Chapter 03

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“Don’t go,” I plead, wrapping my arms around Christian as we approach the stairs that lead up into the jet. “Just… move your entire company to Cambridge and never leave. You can use our guest room as an office.”

He lets out a short laugh and pulls me tighter against him, reaching into my hair and kissing me softly on the top of my head. “It’s actually a little unsettling how appealing I find that idea right now.”

I pull away and drop my head backwards so that I can look up at him. His fingers play with my hair for a moment as he stares down at me, and then slowly, he lowers his lips to mine.

“Come to Seattle this weekend,” He says, and I take a deep breath.

“I’ll look at my schedule,” I tell him. “I think I have a paper due early next week and I’ve got to see what happens when I get my manuscript back. I’ll let you know as soon as I can though.”

“Okay,” He agrees, reluctantly. I lean up and kiss him once more and then, with a disheartened sigh, untwist my arms from his waist so that he can board the plane.

“I love you, Anastasia,” He says, pausing at the top of the stairs.

“Love you,” I reply, waving goodbye as he gives me one last smile and then disappears into the plane. There’s a sudden whirlwind of commotion as staff members begin preparing the plane to take off, but since I can’t see Christian anymore anyway, I turn back for the Lexus, glance at the jet one last time in my rear-view mirror, and then start back for Cambridge.

To my surprise, when I walk through the sliding glass door of my house, I find a very chipper looking Kate cooking in the kitchen, dancing around to Lady Gaga.

“You seem like you’re in a better mood,” I say, making my way through the kitchen and tossing my coat over a chair next to the dining room table.

“I told you I was fine,” She says. “I was tired and I’d just walked in on one of my literal worst nightmares. I mean, the kitchen, Ana? Really?”

I shrug. “He pays the bills.”

She shakes her head and turns away from me, pushing chopped vegetables around in the skillet in front of her, but I’m not quite ready to let her off the hook yet.

“So, how are you and Elliot doing?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he didn’t come to Cambridge to drop you off at school and he stayed all of one night the very first time he came to visit you.”

“Oh,” She says, deflating a little. “I don’t know, I think we’re going through a… rough patch, I guess. He’s just busy with work and, I don’t know, I don’t…” Her voice cuts off as she stares down into the pan in front of her, and I don’t know if she’s stalling or trying to find the right words to say. Eventually though, she straightens a little and gives me a tight lipped smile. “We’re fine, Ana.”

“Okay,” I concede, but only because I can see that she doesn’t want to tell me what’s really going on.

“How was your weekend?” She asks, obviously changing the subject. “You and Christian seemed shockingly quiet last night.”

I roll my eyes. “We watched a movie.”

“Uh huh,” She says, giving me a skeptic glance.

“You know, we’re not attached at the genitals, Kate. We do like just being around each other. I just wanted to spend quality time with him last night, laying in bed, cuddling, and forcing him to sit through a Shirley Temple movie so that he couldn’t make it dirty.”

She laughs. “I don’t know about that… The Good Ship Lollipop? I’m sure he could come up with something creative for that.. Tell you to hop aboard or something.”

“You’re a terrible person,” I tell her, shaking my head with exasperation. She laughs again as she dumps her stir fry onto two plates and brings them over to the table. I try to change the subject back to her, but she always seems to be able to divert me. After lunch, we spend the rest of the afternoon comparing workloads for the week and finishing up some last minute homework and by the time I’m headed to bed, I still haven’t really talked to her about Elliot at all, but I’m bound and determined to figure out what’s going on eventually.

My meeting with Dr. Ralston is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, so once I’m finished with class for the day, I send a quick text to Christian, just to tell him that I’m thinking about him, and then make my way to his office. There’s another student inside so I pace back and forth while I wait, carefully walking heel to toe on the line in the linoleum. Eventually, the door opens and a rather somber looking guy steps out, clinging to a blue book in his hands.

“Good luck in there,” He says wistfully once he’s closed the door behind him. “Ralston is a real hard ass.”

“Yeah,” I agree as I slip past him. Part of me wants to say something in my mentor’s defense, but I do know where this guy is coming from. Some of the most stressful weeks I’ve spent at Harvard have preceded one of Dr. Ralston’s exams. He nods and gives me a tight lipped smile as I reach up to rap on the door.

“Come in,” Dr. Ralston answers. I do and he smiles up at me as I take the seat across from him. “Oh, Anastasia, how wonderful to see you.”

“Good afternoon, Dr. Ralston,” I greet him.

“My wife baked some cookies that I haven’t been able to give out to the staff today, can I tempt you?”

“I’m fine,” I decline politely, trying to hide the smile as I remember using Dr. Ralston’s constant offer of treats in his defense against Christian’s concerns.

“Okay,” He says with a long, disappointed sigh. “How are your classes treating you this semester?”

“Good so far,” I reply. “I’m enjoying the subjects I’m taking, but my workload is heavier than it’s been in the past and that’s been an adjustment. I already have a monster of a paper due next week.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” He says. “Because I’m about to add to your to do list.” He reaches into his bottom desk drawer, searches through the file folders for a moment until he finds my manuscript, and then places it in front of me. I begin flipping through it and am not even a quarter of the way in before I’m utterly horrified. The pages are so marked up with red pen, they look like they’re bleeding.

“They…” I hesitate. “They didn’t like it?”

“Oh quite the contrary,” Dr. Ralston says. “We had a lot of very meaningful and productive conversation surrounding the themes and context of your work.”

“But…” I look down at the paper again, trying to look at the edits more objectively. There are standard corrections for grammar or spelling I’d been too hasty to correct myself, but there are also entire blocks of text and even scenes crossed out with words like “contrived” written next to them.

“Why was this taken out?” I ask, folding the paper back and lifting it up so that he can see the scene in question.

“We had a long discussion about that scene,” He says. “It was deemed to be unnecessary.”

I frown as I read the first few lines of the scene again. It’s the part of my book I’d based off the weekend I spent in Vermont with Christian. It wasn’t unnecessary, it was a pivotal moment that changed the entire course of our relationship.

“But this is when I… uh, Isaiah really fell in love with Erica. It changed everything.”

“They’ve already said they love each other,” Dr. Ralston counters.

“I know… But this is different. This is when their relationship became something unique, something that set it apart from everyone around them. This is when he knew that Erica was his soulmate.”

“That may be true,” He says, “But it slows down the plot and you’re pushing the acceptable word count for a novel of this subject matter. You’re not writing a romance novel or high fantasy, you’re writing about mental illness and depression. It’s important to stay focused and on topic, or you’re going to lose the reader’s interest. Look, you’re the writer and it’s ultimately your decision, but sometimes you have to kill your darlings, Anastasia.”

“I’ll… think about it,” I agree reluctantly, and he nods.

“Good. Read through the comments carefully and try to approach the critiques with an open mind. I think your writing will be better for it. Make your changes and have it back to me in two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” I gasp, and his brow furrows.

“Two weeks. These things take time, Anastasia, and you don’t have much of it until you graduate. We need to move quickly as I won’t be able to help you after you’re finished with school… that is unless you plan on staying in Cambridge after graduation.”

No. Christian would definitely not be in favor of that idea.

“Two weeks,” I reply, more conciliatory this time. “Okay, I better get started then.”

“Excellent! And, we should meet on Friday so we can start going over the query letter process and drafting the letter you’ll be sending out to prospective agents. Now that your novel is edited, I’d like to begin that process as soon as possible.”

“Friday,” I repeat, pulling out my phone to make a calendar reminder. We agree on a time and then he wishes me luck on the editing process as I turn to leave.

“You’re sure you won’t take a cookie?” He asks once more. “They’re brain food.”

“Sure,” I concede with a laugh. He smiles broadly at me as I take a cookie from the plate he offers me and then wave good-bye before leaving the office.

That night, my stress level is through the roof as I sit at the coffee table trying to work on book editing, a research paper, and all of the reading assignments for my other classes at once. The multitasking doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help though as I’ve been sitting here for almost three hours and I’ve only gotten through maybe three to four pages of my manuscript. On top of that, I haven’t even clicked on most of the tabs I have open on my laptop for my research paper.

Kate is sitting across from me, chewing on the end of her pen as she goes through the submissions for the next issue of the Crimson, and Luke is laying on the couch behind me, reading some of the harsher comments from my book editors aloud to torture me.

“Wait, wait!” He says, not even trying to hold back his laughter. “Listen to this one. This language is drawn out, overindulgent, and monotonous. The predictable cliches the author uses to describe helplessness are less compelling and more painfully, painfully angsty and whiny. Oh, or this one. This description is entirely bereft of ambition or imagination.”

“Alright, alright,” I snap, reaching back to snatch the manuscript out of his hands. “I’ve had just about enough of the Comedy Central Roast of Anastasia Steele.”

He laughs. “See, that comment was full of imagination. Unlike your book.”

“You want me to kick his ass for you?” Kate asks, looking up at me over her notebook, and I roll my eyes.

“No, I don’t think you’d cause enough damage with those dainty little arms,” I say, turning to glare at him. “I need someone bigger to do it. Like, Taylor.” My phone rings on the table and when I look over and see Christian’s name on the screen, I turn to smirk at Luke again. “And look, here’s just the guy to make that happen.”

“I knew you were going to say that,” He taunts me as I get up off the floor to head towards the kitchen so that I can answer Christian’s call in relative privacy. “Totally unimaginative!”

I shake my head with exasperation and answer the phone. “Hey, babe.”

“Hi. How was school?”

“Fine. I got my book back this afternoon.”

“And?”

“And I’m the worst writer of the 21st century. You can’t imagine how much they ripped this manuscript apart.”

“Well, you saw what went into that process over the summer. It’s not malicious, they’re just doing their job.”

“It sure doesn’t feel that way,” I pout, knowing full well how melodramatic I sound. “It feels like I’ve failed.”

“That’s not true. Think of how many writers don’t even make it this far. Think of all the manuscripts you just outright passed on without reading more than one chapter. Publishing is a tough business. You’re going to need a thicker skin if this is really what you want to do.”

“I know,” I relent. “You’re right, this is good. It’s going to make my novel better in the end.”

“And it’s already amazing. Painful, but incredible. You’re an extraordinary writer, Anastasia. I know that once you’re published, the world will love your work.”

“See, you should be in charge of critiquing my book,” I say with a soft giggle, and he chuckles back.

“Have you decided whether you’re coming home this weekend or not?”

“I don’t know…” I reply hesitantly. “I’ve got a lot of work this week and I’m stressed out about getting my edits done in time. I haven’t been able to focus all night. I’m not sure I’m going to have time to come home this weekend, especially because I have a meeting with Dr. Ralston on Friday afternoon. I wouldn’t get out of Boston until really late anyway.”

“So you’ll get here late and you’ll do your homework on the plane,” He argues. “You can do homework here, you still have an office upstairs. I just want you here with me.”

“You won’t distract me?”

“Not if you really have work to do,” He promises, and I take a deep breath as I mull the decision over.

“Okay,” I concede. “I’ll fly home after my meeting on Friday.”

“My plane will be waiting for you.”

“Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to get finished before I have to fly all the way across the country in three days.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“Love you too, bye.”

I hang up the phone and then exhale sharply, still feeling doubt over whether or not it’s a good idea to fly home this weekend. But unfortunately, this is how our relationship is now and if it’ll make him feel better just having me in the apartment, I can study from there just as easily as I can from here.

I drag my feet as I head back into the living room, actually dreading getting back to work even though it’s now more vital than ever. “I’m going to Seattle this weekend,” I tell Kate. “You wanna come with me?”

“No thanks,” She says. “I’ve got a test next week and a lot of submissions to review for the Crimson before the Homecoming Issue.”

“I tried that on Christian, not even close,” I tell her, and then turn to Luke. “Looks like it’s just going to be me and you, buddy.”

“Oh sure, you ask Kate if she wants to go, but just expect me to come along with you? What about my plans, Ana?”

“You don’t have plans,” I reply, dryly.

“I could have plans,” He says defensively.

“Okay, fine. I need to go to Seattle this weekend, Luke. Can you come with me or are you busy?”

He reaches up to his chin, making a dramatic show of thinking it over. “I’m not sure, I’ll have to check with my friends.”

“You don’t have friends,” Kate laughs and Luke looks back at here with shock.

“Katherine, I’m hurt. I thought we had something truly special. I was looking forward to spending some real quality time together this weekend.”

“Awh,” Kate replies. “Well if that’s how you feel, we could totally hang out. We could watch It Happened One Night, I hear that’s your favorite.”

“Mmm, sorry. Can’t,” He says regretfully. “I have to go to Seattle.”

“You’re such a loser,” I laugh, and then duck as he throws a pillow at me. He reaches over for the remote, turning on some TV show I’ve never seen, while I attempt to try and finish at least one thing on my long list of school work. After about an hour of reading through a few different scholarly articles about the great vowel shift between 1300 and 1650 and still feeling like I’m getting nowhere, I find myself spending more time thinking about how much work I have to do, rather than actually doing it.

“Focus, Anastasia,” I say aloud, shaking my head slightly to try and orient myself.

“You need to relax,” Luke says. “Stressing about it is just making it harder.”

“No, you need to unwind,” Kate counters. “You’re in your head too much. Why don’t you try taking the night off, loosen up a little, and then pick it back up tomorrow when you’ve got a clearer head?”

“I don’t have time,” I pout.

“Well you’re clearly not going to get anything done anyway and sitting here trying to work when you’re not in a good headspace is just making you miserable and stressed. If you don’t find a way to relax a little, you’re not going to get any work done tonight and you’ll just carry this negative energy with you tomorrow.” She says. “I vote we take a break and have some fun.”

I glance down at the open books in front of me, feeling a wave of dread as I look over the first few sentences. Maybe Kate is right. Maybe it would be better if I took a night to clear my head so that tomorrow I can make a plan and attack this with more organization.

“What did you have in mind?” I ask.

“There’s a party over on Merrill Street tonight. Let’s go check it out.”

“A party?” I ask doubtfully. “I don’t know, Kate. I’m not really about that life anymore.”

“It’s supposed to be super chill. I got invited by one of the guys who works on the Crimson and he’s not a rager kind of a guy.” Kate reassures me. “And just because there’s tequila around you doesn’t mean you have to drink it all, Ana. We’ll take it easy, hang out, listen to some music, maybe dance a little. I’ll have you in bed by 11, I promise.”

I purse my lips together. It does sound tempting. I haven’t really done anything social all semester because I’ve been sick, or busy, or with Christian, and… this is my senior year. Next year I’ll hopefully be working full time at some big publishing house in Seattle and I won’t always have the chance to drop everything and have a few drinks with Kate anymore, especially when Christian is around all the time. This is really my last shot.

“What do you say?” Kate asks.

“Okay,” I agree. “Just this once.”

“Yes!” Kate squeals, jumping up to her feet. “Let’s go get ready!”

“Hold on,” Luke interrupts, sitting on the couch and turning an almost somber look on me. “Do you really think this is a good idea, Ana? I mean, Mr. Grey…”

“Mr. Grey will get over it,” Kate snaps. “She’s going to be fine. It’s just a small house party and I know the people throwing it. If it gets crazy, we’ll come home.”

“I don’t know…” Luke says, uncertainly.

“Come with me,” I tell him. “Christian can’t object if you’re there with me.”

“You’d be surprised,” He mumbles, but when I stick out my bottom lip and give him the sad puppy dog eyes that I know he can’t refuse, he ultimately gives in and nods.

Thirty minutes later, Kate, Luke, and I are walking up the short concrete walk to the front door of a house I’ve never been to before. Whoever it is that answers the door seems to know Kate though and we’re quickly ushered inside where about thirty or so people are standing around talking, holding clear plastic cups filled with alcohol in their hands while Like a G6 thumps over the speakers in the corner.

“Let’s get a drink!” Kate shouts at me over the music. I nod and grab onto her hand, letting her pull me into the kitchen, where we contribute to the host’s alcohol fund, and then making ourselves a cocktail. She’s bobbing up and down to the music as I finish topping off the few fingers worth of tequila in the bottom of the plastic cup I’m holding with orange juice and grenadine, and once I take my first drink, she yanks on my arm to pull me out into the middle of the crowded living room to dance.

After a few drinks and a lot of encouragement from Kate, I am actually able to unwind and enjoy myself. Luke is hovering close by, watching intently as Kate and I sway together, holding our drinks above our heads and swinging our hips back and forth. Soon, and probably because of my third tequila sunrise, I’ve almost forgotten all about the mountain of homework I have waiting for me at home and the overly harsh critiques on the novel I’ve poured my heart and soul into. We’re having a great time until a guy I don’t know, but who is surprisingly cute, comes up to us, turning his body towards Kate but looking down at me.

“Mind if I cut in?” He asks, and I’m about to tell him we’re fine on our own but Kate speaks up first.

“Sure,” She says, reaching down for his hand and turning to pull him further into the crowd of people dancing around us. She’s almost able to disappear in the second it takes me to recover from my surprise, but I reach out and grab onto her hand to stop her.

“Kate, what are you doing?” I hiss.

“It’s just a dance,” She says. “I’ll be back in two seconds.”

“But…” I start, but she’s turned away from me and soon is lost through the group of tightly packed students. I let out a harsh huff and make my way across the room to where Luke is standing.

“Where’s she going?” He asks, nodding in Kate’s direction.

“I guess she’s going to dance with that guy.” I tell him, and he raises an eyebrow at me.

“Is Elliot going to be okay with that?”

I shrug. I’m not in a position to tell her what she can and cannot do, but part of me thinks that dancing with a guy and letting him put his hands on her while she’s not only a little intoxicated, but also 3000 miles away from her very serious boyfriend of three years, is a little inappropriate. I certainly wouldn’t do that to Christian, and I know that he would definitely blow a gasket if he found out I did, but their relationship is different than ours is. Elliot’s not the same guy as Christian and maybe he won’t care. It is just a dance after all, it’s not like she’s on a date with the guy. Besides, I suppose I can’t really judge her when she was nothing but supportive of me when I was going through my party phase a year ago. Still, it doesn’t sit right.

“Why don’t we go sit down?” Luke suggests.

I nod and then follow after him, clinging to his arm, as he crosses the room. There’s a large, L shaped couch in the corner that’s mostly empty, but as I take a seat, the guy sitting next to me turns around and I see that it’s Carter Reed.

“No fucking way. Hey, Ana!” He exclaims. He’s clearly more than a little intoxicated.

“Hey, Carter,” I reply, and he turns to his friends, gesturing at me frantically.

“Do you know who this is?” He shouts at them “Do you KNOW who this even is?”

They shake their heads and he gets to his feet, rather unsteadily, and climbs onto the couch. He wavers a little, already unsure on his feet because of the alcohol but completely unstable standing on the soft cushions of the sofa, and waves his arms to get the attention of the entire room.

“Attention, everyone. Attention please! The one and only Anastasia Steele is in the house tonight. This girl, I fucking love this girl!”

“Carter!” I say, feeling my cheeks heat with humiliation as I reach up to yank on his jacket and try to pull him back down on the couch. “What are you doing?”

“Alright,” Luke interjects, grabbing onto Carter and stabilizing him, before moving him a few more feet away from me. “Let’s keep it cool, alright?”

“Nah, dude, it’s cool,” He says. “It’s my house.”

What? This is Carter’s house? Oh my god, I’m going to kill Kate…

“Ana,” Carter interjects. “AnaAnaAna. We need to talk. What happened over the summer? The last time I talked to you, you weren’t even speaking to Grey and, all of a sudden, I turn on the TV and you’re on the news talking about getting married and shit.”

“Yeah,” I say awkwardly. “We’re back together.”

“No fucking way,” He says. “Do you even realize what a big deal he is now? What he’s done to change the game of venture capitalism? He’s a legend and, holy shit, he’s got a fuck ton of money.”

“Yeah, but he’s still the same guy. Our relationship hasn’t really changed much. He just has less free time now than he did in college.”

“But he’s kind of famous. I mean, watch…” He says, and then turns to his other friends again. “Guys. Guys! This girl is dating Christian Grey. Like, THE Christian Grey.”

“Get out!” The girl on Carter’s left says, her mouth dropping open.

“No you’re not,” Another girl says, in disbelief. I tell her that it’s true but she shakes her head. “He lives in Seattle. Why would he be dating a girl who’s still in school and who lives on the opposite side of the country?”

“Love,” I say firmly, but when she rolls her eyes, I feel a flash of vindictive anger and pull out my phone. I have a picture of Christian and I sitting on the beach in Hawaii as the background of my home screen so I turn it around to show her and her eyes widen.

“Oh my god,” She says with disbelief. “I thought… I mean, I read that he was fucking some intern at his company and got sued for sexual harassment.”

“Well, he didn’t get sued… and I was that intern,” I reply sheepishly. “But, to be fair, we dated before I went to work at GEH… It’s all very complicated.”

“You worked at Grey Enterprises Holdings?” A guy on the far end of the couch asks, but the first girl waves him off.

“No one cares about that. Tell us about Grey. I mean, he’s so hot! How do you make that happen?”

“She dumped me for him,” Carter says, now putting on a dramatic show and pretending to wipe a tear from under his eye. “Ana and I dated for a few months our freshman year and then Grey swiped her out from under me when he was still a student here.” He moves his arm in a grand sweeping gesture in front of him, that causes him to fall backwards onto the couch a little, and I roll my eyes.

“That’s really not what happened. Carter and I broke up months before Christian and I started dating.” I tell the girl, although I have no idea why I suddenly feel the need to explain myself to strangers.

“Oh my god, she just called him Christian!” The girl squeaks. “Like he’s just a normal guy. Ah, this is amazing! I mean, Christian Grey! What’s he like?”

“Well…” I spend the next twenty minutes or so talking to Carter and the few friends he has sitting around him about Christian and about the summer I spent interning at GEH. I’m actually surprised by how interested they are in Christian’s company. When I start talking about my internship, a few of them ask questions that I can’t answer, and while they start arguing about the merits of the Grey Method, I’m reminded that I’m currently surrounded by Harvard Business majors.

“Dude,” Carter says, turning a very serious look on me. “You have to get Grey to come and do a lecture for my futures markets class. Do you know what that would do for me? My professor would probably let me coast for the rest of the year.”

“I don’t know,” I say doubtfully. “He’s a pretty busy guy.”

“Just try, okay?”

“Yeah, try…” I reply, trying to be as noncommittal as possible. Even if Christian was interested in coming to give a lecture at Harvard, I doubt he’d do it as a favor to Carter.

“I’m going to go and get another drink,” I tell Carter, and he nods dismissively before turning back to his other friends. Luke, who has spent the last half hour or so talking with the pretty blonde sitting next to him, gives me a questioning look when I get up, but I tell him to stay put and that I’ll be right back. I’ve had a creeping sense of guilt over the past few weeks as I’ve realized how much of Luke’s life is wrapped up in being my CPO, and after Kate’s comment about how he doesn’t have any friends earlier, it’s been nagging at me all night. I think I had a lot to do with why he and Leah didn’t work out and even though he seems to be okay with the fact that their relationship ended, I don’t want him to be alone forever just so he can drive me around all the time. He’s young, and cute. He should get the chance to act that way sometimes.

“I should come with you,” He argues.

“I’m just going to the kitchen, I’ll be right back,” I reply. He frowns, but I walk away before he can argue any further.

There’s no more tequila in the kitchen, which is fine because it is getting pretty late, so I decide to drink a glass of water to try and stave off any lingering effects of the alcohol, but when I turn to head back into the living room to rejoin Luke, I’m stopped cold in my tracks.

Standing a few feet in front of me, staring at me intently and not bothering to conceal the loathing in her eyes, is Leila Williams.

“Leila?” I croak, and her nostrils flare as she straightens a little.

“I thought I might see you here eventually,” She says.

“What are you talking about?” I ask her. “What are you doing here?”

“I go here,” She says. “Well, to BU, just over the river. I’m studying art history.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “You really expect me to believe that you just happened to enroll in a school less a mile away from me?”

“Oh, please. Don’t flatter yourself, Anastasia. Unlike you, this is where I’m from. I grew up in Connecticut, less than an hour and a half away from here. My parents still live there. I moved home and I enrolled in school. You don’t have a monopoly on Cambridge.”

I grind my teeth together as I stare back at her, unsure whether to simply ignore her and get out of here, or to throw down with her right here for everything she’s done to Christian. Ultimately, because I’m at school and because the father I love has sacrificed everything to make this place a reality for me, I choose the former.

“Just stay away from me,” I tell her coldly and she smirks.

“As much as you want it to, Anastasia, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Get over yourself.”

I swallow back all of the hateful, bitter words I want to spit at her and walk purposefully back into the living room, feeling her eyes on me the entire way back to Luke.

“We need to get out of here.” I tell him, and he looks up at me with concern.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just saw Leila Williams.”

“What?!” He exclaims, immediately getting to his feet and looking purposefully around the room. “Where?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, because I can’t see her anymore. “She was in the kitchen. Apparently she enrolled in Boston University this semester. She lives here now.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” He groans.

“I wish I was.”

He takes a deep calming breath through his nose and then scans the room one last time. “Let’s get you out of here.”

I nod and start to walk towards the door with him, only to realize that I’m missing the other person we came with.

“Wait, where’s Kate?” I ask. Luke stops and we look back towards the open part of the living room where people are still dancing, but she isn’t there. “She said two seconds, it’s been like… An hour.”

“God damn it,” He says with a huff. “Come on, let’s find her.”

We turn back and make our way through the crowd and into the hallway, peering into rooms as we go. At the back of the house there is a fully enclosed sun room where a few people are sitting, passing a bong back and forth. I purse my lips together when I find that Kate isn’t one of them, and wonder where she’s gone.

“Hey, you wanna hit?” the guy on the couch with the bubbler in his hand asks, holding it out for me.

“No, thank you. You haven’t seen a blonde come through here have you?”

“It’s a party, babe. I’ve seen a lot of blondes,” He says.

“Right. Well, thanks anyway,” I turn around and am going to head back into the living room and maybe check the kitchen again, but out of the corner of my eye I see a small, dark alcove off to the right.

“Hold on, Luke,” I tell him as he holds open one of the french doors that leads back into the main house, and then cross the room to check.

She’s standing there, smiling up at the guy who is leaning too closely into her while he rests his arm against the wall over her head. He reaches up and brushes his fingertips over her cheek, looking as though he’s going to kiss her, and when he begins to lower his face down to hers, I launch myself forward.

“Hey! Get lost,” I say firmly as I physically push him away from Kate. He staggers backwards, looking shocked.

“Ana, what are you doing?” Kate shrieks, and I round on her.

“What am I doing? What are you doing? What about Elliot?”

“What about Elliot?” She snaps back, and I actually have to lean away from her as I hear the anger ingrained in her voice.

“Who’s Elliot?” The guy next to me asks.

“Her boyfriend,” I reply, shooting a sharp glare at him. “Her big boyfriend, who will kill you.”

“Wait, you have a boyfriend?” He asks, genuinely surprised as he turns back to Kate.

“Ryan…” She begins, trying to be conciliatory, but I cut her off.

“Yes, she does. Now get out of here.”

Luke comes around the corner then and I think he scares the guy off because he suddenly scurries away. Luke turns to look after him uncertainly, probably wondering if he needs to go after him, but when I don’t say anything, he lets it go.

“What’s going on with you, Kate?”

“Nothing…” She says, almost a little disheartened, but I’m not buying it.

“It sure as fuck didn’t look like nothing.”

Her eyes snap up to me, the anger flaming to life again behind her eyes. “I’m not going to do this with you, Ana. You can judge me all you want while you sit over there knowing that you have a man who is absolutely devoted to you and would give you anything in the world if it would make you happy. Who would put himself aside and choose you over everything else. Who just wants you to be secure and happy. Not all of us get that luxury!”

“Kate…” I say, my voice only a breath as I feel the impact of her words, but she storms away from me before I can say anything more. I watch her disappear around the corner, too stunned to immediately follow after her, until Luke finally brings me out of my daze.

“Ana, let’s go,” He says.

“Go… Yeah,” I reply, and after taking a moment to pause and re-center myself, I wrap my arm around Luke’s and let him guide me from the party and through Kate’s angry wake back to the house.

My head is spinning as I try and work through everything that has happened tonight. Something is going on between Kate and Elliot, that’s obvious now, and whatever it is, it isn’t good. And, I wasn’t hallucinating the other day. Leila really is in Cambridge. Christian’s not going to like that and I’m going to have to find a way to tell him she’s here without him freaking out and doing something drastic.

“Luke, can you not tell Christian about Leila?” I ask as we round the corner onto our street.

“That’s not really something I can keep from him, Ana.” Luke replies. “He’s definitely going to want to know. I mean, like it or not, she is a security risk.”

“I get that. But, I think if you tell him, he’ll overreact. I think it’s better if I tell him, in person, when he can see me right in front of him and he knows I’m safe. If you tell him while I’m here, he might show up in the middle of the night and drag me back to Seattle.”

“You promise that you’ll tell him?” Luke checks, and I nod.

“Promise.”

“Okay,” He sighs. “I won’t tell him.”

“Thank you,” I say, and when we turn onto the walk that leads to our house, I flinch as Kate slams the door, hard, behind her.

Next Chapter

Chapter 04

Image result for breaking bad

“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.

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