Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker CHAPTER 19


I stare at the flames, mesmerized. They dance and weave bright blazing orange with tips of cobalt blue in the fireplace in Christian’s apartment. And despite the heat pumping out of the fire and the blanket draped around my shoulders, I’m cold. Bone-chillingly cold.
I’m aware of hushed voices, many hushed voices. But they’re in the background, a distant buzz. I don’t hear the words. All I can hear, all I can focus on, is the soft hiss of the gas from the fire.
My thoughts turn to the house we saw yesterday and the huge fireplaces—real fireplaces for burning wood. I’d like to make love with Christian in front of a real fire. I’d like to make love with Christian in front of this fire. Yes, that would be fun. No doubt, he’d think of some way to make it memorable like all the times we’ve made love. I snort wryly to myself, even the times when we were just fucking. Yes, those were pretty memorable, too. Where is he?
The flames shimmy and flicker, holding me captive, keeping me numb. I focus solely on their flaring, scorching beauty. They are bewitching.
Anastasia, you’ve bewitched me.
He said that the first time he slept with me in my bed. Oh no . . .
I wrap my arms around myself, and the world falls away from me and reality bleeds into my consciousness. The creeping emptiness inside expands some more. Charlie Tango is missing.
“Ana. Here,” Mrs. Jones gently coaxes me, her voice bringing me back into the room, into the now, into the anguish. She hands me a cup of tea. I take the cup and saucer gratefully, the rattle betraying my shaking hands.
“Thank you,” I whisper, my voice hoarse from unshed tears and the large lump in my throat.
Mia sits across from me on the larger-than-large U-shaped couch, holding hands with Grace. They gaze at me, pain and anxiety etched on their lovely faces. Grace looks older—a mother worried for her son. I blink dispassionately at them. I can’t offer a reassuring smile, a tear even—there’s nothing, just blankness and the growing emptiness. I gaze at Elliot, José, and Ethan, who stand around the breakfast bar, all serious faces, talking quietly. Discussing something in soft subdued voices. Behind them, Mrs. Jones busies herself in the kitchen.
Kate is in the TV room, monitoring the local news. I hear the faint squawk from the big plasma TV. I can’t bear to see the news item again—christian grey missing—his beautiful face on TV.
Idly, it occurs to me that I’ve never seen so many people in this room, yet they are still dwarfed by its sheer size. Little islands of lost, anxious people in my Fifty’s home. What would he think about them being here?
Somewhere, Taylor and Carrick are talking to the authorities who are drip-feeding us information, but it’s all meaningless. The fact is—he’s missing. He’s been missing for eight hours. No sign, no word from him. The search has been called off—this much I do know. It’s just too dark. And we don’t know where he is. He could be hurt, hungry, or worse. No!
I offer another silent prayer to God. Please let Christian be okay. Please let Christian be okay. I repeat it over and over in my head—my mantra, my lifeline, something concrete to cling to in my desperation. I refuse to think the worst. No, don’t go there. There is hope.
“You’re my lifeline.”
Christian’s words come back to haunt me. Yes, there is always hope. I must not despair. His words echo through my mind.
“I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification. Carpe diem, Ana.”
Why didn’t I seize the day?
“I’m doing this because I’ve finally met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
I close my eyes in silent prayer, rocking gently. Please, let the rest of his life not be this short. Please, please. We haven’t had enough time . . . we need more time. We’ve done so much in the last few weeks, come so far. It can’t end. All our tender moments: the lipstick, when he made love to me for the first time at the Olympic hotel, on his knees in front of me offering himself to me, finally touching him.
“I am just the same, Ana. I love you and I need you. Touch me. Please.”
Oh, I love him so. I will be nothing without him, nothing but a shadow—all the light eclipsed. No, no, no . . . my poor Christian.
“This is me, Ana. All of me . . . and I’m all yours. What do I have to do to make you realize that? To make you see that I want you any way I can get you. That I love you.”
And I you, my Fifty Shades.
I open my eyes and gaze unseeing into the fire once more, memories of our time together flitting through my mind: his boyish joy when we were sailing and gliding; his suave, sophisticated, hot-as-hell look at the masked ball; dancing, oh yes, dancing here in the apartment to Sinatra, whirling round the room; his quiet, anxious hope yesterday at the house—that stunning view.
“I will lay my world at your feet, Anastasia. I want you, body and soul, forever.”
Oh, please, let him be okay. He cannot be gone. He is the center of my universe.
An involuntary sob escapes my throat, and I clutch my hand to my mouth. No. I must be strong.
José is suddenly at my side, or has he been there a while? I have no idea.
“Do you want to call your mom or dad?” he asks gently.
No! I shake my head and clutch José’s hand. I cannot speak, I know I will dissolve if I do, but the warmth and gentle squeeze of his hand offers me no solace.
Oh, Mom. My lip trembles at the thought of my mother. Should I call her? No. I couldn’t deal with her reaction. Maybe Ray, he wouldn’t get emotional—he never gets emotional, not even when the Mariners lose.
Grace rises to join the boys, distracting me. That must be the longest she’s sat still. Mia comes to sit beside me too and grabs my other hand.
“He will come back,” she says, her voice initially determined but cracking on the last word. Her eyes are wide and red-rimmed, her face pale and pinched from lack of sleep.
I gaze up at Ethan, who is watching Mia and Elliot, who has his arms around Grace. I glance at the clock. It’s after eleven, heading toward midnight. Damn time! With each passing hour, the clawing emptiness expands, consuming me, choking me. I know deep down inside I am preparing myself, preparing myself for the worst. I close my eyes and offer up another silent prayer, clasping both Mia and José’s hands.
Opening them again, I stare into the flames once more. I can see his shy smile—my favorite of all his expressions, a glimpse of the real Christian, my real Christian. He is so many people: control freak, CEO, stalker, sex god, Dom—and at the same time—such a boy with his toys. I smile. His car, his boat, his plane . . . Charlie Tango . . . no . . . no . . . my lost boy, truly lost right now. My smile fades and pain lances through me. I remember him in the shower, wiping away the lipstick marks.
“I’m nothing, Anastasia. I’m a husk of a man. I don’t have a heart.”
The lump in my throat expands. Oh, Christian, you do, you do have a heart, and it’s mine. I want to cherish it forever. Even though he’s so complex and difficult, I love him. I will always love him. There will never be anyone else. Ever.
I remember sitting in Starbucks weighing up my Christian pros and cons. All those cons, even those photographs I found this morning, melt into insignificance now. There’s just him and whether he’ll come back. Oh please, Lord, bring him back, please let him be okay. I’ll go to church . . . I’ll do anything. Oh, if I get him back, I shall seize the day. His voice echoes around my head once more: “Carpe diem, Ana.”
I gaze deeper into the fire, the flames still licking and curling around each other, blazing brightly. Then Grace shrieks, and everything goes into slow motion.
I turn my head in time to see Grace barreling across the great room from where she had been pacing somewhere behind me, and there in the entrance stands a dismayed Christian. He’s dressed in just his shirtsleeves and suit pants, and he’s holding his navy jacket, shoes, and socks. He looks tired, dirty, and utterly beautiful.
Holy fuck . . . Christian. He’s alive. I gaze numbly at him, trying to work out if I’m hallucinating or if he’s really here.
His expression is one of utter bewilderment. He deposits his jacket and shoes on the floor in time to catch Grace, who throws her arms around his neck and kisses him hard on the cheek.
Christian gazes down at her, completely at a loss.
“I thought I’d never see you again,” Grace whispers, voicing our collective fear.
“Mom, I’m here.” I hear the consternation in his voice.
“I died a thousand deaths today,” she whispers, her voice barely audible, echoing my thoughts. She gasps and sobs, no longer able to hold back her tears. Christian frowns, horrified or mortified—I don’t know which—then after a beat, envelops her in a huge hug, holding her close.
“Oh, Christian,” she chokes, wrapping her arms around him, weeping into his neck—all self-restraint forgotten—and Christian doesn’t balk. He just holds her, rocking to and fro, comforting her. Scalding tears pool in my eyes. Carrick hollers from the hallway.
“He’s alive! Shit—you’re here!” He appears from Taylor’s office, clutching his cell phone, and embraces both of them, his eyes closed in sweet relief.
Mia squeals something unintelligible from beside me, then she’s up, running, joining her parents, hugging all of them, too.
Finally the tears start to cascade down my cheeks. He’s here, he’s fine. But I cannot move.
Carrick is the first to pull away, wiping his eyes and clapping Christian on the shoulder. Mia releases them and Grace steps back.
“Sorry,” she mumbles.
“Hey, Mom—it’s okay,” Christian says, consternation still evident on his face.
“Where were you? What happened?” Grace cries and puts her head in her hands.
“Mom,” Christian mutters. He draws her into his arms again and kisses the top of her head. “I’m here. I’m good. It’s just taken me a hell of a long time to get back from Portland. What’s with the welcoming committee?” He looks up and scans the room until his eyes lock with mine.
He blinks and glances briefly at José, who lets go of my hand. Christian’s mouth tightens. I drink in the sight of him and relief courses through me, leaving me spent, exhausted, and completely elated. Yet my tears don’t stop. Christian turns his attention back to his mother.
“Mom, I’m good. What’s wrong?” Christian says reassuringly. She places her hands on either side of his face.
“Christian, you’ve been missing. Your flight plan—you never made it to Seattle. Why didn’t you contact us?”
Christian’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “I didn’t think it would take this long.”
“Why didn’t you call?”
“No power in my cell.”
“You didn’t stop . . . call collect?”
“Mom—it’s a long story.”
“Oh, Christian! Don’t you ever do that to me again! Do you understand?” she half shouts at him.
“Yes, Mom.” He wipes her tears away with his thumb and hugs her once more. When she composes herself, he releases her to hug Mia, who slaps him hard on the chest.
“You had us so worried!” she blurts out, and she, too, is in tears.
“I’m here now, for heaven’s sake,” Christian mutters.
As Elliot comes forward, Christian relinquishes Mia to Carrick, who already has one arm around his wife. He curls the other around his daughter. Elliot hugs Christian briefly, much to Christian’s surprise, and slaps him hard on the back.
“Great to see you.” Elliot says loudly, if a little gruffly, trying to hide his emotion.
As the tears stream down my face, I can see it all. The great room is bathed in it—unconditional love. He has it in spades; he’s just never accepted it before, and even now he’s at a total loss.
Look, Christian, all these people love you! Perhaps now you’ll start believing it.
Kate is standing behind me—she must have left the TV room—and she gently strokes my hair.
“He’s really here, Ana,” she murmurs comfortingly.
“I’m going to say hi to my girl now,” Christian tells his parents. Both nod, smile, and step aside.
He moves toward me, gray eyes bright though weary and still bemused. From somewhere deep inside, I find the strength to stagger to my feet and bolt into his open arms.
“Christian!” I sob.
“Hush,” he says and holds me, burying his face in my hair and inhaling deeply. I raise my tear-stained face to his, and he kisses me far too briefly.
“Hi,” he murmurs.
“Hi,” I whisper back, the lump in the back of my throat burning.
“Miss me?”
“A bit.”
He grins. “I can tell.” And with a gentle touch of his hand, he wipes away the tears that refuse to stop running down my cheeks.
“I thought . . . I thought—” I choke.
“I can see. Hush . . . I’m here. I’m sorry. Later,” he murmurs and kisses me chastely again.
“Are you okay?” I ask, releasing him and touching his chest, his arms, his waist—oh, the feel of this warm, vital, sensual man beneath my fingers—reassures me that he’s here,
standing in front of me. He’s back. He doesn’t so much as flinch. He just regards me intently.
“I’m okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Oh, thank God,” I clasp him round his waist again, and he hugs me once more. “Are you hungry? Do you need something to drink?”
I step back to fetch him something, but he doesn’t let me go. He tucks me under his arm and extends a hand to José.
“Mr. Grey,” says José evenly.
Christian snorts. “Christian, please,” he says.
“Christian, welcome back. Glad you’re okay . . . and um—thanks for letting me stay.”
“No problem.” Christian narrows his eyes, but he’s distracted by Mrs. Jones, who is suddenly at his side. It only occurs to me now that she’s not her usual smart self. I hadn’t noticed it before. Her hair is loose, and she’s in soft gray leggings and a large gray sweatshirt that dwarfs her with WSU Cougars emblazoned on the front. She looks years younger.
“Can I get you something, Mr. Grey?” She wipes her eyes with a tissue.
Christian smiles fondly at her. “A beer, please, Gail—Budvar—and a bite to eat.”
“I’ll fetch it,” I murmur, wanting to do something for my man.
“No. Don’t go,” he says softly, tightening his arm around me.
The rest of his family close in, and Ethan and Kate join us. He shakes Ethan’s hand and gives Kate a quick peck on the cheek. Mrs. Jones returns with a bottle of beer and a glass. He takes the bottle but shakes his head at the glass. She smiles and returns to the kitchen.
“Surprised you don’t want something stronger,” mutters Elliot. “So what the fuck happened to you? First I knew was when Dad called me to say the chopper was missing.”
“Elliot!” Grace scolds.
“Helicopter,” Christian growls, correcting Elliot, who grins, and I suspect this is a family joke.
“Let’s sit and I’ll tell you.” Christian pulls me over to the couch, and everyone sits down, all eyes on Christian. He takes a long draft of his beer. He spies Taylor hovering at the entrance and nods. Taylor nods back.
“Your daughter?”
“She’s fine now. False alarm, sir.”
“Good.” Christian smiles.
Daughter? What happened to Taylor’s daughter?
“Glad you’re back, sir. Will that be all?”
“We have a helicopter to collect.”
Taylor nods. “Now? Or will the morning do?”
“Morning, I think, Taylor.”
“Very good, Mr. Grey. Anything else, sir?”
Christian shakes his head and raises his bottle to him. Taylor gives him a rare smile—rarer than Christian’s, I think—and heads out presumably to his office or up to his room.
“Christian, what happened?” Carrick demands.
Christian launches into his story. He was flying with Ros, his number two in Charlie Tango to deal with a funding issue at WSU in Vancouver. I can barely keep up I’m so
dazed. I just hold Christian’s hand and stare at his manicured fingernails, his long fingers, the creases on his knuckles, his wristwatch—an Omega with three small dials. I gaze up at his beautiful profile as he continues his tale.
“Ros had never seen Mount St. Helens, so on the way back as a celebration, we took a quick detour. I heard the TFR was lifted a while back and I wanted to take a look. Well, it’s fortunate that we did. We were flying low, about two hundred feet AGL, when the instrument panel lit up. We had a fire in the tail—I had no choice but to cut all the electronics and land.” He shakes his head. “I set her down by Silver Lake, got Ros out, and managed to put the fire out.”
“A fire? Both engines?” Carrick is horrified.
“Shit! But I thought.”
“I know,” Christian interrupts him. “It was sheer luck I was flying so low,” he murmurs. I shudder. He releases my hand and puts his arm around me.
“Cold?” he asks me. I shake my head.
“How did you put out the fire?” asks Kate, her Carla Bernstein instincts kicking in. Jeez, she sounds terse sometimes.
“Extinguisher. We have to carry them—by law.” Christian answers levelly.
His words from long ago circle my mind. “I thank divine providence every day that it was you that came to interview me and not Katherine Kavanagh.”
“Why didn’t you call or use the radio?” Grace asks.
Christian shakes his head. “With the electronics out, we had no radio. And I wasn’t going to risk turning them on because of the fire. GPS was still working on the Blackberry, so I was able to navigate to the nearest road. Took us four hours to walk there. Ros was in heels.” Christian’s mouth presses into a disapproving flat line.
“We had no cell reception. There’s no coverage at Gifford. Ros’s battery died first. Mine dried up on the way.”
Holy hell. I tense and Christian pulls me into his lap.
“So how did you get back to Seattle?” Grace asks, blinking slightly at the sight of the two of us, no doubt. I flush.
“We hitched and pooled our resources. Between us, Ros and I had six hundred dollars, and we thought we’d have to bribe someone to drive us back, but a truck driver stopped and agreed to bring us home. He refused the money and shared his lunch with us.” Christian shakes his head in dismay at the memory. “Took forever. He didn’t have a cell—weird, but true. I didn’t realize.” He stops, gazing at his family.
“That we’d worry?” Grace scoffs. “Oh, Christian!” she scolds him. “We’ve been going out of our minds!”
“You’ve made the news, bro.”
Christian rolls his eyes. “Yeah. I figured that much when I arrived to this reception and the handful of photographers outside. I’m sorry, Mom—I should have asked the driver to stop so I could phone. But I was anxious to be back.” He glances at José.
Oh, that’s why, because José is staying here. I frown at the thought. Jeez—all that worry.
Grace shakes her head. “I’m just glad you’re back in one piece, darling.”
I start to relax, resting my head against his chest. He smells outdoorsy, slightly sweaty, of body wash, and Christian, the most welcome scent in the world. Tears start to trickle down my face again, tears of gratitude.
“Both engines?” Carrick says again, frowning in disbelief.
“Go figure.” Christian shrugs and runs his hand down my back.
“Hey,” he whispers. He puts his fingers under my chin and tilts my head back. “Stop with the crying.”
I wipe my nose with the back of my hand in a most unladylike way. “Stop with the disappearing.” I sniff and his lips quirk up.
“Electrical failure . . . that’s odd, surely?” Carrick says again.
“Yes, crossed my mind, too, Dad. But right now, I’d just like to go to bed and think about all that shit tomorrow.”
“So the media know that the Christian Grey has been found safe and well?” Kate says.
“Yes. Andrea and my PR people will deal with the media. Ros called her after we dropped her home.”
“Yes, Andrea called me to let me know you were still alive.” Carrick grins.
“I must give that woman a raise. Sure is late,” says Christian.
“I think that’s a hint, ladies and gentlemen, that my dear bro needs his beauty sleep,” Elliot scoffs suggestively. Christian grimaces at him.
“Cary, my son is safe. You can take me home now.”
Cary? Grace looks adoringly at her husband.
“Yes. I think we could use the sleep,” Carrick replies smiling down at her.
“Stay,” Christian offers.
“No, sweetheart, I want to get home. Now that I know you’re safe.”
Christian reluctantly eases me onto the couch and stands. Grace hugs him once more, presses her head against his chest and closes her eyes, content. He wraps his arms around her.
“I was so worried, darling,” she whispers.
“I’m okay, Mom.”
She leans back and studies him intently while he holds her. “Yes. I think you are,” she says slowly, glances at me, and smiles. I flush.
We follow Carrick and Grace as they make their way to the foyer. Behind me, I’m aware that Mia and Ethan are having a heated whispered conversation, but I can’t hear it.
Mia is smiling shyly at Ethan, and he’s gaping at her and shaking his head. Suddenly, she folds her arms and turns on her heel. He rubs his forehead with one hand, obviously frustrated.
“Mom, Dad—wait for me,” Mia calls sullenly. Perhaps she’s as mercurial as her brother.
Kate hugs me hard. “I can tell some serious shit’s been going down while I’ve been blissfully ignorant in Barbados. It’s kind of obvious you two are nuts about each other. I’m glad he’s safe. Not just for him, Ana—for you, too.”
“Thank you, Kate,” I whisper.
“Yeah. Who knew we’d find love at the same time?” She grins. Wow. She’s admitted it.
“With brothers!” I giggle.
“We could end up sisters-in-law,” she quips.
I tense, then mentally kick myself as Kate stands back to gaze at me with her what-aren’t-you-telling-me-Steele look. I flush. Damn, should I tell her he’s asked me?
“Come on, baby,” Elliot summons her from the elevator.
“Let’s talk tomorrow, Ana. You must be exhausted.”
I am reprieved. “Sure. You, too, Kate—you’ve traveled long distance today.”
We hug once more, then she and Elliot follow the Greys into the elevator. Ethan shakes Christian’s hand and gives me a quick hug. He looks distracted, but he follows them into the elevator and the doors close.
José is hovering in the hallway as we come out of the foyer.
“Look. I’ll turn in . . . leave you guys,” he says.
I blush. Jeez, why is this awkward?
“Do you know where to go?” Christian asks.
José nods.
“Yeah, the housekeeper—”
“Mrs. Jones,” I prompt.
“Yeah, Mrs. Jones, she showed me earlier. Quite a place you have here, Christian.”
“Thank you,” Christian says politely as he comes to stand beside me, placing his arm around my shoulders. Leaning over, he kisses my hair.
“I’m going to eat whatever Mrs. Jones has put out for me. Goodnight, José.” Christian wanders back into the great room, leaving José and me at the entrance.
Wow! Left alone with José.
“Well, goodnight.” José looks uncomfortable all of a sudden.
“Goodnight, José, and thank you for staying.”
“Sure, Ana. Any time your rich, hotshot boyfriend goes missing—I’ll be there.”
“José!” I admonish him.
“Only kidding. Don’t get mad. I’ll be leaving early in the morning—I’ll see you sometime, yeah? I’ve missed you.”
“Sure, José. Soon I hope. Sorry tonight was so . . . shitty.” I smirk apologetically.
“Yeah.” He grins. “Shitty.” He hugs me. “Seriously, Ana, I’m glad you’re happy, but I’m here if you need me.”
I gaze up at him. “Thank you.”
He flashes me a sad, bittersweet smile, and then he goes upstairs.
I turn back to the great room. Christian stands beside the couch, watching me with an unreadable expression on his face. We’re finally alone and we gaze at each other.
“He’s still got it bad, you know,” he murmurs.
“And how would you know that, Mr. Grey?”
“I recognize the symptoms, Miss Steele. I believe I have the same affliction.”
“I thought I’d never see you again,” I whisper. There—the words are out. All my worst fears packaged neatly in one short sentence now exorcised.
“It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.”
I pick up his suit jacket and shoes from where they lie on the floor and move toward him.
“I’ll take that,” he whispers, reaching for his jacket.
Christian gazes down at me as if I’m his reason for living and mirrors my look, I’m sure. He is here, really here. He pulls me into his arms and wraps himself around me.
“Christian,” I gasp, and my tears start anew.
“Hush,” he soothes, kissing my hair. “You know . . . in the few seconds of sheer terror before I landed, all my thoughts were of you. You’re my talisman, Ana.”
“I thought I’d lost you,” I breathe. We stand, holding each other, reconnecting and reassuring each other. As I tighten my arms around him, I realize I’m still holding his shoes. I drop them noisily to the floor.
“Come and shower with me,” he murmurs.
“Okay.” I glance up at him. I don’t want to let go. Reaching down he tilts my chin up with his fingers.
“You know even tear-stained, you are beautiful, Ana Steele.” He leans down and kisses me gently. “And your lips are so soft.” He kisses me again, deepening it.
Oh my . . . and to think, I could have lost . . . no . . . I stop thinking and surrender myself.
“I need to put my jacket down,” he murmurs.
“Drop it,” I murmur against his lips.
“I can’t.”
I lean back to gaze up at him, puzzled.
He smirks at me. “This is why.” From the inside breast pocket he pulls out the small box I gave him, containing my present. He slings the jacket over the back of the couch and places the box on top.
Seize the day, Ana, my subconscious prods me. Well, it’s after midnight, so technically it’s his birthday.
“Open it,” I whisper, and my heart starts pounding.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” he murmurs. “This has been driving me crazy.”
I grin impishly at him. Jeez, I feel giddy. He gives me his shy smile, and I melt despite my thumping heart, delighting in his amused yet intrigued expression. With deft long fingers, he unwraps and opens the box. His brow creases as he fishes out a small, rectangular, plastic keychain bearing a picture made up of tiny pixels that flash on and off like an LED screen. It depicts the Seattle skyline, focusing on the Space Needle, with the word SEATTLE written boldly across the landscape, flashing on and off.
He stares at it for a moment and then gazes at me bemused, a frown marring his lovely brow.
“Turn it over,” I whisper, holding my breath.
He does, and his eyes shoot to mine, wide and gray, alive with wonder and joy. His lips part in disbelief.
The word yes flashes on and off on the key ring.
“Happy birthday,” I whisper.

1 comment: