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 42—The Ties That (Should) Bind
“Thank you, Jason,” I say when we return to Grey Crossing on Saturday evening. I had a little errand to run and with good intelligence, the right staff, and a little cooperation from the right people, it went off without a hitch and I’m back before dinner.
So I guess I never really understood the draw of the hookah bar. You go into this dark place. There might be loud music or no music; you have fruit bowls or tea or soda or whatever; and you all puff on this peace pipe that has fruity smoke in it and ponder life.
Yeah, okay… whatever floats your boat.
Whatever the case, dressed like a couple of black-clad ninja beatniks complete with sunglasses and baseball caps, Jason and I park a few blocks away and travel to one such locale on Saturday evening while Chuck continues his visit with his parents. We are floating surprisingly unnoticed through this establishment looking for one melon-clad bitch who may or may not be melon-clad this evening. It doesn’t take long to spot her. I seriously set my sights to find the tackiest girl in the room and zeroed in on her in seconds.
She’s wearing an oversized tan sweater that has truly seen better days. The sweater actually looks like it’s been frayed on the sides—like someone took a perfectly good cable-knit sweater and destroyed it… and she’s wearing it as a dress with a pair of army green, over-the-knee, fishnet, peep-toe boots. Somewhere, I’m sure this outfit is supposed to be stylish, maybe on the runways of Paris or something. However, I didn’t get the memo. Ana would ignite my twitchy palm if she dared ever leave the house in this catastrophe.
I prepare to settle in and wait for her to move, but as luck would have it, before my butt could find a seat, she’s on her way to the restroom. Perfect! I gesture to Jason, who nods and falls in a few feet behind me as I follow this bitch to the bathroom.
I wait for a second before I enter the facilities, much to the dismay of one shocked redhead touching up her lipstick in the mirror. I don’t say a word. I don’t remove my glasses. I just stare at her reflection in the mirror for a few seconds.
Needless to say, she thinks it best to leave.
After checking the other stalls and ensuring that only the hideous peeptoe army boots remain, I lock the door and wait.
After a respectable amount of time, I hear a toilet flush and Ms. Wilson emerges from the stall.
“What the…?” She’s clearly startled to see a man in the ladies’ room. She digs in her purse for something, but I don’t give her the chance to find it. Her horror is compounded when she finds her purse and its contents splayed all over the bathroom floor with a quick swipe of my hand. She opens her mouth to scream and I put up my finger.
“You don’t want to do that,” I growl, employing my most menacing Domme voice. I could swear I see her tremble. I remove my hat and glasses so that she can see who I am.
“Mr. Grey… Christian!” she says, in disbelief.
“You were expecting someone else?” I ask, sardonically.
“You don’t think it’s odd that you’re in the ladies’ room?” she asks. “There are cameras everywhere.”
“First of all, nobody knows that I’m here. Nobody has a clue. There’s just some guy in all black that followed you into the bathroom. With your reputation, one of your admirers, no doubt. Second of all, there are no cameras in the ladies’ room. It’s against the law. So it’s my word against yours and who the hell do you think anybody is going to believe, especially since none of my cars are anywhere on the premises? As far as anybody knows—my staff, my wife, anybody—I’m entertaining out of town guests at my home. And speaking of my wife, exactly what people do you know… bitch?”
The color leaves her face as she ascertains the purpose of my visit. I made it clear to her that she wasn’t my favorite person when she was in my home, but apparently, she didn’t get the message. Let’s try again.
“I could break your scrawny little neck right now and walk right out of here.”
“But you won’t,” she says bravely.
“Oh, I won’t?” I say, employing my Dom voice as I begin to walk forward, backing her against the wall. “You came on to my wife,” I growl. “Do you have any idea how much I love her? How much I worship her? How obsessed I am with her?” I hiss. “Is it unhealthy? Probably so. Do I care? No! You came on to her, to my wife! To my goddess! So that makes you Public Enemy #1, but what’s worse… for you… is that you threatened her. That was a grave mistake on your part, little lady, a grave mistake.” I put one gloved hand around her neck and squeeze just enough to cause discomfort.
“Don’t be so sure that I won’t break your neck,” I breathe into her face, “because if the wind blows the wrong way in her direction, I’m coming for you, and nothing on Earth will be able to save you. Do you understand?” Glassy eyes focus on mine as she nods her understanding and I slowly release her neck. I take a few moments to breathe, count, and pop my neck.
“You may not believe this, but she made me a better person. If she hadn’t, you’d probably be dead by now. She taught me a lot and that’s why I’m so protective of her. I can lay down that better person at will, as you just saw. She can teach you to be a better person, too, if you allow her. She has the ability to bring out the best in people and unless you’re just a flaming whore who wanted to fuck another man’s pregnant wife, you saw that when you first met her. You have the opportunity to have her help bring out the best in you and help you grow. If you can’t do that, then walk away before it costs you more than just your goddamn trust fund!” I lean in close to her and put my finger on her lip in a “shush” position.
“I was never here,” I breathe in her face. “Are we confused about that?” She shakes her head, whimpering slightly. She’s terrified. I almost feel sorry for her, but she should have thought of that when she threatened my wife. “Good.” I smile and wink at her before exiting the same way that I came in.
I only need to remove the hat, sunglasses, and sweatshirt to look like a normal human being again before I enter the house. I saw that Lawrence was in the booth when we arrived, so Butterfly is already here. I wonder how long they’ve been here and I don’t bother stopping to ask him. We enter through the mud room and come in through the back of the house. As I walk through the lower level of the house, I see my wife staring into Atlantis. I take a deep breath and approach her.
“Hey, Baby,” I say, walking up to her. She looks at me and frowns. She looks back towards the elevator and back at me.
“Where are you coming from?” she asks. Shit, busted. She must have already known that I wasn’t down here.
“Truthfully?” I ask, as I slip my arms around her.
“No, lie to me,” she says sarcastically. I sigh.
“I paid a visit to the young Ms. Wilson,” I say. It takes a moment to sink in before she says, “Courtney?” I nod. She shakes her head.
“How did that go?”
“I think she’s all hot air,” I say, “but let’s just say she’s on notice.” She shrugs.
“Well, this should be interesting,” she says. “I saw Addie today and she was none too pleased about the information that I gave her concerning her beloved granddaughter.”
“Ew,” I say.
“Exactly. It escalated quickly and at one point I thought we might come to blows.” My eyes narrow.
“You’re not serious.”
“Yes, I am,” she tells me. “But no worries, crisis averted. I just think young Courtney might be in for the surprise of her life.”
“She might need it,” I say.
“’Might’ is not the word,” Butterfly says. “Keri had a little breakdown.”
“Really?” I ask, furrowing my brow. She nods.
“She’s lamenting over when she has to leave,” she says. “Apparently, she and Chuck have had the ‘coastal relationship’ conversation at some point, and hearing him tell Maddie that one day they may get married, just not now, made it very real to her that in a month and a half she’s going to have to leave. She was on the covered lounge again, but I made her come inside.” Oh boy. I know she told me that because of the whole spanking thing.
“Butterfly…” I lament.
“I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t in the cold, okay?” she says, beseeching and dismissing at the same time.
“Okay,” I concede. “Where is she now?”
“She’s gone to their suite to take a nap. She had a cry out and I suppose she won’t be back before dinner.”
“Speaking of which,” I say, putting my arms around her and my children and kissing her on the temple, “how about we go see how that’s coming along and get you and my family fed?” I sigh.
“I’m going to need a nap myself, Christian. I’m mentally and physically exhausted. There’s been quite a bit squeezed into this little day.” I pull her close to me.
“Then I guess I’ll just have to tuck you in, but no sleeping through dinner for you, young lady.”
“Yes, sir,” she says with a salute before I take her hand and walk her to the elevator.
After Butterfly’s nap, we have a very cheerful and jovial dinner, full of laughter and stories of Chuck’s childhood. Surprisingly, he and Joseph were good friends as young boys. Unfortunately, Chuck’s drinking put the kibosh on that, and we get the feeling that Joseph never forgave him for it. However, that fact that Joseph’s bitterness has carried him well into his adult years and cause him to blame Chuck for all of his woes is unreasonable and a cross that Joseph has to bear all on his own.
Keri does eventually join us midway through dinner looking refreshed and vibrant, and she clings to Chuck for the remainder of the evening, much to his delight. Mrs. Davenport often throws inconspicuous smiles and glances in their direction when they exchange affectionate gazes, tender kisses, or gentle strokes of the other’s hand. Keri seems to have recovered from her melancholy and appears intent to seize the day with her man. I, of all people, completely understand that concept.
We’ve all retired back to the family room where Chuck and his parents have spent most of the day. Chuck, Keri, Mrs. Davenport, and my wife are all looking at pictures of Chuck’s extended family projected onto the television screen from Mrs. Davenport’s email on Butterfly’s laptop. Mr. Davenport, however, is not in attendance. I decide to go in search of him, but didn’t have to go far. I locate him on the patio just off the family room. After retrieving my bomber jacket from a nearby coat closet, I go out and check on him.
“Are you okay, Mr. Davenport?” I ask. He turns around and I notice that he’s smoking a pipe.
“Surely, by now we should be on a first name basis, don’t you think?” he says with a raised eyebrow. I shrug one shoulder and walk over to him standing between the crick beams. “I never smoke indoors,” he continues. “I don’t think anybody else should ever be subjected to my bad habits unless they choose to.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” I tell him.
“I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for my boy,” Nelson says leaning over that banister.
“He’s done far more for me, sir… for my family. He is family now. My wife considers him a brother.” I snicker to myself. “I fired him once,” I say. His father looks over at me. “My wife and I had a falling out—a bad one—before we got married. She left me. I’m a hothead. I called off the wedding.”
“Oh, that one,” he says. “We’ve all had that one.”
“So I’ve heard,” I continue. “I fired him for losing sight of her, like it was his fault that she was gone. He took off after her, found her and stayed with her until she decided to come back. They’re inseparable.” His brow furrows.
“Does that ever worry you?” he asks. I shrug.
“It did, only once, but it’s only too clear how they feel about each other. Besides, I have no doubt that my wife adores me as much as I worship her, and Chuck is madly in love with Keri.”
“Yeah… Keri,” he laments. “Anguilla—she’s not a citizen.” My brow furrows.
“No…” I say expecting.
“She’s going to have to go back. She’s going to leave him.” Oh, yeah, that. I sigh.
“Yeah,” I concur, “none of us are looking forward to that, not even Keri.”
“Isn’t there something that can be done?” he asks hopeful. “Naturalization or something?”
“There’s a lot of things that can be done,” I tell him, “but we won’t do them unless they say so. Chuck can keep her here on his own if he wants. He has no expenses—besides his little house in Bainbridge. He’s paid very well, so most of his money is his own. That’s not an issue, but even if it were, we love Keri. We wouldn’t hesitate to help them with anything that they needed if that’s what they asked, but we won’t interfere if they don’t.” he nods.
“I understand that,” he says. “My boy. My boy is alive and doing very well. He has friends and a great life. I’ve felt so guilty for so many years, that I couldn’t help him, that I couldn’t save him. It hurt so bad. Joe tried to say that he was protecting us, but he wasn’t. He’s bitter. He blames Chuckie for everything that went wrong in his life and I have no idea why. Yes, Chuckie ruined the cake at his wedding, but that’s the only thing that Chuckie did to Joe… the only thing. The condition of Joe’s life before and after Chuckie left was completely Joe. We hurt because we couldn’t help him, because we couldn’t fix the problem, but the person most hurt by Chuckie’s drinking was Chuckie.
“We wanted to help him. We wanted to fix what was wrong, but he went and fixed it on his own. He tried to tell us, and Joe headed him off all these years. All these years we lost…” His voice cracks. “All the pain… We’re mourning the death and loss of our son and he was alive all this time.” He shakes his head. “I won’t ostracize Joe. I don’t hate him, but I’ll never forgive him for keeping Chuckie from me.” I look over at him.
“Try not to hold the grudge too long, sir,” I tell him. “The pain will eat you up and it can destroy you.” He looks back at me.
“You sound like you speak from experience, son.” I nod and look out at the water.
“Unfortunately, I do, sir,” I confess. “My wife saved me, taught me a lot, but that kind of pain will make you shut the world out,” I add looking over at him. He nods and turns to the lake.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he says, with a sigh. “I wish the family could see him. We’re close—my siblings, my wife’s sisters, Sunny and the kids… They’d be shocked as shit to find out that Chuckie’s still alive.” Of course, I get an idea as soon as he says that.
“How hard would it be to get them to Seattle?” I ask. He looks at me.
“They don’t have money like me, son… or time. They can’t just pick up and leave like that,” he says somberly.
“Well, what if money wasn’t an issue? How many of them do you think we could get here by, say, Christmas?”
“That’s four days, Christian!” he exclaims. “Finding flights for these people would be a nightmare! Accommodations this close to Christmas?” He’s thinking like a civilian.
“No offense, Nelson, but money talks,” I tell him. “I have a private jet that can seat up to sixteen on short notice—more, with slight renovations, but we don’t have that kind of time. If we need commercial flights, they’re not hard to find as long as you’re willing to pay for them. There’s not a hotel in Seattle that won’t empty every room they have for me. Even down to calling the members of your family and making the arrangements, I have staff for that. All we need is a list and a phone number for everybody that you want to come. You would have to compose a group email and shoot it out to everybody so that they know we’ll be contacting them. We can have arrangements for everybody that can make it by the 23rd. Everybody that can’t, we’ll Skype them in.” His eyes grow large, then his shoulders drop.
“I can’t ask you to do that,” he says.
“You’re not asking,” I interject. “I’m offering. With everything that you’ve been through and Chuck’s been through, this would be the perfect Christmas gift for him. There’s no way I could repay him for what he’s done for my family. There’s no dollar amount in the world. To me, this is a very small thing to show him what he means to us… how much we appreciate him.” His lips form a thin line. He’s a man’s man and he doesn’t like to let his emotions get away from him.
“My son is one lucky fella,” he says, smiling a tight smile at me.
“Thank you, sir, but we’re the lucky ones.”
Nelson and I stand on the patio banging out the details of “Operation Davenport Family Reunion.” He’s quickly firing off emails to key members of his family that can help contact others while I notify Andrea and Luma that we have a massive undertaking on our hands that involves possibly getting upwards of fifty people into Seattle with accommodations along with a ballroom and a Christmas meal in four days. And this is Saturday night.
Andrea wants to kill me.
We had no idea that we had been standing in the cold for over an hour until Maddie comes outside to ask us what the hell we’re doing. My wife is trailing behind her, wrapped tightly in an afghan.
“My phone is going insane, Nelson. Vivian is texting me from Chicago talking about coming here for Christmas! What’s going on?” Maddie inquires.
“Ssshhh!” Nelson chides. “Did you say anything in front of Chuckie?”
“No, I came out here to find out what the hell is going on.”
“Christian?” My wife says my name in that expecting tone.
“Yes, Butterfly, I’m trying to get his family here for Christmas… the whole family. And it’s a surprise,” I reveal. Maddie’s eyes grow large.
“Christian, that’s very nice, but that’s a lot of family!” she says. Nelson scoffs, and Maddie looks over at him.
“That little phone in his hand,” Nelson begins, pointing at my blackberry, “that little piece of machinery… magic! Magic, I tell you. Mere mortals shouldn’t have that kind of power. Get ready, Momma. Christmas is coming to Seattle.” Maddie’s mouth falls open and Butterfly gingerly places her fingertips over her lips and giggles.
“Santa Claus,” I hear her say softly under her breath…
Maddie and I have to occupy Chuck and Keri for another hour while Christian and Nelson conspire to get the Family Davenport to Seattle for Christmas. Magic, indeed! By the time we’re saying Goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. Davenport and turning in for the evening, Christian has reserved a block of 25 rooms at the Fairmont Olympic along with the Garden—a 5100-square-foot, multi-level, botanical ballroom—for the main event, including conference Skyping capability for those who won’t be able to make it.
The main event will consist of a re-meet and greet for Chuck to get reacquainted with his family followed by a traditional Christmas dinner and dance where the Family Davenport will have a gift exchange. Those who are able will exchange gifts and those who are not will find that Christian has taken care of that problem for them. The morning after Christmas will bring a spectacular brunch—again, in the Garden—before the Davenport family begin to make their way back to their various destinations. The GEH jet and three pilots will leapfrog over the next two days combined with various first-class commercial flights to make sure that everyone that wants to attend will be able to get to Seattle.
Nelson and Andrea have tag-teamed most of the family and those members are in the process of tag-teaming others. Special instructions have been given not to contact Joseph by any means as this is a surprise for Chuck and if Joseph gets wind of it, he’s likely to let the cat out of the bag just to be spiteful. By Monday morning, we will have official head counts, travel arrangements, and final preparations for the family reunion. By Tuesday evening, most of the family should actually be in Seattle with the remainder of them arriving on Christmas morning. Christian is so excited that you would think it was his family coming together.
I’m very anxious to get over to the Radcliffs on Sunday afternoon to find out why the deliveries are being denied. This visit is much different than our visit to the Martins last year. It’s not a bad neighborhood, but the house is so run down, I don’t know how anybody lives in it, much less a newborn. It’s my understanding that Mr. Radcliff does have a job, but he just started working, so it’s very rough on the family right now, as evidenced by the fact that their phone is disconnected. Christian has to help me up the walkway to the very small stoop that leads to the front door. I have to knock a few times to get an answer. Just as we are about to leave, the door snatches open abruptly and a man in a work uniform with dark hair just stands there looking at us—no greeting, he’s just looking at us.
“Mr. Radcliff?” I ask. He narrows his eyes at me.
“Yeah, who wants to know?” he replies, gruffly.
“I’m Anastasia Grey. This is my husband, Christian…” He silences me by putting his hand up.
“Whatever you’re selling, we’re not buying,” he says and begins to close the door.
“Mr. Radcliff!” The force of Christian’s voice stops him from closing the door completely. I knew without looking at him that Christian didn’t appreciate the tone that he was taking with me. “We’re not selling anything. You were chosen by the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Coalition to receive assistance this year for your family. It’s our understanding that you have a newborn baby…”
“Anastasia Grey?” I hear Thelma’s voice in the background. She comes to the door. My God, I thought I was small. She’s a waif of a woman… and she just had a baby?
“Thelma?” I acknowledge her.
“Yes! Hi! It’s nice to finally meet you in person.” She tries to open the door, but her husband stops her. “Jim, don’t be rude. They’re here to help.”
“You called them?” he asks, anger hidden in his voice.
“I signed up for help with the Coalition months ago. I didn’t know that we were still on the list, but thank God we are. We can get some help with food and clothes, maybe get the phone turned back on and some help with the gas bill…”
“You don’t have any heat?” I ask.
“Yes, we do, ma’am!” Mr. Radcliff snaps. “I just need to make payments on the bill, that’s all.” I can feel the tension oozing off of Christian.
“Your wife indicated that you needed help with food,” I press.
“We’re fine. We don’t need your help!” he snaps again. Thelma is trying to silence him, but Christian has had enough.
“Mr. Radcliff,” he says through his teeth, “I haven’t once disrespected your wife, so I’m going to have to ask you to watch your tone with mine.” Mr. Radcliff’s eyes narrow again, this time at Christian.
“We can alleviate that problem right now, Mr. Grey!” he hisses. He slams the door so hard in our faces that all of the windows in the front of the house shake. Thelma can be heard yelling at her husband, asking why he would turn away help that was right there in front of them. He just barks that he doesn’t need help and he can take care of his own family. Christian and I stand on the porch and listen to them argue back and forth about how they’re starving and soon will be in a cold house. He’s still trying to convince his wife that they just need a little time and they’ll be back on their feet again. We hear the baby start crying and Thelma’s voice gets faint as she goes to the back of the house to try to calm his cries.
“What kind of man is that?” Christian asks enraged. “They’re starving! They have no way to call for help if there’s an emergency! Pretty soon, they’re going to be in the cold and he just slammed the door on the answer to his troubles!”
“You don’t know what’s happening, Christian. We don’t know the whole story,” I try to defend.
“I don’t need to know the whole story. I know pride and ego when I see it! I wrote the goddamn book. He’s willing to allow his wife and child to die in there if it means that he doesn’t have to accept help from someone else. What kind of husband and father would let his family starve and freeze to death so that his pride can stay intact?” There’s a loud bang on the wall from inside the house.
“Get the fuck off my porch! You’re trespassing!” Mr. Radcliff’s voice reverberates through the paper thin walls. Christian response with a louder bang of his own that causes the windows to vibrate again.
“You got it, you selfish asshole!” he yells back.
“Christian!” I scold. He turns his glare to me.
“You’re a doctor. There’s a child suffering in there. You have to do something about it.” He silently turns and walks off the porch. Jason walks up to the porch and holds his hand out to me. I take his hand and he helps me down the stairs.
“You know he’s right,” Jason says, matter-of-factly.
“I know,” I respond as he helps me to the car. This is a topic that is very near to Christian’s heart and he can’t tolerate seeing a child suffer in any way. Neither can I, but I’m tormented by taking a child away from his mother—especially one where I can see that his mother is trying to get help.
The rest of the day is fitful. I’m trying my best to find another way to help Thelma and the baby even if her husband won’t allow it. There’s no way to do it as long as she’s in the house with him. I even ask Grace for help, for some kind of guidance that won’t result in Thelma losing her baby right before Christmas—or ever, if it can be avoided. Grace and I both regretfully come to the same conclusion. If James Radcliff won’t allow his wife and children the help they need to survive, one of us will have to contact Child Protective Services. Dealing with a man with such a volatile temper, we may have to call the police as well.
Monday morning, I’m sitting in my office at Helping Hands still pondering what—if anything—I can do to spare Thelma from the heartbreak that I’m about to bring upon her. I still have SUV’s full of clothes for her and the baby. I have gift cards that they could have used for appliances or even to pay the bills. I brought the food here to the shelter since I didn’t want it to go to waste. I have the furniture deliveries at the Crossing and at stores just waiting to know where they should go. I was supposed to be her savior and now, I’m going to be her worst nightmare. I screw up my courage and dial the number for child services.
“Anastasia, you’re needed in the community room.”
I’m both perturbed and relieved for the interruption over the intercom. Maybe I can wait until after Christmas… no. No, I can’t let that baby suffer another day. I’ve already allowed this to go on one day too long. Christian’s right. I’m a doctor and I’m bound by my oath and profession—not to mention my conscience—to report something like this when I see it. I won’t stall another second… well, maybe just one more second while I see what’s going on in the community room. My heart is heavy as I travel the short distance down the hallway. When I get to the community room, I see a sight that nearly brings me to tears.
“Thelma!” I nearly shriek.
She turns around to face me. She’s shivering and she looks more sickly than she did yesterday… and she’s been crying—still not battered or beaten, but tired and peaked. Her frail little boy is sucking hungrily on a bottle, one that came from the pantry here at the center.
“I… I…” She can barely get her words out. I lead her to a seat and she nearly falls into it. I take the baby from her weak little arms and continue to feed him.
“My… my milk stopped,” she weeps. “I couldn’t feed him anymore. J-Jim wouldn’t listen to me. Is my baby okay?” I look over at Marilyn.
“Go get Grace. Now!” She’s gone is two seconds.
“I’m so hungry,” she says through her tears.
“When is the last time you’ve eaten?” I ask her.
“I don’t know,” she says at first. “Potato chips… yesterday for breakfast.”
“Rachel!” I call to the relief worker that paged me.
“Yes, Ana?” She comes over to us, a concerned look in her eye.
“Please, go quickly. Get a bowl of soup and a turkey sandwich for Thelma.” She nods and runs off to the cafeteria. “Thelma, why wouldn’t he let you get help? Are you being abused?” She shakes her head.
“No,” she says. “He doesn’t hit me. He’s just proud—very proud. I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m hungry and sick all the time, and now I can’t produce any milk for my son.”
“Because you’re not eating enough,” I warn her. “You can’t feed him if you don’t eat.” Marilyn comes back into the room with Grace. She looks from Thelma to me and then at the child in my arms.
“Grace, this is Thelma Radcliff and this is…”
“Jimmy,” she says softly, her voice almost gone. Grace looks at Jimmy slurping hungrily on the bottle and holds her arms out for him. I put him in her arms and she continues to feed him.
“Well, hello, Jimmy,” she says sweetly. “How old is Jimmy, Thelma?”
“Four weeks,” she says weakly. Rachel finally comes back with the food I sent her for.
“Eat slowly, Thelma,” I tell her. “Take a bite of the sandwich and then some of the soup.” She nods and takes a small bite of the sandwich, then some of the soup.
“He’s a little light, Thelma,” Grace says, “but other than that, he looks pretty healthy.” She nods. “Do you mind if I sit down and take a closer look at him?”
“Not…” She clears her throat. Her voice is barely there. “Not at all. Please, do,” she replies. Grace smiles kindly and sits at a table, unwrapping the baby and looking closer at him.
“I did what I could until… the milk stopped.” Thelma takes another bite of the sandwich, almost too weak to chew. I listen to her as I watch Grace give instructions to Rachel. I hope the baby is alright.
“What are you going to do now?” I ask her. I need to know what’s going to happen to this baby. She shakes her head.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I can’t take Jimmy back there.” A single tear falls from her eye. “I can’t feed him anymore. If you can’t take me, will you please take Jimmy? Don’t let him die.”
My heart breaks immediately. I was just about to call Child Protective Services on this young mother who now sits here willing to give her child away to strangers if they just feed him and don’t let him die. I want to find her selfish, proud husband and beat his ass with a baseball bat. Rachel returns with Grace’s doctor bag and one of our baby starter kits—fresh diaper, wipes, onesie, bib, sleeper, cap, and receiving blanket.
“We’ll take you both, Thelma,” Grace says, from across the room while she’s examining Jimmy. “We’ll take care of you, okay?” Thelma breaks down into heart-wrenching sobs.
“Thank you…” she chokes, “thank you…”
“I need you to calm down and eat. Get something in your system. Maybe we can get your milk flowing again, and if not, then don’t worry. There’s plenty here for you and for Jimmy, okay?” She nods gratefully, continuing to eat her sandwich and soup. Grace has finished changing his clothes and is now burping little Jimmy since he has finished his bottle. She has checked his stomach and his diaper area. His clothes were tattered and stained, but all in all, he looks pretty good.
“You’ve done a wonderful job not to have had many resources, Thelma,” Grace tells her. “Jimmy is not sickly or malnourished. He’s a little small, but we’ll get him on a regular feeding schedule and he’ll be right as rain… and you, too.” She gives Thelma that kind smile that she gives you that makes you know all will be well in the world.
“I still have all those things Christian and I bought for you, Thelma,” I tell her. “The food is here, but I still have everything else. You finish eating, we’ll get you guys settled and you can decide what you want to do from there.” She smiles a deep sad smile.
“When I saw you on TV, I thought that they were just using you to get donations. I even saw you in that abuse commercial. I didn’t think it was real. I thought this place was front for… whatever. I was going to just ask you if you could just take my baby and…” She chokes up again, but quickly composes herself. “But now, I see you’re real. You’re a real person, not just some rich housewife looking for some camera time.”
“Yes, I’m real,” I tell her. “And I was really abused. I’m a psychologist if you need to talk, and I need you to know that being abused doesn’t always mean that you have to be hit. It could be a harsh word, or living in fear, or being deprived of basic necessities like food.” She shakes her head.
“He’s not a cruel man,” she says, “but I trusted him. He said that he would take care of us and I trusted him. I followed him, I did what he told me to do. I didn’t cross him, but when things got rough, he wouldn’t let me get help and I don’t know why. I was pregnant… I was eligible for everything, but he wouldn’t hear of it. We’re swamped in medical bills because he wouldn’t let me apply for medical assistance for me and the baby. We were eligible for food stamps, monetary assistance, housing assistance, everything, but he wouldn’t let me apply.”
“Well, you’re going to apply for all of those things now,” I tell her. “You have to, Thelma. You’ve got to take care of Jimmy. Once you’re approved, the state will retroactively pay your medical bills associated with your pregnancy.” Her eyes widen.
“They will?” she asks. I nod.
“Yes, they will, and they’ll help you with housing and food and child care and to get a job or go to school.”
“School? They’ll help me with school?” Now we’ve hit a nerve. I nod.
“Yes, they will. And once you find a place, we still have a boatload of furniture that needs to be delivered.” Her bottom lip starts to tremble.
“He told me that if anything was in the house from you guys when he got home, he was throwing it all out,” she says sadly. “He would have let us die rather than let me get help for us.” She looks down at her food and defiantly takes a huge bite of what is left of the sandwich. Good for you, Thelma! Gobble it up!
“He’s clean,” Grace tells me in a soft voice, gently rocking a now sleeping Jimmy, “really very healthy for her not to be getting the nourishment that she needs.”
“Please,” Thelma calls out to us, “don’t keep anything from me. Tell me the truth. Tell me all of it. If you have to call the police, I understand.” I frown. This woman has been through physical and emotional hell. I’ve just inherited a patient.
“No, Thelma,” I say, sitting down and taking her hand. “The truth that we need to tell you is that we need to get you well. Little Jimmy there is just as healthy as he can be, and I have no idea how you did it in the conditions that you were in. It’s amazing, but you… Thelma, you’re pale, your skin is dry, your hair looks like straw, your nails… You had a baby less than a month ago. What’s your normal pre-baby body weight?” She shrugs.
“Um, 140, 145, I think,” she guesses.
“You might be 120,” I tell her. Her eyes widen.
“That’s impossible,” she says.
“Totally possible,” I tell her. “When is the last time you’ve had a full meal?” She thinks about it. The fact that she has to think about it disgusts me. Thank God Christian isn’t here to see this. I have a feeling that there would be a certain husband unconscious in the snow right now.
“It doesn’t matter,” I tell her. “A drastic dieter can lose 15 pounds the first month of dieting. Don’t underestimate the body’s ability to lose weight.” She looks over at her sleeping baby, then down at her empty bowl.
“Would you like more?” Grace asks. She looks at her like a grateful child.
“Yes, please,” she says, softly.
Marilyn and Ben correspond with security to get a few of the items for Thelma and the baby delivered to Helping Hands so that they can have some fresh clothes, toiletries, and personal items here. I got her and the baby settled in one of the dorms tell her to relax for a while. We’ll get her paired up with the social worker later in the afternoon to get the ball rolling on the state services that she would need. If I thought that would be the most dramatic thing that would happen today, I was sorely mistaken.
“So what do I have to do to make this all go away?”
I get back to my office after getting Thelma and Jimmy squared away only to find Courtney standing defiantly in front of my desk.
“What are you doing here?” I say, almost forlorn. I thought I was done with her. She doesn’t want my help… or guidance… or whatever it is that I thought I was trying to do. So why is she back here?
“My grandmother’s not speaking to me. At all! She hasn’t spoken to me for two days! I figure this must be your doing.” My doing? My doing. This couldn’t possibly be anything that you did, huh?
“Then you send your husband to accost me in the ladies’ room at the Hookah Bar on Saturday night…” The ladies’ room? Does my husband have a thing with the ladies’ room? I frown at her.
“Look, I don’t know what they’re putting in hookah these days, but my husband and I were entertaining out-of-town guests and planning a massive Christmas party on Saturday night,” I tell her. It’s not a lie. That’s what we were doing.
“Yeah, he said you’d say that,” she says, folding her arms and leaning on my desk. “So like I said, what the hell do I have to do to make this shit go away?”
“I don’t know,” I say, walking around to my chair. “Maybe you should talk to your grandmother, but the very first thing you should do is get the fuck off my desk!” She stands up at my sharp tone, her brow furrowed.
“You won, Ms. Do-Gooder,” she mocks. “I’m at your beck and call. Now all I want is to get this shit over and get you off my back, so what do you want?” I put my hands on my desk.
“I don’t know what you think I want, but I want the same thing that I wanted the last time that you stood in that doorway and that’s for you to get the fuck out of my office,” I say with a frown. She looks at me gaped-mouthed.
“This is a joke, right?” she says, and she looks and sounds appalled. “You wanted me to heel, so I heeled! You conspired with my grandmother and I don’t know what your plan is now, but she’s never given me the silent treatment, so it has to be you! Then your husband shows up like some kind of henchman and traps me in the bathroom against the wall with his hand around my neck telling me what I can learn from the all-seeing, all-knowing Anastasia Grey…” My God, Christian can be so dramatic. “… And now I come here trying to find out the purpose of this goddamn exercise, and you act like you have no fucking clue what I’m talking about!”
I sit down and fold my arms. Apparently, Adelaide has had enough of her spoiled granddaughter and whatever she plans to do, if she plans to do anything, she’s going to do it in utter silence. The not knowing is driving Courtney up a wall. Couple that with the fact that Christian cornered her in the bathroom—no doubt to school her on the woes of threatening his wife, something that she hasn’t even mentioned in this conversation—and the only things she garnered from any of this is that this entire exercise meant that she needed to come to me and be my indentured servant for an undisclosed period of time until I tell her grandmother that she’s being a good little girl. What’s worse is that if that were the case, she doesn’t have the decency to be contrite about it.
“What in the name of all that is good and holy is it going to take for you to understand that the world does not revolve around your ass?” I scoff at her. “I’m done with this. I’ve had enough of you. If you want to be a useless sack of water with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, then so be it. I washed my hands of you last week. You say that my husband mysteriously slipped away from our company and party planning and visited you in the restroom at the hookah lounge…” I say the last part in a very mocking and disbelieving tone, “… well, what did he say? I have a hard time believing that he told you to come back here and see me after I told him that you threatened me! I don’t see him telling the person who wants to cause me harm to come back to me so that I could possibly do them some good, but that’s neither here nor there at this point, because it’s not like I would believe any fucking thing that came out of your mouth!”
“It’s true!” she wails. “I’m not making this up!”
“Yeah, and I’m secretly a biker chick at night,” I say sarcastically. Close… a Domme, not a biker chick… and only for one submissive. “What will it possibly take for you to see that human suffering does not begin and end at your feet? That you don’t have the fucking answers to every goddamn equation in the world? That rainbows and sunshine don’t originate from your eyeballs and terminate at your asshole? What is it going to take, Courtney? Is it going to take you having to get your ass on a bus back to Pawsawacky or whatever hickfuck town you came from back east, because that’s where your grandmother is headed, I can guarantee you. That’s probably why she’s not speaking to you. She’s probably tired of you knowing every goddamn thing and having it all figured out, being so fucking rebellious that nobody can tell you shit.”
Her eyes grow large at the revelation that Addie is considering sending her back to her parents. I never knew exactly where she came from because I’m not really interested, but apparently, returning to her hometown is a fate worse than death.
“You’re lying!” she exclaims. “She would never really send me back to that place!”
“I don’t give a flying fuck what you believe right now!” I shoot, my eyes blazing. “Go! Be free! Live your life! Do what the fuck you want! Inherit your millions; spend them; bathe in them; burn them, for all I care! Or go back to East Whereverthefuckyoucamefrom and flip burgers and fries in some obscure corner of the world. I don’t care! Just take your self-centered, broken, irreparable ass out of my sight! I don’t want to be around you. I don’t care what you do. I don’t give a fuck anymore! I don’t know why you’re here! This is not a conspiracy. This not a trick, a plan, or a plot to try to get you to behave. I don’t care, Courtney Wilson! I really don’t care! I want you to go the fuck away, and don’t come back. You’re not needed or wanted here. Go away!”
I’m screaming at her now. My voice brings Grace to my office door and she falls into stunned silence when she sees who I’m talking to. Courtney gazes at me and I swear she looks like she’s hurt, but I can’t feel her pain. She’s selfish and wicked and evil and I just want her out of here!
“You don’t have to talk to me like that…” she says, her voice small.
“Shut up!” I scream. “Just shut up! Your voice hurts my ears! Just leave! Just go! Go now! Tell Addie whatever you want. Tell her I failed. Tell her I’m useless. Tell her I had a nervous breakdown. Tell her my head exploded. Tell her whatever the fuck you want, just get the hell out of my office and don’t come back.” She stands there stunned, looking at me like she doesn’t know what to do. “Get out, now!” I scream, standing from my chair and pointing at the door. She bolts for the door, crying like I had hit her.
Good fucking riddance!
I stand at my desk, breathing like I’ve just run a marathon. I hear something sounding like it’s banging against something, but I don’t know what it is. My head is thumping and I immediately know that my blood pressure it up. Dammit! Right when Dr. Culley cleared me…
I hear the banging, rumbling sound again, but it must be my head. I can hear Grace tell someone to get me some water.
“Are you okay, Ana?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” I say, taking deep breaths. “Whoever’s bringing that water, have them bring me some gold compresses and ice water in a bowl.” After a few moments, some cold drinks and a few cold compresses, I finally manage to get the inner heat down a bit, but I’m still worried about what that rumbling I hear in my head until Grace says, “What’s that noise?” I look at her.
“You hear it, too?” I ask. She looks at me and immediately goes in search of the noise. Just as she points to my locked desk drawer, Marilyn and Ben both bend into the office and ask simultaneously, “Ana, where’s your phone?”
As I fumble to get the desk drawer open, I realize that the rumble was my phone. Somehow, it had been inadvertently set on vibrate, which is why I couldn’t hear it ringing. When I pull it out, eight missed calls from a certain copper-haired god. Oh, boy. Just as I’m about to dial him back, the phone starts vibrating again.
“Hello?” My voice is strained.
“Jesus, Ana, what the fuck?” My husband is not pleased.
“It was on vibrate. I didn’t know,” I whine. “Where’s the fire?”
“Yours first, I know you had one.”
“Mine was Courtney. She’s gone now.”
“Okay, that’s a fire, but we’ll discuss it later. Mine is bigger.”
“What’s your fire?
“Boy, that Keri is a godsend,” Nelson says. “She knows what Chuckie needs before he even asks for it. He’s been wobbling around here on those crutches all day. I’m thinking about hiding that wheelchair from him. I don’t think he needs it anymore. I know it’s not for me to say, though. He needs to hurry up and marry that Keri, though. He’s gonna be lost without her.”
“I can’t argue with you there,” I tell him. “How the operation coming along?”
“Fine so far. Nobody’s let the cat out of the bag yet. Joe’s sulking because we’re spending Christmas with Chuckie and not him. He’d better be lucky we’re not moving to the west coast after this stunt!”
Nelson is very angry with his son, but then again, I would be, too.
“Anyway, we’ve got a few coming in tonight, Chuckie’s aunts and uncles and a few of his cousins. The rest should be here tomorrow. No contingencies yet, so here’s hoping.”
“And Chuck is none the wiser?” I ask.
“Not for a second,” he says. “He just thinks his mom and the old man are sticking around for a week to catch up on old times.” Jason sticks his head in the door, frowning. I know this can’t be good.
“Well, that’s good to know. It’s looks like something just popped up her, Nelson, so I’m going to have to cut this conversation short. Make sure you call me if you need anything and if you can’t reach me, call Andrea, again.”
“Oh, no problem, Christian. Thanks again!” he says and ends the call.
“What’s going on?” I ask Jason.
“I was on my way to the cafeteria for a soda and I got a call. The police are in the lobby.” Fuck! Are you kidding me? Which one of my catastrophes is blowing up in my face now?
“Why?” I say, coming from behind my desk, intent for the elevator.
“That family we visited yesterday,” he begins, falling in line behind me.
“Ramsey?” I step into the elevator. Jason gets in and presses the lobby floor.
“Radcliff. He’s down there raving something about his wife?”
“Shit. What the fuck?”
The elevator doors open and Jason and I step out find Radcliff and two flatfoots standing in the lobby. Shit, I fucking hate cops and they don’t like me, either.
“That’s him!” Radcliff rants, pointing at me. “Where’s my wife, you asshole?” I frown hard at them. What the fuck is this?
“Mr. Radcliff, please,” one of the officers says calmly. He turns to me. “Forgive the intrusion, Mr. Grey…”
I’m immediately taken aback. Kindness? From law enforcement? Towards me? Jason is equally shocked. Okay, I can cooperate… with him.
“Can you please tell me what this is about, officer?” I say as politely as I can.
“You know what it’s about, fucker. Where the fuck is my wife?” Radcliff demands.
“Mr. Radcliff, I won’t ask you again,” the officer says, his voice calm and he stares at Radcliff, who only glares at me. “Mr. Radcliff!” He finally turns his glare to the officer. “Do you want to leave here in cuffs?”
“Why are you treating me this way? He’s the criminal!” Radcliff barks.
“Because you won’t listen, you’re acting irrational, and we haven’t established that he’s done anything wrong. Now are you going to be quiet and let me do my job or do want to leave here in cuffs?”
Radcliff is not the type of man who likes to take down to anyone. I can respect that in a man, but if you choose to be cocky, know when to use it; and by all means; have the authority and the power it back it up. This asshole has neither.
“That’s not a rhetorical question, Mr. Radcliff,” the officer repeats waiting for an answer.
“I’ll let you do your job,” he says begrudgingly, under his breath. We all notice that he didn’t say that he was going to be quiet.
“Thank you,” the officer says. “After all, you did call us.” He commands this bully with a quiet authority, and I know almost immediately that although we saw no immediate signs of abuse on her yesterday, this man’s wife has left him.
“Again, Mr. Grey, our apologies for the intrusion. I’m Officer Lockhart and that’s Officer Santiago. Mr. Radcliff here says that he came home from work for lunch and his wife and child were missing. He seems to think you may know something about it.”
“I assure you that I don’t,” I tell him. “The last time I saw this guy or his wife, I and my wife were trying to bring them food and clothing for Christmas and he turned us away!” I say, throwing my hand at the bullying bastard. “No offense, but do you normally take someone’s word who just blindly accuses someone of something like this?”
“This is very serious, Mr. Grey. We have to follow every lead, sir.” I kind of nod.
“Well, I guess you do. Let me call my wife and see if she knows anything.” I pull out my phone.
“Probably calling to tip her off,” Radcliff says under his breath. I frown at him again. What does he think, that someone has his wife and kid tied up in a basement somewhere? I look bewildered at the Lockhart, who just rolls his eyes. I can tell that he knows this is a useless endeavor, but he has to follow through.
“Call your wife, Mr. Grey,” Lockhart says. I shake my head and dial Butterfly. It rings and goes to voice mail. I end the call and dial again—same thing. I look up at Jason as I’m calling a third time.
“What is it, Boss?” he asks.
“She’s not answering,” I tell him as I call her a fourth time. “Call upstairs and have Andrea call Marilyn.” He’s dialing Andrea and I’m getting more and more agitated as I try to reach wife. This is not the time to play hide and seek, Butterfly.
“Ben, where the hell is Ana?” I hear Jason say as I’m dialing Butterfly again, and again. “Well, go fucking find her. The boss is about to have a conniption.” He ends the call. “He says she’s been at the center all day. He’s going to get her now. She’s in her office with Grace.”
“Shit, Mom!” Why didn’t I think of Mom? “Call Mom!” I say, dialing Butterfly’s number again.
“Hello?” Her soft, strained voice answers and I’m both relieved and pissed off.
“Jesus, Ana, what the fuck?” is all I can say
“It was on vibrate. I didn’t know. Where’s the fire?” she defends, sounding like a petulant child. I ask about her fire first and she tells me that the Melon Bitch showed up. Okay, we’ll have to cross that bridge later. Right now, I’ve got an angry bully, selfish ass husband in my lobby and I’m trying not to end up in front of Judge Hammer-Ass again, so we need to cut to the chase.
“He’s in my damn building with the police and he’s under the impressed that I know where his wife is.”
“Is that so?” she says. She’s not surprised. “He’s there with the police you say?”
“Uh, yeah.” She knows something.
“Put me on speaker, please.” Oh, hell. This is going to be good. I put the phone on speaker.
“You’re on, baby.”
“Can you hear me?” she asks.
“Loud and clear,” I respond.
“Can everybody hear me? Officers?” The cops look at each other, at Radcliff—who shrugs, and at my phone.
“Um, yes ma’am,” Lockhart says. “To whom am I speaking?”
“My name is Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey,” she begins. “Thelma Radcliff came to my Center this morning, begging me to take her child because she is living in a house with no heat, no electricity, no phone, and no food. She’s been doing the best that she could for as long as she could, but this morning, her milk stopped producing so she couldn’t feed her baby anymore. Both I and the director here are doctors and have established that both Thelma and James Radcliff Jr are undernourished and Thelma’s case is severe. Her body has started to break down muscle tissue for food, she’s dangerously small to have just given birth and she should really be in the hospital.”
“So you took my wife?” Radcliff accuses.
“Do you have wax in your ears?” I ask. “Didn’t you just hear her say your wife came to the center because you kept her in a house with no heat, no lights, no phone, and no food? Was I the only one who heard that?” Lockhart starts taking notes.
“So your wife is affiliated with a charity?” he asks.
“Helping Hands,” I tell him. “She’s the assistant director.” He looks and points his pen at me.
“Oh, yeah,” he says, “I know who she is. She was in a really bad accident a little while back.” I nod.
“Yes, sir, but she’s much better now.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. So this charity—is that how Mrs. Radcliff found you?” Lockhart asks.
“Not initially,” I say. “We’re members of the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Coalition. Families in need apply to be adopted each year and the members and the chosen families are matched randomly. Mrs. Grey and I were matched with the Radcliffs.”
“I called Thelma a couple of weeks back when they still had a phone to arrange for the deliveries—furniture, appliances, clothing, food—even gift cards for department stores and cash cards for necessities… like heat!” Butterfly chimes in. Every man in the room throws a dirty look at Radcliff, but he’s oblivious to everything anyone says or does and is convinced that one of us kidnapped his wife. “When I spoke to her, I gave her my contact information at Helping Hands. That’s what led her here. It turns out that Mr. Radcliff turned away every delivery that we sent to the house and when we showed up yesterday to personally bring food and clothes, he turned us away, too.”
“Thank you, Dr. Steele-Grey. That’s what we needed,” Lockhart says.
“I’m coming down there to get my wife and son!” Radcliff barks. I clench my fist. Who the fuck is he yelling at?
“That’s completely up to Thelma, Mr. Radcliff. She came on her own free will and she can leave on her own free will,” Butterfly retorts.
“Well, I’m coming to get ‘em now, and you better have ‘em ready for me when I get there!” One… two… three…
“I’m not going to have anything ready for you, sir!” she hisses back at him. “I don’t know who you’re accustomed to speaking to that way, but you don’t order me to do anything because I am not your child. I’m glad you’re bringing the police with you, Mr. Radcliff, because if you come down here causing a disruption in this Center, I will not hesitate to have you arrested!”
“You talk all that shit now, but…” I immediately take the phone off speaker and bring it back to my ear, never taking my eyes off Radcliff.
“I’m on my way, baby,” I tell her.
“I know,” she says calmly. “I’ll see you when you get here. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” I end the call and glare at Radcliff. “I told you already that I didn’t disrespect your wife and you will not disrespect mine. Now, do you have anything that you need to say to me, Mr. Radcliff?” I say the entire speech through clenched teeth and growl his name at the end.
I don’t know what my voice, stance, or demeanor says, but there are four other men in this room—not including the guards at the security desk—and none of them move a muscle. Nobody breathes waiting to see what this fucker is going to do or say. He pushed my hot button and I glare unblinking at him. You used the wrong tone, the wrong words, and the wrong demeanor with my goddess. I will fuck you up and leave you for dead.
Hammer-Ass, here I come.
I see a once tall-standing, loud-mouthed, bully sweating at the end of a tunnel. He’s not saying a word, but buckets of water are rolling off his brow. Through the haze of red and heat and anger, I hear Jason’s voice floating towards me.
“Boss? Boss? Boss? Boss?…” He’s going to keep calling me until I acknowledge him.
“What?” I say, barely recognizing my own voice—low, grumbling… like a bear.
“Let’s go, Boss. Anastasia is waiting.” He says her whole name. He did that on purpose. It calms me a bit, but not much.
“Officers,” I growl. “I’ll take you to my wife.” My eyes never leave the sweating, blinking bully. I hear a soft voice behind me.
I finally break my gaze to see Andrea standing there with my black wool coat and briefcase. Jason takes my coat from her and helps me into it and I take my briefcase.
“Thank you, Andrea,” I say, my voice softer and walk out the front door with Jason without making eye contact with Radcliff for fear that I might leave him face down in the snow.
A/N: Ana’s “Santa Claus” comment was a memory recall moment, in case you guys missed it. If you recall, Christian bought Ana a tiara in Paging Dr. Steele and when she opened it, she said, “Oh my God, I’m dating Santa Claus.” I like to throw those in every now and again.
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Love and handcuffs 🙂