Chapter 26

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Breakfast the next morning is fairly quiet as everyone is feeling pretty down about leaving and getting back to real life. Elliot stares down at his muffin looking like someone told him Christmas had been cancelled, which in some way actually has happened since Carrick said there wasn’t enough time for one last run before we left. Mr. Lincoln is obviously doing everything he can to avoid looking at either Christian and I. I feel sorry for him as I realize how embarrassed he must be hearing what he heard last night. After all, he’s known Christian since he was a small child, too. But any ounce of remorse I may feel for our little act of defiance against the wall last night is completely subdued by the irate looks Elena shoots at Christian and I every three seconds. Eventually, it becomes too awkward having her glaring at us so pointedly in front of Grace and Carrick that I excuse myself and head upstairs to pack.

“You didn’t finish your breakfast,” I hear Christian say behind me, and when I turn around to look at him, I see the disapproving look in his eyes.

“It’s hard to keep up an appetite with Cruella DeVille staring me down like she’s looking for a weak point to attack,” I say, zipping my bag closed with unnecessary force to emphasis my point. He frowns and then saunters over to me, wrapping me in his arms.

“We’re leaving in less than an hour and that will be the last we see of her for at least a few months,” He says.

“But I’m leaving you too,” I reply sadly.

“I know. But it’s only one day and then I’ll have you to myself for the rest of the semester.”

I smile at the thought and rise up onto my toes to kiss him. His arms tighten around me and I capture his bottom lip between my teeth and then suck gently. He groans, reaches down to cup my behind, and I think he’s going to lift me and carry me off to the bed until I hear a slight cough behind us.

“Oh look, another show,” Elena says with annoyance. “You two really ought to start selling tickets.”

“What do you want, Elena?” Christian asks in a clipped tone. She strolls slowly and casually into the room and Christian reaches around and pushes me behind him protectively. What does he think she’s going to attack me? If she is then let her. I’d love to punch this bitch right in the face.

“I just wanted to make sure you were packed,” She says, resting her hand lightly on Christian’s bicep but he shrugs her off angrily.

“Don’t fucking touch me, Elena,” He warns.

“Now, don’t be like that Christian. I don’t know when I’ll see you again and I hate it when we leave angry at one another. I just thought I’d give you a chance to apologize for your little act last night and we could move on from here.”

“That’s the trouble though. I’m really not sorry.”

“Christian,” She pouts. “You know, your mother and I are going away together next month for a whole week. Carrick was an easy target and I should have guessed he’d be just as easy to break. Grace, on the other hand is tougher, but she’s also much more fiercely protective of her children and much more rash than Carrick is.”

“You don’t scare me,” Christian says.

“Well then clearly, I didn’t teach you as well as I thought I had. I’d hoped Carrick would restrict your credit cards and leave you crawling back to me in desperation, but little Ana here changed his mind. So, I need to aim higher. Tell me Christian, how difficult would it be for you to start your company without your trust fund?”

Christian glares at her, a murderously angry glint in the gray of his eyes but Elena just lets out a soft, breathy laugh at his fury.

“I’m going to have new contract drawn up this week, Christian. I’d be willing to bet it will be signed by March.”

“Fuck off, Elena,” He spits at her. She nods and smiles, then turns to lean the room, but she pauses at the door frame before she exits and turns back to face us. “I love your hair, Anastasia.”

Without thinking, I launch myself forward at her but Christian grabs me around the waist, stopping me so that I can do nothing but glare at her as she disappears down the hall.

“Don’t worry,” He says. “She’s bluffing.”

“Are you sure about that?” I ask. He looks down at me, not answering my question, and his silence tells me that he isn’t sure. He’s worried and I’m not prepared to deal with the scenario where he has to make a choice between me or his dreams for the future. I’m not going to let that happen. I’ll blow the lid off the whole Elena secret before I let her do anything to really harm Christian or to jeopardize his future. We’ll see who’s side Grace is on then.

Christian reaches down, picks up my suitcase up off the bed, and follows after me as I storm out of the room and down the stairs. Thankfully, Elena and Mr. Lincoln have decided to continue their vacation here for a few more days, so they won’t be leaving with us for the airport and I won’t have to worry about Christian being alone with her in Seattle, even if it will only be for one day. Elena hugs Grace, Carrick, and each of the Grey children, even offering warm good-byes for Kate and Ethan. Mr. Lincoln looks at her strangely when he reaches his hand out for mine as we leave and Elena simply walks away. After a moment though, he just shrugs, probably assuming she was still feeling awkward about last night.

Relief washes over me as I climb into the front passenger seat of the black SUV, Christian steering us all off for the airport, and I get to think about not seeing her for a very long time. I do worry though, about the gravity of her threat and how much clout she may or may not hold with Grace. Is there anything she can do?

Everyone is feeling a little somber once we get to the airport since everyone is being separated. Kate is flying directly back to Boston from here because her parents are out of town on business, Elliot is heading back to San Francisco, and I’m leaving for Vegas, which I suppose now seems pointless since I’ll be flying back to Boston tomorrow.

When we get through security, Kate and Elliot dissolve into an embarrassing public display of affection. Elliot’s flight for San Francisco leaves in less than 25 minutes so they hardly have any time for a good-bye. Still, they don’t break apart until Elliot barely has time to run to the gate before missing his flight.

“I’ve really got to go, Kate,” He says urgently.

“I know, I just don’t want you to,” She replies.

“Come see me soon. We agreed on two weekends a month. One in San Francisco, one in Boston.”

“One in Stanford and one in Cambridge,” She corrects him, and he smiles down at her.

“That’s my girl,” He says, and then kisses her one last time. “Laters, baby.”

“Bye,” She says sadly.

He waves goodbye to all of us as he sprints away through the terminal and I go quickly to Kate, wrapping my arms around her as tears start to well in her eyes.

“I hate not knowing when I’ll see him again,” She sniffs, looking morosely at the crowd that Elliot has disappeared into.

“President’s day is on the 21st so we have a three day weekend next week,” I tell her soothingly. “You can use one of the flight vouchers he bought you for Christmas to fly to San Francisco and spend it with him.”

It breaks my heart to see her vulnerable like this. In the 12 years we’ve been friends, I’ve never seen Kate show emotion like this over a guy. This is more than great sex or good chemistry, Kate is in love.

“Do you need me to pick you up at the airport tomorrow?” She asks, wiping her tears away.

“Please,” I tell her, and she nods. I know her flight isn’t leaving much longer after Elliot’s and she’ll need to hurry to her gate, so I wrap her in my arms for one last reassuring hug.

“Love you, Katie,” I tell her.

“Love you too, Annie,” She says, and she kisses me on the cheek and picks up her bag. One last hug for Ethan, Grace, Carrick, Mia, and even Christian, and Kate heads off to catch her flight.

“I’m going to wait with Ana until her flight leaves,” Christian says to his family. “I’ll meet you at the gate.”

“Of course, dear,” Grace says, holding her arms out for me. I step forward and let her envelop me in a warm hug. “Thank you so much for spending the week with us, Ana. It’s been so wonderful having everyone together.”

“Thank you for having me,” I say gratefully. She looks down at me, winks, and hands me off to Carrick.

“We’ll come visit you and Christian in Cambridge soon, Ana. It’s been a real treat having you with us this weekend.”

“Thank you, Carrick,” I say. He hugs me tightly and I give one last hug goodbye to Mia and Ethan, and then Christian takes my hand and we walk off towards my gate.

“Christian!” Carrick calls. We turn to look back and see him running up behind us.

“Dad?” Christian asks.

“I don’t know when I’m going to get you alone without your mother before you leave tomorrow morning and if she knows I got this for you, she’ll kill me,” He says, reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket. He pulls out a long envelope and hands it to Christian.

“What is it?” Christian asks.

“Well, since rowing season is over, I thought you should have something to keep you busy and balance out your studies,” He says. “And I don’t know if I ever really told you how proud I am that you got into Harvard so I hope this shows you.”

Christian looks at his father suspiciously and then tears open the envelope. His eyes widen as he reads the paper folded inside.

“Flying lessons?” He asks excitedly.

“You always said you wanted to fly and there is a good helicopter course your side of Boston.” Carrick says.

“Dad, I-I don’t know what to say!” He gasps, still looking down at the paper in astonishment.

“Don’t say anything,” Carrick says, grinning broadly. “Remember, it’s our little secret. If your mom finds out, I’ll deny having anything to do with it.”

“Thank you,” Christian says.

“You’re welcome. Now go get Anastasia to her flight. I’ll see you back at the gate.”

Christian smiles and takes my hand, re-reading the paper again as we walk through the crowd on the way to gate C – Service to Las Vegas. I’m disappointed when I get there and find they’ve already started boarding, meaning I won’t have any extra time with Christian.

“Ready?” Christian asks, the excitement in his voice from the helicopter lessons gone now that I’m leaving.

“No,” I admit truthfully. “We should have just gone straight back like Kate.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” He says reassuringly. “Kate is picking you up from the airport?”

“Yes,” I say. He nods and looks a little disappointed. I wonder if I should have had him pick me up instead?

“You’re going to fix your hair when you get back, right?” He asks, his tone joking, but there is a serious kind of glint in his eyes.

“I’ve already made the appointment,” I say with a laugh. He nods, smiling a sexy half smile, and then reaches out and brushes a strand of hair out of my face.

“I’m going to miss you,” He says.

“Me too,” I say. I look up into his eyes and in that brief moment, I have the overwhelming urge to tell him that I love him, because… I do. It’s too soon, we’ve only been dating a little over a week but it doesn’t matter. After everything that we’ve been through, the months of fighting this desire for him, the time spent alone with him and his family, the fighting with Elena, the sex… I’ve fallen in love with him. I hesitate, unsure of whether or not to say it, but my window closes as he leans down and kisses me tenderly.

“Laters, baby,” He says, and I giggle at the strange but utterly heartwarming phrase he’s clearly stolen from Elliot.

“Bye,” I say. He squeezes my hand before turning to walk away, and I sigh at my missed opportunity.

I love you, Christian Grey.

My mom looks completely shocked when I get off the plane in Vegas. She gapes at me as I come down the escalator.

“Ana, your hair!” She gasps.

“I know,” I say ruefully. “I had a bad day at the salon. I made an appointment at the salon around the corner from the house for this afternoon. Could you take me?”

“Sure,” My mom says. “I’ll get my nails done. We’ll make it a girl’s day.” I smile at her and she leads me back to the car asking me to recount every second of the last week.

When I leave the salon that afternoon, the first thing I do once I’m back in the car is take a picture of my newly chestnut colored locks and send it to Christian. His return text is almost immediate.

 

Much better. Though you always look beautiful.

 

I smile at the sweet words on my screen and then turn to the stereo looking for a song for mom and me to sing to on the way home.

“So… Bob and I are putting the house on the market on Monday,” She says. “We’ve already started looking at houses in Savannah.”

“Oh!” I say. She’s already told me that she and Bob were planning on moving but somehow it still comes as a surprise.

“Bob’s already found a job at a brokerage firm down there. We’ll be packed up by the end of the month.”

“That soon?” I ask. She nods as she pulls into the driveway. I look at the house and frown, realizing that after tomorrow, I’ll probably never see it again. I never really lived here, just the occasional visit on school breaks, but this home represents the first time I ever thought of my mom as being stable after she left Ray. She moved in here right after her disastrous divorce from husband number 3 and she lived here when she met Bob. As I look at it now, I realize that I’ll be sad to see it go.

Mom orders pizza for dinner so we can spend time talking rather than cooking and I’m surprised when she pours her glass of wine for the night that she brings one for me too.

“Are you excited to get back to school?” Mom asks, sitting on the couch across from me and pulling her wrap tightly around her for extra warmth.

“Yeah,” I say truthfully. “I really like Cambridge and it’s fun living with my best friend.”

“And living across the hall from Christian,” She adds. I nod and take a sip of the fruity red wine.

“Did you two enjoy your week together?”

“Yes. When I got hurt we spent a lot of time alone at the cabin and even though he wouldn’t let me do anything and it was so boring I wanted to kill myself, it was nice too,” I say. “Just being alone together was amazing.”

“He seems to be very serious about you. Bob and I were very impressed with him when he was here.”

“He’s an impressive guy,” I say. My mom narrows her eyes at me, clearly not appreciating my brevity.

“So, you are serious then?”

“I think so.”

“Do you see yourself falling in love with him?” She asks, and I have to take another drink of wine to decide how I want to answer.

“I think already do.”

“Really?” She asks, astonished. She smiles and then her face changes into a look of sentimental retrospection. “You know, Ray used to worry all the time when you were in high school. About what he would do when you finally got a boyfriend… It was a real struggle for him, wanting you to be happy but also wanting to protect you from every boy that came around. Most of our phone calls were about boys and what he should say to you, but you let him off the hook. Not one boyfriend the entire time you lived with him. Now, you’ve finally found someone to love and Ray’s halfway across the world. I wonder what he’d think of Christian?”

“I know he’d love him,” I say, a small smile crossing my lips. “He makes me happy and I know that’s all Ray would care about.”

“Have you told him?”

“No. I don’t get many phone calls with him. I haven’t spoken with him since Christmas but this doesn’t feel like something I want to put in a letter. He’s not going to get to meet him for at least two years so when I tell him, I want to be able to tell him everything so he won’t worry. I want him to hear how happy I am.”

“Well, tell me, Anastasia. What do you love about him?”

“Everything, really. He’s smart, he’s strong, he’s handsome… He doesn’t always smile but when he does, it feels like my heart skips a beat. He’s stubborn, and bossy, and he’s got a temper, but he generous, and sweet, and when we’re alone together he has a way of making everything around us disappear so that all that’s left is us.”

“I’m so happy for you, baby girl,” She says, smiling broadly.

“Thanks, Mom. I’m really happy,” I say. She takes a long drink of wine and takes a breath as if to brace herself.

“Have you had sex?” She asks.

“Mom!” I exclaim.

“What, Anastasia? I’m your mother and I think I should know if you’re sexually active.”

“I can’t talk about this with you,” I say incredulously, feeling my cheeks burn.

“I’m not judging you, sweetie. You’re nineteen now. You’re a woman and you’re old enough to make your own decisions about your body and your sexuality. I just want to make sure you’re being safe. Do we need to get you birth control?”

“Mom!” I groan.

“Do we, Ana?”

“I’m going into the clinic on campus on Monday,” I say in a low, rushed tone. Thankfully, my mother’s only reaction is an approving nod.

“But up until now, you’ve used protection?”

“Yeah, Mom,” I say in an exasperated breath, feeling my cheeks burn with embarrassment.

“Good,” She replies, relieved. “I wasn’t much older than you are now when I had you, Ana. I wasn’t as smart or responsible as you. Now, I wouldn’t change anything. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me but when I got pregnant young, I didn’t have an Ivy League education to lose. Harvard is the most important thing for you right now, Ana. These next four years will determine your entire future and boyfriend or no boyfriend, I don’t want you to lose sight of that.”

“I won’t,” I promise.

“I love you so much, Anastasia.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Thankfully, we move on to less humiliating topics and spend the night laughing together, refilling several glasses of wine. By the time I go to bed, I force myself to drink a large glass of water and take two Tylenol. I really don’t want to be hung over on my flight tomorrow.

After I say goodnight to my mom, I double check my bedroom and the bathroom for anything I’ve left behind since I’ll only have time for a quick shower before I have to leave for the airport in the morning. I feel the nagging sense of sadness as I look around my room for things I’ve missed, remembering that I won’t be back here again. Once everything is packed, I take my phone, crawl into bed, and call Christian.

He’s interested in hearing about the embarrassing conversation I had with my mother this evening but for the most part he’s distracted looking at helicopter models the flight school in Boston offers. He goes into great detail describing, what he assures me, are overly impressive specs of the Eurocopter EC135 model, and as much as I enjoy his enthusiasm and clear expertise on the subject matter, I find myself drifting off to sleep somewhere around max takeoff weight and rate of climb.

“Anastasia, are you there?” He asks. I start awake, trying to shake the overpowering sleepiness away.

“Yeah! Yeah, I’m here. 1,500 feet a minute… that’s amazing.”

“You’re falling asleep, aren’t you?”

“I’m sorry, it’s late.”

“I know. Get some sleep, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I bite down on my lip as I again feel the urge to tell him I love him but just like last time, I chicken out.

“You too. Have a safe flight.”

“Goodnight, Anastasia.”

“Goodnight,” I say, and I hang up the phone. I take a deep breath and cuddle into my pillow allowing sleep to overtake me and drag me down into the blissful darkness that lies just before my dreams.

The next morning is a myriad of emotion as my mom cries three separate times on the way to the airport. I promise to call often and that I’ll come visit her once they’ve moved to Georgia. She holds me tightly, professing over and over again how proud she is of me and as I turn and make my way to the line at security, I look back and see Bob holding her while she sobs quietly into his jacket. I frown, feeling guilty I spent so much of my vacation away from her in Aspen. I really haven’t seen her much since she and Ray were divorced and though I’ve grown accustomed to our long absences from each other, it seems she hasn’t. Perhaps I will plan a trip down to Georgia soon, maybe for spring break, and I won’t take Christian so we can have uninterrupted mother/daughter time. Though, the thought of spending a week without Christian makes the muscles in my stomach tighten with stress.

I get through security and settle into the chairs outside my gate, staring down at my phone as if expecting it to ring. I know Christian is already on his flight home. He’ll actually make it back to Cambridge in great time because he doesn’t have a four hour layover in Virginia.

When I do finally arrive in Boston, Kate is already there waiting for me. She smiles as I come through the glass doors and hugs me before leading me out to her car.

“How was your night here alone?” I ask when we’ve finally pulled onto the highway that will take us back to Cambridge.

“Boring,” She admits. “I mostly just unpacked and did laundry. I did find a note from Elliot in my suitcase telling me how beautiful I was though.”

“Aww!” I say staring at her radiant smile. “You guys are so cute, it’s disgusting.”

“We’re disgusting? I hardly saw your face the entire time we were in Aspen because it was constantly attached to Christian’s.”

“What can I say? He’s a fine specimen,” I say, and she laughs.

“I’m happy for you. Especially since if you two get married and then Elliot and I get married, we’ll be sisters.”

“You’re already my sister, Kate. No matter what.”

She pulls into the parking lot closest Grays Hall next to the familiar silver Audi that I know is Christian’s. A smile crosses my lips as the car reminds me that he’s here. I’m going to see him soon. Kate helps me wheel my luggage across the snow covered campus and the moment I walk through the front doors, I am surrounded by the familiar, slightly musty, but wholly welcoming smell of Grays Hall that I hadn’t realized I’d missed until now. I exhale with relief as I yank my luggage up the stairs after me and walk down the hall to my room. Kate pulls out her keys and I turn to face Christian’s door, frowning slightly as I realize the lights are off.

“Yeah, he came back earlier this afternoon, but he was only there for an hour or so before Ros came by. They went off somewhere and haven’t been back all day.” Kate explains.

“Hmm,” I mumble, shrugging before turning to walk through my own door. Surprisingly, even though Kate has been here for over a day now, the room is tidy. I look down at my bed and a comforting sense of home crosses over me. I don’t have time to do anything yet though because fortunately, Annenberg is open for another 27 minutes and I’m starving so Kate and I hurry down and get dinner before starting a marathon of unpacking and sorting laundry. I figure I’m going to spend the entire day tomorrow in the laundry room and the bookstore so I can be ready when classes start on Monday.

I don’t finish unpacking until nearly 9:30, too early to go to bed but too late to do anything else. Kate is sitting on her bed, scrolling through her Facebook news feed so I change into pajamas and crawl into my own bed with a book. Another hour and a half passes of intermittent conversation with Kate and reading until finally at 11:13, there is a knock on the door.

I turn to look at Kate and she rolls her eyes.

“It’s not for me,” She laughs. I bite down on my lip and pull my covers back, giddily climbing out of bed and racing to answer the knock. The second the door is open, Christian’s lips come crashing down on mine. He kisses me deeply for a moment before entwining his fingers in mine and pulling me out of the room and across the hall.

“Goodnight, Ana,” Kate says, and I giggle as Christian closes his bedroom door behind us.

Next Chapter

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