SORRY, ALL–IT LOOKS LIKE EITHER I OR MY EMAILER INCLUDED THE WRONG LINK IN THE EMAIL. MY BAD!
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 29—Breaking Through
My breakfast meeting is with Fairlane, LLC. We had come to a preliminary agreement, subject to change upon further investigation. As such, I’ve come to the meeting with a different agenda. Allen is a bit shocked at my change of tact, but I’ve been able to review Fairlane’s position and realize that I’m in more of an advantageous seat than I originally thought. The initial meeting goes well into lunch.
“This isn’t what we agreed on, Grey,” Fairlane Sr. declares. “Is this how you do business? You change the terms right at final negotiations?”
“Is this your first time at the dance, Fairlane?” I ask. “How many years has your company been struggling—barely breaking even until you’ve finally seen red for the last few years? This is why they’re called final negotiations. At this point, both sides have reviewed all of the pros and cons and they are ready to make a final deal. I have reviewed our positions, and while you have cornered a healthy share of the telecommunications market share, you don’t know what to do with it. There’s nothing wrong with being a family-owned business. Hell, I’m a family-owned business, but you dug in too deep and you waited too long.
“As much as I would like to meet your requests, I’m in the business of making money. I’m not a charity. Yes, GEH will be acquiring your assets, but more importantly, we’ll be acquiring your liabilities. You know how far in you are, I don’t have to tell you. I also don’t have to tell you that even with the change in my offer, you’re not going to find a better deal. The publicly-owned companies—even the smaller ones—are going to rip you apart until there’s nothing left of what you built. If you don’t believe me, you can approach them after this meeting is over.”
“You’re asking me to shed a quarter of my staff, Grey!” he hisses. “Some of these people have been with the company since it started!”
“There are too many redundancies and you know this,” I rebut. “I made it perfectly clear at the last negotiation that the terms may be subject to change after evaluation of the documentation that you submitted for review, did I not?”
“You didn’t tell me that you were going to cut a quarter of my staff!”
“Did I not make the point clear that terms were subject to change?” I ask the question slowly and firmly, hitting my hand with my fist to reinforce my words. Although many companies have tried this on me before—present company included—no one will ever be able to justly accuse me of shady negotiations or unfair business practices.
“Yes,” he answers reluctantly. “Yes, you did.”
“When I received your payroll report, there are people on your payroll where I don’t even know what they do! How did you expect me not to scrutinize every single expense that we were going to be responsible for? Is that why you waited until the last possible moment to submit that report?”
“I just don’t want to see my people lose their jobs! That was the whole idea of going with a privately-owned company!” he nearly shouts. Allen can see where the conversation is going and why I made the decision to cut a large chunk of Fairlane’s staff. This man is paying people obscene amounts of money to do nothing and wondering why he’s in the red. It won’t be so under GEH.
“No one will lose their jobs before the holidays, but these redundancies and these unnecessary positions will be gone after the new year. Your son can stay on as president if he wants…”
“How kind of you,” Fairlane Jr. shoots. I turn my glare to him.
“If he wants,” I say, my eyes never leaving his, “but the company will be run as a fully-functioning subsidiary of GEH with all operating decisions coming directly from Grey House.”
“I’ll just be a figurehead, then,” Fairlane Jr. hisses.
“You’ll be running the company. It will just be under Grey House’s direction.”
“That means someone else will make all the decisions.”
“You need someone to make all the decisions, young man! That’s why you’re in the position you’re in now!” I declare. “Ask your father how likely he would have been to get an offer as healthy as the one I’m giving him with the information he gave me three days ago. Ask him how likely any of those companies he keeps throwing up to my face would be likely to give him even a fraction of the protection and guidance that I’m offering him based on the condition of this company right now, the financial representation that he gave me before this week, and the liability and payroll information that I’ve just discovered.” I turn to Fairlane Sr. “And you have the nerve to be offended that I’m changing the terms?” I stand and button my jacket. “Why don’t you and your son go somewhere and have lunch. Find somewhere quiet to talk. I’ve given you my proposal.
You have an hour to let me know if you accept.”
I walk out of the conference room without another word. Allen is hot on my heels. The interrogation starts as soon as my office door closes.
“You know that I pay attention, Chris, and you did lead him to believe that his employees would keep their jobs,” he says, flatly.
“And they will,” I respond, taking a seat at my desk, “until after the holidays. No, I don’t like firing people. I try to keep as many employed as possible, but there’s a specific reason that man is not barking louder than he is and why he didn’t walk out of negotiations.” I reach into my desk drawer and pull out the final report given to me three days ago and hand him two key documents—first, the Letter of Opinion of Value. Allen examines it carefully.
“This is not the same report I saw,” he laments.
“That’s because the first came from an analyst of their choosing. This one came from an analyst of my choosing. We already knew that the numbers would be different because no matter how objective the third party, they’re still going to sway on the side of the company who acquired their services—even if it’s subconscious. These numbers are drastically different, and that was reason enough to go over the expenses again and I found this.” I hand him another report.
“The Payroll Expense Report?” he asks, confused. “How could payroll possibly cause such a large discrepancy?”
“Because of these ridiculous positions. Look at this.” I flip through some of the pages and go straight to some of the highlighted positions. “What the hell does a full-time entertainment director do at a telecommunications firm? An on-site acupuncturist? Free fucking doggie daycare? The list goes on and on. I thought this shit was a joke until I saw that some of these people make six digits and have been for years! It’s no wonder his company is failing. They spend a mint on research and development—a necessary expense—but they spend more on executive massages. Who was giving the massages, high-priced call girls? I have no idea how he justifies these expenses and I don’t know how he thought GEH would approve them. Why the hell did I have to spend three hours of my day negotiating corporate facials and pedicures? These ‘perks’ are the first things that go when your company is failing, but he wants to keep his family and friends employed, so he tried to slide it in under payroll expense. I don’t appreciate being played for a fool and he better be glad I didn’t just walk out on negotiations.”
“Why didn’t you bring this to my attention sooner?” Allen asks. “He’s obviously not acting in good faith.”
“Because I just saw it last night,” I tell him. “This had the same implications of those damn miscellaneous subsidiaries. It could have been just as disastrous. Nothing’s illegal, but it’s just as careless. I wasn’t going to let that happen.” Allen examines me. “What?”
“Did you and Jewel have a spat?” he asks.
“Not that I would readily answer that, but why would you ask me that?” He shrugs.
“I don’t know, it just seems like you were a little more diligent than usual to find issues with this company and you had a little extra time on your hands, not to mention you seem a bit frostier today than you have been in the last week or so since she’s been home from the hospital. I was just wondering if something had happened and did I need to be ready to take cover.”
I hate that someone besides Butterfly knows my disposition well enough to be able to spot the slightest change in my temperament. I took special pains to prevent whatever frustrations I may be feeling at home from coming out during these negotiations. Now my head of legal—and wife’s best friend—has hit the nail on the head and I really don’t want to share this moment with him.
“Allen, I can guarantee you that this is all about wanting to be completely prepared for this meeting and not wanting anyone to slip anything past me. Fairlane knew that when it came to payroll, I would be concentrating more on redundancies and higher management, which is why a lot of these six-digit perks were classified as ‘maintenance.’ I always make a final comparison before I go into negotiations, and yes, it’s usually done the day or the night before because I want my findings fresh. You just never witnessed a U-turn like this one before, so I understand your line of questioning as all of the negotiations that you’ve sat in on have been fairly smooth. Had the numbers not been so drastic, I may not have found it—but I did. It’s that simple. Any other questions?” He pauses and shakes his head.
“Nope, nothing else. I’ll look these over and follow your lead.”
“Good to know.”
A little over an hour later, we’re back in negotiations with the Fairlanes and he makes one of the biggest elementary mistakes in the business.
“I’ve spoken with Penberry and Closky, Inc. They’ve made me an offer that will allow Fairlane’s staff to stay intact.” I entwine my fingers and rest them on the table. He’s bluffing and I know it. He may have spoken with P&C, but they definitely haven’t promised to keep this ridiculous staff on—assuming there was full disclosure. If there wasn’t, Fairlane will find himself right back in this spot once he gets to final negotiations. What’s most important here, though, is that he is well aware that P&C is one of my biggest competitors. He’s playing to my ego, or at least he thinks he is. Ego may have played a very small part in my success—okay, scratch that, maybe not so small. It is not, however, the secret of my success. Intelligence and cunning got me to where I am today, and Fairlane is about to find out just how badly he’s played this hand. P&C will get his signature, rip his company apart, and leave him and Junior for dead on the side of the road. If that’s what he wants, it’ll serve him right.
“Is that so?” I ask, coyly. Junior’s mouth turns up in a smirk while Fairlane relaxes back in his seat. They think they’ve got me. I close my portfolio and stand up from the table. “Very well. I hope you find their offer and plans for your organization satisfactory. Mr. Forsythe?” Allen rises to follow me out of the conference room. I can actually smell Fairlane sweating from way over here.
“Wait, Grey!” he calls out just as I’m about to breach the doorway. “You don’t have a counteroffer?” Oh, just what I was waiting for. I turn around and put my portfolio on the table.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” I tell him. “The price drops by two million and workforce by up to 6500 by the end of the first quarter.” Junior frowns and slams his hands on the table.
“You’re dropping the price now?” he nearly roars. “And 6500—that’s one-third of the employees. How did we go from one-fourth to one-third?”
“Ask your father,” I say calmly. “You can always feel free to take the offer from Penberry and Closky. After all, they said they would keep your staff intact.”
“This is ridiculous! Dad, let’s just take the other offer.” Junior’s got a lot to learn about acquisitions. Let this be his first lesson. Go ahead, Dad, take the other offer. Fairlane ponders the decision—or pretends to. Junior is extremely impatient. “Dad?” he urges, like the petulant child that he is. Fairlane’s eyes dart from his son to me.
“Why 6500?” he asks to his son’s horror.
“Dad…!” Junior protests. His father throws a threatening look at him.
“Well,” I say, opening my portfolio to the dreaded report. “There will already be several redundancies, you’re aware of that. It can’t be avoided. Most companies have dining rooms, company gyms, things of that nature we can deal with. GEH will not be paying for facials and pedicures that run into six-figures yearly. Your employees will now have to find somewhere else to get their pedigreed pooches groomed, and paid personal shoppers have never been offered by GEH, so they certainly won’t be covered under your acquisition contract. I can go on if you like.” His eyes widen as he realizes that I have completely called him out on his little game of hide and seek.
“These were benefits for our employees,” he tries to explain. “Every company has perks.”
“Um-hmm, and when you were a successful, thriving organization, you could afford these kinds of perks. You’re not that company anymore. What’s more is that without going beyond due diligence, there’s no way that I would have known you had these things hiding under maintenance and professional fees. You tried to pull a fast one on me, Fairlane, and I don’t like that at all. I don’t bluff. I don’t have to. I have no problem walking away and letting you take your chances with Penberry and Closky if that’s what you want. So you can either accept the counteroffer I’ve given you or you can take your nearly falsified documents and take your chances with the public companies. Which is it going to be, because my time is valuable and I don’t want to waste any more of it.”
He sighs heavily. He knows he’s beaten. He doesn’t want to wade in public waters any more than I would, but I’ll let this fish go if he thinks he’s going to pull one over on me.
“I’ll take the counteroffer,” he says, defeated.
“Dad! No!” Junior pipes in, but Fairlane doesn’t acknowledge his protest and neither do I.
“You know that my contracts are loaded with termination clauses, so if there’s something else that I might find that’s going to piss me off, you might want to tell me about it now,” I caution.
“No. No, there’s nothing else,” he says, resigned to his fate.
“Dad!” Junior presses. “You’re just going to let him do this? This is supposed to be my legacy and he’s tearing it apart!”
“He knows he’s not going to find a better deal…” I begin.
“I’m not talking to you!” he yells at me and it takes everything in me not to lose it… but I lose it a little bit.
“To be the president of a company, you’re pretty damn stupid!” I nearly growl at him.
“There’s no need to talk to my son that way, Grey!” Fairlane chides.
“I’m not talking to your son,” I say, throwing a glance in his direction and then quickly back to Junior. “I’m talking to the presidential-hopeful of one of my subsidiaries, and you may want to take a lighter tone with the man that’s about to be your boss!” His face pales a bit, but he’s still visibly angry.
“Unless you’re a flaming idiot, you know exactly why I’m displeased and you should be asking why I’m not telling you and your father to take your failing company and get the fuck out of my building. You may have sentimental value here, Mr. Fairlane, but that has absolutely no impact with the business world. Even at the reduced price, I’m buying this company at a loss and you know it. So either you sit down and sign the contract with your father or feel free to leave. I can still run the company without its current president.”
“He knows, Grey,” Fairlane says. “Georgie, do you want in or do you want out?”
Georgie sits there, glaring from his father to me and back to his father. “I want in,” he says reluctantly. Georgie will only be in for a year. During that time, he won’t be privy to any of GEH’s internal structure and information. He will only be responsible for the operations of the Fairlane LLC, subsidiary and only to the degree that I allow him to be. Acquisitions are often kind of hostile because top officers and positions are usually terminated in redundancies. This kid is even more hot-headed than I am, and I can’t have that.
“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, my attorney and will return shortly with the new contracts.” I turn around and walk out of the conference room. Again, Allen is hot on my heels.
“How long does he have?” Allen asks.
“A year, and he already knows it,” I say, walking into my office.
I’m sitting at my desk reading up on what we should be doing now that Ana is about to be in her eighth month. I was a bit of a shark at the meeting with Fairlane LLC. I wasn’t willing to give any concessions. In the end, they agreed to my terms and left with their tails between their legs. Neither of them should be upset about it. They’re going to be independently wealthy and except for some ridiculous positions that were costing their company out the ass, Fairlane LLC is going to remain intact for the most part. Still, I can only imagine the anguish that must come along with saying goodbye to your “baby.”
So, back to my own baby—or babies, I should say. I never told Butterfly that the day the doctor confirmed that she was pregnant, I printed out a pregnancy to-do list. I’ve been secretly making sure that she or we were doing everything on the list, except for the month when I foolishly didn’t speak to her. I still feel like shit for that exercise.
I glance over the early steps—first trimester instructions, like eating well, take your prenatal vitamins, and stop drinking alcohol. There were other things in the first and second trimesters that were met with unequivocal “no’s” on my checklist, such as joining a birth club, hiring a labor coach, and circumcising my son. Then there were other things that I just kind of laughed at because I wrote “we’re rich” next to them, like making a baby budget, doing some financial planning, and considering top baby costs and how to save.
Right now, the tasks that are catching my eye are childbirth classes, which we really should have done in the second trimester; choosing a doctor for the babies—I’ll have to ask Mom about that; and a possible baby shower for Butterfly. We won’t actually need one, but it’s something that I know she will enjoy. I pick up the phone and dial my mother.
“Dr. Trevelyan-Grey,” she answers all professional.
“Well, hello, Christian. How are you, son?”
“I’m fine. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“It’s never a bad time to talk to my baby,” she coos. “What’s new?”
“Is Ana near you?”
“No, why? Are you looking for her?” she asks.
“No, I just wanted to make sure that she wasn’t near you. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Okay. Is everything alright?”
“Yes, everything’s fine,” I assure her. “I was just looking over this ‘to do’ list and it mentions a baby shower. I wouldn’t have any idea how to plan one of those things or even when to plan it. Do you have any experience in this area?” My mom chuckles a bit.
“There’s a specific reason why you don’t have any experience in this area, Christian,” she says. “It’s because the women in her life are supposed to plan that.”
“Hence, I am coming to you,” I reinforce. She chuckles at me again.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll get with Mandy and we’ll most likely get with Marilyn and toss around so ideas and… we’ll get back to you, okay?”
“Thank you, Mom,” I say breathing a sigh of relief.
“You’re welcome, son. You know, a baby shower is not something to get yourself all worked up about…”
“I know,” I tell her. “It just seems like one of those ‘rite of passage’ type things and I just don’t want her to miss out on anything that’s supposed to be part of the whole experience.”
“I can understand that,” she says. “So, I’ll talk to the ladies and let you know what we come up with.”
“You’d better bring Maxine and Allen in on it, too. There will be hell to pay if Mr. Forsythe is not in on the planning with this party.”
“Oh, of course. I’ll make sure they’re included as well.”
“I need to impose on your kindness one more time, Mom. I need you to recommend a good pediatrician for the babies.”
“Oh, that’s easy—Dr. Nahabedian.”
“Nada whoda what?” I ask. She just spits that out like she was saying Jones or something. It causes her to laugh heartily.
“Rada… Na-ha-be-di-an,” she says, slowly. “She specializes in infant care. I’ll send her information with Ana.”
“Um, okay. Just find a way to give her the information so that she doesn’t think I’m doing it behind her back. I’m not, I’m just trying to get a jump on some things.”
“No problem,” she says in that comforting Mommy voice. “Now, when do you plan on returning my father-in-law?” I chuckle at her demands.
“Tomorrow or Sunday, Mom. I’ll let you know,” I assure her.
“Thank you. The house seems a little empty without him.” I know how she feels. If we don’t find him a kidney soon, we may not have him around much longer, and can’t see that happening. “Allison, I have to go.” Allison? “My daughter-in-law just stepped into the room with a stack of reports and a look on her face like the building is on fire somewhere.”
“Well played, Mom. Talk to you later.”
I sit and ponder my grandfather’s situation. All week, he and Uncle Herman and I have been spending evenings getting to know each other better… after Butterfly’s doctor’s appointment on Monday; most of Tuesday evening, minus the time Butterfly spent giving me that fantastic blowjob. Wednesday had to be our most significant day. That’s when Uncle Herman and Pops shared some of Dad’s childhood with me. It appears that my father was always in some kind of trouble as a boy—nothing intense like my problems, fighting and such… just young boy mischievousness. He and his brothers set the garage on fire one day. Pops put it out just in time before the entire structure collapsed. I have a feeling that my grandfather is full of many more stories like this, and I’d like to hear more of them. So yes, I’ll send him back to my mom because she obviously misses him, but I do plan on stopping by the manor more often to spend some time with him.
“Seattle General,” the efficient voice on the other end answers.
“Childbirth education, please,” I request.
“One moment, sir…”
This was a busy ass day; I mean busy as fuck! I discover that when Marilyn got to the mansion, Ben greeted her with a check—a pretty big one—for the sale of her Camry. She came running into the house to find me.
“Is this mine?” she said upon locating me with my face in a plate of food.
“I don’t know, what is it?” She showed me the check while I was still chewing a mouthful of toast and eggs. “Well, that’s a company check and my husband’s signature, made out to you, so I would say yes, that’s yours.”
“Good grief,” she breathed, covering her mouth.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Are you kidding me? He sold my ratty car for that much and I get to keep the money and the new car?? What the hell could be wrong?”
With her newfound wealth, she insisted on purchasing her own clothes, and boy did she purchase! She’s big into long pencil skirts and sleek pant suits with short jackets. I would have pegged her more of a short skirt girl, but I was wrong.
After the shopping, I go into Helping Hands to print out our reports for the licensing board and the printer was intent on jamming and eating the damn thing every time I tried to print it. By the fifth time, I’m freaking out and running to Grace’s office with a stack of papers, hoping to put together the pages not mauled by the printer, only to discover that the report is not due until Monday. After nearly losing my mind with a few other projects that I have in the hopper—including Project Country Club—I have to rush off to my appointment with Ace.
We, of course, go over my feelings about Christian making the decision for me that I wouldn’t be doing the interviews and my reaction to it. He’s not very happy with what he calls my passive-aggressive response. According to him, my reaction and subsequent planning are just forms of hiding from this issue and letting my anger come out later in my actions. I tell him that I will take his opinion into consideration, but that I don’t agree. He’s met my husband before and he knows that coming head on at Christian with anything is about as effective as running face first into a steel wall! I made my feelings known and I let it go. Christian is the one that appears to have a hard time with letting go because he said some things to me that he knew he shouldn’t have. We agree to put this one on the shelf as we are clearly not going to come to a common ground with it.
We visited how much of my memory is returning. I remember bits and pieces of just about everything as far as I can tell. People may just start talking about an event and I’ll either recall it immediately, or it just starts playing out in front of my eyes like a movie. The bits and pieces that I have slowly begin to fill in when I’m able to relax my body and mind. I remember asking Christian “You’re going where?” and my memory just started filling in backwards from his trip to Detroit, or Michigan, I should say. I don’t think he ever made it to Detroit—just that town where the prison is located and he discovered that Myrick wasn’t really Myrick. I wonder what’s going on with that situation these days?
Of course, the final order of business is the close friend who has forsaken me. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out why Val isn’t speaking to me. There’s nothing that I can recall that I’ve done to her that could possibly warrant us not speaking anymore. We’re like sisters! Well, we were like sisters, and now she’s not speaking to me? She didn’t even come to Thanksgiving dinner or to the Adopt-A-Family Affair. What could I have said or done that was so horrible the she doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore? After we’ve torn apart the issue as much as we can, we call it a night and I go back to the manor where a masseuse from Miana’s is waiting for me.
During my de-stressing massages that the doctor recommended after a session with Ace, it all comes flooding back to me—Val’s comments about marriage and weddings and mine and Maxie’s rebuttal questions during my birthday weekend and the total downward spiral that followed; feeling completely humiliated when she decimated me in front of everyone later that night; her horrible treatment of me every time we ran into each other thereafter. I remember feeling sad and forlorn wondering why she had treated me that way, but now, I’m just angry. In fact, I’m livid!
I sit in my office going over the pieces of my family tree as I continue to consider the truth of the situation that is Valerie Marshall. I had a life-threatening accident and my life will never totally be the same with this brain injury. If there was anything that would be worthy of wiping the slate clean—of remembering how important someone is to you—I would say that it would be a near-death experience. But, no, she still wants to act like I’ve done something so horrible that she can’t even stand to be in the same room with me. I finally come to the conclusion that everybody is right. There’s nothing missing. I’m not forgetting anything. She just flipped on me for no reason, and I remember deciding that I would stay out of her presence right before I had that accident.
She’s said some horrible things to me with no provocation. And all I’ve tried to do all of this time is avoid confrontation.
Fuck you, then, you bitch!
I’ve known Valerie Marshall to be self-centered and self-absorbed, but never when it came to our relationship. We were college roommates. I even remember her transformation after that asshole roughed her up a bit and broke up with her—hence, our little trip to Green Lake Park. She always had my back and I always had hers, but now out of nowhere, I’m nothing. I’m less than nothing! No problem, Marshall. Eat shit and die!
Well, maybe I don’t feel that strongly, but I feel strongly about this whole thing. She knows damn well that money hasn’t changed me, and as far as security is concerned—and despite my ill-thought-out blowup at Christian, hasn’t this last episode proven that I need protection? Hell, even Chuck couldn’t save me from the crazy ex-sub who T-boned my car, so now what?
I thought it might be that I was having babies, getting married and moving on with my life, but that doesn’t fly either because Maxie is doing the exact same thing. All of the things that she said we used to do that we don’t do anymore; I wouldn’t just stop. She could talk to me about anything and we would have straightened it out, but no, she went all bipolar on me for no reason. Fine, have it your way, Marshall.
“What are you doing?” His voice startles the shit out of me. Christian is standing in the doorway of my office, looking like he, too, had a long day, but not as forlorn as he looked when he left this morning.
“Besides still being confused about Valerie’s behavior, I’m going over the latest hits on my family tree. Apparently, I may have an aunt or two that I didn’t know about. Luckily, Veterans Affairs has no hereditary illnesses on file for my father and even though my mother’s records are limited, there’s nothing significant that I need to worry about with her either. So I think we’re safe with any possible illnesses being passed down to our babies.”
“There’s not much from my adoption besides what I’ve already told you,” he says. “None of my family ever came forth to claim me before the adoption, so I don’t know them and I don’t know anything about them. I haven’t had any health problems besides the emotional issues, and we know where those came from.”
“Well, for the most part, it looks like we’ll be okay as far as bloodlines go,” I say closing the program. “Now we just have to protect them from external factors that could ruin their lives.” I sigh and fold my arms.
“That’s easier said than done,” he says, rubbing my arms. “This is still getting to you, isn’t it?” I look at him, then shake my head.
“It’s the not knowing, Christian,” I lament. “She’s fucking horrible and I don’t even get to know why. She’s always been a huge part of my life—a huge part! She was supposed to be our children’s godmother…”
“Any thoughts for a replacement?” he asks. I shake my head.
“Some small part of me hopes that she’ll come around someday soon. If I choose someone else, I feel like I’m putting the final nail in the coffin—like I’m completely giving up hope and as shitty as she is right now, I just can’t do that yet.” He squeezes my arm.
“I hope you’re right, Butterfly,” he says. “I can see how much this bothers you.” I shrug and shake my head.
“I’m letting it go, Christian,” I tell him. “I said that I was doing it before, I remember that. After looking at things with a fresh eye of someone who had absolutely no clue what happened, and then having the memory of everything rush back to me, I know now that I had nothing to do with this, and I’m letting it go… again.”
“Well, I can’t say that I’m unhappy about this, Butterfly,” he says. “It’s exhausting watching you beat yourself up for something that you didn’t do.”
“Well, fret not, because I won’t be doing it anymore,” I say, shrugging the whole thing off. “Out of curiosity, have you ever thought about looking for your family, Christian? Your biological family?” I ask cautiously. He examines me for a moment.
“Why would I want to do that?” he asks flatly. “They didn’t look for me.”
“Well, I wasn’t expecting a reunion or anything like that. Maybe… just to know where you come from…”
“I know where I come from,” he says cutting me off. “I come from Detroit from a crack whore who committed suicide because she couldn’t face the life she had created. I’m not angry about it anymore. It’s just the reality of the situation. When I was hungry, abused, suffering from malnutrition and dying, nobody came for me. When I sat lost, confused, and lonely with my mother’s dead body for four days, nobody came for me. When an angel named Grace Trevelyan Grey put out a notice that she and her husband Carrick were going to adopt me if no one came forward, nobody came for me. It’s been 27 years and nobody came for me. I don’t need to know who these people are. My family is all right here—my mother and father, my brother and sister, my grandfather and my uncle, and my wife and children. I don’t need to know who those people are.”
He says the entire speech with conviction, but no malice, and I know that he’s absolutely right. He doesn’t need to know who those people are.
“Okay,” I say without pressing the issue.
“That’s it?” he says with a frown.
“That’s it,” I reply. “My only concern would be if someone showed up again claiming to be your brother or sister, like Myrick did. Besides that, if you don’t need to know, I certainly don’t need to know.” I can see the wheels turning is his head.
“I’ll cross that bridge if I ever get to it again,” he says dismissively, and I know that the conversation is over.
At dinner, Christian announces that his mother has asked for her father-in-law to return to their home. I think everyone is trying to get in what time they can with Pops, most likely because even though no one says it out loud, we all know that he’s dying. The way Christian talks, I believe he thinks he can find Pops a kidney before it’s too late. We all know that Pops won’t take a kidney illegally and the only way for him to move up on the UNOS list is for his condition to deteriorate. Unfortunately, if that happens, he won’t last long enough to get the kidney. In fact, he’s confided in me that his doctor says that he may not even survive the surgery.
Luckily for me, in the two semi-sessions that we’ve had in secret, he doesn’t talk about dying. He talks about living—about his children and his late wife; the vacations they’ve taken and the good times they’ve had; watching his grandchildren grow and meeting the grandchildren that he didn’t know that he had; hoping that he’s around to see his great-grandchildren make their appearance and how happy he is that he and Herman came to Seattle. His dignity therapy has nothing to do with coming to grips with his death and everything to do with appreciating his life. He has no regrets and he intends to spend his last days surrounded by love and happiness. You can’t ask for more than that.
Christian has vowed to make more trips to his parents’ house to see his grandfather more often. I’m certain that he knows Pops is in his last days. I’m just not as certain that he has accepted it.
“I registered us for Lamaze classes at Seattle Gen today,” he says while I’m wrapped in his arms later that night.
“You did?” I ask. I’m surprised. I had thought about it, but I didn’t think he would do it. Other people will be there and Mr. Grey doesn’t play well with others.
“It’s coming close to the day. I just… thought it would be a good idea. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you first. I hope you don’t mind.” I smile as I cuddle into his arms.
“I think it’s very sweet,” I tell him. “I would have done it myself, but I didn’t know how you would feel about it. Thank you. I’m really looking forward to going. When is our first class?”
“Monday night,” he says. “It’s the least crowded, so it was the one that was easiest to get into on such short notice without having to name drop—although when I signed up, I ended up name-dropping anyway,” he laughs.
“Well, we gotta do what we gotta do,” I say with a yawn.
“Yes, Mrs. Grey, and right now, you and my children gotta sleep.”
No problem at all, Mr. Grey, I think to myself as I drift off to sleep.
Apparently, Grace has made it pretty clear that she plans to reclaim her beloved father-in-law today. Pops loves the attention and it feeds right into his celebrate life mantra. Luma is here bright and early to help him and Uncle Herman get packed. I wonder if Christian is aware that Luma has a thing for his uncle? The jury is still out on whether or not the feeling is mutual. I’m in my office when I hear the two-way communication system come to life.
“Yes?” I say into the intercom.
“Anah, con you meet meh at de aquatium?” It’s Keri, and she doesn’t sound good.
“Which one?” I ask.
“Atlantis.” Definitely doesn’t sound good.
“I’m on my way.” Is something wrong with Chuck? She sounds close to tears. I make my way to the entertainment room and she’s standing there fully dressed, coat and all. She walks out to the covered lounge when she sees me and I follow her. She is obviously upset. I noticed that over the last few days, she had been a little distant from Chuck—not cold, just a bit distant. Has something happened?
“Keri, what is it? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I ask as I walk over to her. She’s sitting on the sofa now and when I get closer to her, I can clearly see that she’s been crying.
“Keri, what is it? What’s wrong?” She wipes her eyes and looks up at me.
“Ah’m leaving, Anah,” she says through her tears. “Ah’m gwine back to Anguilla.”
“Why?” I ask in horror. “Has something happened at home?” She shakes her head.
“No. No. Eet’s Chatlez.” And her accent is much heavier. She must be very upset.
“Did you guys have a fight?” I ask. She shakes her head again.
“No, weh don fight,” she says. “Him won’t take de medicine… an him hutting. I can’t stand it anymoah.” She starts to weep again.
“Have you told him how this makes you feel, Sweetie?” She nods just as Chuck wheels himself onto the covered lounge.
“Him tell de doctah yestadey dat him tek de medicine!” She’s talking really fast, now. “Him not tek de medicine! Him tek nutting! Him groan and moan all night and him tek nutting! I tell him, ‘Chatlez, you hutt, take de medicine.’ I cty, ‘Chatlez, tek de medicine!’ Him tek nutting!” Hot tears burn a trek down her cheek as Chatlez rolls over to us.
“There you are,” he says to Keri, before he gets to us. “Your things are packed. You’re leaving?” He rolls around to Keri and looks at her face. “What’s wrong?” She weeps harder.
“I con’t tek it anymoah, Chatlez!” she weeps. “I con’t watch you die!” Chuck looks like someone hit him.
“What are you talking about? I’m not dying, Keri…”
“Dat’s watt it f-feels like! In heeyah!” She bangs on her chest to show the pain in her heart. “I con’t tek it! I con’t see you suffah anymoah! I don wan to leave you but I con’t tek it! I con’t w-watch! I go back to Anguilla! I ptay foh you! I ptay foh you ev’y night, Chatlez, until you get well!” She covers her face sobbing.
“You were just going to leave?” he asks in disbelief, his voice sounding like a broken child. “Without telling me? Without saying goodbye?” Keri doesn’t answer. She just continues to sob into her hands. “Don’t go, Keri,” he says softly, but there’s still no response. Chuck locks the wheels on his wheelchair and swings himself onto the sofa next to her, pain etched into his face—both physical and emotional.
“You don cayah!” she wails. “I cty an I beg an you don cayah! Ev’yboty tell you, ‘tek de medicine!’ Yoh doctah tell you ‘tek de medicine!’ Yoh ftiends tell you ‘tek de medicine!’ Yoh sponsah tell you ‘tek de medicine!’ I tell you ‘tek de medicine!’ I cty an beg ‘Chatlez, please tek de medicine,’ an you don cayah!”
Finally! This has to do it. If this doesn’t do it, nothing else will.
“Please, Baby… please, don’t go,” he beseeches her, trying to move her hands from her face.
“Noh!” She fights his attempts to grasp her hands. “I con’t watch dis! I con’t watch! Me dead out, doods! Ah eh able!” Okay… um… okay.
“Please, Keri…” He gently pries her hands from her face while she continues to cry. “Please…”
She stops for a moment, just enough to look up at him, then she sobs again—deep, painful sobs from her soul.
“Me dead out, choonks,” she cries. “Me dead out!”
“Sssshh,” he soothes, wrapping his arms around her and allowing her to cry into his shoulder. “I’ll take the medicine, baby,” he promises. “I’ll take it. The pain was getting to be too much anyway, but this…” He rubs her back gently. “I’ll take the medicine, Keri.” She weeps in his arms and I’m tempted to leave as this is a private moment now, not to mention the fact that I’m fucking freezing because I didn’t bring a coat. I’m wearing a long cable-knit sweater with leggings and booties, but it’s not warm enough to keep this cold out.
Just as I’m thanking my lucky stars that Christian doesn’t know I’m out here like this, he, Gail, and Jason all come out of the sliding doors. Jason stands in Chuck’s line of sight and hands him the bottle of pills. I can’t see his face, but I see that he’s still hesitant to take them. He says something to Jason, who opens the bottle and pours one pill into the cap. Chuck takes the pill and puts it into his mouth, swallowing it quickly. They’re only ibuprofen, Chuck. The most they’ll give you is a stomach ache!
“I took it, Keri,” he says. She pulls her face up to look at him. She looks over at Jason—surprised to see him standing there, much less holding the bottle of medicine. He nods to her and she turns back to Chuck. “I’ll take them when I’m hurting, I promise. I won’t put you through this anymore… please, don’t go…”
His face is wet and I at first I don’t know if the tears are his or Keri’s until I see his eyes—glassy and pink. I’ve never seen Chuck cry before. Keri takes his face in her hands.
“Don put yuh tru dis, choonks,” she says with a shaky voice. “No moah! No moah!” Chuck shakes his head.
“No more,” he says, just above a whisper. “No more.” She brings his face to hers and kisses him deeply just as Christian brings my large wool coat over to me and wraps it around my shoulders. God, the warmth is so welcome. I was so cold. Chuck and Keri have forgotten that they have and audience and Chuck pulls her closer to him, sinking into the kiss, then wincing dramatically in pain.
“Choonks!” Keri exclaims, then I realize that “choonks” is either some variation of his name or something that she calls him.
“I took the medicine, Keri,” he says quickly, sitting back on the sofa in obvious pain. “I took the pill.”
“Okay, okay,” she says, nodding feverishly and gently rubbing his chest.
“Please… don’t leave…” He’s trying to breathe through the pain.
“Me no go, choonks,” she says, kissing him sweetly on his cheeks. “Ah no go.”
“Come on, Chuck, let’s get you inside.” Jason comes around to the front of the sofa. “Can you put your arm around my neck?” Chuck nods and sits up a bit, putting his arm around Jason’s neck. “On three, okay? One, two, three…” Chuck winces terribly as Jason helps him rise from the sofa and helps him back into the wheelchair. I always wondered how they convinced him to use a wheelchair instead of crutches and I’m only just realizing that crutches require upper body strength that he doesn’t have right now.
Jason gestures for Gail to walk with a very concerned Keri while he wheels Chuck inside. Christian keeps me back for a moment. When they have cleared the door, he moves to the front of me. His gray eyes are sharp—not piercing, but brooding—and he looks taller than nor… oh shit!
“You and I will have words about you being out here without a coat, Mrs. Grey.” Uh-oh…
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I reply. What happened to my voice? “Keri was going to leave without telling him. He would have been devastated. I followed her out here. I just… it just slipped my mind. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“We’re going inside, now, Anastasia,” he says, unmoved. “I’m going to get you some soup and some tea to warm you up and hope you don’t get sick. There’s not much that you would be able to take if you caught a cold, or worse yet, pneumonia. There are still a lot of questions about the safety of antibiotics during pregnancy and…” He closes his eyes and steeples his hands over his mouth. I can tell that he’s counting. Mr. Grey is not pleased with me one bit, and it’s probably best if I just keep quiet for now.
He takes a deep breath and drops his hands before opening his eyes. Now, they’re piercing.
“Mrs. Grey.” That’s all he says as he holds his hand towards the doors in an “after you” gesture. I close my coat around me and walk inside. Why did it suddenly get colder again?
“Boss, there’s a bit of a crisis down here,” Jason says when I answer my cell.
“What’s up?” I ask concerned.
“It looks like Keri is about to fly the coop.” Fly the coop? Does he mean…?
“You mean like getting the hell away from Charles for a day or fly the coop completely, like go back to Anguilla?”
“I mean her shit is packed and Chuck has been rolling around looking for her. Gail found her on the back patio by the aquarium. Ana’s out there now and it looks like she’s trying to talk Keri back from the cliff.” Oh shit. If the pain doesn’t drive him to drink, Keri’s untimely departure sure fucking will. We’ve all got to do whatever we can to convince her not to leave or this is going to be disastrous.
“I’m on my way,” I say walking towards the nearest staircase.
“Boss, bring a coat for Ana.” I frown. I thought he said she was already outside.
“Ana needs a coat. She’s outside without a coat!” She’s WHAT!?
“Okay,” I say and end the call before I burst into a tirade of profanity in Jason’s ear. She’s eight months pregnant outside in the freezing fucking cold with no goddamn coat? What in God’s name is the matter with her? Does she want to catch fucking pneumonia? What in the hell is she thinking?
The entire time I’m cursing out loud at no one, I’m moving to the front of the house to the main door to get her coat and mine, then to the back of the house and to the lower level to the French doors by the aquarium. I must have moved with the speed of Mercury as Jason looks at me strangely when I get down there.
“What did you do, teleport?” he asks, frowning.
“How long have they been out there?” I ask.
“Not long,” Gail says, “Just a couple of minutes, maybe.” She’s standing there shivering. She should be! It’s fucking freezing.
“It’s about this,” Jason says, holding Charles’ prescription. “I know it is. It has to be.” I shake my head and lead the charge out to the patio. Ana looks at me just as the three of us walk out. First, I see alarm, then relief evident on her face. Don’t relax just yet, Mrs. Grey. Keri sounds like she’s speaking some other language completely as Jason gives Charles one of his pills. It’s about goddamn time! You’ve got my pregnant wife out here in the fucking freezing cold trying to keep your girl from leaving your stupid ass… I break the mental tirade as I wrap Ana’s coat around her. She obviously welcomes the warmth.
Keri and Charles share tender moments just before his face folds in excruciating pain. Serves you right, you dumb fuck. Jason helps him back into the wheelchair and takes him into the house while Gail and a distraught Keri walk behind them. I capture Mrs. Grey before she gets away. She tries to explain that she didn’t purposely come outside without a coat, but I’m hearing none of that. I try to explain to her how badly she put herself and the babies at risk, but I’m filled with so much fury that I can’t form my words fast enough. It’s not the kind of fury that makes you want to break something; it’s that concentrated frustration you feel when you can’t say what you mean and you can’t do something about the situation at this very moment.
I can do nothing but shut up and count, but the longer I count, the longer we’re still out here in the fucking cold. For the first time, I know how it feels to really want to punish a petulant child, but you can’t really do it for a lot of reasons—the first is obviously the well-being of the child. So I gesture to the door to get the “child” out of the damn cold and focus on warming her from the inside out.
The short elevator ride to the main floor is silent, and I lead her by her hand to the island in the kitchen.
“Ms. Solomon, is there any of Mrs. Taylor’s chicken soup available?” I ask as I remove Ana’s coat.
“It’ll take a few minutes, but yes sir,” she answers.
“Christian, I’m really not hungry,” Ana protests. I throw a glance at her that silences her quickly. Ms. Solomon looks between the two of us and quickly assesses the situation.
“If I may, as a compromise, may I suggest chicken and saffron consommé with tortellini? It’s a nice warm bowl of chicken consommé with a few tortellini noodles, not a lot, and sprinkled with a spray of saffron.” Ana looks up at me as if asking for permission.
“How long?” I ask.
“Five minutes,” Ms. Solomon says. I nod and she proceeds to prepare the consommé. Ana has taken a seat at the breakfast bar. She starts fidgeting with her fingers, paying closer attention to her nails than she ever has. I don’t care if she pouts from now until Christmas! I’m so displeased with her right now that I don’t quite know what to do with myself. She starts rubbing her hands together and that only fuels my displeasure and I can tell that she’s still cold.
“And you thought it was a good idea to stand outside with no coat,” I chide quietly.
“That’s not why I’m cold,” she says, glancing over at me. I’m not moved.
“How do you know?” I retort. I’ll have none of your smart mouth, Mrs. Grey. You were wrong.
A few minutes later, Ms. Solomon turns around and hands her a large mug with a delicious smell wafting from it and cinnamon sticks in it. To Ana’s questioning eyes, she informs her that it’s ginger tea with lemon, honey, and a hint of cinnamon. Ana sips the tea, then curls her hands around the mug. I almost feel the warmth flowing through her bones. She now concentrates on the cup of ginger tea, not raising her eyes at all.
“Can I get you something, Mr. Grey?” Ms. Solomon says. I shake my head.
“Thank you. No. I’m more concerned about Mrs. Grey right now.” Ms. Solomon nods and turns to finish the chicken consommé. Ana still doesn’t raise her head. Normally, I’d try to coax her to talk, but right now she can be as contemplative as she wants. I’m working on dealing with my displeasure that she could be so irresponsible. Ms. Solomon sets a dish of consommé in front of her that looks so delicious, I decide that I would like a bowl myself. I sit and watch her drink her consommé and her ginger tea without a word. While we’re eating, Keri walks into the kitchen looking exhausted. Now Ana raises her eyes.
“He’s asleep,” she says. “The pehn was so bahd, him go right teh sleep aftah de meds kick in.” She goes right to the refrigerator and takes out the orange juice.
“You said he had a doctor’s appointment yesterday?” Ana asks. Oh, aren’t you just the chatty one all of a sudden. Keri nods.
“Him tell de doctah he take de meds. Him not take de meds at all! De doctah want to know why him lungs sound so bahd. Doctah refill his pehsciption for meds him not even tekin!” Her hands are flailing in the air and she’s very passionate.”Ev’yboty tell him take de meds. Ev-y-bo-ty tell him take-de-meds! Noh! Him noh! Noh! Noh take de meds!” Okay, now she’s very angry because this is the choppiest I’ve ever heard her speak.
“Well, what did the doctor say?” Ana says, sipping her tea and not making eye contact with me.
“Him lungs shood be fine!” she declares, taking a glass from the cabinet and filling it with orange juice. “Him ribs tek long time, but him lungs shood be sttong!” Oh yeah, she’s angry. “Doctah say, ‘you shood be doin’ bettah. Are you sttessed?’ Him sttessed cuz him hutting all de time!” She takes huge gulps of her orange juice.
“So he’s asleep now?” I ask.
“Like bebbie!” she says, clapping her hands on the word. “Him not sleep dis hahd since he leave de ‘ospital!” I think she’s particularly angry that he allowed him to suffer this long. She sits at the breakfast bar next to Ana and drops her head on her arms on the counter. She begins to weep again. Ana has finished her consommé and abandons the small amount of ginger tea remaining to tend to the weeping Keri. While I sympathize with how Keri feels, I’m more concerned with Ana, who at this moment will turn her attention anywhere but to me. I take this moment to steal away from the kitchen and leave her to tend to Keri.
I’m not as furious as I was before with her lack of concern for the babies or sense of self-preservation. She can’t do that again. She can’t be so careless or flippant about her health. I’m in the gym before I know it, changing into shorts and sneakers to work off the residual frustration. I know that she cares about our babies. I know that she wants to be around to take care of them. I know that this is not the worst thing that she could have done, but the way that she’s acting—it’s like she doesn’t know how serious it was for her to be standing outside in the freezing cold with no coat. Hell, Jason is the one that called me and told me to bring her a fucking coat. It wasn’t just me!
I’m pounding on that treadmill for I don’t know how long, perturbed that she’s acting all bruised because I wanted her to eat some soup to warm up before the cold set in. I stop running and let the sweat just run down my face for a minute. She can have her little moody moment of petulance, but she’s going to know just how serious what she did really was and how badly it could have ended. I’m not being unreasonable and I know I’m not, but she’s not even slightly repentant for standing in the brittle Seattle winter air with no coat—eight months pregnant with twins! She was repentant outside, letting me know that she didn’t do it on purpose, but when I got her inside, wanting to get something warm inside of her, she starts acting all bruised like I was berating and mistreating her. It almost infuriates me all over again, but no. That’s going to get me nowhere and it’s certainly not going to drive my point home. She can’t be this careless and that’s that; no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I go to the showers to steam and wash off what’s left of this frustration so that I can get my grandfather delivered back to my mother’s house before she sends the militia over here to get him. I will deal with the defiant Mrs. Grey later.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
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