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. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Chapter 21—Thanksgiving Eve
All of the staff are now about the business of cooking or moving things or stocking bedrooms or whatever Gail has them scurrying around doing. I swear, I’ve never seen so much food in my life! I had no idea this house had so many refrigerators! There are several in the kitchen and the main pantry, one in our bedroom, one in each guest apartment, one in the barbecue kitchen, one in the family room, two or three on the lower level… There are more, but I don’t know where they all are. I asked Gail who was going to keep up with all of this food and she said, “That’s why you have a staff!” I just shake my head.
I’m overjoyed when Laz-Y-Boy delivers the recliners I ordered. I have one of the put in the guest suite for Chuck. I knew that he would need something quite functional and extremely comfortable to aid in his recovery. I put the other on in the family room. I’m hoping to get more use out of that one.
Marilyn and I concentrate on getting Chuck and Keri’s area in the guest quarters all situated. I wish I had asked Keri if there was anything specific that they may need me to get for them, but I’ll just make sure to let her know that the staff is at their disposal when they get here.
The staff is at their disposal… geez, this is going to take some getting used to.
Ben announces that Christian and Jason have arrived with Chuck and Keri. Marilyn and I take the elevator to the first floor and walk around to the main entrance. When we get there, the other guards haven’t given them time to get into the front door yet. I fold my arms standing in the doorway watching the security staff shake Chuck’s hand one after another while he introduces them to Keri, who looks absolutely exhausted. I step outside and over to Keri, putting my arm around her.
“You look like you could use a hot bath,” I tell her. She raises tired brown eyes to me.
“Yes,” she says wearily, “but we ah wetting for de truck wit our tings.” I nod.
“I have plenty of people willing to help you get things situated. Right now, I really think I need to steal you away to one of my private spaces.”
“But Chatles…” she begins to protest.
“…Is going to need you, and you want to be there for him. You can’t do that if you can’t keep your eyes open.” I tap Chuck on the shoulder and he momentarily tears his attention away from his comrades. “I’m stealing your girlfriend for a little while. We won’t go far. I’ll bring her to you when I’m done.” I kiss him on the cheek and he blushes crimson. “I’m glad you’re here.” I turn to Keri and take her hand. “You follow me.” I think she complies because she’s too tired to protest. We go inside and take the elevator to the ground level. Just through the community bar and beyond the fitness room, I show her to my private spa. Her eyes widen.
“Oh, Anah! Dis is really beautiful,” she says, looking around. I smile at her and start the bath.
“It’s my private spa,” I tell her after testing the water temperature. I lead her to the cabinet where I keep my bubble baths. “Pick a fragrance. I’ll be right back.” I leave her to pick a fragrance while I go to the linen closet and get a bath towel and a terrycloth robe. When I return, I see that she has chosen stress relief. I pour a little into her bath water, then retrieve the aromatherapy scented oil by the same name. I put a few drops in the oil burner, then light the candle.
“Hot tub, Jacuzzi, or both?” I ask her as the tub starts to fill.
“What’s de difference?” she asks.
“The hot tub setting keeps the water hot. The Jacuzzi gives you jets that relax your muscles. In a bubble bath, the Jacuzzi makes more bubbles, so you just might get lost in them.”
“Mmm, dat sounds puhfect. Jacuzzi please.” I set the Jacuzzi and turn off the water. I show her how to start and stop the Jacuzzi and the hot tub if she decides that she wants to switch.
“The security system is based on facial recognition. I think Chuck may have been entered into the system, but of course not you, yet. We’ll get that taken care of. In the meantime, if you need any help before I get back to check on you, just call into the air like this: Activate two-way communications.” We hear a fancy beep in the room and I make my next request. “Locate Gail Taylor.” After two long beeps, Gail’s voice answers.
“Gail, it’s Ana. I’m leaving Keri in the spa for about twenty minutes. I plan to be back to check on her in about 20 minutes, but call down here at about that time just in case, okay?”
“Thank you. Deactivate communications.” I hear another beep indicating that the intercoms are off. “If you need me, just do the same thing and ask the system to locate Anastasia Grey.” She looks at me in amazement.
“Dat is really someteen else!” she exclaims. I pat her on the back.
“I know. Now I’m going to leave you some privacy so that you can relax. Call me if you need me. If you would like something to eat or drink, just let me or Gail know, okay?” She nods.
“Tank you, Anah,” she says, gratitude lacing her voice. I smile.
“Thank you for being here for Chuck.” She smiles and I leave her to undress and relax.
When I’m headed towards the kitchen, I catch the scent of something delicious. I go inside to find four women and quite a few other people slaving away on desserts and God only knows what else. When I get there, all activity stops.
“Mrs. Grey,” Ms. Solomon greets. “Do you need something? Can I get anything for you?”
“Um… no, I’m fine. I was just following the delicious smells,” I say, trying to break the ice. They all just kind of stare at me. Okay, I remember that I want a professional staff. This means that I won’t be friends with them all like I am with Gail, but in my kitchen…
“Okay, I won’t attempt to tell you how to do your jobs, but I don’t want everyone to clam up when I come into the kitchen. This is one of my favorite places in the house and you’ll see me here more than a few times. I might even cook something. As I don’t intend to stay out of the kitchen, if you clam up and stop working, you’ll never get anything done. So please, continue what you’re doing. I promise, this is not an inspection… although I do reserve the right to taste something every once in a while.” That was enough to break the ice a bit in the room, and they mostly get back to work.
“If it won’t disturb you too much, may I ask what you’re working on?” One of the other cooks—I can’t remember her name just now—turns to me with a smile.
“It’s easier to do some of the desserts the day before, so we’re working on most of the things that will keep.” She points to the wonderful desserts on the island, all mini-cakes or pies, very tiny works of art. “These are pumpkin layer cakes with cream cheese frosting topped with toffee bits.”
“Those little things are layer cakes?” I ask and she nods and smiles.
“I can’t even imagine how you would assemble a cake that small. That’s ingenious!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Grey. It’s a collaborative effort.”
“What are these?”
“Those are cranberry-apple pies.”
“Mmm,” I say. “That sounds delicious.”
“These are bourbon cheesecakes,” she says, pointing to the scrumptious looking mini-cheesecakes. “You can indulge without worry, Mrs. Grey. There’s a quarter cup of bourbon in the entire recipe, some of which gets cooked off in the baking, but no worries. It’s not enough to cause any problems and all the dishes cooked with alcohol will be labeled as such.” I nod.
“That’s a really good idea,” I tell her. “I wouldn’t be so concerned if there were just adults at tomorrow’s dinner, and yes, I can and do intend to indulge in those little delectables. However, the parents would definitely want to know which foods they might want to keep their children away from.”
“My sentiments exactly, ma’am,” she replies. “These are blackberry tarts and these are pumpkin gingersnap cheesecakes.”
“And these?” I ask, pointing to the lovely and tempting creating at the end of the island.
“Those are chocolate ganache cakes. Those are layer cakes, too.”
“That’s what I was smelling!” I exclaim. I have to have one. “May I?”
“Of course. Please,” she says, handing me a napkin. I take one of the little cakes and a napkin and bite into heavenly decadence. “Oh,” I groan as the silky chocolatey goodness coats my tongue. “This is divine. Is this a collaboration, too?”
“No, ma’am. This is Eve’s—Ms. Corolla’s specialty.”
“Ms. Corolla?” I call out, and one of the younger cooks turns around. I remember her, early thirties.
“Superb, Ms. Corolla. Quite superb.” She smiles a wide, sincere smile.
“Thank you, Mrs. Grey.” I roll my eyes in delight and put my free hand on my chest before I proceed to leave the kitchen.
“What are you doing in here?” Christian asks, heading me off before I leave with Chuck rolling behind him in a wheelchair. I have to swallow the last of the ganache cake before I reply.
“Walking outta heaven,” I respond, trying to wipe any remaining crumbs from my mouth. I’m chewing and swallowing and coming from the kitchen, so he knows that I must be talking about food.
“Someone has made my wife happy,” he announces. “This is a very good thing.” He kisses me on the cheek. “I was showing Charles around. Where’s Keri?”
“I think she needs to decompress a bit. She looked wore out. She’s in the tub in my spa.” Christian throws a look at Chuck.
“What?” Chuck says, with a shrug.
“We’ll talk later. Right now, go check on your girlfriend. Around there, down the hall, you’ll find the elevator. It’s the only door on the wall that looks like a closet. Take it to the ground level. Go through both community rooms—the rooms with the bars. There’s a hallway to the left. The fitness room is at the end of that hallway. Just past the fitness room is Ana’s spa.” He nods.
“Elevator to the ground. Past two bar rooms, hallway to the left, past the fitness room.”
“You got it. Use the intercom if you need something.” He nods and rolls off towards the elevator. Christian takes me into the family room.
“Keri was begging him in the car to take his meds,” he tells me. “I think it’s getting to be kind of hard on her.” I sigh.
“It’s written all over her face,” I tell him. “I didn’t know what it was. I thought she was just tired from packing and such.”
“That could be it, but from what I saw, he’s in real pain and he refuses to take those meds… and it’s hard on her.” I sigh.
“I tried to talk to him, Christian,” I lament. “It’s AA, and his sponsor has told him that he can take the meds, but he won’t do it. It’s something light that won’t even hurt him—ibuprofen, I think—but he still won’t take it.”
“I’ll talk to him…”
“I don’t want him to feel like we’re ganging up on him,” I interject. “If he’s not going to do it, he’s not going to do it, and nothing that any of us says is going to matter.”
“I know, but I see it in your eyes that you don’t like to see him in pain, and it’s very clear that Keri doesn’t like it. So, I’ll talk to him.” I nod. He sits on the sofa and pulls me into his lap. “I won’t have to bury Naomi.” I look at his face. He’s giving nothing away.
“Really?” I say, prompting him for more information.
“Her name’s not Naomi. It’s Vernetta Moore. She’s from West Virginia, which I knew. I told the coroner to search in West Virginia for the family and…” He scrubs his hands over his face. He’s having a bit of turmoil and I have to keep a rein on my feelings to not allow my imagination run away with me.
“What is it?” I say, a little more stoic than I intended.
“She has a twin, Ana,” he spit out after dropping his hands from his face. “A dead girl’s fucking twin walked into my office today!” My hand flies to my mouth and I gasp.
“Oh my God!” I exclaim. That must have been horrible.
“My sentiments exactly,” he says through clenched teeth. “Different hair color, contacts to change her eye color, but the same girl. I had no warning whatsoever. I almost fucking fired Taylor!” And he’s Taylor again.
“Again?” I ask.
“No, I really almost fucking fired him this time,” he says. “I was ambushed. I had to look into the eyes of a dead girl and tell her why I couldn’t be what she needed—why I was indirectly responsible for her death!”
“Christian, that’s not true,” I try to protest.
“It is true!” he hisses. “This is not one of those ‘poor Christian, I’m the devil’ conversations, Anastasia. If that girl had never met me, she would still be alive.” He slides me off of his lap and onto the sofa before he stands up. He starts to pace, thrusting his fingers through his hair. “She never would have come after you… you could have died. Charles wouldn’t be hurt… none of this would have happened. None of it!”
“That’s right, Christian,” I say, and he whirls around to meet my glare. “None of it. None of it would have happened. If she hadn’t met you, you would have procured another submissive… maybe even Greta—and she might have been perfect.” He furrows his brow as I stand from the sofa.
“You might have employed her for, what—three months? Six months? You might still be with her now, and you would have never met me.” His face falls when I get to the point.
“If you hadn’t hit that guy and got ordered to group therapy, you would have never met me. If I hadn’t been raped by that monster, I wouldn’t have gone into psychology, and you would have never met me. If my mother wasn’t such a selfish cunt and would have stayed with my father, my life would be completely different, and you would have never met me. If I hadn’t met that psychotic loser Edward David, I may have met someone kinder and sweeter, and he may have made me happy. We may even still be together now and you would have never met me. If Naomi/Vernetta hadn’t left West Virginia in the first place, she would never have met you… and now we’re back to where we started.” I start walking toward him.
“I wouldn’t be Mrs. Grey and we wouldn’t be in this beautiful home; expecting two beautiful children in a few months; about to entertain our family and friends tomorrow for our first Thanksgiving as man and wife. You wouldn’t have learned about love, and you might still be in the clutches of that horrible woman. So you’re right, Christian, none of this would have happened.” When I reach him, he sits down on the arm of a nearby loveseat and drops his head.
“I know you,” I say, brushing his hair out of his face and pushing his head back to look at me. “You never made her any promises. You were truthful with her from the beginning and she hung her hopes on something that was not real. Yes, you found love with someone else and it wasn’t meant to be her, but that’s not your fault. She couldn’t deal with it, and that’s not your fault, either. She made a conscious decision to do what she did—she made that decision. In spite of everything, you were still willing to stand by her and give her a proper burial.” I close my eyes and kiss him gently on the cheek. When I open my eyes, his expression has changed completely—soft, surrender…
“You are a good man. I know that you were never cruel, unkind, or dishonest to that girl. Take responsibility for those things that you are responsible for, but this is not one of them.” He gazes long and deep into my eyes.
“I don’t deserve you,” he says, just above a whisper.
“Yes, you do,” I correct him, “because you love me, and you show me every day just what I mean to you. You make me feel like no one else has ever made me feel. I feel love so strong and so deep for you and from you that even amnesia couldn’t separate us. So, yes, you do deserve me, just as much as I deserve you.”
“I love you so much,” he says, pulling me close to him and burying his face in my breasts. “I love you, Anastasia.” He raises glassy gray eyes to me.
“I know, Christian, and I love you, too.” We share a soulful kiss there in our family room. I pull my face back and stroke his hair. “We’re not going to talk about this anymore. She’s being laid to rest by her family, so there’s nothing else we need to discuss.”
“No, there’s not,” he says, shaking his head.
“No more blaming yourself for things that are outside of your control.”
“No more, although I may question every once in a while how I could be so lucky as to have you.” I smile.
“I’ll allow that… but only once in a while,” I giggle.
After a bit of canoodling with my husband, I realize that I have completely forgotten about Keri. Christian tells me that he has to check on something and heads off in the direction of his office. I know that Marilyn is wandering around somewhere, but the last I knew, I sent Chuck down to the spa to see Keri. Oh, Lord, no in flagrante delicto today, please…
Luckily, when I get to the spa, Keri is sitting in one of the lounge chairs with a compress over her eyes and her foot is in Chuck’s lap; he is giving her a massage. When I enter, he puts his finger over his lips to silence me.
“Is she asleep?” I whisper. He nods.
“She’s exhausted,” he says. “It’s been a long day.” I look at his hands and see that they are dry. Her skin is going to be a bit ashy when she wakes. I go to the cabinet and get the stress relief massage oil and hand it to Chuck.
“Make sure you get her ankles,” I say, sitting on the massage table facing them. He looks at the bottle.
“Stress relief?” he asks, his brow furrowed.
“That’s the fragrance she chose,” I tell him. “That’s what you smell. That was her bubble bath and that’s what’s in the oil burner.” He looks at the bottle and sighs. Yes, Chuck, I think she’s stressed, but I won’t be the one to tell you that. I watch as he puts a generous amount of oil in his hands, then starting with her ankles, he spreads it meticulously over her feet from heel to toe, paying special attention to every inch of skin, careful not to miss any. She whimpers a bit in ecstasy, then falls immediately back to sleep.
“So… may I ask, is Keri one of your emergency contacts?” He raises his eyes to me. I put my hands up in surrender. “I’m not trying to be nosy…”
“Yes, you are,” he calls me out while still gently massaging Keri’s feet.
“Okay, I am, so is she one of your emergency contacts?” I ask again.
“No,” he says after a pause. “Apparently, I awoke in delirium and told Jason to call her. My phone was destroyed so he had to search through the records of my call history and find her number. I don’t know how she got here or what’s happening back in Anguilla, but she’s here.”
“You didn’t intend for her to come?”
“Ana, I have no idea, but I’m glad she’s here.” He continues to gently rub her foot, then places it on the seat to start on the other one.
“How long is she staying?” I ask.
“She says until I get better.”
“That’s not going to cause her any problems, is it?” He looks up at me and frowns. “She’s not an American citizen, Chuck.” Realization dawns.
“Oh! No, she’s got some time before she has to go back, like a few months, I think. I’m going to look into it when I’m feeling better so that she won’t get into any trouble.” I nod. We sit in silence for a while before Chuck asks, “So how’s Ben working out?” I shrug.
“Okay, I guess,” I reply, “he’s not bad, but he’s not you.”
“Yeah, I know how difficult you can be,” he teases.
“Fuck you,” I say, folding my arms. He chuckles as he continues to massage his girlfriend’s feet.
Jason and the moving truck arrive shortly after I leave Butterfly in the family room. He directs them back to the service entrance where Marilyn awaits to show them where everything goes. She was very pleased to discover that I had sent Jason to get the adjustable beds. As transport was the only problem, he just caught the moving van in transit and had them go by the store and pick up the beds. I discover that Marilyn is very efficient and has the guest quarters organized with all their things put away in about thirty minutes, including the complicated assembly of that adjustable bed, one for Charles and one for Pops. No wonder Butterfly likes to keep her around.
Very shortly after their quarters have been organized, Charles and Keri enter from the community room led by Butterfly.
“Wow,” Charles says when he wheels himself into the guest quarters, “this is bigger than I thought.”
“I tried to tell you that,” Butterfly scolds. “There’s a private living room, eat-in kitchen area, bedroom and full bath. There’s the patio with the view of the lake right outside your patio door. Plenty of room for you to settle in—I even got you a recliner to aid with your recovery.”
“That’s not a recliner,” Charles says. “That’s some kind of space-aged contraption designed to make me never leave this room!” Butterfly laughs heartily, but Keri seems a bit uncomfortable.
“Well, your remotes are over there and there’s the flat screen. We have every channel known to man, though I don’t watch television. We even have Sirius XM—that I like. I’m building my own smooth jazz station.” Butterfly is going on and on about the quarters and its amenities while Marilyn zeros in on Keri.
“You’re Keri, right?” she says, greeting Keri with a smile.
“Yes,” Keri answers, returning her smile, but with obvious trepidation.
“I’m Marilyn. We haven’t met, but you’ll be seeing a lot of me. I’m Ana’s personal assistant.”
“It’s vety nice to meet you,” Keri responds.
“I see you’ve already seen the spa,” Marilyn says with a laugh. “Please, follow me. The bedroom is this way and your things are already here.” Keri’s smile grows.
“Oh, yes. Tank you vety much!” As Marilyn leads Keri to the bedroom, I’m only just realizing that she was uncomfortable because she was standing there in a robe, most likely with nothing underneath. I feel my phone vibrate as Butterfly helps Charles with the adjustments on the recliner. I don’t recognize the number, so I step into the next room to take the call.
“Mr. Grey, this is Rodney Graves, sir… from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.” Well, you’re a bit late! “I just came on shift and I got a message that a family member actually came forth and claimed Ms. Adams’ remains, except her name isn’t Naomi Adams. It’s Vernetta Moore. Her sister brought her hospital birth announcement and we identified her from the footprint. I thought you might want to know in case you wanted to contact the next of kin for the funeral arrangements.”
The fact that this girl was her fucking identical twin didn’t give away the fact that she just might be related to the deceased?
“Thank you, Mr. Graves. No, that won’t be necessary. At least now, she’ll be buried by her family.” He’s just doing his job, Grey.
“Yes, I agree. Well, I just wanted to let you know, sir. Good day, Mr. Grey.”
“Thanks for calling. Goodbye.” I end the call quickly. I promised Butterfly that there would be no more talk or thought of Naomi or Vernetta or whatever her name is, and I mean that. When I step back into the room with Charles and Butterfly, they hadn’t even noticed I had left.
“Boy, she’s really tired,” Marilyn says when she comes back out of the bedroom. “She said she wanted to take a nap and she was gone before her head hit the pillow.”
“Again?” Butterfly says, throwing a look at me. I just shrug. “Well,” she sighs, “I’m going to let you get settled in, Chuck. It looks like Keri already has. I’m going to check on dinner.” She walks over to me and kisses me on the cheek and gestures for Marilyn to leave with her. When they’ve left the apartment, I walk to the sliding doors and look out to the lake.
“I’m not a humble man, Charles. We both know that, but I never thanked you for saving my wife’s life.”
“I think this is thanks enough,” he says, and I know he’s talking about allowing him to move into Grey Crossing.
“That’s just a gesture,” I tell him. “It doesn’t cost me anything.”
“It’s a huge gesture… to allow someone to invade your home.”
“I’d hardly call it an invasion,” I chuckle. “We could all be in the same house and never run into each other once in three days if we don’t eat or sleep together, but I see what you mean. Anyway, I do want to thank you. She’s my whole life and I would be worthless without her. I’ll never be able to repay you for what you did for her… and for me.”
“You’re doing it now, man,” he says sincerely. I nod.
“I’m going to have to impose upon your kindness again,” I confess.
“What do you need?”
“I need you to take something for your pain.” His face falls.
“Did Ana put you up to this?” he asks.
“No—as a matter of fact, she mentioned that she didn’t want everyone ganging up on you.” He drops his head. “If anybody put me up to it, it was Keri, when she was begging you to take those pills in the car and right now, when she can barely hold her head up because she’s exhausted. You don’t think some of that is mental?” He sighs.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he says. “I can’t take pills. It’s just a pathway to the harder stuff.”
“When I first found out that you were a recovering alcoholic, I asked Jason how you got this job—how you possibly passed the background check when they know that I’m completely intolerant of alcohol or drug abuse of any kind. He said that he didn’t know, but he would stake his life on the fact that you were one of the best men that he knew. I never forgot that, because that man took a bullet for me… and you took a missile for my wife.” He raises his eyes to me again.
“You have proven that you are of unshakeable and unquestionable character. I know that you would never do anything to harm yourself, but right now, you are. You’re in visible pain and you’re just allowing yourself to suffer because you’re afraid that something not much stronger than an aspirin is going to cause you to fall off the wagon.”
“I have a high pain threshold. It comes with the territory.”
“Which means that you’re in even more pain than you’re letting on,” I observe. “I won’t tell the women or you won’t get a moment’s rest.”
“I’ll be fine, Christian, really…”
“But will our women be fine?” I ask him. His brow furrows.
“No offense, Christian, but I can’t be ‘guilted’ into taking those pills,” he says firmly. “Whatever may persuade me to do it, that won’t.”
“It’s not guilt, Charles,” I tell him. “It’s concern. I don’t even have the same ghosts that you do and I’m very slow to take medicine. I won’t pop a pill unless it’s utterly necessary, but you have had a major accident with very serious injuries that required surgery. This is not even morphine or opium. It’s ibuprofen…”
“Eight hundred milligrams!” he declares like this is some huge revelation.
“It’s still ibuprofen. It’s not addictive. It’s not even dangerous. Any side effects that you could have from ibuprofen, you could have from cough syrup.”
“I don’t take that either,” he replies. I’m not winning this argument, am I?
“Both of our women see your pain and both of them love you very much.” His head snaps to me like I’m not supposed to know that Keri loves him. Maybe it’s that he thinks I shouldn’t know that Butterfly loves him, too, but he says nothing.
“You know,” I sit in the chair across from him. “I understand why you’re remiss to take the pain meds. I don’t know how much of this you already know, but my birth mother was a drug addict. I was four when she died from an overdose and I still vividly recall how her addiction ruined her life and mine. I’m not forcing anything down your throat—literally or figuratively, but when you hurt, she hurts. Anybody can see it, except you, because you’re in too much pain.” He drops his head.
“Guilt, Christian,” he says in a low voice.
“No, Charles. Truth.” I pat him on his hand. “Can I get you anything?” He shakes his head, but doesn’t look at me. “Dinner will be ready soon. Let her rest, she needs it, but you make sure you come and eat. It’s a pet peeve of mine.”
“Yes, Dad,” he says without raising his head, chuckling slightly. I stand, pat his shoulder, and leave him to his thoughts.
When I get to the kitchen, Butterfly is shoving a wooden spoon in her mouth.
“Are you in here harassing the cooks again?” I tease.
“Oh, no. I reserve the right to check on the progress of anything happening in my kitchen at any time, and right now, this bean soup is to die for. Now get out of here and go find Jason, wherever he went. He was just looking for you. You need to sign for Marilyn’s car.” She waves me off and I just shake my head and go in search of Jason.
When you’re looking for a car, head to the garage.
Having already backed her Camry into the empty bin in the third garage, Marilyn stands in front of the garages, wide-eyed and gaped-mouth, admiring her new Sonata.
“This is mine?” she gasps, looking at the brand new gold automobile.
“You wanted the gold Sonata, right?” I ask.
“Yes, but… I mean… wow!” she whispers the last word in awe. I laugh and shake my head, signing off of the vehicle and sending the driver on his way.
“I’ll let you examine your car on your own time, but I will tell you that it comes equipped with all of the best safety features: automatic emergency braking; blind spot detection and lane change assist; automatic high beam assist; rear parking sensors; driver’s side knee airbag; electronic parking brake; Blue Link that notifies emergency personnel if your airbag is deployed…” I realize that Marilyn appears to be suffering from a severe case of MEGO as I’m explaining the safety features of the car.
“I hope I haven’t overdone it,” I say. “I’ve always been quite safety conscious when it comes to purchasing an automobile. That’s why I only own Audis. They’re at the top of their class in safety ratings.” I walk around the car and hand her the keys. “I understand now more than ever how important safety features are. You can never be too careful.” She takes the keys from my hand.
“Thank you, Christian,” she says with a smile, “for the car… and its safety features.”
“You’re welcome, Marilyn.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to test drive my new car. My boyfriend and I have plans. Bye Bosslady.” She waves behind me and I see Butterfly leaning again the garage door frame.
“Bye, Marilyn. Enjoy your new car and have a great weekend,” she says, waving at Marilyn, who gets into her new Sonata, starts it up, and cruises it through the gates and down the driveway.
“What are you going to do with her Camry?” Butterfly asks.
“Donate it to charity,” I reply. “It’s still in pretty good shape, but I can understand why you would want her to have something newer and more reliable. I’ll give her fair market value for it plus $5000.”
“Wow,” Butterfly exclaims. “That’s very generous.”
“Do you think it’s too much?” I ask. She shrugs.
“Well, you just bought her a new car… but she’ll love it. Just in time for Christmas.” She puts her arms around my neck. “You’re a wonderful man, Mr. Grey. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Anything for you, my love.” I gently kiss her soft and tender lips. “I talked to Charles about his pain meds.” She looks up at me.
“He’s going to be a tough sell,” I tell her. “He’s so afraid of relapsing that if he was dying of a poisonous venom, I believe we would have to force feed him the antidote.” She sigh, impatiently.
“Oh, this is ridiculous!” she declares and turns on her heels, hell bent on giving Charles a piece of her mind. I catch her by the arm before she gets back into the mansion.
“Ana, don’t,” I tell her as she glares at me. “He’s dug in. He’s going to have to come to this decision on his own. If we keep harping on him, believe me, it’s only going to make him angry. It’ll do more harm than good.”
“Have you seen Keri?” she says. “She’s exhausted! She won’t be able to take much more of this. I can see it in her eyes. I’m a shrink, you know.” She points to her head, indicating that she’s a head doctor. “She’s going to blow or pass out or something, really very soon. I can see her in my mind’s eye sitting up at night watching him in pain. The only reason why she’s asleep now is because someone else is here to watch him. I would bet the ranch that before dinner, she wrenches herself out of bed just to find out where he is.”
“I don’t doubt that, Butterfly, but we still can’t force this, no matter how much we both may want to.” She rolls her eyes hard and shakes her head even harder.
“You better never do this to me, Christian Grey,” she says, taking my hand and cuddling it to her face. “If you’re in pain, you better never put me through this, do you understand?”
“Yes, baby, I understand.” I embrace her warmly before we go inside for dinner.
Butterfly was right. Keri did drag herself out of bed for dinner. Although she looks slightly more rested than she did during the ride across the bridge and once she got here, she still looks like she could have used some more sleep. She emerges from the area of the family room in a beautiful long tropical sundress. Charles’ face lights up when he sees her and you just know that he wants to stand when she comes into the room. Jason and I stand for him and direct Keri to the seat next to him. He whispers something in her ear and she smiles shyly.
“Keri, that is such a beautiful dress,” Butterfly says. “Did you get enough rest?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she says, placing her napkin on her lap. “Dat bed! Oh!” Her eyes nearly roll back into her head. Butterfly laughs.
“I take it you’re pleased,” she says.
“Oh, yes, it’s wonduhful!” Keri reinforces.
“Well, I should tell you what the next few days will look like,” Butterfly begins while sitting across from Keri. “Tomorrow will be nothing but food, family, and fun. There’s no other way to describe it. The house will be full from tomorrow until Sunday, so they’ll never be a dull moment. Friday morning, we’ll be leaving the gentlemen to their own vices—except for my best friend, Al—and we’ll be going Black Friday shopping. It’s an early morning affair, so make sure that you get some rest. We’ll spend the afternoon being pampered in my spa and fitness room by the staff of my husband’s salon chain, Miana’s, after which we will join our guys again for dinner.
“Saturday, we’ll have brunch and then later that evening, I’m afraid you and Chuck will be on your own. We have a red carpet affair that night that we attend every year. It’s usually a late-night affair. Then brunch on Sunday again before everyone starts to split off and return to their homes. So you may never get an actual idea of what it’s really like around here on a normal day until Monday or Tuesday.”
Butterfly has a captive audience as Keri listens to what to expect for the Thanksgiving holiday. I have no idea what Thanksgiving is like in Anguilla, but she seems very excited about spending Thanksgiving in the United States. Butterfly has deemed this Thanksgiving to be quite casual, so there will be none of the dressing up until the Adopt-A-Family Affair on Saturday. Gail and Jason join us after dinner is served—escarole and butter lettuce salad with pomegranate seeds and hazelnuts and a hearty tomato and white bean soup with shrimp, crispy prosciutto, and crusty baguettes served with green apple spritzers. The spritzers are Gail’s latest creation. We don’t know how she makes them, but we love them.
The women are quite animated in their conversation and Keri fits right in. I occasionally catch a glimpse of Charles while he watches her and I know that faraway, swollen heart look from a mile away. He is head over heels in love with this woman and it’s going to be hell on him when she has to return to Anguilla.
We all sit and chat a bit over coffee after dinner before we take our conversation to the family room. Charles’ pain is ill disguised as he tries to hide his discomfort from the other people in the room. I attempt to draw attention away from him as does Jason, but Keri is quite attentive and Eagle Eyes’ right in on him. He brushes it off and tries to convince her that he’s fine, but I can tell that she’s not buying it. Where she had looked refreshed an hour or so ago, she now looks weary again, and part of me wants to just clock Charles in the head for putting her through this. She cares about him very deeply and he’s hell-bent on allowing her to watch him suffer because of his unrealistic fear of relapse. I know I shouldn’t judge—I have no experience with drug addiction except what I think I know of the crack whore, but it’s ibuprofen for Christ’s sake.
Butterfly’s day was quite busy as was Gail’s and although she’s reluctant to admit it, she’s exhausted around 9pm. I’m almost relieved when she’s ready to call it a night. Although I’m nowhere near tired, I’ve had all I can take of deferring attention from the Charles and Keri Show. She leans against me in the elevator and I know that she can barely keep her pretty blue eyes open. I lead her to our bedroom and she allows me to undress her. It’s a bit chilly, so I reach in her sleepwear drawer and opt for a warm flannel sleep shirt. I slide into pajamas myself before adjusting the heat just a bit. She has already slid under the covers and I know that her pillows will already be in place when I slide in behind her. She’s out cold before I even get my arms around her.
I watch her for I don’t know how long, thanking God that I’m not spending Thanksgiving at the hospital with my wife still in a coma… or worse yet, not alive at all. I can’t imagine my life without her and the simple thought of it gives me a horrible chill—even worse than the chill I felt when Naomi… Vernet… fuck it, Naomi’s twin sister walked into my office. I think about the fact that her family has to spend this holiday preparing for her funeral and I’m trying to convince myself that it’s not entirely my fault that she’s dead. In the big scheme of things, she tried to kill my wife. I should hate her, but I don’t. Butterfly doesn’t even hate her. She’s not in any hurry to pay last respects to the woman, but she doesn’t hate her.
I know that I would hate her if Butterfly had died, but she didn’t die and I can’t help but feel sorry for Naomi. What must she have been thinking to do something like this? Was she gunning for Butterfly or was she gunning for me? How long did she have to sit at that intersection and wait for the opportunity to slam into her target? A few seconds sooner or a few seconds later and she would have completely missed them. How did she time it so perfectly? Did she have someone watching Butterfly to tell her when they were going to be at that intersection? Is Butterfly still in danger of Naomi’s accomplice? Or was there an accomplice at all? Am I just creating conspiracy theories because I don’t have the answers that I need? She could have just been stalking me. She could have just been at the right place at the right time to attack Butterfly… sitting at the corner just waiting for me until she saw a black Audi and just made a snap decision to floor it, only… Butterfly’s Audi is… was blue. We haven’t even replaced the car yet.
I sit there thinking up the worst possible scenarios until I finally decide to call Welch. I don’t know if the man ever sleeps. I’m pretty certain that he doesn’t, but I’m about to find out.
“Sir.” He answers on the first ring.
“Still no plans for Thanksgiving, huh, Welch?” I ask.
“I’m a loner, Sir, but I could ask what you’re doing up this late.” I’m in the sitting room trying not to disturb Butterfly.
“What’s the story on the Chevy that hit Ana’s car?”
“What do you mean?” he asks bemused. “I thought we solved that mystery.”
“I mean, do we know if there was anything in the car that might give us some kind of clue as to why she did this… besides being a woman scorned? Was there a phone in the car? A walkie-talkie? Anything? Was she working alone or was this a set-up gone bad?”
“Boy, you two think exactly alike.” Who two? “I would have thought since we have a dead driver that the book would have been closed on this, but you and Brian…”
Brian! Fuck! That’s the last name I want to hear right now.
“Why is he still here?” I ask, more than just a little perturbed.
“He says he’s still here for moral support for Ray. We both know that he’s still here for Ana, too.” Why the fuck doesn’t he carry his ass back to Montesano?
“And what does the almighty Brian think?” There’s a pause.
“He thought it might have been a conspiracy,” Welch says. Shit, just what I need—another unknown assailant in our lives. “No evidence points to that, though.”
“What do you mean?” I frown.
“You know all of your ex-subs are on the watch list,” he says. Well, duh! “She hasn’t had any strange liaisons, no crossings with anyone else on the list—no strange phone calls, not strange visits, not even strange behavior. The guy Stevenson is the brother of one of her friends and we don’t even know how the car got involved. Her phone wasn’t in the car. There was no purse in the car. The police swarmed her apartment before we got a chance to get there, but contacts indicate that they didn’t find any real clues either. We never found her phone because it wasn’t in the car, but it could have been ditched or just lost when she got out the car and made her way to the hospital. There were no deathbed confessions, but she may have been in no condition to make any. Honestly, all evidence points to you.” And now, I’m thoroughly horrified.
“To me??!!” I nearly screech. I look into the bedroom and Butterfly stirs, but only a bit, then settles back into slumber. “As a suspect??”
“No, as the target,” he clarifies. “They got T-boned traveling north/northwest on 4th at Stewart. That’s the way you come to Escala from GEH. If Ana is coming from her office, she may come up Stewart and turn on 4th, but she’s rarely coming from her office and she never comes that direction up 4th. She may be coming from visiting someone or doing something, in which case, she could be coming from any four directions—off the Five, from Westlake, from the Viaduct… She has no set schedule anymore, so no one would know how to set her up for something like that. It would take months of observation, and it’s still a crap shoot. If you wanted the best shot to get at her, you would have to come from Battery St, because she would be coming from Helping Hands. What time? You would never know.” Shit, he knows more about my wife’s comings and goings than I do. Then again, that is his job.
“No, sir, everything points to you and to a random moment of despair. When she stumbled out of that car, she didn’t take a purse. That means that she left that purse wherever she left it before she got in the car. Either she didn’t plan on coming back or she wasn’t thinking straight. She was sitting in an area that you normally travel, not Ana. She had no way of knowing that you were gone to Michigan. It was late in terms of work hours, but not that late in Grey hours. The Man Who Shall Remain Nameless checked surveillance from that road and she sat in that spot three different times that evening, left, and came back. She was gunning for somebody alright, but it wasn’t Ana.”
“How can you be so sure?” I ask. This is not making me feel any better about this situation. The crazy blonde bitch aims for me and hits Jason. Now he’s saying that a wacko sub may have just had a moment of unclarity, came after me, and nearly killed my wife!
“Well, it was a stakeout, like I just told you, but if I’m gunning for the wife, I’m going to make sure I’m still alive to watch the husband suffer or help him lick his wounds if I’m the distraught lover.”
“But she didn’t intend to kill herself…”
“You don’t know that,” he interrupts me. “Do you know what they did find in the car? Broken pieces of a brandy bottle. If you intend on killing someone in a thought-out conspiracy, you’re going to be coherent carrying out your mission. She was nine sheets to the wind when she died! We don’t even know how drunk she was when she hit the car. After hitting the car, walking into the hospital, being cut open and losing most of her blood content, then being cut open on a slab, her blood alcohol level was still 0.19. It was 0.21 when she went into surgery. It’s a wonder she was even conscious! Alcohol poisoning starts at 0.25. My money says that she didn’t have a phone either. Nine times out of ten, it would have jostled loose from whatever pocket she put it in on impact even if she shoved it in her boobs and she wouldn’t have been coherent enough to take it out of the car.
“It was dark and the driver of the Audi was male. If you can barely see straight to drive, you certainly can decipher a midnight blue car from a black car, but that four-circle Audi sign is distinguishable from a mile away. So what if she got the wrong Audi? She thought it was you. She may have thought Jason was driving, but for whatever strange reason, you sit on his side of the car behind him when he’s driving you. She thought the two of you were going to end up together in that Playroom in the Sky. I’d bet my bank account on it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this before?” I ask him.
“Well, for one thing, it wasn’t relevant. The assailant is dead; nothing good could come from you knowing that she was after you and not Ana. Either way, she set out to hurt you and paid the ultimate price in the process. Second, when did you suggest that I tell you—while your wife was struggling to remember who you were or when her twin sister walked into your office?” He does have a point, there.
“Has your Boy Wonder accepted this theory or is he still looking for monsters in the closet?”
“He agrees with my analysis. It’s the logical conclusion without grasping at straws and having another Kennedy Assassination fiasco on our hands. I hate to tell you this, but I think he’s more on board with this explanation because he gets to blame you for what happened to Ana. He wants to make it seem like everything that follows you is going to follow her and you can’t keep her safe. ” And to Jason… and to Naomi…
“He wouldn’t be far off the mark,” I lament, feeling the dread I always feel when I remember that I’m destructive to everything I touch. “Naomi is dead and Ana is changed forever because of me, so for the most part, he’s right.
“On the contrary, he’s very far off the mark, and so are you right now. You may think you’re omnipotent and all powerful, but you can’t control what other people do. People do stupid shit for stupid reasons and just like you can’t predict other people’s actions, you can’t take responsibility for everybody’s behavior. When someone makes a conscious decision to make a bad choice, that’s not your fault.
“People fall in love all the time and they break up all the time. There are millions of women scorned out there, but they don’t all go back looking for blood because they were rejected.” Yeah, only the psychos in my life, apparently. “Somebody is always going to be hurt for some reason—that’s the way of the world. What’s different is how you react to that hurt.
“You’ve taken the things that have happened in your past, channeled that energy, turned them around and became a successful businessman. True, you have some vices that help you cope and channel that energy as well, but you practice those vices with willing participants who go into these arrangements with their eyes wide open. They know the rules before they engage. These women consent to this. They are not kidnapped or tricked into these relationships. You don’t ruin anybody lives any more than they ruin their own lives. They have to take responsibility for their own actions and the decisions that they make. Just because you had a relationship with someone and they made a bad decision or meet a bad end doesn’t mean that you are responsible for their actions or the outcome of those actions. By that logic, Ana is responsible for what happened to her at the hands of David and for his current state of affairs.”
That logic made me freeze.
“It’s not the same,” I tell him. It can’t be the same. I don’t buy it.
“It’s exactly the same,” he retorts. “If you’re responsible for Naomi’s inability to accept rejection and her later psychotic break, which led to her attempting to kill you, then Ana is responsible for David cheating on her, vandalizing her car, harassing her, and ultimately kidnapping her. She’s also responsible for that other nameless fucker beating her while she was handcuffed and helpless.”
I’m mulling over his reasoning. There’s no way in hell Butterfly is responsible for that horrible shit that happened to her. No fucking way. But when he explains it that way, how could I have handled things any differently than I did? I was never cruel or unfeeling and they all knew exactly what they were getting into when the contract was signed. Naomi wanted more than I could give her. I made it clear that wasn’t on my agenda. How could it possibly be my fault that she didn’t listen, that she chose to ignore my wishes?
“Don’t you see it? You started out being the victim, and you wanted to move as far away from that identity as you could… and you did. The problem is that instead of seeing yourself as the victor, you saw the villain, and you can’t get out of that cycle. You’re going to have to, man. You’re about to be a father.”
“That is so much easier said than done,” I admit.
“Well, then why the fuck have you been seeing all these damn shrinks?” he asks. “What good are they if they can’t help you see the error in your thinking? Your self-image?”
There has to be somewhere in there where I take some responsibility for the outcome of these situations. Out of all my subs, two moved on because they felt I was too rough; four thought I wasn’t rough enough; three wanted to explore other options; and the rest all wanted more—something I wasn’t willing to give. While all six of them were reluctant to let go, two went away quietly and four cried and begged to stay. Two of those were carried away kicking and screaming—one was Cassie and the other was Naomi. Good God, where is Cassie these days?
“They just have to take ‘no’ for an answer, just like David couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You became everything this woman wanted, so she wanted all of you. When she couldn’t have you, she went nuts—just like that crazy, blonde, child rapist bitch. Sure, it took Naomi longer to get to that point and my guess would be that she saw you moving on with your life and starting your family, so something in her mind said that you could be that man, you just couldn’t be that man for her. David didn’t come after you, he came after Ana. I’m guaranteeing you—Naomi didn’t come after Ana. She came after you, and it’s no more your fault that she snapped and came after you than it is Ana’s fault that David snapped and came after her.”
Why couldn’t anybody else make it this clear to me before now? Why was it so hard for everybody else to help me see that all bad things do not follow Christian Grey? Was it just that I couldn’t see what everyone was telling me all along? What made it so clear this time around?
Putting Butterfly in my shoes is what brought the truth to light. She did nothing but love that monster once upon a time and when he came back to get the best thing that ever happened to him, she didn’t want him anymore and he lost it. He snapped and did all that crazy shit that has landed him in jail.
By the same token, I treated my submissives like gold. They had the best clothes, money, cars, and me. I took their bodies to limits they had never experienced—physically and sexually. I don’t need a cheering section to tell me that I’m the complete package—rich, good looks, and an awesome lover. Like-minded individuals would gladly contract with me for life, but I didn’t want a permanent arrangement with any of them, and that’s what made Naomi snap… and Elena, too, for that matter. They both saw that I could be everything that they wanted, just not for them. For the first time in my life, I see it. I really see it.
It’s not my fault. It’s really not my fault.
“I don’t know how you did it, Welch, but you just did what years of therapy never could. How could I not see this before?”
“Because it’s easier to see the bad in yourself than it is to see the good. Trust me, I’m an expert.”
“I don’t know how to thank you…”
“Just don’t get all sappy on me. I can’t deal with that shit.”
“You wouldn’t be interested in joining my family for dinner tomorrow, would you?” Did I just say that?
“You’re getting sappy,” he warns.
“I am, too,” he reinforces. “No, but thank you. I really am a loner and I don’t mind it so much. Besides, being around family reminds me of mine—for lack of a better word, so no, but thank you.” I decide that it’s best to respect his wishes.
“You going to spend some time with your good chum, Brian?” I ask, partially sarcastic and partially serious.
“Make no mistake, sir. In my line of work, you keep your friends close, potential allies closer, and enemies under your fucking fingernails. I’m under no misconception who I’m dealing with and he’s under no misconception about me. We are not friends. Until we find a way to get rid of this guy completely and for sure, I’m all over him.”
It never once occurred to me that he was playing the devil’s advocate to keep an eye on Cholometes. My eyes are just full of hate for the guy, so I can’t see anything else. Suddenly, I’m bone tired and it’s nearly two in the morning.
“I’m going to turn in, Welch. I’m really exhausted.”
“Very well, sir. You know where to find me if you need me, and sir?”
“Cassie Hamilton is an event planner in Missouri. She got a little visit after Ana was hurt. Let’s just say that although she had no idea what happened to Mrs. Grey, she is under no misconception of how far your reach goes. She’s not a problem.”
He was reading my mind. Now, I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t be partially responsible if she decided to snap. I may be responsible for her current plight, but not for the actions that got her there.
“That’s good to hear. Goodnight, Welch.”
I end the call and go back into the bedroom. Standing there by the bed and watching her sleep, I think about how close I came to losing my Butterfly. I feel amazingly and unexplainably light. She’s here and she’s beautiful. The night doesn’t seem so dark. My shoulders don’t seem so heavy…
… and it’s really not all my fault.
I crawl back into bed and wrap myself around my beautiful wife. Seconds later, I fall into what has to be the most contented sleep I’ve even had in 25 years.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
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Love and handcuffs 🙂