He leads me into a small, intimate restaurant.
“This place will have to do,” Christian grumbles. “We don’t have much time.”
The restaurant looks fine to me. Wooden chairs, linen tablecloths, and walls the same color as Christian’s playroom—deep blood red—with small gilt mirrors randomly placed, white candles, and small vases of white roses. Ella Fitzgerald croons softly in the background about this thing called love. It’s very romantic.
The waiter leads us to a table for two in a small alcove, and I sit, apprehensive and wondering what he’s going to say.
“We don’t have long,” Christian says to the waiter as we sit. “So we’ll each have sirloin steak cooked medium, béarnaise sauce if you have it, fries, and green vegetables, whatever the chef has; and bring me the wine list.”
“Certainly, sir.” The waiter, taken aback by Christian’s cool, calm efficiency, scuttles off. Christian places his Blackberry on the table. Jeez, don’t I get a choice?
“And if I don’t like steak?”
He sighs. “Don’t start, Anastasia.”
“I am not a child, Christian.”
“Well, stop acting like one.”
It’s as if he’s slapped me. I blink at him. So this is how it will be, an agitated, fraught conversation, albeit in a very romantic setting but certainly no hearts and flowers.
“I’m a child because I don’t like steak?” I mutter trying to conceal my hurt.
“For deliberately making me jealous. It’s a childish thing to do. Have you no regard for your friend’s feelings, leading him on like that?” Christian presses his lips together in a thin line and scowls as the waiter returns with the wine list.
I blush—I hadn’t thought of that. Poor José—I certainly don’t want to encourage him. Suddenly, I’m mortified. Christian has a point; it was a thoughtless thing to do. He glances at the wine list.
“Would you like to choose the wine?” he asks, raising his eyebrows at me expectantly, arrogance personified. He knows I know nothing about wine.
“You choose,” I answer, sullen but chastened.
“Two glasses of the Barossa Valley Shiraz, please.”
“Er . . . we only sell that wine by the bottle, sir.”
“A bottle then,” Christian snaps.
“Sir.” He retreats, subdued, and I don’t blame him. I frown at Fifty. What’s eating him? Oh, me probably, and somewhere in the depths of my psyche, my inner goddess rises sleepily, stretches, and smiles. She’s been asleep for a while.
“You’re very grumpy.”
He gazes at me impassively. “I wonder why that is?”
“Well, it’s good to set the right tone for an intimate and honest discussion about the future, wouldn’t you say?” I smile at him sweetly.
His mouth presses into a hard line, but then, almost reluctantly, his lips lift, and I know he’s trying to stifle his smile.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Apology accepted, and I’m pleased to inform you I haven’t decided to become a vegetarian since we last ate.”
“Since that was the last time you ate, I think that’s a moot point.”
“There’s that word again, moot.”
“Moot,” he mouths and his eyes soften with humor. He runs his hand through his hair, and he’s serious again. “Ana, the last time we spoke, you left me. I’m a little nervous. I’ve told you I want you back, and you’ve said . . . nothing.” His gaze is intense and expectant while his candor is totally disarming. What the hell do I say to this?
“I’ve missed you . . . really missed you, Christian. The past few days have been . . . difficult.” I swallow, and a lump in my throat swells as I recall my desperate anguish since I left him.
This last week has been the worst in my life, the pain almost indescribable. Nothing has come close. But reality hits home, winding me.
“Nothing’s changed. I can’t be what you want me to be.” I squeeze the words out past the lump in my throat.
“You are what I want you to be,” he says, his soft voice emphatic.
“No, Christian, I’m not.”
“You’re upset because of what happened last time. I behaved stupidly, and you . . . So did you. Why didn’t you safe word, Anastasia?” His tone changes, becoming accusatory.
What? Whoa—change of direction. I flush, blinking at him.
“I don’t know. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to be what you wanted me to be, trying to deal with the pain, and it went out of my mind. You know . . . I forgot,” I whisper ashamed, and I shrug apologetically.
Jeez, perhaps we could have avoided all this heartache.
“You forgot!” he gasps with horror, grabbing the sides of the table and glaring at me. I wither under his stare.
Shit! He’s furious again. My inner goddess glares at me, too. See, you brought all this on yourself!
“How can I trust you?” he says, his voice low. “Ever?”
The waiter arrives with our wine as we sit staring at each other, blue eyes to gray. Both of us filled with unspoken recriminations, while the waiter removes the cork with an unnecessary flourish and pours a little wine into Christian’s glass. Automatically Christian reaches out and takes a sip.
“That’s fine.” His voice is curt.
Gingerly the waiter fills our glasses, placing the bottle on the table before beating a hasty retreat. Christian has not taken his eyes off me the whole time. I am the first to crack, breaking eye contact, picking up my glass and taking a large gulp. I barely taste it.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, suddenly feeling stupid. I left because I thought we were incompatible, but he’s saying I could have stopped him?
“Sorry for what?” he says alarmed.
“Not using the safe word.”
He closes his eyes, as if in relief.
“We might have avoided all this suffering,” he mutters.
“You look fine.” More than fine. You look like you.
“Appearances can be deceptive,” he says quietly. “I’m anything but fine. I feel like the sun has set and not risen for five days, Ana. I’m in perpetual night here.”
I’m winded by his admission. Oh my, like me.
“You said you’d never leave, yet the going gets tough and you’re out the door.”
“When did I say I’d never leave?”
“In your sleep. It was the most comforting thing I’d heard in so long, Anastasia. It made me relax.”
My heart constricts and I reach for my wine.
“You said you loved me,” he whispers. “Is that now in the past tense?” His voice is low, laced with anxiety.
“No, Christian, it’s not.”
He gazes at me, and he looks so vulnerable as he exhales. “Good,” he murmurs.
I’m shocked by his admission. He’s had a change of heart. When I told him I loved him before, he was horrified. The waiter is back. Briskly he places our plates in front of us and scuttles away.
Holy hell. Food.
“Eat,” Christian commands.
Deep down I know I’m hungry, but right now, my stomach is in knots. Sitting across from the only man I have ever loved and debating our uncertain future does not promote a healthy appetite. I look dubiously at my food.
“So help me God, Anastasia, if you don’t eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant, and it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification. Eat!”
Jeez, keep your hair on, Grey. My subconscious stares at me over her half-moon specs. She is wholeheartedly in agreement with Fifty Shades.
“Okay, I’ll eat. Stow your twitching palm, please.”
He doesn’t smile but continues to glare at me. Reluctantly I lift my knife and fork and slice into my steak. Oh, it’s mouthwateringly good. I am hungry, really hungry. I chew and he visibly relaxes.
We eat our supper in silence. The music’s changed. A soft-voiced woman sings in the background, her words echoing my thoughts.
I glance at Fifty. He’s eating and watching me. Hunger, longing, anxiety combined in one hot look.
“Do you know who’s singing?” I try for some normal conversation.
Christian pauses and listens. “No . . . but she’s good, whoever she is.”
“I like her, too.”
Finally he smiles his private enigmatic smile. What’s he planning?
“What?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Eat up,” he says mildly.
I have eaten half the food on my plate. I cannot eat any more. How can I negotiate this?
“I can’t manage any more. Have I eaten enough for Sir?”
He stares at me impassively, not answering, then glances at his watch.
“I am really full,” I add, taking a sip of the delicious wine.
“We have to go shortly. Taylor’s here, and you have to be up for work in the morning.”
“So do you.”
“I function on a lot less sleep than you do, Anastasia. At least you’ve eaten something.”
“Aren’t we going back via Charlie Tango?”
“No, I thought I might have a drink. Taylor will collect us. Besides, this way I have you in the car all to myself for a few hours, at least. What can we do but talk?”
Oh, that’s his plan.
Christian summons the waiter to ask for the check, then picks up his Blackberry and makes a call.
“We’re at Le Picotin, South West Third Avenue.” He hangs up.
Jeez, he’s curt over the phone.
“You’re very brusque with Taylor, in fact, with most people.”
“I just get to the point quickly, Anastasia.”
“You haven’t gotten to the point this evening. Nothing’s changed, Christian.”
“I have a proposition for you.”
“This started with a proposition.”
“A different proposition.”
The waiter returns, and Christian hands over his credit card without checking the bill. He gazes at me speculatively while the waiter swipes his card. Christian’s phone buzzes once, and he peers at it.
He has a proposition? What now? A couple of scenarios run through my mind: kidnap, working for him. No, nothing makes sense. Christian finishes paying.
“Come. Taylor’s outside.”
We stand and he takes my hand.
“I don’t want to lose you, Anastasia.” He kisses my knuckles tenderly, and the touch of his lips on my skin resonates throughout my body.
Outside the Audi is waiting. Christian opens my door. Climbing in, I sink into the plush leather. He heads to the driver’s side, Taylor steps out of the car and they talk briefly. This isn’t their usual protocol. I’m curious. What are they talking about? Moments later, they both climb in, and I glance at Christian who’s wearing his impassive face as he stares ahead.
I allow myself a brief moment to examine his godlike profile: straight nose, sculptured full lips, hair falling deliciously over his forehead. This divine man is surely not meant for me.
Soft music suddenly fills the rear of the car, an orchestral piece that I don’t know, and Taylor pulls into the light traffic, heading for the I-5 and Seattle.
Christian shifts to face me. “As I was saying, Anastasia, I have a proposition for you.”
I glance nervously at Taylor.
“Taylor can’t hear you,” Christian reassures me.
“Taylor,” Christian calls. Taylor doesn’t respond. He calls again, still no response. Christian leans over and taps his shoulder. Taylor removes an ear bud I hadn’t noticed.
“Thank you, Taylor. It’s okay; resume your listening.”
“Happy now? He’s listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”
“Did you deliberately ask him to do that?”
Oh. “Okay, your proposition?”
Christian looks suddenly determined and businesslike. Holy shit. We’re negotiating a deal. I listen attentively.
“Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky fuckery at all?”
My mouth drops open. “Kinky fuckery?” I squeak.
“I can’t believe you said that.” I glance nervously at Taylor.
“Well, I did. Answer me,” he says calmly.
I flush. My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication begging me.
“I like your kinky fuckery,” I whisper.
“That’s what I thought. So what don’t you like?”
Not being able to touch you. You enjoying my pain, the bite of the belt . . .
“The threat of cruel and unusual punishment.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, you have all those canes and whips and stuff in your playroom, and they frighten the living daylights out of me. I don’t want you to use them on me.”
“Okay, so no whips or canes—or belts, for that matter,” he says sardonically.
I gaze at him puzzled. “Are you attempting to redefine the hard limits?”
“Not as such, I’m just trying to understand you, get a clearer picture of what you do and don’t like.”
“Fundamentally, Christian, it’s your joy in inflicting pain on me that’s difficult for me to handle. And the idea that you’ll do it because I have crossed some arbitrary line.”
“But it’s not arbitrary; the rules are written down.”
“I don’t want a set of rules.”
“None at all?”
“No rules.” I shake my head, but my heart is in my mouth. Where is he going with this?
“But you don’t mind if I spank you?”
“Spank me with what?”
“This.” He holds up his hand.
I squirm uncomfortably. “No, not really. Especially with those silver balls . . .” Thank heavens it’s dark, my face is flaming and my voice trails off as I recall that night. Yeah . . . I’d do that again.
He smirks at me. “Yes, that was fun.”
“More than fun,” I mutter.
“So you can deal with some pain.”
I shrug. “Yes, I suppose.” Oh, where is he going with this? My anxiety level has shot up several magnitudes on the Richter scale.
He strokes his chin, deep in thought. “Anastasia, I want to start again. Do the vanilla thing and then maybe, once you trust me more and I trust you to be honest and to communicate with me, we could move on and do some of the things that I like to do.”
I stare at him, stunned, with no thoughts in my head at all—like a computer crash. He gazes at me anxiously, but I can’t see him clearly, as we’re shrouded in the Oregon darkness. It occurs to me, finally, this is it.
He wants the light, but can I ask him to do this for me? And don’t I like the dark? Some dark, sometimes. Memories of the Thomas Tallis night drift invitingly through my mind.
“But what about punishments?”
“No punishments.” He shakes his head. “None.”
“And the rules?”
“None at all? But you have needs.”
“I need you more, Anastasia. These last few days have been purgatory. All my instincts tell me to let you go, tell me I don’t deserve you.
“Those photos the boy took . . . I can see how he sees you. You look so untroubled and beautiful, not that you’re not beautiful now, but here you sit. I see your pain. It’s hard knowing that I’m the one who has made you feel this way.
“But I’m a selfish man. I’ve wanted you since you fell into my office. You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I am in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.”
My mouth goes dry. Holy shit. My subconscious nods with satisfaction. If that isn’t a declaration of love, I don’t know what is. And the words tumble out of me—a dam breached.
“Christian, why do you think you have a dark soul? I would never say that. Sad maybe, but you’re a good man. I can see that . . . you’re generous, you’re kind, and you’ve never lied to me. And I haven’t tried very hard.
“Last Saturday was such a shock to my system. It was my wake-up call. I realized that you’d been easy on me and that I couldn’t be the person you wanted me to be. Then, after I left, it dawned on me that the physical pain you inflicted was not as bad as the pain of losing you. I do want to please you, but it’s hard.”
“You please me all the time,” he whispers. “How often do I have to tell you that?”
“I never know what you’re thinking. Sometimes you’re so closed off . . . like an island state. You intimidate me. That’s why I keep quiet. I don’t know which way your mood is going to go. It swings from north to south and back again in a nanosecond. It’s confusing and you won’t let me touch you, and I want to so much to show you how much I love you.”
He blinks at me in the darkness, warily I think, and I can resist him no longer. I unbuckle my seatbelt and scramble into his lap, taking him by surprise, and take his head in my hands.
“I love you, Christian Grey. And you’re prepared to do all this for me. I’m the one who is undeserving, and I’m just sorry that I can’t do all those things for you. Maybe with time . . . I don’t know . . . but yes, I accept your proposition. Where do I sign?”
He snakes his arms around me and crushes me to him.
“Oh, Ana,” he breathes as he buries his nose in my hair.
We sit, our arms wrapped around each other, listening to the music—a soothing piano piece—mirroring the emotions in the car, the sweet tranquil calm after the storm. I snuggle into his arms, resting my head in the crook of his neck. He gently strokes my back.
“Touching is a hard limit for me, Anastasia,” he whispers.
“I know. I wish I understood why.”
After a while, he sighs, and in a soft voice he says, “I had a horrific childhood. One of the crack whore’s pimps . . .” His voice trails off, and his body tenses as he recalls some unimaginable horror. “I can remember that,” he whispers, shuddering.
Abruptly, my heart constricts as I remember the burn scars marring his skin. Oh, Christian. I tighten my arms around his neck.
“Was she abusive? Your mother?” My voice is low and soft with unshed tears.
“Not that I remember. She was neglectful. She didn’t protect me from her pimp.”
He snorts. “I think it was me who looked after her. When she finally killed herself, it took four days for someone to raise the alarm and find us . . . I remember that.”
I cannot contain my gasp of horror. Holy mother fuck. Bile rises in my throat.
“That’s pretty fucked-up,” I whisper.
“Fifty shades,” he murmurs.
I turn my head and press my lips against his neck, seeking and offering solace as I imagine a small, dirty, gray-eyed boy lost and lonely beside the body of his dead mother.
Oh, Christian. I breathe in his scent. He smells heavenly, my favorite fragrance in the entire world. He tightens his arms around me and kisses my hair, and I sit wrapped in his embrace as Taylor speeds into the night.
When I wake, we’re driving through Seattle.
“Hey,” Christian says softly.
“Sorry,” I murmur as I sit up, blinking and stretching. I am still in his arms, on his lap.
“I could watch you sleep forever, Ana.”
“Did I say anything?”
“No. We’re nearly at your place.”
Oh? “We’re not going to yours?”
I sit up and gaze at him. “Why not?”
“Because you have work tomorrow.”
“Oh.” I pout.
He smirks at me. “Why, did you have something in mind?”
I flush. “Well, maybe.”
He chuckles. “Anastasia, I am not going to touch you again, not until you beg me to.”
“So that you’ll start communicating with me. Next time we make love, you’re going to have to tell me exactly what you want in fine detail.”
“Oh.” He shifts me off his lap as Taylor pulls up outside my apartment. Christian climbs out and holds the car door open for me.
“I have something for you.” He moves to the back of the car, opens the trunk, and pulls out a large gift-wrapped box. What the hell is this?
“Open it when you get inside.”
“You’re not coming in?”
“So when will I see you?”
“My boss wants me to go for a drink with him tomorrow.”
Christian’s face hardens. “Does he, now?” His voice is laced with latent menace.
“To celebrate my first week,” I add quickly.
“I don’t know.”
“I could pick you up from there.”
“Okay . . . I’ll e-mail or text you.”
He walks me to the lobby door and waits while I dig my keys out of my purse. As I unlock the door, he leans forward and cups my chin, tilting my head back. His mouth hovers
over mine, and closing his eyes, he runs a trail of kisses from the corner of my eye to the corner of my mouth.
A small moan escapes my mouth as my insides melt and unfurl.
“Until tomorrow,” he breathes.
“Goodnight, Christian,” I whisper, and I hear the need in my voice.
“In you go,” he orders, and I walk through the lobby carrying my mysterious parcel.
“Laters, baby,” he calls, then turns and with his easy grace, heads back to the car.
Once in the apartment, I open the gift box and find my MacBook Pro laptop, the Blackberry, and another rectangular box. What is this? I unwrap the silver paper. Inside is a black, slim, leather case.
Opening the case, I find an iPad. Holy shit . . . an iPad. A white card is resting on the screen with a message written in Christian’s handwriting:
Holy cow. I have a Christian Grey mix-tape in the guise of a high-end iPad. I shake my head in disapproval because of the expense, but deep down I love it. Jack at the office has one, so I know how they work.
I switch it on and gasp as the wallpaper image appears: a small model glider. Oh my. It’s the Blanik L23 I gave him, mounted on a glass stand and sitting on what I think is Christian’s desk at his office. I gape at it.
He built it! He really did build it. I remember now he mentioned it in the note with the flowers. I’m reeling, and I know in that instant that he’s put a great deal of thought into this gift.
I slide the arrow at the bottom of the screen to unlock it and gasp again. The background photograph is of Christian and me at my graduation in the marquee. It’s the one that appeared in the Seattle Times. Christian looks so handsome and I can’t help my face-splitting grin, as my inner goddess curls up hugging herself on her chaise longue—Yes, and he’s mine!
With a swipe of my finger, the icons shift, and several new ones appear on the next screen. A Kindle app, iBooks, Words—whatever that is.
Holy shit! The British Library? I touch the icon and a menu appears: Historical Collection. Scrolling down, I select Novels of the 18th and 19th Century. Another menu. I tap on a title: The American by Henry James. A new window opens, offering me a scanned copy of the book to read. Holy crap—it’s an early edition, published in 1879, and it’s on my iPad! He’s bought me the British Library at a touch of a button.
I exit quickly, knowing that I could be lost in this app for an eternity. I notice a “good food” app that makes me roll my eyes and smile at the same time, a news app, a weather app, but his note mentioned music. I go back to the main screen, hit the iPod icon and a
playlist appears. I scroll through the songs, and the list makes me smile. Thomas Tallis—I’m not going to forget that in a hurry. I heard it twice, after all, while he flogged and fucked me.
“Witchcraft.” My grin gets wider—dancing round the great room. The Bach Marcello piece—oh no, that’s way too sad for my mood right now. Hmm. Jeff Buckley—yeah, I’ve heard of him. Snow Patrol—my favorite band—and a song called “Principles of Lust” by Enigma. How Christian. I smirk. Another called “Possession” . . . oh yes, very Fifty Shades. And a few more I have never heard.
Selecting a song that catches my eye, I press play. It’s called “Try” by Nellie Furtado. She starts to sing, and her voice is a silken scarf wrapping around me, enveloping me. I lie down on my bed.
Does this mean Christian’s going to try? Try this new relationship? I drink in the lyrics, staring at the ceiling, trying to understand his turnaround. He missed me. I missed him. He must have some feelings for me. He must. This iPad, these songs, these apps—he cares. He really cares. My heart swells with hope.
The song ends and tears spring to my eyes. I quickly scroll to another—“The Scientist” by Coldplay—one of Kate’s favorite bands. I know the track, but I’ve never really listened to the lyrics before. I close my eyes and let the words wash over and through me.
My tears start to flow. I can’t stem them. If this isn’t an apology, what is it? Oh, Christian.
Or is this an invitation? Will he answer my questions? Am I reading too much into this? I am probably reading too much into this. My subconscious nods at me, trying to hide her pity.
I dash my tears away. I have to e-mail him to thank him. I leap off my bed to fetch the mean machine.
Coldplay continues as I sit cross-legged on my bed. The Mac powers up and I log in.
From: Anastasia Steele
Date: June 9, 2011 23:56
To: Christian Grey
You’ve made me cry again.
I love the iPad.
I love the songs.
I love the British Library App.
I love you.
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 10, 2011 00:03
To: Anastasia Steele
I’m glad you like it. I bought one for myself.
Now, if I were there, I would kiss away your tears.
But I’m not—so go to sleep.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
His response makes me smile, still so bossy, still so Christian. Will that change, too? And I realize in that moment that I hope not. I like him like this—commanding—as long as I can stand up to him without fear of punishment.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Mr. Grumpy
Date: June 10, 2011 00:07
To: Christian Grey
You sound your usual bossy and possibly tense, possibly grumpy self, Mr. Grey.
I know something that could ease that. But then, you’re not here—you wouldn’t let me stay, and you expect me to beg . . .
Dream on, Sir.
PS: I also note that you included the Stalker’s Anthem, “Every Breath You Take.” I do enjoy your sense of humor, but does Dr. Flynn know?
From: Christian Grey
Subject: Zen-Like Calm
Date: June 10, 2011 00.10
To: Anastasia Steele
My Dearest Miss Steele
Spanking occurs in vanilla relationships, too, you know. Usually consensually and in a sexual context . . . but I am more than happy to make an exception.
You’ll be relieved to know that Dr. Flynn also enjoys my sense of humor.
Now, please go to sleep as you won’t get much tomorrow.
Incidentally—you will beg, trust me. And I look forward to it.
Tense CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: Goodnight, Sweet Dreams
Date: June 10, 2011 00:12
To: Christian Grey
Well, since you ask so nicely, and I like your delicious threat, I shall curl up with the iPad that you have so kindly given me and fall asleep browsing in the British Library, listening to the music that says it for you.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: One more request
Date: June 10, 2011 00:15
To: Anastasia Steele
Dream of me.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Dream of you, Christian Grey? Always.
I change quickly into my pajamas, brush my teeth, and slip into bed. Putting my ear buds in, I pull the flattened Charlie Tango balloon from underneath my pillow and hug it to me.
I am brimming with joy, a stupid, widemouthed grin on my face. What a difference a day can make. How am I ever going to sleep?
José Gonzalez starts to sing a soothing melody with a hypnotic guitar riff, and I drift slowly into sleep, marveling how the world has righted itself in one evening and wondering idly if I should make a playlist for Christian.