Most people don’t think about how they might die. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll go out with your life really meaning something. You save a school bus full of kids, you push a person out of the way just in time, or you donate a vital organ when you know you won’t survive.
It isn’t until my body is drenched in blood I even realize what’s happening. There’s someone lying on top of me and my hands are cuffed to the edge of the bed. I have blood dripping down my chest and soaking my white blouse that’s been torn open half way. I look up and all I can see this close to losing consciousness are a set of piercing blue eyes.
“It’s okay, Anastasia. I’m here.”
Most people don’t think about how they might end up killing someone either.
One Year Earlier
“Right this way, Miss Kavanagh.”
I followed a prim and proper blonde to a set of steel elevator doors passing right by a sleek plaque reading Grey Enterprises. I thought, maybe, my disguise with Kate’s jewelry, wardrobe, and her insistence on curling my hair into perfection might have given me the false confidence I needed to pretend to be a reporter. As the elevator rushed up to the top floor with dizzying speed I questioned why I agreed to this meeting in the first place.
I step out into a massive foyer with a long desk where two assistants sit. Both blonde, both beautiful--Am I interviewing an entrepreneur or Hugh Hefner? Look, I’ve got nothing wrong with seeing other girls in corporate positions like these, but this place feels a lot more like a barbie doll house than a 55-story office building dedicated to expansion in global business, agriculture, and telecommunication. Does he hire any male staff or is he just collecting trophies?
I should have dressed down. As I approach yet another desk which feels like an unnecessary level of security, I unpin the updo Kate slaved over and let my frumpy brown mass of hair be the wild nest that it is. If I’m going to stand out I guess I need to be a plain Jane.
“I’m here to interview Christian Grey. I’m Katherine Kavanagh from Washington State University Vancouver.”
I’ve practiced this line so many times in the mirror I almost sound professional rambling it off to the woman in front of me.
“You’re early. He’ll be pleased,” The assistant--I catch her name tag reading Carol Bush--reassures me.
Good thing I’m not here to please him, Carol. I’m here to pick him apart if Kate’s ridiculous line of questioning she made me rehearse is anything to go by.
“I make a point to always have a good first impression. I hope Mr. Grey will continue to do business with our column.”
I don’t wait for her to open the door to his office. Instead, I see myself in, running on the short-lived boost of confidence I have until I see this guy standing in front of a large window, the Seattle rain drenched skyline in the backdrop.
He’s gorgeous, or maybe that suit just does him justice. I’ve always been jealous of men polishing up so well that I started being fond of wearing suits myself.
He’s wearing Armani and I’m wearing Kate’s Christian Dior black and white suit, italian cut yet made for women to wear with these black pumps that are challenging my balance. I wish I had worn flats.
I walk forward, setting my shoulders back to get another few centimeters on my five feet and eight inches to his six foot two.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Grey.”
“Likewise, Miss Kavanagh.”
Yes! He bought it! He hasn’t seen a picture of her, and I feel at ease all over again. I can’t help noticing some slight smirk in his expression and I’m wondering if I’ve made some sort of social faux pas already in just introducing myself.
“Sit,” He waves a hand toward two chairs opposite each other. “Make yourself comfortable. You’ve got your full ten minutes.”
Alright, Anastasia, make those minutes damn well count. Kate needs these and there is no way I’m going back empty handed after getting this far. Clumsily, I set out the digital recorder in between us and take out my shabby scratch pad of paper.
“You’re a twenty-seven year old CEO, a multi-millionaire, and have been named man of the year by Time Magazine,” I prompt, trying to earn a little credibility in doing my research.
“Public knowledge, Kathrine.”
He doesn’t seem the least bit impressed, but I can’t lose my edge.
“I’m not interested in how you’ve cultivated success, Christian. I’m interested in why someone so young wants to outshine even the Koch Brothers, but he chooses agriculture of all industries to invest in when your primary business assets are in the telecommunications sector of the market.”
This part I’m good at. I don’t like it when people think I can’t keep up so my mouth gets ahead of me before my brain can think of a more polite way to phrase things.
“Shouldn’t the answer be obvious?” He muses, finally taking the chair beside me. Up close I can get a better look at him and he is a tall glass of water I’d like to drink. Too bad he is way out of my league and this is strictly for business.
“You’re not auditioning for Miss America. I’m conducting an interview and I doubt you’re all that interested in feeding the hungry all across the globe,” I can’t help being cynical. People with money and power always act as if they’ve got some secret the rest of us don’t know about. They’re somehow benefitting so many lives by simply existing. If he isn’t going to give me a straight answer I’m not going to give him the conversational mobility to claim he has a noble cause with his company.
“That’s precisely what our innovations aim to do. We’ve developed crops that can exist in harsh conditions from the blazing desert sun to an icy tundra, improved the method and cost local farmers use to bolster their own business within the area, and we’ve decreased commercial game waste by 4% in the last five years,” His tirade has me falling silent, looking ashamed.
“So you do care.”
“Why?” I’ve stopped looking at my notes and he’s noticed. I don’t have any cleavage in this suit so I doubt he has much else to look down at other than my pen completely still on my pad of paper.
“It’s important to me,” He answers, finally, after a long pause. His gaze returns to mine and I have the gall to keep it. He isn’t going to intimidate me if that’s what he thinks he’s doing.
“Just as important as the 150,000 jobs I’ve given all the employees staffed in this building after expanding my company as far as I have. Good business is self sustaining. Nothing can afford to be wasted.”
I smile to myself, scratching down a note finally. I think I have an angle for Kate’s article and she is going to go nuts about it.
“A millionaire with a heart of gold. You have to have a partner in this.”
“I’m not seeing anyone.”
I must have looked so confused for him to burst into a chuckle. I think I like him better when he smiles. Enigmatic corporate executive isn’t much for conversation.
“Are you gay?”
This time he laughs and my cheeks light up fire engine red.
“From time to time,” He sounds lackadaisical I can’t help but think he might be yanking my chain.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I don’t date, Miss Kavanagh. I hardly see what that has to do with my company.”
He is right. We’re getting a little off topic. I try to save face in clearing my throat and glancing back down to the pre-written question list I have to search for guidance. It’s the tell that gives me away. Reporters don’t stall for questions and here I am trying to rifle through to get something useful.
“I have question for you,” He interrupts my thoughts and I immediately look up, wide eyed and a little nervous.
“What’s your real name?”
I guess it was only a matter of time until I got caught. Kate and I don’t really make the best doppelgangers, but I thought I was home free when he still addressed me as my best friend. He didn’t seem to know the difference when I came into the room.
I choose honesty over keeping this charade going any longer.
“Katherine is sick with the flu and she asked me to interview you. I don’t like to disappoint my friends as much as you don’t like to see resources go to waste.”
Christian stands, approaching me. He towers over me but I try not to let it phase me.
“I’d like to show you something, now that you’ve stopped lying.”
“You’re not exactly the blonde, cutthroat journalist who blew up my assistants’ phones for several week straight fighting tooth and nail for this interview. I didn’t have to guess.”
Defeated, I push myself up out of my chair, notebook in hand. It’s only that last second I turn to grab the digital recorder, but his hand catches my wrist.
“You won’t need it. This is something you’ll have to take pictures of rather than record,” I don’t know if I trust his smile and the iron grip he has on my wrist that almost bruises. I yank myself free and straighten my tie.
“After you, Christian.”
He sits me down at his desk while he leans over the back of the chair clicking through a few files on his computer until an image pops up. They look like construction plans.
“On the outskirts of the city is a sector of abandoned buildings we are planning to demolish and cultivate back into land the agriculture industry can expand into.”
“This is incredible!”
“It is, and your friend is going to be the first one to exclusively report on it.”
I’m floored. Maybe I can make a good impression after all. If I can get my hands on even copies of this--I’ve hit the jackpot and I hope Kate finally thinks I’ve gotten out of my bubble. I just scored interesting details from a CEO! She’ll be thrilled.
“In exchange,” I should have seen this coming. “I’d like to know about you.”
The blonde, Carol, I saw from before steps through his office doors.
“Mr. Grey, your next appointment is here--”
“Cancel it. We’re not finished.”
“No, it’s fine. I have plenty. Don’t let me get in the way.” I tuck a piece of hair behind my ear, biting down on my lip. I don’t want him to think he has to be overly generous toward me just because I don’t have the same fire in my personality as Kate did tracking him down.
“I insist.” We’re not really at proper talking distance with him leaning over my shoulder. I feel self conscious but I’m not sure why. The chair slides forward on it’s wheels and I brace the desk with both my hands on the table. Is he. . .?
“Do you mind?”
“Of course, not,” He stays in place, comfortable as can be and annoyance bubbles underneath my skin. “You’re not a reporter so what is your major?”
“English literature,” I answer plainly giving him the same canned responses he gave me at first.
“Who made you fall in love for the first time? The Bronte Sisters, Thomas Hardy, or F. Scott Fitzgerald?”
“Shakespeare, Mr. Grey,” He isn’t completely off the mark, but when I decided I couldn’t study anything else it was first time I had ever read one of Shakespeare’s plays. I feel the heat rising again to cheeks as his voice takes on a smooth, deeper tone.
“These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die like fire and powder, which as they kiss consume,” He pulls away immediately afterward and I’m left breathless. At least I’m not trapped between the chair and the desk anymore.
“Actually, I liked Lady MacBeth,” I think even he knows I’m just being contrary. I can tell by his smirk I’m amusing him. When did this turn into a game?
“Do you have everything you need, Ana?”
“It’s Anastasia,” I press, getting up from the chair. “We’ve only answered four of the questions but I think I have enough.”
He takes the liberty of fetching my recorder to had it off to me and escort me to the door. I’m glad I can get out now.
“I’ll send Katherine copies of the construction plans.”
I think I’ve floundered enough for one day trying to pretend to be something I’m not. He waits at the elevator with me and I step inside quickly once the doors open.
“Until we meet again, Miss Steele.”
“Until then Mr. Grey.”
I don’t notice until I’m on the elevator, and his gaze meets mine, that he has a piece of paper in his hand. I glance down immediately at my notebook and realize the question list once sticking out of my notebook is missing.
I catch his smile just as the doors shut.