Ana heaves, then buckles over and vomits on the ground.
“Ugh—Dios mío, Ana!” José leaps out of the way in disgust.
Ignoring him, I grab her hair and hold it out of the way as she continues to throw up everything she’s had this evening. It’s with some annoyance that I note she doesn’t appear to have eaten. With my arm around her shoulders I lead her away from the curious onlookers toward one of the flowerbeds. “If you’re going to throw up again, do it here. I’ll hold you.” It’s darker here. She can puke in peace. She vomits again and again, her hands on the brick. It’s pitiful. Once her stomach is empty, she continues to retch, long dry heaves.
Boy, she’s got it bad.
Finally her body relaxes and I think she’s finished. Releasing her, I give her my handkerchief, which by some miracle I have in the inside pocket of my jacket.
Thank you, Mrs. Jones.
Wiping her mouth, she turns and rests against the bricks, avoiding eye contact because she’s ashamed and embarrassed. And yet I’m so pleased to see her. Gone is my fury at the photographer. I’m delighted to be standing in the parking lot of a student bar in Portland with Miss Anastasia Steele.
She puts her head in her hands, cringes, then peeks up at me, still mortified. Turning to the door, she glares over my shoulder. I assume it’s at her “friend.”
“I’ll, um, see you inside,” José says, but I don’t turn to stare him down, and to my delight, she ignores him, too, returning her eyes to mine.
“I’m sorry,” she says finally, while her fingers twist the soft linen.
Okay, let’s have some fun.
“What are you sorry for, Anastasia?”
“The phone call, mainly. Being sick. Oh, the list is endless,” she mumbles.
“We’ve all been here, perhaps not quite as dramatically as you.” Why is it such fun to tease this young woman? “It’s about knowing your limits, Anastasia. I mean, I’m all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale. Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?”
Perhaps she has a problem with alcohol. The thought is worrying, and I consider whether I should call my mother for a referral to a detox clinic.
Ana frowns for a moment, as if angry, that little v forming between her brows, and I suppress the urge to kiss it. But when she speaks she sounds contrite.
“No,” she says. “I’ve never been drunk before and right now I have no desire to ever be again.” She looks up at me, her eyes unfocused, and she sways a little. She might pass out, so without giving it a thought I scoop her up into my arms.
She’s surprisingly light. Too light. The thought irks me. No wonder she’s drunk.
“Come on, I’ll take you home.”
“I need to tell Kate,” she says, as her head rests on my shoulder.
“My brother can tell her.”
“My brother Elliot is talking to Miss Kavanagh.”
“He was with me when you called.”
“No, I’m staying at The Heathman.”
And my wild-goose chase has paid off.
“How did you find me?”