“Don’t go,” I plead, wrapping my arms around Christian as we approach the stairs that lead up into the jet. “Just… move your entire company to Cambridge and never leave. You can use our guest room as an office.”
He lets out a short laugh and pulls me tighter against him, reaching into my hair and kissing me softly on the top of my head. “It’s actually a little unsettling how appealing I find that idea right now.”
I pull away and drop my head backwards so that I can look up at him. His fingers play with my hair for a moment as he stares down at me, and then slowly, he lowers his lips to mine.
“Come to Seattle this weekend,” He says, and I take a deep breath.
“I’ll look at my schedule,” I tell him. “I think I have a paper due early next week and I’ve got to see what happens when I get my manuscript back. I’ll let you know as soon as I can though.”
“Okay,” He agrees, reluctantly. I lean up and kiss him once more and then, with a disheartened sigh, untwist my arms from his waist so that he can board the plane.
“I love you, Anastasia,” He says, pausing at the top of the stairs.
“Love you,” I reply, waving goodbye as he gives me one last smile and then disappears into the plane. There’s a sudden whirlwind of commotion as staff members begin preparing the plane to take off, but since I can’t see Christian anymore anyway, I turn back for the Lexus, glance at the jet one last time in my rear-view mirror, and then start back for Cambridge.
To my surprise, when I walk through the sliding glass door of my house, I find a very chipper looking Kate cooking in the kitchen, dancing around to Lady Gaga.
“You seem like you’re in a better mood,” I say, making my way through the kitchen and tossing my coat over a chair next to the dining room table.
“I told you I was fine,” She says. “I was tired and I’d just walked in on one of my literal worst nightmares. I mean, the kitchen, Ana? Really?”
I shrug. “He pays the bills.”
She shakes her head and turns away from me, pushing chopped vegetables around in the skillet in front of her, but I’m not quite ready to let her off the hook yet.
“So, how are you and Elliot doing?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he didn’t come to Cambridge to drop you off at school and he stayed all of one night the very first time he came to visit you.”
“Oh,” She says, deflating a little. “I don’t know, I think we’re going through a… rough patch, I guess. He’s just busy with work and, I don’t know, I don’t…” Her voice cuts off as she stares down into the pan in front of her, and I don’t know if she’s stalling or trying to find the right words to say. Eventually though, she straightens a little and gives me a tight lipped smile. “We’re fine, Ana.”
“Okay,” I concede, but only because I can see that she doesn’t want to tell me what’s really going on.
“How was your weekend?” She asks, obviously changing the subject. “You and Christian seemed shockingly quiet last night.”
I roll my eyes. “We watched a movie.”
“Uh huh,” She says, giving me a skeptic glance.
“You know, we’re not attached at the genitals, Kate. We do like just being around each other. I just wanted to spend quality time with him last night, laying in bed, cuddling, and forcing him to sit through a Shirley Temple movie so that he couldn’t make it dirty.”
She laughs. “I don’t know about that… The Good Ship Lollipop? I’m sure he could come up with something creative for that.. Tell you to hop aboard or something.”
“You’re a terrible person,” I tell her, shaking my head with exasperation. She laughs again as she dumps her stir fry onto two plates and brings them over to the table. I try to change the subject back to her, but she always seems to be able to divert me. After lunch, we spend the rest of the afternoon comparing workloads for the week and finishing up some last minute homework and by the time I’m headed to bed, I still haven’t really talked to her about Elliot at all, but I’m bound and determined to figure out what’s going on eventually.
My meeting with Dr. Ralston is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, so once I’m finished with class for the day, I send a quick text to Christian, just to tell him that I’m thinking about him, and then make my way to his office. There’s another student inside so I pace back and forth while I wait, carefully walking heel to toe on the line in the linoleum. Eventually, the door opens and a rather somber looking guy steps out, clinging to a blue book in his hands.
“Good luck in there,” He says wistfully once he’s closed the door behind him. “Ralston is a real hard ass.”
“Yeah,” I agree as I slip past him. Part of me wants to say something in my mentor’s defense, but I do know where this guy is coming from. Some of the most stressful weeks I’ve spent at Harvard have preceded one of Dr. Ralston’s exams. He nods and gives me a tight lipped smile as I reach up to rap on the door.
“Come in,” Dr. Ralston answers. I do and he smiles up at me as I take the seat across from him. “Oh, Anastasia, how wonderful to see you.”
“Good afternoon, Dr. Ralston,” I greet him.
“My wife baked some cookies that I haven’t been able to give out to the staff today, can I tempt you?”
“I’m fine,” I decline politely, trying to hide the smile as I remember using Dr. Ralston’s constant offer of treats in his defense against Christian’s concerns.
“Okay,” He says with a long, disappointed sigh. “How are your classes treating you this semester?”
“Good so far,” I reply. “I’m enjoying the subjects I’m taking, but my workload is heavier than it’s been in the past and that’s been an adjustment. I already have a monster of a paper due next week.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” He says. “Because I’m about to add to your to do list.” He reaches into his bottom desk drawer, searches through the file folders for a moment until he finds my manuscript, and then places it in front of me. I begin flipping through it and am not even a quarter of the way in before I’m utterly horrified. The pages are so marked up with red pen, they look like they’re bleeding.
“They…” I hesitate. “They didn’t like it?”
“Oh quite the contrary,” Dr. Ralston says. “We had a lot of very meaningful and productive conversation surrounding the themes and context of your work.”
“But…” I look down at the paper again, trying to look at the edits more objectively. There are standard corrections for grammar or spelling I’d been too hasty to correct myself, but there are also entire blocks of text and even scenes crossed out with words like “contrived” written next to them.
“Why was this taken out?” I ask, folding the paper back and lifting it up so that he can see the scene in question.
“We had a long discussion about that scene,” He says. “It was deemed to be unnecessary.”
I frown as I read the first few lines of the scene again. It’s the part of my book I’d based off the weekend I spent in Vermont with Christian. It wasn’t unnecessary, it was a pivotal moment that changed the entire course of our relationship.
“But this is when I… uh, Isaiah really fell in love with Erica. It changed everything.”
“They’ve already said they love each other,” Dr. Ralston counters.
“I know… But this is different. This is when their relationship became something unique, something that set it apart from everyone around them. This is when he knew that Erica was his soulmate.”
“That may be true,” He says, “But it slows down the plot and you’re pushing the acceptable word count for a novel of this subject matter. You’re not writing a romance novel or high fantasy, you’re writing about mental illness and depression. It’s important to stay focused and on topic, or you’re going to lose the reader’s interest. Look, you’re the writer and it’s ultimately your decision, but sometimes you have to kill your darlings, Anastasia.”
“I’ll… think about it,” I agree reluctantly, and he nods.
“Good. Read through the comments carefully and try to approach the critiques with an open mind. I think your writing will be better for it. Make your changes and have it back to me in two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” I gasp, and his brow furrows.
“Two weeks. These things take time, Anastasia, and you don’t have much of it until you graduate. We need to move quickly as I won’t be able to help you after you’re finished with school… that is unless you plan on staying in Cambridge after graduation.”
No. Christian would definitely not be in favor of that idea.
“Two weeks,” I reply, more conciliatory this time. “Okay, I better get started then.”
“Excellent! And, we should meet on Friday so we can start going over the query letter process and drafting the letter you’ll be sending out to prospective agents. Now that your novel is edited, I’d like to begin that process as soon as possible.”
“Friday,” I repeat, pulling out my phone to make a calendar reminder. We agree on a time and then he wishes me luck on the editing process as I turn to leave.
“You’re sure you won’t take a cookie?” He asks once more. “They’re brain food.”
“Sure,” I concede with a laugh. He smiles broadly at me as I take a cookie from the plate he offers me and then wave good-bye before leaving the office.
That night, my stress level is through the roof as I sit at the coffee table trying to work on book editing, a research paper, and all of the reading assignments for my other classes at once. The multitasking doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help though as I’ve been sitting here for almost three hours and I’ve only gotten through maybe three to four pages of my manuscript. On top of that, I haven’t even clicked on most of the tabs I have open on my laptop for my research paper.
Kate is sitting across from me, chewing on the end of her pen as she goes through the submissions for the next issue of the Crimson, and Luke is laying on the couch behind me, reading some of the harsher comments from my book editors aloud to torture me.
“Wait, wait!” He says, not even trying to hold back his laughter. “Listen to this one. This language is drawn out, overindulgent, and monotonous. The predictable cliches the author uses to describe helplessness are less compelling and more painfully, painfully angsty and whiny. Oh, or this one. This description is entirely bereft of ambition or imagination.”
“Alright, alright,” I snap, reaching back to snatch the manuscript out of his hands. “I’ve had just about enough of the Comedy Central Roast of Anastasia Steele.”
He laughs. “See, that comment was full of imagination. Unlike your book.”
“You want me to kick his ass for you?” Kate asks, looking up at me over her notebook, and I roll my eyes.
“No, I don’t think you’d cause enough damage with those dainty little arms,” I say, turning to glare at him. “I need someone bigger to do it. Like, Taylor.” My phone rings on the table and when I look over and see Christian’s name on the screen, I turn to smirk at Luke again. “And look, here’s just the guy to make that happen.”
“I knew you were going to say that,” He taunts me as I get up off the floor to head towards the kitchen so that I can answer Christian’s call in relative privacy. “Totally unimaginative!”
I shake my head with exasperation and answer the phone. “Hey, babe.”
“Hi. How was school?”
“Fine. I got my book back this afternoon.”
“And I’m the worst writer of the 21st century. You can’t imagine how much they ripped this manuscript apart.”
“Well, you saw what went into that process over the summer. It’s not malicious, they’re just doing their job.”
“It sure doesn’t feel that way,” I pout, knowing full well how melodramatic I sound. “It feels like I’ve failed.”
“That’s not true. Think of how many writers don’t even make it this far. Think of all the manuscripts you just outright passed on without reading more than one chapter. Publishing is a tough business. You’re going to need a thicker skin if this is really what you want to do.”
“I know,” I relent. “You’re right, this is good. It’s going to make my novel better in the end.”
“And it’s already amazing. Painful, but incredible. You’re an extraordinary writer, Anastasia. I know that once you’re published, the world will love your work.”
“See, you should be in charge of critiquing my book,” I say with a soft giggle, and he chuckles back.
“Have you decided whether you’re coming home this weekend or not?”
“I don’t know…” I reply hesitantly. “I’ve got a lot of work this week and I’m stressed out about getting my edits done in time. I haven’t been able to focus all night. I’m not sure I’m going to have time to come home this weekend, especially because I have a meeting with Dr. Ralston on Friday afternoon. I wouldn’t get out of Boston until really late anyway.”
“So you’ll get here late and you’ll do your homework on the plane,” He argues. “You can do homework here, you still have an office upstairs. I just want you here with me.”
“You won’t distract me?”
“Not if you really have work to do,” He promises, and I take a deep breath as I mull the decision over.
“Okay,” I concede. “I’ll fly home after my meeting on Friday.”
“My plane will be waiting for you.”
“Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to get finished before I have to fly all the way across the country in three days.”
“Okay. I love you.”
“Love you too, bye.”
I hang up the phone and then exhale sharply, still feeling doubt over whether or not it’s a good idea to fly home this weekend. But unfortunately, this is how our relationship is now and if it’ll make him feel better just having me in the apartment, I can study from there just as easily as I can from here.
I drag my feet as I head back into the living room, actually dreading getting back to work even though it’s now more vital than ever. “I’m going to Seattle this weekend,” I tell Kate. “You wanna come with me?”
“No thanks,” She says. “I’ve got a test next week and a lot of submissions to review for the Crimson before the Homecoming Issue.”
“I tried that on Christian, not even close,” I tell her, and then turn to Luke. “Looks like it’s just going to be me and you, buddy.”
“Oh sure, you ask Kate if she wants to go, but just expect me to come along with you? What about my plans, Ana?”
“You don’t have plans,” I reply, dryly.
“I could have plans,” He says defensively.
“Okay, fine. I need to go to Seattle this weekend, Luke. Can you come with me or are you busy?”
He reaches up to his chin, making a dramatic show of thinking it over. “I’m not sure, I’ll have to check with my friends.”
“You don’t have friends,” Kate laughs and Luke looks back at here with shock.
“Katherine, I’m hurt. I thought we had something truly special. I was looking forward to spending some real quality time together this weekend.”
“Awh,” Kate replies. “Well if that’s how you feel, we could totally hang out. We could watch It Happened One Night, I hear that’s your favorite.”
“Mmm, sorry. Can’t,” He says regretfully. “I have to go to Seattle.”
“You’re such a loser,” I laugh, and then duck as he throws a pillow at me. He reaches over for the remote, turning on some TV show I’ve never seen, while I attempt to try and finish at least one thing on my long list of school work. After about an hour of reading through a few different scholarly articles about the great vowel shift between 1300 and 1650 and still feeling like I’m getting nowhere, I find myself spending more time thinking about how much work I have to do, rather than actually doing it.
“Focus, Anastasia,” I say aloud, shaking my head slightly to try and orient myself.
“You need to relax,” Luke says. “Stressing about it is just making it harder.”
“No, you need to unwind,” Kate counters. “You’re in your head too much. Why don’t you try taking the night off, loosen up a little, and then pick it back up tomorrow when you’ve got a clearer head?”
“I don’t have time,” I pout.
“Well you’re clearly not going to get anything done anyway and sitting here trying to work when you’re not in a good headspace is just making you miserable and stressed. If you don’t find a way to relax a little, you’re not going to get any work done tonight and you’ll just carry this negative energy with you tomorrow.” She says. “I vote we take a break and have some fun.”
I glance down at the open books in front of me, feeling a wave of dread as I look over the first few sentences. Maybe Kate is right. Maybe it would be better if I took a night to clear my head so that tomorrow I can make a plan and attack this with more organization.
“What did you have in mind?” I ask.
“There’s a party over on Merrill Street tonight. Let’s go check it out.”
“A party?” I ask doubtfully. “I don’t know, Kate. I’m not really about that life anymore.”
“It’s supposed to be super chill. I got invited by one of the guys who works on the Crimson and he’s not a rager kind of a guy.” Kate reassures me. “And just because there’s tequila around you doesn’t mean you have to drink it all, Ana. We’ll take it easy, hang out, listen to some music, maybe dance a little. I’ll have you in bed by 11, I promise.”
I purse my lips together. It does sound tempting. I haven’t really done anything social all semester because I’ve been sick, or busy, or with Christian, and… this is my senior year. Next year I’ll hopefully be working full time at some big publishing house in Seattle and I won’t always have the chance to drop everything and have a few drinks with Kate anymore, especially when Christian is around all the time. This is really my last shot.
“What do you say?” Kate asks.
“Okay,” I agree. “Just this once.”
“Yes!” Kate squeals, jumping up to her feet. “Let’s go get ready!”
“Hold on,” Luke interrupts, sitting on the couch and turning an almost somber look on me. “Do you really think this is a good idea, Ana? I mean, Mr. Grey…”
“Mr. Grey will get over it,” Kate snaps. “She’s going to be fine. It’s just a small house party and I know the people throwing it. If it gets crazy, we’ll come home.”
“I don’t know…” Luke says, uncertainly.
“Come with me,” I tell him. “Christian can’t object if you’re there with me.”
“You’d be surprised,” He mumbles, but when I stick out my bottom lip and give him the sad puppy dog eyes that I know he can’t refuse, he ultimately gives in and nods.
Thirty minutes later, Kate, Luke, and I are walking up the short concrete walk to the front door of a house I’ve never been to before. Whoever it is that answers the door seems to know Kate though and we’re quickly ushered inside where about thirty or so people are standing around talking, holding clear plastic cups filled with alcohol in their hands while Like a G6 thumps over the speakers in the corner.
“Let’s get a drink!” Kate shouts at me over the music. I nod and grab onto her hand, letting her pull me into the kitchen, where we contribute to the host’s alcohol fund, and then making ourselves a cocktail. She’s bobbing up and down to the music as I finish topping off the few fingers worth of tequila in the bottom of the plastic cup I’m holding with orange juice and grenadine, and once I take my first drink, she yanks on my arm to pull me out into the middle of the crowded living room to dance.
After a few drinks and a lot of encouragement from Kate, I am actually able to unwind and enjoy myself. Luke is hovering close by, watching intently as Kate and I sway together, holding our drinks above our heads and swinging our hips back and forth. Soon, and probably because of my third tequila sunrise, I’ve almost forgotten all about the mountain of homework I have waiting for me at home and the overly harsh critiques on the novel I’ve poured my heart and soul into. We’re having a great time until a guy I don’t know, but who is surprisingly cute, comes up to us, turning his body towards Kate but looking down at me.
“Mind if I cut in?” He asks, and I’m about to tell him we’re fine on our own but Kate speaks up first.
“Sure,” She says, reaching down for his hand and turning to pull him further into the crowd of people dancing around us. She’s almost able to disappear in the second it takes me to recover from my surprise, but I reach out and grab onto her hand to stop her.
“Kate, what are you doing?” I hiss.
“It’s just a dance,” She says. “I’ll be back in two seconds.”
“But…” I start, but she’s turned away from me and soon is lost through the group of tightly packed students. I let out a harsh huff and make my way across the room to where Luke is standing.
“Where’s she going?” He asks, nodding in Kate’s direction.
“I guess she’s going to dance with that guy.” I tell him, and he raises an eyebrow at me.
“Is Elliot going to be okay with that?”
I shrug. I’m not in a position to tell her what she can and cannot do, but part of me thinks that dancing with a guy and letting him put his hands on her while she’s not only a little intoxicated, but also 3000 miles away from her very serious boyfriend of three years, is a little inappropriate. I certainly wouldn’t do that to Christian, and I know that he would definitely blow a gasket if he found out I did, but their relationship is different than ours is. Elliot’s not the same guy as Christian and maybe he won’t care. It is just a dance after all, it’s not like she’s on a date with the guy. Besides, I suppose I can’t really judge her when she was nothing but supportive of me when I was going through my party phase a year ago. Still, it doesn’t sit right.
“Why don’t we go sit down?” Luke suggests.
I nod and then follow after him, clinging to his arm, as he crosses the room. There’s a large, L shaped couch in the corner that’s mostly empty, but as I take a seat, the guy sitting next to me turns around and I see that it’s Carter Reed.
“No fucking way. Hey, Ana!” He exclaims. He’s clearly more than a little intoxicated.
“Hey, Carter,” I reply, and he turns to his friends, gesturing at me frantically.
“Do you know who this is?” He shouts at them “Do you KNOW who this even is?”
They shake their heads and he gets to his feet, rather unsteadily, and climbs onto the couch. He wavers a little, already unsure on his feet because of the alcohol but completely unstable standing on the soft cushions of the sofa, and waves his arms to get the attention of the entire room.
“Attention, everyone. Attention please! The one and only Anastasia Steele is in the house tonight. This girl, I fucking love this girl!”
“Carter!” I say, feeling my cheeks heat with humiliation as I reach up to yank on his jacket and try to pull him back down on the couch. “What are you doing?”
“Alright,” Luke interjects, grabbing onto Carter and stabilizing him, before moving him a few more feet away from me. “Let’s keep it cool, alright?”
“Nah, dude, it’s cool,” He says. “It’s my house.”
What? This is Carter’s house? Oh my god, I’m going to kill Kate…
“Ana,” Carter interjects. “AnaAnaAna. We need to talk. What happened over the summer? The last time I talked to you, you weren’t even speaking to Grey and, all of a sudden, I turn on the TV and you’re on the news talking about getting married and shit.”
“Yeah,” I say awkwardly. “We’re back together.”
“No fucking way,” He says. “Do you even realize what a big deal he is now? What he’s done to change the game of venture capitalism? He’s a legend and, holy shit, he’s got a fuck ton of money.”
“Yeah, but he’s still the same guy. Our relationship hasn’t really changed much. He just has less free time now than he did in college.”
“But he’s kind of famous. I mean, watch…” He says, and then turns to his other friends again. “Guys. Guys! This girl is dating Christian Grey. Like, THE Christian Grey.”
“Get out!” The girl on Carter’s left says, her mouth dropping open.
“No you’re not,” Another girl says, in disbelief. I tell her that it’s true but she shakes her head. “He lives in Seattle. Why would he be dating a girl who’s still in school and who lives on the opposite side of the country?”
“Love,” I say firmly, but when she rolls her eyes, I feel a flash of vindictive anger and pull out my phone. I have a picture of Christian and I sitting on the beach in Hawaii as the background of my home screen so I turn it around to show her and her eyes widen.
“Oh my god,” She says with disbelief. “I thought… I mean, I read that he was fucking some intern at his company and got sued for sexual harassment.”
“Well, he didn’t get sued… and I was that intern,” I reply sheepishly. “But, to be fair, we dated before I went to work at GEH… It’s all very complicated.”
“You worked at Grey Enterprises Holdings?” A guy on the far end of the couch asks, but the first girl waves him off.
“No one cares about that. Tell us about Grey. I mean, he’s so hot! How do you make that happen?”
“She dumped me for him,” Carter says, now putting on a dramatic show and pretending to wipe a tear from under his eye. “Ana and I dated for a few months our freshman year and then Grey swiped her out from under me when he was still a student here.” He moves his arm in a grand sweeping gesture in front of him, that causes him to fall backwards onto the couch a little, and I roll my eyes.
“That’s really not what happened. Carter and I broke up months before Christian and I started dating.” I tell the girl, although I have no idea why I suddenly feel the need to explain myself to strangers.
“Oh my god, she just called him Christian!” The girl squeaks. “Like he’s just a normal guy. Ah, this is amazing! I mean, Christian Grey! What’s he like?”
“Well…” I spend the next twenty minutes or so talking to Carter and the few friends he has sitting around him about Christian and about the summer I spent interning at GEH. I’m actually surprised by how interested they are in Christian’s company. When I start talking about my internship, a few of them ask questions that I can’t answer, and while they start arguing about the merits of the Grey Method, I’m reminded that I’m currently surrounded by Harvard Business majors.
“Dude,” Carter says, turning a very serious look on me. “You have to get Grey to come and do a lecture for my futures markets class. Do you know what that would do for me? My professor would probably let me coast for the rest of the year.”
“I don’t know,” I say doubtfully. “He’s a pretty busy guy.”
“Just try, okay?”
“Yeah, try…” I reply, trying to be as noncommittal as possible. Even if Christian was interested in coming to give a lecture at Harvard, I doubt he’d do it as a favor to Carter.
“I’m going to go and get another drink,” I tell Carter, and he nods dismissively before turning back to his other friends. Luke, who has spent the last half hour or so talking with the pretty blonde sitting next to him, gives me a questioning look when I get up, but I tell him to stay put and that I’ll be right back. I’ve had a creeping sense of guilt over the past few weeks as I’ve realized how much of Luke’s life is wrapped up in being my CPO, and after Kate’s comment about how he doesn’t have any friends earlier, it’s been nagging at me all night. I think I had a lot to do with why he and Leah didn’t work out and even though he seems to be okay with the fact that their relationship ended, I don’t want him to be alone forever just so he can drive me around all the time. He’s young, and cute. He should get the chance to act that way sometimes.
“I should come with you,” He argues.
“I’m just going to the kitchen, I’ll be right back,” I reply. He frowns, but I walk away before he can argue any further.
There’s no more tequila in the kitchen, which is fine because it is getting pretty late, so I decide to drink a glass of water to try and stave off any lingering effects of the alcohol, but when I turn to head back into the living room to rejoin Luke, I’m stopped cold in my tracks.
Standing a few feet in front of me, staring at me intently and not bothering to conceal the loathing in her eyes, is Leila Williams.
“Leila?” I croak, and her nostrils flare as she straightens a little.
“I thought I might see you here eventually,” She says.
“What are you talking about?” I ask her. “What are you doing here?”
“I go here,” She says. “Well, to BU, just over the river. I’m studying art history.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “You really expect me to believe that you just happened to enroll in a school less a mile away from me?”
“Oh, please. Don’t flatter yourself, Anastasia. Unlike you, this is where I’m from. I grew up in Connecticut, less than an hour and a half away from here. My parents still live there. I moved home and I enrolled in school. You don’t have a monopoly on Cambridge.”
I grind my teeth together as I stare back at her, unsure whether to simply ignore her and get out of here, or to throw down with her right here for everything she’s done to Christian. Ultimately, because I’m at school and because the father I love has sacrificed everything to make this place a reality for me, I choose the former.
“Just stay away from me,” I tell her coldly and she smirks.
“As much as you want it to, Anastasia, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Get over yourself.”
I swallow back all of the hateful, bitter words I want to spit at her and walk purposefully back into the living room, feeling her eyes on me the entire way back to Luke.
“We need to get out of here.” I tell him, and he looks up at me with concern.
“I just saw Leila Williams.”
“What?!” He exclaims, immediately getting to his feet and looking purposefully around the room. “Where?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, because I can’t see her anymore. “She was in the kitchen. Apparently she enrolled in Boston University this semester. She lives here now.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” He groans.
“I wish I was.”
He takes a deep calming breath through his nose and then scans the room one last time. “Let’s get you out of here.”
I nod and start to walk towards the door with him, only to realize that I’m missing the other person we came with.
“Wait, where’s Kate?” I ask. Luke stops and we look back towards the open part of the living room where people are still dancing, but she isn’t there. “She said two seconds, it’s been like… An hour.”
“God damn it,” He says with a huff. “Come on, let’s find her.”
We turn back and make our way through the crowd and into the hallway, peering into rooms as we go. At the back of the house there is a fully enclosed sun room where a few people are sitting, passing a bong back and forth. I purse my lips together when I find that Kate isn’t one of them, and wonder where she’s gone.
“Hey, you wanna hit?” the guy on the couch with the bubbler in his hand asks, holding it out for me.
“No, thank you. You haven’t seen a blonde come through here have you?”
“It’s a party, babe. I’ve seen a lot of blondes,” He says.
“Right. Well, thanks anyway,” I turn around and am going to head back into the living room and maybe check the kitchen again, but out of the corner of my eye I see a small, dark alcove off to the right.
“Hold on, Luke,” I tell him as he holds open one of the french doors that leads back into the main house, and then cross the room to check.
She’s standing there, smiling up at the guy who is leaning too closely into her while he rests his arm against the wall over her head. He reaches up and brushes his fingertips over her cheek, looking as though he’s going to kiss her, and when he begins to lower his face down to hers, I launch myself forward.
“Hey! Get lost,” I say firmly as I physically push him away from Kate. He staggers backwards, looking shocked.
“Ana, what are you doing?” Kate shrieks, and I round on her.
“What am I doing? What are you doing? What about Elliot?”
“What about Elliot?” She snaps back, and I actually have to lean away from her as I hear the anger ingrained in her voice.
“Who’s Elliot?” The guy next to me asks.
“Her boyfriend,” I reply, shooting a sharp glare at him. “Her big boyfriend, who will kill you.”
“Wait, you have a boyfriend?” He asks, genuinely surprised as he turns back to Kate.
“Ryan…” She begins, trying to be conciliatory, but I cut her off.
“Yes, she does. Now get out of here.”
Luke comes around the corner then and I think he scares the guy off because he suddenly scurries away. Luke turns to look after him uncertainly, probably wondering if he needs to go after him, but when I don’t say anything, he lets it go.
“What’s going on with you, Kate?”
“Nothing…” She says, almost a little disheartened, but I’m not buying it.
“It sure as fuck didn’t look like nothing.”
Her eyes snap up to me, the anger flaming to life again behind her eyes. “I’m not going to do this with you, Ana. You can judge me all you want while you sit over there knowing that you have a man who is absolutely devoted to you and would give you anything in the world if it would make you happy. Who would put himself aside and choose you over everything else. Who just wants you to be secure and happy. Not all of us get that luxury!”
“Kate…” I say, my voice only a breath as I feel the impact of her words, but she storms away from me before I can say anything more. I watch her disappear around the corner, too stunned to immediately follow after her, until Luke finally brings me out of my daze.
“Ana, let’s go,” He says.
“Go… Yeah,” I reply, and after taking a moment to pause and re-center myself, I wrap my arm around Luke’s and let him guide me from the party and through Kate’s angry wake back to the house.
My head is spinning as I try and work through everything that has happened tonight. Something is going on between Kate and Elliot, that’s obvious now, and whatever it is, it isn’t good. And, I wasn’t hallucinating the other day. Leila really is in Cambridge. Christian’s not going to like that and I’m going to have to find a way to tell him she’s here without him freaking out and doing something drastic.
“Luke, can you not tell Christian about Leila?” I ask as we round the corner onto our street.
“That’s not really something I can keep from him, Ana.” Luke replies. “He’s definitely going to want to know. I mean, like it or not, she is a security risk.”
“I get that. But, I think if you tell him, he’ll overreact. I think it’s better if I tell him, in person, when he can see me right in front of him and he knows I’m safe. If you tell him while I’m here, he might show up in the middle of the night and drag me back to Seattle.”
“You promise that you’ll tell him?” Luke checks, and I nod.
“Okay,” He sighs. “I won’t tell him.”
“Thank you,” I say, and when we turn onto the walk that leads to our house, I flinch as Kate slams the door, hard, behind her.