“Well, what if she…?”
“But she could…”
I frown at Luke from the passenger’s seat. The traffic is heavier than normal because of an accident on 2nd Ave, so we’re stuck behind a long line of bright red taillights and angry horns. Luke stares through the windshield, irritated, cursing under his breath about the idiot in front of us. I know it’s not the traffic that’s bothering him.
“I’m just saying that when Christian and I broke up, I thought I’d never want to be with him again, and we’re celebrating our one year wedding anniversary next week. Look at Kate and Elliot!”
“Yeah, the problem is that you and Kate never actually changed your minds. You never fell out of love with Grey.”
“She fell out of love with you? She said that?”
He lets out a long breath. “It doesn’t matter what she said, it’s over. I don’t even care.”
“You should be happy.” He turns to me, a wide grin masking the emptiness in his eyes. “The gang’s back together again.”
“Well, of course I’m glad you’re back, but I don’t need you to put on a brave face for me. You said you loved her. Don’t you want me to like… I don’t know, cuddle with you all night and tell you how pretty you are while you cry all over me? I could bring chocolate ice cream and cookie dough.”
He laughs. “Could you imagine telling your husband that you weren’t coming to bed with him because you needed to come cuddle with me?”
“He didn’t mind when I did it with Kate.”
“You were already in Cambridge when Kate and Elliot broke up. And Kate and I are not equal best friends in the eyes of the law.”
“I know, I know… you’re my actual best friend.”
“Damn right.” He gives me a side smile, but as he turns his attention back to the traffic, his good mood fades again and I watch his blue eyes suddenly go hollow.
“Luke, what can I do?”
I slump back into my seat, feeling guilt seep into every one of my pores. Luke only lost Jade because he was forced into a choice between me or her, and I wasn’t even the one he wanted to choose.
“It’s not your fault, Ana,” he tells me, as if he can read my mind.
“I don’t know if that’s true.”
“Then fine, it’s your fault.” I turn a pained look on him. He grins back. “Nope, you’ve ruined any shot I have at future happiness. I guess you really owe me one, Steele.”
“Yeah.” I turn back and stare solemnly out my window as we finally start to move again. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
He flips the turn signal to merge over to the parking garage next to my building. “Can I tell you something, though? For real?”
“It’s killing me. But having something to move on to is a lot. You’re not just my job, you’re not just my best friend. You’re the home I can always go back to when I feel like I have nothing left. So, thank you.”
I reach across the space between us, and squeeze his arm. “You don’t have to thank me. We’re family, Luke. Family is forever.”
He smiles, then starts to shake his head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love you, you love me. Let’s talk about sports or something.”
I laugh. He pulls into a parking place, then takes my bags before we head to the elevators.
I’m in a great mood getting into the office. Not just because Luke is back, but because, for the first time in a long time, I have good news to share at our weekly staff meeting. I’m actually a little giddy as I collect everything I need to get started. Just one last look at my email before I head out…
From: Chrisitan Grey
Subject: Problematic Distractions
Date: July 16th 2012 08:49 AM
To: Anastasia Grey
I’ve been trying to read this proposal in front of me for almost twenty minutes, but I can’t absorb any of it because I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful you looked this morning. I should have dragged you from Calliope’s daycare to my office.
What a shame.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings
I type a hurried response.
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Loose Jargon
Date: July 16th 2012 09:10 AM
To: Christian Grey
So I’m ‘problematic,’ huh?
Editor-in-Chief, Greenwich Small Press
With a smirk, I hit send and reach over to pull my freshly printed agendas out of the printer cartridge. Christian’s response comes just as I’m closing down my computer.
From: Christian Grey
Date: July 16th 2012 09:11 AM
To: Anastasia Grey
Only if I’m going to save my company.
Have lunch with me this afternoon.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings
From: Anastasia Grey
Subject: Hot Commodity
Date: July 16th 2012 09:13 AM
To: Christian Grey
Can’t. I’ve heard rumors GP is chasing a hot new prospective author. I couldn’t let the competition just walk away with a potential best-seller, now could I?”
Editor-in-Chief, Greenwich Small Press
Piling everything in my arms, I scurry off for my meeting. I’m the last to arrive, which I hate, but part of me can’t stop smiling either. Christian’s email banter is like a homing beacon, drawing me back to him.
I’ve missed that kind of back and forth between us. I haven’t seen much of his playful side since the end of the fusion project. Actually, I haven’t seen much of anything except the CEO.
Not even the dominant…
I settle down at the head of the long table in the conference room, smiling up at my team. Before I can even start though, Stevens stands so that the entire room turns their attention to him.
“Did you make a decision on the Hawkins manuscript I sent you on Friday?”
“I haven’t read it,” I reply, patiently. He gives me the exact bitter look I expect.
“You haven’t approved one of my manuscripts in nearly six weeks. I’ve tried attacking this from all angles, and given you a little bit of everything. What are you looking for?”
I pause, the corners of my mouth creeping up into a smile. “Do you want to tell them, Jacki?”
She blushes. “I uh… I found a piece that Ana approved.”
My entire staff reacts, most faces going blank with shock, a few eyes widening with excitement.
“She’s underselling it,” I say proudly. “I started it Saturday morning and I was on the phone with the author’s agent that night to schedule a meeting. Jacki and I are having lunch with him this afternoon to try and get him to sign with us.”
“Try?” Stevens raises an eyebrow.
“He has other offers. At least two other publishing houses.”
“Grey Publishing?” Roger, the man who’d made his suspicions about my connections to GP known on day one, looks at me with apprehension.
“Yes,” I reply, purposely ensuring my voice holds the exact same amount of confidence as before. The nervous glances around the table tell me my team doesn’t feel the same.
“We’ve never been able to poach an author from GP. Elizabeth Morgan has basically unlimited resources to invest in her authors. Your… er… husband gives her anything she asks for.”
Sometimes, the competition between Christian and I can be fun. Sometimes, it makes my mouth taste like bile.
“Well, I doubt she’s going to get much out of him right now.” My tone is brisk, a warning that any further conversation about Chrisitan will lead them into something treacherous. They seem to get the message because when I move on to review the latest sales reports, no one says a word.
Once my meeting ends, I do the same thing via video call with the New York office. Now that I have a prospect for our next big release, one that I think will actually meet Carmen’s impossible demands for 50,000 units, I’m willing to ease the reins on the New York press a little. There’s a coffee table book I think will sell well this fall, so with maybe too much hope, I give the release my approval.
I only have a few minutes once my meetings end before Jacki and I need to leave for our lunch. I stop by her desk before we head out to give her a pep-talk.
“I don’t know. I think so.” She looks a little green. “I’d feel better if I didn’t feel like the entire future of the company was basically riding on us convincing him to sign. Rodger wasn’t wrong. We’ve never beat GP on a signing. Not even close.”
“Don’t worry about any of that. You have had incredible success this year. He would be lucky to have you representing his work. We just need to make him see that, which…” I hold up a folder filled with the data I compiled from Jacki’s last release. “You can leave to me.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Ana.”
“Oh, you’d be fucked.” I smile, then I gesture for her to lead the way to the door. Luke is there waiting for us and between the two of us, we get Jacki so hyped that by the time we pull up to the restaurant, she’s almost forgotten that failure is even a possibility. It makes me radiate with happiness, which I direct straight at Luke. Once again, I’m reminded that he’s not just a hired bodyguard. He’s my partner in crime.
The restaurant where I’m taking Lyonel Pierce, our potential new author, is the kind I had to drop Christian’s name at in order to get a reservation. It’s not the typical kind of place we’d meet with authors, but I’m desperate for this signing and I’m pulling out all of the stops. Even if that means dipping into my own pocketbook to make it happen…
The host leads us to a semi-private table near the back that sits in front of huge windows that provide scenic views of the sound. We’re the first to arrive, so I order wine for the table, because it’s what Christian would do. I even order a bottle I’ve seen in his private stores down in my cellar. It arrives at the same time as Lyonel and his agent, Collin Bennett.
“Collin!” I greet him with warm familiarity, as though we are old friends. I’ve never actually met him in my life, but I figure it can’t hurt to try and jump ahead a few steps in our working relationships, considering the other two Seattle publishing houses have a head start.
“Anastasia,” he replies. Where I may be too familiar, my name sounds awkward and unnatural coming from his lips. Lyonel seems to notice.
“You’ve met before?”
“We spoke on the phone.” I give him my most dazzling smile and motion for him to sit down. He does and the waiter begins to fill his glass with the wine I’ve selected. I order appetizers and try to keep the conversation fun and casual all the way up until our entrees arrive.
When the time finally comes for us to make our pitch, Jacki and I work flawlessly with one another. She reassures him of the process, I spell out all of the resources we’re able to provide in support. She tells him how hard she’ll work for him, I offer the numbers that back up her claims. By the time we’re finished, his agent looks intrigued. Lyonel is unreadable.
“Well, what do you think?” Collin asks, his attention zeroed in on only his client.
“It all sounds great,” he says. “But… I looked into your company a little bit and your last release vastly underperformed. I read that you had cancelled one of your authors’ second options because you were having some financial problems. Is that something that could happen to me if I were to sign with you?”
Jacki’s mouth thins so much, it isn’t even visible anymore. I offer him a reassuring smile.
“There are never any guarantees. But I have absolutely every hope, every reason to believe that you are going to be a huge success. You do this with us, you give us your full commitment to making this release as loud as it can be, and we’ll take care of you.”
He frowns, contemplating. I can see the decision rolling around in his brain behind his eyes. But just as I’m about to close the deal, I’m interrupted by a very embarrassed looking restaurant manager.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Grey. I’m afraid your credit card has been declined.”
I blink. “That’s impossible.”
“I’m very sorry, but we’ve tried it three times.”
He hands back my American Express, and I stare down at it in confusion. How could it possibly be declined? It doesn’t even have a limit…
“Do you have another form of payment?”
“Uh…” I reach for my purse, catching the uneasy glances Lyonel shoots at Collin. It makes the empty card slots in my wallet feel like open wounds.
“Here,” Luke says from across the table, reaching into his wallet for his own credit card. A strange mixture of gratitude and shame flashes like a shock of heat over my skin. Privately, I give him a look that tells him that I’m not going to leave him on the hook for this.
The bottle of wine I ordered was $1,500 alone.
“So,” I start again, stumbling slightly as I try to regain my bearings. “What do you say, Lyonel? Are you willing to take this chance with us?”
He takes a deep breath, his fingers nervously toying with the napkin in front of him.
“I need to think about it,” he says at last. “Review my options.”
My stomach drops as if he said no. My intuition tells me he did. I try to summon words, any coherent words to offer him, even just to stall. But the only thing I can think of is the coffee table book I approved earlier that morning.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
Lyonel gets up from the table and I walk him all the way to his car, making appeals the entire way. I’m trying to keep the increasingly urgent desperation I feel from leaking into my voice, but lyonel’s reaction makes me think that maybe it does.
“Thank-you, Mrs. Grey,” he says, reaching out to shake my hand before he climbs into his car. “I’ll be in touch.”
“I look forward to it,” I say weakly. The car pulls away, and the reality of what just slipped through my fingers hits me like a bucket of ice cold water.
“Come on,” Luke says, coming up behind me and rubbing the goosebumps from my arms. “Let’s go back and you can figure out how you’re going to fix this.”
I don’t go back to the office. I can’t face my employees until I once again come up with a plan to trudge forward. So, once I drop Jacki off at GSP, I stop by GEH to pick up Calliope and Kensie, and the four of us head home.
Strangely, the house is empty when we arrive, and Gail didn’t leave a note to say where she’d gone, or if she’d be back to prepare dinner. I send her a text to find out as Kensie sets Calliope up on the floor with enough activities to keep her from wandering too much, but there’s no answer.
Luke spreads out on the couch, and turns on the TV. I take a seat next to my baby, far enough away that she doesn’t take an interest in the stacks of papers I lay out on the coffee table, close enough that I can tickle her with my toes every time she does something so adorable that I can’t let it slide without giving her some kind of affection. It happens enough that, before I know it, I’m sprawled out on my back, holding her over me, bouncing her just enough to make her giggle. All of my worries and stress from the day seem to wash off me with the sound of her laughter. I glance up to see if Luke is as engrossed in the sound as I am, but he’s not looking at us. He’s frowning down at his phone.
“Problem?” I ask, sitting up and caging Calliope inside my arms and legs.
He shakes his head, and I see the brief flash of pain break through the mask he’s worn all day.
“Is it Jade?”
“No.” His voice is quiet, almost a whisper. “In fact, it isn’t Jade. I texted her this morning. She hasn’t responded.”
“Maybe she’s just busy.”
I frown, then look down at Calliope, who is bouncing up and down in my arms to the music in a commercial playing over my shoulder. I scoop her up and drop her into Luke’s lap, knocking the phone right out of his hands.
“Just hold her for a minute,” I tell him, as though I know a secret that he doesn’t. He glares at me, but his arms instinctively wrap around my daughter.
“Hi, Wook,” she says, bouncing in his lap a little. He smiles at her.
“Hey there, Calliope Kate.” She lets out a cackily laugh. When he joins in with her, she slowly pulls herself to her feet, unsteady on his legs, but held firmly by Luke’s sure hands. She leans forward and wraps her full pink lips around the tip of his nose.
“Ew!” he laughs, his voice alight with joy. “What are you doing, Callie?”
“Kissy,” she replies. He leans forwards and starts kissing her all over her face. Thirty seconds and he’s completely melted. The happiness Calliope can inspire in just about anyone she comes into contact with can be a powerful drug. Even if it’s only a placebo.
We get up then to get her dinner ready, since I still haven’t heard from Gail. I take my time, lingering at the table long after Calliope is finished eating. Chrisitan hasn’t made it home in time to put her to bed in… I don’t even know the answer to that. I want to try and keep her up for him, but, eventually, she starts to nod off in her high chair.
“I’m going to get the munchkin ready for bed,” I tell Luke, getting up and pulling Calliope into my arms. She cuddles into me, nestling her face in the crook of my neck.
“Okay, you want me to do something about dinner for us? I can order a pizza.” He gives me a devilish grin. “Don’t worry. I know how hard up for cash you are right now, so it’s my treat.”
I glare at him. “Pizza sounds great. I’ll grab some cash.”
The pizza is waiting for me by the time I get Calliope down, hot and already paid for. He brings a twelve pack of cheap beer from his fridge in the apartment where he, Taylor, Gail, and Kensie live. We spread it all out on the kitchen counter, then move to the living room and start looking for a movie to watch together.
“Let me guess…” He lets the cursor on the TV hover over It Happened One Night. I smile at him.
“You’re the sad boy, you choose.”
“Really. Lay it on me, Luke. Do your worst.”
He exits the library of movies stored on the TV and switches over to Netflix, choosing the first movie he sees with fire in the thumbnail. I roll my eyes and start to devour my piece of pizza. I should be working, looking for our next best shot at a mega-successful release, or at least trying to figure out how to keep my publishing house afloat until I do find what I’m looking for, but I’m drained. I need this. Actually, what I need is my husband, but I have no idea when he’ll get home. It’s after nine now…
“Now you see,” Luke says. “That would never happen in real life. Did you see the size of that explosion? No way you’re walking away from that.”
“Well, not unless you’re Jason Statham.”
Luke nods, knowingly. “That’s true. The man’s a genius.”
I want to roll my eyes, but we’re both distracted by the beep of the security alarm that tells us an exterior door has opened. Luke’s hands tighten as we glance over the back of the couch.
He looks exhausted. Worse, he looks half-dead. It’s nearly nine-thirty, which means he’s been in the office for over thirteen hours today. Knowing him, he didn’t take a single break. Still, his eyes manage to find their strength as he glances suspiciously between Luke and I on the couch.
Luke sighs. “See you tomorrow, Ana.”
“Good night.” I smile as he gets off the couch and walks back to the kitchen for the abandoned beer.
“Luke,” Chrisitan calls, making him stop with a hunch before he cautiously turns back to face my husband.
Christian stares back at him for a second, then nods to the beer in his hands. “May I?”
“Oh,” Luke says, looking down at the half-empty case. “Yeah, sure.”
He reaches into the box, pulls out a can, and tosses it easily to Christian. Then he looks over at me as though that was one of the weirdest exchanges of his life. “Night, Ana.”
I wave at him, then turn my attention back to Christian. He reaches into one of the pizza boxes on the counter and pulls out a slice, ignoring the stack of plates as his heavy footfalls lead him into the living room. I eye him curiously, like I’ve never seen the man before. He’s sitting here in a $7,000 Brioni suit, chewing Domino’s pizza and drinking warm Rainier. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Chrisitan drink anything out of a can before.
“How was your day?” I ask.
“Long,” he grunts back. “I’m sorry. I really wanted to be home to put Calliope down with you. I tried. But then my lawyers called…” He shakes his head, as though trying to dispel a bad memory. “How was she?”
“Good. I pulled her out of daycare early so she and I spent all afternoon together.”
“Why did you pull her out early? I thought you had a meeting with that new author this afternoon? I expected you’d be drafting contracts when I got home.”
I frown, shrinking into the sofa cushions next to him. “I did have lunch with a new author today. It didn’t go very well.”
“Oh… baby.” He reaches for me, pulling me into him, but I squirm away. I lost to him after all, he’s not exactly the person I want to comfort me. Honestly, I’m surprised he’s not gloating.
“Well he’s going to sign with Elizabeth, so congratulations.” My words are bitter, and they make him smile. It’s the first real spark of life I’ve seen in him since he came through the door.
Ah, there’s the gloating.
“Mhm. And he was my best shot to right the ship. Now we’re sinking again.” I cross my arms over my chest, trying to hold onto the anger so that my eyes don’t well with helpless tears. It doesn’t matter, Christian can read me like the Sunday paper.
“There will be others, Ana. You’ll find what you’re looking for and then you’ll work your magic. As much as I would love to see Carmen Gallagher have to choke on that loss, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that you’re going to figure out a way to make this right, and then blow us away with the results.”
He’d have me, right then and there, if I hadn’t heard the rancorous way he’d said Carmen’s name.
“I thought you and Carmen were friends…ish?”
He makes a face, almost like what I’ve said has offended him. “Carmen Gallagher and I are not friends. We understand one another. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t feel a grim sense of satisfaction if say… her plane disappeared over the ocean somewhere.”
“That’s a little much, don’t you think? Everything okay between you two?”
“Ever since the public found out about my company’s… financial problems.” He says the words like they’re coated in poison. “The vultures have started circling. Carmen Gallagher is a particularly ravenous bottom feeder.”
I look away from the darkness swirling like smoke in his eyes, and stare down at my fingers instead. “Are we going to be alright, Christian?” My voice is barely audible.
“Of course we are,” he replies. “I don’t want you to worry about anything. Nothing will change for you.”
“My credit card was declined today.”
His whole jaw goes tight and a deep line mars his perfect forehead. “What?”
“When I tried to pay for lunch, they told me my card was no good. Luke had to pay.”
“I’ll make a phone call tomorrow. That won’t happen again.” His voice is even, calm. But I can hear the anger just below the surface.
“Chrisitan… “ I angle towards him, snuggling as close as I can without actually crawling into his lap. “Tell me how bad it is.”
He swallows, then reaches over and cups the side of my face. He stares into my eyes for a long time, stroking his thumb across my cheek as he drinks me in. I almost think he’s going to blow me off entirely until he adjusts in his seat, an arm on the back of the couch propping up his head. His palm falls from my face to my lap.
“Kate threw me a bone. Kavanagh Media is fully switching over to Grey Fiber Optic service starting in August. I’ve got a meeting first thing Monday morning with the CEO of a company in Texas that has government contracts, so if we can make a deal with them, we might have an opening into Texas for another state project. And, we filed for a patent today on a new kind of energy efficient battery that we’ve developed with some recycled tech from the fusion project. My manufacturing plant is going to start production next week. If all of that goes exactly the way I need it to, GEH should stay afloat.”
Should? I swallow against the tightening in my throat.
“What does that mean for us?”
“Well…” Again, he pauses. Despite the bombshell he just dropped, he seems even less enthusiastic to share whatever he has to say next. Eventually, he gets up and walks away from me, keeping his back to me as he continues. “Ana, I’m going to be letting some of our staff go.”
“No, our… personal staff.”
My mouth falls open. “Chrstian, you can’t fire Luke. He’s only been back one day and–”
“No,” he interrupts me, turning back to face me again. “Not Taylor or Sawyer.”
“I’ll speak with Makensie tomorrow morning. Gail left this afternoon.”
My hand moves up to cover my mouth. It’s the only thing I can think to do because I certainly can’t think of a way to respond to that. Calliope is going to be devastated once she realizes Kensie isn’t coming back. I can’t even bring myself to think about Gail.
Christian’s head falls, the confession of how dire our situation is breaking him. I’m on my feet in the next second, wrapping my arms around him.
“I’m so sorry, Ana. I should have listened. I should have seen the evidence of what was right in front of me. I just… I really, really thought I could do this.”
“I know.” My words are more true than I think he can even know. I felt the same kind of confidence he’s begging me to understand when I walked into that restaurant today. I’d even preemptively made decisions, made promises, assuming I’d already had the deal in the bag. Now, I have nothing.
It’s poetic in a way. After everything we’ve survived, the thing to truly humble us was our own hubris. For the first time, standing there with him, it feels like we’re just two twenty-something kids who have no idea what the hell we’re doing.
But neither one of us is a quitter and as long as we have something to fight for, we won’t stop. We have Calliope’s future to think about, and all of the dreams we each want the other to be able to achieve.
“Don’t give up on me, Ana. Please.” His plea weighs heavy on my heart. I reach up and wrap my arms around his neck, pulling myself up so that my nose is only just not touching his.
“I’ll never give up on you. We’re going to get through this. No matter what happens, you and I, we’re going to be just fine. You’re enough for me, Christian. You’re more than I ever even dared to be selfish enough to dream about.”
He leans forward and kisses me, his lips pleading in their want. For a long time, all he does is kiss me. Deep. Slow. Sensual. His tongue caresses mine in a way that makes my entire body tingle. His hands move softly over me, bringing goosebumps to the surface of my skin that only become more pronounced with every soft moan or declaration of love that escapes his lips each and every time we part, even if it’s just for a second.
God I love him.
It’s overwhelming sometimes, like it’s too powerful for me to truly feel in its entirety all at once, because there’s not enough space in my heart to physically contain it all. That if I tried, I would burst apart like a dying star. So, I push into him. The powerful feelings of love and want and belonging overflowing from me, pouring into him. He drinks it all in greedily, like he’s just emerged from the desert after forty long days and nights and my lips are his very first taste of cool, clean water.
I’m so absorbed in his kiss that I don’t realize it when he sweeps me up into his arms and carries me up the stairs to our bedroom. He falls onto the bed with me, but it could have been the couch or a cloud high above the planet for all I know. I’ve completely disappeared into him and the healing love we share between us.
Long after our clothes have been tossed to the floor and we’ve both managed to tumble our way back to Earth from an absolutely astounding high, he lays next to me looking much lighter. Sated. He drags his index finger from my collar bones to my belly button, over and over again. We lay there, in comfortable silence, neither one of us quite ready to leave the other for sleep.
“Do you remember last year when you were still pregnant and you had convinced yourself that I was sleeping with Gia while you were in Cambridge?” he asks.
Her name makes me cringe with revulsion, but I nod. “I was stupid. It was the hormones.”
He lets out a soft laugh, then props himself up on his elbows and looks down at me like I’m the most precious thing in the entire world.
“This is why she, and every other girl like her, never held any interest for me. Gia, Leila, even Elena… none of them would be here right now. None of them would have stood by me through this. When you say you love me, you really mean me.”
He closes his eyes, as though he’s suddenly in pain. “I don’t deserve you.”
I take his face in my hands and force him to look up at me. “Yes, Chrisitan. You do. You are every bit the man today that you were before all of this happened. Nothing as stupid as money could ever change that for me. I love you.”
“Sometimes, love doesn’t feel like enough to describe the way I feel about you.” He kisses me again, and for a moment, I think we’re going to pick up right where we left off. But then he pulls away and brushes his hand tenderly through my hair. “Would you mind if I brought Calliope in here to sleep with us tonight?”
“You miss her.” It’s a statement, but he answers anyway.
“More than you could ever know.”
My face crinkles in pain when I hear the strain behind his words. With the hours he’s been working, he hasn’t really seen her for more than a few minutes a day for nearly a month.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “Go get her.” He nods and places one last kiss against my lips.
“I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be counting the seconds.” He laughs, but the second his heat disappears from my side, I start to count.
1, 2, 3…