I curl up in my white iron bed, wrapping my mother's quilt around me, close my eyes, and I'm instantly asleep. That night I dream of dark places, bleak white cold floors, and gray eyes.
For the rest of the week, I throw myself into my studies and my job at Clayton's. Kate is busy too, compiling her last edition of her student magazine before she has to relinquish it to the new editor while also cramming for her finals. By Wednesday, she's much better, and I no longer have to endure the sight of her pink-flannel-with-too-many-rabbits PJs. I call my mom in Georgia to check on her, but also so she can wish me luck for my final exams. She proceeds to tell me about her latest venture into candle making - my mother is all about new business ventures. Fundamentally she's bored and wants something to occupy her time, but she has the attention span of a goldfish. It'll be something new next week.
She worries me. I hope she hasn't mortgaged the house to finance this latest scheme. And I hope that Bob - her relatively new but much older husband - is keeping an eye on her now that I'm no longer there. He does seem a lot more grounded than Husband Number Three.
"How are things with you, Ana?"
For a moment, I hesitate, and I have Mom's full attention.
"AnaHave you met someone?" Wow... how does she do that The excitement in her voice is palpable.
"No, Mom, it's nothing. You'll be the first to know if I do."
"Ana, you really need to get out more, honey. You worry me."
"Mom, I'm fine. How's Bob?" As ever, distraction is the best policy.
Later that evening, I call Ray, my stepdad, Mom's Husband Number Two, the man I consider my father, and the man whose name I bear. It's a brief conversation. In fact, it's not so much a conversation as a one-sided series of grunts in response to my gentle coaxing. Ray is not a talker. But he's still alive, he's still watching soccer on TV, and going bowling and fly-fishing or making furniture when he's not. Ray is a skilled carpenter and the reason I know the difference between a hawk and a handsaw. All seems well with him.
Friday night, Kate and I are debating what to do with our evening - we want some time out from our studies, from our work, and from student newspapers - when the doorbell rings.
Standing on our doorstep is my good friend Jose, clutching a bottle of champagne.
"Jose! Great to see you!" I give him a quick hug. "Come in."
Jose is the first person I met when I arrived at WSU, looking as lost and lonely as I did.
We recognized a kindred spirit in each of us that day, and we've been friends ever since.
Not only do we share a sense of humor, but we discovered that both Ray and Jose Senior were in the same army unit together. As a result, our fathers have become firm friends too.
Jose is studying engineering and is the first in his family to make it to college. He's pretty damn bright, but his real passion is photography. Jose has a great eye for a good picture.
"I have news." He grins, his dark eyes twinkling.
"Don't tell me - you've managed not to get kicked out for another week," I tease, and he scowls playfully at me.
"The Portland Place Gallery is going to exhibit my photos next month."
"That's amazing - congratulations!" Delighted for him, I hug him again. Kate beams at him too.
"Way to go Jose! I should put this in the paper. Nothing like last minute editorial changes on a Friday evening." She grins.
"Let's celebrate. I want you to come to the opening." Jose looks intently at me. I flush.
"Both of you, of course," he adds, glancing nervously at Kate.
Jose and I are good friends, but I know deep down inside, he'd like to be more. He's cute and funny, but he's just not for me. He's more like the brother I never had. Katherine often teases me that I'm missing the need-a-boyfriend gene, but the truth is - I just haven't met anyone who... well, whom I'm attracted to, even though part of me longs for those trembling knees, heart-in-my-mouth, butterflies-in-my-belly, sleepless nights.
Sometimes I wonder if there's something wrong with me. Perhaps I've spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high. But in reality, nobody's ever made me feel like that.
Until very recently, the unwelcome, still small voice of my subconscious whispers.
NO! I banish the thought immediately. I am not going there, not after that painful interview. Are you g*y, Mr. Grey I wince at the memory. I know I've dreamt about him most nights since then, but that's just to purge the awful experience from my system, surely?
I watch Jose open the bottle of champagne. He's tall, and in his jeans and t-shirt he's all shoulders and muscles, tanned skin, dark hair and burning dark eyes. Yes, Jose's pretty hot, but I think he's finally getting the message: we're just friends. The cork makes its loud pop, and Jose looks up and smiles.
Saturday at the store is a nightmare. We are besieged by do-it-yourselfers wanting to spruce up their homes. Mr. and Mrs. Clayton, John and Patrick - the two other part-timers
- and I are all rushed off our feet. But there's a lull around lunchtime, and Mrs. Clayton asks me to check on some orders while I'm sitting behind the counter at the till discreetly eating my bagel. I'm engrossed in the task, checking catalogue numbers against the items we need and the items we've ordered, eyes flicking from the order book to the computer screen and back as I check the entries match. Then, for some reason, I glance up... and find myself locked in the bold gray gaze of Christian Grey who's standing at the counter, staring at me intently.
"Miss Steele. What a pleasant surprise." His gaze is unwavering and intense.