Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 21—Thanksgiving Eve

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…

09c1c4194c28b9a3409cf4178680ed50Chapter 21—Thanksgiving Eve

ANASTASIA

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.

“Yes?”

“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?”

“Okay, Ana.”

“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.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“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.


 

CHRISTIAN

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.

“Grey.”

“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.

“And?”

“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?

Butterfly.

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’m serious.”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.”

“Goodnight, sir.”

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/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X

 

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Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 20—More Normalness!

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 20—More Normalness!

pocahontas-pocahontas-37135801-425-409

CHRISTIAN

It’s about 7:30 when I get home. I didn’t have a chance to get everything done that I had on my agenda, but I didn’t want to stay at Grey House all night. I have Jason drop me at the front door. When I get inside, the house is quiet.

“Hello?” I call out from the grand entry. No response. If Butterfly were in the bedroom, she would have heard me as the suite is right at the top of the stairs and the door is actually visible in the two-story grand entry.

I make my way to the kitchen. Dinner is in the oven—chicken Cacciatore over pasta, still warm. It smells wonderful. I take my plate, some flatware, and a bottle of wine to my study. I had hoped to find Butterfly in her office, but she’s not there when I get to mine. The light is still on and after I put my dinner on my desk, I go inside.

I don’t spend much time in her office. I think this is the first time I’ve actually been in here since we’ve moved in. It looks like her… like a shrink’s office, but… not. I touch her mouse pad on the laptop and the screen comes to life. She didn’t lock it, but then again, why would she? It looks like she was looking at recliners, nice ones.

She wanted a damn burger. I wonder if she’s still salty about me saying “no.” I’m not going to let her eat a burger. I don’t care how mad she is with me—no burger. She thought she was dying the last time she ate a burger and now she has the nerve to want one.

b1377fa4449ae8dc261bc96767679291I go back to my office and sit down at my desk. My office is a real man’s space, a powerful man’s space. With dark woods and dark brown marble, I have to say that it’s totally alpha male. I take a wine glass from the bar and fill my glass. I enjoy a quiet and comfortable dinner alone while I finish the work I didn’t complete in the office.

It’s quite some time later when I turn off my computer and take my dishes back to the kitchen. Gail must have cleaned because the lights are all turned down now and the house really feels like a tomb now. I climb the stairs to the bedroom, taking off my jacket and tie along the way.

I find my wife sound asleep on her side of the bed in a camisole and a pair of black satin sleep pants. A tall non-spill tumbler of ice water sits sweating on a coaster on her nightstand. Ice water has become a necessity for her during her third trimester as she gets quite parched in the middle of the night. Another necessity is the pillow between her knees. The twins require a pillow as well. They sleep more soundly when she has the pillow under her stomach, which is poking out from under her camisole. I strip down to my boxer briefs and relieve myself before I climb into bed behind her, wrapping my arm around her and resting my hand on our children. She whimpers quietly before falling back into slumber, and I follow her in no time.

The alarm wakes me at 6:00 sharp. I reach over and Butterfly is already out of bed. What the hell? I get out of bed and go to her bathroom. I can tell by the temperature of the room that she was in here not long ago. It’s still steamy. I keep searching and find her in her dressing room, sitting at the vanity fussing a bit with her hair. She doesn’t see me when I enter and I stay a bit out of sight and watch her toil with trying to hide her semi-bald spot. With the rest of her hair being so long, no matter what she does with it, it falls off her face and there’s no way for her to cover the spot with it. Her frustration is palpable and she sighs heavily and slams her brush down on the vanity.

It’s time to make my presence known.

She’s slightly startled to see me as I come up behind her, making eye contact with her in the mirror. Subconsciously, she pulls her hair over her shoulder so that it covers the spot where it has only just started to grow back. I kneel next to her and remove her fidgeting hands from her hair and put them in her lap. Brushing the hair back off her shoulder, I kiss her gently on the cheek, moving up to the somewhat bald spot that she keeps trying to hide and kissing it several times. Her shoulders fall, the tension from moments ago flowing out of them. Maybe it’s surrender, I don’t know.

I pick up her brush and gently work the slight tangles out before using her comb to make a precise part down the center of her head. I meticulously style her hair in two long braids on either side of her head and fasten the ends with two ponytail holders. I bring the braids forward so that they fall over her shoulders and the spot with no hair is barely visible at all. I kneel behind her as she admires her reflection, smiling softly and fondling her braid as it drapes down her breast.

My little Pocahontas“My little Pocahontas,” I say softly as I stroke her hair and kiss her head. She looks into my eyes in our reflection.

“Thank you,” she says, gratefully. I smile tightly, more distressed that this small patch of missing hair is causing her so much angst.

“You’re welcome, beautiful girl,” I tell her, kissing her again on her head. “I have to go shower, okay?” She smiles widely, her big beautiful blue eyes filled with gratitude.

“Okay,” she says before bringing my hand to her lips and kissing it reverently. Although the gesture is so warming, I know that she’s tormented about what people think of her when they see this bald spot. We’ll have to do something about that.

I take a quick shower and dress in jeans and a comfortable sweater with a pair of casual Oxford shoes. Butterfly comes out of her dressing room similarly dressed—maternity jeans and a sweater with a pair of sneakers. She must have been suffering from wardrobe indecision.

“You’re going to work?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply.

“In that?” She frowns, pointing to my overly casual attire. I chuckle light-heartedly.

“I’m not working the entire day,” I tell her. “I have some errands to run and I won’t be in the office too long. In fact, I’ll be home early and maybe I can help you with some of what you need to accomplish.”

“How do you know I have anything to do?” she folds her arms.

“Because I know my Butterfly and it’s the day before Thanksgiving. We’re going to have a house full of people in our new mansion for four days and there’s probably more things on your to-do list than you have time to do.” She pouts her lips.

“I hate you,” she lies.

“No, you don’t.” I kiss her lips and lead her out of the bedroom and to the elevator.

“Um, I want to buy Marilyn a car,” she says out of nowhere. I frown. A car? Why?

“I’ve closed my practice, Christian.” Whoa! That caught me off guard.

“Why? I thought you loved your practice.”

“Well, since the accident, I’m having a bit of a problem with recall. I thought it would be more important to focus on my own recovery than with someone else’s. I only had a handful of patients that were draining more than I needed, and I want to focus on the needs of Helping Hands without spreading myself too thin. The twins will be here soon and… it was just the right thing to do.” I shrug.

“Well, I can’t argue with that logic,” I respond. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with that?”

“I’m more than okay with it,” she says as the elevator door opens to the first floor. “One of my patients felt that I was her own personal psychiatrist and I had no right to quit. Those apron strings definitely needed to be cut!” I pause and examine her.

“Do I need to put this character on the watch list?” I ask. I twist my lips.

“I don’t think so. She’s quite self-centered, but I wouldn’t label her as violent or dangerous.” I nod, but I still might need to look into this person who didn’t want to let go.

“So why the car for Marilyn, just out of curiosity?”

“She’s going to remain my personal assistant and I’m going to have her running my errands and taking care of most of the things I can’t. She was just driving to downtown Seattle, now she has to cross the bridge. I’d like for her to have an expense card, too, for her own expenses and for anything I need her to pick up for me… oh, and a new phone, because that little Android she has drives me batshit! It’s gotta be like four years old!” Everything she’s asking for makes sense, and if it means that Butterfly will be more at ease, I’ll buy the girl a house. They’re all tax write-offs anyway.

“What did you have in mind?”

“She likes the Hyundai Sonata.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s a pretty reliable car—good specs, nice reviews, good mileage. Any particular color?” Butterfly ponders the question.

“I’ll have to ask her, but I think she likes the gold one. I’ll find out for sure and let you know.”

“I’ll get her a card on the Amex account and she can get the phone from there.”

“Thank you, Christian,” she says, hugging me and kissing me on the cheek just as we enter the kitchen.

“Good morning,” Gail greets as we walk in. “Oh, Ana, your hair looks darling like that!”

“Thank you,” she says with a wide smile. “Christian did it.”

“Did he?” Gail says in that “well, well, well” tone that she has.

“Yes, Mrs. Taylor, I did,” I say proudly. “Is there anything wrong with me braiding my beautiful wife’s hair?”

“Not a thing,” she says in a knowing tone with a smirk. “Eggs and bacon?”

“Sounds good,” I say as Butterfly hands me a steaming cup of coffee. Good God, it’s delicious.

“Mrs. Taylor, the grocery delivery should be here by 11:00. Thankfully, the turkeys will already be thawed.” Around the corner from the pantry, I think, comes a woman in her forties—maybe, black hair tied up in a bun in black slacks and a white blouse.

“Ms. Solomon, this is Mr. Christian Grey. He’s the man of the house. Mr. Grey, this is Regina Solomon. She’s one of the additional cooks hired on the staff. You’ve already met Mrs. Grey.” She nods to Butterfly and turns her attention back to me.

“Mr. Grey, pleasure to meet you, Sir,” she says in a tight, professional voice, her hands clasps together in front of her as if she’s waiting for instruction.

“Ms. Solomon,” I nod. “I hope you like it here.”

“Thank you, Sir,” she says with a small smile before shifting her eyes back to Gail.

“Yes, make sure that there’s plenty of room in the pantry for the dry goods and the turkeys can go in the Subzero over there with the rest of the perishable items. I’ve already made room. The prepared items can go in the Subzero over there…” Gail goes off giving Ms. Solomon instructions for the mountain of food expected to be delivered to stock up for this weekend. Butterfly quickly takes over and cracks two eggs in a frying pan, beginning to scramble them quickly.

“We have two cooks now and you’re cooking breakfast?” I scold

“Actually, we have four… and they’re just eggs, Christian. Keep your shirt on.” The eggs are scrambled soft and plated with bacon, cheese, salt and pepper and buttered toast before I have a chance to protest.

“Mrs. Grey, I could’ve done that for you,” Ms. Solomon says, rushing back into the kitchen.

“It’s no problem. Ms. Solomon,” Butterfly says, handing me the plate. “Mr. Grey is going to need to get going soon. Besides, you had your hands full with instructions from Mrs. Taylor.”

“Well, it’s just that… in your delicate condition…” she stutters and Butterfly smiles warmly.

“Thank you for your concern, Ms. Solomon. I’ll be fine and I promise not to overdo it.”

“Ah, yes, someone else to be concerned about my lovely wife!” I smile triumphantly as I shovel the delicious fluffy eggs into my mouth.

“Oh, God, you’ve made another ally,” Butterfly says, shaking her head.

“Well, can I get you anything, Mrs. Grey?” Ms. Solomon asks.

“Yes, please. There’s fruit salad in the bowl in the refrigerator. I’ll take some of that, and a big bowl of ice cream.” I frown and look at her.

“Ice cream… for breakfast?”

“Yes,” she hisses. “I didn’t get my burger last night so I’m having ice-cream for breakfast!” She says the entire thing through her teeth.

“Yes ma’am one big bowl of ice cream for Mrs. Grey please,” I say all in one breath while stuffing more food into my mouth. The kitchen is quiet for a few moments while Ms. Solomon gives Butterfly her fruit salad and proceeds to scoop out her ice cream. Gail comes into the kitchen and frowns at Ms. Solomon, who has a quick but silent conversation with Gail involving eye signals and hand gestures and nothing is said. Gail proceeds to fry more eggs and in a moment, Jason is scrambling into the kitchen sliding into his suit jacket.

“Why didn’t you wake me, Love?” he says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

“I did,” she says in confusion. Jason must have slept like the dead. “Ms. Solomon, this is Jason Taylor, my husband and Mr. Grey’s personal security. This is Regina Solomon, dear. She’s one of the new cooks on staff.”

“Ms. Solomon,” he says with a nod. “Forgive me if I’m already a bit familiar with you. I’m in charge of the background checks for the residential staff.”

“Not a problem, Mr. Taylor, I’m accustomed to it. It’s nice to meet you, sir.” She’s very professional. I can see why Butterfly chose her. She hands Butterfly her ice cream and a spoon. “Mrs. Grey.”

“Thank you, Ms. Solomon,” she says and digs into the ice cream.

“Is that ice cr…?” Before Jason can get the words out of his mouth, Gail has silenced him with a series of half-words and grunts and a pointed glare. He purses his lips like a scolded child as she puts a plate of food in front of him.

“Eat your breakfast, dear.” He quickly starts to swallow his food as he is trying to fill his mouth with food so that there won’t be enough room for his foot. I can’t help the small chuckle that escapes my lips.

“Hi everybody,” Marilyn breezes into the room. “Ana, the adjustable beds will be delivered on Friday. I know Chuck’s coming tonight and Mr. Grey will be here tomorrow, but it’s the best I could do and I had to name drop to get that.”

“God, I hate that!” Butterfly hisses.

“What, name dropping?” I say with a frown. “I do it all the time. That’s how you get things done.”

“I see that, I just hate it,” she says. “If someone wants to spend their money in your establishment, why can’t we all get the same treatment?”

“That’s a very noble thought, Butterfly, but that’s not the way it works. How do you think I got the Bentley for our wedding when Tamara couldn’t?” I say. “Unfortunately for most, status does mean something.”

“God!” she whispers, disgusted. “That’s why people don’t like the rich. They think we’re all stuck up and entitled, and this fact just reinforces that theory.” Butterfly goes back to her ice cream.

“Ooo, is that ice cream?” Nobody caught Marilyn in time. Butterfly just glares at her while she stares at the ice cream. “Can I have some?” She sounds like an eight year old and I nearly choke on my coffee trying not to laugh.

“Did you have hamburger last night?” Marilyn frowns.

“Um… no, I had chicken,” she answers confused.

“Good, then you can have some of my ice cream.” Ms. Solomon gets another bowl for Marilyn, who is still sporting a very confused expression.

“Mrs. Grey couldn’t have a burger for dinner, so she’s having ice cream for breakfast,” I inform Marilyn.

“You wanted a burger!?” she says, turning appalled eyes to Butterfly. Now it’s my turn to grunt and do hand signals. Marilyn immediately gets the message.

“Okay. I get it. No burgers for Ana. Burgers bad. Ice cream good. May I enjoy my ice cream now?” Ana says sarcastically. Nobody answers and Marilyn quickly tears into her ice cream, also avoiding Jason’s prior near-collision with foot-in-mouth disease.

“I’m leaving now, dear,” I say, kissing a once-again salty Butterfly on the cheek. “Ms. Solomon, more ice cream for Mrs. Grey, please,” I add before leaving the kitchen.

“Jason we need to make a stop,” I say when we get to the car.

“Where to?” he says.

“A mall.” He turns around in the seat.

“A mall?” he repeats.

“Yes, a mall. Hurry up and drive. If you hurry, we’ll beat the rush and the paparazzi.”

“Yes, sir,” he says uncertainly as he starts the car.

*-*

My impromptu shopping spree was a blazing success, and I make it to the office before 10:00 to wrap up what business I plan to do before Thanksgiving. I haven’t decided if I’m coming in on Friday or not. I did that last year and things didn’t go well with Butterfly and the harpies at Miana’s. Luckily, this year, the treatments and technicians will all be coming to Grey Crossing and the spa downstairs. The fitness room has also been temporarily converted to spa space so that the ladies can have their privacy. Around noon, an angry Jason comes storming into my office and starts talking before I get a chance to ask him what’s wrong.

“I just talked to Chuck’s brother,” he says. “I know I was out of line, but I wanted to know why he hadn’t come to see Chuck. I thought it was financial, so I was going to offer to fly him out as a surprise for my boy. Do you know what that sonofabitch said to me?” Sonofabitch… okay.

“What?” I ask.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to fly across the world every time Chuck gets into a drunken rage and crashes his car.’ I almost fucking lost it, man. When I asked him when he last saw his brother, he said over ten years. That’s when I snapped. I said, ‘Obviously, because he’s been sober for about thirteen!’” Jason barks. He’s pissed. I wonder if he’s told Charles about this conversation.

“Does Charles know that you spoke to his brother?”

“No,” he laments. “He’s down as the emergency contact. I didn’t know they hadn’t spoken in over ten years. Chuck didn’t mention it. It gets worse,” he says, rubbing his forehead.

“Worse, how?” I ask. How could it be any worse than this?

“I started rambling on about Chuck’s recovery and how good he is and how diligent he is about not taking a drink. I might as well have been talking to this man about the color of bricks. When I realized I was talking to a wall, I just stopped and asked him if he knew who I was. His answer was ‘one of his friends, I suppose.’ So I tell him, ‘To answer that question for you, I’m his boss, and no—I’m not an alcoholic. We are both highly-paid private bodyguards and personal security for one of the richest, most high-profile couples on the west coast, mostly likely in the country and probably in the world.’ I told him that Chuck wasn’t drunk when he had that accident. He was protecting Mrs. Christian Grey from a psychotic, jealous woman who aimed her car directly at theirs in an attempt to kill Mrs. Grey. I told him that his brother that he hadn’t spoken to in ten years could have died not because he was drunk driving, but because he courageously wrapped his body around Mrs. Grey’s to minimize her injuries.”

“What did he say after that?”

“Nothing, the line just went quiet,” he says.

“Did he hang up?”

“No, he just got quiet. After I got tired of listening to dead air, I apologized for taking up his time and assured him that I wouldn’t call again. Then I hung up the phone. If he bothers to talk to his brother at all, he’ll let Chuck know.”

“Jason, you don’t know what happened between them,” I tell him.

“No, I don’t,” he says, “but having been a victim of a near-death experience more than once myself, I know that it changes you and it changes the people around you. I would think that at some point in your life, you might want to bury the hatchet with the people that are important to you, but then again, that’s only me.”

Yes, Jason, unfortunately that is only you. Butterfly, too, had a near-death experience and I recently learned that my brother, who hasn’t missed a Thanksgiving in the 27 years that I have been a Grey, won’t be joining us this year because his catty ass girlfriend and one of my wife’s former best friends still doesn’t want to be in the same room with her. I don’t know what’s going on with that woman and I really want to nail her to the wall because not only is she affecting my wife, but now she’s also affecting my extended family.

“The bitch is letting Sophie come over for Thanksgiving if you can believe it.” My facial expression must have let him know that this is unbelievable news. “Yeah, I know, hell has officially frozen over.”

“She’s surrendering a major holiday? You’re fucking kidding me!”

“Oh, there’s an ulterior motive,” he tells me. “I think she needs a sitter, but also, she knows that we’ll be having dinner at Grey Crossing and ten will get you twenty that she’s hoping to get in.”

“Get in?” I ask. “God, she’s about as bad as those harpies that showed up at my mother’s house last year.”

“Yeah, I may never get Sophie on a holiday again, but that bat isn’t getting into Grey Crossing. I’m meeting her at the gate.”

“She’s not going to like that,” I laugh.

I’m tying up a few loose ends and preparing to go to Boeing field. I text Butterfly for Marilyn’s choice of Sonata and what she plans to do with her Camry. She texts me back confirming that Marilyn likes the gold and hadn’t thought about disposal of the Camry. I inform her that someone will be bringing a Sonata by the house by day’s end and to have one of the staff park her car in the empty parking bin. We’ll sell it for her and she can keep the proceeds. I then call Hyundai of Kirkland and arrange to have a gold 2014 Hyundai with all the amenities delivered to Grey Crossing. My last call is to American Express to have an expense card cut for Marilyn. I’m just about to wrap it up and wish Andrea a happy Thanksgiving when Jason stops me at the door.

“Sir, there’s someone here that you need to meet.” I frown at him.

“Okay, who?” He steps aside, the bear of a man that he is, and there is a petite blonde standing behind him.

“Hello, Mr. Grey,” she says softly. She’s familiar… very familiar.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“No, sir, but you knew my sister.” I still can’t place her.

“Please, come in, sit down.” I gesture to a seat and she nods, taking the seat dutifully. Jason closes the door and stands just inside. I take the seat next to this mystery woman and examine her closely.

“You look familiar,” I confess.

“Yeah… I know,” she replies, dropping her head and fidgeting with her fingers. “My sister left after her first year of college. She dropped out and just disappeared without a trace. She never seemed happy. She was restless, discontent. She wanted to be free. She wanted to spread her wings and be more than a little town said she could be. So she just left and didn’t say a word. It was like she dropped off the face of the earth… and now I know why.”

She raises her eyes to me, and now I’m certain that I know her. I can’t stop staring until I figure it out. Those eyes are familiar to me—same, but different. A different color maybe? Yes, a different color… the same eyes, but a different color. Where do I know her from?

She’s fallen silent as I examine her face and try to figure out who she is. Blue eyes… brown, they should be brown. Suddenly, I feel a chill—a bitter, freezing, cutting chill slicing through my body like somebody is fucking standing on my grave having a coffee break.

“We always dreaded this call,” she sighs, “but we knew that we would get it.”

Naomi! Naomi has an identical fucking twin and she’s sitting two feet away from me in my goddamn office. A fucking twin!

“You identified her as Naomi. Why?” she asks.

“That’s…” I can barely find my words. “I… she… that’s her… she told me that was her name.” I finally get a sentence out of my mouth.

“I’m Vera Moore, Mr. Grey. Her name is Vernetta. She was named after my grandmother, and I was just named after her.” She folds her hands in her lap. “She was only twenty minutes older than me, but you would have thought she was God. She was Netta, and I was Netta’s sister.” She swallows hard. “I spent my whole life in Netta’s shadow. Nobody knew who I was. Nobody cared, but I never blamed her. I loved her. I still love her.” She sighs and brushes away a tear.

“I dyed my hair in high school. We’re identical, but everybody could tell us apart. She was the social butterfly, the popular one, and I was Netta’s little sister. I finally kind of got my own identity when I went blonde, though.”

She stands and walks over to the window. She’s nothing like her sister—her frame, her carriage, her voice, nothing. Nothing’s the same except for her eyes and even those weren’t the same.

“How did you know Netta?” she asks. “The coroner said that you wanted her body if nobody came to claim her. That’s how I found you.” She turns back around and Naomi’s eyes bore right through me. A few short days ago, I looked into this same face—pale and lifeless. Now, it is staring back at me looking for answers.

“We were very close for a very short amount of time,” I tell her. “I’m sorry, she told me that she didn’t have any family.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. She gave you a fake name,” she says, sadly. “How did you know about West Virginia?”

“That part, she told me,” I confess. She had a whole new identity by the time she met me. Even her background check was rewritten. Maybe she took on someone else’s identity. That’s the only way her background check could have checked out.

“Her picture was in the local paper,” she says. “I think it was her driver’s license. She still looks the same as she did the last time I saw her. It was a really simple ad—“do you know this woman?” and a number to call. It was like she was looking for bail or something. My brothers and sister were hopeful, but the minute I saw it, I knew.” She shakes her head. “I knew that whatever she was trying to catch had finally meant the end of her.”

You have no idea how right you are.

“I think Nao… Vernetta was still chasing that thing that made her drop out of college,” I say. “No matter what she had, she always wanted more. She had a thirst that couldn’t be quenched. It turned out to be too much for me. She wanted something that I couldn’t give her, so eventually, she left me.” I’m not going to tell this girl that her sister was a submissive and she wanted a relationship and I wasn’t willing to commit. If she ever hears that, she won’t hear it from me.

“He said she bled to death,” she says, begging for me to tell her why. I tell her what I can.

“She had an accident. She ran a red light and hit another car—hard. She left the car and fled the scene on foot. I think she panicked. By the time she sought medical attention, it was too late. She probably walked to the nearest hospital, which may or may not have been that close to the scene of the accident. I think she was just scared and she didn’t know what to do… and it turned out to be catastrophic.”

“Why didn’t she just come back home?” Vera weeps.

“She couldn’t,” I tell her. “She was chasing something bigger than her, so big that she cut all ties, changed her name and left everything that she knew and loved. She was like Icarus flying too close to the sun. If you told her not to, she just flew closer.” I drop my head, recalling how disobedient and rebellious she was. We were together for such a short time, but she left a huge impression on me, even more so now that she’s gone. “I thought I knew her… but it turns out that I didn’t know her at all.”

“Do you think she ever caught was she was chasing, Mr. Grey?” Vera asks, her eyes hopeful. “Do you think she’s finally at peace?”

No, I don’t. I think she left this world in pain and torment and whatever hell or limbo she’s in now, she’s still being tormented.

“I don’t know,” I lie, “but at the very least, she’s not running anymore.” That’s the only comfort I can give her. She pulls a tissue from her purse and tidies her face as much as she can.

“I’m going to take her home, now,” Vera says. “She’ll be laid to rest with family, for what it’s worth.”

“Does she have more family… alive?” Vera nods.

“We’ve got two brothers and another sister. My dad passed away before we started high school. My mom is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. She keeps calling me Netta…” she starts weeping again, but quickly composes herself. “There’s a lot of extended family. I just don’t understand this. She could have come home…”

“She had ambitions too big for home. Don’t torment yourself trying to figure out what could have prevented this, Vera. No one knew, and now, what’s done is done. We have to deal with it and move on.”

“That’s easier said than done, Mr. Grey,” she says. “Have you ever lost anyone close to you?”

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I retort, flatly. “My mother died when I was four. I was adopted very shortly thereafter. I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but it doesn’t.” Her face falls immediately and now I’ve made this grieving girl feel badly. Way to go, Grey.

“I’m sorry, I had no idea.”

“There’s no way that you could,” I say. “I don’t mean to be rude, Ms. Moore, but I do have an appointment that I can’t reschedule. Is there anything that I can do to help—transport or final arrangements? Anything?” She shakes her head.

“It’s enough that you would have given her a proper burial. We’ll get home okay.” She puts her purse on her arm and takes a few steps towards the door. “Even though it didn’t work out between you, I can only hope that she was someone special to you for you to want to do something like that for her… even if only for a short while.” I can’t answer her. I can’t tell her who Naomi… Vernetta was to me. She’ll have to remember her as she was when Vera last saw her. “Goodbye, Mr. Grey.”

“Goodbye, Ms. Moore.” She turns around and Jason escorts her out of the office and to the elevator. I run my hands through my hair. I’m shaken, stirred, and rattled. A dead girl just walked into my office—a girl who is dead because of me, directly because of me! She sat here and showed me who she could have been had she stayed in school, had she never come to Seattle… had she never met me! I want a drink in the worst way right now. I feel my insides trembling, my own personal earthquake.

“Sir?” I turn my attention to Jason, my trusted friend and bodyguard who basically just threw me into purgatory.

“What. The fuck. Was that?” I growl at him.

“I know, right?” he replies.

“No, Mr. Taylor, we’re not sharing a moment here! I want to know what the hell you were thinking!” He’s a bit horrified.

“I just… sir, I thought you really needed to meet her,” he defends.

“You did, did you?” I ask, my fist clenched at my sides. “You thought it was a good idea for me to look into the twin eyes of the dead, cold face that I identified about a week ago on a slab in the morgue? The same face that met her demise because I couldn’t give her what she wanted? That almost murdered my wife and children? What in God’s name made you think that was a good idea?” I’m nearly yelling now. “Then you parade her in here with absolutely no warning like she’s my long lost relative showing up for a family reunion! Have you lost your fucking mind? Have you truly lost your goddamn senses?”

“No, sir,” he says, his voice truly chastised. I don’t think he really thought it would be this bad. “She said that she would be taking Ms. Adams… Ms. Moore home in a couple of hours. I thought you… would want to talk to her before she left.” He’s floundering. I’ve never seen him floundering. I want to explode. I want to destroy something, to hurt someone, but Jason is floundering.

I count. I don’t know how high I count or how much time passes, but I count. I count and I keep counting until my rage subsides; until my personal earthquake stops shaking; until my nails stop digging into the hands that soon have to operate Charlie Tango. I raise my eyes to my bewildered bodyguard.

“Don’t you ever fucking let something like this happen again,” I hiss. “You’re my friend, but it’s your job to make sure that I don’t get blindsided by things like this! I have to fly a helicopter in less than an hour. Did you forget about that?”

“No, sir. I didn’t think. You’re right, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“I fucking well hope not, because if another one of my ex-submissives turns up dead and her twin sister shows up in my office, it’s a goddamn bad day in the neighborhood!” I shake my head in a vain attempt to rid my mind of what just happened. “The car, please!” I bark.

“Yes, sir,” he says and walks out of my office. I roll my eyes and proceed out behind him. I mutter something to Andrea and walk to the elevator. He must have taken the stairs, because he’s not out here. Just as well. Goddamn lookalike pedophile aunts and nieces and murderous, dead, submissives with identical twin sisters—my life is a fucking Greek tragedy! I step into the elevator and press the express code, hoping that with my luck, the goddamn thing doesn’t plummet to the ground floor!

*-*

“Christian! It’s good to see you again!” I must admit that Keri is a very pretty woman and I can’t help but wonder how long she plans to stay in the states. I’ve landed Charlie Tango at the fire department and paid the fee to have an ambulance transport Charles from his home back to the landing site. It’s less than a mile, but it’s highway robbery what they’re charging me.

“Hello, Keri. It’s good to see you, too. Are we all ready?”

“Yes! I can’t wait!” She seems giddy. Charles comes rolling out of a room in the back of the house.

“Sir!” he says, surprised. “I didn’t expect you.”

“Who did you expect?”

“Ana, maybe… some of the guys.”

“Well, that would have been a little difficult.”

“I can imagine.” No, you can’t.

We get him situated in the back of the ambulance and I ride with him and Keri while Jason rides in the front seat with the driver.

“There’s a couple of things I failed to tell you, Charles,” I tell him during the short ride to the fire department.

“What? Besides that my carriage is an ambulance?” he chuckles.

“Something like that. Your carriage is not actually the ambulance.” We pull up into the parking lot and I point to Charlie Tango.

“The whirly bird!” he exclaims. “You’re taking me to the mainland in the whirly bird?”

“I’m taking you to the mainland in my helicopter, yes. There’s a condition, though.”

“What’s that?” he asks.

“You have to ride Medivac.” He frowns.

“I don’t get it.”

“The only way that I could get clearance to land here was to tell them that my helicopter is a certified Medivac and that I was transporting an injured patient for treatment. So I have to transport you like a Medivac.” The penny drops.

“You mean I have to be immobilized on that hard board and shit?” he whines.

“Yes, you do. You do have a choice, though.”

“And what’s that?”

“There’s a helipad on top of Escala. That’s where I’ll be landing. The converted Audi is waiting there for us to take us to Grey Crossing. That same Audi—very comfortable, I might add—can come and get you and take you straight to Mercer. So, your options are waiting here for the Audi and then ride the ferry back to the mainland—and hour and ten minutes from here to Mercer Island, about 55 minutes of that spent on the ferry. Your other option, seven minutes on Medivac and 15 minutes from Escala to Mercer. Your choice.”

“Medivac it is. Let’s go.” He answers in less than a second. Jason has already retrieved the backboard and straps.

“We won’t need to put you in the immobilizer, but we will need to strap you onto the backboard.” He nods as the driver and Jason help him onto the backboard. He winces in pain as they get him situated. “Charles, did you take something for pain?”

“I’m fine,” he grunts. I furrow my brow.

“In the future, whenever you’re being transported, you need to make sure you’ve taken something for pain.”

“I’ll be fine, really,” he replies and I just shake my head. As Jason and the driver secure a wincing Charles to the backboard, I look over at Keri who is wringing her hands and looking nervously at Charlie Tango. I walk over to her and touch her elbow and she nearly jumps out of her skin.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I’ve nevah been in a helecuptah befoh,” she confesses, and I can tell she’s terrified.

“It’s perfectly safe, I can assure you,” I tell her. “I’ve been flying her for many years now. We’re old friends.”

You fly heh?” she says, and it’s weird to hear someone else call Charlie Tango “her.”

“Yes, I do. It’s the fastest, least painful way to get Charles to the mainland.” This is not convincing her, so I try another tactic. “He saved the lives of my wife and children. I owe him a huge debt. You are very important to him, so I personally guarantee your safety. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you, because doing so would be a disservice to Charles. I need you to trust me.” I hold my hand out to her and she takes it.

Charles is secured to the flat seats in the back of my EC155. I help Keri into the cabin.

“Buckle her in as close to Charles as you can get her.” I tell Jason and he nods once. He’s been more subdued than usual since we left Grey House, for good reason. More than once, Charles has had that silent conversation with his eyes with Jason as well as me, but neither of us gives anything away. This is going to be an interesting ride.

The trip to Escala was so quick, no one had time to get comfortable, or uncomfortable. Keri even exclaimed, “Was that it?” Glad to have gotten you here in one piece, Madam.

During the ride across the bridge, however, Charles looks absolutely miserable.

“Charles, please,” I hear Keri whispering to him. “Just take one. It’s too much, please Charles…”

I see Charles might need some coaxing to take his pain meds.

“When we get back to the house, talk to Marilyn and find out what beds they were trying to get this morning. See what you can do about getting them there sooner than Friday.”

“Yes, sir,” he answers, robotically, most likely still smarting over his earlier faux pas.

There’s a lot of handshaking and smiling when we get back to Grey Crossing. The security staff basically greets Charles with the same reverence shown to Jason when he left the hospital after taking Elena’s bullet. He soon forgets his pain and gets caught up in the camaraderie of being around his colleagues again. I think being here at Grey Crossing will be very beneficial to his recovery.


 

ANASTASIA

The house is buzzing with people just after Christian and Jason leave this morning. There’s a bit of Thanksgiving decorating going on to make the house look more festive and less… museumish! There are horns of plenty, harvest baskets, dried corn and harvest wreaths all over the place. Spiced candles, pumpkins, acorns abound and beautiful tall vases in fall colors filled with wheat stalks.

The dining room has been revamped with two large banquet tables sporting fall runners, festive place settings and harvest centerpieces. A separate natural wood table that seats ten will serve as the children’s table. It’s funny… I’ve never had a children’s table before…

I love and hate that I’m so pregnant the first year that I get to host Thanksgiving in my new house with my new husband. Love it because I get to feel my babies moving and count down to their debut; hate it because there’s so much that I have to do and I don’t have the strength to do it.

“Make sure that there are extra linens in all of the guest bathrooms,” I hear Gail instructing the new housekeeping staff that we hired yesterday—a few men, but mostly women. That was quite the experience. I try to trust my judgement when it comes to people because my instincts are hardly ever wrong. I also try not to be such a hard ass, but when it comes to the staff that is going to have access to my home, there’s no such thing as “giving someone a chance.” They have to be impeccable. They have to be trustworthy and have unshakable references. I can’t risk having another Ginger Creepy Guy working in our home.

At first, I observed the interaction of the candidates with Gail. She had already interviewed them and screened them down to the twenty or so that showed up yesterday. Not that I don’t trust Gail’s judgement, but I know all too well that a person is very likely to send their representative to the interview and someone else is very likely to show up for the job.

A word to the wise… never try to psyche out a shrink.

There was a plethora of people that actually made it to the final stage—two, real-life English butlers, a retired Beverly Hills concierge, a young woman who claimed to have been Bryan Forbes’ maid—recently unemployed due to his death. That never checked out. One lady seemed to be perfect for the job, too perfect in fact. She knew everything that there was to know about AnaChris including my early graduation from college, my birth father’s name, and the address Christian lived at as a toddler in Detroit. I don’t even have that information. I don’t think Christian does either. I asked Gail how Single White Female managed to make it to the final interview. She informed me that this was why Christian wanted me to make the final decision because this nutcase didn’t reveal herself at all until she met me. Needless to say, with her NDA securely in hand, I had her escorted off the property and added her immediately to the “watch” list.

Some people weren’t as transparent as SWF, but just left a bad taste in my mouth—the young, clean-cut guy who undressed me with his eyes; the older gentleman who was actually perfect for the job except that he was a bit of a snob acting as if he was interviewing me. I won’t need to tell him that he wasn’t chosen because I’m certain that he simply won’t return.

Then there was the young brunette who was the picture of decorum in the group setting, but turned into a predatory whore when we were alone. She was a raging nymphomaniac just oozing sex. She kept touching me and each time, her touches became more exploratory, more intimate. It was like she was testing her waters to see how far I would let her go. She was highly inappropriate, implying ménage à trois, not so subtly referencing her sexual prowess… I mean, damn! At least wait until you actually get the job before you reveal your ulterior motives, you slut! She took a bit too many liberties when I spoke to her alone and quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust her around my husband.

Although we are extremely casual with Gail and Jason, that’s a different relationship than what will be with the rest of the staff. I’m certain that Christian will expect a more professional and respectful demeanor from anyone that we hire to work in our home. I discovered that the most professional candidates were the older ones, those in their forties mostly. I would have liked to have chosen some of the younger people—those closer to mine and Christian’s age—but either their references seemed shady or they said something or acted inappropriately. I have to say that I was happy that there was much more security on site and visible while the interviews were taking place. I think Christian planned it that way so that those who weren’t hired were not tempted to come back to the property without an invitation.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hear my name being called over the estate’s intercom system. I engage to intercom from a panel on my desk.

“Yes?”

There’s a delivery for you, ma’am,” one of the new guards inform me. I thought there were supposed to call Gail for deliveries… unless it’s the recliners, then they were supposed to call Marilyn.

“Food or furniture?” I ask.

“Neither, ma’am. It’s personal.” I frown and look at Marilyn, who looks up from her tablet long enough to shrug and go back to what she was doing.

“Has it been checked?” Should I be concerned? I’m not expecting anything personal.

“Yes, ma’am, but there was no need. We were expecting it.” Huh? What were they expecting that I wasn’t?

“Um, okay, well bring it to my office,” I instruct him.

“It’s kind of a big box, ma’am. You might want to start with it in the front of the house and then decide where you want it after you see it.” Oh, for Christ’s sake…

“Okay. The living room?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I get up from my desk and the planning and instructions for the new staff to go investigate this “kind of a big box.”

He’s right, it’s pretty big. I get closer and the box is from Claire’s.

fao_schwarz1“Claire’s?” I exclaim is disbelief. “I didn’t order anything from Claire’s! I didn’t even know Claire’s delivered.” I look over at Marilyn.

“Don’t look at me. I didn’t know Claire’s delivered either.” I shrug and rip the tape off the box.

“What in the world…?” I open the box and it’s full of colored material. “What is all of this?” I begin to remove the colorful pieces and realize that I’m holding headbands. I start to rummage through the box and find headbands, head scarves, and wraps of every color and variety—beautiful colors and fabrics just bursting out of this box! I look up at the guard… I still don’t know his name… and he’s handing me a small envelope. I open it and there’s a card inside:

I don’t think you need it, but I hate to see you feeling bad about yourself.
If you need to, use these. You’ll make them beautiful.

“Dammit!” I exclaim as the tears start to fall. He must have bought every headband and head scarf in the state of Washington!

“Christian,” Marilyn says in an obvious tone.

Jewel-toned headband“Who else?” I say weeping. I reach into the box and pull out a jewel-toned deco headband that will go absolutely perfect with my Pocahontas braids. “How does it look?” I ask Marilyn after I get it situated over my forehead.

“It’s adorable,” she says, laughing at my calamity.

“This man doesn’t know how to do anything small,” I say, wiping my eyes with a CTG handkerchief that I always keep handy. I immediately remember him drying his eyes with one of these when I awoke in the hospital. He was right, I use a lot of these lately, but so far, they’ve been happy tears or meaningless tears—nothing heartbreaking.

“Where would you like them, ma’am?” the guard asks.

“Upstairs in my dressing room,” I tell him. “Put the box on the island in the middle of the room.”

“Yes, ma’am,” and off he goes.

“I bet you Claire’s had to close and restock the damn store,” I tell Marilyn when we get back to my office.

“What a strange purchase!” she observes. “Headbands?”

“Not so strange,” I tell her. “I was trying to do my hair when he came into the dressing room this morning. I was trying to hide the bald spot.” She nods.

“Oh.”

“I was getting a little frustrated… a lot frustrated… and he came in and did this.” I fondle my braids.

“That man worships you, Ana,” she says, smiling. I sigh.

“I know… I feel the same way about him.” I spin my chair and look out the window. “I was terrified when I woke up,” I say, rubbing my babies who have now become quite restless. “Can you imagine waking up, not knowing where you are, not seeing anything familiar…? All I saw was this guy—an incredibly handsome guy, but still this guy I didn’t know. I’ve always appreciated good looks, but I’ve never just been bowled over loopy by them. I wasn’t this time either. I recognized that he was attractive and just moved on, but for some reason I was immediately drawn to him. It was like I couldn’t be without him… I couldn’t breathe without him. Whatever was going on, he had to be a part of it and I didn’t even know who he was! It’s hard to explain…”

“Well, you’re doing a pretty good job,” Marilyn encourages. I glance at her and laugh, then turn my attention back to the landscape of the grounds.

“He’s my everything,” I tell her. “I mean, I know my babies are everything, too, but my babies are here because of him. I can’t wait to be a mom. I can’t wait to see him with his children. Our life is going to be perfect. No matter what comes at us, our life is going to be perfect.”

“You have a lot of faith for what you’ve already been through,” she says and I can tell that she’s remiss to say it.

“That’s because whatever happens, I know we’ll be okay as long as we’re together,” I say with certainty.

“I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy, but… how can you be so sure?” It’s a genuine question.

“I don’t know, I just am,” I tell her. “It’s strange, too, because three months ago when I found out that I was pregnant, I was terrified. I didn’t want to bring new life into this horrible world—jealous, murderous pedophiles; psycho kidnapper ex-boyfriends; vicious teenagers who beat you within an inch of your life; mothers who rip away you peace of mind and are willing to sell your soul for a dollar. We’ve still made it through all that. Even now, with everything else that threatened to tear us apart—my shrinking and running away; Brian and ex-lovers trying to come between us… or trying to kill me; the hackers, the fund-raising fiasco; that horrible man that tortured Christian on the loose somewhere; best friends who turn their backs on you and insult you for no reason—everything dictates that we should be afraid or worried, but I’m not. For one thing, I trust my husband. He’s a wonderful man, a brilliant businessman, and he’s going to be a magnificent father. He’d give a vital organ to keep me safe and I know he would, so I trust him implicitly—with my life.”

“That’s a lot of faith to put in one person,” she says. “Not that I don’t think he’s worthy of it. Like you said, he’s a really great man. In all honesty, he’s one of the best men I’ve ever known… him and Ray… and Gary. I just feel a bit of pause in putting so much faith in one person, you know?” I feel her resistance and I almost want to ask her if we’re still talking about me here, but I don’t. I try to guide the conversation in a direction that’s part conversation and part advice.

“Don’t get me wrong, I still have my own mind. I’m level-headed and I know how to make good decisions, but there are times when I know I need to revert to my husband. For instance, he’s more knowledgeable on matters of security, so when he tells me that certain things have to be done certain ways, I have to revert to his knowledge and do it. He’s had security ever since he’s been Grey Enterprises Holdings. I’ve had security for maybe a year. I know that he wants to shit bricks every time I do one of those impromptu interviews. Yet, I know that he’s been very obtuse towards the press, so I try to offset that because you can’t make the press your enemy. I don’t let him lead me around by the nose, Mare, but I do have a lot of faith in him and in our happiness.”

“Oh, Ana! I wasn’t suggesting…” I put my hand up to silence her.

“I know, honey,” I say with a smile. “I know when you’re full of shit.” That lightened our mood a bit. The intercom fires up again and security is asking for Marilyn at the front gate. Just as she excuses herself, my cell rings. It’s Chuck.

“Hello?”

“Anah, it’s Keri,” she says.

“Hello, Keri, what’s up?”

“We have a few more tings tan we tought. Charles refuse to be witout his X-box, his blanket, his favorite slippuhs…” She’s naming things off and you can tell she’s a bit exasperated. “You know sick men ah much like bebbies!” I laugh heartily. We actually sent two of the security guys to Bainbridge earlier to help them get things together. Now, I imagine that they’ll need a moving van to bring all of the things that Chuck simply can’t live without. Luckily, I already planned for this contingency.

“I’m sending a moving truck—not the huge one, but it should be big enough. Tell the ’bebby’ that he has that much room to fill and once he’s done, he’ll have to live without his other toys.” She sighs and laughs lightheartedly.

“Tank you, Anah. You’ve offehed so much already, I didn’t know how to ask.”

“You can ask me anything, Keri. Please, don’t hesitate.”

“Tank you so much,” I can hear her smile. “I’m going to go back to de bebby now.” We both giggle.

“See you this afternoon,” I say before ending the call. The moment I end the call, I get a text from Christian about Marilyn’s Sonata and what she planned to do with her Camry. I have to ask her, but after texting Marilyn to confirm the color, I text Christian back to let him now that she’s partial to gold. Apparently, her new car will be here before she leaves. She’ll love that!


 

A/N: There was a commenter who said that Keri sounded a bit slow. I’m trying to get the written look of the accent right and I would gladly accept your help in that area. Just click the “contact me” link and let me know how I can email you. 

If “Anne Crowe” is still one of my readers, please email me. Your email address bounced. 😦 

 Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 19—Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Please take a moment to say a prayer for all of the victims of and families affected by the tragedy in Paris.

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 19—Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

ANASTASIA

Bean One and Bean Two have spoken. They hate ferries. Lo and behold, Chuck lives on Bainbridge Island. While I love the water and would spend as much time as humanly possible in aquatic surroundings, my children have declared unequivocally that while we share this body, they are having none of this boat shit. Needless to say, I am unbelievably miserable for the entire 45 minutes that we are sailing across Puget Sound. It’s not much better when we hit land either, because after that boat ride, the motion of the car is almost unbearable.

We only drive for about 15 more minutes before we pull up into the driveway of a quaint house on Ferncliff Ave NE. It’s not what I expected at all—a cute little yellow house on a hill. It actually looks like a little starter house for a small family. We drive up a winding driveway to the front door. Ben opens my door and we proceed to the small circular steps at the front door.

“Anah!” Keri greets us at the door and I give her a hug. “It’s goot to see you! You heal?”

“I’m working on it,” I tell her as she invites us in.

Once I get inside, I realize that the inside is larger than it looks on the outside. It’s very nice and cozy. Chuck says he makes more than me and he’s living in this homey little place? He must be sitting on a bundle!

“Chartlez is back in de den,” she says, gesturing us to the den.

“Ben, will you please go make sure he’s decent? I don’t want to walk in and accidentally see ‘Little Chuck.’”

“Will do, Ana,” he says as he wanders off to Chuck’s den.

“How is he doing?” I ask Keri when Ben disappears. She shakes her head and frowns.

“Not vety well,” she says sadly. “He won’t take de medicine. Him hutt, you see it in his eyes, but he won’t take de medicine. Hard to watch him hutt…”

“I can imagine,” I respond.

“Him doing bettah dan he was, but him still hutt.” I nod.

“We would like for you guys to come to our mansion for Thanksgiving dinner, but I have to see if I can convince Chuck first.”

“I would like dat,” she says. “Get around oddah people.”

“Good! Good! Listen, I’ve got a 14,000 square foot mansion. How would you feel about coming to stay with us… again, if I can get Chuck to agree?” Her eyes light up.

“A mansion?” she says dreamily. I nod. “Dat would be fantastic! I could tell everyboty at home dat I stay in a mansion in Ametica.”

“Yes, you could,” I laugh, “but again, we have to convince Chuck. Knowing that you’re on board, I may shamelessly utilize you to get him to say yes.”

“Oh, dat would be tettible!” she laughs. “By all means, do it!” I chat with her for a few more minutes before Ben comes back into the living room.

“No danger of seeing ‘Little Chuck,’ he was less than presentable. He’s fine now,” he says.

“How is he?” I ask.

“Cantankerous,” he responds. I look at Keri and she shrugs. I sigh heavily and go into the den. He’s sitting in a recliner with his leg propped up as high as it can go. He’s facing the back window with a large screen television on his right, but nothing’s playing.

“Hi,” I say when I enter the room. He turns to me and he still has a scar healing across his face. He doesn’t look that bad, but he is still a little banged up. I guess we should have gotten him some of Gail’s miracle tea.

“Hi,” he replies, a little surprise in his voice. Didn’t he already know that I was here? “You look great,” he says sincerely. I smile widely.

“I do?” I ask. I wear a wool cap when I’m outside because my head gets cold fast since I don’t have any hair on one side. Plus, I won’t lie, I’m vain and not quite ready for the world to see my peach-fuzz in comparison to my butt-length hair all over the rest of my head. I haven’t really been around anybody outside of the mansion since I got home from the hospital, so this is a welcome revelation to me.

“Yeah,” he says. “It reminds me of when I found you holed up in that cabin in Montana. I think it’s the same hat.”

“It probably is,” I laugh. He laughs gently, but winces from the pain. It’s time to talk about this. “It’s so good to see you, Chuck. I’ve really missed you.” He scoffs at me and waves me off.

“Come off it,” he says good-naturedly. “I’m just the bodyguard.” I don’t know if he’s kidding or just trying to downplay the situation, but I have to control myself a bit from getting angry.

“That’s not true and you know it!” I say, a little more firmly than I intended. Quizzical blue eyes capture mine. That got his attention. I pull a chair next to his recliner and sit down. “I may not remember everything, but I do remember that you’ve been by my side nearly every day for the past year and a half. I remember that when my husband fired you, you sought me out in Montana and stayed with me until I returned. I remember that during most of my roughest struggles, you were there—even if you just stood by to make sure that I was safe. I remember you pulling a gun on Pedo-Bitch Sr.’s bodyguard while he had one aimed at me. And even though I can’t remember the accident, I clearly remember hearing that…”

I get choked up trying to say my words. When they come out, I don’t recognize my voice.

“I remember hearing that if it hadn’t been for you, I would have died… that you… wrapped your body around mine and took most of the impact. I remember seeing you coming towards me with headlights behind you and I don’t remember anything else. You… you saved my life.” My voice cracks horribly on the last word as I try not to turn into a weepy fool. I’m mostly successful, but a few tears manage to fall. “I don’t know how to thank you, how to tell you how much it means to me that you would do something like that… how much you mean to me… and how glad I am that you didn’t die.” I swallow hard and finally manage to raise my head again. He’s staring at me.

“Thank you, Ana,” he says. “That really means a lot to me.” He sighs and shrugs. “I’ve worked for some pretty high-profile people. I’m one of the best and I know it. Nothing this drastic has ever happened, but usually they don’t get attached; they don’t get involved; they don’t let you get close and you don’t want to get close. From the very first day, Grey told me that you would be different and he was right. I think personable was the word he used. You were never difficult—never stuck-up or entitled-acting like most rich guys’ girlfriends are. You were always kind to everybody you met unless somebody pissed you off. And when I saw that car gunning for us and I knew that I couldn’t move fast enough to avoid getting hit, it was a no-brainer. I had to protect you and the babies—like you were my own flesh and blood.

“I didn’t even think about it. I think it was a combination of panic and reflex. I knew I was going to get it, but I had to do what I could to protect you. I remember your face when I lunged for you and then…” He drops his head. He doesn’t remember the accident either. I think he sees it as a weakness that he can’t recall what happened.

“I look at it this way. If I had died… if we had died… it would have been quick and painless, but we didn’t. We’re still here.” I smile widely and take his hand. He looks down at our joined hands and squeezes mine.

“We’re still here,” he repeats. I sigh. Now the hard part.

“Keri loves you, you know,” I say. He nods without raising his head.

“Yeah, I know. I love her, too.” I can’t believe I just heard him say that!

“Chuck!” I say quietly in a surprised, sing-songy voice.

“Yeah, I know, I know. Mr. Don’t Get Attached is in love with a girl from another country who’s not even an American citizen, so we only get to see each other once in a while… or when tragedy strikes,” he laments. “She’s a good person—not just pretty; she really is a good person with a good heart.” I smile at his confession.

“She’s worried about you,” I confess. “She sees your pain and she says that you won’t take the meds the doctor told you to take.” Now, he raises his eyes to me.

“I’m in recovery, Ana,” he says, making it obvious that this is the reason that he won’t take the meds.

“I know,” I say, squeezing his hand again, “but didn’t the doctor and your sponsor say that it’s okay to take these meds? That they’re not habit-forming?” He looks away, breaking eye-contact with me. “Chuck?”

“Yeah, but…” This is the first time I’ve ever sensed fear from Chuck… ever. “Ana, no offense, but you don’t know how bad it really was and I don’t want to recount it,” he says.

“Believe me, Chuck, I’m not discounting your experience, but I would like to know why you’re punishing yourself.” He frowns.

“I’m not punishing myself…” he starts to protest.

“Yes, you are,” I contradict him. “You’re in obvious pain, and you would rather sit here in pain than to take something to ease the discomfort. Are you taking deep breaths to help heal your lung?”

“Yes, I am,” he answers triumphantly.

“And how’s that working out for you?” He winces at the thought of taking a breath. “Mm-hmm, just what I thought. Do you get out of this room much? Have much company besides poor Keri and your sponsor?”

“Poor Keri?” he asks.

“Yes, poor Keri!” I reinforce. “That girl flew 4000 miles when she found out that you were in an accident. A deaf and blind man would be able to tell that she’s in love with you. She’d spend every moment of her time on American soil in this house in this room if it meant that she could spend it next to you. Don’t make her spend that time watching you make yourself suffer for something you did years ago.” The color drains from his face.

“It ruled me, Ana,” he says with a twinge of helplessness. “I knew that I was going to die and I didn’t care. I remember when I first saw your mother’s husband—the one that died from cirrhosis. I swear I was looking at myself. I couldn’t wait for that fucker to leave.” He drops his head and wrings his hands. “It’s like you don’t have any control over it—like you’re having this out-of-body experience. You can see everything happening, but you can’t do anything about it.”

“How long has it been, Chuck?” I ask him. He sighs.

“Almost 15 years now.” I whistle.

“You started early.” He nods.

“I started drinking when I was 14. I went downhill fast. I was a blazing alcoholic for eight years. My brother only started speaking to me about three years ago. He didn’t come when Jason called him because he was sure that I had been driving drunk. I didn’t bother to correct him. If he doesn’t know me by now, he won’t ever know me. I opened my eyes expecting to see my blood standing there. Instead, I saw Keri—all the way from Anguilla—and my brother couldn’t travel a couple of hundred miles.”

“Stop. Punishing. Yourself,” I say. “Take the meds. They’re not barbiturates. They’re even controlled substances. They’re ibuprofen. Take the medicine.” He just stares at me for a while. “Chuck, whether you admit it or not, you’ve got friends and family right here and we’re not going to let you fall—but we can’t watch you suffer because you’re afraid to let go of the past.” He sighs.

“I love this place, Ana. I really do, but these four walls are driving me fucking stir-crazy,” and now, he admits it. He changed the subject, but he admits it.

“Well, it looks like you can only get out of these four walls once because you don’t even have handicapped access to your house, but guess what? Grey Crossing does!” I exclaim. “We have ramps all over the garages, two elevators that go to all three floors, two very empty private guest apartments with views of the lake that Marilyn is furnishing as we speak and currently, there are only four of us that live in 14,000 square feet. Both of you will be around people that you know. Keri won’t have to spend all of her time waiting on you hand and foot, because there will be others to assist with that. You can both enjoy each other’s company instead of sitting here moping, being maudlin, and suffering. Chuck… please… take the meds and come stay at Grey Crossing. We’ll take good care of you and we won’t let anything bad happen. I promise. Please, Chuck… it’s the very least I can do… the very, very least.” I almost want to cry. If he turns me down, I think I will.

“What about Christian?” he says. “How’s he going to take this?” I scoff and wave him off.

“Please! Right now, he’ll build the Taj Mahal in the backyard if I ask him to. Besides, if you recall, it was his idea for you to move in with us in the first place. You turned him down.” He scratches his cheek, deeply contemplating my offer. “I’m not going to take ‘no’ for an answer, Chuck. I’ve had enough of this macho bullshit. I understand why you’re slow to take the pain meds, but I don’t understand why you have to think about staying in a luxurious mansion with four friends, two of which are eternally grateful to you for what you’ve done.”

“I’d hardly call Christian a friend,” he chuckles.

“I wouldn’t be so sure after what you did,” I retort. “I’m waiting for my ‘yes.’” He sighs.

“You drive a hard bargain.”

“I do… and that’s wasn’t a ‘yes.’”

“Unconditional surrender, huh?” he jests.

“Unconditional,” I concur.

“Fine,” he relents, “we’ll come to Grey Crossing. If I feel like an imposition or uncomfortable in any way, I’m coming back home.”

“Deal… now what about the meds?”

“Baby steps, Ana,” he warns. I twist my lips.

“I’m going to let this go for right now, because I got one concession from you—a big one, but I’m not going to let up on those meds. They will help you.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” he says.

“So what’s next? Do you need me to have someone come out here and help you get some things together? I’m hiring staff today!” I add the last part with a little swing of my head.

“No shit?” he asks. I nod.

“Fourteen thousand square feet,” I remind him.

“Yeah, there is that,” he says. “I have Keri, though. If she’ll accept help, then yes.” I nod.

“Good call,” I tell him. “You’re a smart man.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Getting across that water is a bitch, though. I’m okay with the ferry most of the time, but right now…” He rolls his eyes.

“Ugh! God, tell me about it. We’ll hire an ambulance if we have to. We’ll work something out so that you’re comfortable.”

“I appreciate that,” he replies.

“So, what do you say? About 3:00 tomorrow? We’ll be starting to prepare for Thanksgiving, so you’ll probably want to be settled in by then.” He nods.

“Sounds good to me, but you better check with Keri. As much as I hate to admit it, she’ll be doing the hard work.” I nod.

“Now. I know that you’re a big, strong, man and all, but I also know that you can’t use crutches with those broken ribs. How do you get around… like to the bathroom?” He points to the corner behind me and I see a wheelchair sitting there. I turn back to him.

“I’m hard-headed. I’ll admit that, but I’m no idiot. It’s the easiest way to get from point A to point B and it’s… not so rough on Keri.” I nod.

“You are a smart guy,” I say with a nod. “There will definitely be some help here in the morning… around ten. They’ll help you guys get everything together, and we’ll arrange transport around three.” He nods and I stand. “I’m going to go fill Keri in and get back home now.” I kiss him on the cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow,” he smiles and I leave his den. I feel very accomplished as I walk into the living room in search of Keri. I can’t find her immediately, but I do find Ben staring out of a window as still as a statue. What is he looking at? I walk over to him—none too quietly, I might add—to see what’s got his attention.

He’s watching Keri.

She’s on the deck doing yoga in a sweatshirt, yoga pants, and sneakers. It’s cold as fuck, but she’s in her own world. She’s doing some insane stretching, showcasing her impressive figure and ample “accoutrements,” for lack of a better word. She’s extremely flexible and one’s imagination can go quite wild watching her. I’m a straight woman, and I kind of twist my head and wonder how she slides effortlessly in and out of those positions. Ben is salivating. I realize that all the blood is rushing to his dick right now, but damn!

“Ben!” I snap, hissing his name. He turns his head quickly, startled, a little ashamed, as well he should be.

“I was… um… I… was…” Don’t even bother trying to lie.

“I know what you were doing,” I scold. He’s been caught red-handed and he’s trying to back-peddle. He finally just gives up.

“I’m sorry! But did you see her?” He gestures out the window as if to say “What man in his right mind would be able to look at that and not stare?”

“Do you know how long I was standing here?” I chastise. “I didn’t just walk out of the room! I walked out of the room, walked over here, watched you, watched her, and then called your name.”

“See? Even you admit it! Even you watched her for a second!” he hisses quietly.

“I had to see what had you staring out of the window like a thirsty lap dog!” I hiss back. “Now get that under control. They’re staying with us for a little while.” His eyes light up slightly. Oh, hell, no.

“I mean it, Ben,” I threaten. “I like you, but Chuck is my friend and he’s in love with that girl. Now wrap it up, put a cock ring on it, shove it between your legs, do whatever you gotta do with it, but keep it under control. Please! He saved my life. I’ll go a long way for him!” He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Okay! Okay! I got it,” he says, duly chastised. “I was just admiring the view, I wasn’t trying to mount her!”

“Well, forgive me, but it was hard to tell,” I retort, softening my voice a bit, but not too much. “Now please, go bring the car around. I need to talk to Keri, then we can go.” He nods and goes out the side door to get the car. I put my coat back on, grab my purse, and go out the front door to the deck and Keri.

“So, you guys are going to be moving into the mansion,” I tell her. She jumps up and down, clapping like a schoolgirl. “I’m going to be sending some guys over tomorrow at about ten to help you put together everything you’ll need to be comfortable.” I reach into my wallet and pull out one of my cards and a pen. I write my new cell number on the back. “Call me around noon and let me know if you guys will need a small moving truck or if a van will do. I’m very serious. I want you and Chuck to be comfortable, so bring whatever you need, okay?”

“Anah, I don’t know how to thank you!” she says, throwing her arms around me and embracing me tightly. Then she pulls me back and looks into my face. “What about the medicine?”

“We’ll have to keep working on that part, but don’t give up hope. He’s agreed to be somewhere that will make him more comfortable. It won’t be long before we’ve won that other battle, too.” She can’t hide her disappointment. “He has told you about his struggle?”

“Yes, he has,” she says without raising her eyes. “I undehstand, but…” she sighs and shakes her head. “Him hutting, Anah. Him hutting a lot.” I take her hand.

“I know,” I tell her. “We’ll get him comfortable, and then we’ll work on the meds, okay?” She brings sad brown eyes up to meet mine, then nods. “Now go on inside before he comes hobbling out here looking for you. Call me if you need anything and we’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Anah,” she says, hugging me once more before going inside. I walk back to the Audi and prepare for the terrible trip across the water. Halfway through the trip, I feel like I’m going to toss my cookies so I call Christian to try to distract myself.

“You don’t sound so good, baby. What’s going on?” he asks a few seconds into the conversation.

“I hate the ferry,” I tell him. “The beans hate it even more.”

Ooooh,” he responds.

“Speaking of ferries, Chuck has agreed to recuperate at Grey Crossing.”

“How did you pull that off?”

“Old-fashioned schmoozing mixed with a tiny bit of guilt and a hint of bullying. Works every time.” He laughs at me.

“Okay, so what does that have to do with the ferry?”

“In his current condition, he hates the ferry as much as I do. I can imagine it must be really uncomfortable for him. I know there are private ambulance companies that we can hire that will make the ride more comfortable for him. Are you familiar with those at all? I’ve never rented an ambulance.”

“I may have a better idea,” he says. “Let me take care of the transport. What time were we looking to have him at Grey Crossing?”

“I told him that I would send someone there to help them pack what they needed by ten. Keri will call me around noon to let me know what moving accommodations they’ll need. The transport is supposed to take place around three.”

“That’s my efficient Butterfly,” he says. “That’s plenty of time. Let me get started on his transport. What else, baby?”

“Nothing that can’t wait. We’ll talk more later. You concentrate on whatever magnificent plan you have up your sleeve.”

“You know me well,” he jests. “Love you, Butterfly.”

“I love you, too, Christian,” I say with a smile before ending the call. Luckily, talking to him has soothed my stomach and the ride home from there is a breeze.

It’s about three when we get back to Grey Crossing and there are several things that I need to get done. Some of the furniture has arrived and Marilyn is coordinating where it should go. I realize we have overlooked a key piece of furniture that we will definitely need by tomorrow. After a quick internet search, I call the Laz-y-Boy store in Tukwila and ask how soon they could have a recliner delivered if I order right now.

Well,” the lady on the other line—Kelsey, she said—sounds very snooty, “It could take a week to ten days depending on what you order.” I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you?

“Okay, so what would determine if I could get a recliner delivered tomorrow?” She scoffs into the phone.

“That would be quite impossible,” she says, her tone even more condescending than before.

“You haven’t even heard what I want yet,” I protest.

“Well, you see, several people have gotten wind of the sale, so we have several deliveries that we have to do in the next couple of days.” And because you think I want to buy a $300 recliner on sale marked down from $700, you don’t have time for me.

“I see. Well, thank you…”

“Yes!” she snaps before hanging up in my ear. Wow! Normally, I’d go about the business of getting the bitch fired, but never mind. I have bigger fish to fry right now. I call the Laz-y-Boy in Lynnwood.

“Thank you for calling Laz-y-Boy, this is Charmaine.”

“Hi, Charmaine. May I speak to a manager, please?”

“Sure, ma’am. Can I tell her what it’s concerning?”

“I would just like to get the best service possible. I have a request that may not be able to be met, but I would at least like to try.”

“I see. Well, would you mind giving me an opportunity to see if I can assist you? I’ll be glad to turn it over to a manager if I can’t.” She’s so much nicer than Kelsey!

“As a matter of fact, I would love to give you the opportunity. I know that what I’m asking may be unrealistic, but hopefully we can come up with an alternative if this is impossible.”

“I’m sure that we can accommodate you. What are your needs, Ms…?” She pauses for my name.

“Grey,” I tell her. “Mrs. Grey.”

“Very well, Mrs. Grey. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I’m going to be having a houseguest for quite some time and he’s injured. He’s broken both of the bones in his lower leg and he needs to be comfortable and elevated. I already know what I want, but the piece that I’m interested in needs to be delivered tomorrow… early if possible, but I’ll take what I can get.” She has a rapid intake of air that sounds like a hiss.

“Ooo, yeah that’s a bit of a tall order. We had a sale, you know, and there are a lot of people expecting deliveries over the next few days—but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Let’s see what we can do.”

“Well, there’s another catch,” I tell her. “I’m closer to the Tukwila store, but the lady there was mean to me.” She’s silent for a moment.

“Really?” she says, her voice short. “Well, now we’ll really have to see what we can do for you.” She wasn’t pleased to hear that. “What model were you interested in and where will we be delivering it tomorrow?” Oh, I like her!

“I was wondering if you have the Pinnacle Platinum Luxury Lift Power-Recline XR with the 6-Motor Massage & Heat settings in stock. I wanted Midnight, but I’ll take what you’ve got as long as it’s not flowers or wild colors.”

“Let me look for you.” She’s silent for a moment and I hear her typing into the computer. Then, more silence. “Mrs. Grey, did you say the Pinnacle Platinum Luxury…”

“…Power-Recline, yes… with the 6-motor massage… in Midnight if you have it.” Yes, the $2500 luxury recliner, that’s the one I want. I should buy two. In fact… “I’d like that in Midnight and also in blue if you have it.” She tries to hide her gasp.

“You want two!” It’s a statement, not a question.

“If you can swing it, yes,” I respond.

“Oohh-ho-ho, just give me a few minutes. Do you mind holding?”

“Certainly not.” I can tell by her tone of voice that if these chairs are on a boat in the Artctic Ocean, she’s going to find them and get them to my house by tomorrow. Several minutes later, she comes back to the line.

“Thank you so much for holding, Mrs. Grey. I spoke to the manager at the Tukwila store since they are closer to you and they do have both colors in stock in that model.” And we’re back at Tukwila. “She assures me that she can have them delivered at whatever time is convenient tomorrow.”

“Excellent!” I exclaim.

“Now, your sale is actually going to be processed through the Lynnwood store. Do you mind that?”

“Not at all, Charmaine. Please do,” I say with a smile that I know she can hear.

“I do have Kelsey on the line from the Tukwila store. Once I get your credit card information, she will be taking the address information.” Hmm, Kelsey.

“I’m not sure I want Kelsey handling the delivery,” I tell Charmaine. “She hung up on me about twenty minutes ago, before she even found out what I wanted.”

“There must be some mistake,” Kelsey chimes in with that snooty tone of voice.

“Oh, no, I assure you that I would know that ‘I’m-too-good-for-this-job” voice anywhere. I was willing to let sleeping dogs lie until serendipity arranged it such that I get to talk to you again without having to call you directly. I don’t know your background or anything about you, but the way you treat customers is horrible. You treated me like crap before you even knew what a wanted. Had I gone by my initial experience with you, I would have thought that Laz-y-Boy was a stuck-up, elitist company that didn’t want to be bothered with me or my money because it wasn’t green enough. Thank God I called Lynnwood. Now get your manager on this phone because I don’t want you to have any of my information.”

“Ma’am,” she says, her voice shifting from snooty to panic. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come off as elitist or rude…”

“Sure, you didn’t,” I cut her off, “hence, that short, impatient, and intolerant ‘yes’ you hissed at me when you hung up the phone in my ear before I could even finish saying ‘thank you for your time.’ Your manager, please.” If I didn’t have to deal with her again, I would have had more patience. I didn’t want to have to deal with this bitch anymore at all.

“Ma’am, I really am sorry.” She’s stalling until I accept her apology.

“Can I have you ladies hold on for just a moment?”

“Yes, Mrs. Grey, by all means,” Charmaine says. I put my phone on mute. “Mare!” Marilyn comes running in from the next room.

“What is it?”

“I’m going to strangle a salesgirl!” I tell her making the choking gesture with my hand. “May I please borrow your phone?”

“Not if you’re going to use it to commit a crime,” she says wide-eyed. I cock my head and glare at her. “Sorry,” she says, handing me her phone. Looking at my laptop, I dial the number for the Tukwila store again.

“Thank you, for calling Laz-y-Boy, Janine speaking.”

“Hi Janine, may I please speak to the manager on duty right now?”

“Certainly, ma’am. I’m the manager on duty. What can I do for you?”

“You can find Kelsey wherever she is in the store and take the phone from her!” I snap.

“Excuse me?” She’s clearly confused.

“Please, humor me.”

“Um… okay. Would you… like to hold?”

“I won’t need to. I’ll be on the other end when you get the phone from Kelsey.”

“Oh! Okay. May I have your name?”

“Mrs. Grey.”

“Very well, Mrs. Grey. I’ll… speak to you in a moment.”

“Thank you.” I end the call with Janine and get back on the phone with Charmaine and Kelsey.

“Charmaine, if you could just wait for a moment, I’m going to need your continued assistance.”

“Yes, Mrs. Grey.” It only takes a few seconds for me to hear Janine talking to Kelsey.

“I’m speaking to a customer,” I hear Kelsey say. “I’m just about to get her address for a delivery.” She’s almost begging.

“Kelsey, give. Me. The phone!” Janine orders. After a few moments, “Mrs. Grey?”

“Yes,” I say with a sigh.

“What can I do for you, ma’am?”

“Charmaine, I’m weary of this situation. Will you please explain it to Janine?” Charmaine quickly gives a breakdown of what happened without giving any details of what I bought and neither of them knows where I am.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Mrs. Grey. This is not the first time this has happened, but it won’t be happening again. Has Charmaine gotten your details yet?”

“No,” I answer calmly.

“Charmaine, you can go on and get the card information and I’ll get her address.”

“Okay,” Charmaine says. “Mrs. Grey, we’re not going to charge you for delivery since this has been such an… experience for you, so with tax, your purchase comes to $5,297.61.”

“Fifty…!” Janine starts to exclaim, but catches herself before she finishes.

“You take Amex I assume?” I ask.

“We do.” I give her my card information and name.

“Mrs. Grey, what city do you live in?” Janine asks as soon as Charmaine gives confirmation that the card went through.

“Mercer Island.” They both fall silent.

“Anasta…” She’s repeating my information to herself. The penny drops. “Mrs. Grey, didn’t you just get out of the hospital?” Janine asks.

“Yes, I did,” I confirm.

“Oh my God.” She’s humiliated. “I’m so sorry.”

“While I appreciate and accept the apology, Janine, I’m more than a bit disenchanted right now,” I say calmly. “Yes, my husband is a billionaire. We have a lot of money. We shop at a lot of high-end stores, but when I go inside, unless I’m decked in every piece of Chanel jewelry that I own, these people treat me like crap until they find out who I really am—salespeople who work on commission whose very livelihood depends on me making a purchase. When someone walks into or calls a place of business, you assume that they are there to purchase and it would just be nice if everybody that I encountered gave me the kind of service that Charmaine did without me having to name drop!” I take a breath to compose myself. “I apologize, Janine. You’re getting a bunch of penned-up frustration from a crazy pregnant woman who is just tired of dealing with snooty salespeople. Is it at all possible to have those chairs delivered to my estate tomorrow by noon?”

“Yes, ma’am, it’s entirely possible,” Janine confirms, and I give her the address and my phone number.

“Charmaine, do you get paid on commission?” I ask.

“Partial commission and bonuses, yes ma’am,” Charmaine replies.

“That’s even better. I hope this sale puts you over the top. You deserve it.”

“It does, ma’am. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you both. Until tomorrow ladies.” I end the call and give Marilyn back her phone, which I was still holding in my other hand. Then, I put my head down on the desk so it will stop banging…

“Montana? Yoo-hoo… Montana?” I hear a voice wafting to me. I open my weary eyes and realize that I’ve fallen asleep at my desk, and the voice wafting towards me is Elliot’s. I don’t know exactly how long I was asleep, but it’s about five o’clock now. “Sleeping in that position is horrible for you, so I don’t mind waking you up.” I run my fingers through my hair and realizing that I nearly bald on one side, I cover it with my hand—like that’s gonna help—and search frantically for my hat.

“It’s okay, Montana,” he says. “We’ve all seen it already. You don’t have to cover it. We don’t care.” He gently moves my hand from the side of my head and holds my hand, his eyes gentle while he smiles kindly at me. I lower my eyes.

“So what brings you here, Elliot?” I ask softly.

“I thought I owed it to you to tell you in person that we won’t be at Thanksgiving dinner,” he says sadly. I raise my eyes questioning him. I want to ask him why, but I already know. I purse my lips to hide my disappointment. He walks over to one of the chairs in the sitting area of my office and sits down.

“What’s going on, Elliot?” I ask, urgently as I rise from my desk and join him in the sitting area. “If anybody knows what’s happening, it would be you.”

“You would think, huh?” he says, dropping his head into his hands and scrubbing them across his face. “It’s not just you, Ana,” he adds, frustration and weariness in his voice. “It’s everybody! It’s everything! She snaps at everybody, including me, and she goes off at the smallest things—ridiculous stuff, like if it’s raining when she wanted sunshine. This is Seattle!” He shakes his head. “One minute, she’s wonderful. She’s my angel and she’s sweet and loving, and the next minute she’s some other woman; nothing dangerous, but she’s… angry and weird.”

This is the most insight I’ve gotten into Val’s behavior since my birthday weekend over a month ago. I’m going to delve as much as he’ll let me.

“I seem to be the focus of her ire, ever since my birthday. Did she say why me in particular?” He raises his eyes to me, questioning. “Yes, this is the shrink asking. This is also Ana who used to be really close friends with this bipolar-acting woman, but mostly, it’s the shrink. I want to know what’s going on, too.” He drops his head again.

“She just keeps saying that you’ve changed,” he says. “You’re not the person that she always knew. She won’t get specific. She can’t even tell me how she thinks you’ve changed. She can only tell me that you’ve changed. Only… you’re not the one who has changed, she is.” He shakes his head. “Do I do this to women?” he asks sadly. “Do I turn them from kind, loving, attractive human beings into evil, spiteful, raging harpies?”

Well, I can’t answer that one.

“Has anything changed in your relationship, like right before my birthday?” He shook his head.

“No,” he said. “We had been looking for a house for a while, but hadn’t found anything we totally loved yet. Now, she doesn’t like anything she sees. They’re all crappy, too small, too far away—from what, I don’t know.”

“Has she met anybody that could affect her personality that you know of? Is she secretive at all? Could she be hiding something?” He shakes his head.

“Val’s an open book,” he says. “I can tell you where she is and what she’s doing at any moment of any day of the week. We have all the passwords to each other’s electronics, email, and social media. I even have the passwords to her work email. She’s totally trustworthy. It’s not another guy or an unsavory influence. I know what it’s not, I just don’t know what it is.

“Is she depressed at all? Does her mood change during certain times of the day? Could she be pregnant? Could she have been pregnant and lost a baby? Something else traumatic that you might not know of?”

“I don’t think she’s depressed, I’m not sure. There would be no reason for her to be depressed, but I guess she would have to be tested for something like that, wouldn’t she?” I nod. “Her mood changes—if that’s what we can call them—don’t pick a specific time or moment, or person… except you, and now Al. Other than that, they’re very random. Pregnant? No. I’ve asked. That wouldn’t be a problem. We’re in no rush to have kids, but I wouldn’t care if she was pregnant… as long as it wasn’t Kate.” He says the name with pure disdain. “Lost a baby, I hadn’t thought of that, but I’m afraid to ask. I hope not… God, that would be awful.” So he’s not averse to having children, even though they’re not quite ready for it yet, and her losing a baby would definitely be a bad thing.

“Is she suicidal?” I ask as a last-ditch effort. He raises his head and looks at me in horror.

“What? No!” he snaps. I shrug.

“Hey, I’m out of ideas, here. It’s a last-ditch effort.” He sighs and his shoulders drop again, back into that helpless, I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-to-do stance.

“No, not suicidal, just angry,” he laments. “I’d give anything to know what’s wrong with her… to know how to fix it. She seems so unhappy—not Kate unhappy. It’s different. It’s like… discontent, but I don’t know with what. If I ask her if it’s me one more time, I’m afraid she’s going to leave. I know it’s not me, because she’s like this with everybody. I know I keep comparing her to Kate, but that’s the only gauge that I have. With Kate, it was a gradual change. She slowly started to creep into Bitchdom. With Angel, it hit out of nowhere—BAM! Everything and everybody just irritated the fuck out of her.”

“I don’t know, Elliot. Without being able to talk to her and find out what’s wrong, all I can say is that she needs to talk to someone, professionally. This is not the Val I’ve known for 10 years. Something is definitely wrong, and if I were a betting woman, I would say that it’s not you.” I know I’m probably breaking a confidence here, but at this point, I don’t really care. “Val was with this one guy. She really loved him, but he did a real number on her—not quite as bad as Edward did to me, but bad nonetheless. He’s the one that turned her into a cold, heartless naysayer when it came down to love and men. You brought her out of that. I had never seen her with anybody—anybody—the way she is with you. It’s not you, Elliot.”

“Then what is it!?” he exclaims, ripping at his hair. “I’ve run through every possible scenario in my brain and nothing’s panning out.”

“You’re going to have to find out what it is, Elliot. I think you’re the only one who can. You need to get her to talk to a doctor… and a shrink. Something’s really wrong and if she keeps ignoring it, it could be catastrophic.”

“I know, I know,” he laments. “Sometimes, she just sits and stares at nothing… for a really long time. I’ll ask her what’s she looking at and she’ll just say, ‘Nothing. I was just thinking.’ She was at the hospital every day that you were there—every. Single. Day, so I know that she doesn’t hate you. She only went into the room one time, the night of the accident, before Christian got there. She went in alone, so I don’t know what she said or did. I thought for sure when you woke up that things would be different, but…” he shrugs.

My heart sinks. Val doesn’t hate me… so why is she treating me this way? I sigh heavily and push back the threatening tears.

“God, I want a burger,” I say out loud. Elliot glares at me. What?

“You’re joking, right?” he says, scowling at me.

“No, why would I be joking?” I ask him.

“Because red meat makes you barf!” he informs me.

“What?” I exclaim.

“Haven’t you noticed there’s no red meat in this house?” he asks. “When’s the last time you’ve seen any red meat?” Come to think of it, he’s right. There’s been no red meat in any of our meals. I’ve only been home a couple of days and I haven’t searched any of the freezers or anything, but I haven’t seen any red meat.

“So if I want a burger, I have to go out for one.” He shakes his head.

“I would bet anything that the Minutemen have strict instructions not to let you anywhere near red meat, much less a burger. You had an extremely violent reaction to the last burger that you ate.” I don’t for the life of me remember what he’s talking about. I don’t eat much red meat, but when I want it, I want it.

“So you’re saying that my husband has ordered my security not to let me eat a hamburger?” I say, my tone irritated. Elliot sighs.

“Montana, listen to me. This is not one of my brother’s control-freak moments. Red meat is truly not your friend. You were grounded for a whole day because that burger made you sick—vomiting, fever… You didn’t know you were pregnant yet and you and Al went out and got some burger from some little joint and you almost died.”

“Maybe it was that burger,” I say, trying to plead my case.

“You couldn’t even look at blood sausage on your honeymoon, from what I understand…”

“Well, blood sausage is disgusting!” I exclaim. “Who in their right mind would eat that crap?”

“A lot of people like blood sausage, Montana, but that’s neither here nor there. Dad was grilling steaks—outside—over your birthday weekend and you went praying to the porcelain god.”

That, I remember.

“Oh… yeah… shit!” I hiss.

“Methinks she remembers!” Elliot proclaims victoriously. He stands up and kisses me on the forehead. “Nobody’s going to get you a burger, little sister,” he says. “Thanks for the talk. We’ll try Christmas, okay?” I look up at him sadly, remembering that he won’t be with us on Thursday.

“Find out what’s going on with her,” I beseech him. “It won’t be easy, but you’ve got to find out.” He nods.

“See you later, Ana Montana,” he says with a sad smile.

“Bye, Lelliot,” I respond as he leaves my office. Marilyn must be gone already since she hasn’t come back into the office. I dial my husband’s number.

“Darling, we have a little problem…”


CHRISTIAN

“You want a what?!?” I listen in dismay as my beautiful pregnant wife tells me that she wants a hamburger. A hamburger! “Do you remember what happened to you the last time you ate a hamburger?”

“I was told that it was a little harsh…”

“’A little harsh?’ Who told you that shit? It wasn’t a little harsh—it was violent!”

“Yeah… that was… the word that was used,” she admits.

“I’m sure it was!” I bark. “You were completely grounded for two days and you didn’t stop feeling the effects for four! You were talking about suing the restaurant! If you did manage to get a burger in that house, the smell of it would drop you before you had a chance to get it to your mouth!”

She falls silent for a moment. She’s trying to see if I will break.

“No, Ana. No. Absolutely not. No hamburger! No red meat of any kind. Thanksgiving is two days away. You’ve got Black Friday after that, the Adopt-A-Family Affair on Saturday, a houseful of guests for the entire weekend… no! No hamburger. Don’t try to convince me. Absolutely not.” I’m putting my foot down. I can actually hear her pouting through the phone. No means no.

“Christian…!” she whines.

“No, Anastasia!” I say finally. “You can be mad at me all weekend, but I’d rather you be mad at me than to suffer the cramps, crying, and fever you suffered the last time you ingested red meat. Are we clear?”

“Fine!” she says sharply and ends the call… and now she’s mad at me. Oh, well… I call Jason.

“Yes, sir?”

“Call my house and let your wife and the security staff know that anybody who lets Anastasia within ten feet of red meat will be filing for unemployment tomorrow and I’m not kidding.”

“I think they already know that, sir…” he begins.

“Tell them again,” I warn him. “You know how persuasive she can be and she’s trying to get a burger.”

“A burger!?” He’s just as horrified as I am.

“Yes, a burger. Apparently, her amnesiatic craving is more powerful than her sense of self-preservation.”

“I’m on it,” he says, and ends the call. She’s got Charles and Keri moving in tomorrow, new staff starting as well as the preparations for Thanksgiving dinner that she is certain not to leave for the staff, I’ll be damned if she’s going to add fever, cramps, and crabbiness to all of that… and I don’t care how bratty she acts!

Speaking of Charles and Keri, I’ve arranged with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department to allow me to land my helicopter there to transport them to Seattle. I explained about the life-saving efforts of my wife’s bodyguard and our attempts to make him as comfortable as possible to facilitate his recovery.

They didn’t buy that.

So, I told them that my helicopter was also a certified Medivac and the only reason that we were using it was because of Charles’ several broken bones, severe medical condition and extreme discomfort with the ferry. They finally gave in after that bit of information. I realize that they still weren’t obligated to accommodate me, but had they not accommodated my request after I informed them that I and my helicopter were certified for Medivac, I would have called the press. As I have to register a flight plan every time I move Charlie Tango, I was running out of time and Boeing Field is not very happy with and sometimes won’t approve last-minute flight plans. I haven’t told Butterfly or even Charles that we will be airlifting him out of Bainbridge Island, but he knows to be ready for transport by 3pm and I’m sure that he’s preparing himself for a very bumpy ride.

My other project for today involves getting as much information on the Sunset case as I can in an attempt to find out what Myrick, Sr. is up to. After discovering that his father couldn’t save him from his fate as all of Myrick, Sr,’s favors were most likely being used to keep himself out of jail, Robin pled to most of the charges against him and now they are trying to determine if he will see blue skies outside of the “yard” ever again in his life. Supposedly, they have him in protective custody—protective from whom, I’m not sure… his father’s enemies, me, all of the other people he stole from… who knows? Forgive me if after my last experience with a supposedly incarcerated Myrick, I have absolutely no faith in the penal system.

For this reason, I have also discovered that Cholometes has not returned to Montesano and doesn’t plan to anytime soon. According to his logic, my crackpot security team was so effective in keeping Ana safe while I was “gallivanting around the ghetto” chasing old ghosts that maybe he should just stick around a bit. His purpose now is trying to find the latest danger threatening a woman who is near and dear to him. While I would normally welcome all the assistance that I can get, his presence is a particular thorn in my side because he wants my wife. To that end, I don’t want or need his help and all I want is for him to carry his ass back to Montesano.

He tried that whole “I’m gonna tell Ana on you” thing again with the Naomi situation. Of course, he discovered that Ana’s assailant and I were once involved and that even though she’s dead now, our involvement was most likely the reason for her attack on Anastasia. He has also discovered that I have made arrangements for Naomi’s last rites if no family can be located. I’m so weary of this man and his attempts to sway my wife’s affections. She’s already made it clear to him—both of us have—that nothing he can do is going to break our bond or destroy our love. She even made him personally swear to her that he would protect me, probably the last thing in the world that he wanted to do, yet he still has some kind of displaced hope that he’s going to be able to win my wife away from me. So when he called my phone telling me that he was going to expose “Naomi Confidential,” I had a three-word answer for him that he’s still trying to figure out:

“So tell her.”

Nothing more. I didn’t tell him that she already knew. Why bother? He tried to shake me, telling me that I was playing it cool to throw him off and accusing me of either trying to have my wife killed or of being personally responsible for her near-death experience. I couldn’t argue with him on that second accusation, but he couldn’t beat me up any more than I’ve already punished myself about it, so it was pretty fruitless. When he still couldn’t get a rise out of me, I asked, “Are you going to tell her?”

“Maybe,” he said, still hoping for a reaction.

“So tell her,” I repeated, just like I said the first time. When he went back into the spiel of how I was going to lose my wife when she found out, I just hung up the phone. Like I said, I’m weary of his presence and his attempts to get my wife’s affections, so tell her. Be my guest, just stop calling me.

Back to the Sunset case…

I thought Sunset was a place—a street, maybe. As it turns out, Sunset is a person. His real name is Marcus Del Russo. Myrick found himself in the big time in the Detroit drug trade. How he got there is unclear, but he was one of Del Russo’s people. This happened not too long after my birth mother died. All this time, I thought he was a small time punk—junkie and pimp—when all along, he had bigger ambitions. I don’t know when he found time to play Daddy to his screwed-up offspring and poison his mind against some four-year old kid who he didn’t even know that long. I guess it’s that whole thing about never taking responsibility for your own actions. He had to blame somebody, why not the “little shit?”

Anyway, somewhere along the way, he got deep into Del Russo’s camp and became privy to some very pertinent information—key people and connections, patterns and actions, drop locations, pick-up spots, “distribution centers,” everything the insiders knew. So, when one day in between one of his many stints in jail, he was arrested attempting to acquire an extremely large drop from an undercover cop, he decided to turn state’s evidence instead of face charges for conspiracy to distribute.

From what I can tell, he couldn’t have chosen a worse opponent.

Del Russo is a melting pot—part African American, part Caucasian, part Mexican, part Puerto Rican. To that end, he has connections with every branch/facet of the drug trade in Detroit and surrounding areas, but his reach goes much further than that. He has direct contacts in the Mexican cartel; most of his supply comes directly from Colombia; and he even has veins directly into the Miami drug trade. This man is not small-time. He’s a huge fish and the information that Myrick has access to makes him an extremely valuable asset to the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies that have been trying to nail this guy down. He’s bigger than Capone.

Now for the really scary part—the peaceful name. Most people have street names or aliases that would strike fear or respect in the mind of the listeners—T-Money, Bossman, God, Butcher, Killer, Shark, who knows? Apparently, Sunset is no different. Sunset strikes extreme fear into the hearts of small-time dealers and junkies in Cass Corridors as well as in big-time distributors and competition from Delray to the Michigan suburbs. Mention of Sunset’s name will either get you instant protection or instant death—you don’t fuck with Sunset.

He’s ruthless and maniacal. Age, sex, disability—doesn’t matter to him. If you’re in the game, you accept the rules. He’s rumored to be personally responsible for up to 2500 deaths—personally as in with his own hands. His two signatures kills are Colombia neckties done with barbed wire or complete castration with your family jewels being sent back to your family. If you received a beautiful and expensive gift box in an even more beautiful and soothing gift bag with a lovely picture of a sunset on it, you most likely didn’t want to open it.

And this is the person Anton Myrick chose to piss off. Nice… very nice.

I’ve decided that this is one book that I’m going to close until it comes smacking me in the face again. If that fucker wants me, he’ll know where to find me. I’ll be cautious. I’ll be prepared if he wants to tango, but fuck if I’m going to live my life waiting for him to make his move or worrying about what he’s going to do. My team found his son, they’ll find him, too. If they don’t, he’ll find me—and I’ll be ready for him. Right now, at this time in my life, I’m focusing on my wife’s recovery, our growing family, our new home, and spending the holidays with the people that I love…

… Something that, only two short years ago, I looked upon as a task. Because of her, I now look forward to it.


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 18—As The World Turns

I try to remember birthdays when I see them, so Happy Birthday to Laura Burdyn and Leah St Onge. A special shout-out to Aviance Bellamy, who was counting down the days, lol! Saturday is here, love.

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…

As The World Turns

Chapter 18—As The World Turns

ANASTASIA

“Ana, you can’t possibly mean that!” Annabelle Hightower is nearly hysterical when I speak to her later that afternoon.

“Yes, Annabelle, I’m afraid I do. Now, I can refer you to some other doctors that may be of more assistance to you, to help you move on to the next part of your treatment, whatever that may be. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to do it. I have to focus on my health and recovery since the accident. My own children will be born in less than three months and I need to be in tip-top condition when they get here. I just can’t do all of these things at this time, so something has to go.”

“So you decide to desert your patients!” she nearly hisses. No, this woman is not trying to give me a guilt trip! I almost died, lady! Do you think I give a fuck about the four patients I still have that won’t let go of the tity?

“I don’t see it that way,” I say, my voice a bit firm. “I see it as being more concerned about my health and well-being than I am about someone else’s, since this is my body. I understand that you may feel the same way about your health and well-being, which is why I have suggested that I direct you to another doctor.”

“I see,” she says, perturbed. “So you’re not deserting your position as director of that charity, but you are going to push your patients by the wayside. If I were to come and see you at that Center, would you then find time to treat me?”

What the fuck is this? This woman is acting like a jilted lover! She’s been my patient for years, almost since the beginning. I would have thought if anyone would have understood, it would have been her!

“Mrs. Hightower, I am certain that I am unable to be of any further assistance to you,” I say, changing my tone from friendly and apologetic to coarse, businesslike, and a bit perturbed. “My near-fatal accident has been all over the news. Each day, I’m working on relearning parts of my life and my past. I’ve had a traumatic brain injury that causes me more than a bit of discomfort and inconvenience. Having said that, the very last thing that my doctor or my husband would want to hear is that I’m arguing with a now ex-patient who can’t seem to understand the importance of my recovery. Now, the only thing left for us to discuss is if you would like for me to refer you to another doctor.” You disagreeable, selfish, inconsiderate little witch.

“No,” she says sharply. “I think I’ve had my fill of shrinks. I’ll probably be better off on my own.” Good! Glad to hear it, you dependent little twit.

“In that case, I wish you good day, Mrs. Hightower, and good luck!” I end the call quickly and take a deep breath. Something told me to use Marilyn’s phone to make that call and I’m so glad that I did.

“Good grief, I knew she’d be a hard sell, but I didn’t think she would be that hard!” Marilyn exclaims.

“Tell me about it! You would think I was breaking some type of secret pact between us.” Before the words are out of my mouth, Marilyn’s phone rings. She looks at it and I can tell by her expression that it’s Annabelle calling back. I angrily reach for the phone, but she puts one finger up to pause me and answers her phone.

“Hello, Marilyn Caldwell speaking… This is Marilyn Caldwell. Who is this?… Hello, Mrs. Hightower. Yes, this is my phone… I’m sorry, but Dr. Steele-Grey is currently unavailable… Unfortunately not. She’s terribly upset right now, and I assured Mr. Grey that I would keep an eye on her during her recovery. I’m sure you can imagine how detrimental stress can be to her in her delicate condition—carrying twins and all—and that horrible accident has put her in an even more precarious position. I couldn’t imagine having survived something so horrendous only to wake up two weeks later and have to learn several things all over again, can you? It must have been terrifying for her!” Marilyn sounds so syrupy sweet putting this woman in her place that I have to cover my mouth to keep her from hearing my laughter.

“Yes, that’s correct. Dr. Grey’s number has been changed. Her phone was destroyed in the accident, so when Mr. Grey replaced it, he also requested a new number for her—for the sake of privacy. You know that the accident is still under investigation… Oh, yes, I completely understand that, but just this once, I will have to pass on a message to her as I am not at liberty to give out her new number. Truth is, I’ve only seen it once and I don’t really remember it just now anyway… Unfortunately, no, Mrs. Hightower, I won’t be passing all of Mrs. Grey’s messages to her. I will only pass one message on to her and she will make the decision whether or not she will return your call…”

I notice through the call that I’ve gone from “Dr. Steele-Grey” to “Dr. Grey” to “Mrs. Grey.”

“Well, no, Mrs. Hightower. As I really do like my job as her personal assistant, I won’t be passing on that message, but I will be happy to relay something more professional for you…” Ooo, she’s mad. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to end this call now because you continue to use profanity with me and I’m not going to relay that to my boss. Have a good day, Mrs. Hightower.” She ends the call and proceeds to push some buttons on her phone.

“Blocking her?” I ask.

“Yep,” she says after pushing a few more buttons before raising her eyes to mine.

“What if she calls back unknown?”

“Unknown callers are already blocked from my phone. What’s next on the agenda?” And just like that, no more Mrs. Hightower.

I turn my attention to the guest list for Thanksgiving—all of the Greys and their significant others, Daddy and Amanda with provisions for my little brother, Allen and James, and Gail and Jason. I’ll have to ask if Christian plans on inviting anyone else. What about Chuck and Keri? She’s very far away from home and Chuck won’t be able to cook for her. I’ll have to see what my husband says.

“Marilyn, would you like to join us for dinner?” I ask.

“Oh, no, thanks. Gary and I are driving to Portland to see my folks.” I raise my eyebrow.

“You’re taking him to meet the folks?” I ask. “You’re there.”

“Yes, we’re there,” she laughs, “but only there, Ana! Don’t go pushing us down the aisle.” I put my hands up in surrender.

“I won’t!” I confirm. “I know that marriage can’t be rushed… except with my dad and stepmom. He couldn’t wait to make her Mrs. Steele.” I smile as I fondly remember Daddy’s wedding and the look in his eye when he saw Mandy. I also not-so-fondly recall a certain flaxen blonde’s attempts to derail the night along with Daddy’s best friend, Brian. Talk about unwanted advances!

“What’s got you scowling, Ana?” Marilyn asks.

“Evelyn… Elaine…” The image of children come to my mind. “Oh God…” I’m snapping my fingers trying to remember. “Pedo-Bitch…”

“Elena,” she says. I shiver all over.

“That bitch!” I say. “Was she at Daddy’s wedding?”

“Kind of,” she says hesitantly. “She ambushed Christian in the men’s room. You guys had a big fight about it…”

“Yeah, I remember that part,” I lament. “She’s in jail, right?”

“Yeah, for trying to…”

“I know, I know,” I interrupt her. “Enough of this shit, back to Thanksgiving. So as I don’t quite understand it, Valerie and I are not speaking, so we may be short two people. Far be it from me to tell Christian that his brother can’t come to Thanksgiving. I’ll let him handle that. It looks like we have a solid 18 people, but I know I’m leaving someone out, so I better prepare for thirty.”

“Better more food than not enough, right?” she says. I nod in agreement.

“Do we have any food allergies that you know of? Maybe we should have Gail in on this.”

“Definitely!” Marilyn says.

Gail, Marilyn, and I are all sitting around the kitchen island having drinks and some quick finger sandwiches that Gail made and working out the most fabulous Thanksgiving menu I’ve ever seen. Apparently, Thanksgiving is something of a four-day affair, to which the women in my family will be reintroducing me. I’m giddy with anticipation to be hosting this year, and Gail has agreed to do all of the heavy lifting in terms of making sure the spare bedrooms and guest quarters are in order. It’s one of the reasons that we’ll be needing extra staff.

We have the Adopt-A-Family Affair the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and since I was a bit indisposed, I never got my gown. As I’m lamenting about it to the ladies, Gail informs me that Christian would most likely be able to arrange something for me. What a perfect reason to call my perfect husband.

“Hello, Beautiful,” he says when he answers the phone, eliciting an impulsive girly giggle from me. “What a beautiful sound.” His voice is like melted butter. “To what do I owe this afternoon delight?”

“I… um… oh! Yeah,” he almost made me forget. “I don’t have a gown for the Adopt-A-Family Affair. I would hate to try to find something off-the-rack, but if I have to, I will. Gail says that you might be able to arrange something…”

“Yes. Yes, I can get you a personal shopper. When would you like to see her? She can probably come by the house, or would you like to go into town?” Hmmm…

“Having someone show me gorgeous in the comfort of my beautiful, luxurious home… hmmm…” I think aloud. Christian laughs.

“I take it you want her to come by the house,” he says with a chuckle.

“You take it correctly,” I confirm.

“I’ll have her call you, Butterfly.”

“You can have her call me, but you’re the only one that can call me ‘Butterfly.’” There’s silence on the line for a moment.

“Don’t make me leave this place early,” he says, his voice seductively.

“There’s nothing between us but air and opportunity,” I reply, my voice wanton. He gasps, then hisses on the other end.

“Dammit! I’ve got a meeting in ten minutes and now I’ve got a raging boner. Why do you do this to me, Mrs. Grey?”

“It’s not intentional,” I say innocently, “this time.”

“After work, woman,” he promises. “I’ll see you after work!”

“I’m counting on it. Don’t forget the personal shopper.” I hear his fingers snap.

“I almost did. I’ll call her now and work on getting this boner down.” I don’t like the sound of that.

“You’re going to call the shopper and work on your boner?” I ask.

“Baby, Athena’s Spear only sharpens for you.” I break out in uncontrollable laughter.

“Our honeymoon!” I exclaim. “You’re terrible!” I can actually hear his smile on the other end.

“And you’re wonderful… and beautiful. Now let me call the shopper. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Christian. Have a good afternoon and I’ll see you when you get home.”

“You can count on it,” and he ends the call. I put my phone down, smiling from ear to ear and turn around to the knowing face of Gail and Marilyn. I can actually feel the blood rushing to my face.

“You forgot other people were in the room, didn’t you?” Gail says. I purse my lips.

“I did,” I say, coyly, and the ladies have a laugh at my expense. Now, back to planning Thanksgiving.

“I need to order some furniture for the two empty guest apartments,” I declare as I look at the list of people who will be staying for the weekend.

“You’ve got the one big room upstairs that’s empty—the one with the balcony,” Marilyn says.

“For some reason, I think we’re saving that for something else,” I tell her. “It connects two of the rooms and it’s the only room that doesn’t have a private bathroom. We’ll have plenty of room with the four spare bedrooms and the guest apartments and we have the boat house if anyone wants extreme privacy. I just need to find someone who can deliver furniture and set up in two days for those two empty guest quarters.”

“Let me see what I can do. Any preferences?” Marilyn asks as she types into her tablet.

“New, clean, and classic,” I tell her. “Simple, nothing fancy.” She nods.

“I’m on it,” she says without raising her head.

“Not only that, but I really need you to meet with the candidates that we’re considering as staff for the house,” Gail interjects. “I did most of the interviewing while you were in the hospital and Jason saw to the background checks. Christian has done some preliminary screening, but he hasn’t approved or vetoed my final choices yet. He says he wants you to meet with them because he trusts your instincts.”

“I think Mr. Grey has forgotten that my instincts are not what they used to be,” I say, looking at Gail. She shrugs.

“He said that your instincts have always been spot on,” she retorts. “He says that you had him pegged the first day that you met him, so that means that they were impeccable all along. He insists that you have the final say on who gets hired.”

“Are they aware that they will be working on Thanksgiving and possibly the entire weekend if they are selected?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Well, then we need to do this soon. I don’t want to hold up anyone’s holiday if I decide against them. When are we supposed to meet with them? The sooner the better.” My cell rings just as I’m asking the question. “Hello?”

Mrs. Grey? This is Victoria Stewart. Mr. Grey requested that I give you a call to dress you for a gala this weekend.” My brain freezes for a moment. Oh! The shopper.

“Yes, Ms. Stewart. We have the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Affair this weekend and I don’t have anything at all to wear. I’m six months pregnant and while I have attire for other occasions, I have absolutely nothing formal.”

“I’m sure we can find something that you’ll be pleased with, Mrs. Grey. May I ask what your choice of color would be?”

“Oh, I’m versatile. I just want it to be pretty and not make me look so much like a whale.” She laughs nervously.

“What size were you before you got pregnant?”

“I was between a four and a six, but everything has gotten bigger… and I do mean everything—hips, butt, boobs, everything!”

“Got you. So I can bring a few choices by your home and we can work with color, style, and sizing. When would you like to meet? The sooner we can meet, the sooner we can complete any alterations that may be needed.”

“Gail, when were we supposed to meet with the candidates for the staff?” I ask.

“They’re on standby waiting for my call,” she tells me.

“Maybe we should meet with them tomorrow—probably as a group and then individually. That would help us to see how they might interact together. Can you set that up?”

“Sure can,” she says and goes over to another counter in the kitchen.

“Ms. Stewart,” I say, turning my attention back to the phone, “I wouldn’t suppose you would be available this evening, would you?”

“For you, Mrs. Grey, I can have some wonderful ideas at your home in an hour,” she responds.

“Oh, that’s wonderful! Yes, please, I would be so grateful.” I’m so pleased to hear this.

“Fantastic. Now, Mr. Grey told me that your home is on Mercer Island, but he didn’t give me the address…”

I give her the address and notify security that she should be here in about an hour. Gail is at the other counter setting up the group interview for tomorrow and Marilyn is awaiting instruction.

“Mare, any luck with furniture for those guest apartments…?”

*-*

Later that afternoon, Gail has set up the mass interview for tomorrow for several people that she’s hoping to choose as members of the staff. She will be the estate manager and everyone will report to her or me. Most of her past duties are going to be delegated to someone else over the next few months as she has agreed to become part-time nanny for our children. That will be her primary duty and everything else will be secondary. I’ll only need her to assist with the twins as my focus has now shifted from my practice to being a mom and to Helping Hands.

Immediately, we are going to want three housekeepers—Gail will serve as executive housekeeper until the New Year, at which time she will have to hire one. For the holiday season, we will also need a laundress, two butlers, three additional cooks and two servers. We already have between 7 – 10 security personnel on the grounds at all times whose jobs include securing the grounds and the waterways and shoreline at all times. Chuck is out of commission, so Ben is currently my personal security until Chuck is back on the job, at which time I’m told that they will both most likely be guarding me and there will be a third when the twins are born. Val’s going to have a field day with that—selfish cow.

Marilyn has almost secured delivery of the furniture for the guest apartments when a gorgeous 30-ish African-American woman arrives with a young assistant and several clothes bags that require Chance’s help in bringing them in.

“Mrs. Grey, I’m Victoria Stewart,” she says, extending her hand to me and flashing a wide smile.

“Ms. Stewart, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please call me Ana.” I shake her hand.

“Thank you, Ana, and call me Vickie, please. This is Adele. She’ll be assisting with the fitting.”

“Mrs. Grey,” Adele says, her arms full of clothes bags.

“Adele, call me Ana. Please, come and bring those things to the parlor. Your arms must be about to fall off. Marilyn, would you please come and help her?” Before Marilyn can get out of her seat, Chance quickly retrieves the other clothing bags from her hands.

“I’ll take care of that, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “The parlor, you said?”

“Yes, thank you, Chance. Ladies? Marilyn, you, too, please.” I follow Chance and lead them to the parlor.

“Where would you like these, Ms. Stewart?” Chance asks. She shows him where to put the bags that he’s carrying and another member of our staff shows up with even more bags—shoes I think.

“Oh, I guess I should have told you, I have more shoes than any one woman should have—probably more than any five women should have!” I tell her. She laughs good-naturedly.

“That’s usually the case,” she admits. “I bring shoes just in case, so that you can see how the dress looks with different shoes and heights, we can get an idea of any lengthening or shortening need to be done. Also, if you see a pair of shoes that look good with the dress, you can match it up with a similar pair out of your collection.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s a really good idea,” I tell her. “It keeps me from dragging everything out of my shoe closet.”

“Exactly! Now, Mrs… Ana, now that we’ve met, I have a few pieces that I’m sure you’ll be pleased with.” She starts to pull different dresses from her clothes bags and I have to say, I’m more than impressed.

“Oh, Vickie, these are stunning!” I exclaim while admiring the texture of the chiffon and silk pieces. I have to pick just one?

“Well, do you have somewhere that we can use as a dressing room? Let’s see how these look on you.”

“We can use my office…”

After trying on at least ten absolutely breathtaking dresses, I narrowed my choices down to three and couldn’t decide between them. So I got them all. At first, I felt guilty for getting all three, but Vickie assures me that they will all be ready by Friday as they are free-flowing dresses and require very few alterations. That really put my mind at ease as I still don’t know which one of them I’ll be wearing to the affair.

While I was being sized in my regal gowns, Marilyn managed to find a store that would let her order the items she found online and would deliver and set-up on Wednesday. I couldn’t believe she could find someone on such short notice, but I’m no fool. I’m certain that the name Grey and the location on Mercer Island had a lot to do with that. Once Vickie and Adele have packed up and bid me Goodnight, Marilyn shows me the furniture she purchased—simple, tasteful, exactly what I asked for. That makes me happy, too.

“Why do I feel like I’m planning my wedding all back over again?” I lament a bit as I sit in one of the more comfortable chairs in my office.

“Because you’ve lost a lot of time and you’re trying to squeeze a lot in the little time that you have left. Let’s face it, Ana. Two weeks for you might as well be dog years.” Marilyn stands and puts her purse on her shoulder. “If I’m honest, I have to say that I’m glad you let go of the practice. If it had been my only job, I’d be hyperventilating right now. Since you made me your full-time personal assistant, I can tell you that it would have been too much for you… especially Mrs. Hightower!” She shivers as she says the woman’s name.

“Yeah, the last few people that I had left were proving to be more stressful than most of the patients I had. It was becoming a bit trying. I’m glad I let them go, too. I haven’t told Christian yet. That means he’s going to want to do something else with that building, now.”

“Um, Ana, I think that building is yours now,” she says. I frown.

“It is?” she shrugs.

“I’m not sure, but I think so. Wasn’t it in some contract you guys signed or something?” I think hard.

“I know my condo’s in the prenup, and I know that once we got engaged and he discovered my office was in the office building, he eliminated my rent.” That was when I ran away to Montana to consider leaving him completely. I can’t even imagine having that thought now. “I don’t remember him giving me the building, though.”

“Well, he’ll be able to tell you once you tell him that you’ve closed the practice. I’m sure he won’t have a problem with it.”

“Are you kidding? He’ll be thrilled!” I exclaim. She laughs.

“Well, I need to get going. I’m meeting Gary for dinner in an hour. I want to freshen up.”

“Before you go, can I have just a few more minutes of your time?” She sits down in the seat across from mine. “You’re available to me at a moment’s notice. I know that may cut into your personal time a lot and I really appreciate it.”

“It’s really no problem, Ana,” she says sincerely.

“Let me ask you—where do you see yourself in ten years?” She takes her purse off her shoulder and put it in her lap.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I was thinking about going to school while I was working for you, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. Then my job duties changed and there was no time for school, so I just dropped the idea.”

“Would you still like to go to school?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, I don’t think so,” she admits. “I’ve been your secretary and then personal assistant for quite some time now. I’ve actually garnered some contacts and learned some things. I’ve done some research on being a personal assistant and I really think this is what I would want to stick with. If I couldn’t do it for you, then I would do it for someone else, but I can honestly do this until I can’t walk anymore at which time, I could become a virtual assistant. I don’t even have to go to school for it.”

“You have no idea how happy that makes me,” I say, breathing a sigh of relief. “I can see your job duties changing again.”

“Really?” She sounds uncertain.

“Yes, really. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to renegotiate your compensation.” She swallows hard.

“Um, in what way?”

“Well, first, you’re traveling out to Mercer Island now. You’re not going to downtown Seattle anymore. In addition, there’s going to be a lot of running around that you’re going to be doing for me—a lot of it—which you’ve already seen.”

“Yes?” She still uncertain.

“I’d like to give a 10% raise. I’d also like to give you an expense account and an Amex card for emergencies.” Her eyes grow wide.

“You’re kidding!” she breathes.

“No, I’m not. I know that you can write off most of your expenses, but you have to pay them first. That can be very costly, especially with the cost of gas and vehicle maintenance.”

“Yes… it can,” she laments. That makes me even more certain about my next offer.

“I’d also like to buy you a car.” She gasps loudly.

“What?”

“It doesn’t have to be an Audi. It can be whatever you want, but like I said, you now have to travel across the bridge to get to me and there’s going to be a lot of running around that you’re going to be doing for me.”

“Wow… I don’t know what to say…”

“Before you say anything, you may want to consider a few things. Your wardrobe may have to change a bit because you’re going to be going places with me. You don’t have to dress all fancy, just a little more refined. When we’re here at the house or at the Center or doing the things we normally do, you can dress your normal way, that’s fine. But you’re going to want to have something with you that’s a little more polished if I need you to go somewhere with me or represent me somewhere. We’re going to have to get you some red carpet clothing, too. There may be a time when I need you at one of these infernal events.”

“Is something about to happen, Ana?” she asks uncertainly.

“It already has, hon,” I answer, struggling out of my seat. “I did one of my impromptu interviews when I was leaving a baby boutique a few weeks ago. The next day, some crazy bitch T-bones my car and I end up in a coma for two weeks. That little YouTube-esque video of the interview went viral! I have three local talk shows wanting me to make an appearance and talk about my experience and Helping Hands. If Christian hasn’t heard already, he’s going to flip when he does. Whatever the case may be, one way or another Helping Hands is about to get a lot of exposure. Things are about to change.”

“That’s going to be one wild ride,” she says, and I think she’s having second thoughts. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I sigh.

“Really?” I ask, relieved.

“Really, and you’re offering me all these perks, too? How could I say ‘no’?”

“Oh, thank God!” I say, walking over to her and embracing her warmly. “It’s going to mean you might lose some of your privacy. The paparazzi can be a bit brutal.”

“I was preparing for that anyway,” she admits. “They already started when you were in the hospital, so it’s not really new to me.”

“Thank you, Marilyn. That really takes a load off my chest.”

“Don’t mention it,” she says with a smile.

“So, your first order of business is going to be getting my office cleaned out,” I tell her. “It’ll probably just be best to pack the small personal stuff and hire movers for the rest.”

“Got it,” she says, tapping on her tablet again.

“I recommend getting an iPad,” I advise her. “Wait until I get you the credit card. It should be about a week, maybe a little more because of the holiday. Think about what kind of car you’d like. You won’t be here for Black Friday shopping, so we’ll have to plan a shopping trip soon to get you some necessities. Think about if you would like to have an office here in the mansion or if you would rather have an office at home and just be mostly mobile—or both. We have two libraries downstairs. One of them can be converted into an office.”

“Okay, I’ll give it some thought.”

“Okay, go meet your boyfriend. I’ve kept you long enough,” I say, shooing her away.

“Thank you, Ana. This means a lot to me. I won’t let you down.”

“I have no doubt,” I say with a smile. She returns my smile and leaves. I make my way to the middle of the mansion and the gourmet kitchen.

“I’m starving!” I say to Gail. “I want cheesy crushed potatoes. I feel like I haven’t made them in forever.”

“That’s because we haven’t,” she says with a glint of fondness in her eye.

“Do we have all the ingredients?” I ask. She nods.

“I think we do.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” I say. She smiles widely and reaches into a narrow door—some kind of closet—and hands me my chef’s apron.

Now, you’re talking!


CHRISTIAN

“There’s a Carla Morton on line one for you,” Andrea tells me. Mini-Morton? What the fuck does she want? Does she think Butterfly’s memory of how she treated her was lost in the accident?

“Grey!” I snap when I answer the phone.

“Christian, it’s Carla.” Her voice sounds different—softer, but I don’t allow it to deter me.

“I know who it is. What do you want?” I hear her sigh on the other end.

“I saw the news. I didn’t want to bother you while… well… I just want to make sure she’s alright,” she says. I can hear the concern in her voice, nothing like the Mini-Morton who showed up in the hospital after the kidnapping, or the woman who came to visit her last year before the wedding… for the last time.

“She’s fine,” I say firmly, but softer. “She was touch and go for a moment, but she’s fine now. She’s expected to make a full recovery from all of her injuries.”

“Nothing too serious, I hope.” I can tell that she’s sincere, but I still don’t trust her intentions.

“Nothing that won’t heal,” I say, giving her the shortest answer possible. She sighs again.

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know. I didn’t mean to take up your time. Goodbye, Christian.” Her voice is still soft, like a real mother, when she ends the call. I silently replace the receiver and almost feel a small twinge of guilt for how I spoke to her… almost.

Almost the second I end the call with Mini-Morton, my cell vibrates. It’s Butterfly. Should I tell her about Mini-Morton? No need, she’s got enough on her plate. She’s all giggly when she answers the phone and by the time I hang up, I’m all horny. I have five minutes to convince a personal shopper to drive to my house on Mercer Island—possibly today—with gowns for my wife to wear to a red carpet affair on Saturday. Who to call? Who to call?

“Victoria’s. This is Adele speaking.”

“Hello, Adele. May I speak to Ms. Stewart please?”

“She is currently doing a fitting. May I take a message please?”

“This is Christian Grey. My wife needs a formal immediately and I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Christian Grey?” she repeats. I hear her broken speech for a moment and some fumbling before I hear, “Christian, you sonofabitch! How could you not call me all this time?”

“Hello to you, too. Victoria. I don’t have much time, I’m heading into a meeting. Ana needs a formal by Friday for the Adopt-A-Family Affair on Saturday. Can you help me?”

“You know I can help you. That’s why you called me. How is Ana? Doing better since the accident, I hope.”

“Much better. I should tell you, though. She… doesn’t know about you.”

“Of course, she doesn’t know about me, you idiot! Do I look like I fell off the turkey truck? ‘Hey, Baby, I slept with this girl ten years or so ago when I was at Harvard. I’m going to ask her to fit you for a dress. I hope that’s okay.’” And now she’s mocking me. “Besides, you know you were just a phase I was going through. I want Mia, not you. How is that little fiery ball of sexiness these days?”

“Engaged to be married, haven’t you heard?” I retort.

“Yes, I’ve heard, but she’s not married yet. Fifteen minutes with me and she’d forget all about Eggbert, Emmanuel, whatever the fuck his name is.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Victoria, that’s my sister!” I bellyache.

“Get used to it, Grey. She’s hot!” she replies shamelessly.

“So is my wife. Do I have to worry about her around you?” Victoria scoffs on the other line.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she exclaims. “I’ll admit Ana’s a hot little morsel, but I’ve kind of gotten used to this whole breathing thing, okay? She’s going to love me, though. She’s going to ask me to come back. So don’t come at me with a machete and shit when I make her look like a million bucks and she calls me every time she needs a dress. She’s gonna love me, Grey. You just watch.”

“How are you so successful with that mouth?”

“Because I don’t talk to everybody like I talk to you. You’re one of my boys. These ladies need to feel like princesses. I have to speak their language and believe me, I do… in more ways than one,” she adds suggestively.

“If you approach my wife…” I begin in a threatening tone.

“Man, will you keep your damn shirt on? I’m not going to come on to your wife! Are you like this with everybody?”

“Yes, I am,” I answer truthfully.

“Well, you need to put a lid on it,” she scolds. “It’s unbecoming and irritating. Ana’s what—five months pregnant? I highly doubt she wants some bitch licking her clit, even though I am the fastest tongue in King county.” I roll my eyes.

“She’s six months pregnant—with twins. Let her tell you that. She’s very subconscious about her size.”

“Most women are, then they’re not even as big as they think they are. When will she be coming in?”

“Um, yeah, about that. I need you to go to her. As you can imagine, she’s not 100% yet and her personal bodyguard is not back on duty yet. I’d much rather she stay put as much as possible over the next few days. You know, she’s under doctor’s care and whatnot…”

“Alright, alright, I get it. She at Escala?”

“No, she’s at our new house on Mercer.” Victoria whistles.

“Mercer Island!” she says. “I get to go across the bridge and stay in the playpen for a while. You have arrived, Grey.”

“Yeah, yeah. The house is like a fortress. I’m going to give you her cell number. You better call her or you won’t get in.” I give her Butterfly’s number.

“Any likelihood Mia will be there?” she probes.

“None whatsoever,” I say. “Mia won’t be at our house until Thanksgiving.”

“So can I get an invitation to dinner?” she presses.

“Absolutely not, and call me when my wife has picked a dress.”

“Damn, Christian, why are you cock-blocking?”

“That would be impossible, considering the fact that you don’t have a cock,” I reply matter-of-factly.

“You know what I mean.”

“Just call me when you’re done.”

“I’m not going to tell you what dress she chose.”

“I didn’t ask you to tell me what dress she chose, I said call me when you’re done.”

“If I tell you what dress she chose, can I get that invite to dinner?” she bargains.

“No.”

Asshole,” she says before hanging up. I look at my watch. Shit, I’m late for my meeting.

The afternoon drags by as I’m thinking about my Butterfly and I’m nearly giddy when I’ve finished my last meeting and it’s just about time to wrap things up. Vickie calls and informs me that the fitting was phenomenal and that Ana will have her choice of three dresses on Friday morning tailor-made for her beautiful body. I couldn’t be happier.

Home is certainly a sight for sore eyes and when Jason and I come into the mudroom from the garage, we are instantly hit with a familiar aroma. We look at each other, questioning.

“Could it be?” I ask him.

“I sure hope so,” he says, nearly pushing me out of the way to get to the kitchen. We are literally fighting like a couple of teenagers to get to the kitchen. There I find my lovely wife perched on a stool at the island with Gail sitting across from her. They’re sharing some private joke that has them laughing hysterically. Between them sits a mountain of southern fried chicken and none other than those long-lost buttery garlic cheesy crushed potatoes. I knew that’s what I was smelling!

“Is that what I think it is?” I say, dropping my briefcase on the counter and undoing my tie as I make my way over to the delicacy that my wife introduced to me when we were dating.

“Um, I don’t know. What do you think it is?” Butterfly says while sipping on a cranberry spritzer. Gail is trying to hide her mirth.

“Those garlic cheesy potatoes!” Jason says for me.

“Then, yes, it is what you think it is,” Butterfly says. Gail reaches for the plates on the other side of the mountain of chicken and hands one to Jason. I’m too busy with my nose in the pot to see Butterfly handing one to me.

“They taste even better than they smell,” she says, breaking my bonding moment with the garlic cheesiness.

“Get your fuckin’ schnozzle out the pot, man!” Jason protests. “I don’t want you contaminating the potatoes with your funky breath.”

“Shut the hell up before you’re looking for work tomorrow,” I threaten.

“Now, now, boys behave,” Butterfly scolds. “Come on, Gail. Let’s feed them before they kill each other.” Butterfly piles my plate high with that fluffy cheesy goodness and two extremely large pieces of chicken before handing me the piled plate with flatware. I completely forget about Jason and dig into this heavenly feast.

“Oh my God, these are so good,” I say taking a heaping spoonful of the potatoes.

“Slow down!” Butterfly chastises me. “Your food is not going to run away!” I don’t think she remembers how long it’s been since we’ve had these. They are so delicious, I can barely concentrate. She puts two large glasses of something—soda, I think—in front of me and Jason. He hasn’t said a word since Gail placed his plate in front of him. He’s buried face first into the plate, taking monstrous bites of this chicken that tastes like it was cooked by the gods.

“Either I’m extremely hungry or this is the best food I’ve ever tasted,” I say, rudely speaking with my mouth full. I can’t help it—it’s so good…

Gail and Ana continue with their conversation about Thanksgiving dinner, staffing needs, and where everyone is going to sleep while Jason and I continue to shove food into our faces. Once we finally show signs of slowing, Butterfly decides to include us in the conversation.

“Christian, help me out with the guest list for Thanksgiving,” she says. “So far, I’ve got your mom and dad, your grandfather and uncle, your sister and brother and their significant others if Val gets that massive bug out of her butt, Daddy and Amanda and Harry, Al and James, and Gail and Jason. I was also thinking that Chuck and Keri should come if she’s still here. What do you think?”

“Have you asked Charles yet? He may not feel up to being around a crowd of people yet,” I point out. She shrugs.

“No, I haven’t. It’s just that Keri is so far away from home that I thought it might be nice to invite them over. Do you think I might be too presumptuous?” she asks.

“No, I don’t, but ask him just in case. Jason has his new number. His phone was destroyed in the crash, too.” I so don’t want to think about the crash. That damn thing stole two weeks from our lives and could have killed my wife and children. It appears that Butterfly must have gotten lost in the thought, too, because she gets quiet and just kind of stares off into nowhere.

“Butterfly?” She turns to me like I’ve interrupted her, then looks down at her plate. “Talk to me, baby,” I say, putting my arm around her. She shrugs again.

“It’s not that I’m trying to relive this horrible experience, but I don’t remember anything about the accident. I only remember Chuck coming at me like a wild man and then absolutely nothing. Everything after that is like cloudy pieces of a dream that I can’t quite put together. Then I woke up in the hospital. It’s terrifying to wake up and realize that you lost two weeks of your life… then to realize that you actually lost about four years.” She shivers.

“But it came back to you, baby,” I try to comfort her.

“Not all of it,” she says, wiping a tear that escapes her eye. “I may never get it all back. I remember dates, but not places; people, but not events; one occurrence, but not another one that happened the same day…” She chokes back a sob after the last statement. I hate to see her like this. She’s still so fragile. I get off my stool and walk closer to her, holding her close to me while she lays her head on my chest.

“I know, baby,” I soothe. “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now, but I promise that you’ll get through it. We’ll get through it together, and if everything doesn’t come back to you, then I’ll remember for both of us and remind you what a wonderful woman, wife, and friend you are—and you’re going to be an outstanding mother.” She squeezes me around my waist and kisses me on the cheek.

“Thank you, Christian. I’m sorry for being so selfish. I keep forgetting that you’re going through this, too,” she says, softly.

“Hey, you have a right to be a little selfish,” I tell her. “I may have an emotional thing going on here, but you’re carrying the lion’s share of this burden—emotionally and physically. Just know that I, your friends, and your family will be here with you every step of the way.” She smiles a small smile at me. I know we’re thinking the same thing, but I won’t say it. One of her friends won’t be here with her, and that bothers her a bit.

“Okay, enough of that,” she says, wiping her cheeks with her hands. I reach into my jacket and give her a handkerchief. She looks at it and laughs quietly before continuing to dry her eyes. “This was my first memory,” she says, now looking at the handkerchief. “You pulled one of these out of your pocket in the hospital and I saw your initials. It was the first thing that I remembered—that your name was Christian Trevelyan Grey.” She caresses the letters gently as she speaks. It’s a very small thing, but it’s very significant to her… and to me.

“So… back to our guest list. Is Chuck out of the hospital yet?”

“He is,” Jason announces. “He was released yesterday. He’s a bit of a bear, though.”

“Oh?” Butterfly sounds concerned.

“Yeah, first, there’s the fact that we all know Chuck is a bit of a pretty boy, so those scars on his face have him none too happy. But more importantly, Chuck is very active in his recovery—from alcoholism, that is. He’s been in some serious pain and is quite remiss to take any pain killers. It took a collaboration between his AA sponsor, his doctors, and Keri to get him to understand that he had to take them. First of all, it’s inhumane to expect someone to suffer through the kind of pain he’s in—a broken tibia and fibula, three broken ribs, a collapsed lung. He’s got to be able to get enough pain relief to take a deep breath…”

“… Or he’ll develop pneumonia,” she says, completing Jason’s thought. He nods.

“He still won’t take his meds like he should. He’ll suffer and breathe through the pain. Poor Keri is in tears most of the time.” Butterfly shakes her head at this news.

“I don’t want to call him,” she announces. “I want to see him.”

“Are you sure about that?” I ask her. If he’s angry and he lashes out at her, it’s going to hurt her feelings and I’m going to be pissed.

“He’s my friend and he saved my life. Yes, I’m sure.” She turns back to Jason. “You’ll get me his address? Ben can take me tomorrow, I’m sure.” Jason looks at Butterfly, then at me. Oh, no, Buddy, you’re on your own on this one.

“Consider it done,” he says, following no protest from me.

“Wait!” Gail says. “We’ve got the interviews of the potential staff tomorrow.”

“Shit! I forgot about that,” Butterfly exclaims. “I’ll just have to go after the interviews,” she says. It’s plain to see that she’s not going to be swayed in this. She’s going to see Chuck and none of us can stop her.

“Okay, that’s settled. What’s for dessert?” I ask trying to lighten the mood. She and Gail look at each other.

“Well, we hadn’t gotten that far,” Gail says, “but there’s always ice cream.”

“Ice cream works for me,” Jason chimes in.

“Me, too,” Butterfly concurs.

“Sounds like it’s ice cream,” I say, and Gail goes into the freezer.

“Butterfly, do you remember Luma?” I ask her.

“Yes, I remember Luma. Are she and the girls coming to Thanksgiving?”

“I was hoping to ask them if you didn’t mind.”

“Absolutely!” she says. “I would love to see how they’re getting along.”

“Do you remember Marlow and Marcia?” I ask. She has to think for a minute. I certainly won’t tell Marlow that.

“Yes, and there was a little girl,” she says, finally.

“Yes, Maggie,” I say. “They’ll be joining us, too.”

“We’re going to have quite the party here, aren’t we?” she says with a smile.

“Do you mind?”

“Absolutely not! I think it’s fantastic. Now, I have to approach the elephant in the room. Has Elliot said anything about him and Val?” I purse my lips.

“No,” I respond. “The invitation has been extended because he’s my brother, but no response so far.” She nods her head and looks down at her ice cream.

“C’est la vie,” she says, taking a large spoonful of ice cream and shoving it in her mouth.

*-*

She’s in the sitting room in the big chair, looking out over the lake when I get to our room. Her hands are rubbing our babies and she’s humming a song I haven’t heard.

“What are you humming?” I ask her as I quietly approach.

“Tomorrowland,” she says. “My mother used to sing it to me when I was younger… much younger.” She adds that last bit with venom. Apparently some things you never forget. “I don’t know why the song came to me now.” I clear my throat. She must be on Butterfly’s mind and it can’t be a coincidence that I spoke to her this afternoon.

“She called today,” I confess. Butterfly’s glare whips over to me.

“Oh, you’re kidding!” she says in disbelief. “What the hell did she want?”

“Nothing,” I tell her, “just to see if you were okay.” She looks at me skeptically.

“Like she did after the kidnapping?” she asks. “What, has she spent all the money already?” I see the amnesia has not affected her bitterness towards Mini-Morton. I hope she doesn’t have to go through burying that hatchet all back over again.

“No, she just wanted to know if you were okay. I told her you were fine and she ended the call.” She scoffs and turns back to the view of the lake.

“She’s probably trying to get in on that ‘good mom gene’ that she lost somewhere along the way.” She continues rubbing our babies. “I feel sorry for her sometimes,” she admits. “She’ll never be able to meet her grandchildren or be part of their lives. She traded that opportunity to love, honor, and cherish a worthless alcoholic who isn’t even here anymore. He vowed to love, honor, and cherish that bottle and till death did they part.” She looks down at her swollen belly. “I love you, Christian. I really do, but please don’t ever make me choose between you and our children.” She doesn’t even make eye-contact with me when she says it. I walk over to her and remove her hands from her belly.

“I would never do that,” I say, my voice laced slightly with disbelief. “I would never, ever put you in that position. What kind of man would I be to ever think of doing something like that to you? To our children?”

“I know,” she says, shaking her head wildly. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t know why I said that!”

“Because you’re scared,” I tell her, cupping her cheek in one of my hands. “There are a lot of things right now that seem uncertain. As they come back to you, they come back with a vengeance. Do you know how hard it is to find that song, ‘Tomorrowland?’ You never even told me that your mom used to sing that song to you.” She nods.

“That’s when I first fell in love with Cary Grant,” she admits. “He was the most handsome man alive as far as I was concerned—second only to my Daddy,” she chuckles. “Every little girl wants to grow up and marry her Daddy one day and I was no different. Ray Steele was the whole kit and caboodle of what a man should be and no one would ever be able to measure up. Then she took him away from me and all I had left was Cary. I think of him every time your mom calls Carrick Cary,” she laughs. I realize that she’s rambling, but I just let her keep talking.

“As long as I saw him in movie after movie after movie—the gorgeous young man with the waxed, black hair—he would never grow old. The law of averages told me that he was dead by the time I was born, but I wasn’t having it. I wouldn’t even watch movies where his hair was gray because that would mean that he was aging. If I didn’t let him age, he never died. Even now, I have only seen one film where his hair was slightly gray, and that was Charade with Audrey Hepburn, but nothing after that. It’s always The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer or An Affair to Remember or Notorious.

“But then, terrible shit started happening to me. There was no Daddy. There was no Cary—only vicious teenage boys who rape you and lie to their vicious teenage girlfriends who organize vicious teenage mobs to try to kill you. Yeah, that’s when Cary died for me. Born Archibald Alexander Leach in 1904, Cary Grant died in 1986 at the age of 82 from a brain hemorrhage and all of my little fantasies died with him in 2001. Do you know I’ve been in a coma twice in my life? Unconscious for more than 24 hours three times in my life? Each time I was put in that state by someone who viciously wanted to hurt me for no good or valid reason whatsoever. I’ll spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, waiting for axes to fly at me and hoping that my children aren’t subjected to the cruelty I had to face!” She’s getting angry now and I need to pull her back.

“I wish I could tell you that everything will be sunshine and roses from here, but I can’t, baby. All I can tell you is that I will be here by your side through all of the turmoil so that you will never have to face it alone—and we’ll manage to make some memories and some good times in between.” I can see her mind racing. Her doctor told me that things may come back to her at any given time and at an alarming pace, like a movie playing in her head. I think that’s what happened at dinner tonight and it looks like it’s about to happen again.

“What the hell is Brian’s problem?” she blurts out. Okay, I wasn’t ready for that one, but I guess I’ll just rip the Band-Aid off.

“Brian is in love with you,” I respond. “He has been for years. “ She frowns.

“Eeewww!” she exclaims and I can’t help but burst out in laughter. “I mean, he’s an attractive guy and all but… he’s like… Uncle Brian!” The entire time she’s talking, her face looks like she’s smelling something bad. It never occurred to me that she would look at sex with Brian as something incestuous. I just looked at the age factor… that is, until Ray married Amanda.

“He staked his first claim about a year ago,” I tell her.

“So I’ve been told,” she says. Who told her?

“He was the best man at your father’s wedding at Escala…”

“I remember that,” she says, “when that awful woman kissed you and I just wanted to scratch her eyes out!” She shivers at the thought. As a matter of fact, so do I.

“He let me know in no uncertain terms that he had no plans of going away. He tried to derail our engagement, and even though he was helpful during the hacker situation, he wanted to use that as ammo to win you from me. You put him in his place about that, though.”

“Yes, I know. Geez. I knew he had a little crush on me over the years, but nothing like this. He’s really got to let this go.”

“Yeah, he’s still hovering around. I think he wants to keep an eye on you since the accident. I hate having him here. He’s fulfilled his usefulness and he needs to take his ass back to Montesano, but I’m sure he won’t. The accident was quite a scare and I hate leaving you to go to work, but at least I get to come home to you. I can only imagine what he’s feeling.” She looks at me like she’s seeing an alien.

“Mr. Grey, is the empathy? For Brian, no less?” she asks. I shrug.

“I fucking hate the guy, but I can understand how he feels. You’re my whole world, Anastasia. I would die without you. I know I would.” She stares longingly into my eyes, then gently cups my cheeks and plants a tender, longing kiss on my lips. Suddenly, I’m longing to share that connection that we haven’t shared in what feels like so long. I don’t know how to tell her, but without a word, she slowly begins to undress me—suit jacket, tie, shirt, pants… When I’m naked, she removes her gown and gestures me to the floor. I sit cross-legged as usual and she climbs into my lap, wrapping her legs and arms around my body. She gently runs her fingers through my hair and I wrap my arms around her while she gazes lovingly into my eyes. She places her forehead on mine…

… and it begins…


A/N: Just a little something to move us from today to tomorrow. I’m in the mood for a little peace… just a little…

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 🙂 
Lynn X