Her response is reassuring, but I think she’s missing the point. “I’m still me, Anastasia, in all my fifty shades of fucked up…ness,” I say, searching for the word. “Yes, I have to fight the urge to be controlling, but that’s my nature, how I’ve dealt with my life. Yes, I expect you to behave a certain way, and when you don’t it’s both challenging and refreshing. We still do what I like to do. You let me spank you after your outrageous bid yesterday.”
The thought of last night’s arousing encounter preoccupies me for a moment.
Keeping my voice low, I try to unravel how I feel. “I enjoy punishing you. I don’t think the urge will ever go, but I’m trying, and it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.”
“I didn’t mind that,” Ana says quietly, and she’s referring to our assignation in my childhood bedroom.
“I know. Neither did I.”
I take a deep breath and tell her the truth. “But let me tell you, Anastasia, this is all new to me, and these last few days have been the best in my life. I don’t want to change anything.”
Her face brightens. “They’ve been the best in my life, too, without exception.”
I’m sure my relief is reflected in my smile.
She persists. “So, you don’t want to take me into your playroom?”
Fuck. I swallow. “No, I don’t.”
“Why not?” she asks.
Now I’m really in the confessional. “The last time we were in there you left me. I will shy away from anything that could make you leave me again. I was devastated when you left. I explained that. I never want to feel like that again. I’ve told you how I feel about you.”
“But it hardly seems fair. It can’t be very relaxing for you to be constantly concerned about how I feel. You’ve made all these changes for me, and I—I think I should reciprocate in some way. I don’t know, maybe try some role-playing games.” She’s blushing.
“Ana, you do reciprocate, more than you know. Please, please don’t feel like this. Baby, it’s only been one weekend. Give us some time. I thought a great deal about us when you left. We need time. You need to trust me, and I you. Maybe in time we can indulge, but I like how you are now. I like seeing you this happy, this relaxed and carefree, knowing that I had something to do with it. I have never—” I stop.
Don’t give up on me, Ana.
I hear Dr. Flynn’s voice, nagging me. “We have to walk before we can run,” I say out loud.
“What’s so funny?” she asks.
“Flynn. He says that all the time. I never thought I’d be quoting him.”
I laugh. “Exactly.”
The waiter arrives with the appetizers and our heavy conversation ceases, turning to the much lighter subject of travel. We discuss all the countries Ana would love to visit, and the places I’ve been. Talking to Ana reminds me how lucky I am. My parents took us all over the world: to Europe, to Asia, and to South America. My father in particular considered travel a vital part of our education. Of course, they could afford it. Ana’s never left the U.S. and has always longed to visit Europe. I’d like to take her to all these places; I wonder how she’d feel about sailing the world with me.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, Grey.
TRAFFIC IS LIGHT DURING our drive back to Escala. Ana admires the passing sights, her foot tapping in time to the music that fills the car.
I can’t help thinking about our earlier intense conversation about our relationship. The truth is, I don’t know if I can maintain a vanilla relationship, but I’m willing to try. I don’t want to push her into something she doesn’t want to do.
But she’s willing, Grey.
She said so.
She wants the Red Room, as she calls it.
I shake my head. I think, for once, I’m going to take Dr. Flynn’s advice.
Walk before we run, Ana.
I glance out of the window and catch sight of a young woman with long brown hair and she reminds me of Leila. It’s not her, but as we near Escala I begin to scan the streets, searching for her.
Where the fuck is she?
By the time I pull into the garage at Escala, my hands are gripping the steering wheel and tension has tightened every muscle in my body. I’m wondering if it was a good idea to come back to the apartment with Leila still at large.
Sawyer is in the garage, prowling around my parking spaces like a caged lion. This is overkill surely, but I’m relieved to see the Audi A3 is gone. He opens Ana’s car door as I switch off the engine.
“Hello, Sawyer,” she says.
“Miss Steele. Mr. Grey,” he says in greeting.
“No sign?” I ask him.