It’s eleven forty-five and I am arriving promptly for my lunch with Kate after a morning spent with delicious flashbacks of the eve prior. Stretching as I exit the car, I’m actually surprised I’m not achy or sore at all. Though I knew there were be little or no residual pink marks on my skin and certainly no bruises, I expected my arms and shoulders to be tender. Christian’s magical massage he gave me in the tub, along with a few Advil he pumped into me this morning, seems to have done the trick.
Harry is setting Teddy’s car seat into the stroller, so I glance at the restaurant. The outside patio adjacent to the sidewalk has all high round two-person tables with bar height chairs, the building itself is just a wall of windows bringing the outside in, and the awning has the name of the restaurant in a ‘we’re so trendy we use all lower case letters’ manner. “ocho.” Kate swore the food was great and the place was ‘in’. I have to laugh. If it wasn’t for Kate through college and Kate and Mia today my sense of style, in clothes, food, well, everything, would still be in 2007.
On cue, Kate comes bounding up the sidewalk dressed in a black pencil skirt, a cap sleeved red knit top, black wedge sandals about four inches high, and carrying a blue gift bag with a picture of a teddy bear on it. She looks perfectly together and beautiful. Beautiful, blonde, confident. As always. The two waiters who were setting tables for the lunch rush both look up at her. I’m wearing my new mauve and peach skirt again with my peach cork shoes. Passable, but not sophisticated.
Kate engulfs me in a tight hug, “Hey, Steele! This was an awesome idea.” She releases me and is instantly out of the gate, “You’re going to love the tapas here! Elliott and I considered having the restaurant cater the rehearsal dinner before we decided to keep everything at the hotel, you know, for convenience sake. Hey, I thought we could eat outside, you game?”
Sawyer doesn’t even try to hide his grimace. Outside, exposed patio practically on the sidewalk, lots of lunch foot traffic. Thinking quickly, “Actually, it might be hard for me to easily reach Teddy in his stroller if we are up on high chairs. Besides, Kate, you’re wearing a short pencil skirt.” She looks perplexed. “Ugh, Kate. Pencil skirt, bar stool, out in the open. Think about it.” After a moment, I can tell she hasn’t pieced it together. “Kate, you won’t be comfortable, your skirt will ride up, and you’ll spend most of lunch either tugging it down or trying to strategically cross your legs.” I mean, if Elliott were here and she were trying to seduce him…before I know it I have a flashback to Christian and I at the bar at the club and the same scenario.
Except I was six months pregnant. And after thirty minutes I just couldn’t pull it off anymore, and I couldn’t tell if Christian was turned on or on the verge of laughing. It had seemed like such a good idea when I was getting dressed, but the hormones must have taken over my brain. Yeah, right. Seduce my husband publicly when I’m practically waddling in my heels. I finally just gave up and blurted out, “Oh for God’s sake, will you just take me home and fuck me!” Christian’s eyes went wide for a moment before he cracked up, and glanced at the bartender who had obviously overheard.
“I should torment you more, Mrs. Grey, and I should make you eat some dinner. But upon the advice of many, I’ll accede to your demands.”
“What advice? Who is many?”
He leans towards me. “Do what the pregnant lady wants, and no one gets hurt,” he whispers in my ear. Damned straight. “And I must morally protect my sources or risk multiple marriages.”
Kate has been glancing down at her skirt, “You’re right, Steele. Always the pragmatic one. Inside it is, but let’s sit near the windows.” Sawyer won’t love that, but it’s an improvement.
We stroll inside and Kate immediately instructs the hostess to the precise table she wishes. Harry takes a seat at the bar and Sawyer stations himself outside the door. Kate has the hostess move another table away so we have room for the stroller. This is one of those times I envy her commanding presence.
As we take our seats, Kate hands me the gift bag, “A little something for my nephew.” She winks as she says it. The bag is stuffed full of tissue paper, concealing the contents.
“You’re going to spoil him,” I admonish as I put the bag under the stroller. I glance at the menu, “So, what is good here?”
“Ooh, let me order for us.”
I’m game, and I tell her. When the waitress returns we each order an iced tea, then Kate appears to order a selection of dishes from the menu plus a few of the specials.
“I don’t think I’ve eaten tapas before,” I share.
“It’s just small dishes, usually Spanish or Mediterranean,” she says knowledgably. “The advantage is if you don’t care for something you just move on to the next thing. But you have to promise to at least try everything...promise?” I nod.
“Good, now I can cut to the chase.” Uh oh. My subconscious just hid behind my first edition Hardy’s. “What was the deal Saturday night? How bad is it? Are you and Christian in a fight? Spill now.”
“I told you. It’s just a lawsuit and I have to give a deposition. I’ll have to meet with lawyers and stuff. It’s just a nuisance,” I bluff. But Kate knows me all too well. She rolls her eyes, sighs, then goes into full on journalist mode.
“Ana, we can go around in circles, but I will not leave today until I know. Is the suit against the company or against Christian personally?”
I look down at the table, “it’s personal.” Even though I already told Kate this much, I’m struggling to talk to her in person. The waitress returns to the table with our beverages just then, giving me a blessed moment to regain my composure. Deep breath in and out. Raise your eyes back up. This is your best friend, Steele. You can do this.
The waitress retreats, and Kate advances, “So, are you going to make me pry this out of you?”
I shake my head. “A woman Christian was sexually involved with is suing him.”
Kate’s eyes go wide and I can practically see the wheels spinning in her head as she processes the information.
“Croquetas Borrachas,” the waitress announces placing a plate of goat cheese with roasted peppers on the table along with a basket of breads.
Kate silently reaches for a piece of a baguette, and smears a dollop of the cheese and peppers on it. She gestures for me to take some. I select a wedge of pita and mimic her actions. She wants time to formulate her next question.
I take a bite and set the pita down on the small plate in front of me. “Is there a child?” she whispers.
“A what? No!” But then I take a moment to consider it. Christian was militant about birth control, but then look at me. No. He would not have hidden this. I know it in my heart and soul. Christian would never brush off a child. Not with his history. I am decided and without doubt on this.
Kate takes a bite, pondering her next question. She knows me well, too well, and knows if she steps over a line my answers will cease. However, I have been working on being more open and keeping less in. Mostly with Christian, but with others, too. I have a habit of keeping people at bay. At least Flynn thinks so. “Does she want palimony?”
Do they even have that in Washington? “No. It wasn’t a long term thing.”
“Was she a sub?”
“Sort of.” There is no way to stop her now, Kate is on a roll.
“Sort of how?”
I take a bite of my pita. This would probably taste good if I didn’t have a lump in my throat over this discussion. Kate is studying me and waiting for my answer.
“Ensalata con Trucha,” the waitress deposits a dish with fish sitting on a bed of romaine lettuce, topped with two exceptionally small poached eggs. She is awfully perky, bordering on irritating. But her timing is impeccable. She stays for a moment to refill our iced tea. I look over at the fish wondering if it is sufficient distraction. I’m not sure what type of fish it is, and I wonder where they found an egg so small.
“First of all, it is a quail egg and the fish is trout.” So much for verbalizing my questions. “Second, are you going to answer me?” Nope. Not sufficient enough to distract.
“Christian had an,” I wave my hand in the air as I search for the word. Tryst? Hookup? “encounter with her at an S&M club.” Kate’s eyes could not get any wider. I try for nonchalant as I scoop up bit of the trout dish onto my plate and taste a forkful. It’s good, and gives me something to focus on as Kate gapes at me. Aiming for casual as the silence stretches, I take another forkful, stabbing the quail egg this time so it oozes over the salad.
Kate’s expression has relaxed minutely and she helps herself to some of the trout. This is a standoff, or a test. I don’t know if it means I win or lose, pass or fail, but I break first. “I should have said alleged encounter. Christian doesn’t remember her, per se.”
Kate freezes with her fork in her mouth. As she recovers, she slowly chews her trout salad. “Is that something he did a lot? Hook up with random women at clubs?”
I just shrug. What am I supposed to say? “I don’t ask too much. I don’t like to think about it. It was years ago. BA. Before Ana.”
“Jamon Serrano.” We both jump. Our focus on the topic was such that we didn’t even see perky waitress approach with the ham and chorizo sausage dish. Then we look at each other. And giggle.
“Oh, Ana. How are you handling this so well?” Kate shakes her head in disbelief. “I seethe with jealousy when I stumble upon an ex of Elliott’s. Which you can imagine is not an infrequent occurrence in and around this city.” I nod at her, and feel a little bad for her. I imagine that our architect being one of Elliott’s conquests is not an anomaly in the Greys’ circle. My subconscious smirks at me…you feel bad for her? Who has to give a deposition? Fair point to my subconscious, I don’t have any call to pity someone else on this score.
We both help ourselves to some of the ham, and I spread more goat cheese on another pita. “Ana, really, how do you keep calm with this?”
“I wasn’t calm on Saturday, but predominantly due to being caught unawares.” Do I tell her I have been seeing Flynn? I don’t even classify myself as in therapy, it just helps to talk to someone. Though I surmise that is what therapy is about. “I guess I just compartmentalize. I endeavor not to make Christian account for actions taken prior to meeting me. It wouldn’t be just to force him to answer for things he cannot change. Do you vilify Elliott for past, um, experiences?”
We pause as we see Miss Perky coming this time. “Gambos al Ajillo.” She lays a plate of grilled shrimp on the table, and refills our teas again.
Kate smiles, the first real smile since we sat down. “I try not to. BK. Before Kate.” She serves herself some shrimp. “You should call Grace. She’s terribly worried.” I look at her puzzled. “Come on, Ana. They know you were served papers and you know them. They don’t want to intervene, but they worry so much about Christian.” They do worry about him, but not necessarily more than Elliott or Mia. Differently, but not more. “You do realize what their biggest fear is?”
I scowl at her, perplexed and unsure what she is getting at.
“Ana, the Grey’s are constantly petrified of something happening between you and Christian. Chiefly of him doing something asinine and driving you away.” Do they really fret over Christian and me? Do they think our marriage is that fragile? “They spent twenty-four years inducing him to trust and relate to others, then he meets you and is somehow ‘fixed.’” She uses annoying air quotes to make her point. “They know you guys are in a good place, but somehow you two are magnets for drama. Just do me a favor and call Grace. You know she won’t call you. Doesn’t want to be a meddling mother in law.”
Kate is right. With everything on my plate, I hadn’t realized it had been four days since we saw Christian’s parents. And longer since they saw Teddy. Poor Grace must be beside herself. I promise myself to call her on the way home.
With the lawsuit out in the open, at least with Kate, I tell her all about the visit with the attorneys, my coaching on answering questions. Even the offer to squire Teddy and me away from Christian.
“Did you tell him about that?” I nod. “And he didn’t go ballistic? Seriously? Ana, I don’t know how, but I think you are taming that man.”
I smile and shake my head, “Trust me. Christian is no more tractable than the day I met him.” And certainly not ‘fixed’. “I’ve just acclimated to his, you know, quirks. Navigate around the portentous zones.”
Kate is shaking her head and laughing at me, though unfortunately she had just taken a bite of food. While holding one hand over her mouth, she holds up one finger. After a minute, she swallows, “Steele, really! You and your vocabulary! You can be so sesquipedalian!”
“Aha! I got you!” A fresh round of giggles overtakes her. “I’ve been saving that word for you and Christian. For once I have the privilege of stumping you.”
“I’ll admit you have me. Now what does it mean?”
“No, no, no. Go look it up!”
“Seriously.” Her laughter subsided; Kate excuses herself to use the ladies room. Teddy is sound asleep in the stroller, so I check my email. As expected, I missed one from Christian.
To: Anastasia Grey
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 6, 2012 12:05 pm
Subject: Bachelor party
Hope you have a lovely lunch with Kate. I am attempting to plan Elliott’s bachelor party, though I find the notion redundant with his exploits of the decade past. To keep things simple (just Elliott’s speed) I will likely fly Elliott and his sophomoric friends to Las Vegas.
Could you check if Kate has any concerns? Any boundaries? My mother would annihilate the cause of bridal distress.
CEO Grey Enterprise Holdings who is daydreaming of last night.
CEO Grey Enterprise Holdings who is daydreaming of last night.
I smile thinking I’m daydreaming, too.
“My, my, what is that grin for?” Kate has returned.
“Just an email from Christian.”
“You smile like that for just an email? Must be some email.”
I think I smile at almost every email from him. And every phone call. “Kate, he’s planning the bachelor party. He wants to know if you are okay with Vegas and if there are any boundaries he should enforce.”
“Vegas is fine, and I definitely have boundaries.” Of course, Kate has thought this through. I listen as she ticks off her mental list. “Dancers are fine, but no strippers and no lap dances.” Okey dokey. “As long as they’re in Vegas, I won’t have to worry about them returning him to me drunk and sick, but make sure Christian knows that Elliott better be sober when he comes home. He can be hung over, though.” Uh huh. “And most importantly, no pictures. It is one thing to know what happened, but another to see it. I don’t want to see it.”
She has really thought this through. I start to reply and am almost finished. “Spell sesqui – whatever.”
Kate beams with her lexicon victory. And spells the word.
To: Christian Grey
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: June 6, 2012 12:51 pm
Subject: Bachelor party – hard limits
Kate is fine with Vegas. Here are her limits:
1. Make sure Elliott is sober before conveying him back to Kate. Hangovers permitted.
2. Dancers ok, strippers and lap dances are precluded
3. No photographic evidence. Visual of the shenanigans may cause bridal distress. You are warned.
xo fantasizing about last night Ana
PS – am I sesquipedalian?
“So, what are we doing for the bachelorette party?”
“Kate, I’m giving you a choice. I can plan it, or I can turn it over to Mia, who I’m sure has some interesting ideas.”
Kate pretends to mull it over as she spreads the last of the goat cheese on a hunk of bread, and I finish the trout salad. “Steele, I love you. Let Mia plan it.”
Smirking at her, “You know it is a win-win-win. I’m lousy at these things, you’ll like whatever adventure Mia cooks up better, and Mia is dying to do this.”
“That’s just because you and Christian didn’t let us throw you one.” Yeah, I remember that fight. Fight with Kate. I had no desire to go to some male strip show. Though I acted like I didn’t want it because it would upset Christian, I knew I was using him as an excuse. But there would be no getting out of it now as I’m certain Mia has some sort of male revue on the itinerary.
“I think that no photo rule should apply to the bachelorette party, too.”
“Definitely,” Kate agrees. “By the way, have you scheduled your fittings?”
“I was trying to wait until the last minute. To see if any of the baby weight miraculously disappeared.” Kate rolls her eyes at me.
“You barely look like you had a baby.” Kate cuts the last piece of shrimp in half for us to share. “I hear we’re going to the Mariners Saturday?”
“Are you coming, too?”
“Yeah. Us, Mia, Ethan. By the way, nice to hear through Elliott that José is coming down.”
“Sorry. It was just...”
“Kidding, Steele. It’ll be fun. Grace and Carrick had plans, but we’ll have fun. It’ll be nice to see Ray.”
We ramble on about wedding stuff. Something with the florist over the dahlia’s being small this year. Paying extra for real pacific salmon, not farmed. Some social overlaps and clashes between Grace’s circle and Kate’s mother’s friends causing seating plan issues. Before we know it, Kate’s one hour lunch has stretched to two, Teddy is waking, and it is time to part ways.
We split the bill. Though Christian would never let any member of his family pick up a check, I’ve conceded this battle with Kate. Though neither one of us ever cared about money, I rarely let her pick up tabs for me in college and we’d both just as soon keep our status quo.
As we stand to make our way out of the restaurant, Kate takes the wheel of the stroller, so to speak, as the handles were closer to her. “Let me. Who knows, maybe in a year or two this little guy will have a cousin and I’ll be borrowing all your equipment,” she says with a wink. I lead the way through the now crowded restaurant, asking people as sweetly as I can to move their chairs so Kate can navigate past. She is doing quite well; as we exit to the sidewalk I smile at the sight of my best friend and my son.
“Oh my, look at this handsome fellow here.” I turn to see the person with the voice. Fucking bitch! “Well hello, Theodore.” Before I can move or block her, the most nauseating thing I can imagine happens. Elena Lincoln, established pedophile, leans down and tickles my son. No! My private warrior is awake and struggling for words. Even Kate, outspoken Kate, is at a loss.
My mind, mouth, and body are frozen as horror fills me. The one person I truly loathe straightens up and gestures at my left hand. “Your collar is lovely, Anastasia.” My what? Oh, hell, no!
I square my shoulders to let fly a barrage of every insult I can think of, but before I do my private warrior whispers in my ear.
I utter one word. “Sawyer.”
And that is all it takes. In the blink of an eye, Sawyer and Harry have come between us and backed Elena up against the building. They are not truly touching her, just using the presence of their bodies to make her move.
“Mrs. Grey, I have the car here,” Ryan has approached, taken the stroller from Kate, and is leading us to the car. “Miss Kavanaugh, allow us to drop you back at your office. Kate nods, and Ryan pops the car seat off the stroller and secures Teddy. Kate and I follow into the car and I will myself not to look back. A moment later, Harry climbs into the back, Sawyer is in the passenger seat, and we are underway.
“Bitch troll,” Kate mutters and smiles at me. She knows my nickname for Elena Lincoln. “You handled that phenomenally.” Kate reaches across Teddy to squeeze my hand. I’m shaking, and angry, and angry that I’m shaking.
A moment later we pull up outside Kate’s office. “Are you okay?”
“I will be. Don’t worry,” I reassure her.
“Her face was priceless when you didn’t respond. She doesn’t deserve the time of day from you,” I nod in ascension. Stretching over Teddy, Kate gives me a hug before bounding out of the car.
I let out a deep sigh. I want to get Teddy home and scrub that woman off him. Even though she only touched his belly through his outfit, I want to rid him of any trace of her presence.
“Mrs. Grey,” my thoughts are interrupted. “The proscribed visitor breach, I need to report that.” Sawyer sounds like he is asking permission, but I know that is not accurately the case.
“Of course,” is all I say. And then I grab my blackberry from my purse to head this off at the pass.
To: Christian Grey
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: June 6, 2012 2:17 pm
Subject: unexpected run ins
Just to let you know, I am fine. Ran into old news outside the restaurant. Sawyer handled it. Teddy and I are on our way home.
I can hear Sawyer on the phone, presumably speaking with Taylor, but I block it out as we leave downtown. Teddy is completely unfazed, by the incident, as he should be. Staring out the window I realize the biggest victory over the bitch would be to not let her ruin my day. Closing my eyes I breathe deeply, and will myself to let it go. I had a lovely two-hour lunch with a wonderful friend, and a sixty second conversation with a blot on humanity. I will not let this eat me up. I. Will. Not. Let. Her. Win.
By the time we pull past our gate, my mantra is starting to work. There are no new messages on my blackberry, so either Taylor didn’t get to Christian yet, or my email assuaged his worry.
Upon entering the house, I take Teddy immediately to the nursery, leaving the stroller for the team. Resisting the urge to scour the memory of her off my son, I settle for changing his outfit. Stripped out of the blue footed outfit covered in bears and his onesie, I change Teddy’s diaper and put a fresh onesie on. I am tempted to throw the outfit in the trash, but toss it in the hamper. See, I am rational.
Sitting to nurse, I know this will relax me. I close my eyes and let the endorphins take over. The tension leaves my body slowly. I wipe my mind clean and do not allow myself to think of the incident. I focus only on the infant in my arms. After twenty minutes, I shift Teddy and close my eyes again.
Hearing footsteps enter the room doesn’t disturb me. Mrs. Taylor bringing water, I presume. I don’t even open my eyes.
The minutes pass as Teddy contentedly feeds. This is better than any form of meditation. I feel relaxed, purposeful, and focused. A little voice in my head reminds me that I should be drinking. But I never heard Mrs. Taylor put the glass down. Perplexed, I open my eyes and meet gray ones boring down at me.
“Christian, when? How?,” I stammer. Trying again, I regain my thought process, “I’m fine, baby. You didn’t need to come home.”
“You’re fine?” he seems unable to grasp the concept as he runs his hand through his hair.
“Yes, I am decidedly fine. I sent you an email.”
“That you did. But fine does not always mean fine. I,” he pauses to work out his phrasing. “I was worried.” Kneeling down he leans on my knees. “What happened?” His eyes are searching mine, full of concern. It is an odd sight. Christian dressed in a custom made slate suit, blue shirt with monogrammed cuff, and Italian tie squatting in front of me and looking up. The power juxtaposition makes my inner goddess grin.
“We bumped into her outside the restaurant, she tickled Teddy, made an inappropriate comment, then Sawyer handled her, and Kate and I left. That’s it. Sixty seconds, tops.”
Christian takes a breath and absorbs what I said. He looks me up and down, then runs his finger along Teddy’s arm. “And you are really fine?”
I don’t answer immediately, because I know he won’t believe me if I don’t give it thought.
“Yes, I really am. I have also suppressed the urge to bathe Teddy to remove an entire layer of skin to rid him of her. However, I have given one concession to my irrational side.” Christian cocks his head to the side, waiting. “I needed to change Teddy’s outfit. She touched it. I did refrain from throwing it away, though.”
Smirking at me, he responds, “No bonfire for the tainted outfit in the backyard?” I shake my head, grinning because of course I know how ridiculous it is.
Teddy is finished. Christian reaches his hands out asking to take him. I hand Teddy over to his father. “I’ll find another ensemble for him. Well, young sir, what shall you wear?” Christian takes Teddy over to the dresser.
I leave them to it and head to the master suite. The continuous iced tea refills from perky waitress must be attended. When I’m done with the necessities, I check myself in the mirror. I don’t look like I just had a run in with my husband’s ex-whatever. I actually look…fine. Way to go, Grey.
As I exit the bathroom, Christian is waiting for me with Teddy in his arms. I see the outfit and immediately frown, “where did that come from?” It came out sharper than I intended. I hadn’t seen this outfit before, and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it. It is a simple yellow outfit with a duck on Teddy’s belly and ducky feet.
Christian frowns at me, unsure of my reaction. “It’s from the girls at work. I brought it home last week. Mrs. Taylor laundered it and put it away.” He looks down at Teddy to see what is wrong, then presses the duck on Teddy’s belly and it ‘quacks’. “Don’t you like it?”
I shrug. “It’s cute and all. Duckies just aren’t my thing,” I say dispassionately. At least that was my goal.
Christian just shakes his head, “No duckies, then?”
What do I say that doesn’t make me sound nuts? Thank goodness for all the bear stuff, the ducks were minimal. And they’re gone. “No ducks.”
My husband has the same look he would get when I was tremendously pregnant and insisting upon something he thought uncritical. Like insisting we needed to pick a diaper brand and have it on hand ahead of time. Of course I knew someone could do it for us later, but I wanted to do it then. For some reason.
“Well, Mrs. Grey, I will leave you to attire our son. I have some conference calls and other work. I’ll be in my study.” He hands Teddy over to me and brushes my cheek, “Are you really okay?” I nod and smile. Christian isn’t sure he’s satisfied, but he leaves it be. “By the way, Taylor left a thumb drive with the revised protocols on your desk. Have at it, madame editor,” with a wink he strides away.
“Teddy, let’s get you in something decent.” I take him back to the nursery and find a purple with royal blue polka dots outfit for him. Then I lay him down for a well-deserved nap.
I fetch the monitor receiver from our bedroom. Making my way downstairs and across the house, Christian’s office door is slightly ajar. He is his usual commanding self, barking orders to whomever is on the phone with him. Master of the universe, as always.
Cutting through the library to my office, I see the aforementioned drive on my desk, next to the thick binder from the attorneys. I decide to work with the protocol first, so I pop the drive into the USB on my MacBook and have a seat. The document is every bit the disaster it was previously. I cannot believe Christian let this pass his inspection. I set to work organizing, rephrasing, removing redundancy.
I miss this. Editing. Christian has been good the past three weeks, never once mentioning staying home. I know he wants to offer it again. I know he thinks he should. I know he thinks that I choose to work so that in some fashion I earn my way.
But the reality is I love my job. Not just the reading, my favorite pastime. But taking the raw material of a book and shaping it, molding it, until ready for publication. Helping to make something that might inspire thought, change opinions, entertain. Bringing words to life so someone may get lost in them, the way I do. I love my job. I think I’m good at it.
I’m elbow deep refurbishing Taylor’s work that I don’t notice Mrs. Taylor enter.
“Pardon me, Mrs. Grey. This was in the stroller. Should I put it with the other gifts?”
She’s holding the gift bag from Kate. “Um, no, I’ll take it,” I practically snatch it from her hands. I pray I don’t look guilty.
“Very well. Since Mr. Grey is home, is dinner around six-thirty okay?”
“That will be perfect.”
“Is there anything special you want?”
“No, anything is fine. Thank you.” I watch Mrs. Taylor walk out of the room. Once I’m sure she’s down the hall, I look in the blue gift bag and remove the tissue paper. And there, underneath, are three manuscripts my assistant, Hannah, gave to Kate.
I take them out and glance at the titles. I thumb through the pages. Ahhh, books. I feel a twinge of remorse at sneaking them into the house. My subconscious is looking down her snooty nose at me and shaking her head, but I ignore her. Reading soothes me, and it would upset Christian to know I was working, even just a little. Or so I tell myself.
Checking the bottom of the bag, I find a thumb drive with the soft copies. I stow the drive and the printouts in my desk drawer for another time, and continue editing the security protocol. Once again engrossed in my work, I don’t look up until Teddy’s cry comes over the monitor. It was a good two hours work. Another good session and I’ll have it done.
With a bit of a spring in my step, I briskly move across the house and bound up the stairs. Entering the nursery, Teddy seems a bit put out that it took longer than the usual thirty seconds to get to him. “Now Teddy, Mommy only took two minutes. Rest assured that if I let you cry longer than that someone else would come. It’s probably in the protocol.” I make a mental note to check the protocols for Teddy related material.
A quick diaper change later, and Teddy and I are once again relaxed in the oversized glider.
Damn it. This would be a good time to call Grace, but I didn’t bring my cell phone. I left it in my purse. “Teddy, remind me to call Grandma later.”
Later, Teddy and I spend the remains of the afternoon in the family room. We even get to three full minutes of tummy time, on the boppy.
“Mrs. Grey, dinner in ten minutes?” Mrs. Taylor is standing on the threshold of the family room.
“Sounds perfect. Did you let Mr. Grey know?”
“I will right now.”
“No, let me,” I smile at Gail.
Gathering up Teddy, I’m treated to the wonderful aroma of dinner as I pass the kitchen. Some butter, some rosemary. My appetite is present in full force. My private warrior holds her fist in the air in victory. I win. Bitch didn’t even make me lose my appetite for a single meal.
Outside Christian’s study, I hear him on the phone. I tap lightly on the door, and step inside. He has his cell phone in hand and the desk phone on speaker and is barking orders to someone.
“Do not execute the intent contracts without a full four weeks for due diligence in the terms. If they threaten to back out, we’ll buy their competition. Got it?” The person on the other side of the conversation agrees. “Good.” And Christian hangs up. No goodbye. Then he resumes his cell phone conversation, “Ros, the Vietnamese chip manufacturer deal may not happen. They are trying to cut short due diligence. They must be concealing something. Get Welch’s team to try to get something from the Vietnamese government. Maybe there are safety or quality violations. If we can’t figure it out, we’ll drop them and go plan B. Good.” And he hangs up again. He doesn’t look at all frustrated by the exchange; he doesn’t run his hands through his hair. He looks….energized.
Raising his eyes from his desk, Christian breaks into one of his heart warming smiles. I smile back, “Mr. Grey, I am here to inform you dinner is ready to be served.” He rises from his chair and strolls around the desk. Enveloping Teddy and I together in a hug, his lips meet mine briefly.
“Though I have a general policy against full time work from home, I am beginning to see the benefit. I may need to reconsider my stance on the topic.” Releasing me, he takes my hand and leads me to the dining room, where dinner has been set for the night. Someone has thoughtfully brought the swing next to the table, so I buckle Teddy in and take my seat, where a rather large glass of water has been set. Larger than our standard service. Once again, Christian sits at the head of the expansive table, where a glass of sancerre awaits him. He doesn’t mention the water, but we both know it means I didn’t drink enough today.
Mrs. Taylor sets our salads in front of us. Spinach salad with citrus vinaigrette. Christian takes my left hand in his right as we eat, forcing him to eat left handed. I shouldn’t be surprised at my husband’s dexterity, but I still smile and shake my head.
“What?” he asks.
“You,” I answer. He still looks confused. “Is there nothing you can’t do?” I nod at the fork in his left hand.
“Okay, there is one thing you can’t do. Anything else?”
Christian is pensive for a moment. “Laundry.” I laugh. That is what he came up with, laundry. “I am quite serious. In college all my whites turned gray and the reds ran all over. I can fold, however.”
“Aside from domestic skills. Any sports you cannot play? Games you don’t win at?”
With a doting smile Christian replies, “Ana, I am far too competitive to allow insufficient skills at most games or sports. Video games excepted. Which I have no patience to master. Athletically, I never cared for basketball. Too physical. I would never attempt wrestling, for obvious reasons.” I nod. Contact sports are understandably out. Except for one, my inner goddess winks at me.
Mrs. Taylor clears our salad plates and brings the main course. “Thank you, Mrs. Taylor, it looks delicious,” I look down at the scallops in beurre blanc sauce, with cous cous and sugar snap peas. “So, cooking, laundry, video games. Those are your weak spots?” Christian nods slowly, certainly wondering what I am getting at. “Aside from kickboxing, running, and fishing…any other favorite sports?”
Taking a moment to chew and swallow, “Baseball, but I enjoy it more as an observer than participant. Skiing, of course.”
Aha. Christian eyes me as I’m smiling. “Since you enjoy it, then you’ll teach me so we can enjoy it together. Skiing.”
Christian chokes on his cous cous and releases my hand to regain his composure. Once the choking coughs subside, he reaches past his wine glass for my water and takes a drink. After replacing the water on the table, he takes a few deep breaths. “Ana, I really don’t think skiing and you is an advisable combination.”
“Ana, think about it. The day I met you, you tripped over your own two feet. You have complained about falling off high heels. Do you honestly believe skiing is a prudent pastime for you?”
“Yes, I do, thank you very much. If five year olds can do it, so can I,” I say the words, but I don’t truly feel the conviction of them. But I’m going to hold my ground. “You are going to take me skiing, Christian Unreasonable Trevelyan-Grey.” I nod to emphasize my point, and turn my attention to my scallops. Which are delicious and buttery and melt in my mouth.
Christian eyes me up and down several times. “What are you doing?”
“I am trying to memorize what you look like in one piece. I made need to fall back on the recollection someday.” I roll my eyes and feign offense. “I will find a safe sport for you. Let’s see, bowling? No, you might cast yourself down the alley. Badminton? Hmm, it is played on lawn. You could trip on a mole hill.”
Christian continues to catalog preposterous suggestions through our meal. “Curling? No, that’s on ice. Needlepoint?”
“Christian! That isn’t even a sport!”
“True enough. Plus there are sharp needles. I know better than to put a weapon in your hands, so archery is out. Golf? You could get sunburn.”
Mrs. Taylor walks in to clear our places and finds me nearly doubled over in stitches. Christian doesn’t even miss a beat, “Geocaching? I don’t think you would be that adept with GPS software. Biking? Too hazardous on the road, and mountain bikes are a definitive no.”
“Christian, I can ride a bike!”
Mrs. Taylor lays a plate of cut melon in front of each of us.
“I have got it,” Christian declares. “Mall walking. Just the sport for you. Indoors, readily available first aide, even terrain. Yes, that’s it. Mall walking.”
“Mall walking?” I can’t believe my ears. “Walking in circles with the old ladies in the mall? That’s what you think I would be good at?”
“You can do it in any weather, run a few errands while you are at it. Yes, mall walking. It is ideal.”
“Christian, I think skiing sounds better. And more fun.”
“Better than mall walking? More fun than mall walking?”
“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll mall walk if you do it with me.”
Christian pauses with a forkful of honeydew just at his delicious lips. “Hmmm. Perhaps I have not fully considered all the possibilities.”
We sit for a few minutes eating our dessert, and I brace myself for the next outlandish suggestion. As we finish, he takes my hand again. “Very well, Mrs. Grey. Skiing it is.”
“Absolutely,” he leans forward and whispers with a wink, “now I just need to get you pregnant again before winter.”
“Christian!” Argh. That man.
Christian stands, still chuckling. “I have a bit more work to do tonight. I’ll be in my study.” He looks down at Teddy, who is gurgling to himself in the swing. “Purple and blue. Excellent choice, Theodore.”
Taking Teddy from the swing, we head upstairs for our evening routine. An hour later, Teddy is out for a bit and I’ve changed into the silk and cotton pajamas from last night. Christian is right. The pants do feel heavenly against my legs.
Sitting down on the bed, I pull the big bad legal binder into my lap. I start with the table of contents. There is a summary of the case, a copy of the complaint, a copy of the initial offer and the rejection, several medical reports, transcripts from meetings between the two legal teams. Where to start?
With procrastination. Closing the binder, I grab my blackberry and dial Grace. My subconscious may not like my avoidance tactic, but this needs to be done, too.
Grace picks up on the second ring, “Ana, dear. How are you and my favorite grandchild?”
“Grace, your only grandchild and I are both excellent. We had lunch with Auntie Kate today at a tapas place.”
“She mentioned you were going. How was it?”
“The food was excellent, I recommend it. The company, of course, was terrific.” I pause for a moment. Grace and I have always had a very good dialog. She is uber protective of Christian, and by extension, me. So I take a deep breath and tell her about the run in with her former friend. Leaving out only the comment about my ring.
She is silent for a moment. “Ana, I cannot even tell you how proud I am. You handled that stupendously well. I know that woman, and not acknowledging her is a profound insult.” Grace pauses for a moment, “Did you mention the incident to Christian?”
Grace knows more than anyone but Kate about the history between Elena, Christian, and I. “Of course,” I respond, omitting that it wasn’t really my option.
“He unnecessarily rushed home. But I was actually only fazed for a few minutes after, and then I resolved not to let someone like that have the power to ruin my day.”
“Here, here. Now, about Teddy. I think I have forgotten what he looks like.” I have to chuckle at her blatant exaggeration. “I am not working tomorrow, would you like to meet for lunch?”
I think about it. “Why don’t you have lunch with me here? I have an errand to run in the afternoon, and if you wouldn’t mind staying with Teddy…”
“Grandma babysitter will be there!” Grace cuts me off. And now I need not worry about bringing Teddy to Flynn’s office.
We finalize our plans and hang up. Time to face the big binder. I start with the complaint.
Ten minutes later I need to look away. The cold, legal, moment by moment description of the incident is stupefying. I don’t want to read this. I know I have to, though. Difficult as it may be, I must inure myself to the impact of the words. If I react during a deposition or in a courtroom, it could impact the case. Especially during Christian’s deposition. Ms. Barkes requested I read this, so I take a deep breath, and open the binder again.
The description of their meeting and deciding to enter a private room is brief. No names were exchanged. Upon entering the room, she undressed and he cuffed her to the cross. There was a brief discussion of safe words. Yellow and red, just like he taught me. I’d presumed those were common safe words. I should ask Christian.
The complaint continues to describe Christian using…allegedly using?...a cat o’nine tails on her for an extended period. Then he ceases…allegedly ceases?...whipping her and has vaginal intercourse with her. A condom was used. When he was finished, he released her and left.
The complaint takes ten pages to describe the event. I can’t tell if it is the sterile legal language, the written word itself, but there is something distinctly off. This isn’t the Christian I know. But is it the Christian that was? Post bitch troll Christian?
I search my mind for the details of my first encounters with fifty. Even our first time in the playroom, even before ‘more’, he was never indifferent. The incident description is oddly barren of any verbalization from either party. Yet with me Christian, though distinctly not chatty, is definitely verbal. Mostly provocative talk, but the occasional check in where he requires a verbal response. I know it’s a turn on to him to hear me, but it is also validation of my willingness to participate. He also checks in other ways, watching my face and body for positive and negative reactions. This is the Christian I know, and it doesn’t resemble the man on the pages in my lap.
I’m not sure if it is pertinent, but I jot some notes of these inconsistencies in the margin.
I peruse the settlement offer letter and the rejection letter. Despite the legalese, both are straightforward. The offer was five hundred thousand dollars. Not a lot for Christian. I’m fairly surprised. Until I read the summary and strategy. It is clear that the attorneys feel Christian’s net worth shouldn’t come into play. The summary explains our overall finances are only relevant if there were to be punitive damages, a punishment. Since entering the club and the room was consensual, and she never safe worded, they felt that unlikely. So the only assessable damages were direct medical costs, loss of work, and pain and suffering. The strategy cautions the third could be most costly and lists defensive points for limiting this payment, such as the woman never ceased work and did not cite any long term emotional damage.
I’m just closing the binder when Christian enters.
“Light reading, Mrs. Grey?”
“My homework assignment from Ms. Barkes,” I answer. Christian immediately scowls.
“You don’t have to read it. I don’t want it upsetting you.”
I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Christian, we’ve trod this road already. I need to read it. And if there is anything upsetting, I’d rather be upset here, in our home, then in a room full of attorneys. I want to indurate myself to the details in privacy.”
Christian’s grimace intensifies. He resembles a child forced to eat brussel sprouts. It verges on comical.
“Besides, your concern is unwarranted. I didn’t really find the contents disconcerting.”
“No. It’s actually rather dry. Sterile. All the legal verbiage to wade through.”
Christian’s expression relaxes slightly. He sits on the end of the bed by my feet. He takes my right foot in his hands and begins to rub absent mindedly. “Do you need to ask me anything? I’ll answer,” he says, gazing at my foot in his hands.
“I know you will.” But what to ask him? “Does everyone use yellow and red as safe words?”
“I wouldn’t say everyone, but they are fairly common. Everyone knows the stoplight symbols.”
I nod and he migrates his massage to my left foot. He goes on for several minutes before my subconscious taps me on my shoulder and clears her throat. “Christian, asking questions…you know that goes both ways? I’ll always answer you.”
He shifts his eyes to mine. His expression is almost blank right now, unreadable. A full minute ticks by.
“What did she say?” I shake my head in confusion. Are we still talking about the lawsuit? “What did she say? The inappropriate thing she said. What was it?”
Oh. We’ve circled back to that. I try to remember her exact words, but I’m not sure. “She, um, complimented my collar.” I hold up my left hand.
Christian holds up his own left hand and twirls his wedding band with his thumb. Then shrugs. “It is a similar concept. Represents a commitment. An obligation. The difference is we both have them.” For the second time today, my private warrior celebrates victory. My husband just acknowledged marriage as a two way street. I think.
I know I’m sporting an ear to ear grin. Christian looks back at me and cocks his head to the side. “Mrs. Grey, you are grinning like a cheshire cat.” His eyes return to my feet, now sitting in his lap. Then he gets his own cat like grin. “I have an idea,” he says, rising to his feet and letting mine back on the bed. “Wait here.” He heads to the bathroom.
I squirm in anticipation. He has such…creative ideas.
Christian returns with…nail polish? And remover. And cotton balls. “Lift your feet, Ana.” I do, and he lays a hand towel on the bed. Following his gesture, I put my feet on the towel. Taking a tissue, he carefully winds it between my toes on my right foot, then repeats for the left foot. There is barely a trace of my last pedicure remaining, yet Christian takes a cotton ball and remover and carefully cleans each toe. They he takes the clear polish and fastidiously applies a base coat.
Christian is intensely focused on his work, and my feet. Perfectionism consumes him, and a trivial pedicure is no exception. He holds up a lavender polish for my blessing and I nod my approval.
Once again he is engrossed in his task. Never once straying off the nail. I’m marveling at this previously unknown skill while he applies a top coat, wondering where he learned this.
And then it hits me like lightning. I’m nauseous.
The bitch troll taught him this. Made him do this for her. Anger is threatening to bubble up, along with dinner. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath to suppress it. Logically I know it is wrong to love all the things Christian knows how to do, sexually and otherwise, yet hate with a passion how he acquired that knowledge.
Opening my eyes, Christian is watching me. “You okay?”
I force a grin and nod. Electing to focus on today and not the past, I admire my now completed toes. Christian is blowing on them to dry them, but it just tickles, eliciting a genuine giggle from me. So he does it again, forcing me to pull my feet away.
Grabbing me by the ankles, “Do not ruin my handiwork, Mrs. Grey, or there will be consequences.” Delicious threats. He places my feet back on the towel, and gathers up the polish, remover, and cotton balls, returning them to the bathroom.
A short while later, he is ready for bed and declares my feet dry. Curling together under the covers, my back to his front, he quietly says, “Tell me.”
I surmise any other man would have let a fleeting expression earlier pass. Any other man might not notice residual tension in me. But not Christian. He is so tuned in to my body and emotions.
“It’s nothing. Nothing to make a deal over,” I whisper back.
“Then tell me.”
I turn to look at him and brush his cheek with the back of my hand. “I love you and everything you know how to do for me. But when I acknowledge how you came by those skills…” I let my voice trail off.
Christian squeezes me tighter. “As much as I would wish to, I can’t change the past. But everything I do now is only with thoughts of you.”
“I know.”“Do you?” I nod. “I love you, Anastasia Grey. And though you have an extensive vocabulary, I would not say you wield it in a condescending manner. You are not sesquipedalian. Now sleep.”