Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 25—Boundaries

I like to give insights into some of the characters each time I can. This week, it’s Chuck. If you remember, when Ana came to his house and tried to convince him to take the meds the first time, he confided in her about how bad his alcoholism was, how it destroyed his life, and how young he was when he first started drinking. The best comparison that I can give you all as a label for his unfounded fear and paranoia is a combination of PTSD and Hypochondria. He is afraid that this ibuprofen 800, which has to be prescribed, is going to cause him to feel high. As a result, he would recall the feeling that he had when he was drunk—hence, the crazy notion that these just-stronger-than-aspirin painkillers are somehow going to become a gateway drug for alcohol. He is so 100%, bona fide, genuinely terrified of ending up where he was before that he would rather deal with the pain without regard to how it’s affecting other people. What he doesn’t understand (yet) is that the body doesn’t heal if the mind ain’t right. As a matter of fact, it’s the exact opposite. He’s doing more harm than good.

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…

do-not-crossChapter 25—Boundaries

ANASTASIA

Christian has been looking at me all morning like I’m the precious Holy Grail. He has this goofy smile on his face and he’s up under me, keeping me really close. I can’t say that I mind. After the heavenly way that we made love last night, it must be written all over our faces that we’re sated beyond belief if anyone could be bothered to notice. Quite frankly, I think just about all of us are stuck in perpetual afterglow.

It’s about eleven AM when everyone makes it down to the dining room for brunch. It’s nothing fancy—Sunday’s brunch will be a much more detailed affair. Today, it’s just late breakfast. Christian is wearing an adorable T-shirt that says, “I love my hot pregnant wife.” I’m wearing a black T-shirt that depicts an X-ray of mom’s ribs, spine, and heart with a little baby boy X-ray and a little baby girl X-ray—complete with a pink bow—at the bottom near the belly.

“You guys have a million of those shirts, don’t you?” Elliot says and I shrug. “What are you going to do with them when the babies are born?”

“Oh, that reminds me,” Christian says after swallowing some coffee. “We might as well get this out the way now. We’ve decided that there’s not going to be a welcoming ceremony for the twins. It’s just not necessary. We’re going to have a christening at a time of our choosing and that will be enough.” Mia is visibly disappointed and Grace is nothing short of horrified. Christian says nothing else. He just kind of drops that on the table and leaves it there. With no additional explanation forthcoming, Grace decides to pry further.

“May we ask why?” Grace says, somewhat indignantly.

“No, Mom, you may not,” Christian says with no malice. Grace jerks back in surprise and Mia’s eyes widen. I think my father knows to keep quiet because he’s just looking silently back and forth between the women, waiting for someone to say something. Christian speaks before they do.

“These are our children. You made a suggestion about them, and we said ‘no.’ We don’t have to explain our decision to you. Please remember this moment while we are raising our children, because we will be remiss to explain decisions to the family unless and until we feel it’s necessary. Now, we don’t want this to spoil our brunch, so we really would like to move on.” Christian tries to move the conversation on, but Grace is still feeling a bit slighted.

“Ana, don’t you think a welcome ceremony would be just perfect? The very first Grey grandbabies?” I’m a bit stunned. Is she trying to do this again? What—does she switch places depending on who agrees or disagrees with her? Surely, she doesn’t expect me to contradict my husband, and in front of all of these people! My brow furrows and I feel heat rising in my cheeks.

“Well, I don’t necessarily think they would be the first Grey grandbabies,” I say. “Carrick has other brothers and I’m sure they’ve had children and grandchildren, too.”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” she begins, waving me off.

“Yes, I know what you mean,” I say sharply, a little too sharply. Christian places his hand on my leg and I drop my head for a moment and take a deep breath. When I raise my head, I have Grace’s—and everyone else’s—full attention.

“Grace, even if my husband and I were in disagreement, it’s a conversation that we would have in private, not in front of everyone at brunch. However, so that there’s no misunderstanding, I completely and totally agree with Christian on this matter. He did say that we’ve decided that there’s not going to be a welcoming ceremony for the twins. Know that he never speaks for me without my permission.”

I’m trying to hide my ire at this moment. Grace is truly a wonderful person, but there can be times when she can really be quite selfish and inconsiderate. Christian and I were just talking last night about the headache that was the guest list. After all these months, I still smart a bit from her disregard of my opinion when I said that we couldn’t have all of those people at our wedding. She’s doing the same thing now that she did then—attempting to garner support from the “opposing” spouse without any consideration for the fact that it might pit us against each other.

“I just thought that a welcoming ceremony would be nice. It was a very good suggestion. While I recognize and I don’t discount the fact that there are, in fact, other Grey grandchildren, these will be my first grandchildren. It would be like a coming-out party.”

Is she hearing herself? A coming-out party? For babies? Coming out of what—my womb? Is she serious? I look at Christian in horror and he gives me a look that says that the topic is closed and there will be no further discussion. Sorry, Darling, someone forgot to tell your mother! I’m certain now that had I agreed to this, it would have been a pompous display of over indulgence—the worse three-ring circus ever seen by mankind.

“Ray, how do you feel about this?” Grace asks, attempting to garner support for her cause once she sees that there was no response to her last statement.

“Grace…” Carrick scolds gently.

“I just want to know how he feels about it,” Grace says, refusing to let it go. Daddy places his fork in his plate and swallows his food, all eyes now on him.

“I’m fine with their decision,” he says, without looking at me for guidance. “I never had my heart set on it. I just said that I thought it would be a good idea.” He now turns to me. “I love Annie dearly and I’ll love my grandchildren just as much, but I can’t tell her how to raise them anymore than she can tell me how to raise Harry.” Thank you, Daddy! I can always count on him to be the voice of reason. However, Grace seems simply unable to let it go.

“Well, I just think…” she begins.

“Mother,” Christian interrupts her. She freezes and glares at him like he dare not interrupt her in his home at his dining table about his children. “Please. Drop it. It’s not going to happen. That’s it.”

Grace is completely crestfallen. She looks like someone just slapped her. She places her fork in her plate and proceeds to take small sips of her orange juice, obviously smarting from Christian’s most recent statements. Great, just great. There’s nothing better than a family squabble at breakfast, right? Apparently, Christian thought that was a splendid idea with the next topic of discussion he introduced.

“Pops, Uncle Herman, Ana and I talked about quite a bit last night and one of the conclusions we came to is that we would love for you guys to stay on at Grey Crossing for a while after Thanksgiving—maybe for just a couple of days or a week. With everything that was going on in our lives, we haven’t had an opportunity to spend any real time with you guys.” Uncle Herman looks at Grace and Pops looks at Ana.

“You’re sure it wouldn’t be too much trouble?” Pops asks. “Why would you two youngsters want some old fart hanging around?”

“It would be no trouble at all and I would really like for you to hang around for a while,” I reinforce. “I haven’t really had a chance to sit and talk to either of you as much as I would like. Please, we would truly love to have you stay for a bit.” He smiles conspiratorially at me, causing me to giggle and my anger to subside a bit. “Herman, you’ll love it… just for a few days.”

“This is quite some place you’ve got here,” he says. “I could see settling in for a day or a few if Dad doesn’t mind.”

“Pops, ball’s in your court,” Christian says. Pops smiles widely.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Grace chimes in sharply. I turn a frowning face to her as does Christian, and she only makes eye contact with Pops. “Burt, you know we have everything set up for you at the manor. We’ve gotten into a good routine and you’re very comfortable with it. Besides, it may not be the best thing for you going from place to place and having to settle in again. And there are a lot of people here on a regular basis. Would you really get the peace and quiet that you’ve become accustomed to? No, I think it would be best if you returned to the manor tomorrow with us as originally planned.” Christian’s eyes fall to his plate. His elbows are on the table and he steeples his fingers over his lips. Carrick examines him silently, but doesn’t stop eating. Everyone else at the table has been quiet ever since the welcoming ceremony conversation started. I hope Grace knows her son as well as I know my husband, because he’s loading his guns, and the next words out of his mouth are going to burn.

“Gracie,” Pops begins, “while I do appreciate you and Rick allowing us to stay at the manor, I’m an old man, and I’m not accustomed to being told how and when I can come and go.” Grace is slightly taken aback.

“Burt, that wasn’t what I was doing at all!” she says, her voice sounding slightly aghast. “I was only saying that moving from place to place often affects your ability to sleep properly and with all the activity going on around here, you may not get the peace and quiet that you need to rest and heal. That’s all. I was by no means suggesting that you’re not allowed to come and go as you please.”

“No, that’s not what she was doing at all,” Christian pipes in, his voice cold and controlled. Elliot and Carrick stop eating and sit up straight, as does Mia. Lock and load…

“Pops has been here for three days during holiday festivities with several other people, many of whom aren’t here today and more of whom won’t be here after tomorrow. Not once has he mentioned discomfort, change in his sleeping patterns, or the inability to rest and relax. What’s more is that he had his dialysis treatment in the privacy and comfort of the guest suite last night. Did that cause you any issue, Pops, or is there something that I’m not aware of?”

“No, I didn’t have any issue,” Pops confirms. “I was very comfortable and able to rest when it was over.”

“That was my understanding as well. Tell me, Mom, what’s the difference between him coming here with you for four days and staying here with us for seven?”

Grace has been caught out and she is none too pleased about it. Before she has an opportunity to form a rebuttal, Christian has reloaded.

“Mia had a suggestion that you agreed with that we shot down because we decided that it was not what was best for our children. I didn’t wield my children as a weapon against you, Mother. Don’t try to do that with my grandfather.” Grace gasps, her face expressing true horror.

“Christian! How dare you speak to me that way! That wasn’t what I was doing and you know it!”

“No?” Christian retorts. “What was it, then, Mother? I have a home that’s bigger and more luxurious than most hotels. I have an enviable staff of security, cooks, and home maintenance. Hell, if he wanted a private nurse, I could have one here in an hour. You’re honestly going to try to tell me that this has nothing to with the fact that I refuse to exploit my children for the enjoyment of the adults? That this whole performance is solely based on the fact that even though you are fully aware of and personally witnessed my ability to wave my magic wand and make classic Bentleys appear out of thin air, that you will still question my grandfather’s comfort and recuperation in my home?”

He is not holding back. My husband is insulted and angry and although he has not disrespected his mother, he’s right on the brink.

“Christian, you are blowing this entire thing out of proportion,” Grace says, expressing the same eerie, angry calm as he.

“Am I?” he replies. “Would we be having this conversation if I had agreed to allow you to turn the birth of my children into a debutante ball?” It’s a real question and he’s expecting an answer. Grace only glares at him. Mia’s glare almost matches her mother’s, but not as harsh. Carrick and Elliot remain silent observers, appearing to take no one’s side.

“Christian, maybe we should just think about staying another time,” Pops says, attempting to keep the peace. One corner of Grace’s mouth rises in an ill-disguised smirk. However, she obviously celebrated her victory a moment too soon.

“Pops, if you have decided that you would rather not stay, I’ll respect that. But if you’re having second thoughts because my mother has somehow made this entire situation about her, then I urge you to please reconsider.” Christian’s words are curt and cut like a knife. Grace’s face becomes stony as she pushes her chair from the table and exits towards the kitchen. I look at Gail and just realize that poor Sophie has witnessed this entire breakdown. I look over at Jason and mouth, “Sorry.”

“She’s seen worse,” he says, only low enough for me to hear him. Christian’s head is down and he’s clearly battling with his words and his feelings about his mother’s behavior. Carrick rests his elbows on the table and rests his lips on his clasped hands.

“Daddy, aren’t you going to go talk to Mom?” Mia prompts.

“No,” he says, “Because they’re right. They’re both right. Grace just attempted to garner support by any means necessary and she was wrong. When she didn’t get her way, she decided to become the decision-maker for my father, saying that he couldn’t stay a week with his grandson. Who gave her that right and in what instance is that fair? In fact, yes, I am going to go and talk to your mother… and tell her how childish she’s acting right now.” He tosses his napkin down on his plate and stands.

“Carrick, no. Please, don’t,” I beseech him. He’s only going to throw gasoline on that fire. My words fall on deaf ears as Carrick is on his way to confront his wife on her behavior. “Ugh!” I groan in frustration. After such a lovely night, what a way to start the day.

“Christian, I’m not trying to cause any trouble between the family,” Pops says, now obviously feeling responsible for the discord. “I’d love to stay the week with you and Annie, but Gracie is clearly having a problem with it.”

Gracie is not having a problem with you staying here, Pops,” Christian replies, his anger barely contained. “Gracie is having a problem with not getting her way, so she is voicing her displeasure by exercising authority that she clearly doesn’t have. I love my mother, I really do, but if she thinks she’s going to bully, cajole, or pout herself into getting her way in decisions that affect my household, she is sorely mistaken and it’s better that she know this now before the babies are born.” Elliot falls back in his seat.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” he says, sipping on the last of his coffee.

“Indeed,” Mia hisses. Ethan has been ghastly silent the entire time. Although she hasn’t said anything, I’m feeling extreme hostility coming from Mia’s direction. No matter, I’m more concerned about Grace right now. I push my chair back and stand.

“Where are you going?” Christian asks, because he already knows where I’m going.

“I don’t want this to be this way,” I tell him. “I’m going to make sure she’s okay.” He sighs heavily and waves his hand.

“Pops, I’ll respect whatever decision you make,” Christian says and bottoms out his coffee. He rests his lips on his hands like his father did moments ago and says nothing else. I go in search of Grace and Carrick.

I can hear them near the back of the house near the barbeque kitchen. They’re not outside, but they’re as far to the back of the house as they can be without going outside.

“I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable!” I hear Grace say as I approach. “What grandmother wouldn’t want to celebrate the birth of her first grandchildren?”

“If it were that simple, this wouldn’t be an issue and you know it,” Carrick retorts. “He offered you a compromise and you didn’t even see it, wouldn’t recognize it or even discuss it because you had to have it your way.”

“What compromise?” she asks. “He just said ‘no,’ then proceeded to chastise me in front of a room full of people!”

“If that’s so, it’s because you belittled him in his own home!” Carrick clarifies. “What are you thinking, Grace? Not only did you try to pit a wife—a new wife—against her husband, but you tried to come between a father and his daughter. Then you saw no problem with bringing my father into this! What’s the matter with you? Are you ill?”

“Of course, I’m not ill!” She snaps. ”Why would you ask me such a ridiculous question?”

“Because my wife in her right mind would never do what you just did!” he says firmly. I decide that this conversation is way too heated for me to intervene. Carrick is very displeased with his wife’s behavior and Grace refuses to see the err of her ways. I guess I’ll have to let this thing work itself out. I make my way back to the dining room.

“What happened?” Elliot asks, as I take my seat. I shake my head.

“I heard them talking and thought it best not to disturb them.” I place my napkin back on my lap.

“Oh? And what did you hear?” Mia asks in a sharp, somewhat scolding, but very accusatory tone. I raise my eyes to meet hers and she’s glaring at me. Her ire is palpable, almost suffocating. Why the fuck is she mad at me? I didn’t just decimate her mother at the breakfast table for acting like a spoiled, undisciplined child! I’m just the broad carrying the babies they want to exploit! Fuck it, I don’t have to put up with this shit! I push my seat back from the table without breaking her stare. Wordlessly, I throw my napkin into my plate of half-eaten food and march indignantly away from the table.

“Ana!” Christian tries to stop me, but I need to get the hell away from this situation before I say something I truly regret. The nerve of these people! In my house! At my table!

“Butterfly!” Christian catches my arm just as I get to the end of the hallway near the entrance to the kitchen. “Don’t run.”

“Oh, no. This time, I’m running. Yes, I’m running!” I repeat. “I came to a realization during my discussion with Ace yesterday that some running is good, and the good running comes when you’re trying to get the hell out of a bad situation before you make it worse!” I bark. My words reverberate through the house and bounce off the walls. Activity that was previously in the kitchen stills and the house falls silent, waiting for Earthquake Ana. Good! Now hear this!

“I refuse to go through some act of congress, government approved, emergency broadcast system, rat’s maze approval process with your family every time we have a major event in our lives! There are going to be more children, more weddings, graduations, birthdays, school dances, first dates, broken arms, illnesses… We ask for advice when we need it. We gladly open our arms for help, but the final goddamn word belongs to you and me, and I don’t need permission or approval to do what I want to do with my children or my life!”

I realize that I’m standing in the hallway yelling at my husband who hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s staring at me, his gaze impassive. I take in my surroundings and realize that the kitchen staff, who attempt to pretend to focus on something else, clearly had a front row seat to my outburst as did Grace and Carrick, now standing in the doorway of the family room. The dining room is not twenty feet away at the end of a very acoustic hallway and you could hear a mouse pissing on cotton from that direction.

Ladies and gentleman, this concludes today’s broadcast.

I brush past Christian, the kitchen staff, and a stunned mother- and father-in-law, through the family room and to the elevator. Luckily, it’s already on this floor and I don’t have to wait for it. I escape inside, welcoming the sound of the inside door closing behind me. The elevator takes me to the ground floor and I go straight to my Atlantis.

Where is she? Where’s my fish?

There she is. There’s my Butterfly. I press my nose and hands against the wall of glass and concentrate on my Butterfly fish as she swims in and out of the Greek ruins—not a care in the world, but to float freely in the water. She’s beautiful and free, and for a moment, I focus squarely on her… on the water around her… on floating freely through Atlantis. I feel like I’m there with her, letting the water flow over my skin and comfort me. All of my troubles wash away for the moments that I’m floating free on the waves of the water with my Butterfly. Many wonderful moments come back to me…

That chocolate cake at the last birthday party before Carla and Daddy split up…
The look on Al’s face when I returned to Montesano…
Meeting Val and Gary…
Mine and Edward’s first kiss…
Hearing Christian tell me that he loves me for the first time…
Maxie and Phil’s reception…
Holding little Harry…
Connecting with Christian on our honeymoon…
His look of contentment on the kitchen floor while lying his head on my stomach and feeling his children kick for the first time…

His arms slide around my belly and bring me to the here and now, away from my watery freedom and away from the peace that was Memory Lane. I open my eyes and immediately remember where I am and why I’m here. It feels wonderful to be in his protective arms, him holding me so close to him that nothing can pass between us, but it breaks my heart to be ripped away from my Atlantis.

I close my eyes and weep.

*-*

“Wake up, dear.” I open my eyes and try to focus. Again, I thank God for the dark walls in my bedroom. I hear the crackling, feel the warmth, and see the glow of the familiar fire in my bedroom fireplace. I don’t even know how I got here. Most likely, Christian carried me after I broke down at Atlantis. I’m still very tired and my head is heavy. What time is it? I rub my eyes and focus on who’s talking to me. Grace is sitting on the edge of the bed, looking down on me with maternal eyes that glisten a bit from the light of the fire. Mia stands just behind her with her hands clasped in front of her.

“I can’t help it,” Grace begins. “I get carried away. I know that’s no excuse, but…” she trails off. “I’m sorry. I’ll work on it. I promise.”

“Me, too,” Mia says, behind her. “You know me, I get caught up and my mouth goes before my mind and… I’m really sorry, Ana. I’ll work on it, too. I really will.”

I look from Grace to Mia and back to Grace. While I appreciate their apologies, I’m sorry doesn’t mean anything if you keep repeating the bad behavior. However, they did say that they would work on it, and there’s no use in grinding the ax at this moment.

“That’s all I can ask,” I respond. Grace smiles and strokes my hair.

“The makeup crew is here to get us ready for the Affair,” she informs me. I nod and sit up, throwing my legs over the edge of the bed. She helps me stand and I go to the shower to wash away the day.

I stand there and let the water run over my body. It’s a little warmer than I normally have it—not too hot, but warmer. I was already weepier than I liked before I got pregnant. Now I feel like the wrong wind can bring me to tears. Today was different—stressful, I’ll admit that. Christian adores his sister, I know that, but I’m growing weary of her flakiness. She always seems to need to get her way, like a child, but her demands are usually so extravagant and over the top. Who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to order a marquee for an event highlighting victims of abuse? Sure, the theme was movie premiere and it worked out well, but this wasn’t a real movie premiere. These were real people opening up some very private issues in their lives in hopes of helping someone else—and she orders a damn movie light!

Now, she thought we would really agree to allow her to feature our children in some excessive, exaggerated, pretentious and flamboyant display that Grace herself labeled as a coming out party? Then, she had the nerve to take a tone with me at my dining table? I might be overreacting. She did apologize and promise to do better. I’m just so tired of dealing with this. Sometimes, she’s like a child with ADHD and she thinks of no one but herself. She’s only a few years younger than I am, but she acts like a damn teenager!

I don’t know why I washed my hair. It was just washed yesterday and conditioned into heavenly softness, but the water on my scalp felt so good that I just couldn’t resist it. I guess it’s time to come out of my cocoon and face the world. My dress doesn’t have to go over my head, so I’ll get my hair and makeup done before I get dressed. I dry and moisturize my skin and put on a red and white peddle-pusher short set and ankle socks.

What will later be the children’s playroom has been converted into a makeshift beauty salon and the staff from Miana’s has descended upon my home again. I think it might have been a better idea just to have the massages done today instead of yesterday, but who am I to complain about being pampered twice. Luckily, that wonderful aloe vera treatment is still available, so since my hair is already wet, I have them do it again.

Mandy, Mia, and Grace are quite chatty, talking about the Affair and their dresses and whatnot. I’m more introspective right now, considering what life will be like once the babies are born and how I’m going to negotiate the inevitable issues that will arise with my in-laws.

“You’re a million miles away, Ana,” Mandy says, bringing me out of my spiral. I smile tightly and shrug.

“Maybe just a thousand,” I jest, trying to make light of the situation. She smiles softly.

“As my due date came closer, I was terrified,” she begins. “I started to have doubts…”

“About being a mom?” I ask, surprised.

“Not being a mom so much as being able to be a good mom,” she clarifies. “I had my first baby at 36. Did I have the maternal instinct? Would I know what to do?” She raises her eyes to me. “Will this cause any problems with his sister?”

“You were really worried about that?” I ask. “I loved Harry before we even met. He’s part of one of the greatest men alive—how could I not love him?”

“I know, and you never gave me any cause for doubt, and yet…” she trails off.

“The ‘what if’ monster rears his ugly head,” I say, dropping my eyes to my twiddling fingers.

“Exactly,” she concurs. “Murphy plays with your psyche and suddenly, every bad thing that could happen to your baby takes up residence in your head. The wind blows and your baby might get pneumonia. There’s a bombing in Pakistan and suddenly, terrorists are after your son. There’s an earthquake in southern California and you’re waiting for the light fixture to fall and take out your kid.” Good God, she’s reading my mind. I wish she could give me advice on how to deal with your sometimes overbearing in-laws, but she doesn’t have any… there’s only me, not to mention the fact that my overbearing in-laws are in the same room with us. “You try to keep him safe inside you, protect him from anything that could harm him, then you slip in the kitchen, and…” I raise my eyes to her as she trails off again.

“Murphy,” I say. She nods quickly.

“Murphy,” she whispers, her eyes closed and her voice thick with tears. That was a very scary day and I can only imagine what she must have been feeling, even more so now that I’m carrying my own children. She takes a deep breath and composes herself. “But luckily for me, fate had other plans. That horrid sister that I was worried about came to my rescue and saved my life and my baby’s life. She became one of my closest friends… And with everything she’s done for me and how she welcomed me into her family, it helped me realize that even though Murphy’s Law will always be lurking around the corner, I’ll always have someone there to help me out—besides my hot husband, of course.” We chuckle together at her comment about my Daddy. I sigh.

“When does this feeling go away?” I ask. The impending doom is agonizing sometimes.

“Never,” Grace chimes in gently and sadly. “It subsides a bit, you get used to it. You don’t feel like the sky is falling every day, but you are always watching for the big, bad wolf. I wish I could tell you that it goes away, but…” She reaches over and takes Mia’s hand. They entwine their fingers as Mia smiles adoringly at her mother. “… It doesn’t.”

I have a feeling that I wouldn’t want it any other way.

*-*

The limousines have arrived to take us to the Adopt-A-Family Affair. Just like last year, the ladies have decided to make an entrance down the marble stairs in our ball gowns. To prevent Christian from having a heart attack watching his pregnant wife walk down the stairs in stilettos, Al has graciously agreed to present himself to James as well by escorting me down the stairs.

I was pleased on Black Friday to find that they made maternity strapless bras as I thought I would have to make one of my regular strapless bras work for this occasion. This one offers more support for my heavy breasts—smooth without the underwire that might dig into my baby bump. I was a little worried about wearing a strapless dress, but this little puppy put my fears to rest. Pretty lace boy-shorts and nude thigh-high stockings complete my undergarment. My ball gown is royal blue—a draped silk chiffon bustier dress with a smoothed sweetheart neckline—and I pair it with matching blue Louboutin pump stilettos.

My hair is stunning, if I do say so myself—big barrel curls embellished with what appear to be four precariously placed bracelets peeking out in various bundles of hair and swooping demurely over my shoulder to hide the dreaded “short spot.” Not to have the jewelry outshine the dress, I wear parts of the 1932 collection…a simple string of 18k gold and diamonds with a bow and a single teardrop solitaire laying on my chest; the 1932 Franges bracelet—not the original, of course; and the chandelier diamond earrings. My makeup is soft and natural—a light coating of foundation to even my skin tone, the softest pale blushing to add just a hint of color to my cheeks, a light dusting of a shimmery eyeshadow on my lid, and a nude lip gloss tucked away in my purse to keep my lips moist.

We decide that the best order for us to enter would be by age, with Grace leading the line and Mia at the end. I watch my feet carefully as I take the stairs, careful to hold the balustrade, my clutch under my arm and my hand firmly wrapped in Al’s elbow. I can feel Christian’s gaze on me, but I concentrate on my feet. If I look at him, I’m likely to turn into a dribbling mound of goo, miss a step, and take out the entire procession.

I watch as Elliot takes his mother’s hand, kisses her on the cheek, and hands her over to Carrick, who has stars in his eyes as he gazes at his wife. Daddy greets Mandy at the bottom of the stairs, also with a kiss, and leads her off to the side so that Al and I can descend. He gives me a kiss and a “You look beautiful, Jewel,” before handing me off to a spellbound Christian.

My God, he looks magnificent. This black tuxedo from I don’t even know who fits him like a glove, every facet of his chiseled body accentuated by awesome custom tailoring. His hair is a beautiful coif of highly copper waves and curls. It almost looks like he highlighted it, but I know it’s just his hair capturing the light. His captivating gray eyes are sparkling dramatically as he gazes at me. My throat is dry and all of the breath feels like it has left my body. He takes my hand in his, brushing the back of across his cheek, then kissing it gently.

“Every time I think you can’t possibly be more beautiful, you surprise me,” he says wistfully. “You’re enchanting.”

“Thank you,” I whisper, barely able to get my words out. I gently touch his cheek with my free hand and he turns his face to kiss my palm. “You’re breathtaking,” I whisper. He smiles that full, 32-teeth beaming smile that makes me weak in my damn knees.

“Coming from you, that’s very high praise indeed, Mrs. Grey,” he says, sincerely. He opens my black wool swing coat and helps me into it. Once I’ve closed it over me, he folds my hand delicately into his elbow. “Your carriage awaits, my love.” This promises to be a lovely evening.

The Adopt-A-Family Affair is held at the same location as last year, and the press is out en masse as always. We have to stop and give a short interview so as not to appear rude or untouchable. I’m usually the one that engages the press, but I let Christian do most of the talking this time, speaking only when something is directed at me. I love when Christian answers the “When are the babies due” question with “Sometime soon.”

There are several eyes on us as we make our way through the dining area after we check our coats. I’m sure that we’re no more smartly dressed than any other couple in attendance, so it must be the fact that many people are surprised to see me still alive, pregnant, and on my husband’s arm. We locate our seats and he pulls my chair out and helps me to sit down. He has all of my wine glasses removed and inquires what type of soft drinks were available. I opt for ice water and a tropical fruit drink that tastes a lot like a virgin Piña Colada.

Many people make their way to our table to offer well wishes and tell me how beautiful I look. I recognize many of them from our wedding, but wouldn’t be able to tell you their names to save my life. I answer them politely, thanking them for their concern. More than one person attempts to pull Christian away to talk shop or network, but Christian gingerly declines, informing them that tonight is off limits and that he plans on spending the entire evening with his wife. Most respected that answer and accepted a promise to get in touch sometime during the month. One guy, however, was very persistent, not to mention quite rude.

“C’mon, Grey,” Mr. Unknown Hopeful says, “real businessmen don’t let the little woman dictate when they can make deals.” He ends his statement with a hearty and distasteful laugh, so sure of himself that he completely ignores my horrified glare—something that doesn’t get past my husband.

“Just for my own information,” Christian begins, “was it your intention to sabotage any hope of ever doing business with GEH? Because let me assure you, you’re doing a very good job of it.” Mr. Unknown decides to take another shot at Christian’s manhood, making some comment about who wears the pants in his family and who actually runs GEH. Before he gets a chance to continue his rant, he is first asked to leave, then ceremoniously removed from our table by Jason and Ben. I don’t know who the guy is, but I can wager that he probably won’t do business in Washington State again. There’s always one.

Several more people make their way to our table, again, mostly to small talk about the babies and to tell me how happy they are with my recovery. It’s almost like an Ana welcoming party right up until dinner is served. As if we haven’t already been eating enough to choke a horse these past days, this evening’s menu consists of deep fried Brie, French onion soup, smoked chicken and red onion salad, beef bouchée, poached sea bass, bacon-wrapped baked chicken with mushroom stuffing, and goat cheese tarts. As soon as the beef hit my noise, I realize why Christian forbade me to have that burger I wanted. I fight, determined not to let the smell of beef ruin my night. Luckily, I was able to overcome the initial attack of nausea and enjoy my dinner.

Al and I are having a great time people watching as some of the ladies are wearing some really ridiculous fashions. One woman was wearing this horrendous seafoam chiffon creation with way too much tulle underneath. Another one boasted this multicolored asymmetrical fashion “don’t” that just should have stayed on the rack. I have to say that the pièce de résistance would be the raven-haired tart in the red and melon mermaid gown where it appears that someone forgot half of the material on one side of the dress. I couldn’t help but notice her because she walked past our table three times during dinner. It wasn’t until the fourth time that I realized that she was most likely doing a runway show for Christian.

I so don’t care tonight…

I shouldn’t be surprised that my husband doesn’t notice her once, most of the time keeping his eyes on me or the hand that he’s fondling tenderly, playing with my wedding and engagement rings when he’s not paying attention to the drawing of the names. Christian keeps running his fingers gently up and down my arms, causing torturous shivers to travel back and forth up and down my back. I’m trying to keep my wits about me when his lips brush tenderly over my bare shoulder.

“Mr. Grey, we’re supposed to be paying attention,” I whisper.

“Oh, believe me, I am. I’m paying close attention,” he says quietly as he moves his chair closer to mine.

“Mr. And Mrs. Christian Grey!” the master of ceremonies announces our name. Oh, thank God, now behave yourself! We were number 75 this year, almost near the end. We got a family named Radcliff this year—a husband and wife and their new baby, new to Seattle and just getting started. We’ll meet them soon enough to ascertain their needs, but the moment the attention is off of us, Christian is gently kissing my neck.

“Christian, please,” I chide quietly. I can’t take much more of this. A knowing smile creeps over his lips and he entwines his fingers and mine and kisses the back of my hand.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” he says, “I’ll try to behave… for now.” He put his free arm around the back of my chair just as Melon Lady saunters in front of our table again.

“Are you lost?” Allen says, inconspicuously. It was enough to get her attention. She turns to our table and Al is glaring at her. I’m sitting under my man and he’s still kissing my hand, not paying her one bit of attention. She turns her gaze to us. Christian still hasn’t made eye-contact with her.

“Well?” Al says, loud enough for her to hear, but quiet enough to not draw attention. She glares back at him. “If you’re looking at that one, you might as well stop because you’re not going to separate those two with a hammer and chisel.”

Christian is still blissfully oblivious to the display. If not, he’s putting on a good show. He pushes the hair away from my ear with just the tip of his finger and plants a sensual kiss on the shell that causes my breath to catch in my throat. There is a table full of people here, none of whom seem to be paying attention to Melon Lady or to me and Christian.

“Your dress is beautiful, Mrs. Grey,” Melon Lady purrs, a blatant attempt to draw attention to herself. Yet, she still only has mine and Al’s.

“Thank you,” I say wistfully, still choking on the breath caught in my throat as Christian outlines my ear with his finger. God help me, I’m getting wet, and these thin lace panties aren’t going to hold anything in.

In a brazen move, Melon Lady puts her index finger in her mouth and bites gently. What the fuck? Christian still hasn’t looked at her, but I’m a captive audience. How dare her! In a public place! While I’m sitting right here!

Her tongue moves over her finger before her finger moves slowly from her mouth and down into her plunging neckline where she fondles the inside of her breasts. Okay, now I’m getting pissed. My brow furrows as I bring my eyes to hers and I’m greeted with the surprise of my life. She’s not looking at Christian…

She’s looking at me!

I gasp audibly as I make the realization. Holy cow… she’s coming on to me! My husband is one kiss short of fucking me right here at the dinner table and she’s coming on to me! With a final bite and lick of her lips, she winks and smiles at me, licking her teeth as she walks away. I turn to Al who is just as speechless as I am, then try to tell Christian.

“Christian! Did you…?”

“Um-hmm,” he says, planting an open-mouthed kiss just below my earlobe. “Even women find my gorgeous wife hot.” I don’t know how to take that. Part of me is very flattered while the other part is appalled that she would do that while my husband is obviously groping me. “I’m glad she didn’t touch you, though. We may have had a problem.”

“You wouldn’t have hit her or anything, would you?” He chuckles in my ear.

“You mean, like I would a man who would have touched you? No, I wouldn’t do that… at least not in public.” I gasp and look at him. “You. Belong. To me. I make it no secret that I’m very possessive of you, so if anybody comes on to you—male or female—then they are asking for whatever they get. Let her come sashaying by here again in that ridiculous dress.” He plants a gentle kiss on my lips. “I needed that little reality check, because I was fighting one of the biggest erections under this table that I think I’ve ever had.” I can’t help but laugh when he says that.

“You’re terrible, Mr. Grey,” I say playfully.

Dinner and the drawings are over before I know it. I barely recall hearing or seeing too much of anything except the name of the family that Christian and I would be adopting this year. My husband was so busy distracting me with his nibbling and fondling that I didn’t even know the dance music had started. Elliot looks a little forlorn as he settles back in his seat, knowing that being dateless meant no dancing for him tonight. Noting his solemn expression, his mother has other plans.

“I’d like a dance with my oldest son, please,” she says, flashing a genuine motherly smile as she holds her hands out to Elliot. His emotion is almost palpable as he takes his mother’s hands. Rising from his chair, he spins her around once, causing her to giggle like a schoolgirl as he whisks her off to the dance floor. Christian rises from his chair, never releasing my hand.

“I’d like a dance with my enchanting wife,” he says, his voice smooth and promising. He helps me from my seat and I feel incredibly graceful even though I probably weigh a ton. Vickie’s dress flows around me and makes me look like a delicate fairy when I move. He looks at me like I’m the only woman in the room. Ensnared by his gaze, I follow him to the dance floor.

Christian takes me in his arms and just starts to sway with me to some classic song that I’m not familiar with. Once the floor started to fill, the band broke into the big band numbers just like last year. They start playing “Night and Day” and my husband leads me effortlessly around the dance floor. Even though I am quite heavy laden with child, I feel like I’m as light as a feather. He makes me feel good, and right now when I’m feeling a bit unattractive, he makes me feel pretty.

“You dance divinely, Mrs. Grey,” he says, treating me to a dazzling, white take-no-prisoners smile.

“One does not dance like an angel alone, Mr. Grey,” I reply, matching his smile. He contemplates the statement for a moment.

“I’ve heard that somewhere,” he says, trying to place where the statement may have come from.

Mansfield Park,” I tell him, letting him off the hook. He ponders it for a moment before smiling again.

“And so it is,” he says. “I have Mrs. Grey quoting the classics! We must dance more often!” He dramatically holds my hand up in proper ballroom stance and holding on to me tightly, whirls me around the floor until I’m lost in fits of giggles. When he finally stops and gives me a moment to catch my breath, I see a shimmer in his eye, hiding behind the smile. It’s the same shimmer I saw when he gave his speech on Thanksgiving. My breath catches in my throat and he pulls me close to him. We’re still moving, but nearly standing still.

“Night and day under the hide of me, there’s an oh such a hungry yearning burning inside of me…”

His voice is like honey and I’m lost in his gaze… trapped—afraid that I may float away into hopeless oblivion if he releases me.

“And this torment won’t be through till you let me spend my life making love to you… Day and night, night and day.”

He cups my face in his hands and gives me a tender, soul-filled kiss right there on the dance floor. His eyes are always so descriptive. At this moment, they are saying so much. I’m frozen in his gaze and in everything that he’s saying to me with no words. The world around us falls away and there’s no one here but me and my love.

I love you, too, Christian.

I’ll never leave you.

You make me whole.

You’re my everything.

I can faintly hear the music fade in around us. He slides his hands down my arms until they reach my hands. Never taking his eyes off mine, he brings my hands to his lips and kisses them both. Our wordless exchange of love continues as I’m wrapped in the soothing sound of the music.

Do you know how much I need you?

About as much as I need you…

Good… As long as you know.

He raises my hand and spins me around until my back is to his front. He pulls me gently against him and puts his arms around me, resting his hands gently on our babies. They stir a bit, then settle immediately. I put my hands over his and we sway, just side to side on the dance floor. He sighs deeply and nestles his face in the crease of my neck and shoulder.

I feel so loved right now… so cherished and special.

I lean my head back on his shoulder and sink into him. Bringing my hand up to his head, I thread my fingers into his soft tresses. He groans softly and kisses me one time on my neck, pulling me closer to him as we float further into the music and each other as the leader sings about someone who is his everything.

I close my eyes.
I let him guide me.
I trust him completely.
He’s my life and my future.
I’ve never felt so safe and secure in my life.
I’m the luckiest girl in the world…


 

CHRISTIAN

It’s no surprise to me that some little skank at the Affair is attracted to my wife. What did surprise me is the fact that they let her in here dressed like that. It turns out that I’m indirectly acquainted with her. She’s the granddaughter of one of the sponsors—an old friend of our family. I’m surprised that I never met her personally, or at least I don’t think I have. She looks like a lady of the night, to put it nicely. She’s completely out of place. I’m sure Butterfly doesn’t think I’m paying attention, but I see every move the little slut is making on my wife. She better be glad I’m more concerned with distracting Butterfly than with her weak attempts to sway my wife to the other side. However, I don’t intend to let her malfeasance go unpunished, especially since it’s quite clear that she knows who we are.

I could hardly wait for the music to begin. I have to say that I was happy that Mom was able to pull Elliot out of his funk. It’s taking everything in me not to find Valerie wherever in the world she is and tell her what an A-1 bitch she’s being to my brother and my wife, not to mention the rest of my family. How dare that cow think she could keep Elliot away from his family! I don’t know what new drug she must be smoking or what bug of insanity has climbed up her pussy, but she’s got a hell of a lot to learn about the Greys if she ever thinks she has that kind of power.

I personally think she’s jealous of Butterfly. I think she’s angry because she’s no longer the center of Butterfly’s world. I can imagine that for those years that Butterfly was recovering from her relationship with David that Valerie was always there to pick up the pieces. She was the shoulder that Butterfly cried on—patted Butterfly on the head before she went off to taste her latest flavor of the month. Now, Butterfly doesn’t need that pat anymore. In fact, Butterfly really doesn’t need Valerie anymore. She’s independently wealthy—the key word here being “independent,” and Valerie can’t stand that.

Be that as it may, I can tell that my wife and my brother are miserable when her name comes up. Butterfly misses the friend that she once had, the one that stuck by her through thick and thin. My brother is caught between a rock and a hard place and doesn’t quite know what to do. What’s the common thread here? The common thorn in everyone’s side?

Valerie.

Quite frankly, I’ve got a good mind to just walk up to her and belt her one… but that would only make matters worse.

I didn’t keep my beautiful wife on her feet for too long. Though those stilettos are sexy as hell on her feet, screaming to be up around my neck, I know that she shouldn’t be standing too long in them. Her ankles will start to swell soon, not to mention that the height alone is tempting a twist of the ankle. So after the band sings “One Hundred Ways,” I take my lovely Butterfly and our precious cargo back to the table, where we continue to sway to the music in our seats—in each other’s arms, as if we were on the dance floor.

Just like last year, we are thoroughly exhausted when the night draws to a close and everyone—including Elliot—has an air of contentment around them. It’s so late when we get home that Elliot agrees to crash on the sofa in the family since every guest bed is taken. Gail meets us in the kitchen to send Amanda and Ray off to bed. They had intended to collect Harry before turning in, but as it turns out, Luma dropped by with the girls and the ladies tuckered poor Harry out. Pops and Uncle Herman stayed in, too, and while Gail kept an eye on Sophie, Mariah, and Celida, Luma visited with the gentleman. She and the girls only just left about an hour before we arrived.

Everyone turns in after dancing the night away and I take a moment to undress my lovely wife—sexy boy shorts and silk thigh-high stockings. She looks downright delectable as I massage her feet and ankles, but we made love Thanksgiving morning and again on Friday night, so I think I’ll just let her rest. I can tell that she’s grateful even though she says nothing. She never protests and she never denies me. Even if she’s tired, I can get her in the mood. Tonight, I want her to sleep.

Her hair is cascading in beautiful curls over her pillow. She hugs a body pillow that she bought to replace the two pillows under her stomach and between her knees. She’s simply gorgeous. There’s no better sight than seeing her sleeping peacefully with what looks like a smile on her face, her gorgeous mahogany hair strewn out on the pillow behind her, and her body swollen with my babies. Fuck if I’m not the luckiest fucker alive.

*-*

“You guys have made the news yet again,” Mia announces, laying out the society page of the Seattle Times at brunch the next day, “And a reputable paper at that.”

“Oh, what now?” Butterfly laments, looking at the paper to see what little tidbit was taken now. I remember the press being at the party last night, but nothing really memorable happened.

…Or so I thought.

“Oh-ho my God,” she giggles as we look at the society page. There are two full-color pictures of her in that gorgeous blue gown standing with me. In the first one, I’m standing behind her, attached like a vine and duly marking my territory. Someone has captured the moment when we were dancing to “Everything I Love.” Her eyes are closed and her hand is thrust into my hair. We are clearly lost in our own world. The second picture was the moment at the end of “Night and Day” when I kissed her.

“Don’t these people have anything better to do?” I say. I can’t hide my smile as I look at the pictures. “I guess they didn’t… you look stunning, baby,” I tell her, putting my arm around her waist and kissing her on her cheek.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” she says, coyly.

“I’m just the window dressing,” I protest. “You’re the Macy’s display.”

“Alright, alright, we get it. You’re both beautiful,” Al balks. “What does the article say?” Butterfly laughs at his impatience while Mia takes the paper back and begins to read:

“AnaChris was spotted last night shamelessly canoodling on the dance floor at the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Affair. Ana is breathtaking in what we later learned is a Victoria Stewart original blue silk chiffon gown. Christian’s not looking too shabby in black cashmere bespoke Caraceni (don’t ask how we know). As always, Christian displays that he is absolutely smitten with his beautiful wife, who survived a very serious car accident and was released from the hospital just a week ago. With not a scratch or bruise in sight, Mrs. Grey illustrates that ‘pregnant’ does not mean frumpy, clumsy, or helpless. Moments before this picture was taken, the stunning couple was observed floating across the dance floor like professionals, lost in each other’s gaze and grasp. Sources say that Christian couldn’t keep his eyes—or hands—off of his enchanting wife, and that she is just as smitten with the her handsome, billionaire husband. Judging from these pictures, it’s no wonder Mrs. Grey is expecting twins in the spring. Way to go, AnaChris!”

“Oh, one day, they’ll be fascinated with something else and leave us alone,” Butterfly says.

“Don’t count on it,” I respond, kissing her again.

“Damn, Chris, do you ever let the woman breathe?” James teases.

“She’s breathing. See?” I lean in and nibble her neck and she giggles profusely. “Could she do that if she wasn’t breathing?”

“Christian, stop!” she says, playfully hitting my arm. “Not in front of company.”

“Don’t stop on our account,” Dad says, cozying up to Mom and nibbling her neck, causing her to break into fits of girlish giggles.

“See? My dad says I can continue.” I go for Butterfly’s neck again and she playfully pushes me away again.

“Eat your food,” she scolds. I kiss her on the cheek and turn back to my plate.

“Christian,” Uncle Herman begins, “If the invitation is still open, Dad and I would like to stay for the week.” I look at Pops, then at Mom. She sighs.

“I was acting like a spoiled child. I’m sorry,” she says all in one breath, but sincerely. “I have absolutely no problem with Burt and Herman staying here and I really hope you’ll forgive my behavior… as long as you don’t try to take them away from me!” She adds the last part in rushed playfulness, breaking the tension at the table and causing a chuckle from various diners.

“I can’t make any promises, Mom,” I tease. “I mean, if they fall in love with the Crossing…”

“Christian,” my mother warns in that tone that only a mother can.

“Yes, Mom, I won’t take them away,” I respond, sounding like an impetuous teenager. “But I got ‘em for a week!” I smile widely at Pops who returns my smile.

“Good, I’m glad that’s settled,” Pops says.

We finish our brunch in random chatter, talking briefly about what the week holds for each of us. Butterfly is doing as much as she can from home to get prepared for the Christmas season at Helping Hands. This is usually the time when they have the most traffic and do the most work. Butterfly’s impromptu interview before her accident caused an onslaught of donationsbig and smallto pour into the charity. Once the word got out that she was fighting for her life, the donations increased, allowing Helping Hands to expand their services to assist general hardship cases and not just at-risk women and children. She is anxious to get back to the center, but won’t take on the task until she gets the “all clear” from her neurologist. We have an appointment with him tomorrow.

I have some loose ends to tie up before the holidays set inmergers that need to be signed, some acquisitions to complete. I hate putting people out of work at Christmastime, so whatever redundancies are created will wait until after the new year. Even then, GEH is known for its placement assistance and severance packages. I still have a few messes to clean up with the miscellaneous subsidiaries, too. There are some possible legal issues that GEH has to face as well as some fines that will have to be paid.

I plan on throwing my prior legal team under the bus with this one, especially since most of my woes can be traced back to them. The only problem is that when something shady happens within a company, the head man in charge is always held responsible because it is assumed that he knows about everything. To that end, I have to clean up these messes as quickly as I can on my own, pay whatever fines and restitutions that I can to settle problems before they get to courtand then sue the fuck out of those assholes.

Elliot is happily taking on some new projects that are in the works before the holiday, but will kick into full gear after the holiday. He’s been talking to Ray about his particular area of expertise and I see that there will most likely be some serious collaborations in the future.

Everyone has some little thing here or there that they’re working on, but I would have to say that besides the twins due in early February, the most exciting news would have to be Allen and James’ engagement. They’re planning a spring ceremony and I have to say that I can’t even begin to fathom how to plan a gay wedding. I would imagine that it’s no different than a straight wedding, except that there’s two grooms. Butterfly is nearly bursting, ready to plan this ceremony. So there’s nothing to do now but set a date.

We all appear to be headed into the holiday season with bells on. Now, it’s just time to see how those bells are ringing.


 

A/N: Happy Birthday this weekend to Melissa, Pam. Danesh, Isabel, Margaret, SusieCC, and Maureen. I forgot anyone, charge it to my head and not my heart… and happy birthday. 🙂 

Music from the Adopt-A-Family Affair
Night and Day—Billie Holiday
Glenn Miller—Everything I Love
James Ingram—One Hundred Ways

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 24—Black Friday

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…Black FridayChapter 24—Black Friday

ANASTASIA

Once again, the Grey women—and friends—have left one of Seattle’s upscale malls with nothing but bones for its future shoppers. The paparazzi were out as usual, but if any of them got one good shot of me, I would be completely surprised. My family and friends were very protective and very careful to keep me shielded from the cameras, not that I care, mind you. If they’re that desperate to get a picture of the big pregnant woman, then fine. Just don’t interrupt my shopping.

Our entrance into Grey Crossing is anything but subtle. There’s lots of cackling from the ladies… and Al, and it’s clear that we’ve covered all bases and cannot wait to review our wares. Spa Day will begin in about an hour and Vickie should be here any minute with my gowns for tomorrow’s event. We descend upon the family room only to find that the men have set up shop and are watching the Seahawks play whoever they’re playing. I never watched football, so I couldn’t tell you who was on the field. I only know the Seahawks because they’re the home team. I’m happy to see that Elliot has joined us again, indicating that Val opted to go see her parents since he wasn’t going to stay at home with her. I refrain from making a comment.

I see that hot wings, snacks, and beer are the order of the afternoon and immediately search the room for Chuck. Hmm, no Chuck. Jason’s here, Pops and Herman, Carrick, Christian and James. Daddy and Phil are missing, which I think has something to do with Harry and Mindy, but…

“Where’s Chatlez?” Keri asks. Oh, hell. Am I going to have to divert her attention away from her ailing boyfriend for the entire day?

“He’s downstairs,” Jason says, and I see Christian roll his eyes. What happened? “He’s resting.”

“Resting?” Keri asks, bemused. Christian raises his eyes to meet mine and I know immediately that something has happened.

“Well, that’s good,” I pipe in. “His body’s been pretty beaten up. He needs all the rest he can get. It’ll help him heal.” That one statement reprograms Keri’s protective instinct to go check on her man and she immediately reconsiders.

“Well, it’s good to see my men all together today, as they should be,” Grace says, kissing each of the Grey men including Pops and Herman. She’s thrilled that Elliot is joining us for the usual Thanksgiving festivities. “Will you be joining us for brunch and the Adopt-A-Family Affair tomorrow?” she asks Elliot.

“Yes, Mom, I’ll be here. I’ll just be dateless,” Elliot responds.

“Don’t feel bad, Elliot,” Jason chimes in. “I’ll be a stag, too, but I’ll be in an official capacity.” Elliot chuckles softly and shrugs.

“It’s okay. It is what it is,” he says. Jason holds his arms out to Sophie.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Baby Boo?” he says to her and she nods enthusiastically.

“Ms. Ana and Ms. Gail let me build bears for the babies!” she tells her father and snuggles into his arms. Her face lights up as she tells him about the High School Musical boy and girl bears that she constructed at Build-A-Bear for the twins and the Topaz bear for herself. He listens attentively and engages her conversation as she talks about the characters in the movie that he surely has no interest in, but it’s clear to the onlooker that he is overjoyed to have her here and will spend every possible moment with her… even if it means hearing about how cute Troy is and how she hates Sharpay. This child is a very different child from the girl that was dropped off yesterday—more adult than she should be, and filled with a bit more disdain for her mother than most teenage girls, and she’s not even a teenager yet. Watching her behavior today, I realize that if given the opportunity, this little girl just wants to be a little girl.

“Well, ladies, it’s about time that we prepare ourselves to be pampered,” I say gleefully. “You know the drill. Since the gentlemen have taken over the family room, we’ll have to use the entertaining room downstairs…”

“No can do,” Christian informs me. “The entertaining room is baby central.” I sigh.

“Fine, then we’ll use the community bar.”

“What if we disturb Charles while he’s resting?” Mother Hen Keri pipes in. Now, I’m getting perturbed.

“Okay,” I sing, a little irritated. “Does anyone have any objection to my parlor?” I think at this point, if anyone did have an objection to my parlor, they wouldn’t say so. I was going to use my parlor for my fitting, but now, I guess I just have to make other arrangements. While I’m standing there pouting, Ben informs us that Vickie has arrived, so I guess those other arrangements have to be now.

“Gail,” I whisper conspiratorially. “I know my husband and something happened while we were gone. Chuck’s not just resting.”

“You picked up on that, too,” she says, informing me that she already knows that something’s awry in the atmosphere.

“Well, we know that he’s not sick or anything, or they wouldn’t be calmly sitting up here watching football. You’re on babysitting duty until I get back. Don’t let Keri go to their room and try to figure out what’s going on with him. Get the ladies to my parlor as quietly as possible so that he doesn’t know that we’re back either, because he’ll probably come looking for her. I swear, that girl is a pressure cooker and she needs to decompress. I’ll be down as soon as I can.” Gail nods. “Ladies, I have to leave you for a moment. I must be wardrobed for tomorrow’s event. I won’t be long. Gail will show you all to my parlor. Mandy, Mia, you two come with me, please. I’ll need honest opinions on my dresses.” Christian frowns and looks at me.

“Don’t get sour-faced,” I tell him. “You don’t get to see it until tomorrow.” His expression doesn’t change and again, I know my husband. It’s not the dresses that have him sour-faced, it’s something else. We really have to talk. “Gentleman, please make sure that our purchases get to the parlor.” Ethan jumps into action and kisses Mia before I whisk her away with me.

2dd8e97500000578-3292671-image-m-18_1445989685097Vickie is wearing this wicked pant suit with panels of long fringe that drape from the pockets to the ground and a tailored cutoff jacket. It is hot and I want that outfit after the babies are born!

“The dresses are stunning,” Mandy says as I model my final gown in my sitting room. We were banished to my bedroom for the fittings. It was either that or my office. “How are you going to choose just one?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “Shame on you, Vickie! I couldn’t choose between the two that I wanted, so you altered three!”

“Well, I knew how much you loved all three dresses and they all look good on your body type. What’s more, the way that they flow, you can wear them after you deliver the babies if you want. The lilac gives you a bit of the sex appeal while the chiffon iridescent complements your baby bump and highlights femininity. For the season and the occasion, though, I recommend the blue. It’s perfect with your eyes and with those blue Louboutin pumps you showed me? Exquisite!” I look at myself in the mirror and I have to admit that the blue altered Alexander McQueen knockoff does look very feminine—sweetheart neckline, strapless, free-flowing, and when I frame my stomach with my hand under my bump, it actually looks very feminine and alluring. I’ll have my hair in cascading curls over my shoulder covering the short spot, and I’ll wear one of my Chanel collections.

“Mia, have you chosen a dress for the gala yet?” Vickie coos. “I’m sure I could find something that could compliment your shape quite beautifully.”

Now why did that statement suddenly make me feel dirty?

“Oh, yes, I did,” Mia chirps. “I found a purple slim gown draped at the hip with a jeweled bodice and cut-out cleavage, but the next affair that we have, I’m going to have to give you a call. Do you have a card?” Vickie smiles widely and pulls a business card out of her pants pocket.

“Call me anytime,” she says sweetly, “even short notice. I’ll be happy to fit you.” She hands Mia her card. “I do formals, business wear, casual, ‘after five,’ even lingerie.” Wow, she is desperate for Mia’s business!

“That’s great! I’m getting married next September. I’m sure I’m going to need some things.”

“Oh, you must let me size you up before you get married,” Vickie says. I can’t help but giggle as Mandy helps me out of my evening gown without ruining it. That’s it. She’s sizing Mia up! Poor little naive Mia—I can’t believe she hasn’t picked up on it yet.

“You okay in there?” Vickie says.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” I say, unable to hide my mirth anymore. I’m covering my bare boobs, still laughing when Mandy gets me out of the dress.

“Boy, something really has you tickled,” Mandy says.

“Yeah, it does,” I say, still giggling as I put my bra back on. Luckily, I’m not uncomfortable naked around gay women—just straight men, except my husband. I pull my sweater over my head and readjust my headband. “Vickie, I don’t know how to thank you. Not only did you work on short notice, but these dresses are divine.”

“I’m so glad you like them, Ana. So I can look forward to you calling again when you need to be wardrobed?”

“That you can. Ladies, you can go on down to the parlor. Let me get Vickie squared away.”

“Don’t forget to call me, Mia,” Vickie calls after Mia.

“Sure thing!” Mia pipes back as she’s leaving.

“I certainly hope so,” she responds, lowly not low enough. I laugh again as I take my things to my dressing room.

“I’ll be right there, Vickie,” I call back to her.

“Take your time,” she says. I hang the dresses on a nearby rack and come back to the bedroom.

“So, does Christian know you’re gay?” I ask, sitting on an ottoman and putting my socks back on. She chuckles quietly.

“Was it that obvious?” she says, showing no remorse.

“Maybe not to the object of your affection, but yes, it was,” I laugh. She rolls her eyes playfully and takes a seat.

“Yes, he knows,” she confesses. “I’ve had a crush on Mia for years and she’s blissfully ignorant of it.”

“Ooo, Christian doesn’t like that, huh?” I ask. She shrugs.

“No, but he was more concerned about you.” I raise my eyebrows.

“Should he be?” I ask, curiously. She laughs.

“I’ll tell you like I told him. I like this thing called breathing. You’re a very attractive woman, but not enough for me to risk my life.” She stands up and straightens her pants and suit jacket. “You know Christian covered the bill already, right?”

“Yeah, I know. I just wanted to rag you a bit,” I say. She laughs good-naturedly. “I’ll take one of those cards. You have my number. I don’t have yours.”

“Oh, hell, how could I forget that!” she says, reaching into her pocket and handing me a card.

“You had Mia on the brain,” I tease. She chuckles a bit.

“You won’t tell her?”

“Keep it up, I won’t have to,” I alert her. She’s a good sport about the ribbing.

“I’m glad you’re not all stuck-up and prudish,” she says, putting her other clothing bags over her arm.

“My best friend is gay,” I tell her. “It looks like we’ll be planning his wedding soon, too. Doesn’t pay to be homophobic when your split-apart plays for the same team.” Her brow furrows.

“Split-apart?”

“Long story. I’ll tell you one day. I’ve been Al’s fag hag for nearly 15 years—though I’m the only one who can say that. I become violent when people call my friend a fag.” She smiles widely.

“Bravo,” she commends me. She picks up her purse, a beautiful cream Peekaboo Fendi bag with the continent of Africa on it and the silhouette of several black and white birds flying freely.

“Every gay woman has the one fantasy, that one straight girl that she thinks she can turn. It usually never happens, but the pursuit is a lot of fun.”

“Well, I hate to tell you this, but Mia is absolutely stricken with Ethan. That ship has sailed, my friend.” She shrugs.

“Ah, the chimera… a girl can hope,” she says, walking towards the door.

“Keep hope alive,” I jest. She laughs heartily as I throw the door open and see Christian standing there about to come inside. I resist the urge to roll my eyes at him. “Did you come up to help, Babe?” I say innocently. “Vickie, you can give those bags to Christian. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind taking them down for you,” I say to Vickie, never letting on for a second that I have no doubt whatsoever why he’s standing outside our bedroom door. Vickie smiles widely.

“I’ve got it,” she says, her voice laced with mirth. “I’m used to hauling these things around.”

“I insist,” Christian says, his voice honey smooth and hiding his true intentions.

“How chivalrous of you,” Vickie says, handing the bags to Christian. She raises her eyebrows as he takes the bags. “Thank you, it does help with the whole breathing thing.” I have to fight not to burst into spontaneous laughter at her statement. I decide to torture Christian a bit. I hook arms with Vickie. Seeing my purpose, she puts her free hand over mine. Christian’s ears flush a bit red.

“I love my dress, Vickie,” I tell her sincerely as we walk down the stairs. “You picked just the right style and fit. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“When it’s time for the after-baby, new spring wardrobe, don’t forget about me,” she says.

“I sure won’t.” Ben has brought her car to the portico and takes her bags when we get downstairs.

“Until next time,” I say giving her a hug. She nods and waves at Christian before leaving. I hook my arm in Christian’s and we stand inside the door until Vickie drives away.

“She’s really nice,” I say. “She has exquisite taste and I like her a lot.”

“Yes, she’s very good at what she does. Only the best use her services,” he admits.

“Something you forgot to tell me about her?” I say, looking coyly up at him. He looks down at me and realization crosses his face.

“You. Knew,” he says, partially perturbed and partially amused. “That’s why you did that whole ‘hooking arm’ thing.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Grey, you’re not turning this around on me!” I retort, shaking my finger at him. “You withheld very valuable information from me. I was getting undressed in front of that woman! What if I had taken an issue with her sexuality and having her see me naked?”

“She saw you naked?” he asks, serious now.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, she saw my boobs, but apparently you don’t have a problem with that because you didn’t even think I needed to know about her.” I stand there with my hands on my hips, challenging him to dispute me.

“When did you figure it out?” He asks coolly.

“When I was getting dressed, and to answer your unasked question, had I known beforehand, I still would have changed in front of her because I don’t have a problem with gay women. That woman wasn’t slightly interested in me, but she was ready to mount your little sister right there in front of us. I think the only person who might have been clueless to it was poor Mia!” He covers his eyes.

“I can’t believe that woman saw you naked,” he laments.

“Well, get over it.” He raises his head and glares at me. “You put us together. Her taste is impeccable. She picks just the right thing for you to look just the right way and she’s staying in my life… and she will see me naked again because she will have to fit me for new clothes.” I cross my arms.

“Now how would you feel if I said something like that about Allen?” he asks, his brow furrowed. I giggle.

“You picked the wrong one,” I chuckle. “Allen is my best friend. I trust him implicitly and I trust you implicitly. He would stand there licking his lips, admiring your chiseled abs and your sculpted ass…” I reach around him and give it a squeeze while I’m talking, “…and he might even salivate a bit over your endowment, but he would never touch you. And you should probably know that he called you ‘Diamond Dick’ the moment he met you.”

“Oh, God, change the subject,” he laments. Mission accomplished. It’s been my experience that very straight men are more uncomfortable with the concept of gay men seeing them in the nude than straight women are about gay women.

“Good idea. What’s going on with Chuck?” I ask frankly. He turns impassive eyes to me.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t what do you mean me, Grey,” I say firmly, and his pupils dilate a bit. “I saw that look you gave me when I asked Mia to come upstairs with me and now, I know why. I also saw your reaction when the subject of Chuck came up, and I should tell you that Gail saw Jason’s reaction. The only one blissfully ignorant right now is Keri. So I’ll ask you again. What’s going on with Chuck, because I’m not buying that resting shit?” I stand firm in the grand entry and await his answer. He runs his fingers through his hair.

“We had a disagreement,” he says. I stand gape-mouthed glaring at him. The man is in a wheelchair, for Christ’s sake!

“About what?” I ask in that tone.

“About those goddamn meds!” he says a little louder than either of us would like. Hearing his words echo through the grand entry, he lowers his voice. “Did you know that man can’t even get dressed without pain?” he asks, his eyes piercing. “I made the rounds to get the guys together for breakfast and the game, and he’s in there grunting just trying to get into a sweater! He’s suffering and he doesn’t have to. That poor girl is probably losing her goddamn mind just trying to help him put on his fucking underwear in the morning.” He notices that he’s getting louder, so he takes a breath to contain himself again.

“I told him to take the meds. I wasn’t even pushy about it. Of course, he protested and when I said it again, he snapped at me! We exchanged words and he’s getting all sarcastic about me being his boss and shit. I wasn’t even talking to him as his boss, I was talking to him as…”

He almost said it. He doesn’t like to let people in, but when you do something for him that means a lot to him, he lets you in whether he wants to or not. I successfully hide my smile, but my gaze softens.

“I’m done,” he says. “I’m not going to argue with a grown man about whether or not he wants to take an aspirin. If he wants to sit there and suffer unnecessarily, then let him suffer. What he’s doing to Keri is criminal, though. It’s selfish and it’s cruel and he won’t even hear it when you try to tell him. Maybe if she wasn’t around to take care of him, he’d understand exactly what he’s doing to her.” His hands run through his hair again. I put my hand on his chest.

“We can’t force it, Christian,” I tell him. “If he’s not going to take them, he’s not going to take them. There’s nothing else that we can do. We’ve made him as comfortable as we can and he wants us to ignore his pain. I don’t know what it’s going to take for him to take those meds, but we have to accept the fact that he may not take them at all.” He sighs.

“I’m not going to sit and watch that shit, Ana,” he says, flatly. Ana… he’s serious. “I won’t hound him about his meds anymore, but when I see that he’s uncomfortable or in pain, I’ll just make sure that I’m somewhere else, because this situation pisses me off, and I’m not going to watch it.” I nod.

“I understand,” I tell him. “So why is he in his room? Is he pouting?”

“Pretty much. I told him to call if he needed anything and sent breakfast down with one of the staff. I haven’t heard anything from him since.”

“Maybe somebody should go check on him,” I suggest.

“That’s exactly what he’s waiting for,” he replies. “Jason’s been down there twice. He’s still sulking, waiting for Keri to come and rescue him. Speaking of which, get your ass down to the spa. The team from Miana’s is already here and Keri’s probably chomping at the bit to get to Chuck.” He says his name with a bit of contempt. “We have a few things we need to talk about when you’re done—nothing bad, but things I consider important and I think you will, too.” I nod.

“Okay. I’ll see you when we’re done.” I kiss him on the cheek and proceed to the elevator to join the ladies downstairs.

Thankfully, when I get there, the treatments have already begun. The ladies are giggling, eating all sorts of finger sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres and getting beautified. I find Keri sitting comfortably in a reclining chair getting a full-service pedicure complete with leg and foot massage. Her eyes are closed and her face portrays peace and heavenly tranquility.

“So what did I miss, ladies?” I say.

“Nothing,” Gail says. “We just got started a few minutes ago. Come on, let’s get you changed.” She leads me back to the changing area of my spa room. “Did Christian talk to you?”

“About Chuck?” She nods. “Yes,” I say stepping behind the changing curtain to get undressed. “He says he’s washing his hands of it. He’s not going to try to convince him to take the meds anymore.”

“That’s pretty much what Jason says, too,” Gail says. “He’s becoming cantankerous in his pain, and from what I understand, badgering him about the meds is just making it worse. So they’re just going to leave that topic alone.”

“Christian has vowed to leave the area if his pain is visible. He’s angrier that Keri has to suffer through this. Really, she’s here all the way from Anguilla and she has to sit and watch this? It makes me angry, too.”

“I guess I compartmentalize things more than others,” Gail says. “I’ve had to, working for Christian these last years.”

“I can imagine so,” I say, donning a terrycloth robe. “I don’t watch him in pain, either, and undoing the damage that it does to Keri can get a bit taxing.”

“Tell me about it,” Gail laments. I shake my head and emerge from behind the curtain.

“Well, we can leave that responsibility to someone else right now.” I say with a shrug and a smile. “Let’s go get pampered.”

When we go back into the makeshift spa, Keri is wide awake, still getting her pedicure while a woman is trying to convince Keri to let her work on Keri’s locs. Keri is adamant about not wanting anyone to tamper with her dreads as she doesn’t trust the products used in America. She will use her own natural mixes when she has the time.

“I assure you, ma’am,” the stylist says, removing her head covering. “I’m a lockologist. I only use the best and most natural ingredients.” She reveals her own locs, not as long as Keri’s—smaller, in fact—but thick and neat and beautiful. Keri’s eyes grow large.

“You do yuh own?” Keri asks in amazement and the stylist smiles and nods. “May I?” Keri says, reaching for her hair. The stylist agrees and Keri examines her locs carefully. “Theh beautiful!” Keri says in awe. “Yes, please! And call me Keti,” she says enthusiastically.

“Keri, my name’s Gina. We’re going to start with an ACV rinse. It’s raw apple cider vinegar and baking soda. It will remove any build-up trapped inside the locs. Then we’ll shampoo with a Shea moisture black soap shampoo. My conditioner is hand-mixed—natural aloe vera straight from the plant, tea-tree oil, jojoba oil, and Jamaican castor oil. We’ll follow this with a hot oil treatment of extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and almond oil to rejuvenate your hair from the damage of the frigid winter temperatures. We’ll let that sit while you’re getting your massage.”

“Mmmm, I want that,” I say, listening to all the delicious essential oils and ingredients. The ladies laugh and Gina smiles at me.

“The conditioner might be a bit heavy for your hair, Miss, and you certainly don’t need the ACV rinse with that gorgeous mane! However, I recommend the hot oil treatment for all hair types.”

“I’ll take one of those!” I say enthusiastically.

“Me, too,” Grace chimes in.

“My hair is just too delicate for that oil,” Al teases, “but I do want some of that aloe vera mixed in with my conditioner.” Gina is pleased with the support she’s getting for her suggestions. Gail also agrees with the aloe vera for her and Sophie’s hair. Sophie is happily sitting at one of the manicure stations getting her nails polished.

The afternoon turned out just delightful—great food, great company, mimosas for the drinkers and a delicious, citrus tangerine mix for me, Sophie, and the breastfeeding mom, Mandy. I got another of those delightful maternity massages and had my ends clipped again. The winter is brutal on my hair, but I only had three inches clipped. My stylist took extra care massaging my short spot and the scar with the aloe vera just before the hot oil treatment. It was divine.

Having peeled out of our shopping clothes, we all don something that we bought today after our treatments are done. I’m wearing an olive maternity T-shirt dress that hugs all of my curves just right—not too tight, but it makes me feel really sexy. My hair has such a lovely gloss to it that I just allow it to fall over my shoulders, no headband this time. Keri’s hair is magnificent and we can’t stop raving over how fresh and beautiful it looks.

As we pass the community room, Daddy and Phil are still there. The television in here is playing, but it appears to just be background noise as they are lost in conversation about God only knows what.

“Give me my baby,” Maxie says playfully when she sees Phil. The men are speechless as their other halves take the babies.

“You look fantastic,” Phil says, spellbound. Daddy doesn’t have to tell Mandy that he’s pleased as the minute she reaches for Harry, he grabs her instead. I laugh as I watch the couples interact.

“Has Charles come by heyh?” Keri asks. At first, there’s no response from either of them, so I clear my throat.

“Um, gentlemen?” They both snap out of their romantic stupors. “Did Chuck come through here?”

“Oh! Yeah, he went upstairs,” Daddy responds. I shake my head and laugh.”

“Thank you, Father,” I say with a nod and he playfully rolls his eyes at me. The rest of us head upstairs to the family room to join the rest of the men.

“Well, aren’t you just so pretty!” Jason says, holding his hands out to Sophie, who runs into her father’s arms.

“Me and Ms. Gail had aloe vera treatments. My hair is so soft, see? Feel it, Daddy!”

“It’s beautiful, Baby Boo,” he says, kissing his daughter on the cheek and throwing an adoring smile at Gail.

“Well, I may not be as beautiful as these ladies, but I’m a scrubbed, clipped, and clean just for you,” Al says playfully, flirting with James.

“Oh, oh the contrary, you look very good to these eyes,” James says, holding his hand out to his fiancé. Al blushes completely crimson before taking a seat next to James. James entwines his fingers in Al’s and kisses the back of his hand and then affectionately kisses his cheek, reducing my best friend to a mountain of blushing, girly mush.

“And who is this beautiful creature?” Carrick says making his way over to Grace.

“Oh, stop, you old coot,” she says, playfully waving him off. “You are so full of it.”

“And you are just as beautiful as the day I met you,” he says, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her on the cheek.

“Oh, Cary,” she giggles girlishly.

“Oh, good God, my parents are making out in my family room,” Christian says, sliding his arms around me and smelling my hair.

“Tell me about it,” Elliot pipes in, sitting next to Pops and Herman, who are laughing at his and Christian’s discomfort with their parents’ PDA. I look around for Mia and Ethan and they are nowhere to be found. I’m not going to bring attention to their absence, but while I’m looking for them, I spot Chuck—spellbound and gazing at Keri. No one else is paying attention as she walks over to him.

“What did you do to your hair?” he asks her. She frowns.

You don like it?” she asks.

“It’s beautiful,” he says wistfully, caressing her locs between his fingers. “It’s so soft and shiny.” She smiles widely.

“A deep washing and condition fuh locs,” she say. “I want to be mah best fuh you.”

“Now, if he could just return the sentiment,” Christian says, lowly. I gently slap his hand around my waist and quietly shush him. Luckily, no one else heard him. He leans down and kisses my hair. “Did I tell you how beautiful you look,” he says. “Your hair, and this dress… You look absolutely edible, Mrs. Grey.” He gives me a squeeze that makes me smile and feel all warm inside. He leans his head over my shoulder and spread his hands over my belly. “How are my children? Have they given you too much trouble today?”

“No,” I say, covering his hands with mine—as much as they can anyway, “they’ve had a restless moment every now and then, but I’ve been feeding them like crazy. So I think they’ve been lulled into complacency by food.” We both laugh quietly.

“Okay, we can’t hear you, but we know that you’re making out, too, so cut it out,” Elliot teases. Christian give me a final squeeze and kiss on the cheek before he releases me.

“For your information, Mr. Grey,” I say addressing Elliot, “he was asking me about your niece and nephew.” I rub my stomach, “Who have just now decided to wake up.”

“Are they kicking?” Elliot asks, his voice childlike. I nod. “Can I feel ‘em? I’ve never felt a baby kick before. Christian, do you mind?” He asks. I look at Christian. He shrugs.

“It’s fine with me if Butterfly doesn’t mind,” Christian says. I walk over to Elliot and place his hand on my stomach. Just when his hand touches my stomach, one of the soccer players—I think it’s my son—gives his hand a good kick.

“Whoa!” Elliot snatches his hand back and I laugh. “What was that all about?”

“Uh, I don’t know, but just to test a theory of mine, do it again.” Elliot puts his hand on my stomach again and a few seconds later, there goes that goal kick again.

“Fuck! I mean, damn! I mean… shit! Sorry, Mom.” Elliot turns his attention back to me. “That kid can kick!”

“I see!” I say, amazed. “Christian, come here, please.” When Christian comes over to me, I instruct him to put his hand on the same spot that Elliot touched. When he does, nothing happens.

“Christian, don’t move your hand. Elliot, come and touch my stomach again.” Elliot touch my stomach again, and nothing happens. We wait for a few moments and just as he is about to move his hand, wham! Young Master Grey kicks the shit out of him! I laugh loudly.

“How is that possible?” I exclaim through my laughter.

“What is it?” Grace asks.

“My son knows that Elliot is not his father!” I laugh. It might be my daughter, but whichever kid it is, they know that’s not Dad! Christian bends down to my belly.

“That’s my boy!” he says to my stomach, causing the entire room to erupt in laughter.


 

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly is in her dressing room changing for bed while I get a fire going in the fireplace. It’s a nippy night and I don’t want to take a chance of her catching a cold. The extra dark walls in here ensure that this room doesn’t get as much sunlight during the day and therefore, doesn’t retain as much heat. So a fire is perfect for a cold, winter night.

Just about everyone called it a night pretty early just after dinner once we all saw our significant others emerge from the spa treatments. No doubt everyone was feeling a bit amorous and didn’t want to waste time conversing with one another instead of indulging in each other. I have to admit that I feel the same way, but there are a few bases that needed—and still need—to be covered before we escape to Loveland. Butterfly had a phone session with Ace today. She confided in me that she discussed the shrinking and the running, which she had previously remembered, but had slipped out of her mind just as quickly as she had recalled it. He helped her recall some of her coping techniques and even some of the major events that brought her to this point. Luckily, full-on regression wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately, a side effect of her TBI is that she may frequently have to be reminded of major or minor details. I know it’s inconvenient, but as long as I have my Butterfly, I’ll remember for both of us.

She comes into the bedroom looking as cute as a button in an oversized tartan plaid brushed cotton flannel sleepshirt. She’s absolutely adorable and I just want to gobble her up. I take both of her hands in mine.

“So, we need to talk about some things,” I begin. “Snuggle here, or would you like for me to build a fire in the sitting room?” She smiles coyly. Bad news and snuggle never fit in the same sentence, so she’s ready for our talk.

“Snuggle here,” she says. I nod and climb into bed under the covers, beckoning her to join me. She climbs into bed and snuggles into my arms under the covers. I have to force myself to remember that we need to talk.

“Comfy?” I ask, wrapping my arms around her.

“Mmm hmm,” she purrs, burrowing into my body and sharing my warmth.

“Good. So, the first order of business is Pops,” I begin. “I’d like for him and Uncle Herman to stay on with us. It wouldn’t be permanent, maybe just for a week after the Thanksgiving weekend if that’s okay with you.”

“Mmm, have you talked to them about it?” she asks.

“I mentioned it to Pops and we’ll talk about it in more detail with the rest of the family, but I wanted to clear it with you first.” I feel her smile.

“That’s very sweet. I think it would be very nice to have Pops and Herman around for a little while.” I sigh.

“Good. That was probably the most difficult thing I had to talk about,” I chuckle. “We’ll bring it up at brunch? I don’t see it being a problem, but I’d just like to spend a little time with my grandfather, that’s all.”

“And I’m sure if you present it that way that no one would argue with you,” she says. I kiss her forehead.

“What do you think about this whole welcoming ceremony for the babies? Don’t you think that seems like a bit much?” She sighs.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” she says. “I know that the grandparents and the auntie are all gung-ho for it, but that seems ostentatious and unnecessary. Isn’t that what the christening ceremony is for? We invite people to that and they’ll be able to bring gifts and meet the children formally. It’s still usually just family and close friends. I say ‘no’ to the welcoming ceremony.”

“Mia’s going to be disappointed,” I warn. “Probably Mom and Ray, too.”

“Whose children are these?” she reinforces. “They’ll have to be happy with the christening and that’s it… unless you wanted the welcoming ceremony.”

“I don’t even know what a welcoming ceremony is,” I respond. “What’s the purpose of it? How would you even go about planning one?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I say ‘no.’ We’ll have a christening and that’s it—a good, old-fashioned christening. I can’t even begin to imagine how over-the-top a welcoming ceremony would be—a Mia welcoming ceremony, no less! Can you imagine that headline, because it would no doubt make it to the paper? Mia would organize some crazy gala affair like she did with the PSA announcement, where she had to get rid of the marquee lights. The paps would be out en masse trying to get a picture of ‘Lady and Master Grey in their designer welcome attire’—no! Absolutely not! No! It would be a fucking circus.” Shit, why did I even bring this up?

“Okay, that’s a definite ‘no,’” I say, rubbing her arms and attempting to calm her. “We won’t even talk about it anymore except to tell our families that it won’t be happening, okay?” She calms down a bit and sighs.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get upset. It’s just that I remember the way we had to have a similar conversation with the family about our wedding. It’s like we have these events in our lives and they just want to turn them into these ridiculously huge, grandiose media events, then they want to make us feel guilty for throwing ice on the whole idea. Do you remember your mother’s first guest list?” I scoff.

“How could I forget?” I lament. “She had like a thousand people on that list—and she actually expected me to approve that… when you had already said ‘no!’”

“This will be a kajillion times worse. No, we’ll let them know when and where the christening will be. They can come or they don’t have to, but no welcoming ceremony.”

“I second that,” I say, closing the conversation. “Now, about Lady and Master Grey. They need names, Baby. When you were sick and I thought you may not come back to me, one of my worst thoughts was that we hadn’t named our babies yet.” She shivers a bit.

“That was your worst thought?” she asks.

“I said one of them,” I correct her. “It was pretty rough for me when you were in that coma. I was both grateful and resentful that you had advanced directives. I don’t think I could ever make the decision to take you off of life support if it came to that, but I was tormented by the thought that I may only have had 60 days left to be with you. I didn’t know which was worse, but in the end, I realized that having to make that decision would have been worse. So… even though I didn’t intend to have this conversation now, I think I should tell you that I now have advanced directives, too.” She looks up at me.

“You do?” she asks, and I nod. “What are they?”

“They’re exactly the same as yours,” I tell her. “It seems reasonable, and I wouldn’t want you holding out hope if I were to become unresponsive. I wouldn’t want to live my life as a vegetable, either, Ana. For a guy like me, that would be cruel and unusual punishment.” She nods.

“I understand,” she says. “Can we change the subject now?” She squeezes my waist and I pull her closer to me. Okay, baby, enough of the macabre.

“Baby names,” I reroute the conversation. “Have you thought of any?”

“I was thinking of ridiculous names one day… during one of my maudlin moments. I hadn’t given any serious thought to names, but…” she trails off.

“But what, Baby?” I prompt her.

“I’ve always liked Al’s name—not because he’s my best friend, but because I’ve always liked his name. I always said that if I had a son, that’s what I would name him.”

“You want to name him ‘Allen?’” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“Yes, but no,” she says. “I like his name, but I like it reversed.” I frown deeper.

“Nella?” I ask, dismayed. She laughs heartily.

“No, you nut!” she says, slapping my chest. “Will you let me finish?”

“Please, do!” There’s no way in hell I’m calling my son Nella—or my daughter. It’s too fucking close to Ella.

“His name is Allen Michael. I like the sound of Michael Allen,” she says finally. I ponder that thought. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to… we can come up with something else.”

“No, no, let’s not dismiss it,” I say. “Michael… it’s a good name. It’s strong and traditional. Michael Allen Grey… I think I like it.”

“You do?” she says, her voice hopeful. “You’re not just saying that?”

“I love you, dearly, Butterfly, but we are talking about the name of my first born son, here. If I didn’t like it, I would definitely tell you.” She smiles up at me.

“Al is going to piss bricks!” she giggles. “Let’s wait until after they’re born to tell him.”

“That’s fine by me,” I concur.

“Well, since I pretty much had free reign with the boy, maybe you should name the girl,” she says.

“Are you sure about that?” I scoff.

“As long as she’s not named after any of your ex-submissives, I’m fine,” she says. I shiver.

“God, no!” I growl. She laughs at my calamity, and I know just how to pay her back. “Anastasia.” She pauses for a moment, then she gets my meaning.

“Christian, no!” she whines. “I didn’t even consider Christian because you never slightly indicated that you wanted a ‘junior…’” That’s because I didn’t. “… Now you want to name the girl after me?”

“I love your name. I think it’s classic and beautiful.” She sighs that impatient girl sigh that reeks of displeasure.

“I don’t want her to be named Anastasia,” she whines shamelessly, and I can tell that she really doesn’t want her to be named Anastasia, but I really do.

“We’re going to have to compromise,” I tell her. “I love the name Anastasia, and yes, it is because it’s your name, but it’s also because of what it means. It means ‘resurrection,’ and that’s exactly what you did to me. You brought life to my dark, dead soul and I’ll never forget that. You definitely don’t want our daughter to be named Anastasia, but I gave you Michael Allen with no qualms. So, you have to give me Anastasia. I’ll take it as a middle name if a first name is a bit much for you.” She looks up at me.

“Don’t you want to name her after your mom or Mia or somebody?” she asks as a last ditch effort.

“No, I want Anastasia, and if I can’t have it as a first name, then I’ll take it as a middle name.” She sighs and I sense her surrender.

“Okay,” she says, still none too pleased. “What about a first name? And don’t fucking tell me that you want to name her Rose!” she hisses. I laugh a bit at her calamity this time.

“No, but I did have some backups in case you didn’t go with Anastasia, and I think they would go well with her middle name.”

“Let’s hear them,” she says, still a bit miffed.

“Well, I did look up some names, and I was of course drawn to names that represented beauty or portrayed beauty just in the sound of them—like Sabrina. Unfortunately, we can’t use that one now.”

“Why not?” she whines again.

“Sabrina Anastasia… it’s too choppy. First name ends with an A, middle name begins with an A…” She frowns.

“Yeah, no. Not a good idea.”

“So I thought about Lily or Bonnie…”

“Lily, maybe… Bonnie, no.” Okay, scratch Bonnie.

“Randi and Helen…”

“Helen’s an old woman’s name,” she says. “Randi seems too informal. She’s got to grow up with this name and get a job one day.”

“Then we’re going to the more formal names,” I say. “Diane, Brittany, Geraldine, Mackenzie, Carmen, Isabelle…”

“Wait, stop!” She bolts up out of my arms.

“Isabelle?” I ask. It’s pretty.

“No.”

“Carmen?” My voice goes higher as I repeat the names I rattled off.

“No, Mackenzie,” she says.

“Mackenzie,” I repeat. Yes, that was one of my choices. It actually does mean “fair, favored one” in the masculine and “little princess” in the feminine. I think it’s perfect.

Mackenzie Anastasia… I actually like that,” she says, nodding. “I can live with the ‘Russian princess’ name in that combination.”

“So… Michael Allen Grey and Mackenzie Anastasia Grey.” I test how the names sound on my tongue. “We have our children’s names?” She smiles.

“I think we do,” she says. “Congratulations, Mr. Grey.”

“And you as well, Mrs. Grey.” I return her smile and kiss her gently on the lips. Her eyes change when our lips part and she climbs on top of me straddling my lap while I’m sitting against the headboard.

“I have a feeling,” she purrs, “that there’s a lot of sex going on in this house right now.”

“Do you, now?” I ask, gently rubbing her thighs until my hands end up squeezing her ass cheeks.

“Mmm-hmm,” she says, unbuttoning my pajama shirt and kissing gently down my chest. Greystone twitches immediately in my pants. Damn, man! Give her a chance to get started!

“What do you suggest we do about that?” I ask, my voice thick with desire.

“I have a few ideas,” she whispers into my neck. I close my eyes as her lips and tongue lick my skin. Just her closeness and her smell drives me wild. I have to control my breathing to keep from losing it completely.

She grinds slightly on my lap as she finishes with the buttons on my shirt. I groan from the friction and squeeze her thighs, absorbing the heat from her core through my pajama pants. Two quick movements and I could be inside of her, but I’ll wait. It’s killing me, but I’ll wait.

She brings her face to mine and thrusts her tongue into my mouth. Her lips play a sensual game with mine, possessing and commanding my kiss as she roughly clutches my hair. The action shoots fire to my groin and I grab her body tight, groaning into her mouth as she kisses me feverishly, still grinding into me and making me want to explode in my pants.

“Impatient, Mr. Grey?” she says against my lips.

“You have no idea!” I grumble into her mouth.

“Mmm,” she says, pulling her lips from mine. “Then let’s not keep you waiting any longer.” She escapes my grasp and quickly removes my pajama pants and boxer briefs. Moving like a sexy cat, she crawls onto my legs and takes my dick in her mouth. I almost choke on air when she slides her lips down onto me. I’m panting and grunting like an animal as her lips drop and pull relentlessly on my pulsating rod. Fuck, I want to open my legs. It’s so fucking hot! I need air down there!

As if she heard my thoughts, she wiggles until she is between my legs, my knees on either side of her. The air hits my balls and feels so good, but I soon discover that her motive was not to give my balls some air. She’s on her knees on all fours on the bed between my legs. While supporting her weight on one hand, she’s using the other to hold and stroke my dick at the base while her mouth bobs masterfully on the head and shaft.

Dear God, I feel like my eyes are going to pop out of my head any second. I can’t even describe the burn in my dick and balls right now. She is fucking my dick and I am wildly fucking her mouth! My legs are bent and my feet are flat on the bed as I pump fast against her powerful lips. Watching her work my dick is unbearable as I tilt my head from side to side to get a better view. I palm her head as I thrust into her mouth, but the exercise is only a gesture because she has total control over this stroke. I grimace and grunt indecipherable sounds as the explosion builds in my pelvis and my balls. I try to tell her to stop, to slow down, something, but Greystone has a chokehold on my vocal cords, allowing only those animalistic grunts to escape.

The trembling starts and I try to slow the stroke, but it only allows her a more stationary target to clamp and suck and torment. I groan loudly, unable to contain my agony anymore. I dare not drop my hips or she would lock down on my erection and suck my balls through my dick like a straw. Greystone keeps tormenting me, coming to the height of pleasure and making me think he’s going to squirt and then subsiding just a little with the “not yet” tease.

“Aaahhaaahaaa,” I groan, anguished that he’s doing this to me. I swear, he hasn’t done this since—well, shit, for at least 10 years.

Take it, Bitch, he teases. I feel him getting harder and so does Butterfly. She hums her approval and intensifies her assault. In the name of God, come, you son of a bitch.

“Uuuuuggghhhuuuugghhhhaaaaahhhh!” This is unbearable agony. I’m frozen in air, my dick pulsing and throbbing in Butterfly’s mouth as her tight, hot, wet lips mercilessly coax the cum to rise from my tightening balls through my reluctant dick.

Had enough? Greystone taunts. You wanna come now, little bitch boy?

“Yes! Yes! For the love of God, yes!” Now, he decides to release my vocal cords! As he has caused me to be sucked into total and undisputed submission, he also released the grip he has on my libido. Butterfly’s next downstroke is like flaming hot fire and the skin of my dick is made of gunpowder. There is no description for the blasting sensation and eruption that occurs in my loins. I don’t know what part of my mouth I’m biting, but I. Taste. Blood. I can’t scream, I can’t move, my jaw is tight and I can’t function. I can’t breathe and I hear tearing—from where, I don’t know. The fire in my hips, my dick, my balls, and my pelvis will. Not. Stop. I hear myself. I sound like a wounded animal, but I can’t see a thing and she’s not letting up on that sucker until it drops.

Who’s the master?

I dare not answer that, not like I could anyway. This burning is insane and it’s not stopping.

Okay, I think you’ve had enough now. You get a break, but I ain’t finished. So make the most of it, bitch boy!

What did I do to deserve this abuse?

The burning and tingling finally begin to subside and I’m no longer afraid to let my hips drop to the bed. My dick is still on fire, throbbing with pleasure and the reminiscence of the ultimate death it just experienced—the most awful and horrifyingly magnificent thing I’ve ever felt in my life! I’m panting, more like gasping, trying to suck air into my lungs like I’m suffocating. The tearing heard earlier—our sheets. The blood—from my lip. I’m wheezing, sweat dripping from my brow onto the bed, my hair wet like I’ve just taken a shower.

“Christian…?” Her concerned voice snaps Greystone’s hold on me and my eyes shoot open. “Are you okay?”

I bolt upright and look at her, watching me with questioning eyes. I quickly but gently push her down on the bed, her head at the foot. I’m on autopilot and she gasps as I grab her nightshirt from the bottom and rip straight up, causing buttons to fly in various directions around the room.

“Christian!” she gasps, but I don’t give her time to protest. I swoop down quickly on her core, thrusting my tongue deep into her canal. She heaves loudly, taking in a huge amount of air as I descend upon her. She cries out hopelessly, writhing underneath me as I fuck her relentlessly with my tongue. Locking my arms around her hips, I take her entire fruit in my mouth—lips, clit, everything. Her cries are deeper, more helpless, more mournful as I nibble on every area, lick every crevice, suck and tease her clit incessantly. I won’t introduce my finger until she is numb, trembling, and mindless with pleasure. She tastes so good. Her arousal is unending. Each time I think she has juiced and flowed as much as she can, she feeds me more—more of her never-ending delicious nectar. I can’t get enough. I’ll lap it up until she’s done, then I’ll clean the remnants from her pulsing pussy.

“Christian, pleeeeeeease!” she cries. She feels what I felt, mind-numbing pleasure that snatches away all reason and takes over your entire body. Her hands grasp my hair, trying to halt my assault—or localize it, I don’t know—but I continue, digging and licking and sucking and biting and tasting. Her legs get stiff and clench around me. She’s wheezing at a high pitch, her head hanging off the edge of the bed. She’s grinding into my mouth and I feel the muscles in her hips harden. She’s pulling my hair violently, painfully, and it only spurs me on more. Her back rises off the bed and she almost looks possessed—groaning and grunting through a brain-freezing orgasm. I don’t have time to insert my finger and I dare not move away. I continue to suck deeply on her clit as she emits the same animal sounds that I did minutes before. Her body jerks and she whimpers repeatedly, her clit hard as a rock and pulsing against my tongue. I—like her, moments before—refuse to relent until she stops pulsing in my mouth. She finally softens against my tongue and I release, blowing gently on her clit as she keens. Both of my hungers have been sated, immensely, but Greystone reminds me that he’s not quite done with the beautiful creature. I don’t have the heart to mount her right now. She’s puffing and panting and fighting to catch her breath. I know you’re in charge, dude, but look at her.

I gently kiss the soft meat on the inside of her thighs. Her smell is so arousing, and I try to absorb it, to allow myself to be content with where I am. I rub her hips and her thighs and out of nowhere, she sits straight up and looks at me again—hungry, primal.

FUCK!

Yes, that’s her intention. She pushes me back on the bed like I did her minutes before, only I’m back on the headboard again. Greystone is hard as a rock and she climbs right on top of it, sliding down slowly and never taking her eyes off mine. I hiss without closing my eyes as she rises and falls on me. We breathe into each other’s mouths, the same way that we do when we are making our connection. Her eyes still locked on mine, she grasps my face in both her hands, holding me still as she rides me, evenly, slowly.

Oh, God, I can’t take it.

I wrap my arms around her and hold her in the yabyum position—the position we normally take when we are connecting. Too late to stop it, I realize that what we’re doing. We’re connecting right now—during sex. Won’t that ruin our connecting? I thought we took special pains not to be intimate during our connections. It changes the dynamic, doesn’t it?

She senses my trepidation. Her arms slide around my neck, pulling me closer to her. I still feel her moving against me, over me, but only slightly… only enough for me to feel the warmth of her walls, the small amount of friction to keep me aroused. We are as close as two—or four—people could be right now. I would normally caress her skin right now, but I can’t. I can only hold her against me. She parts her lips wide, breathing in and out in staccato breaths. I taste her panting in my mouth and realize that she’s giving her breath to me, a common practice in our connecting. I open my mouth and accept it gladly and soon, her breaths are more even as she gives them to me.

This is heavenly, more than my little mind can stand.

I begin to rock gently into her, only as much as she is moving against me. It’s a collaboration… a dance. Our bodies are the instruments, our breath is the music, our hearts are the drums. We have transcended making love—we are one, now… one soul, one spirit, one being. I look into her eyes and I see… eternity. I can’t see where she begins and I end. It’s just… forever.

Our lips are so close, but we don’t kiss. We simultaneous extend our tongues, just so that the tips touch and we are allowed to taste each other’s essence. It’s absolutely delightful, and it’s agony at the same time. My soul wants to wrap itself around her, consume her, absorb her completely… become one entity so that we’re never apart again.

I hold her close and fight to maintain control—not to squeeze her too hard; not to press my lips against hers and taste her sweet kiss with total abandon; not to hold her down on my aching member and thrust wild and deep into her until she cries out in pleasure. No—there are other forces at work here that won’t let me do it, that prompt me to rein in my primal urges and maintain control over the passion beast.

I give in to the force that’s stronger than me and close my eyes. They were burning and watering anyway. Almost immediately, it feels like something grabs me from the inside and snatches my breath away. I see soft light behind my eyelids even though our room is dark.

Is it the fire? Is that why I feel so warm?

Suddenly, I’m floating. I’m encased in her caress, in her embrace, and I’m floating—higher and higher in light and warmth until all sight, sound, and sensation culminate in a cosmic, celestial release from my loins and my eyes. I hear my voice, wheezing or weeping… I don’t know which. As my head falls forward, helpless in her bosom, she cradles it gently, keening her own song as her body gently trembles… an ethereal sound, barely audible. I can do nothing—no talking, no moving, nothing—but join in the rhythm of the rise and fall of her breast…

… And breathe.

*-*

We fell asleep in our usual position after we’ve made a connection—wrapped in each other and still breathing the same air. I awake before she does and watch her sleep for several minutes. Occasionally, she purrs in her sleep, probably dreaming of fairies and unicorns again.

“Mon amour, mon âme…”

Mmm, that’s not unicorns… that’s me.

I suddenly feel a bit of wetness between us. Sweat? I’m not hot and neither is she… well, she is, but not in that way. I pull back a bit to investigate. By the slight light of the sun shining into our room, I see it.

That can’t be… can that be?

I look closer, and the wetness is… yes, it is! It’s small drops of milk, leaking from her breasts! Not a lot, just enough to notice.

My heart is instantly full. Isn’t it too early? Should I be worried? No. No, I shouldn’t. This is beautiful. This is a beautiful women and sign of the love and life that my wife is carrying. She’s smiling sweetly in her sleep. I slide down to her breast and watch with wonder as both nipples glisten with moisture. I take her nipple in my mouth and lick and suck it gently, only once before moving to the other and repeating the process. She continues to smile, but she doesn’t wake.

And I take this moment to hold her and bask in the pleasure of tasting the first fruit of life from my wife’s body.


 

A/N: Just in case someone doesn’t know, a chimera is a thing which is hoped for but is illusory or impossible to achieve.

Mon amour, mon âme—my love, my soul (if I’ve got that wrong, someone correct it for me, please).

FYI, Colostrum is produced at about 16-22 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s usually hard to express so Mom doesn’t know it yet. Mom produces at the rate the baby consumes—most of the time—but in the beginning, she produces very, very little, so she’s not leaking. It’s not unusual for her to leak before delivery, though I don’t have the actual numbers of how common it could be. This will addressed a little further in the story.

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 23—More Reasons to Be Thankful

Concerning the many questions that I keep getting about Keri’s mother and “Ma”—please reread Paging Dr. Steele, Chapter 55 to see who “Ma” is. When Keri says, “You remember Ma,” she’s not talking about her mother. They are not the same person.

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…

Cannes Film Festival - 'Lost River'Chapter 23—More Reasons to Be Thankful

ANASTASIA

 “There’s not a lot of water in Michigan,” Pops said to me while we gazed at the wall aquarium in my spa. “Granted, it’s technically an island and we’ve got the Great Lakes, but it’s nothing like living here… near the ocean.”

“Do you like it here, Pops?” I asked.

“I love it here,” he replied. “I have a huge house in an old neighborhood in Detroit. Nobody lives with me by Herm and it gets pretty lonely with five empty bedrooms. Herm’s good company, but when it just us…” He trailed off. “It’s going to be hard on him when I’m gone.” I looked over at him. No one is really telling me what’s going on with Pops, except that he’s on dialysis and needs a kidney. I sat down on the bench in front of my aquarium, facing him.

“Pops, what’s your prognosis?” I asked. He inhaled deeply and sighed heavily.

“My creatinine is pretty high,” he admitted. “We keep trying to get it down, but it just won’t stay down. It’s not a good sign. I’ve got a really good nephrologist. His care and advice have kept me around much longer than I expected. Even from across the country, he still cares for me and corresponds with my current doctor here in Seattle. He wasn’t happy that I moved out here, much like my family.”

“Why?”

“My family, I don’t know. They love me, I’m sure. It’s just that I didn’t really seem to be a particularly huge priority to them until I decided not to return to Detroit. Now, they’re fighting over that house like it’s so important when really, it’s nothing. Herm knows how hard I worked for it—to keep it in the family when things got rough, so I know why he’s doing what he’s doing. The others, I don’t know what their motives are. My doctor… well, I’m an old man and he’s cared for me for years. I think it’s just hard to let go sometimes.” I sighed.

“Pops…” There’s no way to ask this gingerly, “Did you come out here to die?” He donned a sad, knowing smile.

“You’re very perceptive, child,” he said. I almost felt the breath being snatched out of my lungs. Oh, no… this can’t be.

“Did you know this before you came to our wedding?” I asked. He shrugged.

“Not just yet, but I knew things were bad. I just wanted to see Rick before it was too late. I wanted to make things right. I wasn’t looking for anything…”

“Oh… no, I wasn’t suggesting that…”

“I know you weren’t,” he said, gently placing his hand over mine. He looked behind me at the aquarium again. “You know, the body is mostly water. It seems to me that water should be able to heal what ails you.”

“Most things, it does,” I told him. “Others need a little help.”

“Or a lot,” he added. We sat in silence for a few moments and I could tell that he was contemplating more than watching the fish.

“Have they told you… about how much time you’ve got left?” My voice faded at the end of the question. He smiled again.

“Several years ago, they told me that I had about fifteen months. Like I said, that was several years ago, so I don’t put much faith in mortality predictions.”

“And yet…?” I wanted to know what I need to be prepared for. Christian just got his grandfather and now he’s going to lose him. I need to know.

“Without a kidney, about six months… maybe.” I sighed heavily. Suddenly, I felt sick. Why did I have to ask him this on Thanksgiving? “You won’t tell anybody.”

“I’m a shrink, Pops. Discretion is my first name,” I replied mournfully.

“I may… need to talk sometimes,” his voice cracked. “I don’t do well with strangers and Herm… well, sometimes I just need a different ear.” I nodded… more dignity therapy. That takes a lot out of you, which is why I won’t do it, but for Pops…

“I don’t mean to offend you or disgust you, Pops, but… Christian is a very wealthy man. He knows a lot of people. I’m a doctor and I already know that to even suggest something like this is immoral and unethical and against everything I believe in, but… we just got you and we don’t want to lose you and…” I couldn’t even bring myself to say it. “You could die… soon…”

“Rick mentioned it,” he said. Carrick? Really? “If I did that—if I let them buy me a kidney, there are all kinds of repercussions attached to that. What if somehow they could get me on the front of the list with UNOS? What if I get a shiny new kidney and some kid somewhere dies because I took his spot? What if I let them buy me a black market kidney? Where will it come from? What kind of life did the person live who’s giving it to me? How was it harvested? If the market is illegal, was somebody killed to get that kidney? There are too many questions and I just couldn’t live with it—the not knowing, the wondering whose life had to be changed forever in one way or another so that I could get a kidney. No, if the good Lord sees fit to give me a kidney and a little bit more time in this life, then I’ll gladly accept it if it comes through the right channels. And if He otherwise says that it’s time for me the shuffle off this mortal coil, then I’ll leave smiling knowing that I got to meet the rest of my family before I go to join my Ruby.” I could only smile at him.

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” I lamented, “to have all this money and not be able to help you.”

“You can help me plenty, child—by listening and by being there for me and by allowing me to be a part of your life. You just can’t save me.” Pops is a wise man, and it hurt to know that he most likely won’t be around much longer, and that I can’t tell Christian. “Remember,” he said as if he were reading my mind, “our secret.”

“Of course,” I confirmed with a heavy sigh. It is what it is—Pops is old and his kidneys are failing. Without a transplant, he’ll die, and he’s already been waiting for a long time. I have to accept it, but you know how there are some things that you would rather just not know?

“Where is your mind?” Christian asks, and I realize that I’m sitting in a room full of people who are talking about any and everything and I’ve drifted off into a daydream of mine and Pops’ earlier conversation.

“Life, I guess,” I tell him as he takes a seat on the sofa next to me in the family room, “how no matter how many preparations you make, you just can’t be prepared for everything.”

“But you can get pretty damn close,” he says. I shrug noncommittal. “What’s brought this on, baby? Are you okay? Were you thinking about the accident?” Whew! Thanks for the out, Christian.

“That and even crazy ass Edward. If I had known for a moment that he would have been lying in wait for me at the aquarium, do you think I would have gone there alone? For my entire adult life, I came and went as I pleased. I didn’t need security or any special protection besides my guns, and this one time I didn’t have either and that fucker was waiting for me.” I look over at Pops and Herman talking to Luma. She has been close to one or both of them all night, asking about Pops’ treatment and getting to know more about the family.

“Look at Luma. She’s lost almost everyone close to her. What kind of warning did she have that any of that was coming?” I shake my head. “No, Christian, you don’t always come close. ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.’” He pulls me into his arms.

“You’re right,” he says. “You can’t prepare for everything, but we can do our best and that’s all we can do. I chose one of the safest cars in production as my vehicle of choice and when your car was vandalized, I bought one for you. As fate would have it, a recovering alcoholic who otherwise would not have passed GEH’s background check was positioned as your PPO and threw his body over yours in what could have been a fatal accident. As a result, the worst that we’ve suffered is a barely visible scar…” he kisses the scar on the side of my face in front of my ear. “… A bump on the head that means I get to relive all of our memories with you, and a small patch of peach fuzz that allows me to try new headbands and scarves on you every day. Charles didn’t even come out as bad as he could have, though he’s still a hard-ass about those pain meds.” I look over at Chuck and I can see that he’s in pain. He has made it to one of the sofas and Keri is napping with her head in his laps. I’m glad that she can’t see him right now.

“What is it going to take?” I ask aloud to no one. I’m a little perturbed with Chuck for choosing to suffer this way and my little soccer players feel my angst. “Make your children calm down,” I say to Christian. He begins to rub my stomach from the bottom to the top, slowly, then in circles. For some reason, this is the pattern that calms them. Grace eyes us questioning and I realize to the unknowing eye, it looks like he’s fondling me.

“Your grandchildren are restless,” I inform her, the statement getting Carrick’s attention as well.

“Son, where on earth did you get that pattern?” Carrick asks about Christian’s massage pattern.

“Well, I’ve been doing some reading and a little known fact is that while circular motion may be the most relaxing for Butterfly, it may not be as comforting for the babies. Each baby prefers a different pattern of massage. You just have to experiment with what they might like most. It’s harder with twins.” We now have a captive audience of everyone in the room, except the children who are all quite engrossed in some video game.

“One of the children likes to put his or her head right here.” Christian put his palm flat on the bulge right under my belly button. “We think it’s ‘him’ because he was kind of positioned that way on the ultrasound at the hospital. So I put a little pressure here…” He pushes his hand flat and moves it up my stomach, the length of the baby’s body, “… and for some reason, it will make him shift and settle. Is it working, baby?”

I nod. If this one is the little boy, he’s certainly the playtime coordinator in there, because he gets the party started and she falls right in line. Once he settles down, so does she. After about five minutes of massage and explanation, the beans finally settle and I’m almost ready to fall asleep.

“And they’re down,” Christian says, placing his hand solidly on my baby bump.

“Thank you!” I sigh heavily. “I think I fed them a little too well today. They’re just full of energy.”

“They’re rehearsing for their debut,” Grace says with a smile. “What’s left now, about nine weeks?”

“Numerically, eleven, but Dr. Culley says that twins are generally born early. So my guess would be closer to seven or eight.”

“Oh, I can hardly wait!” Mia exclaims. “The first of the new generation of Greys. Shouldn’t we have some kind of formal celebration or something? To welcome them to the family?” Grace’s face lights up.

“Mom…” Christian says in a scolding tone.

“What? I think it’s a good idea,” Grace says, her voice a little whiny. “These will be my first grandchildren. I’m twice blessed on the first shot…”

“Mine, too,” Daddy pipes in. “Being a new father and a new grandfather. How many people can say that?” he beams. “I’m with Grace and Mia. If you guys agree, I think it’s a good idea.”

“I don’t want a bunch of strangers around my babies,” Christian says, and I wholeheartedly agree. What’s involved in this formal ceremony anyway? What exactly do they have in mind?

“Who said anything about strangers?” Grace says. “It wouldn’t be anything more than who you see in this room… except maybe Elliot, hopefully,” she adds the last part with a little sarcastic sass, and again the elephant is back in the room.

“Let me and Ana discuss this and we’ll let you guys know,” Christian says, and I’m certain that he’s going to put the ixnay on that particular idea. Carrick is now rubbing Grace’s arm, either comforting or calming her. I never downplayed the fact that Elliot didn’t come, but I didn’t think it would completely ruin his family’s Thanksgiving. Apparently, Grace is taking it harder than I thought she would. Carrick, too, and Mia seems none too pleased about the situation either.

I need to make a bit of a getaway, if just for a moment to clear my head. This is never inconspicuously done since I weight three tons and can’t just rise and sneak out of the room. I have to rock my way out of a seat if no one helps me since my butt has gotten so big.

“Baby, you okay?” Christian asks when he sees me trying to get out of my seat.

“Yes, I just want to get up,” I tell him.

“Do you need something? I’ll get it for you,” and I’m still struggling to get off the sofa. People are starting to turn their attention to me as I conspicuously scoot to the edge of my seat.

“No, it’s okay. I just want to get up.” I’m almost out of the seat and he sort of puts his arm in front of me like he’s not going to let me leave.

“You’re not sick or anything, are you?” His concern is touching, but now I’ve got the attention of just about everyone in the room… again. I look up at him and speak in a soft, calm voice.

“Christian, I just want to get up… okay…? Please?” I hold his gray gaze for a few moments. He gives me a knowing look—like he would tie me to the sofa if he could. Instead, he stands up and holds his hands out to me. I take his hands and with very little effort, I’m off the sofa.

“Thank you,” I say, forcing a smile before attempting a quiet getaway through the kitchen.

“Ana, is everything okay, dear?” I hear Grace call from behind me.

“Um-hmm,” I say loud enough for her to hear me without turning around. I add a little wave of my hand and leave through the kitchen, snagging one of the divine mini chocolate ganache cakes off the island on my way out.

When you want to make an escape in a 14,000-square-foot house, you would think there would be plenty of places to hide. Well, there are, but only if you completely know the lay of the land. I don’t completely know it just yet, but I’ve learned my way to key locations, like the Grecian aquarium—which is where I find myself now. I’ve renamed it Atlantis, as that seems quite appropriate. I watch my favorite fish swim among the columns and secretly pray that Elliot doesn’t skip out on all of the Thanksgiving festivities or this will forever be known as the year that Ana ruined Thanksgiving. Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but that’s how I feel. The dessert and the dish are offering me a small bit of comfort, so that’s good.

I wonder what Valerie really thinks of me. Does she really think I’m this horrible person since I got married? I have changed a lot—even with my corked brain, I know I’ve changed—but not so much that I would ever forsake my friends, and certainly not Valerie. She’s always been one of the most important people in the world to me. Now, she just wishes I would go away and I have no idea why, and Christian’s brother can’t enjoy the holidays with his family because she doesn’t want to be around me. Since it’s because of me that they met, is it really so dramatic that I feel that this will be the year that Ana ruined Thanksgiving?

“He told me I would find you here.” I look behind me to see Grace standing near the French doors. I sigh inconspicuously.

“Hi, Grace,” I say, rubbing my bump. Give me strength, beans. “I just needed a moment or two of quiet.”

“What’s wrong?” she asks. I shrug.

“Just a lot of holiday,” I lie. “I’ll be fine.” She stands next to me and folds her arms, watching the fish with me for a few moments.

“Just so you know, I don’t blame you,” she says, hitting the nail right on the head, which causes me a little discomfort and relief at the same time. I look over at her, my eyes no doubt asking how she knew. “We’ve worked closely together for over a year, dear—even more closely over the last several months. You’re not transparent, but certain things aren’t hard to figure out for someone who really knows you.” She smiles softly. I turn back to the aquarium.

“This is such a mess,” I say, unable to think of anything else that would sum up the situation. I can’t stop the lone tear that treks down my cheek. Something’s got to give. The Greys are a very close family and I’m a part of that family now. I can’t be the reason that Elliot distances himself.

“You can’t take responsibility for someone else’s actions,” Grace says in a motherly tone. “I was there, remember? I saw this entire thing unfold, and unless something has happened between now and then that I’m not aware of, this is not your fault.”

I wish I could believe you, Grace. I had to do something somehow that I’m just not remembering to make one of my most loyal friends turn her back on me.

“Why does she hate me so much?” I sob, unable to stop my tears. Grace puts her arms around me and tries to comfort me.

“Now there will be none of that,” she says, gently rubbing my back. “You can’t explain why people do the things that they do or act the way that they act and you certainly can’t blame yourself for it. We won’t let her ruin our Thanksgiving, but I will be having a word with my son because if thinks he’s going to pull this on Christmas, I will send the National Guard over there to drag him out of that goddamn house!” I laugh a bit through my tears. Master Elliot had better get his shit together with his bipolar girlfriend by Ho-Ho-Ho Day or Dr. Trevelyan-Grey is going to prescribe some medicine that he’s not going to like.

“Now, come on,” she says, wiping my face with a hanky, “You’ve got guests upstairs and it’s not nice to leave them waiting.” I nod and try to pull myself together. Deep down, I know that I didn’t do anything wrong to Valerie. I never would. I just can’t explain her behavior and the only logical explanation is that I did something—but even Elliot says that it’s not exclusively me that’s getting her ire, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I take my seat in the family room, trying to behave as normal as possible. Keri is awake now and Chuck has moved to the recliner where he looks a lot more comfortable than he did on that sofa. Keri is chatting with Gail while Chuck and Jason are probably talking shop. Daddy and Mandy and engrossed in a conversation with Carrick, Ethan, and Mia and my little brother is asleep on our father’s shoulder. Sophie is thoroughly enjoying herself with the other girls while Marlow still looks on protectively. James and Al are sharing some little secret and Gail has fallen into conversation with Marcia. Luma hasn’t left her perch with Uncle Herman and Pops, and Christian is nowhere to be found.

“Hey, you okay?” Marlow has left his post by his sister’s side and has come to check on me.

“Yeah,” I say unconvincingly. “A lot of things have changed since last year. It all takes some getting used to.”

“I’ll say,” he says, taking the seat next to me. “I met a girl.” Now this is news

“You did?” he nods. “You like her?”

“She’s okay,” he says. “Mr. Grey says I need to keep my mind clear so that I don’t let my grades drop, so we don’t spend a lot of time together.”

“I agree with Mr. Grey, Marlow, but you’re young. You’ve got to have some fun. It can’t all be work.”

“Oh, I know. It’s not all work. She’s just as busy as I am, but we do see each other sometimes.”

“Where did you meet her?” I ask.

“At school, peer-to-peer counseling.” I nod.

“She’s your peer counselor?” He shakes his head.

“No, she’s someone else’s peer counselor,” he clarifies.

“Well, it’s good that you have a peer counselor nonetheless. You’ve got a lot of mentors, but it’s good to have someone that you can relate to on terms of equality.” Marlow chuckles a bit.

“I don’t have a peer counselor, Ana. I am a peer counselor.” What? Seriously?

“Get outta here!” I exclaim quietly. “That’s fantastic, Marlow. How did I not know that?”

“It’s been a little hectic lately for you, I’ve heard,” he says. “Not including the accident, you’re pregnant and the stuff that was going to with the company…”

“You know about that?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“I don’t know the deets, but I know that something was going on,” he says. That’s good. The deets might actually scare the shit out of him.

“Yeah, it was a lot going on for a little while. We never get the chance to talk anymore. You’ve grown so much. What made you decide to be a peer counselor?”

“You,” he says, looking over at his sister.

“Me? How so?”

“You said that helping other people is what helped you get through your situation. Don’t you remember that? It was a lecture that you gave at the center.” I probably did, but I don’t remember right now. “I was still so hurt and so angry with my father. I was angry with the world. I just wanted to be left alone and I knew that wasn’t going to fly at SeaPrep. I thought the kids were going to be so mean to me—you know, uppity and snooty, but they weren’t. I actually went to the peer counseling sessions to get a counselor and the advisor asked me if I wanted to be one instead. She said she thought it would work out better for me, and she was right. I don’t feel so alone anymore. I knew you understood, I just didn’t think other people would understand.” I take his hand.

“Is it hard?” I know it was for me.

“It took a little getting used to, but once I warmed up to it, not so much. I kind of look forward to it, now.” I sigh.

“Wow, Marlow. I’m really very proud of you,” I say with a wide smile.

“Thanks, Ana. I couldn’t have done any of it without you. You treated me like a normal kid instead of an angry charity case. I’ll never forget when I first met you. All I could think was ‘Is this little white woman really talking like this?’” I laugh aloud, drawing the attention of some of the other guests.

“Sorry,” I say insincerely and turn back to Marlow.

“You helped me. You helped my family. You introduced me to Mr. Grey. It’s really been great. I learned so much. I’m working out and getting a little buff…” A little? “Mr. Grey let me work on a mock business proposal. He’s teaching me some of the finer points of running a business so that I can go back and help the neighborhood. I helped Mr. Faulkner get a loan to fix the roof in his store last week!”

“Marlow, that’s really great! You sound like you’re doing really well.”

“I am. I’m hoping to convince Mom to go back to school. She wants to be a nurse, but I think my father beat the motivation out of her.” I really hate to hear that. I’ve seen that happens to some women and they never get it back. “I went to see him.” I glare at him.

“Your father?” He nods. “How did that go?” He scoffs.

“He thought I was there to bond,” he says. “Mr. Grey says he should be getting out soon—on parole or probation. I just wanted to make sure that he knew he couldn’t show up and treat us like he did before. I told him that if he ever came near me, my sister, or my mother again, that I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions.”

“Ooo! What did he say to that?”

“He laughed. He tried that macho bullshit—‘I’m still your father. I can take you down.’ I just shrugged and told him that I’d be around any time he’s ready. Mr. Grey and Mr. Taylor taught me that his power lies in our fear. So, I can’t be afraid of him anymore and I’m not. Mom and Maggie, that’s another story.” He looks over at his mother.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Maggie still wakes up crying in the middle of the night. She’s afraid that he’s going to come back. Mom’s worse. Mom barely sleeps. She’s just now getting to the point where she can function on a normal basis. I want him to come back.” What in the hell…? “I want to give him a taste of what he gave our family all these years. I want to show him that we won’t be bullied anymore.” And there’s the protector… and the vigilante.

“Don’t go looking for trouble, Marlow. It’s always there if you go looking for it.”

“I won’t,” he assures me. “I just let him know that if he bothers us, he will have to deal with me and I will take him down.” This worries me.

“How did he take that?” I ask.

“The same way he always does. He blew it off. He said that I was talking big shit because he was behind bars and couldn’t get to me to teach me a lesson. I just told him not to worry about it and to find me when he gets out and we’ll see just who gets schooled.”

“Did he leave it alone after that?”

“Nope. He was still talking shit. Tried that reverse-psychology shit—‘Well, tell me where you’re hiding and I’ll find you when you get out.’” He mimics his father’s cocky voice. “I told him, ‘We’re not hiding. You just don’t where we are, but if you ever find out, please do drop by. I don’t need to tempt the hands of fate. You know a lot of people and somebody will tell you where we are. So you’ll find us when you get out, and when you do, I’ll be waiting for you.’ He was still talking shit, so I just left him there talking to himself.”

“How did you get to the jail?” I ask. Surely he didn’t go up there by himself.

“Mr. Grey and Mr. Taylor took me,” he replies. “I told them that I had something to get off my chest, so they took me so that I could.” That sounds like something Christian would do. I only hope that he reinforced what Marlow said to his father and made sure that fucker knows not to come near Marlow and his family. Marlow and I turn the conversation to a lighter note—to how he and Maggie are faring in the new schools. He’s telling me how Maggie is slow to make friends because she’s shy—more like frightened—but she’s making a few. Our conversation is interrupted by my long lost husband’s voice.

“Look what I found wandering around the grounds.”

I turn around fully expecting him to produce a stray kitten, but he produces a much more pleasant “stray” than that.

“Elliot!” Mia exclaims, jumping from her seat and running to her brother. She launches herself at him and he catches her in an embrace much like Taylor caught Sophie earlier this afternoon. She says something muffled in his neck and he just laughs, embracing her warmly. The Greys all stand and move slowly toward Elliot, me included. We make a semi-circle around him and Mia’s not releasing her grip. Then again, neither is Elliot. He raises glassy eyes to his mother, his chin resting on Mia’s shoulder.

“I won’t let anything or anyone come between me and my family… never again.”


 

CHRISTIAN

Elliot spent the rest of Thanksgiving evening with us. He ate several of the desserts and even took a “to go” plate with him when it was time to leave. As he tells it, he had simply had enough of Valerie moping around the house, sighing and unhappy—and sometimes angry—and unable to tell him why. By about 7ish, he had come to the conclusion that he was out of his mind to let her keep him from Thanksgiving dinner with his family. She didn’t even cook.

Mom and Mia and even Butterfly perked right up when he walked in the door. Butterfly was visibly heavy with his absence and it wasn’t until Mom made that comment in the family room and I realized that Butterfly was escaping that it occurred to me why she was so burdened by it.

She was sure that it was her fault that he wasn’t here.

I don’t know how she could feel that way. Valerie has really been extremely unreasonable over the last few weeks. I can’t even believe this woman participated in our wedding. As emotional as Butterfly has gotten when this topic arises, I dare not ask if more is going on than I know—not that I even suspect that—but that woman’s behavior is irrational and unexplainable. And this change wasn’t gradual like it was with crazy Kate. It just came out of nowhere.

When Butterfly left the family room, of course Mom wanted to know what was wrong. So I told her. It made her feel bad that her comment brought on Butterfly’s escape, though that wasn’t my intention. She later confirmed for me that’s exactly what was wrong, and the fact that Butterfly was able to loosen up and enjoy the rest of the even further solidified my suspicions. However, there is now something that I need to address…

“You ran tonight,” I tell her when she comes out of her en suite dressed and ready for bed.

“What?” she asks bemused.

“You ran tonight. You haven’t done it in a long time. I was afraid that it would come back… the running and the shrinking. You were so proud of your progress and now… it looks like you may have to start over.”

“What are you talking about?” she says, her brow furrowed in deep confusion. I take her hand and lead her to the bed. She sits and I take a seat next to her.

“One of your milestones, your breakthroughs in your treatment with Ace, is that you recognized that when things become more than you could handle, you run away. It’s something that you’ve done since you were a kid—when things were really horrible. It’s one of the reasons why you confronted your mother.” She’s thinking really hard, trying to recall anything I’m talking about, it seems. “You have to get away from the situation, even if for a moment. Both you and Ace came to the conclusion that running away wasn’t the answer, even if it was just running to the next room. You had developed a few coping techniques to stop it… and the shrinking.”

“Shrinking?” she asks. I sigh.

“I think you might have done it once in the hospital, but I’m not completely sure. It’s another thing that you do when things get really bad. You make yourself small. You curl up in a ball… you shrink.” Her mouth forms a thin line.

“Yes, that sounds familiar,” she says. “I used to feel like I could make myself disappear and bad people wouldn’t see me or bad experiences couldn’t find me. I never pinpointed that behavior in my adult life.”

“Yeah, you did,” I tell her. “You actually overcame it pretty well. Ace took you through some very painful regression sessions and, although I didn’t agree with them and I didn’t like them, they actually did you a lot of good.” Her face falls.

“Oh, yeah… I remember now,” she says, her voice maudlin. “I actually remembered it a couple of days ago. It must’ve jumped out of my head as quickly as it jumped in. I remember… he helped me recall the rape… and the last time my parents were nice to each other.” She wraps her arms around herself. “Yeah, I remember a lot of that.” She stands up and starts pacing. Thank God! For a moment, I thought she was shrinking again.

“My mother came to see me… at the apartment. No, it was somewhere else. We had dinner and… I gave her some money. Yeah… that’s what happened. I remember that.” She’s standing up a little straighter. “I came back… I came back to you…” She turns around to face me.

“Yes. You came back to Escala and you cried almost all night,” I confirm. She nods.

“Yes. I let her go. She came back… I think it was the next day and I let her go.” She sits back down on the bed next to me. “The walls were closing in on me and I just had to get out of that room,” she says. “I don’t know why. Grace had a right to be displeased with the fact that Elliot wasn’t there, and she didn’t say anything vicious to me, but I just had to get out.”

“It’s your fight or flight response, baby. It tends towards flight. When is your next appointment with Ace?”

“Not until next week,” she says, rubbing the short spot in her hair. “Not until next Friday, but I have his number and he told me to call him in case of emergencies.”

“You might want to call him tomorrow,” I say. “Let him know that your flight response has returned and see if he has any suggestions.” She nods, closing her eyes and still rubbing her short spot. “What’s wrong, baby?”

“My scar,” she says, and I now see that she’s rubbing the scar inside of the short spot. “This is one of those times when it feels a bit uncomfortable.” I frown.

“One of those times?” I ask. “They’ve been hurting?”

“Yes, Christian. Old scars hurt sometimes and these are still pretty new. They’re going to ache and sometimes even hurt. It’s going to be that way for a long time to come.” She continues to rub the spot. “Didn’t you feel that with your scars?” I shrug.

“My scars still hurt, but I think that’s mostly psychological.” She turns to look at me, uncertainty in her eyes.

“You never told me that,” she says softly, “did you?” I shake my head.

“I just never let anybody touch them… except Mia… and you… Mom, sometimes…” Her eyes change and she looks like she’s about to cry. “This wasn’t about me, Butterfly. This was about you,” I say, effectively diverting the conversation. “These scars are in your head and the pain concerns me a bit.”

“Don’t be concerned,” she says. “It’s nothing I didn’t expect and it’s not a migraine. It’s just a dull ache. Let’s not talk about it anymore. I’ll call Ace tomorrow after the shopping and see what he says about the shrinking and the running. Right now, I just want to lie down.” I nod and crawl in the bed. I throw the covers back and gesture for her to lie down in front of me so that I can spoon her. She sinks right into the bed and our bodies fit together like a puzzle. She sighs and I feel her relax. I gently massage her scar and she moans contentedly.

“What do you think about this whole welcoming ceremony?” I ask as she’s slipping off to sleep.

“Tomorrow, Christian,” she says with a yawn. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.” I kiss her hair and continue to massage her scar.

“Tomorrow, baby. Goodnight, Butterfly…”

*-*

The ladies are up and out before sunrise. I decide that it would be particularly bad form to go into the office while I have guests, so I decide against it. I’m up before anyone else, so I go to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. I am soon reminded that this is not the leisurely weekends that I’ve become accustomed to at Escala.

“Oh! Mr. Grey!” Ms. Solomon is in the kitchen with who I think are two other cooks. They both stand there momentarily stunned before they turn to each other and deliberately away from me. That’s when I realize that I’m wearing a pair of joggers that hang from my hips… and nothing else.

“We’re preparing the menu for today, Mr. Grey,” Ms. Solomon says without flinching while the other two look like they’re hyperventilating, desperately avoiding looking in my direction. “Can I get anything for you, sir?”

“No, I just want a cup of coffee,” I say, pouring myself a cup before moving toward the door. “I should warn you—we tend to get very comfortable on the weekends. You might want to warn the male staff that pregnant or not, Mrs. Grey is very likely to come downstairs wearing nothing but a shirt.”

“Duly note, sir,” Ms. Solomon says as I’m walking out of the room. “You two better get it together,” I hear her say as I bend the corner headed back to the staircase to put the two out of their misery. I’ve become accustomed to women becoming useless balls of mush in my presence and to be completely fair, not many women get to see me in even that state of undress. I just hope they—as Ms. Solomon indicated—get it together before Butterfly sees that reaction, because she’ll be having none of that. Come to think of it, I might want to talk to her about her tendency to walk around half naked on the weekends, although I don’t want her to feel like she can’t get comfortable in her own home.

I spend a few quiet moments with my coffee and the paper in our sitting room. I don’t spend much time in here as this is Butterfly’s “light” room and I don’t see much need for this much light this early in the morning, but I can see how she would. She hasn’t mentioned the fact that there are two rooms conspicuously missing from our home and I haven’t mentioned them as yet either. It’s because I haven’t had an opportunity to get them finished and I really don’t want to finish them without her. I also didn’t want to have to explain their purpose to Elliot.

I leave my coffee on the mantle and go into my dressing room. Underneath the shelf just to the left of the door, I slide the panel to the side and press down. The wall of shelves just in front of me opens outward. I pull the secret door open further activating the automatic recessed lights and walk into the space that will be our connection room. It’s small—only ten feet by ten feet—but that’s plenty of room for our purposes. It’s not furnished yet—only decorated with tan wall panels and a matching attached bench that spans the perimeter of the room. I think the only thing we need in here is some kind of comfortable cushion or mat on the floor since we always end up falling asleep wrapped in each other’s arms as we are emotionally and physically spent after our connection.

There’s not enough ventilation for a fireplace. I figure when we want those fireplace moments, we can use our bedroom or even the sitting room, but I think a trickling wall fountain would be perfect for this space. I’d like to get Butterfly’s opinion, then we’ll decide where to go from there. I walk to the other end of this room and push slightly on the wall. It opens towards me again and I enter yet another secret room we discovered in the blueprints of the mansion. Although Elliot painted these rooms, he doesn’t know what they’re for. He’s aware of the functions of some of the other hidden rooms—the panic room, the hidden security hub—but not these.

This room isn’t finished yet either. This room is much larger than the connection room. At 225 square feet, this room also has no natural light source. Instead, there is variant lighting in this room—recessed lighting casts ambience around the room while adjustable angled lights in each corner can serve as spotlights, if desired. A master light in the center is tucked into the ceiling and serves as an option to light the entire room. The walls are painted a rich, deep royal blue—the same color of Butterfly’s eyes when she’s at the height of passion… right before she comes. This room will be our playroom.

I’m torn as to if I should show her these rooms soon or if I should decorate them myself and present them as a Christmas present. We’ve already had our first connection in this house and I’m sure that we’ll have another before Christmas. Use of the playroom, I’m not so sure. Although I’ve done some research on acceptable play while pregnant, Butterfly is still so fragile since the accident not to mention that she’s officially in her third trimester and carrying twins. Also, if I’m honest, I would definitely want us to decorate these rooms together. Though the Dom in me is a little restless, he’s not so restless that I would put my wife and children at risk. So, I will do more research before I even approach that idea.

I leave the rooms for consideration another day, deciding that I will tell Butterfly about their locations so that we can decorate them together. After a hot shower, I slide into some jeans and a sweatshirt and start to make my rounds. Taking the elevator down to the ground floor, I find Ray in the entertaining room with Harry in his Pack and Play. I also discover that we have another guest joining us today—Phillip Guest, to be exact, and his daughter Mindy.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” I say as I enter the entertaining room.

“Good morning, Christian,” Ray greets me.

“Good morning,” Phillip replies. “I hope you don’t mind me crashing your home. Ana suggested that I stay here with you guys while Maxie went shopping with them.”

“It’s no problem,” I reply. “Make yourself at home. There’ll be lots of food and the men will most likely just be lying around grunting and scratching ourselves.” This elicits a laugh from both gentlemen. Phillip and I are neither here nor there in terms of our relationship. I’ve gotten along just fine with Butterfly’s friends… once I realized that they were Butterfly’s friends. I look down at the small, pink package in his arms.

“Boy, she’s tiny,” I say, watching her curiously as her mouth forms a tiny “o” then widens as she yawns contentedly and settles into her father’s arms.

“Get ready, man. You’re next,” Phillip points out.

“How exactly do you get ready for this?” I ask. “She looks like I would break her.” Phillip ponders the question.

“You don’t, really,” Ray interjects. “Nothing you read, nothing you hear is going to prepare you for when those babies are born. When you see them for the first time, it’s going to knock the wind out of you. And when they put them in your arms, instinct is going to kick in. You’ll automatically know what to do. You’re going to be flooded with love and joy and pride and somewhere in the days thereafter, you’re going to become very protective.”

“Oh, God,” I lament. “Then I’m going to be a monster. I’m already a protective control freak.”

“As well you should be with new babies on the way,” Phillip says. “I’m a bumbling mess over Mindy. I think about her all the time when I’m away from her and when I’m back home, I spend all of my time looking at her and holding her. Maxie nearly has to elbow me in the jaw to get to her just to feed her.” This man clearly doesn’t understand. I am extremely overly protective of my family and if what they say is true, I’m going to be worse than a warden. “Don’t worry about it too much right now, Christian. They’re helpless little creatures and they’re going to need all the protection you can give them. Now when they’re teenagers, you’re going to have to rethink that.” I shake my head.

“Good God, this is going to be an adventure,” I groan.

“That’s for sure,” Ray laughs as Phillip gently rubs his little girl’s head.

I leave the fathers temporarily to go and check on the preparation of the spa and fitness room. Sure enough, the windows of the fitness room have been covered with burgundy drapes and there are a few cots, loungers, and beauty chairs all over the room. Various little tables have been set up with aromatherapy candles and massage oils while other areas hair various hair and nail products. They’ve turned my fitness room into a full service beauty salon. After last year’s encounter with Cinderella’s mean stepsisters, nothing is too much to make sure that my Butterfly relaxes.

“Hey, Christian,” Uncle Herman greets me as I step into the guest suite. “What time is it?”

“About ten o’clock,” I tell him. “Breakfast is probably ready or about to be. Just trying to wrangle the troops.” He nods, sleepily. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Dad had a bad night. He’s supposed to have dialysis today, but he’s really weak. I think we might just skip it today and let him rest.” I frown.

“Isn’t that dangerous for him?” I ask. Isn’t dialysis supposed to clean the impurities from his blood?

“Only if he does it too often and doesn’t make up the session. We’ll just call the agency and have them come out and do it tomorrow. I just have to let Rick know that he doesn’t need to go in today.”

“Oh, they can come out to you.” It’s a statement rather than a question. Uncle Herman nods.

“They actually have it so that you can do it at home on your own, but that’s mainly for the younger folks with my focus. Dad needs more help and although I can do it, I’d much rather be sure that it’s done right. So I just let the professionals handle it. His insurance covers most of the cost.”

“And who covers the rest?” I ask.

“We do. Dad has a pension and his social security. I’m on disability with money still left from my lawsuit.” I hadn’t even thought to ask if Uncle Herman had any income. It wasn’t really important.

“You had a lawsuit?” He nods.

“I was test-driving a company car when one of the company trucks hauling more company cars hit me. I was down for quite some time, but when I got back up, I got paid well.”

“What about your brothers in Detroit… Stan and…” I can’t remember the other one’s name.

“Freeman,” Uncle Herman says. “They have families of their own. I don’t have anyone. My children are all adults and living on their own. Dad’s not a burden to me.” I frown.

“You think that’s how they see it?” He shrugs.

“There was a time in the beginning when I was a bit emotionally overwhelmed by the situation such as it was. I asked for help from them and they balked about it—talked about their lives and their wives and how much responsibility it is to take on an ailing parent.” He scratches his cheek. “I thought they were being selfish at the time and I was angry, but I understand now.”

“You understand.” Another statement that should be a question. He nods.

“Taking care of an ailing parent is a full-time job. It takes up all of your time. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a family that needs me 24-7… except my father. So that’s where I should be. I never told him that Stan and Freeman refused me because I love him. He doesn’t need to know that. On holidays, they came over and made him feel loved and cared for. They checked on him throughout the year, stopped by to make sure that he was okay. That’s all I asked. Don’t make my father feel like a burden. He spent decades taking care of us—even after Mom died. This is the very least I can do, and I’m going to be right here by his side until the very. Last. Minute.”  He’s getting a little emotional.

“Herman, I don’t mean to bring up bad blood, but there’s something I don’t understand. They put up a huge fuss about the house when I was on vacation to the degree that I had to hire security until we found caretakers. They can claim ‘family rights’ when it comes to his assets, but not when it’s time to take care of him? I don’t get that.” Elliot, Mia and I would be falling all over ourselves trying to see who gets to take care of Mom and Dad in this situation. I consider it a privilege to be able to repay my parents for the love and care they’ve given me all these years.

“I guess their priorities are confused,” he says, shaking his head. “My father’s not even dead yet, and they’re trying to sell his house.”

“Herm?” I hear Pops calling from the back of the apartment, then see his motorized wheelchair appear in the hallway.

“Dad!” Uncle Herman is apparently surprised to see his father. “You’re up… and dressed. I thought you were going to rest.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead, son. Right now, I refuse to spend the day lying in that bed as long as I’m coherent and can watch football.” Uncle Herman laughs.

“Why didn’t you call me? I would have helped you.”

“As you can see, I am capable of dressing myself… sometimes… I’ll need a little help with my socks and shoes, though,” Pops says, wiggling his bare toes and causing both me and Herman to laugh.

“Are you hungry, Pops?” I ask.

“Famished!” Pops responds. “Can you get that little Philly to come ‘round about two to do my dialysis? I don’t want to be around those sick people anymore.”

“Are you sure, Dad? You said you liked getting out and getting some fresh air.”

“Are you going to lock me in the attic?” he asks and Uncle Herman frowns. “I still plan on getting out and getting some air, I just don’t want to be around sick people anymore.” Uncle Herman nods.

“Fair enough,” he says. “I’ll get your shoes and then I make the calls and get Freda over here this afternoon. It may be somebody else if Freda has another appointment.”

“I know how this works, Herm,” he says, taking his son’s hand. “You go shave and get cleaned up. My toes are just fine for now.”

“They’re not cold?” It’s now that I see just how much Uncle Herman dotes on his father.

“No, son, they’re fine. Now go get cleaned up and let me visit with my grandson.” Herman’s shoulders fall, but it’s not disappointment. It’s relief. I know exactly what Pops did. To drive his point home, I chime in.

“Pops, you know where your shoes and socks are, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” he laughs.

“Do you mind if I put them on for you?”

“Not at all,” he replies. “You two aren’t going to leave me alone until one of you covers my paws.”

“Thanks, Christian,” Uncle Herman says. “I won’t be long.”

“Take your time,” I tell him. “If we’re not here when you get back, you’ll find us in the kitchen or the dining room.” He nods and heads off to the back of the apartment. I turn my attention to Pops when Herman is out of the room. “You heard him, didn’t you?” Pops doesn’t respond.

“Stan has always had too many balls in the air,” he begins. “He never has any spare time and barely has any time for his wife and kids. I’m surprised she hasn’t left him yet. Freeman’s the baby. He’s spoiled and that’s my fault. I coddled him, especially after their mother died. Now he can’t wrap his mind around having to take care of his old dad since I’m the one who has always taken care of him.” He’s making excuses for them and I’m disappointed, but I won’t make a fuss about it.

“Pops, I have caretakers at your house in Detroit right now…”

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. When I die, that house goes to Herman. He’s the only one that gave up his life and took care of me all these years. Whatever he says that he wants to do with it, make sure it gets done. I love all of my sons, but Stan and Freeman…” he adjusts in his chair. “They said that Rick was the snob, but he’s not. They are. They were so angry with him for marrying a girl from the suburbs instead of one of the neighborhood girls. It was like… snooty, but the other way around.”

“Reverse elitism,” I tell him. “Dad actually married up, but they looked down on him for not staying with his own kind.”

“Exactly!” Pops said. “Rick’s the one who made it big. We all do alright, but Rick really made it. I was never angry with him for that. I just felt like he made a life for himself and he did alright, so I needed to look out for the others. The problem is that I was so busy looking out for them that there was nothing left for me. When I got sick and the bickering started, I just didn’t want to be involved in it, so we just never talked about it. Herman and I fell into a comfortable routine and there was no reason to rock the boat, especially with me being sick and the other boys being so angry.

“When I got the invitation to your wedding, I just stared at it. It was on such expensive stationery. The boys thought that Rick was flaunting what he had become in their faces. They made a big fuss about it. You would have thought Rick had committed some heinous crime against them personally. He didn’t. All he did was fall in love and move away. Isn’t that what your children are supposed to do? Herman only came back after he and Shannon broke up, and he only stayed because I got sick. They all grew up, had families, moved on—why not Rick?

“Anyway, when I saw that invitation, I realized how much of a fool I’ve been and I asked Herm to book us seats and a hotel. We were here for a week before your wedding, but I couldn’t bring myself to come and see Rick. I was so ashamed.” I put my hand over his.

“But you’re here now, Pops,” I say, and he nods. “Are you feeling okay? Was that all for Uncle Herman or do you really want to move around?”

“I really want to move around,” he says, “and I don’t want to be around sick people anymore.”

“Who’s sick?” I hear my father’s voice coming from the door off the community area. “Hi, Dad. Christian. Who’s sick?”

“I was just telling Christian that I don’t want to be around sick people anymore. Dialysis is depressing enough without having a group of us clustered in a room talking about how long we’ve been sick and who’s sicker than the other and which one of us is going to die first. I don’t want to go anymore.”

“No dialysis, Dad?” my father asks concerned.

“I’m not trying to kill myself, Rick,” Pops scolds. “I just don’t want to go to that place anymore.”

“So… call Freda?” Dad asks. Pops nods. “Okay, Dad.” My father pulls out his cell phone and begins to dial.

“Pops,” I say, crouching down to his chair. “I know it costs more for the agency to send someone out than it does for you to go to the clinic. I’d like to cover that cost.”

“You don’t have to do that, Christian. I can cover it,” Pops protests. How do I tell him that I think his other two sons are walking pieces of shit who think that their father is only supposed to be around for their benefit, but won’t take care of him so that he can be around?

“Please, Pops,” I tell him, holding my head down and squeezing his hands, feeling the shame for the uncles that I’ve never met. “It would mean so much to me, and it’s such a small thing in the big scheme of things. Please…” I raise my head and he looks into my eyes.

“How does your wife ever say ‘no’ to those puppy-dog eyes?” he teases.

“She seldom does,” I smile, “but between her and me, the ailment is mutual.” Please, Pops…

“If it will make you feel better, okay, son.” I sigh heavily.

“Thanks, Pops. It really is a small thing, but it means a lot to me.”

“Okay, Freda will be here at 2:30—” Dad begins and stops short. “Dad, you’re barefoot.”

“And that makes three,” Pops laughs.

“I was going to get his socks and shoes when you walked in, Dad,” I tell him. He waves me off.

“It’s alright, I’ll get them,” he says, walking back to the bedroom. “Socks in the top drawer, shoes under the bed, right?” he calls while walking away.

“Nothing much changes, son,” Pops laughs.

“Pops, I’d like for you and Herman to stay on with us after Thanksgiving—not permanently. I know my mom wouldn’t have it, but maybe for a week or so, just until you guys want to go back to the manor?” He looks over his shoulder for Dad.

“We’ll talk about it later,” he says with a wink, silencing me right before Dad comes back in. We make small talk while Dad puts Pops’ socks and shoes on, then Dad goes back to the bedroom.

“Herm,” he calls out, “We’re going up for breakfast.”

“Be right there,” I hear Uncle Herman call out.

“I’ll be up in a moment. I’m going to check on Charles.” Pops and Dad nod and head for the elevator while I go to the other guest suite.

“Charles?” I call out. There’s a pause and then, “Yeah?” He sounds awful. I follow his voice and he’s in the bedroom trying to pull a sweater over his head.

“Man, you’re grunting and struggling trying to put a sweater on?” I pull the sweater over his head. He’s still struggling to get his arms inside and he actually breaks a sweat. “Well, you’re sitting, so it can’t be the legs. It must be those ribs.”

“They’re fine,” he grunts.

“They’re not,” I contradict him. “You’re in pain. Take the medicine.”

“I said they’re fine!” he growls, and I have to refrain from really letting him have it.

“And exactly who do you think you’re talking to?” I snap back. “You better watch your tone with me.”

“Oh, excuse me. I forgot… sir!” he hisses.

“And don’t pull that ‘sir’ shit with me, either, Chuck!” I retort. “I’m not talking to you as your boss. I’m talking to you as I would any other man who thinks I’m going to take it lightly if he takes that tone with me.” He’s glaring at me, but I keep right on going. “You’re in pain and I respect that, but you have the means to make that pain go away and you choose not to. So if you say that you’re fine like that, okay, but if you’re not, take the goddamn meds! Either way, don’t take that pain out on me. And while you’re worried about relapsing into alcoholism over a pain pill that has the addictive qualities of aspirin, your girlfriend is exhausted and sleeping all the time, most likely because she busy worrying about you! So instead of being concerned about what I think, you might want to start being more concerned about her!” I turn around and walk out of his room. “Breakfast is ready,” I call behind me, “and if you want to stay here and sulk, you know how to use the intercom if you need anything.” I exit the apartment and leave him to pout by himself.


 

A/N: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” From the poem To A Mouse by Robert Burns. Also can be accredited in a revised form to John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men

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 22—Thankful Again

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…

Table

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM THE GREYS

Chapter 22—Thankful Again

ANASTASIA

After an extremely blissful sleep, I stretch to get the blood flowing to my extremities. I open my eyes and—due to Christian’s light-eliminating drapes—I can’t quite focus. I rub them gently to see if I’m truly seeing what I think I’m seeing. I’m facing my husband; he’s sound asleep with his arm around me as usual… and he’s smiling! I don’t ever remember him smiling in his sleep since the day we met! Ever!

I just watch him and wonder what he’s thinking about. One thing never changes, though. He can always sense when I’m watching him. Sleepy gray eyes open to capture mine and I don’t bother trying to hide my Grey-gazing.

“Where are we?” he asks sweetly.

“In bed,” I reply. He closes his eyes and opens them again.

“So we are,” he says, still half asleep. He curls his arms tighter around me, pulling me closer to him and somehow fitting us together like a puzzle. I feel warm and secure in his arms… and protected. An air of contentment is flowing off of him and he kisses me on my cheek. “Good morning, Mrs. Grey,” he breathes, brushing his lips over my jawline.

“Good morning,” I purr, loving the early morning attention. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you, too,” he replies, still planting soft, chaste kisses on my cheek.

“What were you dreaming about?” I ask. He moans… well, a gentle hum is more like it.

“A little girl and a little boy,” he says, between kisses, “playing out back at the beach, splashing in the water.” His kisses soften, moving closer to my mouth. “And a beautiful woman laughing and playing with them. It’s a wonderful sight.”

‘It sounds like it,” I say, closing my eyes as his gentle pecks become open-mouthed kisses on my chin and neck. “And where are you?”

“Sitting on the rocks,” he says, the soft and wet kisses now reaching my lips. “Watching and laughing along with this beautiful scene,” kiss, kiss, “and thinking what a lucky man I am.”

“You are?” I breathe, trying not to turn this tender moment into a sexfest. He’s driving me crazy with just these small gestures and the happiness that I feel in his kiss and hear in his voice as he describes his dream.

“I am,” he says, sincerely, but sensually. “And just when the little girl says ‘Daddy, come play,’ the beautiful woman turns around and gives me the most breathtaking smile I’ve ever seen.” His kisses are getting deeper. “And I open my eyes and she’s lying next to me, with that same beautiful look in her eyes, stealing my heart away.”

He kisses me deeper, not harder—just longer and more passionate. When he pulls his face away from mine, he lifts my leg over his hip and I feel him slide effortlessly into me. When did he take off his PJ’s?

“Ah, Christian?” I whine, taken completely off guard.

“Yes, baby?” he says, placing his hand in the small of my back and holding me against him as he slides sensually in and out of me. Was I going to say something? I’m bursting with warmth and pleasure, so much… I close my eyes and try to breathe, absorbing all of his emotion. My chest is heavy, like I’m not getting enough air.

“You look so sensual,” he says, his face breaths away from mine. “You’re glorious!” he adds, moving his other hand up to the back of my neck, ensnaring my entire body. I’m trapped in his embrace, safe in his arms, surrounded by his love…

“Christian…” What wanton creature was that? Her voice sounds almost ethereal. I can hear her breathing inside my ears. It can’t be me… can it?

He’s barely moving, loving me deep and slow, filling me but only pulling out enough for me to feel the fullness. His movements are slow and methodical, concentrating on one space, one sensation. I’m rising fast… so fast. No part of our bodies is separated. I tighten my leg around his hip, urging him to move faster… harder…

“No, baby,” he chides gently. “Relax… relax and let me love you…” So I do. I relax my legs, my muscles, every part of me and surrender myself to him. My body is mush and the feeling is so exquisite that I can’t even moan. I can only hold my mouth open and breathe, my arms trapped between our bodies as he owns this moment.

“Open your eyes, baby,” he says softly. “Let me see you…” I sleepily open my eyes and gaze at my husband. He’s in total control, watching me closely like he’s gauging my reactions. His pupils dilate, but his movements never change; his expression doesn’t falter.

“I loved you before I was created,” he says, nipping gently at my chin, “and I will love you long after my demise.” Oh my God, where did he pull that from? I feel like I’m going to implode!

“You are everything beautiful and wonderful and perfect in my life… every cell of me needs every cell of you,” he whispers. Okay, I’m definitely going to implode. What do you say to that? How about nothing? How about you just let him keep talking and making you feel like the most priceless creature on the planet?

“Mon Dieu…” I breathe, preparing myself to be torn inside out. His stroke never changes, nor does his facial expression, even though I can feel him getting harder inside of me.

“You’re exquisite, my love, breathtaking and astounding… and you’re mine. I’m unworthy and blessed because you belong to me.”

“Ah… Christian…” my love, my soul… my beloved husband… how do I tell you…?

“Ssshhh,” he soothes as if he’s reading my thoughts. “You are mine… and I am yours… completely yours…”

Yes, Christian. I am yours. I belong to you—wholly and completely—and you, my love, are mine.

A warming tingling feeling begins in my back where he’s holding me against him. He plants open-mouthed kisses on my neck and collarbone. His tongue caresses the skin under my chin, around my jaw and near my ear. When he gently sucks my earlobe into his mouth, then bites down, grazing it with his teeth, I see flashes of light behind my eyelids and that tingling in my back becomes bursts of fire like skyrockets exploding through my body. I tense involuntarily, clinging to his T-shirt and trembling uncontrollably. I take in three large gasps of air, but this orgasm—this feeling of a thousand tiny pleasure fingers raking all over my body—has snatched my breath away and I can’t make a sound. He buries his face in my neck and I feel his eyes squeeze shut tight as his body stiffens and he pulls me hard against him.

“Ana!” It’s a desperate, breathy whisper and I feel him throbbing as he empties inside of me. Oh God, it’s sparks me again—if I ever came down—and tiny bursts of pleasure sweep through my body again as my husband rides out his orgasm. Oh my God, what was that? That was the most draining and yet invigorating orgasm I’ve ever had in my life. What in the world has gotten into my husband?

I almost just want to go back to sleep after that, but there’s too much to oversee to make sure everything goes well today and I don’t have Marilyn to help me. Christian made getting started easier, though. He gently carried me to the shower and made sure that every crevice was clean. He washed and conditioned these super-long tresses before lovingly combing out the tangles and putting it into a looped ponytail for me. We have a plan for our dinner attire and everyone has been instructed to dress casually, so while we are setting things up for the day, I’ll be wearing sweats and a T-shirt and change into dinner attire later. Seeing that I am opting for something comfy and not-to-special, Christian gets one of the sporty scarves from my collection and wraps it craftily around my head covering the short-hair spot and allowing my ponytail to fall out in the back.

tipsaholic-beach-messy-bun-with-head-scarf“How did you learn to do that?” I ask, admiring my headdress.

“A little birdie showed me,” he says. I look at him skeptically. “YouTube,” he admits and kisses my nose. I’m truly moved by his gesture and I kiss him gently on the cheek.

“That’s incredibly sweet,” I say, unable to hide my admiration.

“Anything for my Butterfly,” he replies, cradling my chin. “Let’s go get things started before I take you back to bed.” I blink coyly.

“Yes, Mr. Grey.” He smiles and takes my hand, leading me to the elevator.

Al is always the first to arrive, but I’m pleased to see that he and James have arrived to join us for breakfast. Christian asked him to come early knowing that Marilyn wouldn’t be here and that I would most likely need some help. I’m so glad to see my best friend. He looks fantastic… refreshed, even. He’s certainly a sight for sore eyes.

“Have you seen the whole house?” I ask him after he hugs me warmly.

“I’ve seen some of it. Luckily, we’ve got four days, because I have a feeling that’s how long it’s going to take me to see the whole thing. Oh, but the facade is divine!”

“Wait until you see the rest. It’s like a dream,” I tell him as I lead him to my office. “I never thought I would ever, ever live anywhere like this in my whole life. It’s so perfect and I’m still learning my way around. There are a few rooms missing, so to speak, but Christian and I will tackle those once the babies are born.” Al nods and looks conspiratorially back down the hall from where we came. “What’s going on, Allen?” I ask once we get into the office.

“I’m so glad we’re alone. I thought I would burst if I didn’t tell you soon.” He thrusts his hand out to me and there I see the most beautiful diamond and platinum ring. I gasp.

unique-mens-diamond-wedding-rings“Al,” I breathe, snatching his hand to get a closer look at this gorgeous creation. “Did you get married?”

“No,” he answers nearly bubbling over. “We’re engaged. We’re getting married next spring!” He’s almost jumping out of his skin.

“Oh, Allen! I’m so happy for you!” I say, nearly moved to tears. “What brought this on?”

“You did, Jewel.” Me? How did I bring this on? “He said that he’s watched Christian over these last few months and how he did everything in his power to keep his family safe and happy; that even with all of his money, he couldn’t prevent tragedy from falling upon him. He watched Christian run from city to city and state to state trying to protect the things and people closest to him and when it all came down to it, nothing he did could have saved you from the accident. Just when it looked like he was getting to the bottom of things, another monster reared its ugly head and he almost lost you. James said that—at the risk of sounding cliché—it made him realize how short and precious life is. You hear it every day, that things can change in an instant and just like that, what you have can be gone or someone that you love can be snatched from you.” He sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk and I sit in the other one facing him.

“I thought you were a goner, Jewel,” he says, his voice cracking. “I didn’t recognize you when I saw you. It was…” He has to take a moment to compose himself. “Your entire face was bandaged except for one eye and it was swollen shut. They said your ear was…” He starts to weep. I take his hand in both of mine.

“I’m okay, now, Al,” I say softly. “It was a close call and I know it could have been catastrophic, but it wasn’t. I’m here and I’m fine. My brain is still a little corked, but I didn’t kick the bucket and I didn’t lose my babies. I’d say we won this one, huh?” He nods, still weeping.

“The ‘could-have-been,’ Jewel,” he sobs. “I don’t know what I would have done. I know it’s selfish and we should have been thinking of Christian. He never left that room… not once, but I couldn’t think of him. I could only think of myself and how I would possibly go on without my split-apart.” And now, I’m crying, too. It is a harrowing thought. I don’t know how I would go on without him either. I love Christian. With all my heart, I love him, but I would feel like a part of me was missing forever if something happened to Allen.

“I understand,” I whisper through my tears, clinging to his hand. There’s nothing else I can say.

“That woman—the one who hit you, Naomi—I’m glad she’s dead.” I raise my head and look at him, eyes wide. “I know it’s a horrible thing to say, and one day, I’ll ask for forgiveness… but not today,” he weeps. “Not today.”

“Ssshh,” I soothe him through my own tears. “This is supposed to be a happy time for you. You’re supposed to be giving me good news,” I scold gently. He nods and pulls a handkerchief from his pocket. He’s never carried handkerchiefs before. I guess Christian’s influence is rubbing off on him.

“I know,” he says fighting to compose himself. He takes several deep breaths. “I’m glad you didn’t die, Jewel,” he says as he dries his tears. “I would have found that woman. I swear to God, I would have found her.”

“I know,” I say, squeezing his free hand. “I’m not glad that she’s dead per se, but let’s just say that I’m not mourning her passing.” I pull one of Christian’s handkerchiefs out of my bra and wipe my face.

“James just came home last night and dropped down in front of me on both knees. I was sitting on the bed organizing what we were packing for this weekend. He just blurted it out. He said he wanted to marry me. That he was in love with me.”

“What did you say then?” I ask.

“I said, ‘no.’” You said what? My expression must have asked every question my mind was thinking. “I was sure that he was just being overly emotional and that he was going to regret the situation later. Of course, I want to marry him, but I don’t want it to be some spur-of-the-moment, ‘I’m scared’ thing. That’s when he showed me the ring.” He’s getting weepy again, but quickly composes himself. “He told me everything that he was thinking when you were in the coma. The one thing that kept going through his head, he said, was that he kept asking himself if he could live with me not being his if something like that happened to me tomorrow. He said he didn’t want to wait another second and I had to convince him not to go to City Hall tomorrow.”

“Why not?” I ask. What’s stopping you?

“Well, for one thing, City Hall is not open tomorrow,” he laughs. “But for another, I don’t want anything dramatic, but I don’t want it to be that informal. Something small, but not cold… and I can’t do it without my Jewel.” And the tears start to fall again. “Besides being my best friend and soulmate, you’re the whole reason this happened, and not because of the accident. Because you convinced him to tell me how he felt in the first place, and you convinced me not to be afraid of my feelings, and you held me together when I thought he was leaving me for Jose. He and Christian are pretty close, too, and I think he would want Christian there. So… there you have it.” I smile through my tears and clean my cheeks again.

“I guess we have another wedding to plan, huh?” I laugh.

“I guess so. It looks like the entire Scooby Gang is going to be married soon, huh?” he says and I immediately think of Elliot and Val.

“Well,” I say, changing my train of thought, “Marilyn and Gary have gone to Portland to introduce Gary to the family, but Mare assures me that there are no wedding bells in the immediate future.”

“They’re both young,” he says. “They have plenty of time. They may even decide that they want someone else.”

“This is true,” I concur.

“Then there’s Valerie and Elliot.” I don’t raise my head. “She’ll always be part of the original Scooby Gang, even though right now she’s acting like a lion with a violent ass infestation of fleas.” Eeeeewwww! That is such a horrible visual.

“Al! Good fuck, that’s awful!”

“Do you have a better description?” I shrug. No, I don’t. “Will we be graced with her presence today?”

“Fortunately not,” I respond. “Unfortunately, that means that Elliot won’t be here either.”

“How does Christian feel about that?”

“None too happy, and I don’t know if he’s told the rest of his family… or if Elliot has, but I won’t be the bearer of that bad news.”

“I hear ya,” he says. He looks down at his ring again. “It’s really very beautiful.”

“Yes, it is,” I agree. “I’ve never seen an engagement ring for a man, but I would have to say the setting is perfect…” Before I finish my thought, the intercom buzzes. “Yes?”

“Mrs. Grey, breakfast is ready. Would please meet us in the dining room and feed my beautiful wife and children?” His voice makes me melt. “Oh, and I guess you can bring my freeloading head of legal with you, too.” Al laughs loudly.

“You love me and you know it!” Al retorts.

“We’re on our way, darling,” I say with a smile. Al and I stand. I link my arm in his.

“Congratulations, Yin,” I kiss him on the cheek. “I love you.”

“Thank you, Yang, and I love you, too.” He puts his hand over mine and escorts me to breakfast.

Chuck and Keri are already at the table and Keri is positively glowing! She looks rested and refreshed, and Chuck looks like the cat who caught the canary. I wonder if everyone had the same morning Christian and I had… or if Chuck gave in last night and took the pain meds, finally allowing poor Keri to get some rest. There’s no sign of discomfort from him and quite a bit of canoodling between the two of them, so I would say that it’s probably both.

“Good morning, everyone,” I chirp when Al and I enter the dining room. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Well, you’re in a particularly good mood today,” Gail points out as she places a platter of some delectable looking egg creation on the table.

“It’s a beautiful day. It’s my first Thanksgiving in my new home. My family and friends are all going to be here. I’m happy and lucky to be alive… I am just so ready for new beginnings and great things.” I squeeze Al’s arm. He pats my hand and smiles before taking the chair that his fiancé has pulled out for him.

“That’s certainly a healthy outlook on life,” Jason says.

“I wholeheartedly agree.” I walk over to James and kiss him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good visit.”

“Too long,” he says in that caramel-smooth voice, flashing that smile that made me forget he was gay when we first met.

“You worked tirelessly during the hacker situation. I know my husband couldn’t have done it without you. He might still be looking for that asshole right now if it weren’t for you. Thank you.”

“He paid me well,” he jests, but not. I know that Christian paid him handsomely for his work. “He’s become a friend—a reluctant friend and I can understand why, but a friend nonetheless. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t offered some kind of assistance… and Allie would have never given me a moment’s peace.” He smiles. “Did he tell you? I know he told you.”

“He did,” I smile. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“What are you two conspiring over there? I’m ready to eat!” Jason interrupts us and we all sit down to Thanksgiving breakfast.

Now I don’t know how we are supposed to function after this meal or how we’re supposed to attack the mammoth endeavor that is Thanksgiving dinner. We had egg and cheese frittata, fried rice discs under over easy eggs and Canadian bacon—a breakfast stack, they called it; bacon and leek quiche; banana-coconut pancakes; tornado hash browns; buttermilk biscuits; glazed maple walnut kringle; chocolate-cheesecake muffins; and blackberry buttermilk smoothies. I told Gail that I want something this decadent for my first breakfast after I have my babies. I already hate hospital food and I’m sure that I won’t want whatever selection they have for breakfast after all that pushing.

Like the best friend that he is, Al runs around the house helping me make sure that everything is perfect. Keri helps, too, which I really appreciate since she’s a guest, but I know that she really wants something to do besides sitting around worrying about Chuck. I’m concerned that with all this room and all these people and all this help, I’m still going to forget something…

Are all of the mini-fridges stocked enough?
Do we have enough alcohol and beverages for everyone’s taste?
Have we made the correct accommodations for Pops with his illness and mobility issues?
Will everyone be comfortable in the rooms that we’ve chosen?

Nobody told me until today that the boat resort will be security central for the holidays. So at the last minute, I’m trying to make sure that the sleeping accommodations out there are acceptable as well as enough food for those who will be working on Thanksgiving or required to stay overnight. I know that Jason has a “security central” in one of the many hidden rooms in the mansion—and I know that there are many—but this is going to be the meeting place, check-in location, shift-change and break area, football hub, etc., so I want it to be as comfortable as possible.

Most of everything that needs to be done is in my head, so Allen makes sure that I don’t run around like a headless chicken. There will be no lunch today since breakfast was massive and dinner will be served at four, but there are plenty of snacks, covered trays, and hors d’oeuvres if anyone gets hungry.

I also spend this time getting to know Keri a little better. It turns out that she’s an only child and her mother passed away several years ago. She does have cousins, aunts, and uncles, but her relationship with her father is strained at best. He wasn’t present when her mother passed and hasn’t been a constant in her life since she was a child. She’s a teacher at one of the private schools in Anguilla. The island is so small, it makes me wonder just how many schools Anguilla has.

She’s of British citizenship since Anguilla is one of the British Overseas Territories. She’s here under the visa waiver program and she can stay for up to 90 days before she has to return to Anguilla. She wants to stay until Chuck’s leg heals and he can walk around on his own, which should be just over the two-month mark, at which time he should already be in physical therapy. It’s watching the pain that gets to her. It’s not as bad as it was, but it’s only been three weeks and he’s still hurting a lot. He broke both bones in his leg, so he can’t support any weight on it whatsoever. Because one bone often helps to support the other, it may take longer to heal, which means more pain. That collapsed lung and the broken ribs are probably the worst since he’s not in any kind of immobilization apparatus and still has to breathe deeply to promote the healing of his lung. The pain from the ribs will most likely last longer than the pain in his leg. I couldn’t imagine any of this recuperation without the assistance of pain meds, and I’ve learned that my assumption this morning was still incorrect. He flat out refuses to take them.

It’s easy to see that Keri is exhausted. Chuck was involuntarily medicated while in the hospital because he was unconscious. When he awoke, he was still on the meds begrudgingly because of prior needed surgical procedures. Once he was coherent enough to turn them down, he refused them, and he’s been in pain ever since. It’s affecting her tremendously because you just can’t turn off your feelings and ignore the pain when someone that you love is hurting. She has to sit and watch him hurt, and again, I can’t imagine seeing Christian in pain and unable to make it go away. I moved back to my condo that first year that he got the flu and he couldn’t take it. The flu!

I think this weekend is actually going to be good for her. We will be eating great food over the next several days, doing some extensive shopping tomorrow and the spa tomorrow afternoon. She and Chuck will get to spend some quality time with each other on Saturday night as many of us will be going to the Adopt-A-Family Affair. There will be a lot of bonding time as they are guests of ours for the next several weeks and Chuck is not here as an employee. I can only hope that this will help lighten the load that she’s bearing.

It’s very early afternoon when it appears that everything is as organized as it’s going to get. We have snacked a bit to keep from eating too much and we have kept moving to get the digestive system flowing. Our weekend guests will be arriving soon, so we make sure that Al and James are settled in their room before Christian and I go to change our clothes.

“Christian, has anyone mentioned to your parents that Elliot is not joining us?” I ask as I slip into a comfortable pair of white maternity skinny jeans. Christian sighs.

“Elliot told her that he would rather keep the peace than spoil anyone’s holiday. Thanksgiving is at my house, so…” He shrugs. “Even if it were somewhere else, they certainly couldn’t expect for my new wife to uninvite herself from Thanksgiving.”

“I so hate that this is happening,” I lament. “It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m remembering some of what happened on my birthday, but there must be something that I’m missing because I can’t seem to think of anything that would cause us to fall out this severely.”

“No, you’re not missing anything, Butterfly,” he says as he slides into a pair of white jeans. “We all witnessed the meltdown, and I’m told that several people witnessed the initial confrontation. She’s just acting completely unreasonable and no one actually knows why.”

“How did Grace and Carrick take it—Elliot’s absence, I mean?” I ask, pulling on my black T-shirt.

“He told me that Dad was pretty quiet—which means he was pissed—but Mom went nuclear. Mia doesn’t know that he’s not going to be here because he just told us, so I imagine that’s going to be another meltdown. I’m not looking forward to that.” I put on some clean socks and my white skippies while Christian just slides into a pair of deck shoes. We’re ready except for my hair.

“I hope people will just relax and have fun today, in spite of the discord that seems to be floating in the air.”

“Well, there’s no discord here, Mrs. Grey,” he says as he unties my head scarf. He leads me to my dressing room and sits me at my vanity. He runs his finger through my hair and gently massages my scalp. He arranges my hair in the long, flowy “Cher” style I wore last Christmas and holds my hair down over the short spot with a sporty black and white striped headband.

“You’re so perfect,” he says, kissing my nose.

“So are you, Mr. Grey,” I say, wrapping my arms around his waist and squeezing tight while laying my head on his chest. “So are you.”


 

CHRISTIAN

“Oh my God, you two look adorable!” My mother says when we greet her and my father at the front door. Ana and I are dressed like the Bobbsey Twins, both in black T-shirts and white jeans. Ana’s shirt has a heart right over her stomach with the word “bump” written inside it. My shirt has big block letters right across the chest that read “The Man Behind The Bump.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I tell her, kissing her on the cheek. “I’m so glad that you’re here.” Her eyes grow large.

“What is it, son? What’s wrong?” I smile.

“Nothing’s wrong, Mom. I’m just glad you’re here. You too, Dad,” I say extending my hand to my father.

“Glad to be here, Christian. This is quite a place you have here,” he says, looking around the grand entry.

“Yes, it is,” Butterfly chimes in. “I live here and I’m still trying to get the lay of the land myself.”

“Well, just from what I’m seeing, it really is absolutely stunning.”

“Thanks, Mom. Look, there’s lots and lots of house to see. I’ll have Windsor show you guys to your rooms and then you can roam around until your heart’s content.” I look over at my grandfather, who is now in a motorized wheelchair. I know this means that his health is deteriorating and he’s going to need a kidney sooner rather than later. I lean down to his chair.

“Hi Pops,” I greet him, with a smile.

“Christian!” Pops exclaims. “This is really something!”

“I’ll say!” Uncle Herman chimes in. “You’ve got great taste!”

“Yeah, it’s a statement in ‘everything your heart desires,’ but only the best for my girl.” Butterfly blushes. I gesture to the butler to come and get their bags. “Windsor, please show my parents to guest room one upstairs. Show my uncle and grandfather to guest suite three downstairs.” Windsor nods and gathers my family’s things.

“Please follow me, Mr. and Mrs. Grey, sirs,” he gestures to my father and grandfather.

“You guys have the larger suite on the lower level. It’s the only one with two bedrooms. As you can see, this place is huge, so we have a voice activated intercom system in case of emergencies. We got you an adjustable bed, Pops,” I tell him. “You’ll be very comfortable.”

“Christian, you shouldn’t have gone through the trouble,” Pops says.

“It was no trouble, and you’ll thank me for it later.” I smile. “Windsor is going to take you around to the elevator and show you to your rooms.”

“Elevator!” Mom says in surprise.

“Again, very large house, very pregnant and fragile wife. There are actually two elevators.”

“I’m not that fragile,” Butterfly protests, hitting me on the arm. I rub the spot where she hit me in mock pain.

“Okay, okay,” I whine to everyone’s amusement. “Windsor, why don’t you show my parents to their room and I’ll take my grandfather and uncle downstairs.”

“Yes, sir. Please follow me,” he says to my parents.

Uncle Herman and Pops are even more fascinated by the splendor of the house as we take them on a mini-tour of the rooms we travel through to get to the guest suite. I discover that my grandfather is a water spirit like my wife, and he is stunned into silence by the Grecian aquarium in the entertaining room. Uncle Herman leans in close to me.

“If Dad comes up missing, you’ll know where to find him,” he says, pointing to the aquarium. I chuckle quietly.

“You like it?” Butterfly asks quietly, standing next to Pops.

“It’s breathtaking,” Pops responds, gazing at that fish as if he would dream to be one of them.

“It’s my favorite,” Butterfly adds, turning to gaze at the fish herself. Pops looks up at her.

“You have more than one?” he asks like a seven-year-old in wonder.

“Yes,” she smiles down at him. “I have another wall aquarium in my spa, and there’s a smaller one in the wall that connects Christian’s and my office. I promise to show them to you later.”

“Why later? They can show me the bed anytime. I want to see the fishes now!” Fishes… oh, good Lord. Butterfly laughs that genuine enchanted laugh that makes both me and my uncle gaze at her. Why is my uncle gazing at my wife?

“Okay, Pops,” she says, adopting my name for my grandfather as she squeezes his hand. “My spa is in the same direction as your apartment. We’ll go our way and let the gentlemen get you guys settled. Do you two mind?” I look at Uncle Herman.

“No, but be warned. You’ll never be able to shake him now,” he says. Butterfly laughs.

“Well, that’s just fine by me,” she says, squeezing Pops’ hand again…

“So when did the wheelchair become a necessity?” I ask Uncle Herman when we’re alone in their suite. He sighs.

“About two weeks ago,” he says, “when Annie was in the hospital.” Annie? I don’t know if she’ll like that. I don’t know if I like that. Ray is the only one that calls her Annie. “You know he’s already elderly and frail, and the health issues just aren’t helping matters any. He’s getting weaker, Christian. He’s barely able to walk most days. He can get around if he needs to, but it’s getting harder and harder with each passing day.” He puts his face in his hands. “God, I miss Shannon.”

“Shannon?” I ask. He raises his head, his brow furrowed.

“Wow. I thought Annie would have told you by now.” And there he goes with that Annie shit again. He pulls his wallet out of his back pocket. “Shannon is my ex-wife. I fucked that up big time. Whenever holidays come around, I think about her a lot.” He pulls a picture out of his wallet and hands it to me. “I really miss her.” I take the picture from his hand and it looks like an old picture of my very beautiful wife.

“Is this some kind of joke?” I say frowning. He shakes his head.

“No, son, it’s not,” he says, reaching into his wallet for another picture and handing it to me. It’s a picture of him in a tux standing next to—whoever this woman is, in a wedding dress.

“That’s my Shannon,” he says. “Annie caught me staring at her a while back and saw fit to put me in my place before you caught on. I assured her that it wasn’t what she thought—that she reminded me of Shannon and if she caught me looking, it’s only because I saw my wife in her.” I hand him back the pictures and he gazes at them with real pain in his eyes. “She loved the holidays… loves the holidays. Only now, she’s loving them with someone else.”

“You say that you fucked up. You cheated?” I ask. He nods.

“She never trusted me again and just like that, it was over.” He put the pictures back in his wallet. “No need to worry, though. Annie’s kind and sweet like Shannon, but she’s just a kid… and she’s not my Shannon, only her doppelganger.”

“Have you thought about getting out there again, seeing what’s on the market so to speak?” I ask him. He’s a good looking guy, like my father. He could find a nice, lonely widow somewhere that needs companionship, too.  He laughs sadly.

“I’d only be looking for Shannon,” he admits. “No, son. I had my chance and I blew it. I don’t want anyone else now if I can’t have my Shannon. I’m an old man, and if God hasn’t seen fit to bless me with companionship by now, maybe it’s a sign that I just have to ride out this journey alone.”

“I don’t believe that, Uncle Herman,” I tell him. “I believe that life has opportunities for you as long as you’re alive. That’s how I made my fortune. That’s how I found my wife when I wasn’t even looking for her. I was a happy bachelor. I had encounters that lasted as long as I was interested, and then I let them go. A long-term relationship was the very last thing I wanted. Then, Hurricane Anastasia came through and blew me off my feet. She wouldn’t take any of my shit; she wouldn’t kowtow to me; she gave it to me straight. We hated each other! I wanted her to heel and she wanted me to go away.”

“You’re kidding!” he says in disbelief. “Heel how? She’s an adult.” Uh-oh… think fast, Grey. No use in telling him about the whole D/s thing.

“When I say jump, people jump. They don’t ask ‘how high,’ they just do it. Here’s this 5-foot-2, 5-foot-3 little doctor lady trying to tell me what I had to do and wouldn’t do what I asked. You see, I got into an accident. A drunk driver rear-ended me and ultimately totaled my car while I was sitting at a light. I was sitting at a light and he runs smack into a $65,000 sports car! Granted, it wasn’t the money. I can replace the car, but when the police showed up, he suddenly pretended to be hurt. He said I stopped short and caused the accident. Oh, I’ll just bet that I stopped so short at a stop light that you ran into my car so hard that you took out the entire rear end.” I shake my head. I’m getting angry again just thinking about it.

“I just lost it, Uncle Herman. Decked the guy right there in front of a cop.” Uncle Herman whistles.

“Not smart, son,” he laments.

“Not smart at all,” I concur. “I went before this hard-ass judge who threw the book at me. I still don’t know why he wanted to make an example of me. I’ll admit that I was wrong for hitting the guy, but this judge—and all of law enforcement, it appears—wants to punish me because I’m rich.”

“You’re an alpha male, Christian,” Uncle Herman says. “I knew it the first day I met you… at your wedding. Authority figures don’t always do well with alpha males.” I shake my head.

“That’s why I try to stay away from them, but it couldn’t be avoided this time.” He nods. “Anyway, I got community service—which I’m ashamed to say that I bought my way out of. I also got twelve group sessions of anger management, which the stubborn ass doctor wouldn’t let me out of.”

“Let me guess, the stubborn ass doctor is now your beautiful wife…”

“You get the picture. We were at each other’s throats for about two weeks, then two weeks after that, we were kissing in my office.” Uncle Herman laughs loudly.

“You don’t waste time, do you, son?” he asks. I shake my head.

“It was a bit of an accident… on both our parts. We had another meltdown soon after that and she quit group therapy.”

“She quit?” he asks, bemused. “You made her quit?” I shrug.

“I didn’t make her quit,” I defend. “She quit because she was disenchanted with the results of group therapy, but I don’t doubt that I was the catalyst.” He nods again. “Anyway, faced with the possibility that I would never see her again, I resorted to stalking her.”

“Oh, that’s really mature,” he teases.

“I was desperate,” I admit. “I thought she would be gone out of my life for good, so I had her followed for a while and talked to a few people before I crashed her date with her ex-boyfriend.”

“She had a boyfriend when you met?” Uncle Herman asks, appalled.

“No, he was an ex when we met, but apparently he ignored the memo,” I reply sarcastically. “Butterfly was trying to let him down easily because the guy wouldn’t go away. We got together that evening and we’ve been together ever since, but he turned psychotic. We just concluded a trial about four months ago where he got over twenty years for kidnapping her and causing her bodily harm.”

“Wow…”

Uncle Herman and I talk for several more minutes before we realize that dinner will probably be served soon and we’re still sitting downstairs in the guest quarters. I don’t say it aloud, but I’m really upset that my grandfather won’t let me buy him a kidney. I know it’s illegal, but people do it all the time and Pops’ health is beginning to deteriorate quickly. I’ll try not to think about it this weekend, but next week, I’ve got to find out if there’s something more that can be done to help him.

When we get back upstairs, Mia and Ethan have arrived and Mia is fawning all over Pops as usual. She’s very fond of him and I can tell that he really loves the attention. Luckily, dinner is not being served just yet. I hear little Harry off in the distance somewhere putting up a fuss, so I know that Ray and Mandy have arrived, and I have made it just in time to greet Luma, Mariah, and Celida. The girls actually look like they’ve grown a bit when I see them and Luma looks twenty years younger in jeans and a casual blouse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her dressed in jeans!

I kiss her on the cheek and introduce her to Pops and Uncle Herman. She takes an immediate interest upon discovering that Pops is waiting for a kidney.

“How long have you been on the list?” she asks, sitting next to him with a cup of hot chocolate.

“It’s been quite some time,” Pops admits. “Over ten years.”

“That is a long time,” Luma says. “I had a coworker a few years back. She waited 12 years for a kidney, but she finally got one. She’s doing fine, now.” Pops smiles.

“You don’t say?” Pops says and Luma nods.

“So don’t give up hope, Mr. Grey,” she says, smiling and squeezing his hand. He returns her smile.

“I hadn’t planned to,” he says cheerfully. “Even if they ever tell me there is no hope, I’m going to smile on my way out.” Luma nods sadly. She’s seen so much loss in her time on this earth, I can’t imagine that she wants to talk about death now. “And call me ‘Burt,” Luma. Nobody calls me ‘Mr. Grey.’” Luma smiles and moves closer to him.

“So what kind of home care are you doing right now?” she asks. They’re conversation takes off and I look to my right just in time to see a very tall young man enter the family room.

“Wow,” Butterfly says when she sees Marlow. “You’ve gotten so tall. I mean, you were already tall, but… wow!” Marlow’s maudlin look transforms into a wide, sincere smile as he and Ana walk into a full embrace.

“You scared the shit out of me,” he says softly, but not softly enough.

“Marlow!” Marcia chides.

“Sorry, Mom,” he says, still bending over and cradling Butterfly. I’ve known from the beginning that he’s had a schoolboy crush on her, and right now, I can only imagine that he’s feeling some level of the same relief that I did knowing that she’s okay—probably even more so because she remembered him right away.

“It’s okay, Marcia,” Butterfly says, pulling Marlow back so that she can get a good look at him. “That’s just how we talk. It’s always been that way… though you shouldn’t use that language around your Mom and little sister.”

“I know,” he concedes. “Mr. Grey always tells me to be mindful my language around ladies, which means I should probably be more mindful around you, too.”

“Oh, don’t you change one bit for me,” Butterfly scolds, pulling him into another embrace. “I like you just the way you are.” He smiles a content smile as he hugs my wife. He’s very, very fond of Butterfly, and he was having a very hard time of it while she was in the coma. He wouldn’t even come to the hospital to see her. He kept saying that if she was going to die, he didn’t want his last memory of her to be that of her lying helpless in a hospital bed. He called to check on her at least twice a day and I had to put Jason on Marlow-watch. I was afraid that if something happened to her, all of the hard work that we had done to this point would have been for nothing. He has told me more than once that Ana is his only real friend. He likes and respects me, but he loves Butterfly—as an emotional mentor and a confidante. He would have been unsalvageable had she not regained consciousness.

“I was afraid that you wouldn’t remember me.”

“Oh, Marlow, you underestimate your impact on the average human being,” she laughs. “I could never forget you. I remember that I called you Little Mr. Angry when I first met you; told you that I would kick your ass and you said that I was strange.” Marlow frowns.

“No, you didn’t,” he protest. “You did say that you would kick my ass, but you didn’t call me ‘Little Mr. Angry.’” Butterfly purses her lips.

“Well, you didn’t hear that part,” she says conspiratorially. “I said it under my breath while you were staring out the window at nothing.” Marlow scoffs good-naturedly.

“Yeah, you remember me,” he says with a small chuckle.

“Hello, Maggie,” Butterfly says to the shy little girl standing behind her brother. “You look very pretty today.”

“Thank you, Miss Ana. Mommy said we could all wear jeans, so I wore these. They’re my favorite.” She shows Butterfly her very sparkly jeans.

“Well, I think they look very nice.”

“Thank you, Miss Ana. These are for you.” She hands Butterfly a small gift bag.

“Oh, you got me a gift. You shouldn’t have.” Butterfly looks in the bag and gasps. “Lindors!”

“Mommy says every lady likes Lindors!” Maggie announces proudly. Butterfly smiles widely.

“Your mommy is right. Thank you very much, Maggie.” She leans down and gives Maggie a kiss and a hug… and I see an immediate problem. Mariah and Celida both have crestfallen looks on their faces. Just when I’m about to discreetly bring the situation to Butterfly’s attention, Mariah and Celida conspire for a few seconds before Mariah takes Celida’s hand and they walk over to Butterfly.

“Excuse me, Miss Ana,” Mariah announces proudly. “We got you somethin’, too.”

“You did?” Butterfly raises an eyebrow. Celida nods and proudly presents a lollipop from her pocket. Butterfly giggles and puts her hands over her heart, noticing the significance of this gesture immediately. She kneels down and gathers the girls in both of her arms, hugging them warmly and kissing each of them on the cheek. She holds her hand out to Maggie, who joins this syrupy display.

“You are all so wonderful! Thank you so much for my sweets and thank you for sharing your Thanksgiving with me.” All three girls beam proudly. “Maggie, may I please share my chocolates with my other friends?” Mariah’s and Celida’s eye grow wide as Maggie nods enthusiastically. Butterfly looks to Luma for approval, who nods and smiles sweetly. Butterfly turns to the two little ladies who are nearly bouncing with anticipation.

“You can each choose one to eat for later. It’ll ruin your dinner if you eat it now, okay?” They nod and each choose a chocolate from the bag. “Be careful when you eat them. They’re truffles, and they’re veeeery creamy inside, so they can get a little messy.”

“Thank you, Miss Ana. Thank you, Maggie,” Mariah says, causing Maggie to beam further. Butterfly smiles and nods and, being the little director that she is, Mariah takes the lead again.

“I’m Mariah. This is Celida. She’s my sister. Everybody calls her CeCe.” Maggie is still a little shy, but waves and smiles at the girls even though they’re only about three feet apart. “We have to sit at the kids table, but it’s like a grown-up table. I’ve never seen a kids table like this.”

“Really?” Maggie is intrigued now. I guess she’s never seen a kids table that looks like a grown-up table either. Mariah nods hard.

“Uh-huh! It’s got glasses like the grown-up glasses, and pretty, pretty plates, and real napkins!” The girls are caught up in conversation about the kids table and Marlow watches over them protectively while Marcia and Butterfly chat about her due date and Christmas on the way. I note that Marlow has effortlessly slid into the role as the man of the house since Damon Johnson is no longer a part of their life. He’s very patient with his sister and quite protective of them both. Johnson is up for parole or release soon and he’s going to be quite surprised if he tries to bully his son again. Not only has he put on some weight and bulked-up from the skinny little kid that I once knew, but he’s also a bit taller and he’s a quick study on the self-defense and fitness classes my security team has been putting his through. I’ve done some mock sparring with him every now and then and he’s got some impressive moves.

“Who’s that?” I hear Mariah ask.

“That’s my brother, Marlow,” Maggie says. “He’s a boy, but you’ll like him. He’s cool.” I nearly sputter over my drink and Marlow’s mirth is unmistakable as he receives his sister’s seal of approval. He patiently watches over the three girls as they chat about everything and nothing and I just scan the room, now filled with our family and friends. I never would have thought that I would see myself here, in my own home, with a beautiful wife and two children on the way, entertaining on Thanksgiving. I’m one lucky sonofabitch.


 

ANASTASIA

“If you will all please go to the dining room, dinner will be served in a few moments,” one of the servers announces to the gaggle of people who are occupying my home. I feel very blessed having our family and friends here, but Elliot’s absence is still the elephant in the room and as much as I hate to admit it, I miss Valerie.

We have moved to the dining room and are enjoying assorted beverages while we are taking our seats and waiting for dinner to be served. Jason inconspicuously retrieves his phone from his pocket and after looking at the screen, he leans in and says something to Gail and then something to Christian, who nods at him before he excuses himself from the table. I make note of the exchange and hope that everything is alright. Christian doesn’t seem concerned as he turns his attention back to Carrick and Grace and continues whatever conversation he was having.

A few moments later, Jason still hasn’t returned, but our attention is drawn to the slight commotion in the hallway near the Grecian columns.

“Maybe it’s this way,” I hear a woman’s voice say. Who the hell is this woman wandering around my house?

“Mo-o-om?” And there appears to be an agitated teenager wandering with her. Around the corner pops this bleached blonde woman in pants way too tight and a pair of high-heeled boots that don’t seem to fit the occasion.

“Oh!” she says, feigning surprise. “We were waiting for Jason and… Sophie just wandered off.” Sophie! Of course. Jason’s daughter. I assume this phony dragging poor Sophie behind her arm and blaming the child for her nosiness is her mother and Jason’s ex-wife.

“Oh, come off it, Mom,” Sophie says, her voice full of disdain. “I’m nearly a teenager, I don’t wander.” She folds her arms and completely ignores her mother’s scolding looks. She turns to face the other diners just as Jason is coming back into the dining room. “Daddy!” she says, her expression changing immediately as she darts towards her father. He walks around the woman and throws his arms open just in time to catch Sophie as she launches herself into the air. He laughs a deep and content laugh as he embraces his daughter.

“Hello, Baby Boo,” he says, sweetly.

“Mom says I can stay for the weekend if that’s okay with you.” He raises his eyes to his ex-wife.

“She can?” he asks her.

“Of course, she can,” the phony blonde actress coos, no doubt attempting to gain points with everyone around the table. No one knows who you are, you little fake. Christian and I know of you well, so it won’t do any good for you to try to suck up to anybody here.

“See? I told you,” Sophie says happily while Jason slides her to the floor. Jason looks over at Christian, who looks over at me. I stand from my chair.

“Well, Sophie,” I say, walking over to her, “we’re going to have a lot of people over this weekend, but we have a really big house and plenty of room. I hope you don’t mind a lot of company.”

“Not at all,” Sophie beams. “It’ll be nice to have people around.” I don’t even attempt to interpret that statement. “You must be Mrs. Grey.” I smile.

“Yes, I am. What gave it away?” I ask teasing. She returns my smile.

“You’re pregnant,” she says. “Dad calls you ‘Her Highness.’ He really likes you.” I laugh aloud.

“I really like him, too. Between me and you, your dad’s a smart aleck.” I throw a look at Jason, then put my hands on Sophie’s shoulders. “Everyone,” I say, turning around to the inquiring minds around the dinner tables. “This is Sophie, Jason’s daughter. Sophie, this is everyone. You’ll get to know them over the weekend.” She waves shyly as everyone greets her with a hello or a hi. Marlow rises from his seat.

“Hi, Sophie,” he says, walking over to us. “I’m Marlow. We have to sit at the kids’ table. It’s okay, though. They’re not whiney and messy like other kids.”

“Cool.” Sophie says with a shrug and follows Marlow over to the kids’ table. Jason clears his throat loudly.

“I know, Mr. Taylor,” Marlow says in that tone that says Jason has spoken to him two or three hundred times.

“Da-a-ad,” Sophie whines, “he just took me to my seat. He’s not trying to marry me. What are you—ninth, tenth grade?” she asks Marlow before turning back to her father. “What does he want with a 12-year-old?” This young lady is wise beyond her years. I’m very familiar with that attitude.

“Mrs. Grey, you have a beautiful house here.” Why does this woman’s voice irritate me so? I don’t even know her.

“Thank you,” I say politely. “And thank you for allowing Sophie to join us for the weekend. I’m sure Jason and Gail will love being able to spend time with her.”

“Miss Gail!” Sophie squeals from behind me. “I’m sorry!” She leaps from her chair and dashes over to Gail, throwing her arms around her neck. Gail lights up when she hugs her and smiles sincerely.

“Hey, Pumpkin, it’s okay. This is a lot to take in, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Sophie says dreamily, looking around the dining room. “It’s really nice… and the kids table is like a grown-up table—with real glasses and everything. I’ve never sat at one that big!” She seems amazed.

“Well, isn’t that sweet?” Ms. Phony says and I almost want to gag. Jason walks over to her.

“Well, Shalane, we don’t want to keep you from your plans,” he says, gesturing towards the hallway to show her out.

“What’s your rush, Jason? I have plenty of time,” she answers in a snarky tone.

“His rush, Mrs. …” Christian begins while rising from the table. He pauses and waits for someone to fill in the blank.

“Deleroy,” Jason almost hisses.

Ms. Deleroy,” she says, throwing an adoring look at Christian. Um, hello? I’m standing here!

“I see.” I feel him move and stand just behind me. “Well, Ms. Deleroy, his rush is that as you can see, we’re about to have Thanksgiving dinner with our family.” He gestures to the tables full of people. “While we do appreciate you bringing Sophie by and even more appreciate you allowing her to spend the weekend with us, we would like to get back to our dinner.” He slides his hand around my waist and I have to concentrate on not snarling at this woman. She looks from me to Christian, clearly crestfallen.

“Oh…” she says, feigning regret… though that part might be real as she didn’t get invited to join us for dinner. “I’m sorry. Yes, I do actually have plans for the evening. So, Sophie darling, have a good time.”

“Yeah, Mom,” she says, still with her arm around Gail. Ms. Deleroy mutters some sort of exiting pleasantries as Jason escorts her out of the dining room and no doubt, out of the house.

“Gosh, she is so embarrassing,” Sophie declares in a low voice.

“That’s not a nice thing to say about your mom, Pumpkin,” Gail chides gently, “especially in front of strangers.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sophie says softly. Gail points to her cheek and Sophie smiles, kissing Gail softly on the cheek.

“We won’t tell Jason,” Gail says softly and they giggle.

“Won’t tell Jason what?” he says, back from kicking Ms. Phony out in record time.

“If we told you, then I’d be breaking my word, now wouldn’t I?” Gail says with an innocent flutter of the eyelashes.

“Don’t you two gang up on me all weekend,” he warns and Gail and Sophie giggle. “I’m sorry, Christian,” he says, only loud enough for me and Christian to hear. “I was talking to Ben at the gate and she just walked inside.”

“No harm, no foul this time,” Christian responds. “She had already been allowed onto the grounds. Just keep an eye on her when she comes to pick up Sophie.”

“Understood, sir…”

Dinner is served on the three tables we procured for the weekend and, of course, Thanksgiving at Grey Crossing is nothing less than the bee’s knees! There are three huge glazed and lacquered roast turkeys and a larger variety of gourmet sides than I’ve ever seen in my life! Roasted broccoli with pickled shallots and peanuts; blistered green beans with tomato-almond pesto; roasted squash with crispy bulgur crumbs; crusted baked macaroni and cheese; and browned butter sweet potato casserole, just to name a few. There are Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs making their way around the tables and this is the first time in a long time that I’m missing wine.

Grace and Carrick take a little while to loosen up—no doubt unhappy that Elliot’s not here. Mia pouts verbally a few times that her other brother is not in attendance as well. I can’t help but feel responsible for that and, knowing me the way that he does, Christian throws a scolding look in my direction more than once when I start to sink a bit into the melancholy. I try not to concentrate on it too much.

“Are you okay, Ana dear?” Grace has caught me in one of those pouting moments. I nod and force a smile, but I still know that it’s my fault for the most part that Elliot is not in attendance. Even though I didn’t do anything to bring this on, it’s still largely because of me that he’s not here. And let’s face it…

I miss my friend.

“I’m pregnant, Grace,” I say softly as I wipe away a stray tear. “My emotions are all over the place right now, and I have to say that the magnitude of this day is quite overwhelming.” Grace holds my hand and smiles.

“I can imagine that it is, dear.” While she’s comforting me, our attention is drawn to Christian who is gently tapping his glass.

“I don’t mean to interrupt your meal, but I don’t know when I’ll get this clan together again and I just want to thank you all for joining Ana and me in our new home for our first Thanksgiving as man and wife.” He holds his head down for a moment. “That’s a real mouthful,” he admits. “Just thinking about everything in that sentence… getting this clan together—that’s a bit of a melancholy statement. This is the first time in 27 years that I haven’t had Thanksgiving dinner with my brother…” Grace scoffs a bit at this statement. You can tell that she was hoping it would go unnoticed, but it didn’t. She caught the attention of most of the people in the room.

“I’m sorry, Christian,” she says sincerely. “Please continue.” Christian’s lips form a flat line, but he continues.

“Elliot may not be here, but we have Pops and Uncle Herman,” he smiles at his grandfather, who returns his smile while Herman takes his hand. “We have our extended family—Luma and the two little princesses and the Whiteheads. We nearly lost two of our trusted staff this year—both seriously injured in the line of protecting us, but thankfully, they are still here with us. Quite frankly, I think you two were just trying to cash in on the hazard pay.” There’s a bit of laughter at that statement before he continues.

“Gail, we would be hopeless and hungry without you…”

“Hey!” I protest loudly, eliciting more laughter from the table. Christian mocks shushing me while he continues with his impromptu speech. “Keri, we’re very happy to have you here all the way from Anguilla.” Keri smiles coyly then squeezes Chuck’s hand. “And little Sophie, we’re very happy to have you, too.”

“Thank you, Mr. Grey,” she responds in the cutest little angel voice, causing coos from all around the table.

“Mom and Dad, Allen, James, Ray and Amanda and my baby brother-in-law… Mia and of course, Ethan, you already knew that you were part of the family when you proposed to my annoying little sister…”

“You still love me,” Mia pipes in proudly and her brother winks at her.

“Last, but certainly not least, my beautiful wife.” He turns his Grey gaze to me and I’m certain that I’m going to be crying before he’s done. “You’ve opened so many new worlds for me when I thought that I knew everything there is to know. You taught me love and hope and fear…” He chokes on the last word. I reach over and gently squeeze his hand. “I never knew that I could feel all the things that I’ve felt in these last 18 months. It’s such a short period of time, but it seems like it’s been forever, because I can’t remember what life was like without you. I thought I lost you…” It’s getting harder for him to talk. “Now, in a few short months, you’re going to make me a father…”

And now the tears start. Surprisingly, it’s not me, but Christian who is crying. I rise out of my seat and put my arms around him. He pulls me close to him, and kisses my hair.

“I love you, Butterfly,” he breathes, his voice cracking.

“I love you, Christian,” I reciprocate, clinging to my husband. We take a moment, standing here in front of family and friends to exchange our feelings and draw strength from each other. Once he’s able to speak again, he raises his glass to the room without releasing me.

“Thank you all so much for being here with us…” He looks down at me. “…And for not dying.” I smile up at him and he pecks me on the lips. “Happy Thanksgiving!” he announces raising his glass higher.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” is the collective response from our family and friends.


 

A/N: I’ve only listed a few of the dishes from Thanksgiving. To see all of the dishes from Thanksgiving Dinner at Grey Crossing, go on over to the Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

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Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X