Chapter 21 – Edification (AN EPILOGUE)
A funny thing happened back in January when I went to re-up on my birth control pills.
Well…at the time, it wasn't very funny at all.
In fact, I was absolutely devastated.
Kate actually got to witness the whole thing.
See, the reason why the free clinic near Zion required quarterly checkups instead of the standard yearly ones is because the clinic doesn't care to waste tax payers' dollars on such things as birth control, especially if the girl is already pregnant.
Once I arrive at the doctor's office, I'm expecting them to just shove a thermometer down my throat and press a stethoscope against my back, and then call it a day. No – they also made me pee in a cup. Twenty minutes later, the nurse practitioner, who was no longer her usual chipper self, popped into the examination room while Kate and I were in the middle of a conversation, and then proceeded to inform me that the doctor would be stopping by shortly. I found that to be odd since I've never actually had to see a doctor here at the free clinic.
When the doctor arrived in the exam room, she closed the door and then sat down right beside me donning one the most serious looks that I have ever seen on a stranger who was preparing to speak to me.
"Hi, I'm Dr. Harris. I have some news to share with you.
Would you like your friend to remain present?"
I gaped at her.
Whatever it was, I was certain that the issue couldn't be that serious. Then I thought – I know that my eating habits are a beyond inconsistent. I've actually been eating a little less these days. Perhaps I'm simply lacking the proper nutrients.
"Yeah…sure," I nervously responded.
Then she dropped the atomic bomb.
"Miss Ana, I'm afraid we can't fill your prescription today.
That was actually Kate's reaction, not mine.
I was too busy suffocating on my own tongue.
I couldn't fucking believe it.
"But how?! She's on the pill!
Your test is wrong!"
Kate again. She said everything that I wish I could've said. I was way too stunned to give a proper response at the time.
Then Dr. Harris said – "Were you aware of the drug manufacturer's recall back during the first week of the month? If so, you would've found out about your pregnancy much sooner."
A recall?! - I thought. On birth control pills?!
In hindsight, that doctor reacted way too calmly. Perhaps I didn't pay it any mind at the time since Kate and I were freaking out enough for the three of us, as well as for everyone else inside of that medical building.
I'd later find out that the clinic tried contacting me by phone regarding the recall when it was first announced. However, they couldn't reach me on my old cell since I'd left it at Christian's place. Also, the only physical address the clinic had listed for me was at Zion, and I no longer worked there.
Kate was absolutely beside herself. She reacted as if this life altering thing was happening to her – but it wasn't. It was happening to me. I was pregnant, not her. Once the doctor stepped out to allow me to compose myself, Kate began overwhelming me with a barrage of questioning, but I was too numb to even pay her any mind. Soon, she took heed to my silence and ceased fire. When it was good and quiet in the room, I finally began to hear myself think.
You're single and pregnant.
Christian doesn't even want children.
He doesn't want this baby.
You can't keep it.
After the last thought entered my mind, I absolutely lose it. I break down into a sobbing pool of goo, and Kate instantly takes pity on me. Later that day at the apartment, I explained to her that Christian had once told me that he never wanted to get married or have kids, which pretty much places me in a bind. I expected her to eviscerate my ex, but to my complete surprise, Kate began to redirect the conversation away from him.
"Regardless of what you decide to do – in the end,
the drug company who provided you with those
inactive pills are one hundred percent liable.
Let's get to the bottom of that, first.
Afterwards, whatever you decide to do,
I will support you."
Kate then mentioned the idea of hiring an attorney. Granted, I have some money in the bank left over from my dealings with Christian, but I wasn't certain if that would be enough to retain a lawyer. That's when I decided to reach out to Betsy. I knew that she had some experience about law being that she helped out her husband Josh at his practice.
"Oh, my goodness – Ana…" – she gasped when I told her the news over the phone.
"Does Christian know?"
All I could think was – If I decide to keep this child, I'll be in this alone.
I began crying all over again.
I never answered Betsy's question because she'd already knew the answer. Instead, she informed me that I indeed had a case aside from any potential class action suit, and then she asked if it would be okay if she talked to Josh about my situation. I agreed.
At the time, I believed that my situation was beyond fucked up. I thought that I did everything right. I remained a virgin until the age of twenty-one. When I became sexually active, I was in a monogamous relationship while on the pill. Still, life has this way of shitting on you even when you think that you're doing all of the right things.
Granted, the situation that Christian and I were in wasn't necessarily ideal in the first place. I signed a client-artist agreement with him for fuck's sake. I got paid to dance for him at a very nice hotel, and dancing always led to sex. It wasn't spelled out in the contract, but we silently knew that dancing and sex were a packaged deal. It didn't matter whether or not I was on my period; we fucked because we both wanted to. Hell, I even begged him to deflower me in the first place. Of course, being on the pill helped make the decision an easy one.
Look how well that turned out.
Then another thought crossed my mind…
How many girls at Zion before the fall of Jay Dark
had unprotected sex with their clients, but in Private Row?
After pondering on that very notion, I immediately found myself dialing Becky. She freaks after I explained what happened, and she patches in Miranda. Miranda panics too, so she pulls Starla in on the call. Starla was temporarily silent after hearing Miranda's news about the drug recall. After a while of not speaking, Starla finally says –
"I didn't think that it had anything to do with a recall.
I just thought that I was the unlucky point-zero-three percent."
Oh. My. God.
The three of us gasped out loud at Starla's statement.
"You're…pregnant?" Becky asked nervously.
I appreciated Becky not throwing in 'too', since we hadn't broached that area of the conversation with Starla quite yet. Regardless of my current state of affairs, it really didn't feel very good telling a brand-new soul about my surprise pregnancy, all while the man who took part in it remained completely in the dark.
Starla took a brief pause before correcting Becky.
Holy shit – I thought. I had so many questions running circles around in my head. I was no longer thinking about my circumstances. I was now considering all of the things possibly traversing Starla's mind.
She must be in pieces right now – I said to myself at the time.
"Oh my god," gasped Miranda.
"Did you know who…?"
"I'm not proud…" – Starla interrupted, and it was more than obvious that she was fighting back sobs.
"…but I'll be damned if I have to tell some kid later on in life
that his father never loved me and that I never loved him;
and that his father was just some drunken rich German asshole
who was way too upset that he couldn't outbid another rich guy
for a dance with a different girl, that he actually forced himself on me."
That was when I nearly collapsed.
There were fucking cameras in that room, yet no one stopped Stefan Neumann from violating Starla. I have no doubt that there's a special circle of hell for people like Jay Dark and Lauren Moratti. At the time of hearing Starla's devastating news, I silently prayed that the two of them were in the county jail awaiting trial for their many violations while operating Zion. I hoped beyond hope that many women would begin coming forward to shed light on the type of business that Dark and Moratti were running by taking advantage young women who were at their absolute lowest point.
Only because Christian outbid Neumann, Neumann went on to…oh my god – I don't even want to even think about the things that he did to Starla. And no one at Zion at the time did anything.
While on the phone, I began crying my eyes out, so the girls all hang up and rush over to my apartment in Vancouver. I hated that Kate had to meet them under such negative circumstances, but I was glad that my best friend connected with the ladies who at the time had been my rock for the past four months. The fact that Starla knew Kate's father and mother very well never came up. That was a non-issue compared to Starla's present crisis.
Starla didn't discover that she was pregnant until a week after our girls' night outing back in November. At the time, there was no news about any recall; that wouldn't happen until early January. The moment the doctor informed Starla that the cause of her ongoing painful heartburn was attributed to pregnancy, she knew right away when it occurred. Without telling a soul, and without a second thought, she immediately reversed the situation.
My heart absolutely broke for her. Never have I hated anyone as much as I hate Stefan Neumann…the very predator Christian saved me from.
But why didn't anyone save Starla?
Later that night, Starla and I had some time to ourselves in my bedroom away from the other girls. She insisted that we have a quick chat alone.
"I know you're still in shock," she said as we both sat on the edge of my bed.
"Yeah," I sighed. "I'm just torn over what happened to you."
"I wasn't talking about me," she smiled.
"I'm talking about you."
"I'm not even thinking about me right now."
"You should be."
I recall blinking at her words.
"My situation was very different," she qualifies.
"He raped me.
Let's call it what it is."
I narrow my eyes.
"Yes – he absolutely did."
"But you were in love."
Her words stunned me, but the moment Starla placed her hand on my belly, I was shaken to the core.
"This child was conceived in love," she uttered,
"and will be loved by someone…no matter what."
At that moment, I began running the dates in my head – when I received and started taking the bad pills; all the times that Christian and I had sex between November and December…which was a lot. I couldn't figure it out at the time; I only knew that whenever we were together, there was no one else in the world that mattered but him.
He was my everything.
It wouldn't be until after my first official prenatal visit when I could get a little more accurate with my conception date. Then I had my first ultrasound and was given the gestational age of the little blip taking up residence in my uterus. After doing the math again, all signs pointed to the night when Christian and I had victory sex at The Heathman after foiling Jay Dark.
I recalled that night as if it happened just the night before. I was begging Christian… begging him to go faster, but he insisted on taking it slow. Damn him. He was making sweet love to me and neither of us knew the impact of that moment at the time.
Later, that love we made would produce the most beautiful thing in this entire world.
But I'm getting way ahead of myself.
Back in darker times – I received a call from Betsy telling me that Josh wanted to speak to me. She puts him on the phone.
"Hey Ana – so, my source tells me that a bitter former chemist
who worked for the drug company was the originator of those
faulty pills that made their way over to the free clinic near the club.
Approximately fifteen women were affected."
I recall gaping at the phone as I responded.
"So far, the records show that only you and one other woman
reportedly conceiving while taking the drug.
The other thirteen women were certainly at risk,
as well as every single woman who has ever taken the drug."
"Reportedly? I'm pregnant, dammit!" I said, outraged.
He chuckled nervously. "That's just legalese. You and I know very well…
"…and so was Starla McMillan."
"Wait a minute. Starla?
Starla from the club?"
"Has she been in contact with the firm that's
spearheading the class action suit?"
"What class action suit?"
"There's a class action suit against the drug company.
And if she was made aware about the bad pills,
she would've known about the suit as well."
I'd later discover that Starla wanted absolutely nothing to do with that class action lawsuit – she'd only wanted to put the entire trauma behind her. No matter how much the girls and I tried to convince her to not only get what was owed to her from the suit but to reveal to the authorities what Neumann did to her and what Jay Dark and Lauren Moratti subjected her to, she wasn't hearing it. She was still working at Zion. With everything, she trusted Karen and Sasha House and knew that they would keep her safe from here on out. Starla didn't want to relive those dark times back when Sasha's father was in charge in front of some court of law. She didn't want to have to confront what she did to erase the awful thing that happened to her.
"But it never really goes away" – she said to me once.
A few weeks later, I get another call from Josh.
"First of all, how are you?"
"I've been better," I sighed.
"I have news."
"Good or bad?"
"It depends on how you take it."
I remember him sounding somewhat upbeat at the time.
"You're probably looking at fifty thousand right out the bat
from the class action settlement. But on top of that,
the drug company would like to offer you an additional settlement.
In essence, they want to pay you twenty million dollars to be quiet."
I started hyperventilating.
"Ana – are you okay?" Josh said, concerned.
"If you want more than that, we could negotiate,
or push for a civil case.
You wanna aim for fifty?"
"Million?" I choked.
No, Ana…fifty dollars – my mind snarked once my very words echoed back to me.
Pregnancy brain is definitely a real thing.
I didn't know about anyone else, but twenty million plus fifty thousand dollars is a shit ton of money in my book. It's beyond enough to take care of me and the blip for the rest of our lives. I didn't want to be in court in some long, drawn out case after passing up a ridiculous amount of money for fucking ludicrous money.
I pretty much told Josh to stick with simply the ridiculous. He later said – "I highly suggest that you get in contact with a financial advisor and an accountant to begin making some good decisions with your settlement money."
And I knew just the person. Thanks to Google, I had zero difficulty locating his business line.
"Dawson Jacobs, here," he answered the call in that hot little accent of his.
Sweet lord – I thought upon hearing his voice.
"Hello, my name is Anastasia Steele and I need your help."
"Um…sure. Did the receptionist just forward your call to me?"
"Yes – after I asked her to."
He was thrown off guard.
"So, how do you know me?"
"Well…I know that you run a successful digital accounting
firm and you also have experience in the area of finance."
He cleared his throat.
"Alright. Wait a sec…you sound vaguely familiar.
Where have we met?"
"I used to serve you when I waited tables at an exclusive restaurant."
He was floored and immediately guessed that Anastasia is actually London's real name.
"I am so happy you called me," he gushed.
"I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since you quit the club.
What have you been up to after all this time?"
The gist of what I said to him –
Dawson, remember the crazy guy who swooped in and yanked me from your lap the last time we saw each other? Well, he also yanked me away from my job and began screwing my brains out whenever he came to town, which was weekly. I mean, things were great until they weren't great anymore, so I decided to leave.
In all seriousness, I fell in love with him hard and fast, but in the end, things just didn't quite work out between us. However, a little thing happened while we were still together, but I didn't discover it until after I left; I managed to get knocked up due to some bad pills. I just received a huge settlement from the drug maker… In the meantime, my baby's daddy has been trying to get back with me, but he has no idea that I'm pregnant with his child…oh – and by the way, he hates kids and will probably want me to get rid of it. So, can you help me keep my new windfall under wraps, so he doesn't figure out what I've been up to?
He was utterly stunned by everything that I said, to say the least. After some back and forth,
Dawson said – "Twenty million dollars is a lot of money. You sure you want to just sit on that? What about investing it?"
"That's why I'm calling you. What should I do –
invest in stocks and bonds? Maybe put some away
for the baby and donate the rest to charity?"
"Sure… you could do all of those things."
"What about starting a business?
Is that enough for me to start my own
independent publishing company?" I asked.
"Well… that's a novel idea – no pun intended," he chuckled.
"Let's discuss the prospect. Can we meet in person?"
Two days later, I meet Dawson at Hudson's Bar and Grill, which isn't far from where I lived. I hadn't the first clue what I wanted to do with all of that money, but I grew more and more interested in the idea of becoming an independent publisher. So, I prepared a little bit before our meeting and was able to tell Dawson that I wanted to venture into the area of eBooks, specifically.
After hearing my spiel, he was very impressed that I'd done my homework. He was able to give me some very good insight and then promised me that he'd follow up with me concerning how I should proceed with my goal moving forward. Dawson also told me about the many things that I could do to keep my financial activity safely under the radar from prying eyes. I was relieved.
After dinner, the tone of our cordial business dinner takes such a drastic shift that I nearly get whiplash.
"You know…I really dig you," he said to me.
"You're drop dead gorgeous
You're an insanely talented dancer,
which I never knew until the night you quit the club.
Believe it or not, you've always been my ideal girl."
I remember being flabbergasted by his sudden excessive praise.
Literally, it seemed to have come from left field.
You do know I'm knocked up, right? – I immediately thought.
"Dawson, I'm flattered…really.
Especially being pregnant with
another guy's kid and all," I said in reply.
"You being with child doesn't bother me at all.
I really dig you, Ana. I think that we should date."
Huh?! – I thought at the time.
I then speculated – Maybe he's heard all the rumors about how horny pregnant women get and he simply wants to test that theory. Or perhaps he already knows from personal experience that this is indeed the case, so he fetishizes pregnant chicks.
I knew the very premise was ridiculous – still, I needed an explanation as to why he's not bothered being with someone who's already used up by someone else. For goodness' sake, he's beyond attractive, rich and single. Why would he want to date me, a pregnant young woman?
The only way I could think to respond at the time was to laugh out loud.
"I hope you're not just feeling sorry for me simply because
I am going to be a single mom," I chuckled.
"Not at all.
You being pregnant doesn't change anything, Ana.
You're still the girl that I want to be with."
I thought – Holy shit.
"And besides," he continues while my jaw drops to the floor,
"it's not like you need my help.
You're obviously going to be doing quite well for yourself."
I laughed nervously once more.
"I had the misfortune of taking a prescription from
a drug company who had a very shitty former employee –
who's now facing criminal charges.
I wouldn't say that I'm 'doing quite well'."
"That's not what I meant," he rebutted.
"What I meant is that you have your head on straight.
You are thinking about venturing into business,
which I hadn't even considered back when I was your age.
It wasn't until I turned twenty-five and hated my job
that I decided to take the leap myself.
Also, anyone else in your position would just live off
the millions and not want to ever work again."
"I can't see myself not working," I said to him.
"Now that I have the means, I want to make my dream
of working in publishing come true."
"See," he beamed all sexily while pointing a finger at me.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about.
By the way, you'll actually be running your
own company, which pretty bloody cool."
I recall giggling at his enthusiasm. Again, I didn't know how else to respond during that very uncomfortable exchange at the time.
"So, let me get straight to the point" – he shifted. Once I saw how serious his eyes were, I immediately stopped smiling and laughing.
"You need a real man, sweet London;
a man who doesn't get shaken when their lady
needs them the most.
You don't need to be doubting your guy's dedication
to you if he did his job as a man.
Give me a chance and I'll show you that you'll
never ever have to doubt my devotion to you.
I'll treat you just like the queen you are.
And if you let me some day,
I'll be a good father to your little one."
I couldn't hide behind a bashful but polite smile anymore. Dawson was as serious as a heart attack. Hell – I was even convinced that he was everything that he said he was. As Ray always says – A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Here's this hot guy who has everything and who really wants to be there for me no matter what. Any girl in their right mind would jump at his offer; but I am no such girl.
I am insane.
Insanely in love with Christian.
"Dawson, you are…lovely…" I started.
I'm trembling on the inside because I absolutely loathe being the bearer of bad news.
"…I'm lovely, but…" he interjected with an ironic smirk.
"You are amazing – and I'm totally out of my mind for turning you down.
It's just…my life is a little complicated at the moment."
'Complicated'. I absolutely hate that word.
"Well…it doesn't have to be," he crooned.
I remember my heart sinking at the time.
"Look…we could just date and see how things go," he added anxiously.
"That's not a good idea," I said, shaking my head.
"I need to mend my broken heart."
"And like I said – I want to help you do that."
It was like talking to a brick wall; Dawson would not budge.
Yet, I stood my ground.
"In a few months, it'll no longer just be me.
I'll have a child to raise."
"If I were a betting man, I'd say things
will progress well between us.
It wouldn't be farfetched if you
and I were married by the end of the year."
"And before you say it…no, I don't need a green card,
thank you very much," he chuckled.
He quickly returned to being serious.
"I'm just a man who knows exactly what he wants
and isn't afraid to say so."
Dawson was beyond unreal. At the time, it pained me not want him the very same. But what hurt even more was that Dawson Jacobs was the one sitting across from me saying all of the right things instead of the father of my child. And regardless of how things ended up between us, Christian Grey was my Mr. Right.
Don't get me wrong, Mr. Right-Now over there was no slim pickings, but I knew that saying 'yes' to him would've been totally wrong. He would have never truly had my heart because it belonged to another.
To my surprise, he eventually figured it out. Disappointed, he said –
"You're still stuck on Grey, eh?"
I remember nodding while on the verge of tears.
Finally, he understood.
Dawson and I never spoke again about that night. From that moment on, our dealings only pertained to launching my publishing business as well as the management of my personal finances. Despite that awkward night at Hudson's, Dawson is truly a godsend. Not only did he help me jumpstart my business plan, but he also assisted with getting my investments squared away. That was key for me since I've never had so much money in all of my life and neither had my folks; therefore, his knowledge about finances and accounting was beyond invaluable.
Mr. Jacobs was also instrumental in helping me keep my finances as discrete as possible in case someone so happened to be tempted to snoop around to see what I've been up to. I wasn't one hundred percent certain that it would happen, but I wanted to be safe.
I nearly passed out when Christian called literally the day after I met up with Dawson. Then Christian decided to show up to my apartment two days after that. At the time, I'd just finished barfing my head off into the toilet. I was nearly on the way out until I heard a commotion followed by very loud voices. The next thing I knew, I heard Kate yell out Christian's name. Then he started calling out for me. I froze.
Nearly a week after he left, Mia and Elliot stop by. It was my first-time meeting Christian's siblings, but it didn't seem that way; we immediately connected as though I'd already knew them. However, their kindness wasn't enough to ease my frazzled nerves. I was certain that they'd figure out that I was hiding something underneath my oversized Cougars sweatshirt.
When Mia reached over to hug me, I nearly freaked out. Still – my pregnancy remained unnoticed, much to my surprise. I knew that at the time, I was being extremely hard on myself and my ever-changing body, but I'd later discover that I was carrying the baby quite well. If my professors or my classmates ever knew that I was pregnant while I was still student, they never let me in on it.
Besides the stress of a surprise pregnancy and the pain of shutting Christian out of my life, I had to deal with the aftermath of what happened to Starla. One morning before class, I called Betsy on a whim and invited her and Josh to meet me on campus for lunch. I wanted to know what we could do as a collective to help Starla. At lunch, Josh informed me that he'd already tried talking to her, but she quickly shut him down. I immediately broke down in public at the news. Pregnancy hormones only magnified my emotional state.
The next day, Starla so happened to call to check up on me in between classes, which absolutely blew my mind because I was much more worried about her at the time than I was about myself. Soon, I began to plead for her to come forward about what happened to her, and she immediately dismissed it like she did with Josh. I then told her that even though her assaulter had been deported to Germany for white-collar crimes that Christian helped bring to the surface, Neumann could still be charged and tried for what he did to her.
But when it comes to facing her trauma, Starla was as hard as stone; impenetrable. I remember crying while talking to her on the phone outside the building of my next class, pleading with her to take justice for herself. Nope – Starla was as petrified as a statue. I don't know if it was her fear of Neumann retaliating and making her out to be a liar in the public eye, or she simply just didn't want to relive that painful moment in court …period.
Oddly enough, the following day, fifty grand mysteriously showed up in my bank account. I thought that it was over-payment for the class action settlement. I'd already received payment for it about a week prior. But after checking in with Dawson, he informed me that it came from a 'mysterious source'.
All signs pointed to Christian.
Why would he do that? – I thought. So, I decided to transition my former regular account into a special savings account for the baby. Unbeknownst to Christian, that money was going to his own flesh and blood. I'd already opened separate accounts under a DBA that Josh had set up for my publishing business. I also had another secret account that I used for my daily living expenses.
Knowing very well that Christian could have me followed at any moment made me extremely paranoid, so I had to ensure that all of my ducks were in a row. My finances weren't the only thing I took precaution over. I also had to be extra careful where I went and who I was seen with. That's the primary reason why I chose to see a doctor on campus for my initial prenatal visits.
From that time until about a week before graduation, I was preparing my heart to move to Georgia with my mother. However, as the day drew closer, the thought of moving south didn't quite settle with me.
Then came the morning of – and Kate barged into my room to rant about Christian being the mystery keynote speaker. That was the sign that I'd been waiting for.
Throughout, Christian had been relentless. The weekly flowers, the money, causing the cops to be called, and finally, sending over his brother and sister to talk me into taking him back. But him accepting the last-minute invite to be the primary speaker at my commencement was definitely some next level shit. Christian was now the world champion of begging and pleading. He'd set the bar extremely high for men who desire to fight for their lost love. No one could say 'sorry' better than him.
It was at that moment that I knew I owed it to him to finally be open and honest with him about this upcoming baby.
I knew that I'd eventually have to tell my dad sooner or later about my pregnancy, but I didn't figure that it would happen as soon as it did.
One Saturday, Ray stopped by the apartment after tending to a business matter locally. When he pressed me to go to with him to one of my favorite soup shops in Portland for lunch, I told him that I wasn't too feeling hot. See…during my first trimester and for most of the second, morning sickness – no, more like all fucking day sickness – had taken its toll on me. The only thing that I could keep down at the time was pretty much bread and French fries. Anything else I ate was simply bound to come back up and out at any moment without any advance notice.
All of a sudden, Ray started to recall the time when I stayed home from classes ill, but he had no idea that I was just sore from being sexed into next week. But in Ray's eyes, he could only see a potential chronic illness and he would not let up as he continued to urge me to see a doctor.
"I'll drive you myself." – he said.
And suddenly, I couldn't hide it anymore. I started to cry, and he froze. My taciturn father doesn't know what to do when he sees extreme emotion coming his way. His internal sensory system gets overwhelmed and he doesn't know exactly how to respond.
But after a beat, he rushed to my side on the sofa, pulled me into him, and began to comfort me.
"Annie, what's going on?"
"Daddy…promise me you won't
hate me when I tell you," I sobbed.
He winched. Even in the midst of my many tears, I made the conscious effort to call him 'Daddy', breaking out the big guns. I needed him to know who he was to me and how much I needed him, just as I did when I was his little girl.
"Oh…hogwash. I could never hate you.
You're my sweet little Annie.
You'll always be."
"Not anymore," I sniffled.
"I don't care what you tell me. There's nothing that you could
say that would ever stop me from loving you.
You're my daughter for Christ's sake."
"But I'll be a great disappointment to you.
"Not you," he said adamantly.
"You don't have the capacity to ever let me down."
So immediately, I tested his theory.
From the moment of that reveal onward, Ray undeniably began to see me in a much different light. Growing up, I've always been that non-threatening, perfect little girl that all parents wished for. I was often polite and agreeable; I always came home way before curfew; I earned all A's in school no matter what new city and state we lived in to due to Ray's traveling military career.
I'd never been the type of girl who'd sneak out of her bedroom window at night, nor did I bother skipping classes during the day just to hang around boys. Instead, I was the laser-focused little bookworm who very much enjoyed staying home and watching old flicks with my dad, while other girls my age were busy making out with boys at Lover's Lane – a secluded little area by Lake Sylvia. But at the very beginning of my senior year in college, the light suddenly switched on. The moment I met Christian Grey, in an instant, I turned into a woman.
I started to dance.
I started to feel.
Good ol' Annie from Montesano would have never answered a sketchy ad posted in some free 'take-one' metropolitan-area publication. And after hearing how risqué the business was during the interview, that same girl would have never showed up for the first day of work.
But up to that point, I hadn't felt so desperate to tackle something all on my own for a change. I was finally sick of running to my parents or Kate every time a crisis would hit. This was my first opportunity to be my own person; a woman. And things seemed to go fine until Christian Trevelyan Grey completely turned my life on its head.
Even during the moment of being gaped at like an alien by my father after dropping a major bomb on him, I still found it difficult to regret anything that had happened to me up to that point. Because I took the job at Zion, I made some lifelong friends – Miranda, Starla, Elaine, Sweetness, and especially Becky and Betsy. And if it weren't for the drama at Zion, I wouldn't have managed to forge a solid friendship with Sasha – who I admittingly couldn't stand when I first met her during sophomore year. What that entire experience taught me was invaluable; you can never truly know what someone's going through unless you sit down and talk to them.
So, once Ray was rudely introduced to this brand new me, it would take some time for him to begin to feel comfortable around me again. All while I was in school and pregnant, it was a rather difficult pill for him to swallow. If my dad's nothing else, he's old school. Thinking back to my childhood, part of me now wonders if he was swift to marry my young widowed mother while I was an infant because he wanted to ensure that society didn't view her in a certain way.
Surely, he loved her – but couldn't he have just waited a little while longer to ensure that they were right for each other? Granted, sixteen years of marriage isn't anything to sneeze at, but I also can't help but wonder if the true reason why they stuck together for so long was so that I wouldn't get hurt.
Always protect your child. That was something that I quickly picked up on during the time reality started to really sink in that I was going to be a mother before the end of summer. And regardless of how old school my parents were, I wasn't going to be forced to take the same stance as they would have at my age. I was resolved to make certain that my child remained safe and secure – and equally as importantly, wanted and loved.
Even if that means keeping his or her own father at arm's length.
In spite of me explaining to Ray that Christian never wanted children or a wife, he didn't necessarily agree with my decision to keep my pregnancy a secret from him.
"He still has a right to know…" – he said at the time.
"Whether or not he decides to step up
and be a father remains to be seen."
"He won't do it," I told Ray. "Why should I even tell him of
this baby's existence if he's only going to wish that
it were never born? He wouldn't be the wiser
if he's not even aware of the child in the first place."
"Annie, Annie, Annie," he signed and shook his head while
massaging his temples. "That's the wrong attitude to have.
And besides, it costs loads of money to raise a child, believe it or not.
Even if the daddy doesn't stick around, he can still help."
That's one thing I never believed in. How I see it – if I made the solo choice to keep this child against the wishes of its biological father, I have no right to force the issue of support.
"Look, I'll be fine, financially," I remember telling Ray. "There's a class action suit against the manufacturer of the birth control pills."
I remember the very sight of my stepfather's frustration with me.
"But a child needs his mama and daddy."
Ray was all over the place at the time. Every time I'd bring up a new argument, he'd simply contradict his previous statement. But one thing remained clear throughout his disagreement with me – he absolutely believed that Christian had every right to know. And my frame of mind at the time was that regardless of what seemed to be the right thing to do, I didn't feel that Christian was fully prepared to hear the truth. I could sense in my bones that he wasn't ready to receive life changing news like that.
He needed more time to grow.
And as long as he kept sending me flowers every Monday, I knew that he was at least trying to change. As time moved on, he was learning the art patience and endurance. Strangely enough, so was I. There were many times I'd read the card that he sent with the flowers, and I'd immediately wanted to break my cover, reach out to him, and tell him how much I loved him, too. But the moment I'd imagined his cold reaction and immediate rejection upon telling him that I was carrying his child…our child, I quickly shied away from contacting him.
Back to Ray. Before he finally left my apartment that afternoon, he made me promise that I'd call my mother and break the news to her as well. At least I could visibly see the disappointment on my father's face when I told him, even though he never said anything that made me feel like complete scum. However, Carla didn't bother to bite her tongue. Her dissatisfaction was very evident in her tone and in her choice of words.
"I don't know where I failed," she sighed in defeat.
"Actually, I do. I failed to give you stability as a teen.
That was my fault.
But still, I never thought you'd repeat my mistakes."
Mistake? – I thought.
I was gutted, and I immediately started crying.
"I'm sorry that I'm not the perfect daughter you
always wanted me to be," I hissed in between the tears.
"I never expected you to be perfect," she strikes back, affronted.
"You always used to say that you hoped to god that
I never have children as young as you had me.
But did it ever cross your mind that I could possibly
be your daughter? Like you, I fell in love, Mom. And in spite of
taking the proper precaution, I still got pregnant."
After some very emotionally heated back and forth, my mother conceded with a chuckle.
"Maybe you are my daughter.
So, what are you going to do?"
"Finish this semester.
Raise my child."
"And where do you plan on doing that?"
"I don't know. Here.
Maybe even move back in with Ray."
"Does Ray know?"
I could tell that she was hurt that I told him first, but I knew that he'd react much better than she would. I was right.
After finally composing herself, my mother said – "And Christian is still out of the picture?"
"Yep. He's not a big fan of kids."
"Did he tell you this?"
"Yes. Back when we were still together."
Carla didn't seem quite convinced that anyone could feel this way, especially concerning their own child.
"Perhaps he only feels that way about other people's children.
I can totally relate to that," she argued.
"No – he literally told me:
'Some are cat people, some are dog people,
and some are children people'."
"Well damn," she sighed.
"I guess you can't get any clearer than that.
Well…screw him. We don't need him."
I remember at the time feeling relieved at hearing my mother say the word 'we', but then my spirit came crashing back down after digesting the last part of her statement. I wasn't prepared to say that I didn't need him.
I wasn't ready to write him off.
I held back my panic as I walked off that stage with my diploma in hand after spilling the news to Christian. His eloquent speech had managed to touch me earlier, and I was led to believe that he was willing to do anything and everything in order for us to get back together. But in spite of that, I couldn't help but fear that him knowing I am now pregnant completely changes everything. Maybe becoming a father was the 'I won't do that' in Christian's most recent I'll do anything for love journey.
Later, after exiting the ceremony and snatching off my robe, I find Ray in the reception tent out back. Although he hugged me and then kissed my forehead in greeting, I still couldn't help but to think that I'd been a great disappointment to him since he found out that I was pregnant.
"I saw him on stage holding up the line a good while to speak to you,"
he said, cutting right to the chase.
"He wants to take me to London as my graduation gift,"
I told him before placing the red envelope Christian gave me in his hands.
Ray never opened it, but he kept it in his hand. He didn't cease to remain his old taciturn self.
"Did you tell him the news?"
I nodded regretfully.
"What did he say?" he asked.
"I didn't really give him a chance to answer.
If he doesn't show up to the reception, then that means…"
Like clockwork, the now dense crowd suddenly parted and revealed Christian, who looked as if he were searching for something or someone. But the moment that our eyes met, it was as if we were the only two people in that tent.
He proceeded towards my father and I, now appearing lost. All I could think was that he only came back here to tell Ray and I that he's absolutely not interested in the package cooking under my oversized floral maxi dress.
Christian steps to Ray first and introduces himself. Gruffly my dad tells him that he already knows exactly who he is, but it doesn't stop Christian from remaining polite and extending his hand to him.
"Mr. Steele, I apologize that we have to meet under these circumstances,
but Anastasia never…"
Before Christian could finish his sentence, in swoops Kate with her brother Ethan in tow. Right behind them were their parents. At the time Kate's going above and beyond trying to be nice to everyone, including Christian. I wasn't fooled; I knew exactly what she was doing. Kate assumed that Ray and Christian were just seconds away from going at it, however I knew that's not where the talk was headed.
Ethan cordially greeted Ray and then pulled me in for a hug. It wasn't a long one, because Mr. Grey managed to gently separate me from my best friend's brother by claiming my arm. Suddenly, Ethan looked down at my belly and then gaped up at me.
"Hey, are you…"
…but Kate cuts him off by talking over him with a brand-new subject, while Christian proceeded to surprise me yet again by wrapping a possessive arm around my waist.
I remember feeling odd being held so tightly by Christian after revealing to him that I was pregnant. At the time, he's holding on to me like everything's okay, yet we hadn't had a chance to really talk about this; about us. Regardless of that fact, I knew that he wasn't necessarily thrilled about the situation because he hadn't smiled not once.
Although, Kate's motormouth certainly wasn't helping the situation at the moment.
Kate completely takes over and proceeds to bring up random things. She talks about how her speech went better than expected, while quickly slipping in how motivational 'Mr. Grey's' speech was, which followed hers. She then babbles on about how they had two completely different speeches, but they both tied into the same theme of striving for success.
Christian's annoyance with Kate's interference at this point was now apparent. But that wasn't the only awkward moment. There stood Kate's parents who practically had an open relationship with my other friend, Starla at one time. Geez. And now they were studying Christian and me.
I just wanted that moment to be over.
Eventually they leave when I assured Kate with my eyes that everything was fine before she so kindly interfered. So, she happily takes her family away, leaving Ray, Christian and I.
We talked briefly, only for Ray to encourage Christian and I to finally talk to one another.
"This…" he said, adamantly gesturing to both Christian and I,
"…needs to happen.
That baby's comin' regardless, so the two of you
need to sort it all out before it does."
I was taken aback by how blunt Ray was with us. Christian and I were practically left standing there in the parking lot like two scolded little children.
That night, the two of us had dinner at a nearby restaurant, and we talked…
"You know why I couldn't tell you?"
I said with tears pooling in my eyes.
"Yeah… I know," he nodded regretfully.
"I've been such an asshole."
…and we talked some more.
I never made it to Savannah.
Nor did I move back home to Montesano.
The second I came clean to Christian on that stage, I no longer had a say about where I was going to live; it was going to be with him. I was completely blown away by his actions once he finally picked his jaw from the floor after I showed him that I was indeed with child. I nearly expected him to run out of the building and burn rubber in the parking lot right after the ceremony. I didn't expect him to still embrace me, along with a child that he never asked for.
It goes to show how pivotal time was to Christian's transformation. I'd learn over the past year that he was indeed a brand-new person. Don't get me wrong – he's still the same old controlling, megalomaniac that he's always been; and crazy enough, I wouldn't have him any other way. But he treats me like nothing less than a queen. It's insane how much this man worships the ground that I walk on. I have to pinch myself each and every day.
Is this really my life?
This newfound abundant joy that I found didn't have a name or a face until August 25th.
Her name is Aurora Frances Grey.
During the first six months of my pregnancy, I didn't want to know the baby's sex. I wasn't feeling…complete, so something inside of me knew that it wasn't quite time for me to find out what I was having. However, once Christian and I began to reconcile, the two of us agreed that at the next ultrasound we'd have the technician place the baby's sex inside of an envelope.
Sometime afterwards, I took that envelope to a local baker not too far from Christian's place at Escala and asked them to make a cupcake with a filling corresponding to the gender results. If it's a boy, it would be a blueberry filling; if it's a girl, strawberry.
I picked up the cupcake from the shop the next evening.
That night at Christian's, I plowed through Mrs. Jones pot roast, potatoes and asparagus like a starving goat. Out of nowhere, I'm eating like I've never eaten a bite before. As I did so, Christian tried very hard not to laugh, but does a piss poor job at hiding his utter amusement.
All of a sudden, he gets a very important call from work that he has to take in his office, so he apologizes and then kisses me on the forehead before stepping away. Meanwhile, I'm still hungry, even after a huge dinner, and Christian is taking forever. So, I cracked open the fancy little cupcake box and proceeded to stuff it into my face. I'm nearly done eating the whole thing when Mrs. Jones steps foot into the dining room to check on us.
I still remember how wide her eyes got when she saw me.
"My goodness…was that strawberry filling you just ate?"
And like clockwork, Christian reappears, and he's absolutely flabbergasted that I ate the cupcake without him present.
"Hey… it's a girl" – I mumbled with a full mouth while crumbs flew out of it.
He could only smirk and shake his head at me.
We wanted our little butterfly to have a graceful dancer's name.
Christian joked about London as a prospect, but I didn't laugh when he suggested it. I couldn't imagine having to explain who 'London' was to our daughter once she reached that inevitable inquisitive age.
The name Aurora fell into my lap while I was nearly nine months pregnant. Around that time, I waddled into the opera hall alongside Christian to see The Sleeping Beauty ballet. The girl who portrayed Princess Aurora was absolutely astonishing.
So, Aurora it was.
Or Ari, as I'd later began calling her.
For Ari's middle name, I wanted to honor someone in either my family or Christian's. Grace was indeed an option. My mother urged me to stray away from either Carla or Mae. She felt that neither name did the angelic name Aurora any justice.
Christian's birth mom was a very sore subject, so we quickly eliminated that name from the pool. Then I thought of Aurora Rae – which is a different way to spell my stepfather's name, but then I imagined my poor little girl trying to pronounce those consecutive R's while learning how to talk, and I couldn't possibly do that to her.
Then one day, I considered my birth father's name – Franklin. Even though I've never met him because he died the day after I was born, it doesn't negate the fact that he's a great part of why I even exist. He also meant a lot to my mom. However, there was no way in hell that I was naming our daughter Aurora Franklin Grey. However, Frank is short from Franklin, which is also short for Francis or Frances.
Christian and I finally had a name for our angel, and an angel she is. I'm not just saying that because she's our daughter; indeed, she's the most beautiful little thing that I have ever seen. She's also the spitting image of her father, so even if Christian and I never reconciled, there was no avoiding facing his likeness on a daily basis. Ari is indeed daddy's little girl in every single way.
Two months ago, which was six months after Ari was born, Christian and I were able to finally take that long awaited trip to London. However, I told him that we couldn't be separated from the baby for two long weeks; I could only do five days at the most – if that. So, Ari's aunt Mia and her grandparents took care of her while we were away. Although we had a glorious time alone in the UK, we desperately missed our little girl. There was no doubt that we annoyed the hell out of Grace and Mia with our constant facetiming with Ari.
Needless to say, life in Seattle has been absolutely wonderful.
Things here are definitely a sharp contrast to what it was like before I ran away from here that last time. Still, I'm not used to being the lady of the house quite yet. I actually don't think that I deserve the title, but Christian still says that I am the lady of the house, whether I feel like it or not. Regardless, I'll never be accustomed to telling other people what to do. However, I must admit that Mrs. Jones and Taylor have been a terrific help, especially with managing everything that's currently on my plate, including an energetic little baby girl.
Energetic is an understatement.
I'm definitely dreading the day when she starts walking all over the place.
Another great thing about living here is that Kate lives close by. She's been a wonderful godmother to Ari. At one point, I thought that she and Christian's brother Elliot struck a chord with one another. But then he met my friend Miranda not too long after she'd broken up with her longtime on again/off again boyfriend. Pretty soon, Elliot was practically like: 'Kate who?'
Men. I'm sure that seeing the artist formerly known as Bambi dance sealed the deal for Elliot. He's not unlike his brother when it comes to being moved by a woman's seductive hip-shaking. That aside, I think Elliot and Miranda are absolutely cute together. However, I'm not sure how long he'll continue with the long weekend commutes to Portland. Miranda loves working at Zion, while Elliot has his flourishing construction business here in Seattle.
Besides Kate being nearby, I'm also beyond thrilled that newlyweds Becky and Luke have relocated to Seattle. Luke is now employed as personal security for both me and the baby full time.
Getting back to my hang up with not feeling worthy of the title lady of the house – it's definitely not due to the lack of Christian trying to make it official. Hell, every single night before we go to bed, he's constantly asking me to marry him; and each time, I chuckle in response. However, it doesn't stop him from trying again the very next night. Sometimes, he pops the question before we make love. On occasion, it's during sex. But most often, he asks after sex.
"Ana, please" – he pleaded to me the other night.
"Aren't you happy with the
way things are going right now?"
but I want you to be my wife."
"I love you," I smiled
just like a child avoiding the issue at hand.
"Just say 'yes', and I'll finally stop bugging you,"
he smirked right back.
"'I'm never getting married',"
I toss his past words back at him in a faux deep voice.
When his expression falls, he brings down me with him.
"I was a fool," he sighed.
"I also didn't want to be a father.
Today, I couldn't imagine my life without Aurora in it."
Be still, my beating heart.
It's hard to believe that the man who never wanted children in the first place is the absolute best father to our little girl. Every time she cries at night, he beats me out of bed to tend to her. I can't help but think that he'll be the best husband, too. I mean…he's already the perfect boyfriend.
When he told me what he'd originally had planned for the London trip right after my graduation, I was taken aback. He's constantly reminding me that he's been holding on to that ring for a very long time, and he'll keep it close to his heart until I tell him 'yes'. He vows to never stop asking me to marry him until he finally sees that ring perched on my finger.
All I could do was blush.
"And now, I want to marry you," he declared,
holding my naked body even closer to his.
"But we're already together, right?
And we are parents to a beautiful little girl.
Why change anything?
I love us now."
I can tell that he's getting increasingly frustrated with me, but I'm enjoying us living in the now. If it's not broke, why fix it? How many times have I've seen people who are together for years – and then they get married, only to divorce a short time afterwards?
Also, it's the twenty-first century, so shotgun weddings are no longer required, Mr. Grey.
During the day, I'm steadily getting my independent publishing company off the ground. Currently my office resides at home, which Christian recently had a space built for me. This way, I'm able to spend plenty of time with our daughter.
These days, I've been working with a woman named Michelle Day, who's a veteran in the industry. Very recently, she took a buyout from the large publisher she worked at for many years. She's now taken me under her wing. When I first started Steel Rose Publishing, I'd always assumed that my very first featured author would be in the nonfiction genre.
I am happy to say that our very first title comes from the self-help category. My friend and mentor, Miss Rita Joy Lords is helping to launch our publishing house with her spicy brand of advice in a book cheekily titled, "Come Lately?" It's everything you wanted to know about how to achieve the best orgasms by yourself, or with a partner. Oddly enough, I made Christian read the manuscript, even though he said that he could in fact write his own book. God knows he could. I sigh at the very thought of his…gift, but I digress.
After Christian sifted through the manuscript, he was so impressed that he offered to write the foreword. Joy was over the moon when I told her. I, on the other hand, couldn't believe that he'd shed his very private image in such a public way. I thought – What would the community of stuffed-shirts think of him after learning that he's written the foreword to a sexually explicit book?
But in the end, Christian's foreword stuck strictly to the book's mechanics while praising Joy's overall expertise. It wasn't like he mentioned that he'd tried out page 108 on me the night before he wrote his foreword, which he in fact did. Sweet Jesus. I shiver at the memory.
Right now, presales for Joy's book are beyond promising. This is before touring, which I'll be able to join her on a couple local dates when they happen. For the events that are further away in distance, Michelle will be assisting Joy, so I can remain at home with Ari.
By the way, Becky's been helping us a great deal, too. She's been promoting the hell out of Joy's presale all over Steel Rose's social media pages, as well as getting us connected with news and entertainment outlets that will allow us to capture a whole new audience. Joy's platforms have managed to gain thousands of brand-new followers who adore her sassily candid personality and her message of sexual savoir-faire and freedom.
She's certainly been a great help to me in this area since I've known her.
While I'm in my office working away, and Ari's napping nearby in her playpen, Christian comes waltzing in. He looks hot as sin in his too-expensive suit, while I look like I just literally rolled out of bed to work in a ratty cami and shorts – which was indeed the case.
"Hey…what are you doing here?" I say, looking up at him from my computer. He stops at my chair and kisses me on the forehead.
"Can't I come home to have lunch with my two favorite girls?" he croons before kissing me once more.
"You might have to settle for one of us," I smirk, gesturing with my head towards a passed-out Ari. He chuckles.
"So…" he starts as he props himself against the edge of my desk while facing me. "That's not my only reason for being here. I just landed Joy a guest appearance on Dr. Drew's show to promote her book."
"What?" I gasp, wide eyed.
He proudly nods. "Yep. New York City in July. How does that sound?"
"Oh my God," I squeal before leaping up to my feet and throwing my arms around him. He chuckles but we quickly turn in unison to make sure that we didn't just wake Ari up.
Phew. Nope – she's still a bump on a log.
"Hey, maybe you, me, and Aurora can join her there," he says quietly.
I'm still beside myself that he even managed to pull such a feat.
"How'd you do it?" I whisper loudly.
He smirks and shrug his shoulders. "I have my ways."
"Thank you," I say before kissing him soundly.
Without a second thought, I reach for my cell behind him and locate the exact song I'm looking for on my playlist. I then adjust the volume as low as possible while still being able to hear Brian McKnight softly croon Back At One. And as if our bodies were synchronized, he and I lock together and begin to slow dance.
Later, after Ari's finally down for the night – hopefully – Christian and I don't waste any time getting right down to business in our bedroom.
Goodness…it's going to take a little more time for me to get used to saying it, being that it took me getting pregnant to finally make it in here.
"Damn, Ana…you're so ready," he groans once his fingers quickly dip between my skin and panties as his mouth attacks my throat.
"I'm a mom now, so I have to be ready at a moment's notice. It's now or never," I breathe out in desperation. He chuckles.
These days, I've been staying far away from pills and the free clinic. Today, it's all about the best doctors, the best medicine, and the shot. If I didn't jump back on the birth control bandwagon after having Ari, I'd probably already be pregnant again by now. Christian and I can't keep our hands off each other. Normally, I'd do a little dance for him before we get to this point. However tonight, we're both very tired and only have time for a quickie.
This time, we don't even get my underwear or t-shirt nor his pants completely off before he slides into me. We both groan in relief before he starts his sweet, sweet horizontal tango.
"Ah!" I cry out.
"Marry me, Danseuse," he grunts.
Shit, he's asking during sex this time.
This is so fucking hot right now.
Already, I feel my insides caving in.
"Answer me," he says, pushing even harder.
Even if I wanted to, I can't even form the words right now. At this moment, I'm facing the pitiful reality of lasting just two minutes. This is so unlike me. Normally I can at least hold it for four or five before I completely fall apart. He didn't even kiss me down low this time, because it's late and Ari's just now falling asleep. Maybe that's why I'm not as steady at the moment.
Immediately, I come hard and he stills until my tsunami folds. Soon, I'm catching my breath and he starts to move again, but slowly. He kisses my temple.
"Marry me," he says again.
I sigh then smile, but I don't say a word.
Fifteen minutes later, we're completely naked and I am spent. He's stroking my hair and I'm right on the edge of falling asleep.
"Marry me, Ana," I hear him say again.
I moan. "Hmmm…maybe."
Suddenly, his body shifts, and he takes my face into his hands. I force my heavy eyelids open, and his gray eyes stare right through me. He then cracks a slow, lazy smile.
"I'm getting closer," he says in a deep voice.
When I laugh, his lips take mine and we kiss until sleep finally wins.
Blissful – I think just before dozing off.
And Ari hasn't even stirred once.
Mia was thrilled to stop by and watch Ari in her mother's place, while Christian and I set off to go on Charlie Tango for a quick trip to Portland. Back when our daughter turned four months, we began trying to get out there at least once a month to visit Zion and support Karen and Sasha House's flourishing business.
The vibe is completely different now than it was back when I worked there. Today, it's normal to see couples there all snuggled up. Also, the girls who work there all seem to be much happier. I've never seen them smile so brightly.
When Christian and I arrive, Sweetness waves excitedly at us from the bar as we're escorted by one of the new hostesses to our usual table. Along the way, we continue to greet more familiar faces, both employees and clientele.
"Mr. Grey! Ana!"
When we reach our table, I tighten up the belt to my trench coat as Christian pulls out my chair. Once I'm seated, he lifts the chair over from the other side and places it right beside me before popping a squat. He then scoots his seat until our legs are touching. Shortly afterwards, Elaine comes by and hugs us both.
"Oh my – it's so good to see you! How's that sweet little girl of yours?"
"As sweet as ever," Christian beams.
I practically swoon at my guy's adoration for our baby girl. Who would've thought that this man would turn into goo at the hands of Aurora Frances Grey?
"I so miss her face. I can't wait to see her again," she gushes. "The usual?" Christian and I smile and nod. "I have the room all set whenever you're ready," she says shortly before taking off.
Not long after Elaine leaves, Starla and Miranda show up separately. They also greet us with a hug and we briefly catch up before they set off to dance at some of the other couples' tables. Starla returns again to hug Christian and I one last time and promises to come to Seattle to visit with us soon.
Starla recently told me that she'll be forever grateful to Christian for finally convincing her to come forward about what Stefan Neumann did to her. I don't know what he said to her during their private talk on that fateful day, but whatever he said, she finally listened.
In an agreement between the U.S. and the German authorities, the asshole predator agreed to take a guilty plea in exchange for ten additional years in prison after he serves his ten for international business fraud. There wasn't much he could dispute anyway since the incident was recorded. Thanks, Jay Dark. Today, Starla's in the position to never have to work ever again. However, she credits the House girls for helping save her life, therefore she doesn't mind dancing for them on the weekends. Besides, like me, she still loves to dance.
But the difference between Starla and me is that I currently have a partner who won't allow me to dance with anyone else but him. And because of that, I feel like I'm the luckiest girl in the entire world.
As Christian partakes in his scotch, I slip my whiskey sour through a straw. He wraps his arm around me and I practically sink into his chest. As he kisses me on the forehead, I can't help but think back to the first time that I waited these tables and spilled water right into his lap.
Who would've thought that my clumsiness would soon turn graceful and dancing would completely change my life. Now, I have this man who's toiled long and hard in order to change his own heart and finally let me in it. The feeling that I feel whenever I think about all that we've been through just to get here is indescribable.
When I look up at Christian, I see him cordially nodding at someone in the direction of the bar. He then looks down at me and smile.
"Sweetness?" I ask. He smirks and slowly shakes his head.
I ease up from Christian's shoulder and turn to the side to see Luke sitting alone at the bar. I gape in surprise and he nods and holds up his glass towards me. I quickly turn back at Christian.
"Wow," I gasp. "Becky never said that she was going to be…"
Christian raises a telling brow before the lights go down and a spotlight hits the stage. Quickly, the floor begins to hush as Karen House stands front and center.
"Coming to the stage is a treat. Everyone, please welcome…the one…the only… Rebecca."
I immediately jump up to my feet along with a few others and begin to hoot and holler. I'm so excited to finally be seeing one of my dearest friends doing what she loves again. In no time, Karen steps aside and Becky comes sliding on stage with a vengeance to the earth-shattering base of The Black Eyed Peas' Boom Boom Pow.
She's killing it, just like we rehearsed.
Christian doesn't know this, but sometimes while he's at work and Mrs. Jones is watching Ari, Becky and I escape to the gym and make up dance routines. We'll even occasionally Skype Betsy for her guidance.
When Becky and I dance, we don't do it for anyone but ourselves. Although, I must admit that there might've been a dance or two that eventually made its way into the bedroom for Christian's personal enjoyment.
Right now, one of our dances has made its way to a broader audience, and I can't be prouder of the girl that's showing it off. Becky absolutely nails it. Even though she's moved to Seattle, she also tries to make it back to Portland – but even more often than Christian and I do. For the past few months, she has been a featured dancer here every other weekend. I just had no idea that today would be one of those days. This was indeed a wonderful surprise.
The moment the song fades away, the deejay immediately puts on Fergie's London Bridge. Suddenly, girls in the building – all of the talent and some of the servers – begin to prance with attitude and line up in the two outermost aisles while Becky's still on stage. Without further ado, every girl starts to dance hard, mimicking Becky's moves in sharp syncopation. I howl out in excitement. Thoroughly amused by my liveliness, Christian chuckles and then pulls me further into him. He begins to speak into my ear.
"Sounds like they're playing your song, Miss Steele."
I laugh out loud before turning my head towards the bar to see a proud Luke Sawyer beaming at his wife while bobbing his head to the hard-hitting beat.
In the end, all of the girls receive a standing ovation, and many patrons are rushing towards the girls who are coming around to collect tips for the ensemble. Christian and I make sure to contribute. Before Becky leaves the stage, she blows a kiss at Luke and then waves excitedly at Christian and me. We wave right back.
Instead of taking our seats once again, Christian takes me by the hand, and we head towards Private Row. Once we arrive, we meet Shaun, and his giant frame leans down to embrace me. He then gives Christian his customary first bump, but this time, Shaun winks at him before opening the door that's just before the VIP room. I turn and gape at Christian before stepping in.
"This isn't our normal room."
Wait a minute.
"Ana, I'm sorry," Shaun apologizes. "An appointment ran over. Once they're done, I promise, I'll knock and let you in through the adjoining door."
I nod in understanding.
"No worries. Thanks, Shaun," Christian says, and I'm totally floored. This brand-new Christian Grey is taking me some time to get used to.
When Shaun closes the door and leaves us to it, I turn and unravel my trench coat, revealing a Gloria Basque nude, barely-there little number from Agent Provocateur. My nursing boobs are still swollen, and they're practically spilling over the cups even though I'm nearly seven pounds away from the pre-baby weight.
Meanwhile, Christian looks at me like a hungry man would look at a rare prime rib. When he reaches out to touch me, I immediately slap his wrists.
"No touching the dancers, Sir," I snippily remind him of the rules posted just outside the door.
He frowns. "But this dancer is mine."
"Rules are rules. And besides, you'll have to wait until you get me to The Heathman before you can touch me," I sass.
I lead him over to the velvet sofa while wishing that we had the bigger room like usual. But soon the smaller size of the room is forgotten and I'm in my zone as I hit the play button. Rihanna's Diamonds comes on, and I begin one of the routines I learned from Betsy just last month. Last time I saw her face to face, Aurora and I came to Portland for the day. While Betsy and I dance our hearts out in the garage, Josh and their sons happily entertained Ari. The boys go absolutely crazy every time I bring her to the house. I even asked Betsy if she ever thinks about either having or adopting a little girl of her very own. She assured me that she's done with small children and will continue to fill that little-girl-sized gap by babysitting Ari.
By the end of the dance, the no touching rule is tossed out the window. I'm now in Christian's lap and enveloped in his strong arms. He kisses me like I was lost and he just found me again. It's life-affirming.
"I love you so much, Anastasia Rose Steele."
"I love you, too," I breathe.
To my surprise, he lifts me out of his lap and stands before placing me back on solid ground. He takes me by the hand and then leads me across the room. I gape at him as he reaches for the adjoining door.
"What are you doing?" I say, gaping at him. "Shaun didn't knock."
He smirks at me and turns the knob anyway. When he opens the door to the VIP room, it's a beautiful and fragrant explosion. It's completely filled with flowers…so many flowers. And balloons, a ton of them…with printed words. When I begin to read them, I discover that they are titles of songs.
Oh shit…these are titles of songs that I've danced to for him!
Give It To Me Right
They all had to have been danced to here at Private Row, because I don't see Aaliyah's Rock the Boat…the song that I danced to for him in the cabin of The Grace, Christian's boat, the other weekend. Nor do I see Wicked Game by Chris Isaak or Glory Box by Portishead – both songs that I've danced to in Christian's playroom.
Yes, believe it or not, the two of us are back in there. But it's only on our terms, not just his. Our relationship is now built on love and trust and not power and intimidation. We go out every Saturday night…be it to a movie or to a theatre to see a play or an opera. We like to sit on top of the hill with the top down in Christian's R8 and watch the sunset while listening to classical music. And on Sunday's, we drive over with Ari to Bellevue to have dinner with her grandparents, aunt, and uncle.
Christian, me and our daughter are truly a family – there are no bones about. And he is the perfect father. Oh…and he's not a bad boyfriend, either.
I continue to scan the song titles on the balloons and giggle the moment I see Maneater. Christian knows exactly which one I'm looking at.
"Couldn't forget that one," he says, deadpan. I crack up laughing. I then turn to gaze at all the flowers – roses, tulips, dahlias, lilies, peonies – and my mind flashes back to all of the good times that we've had in this very place. The good times definitely outweigh the bad. Granted, our time apart were the worse four months of my life, but we needed that to happen.
My mean tiger had to shed his skin in order to grow a brand-new shiny coat.
If I hadn't left for as long as I did, he probably would've done something to ruin us for good. He wouldn't've been ready to accept that I was pregnant. He wouldn't have been able to react the proper way.
You have to press some rocks in order to make a few diamonds…and that's exactly what we have. We are diamonds that shine together, lovingly and bright.
When I turn around from the flowers to look back at him, he's no longer standing there. I then catch a movement from the corner of my eye down below and my eyes fall.
And there he is, down on one knee holding a diamond ring in a box.
I gasp, and he takes me by the hand.
"Anastasia Rose Steele… you've taken life as I once knew it and turned it up on its ass."
As I start to laugh, my impending tears don't even wait for him to finish.
"The very second I first laid eyes on you… Friday, September seventeenth at nine fifteen P.M…"
I gape at him. "You remember?" I squeak.
"Everyone should remember the exact moment when they encounter their destiny," he breathes.
My tears are now streaming down my face.
"Anyway," he resumes, "I knew when I first saw you that you belonged to me. I just didn't know how to possess you. So…I did the only thing I knew how to do at the time, but it wasn't the way to treat a queen. You are a queen, Anastasia; a goddess."
My head falls to the side, away from him.
"I had to learn how to cherish royalty. It…it took some time," he stutters.
As soon as I hear the strain in his voice, my eyes find him again. He hasn't removed me from his line of vision. My heart stills.
"I was willing to do whatever it took to get my queen back. My goddess. My enchanting dancer. And when I finally found you, you were bearing another gift. A gift that I was finally ready to receive."
A sob slips out of my throat and he squeezes my hand even harder.
"I hope that those are happy tears. God knows I've made you cry the other ones more than once."
I adamantly nod while biting my lips in a smile. He's instantly relieved.
"Good. Well, I've practiced this next line many times in my head. I've also said it out loud to you – with no definite answer, might I add," he smirks. "So, I'm going to try this for hopefully the last time. I have your hand. I'm on bended knee. And I have your ring."
Oh my god.
This is it.
He takes a steady breath. "Anastasia Rose Steele, will you…"
"YES!" I shout from the mountain top.
He gapes at me.
"Can you repeat that?" he murmurs.
I know you just heard me scream out my answer like a lunatic.
Quit playing games, Grey.
This time, I do nothing but smile at him in response with all teeth while nodding really hard. Without saying another word, he springs forward and then hoists me up in his arms. I start squealing. Without putting me down, he starts to dance, elated that I finally told him 'yes'.
A short time later, he and I are slow dancing to The Time of My Life, an up-tempo song, while kissing and holding each other as we move together as one. This song absolutely best describes the way that he and I both feel about us.
He's certainly the one thing that I can't get enough of.
"Ana," he whispers, "I can't wait to dance with you forever. I love you so much." His mouth suddenly takes mine before I can echo his heartfelt sentiment. But it doesn't stop me from thinking it.
And I love you more than pirouettes and sunsets, Mr. Grey.
A/N: Faithful Readers – So, this is TRULY the end this time. :(
To be honest, I really struggled with this epilogue. I wanted it to be absolutely perfect before putting it out there. A busy work and personal life certainly didn't help with timing. When that free time finally came, I found myself going back and forth with what I had written.
However, I had to make up in my own mind that this update wasn't going to be like the others. I had to be okay with every single reader not connecting with how everything wraps up here. Overall, I understand the sentiment of certain reviewers who may think that this chapter as well as the last two or three seemed rushed. For the record, they weren't. Everything in this story, I had laid out months ago. From the very beginning I knew how long this story was going to be, and I anticipated writing a slow build-up and a fast-pace ending. I knew long ago just how I would end this story. I wasn't going to write 20 chapters of Christian moping around and seeking therapy until we see start to see his transformation. This story is called "A Private Dance" – it's both a physical and a spiritual dance between lovers, so I wanted to stay true to that.
I also had to tell myself that this is an "epilogue". Epilogues are retrospectives. In essence, it's supposed to fill in some of the gaps as well as let the reader know how far the main characters have come, where they are now, and where they're headed. I hope I've accomplished that here.
This chapter was all about finding out where Ana's thought process was when she decided to keep her pregnancy a secret from Christian. As we saw, she endured a ton of internalized emotions. Not only did she have to face her parents with the news, but she also felt the need to carry the burden of a dear friend.
I thought about the readers who really don't care for Ana's point of view. I've started this story with Ana, and I wanted to end it with her. We already know how Christian feels, so we don't need to keep harping on that. I also wanted to show Christian's growth through Ana's eyes. We know how self-loathing he can be, but if Ana thinks he's the perfect father and boyfriend, that's all that should matter.
Beyond this story, we see that there's plenty of room for outtakes, but I probably won't be writing them, at least for a good (long) while. So, for now, this story is complete. I have Taking Care of Business to finish, as well as the next story to write after that, which will probably be based on my short story, California Dreamin'.
But first thing's first, I will be taking a well-deserved break from writing at least for a couple of weeks. There are so many books, as well as stories here on FF that I can't wait to indulge in. :D I'm sure I'll be asking you on Facebook what fanfics I need to be reading after I'm done with my current stack. :)
I've never done outtakes, but it absolutely seems to fit well with a story like this one. For APD, there's no other major plot to conjure up. There may be a cute or complicated scenario here and there, which is great for a single chapter ditty in a collection of outtakes. Thanks for reading my rant. I'll spare you the rest of it, haha!
To all my faithful readers: Thank you sooooo much for taking this journey with me. Your support of this story is what kept me going. You're the best! – ST2
Dance Song Suggestion Shout Outs: Kudos to "Storie Tells All" Facebook group member Phillys J. for suggesting "The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes a while ago.