aile company

Writing Exercise: Fixing Grey

What follows is a challenge I gave myself to re-write the first chapter of E.L. James’ murder thriller “Grey: 50 Shades of Grey From Christian’s Perspective”

The goal was to make the text less bad, less creepy, and less boring without changing the overall flow and structure. Specifically I refraind from making changes to the spoken dialogue unless absolutely necessary.

Additionally there’s a poetic justice to re-writing something with roots so firmly planted in fan fiction when the author vocally despises fan fiction and tries her damndest to root it out.

I hope you enjoy Chapter 1 of “Fixing Grey”

A commotion at the door brings me to my feet as a whirl of long chestnut hair, pale limbs, and brown boots tumbles headfirst into my office. Instinctively I laugh at the slapstick, though instantly regret it, embarrassed for us both. I hustle from my desk to help her up, but clear, embarrassed eyes meet mine and halt me in my tracks.

They are the most extraordinary color, powder blue, and guileless, and for one moment, I think she can see right through me and I’m left…exposed.

She has a small, sweet face that is blushing now, a no doubt stressful day made all the worse.

“Ms. Kavanagh. I’m Christian Grey. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?”

Her blush deepens as she collects herself and her things from the floor. She’s quite attractive—slight, pale, with a mane of dark hair barely contained by a hair tie.

I extend my hand as she stutters the beginning of a mortified apology and places her hand in mine. Her skin is cool and soft, but her handshake surprisingly firm.

“Miss Kavanagh is indisposed, so she sent me. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Grey.” Her voice is quiet with a hesitant musicality, and she blinks erratically, flustered from the spectacle. Unable to keep the amusement from my voice I ask who she is.

“Anastasia Steele. I’m studying English literature with Kate, um… Katherine…um…Miss Kavanagh, at WSU Vancouver.”

Truly she looks all the part of the bashful, bookish type, her slight frame hidden beneath a shapeless, large-knit sweater, an A-line brown skirt, and utilitarian boots. She looks nervously around my office— everywhere but at me.

How can this young woman be a journalist? She doesn’t seem to have an assertive bone in her body. She’s flustered, meek, submissive, none of the bravado and cockiness typical of fresh young journalists, self-assuredly polishing shelf space for that first Pulitzer. I begin to ask her to sit, then notice her discerning gaze appraising my office paintings. Before I even register I’ve started, I find I’m explaining them. “A local artist. Trouton.”

“They’re lovely. Raising the ordinary to extraordinary,” she says dreamily, lost in the exquisite, fine artistry of Trouton’s work. Her profile is delicate—an upturned nose, soft, full lips—and in her words she has captured my sentiments exactly.

Raising the ordinary to extraordinary.

It’s a keen observation. Ms. Steele is bright.

I agree and watch, fascinated, as that flush creeps slowly over her skin once more. As I sit down opposite her, she fishes some crumpled sheets of paper and a digital recorder out of her large bag. She’s all thumbs, dropping the thing twice on the Bauhaus coffee table. It’s so obvious she’s never done this before it’s amusing. On perhaps any other day I would find such amateur behavior grating, but now I hide my smile beneath my index finger and resist the urge to set the recorder up for her myself.

When it’s finally ready, she peeks up at me through her bangs and bites down on her full bottom lip. There’s a spark as our eyes meet, my smile grows, despite my desire to maintain professional decorum.

“S-Sorry, I’m not used to this.” She stutters, breaking the gaze.

“Take all the time you need, Ms. Steele.”

“Do you mind if I record your answers?” she asks, her face candid and expectant.

I chuckle. “After you’ve taken so much trouble to set up the recorder, you ask me now?”

She blinks, her eyes large and lost for a moment, she begins to stammer an apology, though her mouth curls with a smile of her own at the tease.

“No, I don’t mind.”

“Did Kate, I mean, Miss Kavanagh, explain what the interview was for?”

“Yes, for the graduation issue of the student newspaper, as I’ll be giving the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremony.”

Ms. Steele blinks once more, as if this is news to her—and she looks disapproving. Hasn’t she done any background work for this interview? Ms. Kavanagh seems to have thrown her friend to the wolves.

“Good. I have some questions, Mr. Grey.” She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear.

“I thought you might,” I say, with a chuckle, teasing again. Internally I chastise myself. It’s unprofessional to flirt with an interviewer, amateur or not, but the entire meeting, from her stumbling entrance onward, has left me on the wrong foot. There’s an absurdity to it all, and it’s difficult to take it seriously.

As though sharing my thoughts she pulls herself upright and squares her small shoulders. She means business. Leaning forward, she presses the start button on the recorder and frowns as she glances down at her crumpled notes.

“You’re very young to have amassed such an empire. To what do you owe your success?”

A dull, boiler-plate question. I trot out my usual response about having exceptional people working for me. People I trust, insofar as I trust anyone, and pay well—blah, blah, blah…But Miss Steele, the simple fact is, I’m brilliant at what I do. For me it’s like falling off a log. Buying ailing, mismanaged companies and fixing them, keeping some or, if they’re really broken, stripping their assets and selling them off to the highest bidder. It’s simply a question of knowing the difference between the two, and invariably it comes down to the people in charge. To succeed in business you need good people, and I can judge a person, better than most.

“Maybe you’re just lucky,” she says quietly.

Lucky? If only she knew just how much in this universe is ordained by little more than pure luck. But that’s not the public face. Luck is terrifying, so we must pretend to be masters. I roll out the old standards, hard work, drive, ambition, vision, and the American Dream. Precision, discipline, and an unwillingness to settle for second.

I quote the words of Andrew Carnegie, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

“You sound like a control freak,” she says. Is she teasing me now?

“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele.”

That attractive blush steals across her face, and she bites her lip again. I ramble on.

“Besides, immense power is acquired by assuring yourself, in your secret reveries, that you were born to control things.”

“Do you feel that you have immense power?” she asks in a soft, soothing voice, but she arches a delicate brow with a look that conveys her censure. She is definitely teasing me now.

“I employ over forty thousand people. That gives me a certain sense of responsibility—power, if you will. If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the telecommunications business and sell, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments after a month or so.”

Her mouth pops open at my response.

“Don’t you have a board to answer to?”

“I own my company. I don’t have to answer to a board.” It’s a lie. Well, a partial truth. Grey Enterprises Holdings has no board, but Grey Enterprises Indonesia, Grey Enterprises Development, Arc-tel Communications, each of a dozen smaller arms, each an isolated and insulated corporation, they have boards, and I sit on each one. But image is everything, and few images are quite as potent as that of the young billionaire ruling like Caesar.

“And do you have any interests outside your work?” she continues.

“I have varied interests, Miss Steele. Very varied.”

“But if you work so hard, what do you do to chill out?”

“Chill out?” I laugh. The phrase is comically unprofessional, but she looks at me again with those ingenuous big eyes, and I find myself easing into it. What do I do to chill out? Sailing, flying, I rattle off the typical hobbies of the wealthy, though it’s impersonal and I’m left feeling like I’ve avoided answering the question that was asked.

She rolls through the questions given to her by Ms. Kavanagh, disappointingly rote questions about business and philanthropy, my reputation as a private man, and much of the earlier playfulness drains from the conversation. I find myself wishing she’d break from script again, wishing that we could converse rather than interview. I wonder what her own answers would be. What does Ms. Steele do to chill out?

“Do you have a philosophy? If so, what is it?”

“I don’t have a philosophy as such. Maybe a guiding principle—Carnegie’s: ‘A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.’ I’m very singular, driven. I like control—of myself and those around me.”

“So you want to possess things?”

I pause. An interesting question with a curious framing. Despite the almost half hour of rote questions I’m disarmed. It’s easy to be in her presence, and I want to be honest with her. Looking her in the eyes, those wonderful pale blue eyes, I nod, “I want… to deserve to possess them, but yes, bottom line, I do.”

My answer seems to have evoked some curiosity, her head has cocked to the side, and she lets my words hang for a moment. A smile on her lips, she opens her mouth and inhales as though she were preparing to follow up. To my disappointment she seems to change her mind and her eyes return to her script.

“Are you gay, Mr. Grey?”

What the hell!?

I cannot believe she’s said that out loud! She appears to be equally mortified by the words coming out of her own mouth, but it’s too late to put them back in.

The mood whiplash hangs like a ringing in the ears after a bombshell, as I debate answering. I could, and perhaps should, end this right there. The question is not only invasive, it’s insultin.

Slowly I answer, “No, Anastasia, I’m not.” I furrow my eyebrow, as I try to suss out where, exactly, such an inappropriate question came from.

“I apologize. It’s, um…written here.” She’s in a borderline panic.

Are these not her questions? I ask her, and she pales, like an animal caught in the headlights. My chest flushes with sympathy; what a miserable day this must be.

“Er…no. Kate—Miss Kavanagh— she compiled the questions.”

“Are you colleagues on the student paper?”

“No. She’s my roommate.”

No wonder she’s all over the place, Ms. Kavanagh didn’t just throw her to the wolves, she coated her in sauce before hand.

I scratch my chin. Despite the offence there’s something endearing, something genuine, in her reaction.

“Did you volunteer to do this interview?” I ask,

“I was drafted. She’s not well.” Her voice is soft.

“That explains a great deal.”

There’s a knock at the door, and Andrea appears.

“Mr. Grey, forgive me for interrupting, but your next meeting is in two minutes.”

“We’re not finished here, Andrea. Please tell them to start without me.”

Andrea gapes at me, looking confused. I nod at her, sure of myself. I trust things won’t crumble if I’m absent for one status update. I hire good people

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she says, turning and leaving.

The room is still heavy as the glass door shuts. While it was open the distant sounds of the building, the clatter of people, expanded through the room. As it closes we are plunged into a silence that we were both tensely aware of. The faux pas has changed the air of the room. It’s tense, ashamed, yet… honest? Intimate?

I’m the first to break that silence, “Where were we, Miss Steele?”

“Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

“I want to know about you. I think that’s only fair.” As I lean back and press my fingers to my lips, her eyes flick to my mouth and she swallows.

“There’s not much to know,” she says, her blush returning. I’m intimidating her. I exhale, leaning into the chair, hoping to set her at ease.

“What are your plans after you graduate?”

“I haven’t made any plans, Mr. Grey. I just need to get through my final exams.”

“We run an excellent internship program here.”

She looks surprised, and her teeth sink into her lip again with an endearing predictability.

“Oh. I’ll bear that in mind,” she replies. “Though I’m not sure I’d fit in here.”

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“Not to me.” I’m confounded by her response. She’s flustered again as she reaches for the recorder.

Shit, she’s going. Mentally I run through my schedule for that afternoon—there is nothing that won’t keep.

“Would you like me to show you around?” I ask, eager to keep her here, eager to smooth things over. I don’t want her to go, not with this tension hanging over us.

“I’m sure you’re far too busy, Mr. Grey, and I do have a long drive.”

“You’re driving back to Vancouver?” I glance out the window. It’s one hell of a drive, and it’s raining. “Well, you’d better drive carefully.” My voice is sterner than I intend. She fumbles with the recorder. She wants out of my office, but I don’t want her to go.

“Did you get everything you need?”

I ask in a transparent effort to prolong her stay.

“Yes, sir,” the words are quiet, her eyes cast down. “Thank you for the interview, Mr. Grey.” She says, peeking up again through her bangs, looking me in the eye. There’s a tension in the moment, sudden warmth rushing through my chest.

I realize I’m not breathing.

With a clumsy inhale I respond “The pleasure’s been all mine.” It’s the truth. Awkwardness, and boredom included, I haven’t been this engaged by anyone for a while. She stands and I extend my hand, eager to touch her.

“Until we meet again, Miss Steele.”

My voice is low as she places her hand in mine. I barely know her, but I don’t want to let go. I swallow.

“Mr. Grey.” She nods and withdraws her hand.

I can’t let her go like this. It’s obvious she’s desperate to leave. Inspiration hits me as I open my office door.

“Just ensuring you make it through the door,” I quip.

“That’s very considerate, Mr. Grey,” she says, the tension relaxing at last.

I smile behind her as she exits, and follow her out. Both Andrea and Olivia look up as we walk into the foyer.

“Did you have a coat?” I ask.

“A jacket.”

I motion to Olivia and she immediately leaps up to retrieve a navy jacket, passing it to me with her usual precision.

Hmm. The jacket is worn and inexpensive. Ms. Anastasia Steele should be better dressed. I hold it up for her, and as I pull it over her slim shoulders, I touch the skin at the base of her neck. She stills at the contact.

Strolling over to the elevator, I press the call button while she stands fidgeting beside me.

The doors open and she scurries in, then turns to face me. She’s more than attractive. I would go as far as to say she’s beautiful.

“Anastasia,” I say, in good-bye.

“Christian,” she answers, her voice soft. And the elevator doors close, leaving my name hanging in the air between us, sounding odd and unfamiliar, but sexy as hell.

I need to know more about this girl.

“Andrea,” I call as I return to my office. “Get me Welch on the line, please.”

As I sit at my desk and wait for the call, I look at the paintings on the wall of my office, and Ms. Steele’s words drift back to me. “Raising the ordinary to extraordinary.”

My phone buzzes. “I have Mr. Welch on the line for you.”

“Put him through.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Welch, I need you to find me a phone number.”