My head is spinning. I glance over at the clock. 2:50 a.m.
I need to piece together what happened. I need to calm down. I need to breathe and clear my head. Teddy will be up soon, so there is no point in trying to sleep. Not that I could.
Christian is sleeping next to me. Or pretending to. Probably pretending.
I keep going over the night’s events in my head, trying to figure out what to do or say next. I just don’t know where to go from here.
The swirling confusion erupted in my mind a few moments after that man shoved the papers in my hand. Before I could even formulate a thought or a question, Taylor and Harry flanked him, each grabbing an arm so tightly I think his feet were lifted off the ground. This attracted minor attention from partygoers nearest us on the dance floor, but Taylor and Harry are good at their jobs; the way they held the man Carrick and I could see their grip, but their stance appeared casual, not like something was amiss at all.
“Whoa, no need for the rough stuff. It’s done. It’s over. I’ll go,” he pled with the security team. I took in the man fully for the first time. His tuxedo was basic and a little loose around the shoulders. Rented, I guess. His dark brown hair was parted on the side, his face was oval, and I would put him in his mid thirties. He’s thin, but not athletic and in no way a match for the man and woman immobilizing him. His shoes should have been a giveaway. Not the shiny tuxedo shoes, but plain leather men’s dress shoes. I surmise it wasn’t necessary to pay for the shoe rental.
Neither of my defenders have moved, or even appeared to hear the man’s words. They remain locked in place. I become aware of Christian standing next to me by watching Taylor’s and Harry’s eyes shift to my right; I couldn’t turn my focus away from the man and his sentinels. Christian must have given some signal or instruction, because Taylor and Harry loosened their grips, and proceeded to escort the man, less forcibly, out.
I turned to my husband who was radiating fury. “Anastasia, I’ll take that.”
I look down at the paper in my hand and back up at my husband. “No.”
It wasn’t an angry ‘no’. I hadn’t figured enough out yet to be angry. I just didn’t want to relinquish it. I didn’t even know why. But it was in my hand and I was going to retain it. I realized I was gripping the paper so tightly my knuckles were turning white, and I hadn’t moved my arm an inch since the offending instrument had been thrust upon me.
Carrick’s voice broke into my thoughts, “Ana, dear, do you want me to look at that?” Right, he’s a lawyer. My eyes go back to the paper. Think, Ana! I inhale and exhale slowly, trying to cleanse my thoughts. I look over at Christian, then back at Carrick.
Gingerly I fold the paper in half, and then in half again. My hands are shaking. “Thank you, Carrick. But I think I will just put this in my purse, enjoy the rest of the evening, and handle it in the morning.” I turn my gaze to Christian who looks like a cornered animal waiting for a strike. “It will remain in my purse,” I say forcefully. “Thank you for the dance, Carrick.” I force a smile, glance down at the compressed document in my clenched hand and stride back to the table, where I left my things.
I know Christian is following me, but I don’t turn and look at him. After stowing the papers and closing my purse, I cannot fathom what to do next. Keeping my eyes down at the table, I query my husband, “What time is it?”
“Eleven forty-five,” he answers softly.
Not too early. “Are there fireworks at midnight?”
“Yes. We can leave if you want.”
I want to go desperately, but I don’t want to make dramatic exit. “We’ll watch the fireworks, then make our excuses.” Christian doesn’t respond, but there really isn’t anything to say. I didn’t ask for input.
I finally lift my gaze from the table, square my shoulders and turn around. Christian offers his arm and I take it; we stroll silently to the lawn where the fireworks will be and await the show.
I still haven’t made any eye contact with Christian as we stand side by side. I’m certain he knew this was coming and either just omitted telling me, or actively worked to prevent my knowledge. Either way, I’m livid. How can he not know the damage deceitful behavior can cause? He’s the one always emphasizing trust! My subconscious rears her ugly head ‘you knew what you were getting.’ No, I don’t accept that.
I’m focusing on inhaling and exhaling, endeavoring not to get worked up here and now. They’ll be a time and place for that. Later. Christian shifts to move behind me and embrace me. I tug his arm back to my side. I don’t want his comfort. Not now. Not when ire is building in me.
Too distracted to enjoy the fireworks, I think through subtle signs from the past weeks. Snippets of conversation, security measures, signs of stress. Clues were there, but not blatant. It was easy to miss, especially if someone schemes to conceal things.
The fireworks end, a blur of goodbyes, and once again we are embedded in the Audi. Taylor driving, Sawyer in the passenger seat. We sit in silence for several minutes.
“Was the security team aware that might happen?” I ask to no one in particular, keeping my eyes trained out the car window.
There is silence and seconds tick past. Then Christian responds in a quiet voice, “Yes”.
Is this why I have three security people? Were there any other changes due to this? I relive the past few days in my head. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary…just run of the mill life with Fifty. But in retrospect, perhaps they were steering me without my perception.
“Sawyer, when you directed me to the service entrance at Grey House, were you trying to avoid a process server?” I know it is wrong to put him on the spot to implicate his boss, but I am on a fact gathering mission and the implications of my queries are not forefront in my mind.
Sawyer hesitates, but I see Taylor give an almost imperceptible nod. “Yes, ma’am.”
So they were all in on it, keeping me in the dark. I feel like a teenage girl who found out all her friends were at a sleepover and she wasn’t invited. Left out. Foolish. Played.
The tense silence in the vehicle resumes as I turn the information over in my head. Another cognizance bubbles up in my mind.
“Is this why the pediatrician came to our house?” I don’t even look over at him. I know the answer, but I want to hear it. I want my husband to speak the truth. To hear the evidence of dishonesty come from his own lips.
“Mostly. I am concerned about the germs, though.” Oh Fifty. There is no room for feckless justifications here. ‘Yes officer, I shot him – but I thought he might rob my house tomorrow.’
Suddenly the rage boils over, my brain shuts off and my mouth takes over. “Dammit, Christian! If you didn’t want THAT to happen why in God’s name didn’t you do the ONE thing that had the best chance of preventing it?!?” I’m screaming and pointing my finger at him. He looks hurt, trapped, guilty…and puzzled. Does he not know what I mean? “You could have told ME, remember me, your WIFE! Confiding in the security team won’t do a damn bit of good if I don’t know to avoid holding my hand out to take what is given to me.” Christian’s casts his eyes down shamefully, but I don’t care. I’m furious and he has to know it. “So, unless you plan on sleeping with Taylor and Sawyer from now on, you had better change you modus operandi, and soon!”
I audibly huff and return to staring out the window. The car is noiseless. I’m guessing Taylor and Sawyer are grateful for it.
At last we pass through the gates and moments later pull up to the front door. Not waiting for anyone else, I open my door, slide out, and slam the door in my wake. The effect of storming off is somewhat mitigated when I am forced to stop at the front door. I don’t have a key. I never do. Taylor walks up behind me and opens the door silently. I scoop up the hem of my dress and continue stomping through the house and up the stairs.
I enter our bedroom, slam the door behind me, and instantly regret it. I rush to turn on the baby monitor. No noises. Phew, I didn’t wake him.
Somewhat calmer, but still on a tirade, I strip off the dress and pitch it fiercely into the closet where it lands in a heap. The shoes follow it, one at a time. I continue venting my wrath at inanimate objects as I practically rip off my stockings, ruining them in the process. It seems fitting that I’ve broken something, even something as trivial as hosiery. I retrieve an old camisole and sweatpants from the dresser, refusing to wear one of Christian’s t-shirts. I realize it’s a petty thing, but I’m fuming and feeling petty and incensed and irate.
I remove the silver cuff from my wrist and slam it on the walnut dresser. The clang of metal on wood resonates like a slap, stopping me in my tracks. Don’t wreck the furniture or the jewelry with a tantrum, Ana! Deep breath in, deep breath out. I remove the diamond drop earrings, placing them on the dresser. The choker clasp is challenging, I can’t feel how the mechanism works, so I head to the bathroom. I’m forced to twist it around my neck so the clasp is in front, then using the mirror I work to finally get it open. I lay the choker on the marble vanity top, the emerald practically glowing against the white and gray stone. The woman in the mirror is somewhat less together than the one who left here a few short hours ago. One by one I pull the hairpins out, letting my hair flow loose. When I’m satisfied that all have been extricated, the mirror reflects how I feel – between my hair having been up, forced curls, and whatever products Franco used, my hair appears wild and disheveled. As if I had gotten caught in a storm. And I did. A storm named Christian maniacal-control-freak Grey.
Christian hasn’t come to our room yet. I don’t know if the slammed door deterred him or if he is off castigating the security crew for the unfolding of events. I cautiously open the master suite door and am thankfully greeted with a silent, empty hall.
The hall is dimly lit with low voltage pin lights alternating sides on the ceiling. There are three paintings, watercolors, along one side. One is a sailing ship coming into port, supposedly in Madeira, Spain. One is a child running through a wheat field. We bought both of these at an estate auction a few months back. That was a fun day. I had never been to an auction before and I was terrified of inadvertently bidding on something. I kept my eyes averted from the auctioneer at all times, providing oodles of amusement for Mr. Fifty.
The last painting in the hall is just before Teddy’s room and is one of the mother and child madonna-like paintings from the Escala foyer. I pause at Teddy’s door, then continue first to the next room. Though technically bedroom, it is outfitted as a sitting room intended for child care staff to wait comfortably while their charge is asleep. There are two reclining chairs with a table and lamp between them, a love seat, a television on the wall, and a stack of magazines in a rack by the door. Plus the adjoining bathroom. There is no sign of Ms. Boone, so I assume she successfully followed Christian’s protocol. There is a book from the library sitting on the table. I wonder at Ms. Boone’s reading selection. Upon retrieving the book I instantly approve. Jane Eyre. I actually envy Ms. Boone a little for spending Saturday night with Charlotte Brontë’s heroine…an itinerary I have indulged in myself. I smirk thinking that Jane’s love could be overbearing, too.
I leave the book in the sitting room and go to the nursery. I stand by the crib, Teddy is angelic, lying on his back all swaddled in a blue blanket. His eyes are closed and I can hear him breathing through his tiny button nose. I could watch him for hours. I made that. Well, not all by myself, but mostly.
My eyes go from his sailboat sheets to the striped blue curtains, to the sailing mural on the wall. The boats on the sheets are single hulled sailboats. Apparently all sailing themed children’s bed linens have single hulled vessels, which shouldn’t be an issue unless the child in question is fathered by a man obsessed with details who happens to own a catamaran. Then it is an issue. I scoured the internet and called every baby store within a hundred miles. Catamaran crib sheets do not exist. Christian was on the verge of having them custom made, possibly buying the manufacturer if that was required. It was only by sheer will that I convinced him that by the time our child knew the difference between the boats he would no longer be sleeping on those sheets.
The mural, however, is an exact replica of the Grace.
I lean over and kiss my beautiful sleeping son then quietly make my way back down the hall.
Christian is sitting on the bed waiting for me. He is changed into pajama bottoms from his tuxedo. He looks delicious. He eyes me silently as I stop in the entryway. He is strategizing, waiting for some sign from me that will tell him what to do or say. I can’t take it and I break eye contact first and make my way to my closet.
Picking up the silver dress off the floor, I carefully arrange it on the hanger, remove the tape from the back, and find a place for it amongst the other gowns in the back of the closet. The dress is too pretty to pay the price for our fight. I collect the shoes from where they landed and settle them back in their box.
Departing my closet, I persist in avoiding eye contact with Christian. Instead, I walk over to my dresser, retrieve the silver cuff and make myself busy putting it back in its cloth pouch and in the jewelry box. The Cartier earrings are returned to the red Cartier box, which in turn I place in the jewelry box. Next I go to the bathroom to retrieve my new Teddy pearls. Returning to the dresser I realize the box must still be in the living room. I’ll get it tomorrow, I guess.
I’m out of stall tactics and Christian’s gaze is boring into my back. My subconscious is standing with arms crossed and tapping her foot impatiently. I turn on the balls of my feet, leaning back against the dresser for support, and face my husband.
Steeling myself, I resolve not to speak first. An excruciating minute passes, then another. I dig my nails into my palm to prevent myself from caving.
“Are you sleeping here?” He spoke first. My inner goddess pops her head up – it is a victory, albeit a minuscule one. But what the fuck does that mean! Where else would I sleep?
“It’s my room,” I answer.
Christian is keeping his expression neutral, giving nothing away. After another minute of silence, he speaks again softly, “Am I sleeping here?”
Does he think I’m kicking him out? I’ve never done that. And I’ve only left our bedroom once before. It’s not something I’ll do again readily. Flynn’s influence. He says not fighting with Christian is not likely an option for a while, and to focus on fighting well. Rationally and fairly.
“It’s your room, too.” There. No one is leaving.
“Are we going to talk?”
I think about it. I’m still seething with anger. I want to tell him off. I want to yell at him more to cleanse my wrath. I don’t need my condescending subconscious to know this isn’t a stellar idea.
I take a deep breath. “I want to understand what is going on, but I don’t want to discuss it fully tonight. I’m really mad at you. I don’t want to say things I’ll regret.”
He raises his eyebrows at me, “Like suggesting I start sleeping with Taylor?”
I’m not in the mood for humor, and I’m not letting him off the hook. “Christian, who is suing us?”
“Did you read the summons?” I shake my head. I haven’t retrieved it from my purse yet. Christian casts his eyes down and talks to the floor, “Suing me, not us. It is a woman who claims I injured her.”
Injured how? As soon as the question pops into my head, I know the answer. Oh. No. My heart is beating through my chest. “Did you?”
“I don’t know.” How can he not know? “I don’t recognize her, but that isn’t meaningful.” He doesn’t recognize her?
“I don’t understand, Christian. How can you not recognize someone you were with? You had a signed contract, I assume.”
He shakes this head. “She wasn’t someone with whom I had a contract. She says we met at a club six years ago.” A club? A dance club? “An S&M club, Ana.” Oh.
“Does she have a legitimate claim? Is she injured?” If she does, why didn’t he just pay the medical expenses? He’s put past subs through school, paid for medical insurance, mental health. He’s never flinched at taking care of others.
“I don’t know. Our doctors haven’t confirmed her claim. She turned down a settlement.”
“Why would she do that?”
Christian sighs. “I don’t know. If what she says is true, there is no perspicable reason. If it wasn’t enough money, she, or her lawyers, would have countered our offer. They didn’t.”
I contemplate this for a moment. She’s suing, so she wants money, right? Isn’t that what lawsuits are about? I catch sight of my clutch out of the corner of my eye. “What does the summons say?”
“They want to depose you.”
Why? This makes no sense. I didn’t know Christian 6 years ago, I never met this woman. What could I possibly say of value?
There is too much roiling around in my head. Anger. Deception. Inscrutable motives. I need to think.
“Let’s go to sleep.” Maybe things will look clearer in the morning. Maybe not. Christian watches me warily as I pull back the duvet and slip into bed. He gets up from the bed, turns out the lights, then follows suit, stepping to his side of the bed and sliding in. I’m lying on my back staring at the ceiling in the dark. Christian is on his side and I feel him staring at me. I want to be in his arms, to be comforted by his presence, his scent, his Christian-ness. On the other hand, I’m angry and I don’t want to comfort him. It’s vindictive and petty.
Anger and pettiness win out. I roll on my side away from Christian and try to sleep. But with all the thoughts of lawsuits, S&M clubs, security details rolling through my mind, sleep is elusive and I lie awake for hours.
A cry over the monitor breaks the silence. I glance at the clock, 3:15 a.m. Hoisting myself out of bed, I try to shake my head clear. It doesn’t work, so fuzzy head and all I make my way to the nursery.
Teddy is trying to free his arms from the swaddling blanket. Ms. Boone had him wrapped up quite well. I untuck the blanket’s end, extract him and take him to the changing table, talking to him while I go. “Hello there sweet boy. Did you have a good night? Did you like Ms. Boone? Not as much as Mommy, I hope. Remember, I have the food.” I kiss his belly and his toes. His legs are starting to get a little thicker. I can’t wait until he has those chubby baby thighs. After diapering and redressing Teddy, we settle into the glider. The books are right about this, this is relaxing. In this peaceful state, I can sort through all the trauma.
First off, the lawsuit which Christian never told me about. The lawsuit itself doesn’t upset me. Well, beyond the fact that he may have hurt someone, but I know he would never truly harm someone intentionally. As much as I hate to think of him with other women, I have to put this in the before-Ana category. I can find a way to deal with this.
The deception is the harder pill to swallow. I would be angry if he had just covered it up and not told me, even if there had been a settlement. But Christian went way beyond that. He actively conspired to manipulate me, he confided in others before me, he left me out. I think that’s the crux of it – he left me out. Is it that I’m not trustworthy enough? Or did he not trust my reaction? That voice in my head rudely pipes in: Hey, Ana, maybe it isn’t about you? About him, then. If I was a cartoon you would have seen the light bulb go on over my head. Trust may be a part of it, but shame is the bigger element. Mr. Fifty has never really reconciled sadism as a sexual choice. If he really did harm someone, cause some serious permanent injury, it would work havoc on his psyche.
I need to deal with one aspect at a time. Start with the conspiracy. Giving the security team marching orders to maneuver me into certain behaviors. What are their marching orders? Is there a written protocol? I’ve never even thought to ask how they know what to do and what the job entails. It’s not just Taylor anymore, we know have 4 permanent day security staff and two overnight staff. There must be some instructions. Where to park, how to work the CCTV system, etc. Maybe I should review that.
Though nothing has changed, I feel better. Having a plan or task helps. I’ll talk to Taylor first thing. Refocusing myself on the infant in my arms, I am calmer, still mad, but not raging. Teddy dozes off and I continue to rock with him for a while before eventually resettling him in the crib.
I make my way back to our room, but I am wide awake. I use the bathroom and examine myself in the mirror while washing. Though I wouldn’t have thought it possible, my hair is now in even more disarray then before. I grab a hairtie and pull it back. My head is still buzzing with thoughts and I know sleep won’t happen. So why wait till morning?
I quietly grab a sweatshirt from my dresser – even in my incensed state I won’t rile Christian by approaching the staff in a flimsy camisole. I head downstairs and cross through the family room, living room, and dining room. On the other side of the house is Christian’s study, facing the driveway so he can watch the comings and goings. It has bamboo wainscoting with the upper walls in Christian Grey white. A contemporary desk, chair, and seating area, all typical of Christian’s taste. Across the hall facing the sound is the library, one of the rooms I call mine. It has three walls of bookshelves, though it is only about half full. There are several comfortable arm chairs, a love seat, and a vintage game table for cards, checkers, chess, and backgammon. Next to the library, and accessible either from the library or the hall, is my study. Smaller than Christian’s, I have a simple antique desk and chair, and a small seating area with three chairs and a round table. The last room in the house proper sits next to Christian’s study and faces the meadow. The music room. The music room was part of the original house and other than some acoustic improvements it has not changed. Christian’s piano is the focal point. We’ve placed some couches in a conversation arrangement, though I suspect the previous residents actually had small concerts here.
The door at the end of the hall is the entrance to the staff area. The security office, conference room, and kitchen are on the ground level; upstairs are several dorm style rooms for day staff that might stay over and the nanny’s future quarters. Further down the hall is an entrance to the garage and stairs to the Taylors’ quarters.
I walk into the security office, clearly not a surprise to the man on duty as he is standing by the desk expectantly. It makes sense as he’s been watching me move through the house for several minutes by now.
“Good evening, er, morning, Mrs. Grey. Is there a problem?”
I am drawing a blank on his name. Though he’s worked here for several months, I don’t usually see him. “Is there a document of all the security protocols? Specifically the ones pertaining to me?”
The poor man looks stunned and trapped. “Well, er, yes there is a procedure manual.”
“May I have a copy?”
“Well, it isn’t supposed to leave the office. We don’t give it out because, well because that would violate security, having the processes known,” he explains apologetically.
“I’d like a copy,” he is staring at me dumbfounded. “You can trust me with it,” I add. After all, I am one of the things you are keeping secure! He still hasn’t made a move and my patience is giving way to irritation. I try authoritative, “Now, please.”
Finally he moves behind the desk, but instead of going to a file or the computer, he picks up his phone. Shit! I realize he just woke Taylor. Was that really necessary? At 4 in the morning? Well, was it necessary for me to have the document at 4 in the morning?
About 60 seconds later Sawyer comes scrambling into the office in sweatpants, a t-shirt, and sneakers. I guess he stayed over last night. A few moments later, Taylor comes running in.
“Taylor, I’d like a copy of the security protocols. Including any that have to do with me.” Taylor hesitates maybe a fraction of a second before making up his mind. He walks behind the desk, shooing aside the overnight man. He reaches into the desk drawer and pulls out a USB drive, plugs it into the laptop on the desk, and a few clicks later hands the drive to me.
I look down at the drive in my hand, but I’m not done here. “Sawyer, eight months ago you gave me a speech on trust, remember?” I remember. Vividly. Right after the whole Jack Hyde debacle. Sawyer decided to have his version of a heart to heart with me. I’m sure with Taylor’s and Christian’s blessing.
“Mrs. Grey, you have to learn to trust me to be on your side. I could have helped. It’s my job to help. I need to know you’ll let me help if anything ever comes up again. Otherwise, I can’t do my job.”
“You’ve got a long way to go to earn that back.” My voice is getting louder as my anger is seeping out. “And you can start by finding a way for me to keep this play date, because I want to go!” I know I sound like a petulant child, and frankly, I don’t care. True to form, Sawyer hasn’t flinched at all. He just gives a nod of understanding.
I see overnight man’s eyes go behind me and I know Christian is there. I’m done here anyway, so I turn on my heels and exit. Though we’re both barefoot, I can hear Christian’s footsteps behind me. I stop at my study to retrieve my Macbook and he waits in the hall, then continues behind me across the house and up the stairs. I place the Macbook and drive on my nightstand, shed the sweatshirt and toss it on the floor, and crawl back into bed. Maybe I can sleep for a few hours.
Christian climbs back into bed. “Was that really necessary?” he asks in an annoyed tone.
“Waking Taylor. And Sawyer.”
“I didn’t wake them.” It’s true, I didn’t.
“What did you expect would happen?” His tone is now both annoyed and sarcastic. No you don’t Fifty.
But it is a good question. Did I really expect overnight man to just hand the documents over? I guess I shouldn’t have. But wait, that’s part of the problem.
“Christian, who do they work for? Taylor?”
“Come on, Ana.” I know he is rolling his eyes. “Alright, Ana, us. They work for us.”
“No, not Taylor,” he’s voice is getting louder.
“Christ, Ana, do you need it in writing? Yes they work for us.”
“Then why does everyone need your approval. He didn’t wake Taylor because he was concerned with Taylor’s response. He woke Taylor, and Sawyer, because he feared your reaction. He doesn’t think he works for us. He thinks he works for you. And I am just a piece of your fucking fiefdom to watch over.” I take a breath and add, “If he worked for me, he would have just handed over the damned document.”
Christian is silent for a moment. “Excepting the unnecessary foul language, you have a fair point. Though not necessarily well made, Mrs. Grey.” Round 1 to me, I think. “I’ll fix it. Now, have you slept at all.” I shake my head. “Close your eyes. Sleep. We’ll have this all out tomorrow and it won’t go well for either of us if we’re overtired.”
“Fair point, well made, Mr. Grey.”