He leads me into a small, intimate restaurant.
“This place will have to do,” Christian grumbles. “We don’t have much time.” The restaurant looks fine to me. Wooden chairs, linen tablecloths, and walls the same color as Christian’s playroom—deep blood red—with small gilt mirrors randomly placed, white candles, and small vases of white roses. Ella Fitzgerald croons softly in the background about this thing called love. It’s very romantic.
The waiter leads us to a table for two in a small alcove, and I sit, apprehensive and wondering what he’s going to say.
“We don’t have long,” Christian says to the waiter as we sit. “So we’ll each have sirloin steak cooked medium, béarnaise sauce if you have it, fries, and green vegetables, whatever the chef has; and bring me the wine list.”
“Certainly, sir.” The waiter, taken aback by Christian’s cool, calm efficiency, scuttles off. Christian places his Blackberry on the table. Jeez, don’t I get a choice?
“And if I don’t like steak?”
He sighs. “Don’t start, Anastasia.”
“I am not a child, Christian.”
“Well, stop acting like one.”
It’s as if he’s slapped me. I blink at him. So this is how it will be, an agitated, fraught conversation, albeit in a very romantic setting but certainly no hearts and flowers.
“I’m a child because I don’t like steak?” I mutter trying to conceal my hurt.
“For deliberately making me jealous. It’s a childish thing to do. Have you no regard for your friend’s feelings, leading him on like that?” Christian presses his lips together in a thin line and scowls as the waiter returns with the wine list.
I blush—I hadn’t thought of that. Poor José—I certainly don’t want to encourage him.
Suddenly, I’m mortified. Christian has a point; it was a thoughtless thing to do. He glances at the wine list.
“Would you like to choose the wine?” he asks, raising his eyebrows at me expectantly, arrogance personified. He knows I know nothing about wine.
“You choose,” I answer, sullen but chastened.
“Two glasses of the Barossa Valley Shiraz, please.”
“Er . . . we only sell that wine by the bottle, sir.”
“A bottle then,” Christian snaps.
“Sir.” He retreats, subdued, and I don’t blame him. I frown at Fifty. What’s eating him?
Oh, me probably, and somewhere in the depths of my psyche, my inner goddess rises sleepily, stretches, and smiles. She’s been asleep for a while.
“You’re very grumpy.”
He gazes at me impassively. “I wonder why that is?”
“Well, it’s good to set the right tone for an intimate and honest discussion about the future, wouldn’t you say?” I smile at him sweetly.
His mouth presses into a hard line, but then, almost reluctantly, his lips lift, and I know he’s trying to stifle his smile.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Apology accepted, and I’m pleased to inform you I haven’t decided to become a veg-etarian since we last ate.”
“Since that was the last time you ate, I think that’s a moot point.”
“There’s that word again, moot.”
“Moot,” he mouths and his eyes soften with humor. He runs his hand through his hair, and he’s serious again. “Ana, the last time we spoke, you left me. I’m a little nervous. I’ve told you I want you back, and you’ve said . . . nothing.” His gaze is intense and expectant while his candor is totally disarming. What the hell do I say to this?
“I’ve missed you . . . really missed you, Christian. The past few days have been . . . difficult.” I swallow, and a lump in my throat swells as I recall my desperate anguish since I left him.
This last week has been the worst in my life, the pain almost indescribable. Nothing has come close. But reality hits home, winding me.
“Nothing’s changed. I can’t be what you want me to be.” I squeeze the words out past the lump in my throat.
“You are what I want you to be,” he says, his soft voice emphatic.
“No, Christian, I’m not.”
“You’re upset because of what happened last time. I behaved stupidly, and you . . . So did you. Why didn’t you safe word, Anastasia?” His tone changes, becoming accusatory.
What? Whoa—change of direction. I flush, blinking at him.
“I don’t know. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to be what you wanted me to be, trying to deal with the pain, and it went out of my mind. You know . . . I forgot,” I whisper ashamed, and I shrug apologetically.
Jeez, perhaps we could have avoided all this heartache.
“You forgot!” he gasps with horror, grabbing the sides of the table and glaring at me.
I wither under his stare.
Shit! He’s furious again. My inner goddess glares at me, too. See, you brought all this on yourself!
“How can I trust you?” he says, his voice low. “Ever?” The waiter arrives with our wine as we sit staring at each other, blue eyes to gray. Both of us filled with unspoken recriminations, while the waiter removes the cork with an un-necessary flourish and pours a little wine into Christian’s glass. Automatically Christian reaches out and takes a sip.
“That’s fine.” His voice is curt.
Gingerly the waiter fills our glasses, placing the bottle on the table before beating a hasty retreat. Christian has not taken his eyes off me the whole time. I am the first to crack, breaking eye contact, picking up my glass and taking a large gulp. I barely taste it.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, suddenly feeling stupid. I left because I thought we were incompatible, but he’s saying I could have stopped him?
“Sorry for what?” he says alarmed.
“Not using the safe word.”
He closes his eyes, as if in relief.
“We might have avoided all this suffering,” he mutters.
“You look fine.” More than fine. You look like you.
“Appearances can be deceptive,” he says quietly. “I’m anything but fine. I feel like the sun has set and not risen for five days, Ana. I’m in perpetual night here.” I’m winded by his admission. Oh my, like me.