There were many different comments about how Christian should have acted in the Playroom and Jason’s concern for Ana. Some thought the scene was hot and appropriate for their relationship. Others thought that Christian should find a different way to release his aggression. All I can say in response to that is HE’S A DOM, PEOPLE! Nothing else to say.
I do want to say that people do things for different reasons and we really have to be careful not to judge what we may not understand. So please, I do want to request that we not slam anybody’s lifestyle just because we don’t agree. I know that I have people from different walks of life reading my story and I don’t want someone to read someone else’s comment and say, “Well, damn, what the fuck did they mean by that?”
Opinions are just fine—I welcome them—as long as they are not derogatory or offensive. Let’s just remember that we are already dealing with “taboo” topics here. Let’s be sure that we are not saying anything that may offend someone. If I have offended anyone, please forgive me.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.
Chapter 60—Daddy’s Girl
“Who? Who the fuck did you say?” I bark at Welch.
“Alexandria Rose Lambert. She’s 71 years old and resides in Harrisburg, PA. Widowed, three sons—Archibald, Frederick, and Harold Lambert…”
“Anastasia’s father… fuck!” I bang my hand on the desk. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Butterfly just shed the nightmare that is her mother. Now, long-lost relatives are coming out of the fucking woodwork! Why now? Is it because Ana is about to be rich? “Could this woman be an imposter? An opportunist trying to play on Ana’s emotions?”
“There is that possibility, Sir, but imposter is not very likely. We’ve followed her and tracked her ever since she started watching Ms. Steele. She didn’t even know that we were tracking her. She most likely still doesn’t unless one of the security detail has approached her, and I’ve got no word on that.” I look at the pictures again.
“She doesn’t look 71. Fifty, maybe, but not 71.” I say. Welch shrugs.
“Hair dye, maybe. She takes excellent care of herself from the Intel I get. She’s staying at the Marriott, runs every morning and gym every evening. I don’t know about her eating habits, but she’s in excellent shape.”
“Again, another reason I think she’s not 71 and could be an imposter. I want to meet this woman. Right now. I want to know why she waited until now to show up. Ana has never mentioned her. Nobody has, not even Ray. I want to know if she is who she says she is and why she’s here.” I pick up my phone to call Jason only to see him walking into my office with a bit of a solemn look on his face. “What is it?” I ask him.
“Her Highness is on her way back to Escala. She had an episode while she was shopping today.” He’s stalling.
“An episode?” I nearly growl.
“Yes Sir. Paramedics were called, but she refused to go to the hospital and had Chuck take her home.” Hospital? Paramedics? What the fuck?
“English Jason quickly,” I say through my teeth. He sighs.
“She passed out in the street, Sir. Chuck doesn’t know exactly why, but he knows that she was talking on the phone to her father and she had just confronted a woman who says she’s her grandmother.” I thrust my hands into my hair.
“Oh, fuck! Are you kidding me? How the fuck does this shit happen? Why do I even hire you guys?” I’m screaming now.
“The details are sketchy, Sir, but as far as I can tell, Her Highness recognized the woman and approached her after asking Chuck to come with her. She didn’t do anything careless from what I’m being told, but it just seems like the shock of the situation was too much for her.” I shake my head in dismal despair.
“Two weeks,” I hiss. “Two weeks before her fucking wedding. You lay down one demon and four more pop out. I swear I’m going to lock her in the fucking apartment!” I snatch my suit jacket from the back of the seat and head for the door.
“You’re… who?” I don’t recognize my own voice. It can’t be. This can’t be.
“I’m your grandmother, Anastasia. I’m your father’s mother. I didn’t mean for you to see me… at least, not like this.” Her voice is kind and soft, and I feel like I’m about to shit my pants.
“I’m 27,” I say, shaking. She frowns at me, confused.
“I know that, Dear,” she says.
“Where have you been? I’m 27…” I’m hoping these few words can relay the horror I feel right now. I had a grandmother—a grandma—and I didn’t know it for 27 years. There was someone out there of my own flesh and blood that didn’t come for me when I was suffering. A man who doesn’t share one bit of DNA with me cared more than my own blood. Am I really that unlovable? No! No! This flaw is not mine! This is hers. My family is nothing but a bunch of hideous, uncaring people and that’s not my fault. I refuse to believe it’s my fault.
Daddy. I need my Daddy.
“Daddy? Daddy? Daddy, I need you…” I say into the phone after shakily dialing his number.
“Annie? Annie, what’s wrong?”
“There’s a… lady… She… says… she says she’s… my grandmother.” I can barely speak. I feel like I’m going to pass out.
“Your grandmother?” He sounds completely flabbergasted. “What? Who… what’s her name?”
“Al… Alex… andria…” There’s a gasp on the other end.
“Mrs. Lambert!?” he squeals. “I thought she had died!” My brain is scrambled for a moment.
“You… know her?” I squeeze the words out of my throat. There’s a pause on the other end of the line.
“Yes, Sunflower, I know Harry’s mother… I knew Harry, too.” That’s it… here comes the darkness…
I’m safe in my bed. Maybe it was all a dream. The woman claiming to be my grandmother, Daddy on the phone, the paramedics… I look down at my clothes. Nope, not a dream. It was real. Fuck, it was real. I throw my legs angrily out of the bed. Where has she been all these years? My mind automatically goes to the beating. That was the time when I asked if anyone loved me, cried and wondered why there seemed to be no escape for me. Daddy couldn’t take me because we’re not blood, but she could have. Why didn’t she come to rescue me?
After I relieve myself, I emerge from my bedroom to find my fiancé, father, stepmother and baby brother all in the great room. I almost feel like a stranger until I hear Harry coo. I walk right over to his baby seat.
“Hi, Harry,” I say softly, not speaking to anyone else in the room. I gently lift him into my arms and cradle him there, taking comfort in his innocence and untainted love. “How are you, Little Guy?” I say kissing him on the forehead before sitting on the sofa. He looks up at me with that blank look that newborns have, unassuming and curious, and it makes me feel a little better about the world. At 22 days old, he already has the ability to make things right.
“Butterfly… are you hungry?” Christian is the first to approach, though very cautiously. Without raising my gaze from my gorgeous baby brother, I nod that I would like something to eat. “I’ll go have Gail fix something. I’ll be right back.” Christian makes a hasty escape and I turn my attention to my father.
“You know her?” I ask, a bit more coldly than I wanted.
“Yes, I do,” he says, softly.
“Did you see her? Is it really her or some sick fuck trying to come at me for money?” Ouch! That was certainly too much. Daddy winces at my words and I instantly regret how they came out, but not what I said. I want to know who this woman is and what she wants.
“I didn’t see her yet, Annie, but I will. Christian asked to meet her after your episode this afternoon and she refused. She won’t talk to anyone until she talks to you, which is going to be a task since your fiancé will not let her talk to you until she talks to him.” I glare at him. How is Christian going to tell me who I can and cannot talk to? Is this how he thinks our marriage is going to go? As if to answer my question, Daddy continues. “He wants to make sure that you’ll be safe before you speak to her. She could be anyone, Annie. We can’t take that chance.”
We. He agrees with Christian. Beneath my confusion, anger, pain, and frustration, I agree with Christian, too. There’s another feeling there, though. It’s betrayal. Alexandria Lambert is not the only one who has been keeping something from me.
“Why didn’t I know about her? I didn’t know that you weren’t my biological father until I was 14. Why didn’t I know about her? Why did you all keep her from me?” Daddy’s face falls.
“We didn’t keep you from her, Annie, I swear it. We didn’t even know that she was still alive,” he defends.
“How could you not know? You said you knew my…” What do I call him? I can’t call him my father. Ray Steele is my father… but so was he. What do I call him?
“It’s okay, Sunflower. He was your father. You can say it.” He seems reserved to the fact but it still doesn’t feel right to me, not in front of Daddy.
“You said that you knew my biological father. How could you not know about Alexandria?” A look of relief comes over his face, but it is quickly replaced by shame.
“Ana, it’s time for me to feed Harry, and I think you and your father need some time alone,” Mandy says reaching for Harry. “May I use your guest room please?”
I reluctantly hand Harry over to his mom. He was my talisman, my little bundle of comfort and strength, but I guess I’ll have to be strong on my own.
“There are more comfortable chairs in my office if you like. It’s upstairs, first room on your right. The guest room is the last room on the left.” She nods and kisses Daddy on the cheek before disappearing up the stairs. I turn my gaze back to Daddy but say nothing. He sighs heavily.
“Mrs. Lambert stopped speaking to me after Carla and I got married,” he begins. “It was very shortly after Harry died. She stopped speaking to Carla, too. She felt like we were dishonoring Harry but getting married so quickly.” I’ve often wondered why they married so quickly myself. I always thought it was unrequited love that just saw the opportunity for happiness and took it. “Harry was my best friend, Annie.”
“WHAT?!” The word was out of my mouth before I could stop it. Daddy actually jumps in his seat. What fresh, new insanity is this? Your best friend dies and you marry his wife? Please tell me that my Daddy is not that guy!
“We were in the Marines together. I won’t lie, I loved Carla from the moment that I saw her, but she was my best friend’s girl and I loved him like a brother…”
I sit in horrified silence while Daddy tells me about loving my mother from afar; about giving Harry and Carla their space so that his feelings wouldn’t interfere with their relationship; about begging Harry not to die when the bomb went off. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Daddy and Harry were friends? Daddy loved Mom from afar like some Shakespearean tragedy? Daddy married his best friend’s wife right after he died? Oh good hell!
The more I listened to the story, the more I realized that Daddy’s act was mostly selfless in that he was trying to save me and Mom from being homeless. The fact that he loved Mom was both a blessing and a curse. He had to come clean with her about his feelings knowing that she didn’t feel the same way. For a long time, they lived in the same house but never shared a bed. It took several months for Mom to feel anything more than grief for her husband, several more months for her to feel the depth of nothing more than gratitude. Daddy was so happy to be near her that he took whatever he could get, happy in the thought that he was also keeping his promise to his friend to take care of us. He was finally rewarded after two years of marriage with Carla’s affection, and cursed 11 years later with her hatred.
She’s suffering the curse of their decision as well. I don’t think she ever truly found what she was looking for after Harry died. She found solace in whatever situation she was in until she… didn’t. Now, I imagine that she is quite miserable knowing that she threw away what little peace she had to go searching for something better.
My heart swells for my father. I know that although he was driven by his desire for my mother, he made a promise to his friend to take care of us and that’s exactly what he did. He cared for us to the best of his ability, often putting himself and his own feelings second for what he thought was best for us. Some of my best memories are with my daddy, but I have to say that I am even more happy that he has started his family again with Mandy and he is finally living his life on his own terms.
“So what ever happened to Alexandria after she stopped speaking to you? What made you think that she was dead?” I ask.
“We just never heard from her. We were sure that she would at least try to get in touch with us to see how you were doing. You were Harry’s only child, her only link to her son left on earth and she just… disappeared. I even went by her house a few times in the years that followed. Her sons knew who I was and wouldn’t give me any information, just that she wasn’t there anymore. I gave up after a while thinking that if she was alive, she would surely have gotten in touch with us. I had no idea that she held that grudge so long and missed out on her granddaughter’s life.”
“Can you blame her, Daddy? She didn’t know what to make of all of this. I can completely understand how she felt.” Daddy looks at me with sad eyes. No, Daddy, don’t… please. I launch myself into his arms and hug him tight. “I can understand how she felt, Daddy, because she didn’t know what was going on. I don’t feel that way. I think you are the strongest, kindest, most selfless and wonderful man that I have ever met in my life—even more now knowing what you did for me and Mom.” He hugs me back and I can feel him shuddering against me.
“I love you, Annie,” he says, his voice thick with emotion.
“I love you, too, Daddy,” I reply, holding him close to me.
I awake on Saturday morning ready to go to my final fitting for my dress. Mandy, Al, and Tammy are all going with me and once these final adjustments are confirmed correct, Al will take the dress back to his apartment to prevent it from being discovered by prying eyes.
When we arrive at the studio, the three designers are all falling over themselves to get me into the final product. They are patting one another on the back for being able to collaborate on such a marvelous creation and are now clamoring to get me into the dressing room. Seeing my dress on the hanger stole my breath away. I have to sit down for a moment and admire it before I put it on.
When I emerge from the dressing room, I am smiling and crying at the same time. Demetrio gasps and covers his mouth. Neal claps his hands while Jesse fans himself. “Miss Steele… you are breathtaking,” Jesse breathes. Although I know they want me to be happy with their creation and wouldn’t say anything less, I would have to agree with his analysis. I do my best to compose myself before revealing the dress to Mandy, Al, and Tammy. I gently lift the front so that I don’t walk on it while Neal carries the train. The moment that I clear the curtain separating the back of the studio from the showroom, the room falls silent. Mandy is staring at me completely stunned and I think I see Al drool a bit.
“Oh my God,” Tammy says softly. “Wang is going to shit herself that she didn’t get commissioned for this.”
I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I don’t care. I’m convinced that Tammy is obsessed with Vera Wang. I step onto the four-foot-round bridal podium and admire myself from all angles in the surrounding mirrors. For a moment, it’s just me and my dress. The dress is diamond white satin with a French floral lace overlay that covers the entire dress. The dress would be considered a sheath dress, but it has a slight mermaid fit at the hip which flows out into a full skirt and three-foot round train. The “collar” is high, sheer floral lace that meets and flows continuously over a satin, sweetheart neckline.
The bottom of my breast is framed by a four-inch wide white tulle sash which drops in an upside-down “V” and is attached at either side of the dress. Holding the tulle in place is a beautiful three-inch, diamond-shaped broach made of platinum and Swarovski crystals nestled between my breasts directly under the sweetheart neckline. In the back, the collar splits into two panels of lace—both three inches wide—that frame my back creating a dramatic large teardrop opening that meets just below the center of my spine. The lace gives you just a peek of “the garden” before the flowers and butterflies disappear behind white satin and twenty covered buttons that line up down the small of my back and just over the top of my butt.
I admire my dress a few moments more before turning around to face the “critics.” Al and Mandy are actually crying… both of them! Good God, I hope Christian doesn’t cry when he sees me!
“I knew you could do it,” I say turning to Demetrio, Jesse, and Neal. “You brought my vision to life.”
“I only had the sash, Miss,” Neal says, a bit forlorn. I hold my hands out to him beckoning him to come to me. He walks over to me and takes my hands.
“Yes, Neal. You only had the sash, but look at it. With Demetrio’s shell and Jesse’s lace, your sash and brooch brought this beautiful creation together. Look at it,” I say, regarding my reflection once more and fondling the Swarovski crystals on my bosom. “Without your contribution, it wouldn’t be complete. Thank you,” I say, taking his hand again and kissing it dramatically, eliciting a beet-red blush from him. “Thank you all so much. Delighted and ecstatic do not begin to describe how I feel right now.” The other two gentlemen bow and clap as I turn to Mandy and Al. “Well?” I say with a shrug and a smile.
“Jewel,” Al breathes while walking over to me. “Oh, Jewel, you look…” He drops his head and starts to weep again. My best friend is having a hard time keeping it together. I lift his head and kiss him gently.
“I’m still your Jewel. I’ll always be your Jewel,” I say softly, reading his thoughts. He purses his lips through his tears and nods. He turns his face to my hand and kisses my palm.
“I know. I can’t wait for Chris and Ray to see you.” I smile and kiss him again. “You look lovely.”
“Thank you, Al.” I squeeze his hand and turn to Mandy.
“I wish Ray could see you,” she says, her voice cracking. “I mean, I know he will, but I wish he could see you now.”
“Thanks… Mom,” I say to her with a wink. She giggles a bit and wipes a few stray tears from her cheek. I turn to Tammy. “Still think I should have gone with The Wang?” I ask her. She sticks her tongue out at me.
“Hey! I will never defame The Wang, but…” She walks around the podium examining my dress. “This has to be one of the most exquisite and divine creations I have ever seen in my career.” Wow! That makes me feel like a million bucks in this dress. “Bravo, gentlemen! Bravo! Ana, out of the dress. Demetrio, champagne!”
Christian and I are sitting in the first floor conference room at Grey House. It’s about 3:00pm on Monday afternoon. Christian sits on the end and I am sitting in the seat directly to his right. Across from us is the woman who says she is my grandmother, Alexandria Lambert. Christian has shared her background check with me. Apparently, I have two uncles that I’ve never met as well. Interesting. They’ve all left Seattle—either immediately after my father’s death, as was the case with Alexandria, or in the few years that followed. This would be why Ray never heard from her again.
Until now, that is.
I examine her carefully. She says that she’s 71, but she doesn’t look a day over 50 and that’s stretching it. She’s familiar—very familiar—so I know that we are related. She looks just like Harry, my father, not my brother. I only know because he haunts my dreams regularly now, still refusing to tell me who he is, why he’s sorry, or who he broke. This shit really creeps me out, I’m not afraid to say, but shit… he’s just like Harris. He’s shows up when there is some kind of weakness in my life that I’m having trouble dealing with or when something huge is about to happen.
I haven’t seen Harris. Maybe Harry chased him away.
Harris. Harry. That’s a little too close.
“I know what you must think of me,” she says, her hands folded in front of her. Her voice broke me from my daydream and I can’t help but chuckle.
“Do you?” I say, impassively. “You know, the last person that said that to me was very shocked to discover what I was really thinking.” I must admit that I feel a bit guilty. Part of me wants to put this woman through her paces. Another part wants to know where the hell she’s been all these years. Yet another part wants to get up and walk out of here and leave her to her life. “However, I would really like to know what you think I’m thinking right now.” She clears her throat.
“I guess I should have been a little more… specific. I don’t know what you must be thinking, but I can just about imagine. I know what I would be thinking and none of it is good.” You got that right, Lady. “There’s nothing that I can say to you that I think you would want to hear—nothing that could erase all the years I haven’t been around. Honestly, I just wanted to see you in person, to see the woman that you’ve become…”
“Why?” I ask, interrupting her. She stares at me for a moment.
“You look like Carla,” she says. That’s why? “You were so young the last time that I saw you, just days old, in fact. Your features had not yet developed. You were just one of those featureless but beautiful babies and we just waited to see what you would look like. But then, Harry was gone. Just like that, Harry was gone. In no time flat, Carla was marrying his best friend and living in the house with him, like my Harry never existed.” Her voice cracks as she relays the story. “How does someone do that? How do you claim to love a man, have his child, then marry his best friend moments after he dies?” She shakes her head. “I know that’s your mother…”
“I don’t speak to my mother,” I say, interrupting her again. The last thing I want to talk about right now is Carla Morton. She raises her eyes to me in surprise. “We have had our say and I don’t speak to her or of her,” I add.
“Oh!” she says. “I had no idea.”
“You wouldn’t,” I say, coolly. “I ask again, why did you have to see me?” She looks crestfallen.
“You’re all that’s left of my Harry,” she says softly.
“I was all that was left of Harry 27 years ago… 20 years ago… 15 years ago. Why now?” Get to the point, Lady. You saw the news.
“I was bitter!” she shoots. “What they did—they dishonored my son! It was disrespectful and treacherous and unthinkable!”
“Careful, Lady. That’s the only father I’ve ever known that you’re talking about.” I realize that my voice has fallen a few octaves and I think I scare her a bit. I try to reign in my anger. “I can sympathize with what you must have been feeling after my father died, but had you bothered to ask what happened, Daddy would have told you. He would have told you that he held Harry in his arms while Harry breathed his last breaths and made him promise to take care of me and my mother. He would have told you that Harry knew that he was quite taken with my mother, but that Daddy deliberately stayed away from Harry and Carla at of respect for his friend. He would have told you that my mother and I were in jeopardy of being thrown out of our home which is why they were married so quickly—so that we could stay on the base. He would have told you that they slept in separate bedrooms for years while my mother mourned the loss of the man that she loved. You were so wrapped up in your own hatred and grief that you never bothered to ask.” Take that! Don’t talk about my father like he’s some sort of cad!
“He took away your name,” she says, still a little bitter. “Anastasia Steele? Your name was Lambert.”
“Oh, surely you can see how awkward that would have been for Lance Corporal and Mrs. Raymond Steele to have a newborn baby named Anastasia Lambert!” For crying out loud, Lady, you can’t be that dense.
“It couldn’t have been any more awkward than him marrying his best friend’s wife. I mean, really!” She shoots. She’s too angry about the marriage and the name change to see beyond it. Besides, we’re getting off track.
“I guess that’s something that you’ll have to take up with my father… or not. Either way, it still doesn’t tell me why you showed up in my life after all of these years. I needed a grandmother years ago. I don’t need one now nor am I interested in forging new relationships with long-lost relatives who didn’t think to look for me before I became an independent adult through years of hard work and sorrow.” I guess I’m a little bitter, too. You show up after 27 years, you insult my father, and now I guess you’re hoping for a family reunion? Not going to happen, Sister. She blinks at me a few times.
“Oh my,” she says softly. “If that’s how you really feel…” She begins to fidget with her fingers and her purse in her lap. “I should go.” She stands quickly and straightens her clothes before scrambling to the door. “I’m really very sorry that I bothered you,” she says before proceeding out the door. Christian sits there with me in silence for about five seconds before he stands and follows Alexandria out of the door. I don’t really know what to make of that, but I sit there alone with my thoughts for a few moments.
How dare she insult my Daddy. Who the fuck does she think she is? I really am very sorry that Harry died so young, and I’m very sorry that you didn’t take the time to talk to his best friend and widow to see exactly what was going on. I know how it must have looked, but you didn’t even ask! I try to sit there in my righteous indignation, but the truth is that I would have felt the same way had that been my son. I would have thought that his best friend and that hussy that he called a wife must have lost their rabbit-ass minds to get married before my son was even cold in his grave yet. Would I have listened had he come to me to explain why he married my daughter-in-law once removed? Would I have even asked? Would I have even wanted to know? Would I have truly shut myself out of my granddaughter’s life because of it?
I can’t even answer those questions. I stand and walk through the door that Christian and Alexandria exited moments before.
“Mrs. Lambert! Mrs. Lambert, wait!” I catch her just as she’s about to leave through the revolving door. She turns around and looks at me with large, sad eyes. I examine her closely and realize that she is in very good shape. Toned legs and arms are visible under a blue skirt suit, but her neck and eyes show signs of aging. I can tell that she hasn’t had any work done and besides maybe a dye job to cover the gray and, looking at her more closely, she actually could be 71 years old—a very fit 71 years old, but yes, she could.
“I don’t want to disrupt her life. I’ve seen the news. I know what she’s been going through,” she says. “I never would have known but one of the people involved in that whole beating case in Nevada has ties in Harrisburg and… well, they showed her picture. She looks just like Carla and I knew that her name was Anastasia. They named her after me—Alexandria Rose.” She stops realizing that she has begun to ramble. “I couldn’t remember Ray’s last name until I heard it. I swear I didn’t want to upset her. I don’t want anything. I just wanted… to make sure that she was alright.”
“I believe you, Mrs. Lambert,” I tell her to her surprise. “I pride myself on being a good judge of character and I am generally mistrusting of people and their motives, but I believe you. You have to know that this is a delicate time for Anastasia. It’s only been a few months since the Green Valley story broke and she’s been dealing with it for over a decade now. Most of the people involved haven’t even been brought to justice yet. We don’t know when the trials are going to be or how much this is really going to disrupt our lives… You have to know that this timing was very bad.” She nods.
“I know, Mr. Grey. I’m an old woman and I have to admit that I had hoped… well, no matter. I’ll leave as soon as I can make travel arrangements. I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry, Mr. Grey.” She turns to leave again and I hear Butterfly’s voice behind me.
Mrs. Lambert turns around to face Butterfly, her expression hopeful.
“You need to talk to my father first. He’s the only family that I have and I love him very much. He was mourning the loss of his friend, too, and he didn’t deserve to be condemned by you. You missed the opportunity to comfort each other and heal together, not to mention the opportunity to be a part of your granddaughter’s life. Talk to my father, and we’ll see where it goes from there.” She tilts her head at Butterfly.
“You are quite loyal, I see—quite the formidable young woman,” she says.
“I’m very protective of the people that I love,” Butterfly replies. Mrs. Lambert nods.
“I don’t know what Carla did to get on your bad side, but whatever it was, I bet she’s kicking herself right now.” Mrs. Lambert puts her purse on her shoulder and smiles a small smile. “Hopefully, we will meet again, Anastasia.”
“Alexandria,” she says with a short nod. Mrs. Lambert returns the nod and leaves the building without incident. I turn to Butterfly and rub her arms.
“Are you okay?” I ask her. She nods.
“I’m not going to let her disrupt my life, Christian. I’ve had enough of that. We have a wedding in 12 days and that’s what I’m concentrating on. At least I don’t have to worry about her hiding in shadows and creeping around corners now.” I rub her arms again and lead her to the elevators.
I go to Boys Night on the next day and bring Ray and Dad with me. Since they won’t be taking part in the bachelor day next week, I thought I would spend some time with them and show them where I “hang out,” so to speak. I’ve become a little more than acquaintances with some of the guys there, and it’s a comfortable place to be. My father and father-in-law fit right in.
“Ana told her that she has to talk to you,” I tell Ray concerning Alexandria. “She’s still very bitter about you marrying Carla right after Harry died.”
“Well, first of all, that’s none of her business,” Ray defends. “Second of all, I would have been happy to explain things to her had she come to me and asked.” Ray takes a swallow of his beer.
“Yes, I think Ana made that quite clear to her. She told Mrs. Lambert that she had no right to condemn you because she didn’t know the whole story. I have no doubt that she’ll be trying to contact you this week.”
“She doesn’t know how to contact me so that’s not likely.”
“She found Ana, she’ll find you.” That thought doesn’t sit easy with me. With Butterfly being so newsworthy, she’s very easy to find with very little effort. I may want to talk to her about another security detail. If Davenport goes down, she’s all alone.
“Well, I wish her luck then.” He takes another swallow of his beer. “What do you think she wants after all these years… money?”
“I don’t know. Has she ever struck you as that type of woman?” He shakes his head.
“I didn’t know her well enough to be able to speak on her character. Off the top, I would say ‘no,’ but why show up now?”
“I honestly think she’s just an old woman who found a missing link to part of her family and just wants to reconnect it.” I say. Ray shrugs.
“Do you know how to reach her, Ray?” Dad asks. Ray shakes his head and Dad looks at me.
“I didn’t get any contact information from her yesterday and my background check may or may not have a cell phone number. I can check.” Ray pauses for a moment then shakes his head again.
“No. Annie is right. She condemned me. She cut me off. She needs to make the first move. If she wants to talk to me, she’ll find me.”
“Would you meet her if she does contact you?” Dad asks. Ray stares at his beer for a moment.
“I always felt guilty, you know,” he begins, spinning the bottle on the table between his fingers. “I hated losing Harry. I really did, but the fact that I got Carla made me… almost happy that he died. He was my best friend. What kind of man feels that way about his best friend?”
“Did you really feel that way about Harry, or about the circumstances?” Dad asks. Ray raises his head.
“I don’t follow,” Ray says.
“Well, it’s true that you had to lose your friend to get the girl that you coveted…”
“Do you have to say it like that?” Ray nearly whines. I almost want to laugh. What else would you call it, Ray?
“I won’t mince words with you, Ray,” Dad says. “I don’t think you would appreciate that. You’re a good man. From what I can tell, you were a good man then, too, but you coveted your best friend’s wife—severely. That’s why you felt guilty. You wanted that woman so badly that the fact that you had her overshadowed the fact that your best friend had to die in order for you to get her. That’s what I think makes you feel guilty, but don’t misconstrue it. You weren’t happy that your best friend died. That would make you a monster, and a monster wouldn’t admit that. However, you were happy that Harry was no longer an obstacle to you being able to have Carla…”
“But he was an obstacle,” Ray protests. “I may have been married to Carla, but I didn’t have her for two more years.”
“Would you have rather had her sooner?” I ask Ray and he looks at me, frowning a bit. “Would you rather she had stopped mourning her husband and loved you sooner?” Ray stares at me for a bit.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” he admits, taking another drink of his beer. “Of course, I didn’t want her to act like Harry never existed, but did I want her to love me… more than anything.”
“Think of this, Ray,” Dad says, after sipping his Scotch. “Even as Harry lay dying in your arms, you thought of Carla and Anastasia. You begged him not to die not because you would be losing your best friend, but because you didn’t want them to be left alone. Even at the time, you never thought of yourself. You begged your friend to live—to hold on—for someone else. Do you still think that you were ‘happy’ that he died?” Ray pauses for several seconds before dropping his head.
“No,” he says, his voice just above a whisper and a single tear falling to the table. “I was happy to have Carla… happy to have a chance with her, but it hurt like hell that Harry died. It hurt for a long time.” He wipes his face. “He comes to me in my dreams, you know. I know it sounds crazy, but he’s been doing it for years. Not often, but every now and again. Now, he’s telling me that I did my best. After all these years, he comes to me now telling me that I did my best. Why do you think that is?” Dad and I look at each other.
“Maybe it’s because you finally moved on with your life,” I tell him, not knowing what else to say. “Think about it, Ray. You gave up any chance that you had to find a girl of your own—at the time—to help this broken, grieving family. True, you were in love with Carla, but you had no way of knowing if she would ever return that love to you. She could have never felt anything more than grateful to you for helping her and Ana during their time of need. You took a big chance with that and put your life on hold for them. What would have happened if she had gotten on her feet, thanked you, and left? How would you have felt?” Ray ponders that for a moment.
“That’s turns out to sort of be exactly what she did—13 years later and without the ‘thank you,'” he says as he bottoms out his beer.
“Yes, but you did get 13 years—or at least 10 or 11. You tried, Ray, even as she was walking out of your life, you tried. Maybe that’s what Harry is trying to tell you.” I’m not all into that spirits-crossing-over-realms thing, but I don’t disparage anyone who is. God knows, I haven’t heard from my dead mother, and I don’t want to hear from her now. So she better fucking not show up!
“Maybe you’re right, Son,” Ray says, trying to take a swallow from an empty beer bottle. “Looks like I need a refill,” he says, holding up the empty bottle for us to see. “Can I get you two anything?” We both tell him that we’re fine and he nods.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Dad asks when he’s out of earshot.
“He’s a strong man, Dad,” I tell him, “but I’ll let Ana know to just keep an eye on him. Monsters that suddenly pop out of closets have a way of destroying your life if you let them.”
Friday rolls around and I find myself in the first-floor conference room again sitting at the conference table, this time, with Mrs. Lambert and Ray and I’m playing referee.
“Why now, Alexandria?” Ray asks, his voice cold.
“I don’t have an answer to that question, Ray,” Mrs. Lambert replies, her voice not as cold, but still frosty. “I just… after all of these years, I just wanted to see her. I’m an old woman now. I haven’t had any link to my granddaughter—my Harry—for nearly 30 years.”
“That’s not her fault,” Ray snaps. “She’s very fragile—strong, but fragile. Now is not the time for you to be disrupting my daughter’s life.” She scoffs a bit.
“While I… appreciate what you did for Carla and Anastasia during their time of need, Anastasia is not your daughter,” she says matter-of-factly. Ray slams both of his hands down on the conference table, causing me and Mrs. Lambert to jump. Oh shit, you fucked up now, Lambert.
“That. Is my. Daughter. Lady. And nothing you can ever say is going to change that!” Ray snarls through his teeth, his voice grumbling deep in his throat. I think this particular topic is definitely off-limits.
“I’m going to have to call a time-out here,” I say, trying to break the tension. “Mrs. Lambert, I can understand that you may want some answers and you have some definite feelings and opinions about this situation. However, for 27 years, Ray has been the only father Anastasia has ever known. He gave her his name, took care of her even after he and Carla split, and loves her like his own flesh and blood to this day. He means the world to her and she to him. I will not allow you to diminish that relationship in my presence. If you do it again, I will have to ask you to leave. If you feel that you cannot refrain from doing it, I will ask you to please leave now. The man and woman that I currently call ‘Dad’ and ‘Mom’ had nothing to do with my conception. So I take personal offense to what you just said.”
I try not to glare at her because this is not my fight, but certain topics are simply off-limits, and I hope she gets the picture without me having her escorted out of the building. She looks over at me, then back at Ray, then straight ahead.
“Fine,” she replies curtly. “I’ll keep my feelings on that particular topic to myself.” Wow, she really is bitter about this. Ray rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
“What do you want, Alexandria?” he says, his patience clearly running thin.
“I want a relationship with my granddaughter.”
“That’s completely up to her,” Ray replies.
“She said I had to speak to you first.”
“I don’t know. Your permission, I guess,” she nearly hisses.
“If you’re looking for my permission, I’m not sure that I want to give it. I don’t know what your motives are for turning up so late in her life!” Ray snaps back.
“I couldn’t find her!” Mrs. Lambert barks back.
“Bullshit!” Ray accuses. “You didn’t want to! I looked and looked for you! Carla tried to reach you! You were cold and unfeeling and too wrapped up in your own anger and hatred to understand what was really going on… to even ask! So you can try again with that ‘I couldn’t find her’ bullshit, Lady, because we never hid!” Ray is mad! I’ve never seen him this angry in my life.
“Oh, so now I’m the bad guy!” she nearly shrieks.
“Who say anybody’s the bad guy here? You’re acting like I took your granddaughter and hid her away in the Himalayas somewhere. I was active duty military for years! You could always get a message to me, even if you claimed you didn’t know where I was!” There’s silence for a few moments.
“I… didn’t know what to do,” she says, her voice still laced with anger… and she’s hiding something. This is the first time I’ve felt like she was hiding something.
“What do you mean you didn’t know what to do? Twenty-seven years. She needed you. You could have helped her during that time when I couldn’t. You could have spared her some of the misery she experienced.” She smirks a bit.
“Oh, are you saying that your precious Carla ended up not being the saint you had hoped you would acquire?” This woman plays dirty. Ray’s face falls.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Ray says, leaning in a bit. “And guess who took the brunt of that hell, Mother Theresa? Your granddaughter.” His voice is unwavering when he makes his revelation and Mrs. Lambert’s smile falls away.
“The sins of the father,” she says smugly.
“But you said that I wasn’t her father, so are you speaking of Harry now?” Ray shoots. She glares at him.
“Don’t you dare speak of my son,” she hisses.
“He was my best friend!” Ray hisses back.
“And how do you show that friendship? By marrying his wife before he was even cold in his grave!”
“And I see that you still don’t listen, so we’ll try this one last time. My dying friend made me promise to take care of his wife and child. Saint Carla and Ana were going to be displaced—removed from base housing with nowhere to go if I hadn’t married her. She has no other family that I’ve met in 27 and just had a baby. What do you suppose she should have done?”
“She should have come to us!” Mrs. Lambert shouts.
“She did come to you!” Ray yells back. “You turned her away!”
“After she married you!”
“She was confused!” Ray defends. “Did you see what kind of shape she was in after Harry died? She didn’t know up from down! You were so lost in your own grief, you didn’t even acknowledge her at the funeral. She probably didn’t even think to ask you if that was an option and when she did come to you, you shut her down. Do you think for one second that she would have taken my offer if she thought she could move in with you? She didn’t love me! She loved Harry! It was an arrangement. We didn’t have any kind of romantic relationship for years. She was alone… lost. She didn’t know what to do. She was a young mother with nowhere to go. Yes, I loved her, but I loved Harry more. You can think whatever you want to think, but I lost my best friend and I never got over that…”
“So you slept with his wife!” She snaps back. She didn’t hear anything he said. Ray sits back in his seat and clasps his hands in front of him on the table.
“No,” he says calmly. “If you’re looking for permission to speak to my daughter, the answer is no. You’re bitter and hateful, and I don’t know what your motives are. So, no, stay away from my daughter.”
“Your daughter! Your daughter! Isn’t that convenient? Remove one man and insert another and poof… instant family!” Her voice is laced with ire and her filter is slowing flying out the window.
“Remove? Harry wasn’t removed, he died! He didn’t take some payoff and leave the country or run off with another woman. He died! You make it sound like we were changing a pair of shoes. The man died!”
“And you dishonored his memory by sleeping with his widow!” Ray’s mouth falls open.
“Lady, are you deaf, slow, or just deliberately ignorant?” he asks, bemused. “By the time Carla and I slept together, it was years after Harry had died. Years! She was not hanging around waiting for someone to come take care of her or looking for someone to take Harry’s place.”
“Oh, I believe that,” she says sarcastically. “A woman lives in the same house with a man that she has married and they don’t sleep together for years. She really was a saint.”
Suddenly, her motive is clear to me. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Seeing Ana was a secondary goal, a bonus maybe. What she really wanted was to confront Ray. She has been sitting on this bitterness and anger and hatred for nearly three decades. Now, she can confront the cause and she is not taking down.
“I think we need to refocus here,” I break in. They both look at me as they clearly forgot that I was even in the room. “Mrs. Lambert, because I’m going to marry Anastasia, I would really like to know just like Ray does—what is your purpose for being here? Why did you show up now?”
“I’m an old woman,” she says. “I want to see my granddaughter before I die.” I think about her conversation with Butterfly two days ago. She was leaving and I stopped her. Did she plan that? Did she plan for one of us to come after her?
“And you did, two days ago. So why come back?” I press. She examines me shrewdly.
“I was hoping to have some kind of relationship with her. In order to do that, she said that I had to see him.” She points at Ray.
“To which you agreed. You insulted him in that meeting and you’re insulting him now… and you’re still hoping to have a relationship with your granddaughter?” I ask calmly, but bemused. I can see it in her eyes. She’s on the ropes. She doesn’t know where to swing now.
“I’m… I’m emotional,” she defends.
“But you’re not,” I point out. “Everything that you’re saying is calculated, controlled. You haven’t said five complete sentences on your own about your desire to see Anastasia, but you have plenty to say to Ray about his marriage to Carla.” Ray’s brow furrows as he contemplates what I’m saying, probably running the conversation over in his head as well.
“Come to think of it,” he concludes, “you haven’t said much about Annie.” He narrows his eyes at her. “What is this about?”
“Ray Steele, don’t you try to make this about me. This was always about you and that woman and you know it.”
“That woman?” Ray asks. “Are you talking about Carla?”
“My son was just in the way. I knew that she was bad news the moment I saw her, but you… Harry talked about you all the time. Lance Corporal Steele this and Ray that! He idolized you! Then this happens and nobody has any answers. A training accident—that’s all I get! One minute, my Harry is alive and well and starting a family and the next minute, he’s gone and Lance Corporal Steele is living in his place—sleeping with his wife and changing his daughter’s name—removing every remnant and memory of him like he didn’t exist!” Ray’s face has gone from angry to surprised and confused.
“What are you talking about?” he asks. He’s just as confused as I am. “I never tried to erase Harry’s memory. My…”
“Oh, save it! You and that woman moved on and raised his daughter as Anastasia Steele. Why not let her keep her name if you weren’t trying to erase his memory?” Mrs. Lambert accuses. Ray looks at her and shakes his head.
“I’m wasting my breath,” he says, still shaking his head. “Look, I didn’t come here to fight with you. I can leave this room and never see you again and I won’t lose a bit of sleep. So say what you came to say and quit pussy-footing around!”
“Did you kill my son!?” she screams as Ray.
Ray is clearly stunned. I think the words are swirling around in his head like he has to process their meaning. After a few seconds of silence, Ray’s fists hit the table again and his voice echoes through the room like horrifying thunder.
He stands up so hard and fast that the heavy leather seat he was sitting in flies back like a folding aluminum chair and hits the wall behind him. Mrs. Lambert leaps from her seat as do I. Ray’s eyes are full of rage as his shaking fists test the sturdiness of my conference room table. I can see the veins in his muscular arms through the sleeves of his shirt. He is livid!
“You want the gory truth? His body was so mangled that his meat was coming off in my hands! I held my friend! I watched him die! And his flesh came off in my hands! I begged him not to go! I begged him to fight! I knew he wouldn’t make it, but I begged! Please don’t die on me, Harry! Please don’t die!” He’s screaming. He’s losing control. Where’s the panic button in this room? No time to remember. Mrs. Lambert is backing away while I dash to the door and throw it open.
“Get in here! Now!” I yell to the security detail at the desk before turning back to the room to see Ray’s white-knuckle fists banging on the table.
“You hateful, wretched bitch! How could you?! All these years! You thought I killed my friend—to have his wife! You hateful bitch!” Security couldn’t get in that room fast enough for me. She picked the wrong time to ask that question. Not that there would ever be a right time, but definitely not now. Less than 48 hours ago, my father and I were convincing this man that he wasn’t “happy” that his friend died. Now, that same friend’s mother asks Ray did he kill him. Fuck me!
Security pins Ray against the wall and he is fighting like a bear and cursing like a sailor. He calls this woman every unkind, unseemly name in the English language. Raymond Steele is enraged and out of control. Mrs. Lambert is horrified and I can tell by the look on her face that she now knows that she has made a grave mistake. Too little, too late, Lady.
“Be careful!” I hiss at the guards. “That’s my father-in-law. Don’t hurt him!” Ray is fighting to get away from the now three men trying to hold him against the wall. If he gets free now, he just might kill this woman.
“Ray, listen to me,” I say urgently, trying to get through his rage. “Ray, I need you to calm down. Think about Ana. Think about Mandy and Little Harry…”
“Little… Harry?” Mrs. Lambert asks.
“His son!” I hiss, throwing a hateful look at her. If she thinks she getting within a mile of Butterfly, she can fucking forget it.
“You stay away from my daughter! You stay away from my daughter, you wicked old witch!” Ray commands, confirming my assumption.
“Ray, I…” she begins.
“Shut up!” I say, spinning around to look at her. She is stunned. “Get out! Now!” There’s nothing else she can do here but make a bad matter worse.
“I’m sorry… I…”
“Get out!” I command again. The sound of her voice just might set him off. She stands there, still stunned. “Get her out of here!” I command one of the guards standing by as backup. Mrs. Lambert is unceremoniously escorted out of the room and I turn my attention back to Ray.
“Ray, listen to me. She’s gone. She won’t be back. I’ll make sure of it.” Ray’s chest is rising and falling madly as I make eye-contact with him to assure him that the threat has been neutralized. Still a bit crazed, he says, “Don’t tell Annie! Don’t tell Annie she asked me that question! Don’t tell Annie!” He is shaking like a leaf.
“I won’t, Ray. I won’t. I won’t say a word about it, I swear.” He looks at me, his eyes full of angry unshed tears, and he nods. He is taking deep breaths trying to steady himself.
“She asked me if I killed him. She asked me if I killed my best friend…” The tears begin to fall.
“I know, Ray,” I say in a calming voice.
“I asked myself that question a million times.” Okay, now I’m shocked. “Did I desire his wife so much that I wished my best friend dead?” Whew! That was close.
“Ray, no matter how hard you wish, you can’t wish someone dead. If that were true, there would be a certain pedophile six-feet-under by now, if now burned to vapor by spontaneous combustion. Besides, you didn’t wish Harry would die and you know it.”
“Not directly, no, but you and your father were right. I coveted Carla more than anything else in the world. Did I indirectly cause his death?” I look into his sad, broken eyes.
“No, Ray. You never wished you best friend dead—directly or indirectly—and I want you to stop talking like that, because you know that I’m right.” Ray nods and finally breaks down in heart-wrenching sobs. The guards let him go and push a chair behind him so that he can sit down.
“I miss him,” Ray sobs into his arms, face down on the conference table. “I have missed him every day for nearly thirty years… every day! He was the best friend I ever had!” I put my hand on his shoulder while he mourns the loss of his friend all over again.
“How did it go?” Butterfly asks as she hoists herself up onto the desk in my study later that evening. We’ve had some wild sex on this desk and her sitting here like this is causing some devious thoughts to run through my head, but she wants to know about her father right now. I put my pen down and turn to her.
“It was horrible. She needs to go,” I respond.
“That bad?” she asks.
“Well, you won’t get any argument from me. What happened?” I lean back in my seat.
“I really think you should let Ray tell you.”
“Christian, tell me what happened.” How do I do this without betraying Ray?
“She said some really terrible things to your father and it got really bad. He’s asked me to let him talk to you about it.” She’s not happy about that answer, I can tell, but she nods.
“I guess I can respect that. How is my daddy?” I shake my head.
“You may have to give him a little time. This was hard on him.” Her shoulders fall.
“He’s my daddy,” she says, almost sounding like a six-year-old, “I hate it when he hurts.”
“That’s good to hear.” We both look at the doorway to see the voice coming from a slightly disheveled Ray standing in the door of the study. “I needed to see my Sunflower.”
“Daddy,” she says softly, leaping from her perch and nearly running to her father. He embraces her like she is his life’s blood and buries his face in her shoulder. Behind him, Amanda stands holding a sleeping Harry in her arms. I walk around Butterfly and Ray to get to Amanda.
“I’m sorry it’s so late. He’s been drinking a bit and didn’t want to drive, but he wouldn’t rest until he saw Ana,” she said. I lead her out into the great room.
“I know. It was brutal today. I can only hope that woman is gone.” I say. She nods.
“I’ve never seen him like this. It’s like she’s broken him,” she says looking past me to her husband.
“He’s not broken. He just needs to process what happened today.” I say, looking back at my study door and waiting for them to emerge.
“She must be a really horrible woman,” Amanda says. “I just want to get her into a room by herself and scratch her eyes out!” I lean back a bit.
“Whoa! Remind me never to get on your bad side,” I say facetiously. Amanda laughs.
“I can’t help it. I love him and she hurt him. I want to see her die,” she says a little too calmly for my taste. “Some people are just plain selfish and mean.” I walk past her to the kitchen.
“Would you like something to drink? Some water or juice maybe?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“No… thank you, though.” Harry has fallen asleep and Amanda places him gently back into his baby seat. I stand up and look at my study door. I look over at her diaper bag… or I should say bags.
“I don’t know much about babies, Amanda, but you packed enough stuff in those bags to last a week,” I say playfully. She looks down at the bags and chuckles a bit.
“Yeah, I’m a bit paranoid. I always feel like whatever I need is going to be left at home at that precise moment that I need it.”
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m doing better. The caesarean was no walk in the park and it was harder on me than I expected, but I’m doing much better now.” She sits on the sofa next to Harry. “He seems like he’s getting bigger every day,” she says wistfully. “I hope he doesn’t grow so fast that I miss it all.” I sit on the sofa across from her with my bottle of water.
“I’m told that it moves quickly, but that you won’t miss a minute of it.”
Just as I am finishing my sentence, Ana and Ray join us from my study. Ray sits next to Amanda and she quickly clasps his hands. Butterfly crawls into my lap and I can tell by her demeanor that she needs the closeness. I don’t know what Ray told her, but she is more than a bit maudlin after their conversation.
“I’m tired, Baby. We should get home,” Ray says.
“No, Daddy. Please stay here. It’s late and I would feel much better if you stayed,” Butterfly protests.
“We’re not that far away, Annie. It’s not like I’m in Montesano anymore.”
“I know, but… humor me, Daddy. Stay the night. Get some rest. You can go home right after breakfast.” Butterfly and those big blue batting eyes will win many arguments throughout the course of our marriage.
“Okay, Annie, just this once. Does Harry have everything he needs?” Ray asks, turning to Amanda. She nods before throwing a look over at me.
“I haven’t said a word,” I say, putting my hands up in surrender and causing Butterfly to throw that “what’s going on” look at me. I point to Harry’s bags and let the volume speak for itself.
“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. Yeah, that kid has enough stuff for quintuplets! “I’ll get the guest room set up for you. Christian, grab Harry’s bags.”
“I’ll help you, Ana,” Amanda says as she follows Butterfly up the stairs. I stand and pick up the diaper bags Amanda left behind while Ray retrieves his son.
“Ray,” I say, stopping him when we get to the bottom of the stairs, “this is some pretty deep stuff I heard today. Have you thought about talking to someone?” He chuckles a little sadly.
“I’ve probably had more therapy than you have, Son,” he says.
“Somehow, I doubt that, but I’ll give you the benefit of that doubt this time,” I respond before ascending the stairs.