Chapter Eighteen of the book Fifty Shades Freed

I stir, opening my eyes to a bright September morning. Warm and comfortable between clean, crisp sheets, I take a moment to orientate myself and am overwhelmed by a sense of déja vu. Of course, I’m at the Heathman.

“Shit! Daddy!” I gasp out loud, recalling with a gut-wrenching surge of apprehension that twists my heart and starts it pounding why I’m in Portland.

“Hey.” Christian is sitting on the edge of the bed. He strokes my cheek with his knuckles, instantly calming me. “I called the ICU this morning. Ray had a good night. It’s all good,” he says reassuringly.

“Oh, good. Thank you,” I mutter, sitting up.

For all ourfirsts on your first birthday as my beloved wife.

I love you.

Cx

He leans in and presses his lips to my forehead. “Good morning, Ana,” he whispers and kisses my temple.

“Hi,” I mutter. He’s up and dressed in a black T-shirt and blue jeans.

“Hi,” he replies, his eyes soft and warm. “I want to wish you happy birthday.

Is that okay?”

I offer him a tentative smile and caress his cheek. “Yes, of course. Thank you. For everything.”

His brow furrows. “Everything?”

“Everything.”

He looks momentarily confused, but it’s fleeting and his eyes widen with anticipation. “Here.” He hands me a small, exquisitely wrapped box with a tiny gift card.

In spite of the worry I feel about my father, I sense Christian’s anxiety and excitement, and it’s infectious. I read the card.

Oh my, how sweet is that? “I love you, too,” I murmur, smiling at him.

He grins. “Open it.”

Unwrapping the paper carefully so it doesn’t tear, I find a beautiful red leather box. Cartier. It’s familiar, thanks to my second-chance earrings and my watch.

Cautiously, I open the box to discover a delicate charm bracelet of silver, or platinum or white gold—I don’t know, but it’s absolutely enchanting. Attached to it are several charms: the Eiffel Tower, a London black cab, a helicopter —Charlie Tango, a glider—the soaring, a catamaran— The Grace, a bed, and an ice cream cone? I look up at him, bemused.

“Vanilla?” He shrugs apologetically, and I can’t help but laugh. Of course.

“Christian, this is beautiful. Thank you. It’s yar.”

He grins.

My favorite is the heart. It’s a locket.

“You can put a picture or whatever in that.”

“A picture of you.” I glance at him through my lashes. “Always in my heart.”

He smiles his lovely, heartbreakingly shy smile.

I fondle the last two charms: a letter C—oh yes, I was his first girlfriend to use his first name. I smile at the thought. And finally, there’s a key.

“To my heart and soul,” he whispers.

Tears prick my eyes. I launch myself at him, curling my arms around his neck and settling into his lap. “It’s such a thoughtful present. I love it. Thank you,” I murmur against his ear. Oh, he smells so good—clean, of fresh linen, body wash, and Christian. Like home, my home. My threatened tears begin to fall.

He groans softly and enfolds me in his embrace.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you.” My voice cracks as I try to hold back the overwhelming swell of emotion.

He swallows hard and tightens his hold on me. “Please don’t cry.”

I sniff in a rather unladylike way. “I’m sorry. I’m just so happy and sad and anxious at the same time. It’s bittersweet.”

“Hey.” His voice is feather soft. Tipping my head back, he plants a gentle kiss on my lips. “I understand.”

“I know,” I whisper, and I’m rewarded with his shy smile again.

“I wish we were in happier circumstances and at home. But we’re here.” He shrugs apologetically once more. “Come, up you go. After breakfast, we’ll check on Ray.”

Once dressed in my new jeans and T-shirt, my appetite makes a brief but welcome return during breakfast in our suite. I know Christian is pleased to see me eating my granola and Greek yogurt.

“Thank you for ordering my favorite breakfast.”

“It’s your birthday,” Christian says softly. “And you have to stop thanking me.” He rolls his eyes in exasperation, but fondly, I think.

“I just want you to know that I appreciate it.”

“Anastasia, it’s what I do.” His expression is serious—of course, Christian in command and control. How could I forget . . . Would I want him any other way?

I smile. “Yes, it is.”

He gives me a puzzled look then shakes his head. “Shall we go?”

“I’ll just brush my teeth.”

He smirks. “Okay.”

Why is he smirking? The thought nags me as I head into the en suite. A memory springs unbidden to my mind. I used his toothbrush after I first spent the night with him. I smirk and grab his toothbrush in homage to that first time. Gazing at myself as I brush my teeth, I’m pale, too pale. But then I’m always pale.

The last time I was here I was single, and now I’m married at twenty-two! I’m getting old. I rinse out my mouth.

Holding up my wrist, I shake it, and the charms on my bracelet give a satisfying rattle. How does my sweet Fifty always know exactly the right thing to give me? I take a deep breath, attempting to stem the emotion still lurking in my system, and gaze down at the bracelet once more. I bet it cost a fortune. Ah . . . well.

He can afford it.

As we walk to the elevators, Christian takes my hand and kisses my knuckles, his thumb brushing over Charlie Tango on my bracelet. “You like?”

“More than like. I love it. Very much. Like you.”

He smiles and kisses my knuckles once more. I feel lighter than I did yesterday. Perhaps because it’s morning and the world always seems a more hopeful place than it does in the dead of night. Or maybe it’s my husband’s sweet wake-up. Or maybe it’s knowing that Ray is no worse.

As we step into the empty elevator, I glance up at Christian. His eyes flicker quickly down to mine, and he smirks again.

“Don’t,” he whispers as the doors shut.

“Don’t what?”

“Look at me like that.”

“Fuck the paperwork,” I mutter, grinning.

He laughs, and it’s such a carefree, boyish sound. He tugs me into his arms and tilts my head up. “Someday, I’ll rent this elevator for a whole afternoon.”

“Just the afternoon?” I arch my brow.

“Mrs. Grey, you are greedy.”

“When it comes to you, I am.”

“I’m very glad to hear it.” He kisses me gently.

And I don’t know if it’s because we are in this elevator or because he’s not touched me in over twenty-four hours or if he’s just my intoxicating husband, but desire unwinds and stretches lazily deep in my belly. I run my fingers into his hair and deepen the kiss, pushing him against the wall and bringing my body flush against his.

He groans into my mouth and cups my head, cradling me as we kiss—really kiss, our tongues exploring the oh-so-familiar but still oh-so-new, oh-so-exciting territory that is the other’s mouth. My inner goddess swoons, bringing my libido back from purdah. I caress his dear, dear face in my hands.

“Ana,” he breathes.

“I love you, Christian Grey. Don’t forget that,” I whisper as I gaze into darkening gray eyes.

The elevator comes smoothly to a halt and the doors open.

“Let’s go and see your father before I decide to rent this today.” He kisses me quickly, takes my hand, and leads me into the lobby.

As we walk past the concierge, Christian gives a discreet signal to the kindly middle-aged man standing behind the desk. He nods and picks up his phone. I glance questioningly at Christian, and he gives me his secret smile. I frown at him, and for a moment he looks nervous.

“Where’s Taylor?” I ask.

“We’ll see him shortly.”

Of course, he’s probably fetching the car. “Sawyer?”

“Running errands.”

What errands?

Christian avoids the revolving door, and I know it’s so he doesn’t have to release my hand. The thought warms me. Outside it’s a mild late-summer morning, but the scent of the coming fall is in the breeze. I glance around, looking for the Audi SUV and Taylor. No sign. Christian’s hand tightens around mine, and I look up at him. He seems anxious.

“What is it?”

He shrugs. The hum of an approaching car engine distracts me. It’s throaty . . . familiar. As I turn to find the source of the noise, it stops suddenly.

Taylor is climbing out of a sleek white sports car parked in front of us.

Oh shit! It’s an R8. I whip my head back to Christian, who’s watching me warily. “You can buy me one for my birthday . . . a white one, I think.”

“Happy birthday,” he says, and I know he’s gauging my reaction. I gape at him because that’s all I can do. He holds out a key.

“You are completely over the top,” I whisper. He’s bought me a fucking Audi R8! Holy shit. Just like I asked! My face splits in a huge grin, and my inner goddess does a backflip off the high dive. I jump up and down on the spot in a moment of unguarded and unbridled overexcitement. Christian’s expression mirrors mine, and I dance forward into his waiting arms. He swings me around.

“You have more money than sense!” I whoop. “I love it! Thank you.” He stops and dips me low suddenly, startling me, so that I have to grasp his upper arms.

“Anything for you, Mrs. Grey.” He grins down at me. Oh my. What a very public display of affection. He bends and kisses me. “Come. Let’s go see your dad.”

“Yes. And I get to drive?”

He grins down at me. “Of course. It’s yours.” He stands me up and releases me, and I hurry around to the driver’s door.

Taylor opens it for me, smiling broadly. “Happy birthday, Mrs. Grey.”

“Thank you, Taylor.” I startle him by giving him a swift hug, which he returns awkwardly. He’s still blushing when I climb into the car, and he closes the door promptly once I’m inside.

“Drive safe, Mrs. Grey,” he says gruffly. I beam up at him, barely able to contain my excitement.

“Will do.” I promise, putting the key in the ignition as Christian stretches out beside me.

“Take it easy. Nobody chasing us now,” he warns. When I turn the key, the engine thunders to life. I check the rearview and side mirrors, and spotting a rare moment of clear traffic, execute a huge perfect U-turn and roar off in the direction of OSHU.

“Whoa!” Christian exclaims, alarmed.

“What?”

“I don’t want you in the ICU beside your father. Slow down,” he growls, not to be argued with. I ease off the accelerator and grin at him.

“Better?”

“Much,” he mutters, trying hard to look stern—and failing miserably.

Ray’s condition is the same. Seeing him grounds me after the heady road trip here. I really should drive more carefully. You can’t legislate for every drunk driver in this world. I must ask Christian what’s become of the asshole who hit Ray—I’m sure he knows. In spite of the tubes, my father looks comfortable, and I think he has a little more color in his cheeks. While I tell him about my morning, Christian wanders off to the waiting room to make phone calls.

Nurse Kellie hovers, checking Ray’s lines and making notes on his chart.

“All his signs are good, Mrs. Grey.” She smiles kindly at me.

“That’s very encouraging.”

A little later Dr. Crowe appears with two nursing assistants and says warmly,

“Mrs. Grey, time to take your father up to radiology. We’re giving him a CT scan.

To see how his brain is doing.”

“Will you be long?”

“Up to an hour.”

“I’ll wait. I’d like to know.”

“Sure thing, Mrs. Grey.”

I wander into the thankfully empty waiting room where Christian is talking on the phone, pacing. As he speaks, he gazes out of the window at the panoramic view of Portland. He turns to me when I shut the door, and he looks angry.

“How far above the limit? . . . I see . . . All charges, everything. Ana’s father is in the ICU—I want you to throw the fucking book at him, Dad . . . Good. Keep me informed.” He hangs up.

“The other driver?”

He nods. “Some drunken trailer trash from Southeast Portland.” He sneers, and I’m shocked by his terminology and his derisory tone. He walks over to me, and his tone softens.

“Finished with Ray? Do you want to go?”

“Um . . . no.” I peer up at him, still reeling at his display of contempt.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Ray’s being taken to radiology for a CT scan to check the swelling in his brain. I’d like to wait for the results.”

“Okay. We’ll wait.” He sits down and holds out his arms. As we’re alone, I go willingly and curl up in his lap.

“This is not how I envisaged spending today,” Christian murmurs into my hair.

“Me neither, but I’m feeling more positive now. Your mom was very reassuring. It was kind of her to come last night.”

Christian strokes my back and rests his chin on my head. “My mom is an amazing woman.”

“She is. You’re very lucky to have her.”

Christian nods.

“I should call my mom. Tell her about Ray,” I murmur and Christian stiffens.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t called me.” I frown in a moment of realization. In fact, I feel hurt. It’s my birthday after all, and she was there when I was born. Why hasn’t she called?

“Maybe she did,” Christian says. I fish my BlackBerry out of my pocket. It shows no missed calls, but quite a few texts: happy birthdays from Kate, José, Mia, and Ethan. Nothing from my mother. I shake my head despondently.

“Call her now,” he says softly. I do, but there’s no reply, just the answering machine. I don’t leave a message. How can my own mother forget my birthday?

“She’s not there. I’ll call later when I know the results of the brain scan.”

Christian tightens his arms around me, nuzzling my hair once more, and wisely makes no comment on my mother’s lack of maternal concern. I feel rather than hear the buzz of his BlackBerry. He doesn’t let me stand up but fishes it awkwardly out of his pocket.

“Andrea,” he snaps, businesslike again. I make another move to stand and he stops me, frowning and holding me tightly around my waist. I nestle back against his chest and listen to the one-sided conversation.

“Good . . . ETA is what time? . . . And the other, um . . . packages?” Christian glances at his watch. “Does the Heathman have all the details? . . . Good . . . Yes.

It can hold until Monday morning, but e-mail it just in case—I’ll print, sign, and scan it back to you . . . They can wait. Go home, Andrea . . . No, we’re good, thank you.” He hangs up.

“Everything okay?”

“Yes.”

“Is this your Taiwan thing?”

“Yes.” He shifts beneath me.

“Am I too heavy?”

He snorts. “No, baby.”

“Are you worried about the Taiwan thing?”

“No.”

“I thought it was important.”

“It is. The shipyard here depends on it. There are lots of jobs at stake.”

Oh!

“We just have to sell it to the unions. That’s Sam and Ros’s job. But the way the economy’s heading, none of us have a lot of choice.”

I yawn.

“Am I boring you, Mrs. Grey?” He nuzzles my hair again, amused.

“No! Never . . . I’m just very comfortable on your lap. I like hearing about your business.”

“You do?” He sounds surprised.

“Of course.” I lean back to gaze directly at him. “I like hearing any bit of information you deign to share with me.” I smirk, and he regards me with amusement and shakes his head.

“Always hungry for more information, Mrs. Grey.”

“Tell me.” I urge him as I snuggle up against his chest again.

“Tell you what?”

“Why you do it.”

“Do what?”

“Work the way you do.”

“A guy’s got to earn a living.” He’s amused.

“Christian, you earn more than a living.” My voice is full of irony. He frowns and is quiet for a moment. I think he’s not going to divulge any secrets, but he surprises me.

“I don’t want to be poor,” he says, his voice low. “I’ve done that. I’m not going back there again. Besides . . . it’s a game,” he murmurs. “It’s about winning.

A game I’ve always found very easy.”

“Unlike life,” I murmur to myself. Then I realize I said the words out loud.

“Yes, I suppose.” He frowns. “Though it’s easier with you.”

Easier with me? I hug him tightly. “It can’t all be a game. You’re very philanthropic.”

He shrugs, and I know he’s growing uncomfortable. “About some things, maybe,” he says quietly.

“I love philanthropic Christian,” I murmur.

“Just him?”

“Oh, I love megalomaniac Christian, too, and control-freak Christian, sexpertise Christian, kinky Christian, romantic Christian, shy Christian . . . the list is endless.”

“That’s a whole lot of Christians.”

“I’d say at least fifty.”

He laughs. “Fifty Shades,” he murmurs into my hair.

“My Fifty Shades.”

He shifts, tipping my head back, and kisses me. “Well, Mrs. Shades, let’s see how your dad is doing.”

“Okay.”

“Can we go for a drive?”

Christian and I are back in the R8, and I’m feeling giddily buoyant. Ray’s brain is back to normal—all swelling gone. Dr. Sluder has decided to wake him from his coma tomorrow. She says she’s pleased with his progress.

“Sure.” Christian grins at me. “It’s your birthday—we can do anything you want.”

Oh! His tone makes me turn and gaze at him. His eyes are dark.

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

How much promise can he load into one word? “Well, I want to drive.”

“Then drive, baby.” He grins, and I grin back.

My car handles like a dream, and as we hit the I-5, I subtly put my foot down, forcing us both back in our seats.

“Steady, baby,” Christian warns.

As we drive back into Portland, an idea occurs to me.

“Have you planned lunch?” I ask Christian tentatively.

“No. You’re hungry?” He sounds hopeful.

“Yes.”

“Where do you want to go? It’s your day, Ana.”

“I know just the place.”

I pull up near the gallery where José exhibited his work and park right outside the Le Picotin restaurant where we went after José’s show.

Christian grins. “For one minute I thought you were going to take me to that dreadful bar you drunk dialed me from.”

“Why would I do that?”

“To check the azaleas are still alive.” He arches a sardonic brow.

I blush. “Don’t remind me! Besides . . . you still took me to your hotel room.”

I smirk.

“Best decision I ever made,” he says, his eyes soft and warm.

“Yes. It was.” I lean over and kiss him.

“Do you think that supercilious fucker is still waiting tables?” Christian asks.

“Supercilious? I thought he was fine.”

“He was trying to impress you.”

“Well, he succeeded.”

Christian’s mouth twists in amused disgust.

“Shall we go see?” I offer.

“Lead on, Mrs. Grey.”

After lunch and a quick detour to the Heathman to pick up Christian’s laptop, we return to the hospital. I spend the afternoon with Ray, reading aloud from one of the manuscripts I’ve been sent. My only accompaniment is the sound of the machinery keeping him alive, keeping him with me. Now that I know he’s making progress, I can breathe a little easier and relax. I’m hopeful. He just needs time to get well. I’ve got time—I can give him that. I wonder idly if I should try calling Mom again, but decide to do it later. I hold Ray’s hand loosely as I read to him, squeezing it occasionally, willing him to be well. His fingers feel soft and warm beneath my touch. He still has the indentation on his finger where he wore his wedding ring—even after all this time.

An hour or two later, I don’t know how long, I glance up to see Christian, laptop in hand, standing at the end of Ray’s bed with Nurse Kellie.

“It’s time to go, Ana.”

Oh. I clasp Ray’s hand tightly. I don’t want to leave him.

“I want to feed you. Come. It’s late.” Christian sounds insistent.

“I’m about to give Mr. Steele a sponge bath,” Nurse Kellie says.

“Okay.” I concede. “We’ll be back tomorrow morning.”

I kiss Ray on his cheek, feeling his unfamiliar stubble beneath my lips. I don’t like it . Keep getting better, Daddy. I love you.

“I thought we’d dine downstairs. In a private room,” Christian says, a gleam in his eye as he opens the door to our suite.

“Really? Finish what you started a few months ago?”

He smirks. “If you’re very lucky, Mrs. Grey.”

I laugh. “Christian, I don’t have anything dressy to wear.”

He smiles, holds out his hand, and leads me into the bedroom. He opens the wardrobe to reveal a large white dress bag hanging inside.

“Taylor?” I ask.

“Christian,” he replies, forceful and wounded at once. His tone makes me laugh. Unzipping the bag, I find a navy satin dress and ease it out. It’s gorgeous—fitted with thin straps. It looks small.

“It’s lovely. Thank you. I hope it fits.”

“It will,” he says confidently. “And here”—he picks up a shoebox—”shoes to match.” He gives me a wolfish smile.

“You think of everything. Thank you.” I stretch up and kiss him.

“I do.” He hands me yet another bag.

I gaze at him quizzically. Inside is a black strapless bodysuit with a central panel of lace. He caresses my face, tilts my chin, and kisses me.

“I look forward to taking this off you later.”

Fresh out of my bath, washed, shaved and feeling pampered, I sit on the edge of the bed and start up the hair dryer. Christian wanders into the bedroom. I think he’s been working.

“Here, let me,” he says, pointing to the chair in front of the dressing table.

“Dry my hair?”

He nods. I blink at him.

“Come,” he says, regarding me intently. I know that expression, and I know better than to disobey. Slowly and methodically he dries my hair, one lock at a time. He’s obviously done this before . . . often.

“You’re no stranger to this,” I murmur. His smile is reflected in the mirror, but he says nothing and continues to brush through my hair. Hmm . . . it’s very relaxing.

When we step into the elevator on our way to dinner, we are not alone. Christian looks delicious in his signature white linen shirt, black jeans and jacket. No tie.

The two women inside shoot admiring glances at him and less generous ones at me. I hide my smile. Yes, ladies, he’s mine. Christian takes my hand and pulls me close as we travel in silence down to the mezzanine level.

It’s busy, full of people dressed up for the evening, sitting around chatting and drinking, starting their Saturday night. I am grateful that I fit in. The dress hugs me, skimming over my curves and holding everything in place. I have to say, I feel . . . attractive wearing it. I know Christian approves.

At first, I think we’re heading for the private dining room where we first discussed the contract, but he leads me past that doorway and on to the far end where he opens the door to another wood paneled room.

“Surprise! “

Oh, my. Kate and Elliot, Mia and Ethan, Carrick and Grace, Mr. Rodriguez and José, and my mother and Bob are all there raising their glasses. I stand gaping at them, speechless. How? When? I turn in consternation to Christian, and he squeezes my hand. My mom steps forward and wraps her arms around me. Oh, Mom!

“Darling, you look beautiful. Happy birthday.”

“Mom!” I sob, embracing her. Oh Mommy. Tears stream down my face despite the audience, and I bury my face in her neck.

“Honey, darling. Don’t cry. Ray will be okay. He’s such a strong man. Don’t cry. Not on your birthday.” Her voice cracks, but she maintains her composure.

She grasps my face in her hands and with her thumbs wipes away my tears.

“I thought you’d forgotten.”

“Oh, Ana! How could I? Seventeen hours of labor is not something you easily forget.”

I giggle through my tears, and she smiles.

“Dry your eyes, honey. Lots of people are here to share your special day.”

I sniffle, not wanting to look at anyone else in the room, embarrassed and thrilled that everyone has made such an effort to come and see me.

“How did you get here? When did you arrive?”

“Your husband sent his plane, darling.” She grins, impressed.

And I laugh. “Thank you for coming, Mom.” She wipes my nose with a tissue as only a mother would. “Mom!” I scold, composing myself.

“That’s better. Happy birthday, darling.” She steps aside while everyone lines up to hug me and wish me happy birthday.

“He’s doing well, Ana. Dr. Sluder is the one of the best in the country. Happy birthday, Angel.” Grace hugs me.

“You cry all you want to, Ana—it’s your party.” José embraces me.

“Happy birthday, darling girl.” Carrick smiles, cupping my face.

“S’up babe? Your old man will be fine.” Elliot enfolds me in his arms.

“Happy birthday.”

“Okay.” Taking my hand, Christian pulls me from Elliot’s embrace. “Enough fondling my wife. Go fondle your fiancée.”

Elliot grins wickedly at him and winks at Kate.

A waiter I hadn’t noticed before presents Christian and me with glasses of pink champagne.

Christian clears his throat. “This would be a perfect day if Ray were here with us, but he’s not far away. He’s doing well, and I know he’d like you to enjoy yourself, Ana. To all of you, thank you for coming to share my beautiful wife’s birthday, the first of many to come. Happy birthday, my love.” Christian raises his glass to me amid a chorus of happy birthdays, and I have to fight again to keep my tears at bay.

I watch the animated conversations around the dinner table. It’s strange to be cocooned in the bosom of my family, knowing the man I consider my father is on a life support machine in the cold clinical environs of the ICU. I’m detached from the proceedings but grateful that they’re all here. Watching the sparring between Elliot and Christian, José’s ready warm wit, Mia’s excitement and her enthusiasm for the food, Ethan slyly watching her. I think he likes her . . . though it’s hard to tell. Mr. Rodriguez is sitting back, like me, enjoying the conversations. He looks better. Rested. José is very attentive to him, cutting his food, keeping his glass filled. Having his surviving parent come so close to death has made José appreciate Mr. Rodriguez more . . . I know.

I gaze at Mom. She’s in her element, charming, witty, and warm. I love her so much. I must remember to tell her. Life is so precious, I realize that now.

“You okay?” Kate asks in an uncharacteristically gentle voice.

I nod and clasp her hand. “Yes. Thanks for coming.”

“You think Mr. Megabucks could keep me away from you on your birthday?

We got to fly in the helicopter!” She grins.

“Really?”

“Yes. All of us. And to think Christian can fly it.”

I nod.

“That’s kinda hot.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

We grin.

“Are you staying here tonight?” I ask.

“Yes. We all are, I think. You knew nothing about this?”

I shake my head.

“Smooth, isn’t he?”

I nod.

“What did he get you for your birthday?”

“This.” I hold up my bracelet.

“Oh, cute!”

“Yes.”

“London, Paris . . . ice cream?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“I can guess.”

We laugh, and I blush, recalling Ben & Jerry’s & Ana.

“Oh . . . and an R8.”

Kate spits her wine rather unattractively down her chin, making us both laugh some more.

“Over the top bastard, isn’t he?” She giggles.

For dessert I am presented with a sumptuous chocolate cake blazing with twenty-two silver candles and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Grace watches Christian singing with the rest of my friends and family, and her eyes shine with love. Catching my eye, she blows me a kiss.

“Make a wish,” Christian whispers to me. In one breath I blow out all the candles, fervently willing my father better. Daddy, get well. Please get well. I love you so.

At midnight, Mr. Rodriguez and José take their leave.

“Thank you so much for coming.” I hug José tightly.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Glad Ray’s heading in the right direction.”

“Yes. You, Mr. Rodriguez, and Ray have to come fishing with Christian in Aspen.”

“Yeah? Sounds cool.” José grins before he leaves to fetch his father’s coat, and I crouch down to say good-bye to Mr. Rodriguez.

“You know Ana, there was a time . . . well, I thought you and José . . .” His voice fades, and he gazes at me, his dark gaze intense but loving.

Oh no.

“I’m very fond of your son, Mr. Rodriguez, but he’s like a brother to me.”

“You would have made one fine daughter-in-law. And you do. To the Greys.” He smiles wistfully and I blush.

“I hope you’ll settle for friend.”

“Of course. Your husband is a fine man. You chose well, Ana.”

“I think so,” I whisper. “I love him so.” I hug Mr. Rodriguez.

“Treat him good, Ana.”

“I will,” I promise.

Christian closes the door to our suite.

“Alone at last,” he murmurs, leaning back against the door, watching me.

I step toward him and run my fingers over the lapels of his jacket. “Thank you for a wonderful birthday. You really are the most thoughtful, considerate, generous husband.”

“My pleasure.”

“Yes . . . your pleasure. Let’s do something about that,” I whisper. Tightening my hands around his lapels, I pull his lips to mine.

After a communal breakfast, I open all my presents then give a series of cheery good-byes to all the Greys and the Kavanaghs who will be returning to Seattle via Charlie Tango. My mom, Christian, and I head up to the hospital with Taylor driving since the three of us would not fit into my R8. Bob has declined to visit, and I’m secretly glad. It’d be just too weird, and I’m sure Ray wouldn’t appreciate Bob seeing him at anything less than his best.

Ray looks much the same. Hairier. Mom is shocked when she sees him, and together we cry a little more.

“Oh, Ray.” She squeezes his hand and gently strokes his face, and I’m moved to see her love for her ex-husband. I’m glad I have tissues in my purse. We sit beside him, me holding her hand while she holds his.

“Ana, there was a time when this man was the center of my world. The sun rose and set with him. I’ll always love him. He’s taken such good care of you.”

“Mom—” I choke and she strokes my face and tucks a lock of my hair behind my ear.

“You know I’ll always love Ray. We just drifted apart.” She sighs. “And I just couldn’t live with him.” She gazes down at her fingers, and I wonder if she’s thinking about Steve, Husband Number Three, who we don’t talk about.

“I know you love Ray,” I whisper, drying my eyes. “They’re going to bring him out of his coma today.”

“Good. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s so stubborn. I think you learned it from him.”

I smile. “Have you been talking to Christian?”

“Does he think you’re stubborn?”

“I believe so.”

“I’ll tell him it’s a family trait. You look so good together, Ana. So happy.”

“We are, I think. Getting there, anyway. I love him. He’s the center of my world. The sun rises and sets with him for me, too.”

“He obviously adores you, darling.”

“And I adore him.”

“Make sure you tell him. Men need to hear that stuff just like we do.”

I insist on going to the airport with Mom and Bob to say good-bye. Taylor follows in the R8, and Christian drives the SUV. I’m sorry they can’t stay longer, but they have to get back to Savannah. It’s a tearful good-bye.

“Take good care of her, Bob,” I whisper as he hugs me.

“Sure will, Ana. And you look after yourself.”

“Will do.” I turn to my mother. “Good-bye, Mom. Thank you for coming,” I whisper, my voice hoarse. “I love you so much.”

“Oh my darling girl, I love you, too. And Ray will be fine. He’s not ready to shuffle off his mortal coil just yet. There’s probably a Mariners game he can’t miss.”

I giggle. She’s right. I resolve to read the sports pages of the Sunday newspaper to Ray that evening. I watch her and Bob climb the steps into the GEH jet. She gives me a tearful wave, then she’s gone. Christian wraps his arm around my shoulder.

“Let’s head back, baby,” he murmurs

“Will you drive?”

“Sure.”

When we return to the hospital that evening, Ray looks different. It takes me a moment to realize that the suck and push of the ventilator has vanished. Ray is breathing on his own. Relief floods through me . I stroke his stubbly face, and taking out a tissue to gently wipe, the spittle from his mouth.

Christian stalks off to find Dr. Sluder or Dr. Crowe for an update, while I take my familiar seat beside his bed to keep a watchful vigil.

I unfold the sports section of the Sunday Oregonian and conscientiously begin reading out the report about the Sounders soccer game against Real Salt Lake.

By all accounts, it was a wild game, but the Sounders were defeated by an own goal from Kasey Keller. I grip Ray’s hand firmly in mine as I read it through.

“And the final score, Sounders 1, Real Salt Lake 2.”

“Hey, Annie, we lost? No!” Ray rasps, and he squeezes my hand.

Daddy!

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