Val’s story is important to me. I will reveal what’s going on with her when I’m ready and not a moment sooner. That is all.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Chapter 28—Difference of Opinion
“Excuse me? They want what?” I haven’t even had a chance to open my computer completely when Elva McIntyre from Public Relations calls to drop a bombshell first thing Thursday morning.
“Exclusives. All of them. They all want to be the first to interview Ana since the accident and to put her face on the covers of their magazine or their television shows. We won’t even get into the ones that claimed they’ve already contacted Ana for radio spots.”
“No, by all means, get into them,” I protest.
“KIRO Radio claims to have contacted her. KKNW Higher Wellness Radio is chomping at the bit to talk to her—even if it’s only for a few minutes. I have no idea what KTTH wants with her. They’re a conservative station and I can only assume they just want a bit of the publicity. Her accident couldn’t possibly be conducive to their goals.”
“But if they have an agenda to push, she would be prime for it on a live show.”
“What agenda could they possibly want to push?” McIntyre asks. “The woman just came out of a coma where she almost lost her life.”
“Yes, and she’s married to one of the richest men in America who could very well be involved in some controversial things. What better way to get to me than through her? She’s also assistant director of a charity known to house, shelter, and assist battered women to get away from their abusive husbands. Religious fanatics are just waiting to take a bite out of her for ‘breaking up marriages’ instead of finding ways to ‘help’ the husbands while keeping the families together.”
“Don’t you think you might be reaching a bit here, Mr. Grey?” she asks. “New Day Northwest wants her, too. You know they pride themselves on good entertainment and human interest pieces.”
“I think it’s a bad idea,” I tell her. “You say that I’m reaching, but someone is always out to get me and you know they are. Ana is a target just because she’s married to me. Look what landed her in that hospital bed in the first place.”
“Sir, at the risk of overstepping, you can’t expect her to live her life waiting for the Boogeyman to pop out of every corner. Quite frankly, you shouldn’t either. She’s a natural with the cameras, you’ve seen it yourself. She knows how to handle herself. The decision is ultimately up to you. I’m not trying to convince you to let her do the interviews. I’m just saying…”
“Yes, and I’ve made that decision. This is a bad idea and I’m going to discuss this issue with Anastasia.” The line is quiet for a moment.
“Very well, sir. Would you like for me to release some kind of statement to the ‘suitors’ to inform them that Mrs. Grey won’t be appearing on their shows?”
“Prepare something, but hold it until I speak to my wife.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll get right on it.” I end the call. Why wouldn’t Ana tell me that she was being courted by the press? Had she intended on doing the interviews without telling me? I won’t jump to any conclusions. I dial her cell number.
“Hi. It’s pretty early for you to be calling. Is everything okay?” she asks when she answers.
“Yes, everything’s fine. Are you busy?”
“Just looking over some things. I was going to call you and ask you about the building where my office is. What were you going to do with it now that I’ve closed my practice?”
“That building is yours,” I tell her. “It has been ever since we were married. It’s part of the contract when we renegotiated your rent earlier this year.”
“Renegotiated my eye,” she laughs. “You sent Marilyn to Montana with a never-ending free lease. I thought Brettenton was trying to pull the wool over my eyes. How did a lease turn into ownership and I not know it?
“Did you look at the lease?” I ask.
“I didn’t have to,” she says. “Al showed up with Marilyn and I asked him to look over it for issues or discrepancies. That’s when he told me who owned Brettenton and the deal with the lease.”
“There were apparently parts of the lease that he failed to share with you,” I caution.
“Well, yes, but you were my fiancé and he works for you. I didn’t think there was cause for concern… was there?” she asks uncertainly.
“The fact that you had to ask that question means that you should have been more careful before you signed the lease.”
“I never signed the lease,” she corrects me. “First of all, it was for 100 years. I didn’t know what that was about, so no way in hell I’m signing that. Second, I discover that my fiancé owns the building and has now declared my location a rent-free zone. Isn’t the lease a bit redundant at that point? Did you have intentions of suing me for failure to pay?” And now I’m confusing her, which is not my intention.
“Of course not,” I say matter-of-factly. “Forget that whole conversation. It was completely unnecessary. What the lease actually said was that you didn’t have to pay rent for the suite and that in the event of our marriage, the building would be gifted to you. If we didn’t get married, I would sell it to you for a dollar.” I can imagine her frowning.
“A dollar? That’s odd, don’t you think? Why not just gift it to me either way?”
“Because, as my wife, I can gift you anything I want. Not so if we’re not married. There has to be some kind of consideration for it, even if it’s just a dollar.”
“And that’s why you’re the businessman,” she says. “So, to what do I owe this call? I know you had a reason for it before I ambushed you with questions about the building.”
“Yes, I did, actually. I’ve just been informed that some of the local networks, radio shows and such have been trying to get you to agree to appear on their shows and publications. Do you know anything about that?”
“Well, I know about a few radio shows, but I had no idea about any publications or television shows or anything.”
“That would be because they took the proper steps and notified GEH’s publicity department. That’s usually how these things are handled when they’re legit. So, some of the radio shows did attempt to contact you?”
“Yes, they’ve contacted me by email from the old information on the Network Therapy website. I haven’t responded to anybody because I haven’t had any time and I haven’t had a chance to talk to you about it yet.”
“Well, since you’ve closed your practice, why not just remove the information from Network Therapy?” I ask. “We live a more exclusive life, Ana. It might be dangerous to have your information out there that way.”
“Hm.” That’s all she says.
“What?” I know there’s something behind it.
“You called me Ana. What’s the issue?” Shit. Again with the transparency.
“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I would have liked to have known the moment people were seeking you out for interviews.”
“I don’t see a problem with the situation,” she retorts. “I haven’t responded to anybody. I didn’t tell anybody I was doing anything. I haven’t even made a decision yet.”
“Made a decision?” I ask, slightly horrified. “Are you honestly considering talking to these people?”
“I talk to the press all the time, Christian—since before we got married. I don’t see what the problem is.”
“The problem is that in a live interview, they can ask you anything they want and you don’t have the luxury of being able to escape. They can decimate you and then sit there and watch while you squirm in the seat.” The line goes quiet.
“When have I ever embarrassed myself with the press?” she asks defiantly. “When have I ever had a slip of the tongue or did anything unprofessional, even when they attacked me about being a gold digger or tried to find out the sex of the babies? Even when I was horribly deformed and bruised after Harris beat me and they shoved cameras in my face outside of the shopping center, did I once—once—every lose my cool?” Maybe not, but you’re losing it now.
“I’m not trying to upset you,” I say, attempting to diffuse the situation. “I’m just saying that live interviews are a bit different than someone shoving a mic in your face on the street. Remember the press conference after the trip to Anguilla?”
“Yes, I do,” she answers quickly. “And I should be asking you that question, or did you forget that I handled myself well that time, too, when that vicious Prada-clad blonde tried to make it appear that I couldn’t buy my own labels if I wanted them? I was living in a condo at the time that she couldn’t afford if they doubled her salary. Yet, she tried to make it look like I couldn’t be fashionable without you. If I remember correctly, she became my first sacrificial lamb.” She does have a point. That was not a good example.
“I’m only trying to impress upon you the importance of realizing that a sit-down interview in front of a microphone with a time slot to fill is a bit different than the impromptu interviews you’ve been doing so far. For the most part, you control the length and the content of the impromptu interviews that you’ve done. It’s not the same on television and even on the radio. You can’t just get up and walk away.”
“But I can refuse to answer a question that I feel is too intrusive or inappropriate,” she argues. “I know who I am and I know not to put my foot in my mouth.” I can’t believe we’re actually having this conversation. Ana can’t be this naive that she doesn’t know that the media is full of predators and she’s ripe for the picking. One way or another, I’m squashing this idea before it goes any further.
“In your current condition and in light of recent events, I don’t think it’s wise for you to do any interviews. Anything that they would want to do or ask would have to be screened by GEH anyway and they usually don’t like their hands tied in terms of what they are allowed to say. I don’t want to see you upset or hurt. It’s just not worth the trouble.” The line gets quiet again, and it stays quiet for quite some time. Did she hang up. “Ana?”
“Fine,” she says flatly. “I won’t do any interviews.” I pause for a moment. She’s pissed.
“I just think we should let PR handle our statements from here on out,” I respond. “That is their job, after all.”
“I said I won’t do any interviews, Christian. Anything else?” Is she dismissing me?
“Am I keeping you from something?” The line is quiet again and then I hear typing.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” she says, her voice sharp and professional. “I have two abused wives that need counseling this afternoon. I also have a meeting with someone from the Department of Early Learning to help me better understand the Washington Administrative Code as it applies to the Center’s licensing requirements to operate as a daycare center and preschool. Before that, I have a meeting with the planning committee to solidify our proposal and outline of the educational services that we would like to provide. This wasn’t required for the GED prep classes or for tutoring, but it will be required if we hope to obtain any accreditation. I was going over my bullet points and making sure that all of my information was intact when you called to inform me of your displeasure with the idea of doing any interviews, which I have already agreed not to do.”
I am now talking to Dr. Steele—wasn’t really fond of her when I first met her and don’t really care for her when she makes an appearance like this.
“Very well, Anastasia. I won’t keep you any longer.” I emphasize her name to drive home the formality she has chosen to use with the call. It has no effect whatsoever.
“Excellent. Have a nice day!” she says in the syrupiest sweet voice she can muster before ceremoniously ending the call.
And there you have it. The saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life,” and my wife is definitely not happy. I don’t know how to make her understand that any situation can become a time bomb. I’m not just being paranoid. I’ve seen it before and I don’t want to see it happen to her. I better wait before I tell McIntyre to release that statement to the interview hopefuls. She’ll think I had killed the idea before I even spoke to her about it.
She didn’t call me for the rest of the day. There has been more than one occasion when she didn’t call all day, but for some reason, today’s silence was louder than usual. I didn’t get any calls that anything was wrong, so when the day is over, I just close up shop and go home. When Jason and I arrive at the gate, there is a black Lincoln MKS attempting to gain access. Jason calls the booth and gets Williams.
“What’s going on… Oh… Okay, hold one sec…” He turns around to me. “It’s Mr. Wilson. He says that he wants to speak to you if that’s okay.” Fred… he’s a friend of the family, so of course I’ll speak to him. He probably wants to talk about that inappropriate granddaughter of his.
“Absolutely. Allow him in. Is Ana here?” Jason asks Williams.
“Not yet, sir.”
“Call Lawrence and find out if they’re on their way or still at the Center.” Jason nods and informs Williams to let him in and follow guest protocol. Both vehicles drive up the driveway and we pull up behind Fred’s Lincoln.
“They’re about ten minutes out, sir,” Jason says and I nod. He drops me at the portico behind Fred’s car and Windsor comes out of the front door and opens the passenger side doors. Fred’s wife, Adelaide, steps out of the front seat and none other than Fred’s overheated granddaughter steps out from the back. She’s completely unrecognizable from the Vegas call girl wannabe I saw on Saturday night. Dressed in respectable jeans and boots and a parka, she almost looks like a teenager—not the unscrupulous harlot that came on to my wife while I was sitting there watching. I walk right past her to Adelaide.
“Adelaide,” I say, taking her hand and kissing it gently. “You’re looking beautiful as ever.”
“Always the charmer, Christian,” she says, with mirth. “I had the chance to speak with Grace and Carrick at the Affair on Saturday, but I didn’t get the opportunity to talk to you and Anastasia. Please forgive me.”
“No apologies necessary,” I respond with a smile. “I think we were all a bit… distracted on Saturday night.”
“Indeed,” she says with a knowing wink. “Is Anastasia here?”
“Not yet, but she’ll be here momentarily. Please, come inside.” I gesture to the door and usher her inside along with her deplorable granddaughter. Fred stops at the door and shakes my hand.
“I apologize for the unannounced intrusion, Christian,” he says.
“Nonsense. You’re old friends. You’re always welcome,” I gesture inside. Windsor takes everyone’s coat and I lead the Wilsons to the formal living room.
“May I offer anyone something to drink?” Windsor asks. “Coffee or tea? Soft drinks?” We all opt for coffee except for Courtney, who asks for water. We chat a bit about everything and nothing while we wait for Butterfly and the refreshments.
“As I mentioned during our talk, Christian,” Fred begins, “I can’t dictate my granddaughter’s tastes and preferences, but I won’t stand for insolence.”
“I was horrified when I heard,” Adelaide adds. “I realize that Anastasia is a grown, attractive woman. However, I can imagine that the situation made her very uncomfortable.”
“Yes, it was a bit disarming,” I admit without making eye contact with the little wretch, not that I could anyway. She hasn’t raised her head the entire time she’s been here and the only time she’s spoken was to ask for water. “Ana was not at all pleased with the advances and was even a bit embarrassed in front of her best friend.”
“I don’t see why. He’s gay, too,” Courtney mumbles. Now I turn my gaze to her.
“What did you just say?” Fred asks her.
“Nothing, Grandfather,” she says, chastised, but that’s not enough for me.
“You’re right,” I say in a tone that makes her raise her eyes to me. “Her best friend is gay—a gay man, in fact. He found what you did very distasteful as well. Because my wife is an obviously straight woman and was in a public place—a red carpet event where the guest list is highly scrutinized—the last thing she expected was to be ogled by someone of the same sex parading back and forth past our table in a ridiculous costume. Finding yourself in such a position is quite uncomfortable and very embarrassing, especially when you are least expecting it. So yes, my wife with whom I am very much in love and of whom I am extremely possessive was highly embarrassed in front of her gay best friend and her husband by your inappropriate behavior! Any questions?” I’m doing my best not to hiss at this little trick. The fact that she is a woman does not excuse what she did and does not make her any less of a predator and a competitor as far as I’m concerned.
“Way to get off on the best foot, Courtney,” Fred scolds.
“Oh, no, she ruined that opportunity on Saturday night,” I shoot, glaring at her. “I apologize, Fred, Adelaide. When it comes to my lovely wife, I have no filter,” I tell them.
“No apologies needed,” Fred says. “I couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s nothing like snatching away a trust fund and threatening to send you back home to your parents to make someone act like they have some sense. I brought her here so that she could become cultured, not so that she could act like an uncouth dog in heat!”
It’s clear to see that Fred is having a problem with his granddaughter’s homosexuality. I couldn’t care one way or the other. Man or woman, gay or straight, young or old—if you come on to my wife, you are the enemy. “I can’t choose who she loves, especially with these kids nowadays, but I won’t have her disrespecting the wife of one of our dearest friends and think that it’s going to go unpunished.”
Just as he finishes his statement, I hear Butterfly enter the house. She walks into the grand entry looking a bit uncertain, no doubt wondering who the Lincoln belongs to. Windsor takes her coat and briefcase, and Fred and I stand when she enters. She looks really beautiful in a black skinny leg pantsuit with a red blouse and high heels. I watch her carefully and she’s having no difficulty walking, so I’m assuming that the heels aren’t giving her problems yet, even though she is in her third trimester now. She looks around the room at the unfamiliar faces before her eyes rest on Courtney. It takes a brief moment, but she realizes who she is and her eyes narrow before she remembers herself.
“Hello,” she says to our guests as she enters the room.
“Ana,” I put my hand in the small of her back and lead her further into the room, “this is Fred and Adelaide Wilson. They’re old friends of my family.” Her gaze softens after the introduction and she extends her hand to Adelaide.
“Mrs. Wilson, it’s very nice to meet you,” she smiles pleasantly.
“Addie, please,” she says, taking Ana’s hand. “You’re just as pretty as Grace described you.”
“Thank you,” she says with a blush. She turns to Fred.
“Fred, Anastasia. It’s lovely to finally meet you in person.”
“Friends call me Ana, Fred,” she says extending her hand to him. “The pleasure is all mine.”
“You already know their granddaughter, Courtney,” I say, gesturing to her. Butterfly looks at Courtney, then takes a seat on the sofa behind her.
“I know of her, yes,” she says, coldly. Hmm, take no prisoners.
“Fred and I were extremely humiliated when we heard what happened,” Adelaide begins. “What Courtney did to you was immeasurably inappropriate and we don’t want you to think that we condone it for one moment.”
“Just so that you know, Ana,” Fred interjects, “we’re not bigots. We would feel this way had she made inappropriate advances to Christian, too. We and the Greys have been friends for decades, almost as long as Carrick and Grace have been in Washington. They’re very dear to us, and we would hate for anything to smudge our friendship.”
“I understand, Fred,” Butterfly says. “You can only teach them the best that you can and be an example. The rest is up to them.” Adelaide raises her eyebrows.
“You’re wise for one so young,” she says. Butterfly smiles sadly.
“I wish I could say that it came naturally… or easily,” she says, her voice maudlin. Adelaide’s eyes fill with sympathy. I don’t know if they know Butterfly’s story, but she looks at Butterfly as if she can relate to suffering.
“That which does not kill us…” she trails off.
“Indeed,” Butterfly concurs. After a few moments of silence, Fred takes the floor again.
“Well, as I was telling Christian when we arrived, we didn’t mean to descend upon your home uninvited, but there’s something that Courtney needs to say to you both.” Butterfly’s eyes roll, but no one notices but me. She focuses on her hand and her rings while Courtney speaks.
“I really did have too much to drink that night,” Courtney begins. “I know that I should have known better or I should have told my grandmother or my grandfather. There’s no excuse for my behavior and I’m very sorry. Although I am not ashamed of my sexuality…” She throws a pointed look at her grandfather before she continues. “… I sincerely apologize for being so forward and disrespectful. I hope you can forgive me.”
Butterfly stands quickly, more effortlessly than I’ve ever seen since she’s been pregnant.
“Thank you,” she says, her answer short and crisp. “Your apology is accepted.” Fred and Adelaide have both risen with Butterfly. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” she says to Fred and Adelaide. “It’s been a terribly long and trying day for me and I have a little work that still needs to be done before the night is over. Please, feel free to stay as long as you like, but I’m going to have to excuse myself.”
“Oh, no, it’s perfectly alright, dear,” Adelaide says. “We intruded on your home.”
“No intrusion whatsoever,” Butterfly replies. “We’ll have to get together for lunch or something when we can have more time to talk and get to know each other.” Adelaide smiles.
“I’d like that very much,” she says sincerely and Butterfly returns her smile.
“How about we pencil in one day next week?” Butterfly says. Adelaide looks very pleased.
“That sounds wonderful!” Adelaide says. Butterfly pulls a business card from her pocket.
“As soon as you know what your schedule looks like, give me a call.”
“I’ll call you later this evening,” Adelaide replies.
“Perfect!” I’ll be goddamned. She’s networking! “Why don’t you bring Courtney along? You’re never too young to learn, right?” She turns a pointed glare at Courtney, no warmth whatsoever, before she turns back to Adelaide. “We’ll make it a real ladies lunch,” she adds.
“I think that’s a splendid idea,” Adelaide says, conspiratorially, throwing a knowing wink at Ana, who responds with a cat-caught-the-canary smile.
“I’ll look to hear from you tonight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really have to get to work.” She turns to Fred. “Fred, again, a pleasure. We’ll all have dinner. I’d love to get to know two of Grace and Carrick’s closest friends.”
“You’re enchanting, Ana,” Fred says, kissing her hand.
“Careful, my husband’s standing here.” They both laugh heartily. “You two have a good night, and please drive carefully.” She turns to me. “I’ll be in my office.” She calls to Windsor as she leaves the living room. He brings her briefcase and she’s gone, just like that. Shit, that was frosty. And when did she start carrying a briefcase again?
“I have a feeling that she’s someone that I wouldn’t want to cross,” Fred says, with a smirk.
“I have a feeling that she’s going to be a valuable ally,” Adelaide says, with a smile.
I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long night.
He doesn’t want to see me be upset or hurt. That’s bullshit and he knows it. I hadn’t even decided to do the interviews. I hadn’t even had an opportunity to give the matter any additional thought with everything going on with Helping Hands—and if I did decide to do the interviews, that would be the only reason why I would do them! I don’t know if he’s afraid that I’m going to say the wrong thing or if he’s trying to treat me like a frail little broken child who’s going to freeze up in front of the cameras and can’t make solid decisions. Part of me is really pissed and the other part of me is feeling very vengeful.
On top of everything else, he wants to get sarcastic and act all wounded because I won’t be a good little girl and smile pretty for his demands.
I don’t so much care that he doesn’t want me to do the interviews. I already knew that he wouldn’t immediately be on board with it and that he might take some convincing if I did decide to move ahead with them. What’s pissing me off is that he systematically shot down everything I said because he had already decided for me that I wasn’t doing the interviews. His reasoning was so shabby that in the end, I don’t know if he was just putting the kibosh on the whole thing or if he was making things up. First, he acts like I can’t handle myself in public, and then he proceeds to make it look like I was the helpless poor little pregnant lady who couldn’t deal with the big bad reporters. When none of that worked, he made it clear that he would most likely sabotage any interview that I agreed to because he would likely refuse to approve any questions beyond recipes and shoe size as unacceptable.
I’ve told him that I won’t do the interviews, so I won’t. After I have completed my call with my beloved husband, I compose an email and send it to all three radio stations.
After consulting with my husband, I have decided not to proceed with any interviews at this time. Hopefully, in the future, I will have the opportunity to discuss my experience and my charity, Helping Hands. Please accept my apologies.
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands
So that’s that.
I’m looking at the report for the planning meeting and getting angrier and angrier that it seems like my husband wants me to be the good little wifey and follow his demands. Granted, I told him that I would do what he asks and I will, but I won’t be silenced this way. I can’t get any additional funding or exposure for the Center if I just lie down and keep quiet like he wants. So I won’t be doing media appearances, but I won’t keep quiet.
**Marilyn, I need you in my office, please.**
I spend a few more moments looking over my bullet points before Marilyn gets to the office.
“You ready to go, Bosslady?” she asks as she walks into my office.
“Almost. I have a project for you.” She sits down and pulls out her iPad. “I want you to get me a comprehensive list of every country club within a 50-mile radius.” She frowns.
“Country clubs. I have a plan.”
“I… would really like to know what plan you have that involves country clubs.”
“Christian got word that the radio stations wanted to interview and he just called a moment ago to drop the ax. I didn’t even have a say-so in the matter. It was ‘no’ and that was it.”
“Did he tell you why?” she asks.
“He tried, but he failed miserably,” I tell her. “I can somewhat understand why he wouldn’t want me to do any live public appearances. One wrong move and you’re dead. They like to back you into corners, ambush you, ask you private questions, lead you into a false sense of security, then make a sharp left turn and drop some bomb on you. He treated me like I didn’t already know this! He completely acted like I was helpless, like I had absolutely no idea that this is what they do and I couldn’t handle it if they did. Everything I said to him fell on deaf ears and he just totally pissed me off. So there went any opportunity that I had for exposure for the work and new projects that Helping Hands is doing.”
“So where do the country clubs fit in?”
“I have to do it the old fashioned way,” I tell her. “I have to pound the pavement.” She frowns. She has no idea what I’m talking about. “I’m putting the word on the wire that the Greys are looking for country club membership.” She shrugs and starts typing into the iPad. She still doesn’t get it.
My business cards with my new contact information showed up this morning and not a moment too soon. I take a few out of the box and put them in my pocket, then I start putting my documents and laptop away so that we can head to Helping Hands. “Marilyn?”
“Hmm?” She says raising her head to me.
“Everywhere we go—our wedding, red carpet events, the Faces of Abuse release party—I was always behind Christian. I was being introduced to so many people that I was never expected to remember. You know why?”
“Because they weren’t my contacts. They were Christian’s. I went into the parties as Mrs. Christian Grey. Nobody knew who Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey was and few people cared to know. I understand that I have no notoriety as Anastasia Steele—a face of abuse, only as Mrs. Christian Grey. That was fine for a while, but it’s not anymore. I’m more passionate now about what I’m doing. I’ve closed my practice to focus on it and on raising my children. This is what I had in mind when I went to school, when I spoke to that career advisor in my sophomore year. This is what I had been looking for all this time and I didn’t know it—when I was doing my internship, when I volunteered at the community center—this is what I was looking for. I’ll be damned if I’m going to hide my candle under a bushel now that I’ve found it.” A small smile plays with Marilyn’s lips.
“Then let’s make it happen, Bosslady.”
It was a long day—a productive day, but a long one—and I’m exhausted. I still have some numbers to go over and I want to clean up my final report before we submit it with our documentation tomorrow to the licensing board. We have everything we need and I don’t see any problem getting accredited. We’ll have to hire more specialized staff for some of the things that we want to do, but that won’t be a problem. Donations are still coming in, thank God, and I intend to make sure that’s the status quo. No more depending on a few generous—and sometimes, not so generous—benefactors. Helping Hands will be a force all its own by the time I’m finished with it.
“Ana, you have been a Godsend,” Grace had said after the planning meeting. “The Center has never had this kind of momentum, this kind of purpose. We’re even getting more volunteers. It’s simply amazing what you’re doing for these people. I can’t begin to know how to thank you.”
Ben’s phone rings and I hear him tell someone that we’re ten minutes away. Something’s going on at the house. I sigh heavily. I’m way too tired for any drama and I hope that’s not what’s waiting for me when I get there. I just want to finish my report for tomorrow, get something to eat, and go to bed!
There’s an SUV in the portico. Company? Ugh!
Windsor greets me when I get to the grand entry. He takes my briefcase and helps me out of my coat.
“Who’s here?” I ask him.
“Friends of Mr. Grey,” he says, gesturing to the formal living room. I can’t see who it is yet. “Call me when you need this,” he says raising my briefcase slightly.
“Thank you.” I straighten my clothes, take a deep breath and walk into the living room. Who do I find there but an older couple and the melon hussy from the Affair. What the hell is she doing in my house?
Once I greet the older couple, Fred and Adelaide Wilson, I learn that they’re old friends of Christian’s family and the melon hussy is their granddaughter. Fred and Addie, as she prefers to be called, voice their shared dismay upon learning about the melon hussy’s behavior. I’m pleased to see that they are genuine in their contrition, although they aren’t the ones that should feel this way. Courtney—aka the melon hussy—extends her rehearsed apology once her grandparents have stopped talking.
I have nothing to say to this girl and she has nothing to say to me. In fact, her presence is pissing me off. It’s obvious that her grandparents threatened her in some way, prompting her to give me that half-hearted botched-up apology. She didn’t even raise her head to look at me when she said it. What is she—22, maybe 23 years old? If she had her way, she would still be running around like the half-dressed, Chiquita-banana-wannabe, low-class hooker that she was at the party.
I loathe insincere apologies. She’s being forced to do this. She’s not doing on her own free will because she feels badly about what she did. I need to get out of this room before I say something I’ll regret. I accept her half-hearted apology and proceed to excuse myself. As Addie and I are saying our goodbyes, a stroke of genius hits me. I immediately suggest lunch with Addie so that I can pick her brain and make my first beneficial acquaintance. To add a little sugar to the pot, I suggest that she bring Courtney to the lunch so that we can begin to beat this little… misguided girl into shape. Addie immediately picks up on my meaning and agrees wholeheartedly. I’m thrilled to have made my first connection, and I have plans for the melon hussy. I guess I should be thanking her for coming on to me after all.
I have jazz streaming from the surround sound in my office as I begin tweaking the reports for tomorrow. I shoot off a text to Marilyn that I’ve made my first connection and that she and I going shopping tomorrow before I have my session with Ace. It’s time for Mare to acquire that “being seen” wardrobe we discussed, and there are a few pieces that I need as well. I was able to put together the black suit last minute, but now I’m going to need a few more items for what I have in mind.
Addie calls me about an hour after I escaped to my office. We set a date to have lunch next Wednesday to discuss things and decide what to do with Little Miss Melon.
I take off my glasses and pop my neck when I’ve finished the last of my reports. I’m going to need an iPad, too, it seems. There are a lot of little details that I need to be on top of and I can’t lug my laptop out every time I need to correlate or gather information. When the occasion calls for it, I can put information in my iPhone and upload it to the Cloud. I don’t want to be one of those people where my personal assistant knows more about my life than I do, although to some degree, I already know that’s going to happen. I completely forgot that I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Culley after my session with Ace until she reminded me.
I take off my glasses and run my fingers through my hair. I’m famished. The work is done and it’s time to find sustenance. I close my laptop and walk towards my door only to run into Christian just as I’m about to exit.
“You look very nice,” he says.
“Thank you,” I answer flatly.
“How did your meetings go?” He wants to make small talk.
“Very well,” I reply. “I got some very useful information and I just finished our final report. We shouldn’t have any problem getting accredited. With any luck, we should be able to start classes in the spring.”
“That’s good news,” he says, a hint of pride hiding in his voice. “Did you need me to talk to anyone? Maybe I can push the application through a little faster…” Of course, you can, Mr. Grey. Thanks, but no thanks.
“No,” I say stoically, “I think we’ve got it under control. Thanks anyway, though.” So now we stand there for a moment, trying to ignore the elephant in the room. I won’t rush him, though. I’ll let him think about where the conversation goes next.
“You made quite the impression on the Wilsons,” he says. I raise my eyebrows.
“I did?” I ask, somewhat surprised. “I didn’t say much.”
“You didn’t have to,” he says. “Your attire, your demeanor, and the few words you did say spoke volumes. Adelaide is quite anxious to get to know you better.”
“Yes, we’re having lunch on Wednesday,” I tell him. His brow furrows.
“Wow, you work fast.” I just shrug. “You’re networking. I recognize the techniques.” Trying to call me out, Grey?
“The Wilsons told me that they were friends of your parents. I just want to get to know them,” I respond.
“And that’s it?” he asks. I shrug again. “You know, that fundraising committee of Mom’s has been around for a while, too. Maybe you would want to get to know them.” Now, he’s just being sarcastic.
“I doubt that any of those women want anything to do with me,” I say, flippantly. “After all, I snagged the prize of the greater Seattle area. I will forever be persona non grata to the mothers and the daughters.” He raises one eyebrow at me.
“Do you want to talk about this?” he asks. Oh, now you want to talk?
“About the radio spots.”
“You don’t want me to do them. I said that I wouldn’t. What’s left to talk about?”
“You’re clearly displeased about it,” he responds, speaking in a business tone. Now, I’m being handled. Okay, Grey.
“What does it matter?” His brow furrows momentarily, then the impassive face returns.
“Of course, it matters, Anastasia,” he says flatly.
“Apparently it doesn’t, Grey,” I respond, my voice as impassive as his. That got his attention.
“Any particular reason why I’m Grey now?” he asks. Is he being sarcastic or is he really that obtuse?
“For the same reason that I’ve become Anastasia,” I respond folding my arms. The slight change in his expression lets me know that he didn’t realize that he was calling me by my formal name. He apparently just falls into it when he’s displeased or frustrated with me.
“I really think it was a bad idea to do the interviews,” he says.
“And you made that perfectly clear, so why are we talking about this again?”
“Because you’re clearly not happy about it,” he replies. “You’re walking around giving off this untouchable vibe. You’re pouting…”
“Pouting!” I say, surprised. “I’m pouting!” I almost want to laugh. He has never been so far off the mark during our entire relationship. “Mr. Grey, I can guarantee you that whatever it is that you think I’m doing or I may be doing, pouting is definitely not it!”
“Then what is it, Mrs. Grey?” he retorts. “I make it clear that it’s a bad idea—and why—for people to be shoving microphones and cameras in your face right now, and you’re acting like a crabby, bad-tempered child!” Flame on!
“Oh, spare me,” I counter. “You didn’t even give me any options. You made the decision for me and that was it. I didn’t have the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of the situation. Poor little billionaire wifey—sit down and do what you’re told. If you think that’s what’s going to happen in this marriage, you’re mistaken. I will not have my opinions or my common sense dismissed because the all-knowing, all seeing Christian Grey thinks he knows what’s best.”
“That’s not fair, and you know it,” he says. “I never claimed to know everything, but I do know this. I’ve been dealing with the media long before you and they are vultures. They will chew you up, spit you out, and leave you for dead. It has nothing to do with your perception of my omnipotence. It’s the truth. And yes, my wife was recently in an accident that left her in a coma for two weeks and nearly cost her life. Do you think they’ll look at that fact and proceed with caution? No, they’ll squeeze that story for every juicy detail that they can get. They’ll exploit the fact that one of my exes was the assailant and most likely do or say anything to upset you or piss you off just to get a reaction out of you, and the worse the reaction, the better for them and for their ratings.”
“And that’s what I’m talking about. You don’t give me one ounce of credit! I’m surprised you let me out alone. Oh, wait, you don’t. I have to have an escort every time I leave the house!” I knew that statement was unnecessary the minute it left my lips. I know why I need an escort when I leave the house, but it’s out there now, and Mr. Grey’s reaction is swift and sure.
“Are you serious?!” He’s mad now. “Are you seriously barking about the measures that we take for your safety?”
“First of all, sir, dogs bark—not me! Second of all, no, I’m not barking about measures taken for my security. I am, however, extremely irritated that I hold an advanced graduate degree, the general public is required to call me Doctor, and yet you seem to feel that I’m incapable of playing with the big kids!” We’re yelling at each other. We never yell at each other. The last time we had any kind of disagreement that was this heated was the fundraiser fiasco, and hell if I’m going to be the helpless little damsel when this conversation is over.
“Anastasia, need I remind you that you had a really bad experience with an extremely pushy and insensitive attorney a few months ago? The only reason why you weren’t splattered all over the internet and national media regurgitating all over that woman is because someone cared enough to preempt the footage. Do you think these vampires in the media are going to be so kind if you have a similar incident?”
And now, I’m floored. In order to drive his point home, he brings up one of the most humiliating moments of my life—one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. I couldn’t leave the stand, but I can walk off a set and he knows that, but he uses this moment… this moment… to prove his point. I can almost feel my insides shaking, but I’m cool as a cucumber on the outside.
“Point. Taken. Mr. Grey,” I say coolly. “I’ve already told you that I won’t do the interviews. Clearly, I am incapable of handling the media. You have made your point… again. Remind me to focus on your prior mistakes and point out your worst moments the next time we have a conversation like this.”
I’ve had quite enough of this conversation. I walk past him toward the door and he catches my arm as I pass. I’m taken aback—he’s not hurting me, but the fact that he’s physically preventing me from leaving has me a bit stunned.
“Oh, no, Anastasia,” he says, “You’re not walking out on this conversation. That’s not how it works. You don’t get to throw cutting words and walk away just because we have a difference of opinion.” A difference of opinion? Is that what he considers this—a difference of opinion? I look at his hand on my arm and I just want him to remove it.
“Christian,” I say calmly, “please release my arm.” He pauses for a moment, his brow furrowed. Then an unknown emotion crosses his face. I don’t what it is—maybe a combination of disbelief, shock and… insult, I think. He swallows hard and without moving his eyes, his hand drops from my arm and so do the unknown emotions. There’s nothing left but insult. Yes, definitely insult. Gray eyes pierce through my armor and send a slight chill down my spine. Without a word, he turns around and leaves the room, leaving me in the space with the lingering anger and indignity he obviously felt moments ago.
I can’t believe what just happened! He belittles me and the fact that I tell him to let go of my arm insults him? You’ve got to be kidding me! Fuck this shit! I need food and sleep. If you can’t take it, don’t fucking dish it out!
“Where’s Christian?” Uncle Herman asks when I come to the dinner table alone.
“In his office? In the gym? Out driving? I don’t know. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question right now, Uncle Herman. I have no idea where he is.” I take my seat and put my napkin on my lap. I’m starving and I want to eat. I’m thrilled when Ms. Solomon serves up pork chops with apples and onions, mashed potatoes, and a squash medley. I tear into my food like it’s my last meal.
“Slow down, Ana,” Chuck teases, “nobody’s going to take it.” I raise my eyes to him and swallow the mouthful that I’m chewing.
“It’s been a long day and I’m starving,” I tell him.
“Obviously,” he continues. Conversation continues around the table. I learn that Chuck has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow for follow-up and Keri is going with him. I’d like to be a fly on the wall for that visit. I’m not saying much because I’m too busy shoveling food down my throat. Halfway into my third pork chop, I finally stop. God, I’m stuffed now, but I feel so much better than the ravenous beast that sat down at the table several minutes ago. What I wouldn’t give for a Sancerre or a Cabernet Sauvignon right now. I notice the room falls bone quiet as I’m sipping my spritzer. I look over my shoulder and find Christian standing in the hallway from the kitchen.
“Oh, don’t stop talking on my account,” he says, sharply. “I don’t want to be accused of detaining anyone else.” A few frowns go around the table as nobody knows what he’s talking about—except me. I glare at him for a moment, slightly humiliated again, but more angry than not. I wipe my mouth with my napkin and throw it into my plate before picking up my spritzer and marching wordlessly out of the room. I won’t stroke his ego, but I won’t accept his insults and wisecracks, either.
I’m aching for all of the things that I can’t have right now—a glass of wine, a burger… again, a hot shower. I have to settle for lukewarm, chocolate, and a refill on my spritzer from the mini-fridge. I make my own fire and snuggle into the blankets with my body pillow. I don’t think about him at all. I just go to sleep.
Something’s pulling my hair. Well, not pulling it, but I feel something in my hair… playing in it maybe. I open my eyes and see that the fire has died, quite some time ago it appears. I still feel exhausted. The light from the tiniest crack in the drapes lets me know that it’s morning. The alarm didn’t go off, so it can’t be that late. God, I slept like the dead. I think I slept too well. Emotionally and physically, yesterday wore on me. I’m too tired to get up, but I know that there’s a lot to do today and I can’t just lie here. I groan audibly at the thought of having to emerge from my cocoon. I don’t want to face the day, but I don’t have much of a choice.
His hand gently strokes my hair and I open my eyes. Did he sleep here last night? I wouldn’t know. I was too tired. He kisses my hair and I feel him lean his forehead on my head.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I shouldn’t have said those things and I’m sorry.” I don’t respond immediately and he keeps stroking my hair. “I was insensitive to say those things and to bring up what happened in the courtroom. It was very unfair and I won’t do that again.”
“Okay,” I respond barely audibly.
“I still feel the same about the interviews,” he admits. “I truly, truly feel like it’s a bad idea to do them. I’m sorry, I can’t change the way I feel.”
“I didn’t expect you to change the way you felt,” I tell him. “That’s why I said I wouldn’t do them.”
“I wasn’t trying to belittle you, Butterfly,” he continues. “I know that’s what I did, but I wasn’t trying to.”
“I know you weren’t trying to, Christian, but when you have a point to make, you have to think about the context. Some of the things you said were very harsh and they were pointed low blows. That’s never good. I was only trying to defend myself and my position…”
“I know, Baby. I know,” he says kissing my hair again. “I never thought you couldn’t handle yourself. I’ve never looked down on you, Ana. I respect you immensely, you have to know that. I’ve just seen how ugly these situations can get and I’ve even seen it happen to you. I just don’t want a replay.” I, of all people, know that Christian can get very passionate about making a point and I guess I should give him a little leeway when it comes to that, but he has to consider who he’s talking to. I’m not a battle to win or someone to be conquered. I wasn’t pleased with his decision, but I accepted it and he just kept going because I wouldn’t take it with a smile.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Baby,” he says when I’m too quiet for too long.
“I just don’t know how to handle these types of disagreements with you,” I tell him. “I can’t even categorize what happened between us yesterday. I feel like my opinions and feelings were ignored and dismissed. Not only did you want me to accept it, but you wanted me to do it with a smile. When I wouldn’t do that, you became vicious, condescending, and insulting…”
“And then I made you run,” he interjects. “I’m sorry that I did that.” I roll over to face him.
“Oh no, you didn’t make me run,” I correct him. “I left. I didn’t run. There’s a big difference. Running is escaping the situation at all costs, with or without resolution. Leaving says that I’ve said all that I have to say and I’m getting the hell out of here before I say or do something that I’m going to regret.” He examines me for a moment.
“Okay,” he says. “You didn’t run.” His gaze changes a bit. I don’t know what I’m seeing, but it doesn’t alarm me so I don’t freak out.
“My whole life is different than it was a year ago,” I tell him. “I can’t come and go as I please. Everything is so much more intense. I’ve lost a friend. I feel like I need permission to breathe. I’ve given up my practice completely, and now what I have is the charity and my family. Some changes are great and some—not so great, but I try to take everything in stride and understand the reasons for what may be going on in my life.
“You say that you respect me, but you wouldn’t even hear me out. There was no compromise, Christian. You had made the decision before you called me yesterday and you can’t tell me that’s not true. You didn’t call me to talk about it yesterday. You called me to tell me ‘no,’ to put the little wife in her place.”
“Ana…” he protests.
“Yes, I know, you weren’t trying to belittle me, but that’s how I felt when I got off the phone with you yesterday. It wasn’t even that I had decided yea or nay on the radio spots. It was that you never gave me an option. I don’t know what upsets me more—that you made the decision for me or that you don’t give me any credit.” He drops his head and sighs heavily.
“I do give you credit, Ana,” he says, his voice slightly defeated. “Like I said, I respect you immensely.”
“Then trust me to make the right decisions,” I say poignantly. “I know how to avoid conflict and I know how to leave a bad situation. You said that you don’t want me to do the interviews and I won’t do them, but I know how to walk off a set or refuse to answer a question if someone puts me in a bad place. I also have my own claws if someone tries to attack me. I was held to a certain set of rules in the courtroom. It was a decidedly unpleasant experience that if I had a choice, I wouldn’t have subjected myself to. The two situations are apples and rocks and it was unfair to compare them.”
“I know, I know,” he laments. I still don’t feel like he understands how I feel, but I won’t continue this conversation because it just sounds like I’m berating him. There is one other issue that needs to be addressed.
“What was the whole insult-sensitivity thing about me asking you to let go of my arm?”
He raises his head quickly and glares at me. He sits up in bed facing me. It’s only just now that I see he’s completely dressed.
“I didn’t insult you about that!” he defends. “I didn’t say anything.”
“That’s right,” I say, now sitting up in bed to face him. “You didn’t insult me. You were insulted. Why?” I stare at him and wait for an answer. He glares at me for a moment or two more before he runs his hand through his hair.
“I don’t know,” he says, lowly.
“Yes, you do,” I protest.
“No, Ana, I don’t!” he retorts. “I don’t know why I felt insulted by the request. I just did!” Well, at least he admits that part.
“From the comment that you made when you came to the dinner table, I was thinking that you thought I felt like you were trying to restrain me.” He sighs.
“That could be it,” he admits shaking his head.
“You’re right.” He raises the same insulted gray eyes to me that he did last night. “And don’t look at me like that! I did feel like you were trying to restrain me and I didn’t like it. Instead of going all batshit, I simply asked you to let me go. If I was wrong, now is the time to say so.” He shakes his head again.
“I didn’t want you to leave,” he says. “I didn’t want you to run away from what I felt was a very important conversation. I didn’t squeeze your arm or snatch your arm, I just held it. Yes, I may have been stopping you from running away, but I wasn’t preventing you from leaving and I certainly wasn’t restraining you. Like you said, there’s a difference.”
“Well, I need you to know that when we’re having a heated conversation, it’s probably not a good idea to try to stop me in that way. I will try to be more mindful of when the conversation is and isn’t over, but I need you to know that is not a method to be employed when I’m trying to walk away. Most likely, I’m trying to prevent the conversation from completely going south, and grabbing—or holding—my arm is incendiary to that situation.” He pauses for a moment and considers my words.
“Duly noted,” he says, without malice. “I can see how it would be.” Thank God for that! I didn’t need this to be another fight, but he did need to know how this makes me feel.
“Good,” I say with a heavy sigh. Geez, my day hasn’t even started yet. I note that he looks quite conservative in a gray Mad Men Brooks Brothers suit with a black tie with gray stripes. I should probably get up and get dressed myself. There’s a lot to do today.
He surprises me by closing the space between us and capturing me in a deep, emotional kiss. I feel his urgency and anxiety, prompting me to touch his face. His response is immediate. He takes me in a strong embrace and bends me over his lap, never breaking our kiss. His lips are bruising, his tongue intense and coaxing. He’s pouring every uncertain emotion into this kiss and I feel them. I feel them all. He whimpers when our lips part and I gasp a huge breath of air.
“I hate when we fight!” he breathes heavily against my cheek.
“So do I,” I gasp, still trying to catch my breath. He kisses me feverishly again, on my cheek, my ear, my neck, until he makes his way to my lips again. He feeds on the kisses for a few more moments before he breaks the kiss again and places his forehead on mine.
“I have to go,” he says, slightly breathless. “I have a breakfast meeting.”
“Okay,” I breathe. He kisses me gently once more.
“I love you,” he says softly.
“I love you, too,” I reply. He sits me up on the bed and takes a last, longing look at me before leaving our room.
I sit on the bed for a little while longer, pondering what I’m going to wear today and what all needs to be done before I have the urge to go to the landing over the grand entry. After checking to make sure that no one will see me in my nightshirt, I look over the balustrade down at my husband, who is wrapping a scarf around his neck and slipping into his black wool coat. He looks so distinguished—he always does. Even in casual clothes, he always stands straight and carries himself like a soldier and a gentleman.
But not today.
Today, he still looks distinguished and knightly, but his shoulders are slouched a bit and he appears to be carrying the world on his shoulders. He pauses with his gloved hand on the door knob and lets his chin rest on his chest for a moment. After a heavy sigh, he opens the doors, walks through it, and closes it behind him.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
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