Look, I do this for you out of the goodness of my heart. Out of the goodness of your heart (and the survivor guilt you’re going to feel when you realize I threw my body on the grenade of chapter thirteen for you, all for you!), check out my interview at The Qwillery.
Chapter thirteen begins like this:
The following day, I call my mom when I’m home from work. It’s been a relatively peaceful day at the Clayton’s, allowing me far too much time to think. I’m restless, nervous about my showdown with Mr. Control Freak tomorrow, and at the back of my mind, I’m worried that perhaps I’ve been too negative in my response to the contract. Perhaps he’ll call the whole thing off.
So, right away, I’ve got good feelings about how this chapter is going to go down. After all her angst in the last chapter and her unwillingness to sign the contract, Ana is now worried that she’s blown her chance to enter into a relationship with Christian solely on his terms (the only choice she has besides cat ladydom).
Ana’s mom is “oozing contrition” about missing her daughter’s college graduation. Her boyfriend Bob twisted a ligament, so they can’t travel. Bob could probably get some crutches and still manage to be there, but I recognize this tactic. It’s “keep the parents out of the picture so I don’t have to write about them.” It’s why all my characters are orphans. I’ll cop to that one. I do not like writing about relationships with parents and children (okay, I have written a few books with parents in). I recognize this lazy writing, as I am nothing if not lazy, and we can smell our own. I think if E.L. James was going to go this route, though, she needed to make it something a little more dramatic, but not necessary life threatening. Instead of a sprained ankle, why not a broken femur? Or gall bladder surgery? It seems like a pretty weak excuse, for missing your only daughter’s college graduation.
When Ana checks her email, Christian has responded to her list of concerns with a pithy remark about the definition of “submissive”, as well as the definition itself. Ana replies with the definition of “compromise”, because she’s still holding out hope that she can have her naive fairy tale romance she’s imagined. They fight over whether or not he’s picking her up or she’s driving.
He’s even grumpy by email. Doesn’t he understand that I may need to make a quick get-away? Not that my Beetle is quick… but still – I need a means of escape.
This is a sign that your date is going to go well. When you’re planning it like a bank robbery.
I call Ray, who is just about to watch the Sounders play some soccer team from Salt Lake City, so our conversation is mercifully brief. He’s driving down on Thursday for graduation. He wants to take me out afterward for a meal. My heart swells talking to Ray, and a huge lump knots in my throat. He has bee my constant through all mom’s romantic ups and downs. We have a special bond that I treasure. Even though he’s my stepdad, he’s always treated me as his own, and I can’t wait to see him. It’s bee too long. His quiet fortitude is what I need now, what I miss. Maybe I can channel my inner Ray for my meeting tomorrow.
See, he’s nothing like Charlie! I mean, besides the quiet fortitude and the fact that he’s constant where Bella’s mom, sorry, Ana’s mom, is flaky and undependable. Oh, and he likes sports. But Bella didn’t feel this way about Charlie in the first book of her series, so Ana feeling this way about Ray in the first book of her series means it’s totally fair game. And wait, Ana has an inner Ray? Isn’t it getting kind of crowded in her head, what with her inner goddess, her very conscious subconscious, and now her inner Ray? I knew I wasted that Herman’s Head joke when I used it in the chapter ten recap. A bonus to her inner Ray going on her date with her is that I’m now imagining Charlie Swann in a relationship with Edward Cullen.
Just to make your lives complete, I have ventured into the Pit of Voles (also known as Fanfiction.net) to make my dreams real for you lucky people. Here was my favorite Charlie/Edward slash I found over there. Fast Lane, by HotHearts18. You will probably not be shocked to learn that it’s much better than 50 Shades.
Kate and Ana keep packing up their apartment and drinking wine, because these bitches need AA. Seriously, every single scene, every goddamned one, they’re drinking wine. If Ana had taken a water bottle on her jog, I’d be pretty convinced it was full of gin.
Kate has lent me two dresses and two pairs of shoes for tonight and graduation tomorrow. I wish I could feel more enthused about clothes and make an extra effort, but clothes are just not my thing.
Damn that Kate, always doing nice things for Ana. Remember how Ana doesn’t want to make an extra effort? And remember how she won’t do anything she doesn’t want to do?:
I shower, shave my legs and underarms, wash my hair, and then spend a good half-hour drying it so that it falls in soft waves to my breasts and down my back. I slip a comb in to keep one side off my face and apply mascara and some lip-gloss. I rarely wear make-up – it intimidates me. None of my literary heroines had to deal with make-up – maybe I’d know more about it if they had. I slip on the plum-colored stilettos that match the dress, and I’m ready by six-thirty.
What about signing sex contracts, Ana? Did your literary heroines do that? Also, stilettos? I think you’re structurally unstable enough in flats, sweetie. Kate tells Ana she looks hot, and Ana complains that she wasn’t going for hot, she was going for demure and business-like. Because nothing says “demure” like stilettos. Kate keeps flattering Ana for a few lines, and Ana accepts her compliments with grace. HA! No, she gets annoyed and leaves for her date. When she gets to the bar, Christian is just so impossibly beautiful that she can’t even give much thought (beyond a fleeting acknowledgement of her clumsiness) to how hideously grotesque she believes she is. Christian orders her some wine, even though she just got her one hour sober chip. They both confess to being nervous, although Christian is pretty cool and smooth for someone who’s supposedly nervous. Christian acknowledges that the contract is legally unenforceable. He’s obviously been reading the comments you guys have been leaving:
“You know this contract is legally unenforceable.”
“I am fully aware of that, Miss Steele.”
“Were you going to tell me that at any point?”
He frowns at me.
“You’d think I’d coerce you into something you don’t want to do, and then pretend that I have a legal hold over you?”
Well, you made her sign what seems to me to be a legally enforceable non-disclosure agreement (anyone want to confirm or debunk my suspicions in the comments again?), you made a big deal about needing her signature, the whole thing is written in pseudo-legalese, and you never once told her that it wasn’t a legal document, she had to find that out for herself. So yes, Christian. That is exactly what you were doing, you creepy, creepy rapist. He dances around that point with a lot of bullshit about trust:
“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?” I take a long draft of my wine. My subconscious taps me hard on the shoulder. You must keep your wits about you. Don’t drink too much.
You know what the biggest “get-out” clause is? THE FACT THAT IT ISN’T LEGALLY ENFORCEABLE, DICKHEAD. He’s still trying to make it sound official, like his cock is so fucking important, it needs insurance forms. Every time he opens his mouth in this scene, I hate him more:
“Relationships like this are built on honesty and trust,” he continues. “If you don’t trust me – trust me to know how I’m affecting you, how far I can go with you, how far I can take you – if you can’t be honest with me, then we really can’t do this.” Oh my, we’ve cut to the chase quickly. How far he can take me. Holy shit. What does that mean?
Okay, Chedward, let’s talk about trust. Trust means not making a girl you have sex with sign a form saying she won’t tell anybody. Trust means having an open communication with another person about what you want from the relationship, not handing her a stack of forms and a laptop and hoping she comes over to your side as a result. Trust means not swooping down on someone when they’re out with their friends because you’re afraid they’re going to make a choice you don’t approve of. In fact, up until this point, Chedward, you have done nothing to build Ana’s trust in you, other than demand it before you tie her up and spit in her mouth. And it certainly is not built by pressuring a young woman to enter into BDSM as a full-time lifestyle when she hasn’t even had the opportunity to experiment with it in a lighter capacity.
Because he’s a creepy dick, Christian demands to know whether Ana trusts him or not. She doesn’t answer, but asks him if he had this conversation with the last fifteen subs he’s had. He tells her that since they were experience submissives, he didn’t need to, because they knew what he expected and what they expected to get out of the relationship. So, he didn’t need to earn the trust of experienced subs? Is that what he’s saying? He doesn’t want to talk about his past subs (probably because they’re all dead in a landfill somewhere), and says they should get down to the little details of the contract, or, as he puts it, “Your issues,” because yeah, Ana is the only person with issues here.
I swallow. Do I trust him? Is that what this all comes down to – trust? Surely that should be a two-way thing. I remember his snit when I phoned Jose.
No, he had a snit when Jose called you. That’s a pretty important difference. But we abandon that line of rational thinking so they can fight over what and when Ana has eaten that day.
“You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?”
“I think we should stay in public, on neutral ground.” He smiles sardonically.
“Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning.
My eyes widen, and I swallow again.
“I hope so.”
“Come, I have a private dining room booked. No public.” He smiles at me enigmatically and climbs out of the booth, holding his hand out to me.
Excuse the ever-living fuck out of me? I don’t know what’s making me angrier, the fact that he basically just openly threatened rape and then denied her request to stay in a safe public place, or the fact that E.L. James keeps tagging one character’s dialogue with another character’s actions. A waiter shows them to the private rapetorium that Christian has reserved:
We follow him through a plush seating area to an intimate dining room. Just one secluded table. The room is small but sumptuous. Beneath a shimmering chandelier, the table is all starched linen, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, and white rose bouquet. An old-world, sophisticated charm pervades the wood-paneled room. The waiter pulls out my chair, and I sit. He places my napkin in my lap. Christian sits opposite me. I peek up at him. “Don’t bite your lip,” he whispers.
Or else you’ll rape her, Chedward? He’s already ordered their dinner. They start to get their contract on, and Ana has to “steel” herself again. I was missing that particular pun for the last few chapters, actually. They get to the clause about STDs, and Christian has this to say:
“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’m vehemently anti-drugs. I have a strict no-tolerance policy with regards to drugs for all my employees, and I insist on random drug testing.
Wow… control freakery gone mad. I blink at him shocked.
No, Ana, this isn’t the mark of a control freak. This is shit that pretty much all sexually active adults and/or business owners should be concerned with. If you agree to randomly drug test your employees, your insurance ends up a lot cheaper, because you’re not going to be paying for claims when your forklift driver comes to the warehouse all hopped up on PCP and hurts himself or someone else or your property. This is just common sense, Ana.
He’s still a creepy potential rapist, though.
Christian tells her that she can walk away from the contract at any time, but once she does, that’s it, they are completely over. It’s nice when two people with absolutely no middle ground can find something they have in common, even if it’s that aforementioned lack of middle ground. Their first course arrives:
“I hope you like oysters,” Christian’s voice is soft.
I hope so, too, because otherwise I’m going to have to read about the fight they have when she doesn’t want to eat them, and be annoyed when she finally does eat them just because he wants her to. Luckily, she likes them and we are all mercifully spared. There is some innuendo re: oysters, nothing you probably couldn’t find in an early ’90’s straight-to-video erotic thriller, and then Christian admits that he did once hurt a submissive by accidentally tying her too tightly in rope play. That’s actually a really realistic injury, so good job, E.L.. I was afraid it was going to be like, “I lost control and beat her too much,” but rope injury is so much more likely. He won’t agree to just one month of the contract, he wants her to try for three, and he doesn’t want her to have a weekend a month off. Instead, he’s willing to give her a day every weekend, so long as she makes it up midweek. This is fine by me, because I’m not really interested in reading about her going to work or whatever she does during the time that she’s not with Christian. Being alone with Ana and her headful of people is not something I want to do for a week at a time between sex appointments. He explains that when she comes into his house as his submissive, he’s going to literally do whatever he wants to her, and she’s going to have to put up with it, but he assures her that he’s going to earn her trust. How, Chedward? By just asking for it?
“Discipline. There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. You don’t believe me now, but this is what I mean about trust. There will be pain, but nothing that you can’t handle. Again, it comes down to trust. Do you trust me, Ana?”
“Yes, I do.” I respond spontaneously, not thinking… because it’s true – I do trust him.
No! He earns her trust by using her first name! Of course! It all falls into place now! That’s clearly enough to make a sane woman throw aside all her misgivings! Problem solved, none of this is wrong from an objective standpoint anymore! I’m so glad that got taken care of!
“And right now, I want to peel you out of that dress.” I swallow. Peel me out of Kate’s dress. I feel the pull deep in my belly. Muscles that I’m now more acquainted with clench at his words. But I can’t have this. His most potent weapon, used against me again. He’s so good at sex – even I’ve figured this out.
So, Ana is completely aware that he’s using sex to manipulate her, and she’s still sitting there. He openly admits to using sex to control her, like it’s no big thing, because whether or not he’s manipulating her, “Doesn’t change how much I want you.” Well, so long as you’re still happy.
“If you were my sub, you wouldn’t have to think about this. It would be easy.” His voice is soft, seductive. “All those decisions – all the wearying thought processes behind them. The – is this this right thing to do? Should this happen here? Can it happen now? You wouldn’t have to worry about any of that detail. That’s what I’d do as your Dom. And right now, I know you want me, Anastasia.”
This is easily the most insulting thing I’ve ever seen a hero say to a heroine in a romance novel. She has had no problem at all saying yes to anything he’s wanted sexually so far, and she’s thought about all those choices. Yes, there is freedom and excitement in the unquestioning obedience of sexual submission, but Ana doesn’t know that yet. She’s coming to you with very real concerns and you’re basically telling her, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about what you want.”
Next, Christian tells Ana that he knows she’s aroused because, and you’re not going to believe this one, he felt the tablecloth move and he knows from years of experience that it’s because she’s clenching her thighs. Does Christian Grey work for the CIA? Because he tracked her cell phone, and now he’s reading body language via tablecloth. Then we get a really telling paragraph from Ana:
I flush and stare down at my hands. That’s what I’m hindered by in this game of seduction. He’s the only one who knows and understands the rules. I’m just too naive and inexperienced. My only sphere of reference is Kate, and she doesn’t take any shit from men. My other references are all fictional: Elizabeth Bennett would be outraged, Jane Eyre too frightened, and Tess would succumb, just as I have.
This is another one of those flashing neon “she cannot give informed consent” signs I’ve been talking about for many, many chapters now. She is not in a position where she can confidently say, “This is what I want out of this experience,” because she has no frame of reference. And I have to say, I think Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy might be into a little D/s play behind closed doors. But that’s another issue entirely. Someone has probably written a fucking terrible sequel about it already, anyway. It’s probably called, “Darcy’s Peculiar Proclivity” or something fucking awful that will make me want to burn the author’s house down. Please, no one leave recs for this book in the comments, I don’t have that many matches left.
Then, basically the scene from Flashdance where Alex eats the shrimp all sexy happens, but with asparagus.
“I could make you stay,” he threatens.
“Yes, you could easily, but I don’t want you to.”
He runs his hands though his hair, regarding me carefully.
“You know, when you fell into my office to interview me, you were all yes sir, no sir. I thought you were a natural born submissive. But quite frankly, Anastasia, I’m not sure you have a submissive bone in your delectable body.”
Again with the Prince Charming routine. No, you could not making Ana stay with you against your will. There’s this crazy thing called “the law” and they frown on stuff like forcing people to bend to your will against theirs, contract or not. I’m guessing the restaurant doesn’t want that kind of publicity: “Let’s try that place where the girl was wrongfully imprisoned!” No one has ever said that about a restaurant in the history of the entire world. So, Christian basically thought that since she was clumsy and nervous, he’d be able to exploit that as his sex fantasy. Again, women across America are resenting their husbands for NOT ACTING THIS WAY.
He leans down to kiss me, but pauses before his lips touch mine, his eyes searching mine, wanting, asking permission. I raise my lips to his, and he kisses me and because I don’t know if I’ll ever kiss him again, I let go – my hands moving of their own accord and twisting into his hair, pulling him to me, my mouth opening, my tongue stroking his. His hand grasps the nape of my neck as he deepens the kiss, responding to my ardor. His other hand slides own my back and flattens at the base of my spine as he pushes me against his body. “I can’t persuade you to stay?” he breathes between kisses.
See how he does that? She says no, he thinks, “I’ll overcome her silly objections to what I want with ravishing kisses. No damsel could dare refuse me!” He is openly manipulating her, and we all know she’s going to keep falling for it. Not just because I’ve already read the book, either. Because this is the way Ana believes the world should work. She should be pursued, like the heroine of a classic novel, and in classic novels, those heroines had very little say in how their lives would turn out. There is a reason Ana is obsessed with classic literature. It’s all pre-sexual revolution. Ana wants to believe that she’s helpless and unable to refuse the broodingly handsome hero, because then she won’t have to think for herself. She’s already mastered the art of letting everyone else steer her course through daily events, she just has to figure out how to make this whole thing with Christian seem like it’s on her terms. That way, she can keep believing that she’s strong and independent, without ever having to be either of those things.
“I’ll escort you to the lobby.” He holds out his hand. Leaning down, I grab my purse and place my hand in his. Holy crap, this could be it. I follow him meekly down the grand stairs and into the lobby, my scalp prickling, my blood pumping. This could be the last goodbye if I decide to say no.
My heart contracts painfully in my chest. What a turnaround. What a difference a moment of clarity can make to a girl.
That’s it, right there. Ana isn’t giving up all her aspirations for romantic love. She’s having a moment of clarity. A moment of clarity that doesn’t send her straight to the nearest weekly meeting, no matter how much she needs it. Christian makes a bunch of weak attempts to keep her from leaving, like giving her his jacket (so she’ll have to see him again, I presume), to arguing that her car doesn’t look safe (maybe she should spend the night with him after all?). To her credit, Ana resists all of these and balks at his suggestion that he buy her a car, but of course, he’s going to do whatever he wants to do. Contract or no, he owns Ana, because he believes that he is entitled to every woman he wants. This is rape culture, folks. This book is rape culture, distilled to it’s most potent form.
Ana drives back home bawling her eyes out, wondering if she decides to do this, will he be her boyfriend and do normal boyfriend things like meeting her friends and, you know, letting her touch him?
What if I do say yes, and in three month’s time he says no, he’s had enough of trying to mold me into something I’m not. How will I feel? I’ll have emotionally invested three months, doing things that I’m not sure I want to do. And if he says no, agreement over, how could I cope with that level of rejection? Perhaps it’s best to back away now with what self-esteem I have reasonably intact.
I would say you just gave yourself your answer there, Ana. Luckily, Kate isn’t home to stop Ana from talking herself out of her good decision. What is at home is the computer, and an email from Christian, that he has clearly sent while Ana drove the five miles home. She asks for space, and he can’t wait ten minutes before contacting her to guilt trip her about not fucking him.
I don’t understand why you ran this evening. I sincerely hope I answered all your questions to your satisfaction. I know I have given you a great deal to contemplate, and I fervently hope that you will give my proposal your serious consideration. I really want to make this work. We will take it slow.
Wow, you clearly don’t understand the concept of trust, Chedward. You couldn’t trust her to spend a few minutes out from under your manipulative thumb, you had to fire off that email before she was out of the parking lot. “[…]Answered all your questions to your satisfaction.” Really? You were evasive and gave very cryptic answers to everything she asked, leaving her more confused than when she got there.
Ana puts on her pajamas and Christian’s jacket, which I’m telling you right now is absolutely a worse look than any pink pjs Kate might dig up:
As I lie staring into the darkness, I think of all the times he warned me to stay away.
‘Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you.’
‘I don’t do the girlfriend thing.’
‘I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of guy.’
‘I don’t make love.’
‘This is all I know.’
And as I weep into my pillow silently, it’s this last idea I cling to. This is all I know, too. Perhaps together we can chart a new course.
After a night of obvious, unashamed emotional manipulation, after a threat to rape her in the middle of a restaurant, after a threat to force her to stay with him against her will, after an email that blatantly disrespects her request for space, Ana has come to a solution. A brilliant, elegantly simple solution, one that has been staring her in the face this whole time.
So, there’s chapter thirteen. May God help us all.