I stare at the flames, mesmerized. They dance and weave bright blazing orange with tips of cobalt blue in the fireplace in Christian’s apartment. And despite the heat pumping out of the fire and the blanket draped around my shoulders, I’m cold. Bone-chillingly cold.
I’m aware of hushed voices, many hushed voices. But they’re in the background, a distant buzz. I don’t hear the words. All I can hear, all I can focus on, is the soft hiss of the gas from the fire.
My thoughts turn to the house we saw yesterday and the huge fireplaces—real fireplaces for burning wood. I’d like to make love with Christian in front of a real fire. I’d like to make love with Christian in front of this fire. Yes, that would be fun. No doubt, he’d think of some way to make it memorable like all the times we’ve made love. I snort wryly to myself, even the times when we were just fucking. Yes, those were pretty memorable, too. Where is he?
The flames shimmy and flicker, holding me captive, keeping me numb. I focus solely on their flaring, scorching beauty. They are bewitching.
Anastasia, you’ve bewitched me.
He said that the first time he slept with me in my bed. Oh no . . .
I wrap my arms around myself, and the world falls away from me and reality bleeds into my consciousness. The creeping emptiness inside expands some more. Charlie Tango is missing.
“Ana. Here,” Mrs. Jones gently coaxes me, her voice bringing me back into the room, into the now, into the anguish. She hands me a cup of tea. I take the cup and saucer gratefully, the rattle betraying my shaking hands.
“Thank you,” I whisper, my voice hoarse from unshed tears and the large lump in my throat.
Mia sits across from me on the larger-than-large U-shaped couch, holding hands with Grace. They gaze at me, pain and anxiety etched on their lovely faces. Grace looks older—a mother worried for her son. I blink dispassionately at them. I can’t offer a reassuring smile, a tear even—there’s nothing, just blankness and the growing emptiness. I gaze at Elliot, José, and Ethan, who stand around the breakfast bar, all serious faces, talking quietly.
Discussing something in soft subdued voices. Behind them, Mrs. Jones busies herself in the kitchen.
Kate is in the TV room, monitoring the local news. I hear the faint squawk from the big plasma TV. I can’t bear to see the news item again—cHristian grey missing—his beautiful face on TV.
Idly, it occurs to me that I’ve never seen so many people in this room, yet they are still dwarfed by its sheer size. Little islands of lost, anxious people in my Fifty’s home. What would he think about them being here?
Somewhere, Taylor and Carrick are talking to the authorities who are drip-feeding us information, but it’s all meaningless. The fact is—he’s missing. He’s been missing for eight hours. No sign, no word from him. The search has been called off—this much I do know.
It’s just too dark. And we don’t know where he is. He could be hurt, hungry, or worse. No!
I offer another silent prayer to God. Please let Christian be okay. Please let Christian be okay. I repeat it over and over in my head—my mantra, my lifeline, something concrete to cling to in my desperation. I refuse to think the worst. No, don’t go there. There is hope.
“You’re my lifeline.”
Christian’s words come back to haunt me. Yes, there is always hope. I must not despair.
His words echo through my mind.
“I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification. Carpe diem, Ana.” Why didn’t I seize the day?
“I’m doing this because I’ve finally met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
I close my eyes in silent prayer, rocking gently. Please, let the rest of his life not be this short. Please, please. We haven’t had enough time . . . we need more time. We’ve done so much in the last few weeks, come so far. It can’t end. All our tender moments: the lipstick, when he made love to me for the first time at the Olympic hotel, on his knees in front of me offering himself to me, finally touching him.
“I am just the same, Ana. I love you and I need you. Touch me. Please.” Oh, I love him so. I will be nothing without him, nothing but a shadow—all the light eclipsed. No, no, no . . . my poor Christian.
“This is me, Ana. All of me . . . and I’m all yours. What do I have to do to make you realize that? To make you see that I want you any way I can get you. That I love you.” And I you, my Fifty Shades.
I open my eyes and gaze unseeing into the fire once more, memories of our time together flitting through my mind: his boyish joy when we were sailing and gliding; his suave, sophisticated, hot-as-hell look at the masked ball; dancing, oh yes, dancing here in the apartment to Sinatra, whirling round the room; his quiet, anxious hope yesterday at the house—that stunning view.
“I will lay my world at your feet, Anastasia. I want you, body and soul, forever.” Oh, please, let him be okay. He cannot be gone. He is the center of my universe.
An involuntary sob escapes my throat, and I clutch my hand to my mouth. No. I must be strong.
José is suddenly at my side, or has he been there a while? I have no idea.
“Do you want to call your mom or dad?” he asks gently.
No! I shake my head and clutch José’s hand. I cannot speak, I know I will dissolve if I do, but the warmth and gentle squeeze of his hand offers me no solace.
Oh, Mom. My lip trembles at the thought of my mother. Should I call her? No. I couldn’t deal with her reaction. Maybe Ray, he wouldn’t get emotional—he never gets emotional, not even when the Mariners lose.