Chapter 07

looking_east_on_garfield_st2c_cambridge_ma

It’s gloomy when we pull into the departure lane at SEA-TAC airport. The road and sidewalks are covered by a long, cement overhang, but everything around us as we come to a stop still shines with the moisture from the rain slicking off passing cars. Mia is the first out of the back of the SUV Christian called for us this morning and she bounces with excitement as she waits for the driver to open the back hatch door so she can retrieve her luggage. I, however, am much more reluctant as I pull the car seat holding my sleeping baby out of the car and follow after her. Christian, who scans the cars pulling up to the curb around us as we wait for the driver to hand my purple carry-on over, mirrors my less than enthusiastic attitude.

“He’s late,” he says.

“Not really,” I counter. “We’re early.”  

“Well, I’m not going to leave you until I know you have security.” His mouth thins as, for the tenth time this morning, he clenches his teeth together with irritation. “Sick. Of all the stupid things…”

“I’m not getting on a flight or asking someone to follow Calliope and I around for days when they’re ill. The last thing I need is to miss my first day at GP because I have to stay home to take care of a sick baby.”

“I assure you, your boss’s boss would forgive you.”

“Well, then it sounds like my boss’s boss is very understanding of illnesses keeping employees from performing their duties and therefore understands why Woods can’t be here today.”

His frown deepens. “Don’t do that.”

“Christian, we’re going to be fine. No one on your team knows Cambridge or the security system we installed in the house last year better than Luke. He’s the best person to come with us and the fact that he agreed on such short notice is very generous. He doesn’t owe me his time anymore.”

“I know. Believe me, I am acutely aware of just how generous Sawyer is being.” He turns away from me, seemingly to look at the new group of cars pulling in around us, but I can tell that he’s pouting. It reminds me of what Luke said about Taylor having someone follow him around and Christian’s reason why.

“Mia,” I say, twisting my body so I can face her without fully turning away from Christian. “Will you take Callie for a minute, please?”

She looks up from the text she’s sending on her phone, then nods and reaches out for the carseat. Once my hands are free, I reach up for Christian’s face and force him to look at me.

“You know that I love you, right?”

“I love you, too.”

I shake my head. “No, I mean I love you, Christian. You have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to Luke. Nothing. I promise.”

He takes a breath and slowly the tension melts away from his lips. “I know.”

“Good.” I rise up onto my tip toes so I can kiss him again, and when I sink back onto my heels, he reaches up to hold my face in his hands and brushes his thumbs over my cheeks.

“What am I going to do without you this weekend?”

“Probably get a few good nights of sleep.” I laugh, and while I’m able to coax just the smallest hint of a smile out of him, he shakes his head.

“Without these lips to kiss goodnight or these beautiful blue eyes to wake up to? Never.”

“Mmm,” I hum, pushing myself further into him. “That’s quite the line, Mr. Grey.”

His eyes flash. “But it’s effective.”

With more hunger than before, his hand moves down to grip my jaw so he can hold me in place, but just as his lips being to assault mine, we’re interrupted by an insistent snapping and Ros’ irritated voice as she leans out the window to glare at my husband.

“Christian, let’s go!”

His shoulders slump. “Remind me again why I don’t fire her.”

“Because if you did, you’d spend a whole lot more than a weekend away from your family. Now, get out of here. Go whip your fancy international factory into shape, or at least give him them a good scare.”

“I’m not leaving you until you have security, Anastasia.”

“He’ll be here any minute.”

“No, I’m not…” But before he can get the words out, the passenger side door of the sedan that just pulled up in front of us opens and Luke steps out onto the curb.

“You see,” I say, smiling up at Christian. “There he is.”

He turns and looks over his shoulder at the white car Luke vacated, but I only get to enjoy a few seconds of gloating before the driver’s door opens and my sense of haughty superiority is replaced by surprise. Jade is dropping him off, and that’s very unlike Luke.

“Hey,” Luke calls over to Christian and I as he pulls his luggage out of Jade’s trunk. “You ready?”

“Yeah,” I reply. He nods, then sets his suitcase down on the asphalt so he can pull Jade into his arms and kiss her goodbye. It’s not a quick kiss, it’s slow and meaningful. His hands reach back into her hair as he kisses her and even after she pulls away, he quickly leaves another sweet peck against her lips before fully releasing her.

“I’ll see you Sunday?” he asks, quiet enough that I can only make out the words because I can read his lips. She gives him an elated, sentimental smile in response and nods. Then, with one last kiss, he squeezes her hands, turns for his luggage, and drags it over to Christian, Mia, and me.

“Well, let’s do this,” he says, winking as he moves past me. I nod and turn back to Christian.

“Call me when you land and leave me a message,” he tells me. “I’ll still be in the air when you arrive in Cambridge but I want to know you arrived safe the moment I touch down.”

“I will. And call me when you get to Taiwan, no matter what time it is.”

“Okay.” He leans down and kisses me again, and the amount of emotion he pours into the contact of our lips is potent enough that one would think he was preparing not to see me for months rather than a few days. It feels that way, I guess, and even though we’ve lived apart for weeks at a time before and we’re both going to be so busy over the weekend that we probably won’t even have time to actually miss each other, saying goodbye now has me a little choked up. I don’t like that he’s going to be so far away from me. I don’t like that I’m not going to know where he is, what he’s doing, or whether or not Taylor is with him every second he’s not with me. And it’s been so long since we’ve been apart… I don’t want to miss him, but I already do.

“I love you,” I tell him again, throwing my arms around him and holding him as tightly against me as possible.

“And I love you. Send me pictures of Calliope, and…” He pulls me back so he can look into my eyes and smirks. “Feel free to send nudes.”

I laugh, but when I lean in to scrunch the tip of my nose against his, I inch my lips close to his and say, “Ditto.”

“Alright, love birds,” Mia interrupts. “We’re going to miss our flight.”

“Thank you, Mia,” Luke agrees, rolling his eyes.

I shake my head with annoyance, then hug Christian one last time before stepping back and taking Callie out of Mia’s hands so she can say goodbye to her brother.

“Be good,” he tells her. “Have fun, ask questions, and make good choices.” He glances up at me, standing a few paces behind them. “You never know how the dorm you select could change your life.”

“I will. Love you, Christian.”

“Love you too, Meems.” They hug, but Mia’s phone starts to buzz half a second after he gets his arms around her, so she quickly struggles out of his embrace and takes the handle of her luggage so she can make for the automatic doors into the airport. “Bye, Christian! Have fun in Taiwan.”

He shakes his head, but waves, then turns back to me. “Have a good weekend. Call me.”

“I will,” I tell him. “Bye.”

“Bye.”

I smile and turn to follow after Mia, Luke dragging along beside me. He too looks over his shoulder a few times, until we’ve made it close enough to the ticket kiosks that we can no longer see the people we’ve left behind in the departure lane.

“So, Jade dropped you off, huh?” I ask, trying to sound as casual as possible when really I’m probing for information.

“Yeah, it’s like $40 a day to park here. Not all of us are billionaires.”

“I would have paid your parking, Luke.”

“Nah, it’s cool.” He shakes his head as he slips his credit card into the machine so he can print his boarding pass. I can tell how hard he’s struggling to keep his expression neutral and uninterested, and it probably would have worked on anyone but me.

“Oh my god, you really like her!”

“Yeah, she’s cool.”

“Lucas Sawyer! Don’t play coy with me, I’m your best friend and I want the details.”

“Best friend, huh?”

My expression hardens. “Yes, best friend. Kate’s my sister now, so you’ve been promoted.”

“Oh, good. I’m your spare.”

“And I’ll kill the spare if you don’t start talking right now.”

He laughs. “Solid Harry Potter joke.”

“Luke!”

“Fine.” He sighs. “She and I started hooking up about five, six months ago. It wasn’t supposed to be a thing, but she wasn’t clingy and I could take her out for pizza and beer without her bitching about it not being fancier or ordering a bullshit salad. I like her, so what?”

“So, why didn’t you tell me about her?”

“Because you’re very… excited about things. I just watched you slobbering all over your husband outside and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve needed noise cancelling headphones from just living across the hall from you two. You’re living your fairytale, and that’s never going to be me. I don’t want to get your hopes up.”

“First of all,” I say, indignantly. “Christian and I don’t slobber. We are romantic and in love and, while I’ve never seen it played back for me, I imagine that the sex we have is beautiful. Second of all, I only get excited because I’m happy for you and if you like her and want her in your life then I want to know her and be friends with her.”

He rolls his eyes. “Just get your ticket.”

“Fine, I’ll get it all out of you eventually. Don’t you worry about that.” I turn to the kiosk in front of me, card in hand, and frown. “But… it’s been actual years since I’ve done this. Help me.”

“Rich people,” Mia says, rolling her eyes as she pulls her ticket from the dispensing tray next to me. I narrow my eyes at her.

“You have a trust fund…”

She pushes the handle of Calliope’s carseat into the crook of her elbow and raises an eyebrow at me. “And you graduated from Harvard. Read the instructions.”

“She’s too fancy to read, Mia,” Luke says, then drops his voice to a whisper and looks around like he’s worried someone will hear him. “She’s Anastasia Grey.”

“I hate you both.” They laugh as I nudge Luke out of the way with my body and then slip my card into the machine, following the instructions until I have a boarding pass in hand. Luke and Mia both start applauding for me when I turn around, drawing the attention of everyone around us, so I can’t even come up with a biting comeback.

“Oh my god, stop!” I hiss, covering my face to hide my humiliation and pushing them away from the other passengers printing their tickets. But their continued cackling all the way down the concourse does nothing to alleviate the curious onlookers.

For the first time since I told Mia I’d come with her, I’m starting to regret asking Woods to stay behind.

 

There’s a long line of people winding through a complicated maze of stanchions and retractable belts once we get to airport security. While we slowly inch our way forward and remove our shoes, liquids, and electronics, I realize that I’ve taken having a private jet at my disposal for granted. It’s almost unnerving how close we’re being watched as we place our bags on the conveyor belt and then step through the body scanning machine. Thankfully, they save me a potential meltdown by letting me bring Calliope through the metal detectors inside of her car seat, instead of forcing me to wake her up and carry her through in my arms, but when Luke is pulled aside for a random check, we’re nearly late for our flight.

“I left my gun at home, what more do they want from me?” he asks irritably while we walk as quickly as possible to our gate. “I feel like this is some kind of racial profiling.”

I give him a slanted, sideways glance. “Racial profiling of a 30 year old white man?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Statistically, you are the most dangerous demographic,” Mia says. “White men are more likely to commit mass shootings or become serial killers. I mean, just look at Andrew Lincol…” Her sentence drops as she looks over at me, so I quickly divert my gaze and try to redirect my suddenly derailed train of thought, all the while tightening my grip on my daughter’s car seat. Luke reaches over to push Mia, knocking her slightly off balance.   

“Hey, statistically, why don’t you shut up?”

“You can’t talk to me like that.”

“Yes I can. I don’t work for Grey anymore, you’re fair game. Welcome to the Hurt Locker, internet-meems.”

Mia shakes her head and glances up to the ceiling as we finally begin approaching our gate. “You’re so annoying. No wonder Christian hates you.”

Luke hands his boarding pass to the woman waiting impatiently at the gate and then turns back to glare are Mia. “No, he hates me because, despite his billions of dollars and ridiculously chiseled good looks, he knows that I could still dunk on him in a game of one on one.”

I laugh and hand my boarding pass over, then wrap an arm around Mia so I can drag her down the gangway with Calliope and me, and into the already crowded airplane. Thankfully, our seats take up an entire aisle, plus an additional seat directly across from us, so we don’t have to climb over anyone as we fumble to put our luggage in the overhead bins and then slip into our seats. Mia sits in the lone chair across the aisle, so I buckle Calliope’s carseat in next to the window and take the middle spot while Luke relaxes back into the seat on the aisle.

“Hey,” Mia hisses, to get Luke’s attention as the plane starts to move and the flight attendants begin their safety demonstration. “Just for the record, Christian is, 6’3, and you’re maybe 6 foot… he’d be way better at basketball than you.”

Luke smiles. “Nah, I’m like Muggsy Bogues. I’d kick his ass.”

“Who’s Muggsy Bogues?”

“Oh my god, Amelia. Who do you– I can’t even look at you right now. Look away and think about what you just said to me.”

She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, then settles back into her seat, focusing her attention on the flight attendant, and pulls out the safety cards from the back of the seat in front of her.

 

There’s no wait before takeoff, so it’s only a few minutes from when the safety demonstration ends to when we start nearing cruising altitude. The passengers around us start settling in, isolating themselves with iPods or portable movie players. Callie is somehow, miraculously, still asleep, so I take what time I have before she wakes to relax with the book I’ve packed in my carry-on. The story isn’t my normal preference, but it was written by a new author who has found amazing success in a short period of time. And since I’m just about to start work running the fiction department at Grey Publishing, I figure I’d better get my finger on the pulse of the market sooner, rather than later.

“I’ve moved in with her,” Luke says, pulling me out of the story just as I was starting to lose myself.

“What?”

“Jade and I, we’re living together.”

“What do you mean you’re living together? You moved in with her? When?”

“About a month ago. We were spending almost every night together anyway, it didn’t make much sense for us to have seperate apartments.”

“No, it wouldn’t, but… oh my god, you’re really serious about her.”

He shrugs.

“Luke! Start talking.”

“I just told you we’re living together, what more do you want from me?”

“Details. Explicit details.”

“Look, I love you, Ana. You’re my best friend and I want to talk to you about these things. I’m trying. But… I’m not good at this. I’ve never done serious relationships before and… I’m actually a little freaked out over it.” He takes a breath. “I want to talk to you about her, but you need to let me do it at my own pace, okay?”

“Are you in love with her?”

“Ana.” He groans.

“I’m not trying to be pushy. Really. I just want to know that you’re happy. All the other stuff I can live without or wait until you’re ready to tell me, but if you’re actually in love with her, I want to know that.”

He lets out a huff and sinks back into his seat with reluctant contemplation. I give him a moment, and eventually, he nods.

“Yeah. I think I’m in love with her.”

“Awhhhhhh.”

Don’t make that face at me, Anastasia.”

I try to reign in my grin. “Sorry, but… you’re in love!”

“You’re the worst, you know that?” He shakes his head in dismay, but I can tell that beneath the impassive, unfeeling facade he’s trying to keep up, there’s a hint of pride in his eyes. And yes, happiness.

I beam at him and knock him with my shoulder. “You love me.”

“Yeah, apparently I’m all kinds of soft now.”

“It looks good on you.” I squeeze his hand on the arm rest between us and shift back into my seat so I can continue with my book, but all the questions I suddenly have about this new revelation feel like they’re boiling in my brain.

“Okay, I lied,” I say, setting the book down and turning towards him again. “How did you two meet? Where did you have your first kiss? Is she in love with you too? Has she said it? How did you end up moving in together? And what’s the sex like?”

“Ana!”

“Oh please, you’re my best friend, you can talk to me about your sex life. Do you know how much I know about Elliot’s penis? I could draw you a picture.”

“Gross,” Mia says. She shoots a look of disgust between Luke and I, then puts her headphones in so she’s no longer forced to listen to our conversation. I grin, but keep my attention fixated on Luke.

“It’s fine,” he concedes.

“Fine? You’re going to live with fine?” He gives me a hard, unamused look, but I don’t relent. And, eventually, he gives in.

“It’s incredible, alright? She’s hot and dirty and she can put her legs behind her head.”

“Behind her head, huh?”

“Tip of the iceberg, Ana. Tip. Of. The. Iceberg.

“I’m so happy for you,” I reply with a smile, and he shakes his head again, trying to tell me that he’s done with the conversation. But as I pick up my book again, another thought crosses my mind. “Wait, if you’re living with her, what happened to the apartment I’m paying for every month?”

“Gotta have somewhere to track down all your husband’s enemies. There’s a lot that goes into this whole take-on-the-world-head-first plan that you’ve come up with and if Jade sees the strings on the wall attaching all the pictures and newspaper articles I’ve put together, she’s going to think I’m insane.”

“But you are insane. Remember that time when I was still seven months pregnant and you ate my last pack of Scooby-Doo fruit snacks? That’s not the behavior of a mentally healthy individual.”

He laughs. “Touche.”

“You don’t really have strings on the wall, do you?”

“Nah. But I do work there. I like to think of it as my own personal bat cave.”

“Batman, huh? You really think you can pull off Batman?”

“In terms of muscle tone, near genius intellect, and the ability to whoop someone’s ass? Yes.”

I bite my lip to hold back my laugh. “Mmm, I don’t know. I think you have more of a Aquaman-vibe about you. You know, generally useless…”

He snorts, then covers his mouth to hide his smile. “I hate you sometimes.”

“No you don’t, you’re my Sam.”

“Sam?”

“Yeah, like Samwise Gamgee.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I’m like your servant?”

“No! I’m your best friend too. And you’re the person I know will always have my back. Who will listen to me and be there for me when I need you. You’re the person I’d take into Mordor with me.”

He smiles. “First Harry Potter, now Lord of the Rings? You’re such a goddamn nerd.”

“First of all, how dare you. Lord of the Rings is the greatest story ever told and I will not sit back and let you pretend that you don’t know every single line of The Fellowship of the Ring from start to finish when the movie isn’t even playing.”

“Yeah,” he says, laughing. “It’s actually pretty sick. And Sam is the real hero, so obviously that’s me.”

I laugh, then shift in my seat to continue reading, but just as I get comfortable the plane jolts from unexpected turbulence and the peaceful morning we’ve had so far suddenly melts away as Calliope is yanked out of sleep and starts calling for dada.  

 

It’s very late in the afternoon when we finally touch down in Boston. It takes us nearly thirty minutes to wind our way through the crowded terminal for our checked bags and the shuttle that takes us to the car rental facility, then another 45 minutes of waiting in line before I’m finally handed the keys to the luxury car Christian reserved for us last week. So the sun is almost completely gone by the time we’re loading our luggage into the trunk and buckling a squirmy Calliope in the backseat.

When we pull onto the I-90 West towards Cambridge, Mia immediately becomes absorbed with every sign we pass, trying to memorize as much as she can.

“I-90? That’s cool,” she  says. “At least it won’t take me long to learn the name of the interstate, seeing as the freeway to my house back home is also called I-90.”

“It’s the same interstate,” I tell her. “I-90 starts in Seattle proper and ends at Logan International Airport. It’s the road Kate and I took whenever we had to drive home.”

“Really? That’s so cool.”

“Yeah. It used to make me feel a little better about the distance between Christian and I when I was pregnant. We lived on the same road, so we couldn’t be that far apart. Never mind that that road was 3,000 miles long…”

“Three thousand miles. Right.” Her face falls, so I reach across the seat and take her hand.

“It’s really not so bad. You won’t ever have to drive back and forth and the flight can actually be nice when you’ve got homework or something big to study for. I never had to do a single thing for my Political Journalism Writing class outside of the actual lectures because I did all my assignments and studying on the flight home to Seattle every weekend.”

“So, if I wanted to come home every weekend?”

“Then, we’ll make that happen.” I smile at her. “But you won’t. Trust me, Mia. You’re going to love it here.”

“Oh, no!” Luke exclaims from the driver’s seat. “Ana look at the meth billboard.”

I spin around and gaze up at the quickly approaching advertisement on the side of the interstate. The entire time I lived in Cambridge, that billboard had been plastered with the most disturbing images of broken down drug addicts as part of an anti-methamphetamine campaign. It was gross and drew your attention, so it became kind of a joke between Kate, Luke, and I. As though, had that billboard not been there, we would have all definitely become meth addicts, but instead, we were saved by the disturbing images. However, those images have disappeared, replaced with an advertisement for a local injury law firm.

“What did they do?” I gasp.

“I guess meth addiction has been cured.”

“It can’t be cured. It’s an epidemic, Luke!” I start digging through my purse for my phone, and once I find it, I scroll through my contacts, then press my finger onto Kate’s name.

“Hey, Annie. Did you make it to Boston okay?”

“I mean, the flight was fine, but I wouldn’t say that I’m okay.”

“Oh no, what’s wrong?”

“The meth billboard is gone.”

“What?!”

“I swear to god, Kate. It’s been replaced with an advertisement for a law firm. It’s. Not. There. Anymore.”

“Well, you know what that means? We gotta start doing meth.”

“I always feared this day would come.” We laugh together and, while I start shaking my head at the elaborate plans she immediately starts making for how we’re going to get our hands on a class one felony controlled substance, I start to feel a little sad.

“I wish you were here,” I tell her. “Cambridge isn’t the same without you.”

“And it never will be.” She laughs, then sighs. “I wish I was there too. It’s a little rude that Mia decided to go to college when I’m eight months pregnant.”

“Well, you know how the Greys are. Never thinking of other people’s schedules. Very inconsiderate.”

“I sure do, Anastasia Grey.”

I laugh again. “Well, once my god daughter is born, we need to come back. Maybe while I’m here, I’ll look into tickets for the football season next year. Our girls will be so cute as little Harvard fans.”

“Oh my god, they totally will be! We should… Shit. My contractor is calling me. I have to take this. Talk later?”

“Sure. I’ll probably send you a billion pictures of all our favorite things, anyway.”

“Do it! Love you, Ana.”

“You too, Katherine Grey.”

I hang up and turn back to Mia, but she’s glued to her window again as Luke signals to get over and Cambridge comes into view. The first blooms are starting to color the tops of the trees, but there isn’t yet enough foliage to conceal the red bricks that make up the first few building on campus. As we drive deeper into the city and as we begin to pass places I used to frequent, I feel an odd sense of Déjà vu. I thought coming back here would be a little sad, like I’d be reminded of all the things I don’t have in Seattle that I used to love and I’d realize how much I missed them. But there isn’t any longing to the memories that flood through me when we pass a familiar restaurant or shop, only familiarity. As if I never really left and this past year was just one really long weekend.

“That’s Christian’s favorite place to get breakfast,” I tell Mia when we drive by a small French bakery a few blocks away from my house. “I’m not as big into pastries as he is, but, during my last trimester, nothing could satisfy my cravings like their macarons. I’d get back from class and he’d have a box waiting for me.”

“Awh… you two are so gross.” She smiles as I reach out to nudge her, and then turns to stare back out at the passing store fronts. I point out mine and Kate’s favorite grocery store, just in case she doesn’t make it to Annenberg in time while she’s here, and the laundromat we used when there was no machines available at Grays. Like Christian, she immediately brushes me off by saying she intends to get laundry service, but she is interested in the places we used to get coffee or go shopping. Luke even takes us on a mini tour around the city so I can show her where everything she asks about is located. By the time we finally pull onto Maple Ave, it’s completely dark and most of the restaurants I’d considered taking her to for dinner are closing up for the night.

“We’ll order pizza,” I tell her after we pull into the driveway and start climbing out of the car. “You can make Elliot jealous and tell him we got Angelo’s.”

“Perfect, that’s literally my motivation for everything in life.” She gives me a devious kind of smile as she turns to follow Luke into the house, but I don’t go after either of them. Instead, after I’ve pulled the car seat holding my babbling baby from the car, I take a moment to glance over the house that was home to me for so many years.

Christian has hired lawn care and property maintenance services to keep the lawn mowed and the driveway and sidewalks clear of snow, but there’s still a sense of abandonment that clings to the place. Maybe it’s just because it’s the only dark house on the block, or maybe it’s because Kate’s car is missing from the driveway, but it’s the first place in Cambridge that’s felt truly different to me. And that feeling only intensifies when I finally do go inside.

The place is barren. The kitchen counters are no longer cluttered with appliances or the bowls of fruit I always left out to keep myself from fishing out the bag of potato chips from the cupboard. The dining room table is gone, the decorations have been removed from the walls, as has the rug from the floor, and the fridge is no longer covered in grocery lists, christmas cards from Mrs. Kavanagh, ultrasound photos, or the picture the little girl who lives down the street colored and proudly brought to us as a welcome home present before our Junior year.

The emptiness continues as I move into the living room where Mia is handing her bags over to Luke, only it’s actually a much more stark difference here than in the kitchen. The only furniture left is an old rocking chair that we got from a thrift store when we moved in, but that turned out to be extremely uncomfortable, and an ugly lamp Elliot just had to have from a garage sale we went to down the street. The pictures of Kate and I that used to scatter the walls are gone and the carpet has been completely torn up, leaving unfamiliar, bare, hardwood floors in its place. I glance down at the spot where I was standing, watching Carter Reed propose to Kate only just more than a year ago, and I immediately know the reason why.

“Earth to Ana,” Luke says, pulling me out of the memories of Calliope’s difficult labor, which I only now realize are the very last I have of this house. He’s reaching his hand out for me and waiting expectantly. “You want me to take your bag upstairs?”

“Uh, yeah… There are still two beds in your room from when Taylor was staying here, but Kate’s old room is empty. Will you drag a mattress in there for Mia?”

“Sure thing.”

“Thank you.” I smile, hand over my bag, and he disappears up the stairs two at a time, leaving me alone with Mia, who is giving the empty living room a thorough examination.

“Where’s all your stuff?” she asks.

“Well, Kate took most of it for the apartment she lived in all of three months after we moved back home. Some of it I have. This is what’s left.”

She frowns. “You could have at least left a TV.”

“Yeah, we didn’t have great foresight when we left, but this gives a chance for you and I to hang out. Catch up on life, you know.”

She hums in agreement, but not enthusiastically, and as I watch her move around the room, fiddling with the few things that were left behind and seemingly doing everything she can to stop from looking at me, I frown.

“Everything alright?”

She turns and raises an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, we’re here. College. Harvard. Your first real step into the world. Are you nervous?”

She shakes her head, but very quickly loses the enthusiasm behind the gesture.

“It’s okay to be nervous, Meems,” I tell her. “I was, and I had Kate with me. You’re taking this step all by yourself.”

She swallows. “Yeah. All by myself.”

“Hey.” I cross the room and take her hand, then pull her to the rocking chair and settle down on the floor at her feet. “What’s going on?”

“I’m scared, Ana.”

“Of school?”

“Yeah… and no.” She sighs and looks down at the floor. “I’m scared of what being away from my family might turn me into. I’m… I’m not a very good person.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes. It is. I’m spoiled, and selfish, and I don’t make very good choices. I’ve done a lot to hurt the people that love me over past few years and what happened to you, to Christian… part of that was my fault.”

“No. It wasn’t.” I force myself to push down the fear and emotions that always bubble up whenever I’m forced to talk about the past and take her hand in mine. “What happened wasn’t because of Gresham, or because you worked for Elena. It happened because Andrew Lincoln was insane, and that’s not your fault.”

“But if I would have said something sooner… If I wouldn’t have been such a coward and told Christian what I knew right from the beginning, maybe he would have been able to find Linc sooner and then you would have never…” Her words choke off as she once again looks away from me, so I squeeze her fingers in mine.

“It wasn’t your fault, Mia. You were scared and you thought you were protecting your family. I get that, more than you know. There is nothing in this world I wouldn’t do to keep Christian and Calliope safe.” I take a hesitant breath. “Even if that means keeping a secret.”

“But–”

I cut her off. “We don’t know that it would have stopped anything had you told us sooner. Gresham didn’t lead us to Lincoln, and it was his death that brought him to our apartment that night. If you had said something sooner, my dad might not have been there, and that night might have gone very differently. So, there’s no point in feeling guilty. Believe me. I’ve spent months going over that night again and again in my head, trying to figure out how we could stopped him, and doesn’t do any good. You can’t change the past, so there’s no point in dwelling on it.”

“Is that why you won’t go to therapy?” I raise an eyebrow at her and she blanches slightly. “I’m sorry… I heard Christian telling mom and dad.”

I press my lips together and shake my head. “No. I don’t want to go to therapy because I don’t want to waste Flynn’s time, or mine. I’m just fine.”

“Are you though? I remember what it was like when you were living with us. When you locked yourself in Christian’s room and wouldn’t come out for weeks. I remember Christian sitting at the dining room table with dad, begging him to tell him what to do. I remember Kate sitting against the door, waiting for days for you to let her in, and you never did. I remember hearing you scream in the middle of the night… How are you just okay now?”

“I worked through it on my own,” I tell her, unwittingly glancing up to where I know Luke is overhead. “I found a way to feel safe again.”

“So, you’re really okay, then? This isn’t all just pretend?”

“No, Mia. I’m good. I swear.”

Relief washes across her face and she nods. “You’re amazing, Ana. I really wanna be more like you.”

“No. I think you’re pretty great just the way you are.”

“But… if I made all the terrible choices that I did while I was still living at home, with my parents telling me what to do all the time, what am I going to do when I’m 3,000 miles away from them? From you and Christian? All on my own. I don’t want to be the person I was anymore.”

“So don’t be. Look, the step that you’re about to take is scary, everyone feels the way you’re feeling right now, but you have something that a lot of people don’t have. Perspective. You get to leave home and go out into the world knowing who you want to be. Be that person, Mia. And don’t let anything or anyone stop you from being that person.”

She nods, and gives me a weak smile. “Okay.”

“I love you, Mia.”

“Yeah, me too. Thanks, Ana.”

“You’re welcome. I’m always here to talk, okay? About anything”

“I know.”

I squeeze her hand one last time and turn back to take my shockingly patient baby out of her car seat, and as I lie a blanket over the cold hard wood so I can set her down, Luke comes bounding down the stairs.

“Who’s ready for pizza?” he asks.

“Me,” I reply with a laugh, then pull out my phone and dial the number for Angelo’s while Mia disappears down the back hallway in search of a board game we can use to occupy ourselves for the rest of the night.

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