Chapter 13

Image result for thanksgiving table

I wake up the next morning feeling an odd sense of deja-vu. Just like last Father’s Day, I feel a rush of excitement the moment I wake up that, after months of waiting, I’m finally going to get to talk to my Dad again. But, unlike last time, I’m not facing only the nerves of telling him all about the first man I’ve ever loved. This time, I also plan on telling him that his twenty-two year old, still in college, sweet, pure little girl, who was a virgin when he left, is now pregnant out of wedlock by a man he knows nothing about. Just the thought of saying those words out loud to him triggers my morning sickness earlier than usual, and I immediately have to push Christian’s arms off of me and scramble out of bed for the toilet. Thankfully, I’m finished throwing up by the time he comes into the bathroom behind me.

“I seriously cannot wait for this to be over,” I moan as I dip my hands under the cool water of the faucet and press them against my face.

“You’re almost through eleven weeks. The doctor said by fourteen, your symptoms should dramatically decrease.”

“That’s still another month,” I pout. “But, on the plus side, I’ve lost four pounds since you knocked me up. Who said pregnancy has to make you fat and undesirable?”

“You’ll never be undesirable, Anastasia,” Christian says. “I’ll think you’re just as beautiful when you’re nine months along as I do right now.”

“You mean when I’m puking every fifteen minutes?”

“I mean right now, with you standing in front of me looking like the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Liar,” I say, though I’m unable to control my smile.

“Test me,” He says. “Get in the shower with me.”  

“I can’t. One of us needs to be around my phone at all times in case my dad calls. In fact, what am I doing in here?” I turn around and leave the bathroom, listening to Christian’s disappointed sigh as I close the door behind me, and then make for the bedside table where I’ve left my phone. When I look down at it though, I immediately feel my cheeks heat with an emotion just this side of panic. My phone is on the charger, but it isn’t charging and apparently hasn’t been all night. I’m down to 13% battery.

“Fuck,” I hiss as I jiggle the charger around in the port on the bottom of my iPhone, but nothing happens. I bite down on my lip, trying to figure out what to do, until I remember there is a spare charger in my office upstairs. Praying that it’s the charger and not the phone, I immediately bolt out of the bedroom and up the stairs to retrieve it. When I get there though, it isn’t plugged into my computer.

“Gail!” I yell, coming out of the room and running back towards the stairs. The door to the room my parents are staying in opens, but I only offer them a quick good morning as I hurry past, in search of Christian’s housekeeper. Usually, she goes to stay with her sister for the holidays and I’m worried she may have already left, but I’m in luck. She’s just heading for the elevators, luggage in tow, when I get down the stairs.

“Gail,” I say again, slightly breathless. “Do you know where the charger from my office is?”

“Oh, I think Mr. Grey was using it. It’s in the downstairs office now.”

“Thank you,” I tell her, gratefully. “And Happy Thanksgiving.”

“You too, Ana.” She winks at me and then waves as I turn for Christian’s office. I have the strange feeling that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be when I get to Christian’s desk and begin looking around. Unfortunately, the charger isn’t plugged into any of the ports on his computer nor any of the outlets on the wall, so I figure it has to be in one of the drawers, which only heightens my guilty unease. When I open the top drawer though, I freeze.

Sitting there amongst the containers of paper clips, boxes of staples, and few pens resting neatly in the wells built into the drawer, is a black velvet box with the words Harry Winston engraved on the top.

Is that it?

Suddenly, I feel as though I can’t catch my breath. A million different arguments start bouncing around in my head, some encouraging me to open it, to see the ring Christian has picked out for me, some telling me to shut the door and pretend I didn’t see anything at all. I stand there for a moment, warring with myself. I want to open it. I want to see the ring that will stay on my finger for the rest of my life so badly, it feels like it’s eating me up inside, but I know that Christian will want to see my face when I see it for the first time. The only reason this box is still sitting in this drawer is because he promised me romance, a perfect proposal, and he deserves that from me too.

With a regretful sigh, I quickly shut the drawer, leaving the box untouched, and continue searching. I’m just moving some files aside in the bottom drawer to look when I hear Christian’s voice from the door.

“What are you doing?” He asks.

“Uh…” I stutter. “Looking for a phone charger. Mine stopped working.”

He narrows his eyes at me and then slowly crosses the room, stepping around me to open a cabinet on the left side of his office chair. He leans down to reach inside, and as he does, I notice what look like a few books stacked next to one another in a line, one of which has a title that catches my eye.

“Wait a minute, what is that?” I ask, but he pulls the charger out and quickly closes the door.

“Nothing, here you go,” He says evasively, but I give him a defiant smile and then reach for the handle on the cupboard.

“Ana…” He says, a warning, but I ignore him and look inside. There are three or four books inside and I read each title carefully as my eyes move down the line, What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding, The New Father: A Dad’s Guide for the First Year, and Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad: How to Get Both of You Through the Next Nine Months.

He’s reading baby books.

I bite down on my lip as I try to contain the smile seeing them lined up there brings out of me, and softly close the cabinet. He gives me an almost embarrassed look as I turn to face him, but I reach up and rest my hand against his cheek.

“I love you,” I tell him, and then lean up to press my lips into his. His lips are slightly tense at first, but quickly soften as he wraps his arms around me. I moan slightly when I feel his tongue cross my lips, but as I grant him access, the persistent morning sickness rears its ugly head again and I have to pull away.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” I cry, as I hurry away from him towards the bathroom. “This has nothing to do with you!”

My nausea seems to be particularly terrible this morning, so I spend most of the time before we have to go to the Greys’ hiding from my parents in my bathroom, pretending to get ready. It’s difficult to focus on putting on makeup and doing my hair though, because, when I’m not doubled over the toilet, I’m anxiously glancing over at my phone, which, thankfully, is charging on the charger I got from Christian’s office. I know from experience that he usually calls later in the day, but, after Elliot’s cute little pool trick on Father’s Day last summer, I’m paranoid about missing his call again, so I can’t seem to look away from my phone for more than a few seconds at a time.

“Anything?” Christian asks, coming up behind me.

“Not yet,” I tell him as I press a cool washcloth to my forehead and try taking deep breaths to calm the nausea. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through dinner.”

“Here,” He says, and I look at his reflection in the mirror as he reaches into the pocket of his slacks and pulls out what looks like a small container of mints. “Gail found these at the market and bought them for you. They’re suppose to help with the nausea.”

I turn around and take them, looking at them cautiously as I peel back the lid, pull one of the drops from the container, and pop one into my mouth. They’re good, peppermint, but, most importantly, I start to feel the nausea disappear only a few moments after having it in my mouth.

“Oh my god, these are amazing,” I tell him.

“Good, I thought they’d be helpful for dinner tonight since you always seem to be squeamish around food. Now, that we know they work, I’ll have Gail buy a case.”

“Thank you,” I reply, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. He swats my behind as I turn back towards the mirror to finish applying mascara, and to covertly check my phone once more, and leaves me alone again. I feel elated to finally have relief from the ever present nausea, but unfortunately, my losange isn’t the miracle cure I thought it was. The moment it’s gone, the nausea returns in full force, and I have to immediately start sucking on another one. Apparently, this is going to have to be a constant thing. At least they’re peppermint. I can probably get away with people just thinking I’ve developed an Altoid addiction.

For some reason Christian decides he needs to change again right before we’re supposed to leave, but rather than wait for him, I make my way back out to the living room to wait with my parents, making sure to pack the one charger I know still works with me before we go. My mother has gone all out. Her makeup and hair is done as though she’s on her way to a photoshoot and she’s wearing an elegant, black cocktail dress that sparkles with sequins and is accented by my grandmother’s pearls around her neck. She looks beautiful, but definitely over done. We’re a family who usually wears sweatpants on Thanksgiving and eats in front of the TV, so I warned her beforehand that the Greys dress up for the holiday. Perhaps I should have been a bit more specific.

“Oh…” She says awkwardly when I come out of my room in a simple heathered gray sweater dress over tights and a pair of knee high black boots. “When you said dress up, I didn’t think…”

“You look great, Mom,” I say, trying to placate her since I know she doesn’t have anything to change into, but she frowns.

“I think I have a sweater that might be a little more appropriate,” She says. “But I’m not sure I have…”

“Are we ready?” Christian asks behind me, and when I turn to look at him, a huge smile breaks across my face. Apparently, he saw my mom first because he comes out of our bedroom dressed in his best three piece designer suit.

“Ready,” I say smiling at him, but as I reach out for him, he takes my hand, kisses my fingertips, and then steps past me towards my mom.

“Carla,” He says, offering his arm to her. “Shall we?”

“Yes,” She says, smiling so broadly at him she can’t keep her mouth closed. Bob gets off the couch, shaking his head good humoredly before taking my hand, tucking it into his elbow, and leading me towards the elevator after Mom and Christian.

It takes forever to make our way through the holiday traffic to Bellevue, but as we approach the Greys’ house, my mother’s eyes widen with shock.

“This is where Grace and Carrick live?” She asks, her eyes raking over the extravagantly large house and grounds that I’ve become so accustomed to over the past few months.

“And Mia,” I add.

Her hand comes up to her chest as Bob helps her out of the back of the SUV, and while we make our way up the walk, my parents end up falling behind us as my mom stops to marvel over each of the design elements Grace has encorporated into her home.

When we step through the front door into the entrance hall, I can see my mom is itching to explore, but before Christian’s even taken her coat off her shoulders, Grace comes sweeping into the room, preventing her from darting off to the stairs.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” She says excitedly as she opens her arms for Christian.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Mom,” He replies. “I’m sorry we’re late, traffic was a nightmare.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Elliot isn’t here yet so you’re not even the last to arrive.”

“Elliot isn’t here?” Christian asks. “But he just lives up the street…”

“Well, perhaps he’s just taking a little longer to get going today,” Grace says. “He’s had quite the week at work.”

“He is coming though, right?” I ask, handing my own jacket to Gretchen, who has appeared through the formal living room off the left of the hall. The only time I’ve seen Elliot since he and Kate broke up was in the car when I got back from Cambridge the other night. He hasn’t been to brunch on Sundays, or out on the yacht with Christian and I even once. He even declined our offer to go with him to a Seahawks game a few weeks ago and it’s made me wonder if he’s going to miss Thanksgiving too.

“He told me he was,” Grace confirms, “But if he doesn’t get here soon, we’re going to have to start without him. The chef should be finished with dinner soon. Now, let’s get away from the door. It’s cold in here and your sister has been anxiously awaiting your arrival all morning, Christian.”

Christian reaches down to take my hand and leads me into the family room on the other side of the stairs, while Grace moves around me to hug my mother. We find Carrick and Mia sitting on the sectional, watching the football game together, but the moment they spot us, Carrick reaches for the remote, turns off the game, and gets up to hug us.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Son,” He says, moving to Christian first.

“You too, Dad. How’s the…” He begins, but his voice is quickly cut off as Mia shoves herself against him, knocking the wind out of him as she wraps him in a tight hug. “Hey, Meems,” He chuckles.

“Hey,” She says. “I have a favor to ask.”

“Oh do you?” He replies, and she nods before taking his hand and leading him out of the room.

“Hey, Ana,” Carrick says. “Any word from Ray yet?”

“Not yet,” I tell him, holding up my phone. “But I’m being very vigilant.”

“Just stay away from the pool, huh?”

“Right,” I laugh. My mother and Bob come into the room behind me so Carrick moves to greet both of them, while I covertly slip another of the nausea drops into my mouth and then take a seat on the couch. Christian and Mia return a few seconds later, Mia looking slightly more jubilant than before, and, as Christian takes a seat next to me and tries to catch up on the conversation going on between our parents, I lean over to him to find out why.

“What was that about?” I ask, but he shakes his head dismissively.

“There’s a ballet she wants me to take her to see in New York over Christmas,” He says.

“Oh, so we’re spending Christmas in New York?” I ask.

“No,” He shakes his head. “I have other plans.”

“Then why is she so…”

He leans down and presses his lips against mine, silencing me, and then gives me a small, private smile. “Why won’t you ever let me surprise you?” He asks, but, when I open my mouth to reply, he stops me again by placing his index finger on my lips, “You’ll see.” I narrow my eyes at him, but don’t get to press him anymore because Grace turns the conversation on me.

“Ana, we’re so relieved to have you here, safe and sound. The news reports about that storm on the East coast had us terrified for you.”

“Oh, yeah… it was intense. We weren’t prepared for it since we were supposed to be leaving, so we didn’t really have food or… anything. Then the power went out, and then cell towers, and then that car drove through my house…”

“Car?” Grace gasps. “What car?”

“Oh, you didn’t know about that part?” I say awkwardly, and when she shakes her head, still looking too shocked to speak, I start over, telling the story of what had happened in great detail, until Elliot’s voice interrupts us from the entrance hall.

“Mom?” He calls.

“We’re in here,” Grace says, hurrying to get out of her seat to go and greet her son. The whole family follows after her,  but when we step past the stairs into the entrance hall, we all stop as though we’ve simultaneously hit a brick wall together. Elliot is standing there, but not alone. He’s currently helping an extremely pretty blonde out of her coat, and when he hands her jacket to Gretchen, they turn to face us and she smiles broadly at everyone.

“Everyone, this is my new girlfriend,” Elliot says. “Gia Matteo.”

My mouth pops open slightly. Girlfriend? I turn to look at Christian but even he looks a little surprised, and so, with this new revelation, I find myself examining this girl more closely. Her platinum blonde hair is long, shiny, and perfectly straight. Her pale green eyes shine behind thick dark lashes, and, behind her full, soft lips, are perfectly straight, white teeth. She’s not just pretty, she’s beautiful, but I can’t help but notice her astounding resemblance to… Kate.

“W-welcome,” Grace says, taking a moment before she overcomes her shock and moves across the entryway to wrap Gia in a hug. “It’s so nice to meet you. I wish that I could say my son has told me all about you… I’m Elliot’s mother, Grace, and this is his father, Carrick.”

“Pleased to meet you,” She says, in a soft, airy voice. She turns to face us, and Christian takes a step forward and holds his hand out for her.

“Hi, I’m Elliot’s brother, Ch-”

“Christian Grey,” She finishes for him, blushing slightly. “Yes, I know who you are.”

“Uh, great,” Christian says. “This is my girlfriend, Anastasia Steele.”

“Hi,” She says, turning to smile very briefly at me before looking over at Mia.

“And this,” Elliot says, as he reaches out to muss Mia’s hair, “Is the formally tiny human known as Mia, my little sister.”

“Hey, Mia,” Gia says excitedly. “You know, your brother tells me that you love to shop. I think you and I are going to be great friends.”

“Sure…” Mia says awkwardly.

“Excuse me, Dr. Grey?” Gretchen says, stepping out of the family room, “I’m sorry to interrupt but dinner is being served.”

“Excellent,” Elliot says. “I’m starving.”

“Then let’s get to it,” Grace says, stepping aside to let everyone file past her towards the living room. I see her wrap her arm through Elliot’s, leaning in to speak quietly with him as they walk, but before I can turn to follow after him, Christian reaches down for my hand to stop me.

“So… he has a type,” Christian says, clearly picking up on the similarities between Gia and Kate just as I have.

“Oh my god, right?” I whisper back. “It’s almost a little freaky.”

“Freaky?” He repeats, chuckling, and I roll my eyes.

“Yes, freaky,” I affirm. “How come you didn’t tell me he was dating anyone?”

“I didn’t know,” Christian says. “It must be new.”

“Well, then it’s a little soon to be bringing her to Thanksgiving dinner, isn’t it?”

“I brought you here for Thanksgiving before we even started dating,” He argues.

“Exactly, we weren’t dating. That wasn’t me meeting your parents as your new girlfriend, I was just a friend.”

“Trust me, that was not my intention for that week…” He says, and as I suppress a laugh, he reaches down to touch my stomach. “Are you ready?”

My teeth sink into my bottom lip. “Can we wait until my dad calls? If I can… I want to tell him first.”

“Well… we’ll give him to the end of dessert. I don’t know how long everyone is going to stick around tonight.”

“Okay,” I agree, and after a quick kiss, he takes my hand again and leads me back into the dining room.

There’s a ridiculous amount of food on the dining room table, including a gigantic turkey that looks so picturesque it could be in a Norman Rockwell painting. Christian pulls out a seat for me next to my mother, and I take the bowl of potatoes being passed around. Thankfully, the fact that I have to refuse the wine Carrick offers doesn’t draw a lot of attention as Gia refused just before me, claiming she doesn’t drink anything that isn’t clear. I glance down at the green beans and small helping of skinless turkey that make up everything on her plate, and she winks at me.

“Gotta watch your figure, right, Anastasia?”

“Right,” I nod, turning my gaze away.

“Well, Ana,” Carrick asks, as he sits down. “Have you heard from Ray yet?”

“Not in the last few minutes,” I tell him, as I glance down at my phone.

“Well, make sure you stay away from the pool, huh?”

“Thanks, Dad,” Elliot says, and I give him a slightly confused look as I watch him reach out to grab Elliot’s shoulder, wondering if the repeated joke is solely for Elliot’s benefit.

“So…” Grace says, once she’s made sure everyone has enough food and has started eating. “How did you and Gia meet, Elliot?”

“Work,” He says simply, but Gia reaches over and lightly rests her hand over his forearm.

“What he means to say is that I work for Grey Construction. We met one day when we both got on the same elevator.”

“You work for Grey Construction?” Mia asks. “Like… as a construction worker?”

“No,” She laughs. “I’m an interior designer. I’m actually doing the design work for your building, Mr– uh, Christian.”

“Is that so?” Christian asks.

“Yes. I just finished the design for your executive suite, actually. Now that the main superstructure of the new building is up, I believe I’ll start being included in the meetings between you and Elliot.”

“Well, I look forward to seeing what you come up with,” Christian says. “I actually just started the process to buy a house this last week, but it’s fairly outdated. I’m going to be in the market for an interior designer. If your designs are good, perhaps I could steal you from Elliot for a while.”

“Perhaps,” She says softly, smiling over at him, and as I glance between them, I suddenly feel extremely uncomfortable. There’s something about Gia that I don’t like, and I don’t know if it’s her breathy voice, the way she’s ogling my boyfriend across the table, or the fact that she just isn’t Kate, but whatever it is, it has my teeth on edge.

“So, design,” I interject, forcing Gia to look at me. “Is that your… passion, then?”

“Oh, no,” She shakes her head. “Not really. I’m good at it. I’ve always had a knack for that kind of thing, but the truth is I can’t wait to leave it all behind me and focus on more important things.”

“Such as?” Carrick asks.

“Oh you know, seeing the world, charity work…” Her voice trails off and I see Carrick’s eyes narrow at her, but Grace cuts him off before he can say anything.

“Christian, you didn’t tell us you were buying a house,” She says. “Where is it?”

“Laurelhurst,” He says. “Right across the lake.”

“Oh, I adore that neighborhood,” Gia says. “When I was a little girl, my mother would take us to go look at all the beautiful houses and there was one estate that was down at the end, on the last block, right on the water. It’s really old, but it’s gigantic and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

“That’s the house,” Christian says, and Gia’s smile widens.

“Really? I have always dreamed of living there. To get the chance to design it would be a dream come true! And, if you’re anything like your brother, I think you could use my help.”

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the decoration in my house,” Elliot says defensively.

“You have a neon beer sign with an NFL logo on it in your living room,” Gia argues.

“Yeah, and if I don’t plug it in on Sundays, the Seahawks will lose. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good,” He says. Gia rolls her eyes, but he ignores her and looks over at me. “Speaking of which, I’m missing my favorite gameday hat. It’s not here, so I think I must have left it in Cambridge. Can you bring it back for me the next time you come home?”

“Oh,” I begin. “Well, Kate actually gave me a whole box of your things that she thought you might want and I left it at Escala. It might be in there.”

“She did?” Elliot asks, his voice weaker now, and as I nod, I notice Gia’s lips tighten before she looks back over at me.

“You know Kate?” She asks, her voice raising in pitch slightly when she says her name.

“Yeah, since I was a kid,” I tell her. “She’s my best friend. We live together, go to school together…”

“I see,” Gia says shortly. An awkward silence falls over the table which remains until it’s eventually broken by my phone vibrating next to my plate. I glance down at it, see the unfamiliar, out of country number, and feel my stomach seize with nerves.

“Excuse me,” I say, reaching down for it and quickly hurrying away from the table.

“Give Ray my love,” My mom calls after me, but I don’t respond as I turn the corner for the formal living room where I know I’ll be out of earshot.  I take a deep breath to prepare myself as Christian appears behind me.

“Ready?” He asks.

“No,” I shake my head, but answer the phone anyway. “Hello?”

“H-l-o,” The broken fragments of my father’s voice come through the phone.

“Dad?” I ask.

“A-n-s-a, c-n -he-r m,”

“Dad, are you there?” I immediately walk over to the window, trying to get better reception even though I have full service. “Dad?”

“H-ld -n.” I wait, realizing after several seconds that I’m holding my breath, but when I hear him speak again, his voice comes much clearer. “Ana? Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” I breathe with relief. “I can hear you. Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” He affirms. “I can hear you. Happy Thanksgiving, baby girl.”

A wave of cold crosses over me as I really get to hear my dad’s voice. There’s something different about it, something distant or hollow.

“How are you?” I ask him.

“I’m… I’m okay,” He says, but I find very little reassurance in his words. “I’m back on base now and I don’t think I’ll be going so far again so, I’m okay.”

“Where were you? What happened?” I ask him.

“I had to go to the border for a while. It’s… it’s tough over there. We got into some tight spots and I uh– I lost… I lost a good friend.” His voice chokes off slightly and as I listen to him I vaguely remember something Taylor once told me once about Luke and why he doesn’t like to talk about his time in the service.

That last year we spent patrolling the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was not exactly filled with things I’d like to tell my grandchildren about one day.

I swallow back the bile that rises into my throat. Iraq borders Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia… all countries I’ve heard horrible things about on the news.

“I’m so sorry, Daddy,” I say, tears now starting to break through my voice as I imagine what he’s endured since last summer.

“Don’t cry, baby,” He says. “I’m okay. I’m going to come home soon and this will all be worth it when I see your face again, when I watch you march across that stage and accept your degree from the school you worked so hard to get into.”

“I don’t know if this is worth anything,” I cry.

“I do,” He says. “You’re almost there, and I just… I can’t believe it. But I don’t have a lot of time, so let’s not focus on the heavy stuff. Tell me about you. I want to know everything thing I’ve missed. How’s school?”

“It’s fine.”

“Are you going to make the Dean’s List again?”

“I think so.”

“And how’s your book going? You said you were going to start trying to get it published this fall, right?”

“Yeah, it’s going… I’m in the query letter process. We haven’t heard anything yet, but my professor says it’s still really early.”

“It’s going to get published, I know it is. I believe in you.”

“Dad…”

“Come on, Ana,” He says. “Talk to me, sweetie. How’s Kate, how’s your mom?”

I look up at Christian and see him staring at me with a blank expression. He’s waiting for me to talk about him, and, even though he’s trying to hide it, I can see some doubt in his eyes. We’ve been here before, me on the phone with my dad and Christian standing just a few feet away from me. I didn’t say anything about him then, and I wonder if he’s afraid that’s going to happen again.

I swallow hard, pushing down all the fear and guilt, take a deep breath, and turn my attention back to my father.

“Dad, I do need to talk to you about something,” I begin.

“Well, that’s what I’m here for. Shoot.”

“I’m… well, I’m sort of, I mean… I’m-I’m seeing someone.”

“Oh?” He asks.

“Yeah, and we’re serious. Really serious. I’m in love.”

“Really?” He asks. “That’s amazing. Tell me all about him, well, except that he’s the luckiest guy in the whole world, because I already know that.”

I let out a short laugh, but it quickly turns into tears.

“Annie?”

“Dad, I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just… this guy that I’m seeing… Christian, his name is Christian, he’s been in my life for a while.”

“A while?” He repeats.

“Yes,” I tell him, pausing for a minute before I continue. “I actually… Well,  I met him my very first week at Harvard. We were friends for a while, just friends… but we started dating later that year.”

“Wait… what?” My dad asks. “Your freshman year?”

“Yeah.”

“Ana, you’re a senior…”

“I know. We started dating in January, so I didn’t get to the chance to talk to you about him on the phone when it happened and that’s how I wanted tell you. I wanted to be able to talk to you about him, so I was going to wait until I got to talk to you in the summer, but… we broke up before I got the chance to tell you.”

“You-you broke up?”

“Yeah, for about two years. But, we got back together this last summer and we’ve been dating ever since. I’ve wanted to tell you. I’ve wanted to talk to you about him so much, but it’s been so complicated and it just never seemed like the right time… but now I just feel so stupid. I wish I would have told you a long time ago because I want you to know how amazing he is. He’s so smart, and kind, and giving, and… he loves me. He really, truly loves me, and I love him.”

“I just… your freshman year, Ana?” He asks, his voice laced with disbelief. “I mean, why didn’t you… why… were you together when I talked to you over the summer?”

I swallow. “Yes.”

“Yes?” He asks. “So… why didn’t you…”

“It’s just been really complicated. We’ve been through a lot and it hasn’t always been easy but we’re so good now.”

“Okay…” My dad says, and if possible, his voice seems even more distant than before. “I– I don’t really know what to do with that.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m so sorry. I didn’t do this right, I know that, and I wish I could go back, but… but once you meet him, once you get to know him, you’re going to love him. He owns a company that…”

“Wait,” My dad interrupts me. “He owns… I thought you said you met him at Harvard? How much older than you is he?”

“He not,” I tell him. “I mean, we’re the same age. He left early to get started.”

“So he’s a dropout?” My dad asks.

“No, I mean… well, yeah, I guess… but it was what was best for him. His company is huge and really successful, he’s successful. He’s made more than a billion dollars, and he’s done it all on his own. He’s building a life for us. He can take care of me, he wants to take care of me, because he loves me. I’m never going to need or want for anything. Isn’t that everything you’ve ever wanted for me?”

He’s quiet for a minute and his hesitation has my nerves peaked again.

“Dad?”

“You think that what I’ve always wanted for you is a man to take care of you? You think that I pushed you when you needed to be pushed, that I worked two jobs to get you into advanced curriculum programs, that I encouraged your wildest dreams and told you there wasn’t anything you couldn’t accomplish, that I re-enlisted in the military so that I could pay for you to go to the school you deserved to go to so that you could end up as some billionaire’s trophy wife?”

“No, it’s not…”

“I did those things so that you could take care of you. I wanted you to achieve your dreams and become a success on your own. I wanted you to have a career. I wanted you to change the world with your brilliant mind and unwavering persistence. I wanted you to be strong, and independent, and never want for anything because of what you could do.”

“I will,” I tell him. “I mean, I’m not going to just be some trophy wife. Christian isn’t like that. He wants me to achieve my dreams too. I mean, he bought a publishing company last summer just so that I could get real world experience…”

“Wait,” He stops me again. “Stop right there. Anastasia Rose Steele, are you telling me that that amazing internship you told me about, the one that I bragged about to anyone who would listen and went on and on about how much you had accomplished… are you telling me that you didn’t earn that? Are you telling me that this boyfriend bought it for you?”

“No,” I say quickly. “I mean, he did buy it, but he only put me in charge because he knew I could do it and that I was the best person for the job. I earned my spot there, Dad, and did my job really well.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and when he speaks again, his voice is almost a whisper. “I really thought you were doing something amazing, kid. I thought, somehow, you had faced adversity and refused to let it defeat you. That’s the girl I raised.”

“What do you mean? That’s the girl I am,” I tell him. “That hasn’t changed.”

“I don’t know,” He says. “You’re really throwing me for a loop here. I feel like I don’t know anything about what’s been going on with you at all. I mean, what are you going to tell me next? Did he have someone help you write your book?”

“No,” I reply. “No, we weren’t even together when I wrote that. I’ve been working really hard, Dad. I know what you gave up to get me here, and I don’t take that for granted. You know me. You know what this means to me.”

“So, there’s nothing else you need to tell me?” He asks, and at this point, hearing the accusation in his voice, I actually almost chicken out. I was prepared for him to be shocked, upset even, when I told him, but the anger is devastating. I don’t want to make this worse than it already is, so for a brief moment, I consider not telling my dad about my pregnancy, but even as I consider it, I know that will only make things worse in the end when he does find out. This is how I got where I am.

“Yes,” I say quietly, my voice shaking. “I do need to tell you something else.”

“What?” He says, on guard again.

It takes me a long time to speak again. The silence between my father and I is so tense it feels almost tangible, but it’s like I can’t force myself to say the words. And he waits. He doesn’t push me, he doesn’t tell me to spit it out, he just… waits.

“I’m pregnant,” I say at last, and, as the words sit between us, I wait for him to react. But still, nothing. The seconds drag on like hours and it’s agony. I don’t know if I’m waiting for anger, or tears, but not being able to see him, to read his face, is too much. “Please say something,” I ask when his reticence becomes too much for me to bear.

“I love you,” He says, his voice deathly quiet. “You know that I love you more than anything else in this world, and that nothing could ever change that. You know that I will support you, no matter what, and that I will always be there for you. But right now, I am disappointed in you, Anastasia, and that is something I have never had to say before.”

I’m speechless. I stand there, trying to find something to say, but there’s nothing… My dad has been angry with me before. I have been on the receiving end of some epic Ray Steele lectures, but never have I heard that anger filled with so much sadness. It cuts through me, right to my heart, and suddenly, I feel like I can’t breathe.

“Daddy, I’m sorry…” I cry.

“I’ve got to go,” He says.

“No, wait… please.”

“I have to go, Anastasia,” He repeats. “I love you, but… I have to go now.”

I hear the phone click, and then silence. He’s gone, and as I pull the phone away from my face, I break down into tears.

“Hey,” Christian says softly, closing the space between us and then immediately wrapping me in his arms. “Don’t cry.”

“I think I just broke my dad’s heart.”

“No, baby… He’s just in shock. Trust me, I know the feeling. This is a lot to take in at one time, but he’ll come around. He loves you.”

“He told me he was disappointed in me,” I sob. “He’s never owed me anything. When my mom left, he could have let me go and never looked back, but he didn’t. He stepped up to be my dad when he didn’t have to and he has given me everything. And I’ve turned out to be a disappointment.”

“No,” Christian says. “No, you are amazing, Anastasia. Look he’s… he’s thousands of miles away from you. He misses you and he’s missing all these important things happening in your life. That’s got to be hard, and he’s taking it hard, but I promise you, when he comes back and sees all the incredible things you’ve accomplished, he’s going to be so proud of you, and of the woman you have become. Just like I am.”

I look up at him, leaning my face into his hand as he brushes a tear away from my cheek, and then take a deep breath. “I don’t know if you’re right.”

“I am,” He assures me. “This baby is a blessing. Don’t forget that. This is a good thing. Let me show you…” He takes my hand and then pulls me back with him into the dining room where the rest of our family are talking and laughing amongst each other.

“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” Christian asks as we approach the table. The laughter dies down as seven pairs of eyes turn to look at us. He raises a glass in the air, glances down at me one last time, and then looks at everyone around the table. “I just want to thank Bob and Carla from coming to spend the holiday with us. It was important to both Ana and I because we have some really good news that we want to share with all of you. I think you all know how deeply in love with this woman I am, and I have even more reason to be now because Ana is pregnant. Next summer, we are going to be having a baby.”

There’s a brief beat of silence as Christian’s words settle over everyone, but the silence is shattered by a nearly ear piercing scream. Grace leaps up out of her seat and practically runs around the table with her arms held open for Christian and I .

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” She shrieks. “When? How far along?”

“Almost twelve weeks,” I tell her, and tears begin to well in her eyes. “I’m due on June 18th.”

“Christian’s birthday. Oh, a birthday baby. Come here, come here!” She pulls me into her, and as she holds onto me, she starts to cry. “Anastasia, sometimes I think that you were sent here to answer all my prayers, you darling girl. And my baby boy, a father. Come here, Christian.” She releases me and immediately clings onto him. “You are my favorite child.”

“Hey!” Elliot exclaims.

“Give me a grandchild and we’ll talk,” Grace says, before hugging Christian tightly again. I laugh as Mia gets out of her seat to hug me.

“This is such great news. Congratulations, Ana.”

“Thank you, Mia.” I reply, smiling back at her as I turn to hug Elliot.

“Congratulations,” He says.

“Thanks, Elliot.”

“You are going to be the most amazing mom. I’m really happy for you,” He says. “Except… I’m never going to be able to look at you again without knowing you let my brother jizz inside of you.”

“Oh, like a lot of times,” I laugh. He rolls his eyes and kisses me on top of my head before passing me off to my mom, and even though she hugs me, I can feel the tension in her body.

“Are you happy?” I ask her.

“I-I don’t know,” She says, the shock apparent in her voice. “Yes, but… what about Harvard?”

“Well I’m not due until June and graduation is in May. I’m going to graduate.”

“That’s going to be really hard,” She warns me, “Pregnancy is very difficult.”

“I know,” I nod. “But I have to.”

“Well, if anyone can do it, you can,” She tells me. “Congratulations, Ana.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I reply, holding her tightly. I pass her off to Christian, and as I accept a hug from Bob, the sound of clinking china breaks through the low murmur of excitement all around us. We turn and see Carrick standing at the table holding his glass in the air, and so everyone rushes around to raise their glasses as well.

“It was three years ago when Christian brought Anastasia home for the first time,” Carrick begins, “But when Grace and I went to bed the first night we met her, she looked over at me and told me that Christian had found the one. I thought she was crazy, Christian and Ana weren’t even a couple, but she saw something in his eyes the first time she saw him look at her that told her all she needed to know. It took me a little while longer, but eventually, I saw it too, and I still see it. I see it every time he smiles at her, I hear it every time he says her name, I can feel it in this room right now.”

He stops, giving me time to lean up and give Christian a quick kiss before he continues.

“This has really been the most incredible love to watch blossom. It’s been nearly three years to the day since Christian first introduced us to Ana, but it only took that one day for Grace to know that he was in love. The very first day we met her, Grace told me, just before we went to bed, that she knew that Christian had found the one…”

“Dad,” Elliot interrupts him. “You already said that.”

“What?” Carrick asks. “Did I?”

“Yeah,” Mia nods.

“Oh…” He shakes his head slightly. “Well, all I want to say is that… Is that…” He wobbles slightly, enough that he has to catch himself on the table as he leaves too far forward, and as the room fills with the sound of clinking china from the table being jolted around, I feel Christian tense next to me.

“Dad?” He checks, the worry apparent in his voice.

Carrick’s face goes blank and his eyes begin dancing back and forth as though he’s confused. He looks at each of us, but there is no sense of recognition in his eyes. Christian and Elliot immediately both move towards him, but they each only take a few steps before Carrick’s eyes roll back in his head and he collapses.

“Dad!” Christian yells. He lunges forward, falling to the ground in order to keep his father from hitting his head on the tile floor, and as he holds his unconscious body, he looks up at Elliot standing over him in horror.

“Elliot, Call 911.”

Next Chapter

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