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…
Chapter 23—More Reasons to Be Thankful
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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Love and handcuffs 🙂