I should never have chased her.
The waiter arrives with the wine as we stare with incredulity at each other.
Maybe I should have done a better job of explaining it to her.
Damn it, Grey. Eliminate the negative.
Yes. It’s irrelevant now. I’m going to try a relationship her way, if she’ll let me.
The irritating prick takes too much time opening the bottle. Jesus. Is he trying to entertain us? Or is it just Ana he wants to impress? He finally pops the cork and pours a taste for me. I take a quick sip. It needs to breathe, but it’s passable.
“That’s fine.” Now go. Please. He fills our glasses and leaves.
Ana and I haven’t taken our eyes off each other. Each trying to discern what the other is thinking. She’s the first to look away, and she takes a sip of wine, closing her eyes as if seeking inspiration. When she opens them, I see her despair. “I’m sorry,” she whispers.
“Sorry for what?” Hell. Is she done with me? Is there no hope?
“Not using the safe word,” she says.
Oh, thank God. I thought it was over.
“We might have avoided all this suffering,” I mutter in response, and also in an attempt to hide my relief.
“You look fine.” There’s a tremor in her voice.
“Appearances can be deceptive. I’m not fine. I feel like the sun has set and not risen for five days, Ana. I’m in perpetual night here.”
Her gasp is just audible.
How did she think I’d feel? She left me when I’d almost begged her to stay. “You said you’d never leave, yet the going gets tough and you’re out the door.”
“When did I say I’d never leave?”
“In your sleep.” Before we went soaring. “It was the most comforting thing I’d heard in so long, Anastasia. It made me relax.”
She inhales sharply. Her open and honest compassion is written all over her lovely face as she reaches for her wine. This is my chance.
Ask her, Grey.
Ask her the one question I haven’t allowed myself to think about because I know I’ll dread her answer, whatever it is. But I’m curious. I need to know.
“You said you loved me,” I whisper, almost choking on the words. She can’t feel that way about me still. Can she? “Is that now in the past tense?”
“No, Christian, it’s not,” she says, as if in the confessional again. I’m unprepared for the relief that rushes through me. But it’s relief mixed with fear. It’s a confounding combination because I know she shouldn’t love a monster.
“Good,” I mumble, confused. I want to stop thinking about that right now, and with impeccable timing, the waiter returns with our meal.
“Eat,” I demand. The woman needs feeding.
She examines the contents of her plate with distaste.
“So help me God, Anastasia, if you don’t eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant. And it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification. Eat!”
“Okay. I’ll eat. Stow your twitching palm, please.” She’s trying for humor—but I’m not laughing. She’s wasting away. She picks up her cutlery with stubborn reluctance but she takes one bite, closes her eyes, and licks her lips in satisfaction. The sight of her tongue is enough to provoke a response from my body—already in a heightened state from our kiss in the alley.
Hell, not again! I stop my response in its tracks. There’ll be time for that later, if she says yes. She takes another bite and another and I know she’ll continue eating. I’m grateful for the diversion that our food has provided. Slicing into my steak, I take a bite. It’s not bad.
We continue to eat, watching each other but saying nothing.
She hasn’t told me to fuck off. This is good. And as I study her I realize how much I’m enjoying just being in her company. Okay, so I’m tied up in all kinds of conflicting emotions…but she’s here. She’s with me and she’s eating. I’m hopeful we can make my proposition work. Her reaction to the kiss in the alley was…visceral. She still wants me. I know I could have fucked her there and she wouldn’t have stopped me.
She interrupts my reverie. “Do you know who’s singing?” Over the restaurant sound system, a young woman with a soft lyrical voice can be heard. I don’t know who she is, but we both agree she’s good.
Listening to this singer reminds me that I have the iPad for Ana. I hope that she lets me give it to her, and that she likes it. In addition to the music I uploaded yesterday, I spent some time this morning adding more features—photographs of the glider on my desk and of the two of us at her graduation ceremony and a few apps, too. It’s my apology, and I’m optimistic that the simple message I’ve had engraved on the back conveys my sentiment. I hope she doesn’t think it’s too cheesy. I just need to give it to her first, but I don’t know if we’ll get to that point. I suppress my sigh because she’s always been difficult about accepting gifts from me.