IE Ch 17: Pleasure and Pain

It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain
You’ve done it once you can do it again
Whatever you done don’t’ try to explain
It’s a fine, fine line between pleasure and pain

Divinyls – Pleasure and Pain


“What next after college? We stand here on the brink, the rest of our lives ahead of us and in our hands today we will receive the piece of paper that will answer that question definitively. Fat chance!” A titter ripples through the audience. “We stand on the edge of a huge abyss, one that is not clearly defined by our last four years of study. Rather it is defined by our decision to go out and take life by the horns and live it. Our lives have been lived in books, on computers and very, very occasionally in classrooms and lecture theaters.” The embarrassed laughter from the student body filters up to the stage while the assorted faculty nod sagely in agreement.

“Well… for some of us. Others may have been living in fan fiction, facebook and sleeping over a desk or a keg but you get my point. Which is – that college has given us a bubble in which we were encouraged to grow and think and become. But it is an abstraction of the world that we will take with us and keep close on cold nights to remind us of a golden age. Very recently, I have met some very successful people who have been living out loud without the benefit of a piece of paper from a university. Do you know they sometimes envy us our bubble, our knowledge, our abstraction? But they have ‘become’ without the need of this type of affirmation.” I can feel the academics and the parents shuffling nervously but I push on.

“Don’t under or over value your academic achievement. We are in an age that has been subject to academic inflation but, in spite of most of us not being qualified enough to wait tables, we need to celebrate the possibilities of our lives.” More laughter. “We may not need the piece of paper but it will open doors from time to time. We also need those creative, innovative individuals and teams who show us there is another way. Together we can make great things happen. Hopefully not all of it illegal. So what next after college? Who knows? But be ready. Jump in feet first and grab the hands offered to you. And play, swim, sink but most of all live.”

The audience are suddenly on their feet and I look around, smiling with relief. A tear almost slips from my eye as I consider how much of my speech changed last night after my night out with Elliot. I mourn for what he feels he has lost but I also am so incredibly awed by the man he is. And I look at Christian, for a moment grateful for the support and guidance he has given Elliot to enable his dreams to flourish, but only for a moment.  Being grateful to Christian Grey is not how I want to start my own post-college life.  The look on his face is one of surprise.  Good. Keeping Christian on his toes would be useful; it might stop him from treading all over Ana’s heart.  I smile a little at the floor as I glide back to my seat.

After the ceremony Christian corners me in the corridor. As guest speaker at the graduation he gave an impassioned insight into the research of WSU, his own personal journey and the plight of the world’s poor. I knew he was philanthropic, that he donated large amounts to research at the university but not that he actually cared so much about what that research might afford the world. Getting to know the Grey brothers is like peeling back the layers of an onion.  If this is the best side of Christian Grey then maybe its worth putting up with the rest.  Maybe.

“Katherine. I need to speak to Ana but I don’t want to bring her unwanted attention by walking out there.” He looks like a little boy, standing there running his hands through his hair. Hopeful. He smiles obviously trying to win me over. “Could you go and get her? Please.” My good mood is going to work in his favor. Best to get this done quickly, my good mood and Christian in one place will not last for long.  Nodding, I move out to the main auditorium and see her getting ready to go and find Ray.

“Ana.” I have to shout over a group of people who won’t be moved. ” Christian wants to talk to you.” Two girls next to her turn around and stare at her like she has grown a second head. Yeah that’s right, my girl Ana and Christian Grey, what of it? “He sent me out here to get you.” I am almost breathless as I finally work my way through the crowd to get to her. I have got to do something about my fitness.

“Your speech was great, Kate.” She beams at me and I give her a big Kate K grin.

“It was, wasn’t it?” She laughs as  I stand there blowing my own trumpet.  I’m genuinely pleased with how it went, although now I wish that Elliot had been there to see me.  It would never occur to me that I might want my boyfriend there to share my big day.  Now, I have a boyfriend who I want to share a lot of things with. He is my boyfriend, isn’t he? I frown as Ana moves off to find Christian.  Naming relationships seems to be a bit of a minefield with these Grey men.   A tap on my shoulder makes me turn around to see my brother Ethan pointing a video camera at me. I start posing and pouting and he laughs.

“Yeah, work it baby.” He lowers the camera turning it off and then wraps me in a big brother hug.

“Well done, sis. You were awesome.” He gives me a kiss on the cheek and then grabs my hand. I gaze at him.  Something has changed in this past year since I last saw him.  He seems more settled.  Happy. I can’t put my finger on it.  Maybe it’s something about coming home.

“Come on, Mom and Dad are outside talking to the Michaelsons. They’re waiting to go to the marquee with you. I think they want a grand Kavanagh entrance.” He rolls his eyes and I laugh, following in his wake. My parents always like a show.  They congratulate and hug me when I walk up to them and we all head towards the marquee with them greeting everyone they know on the way.  I guess this is different from Ethan’s graduation.  When he transferred from WSU to Virginia in his last year, they lost their parental edge.  I can see they’re enjoying all of the attention and hoopla.  Across the marquee, I see Ana standing with Ray but no Christian. Looking around for him I can’t help but think he won’t be far away. He is like a satellite when it comes to her and suddenly a little devil is on my shoulder.

I turn to Ethan. “Hey, do you see Ana over there.” I point her out.

“Oh yeah, wow she looks pretty hot. Is that one of Mom’s designs?” I’m pretty sure that my brother has a bit of a thing for Ana but he would never act on it because she is my best friend.  At one time, I harbored a secret hope but Ethan keeps his relationships pretty close to his chest.  I think he wouldn’t date Ana on principle because then Mom and Dad would be all up in his grill about her.  He’s a pretty private person, so I offer up a little prayer.  Forgive me, Father, and Ethan, for what I am about to do.

“Look, she and Ray seem a bit lost and I have to go and talk to the VC. Could you go over and say hi? Just look after them until I can get there? Please, Ethan.” I do my best little sister whine,hanging off his muscled arms (when did my brother get buff?) and he rolls his eyes again.

“OK, but you owe me, Kate. Be quick.” He pecks me on the cheek and moves off toward them. Just at that moment I catch Christian’s eye. He looks at me with accusingly and I offer a little smile and wave before moving in his direction.

“That was a very impassioned speech, Mr Grey.” He’s standing by the Dean so I keep my voice as sweetly and faintly patronizing as I can.  Dean Walters doesn’t notice the sarcasm. Christian wraps an arm around my shoulder and turns me away from the main group. Luckily, Dean Walters does notice dismissal and he leaves us to it.

“What are you up to, Katherine?” He keeps walking me away from the group for a few steps.  Why does he call me that? Condescending, much?

“Whatever do you mean, Mr Grey?” I stop and stare at him.  Then I turn innocently and look in Ana’s direction. “Oh, that’s my brother, Ethan. Come and meet him.”

Anger is radiating off Christian in waves. Scared of a little competition Mr Grey. Well my brother can give you a run for your money. Let’s see what you’ve got.

I take his arm and we stroll towards the group. He is trying to look calm and in control. I can feel a twitching muscle through his sleeve sending a message that he is anything but.

“Hello, Ray.” I let go of Christian and give Kate’s dad a big hug and a peck on the cheek. He blushes. Then the devil rears its ugly head again. “Have you met Ana’s boyfriend? Christian Grey.” Collective jaws drop but the only person who doesn’t seem phased by this announcement is Christian. Damn.

Christian is so smooth as he takes over the conversation with Ray, who looks surprised but vaguely happy at this announcement. Shit, it was meant to be more awkward than this. I guess Ray has been waiting for Ana to find love, too.  Sorry, Ray but I’m not sure that Christian Grey is our man.  So I change tack.

“And this is my brother, Ethan Kavanagh,” I say to Christian, thankful that Ethan still has his arm around Ana. Take that Grey. Ha! Ethan shakes his hand firmly not phased at all by the Grey factor. I suspect its because he has his own Ethan Kavanagh thing going on. Christian has gone all predator again and looks like he wants to brawl.

“Ana, baby.” Baby? Urgh! Christian holds his hand out to Ana and she walks out of Ethan’s hold to stand submissively at Christian’s side. My jaw drops and I half expect her to say ‘yes, sir’. Christian doesn’t smile but he has this look of complete pride.  Job well done.  It seems I might have lost this battle but this war is far from over Christian Grey.  Ethan grips my elbow, as if he is holding me back from stepping up and lodging a fist in smug bastard’s face.  Under the pretense of seeing Mom and Dad, he  moves me away.

“What the fuck was that?” Ethan whispers to me as we move through the crowd.

“You just met Christian Grey, dominant asshole.” I giggle and Ethan laughs. I glance back at them over my shoulder.  Dominant seems like a pretty accurate description. A chill runs down my spine. “Come on.”

My family dines at Andina, our favorite Portland restaurant. My dad has so far toasted my success, Ethan’s success, Mom’s success and the food.  He’s in a great mood and we are all doing what we usually do. Debating the merits of the latest election campaign. Our discussions are usually pretty heated and my Dad the staunch Republican loves to get Ethan and I riled up. It’s fun and a bit of a tradition but not great for onlookers who often take us far too seriously.

My mother holds her own in all of this but mostly, sits back to watch us all fondly for a while. As a designer, she tends to look at the aesthetics of every moment.  Beautiful children, gorgeous husband, ambient setting, good food.  She’s soaking it all up and enjoying it.  Ethan gets his quiet contemplation from her and I get the love of clothes and shopping.  I’m more like my Dad.  Bull at a gate, won’t let go of a good story.  Mom and Ethan are all about sitting back and observing.  She smiles at me and I know she’s seen something in me she wants to talk about.

“Are you going to tell me about him?’ I look at her a little shocked but knowing there’s no keeping anything from Mama.  If Dad hasn’t mentioned it to her then she would have seen Elliot in my eyes, I’m sure. I glance at Dad.  The tick in the corner of his mouth says he is trying to ignore this conversation.  Leaving Mom to find out the details.  I have yet, to confront him about that phone call.

“Tell you about who?” I take a sip of my wine and hope that she will drop the subject. But no.  Juliet Manet Kavanagh, is not a woman who picks up a topic to drop it again.  She’s been masticating over this one for at least the length of this dinner, probably longer.  The woman wants an answer.

“Darling, there’s a spark in your eye that could light up Washington State.  I think I know my daughter well enough, to know when there is a man behind that light. Now, who is he?” She keeps her voice low so as not to attract the attention of Ethan and my Dad who are still having a deep political discussion.  I’m not fooled.  They’re both listening.  For once, I wish I knew how Ethan manages to keep all of his relationships on the low down.  They never ask and he never tells.  Me, I’ve always been the open book, heart on my sleeve type.  But I’d dearly like to keep Elliot my secret for a little while longer.  When I see her manicured fingernail start tapping out on the table, I know I’m on a hiding to nothing. I take a deep breath.

“Elliot Grey.” Saying his name out loud is all I can manage.  How do I explain the rest?  That he makes my toes curl, that he rocks my world and makes me think about a future.  That he thinks he loves me and I’m scared to my bones to love him back because he has the power to hurt me more than any other man I have ever known.  She waits with her eyes wide and expectant but I add no more.

“The developer? Brother of Christian?” Her surprise at his name is genuine. I glance at my father who is still playing the ‘if I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ game.  “Honey, did you know our little girl is seeing that nice Mr Grey’s brother, Elliot?”

Mom has gone to her southern roots on this one.  That’s usually a pretty strong indicator that she is trying to charm and calm Daddy.  Looks like they have talked about this and possibly fought over it.

“What? Elliot Grey is still sniffing around you? I thought I warned him off.” My father is working up a head full of steam.  He’s really pissed about this. As angry as I am at him, I’m also curious.

“Yes, well, you didn’t think a little phone call would get him to back off, did you Dad? Elliot’s made of stronger stuff than that.” I lift my glass challenging him. My mom is looking shocked. She obviously didn’t know about the phone call and I know that she is going to rip into him on the way home.  Ethan is sitting back, arms folded, enjoying the show.  Fireworks at nine.

My father has been in his time a very talented investigative journalist and he can still smell a story from 50 miles away. He wouldn’t do this if he wasn’t genuinely sure that there is a story here. I’m made of the same stuff. I want to know what he knows.  So I wait him out.

“I just don’t trust those Grey boys. They are sharp operators Kate, good at what they do but there is something about them that is …off.” Leave it to Dad to keep me hanging. He is acting on a hunch and I’m hoping it’s unfounded.

“Daddy dearest, I think you’re wrong.” Well, he might be right about Christian but I’m not opening that hornet’s nest.  “Just to prove it,  I have invited him to come to Barbados with us. You’ll be able to see for yourself.” Fire them torpedoes and run like hell. That steam just turned to glowing and smoke people.

“Over my dead body.” Dad is on the verge of blowing a head gasket.  Mom reaches out to pat his arm.  I look at Ethan who just shrugs smirking into his glass. A case of ‘rather you than me’ I think and I know that I won’t get any support from him.

“Kind of unnecessary, but whatevs, Daddy.  Elliot and I are together and we are serious about each other. I want you to meet him, properly and he and I want to find out where our relationship is going.” I say this with a confidence that I am not really feeling. He is going to spend five minutes with my father and head for the hills. This holiday may be the worst decision I have ever made.

“Well, I, for one, am thrilled that you have invited him.” Support from my mother? Wow. She smiles at me and we both turn to Dad. He knows he’s being ganged up on and he harrumphs as he sits back in his chair giving the table a slap. Ethan smirks behind his drink.

“I still don’t like it.” He mutters, taking an angry swig of his drink. Daddy, when are you going to learn. If you try to dictate my life, I will rebel. He reads the message in my eyes.

“Daddy, would you rather that I carry on this relationship behind your back? Won’t you at least give him a chance? Get to know him. I think you will learn to love him.”

“As you obviously do.” My mother says and I blush to my toes. Did I just admit this to my family? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Ethan just about chokes on his drink and then gives me a big hearty you’ve-done-it-now grin. I cast my eyes down more embarrassed than I have felt in most of my short adult life.

There is a pause while my father takes it all in.  He could rant and rave and cancel the family holiday.  Or… and then he seems to make a decision, but by the look in his eyes, it’s a calculate one.  He is far from resigned to this arrangement  but he covers it by reaching over the table and taking my hand. “Katie, if he is that important to you then OK. Let’s see if this young man is worthy of my little girl. But if he hurts you…”

“Yeah I know, testicles, blunt knives…he’s heard it all before Dad.” We all laugh at the standard Kavanagh threat that my father has offered every boyfriend since I turned 16 and started dating. Deep down I know that I will have guard Elliot from my dad. And I will have to find out what Dad knows about the Grey brothers.

Later, I arrive home a little buzzed with success of the day. Energized, I burst into the apartment but my face drops at the sight of Ana on the phone sobbing uncontrollably. I gather she’s talking to her mother and by her body language, this has something to do with Christian. When she hangs up, I attack.

“Has that obscenely rich fucker upset you again?”  I should have dragged Ana and Ray out to dinner with us. Safety in numbers and all that. She stumbles incoherently over her reply.

“Just tell him to take a hike, Ana. You’ve been so up and down since you met him. I’ve never seen you like this.” If he was normal and committed then she would be as happy as I am with Elliot.  But he’s not.  He’s just an arrogant asshole who thinks he can keep her on a roller coaster of emotion and walk away.  All care and no responsibility.  It just doesn’t seem fair that two brothers, brought up in the same family, could have such a different standard in how to conduct themselves in a relationship. I want this to be a black and white decision for her but I know that it will be more complicated than that.  It’s a game to him.  He’s got her dangling on a line and he just reels her in when he feels like it.  But for her, he’s that dangerously attractive lure.  She can’t resist him, she doesn’t know how. If I hadn’t been there a time or two myself, I would probably slap her and tell her to move on.  But I know what it’s like to be caught in that cycle and how damaging it can be.

Ana goes to sit down on the couch and I notice that she’s moving stiffly like she’s been beaten with a baseball bat. Interrogating her gets me nowhere.  She gives me some story about falling over on her butt and I want to believe her because I know she can be unco but something about the way she says it just doesn’t ring true. Then I think back to the dominant/submissive behavior at the graduation ceremony and an awful thought pops into my head. Is he hitting her? I am a little horrified at where my thoughts are going so I retreat to the kitchen in search of wine. Placing my hands on the kitchen bench I take a few deep breaths. How to handle this? If I am wrong she is going to hate me forever. If I am right then I need to get her out of it. Now! Is this what my father thinks he knows about Christian?

I emerge from the kitchen and hand her a drink.

“Here we go.” I am so uncertain how to proceed. Gently. “Ana, if he’s a jerk with commitment issues, dump him. Though I don’t really understand his commitment issues. He couldn’t take his eyes off you in the marquee, watched you like a hawk. I’d say he was completely smitten, but maybe he has a funny way of showing it.” Please Ana, talk to me. He creeps me out but is he hurting you, for real?

“Kate, it’s complicated. How was your evening?” She’s diverting. Subject closed. I chat with her for a while longer, hoping that if she relaxes she might say something but any discussion about Christian is well and truly off limits. Eventually, I give her a hug and head to my room. I have to call Elliot.

“Hi babe, how did it go?” He sounds so happy to hear from me and I’m certainly happy to be talking with him. I tell him about the ceremony and my speech and promise him that Ethan has captured it all on video. “I told my family about you coming to Barbados.” I wait and he is silent. “And…?” He almost whispers and I can hear the lack of confidence in his voice.

“And.. they are thrilled that you are coming with us.”

“Yeah, except your father.” He mutters. Poor baby, he really is worried about meeting my Dad face to face and it sounds kind of sweet.

“Even my father,” I say softly, although I know it’s a lie.

“Really?” I hear hope in his voice. Oh, Elliot, you are so sweet.

“Really. I told them how much you mean to me and they want to spend some quality time with you.” Just a little lie, baby.

“How much I mean to you?” He sounds a little incredulous. “What did you say?”

“Pretty much that.” I shrug. “That you mean a great deal to me and that we want the opportunity to see where this is going. If we have a future together. You know… that we are serious about each other.”

“Wow.” I hear him blow air out. “You are one brave woman, Kate Kavanagh. How did they take it?”

“Well, if you can believe it, my mother saw it before I even said anything. I guess there is just no hiding things like that from your mother right?”

“I guess. Oh shit. My mother.” He is panicking. “I told my mother about you yesterday over lunch. Do you think she could tell? She never said anything.”

I laugh, “I don’t know your mother well enough to answer that, babe. My mother can read me like a book.  She asked me about you almost as soon as dessert was served. Your mother might not be as intuitive about you but Julie Kavanagh has a sixth sense when it comes to her baby.”

“Why? Because I’m adopted?” He asks a little hurt sound in his voice.

“No, because you’re a boy. Mom doesn’t read Ethan anywhere near as well as she does me.” I giggle at his insecurities. He is so cute.

“Well, I’m glad that you’ve told them. Now I can book a ticket without feeling like an interloper.” I smile to myself, wishing that my Dad wasn’t planting seeds of doubt as I remember what I called him for.

“Elliot, I need to ask you something and I don’t want you to get mad. Okay?” I am really nervous about doing this but I can’t go off on a two week holiday and leave Ana behind if she is actually in danger.

“Sure,” he sounds wary. “What is it?” I just hope that Elliot can remain calm in the face of what could be such a hideous accusation about his brother.  I know how I would feel if anyone was thinking this about Ethan.  I want very much to be wrong about all of this.

“It’s about Christian.” I pause, not quite sure how to go on.

“What about Christian, Kate?” My mistrust of Christian is no secret to him but now I’m about to cross a line.  Oh, crap! Just spit it out, Kate.

“It’s Ana…she is… acting strange…out of character,” I say. The silence at the other end of the phone is deafening. “I don’t know…Christian is so dominant with her, or she is submissive to him…I’m not sure how to explain it. He seems to intimidate her so much and then today…” I stop. I can’t do this.

There is a long silence.  Then a sigh.

“Kate, sweetheart, what happened today?” There is a fear in his question but he also sounds like he expected this. What the hell is going on?

“Elliot, Ana is acting like she’s been physically hurt. She said it was an accident but…he looked like…and she, well she looked like she would have knelt at his feet, if he asked. I kept expecting her to call him ‘Sir’. It’s like he has this strange control over her and…” And now I am frightened that I’ve gone too far. “I’m worried that he is hitting her,” I whisper.

He gasps. “Shit. Kate. I don’t know… I just…” And suddenly this is not what I expected to hear. He’s meant to deny it, tell me I’m mean for thinking it.  He’s mean to rant and rave and tell me I’m a stupid, judgmental idiot.  But he doesn’t.  He knows something. Or he suspects. “Listen, I am not sure of anything except that my brother is a really, really good man; an ethical man. But he doesn’t do normal relationships. I don’t really know more than that nor is it any of my business but from what I have read about it, if he and Ana are…well whatever they are doing…then it is likely to be consensual. He wouldn’t do it if she didn’t agree to it.”

“What are you talking about? BDSM?” I am incredulous. What the fuck is Ana getting herself into? “But she has never had a relationship with any man. Not a sexual relationship.” A thought hits me, like a big fucking freight train. Is that why? Because she wants that kind of relationship and now Christian Grey has appeared and he is giving her what she actually wants? My mouth is hanging open, flies bedamned and we are both silent for a long while.

“Look, Katie, I really don’t believe that Christian would hurt her in anger. He has had a lot of shit in his life and he is so much stronger emotionally than he has any right to be. Its because he works really hard to keep everything in control, he compartmentalizes everything. Even our family relationships. But he also has a great capacity for love and like I told you before there is something about this thing with Ana that’s different. He is different. If they can work this out I really believe that Ana will be good for him. But this BDSM thing, I think that is different as well. I think that they have to both want it and if she doesn’t want it, I’m pretty sure he wont’ force her.”

I am having a hard time processing all of this, when he continues, “The other thing you should know, is that he has people around him who keep an eye on things. He pays them as staff and they live and work in his apartment but they are my friends, too, and we all care about him. None of us would let anything go too far. They will do everything they can to keep Ana safe. Because they love Christian.”

“What? Who are you talking about?” Friends? Watching them?

“A few years back, I found out that Christian was in a relationship that wasn’t great. It was BDSM and it was consensual but he had been underage when it started. With a much older woman. We, Jason and Gail and I got him out. He doesn’t know our part in it and I would rather he never did. But we made a pact back then to keep his private life, private and to keep him safe.”

“Who are they?” I ask.

“They’re old high school friends but they work for Christian now. They have done for the past four years. Jason is his body guard and Gail is his housekeeper. They know more than I ever want to know about his lifestyle but they are good people. Discreet.  You can trust them with Ana.”

“Oh, shit, Elliot. I don’t know.  I am so scared for her,” I whisper. He’s told me so much.  Too much.  And I’m surprised.  Humbled by his trust. “Why would you tell me all of this?”

“Katie, I love my brother and I love you. I want … this thing with you … I know I’m in it for the long haul babe. That means you need to know all of my shit. But you have to promise me that you won’t tell what you know. What he does, what they might be doing, it’s not against the law, hell, it isn’t always even dangerous from what I know. Just a little more kinky than phone sex.” This pulls me up sharp. I need to go and do some research. “So please, without asking you to sign a non-disclosure agreement, can you keep this between you and me? And I promise you that I will be the first in line with the blunt knife if he ever steps across the line with her.”

I laugh just a little at this. “Okay.” I whisper, “Elliot, thank you for being so honest with me. You didn’t have to.”

“Yes, I did, sweetheart. You are mine now, Katie, to love and to cherish. Trust goes with the territory.”

This whole thing is taking my breath away, Elliot and Christian. I am reeling. I need time to process it all.

“Listen, I have to go, I have an early start tomorrow. You need to go take care of Ana. And I know you, go do some research. You will understand it all better than I do.”  I am struck by how difficult it must have been for him to succeed in a world where literacy skills are required to get ahead. I am so proud of who he is. “Laters, baby.” His voice is quiet.

“Laters, Elliot,” I whisper. I head back out to the living room to check on Ana but she has gone to bed. Deciding to make a cup of tea, I am just about to ask her if she wants one when there is a knock, no, a thump at our door. At first I am a little worried about opening up and then I hear him on the other side of the door.

“Anastasia, Katherine, open up. It’s Christian.” Thump, thump, thump. I wrench open the door, all my anger and hostility at the forefront. This kinky bastard is screwing around with my friend and he is not getting off that lightly with me. I might not tell the world his secrets but I sure as well will tell him what I think of him.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing here?” He is breathing hard and staring back at me with frantic worry. What? What is he doing here? He left her crying and now he is acting like he gives a shit?

“Katherine, I need to see Anastasia.” He goes to walk past me and I block him.

“Well, you can’t.” I snap back at him.

“Get out of my way, she emailed me and I need to see her.” His eyes are blazing.

“What the fuck have you done to her now?” He emailed her? Why doesn’t he just leave her the fuck alone? “And why the fuck can’t you pick up the phone and call her, like a normal person?”

“Look, she sounded upset, I just want to check she is okay.” He closes his eyes as if he is in pain then opens and refocuses on me.

“Since she’s met you she cries all the time.” I see the horror on his face. Yeah, well if you want to treat her like she is some toy that you can use and discard then what do you expect, you fucker?

“Please get out of my way.” He pushes me to the side.

“You can’t come in here?” I am vaguely aware that the front door is still open and our neighbors might be listening but what the hell? We are moving in two days.

He stalks through the apartment and bursts into her bedroom and I follow hot on his heels. If she wants him gone then I am going to throw him out on his ear. I don’t care how big he is. He flicks on her light and she squints at us with tears streaming down her face. Oh, Ana.

“Jesus, Ana,” he flicks off the light and moves across her room to turn on her sidelight. I stand in the doorway so she can see I am there.

“What are you doing here?” her voice is a rasping gasp. It shocks me how much this is affecting her and I want very much to try on my rusty martial arts skills.

“Do you want me to throw this asshole out?” I ask. One chance, to just bury a well aimed knee in his groin. Just give me one chance.

Christian looks a little scared. So you should be, you prick. Then Ana shakes her head. Oh Christ, I am going to have to stand guard out here all night. There is nothing I can do, as Elliot has said many times, they are grown ups, Ana is a grown up and right now she is consenting to his presence. But if I hear one thing that I can misconstrue as physical violence I will break this door down and tear him a new asshole.

“Just holler if you need me.” I try to keep it light for Ana but threatening enough so that Christian knows. “Grey – you’re on my shit list and I’m watching you.” He looks surprised. Good. I pull the door closed but leave it ajar. The fucker can’t get up to no good if he thinks I am sitting out here playing guard dog.

I hear them talking quietly but I can’t hear what they are saying then Christian walks out to the kitchen where I am drinking my tea.

“Kate,” oh, so its Kate now?  “do you have some advil? And a glass of water, please.” He looks contrite. Silently, I move around the kitchen getting what he needs. I hand them to him and he holds my hand for a moment looking into my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. And I can see that he really means it. I’m sure all guys mean it when they hit their girlfriends.  Only Elliot said he wouldn’t do it if Ana hadn’t agreed.   I hope he’s right.  Oh Christian, if you feel even half for Ana of what Elliot feels for me then you have to fix this. Stop hurting her.

“Just make sure she knows that,” I whisper. He looks at me and nods then releases my hand and goes back to Ana. This time he closes the door and I let him. I listen for a while but it seems pretty quiet in there. I pick up the phone and text Elliot.

He’s here.

Everything OK?

Yeah. I think he’s sorry.

K, here if u need me.

OK, laters.

Luv u. Laters.

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