Christian's eyes blinked stunningly in a succession of rapid movements. His mouth opened but no sound came out, the vocal cords on his throat tied in sailor knots. He closed his lips tightly and darted his gaze between the opened closet and the petite brunette that stood confused before him. He knew the space was naturally big, but with only a dozen of flimsy hangers occupying it, it appeared to escalate to another dimension altogether.
Finally, he recovered. "That's all the clothes you have?" His tone had a hint of accusation though he wasn't deliberately trying to be mean. He was just too stupefied. Could women even possess so little outfits?
Anastasia bit her lip and eyed the closet suspiciously – just to make sure everything was in its rightful place. Indeed, it was strange to look at such vast space but she wasn't a very materialistic person to begin with, and even if she desired to have a full and diverse wardrobe, she didn't have the monetary means to afford such extravagancies.
"Yes, it is."
"Hmm," Christian's finger rubbed his stubbled chin, thoughtfully. They stood there, wrapped up in a thick silence for a few minutes. He snapped out of his trance when Ana took a step forward and sat gingerly on the bed. She was observing him curiously, her head crooked to the side. "Well, I think we need to go shopping." He announced.
"For an outfit." He coached calmly. "For tomorrow. I think you need something to dress at our engagement announcement."
Anastasia crossed her arms at her chest and straightened her spine. "I have clothes." She said defensively.
"Inappropriate clothes, yes," He conceived. "But our dinner party it's an important event. You're my fiancée, you need to look the part."
"We have already established I don't want or need you to buy me expensive and unnecessary things. I'll be able to buy new clothes, if I decide such is required, after I get a job." Her voice was stern. She didn't wish to have yet another discussion about this matter. Plus, she did have a dress – a piece of clothing she used only in especial occasions, which meant she practically never wore it at all.
Christian grew quiet for a moment. His feet gained a rhythm of their own and he started to pace the room smoothly. "But, if I recall correctly, you agreed that I would pay for the wedding and anything related to that. I believe 'engagement announcement' it's intimately related to the wedding itself."
Anastasia wanted to contest but refrained from objecting right away. He did have a point – she had agreed to it. It was on their contract. And she was already feeling so out of place, did she really wanted to attend her own dinner party in a Walmart purple dress? The Greys were beyond rich. Everyone would probably wear designer ensembles capable of paying half of her previous debts. If she arrived there in such an un-styled outfit, she would stand out more than giant elephant trying to do ballet. Was she ready to deal with that kind of attention? To have slanting gazes judging her personality based on the cloths she had around her body?
Anastasia knew Grace wasn't like that. Christian's mother wasn't one to build prejudices around frivolous matters, but she couldn't know how the rest of the guests would act. Plus, according to her own fiancé, there were going to be present some family friends as well.
She wanted the marriage to look real – for Grace's sake. So, perhaps she had to admit she did need a little hand; she did need to look the part. With a sigh, she unfolded her arms and smoothed the fabric of her jeans.
"Okay," Ana breathed after a while. "You're right."
Christian's head jerked back. His jaw dropped slightly. "I'm… right?" He asked unsure. That, he wasn't expecting.
"Yes," The girl nodded softly, pushing a lock of dark hair out of her face. "Perhaps I need something a little better to wear at the dinner. It is an important announcement we're going to make, after all."
"Yes…" Christian murmured, still stunned with her yielding. "It is important." His voice dropped and they stood there, again involved in silence, only this time they were gazing directly into each others' eyes. She was so much easier to deal with this way, he concluded, when she didn't try to fight him at every turn.
"Will you give me the… money?" The word came out as a choked breath. It didn't seat well with Ana receiving his money, or his credit card, and go spend away his fortune.
"No." Christian tousled his own hair with his right hand and walked towards the door. "I'll come too. You might need help."
If he meant that as an insult, Anastasia didn't feel offended in the slightest. In fact, she was relieved that he was going shopping with her. Having to go alone would be too hard and complicated. At least this way she had company and an opinion.
She smiled contently and got up as well. "Okay, that's good."
Her reaction wasn't what Christian expected – yet again. He imagined she would get head over heels with the possibility of spending his money all on her own, but instead she was pleased to have him escorting her. What game was Anastasia Steele playing?
He stared at her mouth for a while, before recovering and turning away. Every time she smiled, he still got amazed – it was such an astonishing change. She would look plain and then bam! a stretch of her full lips and every feature in her face would suffer a metamorphose.
Stop thinking about it, he chastised himself. He walked towards the living-room, feeling Ana's steps right behind him. When they got there, he mumbled something about having to make a call before going out. She nodded and started to wander through the space. It was strange, seeing someone new roaming through his house. Christian observed her for a moment, before sliding inside his office and taking his phone.
"Taylor," He spoke as a way of greeting. "Anastasia and I will go downtown for some shopping. I'll take the R8. I won't be home for a couple of hours. Call me only if something of extreme urgency arises."
"Of course, sir. Have a nice trip." Taylor responded through the other end of the line.
Christian didn't bother answering back. Instead he disconnected the call and sat down on his chair for a while, thinking things through. How would they act tomorrow at the dinner? His family knew he was going to bring a date, but they had no idea his 'date' was already engaged to him. The interrogation both his fiancée and him were about to suffer would be certainly secret-services' worthy.
Would anyone believe? Would his siblings believe? Would his friends believe? And, more importantly, would Grace believe?
Anastasia Steele was a far-stretch from all the women he used to date. Unsophisticated, guileless, inexperienced, unrefined, plain, unschooled – she was definitely way under the league he played in. It was so implausible that he would grow an interest in her. And especially an interest that drove him into proposing to the girl.
Perhaps she could scrub well. Perhaps he could polish the sharp edges and maybe get Ana to, at least, appear decent; decent enough for him. With a sigh and a rub of his tired eyes, he got up, picked up his belongings, stuffed them in his pockets, and swirled the Audi's keys in his finger.
Let's do this, he thought while stepping into the living-room again.
Anastasia got up from the white couch at once when she spotted movement coming from the right. Indeed, Christian stood there, lazily toying with some keys, an absent look on his eyes. She straightened her spine and decided to ask what was bugging her mind. She wanted equality in their relationship, after all.
"So," She started, biting her lower lip. His eyes strained on her mouth. "Should we take my car or yours?"
Christian's eyes closed for a second. He drew a breath. His mouth twisted in some sort of facial acrobatics. She took a step back, involuntarily, sure that he was about to unleash his fury on being asked such a silly question. But, to her utter surprise, he did no such thing. Instead, he laughed.
The sound was foreigner and startled Anastasia at first. It was so unexpected. But he kept going – his guffaws rich and deep, his eyes glinting with mirth. She couldn't help but smile too, though she had no idea what he had found so amusing to begin with.
After a moment, Christian cleaned a lone tear that escaped his narrowed eyes. He inhaled sharply to calm himself. "Oh," He breathed, still panting. "That was funny, Anastasia. Really funny. I'll give you that."
Ana frowned, but managed to keep a crooked smile on her lips. What was funny? She didn't know, but didn't want to ruin his rare good-mood either.
"Do you have everything you need?" He asked.
She nodded simply and patted her pockets, symbolizing she had barely anything to carry around, expect for her own ID and her old mobile.
"Well then," Christian turned sideways and gave her a non-hostile glance, for once. That was refreshing. "Follow me."
Anastasia bit her lip and twirled in front of the mirror again. There was a perpetual frown on her features ever since she entered the shop and the saleslady stuffed her arms with all kinds of dresses; stuff she would have never picked up had she been her own.
This one in particular was a silky fabric that glistened with the light's reflection. It reached her knees and seemed somewhat shapeless against her petite body. She didn't like it, but then again, she hadn't liked any of the others outfits she had tried on.
The saleswoman barged inside the dressing-room without bothering to warn first. She had already learned that if she allowed Ana to stay too long inside the room all alone, the girl would talk herself out of the dress and change into something else without showing it first.
"Oh," The woman, whose nametag read Janine, clasped her hands together and plastered a reassuring smile on her scarlet lips. "That's such a lovely number. It looks amazing against your alabaster skin."
Anastasia almost snorted but managed to hold it back. Janine was only trying to be polite and professional – she needed to sell the clothes, after all. But 'alabaster' wasn't an adjective she had ever heard regarding her paleness. Washed-out, pasty, spectral – those were the kinds of comparisons she was used to receive. Plus, 'amazing' would be a very loose term to apply when describing how the outfit looked on her; acceptable would be the correct one.
"What's taking so long?" Only the booming, and rather bored, voice of Christian snapped the little brunette out of her musings. Quickly she stepped out of the fitting-room, turning around in the process, looking directly into his eyes, trying to gauge his reaction.
Christian was seated on a dark, cushioned chair that resembled a throne and somehow went along with his ethereal and majestic beauty. His appearance was flawless, even in a plain black t-shirt and washed-off jeans, and Anastasia envied his ability to look so good with so little effort.
"What do you think, Mr. Grey?" Janine asked chirpily, a hopeful tone laced in her voice. This was the eighth dress they were trying on. "Doesn't she look delightful?"
A long, thoughtful finger rubbed his chin for a minute. His clouded eyes narrow by a fraction as his gaze swept up and down Ana's body unabashedly. She should feel ashamed at being observed so throughout – or, at the very least, self-conscious. But Christian's scrutiny was absolutely sharp and distant. He really just wanted her to find a good outfit.
"You look like a runaway nun. One that has never left the convent before." He addressed Anastasia heads-on. His tone was serious too.
Janine flinched and grimace at Mr. Grey's lack of sensitivity. She grew upset for two very distinct motives. The first being the fact that the man comfortably sat on the armchair, looking boring and sinful as hell, was colder than the Artic. The second concerning the issue that they still hadn't settled on a dress, and she was obviously failing as a saleswoman.
Anastasia's eyes widened. She turned towards the mirror again. The curtains of the room were left completely opened and she was graced with her awkward stance, Janine's worried face, and Christian's unnerving stare, all reflecting back at her.
Janine thought the girl would breakdown and cry any minute now. Mr. Grey hadn't been very nice with his opinions. But shockingly enough, the girl giggled. The sound took her by surprise. It took Christian too, if his dropped-jaw was any indication. He didn't mean to offend anyone by blurting out what his true opinions, regarding the outfits Ana had tried on, were – he simply spoke what was on his mind – but he wasn't counting on having his fiancée finding them funny either.
"I do, don't I?" The brunette asked, another giggle escaping her mouth.
The corners of Christian's mouth twitched. He smiled unconsciously. "Well, it wouldn't be my first choice, no." He complied smoothly, his tone light and so unlike himself. "I don't think black suits very well."
"It looks like I've never seen sunlight in my life." Anastasia added, twirling the hem of the dress in her hands.
A husky chuckle filled the air completely. Janine thought she would melt – such a sexy sound. Ana, though, simply smiled wider, relieved to see her fiancé in such great-spirits. "Perhaps if you were dressing up for Halloween and wanted to be vampiric school-girl." He continued.
"Damn," She cursed merrily. "I do look undead. Maybe I could be part of the cast in one of those Zombie TV shows."
Christian leaned forward in his seat and laughed deeply. Anastasia joined in, deciding to swirl her body in an inelegantly fashion in front of the big mirror. Janine fidgeted in her place; where they making fun of her picks? She was afraid she would lose them soon if she didn't find something more suitable to their tastes.
"Ehm," The saleslady coughed awkwardly, stepping between them two. "Perhaps we should try on another outfit. I have just the right piece. If you –"
"No." Christian's body jerked up from the seat. He had had enough of that store – clearly they weren't going to find anything suitable there. His height was truly impressive, it towered so easily both women. "We'll leave now." He stated sharply before turning away and walking towards the exit.
Janine's mouth contorted in disappointment and resentment. Anastasia's smile dropped her lips too, and she stood there in a sympathetic silence, feeling bad for the woman. She used to deal with the public as well, and she knew all too well how rude costumers could be sometimes.
"Uhn, I guess we'll leave… Janine." She started, retrieving back stiffly. "Thank you for your help. The dresses just, er, aren't what we're looking for." She closed the curtain of the dressing-room quickly and changed back to her normal attire in less than a second.
The brunette sneaked out of the store as fast and inconspicuously as she could muster. Perhaps they shouldn't have been making fun of the clothes in front of the saleswoman. It had been slightly rude. And inconsiderate. But Christian had been so carefree, so different from his usually restrict self, that Ana couldn't really bring herself to mind. So what, if they had mocked the stupid dress? He had laughed – again – and that made it absolutely worth it.
The man, himself, was standing stoically in front the store. And even despite his statuesque posture, his attitude was almost relaxed. Ana walked up to him hastily. She was ready to let him have a piece of her mind, show him how impolite he had been, but just when she was about to reach him, Christian spun on his heels and the smirk on his face made hers plans vanish into thin air.
"Shall we try another store?" He asked instead, his voice the epitome of smoothness.
"Y-Yes," She muttered thrown-off balance. Could this guy be any more mercurial? One day he's brooding and the next he's joking; one minute he's abruptly leaving the store and the next he's smirking as if he had just been enjoying the beautiful day. How was one capable of keeping up with him?
With a swift nod of his head, Christian gestured for her to follow him. Anastasia thought that perhaps they would get back to the car and drive towards some other fancy street with high-end shops that she had never even heard off, but surprisingly they just crossed the street and came about a little boutique that held an air of refinement and luxury.
He didn't lose a second entering the place but the girl stood a minute longer outside, admiring the black façade with bold and golden letters. Midnight Dusk. It seemed fitting to the ambiance of the store.
Once inside, Anastasia let her eyes adjust to the dim lighting. The space wasn't very large, but it was cozy. Soft music played in the background. It was unlike any place she had ever gone shopping before. She was enjoying it plenty, but that feeling quickly dissipated as soon as a woman showed up, smiling slyly and looking lustily at her fiancé.
"Good-afternoon," The fiery redhead purred, a slender finger trailing the base of her own throat. Ana gulped. That woman was gorgeous, and clearly a master at seduction games. "I'm Miriam Standers. Welcome to my shop," She breathed lowly, her emerald eyes glinting with mischief. It was obvious the reception wasn't directed towards the little brunette. In fact, the curvaceous woman hadn't even spared the girl a single glance.
"I'm Christian Grey –" He started, but was immediately interrupted.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Grey."
Is this what flirting is like? Anastasia thought grimily.
But if that was flirting, it didn't seem to sort any kind of effect because Christian simply extended his hand and grabbed his fiancée's elbow, pulling her towards him, forcing her to stand at his side. Their height difference seemed even greater when they were paired like that.
"And this is Anastasia Steele." He finished pointedly. His tone was bored and lifeless. Whatever Miriam's techniques at seducing were, they were obviously failing.
Miriam's lips curved in a distasteful grin. The playfulness in her eyes disappeared almost immediately. "Miss Steele," She all but sneered, trying to be polite but not quite managing it. The acknowledgement didn't last long, as she turned towards Christian once again. "Do you need any help?" She asked softly, eyelashes batting so fiercely Anastasia could almost feel the breeze they created.
"No." The response was cold and sharp, but it didn't come from Christian. Instead, it came boldly from the little brunette that stood next to him with both hands placed on her hips.
And just like that, she grabbed Christian's hand and marched right into some random section. Miriam stood at the entrance, a grimace on her pretty face – no one spared her another glance.
Anastasia stopped abruptly in front of some hangers. The color scheme on that section was light – whites mostly. She didn't have the slightest clue of what exactly she should be searching for. Fashion wasn't her forte, after all. She just knew she didn't want to spend another second in front of that hussy redhead.
It wasn't that she didn't know her future husband would have extra-marital affairs. Hell, she had agreed to it. But having other women thrown themselves at him while she was standing within two feet was purely distasteful and left a bad taste in her mouth. She wasn't romantically involved with the man, but she was worthy of respect nonetheless.
The man himself didn't notice or simply didn't care. Either way he abided by Anastasia's wishes and followed her, stopping only when she did.
They stood there, silently watching the row of expensive clothes for a while, before Ana regained consciousness and let go of his hand as if it burned. Well, it kind of did. His touch burned like ice.
"Well…" She started. "Let's see," Her frail hand darted towards the fabrics and she traced the tip of her fingers over the pieces. She really had no idea what to look for, so she decided to take the first thing that caught her eye.
It was a white, shimmery écharpe so big it reached her feet. It was quite extravagant. And useless – in her case – but she decided to wrapped it tightly around her body, from her head to her legs. Christian's eyebrows rose curiously.
Why was she tangling herself in a scarf? Before he could ask, though, Anastasia slid towards the first full-length mirror that appeared, and stared hard at her own reflection.
"Maybe if the runaway nun act doesn't work out, I can always be a… tissue paper?" Her voice was serious but there was a mischievous smile on her lips.
Her silly performance sorted the effect she was looking for: Christian laughed. Yet again. It really was a breathtaking sound – the kind they write about in those awfully romantic and unrealistic novellas. It made her giggle too.
"Because being a ghost is too mainstream," She explained.
"Of course," Christian mused, entertained. For the first time since they met, he wasn't looking at her like he resented her very existence. In fact, he appeared curious, interested. It fuelled a bit of her confidence to think maybe perhaps they could co-exist peacefully with each other.
For the next half an hour the fake couple explored the boutique in search for the most ridiculous pieces of clothing they could find. Anastasia kept trying on absurd hats, dresses, scarfs, jackets and even sunglasses. Most of the outfits were given to her by her fiancé, nonetheless. He was enjoying their own stupidity very much.
Christian Grey had never done something so juvenile. Growing up he had always been a serious child, and as an adult he was even more serious. So acting so blithely was unexpected and unthinkable – and yet he was actually savoring the experience.
Before this, he could tag shopping as one of the most boring and despairing activities one could perform. Anytime he had done it with Grace and Mia, he simply stood there, leaned against some wall or seated in some recliner, eyeing the ceiling and praying they wouldn't take another hour just to pick up some shoes. It was a burden. It made him cringe inside.
He was mentally prepared to have a replay of those memories today with Anastasia, but just like every time before, the girl surprised him with her attitude. To start, she had no fashion sense. It was even worse than his. She had no clue what she was doing. Then, she got fatigued as well. It appeared that trying clothes, taking them off, trying new ones, taking them off – just wasn't something she rejoiced in doing. And finally, she didn't get offended if he made fun of the outfits. Hell, she was making fun of them too.
It was a technique both were using to stall the difficult chore of actually finding a suitable dress – something they were failing miserably to accomplish.
Christian spotted a weird-looking necklace, resting against the cold chest of a mannequin. It was large and made of extravagantly big stones. It was heavy too, and he wondered briefly if anyone who was not made of granite could actually wear it wouldn't damaging their spine. Regardless, he picked it up and brought it to Anastasia, who was still wearing a rather silly hat.
"Seriously, this hat is so big it can cast a shadow over my whole body." She said, crooking a neck slightly to stare at her own reflection.
"Here," He said, coming closer behind her. "Try this, just to experience the feeling of having a chain-ball around your neck."
Ana took off the hat and placed it aside. She eyed the necklace suspiciously. It actually looked like a chain-ball, except the balls on this one were colored exotically. It seemed heavy but she decided to try it nonetheless. It was kind of ridiculously sizable.
Christian took a step forward and stood mere inches from her body. The hairs of her neck got immediately erect. He was so close – too close. His chest was almost touching her back, and it was such a distracting position. When he was near her, it seemed the air gained an electrical charge and she couldn't breathe properly. It was stupid really, why would she feel like this? But she felt it, and there was nothing that could stop her hands from trembling slightly at her sides.
He didn't seem to notice. Or perhaps he simply didn't care at all, that they were so close. And why would he care, anyway? Her presence sorted no effect on him, except sometimes, it seemed like it disgust him.
Distractedly, one of his long hands brushed the dark hair off her shoulders. Surprisingly enough, it was a gentle gesture. It felt like the lightest of feathers, and she fought a shiver. When her messy strands were out of the way, he hastily placed the heavy balls against her collarbones and tied it up at the nape of her neck.
Anastasia stared unblinkingly at the necklace in the mirror. Just like she had anticipated, it was quite the uncomfortable weight. Her eyes lifted up, though, slowly towards Christian's face. He had an amused expression on his face and his gaze was admiring the unpracticality of the jewelry as well. She observed him for a while, but soon her eyes couldn't help but dart towards her shoulders.
There, over pale skin of her body, rested Christian Grey's hands. His tone was slightly tanned, a whole lot healthier than hers. It was a sharp contrast to witness. It was the first time he was touching her deliberately, even though he didn't seem to notice it. And Ana was beginning to grow uneasy. Her mind was getting clogged. The warmth of his touch was spreading like wildfire through the rest of her limbs. It burned like a furnace.
Christian's silvery eyes narrow when he felt his petite fiancée tremble beneath him. He was too distracted with the ugly necklace to notice what was happening, but as soon as his gaze followed hers, he saw it too. His hands were still resting against her frail shoulders. And her skin was cold and smooth, an unexpected combination. It made his fingers tingle with the raw sensation.
For the briefest of moments, Anastasia's eyes met Christian's in the mirror. Their gazes didn't stand locked for more than some flimsily seconds, but it was enough for the girl to witness first-hand the transformation that occurred behind his beautiful irises.
From playful and amused, his eyes reverted back to steely and closed-off. His hands jerked upwards and he took a quick step back as if something had bit him painfully.
"I guess neither of us is indicated for this," His hand waved around the air, gesturing to the hangers and the shelves full of clothes. "Clearly, fashion isn't our specialty. I'll call a personal stylist to come and help you tomorrow. There's no point in wandering through more stores. Let's go."
His voice was back to his normally restrict, cold self. No more lightness and laughter – only business and orders now.
Anastasia sighed deeply and nodded. "Yeah, I guess we aren't cut for this." She agreed, adverting her gaze anywhere else. Christian was too intense. She untied the necklace and placed it next to the stupid hat she had tried on before.
He didn't wait for her to follow. He simply gave her a pointed look that told her not to take too long, turned around, and walked out of the store without sparing another glance.
She mimicked his steps, and started towards the exit too. Passing by the counter Ana noticed that Miriam stood there, a smug smile plastered on her scarlet lips. It was as if the hussy shop-owner knew something had gone wrong with the two of them and was savoring that piece of knowledge.
She refused to succumb to the redhead's hatred stare though, and instead walked out of the boutique with her head held high. Once she got outside, she was greeted by a cold, welcoming breeze. Christian was a few feet away, talking on the phone, completely disconnected from their time together.
Anastasia sighed again. Amused-Christian was so much easier to deal with. Plus, he was fun and a nice company too. Now she just knew she would have to endure a torturously silent ride home with a brooding man that drove manically his fancy car.
He turned when he spotted her on the sidewalk and ended his phone-call stiffly. "Are you ready?" He asked.
No. She wanted to scream, but held it together. Tomorrow she would meet his family, his friends. Tomorrow she would see Grace again, lie to a bunch of strangers, and get publicly engaged – all in the same day.
She wasn't the least ready for it.
"Yes," Anastasia lied instead, trying to convey a false confidence she could only hope it passed as somewhat believable.
A/N: So, just a heads-up, next chapter we'll meet Claire – who is not someone from the books, but a woman I made up from my own imagination – and she'll be Christian's previous lover. Claire will be at their engagement dinner because she is Mia's friend. It won't be pleasant for Anastasia, that's all I'm saying.
Anyway, thank you for reading! I'm totally in love with you guys!