Yeah, so you may see some slight changes in the last chapter since one of my faithful readers (Thanks, Katie!) brought to my attention that I put a beer in Chuck’s hand and he’s a recovering alcoholic (duh!). This is what happens when you get so caught up in the trails of the other characters and everything that is happening to them that you forget very important details of the supporting cast.
There were a lot of varying opinions about how people felt about Ana’s decision and Christian’s actions. I can understand that. I will reiterate that I won’t tolerate viciousness or attacks on my characters. This is not Fanfiction. This is MY forum and you all have come here by choice. I appreciate that very much, but if you do not like the direction of my characters and their screwed up actions and decisions, you can CHOOSE to go elsewhere. For those of you who choose to stay, on with the story.
In terms of commenting, if you have commented for the first time and it takes a moment for the comment to show up, it’s because I have to approve the comment and I will be out of town for the next few days and my internet access will be unsure. My mother is ill and I am going to see about her.
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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.
Chapter 33—Putting It All Back Together… Or Trying To, Anyway
She won’t come anywhere near me. After the conversation on the deck, she won’t even speak to me. I am completely out of my element here. On the one hand, I am elated to see her again, to breathe the same air that she breathes. On the other hand, I feel completely and utterly rejected—like she doesn’t even want me anymore, not sexually, not emotionally, not anything. She told Jason that we could stay the day and that she would think about what needs to be done tomorrow, but she avoids me like the plague—which is very hard to do in this small space, but she does it.
Of course, Davenport has less than nothing to say to me and I realize that when Ana comes back… if Ana comes back… he’s going to have to be on the payroll again even if he is employed by her and not me. I’m not apologizing to him. I feel like he dropped the ball by not keeping a closer eye on her when I told him what was going on and how she was feeling. I do realize that he most likely could not have stopped her from leaving, but he didn’t even have a clue until she was well on her way.
It’s like they are all having a reunion party and I’m the fat kid that never got invited to the dance. After I’ve had enough of pretending to ignore the festivities, I grab a beer and go outside to the fire pit. I watch the sun setting over Iceburg Lake behind the mountains. The sunset gives off a beautiful green hue, something like a green flash, but it sticks around for longer like the Northern Lights. It’s beautiful if you can tolerate the cold, which I can. I wonder to myself how many times Ana has watched this display.
I drop my head between my legs as I feel a wave of nausea hit me. I may have to accept the possibility that I won’t get her back. I feel like my heart is melting and oozing painfully out of my nose in tiny drops of blood. I try to mentally pull myself together and embrace the horror, but it doesn’t get any better. Whoever said time heals all wounds is completely full of shit.
How long has Chuck been here—the entire time? Did he run to her the moment that I fired him? Did he know that she was here when he showed up at Escala without her? Have his feelings for her developed into more than they should have… and how would I possibly approach that topic without pissing Ana off? Does it even matter anymore? I’m complete vermin in her eyes right now.
“Sit up, you look like a toddler trying not to vomit.” Someone has finally left the party to see about the missing wallflower. I don’t need to raise my head to know that it’s Jason, but I sit up anyway. “You need to cut that shit off,” he says, gesturing to my hair. I run my hands through it again.
“I’ll cut it when we get back to Seattle. I think I’ll cut it short… really short, like a buzz cut.” He frowns at me.
“I can’t see that,” he says, shaking his head, “and I’m sure that she won’t like it.” He gestures to the house.
“I think that ship has sailed, my friend,” I say to him, and I feel the painful tugging in my chest again that comes with the thought of being without her.
“You really think so, huh?” he says, his voice laced with skepticism.
“Jason, she can’t even stand to be in the same room with me. How the hell am I supposed to convince her to marry me now?”
“I can’t tell you that, but you better figure it out, because that woman loves you and she doesn’t want to lose you anymore than you want to lose her, but this was the last straw, Boss. She can’t talk to you right now because she’s hurt and betrayed and doesn’t know what to say to you. You’re not the man that she thought you were, and it’s a good thing that she found that out before she took the vows. You have a hidden distaste and low tolerance for imperfection, which is strange to me since you’re the most fucked-up bastard that I know—by no fault of your own, granted, but it’s still true. You’ve built an empire and you’ve made a real name for yourself. You’ve overcome all of your obstacles and you proved everybody wrong, even your parents who thought you would fail after you dropped out of college; but I’m here to tell you that you can’t handle your relationship the same way you handle your business. That may have worked with those mechanical bimbots you had around before, but that won’t work with Ana.”
“I never treated her that way, Jason… never,” I defend, feeling a bit chastised.
“Yes, you did. You treated her that way when you discovered that the relationship—the marriage—wasn’t going to be perfect. Shit, Man, you haven’t even had the biggest fight that you’re going to have yet and you’ve already given up. She’s right, you’re the one who bailed, not her.”
Oh God, more profound beating up of Christian. I don’t think I can take anymore of this. This is the dumbest move I have ever made in my life and I am well aware of that, but will I ever live it down?
“How long did you know she was here?” I ask.
“A few days, when Chuck sent me the picture of her on the cliff,” he responds. I look over at him.
“What picture?” He opens his phone and shows me a picture of my beautiful Butterfly standing in the snow looking out over a cliff. She is smiling broadly wearing a cute knit cap and earmuffs and her super-long hair blowing in the wind behind her. She’s wearing a white down Parka and jeans and a pair of hiking boots and she looks glorious, just glorious. I slide the picture and look at the text and time stamp:
Sat, March 9, 5:32 PM
Just wanted you to know she was okay.
“This was Saturday… after I had that fucking meltdown. Why didn’t you tell me?” I accuse.
“Because you didn’t deserve her, and I’m not too sure that you deserve her now. You see, you’re happy when everything is going well, and even when it’s not going well, you’re okay as long as she needs you to hold her up, or she’s there to hold you up; but when the problems start, and you two don’t see eye-to-eye, you want to bail. You’re okay when everything is great, but when the road doesn’t turn in a way that the great Christian Grey thinks it should, people get fired and balls of lava start falling from the sky. Armageddon commences and everybody’s life gets turned bottom-side-up until the situation is brought up to Mr. Grey’s impeccable standards and nobody—especially that young woman in there—wants to live that kind of life.
“Hasn’t she been through enough without you bulldozing through her life and wreaking fucking havoc all over her? That’s why my wife won’t speak to you. She thought you had changed and as soon as things don’t go your way, you turn into that same selfish asshole we’ve always known, and you don’t have to fire me this time because I will gladly tender my resignation if it means that you expect me to stand by silently while you tear Ana’s life apart. If you can’t be the man that she needs you to be—all of the time—let her go and let her find someone who can!”
He stands up and proceeds to the door. “And knock it off with all this ‘woe me’ shit because your pain is caused by your decision. Hers is by no action of her own—it’s all because she fell in love with an asshole… again!” I stand and turn around, ready to square off against my trusted bodyguard.
“What the fuck, Man? How can you possibly compare me to that fucker?” I bark, my voice bouncing off of the mountains.
“What’s different?” he yells at me. “You think you’re any different than David? If anything you’re worse! She saw his ugly for months and she chose to stay with him and give him a chance. You… you showed her sunshine and rainbows, put her up on a pedestal, gave her a glimpse of the life and love that she could have and just when it was within her reach, you kicked her off the cliff like a ton of useless bricks and you had the nerve to think she would stick around for that shit? You really are a fucking sadist if you think any of that was okay!”
I can’t stand to hear this. That’s not what I did to her. I love her. I made a bad decision, but I wasn’t breaking up with her or deserting her.
“Jason, stop. Now. I’m trying to remember that we’re friends,” I hiss. He squares his shoulders and walks right up to me.
“Take you best shot, Big Man! I’ll drop you right on your billionaire butt!” he retaliates.
The next thing I know, we are rolling around in the snow, landing horrendous blows on one another. My hands hurt like fuck and I am at a huge disadvantage because of the battle I won—or lost, that’s still to be determined—with my grand piano a few days ago. I’m no good with this wrestling shit, but I manage to land a few good body blows and elbow shots before I hear Butterfly’s voice screaming for us to stop. She and Davenport manage to separate us and we are huffing at each other like two angry bears.
“What the hell is wrong with you two!?” She’s screaming at us as she pushes me further away from Jason. Neither of us says anything, but I suddenly feel even more like shit than I did before. I turn away from the three of them and head towards the trees behind the house. My fists are clenched and I can’t really feel anything but the pain in my head and my heart.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I yell with all the power in my lungs. I hear it bounce off of the mountains and echo into the night before I begin my trek into the trees. Where the hell am I going? I don’t know, but I just walk. A short while into the walk, I notice that someone is following me. I look back and I know that it’s not Jason. I stop in the snow and realize that it’s Davenport.
“I drew the short straw,” he says with no mirth in his voice. When I didn’t respond, he continues, “It was me or Ana, and you know that I wasn’t sending her out here.” I examine him for a moment.
“You love her, don’t you?” I ask, even though I know that I don’t have to ask.
“Yes, I do,” he responds with hesitation, and I narrow my eyes at him. “Careful, Hotshot. Jason still works for you, I don’t, and I have nothing to lose.” I glare at him, my heart and soul full of hatred right now. “Yes, I love her, but not like you’re thinking. I’ve never had those feelings for Ana and I never will, but she is the most remarkable woman that I’ve ever met. She has been through things that would drive most men to alcoholism and suicide—I know, I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve done it. Yet, she comes out of it a brighter, more beautiful human being. You did right to name her ‘Butterfly,’ because that’s exactly what she is,” he says calmly. I know this… I named her.
“What I feel for her is more than a sister, more than a friend. It’s like a treasured and trusted confidant, and if you blackball me everywhere in the country—assuming you haven’t done it already—I’d still work for her for free. You can hate me, you can hiss at me, you can threaten me, but I’m not leaving until she tells me to. If she comes back to you, you can hire someone else to protect her and that’s fine, but if you do, you can consider me #7 of the Scooby Gang, because I’m not going anywhere. She is a very valuable person to have in your life and on your side, and I’m not going to lose that because of you. So do what you want to me, but I’m here to stay.”
I just look at him. I say nothing, but I know he’s dug in and I’m stuck with him if I want to keep Butterfly.
“Now, you don’t have to say anything to me, but you need to turn your ass around and get back to the cabin, because this is avalanche country and I’m not dying out here with you.” He says. He waits for a moment for my decision, then turns around and starts walking back to the cabin. I have half a mind to stay out here and freeze to death. This cold is tolerable compared to the frost that Ana’s given me over the past several hours. Instead, I follow him back to the cabin and resign myself to get my ass back to Seattle first thing in the morning.
Ana makes a simple but delicious chicken pot pie for dinner. We eat in utter silence. Originally, Jason and I were to take the beds in the loft since Butterfly and Chuck had claimed the bedrooms downstairs. However, Butterfly thought it best not to put the “fighting boys” in the bedroom together even though we assured her that we had gotten our aggression out and wouldn’t go at each other again. He told me something that I didn’t want to hear, but needed to hear and I couldn’t hear it—so there you have it. Simple. Nonetheless, Chuck and Jason will take the queen beds in the loft, and Butterfly and I will each take one of the bedrooms downstairs. With that, she takes her leave and heads to the bathroom for her shower. I feel the smallest twinge of hope when I finally examine her hand and see that she is still wearing her engagement ring.
It’s a rough night. Sleep simply will not come to me. I’m dreading that I have planned to return to Seattle in a few hours without Butterfly and I don’t know what the future holds for us. I’m more afraid to close my eyes than ever and I had now gone a full 24 hours without sleep. I’ve undone the rest and rejuvenation I got from the two days of sleep, but I know the nightmares and heartbreaking dreams will return. So I just opt not to entertain them tonight. I don’t even bother changing into pajamas. I’ll shower and change at daybreak and just get going as soon as Jason is ready to leave.
I get out of bed and go to the kitchen. The clock on the stove says 2:18am. Coffee or beer? It really doesn’t matter. I opt for the coffee. I lean against the counter looking out at the snow. What do I do now? I guess I go back to running my empire, living the life of the hermit that I have now come to hate. I once again see the similarities between myself and the curmudgeon named Scrooge. He left a lover behind, too, and never redeemed himself. Redemption. I’m afraid to hope. Do I even deserve redemption? Shit, who knows?
All of those emotions that I didn’t want to face are crashing in on me at once standing here in the dark in this cabin in Montana. My hell has begun. This is my purgatory for being such a rotten human being. I don’t want anyone—no one but her. If I can’t have her, I will be alone—no companions, no subs, nothing. I’ll pay for my sins on earth and wait for death to take me away from this miserable suffering. Maybe that penance will purge my soul enough to make it to Heaven when this is all over.
I didn’t even hear her come into the kitchen until the refrigerator opened. I look over at her removing the sparkling water and cranberry juice—her famous cranberry spritzer.
“I’ll get out of your way,” I say softly before escaping the frost and going into the living room. I sit on the sofa and again, begin to ponder my life—or what will be left of my life—when I get back to Seattle. A few moments later, she is sitting on the sofa across from me.
“You’re still dressed,” she says. I look down at my clothes.
“I wasn’t sleepy,” I respond, taking another sip of my coffee.
“Your hair is getting out of control. You look like Jesus.” I look up at her.
“Yeah, I guess it is. I’ll get it cut.” I look down in my coffee again. We are silent for a while when she says, “You need to get some sleep. You’re going to have a psychotic episode.”
“I… um… already did,” I respond nervously. I don’t need to look up at her to know that she’s glaring at me waiting for any answer. “I had a bit of a meltdown on Friday and slept until Sunday night.” I hear her gasp a bit. “I’m okay, though. I mean, except for my hands, maybe, but they’re okay, too.” I don’t want any of her sympathy right now, so I downplay the whole thing. The truth is that I felt like I was going to die and a small piece of me wishes that I had.
“You’ve never slept for two days, even when you went to the hospital…” Yeah, I said that, too.
“Apparently, I was drunk out of my skull and I needed the rest,” I say, trying to make light of the conversation. She’s not laughing. I shrug… the story of my life right now. I bottom out my coffee.
“Jason says you’ve decided to go back to Seattle this morning.” She almost sounds sad about it. I briefly consider asking her if I can stay, but then I think better of it.
“Yes. I think it’s best… to give you your space to decide what you want to do without me hovering around.” I realize that I am squeezing the coffee mug, so I get up and take it back to the kitchen.
“What if I decide that I don’t want to come back to Seattle, that I want to start over somewhere else on my own?” she says. My heart falls for the millionth time in two weeks.
“Then I will just have to deal with that. I made a foolish decision and a foolish mistake and now I have to live with the consequences, whatever they may be.” I steady myself on the counter as I say the words. I never in a million years thought we would be having this conversation. I love her too much to let her go, but I love her enough to allow her to make her decision in peace, whatever happens.
“So… that’s it?” she asks. I know she was expecting more.
“Do I really get a say in this matter?” I say with no malice.
“Of course, you do.” I sigh heavily.
“Do you know how sorry I am?” I say without turning around to face her. “How much I want to take you in my arms and hold you and never let you go… to beg you not to leave me and to love you until you promise to stay with me forever, to be Mrs. Grey even though I know that I don’t deserve it? Do you have any idea what kind of agony I’m feeling knowing that I caused you enough pain to want to leave your family and friends and run away—possibly for good? To know that I am capable of causing you even 1/100th of the kind of pain that I’m feeling now makes me…” I feel myself losing control of the emotional monster building up in me again. “You need to make your own decision—if you want to take a chance on me and the life we hoped… hope we can make together, even though I may have fucked it up.”
I clear my throat. “Now, I hope that I don’t offend you, but will you please go away before I make a complete fool of myself?” I manage to choke the words out before the tears start to fall from my tightly clenched eyes. If she makes me talk again, I’m going to embarrass myself. She chose to have mercy on me and leave me with my bubbling over emotions. I wait until I hear her bedroom door close before I scramble with the kitchen door to escape into the night air. I lean over the banister and take several deep breaths. I allow the tears to fall until they stop, but I refuse to weep. I’ll take the consequences of my actions until she tells me that there’s no hope for us, then I’ll fight like hell to get her back. In the meantime, I can’t crowd or confuse her. I have to allow her to come to her own conclusion without any pressure. I’ve told her how I feel and now I have to leave it up to her.
I’m packing several suits and shirts into a garment bag back at Escala. I manage to mechanically put things together that I will need for my extended stay at the Four Seasons. After the fiasco with the Alexis, the 4S has guaranteed discretion during my stay. I have rented three suites—one for security, one for business and one for sleep and leisure. If Butterfly doesn’t come back to me, I’m putting Escala on the market. I can’t stay here without her anymore.
I think about our goodbye this morning when I left the cabin in Montana. I know her enough to know that she wanted me to stay but couldn’t ask me, and I couldn’t stay under the circumstances. Even though she threatened to stay another month if I touched her, I couldn’t leave without a proper goodbye. I pulled her into my arms and held her close to me, smelling her hair and remembering her fragrance and feel to get me though the next few days, weeks months, or years. I kissed her passionately, pouring all the love into her that I had in me, as if she didn’t want it, it would not be there for anyone else besides my family. Her tears broke my heart all over again when I pulled away from her, but I could only whisper to her that I would love her with my whole heart and soul until I breathed my last breath, and then my soul would continue to love her long after I was gone. I made a hasty retreat, sitting in the car next to Jason, not looking back, speaking, or barely breathing until we pulled into the parking garage at Escala 10 hours later for fear that I would fall apart any moment.
When I bring my bags into the great room, I see that Jason has packed his things as well and is waiting for me there with Gail. I look at them sharing a tender moment, then shake my head.
“No,” I say to him. “I’ll drive the RS7. I’ll see you at GEH tomorrow. Arrange for Lawrence and Williams to alternate staying with me in the evenings at the Four Seasons. You stay here with your wife.” He frowns at me. I know exactly what he’s thinking. Nobody is going to be able to handle me if I go supernova and have one of my meltdowns. “I’ll be fine, Jason, and I’m sure they all have you on speed dial if anything gets out of control.” He is still extremely skeptical, but he nods nonetheless and takes my bags from my hands to take them to the car. Gail’s disapproving glare changes for the first time to sympathy and it’s almost more than I can take. I smile stiffly and nod at her before nearly running to the elevator.
The suite at the Four Seasons—my new home away from home, for now. For how long, I don’t know, but I put my things away in the suite I’ve reserved for rest and go over to the work suite to look at emails and reports for the next day. I turn my mind off from every other thing and focus on nothing but all things GEH…
The next day, the paparazzi are waiting en masse in front of the Four Seasons. Fucking vultures. I’m not running from these sons of bitches!
“Get the car. Bring it right to the front,” I say to Williams, who pauses for a moment—unsure of what he should be doing—before he disappears to get the car. I stroll right out the front door and glare at them. I don’t know what happened, but many of them fall silent and only a few cameras flash at me. What? No fanfare? You want to see my suffering? Here it is. Take your fucking pictures.
“Christian, why are you staying at the Four Seasons instead of your Escala penthouse?” someone yells.
“Because I like it here,” I say flatly.
“Why is Ana not staying with you?”
“I’m sure you’ll ask her when you see her,” I answer just as flatly.
“Mr. Grey, is the wedding called off or no? Can the women of Seattle breathe easy now that you are available?” a lone, and apparently brave voice, calls from the back. I tilt my head a little to see if I can pinpoint where the question came from, but the crowd just eyes me like a strange, exotic animal. I still don’t react, but I tell them the truth without telling them anything.
“When and if my wedding to Ms. Steele is ever ‘called off,’ I’ll be the one to announce it, not some nosy employee at a hotel that will never get my business again. Yes, we are having some difficulties; yes, we are working through them; and no, I am not on the market—so carry on with your lives, Ladies.” I nod and stroll through the crowd to the Audi waiting to take me to Grey House.
As soon as I get there, I get back into the swing of things with my business. Many of Vansteen’s employees have reapplied for their positions but several didn’t even bother. Pending review and rehire or termination, those who reapplied have been relocated to the fifth floor of Grey House. I am still waiting for the results from the internal audit, but the number of guards and administrative employees that opted not to reapply show me that I am most likely about to open Pandora’s Box.
Once again, I am seeing that there are weak spots that have slipped by me in my company, most likely because my arrogance that no one would dare cross the great Christian Grey has caused me to be comfortable and lax in my not-so-omnipotent power. I have decided to review each of GEH’s holdings myself, not to pick them apart—yet, but to see what I have that I didn’t know that I have. It seems that I can’t get away from thoughts of Butterfly no matter how hard I try. My property management company owns the building where her practice is housed. It was one of those ‘miscellaneous’ acquisitions that I got a few years back and never paid attention to it because it wasn’t necessary. I call over to Brettenton Property Management and tell them to redo Dr. Steele’s lease for zero rent for 100 years and send it over to her office immediately. If she marries me, I’ll gift her the building. If she doesn’t, I’ll sell it to her for $1.00.
Hamilton’s little business is starting to show signs of strain. She lost three clients—high-profile clients—in the last two weeks and her growth is showing signs of stagnation. I don’t know what happened with her and Harland, but at this point, I don’t care anymore. She may have been successful in her task of driving a wedge between me and my fiancée after all. Heaven help her if I ever see her again.
I have finally gotten the results from the DNA testing. I have no idea why it took so long, but as I suspected, I share no DNA if that fucker Myrick or Millfeld or whatever the fuck his real name is. According to intel, he’s been pretty quiet since his revelation. The agency that hired him for my parents terminated him, but he has since found other employment in the Seattle area. Security is still keeping a close eye on him, but he has done nothing so far… beside contribute to ruining my marriage, so I would say that he would be safe to stay several thousand feet away from me as well.
So there it is—work at GEH, where crowds of people fall silent and part like the Red Sea when I enter the building; comb through these miscellaneous acquisitions all week that would most likely bring my company to its knees because I was too damn cocky to pay attention to their significance; go “home” to the Four Seasons and keep working. No one dares speak to me or even ask how I’m doing until Friday when Allen comes into my office.
“Chris, can we talk?” Do I really want to talk? I gesture to the chairs in the front of my desk. “You’ve got me worried,” he says.
“Why?” I ask.
“You’re cold as ice, Christian. I know that others may be accustomed to seeing you this way, but I’m not. Those who aren’t afraid to say something are saying that you’re colder than you were… pre-Ana.” Hmm, colder than before… that’s new. Well, I said I couldn’t go back to the man that I was before. It looks like I’m worse. That sucks.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not trying to make friends here. I’m trying to run a business, and I see that I have slipped in a lot of areas. Have you seen the condition of these companies?” I ask him gesturing to the report I had Andrea print of our miscellaneous holdings. He opens the portfolio and thumbs through it.
“No, I haven’t. Some of these really don’t look good at all,” he says concerned.
“I know. I haven’t been paying attention and I haven’t designated anyone else to do it either. Is this something that you can put together a team on for me? I have a feeling I might be sitting on a powder keg here.” He looks up at me.
“Interesting choice of words. I was just thinking the same thing about you,” he says. My expression doesn’t change. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to concentrate on this here at all.
“Allen, I can’t talk about this here. I have to focus on my work. If you want to talk about this some other time, we can, but not now.” I turn my head back to my computer. He waits for a moment, then stands and turns to leave. “She…” I breathe deeply to gather strength to speak of her at all. “She’s staying in a cabin at Glacier Park in Montana. You can take some time off and go to her if you want. It’s a nice place, you’ll like it. Ask Marilyn for the information. Let her know that I’ve been there already and there’s no reason to keep the secret anymore and I’m sure that she’ll give you the details. You can take Charlie Tango—I’ll have Tom fly you up there and bring you back when you’re ready.” I remember that I am at work and this is no place for the emotions that are fighting inside of me to get free.
“Is it over, Chris?” His voice is full of sympathy. I look up at him and see that same sympathy in his face. It almost chokes me up, but I fight the urge with all of my old techniques.
“It looks like it is, but you’ll have to ask her,” I say before dropping my eyes back to my computer screens and the contracts for Vansteen’s current clients.
That night, I am back in the work suite at the Four Seasons. This suite has seen more action than the leisure suite. Gail sent food over with Lawrence. I scarfed it down so as not to disappoint her but I didn’t taste a bite. I sit back down at the table and dive into the reports that have held my attention since my return to Seattle.
I get a glimpse of myself in the decorative mirror on the wall across from the table. I’ve subconsciously worn black suits all week and I never got a chance to cut my hair. I’ve worked until later in the evening, so I just never found the time. As a result, I’ve been pulling it back in one of those horrid man-ponytails to keep it from falling in my face. I have a permanent scowl on my face—brows furrowed, eyes narrow and piercing, the corners of my mouth turned down, face made of stone, like a hideous monster—a gargoyle. I don’t even recognize myself. I look like Satan.
I knew that he would find me. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, all steps would lead him to me. As much as I hate to admit it at this moment, we are drawn to each other even miles away. No matter how hard I try to fight it, I love him and I always will. I hate what he did to me and I hurt. I never thought he would hurt me like this and I never want to give anyone the opportunity to make me feel this way. Unfortunately, when you open yourself up to love, you open yourself up to hurt.
When he said goodbye a few days ago, I wanted to beg him not to leave me, to stay and fight for me, but that would have solved nothing and we both know it. Then he kissed me in that way that made my knees fall out from under me. Chuck literally had to catch me as they were driving away. Holy cow Batman! It reignited all the pain and the loneliness and all I wanted to do was be in his arms again.
I spent the next two days in my room crying off the effects again. Chuck would bring me something to eat and I would cry myself back to sleep. I can’t go on like this and I know it. I love him and with him is where I belong, but I just can’t bring myself to go back just yet and I don’t know why.
My dilemma was solved with a knock at my door Friday night that brought four of my best friends. Allen and James picked up Gary and Marilyn and decided on a weekend trip to Montana.
“What, Seattle wasn’t cold enough for you fools?” I say as I hug each of them crying happy tears.
“It was too cold without you, Jewel,” Al says sweetly as he embraces me. Marilyn comes in with the guilty face.
“I told you not to tell anyone else,” I say, playfully.
“I didn’t. Christian did,” she informs me. I freeze on the spot.
“Did he send you all here to bring me back?” I ask. Al shakes his head.
“No. He told me to come and see you and that you were in a nice place. That’s all.” I know my best friend. That’s not all he said.
“What else Allen?” I press.
“He sent us in Charlie Tango. He told me to get the details from Marilyn because there was no need for her to keep it a secret anymore since he knew where you were.” Charlie Tango? He sent his beloved helicopter and he didn’t fly it? That’s a lot, but that’s still not it.
“Allen?” I know there’s more. He sighs.
“Jewel, I don’t want to talk about this right now. I want to at least enjoy half of my weekend before we have to talk about the elephant in the room, okay?” That’s it. I’m certain that Christian didn’t send him now.
“Okay,” I concede. Marilyn gives me a pouch with my phone and all of my credit cards in it.
“No use in leaving it behind now, right?” she shrugs. I smile. They all pause when they see Chuck come out of his bedroom.
“He needed a job. Christian fired him,” I say with a shrug.
“Oh, so you’re one of us now!” Gary says. Chuck grunts and chuckles a bit shaking his head. “Come with me. I know how this goes. James, you too. Is there a general store or something nearby?”
“There is,” Chuck announces.
“Good. Lead the way. We need supplies!”
Marilyn, Al, and I prepare the room for the slumber party that Al and I know is about to occur while the guys go get junk food and alcohol. I was careful not to have any in the house since I didn’t want to go on any crazy drinking binges—except for the beer, that is. I bend over to toss pillows around and Al catcalls behind me.
“Wooooo, Baby! That view will make a gay man go straight!” he exclaims. I throw a pillow at him. We all fall into the pillows and talk a bit before they guys get back.
“So, without getting too deep into it just yet, how are you doing, Ana?” Marilyn asks.
“Okay, I guess,” I tell her. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” She rolls her eyes.
“If you say so,” she says.
“I’m doing the best that I can. It’s all that I can do. Now, give me some dirt or we all sit here in silence.”
“Well, you should know that Brettenton sent over a new lease this morning,” Marilyn says.
“What!?” I gasp angrily. “They can’t just rewrite my lease! It was for two years and we’re only a year in!”
“They can, and they have,” she says, pulling the manila envelope out of her bag and handing it to me. I snatch it from her and nearly rip the papers from the envelope. What the fuck are they trying to pull now?
I read the lease amount… and read it again. Something must be wrong.
“Marilyn, is this a joke?” I ask her. She shakes her head.
“Nope. It’s signed by Walter and Maurice brought it over himself to make sure that I knew it was real.” My eyes scroll down further.
“I’m not signing this. It’s for a hundred years. What are they trying to do?” I smell a rat. “Al, you’re my lawyer. What is this?” Al doesn’t take the papers from me.
“Well… there’s usually a reason for something like that. I’ll see if I can come up with an answer for you.” Why hasn’t he taken the papers from me?
“Have you seen anything like this before?” I ask, my voice going very high at the end of the question. He nods.
“I have, but can we save business for later and chew the fat right now?” he says, and thus ends the business talk.
The guys come back with food, drink, and treats and we spend the whole night getting drunk and talking about everyone’s life but mine. I just don’t feel like dwelling on it tonight. I want to hang out with my friends and have a good time.
We wake somewhere around noon the next day and Chuck and I take everyone shopping and to see the beautiful scenery of the surrounding areas. We take several pictures and send them to Val, Maxie, and Phil who couldn’t come up for the weekend, but to show them that I wasn’t wasting away into nothing. Elliot kindly tells me to call his brother before he has to put him down like an injured steed. That makes me wonder exactly how badly Christian is doing. He seemed okay when he left on Tuesday, a little upset as was to be expected, but certainly not suicidal or anything.
I get Al out to the fire pit that evening and finally decide to ask him about Christian.
“Okay, Al, give it to me straight. Elliot just texted me telling me to call Christian before Elliot has to put him down. Is it really that bad or is Elliot just pulling my leg? He has a tendency to do that, you know.” Al’s extremely heavy sigh already tells me that this is not an exaggeration.
“No, he’s not pulling your leg. I mean, he’s not… maudlin or… crazy or anything, but…” What the fuck, then?
“Well, what is it?” I ask, anxious.
“He’s like the Angel of Death, Jewel,” Al says. What?
“What do you mean? Is he just firing everybody?” I ask.
“No, it’s worse. It’s like he brings doom and destruction when he walks into the room. He’s dressed like an undertaker every day and he’s combing through his miscellaneous subsidiaries to see what he has missed.”
“This is a concern because?”
“Because it’s a filler and we all know it. When he’s done with this, another department, division, or subsidiary is going to fall under the ax. He’s laser focused and right now, he’s silent but deadly.”
“Okay, can you tell me what this all means?” I ask, still in the dark.
“When he walks into a room, he brings a silent darkness with him. He’s not cursing or screaming or anything like that. He’s a deadly calm. I have never seen him like this and most of the employees that I have spoken to say that they haven’t seen him like this either. Half the time, he’s not even giving orders. He just strolls in and goes about his business. He looks like he’s always contemplating, like he’s just going to call a meeting of key people, walk into the room and just say ‘you’re all fired.’ He’s kind of reminding me of that guy from Highlander…”
“Okay, which one of the Highlanders are you talking about?”
“Adrian Paul—1992 version—just as hot, but not as cuddly,” Al says.
“The man was cutting off people’s heads. Cuddly is not a word that I would choose to describe him,” I protest.
“Exactly!” Al says, his eyes large. Oh, shit, this is so much worse than I thought. “Lately, he does a lot of listening and then acting, not a lot of delegating. He’s hands-on with these subsidiaries, mainly because one of them is Vansteen and one of them was your girl’s wedding planner business.”
“What!?” Wedding planner? He was backing Cassie Hamilton and didn’t tell me?
“Settle down, Killer, it’s not what you think…” Allen explained to me how GEH categorizes these miscellaneous subsidiaries and that they can easily get lost in the company unless someone has a reason to look for them… like illegal activities, operating losses, “my girlfriend’s car gets vandalized on your watch,” or “you pissed off my fiancée by flaunting our past relationship.”
“Had it not been for you, he never would have known he owned either one of those companies,” Al continues. “Vansteen was already a bit of an issue after the situation with your car. Hamilton came up because he was trying to find out who her backer was. Imagine his surprise. Vansteen truly fell under the knife when your gun came up missing. He had basically dismantled that company the day before you left and the pendulum is still swinging on Ms. Cassie.”
“Why still swinging?” I ask.
“Because GEH has an iron-clad contract with her that they inherited from the selling company, so he’s ruining her from the outside-in. That’s how he can break his contract. He can do anything he wants with a company that’s not at least breaking even.” I nod. “That brings us to now. After he discovered that he was financing one of his ex-subs, he had Alex gather information on all of his miscellaneous subsidiaries to be sure that he wasn’t financing any more of them. It’s not pretty, and he has been combing through those reports day and night looking for discrepancies and weak spots. He only just asked me to try to put together a panel to help with this, but right now, he’s hands-on with it because he feels like his cockiness and delusions of his own invulnerability has put him here in the first place. Ros is handling all the mergers and acquisitions and he’s dealing with this, only stepping in to help Ros when it’s utterly necessary. Every Vansteen employee had to reapply for their jobs and he’s just waiting for the results of the internal audit before he decides if the company will fold. Everybody’s wondering who’s next.”
“What is he doing? He’s always been concerned about putting people out of work,” I say.
“That’s why he’s still trying to hold on to Vansteen. He closed the building that housed them and he’s trying to decide if he’s going to put it on the market or renovate it and lease out the office space. Vansteen has been moved temporarily to the fifth floor of Grey House so that he can keep a closer eye on them. He has to decide if he’s going to get rid of the weak links or the entire company. Speaking of lease, I don’t need to look into the rarity or frequency of the type of lease that you have.”
I’m stunned. I know that Christian is a shrewd businessman, but this seems extreme even for him.
“Why not?” I ask.
“You’ve had a lease with Brettenton for nearly a year?” I nod. “Then you’ve been paying rent to your fiancé for nearly a year. GEH owns Brettenton. He most likely discovered that you were one on his tenants during his investigation of the records.” I shake my head and Al takes my hand.
“Jewel, I have a feeling that this is just an anesthetic. He’s throwing himself into his first love to try to keep his mind off the absence of his true love. It’s the one thing that he can fix right now, and he sees the cracks and flaws in these companies that have the potential to cost him everything. They were issues and problems that were right in front of his face and he couldn’t even see them. Then someone came along and shined a light on the problem and he’s displeased—appalled even that this is something that he should have seen a long time ago and never did because he thought everything was okay… until it wasn’t.
“In a nutshell, Jewel, he was one of those miscellaneous subsidiaries and you shined a light on him. He saw all of his weaknesses. He won’t say it out loud, but he thinks he’s already lost you, so he’s doing everything he can not to let the wolves come in and take the only thing he has left… his business.”
Oh, God, I broke him.
“What… does he say about me… about us?” I ask.
“He refuses to talk about you,” Al says. “You can see the slight chink in his armor anytime anything happens that involves you or relates to you in any way. It’s only for a moment, and then it’s gone, but it’s there. When I asked if he was okay, he immediately started talking business. When I tried to talk about you, he dismissed me with a task telling my that he absolutely can’t talk about you at work. He stopped me from leaving by telling me that you were here and that’s when I saw the chink. The man puts up a great façade but I can see the pain he’s hiding everyday. The staff is saying that he’s worse than he was before you, not because he’s angry or ruling with an iron fist, but because you don’t know what to expect from him—and that’s worse.” I shake my head.
“How are Gail and Jason holding up under the new Christian Grey?” I say, fighting back the tears.
“They’re not.” What? Did they quit? “Jason meets him at GEH every morning. Since Chris is so standoffish, there’s very little communication between them during the day unless it’s utterly necessary. He’s nailed to those reports and making observations and shooting off emails. Like I said, the M&A portion of the business for now has been handed over to Ros, so all the meetings that he had set for the week were shuffled off to her. He’s most likely in the office as we speak. Gail and Jason stay at Escala. Chris doesn’t. He hasn’t been there since he had his breakdown.” What the hell? He’s not staying in his own home?
“Why?” I ask, the tears flowing freely now.
“He can’t stay there without you. He’s talking about putting the penthouse on the market. He was staying at the Alexis at first until someone there got loose-lip syndrome and talked to the press about his condition last Friday night. Now, he has three suites at the Four Seasons—one for the guards, one for sleeping, and one for work. He hasn’t been home in several days.” I drop my head and cover my face.
“He’s all on his own, Jewel,” Al says softly. “Last Friday when he called me in a state, he said ‘this is what I get for thinking I could be normal.’ When we got to his apartment, Elliot chewed him a new asshole and he weeped asking if anyone understood how he was feeling and why he may have thought he was doing the right thing at the time. Before he deserted his apartment, he declared, ‘she made me need people.’ Now, he doesn’t want to need anyone anymore. He won’t let anybody near him, not even me. When I try to break down that exterior, he immediately starts talking business. He doesn’t even look like himself anymore. If you love him, and you want to be with him, you need to get home. If you’ve changed your mind about being with him, then you need to let him off the hook. It’s only fair.”
“Ana! Oh my God, Ana!” Gail runs to my arms, tears flowing down her face. “Oh my God! I’m so glad you’re here! It’s been a nightmare. I was so worried about you! Everyone was worried about you! And that man! Oh, Ana, I’m so glad you’re here!” She clings to me and just cries and cries.
“Okay, Love, let her come in,” Jason says, prying his wife’s arms from me. “It’s good to see you, Your Highness.”
“Good to see you, too, Jason,” I say, looking around the apartment. It’s so cold–or at least it feels cold. “Where is he?” They look at each other.
“I’d say he’s probably at Grey House,” Jason says. “He won’t say it, but the only reason he leaves that place is so that I can get home to Gail. I think he would stay there all the time if he could. I actually think he’s having a private quarters built into that space behind his office soon—at least, that’s the indication that I get.”
“Why do you get that indication?” I ask.
“I saw some blueprints,” he says. “It looks like he plans on making the conference room behind his office smaller and shaving a few feet off of his office to accommodate a living quarters back there.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I moan. “No one can live like that…”
“Apparently, he can,” Jason says. I look up at him. “He doesn’t leave that suite. I keep tabs on him through the security staff and he doesn’t come out of there. Once he’s in, he’s in. Gail sent him some food yesterday because we didn’t know if he was eating. Apparently, he inhaled the meal according to Chance.”
“Chance?” Who the fuck is Chance?
“Williams? Chance Williams?” Oh… so that’s his name. “So, he’s been nourished, but he doesn’t move from that room. Ten will get you 20 that he’s at Grey House right now with Lawrence.” I shake my head. This is a disaster. He’s coping the only way that he knows how—well, the only acceptable way anyway—and that’s work. He’s going to rip apart his whole company before this is all over.
“Are you… back?” Gail asks me cautiously.
“I… need to talk to Christian first,” I tell her. I don’t think anyone should hear my decision before he does.
“I’ll call him,” Jason says.
“Don’t… don’t tell him that I’m here. Just tell him that… there’s a matter here that needs his attention.” I don’t even know how to handle this, but I guess I’ll figure it out in a moment.
I thought time would stand still. It flew by in a flash. It seems like only an instant has passed when this ominous black figure comes wafting into the room. I don’t even hear his feet hit the marble floor as he walks. It’s like he’s gliding on a cloud—a cloud of doom. The air becomes heavier when he enters and he hasn’t even said a word yet. He has this grotesque scowl on his face and he looks like he has aged 10 years! There’s no warmth in his eyes. They are white on white, piercing and frightening. He has unkempt stubble on his face and he’s wearing a black business suit on Sunday… and a ponytail! A fucking ponytail! What the hell is this!? I am horrified!
Who is this and what have you done with my Christian???
He looks straight at Jason and nowhere else—not to the left or the right. He doesn’t even see me.
“What was so important that you couldn’t tell me on the phone?” he says in a baritone voice that carries a menacing calm that chills me to my soul. “Or better yet, handle it on your own. You know how I hate coming here right now.”
‘Well, I didn’t think you would want me to handle that,” he says, pointing to me. Christian turns around stiffly to face me, still scowling. Almost instantly, his shoulders fall, his face changes, and the ominous black midst that followed him into the room begins to lift. Good God, now I know what Al was talking about.
“Christian? Wha…?” I can’t even find my words. This isn’t the man that I fell in love with. This is some… impostor! This can’t be Christian!
“Ana?” His voice is weak and timid. “Ana… Bab…” He sounds tortured now. “What… are you doing here?” he asks, his voice carrying the same caution Gail’s did moments ago.
“I…” I can’t breathe all of a sudden, so I choke the words out the best that I can. “I want to come home.”
“You want to come back home.” The statement is… cold, almost… impassive? I don’t know. There’s a chill in his voice… skepticism? It makes me want to step away from him for fear that the frost might freeze my soul.
I drop my head. Is this what I’ve done? What we’ve done? Are we completely broken?
“We have so much to talk about… so much to clear up. I can’t go on like this. We can’t go on like this,” he says.
“I know,” I say without lifting my head, my eyes filling with tears. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“Anastasia…” he chokes, but clears his throat, “may I… kiss you now?” I raise my head and observe his pleading eyes.
“Yes… please…” I breathe.
I hear his shoes on the marble this time and he appears to be floating across the room. I am in his arms in a second. He snatches me so hard and fast that I gasp. His lips crash into mine and his kiss consumes me. I can’t move my arms and I am again transported to our very first kiss. I whimper into his mouth.
This… This is my Christian.
I drop my head back to get some air. He’s trying to eat me alive. He kisses me everywhere—my neck, my cheeks, my ears…
“I love you… I love you… I love you… so much…” His voice is breathy and winded. He repeats himself over and over like he can’t stop. “I love you… please…” He’s kissing me again. “Ana… Butterfly… Oh my God…” I don’t know how he’s talking between all the kissing, but I can feel the relief flow through him. His whole demeanor changes and the dark creature that walked in moments ago is gone.
He releases me and puts his hands on both sides of my face. He’s touching me and looking at me like he can’t believe I’m here. He kisses me and gathers me into his arms again. “Oh, God, I missed you so much… I can’t breathe without you, Butterfly,” he says, his face buried in my neck.
“I missed you, too,” I breathe through my tears. Now I’m all breathy and weepy and can’t speak. He tightens his arms around me and kisses me deeply. This time my arms are free and I wrap them around his neck. He falls back onto the couch with me on his lap.
“Please… please… just let me kiss you…” he says, still kissing me. Let you? I think that’s a forgone conclusion here, Babe! His lips are everywhere he can find skin and I mean everywhere! He’s even kissing the palm of my hands. “Oh God, you’re here… you’re back… I thought I lost you, I really thought I lost you… I love you so much…” I can’t say anything. It’s too much for me. I just let him kiss me and hold me. He needs it so much… we both need it.
Hours later, I am still sitting on his lap, one arm around his shoulders and the other on his chest. We have talked about quite a bit… the horrible fighting, the time apart, my tendency to run, his cut-and-dried manner of “solving” problems that doesn’t really solve them…
How we handle all the issues outside of our relationship that seem to always affect our relationship…
How we both have serious trust issues that we are never going to overcome if we don’t learn to trust each other…
How being around each other every single minute of every single day that we are not at work may not be the best idea. Even though we are madly in love with each other, we do sometimes need time apart…
How I’m not going to be perfectly-rounded Wilma Wife and he’s not going to be completely-balanced Henry Husband. This has been a bumpy ride from day one and although it has gotten smoother as time goes by, it’s still going to be a bumpy ride…
How other people’s opinion of who we are or should be will not affect who we are and what we will be to each other, no matter how fucked up we really are…
How our undying love and devotion to one another will always get us through these hard times—no matter how horrible they become—because in the end, we are truly committed to each other…
How too many cooks spoil the soup and yet another shrink is not going to solve this problem. We need to communicate and solve it ourselves, only bringing in outside “counsel” when we hit a brick wall and absolutely cannot come to an agreement; that the new shrinks that we are seeing right now are part of the problem/solution because they are pulling back more layers than anybody ever has, resulting in a lot of emotional turmoil in the course of our personal development…
I understand now why he thought it was necessary to call off the wedding. In his “fix this, fix this now” mentality, he only wanted the fighting to stop. Thinking about spending your life fighting with someone forever and ever is not something that is very appealing, especially when you are accustomed to waving your hand and the problem goes away.
He now understands why I left. There was no way that I could stay here with him. In addition to that, I was nursing the biggest rejection that I had ever felt in my life—even bigger than David! It was an all-consuming black hole that sucked all the will and life out of me. There was nothing that I could say or do to portray my feelings to him or to anyone… I could only be, and I couldn’t do that here with him or anywhere that he could find me. Hell, I even hid from my father—that says a lot! The last time I hid from Daddy, I was in a battered women’s shelter!
We have such a long way to go and so much more to talk about, but we covered a lot of ground in these last several hours.
“What made you come back?” he asks, kissing my forehead.
“Elliot.” He pulls his face back to look at me. “Allen wouldn’t tell me anything. So when we sent pictures to the Scooby Gang, Elliot told me to call you or he would have to euthanize you. That’s when I asked Al to give it to me straight, and he did.” I pull the ponytail holder out of his hair. “I see that he wasn’t lying,” I add running my fingers through his hair.
“So you came back for me,” he says, solemnly.
“Yes and no,” I tell him. “It wasn’t fair to leave you hanging on without knowing what was going to happen next, I know that, but I wanted to come home. I knew I wanted to come home. I just didn’t know how to do it. Al helped me with that one.”
“How?” his voice is wistful and I know my fingers on his scalp are putting him to sleep.
“He gave me my choices—come back because I love you or put you out of your misery. The second wasn’t an option.” He lifts his head and gently touches my cheek.
“I’m glad to hear that,” he says softly. His eyes are hooded and I can tell that he suddenly needs sleep.
“You haven’t been sleeping,” I say. “You sleep for two days then none at all?” He gets that convicted look in his eye and I know that I have him dead to rights.
“I’ve been having a lot of dreams lately,” he confesses.
“Oh?” I ask waiting for him to elaborate. He nods.
“Nightmares that you weren’t coming back to me… and dreams that you never left.” He closes his eyes. I don’t know what to say. “I’m really tired. Really, really tired, but I’m afraid if I close my eyes…”
“That this might be one of those dreams,” I finish his sentence and he nods again. “Well, I’ll tell you what,” I say, scratching his scalp and he succumbs to my massage. “You close your eyes and I’ll meet you in your dreams. When you wake up, I’ll be right here, okay?” He looks at me like he is truly skeptical of my promise, but he nods, and he is truly asleep almost instantly.
“So what do we do now?” she asks.
“We get married,” I tell her. “We can go to the courthouse and get married today.”
“No, Christian, we can’t.”
“Why not?” I whine.
“Because I don’t want to get married at the damn courthouse. I don’t want a shotgun wedding. I want the pretty dress and bridesmaids and my man of honor and I want to walk down the aisle and eat cake and throw my bouquet, that’s why not… and my leg is asleep.” I massage her leg.
“Is that better?” I ask.
“No, it’s still asleep… and so am I… and so are you. So wake up.”
“Huh?” What is she talking about?
“Wake up and see that I’m still here,” she says with a smile. I’m still confused, but then I remember. She’s gone when I wake up.
“I don’t want to,” I tell her truthfully.
“Come on, Christian. Trust me,” she says as she puts her arms around my waist and leans into my chest. Okay, I’ll trust you… I close my eyes and pray…
I open my eyes, and there she is—with her arms wrapped around my waist and her head on my chest, fast asleep… and it’s my leg that’s asleep. It’s the middle of the night and I have fallen asleep with my girl on my lap. We are both still on the sofa and we’re not going anywhere. I gather her in my arms and drag both our bodies until we are both lying on the sofa. She stirs a bit, but she is asleep again in moments… and so am I.
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Love and Handcuffs!