I recognize the quote from Tess. I am stunned by the irony as I’ve just spent three hours writing about the novels of Thomas Hardy in my final examination. Perhaps there is no irony… perhaps it’s deliberate. I inspect the books closely, three volumes of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I open the front cover. Written in an old typeface on the front plate is:
‘London: Jack R. Osgood, McIlvaine and Co., 1891.’
Holy shit – they are first editions. They must be worth a fortune, and I know immedi-ately who’s sent them. Kate is at my shoulder gazing at the books. She picks up the card.
“First Editions,” I whisper.
“No.” Kate’s eyes are wide with disbelief. “Grey?” I nod.
“Can’t think of anyone else.” “What does this card mean?”
“I have no idea. I think it’s a warning – honestly he keeps warning me off. I have no idea why. It’s not like I’m beating his door down.” I frown.
“I know you don’t want to talk about him, Ana, but he’s seriously into you. Warnings or no.”
I have not let myself dwell on Christian Grey for the past week. Okay… so his gray eyes are still haunting my dreams, and I know it will take an eternity to expunge the feel of his arms around me and his wonderful fragrance from my brain. Why has he sent me this? He told me that I wasn’t for him.
“I’ve found one Tess first edition for sale in New York at $14,000. But yours looks in much better condition. They must have cost more.” Kate is consulting her good friend Google.
“This quote – Tess says it to her mother after Alec D’Urberville has had his wicked way with her.”
“I know,” muses Kate. “What is he trying to say?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. I can’t accept these from him. I’ll send them back with an equally baffling quote from some obscure part of the book.”
“The bit where Angel Clare says fuck off?” Kate asks with a completely straight face. “Yes, that bit.” I giggle. I love Kate, she’s so loyal and supportive. I repack the books
and leave them on the dining table. Kate hands me a glass of champagne. “To the end of exams and our new life in Seattle,” she grins.
“To the end of exams, our new life in Seattle, and excellent results.” We clink glasses and drink.
The bar is loud and hectic, full of soon to be graduates out to get trashed. José joins us. He won’t graduate for another year, but he’s in the mood to party and gets us into the spirit of our newfound freedom by buying a pitcher of margaritas for us all. As I down my fifth, I know this is not a good idea on top of the champagne.
“So what now Ana?” José shouts at me over the noise.
“Kate and I are moving to Seattle. Kate’s parents have bought a condo there for her.” “Dios mio, how the other half live. But you’ll be back for my show.”
“Of course, José, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I smile, and he puts his arm around my waist and pulls me close.
“It means a lot to me that you’ll be there Ana,” he whispers in my ear. “Another mar-garita?”
“José Luis Rodriguez – are you trying to get me drunk? Because I think it’s working.” I giggle. “I think I’d better have a beer. I’ll go get us a pitcher.”
“More drink, Ana!” Kate bellows.
Kate has the constitution of an ox. She’s got her arm draped over Levi, one of our fel-low English students and her usual photographer on her student newspaper. He’s given up taking photos of the drunkenness that surrounds him. He only has eyes for Kate. She’s all tiny camisole, tight jeans, and high heels, hair piled high with tendrils hanging down softly around her face, her usual stunning self. Me, I’m more of a Converse and t-shirt kind of girl, but I’m wearing my most flattering jeans. I move out of José’s hold and get up from our table. Whoa. Head spin. I have to grab the back of the chair. Tequila based cocktails are not a good idea.
I make my way to the bar and decide that I should visit the powder room while I am on my feet. Good thinking,Ana. I stagger off through the crowd. Of course, there’s a line, but at least it’s quiet and cool in the corridor. I reach for my cell phone to relieve the boredom of waiting in line. Hmm… Who did I last call? Was it José? Before that a number I don’t recognize. Oh yes. Grey, I think this is his number. I giggle. I have no idea what the time is, maybe I’ll wake him. Perhaps he can tell me why he sent me those books and the cryptic
message. If he wants me to stay away, he should leave me alone. I suppress a drunken grin and hit the automatic re-dial. He answers on the second ring.
“Anastasia?” He’s surprised to hear from me. Well, frankly, I’m surprised to ring him. Then my befuddled brain registers… how does he know it’s me?
“Why did you send me the books?” I slur at him.
“Anastasia, are you okay? You sound strange.” His voice is filled with concern.
“I’m not the strange one, you are,” I accuse. There – that told him, my courage fuelled by alcohol.
“Anastasia, have you been drinking?” “What’s it to you?”
“I’m – curious. Where are you?” “In a bar.”
“Which bar?” He sounds exasperated. “A bar in Portland.”
“How are you getting home?”
“I’ll find a way.” This conversation is not going how I expected. “Which bar are you in?”
“Why did you send me the books, Christian?”
“Anastasia, where are you, tell me now.” His tone is so, so dictatorial, his usual control freak. I imagine him as an old time movie director wearing jodhpurs, holding an old fash-ioned megaphone and a riding crop. The image makes me laugh out loud.
“You’re so… domineering,” I giggle. “Ana, so help me, where the fuck are you?”
Christian Grey is swearing at me. I giggle again. “I’m in Portland… s’a long way from Seattle.”
“Where in Portland?” “Goodnight, Christian.” “Ana!”
I hang up. Ha! Though he didn’t tell me about the books. I frown. Mission not ac-complished. I am really quite drunk – my head swims uncomfortably as I shuffle with the line. Well, the object of the exercise was to get drunk. I have succeeded. This is what it’s like – probably not an experience to be repeated. The line has moved, and it’s now my turn. I stare blankly at the poster on the back of the toilet door that extols the virtues of safe sex. Holy crap, did I just call Christian Grey? Shit. My phone rings and it makes me jump. I yelp in surprise.
“Hi,” I bleat timidly in to the phone. I hadn’t reckoned on this.
“I’m coming to get you,” he says and hangs up. Only Christian Grey could sound so calm and so threatening at the same time.
Holy crap. I pull my jeans up. My heart is thumping. Coming to get me? Oh no. I’m going to be sick… no… I’m fine. Hang on. He’s just messing with my head. I didn’t tell him where I was. He can’t find me here. Besides, it will take him hours to get here from Seattle, and we’ll be long gone by then. I wash my hands and check my face in the mirror. I look flushed and slightly unfocused. Hmm… tequila.
I wait at the bar for what feels like an eternity for the pitcher of beer and eventually return to the table.
“You’ve been gone so long.” Kate scolds me. “Where were you?” “I was in line for the restroom.”
José and Levi are having some heated debate about our local baseball team. José pauses in his tirade to pour us all beers, and I take a long sip.
“Kate, I think I’d better step outside and get some fresh air.” “Ana, you are such a lightweight.”
“I’ll be five minutes.”
I make my way through the crowd again. I am beginning to feel nauseous, my head is spinning uncomfortably, and I’m a little unsteady on my feet. More unsteady than usual.
Drinking in the cool evening air in the parking lot makes me realize how drunk I am. My vision has been affected, and I’m really seeing double of everything like in old re-runs of Tom and Jerry Cartoons. I think I’m going to be sick. Why did I let myself get this messed up?
“Ana,” José has joined me. “You okay?”
“I think I’ve just had a bit too much to drink.” I smile weakly at him.
“Me too,” he murmurs, and his dark eyes are watching me intently. “Do you need a hand?” he asks and steps closer, putting his arm around me.
“José I’m okay. I’ve got this.” I try and push him away rather feebly.
“Ana, please,” he whispers, and now he’s holding me in his arms, pulling me close. “José, what you doing?”
“You know I like you Ana, please.” He has one hand at the small of my back holding me against him, the other at my chin tipping back my head. Holy fuck… he’s going to kiss me.
“No José, stop – no.” I push him, but he’s a wall of hard muscle, and I cannot shift him. His hand has slipped into my hair, and he’s holding my head in place.
“Please, Ana, cariña,” he whispers against my lips. His breath is soft and smells too sweet – of margarita and beer. He gently trails kisses along my jaw up to the side of my mouth. I feel panicky, drunk, and out of control. The feeling is suffocating.
“José, no,” I plead. I don’t want this. You are my friend, and I think I’m going to throw up.
“I think the lady said no.” Avoice in the dark says quietly. Holy shit! Christian Grey, he’s here. How? José releases me.
“Grey,” he says tersely. I glance anxiously up at Christian. He’s glowering at José, and he’s furious. Crap. My stomach heaves, and I double over, my body no longer able to tolerate the alcohol, and I vomit spectacularly on to the ground.
“Ugh – Dios mio, Ana!” José jumps back in disgust. Grey grabs my hair and pulls it out of the firing line and gently leads me over to a raised flowerbed on the edge of the park-ing lot. I note, with deep gratitude, that it’s in relative darkness.
“If you’re going to throw up again, do it here. I’ll hold you.” He has one arm around my shoulders – the other is holding my hair in a makeshift ponytail down my back so it’s off my face. I try awkwardly to push him away, but I vomit again… and again. Oh shit… how long is this going to last? Even when my stomach’s empty and nothing is coming up,
horrible dry heaves wrack my body. I vow silently that I’ll never ever drink again. This is just too appalling for words. Finally, it stops.
My hands are resting on the brick wall of the flowerbed, barely holding me up – vomit-ing profusely is exhausting. Grey takes his hands off me and passes me a handkerchief. Only he would have a monogrammed, freshly laundered, linen handkerchief. CTG. I didn’t know you could still buy these. Vaguely I wonder what the T stands for as I wipe my mouth. I cannot bring myself to look at him. I’m swamped with shame, disgusted with myself. I want to be swallowed up by the azaleas in the flowerbed and be anywhere but here.
José is still hovering by the entrance to the bar, watching us. I groan and put my head in my hands. This has to be the single worst moment of my life. My head is still swimming as I try to remember a worse one – and I can only come up with Christian’s rejection – and this is so, so many shades darker in terms of humiliation. I risk a peek at him. He’s staring down at me, his face composed, giving nothing away. Turning, I glance at José who looks pretty shamefaced himself and, like me, intimidated by Grey. I glare at him. I have a few choice words for my so-called friend, none of which I can repeat in front of Christian Grey CEO. Ana who are you kidding, he’s just seen you hurl all over the ground and into the local flora. There’s no disguising your lack of ladylike behavior.
“I’ll err… see you inside,” José mutters, but we both ignore him, and he slinks off back into the building. I’m on my own with Grey. Double crap. What should I say to him? Apologize for the phone call.
“I’m sorry,” I mutter, staring at the handkerchief which I am furiously worrying with my fingers. It’s so soft.
“What are you sorry for Anastasia?”
Oh crap, he wants his damned pound of flesh.
“The phone call mainly, being sick. Oh, the list is endless,” I murmur, feeling my skin coloring up. Please, please can I die now?
“We’ve all been here, perhaps not quite as dramatically as you,” he says dryly. “It’s about knowing your limits, Anastasia. I mean, I’m all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale. Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?”
My head buzzes with excess alcohol and irritation. What the hell has it got to do with him? I didn’t invite him here. He sounds like a middle-aged man scolding me like an er-rant child. Part of me wants to say, if I want to get drunk every night like this, then it’s my decision and nothing to do with him – but I’m not brave enough. Not now that I’ve thrown up in front of him. Why is he still standing there?
“No,” I say contritely. “I’ve never been drunk before and right now I have no desire to ever be again.”
I just don’t understand why he’s here. I begin to feel faint. He notices my dizziness and grabs me before I fall and hoists me into his arms, holding me close to his chest like a child.
“Come on, I’ll take you home,” he murmurs.
“I need to tell Kate.” Holy Moses, I’m in his arms again. “My brother can tell her.”
“My brother Elliot is talking to Miss Kavanagh.”
“Oh?” I don’t understand.
“He was with me when you phoned.” “In Seattle?” I’m confused.
“No, I’m staying at the Heathman.” Still? Why?
“How did you find me?”
“I tracked your cell phone Anastasia.”
Oh, of course he did. How is that possible? Is it legal? Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s still floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.
“Do you have a jacket or a purse?”
“Err… yes, I came with both. Christian, please, I need to tell Kate. She’ll worry.” His mouth presses into a hard line, and he sighs heavily.
“If you must.”
He sets me down, and, taking my hand, leads me back into the bar. I feel weak, still drunk, embarrassed, exhausted, mortified, and on some strange level absolutely off the scale thrilled. He’s clutching my hand – such a confusing array of emotions. I’ll need at least a week to process them all.
It’s noisy, crowded, and the music has started so there is a large crowd on the dance floor. Kate is not at our table, and José has disappeared. Levi looks lost and forlorn on his own.
“Where’s Kate?” I shout at Levi above the noise. My head is beginning to pound in time to the thumping bass line of the music.
“Dancing,” Levi shouts, and I can tell he’s mad. He’s eyeing Christian suspiciously. I struggle into my black jacket and place my small shoulder bag over my head so it sits at my hip. I’m ready to go, once I’ve seen Kate.
“She’s on the dance floor,” I touch Christian’s arm and lean up and shout in his ear, brushing his hair with my nose, smelling his clean, fresh smell. Oh my. All those forbid-den, unfamiliar feelings that I have tried to deny surface and run amok through my drained body. I flush, and somewhere deep, deep down my muscles clench deliciously.
He rolls his eyes at me and takes my hand again and leads me to the bar. He’s served immediately, no waiting for Mr. Control-Freak Grey. Does everything come so easily to him? I can’t hear what he orders. He hands me a very large glass of iced water.
“Drink,” he shouts his order at me.
The moving lights are twisting and turning in time to the music casting strange colored light and shadows all over the bar and the clientele. He’s alternately green, blue, white, and a demonic red. He’s watching me intently. I take a tentative sip.
“All of it,” he shouts.
He’s so overbearing. He runs his hand through his unruly hair. He looks frustrated, angry. What is his problem? Apart from a silly drunk girl ringing him in the middle of the night so he thinks she needs rescuing. And it turns out she does from her over amorous friend. Then seeing her being violently ill at his feet. Oh Ana… are you ever going to live this down? My subconscious is figuratively tutting and glaring at me over her half moon specs. I sway slightly, and he puts his hand on my shoulder to steady me. I do as I’m told
and drink the entire glass. It makes me feel queasy. Taking the glass from me, he places it on the bar. I notice through a blur what he’s wearing; a loose white linen shirt, snug jeans, black Converse sneakers, and a dark pinstriped jacket. His shirt is unbuttoned at the top, and I see a sprinkling of hair in the gap. In my groggy frame of mind, he looks yummy.
He takes my hand once more. Holy cow – he’s leading me onto the dance floor. Shit. I do not dance. He can sense my reluctance, and under the colored lights, I can see his amused, slightly sardonic smile. He gives my hand a sharp tug, and I’m in his arms again, and he starts to move, taking me with him. Boy, he can dance, and I can’t believe that I’m following him step for step. Maybe it’s because I’m drunk that I can keep up. He’s hold-ing me tight against him, his body against mine… if he wasn’t clutching me so tightly, I’m sure I would swoon at his feet. In the back of my mind, my mother’s often-recited warning comes to me: Never trust a man who can dance.
He moves us through the crowded throng of dancers to the other side of the dance floor, and we are beside Kate and Elliot, Christian’s brother. The music is pounding away, loud and leery, outside and inside my head. I gasp. Kate is making her moves. She’s dancing her ass off, and she only ever does that if she likes someone. Really likes someone. It means there’ll be three of us for breakfast tomorrow morning. Kate!
Christian leans over and shouts in Elliot’s ear. I cannot hear what he says. Elliot is tall with wide shoulders, curly blonde hair, and light, wickedly gleaming eyes. I can’t tell the color under the pulsating heat of the flashing lights. Elliot grins, and pulls Kate into his arms, where she is more than happy to be… Kate! Even in my inebriated state, I am shocked. She’s only just met him. She nods at whatever Elliot says and grins at me and waves. Christian propels us off the dance floor in double quick time.
But I never got to talk to her. Is she okay? I can see where things are heading for her and him. I need to do the safe sex lecture. In the back of my mind, I hope she reads one of the posters on the back of the toilet doors. My thoughts crash through my brain, fighting the drunk, fuzzy feeling. It’s so warm in here, so loud, so colorful – too bright. My head begins to swim, oh no… and I can feel the floor coming up to meet my face or so it feels. The last thing I hear before I pass out in Christian Grey’s arms is his harsh epithet.