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 10—For Everything There Is A Season
I’m reluctantly dragged away from the hope of Butterfly kisses by James and Jason, who take me to this restaurant not far from Escala called Lost Lake Café. It’s an honest-to-goodness greasy spoon right downtown, and I can’t help but think that my poor Butterfly would just hurl her little heart out in this joint as her breakup with beef started in similar surroundings. Speaking of beef, I order the largest, most obscene bacon double cheeseburger on the menu with a huge order of steak fries and strawberry shake as tall as the damn space needle. I have to take my jacket off to tackle this meal and I devour every bite while James rambles on about Allie and Ana and whatever else he can talk about besides work or Colostomy. The damn burger is better than filet mignon.
Apparently, quite a few gentlemen had a bad day today and found themselves at the boys’ club that night. The beers were flowing freely and everyone was spilling their troubles to one another. I gave a bit more free advice than I normally would—anything to avoid talking about myself and GEH.
“Grey, you must live a charmed life,” Tony says. He’s one of the regulars I remember from the last time I was here. “I bet you can just wave your hand and things get done, can’t you?”
“Something like that,” I respond, still trying to avoid talking about my own life. “’With great power comes great responsibility.’”
“I’ll bet,” he says, drinking his beer. “And that wife of yours, you’re one lucky man.” I get a little uncomfortable with him bringing Butterfly into the conversation.
“Thank you,” I say flatly, hoping he gets the message that this topic is taboo.
“Here’s my Donna,” he says, revealing a picture of him and a woman who I assume is his wife. She’s not a bad-looking woman, but she has nothing on my Butterfly. I nod non-committal. “She’d kill me if I reveal her age, but we’ve been together for 14 years,” he says looking at the picture with admiration. His fondness of her is apparent and I feel a little foolish for getting so defensive when he spoke of Butterfly.
“Any children?” I ask while I drink my beer.
“Two boys—ten and seven.” He pulls out two more pictures, one kid in a soccer uniform and the other in a baseball uniform. “Yeah, I know, the typical nuclear family. I almost lost it all one day.”
“You cheated?” I ask, going for the obvious. He shook his head and put his pictures away.
“She did,” he said, taking another drink. Whoa! That’s not what I expected to hear. “I was chasing my fortune,” he tells me. “I’m pretty well-to-do—not as rich as you, of course, but I do okay. It wasn’t enough, though. I was young like you, and I wanted more. Donna only wanted me… my time, but I didn’t have enough to give to her and to chase my fortune. That’s why it took four years for us to start a family.” He takes another drink of his beer.
“How did you find out?” I’m all ears now.
“Women hide it better than we do, you know,” he says, turning sad eyes to me. “She just had enough of being without me, enough of me not being around and she just started going out—by herself, she said… to movies and things. I was just happy that she wasn’t bugging me about working late anymore. I was doing it for us, right?” He looks down into his beer.
“I wanted to surprise her by coming home early one night… well, not early, but early for me. I parked around the corner so that she wouldn’t have a clue that I was coming in the house. She wasn’t even there. Her car was there, but not her, so I waited. I didn’t even suspect, man. I was completely clueless.
“It became later and later and she still wasn’t home. I didn’t want to call her cell because that would have let her know where I was and ruin the surprise, but it was getting so late that I didn’t have much of a choice, so I did. She assumed that I was still in the office when I called, so she told me that she was home in bed. I was sitting on the bed while I was talking to her. I knew immediately what was going on. She didn’t have to lie about where she was, but she did. He even brought her home—to our house! Dropped her off at our doorstep and kissed her Goodnight before she got out of the car.”
Shit, that’s rough. I don’t know what I’d do if I found out Butterfly cheated on me.
“What happened?” I ask. He shrugs.
“I sat at the breakfast bar drinking until she got home. When she walked in, she was stunned to see me there. I confronted her and she admitted to everything—blamed me and the late nights, leaving her alone, my work is more important. You get the idea.” He drinks more of his beer. “I couldn’t really fight with her, man. I was crushed. She’s my whole world and she was sleeping with another man.”
God, he sounds like me. My life would just stop if Butterfly told me that she had someone else.
“What did you do?”
“I shut down for a few days, went and stayed at a hotel, took some time off work. Having all that money didn’t mean anything to me if Donna wasn’t there with me. I was doing it all for her—for us, for our life together. At first I was really angry and very sad, but it just turned into very sad all the time. She left frantic messages on my voice mail, at my job, with my family. I didn’t want it to go that far, but that’s what happens when you disappear on your wife.”
“So, you guys are together now, with two kids. How did that come about?” He sighs.
“I filed for divorce,” he says, shocking me. “I obviously wasn’t making her happy and I didn’t want to make her miserable. She clearly found happiness with someone else and the longer I stayed around, the more it would hurt. I staked out my own address and waited for her to leave. Then I went inside and grabbed only my personal belongings and only what would fit in my car. I didn’t want anything that reminded me of our life together… of what I was losing.” I can tell that he still gets emotional when he talks about it. I guess some wounds never heal.
“I knew the neighbors or someone would call her when they saw me go into the house, so I made a quick getaway. I left her copy of the divorce papers on the counter—no fancy subpoena and shit. If she wanted to be free, she’d sign ‘em and she could be free. I left her everything—the house, her car, the bank accounts, about 70% of my portfolio—everything. I was working to build that life for her so I gave it to her. Somebody might as well enjoy it.” He finishes his beer, then turns to me.
“We went to divorce court about six months later. I wouldn’t contest anything that she asked for. I think she was too ashamed to ask for anything else. I was very generous after all. She looked like hell—she had lost some weight and her skin was… I don’t know, gray or something…” He frowns as he recalls her appearance. “I know I looked like shit, but I didn’t care. My life was ending as far as I was concerned, but I didn’t expect for her to look so bad. The judge—a woman—looked at us both and requested that we see in her chambers before she would consider granting the divorce. I had already waited for six months. I just wanted to get it over and done and fade away somewhere. From the looks of it, the whole thing was taking a toll on Donna, too.”
I don’t interrupt him. I keep drinking my beer, held captive by my older self talking about how I could have lost my Butterfly.
“We sat in silence. I don’t know about Donna, but I was exhausted from lack of sleep and weak from not eating right. I could barely hold my head up and if death came knocking at the chamber door, it would have been more tolerable than waiting for this ordeal to end. When the judge came back into her chambers, she actually had lunch for us. I’d never seen anything like it. She ordered us to eat every bite and made the bailiff stay in there with us to make sure that we did. I protested and she told me that she would hold me in contempt if I didn’t eat.” He laughs at the memory. “I don’t know if she could really do it, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I stole a glance at my Donna—frail, pale, emaciated… and beautiful. Her hair was stringy and lackluster; her clothes didn’t fit. The thought that she was unhappy and unhealthy made me physically ill.
“The judge came back in and asked why we were getting a divorce since I sited ‘irreconcilable differences’ as the cause. I refused to speak. I didn’t want to hash this out. I didn’t want to drag Donna through the mud. I just wanted this to be over, for her to be free to do what she wanted, but she spoke first. She told the judge that she had been unfaithful and that’s why we were getting a divorce. The judge asked me if it was true and I finally spoke. I told her that I worked late hours and was never home, even on weekends. She ordered us to go home—to the same house. She said that we had to live together for six months. We didn’t have to sleep in the same bed if we weren’t ready, but we did have to live together. She said that we had to go to marriage counseling and she wanted to see us back in court. If after six months we still wanted a divorce, then she would grant it.”
“So you moved back home?” I ask.
“Reluctantly, yes. My first instinct was just to run, to sign everything over to her and just run, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just leave like that. I was making my way to the guest room and she said two words to me… Tony, please. She was so frail and so weak, she could barely speak. I thought she would just fall down and die right there. I…” He trails off and shakes his head again. “Christian, I don’t know what came over me.” He called me Christian. “I took that woman in my arms and I held her and kissed her…” There’s fever in his voice when he talks about this moment. “We made love right there on the living room floor, several times. We cried the whole time…”
Yep, sounds like me and Butterfly.
“I discovered that she broke things off with him that same night that I left. She hadn’t seen him since and barely left the house. She tried to get in touch with me to tell me, but when I left her the divorce papers, she accepted her fate and gave up hope. I don’t know where her family was or my family were during this time because I pretty much went into hiding, but I believe that if that judge hadn’t made us go home together that day, one or both of us wouldn’t be here today.”
“You were going to end it all?” I ask, horrified.
“I don’t know about that, but we were clearly on a road to self-destruction. Both of our health had deteriorated. I don’t remember eating a full meal during the entire time that I left her. She was clearly starving to death. Three days after D-Day, we both went to the hospital. She was so malnutritioned that they put her on an IV—vitamins, iron, saline, some other concoctions. They almost admitted us both to the psyche ward until we explained to them what had happened.”
“So how did you get past it? You’re obviously happy now.”
“It wasn’t easy,” he admits. “It hurt for a long time, knowing that someone else had been touching her and loving her, it made me crazy—irrational even, but I just had to work through it. We did go to marital counseling, because it was the only way I could get beyond the betrayal. We both loved each other dearly—still do, in fact—but infidelity is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. You never stop seeing her with him… it just gets a little easier to bear after a while. You have to look at the reasons, too. Some people just cheat because they can—they feel entitled or enabled. Not Donna… she tried to tell me, warned me about the long nights and the loneliness, but I didn’t listen and I nearly lost her. Hell, I nearly threw her away.” He pushes his empty glass away. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, Grey. I doubt you miss spending a moment with that beautiful wife of yours. It’s just that… when you have this kind of security in your love, it’s easy to take it for granted. Don’t get caught in your own importance, Christian. I know you’re a very successful businessman and you could probably buy my life’s work with the swipe of a pen, but you’re new at this marriage thing and I’ve been in it for a while. Take my advice–if you ever lose that woman, it will be one of the worst experiences of your life and you may never recover.”
He put his hand on my shoulder… and I didn’t flinch. He feels like a friend even though I barely know him—a fairy godfather sent to reinforce something that I already knew… or thought I knew, because I sure almost lost Butterfly the same way that he nearly lost his wife. He sighs like he just let the weight of the world off his shoulders, then he looks at his watch and smiles.
“I have to go now,” he says. “I promised Donna I wouldn’t stay out late.” He nods and shakes my hand, then leaves. I’m sitting there nursing my beer and thinking when, after I don’t know how long, Jason comes over to me. I know he wasn’t more than five feet away the entire time
“You okay?” he says.
“I want to go home.”
I think I will myself home for eternal minutes it takes to drive there. I’m aware that Jason nearly has to run to keep up with me once the car pulls into the parking garage. I try not to enter the apartment like my ass is on fire. Allen is sitting in the great room with Butterfly when I arrive. They’re sharing some private joke and laughing among themselves. My presence has halted their laughter, something that I didn’t intend. They both turn to me, eying me curiously before Allen says something witty and makes his escape.
I just stare at her. A vision of Tony at some lonely hotel deteriorating and pining away for his Donna comes to mind. Then the memory appears of the suite at the Four Seasons and my dreadful attempt to push her out of my mind and heart during those days she escaped to Montana. I fully expected to be able to freeze my soul one day at a time until the thought of her didn’t prick my heart until I bled to death. One day at a time, I tried to eliminate every tender thing and thought she brought to my life and mind, focusing only on my work until I could see nothing else… hope for nothing else… want nothing else… expect nothing else…
I was becoming Ebenezer Scrooge.
It’s what I wanted. I didn’t fear dying a lonely old man, but I dreaded hoping for the love that I assumed I had lost or attempting to look for it in someone else.
Her voice is a salve that soothes the pounding in my head and the burning in my heart. I feel like my breath is slowly leaving my body as I gaze down at her celestial form.
Her hand slowly and gently strokes my cheek and I freeze, concentrating only on that one spot on my entire body and the touch of her hand, the feel of her skin against mine.
“Baby… what’s wrong?”
I can’t answer her. I don’t know how. All I know is that the thought of losing her—the reality of the fact that just a few short weeks ago, I could have been Tony—comes rushing in on me, paralyzing me with fear and anguish. I was doing the same thing he did. I already made my fortune, but I was trying to protect it… trying to save my life’s work, and in the process I was neglecting my wife. When she didn’t react the way I wanted, when she sought attention from someone else, I ignored her—punished her for feeling lonely and unwanted. I reinforced that she was nothing by turning my back on her while she was grieving, hurting, lonely, sick…
I was Tony. How could he know? How could he possibly know? I was worse than Tony. I imposed this judgment, this punishment on her for something that I did. I wasn’t mourning and hurting like Tony. Yes, I had a couple of rough patches, but nothing like what he went through and nothing like Butterfly went through. Now, she’s full of self-doubt because of me. What have I done?
My heart is so heavy that I can’t even cry. She’s staring at me, begging me to tell her what’s going on, but I can’t. The weight is so heavy that I just drop my head, too heavy to hold. She moves to comfort me, but I feel that I’m not worthy. Everything I made her feel just unloads on me and I have to fight to stay on my feet.
“Turn around,” I barely recognize my own voice. She frowns at me, but I just wait for her to do as I ask. After a few moments of uncertainty, she slowly turns away from me. I slide my arms around her, above our babies, and pull her as close to my body as I can. I need to feel her warmth and energy. I hold her closer and she gasps, but doesn’t struggle. I lay my head on her shoulder and breathe her in deeply, trying to soothe the ache from what I made her feel. Neither of us speaks. I close my eyes and continue to breathe her in, the pain so deep that I still can’t find those cleansing tears. I can sense her uncertainty, but she doesn’t question me. We just stand there in the great room with me holding her close to my body.
We stand there for a long time, I don’t know exactly how long. I have no idea what has happened. I only know that something is ghastly wrong and Christian won’t talk to me. Has the hacker situation gone south? Is something wrong with someone in his family? What is it? Jason came in and breezed right pass him without giving me any kind of hint of what could possibly have happened. Suddenly, I feel his body shift, and he’s pulling me towards him. A moment too late, I discover that he’s stumbling backwards. I only have a moment to fear falling when I feel the wall catch him and he begins to slide down onto the floor with me still in his arms.
My God, the babies!
I find that my concern is unwarranted because even in his forlorn state, he manages to cocoon my body so that he lands on the floor but I land comfortably in his lap. My love… what’s wrong? What is it?
“Christian… please…” I breathe and he only pulls me closer to him. I don’t know what’s wrong, but all I can do is wait and hope that nothing catastrophic is happening. I sigh heavily and rest my head on his chest. I try not to envision bad things happening to him, to our family… to us. I try very hard to stay positive, to give him all the positive energy that I can. At the same time, I attempt to steel myself for bad news. I can’t worry, it’s bad for the babies… but how can I not? He won’t talk to me.
Several more minutes pass and his body is relaxing more. His breathing is regulating a bit, and he seems to be coming back to himself. Every time I speak, it seems to make a bad matter worse, so I just stay silent until he opens up to me.
“I met this guy tonight,” he says, adjusting me slightly on his lap. “He’s been with his wife for 14 years. I showed him a picture of you and he just started talking about her. He loves her dearly–you could hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes, but he almost lost her.”
What happened? Is she sick?
“They were nearly divorced.” Oh. Yeah, that’s bad. “The only reason they’re still together–and according to Tony, still alive–is because the judge refused to grant the divorce.”
“Why?” I ask, softly.
“She knew that they still loved each other.” He raised his eyes to mine and he looks lost—not sad, just… lost. “She ordered them to go home and live together for six more months and to seek marriage counseling. If they still wanted a divorce, she would give it to them. He went home with his wife and they had both suffered immensely since they split up. They were both unhealthy and pale, but he was determined to let her be free. When he saw her…” His gray eyes get glassy and now I see what the problem is.
“Why were they getting divorced?” I ask, my voice still soft, non-threatening.
“She was unfaithful,” he answered, “but so was he. He neglected and ignored her for his work, and she tried to tell him that this was an issue, but he wouldn’t listen. She eventually found comfort in the arms of another man. He couldn’t tolerate it so he moved out and filed for divorce and you know the rest.”
“I don’t understand. I see that she cheated, but how was he unfaithful?”
“He didn’t keep his vows,” he said. “To love and to cherish her, forsaking all others… to spend my life hoping to be worthy of the love that you give me and endlessly covering you in the love that I have for you…” He’s quoting his vows! Those are his vows—I’ll never forget them! He’s talking about me! He’s talking about us. He’s not talking about them anymore… this is us. “They reconciled the first night he moved back home. They were aching for each other… mourning for each other…” He sighs again. “A few days later, they both went to the hospital and she had to be put on an IV because she was suffering from malnutrition.”
And the penny drops. He was seeing me and the incident at the Mercer house… and the situation that led to it.
“We learned, though, Christian,” I try to tell him. “We understand what went wrong and we know not to do it again.”
“I lost you, Butterfly,” he says. I frown—what does he mean? “I’ll take you however I can get you, but my beautiful, confident Butterfly has been damaged… and it’s my fault.” I don’t respond. I don’t know what to say. “I broke you and I know it, and the thought of losing you…” his body caves like he was just hit in the chest. His head lands on my shoulder again and I gently stroke his hair.
“I swear I’m not going anywhere, Christian,” I whisper. “I won’t leave you again… I won’t… I promise.” He nods on my shoulder and says nothing. I just hold him there, willing him to believe me and know how much I love him.
We didn’t make love last night. We did finally get off the floor and make it to the bedroom, but once we did, he just held me close to him like he was afraid I was going to run away. It was kind of hard for me to go to sleep because even after he drifted off, he held me so tight that I felt like I was being held captive.
He even had one of his nightmares.
I didn’t like it at all. Hearing that story made Christian feel lost and I didn’t like it one bit. I wrapped my swollen body around him as much as I could. He wrapped his arms around my torso and laid his head on my belly. I played in his sweat-drenched hair until he fell asleep and he slept for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t. When morning came, I was utterly exhausted. Christian has gone off to work and I’m lying in bed trying to think if I have anything planned for the day.
“Dr. Steele’s office,” Marilyn answers my phone when I call.
“Mare, it’s Ana. What’s on my schedule today?” She pauses.
“You sound awful. Are you okay?”
“I didn’t get any sleep last night,” I tell her.
“Oooohh, one of those?” she says suggestively.
“No, not one of those,” I reply sleepily. “It’s a long story, but I need to know what my schedule looks like today.”
“Well, you had Ms. Peterson at eleven, but whatever you’ve got she must have because she canceled.” Thank God. “So now you have nothing but Helping Hands this afternoon.”
“Was anyone scheduled to see me at the center?”
“No, not that I know of.” Thank God for that, too.
“Take the day off. Go shopping. Do something fun. I need to get some sleep.” I tell her.
“You’re sure?” she protests.
“I’m positive,” I reinforce.
“Okay, I’m locking up. I’ve got my cell if you need me.”
“Excellent. I’ll remember that. Goodnight.” I don’t even wait for her response before I’m out like a light.
I don’t wake until Christian comes home from work and when he does, he has a huge bouquet of flowers for me, apologizing for keeping me up all night. He serves me dinner in bed and we watch Bambi and Dumbo. He told me that his mother said that he should watch them because Bambi’s mother is killed by a hunter and Dumbo was ridiculed for being different. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but it turned out to be okay. He really liked Dumbo and he related to Bambi enough to understand the premise of the movie without going into flashbacks.
“I think I like Dumbo,” he says once the movie is over. “Talk about turning a negative into a positive!” He’s still talking about the movie with the flying elephant when I fall asleep in his arms.
It’s been nearly two weeks—nearly two weeks and I still have no idea why Val stopped speaking to me. I cry about it sometimes when I’m alone, but not a lot. I can’t allow too much stress into my life or it will negatively affect the beans. I miss her sometimes, though. I miss talking to her and her sassy attitude. I miss hearing about her and Elliot and talking about me and Christian. I hate the fact that we aren’t speaking because I knew that we would have the time of our lives dressing up the twins and taking them places. Granted, Christian and I will do those things, too, but it’s different with the girls.
I hadn’t and still haven’t considered anyone else to be the godmother of my children. It was always Valerie. She would impart some misguided wisdom on them that would be sure to get them in trouble. Her free attitude would rub off and whenever she came around, they would beg me to let them go somewhere with “Auntie Val.” She would tell them embarrassing stories about me and our college days and she would be faithful to a fault—the one they could always run to when “Mom just didn’t understand” or “Dad was smothering me” or “Please don’t tell anybody.” At least… I thought she would.
I wipe another tear from my eye, resolved that it will be the last of the Valerie cry today. I allow myself to get a little melancholy about it every few days, but I can’t afford to fall off into the abyss. I rub the beans again. Who am I kidding? They’re certainly not beans anymore. I’m as big as a house. I can barely hold myself up!
“What should I call you?” I ask aloud. “Soccer players isn’t affectionate enough. Granted, it is what you are… at three in the morning… when I’m trying to get some sleep… but it’s not cute enough. I guess beans will have to do. My little beans. I wish I knew what the deal was with you Auntie Val…”
Today, I will be ordering the fish for our new aquarium. Christian wouldn’t let me see it and it’s the one thing that Aaron wouldn’t discuss with me. The damn thing must be huge because I’m ordering enough fish to fill a damn room! There’s one area of the house that was always sealed off when I went out there, so I’m sure that I know where it will be, just not what it will look like. I have one patient to see today and I admit to myself that I am currently in semi-retirement from my private practice. Most of my time is devoted to Helping Hands and the rest of it to growing these beautiful babies inside of me. Once the beans get here, I don’t see how I’ll have too much time for anything else. I’m considering releasing my remaining patients even though a couple of them might have an unhealthy attachment. There’s only six of them total—hardly a reason to even keep the electricity on in the office.
It’s about two in the afternoon and I’ve already chosen my fish as well as taken the usual Thursday tour of the center. The cleaning staff has really gotten their act together and Ms. Sherwood from the housekeeping service has taken to kissing my ass since she has now discovered that I am not just the assistant director now, but also one half of AnaChris—a fact that I didn’t bother to disclose at our last meeting. I couldn’t care less what she thinks of me as long as the damn building is cleaned properly. I’m snacking on biscotti and tea, a recent favorite of mine, after having seen my one patient and giving consideration to closing down the practice when my phone rings.
“Ana!” It’s Phil. He sounds like he’s running a marathon. “It’s Max. The baby is coming! Right now!” I freeze. Okay. Baby coming right now…
“Right right now?” I ask.
“Right right now! She crowning! I have to go! Benford Hospital! By the time you get here, the baby will be born! Bye!” Bye?! And just like that, he’s gone. Wow! Way to drop a bomb and leave, Guest! What do I do now? Did he call only me? Should I activate the contingency? Yeah, activate the contingency. I call Chuck first.
“Bring the car around to the front. I need to go to the hospital,” I tell him.
“What?! What’s wrong?” Oh, that was really smart, Grey.
“Nothing. Maxie is having her baby. Phil just called.” I hear an audible sigh on the other end.
“Dammit, Ana,” he scolds.
“I know. I wasn’t thinking, I’m sorry. Just bring the car around, okay?”
“You’re going to cause me to have a heart attack one day,” he says before ending the call. I walk down to Grace’s office to see if she’s there. No sign of her. I’ll have to leave her a message. I dial Al.
“You’ve reached Allen Forsythe, attorney-at-law. Please leave me a detailed message and I’ll return your call at my earliest convenience.”
“Hey Al, it’s Ana. Maxie is in Benford Hospital dropping her load, lucky bitch. I’m on my way down there now. Phil says the baby is already crowning and should be here by the time I get there. Give me a call or I’ll just see you at the hospital.” Hmm, Al’s phone is going straight to voicemail. That’s just great. That leaves me to activate the contingency… the entire contingency. I leave the same message for Gary before I decide—after careful consideration—to call Elliot.
“Elliot, it’s Ana.”
“Hey Montana, what’s up?”
“Maxie is delivering her baby and I was hoping that I could get you to pass the message to Val.” Another audible sigh.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you two, but I really wish you would bury this thing. She’s all moody and snappy lately and I don’t know what’s going on with her.”
“Could she be pregnant?” I ask, slightly disinterested.
“I thought that might be it, too, but no. She’s not pregnant.”
“I don’t know what’s going on either, Elliot. She just changed faces on me out of nowhere and I have no idea why. Anyway, I really don’t want to drag you down in this…”
“I’m already involved,” he corrects me. “You’re my sister-in-law and she’s the woman that I love. I can’t not be involved.” I sigh.
“I’m sorry, Elliot. You really don’t need to be in the middle of this. If I could tell you what was going on, I would. If I could make it stop, I definitely would. Unfortunately, I’m as in the dark as you are about this and I don’t have any answers. Just… tell her about Maxie. The baby is probably already here by now.” He’s silent for a moment.
“Okay, Montana. I’ll tell her. What about you? How are my niece and nephew holding up?”
“Still keeping me awake at night with their acrobatics,” I laugh. “At least I know they’re healthy and strong.”
“That’s good. Don’t let anything stress you out, okay? That’s not good for you or the babies.” That’s easier said than done.
“I know, Uncle Elliot,” I tease. “I’ll do my best.”
I end the call and climb into the passenger seat with Chuck. My baby bump has gotten so big in just the last couple of weeks that I don’t dare try to get behind the wheel of a car. The lumbar seat in my Audi is set perfectly for me and my lower back and once I get situated, we’re off.
“Maxine Guest,” I tell the nurse at the station in the maternity ward.
“She’s in recovery right now.” So the baby’s been born. Phil said she was right there. “She probably be there for another hour or so. If you want to wait, I can get you a pass.”
“Yes, please,” I tell her. I have to take a picture for my guest pass, so she asks me for my ID. I hand it to her without thinking.
“Anastasia Grey,” she announces in disbelief and everyone at the station freezes and looks at me. I sigh quietly.
“Yes, ma’am,” I say politely, looking at her and waiting. After a few moments, “My guest pass, please?”
“Oh! I’m sorry.” She types something into the computer and after having my picture taken against a white wall, I get a sticker with my picture and information on it to put on my shirt and she gives me directions to the waiting room. Chuck has to take a picture, too, just to be on the ward.
“How long do you think before the paps get here?” Chuck laments as we take a seat in the waiting room.
“They’re probably already here,” I say, not raising my head from the phone. This is my life. I’ve gotten used to it. It irritates me some days and other days, I just deal with it. A few minutes later, Gary comes into the waiting room.
“The Scooby Gang has its first pup,” I tell him with a smile.
“I heard,” he responds, sitting down next to me and holding my hand. “How are you holding up?”
“Okay,” I tell him. “I’m a little jealous. I’m ready to hold my babies and I’m really to not look like a pencil and a beach ball.” He laughs at me.
“Val’s here,” he warns. I sigh. “She came in with me. We knew you were here because the press is outside.”
“Just a handful right now.” I shake my head.
“Why am I such a headline?” I ask. We’ve been able to get injunctions against them coming to our home or our places of work, so the ability to follow us is stunted unless they can get a helicopter to see which direction we’re going when we leave. Let’s face it—I’m not that important. I understand the fascination just a bit, but I resent when it affects my friends. “How’s Val?” Gary shrugs.
“Moody,” he says. “I’ve only seen her twice since your birthday. She’s standoffish and… I don’t know, angry.” Angry? Why the hell is she angry?
“Well, I didn’t expect to hear that,” I say honestly. “I would think she would be treating her other friends like gold since she has obviously forsaken me.”
“That’s the thing. She’s snappy and crabby all the time. Actually, she’s acting kind of bipolar. It’s hard to know who you’re going to see when you see her. The first time I saw her, she probably covered the entire gauntlet of emotions—happy, sad, angry, remorseful, obtuse… Then the next time I saw her, she was just quiet. She didn’t say much at all. Now, I won’t approach unless she approaches me because I don’t know if she’s going to cry on my shoulder or bite my head off.”
“She’ll probably blame me for that, too,” I say. There’s a pause before I ask no one in particular, “I wonder if the baby is in the nursery or if Phil has her right now?” Gary shrugs.
“I’m completely out of my element, here,” he smiles. “I’ll have to take my cues from you guys on this one.” I hear high-heels clicking down the hall and dread the moments I think are going to follow. Luckily, Marilyn bends the corner and comes over to Gary. I inwardly sigh with relief.
“Hey, you guys. Has she had the baby?” she asks.
“Yeah, she’s in recovery now. We should be able to see her soon.” Gary replies. She throws a scolding look at me.
“You could have told me,” she pouts. “I was right down the hall…”
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. My brain just… well, I’m sorry,” I apologize.
“You’re forgiven… this time,” she smiles. “When your babies are on the way, I won’t be so forgiving.” She sits next to Gary and takes his other hand. “And why are you holding my man’s hand?” Gary smiles shyly. Oh, it’s so late in the game for him to still be blushing, but I think it’s cute.
“Because Chuck is preoccupied and would probably lose his shit if I held his hand,” I reply. “I’m going to go see if I can get some information. I’ll be back, you guys.” I leave the waiting room and start my walk to the nurse’s station and I see Phil walking in my direction.
“Ana, hey. I was just coming down to give you guys an update.” He doesn’t look any worse for wear, so it must have been a smooth delivery.
“How’s Maxie?” I ask.
“She’s fine. Tired, as you might imagine, but she’s fine. They’ll be moving her to a room soon. She’s still in recovery.”
“Can she have visitors yet?”
“Only one at a time and Val is down there now.” I nod.
“A beautiful girl, 8 pounds 14 ounces.” Ouch! That’s a big baby. “Max was a pro, I was the nervous wreck. She was magnificent. She’s my hero.” He drifts off in his own thoughts for just a moment. “The baby is in the nursery if you want to see her. They’ll be bringing her to the room once Maxie gets in there.”
“You mind if I…?” I gesture like I’m leaving.
“Go ahead. I’ll go tell whoever else is here.” He says. I give him as big a hug as the babies will allow.
“Congratulations, Phil,” I say sincerely. “I’m so unbelievably happy for you guys.”
“Thank you, Ana,” he gently returns my hug. “Thanks for being our friend all these years.”
“I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” A slight wave of sorrow comes over me thinking about Val, but leaves quickly. He releases my embrace and, with a smile, heads towards the waiting room. I walk down the hall to the nursery to see the baby.
The nursery is nearly full. There are so many babies and I try to decipher which one is Maxie’s. They’re adorable little bundles wrapped in pink and blue blankets. Some of them are fidgety and others are asleep, but none of them are crying—just content to be part of a whole new world.
“Which baby are you looking for?” A nurse startles me before going into the nursery.
“Oh! Guest,” I say. She smiles and goes inside. A few moments later, she’s rolling a bassinet to the front of the window. Baby Girl Guest is asleep. Her little face is red and puffy and her hands look a little blue and are balled up in tiny little fists. I mouth a “thank you” to the nurse and smile. She returns my smile and nods, leaving me to admire little Baby Guest. She’s really beautiful. I put my hands on the glass and almost press my nose into it, trying to get a better look at her. So content—no idea what horrors the world holds for her. Such a precious little thing. I wonder what our twins will look like when they’re born. Will they have red hair or brown? Gray eyes or blue? Will they be healthy and happy? Will they favor each other or look totally different?
“Thinking about your day?” I’m still pressed into the glass when I answer Al’s question.
“I’m scared,” I answer honestly.
“More now than ever,” I admit. “My life feels like it’s on this tilt-a-whirl that never seems to stop. One minute, everything’s wonderful and the next, it’s all upside down. I didn’t get to finish my honeymoon because David suddenly wanted a trial. I haven’t been able to enjoy being pregnant, feeling my babies grow, decorating my home, because someone is after Christian or his company or his money or something. We nearly fell into divorce for a moment…”
“But you didn’t,” Al tries to comfort me.
“But we could’ve,” I protest.
“No, you couldn’t,” he says. “That man loves you too much and as mad as he ever gets with you, he’s never going to leave you.” I sigh.
“I almost made it happen though,” I lament, “just because I wanted attention.”
“You were left in the dark, Jewel. You had a right to be concerned. If James hadn’t let me in on what part he was playing in the whole thing, I might have thought he had hooked up with Jose again. The only reason he could let me know is because I was a part of the whole thing.” I know he’s trying to make me feel better but it’s just not helping. Once again, it’s hard to see the good in the world.
“You just can’t depend on anything good anymore, Al,” I say, leaning my forehead against the nursery glass and gazing at all the beautiful babies. I’m trying to be strong, God knows I am, but the bad around me just keeps beating on me and beating on me and I’m getting weaker and weaker, once again ready for me and my babies to be in that bubble that Christian often refers to.
“You can’t think that way,” he says. “You’re about to be a mother, too, and you can’t impart that type of cynicism on your children.” I almost want to laugh. This is not my doing. I haven’t brought this on. It’s just the way my life has been.
“And then of course, there’s Val…” I lament, my heart sinking immediately.
“What about Val?”
Her voice cuts through the air like the sound of a sonic boom, even though she’s not speaking loudly. I’m shocked that she’s standing there and she smirks at me.
“Go ahead,” she taunts, folding her arms, “don’t stop talking about me now that I’m here.”
“God, Val, it’s terrible to eavesdrop on people!” Al chides. I think he was startled, too.
“Who’s eavesdropping?” she says, unconvincingly. “I was coming to see the baby and as soon as I turn the corner, I hear that I’m the topic of conversation. So please, do continue. What about Val?”
“Well, we hadn’t said anything, but she’s probably hurting and wants to know—like the rest of us—what the hell is going on with you!” Please, Al, don’t help.
“With me? Oh, it has to be me, huh? It can’t be your perfect little Jewel, could it?”
“No, Val, it doesn’t have to be you, but right now, it is you! You’re swinging from one extreme to the other every time I see you. You snap at people for no good reason and all we’re trying to do is find out what’s wrong. You turn on Ana when all she’s ever done is be a valued friend to you. None of us can get a straight answer out of you about it and we’re all wondering which of us is going to be next!” She glares at him.
“Oh, look, your knight in shining armor… or one of them anyway. God knows the whole state of Washington is part of your fan club, so I guess I better watch my step around you. I might get tackled by the Secret Service or something if I come within 1000 feet of you!” I don’t even have a comeback. I usually have them stacked up and waiting when people attack me, but this is friendly fire and I have no idea how to retaliate. I look up at Al for some kind of direction, but like me, he’s got nothing.
“I should have known you were here. We couldn’t even get into the hospital for your public outside clamoring for a glimpse of the whale that is Anastasia Grey!” she hisses. Ouch! That stings!
“Valerie, must you be a cat all the time?” Al asks. “You know there were five reporters—if that—outside when we got here.” Her expression clearly shows that she is not pleased to be outed.
“Well, no doubt we won’t be able to leave,” she snaps, “but that’s not your problem, is it?” She shoots the question at me. I just examine her and wonder what happened to my friend. Where did she go and will she ever be back.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, stop gawking at me!” she shoots. “I’m not here for your entertainment. I’m here for my friend, Maxie. She can’t even have her baby in peace without your fan club following you around. Why don’t you just leave and take them with you?”
“Val, what is wrong with you?” Al chastises. He’s right. Something’s wrong. Something’s ghastly wrong, but I’ll never know what it is. I’ll never know what made Val change faces on me so hard and so quickly, what made her so bitter at me. I wordlessly turn back and look at Baby Girl Guest. Hopefully you and my babies and my little brother will make this world a better place, where ex-boyfriends don’t kidnap you, ex-Dommes don’t try to kill you, and your closest friends don’t turn their backs on you for no reason.
“So, now she’s going to ignore me. That’s just fine by me. I never needed your ass anyway and I sure as hell don’t need you now that you think you’re better than the rest of us. Have fun with the paps. I’m sure they’ll have a great time plastering your huge ass all over the front page of some gossip rag!” She turns to walk away. “Oh, and congratulations, Al. You want to know who’s next? You don’t have to wonder anymore. You are!” And with those last verbal daggers, she walks off down the hallway. My façade stays up long enough for her to bend the corner, then it crumbles at my feet. I’m sobbing as Al gathers me in his arms.
“What’s wrong with her?” I weep into Al chest. “If I only knew what I did, I would take it back, but I have no clue. She looked at me liked she wished I were dead!”
“I don’t know, Jewel,” he says softly, comforting, “I know something’s off, but I don’t know what it is.” I don’t either, but I can’t keep putting myself through this.
“How can you defend her?” I ask. “She just wrote you off for defending me.”
“I don’t know. Maybe because I’m an attorney and I like to see the argument from both sides. I love her as much as you do, but if she’s willing to write me off for calling her on her shit, then I guess I just have to deal with it. You know I’ve never been the type to cry over spilled milk. I’ll let her stew in her brew until she comes to her senses and if she never does, then she never does.” I shake my head and attempt to pull myself together.
“I can’t do this,” I sniffle, “I can’t do it. I won’t be around her again. I’ll never do it again.”
“How do you plan on doing that? You’re married to her boyfriend’s brother,” Al asks.
“I don’t know, but I won’t see her again. I can’t take her treating me this way.”
“Christmas? Thanksgiving? Remember last year?”
“I’ll have my own home now,” I tell him. “I’ll stay at my own home and let her spend time with Elliot and the Greys. I just can’t do this anymore. I just can’t. She wins. Whatever she thinks of me, whatever she says about me, it’s fine—but I won’t be around to hear it and don’t want to hear a report.” I pull out of his embrace and search for a tissue.
“Jewel, you can’t mean that.”
“Oh, yes I do,” I say, drying my eyes with a salvaged tissue from my purse. “I gave her a chance. I gave her time to breathe, to consider whatever was wrong and let me know. Instead, she comes back at me like I was her worst enemy and she wish I were dead. So I’m granting her that wish. To her, I am dead. I don’t know why she’s acting this way and I don’t think she’s ever going to stop. For that reason, I never want to see her again. I need to see Maxie. Are you coming?” I start walking down the hall without him. He quickly catches up with me.
“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” Al says in disbelief.
“This topic is no longer open for discussion… ever!” I reinforce. Chuck comes out of the waiting room just as we are about to pass and examines my face closely.
“Ana?” he begins.
“I’m going to see Maxie, then I’ll be ready to go,” I say coolly. “Do you want to come or wait here?”
“I’ll… just see where you’re going, maybe wait nearby,” he says cautiously. I nod.
“Did Phil give a room number for Maxie?” I notice Gary and Marilyn aren’t in the waiting room anymore.
“Yeah, it’s 4217.” I nod and start walking around the hospital. We have to go up the elevators to the fourth floor and her room is a few feet away. Al peeks in to make sure the coast is clear, then I follow him inside.
“Are you still on the one visitor restriction?” I ask softly. Maxie shakes her head.
“Did you see her?” a tired Maxie asks.
“I did,” I reply with a smile. “She’s beautiful.”
“You’re just saying that, but you’re right, she is.” I sit by her bedside. “You’ve been crying.” I wave her off.
“Just emotional about the first Scooby pup and the fact that my two little angels won’t be far behind,” I say rubbing my belly. It’s partially true. No use ruining Baby Guest’s birthday with my drama. “Have you picked a name?”
“Ages ago… Minerva Denise Guest.” Minerva?? It’s written all over my face. Where the hell did that name come from? “To answer your unanswered question, Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom, born from Jupiter’s head.” Oh… Athena, okay. Maybe she should have gone with Athena instead. “The more current reason, it’s his grandmother’s name.” Oh. Well, okay, I can understand that.
“Um, okay. It’s really pretty. It’s just very… kinda… formal, I guess. What will her friends call her… Vee?” I really don’t know what nickname could come from Minerva.
“We’ll call her Mindy,” Phil says. I nod.
“Okay. I can see that. Mindy’s kind of cute,” I smile. “Prime her to be a lawyer.”
“Why do you say that?” Al frowns.
“Think about it.” I gesture in the air like I’m framing words on a chalkboard. “Minerva Denise Guest, Esquire… that sounds fabulous!” Maxie laughs and shakes her head.
“Yes, it does,” she concurs, “but I’m going to let little Mindy be whatever she wants to be.” I twist my lips, mocking disapproval.
“Okay. I let you get away with it this time,” I jest.
After a few minutes, the room is full with Maxie’s friends and husband. We talk for several minutes about labor and the water breaking and all things baby while the others occupy themselves with other conversation. Mindy is brought into the room and everyone just dotes on her. She is truly the star of the show with a light dusting of brown hair and those colorless eyes that all babies have when they’re born. It’s my turn to hold her and I can’t believe how small and fragile she looks. Even little Harry didn’t look this small and fragile, and he weighed less than she did.
The door behind me whooshes open and I swear I feel a cold breeze brush into the room.
“Oh. She’s still here.” I look lovingly once more at Mindy, ignoring Val’s voice, but not her presence.
“I have to go,” I say softly, handing the baby to Maxine.
“So soon?” Maxie whines. I smile.
“Yeah,” I say with no explanation. “I love you, Max. She’s really very beautiful.” I kiss her on the forehead. “You, too, Phil,” I walk around the bed and give Phil a hug.”
“I’m beautiful?” he comments playfully.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” I tease, “but you make a good-looking kid.” I wink at him. “I’ll see you both later.” I kiss Al on the cheek and quickly nod goodbyes to Marilyn and Gary, before quietly walk out of the room without acknowledging Val’s presence. I find Chuck when I leave the room and we walk to the elevator.
“Let’s get the paps away from the door,” I tell him, thinking about Val’s comment that my friend couldn’t have her baby in peace. We walk down the hall and out the door as I close my coat around me, and the cameras go wild.
“Ana, why are you at the hospital?”
“Where’s Christian? Why isn’t he here with you?”
“Is something wrong with the babies?”
I take a deep breath at all the questions being fired at me. Why can’t these people just leave us alone?
“I’m very tired and I would like to get home, so I’ll make this brief. I’m here because one of my friend’s just delivered her baby. Christian isn’t here with me because I was at work when I got the call and so was he. It’s hardly necessary for him to be present at the delivery of my friend’s child, now is it? No, there’s nothing wrong with my babies. They are growing healthy and we’ll see them when they get here. Now, as I said, I’m very tired. As you can well see, I’m sharing my body with two other people. So I will kindly ask that you just let me go home.” After a few more pictures, they part and make a path, shouting things like “Good luck with the babies” and “You look beautiful, Ana.” I smile and wave, thanking them for their kind words as I get into the car. After all, you never want to make an enemy out of the press. I sigh when I sit down, then fish in my purse and call Christian.
“Grey. Leave a message.” I am so tired of talking to voice mails today.
“Hey, it’s not like you to have your phone turned off. I’m on my way home—sorry I’m so late. You’re going to probably see something on the news or in a rag somewhere about me being at the hospital. The press was waiting when we left. Maxie’s little girl is adorable, but I’ll tell you all about it when I get there. Love you. Bye.” I end the call and sit back in the seat, enjoying the ride back to Escala.
Chuck helps me up to the apartment, but doesn’t leave when I get to the door.
“I’m fine, Chuck,” I tell him. He must be concerned about that altercation with Val. It was rough, but I won’t dwell on it. I can’t.
“Just call it due diligence,” he says kindly, and I remember why I like having him around. We go inside and I immediately know something’s wrong. Gail is sitting on the sofa in the great room and she rises when I walk into the room. Where’s Christian?
“What’s happened?” I ask, my pulse beating faster by the second.
“Nothing’s happened, Ana,” Gail says calmly. “Christian and Jason may not be home tonight. They…” she pauses. It could only be one thing—one thing that would keep them both away from home and all cloak and dagger. Christian didn’t even call me and he’s not answering his phone.
“They know,” I say, calmly. “They know where the hacker is and they’re going after him.” She purses her lips and hands me a phone.
“He’ll call you on this,” she says, her voice calm. “You’re Rapunzel.” Rapunzel… a reference to all this hair. “I’m Godiva. Christian is Henry Walsh and Jason is Richard Maverick. If you can’t remember that, please write it down. If we don’t respond to those names, that’s their cue that something is wrong.” I nod. I’m nervous. He’s doing something so undercover that he turned off his phone and I have to wait until he contacts me on this burner. I turn to Chuck. “You already knew?” He doesn’t answer. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“He wanted you safe at home first. You know how he is.” Yes, I do know how he is.
“Does that mean I can’t leave?” I ask.
“No, that’s not what that means. It’s just, well, he would prefer that if you don’t have to go anywhere that you don’t go anywhere. It would be easier to contain any situation here at Escala.” I nod. Of course it would, and Christian can’t be worried about me gallivanting around in the streets while he and Jason tackle what could be a dangerous situation.
“So you’re staying here with us?” I ask.
“Along with Ben and Chance. There are a couple of unmarked cars downstairs and in the parking structure.” This is pretty damn big. I sigh again.
“Who wants shrimp?” I ask, heading towards the kitchen.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.
Love and Handcuffs!