Christian POV: This is Carter Reed…

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“Christian, I really think we need to close the sales pipeline,” Ros says, and I let out a frustrated sigh as I shift the phone to my other shoulder.

“Your concerns are noted and I’m disregarding them. It’s only March, we’re not closing the sales pipeline before January 1 prospects even go out to bid.”

“Are you taking into consideration the massive amount of resources we’re going to have to divert into getting the state project off the ground? We’re talking complete infrastructure overhauls in thirteen different counties. Fucking 43% of Clallam county doesn’t even have access to cell towers and you’re trying to build them fiber optics service.”

“It only has to go through the county seat,” I argue. “We can find the resources to get shit done, what we can’t do is cut off our revenue stream before our acquisition pool has closed for the year.”

“I think you’re stretching us too thin, Christian.”

“And I think you’re thinking too small.”

She’s silent for a moment, though I hear her take a deep breath through her nose. My fingers drum on my desk impatiently as I wait for her concession.

“Fine,” she says at last. “I’ll look over the prospect report you sent over and we can discuss it on Monday. I’ll send Andrea a meeting request to schedule some time on your calendar.”

“Good. Let me know if you need anything else from me.”

“Mmhmm” She mumbles back, and then the phone clicks and she’s gone. I roll my eyes and turn back to my computer, clicking over to my calendar to find an opening so I can anticipate when Andrea will schedule our meeting on Monday, but I don’t even have fifteen minutes available. I frown as I read through the dozen or so meetings I have scheduled and then reach over and press 0 on my desk phone to page reception.

“Yes, Mr. Grey?” Leila answers almost immediately.

“Is Andrea there with you?” I ask.

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” Andrea answers.

“Pick up, please.”

I hear a click and then Andrea speaks again. “What can I do for you, Mr. Grey?”

“I need to meet with Ros first thing Monday morning but I don’t have an opening. I have a meeting with HR at 9 AM, what is that regarding?”

“Miss Menke has requested some time to go over the intern finalists for this summer,” Andrea says.

“Push it, this takes precedence. Schedule the time with Ros and send her a calendar invite.”

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” Andrea replies, and I hang up the phone without any salutation. I turn back to the prospect report my acquisitions team has sent me and begin sorting through them, looking for anything that peaks my interest, when my computer pings and several calendar notifications pop up at once. The first is simply the cancellation of my meeting on Monday with HR, immediately followed by the request Andrea sent for my meeting with Ros. I delete the first and accept the second before I open the notification for the third. It’s a reminder for my mother’s birthday dinner tonight.

My mind flashes back to the conversation I’d had with Elliot yesterday afternoon when he’d confronted me about having lunch with Elena. Of course, he first heard the story from Mom and she’d blown everything out of proportion so by the time he spoke to me, he was screaming about how I was fucking Elena, right in front of Anastasia. That conversation ended about as well as the encounter I had with my father did, and when I finally was able to push him off the phone by telling him I was walking into a meeting, he’d promised me we would talk more about this tonight. But, I won’t be there tonight and since I’m sure he’ll be landing in Seattle soon, it won’t be long until he figures that out and starts blowing up my phone.

I reach down to preemptively silence it, and as I do, I note the time. It’s three thirty and, as per usual, my mind automatically calculates the time difference between Seattle and Cambridge. It’s six thirty there now, just about dinner time. I begin to chew on the inside of my cheek as I wonder if she’s home or not. I didn’t have the chance to call her this morning because I had an early teleconference meeting with a potential client in New York, but… there’s no one there for her to hide behind now. No one to pick up and give me some bullshit excuse to shield her from me, and Elena is right. It’s time I do something to take control of the situation. She can either pick up and talk to me, or I’ll just leave everything I want to say over the answering machine and let it echo through the house.

I take a deep breath, preparing myself, and then slowly pick up my phone to dial the number I know by heart. It rings, and rings… and rings. By the 7th ring, I’m sure she’s not going to pick up, so I start rehearsing in my mind everything I want to say, but then, the ringing stops.

“Steele residence,” a voice I can vaguely recognize answers. “This is Carter Reed speaking.”

Immediately, I lose all coherent train of thought and I feel my stomach clench as bile creeps into my throat. She isn’t alone. She’s with…

“Carter Reed?” I repeat, my voice hoarse as I force out the words.

“Yes, may I ask who’s calling?”

The cool, casual way he responds to me, like it’s perfectly natural and appropriate for him to be answering Anastasia’s phone causes my stomach to clench again. There are very few explanations as to why he would feel comfortable enough to pick up Ana’s phone and none of them sit well with me.

“This is Christian Grey,” I say, lowering and forcing the strength in my voice so that I don’t sound weak over the phone.

“Hi, Christian,” he replies. It takes me a second to respond to him and I realize that I’m unconsciously analyzing every word he speaks, trying to pick up on and interpret every variance in his tone and inflection. He sounds… sure of himself, completely non-plussed by an ex-boyfriend calling Ana’s house. Is that because he’s confident of his position in her life, or because there’s nothing for him to be protective of? My heart starts racing as I try to convince myself it’s the latter, but knowing our history and that he dislikes me close to, if not as much as I detest him, I’m not having much luck. Well, if it’s confidence, I plan on testing that.

“Is Anastasia at home?” I ask, trying to sound as though I have no doubt in my mind she’d take my call.

“Ana? Yeah, she’s right here. Let me grab her,” he says. He pauses and when he speaks again his voice is muted as he, assumedly, holds the phone out for her. “Ana, it’s for you.”  

Suddenly my breath catches in my throat. I’d expected him to give me the run around, either making an excuse or staking a claim. But he just… holy fuck, he’s going to give her the phone.

I feel my heart beating furiously in my chest as I listen to him call out for her again. I take a deep breath, preparing myself to finally hear her voice again, trying to remember what I want to say to her, and then begin counting the seconds that pass while I wait. But before she can pick up, the call disconnects.

Fuck.

I glare down at my phone, feeling a rush of fury, but I have full service so I don’t know why the call dropped. I feel the muscle in my jaw twitch as I redial the number, but this time, I get the answering machine. The beep seems to echo in my ear, but I can’t pour my heart out to her over the machine knowing Reed is there, listening. I swallow as I realize, the call didn’t drop… he hung up on me. He’s dangling her in front of me. He is staking a claim.

My chest rises and falls with long erratic movements as I try to temper the anger that courses through me at the images that flash across my mind. Elliot has told me over and over again that Ana isn’t seeing anyone and Taylor tells me that Sawyer has given him the same assurances. But when was the last time I asked? Has something changed? Maybe he’s not dating her… maybe he’s just fucking her. Would either of them tell me that?

I take a deep breath, and cover my mouth with the side of my fist as the thought triggers my gag reflex.

Reed? I mean… Reed? How could she possibly choose a piece of shit like Carter fucking Reed? There is literally nothing redeeming about that human waste of space. He’s vile, and crude, and, utterly pathetic. The best parts of him, ran down his mother’s leg 22 years ago.

A translucent red hue colors everything in the room as I reach down and pick up my phone again, this time looking through my contacts list for the number I told myself I’d only saved in case of emergency.

Fuck it. This is an emergency.

I hold the phone to my ear, rapping my knuckles angrily on the desk as I wait.

“Mr. Grey?” Sawyer greets me, sounding slightly confused. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“You can tell me why the fuck Anastasia is alone with Carter fucking Reed right now,” I shout into the phone.

“What?” he replies, making it obvious that he has no idea what I’m talking about. “She said she was working tonight.”

“Yeah, working the come out of his cock,” I snap. “Get the fuck over there and get him out of my house.”

“Yes, sir,” he says. I hang up the phone and toss it onto the desk, staring at it angrily for a moment before attempting to return to work. It’s difficult though as I find myself replaying the one time I saw the two of them together back when they were dating over and over again. Him pulling her into him, calling her baby, kissing her… My jaw tightens as I press my thumb into my index finger, just above the joint, to crack my knuckle. It’s a good kind of release so I spend the next few minutes purposefully thinking about the time I’d punched Reed in his motherfucking face. It’s a pleasant memory but it doesn’t ease any of the anger I feel about this situation. Reed has said horrendous things about Anastasia, TO Anastasia even, but apparently she forgave him. Even to the point where she’s now taking her panties off for him.  

The anger flares again and I get out of my chair and begin pacing across my office, but it’s nearly 8 o’clock until I hear back from Sawyer.

“Well,” I bark expectantly as I answer.

“She’s gone to bed, sir,” Sawyer answers immediately. “When I got here, Ana- er… Miss Steele and Reed were studying. Just studying. They were in the living room with all the windows drawn open, sitting on opposite ends of the table from one another. He left once I arrived and I’ve stayed with her until she went to bed. She assures me nothing is going on between her and Reed. She said she simply invited him over to study and I haven’t observed anything around the house or in her behavior tonight that would suggest that wasn’t true.”

“Fine,” I reply shortly. “Stay with her, Sawyer. Kate and Elliot will be back on Sunday, I don’t want her alone in the house.”

“Yes, sir,” he agrees, and again, I hang up without any kind of salutation. I collapse into the chair behind my desk, trying to let go of the tension that’s had me wound up all night. Surprisingly though, I don’t feel any sense of relief despite the fact that Sawyer’s report was as good as it could have been, considering the situation. It’s then I realize that it’s because keeping Reed away from Anastasia doesn’t get me any closer to her. Knowing that she isn’t fucking him doesn’t mean that she isn’t, or won’t soon be, fucking anyone else, and the idea of her sharing her body, her thoughts, her laughter, her love, or her life with anyone else feels like being stabbed in the chest.

I put my face in my hands as I lean over and rest my elbows on my desk, fighting back the pain that refuses to recede. It’s becoming unbearable and as I wonder how much more of this I can possibly take, Elena’s words echo in my head.

You’re doing this to yourself. You have to let go of her to let go of the pain, Christian.

I take a deep breath as I settle back into my chair and stare at the screen of my laptop. Is it time to let her go? I can’t imagine ever not loving her. I feel like she’s a part of me, but… I’m not getting anywhere and there isn’t any indication that she’s ever going to open the lines of communication between us again. So maybe I don’t have a choice. Maybe, in this instance, self-preservation means I stop fighting. I stop calling, I stop hoping, and I stop caring. I let her go, and I let her live her life away from me. Without me. I forget about us and I take Elena’s advice.

Loving people is a weakness. Loving people makes pain and loss an inevitability. Close your heart, and you will be invincible.

I do feel pain, I do feel loss… and it’s unbearable. At this point, I would do anything to get rid of this pain, to stop feeling this way every single day. But there’s only one way to make that happen and I don’t know if I can do it.

Am I ready to let Anastasia go?

I get out of my chair, collect my things, and leave my office as I ponder this question again and again, but I get no where. So when I get home, I make myself a drink and pace back and forth in front of the windows of the great room. When my tumbler is empty and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to find answers staring out at the Seattle skyline, I reach into my pocket, pull out my iPhone, and dial Elena’s number.

Next Chapter

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