In the version of this story on Fanfiction, Christian mentions that Carrick’s father has passed away. Because of a developing storyline in a later book, I have exercised my creative license and brought his father back to life. No, you’re not crazy. He was dead… now he’s not. Carry on.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.
Chapter 35—Put Through The Paces
I wake up alone in Christian’s bed on Sunday morning. The sun is shining through the windows and if I were to guess, I would say it’s about 9 or 10am. I wore sweats to bed last night since I’m on the last day of my period. Christian didn’t try anything at all. He said he just wanted to hold me, and he cradled me so close in his arms that I don’t think we moved once all night.
Last night’s impromptu get-together was very nice. Not only am I breaking my reclusive boyfriend out of his shell, but I’ve managed to introduce Elliot to our little circle as well. He was quite shocked to see Christian interacting with my friends so well, occasionally throwing a look at me that he could not believe his brother could actually be cool. I asked how he had been doing and he indicated that he was doing okay and taking things one day at a time. Then he commented to me that Val looked a whole lot like Mia. I almost felt bad for Val…”Say, Hon, you know that guy you were asking me about earlier? Yeah, you remind him of his kid sister!” Imagine my surprise when he asked me if she was available! I reminded him about the dangers of moving on too quickly and he assured me that although he’s interested in Val, he’s walking into the situation eyes wide open and not expecting to walk down “the aisle” or anything of that sort.
I freshen up a bit, take some time to tame my bed hair, then go in search of Christian. I don’t clear the bedroom yet when I hear voices in the great room. Should I listen? That would be rude. You know they say if you listen to someone else’s conversation long enough, you’ll eventually hear something bad about yourself. I creep to the edge of the hallway and I hear an unknown man’s voice.
“That was a very drastic reaction to a normal relationship situation, Christian. Why did you go so far? Were you deliberately trying to hurt Anastasia?” The unknown man says. He has a British accent—I can tell that it’s slightly Americanized, like he has been here for quite some time. They are talking about me.
“No! Of course, not.” I hear Christian’s voice. It sounds much better today, even though I can tell he’s speaking softly and cautiously—either to spare his voice or to prevent my hearing the conversation. “I was lost in my own grief. I didn’t know if I had completely ruined everything with her; if she never wanted to speak to me again. I was afraid.”
“Well, this is certainly not the Christian Grey that I’ve been seeing all these years.” The man is partaking in some gentle ribbing. “But you must learn to deal with this kind of adversity in a more productive manner. Your mother was beside herself, insisting that I come and see you this morning. This is not healthy—not only physically, but mentally as well.” Hey, back off, Man! It was partially my fault… I cut him off!
“I’m just so new at this, John.” Christian says. “I don’t know how to handle this. I’ve never been rejected by a woman in my adult life… ever. They’re always falling over me. I reject them. For someone that I love to reject me… I don’t know. It’s like I just… checked out. Logic and reason departed and all that was left was that old shell of a man that didn’t want to feel anything. I could see my life going back to the way that it used to be and I just couldn’t swallow that.” Yeah, like I said, we all have a problem with rejection, don’t we? But some of us take it so much worse than others. Wait a minute… who’s John?
Well, that is what it was, now wasn’t it?
Oh, God, not you again…
Yes, me again. How could you not expect him to feel rejected when you wouldn’t return his calls, wouldn’t see him, wouldn’t return his texts… what do you call that? How did you feel when he did it to you?
We’ve been through this already!
We can go through it at many times as you want until the light finally comes on. I live here, I’ve got no place to be.
She’s an annoying little Bitch, but she’s often right. I just wish she didn’t sound so fucking much like Carla.
“So how do you plan to handle things from now on?” John asks.
“Well, we’ve agreed to not let it get to this point again… not to ignore each other or disappear like that again, even if the time comes where one of us may need a little space.”
“It sounds like the two of you are handling this pretty well. She certainly seems like she could be good for you… if you learn to temper your emotions a bit. For you, it seems to be all or nothing. You’re always one extreme or the other. You’re either very hot or very cold—there’s no compromise. You can’t let another person into your life if there’s no compromise.” The longer I listen to John, the more I can hear the “therapist” in his voice. This must be Christian’s psychiatrist, and I need to let them have their privacy.
I turn around and head to the guest room to find something to wear for the day. I plan on just spending some much-needed time with Christian and trying to mend the cracks that remain from our separation this week. I grab some jeans and a U-Dub T-shirt along with some clean underwear and return to Christian’s bedroom.
I’m bending over towel-drying my hair after my shower when I see a pair of sexy bare feet enter the en suite. “I don’t know who you are, but I am certain that my boyfriend is somewhere nearby and will have your throat if you touch me,” I say as I wrap the towel around my hair and stand up to look at Christian’s smiling face.
“Hmmm… sounds like a real brute, this boyfriend of yours,” he says softly. I realize that his earlier tone was most likely his attempt to save his voice.
“You sound much better,” I say, pulling his face down and planting a chaste kiss on his lips.
“That’s because my girlfriend insisted that I not talk all day yesterday, which gave my throat a chance to rest.”
“I think I like this girlfriend of yours,” I say with a smile. “Now give me a little privacy. I need to take care of some things.”
“Okay, but just so you know. I’m not new to any of the lady functions… and it doesn’t bother me,” he says. I frown.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“That means that if we both feel the urge, I will fuck you while you’re on your period,” he says, calmly. I gasp.
“Uh…” I’m at a loss for words. “I… don’t know how I feel about that,” I say with uncertainty.
“You will if it happens.” He kisses me on the nose. “Get dressed, please. I’d like you to meet someone.” He closes the door to the en suite as he leaves.
Fuck me on my period… eeww! I’ve never done that before. Edward avoided me like the plague during that time of the month. What’s so strange, though, is that I am most horny during that time. I know it’s because the ground is fertile and waiting for the farmer to come and plant the seed.
Come and plant the seed…
I’m 26… do I want to have children? Of course, I do. But I’ve been on birth control of some form for 11 years now. I change up every few years because the doctors say it’s a good idea to prevent infertility. My biological clock is starting to tick… I’m at that perfect age.
But, hell, I just got a new boyfriend. We haven’t even figured each other out yet. Why is my mind even headed in this direction? I don’t know if Christian and I will even toe the line yet, let alone have a serious future together. It’s just that… thinking about a future without him actually makes my throat constrict a bit and I feel like I can’t breathe. Why don’t we just get through today and we will worry about the rest later?
About 10 minutes later, I join “John” and Christian in the great room after I’ve pulled my slightly damp hair back into a ponytail and they rise from the sofa to greet me.
“Here she is now,” Christian says as he reaches out for me. I take his hand and allow him lead me to the distinguished-looking English gentleman standing in front of me. “Ana, this is John Flynn, my psychiatrist. John, this is Dr. Anastasia Steele, my girlfriend.” John extends his hand to me.
“A pleasure to meet you, Anastasia. I’ve heard so much about you.” I shake his hand.
“Ana, please. Nice to meet you, Dr. Flynn… and don’t believe a word he says,” I say with a laugh and the gentlemen join in.
“Call me John,” he replies, with a smile.
“John, then. Have you gentlemen eaten? I’m going to fix something for brunch since I seemed to have slept the morning away.” I walk to the kitchen.
“I’d love to stay… if you two don’t mind,” John says.
“Please, John. By all means.” Christian gestures to the breakfast bar. I begin to remove the makings for pinwheels and salad. John and Christian take a seat while I start ribboning carrots, squash, and zucchini.
“So, Ana, Christian tells me that you have a practice not far from Grey House,” John says.
“That’s true. Did he also tell you that he harassed me out of my volunteer job at the community center?” I said, throwing a smirk at Christian. John looks at Christian who nods at him.
“Yes, in fact, he did,” John replies. I nod, too.
“And apparently, he told you that during one of his sessions,” I say, turning away from them to give the gentlemen a chance to confer.
“She knows everything about me, John. The good, the bad, and the very ugly,” I hear Christian say behind me as I pour olive oil into a skillet and set it on the fancy cooktop to warm.
“Oh, she does?” John says. “Then why do you need me—you know, for these little chats?” he questions. Huh? Surely, he knows it would be unethical for me to treat Christian.
“I’m sure that you know we serve very different purposes, John,” I say, turning back to them with a fresh chopping board and knife for raw chicken. “I’m his girlfriend who happens to be a psychologist—I am not his shrink,” I say, slicing the chicken into small pieces and putting them in the skillet with seasoning to simmer. “I’m glad that I know all of the information about Christian so that our relationship can flow more smoothly. However, I’ll never try to analyze him or his feelings unless he asks for my help in that capacity… and even then, I would have to do so very carefully.” I make a dressing from mayonnaise, milk, sour cream and various seasonings and turn the chicken while I continue to talk to John. “There’s absolutely no way that I could even function as his lover if I tried to analyze his feelings before he made them clear to me. It’s a complete recipe for disaster.”
“I would completely expect that answer from a professional, but it’s a slippery slope when you are dealing with a girlfriend—particularly a girlfriend with intricate knowledge of how the human mind functions,” John acknowledges. Who is he trying to fool? I laugh at loud at him. Christian raises his eyebrow at me while John and I are on the same wavelength and we both know exactly what he’s doing, although I’m not 100% certain that John knows that I am aware of his tactic.
“Are you afraid I’m shrinking your patient, John?” I throw the cards right there on the table. I’m not yet sure if he’s afraid that I’m undoing his hard work or if he’s afraid he’s going to lose a patient.
“Should I be concerned about that, Ana?” John says, partially joking and partially serious. It may be time for me to pull out Dr. Steele.
“Am I missing something here?” Christian asks.
“Yes, dear, you are,” I say to Christian as I place the chicken chopping board and knife in the sink before washing my hands so that I don’t make the mistake of using the utensils again for the vegetables. I remove crusts from several slices of bread and flatten them between wax paper with a rolling pin. John and Christian watch almost in awe as I prepare the quick, light lunch for us. I set the bread aside as I take three tall tumblers from the cupboard and fill each one with ice. “John is trying to ascertain my intentions,” I say with my back to them as I pour two parts cranberry juice and one part sparkling water over the ice and give two of the glasses to John and Christian, the latter frowning a bit at the former. I lean on the counter in front of them.
“You know how when you come into the office, we often ask if you have something in particular that you want to talk about?” I ask Christian.
“Yes, and it bugs the fuck out of me,” he says with a little contempt.
“And then you tell us, and we proceed to ask you how it makes you feel…” I continue, John eying me speculatively as he sips the cranberry spritzer.
“Yes, and that bugs the fuck out of me, too.”
“Do you know why we do that?” I ask
“To bug the fuck out of me?” Christian responds, John and I both laugh.
“Yeah, that’s fun, but no.” I turn back to my preparations and remove cold roast beef, cheddar, cream cheese, chutney, lettuce and an orange from the refrigerator. “Most often, we already have some kind of answers to those questions—not always, but more often—and we need you to come to those conclusions on your own. You are the one that needs to come to the realization of what is happening in your life.” I cut several thin slices of roast beef with a carving knife. “Do you see how She-Thing keeps saying that I turned you against her?”
“She-Thing?” John inquires.
“Lincoln,” Christian clarifies.
“Aaahh,” John says.
“Yes, what’s the thrust?” Christian gets us back on track as I spread cream cheese on several slices of the flattened bread and chutney on the others before I turn the chicken in the skillet.
“Well, if I had been there when you had that revelation, she could have been right had I said ‘This is what she is doing to you’ as opposed to your coming to the realization on your own. We know that the answers to all of your questions and problems are inside you, but you have to trust your gut instincts to point you in the right direction. We’re only there to help facilitate that process—which was supposed to be my purpose at group therapy, but we see how well that worked out.” I put slices of roast beef and cheddar on the bread with the chutney and rolled them into logs, cutting them on the diagonal and standing them in towers on a platter. John has remained very quiet through this exchange. I’m pretty sure he knows where I’m going with this—and if he doesn’t, then he isn’t worth his fee.
“Okay, but what does that have to do with the here-and-now?” Christian has apparently been in enough therapy to know how to cut to the chase.
“Well, that’s what John is doing now,” I say matter-of-factly as I turn the chicken in the skillet one last time to finish cooking.
“Huh?” Christian is completely lost while John sits back in his chair, arms folded, smirking at me.
“Oh yeah, asking the question why do you need him; mentioning the slippery slope about girlfriends that know the inner workings of the human mind; throwing my questions back at me without answering them so that he can see where it leads. He’s trying to feel me out… trying to see what I want to talk about and how I feel about it,” I say as I take a drink of my spritzer. Christian now raises his eyebrow at John, who makes a somewhat playful face at him before turning his attentions back to me.
“So, Dr. Steele, what are your conclusions about this situation?” John inquires.
“I’m so glad you asked, Dr. Flynn. Let me start by stating the obvious.” I put my glass down. “It’s hard to decipher anyone’s intentions when you’ve just met them or have only heard bits and pieces about them. When you’re in this profession, you approach everything with a healthy amount of skepticism. You, Christian, are in a very delicate place. You just discovered that someone you trusted had victimized you and had been controlling you for several years. You subsequently had to ‘come out’ to the people you love—me included—with information that, had it been your choice, we would have never known. And speaking of love…” I remove the chicken for the cooktop and begin placing it on paper towel to drain the excess oil. “You’re having your first experience with love at the age of 29—something that should have happened in your teenage years, but you were denied that normal rite of passage. You’re in a delicate place all the way around—the perfect situation for someone to come in and take advantage of you. So, brilliant billionaire businessman or not, I can take you on a real mind trip if I really wanted to.” I’m looking over my shoulder towards John. “Am I getting warm, Dr. Flynn?” I ask.
Brilliant billionaire businessman… say that three times fast.
“Very astute, so far, Dr. Steele,” he says. I can hear that he’s a little impressed with my analysis thus far. I mix the ribbons of vegetables that I cut with sliced grape tomatoes and toss them in a large salad bowl while I continue with my conversation.
“The problem is that you can’t approach every situation with distrust—especially when you’re responsible for someone’s mental well-being. That’s even more of a slippery slope than using love, sex, and the ‘knowledge of the inner workings of the human mind’ in some sort of unscrupulous attempt to brainwash a vulnerable person, wouldn’t you say, Dr. Flynn?” I can hear him shift a little uncomfortably in his seat. I am now shining the light back in his direction as “the one to watch” as opposed to me. I put pieces of lettuce on the remaining slices of flattened bread with the cream cheese along with pieces of the chicken and some zest from the orange, creating the same towers I did with the roast beef. “Christian? Place mats and plates, please?” I say as I finish off the salad with the remaining chicken and the mayonnaise-based dressing.
I bring the pinwheels and the salad to the breakfast bar as Christian sets the places with mats, plates and flatware for John, me, and him to have lunch, laughing a bit to himself. “What’s so funny?” I ask.
“Nothing, dear,” he says in the same soft voice he has been maintaining all day. “Please continue.” I refresh the drinks and clean the counters as I continue to make my point.
“This man has had all manner and level of bullshit thrown at him in the last two weeks, some of it by his own doing,” I say more solemnly, now looking John squarely in his eye. “He’s trying to figure out very complex situations now, some of which I’m certain that he never thought he would ever have to face in a million years. It would be very dangerous for you or anyone else to throw any kind of what if in there that he hadn’t already considered—particularly an unfounded one—that could tilt that delicate balance.” I don’t glare at him, but I don’t blink either. We are in a standoff of sorts—not a battle for power or position, but more of an evaluation of intention. It’s not hostile, but it is serious.
I realize that John is Christian shrink and that he would be protective of Christian, especially since they’ve had such a long-standing relationship. Hell, with everything that he’s been through in his life, I can understand anyone close to Christian being protective of him. But I don’t appreciate the fact that he has pretty much decided what he’s going to think about me before he even met me. True, I’m sure that Christian has given John his views on me—the views of a man in love, and possibly blinded it by it—unless he gave his views of me before we became intimate. Those were probably horror stories! I’ll have to ask Christian what he said to John to make him so suspicious of me. He came in with the shields up before he even knew me; he had no reason for that. Having just met me, he used complete textbook tactics to try to draw me out. I can’t determine if that was absent-minded, brilliant, or just plain stupid.
He only asked me one question about myself to get to know me and then he immediately proceeded to psychoanalyze the psychologist… like I wasn’t going to immediately figure out what he was doing. If I was trying to hide something from him, did he think that his British education so far surpassed mine that I would just confess upon his line of questioning? That’s pretty damn dumb! His behavior is almost similar to Elena’s, I dare say, in that he appears to be afraid that he is about to lose some of the control that he has exercised over Christian’s state of mind all this time and he needs to discredit me before I become too much of an influence on Christian. Even in my mind, I know it’s a stretch, but what else can you think of someone who appears to want to make you an enemy before they have a chance to make you a friend? I’m not going to shun the good doctor, for Christian’s sake, but he doesn’t have to worry about me ever stepping foot in his office unless it’s extremely necessary for Christian’s mental health. If we ever need any kind of couple’s therapy, it’ll be with a neutral party. He can keep his therapist, and I’ll keep Maxine.
“I’m not looking for another patient. Hell, before he showed up, I wasn’t even looking for love. However, on some level and to some degree, we both care about this man, and while you’re covertly questioning my motives, I can do the same to you. And believe me, I have no problem saying that in front of Christian because I have nothing to hide.”
I’ve watched Butterfly deal with the sycophants at the community center and I even watched her pull my whole family back from the proverbial brink, but I’ve never seen her break a situation down to the bare bones like this. It’s very impressive. In all the years I’ve faced therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, medicine men, shamans, priests, catholic school nuns, and crazy cane-wielding pedophiles, no one has ever explained the meaning, purpose, and objective of all this head shrinking the way that Butterfly just explained it. I’m a bit floored by it. However, I can’t help but notice there’s some sort of head bumping going on between John and Butterfly during this particular line of conversation. I told John before she came out here that she could definitely take care of herself. Is he testing that theory?
“The problem is that you can’t approach every situation with distrust—especially when you are responsible for someone’s mental well-being. That’s even more of a slippery slope than using love, sex, and the ‘knowledge of the inner workings of the human mind’ in some sort of unscrupulous attempt to brainwash a vulnerable person, wouldn’t you say, Dr. Flynn?” Whoa! If I didn’t know better, I would swear that she was sharpening her tiger claws. John throws a very uncomfortable look at me just as Butterfly says, “Christian? Place mats and plates, please?”
Damn, woman! What if I was trying to do a little cock-strut in front of the good doctor while you’re making lunch for us? Just deflate my little ego, why don’t you? I am having flashbacks of dinner at her house that first night where she made me set the places there as well. I chuckle to myself as I remember that Christian Grey does not get special treatment at dinner time in “Anastasia-Steele-ville.”
“What’s so funny?” Oops, she caught me.
“Nothing, dear. Please continue,” I say, duly chastised.
Butterfly continues the discussion about the shit that I’ve been through over the past couple of weeks, not failing to allude to my self-imposed, near-death experience. I catch the tone of the conversation when she cautions against planting dangerous seeds in my head. Now I have to ask if we are talking about the same topic. I watch John and Butterfly spar, so to speak, and realize that this conversation could totally go on without me even standing here! Neither of them seems to be backing away from their position—though I’m not really sure what John’s position is since he has allowed Butterfly to do most of the talking. Butterfly now throws down the gauntlet declaring that in this particular situation, John bears just as much watching as she would in terms of motive, and that she has nothing to hide. She and John somewhat face off at this point… a mini-game of stare, I would like to call it. John cracks first.
“Understood, Dr. Steele,” he concedes. She takes her seat opposite us at the breakfast bar.
“In the future, if you have a question, you can ask me. Either I’ll choose to answer your question, or I’ll choose to decline to answer. That is my right as a grown woman and an American citizen,” she says with no small amount of sarcasm. John nods.
“But John, let’s get one thing perfectly clear.” Uh oh, I know that perfectly clear tone. “In your attempts to get to the truth, don’t ever overtly or covertly try to accuse me of taking advantage of Christian again and we’ll be fine.” And again… the mini-stare.
“Duly noted, Anastasia,” John says, apologetically. “You have to forgive me, but I’m very protective of my patient after having watched him for all of these years and you just never know what someone’s true intentions are when they enter his life. I was just trying to ascertain the situation as thoroughly as possible. This is something very new for Christian and of course, you can understand my concern when it’s clear that Christian is going to fall in love very quickly considering that this is his first time, whereas with you, it’s not. There’s a certain skepticism that comes with that territory,” John explains.
“I’m not going to begin to try to explain the dynamics of our relationship to you,” Butterfly replies. “We’re still trying to figure it out for ourselves much less trying to explain it someone on the outside looking in. All we know right now is that we love each other. Being a quote-unquote shrink myself, I know about our tendency to exercise an air of superiority over the layperson in this type of situation, which for you and I, should not have even come into play. You may try something like this on a layperson, but why would you even attempt to try something so textbook on a colleague?”
“I wanted to see how you would react. I knew that most likely you would pick up on my line of questioning, but I wanted to determine if the accusation would have caused you any discomfort or if it would have offended you.” Butterfly’s expression changes instantly and dramatically.
“Of course, I was offended! I may not have jumped down your throat, but I was absolutely offended. What’s the thrust here—that if it’s not true, it shouldn’t bother me? We feed that line to our children, but you and I both know that’s not true. You and I both know that if someone says something unkind or untrue about us, it’s going to bother us. And if it doesn’t bother us, the fact we can allow it to roll off of us and move past it without a problem is a learned behavior that comes from constantly or repeatedly getting hurt or offended by something unkind or untrue that someone said to us. So, the fact that you would even think to yourself that you could covertly or overtly say something that would offend me and I wouldn’t get offended makes me wonder where you studied! As mental health professionals, we both know that one of the main reasons that people come to see us—that we even have a job—is because of how events have affected their lives and that nine out of ten of those events are a direct result of something that someone said to them. For me to try to explain anything to you about me, my life, or my intentions is ludicrous and unnecessary because—no offense, John—you’re his shrink, not mine. So, you’re not allowed to analyze me without my permission.”
I’ve never seen anyone contend with John, not even me. He has always been able to maintain control of any situation. It’s quite irritating sometimes. It is so refreshing to see him being chopped down a few notches by 5′ 3″ of pure fireball!
“John, have you ever tried to shrink a shrink before?” Butterfly asks.
“You know I noticed that unlike most ‘shrinks,’ you don’t have a problem with that word.” I never thought John had a problem with that word, either, but Butterfly does use it quite freely.
“No, I don’t. I’ve been called worse,” she responds. My mind immediately goes to the brand on her back and, even though I know it is completely unnecessary in the current setting, I begin to feel very protective and territorial over her.
“Well, to answer your question, I can’t say that I have ever had the pleasure of having to analyze a colleague,” John states.
“Well, here’s a lesson for you. In the future, if you find yourself in this position again, try talking to them like a person instead of a patient. I’m curious to know how you thought this ‘session’ would turn out.” Good grief! She’s truly pinning his psychiatrist-balls to the wall.
“To be honest, I’m not quite sure what I expected. I was more curious to meet the woman that was able to tame Christian Grey’s heart,” he responds. Butterfly laughs.
“Well, when you meet her, you let me know, because there are many words that I can use to describe Christian Grey’s heart, but ‘tamed’ is not one of them,” she says. She’s right. My heart jumps and bursts into passionate flames when she’s near me. I’m nearly uncontrollable in her presence.
“I clearly underestimated you, Anastasia. You truly are the woman for Christian,” John acquiesces .
“Clearly,” she confirms. “And it’s Ana, please,” she says as she serves his salad.
“Quite no nonsense…” John says quietly to me. I see Butterfly smirk as I lean into him and say,
“I tried to tell you that she could take care of herself…”
Never grab a cat by the tail—it will turn around and scratch your fucking eyes out!
I tried to tell John that Butterfly was a tiger at heart, but he decided to test her anyway, and she professionally castrated him. Part of me wishes that I had met her years ago, and she could have been my therapist. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have wasted so many years with Elena fucking Lincoln. The biggest part of me is so glad that didn’t happen, or else I wouldn’t have my Butterfly…
The afternoon was full of phone calls and impromptu visits. I knew that once John showed up, Mom wouldn’t be too far behind. Though Mia called and gave me a good reaming, I was a bit surprised to find Carrick walking in close behind Grace.
“Your parents, Sir,” Taylor announces as they enter the great room. I stand to greet them with Ana standing close behind.
“Son,” Carrick greets me, shaking my hand before taking a seat on the sofa while Grace sits next to him after kissing me, then Butterfly on the cheek.
“Okay, let me have it,” I say softly, still trying to preserve my voice and rest my throat. Carrick scratches his head before speaking.
“Somehow, son, I don’t think we need to tell you how careless your actions were. You scared your mother half to death, and I was told poor Ana here was in a state! You have to remember how many people care about you, Christian,” Carrick scolds.
“I know, Dad, but all I can tell you is that I’m kind of new at this and I’m still learning,” I defend.
“I didn’t handle things very well either, Carrick,” Butterfly admits. “If I had talked to him instead of shutting myself off, this most likely could have been avoided. I was just angry and acting a little childish.”
“Well, I’m glad that you can admit your part in the situation, Ana,” Grace begins, “but Christian is a grown, intelligent man and he really should have known better than to do this to himself,” she reinforces. “You support many causes and champion many efforts to feed the world’s hungry. I just don’t know why you would ignore your own well-being like that, honey.”
“I know, Mom,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “I won’t let it happen again, I promise.”
“Well, that’s good to hear,” she says, pushing herself to her feet. “Now, I’m going to let you two talk while I steal Ana away for a moment.” She reaches out to Ana who takes her hand and follows her obediently to another room in the house before throwing an uncertain glance back at me. I shrug as they head to, I assume, the library.
“Can I offer you something to drink, Dad?” I stand and head to the kitchen.
“Just water, son,” he says, following me and taking a seat at the breakfast bar. “We’re seeing some strange behavior, Christian… things we have never seen in you before. Do we need to be concerned?”
“Yes, Dad, you do,” I say, giving him a bottle of cold water and a glass. He raises his eyebrow at me.
“Oh?” he inquires, pouring the water in the glass as I prepare a cranberry spritzer that Butterfly now has me hooked on.
“Yes! My whole life has been turned completely upside down. All of the foundations upon which I built my practices and beliefs have been ripped out from under me, and completely different structures are being built in their places. It’s new, it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s terrifying, it’s everything all rolled into one. I don’t know what to expect, and I’m loving and hating the ride all at the same time. The only person that I allowed to get close to me is one of the people who hurt me the worst, and yet I allowed her to have the most control over me—more so than even you and Mom. Though I would never hurt you or disrespect you in any way, she brought me in line when you and Mom couldn’t. That’s an awful lot of control—control that she exercised all the way up until two weeks ago…”
“When you started seeing Ana,” Carrick interjects.
“Before I started seeing Ana,” I correct him. “I put the puzzle pieces together when Elliot told me why he left the room every time she showed up. I never paid attention to it until a few weeks ago, at Bellevue. I asked her about it and, of course, she denied it. But then I talked to Flynn about it and the nickels kept dropping and… well, you know the rest.” I take a drink of my spritzer.
“After I confronted her and got her out of my life—or so I thought—I actively pursued Ana. I was already attracted to her, but didn’t think I had a chance. I would have done if Elena was a part of my life or not; I wanted her that badly. I didn’t expect things to happen as quickly as they did. It just turned out that way. We have more in common than you know. I’ve now told her every little dirty secret there is to know about me and she’s still willing to give this screwed-up shell of a man a chance. She just went a few rounds with Flynn—and won! She wiped the floor with that man when he tried to psychoanalyze her and questioned her intentions. She’s watching my life being picked apart piece by piece and she is helping me put it back together again. It is a scary, painful, thrilling process and I’m going to make plenty of mistakes along the way. So, yes, I would say that you do have good cause be concerned.”
I sit on the stool next to my father. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Dad. All I know for now is that I love her, she loves me, and I’m going to see this through—wherever it takes me. I’m going to need some help, I know it. I’m going to do some dumb things and make some stupid mistakes, but for the first time in my life, I finally feel like I can be loved. I’m working on deserving it and accepting it unconditionally, but she makes me know that I can be loved. That’s something that I was searching for my whole life and I never knew it, and when I thought it was about to be taken away from me, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t hurt myself on purpose. I just didn’t know how to cope with the feelings that I was having.”
“So, what did Flynn have to say about that?” Carrick asks.
“The same mumbo-jumbo… don’t do it anymore; deal with adversity in a more positive way; blah, blah, blah. The most productive advice I got came from Ana and from Elliot.”
“Elliot!?” Carrick gasps, nearly choking on his water. “Oh, this I have to hear.” I laugh at my father. Elliot’s a good man, but he is known for being the Joker.
“Well, Ana basically said that we are going to get mad at each other and may even need time apart again in the future, but that we have to handle the issues more maturely than we handled this one. She’s been hurt badly in a past relationship and we both have trust issues. So, we’re going to have to deal with them more maturely in the future. Elliot told me that I have to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop—that I’m either going to live my life waiting for catastrophe to strike, or I’m going to live my life.”
Carrick let the words marinate for a moment before he replies, “That’s one smart son I raised there.”
“Yeah, he’s kind of smart. Hell, he was smart enough to stay away from a conniving pedophile,” I say with disdain.
“Now, Christian, you know that you can’t blame yourself for that. That woman victimized you—she took advantage of a troubled young man,” he protests.
“She’s still doing it, Dad.” I say. His face goes pale.
“What do you mean? She’s still doing what?”
“She’s still victimizing and taking advantage of troubled young men,” I confirm. His brow furrows deeply.
“How do you know this?” he asks.
“You mean besides the fact that she admitted it to me? I’m having her followed,” I confess.
“Son, you know that can be dangerous,” he cautions.
“For whom!?” I snap. “She doesn’t scare me one bit! I don’t care if she saw me standing in front of her taking pictures with my blackberry! I am concerned about the boys, though, Dad. I’m trying to gather as much information as I can to try to turn her in to the police, but the longer I wait, the longer she has her claws in this kid. And if I tip her off, she’ll stop and then I won’t be able to catch her. In the meantime, this poor kid is being used to gather info on her as well as being victimized himself.” Carrick’s eyes narrow as he observes me.
“You know who it is,” he says.
“I know who it is and was, Dad,” I say, solemnly.
“What can I do, Christian?” he asks.
“Tell me what to do,” I answer definitively. “Tell me what you need to put her away, and I’ll get it!”
“Well, the first thing we would need is a complainant,” he says. I shake my head.
“We both know that’s going to be easier said than done. What would we need if we didn’t have a complainant?”
“Pictures, video, anything that can solidly prove inappropriate behavior…” he states.
“I do have some pictures, but nothing graphic enough yet. Like I said, I’m trying to gather more evidence, but I feel kind of sick subjecting this kid to this any longer than he has to be.” I run my hand through my hair.
“How old is he?” Carrick asks.
“Which one?” Rage fills Carrick’s face.
“There’s more than one!?” He barks. I bring him to a stark realization.
“Dad, 14 years ago, this woman started molesting me. Seventeen years ago, it could have been Elliot. As far as I know, there were no other minors while I was with her, but I went to college after 18. I don’t know what she was doing while I was gone. When I got back, the relationship continued… I’m the reason she and Linc got divorced.” Carrick spewed his water across the breakfast bar.
“For Christ’s sake, Christian! Really?” he gasps.
“Yes, Dad, really,” I say, handing him a kitchen towel. “I was 21, and Linc found out about us. That’s why she fought as much as she could, but still ended up with next to nothing. He threatened to expose our relationship.”
“And that’s why you went into business with her,” he says while cleaning the counter.
“Well, not really. She lent me the money to start GEH. I was just returning the favor. Her name was pretty worthless after the divorce if you remember.”
“Yes, I remember,” he says scratching his head again.
“Okay, so, 14 years ago, we know it was me for three years. She grooms these boys around the age of 14 or 15. So best case scenario—and I use that term lightly—she’s had a different child every three years for at least the last 17 years. Yeah, I’d say there’s more than one, Dad.” I finish my spritzer. Carrick shakes his head in disgust.
“Who do you know of?” he asks. I lean on the breakfast bar.
“I could really use your guidance with this, Dad, but I need you to keep this as quiet as possible.”
“I understand,” he says. I don’t know where to start.
“Well, we don’t have any proof on this one yet, but we’re pretty certain that one of her victims was Morgan Stampwell. Jr. He’s 19 now and in college, but the statute of limitation hasn’t run out on him yet if it’s true.”
“Stampwell. Hmm. Why do you think he may be one of her victims?”
“Because he’s following her around, everywhere she goes. He’s flunking out of college and he’s stalking her like a sick puppy,” I inform him.
“That could just mean that he’s obsessed. That doesn’t necessarily mean…” I interrupt him.
“That’s exactly what it means, Dad. He has that look! I used to have that look!” My father freezes, then drops his head.
“I’m so sorry, Christian,” he says, shaking his head, his voice filled with remorse. “We should have protected you better, son. We should have been more careful…” My heart is breaking again listening to my father take responsibility for this woman’s actions.
“Dad, I’m going to tell you something that a very wise woman said to my mother. If you take responsibility for the actions of this pedophile, then she wins. Her entire motive is to blame others for her actions so that she never has to take responsibility for them herself. Are you going to let her do that to you?” My father looks up at me. A single tear falling from his eye.
“No, son,” he says, his voice shaking. “I won’t.”
“Good, because I need you focused if we’re going to take this bitch down.” I smirk. He wipes away his tear.
“It’s going to be hard finding anything to convict her of molesting Stampwell unless he turns her in himself. From what you say, he’s pining over her, so that’s not very likely,” he points out.
“Well, we’re still working on that.”
“Who are the others?” he asks.
“Only one… Bob Hemstead’s grandson, Shane,” I say. Carrick thinks for a moment, then realization dawns.
“Shane? Is he even in high school yet?”
“Only just,” I reply. “I don’t know yet what all she is doing to him, but she’s taken him on the patented shopping spree, and we have… pictures… of him half-naked and collared.”
“Collared?” Carrick asks in disgust. I sigh.
“Do you really want to know?” I ask him skeptically.
“I have a feeling that I don’t, but I might need to,” he responds.
“Among consenting adults, collars can be used as either a form of humiliation or to show ownership… like a wedding ring. Usually, it’s the latter. The sub wears a collar that’s chosen by the Dom that represents different things, but often to show that this sub belongs to someone. They’re sometimes lead around by a leash…”
“Like a dog?” Carrick asks, again disgusted.
“Exactly like a dog. Or the collar can be used as part of bondage…”
“Bondage how?” Awfully inquisitive, aren’t you, Carrick? But hell, he needs to know.
“It can be clipped to cuffs, furniture, machinery, anything that can prevent the sub from moving or escaping.” Carrick throws his hand up.
“Okay, I’ve heard enough.” He drops his hand. “And she’s doing this to a 15-year-old kid?
“Fourteen, Dad,” I correct him.
“Fuck! This is really sick…” Carrick scratches his head again. “How can anybody in their right mind even remotely think this is okay?”
“Please don’t try to get me to explain the dynamics of this woman’s mind to you, Dear Father. I’m still in therapy,” I proclaim. He waves his hand dismissively.
“I’m going to talk to Bob. See if I can get some inside information on home life with Sarah and Tyler. Maybe shed some light on how Shane fell victim to this monster.” I consider the fact that this kid is 14 now and the utter creepiness attached to the fact that when he was born, his attacker was molesting me. This woman must be stopped.
“Dad, I’m giving some thought to going public with parts of my story.” Carrick studies me carefully.
“May I ask why, son?” he says leaning in. I run my hands through my hair.
“Who would look at me and think that I had been molested? It’s not like it’s stamped on our foreheads. I mean, would you look at Ana and believe that she has a very painful past?” It was out of my mouth before I have a chance to catch it. Shit! Well, I haven’t given him any details, and if he wants any, he has to get them from Butterfly. “I might be able to encourage some of these kids to come forth. I mean, we don’t know how many there are, and I’ve located two just in the last week…”
“Well, technically, it’s only one with certainty,” he interjects. I put my hand on his shoulder and look him in the eye.
“Dad… with certainty… it’s two.” My father looks at me and gets that “I’m sorry” look in his eye. “I know, Dad.” He drops his head almost in defeat. I can feel the pain and regret emanating from the only father that I have ever known as he sits at my breakfast bar. We may not have seen eye-to-eye on most things, but he’s still my dad. I don’t know how to handle this, so I squeeze his shoulder. With lightning speed, he grabs me around my waist and crushes me in an embrace. I’m displaced for only a second as my father buries his head in my chest and weeps mournfully. This is still new to me, but my father is hurting… helpless… sobbing from the very depths of his soul. I put my arms around his shoulders and lay my head on his, comforting him much like my beloved Butterfly would comfort me. This gesture caused my dad to completely fall apart, his entire body going limp against me except for the arms crushing me against him as he sobs in complete anguish.
Apparently, his cries bring Butterfly and Grace from the library. I hear my mother’s voice, almost inaudible, call out to the love of her life.
“Cary…” I gently raise my hand to her in a gesture to let him get this out. I can only assume that he wouldn’t want her to see him in this completely broken state. Then again, maybe he would. No doubt, they’ve shared those broken moments between themselves that couples who have stayed together for decades often share… those moments that I dread to share with Butterfly and pray to share them with her at the same time.
No offense, Mom, but right now, I just want to hold my Dad…
“John called me a little while ago. It seems you’ve left quite the impression on him,” Grace says as she sits in one of the chairs in Christian’s library. I haven’t been in this room before. It’s pretty cozy. I’m not a huge reader, but I could see myself snuggling down in here for some quiet time.
“Yes, well, he made an impression on me as well,” I say, none too flatteringly, taking the seat next to her.
“Oh?” she says, curiously.
“Yes,” I reply. “I’ll save my conclusions on him for now, but I can’t say that I am 100% comfortable with him.” I tuck my legs underneath me.
“Well, he is a long-time friend of the family,” she cautions gently. I nod.
“So was Elena.” Grace’s eyes widen.
“Touché,” she responds. “Well, anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Helping Hands,” she begins. “With everything that’s happened this week, I never got the chance to discuss things with you.”
“Okay,” I lean in, very interested in what I can do to assist her organization.
“I know that you have your own practice and I wouldn’t dream of pulling you away from your patients. But I was wondering if we could use your counseling services maybe just a few times a week or whatever you can spare. We have a couple of therapists and a psychiatrist on staff and I must warn you, John assists occasionally with more serious cases…” Hmm, some kind qualities in the snake-oil salesman. “I only bring that up because there may be some times when you two will not only see each other, but may have to confer on a case.”
“I don’t dislike him, Grace. He just rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t agree with the tactics that he employed to solicit information from me, that’s all,” I say. “I’m pretty straight forward in how I handle things. There’s no covertness or hidden agendas in my methods. When I see that, it bothers me—it seeds a feeling of distrust.”
“If necessary, would you be able to work with him?” she asks.
“Well, ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s about the families that need our help. I could work with him just fine as long as he doesn’t do anything unethical. I may not be keen on how he handles another doctor, but I haven’t noted anything dishonest or unethical about him. So, I would say yes, I could work with him,” I say. She sighs and smiles.
“Good. Now I can confess,” she says, and I look at her strangely. “I sent him here this morning to check on Christian and see where his mind was, how he was doing, you know—what Moms need to know.” I nod. “I also wanted to get his take on you.”
“Me?” I question.
“Well, yes, dear. Christian has never brought a girl home and then when he does, we all basically fall apart in front of you and you have to hold us together. I already knew you were a remarkable woman when you were able to break through Christian’s defenses, but then the events of the weekend…” She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “At the risk of sounding a bit starstruck…” Starstruck!? “I’ve been your biggest cheerleader almost from the moment we met. I remembered the Murphys and how they went on and on about your helping them. Well, you already had my vote. But I needed an impartial party—preferably a professional—so I sent John.” Well, that kind of explains his line of questioning and why he was trying to get into my head.
“I’m not quite sure what to say about that, but I guess all’s well that ends well.” I shrug. She laughs a bit.
“Elliot told me that he was seeing you, too,” she says cautiously. I look up her.
“He did?” I ask. I can’t give her any information.
“Yes, he did. It’s curious that he didn’t go to John instead, since he’s so close to the family… but then again, maybe that’s the problem.” She shakes her head again.
“One of the benefits of therapy is often the anonymity,” I tell her. “Most of the time, you need an objective stranger.”
“True,” she says and I can see the strain in her face.
“With everything that your family has been through over the last week, I would suggest that each of you seek some kind of therapy—even if it’s only one or two sessions. Just one of the events you’ve endured would be enough to justify talking to someone… you’ve had several.”
“Ain’t that the truth!” Grace says, partially playful and partially exasperated. She looks up at me.
“It doesn’t have to be me if you don’t want because I am very close to the situation, but honestly, it shouldn’t be Flynn either. He’s even closer than I am. Remember—objectiveness and anonymity.” She smiles at me.
“Yes, I’m certain that you are the right person to help the families at the Center,” she says with conviction. I return her smile.
“Please tell me what I can do.”
We sit for a while and discuss the services that the organization needs. Some of the services will be very structured—one-on-one counseling sessions with battered women and abused children, both on location and at my office, recommendations for treatment, housing services, public assistance and programs. Other services will be more of a classroom or group setting—much like what I was doing at CCFW. We agree that the best way to get the most out of my services is for the organization to pay me a fee based on part-time therapy services with the understanding that I would be allowed to volunteer additional services whenever I see the need. I can live with that considering that I would have donated my services to this cause anyway, but Grace assures me that this will guarantee that the center and organization secures the best services possible—not that she has any doubt that I would give my best. Again, this is why I got my education in the first place. I’m so thrilled to finally be doing what I wanted to do all along. I can’t wait to share the news with Christian and Al.
We’re still working out the details of what’s going to be happening with Helping Hands when I hear the distinct sounds of weeping—wrenching, painful, soulful weeping. What in the world is going on now!? Grace and I rush from the library to see what’s happening. We find that Carrick is clinging onto Christian, nearly falling out of one of the stools at the breakfast bar. Grace’s hand flies to her mouth as she whimpers, “Cary.” Her body starts to shake as Christian gestures for us to stay where we are. I wrap my arms around her and she clutches my arm with her free hand as she watches her husband’s body wracked with sobs.
“What could it be?” she says, softly, tears streaming unhindered down her cheeks.
“I don’t know,” I reply just as softly, watching Christian comfort his distressed father. I don’t know how long we stand there while Christian just holds Carrick until it appears that he is all cried out. It was like his well was full and had to be emptied—and it emptied all over Christian. Grace and I tentatively descend the stairs and approach our men.
“Okay, Dad?” Christian says, his voice sounding more like a teenage boy than that of a powerful 29-year-old CEO and billionaire. Carrick looks up at him and nods weakly. We approach them cautiously and Grace calls out to her love.
“Cary? Darling?” she says, softly. He turns his tortured face to his wife, then stands and walks over to her. He pulls her to him and clutches her with such passion that it takes my breath away. I look over at Christian who only looks at his parents, his expression calm but unreadable.
“I love you, Grace,” Carrick says to his wife.
“I love you, too, Cary,” she breathes.
Christian walks around his parents and takes my hand without a word. I want to ask him what happened so badly. Why has Carrick been reduced to a mountain of tears? Is someone hurt? Are Mia and Elliot okay? He starts to squeeze my hand and I have to take his with both of mine to let him know that his grip is becoming very powerful. He releases my hand and runs his hands through his hair before putting his arm around my waist.
“I’m fine, now,” Carrick says, releasing his wife and gently touching her cheek. “I’m okay.” He looks up at his son who only nods at his father. “I’ll get on that matter we discussed immediately, Christian. You have my full 100% support.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Christian smiles weakly.
“I’d like to go home now, Darlin’,” Carrick says to his wife and she silently nods her agreement. He walks over to me and kisses me on the cheek. “Ana,” he says with a smile. I clutch his arm.
“Carrick.” I look at him, my eyes full of concern. His eyes tell me a story—full of many emotions, but one of them is clearly relief. I don’t know what happened between this father and son while Grace and I were tucked safely away in the library, but he has released a huge burden of some sort and now most likely needs a stiff drink, some rest, and the comfort of his wife. I smile at him, and he kisses me again. “I’m so glad you’re a part of our lives, Lovely Girl.”
“Thank you, Carrick. So am I.” Don’t cry, Steele. Don’t you dare cry!
He turns back to his wife, who’s still a bit confused, but no doubt happy that her husband has pulled himself together. I nod at her and smile, signalling her to follow her husband. “We’ll talk later in the week,” I say to her. She nods and puts her hand on Carrick’s back, following him out the door.
I turn to Christian when they leave, a little uncertain how to approach him since I don’t know what happened. He’s watching the door that his parents just closed, his face a little too impassive for my liking. I touch his arm gently.
Please tell me what’s going on, I will him.
“I have never seen my father like that. Never. Ever. What’s happening to my family, Ana? I’m ripping them apart at the seams.” A single tear falls down his cheek. I gently wipe it away with my fingertips and take his face in my hands.
“You guys are breaking down all of the barriers and the lies that composed your lives to this point so that you can rebuild true relationships based on love, trust, and understanding. It’s going to be brutal, painful and difficult… but so worth it in the end.” He looks down at me, desperation in his eyes.
“You’ll be there with me, right? You won’t leave me…” he begs.
“I won’t leave you,” I say, standing on my tiptoes to plant a chaste kiss on his lips. “I’ll never leave you…” He gathers me in his arms, holding me so tight that my feet dangle in the air.
“Then I can do it.” He says, weakly, his face buried in my hair.
A/N: Okay, BIG, SOPPING, WET, JUICY LIP-PUCKERING LEMON IN THE NEXT CHAPTER! I promise!
I’d like to know what you guys think of Flynn and his tactic with Ana. I’ve had my fair share of experience with “head doctors” in the past (of all varieties), and the one that stands out most to me is the one that kept pinpointing a particular problem where there was none to the degree that the problem eventually manifested itself in my life. Her theory was that it was there all the time and that I was in denial. I know for certain that this was not true… even years later, I am certain. She planted a seed, she kept watering it, and the tree grew! This is why it was easy for me to illuminate Flynn’s ability to do this to Christian. Hence, the reference to introducing unfounded “what ifs” into the minds of a patient under your care. I know the real answer, but what do you think—is Flynn the expensive charlatan that doesn’t want to lose his largest meal ticket to a happy and healthy emotional and mental state OR is he just concerned about Christian and doesn’t want to see his patient victimized, yet again, by another opportunistic woman?
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Love and handcuffs,