The elevator doors finally ping open on the ground floor after making a few stops along the way. I stride out but as I pass the reception desk I get intercepted by one of the Conrad’s very efficient staff members. His liveried arm stopping my progress.
“Excuse me, Ms Steele, this way please.” He’s smiling broadly and makes his way from behind the desk showing me to the glass exit doors with a dramatic sweeping motion. He finishes off his little flourish with a slight bow of his head.
I stifle a giggle at his old fashioned gesture. Wait a minute, how does he know my name?
“Mr Grey has requested I organise you a taxi and see you safely out,” he explains to my confused expression. He’s looking pleased with himself for following his instructions so diligently.
I smile back benignly but groan on the inside. Is there anything that Fifty won’t meddle in?
The uniformed young man holds the door open for me and then races past to open the waiting taxi’s door as well. Jeez, I can manage on my own; I’m not some helpless invalid. It all makes me feel a twinge uncomfortable.
I slide into the back seat, “thank you,” I can’t help the sound of the somewhat irritable lilt but it doesn’t seem to faze him at all as he gives me another flashing smile. I lean forward to give the cabbie my address but the young man beats me to it. He props his arm onto the open window, firing off instructions to the driver. He straightens and taps the roof twice and the cab pulls away, slipping into the light traffic.
I sit back and ponder Christian’s overbearing megalomania. I suppose embracing it is really my only option. If things work out for us – like I’m hoping it would – I will have to live with it every day, and so would Chris.
The thought of Chris and Christian together makes me smile. Christian’s temperament is going to need a lot of adjusting when it comes to parenting. Chris is so independent and wilful and even though protecting your child is surely every parent’s first concern, you also need to let go and let them learn and explore. I wonder how Mr I-will-decide-what’s-right-for-you is going to handle this particular challenge. Good thing that Chris isn’t Christina! He might’ve been tempted to cocoon her in cottonwool and lock her up somewhere!
When I arrive at our hotel I head for our suite and find my darling boy and mom building a jigsaw puzzle on the low coffee table. As soon as he sees me his eyes light up, he scrambles to his feet and throws his arms around my legs. I love how my little boy is always so happy to see me! His unconditional and honest hug is balm for my jarred, ravaged nerves.
My mom’s eyes are soft and shine with love as she watches us. “Back in on piece then?” Her affectionate glow reflects her relief that I’m not a crying, broken mess.
“Only just!” I grin so that she knows I’m only teasing.
I pick Chris up and walk back to where they have the puzzle laid out. He wiggles in my arms, ready to get back to his task. I join them on the floor and, as I’m the newcomer who obviously knows nothing about puzzles, I’m given the complete run down of his puzzle-building plan.
“Mommy, you first have to take the sides out,” he point to the pile of puzzle edges, “see, those are the ones with the flat bits. Then you have to put all the colours together, like this,” he picks up two pieces that are mostly green and ads it to the green pile.
“I see,” I feign deep concentration and bite my lip to stifle my mirth. He’s taking this very seriously. It’s adorable and so reminiscent of another bossy control freak I know. Across the table I catch my mom’s eye; she’s also trying hard to supress her smile.
Once we have all our instructions and Chris is satisfied that we understand what’s expected of us we start matting the pieces together. He keeps a close watch and quickly corrects us if we dare to do something outside the plan in his little boy brain.
It’s fun and relaxing and takes my mind off the day’s events. “Guess what buddy?” I cram my voice full of excitement and I ruffle his hair. My heart constricts at the significance of what tomorrow might bring. Nothing short of life changing.
His little copper head whips around to face me, eyes large and expectant and trusting. “Tomorrow is going to be a big day for us.” I pause to build his anticipation, still smiling brightly.
“Mommy has to do a bit of boring work tomorrow morning but after that we’ll be meeting a very special friend of mine, he’s going to take us somewhere, it’s a surprise!”
He claps his hands together and jumps up and down, “oohh, a surprise!” He’s beaming from ear to ear. “Where are we going mommy? Is your friend nice? Can we go now?” I’ve certainly managed to excite him, his questions bubbling over.
“It’s a surprise buddy!” I feign annoyance, teasing him. “If I tell you then it won’t be a surprise anymore! And yes, he is very nice; you’ll like him a lot! Like a whole, lot!” I explain, nerves and hope strumming through my mind.
I decide to share our new travel arrangements with my mom while Chris is here with us. I’m betting he’ll be so excited about going on a private plane that my mom won’t have the heart to tell me to change my mind. “And then…. he will take us home in his very own plane!” I quickly scan my mom’s expression, assessing but she seems fine, a little taken aback but fortunately not angry.
His eyes grow wide in wonder, “wow mommy, will the plane land in our street? Then we can call Joshua, can he come in the plane too?” He’s referring to our neighbour’s son and his best friend, the thought of showing off a real live plane has him vibrating with enthusiasm.
My mom and I share a hearty laugh. “No honey, it will still land at the airport and then we will drive from there. Joshua won’t be able to come on the plane this time but we can take some pictures and you can show him when you see him again.”
He’s clearly delighted and he runs around the lounge arms outstretched from his sides as he mimics a plane. “Yooo-hoo!”
We spend the rest of the afternoon finishing the puzzle and eating junk food, it’s our holiday after all.
“Do you need to prepare anything for your meeting tomorrow?” My mom asks as we start breaking up the beautiful sailboat puzzle. She knows how important tomorrow’s appointment is for me.
“No, but I do need to check my e-mail, Christian said that he’d mail me the details of our plans for tomorrow.” I’m quite curious to see what he’s managed to conjure up; no doubt it will be slightly over the top and very special.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to spend so much time with him tomorrow, the outing and then the plane trip?” She’s toying with a puzzle piece, almost manically as she unconsciously works off a little nervous energy. Her look is apprehensive.
“Oh mom, who knows?” I sigh, I keep my gaze averted, I’m not sure what she’ll read in their depths and I don’t want her to know how much I’m banking on tomorrow’s success. “I’m just trying to follow your advice, do what I need to do to fix things. I know that he would’ve been upset if I turned him down.” I shrug, my mouth turned down. I wish I knew what to do.
She holds up both her hands and shakes her head, “Okay darling, whatever. I just don’t want anybody to get hurt you know?” She pins me with a pointed look and I feel the heat rise to my face.
“I know mom,” I give her hand a reassuring pat and try to project some confidence. It’s time I take my leave; I don’t have the energy for another heart-to-heart. I get up, off the floor and head to my room. Time to face my e-mail.
As I start-up my laptop I feel the familiar flutter of little wings in my stomach. I can’t believe how excited I am to hear from him.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: outing tomorrow
Date: 16 October 2016 16:57
To: Anastasia Steele
I am pleased with the progress we made today and with my decision to meet my son. I have managed to find a venue that I feel confident will be suitable. We will be visiting the Barnacle Historic State park. It’s situated on the shore of the Biscayne Bay and has picnic facilities as well as a stunning historic homestead built by an influential pioneer and renowned yacht designer.
Please remember to send me a suitable time to collect you.
In the light of this new turn of events in our lives you are going to have to accommodate some changes. You know how I operate and I will appreciate your cooperation in these matters. Please trust me when I tell you that this is a heavily edited list of things that I will be expecting from you, I remember only too well how you feel about these things.
- If things go well tomorrow I would like your assurance that I will have unhindered access to Chris.
- I want to be involved in all parenting related matters and decisions.
- I have ordered a personal credit card for you that you will use in all expenses necessary to ensure Chris’ best care.
- You will have a security detail; this will include someone to accompany Chris to school.
- We will need to discuss schooling; I don’t feel that the institution that you have him enrolled in now is adequate.
- I have set up private health care for yourself and Chris.
- I have made a lump sum deposit into your bank account. This is an estimated, retrospective calculation of the child care costs that you have incurred up until now. This is obviously because I did not have an opportunity to contribute as I was unaware of his existence.
- You will receive a monthly alimony payment from now on.
I would like to reiterate that these terms are not negotiable.
I look forward to spending the day with you and Chris tomorrow.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Holy moly, he’s been busy! I put my head in my hands and exhale sharply. Oh, Fifty, Fifty, Fifty. I was expecting some sort of interference from him but this! And his tone – it’s like he’s dealing with some business associate, one he doesn’t particularly like.
Is there anything about us that he doesn’t know? I’ll need some time to process all of this; I’m not even sure how he sees this working in practice. We live so far apart; does he expect me to call him every time I make a decision? I snort. Yeah, that’s probably exactly what he’s demanding. And the school? Chris is only attending preschool! Are we already mapping out his future? This is too much!
A light bulb switches on in my head. He finally has an excuse to let his control freakery run wild! Chris has provided him with the perfect justification for his overbearing tendencies. What’s more normal than a father wanting to protect his son? It’s just, as always, he takes it five steps too far.
What can I say to him? I’m in no position to negotiate. I lied to him, ran way and kept him from his son. The burden of guilt is forcing me into a corner, coercing my compliancy. I’ll just be non-committal for now and see if I can reason with him over time.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: outing tomorrow
Date: 16 October 2016 17:31
To: Christian Grey
Thank you for your e-mail. The venue sounds ideal. What can we bring? You can collect us at 12:00pm. Chris is very excited about the plane trip.
I look forward to seeing you.
I hit send. There, that doesn’t say much at all! I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. I’m quite proud that I kept my cool. My subconscious gives me a stern nod, it’s not like you had any other choice.
I hear the ping of another e-mail. I take a gulp of air and brace myself, my calm from a moment ago already wearing thin – Christian can be so unpredictable.
From: Christian Grey
Subject: outing tomorrow
Date: 16 October 2016 17:45
To: Anastasia Steele
I know what you’re doing. Avoiding a conversation does not make it go away.
I’ve made the necessary arrangements for our flight tomorrow. Taylor has managed to get a full refund for your commercial flight tickets. I have transferred the money directly into your account. I have scheduled a lay-over in Savannah because I want to see your apartment. We can drop your mother off and then take you and Chris home.
We will pick you up at 12:00pm sharp, you do not need to bring anything other than your personal items.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
What? He wants to see where we live. I’m one hundred percent positive that he knows where we stay so he must just want to physically see it for himself. A hot rush of annoyance flushes through me. Crazy stalker. Probably wants to swoop in and interfere in some wild way.
If he buys us another place to live I will lose it! I like our apartment, it’s small and cosy, it’s home. I’m certain that Mr Exacting will find it lacking in some way. Has he no regard for arrangements that I might have made? I bristle, feeling exasperated that he simply assumes.
Not that you made any, my subconscious just had to ad her five cents worth.
What if I had organised someone to pick us up from the airport? What if I had plans… What if those plans included a someone and that someone was special….?
Mmhh, I muse, what if I had someone in my life? Christian used to think that half the world was in love with me. I scoff at the thought but I can’t help wondering if he still thinks that. A small smile plays at my lips, tugging at the corners; I remember how it used to drive him nuts.
Kate used to try and make him jealous all the time; she thought he had commitment issues; maybe I can use that now. A brave idea begins to takes shape in my mind – another way to give him a little nudge in my direction.
My inner goddess is rubbing her hands together with glee, a mischievous grin on her face.
I minimise my e-mail program and hop onto Google. I search for a flower delivery service in my neighbourhood. Five minutes later I’ve ordered myself a bouquet of flowers to be delivered tomorrow, to my front door with a card that reads: “Welcome home from: you know who, xx”. Thankfully I realise in time that it’s best not to add a name, Christian will investigate the poor guy to death if he really existed.
I re-cap the plan in my head so far:
- Romantic “date” tomorrow with Chris and Christian – with me being on my best behaviour.
- Fly back home together, ensuring more quality time to bond.
- Get flowers from an unnamed admirer – guaranteed to make Christian jealous.
- Don’t get angry and fight about anything no matter how stalkery and controlling he gets.
- Make sure that Christian sees his future with us.
It’s one thing to dream up this little scheme but what I really want, no need, is for it to work.
From: Anastasia Steele
Subject: outing tomorrow
Date: 16 October 2016 18:02
To: Christian Grey
You will be most welcome in our humble home. Please thank Taylor for his efforts regarding our commercial flight tickets.
Even though his demanding, presumptions e-mail is maddening I find it really hard not to give in to some flirty e-mail banter, I am so tempted to sign off with “laters baby” but It’s clear from his tone that formal is what he wants to do right now. I feel that I’ve no choice but to stick to my “serious, to-the-point-business” e-mail persona – for now. My inner goddess pulls a scowling face.
I close the laptop with a satisfied snap and go in search of Chris for bath time. After a drawn out bath we crawl into his bed together to read a story. This is one of my favourite times of the day. I love doing the voices in the books and watching his animated face, engrossed in the fictional events. I love that he loves books. I give him a long, good-night cuddle and kiss his sleepy face all over. My precious boy. I’m conscious of my emotions still hovering just below the surface, ready to spill over at the slightest whiff of sentiment. Boy, it’s been a taxing few days.
As I leave his room I gently close the door and roll my neck to stretch my tense, bunching muscles. I could do with a long, hot bath and some distracting reading material – I don’t want to think about my meeting tomorrow or our plans with Christian.
I find my mom curled up on the sofa watching an in-house movie. “I’m going to have a bath and an early night.” I’m still weary from last night’s intense talk and after a day like today I can’t face another one, if I’m not around she won’t have the opportunity to corner me into one.
I needn’t have worried, she’s so absorbed in the plot that she hardly notices, “Okay honey, enjoy,” she mumbles distractedly, not taking her eyes off the screen and waves me away, lost to the film.
Yay! No heavy mother-and-daughter chats. I make a dash for my bedroom before she has a change of heart.
After a long soak I slip between fresh, crisp sheets and revel in the simple pleasure for a moment. I don’t have to wait long for my eyelids to fall, grateful to shut out the draining day and my hopeful dreams, eager to steal me away from my worries and guilt.
I wake seconds before my alarm goes off and quickly reach for my phone to stop the irritating beep from starting. I hate that sound! I flop back onto the bed for a long stretch. I realise that I’ve had a great night, I feel rested, invigorated even. Must be the cunning plan I have in place to win my man back. I enjoy my smugness for a minute before my subconscious barks at me to keep it real, don’t count your chickens! Her eyes narrow, shaking a cautionary finger at me.
Today is D-day. Julie Logan and the publishing company that she represents is the key to my new future. I picked this publishing company for some very specific reasons. Firstly, Christian doesn’t own it in any way. Secondly, I really respect how they do business; they don’t edit the hell out of their very select and quirky clients. And lastly, I love their book cover artwork, marketing and distribution strategies. They’re innovative and unusual, an out the box kind of business. They just come across as a publishing company that prides themselves in working for the writers they represent.
When I left Christian I had to leave the publishing world behind as well. I took jobs that paid cash and didn’t ask too many questions. I had no choice, I was in hiding and I was broke and pregnant and heart broken. I couldn’t afford to see a shrink and I was avoiding my close friends and family so that they didn’t get caught up in the crossfire.
I certainly couldn’t confide in Jose, for my plan to work he had to believe that I was in love with him and not still pining after my ex-husband. I felt so alone and so very broken. The only thing I could do to keep my mind off the pain was to write about it. Every spare moment I had I poured my heartache into achingly sad, romantic novels.
So far I’ve completed five. I haven’t been brave enough to send them out into the world until now. They’ve always felt so personal, like they’re a part of me. But, things change and I think that they could become quite lucrative under the right guidance. I decided to set them free.
I posted the manuscripts to three of my well researched and short-listed publishing houses, just in case my first choice didn’t pan out. I sent my written babies out to find their wings and held my breath. I was stunned when I received calls from all three, requesting meetings. To get any interest at all is amazing and I had the privilege of choice. I settled on the Buy The Book publishing company and today I’ll be meeting with my possible editor, Julie Logan.
My stomach flips a worried and exited summersault. Just as I swing out of bed Chris comes bounding in, “we’re flying today mommy!” his spirited squeal is followed by a jump onto the bed where he bounces around, landing on his behind and tangling with the sheets.
I laugh and catch him as he jumps off the bed and into my arms. I gasp and my heart skips a beat, children are so trusting. He just assumes that I’ll be there to catch him. I wish we could hold on to that blind trust as adults I think ruefully.
After breakfast I carefully get ready. I’m going for sophisticated and confident. I do my hair up and keep my make-up neutral. My other good dress is in a classic 1950’s style. It’s black with a full skirt that ends right on my knee and tightly nipped in at the waist. Delicate spaghetti straps over the shoulders complete the very feminine look. I team it with stacked black pumps and cover the bodice with a red, short-sleeve fitted jacket, studded with tiny, incandescent glass beads. I’ll swap the heels for flats and lose the jacket for our picnic with Christian.
I stand in front of the full length mirror and cast a critical eye over my outfit. Yup, I think this says exactly what I want it to. My inner goddess and subconscious are beaming their endorsement.
After getting a further stamp of approval from my mom and Chris plus lots of good luck hugs, I grab a cab to the headquarters of the publishing company. My research is done, I have a list of questions that I would like to work through and of course, I have a price in mind. My confidence is slightly bolstered by the experience I gained working in the publishing industry. It wasn’t much but it’s probably more than most people in my position have. Let’s see if Julie Logan and I are on the same page. I roll my eyes at my unintended little pun.
I arrive five minutes early and the welcoming receptionist treats me like a friend. “It’s good to meet you Ms Steele, Julie is expecting you.” Her greeting instantly makes me feel at ease.
She shows me to a waiting area. “She will be with you shortly,” she winks consolatory and gives my shoulder a reassuring squeeze when she passes me to go back to her station.
I smile my gratefulness and settle into a modern seat. The fluttering in my belly underlines my uneasiness and I take a deep, steadying breath. I exhale, imagining all the tension leaving my body along with the expelled air.
A tall, elegant African-American woman dressed in a dove grey, designer pants suit strides into the waiting area. She’s all smiles and quiet authority. She looks like she knows exactly what she’s doing and I’m impressed if not a little intimidated. Tall woman always do that to me.
Shortly before reaching me she extends an arm, “Ms Steele, good day to you. I’m Julie. Thank you so much for making the trip to come and see us, we’re delighted to have an opportunity to pitch to you.” Her rich, chocolate eyes meet mine with no hesitation and I immediately feel my tentativeness melt away.
I take her proffered hand and return her firm shake. I marshal my inner girls to help me look self-assured. “Hi Julie, I’m happy to be here and please, call me Ana.”
We pause for a moment sizing each other up with big smiles pasted on our faces. It only takes a second but we’re both aware of the all-important, first impression moment. I find that I like her already; I just hope that the feeling is mutual.
She steers me to the sleek conference room, all the while chatting animatedly. Even though it’s obvious that she’s trying to make me feel at ease it doesn’t feel forced and I let myself relax. Things are looking very good so far.
We take our seats and after she offers me a drink we get down to business. She gushes about the manuscript that I’ve sent her and a new hope unfurls in my heart, filling it with a joy that’s been lacking for a while.
Imagine being a paid and published author! I listen and lap it up with relish. Most of what she tells me I already know from my research but I really wanted to see how they live their impressive mission statement. As she talks I begin to see how Julie is the embodiment of what appealed to me about this company. It’s like hearing a choir sing in beautiful and perfect harmony.
She finishes her spiel and I launch into my questions. Her answers only inspire my confidence further and I think she can sense a deal because she breaks out the contract. It’s a fat ream of paper, important looking and a meaningful symbol of freedom for me. Crunch time.
She goes through some of the terms and I lose her a few times. I never sat in on the negotiations with prospective authors. I only ever read manuscripts and made recommendations about their work. I clearly have a bigger gap in my publishing knowledge that I thought but pride pushes me to plough on. I’m not ready to admit that I can’t do this on my own, I’m sure my confidence will return.
“Ana, have you given any thought to what you would expect as an advance if you were to sign with us?”
Clever, I think. Always ask before you make an offer, that way she can be sure never to offer more than I might have been willing to take. I have given this a great deal of thought and I know that advances for first time writers, especially for fiction, are a whole lot less that what you would think.
I also have a negotiating trick up my sleeve, I’ll ask for more than I am willing to take so that we have a decent point to negotiate from. “I was thinking in the region of $40 000.00.” My flush instantly betrays my discomfort; that I’m way out of my depth.
Oh, traitorous body! Part of me feels like I’m madly audacious to ask for money for something that I’ve written but the other half believes that I can tell the difference between a good and a great read. The million dollar question is whether I can make an accurate appraisal of my own work. My thoughts are volleying between yes and no, making the butterflies in my belly beat their wings aggressively. I tilt my head to the side and watch her carefully, will she give anything away?
She draws in some air, her eyes narrow as she purses her lips. Her eyes dart to the contract then back to me. “Wow Ana, that’s a big number,” her mouth settles into a regretful line. “I was going to offer you $20 000.00. You’re a first time writer and I don’t need to tell you the risk we’re shouldering to put your work out there.” The shrug of her shoulders makes it seem like it’s the best she’s willing to do.
She sounds so reasonable and I like her so much, I’m already unwilling to disappoint her. Suddenly I feel like a little girl, incompetent and rudderless. I long for Christian’s decisive manner and incredible insight into all things business. How great would it be to have him here to help me negotiate this? The realization that I need him comes as a shock, a jolt that hits me like a bolt of lightning.
I’ve always know that I need him to make me whole, to fulfil my being, but I never knew that I needed him to be the big, strong, man-of-the-house to lean on. Someone I could look up to and get advice from, even learn from. I was so sure that I could do this on my own, no agent and definitely no Christian. Wow, that’s cut me down to size!
Suddenly the contract with all its technical jargon and financial terms overwhelms me. My fighting spirit – left and nowhere to be found. All I want to do is run to him and beg for help. I scrape the vestiges of my flailing courage together, “Julie, I know we’re in the middle of negotiations here and I’m very impressed with BTB so far,” I meet her gaze and go with honest, pressing my lips into a thin line I press on, “I’m a little out of my depth here. Can I please take the contract and have a bit of time to think about it?”
Her mouth snaps shut and her face is splashed with her surprise but, to her credit she gathers her wits quickly, “Ana, you’re doing great, we’re negotiating remember?” Her tone is reassuring; she doesn’t want to scare me off.
“Thank you and I know,” I sigh, what can I say to make her understand? “It’s just that there’s someone else involved and I really need to square this with him first.” My voice is a little breathless, anxious and I blink back a shallow tear. My explanation doesn’t begin to convey what’s going on in my head and it’s pointless to try. I just need to go.
“I really am very interested, in fact, sold on your company….and you,” I put my hand on her forearm to express my sincerity and find her eyes. Please don’t be disappointed in me, I beg in my head.
She searches mine for further clues and then relents. “Okay Ana, no problem.” She pushes her chair back and stands then hands me a copy of the contract. “If you want, we can set up a meeting with the both of you. Is that what it will take to make you feel more comfortable?” She’s regained her equilibrium and now she’s in full consolatory mode.
I get up and take it from her, “that would be great, thank you Julie and thank you for understanding.” I try to send her a mental hug, I’m so grateful that she isn’t pushing me right now. I hate being sold.
She walks me out and air kisses me goodbye on both sides of my face when we reach reception. “I’ll be waiting for your call Ana; this is the right place for you and your work.” She leaves me with that, turns on her heel and heads back to her office.
I step through the doors and hail another taxi, deeply embroiled in my latest revelation. Who knew? I need Christian. He’d be smirking his head off if he knew I felt this way. Isn’t that a sign of maturity, learning that you don’t know everything and there’s no shame in asking for help?
Be kind and review, please.