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 13—The Game Is Afoot!
“Well, you gentlemen look like three bags of hell. Did you sleep well?”
Dodd, Cross, and Rockland look like pure shit when I see them around mid-morning. Welch and Cholometes are absent—resting somewhere or taking care of other matters as are the night team, and I am here with our guests of honor along with Jason and the two operatives that have been by our side since this operation began. None of them are tied to the chairs anymore, but I’ve got a feeling that’s unnecessary now.
“I’d like to wrap this up, if I may,” I say to them like I’m conducting a business meeting. I take off my jacket and toss it in a chair. “Just so that you know I’m serious…” I give Cross the same kick that I gave Dodd, two days ago and punch Rockland in his throat.
“If you fuck with me today, I will bite!” I hiss. Both men are gasping for breath while Dodd’s head just lolls in front of him. I point to him and look at Jason. “Is he dead?” I ask, annoyed. Why is there a dead man in the room?
“No, he’s just taken all he can take,” Jason says. “Remember, he spent two nights with us.” I nod.
“Well, let’s see if these two are going to be our guests for another night.” Rockland’s eyes widen and Cross is only just being returned to an upright position. He’s groaning miserably as I place a chair in front of them and turn it around backwards.
“Now, I’m going to ask you guys some questions. Do you think you’re ready to answer them or should I give you more time to ponder that?”
“We’re… ready,” Rockland says weakly. I turn to Cross.
“You?” He nods, still trying to catch his breath. “Good. Now some of these, I already know the answer, so careful how you respond. Let’s get started, shall we? How do you talk to your boss?”
“Text. Email,” Cross chokes. “Phone only rarely.” Good answer.
“When do you talk to your boss?”
“When he has instructions or we have updates,” Rockland says. “Emails are for regular communications. Texts are for emergencies…”
These two spill their guts for the next couple of hours informing us of how to get into their systems, crack their codes, find their worms, and trace their footsteps to every victim they’ve ever hit. They give us everything but government secrets. Luckily for them, Barney already established that they have no idea where Myrick is until after all operations go to Bagstop or they might have spent another night being persuaded by the Ops team. Later that afternoon, we have a plan and set the trap. Communication starts with Cross and a text as it always does in normal operations. Cross was so kind as to display the phone screens on one of his monitors so that we could see what’s being said.
**You were right, Boss. Doddy’s been compromised. He’s spilled the beans. He basically told us yesterday that Grey was right in his face. They know who you are, but they don’t know who or where we are. We had to lay low until the coast was clear.**
**Shit. There goes our inside man. It’s too late to find someone else now. We need to pull the operation.**
**Why? Just because Doddy’s not in on it anymore doesn’t mean anything. They don’t know who or where we are. We can drain this fucker clean and they’ll never find us, can’t we?**
**Feeling ambitious are we, Nick? Without Dodd, we don’t know if they’re getting any closer to us or not, so we have to pull out. He may not know how the system works, but he knows how to reach you and it’s only a matter of time before they find you, too.**
**Shit, I didn’t think of that. What do we do? I’ve got plans for my share and I have no intention on that snitch motherfucker costing me my money. His loss. We’ll split our share two ways instead of three.**
**Fine. Roc knows, too?**
**Yeah, he knows.**
**Where is he?**
**Probably back in Spokane by now.**
**Good. I’ll be in touch. Stay by the phone.**
“What now?” I ask.
“He’s going to get in touch with Roc to verify what I said.” I’m expecting a call from James to tell me that he has tracked the asshole, but there’s nothing. I have to wait for him to contact Rockland. I don’t have to wait long. Rockland’s phone starts to buzz.
“Showtime,” I say as I hand him the phone.
**Have you heard?**
**About that chickenshit Dodd? Yeah, I know. What the fuck do we do now?**
**We close up shop.**
**Aw, shit, really? We didn’t get close to where we wanted.**
**We’ll hit him again. Right now, we have to close up. Redirect the worm to Bagstop and I’ll start shutting down. You know where to meet me.**
**What about Dodd’s share? Do me and Nic get to split it?**
**I don’t care what you do with it. I’m sending the agreed upon portion to the payout account as planned. You do what you want from there, but I expect to see you at the meetup in seven days. This project is far from over.**
**You got it, Boss.**
“Where’s the meetup?” I ask.
“Cancun,” Cross replies. “No matter what the authorities do, they can’t get to him or us unless they liaise with the Federales. It’s almost impossible.” Of course, I know this. Cancun is perfect if he can get across the border. All you need is a passport.
“Tell the team at Rockland’s to divert the worms to Bagstop,” I tell Jason. “Make sure they follow the instructions that he gave them specifically. I don’t want any mistakes.” Jason nods and makes the call. Moments later, my burner rings. It’s James.
“We got him,” James says, “and you’re not going to believe this.”
“Don’t play with me. We don’t have time.”
“He’s still in Seattle.” Fucking hell! He’s been right under my fucking nose all this time.
“Goddammit!” I exclaim, almost throwing the burner across the room.
“What it is, Sir?” Jason says, frowning.
“He’s still in Seattle,” I growl. I turn to his little crew. “Did you fuckers know where he was all this time? We’re wasting all this goddamn time and you knew where he was, didn’t you?” Dodd is conscious now, but only barely. He woke somewhere during the interrogation and hasn’t said a word since. Welch has joined us again as well.
“No! No! I swear we never knew where he was!” Rockland, the one who always seemed so strong, is nearly begging for his life. Cross just looks like he’s going to piss his pants. James is yelling on the phone for me to get back on the line.
“Christian! You’ve got to talk to him. The information we have will only take us so far. If you want a precise location, you need to talk to him.” I turn to the three of them.
“Who the fuck tapped my phone?” I ask. Dodd and Cross both point to Rockland. I snatch him out of the seat and drag him to the wall and Jason and Welch protest.
“How did you fucking tap my phone? How easily can he find me? Tell me everything or I’ll leave you locked up in this room with these men for the next six days!” He turns pale and starts talking.
“It’s a tr-tracker… a simple one, the same one that the government uses. I could hack your phone if I called and kept you on the line long enough,” he stammers.
“Did you know where I was? Did he know where I was?” I hiss.
“Y-yes… I knew, but he didn’t. I would just… tell him what he needed to know. It was… my insurance policy.”
“What about my wife? Were you tracking her, too?”
“Be careful how you answer that,” Jason warns. “If you lie…” and he trails off.
“I tried…” he admits. “I only got her office, I never got her cell… so… I couldn’t.”
“My family! Speak up, you lousy fuck!” He tried to track Butterfly. I don’t care if he lives or dies.
“Only some old email address for your brother!” he exclaims. He’s scared for his life and rightfully so. That would explain the pictures he got of me and Elliot.
“Does he know where I am right now? Can he track my phone?”
“No… just… just me.” I push him over to Welch.
“Tell him how to turn it off,” I hiss. He starts talking to Welch, who’s talking to the team at Rockland’s house.
“Sir,” Jason hands me the phone back.
“What?” I nearly bark into the phone.
“Can you call him?” James asks.
“I’ve never had his number that he knows of. If I call him, it’ll tip him off that we have his whole team.”
“We need to get in touch with him somehow,” James repeats.
“Do we have any contact information for that asshole, even old information?” I ask Jason.
“I told you. He’s going to get in touch with you,” Jason responds.
“How can you be so sure?” I ask.
“He will,” Cross finally speaks. I look over at him. “He used to comment all the time that he was going to tell you it was him all along. He wants to see your face. He’ll get in touch with you. He might even meet you.” Well, isn’t he helpful? I get back on the phone.
“Just work with what you’ve got. I’ll be in touch.” I end the call with James. “You,” I say, pointing to Cross. “Respond.”
“To who?” he asks afraid.
“Your boss,” I say. “He told you to stay by the phone and he hasn’t responded. How long does it usually take him?” He thinks about it as I toss the phone at him. He fumbles with the phone, then starts the text.
**Boss, what’s wrong? You told me to stay by the phone.**
There’s a long pause before any response. I’m just about to believe that we’ve been found out when the asshole responds.
**Nothing now. Redirect the worm to Bagstop. I’ll divvy the money. Meetup in seven days. We regroup and hit him again.**
**If you say so, Boss. I still think we could have hit him for more.**
**We could have, and we will. For right now, meetup in seven days.**
“Redirect his worm,” I say to Welch and he nods. “He was waiting for you.”
“How do you know?” Cross asks.
“This, you idiot!” I point to the line that says Nothing now. “If you hadn’t responded, he would have known that you and Tweedle-Dum over there are together. Now he thinks the coast is clear.”
“I told you that you had no idea who you were dealing with,” Dodd mumbles.
“But you did, so shut up,” I threaten.
“The worms have been redirected,” Welch says. “He’s starting to cycle the money from the main account into smaller ones. The signal is fed right into a portal in Ferndale, Michigan. I think we have our bank insider.”
“Get on it, but don’t move before I talk to him,” I respond.
“Now comes the hard part… waiting for him to call,” Jason says.
I’m in my office trying to act normal, but twitchy as hell. I called Butterfly last night and told her that I needed to stay where I was while we worked out some answers to some of the questions and that meant that I couldn’t come home. I didn’t want her feeling like she did when I was gone all of the time, so I assured her that I loved her and talked to her until she fell asleep. The problem… I didn’t sleep. My phone is now unhackable thanks to James and Barney, since we know who the culprit is and we were able to disconnect his link. They’ve now done something to hack-proof my phone, at least temporarily I’m told, and the only tap on my phone is being read by Barney and James.
The day seems to drag by as I pretend to be interested in what’s happening in various meetings. I go by to see Butterfly at her office for lunch as one more moment without her is going to send me stir crazy. We just sit on her sofa and talk and kiss while I tell her what I can of what’s happening. She’s very understanding and I want to tell her all of it, but for her own safety I have to keep quiet.
Since Cross and Rockland have redirected the worms, they are expected to go radio silent. That works out well since they are currently still with the Ops while we track down Myrick. I received an email from Human Resources this morning notifying me of a phone call and an email from Dodd to be followed up by a certified letter that he is submitting his resignation. Apparently, he is tired of his hard work and ideas being overlooked and has accepted a more lucrative offer elsewhere from someone who promises to reward him for his talents. I’ll just bet you have. Welch has already informed me that since Black Ops had to be involved that we will most likely never hear from these three again once they’ve outgrown their usefulness. He refuses to tell me if that means they will be “taken care of” or dropped off in Iceland somewhere and quite frankly, I don’t care.
The visit with Butterfly refreshed me and the ride back to Grey House was tolerable. Just as I get off the elevator and go to my office, my phone rings. It’s unknown. Please be Myrick. For God’s sake, please be Myrick.
“Well, hello, big brother. Long time, no see.” Asshole.
“Big Brother, my ass!” I hiss. “I showed you the DNA report and I’m not your fucking brother!”
“No matter. You’ve paid a fortune to find me, and here I am. Don’t bother trying to trace the phone. It’s completely blocked—unless you know someone from the FBI.” Cocky ass little fucker, of course I do.
“Why the hell are you doing this to me?” I yell. I’m losing my patience. Jason comes bursting into my office and sees me on the phone.
“Temper, temper, Mr. Grey. Anger never got us anywhere, now did it?” he taunts.
“Apparently, it got you where you needed to be,” I shoot.
“No, that was persistence, coupled with a bit of good old-fashioned arrogance and underestimation on your part. Thank you for that. You helped me right along.” Self-important, over-confident son-of-a-bitch. I get a glimpse of Jason and he’s on the phone.
“You’re a little too certain of yourself, asshole. I will find you one day and I will make you pay.”
“You see, that’s what I’m talking about,” he says calmly, “that untouchable attitude that you have. I’m about to disappear with several million dollars of your money and you can’t even be humble about it. That’s pennies to you, and you can’t even say ‘Robin, you got me this time. You were the better man.’ No, you’re still walking around like you’ve got the upper hand. ‘I will find you and I will make you pay.’” He mocks me. “Yeah, sure, Grey, if you say so, but it won’t be today.” His confidence is making my teeth itch.
“You should be very worried…”
“No, you should!” he interrupts me. “Do you think I’m the only one? There’s a line of ‘em out there, Grey, a whole damn line! For you to be such a cocky, self-important bastard, do you have any idea how many people hate you? I mean, really—it’s easy picking. I could throw a dart and find several people who would want to see you fall. I could put an ad on Craigslist or a random post on Facebook and get hit after hit after hit of people who want to take you down. Sure, they’re just usernames at first, but then after you talk for a while, there’s a real person behind that username with a real ax to grind and they want to grind it right in your ass. This was way too easy. You have powerful people who would love to see you fall and not-so-powerful people who would sell their souls to be a part of your demise. How could you not attempt to exercise some level of humility when you’re walking around with a target on your back, you pompous, arrogant asshole?”
“It’s like you said, a few million dollars won’t hurt me one way or the other,” I change tact since I see the anger is switching places.
“Oh, but you’ll be thinking about it,” he retorts. “The long lost brother from the father that you hate that took you for millions. And this is not the end—I’ll be back for more and you can’t even stop me. You tried for months and you couldn’t even find me. I found you.” He laughs.
“You’re not my brother, asshole,” I say calmly. “You may have taken a few of my pennies, but that sick sperm donor of yours really pulled a fast one on you. Tell me, how does it feel to know that the man you idolize was thrown in jail for being a pimp and a crack dealer, and he led you to believe for a couple of decades that it was because of a four-year-old boy? Come on, you’re an adult now, you’ve got to know that was bullshit.”
“He told me you would do that,” he says calmly. “You’ve already proven that you’ll allow anybody to take responsibility for your mistakes—that you’ll let anybody take the fall for you. Tell me, exactly how old were you when you killed your own mother?” What the…?
“What in the hell has that fucker been feeding you?” I ask, appalled. “My mother overdosed when I was four! That fucker left us in the house for four days! I was left with my mother’s cold, dead body for four days! That asshole burned my chest and my back with cigarettes! I still have the scars! I had nightmares for years after what he did to me! I used to be angry when I thought about you, but I feel sorry for you! You idolize a monster, and he’s grooming you to be just like him!”
“Don’t you patronize me, you pretentious fuck!” He’s losing it… and fast. “I’ve still got your money and there’s shit you can do about it. You’ve always tried to convince me that my father was the bad guy and I knew you were wrong from the very beginning…” I turn to Jason, who holds up the index finger to me, so I keep talking.
“You keep believing that,” I say, calmly, cutting him off. “Your father is a vicious, brutal, abusive, drug-dealing monster and you’re going to be just like him. You’re a petty thief, sneaking in back doors and picking pockets. Yeah, you got a few million from me, but that’s because my pockets are deeper. But guess what? That doesn’t change what you are. You’re no ‘righter-of-wrongs,’ no ‘Robin Hood’ seeking to make the crooked roads straight. You’re a common criminal, creeping around corners and picking off those who you think are weak. That’s okay. Take your little pennies and run. That’s going to be your legacy. ‘Boo hoo hoo, my crack pimp daddy said this billionaire was my brother, so I’m going to take his toys.’ Be my guest. Take what you want. Just know this—I want you out of my life. I made the mistake of leaving you alive and giving you the chance to walk away, but you didn’t do it. You lived because of the kindness of the woman I love, and you abused that opportunity. So when I find you—and I will find you—I’m going to finish the job.”
“You are so delusional!” he laughs. “Don’t you know I was the one who helped Lincoln get your girlfriend’s gun? Don’t you see how much power I have over you and those around you? I orchestrated the premature announcement of your wife’s pregnancy before you guys even wanted anybody to know! Right now, I’m still draining your account and you’re talking shit! Man, you’re more pathetic than I thought.”
“That’s okay, Robbie Boy, go on and believe that. Everything you’ve tried to do so far to ruin or end me has failed, and you think this is going to succeed? Be my guest, take what you want. I’m so rich I can print money. There’s always someone to jump in front of the bullet for me and all you did was make another enemy because you shot the Man of Steel. There’s always a way out for me, or solution or someone to make the problem go away. Do you know there’s insurance that covers this kind of thing?” I laugh.
“It’s the principle, Grey. I got you!” I scoff.
“Many people get me, Myrick! You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. That’s one of the reasons that I am who I am today. People keep getting me and I bounce right back. Yeah, they bask in their victory for a while, and then they get pissed again because ‘that cocky motherfucker is still strutting around.’ I’m still going to strut, Myrick. When this is over, you’ll be like one of those little woodland creatures that come and grab one of your apples, but you still have hundreds of apples left on the tree.” Jason gives me the magic nod.
“Don’t give me that shit, Grey! You’re so angry about this, you could spit!”
“Yeah, I would throw some more pennies at you, but—sorry, I don’t carry change. Are we done?”
“Twelve million, Grey! And counting!” He’s still trying to egg me on, but we know where you are now.
“Clink, clink, jingle, jingle. Are we done now?”
“You son-of-a-bitch! You think you’re so fucking high and mighty…” and now he’s ranting. I tore that cool exterior down and made him think that he didn’t get to me even though right now, I’m burning on the inside. Unfortunately for him, he has to get the last word. He’s a petty thief and a petty man.
“Yeah, we’re done. Enjoy your life while you can. Your happiness will be very short-lived, I promise you.” I end the call. “Talk to me.”
“Henderson and Rainer,” he says. “James put a tracker on it, but if it’s a burner, he may have already thrown it away. We’re setting up a perimeter, but I don’t know if we had enough time to put it into place, yet.” Shit!
I’m in the elevator almost before he finishes his sentence. In moments, we’re down in Data Central.
“We still have him, sir,” Barney says, pointing to a map of the south side of Seattle and a red blinking dot. “As long as he keeps that phone, we’ve got him. So we need to make him as soon as possible.” Jason is on the phone as we speak.
“The perimeter is set, sir. The guys have a picture of him as well as progressive pictures in case he’s changed his appearance. I’m in satellite contact with all of the team leaders.” My hands are sweating. They can’t lose him. I have to know the moment he moves. So I sit and wait…
And wait some more…
“He’s not going anywhere, Christian,” Jason says in my ear. I’ve sat in Data Central all day. I haven’t moved or eaten or done any work. I’ve just sat here waiting for someone to tell me that they’ve spotted Myrick.
“I’m going home,” I tell Barney before leaving Data Central and going back up to my office.
“He hasn’t moved, sir. I can guarantee it,” Jason says. I try to take some comfort in that, but it doesn’t help. We drive back to Escala where I have dinner with my wife, then go to my study for the rest of the evening.
I can’t fail. I’m doing this for Butterfly.
And for myself.
I can’t fail.
I thought that taking care of him and making love to him this weekend would have made Christian loosen up, but I was wrong. He’s wound tighter than ever! I don’t know what to do for him. We’ve got to get this Robin Myrick situation under control or he’s going to blow a gasket.
He’s been keeping me out of the information loop for the last two days, insisting that the less I know, the better. To me, that means that Myrick’s two little hackers and Christian’s in-house spy are probably floating face down somewhere under the ice and I don’t need the gory details. I justify anything that Christian has to do to catch this bastard because he tried to have Christian killed in March when he facilitated giving that batty blonde bitch my gun.
Speaking of which, I haven’t heard a thing about her. I wonder if she has tried to contact Christian at all. I know that he would tell me if she did, unless he didn’t want to upset me. I’m sure the news of my pregnancy has gotten to her by now. She’s probably glued to the television for anything Christian Grey, even though it’s clear that he doesn’t want her. I can’t blame her, though. If she received even one one-hundredth of the affection that he shows me, it’s no wonder she’s batshit.
Wednesday, I decide that I need to do something today besides sit around and lose my mind. Chuck is a little uneasy about my decision, but I tell him to let Christian and Jason know that I’ll be doing a little bit of baby shopping for Mindy, after which I will be dropping by Maxie and Phil’s to see them. Christian balked about safety and Robin Myrick until I told him that I would trust him to take care of Ginger Creepy Guy, but that I had no intention of letting that asshole run my life or keep me holed up in the apartment.
Give him a task. It always works.
With newfound conviction to keep his wife safe, he turns his focus away from my little shopping trip and back to finding Ginger Creepy Guy.
I make a stop at the little boutique that Christian and I went to where the owner and the customer asked us to sign their gossip rags. I promised the owner, Myra, that I would think of her first when it came to all things baby.
“Ana, it’s wonderful to see you again so soon!” she greets when I walk in the door.
“Hi, Myra. I’ve had a little delivery—not mine of course. My friend had her baby—a little girl, and I’d like to get them something really nice.”
“Hmm, brand new baby, I would say do a little girl gift basket. We have some already made, or you can choose some items that you like and I can build a basket for you.”
“Really?” I squeal. “That sounds fantastic!”
“Great! So what’s your choice—pre-made or construct one?” she asks.
“Let’s look at the pre-made ones first.”
I follow Myra to the area where she keeps the gift baskets. They are utterly adorable—baby blue and pink everywhere and the baskets are really nice. I choose a few that I like, but one just doesn’t seem to be enough and two just seems… I don’t know, over-the-top a bit, I guess. No one basket has everything that I want and two baskets just seem gaudy. I opt to build one and put all of the necessities inside. The problem is that all of the baskets look too small for my purposes, so we opt to use a tiny baby-carrying basket instead of a gift basket. It’s white, about 14 inches by 14 inches so it will do nicely.
Next, we set to the task of loading up the basket—bibs and bottles, booties; rattles and baby hair accessories; keepsake boxes; teething rings and blankets; bath accessories and stuffed toys. I also decided to get the New Mom basket, with bags of gourmet chocolates and biscotti, chai and herbal teas, exotic bath oils and lotions, a CD of soothing music, candles, and a bath pillow. Hopefully this will help to remind Maxie how much she enjoyed the spa.
“We’ve got company, Ana,” Chuck says as I’m about to pay for the baskets. They’re not unruly, but a few reporters have gathered outside.
“Oh, I’m so not in the mood for this,” I whine. What’s so special about us? I mean, I know that Christian is a billionaire, but money makes you famous? I just don’t get that! We’re not movie stars or even really public figures. We try to keep our private lives private. I know Christian is a really big deal in the business world, but the color of Bill Gates’ underwear is not news, so why should his be? What’s the fascination?
“You’re a real Cinderella story, don’t you know that?” Myra says. “I mean I know that you weren’t all poor and things when you met Christian, but he’s Seattle’s Prince Charming, so that makes you Cinderella. Everybody wants to see you all move into the castle and have babies and live happily ever after. We live vicariously through you! Then there’s always going to be those mean stepsister types who are waiting for the ax to fall so that they can step into the position. Face it, Honey, there’s always going to be some kind of tiny obsession with AnaChris. Find a way to use it to your advantage.” She shrugs.
Use it to my advantage. Hmmm…
“I want to go to Maxie’s, but I don’t want to lead the troops there,” I say looking at Chuck.
“We might want to postpone this trip for another day, maybe?” he asks. I shrug.
“Let’s see what happens,” I close my coat over my baby belly and prepare to go outside. It’s a chilly November afternoon and I don’t want to be out in the cold too long. The handful of reporters that found me at the boutique spring to life when I exit, Chuck behind me carrying two wrapped baskets.
“Shopping for the baby, Ana? Do I see pink in that basket behind you? Does that mean we’re expecting girls?” Le sigh…
“I think I announced late last week that a friend of mine had a baby, which is why I was at the hospital. I hardly think I would be buying a gift basket for myself,” I laugh.
“So are you saying you’re not having girls?” One of them asks.
“There’s a fifty-fifty chance,” I respond, giving nothing away.
“Where’s Christian? We haven’t seen a lot of him lately,” someone in the back questions. I look behind me, in my purse, down my coat…
“I seem to have misplaced him,” I jest. A small wave of laughter goes through the group. “Really, though, I must ask why that’s a common question when you guys see me alone. Am I not supposed to go out in public without him? I’m just asking,” I say with no malice. The group falls a little silent because nobody really has the answer to that question. “Well, it is Wednesday, so most likely he’s at work. He did that before we were married, so he’s probably still doing that now. My schedule may have lightened up because I’m pregnant, but we know Mr. Grey is still driven to succeed, so I would say that’s the answer to your question.” I smile and the cameras flash away.
“You look beautiful as always, Ana. Who are you wearing?” a lady reporter asks. I shrug.
“I honestly don’t know what this coat is,” I laugh, closing the cream wool swing coat around me. “I think I got from Macy’s or Nordstrom… I don’t remember right now. I got it because it’s retro and I love all things retro. Plus, it looks like something I saw Olivia Pope wearing.” Another wave of laughter.
“What about the boots?” she says. “You have to know who those are. They’re gorgeous!”
“Oh, the boots are Michael Kors,” I say showing off my brown Tamara high-heel boots. “I won’t be able to wear heels much longer, so I figured I’d get some wear out of them before it’s too late.” I smile again. “Well, I’m off to see my friend now. As you all must know, a brand new mom doesn’t get around much.” I smile and wave and head for the car while the cameras are flashing. Then Myra’s words come back to me.
Use it to your advantage. I pause as Chuck is opening the door for me.
“At the risk of sounding cliché, I really want to ask that everyone who reads something about me or follows me or hates me challenge themselves to do something a little extra for someone this winter. It’s cold outside, people are hungry, homeless, lonely, and cold. A lot of people are suffering from abuse or depression. I may be Cinderella going to my castle, but I don’t forget how it felt to sleep in the cinders.” The group falls silent again.
“What are you doing this year, Ana? Anything in particular?” one of them asks.
“Oh, I’m doing a lot of things,” I respond. “Christian and I will be taking part in the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Affair again this year. We’ll also be delivering food and toys to a few local homeless shelters as long as my body is up to it. Particularly, most of my time and energy goes to Helping Hands, the charity that I support the most. It’s been around for quite some time, but it just hasn’t gotten the kind of exposure that it needs.”
“That’s the charity that your mother-in-law heads, the one that was the subject of the public service announcement earlier this year, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” I confirm. “Dr. Grey spends countless hours developing programs and organizing food and clothing drives, securing educational opportunities and tutoring for abused and displaced families…”
“Displaced?” someone interrupts me. “Is it a shelter?”
“Yes. Part of it has been expanded to be a shelter—a safe haven, if you will, to assist a handful of families in making a very tough transition. It’s pretty costly and can be very time-consuming, which is one of the reasons why she and I donate our salaries back to the center.” This earns an approving nod from many of the members of the group.
“So, you guys don’t just donate money to the center?” one of the ladies asks again, and I notice the crowd is getting a bit bigger. “I mean, wouldn’t that just be easier?” I twist my lips a bit as if in contemplation and do that side-to-side uncertain nod.
“Yeah, it would, but Dr. Grey is very particular about where the donations come from and where they go. She wants to make sure that all of the programs get the funding that they need to be able to continue and to benefit the families that use the services. She also wants the respect of the community—a charity by the people, for the people, so to speak. That’s why she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty… digging in and doing the hard work. I respect her for that. I strive to be as dedicated as she is, which is why more of my time is dedicated to Helping Hands than to any other project, even my private practice.”
“That’s very honorable, Ana. Do you really get down there and do as much these days since you’re pregnant?”
“It’s my one true pastime,” I counter. “As assistant director, I have to oversee many of the programs, too, as well as offer counseling and direction when needed. I have a few success stories from Helping Hands, so I’m very proud of what we do there and I plan on staying a part of it until my body doesn’t work anymore.” I laugh again and decide that this ends the current interview with Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey. “I’ve really got to get going, you guys. My friend is going to be asleep by the time we get there.” I wave at them and get in the car.
“Nicely done,” Chuck says as we’re driving away.
“Oh, Ana, these are adorable!” Maxie says as she examines the items in the baby basket. I’m now sitting in her big, comfy pregnancy chair while she sits on the sofa with Mindy lying beside her. “I can see her little feet in this already,” she says playing with the booties.
“I thought so, too,” I tell her. “They make the cutest little things for babies.”
“Oh, yes, they do!” she says going through the items in the basket. She squirms a little on the sofa.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I’m wearing a shaper,” she says. “You know, that post-pregnancy belt that helps you hold up your enormous flabby stomach.”
“Yes, I do. I already have three of them.” She turns her gaze to me.
“Vain much, Ana?” she laughs.
“No. Christian bought them for me three weeks ago. He thought they were the during pregnancy belts—you know, the ones that help support your back…”
“Ooohh,” she says with a nod.
“So now I’ll have three of them for after I have the babies.”
“What about the ‘during pregnancy belts?” she asks.
“Oh, I have those, too.”
“Geez, Ana, how many do you have?” I roll my eyes.
“You don’t want to know!” I exclaim. “Ever send Phil to the store for tampons?” She laughs immediately.
“Okay, okay. I get it now,” she snickers. “’Is she a mini or a maxi? Did she say pads or tampons? Does she want regular, plus, or super? Wings or no wings?”
“And how many feminine items did you have when he got back?”
“Honestly, about a year’s supply!” she laughs. “Slim, light, maxi pads, panty liners, pearls, pods, petals, you name it, he brought it home.” I nod.
“I have enough belts for a Lamaze class!” I declare and we laugh heartily.
“Well, you’ll have plenty for the next time you get pregnant,” she says and I stop laughing.
“Can you let me have these before you knock me up again, please?” I declare causing her to burst out laughing again.
“I’m hungry. Are you up for some food while the bumblebee is asleep?” she asks. I shrug.
“I can always eat,” I respond and we head out to the kitchen to get something to eat.
“What do I feel like?” Maxie says as she rummages through the refrigerator. “Chicken… cold cuts… ooo, BLT!” My stomach growls at the thought.
“Now, you’re talking!” I exclaim as she removes the bacon.
“So, I know you haven’t had your twins yet, but do you think you’ll have any more kids after this?” Maxie asks as she starts to warm the griddle.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” I respond, removing the meaty tomatoes from the refrigerator. I reach for the chopping board and a knife. “I would definitely want more children if Christian agrees, and if he doesn’t, that’s fine with me, too. I know that he still wants us to do some traveling and things, but let’s be realistic. The world is our oyster. We can pretty much do whatever we want.”
“I think that might be Val’s problem,” she says as she moves the succulent bacon around the grill. I fall silent. “I think she might feel slighted because the rest of us are getting on with our lives and she and Elliot are just kind of… there.” I twist my lips as I slice healthy slices of tomato for our sandwiches. Maxie is not privy to the view of Elliot and Valerie’s relationship that I have. Elliot adores Valerie. The way that he looks at her when he thinks no one is looking, the sweet things he does for her that nobody knows about, how grateful he is that he stood by him through the Kate debacle… He would move heaven and earth for Valerie and I’m not just saying that. I’ve seen it.
“What do you think it could be, Ana? She changed faces so quickly. It’s got to be something.” I shrug.
“I don’t know what it could be, and I have a hard time talking about it,” I admit. “I’m the target of her unmitigated ire and I have no clue why. If she was so angry about what I said about the wedding, why didn’t she lash out at you? I mean, I’m not saying that you deserved it, but we both took offense to what she said and we both made it known. And honestly, she didn’t see anything wrong with asking me if I had cheated on my husband? With his mother in the room, no less?” I shake my head as I neatly lay the tomato slices on a plate and cover them with cellophane wrap. “Her behavior is completely illogical and even my education and experience can’t tell you what’s wrong with her.”
“I just wish I knew,” she says while she pushes the bacon around the griddle, the smell of it filling the kitchen with heavenly aromas. “This is so awkward. I love you both…”
“As you should,” I tell her. “I would never make you choose… although Val might.”
“What?” she said, spinning around in shock.
“The day we were at the hospital, I was in the nursery getting my first look at Mindy. Al was there and I said something to Al about Val—I don’t even remember what it was at this point—and when she heard her name come out of my mouth, the claws came out. She was horrible and I didn’t even know what to say. Al came to my defense—dispelling almost everything she said and trying to get her to lighten up. She effectively wrote him off, too. It’s my understanding that they had a fight right there in your room.”
“Oooohh! Is that what that was all about?” she asks. “I wasn’t in the room, but I was on my way back and when I got there, they were just glaring at each other. Val was extra friendly and talking about the things we would do when I brought Mindy home and Al was just… Al.”
“Well, she was awful to me in the hospital. I made up my mind that I didn’t want to talk about her and that I couldn’t be in the room with her because the sight of me sets something off in her. She’s downright vicious when she sees me, and I can’t take it. You know that I’m usually ruthless when it comes down to people thinking they have the upper hand on me, but Val? I can’t do that to Val. I can’t treat her that way even if she feels that she can treat me that way.”
“I just… I don’t know. I never thought she would be this way to you ever and the shrink in me really wants to know what’s going on with her.” She begins to remove the crispy bacon and set it flat on paper towel to absorb the excess fat.
“Well, I’m hurt, and I unfortunately can’t concentrate on what could possibly be wrong with Val. It’s not like she wants my help or is even concerned about what I think, so my opinion is a bit moot, don’t you think?” She shrugs.
“I won’t keep talking about it. I can see that it bothers you, but the curiosity is killing me, so I’m going to try to get to the bottom of it,” she admits honestly.
“I wish you luck with that Dr. Saunders… Dr. Guest… who are you these days?” She laughs.
“I’m Saunders-Guest,” she says. “I couldn’t bear to be without his name.” She spreads mayo on whole grain bread.
“I know what you mean,” I say, tearing off leaves of fresh, crispy lettuce. “I’m starting to resent ‘Steele’ a bit. I think I’m going to convert to Steele-Grey. His name a bit comforting.”
“I know, right?” she says as she begins to build our sandwiches. “You can get us some drinks if you like.” I go to her refrigerator.
“What would you like?” I ask, examining the virtual grocery store before me.
“Whatever you want. Surprise me.” Hmmmm….
“Apple juice looks good,” I say.
“Oh, apple juice is perfect. It’ll compliment the bacon just right.” I pull two large glasses from the cupboard and fill them to the rim before replacing the juice. Maxie takes the two monstrous creations into the living room where we can keep an eye on Mindy and I follow her with the juice in both hands. She has cut the sandwiches in half and the moment we sit down, I take a healthy bite of half of mine.
We continue our talk about babies and new motherhood. I am only too happy to change the subject away from Valerie Marshall. I feel like she takes up too much of my mind space as it is. I admit that I miss who we used to be to each other, but we’re now at the point where we can’t even be in the same room together. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I have changed too much. Whatever the case may be, I can’t dwell on why she’s acting like a grade-A bitch, so I continue chatting about how Maxie has been feeling, questioning how helpful Phil is during this time.
“Oh, he’s a godsend,” she says. “He’s on a partial paternity leave because he didn’t want to take a total leave of absence, so he’s only working two days a week. When he’s home, oh—he just adores Mindy. He won’t let her out of his sight. He has these crazy conversations with her when he thinks I’m not looking. She can’t understand a thing that he’s saying, but he’s imparting upon her valuable life lessons that he’s just going to have to impart upon her all back over again when she learns to talk.” We laugh again at the mere cuteness of it all.
We have finished our sandwiches and Maxie is clearing our dishes when Mindy starts to stir. I hadn’t held a baby this small since Harry, but I really want to hold her.
“Go ahead,” Maxie invites as she takes the rest of the dishes into the kitchen. I lift the little pink bundle in my arms and she is just scrumptious. She has the reddest little nose and she’s stretching her little hands and yawning as she wakes.
“Well, aren’t you just the sweetest little thing?” I say, holding her in both hands in front of me. She’s just a wonderful little bundle of flush and happiness right here in my hands. “Oh, Maxie, she’s just too adorable.”
“Thank you,” she says as she comes back with a bottle and tests it on her hands.
“You’re not breastfeeding?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“I wish,” she says. “I’m not producing enough and I can’t let Mindy starve. It’s probably for the best anyway, since I’m not going to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m a little sad about it, but who can be too sad for too long around this beautiful little thing.”
“I fully agree,” I say looking adoringly at Mindy. “She is wonderful.” Maxie hands me the bottle and little Mindy tucks into it with purpose. “Wow, she has a healthy appetite.”
“That she does. That’s why I couldn’t breastfeed.” She gently caresses Mindy’s head.
“Look who I found wandering around outside.” Phil voice interrupts our conversation and walking in behind him is my best friend.
“I wasn’t wandering around,” Al says. “I was getting this out of the car.” Al is lugging yet another monstrous baby basket behind him. His is clearly full of designer baby clothes and gift certificates. I will later find out that it contains a couples’ massage, six months of diaper service, and milestone pictures every three months for the next year.
“Wow, you just had to show me up, huh?” I say as Maxie begins to unload the basket.
“I didn’t even know that you would be here!” he says. “You were my next stop, but now I guess I don’t need to do that since you’re already here. And you’re practicing again. I’ll be glad when you have your own little buttons so that I can get some baby time,” he jests.
“Al,” I chide, “you’re just jealous, and green doesn’t look good on you, dear.”
“Hush up and give me that baby,” he demands.
“No. Anyway, she’s not eating yet,” I say as I look down at Mindy’s perfect little puckered lips devouring her bottle.
“That’s an excuse and you know it, but I will get that baby,” he says, turning his attention to Maxie. “So, how have you been feeling? This little bundle isn’t even a week yet and she’s already a celebrity.”
“Tell me about it,” Maxie says. “I have long-lost family coming to town next week just to meet her. I don’t know what makes my baby so special to them, but they’re making the trip.”
“You know you can say ‘no,’ right?” I tell her. “I mean, all those strange people around the baby before she’s a month old… that may not be a good idea.”
“I don’t want to rock the boat,” she shrugs. “I get the feeling that these particular family members are attempting to mend fences.”
“That’s fine, but they don’t have to use your baby to do it,” Al pipes in. “We’ve been around you for a while so our particular germs won’t do you any harm. Who are these people? When is the last time you’ve seen them? What new germs are they bringing to the mix?” I can see the wheels in Maxie’s head turning. “I’m just saying.”
“You might be right,” she says. “Phil’s not really comfortable with them just showing up out of the blue either.”
“You might want to tell them to come another time—when the baby’s older,” I say. “Al’s right. We wouldn’t really be considered a ‘foreign contaminant’ because we’ve been around you the entire time that you’ve been pregnant, but even we shouldn’t be around her every day until she gets a little older. It’s just something to think about.”
“Maybe someone should tell that to Val,” Phil says. He’s walking into the living room after changing out of his uniform into some jeans and a T-shirt. “She’s been here every day since Max and the baby came home. It’s like a vigil.” Al and I look at each other.
“That’s why I was telling you that I think something’s wrong with her,” Maxie says. “I see her every day, and something’s not right.”
“Well, I don’t know what’s gotten into her, but when you figure it out, you let me know so that I can steer clear of it,” I say.
“You’re not even curious?” Phil asks.
“I used to be,” I reply. “In the very beginning when this started, I was curious as to what was going on. I really wanted to know what could have made my friend so changeful in no time flat. As time went on and every time I saw her or heard of her, she was just vicious, I no longer care. I just don’t want to be around her. I’m about to enter my third trimester. All things toxic must leave this place.”
“Here, here,” Al chimes in. “And apparently, her ire is beginning to move because she’s targeting me now.”
“I was wondering where that conversation came from,” Phil says. We all turn to him. “I caught the tail end of their heated conversation this weekend. She ‘confided’ in me—for lack of a better word—that you had turned against her, too. I didn’t call her on it because I don’t know the whole story, but I did know that something wasn’t right in what she was saying. I think she sees you as an extension of Ana, Al, because you guys are so close. So whatever she’s feeling for Ana is going to come out on you.”
“We were all close before this,” I point out. “She’s the one that went all psycho-schizo out of nowhere! We all know that Al and I have more time in, but I never treated anybody differently. I never treated Al like he was the sun and the moon and you guys were the grass. If he had any more insight into my relationship and personal life, it’s because he’s known me longer and he’s m attorney!” I say. “Maxie, when you were treating me, you knew more than anybody!”
“This is true,” Maxie says as she adjusts herself in her position on Phil’s lap. Mindy has finished her bottle and I put her in position for a burp.
“Well, I don’t know what her issue is, but she needs to steer clear of me. She treats Ana like crap, and I’m not going to let her do that to me,” Al says. “Whatever little thing is running over her, she needs to go on and take care of that.”
I turn my attention to Mindy. This particular topic of conversation is old to me. I no longer want to delve into “what’s wrong with Val.” I can’t say that I don’t love her anymore, but like any breakup, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Mindy gives me a little burp and I adjust her in my arms again. I examine her closely to see which one of her parents she looks like, but it’s too early. Besides the shock of silky brown hair sticking out from under her baby beanie, she doesn’t have any distinguishing characteristics just yet, not like Harry. Harry came out of the womb looking like my father!
Mindy’s tiny little lips pucker again and she’s mocking the sucking action as she begins to slip back into slumber. Isn’t that just like a newborn—feed me and let me go back to sleep! I’m a little jealous of her tranquility. She’s just peaceful and happy without a care in the world. Enjoy it now, little one, for tomorrow your troubles begin.
I’ve completely drifted off to Mindyville for I don’t know how long and I hadn’t noticed that Maxie and Phil left the room until I hear her voice.
“Oh, what? Her Highness is here and now, I have to act differently?” It’s Valerie. The mere thought of my presence is apparently unbearable for her.
“I’m not telling you how to act, Val. I’m just saying that if you get rude and disrespectful, I’m going to have to ask you to leave and I don’t want to do that,” Maxie retorts. “She’s still my friend and she’s welcome here. I won’t allow her to mistreat you and I don’t want you to mistreat her.” And that’s my cue. I look over to Al.
“I know you’re dying to get your hands on this little bundle of deliciousness,” I say to my best friend.
“You’re only handing her off because you’re trying to make a quick getaway,” he calls me out.
“You’re right,” I say, gently placing Mindy in his arms. “I have to go, Al. I have to avoid stressful situations as much as I can. The doctor has warned me about my blood pressure and to have one of my closest friends degrade me the way that she does, it’s just not good for my health.” I struggle to get to my feet. Sure enough, she walks into the room with the guns already loaded.
“Well, I see it’s a bit crowded in here,” she shoots. “Strange, I don’t recall seeing the paparazzi camped outside.” I smile at Al and proceed pass Valerie to the front closet where I left my coat.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Valerie, you didn’t even get past the door yet,” Maxie scolds. “Ana, please…”
“It’s okay, Max. I really need to be going.” I smile at her weakly.
“Oh, yes, don’t let us keep you,” Val says, mocking sweetness. “Are you going to run out behind her?” I assume she’s talking to Al since Chuck is nowhere to be found.
“Do you really want to start with me, Sweetcheeks?” Al hisses. “She wants to avoid a confrontation with you, but I’ll wipe up the floor with your ass!” Val falls silent and I focus on Maxie.
“Ana, please don’t go,” Maxie says quietly. “We really need to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”
“I don’t have the strength,” I say, low enough so that only she can hear me. “It’s like you said, you shouldn’t have to choose, and I want you to be able to spend time with all of your friends, even if two of them don’t get along.” I close my coat and kiss her on the cheek. “We had a great afternoon,” I smile. “Thank you.” She smiles sadly.
“Thank you for my gift baskets,” she says, sweetly.
“Stop acting like this is ‘goodbye,’” I say giving her a hug. “I’ll be back another time.” She smiles tightly and nods. I walk out of the house and close the door behind me. Chuck is on the porch waiting for me when I get outside.
“Have you been standing here long?” I ask.
“Not long,” he says, taking my hand to help me down the stairs. “When Valerie passed me, I knew you wouldn’t be long.” I nod.
“You knew correctly,” I say as he helps me down the stairs and into the car, which has been warming for at least the last few minutes. It’s nice and toasty and I feel a bit cuddled in its warmth. I sink back into the seat and think about how much I want to be in Christian’s arms right now. I just want to get lost in him and forget about everything. I need him to hold me, and tell me everything will be alright. My phone buzzes in my coat pocket and I take off the gloves to fish it out.
Speak of the devil!
“Hey, baby,” I say to Christian after swiping my phone. I’m not pleased with what I’m hearing. “You’re what?” It’s not getting any better. “How did this come about?” Stay calm, Ana. Breathe. Be ration…
“You’re going WHERE?!”
A/N: So. Something has happened in the Grey camp, but we have yet to know what it is. Remember that bumpy ride I warned you about? It has actually begun. While Ana was lazing away with Maxie and Little Mindy, shit was popping. Prepare yourselves, you guys. The story is about to take a sharp turn…
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Love and Handcuffs!