If you had asked me a month ago what it might be like to receive and open dozens of presents, my mind may have been filled with visions of the best Christmas morning ever. This morning is one of those occasions where the day dream and reality fail to meet. Quite disillusioning. Perhaps the source is playing a role; after all I’ve never heard of most of these people and likely never will again. Until we have another child, that is. In actuality these are tributes for the CEO of Grey Enterprise Holdings, not gifts for a newborn. If any of them knew Christian at all they would realize this is hardly the way to curry favor. If there is occasion for him to do business with them in the future, Andrea will prompt him about their gift so he can make an appropriate statement, otherwise he won’t even know about it.
Mrs. Taylor and I have opened sixty-two gifts plus about two and a half dozen donation cards. It took two hours and it is all sorted. Shaking my head at the wasted excess, I eye the piles: first there is clothing, then blankets, followed by large toys, small toys, stuffed animals, and finally personalized items. I surmise we should keep the personalized items, I mean, who else would want them. A growth chart with airplanes, a step stool with trains, a custom quilt with not just Teddy’s name but birth statistics such as height and weight, two picture frames, and an engraved teething ring from Tiffany’s. I shake my head – really, does a baby need a sterling silver teething ring? From Tiffany’s?
At least the donations, though unnecessary, are pragmatic. Most donated to local Seattle charities or children’s causes. A few researched and donated to Coping Together. But the gold star goes to the three who donated in celebration of Teddy’s birth to organizations that fight hunger. I have to give them credit, they know their mark, and I feel their superior effort should be rewarded somehow.
I have dutifully recorded all of it on a spreadsheet so Andrea can write the thank you notes. Standing to help Mrs. Taylor with the recycling, I survey the disaster area. Fortunately, we put Teddy in the swing and not on the floor, otherwise he would be buried. We stuff the wrapping paper and boxes in one bag to recycle; tissue paper does not recycle, so it goes to the trash along with the ribbons. But we need to separate the ribbons. Evidently using rattles, teething rings, and small stuffed animals instead of bows is the thing to do when wrapping baby presents. Mrs. Taylor and I free these items from their bondage and toss them in the small toys and stuffed animals piles.
Even with the trash away, the room is still a disaster. I grab the pile of cards and toss them in with the recycling.
“Doesn’t Mr. Grey want to see the cards?” I raise my eyebrows at Mrs. Taylor. I highly doubt Christian would waste one minute on the stack of cloying disingenuous sentiments.
“I don’t think so. I’ll send his PA the list of gifts and givers.”
“Mrs. Grey, what are we going to do with all of this?”
I shrug. I have no idea. It seems a shame to waste. Maybe I could exchange the clothes for bigger sizes? But then I would spend weeks going to all those stores. “Let’s just bag them up for now, I’ll think of something.”
We work together to put each stack into large trash bags and then haul them to a storage closet off the foyer. Back in the family room, I make sure I saved the list and shoot off an email to Christian.
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: June 4, 2012 10:32 am
Subject: Ingratiating Offerings
You will be pleased to know I have emptied all the boxes that were building up. Please forward the attached spreadsheet to Andrea for her attention.
The contents of said boxes have now transferred to bags sorted by item type. Can you suggest a next step? Our child’s needs have already been exceedingly met. I could go exchange all the items at their respective stores?
Awaiting your wisdom,
PS: Please take 30 seconds to note the highlighted gifts on the spreadsheets. I admire those who know their target audience.
“Mrs. Grey?” I look up at Mrs. Taylor holding one last box…one that I had set aside. “We forgot one.” My inner goddess is smirking and I can feel the flush on my cheeks.
“Um no, that wasn’t part of this. I ordered that. It is part of Christian’s birthday present,” I know I must be beet red by now. “I’ll take it and put it away.”
I try to act naturally, but I practically grab the box from poor Gail and bolt upstairs. As I find a place in the back of my closet to stash it I note they were true to their words, plain brown packaging.
Returning downstairs, I blush again when I see Mrs. Taylor. I’m certain she notices, but she is far too professional to mention it. Fortunately she is focused making faces at Teddy, who has started to fuss for his next meal.
“Thanks for your assistance, Mrs. Taylor. Hopefully that’s the last of it. Unfortunately I have a strange feeling we’ll have at least another round of this.”
“Mrs. Grey, I hate to be the bearer of, uh, bad news. Your son is only three weeks old. I think you have three to five more months of deliveries coming.” My face falls and Mrs. Taylor is trying, and failing, not to laugh.
Perhaps I can just send the boxes straight to Andrea? Would that be an abuse of her position?
Teddy lets out a wail and garners my focus. “Mrs. Taylor, if any arrive, just put them aside again until we have enough for another opening party.” I extricate Teddy from the swing, “I’m just going to get this young man fed.”
“Alright, Mrs. Grey.”
I settle into the commodious armchair with my son. A moment later Mrs. Taylor returns, silently places a glass of water on the table next to me, and smiles at me before returning to the kitchen. I know she is following the control freak’s instructions and I have to admit, three are times I love Christian taking care of me. Indeed, I much more frequently feel the affection from it than aggravation. Small gestures that are like little hugs from my Fifty.
My blackberry buzzes. I’ve gotten a response from Christian.
To: Anastasia Grey
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 4, 2012 10:47 am
Subject: Ungrateful beneficiaries
Andrea will attend to the correspondence. Consider the three generous donations noted. I do appreciate proper research.
By all means, exchange the excess goods. Please visit dozens of retail establishments to get credits that we can spend in the years to come. Spend the rest of your maternity leave doing so, and be sure to drag Teddy with you. One condition, I will require appropriate video proof of you entering and exiting store after store after store. None who know you would believe you capable of this ;-) .
You do realize this would be akin to shopping? I thought you were allergic to shopping?
CEO and…husband of a shopaholic?, Grey Enterprise Holdings
CEO and…husband of a shopaholic?, Grey Enterprise Holdings
Sarcasm from Christian? Either he is feeling playful or is having a bad day. Hard to tell. At least he put in a winky-smiley.
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: June 4, 2012 10:50 am
Subject: Shop till I drop
I was awaiting wisdom, not wise-ass commentary ;-).
No, I do not relish the thought of going to all those stores. I just felt remorse squandering generosity and usable goods.
x Ana (Your loving, non-sarcastic, guilt-ridden, non-shopping wife)
His response is almost immediate.
To: Anastasia Grey
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 4, 2012 10:52 am
Subject: Guilt is a wasted emotion
Apologies for teasing/mocking you. Couldn’t resist.
Coping Together has a branch that supports women’s and family shelters for recovering addicts. They can see to the proper distribution of usable goods. I’ll arrange for the donation. Now everything will be put to good use and you may cease this guilt trip.
Reminding you, you are meeting with the attorneys at 2 pm. I put it on your calendar, but you did not acknowledge the appointment. Please let me know if this is not suitable.
Reformed sarcastic CEO, Grey Enterprise Holdings
Reformed sarcastic CEO, Grey Enterprise Holdings
I check the calendar on my blackberry, and there is indeed an appointment at 2 pm. Since I am not supposed to be checking my work email, I really haven’t been looking at calendar appointments either. I quickly accept the appointment.
The rest of the morning drifts by as I play with Teddy, shower, dress, and eat lunch. And then I’m on my way to the lawyers offices. I didn’t even bother to ask where it was, I just assumed, correctly, that Sawyer would know. I had struggled over what to wear. Sadly, the perfect pencil skirts don’t quite fit at the moment. I settled for a less fitted peach sheath dress with a matching short jacket and my peach cork platforms.
I’m lost in my thoughts in the back of the white Audi when my phone rings. I glance at the caller ID quickly.
“Hola Ana! How are you?”
“I’m good, how are you?”
“I’m great. Listen, Ray called about going down there this weekend. I just wanted to check if this is cool and all.”
“It is completely cool. Christian and I would love to see you,” a slight fib, “and of course, Teddy, too.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” at least I think I am.
“Great. Ana, would it be okay if we came a little early Friday? I’m trying to get some appointments at some galleries. If I do, I’ll drop Ray off, meet the gallery people, and I’ll be back around dinner.”
“José, do you think you might get a show in Seattle?” I am beaming with pride for my friend. This would be amazing.
“Well, I dunno. But I gotta try, right? It’s always worth a try?” Ooh, flash back to one of the last times José ventured a try at a long shot. “Anyway, I have resumés out to engineering firms, too. My Dad really wants me to use the degree. But I don’t know if engineering is me, you know?”
“I completely get it, José,” I say, emphasizing the completely.
For the remainder of this conversation I’m distracted by the conversation I’ll have with Christian later, when I find a way to let him know José will be visiting this weekend with my Dad. I’m hopeful someday Christian will put aside his apprehensions and accept José as a friend, at least as my friend if not his own. José and I hang up after firming the details for Friday.
The Audi pulls up to Two Union Square, one of the most prominent, and tall, buildings in the city. It is sleek, contemporary, and it towers over the city. Just the kind of architecturally beautiful but cold and sterile building I would hate to work in every day. Blakely Sokoloff Taylor & Zafman is on the fifty-third floor. They are known for their technology and patent practice, but also have litigation, family law, copyright, and criminal practices. Grey Enterprise Holdings is a significant account to them. Possibly more than significant.
Sawyer pulls right up to the building entrance and Ryan immediately hops out to open the door for me while Harry grabs Teddy’s car seat and exits behind me. It only now occurs to me that I should have made other arrangements for Teddy, but with nursing it is hard to be separated without pre-planning. I have less than two bottles accumulated from pumping Sunday morning and this morning, so I couldn’t be away for very long anyhow.
While Sawyer parks the car, we parade through the revolving doors and into the skyscraper lobby like a line of ants. Except we are not in a line, Ryan flanks my right and slightly ahead, Harry, carrying Teddy, flanks my left. My stomach is starting to churn with nerves. What will I find out today? What revelations await me? I’m mildly surprised as I realize I’m assuming there will be something revealed, something Christian wanted to hide. My private warrior is standing on alert, battle ready for whatever comes my way. Steeling myself, I take a deep breath and head for the bank of elevators with my entourage sandwiching me.
I stop in my tracks. I feel him, with the hairs on the back of my neck starting to prickle. I start looking to my left, to the right, turning around. Ryan and Harry, confused, attempt to follow my gaze. Then Christian, trailed by Taylor, is standing in front of me. He looks me over quickly, nods to the team, then takes my hand and leads me to a corner of the marble clad lobby.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, while cupping my face with his and running his thumb down my cheek. How does he always know? No preambles, no greetings. Just straight to the point Christian Grey.
“I’m just a little nervous,” not really a fib, just not the full truth. “I didn’t know you were coming,” that is the full truth. Do they need him here, or is he trying to filter the flow of information with his presence?
Christian’s eyes bore into mine, almost as if he were reading my mind, or at least reading my reactions. “Ana, there won’t be any grand revelations. You’ve heard all there is to hear. This will really be mundane legal stuff. There is no need to be anxious.”
Even a year later, it still startles me how he knows what I’m thinking, what I’m fearing. I take a deep breath and try to force a smile.
“Nice try,” Christian chuckles, alleviating the tension, “don’t worry, I will be there if you need me, or if you have questions for me,” I step forward and wrap my arms around Christian’s torso as he follows suit enveloping me in a hug. Stand down, private warrior, I think I’ve got this.
Reluctantly, I release Christian, we rejoin the support team. Sawyer has joined us and brought the stroller for the car seat. We take the next available elevator. Just as I’m turning to face forward I register Taylor and Sawyer waiving off two men in business suits who try to enter. I understand the security procedure, nevertheless I feel awkward and rude. One of the men catches my eye before the elevator door closes, I attempt looking apologetic.
The ride up is awkwardly silent. Christian and I are in the back of the car, shielded by the team. He holds my hand and absent mindedly strokes his thumb across my knuckles. Teddy yawns. The security crew are stone-like in both expression and demeanor.
The elevator doors part and we empty into the law offices. In stark contrast to the building architecture and the lobby, the law office reception area décor is strictly traditional. Queen Anne style chairs upholstered in burgundy fabric with a cream fleur-de-lis pattern and a coordinating Queen Anne love seat in a burgundy, cream, and navy stripe fabric. The walls have dark wood wainscoting below the chair rail, painted cream above. The receptionist sits behind a high dark wooden desk with a brass lamp. She appears in her mid fifties, has perfectly styled short blonde hair, and exudes a professional, or uptight, aura. Perfect for a legal office. Upon seeing us, she holds up one burnt orange manicured finger and presses a button on her phone. Speaking into the phone she announces “Sir, your two o’clock meeting is here.” She efficiently hangs up the phone, jumps out of her chair and circles around the reception desk. “Mr. and Mrs. Grey, welcome. Mr. Sokoloff will be out shortly. May I get something to drink for any member of your party?”
Christian looks to me and I shake my head, then he turns to the receptionist who is standing as if at attention, “I’ll have a cup of coffee and Mrs. Grey will have a glass of ice water.” I don’t know if it is a bad sign or a good sign that I don’t even bother to argue when Christian overrules me on something like this. On the one hand, I did not actually indicate I wanted water. On the other hand, I am probably lacking in my water intake, and my bossy husband knows me well enough to assume this. On the third hand, if you are even allowed a third hand, ordering me a glass of water against my will is hardly a thing to go to battle stations over. All the parenting magazines, which have started to arrive at the house in quantity, talk about picking your battles. Of course, Christian isn’t a child. Not physically, and not my child. Emotionally…I have to give him credit, he’s working on it.
A team appears in front of us. I’m quickly introduced to Barry Sokoloff, the partner in charge of the case. He is shorter than I am, maybe 5 feet 6 inches, wearing a very expensive custom suit, and is mostly bald save a salt and pepper U that stretches around his head from ear to ear. He has a commanding air that belies his stature. Mr. Sokoloff introduces three other attorneys on Christian’s team, a gray haired woman in her late fifties, an African-American woman who I would put at mid-thirties, and a younger man whom I’m guessing is the junior associate on the case.
Lastly, I’m introduced to Tina Barkes, who will be my attorney.
Before I can size her up, Mr. Sokoloff directs us, “Mr. Grey, there are a few items we need to discuss. We’ll take the main conference room just off of reception. Mrs. Grey, Ms. Barkes and you will be meeting down the hall.”
What gives? I thought Christian was going to stay with me, and it is clear by the expression on his face he thought so, too. His chin tilts up and his shoulders stiffen, as he is about to object, but then suddenly he reluctantly backs down. Then I get it. They want to speak to me separately, and Christian realizes this. He cannot object without raising some sort of concern.
“I’ll be right in that conference room if you need me,” Christian kisses me on the temple, squeezes my hand and smiles, but it isn’t one of his melting smiles that touch his eyes. Turning to Mr. Sokoloff, “Is there a room Mrs. Grey can use if she and our son need private time?”
“Certainly. We have several offices that are quite private that will do,” Mr. Sokoloff turns to the receptionist, “Please show Mrs. Grey’s associates to the office adjacent to the west conference room,” and then to me, “They’ll be next door to you, if that is acceptable.” I smile and nod. He reminds me of Christian. Restrained barking of orders, then asking for agreement as an afterthought. Just like Fifty.
Ms. Barkes steps forward, “If you’ll follow me Mrs. Grey.” I give Christian what I hope is a reassuring smile as I am led down a hallway, past several offices, administrative desks, cubicles, and finally into a conference room. I note Harry and Teddy have been led to an office the next door down. It is clear the receptionist expected Ryan and Sawyer to join Harry in there, but instead Ryan situates himself against the wall just outside the office, and Sawyer is positioning himself similarly outside the conference room I just entered. I wonder if she has ever seen clients that come with security.
Ms. Barkes gestures for me to take a seat, the receptionist places my water in front of me and closes the door. She places a binder in front of me. “I’ve prepared a brief for you, Mrs. Grey, with all the details of the case. What we know, our strategy, and our plans.” I nod in understanding. “I need to emphasize that these are confidential legal documents that should not be shared with anyone outside the case. Doing so would compromise our position.” Again, I nod. “You can take this with you, just don’t let anyone else read it.” Geez, lady, I got it. I am about to speak up and remind her that I have a degree, I edit manuscripts for a living, and can boast of having more than two brain cells to rub together.
“I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, Mrs. Grey. There have been incidents where our briefs were shared by people who should know better, even by attorneys who were plaintiff or defendant in the case,” she continues, confirming once again that my face gives away my thoughts way too readily. “I’d like to focus today on any questions you have and some deposition 101. Are there any questions you have before we start?”
Thinking through the information Christian has shared, I’m not sure the best things to ask. The facts are facts, but perhaps Ms. Barkes has some opinions. “Why was the settlement offer rejected? Were we low-balling the offer?”
“I don’t know with certainty why the offer was rejected. The offer wasn’t low. We followed the standard procedure of reducing our value of the suit by about twenty percent for the offer.” My first thought was why reduce the amount, but the answer immediately pops into my head: to leave room for negotiation.
“Do you have a theory why no counteroffer was made?”
“Again, Mrs. Grey, I do not know. I hesitate to give you conjecture.”
“Ms. Barkes, please be assured I will not mistake your hypothesis for fact. It would help me greatly if you would share your opinion.”
She hesitates for a moment, no doubt weighing the wisdom of spouting speculation versus forming a relationship with her client. Fortunately, the latter seems to win out. “It is possible the offer was declined and not countered because compensation is not the plaintiff’s key objective.”
“But if recompense for injuries isn’t the goal, what is?”
At this my attorney takes a deep breath and glances down at the table for a moment. “Again, this is all supposition on my part. Other objectives could be to inconvenience Mr. Grey with the trouble of handling the suit, to get attention from Mr. Grey, or to publicly expose him.”
Listed in order of bad to worse to oh shit. “How could the suit lead to exposure?”
“Right now, I’m sure the plaintiff’s attorneys are counseling against any publicity for the case, as the settlement amount would be greater if it has a gag order attached. But once we are headed for trial, it will be challenging to keep the case details out of the media.” Double oh shit. Ana, may I introduce you to nightmare root cause, nightmare root cause, this is Ana.
“Mrs. Grey, we aren’t there yet,” I must be terribly pale. “Remember, this is just my speculation. I don’t even know if the other attorneys share my theory.”
There is something about the way she said that. Her eyes glanced down and didn’t fully meet mine. Thank you, Christian Grey school of negotiation. The tidbits Christian imparts on how he does what he does are starting to prove valuable. I’ll have to remember to thank him. “Have you been very involved in the case to date?” An open, neutral question.
“No, I haven’t,” she hesitates for a moment, “Mrs. Grey, I want to say that if you have any issue with me or my performance I would appreciate openness in addressing it directly.”
Complete confusion. What does she mean? “I’m sorry, Ms. Barkes. Have I given any indication that you wouldn’t be satisfactory?”
“I thought you knew. Mr. Grey had me removed from the original case. Right in the very beginning. I’m still not clear the cause.”
My subconscious is standing over me scowling. Do not burst into laughter. Hold on. Poor Ms. Barkes. Poor, pretty, with brown shoulder length hair pulled back into a professional barrette at the nape of her neck Ms. Barkes. “Ms. Barkes, I’m sure it was nothing you did. I wouldn’t dwell on it.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Grey. But it did have me, and the partners, concerned.”
Oh. She’s worried about her career. “Ms. Barkes, just out of curiousity, did Mr. Grey request you to represent me?” She nodded, as I knew she would. Christian would try not to injure someone’s career over his personal comfort. “I would think he was anticipating the need for my own counsel. I believe he thought I would be comfortable with you. He wasn’t firing you, he was reserving you.” This resonates with the attorney, her eyes visibly lighten and she sits up just a bit straighter. “I’ll make sure he informs the partners of his scheme.” Good job, Mrs. Grey.
Ms. Barkes begins looking at some of the papers on the table in front of her and has resumed an unpleasant expression, as if she is about to swallow a difficult pill. I brace myself. She brings her eyes up to mine, takes a breath, “Mrs. Grey. Due to the nature of the accusations, I need…I want to ask you if you are in trouble.”
What? What sort of trouble? I am utterly perplexed. Financial trouble? Was the offer low because we overspent? That doesn’t seem feasible. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand your meaning.”
She takes another breath, “Mrs. Grey, I’m asking if you are being abused in any way. Physically or emotionally.” My eyes have opened wide at the implications. Do they think Christian beats me. My inner warrior shouts ‘He would never’! Well, never without my consent. Based on my shocked look, Ms. Barkes continues, “Mrs. Grey, we have resources that can assist you. You only need to say the word and I can have you and your baby out of this office in five minutes.”
All at once the puzzle pieces come together. Separating Christian and I. Putting me in a conference room away from him, where I’m guessing there is a back exit nearby. I’m wondering if I should be offended, but I’m not. I’m impressed, deeply impressed. This firm would risk the business of Christian Grey and Grey Enterprise Holdings if need be to do the right thing. Maybe it is the postpartum hormones, but I’m touched.
I smile warmly at the nervous attorney, “Ms. Barkes, I assure you that I am physically and emotionally in a very loving marriage. Though I appreciate and understand your concern, it is without cause.” I pause to make sure I express my gratitude appropriately, “I want you to know that the measures you and your associates have taken to ensure I am well are very positively noted.”
Ms. Barkes looks relieved and I can practically feel the tension leave the room. With her most difficult task out of the way, the efficient lawyer in her surfaces and we get down to the business of deposition training. At this time, there are only three scheduled. Christian, the plaintiff, then me. Christian will go first.
“May I accompany Christian to his deposition?”
Ms. Barkes smiles, “You may. Mr. Grey indicated that you would not be with him. Though I believe it will be better if you do attend.” I know it will be better for my husband and I, unified front and all. But why does Ms. Barkes think it will be better. “Having you present might make some of the topics, um, challenging for the plaintiff’s attorneys. Don’t get me wrong, they won’t omit anything. But their tone, stance, and aggression may be tempered by your presence.” Got it, make them squirm when they get to the really kinky stuff. I can do that. “If Mr. Grey agrees, then I’ll fill you in on strategies for you. To maximize the effect.” Ms. Barkes is good.
We spend the better part of an hour going over how to answer questions, how not to answer ambiguous questions. Yes and no are my friends. Make them be specific.
“Ok, Mrs. Grey, lets practice.” I square my shoulders and get ready. “Mrs. Grey, have you ever been to a club specializing in sadism and masochism, commonly referred to as an S and M club?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Ok, Mrs. Grey. You used three words. Stick to one. Never use any additional words. Remember, this isn’t about manners. You do not need to be polite and you certainly should not be conversational.” Wow, it is harder than I thought. “Let’s try again. Mrs. Grey, do you and your husband participate in activities related to bondage, dominance, sadism, or masochism?”
I think I’m sitting there with my mouth hanging open. Catching flies as my mom would say. Ms. Barkes puts her hand on mine. “That was a trick question, Mrs. Grey. It is way too broad and ambiguous. I would not want you to answer that.” It seemed pretty transparent to me, and I was on the verge of a simple ‘yes’. “Who is to say what is considered part of those activities?”
Ms. Barkes leans into me conspiratorially. “If I tell you last Valentine’s Day I let my boyfriend handcuff me to the bed, would you say I was into S&M?” Well, no, I wouldn’t. “If I tell you an ex-boyfriend and I once had sex in a car in the SEA-TAC parking structure, would you say I was an exhibitionist?” Again, I wouldn’t. And I get her point; an act doesn’t mean a generalized life choice. It is just an instance. “So, the opposing counsel would need to ask me if I ever had sex in a car, or ever used handcuffs, to get an affirmative response. They would need to be specific. Only answer to a specific act that you have or have not participated in, don’t answer generalized statements.”
I think I get this. “So, if they asked if I participate in bondage, do I make them specify binding what with what?” I flush at my own words, wondering what possessed me to ask such an explicit question. I wait to see if I’ve surprised Ms. Barkes at all with the details of the question.
“Exactly, Mrs. Grey. Make them specify an implement and body part.” Ms. Barkes smiles at me, “Mrs. Grey, listen. We would not be here if you and your husband were not…adventurous. The thing you need to work on is not getting embarrassed by the legal discussion of it. Just accept that you have a better sex life than most people out there, hold your head up, and remember, it is really nobody’s business. Do not tolerate any judgment.” An unexpected pep talk. Whether Christian really intended to reserve Ms. Barkes for me or not, I have to say I’m happy to have her.
I’m starting to feel a little top heavy. Thought no one has knocked yet, I know it is time to feed Teddy. Ms. Barkes and I make a second appointment, I take my binder, and she leads me to the office where Harry and Teddy are waiting. Harry has Teddy on her shoulder and is pacing the office with him. She smiles as she hands him over. Before I can sit down, Sawyer brings in a fresh glass of water, then I am left in privacy.
After Teddy and I get comfortable, I relax into the quiet time. I like this. Just Teddy and I, shutting out everything else. I guess nature designed it this way, promoting the connection. I’m a little worried that I may be holding Christian up, or that he might leave without me. I want to see him before we go, let him know I’m okay and things went well. I whisper to Teddy, “Not to rush you, little man, but if you could be quick about it we can see Daddy before we go home.”
In due time, about half an hour, Teddy and I are finished. I change him, get him buckled back into the car seat, stuff the binder in the stroller basket, and open the door to the team waiting for me. Sawyer immediately lets Taylor know I am ready to leave and we return to the reception area.
The legal team is awaiting me, lined up to say their goodbyes. It reminds me of a receiving line at a formal affair. Is there a term for a line to say goodbye? A leaving line? My subconscious reminds me that I’ve seen more receiving lines in the past 12 months than in the entire twenty-one years prior.
After shaking many hands, I finally reach Christian by the door. His eyes are probing me, looking to see if I am disturbed or distressed. I take his hand and smile, letting him know all is well. The elevator ride down is as silent as the one up, but without any of the foregoing tension. Ryan and Sawyer have gone ahead to gather the cars, and are waiting for us as we exit the skyscraper into an uncommonly sunny Seattle day.
Sawyer and Harry get Teddy settled in the car. I turn to say goodbye to Christian, but he preempts me, “I’ll ride home with you.” He wants to talk. More precisely, he wants me to talk.
We slide into the white SUV and Taylor takes the wheel, with Sawyer in the passenger seat. Ryan and Harry follow in the black car. Christian and I are separated by Teddy’s car seat, which is, of course, in the middle. Safest spot for him in the car. Christian reaches across Teddy and takes my hand. “So, Mrs. Grey, was it as bad as you anticipated.”
I shake my head and smile. It really wasn’t bad at all. Christian gives me a probing look, “So, what did my overpriced legal team tell you.”
I review the afternoon in my mind. “She said to hold my head up and not let anyone judge me.”
“Did she? A bit trite, but sound advice for the occasion. Anything else?”
“Yes and no are my friends.”
“Ah, yes. The value of brevity in testimony. I’m familiar with the drill.”
My subconscious is standing with her arms crossed and tapping her foot impatiently. Christian is a master of strategy, as such he recognized the tactic to separate us. He wants to know why. I take a deep breath. “She asked if our marriage was abusive.”
From the corner of my eye I see Sawyer flinch and Christian withdraws his hand. The temperature in the car has chilled measurably, but there is an angry heat resonating from Fifty. Barely contained rage is brewing. How to make him see the positive side of this?
“Christian, hear me out. This is actually very admirable.”
“Admirable! How can you say that? I provide significant income to every one of them, and they have the nerve to question whether I assault my wife!” No. No. No. His face is taught, his mouth in a grim line, and he is reaching in his pocket for his cell phone.
I practically leave my seat in reaching over Teddy to grasp Christian’s hand and stop him from dialing and firing the firm. “Christian, don’t you see, that is exactly the point. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose by questioning you. But due to the nature of the case, they felt they had to risk it all. They put MY welfare ahead of the financial well being of the firm and each and every individual there.” Christian’s grip on his phone has relaxed minutely.
“So you believe that by insulting us, the legal vultures back there actually displayed integrity?”
I nod. I think he sees the other side. “Uncommon integrity,” I answer.
I watch his expression as he mulls this over, balancing the perceived insult against the liability the firm assumed. Leaning back into the seat, his muscles relax, but his eyes are downcast. “I don’t like anyone thinking I could hurt you. Believing I’m capable of violence against my wife,” he mumbles.
“Christian, look at me,” he raises his eyes to mine. “I don’t believe they truly thought that. I think it was more of a…” I’m searching for the words, “moral obligation to be certain. Once I assured her there was nothing of the sort going on, Ms. Barkes immediately proceeded to the matter at hand. It was more…perfunctory than accusatory.” I don’t think it is necessary to inform Christian there was an actual escape plan.
Christian sighs, “Any other details of which I should be aware, Mrs. Grey.” He seems to be regaining his equilibrium.
“Ah, well, Ms. Barkes and her superiors are under the impression she was initially dismissed for some infraction.” Christian raises his eyebrows. “I told her you were squirreling her away to represent me.”
I’m on the receiving end of a genuine Christian Grey smile, “Good thinking Mrs. Grey. I’ll reinforce that notion when I next meet with them.” So, they aren’t fired. “Rest assured, Mrs. Grey, Blakely Sokoloff Taylor & Zafman are secure in their role as GEH counsel. For today.”
A thought occurs to me, “Christian, why don’t you use Carrick’s firm?”
“I do, generally, for personal items. Not this, of course. But for our personal real estate, Teddy’s trust, our wills. I think my business demeanor and family would not mix well.”
I can’t resist a smirk, and I’ll give him credit. He knows himself. As least this aspect of himself. “Fair point, Mr. Grey.”
Taylor is punching the code into the gate and I am reminded of something. “Sawyer, have the arrangements been made for my play date tomorrow.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’ve visited the park, found an ideal spot with suitable vantage points, and completed the background check on your companion.”
“Background check? But how?”
Sawyer hesitates for a second, “Ma’am, she texted you. Her phone number provided access to what we need.”
From her phone number they were able to do a complete background check? I should remember that going forward. Before I can finish my thought, Mr. Protection chimes in, “Have I been provided the background check?”
“No!” It came out of my mouth with such vehemence, I even surprised myself. Calming myself down, I continue, “Sawyer, is there anything in the background check that you find concerning.”
“Taylor, have you reviewed the material.”
Taylor glances in the rear view mirror, “Yes, Mrs. Grey.”
“Do you have any concerns?”
“No ma’am,” he says reluctantly.
“Christian, unless Sawyer and Taylor see a risk, there is no need for you to pry into MY friend’s private business.”
I’m on the receiving end of a Christian Grey glower, the happy moment is over. I’m certain he uses this to bring business associates to their knees without a word. ‘Don’t back down,’ my private warrior cheers.
“May I at least know her full name?”
I sigh. I’m familiar with this bargaining tactic. “No. And you will not sway me with Christian Grey maneuver four-oh-seven.”
Christian smirks at me, swinging his mood, “And what precisely is maneuver four-oh-seven?”
“Accept less than what you want as a start, then renegotiate for more after you get it. My very wise business mentor taught me that. Usually works like a charm.”
Christian is scowling again, but not seriously, “Mrs. Grey, I’m going to have to discuss this education your mentor is giving you. I’m not sure it is in our best interests.”
“You mean your best interests,” I tease him back. I don’t want to swing his mood again, but I need to be clear, “We agreed, Christian. Trust the vault,” I whisper that last part.
For a moment Christian looks confused. I guess I only thought of Taylor in terms of the vault in my head, not aloud. Christian mouths “The vault?” and I jerk my head towards Taylor.
He understands and turns to look out the window pensively, “Aren’t you the least bit curious, Ana?”
“Of course I am. And I’ll get answers to my questions the way normal people do. Through conversation, on our play date.”
Christian reaches across Teddy and strokes my cheek, “I’ll acquiesce, but under protest.”
I can’t help having an ear to ear grin. I won. I actually won. “Mr. Grey, your dissent is duly noted.” Then I add, “Thank you.” I wonder if he understands I am not thanking him specifically for trusting the vault or for abiding our deal per se. I’m thanking him for…well, for caring. Enough to want to put me in a glass bubble, and enough to know he must let me out.
We’ve arrived back at the house. Christian walks Teddy and I in, then kisses me goodbye in the foyer. “I have a few more hours at work, then I’m going to put Claude through his paces.” He lifts my chin up, “Make sure you eat a good dinner?” I nod obediently and he tucks a stray hair behind my ear. “And get to sleep early. You need to make up for the weekend. Plus you want to be fresh for your play date tomorrow.” He winks at me and gives me a last kiss goodbye.”
Teddy and I get comfortable on the family room floor. I quickly send Michelle a text to confirm our plans. Before I can put my blackberry down it buzzes.
To: Anastasia Grey
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 4, 2012 4:17 pm
Forgot to tell you. Representatives from Seattle Women’s Shelter will be by tomorrow to pick up the surfeit baby things. Please ensure Mrs. Taylor is informed.
I expect you to be deep in slumber when I return – I was quite serious about your sleep deficit. Please go to bed early. I will not wake you when I arrive home, but trust that I will kiss you goodnight.
CEO and vault truster Grey Enterprise Holdings
CEO and vault truster Grey Enterprise Holdings
I am reflecting on how sweet my husband is when my subconscious taps me on the shoulder. Ahem, forgetting something. Oh yeah. Crap. I start a quick email, but realizing that is a coward’s way out I dial Christian. He should still be in the car.
“Miss me already, baby?” He catches me off guard with such a warm response.
“Always. And I wanted to let you know Ray is coming this weekend. José is driving him and staying, too.” Silence. I count the seconds, and after ticking off ten full uncommunicative moments, I cave and explain, “Ray still shouldn’t drive, and he’s most comfortable with José.”
Christian remains mute for a few more moments, “Mrs. Grey, only to please you would I let a former competitor for your affections under our roof.” Whew. “Don’t fear, I will be ever the gracious host.”
I sigh with relief, “Thank you, Mr. Grey. And for the record, there was never and will never be a challenger for my affections. I am all yours.”
“So long as the gentleman knows that.”
“The glittering diamond and cherubic infant will tell the story. Thank you. I love you.”
“I love you, too baby. Eat. And sleep. These are not requests.”
Christian catches his breath slightly, “Enough of that, or I’ll turn this car around.” What a delicious threat. “But that would interfere with food and rest. Laters.”
Hmmm, I thought we weren’t doing that anymore. Elliot had gotten too smug about it. Oh well, “Laters.”