As promised, chapter two! I apologize for the lack of car chases, explosions, and murders. I did my best with what I had to work with.
Outside Grey House, the rain is welcome. I close my eyes and suck in deep lungfuls of bracing Seattle air before heading back to the car. I can’t understand what happened to me in there. No man has ever affected me like that. Was it his looks? Wealth? Power?
On my way home, the interview replays itself over and over in my mind, until I’m so embarrassed it’s surprising my flaming cheeks haven’t set the car alight. “Are you gay, Mr Grey?” I force the thought aside. At least I won’t ever see him again. And he’s a busy guy — surely soon he’ll forget about my inept interview soon enough.
I check the speedometer. I’m driving more cautiously than usual, and I know it’s because of him. He was so stern when he told me to drive safe. Like I’m a little girl who needs looking after. Well, I’m not, and I certainly don’t want him taking care of me. I turn my music up and press the accelerator down. I’ll drive as fast as I want, and if Grey’s not happy with that, he can go fuck himself for all I care.
Kate and I flat in an apartment in Vancouver, Washington, close to the Vancouver campus of WSU. Lucky for me, Kate’s parents bought her the place, so I pay almost no rent. I pull Kate’s car up into it’s allotted space and then rummage through my satchel, looking for the mini-disk recorder. The sooner I get it into Kate’s hands, the less eager she’ll be to grill me about the interview. I’ll be much safer if she hears about my screw-ups while I’m in a different room. I’d prefer a different country, but it’s doubtful I could skirt the border in time.
As soon as I walk into the living room, Kate erupts into a coughing fit.
“Allergic to me now?” I ask. Kate keeps coughing.
She’s barely moved since I left. She’s still curled up on the couch in her pink flannel pajamas — the ones with the bunny print. I’m a little surprised. She usually reserves full-day-pajama-attire for post-breakup moping. Even so, it doesn’t look like she’s been moping about her ailments too much this afternoon. Underneath a wasteland of strewn tissues lies evidence she’s studied for finals.
“Ana! You’re back!” she says, when she finally stops coughing. She hauls herself up and hobbles over to me, extending out her arms for a hug.
I step back. “Sorry. I don’t want your germs all over me.”
She laughs and retreats. “I was beginning to worry. I expected you back sooner.”
“I thought I made pretty good time. The interview ran over.” I waggle the recorder at Kate.
She snatches it from me. “Thank you so much for doing this — I owe you one. How was it?”
How was it? “Well, I’m glad it’s over.” I smile weakly. “He’s very intimidating, and so young, and I felt like such an idiot for not knowing anything about him.”
Kate clamps a hand to her mouth. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I should’ve given you a biography or something.”
“Nah, it’s alright.” I shrug. “I should’ve looked him up for some idea what I was getting into.”
“What you were getting into?” She grins at me. “Did something happen?”
I hide behind my hair. “Oh, he just surprised me, that’s all. He’s so young, but he’s stuffy, you know? He doesn’t talk like he’s in his twenties. How old is he, anyway?”
“Twenty-seven. I’m really sorry, Ana. I should’ve briefed you, but I was just in such a panic last night…”
I laugh. “It’s okay. Really. Did you get some rest today?”
“Yeah, a bit.”
“What’s that, five minutes?” I check my watch. “I have to run. I can still make my shift at Claytons.” Claytons is the largest independent hardware store in Portland, and somehow, without knowing anything about DIY, I got a job there four years ago. Now I know a little about what we sell, but I’m still crap at using any of it.
“Ana, you’ll be exhausted. Besides, they’re not expecting you today.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t want to get my cold. Get your immune system up, and go to bed.” Kate jabs a finger at my bedroom door. “Isn’t that what you told me earlier?”
Grumbling, I take her advice, and as soon as I sink beneath the covers, I’m asleep.
When I wake up a couple of hours later, Kate’s typing furiously at her laptop. Her nose is still pink, but she’s got the bones of story now. A little congestion won’t stop her putting them together.
Still groggy from my nap, I slump onto the couch and pick up a textbook to rifle through. Studying is next on the agenda.
“You’ve got some good stuff here, Ana,” says Kate from her computer. “But I can’t believe you didn’t let him show you around.”
“Why?” I glance at her, confused. “It wasn’t part of the interview.”
Kate rolls her eyes skyward in faux exasperation. “But he obviously wanted to spend more time with you.”
I hope Kate doesn’t see my telltale blush. No, she’s still absorbed in her transcriptions. There was no chance in hell Christian Grey wanted to spend more time with me. He just wanted to show off his empire. Show me everything he controls.
“I hear what you mean about him being stuffy…” Kate mutters. “Did you take any notes?”
“Um, no. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. I can still write an article with this. It’s a shame we don’t have any original stills though, isn’t it? He’s not bad looking.” She winks at me.
“I guess so.” I stare at my hands, as an image of Christian Grey pops, unbidden, into my mind. Not bad looking at all.
“Ana, even you must’ve noticed his looks.”
I distract her with flattery. “You probably would’ve gotten more out of him than me.”
“I doubt that. He practically offered you a job.” She sounds churlish. “You did well. Especially with it being last minute and everything.”
I try escaping into the kitchen. But when Kate wants to know about something, escape is futile. I could put a big red sign on top of my head that said, “I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT CHRISTIAN GREY” and she’d still ask questions.
“So what did you really think of him?”
“He’s kind of scary,” I say honestly. “But very charismatic.”
“Oh?” She fakes a low, husky voice. “Did he charm you, Ana?”
I turn to gather sandwich ingredients so she can’t see my face. “Why did you want to know if he was gay? He was pretty pissed when I asked, and I was…” My voice trails off. Mortified.
“Oh, that? Whenever he’s in the society pages, he never has a date.”
“It was embarrassing to ask.”
“It can’t have been that bad. I think it sounds like he likes you.”
Likes me? Kate’s being ridiculous. “Would you like a sandwich?”
For the rest of the week, I throw myself into my studies and my job at Claytons. Finally, I finish my essay on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Kate is busy too, compiling the last edition of her student magazine and cramming for finals. By Wednesday, she’s feeling better, and the pink rabbit PJs have gone back into to the depths of her closet where they belong.
I check up on my mom in Georgia, and she tells me all about her latest business venture. This week, it’s candle making. Next week, who knows? Mom has the attention span of a goldfish. I hope that her new (fourth) husband, Bob, is looking after her.
After talking with Mom, I call my stepdad, Mom’s Husband Number Two, the man I consider my father and whose name I bear. Conversations with Ray are always brief. In fact, they’re not really conversations. I coax out a few grunts, and that’s it. Ray is not a talker. But from what I glean, he’s doing well.
Friday night, Kate and I are debating what to do with our evening — we want time out from studies, work, and student newspapers — when someone knocks on the door. José’s outside, bearing a bottle of champagne.
“José!” I give him a quick hug. “Come in.”
José was the first person I met when I arrived at WSU, looking as lost and lonely as I did, and we’ve been best friends ever since. Funnily enough, we later found out that Ray and José Senior were in the same army unit together. As a result, our fathers have rekindled their old friendship.
José studies engineering, but his real passion is photography. He has a great eye for a good picture.
“I have news.” He grins, eyes twinkling.
“The Portland Place Gallery is going to display my photos next month.”
Delighted, I give him another hug. “That’s amazing! Congratulations!”
Kate beams too. “Way to go, José. I should put this in the paper. Nothing like last minute editorial changes on a Friday night.”
“Let’s celebrate. I want you to come to the opening.” José looks at me, then glances nervously at Kate. “Both of you, of course.”
José and I are good friends, but I know he’d like to be more. He’s cute and funny, but just not for me. I see him as the brother I never had. Kate often teases that I’m missing the need-a-boyfriend-gene, but the truth is I’ve just never met someone who I’m attracted to. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the company of my literary heroes, and consequently my expectations are far too high.
I watch José as he turns his hands to the bottle of champagne, popping the cork with a grin in my direction. He’s tall; all muscles and tanned skin. José would be a catch for any girl — just not me. I think now he’s finally getting the message: we’re just friends.
Saturday at Claytons is a nightmare. I’m run off my feet, along with the rest of the staff. The only lull we get is around lunchtime. While I’m sitting behind the counter at the till, discreetly eating my bagel, Mrs Clayton asks me to check on some orders. The task engrosses me; checking the items we’ve ordered and the items we need, glancing from the order book to the computer screen and back. Then I look up and find myself locking eyes with Christian Grey.
“Miss Steele. What a pleasant surprise.”
I think my mouth has dropped open. I can’t locate my brain or my voice. What is he doing here? “Mr. Grey,” I manage to squeak.
He smiles and his eyes light up as if he’s enjoying some private joke.
“I was in the area. I needed to stock up on a few things. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Steele.” His voice is warm. So warm I swear my body temperature rises when I hear it. I drop my eyes to the counter. Why does this man have this effect on me? My memories have not done him justice. He’s beyond good-looking or even handsome. He’s exquisite. And he’s here. At Clayton’s hardware store.
Finally, I recover my wits and look him in the eye. “Ana. My name’s Ana. What can I help you with, Mr Grey?”
He smiles like he knows some big secret. Again, I switch my gaze to the counter and take a couple of deep breaths. I’ve worked in this shop for years. I can do this.
“There are a few things I need,” Grey says. “To start with, cable ties.”
Cable ties? “We stock various lengths. Would you like me to show you?”
Grey frowns slightly. “Please. Lead the way, Miss Steele.”
I come out from behind the counter, focussed on staying upright. My legs don’t seem entirely capable of supporting me anymore, and I hope my concentration doesn’t show on my face. “They’re in with the electrical goods. Aisle eight.”
“After you,” he says.
With a heart pounding so loudly I’m sure customers in aisle three can hear, I lead him to the electrical section. My mind spins. Why is he in Portland? Why is he at Claytons?
“Are you in Portland on business?” I can’t stop myself asking.
“I was visiting the WSU farming division. It’s based in Vancouver. I fund research there in crop rotation and soil science.”
So he’s not here to see me. I try not to feel crushed. Why would he want to see me, anyway?
“All part of your feed the world plan?” I ask, keeping my voice light.
“Something like that.” He smiles — a genuine smile this time — then turns to the selection of cable ties. His fingertips trail across the various packets on display until finally he bends and selects one. “These will do.” He holds them up for me to inspect.
I nod, unsure what I’m supposed to say about them. Dude, they’re cable ties. “Is there anything else you need?”
“Yeah. I’m after some masking tape,” he says.
“Masking tape? Are you redecorating?” The words are out before I can stop them. Grey’s a billionaire. He wouldn’t do his own redecorating.
“No,” he says with a smirk. Is he laughing at me?
“This way,” I say, leading him to the decorating aisle and trying to discreetly sniff the shoulder of my uniform. I know I’ve been feeling a little more heated with his presence, but surely I’m not so sweaty its worth laughing about?
I glance behind me as he follows.
“Have you worked here long?” he asks.
I snap my eyes frontward, just in time to catch my toes on a discarded rake. I stumble, but manage to avoid face planting. Grey chortles behind me.
“I’ve worked here four years,” I say, catching my balance. Then we reach the masking tape and, to distract myself, I select the two widths we stock and hold them out for him.
“I’ll take that one,” Grey says, reaching toward the wider tape. As our fingers touch, I feel that same static current I experienced at Grey House. I gasp involuntarily and my hand drops away. The tape tumbles down. He snatches it from the air before it can hit the ground. Good reflexes.
“What was that?” He’s amused.
“Hiccup,” I say, bringing up a hand to rest on my lips. My voice is breathy. “Do you need anything else?”
“Some rope, I think.”
“What sort are you after?” I’m desperate to appear professional now. “We have synthetic and natural filament rope, twine, cable cord…” I pause when we get to the ropes and turn to look at him. His eyes are ferociously dark.
“I’ll take five yards of the natural filament.”
With trembling fingers, I measure out five yards, aware the whole time that he’s watching me. Could I be any more self conscious? I cut the rope, coil it neatly, then tie it into a slipknot. By some miracle, all my fingers stay attached.
“Were you a girl scout?” Grey asks.
“No, girl scouts wasn’t really my thing.”
“What is your thing, Anastasia?” That secret smile is back, taunting me.
“Books,” I say, trying to stay calm. Confident, even.
“What sort of books?”
Why is he so interested? “The usual. Mostly british classics. The occasional bestseller, just to see what the hype’s all about.”
He strokes his chin between his forefinger and thumb, contemplating my answer. I wait for him to speak, but he doesn’t.
“Anything else you need?” I ask.
“What else would you recommend?”
I don’t even know what he needs this stuff for. Rope, cable ties, masking tape… I almost think he’s heading off to do some serial murder, but that’s, of course, ridiculous. The worlds’ tabloids are too vigilant for him to get away with anything like that.
“For a do-it-yourselfer?” he prompts.
My eyes stray of their own accord to his snug jeans, and all thoughts of murder are banished from my mind. “Coveralls.” I’m no longer screening what comes out of my mouth.
He raises an eyebrow. Amused again, no doubt.
“You don’t want to ruin your clothes.” I wave my hand at his jeans.
He smirks. “I could always take them off.”
My face floods with heat. What are you supposed to say to that? “Um, I guess… That’s… Um… If you want…” Wrong answers, all of them. Stop talking. Now.
“I’ll take some coveralls,” he says dryly. “Heaven forbid I should ruin any clothing.”
The image of him without jeans flashes through my mind. While it’s not wholly unwelcome, it’s entirely inappropriate. But I can’t get rid of it.
“Do you need anything else?” I say, as I take him to where we stock the coveralls.
He ignores me and says, “How’s the article coming along?”
Finally, a normal question. “I’m not writing it. Kate is. Katherine Kavanagh, my roommate, she’s the writer. She was supposed to do the interview, too, but she couldn’t make it.” The blood is starting to drain out of my face. I feel like a normal person, talking to another normal person. “She just wishes she could’ve gotten some original photos of you.”
“What sort of photos does she want?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know, sorry.”
“Well, I’m around tomorrow…”
“You’d do the photo shoot?” My voice is squeaky again, but for a good reason now. Kate will be thrilled if I can pull this off. And if I can see Grey again tomorrow, maybe she won’t be the only one excited… I shove that thought aside. “Kate will be delighted.” I smile broadly at him, and for a moment he looks lost, like he doesn’t know quite what to do or say. Like I’ve caught him off guard. He had offered to do the shoot, hadn’t he? My stomach churns. Did I misinterpret him?
But the look vanishes as quickly as it came. Grey fishes a business card from his pocket — it’s gray, of course — and hands it to me. It’s still warm from his touch. “Let me know about tomorrow. My number’s on there.”
“Okay.” I grin up at him. So he did mean his offer after all.
I spin around to see who called my name. Paul, Mr. Clayton’s younger brother, stands at the other end of this aisle. I’d heard he was home from Princeton, but I hadn’t expected to see him today.
“Excuse me for a moment,” I say to Grey. He scowls as I turn away.
Paul has always been a buddy, and he comes now as a welcome reprieve. I’m glad to talk to someone ordinary. Paul hugs me. “It’s so good to see you, Ana!”
“How’s it going, Paul? How’s Princeton?”
“It’s going well.” Paul grins as he examines me at arms length. “You’re looking good, Ana. Really good.” He drapes his arm around my shoulders, and I shift my weight from foot to foot. It’s good to see Paul, but he’s always been over-familiar.
When I look over at Christian Grey, he’s cold and distant. His arms fold over his chest as he meets my eyes, radiating antagonism.
“Paul, I’m with a customer. Someone you should meet,” I drag Paul toward Grey, and they look each other up and down.
“Um, Paul, this is Christian Grey. Mr. Grey, this is Paul Clayton. His brother owns this place.”
Grey extends a hand, his face unreadable. “Mr. Clayton.”
“Mr. Grey.” Paul returns the handshake. “Wait, not the Christian Grey? Of Grey Enterprises Holdings?” In a nanosecond, Paul has gone from surly to awestruck. Grey gives him a polite smile.
“Wow. Is there anything I can get you?” Paul asks.
“Anastasia has it covered, Mr. Clayton. She’s been very attentive.” There’s a hidden meaning in his words, but I can’t grasp what he’s trying to say.
“Cool,” Paul says, looking slightly put-out. “Catch you later, Ana.”
“See you.” I watch him disappear toward the stock room. “Anything else, Mr. Grey?”
“Just these items.” His words are clipped. Have I offended him? Taking yet another deep breath, I head for the till and ring up his items. He’s distant the whole time. Cold, even. What is his problem?
I ring up his purchases. “That will be forty-three dollars, please.” I glance up at Grey and immediately wish I hadn’t. He’s far from frosty now, quite the opposite.
“Would you like a bag?” I ask as I take his credit card.
“Please, Anastasia.” I hurriedly pack his things. His lips around my name have rendered me breathless.
“You’ll call me about the photo shoot?”
“Good. Until tomorrow, perhaps.” He smirks. “I’m glad Miss Kavanagh couldn’t make it to that interview, Anastasia.”
With that, he’s gone, slinging his plastic bag over his shoulder as he leaves. As I watch him go, I realize… I think I like him. I find him attractive, at least. Very attractive, even if I’m not 100% sold on his personality. I guess I’ll feel better about that if no one’s reported missing or dead around here tonight. Still, I grin like a schoolgirl as I scramble for my phone. I need to organize a photoshoot.