Anastasia's had a bad feeling about Jack Hyde since her first day at SIP and since her relationship is over, she had nothing else but him to focus on. So, with new friends as support systems such as Chloe Vegmont and Adam Bereado she works on healing herself. With Claire Vry and Sarah Wilson she embarks on discovering and exposing Jack's secret. However trying to get her life in order proves harder than she thought. She creates a clear divide between the two big influential men in her life; a list on how to get over Christian Grey and multiple ways to win against Jackass Hyde.
With the stakes stacked against her, the rising stress, voices and fear is constantly threatening to pull her under. No matter what arises with Jack her mind is constantly on Grey.
Last time on Paging Ana
Ana finally feels like she finally has the upper-hand when she cashes Christian's cheque. Using it as a means to use against Jack; a camera set up ready to film Jack's cunning without detection while also gaining an ally in receptionist, Claire Vry. She finds a new fondness in embraces and quite literally embraces them from Claire, Chloe, Ethan and even Jason Taylor himself. Who made a surprise appearance in the last chapter.
Question on everybody's mind... Where is Christian Grey? And is Anastasia Steele going crazy?
Sorry I've been gone so long.
Chapter Eight: Seattle Independent Publishing
The water runs cold.
It strikes like tiny ice shards against my skin inciting a tingly, cool awareness. It's comforting, to focus on the lovely feeling of the water running smoothly down my skin. As if it were washing away the memories of early this morning of Taylor and what he said. As if it teamed with my characters rallying to push him out of my mind.
Oh, how I embrace my situation with Jack when I need to escape this feeling of want and pain. Once, I read that danger and adversity have a strange way of creating alliances… "And while these may be tenuous and cautious. Thus, easily broken when the truth might come up, it is such tenuous trust that makes us do what must be done." I quote.
That's why I hugged Taylor he's a good, stable entity that somehow seems completely connected and un- connected to my life. The gnawing hole makes me stagger with pain, so instead I tilt my head back to contemplate the quote more. Maybe that's why Sarah Wilson shares her story, feeling that connection to me and the other women; the best version of alliance she can muster. Is this what makes Claire finally decide to see what's happening and help me? She finally acknowledged the danger. Can I trust her?
The water cascades down my face through my soapy hair and down my back. I'm conflicted in in almost every aspect of my life. Fining myself often questioning my plans, motives, tact, friends… and yet in all the madness, numbness, extending-never-ending dark-void, the truth is I like having a determination.
I was in a tunnel, one of darkness and no hope whatsoever. One, I'm sure had no end but now I had a flashlight it flickered and you had to smack it sometimes for it to work, but it was my determination. It was making me feel not exactly hopeful, but it was better than the pain. It reminds me why I'm doing this, the adversity that is Jack Hyde. I'm connected to every single woman that came before me and would come after me. I see their faces fearful and confused. Their bodies bruised, in pain and their silent screams as he no doubt silenced them- Opening my eyes I see a small boy with the same expression mirrored on his face. "Stop Anastasia.' He whispers barely audible against the loud water. I'm locked into place, frozen by the strange familiarity of his voice. It was a soft, beautiful voice- somehow full of fury. It was his voice- but didn't knock me to my knees, cause pain instead sent a shuddering force through me that made me almost feel awake… clear. I shake my head at him.
"You're going to get yourself hurt." The shudder continues making me ever so aware of the cold, cold water that pelted me. I fall back against the shower door in shock, turning to push it open until I fell stark naked on my hands and knees breathing deeply. I look again back to the boy and find nothing.
What was that?! "How would I know, if you don't?" Panting, gasping the characters look at me with confusion eventually standing, staggering I realize it felt like him.
And I fall all over again.
He was right there I violently shake my head, trying to understand. I knew he wasn't there, and yet it was him. Same concern, care and crass.
Once dressed and ready I realize how early it is, deciding to take the spared time to make a large breakfast for dozing Ethan and I. A large meal of scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and sausages and a heap of pancakes. As well as a enough banana smoothie to feed the whole apartment building. 'He's different without you.' The words ring in my head as I take a large gulp from my glass. If only he knew how deeply those words worked in reverse.
Maybe I'm having some kind of hallucination. Triggered by his memory and the strange familiarity of this, a crazy situation. I ran through the possibilities quickly in my head. The question was why? I had two possible theories. One: I was crazy. It made perfect sense when you consider it since I've left him, I'd been hearing voices in my head. This one could be a materialization.
Two: My mind was giving me what it thought I wanted. Momentary relief from pain by embracing the idea that if he was here, he'd care about what I did, be bothered by something bad happening to me and immediately intervene. Just like the night I got drunk, selling my car- he always showed he cared in the strangest ways.
"There's no three, is there?" The piece of pancake on my fork covered in strawberry jam doesn't respond. I chew the morsel of food while stabbing at the fluffy surface still on my plate. I had to be the second one, just my mind running rampage, rather than something I'd need to be seriously concerned about.
However, if that were the case my reaction... was hardly sane… I answered. My immediate answer was to talk to him, argue with him. "How did this happen?"
I tried not to think of him, forced myself. It's something I tried to be very strict about. Of course, I slipped, it was just a slip. Just like I couldn't control my dreams about him, or seeing his face everywhere Tears drip on to the plate and I quickly bite off the piece on my fork, wiping my eyes with the back of my sleeve.
I wasn't even smart about it, didn't run away- from this possible damaging and mentally unstable development. It would be stupid to encourage this, but I hadn't run my body had reacted to the water and tirade of emotions- I ran from that, immediately checking if he was still there. I dab at the mess on the plate, new droplets falling in place of the ones I've cleaned. My subconscious peeps up at me, her demeanor soft and sensitive as she says some or another thing. I snort at her but, she's soon covered by the others offering similar condolences.
"Morning Jack." My lips instructively lift into a smile.
"Morning honey." The smile falters as his hand squeezes my shoulder it lingers, only coming off when he's walked past me ignoring the coffee in my hand.
I purse my lips before meandering behind him. "Hey Ana." He moves to his filing cabinet, grabbing some files and moving them to his desk. "I need you to re-schedule my appointment with Mike Walles, we'll be meeting with the big guys later on and I need you to come along to take notes."
He glances at his buzzing phone then violently throws it down on to his desk. I jump, the coffee almost slipping from my fingers. "Sorry honey didn't mean to scare you. It's just there's something happening with the company. The accounts are frozen, they're questioning business trips it's a big fuck up."
I tilt my head inquisitively, "Really? Is it anything to be worried about- like are we talking fraud, bootlegging, laundering?" I try not to pause slowly tapping my fingers against the sides of the cup. "Harr…ass…ment."
Jack chuckles gesturing behind me. "Close the door."
He puts down the phone resting both hands on his desk, he locks me in place with a stare. "Close the door and I'll tell you." He re- gestures.
"Oh okay," Hesitating I close it shut. "Is it a secret?"
He beckons me forward until I'm at the front of his desk. "Listen," He glances around as if someone would be hiding here, in his open plan office. "I'm really not supposed to say anything, it's on the down-low right now."
I finally set down the cup on his desk. "That's alright then."
"I mean, it is kind of an important secret but I feel like I can trust you, Ana." All I can focus on is not looking at the camera, I feel as if I can see the blinking red beep of it from the bookshelf. I eventually just lean in and Jack's eyes brighten with mirth.
"It's nothing like a scandal, the company's being bought out."
"What?" I lean closer the musk of his cologne going straight up my nose, it's like he bathed in the scent creating more of a serious BO than anything else. "So, SIP is gone and we're all losing our jobs?" The thought utterly and completely devastates me, I'd have put up with Jack for no reason at all and I still didn't have anything linking him and Elizabeth or his previous PA's. I couldn't let him leave, continuing this behavior elsewhere. Claire and I had set out a huge plan to catch him in the act, as well as Elizabeth. I had planned on calling my dad and Sarah Wilson on the subject later.
Jack takes in my expression taking on this leery smirk, "Don't worry honey. I'll protect you." I watch as he rounds the desk before I can realize what's happening, he's trying to embrace me. I spring back in shock fixating a hard stare on him as he continues advancing. "Mr. Hyde what are you doing?" Foot after foot backing away steadily.
"It's alright Ana, I just want to comfort you."
"I'm okay, It's fine, really please." I stick an arm out in a plea for distance. "T- That's really inappropriate I'd feel un-comfortable if you did." I'm ashamed at my wavering voice.
He stops analyzing me thoroughly. I'm sure I look manic- my arms still outstretched, my back pressed against the door and I'm sure my eyes are wide, The terrifying expression's back as he runs his thumb over his lip in satisfaction at me, my reaction pleases him.
"Damn you're a tease." I'm aghast at the comment- my characters all in shock at him. It was mumbled, muffled by a laugh even, but I'm sure he said it.
I can't help it, "Excuse me? Did you just call me-"
"Anyway," He turns with a dismissive wave of hand. "The possible new owners are coming in today, they're meeting with all the important people here to outline some stuff about the company- staff, funds, etc." Jack finally grabs his coffee from the desk and takes a long gulp.
"Who knows how long it will take so… I'll need you there to take note just bring my laptop with you." I nod, still shaken at what's just transpired, the fact that he's acting as if nothing happened just now. He glances down at his watch, "They'll be here just after lunch so don't be late because you're canoodling with whoever it is, you're going out with now."
"I thought you said it was on the down low. If only the top people should know at this stage, how would it make sense for me to be there?"
"Just do as your told, Ana." A memory of a certain CEO saying those same words on occasion. It's weird how I can no longer remember when or where, just him and his voice. "Also, after the meeting don't forget to try and book our tickets. Maybe, the accounts will be back online."
"Hmm?" I ask.
"Our tickets." He sighs as if I've exhausted him completely. "For that Commissioning Fiction Sympo-sium in New York, Friday, remember?"
"Oh, I've booked your ticket and hotel already." Despite, what his exasperation may be with me. I've stayed on top of if not ahead of Jack's schedule since I've started. I had all the preparations in place since the previous Friday before he's even told me about the trip.
"And yours? I need my assistant to come "Yeah, we'll need to go Friday morning and stay overnight. I think you'll find it a very educational experience." His eyes darken as he says this, but his smile is polite. "Would you make the necessary travel arrangements? And book an additional room at the hotel where I am staying? I think Sabrina, my previous PA, left all the details handy somewhere."
"Yes sir." I say hastily.
"You know how to type fast and listen, right?" I smile hopping desperately, that it doesn't look like a grimace. "Of course, sir."
"Good, I didn't hire no blonde. You can go." He pauses pointing at the cup. "Oh and bring me a new coffee this one's cold. You really must work faster." The only thing running through my mind are his continuous, outrageous comments. My best friend is blonde and happened to be one of the smartest people I know- I don't say that, instead opting to pick up the coffee and leave.
Later at lunch, two chai teas rest in front of Claire and me. I pluck my third bakery dessert from the plate of mini- Cinnabon's that lay between us. It's dosed in chocolate, cinnamon and sugar while usually I wouldn't eat such a sweet treat, right now, while my mind is literally processing information a mile a minute it really hits the spot.
"So, he tried to hug you?" Claire asks nursing her tea in both hands her eyes wide with curiosity. "He just came at you?"
"It was frightening." I swallow the bite. "I thought I'd just freeze up, but I practically leaped out of his reach, had to keep spurring him from coming any closure."
"God! I'd probably freeze up." She cringes. "Anyway, what now? New York are you going? What about Elizabeth?" Claire and I sit in silence for some time contemplating this, when my phone starts buzzing. I hold up a finger to Claire who nods immediately texting away at her phone.
"Ana, hi." My heart swells with love and adoration, it's so sudden and foreign that my body reverberates with this over-whelming feeling. "Daddy!" I cry in shocked joy at hearing his voice
"Wow, what's wrong? You sound way too excited to hear from your old man."
"I just miss you so much." I say tears springing. "It's been so long since I've seen or talked to you. How are you?"
"I'm doing good Ana, how are you and how's that new job of yours?" His voice is gruff, so familiar that I feel my childhood resurfacing. Replacing my conflicted thoughts and doubts with memories, so many beautiful memories of Lucille and morning records. "It's alright, everything is just fine- dandy even." That sounded false to my own ears.
"What's wrong, sweetheart?" My throat tightens, Claire seems to be trying very hard not to eavesdrop glancing up at me every few seconds. "I-I need… your help daddy." It comes out unwillingly unbidding. "I c-can't do it by myself. I- I can't handle-"
"Ana," The switch can be felt no matter how far he is. The single word soothes me more than anything thus far my have. My hands stop shaking, my heart slows causing my breathing to regulates From father to militant approach- Ray sometimes had a hard time juggling between the both and usually did a good job combining them.
"What happened? What needs to be done?"
Claire is making five different signs telling me to stop talking. "Uh, I.." I stutter. She's right, my dad was the last person I'd want to tell about this. He'd fly straight down trying to help me in every way he can. I needed to do this, without him knowing.
"It's this new client, his book is impossible to understand. He's crazy with details and plans and wants me to do all this research on abuse and trying to save yourself with no proof."
"Come on, sweetheart don't get so over-whelmed. It's still the early stages of work."
"I can't dad, it's my first big project. I have to impress them otherwise I'll never grow in this company." I was so disappointed in myself, how easy it is to lie to my dad. "Of course, my smart girl," He lets out a laugh. "I may know a thing or to about this type of thing."
"I know. Help me." Claire cranes her neck to hear the conversation. "What's he saying?' She whispers basically on the table whilst digging through her bag at the same time.
"Jeez, hold on," I glance around the empty café, before putting the phone between us on low loud speaker. "Hey dad, you're on with Claire as well she's my… partner in all this." The next half-hour, Claire and I sit in relative silence as she scribbles furiously note after note that my dad tells to us. I feel so stupid not having thought of these things before as he mentions them. "Lastly, the don't trust so easily theory." I lift my eyes to hers.
"That whole everyone around you could be against you, it's true. Deception is dangerous and should always be watched carefully." I pull the phone away from where it rests between Claire and I, switching it to my other ear. "Thanks daddy, I need to start work in a bit but, I'll call you later. There's so much I miss."
"Ana, I'm serious about that last part. I sat through all those teen movies with you; this new partner of yours make sure she's not trying to have the upper hand in this deal. We're all just trying to make it after all and you, darling, who trusts too easily. Sometimes that gets you into situations." I glance back at Claire who sips at her tea in wait. Me finding out about Jack is a dangerous situation for him and all those involved, could Claire be involved? "Okay." I say turning away again and ducking my head. "I'll call you."
"I'll take the next plane down if you don't." I keep the phone pressed to my ear.
"I love you."
"I love you, Ana."
Claire slides the notebook to me, "Your dad is one cool mother fucker."
"I know." I smile looking over the notes. The plan we had, coupled with what my dad said made the plan feel foolproof. Jack had to incriminate himself and he was already well on his way. It's tactful; putting the right people in the right places, asking the right questions with innocence, gaining information in general ways. I relay all this to Claire.
"Discreet and smart." She nods in agreement. "He has these habits of being too clingy and close. He calls me honey, other pet names its constant small things. I just keep acting normal, maybe hesitant and off-putting as well."
"Okay and Elizabeth?"
"Elizabeth…" I say carefully trying to phrase it properly. "Remember how I told you they're in cahoots?" Claire nods her braided bob bobbing. "I'll casually mention that Jack wants to take me to New York, hopefully then she'll go to his office and talk to him."
"Talk him out of it?"
"I don't know… I can't tell with her." Thinking back to the day that Elizabeth sat crying in her office. "She might be afraid of him while still helping him. At least that way we'll have something on her."
"Okay that'll work." Her acrylic nails tap against the wooden tabletop. "And... there's that meeting today?" She trails off thoughtfully then in a spew of spit and food she yells.
"It's perfect!" Some occupants turn to stare at us, "Shh, what is?"
"While you're in the meeting I'll sneak into Jack's office." I gape at her, she can't be serious. "You can't do that."
"When will we have another opportunity?" She says, chewing open-mouthed. "He always keeps that place locked like a safe, his laptop has a password and security code- he'll probably let you use the Guest account to take whatever notes."
"How do you know all that?"
She shrugs nonchalant continuing to eat. I look at her skeptically but she only meets my eyes with seriousness. "He must have the password main login somewhere in there, something incriminating- we're going on fumes."
She's right… "Okay. Do it."
"Yes boss," She salutes me before cleaning her hands on the napkin. "Speaking of bosses can you believe who's coming in today?" Claire clasps her hands together in an obvious display of excitement that I'm supposed to share in.
"The possible new owners of SIP." I say falsely matching her excitement. She rolls her eyes and I shrug, "What it's true."
"Ana, that deal has been in the making for a while- it's a done deal SIP is bought." My tea diverts from its path down my throat.
"W- what?" I choke.
"Yeah our new bosses are coming in today to dot the eyes and check the merchandise."
Claire rolls her eyes again, for the first time I feel my hand twitching and understand the urge to punish. I immediately dismiss the thought with a horrified shiver. "That can't be…" I trail off glancing down at my watch. "But we're nearly late, come on." She rolls her eyes, grabbing her bag before following me out.
When we arrive back the office is in chaos. People are running around frantically, for what I can only assume is to prepare for the new bosses. "Jeez," Claire says jumping animatedly in place. "Looks like the news no one is supposed to know is out." I glance over at her beaming smile, "I wonder who told?"
"Claire? Did you tell everyone about the takeover?" I gape at her.
"Hey," She raises her hands in defense. "I love chaos, plus it's the perfect distraction. I'm helping." I open my mouth to reprimand her. "I better rush to the bathroom before it's too full." She fluffs out her braids dramatically.
How does she get any work done…? I wonder as she throws me a wink.
"I better look good for Grey maybe then I can get bumped up to GEH too." She twirls while flouncing away. I shake my head chuckling before whirling back. "Wait, Claire!" I call out dashing forward but a few other women from around the office are already surrounding her giggling excitedly.
Wait, she can't mean!
Wait, it can't be!
Wait! Wait! Wait!
"Did she just say?" I turn only to find Hannah. Hannah Weber is another assistant, she started some months before me and works for Janet Grilents, the head publisher of the company. We've spoken a lot on joint coffee runs and fellow assistant- assistance. "Hey Ana, you okay?"
I blink at her. Her worried brown eyes scan me as she places a hand against my forward. "You look pale as a ghost." She immediately grabs me by my forearms leading me to my desk. I feel completely disconnected from all the frantic of the office, they all move past me in a slow blur. My sudden jostle is of Hannah placing a styrofoam cup in my hands.
"Do I call someone? Should I get Jack?" She moves to leave, luckily all my characters work in unison so as to move my hand forward. "No," I choke pulling on her jersey. "I just feel dizzy, I didn't eat at all today."
"God, you're shaking." She kneels beside me moving the cup to my lips. I let the warm, sugary water run down my throat. "What is this?"
"Little trick for when you're in shock" Her warm smile does nothing to appease me. "Works better than Coke or apple juice if you ask me."
"Thanks." I murmur sipping the water.
There's a sudden movement, a flurry then everyone's dashing towards the entrance in a flash of heels and excitement. "Oh shit," Hannah glances behind. "The you-know-who-who-we-shouldn't-know-who is here."
My heart stops, all my body seeming to follow.
Hannah's lips continue to move, I strain to listen as my ears slowly fill with cotton. My nose immediately follows clogging painfully I part my lips open to breathe, I want to speak to interrupt her to let her know I can't hear her. My throat tightens, a million questions on my tongue but nothing comes out. There are no tears, only panic- my inner goddess springs to life. She pushes open the door of her sarcophagus leaping out in her bandages, twirling until she's unwrapped and gorgeous in new lingerie. I watch her silently as a bed materializes and she throws herself on it in wait.
"Can you not!" I snap. " Hannah stares at me bewildered, it's very apparent that I've interrupted her. "Sorry, I was just trying to help." She straightens clear confusion on her face. "I'll leave you to it." I can't for the life of me manage to open my mouth again.
God, I face palm. I've literally become the crazy person of this office.
Not my fault, my inner goddess shrugs spreading roses on the bed. I've been in hibernation.
I down the rest of my drink in one go. Then as I hear a jumbled mess of voices, impossible to distinguish from so far I duck in to Jack's office which is thankfully empty. I try to remember his instructions… um… laptop. I can't remember if there was anything else and take the laptop, but while at the door my hand on the handle I can't manage to open it.
It's been long enough. My conscious teats. You don't even have to acknowledge him, you're an assistant. The dark voice and the white argue between themselves throwing me contradicting opinions. "You know you guys are becoming more and more unhelpful." They both glare at me before simultaneously saying, It's time.
It's time to confront him, the dark one smirks.
It's time to talk to him, the white voice insists pushing the other behind.
"It's time to do my job." I ignore them. I keep the laptop pressed tightly against my chest swinging the door open. As I approach the meeting room as confidently as I can, my characters follow suit each materializing around me. They're strong, beautiful women who flag me like a powerful group, my confident floods and I knock on the door.
"Come in." I flush with embarrassment- I'm late, I steel myself pushing the door open. I map out the room out in my head, the meeting room at SIP is small and the table can sit a maximum of 10 people. There are usually chairs on the wall for assistants to sit to take notes, that is where I will sit, behind Jack. At the head of the table is most probably where he'll be, so I need to look there last to survive.
"Oh Ana," I hear Jack say as I enter. "Good of you to join us, we were just about to start." I finally lift my eyes and the first person I see is Jack Hyde, the second is Ros Bailey- I know it's her because I remember him telling me about her vaguely. She sits in the head chair… not him. I scan the rest of the room. He's not here.
"Sorry, I'm late sir." I try not to let the my emotions overtake me. I try not to look desperately at each person's face five times to make sure. I try not to pathetically sink to the ground because of this expanding pain that rises within me
Where is he?
What the hell?
My inner goddess can only stare at the site, at the door behind me she collapses into a fit of hysterics as the others all surround her.
"Who's this?" Ros Bailey asks her hand going to her temple in frustration. "I thought we made it very clear how private this meeting was supposed to be. However, on entrance we were met by your entire office." She gestures to the woman sitting next to her. "this is supposed to be a silent negotiation."
"This is Anastasia Steele, my assistant." Jack looks immediately panicked and is obviously at a loss. "I was just dropping off Mr Hyde's laptop for the meeting." I say hesitantly. "And picking up coffee orders."
Ros Bailey and the woman next to her immediately regard me differently they exchange a look then turn back to me. I think her name is Andrea, his personal assistant. It's just them, two people from GEH came, no more.
"Correct, Miss Steele." Jack's relief is in every word. "Go grab Hannah, get some coffees for everyone bring sugar along with you." I nod trying to control myself from asking anything. "Okay, eight cups coming up"
"Three weak, four with milk and one black."
Beau Willis tells me not looking up from his papers. Beau Willis is the Vice President of Marketing and Publicity. I nod absently still looking at them all as I hand Jack his laptop; Elizabeth Morgan, Jack Hyde, Jerry Roach, Kay Bestie, Ros Bailey, Andrea, Janet Grilents and Beau Willis
I leave pressing a palm to my neck in embarrassment. God, Jack Hyde is an idiot. I trail off starting on the path to the kitchen. God, I'm an idiot, he didn't even come. I turn and lock the door behind me without thinking before pressing my back against it and breathing out.
"Shit!" I gasp. "Oh, Hannah," Damn, when will the embarrassment end. "I'm so sorry," Getting to my feet I unlock the door and step away from it. Hannah looks at me puzzled but I think she's decided to embrace my crazy.
"Um… so how many coffees?"
"What?" I ask still moving uneasily away from the door.
"The coffees, Janet told me we'd be in charge of that earlier on."
"Right, eight… Christian Grey's not here."
She leans against the counter top eyebrows raised at me. I hear the low hum of the kettle starting to boil. She chuckles, "Oh God, did you see the disappointment parade out there when the CEO himself didn't show."
Hearing it out loud made it feel realer, so I repeat it. "Christian Grey isn't here?" I chuckle, a hysterical and nervous laugh.
"It's like we missed out on Tom Cruise." She laughs turning to get the mugs from the top cupboards. I spring into action as well getting the trays setting up saucers and varieties of sugars, sweeteners and all. My hands shake as I follow the instructions from Mr Willis, pouring the right amounts of the coffee into the cups as Hannah places them in front of me.
"Alright," Hannah says grabbing the tray with sugars, milk and three cups of coffee leaving me with the other five. "Ready?"
I hesitate willing myself calm. "Yeah." I hear Jack groan a loud, "Finally." as soon as we enter. We begin maneuvering around the room I lift my eyes occasionally to see who I'm serving. They continue the discussion murmuring quiet 'thank you's' as we set them down.
"The process is very simple; we just overview the current staff list and see what's necessary in changes." Ms Bailey says. I chance a glance and see her shift a page on the table. "We check to see if you're over staffed in areas, under staffed, salaries, etc. For example, right here you're Human Resources department only has a head and two employees."
I set Ms Bailey's coffee in front of her "Uh, thanks Ana- is this black, extra strong?".
"Yes." I answer. She called me Ana, as if she knew me personally. "No problem." I say coolly following Hannah out of the room. "That wasn't terrible, right?."
I sigh nodding in agreement, because I don't trust myself to speak. "Thanks for the help." I say. "No problem," Hannah says taking the tray from my death grip. "I'll take care of these," She eyes me with a weary smile. "You take care of you."
I nod again, we part ways as I head for Jack's office and Hannah to the kitchen. Wasting no time, I barge into Jacks office to find Claire arm deep in Jack's file cabinet looking like a kid with her hand in the cookie jar.
"Ana, you scared the shit out of me!" She gasped, before letting out a nervous laugh. "What are you doing here? The meeting?"
"Jack messed up once again." I sigh. "Higher ups only." She nods then goes back to searching.
"You find anything?" I ask moving for the camera at the bookshelf.
"You'll never believe." She pauses glancing down at a file before returning it. "A printed list of all his past secretaries. It was folded up in the corner of the top shelf, I wouldn't have even seen it if I wasn't checking the corners. Some names are crossed out and highlighted, I already put it back but took some pictures." She says closing the third cabinet and dropping to her knees to dig through the last one. "I've only been through these cabinets though."
"That's great." I fiddle with the latch on the candle holder, removing the crystals to get the camera out.
"What are you doing?"
"Documenting," I feel like a jumbled mess as I hold the camera moving to Jack's desk, opening drawer after drawer and shifting through them. This is illegal, The white voice hums. This is most probably a bad idea. I ignore her glancing at the door before trying another drawer immediately on top of a pile rests handcuffs. Furry pink and relatively old handcuffs. I lift them with shaking hands images of being similarly tied springing to mind. Velvety fabric instead of this steel bite, I drop them with a shudder.
"You find something?" Claire asks coming over. "Oh lord… that's creepy." She kneels beside me and offers be a comforting squeeze. "Check it out," She says moving the handcuffs to the side. "It's your file."
I look down and sure enough Claire's taking my employee file out, two wayward pictures slip from the document. She continues flipping through the file and we see certain words highlighted and circled. I click to take pictures page by page as the camera continues to roll. I try the last drawer, it won't budge. Typical.
"Did you see any keys over there?" I ask tracing the key holes of the drawer. Claire's rushes to the table across from me piled with books and files. "Um…" She looks at the bowl of trinkets. "There's literally tens of them."
"Just pick one!" I urge her.
"Seriously, Ana." She turns to me frowning. "We can come back after hours and try every key. This meeting could end any minute."
"No, I was just there, they're just getting started."
"We're looking for his passwords, remember?"
"Claire! I need to find something here!" I don't look up tugging at the drawer, not caring if it breaks. I need this! I need this! "Would you calm down? We can come back later; we have a few things already." I don't like the way she's looking at me. "It's not a big deal."
I gape at her from my crouched position. "It's not a big deal? Really, Claire. Yeah it's so not a big deal that my boss is trying to rape me." I say holding up my pictures up at her.
"It's your employee pictures, not really proper evidence is it."
"You're kidding me, right now!" I put the pictures back and straighten the file returning it to it's drawer and slamming it shut. "If you don't want to help leave." I stand put the camera on the table top and literally pull the bowl away from her.
"Ana?" Claire groans. "Ana, wait! You're not thinking clearly." I ignore her, too bombarded with doubt. "You're scared and I get that, but don't do this."
"Do what?" Grabbing the pile of keys, I take them over to the drawer and squat trying each one. "Drag me into this then suddenly not trust me." She says crouching right next to me, gripping my hand. "Let go."
"You're shaking." I am? "Ana I'm here, I'm trying to help."
"You know what? You're right I never should have dragged you into this. Never should have forced you into doing the right thing when it's obviously something you don't want to do."
"Ana, don't get all high and mighty on me now."
"Excuse me?" My rage with this whole situation boils over. "Claire, how can you accuse me of anything? You sat behind your desk and never confronted what was happening right in front of you- you all have." I wrench my hand out of hers attempting another key but I keep missing the hole.
"You chose what you wanted to see." I cry but for the first time no tears fall. 'You looked, and looked and never saw anything, chose not to see. I know you have a family and people in your life to protect but, what if it was one of your sisters in my position right now. Would you still harbor the truth?" I throw the key down, meeting her eyes.
"Ana- I didn't know." Tears brim in her eyes. I feel terrible but can't stop despite seeing the heavy guilt in her.
"A truth that's dangerous, secrets are monsters. They block out people, hurt people and their poisonous." She wipes her eyes. "Are we still talking about Jack here? Because it sure as hell sounds like some personal bullshit."
"Leave me alone Claire." I grunt.
"Fuck, these damn keys." Claire starts picking them up. "What are you doing?"
"Putting them back. You're not thinking straight; we'll check his bookshelf then we have to go." I can't lift my stare from the key hole.
"Honestly Claire, you seem like a good person and I want to trust you but you did something wrong."
"I didn't fucking bring the girls to him!"
"You not looking deep enough at a strange situation is wrong! I barely trust my heart and mind; how can I trust you!"
"I'm here! I'm trying! This situation is terrifying, of course, I'll try to diffuse this every chance I get because it's a fucked up, terrifying situation... but I'm here."
My mind spins. He's not. He's not here. Where is he?
She waits for me to say something then grabs the camera, "Come on," I stagger and join her at the shelf, silently taking down book after book, flipping through them then putting them back.
"This is hopeless," I murmur. "He's too smart."
"There has to be something, hollowed out book, notes." Once we search the expansion of the shelf, we spend some time reorganizing the office and placing the camera back in the candle holder. "You okay?" Claire asks as I walk her back to reception. "Yeah, thanks for the help."
"I just want you to know I'm on your side."
"It's okay, the situation is crazy I understand." Claire loops our arms together her face is bright with delight though her eyes are red from tears. "I'm so glad, I want us to stay a team." I feel terrible, Claire is obviously trying her best, I need to learn to trust her.
"We are a team, right?" I try to lift my face to mirror hers.
"We are a team…" I trail off glancing up at the sudden figure in our path, slight smile still trickling away. I take a faltering step back and it's that same feeling from this morning hitting me in tenfold. I'm suddenly aware of Claire's sweet perfume, of her warm skin against mine it's nice against the cool breeze coming from the front door. I shiver, then again... he was here.
"Christian." I whisper.
His name burns my throat as if he might vanish from me simply saying it aloud. I realize my imagination, my dreams even my little boy hallucinations have done him absolutely no justice, in fact it was utterly flawed. Only seeing him now could I remember how beautiful he is; his glistening eyes, the shape of his jaw, such details I had forgotten to appreciate. He wears a dark blue suit, no tie, his undershirt a white open collar and it moved with the wind blowing, I couldn't move as I watched him speaking angrily into his phone while walking from reception to my office floor- to me.
I'm trembling… "Ana?" No, I realize Claire's just been shaking me by my shoulders.
"Yes." I manage unable to look away.
"Don't be weird about this, he's going to be your new boss. You should greet him, get in before the other interns." I have no clue as to whether Claire is still speaking or not because at that very moment the last nine days of torment have meant nothing. And his words from that night. And the fights and anger. And everything in between and before are obsolete
Grey meets blue and I come undone.
Guest: Sorry you're not a fan I realize this story isn't for everyone.
Totie: On it.
dorisalynne2003: I'm sure his booty hasn't stopped thinking of ways to get her back.
Shazjackmeg: I've always thought that Ana should be the one to go to him, when she's ready but you never know.
velosews : I'll definitely try and convey how Christian felt during all this. However, I've always considered Christian to complex to write, I wouldn't want to mess it up.
pepe71: Glad you like it I really appreciate your kind words.
Tammyken: Thank you ever so much.
my-completeness : Taylor's so necessary to me, glad you liked his little cameo.
Jen1072 : Sorry you had to wait so long.
joangoldman9 : I love that you always comment. Anyway, no doubt Christian has been thinking of ways to "accidentally" bump into Ana. I have no doubt he'll find a way soon.
Guest: Thanks so much for the constructive writing advice. The 'too' thing is something I struggle with.
cwalk74: Taylor would make such a good addition to the squad.
Cindra: Claire is like a teenage girl, she wants to help but doesn't seem to realize or understand the gravity of the situation. Taylor is not the type to keep quiet about strange situations.
Bworms1980: Chris with a submissive? It's definitely the latter.
fundays: Thank you for the review!
Belbel1213: Oh no, I don;t think Christian would throw it in her face at all. I think he'd completely take over and have it handled in a day- For Ana, a lot of what you wrote is true but there's always more to the story.