At this point I feel like I should tell you that I’ve been doing a Harry Potter re-read as a palate cleanser whenever I get slightly overwhelmed with rage at this book. Which works for the most part, except that now and then I get confused when Harry and Ron don’t stop about once a chapter to have creepy sex (please don’t send me fanfiction). In short: EL James is ruining Harry Potter for me now as well.
Back to this horror show, Christian Grey is waiting at the bar of the restaurant where he’s going to meet Ana to discuss the contract — because, once again, alcohol is the perfect way to enter into a sexual relationship that requires serious consideration and level-headed thinking. But if you’re thinking that Christian is, once again, flush with free time because he doesn’t have a real job, think again. He did so much work today:
I’ve sat through interminable meetings today, bought a business, and fired three people.
How horrible for you. I hope they consoled you as they packed up their desks.
Nothing I’ve done today, including running—twice—and a quick circuit in the gym, has dispelled the anxiety I’ve wrestled with all day. That power is in the hands of Anastasia Steele.
You know it isn’t.
I want her submission.
There it is.
She shows up at last, in Kate’s plum dress (which she never gives back, by the way, but Kate will continue to be the bad guy for some reason), and Christian is all excited about accessorizing his new Barbie:
“A dress, Miss Steele. I approve.” Diamonds in her ears would complete the ensemble; I must buy her a pair.
Ooh, ooh! And the pink Jeep!
Christian and Ana are seated and he asks her what she’d like to drink — which you should already know is a test:
I’m rewarded with a knowing smile as she sits down. “I’ll have what you’re having, please.”
Ah, she’s learning.
To have no opinions of her own! Yay!
“Another glass of Sancerre,” I tell the waiter, and I slide into the booth, opposite her. “They have an excellent wine cellar here,” I add, and take a moment to look at her.
In the game of Christian Grey manipulation BINGO, please now tick off, “Makes her feel uncultured and intimidated in the face of his wealth and wine knowledge — even though, as we’ve already established, this dude puts ice in his wine.
She’s wearing a little makeup. Not too much.
Gonna get sexist here and state the obvious: men do not notice these things. If anything, he’d be more likely to think that she wasn’t wearing makeup at all if it was that subtle.
And I remember when she first fell into my office how ordinary I thought she looked.
And yet you powered through it and thought about punish-raping her the entire time. That’s a complete lie, anyway, because he almost immediately thought she was pretty and then amended it to “beautiful,” but I’m glad that Christian is able to neg Ana in his own head as well as to her face. Consistency is a good quality in an asshole.
She is anything but ordinary. With a little makeup and the right clothes, she’s a goddess.
Also, I feel like this line is meant to be a callback to Ana’s banal musing about how the pictures in Christian’s office “raise the ordinary to the extraordinary,” or whatever that fart-wafting line was. So it’s worth pointing out that all of those pictures were of still-life. You know, literal objects.
“Are you nervous?” I ask.
This is it, Grey.
I’m so worried.
Leaning forward, in a candid whisper, I tell her that I’m nervous, too. She looks at me as if I’ve grown three heads.
Is he admitting to blatant manipulation here — in other words, that he’s just saying that to make her feel like they’re on even footing?
Yeah, I’m human, too, baby...just.
The waiter interrupts his dark happy hour of the soul to drop off mixed nuts and olives, which EL James seems to think is the ritziest thing a bar could offer. Christian and Ana have some really dull small talk that I’m happy to skip over, and then Ana drops a fairly substantial bomb:
“You know this contract is legally unenforcable.”
There are times like these when I do respect Ana, which makes the way Christian erodes her freedoms as these books go on all the more depressing.
“I am fully aware of that, Miss Steele.”
Obviously. Obviously you’re aware of that. You know that’s not what she’s getting at.
“Were you going to tell me that at any point?”
What? I didn’t think I’d have to...and you’ve worked it out for yourself.
EL James, come ON. You have to try harder than this. There is no way that a high-powered pretend businessman presented a recent college graduate — whose work experience to this point has been in a Mom n’ Pop hardware store — with what looks like a legal document and figured she probably knew it wasn’t a “real” contract. Why bother writing Christian as deliberately manipulative 99% of the time, and then randomly have him go, “Whaaat? How could she think that I would mislead her? That’s crazy.”
“You’d think I’d coerce you into something you didn’t want to do, and then pretend that I have legal hold over you?”
Ah, yes — the old liar’s tactic: phrasing a denial as a question, so it’s not technically a denial.
Again, Ana’s early bluntness makes me sad because I know what’s coming.
Whoa. “You don’t think very highly of me, do you?”
Uggghhhh. And there’s tactic number two: instead of denying anything, just turn it back around on the accuser and pretend to be insulted.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
Poor Early Ana. You had so much promise.
“Anastasia, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal or not. It represents an arrangement that I would like to make with you—what I would like from you and what you can expect from me. If you don’t like it, then don’t sign. If you do sign and then decide you don’t like it, there are enough get-out clauses so you can walk away. Even if it were legally binding, do you think I’d drag you through the courts if you did decide to run.”
And finally, tactic three: make her feel stupid. Do note that he still has not technically denied anything.
What does she take me for?
A liar. Which you are.
She considers me with her unfathomable blue eyes.
What I need her to understand is that this contract isn’t about the law, it’s about trust.
I want you to trust me, Ana.
And, because that’s probably the most important line of the conversation, he doesn’t say it out loud.
Instead, he goes on to gaslight her by condescendingly explaining that all relationships are about trust, even though he knows this is her first relationship, and — before she’s signed the contract, and before they’ve known each other for longer than a month — demands to know if she trusts him.
Instead of answering, she asks him if he’s had similar conversations with previous submissives. This pisses him off, naturally, and he says that he didn’t have to — because they all knew what was expected. Which seems like bullshit because if anything, someone who was fully into the scene would know to be very clear about setting his or her limits and working out this arrangement in advance. But since Christian is terrible at his kink, I suppose this isn’t far-fetched.
Christian asks Ana point-blank if she wants to continue the discussion in public or go somewhere private instead. She says very clearly that she’d like to continue the conversation in public, which she sees as “neutral ground.”
As predicted—sensible, Miss Steele.
So now you have to ruin it.
“Do you think that would stop me?” My voice is husky.
She swallows. “I hope so.”
I really hope that you wouldn’t fuck her right on the table in the middle of a restaurant.
Put the girl out of her misery, Grey.
“Come, I have a private dining room booked. No public.”
He is definitely going to kill her.
But seriously, I do love that he literally asks her what she’d prefer, and then does the exact opposite. Because fuck anything and everything she wants. I can’t imagine why she doesn’t immediately trust him. Who wouldn’t put blind trust in someone who constantly undermines their needs and wants?
As we leave the bar, I notice admiring glances from other guests, and in the case of one handsome, athletic guy, overt appreciation of my date. It’s not something I’ve dealt with before...and I don’t think I like it.
Upstairs on the mezzanine, the liveried young host dispatched by the maitre d’ leads us to the room I’ve booked. He only has eyes for Miss Steele, and I give him a withering look that sends him in retreat from the opulent dining room. An older waiter seats Ana and drapes a napkin on her lap.
How much are you willing to bet that these guys are literally just looking at her because it’s their job to take her to a table and then seat her? And Christian knows that he is SO attractive that there isn’t a single straight woman in the world who is oblivious to his charms, why is he so insecure about all other men?
Anyway, this is where I might potentially verge on kink-shaming, but is Christian saying that he’s literally never even met a sub for coffee or taken a woman — any woman — to dinner? Along with “I’ve literally never slept next to another woman,” it seems like the kind of thing that’s outside the realm of plausibility, to the point where EL James is just giving Christian all of these absurd “virgin” moments so that it doesn’t seem like he’s a much more experienced man preying on a very inexperienced young woman. But none of this really matters, because this sequence is just another way of showing that everyone is jealous of them always and they’re the most beautiful, specialest people in the whole world.
Christian announces that he’s already ordered, and hopes she doesn’t mind, even though we know that if she did mind he’d just tell her to shut up. So that’s fun. They discuss the contract for a bit, and then Ana pushes him on the issue of his sexual health, since hers’ is largely irrelevant:
“My sexual health? Well, all of my previous partners have had blood tests, and I have regular tests every six months for all the health risks you mention. All my recent tests are clear. I have never taken drugs. In fact, I am vehemently antidrug. I have a strict no-tolerance policy with regards to drugs for all my employees, and I insist on random drug testing.”
In fact, one of the people I fired today failed his drug test.
He is the WORST. What possible relevance does an employee’s drug use have to their employment with his company, unless it has been directly affecting their performance? It’s just about smug control and superiority. He drinks like a fucking fish, and puts ice in his wine like some kind of freak, but if someone smokes a little weed on the weekend they get fired?
I hate him.
For a moment I wonder if I should have held this meeting at my office, then dismiss the thought as ridiculous. Only fools mix business with pleasure.
Yet you’ve repeatedly asked her to intern at your company. I know, I know — she’s making him crazy! He’s not responsible for his actions! But I don’t buy it. He’s a gross hypocrite who enjoys blaming everyone else for his behavior.
I’ve kept my work and private life separate; it’s one of my golden rules, and the only exception to that is my relationship with Elena...but then she helped me start my business.
So his one big unbreakable golden rule when it comes to business is entirely founded on a lie because he built his business on the back of a sexual relationship? He’s so stupid it’s almost difficult to keep hating him.
“I hope you like oysters,” I remark to Ana as the waiter leaves.
“I’ve never had one.”
“Really? Well. All you do is tip and swallow. I think you can manage that.” I stare pointed at her mouth, remembering how well she can swallow.
“So I don’t chew it?”
“No, Anastasia, you don’t.” And I try not to think about her teeth toying with my favorite part of my anatomy.
Forget a sexual predator, EL James has written her great romantic hero as an immature 14 year old boy.
They talk about the contract some more, but it’s exactly the same scene as last time with almost no internal interjections, so I’ll skip past it to more of this bullshit:
The waiter reenters with our entrees.
“I hope you like fish,” I say, as he places our food before us.
Doesn’t matter if you don’t, though.
The black cod looks delicious. Ana takes a bite.
Finally, she’s eating!
DOES she have an eating disorder? I feel like — as creepy as the food obsession is — the potentially problematic reality of her own food issues gets so glibly dismissed.
They keep talking about the rules, she asks why he doesn’t like to be touched, he refuses to tell her — and then is shocked (shocked!) when she asks if it’s because he was raped by his mother’s friend when he was a teenager. Which is yet another thing that this book really problematically skirts over.
Then he tells her she’s not allowed to touch herself in her no-no place:
“Out of curiosity, why?”
“Because I want all your pleasure.”
In fact, I want it now. I could fuck her here to see if she can be quiet. Real quiet, knowing we’re within earshot of the hotel staff and guests. After all, that’s why I’ve booked this room.
Look. A healthy sexual appetite is not deserving of scorn. And plenty of people have kinks or fantasies where the risk of getting caught is part of the fun. Having said that, I do think it’s fair to shame this particular kink, because when you are talking about the “fun” of public sex — and specifically the fun of how likely you are to be caught in the act — you are involving unwilling participants into your sex life.
Nobody has signed up to watch you fuck your boring girlfriend, Christian. The staff are probably not going to enjoy possibly witnessing your dull sex, and they’re definitely not going to enjoy having to clean up the mess. And if they DID enjoy it, you’d hate them for it anyway because you’re insane.
More than that, I hate that he’s literally admitted that all of this was just a big ruse that he’d set up just so he could fuck her on a dinner table. He didn’t really want to discuss the contract, see what she was comfortable with, or help her understand the lifestyle — it’s just about his sexual pleasure. Always. All the time.
You’ll be relieved to know that he does not, in fact, fuck her on the table. Instead, he continues to food-shame her:
“You’ve not eaten very much.”
“I’ve had enough.”
This is getting old. “Three oysters, four bites of cod, and one asparagus stalk, no potatoes, no nuts, no olives, and you’ve not eaten all day. You said I could trust you.”
Her eyes widen.
Yeah. I’ve been keeping count, Ana.
Quick reminder that she STILL has not signed this contract, and even if she had, she has stated repeatedly that she will not agree to the terms regarding food. But we all know that this will never be about what she wants.
More than that, if she didn’t have an eating disorder before, this is the perfect way to give her one.
Back to the table, Ana starts deliberately flirting with Christian because she knows how much he wants to fuck on the table, but instead she pulls a fast one and denies him the table sex. He’s frustrated, but manages not to rape her because he’s so nice. They leave the restaurant, and he decides that because she wouldn’t let him fuck her on a table minutes after discussing a very serious sexual agreement, she’s obviously not cut out for “the lifestyle,” which — last time I checked — involved more whips and chains, and fewer linen tablecloths and underpaid waiters. But what do I know.
I take a deep breath and kiss her forehead, then bury my nose in her hair, inhaling her sweet, autumnal scent and committing it to memory.
That’s it. Enough.
If only the book ended here.
Instead, he notices that she’s cold and gives her his jacket because he’s actually really great and romantic. Don’t worry, though — he still manages to make the gesture gross and creepy:
This woman needs looking after. I take off my jacket. “Here. I don’t want you catching cold.”
In May. In Seattle.
I slip it over her shoulders and she hugs it around herself, closes her eyes, and inhales deeply.
Is she drawn to my scent? Like I am to hers?
Perhaps all is not lost?
This is another moment where I’m just baffled. Why does he think that this is the end of everything because she denied him ONE sexual encounter? They just had a long, boring meeting about his sexy sex contract and at no point did she say, “I’m not interested.” I get that this is EL James’s sloppy way of making him seem insecure or vulnerable, but instead he just seems dense.
Dense, and classist as fuck:
The valet pulls up in an ancient VW Beetle.
What the hell is that?
“That’s what you drive?” This must be older than Grandpa Theodore.
I assume Grandpa Theodore is the owner of the famous symbolic apple orchard, but the book doesn’t bother confirming that.
Jesus! The valet hands over the keys and I tip him generously. He deserves danger pay.
Fuck you. Ten seconds ago you wanted to fuck her in the middle of a restaurant because you don’t care about service workers at all, but driving an older car from a parking lot to the front of the restaurant is unfair to the valet? God you suck.
And, once again, let’s notice that the recipient of a generous tip is yet another explicitly male service worker.
Christian proceeds to be really condescending and awful about Ana’s car until Ana realizes that he’s only doing this so she’ll feel obliged to accept a car from him:
You are not buying me a car,” she says emphatically.
“We’ll see,” I mutter, trying to keep calm.
Because nothing she wants will ever matter.
Once I’ve shut the door, she rolls down the window...painfully slowly.
For Christ’s sake!
What now? Is he worried because he’s never seen someone roll down a manual window like some kind of peasant?
“Drive safely,” I growl.
“Good-bye, Christian,” she says, and her voice falters, as if she’s trying not to cry.
Shit. My whole mood shifts from irritation and concern for her well-being to helplessness as her car roars off up the stret.
I don’t know if I’ll see her again.
I stand like a fool on the sidewalk until her rear lights disappear into the night.
Fuck. Why did that go so wrong?
Literally nobody could be this dense.
Okay, Christian —let’s pretend that you are so stupid that you can’t figure it out. Here’s a list:
1) You gave her a contract and told her that her requests would be taken seriously. Then, nearly every time she made a request, you pushed it aside, mocked it, or refused to agree to it.
2) You met with her to discuss this at a high-end restaurant which you knew would make her feel intimidated and further indebted to you.
3) You asked if she preferred to speak in public or in private. When she told you she preferred a public setting, you immediately took her to a private room that you had booked in advance because you knew that she would feel more vulnerable and uncomfortable without other people around.
4) You sexualized her and plied her with alcohol the entire time that you were meant to have a serious conversation. Then you made her feel guilty for not consenting to public sex that she wasn’t comfortable with.
5) You made her feel inferior and reckless because she can’t afford a new car, and then hinted that you were going to further intimidate her with your wealth by buying her one that she said she doesn’t want.
But because it’s convenient for EL James to pretend he’s not fully aware of his actions, he “doesn’t get it.” Then he immediately calls Taylor and orders a brand-new Audi that she — literally seconds ago — flat-out refused.
He’s sooooo confused, you guys!
He goes back to the hotel room, e-mails her to ask if she got home okay (because he’s pretending to be worried about her car, because he’s such a snob), and then gets pissy that she doesn’t immediately answer.
You’ve really fucked up this deal, Grey.
Ladeez is mergerz! You get an F in Sex Business, Christian!
Back to Harry Potter to heal this pain.