Chapter 18

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The next morning, Kate scrambles around the room looking for things she forgot to pack. I stare at her impatiently, waiting at the door and holding tightly to the handle of my purple carry-on.

“Kate, we’re going to miss the train,” I complain.

“I’m meeting Elliot’s parents tonight,” She says. “I need to make sure I have everything I need to look perfect.”

“Psht,” I scoff. “They met me in jeans and chucks. You’re going to look flawless no matter what,” I assure her again, but my words don’t stop her from digging through her closet for a third time.

Finally, about 10 minutes later, she’s satisfied with what she’s packed and we wheel our suitcases out of our dorm, across the parking lot, and towards the train station close to campus. I feel a disquieting sense of sadness when I see Christian’s car knowing that, despite it’s presence, he isn’t here. Even Kate will see him before I do.

Kate and I wait in the cold at the train station, snowflakes slowly wafting around us. It’s weird that this break will be so long. I remember how long Thanksgiving break felt and this will be three times as long. I’m going to miss Cambridge, I’m going to miss Kate, and mostly, I’m going to miss Christian. I wanted to give him my answer in person rather than over the phone but I can’t wait for three weeks. I want him to know now.

We pull our luggage into the train crowded with commuters and Harvard students when it arrives a few minutes later. We’re packed in so tightly I can feel at least 3 people touching me as we begin the journey to Boston. The trip, though reasonably short, is extremely uncomfortable and I find myself longing for the town car I got to ride in the last time I left for break, and the man I got to ride with.

Relief washes over me when the train doors open at Logan International Airport and Kate and I are able to exit the train. We walk side by side through the crowded airport full of people trying to make it home for Christmas. I groan when, after already waiting in line for over an hour to get through security, Kate sets off the metal detector, and she’s pulled aside to be searched by the TSA with the wand. When they find nothing more than a bellybutton ring, Kate and I grab our luggage and hurry though the terminal.

When the time comes for us to separate, Kate hugs me tightly.

“I’ll miss you, Steele,” She says. “Text me everyday.”

“And call me to let me know how it goes with Grace,” I make her promise.

“I will, don’t get in too much trouble before I get to Vegas for New Years. I’ll be jealous and I don’t handle that well.”

“I won’t,” I laugh

“Love you,” She says.

“Love you too, Kate. Say hi to Christian for me.”

“I will.” She hugs me one last time and I watch her hurry off towards the flight leaving for Seattle.

When I get to my gate, I settle down in one of the seats and call my mom.

“Ana, sweetheart!” She greets me excitedly.

“Hi, Mom. I’m at the airport.”

“What time should I pick you up?”

“I land at nine,” I tell her.

“Bob and I will be there,” She assures me.

“Great, see you soon, Mom.”

“Bye-bye, honey.”

“Bye.”

I hang up the phone and since they haven’t called my section yet, I decide to call Christian. I just can’t wait any longer. The phone rings twice but goes to voicemail. I pull it away and look down at it with confusion. Did he reject my call?

“Uh, hey,” I say after I hear the beep. “I’m about to board my flight to Vegas. I was hoping to talk to you yesterday but Ros said you had already left for Seattle. So, um… I guess I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

I hang up the phone as they call my section and hurry forward to take my seat.

The flight from Boston to my layover in Atlanta isn’t nearly as pleasant as my flight with Christian was last month. I grab a quick bite to eat at the Atlanta airport and check my phone but I have nothing from Christian. Okay, maybe I’ll text him.

Hey.

I walk back to the gate and sit nervously through the too long layover but by the time I board the plane, I still haven’t heard back from him. Is he ignoring me? Why?

Fortunately, I’m able to sleep most of the way to Vegas and as we make our descent into McCarran International Airport, I swallow my fear and lean over to look out the window at the bright lights of the Vegas strip below.

McCarran airport is loud as in addition to the general people milling around, slot machines and advertisements for shows, resorts, and exhibits blare at me. I’m grateful when I hop on the tram that takes me out of the terminal and to the waiting area.

My mom is nearly bouncing up and down with giddiness when I come down the stairs to where the baggage carousels are. She pulls me into a hug, swinging me from side to side in her excitement. When she releases me, Bob hugs me quickly and I give him an awkward hug back. I haven’t spent much time with him and even though he’s technically my stepfather, the man feels like a stranger to me.

“Are you hungry?” My mom asks, “We can have a late dinner.”

“Please,” I say as I really am starving. We’ve reached the car and Bob takes my bag and puts it into the trunk. I climb into the back seat and look at my phone. There still isn’t anything from Christian but there is a text from Kate.

Made it to Seattle. On my way to meet the Grey’s! Wish me luck!

Good Luck!

I picture her sitting next to Elliot in the Greys’ overly ornate dining room, easily chatting with them about shared experiences that come from growing up with wealth. Kate will fit in easily with the Grey family. Carrick won’t have any concerns about her intentions with Elliot. She’s the perfect match for him. Maybe that’s why Christian hasn’t texted me back or answered any of my calls. Perhaps he now sees what his father did when we were in Seattle.

Bob drives to a diner close to the house as most of the restaurants, minus the ones on the strip, are closed. I listen to my mom as she catches me up on everything she and Bob have been doing, her new business ventures, and their plans to move to Savannah. She asks me about school (still mooning over how proud she is I got into Harvard) and Ray and Kate.

“Kate is coming for New Years,” I tell her. “I don’t know what day but I think she plans to stay on the strip.”

“Oh, wonderful!” My mom says. “I have a few friends that work at a couple of the resorts down there. Let me know where you’re staying and on what days and I’ll see if I can arrange something special for you girls.”

“Great, thanks Mom!” I say.

After dinner, we make the short drive down Decatur RD to the house. I walk into the barely familiar living room and down the hall to the room my mom had put together for me when she still had hopes I’d come back after her divorce from husband number three.

The room is fairly small and the walls are painted the same tan color as the rest of the house. The wood floor is bare, but there is an antique looking dresser and a full size, white iron bed with a sky blue bed set covering it.

I unpack the few things I have, putting them in drawers and bringing my toiletries back into the bathroom in the hallway, the only bathroom in the house. I tell my mom I’m feeling tired and that I’m going to bed.

“Okay, sweetie,” She says. “It’s great having you home.”

“Love you, Mom,” I say, waving as I disappear back down the hall and into my room. When I close the door behind me, I crawl into the bed, taking my phone with me. There is a text from Kate, a picture of her and Grace in the Greys’ kitchen. They look like they’re baking cookies or something and as I try to divine the details from the picture, another picture comes through. It’s a care package filled with cookies, a few books, a Seahawks hat, a Sounders and a Mariners t-shirt, and an assortment of other homey goods and treats. On the end of the box is a card that says:

To Raymond Steele: A small thank you for your brave service and for raising such a wonderful girl who we’ve all quickly grown to love. -The Grey Family.

I feel a tear spring to my eye. Grace really is an amazing woman. What a wonderful thing to do and she hardly even knows me! I text Kate back.

I am beyond words. Thank you so much. Love you both!

I lay back and again thank whatever divine intervention made Kate my best friend. I lie there only a few minutes before my phone rings. I lunge at it, hoping it’s Christian, but it’s Kate.

“Hey, how is it at the Grey’s?” I ask when I answer.

“Great! I’m in love with Grace. You didn’t tell me how amazing this house was!”

“Unreal right? You should go try the guest bed, it’s amazing.”

“I will tonight. Grace invited me to go shopping tomorrow and we were having so much fun playing games, it seemed a shame to go home.”

I was right, Kate does fit perfectly into Christian and Elliot’s family.

“You’re staying in the guest room?” I ask suspiciously.

“Well, until Grace and Carrick go to bed,” She says slyly, and I laugh.

“What days are you coming? My mom wants to see if she can get us something special down on the strip.”

“The 30th through the 2nd, I think,” She says. “Are you okay with Planet Hollywood?”

“Yeah, just let me know how much so I can get you half when you get here.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Kate…” I protest.

“Seriously, Ana. My dad is paying for it. I’m literally out nothing.”

“You’re sure?” I hesitate.

“I’m sure. Save your money for the shopping. Those world class shops are calling my name.”

“Oh joy. You know there is a Tiffany’s in Seattle, Kate,” I remind her.

“I know,” She says. “But there is a Tiffany’s in every casino in Vegas.”

I laugh and take advantage of the break in conversation.

“How is Christian?”

“I don’t know. I’ve barely seen him. He was here for dinner but he didn’t say very much. He seems angry or upset about something. Then after dinner he just bailed. Said he had to go see a friend.”

“Oh,” I say. I wonder if he’s in a bad mood because he’s mad at me for not giving him an answer before he left or if something else happened. He has seemed particularly moody since we got back from Thanksgiving but I just assumed that was because I didn’t give him an answer.

“I’m gonna go,” Kate says. “I think Grace and Carrick have finally gone to bed.”

“Ok, have fun,” I say.

“Oh, I will,” She says suggestively.

“Good-bye, Kate,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“See you soon!” She says brightly, and I hang up the phone, tossing it onto the bed. I wonder where Christian is? Elliot said he didn’t really have friends and even though I know he was teasing him, I think there was truth to what he said. As far as I know, outside his family, he isn’t close to anyone but…

Oh. My. God.

I feel cold as I realize who he’s with. The person in Seattle who is already adept at getting Christian away from his family and has already promised me she would drive a wedge between us.

Elena Lincoln.

Fuck, did I wait too long to give him an answer? Is he tired of my reluctance so he just went back to her? Did he realize the Dominant/Submissive thing wasn’t something he was ready to give up on? Was he lying to me this whole time?

As the scene of Mrs. Robinson hitting him and then kissing him in Carrick’s office re-plays in my mind, I can’t tell if I want to be sick or cry. Nausea wins out and I have to run to the bathroom where I heave into the toilet, images of Christian and Mrs. Robinson spinning in my mind.

As I heave again and again, the tears start, and when I finally make it back to my bed, I bawl as quietly as I can into my pillow so my mom can’t hear me. It’s hours before sleep comes and when it does, my dreams are restless as I re-live that scene from Carrick’s office over and over and over again.

After breakfast the next morning, of which I only manage a few bites, I’m only able to escape my mom by telling her that I want to go Christmas shopping for her and Bob. She lets me borrow her car and I drive to the Meadows Mall around the corner from where I live, trying the whole way not to cry.

As I walk from store to store, I wonder why I wanted to be alone. I’m not distracted by the busy shoppers around me or the overly eager salesmen trying desperately to get me to leave the store with their products. All I can think about is Christian and Mrs. Lincoln. Is he with her? Does he wish he was with her? What are they doing right now? Is she hurting him because of me and the things I said to her in the bathroom at Mia’s recital? It’s too much to take!

I can’t go home without gifts so after an hour of desperate wandering, I take a deep breath to pull myself together and search for things to buy. I get my mom a sweater and Bob a new set of balls and tees for his golf set. Ray gets a new copy of some football book written by a legendary coach I remember him saying he liked, and for Kate I buy a bracelet at a funky, independent store. I want to buy something for Christian, but I don’t know what to get someone who seems to have everything and after all of this, I don’t know if he’ll want to speak with me again.

Will I want to speak with him?

The idea of not being around him, especially now that I’ve made the decision to be with him is extremely painful. I need to know what’s going on. I’ll call him tonight and hopefully, if he answers, he will tell me that he’s just been busy with school or something. He did leave kind of early, perhaps he had to make up a final. Or maybe he was doing something for Ros? I don’t know, but I’m going to hope for the best.

That night, I sit alone in my room and wrap the packages I bought. I called Christian after dinner and got his voicemail again so now my phone is sitting on the bed in front of me and I’m staring at it as I fold paper around boxes and tie them off with ribbon. Unfortunately, I don’t hear from him for the rest of the night and I go to bed with visions of him tied to a bedpost while Mrs. Robinson beats him with a riding crop swimming around in my mind.

“Ana, sweetie,” My mom says, gently coaxing me from sleep the next morning. “Bob’s going to take us down to pick out a tree. Get dressed.”

Sleepily, I drag myself out of bed and fumble around in the drawers for a pair of jeans. When I’m dressed and my hair and teeth are brushed, I meet mom in the kitchen where she hands me a hot mug of English Twinings Breakfast tea. I take it gratefully, drinking slowly as I nibble on a banana.

The tree lot around the corning is having a Christmas Eve blowout sale and Mom is able to snag a great deal on a huge Douglas Fir. She writes the salesman a check while Bob and I tie the tree to the top of the car. As he makes sure everything is secured, I realize I’ve forgotten my phone at home so I have no idea if Christian has called me back yet. It is kind of liberating though, having the choice of waiting for him to respond taken away from me. Maybe, until Christmas is over, I should just leave my phone alone. If he calls, he can leave a message. Heaven knows I’ve already made myself more than available for him.

When we get home, Bob pulls the tree into the cramped garage overfilled with tools and gadgets. He pulls down the hacksaw hanging off the peg board and mom and I watch as he cuts the bottom of the trunk off.

“A little to the left.” Mom instructs me as we stand in the living room to set up the tree. I push gently on the trunk and when she gives us the thumbs up sign, Bob begins to tightly screw the bolts into the bottom of the trunk. While we wait for the tree to settle, we eat lunch and watch the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My mom has made her special hot cocoa and she smiles as she reaches over to place a Candy Cane in the cup for me to stir with.

After a relaxing afternoon of christmas movies, baking, and a quick dinner of sub sandwiches, Mom puts on some christmas music and we decorate the tree together. I smile at her as she hums along with the music and concentrates extremely hard on where to place the ornaments. She and I have a strained relationship, broken at times when I felt that she chose men over me, but we’re in a good place again and I’m glad to be here spending the holiday with her. Once the tree is decorated and the presents are placed neatly underneath, I grab a cookie and head off to bed.

Just as I’m about to crawl into bed, I see the blue light on my phone blinking and feel a rush of adrenaline which is unfortunately squashed when I unlock the screen to see another picture message from Kate. It’s a picture of her and Elliot in the Grey’s living room, a huge, seemingly professionally decorated tree in the background as well as several of the Grey’s sitting around looking as though they’re having a pleasant conversation. Kate and Elliot look blissfully happy, at ease with one another and yes, in love. She captioned the picture saying:

Merry Christmas Eve! Lots of Love from Elliot and I!

I smile and look at the people in the background, wondering if Christian is in the picture. Mia is on the floor and making a weird face in the direction of the camera, a sneaky photobomb, while Mr. Grey sits on the chair across from the large sectional where Mrs. Grey is sitting, laughing next to… Mrs. Lincoln.

It’s hard to tell if it’s her for sure from the camera angle, but the blonde hair clearly distinguishable behind Elliot is the tell-tale sign. I don’t see Christian in the picture but I assume he must just be out of the shot. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that Mrs. Lincoln would be there, she is Grace’s best friend after all, but it makes me cringe. If Grace knew what this woman had done to Christian, she wouldn’t welcome her to her holiday celebrations with her family, wouldn’t be laughing at some joke in her company, she’d be in jail.

I throw my phone on the bed in disgust and settle in for the night, trying my best to block all of this out just as I was successfully able to do throughout the day.

I’m awakened in the morning by the scent of cinnamon cooking and I smile as I recall, from many Christmas morning’s ago, the taste of my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls. I leap out of bed with excitement and am not disappointed when I reach the kitchen and my mom is pouring hot homemade icing over a huge sticky bun. She hands it to me, my smile so broad my cheeks hurt, and I rush to the table next to Bob and dive it. It’s SO good!

“Slow down, Ana!” Bob jokes. “We’ll get to presents, I promise!”

“Forget presents,” I say through an overfilled mouth. “This is all I need for a Merry Christmas right here.”

When I’m too full of food after breakfast is finished, the dishes are cleaned, and a maple glazed ham is cooking in the oven, we move into the living room where I pass out presents. Mom and Bob are both pleased with the things I’ve picked out for them but I’m overjoyed when I open my Mom’s gift and pull out a brand new quilt she’s made for me. The colors and pattern are beautiful and I’m delighted as I wrap it around me, already feeling it’s warmth.

“Thanks, Mom!” I say, and she smiles down at me.

Ray sent some money and list for my mom to buy me a gift and from him I open a new stationary set and a digital camera. I think he’s hinting that he wants me to send him more letters. I get a couple new sets of clothes from my mom, a copy of Emma from my mom’s lonely next door neighbor, and a check for $1500 from Bob.

“Wha-” I gasp, exasperated when I pull the check from the envelope.

“That’s for your books next semester,” He says. “You’ve been working so hard to make it though, your mother and I wanted to do everything we can to help you out.”

“This is too much,” I protest. “Thank you, but I can’t…”

“You can, and you will,” My mother says. “We’re your parents and we want to help you out with college as best we can. We may not be able to pay your tuition, but we can certainly do this.”

“I don’t know what to say,” I tell them, still looking unbelieving down at the check. “Thank you so much, it’s…” But i don’t even know how to finish that sentence I’m so overwhelmed.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” Bob says, and I cross the room to hug him and my mom.

We clean up the remaining wrapping paper off the floor, and while Bob settles in to start putting together the new work bench my mom got for him, Mom and I put Christmas dinner together. We’re just sitting down to the spread when the doorbell rings.

I watch Mom cross the short distance from the dining room to the front door and peer around the corner to see who it is. She opens the door and a courier stands on the step, a small package in one hand and an electronic signature pad in the other.

“Anastasia Steele?” He asks.

“Anastasia, honey!” Mom says, waving me over to the door. I get up from the table, laying my napkin in the now vacant seat and cross the room. The courier holds out the electronic pad for me to sign and I scribble a hasty signature on the line as I take the package from him. It’s very light.

“Thank-you,” I say as I close the door.

“Who is it from?” Mom asks, curiosity alight in her eyes.

“It doesn’t say,” I tell her, flipping the box over to look for any kind of label. As I do, the box produces a very satisfying thumping noise, as if something is tumbling around inside.

“Well, open it!” She says excitedly.

I set the package down on the counter and pull out a small, professionally wrapped box and a card in a square white envelope. Peeling back the tab on the envelope, I pull out a neat white card and read:

I saw these and they were so beautiful, they reminded me of you and I knew you had to have them. Merry Christmas -Christian

Christian?

Eagerly, I peel off the beautiful gold wrapping paper and am left with a small red box with the words Cartier inscribed across the top in a fluid typeface. I gasp as I open the box and see a pair of exquisite drop earrings. A delicate white gold chain dangles from the hook and ends in a perfect, round white diamond.

“Anastasia,” My mother gasps, “Who sent these to you?”

“Uh…” I say, still breathless. I can’t answer her. She reaches over and takes the card from me.

“Christian?” She asks, and as I nod I look over to see her smile down at me with ill concealed jubilation. Bob walks over to take a peak and whistles when he sees the earrings.

“Whew, that’s an expensive gift,” He says. “A boyfriend of yours, Ana?”

“Um, no. Not really,” I say, feeling my cheeks redden.

“Well, I suppose money doesn’t mean the same thing to most Ivy League people as it does to us,” He says. “Make sure you’re managing his expectations, Ana. Usually gifts like this come with strings attached.”

I swallow as I think that the strings might just be attached to my wrists at one end and a bed post at the other.

After several minutes ogling the too expensive earrings and my mother’s insistent line of questioning about Christian that may even rival the interview skills of the great Katherine Kavanagh, we are able to settle down for Christmas dinner. When dinner is cleared, Ray calls and I’m able to talk to him for a few minutes, thank him for his gift, and tell him mine is on the way to him. That night when I go to bed, I tuck the earrings into my bag, swearing I will return them to Christian when I get back to Cambridge and hoping his father doesn’t know he’s bought them for me.

When I pick Kate up from the airport on the 30th, she seems to be glowing with happiness. A week with Elliot has done her very well it seems. I’ve promised my mom we’ll come spend the afternoon with her at home before heading down to the strip. Kate fills the drive with every detail of her last week and I feel a twinge of jealousy of the time she’s spent with the Greys. Being home with Mom has felt great, but there was a sense of family so overpowering with the Greys I find myself feeling nearly bereft since I’ve been away from them.

“So… uh, I kind of invited Elliot to join us,” Kate says as we turn on to my street.

“Oh?” I say slightly disappointed. “When will he get in?”

“Not until tomorrow night. He’s only going to stay for New Year’s Eve and then he’s back to Seattle. It’s all that Grace would allow.”

“Sounds like fun!” I say, excitement building now that I know the majority of Kate’s stay will just be me and her, although I’m worried about the sleeping arrangements the night he is here. I hope he has the good sense to get his own room…

“Yeah,” Kate agrees. “He says he knows the guy who runs the door at Chateau and he thinks he can get us in for the New Year’s Eve party.”

“A club?” I ask, completely forgetting my reservations about Elliot. Having him here will definitely be a good then.

“Yes,” Kate says happily. “It’s going to be an amazing night, I’m so excited!”

I pull into the driveway in front of my house and see my mother standing on the porch waiting for us.

“Katherine!” She says excitedly, rushing out to the driveway to meet us when we pull in.

“Hi, Carla!” Kate replies.

“You look so beautiful!” My mom exclaims. “I can’t believe how grown up you are! I haven’t seen you since you were, what eleven?”

“I think so!” Kate says and my mom envelops her in a hug.

We settle down in the living room and Kate fills my mom in on her own Harvard experience and her new boyfriend that she just can’t seem to stop talking about.

“Have you met Ana’s boyfriend?” My mom asks, smiling over at me.

“He’s not my boyfriend, Mom,” I remind her.

“All the same…” She continues but when she turns her attention away from me, Kate snorts.

“Christian?” She says, “Yes, I’ve met him. He’s Elliot’s brother and he lives across the hall from us at Harvard.”

I take note by Kate’s tone that she seems to have dropped her attempt to be nice to Christian. She’s talks about him as if it’s an inconvenience, like a traffic jam or errand she has to run.

“You don’t like him?” My mom asks, also picking up on Kate’s tone.

“He’s alright,” She says. “I’ve basically spent this last week at his house with Elliot and I’ve seen him maybe… four times? I don’t know, he’s either always locked up in his room or off with some friend Elliot knows nothing about. Plus he hasn’t said a word to his father since he’s been back and even though his mom is the nicest woman you’ll ever meet, he’s pretty distant with her, too.”

“So, you don’t think he’s kind?” My mother asks, shooting me a warning glare.

“He’s annoying,” Kate clarifies.

“Well, he sent Ana a wonderful Christmas present,” She says, and I roll my eyes.

“Did he?” Kate asks, looking expectantly at me. I begrudgingly stand from the couch and disappear into my room to take the earrings out of my bag. When I hand the red box to Kate, she looks down at it with wide eyes.

“Ana!” She gasps as she opens the box. “Oh my god!”

“I know,” I tell her. “I’m returning them when I see him again.”

“Why?” both Kate and my mother exclaim together.

“Because it’s too much,” I say, taking the box back from Kate. “It wouldn’t be right if I accepted them.”

Kate launches into a long monologue, trying to change my mind about the earrings but my mind is made up. I decide that if she’s going back to Seattle in a few days, Kate can give them back to Christian sooner than I could so I hand her the box and ask her to give them back to him. She frowns but agrees, and I nod before retreating to my room to grab my overnight bag.

“Ready?” I ask Kate when I return. She jumps off the couch, excitement alight on her face, and we follow my mom out to the car.

Our first night on the strip is fairly quiet. We walk up and down Las Vegas BLVD taking in the free shows at Treasure Island and the Mirage and watching the dancing water fountains at the Bellagio before we head to bed around midnight, ordering a movie on pay per view as we snuggle into the luxurious hotel beds. When Kate’s asleep, I find myself staring at my phone, thinking about Christian and his Christmas present. I’m confused by his thoughtful, but overly generous gift in juxtaposition to his lack of response to my calls and text. I frown and open my text message app.

I have my answer.

I stare down at the text, hoping it will coax him into at least responding to me. I set my phone on my nightstand and try drift off to sleep, though it’s difficult as I anxiously wait for the buzzing noise of an incoming text.

But it never comes.

The next morning starts with breakfast at the Spice Market Buffet and a long afternoon of free spa services that my mom was able to get for us. We’re waxed, plucked, polished, massaged, and released completely new and invigorated women. Next, we hit the Forum Shops in Caesar’s Palace. Kate goes crazy stopping at all her favorite stores and blowing through money so quickly I actually cringe every time she swipes her credit card.

“We need to find you something to wear out tonight,” Kate says as we leave Ted Baker clutching to three different bags of clothes she’s purchased.

“I can’t afford to buy anything here,” I laugh exasperatedly as we walk past Versace.

“Sure you can,” She says, “Look there’s an H&M over there. We’ll find you something cheap and fabulous.”

The H&M we enter is the biggest one I’ve ever been in. It’s three stories tall and packed with people. It takes us nearly an hour to comb through the racks until we find a short, tight black dress with one long sleeve. I think it might be a little too short, but Kate seems to think it’s perfect for a night out in Vegas. I find a cute pair of gladiator heels and some chunky bracelets, and when we leave, I actually manage to get out of the store for less than $60. Kate finds a dress for herself, but insists on dragging me in to Louboutin to finish her look.

“What time is Elliot getting here?” I ask, as we throw our bags down on the bed back in the hotel room.

“I’m not sure,” Kate says. She picks up her phone to text him and she smiles when the text comes back through. “He says he’s checking in at the Bellagio now. He should be ready to meet for dinner in about an hour.”

We spend the next hour and a half getting ready. Kate curls my hair and teases it up so it’s like a billowing cloud of chestnut tumbling down over my shoulders. My makeup is more dramatic than the natural look she usually does on me. My eyes are smoky with black eyeliner and false lashes. She uses bronzer to contour my face and when she’s done, I look like I’m about to hit a red carpet or something. Fortunately her make up is just as striking as mine so I don’t look too overdone. Especially not for a night out in a nightclub on the Las Vegas strip, or so she tells me. Before we leave, she pulls the red Cartier box out of her bag and begs me to wear the earrings. I’m not sure I’ll be able to return them if I’ve warn them but she’s so insistent, I finally give in and slip them through the holes in my ears.

We head downstairs and across the street from Planet Hollywood to the Bellagio. This resort is much more upscale than the hotel where we’re staying and I find myself wishing my dress was longer as we pass Chanel and Dior. Kate pulls out her phone once we reach the main part of the hotel to text Elliot, and I read it over her shoulder.

We’re here, where are you?

Casino. Blackjack.

I follow Kate into the large circular room filled with tables and dealers and surrounded by noisy slot machines. It takes us several minutes, but we eventually spot Elliot sitting at a table, a large stack of chips next to him.

“Hit,” Elliot says, brushing his cards against the table. The dealer pulls up an 8 leaving Elliot at 18 and then deals himself a card, busting at 23. He clears the cards and deals out another sizable stack of chips in front of Elliot.

“Looks like my good luck charm has arrived,” Elliot says, kissing Kate. He picks up a few chips and gives them to the dealer before turning to cash out at the window on the far wall.

“Where do you want to go for dinner?” Kate asks, hooking her arm through his.

“Christian wants to go to the buffet at the Wynn,” Elliot says, tucking the cash in his wallet.

“Christian?” I ask, just as Elliot glances up with recognition.

“Christian!” He shouts waving his arm and I turn to see him walking towards us. He looks mysterious and incredibly sexy dressed in black slacks, a black jacket and a black button down shirt.

“Hello, Anastasia,” He says when he comes up to us, and he offers me his arm as Kate and Elliot lead the way to the doors that lead to the strip.

Next Chapter

 

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