JUNE 29TH 1998

Why I have to spend my summer cleaning Mr. Lincoln's backyard is beyond me, and to add insult to injury, I'm not getting paid. This is taking advantage of a minor.

"What the fuck? Watch where you are going." Okay, maybe I should have been watching where I was going as well.

"Sorry, I had my head stuck in my book." Oh wow, it's a little girl about Mia's age. Her bright blue seems too big for her face. She's a beautiful little thing.

"It's okay I should have been paying attention as well," I say helping her up. "And you didn't hear the bad word I used." She lets out a soft giggle, and I swear by day just got brighter. "My name is Anastasia, but everyone calls me Ana," she says putting out her little hands for me to shake.

"Hi Ana, I'm Christian. Pleased to meet you." I shake her hands. I feel a small jolt and looking at her I notice she felt it too. What's that about.

"Where are you going?" I ask.

"To the park, I love it there. It's got the perfect place to sit and read."

"What are you reading?"

"Of Mice and Men." Isn't she a little too young to be reading that? Hell, I'm meant to be reading that this summer for the start of school.

"How old are you?" she giggles again, and I can't help but smile.

"I'm 8; I will be 9 in September. I love reading; it's my favorite thing to do" We get to the park and sit under a huge tree providing shade from the sun.

"Is that what you want to do when you grow up, be an editor." She looks a little perplexed. "That's what editors do; they read books before you can buy them." I try explaining.

"That is perfect. Yes, then that's what I want to do." She says beaming.

"Would you read it out loud?" I ask. She nods and starts reading.

We spent the day in the park; Ana shares her lunch with me, and I buy us ice cream from the park vendor. We head home when it starts to get late. I walk Ana home. She waves at Mr. Steele. Oh, Ana is Mr. Steele's kid.

"Hey, dad. This is Christian."

"Yes, baby girl I know who he is."

"Good evening Mr. Steele." He looks at me for a minute, making his mind up about something.

"I take it we shall see more of you." I didn't realize how much I wanted to see Ana again until he asks.

"Yes Mr. Steele, if it's okay with you."

"It's fine with me son, as long as your parents know where you are here." Crap, mom, is going to be pissed. I was supposed to clean Lincoln's backyard. I completely forgot. I say my goodbye to Ana and her dad and run home.

I walk through the house into the kitchen ready for the dressing down I will no doubt be getting. "Hi mom, sorry…" She raises her hand stopping me.

"Ray called, told us what happened." Huh. "And your dad said the thought he saw you at the park on his way home from work. You can go to Elena's tomorrow.

"Mom, if you don't mind I'd rather spend the day with Ana, we are reading Of Mice and Men."

"As long as Ray doesn't have a problem with it."

"He doesn't." I quickly reply. That went a lot better than I thought.

I have a quick shower and head down to dinner. "Elena is disappointed you will not be working in her backyard." My mom says.

"I'm sure she is," Elliot mumbled. Before mom can say anything, he asks if I want to play Tekken on Play station.

"Sure why not." Everybody expects me to say no and go to my room sulking. I'm in such a good mood today I'd like it to continue. Elliot and I used to do this all the time that was until I hit 13 and I found the nightmares and life, in general, difficult to cope with.

"Christian, Christian."

"Hmm, what?"

"Ray was on the phone for you. He was wondering if can come round today."

"What time is it?"

"It's half eight." What? I never sleep this late. Come to think of it, I don't remember having any nightmares. All I remember is Ana's voice reading to me.

"Oh okay, mom."

I head downstairs to have a quick breakfast and run out of the house. I make it to Ana's in no time, just as I am about to knock, the door swings open and a woman rushes out nearly knocking me over, doesn't even acknowledge me. I'm about to make a sarcastic remark when I hear Ana's voice. "Hey, Christian have you had breakfast yet."

"Yeah, who was that?"

"My mother." I have grown up with issues because of the crack whore, so Ana's tone of voice tells me this is an issue she doesn't want to discuss.

I take Ana into town to help her with groceries; I follow her around holding the basket and picking things off the shelf as she can barely reach the stuff she wants. Ray usually helps with this but he is swamped with work, and I was more than happy to help. On our way out we bump into Mrs. Lincoln, I have to say the woman is hot but creeps me out a bit.

"Christian, I have to say I'm disappointed you refused to clear the rubble in my yard."

"Yeah, something else came up."

"Well, how about next week, I'm sure whatever you had would be done by then."

"No, It will take me the whole summer to clear it up."

"Really, what could be so important?" Okay, she's really beginning to piss me off."

"Mrs. Lincoln, my ice cream is melting I have to go." With that, we walk past her and her scowling face.

"That was weird," Ana says. I don't disagree; she just seemed too eager to get me to her house. Her husband is loaded; I'm sure they can afford to get their backyard cleared.

MAY 26TH 2011

"What are you thinking about?"

"The day I run into you."

"You mean the day you sent me sprawling," she says giggling. "You know next month will make it 13 years."

"Look at you, all grown and graduating," Ray says from the front seat.

"Dad you do realize, technically I've been an adult for some time now. "She says rolling her eyes.

"Young lady watch it with the eyes." That sends Ana and I laughing, Ray has been saying that for as long as I can remember. There are two things that will never change when it comes to Ana. Eye rolling and that smart mouth.

We arrive at WSU for the graduation ceremony where I also happen to be speaking. Ana spots Kate and waves her over. "Hey Ana, Christian good to see you again." She and Ana hit if off their first day when they both moved into their shared dorm. They moved in together during their second year. "Christian the Dean is looking for you."

"Of course, he is," I mumble. Every time I come to visit Ana, this guy has something to talk about. I hug Ana goodbye and make my way towards the stage.

If anyone had told me at 14, my life would turn out this well. I would have told them they were more fucked than I was at that age. Meeting Ana was the single greatest thing to have happened to me; it changed the course of my life.

I'm trying my best not to look bored while handing out the diplomas; I only agreed to do this because the chance to hand Ana her diploma was too good to pass up. I look at Ana, and she sticks out her tongue making me smile. The girl in front of me thinks I'm smiling because of her. She soon realizes I'm not looking at her and turns to see who I'm looking at as she walks off the stage.

Since we got here, I've noticed that most of the girls glaring at Ana, quite a few of the guys glaring at me, trying to anyway. For the last couple of years, there have been speculations about the nature of our relationship.

With the exception of the women in my family, Ana is the only female I've been seen with. She's been my date to just about every gala and charity ball including coping together for as long as I can remember.

Finally, Ana walks towards me to get her diploma, and I can't help the face splitting smile I'm wearing. "Congratulations Miss Steele," I say shaking her hands.

"Thank you, Mr. Grey," she says giggling.

"Oh, Fuck it," I say picking her up and giving her a bone-crushing hug, her giggling gets louder. From the corner of my eyes, I can see Kate shaking her head at our antics. I give her a kiss on the cheek; before she gets off the stage, she gives Kate a quick hug.

I had just got back from a five week trip to Prague; I missed Ana terribly. Before the trip, work had me tied down for the better part of four months. Being a CEO wasn't easy. From the airport, I took Charlie Tango straight to Portland to spend the weekend with her.

We were on our way back from the movie theater when Kate texted Ana to warn her. Her then boyfriend had brought his friend over, a friend who happened to have a thing for Ana. Ana looked at me and smiled, by this point, we had our various routines down to a science. We decided to go with the making tea for my girlfriend routine.

The first time some guy showed interest in Ana, she had tried to turn him down gently, except he didn't hear it. I got to the party just as this idiot was starting to get fresh. I simply walked up to them and did the whole sorry I'm late routine. He took one look at me and backed off mumbling sorry to Ana.

Every time some guy had difficulty hearing no I made an appearance, sometimes just a phone call was enough.

We walked into the apartment said a quick hello to Kate, ignoring the fool whose smile faltered upon seeing me with Ana. We walked straight into Ana bedroom making unnecessary noise, the kind that had the fools' imagination running wild and just in case that didn't do it. My walking out shirtless in just cargo shorts making Ana her favorite weak tea was enough.

Sleeping in the same bed, as Ana was nothing new, we sometimes stayed up long into the night talking. On the rare occasions, I had a nightmare she'd hold me till morning, it was something she did the first time she stayed at Bellevue.

Except this night was different, I took Ana her tea, and when she took it from me her fingers brushed mine I felt the familiar jolt when our palms touched, but it wasn't our palms. It was a simple brush of fingers nothing more, and yet that jolt was bigger than ever.

Ana laughed it off as static, and I thought nothing more of it, but as I watched her blow on the tea trying to cool it down my insides stirred. I brushed it off as tiredness knowing full well it wasn't. Ana is a beautiful woman I would even go as far as say my best friend was sexy. But that night sexy took on a whole new meaning. My feeling for Ana had been growing rapidly over the past few years, and my decision to wait till she graduated was being steadily tested by that growing feeling.

The moment she laid down next to me, the slight brush of her skin against mine sent me and guy between my legs into a tale spin. I slept on my stomach for the rest of the night and woke with the biggest hard on I had ever sported, that was nothing new. I quickly made to the bathroom, locked the door and for the first time actively thought about my best friend while I jerked off. Considering I was using my hand, there was no way that should have left me fighting for breath and praying my legs would start working before Ana woke up. It wasn't the first time I had thought about Ana in this circumstance, but for the first time, I didn't feel wrong.

"Bro, where did you go?" I had drifted off again; we are having lunch to celebrate Ana's graduation.

"Are you okay?" Ana asked. I couldn't stop staring at her; that was when I wasn't in la-la land. She looked spectacular in her red dress; she wore it like a second skin.

"Yeah I'm fine, just reminiscing."

"Okay, I just going to use the bathroom I will be right back." And there they both go, what's with women and going to the bathroom together.

"Son you haven't got all the time in the world. One of these days someone is going to come along and sweep her off her feet. I rather that someone was you." Did Ray just give me his blessing? I looked at my mom who nodded agreeing with Ray. My parents had made it no secret that they would love to see me with Ana. Hell, I would love to see me with Ana so what was I waiting for. She has graduated, you have Ray's blessing time to act, time to do the one thing I've waited years for, make Ana mine.

JULY 15TH 1998

Ana and Ray are coming round for lunch, I'm working with Ray in his workshop as he is swamped, his nearest competitor went out of business and Ray has now got his customers and finishing the work they didn't finish. I help balance the books; maths has never been an issue, clean the workshop and keep things organized. I occasionally do some cutting and sanding. I make five dollars an hour. Hell, I would work for free, but he insisted.

I heard my parents talking about me yesterday, my dad is happy I'm staying out of trouble, and mom is just glad I'm sleeping through the night.

Watching Ray and Ana's relationship, I realize I have to make more of an effort with my family. It appears Ana's mother doesn't want to be part of the family, she's out of the house first thing in the morning and comes back late at night.

My attitude towards my family in the last couple of years has pretty much being the same, watching the hurt on Ray and Ana's face every time she ignores them has made me realize how my family feels when I ignore their attempts to get me involved.

Yes, I spent most of my time at the Steele's, but when I'm home I get more involved, I tell them how my day went. Yesterday I joined my dad and Elliot for a game of basketball. Ana and Mia might be the same age, but they couldn't be more different. At eight years old, Ana has been forced to grow up due to her mother's neglect, a situation I can identify with.

Mia dragged Ana to her room the moment they got here; they finally come down the stairs giggling about something. They make their way to the kitchen to help my mom with lunch. It's one thing they have in common their love for cooking.

We sit outside for lunch, as the weather is glorious. "Christian can I borrow some money, I've got a date tonight, and I'm broke," Elliot says while stuffing his face.

"If you are broke don't go. It's your fourth date this week I'm sure missing one won't kill you."

"Dad you don't understand."

"I understand more than you think."

"We were your age once," Ray adds.

"So Christi…"

"Sorry Elliot got plans for that money."

"Mia, can I…"

"No, you already owe me three bucks."

"Really Elliot you should be ashamed asking an 8-year-old for money." My mom says. Yeah right, Elliot doesn't know the meaning of the word.

Elliot and I are trading insults but using words like fudge instead of fuck. I see Ana's shoulders shaking; she's trying real hard not to laugh but failing miserably.

Ana and I are sitting on docks kicking our feet in the water, well I'm kicking my feet in the water, Ana's legs are nowhere near the water.

"How do you know my dad?" I was waiting for that, my behavior when I first met him was nothing to write home about.

"He built the handrail on the stairs."

"I thought it looked familiar," She mumbles.

"Ana can I ask you a question, and you can tell me to mind my own business if you want."

"Okay," She says slowly.

"What's the deal with your mom?" She's wringing her hands in her lap, something she does when she feels nervous.

"I honestly don't know; she started acting strange about a month ago. She leaves the house in the morning, and most nights I'm asleep before she comes homes." I had a mother who cared more about her next hit than she did me, so I understand. "Before this, she was never really there. That's why I learned to cook; Ray will slice and chop anything I needed and help me cook, she did nothing, she sat around reading magazines and complaining about all the things she could be doing. Sometimes I think it would be better if she left and didn't come back."

We are still sitting on the docks when Mia joins us, she shares a bar of chocolate with Ana and refuses to give me a piece so I steal a piece, pop it in my mouth before she can snatch it back.

"Christian you are going to pay for that." She screeches.

"You have to catch me first."

She and Ana start chasing me around the yard, they don't stand a chance, but that doesn't stop them.

"Ana time to head home," Ray says. "Do you want to stay and Christian can bring you home in the morning."

"Oh please stay" Mia interjects. "I've got clothes you can wear, and we can have a sleepover."

"Okay, I will see you in the morning," Ana says hugging her dad.

I see Mia hug mom and dad all the time, and Elliot do the same, but for some bizarre reason, none has affected me as seeing Ana and her dad do it. I don't know; maybe it's the knowledge that they only have each other.

My butt hits the floor with a bone-crunching thud, followed by giggling and squealing. That's when I realize the girls have taken full advantage of my distraction. Just as I'm about to get up they both jump on me pinning me to the floor, I hear a roar from the kitchen and Elliot comes running out like a madman, instead of helping me he joins the girls in pinning me to the floor, careful not to touch my chest.

Ana is sitting cross-legged on my bed; I woke up for the first time in a long time screaming. I planned on staying awake going back to bed was just not possible at the moment. Mia understood why I had nightmares but could I burden Ana with them.

"I want to know if you want to tell me."

"My birth mother was a crack whore she didn't care for me. Her pimp constantly abused me; I was either a punching bag or used as an ashtray. She was too far gone to care."

"That is why you don't like to be touched." She was an observant little thing.


"Does it bring back the memories or the pain?"

"How old are you again." She giggles. She is just too knowledgeable for her age.

"You should talk to Ray. Do you want me to stay with you?" I nod she lies down next to me; she's so tiny she barely takes up any space. I wrap my hands around her, and I'm asleep before I know it.