my little sister who he is keeping away from me. So, can I see her on Christmas Eve or not?”
“Christian, please,” my mother pleads. “We have to move past this eventually, it’s been months. This can’t keep going on like this. If you’d just come over here to talk to us…”
“I tried,” I tell her bluntly. “I tried, but every time I tried, he threw it back in my face. He stopped answering my phone calls and texts messages months ago, what makes you think he wants to have a rational conversation with me on Christmas?”
“He just wants an apology, Christian. He wants to understand, we all do. Look, I know your father has been angry with you, and I know he won’t say it, but… he misses you. I miss you too, and so does Mia and Elliot. Please join us for Christmas.”
“Can I see her or not?” I repeat, emphasizing each of the words individually as I ignore her request. She takes a deep, hitching breath.
“You know your father won’t let Mia go over there,” she says, “Not until you apologi-“
“Fine,” I cut her off again. “I’ll send my gifts over with Elliot.”
I hang up the phone, trying to ignore the stabbing pain of loss that I feel at another rejection. I haven’t seen Mia since before the trial and her absence, along with the continued radio silence from Anastasia, is slowly killing me. It feels as though I don’t have a person in the world to turn to and it’s harder than I anticipated.
The empty void in the pit of my stomach that’s grown deeper each day since I lost everyone I love throbs, the dull ache refusing to be ignored, but I don’t have time for it now. I shake my head to clear my thoughts and immediately push the entire conversation with my mother out of my mind, choosing instead to reply to the email waiting for me in the inbox on my iPhone.
The past few months have been a marked improvement over the summer I spent in misery. Burying myself in work not only helps me escape from thoughts of Anastasia, and Mia, and everything else that happened, but it’s also resulted in resounding success for GEH. Currently, Ros and I are on our way to Amazon headquarters where we will be giving a finalist presentation regarding our fiber optics division’s ability to streamline their connectivity services, which have been overloaded due to the poor infrastructure put in place when they were first starting up and that they continue to operate on to this day. It’s the biggest client we’ve ever gone out to bid for and if we land this contract, GEH will more than quadruple in size overnight. The stakes are high and Ros has been a nervous wreck all week. Even now, she’s sitting next to me, bouncing in her seat.
“Stop it,” I mutter, not looking up from my phone.
“I can’t help it, I feel like I’m going to throw up,” she says. “We cannot afford to fuck this up.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” I reply, giving her a pointed sideways glance and she rolls her eyes.
“I’m not worried about you, I know you’ll be perfect. But, this isn’t just about how good of a presentation we give, the odds are stacked against us. We’re the smallest company left, and we don’t have the experience that the other finalists do.”
“I don’t care about that,” I tell her, brushing off her concerns. “We’re going to land this deal.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“Because I won’t let us lose it. Just like I haven’t let us lose any other client we’ve gone to bid for.”
She gives me a closed lip smile and nods, seemingly reassured, but as I turn back to my email, she starts again.
“I didn’t tell you this because of what you were going through with Ana…” she says, and I turn to raise an eyebrow at her. “My dad was mad when we dropped out of school. He didn’t cut me off like your parents did, but he told me we were making a mistake. I almost thought we did in the beginning, that maybe you weren’t as ready as I thought you were, but you’ve proved us both wrong over and over again, Christian. The fact that we even have the chance to present to a client like Amazon is a testament to what you’ve done. Even what we have already… I mean, we’re profitable, very profitable, after only four months. Do you know what an amazing feat that is? And it’s all because of you. You were ready for this.”
“And I’m ready for today,” I tell her. “I promise, I’m not going to let us lose this deal.”
We pull up along the street in front of the glass building with the giant Amazon logo mounted on a stone structure a few feet away from the sidewalk. I glance quickly out the window, refusing to let the nerves build and shake even an ounce of the confidence I feel going into this meeting. If I land this, it will be national news… It will be the exposure I need to get Anastasia’s attention and I need her to see me succeed. Failure is not an option today.
“Alright,” Ros says, nodding and taking a few deep, bracing breaths. “Let’s go kill this thing.”
“Right behind you,” I promise and, as she steps out of the car, I watch her march confidently up the walkway towards the front entrance and then reach down for my phone again. I dial the now achingly familiar number and wait as the phone rings, and rings, and rings…
“Hello?” Elliot answers.
“Hey, it’s… it’s Christian,” I reply.
“Yeah, I know. There’s this magical thing called caller ID. It’s been around since like the ‘90s. You should really check it out.”
“Right. Well… Is Ana home?”
“No, actually she’s in a final right now.”
“Oh, right… finals. How did she seem when she left? Did she seem confident? Do you think she’s going to do well?”
“I don’t know. She’s a huge nerd so probably.”
“Good. And, since I can’t wish her luck, will you tell her that I hope she did well? Or, if you’d tell me when she’s going to be home, I could call back…”
“Actually, we’re heading to the airport once she gets home. It’s Christmas break,” he tells me, and suddenly my interest is peaked.
“She’s leaving Cambridge? Is she coming home with you?”
“No, she’s going to Savannah. You know, with her family. Those people who you’re supposed to spend holidays with.”
“So, you’ve already talked to Mom, huh?” I ask him, and he sighs.
“Why, Christian?” he asks. “Why can’t we just put it aside for this one day? It’s Christmas. We’re supposed to be together, we’ve never not been together on Christmas.”
“Yeah. Well things change, Elliot.”
“They don’t have to! Look, if it’s Dad, I can talk to him. I can be a buffer between the two of you, I don’t care. I just want you there on Christmas.”
“I can’t. I’ve already made other plans,” I lie. “But you’ll be home for a couple weeks, right? We can go see a game or something.”
“I’m leaving on Sunday. I’m not staying the whole break.”
He sighs. “Because Ana doesn’t want to stay in Georgia and Kate doesn’t want Ana to be in Cambridge alone so… We’re coming back here.”
“Oh, well… That’s good. Kate’s right, she shouldn’t be…”
“Yeah, I’m coming,” Elliot yells to someone on his side of the phone. “Hey, Christian. I’ve gotta go. Ana just got back and we’re-”
“Wait, Ana’s there?” I interrupt him. “Let me talk to her.”
“I uh… I can’t. We really are leaving. Seriously, Kate’s already out the door. Look, I call you when I get back to Seattle. Okay?”
My breath comes out in a huff as I swallow back the now familiar sense of disappointment. “Okay.”
“Think about Christmas, Christian,” he says. “I know you don’t want to be alone.”
“I’ll talk to you later, Elliot,” I say dismissively and he sighs one last time before telling me goodbye and hanging up the phone.
I take a deep breath and then step out of the car, forcing the steady confidence I’ve spent months perfecting to the surface, and hiding the pain of yet another rejection from Ana behind the same mask that once hid my relationship with Elena from my parents. Once I’ve walked through the doors, I find Ros and we wait with twelve or so other men and women dressed in sharp suits until the conference door rooms open and we’re ushered inside.
Amazon’s board of directors is already seated behind a long table, and they examine each of us carefully as we walk through the doors. While the others who are vying for this contract against me begin their introductions at the end of the table, I step straight to the middle and hold my hand out for the CEO.
“Jeff,” I greet him with comfortable familiarity, a subtle power play. “Christian Grey. Thank you for meeting with me today.”
New Year’s Eve, 2008:
It’s been a shit day.
This morning, my office received word that Amazon had officially selected GEH to partner with, the technology we’d acquired from Signal Pacific a few weeks ago was successfully integrated with GEH fiber optics, and I’ve finally been able to navigate around the bureaucratic roadblocks and contract delays and have signed the dotted line that will make the software development company I’ve been after, mine. Everything is falling perfectly into place to set GEH up for an explosion of growth that will make me a ridiculous amount of money and all I can think about is what I was doing exactly one year ago today.
The day she became mine.
Today would have been our one year anniversary and yet this morning, she still refused my call.
I walk over to the kitchen and pull a glass out of the cabinet so that I can make myself a drink. My email has been fairly quiet since I left the office this afternoon because of the holiday and I have nothing but a half empty bottle of bourbon to distract me from the memories of having Anastasia beneath me and naked for the first time that have haunted me all day. She’d said yes that day and now I can’t even get her on the phone to tell me no.
And maybe tonight, she’ll be saying yes to someone else…
I drain my glass in one long drink, but as I reach for the bourbon again, the door to the apartment opens and Ros comes in with her new girlfriend.
“Hey, Christian,” she says, smiling at me until her eyes shift down to the bottle in my hand. Her shoulders fall and she quickly places her purse on the counter and walks across the room to take the bottle out of my hands. “Already hitting it hard, I see.”
“Everybody drinks on New Year’s,” I say defensively.
“Everybody happy drinks on New Year’s,” she clarifies. “This isn’t happy drinking. This is sad, alone drinking.”
“Oh no, this is happy drinking,” I say sarcastically as I lift my nearly empty glass towards her. “To another year without Ana.”
“Christian,” Ros says, her voice strained with exasperation. “Come on! You have so much to celebrate. We landed Amazon! Do you know what that means? You’re about to be a very rich man! And I mean, a very rich man. Who can get his own apartment. A big apartment, in the middle of the city, that will attract hundreds of beautiful women just dying to keep you company.”
“You know that doesn’t interest me,” I say bluntly.
“Maybe… Men?” Gwen asks uncertainly as she crosses the kitchen to sit on the other side of the breakfast bar.
“No, he’s into girls,” Ros says. “That’s what all this sad Christian is about. His ex-girlfriend broke up with him when he dropped out of college.”
“Really?” Gwen asks, shocked, and Ros nods.
“Oh yeah, and Ana was a catch too. Really smart, really funny, great ass…”
“Ros!” I snap, giving her a what the fuck are you doing look. She blanches slightly and apologizes, but when I reach out again for the bourbon she’s still holding in her hand, she pulls it out of my reach.
“Gwen and I are going Polar Bar tonight to celebrate the Amazon deal, come with us. You can drink there and, if you’re lucky, you can find a girl who will take her panties off for you because I’m telling you, Christian, YOU. NEED. TO. GET. LAID.”
“Ros, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you…”
“I’m not asking, Christian. I’m not living with you like this anymore. You’re coming out with us and you’re going to be in a good mood, and have a good time, and look at girls. So go get dressed, we’re leaving in twenty minutes.”
“Not. Asking. Christian,” she says again, firmer this time. I stare back at her, not backing down, but when she realizes that, she ups the stakes by opening the bottle of bourbon and pouring it slowly down the drain.
“You wanna drink, you can come with us,” she says. I gape back at her, too angry to speak. It’s like guerrilla warfare. “We’re leaving in twenty minutes,” she repeats.
I scowl at her, but eventually move around her and make my way towards my bedroom. The unfortunate truth is, there’s no way I’m going to make it through this night sober.
A little more than half an hour, we step out of the back of the cab and walk forward for the front doors of Polar Bar. It’s packed inside despite the fact that it’s only 8 o’clock, but I suppose that’s only because it’s New Year’s. Ros moves through the crowd, looking for seats, and I tell her that I’m going to get us a round of drinks. She waves me off and once I get up to the bar, I order three Gin Martinis and then pull out my phone while the bartender makes them. It’s almost 8:15 which means it’s a quarter after 11 on the east coast. I make a quick call to the house in Cambridge, but when no one answers, I send a text to Elliot.
The bartender hands me the drinks, which means I have to put my phone back in my pocket so I can carry them to the table. Once I’ve sat down though, I immediately check my phone again. I still haven’t gotten his reply.
“So what’s your type, Christian?” Gwen asks me as she takes a sip of the Martini I hand her.
“What do you mean?”
“We’re looking for girls for you, right?” she asks. “What about her? She’s hot.”
I turn to look at the woman standing just a few feet away from our table and then frown. She’s beautiful, leggy, and thin. Her hair is champagne colored with platinum highlights and she has the kind of smile that you’d notice from all the way across the room. Actually, she looks a lot like Kavanagh.
“Too obvious,” I say turning back around.
“Okay, what about her?” Gwen asks, gesturing to the table on the other side of us.
I turn again and this time see a girl with flawless dark skin that contrasts in an almost mesmerizing way with her pale green eyes.
“Too tall,” I say, but the time Gwen just raises a disapproving eyebrow at me.
“What he means to say,” Ros interrupts. “Is too not Ana.”
Gwen rolls her eyes, but I don’t say anything in reply to Ros because I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, so I quickly pull it out to read the text from Elliot.
We’re at a party on campus. You?
I type out a quick reply.
Downtown. Is Ana out with you?
My stomach tightens with panic. She’s at a campus party? Fuck, what if she’s really with someone? What if she just picks some random guy to kiss at midnight and it escalates from there? What if she meets someone tonight and this becomes their anniversary? My fingers begin flying over the keyboard.
Is she with someone? Does she have a date?
Once again, Elliot’s slow to respond.
Not unless you count a bottle of tequila as a date.
Great. She’s drinking. I know what happens when she starts drinking… My hand shoots up into my hair as I consider what to do. My first thought is to get on a flight and go to Boston myself, check to make sure she’s alone in her bed when I get there, and if she isn’t, to beat the ever living fuck out of the prick who put his hands on her. This, I know, is an overreaction, but unless I find something to distract me, it might be an inevitability.
I look up at Ros and Gwen sitting across the table from me, but in the time I’ve spent ignoring them for my phone, they’ve retreated into their own little world. I watch Ros lean forward to press her lips into Gwen’s and know that I won’t be missed.
Neither of them pay any attention to me as I get up, so I don’t even say anything as I walk away from the table and leave the bar. When I’m outside, I pace back and forth for a moment, trying to talk myself out of the thing I shouldn’t do, but know that I’m going to anyway. When I give up trying to deny that, I take out my phone again and dial my company’s head of security.
“Jason Taylor,” he answers after only one ring.
“Taylor, it’s Christian Grey. I need the number of the man you hired to look after Anastasia Steele in Cambridge.”
“Sir?” he repeats, clearly confused as I’ve told him in the past he is to be the sole point of contact in that situation and I should only be briefed of any instances if there is cause for concern.
“The number, Taylor. I need to get ahold of him.”
“Right. I’ll text it to you right away, sir.”
“Good. Have a good night, Taylor.”
“And you, sir.”
He hangs up the phone and I begin pacing again until his text comes through. As I look down at the number on the screen, I debate whether or not I’m really going to do this…
Who the fuck are you kidding, Grey?
I quickly dial the number and then freeze as I listen to it ring. When he finally answers, it’s hard to hear over the music and crowd noise in the background.
“Sawyer,” he answers.
“Sawyer,” I repeat, unconsciously speaking far too loud for being on a fairly quiet, public street. “This is Christian Grey. Do you have eyes on Anastasia?”
“Mr. Grey,” he says, shocked. “I uh… yeah, I can see her right now.”
“Well, is she with someone? What is she doing?”
“No, I’m calling you at almost midnight on New Year’s Eve to find out what she had for lunch. Of course, right now,” I snap.
“Okay, um… right now, she’s… she’s… dancing on a table with Kavanagh.”
“She’s been drinking, sir… She was just standing around with Kate and Elliot and then there was some shrieking about how she loves this song and she pulled Kate up onto the table with her. Elliot is standing next to them and he doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned. Oooh… well, her balance might be a concern.”
I grit my teeth as I imagine a room full of drunk college students ogling her as she swings her ass back in forth for everyone to see.
“Do not let anyone touch her,” I growl into the phone. “Do you understand me, Sawyer?”
“Yes, sir,” he replies. “No one will touch her.”
“Good, and the second the ball drops, she goes home. ”
“Yes, sir,” he repeats.
“Good,” I say, feeling slightly more pacified. “Just… look after my girl, Sawyer.”
“I always do, sir.”
When I hang up the phone, I turn back for the doors, but I’m not mood to be around Ros and Gwen for the rest of the night. Ana may be at a party with Kate and Elliot, but she’s at a party… She’s clearly handling things much better than I am, which means that she’s either moving on or that she already has. The thought makes my throat feel tight and so rather than head back into the club, I start walking down the street. Alone.
Most of the bars that line the streets of downtown either have a line out the door, or are blaring god awful music, too loudly, through the doors. There’s a hotel a few blocks away with a bar inside so I decide that’s my best bet to be alone. It’s a good decision because when I enter the hotel bar, there’s only one other person inside.
The bartender asks to see ID when I sit down, but once I tell him who I am, he apologizes and pours me a bourbon on the rocks, free of charge. I take it and then stare down at my phone, slowly counting the minutes until it’s midnight on the east coast, and then drinking more to drown the images of Anastasia wrapped in someone like Carter Reed’s arms.
Sawyer will watch out for her. I remind myself again and again, but in all honestly, I know nothing about Luke Sawyer. I don’t know how far he’s willing to go to prevent her from going home with someone, or if he even cares to do such a thing… His reassurances could be nothing more than a placation. For all I know, he could be the one taking her home.
I cringe at the thought and then ask for another drink, not feeling any better until my head starts to swim and I start texting Elliot again.
It’s after midnight, are you still there?
No, Christian. Stop texting me.
I look down at the words with confusion… That doesn’t sound like Elliot. He’s always on me for not talking to him more. I know it’s late but it’s New Year’s… surely he’s planning on being up for a while.
Suddenly, the paranoia kicks in and I start to wonder if he’s hiding something from me, so I text him again.
Why? Is Ana with someone?
No, I’m about to be balls deep in my girlfriend and you’re killing the mood.
I frown and let out a defeated sigh as I toss my phone back on the bar and signal the bartender for another drink. He pours it for me and once I slam it back, I hear the legs on the stool next to me scrape against the floor.
It’s the woman who has been the only other person in the bar with me and although I’m not usually one for conversation with strangers who have no use to me in the business world, the alcohol seems to have lowered my inhibitions a little. Besides, I’m running low on people in my life to talk to. Besides losing Ana and Mia, Elliot has Kate, Ros has Gwen… I’m the only one who is alone. She looks alone. Maybe we can be alone together.
“Try a rough few months,” I say, sucking the one of the bourbon coated ice cubes into my mouth and chewing on it.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “If it makes you feel better, I was supposed to be on a blind date tonight, but I don’t think he’s going to show.”
“What makes you say that?” I ask.
“Well… he’s late.”
“Late doesn’t mean…”
“About two hours late,” she interrupts me and I frown. That doesn’t bode well and there isn’t really anything I can say to change that, so I don’t say anything. She however, seems happy to keep talking. “I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour wondering if he just stood me up or if he saw me, and immediately left.”
I look over at her, and give her a once over. She has thick, straight hair that is so dark in color it’s just a shade or two on the brunette side of black. Her skin is olive hued, leading me to believe she might have Hispanic or maybe Italian heritage. Her eyes are dark, but warm. Welcoming. She has a friendly face.
“I don’t think any man would walk in here, see you, and then turn away,” I tell her and she smiles. The bartender asks if she would like another drink and when she says she would, I motion for him to put it on my tab.
Over the next hour or so, I learn that her name is Camilla and she’s a graduate student studying literature at the University of Washington. She grew up in a small town on the other side of the sound and while her mother is a school teacher, her father is active duty military. She’s Anastasia, or a pale imitation of her, but through the haze of the alcohol, I can almost pretend she is.
“Listen,” she says, giving me a coy smile and reaching out to brush her fingers over the back of my hand. “I thought maybe I’d get stuck down here, you know… it being New Year’s and all… but, I have a room in this hotel. If you’re interested, I’d really like it if you came up.”
I look at her for a moment, considering her. I didn’t realize I’d given any indication that I was interested in her, I’m not interested in her, but… Maybe, just for tonight, I could put aside this torture and just let baser instinct take over. I could lose myself in this woman, feel something good again…
But even as I imagine it, as I think the word good, I know that’s not what this would be. I’m letting the alcohol and months without sex sway me when I know that there would be no pleasure worth making love to a woman who wasn’t Anastasia. How could I continue to pursue her, to profess my love for her, when I’d shared a bed with another woman? I know that if I found out she’d slept with someone else, it would ruin me. I don’t want to do that to her.
“I’m sorry,” I say softly, and I pull out my wallet, place $100 bill on the bar, and then get out of my chair. “It’s been nice talking with you tonight, Camilla. Thank you.”
Her forehead creases as I turn and leave the bar, and when I step out into the wet night air, I begin to wonder if I’ve made the right decision. I didn’t lie to her when I left. It was nice to talk to her. It’s a thing I’m severely missing. I can’t be fully honest with Ros because she doesn’t know the whole truth about why Ana left me (and I don’t want her to), and Elliot… he’s too neutral. I can’t talk to him about what has happened because, even though he’s the only family member I have who has truly stuck by me, I know he doesn’t agree with my choice. And, I can’t talk to him about Ana because he’s one of the people actively keeping her away from me. I’m alone and as I walk through the drizzling rain back to my apartment, I realize that I don’t want to be. I need someone to talk to. Someone who won’t judge me, who will be on my side, and who will let me pour my heart out to them and will want to help.
As I round the corner onto my street, I think of someone who can give me just that. Who has given me that in the past.
Once I’m inside my apartment, I head straight into my bedroom and close the door behind me. My heart seems to race as I pace across the floor and consider the consequences of what I’m about to do, but honesty, in this moment if feels as though I have nothing to lose.
I pull out my phone and dial the number I hate that I still know by heart and listen as it begins to ring.