Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian(7)


by E.L. James

As we travel to the first floor the atmosphere is thick with unfulfilled desire. And I don’t know if it’s emanating from the couple behind us or from me.

Yes. I want her. Will she want what I have to offer?

I’m relieved when the doors open again and I take her hand, which is cool and not clammy as expected. Perhaps I don’t affect her as much as I’d like. The thought is disheartening.

In our wake we hear embarrassed giggling from the couple.

“What is it about elevators?” I mutter. And I have to admit there’s something wholesome and naïve about their giggling that’s totally charming. Miss Steele seems that innocent, just like them, and as we walk onto the street I question my motives again.

She’s too young. She’s too inexperienced, but, damn, I like the feel of her hand in mine.

In the coffee shop I direct her to find a table and ask what she wants to drink. She stutters through her order: English Breakfast tea—hot water, bag on the side. That’s a new one to me.

“No coffee?”

“I’m not keen on coffee.”

“Okay, bag-out tea. Sugar?”

“No thanks,” she says, staring down at her fingers.

“Anything to eat?”

“No thank you.” She shakes her head and tosses her hair over her shoulder, highlighting glints of auburn.

I have to wait in line while the two matronly women behind the counter exchange inane pleasantries with all their customers. It’s frustrating and keeping me from my objective: Anastasia.

“Hey, handsome, what can I get you?” the older woman asks with a twinkle in her eye. It’s just a pretty face, sweetheart.

“I’ll have a coffee with steamed milk. English Breakfast tea. Teabag on the side. And a blueberry muffin.”

Anastasia might change her mind and eat.

“You visiting Portland?”

“Yes.”

“The weekend?”

“Yes.”

“The weather sure has picked up today.”

“Yes.”

“I hope you get out to enjoy some sunshine.”

Please stop talking to me and hurry the fuck up.

“Yes,” I hiss through my teeth and glance over at Ana, who quickly looks away.

She’s watching me. Is she checking me out?

A bubble of hope swells in my chest.

“There you go.” The woman winks and places the drinks on my tray. “Pay at the register, honey, and you have a nice day, now.”

I manage a cordial response. “Thank you.”

At the table Anastasia is staring at her fingers, reflecting on heaven knows what.

Me?

“Penny for your thoughts?” I ask.

She jumps and turns red as I set out her tea and my coffee. She sits mute and mortified. Why? Does she really not want to be here?

“Your thoughts?” I ask again, and she fidgets with the teabag.

“This is my favorite tea,” she says, and I revise my mental note that it’s Twinings English Breakfast tea she likes. I watch her dunk the teabag in the teapot. It’s an elaborate and messy spectacle. She fishes it out almost immediately and places the used teabag on her saucer. My mouth is twitching with my amusement. As she tells me she likes her tea weak and black, for a moment I think she’s describing what she likes in a man.

Get a grip, Grey. She’s talking about tea.

Enough of this preamble; it’s time for some due diligence in this deal. “Is he your boyfriend?”

Her brows knit together, forming a small v above her nose.

“Who?”

This is a good response.

“The photographer. José Rodriguez.”

She laughs. At me.

At me!

And I don’t know if it’s from relief or if she thinks I’m funny. It’s annoying. I can’t get her measure. Does she like me or not? She tells me he’s just a friend.

Oh, sweetheart, he wants to be more than a friend.

“Why did you think he was my boyfriend?” she asks.

“The way you smiled at him, and he at you.” You have no idea, do you? The boy is smitten.

“He’s more like family,” she says.

Okay, so the lust is one-sided, and for a moment I wonder if she realizes how lovely she is. She eyes the blueberry muffin as I peel back the paper, and for a moment I imagine her on her knees beside me as I feed her, a morsel at a time. The thought is diverting—and arousing. “Do you want some?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “No thanks.” Her voice is hesitant and she stares once more at her hands. Why is she so jittery? Maybe because of me?

“And the boy I met yesterday, at the store. He’s not your boyfriend?”

“No. Paul’s just a friend. I told you yesterday.” She frowns again as if she’s confused, and crosses her arms in defense. She doesn’t like being asked about these boys. I remember how uncomfortable she seemed when the kid at the store put his arm around her, staking his claim. “Why do you ask?” she adds.

“You seem nervous around men.”

Her eyes widen. They really are beautiful, the color of the ocean at Cabo, the bluest of blue seas. I should take her there.

What? Where did that come from?

“I find you intimidating,” she says, and looks down, fidgeting once more with her fingers. On the one hand she’s so submissive, but on the other she’s…challenging.

“You should find me intimidating.”

Yeah. She should. There aren’t many people brave enough to tell me that I intimidate them. She’s honest, and I tell her so—but when she averts her eyes, I don’t know what she’s thinking. It’s frustrating. Does she like me? Or is she tolerating this meeting to keep Kavanagh’s interview on track? Which is it?

“You’re a mystery, Miss Steele.”

“There’s nothing mysterious about me.”

“I think you’re very self-contained.” Like any good submissive. “Except when you blush, of course, which is often. I just wish I knew what you were blushing about.” There. That will goad her into a response. Popping a small piece of the blueberry muffin into my mouth, I await her reply.

“Do you always make such personal observations?”

That’s not that personal, is it? “I hadn’t realized I was. Have I offended you?”

“No.”

“Good.”

“But you’re very high-handed.”

“I’m used to getting my own way, Anastasia. In all things.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she mutters, and then wants to know why I haven’t asked her to call me by my first name.

What?

And I remember her leaving my office in the elevator—and how my name sounded coming out of her smart mouth. Has she seen through me? Is she deliberately antagonizing me? I tell her that no one calls me Christian, except my family…

I don’t even know if it’s my real name.

Don’t go there, Grey.

I change the subject. I want to know about her.

“Are you an only child?”

Her eyelashes flutter several times before she answers that she is.

“Tell me about your parents.”

She rolls her eyes and I have to fight the compulsion to scold her.

“My mom lives in Georgia with her new husband, Bob. My stepdad lives in Montesano.”

Of course I know all this from Welch’s background check, but it’s important to hear it from her. Her lips soften with a fond smile when she mentions her stepdad.

“Your father?” I ask.

“My father died when I was a baby.”

For a moment I’m catapulted into my nightmares, looking at a prostrate body on a grimy floor. “I’m sorry,” I mutter.

“I don’t remember him,” she says, dragging me back to the now. Her expression is clear and bright, and I know that Raymond Steele has been a good father to this girl. Her mother’s relationship with her, on the other hand—that remains to be seen.

“And your mother remarried?”

Her laugh is bitter. “You could say that.” But she doesn’t elaborate. She’s one of the few women I’ve met who can sit in silence. Which is great, but not what I want at the moment.

“You’re not giving much away, are you?”

“Neither are you,” she parries.

Oh, Miss Steele. Game on.

And it’s with great pleasure and a smirk that I remind her that she’s interviewed me already. “I can recollect some quite probing questions.”

Yes. You asked me if I was gay.

My statement has the desired effect and she’s embarrassed. She starts babbling about herself and a few details hit home. Her mother is an incurable romantic. I suppose someone on her fourth marriage is embracing hope over experience. Is she like her mother? I can’t bring myself to ask her. If she says she is—then I have no hope. And I don’t want this interview to end. I’m enjoying myself too much.

I ask about her stepfather and she confirms my hunch. It’s obvious she loves him. Her face is luminous when she talks about him: his job (he’s a carpenter), his hobbies (he likes European soccer and fishing). She preferred to live with him when her mom married the third time.