Fifty Shades Darker(9)By: E L James
Promptly at five thirty, Jack is at my desk. It is Casual Friday so he’s wearing jeans and a black shirt..
“Drink, Ana? We usually like to go for a quick one at the bar across the street.”
“We?” I ask, hopeful.
“Yeah, most of us go … you coming?”
For some unknown reason, which I don’t want to examine too closely, relief floods through me.
“I’d love to. What’s the bar called?”
He looks at me oddly. “No. Some significance for you?”
“No, sorry. I’ll join you over there.”
“What would you like to drink?”
“A beer, please.”
I make my way to the powder room and e-mail Christian from the BlackBerry.
* * *
From: Anastasia Steele Subject: You’ll Fit Right In Date: June 10 2011 17:36
To: Christian Grey We are going to a bar called Fifty’s.
The rich seam of humor that I could mine from this is endless.
I look forward to seeing you there, Mr. Grey.
* * *
From: Christian Grey Subject: Hazards Date: June 10 2011 17:38
To: Anastasia Steele Mining is a very, very dangerous occupation.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
* * *
From: Anastasia Steele Subject: Hazards?
Date: June 10 2011 17:40
To: Christian Grey And your point is?
* * *
From: Christian Grey Subject: Merely …
Date: June 10 2011 17:42
To: Anastasia Steele Making an observation, Miss Steele.
I’ll see you shortly.
Sooners rather than laters, baby.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
I check myself in the mirror. What a difference a day can make. I have more color in my cheeks, and my eyes are shining. It’s the Christian Grey effect. A little e-mail sparring with him will do that to a girl. I grin at the mirror and straighten my pale blue shirt—the one Taylor bought me. I am wearing my favorite jeans today, too. Most of the women in the office wear either jeans or floaty skirts. I will need to invest in a floaty skirt or two. Perhaps I’ll do that this weekend and bank the check Christian gave me for Wanda, my Beetle.
As I head out of the building, I hear my name called.
I turn expectantly, and an ashen young woman approaches me cautiously. She looks like a ghost—so pale and strangely blank.
“Miss Anastasia Steele?” she repeats, and her features stay static even though she’s speaking.
She stops, staring at me from about three feet away on the sidewalk, and I stare back, immobilized. Who is she? What does she want?
“Can I help you?” I ask. How does she know my name?
“No … I just wanted to look at you.” Her voice is eerily soft. Like me, she has dark hair that starkly contrasts with her fair skin. Her eyes are brown, like bourbon, but flat. There’s no life in them at all. Her beautiful face is pale, and etched with sorrow.
“Sorry—you have me at a disadvantage,” I say, trying to ignore the warning tingle up my spine. On closer inspection, she looks odd, disheveled, and uncared for. Her clothes are two sizes too big, including her designer trench coat.
She laughs, a strange, discordant sound that only feeds my anxiety.
“What do you have that I don’t?” she asks sadly.
My anxiety turns to fear. “I’m sorry—who are you?”
“Me? I’m nobody.” She lifts her arm to drag her hand through her shoulder length hair, and as she does, the sleeve of her trench coat rides up, revealing a soiled bandage around her wrist.
“Good day, Miss Steele.” Turning, she walks up the street as I stand rooted to the spot. I watch as her slight frame disappears from view, lost among the workers pouring out of their various offices.
What was that about?
Confused, I cross the street to the bar, trying to assimilate what has just happened, while my subconscious rears her ugly head and hisses at me—She has something to do with Christian.
Fifty’s is a cavernous, impersonal bar with baseball pennants and posters hanging on the wall. Jack is at the bar with Elizabeth; Courtney, the other Editor; two guys from Finance; and Claire from Reception. She is wearing her trademark silver hoop earrings.
“Hi, Ana!” Jack hands me a bottle of Bud.
“Cheers … thank you,” I murmur, still shaken by my encounter with Ghost Girl.
“Cheers.” We clink bottles, and he continues his conversation with Elizabeth. Claire smiles sweetly at me.
“So, how has your first week been?” she asks.
“Good, thank you. Everyone seems very friendly.”
“You seem much happier today.”
“It’s Friday,” I mutter quickly. “So—do you have any plans this weekend?”
MY PATENTED DISTRACTION TECHNIQUE works and I’m saved. Claire turns out to be one of seven kids, and she’s going to a big family get-together in Tacoma. She becomes quite animated, and I realize I haven’t spoken to any women my own age since Kate left for Barbados.
Absently I wonder how Kate is … and Elliot. I must remember to ask Christian if he’s heard from him. Oh, and Ethan, Kate’s brother, will be back next Tuesday, and he’ll be staying in our apartment. I can’t imagine Christian is going to be happy about that. My earlier encounter with strange Ghost Girl slips further from my mind.
During my conversation with Claire, Elizabeth hands me another beer.
“Thanks.” I smile at her.
Claire is very easy to talk to—she likes to talk—and before I know it, I am on my third beer, courtesy of one of the guys from Finance.
When Elizabeth and Courtney leave, Jack joins Claire and me. Where is Christian? One of the finance guys engages Claire in conversation.
“Ana, think you made the right decision coming here?” Jack’s voice is soft, and he’s standing a bit too close. But I’ve noticed that he has a tendency to do this with everyone, even at the office.
“I’ve enjoyed myself this week, thank you, Jack. Yes, I think I made the right decision.”
“You’re a very bright girl, Ana. You’ll go far.”
I blush. “Thank you,” I mutter, because I don’t know what else to say.
“Do you live far?”
“The Pike Market district.”
“Not far from me.” Smiling, he moves even closer and leans against the bar, effectively trapping me. “Do you have any plans this weekend?”
“Well … um—”
I feel him before I see him. It’s as if my whole body is highly attuned to his presence. It relaxes and ignites at the same time—a weird, internal duality—and I sense that strange pulsing electricity.
Christian drapes his arm around my shoulder in a seemingly casual display of affection—but I know differently. He is staking a claim, and on this occasion, it’s very welcome. Softly he kisses my hair.
“Hello, baby,” he murmurs.
I feel relieved, safe, and excited with his arm around me. He draws me to his side, and I glance up at him while he stares at Jack, his expression impassive. Turning his attention to me, he gives me a brief crooked smile followed by a swift kiss. He’s wearing his navy pinstriped jacket over jeans and an open white shirt. He looks edible.
Jack shuffles back uncomfortably.
“Jack, this is Christian,” I mumble apologetically. Why am I apologizing? “Christian, Jack.”
“I’m the boyfriend,” Christian says with a small, cool smile that doesn’t reach his eyes as he shakes Jack’s hand. I glance up at Jack who is mentally assessing the fine specimen of manhood in front of him.
“I’m the boss,” Jack replies arrogantly. “Ana did mention an ex-boyfriend.”
Oh, shit. You don’t want to play this game with Fifty.
“Well, no-longer-ex,” Christian replies calmly. “Come on, baby, time to go.”
“Please, stay and join us for a drink,” Jack says smoothly.
I don’t think that’s a good idea. Why is this so uncomfortable? I glance at Claire, who is, of course staring, openmouthed and with frankly carnal appreciation, at Christian. When will I stop caring about the effect he has on other women?
“We have plans,” Christian replies with his enigmatic smile.
We do? And a frisson of anticipation runs through my body.
“Another time, perhaps,” he adds. “Come,” he says to me as he takes my hand.
“See you Monday.” I smile at Jack, Claire, and the guys from Finance, trying hard to ignore Jack’s less-than-pleased expression, and follow Christian out of the door.
Taylor is at the wheel of the Audi waiting at the curb.
“Why did that feel like a pissing contest?” I ask Christian as he opens the car door for me.
“Because it was,” he murmurs and gives me his enigmatic smile then shuts my door.
“Hello, Taylor,” I say and our eyes meet in the review mirror.
“Miss Steele,” Taylor acknowledges with a genial smile.
Christian slides in beside me, clasps my hand, and gently kisses my knuckles. “Hi,” he says softly.
My cheeks turn pink, knowing that Taylor can hear us, grateful that he can’t see the scorching, panty-combusting look that Christian is giving me. It takes all my self-restraint not to leap on him right here, in the backseat of the car.