I never should have had the Heart Attack Grill's two-for-one Lard Special with the free Diet Coke. I don't care what the Coca-Cola Company says, I bet there's some empty calories in there somewhere. They don't all dissipate in an effervescent sparkle of fizz once you pop the top like my mother used to tell me.
When the elevator finally spits me out on the first floor with a grunt, I'm more confused than a Hollywood starlet sitting in front of a plate of food.
What the crap had just happened?
On my drive back home, I think about a lot of things. I think about whether there will ever be peace in the Middle East. I think about whether we will ever judge each other by the content of our character, and not the color of our highlights. I think about what I'm going to eat when I get home.
Speaking about getting home...
When I get home Katherine--Kate--must still be feeling sick, because she's sitting slumped at the kitchen table, hand to her forehead and moaning.
"I got the interview," I tell her, hoping it will lift her spirits. It does.
"You got the interview!" she says, immediately brightening. "Oh goodie, goodie, goodie! Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie! Right there, right there, right there!"
So I put the digital recorder down in front of her.
"A little bit more to the left," she instructs, and so I do.
She scoops it up in her hands, clutches it to her chest, shuddering. I've never seen her so happy. She's almost convulsing in excitement.
"Okay, well," I tell her, "I've got to go to work, even though I told them I wouldn't be going in."
She shudders a final time in acknowledgement, and grows quiet. She's sad to see me go, I guess.
"Well... goodbye," I tell her.
"Goodbye," she tells me.
A midget strolls cockily out from beneath the kitchen table, flossing his teeth.
"Goodbye," he says.
I make it to work. They're happy to see me.
"You told us you weren't coming in!" Mr. Clayton says. I've worked at Clayton's Hardware & Enema Supplies since I started at UTEP. They love me just like family. "Go back home!"
Oh, I've got so much studying to do for my finals, but first I write an essay for one of my classes. I call it The Communist Manifesto and Other Decorating Tips.
I'm back home. Kate's not there. I call my mom. She's not in. I call my dad, and only get his voice mailbox. I call a few more people I know, but they don't answer, either. I finally give 9-1-1 a try.
"Quit calling us!" the emergency-operator teases, playing hard-to-get.
The doorbell rings, and it's my bestest, most dearest gay hispanic friend, Jose, with a bottle of Three Fingers tequila.
"Don't you drink Jose Cuervo, my illegal alien friend?" I ask him.
"It's too creepy to put something in my mouth that has my name on it," he explains.
The doorbell rings again. This time it's Nosmo King, my bestest, most dearest gay African-American friend.
"'Nosmo'?" I once asked him. "That's an interesting name. How'd you get it?"
"My mother, when she was giving birth to me, said it was a sign from God. As she was being wheeled into the delivery room, she looked up, and there, just above the door, was the name 'Nosmo King.'"
I remember wiping away a tear from my eye. It was a very touching story, especially since his last name is Jones.
The doorbell rings yet again. When I open the door I see my gay Asian-American friend Kim Jong Eh? (no relation), and my gay Native American friend Dances With Gerbils. They're both my bestest, most dearest friends in all the world.
After a few shots of tequila, they begin to throw a party that I'm not invited to. Suddenly, I'm in the mood for a cucumber salad.
Saturday at the store is going to be a nightmare, especially since it's Tuesday.
"Hey! We told you to..."
"I'll work for free," I say. It seems to pacify them.
"Okay," Mr. Clayton says, happy to have me. "Just stay in the back where the customers can't see you."
I agree, and even promise to buy everyone a pizza later.
"Don't bother," he says. "We can see the results of eating too much pizza."
They're like my second family, always looking out for me.
I'm at the back counter, discreetly eating a chimichanga. I glance up and--crap!--I find myself trapped in the bold gaze of Christian Grey. I'm like a deer caught in the headlights of an 18-wheeler barreling down the road at it.
Not just crap, but holy crap. What the hell is he doing here?
"Hello, Mr. Grey," I tell him. "This is a pleasant surprise."
"Yes," he tells me. "For you."
"What can I help you with?"
"I was at a store. It was called Nothing But Lampshades. That was all they sold. Lampshades. But I, Miss Steele, am a man who needs more than lampshades."
"I understand completely," I tell him, not understanding at all.
"Actually, I don't need anything. I was just in the neighborhood, and I wanted to express how much I enjoyed our little interview the other day."
"So did I," I tell him. "I just wish I could have gotten some pictures of you to go with Kate's story."
"Pictures? I'll have my dear friend, Anthony Weiner, send her some. Just give me her cell phone number."
"Gee, thanks," I tell him, thinking how excited Kate is going to be when she gets them.
It was Paul, Mr. Clayton's youngest brother. I've known him every since he was molested by his uncle. I had heard he was home from Princeton, where his family tells everybody he's going to college, but is really just a janitor there.
He puts a too-familiar arm around my shoulder, and pulls me close. I can see Mr. Grey's eyes narrow and his face harden from the corner of my eye.
"Er, Mr. Grey... this is Paul. His brother owns this store. Paul... this is Mr. Christian Grey. He owns everything else."
"Christian Grey?" Paul asks.
"Yes," I tell him.
"The Christian Grey?"
"Not Christian Gray, but Christian Grey?"
"Yes, yes. Christian Grey. Now get your hand off my ass and say hello."
"Wow," he tells the Master of the Universe. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes," Mr. Grey answers, his tone clipped and cool. "You can leave."
"Yeah, I can do that," Paul says and disentangles his arm from around me. As he leaves. Mr. Grey eyes him steely as he walks away. Like a predator predatoring his prey, he watches Paul but speaks to me.
"Hmm, I guess I will need some things after all," he says, casually, with an undercurrent of danger.
"Of course," I tell him, "...Christian."
"Please... call me Mr. Grey."
I step from around the counter, and bump into our bow rake display. They all come crashing to the concrete floor. I'm surrounded by a sea of rakes. Maybe more like a school of hungry sharks in a sea of concrete. Crap, I'm bad at metaphors.
I cautiously move one foot forward, stepping on the head of a rake. The wooden handle snaps upward fast--Whack!--and it hits me smack in the face--"Ow!" The force of the blow makes me step back--Whack!--and a rake hits me on the back of my head--"Ow!" I step forward. Whack! I step back."Ow!" Forward. Whack! Back. "Ow!"
Whack! Whack! Whack!
"Ow!" "Ow!" "Ow!"
"Do you need some assistance, Miss Steele?" Mr. Grey--my hero--asks me.
"No, no," I tell him. "This happens all the time."
In the Gay Mafia, do you think getting "whacked" is a good thing?
Neither do I.
He buys some rope, duct tape, and a gag.
"For the body in the trunk," he kids, kiddingly. "Do you have any blindfolds?"
"The bandana you bought as a gag can also be used as a blindfold," I say, saving him some money. He may be a billionaire, but I'm sure he didn't get there by being a spendthrift. "Anything else?"
"Yes," he says, looking around. "I will also need some hydrofluoric acid."
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
"No, no," I assure him.
"Along with a plastic container big enough to contain, oh, say, your friend Paul."
"Hmm, I don't know if we have one that big."
"If you don't, then two will do."
"What are you going to put inside them?"
"Any decent acid is gonna eat right through plastic."
"Not hydrofluoric," he assures me. "Mr. White, an old chemistry teacher of mine, once taught me that."
"What kind of plastic, then?"
"Polyethylene. Just look at the bottom for a triangle stamped 'LDPE.'"
Okay, I admit to myself. I like him.
I walk him to the front of the store. At the glass-sliding door, he turns around and faces me, saying nothing. He looks around my place of work a final time.
"This place looks so much different through binoculars," he tells me.
"Just kidding," he says, "Anastasia."
His tongue caresses my name like it was the last donut at the Krispy Kreme. I don't know what's going to happen next. Is he going to take me in his arms? Kiss me?
He hands me a shiny new penny.
"For luck," he says
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