Elliot is behaving strangely. He’s just as fucking irritating as usual, but I can tell there’s something bothering him. And I think I can guess what it is. It’s a conversation that I’ve been putting off having, but after Ana’s warning, it seems as if today will be the day.
“Christian, he’s been asking Grace about Elena, wanting to know why she left your birthday party so suddenly, why she wasn’t invited to our wedding,” Ana pulled a face, “and why she and Grace aren’t speaking. He’s putting two and two together – he just hasn’t come up with five yet. And he’s been asking Kate why she was so riled up before your birthday, too. Don’t worry, she hasn’t told him anything, but it’s putting a strain on their relationship and that’s not fair. You can’t keep putting this off.”
“I know, baby,” I sigh. “I’ll talk to him.”
“Make it sooner rather than later, Christian,” she says, looking all serious and cute.
“Why, Mrs Grey. You’re getting awfully bossy.”
For a moment she looks surprised, then smiles. “Yes, I am. Maybe I need punishing.”
My cock leaps straight to attention.
“You want it, baby, you got it.”
And she does. Several times. Fuck, I cannot get enough of my Ana.
So when Elliot phones, I’m ready. Sort of. I just don’t know how little I can get away with telling him.
“Hey, little bro!” he bellows down the phone. “Think we should spend some guy-time before I get hitched. Hit the bars, find some fast women – I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Kate would have my balls if I did any shit like that. How about going hiking. Peace and quiet: no phones.”
Which was why, this Sunday, I’m heading off into the hills, whilst Ana, Kate and Mia are planning on having a spa day at the apartment.
“Don’t look so miserable, Christian,” she teases me. “You love going hiking with Elliot, you just don’t want to admit it.”
“I’d rather stay here with you,” I say, stroking her belly.
Her skin is soft and smooth, but now there is the slightest round bump, where her stomach was once flat and toned. I feel such fucking awe every time I look at her, imagining our child growing inside her. It scares the fuck out of me, too. Ana keeps trying to reassure me that I’ll be a good father but how the fuck is that even possible? I can’t believe her, no matter what she says. How can a fucked-up bastard like me be a good father?
But my Ana works miracles, and I’ve put my faith in her.
“You could stay,” she says, in a sultry voice, that has my body responding instantly, “we’re going to paint our nails, eat chocolate, and have Franco come and do our hair, and then we’re going to watch ‘Dirty Dancing’ on repeat: ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’.”
“I know you’re quoting me from the film, Ana, but I’ve never seen it. And I don’t think I want to.”
“Well, I might need to replay the part where she dances all sexily with Patrick Swayze then takes his shirt off before they have wild sex all night.”
“Fuck! Let’s cancel everyone and go to bed now, Mrs Grey!”
“Ok, but you have to watch the film with me first, Christian.”
“I think I’ll go get my walking boots,” I say, smirking at her.
“I’ve put them at the bottom of the bed,” she calls after me.
I drive the SUV myself, enjoying being behind the wheel again. Taylor has the less enviable job of staying at Escala and supervising. Which probably means he’ll hide in his office and keep the hell out of the way. Can’t say I blame him.
I pick Elliot up at his apartment and we head out towards the Olympic peninsula.
Elliot fiddles with the radio, and finds some station that’s playing Spanish guitar music. I park and we start walking north on a trail that will take us on a nine-mile circuit. It’s a favorite hike, and one that we did a lot when we were kids. Not so much since. It seems appropriate for today.
Elliot is quiet, which is a sign he’s pissed about something. I wait for him to pick his moment: first rule of business; see what moves the opposition makes before you show your hand. I don’t like thinking about my brother like that, but I need to be prepared.
“Christian, are you going to tell me what the fuck’s going on? Mom isn’t talking to Elena – and no-one else is allowed to either. Some shit went down at your birthday and Kate won’t tell me dick, which is really fucking annoying. She just says it’s not her business. I mean, what the fuck? I’m your brother.”
Fuck, he sounds really hurt. I hadn’t counted on that: I thought he’d just be pissed because he was the last to know. Well, not quite the last: Mia seems happily oblivious and I really fucking want it to stay that way.
“It’s to do with you, right, bro?”
He’s cut to the chase but I’m waiting for him to show his cards.
“Yes, you could say that.”
“Does Elena have a problem with Ana? Because I just don’t fucking get that: I mean, Ana’s a sweetheart – how could anyone have a problem with her?”
I sigh: here it comes. “They don’t like each other: you could say that, yes.”
He waits, getting increasingly annoyed. I have to give him something.
“Elliot, this shit goes back a long way.”
He stares at me, puzzled and irritated. Fucking great.
“What do you mean? You only met Ana a few months ago, and by the way, bro, well done on getting her knocked up so quickly. You married her so damn fast, we all thought she must be pregnant, but I guess you waited till the honeymoon for your first time, huh?”
“Woah! You nailed her before the honeymoon?”
I scowl at him. He is not talking about my wife like that. He gets the message and holds up his hands.
“Sorry, man, you know I love Ana; I don’t mean anything by it. I think it’s great that you guys, you know…”
He trails off suggestively as I rub my forehead; this is going to be harder than I’d thought.
“Yeah, but you were saying about Elena – and her problem with Ana – and mom. What’s that all about? You said it all ‘went back a long time’. Spill, bro.”
Time to pay or play.
“You remember how it was, when I was 15?”
I really hate talking about all this shit. Endless fucking therapists have analysed it ad nauseum. Thank fuck Flynn understood me so quickly. But even he still harps back on it – if I let him.
“You’d gone away to Yale and I was getting into trouble all the time.”
“Sure,” says Elliot, his voice serious.
“It was… a bad time for me,” which is the understatement of the fucking century. “I thought I was going fucking crazy. My head was just full of all this shit – and my therapist was a fucking asshole. I was drinking – stealing liquor from dad’s liquor cabinet. And I was fighting all the time – just to find a way to… find some sort of physical contact with people.”
I glance away, unable to bear the pity I could see on his face.
“The girls at school… well, you can imagine. I just… couldn’t.” I take a deep breath, fighting back those feelings of panic that used to suffocate me, when I couldn’t stop feeling, all the darkness spewing up, staining everyone who came near me. “Elena… she offered me a summer job, you remember? Clearing up building rubble after she and Linc had had that extension.”
“Yeah, I remember that. Just before your sixteenth birthday, right?”
“So… I did more than just yard work for her, Elliot.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake – does he want an annotated fucking drawing?
“We had sex, Elliot.”
He just looks at me, like I’ve told him women don’t like chocolate.
“I had sex – with Elena. A lot.”
And his jaw drops so far he’s in danger of tripping over it.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You and Elena Lincoln? When you were fifteen? How is that fucking possible? I mean, no offence, Christian, but are you sure this isn’t one of those false memories? I’ve heard that people who spend too much time with shrinks can end up thinking that all this shit that didn’t happen is real.”
I knew Elliot secretly watched the Discovery Channel.
“Elliot, I fucked Elena Lincoln pretty much every day after school for three years, and then for another two years while I was at Harvard, and for some time after that, as well.”
A low whistle leaves his lips and I can see that he’s finally catching up. No need to give him all the grizzly details though.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything, Christian? I mean, I’m your brother. I thought… I would have helped or something.”
I shake my head. “I didn’t think I needed help. Elena… it gave me focus; discipline, if you like. She stopped me drinking and made me work at school. Not that mom sees it like that… or Anastasia.”
He gives me an acute look. “Are you surprised, Christian? I mean, popping your cherry at 15 to a hot, older woman: well, game on, but that’s not how women will see it? I mean, she was nearly 30 and she’s was mom’s friend. You can see how mom would think Elena was some sort of pedo.”
His comment makes me wince.
“Sorry, man. Just calling it how I see it.”
I shrug, knowing that he’s right. It’s certainly how Ana sees it, and mom has left me in no doubt that she thinks I was preyed upon by a cold and predatory child abuser.
I still can’t see it like that: they don’t get how Elena saved me. Fuck knows where I’d be by now if she hadn’t. Flynn disagrees: he says I’d have found another way to channel my intense anger. But he didn’t know me then, in all my multi-colored fuckedupness. I am what I am because of her, to some extent; the sum of my parts – including all the nightmares that are still locked inside me.
“And all this time she was married to Linc?”
I nod, like he’s missing the obvious.
His eyes widen and I see he’s getting it.
“So when Linc beat the shit out of her that was because…”
“…because he found out she’d been fucking me, Elliot. For six years.”
“Oh, man,” he breathes out, softly.
“Why didn’t you fucking tell me, Christian? I’d have helped – done something.”
I stare at him, my face cold, because his words make me feel too much. It’s too much. And I know I’ve let him down. He doesn’t care I’m fifty shades of fucked-up; he just cares that I’m his brother.
“What would you have done, Elliot?” I say, quietly. “What could you have done? It was a fucked up situation. I wanted Elena to go to the police, but she wouldn’t – because of me. I wanted to fucking kill Linc: if I’d seen him, you’d be talking to me in fucking jail now, because I’d have killed the vindictive bastard.”
He nods slowly, but he still looks hurt.
“And Ana knows all this?”
“I’ve told her everything.”
“And mom and dad know, too?”
I sigh. “They know most of it. I tried to spare them some of the details. But they’re pretty fucking pissed at me. Blaming themselves, of course.”
He rolls his eyes. “Kind of their job, bro. They weren’t expecting the family friend to be playing hunt the submarine with their 15 year old son.”
We walk in silence for some minutes whilst Elliot digests what I’ve told him. But I know it’s not over yet.
“So, what happened at your birthday? Why’d it all kick off then? Or were your nailing Elena behind Ana’s back? Fuck, that’s it, isn’t it? Fuck, Christian!”
“No! No, I’d never cheat on Ana, never.”
The look on my face must be murderous, because Elliot immediately backs down.
“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean that… so what happened?”
I take a deep breath.
“Elena implied that I… needed more than Anastasia could give me. Ana… didn’t take it well. She threw her drink over Elena – one of dad’s lemon cocktails.”
“No, way! Little Anastasia Steele coming over all feisty! Oh, man! I’d like to have seen that. Was there any bitch-slapping? Because I’d have paid good money to see that.”
I can’t help smiling at him. Elliot rarely reacts how anyone expects him to; I guess we do have something in common after all.
“Actually, yes. But it was mom who slapped Elena. She overheard the last couple of minutes – enough to get the gist of what had happened between us.”
“Woah! Mom hit Elena?”
A slow smile creeps across his face: I can tell he’s impressed. Our mom, the street fighter.
And I start to breathe again because I think we’re about done with this fucking ghastly conversation.
Then Elliot frowns.
“So, you lost your cherry to Elena. But what I don’t get is… I mean, you never showed any interest in women, Christian. But you say you and her were finished when you were 21. So, what… I mean, you never mentioned anyone, never brought anyone home, never dated. What was going on with you, man?”
It’s the only explanation I’ll be giving him.
“You mean you dated guys?”
“No, Elliot,” I say, losing my sorely-tried patience a notch. “Women. They just… weren’t the kind I wanted to introduce to my family.”
“Hey, wait a minute: that scary stalker chick who was in Kate’s apartment – she was one of your exes?”
His eyes are angry; I don’t blame him.
“Yes. She was looking for Anastasia.”
“Fuck, Christian! What kind of crazy chicks were you going out with? Are there any more? Is Kate going to find some other gun-toting crazy in there?”
“No, that won’t happen.”
“How the fuck do you know that, Christian?”
He runs his hands through his hair and, for the first time, I realise that’s a family trait. It’s rare to see Elliot so riled up. And I hate that: hate that all my sick, twisted shit is hurting my family. I’ve worked so fucking hard to keep all this from them. Every time I try and crawl up into the light, something comes to drag me back and I end up hurting people who care about me.
Christ, I don’t deserve them. Or my beautiful Ana. Why, why does she love me? Because she really does, and I trust her with my life. Without her, I wouldn’t have a life – not one worth living,
“Elliot, I’ve taken steps to make sure that will never happen again. Taylor has upgraded all the security at Kate’s apartment and… all my exes have up-to-date checks so I know exactly what they’re doing at all times. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
He seems mollified with my answer but then he says,
“How many exes are there, bro? Because you’re really freaking me out, dude.”
I wonder what the best thing is to tell him. I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with my own brother, but I’m pretty sure I’ve fucked more women than he has, but he really doesn’t need to hear that. I’ll tell him the least amount of information I can get away with.
“Fourteen others, excluding Leila and Elena.”
His eyes widen in surprise.
“I guess you have been busy, little bro. All those evenings you were working late, huh. Fuck, Christian!”
“I do work late,” I say, irritated. “They had to… work around my schedule.”
“Jeez, bro, you make it sound like they were your beck-and-call girls.”
His double-take is so fast that it’s almost comical. For once I wish my preternaturally unobservant brother was less observant.
“Fuck, Christian! You paid them? Seriously, bro? They were… hookers? Is that why you never brought them home to meet the folks? Fuck, I’m not surprised, I just…”
“No, Elliot!” I snap. “They weren’t hookers, for fuck’s sake. I didn’t have time for a girlfriend. They were just women who were interested in what I had to offer. They were prepared to accept that I didn’t want a relationship in the traditional terms.”
“Ok, bro, you’re really going to have to explain that: how did this ‘non traditional relationship work?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Elliot!” I say, really losing it. “We fucked: we fucked a lot, but that was all. They were happy, and I got what I wanted.”
Nosy fucking bastard!
A slow, reluctant smile creeps across his face.
“Man, you really had a nice set up. I mean, come on, Christian! You had what most guys would kill for: limitless sex with no ties! No pretending to be interested in fucking vampire films and shit. No need to buy flowers and chocolates. Fuck, who wouldn’t want that?”
I can’t help laughing at him: Elliot has a way of stripping away all the bullshit.
“So, why did you stop – it sounds like a pretty sweet deal?”
I roll my eyes; he’s reverted to his natural state of obtuseness.
“I met Ana. With her… I wanted more.”
He nods slowly, his expression serious again. “Yeah, I totally get that. There’s a time when a man’s got to grow up – stop fucking around.” He glances sideways at me. “But what I don’t get, Christian, is why you didn’t even say anything to me. I mean, sure, you couldn’t tell the oldies, but I’m your brother, man. We could have had some wild times if I’d known which way you were swinging, because I always thought you were a guy’s guy – no offence.”
“None taken,” I say, rather stiffly. “Because it wasn’t anyone else’s business, Elliot. It was… unconventional.”
“Shit? Really? Like kinky stuff: whips and shit?”
“No,” Well, yes, but that’s none of his business. “I meant ‘unconventional’ in the sense that they weren’t everyday-type relationships.”
“Yeah, I guess,” he says, a trifle sadly, still think about the whips, perhaps, as I do sometimes. “But, man, the way chicks dig you, we could have nailed half of Seattle. And now you’re a married man – how the fuck did that happen? Hey, does Ana know about these ‘unconventional’ relationships?”
“Wow! And she wasn’t mad at you?”
That hardly begins to cover her reaction – but that’s private.
“We discussed it: she understands.”
“Fuck! And Kate – does she know?”
“She has an idea. I’m not sure how much Anastasia told her. And I really don’t want you discussing my sex life with your fiancée, Elliot.”
He grins at me. “Believe me, bro, we have a lot better things to talk about than your sex life.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.”
“I guess that explains why Kate was so mad at you at your birthday. She’d worked it out, right?”
“Yes, something like that. Can we change the subject, please, Elliot, before I die of fucking tedium repeating all this shit.”
“Yeah, sure, bro. But you know what: I hope John Flynn has signed one of your non-disclosure agreements.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Are you fucking kidding me, Christian? Do you know what kind of a book he’d be able to write if he could publish all your fucked up shit? I mean, it would have to be fiction because no-one would ever believe one man could be so bat-shit crazy; but one thing’s for sure – it would be a fucking bestseller.”
That’s my brother, and I can’t help laughing out loud.