Book Two

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Living with her best friend and finding the love of her life had truly made Ana’s freshman year at Harvard the best of her life until one life defining moment left her shattered. Now, she must decide whether she’ll help the man she loves overcome the past he can’t escape, or protect her wounded heart and risk losing him forever. (Sequel to a Different Shade of Fifty).

Chapter 1

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Chapter 06

Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, April 6th 2010: Grey Donates to Children’s Charity. Local business magnate Christian Grey has made a significant donation to Seattle based charity, Coping Together, an organization founded by the CEO’s own parents Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey and Mr. Carrick Grey. The donation is the largest the organization has ever received. A spokesperson from GEH has said that Mr. Grey is proud to support […] hopes that his donation will bring more attention to the foundation’s cause.


I’m sorry I’m late,” I tell Luke as I hurry into the coffee shop Monday morning. “Kate broke down when we dropped Elliot off at the airport and then again when we got home. It’s been a rough morning.”

“That’s alright. Have a seat,” He says, and there is a serious kind of aloofness in his tone that surprises me. He gestures me towards a table where I see a woman sitting, who I don’t recognize. I give her a small smile as I settle down in the chair across from Luke but his somber expression has me too worried to greet her properly and introduce myself. I know when I’m being prepared for bad news, and whatever this is, it isn’t good.

“Ana, this is Samantha Prescott. She’s a new security guard here on campus. I wanted to introduce you to her because, I’m going to be leaving Harvard Security.”

“What? Leaving?” I cough as I choke on the drink of coffee I’ve just taken.

“I’ve been transferred,” Luke says. “It’s a promotion really. I’ll be much more involved in day to day security operation. I’ll have an office and I’m not going to have to stand around campus and yell at kids for littering all day anymore.”

“What do you mean transferred? Where are you going?”

“Across the country… I’m moving into corporate security on the west coast.”

“What? No. Why? I mean, what happened?” I stammer, trying to cling to at least one of the thoughts and arguments racing through my mind as I attempt to try and understand what he’s telling me. Only one thought seems important though, a plea, and so I grab hold of it and blurt it out without a second thought of recourse. “Don’t go! Stay! You can find a job here, there are businesses in Boston, maybe you could find something better. I could help you!”

“It’s not that easy, Ana…”

“I don’t want you to leave,” I tell him.

“Ana… you only have one more year of school left. We were going to get to this place eventually. I’ve got to do what’s best for my career and that’s taking this new job.”

“You’re one of my best friends,” I tell him sadly. “Elliot already left, what am I going to do without you, too?”

“Kick ass, like you do anyway,” He says with a smile. “You’ll be fine, Ana. I know you will. And Prescott over here is more than qualified to keep an eye on you in my absence. I even hear she likes those terrible black and white movies you’re so into.” He smiles at me, waiting for me to laugh at his joke, but I don’t. The last thing I feel like doing is laughing.

“You know what, I’m going to take a walk around campus and make sure everything looks okay,” Prescott says. “I’ll have my phone with me if you need me, Sawyer.”

“Alright,” Luke nods. She stands from her chair and holds her hand out for mine.

“It was nice to meet you, Miss Steele. Sawyer here has told me a lot about you and I hope that we can become friends,” She says.

“Sure,” I tell her, though my voice is an empty promise. I just don’t have the space in my brain to return her enthusiasm. I’m sure she’s a great person, but… she’s not Luke.

Prescott frowns for a moment and then walks away from the table and out the front door, and as I listen for the tinkling of the bell over the door to die down, Luke stares expectantly at me, waiting for me to speak again.

“When do you leave?” I ask.

“This afternoon,” He says, and I feel a harsh sting creep up into my throat. That soon? He’s not even going to give me a chance to say good-bye? To plan something amazing for us to do together, one last time? I can’t believe this is really happening.

“Is this my fault?” I ask. “Is it because I made you go to Vermont with me? If it is, I can talk to your boss. I can tell him…”

“Ana, I’m not being punished, really. This is a good thing.”

“Yeah, until a friendship reduced to text messages and sporadic phone calls gets too hard to maintain and we stop talking all together. How is that a good thing?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” He says. “You’re my best friend, Ana. That’s not going to change just because I’m not here everyday. Trust me, I don’t want to leave either. I’m going to miss you and I’m going to worry about you. Prescott is fine and all, but now I know that you’re not afraid to do something as reckless as free climb a mountainside and I don’t know if she’s going to be able to break through your stubborn side and talk you down from your crazy. It feels… wrong, leaving you here alone.”

“So don’t go,” I plead again, but he shakes his head.

“Ana, I don’t have a choice,” He says. “Look, I promise I’m not going to disappear forever. You’re going to graduate soon, maybe we’ll end up in the same city after all… hell, you’re probably moving over the summer to take an internship, maybe we’ll be together sooner than you think.”

“Or I’ll never see you again…”

“I won’t let that happen,” He promises. I stare down at the latte he ordered for me, trying to sort through my emotional state as I attempt to process what’s happening. This is all so sudden, I was expecting to come in here and listen to him complain about his boss… I was going to apologize again for the trouble I got him in and then see if he wanted to come over and hang out with Kate and I tonight. I never expected that I was going to walk in here and potentially see him for the very last time.

“Hey,” He says, standing up from his seat and holding his arms open for me. I get up and hug myself closely to him, wishing I had more to offer him than I don’t want you to leave as a way to make him stay. “It’s going to be okay, Ana. Seriously, I really think I’ll be able to see you this summer, and if not, sometime soon.”

“Okay,” I reply sadly, knowing at this point that I have no other option but to accept defeat. He squeezes me tightly one last time before releasing me and pulling away.

“I’ve got a plane to catch, so I’ve got to go, but I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

I nod, because I don’t have the words to express all the things I want to say to him, or that I want him to know before he leaves. There is a terrible pain creeping up inside of me as I feel the deep sense of abandonment that made the first few months after Christian and I broke up so unbearable, and I begin to wonder if the idea of love, the actuality of allowing yourself to care for someone, is worth the misery if no matter how much of yourself you put into the relationship, it always ends.

Stop it, Ana. Don’t go there again.

“See you later, Ana,” Luke says, reaching down to pick up his bag. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Bye,” I tell him, and he hugs me one last time and then moves forward out the door, leaving me standing in the middle of the crowded room, and yet feeling completely alone. Unfortunately, as much as I’d love nothing more than to go home and wallow in this re-burgeoning sense of depression, I have a class to get to and the one thing I have been able to maintain, no matter what I’ve had to go through over the last few years, is that I made a promise to Ray to put school before everything. So I pick up my own bag and follow in Luke’s wake out the door.

“Miss Steele?” A woman’s voice says behind me, and I turn around and see the woman Luke introduced to me standing a few feet away from the door behind me.

“Uh… Ana,” I correct her automatically. “I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

“Prescott, Ma’am,” She says.

“Right, well, thanks for taking the time to come and meet me. That was really nice of you. But… I’ve got to get to class so I’ll uh… see you around?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Okay,” I give her an awkward wave as I turn around and continue on towards the Barker Center. I’m not really sure how I feel about this new Prescott woman, she seems a little stiff. I mean, she called me ma’am. Did Luke really think he’d just be able to replace himself in my life, just like that? It’s ridiculous.

When I get home that night, Kate refuses to let me seclude myself in my room. I don’t think she wants to be alone, and since time with my best friend is probably good for me right now anyway, I decide to hang out with her downstairs. She makes my favorite dinner, puts on my favorite movie, and even pulls the emergency carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream out of the freezer, which we both throw down with absolutely no sense of shame. It actually does help, and I realize that, even with Luke MIA, it might not be as lonely as I anticipated. Now that Elliot’s back in Seattle, Kate’s lost her someone else too. It’s just the two of us again, and that could be really great. We haven’t had time, just the two of us, like this since before I started dating Christian, and I realize now that I’ve missed that.

After the movie is over, I tell Kate goodnight and then head up to my room. I decide to send a text to Luke before I get into bed since I know he should at least be in the city where he’s moving to now, even though I have no idea where that is…

Hey. Text me/call me when you get settled in. Where are you anyway? You never told me where you were moving.

I fall asleep that night still waiting for his response.

By the time Wednesday rolls around, I still haven’t heard from Luke, and although that feels troubling, it’s not nearly as daunting as what I have waiting for me that evening.

You mean you’re finally going to do something about all these letters?” Kate asks as I pull her into the kitchen with me and place a stack of envelopes in front of an empty chair for her.

Ever since the middle of last week, letters from the internships I applied to the weekend Luke stayed at the house with me have been trickling in. I know there is bound to be rejection waiting for me, so I thought it safest to open as many letters as I can at once, like ripping off a bandaid, rather than face that sobering pain on a daily basis. It’s been driving Kate insane because, despite her general lack of organization in every other aspect of her life, mail for some reason is a big deal to her, and the pile of letters collecting in the basket in the kitchen has been too much for her to handle.

“It’s crunch time,” I tell her. “Summer vacation is in five weeks. I have until Monday to pick and accept an internship offer.”

“Well, there’s gotta be something here…” Kate says, thumbing through her stack of envelopes. “How many did you apply to?”

“I don’t know… I just applied to everything I could find,” I tell her, and I pick up an envelope, tear it open, and fish out the letter. It’s from the Chicago Tribune.

Dear Miss Steele:

Congratulations! After our review of your application and impressive list of academic accolades, the Chicago Tribune is pleased to offer you an internship with our editorial writing division effective May 17th.

This is a non-paid academic internship for which you will be expected to provide 40 hours per week through August 6th. This internship is viewed by the Harvard English Department as an educational opportunity and therefore you will be awarded two (2) congruent free study credits through the University.

Please respond to this offer by no later than April 12th.

Again, congratulations and we look forward to the opportunity to work with you over the coming summer.

Sincerely,

Bennett Dohle

Human Resources Department

The Chicago Tribune

I frown down at the letter. I would love the opportunity to work as an editor for the Chicago Tribune, it was one of the internships I had been most excited about, but I just can’t do Chicago for three months on an unpaid internship. I mean, unless you come from a wealthy family who was willing to pay for absolutely everything in your life, who could? I sigh and set the letter aside.

“Ana!” Kate exclaims. “You’ve been accepted into the internship program at Random House!”

“Really?” I ask, looking up from the letter from Seattle Book Company. “That’s New York… what does it pay?”

“Congruent credit,” Kate says, and I let out of huff of frustration. I have dim memories of Ros and Christian talking about how great this recession was for starting their business a couple years ago, but it’s not doing me any favors now.

“Next,” I tell her, and she frowns, but picks up a second letter.

“What about that one?” She asks, nodding at the letting in my hands.

“Seattle Book Company, but it’s unpaid too,” I tell her.

“Hey, we could make that work,” Kate says. “You can live with me and we can carpool into the city together every morning.”

“It’s more than a place to live, Kate. I have bills that have to be paid, I have to buy food… and I’d like to shift some of the burden of my tuition off my Dad.”

“Christian already did that, remember? He paid for your tuition this year.”

“And I’m going to pay him back. I’m serious, Kate, I don’t want him paying for my school,” I tell her. She shrugs as if she finds that all very unimportant and then begins tearing into her letter.

By the time I’ve made it through all the letters in my stack, I have 3 rejections and 8 acceptances but zero offers for something that pays. I’m beginning to think the idea of a paid internship is a myth.

“Hey… I think this might be something,” Kate says, peaking at me over the top of the letter in her hands.

“Oh?”

“$15 an hour for 40+ hour weeks, paid housing, living stipend, AND congruent credit through the College of Letter Arts at Harvard University,” She reads.

“You’re kidding!” I exclaim excitedly as I throw the letter in my hand to the side. “Where?”

“It’s in Seattle,” She says nonchalantly, and her cavalier attitude has me immediately suspicious.

“Where, Kate?”

“Grey Enterprises Holdings,” She replies sheepishly. I roll my eyes and shake my head. “Ana, now think about it. He has a huge, successful company. And he’s considered one of the savviest businessmen in the entire world. There’s a lot of opportunity to learn working for him. A summer internship with him could open a lot of doors for you and you know he’ll give you a good recommendation at the end of the summer. Think of what that could do for you when you’re applying for jobs next year.”

“I don’t need to be anymore indebted to him than I already am, Kate,” I tell her.

“It’s not about what you owe him, Ana. You’re the only one keeping score. This is what the world is like. Unfortunately, it’s not about how good you are or how hard you work, it’s who know. I am the top of my class in the Broadcasting and Journalism Department at Harvard University and I’m editor of The Crimson, and I’m working for my father this summer. That’s the hard truth about the recession, the job you want doesn’t exist, except on this piece of paper. He’s giving you a lifeline, take it! This is what’s best for you. Don’t be ashamed to do what it takes to set yourself up for success.”

“I don’t know… I haven’t seen him in two years, Kate. I’ve only just started talking to him. How am I supposed to go from that to hanging around him everyday? And it won’t be just Christian, it’ll be Christian Grey, CEO and Sole Proprietor of GEH. I mean, he’ll be my boss. The boundaries have to be firm between us right now and I don’t know if I can maintain that and then be all, Yes, sir. No, sir. Right away, Mr. Grey, at work everyday. It’s just…weird.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” She says. “It’s work. You’re both professional. I’m sure he understands that whatever is happening between the two of you is completely separate from this internship. He owns the company, I can almost guarantee that he wants to keep all of this drama as far away from GEH as possible.”

“It would be nice to stay in Seattle over the summer…” I admit.

“See, now you’re talking!” Kate says excitedly. “We can road trip home together, spend weekends on Lake Washington with Elliot, go to training camp in Renton so you and Elliot can fangirl out over the Seahawks together… maybe we could even spend a weekend in Montesano!”

I bite down on my lip as I feel my resolve begin to waiver. It does all seem really tempting.

“What’s the job?” I ask, and she looks back down at the paper in her hands, scanning it for a minute, but ultimately looking back up at me frowning.

“It doesn’t say,” She says. “All it says is Executive Internship Opportunity.

“That sounds like a nice way of saying getting him coffee and picking up his dry cleaning.”

“He has a PA, Ana,” Kate says. “Call him up, ask him about it. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to give you all the details.”

“I’ll think about it,” I tell her as I get up from the table and gather all of the rejection letters to toss in the shredder.

“Alright…” She says, “But I think you should take it.”

“I know what you think, Kate,” I laugh. “Believe me, I always know what you think.”

By the next morning, Luke still hasn’t texted me back. I try calling him but it goes to voicemail after only three rings. With a sigh, I toss my phone onto the bed as I gather my things for my meeting with Dr. Ralston.

So much for not disappearing.

I put the phone in my pocket, throw my bag over my shoulder, and head downstairs to wait for Kate to be ready to leave for the gym. I’m just setting the tea kettle on the stove to boil and packing an orange and a granola bar to take to campus with me, when the phone on the wall rings. I look at it hesitantly for a moment, feeling nervous. This is it, put up or shut up. I told Elliot I was in, time to put my money where my mouth is.

I take a deep breath and cross the room to pick up the phone, but when I look at the caller ID, it isn’t Christian’s name I see splashed across the tiny blue screen on the front of the phone, it’s Elliot, and a I feel a little disappointed. Come to think of it, I don’t think Christian has called all week…

“Hey, Elliot. It’s kind of early for you isn’t it?” I ask when I answer the phone.

“Yeah, but Christian apparently always wakes up at this ungodly hour to work out and going on a run with him every morning is part of my keep him surrounded by family plan, so here I am!”

“Well, no one can say you aren’t dedicated. How is it going? Any breakthroughs?”

“Ana, you have no idea,” He says. “It’s like night and day. He took Mom out to lunch yesterday afternoon and talked to her, I mean, really talked to her, for like… hours. He even turned his cell phone off to make sure they weren’t interrupted by work and he NEVER does that. It went so well that he’s going over to our parents’ house for dinner tonight. Mom is going to let him see Mia.”

“Wow, that’s great! Has he decided whether or not he’s going to give therapy a try?” I ask.

“I was hoping you would be able to answer that…”

“Oh, I don’t know… He hasn’t called me all week,” I admit.

“Really? Well, I know mom gave him the name of someone she knows is good, but I don’t know if he’s done anything with it,” He replies.

“And what about… Elena?” I ask, hesitating for a second before I manage to say her name. I’m not really sure if I’m ready to hear news about her yet.

“I haven’t seen her,” He says. “I’ve been with him pretty much around the clock for the past three days and she hasn’t come up at all, but I don’t know how regularly he was in contact with her before. Trust me though, Ana, if I do see her or find out they’re still talking, I’ll put a stop to it. He may need therapy to work through the issues that has him so attached to her in the first place, but there is no therapy needed for me to physically remove her from his life.”

“No, just a scalpel,” I quip.

“Good thing my Mom’s a surgeon,” He replies, and the quick response makes me giggle. Elliot’s only been gone a few days but I already miss him. We’ve really needed some good laughs around here and that’s always something you can count on him for.

“I’m glad to here it’s going well,” I tell him as I hear Kate coming down the stairs. “Do you want to talk to your girlfriend?”

“I thought I already was!” He says. “Isn’t that why you’ve been living in my house for the last two years?”

“No, I’m here for Kate. I really have to thank you, Elliot. Ever since you left, the two of us have gotten really close.”

“I knew it,” He sighs. “I’m only gone three days and she’s already moved on to greener pastures.”

I laugh and wish him luck on his run before handing Kate the phone and hurrying over to the whistling kettle on the stove. I pour a cup of tea for the both of us and cut two slices of the banana bread I made a couple nights ago while Kate paces around the kitchen recounting every detail of the thirteen hours of her life that have occurred since she last spoke to Elliot. When she finally hangs up and finishes her breakfast, we head out for campus and make our way to the gym.

Heeding my own advice from Worcester mountain, I decide to add some resistance and weight training into my morning workout routine, which I feel is both a mistake and more necessary than I realized because, once my workout is finished and I’m showered and heading out for my meeting with Dr. Ralston, I can already feel how sore my muscles are. I wince slightly as I take the steps up to his office and subtly try and stretch out a little before reaching out and knocking gently on his door.

“Come in,” I hear him say through the door, and I step inside and take a seat across from him, politely declining the danishes he has to offer me this time. I swear it feels as though he’s trying to fatten me up.

“Well, I finished your novel this weekend,” He says. “I started again from the beginning and read it straight through.”

“And…” I begin cautiously. “What did you think?”

“I thought it was…” He pauses, frowning slightly, and I feel a deep pang of concern as my mind begins racing through the ending, trying to guess at what it is that he isn’t connecting with. But then his frown changes into a mischievous kind of smile and he looks up at me with a kind of twinkle in his eyes. “I thought it was wonderful,” He says.

“Really?”

“It was sheer perfection, Anastasia. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine a better ending. I have to say, I was surprised though. I thought you were caught up in the idea of giving Isaiah a happy ending. I found the direction you chose was more bittersweet and a little inconclusive, rather than what I would think of as happy.

“Yeah… I think as I was writing it, I realized that this isn’t an ending for Isaiah. It’s a beginning,” I tell him. “He finally gets to close that chapter of his life, and he gets to move on. He’s not stuck anymore. That’s the point, I think. It’s not about his happily ever after, it’s about finally being in a place where he can look forward to tomorrow again.”

“Brilliant,” He says. “Truly, Anastasia, I can’t think of a comparison to make to how beautifully you’ve dealt with depression in this piece. It’s outstanding work. The subtlety of just using the ability to hope again as an ending… magnificent. I have a feeling this book will be held in the highest esteem for what you’ve accomplished here. You’re work is going to help people, Anastasia.”

“So you think it’s publishable?” I ask.

“No, I know it’s publishable. I’m seeing New York Times best seller lists, Oprah’s Book Club… this is going to be big.”

“So what do I do now?” I ask.

“Well, we’ll need to get you an intellectual property lawyer to help protect you and then we’ll find you an editor and an agent. I have some contacts through Random House that I’d be more than happy to set you up with if you’re interested.”

“Absolutely, thank you!” I tell him.

“Then I’ll get started immediately. I know you’re here on scholarship so I took the liberty of collecting a list of names of some people in the graduate program over in the law school. Each of them come highly recommended by their professors and they can help you navigate your way through the copyright process for little or no charge. Generally a professional editor is fairly expensive, but I do have an editing class beginning during the summer session, andm if you’d agree and you made sure to get all the legal ends wrapped up before the beginning of the term, I’d be happy to make your novel the class project.”

“Really? Thank-you, Dr. Ralston, I don’t know what to say.”

“Just don’t forget about me when you’re a bestselling author and I ask you to come lecture for me in the future,” He says with a wink.

“Of course, anything. Thank-you again.”

“Do you have a title in mind?” He asks, and I bite down on my lip as I try and decide how to respond. I haven’t fully committed to anything yet… but I always do seem to come back to the same idea…

“I was thinking, and this is just an idea, but maybe, Escaping Neverland?”

“Okay…” He says pensively. “What is it that draws you to that title?”

“He’s a lost boy,” I tell him. “Stuck. Never able to move forward until he finds his way back.”

“Interesting,” He says thoughtfully. “Escaping Neverland. Yes, I think I like it. So, here’s what we’ll do. Let me know once you’ve got the go ahead from your lawyer and I’ll make enough copies of the manuscript to pass out to my students. When you return for the fall semester, we’ll work on getting you an agent and hopefully a signed deal by the time you graduate.”

“That sounds really, really great. I’ll get on it, I promise,” I tell him. He reaches out to shake my hand and I get up from my chair, beaming and thanking him again, several times as I have a hard time being coherent through my elation. When I leave Dr. Ralston’s office, I look up and down the hallway and when I’m sure no one is going to catch me, I take just a second to do a quick happy dance, ignoring the still present soreness in my muscles.

Dr. Thomas Ralston thinks that my book is important. Just that alone is worth more to me than words can describe.

As I leave the English building for my shift at the library, I reach into my bag for my phone to call Luke. When he doesn’t answer, I frown and then type out a text instead.

I just left Dr. Ralston’s office. He liked the ending! He said he thinks my book is important and is definitely publishable. Can you believe it? I’m freaking out. Call me when you get a chance! I want to know how your move went!

When I get off work that night, Kate is finishing up some last minute corrections for the paper so, rather than wait for her, I decide I’ll just walk the mile home. Luke hasn’t responded to the text that I sent him over four hours ago and it’s starting to irritate me. If he wasn’t interested in trying to stay friends, why did he bother with that big show at the coffee shop before he left?

I roll my eyes and plug in my headphones as I start off towards the street that leads to my house, but for some reason, once I’m a few blocks off campus, I begin to get an uneasy feeling that someone is watching me. It causes an instantaneous reaction of panic because of my past experience with Kate’s stalker so, as quickly as I can, while still trying to remain inconspicuous, I reach down into my bag and begin fumbling around for the pepper spray Luke made me swear I would keep on me at all times.

When I find it, I grip tightly to the cold metal tube and then slowly turn around to look behind me. There is someone following me, watching me a little too closely for it not to be purposeful, but it isn’t a stranger. It’s the Prescott woman Luke introduced me to on Monday. I sigh with relief but then feel a small pang of annoyance. For how much Harvard’s Head of Security, or whatever his title is, doesn’t want his staff getting too close to students, you’d think they’d have less freedom for such specialized attention.

“Ana!” She says, smiling as she quickens her pace to catch up to me.

“Hi,” I reply warily. “It’s Prescott right? What are you doing?”

“Well, I saw you leaving campus alone and it’s getting kind of late… Sawyer told me that you’ve had some problems with unwanted attention in the past so I thought I’d see if you wanted me to walk you home?”

“That was my roommate actually, and I’m alright. I really don’t live far so… I’ll see you around.”

“Oh… well, okay. Here, take my card. I kind of promised I’d keep an extra close eye on you so, if you ever need anything or just need someone around for a while, give me a call.”

She hands out the card for me and I take it, thanking her as I slip it into my bag, and then leave her with one last awkward glance before I turn around and continue down the street to my house. When I get home, I drop my things off in my room before I head down to the kitchen, put on water to boil for Mac and Cheese, and then take my phone out to try Luke again.

So Prescott followed me home from school today which was weird. I thought your job was to protect girls on campus from crazy stalkers, not introduce us to them. Guess you’ll just have to come home…

I wait for a response but still… nothing.

Seriously? At this point, I’m going to have to leave the ball in his court. I’m not going to sit around texting him with only the hope that he’ll maybe respond, I’m not his girlfriend. If he wants to be friends, he’s going to have to put some effort into this too.

I set the phone down on the counter and stir the macaroni just as Kate comes in through the back door.

“Comfort food,” She sighs appreciatively, glancing into the pot as she sets her bag down on the kitchen table. “Today was so stressful. I wish everyone was as punctual with their deadlines as you are, Ana.”

“Not everyone has the editor of the paper two doors down and breathing down their necks every day,” I remind her with a laugh. She laughs too and then pulls two bowls down from the cupboard. We each take a serving from the pot and settle down at the kitchen table.

“Dr. Ralston liked the ending of my book,” I tell her. “He’s going to help me try and get it published. He even offered to have one of his summer classes edit my book for free as a class project.”

“That’s awesome! I told you it was really good, Ana. And to have the head of the English department at Harvard offering you personal help to get published? He must really like your work.” She smiles at me.

“Yeah, it’s incredible. He’s such an amazing writer himself, he’s accomplished so much… to have his support is just amazing,” I tell her. “Oh, he gave me a list of people over at the law school today to help me through the copyright process. He said they can do it for little to no charge.”

I hold the list out for her and she scans it for a moment and then her eyes widen.

“Ana, have you looked at this list?” She asks, through a mouthful of macaroni.

“No, why?”

“So you didn’t notice Astor Harrington is on here?”

“Really? He’s that much older than we are?”

“Well, he was junior when we were freshman, so he’s probably in his first year at Harvard Law.”

“A junior? Are you sure?”

“You went to his house, Ana. You know that freshman have to live in the dorms. And if that wasn’t enough to tip you off then the ungodly amount of alcohol at that party should have been. What did you think the alcohol fairy just dropped it all off as a gift for all the underage drinkers of the world?”

“No, but don’t act like you couldn’t get alcohol before you turned 21. Christian had alcohol all the time. There was champagne delivered to us in the hotel room we stayed in over Valentine’s Day and we were nineteen. I just assumed laws didn’t apply to rich people,” I shrug. I take a bite of my macaroni, waiting for her to respond, but she doesn’t. When I look back up at her, she’s looking at me in a weird kind of way that I can’t quite read.

“What?” I ask.

“Nothing,” She says quickly. “It’s just, it’s been almost two years and I’ve never heard you talk about when you and Christian were together and happy. You’re really doing better, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I am,” I tell her.

“Good. Elliot’s really grateful that you kind of stepped in to help with Christian. He told me this morning that ever since Christian talked to you, he’s really been motivated to try and work through this stuff. I even read a few days ago that he made a donation to Grace and Carrick’s foundation to try and break the ice with them.”

“Yeah, they’re apparently having dinner tonight as a family.”

“Have you spoken to Christian since Sunday?”

“No, he hasn’t called.”

“But you would answer the phone if he did?” She asks.

“Yeah, I think so. Elliot’s right and Christian needs a support system if he’s really going to try and get some help and I think I’m finally in a place where I can be a part of the team.”

“I’m glad. You know, it was kind of hard for me when you were shutting him out. I mean, I support you and I’ll always have your back, no matter what… but Christian did a lot for me our freshman year. He’s the reason I have Elliot, he took care of me, watched out for me, even fought off an armed crazy person for me… Not to mention, he deflowered my best friend which I had been waiting for for years!” She says in an over dramatic tone that cuts off into a laugh. I laugh too but before Kate can continue with her point, we’re interrupted by the phone ringing on the wall. Kate looks over her shoulder at the phone and then back at me.

“Do you want to get that?” She asks, sweetly. I roll my eyes and get up from the table, but again, when I look down at the caller ID, I see Elliot’s name, not Christian’s.

“It’s your boyfriend,” I say, handing the phone out for her. She frowns for a second but gets up from the table to take the receiver out of my hand.

“Why is he calling me on this phone?” She wonders aloud. “He’s so weird about the house phone… Hello? Hi. Eating dinner with Ana. Macaroni and Cheese. What are you doing? Yeah, how’d that go? Okay… What? In Seattle? What did you say?”

I look up at her when I hear her tone change from pleasant to worried in an instant. Dread courses through me as my mind immediately races through the worst case scenarios. Maybe Elena showed up today…

Kate walks out of the room to finish her conversation with Elliot so I gather up the dishes from the table and begin washing them in the sink. When I’ve cleaned up dinner and even gone the extra mile to make sure the kitchen and dining room are spotless, Kate still hasn’t come back down stairs to tell me about her conversation with Elliot, so I move into the living room and flip through the DVR for last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Eventually Kate comes in and plops down onto the couch next to me, resting her head on my shoulder. I pause the TV and shift so that she has to sit up straight and look at me.

“We can go back to hating Christian now,” She mopes.

“What happened?” I ask, nervously.

“He offered Elliot a job.”

“What?”

“Apparently, his company is getting too big for the building they’re in now so he wants to build this giant skyscraper in Seattle and he owns a construction company so he has the resources, he just needs a head engineer.”

“Wait… isn’t that exactly what Elliot wants to do?” I ask, now feeling confused by her sulking.

“Yeah, but it’s going to keep him in Seattle. Do you know how long it’s going to take to complete this project? Months, a year even. Maybe more.”

“Oh… I’m sorry, Kate,” I tell her.

“Yeah…” She says, and then sighs. “Start the episode over. I need McDreamy in my life to make the pain go away.”

I laugh at her pout but do as she asks, and then wrap a blanket around the both of us as we cuddle into the couch and debate the merits of Dr. Shepard vs. Dr. Sloan.

The next day passes by in a flash as I spend most of the day at school and work, and then the evening trying to get a head start on my homework before the weekend starts. I found a lawyer through the law school today who was willing to help me with the copyright pro-bono, even though I offered to pay him what little I could. Apparently, experience is what’s most valuable to the students at Harvard law, which is perhaps why Dr. Ralston sent me there.

Kate has spent most of the night in her room talking on the phone to Elliot and, because her door is closed and she’s been in there for hours, I’ve done my best to stay as close to my stereo as possible and behind my own closed door.

I wish she would come out, though. I have to admit, I’m feeling a little lonely tonight. Luke still hasn’t called or even texted me back and I’ve just finished responding to a letter from Ray, which always leaves me feeling a little down. I look over at the clock and it’s a little too late to call Carter, who is literally the only other person I can think of to talk to, but as I sit there staring around my room, trying to find something to distract me, I get an idea. I’m not sure if it’s the best time for this, but there is something pressing I need to work out.

I pick up the phone and dial the number I still know by heart and then lie back onto my bed while I listen to the long drawn out ring.

“Grey,” Christian answers abruptly, and the sharpness of his tone takes me off guard.

“Hi,” I manage to breathe out in response.

“Ana?” He asks, and it’s only then, when I hear the immediate change in his tone, that I remember I’d changed my number the summer after we broke up to stop him from calling me, which worked until Elliot found out you could get cheaper internet by bundling in a home phone line. He didn’t know it was me.

“Yeah, how are you?” I ask.

“I’m fine, what’s wrong? What happened?” He replies, the unexpected irritation in his voice replaced with worry.

“Nothing’s happened,” I tell him. “I just… wanted to talk to you.”

“About?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing right now?”

“I’m working.”

“Working? Isn’t it like… eight o’clock your time?” I ask, looking over at the clock on my bedside table and then calculating the time difference in my head.

“Yeah, well… Elliot was over here for a while and, as much as he wants to sit around and talk all night, I still have a company to run. Not that I don’t want to talk to him…” He adds quickly. “I mean, I’m trying, Ana. I’m really trying.”

“I know,” I tell him. “I talked to Elliot and he told me that you took your Mom out to lunch this week and that you had dinner at your parents’ house last night. How did that go?”

“I got to see, Mia,” He says, and even by just the sound of his voice, I can tell that he’s smiling as he says the words. “She’s… so different. She’s grown up… and I missed it.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, feeling a lump grow in my throat as memories of Mia’s elated face each time she was able to wrap her arms around her brother flash through my mind. I know that as hard as this has been for Christian, it’s been just as hard for her. “Did you talk to your, Dad?” I ask.

“I tried, kind of… He wasn’t really very receptive to me being there and he was in his study for most of the night, even when I sat down to talk with Mom. Ana, I don’t know if I can just go back to the way things were with him. He doesn’t seem interested in trying to fix anything. It’s worse than I thought, he hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you, Christian.”

“You didn’t see the way he looked at me when I went over to the house last night. He’s not the same anymore. I don’t know what to do to make this up to him… I don’t know if I can.”

“Have you told him the truth about why you did it?” I ask.

“No,” He responds quickly. “I don’t think that’s the way to fix things with him.”

“I think that’s the only way to fix things with him, Christian. You can’t move forward if you’re still lying to him. If you’re going to really make this up to him, to your mom, to Elliot, and Mia… you’re going to have to own your mistakes. You’re dad is hurt by what happened, and you need to acknowledge that, validate his reasonings for feeling the way he does, and show him that you’re sorry. He loves you, your whole family loves you. I know, just from being around Elliot, how much they miss you and how much they want you around, but you need to show them that you’re prepared for the work. That you’re serious about mending what’s been broken between all of you.”

“You sound like Flynn,” He says quietly.

“Flynn?”

“Oh, uh… yeah. He’s this new psychiatrist I started seeing this week. My mom recommended him to me.”

“You’re in therapy?”

“Yeah, it’s really important to my mom and Elliot so, if it will help show them that I’m sorry and I want to fix this with them, then I’ll do it.”

“I’m proud of you,” I tell him. “I really think it’s important. I’m not going to say that I know anything about your personal life anymore, but when I heard you were having lunch with Elena Lincoln a few weeks ago…”

“I told you, Ana,” He interrupts me. “There’s nothing between us anymore, it’s not like that. She’s moved on, she has someone new. There’s absolutely nothing going on between us, I swear to you.”

“Nothing?” I ask, feeling a slight sting of irritation that is clear in my voice as I continue. “How’s the salon business going these days?”

“That’s just business, Ana.”

“No, that’s a way of her keeping herself in your life. All this time and you still don’t see that she’s just trying to control you, Christian. I mean listen to yourself, you immediately go into justifying your relationship with her. She knows exactly what to do and what to say to you to make you do whatever she wants.”

“She isn’t controlling me, Anastasia,” He says, and I can hear anger growing in his voice too. “I told you, it’s just business.”

“If it’s really just business then why…” I begin, but then stop myself as I realize that the road we’re heading down with this conversation is not a place I want to go right now. “Look,” I begin diplomatically. “I really don’t think we should talk about this right now. Not over the phone and not until we’ve worked through some of the other stuff. You know how I feel about her. I was serious. She’s a deal breaker for me, Christian. But I didn’t call to fight with you. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. So, how are you doing? How was that uh… awards ceremony thing? Executive of the Year. You’re pretty important these days.”

“It’s all nonsense,” He says, irritably. “A giant waste of my time. As if I don’t have enough to do.”

“I don’t know, you’ve gotten a lot of recognition lately. Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, one of New York Times Most Important People Under 25… Star Magazine called you the World’s Most Eligible Bachelor.”

“That’s not a very credible source,” He scoffs. “I think it was that magazine who just ran an article saying I was gay last week.”

“The travesty,” I laugh. “Don’t worry… I’ll write a letter to the editor, set the record straight.”

He chuckles and then we sit in silence for a moment, which is surprisingly comfortable. Just hearing him breathing on the other end of the line seems to give me a sense of relief, though I don’t know exactly from what.

“Speaking of letters…” I say eventually. “I got yours this week.”

“Mine?”

“I didn’t apply for an internship at your company, Christian.”

“Real talent is scouted, Anastasia. A woman of your intelligence and perseverance shouldn’t have to apply for anything.”

“It’s a very generous offer. Is that standard practice or simply because I’ve met the prerequisite of having slept with the owner of the company?”

“I’m always looking for talented individuals, Anastasia, and I reward them accordingly. I’m not interested in hiring people who I don’t think will excel in their position, whether I’ve slept with them or not.”

“What is the position? Your letter was pretty vague.”

“I have an idea for an expansion that I think will be extremely profitable if it is implemented correctly and by the right people. I think you are exactly the right kind of people, Anastasia.”

“I’m tempted, really tempted. I mean, I’d be crazy not to be right? Apparently, paid internships are not really a thing anymore and I want to start taking on as much of the responsibility for my education as possible. Even if some megalomaniac CEO is secretly paying my tuition behind my back.”

“Yeah… Elliot told me you were upset about that. I’m sorry, I just wanted to help.”

“I didn’t ask for your help,” I tell him. “And I really would have preferred you didn’t.”

“It’s nothing, Anastasia. Really, it wasn’t even that much money.”

“No, it’s not nothing to me, Christian. It’s everything to me. It’s my education, it’s my future, it’s my Dad being in Iraq for four years. That’s his sacrifice, something he did for me, and you coming in waiving your money around, doesn’t bring him home, but it does make it pointless for him to be over there, and that makes me feel like shit.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Anastasia. I just wanted to make things easier for you.”

“I know, and I can appreciate the thought behind the gesture… but I don’t want you paying for me to be here. Harvard is mine, completely separate from you. Through all of this heartbreak, that’s been a life preserver for me. I want to keep it mine… So, I have a counter offer for you.”

“A counter offer?”

“Well, since I’m not getting a paid internship anyway… you keep my salary, you keep the housing and living expenses as a way for me to start to pay off what you gave to the school, and I’ll come work at GEH this summer.”

“That’s some counter offer,” He says.

“Do you accept?”

“That’s not the way I operate, Anastasia. You’re selling yourself short, and you should never settle for less than what you deserve. How about, you keep $9.50 an hour with an option for performance bonuses, the housing and the living stipend, and I throw in 30% tuition reimbursement at the end of the summer,” He proposes.

“30% is over $13,000, Christian. That’s paying me more,” I argue.

“Well, apparently I’m not a very good negotiator, then. Maybe I should throw in a car?” He ponders allowed. “I’ll need to make sure you can get to work on time.”

“Christian!”

“And a clothing budget…” He continues.

“You keep my salary, no housing, no living stipend, no performance bonuses, no car, no clothing budget, no additional tuition reimbursement.”

“Housing and living stipend are non-negotiable, especially if I’m not going to be paying you.”

“I’ll live with Kate,” I argue.

“Non-negotiable,” He repeats.

“Fine, but only IF you keep it reasonable and you promise you’ll keep everything else to pay off the tuition I owe you, with interest.”

“No interest. 15% tuition reimbursement.”

I groan. “3% interest, no additional tuition reimbursement.”

“Anastasia…”

“That’s it, Christian. That’s my final offer.”

“Fine. Deal. I’ll have my PA send you the paperwork,” He says, then adds triumphantly. “Welcome to GEH, Miss Steele.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 05

Image result for hand on doorknob


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Buisnessweek, April 2nd 2010: Stevies to Take Place Today in New York. Christian Grey, CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings is in New York today is accepting the American Business Award (The Stevie) for Executive of the Year. Over the past two years Mr. Grey has […]


“Where the hell did I put that file?” I snarl to myself as I yank back my comforter in desperation before moving to shuffle frantically through the papers on my desk. The article I had published in The Crimson this last week received quite a bit of feedback from students writing into the editor, so Dr. Ralston has asked me to submit a few more pieces this week. Kate helped me go through the essays I’d prepared so I know which one is going to be picked, but the perfectly edited version I printed out last night is nowhere to be found.

Fortunately, my rare moment of disorganization isn’t all inclusive and I have been able to keep track of my now fully completed manuscript which is held together by a black binder clip in a neat pile on my desk. It’s taken hours and hours of writing, at least one sleepless night, and the near abandonment of all my other school work, but it’s finished, and I’m really proud of it. I gave it to Kate to read yesterday afternoon and she burst into my room in tears while I was sitting at my desk trying to get caught up with my Race in Post War Fiction homework. Now that it’s finished, I really think this novel could be… good, and I have Dr. Ralston’s mentoring to thank for that. I would have never gotten through the ending without his mentoring and if I can believe Kate and what my own instinct tells me, the ending really was perfect for the story.

I smile down at the dedication I’ve written for Dr. Ralston, which I have placed at the beginning of my manuscript so it will be the first thing he reads. I really want him to know how much I appreciate what he’s done for me.

“Ah ha!” I cry triumphantly when I lift a shirt I threw haphazardly on my desk chair the night before and find the manila folder with my article inside resting on the seat. I pick up the file, and the manuscript and put them both in my backpack, then grab a jacket and head out the door.

When I get to the kitchen, Elliot is talking on the phone and I glance at him curiously as I walk around him to grab the orange juice out of the fridge.

“Yes, Mom. Don’t worry, I will,” He says. “Alright, I love you too. Bye.”

“That was your Mom?” I wonder aloud when he hangs up the phone.

“Yeah… why?”

“I don’t know… nothing I guess. I just assumed it would be Christian.”

“I haven’t heard from him today,” Elliot says. “But I didn’t expect to because he’s coming here tonight and he doesn’t know that you’re not going to be here, so I don’t know why he’d call.”

“You didn’t tell him I was leaving?”

“Of course not. He won’t even let my Mother come over to his apartment or his office to see him. Do you really think he would fly to Boston, then drive to Cambridge, and spend an entire weekend away from work just to hang out with me?” Elliot asks.

“Why won’t he let your mom come to his house?” I ask, ignoring the implication of the last part of his sentence.

“It’s because of my Dad,” Elliot says, rubbing his face while he speaks as if he’s trying to wipe away exhaustion. “When he banned him from seeing Mia, Christian tried to get around him by using Mom to see her but Dad was so adamant about keeping Mia away from Christian’s bad influence that Mom said no too. She’s always trying to find a compromise, make everyone happy, so she told Christian if he came over to their house to talk to her and Dad that he could see Mia then, but he refused and now he doesn’t talk to or see either of them. My mom just wants to get him help and he’s not interested so he shut her out.”

“Well, maybe this weekend will change that,” I tell him.

“Yeah, maybe… Or maybe I’m making the same mistake Mom did. If he closes me out too…” He says, his voice cutting off mid-sentence. He sighs and then looks up at me more seriously. “You’re sure you won’t stay?’

“I can’t, Elliot. I have plans.”

“Yeah, alright,” He nods, but I can still hear the disappointment in his voice. I know he thinks I’m the key to making Christian better, but, right now, I think he’s wrong. This all feels very delicate and until he is willing to admit his mistakes and gives therapy a shot, I think it’s best we stay apart. I can’t want this for him and neither can Elliot. If he’s really sorry and he really wants Mia, or his family, or me back in his life, he needs to do some of the work on his own. Part of me feels like any shot of him getting help will be ruined if I give in. Especially because I’m not sure what I would do or what would happen if I saw him again. Elliot is right and Christian does need support, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to help him without giving in and if I’m not, and he hurts me again, I don’t know if I could leave again. It nearly broke me last time and now I know too much about what this side of that decision feels like. I need to know before I get involved with any of Christian’s baggage again, that I’m okay and that I’ll be okay if I come out the other end of this alone.

Just like Isaiah.

“Good Morning!” Kate says brightly as she enters the kitchen. “You ready to go to the gym, Ana?”

“I think I’m skipping it today, actually,” I tell her. “I have an early meeting with Dr. Ralston and I was hoping I would get the chance to talk to Luke beforehand.”

“Really?” She frowns. “Well, I guess if you have to… I’m ready to go if you want a ride to campus.”

“Thanks, Kate.”

She leans over to kiss Elliot good-bye and wishes him a good day at work before we turn to leave the kitchen through the back door and climb into her Mercedes. When we get to school, she heads off towards the fitness center while I make my way to the coffee shop where I know Luke will be waiting for me.

“Hey, Ana,” He greets me when I arrive, and he hands me a cup of coffee ordered precisely the way I like it.

“Thanks,” I say as I take a grateful sip of my latte. “So, are you all set for tonight?”

“I don’t know, Ana…” He says hesitantly.

“What do you mean?” I ask, feeling panicked. He can’t back out now, I need him to go!

“I just think my boss is going to be pissed if we… er… if I go out of town this weekend. I’ve just taken a lot of time off lately and I should probably be here this weekend, you know?”

“You never work on the weekends.”

“Yes I do. You just don’t know because you’re not on campus and I’m really stealthy,” He says, making me smile again despite how hard I try and fight it.

“Is it because I’m a student?” I ask. “Are you not supposed to be my friend or get close to me because I’m technically a client?”

He doesn’t answer but he breaks eye contact and swallows, and I know I’ve hit the mark.

“Luke, you spent the night at my house twice last weekend. How is this any different?”

“I…”

“I’m an adult. You’re adult. What we are or choose to do when you’re not at work is none of your boss’s business. You’re good at your job, that’s all that should matter to him. We’re just friends.”

“I guess…”

“Besides, if he says anything to you, you can just blame it on me. I’m totally fine with that. Tell him I forced you to come.”

“Oh, don’t worry… I will,” He says, and I laugh.

“Perfect! Then, I’ll see you at 6:30?”

“On the dot,” He ruefully concedes.

“Excellent. I’ve really gotta get to this meeting, but I want you to know that I really can’t wait for this weekend. You’re gonna love it, I promise. And, thank-you for coffee.”

“You’re welcome,” He says, and I wave good-bye to him as I head out of the coffee shop and towards the English building.

Crisis averted.

Dr. Ralston has croissants this time when I arrive at his office and he insists I take one as I hold the manilla file out for him across the desk between us. He flips through the articles, nodding as he skims through them and then smiles up at me when he closes the folder and sets it on his desk.

“How’s the novel progressing?” He asks.

“Actually, I have a surprise to you,” I say as I reach into my bag and pull out my manuscript. “It’s finished.”

“Finished?” He says, both surprised and seemingly elated. “Anastasia, that’s wonderful.”

He reaches across the desk to take the manuscript out of my hands and looks down at the dedication on the first page. I can follow his eyes across page as he reads,

To Dr. Thomas Ralston: For making me believe in myself again.

A smile creeps across his lips as he stares down at the page, re-reading the dedication three times before he finally looks back up at me.

“I don’t know what to say,” He tells me. “Thank-you, Anastasia. This means more than you could ever know.”

“No, it’s nothing compared to what you’ve done for me. If it hadn’t been for your lectures or your own line of work, I would have never started writing to begin with.”

“Well, I can’t wait to read what you’ve written,” He says. “I shall make this my sole focus this weekend and we can make an appointment to discuss it next week.”

“Great. Just, send me an email whenever you have a time in mind,” I tell him. He agrees and sends me out of his office with another croissant. I have one class this morning and then a short, three hour shift at the library in the afternoon, so I make it back home around four which gives me a couple hours to take a shower and pack before Luke gets here. I plug in my headphones so I can dance around the room while I gather my things, stuffing my purple suitcase with everything I could possibly need this weekend (and more), and when I’m finished, I heave it onto my bed before heading downstairs to hang out with Kate and Elliot while I wait.

When I get to the kitchen, Kate is just pulling the brisket she’s serving for dinner out of the oven to pour some broth over the top and cover before cooking for the remaining amount of time. It already smells delicious and makes me wish I was staying for dinner… almost.

“What are you doing this weekend anyway?” Elliot asks when I sit down at the table next to him.

“Luke and I going on an adventure,” I tell him, purposefully remaining coy since I know he will be spending the weekend with Christian.

“You mean to tell me the one weekend we can’t hang out together you’re actually going to be cool?” He jokes.

“I’m always cool,” I say defensively. “You’re just too busy watching Sports Center all the time to notice.”

“The Mariners are having a bad season, Ana,” He snaps. “If I don’t support them who will?”

Kate and I both laugh as she closes the oven and joins us at the table. “What are we doing with Christian once he gets here?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I thought we could drink some beers, play some HALO, talk about our deep rooted issues and how making nice with dad and seeing a therapist could make life better for everyone. You know, man shit,” Elliot replies.

“We’re going to have to go to the store then,” Kate says. “We’re out of beer and little miss alcoholic over here finished the rest of the wine last weekend.”

“Breaking Bad was stressful!” I reply defensively. “People got murdered and two planes crashed into each other and killed everyone. You try getting through all that without polishing off a bottle or two.”

“You started watching Breaking Bad without me!” Elliot exclaims.

“Was I not supposed to?”

“Anastasia Steele,” He says with exaggerated disappointment, and then he reaches out to face push me away, “You’re dead to me.”

I laugh and am going to argue my case and blame it all on Luke when a flash of headlights shines through the kitchen window and Kate looks over our shoulders with a confused expression on her face.

“Who is that?” She asks, peering out at a black SUV that has just pulled up to the curb in front of the house. It’s strange, because we have parking in the back. No one ever pulls up in the front of our house…

We both stare out the window, waiting to see if someone is going to get out of the car, but when the driver’s side door opens, I don’t recognize the man that gets out. Kate must though because I can feel her stiffen next to me.

Shit!” She whispers, and I raise an eyebrow at her before turning back and staring at the man, who looks as though he could be a younger version of my father. He’s in his late thirties, well built and has his hair trimmed into a short, military-style buzz cut. He walks around to the back of the car and opens the door, and the moment I see the achingly familiar coif of messy, bronze hair on the man who steps out onto the sidewalk, I’m seized with panic.

“You said he wasn’t supposed to be here until 7:30!” I shriek to Kate.

“He wasn’t, I swear,” She replies innocently, and I can tell by the genuine look of shock in her eyes that she’s telling the truth.

“Fuck!” I hiss, and then sprint out of the kitchen and up the stairs, slamming my bedroom door behind me. Shit, what am I going to do? I can’t just stay locked up in my room, Luke is going to be here any minute… Fuck! Luke!

Would Christian say anything to him? Of course he will. I have a bag packed for the weekend… I know what that looks like and I can remember the fights Christian used to get into with Carter when we were dating at the beginning of my freshman year. I don’t want Luke to walk into a powder keg without warning. He might just light the match to set him off and that’s not how I want to start this weekend.

My heart is thundering as I reach down for my phone to text Luke and ask where he is. I hit send just as I hear the front door open.

“Christian!” Kate exclaims with an air of surprise. “You’re early.”

“Yeah, I was able to get out of the ceremony earlier than I thought,” Christian replies. He sounds tired, his tone completely flat, but hearing the sound of his voice for the first time since I left him standing in the same living room where he is now almost two years ago, hits me like a punch to the stomach, leaving me winded. He’s here. He’s really here. Just down the stairs...

Be strong, Ana.

“Welcome back, Bro!” Elliot says excitedly. I hear a muffled clap and I’m not sure whether or not he’s hugged him or if it’s just a handshake, but after a brief pause I can hear Elliot’s voice again. “Taylor, how’s it going, man?”

“I’m very well, Mr. Grey,” A deep, unfamiliar voice responds.

“Great. And seriously, man, you can call me Elliot,” He says, but he doesn’t get a response. “Well, the guest room is just up the stairs, first door on the left, if you want to set Christian’s bags down.”

“Yes, sir,” Taylor says again and, a second later, I hear footsteps coming up the stairs.

“Is Ana upstairs?” Christian asks.

“Yes…” Kate responds hesitantly. “But, Christian… She doesn’t want you to go up there.”

“At all? What is she just going to avoid me all weekend?

“She isn’t going to be here this weekend,” Elliot says.

“Where is she going?”

“She’s going out of town with a friend,” Kate says.

“Which friend?’

“His na-“

HIS!” Christian exclaims, cutting Kate off.

“Yes, his name is Luke Sawyer and… he’s a really great guy,” She continues. There is a long beat of silence and then Christian speaks again in a low, controlled tone.

“Where are they going?”

“I don’t know… Somewhere in Vermont,” Kate answers.

“Vermont?” Christian asks, and beneath the carefully constructed air of control, I hear the smallest hint of pain break through his voice. I don’t know if Kate simply nods or if no one says anything at all, but there is another long moment of silence and then Christian speaks again.

“He’s fucking her,” He says quietly, and even though I have a hard time distinguishing the words, I can very clearly hear a note of anger in his tone.

“No,” Elliot says quickly. “No, they’re just friends.”

“Cut the shit, I know what Vermont means. That was our… where we… I can’t believe she would do this,” He says, his voice getting louder as the angry timber escalates.

“It’s really not like that,” Kate insists, but she stops when another set of car lights pulls up to the house, in the back this time, and I cross the room to see Luke parking in the driveway. Shit, he probably didn’t read my text…

“That’s him. Please, just be nice to him or don’t say anything at all,” I hear Kate pleading through the door behind me. Christian doesn’t respond and as I watch Luke get out of the car and make his way to the back door, I feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest. I knock on my window and wave my arms around to try and get his attention and stop him, but he doesn’t look up. He opens the back door and walks into the kitchen.

“Hey, Luke!” I hear Elliot greet him a few seconds later.

“Hey, is A-na ready?” Luke asks, elongating my name in a confused kind of way when, presumably, he sees Christian standing with Kate and Elliot.

“Yeah, I think so,” Elliot says. “Um, this is my brother, Christian Grey. Christian, this is Luke Sawyer, he works with campus security at Harvard.”

“Uh… Pleasure to meet you, sir,” Luke says, but there isn’t a reply. After a long beat of silence that even feels awkward from up the stairs and behind a closed door, Luke speaks again. “Right, well… um, is Ana upstairs?”

“Yeah, go on up,” Kate says.

“Okay,” He replies, and I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. He must run into the Taylor guy who brought Christian’s bag up to the guest room on his way up because I hear a muffled, “Oh, excuse me, Sir“, and then three soft knocks. I open the door and pull him inside, quickly shutting the door behind him, and then leaning up against it like I expect a bull to come barreling through.

“So that’s Christian Grey, huh?” Luke asks, and when I glare at him, he sighs, and then corrects himself. “That’s you-know-who?”

“I guess so,” I tell him.

“He’s different than I imagined,” He says. “Younger, and definitely different looking. Are you sure you want to go out of town? I think most women would kill to spend a weekend with a guy that looks like that.”

“Awh, I’ll be just fine getting to look at you,” I say sweetly, trying to ignore the images of Christian my brain conjures, and he rolls his eyes before picking up my suitcase and lugging it back to the door.

“Where are they at?” I ask. “Kate, Elliot, and… you know.”

“In the kitchen.”

“Will you go first and pull the car around front so I can go out the front door?”

“Seriously?”

“Please, Luke? I really don’t want to see him.”

“Alright,” He says, rolling his eyes as he leaves the room. I hurry back to my window and wait for him to get in the car before I grab my coat and my bag and sneak down the stairs as quietly as I can. I’ll have to time this perfectly to get through the living room quickly enough for him not to see me from the kitchen.

“I just don’t understand why she won’t even talk to me,” I hear Christian say as I creep stealthily along the wall the separates the stairs from the kitchen.

“Yes you do, Christian,” Kate says.

“I can’t apologize to her or do anything to make it up to her if she won’t even speak to me, Kate,” He replies in a tight voice.

“I don’t think she wants an apology Christian, I think she wants-“

“Anastasia!” Christian calls out, spotting me as I try to bolt for the door. I freeze with my hand on the knob. I can feel them three of them staring at me, waiting for me to turn around or say something, but besides the sound of his voice saying my name echoing around in my brain, my head is completely empty. I have no response, no words at all, and so I simply take a deep breath, pull open the door, and slip out onto the porch, feeling like a coward. Nope, I’m definitely not ready for this yet.

Luke is idling on the curb just down the walk, so I hurry forward and scramble into the car as quickly as I can, refusing to look back at the house.

“Are you okay?” Luke asks.

“Yes, just go,” I tell him, and he sighs and pulls onto the street.

We’re in New Hampshire by the time the anxiousness from my almost encounter with Christian wears off and I feel normal enough to carry on a conversation with Luke. The conversation is interrupted though when about a third of the way to Montpelier, Luke’s cell phone starts ringing over and over and over again. His phone is resting in the cup holder between us but is facing away from me. All I can see of the name on the screen is Jason Ta-.

“Do you want me to answer it?” I ask, when it goes off for the fourth time.

“No, it’s my boss,” He says, and he takes a deep breath before reaching down to reject the call. He’s staring pensively out the window and I’m not sure what I should say to him. I’ve been so caught up in Christian’s arrival… Maybe I really didn’t understand how serious he was this morning. I don’t want him to get into trouble.

“Is it going to be bad when you get back?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” He shrugs, and when I frown and hang my head, he quickly adds, “Don’t worry about it, Ana. I’ll be okay. I wanted to come, I’m excited for… well, whatever it is you have planned. What are we doing anyway?”

“You just keep driving,” I tell him, and he shakes his head with exasperation before turning on the radio so we have music to listen to for the remainder of the drive.

When we finally get to Montpelier about two hours later, Luke drives straight to the hotel where we’re staying for the night, and, once he’s dropped his things off in his own room, he comes over to my room where we snuggle into each of the full sized beds to watch a movie. I still feel bad for getting him into trouble so I let him pick what movie we watch and he chooses on Inglorious Basterds, even though Some Like it Hot is just about to start on HBO.

It’s a bloody couple of hours and by the end, as I’m watching Hitler get shot in the face over and over again, I’m really just confused. I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t realize the movie wasn’t keeping to a historically accurate story line, or if I’m just really tired.

“So, what did you think?” Luke asks when the credits start to roll.

“I have no idea what we just watched,” I laugh.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was there too much color in this one for you?”

“Far too much,” I tell him, as a smile creeps across my lips, and he rolls his eyes. He rolls off the bed across from me and heads to the door. I tell him what time I want to leave in the morning, wish him pleasant dreams, and, once he leaves, I roll over to turn off the lamp next to my bed. I was worried that once Luke left and I was left alone, I’d feel uneasy from the movie we just watched. I’ve never been good with gore or violence, but as I lie there in the dark, the thing that plagues me most, isn’t the violent movie, it’s the memories of the last time I was in Vermont.

It haunts me more than anything Quentin Tarantino could ever come up with.

The next morning, after a quick fifteen minute drive north, Luke and I are standing at the base of Mount Worcester, staring up at the still snow-capped peak.

“Hiking?” He asks, dubiously.

“Yeah,” I tell him, trying to suppress the queasy feeling the idea of climbing my way to the summit brings.

“Why…?” Luke asks, looking at me as if he thinks I’m crazy.

“Because I’m afraid of heights,” I tell him, and his face changes as if he no longer thinks I’m crazy but now actually knows I’m crazy. “Luke… I’ve been having a hard time the last couple years. I’ve been hanging on to the hurt and anger from things that I can’t change. I’m stuck on a ledge that I can’t get off and it makes me feel helpless, hopeless even. I’m tired of being weak and so I’m here to prove to myself that I can be strong. I’m going to conquer this. I’m not going to be stuck anymore.”

“So, you want me to take you up a 4,000 foot summit, even though you’re afraid of heights, to make you feel better?”

“No, I want you to come with me while I prove to myself that not even a 4,000 foot summit is enough to defeat me.”

He looks between me and the trail head for a minute, and I wonder if he’s debating what he’s going to do, but eventually he sighs and gestures me forward.

“Well then, lead the way, Steele,” He says.

I smile back at him, zip up my coat the rest of the way, and take my first steps up the mountain.

It’s easy at first, the ground is hard and not too steep. We make the first hour or so of our trek at a fairly quick pace, keeping up an easy conversation as we navigate the trail through the trees. Then, we hit a wall of rock that shoots up into the air at a steep angle. There is no more path. There is only up.

“You ready for this?” Luke asks, as he glances uneasily at the bluff in front of us.

“I didn’t come this far to turn around now,” I tell him.

We examine the wall to plan out our root of ascent, noting the easiest places to find foot and hand holds, and which areas seem the steadiest. Luke goes first, testing each hold carefully as he navigates his way to the ledge fifty feet above us and I watch him carefully, taking note of what seems easy and the things he seems to struggle with so that I can be best prepared. When he heaves himself over the top, I take a long pull from my water bottle and then put it in my backpack before grabbing hold of the first crevice I can find and using it to pull myself up the rock face. It’s not as easy as he made it seem. Some places are difficult to hold onto while I try and find the next place to grab, and because my limbs aren’t as long as his, I have trouble reaching a few of the different holds. It takes me double his time to reach the top and when he finally helps haul me onto ledge, I feel exhausted. Perhaps I need to add some weights into my workout routine and not just cardio.

“Here,” Luke says as he pulls my water bottle out of my backpack for me. “Take a drink and we’ll find a way back down.”

“Back down? We’re not going back down, we’re not even half way up yet,” I argue.

“I didn’t realize this would be this difficult of a climb. We don’t have the equipment for this, Ana, and once we get a little higher, we’re going to start running into snow.”

“I picked this mountain because it wasn’t easy,” I tell him. “I’m trying to conquer a fear here, not find a new hobby.”

“I don’t know, Ana…”

“Then, wait here,” I tell him. “I’m going to the top, with or without you.”

I put the bottle away, stand up from the rock where I’m sitting, and give him a purposeful look before I head off down the trail again. I hear his low, agitated groan behind me and then a few seconds later, he’s at my side.

The trail becomes much more difficult the higher we climb. This isn’t ideal climbing season and most of the path is slick with mud or washed out from run off down the mountain. We wind through the tight switchbacks, and it’s often slow going as we often struggle to maintain our balance inching our way up the steep trail. Luke was right and after a couple hours, the ground around us is no longer just wet, but covered in a shiny blanket of melting snow. I slip several times on ice concealed beneath the snow but it doesn’t deter me. In fact, the more difficult the trail becomes, the more exhilarated I feel… that is until we reach the second cliff face that we have to scale.

If I thought the last wall was high, I don’t know what word I would use to describe the bluff before us now, and rather than rising into the air at a steep angle, this one is nearly vertical. The foot and hand holds are harder to distinguish, seemingly less frequent, and some are caked with thick, white snow. My natural reaction to panic grips me just looking at the thing but surprisingly, it’s that fear that drives me forward. This is why I’m here.

And I can see the top.

I step forward and grab onto the first hand hold I can find and shove the toe of my boot into a crack to begin the climb.

“Ana, are you crazy?” Luke exclaims when I take another step up the wall.

“Maybe,” I reply. I continue upward, slowly but surely, concentrating not on the ever growing sense of dread I feel building in my stomach, but solely on the task at hand. I don’t look down at Luke, but he’s radiating so much anxiety, I can feel it from here. I can hear him pacing over the gravel and I wonder if he’ll come after me or if he’s more interested in staying on the ground in case I fall. It doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters now is that I reach my goal. I can do this. Fear be damned, I’m strong enough to do this.

I climb on, higher and higher, the anxiety growing strong and stronger the more I press on but I don’t let it have me. I’m single minded: handhold, foothold, handhold, foothold. I reach up and grab a hold of a rock jettisoning out from the mountain face and use it to heave myself upwards but the moment I shift my body weight onto it, it gives out and a large chunk of the granite begins crumbling away to the ground.

The fingers of my other hand lock down onto the sturdy rock they’re gripping to and I instinctively push my body into the wall as sheer terror grips me. Adrenaline courses through my veins as tiny pebbles and dust begin to cloud and fall around me and for one horrible moment, I think I’ve started a rock slide. Tiny, pointed rocks rain down over my fingers clinging to the rock wall, trying to force me to let go, but I fight through the sharp sting and hold on, trembling as I wait for my life to begin flashing before my eyes. I know deep in my gut that I’m about to fall.

“Ana!” Luke yells, and, like an idiot, I look down towards the sound of my name and see him starting to climb up after me. It’s a mistake. I’m much higher than I thought I was and every muscle in my body seizes. I can’t move. I’m frozen here, clinging desperately to the cliff face with trembling fingers and no rope.

“I’m coming, Ana,” Luke tells me. “Don’t move!”

My breathing is too quick and shallow, I know I need to calm down or I’m going to hyperventilate and then pass out and fall. I swallow hard and force myself to take a deep breath, and then another and another until I’ve gained control of myself.

I’m alright.

I’m not hurt.

I’m fine.

Get a grip on yourself, Ana… you’re almost there.

I swallow the tangible lump the fear has left in my throat and reach up again, testing the hand holds now before I shift my weight onto them. Luke calls out for me to stop but I ignore him. Once again the only thing that exists is the mountain beneath my hands, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle that I’m determined to overcome. The higher I climb, the most separated I seem to become from the fear and the faster I move.

Finally, I run out of wall to grab onto and I’m able to reach over the ledge to the top. I dig my fingers into the earth and use my legs to help pull myself up and over the edge. I crawl over the ground until my entire body has reached the flat surface and once it hits me that I’ve made it, I let out a jubilant gasp and my heavy panting becomes laced with laughter.

Scrambling as quickly as I can to my feet, I look around the wide, sweeping valley below and down at the base of the mountain, which is littered with pine trees. The view is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never seen something so incredible and even though I know I’m only a few inches away from a very steep drop that is extremely high in the air, every trace of fear inside of me has vanished. I’ve left it behind. Never in my life have I felt more accomplished than I do right now, graduating valedictorian of my High School, getting into Harvard, finishing my novel… nothing compares to this.

I faced something I knew had the potential to break me and I didn’t cower away. My entire life this fear has controlled me, limited the things I was able to do, but I overcame it and I did it all on my own. Because I was able to do this alone, I know now, there isn’t anything that can hold me back. No matter what, I’ll make it out the other end. If I could do this, I can do anything, and I’ll be okay.

“Ana, are you okay?” Luke asks when he hauls himself over the ledge. He too gets quickly to his feet but rather than take in the reward of the spectacular view around us, he’s immediately at my side, examining me for any signs of distress.

“Okay?” I ask with a laugh. “Luke, I’ve never been so great in my life. Look at this! We did this, we got here!”

“You’re literally insane,” He says when he realizes that I’m not hurt at all, and although his tone is disapproving, he can’t keep the smile off his face.

“Thank-you for coming with me,” I tell him. “Out of anyone, I’m glad it’s you I get to share this with.”

“Ana…”

“No, seriously, Luke. You need to know how much you mean to me. I couldn’t have made it through this… through any of this, without you.”

“You really don’t have to thank me, Ana. It’s funny because when I took this job… on campus, I never imagined I’d get to meet my best friend,” He says, as I step forward into his arms and hug tightly onto him. “I’d do anything for you, Ana.”

I pull away and we stare out at the view for a little while longer, basking in the euphoria of our success until the cold wind starts to seep its way through our coats and we’re both ready to head back to the car.

“Now… how do we get down?” Luke asks, looking dubiously over the edge and I laugh and lead him down the sloping trail over the backside of the mountain that will take us back to the base.

We spend one more night in our hotel room and then start the drive back to Cambridge early Sunday afternoon. The elation of yesterday’s success still hasn’t worn off and as we tell stories and sing along to the radio, I just can’t keep the smile off my face.

When we pull into town though and begrudgingly decide to turn our cell phones back on, the real world seeps in again to burst our perfect, happy bubble.

Luke has nine missed calls from his boss and three not so very nice voicemails waiting for him. As for me, I can’t tell if the complete lack of communication from either Kate or Elliot is a good sign or a bad one. I also am not entirely sure Christian has left for Seattle yet so, as we wind our way through the streets closer to my house, I call Kate to make sure.

“Hey,” She answers after only a few rings.

“Hi, we’re just around the corner. Is Christian still there?” I ask.

“No, he left pretty much right after you did.”

“He didn’t stay at all?”

“Nope. So, there’s plenty of brisket left over if you and Luke are hungry,” She offers.

“Oh no, poor Elliot. We’re driving up the street now. I’ll see you in a minute,” I tell her and then hang up the phone. I feel a horrible sense of guilt as we pull up into the alley behind the house. I know how hopeful Elliot had been about this weekend and I can’t help but feel a little responsible. Maybe he’s right… maybe he can’t do this on his own.

Luke helps me unload my suitcase from the back of the car, but tells me he needs to get back home and deal with his boss before he loses his job.

“It’s really that serious?” I ask remorsefully.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” He says.

“I’m sorry if I got you in trouble,” I tell him. “I really I hope I didn’t mess things up for you.”

“Hey,” He says, reaching out and wrapping me in a hug. “It’s okay, really. I had a great weekend. Thank-you.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” I ask.

“I hope so,” He tells me.

I give him a small, half-smile as he climbs into the car and backs out of the driveway, and then I drag my suitcase after me into the house. The first thing I see is Kate putting a salad together in the kitchen while Elliot sits at the table, looking over some files and talking on his cell phone.

“Hey, how is he?” I ask, coming to stand next to Kate.

“Not good,” She frowns. “That’s his boss on the phone. He’s quitting his job.”

“What?” I ask, but her only response is a nod. I turn to look at Elliot who is silent now, just nodding along with whatever the person on the other end is saying. I take a carrot out of the bag next to Kate’s cutting board and nibble on it while I wait for him to finish with his conversation.

“Okay, thanks, and I’m really sorry about this Craig,” Elliot says. “Alright. Good-bye.” He sets down the phone and closes the folder on the table in front of him, letting out a sigh that feels as if it’s laden with all the problems of the world.

“Hey,” I say, as I walk over and take a seat next to him. “I’m sorry about your weekend.”

“Me too,” He says.

“Why did you quit your job?”

“I’m going back to Seattle for a while. You two only have a little over a month of school left so I figured if I go now, it won’t feel like I’m gone that long and I’ll have the whole summer to try and get through to him before we have to come back.”

“You think he’ll be more receptive in Seattle?”

“I’m hoping persistence will help,” Elliot says. “I’ll be there everyday if I have to. If Andrea is going to keep me out of his office, she better be a hell of a lot stronger than her 120 lb frame suggests, and I’ll go toe to toe with Taylor if that’s what it will take to get into his apartment.”

“What’s your plan? What are you going to do?'”

“I talked to my mom and I’m going to move in with them for the summer. She has access to a lot of resources that she just hasn’t been able to get to him. Hopefully, that’s where I come in. We’re going to go at this united, like a family, instead of coming at him from all different directions.”

“Even your Dad?” I ask, but he doesn’t say anything. I reach out and place my hand over his reassuringly and we sit there quietly for a minute until the silence is interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone on the wall. I turn around, watching Kate set her knife down and moving to answer it, but Elliot stops her.

“I’ve got it,” He says, and he gets to his feet and drags himself over to the phone. “Hello? Hi, Christian. No, she’s not back yet, she…”

“Elliot,” I interrupt him, and he stops. I get up from my chair and  hold my hand out for the phone.

“Oh… uh, wait. Here she is,” Elliot stutters and then calls away from the phone as if I’m not already standing in front of him, “Ana, the phone is for you.”

I roll my eyes and grab the phone out of his hand, and then take a deep steadying breath. You can do this, Steele.

“Hello?” I answer.

“Ana…?” Christian replies, and his voice is just barely louder than a whisper. He sounds like he doesn’t really believe it’s me.

“Hi, Christian.”

“Ana… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Are you?” I ask.

“Of course I am. Truly, deeply, profoundly sorry. I can’t tell you what it’s been like without you. I can’t… I can’t… I’ll do anything, just please, tell me what you want from me and I’ll do it. Anything. It’s yours. Just tell me what to do.”

“What are you sorry for, Christian?”

“Everything. I didn’t mean to hurt you and I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever I can to make that up to you if you’ll let me. Just please… I can get on a flight tonight, I can bring you out here, we could go somewhere else, somewhere neutral, wherever you want to go. The world is yours. Just, please, meet with me and talk to me. Tell me what you want me to do.”

Everything is not an answer, Christian,” I tell him. “When you say you’re sorry for everything you might as well say nothing, because that doesn’t tell me that you know exactly what you did wrong. Look, what’s happened has happened, and neither one of us can change it. I still haven’t forgiven you for what you did, I don’t know what it will take for that to happen, or if I even can forgive you, but what’s worse than all of the lies and betrayal, is what you’ve done since all of that happened. You let your family fall apart, you turned your back on people who love you and want to help you. You’ve been selfish and it kills me to see what it’s doing to Elliot. I can’t even imagine what this is like for your mother. Why would I let you back into my life when you’ve proved to me that you’re willing to hurt the people who love you the most?”

“I didn’t mean to. Ana, I’m sorry…”

“You did though, Christian, and quite frankly, your apology seems pretty empty compared to your actions. If you want to make this right with me, you need to start by making this right with your family, and that includes your dad.”

“Ana…”

“You said you would do anything, that’s what I want. Until you make this right with your family and until you can give me a real answer as to what you’re sorry for, I can’t be in your life.”

“Ana, my dad-“

“Is hurt. Your dad is hurt, Christian. You lied to him, you damaged his career, you went behind his back to start your company, and you tore his family apart.”

“He’s the one who has torn us apart. He’s the one keeping Mia from me, he turned Mom against me,” Christian argues.

“Look, if you’re not sorry, then that’s fine. I don’t need you to make excuses to me. We’re not a couple anymore, you don’t owe me anything. You do what you want to do, but if you want me to be any part of your life, this is what you have to do.”

He’s quiet for a minute and while I wait for his response, I trace my finger over the texture of the wall.

“If I do this…” He says finally. “If I try and make this up to my family, you’ll come back to me?”

“If you do this, we can talk about what happened. If you make it right with your family, I’ll give you the chance to show me that you’re sorry and I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’m not going to make any promises beyond that.”

“Can I see you?”

“Not yet,” I tell him. “And, just to be clear up front. As long as you continue to have anything to do with Elena Lincoln, you have zero percent chance of having ANY kind of relationship with me.”

“It’s just business,” He says quickly. “Really, Ana, there’s nothing between us. I swear to you. I haven’t had anyone. I don’t want anyone. It’s only you.”

“I don’t care what it is, Christian, business or not. As long as you let her in, you’re keeping me out.”

“Okay. I’ll… um, I’ll work on it.”

“Good. And… let Elliot help you. That’s all he wants.”

“I know.”

“I’ve got to go.”

“No! Not yet, just…”

“Make it right, Christian,” I tell him, and then I hand the phone out for Elliot who takes it eagerly.

“Hey, Christian,” He answers, and seconds later his face breaks into a smile. “Yeah, great! I’ll be there in a few days. See you soon. Bye.”

He hangs up the phone, and then stares at it, looking lost and incredulous, like he doesn’t believe what just happened. Then he turns to me, lost for words.

“United front,” I tell him. “Like a family.”

“Anastasia Steele!” He exclaims, wrapping me in his arms, lifting me off the floor, and spinning me around the kitchen. “Thank-you. I can’t even… just… thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!”

“It’s alright, Elliot,” I tell him, and he sets me down and kisses me hard on the forehead before leaping out of the kitchen and running up the stairs, practically whooping with elation.

I turn to Kate who is looking at me with a knowing kind of smile and I shake my head with exasperation.

“I’ll set the table,” I tell her, and she nods, but then wraps me in a hug before I can move.

“Thank-you, Ana. I don’t know if I can express how much I know this means to Elliot.”

“It really isn’t that big of a deal,” I tell her, but she shakes her head.

“It’s everything,” She says, and then she kisses me on the cheek before releasing me so we can set the table for dinner.

Next Chapter

Chapter 04

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“Thanks for the ride, Ana!” Kate says, leaning over to hug me as Elliot climbs out of the car to grab their luggage from the trunk. It’s Friday and they’re off to Seattle for the now Christian-less family dinner.

“See you later, Ana!” Elliot says, waving at me through the window. “Don’t burn the house down or get murdered.”

“Thanks, Elliot,” I reply, trying not to laugh as I shake my head.

“You’re sure you’ll be okay on your own all weekend?” Kate asks, and there’s a nervous tension in her voice. For all the progress she’s made over the past few years moving on with her life and rising to the top of her field at Harvard, she’s still uneasy every time she has to leave me alone overnight. I don’t know if there will ever come a time when she doesn’t worry that a new attacker is just around the corner, waiting to get us alone. Just because her stalker was never actually able to physically hurt her, doesn’t mean he hasn’t left scars.

“I’ll be fine! Go! Have fun. Tell Grace happy birthday for me.”

“Okay, I’ll call you later,” She promises before she too exits the car and disappears into the airport. I pull away from the drop off area and head back to campus. The only class I have today is my Advanced Fiction Writing class, but with Dr. Ralston’s blessing, I’m ditching to try and connect with my character so that I can finally get back to work on my book.

I decide to follow through with my idea from earlier in the week and run along the river to try and work through this problem in my head. When I get to campus, I use the locker room in the gym to change into a pair of jogging pants and a loose fitting t-shirt, then put some thought provoking classical music on my iPod, and head out towards the path that runs behind Weld boathouse along the Charles river. Once I’m caught up in the steady rhythm of my feet on the pavement, I do my best to follow Dr. Ralston’s advice and try to feel the loss and decide what it would take for me to move on. I scowl as I run around the bend. The problem isn’t feeling the loss, believe me, I’ve felt the loss. The problem is the moving on part.

I’ve been trying to move on for two years. Sure, I’m functional, and I’m doing well in school, and I’m focused on my future, but that’s not the same as moving on. If I had moved on, I wouldn’t dream of Christian as often as I do, or think of him before bed every night. I wouldn’t secretly listen into Elliot’s phone conversations or stalk him with Google Alerts. If I was really moving on, I would be able to answer his phone calls, even if it was just to tell him I’m not interested in talking to him and to please stop calling for me.

Okay, focus Ana, I chastise myself. For once, this isn’t about Christian. This is about your characters. This is about Isaiah and how he’s going to make it out of this. I take a couple deep of breaths and increase my speed, clearing my mind of everything but my story, and begin to run through the plot in my head again.

Isaiah was in love, or still is in love, but his girlfriend Erica overdosed on Fentanyl and had died in his arms, seizing and vomiting over the bathroom floor while he did everything he could to save her. The man who had sold her the drugs had walked away without any kind of retribution when his court case was thrown out due to insufficient evidence, leaving Isaiah powerless, and constantly plagued by the fear that, because this man was now loose on the streets, some other person might lose someone they loved and they would have to feel the same pain that he felt. Erica had promised him she was getting clean, she had even completed a stint in rehab that her father had set up for her… but while they all thought it was ending, that she was getting better, she was secretly using behind their backs, and eventually it killed her. Now she’s gone and everyday when Isaiah gets up in the morning, he has to stand in the same place she died just to get ready for the day.

And that’s where I’m stuck. I don’t know how somebody moves on from something like that. Okay, Isaiah, I think to myself, What is it? What is the one thing that’s keeping you from moving on?

Anger. That’s the first place I always go. He’s angry with her for lying to him. How is he supposed to cope with this when he had no way of being prepared for it? She lied to him, she was doing this to herself and she knew it was wrong because she hid it from him. She sold him whatever version of the story she thought would make him happy so that he wouldn’t suspect what she was really doing. She didn’t care what that betrayal would do to him.

Images of Christian in the examination room with his father, going through the motions like he was actually going to testify against Elena flash through my mind. I hear his voice echoing in my ears, swearing up and down that he just couldn’t in good conscious give testimony against her, completely omitting the fact that she had paid him to keep quiet.

I feel that anger, especially knowing what it’s done to his family. I feel that anger as strongly now as I did standing on top of the Empire State Building. It still makes me sick.

So is that the answer then? Let go of the anger? How do I-er… How does he do that? I look down at my feet, counting my steps as I roll the question over in my mind. If Isaiah accepts that she was too lost in this addiction to stop it on her own, too far gone for even rehab to help her… if he can accept that her lies weren’t malicious but a symptom of this addiction, and that no matter what he did he couldn’t have saved her, would it be enough to give him closure? To help him move on?

That’s what Elliot wants. That’s what he’s asked of me. Isaiah can’t help Erica, but if he could… he would. He would do everything possible to save her because he knows what the alternative feels like.

And then it hits me, I know what’s holding him back.

I push myself forward, sprinting now as I make my way back onto campus. When I reach the Barker Center, I take the steps two at a time to the second floor and burst through the door to Dr. Ralston’s office.

“He needs to forgive her,” I pant, struggling to speak as I attempt catch my breath.

“Anastasia,” He greets me warmly. “Please have a seat.”

“If he’s going to move on, he needs to forgive her for lying to him,” I repeat and Dr. Ralston looks back at me pensively.

“So you’re thinking that he’s caught in this stasis, struggling to function in his life, because of the lies that Erica told him? Is it because had he known how bad her addiction really was then he could have saved her? Is he resentful that she didn’t give him that option? Or guilty maybe?”

“Partially. Lying to him and taking away any shot he had at possibly saving her was really shitty and he’s going to have to accept that it was the addiction, not Erica, that was shutting him out. It was too big for her. She wasn’t trying to be devious or vengeful, she just wasn’t in control and he’s going to have to work through that first, but that’s not what’s most important. If he’s going to get past this, he’s going to have to forgive her for leaving him.”

“He’s going to have to forgive her for dying?” Dr. Ralston asks, and I can tell by the look on his face that he thinks I’m getting off track.

“Not necessarily for dying,” I clarify. “But for throwing away the future they would have had together. For showing him how strong love could be and then taking it away. For promising him she would love him forever and then leaving him all alone. She took the part of him that believed in happy endings with her, and if he’s going to move on, he needs to find a way to get that back. I mean, what else is there to live for, to move on to? The reason I haven’t been able to see the happy ending is because I’ve…uh, he’s given up on it.”

“I see…” Dr. Ralston responds, thoughtful once again. “And, how, in your mind Anastasia, will he get to the place where he can forgive her and find this new outlook?”

“I suppose he needs to discover a new kind inner strength. He needs to believe that he’ll be okay without her. That as much as he misses her and as much as he wants that stolen future back, that he actually can survive without her.”

“And how does he achieve this strength?”

I ponder this for a moment, a dozen different scenarios flashing through my mind, but Dr. Ralston doesn’t seem deterred by my silence. He waits patiently for me to come up with the answer, and when I do, it’s like a weight being lifted off of me.

“He has to overcome something big that’s not tied to this at all. That’s where I go from here,” I say, feeling excitement beginning to build. “He has to conquer something without her that will prove to him that he can make it on his own. Something he never thought he could and yet he does, and all by himself. When he does, he’ll know he doesn’t need her to survive.”

“Excellent,” he says, smiling broadly at me. “I can’t wait to read what you come up with.”

“Thank you, Dr. Ralston,” I say, standing up and reaching out for his hand. “You’ve been such a huge help.”

“You’re welcome, Anastasia. Now, go! Get to work while you’re still in the moment.”

“I will,” I promise as I turn for the door, thanking him again as I make my way out of the office and begin thinking through plot points on my way back to Kate’s car.

When I get back home, I take advantage of the empty house and set up on the coffee table in the living room, rather than working on my bed, and the moment I sit down to write, I feel a surge of elation as once again I’m able to move forward in the story quickly and without too much difficulty. By the time I take a break for lunch around 1:30 that afternoon, I’ve composed over 5,000 words. I’m just reading over what I’ve written, fixing grammar and word choice as I eat my reheated Chinese leftovers (a product of “Elliot’s night to cook”), when I’m interrupted by my phone.

“Hey, Luke,” I answer, through a mouth full of fried rice.

“Hey, where are you?” He asks. “I haven’t seen you on campus all day.”

“I skipped class today, but I was there early this morning,” I tell him. “I’ve had a breakthrough and I’ve actually gotten some writing done this afternoon.”

“Oh… well, great! Did you want to do anything tonight since Kate and Elliot are out of town?”

“Uh… maybe. I’m kind of on a roll and I’d like to get through as much of that as possible. Do you maybe want to come over here tonight? I could put a movie on while I work and we could order a pizza or something?”

“Nah,” He sighs. “If you’re working, I don’t really want to bother you. But you’ll call me if you change your mind and decide you want to leave the house right?”

“Sure,” I promise.

“Alright then, I’ll let you get back to work. Have a good night, Ana. Call me when you’re ready for a break.”

“I will! Bye!”

I spend the next few hours pacing around my living room, periodically sitting at my computer to write more. I find it’s easier to work through things when I’m walking around and dialogue comes out better when I actually speak out loud to myself. Thank god Kate and Elliot are gone. The last time Elliot walked in on me walking around my room talking to myself, I didn’t live it down for weeks, and I think I’ve heard enough of Elliot’s schizophrenia jokes to last me a lifetime.

I’m in the middle of a full fledged argument with myself in my living room when I’m interrupted by the low buzz of my phone vibrating on the the table. I look down at it, wondering if maybe Luke changed his mind and decided to come over anyway, but when I look at the name on the screen, it isn’t Luke, it’s Carter Reed.

I roll my eyes as I immediately know why he’s calling me. Carter made a terrible roommate decision this year and moved in with one of his friends from the frat house he used to hang out at all the time. Now, he calls me about every two weeks looking for a place to retreat from his roommate’s constant partying so he can get some studying done.

“Hi, Carter,” I greet him.

“Hey, Ana. I hate to do this to you again but my roommate is having a party tonight and I have a really important test Monday. Mind if I come over and take advantage of your quiet house? I’ll bring some beer, make it worth your while.”

“Uh… sure. Luke bailed so I’m just writing tonight anyway.”

“I still can’t believe you hang out with a guy who works for campus security,” He says. “Do you ever think maybe that’s the reason you don’t get invited to parties anymore?”

“No, I don’t get invited to parties because every time there is a party, you come over here instead of inviting me over there.”

He groans. “Trust me, you wouldn’t have fun over here, unless you a secret stoner and I don’t know about it.”

“Damn it! And, I thought I was doing such a good job of hiding it,” I laugh. “How’d you figure it out?”

“Well, you did chose Grey over me and marijuana has been linked to poor decision making.”

“That must have been it.”

“I’ll see you soon?” He asks.

“Yeah, I’m here so come on over whenever you’re ready,” I tell him.

“Cool. Bye, Ana.”

A little over an hour later, Carter knocks on the back door and I peel myself off the floor in the living room to let him in. When I make it to the kitchen, I see that he’s holding a case of beer in one hand and a rainbow striped party hat with streamers coming out the top in the other.

“What is that?” I ask when I let him in. He sets the beer on the counter and then turns to me and puts the hat on my head, securing it under my chin with the elastic band.

“It’s a party, and you’re invited!” He says, “Bu dum bum, ptch”

I snort and rip the cardboard cone off the top of my head.

“You’re ridiculous,” I tell him. He laughs, takes the beer off the counter, and starts putting it into the fridge while I pick up the phone hanging on the wall and press the speed dial for Angelo’s, Elliot’s favorite pizza place.

Once the pizza arrives and we’re both a couple of drinks down, I’m finding myself stuck again. I stare down at the last few sentences I’ve written and then delete all of it, back up a little more and then start over.

“You’re doing it again,” Carter says, looking sideways at me from behind the screen of his laptop.

“Doing what?”

“You’re talking to yourself.”

“Oh, sorry, it’s kind of a thing I do. I can’t really help it,” I tell him.

“Like… clinically?”

“If I’m bothering you, you can leave at anytime,” I say, my voice overly sweet, and he laughs.

“It’s alright, I happen to think your mental instability is adorable,” He says, and I narrow my eyes and throw the last bit of pizza crust at his face, which he ends up catching and taking a bite out of. I shake my head and look back down at my screen, but he quickly draws my attention away again.

“I should really thank you,” He says. “Seriously, you have no reason to be as nice to me as you are after the things I did and said to you after we broke up.”

“It’s alright, I’ve been through worse than being called a bitch,” I tell him.

“I think whore was also mentioned,” He says apologetically, and I feel a wash of shame.

“Yeah, I’ve thrown that word around too.”

“I really regret that,” He assures me. “Now that I know you better, I can see that I really didn’t have anything to worry about. You’re a really good person and you wouldn’t have done anything to hurt me.”

“No… but you were right to worry about Christian. He told me later that he really was trying to steal me away from you, and I don’t know what would have happened had it not gone down the way it did, so you don’t have to feel bad. Honestly, part of me thinks that Christian and I were inevitable.”

“Oh,” Carter says. “Well, he… seems to be doing pretty well for himself now. It’s kind of weird going to school with someone and then two years later the professor teaching your business class at Harvard is doing an entire lecture on him. Seriously, look… he’s an answer on my homework assignment.”

“Yeah that’s super weird,” I agree.

“Do you still keep in touch with him?” He asks.

“No. I uh… closed the door on that a long time ago,” I say quietly.

“I see,” He says, and then continues with a more imploring kind of tone, “Did you close the door on us too?” I swallow before I answer, trying to buy myself time. I had a feeling it would come back to this eventually…

“Carter, I um… I’m just not really looking for a relationship with anyone right now. I really just want to focus on school, and writing, and finding an internship for the summer.”

“Oh. Yeah, that’s cool. I get that,” He says, turning red and looking immediately back down at his laptop screen, but after an awkward pause he continues. “It’s not him though right? Put me at ease here and tell me that two years later I’m not still losing out to a guy living 3,000 miles away.”

“No, it’s not…” I begin, but my voice cuts out as I’m unable to get the words that I know aren’t true out of my mouth, and he immediately picks up on what my reticence means.

“Ouch,” He says, and I look guiltily back up at him.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I admit. “I know I’m not the first person to go through a breakup. I know I’m not the first person to lose their first love. It happens, everyday, and people move on… I just, don’t know how.”

“Not everyone moves on,” Carter says. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“You’re here to study.”

“Ana, I moved out of that house I shared with my roommate after last semester. I live alone now, where there isn’t anyone talking out loud as they type and ruining my concentration. I’m here because I want to spend time with you.”

“Oh,” I say, because that’s all I can say.

“Look, if you’re still stuck on Grey, maybe it’s for a reason. Maybe you should call him and talk to him about how you’re feeling. He has to be a smart guy to have built the company that he did which means he knows what he lost when he lost you and, if he’s really smart, he’ll do anything to get you back.”

“It’s not that simple,” I say, shaking my head.

“Why not? You’re in love with him right? That’s what I’m reading in between the lines here? Well, that’s all that matters. Unless it’s him that won’t talk to you?”

Then, as if in response to Carter’s implication, the phone in the kitchen rings and my breath catches as we both turn in the direction of the noise.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” I say under my breath, and Carter turns to look back at me incredulously.

“That’s him, really? How do you know?” He asks.

“Well, besides Elliot’s mom, he’s the only one who ever calls that phone.”

“So answer it, go talk to him.”

“I can’t, it’s really not that easy, Carter,” I tell him, and he shakes his head and gets to his feet.

“Sure it is.”

“Carter, what are you doing?” No!” I cry as he reaches out and takes the phone off the hook.

“Steele residence, this is Carter Reed speaking,” He answers, and I watch him, mortified. “Yes, may I ask who’s calling? Hi, Christian. Ana? Yeah, she’s right here. Let me grab her,” He says taking the phone away from his ear and holding it out for me. “It’s for you, Ana.”

I stare at him, frozen with my mouth agape. No! Fuck!

“Ana,” He presses me, holding the phone out further. I take a deep breath and get up off the floor. The few steps across the living room feel like miles as I make my way over to him, reach out for the phone, and then slowly place it back on the wall.

“Seriously?” Carter demands.

“You don’t understand, Carter. There’s more to this than how I feel. There are real issues here and right now, with the way we left things and the way he’s chosen to move on, I have nothing to say to him.”

The phone rings again and I glare at it before walking purposefully back into the living room, Carter trailing after me.

“What happened between you two anyway?” He asks once the phone stops ringing and it’s quiet again.

“I just found out he’s not the person I thought he was,” I tell him sharply. “He might be powerful, and successful, and have business classes being taught about him at Harvard, but he hurt a lot of people to get to where he is, including me, and until I see some kind of real remorse, or at least that he’s trying to make it right with his family, I will continue to have nothing to do with him.”

“Oh…” Carter replies, looking as though he’s now sorry he brought up the subject at all. “I didn’t know. Sorry, I shouldn’t have picked up the phone.”

“It’s fine,” I tell him. “Let’s just… get back to work.”

He gives me another apologetic smile, then gets up and disappears back into the kitchen. A few seconds later he returns with a few more cans of beer and a half empty bottle of wine he got from the fridge. I reach out for the bottle, take a long drink, and then give him a grateful glance before turning my attention back to my my book.

Carter puts on some music and we work for another forty or so minutes, drinking and laughing at a few videos he pulls up on YouTube, until there is a knock on my back door.

“Who is that?” I wonder aloud, and Carter gives me a horrified glance.

“Oh no, it’s happened. Grey has developed the technology to teleport across the country,” He says, and I laugh as I get up to answer the door, but I stop before I get to the kitchen.

“That doesn’t really exists, does it?” I ask nervously, and he rolls his eyes and shakes his head. I continue on into the kitchen and see Luke standing at the back door, peering through the glass and looking relieved when he sees me.

“Hey Luke,” I greet him when I open the door. “I thought you’d decided not to come over.”

“Well, then I thought about you being here alone and I got worried. Anyone could get in here and try and take advantage of you and I’d never be able to forgive myself. Also, you have cable and AMC has a Breaking Bad marathon on tonight. You promised me you’d watch that, remember?”

“Sure. I probably should call it a night on writing anyway. I’ve had a few drinks and I think even my characters are starting to slur their words,” I joke, and he looks at me through narrowed eyes as we make our way back to the living room.

“You’ve been drinking?” He asks, and then his glare sharpens when he sees Carter sitting in the living room.

“Hey,” Carter greets him. “It’s Luke right?”

“Yes,” He says, and I’m surprised by how short his tone is. Luke is usually a very friendly kind of guy.

“Uh…” I begin awkwardly. “We’re going to watch this show Luke’s been wanting to get me into, do you want to join us?” I ask, and Carter turns to Luke, sizing him up with his eyes before turning back to me and shaking his head.

“Nah, I’ve got to try and get through more of these notes, so I’ll just head home. Thanks for having me over, Ana. It was fun,” He says. He picks up his backpack and I hug him goodbye before he heads into the kitchen and I hear him leave through the sliding glass door.”

“What was that about?” I ask, turning to Luke.

“Nothing. I just didn’t expect you to have company. I thought you would have called me if you were looking for someone to hang out with.”

“I invited you over but you said no,” I remind him.

“I thought you were working. I just didn’t want to bother you. I would have come if I thought you wanted me to.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “I just didn’t think you wanted to come over.”

“Is… uh… is there anything, you know, going on between you and Carter?” He asks uncomfortably, and I give him a pointed look.

“Luke. You know better than anyone else that I’m not interested in anything like that.”

“Just checking,” He says, sounding surprisingly relieved. “Because you know that before you date anyone, I’ll need to conduct a full background check and an in depth interview.” He smiles at me and I roll my eyes and push him playfully.

“I know you work in security, Luke, but keeping me away from boys is not part of your job description,” I tell him, jokingly.

“I’m your friend,” He says. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I know, and I love you for it.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now, come on. If you miss the beginning of the show, you’re not going to understand what’s going on.”

He leads me to the couch, flips on the TV, and we spend the rest of the night watching drug dealers getting murdered by other drug dealers and a man with cancer slowly evolve into a meth kingpin.

The show goes so late that Luke ends up spending the night, and to my surprise he hangs out all day the next day too, helping me look and apply for other summer internships, reading through all the new material I’ve written, and giving me some helpful feedback. It’s nice spending a significant amount of time together, uninterrupted, and when he leaves Sunday night just before I have to go pick up Kate and Elliot from the airport, I’m sad to see him go.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” I ask as we head out together to the parking spots behind my house.

“Don’t you always?” He laughs. “I’ll meet you at the coffee shop.”

“Okay, bye Luke. Thanks for keeping me company this weekend.”

“You’re welcome, Ana.”

He hugs me as I get into my car and I wave goodbye through my window before backing out and heading off towards Boston. The traffic is heavier than I expected on the I-90 so by the time I pull up to the pick up area, Kate and Elliot are already there waiting for me. I can tell, even before I come to a stop, that Elliot seems off.

“Hey guys, how was Seattle?” I ask once they’ve packed their luggage into the trunk and climbed into the car.

“It was fine,” Elliot says shortly. I glance over to the passenger’s seat, wondering why he’s upset, but when I meet Kate’s gaze in the rear-view mirror, she shakes her head, letting me know not to ask. I give her a small, sympathetic smile as I pull away from the curb and we make the drive back to Cambridge in silence. When we get to the house, Elliot takes both his and Kate’s suitcases and disappears in his bedroom. Kate goes after him so I pack up the laptop and notebooks I’ve left in the living room and then retreat to my own room, worrying the entire time about what has happened in Seattle. I hope nothing spoiled Grace’s birthday… maybe I should call her.

I quickly change out of my jeans and into a pair of pajamas, and just as I put my toothbrush in my mouth, there is a soft knock on my door.

“Come in,” I say through a mouthful of toothpaste, and Kate slips through the door. She sits down on my bed while I finish up and, when I get back into my room,  I can tell she’s on the edge of tears.

“What happened?” I ask, sitting across from her and reaching out to rub her arm reassuringly.

“It was awful. When Mia found out Carrick had uninvited Christian she decided she wasn’t going to show up either, so she spent the weekend at a friend’s house and Grace was missing two of her kids at her birthday dinner. Carrick was trying to make it normal but halfway through dinner, Grace started crying and Elliot and Carrick got into an argument about Christian which just made it worse. Then Elliot wanted to do something to try and save his Mom’s birthday so the next day, we went over to Christian’s apartment to try and convince him to go out to lunch with us and his Mom, but he and Elliot were talking for too long so we didn’t end up doing anything.”

“What were they talking about?” I ask.

“Therapy, I think. I don’t know, they were talking in his office because he was working when we got there and I thought it would be best if I left them alone…” She says, and then her mouth twists before she continues. “Look, you know I’m on your side, and I support you no matter what you choose to do, but I think I’m kind of starting to see Elliot’s point on Christian. He’s miserable. His apartment is seriously one of the most depressing places in the world.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like, ridiculously huge and it could be really, really beautiful… I mean, the whole apartment has these huge floor to ceiling length windows and he has the most amazing view of Seattle, but it’s completely empty.”

“Empty?”

“As in literally. He has no furniture. Seriously, there is a desk in his office and a bed in his bedroom and everything else is empty. The bedrooms upstairs are completely bare, there are like four bathrooms in the apartment but there aren’t even towels in the ones that aren’t in his bedroom. He has a library, or what I think is supposed to be a library, but all that’s in there are his old Harvard textbooks and a few stacks of boxes with old files from the companies he’s bought.”

“Which I assume you know because you went through his boxes,” I say, giving her an accusatory glare.

“Of course I did, what else was I supposed to do?” She says. “And don’t worry, I went through his medicine cabinet and his dresser and I didn’t find any condoms, so he’s not sleeping with anybody.”

“Those two things are not mutually exclusive,” I reply, clearly annoyed now. “And I think that’s a pretty severe violation of privacy, Kate.”

“I’m not a cop,” She says, brushing me off. “Besides his head of security or whatever caught me and narced on me, but Christian didn’t seem to care. I honestly think he was hoping that I would relay that information back to you. For the fifteen minutes I talked to him, all he wanted to talk to me about was you.”

“What did you say?”

“He asked how you were and I said that you were doing great in school, and you were writing a book, and that generally you seemed to be doing pretty well. I showed him that video on my phone of you and Elliot trying to knock that wasps nest off the house from last summer and then he got kind of weird so we ended up leaving.”

“Well sometimes bad choices have real consequences and dealing with them is hard,” I tell her, and she frowns.

“I know you’re mad. We all are, but maybe Elliot’s right. Maybe if Christian got some help, he could get back to being that person who we all liked, who you loved. Have you thought at all about what Elliot asked you?”

“Yeah, I have. And, I wish I could help, but… I can’t.”

“Ana…”

“No, Kate. It’s… it’s…” I stutter, and then out of nowhere, I’m suddenly overcome with tears.

“Ana, what’s wrong?” Kate asks, surprised by my sudden outburst. She wraps an arm around me and pulls me into her so that I can cry on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, I can’t. Kate, I’m still in love with him,” I admit.

“What?”

“Kate…” I sob. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know how to just stop loving him. I was ready to tell him I would marry him the day I left him. I was prepared to love him forever, to be with him forever, to be his wife, to be the mother of his kids, and I don’t know how to turn that off. I can be mad and I can be hurt, but it doesn’t change anything. I dream about him, I think about him, I write about him… I miss him. But he’s not the person I fell in love with anymore. I don’t even think he’s sorry.”

“You didn’t see him,” She says gently.

“So he’s miserable,” I shrug, although I feel a deep sense of pain at the thought. “We all are and it’s because of his choices. He might be broken or whatever with this traumatic bonding thing that Elliot is talking about but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t know that what he was doing in the courtroom that day was wrong. He needs to own up to that. He needs to find a way to make this right with his family. He needs to make this right for himself. Until those things happen, he doesn’t get to have me back in his life, and I don’t see it ever happening. I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to see him. It’s too hard.”

“Ana, I didn’t know…” Kate says, reaching up to wipe a tear from her waterline. “I just thought you were mad.”

“I wish I was. I wish I hated him. I wish I could forget about him entirely. I’m terrified that one day, he’s going to stop calling. I’m terrified that one day, I’m going to get a Google Alert that he’s engaged, and then married, and has kids…. That he’s moved on and has this whole life with another person and I’m just going to be stuck here alone,” I say as I’m overcome by a fresh new wave of tears.

“Ana, you don’t have to be alone. You’re such an amazing girl, there are so many guys out there that would kill for the chance to love you.”

“You don’t think I’ve tried? What do you think all that partying last year was for? I spent months trying to meet someone else. Do you know how hard I tried to fall in love with Luke in the beginning? And it was all for nothing. I don’t feel anything. Maybe I’m wrong… maybe it’s not Christian. Maybe I’m the one that’s broken.”

“So… what are you going to do when he comes here this weekend?” She asks.

“I’m going to get out of town, I think,” I tell her. “I kind of got this idea from writing this weekend and I’m going to see if Luke will help me with it. Besides, it might be better this way. If Elliot really wants Christian to see how much he needs to be around family, then he should just be around family. I would just be a distraction.”

“Okay,” She says. ‘I’ll go let Elliot know… I’m so sorry, Ana. I wish I could say that I know how hard this is for you, but I don’t. I don’t know what this is like for you or for Christian. But I know, and I don’t know if this makes it better or worse, that he still loves you too. I don’t think that he can move on anymore than you can. I also know that Elliot is going to do everything he can to help his brother, to make this right for everyone, and maybe in the end, Christian will be the man you knew again and you two can be together.”

I stare back at her, unsure whether or not to hope along with her, or tell her I’d given up on that possibility a long time ago. She gives me a sad kind of smile and stands up from the bed, leaning over to kiss me on the forehead.

“I love you, Ana, and I know this seems hard now, but it’ll work out one, way or the other. You won’t always feel this way. I promise.”

“Goodnight, Kate,” I whisper.

“Goodnight,” She says, and she turns to leave the room. I feel the choking sobs erupting from my chest again and after a few minutes allowing myself to fall apart, I pick myself back up and take a deep breath before picking up the book resting on the bottom of my bed and hurling it at the wall, hoping to find some kind of release from the cocktail of emotions choking me inside. The book knocks into the shelf and a small, glass bottle tumbles to the ground and shatters over the hardwood floor. I gasp and rush to pick it up and feel a new wave of despair as I reach down into the pile of spilled sand for the glass shards of the bottle and the small note written in Christian’s handwriting that says:

Bora Bora, French Polynesia. March 26th 2008.

It’s too much.

The dam breaks again and I fall into my bed and cry until I eventually fall asleep.

Next Chapter

 

Chapter 03

Image result for shower sex

My shower is a little too hot, but when I step beneath the cascade of water, I find that I don’t care. The shower quickly fills with steam and it’s relaxing, like being in a sauna. I pick up the shampoo, pour a dab into my hand, and begin working it into the roots of my hair. As I tilt my head back to rinse, I think I hear the low groan of the glass door sliding open over the sound of the water, but I disregard it until I feel a pair of strong arms wrap around me.

A smile creeps across my lips as the arms move up my sides and begin to massage my breasts.

“Good Morning,” I tell him.

“Shh,” He whispers. “You don’t want Kate and Elliot to know I’m here, do you?” His lips brush against my shoulder, up my neck, and, when his teeth graze my earlobe, I moan.

“Put your hands against the wall,” He commands and I obey immediately. My skin tingles when his finger traces down the line of my spine. “Open your legs for me.”

I widen my stance and his finger drags lazily over my behind to the junction of my thighs. When his fingers find my clitoris, I exhale sharply, and he moans.

“You’re always ready for me,” He says approvingly, and his fingers slide inside of me, stroking and stretching me, preparing me for what’s to come. The anticipation builds and I feel my body begin to shutter. He steps forward, pressing his naked chest against my back, and grips my breast with his free hand while the other continues his sensual assault below. I can feel my knees begin to weaken when his fingers brush against the spot inside of me that promises to tip me over the edge.

“Mmm, right there?” He asks in a low, husky voice. I can feel his smile against the skin of my neck. He’s always so pleased with himself, knowing exactly what he does to me.

“Yes,” I breathe. He increases the pressure of his fingers ever so slightly, circling them around and around, but, just as I’m about to erupt, he removes them, leaving me hanging. I whimper with disappointment.

“I want you to come with me inside of you,” He whispers, grabbing me firmly to turn me around so that I’m facing him. His lips come down on mine and he thrusts his tongue into my mouth, possessing me entirely as he reaches for my leg and pulls it up so that I’m wrapped around him. I mirror the action with my other leg and now I’m totally at his mercy, pinned between him and the shower wall. Without breaking our kiss, he reaches down and positions himself beneath me, and in one, swift motion, he buries himself inside of me.

I cry out, unable to hold back, and the moment my lips leave his, he begins leaving a trail of kisses across my jaw while I pant with need. The water cascades over us, adding to the heat building in my skin. He pushes in and out of me and I begin to build again, faster this time and stronger this time, my approaching orgasm intensified from being robbed of this same sensation only seconds ago. He groans as he moves in and out of me, gripping my legs so tightly, I wonder vaguely if his fingers will leave behind bruises, but in this moment I don’t care… I want him to hold me tighter, to take me harder. I’m so close. I’m building, and building, and building, and…

“Christian!” I cry out as I come, hard, around him, my body so ignited by the pleasure I’m actually convulsing. He growls, increasing his fervor. I can feel that he’s getting close and it drives me on and on.

“That’s it, baby. God, I love it when you scream my name. You’re so fucking sexy when you come, Anastasia,” Christian encourages me as I wrap myself tighter around him, still reeling. He slams me back into the shower wall and just as he’s about to explode…

“Fuck!”

I sit bolt upright in my bed, staring around the dark room as if I’m lost. I’m still panting and I’m covered in a thin sheen of sweat, but I’m alone. He isn’t here…

I scowl. All the effort I put into not thinking about him during the day completely unravelled by my subconscious at night. It isn’t fair.

I shake my head slightly, trying to orient myself and dispel the vivid images still haunting me from my dream, and then turn to pick my phone up off the nightstand. It’s 5:30 in the morning, too late to go back to sleep but too early to get up for the gym. I groan as I roll out of bed, deciding maybe I should get up anyway and take a shower to try so I can get a grip on myself. `

Kate is already in the kitchen, buttering a piece of toast for a very sleepy looking Elliot, when I make it downstairs a little over an hour later.

“Good morning,” She says sweetly when I step up to the counter next to her and pull a mug and the box of Twining’s down from the cabinet. “Did you have pleasant dreams?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, too quickly, and I feel my face heat as blood rushes to my cheeks.

“I mean, did you sleep well?” She replies suspiciously.

“Oh… uh, yeah,” I say, diverting my eyes and moving to the stove to retrieve the kettle. Kate grabs a jar of jam and a bowl of fruit she prepped last weekend out of the fridge and takes a seat next to Elliot, who yawns loudly.

“You’re up early,” I say to him as I put the kettle on to boil.

“I have to drive down to Providence to inspect a new building that’s going up,” He says. “Make sure it’s not going to collapse and kill everyone, or flood, or whatever.”

“Glad to hear you’re so invested in the project,” I say sarcastically.

“Mhm,” He mumbles, sounding entirely insincere.

“You’re meeting with Dr. Ralston today, aren’t you?” Kate asks.

“Yeah, I’ve got to go down to the admissions office first and find out what’s going on with my account, but we have a meeting after that.”

“Did you pick an article?”

“Yes, Kate,” I say rolling my eyes at her enthusiasm. “I didn’t however, make any progress on my manuscript so… that’ll be fun to talk about.” The kettle begins to whistle so I pour the hot water in my mug and slip in a tea bag before joining Kate and Elliot at the breakfast table.

“You’ll get it,” Elliot says, and I look over at him, surprised.

“Awh, Elliot. That’s so sweet of you,” I say, a sentimental kind of smile creeping across my lips.

“Whatever. You’re just… I mean that… Nerd,” He says, giving me an awkward glance before returning to his breakfast, and I laugh. Apparently his insult capabilities are severely diminished before 7 AM.

“Are you going to be back from Providence in time for dinner?” Kate asks, but before Elliot can reply the phone rings. The three of us exchange expectant glances, each looking at someone else to answer it, before Elliot finally sighs and gets up from the table.

“Isn’t like 3:30 AM his time?” I ask, looking at Kate with an annoyed expression.

“He can’t sleep, Ana! There’s business to business ’cause business is businessing,” She jokes, and I hide my giggle behind my hand as Elliot answers the phone.

“Hello?” He says. “Hi, Christian. Nope, Ana is still in bed because she’s lazy and generally unmotivated in life.” I shake my head and try to scowl as I laugh silently. Jerk. “No, I’m not going to go wake her up. Because she’s mean, and she’s small but she’s scrappy. She can bring the pain. I don’t know, I don’t know her life. Yes, she’s alone.” He says exasperatedly. “Yes, I’ll tell her you called. Look, I’ve got to get to work. See you Friday? Cool. Laters.”

He hangs up the phone and collapses into his chair, picking uninterestedly at his food.

“I think it would be kind of funny if you answered the phone tomorrow, Ana,” He says, and I narrow my eyes at him.

“Do you?”

“Yeah. I mean, really, I just wanna know if he knows what he would say if I were to hand the phone over to you, or if he just calls every day knowing that you won’t answer, but that you’ll know that he called.”

“I don’t really care.”

“I do, though. What if he like, freaks out and just hangs up. It would hilarious,” He says. He looks down at his watch and then groans. “I’ve got to get going. Have a good day at school,” He tells Kate, leaning down for a goodbye kiss. He grabs his coat and a briefcase resting by the back door and then turns to call back to me as he heads out for his car.

“Good luck today, Ana!” He says, and I wave good-bye to him through the glass.

“You ready for the gym?” Kate asks.

“Let’s do it.”

After a rewarding 45 minutes on the treadmill and my second shower of the day, I find myself in the Harvard Admissions office. It’s busy for them this time of year since most high school students are sending in their college applications, so I have to wait in an old padded chair for nearly an hour before someone can help me.

“Miss Steele?” A woman in a fuchsia colored blazer says. I stand and she waves for me to follow her back to her desk. “What can I do for you today?” She asks when she sits down.

“I got a letter from my dad and he said that his checks for my tuition have been returned. We’re a little confused by why that is.”

“Okay, let me take a look at your account. What’s your student ID number?” She asks. I recite the number I’ve used for practically everything school related for the last three years and her fingers begin tapping hurriedly over the keys on her computer.

“It looks like…” She says, leaning into the screen as if to read the words more carefully. “Well, it looks like your balance for the fall semester was paid in full on August 1st, and your balance for the spring semester was paid on December 27th.”

“Can I ask how?”

“It was done via electronic payment.”

“Well, my dad is overseas, he’s in Iraq. He couldn’t have paid that…”

“I’m sorry, are you asking me to refund the payment? Because that’s not something we’re able to do.”

“I’m just afraid it was done in error and when it’s corrected, I’ll lose credit. I’m on scholarship so I don’t know how that was applied or if everything was sent back.”

“Well, let me see if I can find out what happened here…” She says, pressing the buttons on her mouse a few times, and then clicking her tongue as she reads the new information.

“The only thing this tells me was that the payment was made by CTG,” She says when she turns to look back at me.

CTG? What is that like an acronym or something? Credit… transaction… What is G? And then it hits me. It isn’t an acronym, they’re initials. C.T.G. Christian Trevelyan-Grey.

I frown. Does he think he can buy me back?

Well, I’m sorry Christian but unlike you, I can’t be bought. I’m not some company you can buy up and incorporate into your life. Real life doesn’t work like mergers and acquisitions.

“And there is no way you can refund the payment?” I ask, having to consciously keep my temper under control. This isn’t her fault after all…

“I’m sorry, once a payment has been processed it is non-refundable,” She says.

“Well, thank you for your help,” I tell her, and then shake her hand as I turn to leave her office. I don’t know how to handle this from here… I don’t have the money to pay him back and since he paid the full amount before my scholarships were applied, the checks that got sent back won’t be enough to cover the full total. But I’m not going to accept Christian’s bribery. Once I graduate, I guess I’ll just make my student loan payments out to him rather than the bank. He’s not paying for me to go to school. I don’t want anything to do with his hush money.

I hurry out of the building for my meeting with Dr. Ralston, who is waiting patiently in his office with doughnuts. I take one graciously as he takes my article submissions and then turns the conversation back to my manuscript.

“How’s the novel progressing?” He asks.

“It’s… not. I’ve spent the last few nights trying to get back into it, but I always run into the same problem. I just don’t know how to make this right for my main character in the end.”

“Well…” Dr. Ralston ponders. “What do you want for Isaiah? Do you want him to find closure? Acceptance?”

“Maybe…” I reply, but he senses my hesitation.

“What’s your message here, Anastasia? You’ve written about loss and living with depression, what do you want people to know about those things?”

“Well…” I hesitate again. “I guess maybe that, he can’t be fixed… but that he can survive.”

“Okay,” Dr. Ralston says, encouraging me to continue.

“For him, it isn’t about getting back to who he was before, but trying to discover who he is now, because… this terrible thing happened, and he’s not the same anymore. The person he was before is gone and this new person is damaged, and scared, and… untrusting, but he’s a survivor too. The very worst happened and he lived through it. Surely, there has to be light on the horizon if you’ve already experienced the worst.”

“So who is he now?”

“I don’t know yet…”

The wooden office chair Dr. Ralston is sitting in creaks as he leans back and smiles at me, pondering his response. “You need to feel it,” He tells me at last.

“What do you mean?”

“You need to feel the loss and decide what it would take to for you to find the new you. You say he’s damaged, and scared, and untrusting, well, he needs to decide if he’ll let it go and move past it, or if he’ll let it crush him. It’s up to you to decide what that looks like.”

“Feel it… right,” I say thoughtfully. “Thank you, Dr. Ralston. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

“And you’ve given me a lot to read,” He says, leaning forward to pick up the articles I’ve brought with me. “I’ll scan through these and pass them off to Miss Kavanagh, she’s my editor.”

“Thank-you, sir,” I reply guiltily since I already know exactly who Miss Kavanagh is. I pick up my bag, thank him again, and disappear from the office, knowing I have just enough time to jot down some ideas before my next class.

I spend the afternoon thinking I’m lucky that I have work tonight because a slow night in the library is perfect for getting some writing done. Unfortunately, when I get to work, Charlotte, the new library aide, gives me a project down in the archives that prevents me from being able to write at all, and when I’m finished and am back to working at the circulation counter, I see Luke walk through the front doors.

“How’s it going, Steele?” He asks.

“Surprisingly busy,” I tell him, “Buuut… I think I’ve got direction for my book now.”

“That’s awesome, sounds like you’ve had a productive day.”

“I have,” I agree, and then narrow my eyes to look at him more seriously. “Can I tell you something ridiculous?”

“Always.”

“Do you remember that ex-boyfriend I told you about, Elliot’s brother?”

“No, but only because you made me swear never to bring him up again,” He says, and his subsequent smile makes me laugh.

“Don’t make me laugh, this isn’t funny!” I giggle.

“Okay,” He says, suddenly serious. “Yes, I remember you telling me about this horrible person who makes everything terrible.”

I roll my eyes.

“Well, my Dad’s tuition checks got returned so I went down to the admissions office to find out what was going on, and it turns out, he’s been paying my tuition.”

“Your ex-boyfriend has been paying for you to go to Harvard? That’s… generous.”

“No, you don’t understand. He’s trying to buy my forgiveness. He has a history of thinking you can solve problems with big payouts.”

“Still…” Luke says. “That’s… I don’t even know… What does a semester at Harvard cost? Twenty-thousand dollars?”

“A little more than that… He paid for the year so just under forty-five thousand.”

He whistles. “Forty-five thousand dollars and you’re not ready to forgive him. He must have done something really bad.”

I glare at him. “Is that a man thing? Thinking you can just buy people off and everything will be okay?”

“Well, no. But, forty-five thousand dollars? Compare that to the salary of someone working campus security…”

“Well, it’s practically nothing to him, so it’s not even really that flattering,” I say, wishing now I hadn’t said anything. He’s making me feel like an ungrateful child. Shit, is that how I’m acting? No. No, I know exactly what Christian is trying to do. He thinks paying my tuition will win me back, but he’s wrong. He can’t buy me. Ugh… Maybe Kate would have been a better person to vent to.

“Almost fifty-thousand dollars and it’s nothing to him? What does he do?” Luke asks.

“He owns some big company in Seattle,” I say offhandedly, picking up a book and inputting the new call number into our system.

“Wait… Seattle? And he’s Elliot’s brother?”

“Yes.”

“As in Elliot GREY? Are you telling me that your ex-boyfriend is Christian Grey?”

“That’s him.”

“Oh my god, Ana! He doesn’t just own a company, he owns THE company. He’s like… stupid rich!”

“No, he’s just stupid,” I say, rolling my eyes as I pick up another book.

“Seriously, Ana! If he’s paying your tuition, he obviously still cares about you. I mean, I don’t know what he did, but have you considered the kind of life you could have with someone like him?”

“Luke…”

“Sorry, I forgot. We’re not supposed to talk about him,” Luke says hastily, looking properly chastened by my tone. “I just wasn’t prepared to find out you’re ex-boyfriend is Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.”

“Yeah, well, that’s all in the past now. As far as you’re concerned, he’s Lord Voldemort.”

“Lord Voldemort?”

“He Who Shall Not be Named.”

Luke laughs. “Alright, Alright. What time do you get off?”

“In just a few minutes, why?”

“Do you wanna come to my house and watch a movie tonight? It can be one of those awful, boring, black and white ones you like,” He says, trying to tempt me, and, again, I laugh.

“I can’t. I really have to work on my manuscript. Besides, it’s my turn to cook dinner.”

“Okay,” He shrugs, but I can tell he’s disappointed.

“We’ll do something soon. Kate and Elliot are going out of town this weekend, we can hang out then,” I suggest.

“Sounds great.” He smiles.

While I finish inputting the last few books, Luke tells me an unfortunate story that happened earlier today when someone living in the dorms called campus security, but when he got there, it turned out they had a clogged toilet.

“So to say that it was a shitty day is a little too on the nose,” He says, and I laugh but give him a pitying look. Once I’m finished, I let Charlotte know I’m leaving and Luke insists on walking me to Kate’s car, even though it isn’t even dark out yet. Seriously, I’ve never met someone who takes their job as seriously as Luke Sawyer. I hug him goodbye before slipping into the passenger’s seat of Kate’s Mercedes.

“How did it go with Dr. Ralston?” Kate asks as she pulls away from the curb.

“Good. I think I might be able to pick my book back up.”

“That’s awesome! He sent me your articles today and I can’t even decide which ones I want. Well done, Ana.”

“Oh thanks,” I say, feigning modesty, waving my hand at her as if to brush her off, and then devolving into laughter.

When we pull up into the alley behind our house, I see that Elliot has made it back from Providence. He’s already got Sports Center blaring in the living room, so Kate follows me into the kitchen and settles down on a barstool to chat while I pull the defrosted hamburger out of the fridge for tacos.

We set the table, laying out the taco shells and all the ingredients I’ve chopped up, and Elliot drags himself away from the TV and settles down at the table just as I set down the bowl of taco meat.

“This looks delicious, Ana,” He says, smiling at me, and I thank him as I pass Kate a bowl of rice and beans.

“Thanks, Elliot. Is your building going to fall down?” I ask.

“No,” He grumbles. “But the drainage wasn’t adequate and it’s an expensive fix so my boss is going to be pissed.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him.

“Did you find out what was going on with your tuition, Ana?” Kate asks.

“Yeah…” I reply hesitantly, which is a mistake because the awkwardness in my tone immediately catches her interest.

“And?”

“Turns out… Christian paid my tuition before any of my scholarships, or loans, or Ray’s payments came in, so they were all sent back because I had a zero balance.”

Kate drops her fork. “He paid your tuition? Oh my god, isn’t that like fifty thousand dollars?”

“Almost,” I say sheepishly.

“Christian gave you fifty thousand dollars?” Elliot asks, and then continues, grumbling under his breath. “I wish he’d give me fifty thousand dollars. I’m the one that’s nice to him.”

“Trust me, if I could, I’d give it to you,” I tell him, darkly.

“Easy there, trust fund,” Kate says pointedly at Elliot before turning back to me. “So, what are you going to do? Are you going to have them refund him?”

“They said they can’t,” I tell her. “I guess I’ll just pay him back instead of paying back student loans.”

“You guys aren’t really surprised by this are you?” Elliot asks. “I mean, I know that I don’t have to tell you that he’s still in love with you, Ana. He’s called here every single day for two years even though you haven’t picked up the phone once. Every time I talk to him, you’re all he asks about. He’s just trying to do something nice for you.”

“I don’t want his money, Elliot,” I say, pushing my rice around my plate. I really don’t want to get into this with him, he already has it bad enough being caught in the middle of Christian and Carrick. Thankfully, Kate is the one to speak next.

“Well… at least Ray isn’t out tuition money now,” She says. “He can do something really great when he comes home.”

“Yeah,” I reply.

“And Christian won’t charge you interest…” Elliot adds. “If he lets you pay him back at all, which I doubt he will.”

“Oh, I’ll find a way,” I promise him, but before he can reply the phone rings.

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” He says, gesturing to the phone, and I roll my eyes and turn back to my dinner. Elliot gets up from the table and takes the phone off the receiver.

“She’s not here, Christian,” He answers but immediately his face changes from irritation to confusion. I can’t distinguish the voice but it sounds like someone is yelling at him. “Whoa, Mom, slow down. I can’t understand you,” Elliot says. “Who? Are you kidding me? No, I didn’t know… No, I’m sorry. Is Dad okay? No, Mom don’t worry about Christian. I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding. I’ll call him and find out what’s going on. No, it’s fine… yeah, I’ll call you back. Okay, I love you. Bye.”

He hangs up the phone and runs his fingers through his hair the same way Christian used to when he was frustrated.

“What happened?” Kate asks, but Elliot doesn’t answer. He looks down at his watch, then pulls out his cell phone, and walks into the living room to make a call. Kate holds her finger to her lips, telling me to stay silent so she can hear Elliot’s conversation.

“Christian Grey, please. No Andrea, this is Elliot and I need to speak with him immediately. Yes, I’ll hold.” There is a long drawn out silence and when he speaks again he’s immediately angry. “What the fuck, Christian? Cut the bullshit, you know why I’m calling. No, Mom did. What the fuck are you doing having lunch with Elena Lincoln?”

I freeze when I hear her name and focus more intently on the conversation.

“Not a big deal? What the fuck do you mean not a big deal? A business meeting? What is that, like code for something? Are you fucking her again? Because I swear to god… What? No, I… Jesus Christ, hold on…”

I hear his heavy footfalls across the hardwood floor of the living room, and then the front door opens and slams behind him.

Kate looks at me with wide eyes but I just shake my head in disgust. Is anyone really that surprised he’s still in contact with the bitch troll? I mean, she bought him outright, surely she has to keep tabs on her investment.

“I don’t think I’m hungry anymore,” I say, standing from the table and stomping out of the kitchen. Kate calls out for me but I don’t stop. When I get to my bedroom, I slam the door behind me and collapse on the bed, the vague memory of his words outside the courthouse ringing in my ears.

I promise you it’s over Ana. She’s out of our lives.

I really don’t know why I’m upset. It’s just another lie. What’s one more piled on the heap? Did I really believe that after he lied for her she’d just disappear from his life forever? I roll onto my back, fuming. I ran out of tears for Christian Grey over a year ago, now all that’s left is anger. I pull open the lid of my laptop and begin typing furiously, not for anything productive but just a long, stream of conscious rant that I can delete when I’m finished and then move on. It’s therapeutic.

An hour passes and I’m ten pages into my expletive filled tirade when there is a knock on my bedroom door.

“Ana?” Elliot’s voice calls out. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” I say, and the door opens. He looks worn out, like he’s just finished the longest day of his life and he’s ready to sleep forever. He walks around to the other side of my bed, lays down on top of my comforter, and stares up at the ceiling.

“It’s really hard being on his side sometimes,” He says eventually, and I snort.

“You mean you find it difficult trying justify his association with child molesters?” I ask sarcastically. “Weird.”

“My parents saw them together at a restaurant this afternoon. My dad freaked out and caused a scene before storming out and dragging my mom out with him. Christian said it was just a business meeting. I guess after what happened with Christian’s trial, my dad was still able to screw Elena pretty good in her divorce from Andrew. She got money but not enough to support her lifestyle so she opened this salon or something, I don’t know. Apparently she asked Christian for the money to start up and he actually fucking gave it to her. She sucks though, and it started going downhill pretty fast, so Christian stepped in to fix it. Now he owns part of it and takes in a percentage of her profits,” He finishes, through bared teeth.

“Well, that warms my heart,” I say, and Elliot narrows his eyes at me. “I was worried that he was just unselfishly helping her. I’m glad to hear that money is still his biggest concern.”

“Ana…”

“What?” I snap angrily.

“He needs help. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get him away from her. He doesn’t even see what a terrible person she is. I don’t even think he fully understands how much damage she’s done to him,” Elliot says. “I need to do something… maybe I should take some time off work, go home for a while, and see if I can get him back into therapy.”

“He’s not your responsibility, Elliot. You’ve been killing yourself for two years trying to fix his mess, but you can’t force someone to get help if they won’t do it for themselves.”

“He’s my brother, Ana. You might be able to cut him out of your life, but I can’t. He needs family and that’s more clear now than ever. I don’t know if it’s because of what she did to him or his childhood that has him so blinded to what a terrible person she is, but I won’t let her have him. I want my brother back. I’m going to get my family back together if it’s the last thing I do.”

I frown because, as much as it drives me crazy that Elliot wastes so much energy trying to help Christian, it’s moving to once again be witness to the depth of love he has for his family. It makes me glad to think that one day, most likely, he’ll be married to Kate and that she’ll have someone so unwaveringly loyal by her side.

“I’ve been reading a lot lately about traumatic bonding,” He continues. “It’s this thing where someone develops this emotional tie with someone who abuses them and it’s really hard to get out of, kind of like Stockholm syndrome. I mean, she’s been building this relationship with him for seventeen years now. Seriously, since he was four years old. He can’t overcome that alone. It’s a psychological disorder and he needs professional help.”

“You told me he wouldn’t go see any of the therapists your mom suggested,” I say quietly.

“I think…” He begins very carefully. “I mean, maybe if you talked to him…”

“Elliot…” I groan.

“I’m just saying, Ana. You were the most important person in his life. Dad won’t talk to him or let him anywhere near Mia, he’s completely cut himself off from Mom, and he only talks to me to ask about you. Christian has always been distant with us, but never like this. When he was with you, it was better than it had ever been before. He acted like a part of our family and I miss that, we all do. I know he still loves you and if that love is strong enough to last all these years apart, it might be strong enough to convince him to get help.”

“I tried, Elliot,” I grumble. “I did everything I could to get him away from her and he threw it right back into my face.”

“I know…”

“He nearly broke me. Do you know how hard it was for me to come back from that? Why would I open myself up to that kind of pain again?”

“Because I’m selfish enough to ask you to, to beg you, if that’s what it takes.”

“Elliot…”

“Just… think about it?” He asks. “He’s coming here next weekend and maybe…”

“What!” I exclaim, turning sharp eyes on him.

“Yeah,” Elliot replies guiltily. “He’s getting some award in New York next Friday and I told him he should come and visit, you know, get away from work and Seattle. Dad told him he’s no longer invited to the dinner this weekend so I thought spending next weekend here, surrounded by family…”

“He’s staying here?” I interrupt him, now completely incredulous.

“Well… yeah. I mean, we have a guest room.”

“What he can’t afford a hotel room with all those millions of dollars?” I ask darkly.

“If he gets a hotel, he’ll lock himself away and just keep working. We’ll be lucky if he sees Kate and I for a dinner once the entire weekend. That’s all he ever does is work, and it’s making all of this worse. If he’s here, I can force him to stop working for a few days and maybe he’ll see how much he really misses his family, and he’ll realize that he’s in trouble.”

I shake my head, and Elliot sits up and grasps my hand. “Just think about it, Ana, please? I’ve done everything I know to do. I really think you can help him. I know you hate him now or whatever, but he’s my brother. I can’t give up on him.”

“I’ll think about it,” I tell him.

“Thank-you,” He says. He climbs off my bed and turns to leave the room, pausing by the door to turn and look back at me. “I’m really sorry that things didn’t work out between you and Christian. I’d have really liked to have you as a sister.”

“Well, give me Mia’s number,” I grumble, and he laughs.

“I would, but she’s not allowed to date. Ever,” He says.

“Goodnight, Elliot,” I chuckle.

“Goodnight, Ana,” He says, and he turns to leave, closing the door behind him.

Next Chapter

Chapter 02

Image result for landline phone

I groan as the alarm on my phone pulls me out of the last dregs of sleep. It’s Monday, spring break is over and it’s back to reality. Not that it was much of a break… I’ve been killing myself for months trying to finish my first full manuscript, but the days when the words flowed from me as freely as a faucet turned all the way to high are over, and it’s been weeks since I’ve made any progress. The truth is, I don’t know how the story ends… because I’m still living it.

I sit up and push my laptop across the mattress. I really need to stop trying to work at bedtime. I’ve turned into a fairly restless sleeper and one day, I’m going to wake up and find my laptop on the ground broken into smithereens.

My phone is still vibrating furiously on my bedside table, so I reach over to turn off my alarm, and the moment I do, I see a Google notification flash across the screen.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, March 22nd 2010: ABA Recipient Announced. Grey Enterprises Holdings CEO, Christian Grey, is to be honored as Executive of the Year at the 8th Annual American Business Awards ceremony taking place in New York on April 2nd for his outstanding work with […]


Of course he is.

It’s been nearly two years since I broke up with Christian Grey, and yet, he’s still as big a presence in my life as ever. Maybe it’s because I spend every day with his brother Elliot, or because I’m still living in the house we picked out together when we were happy, or maybe… it’s because, for all my talk, I still can’t let him go. Something clearly demonstrated by the Google Alert still open on my phone.

I clear the notification and scramble out of bed to get dressed to go to the gym with Kate. In the very beginning of my P.C. (Post Christian) days, I’d taken up running as a way to clear my mind and work out some of the physical anxiety caused by his absence. I hated it at first but now, I can’t go a day without it. I’ve officially turned into one of those “gym people” that I used to hate.

“Good morning, Ana,” Kate greets me cheerfully when I get to the kitchen. “Did you make any progress last night?”

“No,” I reply solemnly as I grab everything I need to make a bowl of cereal and drag it to the kitchen table with me. It’s not unlike Kate, sleuth reporter extraordinaire, to know about my writer’s block, even though I haven’t really talked to her about it.

“You’ll get it,” She reassures me.

Kate is much better about breakfast than I am, but that is also probably because she takes it upon herself to make breakfast for her boyfriend as well. After he graduated from MIT last year, Elliot got a job as an engineering consultant at a large company in Boston. He hates it because he doesn’t get to actually design or build anything, but unless he wants to find a job somewhere else and leave Kate behind in Cambridge for her senior year at Harvard next year, he’s stuck. I think she feels bad about it because lately, she’s done everything she can to make things easier for him.

There’s been a pretty drastic change in Elliot’s personality over the last two years. He’s not as jovial as he once was and I’m not sure if he’s just growing up, or struggling with hating his job, or worse, becoming hardened from being stuck in the middle of one of the worst family feuds since the Montagues and the Capulets, his father on one side, and his brother on the other.

Kate sets a plate of toast, bacon, and a bowl of scrambled eggs on the table. Once she has her own plate filled, she takes the seat next to me, but the second she sits down, the phone hanging on the wall by the fridge begins to ring. Kate groans.

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars to answer that,” She pleads, but I narrow my eyes at her.

“Fat chance,” I reply. She sighs and drags her feet to the phone.

“Hello?” She answers. “Hi, Christian. Nope, you just missed her. No, I don’t know when Ana’s going to be back but I can tell her that you called.”

Elliot comes into the kitchen then, picking up a piece of toast off the table and turning to look curiously at Kate.

“Is that Christian?” He asks, and I nod as I take a bite of cereal. Of course it’s Christian. It’s always Christian. Elliot turns back to Kate and motions for the phone.

“Hey, Christian…” She says. “Elliot wants to talk to you, hold on for a second, okay?”

“What’s up, Christian? How’s the world of mergers and acquisitions?” Elliot asks as he takes the phone from her. “Oh, well that sounds… boring as shit, actually. Hey, are you really going to this thing this weekend? Really? ‘Cause if I take Friday off work and fly all the way out to Seattle and you’re not there, I’m going to be fucking pissed. Alright… well, I’ll see you this weekend, I guess. Laters, bro.”

“What was that?” Kate asks when Elliot hangs up the phone.

“I need you to skip class on Friday, is that okay?”

“I guess, but how come?”

“It’s my mom’s birthday and when Dad asked her what she wanted to do, she said all she wanted was a dinner with the family. The entire family.”

“Wait, all of you?” I ask, dropping my spoon in surprise. Elliot shrugs.

“My mom doesn’t hate, Christian. She wants to see him. She misses him and so does Mia.”

“But, your dad…” Kate hesitates. “He and Christian are going to be in the same room together?”

“Looks like it,” Elliot says, and Kate gives me an uneasy sideways glance.

I know that Carrick hasn’t seen or spoken to Christian since the trial almost two years ago. He took what happened that day really hard, so much so that he nearly lost his license to practice law after he’d had a break down in court defending a man who’d been accused of kidnapping and murdering a seventeen year old girl a few months later. Shortly after that, he sold his practice and went to work for the Washington state prosecutor’s office for a while, until he eventually settled at a small general practice firm where he now mostly represents clients going through divorces, bankruptcy, or who have committed misdemeanor crimes. Elliot doesn’t think he has the same sense of satisfaction in his work anymore and is maybe even thinking of retirement. It’s added fuel to the fire between Carrick and Christian, and now the more success Christian finds in the business world, the more unlikely it seems that Carrick will ever forgive his son.

“Look,” Elliot begins. “It’ll be fine. Dad will sit on one side of the table, Christian will sit on the other, they won’t talk to each other all night, it’ll be awkward as fuck, and then Christian will leave. Honestly I’m getting really fucking tired of all this shit. It’s been two years, everyone needs to get the fuck over it. Shutting him out or letting him cut himself off from us isn’t helping anything. He needs us all now more than ever.”

I blanch and Elliot looks at me regretfully. “Um… well, it’s different for you, Ana. I mean, I get it. He lied to you, and you can’t trust him, and all that is fine, but he’s family to us, you know? I mean, it’s not like my Dad can shut him out forever. For you…”

“It’s fine, Elliot,” I tell him, and then turn to Kate. “Look, I have to finish some things up on campus before class today so if we’re going to go to the gym, we need to leave.”

“Okay,” She says, taking a long drink of orange juice and getting up from the table. I gather all the things I’m going to need today, including a change of clothes for after the gym, wish Elliot a good day at work, and head out the back door to Kate’s Mercedes.

After a long, sweaty run, I take a shower and head out to grab some coffee before class. When I get to the coffee house, I run into my friend Luke Sawyer, who I met at the beginning of my sophomore year. He was hired as part of the security initiative put into place over that summer in response to Kate’s stalker incident the year before. A few days after school started, he had walked me back from the library to Kate’s car, which I had borrowed so I could stay on campus later. I liked him instantly. He was funny and had some great stories. After that, I saw him a few more times on campus and, eventually, we became friends. Now, besides Kate and Elliot, he’s probably the best friend I have at Harvard. He’s a little older than me, but only by a few years. It’s nice though, he’s mature.

“Hey, Ana,” He greets me. “Just getting back from the gym?”

“Yeah, and I’m running a little bit behind this morning,” I tell him as try and balance the books in my arms with the coffee the barista hands me.

“Here,” He says, taking the books out of my hands and chuckling. “Why don’t I walk you to class?”

“My hero,” I say gratefully, and he rolls his eyes.

“It’s literally my job,” He laughs, then he opens the door for me and we set off towards the English building.

Courses are much different now than they were my freshman and sophomore years. I only have one lecture class, Representation of Race in Post War American and British Fiction, and the rest of my classes are more directed study. My favorite is my Advanced Fiction Writing course, not only because it gives me time to work on my impossible manuscript, but because it gives me a chance to get insight from Dr. Thomas Ralston, who is not only the head of the English Department here at Harvard, but who has also written dozens of books that have changed my outlook on countless things. He’s the reason my focus has shifted from literature to writing.

I take my regular seat at the front of the class and wait eagerly for Dr. Ralston to begin. He starts the class with his usual Q & A session where students can ask his advice for where they are in their own writing or questions about writing in general. I always take accurate notes, transcribing every word he says verbatim, and it’s helped me on more than one occasion. When the Q & A session is over and he gives us a thought to ponder for the day, he turns the class over to us, allowing us time to work on whatever writing project we have going.

I open my laptop and stare down at the last sentence I was able to type out on my manuscript, which was written nearly six weeks ago. It’s frustrating not being able to move forward from here, but I can’t figure out how the characters will realistically overcome the obstacles I’ve given them. Everything seems so insurmountable, but the idea of not giving them relief or resolution in the end is just too much for me to handle. I’ve lived this life with them for almost a year now, it would break my heart to leave them wounded.

By the end of class, no progress has been made. I morosely place my laptop back in my bag and as I do, I’m approached by Dr. Ralston.

“Anastasia, do you have a minute to spare after class? I’ve finished reviewing the draft you submitted and I’d like to talk to you about it in my office.”

“Sure,” I tell him, standing eagerly and following him out of the classroom. He leads me up a flight of rickety stairs at the end of the hall and opens the door to his office for me. I take a seat across from him at his desk and wait anxiously for him to begin.

“How’re things going, Anastasia?” He asks.

“Slowly… I’m having trouble with the ending.”

“Well, I have to say that I’m very impressed by what I’ve read so far. Mental illness is an extraordinarily difficult topic to explore in fiction and you’ve done it beautifully. Your depiction of living with depression is truly moving.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’d love to work with you more on this. I think you have something special here. Perhaps with some fine tuning, this work could be publishable.”

“Really?” I ask, shocked.

“Absolutely. It’s a remarkable piece.”

“I’d love any advice you could give me, sir. Thank you so much!”

“Absolutely, it’ll be my pleasure. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I am the faculty advisor for The Crimson, the paper here on campus. We’re always looking for writers with a fresh perspective to submit content. Perhaps you could draft a few pieces for my staff to review? If you’re any good, you could become a regular contributor.”

“Really?” I ask again, feeling as though I must be positively beaming. I don’t know whether or not I should bring up the fact that the editor of The Crimson, Kate, just so happens to be my best friend in the whole world and that unless my piece is submitted anonymously, the review will be biased… but, I decide against it. It might not be the most ethical thing to withhold, but being published in The Crimson is a really big deal. Besides, Kate wouldn’t put anything in there if she didn’t think it was good enough.

“Your writing is really outstanding, Anastasia,” He continues with a smile.

“I’d be honored. I have some samples I can bring to you later this week.”

“Then I shall let my staff know to expect them.”

“Thank you, Dr. Ralston,” I smile. He shakes my hand and I leave his office feeling as though I’d like to skip across campus. The Thomas Ralston is going to mentor me through completing my first novel AND he’s recommending me to be published in The Crimson! The vindication is overwhelmingly satisfying.

I dig in my bag and fish out my cell phone, scrolling through my contacts until I find Luke’s name.

“What’s up, Ana?” He asks when he answers.

“You’ll never guess what just happened!”

“Should I try?”

“Meet me in the Quad. You’re going to flip.”

“You’re joking!” Luke says when I tell him the good news. I shake my head, smiling broadly at him and he pulls me into a hug. “Congratulations, Ana! That’s awesome!”

“I’m dying a little,” I tell him. “Now I just have to go home and decide which pieces I want to send to The Crimson.”

“I’m sure whatever you pick is going to be fantastic. You’ll remember me when you’re famous, right?”

I laugh. “I don’t know… I think I might be having trouble already. What’s your name again?”

“Shut up,” He says, shoving me playfully. I giggle as I grab onto his jacket to prevent myself from falling over, and he looks guiltily back at me as he helps steady me on my feet. He always forgets that my inability to stay firmly on two feet at any given time is practically a disability.

“Well, I better get going. It’s getting late and it’ll take me a while to walk home. I’ve got loads to get done,” I tell him.

“You’re walking?”

“Sure, you know where I live. It’s not that far.”

“It’s getting dark… let me go with you.”

“Thanks Luke, I’ll be okay.”

“Hey, my job is to ensure the safety of the young women on this campus. You don’t intend on preventing me from doing my job, do you?” He asks seriously.

“No, I suppose not,” I tell him, and he motions me forward. I shake my head at him exasperatedly and then hook my arm through his as I being walking in the direction of my house. On the way home, he tells me about his day and the weird things he’s seen on campus. Fortunately, a lot of the new programs Harvard has put in place to protect the student body have been really successful. Unfortunately for Luke, most of his days are filled with little more than people watching, which is, more often than not, completely dull.

When we get to my house, I ask if he wants to stay for dinner, but he says he has to get back to campus. I give him a grateful hug for the escort and then wave goodbye as he disappears down the street and around the corner.

“Kate, I’m back!” I call when I walk through the front door of our townhouse.

“In the kitchen!” She calls back. “There’s mail for you on the breakfast bar.”

I hurry over to the kitchen and pick up the stack of letters addressed to me. Two of them are junk, one is my phone bill, one is a letter from Ray, and the last one bears the logo of the company I applied to for an internship in New York this summer.

“Oh…” I say nervously, turning the envelope over in my hands.

“That’s for your internship, right?” She asks excitedly as she stirs a pot on the stove. “Open it!”

I bite down on my lip and scan the letter. It’s good news… and bad.

“Well?” Kate asks.

“I got accepted…”

“Ana, that’s great!” She replies. “Congratulations!”

“It’s unpaid…”

“It’s an internship,” She shrugs as if this should have been obvious.

“But, I can’t take an unpaid internship. Especially not in New York. How will I pay for a place to live, or food, or all of my other bills?”

“Maybe your parents could help you out?” She suggests.

“No, they can’t afford that. Mom and Bob bought my books again this semester and I can’t ask my Dad for money… Not after everything he’s already given me to keep me here.”

“Well, we’ll figure something out,” Kate reassures me, but I shake my head.

“There’s other places I can apply. New York was always kind of a pipe dream anyway.” Honestly, I don’t even know why I want to go back there. My last trip to New York was memorable for all the wrong reasons and I still have the emotional scars to show for it.

“I can see if there’s anything available at my Dad’s company,” Kate offers. “You could live with me so you wouldn’t have to worry about a place to live or any other expenses.”

“Maybe,” I reply, noncommittal. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the office, it’s just that I know Kate is working there this summer and, as much as I love her, I don’t want our internships to become competitive. Kate has a thing with being the best and I really need a solid recommendation at the end of the summer for my resume. Graduation is fast approaching and soon, I’m going to have to start looking for jobs in the real world.

“You know, there is one person you could ask who I bet would be more than willing to offer you a position for the summer…” She says carefully, and I glare at her, knowing immediately who she means. “I’m just saying,” She continues defensively. “He owns a really big company and a personal recommendation from him at the end of the summer could go a long way.”

“I already live in a house he bought,” I tell her, a little too harshly. “I don’t need to be anymore beholden to Christian Grey.”

“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, Ana. Besides, Carrick bought the house… It’s just Christian’s name is on the deed.”

“Not anymore,” Elliot says as he enters the kitchen and kisses Kate on the cheek. “He bought the house from Dad last year.”

“What?” Kate asks.

“Yeah, Dad sent him some legal thing that told him he had to sign the deed over or pay for the house. Christian sent him the money.”

“So, Christian’s our landlord?” I ask, but Elliot shakes his head.

“I think he’d have to charge us rent to be considered a landlord.”

“And you didn’t think to mention any of that?” I ask irritably. Elliot looks at me like he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do anymore.

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about him!”

I shake my head, pull the letter from Ray out of the envelope, and immediately smile when I see his messy handwriting. He tells me about what he’s been up to lately, about some of the people he’s grown close to over there, complains about the food, and tells me for the hundred millionth time how proud he is of me. It’s a bittersweet kind of feeling. He seems to be doing okay, but… I miss him. His two years in Iraq turned into four immediately after my sophomore year. I saw him for three days over this last summer before he had to go back. The entire time I’ve been at Harvard, our relationship has been reduced to sporadic letters and phone calls on Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In a weird way though, it’s good. I never told Ray about Christian when we were still together. I didn’t want to put something that at the time felt so momentous in a letter. I wanted to at least do it over the phone… but Christian and I broke up before I got the chance and now, I’m grateful. Unlike my mother, Ray doesn’t call me every time Grey Enterprises Holdings is in the news or ask me if I’ve heard from Christian lately. He doesn’t give me looks of pity every time there is a child molestation case on the front page of the newspaper or ask if I’ve thought about dating yet. Even when he wrote me to ask about the care package sent by the Greys over that first Christmas, I was able to play it off by saying it was from a friend, who he now thinks is Elliot.

Christian and Ray are completely separate parts of my life, and I prefer it that way.

As I read more of the letter, I come across a part that is a little confusing:

Mr. Anderson wrote to me, you know, our neighbor in Montesano? He’s been looking after the house for me while I’m over here, mowing the lawn, and getting the mail. He told me that the checks I’ve been sending to Harvard to pay my portion of your tuition have been returned. Now, I know you’ve been in school, so maybe you should check with the admissions office to make sure there isn’t a problem with your enrollment. I’d hate for you to lose credit for all the work you’ve done.

Let me know what you find out. Love you, Annie, and miss you every day.

-Dad

I stare down at the letter confused. What does he mean the checks have been sent back? Shit, what if my enrollment didn’t go through and I’m not actually getting credit for all these classes? No… If I wasn’t enrolled, the professors would have no record of me. I’ll have to go down there tomorrow and find out what’s going on. Maybe my scholarships were just bigger this year and I just didn’t realize it. I did make the Dean’s List the last four semesters…

“Hungry, Ana?” Kate asks as she dishes a bowl of soup and passes it to Elliot.

“Yeah,” I tell her, setting down the letter and getting my own bowl out of the cupboard. When we sit down to dinner I tell Kate and Elliot what happened with Dr. Ralston and she beams at me and begins asking which of the short essays that I have saved on my computer I plan to send into The Crimson.

“What about that one… oh, what was it called? Feminism is the Dirtiest F Word. I’ve really wanted to do a piece about institutionalized sexism in elite education,” She suggests.

“Maybe,” I say. It’s not a terrible idea, even if the professor who graded me on it didn’t seem to like it very much. I have a feeling though, that has something to do with the “institutionalized sexism” Kate is talking about. I didn’t hold back in that essay…

“I can’t believe you’re book is going to get published!” Kate squeals. “Elliot, isn’t that amazing?”

“Uh… yeah,” He says, looking up from his phone which I’m sure he’s using to check baseball scores. “That’s the sad book, right?”

“It’s not sad,” Kate says defensively. “It’s moving.”

“It’s pretty sad,” I laugh. “But don’t get ahead of yourself, Kate. He said he would work with me on it. It’s not like it’ll get published just because I finish it.”

“It’ll get published,” She says confidently. “It’s so good, Ana.”

“Thank-you,” I tell her, feeling heat rush to my face as I blush.

After dinner, I help Kate clean the kitchen while Elliot screams at the Mariners on the TV. Apparently they haven’t been having a great season… When we’re finished, I tell Kate that I’m going to work on my manuscript some more and she smiles, nodding excitedly as I turn for the stairs. In my room though, with my laptop open on the bed in front of me, the same familiar feeling of uncertainty plagues me. Apparently, the idea of working with my favorite professor and the possibility of getting published hasn’t re-sparked the creativity in my brain and I still have no idea where to go from here.

I stare down at the screen for what feels like forever. I hear when Kate and Elliot go to bed through my door and still, I’ve got nothing. I guess I’ll call it a night… Maybe tomorrow I can go for a run along the river and try to figure this out in my head. It worked last year when I got stuck on that impossibly long term paper for Nineteenth Century Women Writers.

I close my laptop, remembering to place it back on my desk rather than leaving it on my comforter this time, and crawl into bed. As I lie there, trying to figure out what to do about this ending, my mind begins to drift and I wonder idly what Christian would think about everything that’s happened today. He’d probably say he wasn’t surprised and that he’d known it was only a matter of time before my name appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. He was always good at that, making me feel like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish. I miss that, I miss a lot of things about him.

My nights are lonely now and it gives me too much time to think. As I lie there, staring at the dark ceiling above my bed, I wonder what he’s doing at this very moment. It’s 12:30 here so almost 10:00 in Seattle, maybe he’s in bed too. I wonder if he watched the Mariners game tonight like Elliot did or if he’s too busy running an empire for things like that now. I wonder if he thinks of me when he lays in bed at night, the way I always think of him.

He still calls every day so I know he hasn’t forgotten about me, though that’s what I should want. I should want him to move on, maybe even find someone else, and be happy… But there is a selfish part of me that is glad that isn’t the case. It’s the same part of me that can look past the hurt, and pain, and, in the darkness of my lonely bedroom, admit that even after all these years and after everything that’s happened, I’m still in love with him.

As I begin to drift off to sleep, the last thing I wonder is whether that will ever not be true.

Next Chapter

Chapter 01

Image result for Anastasia Steele phone

Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, August 2nd 2008: New Seattle Business Registered. Seattle based FiberLink purchased by newly registered Grey Enterprises Holdings […] Articles of Incorporation list Seattle Native, Christian Grey, as Sole Proprietor and CEO.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, December 15th 2008: Grey Enterprises Holdings on the Rise. Grey Enterprises Holdings acquires Portland based telecommunications company SignalPacific. In only a few short months, GEH CEO Christian Grey has managed to transform the small company into a growing […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, January 6th 2009: GEH and Amazon’s Lucrative Partnership. Grey Enterprises Holdings partners with retail juggernaut Amazon to streamline connectivity services. In a statement released by CEO Christian Grey… “GEH is proud to be able to provide this service […]”


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, January 26th 2009: GEH Involved in Hostile Takeover. Grey Enterprises Holdings acquires software development firm LightWare. CEO Christian Grey says of the hostile takeover […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Newsweek, April 13th 2009: The Unstoppable Grey Enterprises Holdings. After quickly becoming the preeminent name in the world of fiber optics and internet security, Grey Enterprises Holdings, head by CEO and owner Christian Grey, is branching out into the world of manufacturing. GEH has acquired […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

People Magazine, April 29th 2009: World’s Most Beautiful People. 10. Robert Pattinson 9. Julianne Hough 8. Channing Tatum 7. Freida Pinto 6. Christina Aguilera 5. Christian Grey 4. Ciara 3.90210 STARS 2. Halle Berry 1. Christina Applegate.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, May 23rd 2009: Seattle Elite Gather at Fundraising Event for Senator Maria Cantwell. […] Notable attendees included, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, Christian Grey, Matt and Sarah Hasselbeck […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Time Magazine, July 31st 2009: Taking the Business World by Storm. Seattle raised Christian Grey has seemingly defied all odds by taking a small fiber optics company and slowly growing it into a $100 million empire. Thanks to a lucrative contract with Amazon this past winter, Grey Enterprises Holdings […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Forbes Magazine, August 5th 2009: Just call him Farmer Grey. After acquiring an impressive collection of ships and freighters to support the new manufacturing division of Grey Enterprises Holdings, CEO Christian Grey has now expanded into Agriculture Technologies with investments in local Seattle Agriculture Science Programs as well as technology out of […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Forbes Magazine, August 28th 2009: Too much too fast? Over the past year, Christian Grey, CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings, has achieved unparalleled success becoming one of the most preeminent names not only in Seattle, but across the nation. But is the rate of growth […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

The New Yorker, September 14th 2009: Most important 25 people under 25. 25. Miley Cyrus 24. Nastia Liukin 23. Mark Zuckerberg 22. Taylor Swift… 7. Christian Grey 6. Thione Niang 5. Ana Dodson 4. Amira Mortenson 3. Bilaal Rajan 2. Zach Bonner 1. Hannah Giles


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Forbes Magazine, October 1st 2009: Lessons Learned from the Meteoric Rise of Christian Grey. If you’re one of the millions of business owners across the country finding your profits dwindling in light of the recession, pay close attention […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, October 12th 2009: Seahawks roll over Jacksonville Jaguars 41-0. The Seahawks were dominant in their match up over the Jaguars Sunday […] Pictured: Christian Grey with his brother, Elliot Grey (Recent MIT Graduate), watching the game from box seats owned by Grey Enterprises Holdings INC.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, October 22nd 2009: The World’s Youngest Billionaire? As the profits of Grey Enterprises Holdings grow at an amazingly unprecedented rate, people can’t help wonder if Christian Grey, CEO and sole proprietor of GEH, is well on his way to becoming the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Newsweek, November 9th 2009: Is it a gaffe? At a White House dinner over the weekend, Seattle business magnate Christian Grey was overheard criticizing President Barack Obama for the continued involvement of the US in Iraq. President Obama campaigned on the promise to end hostility […] “They’re not just soldiers,” Mr. Grey was quoted as saying. “To someone, they’re family.”


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Star Magazine, November 13th 2009: World’s Most Eligible Bachelor. He’s smart, crazy successful, and one of People’s Most Beautiful People in the World. And, keep your hat’s on ladies, this hot, powerful man is… single. Women everywhere can’t seem to get enough of Christian Grey, the elusive but completely alluring CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, December 1st 2009: Grey Enterprises Holdings Expanding Again. A representative of CEO Christian Grey confirms that GEH has acquired Seattle based engineering firm Sound Construction […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Time Magazine. December 9th 2009: Christian Grey, Person of the Year. In an economic climate where starting a successful business was thought to be impossible, Christian Grey, a Harvard dropout, bought a small, failing fiber optics company in his hometown of Seattle, Washington and used it to transform himself into one of the greatest business titans of the 21st Century […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, January 1st 2010: A Conversation with Rosaline Bailey, Vice President and Co-founder of Grey Enterprises Holdings. It’s a dreary day when I arrive at the café where I’m set to meet Rosaline Bailey […] “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” She says about her partner and GEH CEO Christian Grey. “He’s ambitious and has great instincts and intuition.”[…] “The reason the success we’ve had can’t be duplicated is because there is only one Christian Grey.”


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Forbes Magazine, February 22nd 2010: Grey Enterprises Holdings Takes in Record Breaking Profits. It’s seems the sky’s the limit for the unstoppable force that is Grey Enterprises Holdings […] CEO Christian Grey, who has, himself, amassed a personal fortune that has surpassed over half a billion dollars […]


Google Alert: Christian Grey

Seattle Times, March 15th 2010: Seattle Charity Helps Children. Coping Together, an organization founded by Seattle’s own Mr. Carrick Grey and Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey, hosted its first charity ball this weekend successfully raising nearly $680 thousand for […] Notably not in attendance at the charity event was the couple’s own son, wealthy business owner, Christian Grey. Sources say Mr. Grey was not included amongst the list of those invited.

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