“Hey, little bro, how’s it hanging?”
Will he ever stop talking like a teenager, for fucks sake?
“Mom wanted me to call you – make sure you’re still alive. Especially as we only get to hear about ‘Seattle’s most eligible bachelor’ in the press these days.”
I knew it would be beyond Elliot’s meagre self-control to let that rest. Even though the article was weeks ago he keeps on bringing it up. It’s really fucking irritating.
“What do you want, Elliot?”
“We’re going for a drink tonight.”
“You and me, bro. I’ll see you at Zig Zags at 8pm.”
“I’m busy. And I hate cocktails.”
“Yeah, I get it: too busy for your family. Well, suck it up, Christian, because Mom told me to take you out and I’m way more scared of her than I am of you.”
“I have to work, Elliot so I’m not…”
But he cuts me off.
“It’s Friday night and I’m not taking ‘no’ for answer, little bro. I’ll see you at eight. If you’re not there, I’ll come find you, even if you’re welded to your laptop.”
And then he hangs up on me. So I’m in a foul, fucking mood even thought the day’s hardly started.
I’ve been in the office for a couple of hours, roughing out plans for to buy a new manufacturing company I’m interested in. I can leverage the revenue through buying its fixed assets which are in good shape, as opposed to the management who have bleeding sales for too long. The business is crumbling and their order books are dire; but they’ve got a good product and a productive workforce, so I’m interested – and I’m sure I can fix it. It’ll be another company to add to Grey Enterprises Holdings portfolio which I’ve recently set up. It’s not about the acquisition per se, but knowing that I can make this company profitable – and it will save a small slice of the US’s diminishing manufacturing backbone.
Baxter’s Engineering started as a family-owned ship’s chandlers about 60 years ago and has become a company that supplies parts for the ship-building industry. They tried to float on the stock market three years ago but they got the timing badly wrong and have been struggling ever since. I know it’s moving away from my core business and Ros was reluctant to start with, but I persuaded her that this was a real opportunity. I want her with me on this. I trust her judgement and although I never thought I’d be keen on delegating, I know she’s fast becoming my right hand man, er, woman.
What I haven’t told her – yet – is that I have a long held dream of owning my own cargo ship, or, better still, fleet of ships; ships that carry food around the world. I don’t want to have to explain to her why this is important to me. Anyway, it’s none of her fucking business; if she’s never been hungry, she wouldn’t understand – and that part of my life is private.
Most of my earliest memories are about either hunger or pain. The worst memories, the truly painful ones, have been pushed to the back of my mind and erupt occasionally as nightmares. Ok, more than occasionally, but I usually manage not to think about them consciously. The hunger ones are much harder to deal with. I know it’s irrational, but I get so fucking furious when people so casually say, ‘I’m starving’, or ‘I’m dying of hunger’. I want to yell at them, ‘No, you’re fucking not! You don’t know what real hunger is! You don’t know what it is to starve!’. But I can’t, so I don’t. But even after all this time it makes me stupidly tense and I just want to rip their heads off.
I really hate being hungry because it brings back the bad memories. And I decide that in the next company I buy I’m going to put in a subsidised cafeteria, so that I can guarantee the workforce is well fed. I’m getting to the stage where I can afford it. I can find a dozen ways to rationalize the cost outlay and some of it can be offset against tax, but deep down I know that’s not the real reason.
Elliot used to tease me that I’d end up getting really fat because I always eat everything on my plate. But I’d never let that happen. For one thing, I need control in my life to function as much as possible like a normal human being – that includes control over my body; something Elena helped with. But even without her, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to get fat because I would have felt too guilty; because I’ve known what it’s like to starve, I can’t abide taking more than my fair share. And it’s not like I don’t already have enough guilt floating around to sink most normal people.
Except that you’re not normal, Grey.
Yes, that’s true. And I think I’m going to have to do something about that. There’s only so much running, kickboxing and sit-ups I can do. Frankly, celibacy doesn’t suit me; I’ve not had to think about it since I was 15. I know that Elena would still be available if I gave her a call but I can’t bring myself to do it; that part of my life is finished. But that dom/sub service that she mentioned… maybe I should check that out.
I find I rather like the idea of having a sub as my beck and call girl. I can afford it: in fact I can afford pretty much anything I want now. I’ve been toying with the idea of buying an apartment – real estate is always a sound investment and it would be more private and give me more control. Twice now I’ve found fucking reporters camped outside my apartment building. If I had a place with a drive-in garage, I could ensure that wouldn’t be an issue.
My mind drifts back to the idea of having my own sub: yes, I’d really like that. Maybe I’ll email Elena and see if she’s free for dinner tonight… oh, not tonight – I have to get through an evening with Elliot first. I find that I don’t mind that much: it’ll be good to spend some time with my brother, just so long he’s not trying to set me up with someone again.
I fire off an email to Elena suggesting dinner Saturday. There’s a new French place just opened that I’ve been meaning to try out. And then I can ask her about finding a sub. In my mind’s eye I picture a brunette with long hair. I don’t know why that appeals to me, but it does.
My musings are getting a little too interesting and I realise I’m going to have a serious problem settling down again unless I focus on something else.
A knock on the door gives me the change of subject I need. My PA Susan looks nervous as she enters.
“Good morning, Mr Grey.”
“What is it, Susan?” When will she ever get to the fucking point?!
“I wondered if I could put up this poster in the kitchen, sir.”
She points to a homemade A4 poster she’s clutching as if it’s the last word of God.
She hands over the paper, her hands shaking.
“It’s from my church. We’re having a food drive to raise money for the children of Darfur. In Sudan.”
I read the fucking newspapers: I know where Darfur is.
“I wondered if I could just… just put it up in the kitchen so maybe people here could make a donation… or something.”
“Fine, but I don’t want you going around bothering people when they’re working. Just the poster.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr Grey! That’s very… very…”
And then she ducks out of the office quickly.
It occurs to me that I might need to work on my people skills.
I hear the ping of an email arriving at my inbox: it’s from Elena.
From: Elena Lincoln
Subject: Re: Dinner
Date: March 12 2004
To: Christian Grey
That sounds marvellous. I’ll meet you there at 7.45pm.
MD, Escala Salons Inc.
Good. Then I can broach the subject of finding a submissive.
A couple of hours later I’m still feeling restless. I decide to go walkabout but as I stroll through the building, recently rebranded as GEH, I can’t help noticing that staff keep their heads down or abruptly end conversations as I walk past. It amuses me but maybe it shouldn’t. Perhaps it just shows how fucked up I am. The thought darkens my mood still further.
As I wander past IT I notice Barney’s feet sticking out from under his desk. I know he’s not dead because one of his feet is tapping out a rhythm. Now I think about it, there are times when Barney makes me look almost normal. Of course I keep my shit well hidden, but even so…
“Hey, Mr Grey!” he calls from under the desk.
I can only assume he has recognised me from my shoes. How fucking sad is that?
“Good afternoon, Barney.”
He crawls out with a happy look on his face.
“I just figured out that if I rewire the router through this new port, I can get an extra terabyte of disk space for every work station in the building.”
Now that is damn interesting.
So for the next 10 minutes I’m on my hands and knees under Barney’s desk whilst he shows me what he’s done. Half my brain is listening to his explanation and the other half is figuring out a commercial outlet for his innovation. By the time I crawl out, my mood has lightened considerably.
And then I run into Ros, who is looking flustered – I’ve never seen her like that before.
“Christian! We’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Half the staff!”
“Why, what’s up?”
She frowns. “I’ve got Ashley Peters in my office – and I can’t get rid of the damn woman.”
“She doesn’t have an appointment: what does she want?”
“You. Probably for breakfast.” She pauses. “Can you handle it or do you want me to get rid of her?”
I’m a dominant, for fucks sake! “Yes, I can handle it, Ros. Send her to my office.”
I stand when she enters and walk to the door to meet her. She runs her eyes up and down me like I’m some kind of prize stud. If only you knew, baby.
“Ms Peters, this is an unexpected pleasure. I hope there isn’t an issue with the USC deal?”
I wave her into a chair and return to the seat behind my desk.
“Not at all, Mr Grey. I simply happened to be in the area and thought I’d drop in… to see the nerve centre of Grey Cells.”
“Certainly, I’ll have my Head of Innovations and Development show you around.”
“I was rather hoping that you would show me around, Mr Grey. I must say I was a little disappointed not to have heard from you. I’m sure I gave you my number.”
I could be polite and play dumb – or I can get to the fucking point.
“I’m flattered, Ms Peters, but I make it a policy not to mix business with pleasure.”
“How very noble of you, Mr Grey,” she says, her voice aiming for seductive. “But I’m sure I could persuade you of the benefits of… networking.”
Ok, I’ve been polite enough and she’s not getting the message.
“No, Ms Peters, you couldn’t.”
I let the words hang in the air and stare at her, my expression impassive.
I watch the color rise in her cheeks. Now she understands.
“I see. Well, I apologise for wasting your time, Mr Grey.”
I show her to the door but as soon as Susan disappears to collect her coat, Ros’s partner Gwen comes bouncing in.
“Hi Christian!” she calls, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek.
I can’t help smiling at her; she’s so playful and kittenish – the complete opposite of Ros. Maybe that’s the attraction.
Ashley Peters watches the by-play with interest. I see her put two and two together and come up with the answer of five; in other words, she jumps to the conclusion that I’m gay. Just because one of my co-workers is gay, for fucks sake. Some people are so fucking prosaic. But I also see that this conclusion makes her feel considerably better about my rejection and she leaves in much better spirits.
I don’t care one way or another: my whole family think I’m gay, what the fuck do I care if Ms Peters has come to the same conclusion? But I don’t want her screwing the USC deal either.
And suddenly I’m really looking forward to seeing Elena tomorrow: she’s the one person who really knows who I am; the one person who is as dark and twisted inside as me. Elliot is my brother and I love him, but he only sees one part of me. And I thank Christ every day that that’s the full extent of his knowledge.
I watch from a distance as Ros and Gwen embrace, almost smiling as Gwen stealthily runs her hand across Ros’s ass. It’s not really appropriate in the work environment but their happiness spills over and something about it warms me. Although how it can warm that shrivelled piece of sinew in my chest that passes for a heart, is utterly beyond me.
I head back to my office frowning and spend the rest of the afternoon reading the reports filed by Baxters’ company auditors. It makes for depressing reading: how the management can fuck things up so easily, seems beyond explanation. Fucking amateurs. But it also means that I’ll be able to buy the company for a lot less than it’s really worth. I tell Susan to place a call to set up a meeting with my bank on Monday.
At 6pm she knocks tentatively and peers into my office.
“Er… do you need anything else, Mr Grey? Will it be ok if I go now?”
Jeez, she says the same fucking words every night. Doesn’t she ever get bored of them? I know I do.
“Yes, that’s fine, Susan. This is for you.”
I wave an envelope at her and she goes white. I think she might faint as she walks towards my desk and the thought makes me frown. I hope she’s not going to vomit: the carpet is new.
She opens her mouth a few times and I think she’s trying to speak: it’s hard to tell, she always looks so gormless.
“I’ll try harder, Mr Grey,” she whimpers.
And then I get it: she thinks I’m firing her ass. No, not yet, Ms Miller.
Her knees give way and she grabs my desk for support. Oh, for fucks sake! What is the matter with all these females today?!
I help her into a seat and give her a glass of water from my decanter.
“Thank you,” she murmurs and I see a tear slip down her pancake. “Please don’t fire me, Mr Grey. I really need this job. Ever since Mr Roberts Jr left, I thought… I thought…”
Yeah, yeah, I know what you thought, but you’re really not my type.
“I’m not firing you, Susan. Just open the damn envelope.”
Her hands tremble as she attempts to open the stiff paper. God, she’s irritating. I take the envelope from her before she gets a paper cut and bleeds on the upholstery.
“It’s… it’s a check, Mr Grey,” she says, puzzled.
“That’s right, Susan.” God, I want to roll my eyes at her but remember my thoughts on employee relations.
She peers at the writing.
“It’s made out to my church’s food-drive.”
“Yes.” Oh for fucks sake, get a grip and then get out!
“But it’s for twenty thousand dollars, Mr Grey!”
“GEH has had a good month, Susan.” Now go!
She stares as is she can’t comprehend what I’m saying.
“You’re donating $20,000 to my church’s food drive for starving children in Darfur?”
Do you want me to tattoo it on your fucking stupid forehead!
“Yes, that’s right, Susan. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
She continues to stare as if I’ve spoken in pig Latin. So I help her up and walk her to the door. I’d really like to throw her through it but that probably isn’t in the Affirmative Manager’s Handbook that Ros suggested I read. Fucking cheek.
When I meet Elliot later that evening, he’s being, well, Elliot. To my intense irritation, he’s chatting up the cocktail waitress when I arrive.
“Hey, little bro! This beautiful creature is Cassandra.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me she’s got a twin sister called Helenus,” I mutter.
Elliot grins at me, “I think the Greeks got her.”
The cocktail waitress stares at us in bemusement. “I’ve got a brother called Troy,” she says, sounding puzzled.
Elliot spits his beer down his chin; Cassandra looks revolted and walks away, her tray at half mast.
“Thanks for nothing, little brother,” says Elliot, dolefully. “You just made my future wife pissed.”
I roll my eyes at him. Every woman Elliot meets is either fuckable or marriageable as far as he’s concerned. Mostly fuckable.
“You still enjoying being Seattle’s most eligible bachelor?” he smirks at me.
“Change the fucking tune, Elliot, or I’m out of here.”
“Aw, don’t be sore, little bro. By the way, Mia said to tell you that you’re a real pain in the ass.”
“Charming. Any particular reason?”
“I believe you promised to take her out to lunch?”
I sigh. It’s true. In a moment of weakness I said I’d drive her out to Olympia one weekend to a place I found that does cuisine sauvage.
“How’s the construction business?” I say, keen to change the subject.
“Well, the housing economy is for shit, but interest in eco-building is still gaining ground. So, not bad at all. Is that really what you want to talk about, Christian, work? Can’t you talk about anything else anymore?”
For some reason he looks annoyed. Well, you pick a fucking subject then!
“Mom and dad would really like to see more of you. They’re really proud of you.”
I shift uncomfortably in my seat. I’d hoped for an easy, peaceful, brain-free drink with my brother. It seems to be turning into an intervention. Believe me, I’ve seen enough of them. When will my stupid brother get it through his thick skull that they’re all better off without me?
“Mia misses you,” he continues quietly.
Cassandra returns with my beer. Suddenly I’m not thirsty and I certainly don’t want company.
I dig a five-dollar bill out of my wallet and place it on her tray.
“Oh, come on, Christian!”
He tries to stop me by grabbing my shoulder and I nearly rip his arm off. Everyone turns to stare and silence ripples out until the busy cocktail bar is utterly quiet.
I meet Elliot’s eyes and he can’t believe what’s just happened. Neither can I.