Dr. Fisch’s office is cramped, filled with entirely too much clutter, and smells vaguely of mildew. It’s too warm in here and it makes the leather couch uncomfortable. It isn’t, however, any of these things that has me so on edge. I’m meeting Anastasia in one hour and I’m going to get my answer, good or bad.
“How’s school going?’ Dr. Fisch asks when, ten minutes into my session, I still haven’t said a word. I look away from the clock on the wall, which I had been using to track the seconds of this useless session ticking away. I’m torn whether or not I want time to go faster or stop entirely.
“It’s fine,” I reply.
“Fine?” he asks.
Dr. Fisch sighs. “You know, Christian, I get paid whether or not you say anything at all to me, but I doubt you sit on this couch three days a week to look at my clock.”
“I’m here because my mother insists that I be here.”
“It must be important to her that you speak with someone then. Why do you think she’s so adamant that you attend these sessions?”
“Because I’m so fucked up.”
“Is that how you think she sees you?”
I stare back at him, stone faced. Sorry, doctor. I’ve done this song and dance with dozens of psychiatrists before you. You’re going to have to do better than, what does my mom think.
I glance back up to the clock and feel myself begin to yawn.
“Tired?” Dr. Fisch asks.
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” I respond.
“No,” I reply. I really hate rehashing this same things over and over again. Every therapist I’ve ever seen eventually becomes some kind of dream interpreter and frankly I’m sick of it.
“No, it’s not nightmares,” I continue. “There are other things going on in my life besides dealing with all that shit from my childhood. I’ve got school and finals and…. Okay, I’m trying to start this company and all I need is the startup money, but my parents won’t give it to me because they want me to graduate college. But I don’t give a fuck about college, so I’ve been trying to do it on my own. Well, I have a partner… Anyway, everything was going great. We had some meetings back in October that led to a few small deals and then right before Halloween, we got a huge investor on board, and I mean huge. So huge in fact that we were only a few thousand dollars away from our goal. Ros was already looking for a business to buy while we were waiting for the final contracts to be done and then I’m on my way back from Thanksgiving and everything just falls apart. Once that one investor backed out, the others did too, like dominos, and I can’t stop it. Ros and I are doing everything we can to keep this investor on board, to somehow find a way to salvage this deal, but I nothing is working. But the really fucked up part is that’s not even what’s keeping me up at night. I can’t even focus on the shit I need to get done because I’m too distracted by this girl…”
“Yeah, there’s a girl,” I grumble.
“Why don’t you tell me about her?” he asks, but when I don’t continue, he gets more specific. “What’s her name?”
“Anastasia. She likes Ana, but I don’t. It’s too… plain for her, but Anastasia is complex and interesting. It suits her.”
“Anastasia is a beautiful name,” he encourages me.
“She’s beautiful. But she’s more than that… I mean at first that’s all I cared about and it was enough to draw me to her all the time, but as I spent more time with her, really got to know, I found that… she’s amazing. She’s smart, you know, like really smart. There was a time a few months ago when we were in class and she made me look like an idiot in front of the professor and the entire class. That usually doesn’t happen and on the rare occasion it does it really pisses me off, but with her, I was just… I don’t know… mesmerized. She works hard, and she’s funny, and she cares for people, and… and she’s good. You know? She doesn’t have a fucked up past that she wears around like some kind of battle wound, and I can talk to her and she doesn’t look at me like a puppy in one of those Sarah McLachlan commercials. I just… I want to be around her, all the time. I think about her all the time. I miss her when she’s not around. I miss her right now.”
“It sounds like she means a great deal to you. Have you considered pursuing a relationship with this girl?”
“Of course I have,” I snap. “I brought her home with me for Thanksgiving and it was going really well and I really thought by the end of break we’d be together but…”
“I asked her to be mine and she said she had to think about it.”
“Did she tell you what’s holding her back?”
I glare at him. “I’m fucked up.”
“She told you that she had to think about being in a relationship with you because you’re fucked up?”
“Not exactly, but… yes. I’ve done everything I can to try and convince her but I don’t know what she’s thinking.”
“So you’re not in control and, as we’ve discussed in the past, that’s a trigger for you.”
“I’m supposed to meet her tonight,” I say quietly. “She came up to me after our final this afternoon and said she needs to ask me some things before she can decide. I’m taking her out to dinner after this session.”
“Are you worried about what she’s going to say?”
“I’m terrified. If she says no, if she rejects me again… I won’t be able to, I mean… I can’t.”
“If I had to take a guess,” he says evenly. “I’d say you’ve fallen in love with this girl.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I snap. Who is he to tell me how I feel? I’ve never loved anyone. Well… anyone who wasn’t family. Sure, I’m attracted to her and I like spending time with her and the idea of her refusing me tonight feels as though it literally might break me, but I can’t…. no, it’s not…
“Why do you find that ridiculous?”
“I’m interested in success, not love.”
“Oh? Because a moment ago you told me that you have been so preoccupied by your desire for Anastasia that you haven’t even been bothered by the setbacks you’ve experienced in starting this business. It seems to me that you’re very interested in love… or is your desire for this girl entirely sexual in nature?”
“No, I mean, part of it, I just…”
Fuck, is he right? No, no he can’t be. I’ve never wanted any of that hearts and flowers garbage. Elena showed me what a waste all that was, I mean look at her marriage. She hates her husband… god forbid that should ever be me. But then, if I’m not interested in a relationship outside of a dominant/submissive relationship, even once I’ve moved on from Elena, then what has me so preoccupied with Anastasia? She doesn’t want that, she’s made that very clear, but it doesn’t make me want her less. What do I want with her?
“What are you thinking about, Christian?” Dr. Fisch asks, clearly seeing my inner turmoil etched on my face.
“I don’t know what I want from Anastasia.”
“You said you’ve asked her for a relationship. What does that look like to you?” he asks.
I sit back into the couch and think carefully about his question. I’ve been so concerned about Anastasia saying no, that I hadn’t really imagined what it would be like if she said yes. I’d fuck her first… but even the fantasy that thought conjures is different than I would’ve expected. There aren’t ropes or floggers or ball gags, it’s just the two of us, in my bed. I’d want her naked beneath me, her legs wrapped around me, and my hands holding her face while I kiss her, finally kiss her the way I want to. I want to see how she looks when she comes.
I feel an erection growing in my jeans so I stop my train of thought immediately, but, to my surprise, other images flash across my mind and none of them are sexual in nature. I see her sitting on the grassy hill next to the river, watching me row, smiling and cheering for me rather than Carter Reed. I see her running over the sand on a tropical beach somewhere, laughing as I chase her into the water and scoop her into my arms and spin her around. I see us picking apples in an orchard, and going to movies, and having dinner in restaurants, like the dates she’d been on earlier this year. I see her standing in the front of a crowd of people, applauding me as I cut the ribbon to open my brand new company, and she’s smiling up at me, proud and happy… and yes, in love.
I want that. I want all of that. I want her to be with me, only me, and I want to take care of her and give her everything she could ever desire. I want her world to begin and end with me, the way mine now seems to with her…
“I love her,” I whisper aloud.
“What was that?” Dr. Fisch asks. I look up at him in shock.
“I’m in love with her,” I repeat, and he smiles.
“That’s good,” he tells me. “That’s a great start.” His eyes glance up at the clock and he frowns slightly before turning back to me. “I’m afraid that’s it for today and I won’t see you again before break. But I look forward to hearing about everything that happens tonight in your next session. If you need anything before then, you have my email.”
“Yes,” I say distractedly as I stand up and shake his hand. Fuck, I have to go meet Anastasia. What am I going to do if she says no?
No, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen.
I leave Dr. Fisch’s office and hurry as quickly as I can across campus back towards Grays Hall. My session went a little long, which is strange since I usually leave early, and I’m running late now. I glance down at my phone, it’s 7:25 which means that Anastasia is already at the restaurant, waiting for me. Shit! It’ll take me at least another 20 minutes to get there…
I look through my contacts list for her number, but before I can hit send, my phone lights up and vibrates with a different incoming call. It’s a Seattle number but not one of Elena’s…
“Hello?” I answer as I pull open the heavy front door of Grays Hall.
“Mr. Grey, this is Henry Eisner from Allied Capital. Do you have a moment to discuss the proposal we went over this afternoon?”
I stop at the bottom stair. Shit, now?
“Uh… Of course. Miss Bailey and I were glad to have the chance to speak with you in person this time, Mr. Eisner. Thank you again for that interview.”
“We’re very impressed by you here at Allied Capital, Mr. Grey, we really think you’re working on something special and have some great ideas.”
“We’re just not sure if now is the best time to make an investment like this…”
“Mr. Eisner, I understand your hesitation, but let me assure you that Miss Bailey and I have completed several market surveys and investigational reports, and they’ve all been conclusive that our aggressive strategy is better suited for this economic climate.”
I’m pacing now, winding through the common room and downstairs kitchen of Grays Hall, and I continue to do so for the next twenty minutes while I do my best to save this deal.
“Look, let me talk again with our research analysts and see if there is anything we can come up with,” Mr. Eisner says eventually. I don’t want to concede, my gut is telling me that hanging up without something more concrete with him is a bad idea, but I’m now forty minutes late to meet Anastasia and I don’t have everything in front of me that I’d need to truly salvage this deal anyway. I need Ros…
“That sounds fine, Mr. Eisner. Please let me know if there is anything else I can provide for you to help your research team.”
“I absolutely will, Mr. Grey. Thank you again for your time.”
My heart is racing when I’m off the phone, this is the one deal we can’t lose. Everything else is dependent on it. We know already that if Allied leaves, then so does Washington Federal and Seattle First Security, and we’ll be left with nothing. But I don’t have time to deal with this now, I need to get to Craigie to meet Anastasia.
I sprint upstairs, grab my car keys, and book it out to my Audi in record time. As I weave my way through the streets around campus and then hit the gas once I’m on the main road, I dial Ros’s number. She doesn’t pick up and I growl as I hit redial. Thankfully, this time she answers, but I’m already pulling up alongside the curb in front of the restaurant. I wonder briefly if Anastasia is even here, I’m nearly an hour late…
“I’m. At. The. Gym. Christian,” Ros pants into the phone as I get out of the car, she sounds like she’s on a treadmill. “Can. I. Call. You. In. An. Hour?”
“No, I just got off the phone with Henry Eisner and I think they’re backing out. We need to meet with them in person, tomorrow if possible.” I have to pull the phone away to give the host my reservation name and he looks at me irritably as he turns to lead me towards the back of the restaurant.
“I have a final tomorrow and I’m supposed to be in San Francisco by Friday. My parents will flip if I tell them I’m going to Seattle.”
“Fine, I’ll do it alone. Just use your contacts at Allied to get me a meeting,” I tell her. I can see Anastasia now and she frowns when I take the seat across from her.
“I don’t know if I can do that, I mean, I’ve already…” Ros begins, but I cut her off.
“I don’t give a fuck what you think you can or cannot do, Ros. Get me the fucking meeting. We can’t lose this deal!” I hang up the phone. Anastasia looks up at me worriedly for a second. She’s done her make up again and her hair falls gently around her face in loose waves. She looks like heaven.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I tell her, and then because my tone is still to brisk I add, “You look beautiful, Anastasia.”
“Let’s just order,” she says, her tone just as short as mine when she picks up a menu. I watch her nervously while she makes her selection and I’m so preoccupied trying to get a read on her that I have to make a hasty decision when the waiter appears to take our order.
“How did your finals go?” she asks after we’re alone again, and to my relief it seems as though some of her irritation has faded away.
“Fine,” I tell her. “I didn’t have much trouble with British Literature and I think I have you to thank for that.”
“It was a fairly easy final,” she says, blushing. The blush adds the perfect amount of color to her cheeks. “I guess we won’t have any classes together anymore.”
“I suppose not,” I say regretfully. This means that I won’t be guaranteed to see her anymore if she says no tonight… I push that thought away. I’ve already decided I won’t let that happen.
“Have you signed up for your classes next semester?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply, but, again, my tone is short. I don’t want to talk about school, I want to talk about her decision. I want her answer.
“What are you taking?”
“Is this really what you wanted to talk to me about, Anastasia?” I ask, and she frowns at me.
“No, but… I do like just talking to you, Christian.”
Fuck, stop pissing her off, Grey. Just answer her damn questions.
“Prerequisites,” I tell her, and, although she seems to accept my answer as enough, I get the feeling she was hoping for more. Perhaps she’s just as nervous about this conversation as I am… Well maybe I can reassure her.
“What can I tell you that I haven’t already, Anastasia? I can’t change the past. It has nothing to do with you or us. It’s just something I used to do and now I don’t.”
“How did it start?” she asks, not looking up at me. You have to be honest with her, Grey.
“When I was fifteen, I was out of control. I’ve told you this. My mom didn’t know what to do with me, I was getting expelled from school for drinking and fighting, and I wouldn’t listen to a single thing either of my parents said. When I got expelled again, I had to stay home for a while until my mom could find a new school that would take me. She didn’t want me sitting around the house acting like I was on vacation so she called Elena and asked if she had any work around the house I could do. She did and so the next day, I went over to move some river rock she was having installed around her pool. It was hot, sweaty work and I was miserable, but when Elena brought me something cold to drink, instead of acting grateful, I gave her my typical smart-ass attitude and she hit me, hard, across the face. I was shocked by the contact but even more so when she immediately grabbed me and kissed me. Everything in my body, all the pent up frustration, came alive. When she let me go, she slapped me again and it felt really good. She told me to come back the next day and she’d have something else for me to do. Three weeks later, my first contract was signed.”
“And you like it? The hitting, I mean,” she asks.
Not really. Sometimes, but mostly, I just put up with it because it pleases her and when she’s pleased she allows me come. Ana doesn’t want to hear that though, so instead I go with, “Liked, Anastasia. Past tense. I had planned on moving on in the spring when my contract was over anyway.” Well, moved on might be an overstatement. I’d have switched roles with her I guess is more accurate, but again, she doesn’t need to know that.
“Moved onto what? A normal relationship?” she asks, and I my jaw tenses. Of course she wouldn’t let me get away with it.
“No. I’d never envisioned a normal relationship until I met you.” And really not until about an hour ago.
“So you want to become someone else’s submissive or you would have become a dominant?”
“To who?” she asks, and I hear trepidation in her voice, like she expects the answer is her. Unfortunately, I think that answer would be better than the truth.
“Elena,” I tell her, and she looks away from me again.
“And she would just do that?”
“Yes, Elena has experience on both sides. She likes playing the Domme better but to keep our agreement, she was more than willing to play the submissive.”
“So what do you want now?”
“I want you, Anastasia. I’ve told you this.”
“But do you still want to be a Dom?”
Honesty, Grey. “Yes.”
“You want me to be your submissive?” she whispers. She’s scared, I can see that in her eyes, but I can ease that. I don’t want anything she doesn’t.
“Not if you don’t want to,” I assure her.
“But you want me to?”
“Part of me… yes,” I reply. “I’m attracted to this lifestyle, Ana. I find it pleasurable and it was always what I had envisioned for myself if the time ever came when I left Elena.”
She looks back at me blankly for a minute and then her bottom lip begins to quiver slightly. “This isn’t going to work,” she says.
Fuck, what did I do? No!
“What do you mean?” I ask, panicked.
“I mean, we want different things. You’re caught up in this lifestyle that I want nothing to do with Christian and my expectations of you, of what I would want our relationship to be, are unrealistic.”
No, no it doesn’t have to be. Get this back on track, Grey.
“Anastasia, I’m out. I’ve left it behind. It’s you I want, anyway I can have you. It won’t be like that.” My words come out too quickly and they sound like a plea. Why is it every conversation I seem to have with her feels like I’m fighting for my life?
“For how long?” she asks.
“For how long will you be okay giving it all up? You say you’re fine with it now but what about in a week, or a month, or even a year, Christian?”
It won’t matter, time doesn’t matter because… I love you and if you agree to be mine, I’m never going to let you go.
Easy. Don’t freak her out.
“Anastasia, you’re over complicating this. This isn’t about any of that shit. This is about us. I want you, only you. Sure, I’ve been interested in that lifestyle in the past but you’re not. I accept that. Please, Anastasia.”
“I don’t know, Christian.” I’m going insane, I wonder briefly if she could ever have any respect for me if I got on my knees.
“What can I do?” I ask instead. “What do you need me to do to prove to you that it’s all over? That it’s only you now?”
“I don’t know. Look, I won’t say anything now… maybe I’m rushing this.”
I can’t do anything with that! “Anastasia, tell me what to do.”
“Time,” she says. “Give me time.”
Her answer is so exasperating it creates a physical reaction, which is possibly why, when the waiter places the check on the table, she’s able to reach out and take it before I am. I watch her quickly slip her credit card inside the black book and hand it immediately back to the him. What the fuck just happened?
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m paying,” she says firmly. “I don’t want your father thinking I’m only interested in you for your money.”
“You think I give a fuck what my father thinks?” I ask angrily as I remember the lecture I was given in my father’s office over Thanksgiving. I swear to god if I lose her because of his stupid, misguided concerns, I’ll never speak to any of them ever again.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Ana replies with a shrug. “But I do.”
I run my fingers through my hair, trying to get a grip on myself as the waiter returns Anastasia’s card and she signs the receipt. She thanks him and then stands from the table. I mimic her, trying to calm myself as we leave the restaurant together. I know that being frustrated with her indecisiveness is only making things worse.
“Where are you parked?” I ask, and she points a few spaces down to a sky blue colored Mercedes with license plates that say “Kate”. I assume that means she doesn’t have a car.
She begins looking through her purse for her keys and I feel a stabbing pain of longing. She’s leaving and I’m not ready for her to go.
“When will you know?” I ask, stopping her before she can leave without giving me anything to go on.
“Soon. I hope,” she says, turning her wide blue eyes back to me. I want to say something to make her stay, or better yet, something that will make her come home with me, but before I can think of anything, my phone rings. I consider ignoring it, but if it’s Ros, she has my answer about that meeting… Then again it could be Elena.
I reach into my pocket to look at the name on the caller ID, it is Ros.
“Fuck,” I hiss under my breath, and then turn an imploring gaze on Ana. “Don’t leave yet, please.”
She nods and I take a few steps away from her and answer the call. “Ros?”
“I did it. I’m a miracle worker. We’ve got a meeting. You can begin worshiping at my feet whenever you’re ready.”
“Really? Excellent. In person?”
“Well… that’s kind of the thing. They want to meet with you at 9 AM tomorrow so you’re going to need to get on a flight tonight. I can see if I can delay but…”
“No, don’t delay,” I say, interrupting her. “I’ll be there. We need to get this cemented before anything else can get fucked up.”
“God speed then,” Ros says and I hang up the phone without another word, then turn back to Anastasia. If I’m leaving for Seattle tonight, this is the last I’ll see her before next term. How far away is that? Three and half weeks?
“What are you doing for the holiday?” I ask, secretly hoping she’s staying behind again so that I can fly her out to Seattle with me. It’s a fool’s hope, I know the dorms close over Christmas break.
“Going home to Vegas,” she says, and, even though I expected this, I still find myself disappointed. I could possibly fly down to see her but she said she needs me to give her time. Besides, my pressuring her seems to be having the opposite effect of what I want. I almost lost her tonight, I don’t want to get in that situation again.
“And this is what you want? Time?” I clarify.
“Please,” she nods.
“No interference from me at all?”
“No, I need to make this decision on my own.”
No interference means no visits, no phone calls, no text messages, no emails… I was planning on changing my number over the break to stop Elena from calling me fifty times a day, maybe in a week or so I could call her, just to give her my new number. Just to hear her voice….
I look down at her, so beautiful as she stares up at me. Her lips look petal soft tonight and I’m aching to have them against my own.
“I want to kiss you,” I admit, and, as if she’s trying to rub salt in my wounds, she bites down on that delectable lower lip of hers, taunting me. She leans forward, and softly presses her lips against mine, just enough that I feel the warm pleasure spread quickly through my body, but not enough that I feel satisfied. When she steps back, I feel bereft.
“Goodbye, Christian,” she says, and the words sound so final coming from her lips.
“Anastasia… please don’t say good-bye.”
She looks down at her shoes for a beat and then sighs and turns for her car. I watch her slide into the driver’s seat, fasten her seatbelt, and then pull slowly away from the curb. She doesn’t look back.
“I love you,” I whisper into the darkness, then exhale harshly as I make for my own car.
I curse my stupidity as I pull into the parking lot and see Kavanagh’s car parked a few spaces ahead of mine. Why didn’t I hurry after her? We could have walked back to the dorms together and I could’ve had more time. I read an email from Ros on my blackberry as I walk back to Grays Hall to pack, she’s found a red eye flight from Boston to Seattle and booked it for me. I click the link in my email box to verify the itinerary, but, before the pop-out screen comes up, my phone lights up with a call from Elena.Jesus Christ, how the fuck don’t you get it yet?
I ignore her call and climb the stairs to the third floor. When I get to my room, my phone vibrates again and I pull it out, thinking that maybe this time I will answer Elena’s call just to scream at her, but it isn’t Elena, it’s a text from Ros.
Hey, do you want me to drive you to the airport? I’m finished studying for the night.
Sure. I’ll be ready in twenty minutes.
I open my door and immediately begin packing, mostly just carelessly throwing things into the suitcase but double checking to make sure I have a suit for the meeting tomorrow morning. I don’t know if I’m going to have time to stop by my house and shower, in fact, I probably shouldn’t since I’m not supposed to be in Seattle until tomorrow night… Maybe I’ll get a hotel once I land.
When I’m finished packing, I hurry out of my room and lock the door behind me, pausing for a moment to glance at Anastasia’s door. Their light is on and I can hear their voices but I can’t distinguish what they’re saying. I wonder if Anastasia is talking to her about me, and whether or not Kavanagh is on my side. I’m sure she’s going to be around my house all break, perhaps I should start making an effort to be nice to her. I nod and then turn down the hall, dragging my suitcase behind me as I think of ways to win Kavanagh’s support.