Getting back to Seattle Sunday night is like the hangover after a really long night of drinking. Most of the journey home was fine. Christian and I snuck off to the bedroom at the back of the plane twice and spent the rest of the trip cuddled up on the long, leather sofa in the middle of the plane, talking and laughing with one another. It seems like the connection we revived in the Maldives has real lasting power, but by the time we begin our descent towards SeaTac we’re exhausted from the 18 hour flight and hungry for real food cooked in our own kitchen, rather than whatever Natalia has managed to heat up. The moment the plane dips below the thick cover of clouds, our windows are splattered in rain drops and when I lean over to look out at the familiar Seattle skyline I can’t help but think how dreary the entire city looks compared to the beautiful paradise we’ve lived in for the last week.
“Of course it’s raining,” Christian grumbles. I turn and raise an eyebrow at him.
“You like the rain.”
“Not as much as I like laying out on the beach with you. I’m not ready to go back to the real world yet. I liked our bubble.”
I hum in agreement and cuddle into his side. “Me too. But I can’t wait to get back to Calliope. Do you think she missed us?”
“No,” he says, then laughs. “She’s had Mackensie and Gail with her every second of the day and Kate and Elliot with her in the evenings. I won’t be surprised if we find out my mom came and stayed at least one night too. I bet she’s been spoiled rotten since the moment we stepped out that door.”
I shift beneath his arm so I can give him an accusatory look. “More spoiled than she is with her daddy?”
“I don’t spoil her.”
“Yeah, okay.” I roll my eyes, and he narrows his at me.
“I like to think of it as showing her what she’s worth. One day, she won’t be so little anymore.” He pauses, and the gray of his irises darkens. “And then the boys will come.”
“Oh, the horror!”
“Mmm, but by then I’ll have set her standards so impossibly high that no teenage boy will ever be able to live up to them, and then she’ll stay my sweet, innocent little girl forever.”
“Ah, the Raymond Steele strategy. It’s foolproof. Well, until she moves out of the house and sleeps with the first man she sees.”
His face falls and he sits up in his seat, removing his arm from around my shoulders. “Stop it.”
I laugh, then glance up at Natalia, who has come by to pick up our empty glasses in preparation for landing. Strangely, the closer we get to the ground the harder the rain seems to fall. It comes down in droves that are very uncharacteristic for late February. When the wheels of the plane finally touch down at SeaTac, they send a wave of water so high into the air that it obstructs my view of the airport.
Christian is the first to stand after we’ve stopped and he reaches into the seat across from us to pick up my bag before taking my hand and leading me to the exit. Stephan, our pilot, waits at the door. Christian thanks him for a smooth flight, while I gratefully take the umbrella Natalia offers me and step out onto the wet stairs. The SUV is already waiting on the tarmac with the wiper blades on high. As Christian and I hurry across the water logged pavement, the door opens and two men climb out.
“Did you enjoy your trip, sir?” Taylor asks, reaching for the bag in Christian’s hand.
“Yes, very much. Thank you. I trust you used your time off well?”
“Very well. I actually spent some time with Ray… er, Mr. Steele. Traded war stories and spent some time outdoors. He’s an incredible man.”
“You’re not recruiting him,” I say as his new partner opens the back door for me. I give Taylor a stern look, then turn to my own CPO. “Thank you, Woods.”
“My pleasure, Mrs. Grey. Welcome home.”
I give him a quick smile, then climb into the car, sliding all the way across the back seat to leave room for Christian. After we’re closed inside, Christian immediately pulls out the phone he’s actually managed to ignore for the past six days and I turn to watch our security team take our luggage from the flight crew and start loading it into the back.
It took me a long time to warm up to Woods, despite the fact that he’s one of the more personable men Taylor hired after the security team rehaul last fall. At first I thought it was because I would never be able to trust an outside security hire again. It was Kommer, after all, who let Gia Matteo and Andrew Lincoln into my apartment that night and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake with another CPO I didn’t know. But months have past and now that I’ve grown used to Woods’ constant presence and benign, albeit slightly over helpful, demeanor, I think my hesitance with him is because there simply isn’t, nor will there ever be, a replacement for Luke Sawyer.
“You alright?” Christian asks, glancing up at me. I turn and give him a tight smile.
“Yeah, just anxious to get home.” The front doors open and Taylor and Woods climb into the SUV. Once Taylor turns the key in the ignition and shifts the car into drive, I lean forward between their seats. “Taylor, how is Calliope doing?”
He gives me a rare, warm smile. “She’s perfect, Mrs. Grey. She’s been an angel all week.”
“Good.” I grip his bicep to show my gratitude for his placation, then lean back into my seat and let out a sigh of relief. Christian reaches over and places his hand on the inside of my thigh.
“You see? I told you, you have nothing to worry about, baby. We’re safe. No one is coming for us.”
I nod. “Yeah, you’re right.” Leaning over, he places a soft kiss on my cheek, then nuzzles me with the tip of his nose.
The dark, very wet drive home seems to exacerbate the jet lag that the eleven hour time difference between here and the Maldives has left us with. Christian spends the first twenty minutes or so responding to emails on his phone but, eventually, he too slumps back into his seat and rests his head on top of mine.
“I don’t even think I’ll be able to stay awake for dinner,” I say as my eyelids start to droop. Christian nods his head.
“No. I say we put the baby down and then go straight to bed.”
“Actually,” Taylor interjects. “I wouldn’t count on that if I were you.”
I turn to look up in the rear view mirror just over Taylor’s head. “Why?”
He stops at the gate to our house without answering me, then rolls down his window and punches the code into the box next to the driveway. It takes several seconds for the gate to swing open, but once it does I look through the front windshield and immediately have my answer. The driveway is packed full of cars. Kate and Elliot are here, obviously, but so are Grace, Carrick, Mia, and my father.”
Christian groans. “Great. What do you want to bet Elliot is behind this?”
I laugh, but it’s cut off by a deep, long yawn. “A lot.”
The car comes to a stop and when Taylor and Woods step out to come and open the back doors, Christian places a hand beneath my jaw and tilts my lips up to his. “I really loved being with you this week.”
“Mmm, and every week.”
“Forever.” He smiles and then kisses me again before entangling his fingers with mine and sliding out of the SUV.
The one good thing about our entire family being here to greet us is the delicious smell that hits us the moment we come through the front door. Some wonderful soul has cooked for us and the sounds of conversation that float into the entryway from the living room carry the overwhelming comfort of home. Quickly abandoning my coat and purse by the door, I hurry past the stairs towards the sound of Calliope’s over excited shrieking and our family’s responding laughter.
“Hey!” I call, coming around the corner. Everyone turns in my direction just as Christian appears behind me, and Calliope’s mouth drops open, as if she’s in shock.
And just like that, as if she’s said it a hundred times before, Calliope’s first word rings clear and definite around us. Everyone gasps, and we stand there frozen like we all need a moment to be sure we really heard what we think we did.
“Hey, Princess,” Christian says, breaking the silence and moving forward to take her out of his mother’s hands.
“God damn it,” Elliot says, deflating with disappointment as he recedes into the couch. “Callie, what are you doing? I thought we were cool.” Kate breaks down into laughter and I raise an eyebrow at her.
“Elliot has spent this entire week trying to get her to say uncle. He was determined to make sure that her first wasn’t dada.”
“And she’s betrayed me!”
“Good.” Christian laughs, then rubs the tip of his nose gently against Calliope’s. “She really is my daughter.”
“Okay. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” I reach my hands out for Calliope and Christian lets out a long sigh.
“Do you want to go to mama? Ma-ma?” He elongates the word, breaking it down by each syllable in hopes of getting her to repeat it, but she doesn’t. She does, however, turn in his arms so that she can reach for me.
“So she knows that I’m Mama,” I say, wrapping my hands around her sides and pulling her into me. “She just won’t say it.”
“She will,” Christian assures me, but the grin on his face doesn’t make me feel any better. Of course “dada” was her first word.
“That’s okay.” I turn her and point to Christian. “Who’s that, Calliope?”
“Dada,” she says.
“That’s right! That’s dada!” I wrap her tighter in my arms and inhale her warm scent off the top of her head. “God, I missed you.”
“And she missed you,” Kate says, using Elliot’s help to heave herself off the couch. “She did fine for the most part, but nights were a little rough. She missed having you tuck her in at bedtime.”
“Oh, baby…” I lean in to kiss Calliope’s forehead, and she responds by tangling her tiny little fingers in my hair.
“Look at your tan though,” Kate says. “You look amazing. I kind of hate you right now.”
“Oh, please,” I reply, rolling my eyes. “You’re glowing. How’s my goddaughter?”
She lets out a long sigh and places a hand over her very round baby bump. “Active. She was doing Tae Bo last night when I was trying to sleep.”
“Awh.” Shifting Calliope to my hip so that I can hold her with only one arm, I reach out to pull Kate into a side hug and rub her shoulder sympathetically.
“Well, I’m just glad you’re back,” Grace says, getting up and coming around the couch to hug us both. “Were the Maldives everything you hoped they would be?”
“It was beautiful,” I tell her, but when she turns to look at Christian he gives her a tight, dismissive smile and breaks eye contact. Grace visibly deflates, but when she turns back to look at me, she’s smiling again.
“Well, I’m glad you had a good time. You deserve it, Ana.”
“Yes, she does,” my dad says, reaching out to shake Christian’s hand before moving past both him and Grace to pull Calliope and I into a hug.
“Daddy, I can’t believe you drove all the way here from Montesano. You’ll get home so late.”
“That’s fine. We wanted to see you, kiddo. Our visits are becoming much too few and far between.”
“Yeah, we really need to get out to you more often,” I say, hugging him back. “Wait… we?”
“Anastasia!” I turn and have to fight to keep my smile from faltering when I see my dad’s new girlfriend coming towards us, pulling an apron over her head.
“Kim! I didn’t know you were here…”
“Well your daddy’s been talking about you so much I finally told him we had to come up here and see you. Besides, I thought it would be nice for you to come home to a good meal. Lord knows you haven’t had anything home cooked in over a week.”
“You really didn’t have to do that. We have… staff.”
“No you don’t,” Elliot says. “Gail has sunday’s off.”
“Oh, well… still. We could have–”
“It’s my pleasure, Anastasia. Really. Now, come and get it. Dinner’s ready.” She beams and turns back towards the kitchen, and while the rest of our family moves past us, giving both Christian and I hugs as they go, I have to take a moment to compose myself.
“Be nice,” Christian says, leaning over to whisper in my ear so no one will be able to hear him.
“I didn’t say anything,” I hiss back, defensively. He raises and eyebrow at me, then reaches out to brush his thumb over Calliope’s cheek before following the others to the dining room.
“Tell me to be nice,” I grumble to Calliope under my breath. “Christian Grey is in no position to tell anyone to be nice.” There’s no sign of agreement on my baby’s face, only enraptured interest as she continues to play with my hair.
Really, there’s no reason for me to harbor any ill feelings towards Kim. She’s been perfectly lovely every time we’ve met. Though… maybe a little too nice. Who’s that happy all the time anyway? No one. I know she makes my dad happy, I’ve seen it in his eyes over and over again for months, but that doesn’t make me feel any better either. Not that I don’t want him to be happy, I do, but… I’m used to stepdads. Ray, Stephen, Bob… Since my mom left I’ve always been the only girl in my dad’s life and I liked it like that.
Besides, the loss of my mother is still a wound too sensitive for me to even think about most of the time. The idea of a stepmom, someone who would, no matter how insignificantly, be replacing her in my life… I’m not ready for that. I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready for that.
I’m a rational girl. I know that him finding someone to spend time with is not a personal attack against me and now that I have a family of my own and hardly ever see him anymore, it’s selfish of me to expect that won’t find someone new to fill the emptiness in his life. But knowing that as certainly as I do doesn’t make it hurt any less. He’s my dad, and it’s hard to process that I’m not the most important person in his life anymore.
“Dada,” Calliope says again, and I give her a smile that I hope she thinks is genuine.
“Yeah, Dada. Let’s go find Dada.” Lifting her higher up on my hip, I kiss her cheeks and then march forward into the dining room to face my dad and Kim like I’m going off to war.
The atmosphere around the table is light and warm. Kim has made a very traditional sunday dinner with roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, and rolls. Christian’s already put Calliope’s high chair between his seat and mine, and while I lower her down into it, he puts a dollop of mashed potatoes on her tray and then takes a small portion of chicken and peas into the kitchen to run through the food processor. While he’s away, I pick up his plate and fill it with a little bit of everything on the table.
“Oh my god, will you look at her making a plate for him?” Kate says. “You two are so cute, it kind of makes me want to yack.”
I roll my eyes. “Takes notes, this is called survival. Once the baby comes, you do everything as a team, or you fail.”
“Yeah, babe,” Elliot says, leaning towards her and placing a hand over her bump. “You’re going to have to actually act like you love me sometimes.”
“Well, someone better call the Academy because even pretending to like you would be a performance worthy of an Oscar.” Elliot laughs then pinches her chin between his thumb and finger so he can tilt her lips up to his.
“And you say Ana and Christian make you wanna puke,” Mia says. Everyone around the table laughs.
I scoot my chair as closely to Calliope’s high chair as possible and pick up her spoon, but she simply reaches down, picks up a fist full of mashed potatoes, and stuffs the whole thing in her mouth. She turns to look at me then, with a blob of white slowly oozing out of her mouth and I smile at her. Shaking my head, before scooping the excess away with the spoon, I wait for her to swallow before giving her more.
“Oh, Christian,” Elliot says, finally pulling away from Kate once his brother returns to the table and places a small bowl full of chicken and pea mash in front of the baby. “Andrea came by a few days ago. She dropped off something for some new project GEH is working on. She said Welch needs you to look over it as soon as possible.”
“In my office?” Christian asks, but when Elliot nods I reach over to hold him in his seat.
“It can wait until after dinner. Or maybe until tomorrow when you’re actually back at work.” He lets out a slightly irritated sigh, but settles back down in his chair again.
“Something exciting?” my dad asks. Christian nods.
“Very, actually. It’s kind of my own little pet project.”
“Oh?” Grace interjects, intrigued.
“Yeah. It’s a little outside of our business model so Ros tried to convince me not to invest too heavily in it, especially with it being so experimental. But I’m passionate about it. Business is going well and Ros has a firm hand on the acquisition load, I think it’s a good time to work with my R&D department and see if we can make it happen. Indulge a little.”
“Indulge?” Kate asks. “What are you doing?”
He grimaces. “You’ll think it’s stupid.”
“I will not.” He gives her a pointed look that says he doesn’t believe her, so she rolls her eyes and crosses her arms over her chest. “You really think I’m going to write off something Christian Grey wants to explore in the business world as stupid?”
“Well, Ros thinks everything you do is stupid,” I say, pulling Calliope’s hands back down to her tray to keep her from rubbing food in her hair.
“Just tell us,” Elliot says. “It’s not like any of us would be able to steal your ideas. And if it really is stupid, you can either prove us wrong or we can all say we told you so, and that would be a treat for everyone.” He laughs, but Christian shakes his head.
“I’m under no illusions that this could be the biggest failure of my career. But if my team can do it, if we can pull it off, we’ll change the world and I’ll become one of the wealthiest and most powerful men on the planet.”
“Doing?” Carrick presses him.
He takes a big breath and straightens in his chair. “With the expansion of our manufacturing division in Taiwan, we’ve poured a lot of resources and emphasis into ship building. It’s inspired me more than anything I’ve done in a long time because I’ve always been fascinated with ships and speed versus size. It made me want to push the envelope, find out what else we could be building. Then Lamborghini released the specs for the new Gallardo last fall and as I was looking into buying it, it was like lightning struck.”
“So you’re building sports cars?” Mia asks.
“I like to think of it as evolving sports cars.”
Elliot raises an eyebrow, actually intrigued. “Evolving how?”
“Ecological sustainability. I’ve been buying luxury supercars for years, and while every year they get a little faster or a little sleeker, not much has changed in the mechanics. As much as I love them, they’re impractical and wasteful, and it’s getting worse. The Lamborghini in the garage is faster than my Bugatti, but the gas mileage is abysmal. It got me thinking about clean energy creation, which I thought for years was the next big frontier of technological innovation. I started wondering if it could ever be possible to build a vehicle as fast and powerful as the world’s best sports cars, but that produced no emissions and left absolutely no ecological footprint.”
“So… fuel efficiency?” Elliot asks, and Christian’s eyes seem to twinkle when he shakes his head.
“It started that way. But it’s so much more now.”
Elliot’s brow crinkles with confusion. “Different how?”
“What if it didn’t require fuel at all? What if this house didn’t, or GEH? What if we could power the world without any kind of combustion? What if we could create an energy source that was self sustaining and that never needed to be replaced?”
That makes Elliot actually fall back into his seat and the look he gives Christian is dubious at best. “You’re talking about perpetual motion.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
He shakes his head. “That’s impossible. The laws of friction…”
“Have been a challenge,” Christian interrupts him. “But I’ve recruited some of the best nuclear physicists and engineers in the world, and we’ve generated real interest in seeing this project through. In fact, those documents Andrea delivered should be a grant approval from NASA.”
“And all this so you can have a faster sports car?” Kate asks. Christian smiles.
“My company may change the world, Kate. Maybe even the future of space exploration. It’s best to focus on that rather than my own possibly selfish motivations.”
Elliot shakes his head again. “It doesn’t matter what your motivations are, it can’t done.”
“I don’t like the word can’t,” Christian says, but Elliot is undeterred.
“I studied this at MIT. Newton’s Law of Motion states that constant velocity can only exist if there is no external unbalanced force acting against it, and you simply can’t eliminate friction from momentum. You’re not the first person to dream this dream, but it can’t be done. I’m sorry, Christian, you’re on a wild goose chase.”
“I believe in you, baby,” I say, reaching past Calliope to wrap my hand under his elbow. He smiles and leans back so that he can kiss me.
“Thank you. I’m glad someone does.” I giggle, and the turn to Carrick, who looks just as glad as the rest of us that Christian and Elliot are done debating the laws of physics, which none of us really understand.
“So how’s the new house coming, Elliot?” Carrick asks.
Elliot takes a deep breath, as though he needs to calm himself before he answers. “It’d be going great if someone could make a decision and stick to it.”
Kate frowns. “This is going to be our forever home. I just want it to be perfect.”
“Well, I’ve completely gutted and redone our bathroom three times now.”
“And it’s so much better now than it was before.” She turns to me, beaming. “I can’t wait to show you my closet. It’s gigantic and I had them design it like a Victoria’s Secret store with pink walls, black furniture, and crystal chandeliers. Bougie as fuck.”
I laugh, then pick up a napkin to wipe Calliope’s face, and Christian turns to Mia.
“Speaking of houses, my realtor sent me a few apartment listings in New York for you to look at. We found one only a few blocks from campus that I think you’re going to love.”
Mia swallows and seems to shrink in her seat a little. “Actually… I’m not going to Juilliard.”
“What?” Carrick snaps, turning sharp eyes on his daughter, and she cringes.
“Yeah. I–uh, I rescinded my application.”
Grace looks horrified. “Why?”
“I’ve decided that it’s just… not the right choice for me.”
Carrick lets out a long sigh, then pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Good lord, not this again.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Mia, you’re going to college. This isn’t a discussion, it’s what’s going to happen.”
She nods. “I know, I’m not saying that I’m not going to college, I’m just not going to Juilliard. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the past few years and nearly every one of them is because of how selfishly and relentlessly I’ve pursued that school. I compromised a lot of my own values to get there and honestly, after last year with the secrets and the cutting… I realized that I’ve lost myself because of it. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like the person who looked back at me. So, I called Juillard and asked them to revoke my application and, instead, I applied to Harvard.”
“Harvard?” Grace repeats, and Mia nods.
“Yeah. It’s where all the people who I do respect go. Dad, Ana, Kate… even Christian. Sort of. I’ve decided that ballet just isn’t the most important thing to me anymore. I don’t want to let blind ambition rule my life. I want to feel like I’m living for a purpose. I want to help people. So, I’m going to Harvard to study pre-law, like Dad. And one day, when I become a lawyer just like him, I’m going to dedicate my career to advocating for people who can’t fight for themselves. To giving a voice to people who have none.”
Christian frowns. “But… ballet has always been your passion, Mia. It’s part of who you are.”
“And Harvard has a dance team. I mean, it’s not like I’m trying to get into some underfunded state school. Harvard’s ballet program is actually amazing. I’ll train there while I go to school and, hopefully, still be able to live out my dream of dancing in front of packed theater in New York one day. But you and Dad were right. Ballet has a shelf life. I could be injured tomorrow or in school and my career would be over before it even started. This way, if the worst happens or even if I just get too old to dance they way I’d have to in order to stay relevant, I’ll still have purpose. I can move onto something meaningful.”
“Harvard isn’t a joke, Meems,” Elliot says. “It’s not just something you can do on the side while you dance and use as a fall back. It’s hard work and you should really think about that before you throw Juilliard away.”
“I’ve already thought about it, over and over again. This is what I want.”
“Well, that’s great, Mia,” Carrick says. “But it’s February. The application deadlines have past…”
“I applied last fall. I didn’t want to say anything until I knew because I didn’t know if my SAT score was going to be good enough to get me in, but I think the essay I wrote swayed the admissions board because I got my acceptance letter last week. I was just waiting until we were all together to say something. I’m going to Harvard next year.”
The corner of Carrick’s mouth ticks upwards as he unconsciously starts to smile. “You were accepted?”
“Sweetheart, that’s amazing!”
“Congratulations, Meems!” I get up out of my seat to come around the table to hug her, and as I wrap her in my arms the uncertainty on her face melts away and she starts to grin. Kate wobbles over next and squeals with excitement as she wraps Mia in a huge bear hug, and Christian pulls Mia up and out of her seat when Kate finally releases her.
“I’m so proud of you,” he tells her, squeezing her tightly.
“Thanks,” she says, and when she settles back into her chair, she turns to look at her father. “So, I guess now would be a good time to tell you that I have to go to Cambridge the first weekend of March. There’s a big freshman orientation thing that everyone is required to come to.”
“Oh my god, I remember that!” Kate says. “Ana, do you remember that weekend? It was a blast. That’s when we picked Grays for our dorm.”
“When you picked Grays,” I remind her. “I wanted to live in Hollis.”
“Well, I’m very glad you didn’t,” Christian says, looking over at me and smiling.
“Yeah, but requesting dorm assignments is only part of it,” Mia says. “There’s a ton of stuff that we have to do that weekend and I can’t miss it.”
“The first weekend of March?” Carrick asks dubiously as he turns to look at Grace. She frowns.
“That’s only two weeks away, I have surgeries planned…”
“Yeah, I can’t either,” Carrick says. “Not until the legislative session ends. I have three outstanding appointments with the city council.”
“I’d take you, but Kate’s in her third trimester and I’m not going to fly all the way across the country from her,” Elliot says. “She could go into labor…”
“I’ll take her,” I interject, and Christian turns to me in surprise.
“Sure. We’ll have a great time. I haven’t been back since graduation and I’ve missed it. A lot, actually. And I know Cambridge really well, so I can show her all my favorite places to eat or hang out. When she’s busy with orientation, I can stay at the house and write. That’s why we kept it, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. Well, I can rearrange some things in my schedule and…”
“Oh, no,” Mia says, shaking her head. “Who invited you, Christian? Harvard Alum only.”
He glares at her, but I nod in agreement. “I mean, she makes a fair point.”
“You want to go alone?”
“She won’t be alone,” Mia says. “She’ll be with me. It’ll be fun, just the two of us. Like a girl’s weekend.”
“Yeah. Fun,” I repeat. “Besides, I don’t think anyone here is as used to travelling from Seattle to Cambridge as I am. It’ll actually feel kind of normal and normal is good.”
“Alright,” Christian concedes. “Then I’ll schedule the jet to take you.”
“Yes!” Mia exclaims. “No offense, but I thought going with my parents would be kind of lame. But with Ana, Ah! I’m so excited!”
“Me too.” I wink at her, and as she continues to celebrate her Ivy League acceptance with her parents, and even my father. Christian leans over to whisper in my ear.
“You’re sure you’re ready for this?”
“Yeah. Actually, I kind of think spending time alone with Mia is going to be great.”
“Good.” He kisses my cheek. “I love that you love my family so much.”
“You mean our family?”
He smiles, and tilts my face so that he can press his lips into mine, but it’s not long before our perfectly innocent kiss is interrupted by Elliot.
“Alright, alright. Once Ana and Christian start making out it’s time to go.”
“Yeah,” Kate agrees. “I love you guys, but me and the little miss need to go to bed.”
“And we’ve got a long drive home,” my dad adds. “Can we help you clean up?”
“Oh, god no.” I wave him off. “You made dinner. And… thank you, Kim. It was delicious.”
She smiles. “It was my pleasure, Annie. Come see us soon?”
I grit my teeth as I return her smile, trying not to let my displeasure at her using my father’s nickname for me show through. “Of course.”
“See you later, kid.” My dad leans down and kisses the top of my head, then scoops Calliope up and blows a raspberry on her tummy. She shrieks with joy but immediately turns and starts to reach for Christian.
“Well, this is going to be fun,” I sigh. “I’m glad she can now vocalize her preference for Christian. As if her screams every time he left the house weren’t enough, now she can actually tell everyone how much more she loves him than me. It’s good. Real good.”
Christian laughs as he takes Calliope from my dad, and shakes his hand again. We each give out hugs to Kate, Elliot, and Mia, but while Grace heads out for her car, Carrick hangs behind.
“I’ve narrowed it down to three names for police chief. My office will do one more round of interviews and then I’ll pick one of them to present to city council for appointment.”
“And they’ll be on our side?” I ask. “You’re sure?”
“Positive. Trust me, Ana. I’m going to find everyone who was responsible for what happened and make sure they end up behind bars.”
“How long will that take?”
“I don’t know. But I want you to know that I’m working on it. I haven’t forgotten, and I won’t.”
I take a deep breath, then nod, and Carrick leans in to give Callie one last kiss before he goes. Christian and I linger in the doorway while we watch everyone pull down the driveway. Once the gate closes behind the last car, Christian puts the code in the box that shuts everything down, then turns to follow me in the kitchen. We both carry in plates from the dining room, but as I start actually doing dishes, he becomes too absorbed in Calliope saying his name again and again to be much help.
“Our baby might be a genius, Ana,” he says proudly. “We should really look into getting her enrolled in an advanced preschool program.”
“She’s said one word, Christian,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“Yes, but her diction is perfect.”
“She’s not even a year old.”
“But the earlier we get her enrolled in pre-school, the better chance we have of getting her into a good primary school, which will get her into the best secondary schools, and eventually, Harvard.”
“Okay, Carrick,” I say dryly as I place the final plate in the dishwasher and turn the knob to start it.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe we should give her a chance to be a kid before we start sending in college applications.”
“A mind like hers shouldn’t be wasted, Anastasia.”
I turn and lean against the sink, giving him a pointed look that doesn’t seem to have much effect on his resolve. It’s baffling. For a smart man, sometimes he can be very obtuse.
“Come on, Munchkin,” I say, moving towards him and taking her out of his arms. “It’s way past your bedtime.”
Surprisingly, she doesn’t fight me as I pull her into me and carry her off to the nursery, perhaps because Christian follows right behind us. While I lay her down in the bed and remove the teddy bear that has no business being in the crib with her, Christian winds up the mobile that dangles over her and fills the room with the soft tinkling sounds of music. We each lean over the edge of the crib railing and kiss her goodnight. Normally, I’d sit in the rocking chair beside the crib and read aloud to her, but tonight seems to have worn her out enough. She’s already half asleep by the time we pull away, and as we creep out of the room and switch off the light, she doesn’t make a sound.
“Alone again,” Christian says when we make it back to our bedroom. He captures my face between his hands, kisses me tenderly, and pushes me back to our bed. I gasp slightly as I fall back onto the mattress and he crawls over the top of me. We start tearing away each other’s clothes, but only seconds after he starts kissing me again, he stops and pulls away.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Would you mind if we… just went to sleep?”
“Oh, thank god,” I say with relief. “I’m so tired, I thought I was going to drop Calliope coming up the stairs.”
He laughs, but the sound slowly dies away, leaving him looking almost forlorn. “I guess our vacation really is over, huh?”
“I guess so.”
He sighs and kisses me again, then moves so we can pull down the covers and crawl into bed together. He pulls me tightly against him as he settles into sleep, and I lie there in the dark, encased in his warmth, waiting for his body to relax and his breathing to even out. Once I’m sure he’s asleep, I gently ease his arms off of me and roll out of bed. With one last look at his peaceful face, I turn and leave the room, heading straight for my office downstairs.
The security team should be off for the night, but the window from my office is visible from Taylor’s room, so I don’t turn on the light. I plop down in my chair, pick up the landline on my desk, and start to dial.
“Hello,” a very groggy voice answers.
“Luke? I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
“Yeah, but that’s okay. What’s up?”
“I have an excuse to go to Cambridge. Alone.”
“Yeah, Mia got into Harvard and needs someone to take her to orientation. Christian is going to schedule our flight for the first weekend of March.”
“Good. I’ll meet you there. We still on for Wednesday?”
I take a deep breath. “Absolutely.”