So I did answer a couple of the posts for chapter 54, but I ended up going back and changing the posts or deleting them altogether. When I tell you guys that chapter put me in a bad place, I’m not kidding. I don’t know how I’m going to revisit that chapter, but I’m going to have to because I feel like it is a necessary evil to the realism of the story. I’m really confused by it, because I don’t understand it. I’ve written about rape, kidnapping, beating, child molestation, abuse… so many more horrible things. Yet, it’s the prenup that has me seeing visions of terrible terrors. What is that about? Anyway, even though I answered a few posts, you should see that I “liked” them all (can you guys see when I “like” a post?), but I didn’t answer many because that chapter just makes me ill.
I’m not going to address Christian putting his family first because everyone has their opinion and I’m just not discussing it.
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 55—Mommy Not So Dearest
The breeze is soft and comforting blowing through my hair. It’s a beautiful Saturday evening… and I feel like I’m headed to the gallows. My destination is a quiet back table at Dahlia Lounge, a restaurant I have frequented many time before today. However, today I’m having dinner with my mother. The restaurant is almost just across the street from Escala, so Chuck and I choose to walk. Ben has collected my mother from the Four Seasons, which is only about five minutes away, and they are waiting at the restaurant. They managed to clear the entire back section for us—maybe it was Christian—so that we could talk without interruption or prying eyes and ears.
I see her the moment I walk in the door. She’s hideously overdressed, wearing a formal dress and what looks to be a faux fur stole. It’s May in Seattle, Carla, for crying out loud. You look like an idiot. I just shake my head and walk to the table.
“Carla,” I greet when I get there, taking off my jacket before taking the seat across from her.
“Anastasia,” she replies. “I wasn’t sure what to wear, what with you being a billionaire and all. I was sure we were going to end up at some exclusive club.” And it begins.
“I’m not a billionaire. My fiancé is,” I correct her, placing my jacket and my messenger bag on the seat next to me.”
“That’s just a technicality,” she says. “You’ll be marrying a billionaire, so that makes you a billionaire.” Oh, good grief. Don’t leave, Ana, I coach myself. You need to see this through, for good or bad.
“So how have you been?” I ask her before I can catch myself. She glares at me.
“Oh, we’re really having that conversation?” she says, sarcastically. I cock my head at her.
“Why did you even get on the plane if you don’t want to talk?” I ask and wait for her response.
“Oh, no, really, I’m dying to know why you brought me here, but since we’re pretending to be civil—I’ve been just ducky, Anastasia. My husband died four months ago, my daughter desecrated him at his grave, and no one in Green Valley will come within 50 feet of me since this whole story broke. The DA tried to charge me with conspiracy and evidence tampering, the papers are making up all kinds of wonderfully hideous stories about me and in the meantime, my daughter is living in the lap of luxury watching me suffer. So how have things been with you?”
I want to run. I seriously want to run, but this is one time I’m going to sit here and see this through to the end. I gesture for the waiter and ask for the wine list.
“We’ll have a bottle of the Abeja Cabernet 2007, please,” I say, handing him the wine list.
“I don’t like red wine,” she snaps, and I know she’s being difficult because I’ve seen her drink it plenty of times growing up.
“Tough!” I snap before I know it. The waiter looks from my mother’s shocked face to my angry one, then scurries away quickly.
“Well! Was that necessary?” she says, affronted.
“Yes it was!” I retort, glaring at her. “I called you here to discuss you, us, our relationship, and if there is any hope whatsoever in salvaging it. If that is not a conversation that you wish to have, you can walk out of here right now, get your ass back on the plane and go back to Nevada!” I can feel my nose flaring at her. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let her upset me, but while I have been nothing but civil, she has been rude and cantankerous and we haven’t even been here 10 minutes yet. “And take off that stole, for Christ’s sake. You look ridiculous.”
I don’t think she knows what to do right now, leave or take off the stole. She opts to take off the stole as the waiter returns with the wine. He uncorks it and pours a bit in my glass. After swirling it a bit, I taste it. It’s not liquid silk, but it’s delicious. I nod and he pours some in my glass before gesturing to my mother. She nods slightly and he fills her glass as well before placing our menus before us and leaving the table.
“Shall we try this again, or shall I have Ben take you to the airport?” I ask while checking over the menu.
“We… can try this again,” she says, slightly indignantly but duly chastised.
“I’m glad to hear that,” I say, taking a few moments to make my final choices.
“Have you ladies decided what you would like?” The waiter is back, approaching us cautiously.
“I have,” I say without waiting for my mother. “We’ll have the shrimp potstickers and the Mediterranean mussels. I’ll have the New York strip medium rare as my main course.” I close the menu and hand it to the waiter.
“Hmm,” Carla comments. “How do you keep your figure eating like that?”
“Don’t worry about my figure and order your food,” I say flatly. I realize now that I don’t want a relationship with this woman. She’s completely and utterly vile. I just want my answers and then I’ll go. She drops her eyes to the menu again, then raises them to the waiter.
“I’ll have the Alaskan halibut, please,” she says sweetly, handing him the menu. He makes his notes on his little pad then leaves.
“It’s amazing to me how you can be so pleasant to a stranger and yet so cold and callous to your own flesh and blood,” I say, sipping my wine.
“Strange. I was just thinking the same thing about you,” she replies.
“Touché,” I say, fingering my wineglass. “What can I say? You taught me well.”
That silences her for a moment.
“I need some answers, Mother. Any time you feel like you can’t or won’t answer my questions, just let me know and I’ll have Ben escort you to SeaTac.”
“You’re making demands?” she asks, laughter in her question.
“Yes, I am. Feel free to refuse them.”
It’s almost like I want her to refuse, like I’m hoping that she gets her hideous ass back on one of those big metal birds and get the fuck out of here.
“Question #1: When did you stop loving Daddy?” I look her square in the eyes when I ask that question. She’s a bit speechless. “You see, as far as I can tell, that’s when our troubles began—when our hard-working, devoted husband and father who would have shifted the world on its axis to be whatever you wanted all of a sudden wasn’t good enough for you. So I’d like to know, when was the precise moment that you stopped loving my Daddy?” She narrows her eyes at me.
“I never stopped loving your father,” she says. “He went to his grave with me still loving him. If you’re talking about Raymond Steele, however, he became too small,” she hisses.
“Too small?” I exclaim. I want to tell her that she’s the smallest being I have ever seen in my life, second only to her dead husband, but I don’t bother. She wouldn’t even see the irony in her statement.
“Yes, too small,” she reinforces. “I wanted more. I wanted to do things and go places. I wanted to have friends and be somebody. He just wanted to sit in that little house in Montesano and do nothing—grow old while you sat there reading travel books and looking at destination pamphlets. I wanted more out of life. I had to have more.”
“And how is that working out for you?” I ask flatly while sipping my wine, knowing that she has no friends, no money, no life, and now no husband. She glares at me.
“Are you going to sit here and insult me for the entire dinner?” she says, apparently wounded.
“I didn’t insult you, Mother. I asked you an honest question. How did leaving the man who once loved you more than life and breaking up our family work out for you?” She sits there looking at me, and for a brief moment, I see a flash of regret. No need to answer, Carla. I already know.
“Did you ever get that more that you were looking for? Is that what Stephen promised you? Did he give that to you? You got a big, ostentatious house in Green Valley already furnished with the finest things, but you could barely afford the lifestyle. You never fit in and with my first hand experience of those assholes, you certainly don’t fit in now. All of the friends that you once had in our simple little lifestyle are now all gone, traded for the hope of being accepted by a bunch of snobs and hypocrites, often faking happiness and hiding behind their money—money that you never had, that is, until you and your husband sold my silence and sanity for a few bucks.”
She gasps when I bring that up, but I don’t care. Be as shocked as you want, you old bat. I hate what you did to me and now, you’re going to sit still and listen because you’re chomping at the bit to see what’s going to happen at the end of this conversation.
“You chastised Daddy because you thought I could never see the world. Well, guess what, Mother? In the last year, I’ve seen more of the world than you have in your whole life. So the joke’s on you.”
“It certainly wasn’t because of anything Raymond did,” she spit.
“It was even less because of anything you did,” I spit back, and she’s silenced again. “Daddy did have a hand and bringing me and Christian together, though. So I would have to say that you’re wrong.” Her eyes grow large.
“What did he do to facilitate this relationship?” she asks, a bit horrified. He helped me find out that Christian was the one doing the background check on me, which led me to Grey House and our first kiss, but I’m not telling her that. I smile a little fiendishly knowing this bit of information makes her uncomfortable.
“That’s none of your concern. All you need to know is that if it weren’t for Raymond Steele, Christian and I wouldn’t be together.” Take that, you wretched piece of flesh. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat. That is quite the bitter pill for her to swallow.
“Well, I had no idea,” she says, adjusting her napkin on her lap. I do the same since I assume that the appetizers will be here soon.
“I thought you wouldn’t, but that’s okay. There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” The waiter grants her a brief reprieve by bringing our mussels and potstickers. Setting an empty dish in front of each of us, he tells us that our entrées will be served momentarily before leaving us to our conversation.
“Next question,” I consider when the waiter is out of earshot. “When did you stop caring about me?” I ask without pausing, placing some of the mussels and potstickers on my plate and moving some of the black vinegar and soy sauce to a dipping bowl—casually, like I was asking her about the weather. I only stop to look up at her after I have situated my appetizers and she hasn’t said anything yet. “Well?” I prompt.
“I… I didn’t… I…” Yeah, never expected me to ask you that question, did you? I don’t want to help her here, but I’m tired of listening to her trip over her tongue.
“Let me be a little more specific,” I tell her. “When you left Daddy and ripped me away from everything that I knew and loved and I begged you not to do it, begged you to let me stay in Montesano, what were you thinking when I stood there and cried, holding on to my Daddy and feeling like my life was really ending?” Again, I say the words casually, like we’re talking about the latest fashions, before dipping my potsticker into the sauce and taking a healthy bite. My God, they’re delicious. I chew and wait for whatever answer this woman is prepared to give me.
“You were young,” she answers. “You had no idea what was best for you at the time and I did. I knew that there were more opportunities for you in Green Valley than there were in Montesano.”
“More opportunities!” I say in disbelief. “That’s rich. So, the fact that I was having my heart ripped out had absolutely no effect whatsoever on you, proven by the fact that you allowed that asshole berate me for the entire trip.”
“Do not speak of my husband that way!” she snaps.
“Oh, so quick to defend your dead husband, but never once rose to defend your live daughter!” My words are now dripping with malice, so cold that they silence her once again. “I will speak of him any way I so choose. He was cruel and wicked and evil and heartless to me and you allowed it to happen. That’s all I’ll ever remember, and don’t forget—you’re free to leave and get on that plane at any time.”
“I am your mother, Anastasia. How could you be so cold to me?” she seems hurt now.
“I am your daughter, Carla. How could you be so cold to me?” I respond, nearly growling. She’s shaking a bit now.
“I asked you a question. The least you could do is answer it,” she says, her voice cracking.
“I just did,” I reply in the same menacing voice. “You let that man treat me like garbage and you stood by and did nothing. He called me names, he berated me, he treated me like pure and utter shit. You never once asked me how I felt. You never once took me or my feelings into consideration. I wanted to die! I really wanted to die, and you didn’t care. All you cared about was your precious fucking Stephen, and getting into country clubs, and what the neighbors would think. You didn’t care about me at all, even after they beat me damn near to death. I could’ve died and I laid in that bed many nights wishing I had, and you didn’t care!”
I realize that my voice is rising louder than I want and Carla is turning a bit white, quite white in fact. I take a deep breath and sip my wine again, allowing the flavor to quench my throat and calm my nerves. Once I have composed myself a bit, I dig into the mussels, determined not to allow her to ruin my meal. Once I have savored the flavor of two of them, I turned my attention back to her.
“Have you seen the video, Mother?” I ask her. She frowns.
“What video?” she asks.
“The video of the beating, what they did to your daughter,” I say flippantly while indulging in another delicious mussel. I can’t believe my stoicism right now. Maybe it’s because my burning hatred for the woman who now inhabits my mommy’s body is speaking more than anything else.
“Why would I want to see that?”
“Well, if it were my daughter who had been cruelly and unjustly brutalized by a group of vicious little brats, I’d want to see it. I’d want to know who caused that kind of horrible pain and suffering on my one and only child. I would follow every news clipping, every arrest, every single detail of that story to find out what was going to happen to those monsters who terrorized and tortured my baby. Then again, that’s just me, I guess. My mommy, the woman that I knew, she would do that. She would be there demanding answers and justice for me. Hell, she would have done that 10 years ago, but I wouldn’t expect that from you.”
Again, she looks bruised. As I finish my share of the potstickers, I can’t help but wonder if some alien being possessed her body all of those years ago that she doesn’t remember her callous and unfeeling attitude towards me. She drops her head. She hasn’t touched the appetizers and I stop eating them. I don’t want to be too full when the steak comes. She looks down at her empty plate.
“I accept that I haven’t been the best mother, Anastasia, but I have never been deliberately cruel to you,” she says, emotion heavy in her voice.
“Yes, you have, Mother,” I say flatly. “You were deliberately cruel when you ripped me away from my father, not once, but twice. You were deliberately cruel when you made me call the only man that I knew and loved as my dad by his first name just for your own satisfaction. You were deliberately cruel when you repeatedly ignored my pain—after you took me away from my home; while you let a stranger make me feel like nothing; after I was raped; while the women in the neighborhood called me a whore and your husband called me fast; while I lay in the hospital alone and in pain after those same little monsters whose parents you worship beat me and tortured me to the point of killing the child that I was carrying; when you dragged me back to that hellhole so that you and that man that you buried could have a few more pennies to rub together. You may be able to accept that you haven’t been the best mother, but I think you’re giving yourself way too much credit with that statement.”
The tears start to fall, but surprisingly, it’s not me that’s crying. It’s her. I would love to know what’s going through her mind right now, so I ask.
“Why the tears, Mother? What are you thinking?” she doesn’t get a chance to answer before the waiter returns with our main course.
“Should I… come back?” he asks, looking at Carla crying at the table.
“No, it’s fine. You can clear the appetizers,” I tell him. He looks from me to Carla and back to me. I look at him, unassuming, waiting for him to do his job. He slowly clears the table, stealing glances at the crying Carla. I want to tell him to hurry up and clear the damn dishes, but I realize that not too many people can see a woman cry and do nothing—unless that woman/girl happens to be your daughter lying in a hospital bed after she’s been beaten half to death, of course.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” he asks her and she doesn’t respond.
“Carla? He’s talking to you,” I say with no malice and no feeling. “Are you okay?” She sniffs, then nods.
“I’m fine,” she says, softly, but says nothing else. I look back at him and wait for him to finish clearing the dishes. He slowly puts the entrées on the table in front of us and continues eying Carla.
“Will there be anything else?” he says, mainly to Carla and not to me. She still hasn’t raised her head.
“No, that’s all, thank you,” I tell him. He throws a menacing look at me and turns back to Carla.
“Ma’am, are you sure you’re okay?” he asks her. Now, I’m losing my patience. Not only did he have the nerve to roll his eyes at me, but he’s clearly butting his nose into something that is none of his business.
“I said I’m fine,” Carla says more firmly, to his surprise. Now, I’m feeling like Christian Grey. I look over my shoulder and make eye contact with Chuck. I tilt my head behind me, and he knows exactly what I want and off he goes. I turn my attention back to the waiter.
“What’s your name?” I ask him after leaning my arms on the table.
“Adrian,” he replies.
“Well, Adrian, you should probably learn to take context clues if you’re going to be working with the public. You see, you made two huge mistakes just now. First, you dawdled here so that you effectively interfere in and interrupt a very personal, private, and—as you can see—delicate conversation. Second, something must be disconnecting somewhere in your brain that you can see that there are five empty tables around us and two very ominous looking gentlemen standing there making sure that no one gets into this area but you. Now I may be wrong, but if I were in your place, Adrian, I would take that as a hint that this area might need to be handled with care. Oh, but there’s a third thing. You paid no attention to the fact that I’ve done all the ordering which clearly means that this dinner is on me, and you just pissed me off.”
Adrian glares at me, intent on holding his ground until I hear a voice from behind me.
“Ana, hi. Mr. Davenport says that you need to see me.” Jeff, the night manager, has made his way to the table and is taking in the scene before him. “Is everything okay.”
“Yes, Jeff, everything is fine. Can you please get Adrian out of here?” I ask. He jerks his head a bit.
“I’m sorry?” Jeff asks, clearly taken aback. “What’s wrong, Ana?”
“He can put whatever spin he wants on this story, as long as he doesn’t come back to this table,” I say with no malice. I’ve been in Dahlia many times before and Jeff knows me well. If I’m sending someone away, it’s no small ordeal.
“Adrian,” he says, making the same gesture to Adrian that I made to Chuck a few moments earlier. Adrian walks away silently with his tray under his arm. “Ana, is there… anything I can do?”
“No, Jeff, thank you. Just send someone else when it’s time for the check, please,” I answer with a tight smile. He nods.
“My apologies for whatever he did,” Jeff says. My smile becomes more sincere.
“None needed, but thank you.” He nods tightly and walks away. Carla has composed herself by now.
“At least I’m not the only target of your ire,” she says, her voice cracking.
“No, Mother, you’re not. I let my fury loose on anyone who treats me badly.” Boy, I’ve got them lined up today. Every time she comes at me with a snazzy comment, I just throw them right back at her. I’m proud of myself. “You never answered my question,” I say while cutting a few small pieces of beef. I see her raise her head.
“What question?” she asks.
“What you were thinking… why you were crying,” I say while taking a bite of the New York strip. Oh, it’s heavenly—perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. I try not to take too much pleasure in the flavor as it might show on my face. Carla, once again, hasn’t touched her halibut.
“I was just thinking… that the little girl that I raised would never speak to me the way that you do. She would never say the horrible things to me that you’re saying now and that you say to me every time I see you.” I can hear the emotion in her voice, but it’s truly displaced.
“You’ve got that partially right,” I say, a little sadly. “The little girl that was raised would never say any of those things that I’m saying right now to that woman that raised her. Since that woman is not here, I have no problem saying them to you.” I take another bite of my steak and I can literally feel the temperature drop in the room. “Eat your halibut, Mother. I’m told it’s delicious.”
“I’ve suddenly lost my appetite,” she says. I shrug.
“Pity,” I say, munching on broccoli and cheddar cheese. I don’t know why, but this seems to be the best food I’ve ever tasted. I make quick work of my meal while Carla sits there staring at her plate. When mine is clear with the exception of a few Kennebec potatoes, I gesture for the waiter… who is now a waitress.
“Yes, ma’am? Are we all done?” She looks over at Carla’s never-touched plate. “You didn’t like the halibut, ma’am? Did you want something else?”
“No, thank you. I’m just not that hungry,” Carla answers, looking out the window.
“Can you wrap it up, please?” I ask her. “I hate to see food go to waste.” It’s a side effect of being with Christian Grey.
“Sure thing, ma’am. Can I get you anything else? Some coffee?” the waitress asks.
“Coffee would be perfect, and the check please,” I tell her. She nods and smiles before removing our dishes.
“So, Mother, I have one last question for you.” I ask her, folding my hands in front of me on the table. She turns her eyes to me as though she were resigned to her fate. “What—if anything at all—did you think of me?” She looks at me as if she truly doesn’t know how to answer that question.
“Think of you… when?” she asks. I shrug.
“After we left Montesano… once we got to Las Vegas… after the rape… after the beating… anything. Anytime. What did you think of me?” My voice sounds a little desperate even to myself because this is truly the million-dollar question. What exactly did you think of me that you could bring me into this world and then watch me suffer the way that you did?
“I… I…” She sighs and her shoulders drop. “I didn’t.” My eyes grow large.
“What?” I ask, stunned and confused, my voice higher than usual.
“I didn’t,” she repeats, very nonchalantly. “You were a teenager. Your best years were just beginning. Mine were ending. I had to try to grab something for myself, something to hold on to. Housewife in the Washington forests couldn’t be my story. I had to have more.” Her voice is beseeching, willing me to understand her plight, but I can’t. I’m too absorbed in my own.
“Then go and chase your best years. Why ruin mine? I should have been going on dates or going to prom, first dances, first kisses, learning those foolish little lessons that teenage girls learn—not lying in hospital beds for weeks at a time or crying myself to sleep every night wondering why nobody loved me! Why ruin mine?”
“You were a young girl. You needed to be with your mother…” she defends desperately.
“But you didn’t want me,” I whine. “Why not just leave me with my daddy?”
“Because he wasn’t your daddy!” she retorts.
“Neither was Stephen and you tried to get me to call him Daddy. You were going in search of your happiness. I had already found mine. Why not leave me to it? This whole thing could have been prevented.”
“Don’t you dare blame this on me, Anastasia!” she nearly cries, bringing the attention of a few diners to her.
“Why not?” I no longer care who’s looking. I have to get this out. “If you had left me alone with my daddy, this wouldn’t have happened. You may have found that ridiculous life you were looking for with that group of snobby phonies. You would have had one less mouth to feed and more money to spend on your pretend image. How did you even convince Stephen to take me with you? He couldn’t stand me.”
“You were a tax deduction.” Oh, now, she’s just being hurtful… or is she?
“You’re not serious.” It’s a statement, not a question. This is the first time that I have seen true regret on her face.
“Yes, I am. If you stayed with Ray, he could claim you on his taxes. If you stayed with me, Stephen could claim you.”
My heart breaks into a million little pieces. The truth is worse than I ever could have imagined. She didn’t want me. He didn’t want me. The only reason they kept me around was for a tax break. From the very beginning to the very end, it was always about money. I wanted to know the truth and now I got it. I didn’t even notice the waitress had brought the coffee and the check until I looked down and saw the little black portfolio. I mechanically pull out my Visa card and put it inside, handing it to Chuck. I turn back to my coffee and take a sip, the heat on my tongue reminding me that I was truly awake and this was not just a bad dream.
“I really was nothing,” I say, mostly to myself. “He said it every day… every day.” I drop my head in my hands. “‘You’re nothing. Nobody cares about you. You’re nothing.’ He said it every day. For years, he said it every day… like it was a ritual… every day. I thought he was just being hurtful, but I really was nothing… to you, to him, to everybody except Ray…”
I think about what I’m saying in front of her. I raise my head and look at her tormented face.
“Everybody except Daddy,” I say again and a frisson of sadness shoots across her face, but it’s gone as quickly as it came. I bite my bottom lip and nod as a single tear falls from my eye. I take a deep breath and wipe away the tear.
“I brought you here because I had unfinished business, but I’m finishing it today.” I remove a large manila envelope from my bag.
“I’m letting this go. It’s holding my life back in more ways than you’ll ever know. I don’t know what you were going through and I never will understand why you treated me the way that you did, why you chose to let that man torment me instead of protecting me from him. I’ll never be able to understand the motives behind anything that you did for those years and how you were able to justify it, but it’s not important anymore. I need to be free of this. I need to mend—really mend, so I’m letting you off the hook. I’m releasing you so that I can release me. This ends here and I’m not taking it with me another day after this. So I forgive you, Mom, I really do with all my heart, but I still never want to see you again. There’s no place for you in my life, good or bad, and I just want you to go away.
“I accept that it was never about me and that it never will be, and I’m okay with that now. Even with all of my education, there are still some things in the human mind that I will never be able to explain. Knowing that, I can accept that I’ll never have all the answers. Asking the why for all these years is what got me here in the first place. I’m okay with not knowing the why anymore. I’m just going to move forward.” I slide the envelope over to my mother containing $100,000 in cash.
“I know this is really what you want. Use it wisely, because there’ll be no more after this.”
I stand and put my messenger bag on my shoulder and look at her. Her expression is hard to interpret, but for one fleeting moment, I saw the Mom that baked the cake for my sixth birthday; the Mom that danced with Ray in the living room of our house in Montesano; the Mom that tucked me into my bedroom in the loft of that same house; the Mom that I had for a few years of my life—that’s the Mom that I’ll hold in my heart as I walk away from this woman who has taken over her body. I bend down and place a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“Goodbye, Mommy.” I turn around and walk out of the restaurant.
I step outside and take a deep, cleansing breath and let it out. An unbelievably huge weight appears to have been lifted from my shoulders, so much so that I literally have to stretch my back and neck to adjust to the release of tension.
“Are you okay?” Chuck asks, handing me my credit card and holding the tin foil goose carrying the halibut. I gaze at him for a moment.
“I’ve never felt better,” I say, noting the astonishment in my voice as I begin the leisurely stroll back to Escala.
I’m typing away at my computer and waiting for Butterfly to come home. I force-fed myself dinner, knowing that she would be pissed as hell at me if I didn’t eat. I can’t help it. I’m worried about her meeting with that woman. I’ve seen what this relationship—for lack of a better word—has done to her and I just want this meeting to be over as quickly as possible. I try to focus on my work as the minutes tick into hours, then into days, then months, then millennia… Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it sure as hell feels that long.
I hear the ping of the elevator and it’s like music to my ears. How I heard it through the walls I’m not entirely sure, but it sounds like a trumpet to me and I’m out of my seat and charging through the great room before she even gets into the apartment. The door opens and I see her small frame walk inside. She’s quiet. Has she been crying? It doesn’t look like she’s been crying, but I can’t tell. Did she mend fences with that monster?
I proceed further into the room and approach with caution. She stops when she sees me and I stop on instinct. We eye each other for a moment before I begin to approach her again.
“How did it go?” I ask, softly.
She still stands there for a moment, prompting me to stop walking. Suddenly, she walks quickly, then runs toward me, leaping just in time for me to catch her in my arms. She nearly climbs my body and clings to me like boa constrictor. I hold her tight and don’t say a word. I don’t really know what to say.
After a while, she starts to cry. I hold her there while she weeps in my arms. I look up at Davenport behind her, hoping for some kind of guidance. His lips form a tight line as he seems just as adrift as I am. After a few more moments and Butterfly hasn’t calmed, he shakes his head and mouths a word at me.
I nod short and quick. He holds up the foil goose that I assume are leftovers from the meal. I slightly gesture to my head towards the door signaling that he can leave. He nods and salutes me with his index finger before leaving the apartment and closing the door behind him. I carry Butterfly over to the sofa and sit down, situating her on my lap.
“Baby?” I don’t want to force her to talk, but she’s going to hyperventilate in a minute.
“S-s-s… sh… she’s go… g-g-g… gone!” she finally chokes out. I don’t even know what that means.
Has Mini-Morton left Seattle?
Is she hurting about it or so happy that she’s crying hysterical tears?
Did she die?
Is she talking gone symbolically or physically?
Does she not care at all and is just informing me through her tears that Mini-Morton has left the building?
I don’t try to figure it out. There’s nothing I’m going to get from her until she’s ready to tell me and right now, she just needs to cry. I take the remote from the coffee table and turn on the fireplace. With a second remote, I’m able to find a soothing saxophone player to calm Butterfly’s nerves. We’ll just sit here for as long as it takes for her to get all of this out.
It took a long time… a very long time… three hours in fact. It’s after 10:00 when her hiccups finally turn into the occasional shuddering breath. She’s calmer now and I would think she was asleep, but I know her body. She’s wide awake. Well, maybe not wide awake after all that crying, but awake. I stroke her hair for a few more moments before she begins talking.
“I’ve had patients—parents of missing children or loved ones of missing family members. They’ve told me stories about how they have printed flyers and gone on television, conducted mass searches. They do this for years with no answers. The pain never dies, but neither does the hope. After a while, they come to a state of sad acceptance. Something in them tells them that they will never see their loved one again. They move on with their lives and the pain becomes less noticeable, more bearable. They don’t think about it every day, but a painful truth remains, a stabbing reminder or a deep painful ache… if they were alive, they would have contacted me by now.
“They move on with their lives. Months, sometimes years go by with no word and they accept it—accept that something horrible has happened to their loved one. Then there’s a knock at the door or a phone call. Their remains have been found. This makes it final and certain. You knew all along, but there’s nothing like bones or a body to drive it home. Then they sit in my office and grieve all back over again. It usually doesn’t last as long as the initial grieving, but they grieve nonetheless. They grieve for the loss of that last shred of hope.” She breathes in deeply and lets it out.
“I’ve just been presented with the body.”
I don’t know what to say. I squeeze her tightly and ask the question that is burning in my head.
“Butterfly, did you really think that you would talk to her and it would all be okay?” She shakes her head.
“No… ye… I don’t know what I thought. I may have had that small glimmer of hope, but… no, I didn’t think it would all be okay.” She pauses again. “I thought she ignored me all of those years. Ignoring someone means that you recognize that they are there, but you pay them no attention. My mother didn’t ignore me, Christian. It was worse. I didn’t exist. She completely put me out of her mind.
“As far as she’s concerned, Daddy and I took the best years of her life, and she was going to take them back no matter what. If I ended up face-down in the concrete as a result of it, I was just collateral damage. She saw nothing, Christian. Felt nothing. Anything that happened to me was an interruption of her life. I caused her current plight because I brought undue attention to her—to us and our household and situation.”
“Why didn’t she just leave you in Montesano with Ray?” I ask her, horrified.
“Oh, that was my question, too. That’s the best answer of all… I was tax write-off.”
What? I didn’t just hear her correctly. I didn’t. I know I didn’t. The violent shaking of my head must have alerted her to what I was thinking.
“My sentiments exactly,” she says. “I think my reaction was ‘you’re not serious.’ She didn’t even apologize. She didn’t even try, and she has the nerve to wonder why I’ve been bitter all these years.”
I shake my head. I have to say that this is even worse than my crack whore mother. She has the excuse that even though it was by her own hand, she was incoherent most of the time. This spiteful bitch was awake and alert for her daughter’s suffering, and after all of these years, she’s still not the slightest bit remorseful.
“How did you all leave it?”
“I gave her the money, told her that I forgive her, and said goodbye.” She lifts her face to look into my eyes. “I’m free.” I look at her skeptically.
“Free?” I ask.
“Free. I’ve got the answers to the questions that I’ve asked all these years. Even though I didn’t like the results, I don’t have to wonder. I’m not under her spell anymore. I don’t have to wish or guess or live in uncertainty. I can face my monsters without hiding. I may still have to work on the running and the shrinking as old habits are hard to break, but Christian, I’m free.”
She means it! She really means it! I can see it in her eyes and in the simplicity of her expression. There’s no stress, no confusion, no pain—only peace and truth. She means it. She’s free. I hold her tight and kiss her hair.
“Oh, Butterfly. This makes me so happy. So, so happy,” I say softly as she sinks into me and sighs.
“I’m thirsty, Christian,” she says. Yes, three hours of crying will do that to you.
“I can imagine. Let’s get you some orange juice and ibuprofen, then bath and bed, okay?” She nods. I place her on her feet and lead her to the kitchen.
Butterfly is finally asleep after the harrowing experience that was Carla Morton today. I lie there in the bed watching the ceiling. I can’t sleep. I’m not even tired. Butterfly’s head hit the pillow and she was gone in seconds… literally, seconds. She was completely exhausted, but my mind keeps wandering back to that wretched witch at the Four Seasons. A tax deduction… she put my Butterfly through all that suffering for a tax deduction. All of this could have been avoided. She may have never had to experience the horrors she experienced, but Carla and Stephen wanted to get a few bucks off of their tax return.
All of that suffering and pain, and Carla did nothing… for a tax deduction.
My head is going a mile a second and I can’t make it stop. It never ceases to amaze me how people can be so cruel as to hurt a child in any way. I think the worse abuse of all is indifference because the child feels invisible. This indifference, however, came on the heels of something so unthinkably tragic…
I carefully pull my arm from under Butterfly’s sleeping body, although I think an explosion wouldn’t wake her right now. I quickly put on a T-shirt and jeans with sneakers and quietly grab my keys, jacket, wallet and cell phone.
“Going somewhere?” I look up to see Jason at the breakfast bar as I’m headed to the front door.
“Yes, and I could really use some backup,” I tell him. He looks at me suspiciously.
“Shoulder’s not 100% yet, Boss,” he says cautiously. I shake my head.
“It’s nothing like that,” I respond. He nods and grabs his sandwich, following me out the front door.
“I need the night manager, please.” I tell the desk clerk at the Four Seasons. She goes into the office and comes out with a gentleman that recognizes me immediately.
“Mr. Grey, good to see you again. How are you?” he greets me.
“Good, thank you. I need access to the room number that was reserved with this card,” I tell him handing him my Amex. He looks on the computer and produces a key for the room. “Would you terribly mind coming with me? I would like the occupant removed immediately if she doesn’t have a credit card of her own for the room. I will pay for the time that she has stayed before now, but she can’t stay any longer.” He looks at me questioning but nods and follows me to the elevators.
“What is this about?” Mini-Morton says groggily as she opens the door to her suite.
“You need to pack up your things and leave this room unless you have a card to put on file for the suite,” the night manager tells her. She looks from him to me. She walks back into the room and comes back with a stack of bills.
“Will this hold the room?” she asks. He counts the bills and it’s way too much, but he nods.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, with a nod. She smirks at me and tries to slam the door, but I stop it by loudly slamming my hand flat to it.
“Would you mind waiting here until I come out? I need to speak with Mrs. Morton. It won’t take long,” I say to the manager.
“Certainly, Mr. Grey,” he says, crossing his hands in front of him with a nod. Jason and I push into the room past a protesting Mini-Morton.
“Have a seat,” I tell her as we walk into her suite.
“You can’t order me around…”
“I said sit down!” I growl in the scariest Dom voice I think I’ve ever heard. I think her legs took her to a seat before her brain had a chance to protest. “How? How could you do this to her?”
“What have I done now?” she nearly squeals.
“It’s not what you did now. It’s what you did then. How could you be so cruel?” She sighs heavily.
“I’ve had this conversation with my daughter. I’m not having it again with you.” Her voice actually sounds defeated.
“You don’t have a daughter, Morton. I thought she wrote you off before, but… the things you told her. She was a tax deduction? You didn’t even think about her while she was suffering? She was miserable. She wanted to die. What would you have done if you had come into the room and she had taken her own life?” A flash of horror comes across her face, but moments later, she has composed herself.
“But she didn’t, so why are we having this conversation?” she says indignantly.
“But she could have,” I hiss back. “It happens all the time, or is your head stuck too far up your ass to even realize that this was a possibility? Knowing you, you would have called her weak and pathetic, then used the situation to garner as much sympathy for yourself as possible.” She sits there in her seat with her legs crossed and her arms folded, looking at me like I’m taking up her precious time. “If you weren’t a female, I’d beat your ass.” She gasps.
“You’d beat my ass anyway if you thought you could get away with it,” she replies. I tilt my head and glare at her.
“You’re right, so handle me very carefully, Lady!” Her shock does not get past me.
“You can’t do it anyway, so it’s a useless discussion.”
“You’re going to get enough of telling me what I can’t do,” I say to her. “You don’t know me, Morton. I’m sitting in your hotel room at 2:00 in the morning, talking to you while you sit there in your nightdress and I know you would rather I not be here. We only knocked because he convinced me that it was proper,” I say, gesturing to Jason standing next to me.
“You need coaching on what’s proper?” she smiles. I smile and chuckle.
“You win a lot of disagreements that way, don’t you?” I ask. Her eyebrows furrow. “Diversion. You take one sentence out of the paragraph and you focus only on that, throwing away every other bit.” She shrugs. “Good businesspeople learn early in the game that that’s the worst form of negotiation. You can use it to win a battle—and it’s effective, depending on how important the battle is—but in the long run, you lose the war.”
“Are you trying to school me, Mr. Grey?” she asks sarcastically.
“Only if you choose to listen,” I respond. “You see, while diversion takes your mind away from the entire paragraph, you’re diverting attention away from the important topics. For example, you focused on the one statement that Jason convinced me that it was proper to knock on your door instead of just barging in. While you were trying to use it as a diversion, you didn’t even focus on the meaning of that statement or the paragraph. Luckily for you, I’m very good at the counter-tactic of refocusing the conversation and I’ve got all night, so we can do this as long as you want.”
“I’m really not inter…”
“Shut up!” I interrupt her. “I’m refocusing.” After a pause, I say, “The meaning that you should have garnered from that paragraph is that if I have to prove to you exactly what I can do, you’re going to be a very unhappy and miserable woman… maybe even homeless, jobless, and unemployable. Proof of that is the fact that I’m sitting in your room right now, and I could be sitting here watching you sleeping because I have the power to barge into you room without knocking. So while you’re focusing on my knowledge of what’s proper, you’re missing several very important bits of information, you dimwitted old goat!”
She doesn’t bother gasping at my name-calling anymore. I think she’s immune to it by now, or at least she should be.
“So you’ve made your point. You can do whatever you want. Big deal, you’re a bully. I still don’t take down to bullies, Mr. Grey, so exactly what is the purpose of this visit because I would really like to get back to bed and if you would like to watch me sleep, then be my guest.”
At that moment, I realize the frustration Butterfly must have felt talking to this woman and trying to get to the heart of the breakdown in their relationship. She has the most nonchalant, flippant but self-righteous attitude I have ever seen. There’s so much that I thought I wanted to say to her, but it all just wafted out of my head when I came to this realization. I take another tactic because, quite frankly, I want to spend the night with Butterfly, not this woman.
“I’m adopted,” I say softly.
“I should care about this because?” she says, snidely.
“Shut up, you worthless, sorry excuse of a human being. I’m talking now!” I growl. She cowers back in her chair. “I have about as much concern and respect for you as you did for my fiancée, so you shut the fuck up.” I glare at her to make sure that she gets my meaning.
“I’m adopted. I lived a horrible, wretched life before my parents adopted me. I was beaten, burned, berated, and neglected. Sound familiar?” She just sits there staring at me.
“I was four years old when I was rescued.” She gasps. It’s always hard for anyone to hear that those things happened to a child before he could even form full, coherent sentences of any true meaning.
“I’m kind of surprised by your reaction,” I continue. “I mean, I’m not surprised that a person reacts that way, I’m just surprised that you did.” Her eyes narrow and Mini-Morton is back. “That’s not an insult, honestly. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just you had more concern for a four-year-old stranger than you did for your daughter 10 years ago and I just can’t fathom that. She went through the same horrible things that I did. The difference is that the woman that claimed to be my mother—who is now dead, by the way—was too drugged out and high to notice while you just… watched. I just don’t know how a parent does that and the morbid curiosity in me really wants to understand.”
I’m silent while she sits there in her nightdress staring at me. Okay, we can do this as long as you like.
We sit… and sit… and sit…
“Am I entertaining you?” she asks after several minutes.
“Not at all. I asked you a question, and you haven’t answered it yet.” I reply flatly.
“And I don’t have to answer it for you!” she hisses. I shake my head.
“Never mind. You already have.” She looks at me, bemused. “I thought I was the coldest son-of-a-bitch alive… until I met you. You have absolutely no redeeming value, absolutely none. That is so sad because I’m not saying that to hurt your feelings. With everything that I know about you and everything that I’ve heard about you and everything that I’ve seen, I’ve always hated you because of the hand that you played in Butterfly’s pain. Now that I know the truth, I don’t quite know what to think or feel.” My words are spoken with no malice as I examine her like some exotic, foreign creature.
“I’m a bit out of my breadth here because I either handle things with extreme pleasure or intense distaste whereas you… this... is somewhere in that very gray area in between. A wise woman once told me that nothing is ever just black or white, it’s always gray. This is very gray, and if I cared enough I would pick it apart, but I don’t. Instead, I think I can only label my feelings as… pity.”
“I don’t need your pity,” she says, trying to act affronted.
“It’s not so much for you, Carla, it’s just… pity. I can’t explain it and I won’t try, since I promise you that this is the last time I or Butterfly will ever visit this issue again. I just really try to comprehend things that I don’t understand before I walk away from them completely. I guess I just have to accept the fact that I’m not going to understand this one.”
I examine this small woman sitting across from me, both in stature and in character. It’s good to know that she doesn’t have a hold on Butterfly anymore. I realize now that there’s not too much more that I can say to her… not too much, but still…
“I was coming up here to demand that you leave Seattle, but I realize that I don’t have to do that now. You’re truly nothing and not because I dislike you or anything like that, but because she came home and cried you out of her system for three hours and for the first time since I’ve known her, I could look in her eyes and know that she has truly let go. Now we can get on with our lives.
“She has an amazing support system. Her friends are loyal to a fucking fault and her father is strong and valiant, full of character. I’m a better man for knowing him. Her stepmother is a wonderful, beautiful woman and she and Ray are about to be parents any day now.” I can tell by her expression that she didn’t know that. “Yes, Carla, life is going on all over the world—without you.
“I’m going to marry that woman. I’m going to make her rich. I’m going to keep her blissfully happy. We’re going to have beautiful babies—grandchildren that you will never get to meet; birthdays and graduations that you will miss; milestones that you will never hear about. I can’t wait to get her pregnant, Carla, to see her beautiful body swell with the evidence of our love growing inside of her. I can’t wait to see her glow with the light of new life. The anticipation is almost unbearable. She’s stunning now, so I know that she’ll be absolutely breathtaking carrying our child.
“There’s so much that you’re going to miss,” I continue. “For that, I do pity you. I’m sorry, Carla.” She frowns.
“Sorry for what?” she asks.
“Sorry that you traded your future for the hope of something you never got,” I say. “You wanted more so badly that you traded your bird in the hand for two that weren’t even in the bush.” I stand and look at her again.
“You were very wrong about one thing,” I continue. “Those weren’t the best years of your life. They all are. Your childhood and teenage years are the best because they shape who you are. Your young adult years are the best because that’s when you become who you’re meant to be. Your adult years are the best because you live, have great experiences, raise your children, and lay your foundations for later in life.
“These years coming up—these are your golden years. These are the years when you’re supposed to be surrounded with family and children and grandchildren; when they play in the grass and run up to you and call you things like ‘grandma’ or ‘nana’ or ‘granny;’ when you tell them stories about the way things used to be when you were a kid; when they run to you because ‘Mom just doesn’t understand me like you do.’
“And when the sun finally sets on your days, they hold your hand and kiss you. You’re surrounded with love as you make your transition to the afterlife. Those are the best years, Carla, and you’ve already missed a lot of them and you’re going to miss many more.
“Your daughter is a doctor, and she’s brilliant. She’s only 27 and she had a thriving practice when I met her with a waiting list a mile long. She carries a black belt in Krav Maga. She owns a million-dollar condo that she also had when I met her. I think she can shoot anything with a trigger and she has the ability to make a friend out of just about anyone.
“She took a massive tragedy that left her physically scarred for life and turned it into a triumph. She has the most beautiful art on her back where she has incorporated that horrible scar into it. She showed those people that they were not going to win. Now, she has taken the final step to laying the emotional part of that story to rest. I’m sorry that you won’t see justice for taking a payoff to watch her pain, but I think this is better. I’ll take a perverse thrill in knowing what you lost, but only for a moment because you don’t deserve that much of my time.”
I walk to the door where I find the manager still standing there like I asked.
“I just wanted you to look at her and see that she’s unharmed before I leave—well, physically unharmed anyway. I can’t speak for emotionally.”
I turn around and look at her before leaving. Her eyes are full of remorse and sorrow, and I feel nothing.
“Goodbye, Carla,” I say before Jason and I head to the elevator.
Butterfly is as bright as a brand new penny as we sit at the breakfast bar eating Sunday brunch and checking more of the final things off our checklist for the wedding.
“So you all have a tuxedo fitting this week right?” she says, writing in her ledger. I nod.
“Friday. It’s the last one before the wedding, so these fuckers better not gain any weight,” I say. She giggles.
“I’ll probably go out somewhere with the girls for dinner after my session with Ace. You’ll text me when you’re done?” She takes a healthy bite of her omelet. Even her appetite seems to have improved.
“Absolutely, but feel free to make it a night with your friends. Maybe I’ll make it an evening with the guys here. I can invite Ray and my dad over and we can play poker or something.”
“That sounds like a plan,” she says with a smile, making more notes in her ledger and drinking her orange juice.
“Sir,” Jason gets my attention. He’s back to his duties as security around the house and slowly working his way into the rest of his role as my personal detail. “Mrs. Morton is downstairs. She has introduced herself as Ana’s mother and is apparently pretty distraught.”
I look over at Butterfly, who is frowning and looking at me. I told her about my visit to Mini-Morton to take my card off of her room at the Four Seasons.
“Are you expecting her?” I ask Butterfly. She shrugs and shakes her head.
“Nope. She can come up though,” she says, her voice light. Okay, now I’m surprised.
“You want to see her?” I ask.
“Not particularly, but I don’t care if she comes up.” She’s truly resigned and there is no malice in her voice. I shrug at Jason.
“Send her up,” I tell Jason. He nods and goes back to the study. I know he’ll be back before Mini-Morton gets here.
“So I think we’ll go to Ruzhen’s—you know, the Mongolian Grill in the University district. I haven’t been there for a while. I guess I should invite Gary and Phil and Marilyn, too. Al and James will be here with you. So will Elliot, so I won’t feel like the fifth wheel since Val will be there… why are you looking at me like that?”
She just began talking like hell and damnation is not on its way up the elevator and I must be staring at her harder than I thought.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You just threw me for a loop,” I tell her. What could Carla possibly want to say to her at this point?
“You mean Carla?” she asks and I nod. “She no longer affects me, Christian. So she can come up.”
I shrug, surprised at her composure and anxious to see what will become of this visit.
Jason comes back out of the study to open the door. Carla stumbles into the room, tear-stained and haggard-looking. She must not have slept for the rest of the night.
“Anastasia! Please, Baby! Please forgive me. I was a fool. Please…” she begs.
“I have forgiven you,” Butterfly says calmly. “I forgave you yesterday when I left the restaurant. I’m not carrying this anymore. There’s just no place for you in my life.”
“Please, please, don’t shut me out. Please… I have no one, nothing. Here.” She reaches into her large purse and pulls out a familiar manila envelope. “You can have this back. I don’t want it. Please, Anastasia, please. I’m so sorry. Please, don’t shut me out.” Butterfly sighs. For a moment, I think she’s weakening.
“I don’t want it either,” she says to her mother. “You need it more than I do, so you keep it. These years, these are my years, Mom.” She called her Mom! “And I’m really not trying to hurt you, but there’s no place for you in my life. I don’t need a constant reminder that when I needed you the most, you simply did not care. Now, I don’t need you at all and I don’t want you around. So take your money and leave. There’s really nothing more for us to say.” Her calm is a bit eerie. She has truly buried this situation.
“Please, Baby. Please, don’t punish me. I’m so sorry. What can I ever do to make it up to you?” Carla weeps.
“Nothing, Mom,” Butterfly says, shaking her head. Carla breaks down into bitter sobs.
“Please, Ana…” she weeps.
“You should go now,” Butterfly says, unmoved.
“Mom, you need to leave. I would hate to have you thrown out in your current state.” She’s not cold or unfeeling. In fact, she speaks with kindness. She’s just washed her hands of this entire situation. Carla looks up at her daughter one last time and, throwing caution to the wind, she throws her arms around Butterfly and weeps.
Butterfly doesn’t react. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t return her mother’s embrace. Her facial expression only changes slightly when she looks at Jason and mouths “to the mat.” We instantly remember her telling Davenport last year that if Carla got near her, she was taking him to the mat. Jason steps forward.
“Mrs. Morton,” he says. His voice forceful. Carla releases Butterfly and after taking one last look at her, runs out of the apartment weeping bitterly. Jason is close behind her as she heads to the elevator. I come up behind Butterfly and put my hands on her shoulders.
“Are you okay, Baby?” I ask her. She looks at me and nods.
“I’m fine, Christian. I’ve cried my tears already.” She takes my hand in hers. “Now, let’s go make sure that we have the finishing touches on our wedding.” She smiles a wide, genuine smile.
“Lead the way, Ms. Steele,” I say matching her smile and following her to Wedding Central.
A/N: I’ve told you all many times my story comes from research or from personal experience from myself or someone around me. I’ve tweaked it a bit, but unfortunately, the “tax break bombshell” is real.
I realize that people may feel that Ana’s final reaction to her mother was cold. However, I’ve been in that place where you have simply cried your last tears “yesterday.” The tears just stop and you’re no longer feeling any malice or sadness—you just want it to end. You don’t want any revenge; you no longer need any answers; you’re just closing the door and locking it, leaving the monsters on the other side while you move forward in the opposite direction. That’s where Ana is. This part of her life is done. This chapter is really closed. I already know what’s going to happen with Carla. She may make a “what ever happened to Carla” appearance in a later book, but for the most part, Carla has “graced” us for the last time.
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