A/N: I do not own the characters.


I pulled up into my parent's driveway surrounded by familiar cars parked in tandem. Apparently everyone invited has shown up. I must be the last guest to have arrived. It's alright. The party doesn't start until seven and right now it's a quarter 'til. Its Carrick's birthday today and he insisted on having a small gathering, just a quiet family dinner with a couple of close friends attending. I could handle that. I wasn't up for an opulent occasion or incessant prattling.

We circled the dining table sipping wine and salivating over appetizers. Ethan and Kate had also joined us for dinner. Kate's been married to Elliot for a little over two years now and they had an eighteen month old son, Daniel, plus a girl on the way. Who knew Elliot could become such an amazing father, being involved with Kate every step of the way. His paternal instinct kicked in even before Daniel arrived ensuring the perfect atmosphere for his son. Ethan and Mia had been dating off and on for two years now, and tonight they're definitely on, giggling and flirting to themselves. Get a room.

"Do you have a name in mind?" Grace asked Kate, eying her six-month bulging belly.

"We haven't decided on one yet," she replied.

"Oh! I think you should call her Keira. It's such a beautiful name," Mia jumped in. "Keira. Lynn. Grey." She tested the sound of the name.

"Maybe," said Kate. "We just have to see once she comes out."

"Hey, Christian! When are you going to play catch up?" asked Elliot. "Daniel is in dire need of a cousin."

"I can always adopt one," I remarked, deadpanned. He's always constantly on my nerve about kids.

"Seriously, a single father?" he asked incredulously.

"You doubting me?" I narrowed my eyes.

"I'm shocked you brought it up," he retorted.

"Well, that sounds great," said Grace, trying to lighten it up. "I'd be glad to help you through the process once you're ready." I chuckled. When I'm ready? When will I ever be ready? The thought of kids haven't crossed my mind. What with my busy schedule and all, a kid just seemed challenging…and time consuming.

"So dad, how does it feel to turn thirty?" asked Mia jokingly, shifting the inevitable topic to Carrick. He laughs.

"I feel younger by the minute, darling." He replied. "Never better." Then everyone added in on the topic, pitching flattery at him. I'd have to agree. My dad hasn't aged much. He's vibrant and radiant and he's not slowing down anytime soon. Maybe he's discovered the fountain of youth. Or maybe he's just content.

Our main entrée arrived right on the dot. Lobster medallions atop herb risotto. It looked delectable. I dug in at a slow pace, pondering at my plate as the commotion in the room became a tad repetitive. A feeling of ennui seeps in. I'm finding it harder and harder to endure. What's wrong with me? I've been so gloomy these past several days. Nothing titillated me anymore. I yearned for this night to end. No offense, dad.

Oblivious at the sound of the doorbell, I tuned out the clattered heels that gradually continued its way towards the dining room. Mia's eyes shot up above me in surprise. "Ana," she called, jerking me alert.

Ana? I crinkled my eyes, refrained myself from turning. A jolt of energy ignited within me. My lips curled up involuntarily.

"Hi, guys," Ana greeted timidly from behind me. She approached Carrick, launching a bear hug. "Happy birthday, Mr. Grey."

"Thank you, Ana," he responded gleefully. "It's so nice you could make it. Have a seat." He waved to the empty chair towards the other end of the table. She nodded heading to the seat, hugging Kate and everyone else along the way, except me. Not that I was expecting one.

"Ana, here! Take my seat," yelled Mia as she pushed out her chair, the screeching of the floor grated my ears.

"It's okay. I fine here," she replied.

"Don't be coy." Mia pulled her over and sat her down. Directly in front of me. I couldn't help but smiled, slightly calmed. Ana to the rescue.

"Christian," she acknowledged uneasily.

"Ana," I returned, stilling my eyes on her.

There was a moment of silence as everyone stared at the both of us. I could literally hear the crickets chirping. Carrick surged in rousing the level of awkwardness, "This lobster is exquisite," waving up his impaled lobster medallion. Everyone quickly agreed, nodded, and continued chatting. What the hell was that?

Ana spoke about her trip to England she recently took with her boyfriend, Dylan, the man she's been dating for the past year. I truly don't understand what she sees in him. But I guess I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Where was Dylan anyway? Hmm. I wondered. He's usually never more than a couple feet away. She seemed quite tense under the interrogation that is Kate and Mia and avoiding my gaze or any kind of eye contact. Damn it, Ana. Look at me.

We gathered in the great room devouring the intricate fondant covered chocolate cake with strawberry filling, Grace had ordered from a local specialty bakery. It was dad's favorite and I've gotten attuned to it.

Ana was pouring herself a glass of OJ when I wandered in the kitchen. She had on a white silk sleeveless blouse tucked under a baby blue pleated skirt that slightly ended above the knee, and a white peep toe pump that accentuated her sexy sculpted legs. Oh how I would love to brush my knuckles across those luscious limbs. Stop it, Grey. She's taken. I guess I'll just admire them from afar. Mia had a great influence on her appearance, always in vogue and up-to-date with the latest fashion. She knew Ana had potential. I approached her nonchalantly.

"Gretchen could've gotten it for you," I muttered. She jumped.

"It's alright…I needed a little space anyway. It was getting kind of claustrophobic," she replied somberly.

"Claustrophobic?" I questioned, "You okay?"

"I'm fine," she answered uncertainly. "I just wasn't prepared for the inquisition.

"You've been gone for a while. Don't think they're going to let you off that easily."

"Apparently not." She rolled her eyes irritatingly.

"Where's Dylan?" I asked bluntly.

"He's at home. He's not feeling too well. Jet lagged, I suppose." She flustered.

"Oh." I nodded incredulously. "Well I'm glad you're back safely. I was worried."

"About what?" she frowned.

"I'm always concern when it comes to you." She glided her finger over the rim of the glass.

"Thanks." Her tone was adverse. "It's unnecessary."

"It comes naturally." I murmured. "Especially knowing how clumsy and prone you are to any matters at hand." I smirked. She was impassive.

"Well, I'm here and I'm safe and I'm elated that you're worried about my well-being," she scoffed shaking her head. "You can stop smothering me now," she scolded. I furrowed my eyebrows.

"Ana, what's wrong?" I asked, propelling towards her. She shrunk back scowling at me.

"Just leave me alone," she hissed.

"Ana," I muttered, reaching my hand out to console her. She shoved it fiercely landing it against the marble counter. I flinched from the impact but disregarded the pain as I glowered quizzically. Her eyes were cold and harsh, stiffening at me.

"Ana," Kate called as she stumbled in, breaking the tension.

"Yes, Kate?" Her voice soothing once again.

"What are you doing here? C'mon, we have to catch up. It's been so long since we've spent any time together."

"Okay," Ana complied. She strode pass me unrelentingly and deliberately left with Kate. What the fuck just happened? I've never seen Ana so frigid. It was mind boggling. If only Kate hadn't disrupted our impending crossfire I would've figured out what the hell was eating her.

Fucking Kate.

I stared out at the Seattle skyline from my office building window trying to comprehend the situation that arose last night. What happened during Ana's trip? What happened to Dylan? Why was she so upset at me? What triggered the outburst? I should call her but refrained myself knowing she could still be pissed off. And when she's pissed off she's fucking irrational. I would never win. But I was itching to find out. She wasn't telling me anything. We're usually opened and honest about our relationship so it was galling when she refused to cooperate last night. She'll come around. She will. Hopefully soon. I hate the belligerent Ana.

The phone buzzed snapping me out of my thoughts.

"Yes," I answered.

"Miss Ana Steele is here to see you, Mr. Grey," informed Andrea.

"Let her in, Andrea," I replied surprisingly. Sooner than I thought.

Ana entered my office tentatively. Her demeanor hasn't changed from yesterday. "Ana." I acknowledged cordially, steered around my desk and made my way towards her.

"I'm sorry about last night," she apologized grimly. She looked distraught. Dark circles strewn under her blue red-rimmed eyes revealed that she'd been crying. "I shouldn't have taken it out on you." Her expression was contrite. I could never be angry at her. Well, not never. Ambivalently, I pulled her in, embraced her in my arms and sighed.

"I needed to see you," she murmured.

"Have a seat," I invited. She eased in comfortably on one of my white contemporary leather chairs. Truthfully, I was hoping she'd plop down on the couch instead, just so I could hold her and rub her back, and maybe squeeze her shoulder now and then to lessen her pain, but she looked comfortable and I didn't want to trouble her. I took the couch all to myself, opposite her.

She gathered up her thoughts and sighed exasperatedly. "I lied," she blurted out. I kept silence for her to continue, but nothing came out.

"About what?" I asked.

"Dylan," she said warily. "We broke up during our trip. We we're trying to work things out and one problem led to another… I thought this trip might've patched up some issues we had but the problem…escalated. I don't know what went wrong."

I knew it. I knew the trip didn't ride well. My question was answered. My speculation was confirmed. And I was glad she confided in me. She always does. Three years, three boyfriends. She'd always come running to me after a nasty breakup.

"He used to be sweet and romantic like I was the center of his world. He cherished me and reminded me how lucky he was. I thought he was the best thing that ever happened to me. Then his attitude shifted. He became condescending and inconsiderate and callous. He didn't love me anymore," she continued, "And I didn't love him anymore. We kind of…drifted apart."

I listened attentively as she continued her rants about Dylan. I'm surprised she didn't notice his flaws then: his stubbornness, his uncompromising attitude, his temperament and especially his lack of chivalry. Honestly, how hard is it to open a door for your woman? I find it easily gratifying. It's second nature to me.

After a long hour of venting, she toned down, drifting in her thoughts. Her eyes started to well. She's crying. I sprang up instinctively, eager to comfort her, but she held her hand out to stop me.

"Don't. I'm fine. I need to let it out," she assured me.

I plopped back down, concerned, and gave her a moment. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath then revealed them once again. I was mesmerized as she darted her eyes at me, setting me in a trance. I turned away for a second to regain clarity then craned back at her. She bit her lip unconsciously. Fuck. She's biting her lip. She should know what it does to me. I wanted to graze those lips with mine so badly. It looked so delicate and soft. I could feel it. Her juicy lips against my… Stop it, Grey. Stop it now. She really needs your full and unadulterated attention. My lewd imagination dissipated in a swiftness.

"So what are your plans now?" I asked.

"One of my colleagues has a room I could use for the time being. Just until I find an apartment of my own."

"You're always welcome to use my place," I offered.

"No. It's okay." She shook her head.

"You don't trust me?" I raised an eyebrow, slightly offended.

"I just want to be alone right now. Without any distractions."

"Understandable," I respond earnestly. "Just remember that my place is always available if you need it," Come to think of it, it's been a year since she stepped foot in my condo, ever since she dated Dylan. It's probably one of her commitment policy. Never step foot in Christian's place while engaging in a relationship with another man. Really? How could she assume the worst in me? I'm a man with boundaries. I would never stoop that low.

"Thank you, Christian," she reprieved. "I feel a lot better."

"You're welcome." I smiled.

"I think I've occupied enough time from your busy schedule." She straightened up and I mirrored her.

"Hey, a diversion from a tedious daily routine is always refreshing," I snorted, and ushered her to the door. "If you need anything and I mean anything, just call me. I'm here for you."

She nodded appreciatively and enveloped me in a hug. "You're a great friend," she murmured. Yeah. A friend. Just a friend. I remembered when we're more than just friends before I whipped her recklessly six times with my intolerant belt, making her count every painful sting that landed across her backside. It haunted me ever since and I never forgave myself for my imprudent action.

She pulled out of our embrace, meekly slicked her hair behind her ear and left my office dejectedly. I watched as she moseyed towards the elevator with her head downcast. It was killing me. God, I wish I could make it all better. Oh, Ana. You deserve better.

What do you think so far? Should I continue with the story? Feedback's are appreciated. Thanks for reading.