Ros is irritated with me when we finally take a seat in Annenberg. I know the offer I got from Puget Sound Alliance isn’t great… okay, it isn’t even good, but I’m getting anxious. I’m wasting time here. The fluctuations in the dow and the drop in stock prices are coming quicker now and three of the companies I’ve been watching in Seattle over the last few weeks have filed for bankruptcy. The market is prime and I’m stuck here. Now Ros is on this whole graduation kick and it’s pissing me off. We’d both agreed before we ever even came to Harvard that we’d be out of here as soon as we could, and now she’s deciding she really wants a college experience?
“Would three years really be so bad?” Ros asks, glaring at me as though she thinks I’m being unreasonable. Fuck, maybe I am, but I don’t give a shit.
“Three years would be a disaster,” I reply shortly. “Do you know what could happen to the economy in three years?”
“Yes, I know exactly what could happen to the economy in three years!” she snaps back. “You know how I know that? I study economics at Harvard University. Christian, we’re putting ourselves in the best position possible just by being here. We’re. At. Harvard. Every single rejection we’ve gotten says to try again once we’ve got our degrees. Investors are looking for education, they need to know we know what we’re doing and we are getting the best education money can buy.”
“And if the economy recovers by the time we graduate?”
“Then we’ll have to work a little harder and grow a little slower. Besides, a slow economy isn’t the only reason businesses fail, Christian. When we’re ready for takeovers we’ll look for ineptitude, companies that are overstretched or underwater in debt, hell maybe someone just looking to sell!”
“You’re dealing with a whole lot of “ifs” and “maybes” right now, and I’m not comfortable with that,” I tell her, but the moment the words come out of my mouth, I can feel Anastasia flinch next to me. I hate having her around when Ros and I argue… I know she doesn’t want me to leave school, I know she wants me here with her until graduation, and I don’t want to leave her either but I can make distance work, I know that. I don’t know that I can make my company work in an economic upswing.
“I like it here,” Ros continues, narrowing her eyes at me. “I’d rather spend three years here preparing ourselves to face the challenge of the future, than muddle our way through whatever bargain basement deal we can get out of these glorified loan sharks you’ve been dealing with.”
“We’ll find a better deal,” I reply through clenched teeth.
“No we won’t, not without degrees, and I’m done trying for now. You can keep looking all you want, but you’re wasting your time. And I’m telling you right now, I won’t leave here unless you can make a borderline miraculous deal.”
I scowl and am just about ready to tell her exactly what she’s going to do when my phone rings in my pocket. I look down at the number on the screen but I don’t recognize it, although it is a Seattle number… It could be the jeweler I’ve hired to design the earrings I want to give Anastasia once she’s completed her first year at Harvard, or it could be an investor changing their mind.
“It’s Elena, don’t hang up,” the unwelcome voice on the other end responds.
“What?” I ask, looking uneasily down at Anastasia at my side. Would she be able to distinguish Elena’s voice?
“I need to talk to you. Are you alone?”
“Could you get that way?” she asks, a hint of annoyance in her tone, and I feel my teeth grind together.
“Hold on just a minute,” I tell her, and then stand from the table, pick up my bag, and turn to Anastasia. “You’ll be ready to leave by three?”
“Yeah,” she replies, though I can hear the curiosity in her voice. She probably wants to know who I’m talking to and I feel a wave of guilt. I shouldn’t be talking to Elena, but… she’s accusing me of rape. This could be an opportunity to put a stop to that before it gets out in court.
“Okay, I’ll see you later,” I tell Ana, leaning down to kiss her goodbye, and then walking briskly out of the dining hall.
“Okay, what?” I ask Elena harshly.
“Where are you going at three?”
“To the airport. My family is going to Bora Bora for Spring Break.”
“Oh… is Andrew going with you?” she asks.
“I don’t fucking know, what do you want, Elena? You’re not supposed to be calling me.”
“I know, but I wanted to talk to you about this trial….”
“You’re especially not supposed to be calling me about that.”
“Christian, this is getting messy. I have no intention of letting some nameless prosecutor steamroll me in that courtroom but, if I have to fight against you, you’re going to get hurt.”
“I’m going to get hurt? I think you should be worrying for yourself, Elena.”
“I can’t believe you’re taking their side! You know how much time I spent going over those contracts with you. You know that you had safewords to protect you if you didn’t like something. Are you telling me now that you didn’t want it? That you didn’t like it? That I somehow tricked you or forced you into this against your will?”
“No,” I say. “You didn’t force me but that doesn’t…”
“Stop, Christian. That’s it, that’s all that matters. I didn’t force you. We did this together and you’re going to let me pay for it alone?”
I exhale sharply as I begin pacing around the courtyard, and when I don’t respond she continues. “You’re so strong, Christian. Nobody knows that better than me and I’ve always been so impressed by you. Don’t let them turn you into this weak victim!”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” I snarl back at her.
“Yes it is. They don’t understand our lifestyle. They don’t understand that you weren’t just some thing that I fucked but that you were everything to me. You weren’t my victim, you were my lover.”
“It had nothing to do with love,” I growl.
“No. No it didn’t,” she agrees. “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you very deeply. I don’t want the world to know what we did together in my playroom, how would that make your potential business partners feel? This could ruin you after everything you’ve done to set yourself up for success and it breaks my heart.”
“Really? Because you’re accusing me of rape,” I snap.
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” she says quickly. “You can get out of this without anyone finding out anything, we both can.”
“I need you to lie,” she says.
“I need you to say that none of it is true, that we’ve never had any kind of sexual relationship, and I need you to do it in front of a judge.”
“That’s called perjury, Elena, and it’s a felony. Are you fucking crazy?”
“It’s only perjury if you get caught and you know that your family would never turn you in. They’ll protect you. Please, Christian, you know that I would never have done anything without your consent. You know that you wanted this as badly as I did. This way, no one gets hurt.”
“No, this way you don’t get hurt. There are other people I have to worry about, Elena, people more important than you.”
“What if I gave you a way to make it okay for them too? I can make this better for everyone, make it worth your while, and make everyone else feel you’ve gotten some kind of justice.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you do this for me, if you get on the stand and tell the judge that we’ve never had a sexual relationship, I’ll… I’ll give you the money to start your company.”
“What?” I ask, finding myself coming to a complete stop.
“Yes,” she says. “Look, Andrew is going to divorce me and if he can prove I was unfaithful to him then he’ll take his money and go. Even if I got out of this mess with the trial, I would be destitute, and I can’t go back to that. But if you lie, and you lie in front of a judge so that there’s an official record of it, he can’t prove infidelity and I’ll get half of his money. When I get that settlement, I can give you the money for your company and I’d be happy to do it. Your parents will see that at least you got some kind of reparation and… you won’t have to hear from me again. I’ll leave you and Anastasia…”
“Don’t you dare say her name to me,” I growl.
“I’m sorry, you’re right,” she says quickly. “I won’t. Just, please do this for me, Christian… for us. You can’t let me go to prison for something we did together, something we loved to do together. Whether you were fifteen or nineteen, you made the decision to do this. You’re not a victim, you’re not weak like they think you are. You did this to learn control, to make yourself powerful, and you are. Think of what this small, little thing could do for you and… well, for the future you’ve always wanted.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say shortly.
“I said I’ll think about it. Look, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to finish packing.”
“Okay. Have a wonderful vacation, Christian,” she says. “I really do care for you, so very much.”
I hang up the phone and stare down at it in disbelief. She wants me to lie and I know it’s wrong but she makes a good point. If I were to tell the truth, I’d be punishing her for something I had an equal hand in. Could I do that? No, no I knew what I was doing, I knew what was in those contracts. She’s right, I could have stopped it at any time and I didn’t. I wanted this too, at least I did then, and it wouldn’t be right for me to allow her to be punished for something she did with me, for me, to help me…
And then there’s the money.
This whole thing with losing investors and clinging to bad deals isn’t what I want. It’s failure and it makes me crazy, allowing Anastasia to see me fail at this. To fail at all, over and over and over again. She’s too good for me… She’s kind and caring and patient and smart and fiercely protective of the people she loves. She’s perfect. She’s everything I could ever want and still so much more. She loves me and I didn’t think I’d ever have that. She loves my family and because of her, I feel like I can finally connect with them. She makes me a better person and now I have to do everything I can to be worthy of her. I promised her I would be able to provide for her, that I would give her everything she could ever want and now every time I face a setback it’s like I’m letting her down.
And this deal with Elena… Cash up front, no investors, no interest, nothing to pay back. I could be sole proprietor. No board to tell me what to do or to hold me back. I could move so much faster, be so much greater… I could be where I want to be by the time Anastasia graduates and she could return to Seattle from Harvard with a perfect life already there waiting for her. And I would be the one to give it to her.
A borderline miraculous deal.
I’d be stupid not to consider it.
“You’re ridiculous, Christian!” Ros yells, throwing the letter from Cascadia Capital back at me. “Ridiculous! If you take this deal you’ll be nothing more than a glorified manager.”
“It’s all I have. Our very last offer,” I tell her, feeling dejected.
“So give up,” she pleads. “Not forever, just for now. Just until we graduate.”
“I don’t want Anastasia to see me give up. How could she respect someone who just gives up?” I ask.
“Christian, she wants you here. I promise, she won’t look at it that way. Don’t you want to stay with her?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then we’re agreed!” she says happily, but I shake my head uncertainly.
“Christian…” she groans, but she stops when my phone rings and I reach out for it. It’s a Seattle number that I don’t recognize, which means it’s probably Elena. It’s a different number than the one she used last time, which means she must be using those pay as you go phones to call me, like a fucking drug dealer.
“Can we pick this up later? I have to take this,” I ask Ros, and she sighs but gets up anyway, picking up her bag and walking to the door.
“You’re gonna love having a college degree. Christian Trevelyan-Grey, Bachelor of Science: Economics and Government from Harvard University,” she says, waving her hand through the air as if she’s envisioning a headline or something.
“Great,” I tell her. “Get out.”
She makes a face at me as she turns to leave and, once the door closes behind her, I answer the phone.
“Good Afternoon, Christian,” Elena greets me. “You know, I was just thinking about that time when you were seventeen and my husband went out of town but we didn’t have any plans to meet because it was your mother’s birthday weekend. You’d had a rough week at school though, so you made some excuse to Grace and showed up at my door practically begging for me to take you into the playroom so you could work out some of that stress. Do you remember that weekend? I did that for you because I care for you, because you wanted me to, and that particular session was… extremely pleasurable. I remember that best of all.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And you remember asking me for it?”
“Yes, I remember,” I repeat.
“And do you remember that time we almost got caught? It was oh… a little over a year ago on New Year’s Eve. You had been fighting with your father over Harvard again and you were angry. That night you pulled me into the kitchen, just to kiss me, just to taste the relief we both know you crave all the time. Then, remember, your mother walked in and I had to pretend that I was drunk and had mistaken you for Andrew and that I was so embarrassed. I lied for you, to protect you. Do you remember that?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Good. Have you decided?” Elena asks.
“I think so,” I reply.
“And I have some… stipulations.”
“Okay, go on.”
“I want the money the day of, not when you get your divorce settlement,” I begin.
“Christian, I don’t think that I can….”
“You’ll figure something out. When the trial is over, you will not contact me, or Anastasia, or anyone in my family ever again.”
“Okay,” she agrees.
“And no one can ever know about the money. When the trial is over, you will never speak of this arrangement again.”
“Fine,” she says. “So we have a deal?”
“I just need to make sure of some things first,” I tell her.
“I need a few days. We’re looking for apartments and once that’s figured out, I’ll give you my answer.”
“What does an apartment have to do with anything?”
“You think my dad will let me come home over the summer if I lie for you? Do you have any idea what it will take to get back into his good graces once this is all over? And I before I decide to leave, I need to make sure Anastasia is taken care of. That she’ll have somewhere to stable to stay when she’s not with me.”
“Fine, but don’t make me wait too long.”
“I won’t. Give me a number and I’ll call you when I have my answer.”
“You’re making the right decision,” she says once she’s given me a phone number to call. I scribble it down on a page of notes from my Origins of Political Thought class as she continues. “I think once this all plays out, you’ll see that you have done the right thing. I’m no more at fault here than you are. We did this together, we’ll end this together. Don’t worry about Carrick and what it will take to get back into his good graces. Your father will forgive you. He loves you and love makes people irrational. Even if he’s hurt, he’ll never turn his back on you, Christian.”
“It’s not him I’m worried about.”
“You’re worried about… her?” Elena asks.
“She’s the only thing I ever worry about. I want to be very clear that I’m not doing this for you, I’m not saving you. You’re right and I had a hand this, I knew what I was doing, but that doesn’t matter. I’m doing this for her. I’m doing this so that I can give her everything she deserves. She’s all I care about.”
“Well, this should give you two a great start in life and if that makes you happy, then I suppose I can be happy for you.”
“I don’t give a fuck if you’re happy, Elena. After this trial, I’ll never think of you again.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” she says. “I will always cherish my memories of you, Christian.”
“Good-bye, Elena,” I tell her, and she exhales sharply before hanging up with no salutation. I place my phone on the desk and open the book next to my computer, switching over to homework until Anastasia finishes with her laundry and she’s ready to go to dinner.
I don’t wait long. Seconds after I hang up the phone with Elena, I hear Ana’s key slide into the lock on my door and she comes into my looking uneasily at me.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey,” I reply, turning away from my computer to look at her.
“You wanna get some dinner?”
“Sure,” I say, sighing and closing my laptop. I feel as though this Elena business has aged me ten years and I’m exhausted.
“I’m sorry about your business deal,” she says and I raise an eyebrow when I turn to look at her again.
“How did you know about that?”
“I ran into Ros downstairs.”
“Ros has a big mouth,” I say, shaking my head and, rather than look at me with the disgust I feel I deserve for failing so entirely at everything I set out to accomplish, she laughs at my response and then kisses me gently on the cheek.
“What was that for?” I ask, surprised.
“Because I love you,” she says, and the words are the most reassuring I’ve heard all day. We’ve just returned from vacation but with all this shit with Elena and Ros, I’m ready to get away again. Maybe I can plan something for a weekend, just Ana and I, and I can lose myself in her. School ends soon, I can do something special. Perhaps I’ll take her to New York, give her just a taste of what will be waiting for her once I start my company and can provide for her the way I want to.
I smile at the intriguing thought and pull her into me, kissing her deeply. She moans appreciatively and the small sound is enough to wipe away the last of the anxiety within me. I love this woman, more than I knew was possible to love someone, and I’ll do whatever it takes to lay the world at her feet.
Whatever it takes.
When I get back from Annenberg after having dinner alone with Kate, I double check my room and bathroom to make sure Ana is gone. I know she’s out to dinner with my Dad, but I don’t know when she’ll be back. So I pull out my phone to dial the number Elena gave me, knowing I need to make this quick.
“Hello?” Elena answers.
“We’re all set,” I tell her, and I can practically hear her smile through the phone.
“You’re doing the right thing, Christian. I know you, you wouldn’t have been able to live with it when it was all over if you had gone through with it.”
“This is for her, Elena. This isn’t for you.”
“Of course, Christian. I’ll see you next week.”
“Fine,” I tell her.
I hang up the phone and throw it haphazardly onto the desk before collapsing on my bed and staring up at the ceiling.
It has to be this way.
She’s right, she isn’t the only one at fault here. I’m not taking anything away from anyone. I’m not a victim and if they really want justice for me, then they should see that this is justice. This is how I move on. She’ll be out of my life and I’ll finally be able to become who I want to be, be the person that Anastasia deserves.
A success, not a failure.
I promised I would give her the world and I will, no matter what the price.