Hello my darlings. Sorry about the delay, but the hell never seems to end in real life. If you were supposed to receive an email from my mailing list with this update, but didn’t (not from the website, from the mailing list) I got notification that about seven emails “bounced.” That means that I can’t email to you unless you verify that I have the correct email. So hit me up and let me know if you’re not receiving emails.
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 36—Business as Usual?
“Gail, Elliot is sending some of his guys over to knock out the wall in the pantry…”
“Christian! Seriously?” she gasps. “A little less notice next time?” I put my hands up in surrender.
“I know. I know. I’m sorry. The best place for your office turns out to be a hollow between the laundry room and the pantry. If we don’t want construction possibly bumping up against the birth of the babies, they’ve got to knock that wall out as soon as possible…”
“… For an office that I don’t even need!” she protests. I put my hands on her arms.
“Gail, believe me. You don’t think you’ll need it now, but trust me, you’ll need it!” She sighs and shakes her head.
“Dammit, Christian!” she says, flailing her hands like she doesn’t know what to do with them.
“Tell me what the biggest issue is,” I say, not knowing what the problem is right now. She turns a horrified expression to me.
“Oh! Absolutely nothing, Master Grey!” she says sarcastically. “Except for the tiny little issue of the food!”
“Have you seen the size of that pantry?” she continues. “I’ve only just gotten it to the point where it’s only semi-organized, and now I have to rip it apart again… in an hour or so… and find somewhere to put the food!” Oh, boy. We didn’t consider this when we looked at the blueprints.
“Activate two-way communications!” I yell into the air.
“I’d like to know who thought up this plan of action!” Gail huffs, walking into the pantry. “How am I supposed to clear out all this food in an hour?”
“Jason?” I call like a drowning man, thrusting my hand into my hair.
“And who exactly do you expect to move all of this stuff?” she gripes coming out of the pantry, “because if you’re expecting me to do it, you’re sorely mistaken! There’s enough food in there to fill a small grocery!”
It seems like it takes forever for Jason to get to the kitchen and Gail is ranting the entire time! I think I have a few more gray hairs. Jason stands next to me frowning and looking between me and his ranting wife.
“Wha…?” He’s at a loss for words.
“The spices alone are going to take a week to pack!” She’s still ranting and I don’t even know what she was talking about from the time I called Jason to this moment. Various members of the staff have gathered in the kitchen, but none of them dare engage her. What have I done?
“I told Gail that Elliot’s guys were coming to knock out a wall or two of the pantry,” I say, slowly. He’s frowning at me. He hasn’t gotten the full thrust of what I’m telling him yet. “… This afternoon.” I see three heads rubberneck in my direction from the staff members now watching Gail’s frantic tantrum.
“You… what?” Jason says, soberly.
“Oh, no, don’t act like I came to this decision on my own! I had two other accomplices here!” I protest.
“You didn’t tell me they were knocking out walls today!” Jason defends. Way to throw me under the bus, Jason.
“You knew about this?” Gail barks at her husband.
“I knew about the office,” he concurs.
“You knew about the construction!” I roll that bus right back at him. “I told you they were coming! I told you to inform security because I had an appointment at the dentist…” I look at my watch. “… Which I’ll probably be late for!” Jason narrows his eyes at me.
“You told me they were making preparations; you didn’t tell…” He stops mid-sentence and pulls out his phone. “I need as many of the guys as you can get in here. I need some serious manual labor…”
“You’re gonna need more than manual fucking labor. I need someplace to put the goddamn food!” Gail barks, and back into the pantry she goes. Jason stares at the pantry door for a moment without blinking.
“Never mind,” he says into the phone and ends the call before he turns to me. Never mind? What great idea has he come up with? “You need a plan B… now,” he says, calmly.
“What?” I ask bemused.
“We need to leave in about twenty minutes if you want to get to the dentist on time and my wife is cursing. My wife never curses. I don’t know what’s going on with this whole pantry thing. Have you ever been in there?” I shrug.
“I saw it once when we looked at the house, but I didn’t really commit it to memory,” I respond.
“Maybe we should go in there,” he says.
“It’s just a pantry, Jason,” I protest.
“My wife is cursing!” he reiterates. “My wife does not curse. I can count on one hand the times my wife has cursed since I’ve known her. Whatever is going on in that damn pantry, it’s not that big to us, but it is to her!”
I sigh. This is ridiculous. She doesn’t even want the damn office. I’m ready to call the whole thing off.
“Fine,” I say, walking to the pantry for this exercise in futility.
Slanted produce bins in front with fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh herbs growing in aluminum buckets. Jarred preserves, oils, rice, legumes, bushels, bottles and baskets of organic God only knows what and shelf after shelf of floor-to-ceiling painstakingly organized dry and canned goods as far back as the eye can see.
“You ever see that movie Sleeping With The Enemy?” I say, thinking of Julia Roberts’ OCD husband who had to have every label in the cabinets in alphabetical order and facing forward.
“Not funny,” Jason hisses. “We need a plan B.”
“We need a plan B,” I concur. My brain is running through spaces in the house that don’t require knocking out a wall. I can’t risk having this same kind of blow-up with Butterfly about the aquarium or something. Maybe working at the counter isn’t such a bad idea, it’s just that she’s going to be right in the middle of all of the activity when things are happening in the kitchen. Jesus, maybe we could just put a desk in the damn pantry…
Then it hits me.
“The dining room,” I say. Jason frowns.
“You want to put her in the dining room? She’ll have to move every time we have a meal,” he protests.
“Not that one, the little one—the round one with all the windows… we never use it.” He’s pondering the idea.
“Didn’t Her Highness says something about having cozy meals in that room?” he says.
“And how many have we had?” I retort. He’s silent. “If she wants cozy meals, we have a sitting room off our bedroom where we can have a cozy meal surrounded by moonlight naked! Trust me, when she finds out how Gail reacted to tearing down that wall in that pantry, she’ll be glad to give up that informal dining room.” Jason’s scoffs a bit.
“I’ll let you handle that,” he says.
“Oh, that’ll be easy,” I tell him. “She can either give up the informal dining room or Gail can stay at the counter in the kitchen.” Jason shrugs.
“I think my wife will like those options.”
“I honestly think my wife will opt for the formal dining room without griping,” I say.
“I’d like to take a wager on that,” Jason says.
“Oh, no,” I say, “you remember what happened the last time you made a wager on something that my wife did!” I warn. He grimaces. “Mm-hmm. Tell your wife that she doesn’t have to lose her pantry.” He immediately turns his attention away from me.
According to the dentist, I’m lucky that my teeth weren’t knocked completely out in the fight. The fact that I went to the hospital and literally didn’t eat solid food for the first 48 hours actually did me some good. The fact that I didn’t come to the dentist sooner—not so good. I had to have my teeth splinted together to keep them from falling out. That was fun! Normally, that’s something that has to be scheduled for a return visit, but I had already waited long enough to give him cause for concern, so he performed the procedure for me right then. Luckily for me, the splint is a polymer that goes on the inside of my teeth instead of the outside like braces. It holds them all together, binding the loose ones to the stable ones, thereby making them all stable.
And it hurts like hell.
I also have to sleep with one of those God awful mouth guard-looking things to protect me from myself in the middle of the night. Butterfly is going to find this whole contraption so attractive. Oh, the lisp is even harder to control, now, because there’s this thing on the inside of my teeth. So I have to just keep talking and talking and talking—even to myself—until I conquer this thing again as I refuse to walk around talking with this damn lisp.
I promised to stop by to see Pops before Moms gets home. When I walk into the house with the greenish-yellow-blackish-bluish face, Leona almost burst into tears. I can tell that she has to control the urge to throw her arms around me. She wants to keep waiting on me and I actually have to tell her to leave me alone with my grandfather. We talk for most of the afternoon, during which time I have to explain to him what happened to my face. When I’m done telling him the story, he tells me a similar story when he beat the snot out of a kid who was picking on his high school sweetheart—who wasn’t Dad’s mom, by the way. She came later, but Pops took a real beating that day and gave as much as he took. So he completely understood why I had to put the paws to Cholometes.
“Sometimes, all we have is our honor, Christian,” he says. “That’s what separates the men from the boys, and the gentlemen from the scallywags.”
“Well said, Pops,” I tell him, “well said.”
We talk for I don’t know how much longer before Jason tells me that it’s getting to be time for us to leave. I look at my watch and realize that my mother can possibly be walking in anytime in the next hour or so. I say goodbye to my grandfather and leave with Jason.
“I have some news, sir,” Jason says as we get into the car.
“What is it?” I ask, swallowing two of the painkillers the dentist gave me.
“Alex found Chuck’s parents.” It actually hurts to frown.
“Oh? Has he spoken to them yet?”
“No, sir. He’s waiting for instructions from me on how to proceed and I’m a little stumped.” My phone buzzes with a notification of a water wall that I was observing earlier. I quickly forward the picture to Butterfly with two more and a quick email asking for her opinion. My email to her is much more playful and flirty than I actually feel.
“Tell him to forward the information to you and proceed exactly as Chuck told you to. Don’t get involved—business as usual. You’re only contacting them as his boss to inform them that he has requested that they be added as his next of kin in case of his demise. Keep it as informal as possible. There is the likelihood that they will decline if the relationship is as strained as it appears. At that time, he can name you or Keri or even us as his next of kin and we’ll make sure that he’s taken care of.” He sighs heavily.
“I sure as hell don’t feel like dealing with this,” he says. “That Joseph is some fucking piece of work, man. If his parents are anything like him…” He trails off and starts the car.
“Yeah, I know,” I say as I try to ignore the pain in my mouth. I attempt to meditate for a moment while the car cruises from Bellevue towards Mercer Island. It works for a while until I feel my blackberry vibrating in my pocket again. It’s Butterfly. She’s sent me a picture of a fireplace… for the rooms behind the wall! Surely she knows that we don’t have enough ventilation in those spaces for a fireplace! I send an email back to her pointing out her malfeasance and the fact that there’s no way those spaces could accommodate a fireplace! I find myself getting way too irritated to continue this or any conversation because my mouth is in way too much pain and these pain killers are not working fast enough.
“Take this, Jason,” I say, handing my blackberry to him over the seat. He looks at it, then at me through the rearview mirror.
“Sir?” he asks incredulously.
“Take it!” I hiss. “I can’t tolerate it right now!” He takes it without another word.
“Yes, sir.” It buzzes before he puts it in his inside pocket. “Her Highness is texting.”
“She wants to talk about a fireplace. I’ll talk to her later,” I respond as I lay my head on the headrest and try to think comforting thoughts.
My head and mouth aren’t throbbing quite so much when we arrive back at Grey Crossing. It’s just after 5pm and Butterfly hasn’t made it home yet. I go straight to my den, stretch out on the sofa, and enjoy the silence.
“How do you feel, Sir?”
Jason’s cautious voice wakes me and I realize that I slipped off into a short nap. I look at my watch. It’s 5:30. Only about twenty minutes. I feel worlds better. He must not have known I was sleeping or he never would have disturbed me.
“Less like pygmies are dancing on my temples and incisors,” I tell him as I move to a sitting position. There is what is known as a pregnant pause for a moment. “What is it?”
“I’ve contacted Chuck’s parents,” he begins. “I didn’t speak to them. I left them a message—very short and professional. I only said that I was Charles’ employer and that he would like for them to be listed as his next of kin in case of extreme emergency and I left my contact information.”
“Well, that’s about all you can do, Jason,” I say. He doesn’t respond. “There’s more.”
“I haven’t told Chuck yet,” he says, “and to be honest, I don’t want to tell him alone.”
“Why not?” I say, frowning deeply.
“He gets all weepy when you start talking about his parents and his family!” This fucker is whining! “I don’t feel like handling that alone, man! I need some more testosterone in the room.”
“Yeah, because you’re turning into a pussy,” I declare.
“Whatever. Are you coming or what?”
“Sure, Jasonia,” I say as I stand from the sofa.
“Fuck you, man,” he replies, turning around and walking out of my den.
“How long ago did you leave the message?” Chuck asks, carefully eyeing his and Keri’s entwined fingers.
“About twenty minutes,” Jason says.
“And they’re in South Dakota?” Chuck presses. Jason nods.
“They own a house in Rapid City… since just after you went to rehab. To be honest, I don’t know what could be happening that they could need money. Rapid City is one of the best places to live in the state.”
“I don’t either,” he says without raising his head, “but apparently they do since they sent my barracuda brother out here to do their bidding.” He still sounds more hurt than angry, but yes, a little angry.
“You still have us, Chuck,” I say as an attempt at consolation. He raises his eyes for the first time since we came into the apartment. “You know, just in case.” He nods.
“I know,” he says. “Well, enough of this melancholy shit. Wanna see what I can do?” Jason and I look at each other.
“Sure,” Jason says. Chuck nods at Keri and she disappears into another room.
“Now, I have to take this slow, so be patient with me,” he says. What the hell is this man about to do? He locks the wheels on his wheelchair as Keri returns with a pair of metal crutches.
“Ready, baby?” he asks Keri.
“Reaty, Chatles,” she replies. He hoists himself out of the chair, using his arm strength, his good leg, and Keri for support. It takes a while, but he’s careful and meticulous. When he is balancing on the good leg, she positions the crutches under each arm and pushes the chair away. She stands nearby as he situates the crutches properly under his arms to help support his weight, then releases a breath once he can rest from balancing on one foot.
“Tada!” he says a bit breathlessly. Keri is standing nearby, smiling from ear to ear beaming with pride. “I know it’s not much…”
“Are you kidding?” Jason says. “It’s great, man! With the injuries you sustained and you just started taking your pain pills a week ago… you’re not overdoing it, are you?”
“Naw. The doctor said I should really start moving around and getting out of the chair. I should have been doing it before now, but… well, you know.” He drops his head to keep from finishing the thought.
“You shud seet, nah, Chatles,” Keri warns. “Not too moch too soon.” He nods and allows her to help him shift his weight from the crutches back to the arms of the wheelchair before he labors to take a seat.
“I’m really impressed, Chuck,” I tell him.
“Thanks,” he replies. “I’ll be glad when I can get back to work. I’m starting to get a bit of cabin fever. Not that I don’t love being here with my gorgeous girlfriend, but a guy like me, I’ve got to get out.”
“In due time, Tiger,” Jason teases, “in due time.”
“How’s Ben doing?” he asks. “I don’t get much feedback from Ana except that he’s not me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” I look over at Jason and the look on his face tells me that there’s clearly something that I don’t know.
“Well,” I begin, “Butterfly’s less-than-stellar experience at the Mercer hospital lets me know that somebody dropped the ball and since I’m not firing anybody yet, I’m assuming that Mr. Taylor has taken care of the situation, or that I will hear about it at a later time.” I throw a pointed look at Jason.
“I’m taking care of it, Sir,” he says succinctly.
“And the hospital staff?”
“In the works as we speak, sir,” he further confirms. “You and Her Highness will be glad to know that heads will certainly roll and pipers will be paid when this is all over.” I nod.
“Good. That’s what I want to hear. And from now on, make every possible effort to ensure that in an emergency, my wife and I are taken only to Seattle General Hospital.” Jason chuckles.
“Sir, Her Highness nearly made us swear a blood oath to that fact!” he informs me. That’s my Butterfly. Speaking of Her Highness…
“Where’s my phone?” I ask Jason.
“You lost your phone?” Chuck asks, doing a dramatic double-take.
“No, I gave it to Jason.” His puzzled glare turns to Jason, who reaches into his inside pocket.
“I know, right?” he says to Chuck as he hands me my blackberry.
“Did hell freeze over?” Chuck asks.
“I was in pain,” I say as I thumb through my emails, noting one response from Butterfly about the fireplaces.
“You couldn’t even talk and you still kept your blackberry… twice!” Chuck protests. “What kind of pain made you give up your phone?”
“My teeth are wired together,” I tell him without raising my eyes from my blackberry. The fireplaces are electric—and she’s scolding me for not knowing that she wouldn’t suggest real ones. “The painkillers were taking too long to kick in. It felt like Beelzebub and his minions were playing Chopsticks with pitchforks on my gums… the long version!”
“That’s not a good visual,” Jason says, and although I don’t see him, I know he winced. Butterfly has sent a picture that I would otherwise find quite interesting, but right now, I surprisingly find it a bit unnerving. It’s a bondage frame for the playroom. I hadn’t thought about anything for the playroom recently, not since… not since I spanked her. It’s obvious that we will want to continue our lifestyle; it’s just that I haven’t been able to reconcile the bruising on her butt after that last exercise. I didn’t really push it out of my mind—it just hasn’t been in the forefront of my thoughts and we never really talked about it. Well, we did. She told me that she understood why she received the punishment and she tagged me spot on that I needed her to safeword once I saw that bruising. I apologized to her sleeping frame because she made it clear that she didn’t need an apology, but I still needed to apologize to her. I talked in great detail to Dr. Baker about how I was feeling after the punishment, but not to Butterfly. As a result, I have a lot of unreconciled emotions floating around about the incident. Did she talk to Ace about it? She never mentioned it again and we don’t act strangely around each other, so why do I feel the way I feel right now upon considering furnishings for the new playroom?
“Earth to Christian,” Jason says, and I realize that I was in the middle of a conversation with two other people. I raise my head distractedly.
“What?” I say, my voice sharper than I intend.
“Damn, where were you?” Chuck asks as Keri re-enters the room. I didn’t even know she had left.
“Butterfly’s ribbing me for not knowing these fireplaces were electric. I got a little engrossed in the email.” It’s half true. “How the fuck was I supposed to know they were electric? They look real.”
“A fireplace had you that mesmerized?” Jason says in disbelief.
“No, her email did, you soon-to-be-unemployed asshole,” I quip. Jason throws his hands up in mock surrender.
“Well, you’re just going to be a bundle of joy and laughter, aren’t you?” he responds. I glare at him. “There’s no pain like mouth pain,” he laments. Nope, and I’ve got four more weeks of it. Fuck this macho shit—I need pain killers on an IV! There’s nothing in the world like this pain and I’m not trying to endure this shit for anybody.
“Well, my work here is done. I’ll see you assholes at dinner.” I turn to leave and hear Chuck’s final lament before I breach the doorway.
“He’s going to be a bear.”
You’ve got that right.
I don’t have time to rearrange my thoughts when I come into the entertainment room and find Butterfly gazing at her aquarium. That’s usually not a good sign.
“Bad day?” I say, approaching with caution. She turns to me briefly, then back to the aquarium.
“Just trying to release some bad vibes,” she says. “Gail’s in a mood.” Oh hell, I forgot about Gail.
“Um, yeah. About that office…” She turns her gaze back to me. “Would you mind terribly losing the informal dining room?” I ask. “The perfect space for Gail’s office would have been a hollow we located between the pantry and the laundry room. It would have meant emptying the pantry to have a wall knocked out… today!” Butterfly’s eyes immediately widen. “It was like Hiroshima. Whatever you see now is considerably tamer than what Jason and I had to contend with this afternoon.”
“You told that woman that she had to empty the pantry?” she asks in calm disbelief. “Have you seen the pantry? It’s like a goddamn general store in there—a well-stocked general store.”
“I’ve seen it now,” I tell her, “but not before today, no, I hadn’t seen it.”
“And just how well did that woman hand you your balls today?” she asks, her voice still calm.
“Enough for me not to be afraid to ask if you would mind terribly losing the informal dining room,” I repeat. “It’s ideally placed, the lighting is great, we don’t have to worry about the ventilation issues, we don’t have to rush with construction before the babies are born…”
“You don’t have to convince me, we never use it,” she says, repeating what I said earlier. “If it makes everyone’s life easier, I say go for it. How does Gail feel about it?”
“You know she had to warm up to the idea of an office anyway, but as long as we don’t fuck with her pantry, I think she’d use one of the patios if that was the last available space.” Butterfly nod and turns back to the aquarium.
“Then it’s settled,” she says, folding her arms over her baby bump. I close the space between us.
“So what has you in a mood?” I ask quietly. She turns indecisive blue eyes to me.
“Where do I begin?” she sighs.
“Wherever you want.”
“First of all, I feel like I’ve been pregnant for five damn years! I’m ready to have these babies already.” She reaches under her hair and rubs her head where her scar is.
“Is it hurting?” I ask, concerned. She frowns.
“What, the babies?” she asks, bemused.
“No, your head,” I say, pointing to my own head. She subconsciously snatches her hand away from her head and I’m only just realizing that this has become another tell. She has no idea she was rubbing the scar.
“No, it’s not hurting,” she says dismissively. I examine her for a moment, then choose my words carefully.
“Next week, Christmas will be here. Then, we’ll be celebrating the new year. Before you know it, Valentine’s Day will be here. By the time we are celebrating our love on our first Valentine’s Day in our new home, our children will be here.” She raises impatient eyes to me. “I know it feels like forever, and I wish I could empathize with you, but I have no idea what you’re going through. All I can say is that I’m just as impatient for them to be a part of our lives as you are and that you already know that I’ll be by your side every step of the way. I’ll try to make things as easy as possible and hopefully I won’t get in your way too much.” Her resolve breaks a bit and she almost wants to smile. I can’t even imagine how tiring and exhausting this must be for her. I’ll give her a nice foot rub after dinner.
“I spent the afternoon with Courtney Wilson today.” I frown. Courtney Wilson?
“Adelaide and Fred’s granddaughter?” I ask. She nods. The same classless female that came on to her at the Affair? “Why in the world did you do that?”
“Because she’s a spoiled, entitled, amoral little brat and I’m trying to teach her some kind of values before she’s set loose on the world!” she snaps back. “I have control of how, when, and if she’ll get her trust fund while she spends a yet-to-be-determined amount of time with me at Helping Hands.” At first, I’m stunned. Then, I’m amused.
“That’s brilliant!” I exclaim. “Whose idea was that?”
“It was a collaboration,” she says a bit dismissively.
“I take it Courtney wasn’t part of this collaboration,” I observe.
“Of course not! She showed up in an angora sweater and Jimmy Choos. She was trying to convince her grandmother that she didn’t need to be there before her feet were even past the threshold all the way. Helping Hands has to replace nearly an entire set of dishes because she deliberately broke them to keep from having to work, not to mention that she’s rude and elitist to everyone she comes in contact with, including some of these frightened and battered mothers. The only thing that makes her fall in line is threatening her trust fund, and I just don’t think there’s any hope for someone like that. She’s rotten to the core—not just surface-rotten, rotten all the way down to her soul. I may have thought there might have been some shred of possibility of a transformation until I heard about the whole shoplifting thing with Mia…”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. That was her,” I recall. “We had to keep her and Mia separate for the entire summer and for several years thereafter. We were afraid Mia would kill her if we didn’t.”
“That bad?” Butterfly asks. I scoff.
“Mia is the most adorable, annoying little kitten you’ll ever meet until she gets around Courtney. If you ever see those two together, grab some popcorn and a drink and take a seat, because you’re about to see a show.”
“Really?” Butterfly says with a giggle.
“Really,” I confirm. “She becomes vicious and seething. Her words cut; it’s like she’s in the presence of pure evil and she has no other choice but to make it known to all parties in the room. Courtney’s just lucky that Mia wasn’t at the table when she came sashaying by at the affair.”
“Mmm. Well, Addie wants me to try, but I have to say that I don’t have any hope for this girl. I think I lean to the side of optimism too often when it comes down to human nature and I often find myself disappointed.” She taps on the glass and as if summoned, a black and white fish comes to the front of the aquarium.
She’s the fucking pied piper.
“You can only do what you can do, Butterfly,” I tell her. “Look at me. You turned my whole life around.”
“Our relationship is different. It wasn’t based on a payoff. It’s based on a lifetime.” Her hand caresses her scar again.
“Please don’t stress too much about this,” I beseech her. “This girl is not worth it. If she turns out to be a lost cause, make that observation early and let it go. I know you want to save the world. It’s in your nature, but some people just can’t be saved.” She sighs.
“I know,” she says, her voice laced with defeat. “Hey, why didn’t you respond to my last email?”
“Actually, I just got your last email a few minutes ago.” I look at him skeptically. “Jason had my phone.” Okay, I believe that… not!
“Jason had your phone.” It’s a statement, not a question. He nods.
“I didn’t feel like talking or concentrating or anything,” he says, flatly.
“Why not?” He bears his teeth at me. That’s the best way that I can put it. It’s not a smile; he just bears his teeth at me. I’m lost.
“What is it?” I ask.
“The fact that you have to ask means that he did a good job,” he says. “My teeth are wired together.”
“You mean, like braces?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, “exactly like braces except there’s a polymer over wire behind my teeth instead of in front of my teeth.” I reach for his cheek and he flinches away from me.
“I’m sorry. It’s a reflex. It hurts like hell. That’s why Jason had my phone.” I nod.
“How long is it going to take? How long will it hurt like this?” I ask.
“I’m told it’ll hurt considerably for the first 24 hours, considerably less after that.” I’m having flashbacks of when he had the flu. My God, he was unbearable. Now, he’s going to be in pain. Oy!
“Did it help with your speech? You sound better.”
“Lots of practice,” he says. “If I don’t pay really close attention to what I’m saying, I’ll sound like Daffy Duck… probably look like him, too.”
“You really look so much better than you did before, Christian,” I tell him. “I know you haven’t looked in the mirror, but a lot of the bruising has gone down and your skin tone has even improved slightly since this morning—except that eye, I’m afraid. The swelling has subsided, but I think you’re just going to have to let the coloring run its course.” I reach up to touch it he winces and withdraws. I’m a little taken aback by the gesture. I know it’s a reflex because of the pain he’s experiencing, but I can’t help the slight pang of rejection that I feel at his reaction and I pull my hand back.
“I’m… sorry, Butterfly,” he begins.”
“I know,” I nod, dismissively, waving him off. “It’s the pain. What did they give you for it?” I ask, directing the conversation away from my quickly diminishing feelings. It’s childish, really. He’s not rejecting me; he’s just in pain… and I’m too damn emotional. Fucking pregnancy hormones!
“Vicodin,” he says softly. “Only for the first two days, and I should only need them for one. Ibuprofen as needed after that.” I nod and force a smile.
“That’s good. How are you feeling now?” Focus on him. Keep the focus on him.
“Not too bad,” he says. “The Vicodin kicked in about an hour ago. I can still feel the residual pain because my gums ache, but it’s nothing like it was before.”
“So what’s next?” Why do I feel like crying? It wasn’t that serious, really! This is ridiculous!
“I go back in a month and the dentist checks to see if the teeth have reset themselves. If not, he’ll check again after eight weeks and then six months. Since I don’t have gum disease, he’s not concerned about them setting again as long as I don’t take any more hits to the jaw.” I nod. I’ve got to put some distance between us or I’m going to be a waterfall soon.
“That’s good, Christian. I’m going to go up and get some tea. Can I get you something while I’m in the kitchen?” He pauses for a moment, trying to feel me out. Dammit, not now. “Christian?”
“No,” he says finally. “No, I’m fine, I don’t need anything.”
“Okay,” I say with a tight smile before I escape to the elevator. Once I’m inside, I release a heavy sigh along with the tears that were threatening to fall when I was standing there with Christian. No use in going to the kitchen right now. There are too many people there to ask me what’s wrong. I take the elevator to the second floor and walk to our bedroom.
Several minutes later, I’m standing half-naked—in bra and panties—in front of the full-wall mirrors in my dressing room. Ten-ton Ana stares back at me from every angle. I rub my baby mountain and it seems that I’m just getting bigger and bigger every day. I’ve been pregnant for like ever and my due date is what? Valentine’s Day. I’m not even going to be able to bake my cookies on Christmas Eve. The thought suddenly depresses me and I cover my face and weep.
Weepy, whiny, crying Ana. Boy, I’ll be glad when she’s gone.
You’re being too hard on yourself, you know. It’s the hormones; you can’t help it.
I know that, but I don’t have to like it. This is really becoming ridiculous.
I remember the first time the Bitch talked to me. I thought I was crazy. I knew I was crazy. We all are, to some extent, but me more than others… and I’m a shrink. Unfortunately, with the voice she’s taken, I can’t help but yearn and wish that I had a mother like other women do during times like this. I understand how Mandy felt carrying Harry now. I think I’ll call her later. I don’t know if my father’s friend is still staying with them, but I’ll call her anyway.
I’m having a hard time trying to pick something to wear for the rest of the evening as I can’t stop the steady flow of tears streaming from my eyes. The children have mostly settled during this part of the pregnancy as they are now in cramped quarters and their movements are more succinct—more turning and stretching as opposed to jungle gyms and soccer games. I try on about five different outfits, sick to death of yoga pants. I settle on a gray T-shirt dress that clings to my body—totally out of season with an extremely indecent split up my thigh… well, it wasn’t indecent when I bought it. Christian won’t look in the mirror and I won’t step on a scale… a luxury that will be snatched away from me when I go to the doctor on Thursday. Ain’t we a pair.
It makes me cry harder.
After I squeeze my way-too-big body into this way-too-small dress, I only end up covering the thing with an oversized cowl-neck sweater. I’m still weeping as I try to find a headband to tame my hair. Geez, you would think somebody died!
“Baby?” His concerned voice wrings more emotion from me, and another volley of tears starts anew. Dammit! “I’m sorry…”
“It’s not you!” I wail, uncontrolled. I can only think right now that I want him to hold me, but he can’t even put his arms around me like he used to. I have to poke my butt out to embrace him. I can’t get one of those tight, firm, Christian Grey “you’re my everything’ hugs for another two months because I’m just too fucking fat!
“Talk to me, baby,” he says, kneeling on the floor in front of me, but I can’t. I don’t know what to tell him. Your mouth was hurting and you wouldn’t let me touch your face so it started the tears and now the floodgates are open because I’m as big as Montana?
That’s about it, isn’t it?
In a nutshell, but I’m not telling him that.
“I’m emotional,” I tell him truthfully, “I can’t make it stop.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” I whine.
Instinctively, he lifts me in his arms like I’m weightless. My brain is screaming, “Put me down before you break your back!” Yet, he carries me effortlessly, like a handkerchief, into our sitting room. He sits in the large chair that faces the windows and situates me on his lap. He curls me into his chest and wraps his arms around my back and the babies.
“Let it out, Butterfly,” he says, soothing, rubbing my back… and the waterfall flows. This time, it flows because he’s so loving and caring and I’m so lucky to have him. After only a few more minutes, I’ve cried myself out and we sit there in silence—the only sound being my occasional shuddering breath. After several moments, his caramel voice breaks the silence.
“Activate two-way communications.” Beep. “Locate Gail Taylor.”
“Yes?” She still sounds perturbed.
“Mrs. Grey isn’t feeling well,” he says, unmoved by her terseness. “Please bring some ginger tea to the sitting room off the master suite.”
“Oh!” Her terse tone is immediately replaced with concern. “Okay.” I swear it seems like that woman teleported because only moments later, she’s in the room with tea. I don’t want tea right now. I want to stay here nestled in my husband’s chest. I can hear her preparing the tea, but I don’t open my eyes.
“Thank you, Gail. Just leave it there… and please, have dinner brought to the sitting room. We’ll dine here tonight.” He’s so thoughtful.
“Yes, sir,” she says, her voice laced with that concern I know only too well before she leaves the room.
I fell asleep before dinner arrived last night, but Christian woke me and fed me before letting me go right back to sleep. We were still fully dressed when I awoke this morning and my head felt like lead, so I took a shower as warm as I could stand it—warmer than usual, but not too warm for the babies—and let the warmer water caress the fogginess and pain from my head. It was very refreshing. That’s another thing I can’t wait for once these babies are born. I’m going to take the hottest swim in that marble bathtub my body can stand.
After a quiet breakfast and having to repeatedly assure my husband that I was past my emotional breakdown from last night—for now, that is—Marilyn and I set out to begin our day. Our first stop involves a tour of the Harbor Club. It’s a luncheon club located in Seattle’s financial district on the top floor of the Norton Building. The club opened in the mid-1900’s during the dawn of the Mad Men era. While this time has been romanticized by some as the blooming of fashion and culture of the mid-century with beatniks, loud music, and Lucky Strike cigarettes in every hand, this era was also a time of casual or blatant sexism, immense racism and bigotry, and rampant adultery with the textbook executive/secretary relationships. To that end, the fabulous view of Mt. Rainier had very little effect on me as did the historical significance of the landmark business deals sealed within the club’s walls, the stunning décor, or the fact that Craig—the club’s general manager—tried to sell me on the frequent family and social events sponsored by Harbor Club.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not holding it against the club that it blossomed during the heyday of sexism, bigotry, and adultery. I do, however, feel like the ideologies of the founders may still be evident in the club’s current philosophy. What was prevalent to me was the absence of an inviting atmosphere for young or professional or influential women as I toured the facility.
While the space is very elegantly furnished, it’s more geared towards businessmen—i.e. the Mad Men executive. Even now, every room leans towards more masculine furnishings with a hint of unisex flavor. To add to that, current members present are mostly male meeting for mid-morning coffee or some other informal or preliminary conference. The occasional female sits with her male counterpart as either an assistant of some sort, a companion that was more of an onlooker to the proceedings, or in one case, an obvious offering to seal the deal. How barbaric! I tried to pretend that I didn’t know that’s what was going on, but you really couldn’t miss it.
I had already made my decision upon seeing that exchange, but Craig’s proud announcement that the club offers a regular businessman’s lunch and his beaming pride that there was even an impressive walk-in humidor clinched it for me. Why? Because he had an extremely incurable case of the stutters when I asked if there were similar accommodations for ladies who lunch or a spa retreat or even an exclusive parlor for afternoon tea. I thanked him for the tour and his time and told him that I would be in touch after I toured the other clubs in the Seattle area. He tried to pin me down to a time frame for my decision and I couldn’t help feeling like he—like many of the men while I was touring the facility—only saw me as the little woman who came to take a look at the big country club.
“Mr. McCrone,” I begin, “Harbor Club is only the second club I’ve visited and I’ll be going to a third this afternoon and a fourth later this week. As you’ve noticed, my assistant has been taking thorough notes about your facilities and its accommodations, but I’m nowhere near making a final decision on which club I’ll be choosing to join as I have at least twenty more to visit.”
I know Marilyn said make each one feel like they’re on the top of the list, but for me, Harbor Club is at the bottom, and the last thing this pretentious asshole is going to do is rush me.
“Will Mr. Grey be making this decision… with you?” I smile widely and very pretty.
“Please be assured that should Harbor Club make the very short list of finalists once my tours are complete; you’ll be the first to know.” I proffer my hand to him. He takes it like a wet fish, so I squeeze like a fighter. He’s caught off guard and I can see it in his eyes. “Your club is very impressive,” I say sweetly, my voice totally contrary to the death grip his hand is getting right now.
“Thank you, Mrs. Grey,” he says, his voice showing the tiniest bit of strain.
“Dr.,” I correct him. “Steele-Grey.” I hold his hand until he corrects himself.
“Dr. Steele-Grey,” he says. I nod once and slowly release his hand.
“Until and if we meet again, Mr. McCrone,” I say with a smile and turn away.
“Ten will get you twenty that he’s calling somebody that’s calling Christian right now,” I say when Marilyn, Ben, and I clear the door of the club.
“You can count on it,” Marilyn says as we walk to the car.
Ten minutes later, we find ourselves in the exclusive community of Broadmoor. Our visit to Broadmoor is much more pleasant and when I say exclusive, I mean exclusive! Their membership is diverse, but Broadmoor is actually a residential community with a golf course inside. Membership requires a member sponsor and clubhouse has a dress code—jeans or denim of any kind is prohibited.
“Do you already have a sponsor, Dr. Steele-Grey?” Ilene Claiborne asks as she and her assistant, Marco Williams, begin to show us around the club.
“I’m afraid not,” I confess. “It appears we may have overlooked that small bit of vital information in our preliminary research,” I add, throwing a pointed look at Marilyn. She raises her eyes from her iPad and mouths “Wait for it.”
“No worries, Dr. Steele-Grey,” Ms. Claiborne says. “I’m certain that should you decide that you and Broadmoor are a right fit, we’ll have no problem whatsoever finding you and your family a sponsor.” I smile at her warmth.
“Thank you, and please call me Ana. That hyphenated name is going to become very cumbersome after a while.”
“Okay, Ana. Ilene,” she says, returning my smile.
Broadmoor prides itself on its golfing history and its sense of community. Marco banters on about the many professional golf tournaments that have been hosted on Broadmoor’s greens, particularly proud that Arnold Palmer has been famed to have played on the course. Having absolutely no interest in golf myself, I have to apologize to him that his conversation is going completely over my head, but commend him on his knowledge and the fact even under a blanket of snow I can tell that this is quite a beautiful and impressive golf course. He smiles and nods, but I can see he looks a bit deflated.
“Marco, can you tell me, is golfing good for fitness? I mean, to me, it just looks like swinging a club.” I make a haphazard motion with my hands. Marco perks up again.
“Oh, yes ma’am,” he says, coming to life again. “Not many people know it, but golfing is more of a workout than you think. First, there’s the cardiovascular benefit because there’s a lot of walking involved. Walking up the hills and down the valleys assists in toning of different muscles, so there’s strength training involved. Of course, we have caddies, but if you opt occasionally to carry your golf bag, that will also assist in your workout. The twisting and swinging also help with your balance and flexibility, and focusing on your drive helps with concentration.”
He says it all at one time, like he’s been waiting for someone to ask him that question. At first, I was trying to placate him, because I felt like I took the wind out of his sails. Now, I’m standing here completely stunned. I look at Marilyn and bark at Marco.
“Wow!” I say in honest amazement. “Do you golf, Marco?” He straightens his back.
“Yes, ma’am, I do,” he says, proudly.
“A lot?” I ask.
“Is that your only form of workout?”
“Yes, ma’am, in season. I use the club fitness center in the winter.” I lean in to Ilene and point to Marco.
“You should put that in your pamphlet!” I tell her conspiratorially, but not quietly. They both laugh good-naturedly, and Marco beams with pride. Crisis averted.
We tour the fitness center, various formal and casual dining facilities, the clubhouse and ballroom, and three terraces with views of the greens, the Cascade Mountains, and Lake Washington. I joke with Ilene that if I knew in which direction I was looking, I might be able to see my house across the lake from here. The membership is very diverse—male and female, family friendly, all ages and ethnicities. I feel more at home in this atmosphere, much more so than at Harbor Club, and I know that Craig fucker was just itching to get us in there—more specifically, Christian.
Broadmoor has a stricter vetting process for non-proprietary member hopefuls and those who don’t own property in the community, which is why the club is so exclusive. It’s another reason why those wanting membership require the endorsement of two sponsors. I’m certain that we wouldn’t have any problem getting sponsors or passing the vetting process. I leave Broadmoor with a lot of information in my briefcase and a more secure feeling that this would be one of the clubs on my short list of finalists.
Courtney was less trouble today when we got to Helping Hands. I’ve decided that she needs to rotate what she does instead of just one thing. So today, she would be reading to the children and helping with the tutoring. I didn’t really expect her to teach anybody anything, especially since we don’t have our certifications yet. She was just helping out in the classroom and such. I knew that it was going to be harder than she thought because a lot of these children are troubled. Some of them are loud, some are afraid, others are chatty and others are quiet. It’s a veritable mish-mosh in there and she’s required to stay in there all afternoon and assist the staff as needed. Nobody came to get me to tell me that she wasn’t doing what she was told for the entire afternoon, but she looked like hell when I came back to get her at the end of the day.
Oh, God, I’m aching to feel normal again. I want to see my feet and straighten my back and dance and box and sit in a hot tub and eat a burger and drink wine…
Wine… oh my God, wine!
I’m going to spend a whole day pumping breast milk so that I can spend another whole doing nothing but eating tiramisu, ground chuck cheeseburgers with sharp cheddar cheese, and drinking bottle after bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon!
I walk away from Atlantis where I’ve been standing for the last few minutes watching Marty give a command performance of one of her best ballets before I head back to my office. As I’m passing the community area headed towards my office, I hear a scolding voice off in the guest quarters. It’s Chuck. Is he arguing with Keri? Oh Lord. If he is, should I get involved or should I keep walking? I move a little closer to confirm my suspicions.
“That was a basic mistake, man. What was that? You fresh out of training or what?” he scolds. Well, it’s not Keri.
“Chuck, you know I know protocol, but I was trying not yo rock the boat, okay?” That’s Ben. “I thought that if I just did what these fuckers said and waited in the waiting room, it was only a few feet away. I could be there if she needed me—which I was right there when she called.” He’s right about that part. “If I had been arrested, nobody would have been there if she needed help. This was a strange hospital; these people didn’t know who we were. They were ball-busters. Real fucking ball-busters.”
“They’re going to travel the world,” Chuck says calmly. “If Christian doesn’t fire you, you’re going to be a lot of places where they are not going to know who you are. You always, always stand your ground!”
“I know that now,” Ben says, defeated. “I wasn’t that far away, man.”
“But you weren’t at the door,” Chuck scolds. “Don’t let that shit happen again.” There’s silence and I can only assume that Ben is nodding. “Do you have any idea how much jewelry that woman owns?”
“Oh, hell, not this again,” Ben laments. This is about my rings.
“Do you want this gig or no, because we can assign somebody else to her if it’s too much for you.” I don’t hear Ben’s answer. Am I too much for him? Am I a bitch? Should I ask Christian if Jason can be assigned to me until the babies are born and he can take Chance? “I can’t hear you, man.”
“Of course, she’s not too much for me!” Ben snaps. “I just heard all this from Jason already…”
“And now you’re hearing it from me!” Chuck snaps. “That’s not just my boss we’re talking about, that’s my friend! I almost died protecting her! I could have lost everything! Now, because of her—because of them—I’m able to get things back together. Every good thing happening in my life is either directly or indirectly because of her, and I’ll be goddamned if she’s caused any hurt, harm, pain, or discomfort because you’re not paying attention or can’t follow protocol!”
He’s mad. He’s fire-breathing mad. This isn’t about the hospital. This isn’t about my rings. He’s having flashbacks of Harris.
“Her rings were in the safe, Chuck. I watched them open it, take them out and give them to me.”
“They weren’t supposed to be in the goddamn safe!” he hisses. “If Christian is not sitting next to her with those rings on her finger, then they are supposed to be in his possession or your possession—nowhere else. There are more zeroes on those rings than you’ll ever see and she owns just about every diamond Chanel ever made. You’ve got the Billion-Dollar-Baby here when it comes down to net worth and she’s priceless every other way. Can you handle it or not?”
“I respect you, Chuck, but you’re not my boss…”
“But she is my charge. Can. You handle it. Or not?” he repeats.
“Yes,” Ben says curtly, “I can handle it.” There’s a brief pause.
“I swear to God, Benjamin… on my life,” Chuck says, his voice strained, “if anything happens to her…” he trails off. There’s silence again, for a longer period this time.
“I got it, Chuck,” Ben says, his voice softened. I sigh and walk to the hallway towards my office. As I bend the corner, I hear the familiar sound of dress shoes on a tile floor coming in my direction. I turn around to see Ben passing the bar headed toward the entertainment area.
“Ben…” I call his name to stop him before he gets out of sight. He turns around, a bit stunned and surprised to see me. My hands are resting on my stomach and I examine him, trying to relay understanding without pity.
“I know—” I sigh. I can’t figure out what I want to say to him. I don’t want him to know that I was listening, but it’s too late for that now. “You did the best you could… under the circumstances.”
Hazel eyes stare at me for a moment before his shoulders relax and he nods.
“Thank you,” he says, just above a whisper. It was something that he needed to hear.
“You’re welcome,” I say softly. He nods again and continues through the entertainment room, most likely to the elevator. I walk down the hall to my office.
I don’t know what I want to do. I’m still feeling the “God-I-wish-these-babies-would-be-born-already” blues. I check my iPad and see that I have notifications from Marilyn that most of the items that I have ordered for the Radcliffs is ready and all that needs to be scheduled is the grocery delivery and account. I send an appointment to my husband to confirm our visit to the Radcliffs on Sunday to make sure everything is delivered and available before Christmas.
We’re having Christmas at the Greys again this year—Grey Manor, that is. No fancy New Year’s Eve party this time. Everybody has families and no one’s getting married. I send off an email to Al.
To: Allen Forsythe
Re: New Year’s Eve
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 18:47
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Any plans for New Year’s Eve? I’m thinking Food and Libations—an all-nighter at Grey Crossing. Let my hair down once more before the soccer players get here. What do you think?
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands
F& L—I’d love to lazy around with my friends and talk shit all night and forget about all the crap that happened this year; all the crazy things that turned my life upside down and caused me to completely forget about just plain Ana Steele. Did I really know what I was getting into when I agreed to become Mrs. Grey? When I agreed to become a mother? When I agreed to give up my simple, boring life as a psychologist with the crazy, unhelpable people at the community center? Would I do it all again had I known that I would be faced with all this confusion and mayhem?
I rub my scar. Of course, I would. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have Christian… or the beans. God, we haven’t called them “beans” in so long. They were “soccer players,” and now, they’re just “my children” or “my babies.” I could fit my clothes when they were still “beans.”
And I’ve come full circle… back to lamenting about hamburgers, Cabernet, and bullshitting in my condo with my friends. And my email pings.
To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: New Year’s Eve
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 18:59
From: Allen Forsythe
No plans for New Year’s but to veg out in front of the TV and watch the ball drop in Times Square. F&L slumber party sounds great! Let me know the deets.
Allen Forsythe, Chief Legal Officer, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
Well, that was pretty easy. I forward the email to Gary, Maxie and Phil and CC Christian and Marilyn. I also invite Mia and Ethan. Just as I hit send, Christian enters the doors adjoining our offices.
“Hi,” he says, closing the doors behind him.
“Hi,” I respond. “I just sent you an email. I didn’t know you were over there. I thought you might have been out.”
“I was on a call,” he says, taking a seat in the chair in front of my desk. “You were quiet. I didn’t know you had come in. You okay?” I rub my scar again.
“Yes, I’m fine.” It’s only a half-tale.
“What was the email about?”
“I sent you two things actually. I sent an appointment to see the Radcliffs on Sunday—our Adopt-A-Family. I talked to the wife and just made arrangements to have some much needed things ordered and delivered by Friday—some to their house and some here. We can take them over this weekend. The other was about Food and Libations on New Year’s Eve. I may have jumped the gun by planning it before asking you, but I just thought about it went for it. I hope you didn’t have any other plans for us.” He shakes his head.
“No, no other plans,” he says. “At least it’s not a wedding. We couldn’t pull that off in two weeks.
“No, we couldn’t,” I say, rubbing my scar again. After a few more moments of silence, he asks,
“So, you want to join a country club?”
A/N: I won’t assume everyone knows, so I’ll explain. On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, Japan became the first city to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the US Air Force dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the city, causing the immediate or eventual deaths of approximately 170,000 people and the destruction of nearly 80% of the city. Some people still maintain that the bombing was a direct response to the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese four years prior. Pearl Harbor marked America’s entry into World War II as we had not declared war and weren’t in the fight until that attack. The Mushroom Cloud over Hiroshima was nearly the end of World War II, and this is the event to which Christian is referring when he says that telling Gail that she would have to clear the pantry in a couple of hours was like “Hiroshima.”
Harbor Club and Broadmoor are actual clubs. My historical information is correct, but I’ve taken some creative license with my current descriptions as Harbor Club is closed now and Broadmoor is actually that exclusive that you can’t get much inside information.
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/
You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.
Love and handcuffs 🙂