“We should be on the ground in twenty minutes, Miss Steele,” Christian’s flight attendant tells me as we begin our descent into Boston Sunday night. “Can I get you anything before we land?”
“No,” I shake my head. “Thank you, Natalia, but I’m fine.”
“My pleasure, Miss Steele,” she says, and then she turns and disappears into the front of the plane again. I glance over the aisle across from me and see Kate yawning as she writes something in the notebook open on the tray table over her lap, and then up at Luke, who is sleeping in the seat in front of her.
It’s been a very quiet flight. I spent the first hour or so in the bed at the back of the plane, fighting tears as I pictured the look on Christian’s face at the airport and the way his lips felt against mine when he kissed me goodbye. I’d thought at the beginning of Thanksgiving break that it would be hard to leave, but I hadn’t imagined it would be this hard. After everything that’s happened, it was nearly impossible. I felt sick about it all morning and, when we got to the airport, I almost refused to get on the plane. But then my dad’s words would echo through my mind, “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’ve never felt as torn about school as I do right now. I want to be back in Seattle so bad, I can actually feel pain in my chest from the heart ache. I want to be there if Christian needs to talk. I want to do everything I can for his family, for Grace, so that she doesn’t have to worry about anything but being everything Carrick needs her to be right now. I want to sleep next to Christian every night so I can chase away the nightmares all this stress, uncertainty, and change have brought back. I just want to be there, but I can’t, because I’m not supposed to be. I’m supposed to be here.
Harvard isn’t something I can just give up right now because Christian is right, if I don’t do it now, I’ll never be able to. I can’t throw this away, and not just for my father. The little girl who used to put pictures of Harvard on her wall and who would watch With Honors, Good Will Hunting, and Legally Blonde over and over again just to catch the few glimpses of the campus Harvard allowed to be filmed, still lives inside of me. Underneath all this confusion and hurt for my other family is the studious high school girl who chose books, studying, and building a resume over parties, prom, and sex so that she could one day walk across the Old Yard in a crimson sweater that she’d earned. Harvard has been my dream for as long as I can remember and I owe it to myself and all the sacrifices I’ve made to finish.
But, for the first time, when I turn to look out the window at the snow covered Boston a thousand feet below, I don’t feel happy to be back, and that terrifies me. Part of me thinks if Christian asked me to come home now, I would, but that it would ultimately become one of my biggest regrets. Especially when I give birth. I want my baby to have a reason to be proud of me, not just their dad. I’m never going to be able to compete with Christian when it comes to money or success, but I can when it comes to perseverance. I want our child to know that I never gave up. That I worked just as hard as their Dad did, even when I thought it would rip me apart. I stuck it out. That, against all odds, I got a degree from an Ivy League school, the best in the country. I finished. That’s the role model I want to be.
‘Do it for your baby,’ I think as I gently run my finger over my stomach. ‘For this too shall pass.’
When we land at Logan, there is a town car waiting to take us back home, and as we drive through Boston and then up the interstate towards Cambridge, the devastation from the storm becomes glaringly apparent. In my own neighborhood, days after the roads have been cleared, there are lawns still littered with broken tree branches and windows on houses and cars covered in plastic after having been shattered by the hail. However, my house looks pristine. The driveway and sidewalks have been shoveled, the debris from the large tree in the yard has been cleared away, and the siding and window on the house have been completely repaired. In fact, the only way that I can even tell anything happened to disturb the house once I get inside is by the new hardwood that replaced the old kitchen floor, which was damaged by the fluid from the car, and the absence of the dining room table, which hasn’t been repurchased yet.
“Just like new,” Kate says as she steps into the dining room and traces her finger over the newly painted wall. “I will say one thing for Christian, the man knows how to get things done.”
“Yeah, I need to call him and let him know we’re here,” I tell her, and she sighs.
“Fine, I guess I’ll just call Ainsley. She doesn’t have a boyfriend to take up all of her time like some people I know.”
“Don’t worry, Kate,” Luke says. “Sunday Night Football comes on in twenty minutes. Not even Grey could keep Ana away from that.”
“That’s because the Seahawks are my real boyfriend,” I say coyly as I make for the living room and then pull the suitcase I never took to Seattle up the stairs after me.
When I’m shut away in my room, I heave my purple carry on onto my bed and unzip it so that I can unpack while I talk to Christian on the phone. I dial his number and start pulling things out of the suitcase, but, while I’m tucking Christian’s Harvard t-shirt into my top drawer, the phone clicks over to his voicemail.
“You have reached the voice mailbox of 206-432-0247. Please leave a message after the tone.”
“Uh… hey,” I say awkwardly, as the only time I’ve ever gotten Christian’s voicemail in the past was when he was mad at me and not taking my phone calls. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m home and the house is perfect, so… thank you. Call me. I love you…”
I pull the phone away and stare at it uncertainly for a minute before pressing my finger against the screen to end the call. It makes me a little uneasy that he didn’t answer both because I know he always has his phone on him for work, and because I know he’s at the hospital with his dad right now. What if he got more bad news? What if his test results came back? What if he was a match for his father’s transplant and he’s currently undergoing surgery without even telling me?
I shake my head to dispel the troubling thoughts and then toss my phone on the bed. I’m sure he’s just spending time with his family right now and didn’t want to step away. He’ll call me when he gets home.
“Ana?” Luke asks, knocking on the door behind me. “You’re missing your favorite Faith Hill song. Waiting All Day for Sunday Night.”
“Okay,” I say, laughing at his screechy voice as he sings the Sunday Night Football theme. “Just let me change.”
“Alright,” He says, and, as he turns to leave, I glance down at my phone one more time and then move into the bathroom. I’ve been on a plane for hours, so, even though the game is about to start, I decide I want to at least brush my teeth and change my clothes before I go downstairs. Just like on Thanksgiving though, when I was waiting for my dad to call, my eyes keep moving down to my phone.
He could at least text me to let me know he’ll call me later…
I take a deep breath and lean over the sink to spit the toothpaste in my mouth into the sink, but as I stand up again, my eyes fall on the set of drawers on the countertop where I keep most of my makeup, and I frown. I’m pretty sure there were a pair of cufflinks sitting there that Christian had left the last time he visited, but they’re gone… I take a quick moment to look around but they haven’t fallen on the counter nor into any of the drawers.
“Ana!” Luke yells from down the stairs. “Kansas City just kicked off! They’re on the 20, the 30, the 40… Jesus, Ana, do you see what happens when you dawdle?”
“Fuck,” I hiss, “I’m coming!”
After quickly rinsing out my toothbrush and pulling off my t-shirt for the Seahawks jersey hanging in my closet, I dash out of my room and fly down the stairs, the cufflinks completely forgotten by the time I leap over the back of the couch and settle in for the game.
It’s not pleasant. The Chiefs roll over us 42-24, but that’s not what bothers me the most. It’s been 3 hours and I still haven’t heard anything from Christian. Not even an email.
“Don’t worry, they just need to find their stride again,” Luke says when I look sulkily down at my phone at the end of the game. “The Chiefs aren’t even an NFC team, this isn’t so bad.”
“Yeah,” I pout. “Look, I think I’m going to go to bed, okay?”
“Okay,” He says. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
“Yeah, Kate and I are going to the gym at seven. Meet us there?”
“Sounds good, have a good night, Ana.”
We get up from the couch and I walk him to the door so that I can lock it behind him. I stand there, waiting for him to get into the car parked in the driveway and once he’s gone, I flip off the porch light, kick the wooden door block into the well behind the sliding glass door and then head up the stairs again. I can see that Kate’s light is still on under her door, so I briefly think of poking my head in to tell her goodnight, but just as I reach out for her doorknob, my phone buzzes in my hand. I look down at it and see Christian’s name displayed on the screen.
“Hey,” I answer as I quickly hop down the hall into my bedroom. “Is everything okay? Why didn’t you answer earlier?”
“Sorry, I’ve been at the hospital and I don’t get great reception there. I just got home.”
“I was worried about you.”
“Are you sure? How’s your dad?”
“We’re still waiting on the test results for the transplant. Apparently they have to be certified by some medical board so they were sent out of the hospital. They don’t want to schedule my father’s brain surgery until they know if he’s going to be undergoing a transplant because they want to make a surgical plan that will allow him adequate recovery time from both, and they can’t schedule chemo treatments until after his transplant or his body could reject the organ.”
“So what are they doing right now?”
“Nothing. We’re just waiting.”
“You should know soon, right? I mean, it can’t take more than a couple days and you had all your testing done yesterday.”
“Tomorrow, I think.”
“Well, keep me posted.”
“I will,” He says. “I miss you already. This apartment always feels so empty whenever you’re not here. It was finally starting to feel like home again with you here all week.”
“I know, I miss you too,” I tell him. “It’s going to be a long three weeks with no trips home.”
“Yeah,” He agrees. “But I’m going to Houston on Wednesday for some meetings and to look at some property for a new plant for my agriculture division. I’m not going to be home until Saturday evening so it wouldn’t do you any good to come home this weekend anyway.”
“You’re travelling for work?”
“Unless the test results come back saying that I’m a match for my dad,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “I just didn’t think you’d travel until after your dad was out of the hospital. ”
“GEH doesn’t stop just because my dad has cancer. We’re coming up on end of year and I have a lot of things to deal with right now. I’m on the verge of something pretty big.”
“But what if he needs you?”
“My dad needs surgery,” Christian says. “And I’m not a neurosurgeon. I’m a CEO and I have a company to run.”
“But isn’t that why you have Ros? I mean, I’m sure she’d understand…”
“Ana,” He interrupts me. “I’m fine.”
I pull the mouthpiece of the phone away and sigh so that he can’t hear me. I don’t know what he’s really feeling, but I can’t imagine it’s just fine. Especially not after the way he held onto me at the airport this afternoon, like he he was actually afraid to let me go. I think he’s trying to make me feel better about leaving because he knows my resolve is wavering, but I don’t want him to shut down completely. If he needs to talk, I want him to be able to talk to me. I want to support him. But I also don’t want to push him, so, rather than needling him further about his father and possibly pushing him further away, I try to change the subject.
“Have you heard anything new about the house?”
“Oh fuck, no,” he says. “With everything that’s been going on, I haven’t even thought about it. It feels like I’m dropping the ball all over the place. You left this afternoon for three weeks and I haven’t even made love to you since last Wednesday.”
“The tragedy,” I giggle and he hums in agreement.
“Believe me, the tragedy is that we both won’t get to experience what I had planned for your last night here.”
“And what was that?”
“Let’s just say I’ve replenished some of the… birthday presents you got me last summer.”
“Mmm,” I moan. “There’s no better way to kick off finals than with a little kinky fuckery.”
“I agree,” He says. “In fact, what are you wearing right now?”
I laugh. “A Seahawks jersey and a pair of sweatpants.”
“Not sexy,” he says flatly. “Take it all off.”
“You watch your mouth! This blue and green are the sexiest colors in the entire world.”
“I don’t know… I’m partial to pink. The dark color of your nipples when I’m sucking on them, the light blush of your clitoris when I open you up, the bright contrast of my hand print on your skin when I spank you…”
“Oh,” I say, suddenly intrigued. “So, that’s where this phone call is going…”
“You did hear me say that I haven’t made love to you since last Wednesday, right?” He asks. “So, why don’t you take off your clothes for me, and then get into bed?”
“All of them?”
“No. Leave your bra and panties. I want to play with you for a while.”
“Okay,” I tell him, and then set the phone down to strip out of my jersey and my sweats before crawling into my bed and picking up the phone again. “Now what?”
“You tell me,” he says. “What are you thinking about?”
I bite my lip, pushing the nervous embarrassment aside, and let my eyes rake over my own half naked body, imagining what I would want from him if he were here with me. “Your hands,”I say at last.
“What about my hands?”
“How they feel when you touch me. How they look when you’re grabbing onto me. I want you to touch my entire body. Oh,” I moan. “And your tongue.”
“Keep going,” he whispers.
“I love it when you run your tongue over every inch of me. Down my collar bones, over my breasts, my stomach, between my legs…”
“Mmm,” he groans. “I love going down on you, baby. I could never eat another meal as long as I had you to devour every night. You are my favorite course.”
I close my eyes and inhale sharply as I imagine him grabbing the backs of my thighs, spreading my legs open so that he can lower his mouth onto me.
“You’re biting your lip, aren’t you?” He asks.
“Yes,” I confirm.
“What do you want, baby?”
“You,” I whisper. “I want you so bad.”
“I want you suck my cock,” he says, and a smile breaks across my lips.
“Do you? Are you hard for me, baby?”
“For you? Always.”
“Good. Where are you right now?”
“I’m in my office at home, sitting at my desk.”
“Then imagine me on my knees in front of you, unbuckling your belt and then slowly pulling down your zipper…”
“Mmm,” he hums. “Don’t stop.”
“And then I reach into your pants, and wrap my hand around you. Oooh, you are hard.”
“I’ll pull you out and take a second to just look at you. How perfect your cock looks when you’re erect. It’s so big. Sometimes, I wonder how I’m going to get this in my mouth.”
“You always find a way,” he replies, and his voice is husky. “Why don’t you give it a shot?”
“Are you touching yourself, Christian? Are you stroking yourself, imagining it’s my mouth?”
“Well, stop, because I’m not going to suck you yet. First, I’m just going to use just my tongue. I’m going to drag it up your entire length, from base to tip and then swirl it around your head. Can you feel that, baby?”
“Yes, and it feels so fucking good.”
“Good, then keep picturing it. My tongue moving all over you, tasting you, until finally, I wrap my lips over the tip of your cock.”
“Fuck,” he hisses. “Does that make you wet, baby? Thinking about sucking my cock?”
“Yes,” I breathe back. “It makes me want so much more, so I take more of you, all of you, until you’re in the back of my throat.”
“You’re so big, Christian. I can deep throat you and there’s still enough of you to wrap my hand around the base of that perfect cock of yours. Do you want my hand?”
“Yes. I want all of you.”
“Then I’m going to use both. I’m going to move slowly and keep my lips tight around you while I sink all the way down on you and then pull back until the tip of your cock is at my lips. I want you really wet, baby.”
“Just the way I want you,” he says, his voice breathy as I imagine him letting his head fall back in his chair while he pleasures himself to the sound of my voice.
“Do you want to come in my mouth, Christian?”
“No,” he says. “So you’re going to have to stop.”
“What if I don’t want to? What it, instead, I pull you into my throat, as deep as I can, and hold you there, swallowing over and over…”
“Fuck,” he hisses. “It looks like I’m going to have to make you stop.”
“Looks like it.”
“Then I’m going to reach down and grab you, a little too tightly so you know that I’m displeased, and then I’m going to pick you up off the floor and lay you over my desk, right here in front of me.”
“Well, you’re still wearing your panties.”
“Will you take them off?”
“Oh no, not yet. First, I’m going to spread your legs, place each one of your feet on the arms of my chair, and then I’m going to lean into you and run my nose up the center of your panties.”
I close my eyes and imagine him doing just that, using my finger to trace the line he describes to me, and as I feel the gentle pressure against my panties, a shiver runs up my spine. “Oh god, I want your mouth.”
“And you can have it,” he says. “Over your panties.”
“Christian!” I complain, but his only response is a low moan.
“I’m kissing you, over and over again, letting you feel my breath on you, and I’m going to continue just like this until I can feel how wet you are for me through your panties. Are you there yet?”
“Yes,” I breathe.
“Then let me taste you. Take them off, Ana.”
I hold the phone between my shoulder and my ear so that I can reach down and slide my panties off my hips, and toss them carelessly to the floor. When my hips are back on the bed, I reach down to brush my fingers over my clitoris and I immediately feel my muscles clench with anticipation.
“Go slow, baby,” he tells me. “I really want to enjoy you. I want you to feel my tongue moving on you, my lips closing around your clit. God, I love you the way you taste. I love it when you’re wet for me and it gets all over my face. I love it when you come in my mouth.”
“Fuck, baby,” I moan. “I want your fingers.”
“No, just my tongue. Feel it swirling around you clit. Don’t stop until you come.”
I want to whine, but with him whispering husky instructions into my ear, it turns out just circling my fingers around my cliotris is enough for the heat to start building inside of me. I start panting heavily into the phone as I climb higher and higher, and the louder I get the more brazen his words become.
“I want to fuck you so badly right now, baby. I want you bent over this desk, and I want to spank you until my hand stings. I want to pull your hair as I dive into you again and again and hear you scream how much you love it. I want to turn you inside out, take you so hard you’ll remember it for the rest of your fucking life.”
“Christian, I’m getting really close. Oh my god, I’m going to come!”
“Say my name when you come, baby. That’s my mouth making you come right now and I want you to be damn sure of that.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I pant in time with the pulsing heat growing stronger and stronger inside of me. My body is tight, preparing for the release speeding closer and closer, so that when I finally detonate, I feel it everywhere.
“Fuck, Christian!” I scream. “I’m coming. Oh god, Christian!”
“Don’t stop, baby. Keep those fingers moving, just the way my tongue would. Don’t come down.”
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” I say quickly as the pleasure beings to overwhelm me. “It’s too much.”
“Don’t stop!” He commands.
“I can’t!” I pull my hand away and the heat coursing through me immediately vanishes, but my body is still left trembling in the after shocks of my orgasm.
“I told you not to stop,” he chides me. “I wasn’t finished devouring you yet.”
“I couldn’t take it.”
“Well, then we’ll have to try something else. Put your fingers in your mouth. Tell me how you taste.”
I do what he asks, bringing my hand up to my lips and rolling my tongue around my fingers, sucking on my fingertips so he can hear it through the phone.
“Tangy,” I tell him.
“A delicacy,” he replies. “Now, you’ve said before that I should stay out of your drawers in Cambridge. Why was that, Ana?”
“You know very well why.”
“I want to hear you say it. What’s in your drawer, Ana?”
“Good, you’re going to use it tonight. But first, I want you to get your laptop. I want to watch you fuck yourself.”
“Get your laptop and get on iChat.”
“Okay…” I take a calming breath as I’m still reeling from my orgasm, and then roll out of bed to take my laptop off my desk, which is difficult as my legs are still shaking. Christian waits silently on the other end of the phone while I log in, but the second I click on the iChat icon, I get his incoming video message request. Dragging my finger over the pad, I click accept and then a window appears on the screen and I can see him. I recognize that he is, in fact, sitting at his desk in his home office by the view of Seattle through the window behind him, but it’s very hard to focus on anything but the delicious looking man staring at me through the screen. He’s wearing a stiff, white shirt with three or four of the buttons undone, giving me me a little preview of the muscles on his chest, and at the bottom of the screen, just peaking above the edge of his desk, I can see the tip of his erection.
“No fair,” I pout. He smiles and then pushes his chair a little ways away from the desk to give me a better view. I bite down on my lip as I watch him move his hand slowly up and down one time. He is really hard.
“Mute your computer,” he says, and once I do, I’m back to focusing only on his voice in my ear. “Now lay back onto the bed and put your laptop between your legs. Let me see you.”
I move over the bed so that I can do as he says and once I’m settled down again, he moans in approval.
“Fuck, you’re so wet.”
“All for you.”
“Damn right, only for me. Now, get your vibrator.”
I roll over to the bedside table to my left, ease open the drawer, and then reach inside to pull out my vibrator. When I roll over and am facing Christian again, I can see him smirking.
“What?” I ask, feeling a little self conscious.
“Pink,” he observes. “My favorite color.”
“Shut up,” I giggle.
“Lay down,” he says, so, again, I take a calming breath and do as he says. “Now slowly drag it down you body…”
I do as he asks, brushing the tip of the silicone over my breasts, my nipples, and my stomach, until it comes to rest between my legs.
“Turn it on,” he instructs me. “Low.”
I do and then whimper.
“Still a little a little sensitive, baby?”
“Yes,” I moan.
“That’s fine. I don’t want it for you clit anyway. Push it inside of you, slowly.”
I reach further down, adjusting the silicone tip so that it’s at my entrance and then add the slightest amount of pressure so that it eases inside of me.
“That’s it, baby,” he tells me. “More. Take it all.” He sits back in his chair again as I push the vibrator all the way inside of me and begins to run his hand up and down his length. He keeps time with me, his stokes co-insiding with every push and pull of my hand on my vibrator. It’s so hot watching him pleasure himself and as I feel my body stretch around the toy and I stare at the image of Christian on my screen, it’s not hard to imagine it’s him inside of me.
“Okay, baby. Faster. Move with me,” He says, and his hand starts moving faster up and down his erection. I gasp as I follow his lead and feel the urgency of the tightness inside of me increasing. Christian’s eyes are focused intently between my legs, and while I watch him, I can see the lust burn hotter and hotter behind the molten gray.
“Oh, fuck that’s hot, Ana,” he groans. “Does that feel good, baby?”
“Yes,” I pant. “But you feel better. I want you, Christian.”
“Pretend it’s me. Fuck yourself the way I would fuck you.”
“Harder,” I whisper, following my own instruction, and as I begin to writhe over my sheets, I watch his mouth fall open and his body goes rigid. He’s close.
“Fuck, Ana,” he breathes. “Are you going to come for me?”
“Yes,” I reply. “You?”
“I’m almost there. Keep going.”
My body starts trembling as I approach my second orgasm, which hits me with the force of freight train when I watch Christian’s body relax and he erupts in his hand. Our harsh breathing mingles together through the phone and as we both come down, the panting turns into deep, even breaths, until finally, I can’t hear him at all.
“I hate that I can’t kiss you right now,” he says at last, and I turn to look back at the screen of my laptop with regret.
“Fuck, it’s almost nine. It’s late for you. You should be asleep.”
“Well I would be if a certain CEO wasn’t keeping me awake with late night booty calls.”
“Nah, I’ll save the booty for next time,” he jokes and I laugh. We’re quiet for another long moment, staring at each other through the laptop screen longingly until eventually, he sighs.
“I love you, Ana.”
“I love you too. Good night, Christian.”
Fighting the crushing disappointment flaring inside of me, I reach over and close my laptop screen, then hang up the phone. It’s been a long day and I’m tired, so I put everything away and clean up in the bathroom before crawling into bed and turning out the lights. As I wait for sleep to take me, I stare at the light blinking on my laptop from my desk for a moment, thinking of Christian, and then roll over and close my eyes.
Monday starts the grand tradition of the non-stop work professors pile on in the last few weeks before end of term. This is our last week of instruction for the semester and since our professors aren’t allowed to assign any tests or quizzes during dead week by University rule, they instead choose to assign end of term papers that are generally excruciatingly long and due in an unreasonably short amount of time. This bi-annual tradition has made Kate jokingly, though actually very seriously, dub this “hell week” over the past few years, and she’s not wrong. The only thing I have to be grateful for as I lug my bag out of my last class, which has ladened me with yet another research paper on top of all my final reading assignments, is that I no longer have my job at the library to take up my time. What I do have though is a book in the midst of the publishing process, so before I can go home and wade through the ocean of homework I’ve been assigned, I have to check in with Dr. Ralston.
“Come in,” he calls when I knock on the door, and, as I step inside, he looks up from a complicated looking document in front of him and smiles. “Ah, Anastasia,” he greets me. “Just the person I was hoping to see,”
“Working on your final exams?” I ask, nodding to the paper in front of him as I take a seat, and he smiles.
“Actually, I am. And, can I say what a relief it is not having to hide it from you. One of the benefits of you not taking any of my classes this semester.” He gives me a slightly teasing look and I smile as I roll my eyes.
“I’ve already taken everything you teach. Start a new class and I’ll be the first on the roster.”
“Maybe next semester,” he promises. “Now, about your book.”
“Have we heard anything back from the query letters we sent out yet?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” he says, and I immediately feel my body deflate.
“Yes, I’m afraid the response hasn’t been as positive as I was hoping for. Of the ten letters we sent, I’ve received ten rejections.”
I frown. “Well, that’s not the end of the world, right? I mean, I’ve heard really successful authors were rejected dozens of times, hundreds even. It’s just about finding the right match and that can take time.”
“Usually, I’d agree with you,” he says. “But honestly, with your resume, I would have at least expected requests for additional chapters. So, I made some phone calls to some of the agencies I have contacts in and it seems your resume might actually be the problem.”
“Not your academics, but your personal life. Anastasia, when is the last time you Googled yourself?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know that I have…”
“Well, you should. There are good things, your name included amongst the announcement of the Dean’s List for the past four consecutive semesters, your profile with the Harvard Historical Registry from your time working at the library, and the articles you’ve published for the Crimson… but they seem to be overshadowed by the rest.”
“TMZ articles, paparazzi pictures, YouTube videos of your very public interview last summer. On the internet your name has become synonymous with a sex scandal and the rumor mill that surrounds your boyfriend.”
“Oh,” I whisper, biting down on my lip as suddenly each and every article I remember being mentioned in, particularly the one of Kate and I leaving that sex shop in downtown Seattle, come to the forefront of my mind. I’ve always worried this would be an issue when it was time to find a job, but I didn’t realize it would affect this. Honestly, I don’t understand why it does.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I know that some of the things written about me don’t always paint a pretty picture, but why is that a bad thing? I mean, the whole point is to sell books, right? If people know who I am, even if it’s for something scandalous, aren’t I more likely to sell a novel than if I was a nobody?”
“Yes, and I think you’d normally be right. Your problem seems to be the boyfriend.”
“He’s always attracted attention, being so young, and successful, and, let’s face it, good looking, but the interest in him has been greatly exacerbated by the events from last summer. The media reports the breakout stories, the scandal, but it never gets resolved and it leaves people wanting. Publishers pick up on that. It seems there are plenty of parties interested in publishing a book that answers all of the questions the media hasn’t.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you know the answers to those questions, and the publishers looking for that story are aware of that.”
“They want me to write about Christian?”
“He’s very private and it’s very hard to get anyone who knows him to talk about him, except to praise him for his business acumen. They see your name and that you’re trying to be a published author and I think…”
“No,” I cut him off. “No, I would never do that. I would never betray him or his trust like that. Absolutely not.”
“It could help you leverage a real deal and you would have control over what you would share.”
“It’s not an option,” I say firmly.
Dr. Ralston sighs. “Well, then I would suggest you consider a pen name. Something to hide your identity through the query process and the shopping around of your book so that your work can be reviewed without the Christian Grey filter.”
“A pen name?” I repeat. “So, my book wouldn’t say Anastasia Steele on it?”
“No,” he confirms. I begin chewing on the inside of my cheek as I consider this. I know a lot of authors use pen names, hell JK Rowling was forced to because publishers didn’t think little boys would buy a book from a female author, and she published one of, if not the most, successful series of all time. But I’m not in this for commercial success. I poured my soul and years of pain into this book. It healed me, and my hope is that it could help someone else too. I’m proud of it, and, at the end of the day, I want to hold the finished copy in my hands with my name on the dusk jacket.
“Can I…” I hesitate. “Can I think about it?”
“Of course. Finals are coming up, I’m sure you’re going to have a lot on your plate. We’ll pick this back up at the end of break.”
“Thank you,” I tell him, and then reach down for my bag as I get out of my chair, but he stops me.
“Pumpkin cookie?” He asks, holding up a plate from the table behind his desk. “My wife made them for Thanksgiving, they’re sinful.”
“Sure,” I smile at him. “Thank you, Dr. Ralston.”
“My pleasure, Anastasia.”
I leave the office and immediately fish out my phone to call Christian and tell him everything that just happened in that meeting, but his phone doesn’t even ring. I’m sent straight to voicemail. I suppose this means he’s back at the hospital again with his dad, which means I don’t know when I’m going to be able to get ahold of him tonight, and that makes me feel worse. I hate not being able to talk to him right now and not knowing what’s going on, especially with so much still up in the air. With a sigh, I put my phone back in my pocket and hurry out of the building to Luke, who is waiting for me out front, and put on a fake smile when he asks me how my meeting went. I know he’d want to encourage me and try to reassure me that this will all work out, but right now, that’s not what I want to hear. I’m not actually sure what I want to hear, except that I want it to come from Christian.
My mood is about as bad as it can get by the time I get home and can start studying, especially because, while I’m camped out at the coffee table in the living room trying to get through my reading for Contemporary African American Literature, Kate is pacing back and forth in the kitchen talking loudly to Ainsley on her phone.
“No, I’m not going back to Seattle until Christmas,” she says, “And I’m probably only going to stay a few days before I head back. I can’t bare to think of being stranded on the west coast, I’d miss you too much.” She laughs, and then pauses to listen to whatever Ainsley is saying to her. “No, I’m definitely coming this weekend, and every weekend. I don’t give a fuck how much homework I have, that’s what coffee was invented for right? Oh yeah, and that.”
“Kate,” I say, turning around and giving her a stern look. “Can you wrap it up or go upstairs or something?”
“Oh. Sorry, Ana. Hey, Aines, I’ve gotta get back to work, but I’ll text you later? Great. Love you, too. Bye.”
She hangs up the phone and then practically skips across the living room before plopping down on the rug across from me and opening the book she had been reading before Ainsley called. I take a deep breath and try to push away my irritation with her and return to my reading, but I find myself looking up at her every few minutes.
“You’re going to New York this weekend?” I ask her, my voice more accusatory than I mean for it to be.
“You’re going to Seattle this weekend?” She counters in the same, slightly harsh tone.
“No, I’m not,” I tell her. “I’m probably not going back until Christmas because of all of this.” I motion around the table at the books and papers piled so high I almost have to sit up straighter to see her over them, but she just shakes her head.
“I’ll get it done. I always do.”
“Yeah, because you apply yourself. Not because you put off work to go party in New York all the time.”
“I know how to manage my time, so what if I go to New York?” She asks defensively. “I like to go clubbing with my friends, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not hurting anyone.”
“You’re hurting yourself,” I counter. “I thought you were starting to get over this. I thought you were moving on… Is it because I told you about Elliot’s girlfriend? He’s picked someone else so you’re going to go right back into self destructive mode?”
“Self destructive mode?” She repeats. “What are you talking about, Ana. I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. This, finals, is what is important right now and you’re not taking it seriously. That’s not like you, Kate.”
“What is your problem, Ana?”
“You, Kate. You are my problem. I’m not going to watch you throw away everything you’ve worked for because you’re having a hard time dealing with Gia. Elliot’s moving on, you knew it would happen eventually. You should too.”
“I am moving on,” she says. “Believe it or not, my entire life doesn’t revolve around the Greys, Anastasia. I know that’s hard for you to comprehend because you can’t go three seconds without saying Christian’s name, but I literally couldn’t give a shit about Elliot’s new girlfriend. You’re just mad that Christian hasn’t called you tonight, but that’s not my fault, so you need to chill out.”
“So the drinking, and the staying out late, and the endless parade of guys, that’s just you doing you?” I ask, ignoring her Christian barb.
“Jesus, Ana. What do you want from me?”
“I want you to stop acting like such a slut.” The moment the words come out of my mouth, I regret them, but Kate doesn’t even give me time to take them back.
“Thanks, Ana,” She spits at me. “It’s great to know how you really think of me.”
“Kate…” I begin, but she cuts me off by slamming her book closed and gathering her things. “I’m going to study in my room. See you later, best friend.” She gets up and storms off towards the stairs, and as I hear her slam her bedroom door closed, I lean forward to rest my face in my hands, holding it there until I’ve fought off the angry tears that aren’t helping anyone, and then get off the floor and make my way upstairs after her.
“Katie?” I call softly as I knock on her bedroom door. There’s a shuffling sound inside but after a few seconds her door swings wide open.
“What?” She snaps.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I’ve had such a bad day, a bad week, and I’m taking it out on you. You’re not a slut. I’m sorry I said that. I know how hard all of this is on you and I can’t judge you for however you have to deal with it. I’ve been there, and you were there for me. And you’re right, you’re not hurting anyone. So, if you think you can do school and go to New York, then you should to do that. I just want you to be happy and I’m scared that you’re not. But if you are, then you are, and that’s great. I’m sorry about what I said. It was low, and out of line, and not true. I’m sorry.”
She presses her mouth together, contemplating my apology for a moment, before she nods. “It’s okay,” she says. “We’re all a little stressed.”
“I’m just so tired,” I complain. “Pregnancy is draining and I can’t handle it on top of everything else. I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack or something.”
“What’s wrong, Ana?” Kate asks.
“I just… I feel so helpless with Christian right now and not being able to be there with him. It’s like for the first time, I don’t care about school and it’s freaking me out. And, I really want to talk to my dad, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much distance from him than I do right now. I need to be able to work this Christian thing out with him. And then, it’s finals, so school may literally kill me with all the work I have to get done, and, on top of all of that, I… I don’t think my book is going to get published.”
“What? What do you mean? Your book is amazing.”
“It doesn’t matter, Kate. I had a meeting with Dr. Ralston this afternoon and he said that I’m running into problems because agents and publishers know who I am. Apparently, they’re not interested in my work, they’re interested in me writing about Christian.”
“Like a tell-all?” She asks.
“Yeah.” I nod. “So I have to decide whether I want to put a different name on my work and hide who I am, or not publish anything at all.”
“Well, a lot of authors use pen names, Ana,” she says, conciliatory, but I shake my head.
“This book is about self-discovery,” I tell her. “How can I write about heartbreak forcing you to learn about who you really are and becoming okay with the person you discover, and then share that journey while pretending to be someone else? I don’t want that. I want it to say Anastasia Steele. I can’t handle all of this right now.”
“Come here,” she says, holding her arms open for me, and I go to her willingly. “You’re just stressed out, Ana, but it’s only a couple more weeks that you’ll have to deal with all of this. Carrick is going to be fine and Christian’s going to get through it. Your Dad is going to come around, and your book is going to get published.
“What if you’re wrong?”
“Umm… do you know who you’re talking to? I’m never wrong.” I laugh and she pulls me back so that she can look at my face. “What do you say we take a break for a while. It’s still early, we can go do something fun. You don’t ever leave the house anymore unless you’re going to school or Seattle, it’ll be good for you to get out for a while.”
“I’m pregnant, Kate,” I argue. “I can’t go out drinking with you.”
“That’s not what I mean,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Jesus, you really do need a night out, you’ve forgotten about the world. Call Luke and we’ll go shopping. Believe me, retail therapy is a real thing.”
I hesitate for a moment, weighing how bad I really do need a break against the amount of homework still waiting for me downstairs, but Kate doesn’t wait for me to make a decision. She reaches for her purse on the dresser next to the door, takes my hand, and drags me from her room. We’re halfway down the stairs though, when I feel my phone vibrating in my back pocket.
“Hold on, I’m waiting on an update on… Carrick,” I say, as we reach the living room, but my voice trails off on the last word when I look down on my phone but see a different name than I expect displayed on the screen.
“What’s wrong?” Kate asks.
“It’s not Christian. It’s Elliot.”
“Oh?” She says, her voice hardening as she slumps against the back of the couch. “What does he want?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, shaking my head before answering the phone. “Hey, Elliot.”
“Hey, have you heard from Christian?” He asks, and the worried tone in his voice immediately has me on guard.
“No, what do you mean? Isn’t he at the hospital with you?”
“No,” he says. “He was a few hours ago, but he left.”
“What do you mean he left, where did he go?”
“Home, I thought. But I just got to Escala and no one is here. Gail said she hasn’t seen him and I can’t get him on the phone.”
“Where’s Taylor?” I ask.
“I hope with him. He really hasn’t called you?”
“No,” I say. “Have you called Ros or Andrea? Maybe he had to go into the office…”
“I haven’t. I figured you’d know where he was better than anyone else.”
“Well try Ros,” I say, but as I turn around to start pacing back and forth between the living room and the kitchen, I see a car in the driveway that shouldn’t be there turn off its lights, and, seconds later, Christian steps out of the back seat. “Oh my god, he’s here.”
“Christian’s here, he just got here. I’ll call you back.” I hang up the phone and make a beeline to meet him at the back door.
“What are you doing here?” I ask as I unlock the door to let him inside, but he doesn’t answer. The second the door slides open, his hands are on my face, pulling me into him, and his lips are one mine. It takes me by surprise, but as I catch up and kiss him back, I begin to feel the tension in his lips and the anxious energy pouring into me. This kiss isn’t happiness to see me.
“What’s wrong?” I ask when I pull away, but he doesn’t respond. His Adam’s apple jumps as he swallows, like he’s trying to clear his throat so he can speak, and his eyes are ladened with worry. Taylor appears behind him, carrying Christian’s suitcase, and his somber look confirms what I’ve inferred from his kiss. Something has happened. Carrick? Elliot seemed fine on the phone…
“Come on,” I say, lacing my fingers through Christian’s and pulling him inside. He comes willingly, and when we walk into the living room where Kate is waiting for me, purse still in hand, I give her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Kate…”
“It’s fine,” she sighs. “I’ve got homework to do anyway.”
I bite down on my lip as I hear the disappointment in her voice because I still feel like we have some making up to do after our argument, but there isn’t much I can do about it right now. I’ll have to do something special with her tomorrow, or whenever Christian leaves.
When we get into my bedroom, I close the door behind us, and, by the time I turn around, Christian’s already settled down on the edge of the bed, his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands.
“What happened?” I ask.
“We got the test results back,” he says. “We’re not a match. None of us are.”
“Christian…” I say, pushing off the door towards the bed so that I can hold onto him. “I’m so sorry.”
“I was the closest,” he says. “We have the exact same blood type, our tissue samples matched, my liver is in surprisingly good shape for the amount of alcohol I consumed while you were… gone, but when they tested my samples against his, they found some kind of antibody that they said would cause my dad to reject the organ. I’m not a viable candidate.”
“I’m sorry, Christian. I’m so sorry… but they’ll put him on the transplant list. Someone, somewhere will…”
“I wanted it to be me,” he interrupts me. “I wanted to be the one. For ten years now, I have been so horrible to my father. Ever since I was thirteen, I’ve either fought him or shut him out, and he’s never done anything but try to help me be a better person. He was the first man I could ever trust, and I didn’t. I didn’t trust him, I didn’t let him be my dad. When I was young and I was drinking and getting into fights all the time, he’d yell at me and I’d escalate it. There were times when I would try to take it to blows and when he’d tell me how disappointed he was instead of fighting me back, I’d call him a coward. Whenever he’d get too close to Elena and I, when he suggested you might only be interested in me for my money… I just shut him out. I shut down completely. After I lied on the stand, I didn’t talk to him for almost two years, and I could have. He lives fifteen minutes from my house and I was so wrapped up in not admitting that I had done something wrong, in my own success, I just cut him out. That hurt him, I know how much that hurt him, and I just hoped that if I could have been the one to do this for him, if I could have been the one to save him, it would have somehow made up for all of that.”
“Christian, you don’t have to make up for that, he’s forgiven you. We’ve all moved on. You can’t spend your whole life punishing yourself for decisions you made when you were a teenager. Your dad knows that you love him. You’ve grown up, you’re a different person, and he’s proud of you. He loves you too.”
“It was just finally starting to feel good, you know? You’re gone a lot and he helps me get through that. Elliot’s different now without Kate, he doesn’t want to be around as much. So, my dad and I have been spending a lot of time together over the past few months. We go fishing out on the boat together, we order the fights on pay per view, sometimes we just sit, have a beer, and talk. I have a connection with him that I haven’t had before and just when I finally feel like I can let him be my dad, I’m going to lose him. I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time on stupid shit.”
“He’s not going anywhere,” I reassure him, taking his hands in mine. “He’s going to fight this, and you’re going to be by his side every step of the way. We all are. This is going to make you stronger.”
“Don’t give me hope, Ana,” he says. “The last thing I need in this world is more people trying to give me hope.”
“What can I do, then? What do you need me to do for you, Christian?”
“Pick a movie?” He says softly, as he looks up at me. “Lay in bed with me. Let me hold you. Just… be with me tonight.”
My eyes flit to the door as I imagine all of the work I have to do still piled up on the coffee table downstairs, but it all seems so unimportant compared to the hurt I see in Christian’s eyes, so I nod.
He gets out of bed and goes to my dresser, pulling his Harvard t-shirt out of the top drawer and tossing it to me, and once we’re stripped down for bed, we crawl under the covers and I pull my laptop towards us, choosing a movie that I know he likes rather than one of the black and white ones he’s watched a billion times for me.
“I have to leave in a few hours,” he says as we cuddle into the pillows and settle in for the movie. “I’m meeting Ros in Houston in the morning. Don’t fall asleep, okay?”
“Okay.” I nod, and his arms wrap tighter around me as I feel his lips press into my neck, just below my ear,. He doesn’t let me go again until he has to leave.