Okay, so it was supposed to be a surprise, but yes, Marlow and Maggie are the two kids that are going to be in the wedding. It’s still going to be a surprise to Ana, though. Happy now? 😛
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.
Christian is handling the invasion of his home very well. Since I didn’t want Jason to know what I was planning, I had to leave Christian out of the loop, too. It was a welcome distraction after my session with Ace.
We covered a lot of ground in tonight’s session. He didn’t bother browbeating me for not talking to him while I was in Montana since we had such a huge breakthrough with my whole Mommy issues, but we did decide that regression therapy would probably be a good idea. I haven’t paid any undo attention to the feelings that I had for my mother except that I am very angry with her and I hate her, nothing more. Now I discover that there is much more and that I have to face it in order to move on with my life. We started tonight with a chronological recounting of everything that I could remember about my mom. I gave him as much as I could with the time that I had and it has left me emotionally drained. So this celebration is right on time to rejuvenate me.
I don’t know most of the people here tonight since it looks like there are 30 men in Brooks Brothers, Armani, and Dolce and Gabana suits in my living room. There’s not a suit from the rack among them—believe me, I can tell. About half of them have alcoholic beverages while the other half decline in favor of soda or water, citing that they are driving or still on duty. The girls help to serve them these insane burgers we‘ve had delivered from the Lunchbox Laboratory. I’m telling you I have never seen creations like this. They have names like “Burger of the Gods” and “Tearjerker,” and they can’t fit in your hand like a regular burger. These men battled with these burgers and eventually won, but it was not an easy fight for many of them. With all the sides and the soft drinks, I would say that these gentlemen were duly satisfied.
About one-third of the security staff has left as they are on duty or going to relieve someone on duty somewhere and Jason is sitting in the great room talking and laughing with those who remain. Maxie, Val, and I have started clearing the dishes. The dishwasher will most likely have to be run twice tonight for this load of mess.
“Please let me do something,” Gail says stepping into the kitchen.
“Are you sure, Gail? I would much rather you sit down and spend time with Jason,” I protest.
“Oh, please. I‘ve sat down with Jason all week and there is more sitting down in my near future. Besides, they’re swapping ‘war stories’ and such. That’s no place for me. I need a bit of normalcy back in my life, so I beg of you. Let me do something.” I snicker at her a bit and let her take over loading the dishwasher as I proceed to put the leftover burgers in the carry-out containers that Lunchbox Laboratory left just in case.
“So, how are you and Christian doing?” Maxie asks as we are putting the food in boxes.
“We’re doing fine,” I say non-committal, “talking about our relationship and where we want it to go.”
“Did he say why he called off the wedding? I mean, you know, did he elaborate?” Val asks.
“We’ve talked about it,” I respond.
“And?” she presses. I put my hands on the back of one of the dining chairs.
“It’s not something that I really want to share. It’s between me and Christian.” Both Maxie and Val are stunned by this reply.
“Oh,” Val says a little affronted. “So… we’re not talking about our guys anymore?”
“Yes, we are, just not as much and not so much of the intimate stuff,” I say.
“Which pretty much means that you’re shutting us out again,” Maxie says.
“That’s not what it means, Maxie. It means that I need to start focusing on my man and my relationship. Is that so hard to believe?”
“Of course not, Ana,” she relents, “but clearly Christian would rather brave the elements than to spend one moment in the room with us. Seriously, it’s cold out there. At least James is wearing a coat and gloves.” Oh, God, when will my friends ever learn?
“Not that I owe you an explanation about why this man is sitting on his own balcony, but I sent him out there to get himself a beer, and I saw when James grabbed his attention. Yes, Christian loves the outdoors, so I doubt that he even feels the cold. And no offense ladies, but he no doubt has a lot more in common with James than he does with any of you.”
“So… this new Ana I’m seeing,” Val says, “what does this mean?’
“I am going to start handling our disagreements better in the future. I’m a grown-up, and it’s time for me to start acting like one. Yes, Christian felt deserted again, but that’s not your fault. That’s mine. I should have never put him in a position where he could have been made to feel that way. I can hold you guys responsible for how you treated him when I checked out in December. I can’t hold you responsible for how you acted when I left. I put him and you in that position and I shouldn’t have done it.”
“But Ana, you were jilted. You were hurt. He called off your wedding…” Maxie protests.
“Yes, but that’s not your concern,” I point out with no malice. “I love that you guys love me so much, but you do it at the expense of my boyfriend, my soon-to-be husband. I can’t keep letting that happen, and I can’t keep lecturing you like you’re children telling you that you can’t feel bad when I feel bad. You guys are the closest thing to a family that I will ever have, but…” I shrug, “I can’t tolerate the way that you treat Christian, and now, neither can he.”
“So, now we’re getting the silent treatment again,” Val says. “We may not have sat with him the entire time, Ana, but when Al got the call and told us that he was in bad shape, we all came rushing over. Really, we did.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” I carry the food that I have in my hands to the kitchen and set it up on the breakfast bar so that the guys can take it on their way out. Lots more to bring in here so I go back to grab some more. Maxie and Val are still standing in the dining room.
“Ana, we don’t want a repeat of what happened in December,” Val begins.
“This won’t be a repeat,” I respond, not telling them that this time is different because Christian has completely washed his hands of them. “This time is different in so many ways that I can’t begin to tell you. Christian and I really need some time to focus on who we are as a couple and what we want. We’ve been talking to our therapists and a lot has come out since I’ve returned from Montana.”
“Oh?” Maxie says, clearly intrigued. Oh, no you don’t. You dumped me. We don’t get to have this conversation.
“Yes. We’ve made some really big breakthroughs in a very short time and we are examining them further in the coming weeks. This requires us to redirect our focus to one another to get through this because more than anything, we both want a successful marriage and a happy life together.” I see them both struggling with what to say next when Al breezes through like the fairy god-best-friend that he is.
“Girl, I think our boyfriends are now BFF’s. They’ve been out there in the freezing cold forever talking about God only knows what,” he laughs, but his laughter fades when he notices the tension in the room. “Okay, what did I miss?”
“Nothing. Ana was just telling us that she and Christian need to focus more on their relationship,” Val says with a little salt in her voice. I note her tone and turn to look at her.
“Oh, tell me this is not turning into that conversation!” I say, incredulously.
“Of course, it’s not, Ana!” Maxie says sharply, throwing a warning look at Val. “We just want to make sure that you’re happy and that you feel like you are doing the right thing—and we don’t want to be shut out in the process. That’s the truth.”
“Then stand by me!” I declare. “You’re so ready to take my side against my man, but you’re not so anxious when I ask you to support my decision to focus on him—on us! I’m not going to keep having this conversation with you guys. I can separate the two if I must, but that means family functions—birthdays, christenings, first dances, milestones, proms, graduations, anniversaries—you won’t be invited. I’ve already taken responsibility for putting him—for putting you all—in that position when I left, but don’t expect me to stand here and say that it’s okay for you to treat my man like shit!”
I dash out of the kitchen and into our bedroom before any of them can follow me. I know that this is running again, but the damn walls are closing in and I feel the tears about to fall. With a house full of people, I don’t want to have an adrenaline breakdown in front of everyone. I take a few deep breaths and try to compose myself as there is no one inside the apartment to act as host. I don’t want to blame my friends for supporting me, but at this moment they are acting like brats!
“Do you want me to make everyone leave?” I hear him say as chilly hands touch my shoulders.
“No,” I respond. “It’s fine. I’ll be fine.” I turn around and wrap my arms around his waist sinking into his chest. “Jason is having such a good time. It’s not his fault that my friends are…” I let the sentence trail off, just pulling Christian closer to me.
“This is going to be hard for you,” he says, kissing my hair.
“It’s going to be harder for them, because I’ve made my choice,” I say looking up into his eyes.
“I never wanted that, Butterfly,” he says, gazing at me.
“I know,” I tell him, “but honestly, both times that this happened they made it about them. It wasn’t about them either time. I tried to give them a ‘gimme‘ this time because it was my fault for leaving…”
“I thought you said it was our fault,” he corrects.
“No,” I say pulling away and sitting on the bed. “Their reaction and the reasons they were hurt, that’s all on me. Christian, they were actually upset because I wouldn’t give them ‘girl talk’ on the intimate details of our conversation when I came back.” I put my head in my hands. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle this. All I know is that I can’t be more concerned about them than I am about us and that’s the bottom line. They can either deal with it or move on.” Christian sits next to me.
“When this whole thing blows over—and it will—things will look much clearer, to you and to them.” He leans down and kisses me on the lips. “Now let’s get back out there before they think we’re having sex.” I giggle, stand up and straighten my clothes, and leave our bedroom with Christian in tow. When I get to the dining room, Gail and Al have packed up the rest of the burgers and moved them to the breakfast bar. Val and Maxie seem to have made a quick getaway. We lost a few more of the security staff, but Jason is still in his element with the crowd that remains. I turn to Al.
“They said that they will see you tomorrow at the fitting and they are both really sorry that they upset you. I know that there will be more talking tomorrow, but do you want to fill me in a bit?” he asks.
“Please tell me that you are coming with me tomorrow. Please tell me that you’ll be there,” I say, my voice cracking.
“Of course I will, Jewel,” he says taking my hands in his. I nod.
“We’re a package deal, Al,” I say desperately while looking into his eyes. “If they can’t accept us both—good or bad, better or worse, pretty or ugly, fighting or in love—then they can’t have me. It’s that simple.”
“I know,” he comforts, “and they will, too.”
I walk around the edge of the great room, just out of sight of the occupants there, and over to Christian’s piano. Al is right behind me.
“He’s so hurt about it,” I tell him. “He and his mother picked it out and he destroyed it because of me.” I let a tear escape as I caress the cover with my index finger, not daring to open it.
“Yes, I know,” Al replies, not bothering to dispel what I said. I sit on the bench, bury my face in my hands and weep.
“I’m going to lose my friends,” I say between sobs. Al sits next to me and puts his arms around me.
“Not if they love you like they say they do, Jewel. If they do, they will understand what is going on between you and your man and they will support you. You may have to leave them be for a while, but they’ll come around. They love you too much.” I nod and continue to cry into my hands with Al’s arms wrapped around me.
We have finally rid the house of all the guests and bid Jason and Gail goodnight. Butterfly looks like she is completely spent, but I can look in her face and tell that she is tense and unable to relax. I turn off the lights in the apartment while she goes to take a very long shower. She emerges from the en suite to find me leaning against the door waiting for her. I have removed everything but my slacks and boxers, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell what’s on my mind.
“Drop the towel,” I tell her. She freezes for a moment, then unwraps the towel that covers her body and lets it drop to the floor. She is so beautiful. I’m going to take my time, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to devour every inch of her right this moment.
“Lie flat on the bed, face up.” She silently walks over to the bed, crawls on top of it, and lays down. “Close your eyes,” I say from where I am standing and I see her close her eyes. I walk over to her and gently stroke the inside of each of her legs from her ankle up her thigh and back, my fingertips barely touching her skin. Her breath catches and her beautiful breasts rise and fall with her arousal and anticipation. Her hands clinch the bedding and she is so ready that I can smell her. I quickly crawl between her legs and bury my face in her valley. She cries out as my mouth reaches her core, wrapping her legs around me and throwing her knees over my shoulders. I wrap my arms around her hips and hold her pelvis down flat so that she can’t squirm and continue my feasting. She is so aroused that I can feel her body starting to rise already preparing for release, but I’m not ready yet. Just as I am sure that she is about to detonate, I stop.
“Nooooooo…” she mewls as I look at her from between her legs.
“Hold on to the bed, Baby. Stretch your arms out beside you and don’t let go.”
She obeys and reaches her right hand to the edge of the bed. Her left hand can only hold the sheets. I quickly remove my pants and boxers before I crawl up her body and take her nipple in my mouth. She cries out as I sink my teeth into it just slightly. I repeat the process with her other nipple as I use my legs to push hers apart. I grind into her, the length of my dick running up and down against her clitoris. She groans loudly.
“Do you want me?” I say, barely able to contain my need.
“Yes,” she breathes.
“Tell me,” I coax.
“Fuck me Christian,” she growls. I press my hips hard against her and I can feel the pre-cum escape with those words. I flick my tongue across her lips.
“Say it again,” I command against her mouth.
“Fuck me, Christian, please,” she begs and her body starts to tremble. I know that she’s close so I stop my stimulation against her clitoris. She groans in protest. I kiss her lips gently, giving her orgasm a chance to fade. My hands travel down her body and I lick and kiss her neck. She is panting now, her body aching with desire and sweating already. She is hot!
Let’s not keep the lady waiting, Greystone taunts as he stands erect and attempts to push away from me.
I put my hands on each of her hips to hold them down, both for leverage and to keep her from moving. I shift my hips and Greystone breaches the promised land. She gasps as I only allow my head inside. Fuck, she is so wet. Pushing her legs further apart and coming up on my knees a bit more, I torment her with short strokes of just my head followed by one or two deep thrusts here and there. The torment brings her right to the edge and if I’m honest, me too. I hear the wetness of our sex moving together and I almost blow. I stop my stroke more for myself this time than for her.
“Oh my God, please!” she cries out as I tease her throbbing pussy.
“Don’t let go,” I threaten, my voice so heavy with my orgasm that I can barely stand it myself. I continue to tease her with my head and the occasional thrust, listening to the slick, sliding, sloshing sounds of my dick in her wet pussy. When she comes, I want to be buried so deep inside her coming with her that she feels my dick on her spine.
Suddenly, the teasing becomes more than Greystone can take and he is crawling up into that core looking for that spine. I suppress a groan as Greystone takes over and I try to maintain control. I reach out and pin her wrists down, pumping hard into her and giving Greystone the depth and stimulation he craves. I am lying on top of her, grinding into her, my mouth right next to her ear when I whisper, “Say it again.”
“F… fuck me… C… Christian…” she breathes as her eyes open slightly. I grunt as her words shoot right to my dick and I grind my hips in a circle, eliciting a long, drawn out moan from her. I grind and circle again and again. The pleasure is almost unbearable. I bring my left hand to her neck and squeeze slightly, my right hand still holding her wrist down. She gasps and pants as I command, “Say it again.”
“Fuck me… fuck me, Christian,” she purrs closing her eyes again, and I am sure that she is about to blow. Fuck, this is so good. I push myself up onto my hands and bury myself deep, hard, and slow into her—so hard and deep that her body rises and rides the sheets with each thrust. She’s whimpering and panting and her orgasm is evading her. After all the teasing, her body is angry and tormenting her further. It’s spurring me on and making me thrust and before I know it, Greystone has won the battle.
Oh shit, I’m coming so hard! I’m frozen in place from the sheer fact that my hips are locked from the pressure of this orgasm. My head is back and my mouth is open but nothing is coming out. I’m supporting myself on my fist, my arms straight and my dick balls deep inside of her—or so I thought. Sensing my helplessness, she wraps her legs around me with both of her feet right at the base of my ass. My balls are tightening like I’m not already in the process of a cosmic orgasm as she pushes her feet up, forcing my ass cheeks apart and somehow, my dick further into her.
I mean to say the word, but only a choked gasp comes out as the air assaults my asshole and the back of my balls—all of which are drenched in sweat and extremely sensitive. She hasn’t come yet and she is chasing her release, taking full advantage of my paralyzed body. She is writhing underneath me, her hips relentlessly rolling and grinding into me—and Greystone won’t surrender. He is valiantly accepting her attack and sending signals that he is about to explode again.
Again…? Did it ever stop.
Baby! Baby! Oh fuck, Baby!
The words still don’t come out as my entire body is frozen in space.
Ride me, Baby, ride me. Fuck, it’s so good… so fucking good…
My neck muscles are the first to release from the strain. They are sore and my head drops forward though the rest of me is still frozen. My eyes open involuntarily to give those muscle a rest, too.
Oh, fuck. Wrong move.
I see this sexual goddess before me. She is drenched in sweat from head to hips. Her lips are parted and she is gazing at me with such licentious lust that it’s almost frightening. Her perfect, beautiful mounds are rolling around on her chest and her pink, taut nipples are staring at me. Her arms are still outstretched giving me a perfect, unobstructed view of her wanton body. She is still clinging viciously to the bed and using it as leverage to free her lower body allowing her to work my nether regions like a pro.
I’m watching her hips writhe and grind against me causing her tits to roll and bounce deliciously, her gaze never leaving me the entire time. I must look like a helpless puppet hanging over her because that’s certainly how I feel. There’s a party going on in my dick and balls and I can’t do a damn thing about it because I can’t fucking move. I am being milked—deliciously, and here I thought I was in charge.
Her tongue darts out of her mouth and shoots to her top lip, the tip of it licking the same spot repeatedly. Oh shit, I almost lose it. After several moments, her body stiffens and her abs lift her back off the bed. Her breasts are thrust forward at me and her head falls back. She is panting and her pulsing, her tightening pussy is pulling me in as she keens one word…
I lose it. I’m spurting into her again so violently, I swear that I didn’t just come a few minutes ago. Goddamn, a man can only take so much! My arms give way and I quickly move them to either side of her head in an attempt to protect her as I collapse against her body. My hips have finally unlocked and they are pushing into her—hard, deep, and very slow—and she is matching every move so that our hips are never separated for a moment.
Touch me, please. I need you to touch me.
Hearing my silent cry, she releases the bed and wraps her arms under my arms, holding me close to her. Her hands travel down my back and cause me to shiver as she keens passionately while caressing my body before sinking her nails into my ass.
Greystone likes that. He jumps around happily and squirts a little more to show his joy. Fuck—when is this going to stop? I’m going to have a heart attack here… but what a way to go!
I hear myself whimpering as Mini-Me down there refuses to submit. Still grinding against me, she reaches up and grabs a healthy handful of my hair. Pulling hard, she brings her mouth to mine and thrusts her tongue inside.
Oh my fucking hell!
Greystone finally gives up the fight and shoots what’s left of his load inside of her warm, wet, tight core as she deliciously assaults my mouth and we consume each others cries of passion. My orgasm finally subsides a bit and I am able to speak and breathe, but I dare not withdraw from this heavenly place that is still caressing and massaging my sex.
“My God,” I pant, pushing sweat-drenched hair from her face and kissing it all over. “Oh, my God.” My dick is still throbbing inside of her. She whimpers as I push my hips into hers again. She reaches down and squeezes and strokes my ass cheeks as I continue to grind into her. I caress her body as we both enjoy delicious aftershocks and hot, passionate, devouring kisses.
I woke up this morning and buried my face between Butterfly’s legs. After clamping my mouth onto her soft, hot clit for a few minutes, I sent her away to the dress fittings with her heart, body, and mind a little lighter. After a shower and breakfast, I go to my study to get on with some work.
I am examining the file on the Pimp, including the DNA test for his son. Myrick is not done yet, and I know that he’s not. It reminds me that I have an appointment with Ray in a couple of hours. He fakes his own death with whose body, we don’t know, but this person was identified as Robin Myrick by dental records since the body was burned beyond recognition in the “car accident.” As far as Welch can tell, the dental records were fraudulent as well and that’s extremely hard to do. So Louis Millfeld arises and Robin Myrick is supposedly dead. I tell Welch to notify the proper authorities that Robyn Myrick is alive and well and causing problems in Seattle. I also recommend that he include that he may be an accessory to attempted murder as well as the murder of the unknown body that now lies in his grave. That ought to put some fire under their butts. What I really want to know is if he has the resources to make something like this happen, why is he working in the service industry as a butler?
I’m still not getting any answers on Anton Myrick, either. Records show that he is still in Ionia, but finding out his sentence and when it ends is proving to be a much tougher feat. This information is supposed to be public record. However, OTIS—Michigan’s prisoner search—has nothing on file for him. Could he have been released and it just hasn’t been recorded yet?
My train of thought is broken by the alarm that I have set on my blackberry. It’s time to go meet Ray. I quickly check in on Jason and let him know that I’m leaving before Williams and I head down to the parking garage.
Ray gets into the SUV moments after we drive up to his and Mandy’s modest Kent home. He looks at me and silently shakes my hand.
“Do you want to tell me what this is all about now?” he says. “I deserve to know if my daughter is in danger. I have resources too, you know.” Oh yes, I am well aware of your resources and he is well aware of me.
“The woman who shot my bodyguard was trying to kill me. She’s an old flame who had gone totally off her rails and she came after me to take me with her to the afterlife. It was supposed to be a murder/suicide. Do you remember the lady that approached you at the Thanksgiving fundraiser?” he frowns.
“I knew that woman looked familiar,” he says. “Old flame?” I nod.
“Yes. I’m not proud of it, but yes. Long story short, she had an accomplice—or maybe she was the accomplice. Either way, this guy is hell-bent on my demise because his delusional father has him convinced not only that I’m his brother, but also that I’m the reason that his father has been incarcerated for so long.”
“Are you?” he asks.
“I’ve had a DNA test. No, I’m not his brother. As for his father, he abused me when I was a kid and still living with my birth mother. I was adopted when I was four. We left the state and moved to Seattle. I was still a kid and here in Seattle when he was arrested. Whatever the case may be, this guy is still a free man and I know he has at least one more accomplice. If he wants to find someone else to get close to me who has an ax to grind, he’ll be spoiled for choice if he digs deep enough. You make a lot of enemies in my line of work; it comes with the territory. In the meantime, I was caught completely unprepared when Lincoln showed up in my office on Tuesday and I just can’t take that chance again.” Ray sighs.
“This is not an overnight process, Christian. It’s going to take some time,” he cautions.
“I understand that, but I have to start somewhere.”
“Okay,” he shrugs. “Let’s get you started, then.”
Gail went with me to the hospital to have the stitches removed from my eyebrow. Chuck waited in the car. It was quick and fairly painless, and I asked for a bandage to cover it since it was still a little tender. Val and Maxie are already waiting at the condo in the parking lot when I get there. Mia is driving up just as Gail and I enter. Tammy should be on her way any minute now. I’m not getting out of this car until I see Al. I fidget with my keys and my purse and whatever else I can until Gail calls me out.
“You’re stalling,” she says. “What’s wrong?” I pull out my phone and text Al.
** Where are you?? **
“I had words with Maxie and Val last night and I just don’t feel like hearing it today. Also, the lineup of the groomsmen has been changed, so I have to explain why Marilyn is not here and why Maxie will not be walking down the aisle with Gary. Oh, and Val’s escort is up in the air as well.”
“Elliot?” Gail gasps and I nod.
“Christian is having a hard time with the way Elliot treated him when I left. So now, Elliot may not be in the wedding.” Gail shakes her head.
“I never thought I would see that day. Those two are inseparable.”
“I know. Everybody’s at odds now because I decided I needed a hiatus.”
“No, that’s not true,” Gail says. “If everybody is at odds, it’s not because of you. Real friendships, strong relationships, and family bonds withstand everything. This had to happen to show everyone’s true colors. You know who your friends and loved ones really are based on the people that they become when times get tough. It’s easy to be friendly when everything is great. It’s when things go south that your true personality comes out.
“I’ll admit, I was very cold and angry at Christian when you left. Please forgive me, I wasn’t angry because of you. I was angry because I felt like he was throwing his life away and I had no idea why. There was no logic in his actions and I just couldn’t figure them out. Did he want to go back to his old life? Was he getting cold feet? I couldn’t figure it out. The moment Jason told me what was going on, the first thing I saw in my head were those mechanical balls of flesh being beaten in that room and parading through the apartment again and treating me like crap. After nearly a year of peace and normal, I wouldn’t be able to take it again.
“When he was upset and crying, I wanted to yell at him ‘If this hurts so bad, then why did you do it?’ It wasn’t until he came back from Montana that I could truly see what he was made of. I always felt like Jason was his crutch, but when he couldn’t stay in his apartment anymore, he went out there on his own. He took other guards that handled him from a distance and he left Jason at the apartment with me. I saw the shutters come down that night and even though I still didn’t know why he called off the wedding, I knew that if you didn’t come back he would never be the same.
“Sure enough, he started morphing into someone I had never seen before in all the years I’ve worked for him… in all the years I’ve known him. I was more worried than I was before, so believe me. Those tears of joy were real when I saw that you were back.” She turns her head and looks out of the window. “Now, whatever reason you’re stalling, you need to go on and face them because they are waiting, and it’s rude to keep them waiting.” I was waiting for Al, but she’s right. Let’s just get this show on the road.
I get out of my car and walk over to the elevator when Maxie and Val are standing and Mia has now joined them.
“I’m sorry,” I tell them when I get there. “I think I left the bag at home that has my main samples in them, but Tammy should be here soon and she has some choices that I liked so we can just pick from those.”
“Do you need to go home and get them?” Maxie asks.
“No,” I say, further building on the lie. “I think Tammy’s supply should be enough for us to make our decision.” I push the button for the elevator.
“Where’s Al?” Val says. “Isn’t he your Man of Honor?”
“I figure he should be along soon,” I respond as we file into the elevator.
“Where’s Marilyn?” Mia asks.
“Yeah… about that…”
“So basically what you’re saying is that we are down one bridesmaid and possibly two because Christian doesn’t want anybody from our group in the wedding,” Val says when we are sitting on the sofas in my living room.
“No, what I am saying is that Christian has rethought who he wants to stand up with him on his wedding day. As a result, I have had to adjust my line-up. For the record, Elliot’s not in ‘our group,’ so make note that my fiancé does not discriminate. Apparently, he’s an equal opportunity offender.” I hiss.
“Oh this is ridiculous,” Val snaps under her breath.
“Exactly what’s ridiculous about it, Val?” I ask her.
“No offense, Ana, but this all seems really very childish.”
“Please elaborate. I would really like to know,” I say.
“He’s acting like a child! He’s acting like if we don’t all kiss his ass, he’s going to take his ball and go home!” she spits.
“Val!” Maxie chastises.
“It’s true,” she adds. “Either we fall in line or we don’t get to play! I’m only saying what we’re both thinking, and you don’t have to admit it, Max. I’ll take responsibility for speaking up. Pretty soon, he’s going to kick us out of the wedding, too!” She is angry, but not nearly as angry as I am. I take a deep breath and let it out before standing to face my friend.
“Valerie, my man will not now, nor will he ever do anything to please you—even more so when he becomes my husband. Though he has not dictated who will stand next to me on my day, he has every right to decide who will stand next to him! He has made it very clear that he will not interfere with my wedding party, but make not mistake. Had he told me that he was too uncomfortable with you standing there, I would have kicked you out—not him, me! So you need to accept right now that I am now emotionally and will very soon legally be one half of Christian Grey. I love him flaws and all, and if you can’t deal with that you are welcome to leave… now!” I stand there glaring at my friend and waiting for her to make her decision. She does something that surprises the hell out of me.
She starts to cry.
What the fuck! I’m not ready for surprises again. Is she pregnant? First, she’s crying about Elliot; now, she’s crying about this. Val never cries.
Unfortunately, I can’t feel her tears right now. I love her dearly, but this particular situation is about me and my man, not Val and her tears.
“Oh my God, am I really that much of a bitch?” Val declares. I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t comfort her. I don’t even move from my spot. “Ana… I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I nearly got kicked out of my best friend’s wedding. I don’t know what to say.” She falls down onto the sofa. “All I keep thinking about is how badly it must have hurt you that he called off the wedding that you left all of your family and friends and didn’t tell anybody that you were leaving. We talk about everything, but you didn’t talk to me or Max. Even Al didn’t know where you were even though you were talking to him. It scared me, Steele. It really scared me. So yes, I do still feel some contempt for Christian right now, but I completely understand that this is his wedding and I shouldn’t feel that way, and I definitely shouldn’t be taking it out on you. If anyone was as shitty to me as we were to Christian, I wouldn’t want them in my wedding either. Can you ever forgive me?”
I just stand there for a moment contemplating how I feel about what Val just said. I am so tired of telling these people that they can’t treat Christian like a nonperson, but my feelings are truly conflicted. This is my man and these are my friends. Everyone was hurt and everyone wants to blame someone for their pain.
“Valerie, you guys have to understand that this is my man and we are going to fight. Every time we fight, you guys can’t come in drawing battle lines and throwing up forts. My relationship with my fiancé is being jeopardized by the fact that my closest friends are constantly building battlements every time something contrary happens. That simply will not do.
“I understand how you’re feeling, but you can’t do this. I told Christian the same thing. Life is not going to be perfect. There are going be some crazy ups and downs in our relationship as well as some knock-down, scratch-your-eyes-out fights, especially when it comes to our children. I already know that. When those fights and disagreements happen, yes, I need my friends to be supportive. What I can’t tolerate is you taking sides and villainizing him to such a degree that he can’t recover. I can tell you that when the dust clears, 99 times out of 100, I will forgive him and he will forgive me. That 100th time, we are going to talk until we figure out what’s going on. Where does that leave you—my friends who have painted him out to be such a monster that eventually, he doesn’t want to be in your presence?
“If you guys continue to take sides this drastically, I’m going to have to separate the important moments of my life. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to have to exclude you from my children being raised and all the milestones that will happen in my life. I don’t want to draw a line between my family and my friends because I’m afraid that you are going to jump down Christian’s throat or ostracize him for his latest faux pas. For one thing, it’s nobody’s business but ours. For another thing, I would like to come and vent to my girls when I’m feeling angry at him without having to worry about you guys coming at him with torches and pitchforks! That simply can’t happen and I’m not going to say this again.
“The next time I have to say this, I’m going to start actively cutting some people out of my life. I am going to turn my back and walk away the next time I have to tell you guys that you can’t summarily crucify or ostracize my boyfriend for a bad decision. This was something that he and I had to work out. Again, I take responsibility for leaving town and not telling anyone where I was, but this had nothing to do with any of you and Christian has never done anything like this to any of you, because he is not in your business that way—not even yours, Val, and you’re dating his brother.
“This is why I say that I have to focus more on me and Christian, because I am focusing too much on things outside of our relationship. We both are. Focusing that energy on outside forces is what got us to the point where Christian felt that he had no choice but to call off the wedding. We were at an impasse and he didn’t know where to go. Did anybody bother to ask him what was happening at that time? Did anybody ask what was going on besides the fact that we were fighting and he made a rash decision?”
I look at the faces of the women in the room, including Gail and Mia since they obviously had opinions about Christian’s actions as well. No one has an answer for me and I really didn’t expect them to have one because I know that once he said that the wedding was off, everyone shut down.
“Well, don’t feel too bad,” I tell them dropping my head. “Although the only thing that anyone could see was ‘that lowdown, dirty, rotten scoundrel… look what he did to poor Ana,” I’m just as guilty as any of you. At one point, he tried to tell me what he was thinking, but all I could hear what that he was calling off my wedding, that I wasn’t getting married. I certainly didn’t want to hear that, especially after I had waited for so long for him to propose to me.”
“Ana,” Maxie takes this moment to interject. “No one crucified Christian. If anything, what we did could be likened to ‘radio silence,’ but we didn’t attack him or gang up on him… well, except for Elliot. You were gone and we were just trying to process what was going on. We’re still not 100% sure because you’re not telling us, but that’s your choice and we respect it. We just want to make sure that everything is okay. We were confused. We didn’t know what was going on. You were gone and saying nothing and Christian was telling us that the wedding had been called off. You have to know, though, that none of us attacked Christian. It was our absence that was so detrimental to him.” I nod, realizing that she is right. They didn’t attack him, but…
“You deserted him, Maxie. All of you deserted him. You were all a part of our proposal and as soon as the tide shifted, you deserted him. He understands, though. He understands that he made the mistake of thinking that my friends were his friends, and he was wrong. Even his family turned their backs on him.” I throw a look at Mia who quickly drops her head in shame. “However, he’s not your responsibility, Maxie, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. He’s mine. I will take care of him, I will love him, and I will stand by him. I will certainly support his decision to choose who he wants to stand at that altar with him on his wedding day, and he is standing by mine. So you all can deal with it, or you can move on. It’s your choice.”
“We want to be a part of your day, Ana, of course we do. We just don’t want to see our guys excluded because they were following our lead…”
“Then they should have followed their own, Maxie. Christian hadn’t asked anyone to be in the wedding by the time this all happened as far as I know. So tell them or don’t tell them, but he has made his decision who he wants in his wedding and I stand by him. Any questions?”
“Yes,” Val says, her voice still thick with tears. “I’m not trying to start another fight, but Elliot is his brother. How can he shut out his own brother?”
“Honestly, Val, that’s something that has to be worked out between Christian and Elliot. I don’t know what version of the story you are going to get, but I got my fiancé‘s version as you know. You of course will get your boyfriend’s version. You were there. You saw what happened.” Val’s face pales a bit and even though I wasn’t there, that tells me that the exchange between Christian and Elliot must have been pretty brutal. “Long story short, Christian feels like he has had enough of being deserted, attacked, and/or betrayed, and he just doesn’t want it anymore. Would you?” Silence falls over the room for a moment again before Val speaks.
“Elliot did try to apologize yesterday,” she says. I frown. “Yes. He went to Christian’s office and tried to explain his behavior and Christian wanted none of it. Elliot was crushed when I saw him last night.” I had no idea that Elliot had tried to talk to Christian. He must be more hurt than he is letting on. I am more than a bit shocked by this revelation.
“Be that as it may, this is still something that is between Christian and Elliot, not you and me and not the four of us. Elliot and Christian will have to work that out.”
At that moment, Tammy and Al burst through the door—using Al’s key, no doubt. They are laughing it up and having a great time until they observe the somber mood in the room and, for a change, I am dry-eyed and Val is tear-stained.
“Dammit!” Al exclaims. “I missed something again!”
“That’s what you get for being late,” I tell him with my arms folded.
“Well, forgive me, oh Jeweled one. Jimmy-Babe wouldn’t let me leave this morning… oops, too much information. Anyway, here I am. Valerie, why are you crying?”
“Because I’m a bitch,” she says without pausing.
“No, she’s not,” I interject, “but she does need to know when the pull the reigns back,” I add looking at her and waiting for her to acknowledge my statement. She looks down and nods. I am completely at the point where I refuse to have this conversation any more or ever again for that matter. I am not holding my friends hands through my relationship. If they can’t on the board, then this train is moving on without them. Get with the program because this show is going on no matter what they do. “Good. Now go wash your face and fix your make-up because your going to be trying some dresses on today and I don’t think runny mascara goes with my shade of blue. Waterproof, ladies! Waterproof!” Val laughs and breaks that bit of tension before going to clean and repair her face.
“Now,” I say with a clap of my hands. “I have spent enough time on who pissed Christian off. My bridesmaids and Man of Honor are all here and Val will be back in a moment. Let’s look at some dresses.” Just like that we are back on schedule.
We have reviewed all the bridesmaids choices and narrowed the field down to three. As they are at two different boutiques, I now must drag my reluctant bridesmaids to try them on. Gail checks on Jason, who has one of the guards with him back at Escala while Maxie, Val, and Mia try on the dresses. Al turns his nose up definitively at the blue strapless criss-cross with the empire waist declaring that they look more like nightgowns than bridesmaids’ dresses. Seeing the dresses on the girls, I have to agree. The taffeta strapless is very pretty with the criss-cross ruched bodice and A-line skirt. I take individual pictures of the girls in the dress and we head to the second shop and the last dress.
It was no contest. The minute we got those women into the dress as the second shop, they began admiring themselves in the mirror and twirling like they were in a fashion show. I had to admit that the first dress was beautiful and formal—exactly what I am looking for. However, this dress is much more appropriate—lovely blue chiffon still with a criss-cross bodice, but with a sexy, slightly plunging sweetheart neckline and a feminine ruffled strap over the left shoulder. The material is delicate and flowy, which is perfect for a June wedding and much more forgiving that taffeta, and the strap is just enough embellishment without being gaudy. It’s perfect and the girls love it. It seems that we have our dress.
The girls all have their measurements taken while Al retrieves a swatch of material for his waistcoat. He has another appointment with Christian for… God only knows when… to get fitted for “proper tuxes” as he puts it, and I want to make sure that his waistcoat matches the dresses. The groomsmen will all be wearing silver waistcoats to match Christian’s. That reminds me that I haven’t spoken to Christian since we left and I don’t know what he’s doing with his day. While Tammy is finalizing everything with the dressmaker, I call Christian.
“Grey. Leave a message.”
That’s odd. Although I know it’s very peculiar for Christian to have his calls go to voice mail, I try not to read too much into it.
“Hi. We’ve just finished choosing the bridesmaids’ dresses which went surprisingly more smoothly than I expected and we are heading to lunch at Matt’s. I just wanted to touch bases with you since I haven’t spoken to you all day. Well… call me… or I’ll see you when I get home.”
That felt so weird.
“Is it my imagination or are you handling me whenever I ask about something that may have to do with your therapy?” Maxie asks me when we both go to the ladies’ room at Matt’s in the Market.
“No, Maxie. It’s not your imagination,” I reply applying my lip gloss. She stands there staring at my reflection in the mirror. I sigh heavily and glare at her. “Do I really have to explain this to you?” I ask, one hand on my hip and the other on the counter. Her expression falls.
“Oh… seriously?” she asks affronted. “You’re seriously telling me that I’m being punished because I thought it best that you find another therapist?” I gasp at her, mouth open and eyes wide.
“Oh, don’t you even try to put a pretty little bow on that shit and hand it to me, Maxine!” I say, doing my best not to screech at her. “You left me cold at a moment when I needed you the most. Then you shut me down and didn’t even help me find another therapist. No, I may not hold it over your head or pull it out every time I want something out of you, but that shit hurt! So you don’t get to act all bruised because I don’t want to include you in the new therapy. I’m making some painful strides at the moment—strides that I couldn’t have made with you. While I appreciate your reasons for ending our professional relationship, you method sucked! I know that I am incapable of giving all of my patients what they need right now because of my own issues and for that reason, I am going to sit them down and give them some options—ask each of them what they would like to do, how and if I can help them. One thing that I won’t do to them is kick them out in the cold and tell them to fly or die and just walk away. So don’t you dare stand there and act like I owe you something for dumping me like a bad boyfriend because I don’t owe you a thing!”
I turn my back to her quickly and resist the urge to run out of the bathroom while my chest heaves fiercely and the tears burn my eyes. The nerve of her acting like she did me a damn favor. In the end, it was a good thing to find another therapist, but the way that she ended that relationship was horrible! I expected a lot more from her and I sure as hell wouldn’t recommend anyone to her.
“Ana! Why didn’t you ever tell me you felt this way?” Maxie asks aghast.
“Because I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“So you just let it fester until you explode all over me? Is that what friends do?” I spin around and glare at her.
“Oh God, Maxine, are you really that fucking blind?” I ask with clenched fists. “You knew that I was fucked up when you dumped me! That’s why you dumped me! Now, you’re asking me to fucking explain myself? For my reaction to something that you did to me? A lesser person wouldn’t even speak to you, yet I continued to plan your wedding—and now you’re in mine! Now—at this moment—you really want to ask me what friends do?” I’m huffing at her now like an overheated freight train. She stands there staring at me like a deer stuck in headlights.
“Ana, I’m really sorry. I had no idea that you took it like this. No idea at all.”
“Well, surprise, I did!” I say through my tears. I want Christian, and I want to run, but I keep my feet planted in place while my body shakes with fury and adrenaline. Maxie steps over and locks the door, then comes back to me to sit me down on a nearby chaise and takes a seat with me.
“I’m sorry, really,” she begins. “You’re right. What I did was really shitty. I always wondered why you never called me to task for it. I just thought that you came to the same conclusion that I did and let it go. I didn’t think for a moment that it affected you like this. I really wish you had told me.” She drops her head. “The whole time—you planned my wedding. You planned my bachelorette party. You cursed out that bar owner. You paid for the rooms and the pampering at the Four Seasons… and the whole time, you felt like this.”
“Not the whole time,” I say, wiping away my falling tears and never raising my head, “but some of the time, yeah, I felt like this.” She shakes her head.
“I really wish you had told me,” she repeats.
“Well, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I’m fucked up, remember?” I take some tissue from a strategically-placed box on a table next to the chaise and wipe the remaining tears from my eyes. “Look. I already forgave you for this. I don’t want to rehash it again and again, but you’re right about one thing.” I look up at her. “You are being punished, and your punishment is that you don’t get to ask me about my therapy. You told me that I needed to do this without you and that’s what I’m doing, so you don’t get to ask me about it.”
“I know that’s what I said, but I still care about you, Ana. I still want to know that you are okay.”
“I’m fine. I’m having a rough time with some recent breakthroughs but I’m not on my way to the loony bin. That’s all that you get to know.” She nods.
“Okay, but you said that you are going to let go of your patients. What’s that about? Are you closing your practice?” I sigh.
“More than I should have told you, but no, I’m not closing my practice. I’m slowing down a bit because I want to focus more on myself. I can’t do that while I am trying to give so much of myself to others—and failing—especially with the most recent revelations about my behavior. That’s all you get, Maxie. No more.” She sighs heavily. I can tell that this hurts her a bit, too, but this is a bitter pill that we both have had to swallow.
“I just…” Maxie’s thought is interrupted by a loud banging at the door.
“Hey! There are other people who need the use the restroom, you know!” came the voice from the other side. Maxie looks at me with large, sad brown eyes before rising from the chaise and unlocking the door.
“I’m sorry,” she says to an angry blonde who storms past her and into one of the stalls. Two other women brush past her and quickly enter the other two stalls as well. I quickly wash my face and dash out of the restroom before any of them can see who I am.
“Finally!” Mia says when we get back to the table. “I thought you two fell in.” I slip silently into my seat and attempt to finish my halibut, which is now cold while the rest of the table continue their meal. I wish all of this bickering and fighting would just go away. I left for three weeks and I come back to this? It’s making me want to elope more and more, then run away to a deserted island with my new husband for a few months and leave all this shit behind.
Run away. Of course, I want to run away. That’s how I handle all of my problems, right?
“Ana? Are you okay?” Gail asks quietly. I nod. I just want all of this to be over. Chuck eyes me from a nearby table and I can’t even fake a smile for him.
“Okay, Kittens. My girl has the grouchy face and there are still a few more things that Tammy and I have to pick her brain about. So let’s settle up our bill and call it a day,” Al announces like the savior that he is. I push my halibut away and pull out my Amex Black.
“I’ve got it,” I say, putting it down on the table.
“Of course, you do.” Al says, picking up my credit card and replacing it with his own. He holds on to mine so that I don’t argue, not that I have the strength or will to fight anyway. When the bill is paid, he hands me my card and we all head to our separate vehicles.
The ride back is quiet. Gail doesn’t say anything to me although I am sure that she wants to. When we get back to Escala, she gives my hand a little squeeze and heads back to her apartment to be with Jason. After verifying that I wouldn’t be going anywhere else for the rest of the day, Chuck follows behind her leaving me with my thoughts. Christian isn’t here and I don’t even have the wherewithal to be concerned about where he is. I wander aimlessly around the great room until Marc announces that Al and Tammy are on the way up. I open the door for them after they exit the elevator and they immediately zero in on my mood—not like you could miss it.
“What’s wrong, Jewel?” Al says. I just shake my head and gesture for them to follow me to the guest room. Enough with the formalities. Let’s just plan this damn wedding.
We ascend the stairs and I introduce them to the area that has only been my cave for the last month, with the exception of the occasional visit from Christian. It’s only now that I realize how much of a mess this room really is—swatches and samples everywhere, piles of lists of things to do and people to see, notes all over the place. There’s not one thing in a stack or a document where I could slightly tell these two what I am thinking or trying to do. I have a vision of what I want, and some little thing, some selfish person, some nervous breakdown, some psycho gun-wielding blonde keeps getting in the way of my plans.
I drop my head and allow the tears to fall—chest-wrenching, shoulder-shaking tears. I can’t even begin to explain why I’m crying. Hell, I don’t even know why I’m crying. I just want to cry without having to tell anybody what’s wrong, not even myself. Just let me cry…
A/N: So finally, here is the showdown with her friends that many reviewers alluded to but had not seen yet. It was well past time for Ana to tell her friends to shape up or ship out. There is way too much meddling going on and it’s time for it all to stop. My girl made it clear that’s what she wants. She’s going to make it even more clear to Christian in the next chapter. Wait until you see what happens then. Any idea where Christian spent his day? The clues are all there…
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Love and Handcuffs!