He pulls out of me suddenly. I wince. He sits up on the bed and throws the used condom in a wastebasket.
“Come on, we need to get dressed – that’s if you want to meet my mother.” He grins, leaps up off the bed, and pulls on his jeans, no underwear! I struggle to sit up as I’m still tethered.
“Christian - I can’t move.”
His grin widens, and leaning down, he undoes the tie. The woven pattern has made an indented pattern around my wrists. It’s… sexy. He gazes at me. He’s amused, his eyes dancing with mirth. He kisses my forehead quickly and beams at me.
“Another first,” he acknowledges, but I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“I have no clean clothes in here.” I am filled with sudden panic, and considering what I’ve just experienced, I’m finding the panic overwhelming. His mother! Holy crap. I have no clean clothes, and she’s practically walked in on us in flagrante delicto. “Perhaps I should stay here.”
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Christian threatens. “You can wear something of mine.” He’s slipped on a white t-shirt and runs his hand through his just-fucked hair. In spite of my anxiety, I lose my train of thought. Will I ever get used to looking at this beautiful man? His beauty is derailing.
“Anastasia, you could be wearing a sack and you’d look lovely. Please don’t worry. I’d like you to meet my mother. Get dressed. I’ll just go and calm her down.” His mouth presses into a hard line. “I will expect you in that room in five minutes, otherwise I’ll come and drag you out of here myself in whatever you’re wearing. My t-shirts are in this drawer. My shirts are in the closet. Help yourself.” He eyes me speculatively for a moment, then leaves the room.
Holy shit. Christian’s mother. This is so much more than I bargained for. Perhaps meeting her will help put a little part of the jigsaw in place. Might help me understand why Christian is the way he is… Suddenly, I want to meet her. I pull my shirt off the floor, and I’m pleased to discover that it has survived the night well with hardly any creases. I find my blue bra under the bed and dress quickly. But if there’s one thing I hate, it’s not wearing clean panties. I rifle through Christian’s chest of drawers and come across his boxer briefs. After pulling on a pair of tight gray Calvin Kleins, I tug on my jeans and my Converse.
Grabbing my jacket, I dash into the bathroom and stare at my too-bright eyes, my flushed face – and my hair! Holy crap… just-fucked pigtails do not suit me either. I hunt in the vanity unit for a brush and find a comb. It will have to do. A ponytail is the only answer. I despair at my clothes. Maybe I should take Christian up on his offer of clothes. My subconscious purses her lips and mouths the word ‘ho’. I ignore her. Struggling into my jacket, pleased that the cuffs cover the tell-tale patterns from his tie, I take a last anxious glance at myself in the mirror. This will have to do. I make my way into the main living room.
“Here she is.” Christian stands from where he’s lounging on the couch.
His expression is warm and appreciative. The sandy-haired woman beside him turns and beams at me, a full megawatt smile. She stands too. She’s impeccably attired in a camel-colored fine knit sweater dress with matching shoes. She looks groomed, elegant, beautiful, and inside I die a little, knowing I look such a mess.
“Mother, this is Anastasia Steele. Anastasia, this is Grace Trevelyan-Grey.”
Dr. Trevelyan-Grey holds her hand out to me. T… for Trevelyan?
“What a pleasure to meet you,” she murmurs. If I’m not mistaken, there is wonder and maybe stunned relief in her voice and a warm glow in her hazel eyes. I grasp her hand, and I can’t help but smile, returning her warmth.
“Dr. Trevelyan-Grey,” I murmur.
“Call me Grace,” she grins, and Christian frowns. “I am usually Dr. Trevelyan, and Mrs. Grey is my mother-in-law.” She winks. “So how did you two meet?” She looks questioningly at Christian, unable to hide her curiosity.
“Anastasia interviewed me for the student paper at WSU because I’m conferring the degrees there this week.”
Double crap. I’d forgotten that.
“So you are graduating this week?” Grace asks.
My cell phone starts ringing. Kate, I bet.
“Excuse me.” It’s in the kitchen. I wander over and lean across the breakfast bar, not checking the number.
“Dios mio! Ana!” Holy crap, it’s José. He sounds desperate. “Where are you? I’ve been trying to contact you. I need to see you, to apologize for my behavior on Friday. Why haven’t you returned my calls?”
“Look José, now’s not a good time.” I glance anxiously over at Christian who’s watching me intently, his face impassive as he murmurs something to his mom. I turn my back to him.
“Where are you? Kate is being so evasive,” he whines.
“I’m in Seattle.”
“What are you doing in Seattle? Are you with him?”
“José, I’ll call you later. I can’t talk to you now.” I hang up.
I walk as nonchalantly back to Christian and his mother. Grace is in full flow.
“… And Elliot called to say you were around – I haven’t seen you for two weeks, darling.”
“Did he now?” Christian murmurs, gazing at me, his expression unreadable.
“I thought we might have lunch together, but I can see you have other plans, and I don’t want to interrupt your day.” She gathers up her long cream coat and turns to him, offering him her cheek. He kisses her briefly, sweetly. She doesn’t touch him.
“I have to drive Anastasia back to Portland.”
“Of course, darling. Anastasia, it’s been such a pleasure. I do hope we meet again.” She holds her hand out to me, her eyes glowing, and we shake.
Taylor appears from… where?
“Mrs. Grey?” he asks.
“Thank you, Taylor.” He escorts her from the room and through the double doors to the foyer. Taylor was here the whole time? How long has he been here? Where has he been?
Christian glares at me.
“So the photographer called?”
“What did he want?”
“Just to apologize, you know – for Friday.”
Christian narrows his eyes.
“I see,” he says simply.
“Mr. Grey, there’s an issue with the Darfur shipment.”
Christian nods curtly at him.
“Charlie Tango back at Boeing Field?”
Taylor nods at me.
I smile tentatively back at him, and he turns and leaves.
“Does he live here? Taylor?”
“Yes.” His tone is clipped. What is his problem?
Christian heads over to the kitchen and picks up his BlackBerry, scrolling through some emails, I assume. His mouth presses in a hard line, and he makes a call.
“Ros, what’s the issue?” he snaps. He listens, watching me, gray eyes speculative, as I stand in the middle of the huge room wondering what to do with myself, feeling extraordinarily self-conscious and out of place.
“I’m not having either crew put at risk. No, cancel… We’ll air drop instead… Good.” He hangs up. The warmth in his eyes has disappeared. He looks forbidding, and with one quick glance at me, he heads into his study and returns a moment later.
“This is the contract. Read it, and we’ll discuss it next weekend. May I suggest you do some research, so you know what’s involved.” He pauses. “That’s if you agree, and I really hope you do.” He adds, his tone softer, anxious.
“You’ll be amazed what you can find on the Internet,” he murmurs.
Internet! I don’t have access to a computer, only Kate’s laptop, and I couldn’t use Clayton’s, not for this sort of ‘research’ surely?
“What is it?” he asks, cocking his head to one side.
“I don’t have a computer. I’ll see if I can use Kate’s laptop.”
He hands me a manila envelope.
“I’m sure I can… err, lend you one. Grab your things, we’ll drive back to Portland and grab some lunch on the way. I need to dress.”
“I’ll just make a call,” I murmur. I just want to hear Kate’s voice. He frowns.
“The photographer?” His jaw clenches, and his eyes burn. I blink at him. “I don’t like to share, Miss Steele. Remember that.” His quiet, chilling tone is a warning, and with one long, cold look at me, he heads back to the bedroom.
Holy crap. I just wanted to call Kate, I want to call after him, but his sudden aloofness has left me paralyzed. What happened to the generous, relaxed, smiling man who was making love to me not half an hour ago?
“Ready?” Christian asks as we stand by the double doors to the foyer.
I nod uncertainly. He’s resumed his distant, polite, uptight persona, his mask back up and on show. He’s carrying a leather messenger bag. Why does he need that? Perhaps he’s staying in Portland, and then I remember graduation. Oh yes… he’ll be there on Thursday. He’s wearing a black leather jacket. He certainly doesn’t look like the multi-multi millionaire, billionaire, what-ever-aire, in these clothes. He looks like a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, maybe a badly behaved rock star or a catwalk model. I sigh inwardly, wishing I had a tenth of his poise. He’s so calm and controlled. I frown, recalling his outburst about José… Well, he seems to be.
Taylor is hovering in the background.
“Tomorrow then,” he says to Taylor who nods.
“Yes sir. Which car are you taking, sir?”
He looks down at me briefly.
“Safe trip, Mr. Grey. Miss Steele.” Taylor looks kindly at me, though perhaps there’s a hint of pity hidden in the depths of his eyes.
No doubt he thinks I’ve succumbed to Mr. Grey’s dubious sexual habits. Not yet, just his exceptional sexual habits, or perhaps sex is like that for everyone. I frown at the
thought. I have no comparison, and I can’t ask Kate. That’s something I am going to have to address with Christian. It’s perfectly natural that I should talk to someone – and I can’t talk to him if he is so open one minute and so standoffish the next.
Taylor holds the door open for us and ushers us through. Christian summons the elevator.
“What is it, Anastasia?” he asks. How does he know I’m chewing something over in my mind? He reaches up and pulls my chin.
“Stop biting your lip, or I will fuck you in the elevator, and I don’t care who gets in with us.”
I blush, but there’s a hint of a smile around his lips, finally his mood seems to be shifting.
“Christian, I have a problem.”
“Oh?” I have his full attention.
The elevator arrives. We walk in, and Christian presses the button marked G.
“Well,” I flush. How to say this? “I need to talk to Kate. I’ve so many questions about sex, and you’re too involved. If you want me to do all these things, how do I know–?” I pause, struggling to find the right words. “I just don’t have any terms of reference.”
He rolls his eyes at me.
“Talk to her if you must.” He sounds exasperated. “Make sure she doesn’t mention anything to Elliot.”
I bristle at his insinuation. Kate isn’t like that.
“She wouldn’t do that, and I wouldn’t tell you anything she tells me about Elliot – if she were to tell me anything,” I add quickly.
“Well, the difference is that I don’t want to know about his sex life,” Christian murmurs dryly. “Elliot’s a nosy bastard. But only about what we’ve done so far,” he warns. “She’d probably have my balls if she knew what I wanted to do to you,” he adds so softly I’m not sure I’m supposed to hear it.
“Okay,” I agree readily, smiling up at him, relieved. The thought of Kate with Christian’s balls is not something I want to dwell on.
His lip quirks up at me, and he shakes his head.
“The sooner I have your submission the better, and we can stop all this,” he murmurs.
“Stop all what?”
“You, defying me.” He reaches down and cups my chin and plants a swift, sweet kiss on my lips as the doors to the elevator open. He grabs my hand and leads me into the underground garage.
Me, defying him… how?
Beside the elevator, I can see the black 4x4 Audi, but it’s the sleek, black sporty number that blips open and lights up when he points the key fob at it. It’s one of those cars that should have a very leggy blonde, wearing nothing but a sash, sprawled across the hood.
“Nice car,” I murmur dryly.
He glances up and grins.
“I know,” he says, and for a split second, sweet, young, carefree Christian is back. It warms my heart. He’s so excited. Boys and their toys. I roll my eyes at him but can’t stifle
my smile. He opens the door for me and I climb in. Whoa… it’s low. He moves round the car with easy grace and folds his long frame elegantly in beside me. How does he do that?
“So what sort of car is this?”
“It’s an Audi R8 Spyder. It’s a lovely day, we can take the top down. There’s a baseball cap in there. In fact there should be two.” He points to the glove box. “And sunglasses if you want them.”
He starts the ignition, and the engine roars behind us. He places his bag in the space behind our seats, presses a button, and the roof slowly reclines. With the flick of a switch, Bruce Springsteen surrounds us.
“Gotta love Bruce,” he grins at me and eases the car out of the parking space, and up the steep ramp where we pause for the barrier.
Then we’re out into the bright Seattle May morning. I reach into the glove box and retrieve the baseball caps. The Mariners. He likes baseball? I pass him a cap, and he puts it on. I pass my ponytail through the back of mine and pull the peak down low.
People stare at us as we drive through the streets. For a moment, I think it’s at him… and then a very paranoid part thinks everyone is looking at me because they know what I’ve been doing during the last twelve hours, but finally, I realize it’s the car. Christian seems oblivious, lost in thought.
The traffic is light and we’re soon on the I-5 heading south, the wind sweeping over our heads. Bruce is singing about being on fire and his desire. How apt. I flush as I listen to the words. Christian glances at me. He’s got his Ray-Bans on so I can’t see what he’s thinking. His mouth twitches slightly, and he reaches across and places his hand on my knee, squeezing gently. My breath hitches.
“Hungry?” he asks.
Not for food.
His mouth tightens into that hard line.
“You must eat, Anastasia,” he chides. “I know a great place near Olympia. We’ll stop there.” He squeezes my knee again, and then returns his hand to the steering wheel as he puts his foot down on the gas. I’m pressed into the back of my seat. Boy this car can move.
The restaurant is small and intimate, a wooden chalet in the middle of a forest. The décor is rustic: random chairs and tables with gingham tablecloths, wild flowers in little vases. Cuisine Sauvage, it boasts above the door.
“I’ve not been here for a while. We don’t get a choice – they cook whatever they’ve caught or gathered.” He raises his eyebrows in mock horror, and I have to laugh. The waitress takes our drinks order. She flushes when she sees Christian, avoiding eye contact with him, hiding under her long blonde bangs. She likes him! It’s not just me!
“Two glasses of the Pinot Grigio,” Christian says with a voice of authority. I purse my lips, exasperated.
“What?” he snaps.
“I wanted a Diet Coke,” I whisper.
His gray eyes narrow, and he shakes his head.
“The Pinot Grigio here’s a decent wine, it will go well with the meal, whatever we get.” He says patiently.
“Whatever we get?”
“Yes.” He smiles, his dazzling, head cocked to one side smile, and my stomach pole vaults over my spleen. I can’t help but reflect his glorious smile back at him.
“My mother liked you,” he says dryly.
“Really?” His words make me flush with pleasure.
“Oh yes. She’s always thought I was gay.”
My mouth drops open, and I remember that question… from the interview. Oh no.
“Why did she think you were gay?” I whisper.
“Because she’s never seen me with a girl.”
“Oh… not even one of the fifteen?”
“You remembered. No, none of the fifteen.”
“You know, Anastasia, it’s been a weekend of firsts for me, too,” he says quietly.
“I’ve never slept with anyone, never had sex in my bed, never flown a girl in Charlie Tango, never introduced a woman to my mother. What are you doing to me?” His eyes burn, their intensity takes my breath away.
The waitress arrives with our glasses of wine, and I immediately take a quick sip. Is he opening up or just making a casual observation?
“I’ve really enjoyed this weekend,” I murmur. He narrows his eyes at me again.
“Stop biting that lip,” he growls. “Me too,” he adds.
“What’s vanilla sex?” I ask, if anything to distract myself from the intense, burning, sexy look he’s giving me. He laughs.
“Just straightforward sex, Anastasia. No toys, no added extras.” He shrugs. “You know… well actually you don’t, but that’s what it means.”
“Oh.” I thought it was chocolate fudge brownie sex that we had, with a cherry on the top. But hey, what do I know?
The waitress brings us soup. We both stare at it rather dubiously.
“Nettle soup,” the waitress informs us before turning and flouncing back into the kitchen. I don’t think she likes to be ignored by Christian. I take a tentative taste. It’s delicious. Christian and I look up at each other at the same time with relief. I giggle, and he cocks his head to one side.
“That’s a lovely sound,” he murmurs.
“Why have you never had vanilla sex before? Have you always done… err, what you’ve done?” I ask, intrigued.
He nods slowly.
“Sort of.” His voice is wary. He frowns for a moment and seems to be engaged in some kind of internal struggle. Then he glances up, a decision made. “One of my mother’s friends seduced me when I was fifteen.”
“Oh.” Holy shit that’s young!
“She had very particular tastes. I was her submissive for six years.” He shrugs.
“Oh.” My brain has frozen, stunned into inactivity by this admission.
“So I do know what it involves, Anastasia.” His eyes glow with insight.
I stare at him, unable to articulate anything – even my subconscious is silent.
“I didn’t really have a run-of-the-mill introduction to sex.”
Curiosity kicks in big time.
“So you never dated anyone at college?”
“No.” He shakes his head to emphasize the point.
The waitress takes our plates, interrupting us for a moment.
“Why?” I ask when she’s gone.
He smiles sardonically.
“Do you really want to know?”
“I didn’t want to. She was all I wanted, needed. And besides, she’d have beaten the shit out of me.” He smiles fondly at the memory.
Oh, this is way too much information – but I want more.
“So if she was a friend of your mother’s, how old was she?”
“Old enough to know better.”
“Do you still see her?”
“Do you still… err… ?” I flush.
“No.” He shakes his head and smiles indulgently at me. “She’s a very good friend.”
“Oh. Does your mother know?”
He gives me a don’t-be-stupid stare.
“Of course not.”
The waitress returns with venison, but my appetite has vanished. What a revelation. Christian the submissive… Holy shit. I take a large slug of Pinot Grigio – he’s right, of course, it’s delicious. Jeez, all these revelations, it’s so much to think about. I need time to process this, when I’m on my own, not when I’m distracted by his presence. He’s so overwhelming, so Alpha Male, and now he’s thrown this bombshell into the equation. He knows what it’s like.
“But it can’t have been full time?” I’m confused.
“Well, it was, though I didn’t see her all the time. It was… difficult. After all, I was still at school and then at college. Eat up, Anastasia.”
“I’m really not hungry, Christian.” I am reeling from your disclosure.
His expression hardens.
“Eat,” he says quietly, too quietly.
I stare at him. This man – sexually abused as an adolescent – his tone is so threatening.
“Give me a moment,” I mutter quietly. He blinks a couple of times.
“Okay,” he murmurs, and he continues with his meal.
This is what it will be like if I sign, him ordering me around. I frown. Do I want this? Reaching for my knife and fork, I tentatively cut into the venison. It’s very tasty.
“Is this what our err… relationship will be like?” I whisper. “You, ordering me around?” I can’t quite bring myself to look at him.
“Yes,” he murmurs.
“And what’s more, you’ll want me to,” he adds, his voice low.
I sincerely doubt that. I slice another piece of venison, holding it against my mouth.
“It’s a big step,” I murmur and eat.
“It is.” He closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them, they are wide and grave. “Anastasia, you have to go with your gut. Do the research, read the contract – I’m happy to discuss any aspect. I’ll be in Portland until Friday if you want to talk about it before then.” His words are coming at me in a rush. “Call me – maybe we can have dinner – say, Wednesday? I really want to make this work. In fact, I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want this to work.”
His burning sincerity, his longing, is reflected in his eyes. This is fundamentally what I don’t grasp. Why me? Why not one of the fifteen? Oh no… Will that be me – a number? Sixteen of many?
“What happened to the fifteen?” I blurt.
He raises his eyebrows in surprise, then looks resigned, shaking his head.
“Various things, but it boils down to,” he pauses, struggling to find the words I think. “Incompatibility.” He shrugs.
“And you think that I might be compatible with you?”
“So you’re not seeing any of them anymore?”
“No, Anastasia, I’m not. I am monogamous in my relationships.”
Oh… this is news.
“Do the research, Anastasia.”
I put my knife and fork down. I cannot eat any more.
“That’s it? That’s all you’re going to eat?”
I nod. He scowls at me but chooses not to say anything. I breathe a small sigh of relief. My stomach is churning with all this new information, and I’m feeling a little lightheaded from the wine. I watch as he devours everything on his plate. He eats like a horse. He must work out to stay in such great shape. The memory of the way his PJ’s hung from his hips comes unbidden to my mind. The image is totally distracting. I squirm uncomfortably. He glances up at me, and I blush.
“I’d give anything to know what you’re thinking right at this moment,” he murmurs. I blush further.
He smiles a wicked smile at me.
“I can guess,” he teases softly.
“I’m glad you can’t read my mind.”
“Your mind, no, Anastasia, but your body – that I’ve got to know quite well since yesterday.” His voice is suggestive. How does he switch so quickly from one mood to the next? He’s so mercurial… It’s hard to keep up.
He motions for the waitress and asks for the check. Once he’s paid, he stands and holds out his hand.
“Come.” Taking my hand in his, he leads me back to the car. This contact, flesh to flesh, it’s what is so unexpected from him, normal, intimate. I can’t reconcile this ordinary, tender gesture with what he wants to do in that room… The Red Room of Pain.
We are quiet on the drive from Olympia to Vancouver, both lost in our own thoughts. When he parks outside my apartment, it’s five in the evening. The lights are on – Kate is at home. Packing, no doubt, unless Elliot is still there. He switches off the engine, and I realize I’m going to have to leave him.
“Do you want to come in?” I ask. I don’t want him to go. I want to prolong our time together.
“No. I have work to do,” he says simply, gazing at me, his expression unfathomable.
I stare down at my hands, as I knot my fingers together. Suddenly I feel emotional. He’s leaving. Reaching over, he takes one of my hands and slowly pulls it to his mouth, tenderly kissing the back of my hand, such an old fashioned, sweet gesture. My heart leaps into my mouth.
“Thank you for this weekend, Anastasia. It’s been… the best. Wednesday? I’ll pick you up from work, from wherever?” he says softly.
“Wednesday,” I whisper.
He kisses my hand again and places it back in my lap. He climbs out, comes round to my side, and opens the passenger door. Why do I feel suddenly bereft? A lump forms in my throat. I must not let him see me like this. Fixing a smile on my face, I clamber out of the car and head up the path, knowing I have to face Kate, dreading facing Kate. I turn and gaze at him midway. Chin up Steele, I chide myself.
“Oh… by the way, I’m wearing your underwear.” I give him a small smile and pull up the waistband of the boxer briefs I’m wearing so he can see. Christian’s mouth drops open, shocked. What a great reaction. My mood shifts immediately, and I sashay into the house, part of me wanting to jump and punch the air. YES! My inner goddess is thrilled.
Kate is in the living area packing up her books into crates.
“You’re back. Where’s Christian? How are you?” Her voice is fevered, anxious, and she bounds up to me, grabbing my shoulders, minutely analyzing my face before I’ve even said hello.
Crap… I have to deal with Kate’s persistence and tenacity, and I’m in possession of a legal signed document saying I can’t talk. It’s not a healthy mix.
“Well how was it? I couldn’t stop thinking about you, after Elliot left, that is.” She grins mischievously.
I can’t help but smile at her concern and her burning curiosity, but suddenly I feel shy. I blush. It was very private. All of it. Seeing and knowing what Christian has to hide. But I have to give her some details, because she won’t leave me alone until I do.
“It was good, Kate. Very good, I think,” I say quietly, trying to hide my embarrassed tell-all smile.
“I’ve got nothing to compare it to, do I?” I shrug apologetically.
“Did he make you come?”
Holy crap. She’s so blunt. I go scarlet.
“Yes,” I mumble, exasperated.
Kate pulls me to the couch and we sit. She clasps my hands.
“That is good.” Kate looks at me in disbelief. “It was your first time. Wow, Christian must really know what he’s doing.”
Oh Kate, if only you knew.
“My first time was horrid,” she continues, making a sad comedy face.
“Oh?” This has me interested, something she’s never divulged before.
“Yes, Steve Paton. High school, dickless jock.” She shudders. “He was rough. I wasn’t ready. We were both drunk. You know – typical teenage post-prom disaster. Ugh – it took me months before I decided to have another go. And not with him, the gutless wonder. I was too young. You were right to wait.”
“Kate, that sounds awful.”
Kate looks wistful.
“Yeah, took almost a year to have my first orgasm through penetrative sex and here you are… first time?”
I nod shyly. My inner goddess sits in the lotus position looking serene except for the sly, self-congratulatory smile on her face.
“I’m glad you lost it to someone who knows their ass from their elbow.” She winks at me. “So when are you seeing him again?”
“Wednesday. We’re having dinner.”
“So you still like him?”
“Yes. But I don’t know about… the future.”
“He’s complicated, Kate. You know – he inhabits a very different world to mine.” Great excuse. Believable too. Much better than – he’s got a Red Room of Pain, and he wants to make me his sex slave.
“Oh please, don’t let this be about money, Ana. Elliot said it’s very unusual for Christian to date anyone.”
“Did he?” My voice hitches up several octaves.
Too obvious, Steele! My subconscious glares at me, wagging her long skinny finger, then morphs into the scales of justice to remind me he could sue if I disclose too much. Ha… what’s he going to do – take all my money? I must remember to Google ‘penalties for breaching a non-disclosure agreement’ while I’m doing the rest of my ‘research’. It’s like I’ve been given a school assignment. Maybe I’ll be graded. I flush, remembering my A for this morning’s bath experiment.
“Ana, what is it?”
“I’m just remembering something Christian said.”
“You look different,” Kate says fondly.
“I feel different. Sore,” I confess.
“A little.” I flush.
“Me too. Men,” she says in mock disgust. “They’re animals.” We both laugh.
“You’re sore?” I exclaim.
“Tell me about Elliot the over-user,” I ask when I’ve stopped giggling. Oh, I can feel myself relaxing for the first time since I was in line at the bar… before the phone call that started all this – when I was admiring Mr. Grey from afar. Happy uncomplicated days.
Kate blushes. Oh my… Katherine Agnes Kavanagh goes all Anastasia Rose Steele on me. She gives me a dewy-eyed look. I’ve never seen her react this way to a man before. My jaw drops to the floor. Where’s Kate, what have you done with her?
“Oh, Ana,” she gushes. “He’s just so… Everything. And when we… oh… really good.” She can hardly string a sentence together she’s got it so bad.
“I think you’re trying to tell me that you like him.”
She nods, grinning like a lunatic.
“And I’m seeing him on Saturday. He’s going to help us move.” She clasps her hands together, leaps up off the couch, and pirouettes to the window. Moving. Crap – I’d forgotten all about that, even with the packing cases surrounding us.
“That’s helpful of him,” I say appreciatively. I can get to know him too. Perhaps he can give me more insight into his strange, disturbing brother.
“So what did you do last night?” I ask. She cocks her head at me and raises her eyebrows in a what-do-think-stupid-look.
“Pretty much what you did, though we had dinner first.” She grins at me. “Are you okay really? You look kind of overwhelmed.”
“I feel overwhelmed. Christian is very intense.”
“Yeah, I could see how he could be. But he was good to you?”
“Yes,” I reassure her. “I’m really hungry, shall I cook?”
She nods and picks up two more books to pack.
“What do you want to do with the fourteen thousand dollar books?” she asks.
“I’m going to return them to him.”
“It’s a completely over-the-top gift. I can’t accept it, especially now.” I grin at Kate, and she nods.
“I understand. A couple of letters came for you, and José has been calling every hour on the hour. He sounded desperate.”
“I’ll call him,” I mutter evasively. If I tell Kate about José, she’ll have him for breakfast. I collect the letters from the dining table and open them.
“Hey, I have interviews! The week after next, in Seattle, for intern placements!”
“For which publishing house?”
“For both of them!”
“I told you your GPA would open doors, Ana.”
Kate, of course, already has an internship set up at the Seattle Times. Her father knows someone, who knows someone.
“How does Elliot feel about you going away?” I ask.
Kate wanders into the kitchen, and for the first time this evening, she’s disconsolate.
“He’s understanding. Part of me doesn’t want to go, but it’s tempting to lie in the sun for a couple of weeks. Besides, Mom is hanging in there, thinking this will be our last real family holiday before Ethan and I head off into the world of paid employment.”
I have never left continental US. Kate is off to Barbados with her parents and her brother Ethan for two whole weeks. I’ll be Kateless in our new apartment. That will be weird. Ethan has been traveling the world since he graduated last year. I wonder briefly if I’ll see him before they go on vacation. He’s such a lovely guy. The phone rings, jolting me from my reverie.
“That’ll be José.”
I sigh. I know I have to talk to him. I grab the phone.
“Ana, you’re back!” José shouts his relief at me.
“Obviously.” Sarcasm drips from my voice, and I roll my eyes at the phone.
He’s silent for a moment.
“Can I see you? I’m sorry about Friday night. I was drunk… and you… well. Ana – please forgive me.”
“Of course, I forgive you José. Just don’t do it again. You know I don’t feel like that about you.”
He sighs heavily, sadly.
“I know, Ana. I just thought, if I kissed you, it might change how you feel.”
“José, I love you dearly, you mean so much to me. You’re like the brother I never had. That’s not going to change. You know that.” I hate to let him down, but it’s the truth.
“So you’re with him now?” His tone is full of disdain.
“José, I’m not with anybody.”
“But you spent the night with him.”
“That’s none of your business!”
“Is it the money?”
“José! How dare you!” I shout, staggered by his audacity.
“Ana,” he whines and apologizes simultaneously. I cannot deal with his petty jealousy now. I know he’s hurt, but my plate is overflowing dealing with Christian Grey.
“Maybe we can have a coffee or something tomorrow. I’ll call you.” I am conciliatory. He is my friend, and I’m very fond of him. But right now, I don’t need this.
“Tomorrow then. You’ll call?” The hope in his voice twists my heart.
“Yes… goodnight, José.” I hang up, not waiting for his response.
“What was that all about?” Katherine demands, her hands on her hips. I decide honesty is the policy. She’s looking more intractable than ever.
“He made a pass at me on Friday.”
“José? And Christian Grey? Ana, your pheromones must be working overtime. What was the stupid fool thinking?” She shakes her head in disgust and returns to packing crates.
Forty-five minutes later, we pause our packing for the house specialty, my lasagna. Kate opens a bottle of wine, and we sit amongst the boxes eating, quaffing cheap red wine, and watching crap TV. This is normality. It’s so grounding and welcome after the last forty-eight hours of… madness. I eat my first unhurried, no nagging, peaceful meal in that time. What is it about him and food? Kate clears the dishes, and I finish packing up the living room. We are left with the couch, the TV, and the dining table. What more could we need? Just the kitchen and our bedrooms left to pack up, and we have the rest of the week. Result!
The phone rings again. It’s Elliot. Kate winks at me and skips off to her bedroom like she’s fourteen. I know that she should be writing her Valedictorian speech, but it seems Elliot is more important. What is it about the Grey men? What is it that makes them totally distracting, all-consuming, and irresistible? I take another slug of wine.
I flick through the TV channels, but deep down I know I’m procrastinating. Burning a bright red hole in the side of my purse is that contract. Do I have the strength and the wherewithal to read it tonight?
I put my head in my hands. José and Christian, they both want something from me. José is easy to deal with. But Christian… Christian takes a whole different league of handling, of understanding. Part of me wants to run and hide. What am I going to do? His burning gray eyes and that intense smoldering stare come into my mind’s eye, and my body tightens at the thought. I gasp. He’s not even here, and I’m turned on. It just can’t be about sex, can it? I recall his gentle banter this morning at breakfast, his joy at my delight with the helicopter ride, him playing the piano – the sweet soulful oh-so-sad music.
He’s such a complicated person. And now I have an insight as to why. A young man deprived of his adolescence, sexually abused by some evil Mrs. Robinson figure… no wonder he’s old before his time. My heart fills with sadness at the thought of what he must have been through. I’m too naïve to know exactly what, but the research should shed some light. But do I really want to know? Do I want to explore this world I know nothing about? It’s such a big step.
If I’d not met him, I’d still be sweetly and blissfully oblivious. My mind drifts to last night, and this morning… and the incredible, sensual sexuality I’ve experienced. Do I want to say goodbye to that? No! Screams my subconscious… my inner goddess nods in silent zen-like agreement with her.
Kate wanders back into the living room, grinning from ear to ear. Perhaps she’s in love – I gape at her. She’s never behaved like this.
“Ana, I’m off to bed. I’m pretty tired.”
“Me too, Kate.”
She hugs me.
“I’m glad you’re back in one piece. There’s something about Christian,” she adds quietly, apologetically. I give her a small, reassuring smile – all the while thinking… How the hell does she know? This is what will make her a great journalist, her unfaltering intuition.
Collecting my purse, I wander listlessly into my bedroom. I am weary from all our carnal exertions of the last day and from the complete and utter dilemma that I’m faced with. I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from the bag, turning it over and over in my hands. Do I really want to know the extent of Christian’s depravity? It’s so daunting. I take a deep breath, and with my heart in my throat, I rip open the envelope.