|Particles of Change
Author: riotproof PM
After the incident in the Red Room, Anastasia is ready to move on with her decidedly unglamorous life, sans Christian. Taylor provides more than a helping hand. (Anastasia/Taylor, set post-Book 1, rated M for the epilogue & C/OMC missing scene)Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Friendship - Anastasia S. - Chapters: 11 - Words: 22,149 - Reviews: 178 - Favs: 41 - Follows: 128 - Updated: 12-15-12 - Published: 12-01-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8753433
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The knocking rouses me. I'm on the couch and the floor is strewn with boxes still unopened, a labyrinthine route I struggle through with only minor injury when I whack my knee against the coffee table. To say I'm dragging my feet would be an understatement, but I unlatch the door without preamble. I'd ask who it is, but Kate has a key and I'm not expecting company. I'm thinking neighborly visit, cop or maybe a serial killer. That last is a product of last night's movie marathon session of gruesome thrillers which have me half convinced that someone, somewhere is plotting my demise.
I don't expect it's him. After yesterday's catastrophe, I don't want to think of him again.
"Miss Steele." I recognize my caller immediately. He's still the same six foot, broad shouldered behemoth who's been tailing me since this whole madness began, only for once he looks contrite instead of scary. "I, uh, is this a bad time?"
I shake my head. "No, Taylor. Not at all. Come in." I tell him to mind his step. The thicket of freshly unpacked hardcovers means lots of sharp corners to snag at his pant leg. "What can I do for you?" And then, before I can stop myself, I hear myself adding: "If this is about Christian-"
"Mr. Grey doesn't know I'm here," he says, a rushed confession that I'm half tempted to disbelieve.
My arms fold across my belly and I realize I'm still wearing my faded pajamas and a pair of bunny slippers I may or may not have liberated from Kate's wardrobe. "Okay... Why not?" It's a point worth investigating. Not only do I not get visits like this one very often, but I've broken up with a grand total of one man in my life and it's a little unsettling to find myself staring up at his loyal bodyguard, a man who, without straining very hard, probably knows about sixteen ways of murdering me with a back issue of Cosmo. Hollywood statistics probably support that worrying thought. I try to stand there with some degree of self-confidence, but it's a hard sell.
Taylor hitches his shoulders into a slow shrug. "I wanted to check in," he admits. "Last night you seemed..."
"Certifiable?" I venture.
"-I was going to say upset." Taylor smiles, but it's with an edge. He knows more than he should, I realize and for some reason that galls me. I've had enough of being judged, shoved, bent to suit other people's will. I refuse to feel ashamed for what happened with Christian.
"Thank you for your concern," I snap, working up the nerve to grip the doorknob. "But you don't have to worry. I'm not your problem anymore, right?"
I don't know what I'm expecting him to say. Maybe you were never a problem or my boss is a lunatic who made the biggest mistake of his life, but all I get is another Taylor-patented shrug and a heavy sigh. "If it makes you feel any better, you didn't do anything wrong. Mr. Grey is - he's had trouble in love before. He's a good man."
"Yeah, I got that when he started tracking my cellphone. Super nice of him." It's hypocritical of me, but with the rose tinted lenses of romance safely removed, I've been looking back over the course of our short-lived relationship and feeling vindictive. I wonder if Taylor is here to make sure I don't run my mouth to Kate or anyone else; I know I could ruin a man's reputation, but Christian Grey is powerful enough that he doesn't need to resort to intimidation to keep me quiet.
He knows where my mother lives. And just like that, my foolish bravado dies a quick and sudden death.
Taylor glances around the apartment, as if for the first time he's noticed the pigsty into which he's landed. "You look like you're busy. I should probably let you unpack... There any good breakfast places around here? I'm dying for a cup of coffee."
It's a pretty swift one-eighty, but he looks so earnest that I don't feel comfortable rebuffing him with a shrug of my own. Then again, it's pretty well established that I'm a horrible judge of character. "I think there's a coffee shop just around the corner that sells donuts... I've never been." Once again, I'm reminded that this isn't really my apartment, that both location and amenities were negotiated by Kate's father in our name. And I'm the one bringing drama home and keeping his daughter up all night. Guilt slices me to the quick.
"Alright," Taylor says softly. "Well, it was nice seeing you again. Take care..." He steps closer, doing this weird sidestep thing to avoid a stack of books tilted about as precariously as the Tower of Pisa, and I see Christian's first editions piled reproachfully on top of the stack. I retain a sliver of hope that he might kick them down, but for a big guy, Taylor proves pretty agile. The tower survives, glaring at me with Mordor's fiery wrath.
-maybe it's time I got out of the house, too. Anthropomorphizing inanimate objects is dangerously close to the fine line between sanity and the other thing. Besides, I can bring Kate back a Frappuccino; the first step in the long road towards buying back my tattered pride.
"Would you mind some company?" I blurt out. My rational mind catches up only a half-second later.
Taylor looks as taken aback as I feel, but if he's come here on his free time, there can be no conflict of interest. I swear to myself I won't even think of speaking of the unmentionable things that went on in Christian's apartment. Frankly, I'm ashamed of how I acted, of having Taylor and Christian walk me to the car like some trouble-making student being escorted off school premises. I hold little hope of making up for it over breakfast with Taylor. Still, he smiles and says "sure" and I don't know how to back out once he's taken me up on the offer.
"Let me get changed." PJs are still acceptable pre-noon-wear while you're in college, but I'm a young graduate with a diploma in my pocket and a real, grown-up job. I should probably make an effort.
Despite looking a little taken aback, Taylor says nothing of my pencil skirt-and-dress-shirt attempt. I conclude something about me must be off, or that he's used to seeing me with a bit more mascara running down my cheeks, and spend the short walk to the coffee shop trying to catch my reflection in shop windows. The skirt is more than respectable, but I still wonder if I'm showing too much leg. It's just that after last night, I'm feeling less than enthused about trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans. They tend to chafe.
A car whizzes by us, the top down, wind mussing up the driver's hair. The sound isn't that of a honk. It catches me short. "Did he just-"
"Men are pigs?" Taylor offers at my side. He walks with his hands at his sides, a kind of innate confidence obvious in the leisurely strut.
I flush. "They don't usually whistle at me."
"Oh, he wasn't," Taylor assures me. "Seattle's a pretty diverse place, you know."
Momentary shock blinds me and I realize, a half second too late, that he's making fun of me. I can't help the urge to slap his arm. "He was not whistling at you," I insist. "I'm pretty sure. Not that you don't look like guys could be whistling at you... I mean." I don't know what I mean and we're in the middle of the street and I'm balking. The last time I implied someone was gay, I accidentally insulted one of the richest, most volatile men in the country. Only I didn't so much imply as outright ask and I can think of more adjectives to describe Christian than 'volatile,' none of them very flattering.
I'm waiting for Taylor to flash that incredulous, affronted look I've become so familiar with since Christian walked into my life (or rather, since I fell face-first through his office door), but it doesn't come. His massive shoulders shake as he laughs. "No harm done, Miss Steele. You're plenty good-looking, too," he says and holds the door open for me as we enter the coffee shop.
"Think you can call me Anastasia?" I'm not his boss's - whatever. I don't want to be treated as such.
He smiles. "Sure thing. It's nice to meet you, Anastasia."
My palm is small in his, but I welcome the fierce clasp. He doesn't pump my fingers as though he's trying to prove a point; there's no machismo here. I think maybe breakfast isn't such a terrible idea after all.