Chapter 08

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Getting back to Cambridge doesn’t have the calming effect I’d hoped it would after my run in with Leila. This is the first time Christian and Kate have been around one another since Kate and Elliot broke up and awkward does not adequately describe the atmosphere between the two of them. While I spend most of Saturday with Kate, getting ready for the Halloween party we’re going to that night by having my full body painted black and white, Christian mostly stays in my room, working at my desk. The entire time I’m with Kate, he never comes downstairs once. He hasn’t said a single word to her. The most he’s been around her was on the flight home and he hardly even looked at her.

“Okay, take a seat,” Kate tells me, once my body paint is finally dry and I’m able to slip into the black sheath dress. I sigh as I watch her pick up a teasing comb and an aerosol can of hairspray, and then reluctantly sit in the dining room chair she pulls from the table. I spend the next few minutes choking on a cloud of hairspray while Kate creates a stunningly high bouffant and then secures the rest of my hair in a french twist on the back of my head. When she’s sure it’s secure, she leaves me to finish getting dressed while she changes into her own costume. I head upstairs in my bedroom and once I’m inside, Christian turns automatically to look at me, and then does a doubletake when he sees me.

“What in the…” He says, his voice trailing off as his eyes make it up to my hair.

“Well, it looks stupid now,” I say defensively. “I’m not finished yet.”

“You’re a different color.”

I look down, examining the skin showing beneath my dress which took almost two hours of blending different shades of black, gray, and white paint with an airbrush and a professional artist to get right. “Yeah, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a black and white movie. Holly Golightly was gray.”

“Is Kate gray, too?” He asks, but I shake my head.

“No, Lorelei Lee was in technicolor.”

He shakes his head and turns back to the Macbook in front of him, so I continue on into the bathroom, ruffling his hair slightly as I step past his chair.

It’s an extraordinarily humbling experience, holding up a picture of Audrey Hepburn next to your face and deciphering how much you actually look like her. Thankfully, the artist who painted my body also shaded my face so I don’t have to worry about doing much make up. Looking between the photo on my phone and my reflection in the mirror has me convinced that Audrey’s classic beauty cannot be replicated, and attempting such a thing feels like a great way to dig up a lot of deep rooted self-esteem issues, so I settle for simply applying the set of false eyelashes I bought earlier in the week and coating them with mascara.

“Ana!” Kate calls, but her voice cuts off awkwardly, presumably when she steps into my room and sees Christian sitting in the chair by the door.

“She’s in the bathroom,” He says bluntly, and the only thing I hear in response to that is the swishing noise of the taffeta in Kate’s dress as she crosses the room. She’s dressed in the tight pink evening gown and matching elbow length gloves from the iconic Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend number, her hair is rolled up into Marilyn Monroe’s signature retro waves, and her neck, ears, and wrists are already glittering with diamond costume jewelry.

“My lipstick is a little too orange,” She says, stepping into the bathroom. “Do you have a better red than this?”

“Uh… I think so,” I say, reaching into my makeup bag and digging around. The tube is at the bottom as I’ve only ever worn it once, out of curiosity, and immediately decided that red lipstick was not my look. It looks great on Kate though, and once she’s applied the lipstick and drawn on the mole just above her lip, she’s Marilyn perfectly personified.

“Alright, let’s get your jewelry and we’ll be ready to go. I have a tiara and a some pearls, but all the earrings at the costume shop were ugly so I thought you could wear your Cartier.”

“My Cartier?” I repeat, confused.

“Yeah, the earrings Christian got you for Christmas a couple years ago.”

I feel my stomach drop. I have no idea where those earrings are and unfortunately, Christian is sitting about four feet away from the bathroom door right now, undoubtedly listening to every word we’re saying. My teeth sink into my bottom lip, and Kate raises an eyebrow at me.

“What’s wrong?”

I don’t know where those earrings are,” I mouth at her, after glancing nervously at the door. Her eyes widen and I watch her lean back a little to check to see if Christian is looking, then close the door to try and prevent him from hearing us.

“What do you mean you don’t know where those earrings are?” She hisses at me, and though her voice is a soft, barely an audible whisper, I can hear the indignation in her tone. “Those earrings were like, $2500, Anastasia.”

“I know,” I whisper back. “But in those two years when Christian and I weren’t together, I wasn’t particularly concerned with keeping track of the jewelry he gave me. If I was talking to him at all, I probably would have returned them, but I wasn’t…”

“That’s the first thing he ever gave you,” She argues.

“I know that! Don’t you think I know that? I feel awful about it, but I can’t do anything about it now. I don’t remember giving them away so I’m sure they’re here somewhere, I just don’t know where…”

She presses her lips together as she looks at the closed door, and I can almost see her trying to work through the problem she’s posed in her head. “Okay, we’ll look for them after he goes back to Seattle. In the meantime, just go to your jewelry box like you’re going to get them and I’ll say something about how I don’t think you should wear them after all. I have some cheap earrings you can wear instead.”

I nod and she turns to open the door for me. Christian looks up at me as I step out into the room, and I can’t believe how stupid I feel putting on this charade. I should just tell him the truth, that I know he heard Kate bring it up but I think I might have lost them, but I also don’t want to hurt his feelings. I know how much he hates talking or even thinking about the time we weren’t together and that’s not how I want to start this night off with him. Tonight is supposed to be fun. A chance to prove that he and I can do the things normal 22 year olds do without creating some huge disaster.

I can hear the swish of Kate’s dress as she comes out of the bathroom behind me, and once I reach the jewelry box sitting on the dresser, I hear her call out to me.

“Wait, Ana…” She says hesitantly. “Maybe you shouldn’t wear actual diamonds tonight. You’re going to be drinking and dancing, you don’t want to lose them just for a stupid Halloween costume.”

“Uh… good call, Kate,” I say awkwardly.

“I think I have a pair you can wear, I’ll be right back.”

I nod and watch her leave, but the second she’s left the room, Christian gets up from the desk, closes the door behind her and rounds on me.

“You lost the earrings I gave you, didn’t you?” He asks, and I frown.

“I don’t know,” I tell him, hanging my head a little with shame. “When we broke up, I got rid of a lot of the things you gave me, I put away other stuff… I have no idea where the earrings got to.”

He sighs and crosses the room, stopping only inches away from me and holding his arms open. “So, why the theatrics? Why didn’t you just tell me that?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” I admit, stepping into his embrace. “It was the first gift you ever gave me and if I would have known we were going to get back together, I would have kept better track of them.”

“It’s okay,” He tells me. “They’re just earrings.”

“$2500 earrings,” I mumble back.

“Actually they were just over $4000,” He corrects me, and when I let out a displeased sigh, he lifts my chin so that I’m looking up at him. “The earrings I bought for you after the trial, the ones you shoved back into my hand as you turned around to leave at the top of the Empire State Building so you could walk out of my life forever? Those earrings were about $10,000, and I threw them off my balcony in an extremely childish fit of rage.”

“You threw them… off your balcony?” I ask, sounding almost confused, as if the words don’t make sense in that order. “Where?”

“Just… Into Seattle,” He replies, a smile breaking across his face now, and I laugh.

“Well, some person out there had a really good day then.”

“I’m glad someone did,” He says. “I didn’t just get rid of the earrings, I destroyed a whole box of things I had of yours. Small things you’d left in my car or in my dorm room, and I really wish I hadn’t.”

I push out my lower lip in a pout but, once his words fully resonate with me, my face goes blank and my eyes widen with realization.

“What?” He asks.

“Box,” I say, lamely. “I have a box of your things.”

The confusion on his face doesn’t diminish, but I struggle out of his arms and then pull the chair at my desk over to the closet. There are several things stuffed up on the top shelf, all fit together extremely precariously as I usually have to toss whatever it is I want to put away up here and hope it sticks since I can’t reach the shelf without a step stool. In the very back corner, there is an old shoe box I haven’t looked at in over two years and, after I push several things out of the way to get to it, I pull it out and open the lid. The items inside are sparse and seemingly inconsequential, except for the small red box with the word Cartier printed on the top.

“Here they are,” I say, smiling as I pull the earrings out and hold the box up for Christian to see. He walks over and takes them out of my hand, opens the hinged lid, and then looks down at the diamonds inside.

“There they are,” He says, his voice filled with sentimentalism. I step down from the chair, leaving the box on the seat, and when I turn to face him, he pulls the earrings from the velvet casing and slips them into each of my ears.

“These really do look beautiful on you,” He says, brushing his thumb over the drop diamond hanging from the delicate, silver strand.

“You have excellent taste,” I tell him.

“Yes,” He agrees, looking down at me with an adoring smile on his face as he wraps me in his arms. “I do.”

 

Before we head to the party, Christian insists we stop for dinner, so Kate picks an Italian restaurant downtown. Unfortunately, since it’s Saturday night, it’s packed and when we head inside to get a table, we’re told there is a 30 minute wait.

“Excuse me?” Christian asks, clearly confused when the hostess asks if he would like to put his name on the list, which I imagine is because he’s never been asked to wait for anything in his life.

“Yes,” I interject. “We’ll wait.”

“Okay, can I get a name for your party?” She asks.

“Grey,” Christian says emphatically, as though he can’t believe she didn’t already know the answer to that question. Thankfully, the hostess seems unfazed.

“Perfect. We’ll call your name when your table is ready,” She hands us the plastic box, which will light up and vibrate when they’re ready for us, and, as Christian looks down at the thing like some kind of alien artifact, I hook my arm through his and drag him outside to wait on the sidewalk.

“That was… weird,” Christian says as we step to the side of the doors and lean against the stucco of the exterior wall. “Why didn’t you make a reservation, Kate?”

“I don’t think they do that here,” She says, picking up her phone to occupy herself while we wait. “Welcome to the world of the common people, Grey.”

I hide a laugh as I watch Christian roll his eyes and shift towards me. The wait is actually a little longer than the hostess told us it would be, but since Kate is pacing back and forth on the curb talking to Ainsley on the phone, it’s an opportunity for Christian and I to talk and retreat into our own little world together. While we stand there together though, I notice that his eyes keep shifting towards the street every so often, and when it happens for probably the 10th time, I reach up to grab his chin and turn his face back to me.

“What are you doing?” I ask him.

“It’s just weird,” He replies. “We’re standing out on a public street, no security hovering around, and no one has even looked at us. I’m just used to…”

“Being somebody?” I interrupt him. He shrugs, and I give him an almost gloating kind of smile. “I tried to tell you it’s different in Cambridge. No one cares about us here. There aren’t any paparazzi because no one wants your picture… Well, not for money anyway. That girl over there has looked over at you a few times, she probably wouldn’t say no to a selfie.”

I nod with my head and the moment he turns and makes eye contact with the girl I’m talking about, she flushes bright red and immediately tries to hide behind her friend. Christian shakes his head and turns back to me and I giggle at the obvious discomfort on his face. He’s embarrassed. It’s kind of adorable.

“You were right though, this is nice. Being out with you in public and not worrying about what’s going to be in the paper the next day,” He says.

“Sounds to me like you’re trying to argue that you should be the one flying back and forth across the country every week. I accept your proposal.”

“I don’t think so,” He says with a laugh, and then he leans in and lowers his voice. “There are other benefits to being a nobody, you know.”

“Such as?” I ask.

“There’s an alley behind this restaurant that we could check out. How do you feel about a little exhibitionism?”

“Negatively,” I reply with a laugh.

“Aw, come on, baby. Where’s your sense of adventure?” He asks, stepping in closer, snaking his arm around my waist suggestively. I take a step back and look at him indignantly.

“Public indecency is still a crime, Christian.”

“So?”

“So? Just imagine, the Seattle Times, October 31st 2010,” I begin, lifting my arm into the air in front of us to help him envision the headline. “Police records show Seattle billionaire Christian Grey was arrested last night for fucking Anastasia Steele in an alley behind a restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts.”

“Okay, point made,” Christian says, grabbing onto my elbow to push my arm down. I giggle again but am silenced as he leans down to kiss me. The plastic box in my hand begins to vibrate just as the front door to the restaurant opens.

“Grey!” The hostess calls behind us, forcing us to break the kiss to turn around and acknowledge her. Christian reaches down for my hand to pull me towards the restaurant, but I have to stop him to grab Kate.

Dinner ends up being the perfect way to start the evening. Christian’s in a good mood which makes things much easier between him and Kate. He even laughs at a few of her jokes. It has me very hopeful, not only for tonight, but going forward. I couldn’t not have either Kate or Christian in my life so I need them to work together. Since Kate and Elliot broke up, that didn’t look like it was a possibility, but so far, tonight has proved that isn’t true.

“Is that a gray hair?” Kate asks, a broad smile on her face as she reaches over to get a better look at Christian’s scalp.

“Fuck you,” Christian replies, slapping her hand away, but Kate is undeterred.

“I think it is!” She laughs. “Be careful, Ana. Carrick went gray very prematurely and boys do take after their fathers.”

“I’m adopted,” Christian says flatly.

“Oh, right…” Kate says, still trying to contain her smile. Christian narrows his eyes at her and the table is silent for all of three seconds before Christian turns very suddenly to me.

“Do you have a compact in your bag?”

“Yeah,” I say, now joining in Kate’s laughter, and I reach into my clutch and pull out the gold metal case that contains a translucent matte powder and a mirror. He opens it and holds it up, scanning his hairline, and when she sees what Kate’s talking about he gives her a slanted look.

“That’s from Ana’s body paint,” He says, and as the waiter approaches the table to leave the check, Kate completely devolves into a fit of laughter.

After dinner, Christian calls Taylor to have him bring the SUV around and we head straight over to Carter’s house. The moment the car stops, Kate jumps out and begins excitedly fluffing her dress, but Christian hesitates.

“Ready?” I ask him. His eyes shift to me, then to the house, then back to me, and he sighs.

“Let’s get this over with.”

I take his hand and step out of the car, ignoring Kate’s impatient encouragement while we wait for Taylor, Luke, and Ryan to wrap up whatever conversation they’re having. When they’re finished, Luke nods towards me and leads the way up the walk. Kate hurries up next to him, wrapping her arm through his and excitedly babbling about all the things she’s heard Carter has done for this party, while I hang back with Christian and stare at the now familiar house.

It’s a little cheesy… There are decorative ghosts and spiders hanging from the outcropping on the house, and spiderwebs filling the spaces between the banisters and railing. It’s dark out here except for the green light being projected on the front door, and from one of the dark corners of the porch, we can hear spooky music and sound effects playing.

“Do we knock?” Christian asks.

“Of course not,” Kate replies, and once she reaches forward to open the door, we’re suddenly surrounded by the loud, thumping music playing inside.

The living room is more crowded than it was last time I was here as it seems Carter’s regular parties have made him quite a few new friends. The lighting is muted, but not so much that you can’t see, and the floor is covered in glitter from the dozens of fairy wings, mermaid costumes, and the one girl just dressed like Kesha dancing around the room.

“Do you want to drink, or do you want to dance?” I ask Christian, leaning up on my tiptoes to get close to his ear so I don’t have to shout over the music. He nods towards the kitchen and we take a few steps through the crowded entryway before we’re stopped by a girl yelling next to us.

“Oh my god!” She shouts. “Is that Christian Grey?”

Suddenly, everyone within earshot stops dancing and turns towards us, and the general movement of the people around the room seems to cease in a kind of wave away from our epicenter. A hush falls over the room, and even the music seems to get quieter.

“Mr. Grey,” A guy I don’t recognize says, stepping forward and holding out his hand. “My name is David Wright, I’m a business major here at Harvard. I just finished a paper on the Grey Method of acquisition. I’d love to get your insights on some of the questions I had in my research…”

“Mr. Grey!” Another girl says. “You might not remember me, but we had a class together my freshman year. My name is Rebecca Sanders… Can I just tell you what an inspiration you’ve been?”

More and more people approach us, pushing me away to get closer to Christian as they bombard him with questions about his business practices, his speculation on fluctuation in the economy, career advice… Some people are even brave enough to outright fish for jobs. Taylor and Luke are suddenly preoccupied preventing several people from taking pictures, while Christian simply tries to excuse himself over and over again. It’s impossible though, because the moment he answers one person’s question, another one is being thrown at him.

“You brought Grey,” Carter says, coming up to stand next to me and looking completely surprised.

“Yeah, it was a compromise with Kate, but now I’m seeing it wasn’t the greatest idea I’ve ever had…”

“To bring Christian Grey into a room full of business majors about to graduate into a recession?” Carter asks. “No. No, it wasn’t.”

“Not helpful,” I reply shortly. “Can you please…”

“On it,” He says, and he moves away from me into the crowd enclosed around Christian. “Alright you animals, step away from the CEO. He’s off the clock tonight so everyone just back up and go back to your drinks.”

“Mr. Grey, what do you have to say about the alleged coup taking place at GEH? Just last week Bloomberg reported that you may be in danger of losing your company,” A voice I can’t place asks from somewhere in the crowd.

“What?” I exclaim, and immediately Christian’s jaw tightens.

“There is no coup,” He says sharply.

“But the report said…”

“I don’t make it a habit to update any media outlets of the internal workings of my company. That report is unfounded. Grey Enterprises Holdings is thriving, that’s all anyone needs to know.”

The general murmur seems to die down, or at least quiet so that it’s completely covered by the music again, and Christian turns to move through the crowd around him and back to my side.

“I’m sorry I…” I begin, but he shakes his head and cuts me off.

“It’s fine. Are you getting a drink?”

I nod, and then follow after him as he continues to push through the tightly packed bodies around us towards the kitchen. I can’t see his face, but I can tell just from the position of his shoulders that he’s angry.

“Hey,” I say, tugging on his hand to stop him and force him to turn around to face me. “I’m sorry about that, I really didn’t think…”

“It’s fine.” He repeats. “Let’s just get a drink.”

He turns again and leads me into the kitchen, and once we’re no longer in the middle of everything and don’t have people touching us on all sides, I see him relax, at least physically. His eyes rake over the bottles of liquor on the counter as he decides what he wants, but my mind is now too filled with questions for me to worry about alcohol.

“What did he mean back there, about a coup?” I ask. His jaw tenses again and he turns to look at me.

“It’s nothing, Ana. I don’t want you to worry about it,” He replies, but when I don’t drop my gaze, he sighs and continues. “It’s because of that fucking audit. When the feds came in to comb through GEH, the developers in my tech divisions and R&D were forced to hand over their designs and their research, and while those reports aren’t supposed to be released to the public, they’re still out there. Several of the developers petitioned to have their research exempted from the audit, but because I’m sole proprietor, everything created under the GEH umbrella belongs to me, so it all had to be turned over. It raised a lot of red flags for the people who have created and programmed technology because they realized they didn’t own the patents to their own work, I did. It means that if I ever chose to sell that technology, I have full legal right to do so, and they won’t see a dime. Obviously, they weren’t happy when they came to this realization and the sentiment seems to have spread through several departments, including the executive management team. There’s been… suggestions about restructuring the company and creating a board. I’d remain CEO, but the board would assume all control over GEH’s assets and I’d no longer have ownership of my company’s intellectual property.”

“Oh..” I reply. “How…. How do you feel about that?”

He scoffs. “Over my dead body.”

I frown because I’m not sure exactly what all of this means or how big of an issue it really is, but Christian reaches out to tilt my chin up so that I’m looking at him in the eyes and then leans over to kiss me softly on the lips.

“I don’t want you to worry about it, Anastasia. I’m handling it.”

“Okay,” I reply, nodding and trying to sound confident. Tonight is very quickly turning into a disaster. All I wanted was a night like we had last summer, when we went away to Montesano for a weekend and went to that bar together and had an amazing night. For once, he had been able to let his guard down, act his age, and relax. We had so much fun and after everything we’ve been through over the last few months, we need fun.

I reach forward and pick up the bottle of tequila, and two plastic cups, pouring a few fingers worth in the bottom of each, and then hand one cup to Christian.

“Let’s just get drunk,” I tell him, moving closer to him so that I can keep the conversation just between us. “Let’s forget everything, drink too much, and then go home and have hot, wild, uninhibited sex.”

“Why do we need to get drunk?” He asks, raising an eyebrow at me. “Let’s just go home and have hot, wild, uninhibited sex.”

“Because I know what happens when you start drinking, Mr. Grey,” I reply, coyly. “Don’t you remember how good it was the last time? I want to experience that all over again.”

His expression changes, the stress morphing into hunger as he looks down at my mouth, but before he can attack my lips with his, I push the plastic cup further into his grip.

“Cheers,” I say, lifting my cup to his. He taps his cup against mine and I pause to watch while he grimaces down at the silvery liquid before quickly throwing it back. Once he swallows, he immediately makes a disgusted face and shakes his head, unconsciously expressing his displeasure. He picks up one of the sliced limes in a bowl on the counter and bites down into it to mitigate the burn.

“How do you drink this shit?” He asks, “God, it’s terrible.”

“You shouldn’t have dropped out of college, Grey. I can confidently say that two extra years has definitely made me a better drinker than you.”

I tip my cup to him once more and then slam the shot down. Once I swallow, I push away the lime he offers me to show just how much better I can handle the tequila than he can, but before I can open my mouth to boast, I feel a horrible, gut wrenching jolt in my stomach and have to drop the now empty cup in my hand to cover my mouth.

“Ana?” Christian asks, concerned, as my stomach heaves again and I actually have to hold back vomit. I turn away from him and sprint towards the hallway where I know the bathroom is. I don’t think I’m going to make it, the violent heaving is coming more insistently now, and I begin searching for a trash can or even a bowl that I could throw up in should the next lurch of my stomach come before I make it to the toilet.

Thankfully, I am able to hold off until I round the corner into the bathroom, but I’m not even able to close the door behind me before I have to fall to my knees to vomit. The heaving is so violent it’s painful and it comes again and again.

“Stay here,” I hear Christian’s authoritative voice say behind me. “Keep everyone away from the door.”

The door closes and a second later I feel his hand on my back as I, once again, throw up into the toilet. He kneels next to me, rubbing his hand comfortingly over the back of my dress, while I wait to see if I’m going to hurl again.

“Go away,” I whimper. “I don’t want you to see this.”

“Stop it,” He says, softly. I take several more deep breaths, and when I’m confident I’m finished, I reach up and push down on the silver handle before slumping back against the cabinet. My face feels hot from the retching, but as I relax my body, I feel the nausea dissipate. In fact, after a few seconds, I feel perfectly normal again.

“Come,” Christian says, getting to his feet and then reaching down to help me off the floor. “I’ll have Luke bring the car around.”

“No,” I shake my head. “I’m fine. I just don’t think I was ready for that shot.”

“Ana…” He says, hesitantly, but I cut him off before he can insist we leave.

“I want to dance. Come on,” I reach down to grab his hand and pull him from the bathroom. Taylor is standing in front of the door, and I place my hand on his upper arm to nudge him to the side so that Christian and I can pass. We head out to the living room where the music is back into full swing, and I turn around to face him, pushing my body into his and swinging my hips back and forth. He’s still a little reluctant, but when I turn again and press my behind into him, he relents and reaches his hand down for my hips. We sway together for a moment and as I finally begin to feel like the night is back on track, Christian steps back, takes my hand, and simultaneously spins me around and pulls me into him. The movement makes my head spin and, once again, I’m hit hard with a wave of nausea.

I push his hands off of me and make the same beeline for the bathroom. This time though, I’m able to close and lock the door behind me, effectively keeping Christian out, before falling to my knees and emptying what little is left in my stomach. Thankfully, I’m one and done this time and I as get off the floor and rinse out my mouth with water from the sink, I find that, once again, I feel perfectly normal. I don’t understand what’s going on. I’ve barely had anything to drink at all. This has never happened to me. I normally have a borderline amazing constitution for someone my size.

Maybe it was the clams. I think to myself. I’d had shellfish in my pasta tonight and they had tasted a little off. I thought it was the butter sauce but maybe it was bad.

I let out a long sigh as I think about spending the next 24 hours sick with food poisoning, and then slowly turn back for the hallway. When I open the door, I immediately see Christian, leaning against the wall across from the bathroom and looking at me with an I told you so kind of look.

“Can we go home now?” He asks, and I nod. His arms open for me, so I quickly step out of the bathroom, and cling onto him as he places a protective arm over me and leads me through the house. “Should we grab Kate?” He asks.

“You’ll never find her,” I tell him. “Let’s just go.”

He nods, and then follows after Taylor the rest of the way out of the house. The cool night air feels good against my heated cheeks and although I don’t feel the nausea now, I do feel slightly off. I guess this night was just cursed from the beginning and when I’m safely back in the SUV and Taylor pulls away from the curb, I feel the sinking feeling of defeat. No matter how hard I try, it seems as though there is some divine power that is determined to keep my Harvard life, and my life with Christian separate.

When we get home, I immediately go upstairs to change out of my costume and get in the shower so I can wash off the body paint. I look forlornly at the flesh colored streaks that steadily appear all over my body as the paint is washed away, but as I watch the gray colored water swirling down the drain, I feel another wave of vertigo hit and have to double over to throw up again.

“Ana?” Christian calls as he raps his knuckles against the door. “Are you okay in there?”

“Fine,” I reply, wiping a tear from my cheek since the last retch was so powerful it made my eyes water. “Don’t come in here, I’ll be out in a second.”

“Okay,” He says, but I can hear the worry in his voice. After another, calming deep breath I step aside to let the water rinse the bottom of the shower, then hurry and finishing cleaning my body so I can get out and get into bed.

I knew I wasn’t going to want to dry my hair when I got out of the shower, so I had the foresight to not remove the French twist Kate did earlier. When I step out onto the cold bathroom floor and look into the slightly fogged mirror though, I realize that was a mistake. There’s still a lot of paint around my hairline and I look like a mess. I’m able to get most of it off with a damp washcloth but when I start to feel the unease in my stomach again, I give up and make my way out to the bedroom. Christian has made the bed up for me, bringing in extra pillows from the guest room so that I can sit up a little in bed, and he’s left some soda crackers and a couple bottles of blue gatorade on the night stand. My laptop is open on the bed, with my Netflix queue already brought up… In fact, the only thing I’m missing is the handsome billionaire himself.

“Christian?” I call, and seconds later, I hear his footsteps on the stairs and he appears through the doorway.

“What do you need, baby?” He asks.

“Well, I could start with cuddles,” I pout back at him. He smiles at me and then hands me the bottle of Pepto Bismol he’d apparently gone to get from the kitchen. I open the lid and pour a dose into the plastic cup that comes with it, while Christian crosses the room and opens the top drawer of my dresser. He pulls out his gray Harvard t-shirt and tosses it to me, before stripping down to his underwear and crawling into the bed, leaving just enough space for me in the pillowy heaven next to him.

“What do you want to watch?” I ask, pulling the laptop closer to me.

“A thought provoking documentary on the state of the economy and how it ties in with socio-political conditions of the middle class to drive market trends?” He asks, and I smile at him.

Little Miss Marker it is.”

He laughs and leans down to kiss the top of my head, but just after his lips touch my skin, he reaches up and places his hand over my forehead.

“You’re warm,” He notes, and then leans over me to the bedside table where he’s left a thermometer. It reveals I have a low grade fever, so he makes me drink some fluids and then holds me close against him as we start the movie. I only make it about 45 minutes in before I drift off to sleep.

The next morning, I wake up and immediately take an inventory of how I’m feeling. I’m still tired, but it seems as though the nausea has passed. I want to take my temperature again, just to make sure I’m over the worst of whatever this is, but the moment I sit up, I find that the nausea isn’t gone at all and I have to reach over for the small plastic trash can next to the bedside table because there’s no way I can make it to the bathroom before I expel all of the crackers I ate the night before from my stomach. The sound wakes Christian, and, while I want nothing more for him to quietly get up, leave the room, and wait for me to be finished, he turns and wraps his arm around me, brushing his fingers over the skin on my forearm until I stop puking.

“Oh my god,” I groan, feeling absolutely mortified at this point. “Please don’t break up with me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” He says. He gets out of bed and takes the trash can from me, then goes into the bathroom where I hear him rinsing it out in the tub. I sit up, lean against the headboard, and reach for the Pepto still sitting on the nightstand, but as I swallow the dose, I feel the strange feeling of normalcy once again. The nausea has passed as quickly as it came. In fact, I’m a little hungry now.

I pull back the covers and walk over to my dresser to find a pair of yoga pants, but when Christian comes out of the bathroom, he’s less than thrilled to see me up and about.

“Why are you out of bed?” He asks, disapprovingly, and I shrug as I step into my pants.

“I feel fine now,” I tell him. “And, I want some breakfast.”

“I’ll get you something,” He says, “Just lay down.”

“And leave you alone in the kitchen?” I ask, raising a teasing eyebrow at him. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time you cooked?”

He gives me a look that tells me he’s not amused by my joke, but I shrug it off and make my way to the stairs. When I get to the kitchen, I think briefly through the things I know we have, trying to decide what I want to make, but before I make it to the fridge, I feel a strong pair of hands on my waist and then I’m suddenly being lifted into the air.

“Christian!” I giggle, attempting to struggle out of his grip as he moves me onto the kitchen counter.

“Stay put,” He says, seriously. “I’ll make you some toast.”

I cross my arms, but don’t move, and he turns for the cupboard to pull down the bread. He’s very meticulous as he places the bread into the toaster and adjusts the knob to his preferred setting, more so than anyone simply toasting wheat bread has any right to be, but as I watch him finish and then move around the kitchen for butter and jam, I actually think I might be falling even more in love with him. I don’t often get to see the domestic side of Christian Grey, and it’s kind of nice.

“Strawberry or blackberry?” He asks, holding up both jars of jam from the fridge for me to choose.

“Strawberry,” I tell him. He nods, and places the rejected jar back into its place in the door, but before he is able to turn back for the counter, we’re both distracted by a noise on the stairs. Seconds later, Kate, dressed only in an oversized sweatshirt, stumbles into the kitchen, and she’s not alone. Following right behind her, also a little underdressed for polite company and looking slightly hung-over, is Carter Reed.

“Ana! Christian!” Kate exclaims, clearly surprised to see us down here. It’s obvious she was hoping to sneak him out without being caught, which could explain why he hasn’t even put shoes on yet.

“Kavanagh,” Christian greets her curtly. The toast pops out of the toaster, breaking the tension in the room slightly, and Christian crosses back over to me while Kate hurries Carter through the sliding glass door.

“I’ll call you later?” Carter asks, and Kate nods, but pushes him slightly to get him out of the house.

“Sure, sure,” She says.

“I had a great time last night, Kate,” He continues, clearly not affected by Kate’s less than warm demeanor, and he leans over and kisses her softly on the lips before stepping out into the driveway.

“I knew she had someone over here last night, but Reed?” Christian hisses under his breath, buttering the toast in front of him while Kate awkwardly closes the door.  She turns for the refrigerator, pulls out the carton of orange juice, and then moves to pull some Tylenol out of the drawer by the stove.

“Good morning,” She says, looking over at us as she pours her juice. “How’d you sleep?”

“Fine,” I tell her, purposefully directing my attention away and trying to focus on Christian because the atmosphere between the three of us is so tense if feels like it could be cut with a knife, and it makes me uncomfortable.

“Good,” She replies, and then she takes the Tylenol and crosses the room to put the juice away. I almost think this horribly awkward moment is over as she turns to leave, but Christian stops her.

“Isn’t that Elliot’s sweatshirt?” He asks, nodding to the Mariners pullover she’s wearing. Kate looks down, frowns, and then turns an overly confident look back on Christian.

“No, he gave it to me. It’s mine.”

Christian scoffs. “Real fucking classy, Kate.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“How long did you wait after Elliot was gone before you had someone else in your bed? A week? A night? He gave you three fucking years, Kavanagh, and you’re treating it like it was nothing.”

“Excuse me?” She asks, the anger in her voice rising. “Just because I’m trying to move on, doesn’t mean I’m treating my time with Elliot like it was nothing. I wish it would have been different with him, but it’s not. I’m not in a relationship with your brother anymore and if I want to sleep with a guy, who I’ve known for years, I’m perfectly within my rights to do that. Don’t try and paint him as some kind of victim here. You think Ana hasn’t told me about all the bars, and all the stripclubs you’ve been to over the past few weeks with him?”

“He’s not fucking his best friend’s ex-girlfriend though,” Christian snaps back. “He has restraint.”

“So I’m a whore because it was Carter?” Kate asks. “Do you care that I fucked Carter, Ana?”

“No,” I say quickly.

“No,” Kate repeats. “She’s been over him for years, and she only really liked him in the first place because she couldn’t have you. So, why do you care?”

“I would prefer it if you would keep men who have had their tongues down my girlfriend’s throat out of my house,” He says, and Kate lets out a harsh, irritated breath through her nose.

“You’re going to need a new security team then.”

The second the words come out of her mouth, her expression goes slack, her hand flies up to her mouth, and I feel an icy cold shiver work it’s way up my spine.

“What?” Christian asks, turning an angry look on me now.

“I-I…” I hesitate, completely discombobulated as I feel all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

“Nothing,” Kate says, quickly. “It was nothing. I’m just…”

“Shut the fuck up, Kavanagh,” Christian says, turning a murderously angry glare on her, effectively silencing her, and then facing me again. “Anastasia, what is she talking about?”

“I…” I stammer again, unsure of how to say this without making Christian fly off the handle. “It was before we got back together… Before I was even talking to you.”

Christian pushes away from the counter, his hands immediately flying up into his hair as his body starts to tremble with anger.

“Go!” I hiss furiously at Kate, and she gives me an apologetic look before she darts out of the kitchen. I sit there, waiting, watching Christian go through an alarming number of different stages of anger before he finally turns to face me again.

“I asked him point blank,” He says, his voice too low and much too even for my comfort. “He said nothing ever happened between the two of you.”

“It wasn’t his fault,” I say, shaking my head quickly.

“Did you fuck him?”

“No!” I say firmly, vehemently, as I shake my head. “No, I just… I kissed him.” Christian stares back at me, his jaw tight, and his hands balled into fists at his side. I don’t know if he’s waiting for more, or simply too angry to speak, so I start babbling. “I went to a party without telling him and I got really drunk. He came to pick me up, but when we got home, I couldn’t get to bed by myself so he helped me. He was just putting me to bed and I tried to seduce him, but he stopped it. He told me that we could only ever be friends. I swear to you, Christian, that’s all that happened.”

“You tried to seduce him?” He asks, his voice overly quiet again. I stare back at him, unsure of what to say, but it’s him who speaks next. “Did he see you naked?”

“I…” I swallow, and then nod. “I was topless.”

A hard, angry breath breaks through his lips and he immediately steps to the far end of the counter and picks up the keys to my Lexus. It’s not hard to guess where he wants to go right now and since I’ve never really been particularly interested in finding out who would win in a fight between Christian and Luke, I quickly push off the counter and launch myself after him.

“Wait! Chris-” I begin, but the words are cut off as once again, my stomach heaves. Christian stops, the worry breaking through the anger on his face for a brief second as I spin around and throw up into the sink. For the first time since this started, I’m actually thankful when I feel Christian come up behind me and, once I’m finished and I’ve rinsed out the sink, he pulls me into him and takes me back upstairs.

I watch him carefully as I crawl into my bed, waiting for him to turn around and storm out again, but he doesn’t. He closes the door behind him and comes to sit on the side of my bed.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, after several minutes of silence.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asks.

“Because I knew that you’d blame him and it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t want you to fire him, or… worse. I was sad and he stopped me from making a huge mistake. I’m glad he did, because when he said no, that’s when I really knew that nothing was ever going to happen between us. He’s only ever wanted to be my friend and now, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world. But that’s it, Christian. He’s just my friend.”

He sighs and then moves to crawl into the bed next to me so that he can hold me against him. I feel an enormous amount of relief when I reach out to touch him and I don’t feel the tightness in his muscles any longer. I move, trying to cuddle with him in a spooning position, but he reaches around and forces me to turn over so that I’m facing him and his deep gray eyes begin searching mine.

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?” He asks, and, even though I know he’s giving me the opportunity to tell him whether or not I slept with someone else, Luke or otherwise, while we weren’t together, the first thing that pops into my mind when he asks the question is Leila and what almost happened in New York. I stare back and him, chewing on the words that want to come out of my mouth, but that would open a whole new world of trouble. Not just for me, but for Luke and Taylor as well. When Luke talked to Taylor about what had happened, he agreed that telling Christian would mean I’d be forced to come back to Seattle and because I’m so adamant that that doesn’t happen, the two of them have put together a plan and a list of all kinds of restrictive safety precautions which will be presented to me the moment Christian gets on the plane back to Seattle tonight. I know it’s going to feel overbearing but I’ve committed to it if it means I don’t have to back out of the promise I made to my dad, and so now, with Christian staring at me, waiting for an answer, I slowly shake my head.

“No,” I tell him, and instantly a look of relief wipes the residual anxiety away from Christian’s face.

“Good,” He says. I give him a weak smile as he turns me so that we’re cuddling the way

I’d intended to before, but as he expresses chagrin over having to leave later in the evening while I’m still sick, I feel an overpowering sense of guilt for the lie I just told.

Next Chapter

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