I can’t count the number of times I’ve ended my day staring into the ice that is all that remains in the bottom of my tumbler of gin. It’s never enough, never enough to make me forget or to fill the emptiness. Nothing is. These past two years have given me enough practice that I can shut down during the day, wear the mask that makes me look cool, confident, and in control. But no matter what I do, this void of inside of me continues stretching further every day.
“A chair, Christian,” Elena says, sounding exasperated. “Why don’t we just start with a chair? I can find you a decorator. You wouldn’t have to do anything.”
“What’s the fucking point?” I ask, swirling the ice in the bottom of the glass around and then pulling one of the gin coated cubes into my mouth.
“Well, you have a beautiful apartment and I for one would like to spend time in other parts of it than your office. And I hate seeing you live like this. You’re young, and rich, and powerful. You should be living. These are the best years of your life, Christian. You’re never going to get them back. Trust me.”
“The best years of my life are behind me,” I say darkly as I bite down through the ice. It’s rare that I allow this side of me out anymore, the vulnerable side where I admit to anyone other than Elliot how much I still miss and need Anastasia, but it’s been a stressful day and right now, I need to talk about her. “Harvard was the best of my life.”
“Here we go,” Elena says, rolling her eyes.
“Do you know that it’s been 664 days?” I ask her. “One year, eight months, 23 days and…” I look down at my watch, see that it’s after 11 PM, and sigh. “665 days,” I correct myself. “That’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen her, since I’ve even talked to her.”
“And there will be 665 more. She’s never going to love you again, Christian. You have to move on.”
I shake my head. “She could answer the phone tomorrow. Elliot and Kate just got back from Spring Break in Cabo and Taylor tells me that Ana stayed in Cambridge by herself. Maybe… maybe, being alone has made her realize that she misses me. I just need her to answer the phone one time, I just need to talk to her one time, and I can convince her to take me back. I know I can.”
“Relationships don’t work like mergers and acquisitions, Christian,” Elena says. “Well… the non-contractual ones anyway. You can’t broker her affection like you can a business deal. She’s gone, you need to accept that.”
“No!” I yell, slamming my glass down on my desk. “She’s going to forgive me. One day, she’s going to forgive me. She has to. I’m not going to give up on her, on us… not for anything.”
Elena sighs and gets out of the chair across from my desk to go stand by the window and look out at the view of Seattle below. She’s quiet and I take the opportunity to once again silently repeat the speech I’ve rehearsed every day over the past two years, waiting for the chance to say the words to Anastasia. It feels like something to do, something tangible that makes me feel like I’m moving forward, towards something. That I’m not going to be stuck wallowing in this misery and pining for her forever.
“Your mother’s birthday is this weekend,” Elena says into the glass in front of her. “Are you going to send her flowers?”
“Actually, she called me yesterday,” I reply, tipping my glass against my lips for another ice cube. Really, I just need to accept that I need another drink…
“Really?” she asks, turning looking at me with mild surprise. “Why?”
“She’s having a dinner this weekend for her birthday and she wants me to come.”
She lets out a dark laugh. “Oh, that’s perfect. How did you get out of that one?”
“I didn’t. I’m going over there at 8 on Friday.”
“What?” she asks, her mouth popping open slightly with shock. “You mean… you’re going to have dinner with your father? That’s not a good idea.”
“Why not?” I ask her, sitting up a little straighter in my chair. “He’s my father after all. We haven’t talked in almost two years. Surely, he can’t hate me forever.”
“Oh please, you know as well as I do that he’ll take this resentment he’s harboring against you to his grave,” she says, but when I look up at her, undeterred, she purses her lips and walks over to the corner of my desk. “Why do you keep punishing yourself, Christian? I know that’s why you’re going over there. To punish yourself, because you think you’ve done something wrong. But you haven’t. You were not wrong. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this. You did what was best for you. I mean, look around. You wouldn’t have all of this if you had done what they wanted you to do. Your parents know that and that is why they hate you. They hate your success because you did it without their help. Grace and Carrick Grey are selfish, egotistical people and they can’t handle that you made something of yourself without them. That you dared to be more successful than they were. They hate you, Christian, and that invitation is just an excuse for them to berate you. Don’t let them do that to you. Don’t give them your time, they don’t deserve it.”
“It’s my mother’s birthday, Elena,” I say, narrowing my eyes at her.
“Where were they on your birthday? Where were they a few months ago on New Year’s when you were falling apart? Where have they been every day since that fucking trial? They’ve abandoned you, Christian. Just like your crack whore mother abandoned you. Just like her, they don’t care about you. They’re more concerned with their image than their own son.”
I look up at her, feeling the void inside of me tugging as it tears open a little more. I want to disagree with her but… I can’t. She’s right, they haven’t been there. No one has, except Elena. Elena is the one who always answers my calls, who is over here instantly when I need her, who will drop anything and everything in the middle of the day if I need her… She’s the only one who has never turned her back on me, even after I almost destroyed her two years ago.
“You’re right, I need to think about it more,” I tell her, pushing my tumbler across the desk and getting to my feet. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an early meeting in the morning.”
“Of course,” she says, smiling. “I’ll stop by GEH tomorrow and we can talk about it more.”
I give her a curt nod and then walk her to the elevator. She wraps her arms around me and I feel my body tighten in response. Even after all this time, I still have an instinctual reaction of trepidation to her touch.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promises with a small smile and I nod again as she steps into the elevator. When the doors close, I’m once again alone. A fact made more resounding by my footsteps echoing through my empty apartment as I make my way back towards my bedroom.
I wake early the next morning, pleased to find that I’ve managed to sleep until 4:30. I take a moment to stretch and then mentally calculate the time difference between Seattle and Cambridge. It’s 7:30 for her, too early to have left for class which makes this my best chance to reach her. I scramble quickly to pick up my phone, pacing my bedroom floor as it rings, but the familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach returns when the voice that answers, belongs to Kate.
“Hello,” she says.
“Hello, Kate,” I greet her trying to keep the disappointment out of my voice. She’s still Ana’s best friend so I’ve done my best over the past two years to be as polite and warm with her as possible, hoping that will have some kind of influence whenever she speaks with Ana.
“Is Anastasia there?” I ask, but my hopes immediately plummet as I hear her slow, controlled intake of breath. She’s preparing herself to let me down.
“Nope, you just missed her,” she says, and I let out a sigh of exasperation. It’s 7:30, I know her first class isn’t until 9:30 and she doesn’t meet Sawyer on campus until 9:10. She’s there, I know she’s there.
“Do you know when she’ll be home?” I ask, my voice a little tight as I try to hold back my irritation.
“No, I don’t know when Ana is going to be back, but I can tell her that you called.”
“Fine,” I say, even though I know this is nothing more than a platitude. Apparently, spring break has done nothing to change how Ana feels about me. It had been stupid to hope.
There are voices in the background and I pause, wondering if maybe Ana’s changed her mind. “Hey, Christian. Elliot wants to talk to you, hold on for a second, okay?”
“Okay,” I concede and there is silence on the other end for a second until Elliot comes on the line, overly jovial as usual.
“What’s up, Christian?” he asks. “How’s the world of mergers and acquisitions?”
“It’s doing very well,” I reply, though my voice is too flat to sound convincing. “GEH is a finalist for a huge fiber optics project that will bring in billions of dollars in annual revenue and would open the doors for similar products in the future.”
“Oh, well that sounds… boring as shit, actually,” he says and I roll my eyes. If it’s not building or designing something tangible, Elliot has never been interested. “Hey, are you really going to this thing this weekend?”
“Yes,” I say, though after my conversation with Elena last night, I’m not entirely certain. Unfortunately, he seems to pick up on that.
“Really? ‘Cause if I take Friday off work and fly all the way out to Seattle and you’re not there, I’m going to be fucking pissed.”
“I’ll be there,” I tell him. Mostly because, even if I’m not, I don’t want him missing mom’s birthday too. He’s her golden child. She’d be devastated if he didn’t come.
“Alright… Well, I’ll see you this weekend, I guess. Laters, bro.”
“Good-bye, Elliot,” I say, and I hang up the phone, throw it down on my bed and scrub my hands over my face before changing into some gym shorts and a t-shirt so I can head down to the gym.
My morning routine makes me feel like Patrick Bateman. I start with a strict, regimented workout, followed by a shower where I use products ordered from Los Angeles that are designed for celebrities to keep the skin young and supple. Aging is a sign of weakness, frailty… Things I can never show while staring down the CEO of a company I’m going to rip apart.
I dress in a bespoke suit that was custom ordered from Milan, and leather shoes purchased in Italy. I have a collection of ties from Chanel, a rarity since Chanel doesn’t have a men’s line but rather only shows a few pieces in their runway shows in Paris. I’ve purchased every piece and the simple, gray silk tie that I secure against the collar of the shirt I had custom made in London, is more expensive than the white gold Harry Winston cufflinks I push through my sleeves. I step back to take one last examining look at my appearance in the mirror as I secure the platinum Omega watch around my wrist. I look like Anna Wintour’s wet dream.
I shake my head. I have to shut that shit down. I have work to do.
I eat the same things every morning, egg white omelets with salmon, scallions, and feta. Gail brings it to me in my office with a cup of black coffee every day at the exact same time, skirting around me like I’m a ticking time bomb. It’s easier to remain distant from my staff, especially since the servants quarters are attached to my apartment. It keeps them out of the main residence at night when I’m alone and falling apart.
When I finish with breakfast and all of the work I can get done from home, I pick up everything I’m going to need for the day and then head out for the foyer where Taylor is always waiting for me. As we ride down the elevator to the parking garage, in complete silence, I realize that all I need to do is commit a murder, and I will be living American Psycho.
When I get to my office, I’m greeted by Andrea and Leila, and the CEO shutters come down. “Good morning,” I greet them with cool, aloofness. “Miss Williams, has Mrs. Lincoln confirmed a meeting this afternoon?”
“Yes, sir,” she tells me. “She’ll be here around three this afternoon.”
“Thank you,” I say, picking up some envelopes addressed to me sitting on the counter. “Andrea, I’ll be ready to go over my schedule in three minutes.”
“Yes, sir. Can I bring you some coffee?” Andrea asks.
“Yes,” I nod and then disappear to my office without another word.
I like being at work, it’s easy to stay preoccupied here. I’ve been lauded for my business prowess, my relentlessness, and the miraculous speed in which I have grown my company into a powerhouse conglomeration. In the few interviews I’ve granted, the reporters always wants to know the same thing: how do I do it? I usually give an answer about people and instincts for the market fluctuations, but the truth to my success is a broken heart. If I stop working, I think about Anastasia and thinking about her is painful. So, this is what I do. I put on a stone façade that makes me seem ruthless and cold, and I bury myself in contracts, market analysis, and futures speculation. My company is thriving, beyond anyone’s wildest expectation, including my own. But without Anastasia, without being able to lavish her in a life of luxury she’s never known before, without being able to see her smiling up at me with love and pride reflected in her eyes every time I win an award, or broker an amazing deal, or set some profit record… Without her to share of all of this with, I find no satisfaction in my success. All of this, the penthouse, the cars, the suits, the money itself… it’s all pointless.
“Mr. Grey,” Leila interrupts me through the intercom on my desk phone and I immediately look up and see that it’s already 3 o’clock.”
“Yes, Leila,” I respond, curtly.
“Mrs. Lincoln has arrived.”
I sigh. “Please send her in.”
“Right away, sir.”
I look back down at the screen on my computer and take a deep breath. I’ve skipped lunch again today, and I’m already starting to get a headache. That doesn’t bode well for having Elena here right now.
The door opens and when I look up at her, I notice immediately that she’s not alone. A thin girl with long, dark hair sweeps into the room behind her, and the moment Elena has closed and locked the door behind her, she takes the long trench coat off the girl’s shoulders, revealing her intricate bondage lingerie beneath.
“Jesus Christ, Elena. What the fuck are you doing?” I ask, angrily reaching up and slamming the lid to my laptop closed as I bolt out of my chair.
“Kneel,” Elena says, her cool domme persona in effect as she looks down at the girl next to her. The girl falls to her knees, stares down at the floor, and Elena smiles briefly down at her before crossing the floor of my office and casually lowering herself into the chair across from me. Completely ignoring the submissive she’s left by the door.
“How was your morning, Christian?” she asks, crossing her legs as she leans back in her chair. My eyes flit back to the girl still kneeling on the floor of my office and I scowl. This is not the first time Elena has dared bring a submissive to me, but it is the first time she’s brought one who was half naked.
“You need to remove her,” I say firmly as I turn my gaze back to Elena.
“Just pretend she isn’t there,” Elena replies, somehow managing to keep an air of cool indifference under my piercing stare. I take a deep breath, grit my teeth together but lower myself back into my chair.
“You didn’t answer me,” she says.
“How was your morning?”
“Productive,” I say shortly, as I open the screen to my laptop again and click back into my email, which is already filled with three unread messages since Elena has come through the door.
“You’re so tense, Christian. It’s really not healthy. You’re going to stress yourself into an early grave.”
“Hmm,” I mumble in response as I type out a reply to Ros’s email.
“She can help you with that you know,” Elena says, tilting her head back towards the brunette by the door. “She’s more than willing to do whatever you need her to do to help you relax.”
“I’m not interested,” I say without looking up from my laptop screen.
“You don’t have to fuck her if you don’t want to. She could just suck your cock…”
“Elena,” I say, the warning clear in my voice and she frowns.
“Fine. Have you decided whether or not you’re going to your parents’ house this weekend?”
“I think so,” I nod. “I talked to Elliot and he’s flying back from Cambridge so I should probably make the effort to cross the lake.”
“Well of course the perfect child is coming,” Elena says, rolling her eyes. “What does he have to worry about? Too much love and adoration from Carrick and Grace? That’s probably why they want you there, you know. So they can put you next to him and his MIT degree and ask why you couldn’t be more like their perfect child, Elliot.”
“Well, he was invited to Mia’s sweet sixteen… Maybe I should be more like Elliot.”
“Trapped in middle management?” she scoffs, sounding disgusted. “Stuck with someone as shrill and demanding as Katherine Kavanagh? I mean, he lives in a house that you own, Christian. You’re far better off than Elliot Grey.”
“He lives with Anastasia,” I say quietly.
Elena sighs, gets out of her seat, and meanders slowly around to me. But, as she moves to lower herself onto the edge of my desk, the framed photograph that sits next to my computer catches her eye and she lets out a huff of frustration.
“This isn’t helping you,” she snaps, picking up the picture of Anastasia and I from our weekend in Vermont and shoving it roughly inside my top desk drawer. I turn a sharp look on her, and reach out to grab her wrist so that she can’t slam the drawer closed.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Elena?” I snap at her.
“Did you call her this morning?” she asks, her voice just as sharp as mine. The muscle in my jaw tenses in response and I watch the fire ignite behind her eyes. “Nothing’s changed has it? She still isn’t taking your phone calls.”
I look away from her, pull open the drawer, and place the photograph of Ana and I back on the desk without answering her, but she knows what that means.
“I told you…” she says. Her voice is thick with smug superiority and it really pisses me off.
“There’s always tomorrow,” I reply, gritting my teeth in order to keep myself from unleashing a day’s worth of stress and years worth of rejection on her.
“Why don’t you just go to her?” she asks, and I look up at her in surprise.
“Anastasia. You should go to her. You should get on a plane, fly to Cambridge, get a boom box and a bouquet of flowers, and show up at her door.”
“You think that I should go to her?” I ask skeptically, ignoring the blatant condescension in her actual suggestion.
“You need to face this, Christian, and stop hiding from it. If you’re right and you can talk her back into loving you then… Fine. But if you’re wrong and she doesn’t want to be with you, then you need to move on.”
“I’m not ready for that yet,” I tell her.
“Of course not,” she says. “Because you know nothing will change. You know she’s a lost cause. Why won’t you just let it go?”
“I love her, Elena.”
“She doesn’t love you, Christian! No one loves you and you should be glad for it. Love is weakness and without it, you can conquer the world.”
I swallow and look up at her, hiding the pain I feel from her as her words rip open the void inside of me again.
“I have work to do, you need to leave.”
“Fine,” she nods. “I suppose we can talk about Esclava tomorrow. Meet me for lunch at our place around 1:30?”
“Have Andrea schedule it,” I tell her and she nods before crossing the room again, ordering the still silent girl to her feet, and dressing her in her coat once more.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Christian,” she promises, but I hardly acknowledge the sentiment with even a glance before she opens the door and disappears. When the door closes behind her, I let out a long, drawn out sigh, place my elbows on my desk and my face in my hands. The empty loneliness I feel after her words and her departure seems to pulsate inside of me and the pain I feel from this overwhelming sense of loss that I can’t seem to shake no matter what I try almost has me convinced she’s right. Maybe I would be better off not loving Anastasia.
I take a deep breath and reach out for my phone, looking for the contact I haven’t used in over a year. When I press my finger against my father’s name, I watch the screen go dark, and as the call goes through, I hold the phone up to my ear. It rings twice before going straight to voicemail. I frown as I pull the phone away from my ear, and look down at it again to text him instead. I briefly glance over the dozens of old, unanswered texts still filling the conversation screen before quickly typing out a new message.
I want to see Mia.
By the time I go to bed that night, he still hasn’t responded.