Chapter One: He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named
I have successfully survived my first day at work, and third day post… him. Work has been a strange and welcoming distraction, flying by in a haze of new faces, work to do, and Mr Hyde.
Oh! I groan mentally. The overbearing, too friendly Jack Hyde who is surprisingly, despite it being only my first day already giving me a weird feeling.
I meet his gaze uncertainly as he smiles down brightly at me, his eyes a twinkling blue as he leans far too close to me on my new desk. "Excellent work Ana. I think we're going to make a great team." I try to ignore the pang of doubt at his words but give him a tight, smile.
"I'll be off, if that's okay with you," I mutter. "Of course, it's five thirty." He says. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Goodnight Mr Hyde."
"Please, call me Jack. Goodnight Ana." I actually wish you'd call me Anastasia...
Collecting my bag, I shrug on my jacket and head into the early evening air of Seattle. The bus is quiet and awkward, and I keep my mind busy from him with thoughts of today. My inner goddess and I have been on a mission to eliminate Christi- him from my mind, she has gone into permanent hibernation since the day I walked out of Escala.
We've been moderately successful. I've managed to consciously almost stop associating every thought with him but my subconscious hasn't gotten the memo, she sees him in people and objects consistently.
It's a small step back, I tell myself as I see the outline of his face in the messy bun of the woman in front of me. This, sadly, has partnered with my sudden growing and annoying conscience; a sudden and unwanted visitor. My life has somehow turned into a comedic strip shown in cartoons. Where two contrary voices whisper in my ears; the white angel and the red vixen. Not exactly controlling my reactions to situations, but always hovering over me to see my decision and scrutinize it. Their only helpful contributions have been helping me with proper etiquette when I zone out or forget that people do specific emotions in reaction to things.
I snort a laugh and the man next to me furrows his eyebrows at me. I have to laugh because if I don't I'll surely cry.
It's like i'm in a TV show from my childhood. Wherein this teenage boy hits his head while at a cartoon themed amusement park, hard enough to warrant a concussion. When he wakes up in the hospital he can see, hear and talk to said theme park cartoon characters, and he's stuck with them. My characters are my goddess, conscious and conscience with its two polar opposite kids- the white angel and red vixen.
The man next to me reaches his stop and I close my eyes and rest my head in my palms rubbing my face hard, because I must be the first woman to go crazy in a such a short amount of time.
It's only been three days. The vixen snubs with disdain. And the void inside me is only increasing, I muse in agreement running shaky hand through my too long hair.
The apartment is cold and empty without Kate. She's most probably lying on a beach in Barbados blissfully sipping a cool cocktail. I inhale deeply before filling the silence with the flat screen TV. The noise fills the vacuum and provides some semblance of company but, I don't listen or watch. I find myself staring at the envelope on the counter, it withholds the cheque for my Wanda. I miss her and the Audi. However, I suspect he overdid it in payment and it makes me feel cheap, and slightly bitter.
I realize my mind is on him, again… And try not to cry.
I hear the intercom buzz and it startles me. How long have I been sitting here?
When I press the intercom receiver a bored, young voice answers. "Delivery for Ms. Steele." Downstairs I meet an adolescent man chewing gum, with his mouth open, holding a long, medium-sized cardboard box, leaning nonchalant against the front door.
As I sign for it, I wonder idly if he sees cartoon characters, but a quick glance over tells me the only cartoons he sees are hentai related and take the box upstairs with a tight smile thrown over my shoulder. Its light, my heart drums and I hope deeply that it's nothing from him. Why would he send me something anyway? In my apartment my hands resume shaking, as I uncover the box to find two dozen long- stemmed white roses laying on a bed of red tissue paper and a card.
I stare at them, beautiful and wonderful as they are and run my fingers down the stem of one. No thorns, the curiosity of what pricking my finger against one must feel like hovers in my mind momentarily, to feel anything. "Maybe I should take up a dare devil sport because I'm starting to scare myself." I mutter plucking one of the roses petal before picking up the note.
Congratulations on your first day at work. I hope it went well.
And thank you for the glider. That was very thoughtful.
It has pride of place on my desk.
Christian. Christian. Christian!
His name unleashes a new, overwhelming pain inside me, it comes so abruptly that for a few seconds I'm knocked breathless from its force. The petal hits the ground and all together I feel everything inside me sink. Torturous images of his face fill my mind, and my hand fumbles to cling to the marble counter to keep me upright. I grab the box, roughly slamming the lid back on and run to the window facing the pavement. I hesitate.
No, I can't. I realize and the twist it sends to my heart is what makes me head in the opposite direction and out my front door. My legs with a deciding push from the white angel- carry me across the hall to the door across from mine and Kates'. Ungainly, my hands now clammy and trembling knock twice on the door. The box is taunting. I consider leaving it here and running.
My conscious stares at me wide eyed and I nod in agreement. This is stupid I'm hysterical, or something! Turning to leave I whirl back when the creak of the door opening sirens me. I look down to find a little girl staring at me with big, bright green eyes. She's wearing black and yellow PJ's and she has straight, red hair in a sloppy side pony.
"Sorry lady, I'm not allowed to open the door to strangers." The girl goes to close it when a wash cloth covered hand reaches out to stop the door.
"Maddy! No." A woman says scooting the girl to the side then shooing her away with the cloth, the girl huffs in response pouting before walking away grumbling. "So, must I or mustn't I open the door to strangers. Always changing your mind."
"Sorry," The woman apologizes chuckling lightly while looking after the retreating girl. "She can be a brat!" Her voice increases to make sure the girl hears her and then she turns to me.
I realize I must look quite a sight, because when she takes me in her freckled cheeks form a worried smile. "Hey, are you okay?" She asks drying her hands with the wash cloth.
"Yeah." I say too quickly. "Here." I thrust the box to her and she looks down at it before raising an inquisitive eyebrow at me. "I'm Ana, your new neighbor." I manage to say. "Do y- you think you… c-could you take this for me please?" My throat is tight and the tears threatening are verging overwhelming.
"What is it? A body part? A giant casserole?" I don't know what to say. What do you say in a situation like this? 'Hi could you please take these roses so I'm not constantly reminded of my not- ex, but ex Dominant?' Should of thought of a better plan-
"Is it a break up?" I meet her pensive gaze and hesitantly nod. "The asshole sent flowers, right?" Another nod.
She gives me a sympathetic smile and doesn't say anything else. She flings the cloth over one shoulder and I hand the box to her. "Thank you." I say as she lifts the lid and marvels at the roses.
"A girl in need. Plus, I love flowers."
A nudge in my head from one of the characters has me sticking my hand out. "Anastasia Steele."
"Chloe." She laughs easing the awkwardness. "Chloe Vegmont." She manoeuvres the box under one arm then shakes my hand. I glance her over as we do grasping the fact that I haven't even seen my sudden unusual hero properly. She looks about my age and her hair's the same color as the young girl's, except wildly, curly and her eyes a pastel green. Her stature and the way she holds herself reminds me of a ballerina or gymnast.
"You want to come in for a drink? I make and I am tooting my own horn here a banging tea." She grins and pushes the door open with her hip, and I momentarily see flowers and bright colors before making eye contact again. It's the right words, the right everything.
The angel nods, the vixen shrugs. "Thanks again, I'm good." I don't do what's expected, and promise another time but the ends of my lips turn upwards. I smile, I think. "Another time for sure though, right?" Her worry is evident, my smile must've been unconvincing.
I nod because it's what's expected.
"Later neighbour." She says closing the door, not before I hear her say. "Hey brat, next time you'll be on the other side of that door." I can't find it in myself to laugh as I slowly trek back to my apartment. Once I shut the door behind me, I lean my back against it and slide down until my butt connects with the floor. The TV buzzes distantly, as I draw my knees in and bury my face into them.
"Thanks for the flowers." I mutter and stare at the discarded petal, then finally allow myself to cry.
I feel better today… and worse.
It's better because I'm surviving another day post him, and another day at work. It's worse because the overbearing, too friendly Jack Hyde is still, at an unnerving consistency giving me a strange feeling. It's worse because when I left the apartment this morning for work there was a single rose left at the foot of my door and I couldn't help myself from taking it and putting it on my bedside, next to its missing petal, on top of the card.
It's better because I meet Claire, the receptionist. She wears silver hooped earrings, extravagant makeup, and a bright, sneaky smile and I realize I'm speaking to more women my own age since Kate left than I expected. She's friendly and invites me out for lunch the next day. Then it's worse again, because he doesn't call or text, but I manage to push that aside because of Jack. He makes me feel edgy and the next day as I stare down at my tea and muffin in apprehension, I want to ask Claire about him. Will she be protective of Jack? Does she even know anything?
Claire sits at ease gingerly taking a sip of her chai latte. When I finally graze the subject, she asks questionably. "What about Jack?" Then she frowns. I think it's my question, but I see it's just the chai. "Oh, they never put enough sugar in these." She rips two brown sugar packets and pours them inside her mug. My eyes sweep the café as she stirs, a cute small one just a few blocks from work.
"Aren't chai's' super sweet?" I ask conversationally, my voice unwillingly witless.
"Not sweet enough." She shrugs. "So, Jack?"
I pause thinking of ways to phrase the words properly. "H- He's kind of odd, and intrusive." She bobs her head in tow with my words seemingly indifferent, so I carry on. "I mean he is kind, and charismatic and attractive I suppose but… I don't feel quite- right about him." A slight pang of guilt and embarrassment washes over me, at the dauntlessness of revealing my feelings about my boss only a few days in, to a receptionist I'm hardly acquainted with.
Claire's lips purse as she balances the cup just under her mouth. I sit silently searching, but she avoids eye contact pointedly. It satisfies me. There's something odd about Jack and Claire knows. After a few seconds she takes a large, scalding gulp from her mug and places it on the table. Her amber eyes finally meeting mine.
"Please." I plead. She glances at the door as if wanting to escape but sighs in defeat. "When I first started working here the old receptionist harassed me."
"Wait, what?" Not what I expected to hear at all.
"Okay, she didn't exactly harass me." She rolls her eyes as if it's just semantics. "She pulled me into an ally while I was walking home. I was a few weeks in to SIP and she screamed at me. Told me I should quit SIP and to get out of there immediately and to stay away from those in power. I thought she was absolutely crazy. Elizabeth even confirmed it."
"Human Resources, Elizabeth?"
"Yeah, apparently this receptionist had 'issues'," She whispers using air quotes. "Had a breakdown or something and completely whacked out and left. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement and agreed not to file charges because she's mentally sick."
I want to say 'I'm sorry', because I'm supposed to, but manage only to sit back and take a long drink of my tea. It's cold but, I jug down half of it. "I'm sorry you had to go through that." I eventually manage my voice wavering and soft.
"I've written it off and all, but since then I've felt super weird being at SIP especially around Jack. It's like this feeling of impending doom, you know?" I do know, because Claire has just successfully and quite literally hit the nail on the head with my feelings towards Jack.
"Did the woman say anything? Give you anything?"
"I ran away before she could say much screaming bloody murder, but I have this memorized to heart." Claire takes her bag which was hanging peacefully from her chair and makes a show of taking out her lip balm, keys, tissues and whatever else, until finally seeming satisfied at retrieving a pad and pencil. "She told me as I ran if I ever wanted any answers to go to…"
I watch her scribble something quickly as she speaks, then she rips the paper out and slides it too me. "This address. Ask for the name I wrote, don't repeat this to anyone. Please, Ana, I'm risking my job here and I have a family to help at home." She gives me an uneven smile then proceeds to put her contents back. "I've sent others to her. They always come back scared shitless and leave SIP within a month. It's made me too scared to go find her I need this money."
I nod. "I won't say a word." I promise pocketing the note then picking up my tea. Why the hell does this feel like I'm a secret agent about to go on a mission that will ultimately kill me?
"Did you know that-" Claire easily diverts the conversation to something lighter speaking vibrantly about her family. I decide I like Claire, her talking endlessly makes it so you only need to make small noises of attentiveness and seem waveringly interested. As she speaks for once I'm not thinking of him. I'm thinking of Hyde. What's his secret? And if I find out will I still want to work for him. Doubtful, he's already trekking on thin ice.
"So anyway, we're all having a family get together thing at Tacoma this weekend. It will be great except my snobby Aunt Farnie will be there- Hey, what's the time? Oh, crap- let's go we're 10 minutes over and I'm the receptionist." We leave my empty tea, picked at muffin and run back Claire giggling the whole way as if we did something enigmatic, and mischievous.
"Ana," Jack waves his index finger at me scolding as I flop into my seat. I almost cringe upon seeing him, not from fear of being chastened but knowing he has deep, dark secret now. "Sorry Jack, we lost track of time."
"We?" he raises an eyebrow as if he's been given a challenge, and he likes it. "Boyfriend out there?" My heart drops when I say. "E- Ex." I breathe taking a moment to compose myself as pain ripples through me before realizing he's still waiting. "I... no, it... it was me and Claire- Claire and I."
"Its fine Ana, just watch the time." He gives me a bright chilling smile and saunters back into his office leaving me with a pile of correspondences addressed to him. Though it helps in distracting me. Jack the ass, I've decide to call him has diverted my thoughts once again to him.
Is he thinking about me? I shake my head and all the characters agree, and divert my attention to the files in front of me.
Until, there's a ping from my email.
Hey guys, so I've been working on this story for so long and have been wanting to post it. Was just waiting for the right moment that never came, so just biting the gun here.
This story will encompass a lot, its a journey for Anastasia, her relationship with Christian, her self- discovery and strength, her career and downfalls, and successes. Oh, and of course Elena will be here, as freaking always. Get ready for a whole lot of drama and feels!