Chapter 15

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“You didn’t say the Lincolns were joining us for dinner,” Christian says to his father, trying to hide the panic in his voice.

“I didn’t know. They said they would be out of town,” He says as he starts carving into the turkey. “Don’t look so displeased son, the Lincolns are practically family.”

Christian looks quickly to me, an almost hidden warning in his eyes, and then he sits up straight in his chair and turns to look at his father carving the turkey.

“Aunt Elena!” Mia cries, jumping up from the table as Grace enters the dining room. I turn to look at the woman who enters behind her and have to swallow a bitter taste that fills my mouth.

I’d always imagined Elena Lincoln as looking well past her prime and sort of gaudy, covered from head to toe in heavy jewelry and with too much makeup on her face as she tried to hold on to her youth for far too long.

Unfortunately, the blonde woman who envelops Mia into a warm hug isn’t any of the things I’d pictured her as. She’s wearing a classic black sheath dress tied at the waist that clings tightly to her curvaceous body. Her jewelry is understated, minus the gargantuan diamond on her left hand, and her makeup is clean and natural. Though I’m sure she’s at least as old as Christian’s mom, she looks really good for her age. Had I not known better, I would have thought she was in her mid thirties rather than her late forties/early fifties. She’s beautiful, and I immediately begin to feel inadequate to the woman who has already won Christian. Is that why he hasn’t told her it’s over, because she looks like that?

“Grace, there must be some mistake,” Elena says. “The Mia Grey that I know is a little girl, but this young woman in front of me is all grown up.” Mia grins a huge, mega-watt smile back at her just as Elliot gets up from the table to greet Mrs. Lincoln.

“Elliot!” She cries with joy as she hugs him tightly. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages! It’s rather dull around here without all of your antics. Did you have fun at the game on Sunday, sweetie?”

“Yes,” Elliot responds. “Thank-you for the tickets, you’re the best!”

“Oh, think nothing of it, dear. Besides, it was Andrew’s idea. He knows how much the team means to you.” She gestures to the man at her side, who looks much more his age than Mrs. Lincoln does with his nearly completely silver hair and the beginnings of lines forming in his face. Elliot reaches out to shake Mr. Lincoln’s hand as Elena’s eyes scan the room and fall on first me, then Christian, who is still pointedly looking away from her.

“Christian, I was beginning to worry something happened to you, you’ve been so hard to reach lately,” She says and I think I hear a note of anger beneath her overly sweet tone.

‘Hello, Mrs. Lincoln,” Christian says, finally relenting to look at her.

“He’s been very busy with his studies. A 4.0 GPA and the star of his rowing team,” Grace says proudly. “Oh, forgive me, Christian has brought a friend home with him from Harvard to join us for Thanksgiving. Elena, this is Anastasia Steele, she lives across the hall from Christian’s dormitory and she’s Elliot’s girlfriend’s friend. Ana, this is my very best friend in the whole world, Elena Lincoln.”

I swallow hard and plaster a smile across my face as I stand to shake her hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Lincoln,” I say, attempting to mimic her saccharine tone. She looks down at my outstretched hand, frowning for a minute before her face morphs into a wide smile.

“If you’re a friend of Christian’s then that practically makes you family, my dear.” She says holding her arms out as if she wants to hug me. I look down at Christian, who is completely stoic, take a deep breath, and allow her to wrap her arms around me. She smells faintly of Magnolia and I wonder if the perfume is supposed to cover up the scent of her evil.

Mrs. Lincoln holds me out at arms length and smiles before she releases me to return to my seat. As I take my place next to Christian, she takes a bottle of wine from her husband.

“Elliot,” Grace says. “Would you please bring two chairs from the sitting room for Elena and Andrew.”

Elliot nods and motions for Mia to follow him out of the dining room.

“I’ll grab some extra plates for you,” Grace says, squeezing Elena’s hand but Mrs. Lincoln stops her.

“Oh don’t worry about me, Grace, I can grab them. I need to chill the wine anyway,” She says and then turns to Christian.

“Christian, would you be a dear and help me carry the plates and glasses?” Mrs. Lincoln asks.

“No,” Christian says shortly and his mother looks at him shocked.

“Christian Trevelyan-Grey!” She exclaims.

“It’s alright,” Elena says softly, placing her hand on Grace’s arm and then turning her gaze to me. “Anastasia, would you mind terribly helping me for a moment?”

Before I can even respond, Christian shoves his chair away from the table and storms out of the dining room towards the kitchen. Elena smiles, winks at Grace, and then follows after Christian. I sit nervously in my seat, staring at the door until Elliot and Mia return, each clutching a straight backed chair.

“Here you are, Mr. Lincoln,” Elliot says as he places the seat down next to his.

“Where is Aunt Elena?” Mia asks, placing the other chair next to Grace.

“Wasn’t she in the kitchen?” Grace asks and both Mia and Elliot shake their heads. “Well, I know she’s been trying to get a hold of Christian for awhile. Perhaps they stepped outside to talk for a moment. I’m sure they’ll be back before Carrick has finally managed to get the turkey carved. In fact, Mia will have probably graduated college by the time Carrick gets this turkey carved.”

“This is an art form,” Mr. Grey says defensively as he continues his careful movements, “It takes a skilled hand.”

Grace and Elliot laugh as Mr. Grey continues to slowly sink his knife into the turkey, cutting thin slices away. I watch his actions nervously as I await Christian’s return. Where is he?

“I think I left my curling iron on in the bathroom,” I say meekly to Grace. “I’ll be right back.”

Grace smiles at me and I hurry out of the dining room and look wildly around for Christian and Mrs. Lincoln. Walking towards my bedroom, I notice the door at the opposite end of the hallway is slightly a jar. I peek through the crack in the door and see Christian and Elena standing in a large, finely furnished office.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Elena says, her voice now hard and stern rather than sweet and warm. “I have half a mind to put you in my car and drive you back to my house to beat the ever living shit out of you. The contract isn’t difficult to understand and for someone with a 4.0 from Harvard, it should be pretty fucking easy to get.”

“The contract is bullshit, Elena. Even you know that,” Christian says.

I watch as Mrs. Lincoln raises her hand in the air and slaps Christian, hard, across the face. I feel rage flash through me and I want desperately to get between the evil bitch troll and Christian but I’m frozen in place, unable to move. Christian stares back into Elena’s hard eyes, unmoved by her sudden act of violence. She stares back at him with vicious anger.

“Bullshit?” Elena barks. “No, what’s bullshit is me having to chase your ass around because you’ve suddenly decided you’re allowed to ignore me. You belong to me, remember? Or do you need another reminder?”

“I don’t belong to you, Elena,” He replies. “Not anymore, I’m done.”

“You’re done?” She says, laughing with no humor. “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to right now? No, you’re not done. You’re not done until I say you’re done and according to my calculations your agreement continues for at least another thirteen weeks.”

“I’m cutting it short. I’m out, I don’t want to do this with you anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Elena asks, anger radiating from her tone. “Is it that little whore you brought with you? Are you fucking her, Christian?”

“Careful, Elena. I punched the last person who called Ana a whore in the face and I’m well aware of your pain tolerance.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Only if you continue to disrespect Anastasia.”

Again, Mrs. Lincoln reaches her hand back and with all the force she can muster slaps Christian across the face. The blow is enough that he falls slightly off balance, but she catches him and pulls him to her, kissing him hard, possessively, on the mouth. He’s stunned for only a moment and as he pushes her away, her teeth scrape his bottom lip.

“Fuck,” He hisses. “What the fuck are you doing, Elena? My parents are in the other room. Your husband is in the other room.”

“I don’t give a fuck,” She says, her hard voice now dripping with lust and she reaches forward to kiss him again but he steps out of her reach.

“Don’t touch me,” He croaks, his voice breaking as he stares at her with trepidation.

“Excuse me?” Elena says with disbelief. “You will submit to whatever I deem fit and pleasurable. If I want to fuck you on your father’s desk right now, you will take it gratefully.”

“No,” Christian says, the determination returning to his voice. Elena’s eyes are ablaze with fury as she reaches forward and grabs Christian tightly by the face.

“Look here, you little shit. I’ve made you what you are. You think you’d be at Harvard, well on your way to a successful career in business if it weren’t for me? Don’t think I don’t know about what’s been going on with you while you’ve been in Cambridge. Drunken nights, fighting. You’ve been away from me for only a few weeks and you’re already turning back into what you were before I turned your life around. If you walk away from me now, you’ll be out of school and in jail before your sophomore year. Do you want to turn into your crack whore mother?”

Christian shoves her off of him and pushes her back to the desk, pinning her down with his fiery gaze.

“Shut up! Just shut the fuck up! Jesus, what the fuck don’t you get, Elena?” Christian says, the anger in his voice rising. “This is it, I’m done. This thing between us is over. I’m going to be with Anastasia and that’s it. You’re not going to change that.”

“Have you fucked her?” Elena demands, attempting to assert herself as best she can while looking up into Christian’s furious eyes.

“No, I haven’t fucked her.”

Elena lets out a short, harsh laugh as she continues. “I bet you fuck her once and end up crawling back to me on your hands and knees begging for this.”

She stands, reaches out her hand, and grasps Christian so tightly through his pants I wonder if it’s painful. He lets out a harsh breath and she smiles wickedly.

“Mmm, baby. You’re hard for me. You see, Christian, this is what you want, what you need. She won’t give this to you. She can’t give this to you. Only I can give you what you need, Christian.”

“Don’t fucking touch me, Elena,” He spits, shoving her hand roughly away from him. “You have no idea what I fucking need.”

She smiles at him wickedly, pulling at the ties that secure the black dress as she stalks towards him.

“Don’t,” Christian warns, holding his hands out in front of him. Her sneer hardens as she reaches out and Christian backs into a wall.

“Red!” He cries and immediately, Mrs. Lincoln’s hands fall, her cold eyes suddenly full of concern.

“Christian,” She says in a worried, breathy tone. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”

“Don’t,” He says again. “Just don’t. I’m done with this shit. I’m done with you and I’m done following all of your commands.”

“Oh, that’s it,” Elena says, a smile creeping across her face with new understanding. “She’s submissive. Christian Grey wants to be a Dominant.”

Christian says nothing, but continues to glare at her. Elena nods as if his silence confirms what she’s said.

“You’re going to be disappointed, Christian. That little girl out there is far too innocent. What would she want with someone fucked up like you?”

“Fuck off, Elena,” Christian spits at her, but she smiles.

“If you want a chance at playing Dominant Christian, all you had to do was ask. We’ll draw up a new contract and see what you’ve got. I’m up for a new challenge.”

“I don’t want a new challenge and I don’t want you. I want Anastasia, and quite frankly Elena, I’m getting pretty fucking tired of repeating myself.”

Elena’s eyes harden again and her smile tightens into a thin line.

“She won’t make you happy, Christian.”

“What the fuck do you know about happy?” He asks coldly. “I’ve only known her a few months and I can’t even describe to you how happy it’s made me.”

“We’ll see,” She says. “This isn’t over, Christian, not even close. If you think I’m going to let you out of the contract for that little mouse, you haven’t been paying very close attention to your training. I’ll break her if I have to, turn your whole family against her, and you’ll come crawling back to me. I suggest you keep your cock to yourself while you’re back at school, I don’t like to share my toys and even I don’t know what I would do if I found out.”

Christian doesn’t respond, he only glares at her and Mrs. Lincoln turns to leave the room.

In a panic, I turn and sprint to my bedroom, ducking around the corner just in time to avoid being seen by Mrs. Lincoln. I collapse against the wall as I think about everything I’ve just heard. She hit him, a lot. She hit him and he did nothing. She threatened him, threatened me. Who the fuck does this woman think she is? She’s evil, pure evil and I won’t let her do this to him or to us.

I need to tell someone, right? I mean, it’s not right… but Christian didn’t do anything, he just stood there and took it. I’m so confused, none of it makes sense to me except… And then I realize, he’s finally done it. Christian has finally told Mrs. Lincoln that it’s over and that he wants to be with me. I feel a smile begin to cross my face but it disappears as I wonder how much weight Mrs. Lincoln’s threats hold. She’s Grace’s best friend, certainly her opinion on me would hold weight with Christian’s mom. And what’s more disturbing is violence is obviously not something she shies away from. Is Christian safe? Am I?

As I think about everything Ray has taught me about self defense, I resolve to talk to him about it tonight, after everyone has left and demand an explanation. Perhaps he’s simply too scared to tell anyone. Well, I’m not.

I realize as I sit there thinking about what I’ve just heard and seen that I’ve been away from the table for too long so I stand, straighten my skirt, and slowly make my way back out to the dining room. Dinner is being served and I take my seat next to Christian, who looks at me confused, just in time to take the bowl of mashed potatoes from his father. We dish our plates as Grace talks happily with Elena, who has resumed her kind-hearted demeanor.

“You’re a Harvard student as well, Anastasia?” Elena asks sweetly, turning to speak with me. I can feel Grace and Carrick’s eyes on me and I know I can’t respond to the horrible bitch troll the way I would like to, so I summon up all of the strength I have and screw my face into what I hope is a smile.

“Yes,” I answer.

“And what are you studying?” she asks.

“English Literature,” I reply, trying with all my might not to spit my response back at her with all the hatred I’m feeling for this vile woman. Her eyes light up at my answer and she shoots a quick, vindictive glance at Christian, before continuing to speak with me.

“I don’t imagine that’s a very lucrative field,” Elena says, “What do you plan to do with your degree?”

I shrug, unwilling to play into her manipulative little game and her eyes narrow at me. I’d like to tell her that whatever I chose to do would be far more lucrative than playing the trophy wife or abusing men half her age, but the table is silent and I know everyone is listening. I look to see Christian’s reaction and see Mr. Grey is staring at me, a conflicted look on his face as if he’s trying to make a difficult decision. I shy away from his glance, glad Mrs. Robinson’s line of questioning is over, and spend the rest of the meal looking quietly down at the food in front of me, wishing desperately for Ray and sweatpants.

When dinner is over and we’ve all enjoyed generous helpings of pie, we make our way out to the living room to visit some more. I sit quietly next to Christian as we listen to Carrick and Mr. Lincoln speak about business and Mrs. Lincoln and Grace share gossip from their inner circle of friends.

As we sit together with the uncomfortable unanswered questions hanging in the air between us, I feel my phone buzz on the couch next to me and look down to see Ray’s name flashing across the screen.

“Oh my god,” I say, a refreshing wave of joy washing over me. “Excuse me, please. I need to take this.”

Grace smiles and nods and I rush from the room, answering the phone as I go.

“Ray!” I say, feeling tears begin to well in my eyes as the joy of finally speaking with him hits me.

“Hey, Annie! Happy Thanksgiving!” He says.

“You too, Dad. What’s going on? Did you have something good to eat?”

“Same old, same old,” Ray sighs. “I gotta say, I’m missing your turkey today kid. How’s your mom?”

“Ummm, I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken to her lately,” I say.

“You didn’t go home for Thanksgiving? You stayed at school alone?” He asks and I hear the fatherly concern in his voice.

“Not exactly,” I say. “I came home with a friend. I’m spending Thanksgiving with his family.”

“His?” Ray asks, his interest peaked.

“Yes,” I answer. “His name is Christian Grey and it’s been lovely visiting with his family, but it’s very different from what I’m used to. His family is very wealthy and dinner has been a little… uptight.”

“No football?” Ray asks as if I’m admitting the Greys have committed a crime.

“No, Dad. No football. Although they did take me to a Seahawks game last Sunday.”

“Really? That sounds great, Annie. I’d have given anything to have been there for that!”

“Me too, Dad. I miss you so much.”

“I miss you too, Annie. You enjoy yourself this weekend, you’ve been working so hard. That’s what gets me through over here, knowing that this is all for you.”

“Oh, Dad.” I say, the tears coming more forcefully now and I can’t help it, I gasp as I fully start to cry.

“Now Annie, don’t cry. I’m proud of you baby and I just want you to know that. You should be happy, these are the best years of your life.”

“I just wish you were here,” I say again, trying to get the tears under control. “I’ve been so worried about you since I got that letter.”

“I’m doing great,” He says. “We had a little scare and I’ve been praying extra hard to come home safe to you since it happened, but I’m doing fine.”

“Just, be careful,” I plead.

“I will, Annie. Look, you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and you eat plenty of the turkey for me. I’ve got to go, but I just wanted you to know how much I love you and how much I’m thinkin’ of you everyday.”

“I love you too, Daddy,” I weap.

“Keep writin’ me your letters and I’ll call you on Christmas,” He says.

“I will,” I promise.

“I love you Annie, more than you’ll ever know.”

“Me too.”

“Good-bye.”

“Bye,” I say. The phone clicks and I hear nothing else but empty silence coming through the phone. I have to take a moment to cry in the hallway as an overwhelming sense of loneliness bears down on me. Why did I ever agree to this? Why did I ever think it was okay for Ray to make this sacrifice just so I could go to some stupid fancy school? If I’d have just gone to the University of Washington or Washington State University, I’d be having Thanksgiving at home with my dad right now.

“Hey,” Christian’s soft voice says behind me. I turn to face him, tears rolling down my face and he pulls me into a hug, rubbing my back softly until I’ve calmed down and am able to stop the tears.

“Are you okay?” He asks and I nod as I wipe my nose.

“Yeah, It’s just really hard having my Dad away,” I say. He kisses me on the top of my head in a gesture of understanding and in that moment, I’m glad that he’s here with me. No matter how hard it is between us, no matter what obstacles we have to get through, Christian continues to be there for me. He cares and he makes me feel safe and comfortable.

“You smell like my mom,” He says out of the blue. I look up at him confused and he smiles as he stares down into my eyes.

“Your shampoo. It’s the same one my mom uses and it makes you smell like her.”

“It’s the shampoo that’s in the shower in the guest room. I forgot mine at school,” I tell him.

“We’ll have to go get you something different. This makes you infinitely less appealing to me sexually,” He jokes and I laugh, thankful that even in this crushing moment, he’s able to make me laugh.

“We wouldn’t want that,” I say.

“No, we wouldn’t,” He replies. I smile at him and he takes me by the hand and leads me back to the living room where everyone is still sitting.

“Ana, what’s wrong?” Grace asks, noticing the red puffiness in my eyes from crying.

“That was my dad,” I explain. “I’m fine, it’s just hard being away from him so much.”

She nods with concern and says. “Is he having a nice Thanksgiving?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think they get anything special for dinner. He asked us all to eat lots of turkey for him.”

“Well, that’s just awful,” Grace says. “Being over there, keeping us all here at home safe and not even getting a good meal on Thanksgiving?”

“Your father is in the military?” Elena asks, and when I nod she looks pointedly at Carrick, as if what I’ve said proves her point about something. Crap, what did I miss while I was on the phone?

“Well the next time you speak with him, you tell him we are all very appreciative of his sacrifice,” She continues and I give her a tight smile and roll my eyes as I look away. Mr. Lincoln stands and stretches and then turns to look down at his wife.

“Shall we go?” He asks ,and Mrs. Lincoln nods. Mia rushes off to the sitting room to get their coats while Grace hugs Elena good-bye. Elena also hugs Mia and Elliot before turning to Christian. He reluctantly allows her to wrap her arms around him and when she pulls away, she hides a sharp look behind a fake smile.

“Don’t be a stranger, Christian,” She says, but he doesn’t say anything. Grace gives him a stern look as Elena and Mr. Lincoln turn to leave. When the door closes behind them, Elliot flops across the couch and turns the TV to the Thursday night game.

“Walk with me?” Christian asks, looking down at me and I nod. He leads me into the expansive back yard and down to the boat house on the water. We take the stairs that lead up to the loft and I sit on the couch pushed against the far wall, looking at him expectantly.

“I’ve done it,” He says after pacing a few times. “I told her it’s over.”

“I know,” I tell him.

“You know?”

“I heard your conversation,” I say hesitantly and he stands frozen, looking down at me with apprehension.

“What did you hear?” he asks.

“A lot that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” I admit. “And I saw her hit you.”

He tenses as he stares down at me worried either about my reaction or what he’s about to tell me.

“What’s the contract?” I ask, pressing him for answers. He looks down at me, conflicted until I see determination cross his eyes and he comes to sit next to me on the couch.

“Elena and I have… had,” He corrects himself and then reaffirms, “Had an agreement. I would do everything she asked me to do, follow her instructions to the letter, and she would reward me… sexually.”

“And if you didn’t do what she asked?”

His eyes darken and I know the answer.

“She’d hit you,” I say for him.

“Sometimes… if I was lucky.” He says. “Sometimes it would be worse.”

“Why haven’t you told anyone?” I ask, shocked and he sighs.

“Because… I liked it, Anastasia.”

“What?” I ask, and he takes a deep breath as he explains.

“Look, I had a rough start in life and it affected me, it still does. I have a difficult time being touched. You can’t imagine what it was like for me, fifteen years old, horny as hell but unable to let anyone touch me. I was spiraling out of control, choosing methods of coping that were destructive and unhealthy. Then one day Elena introduced me to her lifestyle. The pain, the violence… it was the only contact I understood and could handle. She was able to please me sexually when no one else could. I like the pain, Anastasia. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known.”

“So… you’re a masochist?” I ask and he frowns.

“Maybe, I don’t think so. Elena is a Domme and I was her Submissive. It was a sexual relationship that worked in the past and now it doesn’t.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because I met you,” He says. “I’ve never wanted anyone the way I want you. I’ve never been interested in a relationship, in a girlfriend, until I met you.”

“Why me?”

“I don’t know. I’ve spent weeks, months even, trying to figure it out but in the end, it doesn’t matter what it is, only that it is. I want you, Anastasia. I want you to be mine and only mine.”

He leans over to kiss me but I stop him as I feel my stomach roil. Everything he’s just told me, knowing that his lips where just on the bitch troll’s…. it’s too much for right now. I need time to absorb this, to really know what it means and how I feel.

“Ana?” He asks, looking down at me with concern.

“I can’t,” I whisper. He face changes from worry to panic.

“You said that if I told her, if I broke it off, we’d be together,” He says.

“This is a lot, Christian. It’s too much and it’s really kind of fucked up. I need some time to know how I feel about this.”

I watch his face crinkle with pain as I rebuke him but he nods. I lean over and kiss him gently on the cheek and hold my hand out for him to lead him back to the house. We walk inside and sit down but Christian’s dad comes out of the kitchen in that moment and rests his hand on Christian’s shoulder.

“Son, will you come speak with me in private for a moment?” He asks. Christian looks at his Dad confused but nods his head and gets up to follow him to the study I saw him talking to Mrs. Lincoln in earlier. Grace, rushes out of the kitchen after them, drying her hands with a hand towel as he goes. I stare after them, wondering what’s going on, and Elliot must see the concern in my expression because he actually diverts his attention away from the TV to speak to me.

“My dad thinks you’re after Christian for his money,” He says, not bothering to sugar coat it.

“What?” I ask, almost insulted by the insinuation. I’ve never considered Christian’s money once whenever I’ve thought about us together. In fact, most of the time, it makes me feel uncomfortable that we’re in such different situations financially.

“He’s very protective,” Elliot explains. “Especially of Christian. You’re the first girl he’s ever let close to him and my dad thinks Christian might be a little… naive.”

“I have no interest in his money,” I say harshly and Elliot shrugs.

“I know, and I said that, but Dad feels he needs to talk to Christian. You can listen outside the study if you want, I would if I hadn’t already gotten the gist of it while you two were out back, and that’s what Mia and I did when Christian got in trouble before he went to school.”

I hesitate on the couch and as Elliot narrows his eyes at me, almost daring me to go eavesdrop, I roll my eyes and get up from the couch, walking towards the study and away from Elliot’s satisfied smile. I creep into the hallway, feeling extraordinarily guilty for listening to this private moment between Christian and his parents, but knowing how important it is to me to know how Christian will react to what they say.

“And the fighting?” Mr. Grey asks. “Elliot told us you were in a fight on Halloween.”

“Ana’s ex-boyfriend called her a whore. He needed to get hit in the face,” Christian explains with a passe shrug.

“Christian…” Carrick says. “We’ve said again and again, violence is neither acceptable or constructive. Your mother and I are concerned. You’ve been doing so well and now you’re back to drinking and fighting, and from our perspective the common denominator is Anastasia.”

“Ana has nothing to do with the drinking. It’s been stressful. I had one bad night and I’m sorry. I learned my lesson. She was the one who took care of me that night, not the one encouraging me to drink.”

“Carrick,” Grace says gently. “Ana seems like a lovely girl. Perhaps, you’re being a little harsh.”

“They’re always lovely, Grace,” Carrick responds. “Especially when they find out how many zeros are attached to the end of your trust fund.”

“What are you saying?” Christian asks angrily.

“I’m saying this all seems very convenient,” Carrick answers. “A girl takes on an enormous amount of debt to go to a school her parents can’t afford and then she happens to cozy up to a boy with a hefty trust fund. I’m saying you need to be wary, Christian. People will take advantage of you because of your privilege.”

“You don’t think I understand that there are people out there who will take advantage of me?” He growls at his father. “You don’t think I know how horrible people really are? I think I know that better than either of you and if either of you need a reminder of that, I’ll show you the scars that remind me everyday about the shitty fucking people in this world.”

“Christian, language!” Grace scolds, though her eyes begin to water with pain. Carrick rests his hand on her leg reassuringly, as if to say let it go.

“Mrs. Lincoln expressed her own concern after dinner tonight,” Carrick says calmly. “It’s all a little suspicious.”

“I bet she did, but Mrs. Lincoln doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. She doesn’t even know Ana and neither do you.”

“Christian…” Grace says diplomatically but he cuts her off.

“No, I’m not going to sit here and listen to this shit. Anastasia isn’t here because of my money. Just because someone wasn’t given the same opportunities as you were, as I was, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, and if you can’t accept that, if you can’t accept Anastasia, then you can spend the next holiday without me.”

“Christian, please understand… we’re just trying to protect you,” Carrick says, attempting to call Christian back as he walks to the door.

“I asked her to be my girlfriend,” Christian says in a low voice. “I’ve told her that I want to be with her and she said no. How can she be using me for my money if she said no?”

“Christian…” Grace again begins sympathetically, but he holds his hand up to stop her and turns for the door. I turn around and sprint through the entrance hall to the living room before Christian catches me eavesdropping and I settle down on the couch, trying to look casual staring at the TV as Elliot flips through the channels. He looks over at me and then smiles and once before returning his gaze to the TV.

“What?” I ask, irritated by his grin.

“Now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger,” He sings, quoting Kanye West.

“Shut up, Elliot,” I say, and he laughs as Christian rounds the stairs into the living room and flops angrily down on the couch next to me.

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