I can't do it. I can't go back to work in this condition. What on earth am I supposed to do? I can't afford to lose this job, but there is no way I can walk back in there after seeing Christian and pretend that everything is okay. I would need at least an hour if I were to have any hope of composing myself and I have maybe fifteen minutes left before my lunch hour is over. This is what I get for wasting half of it moping at my desk. I should have gotten up to walk earlier, then maybe I wouldn't have run into Christian at all.
Like that was even a possibility. You know good and well he has been staking you out all morning, just waiting for you to show yourself.
Crap, of course he has! I can't even think straight. What the hell am I going to do?
There is a bus rolling to a stop just yards ahead of me and I briefly consider getting on, but I have no idea what its route is and the last thing I want to do is ride aimlessly around unknown parts of Seattle for hours. No, I'll have to keep walking to my regular stop. Hopefully, I won't have to wait too long for a bus to come along. As far as I can remember, there are fairly regular stops there during the workweek. If I do have to wait, I suppose I can use the time to come up with a plausible excuse for not going back to work. Like there is a plausible excuse during one's first week on a job.
At least Christian hasn't followed me (not that I can tell, anyway). Hopefully, my nearly hysterical and very public show of emotion set him back on his heels temporarily.
I wouldn't worry about him anymore, my subconscious says snidely. I am sure he's finally realized you are far more trouble than you're worth. THE Christian Grey doesn't need an ego boost this badly. I am fairly certain he does not want any of this turning up in the society pages. Those headlines would be difficult to explain to his shareholders. So, stop being a child and go back to work, Miss Steele! He's gotten this foolishness out of his system and will now most certainly go and find a suitable and discreet sub to meet his "special needs".
I really am my own worst enemy, because that thought fills me with a new, crippling wave of misery that is even worse than the last. I can't breathe! I have to get off these streets and away from all these people bustling by on the sidewalk, going about their day like everything is perfectly normal. Briefly, I wonder what they'd do if I just started screaming. Would they even notice? Would they lock me up? Or would they just keep on doing their thing like they are now?
A recessed storefront provides me with a place to press my back against a brick wall and catch my breath.
Then he's there, right in front of me. His hands on my arms, making me feel pinned against what was seconds ago my safe haven from the crowded sidewalk. His grey eyes are stormy and his cheeks ruddy. He is somewhat out of breath and his expensive tailored jacket is rumpled.
"Christian," I gasp. "What are you doing?"
"What are you doing?" he asks, throwing the question back at me angrily. "You can't just run off like that. You scared the life out of me. We nearly lost sight of you. What are you thinking?"
"We?" What does he mean we? Is he having me followed?
"Don't start this nonsense with me, Anastasia. Seattle is a dangerous place for you," he dictates in his most authoritarian tone. "I am still unable to locate Leila. The woman is unstable! No matter how much you may detest me, I won't allow her to harm you."
Oh, if I were only able to detest him, if things were only that easy. How dare he?
"I am not a child, Mr. Grey," I remind him, swatting his hands off of me and taking several steps sideways. "In fact, I was a grown woman with a budding career until you ruined that for me this morning, by first causing a spectacle and then ensuring that I was in no shape to return to the office this afternoon. I realize you can come and go as you please, but it is generally frowned upon when us little folk flake out and ditch work during their very first week on the job."
Now he is smiling. It dawns on me - he is completely insane. He may be outrageously gorgeous with that panty busting grin and mussed up hair of his, but he is most definitely insane.
"I have missed your smart mouth, Miss Steele," he says as he tries to gracefully stalk in closer.
My body practically melts and begins oozing toward him before I catch myself.
"No, Christian," I say holding up a hand to ward him off (or possibly to ward myself off). "I told you not to touch me. I meant it."
For a brief moment he looks devastated, but he quickly covers it with a smirk, smoothing the jacket he's wearing over a simple white linen shirt with perfectly manicured hands.
"I am sorry, Anastasia. You make me forget myself. Besides, I wouldn't want to be assaulted again."
I narrow my eyes and start to tear into him with a verbal tirade filled with who knows what. Funny that he would accuse me of assaulting him. Before I can get the first word out, he halts me with outstretched palms of surrender.
"You're right. That was a bad joke. Let's start this conversation over. Ana, I promise you are in no danger of losing your position at SIP, please stop fretting over it."
Oh my God, he didn't. Please tell me he did not somehow wield his undue influence and interfere with my job, because - so help me - I will kill him.
"What did you do?" I ask in a voice that is much more composed than I am feeling at the moment.
He blinks back at me guiltily. It is almost comical. He looks like a child who's been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I can almost see the gears turning in his mind as he struggles to come up with something plausible.
"What do you mean?" he asks carefully, trying hard to sound innocent and failing miserably. Surely his business poker face is better than this.
I let out a rather hysterical laugh and throw my hands up. "What do you think I mean? You sound awfully certain about the state of my job. You know, the one you promised not to interfere in? Are you suddenly psychic or are you using your massive powers of influence and obscene bank account to pull strings at my company? Let me guess. You cornered the market on every single source of paper in the free world and threatened not to allow SIP to print one single page if they fire me?"
Christian has gone from guilty little boy to a confident man with a devilish grin. He obviously seems to think he's found a way off the hook.
"No, Miss Steele," he laughs, "I can promise you that I have not made recent inroads into the lucrative international paper market, although I love hearing your conspiracy theories. You have a very active imagination. Have you ever considered writing yourself, rather than wasting your talents editing other people's work?"
"Don't change the subject, Christian. I know what you're trying to do. You've interfered in my career somehow and I don't like it. I want it to stop."
He looks genuinely wounded and actually pouts. "I have not. You got the job on your own merits and are keeping it on them. I'm only trying to assure that you won't be losing it because of anything I may have done to throw you off track today."
"And you'll be assuring that how, exactly?"
"With my massive powers of influence and obscene bank account, of course," he replies with a sly grin, throwing my own words back at me.
"Christian," I groan, but don't really have much else to say. It is hard to come up with a good counter argument when someone is that upfront with their own ridiculousness. I have a nagging feeling there is something I don't know, but Mr. Grey is being his usual evasive self.
"Ana, please just hear me out," he pleads, looking hopeful. "We need to talk." He reaches out to touch me, but seems to remember himself and pulls back his hands at the last minute and runs them through his hair instead.
I sigh and sag back against the cold brick of the wall, closing my eyes. No wonder this man never fails in business. It is likely he badgers his poor opponents to death. They probably sell him their companies just so they can get some rest.
"There's nothing to talk about, Christian. We're too different. We want completely different things in life. I can't be the woman you want… and I don't want to be that woman," I admit, opening my eyes to look at him and finding him watching me intensely, searching my face. "I'm sorry," I whisper, "I tried. You're the only man I ever loved and I might never love anyone ever again, but I still can't. I can't be your sub. It will destroy me, Christian. I can't do it."
He shoves his hands in his jeans' pockets. I think he is trying not to touch me and my goddess tries to stir at that realization, but I stamp her back down. Christian's brows are drawn together as he gazes at me. His pain really does seem to echo mine, at least I want to think it does. Then again, everywhere I look I see pain these days.
"Ana, I am so sorry I made you feel that way. It was never my intent. You are the very last person I ever wanted to harm. The thought of destroying what makes you Ana is repugnant to me. You have to believe I don't want that. I want you. I want you back. I need you back. Please give me another chance. I'll give you everything. The roses were every color imaginable, baby. Didn't you notice? And the jewelry… Can't you guess what that means?"
Say it, Christian, I pray internally. If there's any chance any of that meant what I hope, just say it. But he doesn't and I can't afford to be naïve. After all, he didn't even sign the stupid card. It wasn't even handwritten. It was typed and probably by his secretary, my subconscious adds helpfully.
"I have to go," I say, standing up straighter. This is no time to get drawn in. I am far too fragile right now, that much is certain. I cannot afford to let my heart lead me again or I will end up in the same position I was in before.
"Anastasia, don't," he says, a note of command seeping back into his tone. It is just as well, it gives me the strength I need.
"Yes, Christian. I need to go. I'm going back to work. I will make up some sort of excuse for being late back from lunch and I will probably be completely useless for the rest of the day, but I am going back to work today."
"What do I have to do?" he asks in frustration. He is standing arms akimbo, his broad shoulders blocking much of the recessed entryway that leads back to the sidewalk.
"You need to let me get by please, Mr. Grey, so I can finish my walk up the block," I say as politely as I can.
I can't help but smile when his polite upbringing kicks-in and he automatically steps aside, and then scowls and curses under his breath for having done so.
"Have a good day, Christian," I say, feeling a bit more cheerful. I have no idea what the future holds, but unlike our last meeting, I don't feel like this is a final goodbye.
"Christian have you taken leave of your senses?"
I am rarely surprised, but I will have to admit that Dr. John Flynn has shocked me this time.
"Fuck you, John! I know we like to keep things casual between us, but isn't it frowned upon when psychiatrists make light of their crazier patient's psychological issues."
He just laughs, the smarmy bastard.
"Really, Christian. If I thought you were truly crazy, I would do no such thing. I am merely trying to point out that proposing marriage to this young lady is a tad bit overzealous given the current circumstances. You already made one grand gesture and it failed to go over as planned. What makes you think an even grander one is the proper direction for act two?"
"Because she doesn't believe I'm sincere!" I emphasize. "She seems to think this is all about my ego… that I only want her because she is playing hard to get and I still want her to be my sub. If she realizes that I would be more than proud to show her to the world as my wife, she will have to accept the truth."
"And what is the truth?" he asks, pausing in his scribbling to look up at me. I swear these bastards have more questions than answers.
"That she is more," I bite out. I am getting tired of repeating myself to this man. "She is everything to me."
"You love her," Dr. Flynn observes casually. "Why not just tell her that? It sounds like she told you, and since I realize dating is not your area of expertise, allow me tell you what is expected when that word is trotted out into the light of day. One, you either reciprocate with an 'I love you, too' or you two, say 'I'm sorry, but we are better off as friends'. It is very simple, Christian. A marriage proposal is not generally required at this stage of the game. Not in this day in time."
"You know I can't tell her that," I growl back at him. "It would be obscene."
"Why not?" he asks with a raised brow. "Because you are incapable of love? Do you really still believe that rot?"
"Look at what I did to her, John. I'm fucked up! A man who loves her would never do that. She was inexperienced at being a sub, a decent man would have double checked to ensure she had not forgotten her safe word, but I kept beating her instead, because I am a sick fuck! I should leave her alone and never bother her again. If I didn't have such a strong faith in my own self-control, I would. But, I know I'll never strike her again and I won't."
"You mean you have vowed to never physically harm her again, even consensually. How do you feel about that?"
"I could give a damn about that!" I snap back. "I have no desire to do it, anyway. The very idea of it makes me sick!"
He smirks at me and starts scribbling away. I hate it when he does that. As much as I pay him, I really should demand to see those files he keeps on me. I think the only reason I don't, is because I'm afraid of what I may read in them. I suppose even a deviant freak like myself has a bit of hope for themselves tucked somewhere in the back of their mind. If I saw those scratchings, even that may be dashed forever.
"So, you've no wish to dominate this girl?" he finally asks after a moment.
I sigh. Here is the rub. I am still me, fifty shades of fucked up, after all. "I need her to obey me," I admit. "If I am her husband, perhaps she will be more inclined to see things my way. She is driving me insane with all this running around not caring about her own safety or even eating a decent meal. She needs me to look after her."
John laughs again, the limey bastard.
"Of course you still wish to control her. You had me worried for a moment there. I thought you'd been abducted by aliens and replaced with a pod person."
"Glad I can entertain you," I say, trying hard not to lose my temper at this point. "That is what I pay you for."
"I'm sorry, Christian," he says, sounding sincere. "I'm not laughing at you. I'm honestly not. Believe it or not, I am happy for you, very happy for you. That is the reason for the laughter and the bit of teasing. You're making a great deal of progress, more than you've made since I've known you and it pleases me a great deal to see it. Despite what you may believe about yourself, you do deserve happiness. But, you still have a long way to go. This girl, this Anastasia of yours… she does not sound like the type that wishes to be controlled by you. That is a good thing for you, Christian. You are going to have to find a way to deal with that as an adult in a real relationship. I doubt you'll listen to me, but my professional opinion is that she is not going to agree to being your obedient wife any time soon."
"We'll see about that," I say simply.
John may be partially right. Ana will no doubt prove challenging, she always is. But I am a man used to getting what I want, and I want Miss Anastasia Rose Steele to become the one and only Mrs. Grey. Mine now and forever. She is my top priority and I don't lose.