I’m awoken very suddenly by the shrill ring of my phone on my nightstand. My alarm clock tells me it’s 2 AM, and I groan as I reach blindly through the darkness to pick up the phone and then sit up to answer it. I expect the name on the caller ID to read Jason Taylor, but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s Katherine Kavanagh’s name spelled out across the too brightly illuminated screen. Oh, fuck.
“Hello?” I answer, suddenly feeling much more alert.
“Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke,” Kate says, and I can immediately tell she’s been drinking.
“Kate? Is everything okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” she says. “But Anastasia is very, very drunk.”
“Where are you?” I ask, immediately jumping into action. There is a pair of jeans next to my bed that I throw on as I listen to Kate trying to remember where she is.
“We’re definitely in a house. It’s by our house… oh wait, no. It’s not by our house. It’s… wait, hold on. Hey, where is this house?”
She’s screaming to someone on her side of the phone and, while whoever it is answers her, I only get bits of the conversation through the thumping music playing in the background.
“Oh, it’s not a house? It’s an apartment? What floor are we on? But what street is this?” she asks, slurring her words. “Okay, hold on. Luke?”
“I’m here, Kate.”
“We’re on Harvard street, but it’s not at Harvard. It’s just a street. We’re in an apartment.”
“I’ll find you,” I promise, and I hang up the phone so I can plug “Harvard Street Cambridge MA” into google on my phone. She’s not far off campus but she’s probably two miles from her house. How she got there, I don’t know. I’d made sure Ana was home before I went to bed tonight.
I sigh as I throw on my jacket and pick up my keys, I thought we were moving out of this phase. Ever since she’d started writing her book about a month ago, Anastasia had only been out a couple times and she hasn’t gotten drunk at all. It’s actually been almost three months since I was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to pick her up somewhere. Her new disinterest in partying has made life so much easier for me, not only because it’s easier to keep an eye on her when she isn’t completely out of her mind, but this new introverted lifestyle she’s been living has made my updates to Taylor much less tense. Besides, I know this whole party scene isn’t her. This is a symptom of pain, and it actually hurts me to think that that’s probably the reason she’s out tonight. She started thinking of him again.
Thankfully, despite Kate’s less than perfect directions, the party is easy to find once I pull onto the street. As I step out of the car and make my way up the walk, I’m given a preview of what I should expect to find inside when a girl in a short, black sequin skirt falls to her knees on the curb and vomits into the street while her very drunk friend rushes forward to hold her hair out of her face. The knee high brick wall that lines the yard is littered with dozens of condiment sized plastic cups.
Jello shots. Great.
I take a deep breath, push open the door, and step into the building. When I get a look around at the open corridor that leads to the stairs, I groan. This building is completely occupied by students and it looks as though every apartment is open for the party. Anastasia could be in any one of them, on any one of the four floors above me, but not finding her isn’t an option. Shaking my head, I step into the first open door on my left.
It takes about 45 minutes of closely examining the faces of each person I come across before I finally find Kate in an apartment on the 2nd floor. When she sees me, her face lights up and she stumbles forward to hug me.
“Luke! You made it! Come here, come here… I’ll get you a drink.”
“No thanks, Kate,” I say gently. “Where’s Ana?”
“Uhhhhhh.” She hesitates, looking around the room. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“What?” I snap, and Kate shrugs.
“She went to dance with some guy.”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
“When did you see her last?” I ask, but she’s turned to talk to her friends again and getting her attention back on me feels like trying to get a toddler to do math.
“Hey, focus,” I tell her. “Where did you see her go?”
“Uh… I think like, maybe… uh…”
“Kate!” I say, snapping at her as she turns to laugh at something the girl next to her said.
“What?” she asks, and I think I’m about to lose my fucking mind.
“Where is Anastasia?”
“Oh, Ana! She went off to dance with some guy.”
My teeth grind together as I take the still mostly full plastic cup of alcohol out of Kate’s hand and make my way deeper into the apartment. Usually, Kate’s more of a help than this. I don’t actually think I’ve ever seen her this wasted before. Ana’s normally the troublemaker, but with Elliot out of town this weekend visiting Grey, I should have expected something like this. And if Kate is this faded, I don’t even know what to expect when I find Ana…
The music seems to be louder in this apartment than the others I’ve been through, and I walk through several clouds of pungent smoke. There are more people here and the lightbulbs have all been replaced with black lights and colored strobes. Altogether, it makes searching the apartment much more difficult and I’m about to head next door when the leggy brunette grinding on some guys lap on the couch flips her hair and I see that it’s Ana. His hands are all over her and his tongue is so far down her throat, I wonder how she’s still breathing. Immediately, I feel my stomach drop. Great.
“Anastasia,” I say, stepping up to the side of the couch. She turns to look up at me, almost confused for a moment, but when she realizes it’s me, she smiles.
“Luke, what are you doing here?” she asks.
“Looking for you,” I tell her. “Kate called me.”
“Oh, did you see her?” Ana asks, slurring her words so badly it’s almost difficult to understand her. “Doesn’t she look pretty tonight? I told her that blue is definitely her color.”
“She looks great,” I say dismissively. “What are you doing?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Luke, this is… uh, this is…” She looks down at the guy, who is still fondling her tits and frowns. “What’s your name again?”
“Jeremy,” he replies.
“Right. Jeremy.” Ana nods. “Luke, this is Jeremy.”
“Great. Can I talk to you for a second?” I ask her, and she nods.
“Hold on just one minute, George,” she says. He protests as she struggles to get off his lap, even tries to pull her back down on top of him, but I reach out for her hand and shoot my most menacing look down at him before leading her out of the apartment.
“What’s up?” Ana asks once we’re in the hallway. She looks a little dazed but whether that’s because she just came out of a dark apartment and is now standing under a long line of florescent lights or she’s really just this drunk, I’m not sure.
“I think I should take you home,” I tell her and she gives me a pointed look.
“Oh come on, Luke. It’s a party. Come inside with me. Live a little.”
“It’s almost three o’clock in the morning, Ana. And you look like you’ve enjoyed the party plenty. Come with me, I’ll take you home.”
“What about Kate?” She asks and I inhale sharply before turning back to face the apartment.
“Wait right here for me, I’ll go get her. Do not move.”
“Yes, sir,” she slurs, trying to salute me, but the movement knocks her off balance and she stumbles into the wall.
“Just… stay here,” I tell her once more and I head back into the apartment for Kate. I have to pry her away from her group of friends, a difficult task since she seems to be the center of attention and that’s exactly where Kate loves to be, but eventually I coax her out of the apartment. When we get into the hallway, we find Ana on the floor, slumped against the wall and fast asleep, so I slowly lift her into my arms and carry her towards the stairs. Kate trails behind us, struggling to walk herself, and I curse myself for not coming up with an excuse to spend the night at their house tonight so I could have prevented any of this from ever happening.
“Christian?” Ana mumbles, looking up at me through her eyelashes.
“Nope, it’s Luke,” I correct her. Her face screws up slightly, almost like she’s going to cry, but her expression smooths out again as she falls back asleep in my arms. She doesn’t wake again until I lift her out of the car and help her into the house.
“Okay, here we go,” I say, supporting nearly all of Ana’s weight as I help her through the front door. She giggles slightly as she trips over the lip at the front door and I pull her back just in time to keep her from sprawling to the floor.
“Smooth move, Ana,” Kate laughs. “You need to learn to pace yourself.”
“Shut up, Kate,” Ana says. “This was your idea anyway.”
“And it was a great idea,” Kate replies, as she lies down on the couch. Clearly, she’s given up on the idea of making it upstairs to her bed. Not that Ana looks to be up to the task either…
“Do you think you can make it up the stairs?” I ask her.
“Yeah,” she says, nodding with the kind of foolish confidence one can only find at the bottom of a bottle of tequila. “Totally.” She takes a step forward and places her foot on the edge of the bottom step, but when she moves to take another step, her foot slips and she falls onto the wooden steps.
“Ow,” she whispers, pouting a little, and I have to hold back my laughter.
“Why don’t I carry you?” I ask her. “I’ve already driven across town to find you, I don’t really want to add a trip to the emergency room.”
“No! I can totally do it. Watch,” she says, but before she can get to her feet again, I reach out and scoop her into my arms.
“Whoa,” she whispers, reaching up to hold her head as I start to ascend the stairs. “Head rush.”
“We’re almost there,” I promise. “Try to stay here with me on planet earth until I can get you into bed.”
“Bed?” she asks, and I roll my eyes.
“Yeah, bed. The place where you sleep.”
When we get to the landing, I cross the hall towards her bedroom and immediately move to place her on the bed. The moment she falls onto the mattress, she begins tearing off her shirt.
“Uh…” I say, turning away. “Are you going to be alright? Can I get you anything?”
“Help me,” she whines, struggling with the buttons on her jeans.
“Ana…” I say uncomfortably, but she looks up at me and pouts.
“Please, I can’t sleep in jeans,” she says. I hesitate for a moment before eventually bending over her to help her get her pants off.
“Lift your hips,” I tell her, once I’ve unfastened the buttons around her waist and pulled down the zipper. She does as I ask her to, but once I have her jeans off her legs, she reaches up to wrap her fingers in my jacket and pulls on me until I lose my balance and fall on the bed next to her. She’s on top of me in the next instant, her legs straddling my hips and her hands reaching into my hair as she crashes her lips down on mine.
“Anastasia,” I protest, her name garbled as I try and speak with her lips pressed to mine.
“Luke,” she moans back at me.
I grip her arms and move her off of me, holding her at arm’s length until I’m able to get off the bed. “What are you doing?” I ask her.
She smiles at me and climbs up onto her knees, reaching back for the clasp of her bra and then pulling it off of her so that she’s kneeling in front of me with her naked breasts peeking at me through her long, dark hair.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she says, biting down into her bottom lip. She traces her hand down the side of her body and then hooks her thumb underneath the band of her panties so she can pull them down an inch or so. “I want you, Luke.”
“No, you don’t,” I say very firmly, but she gives me a minx-like smile and lifts her hands into her hair, pulling it away from her shoulders so that she’s completely exposed in front of me.
“Haven’t you wondered what it would be like?” she asks, her voice soft and seductive. “Don’t you want to know what it would feel like to fuck me? I’m saying yes, Luke…”
I swallow. “And, I’m saying no.”
Her hands fall to her sides as she looks at me uncomprehendingly for a moment and then, as the sting of the rejection hits her, she frowns and falls back into a sitting position on the bed. Her hands reach over for a pillow so she can cover her exposed skin and, once she’s no longer naked in front of me, I immediately relax.
“You don’t think I’m pretty?” she asks quietly, and there is an obvious note of hurt in her voice.
“I think you’re beautiful, Ana. You’re gorgeous even, and your body is… well, you should be very proud of all of that, but we’re friends. Just friends.”
She looks down at her fingers for a moment as she plays nervously with the edge of her pillowcase, but when she looks back up at me, her eyes are swimming with tears.
“I need to get him out of me, Luke,” she says. “It’s been almost a year… how long am I going to feel like this? I can’t do this anymore.”
“No,” I agree. “You can’t. Look, I know that you’re still struggling with what happened with your ex but this isn’t helping you move on. In fact, it’s doing the exact opposite. You can’t lose him by losing yourself. This isn’t who you are and it’s making you unhappy, I can see that.”
“I don’t know what else to do,” she admits. “It hurts to think about him, but I can’t stop. Going out… drinking… it helps. It distracts me, gets him out of my head for a few hours…”
“Does it though?” I ask her and she purses her lips together for a moment before she shakes her head. “You know how you move on, Ana? You build yourself up again. You make yourself stronger by being the absolute best version of you that you can be. You have so much going for you. You’re smart, and funny, and kind… And you have Kate, and Elliot, and me… and Harvard. But you’re going to lose that if you don’t get your shit together and stop with the all night ragers. That’s just hurting you and you don’t need to tear yourself down anymore, you need to build yourself up.”
She sniffs. “How?”
“By focusing on school and writing… You’re an amazing writer, Ana and I know that’s what you actually love to do.” I smile at her take a step closer to the bed so I can reach out and swipe my finger against the tip of her nose. “You do you, boo.”
She laughs. “Did you just call me boo?”
“Yeah,” I chuckle. “Now, get into bed, it’s late and you’re going to fuck up your sleep schedule.”
“Fine,” she sighs, and while she crawls under the covers, I head into her bathroom to fill a glass with water and take two Ibuprofen from the bottle.
“Take these,” I tell her, “Or you’re going to feel like shit tomorrow.”
“There’s no avoiding that…” she says, but she takes the tablets from me and puts them in her mouth, chasing them down with most of the glass of water in her hand.
“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Call me when you wake up.”
“Will do,” she yawns. I turn around to leave the room, but just before I close the door, her voice stops me.
“Thanks for coming to get me tonight. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Me either,” I tell her, and then I step out of the room and close the door behind me.