“Anastasia…” Christian says uncertainly. His gaze is almost fearful as he anticipates my reaction to this bombshell.
“Wha-” I begin in a tone that is so breathy I feel as though I’m whispering, but I can’t conjure any more strength for my voice. “Why?”
“Let’s go and eat, Ana.” He says, completely avoiding my question. He reaches out to take my hand but I yank it out of his reach and walk around him back into the restaurant.
Our food is on the table waiting for us and I see a relieved look cross the waitress’s face as she watches us sit down. She probably thought we were skipping out on our check.
We eat in silence, or Christian eats while I periodically pick at my food. I can feel his eyes on me for the duration of the meal but I can’t look at him. When he’s finished, the waitress brings us the check and he slips money inside the book. I stand before he does and march single-mindedly out to the car. As I do, I try to take inventory of my feelings. I’m overwhelmed but I don’t know by what? Am I angry, confused, hurt? Yes, I am all of those things. And disgusted. His mother’s best friend? What is she like 40? 50? How long has this been going on? I feel a cold chill run up my spine as the dark thought of an underage Christian being molested by a woman he trusted, old enough to be his mother, crosses my mind. As I get into the car, I actually feel a wave of nausea at the thought.
Christian pulls out of the parking lot and onto the street. We drive for a couple of minutes before he speaks.
“Please say something,” He pleads, but I scoff in return. “Anastasia..”
“What, Christian? What do you want me to say?” I snap, and he winces at my rebuke.
“I want you to say you’ll wait.” He says quietly, and I laugh without humor.
“You want me to wait? So I’m just supposed to sit around pining for you while you screw some woman old enough to be your mother?”
“Not exactly…” He hesitates, and I look at him expectantly, waiting for him to clarify. “I just don’t want you to disappear. I want you in my life, Ana.”
“It’s wrong, Christian and I’m not okay with it,” I say turning to look out the side window.
“You won’t have to know about it at all,” He says, and as if the universe is trying to prove him wrong, his phone rings. It’s sitting in the center console so I can see the screen and it reads: Mrs. Lincoln.
Christian frowns and then looks up at me as if he’s afraid I’m going to launch into an angry tirade.
“Well answer it,” I say irritably. “If you don’t she’ll just call back.” This I know from experience and as I remember that night in Christian’s room, the events start to make more sense. She was angry when I answered the phone because she probably thought I was screwing Christian. I did say he was in the shower.
Good. I think unkindly. Fuck her.
“Hello,” Christian says, answering the phone and I roll my eyes as I hear her voice, although I can’t distinguish the words.
“Yes, I remember. Sunday.” Christian says, concentrating a little too hard on the road so that I know he’s actively trying not to look at me. “No, I’m fine. I’m just pre-occupied with studying. Can I text you later? Thank you. Yes, you too. Good-bye, Elena.”
He sets the phone down on the center console. I can see frustration in his expression as he looks at the road ahead and he bites down on the finger that brushes across his lip as if he’s trying to prevent himself from saying something. His hand returns to the steering wheel, gripping it tightly and he looks at me.
“I’m sorry,” He says, but I don’t reply. I just look away from him. I can feel the sting of tears returning and I don’t know if it’s sadness or anger causing them.
“Will you wait?” He asks again.
“No,” I say in a weak voice that matches the strength of my resolve. No, I will not wait for him, but it’s not an easy decision. There is fire, electricity between us, something that feels inevitable but I will not wait around for him to finish fucking his Mrs. Robinson until he’s ready for me. He’s making a choice and if he wants it to be me, then he needs to choose me.
“Please, Ana.” He begs but I shake my head.
“So, that’s it then?” He asks, and there is an ignition of anger in his tone. “We’ll just go back to ignoring each other? I can’t keep to pretending to hate you, Anastasia.”
“So don’t,” I tell him. “We can be friends.”
“And Carter Reed?” He demands.
“I don’t know what will happen with Carter. I mean, it’s up to him really. I don’t even know if he’ll speak to me after what happened today.”
“And if he still wants you?”
“Then I’ll probably have fewer Friday nights available,” I admit and his jaw clenches.
We pull into the parking lot closest to Grays Hall and climb out of the car together. As we walk around the lot and up the path to the Old Yard, he reaches out and clasps my hand. I look up and see him staring down at our intertwined fingers and there is a look of relief on his face. I squeeze his hand reassuringly before I pull my own hand out of his grasp. I don’t want him to feel bad, but I also don’t want to send him the wrong signals. He looks at me, confused, and then his face hardens. I sigh and we begin to climb the steps to the main entrance of the dorm. We’re just at the top of the steps when the heavy black door opens and Carter comes out.
“Ana!” He says surprised. “I was just looking for you, Kate said you went to breakfast with Christian Grey…” He says and then he sees Christian and his face turns red. Christian glares at him and then turns to me, grabbing me gently by the arm and pulling me towards him so he can whisper in my ear.
“Don’t disappear,” He says quietly, and then he shoots one more look of malice towards Carter before disappearing into the dorm.
“What’s up?” I ask, drawing Carter’s attention away from the main door.
“I just wanted to see if you wanted to come run on the river with me this morning. Why were you out with Grey?”
“He asked me if I wanted to go to breakfast.”
“But I thought you two didn’t like each other?”
I grasp his hand. “Come with me. I need to talk to you.”
We walk to Harvard Yard and take a seat under one of the tall elm trees.
“Something happened,” I tell him, hoping it’s better to get it out in the open rather than beat around the bush.
“What?” He asks, his brow furrowing.
“When we were at breakfast, Christian kissed me. I didn’t ask him to but I also didn’t stop him.”
“You kissed?” He asks, deflated. I nod slowly and give him a moment to absorb what I’ve said and feel what he needs to feel.
“He likes you?” He asks and again, I nod. “Do you want to date him?”
“No, I don’t want to date him.” I say very clearly.
“Well… I suppose we never made any rules or anything.” He says hesitantly. “But there should be rules. Rule Number one: No Kissing Christian Grey.”
I laugh at his suddenly stern tone and nod.
“No kissing anyone but Carter Reed,” I correct him and he smiles. He leans in to kiss me and I meet him halfway. The kiss is still extremely mushy, and wet. Too wet. I pull away from him feeling the need to wipe my mouth but he looks satisfied and I don’t want to hurt his feelings any further.
“What are you doing today?” He asks.
“I think Kate wants to go shopping for Halloween costumes,” I tell him.
“Cool. Send me some pictures of what you buy.”
“Tomorrow night there is supposed to be something fun going on down at Sigma Chi. Do you and Kate want to come?”
“Sure,” I tell him. “Kate will be ecstatic I’m sure.”
“Awesome. I’ll text you the details,” He says. I tell him I need to get back to my dorm and work on some homework, but I know Kate is waiting to pounce on me so I don’t know how much homework will actually get done. I leave him at the path crossing as he heads towards Holworthy and I turn to Grays. I walk up the stairs to my dorm and to my surprise, Christian’s door is open. He practically jumps out at me when he sees me pass in front of the door.
“So?” He asks expectantly. I shrug.
“I guess we’re exclusive now.”
“I see,” He says, and I notice his fingers curling into fists.
“Anyway, seeing as we’re friends now I thought I’d let you know that there is a party tomorrow night that we’ll be going to if you wanted to come. I’m going to ask Kate and Jose too.”
“I have plans tomorrow night,” He says sharply and I remember his call in the car.
“I hope you enjoy them, then,” I say with blatant insincerity and turn to open my door. For all the talk of being friends, it’s still extremely tense between the two of us and I wonder if it will always be this way, or just until he gets used to me dating Carter.
When I walk through the door, Kate is sitting at her desk on her laptop. She watches me through her study glasses as I hook my bag over the bedpost and walk around the room gathering my own things to do homework. I settle down on my bed and open my laptop and then look at Kate who is still staring expectantly at me.
“What?” I ask, exasperated but she rolls her eyes.
“Don’t act coy with me, Anastasia Steele.” She chides.
“He apologized and then brought me home,” I say and she lets out a frustrated moan.
“Details!” She groans and I look sternly at her.
“No, Kate. Everything I tell you about him, you tell to Elliot and it worries Christian’s mom. It’s fine. We’re fine. We’re going to try and be friends. That’s it.”
She narrows her eyes but I think she decides to let it go.
“Carter came looking for you,” She tells me, and I nod as I pull out my reading assignment.
“I know, I saw him outside. He wants us to go to a party with him and his friends down at Sigma Chi tomorrow.”
“Ugh… frat party,” She says almost disgustedly and I look at her confused.
“You don’t want to go to a frat party? I thought you’d be all about it.”
“I would have been three weeks ago when I was single,” She says offhandedly, as if what she said wasn’t completely news to me. I knew she really like Elliot, but Kate has never called a guy her boyfriend in her entire dating history. I smile wryly at her.
“Are you telling me that Katherine Kavanagh has finally become a one man woman?” I ask. She smiles, almost embarrassed it seems.
“There have been, discussions…” She says timidly and I smile back at her like the proud best friend I am.
“Carter made rules today, too,” I tell her.
“Already?” She asks, wrinkling her nose and I roll my eyes.
“Yes, Kate. Not all of us live in the same world as you do.”
“He’s probably just worried you’re going to hook up with Christian or something,” She shrugs.
“We’re just friends,” I say defensively.
“I know, but he’s a guy. You can say that a thousand times but he’ll still worry.”
Later that afternoon, Kate and I head into town to look at Halloween costumes. She agrees to be the model and I watch her twirl around in costumes for a sexy sailor, sexy witch, and a sexy kitten.
“This isn’t even a costume,” She says, coming out of the dressing room with an irritated look on her face. She’s dressed in tight black hot pants that look more like panties than shorts and a bright yellow corset with black strings.
“What is it supposed to be?” I ask, stifling a giggle as she pouts and discards the package at my feet.
“A bumble bee,” She says flatly and I laugh. I reach into the plastic back and pull out a black piece of foam attached to an elastic belt.
“Well, Kate!” I say with false exasperation. “You forgot the stinger!”
She glares at me and rips the package out of my hands and disappears back into the dressing room to change back into her own clothes.
When we leave the store, she pouts the entire way back to her car. I know Halloween is Kate’s favorite holiday and she’ll be devastated if she doesn’t find a costume she likes.
“What do you want to be?” I ask diplomatically.
“I don’t know,” She says sullenly. “Something really cool like a dinosaur or a Power Ranger, and not some lame sexy lingerie version, like a freakin’ sweet version that’s dope as hell.”
I laugh at her choice of words.
“Well Jay-Z, perhaps we should focus less on buying a costume and more on making one. We can hit up some thrift stores in town and see if we can find a craft store.”
She smiles with new hope and pulls me hurriedly to her car to drive to the nearest thrift store. We decide on the way that we’re going to be Mario and Luigi together and Kate is digging through the racks of The Garment District for suitable pairs of overalls while I look for long sleeved green and red shirts. Kate finds some white gloves, brown shoes, and red and green baseball caps and then we’re off to the craft store where I buy some gold paint for the buttons and some felt to make the baseball caps say “M” and “L”.
“We should get mustaches,” Kate says, hurrying off excitedly back into the aisles as I make my way up to the register.
When we get back to our dorm, she insists that we start putting our costumes together immediately. She paints the buttons on the overalls gold while I make the hats. It only takes an hour or so and while I’m putting the finishing touches on the “M” patch, Kate talks excitedly on the phone to Elliot who tells her he’ll put together a Bowser costume.
When we’re finished we both stand next to each other in the mirror. I take a picture of the two of us to send to Carter. She throws her arm around me and smirks at my reflection.
“I’m wearing overalls,” she laughs. “I guess it’s time for you to update your Facebook status.”
We both laugh and then change out of our costumes to start on our homework. The next few hours in our room are filled only by the sound of keys being pressed repeatedly on the keyboard. I’m finishing my Frankenstein essay for Survey of British Literature and it makes me wonder if Christian is doing the same thing. But thinking of Christian also makes me think about Carter and the spark that just doesn’t seem to be there. Why is it so easy with Christian but not with Carter? Why is it that every time Christian touches me it’s like my whole body becomes electrified, but when Carter touches me there’s nothing? Is that something that can come with time or getting to know someone?
“Kate?” I ask hesitantly.
“Hm?” She mumbles, not looking up from her laptop screen.
“How do you make your boyfriend a better kisser?”
She turns around to look at me with her eyes narrowed.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Carter…” I say hesitantly. “We’ve kissed twice and it’s always so wet and mushy.”
“Ugh,” She grunts, her face turning sour. “That’s the worst.”
“I know… it’s like, uncomfortably gross.”
“Dump him,” She says for a second time, turning back to her computer as if the matter is settled.
“Kate!” I moan. “I’m asking for advice to save a relationship I’m really trying to give a chance!”
“Fine. Tell him,” She says sternly, turning back to face me. “Tell him that he sucks at kissing.”
“I can’t do that!” I say mortified, imagining simultaneous looks of hurt, betrayal and embarrassment cross Carter’s face.
“Then dump him. He’s not going to get better if you never say anything.”
“Not even with practice?”
“Do you want to suffer through weeks of mushy, wet kisses to find out?”
“No,” I admit, not because I don’t want to try for Carter, but because kissing him actually makes me uncomfortable. “But he’s so nice…”
“So, then be friends with him,” Kate says. “And date someone who turns you on and makes the world stop spinning when he kisses you.”
A vision of the kiss Christian and I shared behind the restaurant comes flooding back to me and I shudder as the erotic warmth flashes through me at the memory.
“I don’t know what to do,” I say quietly, drumming my fingers on the keys of my laptop absentmindedly.
“Well, while you figure it out do you want to go get dinner?” She asks. I nod and she stands up and grabs a jacket.
The dining hall is mostly empty as it typically is on Saturday nights. We both decide on the lemon chicken and steamed broccoli for dinner and make our way down the long aisle between the tables until we reach our usual place. Jose is already sitting there and I realize as I see him smiling at our approach, that I haven’t seen him in over a week.
“Hi Jose!” I say brightly.
“Ana!” He replies reaching out to hug me. “Where have you been stranger?”
“Study jail,” I laugh and he tells me about how stressful getting ready for midterms has been. Kate tells us about the vacation she’s taking with her family next month to the Bahamas and is in the middle of a story about the last time her family stayed at the resort there when Christian comes up and sits at the table next to me.
“Anastasia,” He says as he places his own plate on the table.
“Hey, Christian,” I say with a smile. This is good, like we’re really trying to be friends.
“How was your afternoon?” He asks.
“Fine,” I tell him. “Kate and I found Halloween costumes and then I worked on my Frankenstein essay. Have you finished yours?”
“Yes, a few days ago. I’m studying for an economics test I have on Monday.”
“Are you coming to the Sigma Chi party tomorrow, Christian?” Kate asks and I look over at her, worried she’s trying to antagonize him, but she looks like she’s really just trying to include him in the conversation.
“A frat party?” Christian ask disapprovingly. “You didn’t say it was a frat party…”
“Yeah,” Kate says. “Ana’s boyfriend know a couple of the guys that live in that house and we thought we’d check it out.”
“Well, regularly drinking with fraternity guys could explain why he seems to be unable to show up for rowing practice on time,” He says irritably.
“No, that’s mostly do to my inability to tell time,” Carter says jokingly, surprising us all by coming up behind us.
“Carter!” I say, startled. I stand up to hug him and he wraps me in his arms and holds me so that my body is flat against his.
“Hey, baby,” He says, and he mashes his lips into mine. Christian stands suddenly and storms away from the table and when Carter releases me, I look after him, concerned. Was that too much? Probably not the best way to start of this new trying to be friends thing.
“What’s Grey’s problem?” Carter asks as he takes his seat.
“His brother got all the good traits,” Kate says smugly, and she turns to Jose to see the new photo book he’s put together. We eat dinner and then I hug Carter and Jose goodbye as Kate and I return to our dorm to finish our homework. As she digs through her bag to find her keys, Christian’s door opens. He looks at me purposefully and I think Kate sees it too because when she finds her keys, she opens the door, and ducks quickly inside, closing the door behind her.
“A frat party?” Christian asks again.
“Yeah, I would have thought to give you all the details but I know you have other plans,” I say, more sharply than I intended. His face hardens so I change the topic. “Why did you leave after dinner? I liked talking with you.”
“I think our friendship will work better without the involvement of Carter Reed.”
“Well, he’s my boyfriend so he’s probably going to be around,” I tell him.
“Isn’t it a little soon to call him your boyfriend?” He asks, the tension around his eyes becoming more and more pronounced. I shrug.
“I’ve got a lot of essay to finish before the party so, since I won’t see you tomorrow night, I guess I’ll see you Monday.”
“Have fun at your party,” He says.
“You too,” I say automatically. I stop and shake my head with disgust as I realize what I just said.
The next night, I let Kate get me ready for the party again. She’s toned down the look from our last party, I think because for the first time ever, she has a steady boyfriend so she’s not trying to attract attention. I leave the dorm dressed in casual but flattering jeans and a t-shirt, my makeup is done, but much more understated, and I’m wearing Chuck Taylors rather than the sky high stilettos. I stare worriedly at Christian’s door as Kate locks up, wondering idly if he’s there or if he’s already left to meet Mrs. Lincoln. I push that thought aside. I’m glad for this distraction tonight. The last thing I want to be thinking about is what Christian is doing right now.
Sigma Chi is a tall, skinny, three story house in the middle of a busy neighborhood. I can hear the music playing before I’ve even rounded the corner to the street and I’m pretty sure the cops are going to be called before this party is over. When we enter through the front door, we wade our way through the crowd of drunk college students until we find Carter with a group of his friends near the back of the house.
“Hey, babe,” He says, reaching into a box and tossing me a PBR. I smile at him and sit on the arm of the chair next to him. He hands Kate her own beer and we stand around awkwardly straining to hear his conversation through the too loud music.
“Oh my god, I love this song!” Kate squeals as the tell-tale It’s Britney Bitch echos through the house. She grabs my hand and drags me out to the living room and we dance to the electric techno beat. Kate is hilarious when she’s not trying to impress a guy on the dance floor. I laugh uncontrollably at the facial expressions she makes to match the ridiculous dance moves she’s busting out. She grabs me by the hands and we pull each other back and forth. When the song changes, she doesn’t stop dancing. I don’t think she’s interested in sitting around drinking beer with Carter all night and to be honest, neither am I. I need something much more interesting to distract me and suddenly I secretly thank whatever divine force it was that made the ever entertaining Katherine Kavanagh my best friend.
“Do you want to go outside?” Kate asks when the song changes again, and I nod, grateful for a break from dancing. She grabs my hand and leads me out the back door where we find even more people swarming about the small, square backyard.
We take a seat on the edge of the back porch and watch, interested, as a group of guys burst through the back door carrying another guy struggling to release himself from their grip. They take him to one of the maple trees near the fence and two of the guys hold him flat against the thick trunk while the rest of the guys Saran wrap him to the tree. Kate and I laugh as the now completely subdued guy screams and curses as he struggles to get free.
“I’m out of beer,” Kate says after she drains the can in her hand. “I see people walking around with plastic cups, is there a keg around here?”
“Let’s go look,” I suggest. We both jump up and I follow her into the house. We find the keg in the living room and Kate takes two cups out of the plastic package and pours us both a drink. We walk back through the house to find Carter but he isn’t where we left him and we can’t seem to find him in the sea of people.
“I need to pee!” Kate shouts over the loud bass pounding from the speakers. “Wait here for me and watch my drink!”
“Okay!” I yell back and she squeezes through a gap in the crowd and disappears. I try and look over the crowd to spot Carter, but I think it probably hopeless.
“Anastasia,” A voice says behind me, and I turn in surprise because the voice doesn’t belong to Carter.
“Christian?” I ask, unbelieving. “What are you doing here? I thought you were…”
“I know,” He interrupts me. “I couldn’t go.”
I stare at him, feeling as though I’m not comprehending the words he’s saying.
“Why?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” He replies hesitantly. I see the blackberry he’s holding in his hand light up as a call comes in. He looks down at the screen and for the first time since I’ve known him, he ignores the call and puts his phone back in his pocket.
“Do you want to dance?” He asks, and he reaches his hand out for mine.