With my arm protectively supporting Ana, who is still finding walking painful, we make our way out to the marquee. We've not been out socially since we returned from London, but Ana was adamant that we shouldn't miss my parent's annual charity event for Coping Together. I'm not surprised it was this she wanted to come to. The mask she can wear covers up the remaining bruising from her fractured nose and cheekbone. She's still very conscious of it and has kept herself largely out of the public eye for the last few weeks. I don't know if it's the liberation from being able to hide her bruises, but there's something about Ana tonight, something that means that I simply can't take my hands off her. There's a knowing smile on her face that makes me want to scoop her up and take her down to the boathouse or up to my old bedroom. Either way I know I won't last until the fireworks at midnight. There's a confident aura radiating from her and a positive charge that renders me powerless to resist her attraction. Even now, after coming up to four years of marriage, something like this, a fresh intangible quality to things makes me all the more in love with her. And I'm insanely curious to discover what secret she's hiding, because she is, I know it. I may have to sweetly torture it out of her later.
Even though I only have eyes for Ana, it appears that everyone else only has them for me. I'm under an uncomfortable level of scrutiny this evening and it's all Katherine Grey's fault. Her article on me appeared this morning in the Seattle Times Saturday Supplement and whilst Ana loves it (I know there was a certain amount of wifely collaboration), and there's an escalation in the tiresome admiring glances from women, it's unnerving to be on the receiving end of so many hostile looks from men. According to Elliot, never one to mince his words, I have drop-kicked the standard into the stratosphere and now all women want men to worship the ground they walk on, fly to their side in a crisis, take the children to their place of work, look good in a suit and deliver babies who arrive before the ambulance can get there. There was nothing we could do, it all happened so fast and it was into my hands that little Emma Sawyer made her appearance. The little girl is six weeks old now and thankfully shows no sign of being mentally scarred by the experience. The same cannot be said for Andrea, who still can't look me in the eye. Luke and I have reached an understanding. He helped my wife and I helped his girlfriend and we see eye to eye over that. But it's a slightly awkward situation. He accidentally left a bruise in the shape of an outstretched hand over my wife's breast and I had to rip off his girlfriend's panties when she refused to take them off.
Elliot was indignant on the phone this morning. In the aftermath of my baby-delivering antics, he says, the era of the charming but useless rogue is over. His parting shot was that if I did indeed turn out to know more than could be written a postage stamp about sex, he'd disown me. I guess I'll have to get used to never speaking to my brother again.
Interestingly, as we reach the marquee, it's Elliot who catches my eye. He's on his own on the far side looking uncomfortable and I recognise the familiar annoyance of a man who knows what he wants but can't get near his wife to get it. Kate is on over the other side of the marquee, holding court amongst a posse of women. Ana sees Kate and slides out from under my arm.
"Go and talk to Elliot, he looks miserable. You know how much he hates these things. I want to say thank you to Kate for the fabulous article she's written."
"You mean that you've written. I'd know your phrasing anywhere, woman." I smile.
Ana eyes me speculatively, her secret smile grows a little wider and she deliberately sinks her top teeth gently into her bottom lip. Oh fuck, I'm not going to last until the entrees at this rate. She has me on fire! "Can you blame me?" She says. "I want to tell everybody about what I have and they don't." She grins and this gloating is so unlike her, so not my Ana and I wonder for a moment if the bang on her head has caused more damage than just a nasty headache.
I'm suddenly uncharacteristically shy, as if I've been pushed out into a spotlight that I don't want to be in. "But I belong to you." I say quietly. "I don't want to be paraded around like a piece of merchandise."
She narrows her eyes and the fire in her burns hotter. "Oh, you are mine, Christian," she says softly. "And I'm not going to let anyone ever forget that."
I give an involuntary laugh and realise that she's repeating words that I could easily have said to her four years ago. I narrow my eyes. "Who are you and what have you done with Ana Grey?"
Ana's pants-busting smile gets wider. "Oh she's not too far away, baby. I'm just enjoying being Mistress of my Universe tonight. Now, go talk to Mr Sad Act over there."
I obey and wonder if this is what I'm reacting to, to the thrill of roles subtly being reversed? Of me being the one claimed and stamped as the possession of Anastasia Grey. In our topsy-turvy way of going about things it's just another twist and damn she's turning me on with it!
I make my way through the crowd and watch as Ana is greeted by the gaggle of women around Kate, as if she's the all-conquering hero. There are whispered comments, giggles and none-too subtle glances in my direction. If they really knew me though, they wouldn't be so quick to approve.
Susannah and the difficulties that I have created there have provided many long conversations over the last few weeks between Ana and myself. Ana said no to me talking to Susannah and then explained that it was because she wanted to talk to Susannah herself. She wanted to know what Susannah wanted, of how she wanted to be treated, so that I wouldn't steamroller her into getting things all my own way. In the end the two of them put together what can only be described as a post-sub acquaintance agreement and suggested that we use it as guidelines, should I meet any other women that I once had a contractual relationship with. It's not very elaborate, it consists of me being polite, respectful and taking an interest in who they are now, not who they were when I knew them. They've changed, I've changed and the world has moved on. As for Ana and Susannah, they left me with Ted and Phoebe and went out for coffee this morning. Once again I am completely humbled by my wife's ability to open the deep dark pit of my former life and make friends with it.
I finally reach Elliot.
"There's nothing for it, Christian. I'm just going to have to kill you." He says matter-of-factly. "You are a traitor to mankind. You and your metrosexuality or whatever the fuck it's called."
"My what?" I scoff.
"You. This being in touch with your feminine side thing that you do. This is what it's all about, this is what women want. Men who are gay but not gay. Did mom give you shots of oestrogen with your Cornflakes, or something?"
"No." I smirk. "And I think I've firmly established that I'm not gay. What do you mean by 'gay but not gay'?"
"You know. That special ability gay men have to be able to talk to women properly. They're good at fashion and… personal grooming."
I furrow my brow. "I spend precisely nothing on my hair, Ana cuts it. And my razor blades come from the supermarket. I admit that I have my wife pick out my clothes, but that's because Ana's the one that has to look at me. I'd live in jeans given the chance."
Across the room Ana gently takes Kate aside from the group and they walk out of the marquee together in a sisterly fashion that the pair of us know well.
"Uh oh," says Elliot. "They're planning something. That's us vacationing together again next summer." I laugh and beside me I sense a mood shift in my brother. He angles himself toward me and looks around the room possibly checking that no-one can hear. "You know, I've always joked about things of a… private nature. But recently, me and Kate well… we've gotten a little stale. You know?" I nod. "And thinking back to that comment you made at my anniversary event; I know it was a joke, but do you guys ever… spice things up a little?"
"Occasionally." I admit.
"So that would be OK, you think?"
"What are you asking for, my permission?" I smile. "This is something you need to talk about with Kate."
"I know, but…" Elliot rolls his shoulders. "I don't want to feel like a freak, like we're the only ones doing it."
"You think every couple in this room sticks to vanilla and you guys would be weird for going for the raspberry swirl option?"
Elliot's eyes light up. "I love that analogy! We want to try a different flavour."
"And there are so many." I grin. "But don't underestimate the power of great vanilla."
Elliot stands next to me, our backs against the bar and together we survey the room. "So what d'you think." He says, waving his beer at the crowd. "Who's a straight vanilla guy and who's chowing down on a Chocolate Fudge Sundae? Baker, what do you think about him?"
"I'd rather not think about him, thanks."
"I know, but do you think he plays it straight?"
I look at the CEO of another one of Seattle's companies and at his bored wife stood next to him, who's been casting glances in my direction over the last few minutes. "Vanilla." I say. "Look at his wife."
"She's checking you out."
"She wouldn't be if Baker was keeping her satisfied. That's my guess."
"Look at the difference between them and Ted Gilbert and his wife."
"Oh my god, they're almost having sex right there."
"They are having sex, that's several hours' worth of foreplay they're putting in. I bet you any money they leave before the end."
Elliot leans over to me. "So is that your thing, foreplay? I notice that you're real intense with Ana at these events."
I'll give him this one. "Sometimes it's the best way to get through a really boring dinner." I wink.
Across the room I see Kate and Ana reappear and from the way they walk closely together I know instantly that something's happened. But it's not until they get closer that I can see the nature of it. Ana is wickedly triumphant, while Kate is flushed, her lips are parted and walking in a way that I've seen only one other woman walk through this marquee before. My wife has turned sex-therapist and shared our boring dinner contingency plan with Kate! So this was her big secret? This is why she's radiating enough pheromones tonight to attract half the Pacific Northwest? I can't keep the smile off my face and as they near us I go to her, kiss her gently under her ear. "You wicked girl." I murmur. "I love you." And a grin the size of the Cheshire Cat appears on her face. "Those aren't ours are they?" I add.
"No. I bought her a new set." She says quietly. "And that's not all." She murmurs.
"Oh?" I eye her.
"We'll talk about it later. It's a plan. But if you say yes, I'll need your help with it."
"OK." I'm intrigued, although not as much as I am desperate, to get her away from here and to somewhere more private. Kate and Elliot disappear into the crowd and as they go I see Elliot rest his hand in the small of Kate's back. They get talking to another couple and when he thinks that no one's looking, Elliot runs his hand over his wife's behind. My brother is out to get lucky tonight. "So that's grandchild number five on the way." I nod at them and smile at Ana.
"Six." She replies and briefly places her hand on her lower abdomen.
So that's why she's driving me wild, she's pregnant! In my heart the midnight fireworks go off and I pull her gently to me, kissing every exposed piece of skin on her face and neck that I can. After London she was due her shot and we agreed to let it run out, but it's a shock that she's pregnant so soon. A lovely shock! I know now that children just make things better and in my heart I want to ask Ana for just one more. Four would be the perfect number. The Cheshire Cat grin has transferred to my face now and I lose any hope of making it even as far as the appetiser. I cup her face in my hands. "We need to celebrate." I whisper. "Boathouse or bedroom?" I ask and kiss her lips gently.
"Bedroom." She replies. I wrap my arm around her and together we stroll nonchalantly out of the marquee, only to be accosted by Mia.
"I don't want you to deliver my baby," she says indignantly, cradling her bump. "But I do have a few girlfriends who'd like to know whether you're available to play midwife?"
I look suitably appalled,
"Well if you will go to London and turn into Dr Kildare," she continues. "What do you expect?"
"I little respect that I'm married and that Miss Parker and I really didn't have a choice in the matter."
"Yeah, whatever. Where are you two sneaking off to anyway, the party's behind you."
"Ana's legs are aching." I say. "She's going to have a rest until dinner's served."
"I'll come with you."
"No you won't." I assert and fix her with a stare.
"Ooh, Christian's off to do naughty things in his bedroom." She says in a singsong voice. "I'm telling mom."
I narrow my eyes. "You do and I'll tell her about you doing naughty things in yours with Paul Evans when you were fourteen."
Mia blanches. "How do you know about that?" She hisses.
"My room's next to yours and the walls aren't that thick."
She bristles. "Touché. Go on, go and massage Ana's legs or whatever that's a euphemism for." She hops from foot to foot. "I could do with Ethan to massage mine."
"Well, keep the noise down." I grin and my sister rolls her eyes. Just then, we notice Elliot guiding Kate none too slowly across the lawn to the house.
"Where's she off to?" Says Ana with consternation and folds her arms. "Kate!" She calls. Kate stops and turns back. "I said not until the end of the meal."
"I can't last that long!" Hisses Kate.
"OK. As it's your first time." Says Ana and Kate hurries off with Elliot. I stare at her. "What?" She asks in response to my questioning eyes. "Basic training." She shrugs, as if I should know this.
"On Kate?" I whisper and then arch an eyebrow. "Are you gay Mrs Grey?"
She grins, throws her arms around me and kisses me deeply. "Are you going to throw that back in my face for the rest of my life?" She laughs.
"On every May 9th, yes." I run my hands down the sides of her body and feel the wonderful curves of her hips.
"OK, this is some private joke you two have. I'm leaving." Mia says. She takes a step away and then steps back to us. She's pouting. "Look, if you're really are going to have sex before dinner, keep the noise down will you?" She looks disconsolate.
"What's the matter?" Asks Ana gently. "Aren't you and Ethan having any?"
"No." She groans. "He's too afraid of hurting the baby and I'm too… big."
"You see!" says Ana. "This is why mine and Kate's idea for our column will totally work!"
My heart sinks. "What column?"
"Sex tips for couples in the Seattle Times Saturday Supplement. Totally anonymous and written in a jokey, light-hearted style, but with enough information to help those of us who've been together a while. One of the regular columnists is leaving in two months' time and Kate wants to pitch the idea to the editor."
"Oh my god that's a brilliant idea!" Says Mia. "Write lots for pregnant women, like… now!"
"Yeah, you and I need to have a talk, Mia. You need to be having sex because pregnant sex is the best…"
"Woah, Ana!" I say and put my hands up.
"Oh, don't get prudish, Christian." Snaps Mia. Ana raises an eyebrow. "Women totally need this." Mia continues. "What does a man know about a woman's orgasm for god's sake? I'm sure Ethan thinks they come in packets." Mia looks at Ana with a focussed stare. "So are you telling me that it's totally OK for Ethan and me to be having sex?"
"Yes." Replies Ana.
"OK." Says Mia, cheerily. "Please excuse me, I need to find my husband."
"Oh Mia?" I call after her. She stops and turns around. "Keep the noise down." I smile.
"Back atcha Christian." And she scampers away.
I turn to Ana and put my arm around her as we continue our slow saunter into the house. "So, Mrs Grey. Are you telling me that everything I've taught you over the last four years is eventually going to find its way into the Seattle Times?"
"That's the basic idea, totally anonymously, of course. But only if you're happy with me doing it."
"I'm not wild about it." I admit. "I really don't want certain people to know the breadth of my knowledge, so to speak."
"Well, I don't think they will. Obviously, Kate knows certain things about you, but this isn't going to be me and you dispensing the advice. Kate's going to explore things with Elliot, so as I see it, this will be Kate and Elliot's voyage of discovery into…"
"Raspberry swirl." I smile. "So, what's your part in it?"
"Obviously, Kate's going to need some prompts." Ana seems to sag and I support her a little more as we climb the stairs to my room. "So," she says sadly. "You're going to have to tell me how the magic works." We reach the top of the stairs and stand outside my old bedroom. I remove my mask, gently untie hers and run my fingers down her unbruised cheek. She leans into them and I can see that she feels sad that something will be spoiled once she knows exactly how I do the things I do to her.
"Well, Mrs Grey." I say gently. "Perhaps it's time to move up to the advanced magic." I hear her breath catch.
"There's more?" She gasps. Her eyes sparkle and the fire in them increases a thousand degrees. Oh, what she does to me.
"For you, my love, there is always more." I open the bedroom door and take her hand. "Come, Mrs Grey."
Thank you for reading!
You can read Andrea's story about Emma's arrival in 'Scarlet and Grey' ID 9425612
Also check out 'Walking Away' which is a prequel to 'The Devil's Kitchen'
Thank you very much again for taking the time to read this. Laters baby!