I scraped my long, wavy dark-brown hair back into a messy bun before spritzing my favorite perfume on my wrists and neck. Kate, my girlfriend, had gotten me the bottle of Acqua di Parma perfume back in February for Valentine’s Day – along with the promise that we would go to Sicily together once we had both graduated from college. My mother was born in Sicily, and I grew up speaking both English and Italian, along with a few phrases of Sicilian, although I’ve never had a chance to go back and visit the country my mother is from. You’d never know I was half Italian from looking at me though, as I inherited my father’s pale skin and light blue eyes. He died one day after I was born, but I’ve seen old pictures of him and my mom – her olive skin, dark hair, and dark eyes contrasting with his pale skin, silvery-blond hair and powder blue eyes.
With one last look at myself in the bedroom mirror, I swept out to the living room, where my aforementioned girlfriend was sitting on the couch, looking truly miserable. “Ana, thank you so much for doing this!” she said, with a giant sniffle. “I’ve asked literally everyone on the paper but it’s too last minute and with finals coming up, no one can spare the time. Or the gas,” she finished ruefully.
“It’s really no problem,” I said, reaching over to tuck a wisp of curly, strawberry blonde hair behind her ear – even sick, she’s still beautiful. “I just don’t understand why you couldn’t call and reschedule.”
She rolled her bright green eyes at me. “Ugh, don’t even get me started on that. I already called his company. His secretary told me that ‘Mr. Grey’s time is extraordinarily precious, and I’m afraid he doesn’t have another opening for an interview until November.’
“That’s bullshit, Ana. I can’t wait six months. He’s giving a lot of money to the school, so much that he’ll be the one giving out the degrees at graduation. This piece needs to be in the special graduation issue of the newspaper, and honestly, getting the interview on May 9th was already cutting it kind of close. And I scheduled this stupid interview back in August.”
She flopped back on the couch with disgust and I could see tears of frustration pricking at the corners of her eyes. My heart went out to her. I knew how annoyed she was with herself for getting sick and not being able to reschedule or getting someone who was actually interested in journalism to cover for her.
She angrily brushed the beginnings of her tears and grabbed a manila folder off the coffee table. “Here’s a list of questions I prepared for you to ask him. There’s also some background information about him in there too. If you have time when you get there, read through the questions and background info. It’ll help you feel more prepared. Record the interview on this so I can get some quotes, and try to take notes on the stuff I can’t hear. Like facial expressions, body language, stuff like that. This article has to be complimentary so try to focus on positives, even if he turns out to be an asshole.”
I took the folder and recorder and shoved them in my bag. “It’ll be fine, baby. Stop worrying. I made you some soup, it’s in the fridge if you get hungry. Other than that, just try to rest. I called off work today so as soon as I get back we can watch some shitty rom-com together. Okay?”
Kate smiled at me. “You’re right. Go get ‘em Banana.”
I pulled up in front of Christian Grey’s office building about fifteen minutes early. His office building looked to be about twenty stories, was a rather nondescript office building. Honestly, the only reason I even knew it was his is because this is where Google Maps had directed me. I switched off the navigation on my iPhone and made my way inside to check in.
I checked in with the pretty blonde at the large sandstone desk with no issues and flashed my visitor’s badge and key card to the security guard stationed by the elevator. I’m sure the ride up to the twentieth floor didn’t take that long, but elevators have always freaked me out, ever since I got stuck in one by myself when I was eight, so I passed the whole ride basically holding my breath and was relieved when the doors dinged and I could step out.
Christian Grey’s office was basically a replica of the lobby, right down to the pretty blonde sitting at the matching desk. “Ms. Steele, Mr. Grey will be ready for you in just a few moments. May I take your coat?”
At her question, I awkwardly struggled out of my purple rain coat, blushing a little at how long it too me. She was perfectly polite though, and made no attempt to rush me.
Please take a seat,” she said pleasantly after taking my coat from me, gesturing to a waiting area filled with white leather chairs. I took a seat on one and fished the folder out of my bag, wanting to read through the questions and biography before I had to pretend I knew what I was doing.
The questions were standard for the most part, stuff about his company and investments, to what did he attribute his enormous success to, etc. There were a couple personal questions about his adoptive family and whether or not he was gay, but I assumed Kate must have had a reason for them. Checking my phone, I saw that it was only four minutes to two, so I skimmed through the brief bio quickly. He was 27, appeared to be single, and ran a telecommunications company. Despite his company focusing on telecommunications he also invested heavily in agriculture and manufacturing. He had been adopted by Carrick Grey and Grace Trevelyan when he was young, four years old.
I was interrupted from perusing his biography by the sound of a deep voice calling out “Golf this week Grey!” The man the voice belonged to was very handsome, tall and muscular with deep brown skin. He grinned a toothy smile at me and the two women by the reception desk. “Afternoon, ladies,” he said cheerfully, before sweeping into the elevator.
“Ms. Steele, you can head on in now,” said the woman I checked in with, a polite smile accompanying her words.
I hastily shoved the manila folder back into my bag and stood up a little unsteadily, my nerves beginning to get the best of me. One-on-one interviews weren’t really my thing. In fact, any sort of formal speaking situation wasn’t my thing. Whereas Kate was more than cut out to be an excellent reporter, my dream was to work in publishing. Ideally I’d like to be a commissioning editor, but my plan was to start out with translation work since I speak fluent Italian.
I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders, trying to channel the confidence that my girlfriend would have been displaying right now. I marched up to the rather intimidating dark wood door and knocked sharply before pushing the door open.
The next thing I knew I was sprawled out on plush white carpeting in Mr. Grey’s office. I could feel my face heating up, and I was sure it was a hideous red shade by now. I closed my eyes, getting ready to try and regain even an ounce of professionalism. I was startled by large hands around my waist pulling me up. Now, I am a small woman. I’m only 5’ 3” and weigh between 100-105 lbs. depending on the day and what I’ve eaten. I still don’t think that being small made bodily picking me up from the ground easier than offering a hand. In fact, it made me feel a little like a child, which is pretty much the last thing I wanted to feel when I was already nervous about interviewing an extremely wealthy and successful man.
After what felt like ages but was probably only a couple seconds I was back on my feet and able to look up at him. He was tall, and young, with a lean, muscular sort of body. He was dressed in a charcoal suit that fit him well and was a few shades darker than his bright grey eyes. His unruly hair was copper colored. I might be gay, but I could admit that he wasn’t bad to look at.
“Miss Kavanagh,” he said, extending a well-manicured hand towards me. I smiled through my blush at him, grateful he seemed to be glossing over my embarrassing entrance. “Are you alright? Would you like to sit?”
At his words I felt a little awkward. Hadn’t someone let him know that Kate couldn’t come and I’d be here instead? Maybe he just didn’t care. I’d met plenty of men, most of them rich, who seemed to look right through all people of a lower social class than them.
“Um, actually,” I muttered as he led me to a seat on a white leather L-shaped couch that matched the ones from the lobby. “Kate – Ms. Kavanagh was unable to make it today, so she sent me instead.”
I took a seat and met his grey eyes. “And you are?” he asked, blankly, taking a seat opposite me on the couch. His tone was polite, but he seemed disinterested. That’s fair. In his position I probably wouldn’t care who interviewed me, and it’s not like he knows Kate personally so he wouldn’t know her from me anyway.
“My name is Ana Steele. I’m studying English Lit with Ms. Kavanagh at WSU.”
“I see,” he said simply.
At a loss for something else to say, I pulled out the manila folder with Kate’s questions, as well as the mini recorder and a notebook to take some notes for Kate. “Um, sorry,” I said, looking at the mini recorder. “I’ve never turned this on before, give me a minute.”
I could feel my cheeks burning again as I took just a hair too long to set up the recorder. Internally, I wished for my mother’s coloring. She never blushes. When the recorder was finally set up I turned back to Mr. Grey with a sheepish smile. “Sorry about that. You don’t mind if I record the interview so Kate can listen back, do you?” I asked.
“After you’ve taken so much trouble to set it up, you ask me now?” he said.
I could feel my blush return full force. As handsome as he was I didn’t really like him. I know I’m not an exceptionally elegant person like he appeared to be, but it felt like he was trying to make me feel stupid.
“No, I don’t mind,” he said, when I didn’t answer him.
“Okay,” I said, squaring my shoulders in an attempt to get my confidence back. What would Kate do? “Did Ms. Kavanagh explain what this interview would be used for?”
“Yes. To appear in the graduation issue of the student newspaper as I shall be conferring the degrees at this year’s graduation ceremony.”
“Okay, good.” I glanced down at Kate’s list and read off the first question: “You’re only 27, very young to have amassed such an empire. To what do you owe your success?” I looked up at him to gauge his reaction for my notes.
He smiled ruefully before answering. “Business is all about people, Miss Steele, and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well.” He paused and looked at me.
Is there more?
I was about to move onto my next question when he continued. “My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that. I make decisions based on logic and facts. I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people. The bottom line is, it’s always down to good people.”
I could feel a grimace forming on my face. “Maybe you’re just lucky?” I said, just barely managing to turn it up at the end to sound like a question. This wasn’t one of Kate’s questions, but that was such an arrogant answer. “Incentivize” isn’t even a word. Motivate, yes, but not incentivize. And knowing every detail of his business inside and out? That just sounded like micromanaging. Not to mention that “logics and facts” are not the same thing as “gut instinct.” I was conscious that Kate wanted to write a positive article, but I couldn’t stop myself from scribbling down “control freak” and “arrogant” in my notebook.
I looked up just in time to catch his answer. “I don’t subscribe to luck or chance, Miss Steele. The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people on your team and directing their energies accordingly. I think it was Harvey Firestone who said ‘the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.’” His eyes were narrowed, as if to ask how I could dare to call him lucky.
I briefly thought about abandoning this thread of conversation and going back to Kate’s questions, but instead I just blurted out “You sound like a control freak.”
“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,” he smarmed back, not a trace of humor in his toothy smile.
I could feel my eyebrow start to lift in disbelief as I refused to break his gaze. Was he trying to flirt with me? He kept his gaze on me, lifting one finger up to stroke his lower lip. Well, I knew he was trying to flirt with me now.
“Besides, immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things,” he continued in a soft voice.
Fucking what? If you think you can control things, you can? Sorry, buddy, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works.
Before I could come up with an appropriate response, he continued speaking. “I employ over forty thousand people, Miss Steele. That gives me a certain sense of responsibility – power, if you will. If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the telecommunications business and sell up, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments after a month or so.”
My mouth dropped open. I was honestly staggered by his complete lack of humility. Aside from that, another thing stuck out to me. I remembered reading that his company was named Grey Holdings Enterprises Inc. In addition to my major in English Lit, I was doing a minor in finance. And I was pretty sure that incorporated companies had boards that the CEO had to answer to before making any massive decisions, such as selling his entire company.
“Don’t you have a board to answer to?” I ask, disgusted.
“I own my company. I don’t have to answer to a board,” he said, raising an eyebrow at me, as if to imply that I should’ve known better than to ask him that.
I felt my face flush yet again, an unfortunate response to confrontation, but I forged ahead. “If you don’t have a board, then what does the ‘Inc.’ at the end of your company name stand for?” I said, making my voice as sugary sweet as possible to try and give him an out and salvage Kate’s interview.
“Incorporated, of course,” he scoffed, seeming to think that his answer would make me feel even stupider.
But I felt my cheeks cool off as I gained confidence, realizing that yes, I was right about this. And I was about to make him look like an idiot. The thought made me very happy. “I see. But in all my finance classes, we were told that corporations were created by a group of shareholders who have ownership in that corporation, which is usually represented by holding stock. Those shareholders elect a board of directors who oversee the management of the corporation. Your company is incorporated, ergo it is a corporation. So, I’ll ask again, what would your board do if you tried to sell the entire company without their input? I imagine they would have you step down from CEO at the very least.”
By the end of my little speech, my voice had turned from sugar into the type of voice you use when you’re trying to explain a very simple concept to a four-year-old who just doesn’t get it.
Mr. Grey looked absolutely murderous and I had to fight to keep my bland, customer service smile from morphing into a vengeful grin.
“What I meant, of course, is that while I don’t have to answer to the board for the mundane, day-to-day workings of my company—” he said, emphasizing that it was his company, “I would certainly consult them about any major decisions that would have a large impact on the company.”
Bullshit. But I could tell that he was embarrassed and angry, and I needed to make sure that there was enough positive material for Kate’s article, so I scanned the list of questions until I found one to change the subject and hopefully make him look better. “Do you have many interests outside your work?”
“I have varied interests, Miss Steele.” A ghost of a smile crossed his lips, but the tone in which he said it was extremely threatening. “Very varied.”
I scribbled down “awful at flirting” while I suppressed a shudder at the menace in his voice.
“Like what?” I prompted when he didn’t continue with examples.
“I sail, I fly, I indulge in various… physical… pursuits.”
I grimaced. Sex wasn’t really a hobby Kate would want to write about in the school newspaper. I saw him shift in his seat and quickly glanced down at my notebook, almost afraid that if I looked at him he’d have gotten a boner.
“I’m a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive and absorbing hobbies.”
I quickly picked a new question, wanting to get off this topic that felt vaguely like sexual harassment. “You invest in manufacturing. Why, specifically?” I asked, relieved that when I looked back at him he was sitting normally with no visible erection. He made me very uncomfortable.
“I like to build things. I like to know how things work: what makes things tick, how to construct and deconstruct. And I have a love of ships. What can I say?”
That has nothing to do with telecommunications, so, in an effort to try and make him look at least slightly good for Kate’s article, I said “That sounds like your heart talking, rather than logic or facts.”
He smirked and said, almost to himself more than to me “Possibly. Though there are those that would say I don’t have a heart.”
I almost groaned. Buddy, I am trying so hard to help you out. Stop saying shit that makes you look like a dickhole. “Why would they say that?” I asked, hoping he’d dig himself out of this hole.
“Because they know me well.” His lips curled into a wry smile and I had to briefly close my eyes I was getting so annoyed with him.
“Would your friends say you’re easy to get to know?” I asked, simply because talking about his friends was just about the only way I could think of to try and get him likeable again. It wasn’t on Kate’s list, but I was running out of shit to say that wouldn’t make him look worse than he already is.
“I’m a very private person, Miss Steele. I go a long way to protect my privacy. I don’t often give interviews…” he trailed off and I wanted to scream at him. I felt bad for Kate. I didn’t know how she was gonna make this asshole look good at all.
“Why did you agree to do this one?” I asked, hoping against hope that his answer would reveal some sort of nice side. It was hard to believe that a person could be this unpleasant.
“Because I’m a benefactor of the University, and for all intents and purposes, I couldn’t get Miss Kavanagh off my back. She badgered and badgered my PR people, and I admire that kind of tenacity.”
Finally! Something that Kate could spin to make him look good. I mean, yes, it kind of made Kate herself look bad, but he said he admired something! Progress!
“You also invest in farming technologies. Why are you interested in this area?” I asked eagerly, hoping for another answer that Kate would be able to use in her article.
“We can’t eat money, Miss Steele, and there are too many people on this planet who don’t have enough to eat.”
“That sounds very philanthropic,” I said, smiling, because even though it was pretty much Charity 101 for rich people, it made him sound like a good guy and Kate could use it. “Is feeding the world something you feel passionate about?”
He shrugged noncommittally. “It’s shrewd business.”
I struggled to resist the urge to roll my eyes. It was like whenever he said something that could potentially make him a good guy he had to immediately counteract it. If Kate was trying to write a story about how much of a shit stain Grey was this interview would be awesome. So, let’s just say that I was glad that I wasn’t the one who had to write this article.
I skip Kate’s question about his philosophy, and move down to the last couple of questions – these ones about his personal life – in a last ditch effort to make him likeable. “You were adopted. How do you think that has shaped the way you are?”
I stared at him, waiting for his answer. His brow furrowed and he said, dismissively, “I have no way of knowing.”
While not the answer I was hoping for, it was sort of fair. His bio said he was adopted when he was four, and it’s not like he’d remember much of his life before the age of four, so his life with his adoptive family was probably all he knew.
“Would you say you’ve had to sacrifice family for work?” I asked next.
“I have a family. I have a brother and a sister and two loving parents. I’m not interested in extending my family beyond that,” he answered tersely. And, fair enough. While Kate and I both know that we want children someday, it is an equally acceptable life choice to not want children. I did wonder about whether he saw marriage in his future, and I glanced down at her last question.
“Are you gay, Mr. Grey?” I asked lightly. And boy, did that question get a reaction!
He inhaled sharply and fixed his angry gaze on me. I was too startled by his reaction to say anything. I didn’t really understand why Kate would want that question asked, but his reaction was extreme. He was angry that I had dared to presume he was gay. As it always did when someone demonstrated they weren’t okay with gay people, my heart constricted in a combination of fear and anger.
“No, Anastasia, I’m not.” He raised his eyebrows, a glint of anger shining in his eyes.
I did not like that he used my first name. I would prefer if he continued to call me Ms. Steele, especially since he seemed to be using my first name as a way of trying to chide me. I tucked a piece of escaped hair behind my ear and tried to forge on. “I’m just trying to get through all of Ms. Kavanagh’s questions, Mr. Grey.” I attempted to continue with a question about why he demonstrated such a strong reaction to this question but not the other personal ones I had asked, but he beat me to speaking.
“These aren’t your own questions?” Just as quickly as it showed up, his anger seemed to dissipate.
“N-no?” I said. I didn’t mean it to sound like a question, but I was confused. He knew Kate was the one who was supposed to give the interview, why wouldn’t he assume that I was asking questions that Kate wanted answered. “Ms. Kavanagh came up with the questions.”
“Are you colleagues on the student paper?”
I thought about lying, since I knew it would come across as unprofessional that Kate had gotten her girlfriend to cover her interview instead of a coworker, but dammit, he’d been unprofessional throughout the entire interview, and I was feeling petty. “No, Ms. Kavanagh is my… roommate.”
With how he’d reacted to the question of whether or not he was gay, I was afraid how he’d react to the news that I was gay, so I edited a little.
He rubbed his chin, appearing to think about what he wanted to say. I surreptitiously checked my watch. It was nearly 2:30, and thirty minutes of material was probably enough for Kate. I was planning how to make my exit when he spoke again.
“Did you volunteer to do this interview?” he asked, deadly malice in his voice.
“She got sick last night. It was too last minute for any of her coworkers to come, so she asked me if I would. She tried to reschedule, but apparently that was impossible,” I said, in as snarky a tone as possible.
Before Grey had a chance to respond, there was a knock at his door and one of the blonde women entered. “Excuse me, Mr. Grey,” she said. “Your next meeting is in two minutes.”
“We’re not finished here, Andrea. Please cancel my next meeting,” he snapped at Andrea.
As Andrea stood there gaping at him I took my chance. “Oh, no, that won’t be necessary Mr. Grey. We’re all finished here,” I said, dumping my supplies into my large tote.
“Thank you for meeting with me. I got plenty of material for the article.” I stuck my hand out at the still sitting Grey. It was his turn to gape. He clearly wasn’t used to people defying him. When he stayed seated I just took my hand back and left his office, this time managing to keep my feet, thank god.
Andrea trailed after me as I quickly walked up to the reception desk to retrieve my coat, eager to be out of Grey’s office.
As the other woman sitting at reception approached me with my coat on her arm, I heard Grey call out from behind me, “Did you have a coat, Anastasia?”
“Yes,” I said, grabbing my coat from the blonde before he could do anything else weird. I smiled a thanks at her and shrugged it on while walking towards the elevator.
And then, I swear to god, Grey must’ve sprinted past me to be able to push the elevator call button before I could press it myself. I turned an incredulous face to him while he stared down at me with a smug smile. Now that the interview was over I had given up any pretense of professional courtesy. I rolled my eyes at him and turned back to face the elevator.
The doors opened after what seemed like forever and I stepped in, steeling myself to turn around and face Fuckface again. When I looked at him he was leaning against the wall in a pose that he must’ve meant to look nonchalant but just looked awkward.
“Anastasia,” he said as the doors closed.
“Fuckface,” I muttered after the doors had closed.
As the elevator whizzed down to the ground floor, a thought occurred to me. I hadn’t introduced myself as Anastasia, I had said my name was Ana, which many people hear as ‘Anna,’ which is a full name on its own. I groaned out loud when I realized that he must’ve known that I was here instead of Kate, since I’d introduced myself to the receptionist as ‘Anastasia Steele.’ But even when he’d known who I was and why I was here, he still decided to be a dick and acted like he’d been expecting Kate.
“What a dick,” I said just as the elevator doors opened. A surprised security guard turned to me when he heard me speak, but I was too angry to explain, so I just shoved my key card and visitor pass at him and stormed out of the building to drive home to my girlfriend.
At least I never had to see this asshole ever again.