The following is intended for mature audiences and may contain material that is not suitable for some readers. Discretion is advised.
Kate sits by my side with a pad of paper to take notes for thank you cards while I open gifts, and before we even make it to the presents my family has purchased, she’s already filled two pages. Receiving gifts like this has a whole other kind of meaning when you’re not in need, the gesture becomes purely about love and support, and after the year we’ve had, experiencing that reassurance over and over again has me feeling slightly overwhelmed.
When I finally get to the gifts from my family, I start with the packages from Grace because I think she might spontaneously combust if I don’t. It takes nearly thirty minutes for me to unwrap everything and in the end she’s given us dozens of clothes, high tech video baby monitors, the most advanced stroller on the market, a year subscription to a diaper service that delivers clean cloth diapers daily and packs away the used ones to be laundered, an entire pack of bibs that all have some variation of Grandma Loves Me Most written on them, and a gown for the baby’s christening.
I give Christian a sideways glance as I pull the white gown and hat from the box, and he rests his hand reassuringly on my knee before turning to his mother and thanking her. While I also offer my thanks and get off the floor to hug her for everything, I wonder if the whole baptism thing is something Christian and I will talk about or if that’s not my choice to make just because Grace is Catholic. The latter I’m not sure I’m comfortable with…
Next I open Gia and Elliot’s gift, and I’m actually surprised by how much I love the floral printed Roberto Cavalli diaper bag. It’s white with pastel flowers all over it and black impressionist drawings of birds and butterflies. It’s so cute that it’s actually something I would happily carry around as a purse, and as I examine everything, I find that it’s also very functional.
“Thank you, Gia,” I tell her, sincerely.
“You’re very welcome, Anastasia,” she replies, and for the first time I don’t really hear any bitterness or resentment in her voice. She smiles at me and I smile back, until Elliot interjects.
“Thank you, Gia?” he repeats, as though he’s hurt. “You think this was Gia’s idea? You think I didn’t walk into Roberta Cav-a-lee all by myself, look at that purse thing, and say to myself, that’s exactly what Anastasia needs for my new niece?”
“Surprisingly, I don’t,” I say wryly.
He holds his hand to his chest and lets his mouth fall open with fake shock, but Gia rolls her eyes and turns back to me.
“Elliot’s gift is inside.”
The corner of my mouth upticks and I reach into the bag. When my fingers close around some kind of soft fabric, I pull it out, and, once I read the print on the onesie he’s bought for us, I give him a hard, sardonic look, shake my head, and then toss it to the floor.
“What is it?” Christian asks, picking it up and turning it towards him so he can read the text that says:
My Dad is a Mother Fucker
“Real nice, Elliot,” Christian says, balling up the onesie and tossing it at his brother, who is almost beside himself with laughter. I roll my eyes and reach for my mother’s gift, which ends up being a beautiful homemade quilt for the baby’s nursery.
“Thank you, Mom,” I tell her as I squeeze her tightly against me. “It’s gorgeous. I love it so much.”
“You’re very welcome, Ana,” she says. “I was hoping to stitch the baby’s name into the blanket but…”
Her voice trails off airily as Christian and I look at each other, and I bite down on my lip, trying to hold back a smile.
“Actually, Christian and I decided on a name. Just now.”
“Amelia?” Mia chirps excitedly. I laugh and shake my head, then turn to Christian.
“Do you want to tell them?”
“No, you go ahead.”
“Okay. Christian and I have decided to name her Calliope, after the Greek goddess of eloquence and poetry.”
“Oh,” Grace coos. “Oh, that’s so beautiful!”
“Thank you,” I smile at her.
“Cal…” Elliot begins, his voice trailing of as if he’s having trouble with the word.
“Kah-Lie-Oh-Pee” Christian says, over phonetically, but Elliot doesn’t seem any more pacified.
“So, Callie then?” he asks, and when Christian shakes his head the look of satisfaction on Elliot’s face at finding another easy way to irritate his brother becomes obvious.
“What’s her middle name?” Carter asks, though the curiosity in his question is very quickly replaced with something much more awkward once he catches Elliot’s very irritated glare.
“Katherine,” Christian says. “Calliope Katherine.”
I turn to look at Kate and watch the pouty look of adorable-overload slowly melt off her face until her expression is entirely blank.
“Katherine?” she repeats. “Like… after me?”
“Yes,” I reply, beaming at her. “After you. It was Christian’s idea.”
A huge grin slowly creeps across her face and her eyes turn glassy as she throws herself forward, bypassing me and wrapping her arms tightly around Christian’s neck.
“Uh…” Christian says uncomfortably, his whole body tensing under the sudden, unexpected contact.
“I know, I know,” Kate says, through her tears. “You don’t like people touching you, but just deal with it for a second, okay? Thank you, Christian!”
Slowly, Christian relaxes, and even reaches around to hug her back, and as he turns to whisper something private into her ear, Gia gets out of her seat.
“Excuse me,” she huffs, and storms out of the room.
“Gia?” Elliot calls after her, but when she doesn’t stop or turn around, he sighs. “God damn it,” he says, groaning as he gets off the floor and disappears after her.
“Are we supposed to wait for her?” Mia asks, annoyed, but Grace shakes her head.
“No, this day is about Ana, not Gia. Go ahead, dear. I think those ones are from Mia.”
I smile and take the gift bags next to the blanket my mother made for us. Mia’s gifts are mostly clothes, though I’m obsessed with the tiny Dior peacoat she’s found, and once Christian and I have both gotten up to thank her properly, I move on to my last gift, which is from Kate.
“Baby’s first Chanel,” I say airily as I slide the pale pink ribbon off the black box in my lap. She smiles at me.
“I thought she could wear this home from the hospital.”
“Really?” I start digging through the white tissue paper inside, and when I find the tiny infant sized onsie, pants, and socks that are all covered in Seahawks logos, my eyes widen with excitement.
“You know me so well!” I chirp, and then pull her into me, giggling as we hug each other.
“There’s real Chanel back at the house,” she promises. “I just thought you’d like this more.”
“Is it bad if I agree with you?” I ask, and we both laugh again.
With everything unwrapped, we begin packing what we can into the car or into the nursery upstairs, and then hug and kiss everyone but Kate and Carter good-bye, thanking them again before we go. I feel calm as we make the drive back to Escala, content, and above all else happy. Before Christian, I had my mom and Bob, and I had Ray, but that was the entire extent of my family. Christian has given me so much more than that, imbibed my life with so much more love and support, and to see it all on display today leaves me with a resounding sense of peace.
At home we have dinner with Kate and Carter and then spend a few hours seated around the huge white couch in the living room, listening to the horror stories of Elliot and Carter’s stand off all afternoon and the endless barrage of questions Elliot threw at him, until Christian finally decides he’s had enough with company and drags me back into the bedroom to be alone. I’m still in the flowy pink dress Kate put me in this afternoon, so my first priority is to strip it off in favor of some sweats and one of Christian’s t-shirts, but I’ve only just gotten out of the dress when I feel his arms wrap around me from behind.
“Did you enjoy your shower?” he asks, and I hum my approval as I turn to face him.
“Very much. There’s a lot of love in this family.”
“Well, you’re very easy to love.” He leans down to kiss me but, as he begins pulling me back towards the bed, another thought pops into my mind and I stop him.
“Um… Ros was there this afternoon.”
He frowns. “Ros? Why?”
“I don’t know, I guess Kate invited her.”
He lets out a very unattractive snort as he turns away from me and makes for his dresser, and I bite down on my lip nervously as I watch him go.
“She, uh… she and I talked a bit,” I begin. “She kind of told me some things that I want to talk to you about.”
“Oh, I’m sure she told you a lot of things,” he replies bitterly. “She’s never been short on things to say.”
“Christian, I think you should listen to her. She told me she didn’t send those emails and when I listened to what she had to say… I– I believe her.”
“You believe her because she’s a professional con-artist. Her job is to sell a shitty deal like it’s the chance of a lifetime and she’s very good at it. It’s why I’ve kept her around so long. I bought her lies too, but I won’t be that naive again.”
“That’s harsh, Christian. She was your best friend, don’t you think you owe her…”
“I don’t owe her a goddamn thing, Anastasia,” he interrupts me, angry now. “I gave that woman everything and she betrayed me. She was just using me as a stepping stone to get power. Does that sound like a friend to you?”
“But that’s the thing, Christian, I don’t think she was. She told me that she talked to Welch and…”
“Welch?” he snaps, interrupting me again. “The man who tried to have me ousted from my own company? You think that makes any of this better?”
“Will you please just listen to me?”
“No, I don’t want to talk about Ros Bailey, Anastasia. I’m done with her. I’m done with Welch, I’m done with all of it.”
“But what if you’re wrong?”
“I have the proof, Ana.”
“You have emails on a server that god only knows who has access to. She said she thinks GEH has been compromised, what if she’s being set up?”
“I have the best technology team money can buy, Anastasia. That server is very well protected.”
“By who, Welch? He was the first one gone, wasn’t he?”
“Do you think I don’t know how to run a company? Is that how you see me? Incompetent?”
“No, I just… I-I just…”
Christian’s jaw tightens and he presses his lips together in a thin line. “I’m done having this conversation. I’m gonna… go check my email.”
“Christian…” I say, but he ignores me, turning instead for the door and disappearing into the hallway. I let out a heavy sigh but decide it’s better to try again tomorrow rather than follow him into his office and continue to pester him, so instead I turn out the lights and crawl into bed.
I fall asleep before he returns.
Kate and Carter leave early the next morning for Cabo, but being alone together doesn’t make Christian want to talk about Ros any more than he did on Saturday night. So, once he and the team have gone into work on Monday morning, I make a plan to get Christian to talk to Ros whether he likes it or not. Still, I find myself walking through the apartment, checking around corners and peering into rooms people don’t even go into before I make the call.
“Hey, Ana,” Ros answers. “How are you?”
“I’m good. I was just calling to let you know that… well, I tried to talk to Christian.”
“And he wouldn’t listen to you,” she guesses with a sigh.
“It was a long shot, but I had to try. God, he’s so fucking stubborn. I don’t know what I’m going to do, Ana.”
“Ros, I think I can help you. But if you’re lying to me…”
“Ana, I swear to you. Look, I know how it looks and I can understand, given everything he’s been through, why he doesn’t trust me. I mean, after Elena Lincoln, I can’t imagine he trusts anyone really… But you know me. You know that I stood by him during the hardest times of his life, that I fought tooth and nail to not let any of the things that happened in his personal life last year affect his company so that he wouldn’t lose it, that I’ve sacrificed my time and sometimes my sanity to be a support system for him and to make sure he was able to spend as much time with you as possible while you were at school this year. I’ve been his confidant, I’ve been his punching bag, I’ve been his best friend. Why would I defect now when everything was finally going so well?”
“I know,” I concede. “And it’s for those reasons that I want to trust you, but if I let another person into his life who is just going to let him down…”
“Then you’ll lose his trust too,” she finishes for me. “I know what I’m asking you, and if it’s too much, then I’ll understand if you don’t want to help me. But I promise, Ana, I just want my job back. I just want my life back.”
I take a deep breath. “Okay. Anthony and Cardella are in a meeting at GEH right now about the new security protocol for when they move into the new building. Cardella is supposed to be back in an hour, but if you can get here before she does then you can wait for Christian here. When he gets home, the two of you can sit down and talk.”
“Oh my god, thank you so much, Ana. I’ll come right now.”
“The elevator code is 040410. Hurry,” I tell her, but the only response I get is the clicking of the phone as she hangs up.
“Okay,” I say aloud, trying to reassure myself as I work through everything I need to do before Christian gets home now. Food is probably a good place to start, he’s always in a better mood after he eats and thankfully, I know his favorite meal. I make my way to the kitchen and pull some chicken out of the freezer to thaw and then make my way back to Christian’s wine stores to find his favorite bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. If food won’t do the trick, surely alcohol will…
I’m just going through the cupboards to see if I’m going to have to send Gail out this afternoon to get anything for the dish I have planned when I hear Champ’s paws scraping against the marble floor, and then the following scratching sound against the glass wall.
“Champ,” I call, but the the scratching continues. With a sigh, I close the cupboard and walk around the counter. When he sees me, he starts whining so I lean down to scratch him behind the ears.
“Do you need to go potty, buddy?” I ask, and his ears perk at the familiar word. I smile, stand, and then pat my leg to get him to follow me to the foyer, where I hook his leash through his collar and drag him with me into the elevator.
There isn’t a ton of great options for my backyard loving dog to find a place to relieve himself in the concrete jungle of downtown Seattle, so I end up taking him up the block a couple times, trying to guide him to the few patches of dirt that surround the trees on the edge of the sidewalk. But now that we’re outside, he’s much more interested in following the smells of the new city than trying to find a place to go to the bathroom.
“Come on, Champ,” I say impatiently, but he seems to care very little about my priorities right now. After sniffing the side of a newspaper machine, he begins moving down the sidewalk again, nose pressed to the ground, dragging me along behind him. I yank back on his leash, trying to get him back onto the dirt patch, but he’s stronger than I am and more determined. So when a stray cat pokes it’s head out of the alley just across the street from the corner we’re standing on, I don’t stand a chance of holding him back.
“Champ!” I shout over his barks that echo over the sound of car horns and surprised screams around me. “Fuck!”
I shoot an apologetic glance at the woman with her young daughter walking up the street next to me and then sprint into the street after him, thinking the whole time what a weird paradox I’ve suddenly found myself in. The cat is faster than Champ is but Champ is committed, which means that they’re just getting farther and farther away with every passing second and there’s no sign of Champ slowing down. On the other hand, I think if Champ were to catch the stupid cat, which would be the only thing to make him stop, the resulting carnage would give me nightmares for weeks. I’m not sure which option I want to happen least…
“Champ!” I call again, but nothing.
The cat takes a sharp left turn into an alley, now several blocks away from my apartment, and they both disappear, leaving me with only the sounds of Champ’s barking to follow.
“Shit, shit, shit,” I say as I round the corner and find that they’ve already made it around another corner at the end of the alley. I’m going to lose him. I’m going to lose Kate’s dog the first day she trusted me to watch him. Gritting my teeth together, I run up the alley and then make the decision to turn right, towards the echoing sounds of Champ’s barks, and it ends up being a mistake.
Standing there, watching me at the end of the alley, is Leila Williams.
“Leila?” I say, through the panting breaths that seem harsher now that they’re mingled with a sudden spike of fear. “What… what are you doing here?”
“I told you that you had to be careful,” she says. “I told you he was always watching.”
It’s like her words have a direct line to whatever part of the brain triggers terror and as she takes her first step towards me, I back away and instinctively place my hand over my baby bump. But when I turn and find that the path directly behind me leads to a dead end, and that the alley I just ran up is now occupied by two very burly looking men walking up towards me, each pulling ski masks over their face, that terror turns to hysteria.
“No!” I scream. “Help! Help!”
The men start sprinting at me and I turn to run, but I’m trapped. There’s nowhere to go and instead of my mind sharpening in this moment of absolute panic and helping me sort through what to do, it goes completely blank. I’m a shaking mess as I hear them come around the corner at me, helpless to do anything but scream.
I try to jerk away the moment I feel the first set of hands on me, but I’ve only just slipped out of his grip when I feel the second set. They quickly take hold of my arms and legs, and no amount of kicking or struggling can break me out of their grip as they drag me to the wall. There’s a weird sense of deja vu as I feel the same horror that has woken me up on countless nights because of this exact scenario, but it’s not a dream this time. Christian isn’t going to wake me up. This is really happening, and the feeling of fear is so intense my vision starts to blur.
“Shut the fuck up, bitch,” one of them growls at me.
“Please, please don’t hurt me. My fiance has money,” I say, going immediately to pleading. “Lots of money. He’ll give you whatever you want if you let me go. Just please, please don’t do this. I’m pregnant. Please!”
“What part of shut the fuck up don’t you understand?” he demands. He moves his hand up to cover my mouth but I twist my face out of his reach.
“Help!” I scream again, using so much force it feels as though I’ve ripped something in my throat. “Please, help me!” He grabs my face and shoves my head back into the brick wall, temporarily dazing me while his hand secures around my mouth. The pain from the blow is so intense, I almost don’t hear what he says next.
“You want to die today?” he asks, but all I can do is whimper in response. “Then shut. The fuck. Up.”
His partner releases me, leaving only the man threatening me to hold my body against the wall, so I try again to struggle out of his grip but it’s no use. He’s insurmountably stronger than I am. Tears begin pouring down my face as I watch the man no longer holding me pull a backpack around to his front and then reach inside to remove a bunch of long, thick cable ties. I jerk my body again and scream into my captors hand, but the sound is too muffled. I doubt Leila, standing only 20 or so feet away, can hear me, let alone anyone on the noisy street.
There is an almost instinctual severity to the fear the sight of the cable ties brings out of me, one that tells me that I need to get away from him, that I need to do everything in my power to prevent them from getting those cable ties around me, because if they are able to successfully restrain me and get me out of this alley undetected, I know, in the deepest part of my soul, that I won’t make it out of this. There is an overpowering certainty growing inside my gut that tells me that these men don’t just want to harm me, they’re going to kill me. They’re going to use me to torture Christian, probably get money out of him, but they will have no intention of ever letting me go. Leila let me see her, which means they can never let me talk to the police. If I ever have any hope of holding my baby in my arms, of seeing the man I love ever again, I have to get out of this alley. Now.
“Give me her arms,” the man holding the cable ties says. The man pinning me to the wall shifts his hold on me to bring my hands together, and it means my mouth is free again. I scream as loudly as I can, ignoring the intense pain in my throat, but it only lasts a second before he’s silencing me again.
“Do you think I’m fucking around?” he asks menacingly, leaning in so closely I can feel his hot, wet breath on my face. His body presses into me, holding me to the wall while his hand moves down to his pocket. The next thing I know, I feel the sharp, cold edge of a steel blade against the skin on my throat. “If you make another fucking sound, I will cut this baby out of you and leave it on Grey’s fucking doorstep.”
A horrible gut wrenching sob explodes out of me as the tears of fear begin pouring down my face. I continue to try and struggle out of his grip, but I can’t. Still, my unwillingness to cooperate seems to be wearing on him. He increases the pressure of the blade against my skin and I scream as I feel hot, wet blood drip down over my throat.
“Don’t fucking move,” he says. “Don’t make a fucking sound, or you will die.”
He moves his hand from my mouth but I don’t scream this time. Not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t. The fear has my throat so tight, it feels as though I can’t breathe. I stand there bawling, the rough surface of the brick behind me scraping my arms as I continue thrashing violently against his grip. My eyes dart through the alley, praying for a miracle, and when I see Leila coming towards us again, I do the only thing I can think to do.
“Please, Leila,” I sob. “Please help me.”
The man holding me down lifts my wrists as his partner unfurls the first of the cable ties, but as he reaches forward to wrap it around me, I suddenly hear a loud, vicious sounding snarl and something big and tan streaks past me. The man with the cable ties is forced to the ground, Champ’s huge paws pinning him to the asphalt while he growls, snarls, and barks in his face.
“Fuck,” the man holding me says. I start to struggle again now that his attention is diverted, but he shoves me hard back into the wall once more, making everything around me dim for a split second as my head impacts with the wall again, and turns to Leila.
“When is that fucking van getting here?” he demands. “Help me tie her up!”
She swallows and then steps towards us, holding her arm out like she’s going to try and help hold me down, but her hand doesn’t reach me. Instead, she wraps her fingers around the man’s bicep and when he gives her a look that tells me he doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing, she pulls her hand out from behind her back and quickly thrusts something hard and black into the man’s neck. I realize, as his body starts violently convulsing, that the thing in her hand is a tazer, and after a few seconds of having electricity jolting through him, his grip on me slackens and I’m able to slide out of his hands.
“Run!” Leila screams.
I try to follow her command, but in my frenzied rush to get away, I trip over the still convulsing man in front of me and am only just able to pivot my body in time so that my shoulder and face take the entire brunt of the fall, rather than my stomach. I can feel the sharp pain of road rash on the side of my face as I try and scramble to my feet, and an even more intense pain in my elbow, but I’m able to quickly pick my stride back up to sprint down the alley after Leila. The sounds of Champs barks echo through the closely packed brick walls and just before we turn the corner that will take us into another back alley, I stop and turn to look at him.
“Champ,” I whimper.
“Are you kidding me?” Leila screams. “Forget about the dog and fucking run, Anastasia!” I swallow and then turn to follow her again, leaving Kate’s dog, the dog who probably just saved my life behind.
As we run through the wet alleyway, I start looking for an opening to the street, but Leila stops me halfway down the backstreet and yanks me behind a dumpster that is surrounded by piles of boxes and trash.
“Calm down,” she hisses. “You have to be quiet now, they’ll hear you.”
“We-we have to get back to Es-cala,” I stutter back at her.
“No.” She shakes her head. “You can’t go back there now. He knows that this was his chance to get you and now that we’ve blown his cover, he won’t be so careful in his next attempt. He’ll stop at nothing to get you. If you try to go back there now, people will die.”
“He can’t get me there. It’s safe there. There’s codes, and security…”
“It’s not safe there, Anastasia,” she interrupts me. “It’s not safe anywhere. He’s everywhere.”
“Wh-what?” I breathe out, the hysteria clear in my words.
“We have to get you somewhere safe, somewhere out of the city where he can’t get to you.”
“Bellevue,” I stutter. “Grace and Carrick.”
She lets out an angry huff. “What don’t you get? He’s done a lot of bad things, Ana, and there’s more he’s going to do, but more than GEH, more than Grey’s money, the thing he’s obsessed with getting, is you. He wants to destroy Grey and he knows that he has to take you from him to do that, so he’s going to try to get to you now by any means necessary. Today. That means you can’t go anywhere he would suspect you may go. You can’t go to the Grey’s, you can’t go to Elliot’s, you can’t go to Kavanagh’s, you can’t go to GEH, you can’t go to the airport…”
“The police then,” I suggest, but she shakes her head.
“No, you won’t make it there,” she says. “And I think he’s already bought a few of them…”
“Bought? What do you mean… bought?
“People will do anything for money, Ana. No matter who they are. He has a lot of resources and he’s very motivated.”
“Who is he, Leila? Who’s doing this?”
She stares at me, silent and uncertain, and eventually shakes her head. “I can’t tell you that. He’ll kill me.”
“We’ll protect you. Christian will protect you,” I argue, but again, she shakes her head.
“You can’t even protect yourselves. This isn’t the end, Ana. This is just where it gets bad. Why do you think I’ve been sitting outside your house in Cambridge? To keep your security on high alert.”
“You were–you were protecting me?”
I swallow and then feel my face crinkle as the fear spikes again and I start to cry, but as the first tears begin rolling down my cheeks, we hear loud, pounding footsteps coming up the alley.
Leila twists, sheltering my body with hers while we listen to the steps coming closer and closer. I don’t allow myself to move, or to cry… I don’t even breathe, because each thud against the pavement feels as though it could be counting down the last few seconds of my life.
“Leila!” a booming voice shouts, and the sound reverberates against the walls over us. Something heavy that must be made of metal slams hard into the dumpster, making the loud metallic bang echo so loudly it’s hard to stay silent with the sound pounding into my eardrums. But I do, I stay silent, even after the man screams for Leila again.
I feel her fingers grip tighter to the exposed skin on my arms, digging into the cuts and scrapes there, but she doesn’t respond. We stay there, crouched behind that dumpster, hidden only by waste and mess, trying to remain absolutely still and absolutely mute. The seconds drag on like hours, my heart beats so furiously it feels as though it may explode right out of my chest, but, eventually, the footsteps begin again, and then disappear.
“I need to find a way to get you out of here,” she says.
“Where?” I ask.
“Well, I’ll start with a car.” She pulls her own backpack off, but instead of removing cable ties, she takes out a black sweatshirt with a hood and hands it to me. I slip my arms inside of it, ignoring the screaming pain in my elbow, and pull the hood over my head, doing everything I can to hide as much of my face as possible. I try to get my legs to stop shaking long enough so that I can stand, but when I rest my hand against the wall to help me get to my feet, Leila places a hand on me to keep me down.
“Wait here,” she says.
“You’re not going to leave me here!” I exclaim.
“I can move easier without you. I’ll be fast. Just stay here, stay quiet, and stay out of sight.”
“Leila,” I hiss, but she ignores me as she throws her backpack back over her shoulder and slips into the alley. Once she’s gone, a whole new wave of panic crosses over me. If they find me now, without Leila as a witness, no one will know. How long will it take Christian to realize I’m actually gone and not just out? Or Ros… fuck, Ros! What will she do when she shows up and I’m not there? Maybe she’ll send Cardella and Anthony out for me. Maybe they’ll find me before Leila gets back…
And then people will die.
Was Leila serious when she said that? I have a brief flash of being under Anthony’s arm as he tries to take me through the front doors of Escala but is then thrown aside by my attacker from the alley, only this time his knife isn’t just a threat and I’m left to scream as a river of crimson flows over the white concrete. A shiver of terror washes over me and I reach down to feel my baby bump again. I can’t even bring myself to think of the specific threats that man made against me, made against my baby, but the fact that he made them makes me feel as though Leila wasn’t exaggerating. And then the vision of going back to Escala plays in my head again, only it’s not Anthony getting thrown aside, it’s Christian, and this time, I can hear his screams.
Tears threaten to choke me once more as I shake my head to try and dispel the horrifying image, but I force myself to hold them back. I can’t afford tears right now. I can’t make any sound. The lives of everyone I love, including my daughter, depend on it.
I grip tightly to the sweatshirt covering my bump, and then slide my hands underneath it so that I can feel my skin. She hasn’t moved since I was grabbed, and the longer I wait here, the more and more worrisome that becomes. I fell… hard. And now, she’s not moving. I need to get to a doctor… because she’s not moving.
Come on, Calliope…
I don’t know how long I sit there shaking behind that dumpster, terrified to move, terrified every second that Calliope doesn’t. My muscles are screaming with pain from being crouched down for so long and not allowing myself to shift my weight or even move my joints, but I don’t care. Every ounce of discipline I posses goes into remaining statue still behind that dumpster until I hear the roll of tires over asphalt coming up the alley. The car comes to a stop in front of the dumpster and I clamp my eyes down as tightly as possible as I say a silent prayer that it isn’t one of them.
“Ana?” Leila’s voice whispers and I heave a sigh of relief, then groan as I force myself to stand up. She comes around to grab ahold of me, continuing to look up and down the alleyway until she’s brought me to the driver’s side of the car.
“Okay,” she says. “Just get out of the city. Don’t use any credit cards, don’t make any phone calls…”
“I don’t… I don’t have anything.”
“Good, they won’t be able to track you then. Don’t get pulled over and don’t stop to contact Grey. They’ll be watching him now because they know he’ll lead them to you.”
“You’re not coming with me? I can’t do this on my own, I don’t know where to go…”
“I can’t go with you. They’re going to be looking for me too now and if I stay, I might be able to draw them away. Just find somewhere safe, somewhere they won’t think to follow you. Then and only then can you contact Grey.”
“I need to get to the hospital, Leila,” I tell her, and her eyes widen.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“She’s not moving. I fell down… she hasn’t moved…” Tears spring to my eyes again as she looks down at my baby bump.
“Fuck,” she hisses. “God damn it, get in the car.”
She takes me over to the passenger’s side and then reluctantly climbs into the driver’s seat. I try to crouch down low so that no one can see me through the windows, but it’s difficult because the pain of the assault I endured is really starting to hit me.
“I’m going to take you into the emergency room,” Leila says, as she pulls out of the alley and onto the crowded street. “There’s cameras there, hopefully that’ll scare them off. Grey already knows you’re gone, I just heard a news bulletin about your disappearance on the radio when I pulled into the alley, so they should contact him once you go in. Don’t stop for anyone who approaches you. Speak only to the people sitting behind the desk.”
“Okay,” I agree.
“Traffic is bad,” she says. “It’ll take awhile to get there.”
I sniff, nod, and bury my head into the canvas that covers the passenger’s seat, soaking it with a fresh wave of tears that sting the road rash on my face. Leila is silent as she drives, focusing on scanning the streets and the cars around us, but when we make it onto the I-5 north, which will take us to the hospital, she looks down at me again.
“When you get out… you should leave this city,” she says.
“And go where?”
“Home, back to Cambridge. He doesn’t have the resources there that he does here, especially now that I’ve defected, and Sawyer has been a real pain in our ass trying to get to you… I can’t tell you how many times this almost happened, but then Sawyer came out of nowhere at the last minute to stop us, without even knowing. He watches you very closely, better than anyone else. That’s why this had to happen in Seattle, when he wasn’t here. When he had more people… Go home, Ana, and stay close to Sawyer’s side.”
“I can’t just leave…”
“You don’t realize what you’re up against! You don’t know what he’s willing to do, how far he’s willing to go.”
“Then tell me.”
She swallows. “Do you remember that accident in November, the car that went through your house during that snowstorm? It wasn’t an accident.”
“I had been watching you all week, waiting for you to go back to Seattle. They’d sent someone with my phone back to Connecticut in my car so Sawyer would think that I’d left Cambridge, but I hadn’t. I was supposed to find a way to get your bag and I had a plan to have your flight delayed so I could get it out of the cargo hold while you were on the tarmac… Hyun, was going to dress like an airline employee to get to the plane, but then the storm hit and the plane never landed. You went home and we knew you had your bag with you. It was me and two other guys and we waited for hours to see what you were going to do until… he got impatient and told Huyn to drive the car through the wall. It worked. You left the house and you left your luggage behind, so while Hyun went with you to the neighbor’s house and then to the hospital, Billy and I broke into your house and found your laptop. He used it to build some kind of connection into the GEH server so that he could use a VPN and access the system from a remote location. We planted some emails about Welch, then we cleaned the whole house so you wouldn’t find any fingerprints if you called the cops, and then we left. They’ve been using that connection to try and break GEH apart from the inside ever since. First it was Welch, then it was Ros… next it’s going to be the security team.”
“Taylor,” I repeat, remembering what Ros had said, and Leila nods.
“So, that’s why my laptop was on my desk when I got back to Cambridge… I didn’t leave it out. You’d moved it.”
“Yes,” she says, and then shifts so she can reach into her back pocket. Next she holds out her closed fist to me and when I raise my hand to hers, she opens her fingers and the pair of white gold cufflinks that went missing from my bathroom fall into my palm.
“I’m so sorry, Anastasia,” she says, her voice breaking. “I didn’t realize what he was at first. I just wanted to break you and Grey up… but it got out of control. He’s out of control, he’s crazy and… I was scared. I’m so sorry.”
I pause and stare down at the cufflinks before I finally look back up at her, trying to blink away my tears. “I forgive you,” I tell her. “You saved my life today, I owe you everything…”
“You don’t owe me anything,” she says. “I deserve whatever happens next.”
It’s quiet until we pull up to the emergency room entrance at Northwest Hospital. Leila parks, but only long enough to help me get out of the car, and after I’ve hugged her goodbye and thanked her again for what she’s done, she slides back into the driver’s seat and disappears.
It’s strange walking into the waiting room because there are TVs on in almost every corner and all of them have my name splattered across them. As I wait behind a woman holding onto a child who looks as though he’s bleeding from his head, I glance up at the TV over the small waiting room and read the subtitles scrolling in front of the news reporter.
Miss Steele is believed to have disappeared from Mr. Grey’s downtown Seattle residence sometime between 10:30 AM and 12:00 PM this afternoon. Police say there were no signs of forced entry into Mr. Grey’s apartment, but foul play is suspected at this time. Miss Steele is 22 years old, five feet, five inches tall, approximately 135 lbs, has long, dark brown hair, blue eyes, and is currently six months pregnant. A representative for Grey Enterprises Holdings has released a statement from Mr. Grey offering a $1 million dollar reward to anyone who can provide any information to Seattle police that will lead to the immediate, safe return of Miss Steele.
“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice says, and I turn to see the woman behind the desk looking expectantly at me. “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I croak. “My name is Anastasia Steele. I’ve been attacked. Someone tried to kidnap me.”
Her eyes widen. “Anastasia Steele?”
“Yes. Please, I think… I think something may have happened to my baby.”
There’s a lot of commotion as I’m immediately whisked back into the emergency room, not only by a nurse in lilac colored scrubs, but by hospital security and two police officers that were on site. While the nurse takes my vitals, takes pictures of my wounds, has me remove all of my clothes to put in a plastic bag, and cleans the blood from my skin, the police ask me several questions to verify who I am, and when they’re finished they leave to make the call to Christian while I’m led back to a private room that has a security guard standing at the door.
While I wait for the OB consult to come down and examine me, I work very hard not to think about my fears for the examination I’m about to undergo, but it just means that my mind starts obsessing over Christian. I keep picturing him sitting in the great room of our apartment, having absolutely no idea what may have happened to me, or if I’m okay, or if the baby is okay, and having no way of contacting me. He must be going out of his mind, but the worst part is that when he gets the call from the police and they tell him they’ve found me, all of his worst fears are going to be confirmed. Well, maybe not his worst. I am still alive. That’s something.
I’m still alive.
“Miss Steele?” a voice calls, accompanying a slight knock on the door.
“Yes, come in,” I reply.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Berg, I run the ER here. Your OB Consult is going to be Dr. Robinson, she’ll be down momentarily, but I just wanted to check in with you and let you know what’s going on. Mr. Grey has been contacted and he is on his way here. Once we have confirmed you and your baby are stable, the police are going to come in and ask you some questions.”
“Okay,” I nod.
“I need to ask you, would you, for any reason, feel uncomfortable or unsafe if we were to allow Mr. Grey to come back here and be with you?”
His question takes me off guard and it almost takes me a minute to process it. “Wait, you don’t think that Christian…”
“I’m not here to make any assumptions, Miss Steele,” he says. “I’m only here to ensure your safety. If you don’t want him to see you, we can ensure that he doesn’t.”
“No, Christian didn’t hurt me. I was grabbed…” my voice falters as once again tears prick my eyes. “I was grabbed off the streets. It was a stranger, someone who wanted to hurt me… Christian would never hurt me.”
“Okay,” Dr. Berg says. “Okay, then we will allow Mr. Grey back to see you, if that’s what you wish. Until the police have cleared you, only he and your next of kin will have access to this room.”
I nod and he gets up just as another door opens and a woman in salmon, pushing the heavy ultrasound machine I’m so used to, comes inside.
“Take good care of her, Dr. Robinson,” Dr. Berg says. “Poor thing has had a rough day.”
“Of course,” she says, turning to smile at me. “Miss Steele, I’m Dr. Robinson. I’m going to take a look at your baby, okay?”
“Okay,” I reply, nodding furiously. “I fell down. I was running and I fell… I didn’t fall on her but, but she hasn’t moved since I fell.”
“Okay, then let’s take a look.”
I flinch as she lifts my shirt and squirts a blob of blue goo onto my belly, then lowers the wand onto my skin and shifts it back and forth. I wait for the most agonizing few seconds of my life before I finally hear the steady thrumming sound of her heart.
“There she is,” Dr. Robinson says. I turn to face the monitor and see her. She’s still but she looks perfect. The doctor looks around my entire belly, searching for any lesions or abruptions, but she doesn’t find anything. For all accounts, Calliope is perfectly fine.
“Oh, thank god,” I say, breaking down into tears once the doctor gives me the all clear. She smiles down at me, trying to be reassuring as she looks through my chart to continue with my examination.
“I do want to talk to you though about some of the other things I see here,” she says. “Your blood pressure is high, but I hear you’ve just been through quite the ordeal. How’s your vision?”
“Umm…” I hesitate, and then feel my muscles tighten as my regular OBs warnings run through my mind in congruence with some of the things I’ve had happen today.
“It’s fine now,” I tell her, “But… it was blurry. I can’t remember, I hit my head. I don’t know if that’s why or if it… Owe!” I reach up to touch my head where it had hit the wall, and find that it’s tender, extremely tender, and that my hair is matted with blood.
“It’s okay, Ana,” the doctor says. “Don’t overexert yourself now. We’ll have someone come take a look at all of your injuries and I’ll run some tests, just confirm that everything is going exactly the way it’s supposed to.”
“Okay,” I nod, and as she begins tapping at the tablet in her hand to order her tests, I hear another commotion just outside the door.
“Grey,” Christian’s rough voice says from on the other side of the door. “Christian Grey. This is my f-fiancé’s room.”
There’s a beat and then a very pale looking Christian steps inside. The moment he lays eyes on me, his face crinkles with pain.
“Baby,” he whispers. “Oh my god.”
I break down again as he flies across the room and takes me into his arms, but the movement makes me cry out in pain and his entire body seizes.
“My elbow,” I whimper.
“Has anyone looked at that?” Dr. Robinson asks. “It’s not in your chart… “ I shake my head and she frowns. “I’ll send someone in right away. Try and stay upright until we’ve made sure that head injury is superficial.”
I nod when she smiles and then moves around the bed, quietly stepping out of the room to give Christian and I privacy.
“Your face,” he whispers. “What happened to your face?”
“I fell,” I tell him. “I was trying to run and I fell.”
“She’s fine,” I assure him. “We’re okay.”
“What happened?” he asks. “Ros called my office and said… she said you were gone. That you’d told her to come over but that you weren’t there when she arrived. The security team couldn’t find you… They found the dog and he was bloody.”
“Champ? You found Champ?”
“Taylor did. He was limping up the street toward the apartment and Gail took him to the vet. He’s been stabbed. We thought you… I thought you’d…”
My face crinkles again and tears pour out of me. “Champ saved my life,” I cry. “He was going to kill me, Christian. He was going to kill me and then Champ… He saved me.”
“Ana,” Christian whispers, pulling me into him again, more carefully this time and holding me against his chest so that I can cry into his shirt. “What happened to you?”
I can’t answer. I’m not ready to answer. The only thing I can do is shake and cry, and, until the doctor comes back, Christian lets me do just that. He holds me and rocks me back and forth while I unravel into a torrent of tears and pain.