Chapter 08

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It’s early when I wake up Monday morning, but I’m too anxious about work to feel tired. I’m going to see Christian today, and I’m very conscious of that fact as I get ready. I condition my hair twice and am absolutely meticulous when shaving my legs in the shower. When I’m finished, I spend a great deal of time blowing my hair out and carefully applying my makeup. I’ve decided on a pair of beige colored skinny trousers and a flowy, navy blouse with white polka-dots to wear today, but as I stand in front of the mirror, I wonder if it’s too casual. I haven’t been to GEH before and I’m not sure how people dress there, but I have a feeling it might be a strictly suit and tie kind of place.

Before I get the chance to decide whether or not I want to change into the black pencil skirt and blazer that was included in what Kate brought over for me last night, there is a knock on my apartment door. It’s Elliot, here to pick me up on his way into the office. It’s his first day too and he has an early meeting with Christian, as well as the architect, contractors, and project manager at Grey Construction.

“Good Morning!” Elliot says when I open the door. “You ready?” He’s dressed in a navy suit with a crisp white shirt and deep blue tie and it makes me think I really should change.

“Uh… I don’t know. Do you think I look okay?” I ask.

“You look fine,” He says, “We’ve got to go or we’re going to be late.”

“I think I should change first.”

“We don’t have time. You look fine, Ana. Seriously.”

“Okay…” I say hesitantly, and then pick up my purse and the manila envelope with my internship information in it off the table by the door. I double check my make up one last time in the mirror and then follow Elliot into the hallway and down the elevator. We have to walk up the long walkway towards the back of the garage since Elliot has parked in one of Christian’s parking spaces, and as I climb into the front cab of his truck, which is difficult as it’s several feet off the ground and I’m in heels, I notice that the black SUV that was parked next to the Maybach is missing, and I wonder if that means Christian has already left for work.

There is a new car there, though. A new looking white Audi that doesn’t seem like something I would picture Christian driving, and I eye it suspiciously.

“Who’s car is that?” I ask.

“Uh, I think that’s Gail’s car,” He answers, looking over his shoulder to back out of the space.

“Who’s Gail?”

“She works for him.”

“Oh,” I reply. Well at least I know it’s not Elena, although I realize now it was kind of stupid to make that assumption. If it was Elena’s car, Elliot would be upstairs handling it, rather than here in the car with me.

“You nervous?” Elliot asks as we pull onto Virginia St. and immediately take a right on 5th Ave towards downtown.

“A little,” I reply honestly. “I’ve wondered what it would be like to see him again for two years now and it’s kind of turned into this momentous thing, you know?”

“Well if it makes you feel better, I know he’s nervous too.”

“Yeah, well he’s my boss now so that kind of gives him the upper hand.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Elliot replies.

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s just say you look very nice today,” He says, but even though I continue to stare at him expectantly, he doesn’t elaborate any further.

It’s a fairly short drive, only about eight blocks through downtown, to GEH, which is good as I think there will probably be a few days when I’ll have to walk to work. As we circle around the building for the parking garage, I find myself underwhelmed. I suppose I’d probably built the company up a little too much in my head because when I see the eight story, standard concrete structure punctuated by lines of uniform squares of windows, rather than some colossal, architectural marvel stretching so high into the sky it seems to disappear into the clouds, I’m a little disappointed. Just compared to Escala, this building is entirely ordinary, not a place I would imagine houses one of the most powerful companies in Seattle. But I suppose that’s why Elliot is here.

We pull into the garage and into the first available place we can find. There are a number of really expensive looking cars parked in the rows leading up to the elevator, but the only one I really focus on is the black SUV that was missing from Escala in the space at the front marked Reserved.

I take a deep breath when I hear the electronic chime that announces the elevator’s arrival and then nervously step through the doors. Elliot presses the button for our respective floors, the doors close, and we make the short journey up to the lobby where I’ll be getting off.

“Good luck, Ana,” Elliot says, waving after me as I step out onto the main floor. I smile back at him and when the elevator doors close again, I turn around to take in my surroundings. The interior of the building is much more contemporary than the drab exterior would suggest. The floor is composed of large stone tiles that are so clean and shiny, I can make out my muted reflection in them. The walls around me are painted a soft graphite color and in front of the giant windows at the front of the building, which flood the entire lobby with bright rays of sunlight, there are a several modern looking, white leather chairs and a few tables made out of shiny metal. Directly across from me, is a long desk made of the same material as the floor with the word “GREY” mounted on the wall behind it in large, bold letters and the additional “Enterprises Holdings INC” written below. Seated at the desk is a pretty blonde woman in a well-tailored black dress, who gestures for the man to whom she’s speaking to take a seat in one of the leather chairs.

I cross the lobby with quick, purposeful strides that I hope exude confidence, and approach the desk.

“Good morning, and welcome to Grey House,” The woman at the desk greets me. “How may help you?”

“Good morning, my name is Anastasia Steele, I’m starting my internship today.”

“Oh, welcome to GEH Miss Steele,” The woman says with a smile. She picks up an iPad off her desk and touches the screen a few times before turning and smiling at me again. “You’re all checked in. If you’ll just have a seat in the waiting area, our HR director will be with you shortly.”

“Thank you,” I tell her, and then turn around to take a seat next to the man who spoke with the receptionist right before me. He looks about the same age as I am, as are the other three people sitting with us, another guy and two girls, so I assume they’re all new interns too. We all exchange nervous, awkward glances with one another until our attention is drawn by the loud clacking of heels against the tile floor and another blonde woman, who’s dressed in a charcoal gray suit and black silk blouse, approaches, looking at all of us with a wide smile.

“Good Morning! My name is Michelle Menke and I am the HR Director here at Grey Enterprises Holdings. If you’ll all follow me, we’ll head back to the conference room and begin your orientation.”

I get up and follow the others past the elevators to a fairly large meeting room with a long wooden table and several, black leather office chairs in the center. We each take a seat and then turn our attention to Ms. Menke.

“Welcome!” She says brightly. “I’d like to begin by offering my congratulations to each and every one of you. Out of the over 200 applications GEH received for the summer internship program, you were all identified as our top five candidates. This internship program is highly competitive and it is Mr. Grey’s hope that you leave GEH at the end of the summer with a plethora of experience that prepares you for life after graduation. Now, we’ll be together until about lunch time and then I’ll release you for training in your new departments, but first I think we should all get the chance to get to know one another. I’d like for each of you to share with the group, your name, where you’re from, what school you attend, and what department you’ll be working in for the summer.”

She looks expectantly at the red haired girl sitting across the table from me who stutters for a moment before introducing herself.

“Uh… my name is Tabitha Brooks. I’m a finance student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I’m originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I will be spending the summer working in the accounting department.”

Tabitha turns to look at the guy seated to her right, who speaks with an almost arrogant confidence. “Hello, my name is Brian Clark, I am from Portland, Oregon, I’m studying business at USC, and I’ll be interning with the acquisitions division.”

“Oh, then you’ll actually get the chance to work fairly closely with Mr. Grey and Ms. Bailey,” Ms. Menke says.

“Yes, I am really looking forward to getting the chance to work and learn directly from Mr. Grey. He is one of the people I look up to most in this world, and I’ve had the opportunity already to speak with Ms. Bailey. She seems like a… competent woman.”

I raise an eyebrow at him as his sentence trails off. The way he describes Ros as “competent” leaves the impression that he very rarely uses that term to describe women and I almost want to laugh when I think about what Ros will do with that kind of attitude. This poor guy has no idea what is waiting for him.

“My name is Daniel Warren,” The next guy begins. “And I am from St. Louis, Missouri. I am studying Information Technology and Development at MIT and I will be working with the Fiber Optics and Technology Development department this summer.”

“Hi, I’m Suzannah Evans and I am from New Haven, Connecticut. I attend the University of Pennsylvania, where I study marketing and that is the department I will be working in this summer.”

Everyone’s eyes turn to me and I take a breath before I begin. “My name is Anastasia Steele, I’m from Montesano, Washington, and I am studying English at Harvard University.”

“Oh, Mr. Grey graduated from Harvard!” Ms. Menke says excitedly.

“He didn’t graduate,” I correct her, but then immediately regret it when her eyes, and the eyes of everyone in the room, widen with shock, as if daring to impugn the educational pedigree of the CEO is horrendous crime.

“Well, while I suppose that’s true…” Ms. Menke responds in a careful voice. “Mr. Grey is an exceptionally intelligent man who I’m sure was an excellent student.”

“Oh… yeah. I mean, he’s brilliant, obviously,” I correct myself quickly, feeling my face flush with heat. Ms. Menke, gives me a tight lipped smile and then looks as though she’s going to move on, for which I’m grateful, but Suzannah stops her.

“You didn’t say what department you’re interning for,” She says.

“Oh, I uh… I’m actually here for a special project. I’ll be working in Mr. Grey’s office.”

“Like an assistant?” Brian assumes, and I glare at him.

“No, I’m here to help him with a new expansion he has planned,” I say, and he rolls his eyes like he doesn’t believe me. I look back at him, shocked by his audacity. If this guy is seriously going to be working with me in Christian’s office, there’s going to be a problem.

After introductions, we begin the long, arduous process of filling out paperwork. The amount of legal documents I have to sign for what is supposed to be a standard summer internship is astounding. There are the typical I-9 and W-4 forms to fill out but we’re also given paperwork to sign, which informs us that the company holds the right to conduct regular background checks and random drug tests. We have to sign a consent for video surveillance, union membership disclosure, social media agreement…

“What is this?” I ask as I skim through a document that is so full of legal jargon it’s difficult to understand.

“It’s a non-disclosure agreement,” Ms. Menke replies. “Basically it states that you will not share any information regarding management to the press or divulge policies, trade secrets, confidential material, or any information regarding your position or the company in general to industry competitors.”

“What do you mean by industry competitor?” I ask, and she raises an eyebrow at me.

“Why are you asking? Do you feel you’ll have a problem adhering to the guidelines of the NDA?” She asks.

“Well, industry competitor is broad term. GEH owns a telecommunications company and my best friend is interning for Kavanagh Media. If I talk to her about my work day am I going to be in breach of contract?”

“Of course not, Miss Steele. It’s simply a way for the company to protect its innovative practices, which have led to unprecedented success, from making it into the hands of our direct competitors,” She says. “You have to sign it. I can’t pass you along to your department without it.”

I roll my eyes and sigh as I scribble my name onto the signature line and hand Ms. Menke my completed packet of paperwork. Once we’re all finished filling out the forms, she gives us a short presentation on the brief, although “vastly impressive” history of GEH, and on the different departments in the company, what they do and where they’re located in the building, or in some cases where they’re located in the city as several divisions were unable to be housed in this building due to space limitations. When that’s finished, a man named Matthew Ryan from the GEH security office takes our finger prints and pictures for our security badges, and then gives us a rundown of the security procedures that have to be adhered to by all GEH employees. We end with Ms. Menke discussing employee conduct including the rules for dress code (leaving me with the impression that I was right to think I should’ve changed this morning), telephone and computer usage, lunch and break times, attendance, and email etiquette.

Finally, just before noon, Mr. Ryan returns with our official GEH security badges and we’re released for lunch with the instruction to report to our respective departments in 30 minutes. I head to the deli across the street and buy a small salad and a Diet Coke, which I only eat half of as I’m in a rush to make sure I make it back to work on time. As I walk through the glass doors and back into the lobby, my heart begins pounding.

This is it.

Once I’m in the elevator, I reach out to press the button for Christian’s floor, and then concentrate on my breathing as the doors close. As I stare anxiously up at the numbers climbing higher and higher over the doors, I begin to hear the rippling sound of the papers in my hands and I realize it’s because I’m shaking. There is a loud ping announcing my arrival to the eighth floor and I do my best to push aside the nerves and stand tall and confident as the doors slide open.

Just outside the elevator is a small room that is aesthetically identical to the reception area on the main level. In front of me, I see a set of double doors with the standard GREY logo frosted onto the glass on each side. There is a small black pad to the left of the door with a red light in the top left corner, which I assume is where I’m supposed to swipe the security badge to gain access, but when I press my badge against the pad, nothing happens. I try again three more times but still, the light remains red. I reach out and tentatively pull on the door handle, but it doesn’t open. The sound of the door clunking against the lock as I pull does catch the attention of the two blondes sitting at the desk just on the other side of the door though, and one of them hurries forward and peaks her head through the door.

“Can I he—” She begins, but her voice cuts off as she looks at me, and her eyes widen with surprise. I stand there awkwardly for a moment while she gapes at me, until she seems to remember herself and she continues. “I’m sorry, um… Are you, Anastasia Steele?”

“Yes,” I say, relieved. I was almost worried I’d come to the wrong place when my badge didn’t work.

“Wonderful, come on in. Did they give you a security badge downstairs?” She asks.

“Yeah, but it didn’t work on the door,” I say, holding it up for her to see as she leads me towards the desk where the other blonde is sitting, though judging by her dark eyebrows, her light, platinum locks aren’t natural, which makes me wonder if there’s some unwritten rule here about being blonde. Have I seen a single female employee here who wasn’t blonde? I don’t think that’s legal…

“Well, once we get you settled in, we can take it over to the security office and have them correct your permissions,” Blonde number one tells me. “My name is Andrea Parker and I am Mr. Grey’s personal assistant, and this is our receptionist, Leila Williams.”

She gestures to blonde number two, who looks at me with the same kind of surprised confusion Andrea did when she first let me in the door.

“Hi Leila, I’m Ana,” I tell her, reaching out to shake her hand, and although she takes my hand in hers, her gaze doesn’t change. She stares almost disbelievingly at me for a moment before her eyes rake over my hair. The shock in her gaze makes me feel as though my theory about the blonde prerequisite is confirmed, or possibly just that I have food on my face.

“Hi,” She says at last and then she releases me to answer the phone which begins to ring on her desk. “Christian Grey’s office, how may I direct your call?” She answers.

“If you like, you can put your things in this drawer here,” Andrea says quietly while Leila helps the person on the phone. I place my things in the drawer and then stand awkwardly behind the desk for what I’m supposed to do next. When Leila hangs up, Andrea picks up the handset from the phone next to what I assume is her computer and then dials a four digit extension.

“Mr. Grey, Miss Steele has arrived,” She says into the receiver a second later. She listens intently for a moment and then says, “Yes, Sir.” Before hanging up the phone and turning back to me.

“If you’ll just wait here for one second, I’ll be right back,” She says with a smile, and then she disappears down a hall to the right of the desk. I settle down into the chair next to Leila and look around the room.

“So how do you know, Mr. Grey?” Leila asks, turning to me with interest.

“Oh… um, we went to school together. He lived in my dormitory at Harvard my freshman year and we had a class together,” I say, trying to keep it simple. I don’t think it’s a good idea to advertise to the people of GEH how… intimately I know the CEO.

“Oh, you go to Harvard? That’s amazing! Normally, you wouldn’t think a girl as pretty as you are would end up in a school like that,” She says, and the backhanded compliment takes me by surprise because I can’t tell if it’s intentional or she’s just really that obtuse, but I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“I don’t know…” I say. “I mean, my best friend Kate goes to Harvard too and she’s gorgeous.”

“Really? Does she also know, Mr. Grey?” Leila asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, she’s been dating Elliot, uh… his brother, for 2 ½ years now.”

“Oh, well she’s a lucky girl then. Elliot Grey is a very attractive man,” She says.

“All the Grey men are,” I say, but she doesn’t return my smile. Instead she gives me a nasty kind of grimace and then turns back to her computer. It’s weird that this girl seems to be having such a hostile reaction towards me, she doesn’t even know me.

“Anastasia,” Andrea says as she comes around the corner again.

“Yes?” I reply.

“Mr. Grey will see you now.”

My nerves are peaked again when I stand from my chair and walk around the desk to follow after Andrea. She leads me down a long hallway, past the closed doors of several offices and conference rooms, until she stops in front of a set of double doors. I step forward as Andrea moves to the side to allow me to pass and push open the door, taking extra precaution to step over the lip on the floor that is a tripping hazard if I’ve ever seen one. I couldn’t imagine a more embarrassing way to see Christian after all this time than sprawling head first onto the floor of his office.

The office is huge, big enough that I find myself wondering whether it had been two large offices at one time, but it’s also strikingly empty and a little dark. Besides the shades covering the windows, there is nothing on the walls. There are no plants, no bookcases or filing cabinets, no furniture at all besides the two chairs and the desk they’re placed in front of where the man, who is the reason I’ve been reduced into a tightly wound ball of anxiety all day, sits staring intently at me.

I realize in this moment that my memory is terrible. The images of him that I’ve kept in my mind, that I’ve played over and over again in my dreams, don’t do justice to the beauty of the man before me. He does look a little different but I’m not sure if that’s because his body has changed or if I’m just not used to seeing him dressed in a suit. His hair is in complete disarray, but that’s always worked for him, and he has facial hair now. Not a full beard, just scruff that looks as though he just hasn’t shaved in a few days. His eyes seem darker somehow and I can almost feel the intensity of his gaze barring into me, like heat.

Surprisingly though, as I look back at him, I feel most of the nervousness that has had me tied up in knots all morning, melt away. I expected seeing him for the first time would feel weird but it doesn’t. It feels… very normal. Too normal. Relieving, almost.

“Hi,” I say.

“Hi,” He repeats, and even though his tone is low and even, I detect the smallest hint of nervousness. We stare at each other for another long beat and then he gestures to one of the chairs across from him.

“Have a seat,” He says, and I’m surprised that his tone is more of a suggestion than a command. Maybe Elliot was right, maybe he’s been just as anxious about this meeting as I have.

I walk forward and sit across from him and see his Adam’s apple jump as he swallows. He looks as though he’s trying to figure out where to begin.

“You look good,” I tell him, trying to break the ice.

“You look thin,” He says, his response coming so quickly I wonder if it’s something he’s been fixating on since I walked through the door.

“Yeah, I run now,” I say. “Turns out you were right and working out regularly helps you lose weight and makes you look good. I should have listened when you tried to get me up to go to the gym with you.”

“No, you were perfect, you are perf- I, uh…” He stutters, and I feel a smile creep across my lips.

“Relax, Christian,” I tell him, and he nods and takes a deep breath.

“How’s school?” He asks, calmer now and with a practiced kind of authority in his voice.

“Good. I haven’t gotten my final grades back yet but I think I did pretty well,” I say. “This is all very impressive, GEH I mean. You really did it. You did everything you said you would and you built something incredible. I’m… I’m proud of you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I mean, I didn’t want you to fail. I just wish you…” I stop and shake my head slightly, trying to change direction. Dr. Flynn said it was important to be supportive, and to not use language that attacks Elena. If that’s how it has to be, it’s just better that I don’t mention her at all. Besides, I don’t want to bring this up at work. If I’m going to be here every day there needs to be a clear separation between what goes on here, and what goes on outside of these walls.

“I just want you to be happy,” I say instead.

He diverts his eyes for a minute, looking as though he’s trying think of how to reply, so I try and come up with something else non-consequential to keep it light between us.

“You have a beard now,” I observe aloud, wishing I could have come up with something even just slightly more clever, but to my relief he chuckles slightly and reaches up to run his fingers over the stubble on his chin.

“Yes, I’m really a changed man,” He says, and his response makes me giggle. I watch his eyes warm and it makes the last of the tension I feel melt away.

“So I’ve heard,” I tell him. “I uh… I saw your family last night.”

“Yeah, my mom called me this morning. She was really happy to see you.”

“Me too. I’ve really missed her.”

“I know, I felt the same. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until I went and saw her a few weeks ago. It feels really good talking to her again. And of course, Mia.”

“Oh my god, Mia!” I exclaim. “I didn’t even recognize her when I first saw her. She’s…”

“An adult,” He finishes for me.

“Exactly! I was floored when I saw her! Seriously. She’s absolutely beautiful.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be a problem,” Christian says bitterly, making me laugh again. “I really couldn’t believe it when I saw her,” He continues. “I mean, she’s my baby sister but she’s… not a baby anymore.”

“Has she told you about Juilliard?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“And… did she tell you how your dad is reacting to her wanting to go there?”

“Yes.”

“Well how do you feel about that?”

“I feel like she should go to Harvard,” He says, and it surprises me.

“Really? I thought you of all people…”

“I’m not anti-education, Ana,” He interrupts me. “I didn’t feel it was necessary for me, but Mia is different. I want her to be the very best she can be and as much as I know she loves dancing, she could be so much more than that.”

“But it’s what she wants to do,” I argue. “Is she really making more of herself if she’s not doing what she’s passionate about?”

“I don’t want her to give up ballet,” He says. “I haven’t given up the piano. I just want her to find a real career. I mean, ballerinas make something like, $20,000 a year, that’s not even a livable wage, and she’s far too intelligent and capable to have to live that kind of life.”

“It’s not all about money to some people, Christian. Are you saying, if she chose ballet, you wouldn’t help support her?” I ask.

“Of course I would, what do you think all of this is for? I just worry that in ten years when she’s not as… nimble as she is now or she blows out a knee, she’ll regret not going to school, and I don’t want her to have any regrets.”

“You know… you sound an awful lot like your dad,” I suggest, and he rolls his eyes and shakes his head for a minute, then changes the subject.

“Elliot tells me you’ve written a book,” He says.

“Yeah, I finished it a few weeks ago. One of the students over in the law school at Harvard is helping me get a copyright and it’s being edited over the summer. Dr. Ralston, he’s the head of the English department at Harvard, he’s going to help me try and get published next year.”

“I’d love to read it, Ana.”

“Oh… uh, I don’t know,” I say dismissively, and he raises an eyebrow.

“You don’t want me to?”

“I just don’t think you’d like it. It’s, uh… it might be a little personal for you.”

“It’s about me?”

“Well no, and… yes. I mean, it’s fiction, but it’s about… well, it’s about us and what happened. It’s about what I went through afterwards.”

“I see…” He says, and he looks down at his fingers for a moment before looking back up at me. “Ana, I-“

“Nope,” I say, cutting him off. “No, no, no. Not here. Christian, I think it’s important that we keep this as a safe place for us, for me. We have to be here every day and that means that whatever drama is happening in our personal lives can’t be here too. Otherwise, it’s going to be messy. When we’re at work, you’re my boss and I’m your intern. That’s it… okay?”

“Okay,” He agrees. “But… we can talk, right? You said that if I tried to make it up to my family, we could talk. I’ve tried, I am.”

“We can talk,” I assure him. “Of course we can talk. Just not here.”

“Okay,” He nods. “How about tonight? My place? We can have dinner.”

“Your place?” I ask hesitantly.

“I promise, just dinner,” He says quickly. “I uh… I can’t really go out in public without the attention from the press and I’d rather what we have to talk about not make it into the Seattle Times.”

“Oh… yeah. Um, sure, we can go to your place. For dinner,” I add quickly. “Just dinner.”

“Just dinner,” He agrees as he smiles back at me. “I’ll make the arrangements. Is seven o’clock, okay?”

“Seven o’clock is fine,” I tell him. “So… I guess I should get to work, but I don’t really know what that is right now…”

“The project I have planned for you isn’t ready yet,” He tells me. “I’m going to need a couple more weeks, so I thought in the meantime, you could just help Andrea until I find something else for you to do.”

“Sure,” I agree. “I’ll go find out what she needs me to do, then.” I stand up and turn for the door but he stops me before I can move forward.

“Ana… uh, there’s one more thing that we need to talk about, and it can’t wait until tonight.”

“What?” I ask suspiciously as I lower myself back into the chair.

“Okay… um, I want to be honest with you because I really do want to make this work, and in the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you about something that I’ve done that I don’t think you’re going to be very happy about.”

“No, Christian. Not here,” I repeat, standing up too quickly, as if the sudden motion will cause the images of Elena that come to mind to fall out of my head and onto the floor.

“Ana, it really can’t wait. Seriously. Even if I don’t tell you now, you’ll know in about fifteen seconds anyway,” He says, “I want it to come from me, so please, just… sit down.”

I give him a pained look as I sit back down in my chair. I really, really don’t want to do this here but since he knows that and he’s being this insistent, it must be important. I take a deep breath to brace myself.

“What?” I ask quietly, staring down at the desk rather than back at him and feeling an overwhelming sense of dread.

“I was worried about you,” He begins hesitantly. “That whole first summer after you… uh, after you went to Savannah. I couldn’t stop thinking about you alone on that campus. I mean, after that whole stalker ordeal with Kate, I just couldn’t convince myself that you’d be safe. So, I hired someone…”

“You hired someone to what?” I ask suspiciously, but rather than answer me directly, he presses a button on the phone on his desk.

“Mr. Grey?” A deep voice answers.

“Taylor, will you send Sawyer in here,” Christian asks, and the minute the words are out of his mouth, I feel a deep sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Sawyer?” I repeat hoarsely, and a second later I hear the door open behind me. I turn around and… he’s there, my best friend, looking at me with such shame that if I didn’t feel as though someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water over my head, it might’ve made me want to cry.

“Ana-” Luke begins, but I cut him off immediately.

Corporate security?” I ask, my voice a cold accusation.

“It wasn’t a lie,” Luke says and my vision goes red.

It wasn’t a lie? That’s your defense?” I spit back at him. My brain is racing as I try and process what is happening. I’ve known Luke for two years, he’s been there for me in a way that Kate never could because of her loyalty to Elliot, whose focus has always been Christian. He was the person I could really talk to, who I could lean on and go to for unbiased advice. But him standing there makes me realize that all of that was a lie. He’s been working for Christian the whole time, probably reporting back everything I’ve said to him.

“You hired someone to be my friend so you could spy on me?” I demand, turning my angry gaze on Christian.

“No, that wasn’t my intention,” Christian says quickly.

“Oh, really?” I snap back. “Please enlighten me then. What exactly were you trying to accomplish by artificially placing someone in my life to gain my trust?”

“I just needed to know you were safe,” Christian says, and it triggers an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. I did this for you. He always goes back to that, justifying his bad decisions as thinking of someone else, but he’s not thinking of anyone else, he’s only thinking of himself. Luke wasn’t there to keep me safe, Luke was there to keep an eye on me so Christian knew what I was doing.

“Whatever was going on with me, whatever is going on with me, is none of your business, Christian. You lost the right to be in any part of my life when you made your choice two years ago,” I tell him, coolly. “I seriously can’t believe you did this. You’re so far over the line with this one, I can’t…” I turn back to look at Luke, who is watching me carefully, and the look in his eyes, like a friend who is truly concerned about my feelings, makes me nauseous. I need to get out of this office, it’s too overwhelming having both of them staring at me. I’m furious but I know from experience that the anger is temporary and whatever is waiting underneath will be much worse and harder to handle. I don’t want to face that at work. This is exactly the type of situation I told Christian I wanted to avoid in the office.

“I can’t do this,” I say, standing up from my chair and glaring at Christian. “I really thought I could handle this but I can’t. I was willing to give you a chance to prove that it was a fluke, that it was all just a horrible mistake, but, clearly, it wasn’t. You weren’t confused or broken, you were showing us who you really were. A selfish, controlling psychopath, and I can’t do this with you. This is done.”

“Anastasia!” Christian calls out for me and I whip around to face him, my harsh glare burning with the fire of my rage.

“Don’t!” I scream at him. “Don’t you dare come after me.”

He gapes at me, shocked, for a moment, and I turn back for the door. As I walk forward, I see Luke hesitate, like he’s debating whether or not to stop me, but he ultimately steps aside and lets me pass. I storm back up the hallway where Andrea and Leila are both seated behind the desk, chatting with each other. They stare at me with confusion as I yank open the drawer with my things inside and begin pulling them out hastily.

“What floor is Grey Construction on?” I ask, but Andrea is so taken off guard by the hostility in my voice, her response is less of an answer and more a jumbled mess of confused filler words.

“Grey Construction,” I repeat. “What floor is it on?”

“Four,” Andrea says, and I turn around and angrily stomp my way towards the double doors.

“They never last,” I hear Leila say behind me, but I ignore her and step forward to pound on the elevator call button. The doors slide open and I hurry inside, choose the button for the fourth floor, and then begin furiously pressing the door close button over and over again.

The fourth floor is much more open than the eighth. There is no security door blocking my entrance, but there are multiple departments on this floor, so I have to find the Grey Construction suite number before I’m able to get to Elliot’s office. Thankfully, he’s alone, examining a set of blueprints on his desk, when I burst through the door unannounced and slam it closed behind me.

“Ana?” Elliot asks, concerned when he looks up and sees me on the edge of hysteria.

“I can’t do this,” I tell him. “I can’t be on the team. I thought I could, but I can’t. I can’t be supportive if he keeps doing this to me over and over again.”

“What happened?” Elliot asks, his voice tightening as he narrows his eyes at me.

“Luke.”

“Luke? Like, your friend Luke? What does he have to do with Christian?”

Well, at least Elliot didn’t know.

“Christian hired him to spy on me. He works for Christian’s security team. Luke has just been pretending to be my friend so that Christian could keep track of me these past two years.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Elliot groans.

“No,” I say, and the tears finally begin to break through the anger. “It was all a lie. Everything.”

“Hey, Ana,” Elliot says, crossing the room and wrapping me in his arms. “Don’t cry, it’s going to be fine.”

“What am I supposed to do, Elliot? I don’t… I mean, I’m stuck here. God, I’m such an idiot! I let him lure me back in and now I’m surprised that he hurt me again? It’s literally my first day, I have three more months of this. What am I going to do?”

“Well, you have two choices,” Elliot says. “You can quit. You can go back to Escala, pack up your things, move in with me or Kate for the summer and cut him out of your life again. Or you can face it. You can try to work this out with Christian and with Luke and do what you can to move past it, at least until your internship is over. You choose. It’s up to you, Ana. Look, I know my family has put a lot of pressure on you to help Christian but it’s not worth having you help him if it’s going to break you. You need to do what’s best for you and whatever you choose to do, I’ll stand by you.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be on Christian’s side?” I ask quietly. “I thought you said family was most important.”

“You are family,” He replies, and I smile into his shirt for a second and then step back and look at the floor in silence while I decide what I want to do. Elliot’s right, I could quit, pack up my things, move in with Kate, and chalk all of this up as a huge mistake, but that feels like I’d be losing more than anyone. This summer isn’t just about helping Christian, this internship is important for my future. It’s the last opportunity I have to gain any kind of real world experience before I graduate and I can’t waste it. I didn’t work as hard as I did in school only to struggle finding a job because I don’t have Christian’s stupid letter of recommendation stapled to my resume.

“What do I do to try and work it out? I don’t even know where to start. How do you deal with this, Elliot?” I ask, knowing he’s better at accepting people in spite of their shortfalls than anyone I know.

“Maybe you should call Dr. Flynn,” He suggests. “He told us if we’re having any problems dealing with Christian to come talk to him. Maybe he can help.”

“Maybe… yeah,” I nod.

“Take the rest of the day off, Ana. Go see Flynn. Use the time to decide what you want to do.”

“I don’t think you have the authority to offer me that, Elliot,” I reply wryly.

“Sure I do. It’s my name on the door after all,” He says smugly, and I laugh as he pulls me into a hug once more. “Come on. You can call Flynn’s office and let them know you’re on your way. I’ll drive you over there.”

“Thanks, Elliot,” I say gratefully, and then follow after him towards the elevators.

Next Chapter

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