I really appreciate that so many people related to Ana’s struggle with her relationship with Carla. It is often painful and difficult to let someone go from your life even though you may discover that they are toxic. I also want to thank those of you who shared your personal stories and struggles with me. I have had to release several people from my life. Some of them were very easy to get rid of. Others of them were very difficult and painful and I kept wanting to go back. It’s very, very hard sometimes.
I address the name of Ana’s fatherin the ending author’s note.
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 56—Fresh New Beginnings
My mother has attempted to call me a few times since our dinner on Saturday and I just ignore the calls. After a while, I started getting calls from an unknown number too. She’s persistent, I’ll give her that, but I have truly found the closure that I need. The things that she told me unfortunately made me realize that she was no longer worth my pain, thoughts, or time. I say “unfortunately” because there is a very small part of me that wished she could have said or done something to make me understand that she may have been going through a hard time—maybe even a time of self-discovery—but the painful truth is that she completely shut me out. I truly was nothing. To that aspect, Stephen was right. I was nobody, or at least that’s how they felt and they did everything in their power to try to make me believe it.
That was enough for me.
I’ll hold on to the wonderful memories of my mommy, but I won’t dwell in the past anymore. I’ll deal with my flight reflex and my tendency to shrink, but my mommy issues are being laid to rest.
I’m in the office just about to close up shop and head over to Helping Hands when my cell phone rings.
“Ana… please… help me…” It’s Mandy. She sounds awful.
“Mandy! Mandy, what’s wrong?” My heart is beating faster than I can think.
“I’m home… alone… I’ve fallen. I can’t find Ray…” Oh my God! “Ana, I’m having contractions. I’m scared!” She’s starting to cry. I run out of my office.
“Call 911! Get them to my father’s house. Amanda fell! She’s in labor! Hurry!” I scream to whomever can dial. “Mandy, I’m on my way. I’ll stay on the phone okay?”
“Ana… pleeeease!” She begs and I know that she is having another contraction.
“Mandy, please breathe with me, please.” Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to Mandy or my little brother or sister. Please, God, please. I’m in the parking lot and I don’t even know how I got there.
“I can’t find Ray! Where’s Ray?” She’s starting to get hysterical. Marilyn has sent the EMS to her house and I am fumbling with the keys to the car.
“I’m driving,” Chuck says, snatching the keys away from me.
“Oh, God, Ana! There’s blood! My baby!” She’s weeping on the phone.
“Please, Mandy. Please try to stay calm. I’m on my way! Please…” I’m crying now. I can’t help it. Please, God, please… I spend ten minutes on the phone during the longest ride of my life trying to calm Mandy down—well, maybe second longest… or third…
“Ana—the paramedics… they‘re at the door. I can’t get to it… Oh, Gooooooooodddd!” and there’s another contraction.
“Chuck! Call 911. Give them my dad’s address. Tell them that the paramedics are at the door and she can’t get to it. They need to break it down!” Chuck is on the phone in moments, something that he usually doesn’t do while driving, but this is an emergency.
“Ana,” Mandy says, her voice soft and weary, “I’m going to lose our baby.”
“No, Mandy, you’re not. You’re not going to lose the baby! The paramedics are right outside the door…”
“Tell them to break the goddamn door down! She’s lying on the floor bleeding for fuck’s sake!” Chuck yells into the phone. He scares the shit out of me until a few moments later, I hear all hell break loose over the phone. There’s commotion and something about hemorrhaging. Mandy’s going batshit screaming about her phone and I hear an unfamiliar voice on the other line. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
“Yes that’s my stepmother she’s about to have my daddy’s baby where are you taking her please!?” I scream into the phone all in one breath.
“Valley! Valley, Ma’am! We’re taking her to Valley!” He yells back at me.
“Is she okay?” I cry.
“I don’t know yet. You want to get down there is quickly as possible. Is someone driving you?”
“Yes, we’re on our way now,” I try to calm myself. “I can’t find my daddy!”
“Keep trying, Sweetheart. Keep trying. We’re moving out. She’ll see you there, okay?” I nod until I realize that he can’t see me over the phone.
“Okay,” I say finally and end the call. I try Daddy’s cell phone again. It goes straight to voicemail. “Dammit, Daddy, where are you? Mandy’s in trouble!” I scream into the phone before hanging up. I can’t think of anything else to do, so I call Christian.
“Hey, Baby, what’s up?”
“Christian!” I weep into the phone.
“Butterfly! What’s wrong?” I hear utter panic in his voice.
“Mandy!” I weep. “She fell! She’s having the baby! Something’s wrong! I can’t find Daddy!”
“Okay, baby. Calm down. Where’s Amanda now?”
“Valley… Medical… the paramedics…” I can’t get my words out.
“Okay. I got it. Listen to me. You can’t let Amanda see you like this. You’re going to scare her to death and she needs you to be strong. Listen to me, Baby. Breathe for me. Breathe for me, Butterfly.” He starts to breathe on the phone and I concentrate on following him. In through my nose, out through my mouth… in through my nose, out through my mouth… in through my nose, out through my mouth… Okay, I’ve calmed just enough to stop screaming.
“We’re at Valley,” I say into the phone still crying.
“Amanda needs you, Butterfly. I need you to be my brave girl, okay? I promise I’ll find Ray.” I nod again.
“Keep your phone with you. Keep me posted and I’ll keep you posted, okay?” he asks. I nod again.
“Is Davenport with you?”
“Yes. He drove.”
“Good. You can do this, Butterfly. Go help Amanda.”
“Okay. Okay.” I say, trying to find the strength I need from those words.
“I love you. I’ll find Ray.”
“Okay.” I end the call and rush into the medical center to the front desk.
“My… my stepmom… Mandy… Amanda… Steele…” I can barely get the words out of my mouth. The nurse looks at me stunned for just a moment, then types into her computer. She does a double-take then looks up at me again.
“Birthing Center,” she says a little stunned. Yeah, yeah, yeah, my stepmom is having a baby.
“How do I get there?”
“Down this hall, turn left; all the way at the end of the hall is two double doors. That’s the Birthing Center.” I nod and take off in the direction that she pointed. I can only assume Chuck is behind me.
I burst through the double doors when I get there and now I’m floundering. I see a lovely large lounge and a smaller lounge for children, but no nurses’ station. I just start walking until I see a large counter in the middle of an open room.
“May I help you, Ma’am?” A nurse says to me.
“My… stepmom…” is all I can get out.
“Anaaaaa!” I hear from somewhere down the hall. I instinctively turn around and yell “Mandy!”
“Anaaa!” I hear again. The nurse stands and grabs my arm.
“Come with me,” she says, quickly guiding me down the hallway. Chuck is behind us and the nurse asks, “Who are you?”
“I won’t come into the room with her, but I need to know where she is,” he says. The nurse nods and rushes me down the hall to Mandy’s room. Good God, it huge! Mandy is lying in the bed, red-faced and strapped to several monitors—baby’s heartbeat, oxygen monitors, contractions…
“Where’s Ray?” she weeps.
“Christian’s finding him. Christian’s going to find him,” I tell her. She calms immediately.
“Where could he be?” she says. “What if he’s hurt? He can’t miss the birth of our baby.”
“He won’t miss it, Mandy. He wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I say smiling. The room is filled with the sounds of the monitors, but the most prevalent one that I hear is the super-fast beating of the baby’s heart. “Can you hear that?” I smile. “That’s amazing.” Mandy calms immediately and listens.
“Yes… it is… a little bundle of love from me and my husband.” I sit down next to her and take her hand.
“What happened?” I ask.
“I slipped on some water in the kitchen, but I fell right on my stomach. The bleeding started almost immediately, then the contractions. I’m so scared, Ana.”
“Don’t be. I’m going to be here for you, and Daddy is going to be here soon. The baby will be just fine,” I smile at her.
“Mrs. Steele?” Mandy and I both turn to see a doctor enter the room. “I’m Dr. Beydoun. I want you to relax while I tell you what’s going on, okay?”
“Okay,” Mandy tries to breathe while she’s holding my hand.
“Is this your partner?” the doctor asks Mandy. I glare at him. Mandy almost laughs.
“No, this is my stepdaughter,” she answers.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Young women that come together are often partners. Please forgive my error,” he apologizes profusely.
“No problem. Please tell us what’s going on,” I plead and he nods.
“So far, Mom and baby are fine. We do need to keep you here, though. Your blood pressure is concerning me. Also, although we’ve been able to control the bleeding a bit, it and the contractions are concerning me as well. We’ve given you something to stop them for now. You are three and a half weeks from your due date. The baby has not completely turned yet. As you can tell from the heartbeat, the baby is well. Development looks good. If the baby is born today, we would have to keep it in the NICU to be sure that it is developing everything properly. The baby isn’t currently under any distress, but you do have a slight case of placental abruption,” he tells us.
“What is that?” Mandy asks.
“It’s where the placenta has partially detached from the wall of the uterus. It’s not bad right now, but it could become worse. You know that the placenta provides the baby with the oxygen and nutrients that it needs to survive, so although we want to keep the baby in there as long as possible, it may be necessary to perform an emergency C-section if your condition becomes more severe. This is why we need to keep you here and monitor you. I don’t want you to worry. You are in the right place if such a thing happens. I want you to relax and stay calm. Our nurses will monitor your condition, and I want you to tell me if the baby is not as active as usual or if you feel any sharp pains. Right now, you’re doing fine.”
“Doctor, did I do this with the fall?” she asks.
“It’s very likely that the fall caused the placenta to separate. Again, I don’t want you to worry. You are in the right place. The abruption is not severe at this time, and the moment you or the baby experiences any distress, we will act quickly and perform the C-section. Is that okay with you?” he asks.
“Yes, please. Do whatever you have to do to save my baby,” Mandy begs. Dr. Beydoun smiles.
“I wouldn’t worry, Mrs. Steele. You and the baby are going to be fine.” He nods and leaves the room… and I take the first real breath I’ve been able to take all day.
Mandy and I talk about her shower which is scheduled for the 24th but may have to be rescheduled since she might have to stay in the hospital until the baby’s birth. Chuck brings us lunch and we eat heartily, after which we both fall into a drained-adrenaline nap.
I awake to see Daddy kissing Mandy on the forehead and brushing her hair off her face. “Where have you been?” I scold, my voice a cross between an angry mother and a petulant child. “We called and called and your phone kept going to voicemail.” Daddy and Mandy look over at me. Daddy is a little surprised. “Well?” I ask, waiting for my answer.
“My… battery died. I forgot to charge it last night,” he defends.
“You don’t have a charger in your car?” I continue. Daddy has gone from surprise to shock now.
“I… yes, I do. That’s how I got your message. I plugged in my charger and the phone lit up. I’m sorry, Sunflower…”
“Don’t you ‘Sunflower’ me!” I chastise him. “Your wife had some trauma today! She could have had your baby without you! The paramedics had to break the door down. You need to be more responsible, Ray Steele!” Daddy is now stunned.
“I… know. Christian had one of his guys go over there until Elliot got there to fix the door.” He turns back to Mandy. “I’m really sorry, Baby. I won’t let this happen again, I swear.” I huff and fold my arms. I want to scold him some more, get him to understand how serious this is, but Mandy is so glad to see him and that’s what matters. I’m still angry, though.
“You cursed on my voicemail,” he says, trying to get his “father” role back. I jerk my head over to him.
“And?” I snap. I was scared to death that Mandy was going to lose her baby on the kitchen floor. I don’t give a damn about cursing on Daddy’s voicemail! He smirks a bit.
“I’m not going to win this, am I?” he surrenders.
“No!” I snap. I sound like I’m having a preschool temper tantrum. Daddy shakes his head, leaves Mandy’s side and comes over to me.
“I am so, so sorry that I wasn’t there. I hate that you had to go through this and I will make sure that this never happens again.” He kneels down and takes my hands. “But thank you so much for being there for my wife. It means the world to me, Annie, really.” I want to scold him some more, but I can’t. My heart is heavy.
“You won’t do this again, Daddy?” I say, tears rolling down my face.
“I won’t do it again, Sunflower,” he promises.
“You’re going to have a little baby soon. She has to be able to get in touch with you! What if the baby is sick?” I’m weeping again. I realize that my adrenaline is rising again and I can’t stop these tears.
“I know, Annie. I messed up. I was careless and I won’t do it again,” he says, duly chastised.
“O.. kay,” I say in stuttering breaths before breaking down completely. Daddy wraps his arms around me while I close my eyes and cry. Moments later, I feel someone take his place and I know well who it is… my Christian. I weep uncontrollably in his arms. I really thought Mandy was losing the baby. I didn’t know how I could possibly tell Daddy or what I could do to comfort Mandy. Mostly, I was feeling the ache of losing a brother or sister that I never got the chance to meet. I just cry and cry and cry until I can’t cry anymore.
I open my eyes and I am sitting in Christian’s lap. We are asleep in one of the large chairs in the birthing suite. Daddy has taken off his shoes and he is lying in bed with Mandy, spooning her and protectively cradling her stomach while they sleep. I take stock of where I am. It’s a beautiful room, but something is different. What is it?
One of the monitors… different… which one?
The heartbeat. The heartbeat! It’s slower!
Okay, don’t panic, Steele. Move quickly. I gently try to get off Christian’s lap, but he holds me close.
“Christian, I’ve got to go!” I whisper. He stirs sleepily.
“Go where?” he says groggily, louder than I want. I shush him harshly.
“Don’t wake them! I don’t want to startle them. I have to get a doctor. The baby’s heartbeat is slower.” His eyes widen.
“Are you sure?” he questions. I almost lose my temper.
“Do you really want to debate this right now?” I hiss quietly. He holds his hands up in surrender.
“No. No. Go find a doctor.” I rise from his lap and leave the room in my stocking feet, running down the hallway.
“Is Dr. Beydoun here?” I ask the nurse at the station.
“No, he’s gone home.”
“I need you to get the OB on call. Mrs. Steele… the baby’s heartbeat is slowing.”
“Are you sure?” she asks. Why is everybody asking me that? I’ve been listening to it all afternoon!
“Do you want to take any chances?” I nearly yell. She is out of her seat in moments.
“Paging OB checker to the Birthing Center please. OB checker to the Birthing Center.” She hangs up the phone and runs around the nursing station and down the hall with me back to Mandy’s room. When we enter, the baby’s heartbeat sounds even slower. I’m not imagining it. The baby’s in distress.
“Mandy? Daddy?” I walk to the other side of the bed while the nurse checks the monitors. She flips a switch next to Mandy’s bed and I can see a light go on outside of her door.
“Hmmm?” Daddy stirs first. Mandy is still sleeping.
“Daddy? Wake her, please.” I say, trying to stay calm. “The baby’s heartbeat is slowing down.” All of the color leaves Daddy’s face.
“Butterfly, you don’t know that for sure yet…” Christian cautions.
“I do know for sure!” I snap, losing patience with my fiancé. “I’ve been listening to it all afternoon! The baby’s heartbeat is slowing down!”
“What!?” Mandy nearly sits up straight when I make the announcement. Nice going, Steele.
“I’m afraid she’s right,” the nurse says. “The baby’s heartbeat is slowing.”
“No! No!” Mandy cries. “Please, God, no!” Ray tries to comfort her.
“Mrs. Steele, don’t panic. The doctor will be here momentarily and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that you and that beautiful baby come out just fine, okay?” Her voice is calming, but Mandy is nearly hysterical. “It is very important for the baby that you don’t let your blood pressure get too high, so I need you to breathe with me.” She is right in Mandy’s face, holding her hands and breathing. “Mr. Steele, please help me,” she instructs Daddy. Daddy is behind Mandy, cradling her in his arms and saying comforting words in her ear. She calms right down in Daddy’s arms.
Seconds later, a young doctor bursts into the room. “What do we have?”
The nurse is reading all kinds of stats to him and I have no idea what she’s talking about. He thumbs quickly through her chart and instructs the nurse to get an OR prepped.
OR? Operating Room? Oh, God…
“Mrs. Steele, I’m Dr. Ramsey. It appears that the baby is not getting enough oxygen and with the situation with your placenta, we don’t want to take any chances. Waiting could be critical for you and the baby. We need to perform an emergency cesarean. I don’t want you to worry. This is more of a safety precaution than anything. Your baby is very healthy and has very good odds, but we need to move quickly. Do you understand?” Mandy nods.
“Yes. Please. Anything… just save my baby, please,” she begs.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Steele,” Dr. Ramsey assures as more nurses come into the room. “You’ll be fine.” Daddy gets out of the bed as the nurses start to unhook certain monitors and prepare Mandy to move. Daddy is getting paler and paler by the second and Mandy can’t stop crying. A few moments later, they are moving her out of the room. A nurse comes over to Christian and smiles widely.
“Mr. Steele, if you’ll follow me, we need to get you prepped for the operating room,” she says a little too sweetly to the man who she thinks may be the expectant father. Christian takes my hand and pulls me to his side.
“No,” he says, pointing to Daddy. “That’s Mr. Steele.” Nurse Syrupy Sweet looks from Christian to Daddy and back to Christian before turning back to Daddy. “Mr. Steele, if you’ll follow me…” Daddy is too stunned to move.
“Annie?” His voice is frail and broken.
“Annie… I…” He looks like he’s about to pass out.
“Daddy… she needs you. Don’t let her go through this alone. Please, your wife needs you. Go, Daddy… please.” He’s stunned for a few more seconds, then he screws his courage and nods.
“I’m going to be a father… again,” he says with a weak smile.
“Yes. Go, Daddy… now.” I press him. He nods and allows the nurse to lead him out of the room. I nearly fall back into Christian’s arms. My adrenaline is spent again and I close my eyes.
Finally, an exhausted Ray Steele comes back into the room after I don’t know how long in pale gray scrubs. He just stares at us and I am unable to speak… or breathe… or think…
“I… It’s a boy,” he breathes. I gasp out an involuntary sob. I’ve got a little brother, a little Ray Steele or whatever they are going to call him. “Six pounds, two ounces, 19 inches and healthy as a horse,” he says, his voice cracking.
“Amanda?” Christian asks what I was thinking.
“She… had a little complication, lost a little more blood than she should have, but she’s… fine.” He finally chokes and nearly collapses. I‘m across the room faster than my feet have ever carried me. I’m holding my daddy in my arms as we slide to the floor. I caress his hair as he cries in my arms, huge sobs of fear and relief. The last time I remember my Daddy crying, my mother was taking me away to Nevada. I hold him close to me and kiss his hair, giving him the comfort that I couldn’t give him then.
“You did great, Daddy!” I say, softly. “Really great!”
A few hours later, I am in a sterile gown in the NICU looking at my baby brother in an incubator. He’s a bit fussy, kicking his little feet and sucking on a pacifier. He’s wide awake, eyes open and looking around to see what he can see. He’s not connected to any tubes like the other babies in the room—poor little darlings. They just want to make sure he’s okay before they set him loose on the world.
He’s gorgeous. He looks just like my Dad. I can see black locks peeking out of his blue cap. Our eyes meet briefly and I’m sure that he can’t really see me yet, but I love him already. I’ve got a little brother and my heart is full.
“He looks strong,” Christian says from behind me, “strong and healthy.”
“He is,” I say, smiling at my brother. “He’s a Steele.”
It was a trying week, but we all seem to have weathered it okay. Harrison Raymond Steele made his debut on May 22, 2013 at 1:19am. Butterfly was shocked at their choice of name, reminding Ray that the baby will be nicknamed Harry—Butterfly’s biological father’s name.
“I know,” Ray had said. “Mandy loves the name and… well, the guy gave me the best gift that a man could give to another man before he left this earthly realm. I think he deserves a bit of recognition.” Butterfly went all to pieces when she heard that. I know she was worried about being shoved aside once little Harry was born, but Ray has done everything possible to prove to her that she is just as important now as she has always been. I have to hand it to the guy. As fathers go, he’s a real class act… second in my eyes only to Carrick, that is.
It’s Friday night and time for the final tux fittings and poker night at the condo. Amanda will be in the hospital for another day or so and has demanded that Ray come to poker night and give her some space to breathe. Butterfly has flown the coup with her group of friends, minus Allen and James that is, who will be at the fitting at Escala with me. Gail has decided to retire with a good book and I had some snacks and food delivered for the poker party. Ethan has joined us for the final fitting, having missed the first fitting, so his tux was made with measurements that he sent to my tailor. Any additional alterations needed will be a bit of a rush job which doesn’t make me happy. John will have a private fitting tomorrow at his house as he had some function to attend this evening.
“So, Bro, have you guys thought about the bachelor party?” Elliot asks while we are trying on the tuxes. I shrug.
“I hadn’t thought about it,” I say. “The last bachelor party that I attended, I was pretty much the chaperone. I have no idea how to be the guest of honor.” I finish tying my tie in a Windsor knot before Dad helps me on with my vest.
“Leave it to me, Bro. We’ll have a great time.” Oh shit.
“I’m not trying to get laid, Elliot… and absolutely no strippers,” I warn him.
“Hey, I’m not trying to get laid either, and from what I know, everybody in the groom’s party is spoken for, so we’ll have to find some different entertainment.” He raises an eyebrow. I have a feeling I’m still not going to like what he may have planned. “Okay, so what do you want to do?” he asks.
“Look, I hate to be the party pooper,” I say, examining my finished tux and fit in one of the full-length mirrors set up in the great room, “but I’ll be fine having a regular men’s day. You know, hiking, fishing, practicing my shooting…”
“Shooting?” Carrick asks, and I know he’s appalled.
“Yes, Dad. I have a gun, now… and I’m licensed. What Elena did scared me, and I don’t want to be unprotected ever again,” I confessed.
“But what about all the security staff, Son?” Dad asks. I know he wants to tell me to forget about a gun and let the professionals handle it, but that’s not going to happen.
“Yes, more people to take a bullet for me because I’m not capable of protecting myself. Yes, I’ll keep my security, but I won’t be caught unprepared next time.” I move closer to my father and confess something to him that I haven’t confessed to anyone. “I don’t feel safe anymore, Dad. That woman got past some of the best security measures in the country simply by dressing up as a construction worker. True, I had other measures in place that eventually saved my life and nearly cost my best friend his. Nothing is guaranteed. I thought I knew that already, but now I’m sure.” My chest burns a bit at the thought of being able to lose Butterfly at a moment’s notice, even though that wasn’t what I was referring to. I don’t know what my face said, but Dad smiles at me.
“I know,” he says, taking a sip of his scotch. “I feel the same way about your mother.” I shake my head infinitesimally and pat his shoulder.
“Please don’t worry, Dad. I’ve taken classes with an excellent teacher and I’m learning more about it every day. He says that I’m one of the best students he’s ever had, and that says a lot.” Carrick’s lips form a straight line.
“Okay, Son. I trust you. Just… please, be careful. When your mother and I heard about the shooting at your office…” His words trail off and his glassy eyes tell me everything he could not say.
“I’ll be careful, Dad. I promise.” That seems to be enough for him as he bottoms out his scotch.
“Okay,” Elliot pipes in, trying to break the tension in the room. “Back to the bachelor party. Hiking, fishing, shooting… Jason, any ideas?” Jason shrugs.
“Any outdoor sport sounds great to me,” he says. His arm is getting stronger and stronger with his therapy and we estimate that he will be back on duty the first full week of June—not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned. We still have him traveling with me and the team on restriction, just observing so that he doesn’t get rusty. However, he cant do anything else until the doctor and physical therapist release him. Gail is understandably nervous about him going back to work, but she won’t stop him from doing what he loves.
“What about paintball?” I hear Ethan say and we turn to look at him. “It was just a suggestion.”
“No, I actually like that idea,” I tell him. “I think it would be fun, as long as we don’t show up at the rehearsal dinner looking like Technicolor clowns,” I say. Ethan laughs.
“No, the stuff washes out. Plus, you can go plain clothes or gear up,” he clarifies.
“Hmm, run around like a bunch of hyper, sugar-infused kids with paint ball guns,” Jason says. “It actually sounds like fun.”
“Can we rent the place out?” I ask. Ethan nods.
“Yep, for a few hours or all day.”
“Ooo, just a few hours,” James pipes in. “I can’t see getting pelted with those things all day.” We’re all suited now and admiring ourselves in the mirrors. We’re all wearing the same tailored midnight black two-button tuxedo with slitted pockets and the boutonnière buttonhole. My jacket is a bit longer than the groomsmen and I opted to forgo the satin lapels while requiring them on the groomsmen’s tuxes. We are all wearing the same silver-gray vest and tie with woven vertical stripes with standard white dress shirts. Allen has the same vest and tie ensemble in royal blue.
“We get to keep the suits, right?” Ethan asks while watching us admire ourselves.
“What? Do you think I want them back?” I ask almost sarcastically… almost.
“I’m just saying. Mia’s going to go all thermal and sweaty when she sees me in that,” he says.
“Hey!” Elliot yelps from the other side of the room. “That’s my sister, Man!”
“Yeah, TMI, Dude. Stick to paint ball,” I say with a frown. He puts his hands up in surrender.
“Sorry,” he says chastised.
“Oh, lighten up,” Dad says, coming over to me and straightening my tie. “It really is a very nice suit, Christian.”
“Yeah, but you don’t hear me saying things about Ana. Her father is standing there.” I gesture to Ray.
“For which I sincerely thank you,” Ray says, raising his glass of beer to me. I nod in acknowledgement. “My Annie’s a grown woman, but I don’t need a visual of what you two get up to.”
“Nonetheless, it’s all in fun,” Dad chastises. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ll talk about me and your mother.” I am horrified.
“No! Dad! Damn! That’s worse! For fuck’s sake!” I cringe. Elliot is declaring similar protests while removing his suit jacket.
“Okay. Then let off of Ethan. He clearly loves your sister and both of you know what people in love do.”
“Yeah, but like Ray says, we don’t need a visual,” Elliot says.
“So let’s see,” Allen pipes in as the attorney in the room. “As long as Ray is not around, you two call talk shop about Jewel and Val, but if we’re all together having a drink and shooting the shit, Ethan can’t talk about Mia. You know that puts a damper on the mood, right?” I shake my head.
“Look, double-standard or not, that’s my sister. If I hear him talking about sex with my baby sister, it’s going to dry up the conversation really quickly.” I turn to Ethan. “Think about William doing doggie-style with your mom.” Ethan cringes and shivers violently.
“Point taken! Point taken!” he says quickly, eliciting a chuckle from the other men in the room. “No ‘sexual Mia’ talk when we’re together, but that goes for everybody. It’s not fair that you guys get to talk about hiding the sausage and I don’t!” I wave my hands this time.
“Point taken!” I say, getting the visual once more. I think he did that on purpose.
Poker Night actually turned out to be a great idea. Ethan, Elliot, and I were all able to bond a little more, which was much needed after the whole paternity issue. We decide on early morning fishing, midday hiking, and afternoon paintball before the rehearsal dinner, and the standard bar hopping afterwards, just to see how many places we can go before someone recognizes me. We all agree that once the paparazzi show up, the night is over and everyone—except me—will most likely try to go play “hide the sausage.” If I know Butterfly, they will all strike out as she will have the women on lockdown at the castle. It’s a pretty tame night as far as bachelor parties go, but Elliot hit the nail on the head. We are all in committed relationships with no wish to jeopardize them. So it’s no use in doing anything foolish besides throwing back a few too many drinks.
As it turns out, Dad is tonight’s big winner. Luckily, we weren’t playing high stakes and no one lost more than a few hundred on the game, except Elliot, who didn’t know when to quit and dropped about a thousand. Idiot.
Ray and my dad have always gotten along so they bonded a little more tonight as well, deciding to forego the bachelor party celebration and let the “young people” have fun. Young people. Sure, guys. Elliot, Ethan, and I are all in our thirties, but I guess that can be considered young to them. Allen and James are both in their twenties, but I still don’t necessarily consider them young people. I would reserve that term for teenagers. Nonetheless, we’ll let the old fogies do whatever old fogies do the night before the wedding while we get up to our debauchery.
The night has begun to wind down and no one is really in a hurry to go anywhere, except maybe Ray. He’s not scratching at the door or anything, but he does seem a bit anxious. He and my father talked for quite some time while Elliot helped me get rid of some of the evidence of our drinking and merry-making before Butterfly gets home. Jason and James seem to get along well enough. James is a bit of a chameleon. If he likes you, he can fall into any conversation with you. If he’s standoffish, he wants nothing to do with you. He was always standoffish with the Scooby Gang, interacting only with Allen and Butterfly. I should have taken the hint.
I take this moment to steal away to the balcony with my beer. I’m not leaving the apartment tonight, so I have had one or two too many this weekend. I think I may have to go dry with Elliot for a while. Every weekend can’t find me a couple of sheets to the wind.
Sitting in one of the lounge chairs, I think about the many conversations Butterfly and I have had about how we picture our future. She wants a house near the water. I have been looking for one ever since she said that. We both have luxury apartments that overlook Elliot Bay, but I think she wants something much more than that. Should I buy a plot of land and have a house built to her specifications? Or should I try to find something like what she has described so many times… sunken family room, two-story living room, Cantina wall that opens onto the back balcony and Lake Washington? This means that I should look for some place in Bellevue or Kirkland. Maybe Mercer Island or Medina with the Gates’.
I don’t know how Butterfly would feel living so close to my parents. I think Kirkland would be too far away from Ray, now that he has moved closer to Seattle. Mercer Island and Medina would put us closer to my parents than Escala without us having to move to Bellevue if she chose not to, and we would still be close enough to Kent… and Ray and Amanda. I think I’ll start scoping properties in Medina and Mercer Island. Of course, I’ll talk to Butterfly and see how she feels about it, but who wouldn’t want to be neighbors with the Gates’?
“Christian, you got a minute?” I’m roused from my thoughts by Ray’s voice. He looks a little frazzled. I gesture to the seat next to me.
“Sure. Have a seat. Is everything okay?” Ray and I have also gotten pretty close in the last couple of months. We bonded over shooting and it doesn’t hurt that I’m in love with his daughter. He takes a swallow of his beer.
“I’m a father again,” he says, his voice uncertain. “I’m scared shitless. I haven’t held a baby since Annie.”
“And look how good she turned out,” I tell him.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t there for her teenage years… not all of them anyway. Annie is the woman that she is not because of me.” I sit up straight.
“I beg to differ with you on that one, Ray, and I would venture to say that Ana would disagree with you too. You may not have been there for most of those last horrible years, but her strength of character, her sense of right and wrong, her giving spirit and kind heart—she got all of that from you. It’s what got her through her hardest time when she was living with her wretch of a mother and her even more wretched stepfather. She lived with you for most of her childhood years, the formidable ones. She loves you more than anyone else in the world…”
“I don’t think so, Son,” he interrupts me. “She has you now, and the stars in her eyes when you are around… I have never seen those before in her.” Well, that makes me feel good, but I have no doubt that Butterfly loves me, so he’s only confirming what I already know.
“That’s a different kind of love, Ray,” I correct him. “They can’t be compared. No one will ever take your place in her life—ever. The sun rises and sets with you and all she has ever wanted since she was a child was to see you happy.” He looks at me.
“She told you that?” he asks. Now I’m at a crossroads. I don’t want to betray Butterfly’s confidence, but Ray is floundering and needs something to bring him back to solid ground. I’m sure she won’t mind me throwing him a life-preserver.
“Getting back to you is what pushed her to finish high school early. She wanted to leave Vegas and get back to Washington. When she got here, she was still a minor and afraid that any trails that led to you would bring Carla and Stephen to take her back. That’s why she hid in the homeless shelter until she became legal. She didn’t want to relive having them drag her back to Nevada. She wanted to be here with you even though she couldn’t tell you right away.” His eyes grow large and I can tell that this was something that he didn’t know.
“I wish she had told me,” he says, his voice cracking. “I hated it when I found out that she was living in that place. I would have hidden her until she turned 18, anything to keep her away from that witch.”
“You had to know that she couldn’t take the chance,” I tell him. “Look at what she had already been through. She couldn’t risk the slightest possibility that Carla would take her back to Nevada.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “It ripped her apart, Ray, but she knew by being here in Vancouver or Tacoma, she would still be closer to Montesano… and you. She knew that sooner or later, the day would come where she would be able to see her daddy again without having to worry about being taken away.” The tears fall freely from his eyes now.
“I never got over that, you know,” he says, trying to dash away the tears. “She suffered so much.” He gets up from the lounge chair and begins to pace the balcony. “I couldn’t save her… from any of it. I was helpless and useless while my Annie was suffering. That wicked, wicked woman. How could she watch that? How could any human being watch that horror take place with another person, much less your own flesh and blood? Your own child?” He’s weeping now and I don’t dare interrupt him.
“When I got to her hospital room, I was devastated. Not only because my Sunflower was hurt, but because the room was bare… absolutely bare. There were no flowers, no balloons, no get-well cards, nothing!” he says through gritted teeth. “I learned from the doctor that no one came to see her, not even her mother. I made up my mind right then and there that I was taking Annie home. I was not leaving that hospital without her. I didn’t even ask her mother. I didn’t need to. I showed them my driver’s license. My name is Steele. Her name is Steele. When it was time to go home, they released her to me. I knew my beat-up pickup wouldn’t make the trip. It was fine to rumble around Montesano, but not to make a road trip through the mountains to Vegas. So I had rented one of those luxury SUV’s–a Chevy Trailblazer I think it was. It was a luxury SUV to me anyway. I got Annie comfortable and we enjoyed the scenery while we drove back home.”
“She told me… about how they made her call you ‘Ray.'” He flinches at the sound of it. I think Butterfly calling him by that name is actually painful.
“Carla wanted to see me hurt. I don’t know why. I’d never done anything cruel or unkind to her. I loved her. I only wanted her to be happy, but something… changed. I don’t know. She became restless and dissatisfied. The fact that I didn’t have a lot of money and wasn’t concerned with what people thought angered her. So she wanted to hurt me, and she did. She ripped my Sunflower right out of my arms, literally. The first time she did it, I fell into a deep depression. I had lost my love and my daughter. I wanted to die. Sunflower called a few days after they left and her voice pulled me out of it. Then… she called me ‘Ray.’ My heart broke all back over again. I swear I think I would have eaten my gun had she not called me back, Christian. Please don’t ever tell her that.” He drops his head in shame.
“I won’t. You have my word,” I assure him and he nods.
“I was sure that I had lost everything, that I really had nothing else left to live for. Then, she called back and told me that Carla and that walking Moonshine still made her call me ‘Ray.’ I realized that my death would only make Carla happy, especially if I died at my own hand. I did my best to pull myself together, but it wasn’t easy. I lived for Annie’s phone calls, and she called me whenever she got the chance. When weeks went by and I didn’t hear from her, I knew that something was wrong.” I frown.
“Nobody even told you?” I ask, appalled. He shakes his head.
“Not at first. I was nobody, remember? I was just the stepfather who gave her my name.” I shake my head as he continues. “I got in that Trailblazer and drove all night until I got to Morton’s pretentious house. I didn’t even care. I just wanted to see my little girl. Carla came to the door, of course. Then she slammed it right in my face, so I made a scene right there on her front stoop. I screamed and pranced about and banged on that door and let her know that if she didn’t tell me where my daughter was that I would tear Vegas apart until I found her.”
“How did you know where to find them?” I ask.
“Annie sent me letters and cards. I just put the return address in the GPS and went right to them.” He scratches his head. “When the neighbors started coming outside, she opened the door and told me that Annie was at University Medical Center. The hospital was 17 miles away. I couldn’t figure out why they took her to a hospital that was 17 miles away. Anyway, as it turns out, Mrs. Morton was more concerned with getting the ranting lunatic off of her lawn than she was with keeping me from Annie. I swear she is the most selfish woman that I have ever met.” Should I tell him that Butterfly has gotten revenge on her mother without even trying?
“Ana told you that she’s dealing with her past, hasn’t she?” He wiped his tears away as he nods.
“Yeah, she told me. I was more caught up in the birth of my son than what had happened with Carla’s visit to Seattle.”
“I’ll tell you this because I think you need it right now.” I turn to face him as he takes a seat again. “She has told me to help her to never call you ‘Ray’ again.” His eyes grow large again and I think they actually light up. This is truly happy news for him. He sits up a little straighter at that announcement. “Also, Carla came to the apartment before she left Seattle. She came to tearfully beg Ana to forgive her and not to shut her out. You would have been so proud, Ray.” I hear the pride in my voice as I tell the story.
“What did she do?” he asks in anticipation.
“Carla was desperate… truly desperate. Ana had given her $100,000 and told her to go away and never come back. She had put all the anger and hatred to rest and come home and cried her eyes out. Once she had her cry, she was done. She had let everything go. When Carla showed up, Ana called her ‘Mom’ and talked very calmly and softly to her, telling her to leave as there was no place for her in Ana’s life anymore.” Ray’s mouth falls open as I tell him how Butterfly handled her mother. “Carla begged her for forgiveness. She tried to give her back the money and pleaded with Ana not to shut her out.”
“She finally realized what she lost,” Ray says softly and I nod.
“Yes, but it was too late. I have a feeling that if she had showed up the night before, she might have had a chance. I went to her the night before. She was too busy wallowing in her own selfishness, but the Carla that I saw the next day was broken. She was drowning and flailing, begging and praying for help, and Butterfly watched her sink. It was delicate and brutal at the same time. When Carla left that apartment, she wasn’t even a fraction of the woman I had seen the night before. Butterfly brought her to her knees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was still in mourning right now.” Ray nods as he considers the information I just gave him.
“You will forgive me if I take a moment of joy at this woman’s predicament,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Of course I will. I’ll even join you in that moment of joy.” We sit quietly for a moment before I say. “You’ll be a great father, Ray. You did an outstanding job with Butterfly. Now you have a son!”
“I don’t know, Christian. There’s going to be so many years between us. I’m never going to be able to relate to him. People are going to think I’m the kid’s grandfather if they think I’m his father at all. Look at my beautiful, young wife.”
“What do you really care what people think? That kid is going to love you because you are his father and a good man. What else matters?” Ray nods, unconvinced. “Anyway, I’ll be around to teach him all the things that little boys shouldn’t do, like catcalls, spitting, and looking at girls’ boobs.” This elicits a laugh from Ray.
“I’m glad Annie found you,” he says with a smile.
“It… was more like fate that brought us together,” I tell him. “Did she ever tell you that story?” Ray shakes his head. “I punched out a drunk driver that wrecked my sports car in front of a cop. The judge gave me community service and group counseling sessions. She was the facilitator.” Ray’s eyes get big.
“That was you?” he asks, pointing at me. Now I want to know what Butterfly said.
“Uh…” I’m at a loss for words. Ray starts laughing heartily. That breaks my tension a bit and inwardly, I breathe a huge sign of relief.
“I remember that. She had Brian look you up… well, not specifically you, but it turned out to be you.” Ugh! Brian.
“Uh, yeah,” is all I can really say.
“I think her words were ‘macho,’ ‘conceited,’ and ‘testosterone-driven.’ She said you gave her nightmares.” He’s still laughing while I fidget nervously.
“She said that, huh? Yeah, that was the nice, watered-down version,” I confess. “Anyway, without rehashing that, it was fate.” I nervously toy with my hands while Ray’s laughter dies.
“I loved her, you know,” he says without raising his head. “Carla? I loved her. She was a real looker in her day. She was gorgeous…”
“Like Ana,” I interject. Ray frowns.
“I guess,” he says after he ponders the thought. “Yeah, Annie looks just like Carla did back then, but you never look at your daughter that way. I mean, Annie is… Annie, but Carla, I desired her.” Desiring Carla—I can’t even imagine it except for the fact that she looked like Butterfly once upon a time. “Harry was my friend, you know.” My neck snaps over to him. Okay, now he’s got my attention.
“He was?” I ask, shocked. Ray nods.
“We were very close, in fact. Carla never knew; neither did Annie. I mean Carla knew of me, but she didn’t know how close we were. We met when she came to visit him once. I’ll never forget it. She was wearing a green sundress and she had these big curls in her hair. She took my breath away. I loved Carla the moment I laid eyes on her.” That sounds familiar. “She was beautiful and bubbly… she stole my heart from ‘hello.’ I had known Harry for years, but I met Carla right before they got married. A few months later, he moved into military housing and he brought her on the base to live with him. The whole thing reminded me of that Springfield song.” He drinks more of his beer. “Harry knew how I felt about her. I just tried to stay away as much as possible without it being awkward.”
“He wasn’t angry?” I ask. Ray shakes his head.
“He felt sorry for me. He told me that he understood how any man could fall in love with her and we didn’t speak about it anymore. He was my friend.”
“But you and Carla ended up together. Was she cheating on him?” Ray shakes his head again.
“That didn’t happen until later. You never sleep with another man’s wife, much less another Marine. That just didn’t happen in my day. I mean, I’m sure that it did, but not among honorable men. We just didn’t do that. It was different from how it is today. Take you and Annie, for example. I’ve seen the way that Brian looks at Annie. I know exactly what’s going on, but when a man stakes a claim, another man should have the decency to step back and see where that’s going to go before he starts to piss all over it.” I adjust my collar a bit. Should I tell him that I crashed Butterfly’s date with David and sent over a bottle of wine? I mean, she was breaking up with him—or at least letting him down easy—but I didn’t know that when I sent the wine. No, I think I’ll just leave that out.
“How long did you know about Brian’s feelings for Ana?” I ask him.
“I wasn’t really sure, but the wedding removed all my doubts. You guys did all this cock-strutting waving your feathers around seeing who will end up with the girl. In my time, if a woman was spoken for, you didn’t mess with her.” I nod.
“You saw that, huh?” I say, nervously.
“Everybody saw that,” he says, as if it was so obvious to me. At that moment, I remember Elliot telling me not to “mount” Butterfly on the bar. “Your ‘no-so-subtle’ exchange of words, the way you both took shots at each other’s resources and your final blow of ‘I got the girl…'” He uses the finger quotes with “I got the girl.” “I don’t know what ever came of it and it’s pretty clear that you won the duel, but you two were clearly throwing down gauntlets that night. I would never have done that to Harry, but…”
The pause is what Al would call “pregnant,” very pregnant.
“I still wanted her. I wanted her so much that even seeing Harry reminded me of her, because he got to go home to her every night. I didn’t have a girlfriend from the moment she moved to the base, and then…” He sighs heavily. “I was there the day Harry had his accident.”
“Oh, shit, you were?” I listen attentively.
“Yes,” he nods. “It was right after Annie was born. I saw him when he went down. It was a training bombing exercise and he took the brunt of it. He didn’t have a chance.” His voice is cracking. “I got to him just before the medics got there. ‘Don’t die on me, Lambert! Don’t you dare fucking die!’” His eyes glaze over like he’s right there watching his friend die again. “I could see that he was slipping away and I begged him to hold on. ‘Please, Harry, please hold on. Don’t leave them alone.’ ‘They’re yours now, Steele,’ he said. ‘Promise me you’ll take care of them.’ ‘Not if it means you’ll let go if I do.’ ‘I will. I’m fading fast, Ray. Please, take care of my girls. Please. I can’t do it anymore.’ ‘I will, Harry. I’ll take care of them. I promise.’ And then he was gone.” The tears flow freely down his cheek.
“He didn’t even make it to the infirmary. I play that conversation in my head over and over. My last words with my friend.” His voice is steady, but the tears are still flowing. “I was there when Carla got there to identify him. His body was minced meat, but thank God the bomb didn’t damage his face. Of course, she knew who I was. She broke down in my arms and I had to carry her out of there. Annie was only weeks old and Carla was falling apart. They were going to be homeless for the most part because Carla had to move—not immediately, but they would have had to move. I tell myself that’s why I convinced her to marry me so soon, but I know better. We were married almost immediately, so she didn’t have to move. We slept in separate bedrooms, but I was happy to just be near her, to be able to take care of her and Annie. I know that it was selfish of me, but I didn’t push myself on her in any way… and I was keeping a promise to my friend, one that I was happy to fulfill.
“I knew that she didn’t love me—she was still in love with Harry.” He raises his eyes to the night sky. “She never stopped loving Harry. I never blamed her for that. He really was one of the good ones. Eventually, we became close and fell in love. Then one day, she just… changed. She was angry and discontent. I don’t know what happened.” He drops his head again. “I did my best, Christian. I did what I could to take care of them, but she wouldn’t let me. For 13 years, they were my whole world, and for several years after they left—but for some reason, I wasn’t enough for her.”
When he looks over at me, his eyes are full of pain. “She became someone who I didn’t know. She hated me and I never knew why. After a while, I finally let her go, but not my Annie. She was all I had left of one of the best men that I’ve ever known, and I’m blessed to be able to call her mine. I love her like my own flesh and blood, and I would never let her go.”
“So, that’s why you named your son Harrison?” I ask him. He stares at me for a moment.
“It’s the very least I could do… One of the best men I’ve ever known. Please don’t ever tell Annie.” He drops his head again. I put my hand on his shoulder.
“This conversation never happened, Ray,” I say, firmly. He nods and dashes the tears away from his eyes. “I’m getting married next month,” I say, directing the conversation away from Harry and away we go to another topic.
I don’t know what time it is when I finally get everyone off and on their way to their homes. The dishwasher hums quietly in the kitchen and Jason has long since joined Gail in their apartment on the other side of the penthouse. There is only the soft lights above the breakfast bar and the hue of the fire gently lighting the great room as I sit on the sofa nursing a glass of wine and playing the evening over in my head. My heart is heavy from my and Ray’s conversation and all I can think about are the events that brought Butterfly to me. The silence is deafening as I think of all the things that could take her away from me—psycho blonds with guns, nutcase ex-boyfriends or angry ex-employees, shunned ex-subs, car accidents, lightening bolts, mystical creatures from alien planets…
I’m losing my mind, now. I’m thinking about Carla and what turned her into the cold bitch that she is today. Could it be that she never got over Harry? She tried to get on with her life, but never got over her one true love… I don’t know. Ray says that they had a happy life for several years and then… no, it wasn’t Harry. It was her own selfishness. She wanted something that she didn’t have and she broke up her happy home in pursuit of it. Ray was blindsided. He didn’t even see it coming. Could Butterfly ever do that to me? Please, God, tell me that she could never do that to me.
I don’t know how long I sit there before I hear her stilettos clicking across the marble floor as she enters the door. I rise from the sofa and head towards the door. In the darkness, I can see her silhouette—black pencil dress and sky-high Louboutins, her hair in a chignon. She jumps when I step out of the shadows to meet her.
“My God! Christian! You scared me. Why are you sitting here in the dark?” I slowly close the space between us as she examines me cautiously. She gasps as I snatch her into my arm pressing her hard against me. I dominate her mouth and tongue with mine, absorbing her essence into me as one hand holds her at the base of her spine while the other roams her back over the thin material of her nearly backless dress. She doesn’t breathe until I release her mouth and move toward her ear.
“Christian!” she breathes. “What’s wrong?” My urgency doesn’t get past her. I’m holding her so close and so tight that I’m nearly lifting her from the floor. I press my nose into her neck and breathe deeply, inhaling her scent.
“I need you… now!” I groan as my hand thrusts into her hair, causing several tendrils to release from the chignon. My tongue trails from her ear, down her neck, around to her throat and back up to her lips before I possess them again. She moans in my mouth as her body melds to mine and I press her against me once more.
When I release her lips again, she is panting. “Okay,” she breathes mindlessly, and I scoop her up in my arms, kissing her over and over while I carry her bridal style to our bedroom.
A/N: The Springfield song Ray is talking about is “Jessie’s Girl” released in 1981.
So, you’re not crazy. Ana’s father’s name did change, and here’s why. In the trilogy, her father’s name is Franklin Lambert. I discovered that in my writing, the name “Frank” seemed to stick out and find its way into the story more often than I thought. For example, Mr. Frank Wilborne was the other court-ordered attendee in group therapy. Frank was the name of the male officer that showed up at Ana’s condo when she pulled her gun on Edward. The night desk clerk at Escala ended up being named “Frank” (how did that happen?) the day they had F&L and Elena showed up. Most of all, notwithstanding my apparent fascination with the phrase “quite frankly,” Cody’s father is named what? You guessed it—Franklin Whitmore. So instead of changing my obsession to “Frank” through two damn stories, I just decided to name Ana’s father “Harold” which of course shortens to “Harry.” Since I’ll be rewriting the story, I don’t think it matters much what her dad’s name is, but just thought you guys should know.
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