Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 44—Holiday Surprises

Since my training got pushed back two weeks, I took a moment to edit an already written chapter to help you all with any possible withdrawal symptoms. I don’t know when the next one will be, but I’ll try to dash in from time to time. Once again, if you want to stay on top of what’s happening, click here and follow the directions (if you choose). Otherwise, you’re not going to know and as much as I love you (flutters eyelashes), I’m going to ignore redundant questions. 😉 

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 44—Holiday Surprises

ANASTASIA

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

Christian is grasping his chin and looking at the floor, his other hand on his hip. He’s trying to process the information that I just walked in and shared with him—that Courtney is back at Helping Hands and I’m trying to help her find her way again… after Christmas, that is. I knew that I would have to tell him, because she’s on the watch list, and her being at Helping Hands is a bit of a security violation.

“I didn’t want to do it…” I begin meekly.

“Then why did you?” he shoots, glaring at me with sharp, angry gray eyes, both hands on his hips now.

“Because she looked like hell and your mother begged me,” I reply in my own defense. He rolls his eyes and sighs, exacerbated.

“Fuck!” he exclaims turning away from me. Those were my sentiments exactly. “Do you realize…?” He trails off and begins to pace. “Shit!” Oh, he’s mad—not fire-breathing mad, but he’s mad.

“The entire security team is on high alert because of that woman!” he says. “She’s been noted and listed as a potentially dangerous threat, and now…”

He trails off again. He can’t even finish a sentence. I very rarely see him like this. I think it best to just keep quiet and stay out of his way.

“I cornered the woman in the ladies’ room, for God’s sake!”

I don’t think he’s talking to me anymore. He’s just talking to himself, fussing at no one in particular that I dare let this woman back in my life after what she’s done. Heaven knows I don’t want to defend her. I didn’t even want to help her. I don’t know why I gave in. I think I just wanted to leave and get on with my holiday.

My holiday… what a gas…

“And now, she’s running loose in Helping Hands where she can do anything she wants while no one is looking…”

I hadn’t thought of that. What if all of this is some elaborate plan to set some kind of trap and get back at me? God, I hope not, because I’m not going to be running around the Center looking for booby traps. I don’t want anybody else to get hurt because of me, though. Is she capable of something like that?

I don’t really pay close attention to him after that. I’m a little concerned now that maybe I’ve made the wrong decision. I only talked to her because Grace convinced me, and even then I still didn’t want to help her. Now, I have to take the berating from my husband of allowing the enemy back into the nest after all of the precautions we’ve taken to protect ourselves against her. It’s kind of like the situation with Brian except that I didn’t initiate or okay the visit—Grace did, and she’s the director of the Center. I just agreed to help her at the prompting of the director of the Center. Oh, God, my head hurts…

“Anastasia!”

I raise my head to my husband. My hand is in my hair and I don’t even remember putting it there. My scar, it… I don’t know, nothing’s wrong with it now, but I think it was aching or something. My free arm is curled protectively around my babies. He’s staring at me, frowning. I don’t like the look, so I stand up straight. What did I do now?

“You…” he shakes his head and drops his eyes from mine. “You should go to the kitchen.” The kitchen? That’s random! “Gail’s looking for you there.”

So that’s it? You have a temper tantrum about this and then I’m dismissed? I don’t get to say anything? Maybe he knows I really don’t have anything that I can say.

“We can talk about this later… if that’s okay with you,” he adds, his voice softer, but still clearly displeased. At least I wasn’t dismissed. If that’s okay with you… yeah, that means something.

“Okay,” I say, more like mutter, and walk away from him.

I pause in the dining room and dial Grey House.

“Merry Christmas, Grey Holdings Incorporated,” the gentleman answers.

“Alex Welch, please,” I say as professionally as I can. I sound more like a mouse.

“May I say who is calling, ma’am?” If you must…

“Anastasia Grey,” I respond. There’s a momentary pause.

“One moment, Mrs. Grey.” I can almost see the whole “patriot act” thing I went through when I first tried to get in to see Christian unfolding at the front desk right now. Sure enough, another voice comes on the line.

“Mrs. Grey, forgive the inconvenience, but can you please verify your code name?”

“My code name?” I ask, bemused.

“Yes, ma’am, you GEH security code name.” Yep, patriot act.

“Well, I don’t know that I have a security code name, but Jason calls me ‘Her Highness.’ It was supposed to be a joke…”

“Thank you, ma’am. One moment.” And the line is quiet. Oh, my God, my code name is really “Her Highness.”

“Welch,” he answers the phone moments later.

“’Her Highness?’” I whine as quietly as I can. “You people really call me ‘Her Highness?’”

“Mrs. Grey?” he asks, bemused. They didn’t even tell him that it was me on the phone?

“Oh, God,” I lament, “Security probably thinks I’m a pampered, flaming bitch.”

“No… they don’t. They know it’s a joke. It just… fit,” he says as an explanation. My nerves are shot and I rub my scar again. It irritates me a bit at times like these. The doctor said that it might… or just for no reason at all… “Is everything alright, ma’am?”

“Oh, God, please call me Ana. I don’t think I can take much more today.” I don’t recognize my own voice.

“Okay… Ana… What’s wrong?” His voice is so kind that I almost want to cry. I explain to him the best that I can what I did with Courtney and how well the situation went over with Christian.

“So now, she’s wandering around Helping Hands for the next two days looking for some way to be useful, but as far as Christian sees it—and hell, I don’t even know—she could be setting up a bomb somewhere in the joint. I don’t how the protocol works in this situation, but I know that Grey House is somehow or another facilitating the security for Helping Hands.”

“That’s correct, Mrs. Grey… Ana,” he says.

“Is there some kind of way that you could put a couple of extra guys down there to make sure that she’s not poisoning the food or sabotaging the gas lines or something dramatic to get back at me?” The line is quiet for a moment. Do I sound crazy?

“Yes… yes, that can be arranged, but it’s really not necessary.”

“It’s not?” I ask. “Why not?”

“She has a tail, Ana,” he says. A tail? She has a tail?

“Does Christian know that?” I ask, bemused.

“It’s usually protocol with new threats, but with everything going on—with the Davenports in town and all—he may have forgotten. I’ll still put a couple of guys down at Helping Hands, though. It might be a good idea with the holidays and families being split up and all. Would you like for me to cc you on Courtney Wilson’s daily reports?” Do I want that much information?

“Yes, please,” I say, before I lose my nerve. “Thanks for not thinking I’m crazy.” He chuckles.

“I’ve seen crazy, Ana. You’re far from it,” he says, kindly before we end the call. I sigh heavily. Christian’s still angry with me, but at least I don’t have to worry about Courtney blowing up Helping Hands. Where was I going? Oh, the kitchen. I take a deep breath and turn to face whatever catastrophe awaits me in there.

“Surprise!”

I’m standing in stunned amazement as my kitchen is filled with women—Gail, Ms. Solomon, and other members of the staff; Keri and Mrs. Davenport; Grace, Mia, Mandy, Maxie, and of course, Marilyn. They’re all wearing a different goofy Christmas apron and my chef’s apron is sitting on a stool near the kitchen island, which is loaded with baking supplies.

“Christian told me about your Christmas Eve cookie tradition,” Gail begins, “and how you were disappointed that you wouldn’t be able to do it this year with you being so close to delivery.”

“So we got our heads together and conspired to have a Christmas Cookie Bake, just us girls,” Grace adds. “We’ve got the basics for gingerbread, butter cookies, sugar cookies, lemon bars, and chocolate-chip-pecan cookies, but you’ll have to share your recipe and guide us.”

I stand there stunned for a moment. This is the sweetest thing ever. I really thought I would have to give up my cookie tradition this year, but it looks like I won’t have to after all.

“Ana?” Mia says, concerned. “Say something.” Maybe this is why she was at Helping Hands this morning before she was sidetracked by cursing out Courtney.

I walk over to the stool, obviously reserved for me a pick up my apron. It’s been forever since I’ve worn it. I put it over my head and Grace ties it loosely behind me. I’m baking my cookies for Christmas Eve.

“Than…” I’m unable to get the words out of my mouth before I choke on a big ball of emotion boiling up in my chest and bursting out of my throat in mournful sobs. I can’t control them; they just keep coming and coming and coming. Gail is the one who envelops me in her arms and no one else moves while just sob a river. I’m too full. I’m just too full. There’s too much in the fountain and it’s overflowing. Something has to come out at some point.

Several minutes later, I’m still crying, trying to compose myself and nobody has moved. Recognizing my efforts, Gail asks for a glass of ice water and a cold, wet washcloth. I clean my face as much as I can and try to stop the tears from falling. I drink down the first glass of ice water and half of a second, realizing that this year’s tradition will be without my Cabernet Sauvignon. Ah, comment tragique! Unable to explain the reasons for my crying spell, I thank the ladies for being so kind and selfless, request that soulful Christmas carols be piped through the mansion’s communications systems and once the serenade has started, announce that the bake-off will now commence!


CHRISTIAN

I cannot believe this woman! We have fashioned an entire security operation around the fact that the Melon-Bitch threatened her, and now my wife has invited her back into the flock and she’s currently running freely around Anastasia’s place of business. Fucking hell. I can’t believe my ears when she tells me this. So what her grandparents want to send her back to Kentucky? Let them! That will be one less problem that we have to worry about! No, my wife with the heart of gold and the Beretta in her purse lets this conniving female back into her good graces.

I don’t know whether to be disgusted or angry, and while I’m trying to decide which emotion is more prevalent, I look over at my wife and she looks… weird, for lack of a better word. She has one hand thrust in her hair where her bald spot is—quickly disappearing, I might add—and the other arm clutched over the babies.

“Anastasia!” I say, more out of surprise than anything. She jerks up and looks at me. What the hell was she doing? That can’t be comfortable. She was all crunched up and hunched over like she was going to…

Oh, shit.

I just stare at her for a moment, and she stares right back.

“You…” Don’t confront her. It’s only going to make it worse. I’ll clean this up. I’ll find a way to clean this up. “You should go to the kitchen. Gail is looking for you there.”

She’s confused now. I’m sure that I would be, too, but this conversation is better held at a different time, especially with these new circumstances I’ve just discovered. Go on, Butterfly. Go have some fun. I’ll clean this up. “We can talk about this later… if that’s okay with you.” All of this, but not now. Go enjoy Christmas Eve. She’s still confused, but finally relents.

“Okay,” she says softly, like a scolded child and scurries away, further confirming my fears. Shit. Shit. Shit. So many fires to put out and now there are two more logs on the flame. I run my hands through my hair and call Nelson.

“How’s it going?” I ask him.

“Joe smells a rat,” he replies. “He’s threatening to get on the first thing smoking and fly out to Seattle. He’s going to ruin everything if he shows up.” Unfortunately, it’s a free country and I can’t stop the asshole from showing up.

“What do you suggest we do?” I ask. “Any other unwanted element, I would handle differently, but this is your son.”

“I know,” Nelson replies. “I’m not trying to choose one over the other, Christian, but this has to be perfect for Chuckie. He’s been through so much and we’ve lost so much time. I can’t let Joe ruin this. I can’t and I won’t.”

“If you say the word, I can make it as hard as possible for Joe to get to Seattle, but I won’t do it without your permission.” The line is quiet for a long time.

“How do you choose between your sons?” he laments.

“You didn’t make this choice, Nelson,” I tell him. “Joseph did. Joseph chose for you and for your entire family when he chose to hide Chuck’s attempts to contact you for so many years. He didn’t think about how it would affect you, your wife, your family, or Chuck. He was only thinking of himself—his anger and his own selfish motives. This is one time… one time that you want something to be perfect for Chuck and for the rest of the family. Joe doesn’t want to be a part of that; he just wants to know what’s going on now that you know that Chuck is alive. Call him. Placate him. Let him know that you’ve discovered that your son is alive after nearly fifteen years and you want to spend Christmas with him with the hope of trying to catch up on some of the years that you lost and you’ll talk to Joe after the holiday. That’ll have to do and if it doesn’t, let me know if you think he’ll still try to do something he shouldn’t and I’ll do my best to keep him out of Seattle.”

“You won’t have him arrested or anything, will you?” he asks. No, but just short of it if I have to.

“I’ll try not to, but I’ll see what can be done to keep him out of Seattle… and out of touch with Chuck.” There’s another pause.

“I’ll call him… and I’ll call you back.” Nelson ends the call and I know he’s calling Joseph. I don’t need his confirmation. I already know that Joseph will try to get to Seattle if he hasn’t already. I have to call in immediate back-up.

“Welch.”

“Welch, it’s Christmas Eve for Christ’s sake.”

“And?” he says. “You called.” I sigh.

“Is there any way to keep someone from flying if they’re not already on a plane?”

“There’s a lot of ways to keep someone from flying,” he replies, “but what did you have in mind?” I explain the situation to him. “Oh. Well, the easiest way to do that would be to have him arrested.”

“I thought of that, but his father really doesn’t want that,” I say.

“Well, the other thing is the mistaken identity/no-fly-list thing. That could at least ground him until after Christmas, but not much longer.”

“That’s all we need. How about phone communication?” I ask. “We don’t want him harassing Chuck or spilling the beans if he gets wind of what’s going on.”

“Those are pretty easy fixes,” he says. “His number can be blocked from Chuck’s phone if Chuck hasn’t blocked it already, but that doesn’t stop him from calling from another phone or from blocking his own number to call.”

“Scrambling his signal so that he can’t make a call?” I suggest.

“That’s doable, but I really suggest getting Chuck’s phone if you can.” Ugh! That’s not going to be an easy task.

“I’ll try. I do have a secret weapon here,” I say. “Listen, put a few more guys at Helping Hands over the holidays. I just want to make sure that nothing unexpected happens.”

“Unexpected as in Courtney Wilson?” he asks. I frown. How does he know?

“Something you need to tell me?”

“Not really, I mean nothing of any real concern except that Ana beat you to it.” Ana? How the hell did Ana beat me to it? I just saw her not twenty minutes ago, before I talked to Nelson. Did she call Welch before she left Helping Hands and not tell me?

“When did you speak to Ana?” I ask.

“About five minutes ago, maybe,” he says. “She told me that Wilson was back down at Helping Hands for the next couple of days and that she was worried that Wilson might try to sabotage something or blow the place up. I thought she was going to cry.”

Oh, boy, that’s all I need, a crying Ana on Christmas Eve. Thank God I headed that off with the Great Cookie Bake.

“I told her that a few extra guys down there is a good idea since some lonely husbands and significant others with possible PPO’s in place may try to show up because it’s Christmas. I told her not to worry about Wilson either as she has an operative assigned to watch her and everybody on staff is assigned to watch her when she’s inside Helping Hands.” I should have thought of that before I went all mercurial on Butterfly. Of course, the Melon Bitch has a tail. “Did Courtney do something, sir?”

“No, I did,” I sigh. I can just see the wheels turning in Welch’s head right now. “Please let me know as soon as you get the thing squared away with Joseph Davenport and the no-fly thing. I don’t want him anywhere near Seattle until after Christmas…” Hopefully never. “What about other modes of transportation?”

“One sec,” he says and I hear him typing. I’m impatient and I want to know what he’s doing. “Well, it’s a 16-hour drive straight through if he can rent a car. That’s with taking the shortest route, no traffic, no inclement weather, and knowing exactly where he wants to end up. None of those are a possibility except for the fact that he might be able to get a car depending on how persistent he is and what kind of resources he has available to him.”

“I’m told he’s broke,” I say.

“How can he get a plane, then?” he asks. Good question.

“Apparently, he has something available to him. Best case scenario, if he gets that car?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that car,” he says. “No matter what car he rents, even if he were to rent one right now, there’s no way he’s going to make a non-stop 16-hour drive through the mountains in the snow. That 16-hour drive just became more likely overnight, which means he’s lucky if he gets here tomorrow afternoon sometime. Unless his parents have told him that the festivities are at the Fairmont, he’s expecting quality time to be at your house. What do you think would happen if he showed up at the Grey Crossing on Christmas Day?”

“Duly noted. Train? Bus?” He’s typing again.

“He could get a bus for cheap, but it’s still not cause for concern. He couldn’t get a ticket out until tomorrow and he wouldn’t be in Seattle until sometime on the 27th—two transfers in Montana, and he still probably doesn’t know that he needs to be at the Fairmont and not the Crossing. As for the train…” he’s typing again, “… Wow. Amtrak doesn’t go through South Dakota…”

“You’re shitting me!” I ask.

“Nope. Amtrak runs through 47 U.S states and the District of Columbia as well as four Canadian provinces. South Dakota is not one of them. If he wants to catch a train, he’d have to grab one in one of the neighboring states. His best bet would be to get some kind of ground transport to North Dakota and pick up the Amtrak from Minot. Even then, he’s still looking at more than a day’s travel. I think we just need to keep this guy out of the sky if he isn’t already up there.” Let’s hope he’s not already up there.

“Do what you have to do to keep him off a plane. I’m about to go and get Chuck’s phone.”

“Already on it,” he says before we end the call. I make my way through the living room and dining room towards the kitchen and I expect to hear giggling women. Instead, I hear weeping—muffled, but mournful weeping. I stick my head around the corner to see a powwow of women clustered around my distraught wife, her face buried in Gail’s neck, and she’s sobbing like someone died.

Fucking hell. She’s supposed to be laughing and baking Christmas cookies!

I’m frowning, helplessly watching Gail’s bemused expression, no doubt attempting to ascertain what’s wrong with Butterfly. When she catches a glimpse of me, her eyes are almost begging for answers, but I have none—none that would help, anyway. I shrug and shake my head, mimicking my best confused look to avoid the wrath of several women now comforting my sobbing wife. What am I supposed to say? I’m probably the last person she needs to talk to right now… but I do have another mission that I desperately need to accomplish.

I manage through lip movements and gestures to tell Gail that I need Keri. She’s able to get Keri’s attention and direct her to me, but not without alerting three or four other women in the room—one of which is my mother. Oh, hell. Please, for once, just stay in the kitchen, Mom. She looks like she wants to come and say something to me, but upon seeing Keri walk in my direction, she just stays with the other women… thank God!

“Keri, what’s going on?” I ask quietly once I get her in the dining room.

“I don’t noh,” she says. “She come in, she put ohn heh ehpon, and she btake down weepin’! She been weepin’ foh a lon time.”

“How long?” I ask.

“Lotta minitts!” she says, her voice rising on the last word. “She seem like she gwine stohp, den she staht weepin’ agin. She got a lawt on heh haht,” she says, nodding hard like she’s informing me of something that I don’t know. Butterfly is all heart, so of course, she’s carrying a lot on it. That’s why I love her so much.

“Keri, I need a favor from you,” I say, softly. I have another task, but my heart is in the kitchen with Butterfly.

“Meh?” she asks bemused. I nod.

“I need you to get Chuck’s phone,” I say. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a blackberry. I look down at it. Standard GEH issue. “Chuck?” I ask. She nods.

“Joe keept cawlin’,” she begins. “Choonks no look good when Joe cawl. I don like it. I tek de phone. I tehl him I noh wan him tawk to Joe. Joe evil soul!” she says with conviction as she pounds her chest. “Black down heyah. If I wuz dif’rent womahn, believe inna de science, I call de obeah man! Him a go put guzum pon im! Den ‘im leave Chooks alone!”

I have no idea what this woman just said, but she just scared the shit out of me and you can best believe that I won’t be fucking with Choonks.

“May I have his phone please?” I hold my hand out and she gives it to me without hesitation. “Did he talk to Joe at all?” She shakes her head.

“Heh look at de phone and see Joe’s numbah. So heh jus deny de call, but Joe keept cawlin’ and cawlin’. Heh almost ansah de phone, but I get to it fuhst. ‘Noh!’ I say. ‘Noh Joe!’ I tuhn de phone off an I puttit in mah pockitt. Choonks jus’ smile,” she chuckles and I smile with her.

“If Chuck asks where his phone is, let him know that I’m taking care of Joe,” I say crisply. She nods knowingly.

“Tank you, Chtistian,” she says. “We tek cayeh of Anah,” she says with a smile before turning back to the kitchen. I look around the corner at the cluster of women around my beautiful frail wife again. She appears to have stopped crying, but she still looks so weak and emotional. I lean my head against the door frame. I just want to run in there and hug her and hold her and put her in a little box and protect her from the world… I guess more than one of us is regressing today. I watch longingly as the women are attentive to her—bringing her water and washing her face, making sure that she’s okay. I sigh quietly. Things have just been so damn wild in our lives. I’d love to take her away somewhere, just the two of us, but I know how likely that’s going to be in the coming months.

I watch my wife command a crowd like she always does, requesting old Christmas songs and giving directions on how the lemon bars and sugar cookies should be made. It’s only when I catch my mother smiling at me and silently shooing me away from my hiding place that I realize that I’ve been standing here staring at my Butterfly. I roll my eyes and tear myself away from the sight of her finally happy and preparing her Christmas Eve cookies.

I take the long way up to the second floor past our bedroom to the elevators and turn on Chuck’s phone. Before I step on, Chuck’s phone lights up with 12 messages and more texts than anyone would really care to read. I violate his privacy and check to see that they are all from Joe—all 27 of them. A quick scan shows that some of them are pages long while others are two to four-word expletives to get his point across…

** Fuck you! **
** Fucking asshole. **
** You’re worthless! **
** Kiss my ass! **
** Go to hell. **

As I’m reading the messages from this faceless coward, my own phone rings. Coincidentally, it’s Nelson.

“Yes?” I answer.

“Do what you have to do,” he says. I pause.

“He knows?” I ask.

“No, but he’ll come and cause trouble anyway. Don’t let him ruin this for Chuckie… please…”

“Is he still on the ground?”

“He’s still in South Dakota, but probably not for long.” That’s what you think.

“Don’t give it a second thought, Nelson,” I tell him. “Get the family settled in. I’ll be by the hotel later to see if everything is in place and if anyone needs anything.”

“Thank you, Christian. This means so much to me and my wife. I can’t begin to tell you…”

“Enough of that, Nelson. Enjoy your family. I’ll see you soon.” We end the call. I look at Chuck’s phone again and it buzzes with another derogatory message. I tap the message to return the call.

“So you’ve stopped hiding, huh, you spineless weasel?” His voice is venomous. He’s full of hatred and all things wicked and I can feel his demonic spirit wafting through the phone. I have to make this quick before his putrid hatred seeps into me.

“You are a wretched, evil, soulless worm. I thought I was heartless, but you’ve got me beat. How someone could do what you’ve done to your own flesh and blood and still manage to exist among normal human beings is beyond me.”

“Grey?” he says, bemused. “He’s got you fighting his battles now?”

“It must be really lonely in that horrible cage you call a body,” I say, disregarding his last words. “How does it feel, Joe? How does it feel to know that after all of your conniving and your lies that your parents would rather spend Christmas over a thousand miles away from home with the son that you kept from them for nearly fifteen years than to spend it in the same state with you?” The line is silent for a while.

“They’ll see,” he says, and he almost sounds like a wounded little boy. “He hasn’t changed. He’s all cleaned up and shiny like a new penny, but he’s still the same old drunk. They’ll see. He’ll show his true colors.” And you’re hell bent on trying to make him do that, I see.

“Stay away from Seattle, Joe,” I tell him calmly. “For your own good, keep your ass in your own state until after Christmas, or I swear to God, you’re going to regret it.” He laughs loudly into the phone.

“You’re a riot, man!” he says, loudly. “You can’t stop me from seeing my brother even if he is a low-life drunk.”

“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” I say impassively. “He’s not your brother anymore. He’s dead to you, remember? He’s my family now, and nobody fucks with my family!” I hiss the last part into the phone. “Stay the fuck out of Seattle and stay the fuck away from my family or you’ll wish you never met me.” He laughs again.

“I can go wherever the hell I want and you can’t stop me!” he barks.

“Air and opportunity, Joe. Air and opportunity.” Bring it, you soulless bastard.

“I’m not afraid of you!” he declares. Famous last words.

“You should be,” I say, before ending the call. I take the liberty to block the number from Chuck’s phone and turn it off again. That’s not the last we’ve heard from Joe, I’m sure. His arrogance and lack of contrition for what he put his parents through, let alone what he put the family through, is making me want to beat the living shit out of him with my bare hands. I run my hands through my hair and take the elevator down to the ground floor. I walk to my study and close the door, contemplating if I really want to make this last call. I know that I have to, but making this confession is really the last thing that I want to do. I sigh and dial the number.

“Lourdes Avery.”

“Ace. Hi, it’s Christian Grey.”

“Christian… Hi. It’s… Christmas Eve. Is Ana okay?” I sigh heavily.

“I’m sorry,” I begin. “I didn’t mean to bother you on the holiday on your cell, it’s just…” God this is harder than I thought.

“Is it her memory?” he asks. “Is it slipping?” I shake my head.

“No… I don’t know.” I sigh heavily. “We’ve got a development, Ace… a big one, and I don’t know what to do.” The line is silent.

“Just… tell me what’s going on, Christian. You’re starting to scare me.” You should be scared. I close my eyes and take a breath before I spit it out.

“Ana’s shrinking again…”

*-*

Dinner will be late today as the women have spent most of the afternoon in the Great Cookie Bake. Ana’s mood has improved dramatically, but I can only tell from a distance. The women wouldn’t let me anywhere near the kitchen while the Cookie Bake was in progress. Someone should have told them that I’m the taste-tester and that the pecan-chocolate-chip were mine—all twelve dozen of them—but I guess they didn’t get the memo because most of them went into care packages for the families at Helping Hands, and into goodie bags for a certain family reunion that shall go unmentioned until tomorrow and to various locales that Butterfly usually gives cookies away. I only got to squirrel away a measly two dozen and almost had to arm-wrestle Jason for those!

Before dinner commences, I decide to go over to the Fairmont Olympic to make sure that everything will be ready for tomorrow. The staff starts scrambling and looking busier than necessary when I’m on the premises. I don’t really care about all the preparations, as long as the end result is right. It reminds me of this movie I saw once where this kid was in foster care his whole life because his mother had him in prison. It was a hard life for him, but he grew up and went to the Navy and then decided to find his family. He found his father’s family and he even found his mother. Though his mother wasn’t doing too well and his father had passed away, his father’s family was huge. They had a huge dinner and welcomed him with open arms. It was what he had dreamed of his entire life.

I can imagine Chuck being surprised to see his family again, all gathered in Seattle and on Skype screens to welcome him back into the fold.

I was able to meet two of his aunts and a few of his cousins as they were just coming from dinner. More of his family will be coming in tonight and it looks to be a wonderful turnout in the Garden tomorrow. Butterfly and I along with Gail and Jason will bring Chuck and Keri here right before lunch tomorrow and be present when he sees the rest of the family for the first time in nearly fifteen years. We’ll stay for a moment, then Butterfly and I will go to my parents’ and Gail and Jason will be visiting Gail’s sister. Lawrence and Williams will be on duty with us.

“It’s a really wonderful thing you’re doing for Chuckie, Mr. Grey,” Chuck’s aunt Marie says. “The family is so excited about all of this. It’s unbelievable to find out that he’s been alive all this time. It’s just so sad… the circumstances…”

“I know,” I say, thinking about the reason we’re all here in the first place. “But let’s try not to think about that and remember that we’re just happy that he’s okay and about how thrilled he’s going to be to see you all tomorrow.” She smiles widely.

“Your wife is a very lucky woman,” she says sincerely. “I wish you all so much happiness on the upcoming birth of your babies.” I return her smile.

“I’m the lucky one, but thank you… very much.”

After making sure everything is set, Jason and I make it back to the Crossing just in time to kiss Mom and Mia goodbye and say Goodnight to the rest of the ladies before we sit down for dinner. Butterfly helped with the meal—pork loin, asparagus, and she made those damn cheesy potatoes that make you homicidal. Chuck thinks he’s just spending the day with his parents tomorrow and he’s asking Keri if she’s going to be too bored. As she has no idea about the surprise either, she assures him that she adores spending time with his mother and that she will be fine tomorrow. She has even bought a new dress that she wants to wear, so Chuck has vowed to dress up as well. That was easy.

Butterfly appears to get lost in thought every now and then, but besides that, she seems just fine for the most part. Good food and good friends wrap up somewhere around 10pm and each couple steals away for private Christmas Eve celebrations.

“I’m sorry that I won’t be up for Santa Baby this year,” Butterfly says with a sultry little smile, “but maybe next year.”

“There’s always Easter and that sexy ass butt-plug tail,” I say suggestively, raising my eyebrows and she giggles. “Do they have those things in different colors?” I ask playfully.

“I’m sure they do,” she smiles back. “We’ll just have to see.”

We’re in the family room again with a roaring fire and A Christmas Carol on mute on the television. We have larger-than-life Christmas trees in several rooms of the house, but this is the one that has the wrapped presents underneath.

“It’s that time, Mrs. Grey,” I say. “Which of my presents do I get to open tonight?”

“That one,” she says, pointing to a large square box, “with the velour wrapping.” I retrieve the package that she’s referring to.

“Oooo, fancy,” I tease, coming back over to the sofa and sitting on the floor near her. She smiles quaintly, but seems to get a little nervous. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she says, not convincing at all. What’s in this box?

“I’m sure I’ll love it, Butterfly,” I say, trying to put her fears to rest. She forces a smile that actually looks painful and starts to wring her hands a bit. I think I better just open the box. I take my time with the wrapping because you can’t just tear it off. Whatever this is, the presentation is apparently part of the splendor. Once the box is freed from its satin ribbon and velour wrapping, I open it to reveal an obviously expensive threefold portfolio. I raise my eyes to Butterfly who is visibly wringing her hands now.

“O… open it,” she says. Put her out of her misery, Grey. I take the portfolio out of the box and open it…

… And my breath is snatched out of my body.

The first thing I see is my wife’s swollen bare belly, cradled top and bottom by both of her hands. She’s naked—I think—except for a white shirt. The picture, taken in black and white, is cropped so that you can’t see her face and only to the ends of her thighs just above her knees, but her beautiful mahogany locks fall in large barrel curls over her breasts. She’s sitting up in a bed, cradled in pillows, and you can see enough of her mouth to know that she’s turning away from the camera. It’s an extremely intimate shot, and I know why she’s wringing her hands, but I can’t focus on that. I can only focus on the fact that I can barely find the words or the breath to tell her how exquisite this picture is.

I raise my eyes adoringly to her. Timid blue eyes look back at admiring gray and I look back down at the picture. I outline her lips, her hand, and her swollen belly with my fingertip—almost able to feel her delicate skin on mine. I touch my finger to my lips and my eyes sting a bit. This moment… this beautiful, priceless moment… captured on film…

“There’s more…” Her soft voice only slightly breaks the trance that I’m in with this breathtaking photograph, but I manage to rip my eyes from it and move the first picture to the side while attempting to steel myself for the next.

I couldn’t.

She’s standing in this one—posing, obviously nude. The background is black and she is standing to the far right of the picture. Her body is covered with a very sheer blanket of fine blue material that she holds over her breasts and under her baby bump, the remainder of it cascades over her body and dragging the floor carelessly behind her like a train. Her outer leg is bent for the pose and you can see her skin through the fabric. Her face is cropped again, and only one or two escaped tresses graze her shoulder. The picture is pure and provocative at the same time, and I’m speechless once again. I can only release a short sigh, like it’s my last breath. My wife is so beautiful, so breathtaking, so exquisite…

The third picture makes me want to take her right where she is right at this very moment. Set on a white background, my wife is sitting in an expensive upholstered chair, her butt right on the edge. She’s wearing what appears to be a sheer, black, halter maxi-dress, but it falls open over the chair and cascades to the floor, revealing her entire baby bump and the rest of her body, hiding only her ass and breasts from the camera. Her feet are crossed in front of her, but she’s on her toes—a very sexy and demure showcase of her fabulous legs! She leans on one hand on the chair while the other rests on her baby bump. Her neck is revealed in this picture and like all the pictures before it, her face is cropped. It. Is. Stunning! And I have found a word for this one.

“Mine!” I say, hungrily, looking into her eyes and holding up the picture for her to see. She giggles sweetly and her tension immediately seeps from her body. When I drop my eyes to the see the next picture underneath, I can’t avoid the tear that escapes my eye. It’s a silhouette—a profile of just her torso down to half her hip on a white background. Dainty lace panties grace her hip while a lace gown drapes her body, her bare arm at her side and her hands cupped under our children. Curls cascade down her back and her face is once again cropped from the picture. Once again, I’m at a total loss of words.

“Christian?” Her voice sounds angelic. I never raise my eyes from the picture.

“How?” I breathe, my voice cracking. “How can you possibly make me love you… more than I already do?”

I gaze at the picture cradling it in my hands like the precious treasure that it is. They’re all captivating and stunning, but this one… I don’t know. This one is…

“… Spiritual.”

It’s the only word I can think of. It’s beyond heavenly, and ethereal seems too commonplace… so it must be spiritual. I look up at her and she’s weeping, too, covering her mouth so that her cries don’t resound through the room. I leave the portfolio and go to her, gathering her in my arms and cradling her in my chest, my tears falling into her hair. I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m not sad, it’s just really very touching and beautiful. My gift is going to suck donkey butt compared to this.

“There’s one more,” she says softly. Oh, shit, there’s more?

“I’m not sure I could take more, Butterfly,” I say, honestly. The last one was so… much!

“I wanted you to have one that you could put in your office… if you wanted.” In my office? I turn around and look at the last picture still sitting in the portfolio. No face again, but this one is wholesomely pure and innocent. She looks to be sitting in a window seat somewhere, wearing a red cotton dress with her legs crossed, cradling the babies as usual. Her hair is shorter—in tight curls—and her baby bump looks smaller. This picture looks like it may have been taken earlier in her pregnancy. She’s been planning this gift for months. And now that I look at it, all of the pictures appear to have different levels of firmness or roundness to her form.

“Are these… different stages?” I ask her. She’s nods shyly, gently wiping the tears from her cheeks.

“This was the oldest,” she says, pointing to the picture in the red dress. “Each one is about three weeks to a month apart. This is most recent.” She points to the one in the black halter, where she’s sexy and round and thick and oh so fuckable.

“Yeah!” I say, unable to hide my hungry growl. I like my wife’s curves. I’ve always been partial to petite women, but Ana’s thighs and hips… heaven help me! I’ll love her any way she looks, but her thickness is delicious.

“I’m going to miss this,” I say, grabbing her thigh and squeezing it firmly.

“Who says it’s going anywhere?” she says matter-of-factly. I raise my eyebrow.

“Don’t tease me, woman,” I warn, and she shivers a bit.

“You actually like this?” she asks surprised. I scoff.

“I love this, baby,” I reply, “but I’m biased, because I’ll love you however you look.” She twists her lips.

“You’re just saying that,” she says. I frown.

“You don’t believe me?” I say, a little stung. “You really don’t believe me?” She studies me for a moment before she answers.

“Yes,” she breathes, “I do.”

“Do you really?” Her first reaction smarted a bit. Surely she knows I’ll love her no matter what. She nods slowly.

“I do,” she says softly, convincing. Don’t scare me like that! I kiss her gently on her hand.

“Your gift is Prince Charming and mine’s going to be Quasimodo now,” I say, a bit forlorn.

“I highly doubt that,” she says. “Your gifts are always exquisite and well thought out, even the ones that you consider ‘small.’” She does the finger quotes on the word small. I sigh. Amazingly, my gift comes in a portfolio, too, but I still think it pales in comparison to the treasure that she’s given me.

“None of them show… your face. Why?” I ask, softly. “Concept?” Her smile fades.

“Partially,” she confesses, looking down at the pictures in my hand. “The idea was to capture the beauty of my body… of the pregnancy, to focus on the splendor of the event.”

“You succeeded,” I say breathily. I’ve never seen more captivating, heart-stopping photos in my life. Well, maybe some of our wedding photos are a very, very close second, but nothing compares to these. I look up at her and realize that there’s more. “What else?”

“My face isn’t in them because…” She pauses and begins to wring her hands again. “…You didn’t take them.”

It takes me a moment. I look at the pictures again. She didn’t want her face in the pictures because I didn’t take them? I don’t understand. I look back up at her for some sort of clue, yet she gives me none but the nervous ringing of her hands.

… The same wringing that she was doing before I opened the package.

Someone else saw my wife’s naked body, and she was certain that I would flip out when I saw the pictures—that I would overlook all this beauty and splendor and focus on the photographer. That’s my fault. I’m ashamed, but not. I want her to know that she’s mine, that I love and want and value and treasure her so much that I don’t want another man laying eyes on her or having her, desiring her or taking her from me; but that same possessiveness almost cost me the priceless, ageless gift that I’m holding now.

I crawl over to my beautiful Butterfly and crouch on my knees on the floor in front of her. Taking both of her hands in mine, I kiss her knuckles and brush her fingers against my cheek. No more wringing these delicate hands, pretty one.

“I don’t care who took the pictures,” I say, looking up into her trepidatious blue eyes. “I don’t know what to say. ‘Thank you’ is not enough. There isn’t a man in the world as lucky and blessed and happy as I am right now. You give me so much and I struggle to match your offerings…”

“Christian!” she says in shock. “How can you say that? You’ve given me more mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually than any one person that I’ve ever known—and that’s very hard for me to say, considering the person that Raymond Steele is.” She holds her head down, shaking it from side to side. “I could never compare the two of you, because I love you both so much in different ways. You’ve both given me so, so much. Daddy came along and gave me his name and his home, then you came along and gave me a name and a home of my own. Daddy showed me how a man should love, cherish, respect, and treat a woman—with both of his wives, and you came along and became that man for me. I’ve always hoped to live a comfortable life, but this?” Her eyes grow large as she runs them over the mansion and lands them back onto me.

“You give me things that Daddy couldn’t give me though, Christian. You do things to my body, mind, and soul that no other man ever has, ever can, or ever will be able to do or make me feel.” Her fingers gently caress my hair above my ear, sending jolts of heat through my body. “You’re beautiful—a masterpiece formed straight from the hands of God, and you’re all mine.”

I rise to my knees so that my face meets hers, sultry blue eyes gazing into my salacious grays. Her fingers continue to gently caress my cheek, my ears, my neck, my hair… Sparks fire in my body as my hands glide over her hips. She parts her thighs and wraps her legs around me. Her lips brush my cheek and she kisses me just beneath my ear and softly nips my earlobe. I gasp at the sensation and strangely feel a tugging more in my chest than my groin. I pull her closer to me, enveloping my family in my arms.

“Soon, I’ll be able to see the greatest gift of all,” she whispers in my ear, “the two beautiful children that you have planted in me, allowed and trusted me to nurture all these months; given me the privilege to bring them into this world and love them and watch them grow… with you…”

“Baby, please…” She’s filling me with so much love that I honestly don’t think I can hold anymore. I close my eyes because I feel light-headed, and I feel her gentle lips caress my neck, my cheek, my chin, and finally, my lips. She tastes like sweet honey and I sink in allowing her to control the pace and intensity of the kiss. She pulls back, brushing her lips with mine and I feel bereft. I need her. I need more of her… now.

“You give me more than I can measure,” she says. “I am and forever will be the lucky one.”

With those words, we are locked in a kiss that transcends space and time. She is everything, and I love her beyond measure. If I could sink into her and become one person, I would be content to die there inside her being. There in the family room, she unbuttons my shirt and pushes it off my shoulders. I quickly undo the cufflinks while she thrust her hands back into my hair, hungrily kissing me once more. I relieve her of her sweater and bra and we sit there, skin to skin, both naked from the waist up caressing and kissing and working each other into a fevered frenzy. After an eternity—or a nanosecond—I pull a fraction away from her face.

“You haven’t opened your present yet, Mrs. Grey,” I breathe against her lips. She’s panting, hungry, gazing into my eyes. The fire flickers off her skin and sparkles in her irises and I can clearly read her desire, even this close.

“I’m opening it now,” she whispers, pulling my mouth back to hers.


ANASTASIA

So far, Christmas Eve has been marked with the continuing tradition of my wonderful cookie bake, Christmas songs, old Christmas movies, and a new tradition of earth-shattering sex! Last year, it was Santa Baby. This year, it was so much of us giving ourselves to each other that once we reached our pinnacles, we were both empty and spent as well as overflowing. I swear that the fire from the fireplace reached out and engulfed us both and we became phoenixes flying around observing the spectacle on some extraterrestrial plain, and when it was all over, Jason was waking us on Christmas morning tossing throws over us so that we could get our naked asses out of the middle of the family room floor.

I don’t even remember coming down.

Eventually, Christian gave me the gift he intended for me to open last night. It’s a babymoon scheduled for just after the new year. It’s a MamaLove retreat with so many activities for Mom, Mom and baby, and Mom and Dad that I’d never be able to go to them all. The retreat lasts from a weekend to seven days, however long we choose to stay. Christian assures me that everything is optional, but that he has been informed by several experts—his mother included—that I will need serious decompression and relaxation before the babies are born, and he wants to make sure that I get it. Just like I said, his gifts are always exquisite… and thoughtful.

We start Christmas morning with a magnificent Christmas brunch with the six usual suspects—myself and Christian, Gail and Jason, and Keri and Chuck. This morning we are also joined by Al and James. As James has vowed not to go back to Arizona again, we have invited him and Al to spend Christmas with us. Our magnificent meal consists of maple granola with fruit and nuts; ricotta, rosemary, and tomato mini quiche; eggnog coffee cake muffins; baked pumpkin cream cheese French toast; cinnamon crescent twists; tomato-cheddar strata with broccoli; maple-sage pork sausage; Belgian waffles; garlic potatoes; cardamom cake with coffee glaze; and pomegranate-apple cocktails as well as your choice of gourmet coffee. I splurged and chose a white coffee spiced with cinnamon and cardamom.

I am perfectly stuffed when we decide to go upstairs and change so that we can take Chuck to the Fairmont for what he thinks is a simple afternoon of gift exchange and later, dinner with his parents.  I want to wear something somewhat dressy that will phase easily into dinner with the Greys, so I opt for a simple but classy black maternity halter maxi-dress with a chain-necklace collar. It has a racer-cut design with a front split and a zip back with cut out detail. My accessories consist of a black oversized vintage Chanel jet crystal cuff bracelet, Allen Schwartz gold embellished bangles on the other arm, butterfly stud earrings in rose gold and white with black diamonds, and a ridiculously expensive Hermes black Birkin tote with gold hardware—all Christmas gifts from Christian this year. The Birkin alone was five figures—more than twenty grand—which I think is utterly insane! We could have stocked the pantries of Helping Hands for a year with that money! Then my husband reminds me that we’re billionaires and that this is one of the trappings of wealth… being able to spend ridiculous money on things that we just want. He also reminds me that Grace wouldn’t accept the money anyway, so I should just enjoy my ridiculously expensive purse.

My ankles aren’t swollen today, so I opt for a pair of suede, lace-up peep-toe stiletto booties and slip into my long, rose fine-knit Dolman-sleeve cardigan for a pop of color against the black. My husband is dressed in an Armani shirt and slacks and a pair of dress shoes, probably Armani, too—very simple and tasteful… and hot. Then again, the man could make a potato sack look good.

“Mrs. Grey, you look divine, but I’m afraid those shoes won’t last through the day,” he warns, examining my stilettos.

“Well, I’m only going to wear them while they’re comfortable,” I reply. “If they start to hurt or bother me, I’ll take them off.”

“I don’t want you to take a spill and hurt yourself,” he scolds. I fist my hands at my hips.

“I haven’t forgotten how to walk, Christian!” I snap, slightly affronted. He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” he acquiesces. “I was just concerned; I wasn’t trying to say that you couldn’t wear them.” I put my head down.

“I know,” I whine. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.” I see his feet move closer to me and his finger under my chin. He lifts my eyes to his.

“Hey,” he says softly. “None of that. This is a happy day, and you look absolutely breathtaking.” He plants a small kiss on my lips, causing me to blush and smile a bit. “I like this. It’s very pretty.” He caresses my “Elsa” braid as it flows over my shoulder.

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“Thank you,” I say softly. He extends his elbow to me.

“Shall we go, Mrs. Grey?” he says with his award-winning 32-teeth blinding white smile. I take his arm and smile widely.

“We shall, Mr. Grey,” I reply and he leads me out of the room.

*-*

Maddie and Nelson are waiting in the lobby of the Fairmont when we arrive in the early afternoon. Al and James have gone on to Bellevue and will meet us there with the rest of the family, including Daddy, Mandy, and little Harry. Chuck is in great spirits as he and Keri walk through the lobby towards his parents. He insisted on just using his crutches today, vowing to take a seat if he gets too tired. The hotel staff has stashed away his wheelchair just in case to keep Keri from having a coronary. It would be a shame in this Bodycon round neck short sleeve bowknot black and white dress that she’s wearing with leather stilettos similar to mine. She really looks stunning. Not to be outdone, Chuck sports a blue designer suit and burgundy silk tie. His parents look just as dashing in formal dinner wear as they greet us with hugs and smiles.

“You’re looking extremely beautiful, today Keri,” Nelson says. “What are you doing hanging out with this mug?”

We laugh light-heartedly as Keri humbly thanks Nelson for the compliment and we head toward the elevators.

The Fairmont Olympic prides itself on its holiday decorations. I believe they have more Christmas trees in this place than we have in the mansion, and that says a lot because we have a lot of trees. The largest tree is in the lobby, of course. It’s quite beautiful and stands two stories tall. Various smaller trees grace the lobby as well, intricately decorated and displaying various placards describing sponsors, donors, or honorariums. Santa’s Workshop is just off to the right, complete with a life-sized Santa checking his list.

The elevator ride is quiet and once we reach the second floor, the noise from the Garden makes it clear that something is amiss.

“Is there a party going on up here?” Chuck asks.

“Of course, there is,” Nelson says. “It’s Christmas, Chuckie.” Chuck shrugs like it’s obvious and we continue to around the corner to the large ballroom known as the Garden. A large glass wall of 30-foot Palladian windows floods the room with gorgeous natural light while beautiful, lush tropical foliage and a running waterfall brings the outdoors indoors. The middle of the room is a parquet dance floor; several tables around the outside are filled with chattering guests.

Within a moment, a net is released from the ceiling and black and white balloons fall over the room while a larger than life banner unfurls to reveal the words “Welcome Back, Chuckie!” The room explodes in applause and a stunned Charles and even more stunned Keri don’t quite know how to react. The guests in the ballroom begin to make their way to the guest of honor, and recognition slowly grows over his face. He’s finally seeing his family.

“It’s Christmas, Chuckie,” Nelson says again. “Of course, there’s a party.”

Chuck smiles widely and embraces his father again before the mass of people converge upon him. I see him grab Keri’s hand quickly so as not to lose her in the crowd and the hugs and introductions begin. Christian quickly sweeps me out of the way as Jason does Gail so that we aren’t caught in the stampede. Chuck is in heaven. I can see his blue eyes sparkling all that way from here. He won’t get out of that crowd for several minutes, nor do I think he wants to.

“We better go,” I whisper to Christian. He looks down at me and nods. He waves to get Nelson’s attention, and he and Maddie join us away from the crowd.

“Can’t you stay for a while, maybe meet some of the family?” Nelson asks, and Maddie’s eyes beseech us as well.

“I wish we could,” he says, glancing over at Chuck. “He’s been really waiting for this. He almost gave up.” He looks back at Nelson. “My parents and grandfather are waiting for us. We’ll try to get back early if we can. Either way, either we or one of the staff will be back to get Chuck and Keri in the SUV when he’s ready to go. You’ll let him know?” Nelson nods.

“You’re a good man, Christian,” Nelson says, shaking his hand firmly. “A good friend to my son. Thank you.”

“My pleasure, sir,” Christian says, before putting his arm around me. “Our pleasure.” Nelson releases his hand and takes mine, kissing my knuckles like a true gentleman.

“Thank you,” he says with grateful blue eyes that look like Chuck’s and I smile.

“Anytime,” I reply, softly. He moves on to thank Jason and Gail and Maddie takes me in a warm, matronly embrace.

“I’m glad he saved your life,” she whispers in my ear before releasing me and gazing into my eyes. “I have a feeling the world is a better place with you in it.” I swallow hard, desperately fighting the tears welling in my eyes.

“That’s such a beautiful thing to say,” I squeak, my voice barely escaping my throat. She squeezes my arms and moves on to give Christian a hug. He’s still having a time hugging strangers, but he doesn’t fall all stiff and go into panic mode like he used to. He just bears it more now, like a pinch that you’re waiting to end, unless it’s someone he doesn’t mind like me or Mia or Grace or Luma… or kids. He seems to like it when children hug him. Their innocence gives him hope, I think.

We say our goodbyes and head to the door. Surely, Al and James have made it to the Greys by now and probably Mandy and Daddy, too. We had better get going.

“Christian!”

His voice bellows through the ballroom like a bullhorn and everything stops. We turn to face Chuck, hobbling quickly and masterfully across the floor on his crutches towards us. He stops short right in front of Christian and shakes his hand firmly.

“Thank you,” he says with a wide smile. “I know it was you.” He doesn’t even try to deny it.

“You’re very welcome, Chuck,” Christian says, returning his shake and surprising us all by taking Chuck in a half embrace. “Thank you,” he says before releasing him a few seconds later, “and Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, man,” Chuck says, gripping his hand firmly for a few more moments before releasing it and turning to me. He takes me in a firm embrace. “I love you,” he says, his voice cracking, and now I’m a ball of mush.

“I love you, too, Chuck,” I whisper in his ear. When he releases me, I see that he’s crying, too, and neither of us try to stop the tears. He shows equal sentiment to Jason and Gail before he and his parents return to his family reunion.

“No crying for Lady Anastasia,” Christian says as he wipes the tears from my cheeks with the handkerchief from his pocket. “It’s Christmas.”

“I’m trying,” I say softly, composing myself for the long walk across the lobby.

“Come. Let’s go enjoy the rest of our day,” he says, tucking me under his arm and leading me back to the elevators.


A/N: The movie Christian is talking about with the kid in foster care is Antwone Fischer. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

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Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 43—Eye to Eye

 

eye-contact

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 43—Eye to Eye

CHRISTIAN

“Arrogant fucking son of a bitch!” I fuss at no one as the Audi SUW drives up the I-5 to Helping Hands. Fucking asshole shows up at my place of business demanding that I tell him where his damn wife is and she had to run away from him because her baby was hungry. How blind and selfish can you be that you would let a baby suffer that way, let alone your wife who just gave birth…

“You heartless fucking savage!” I could strangle this asshole with my bare hands. He comes rattling that 1919 Ford P.O.S pickup truck with the broken and bouncing hatch sporting more rust than paint up to the front door of GEH, fresh with a black and white escort! Thank God the paps weren’t out, although I can almost guarantee that somebody got a picture.

“Somebody ought to strip him naked, tie him up, and leave him in that house for a few days!” Then maybe he’ll understand how that helpless baby felt all this time—cold, hungry, helpless! “Fucking asshole.”

It takes far too long for us to get to Helping Hands for my taste and I’m opening the door before the car even stops.

“Boss!” Jason stops me. What the fuck do you want? “Maybe we should wait and let him talk to his wife.”

“The hell I will!” I say, stepping out of the car and slamming the door behind me. Snow crunches under my Cesare Paciottis and they’re probably ruined for life as I barrel down the walkway and brush past the asshole to get to the door before he does.

“Watch your step, Grey!” he threatens.

“Fuck you!” I throw back at him, my eyes burrowing through him and waiting for a response. Receiving none, I open the door and go in search of my wife. I spot Lawrence first standing at the guard’s station with two of the armed guards.

“Where’s Ana?” I ask in a menacing voice.

“She’s in her office with…” His voice trails off as he sees Radcliff coming in behind me. He’s never met the man before, I imagine, but his stance indicates that he knows what he’s dealing with. He makes square eye contact with Radcliff and folds his arms. “She asked me to stay here with the guards and make sure that no one becomes disruptive and needs to be removed.”

“Good man,” I respond. He’s adopted his no-nonsense tone of voice and I have no doubt that he’ll bounce this motherfucker out on his ass while the cops watch. It’s a good thing Chuck’s not here… Radcliff would probably be dead by now. “Would you please let her know that we’ve arrived?”

“Smitty?” He calls to one of the security guards behind him without taking his eyes off Radcliff. “Please call Dr. Grey and let her know that her husband is here.”

“Yes, sir,” the uniformed guard responds and goes off to retrieve my wife. There’s a bit of a stare-off between Lawrence and Radcliff for a moment, before Radcliff says, “Why are you staring at me?”

“Just making sure that you don’t need any of my special attention,” Lawrence replies.

“I don’t need anything from you,” Radcliff snaps.

“See that you don’t!” Lawrence retorts. His words are sharp and his eyes are sharper. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that they knew each other before this encounter and that meeting wasn’t good. Radcliff doesn’t retreat, but clearly yields and never says another word to Lawrence, nor does he make eye contact with him.

A few moments pass and I see my beautiful wife come around the corner. What a welcome sight. Beside her is a much healthier looking Thelma Radcliff than I saw yesterday—still frail, but she’s wearing clean clothes. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail and her cheeks have more color than they did before. Butterfly hovers protectively near her, and my mother is behind them both. Mrs. Radcliff doesn’t say anything. She just looks impassively at her husband.

“Get Jimmy. Let’s go!” he orders her. She frowns at him.

“No,” she says firmly.

“No?” he asks, bemused.

“No,” she repeats. “What are you even doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at work? You know, that job that’s supposed to solve all of our problems?”

“Yeah,” he retorts, his hands flailing, “and thanks to this shit, I might have lost it now.” Mrs. Radcliff glares at him.

“This shit!” she nearly shrieks in disbelief. “This shit! You’re right! You’re absolutely right! Your wife and son living in a cold, dark house in the dead of winter, freezing and nearly starving to death is shit! Having to walk six miles in the snow in sneakers with my son wrapped in towels because I can’t even afford bus fare, that’s shit! Having a husband who will turn down good food, warm clothes and new furniture because he’s too damn proud to take a handout, that’s shit! This whole damn situation is shit—shit shit shit!” She is livid and losing control, but I get the feeling that she has needed to lose control for a long time.

“Watch your mouth,” he says in a menacing tone.

“Watch yours!” she shoots back, unmoved by his tone.

“Thelma…” Butterfly says. Mrs. Radcliff takes a few deep breaths to calm herself.

“That’s enough of this now, Thelma,” Radcliff says. “Let’s go.”

“Didn’t you hear me the first time, Jim?” she says, now calm and raising her head to her bully husband. “We’re not going anywhere, least of all, back to that cold, dark house with no food. My son is sleeping—in a crib. He drank a bottle today, the whole thing, and then he burped and went to sleep. He didn’t cry himself to sleep because my breast wouldn’t give him milk. I took a nap today on a real mattress, not a busted up piece of cotton and springs stuffed with whatever clothes we could find. No, Jim, we won’t be going back to that house with you.”

“So this is how you treat your husband?” he scolds. “You defy him and belittle him in front of other people. My opinion means noth—“

“Oh, save that submissive wife crap, James, it’s getting old!” she growls. Butterfly and I glance at each other for a moment, but realize that the whole submissive concept that she’s talking about is completely different than what we practice. “You still haven’t answered my question. What are you doing home in the middle of the day? You barely have two pennies to rub together to keep that bucket of bolts running back and forth to your job once a day, let alone twice, so what was so dire that you had to stop and come home?”

Yeah, come to think of it, what was so dire? Was he bringing food to his family? He’s not answering her question, so she folds her arms. “Well?” she says, expecting and he still doesn’t answer. Butterfly looks at me, questioning.

“He said he was coming home for lunch and he found them gone,” I say to my wife, but loud enough for his wife to hear me. “That’s when he showed up at my place of business with the police and basically accused me of kidnapping.” He narrows his eyes at me like I’ve said something wrong and he wants to beat the hell out of me. Go ahead, make a move, Sport!

“You came home for lunch?” Mrs. Radcliff says, bemused. “There’s nothing in the house to eat! Why were you…” A look of cold realization comes over her face. I know that look. I know it well. Her feelings are clearly reflected in her eyes—the same feelings I had when I discovered that the Pedophile had controlled me for 14 years. She’s had an epiphany—a horrible, soul-shaking, life-changing epiphany.

“You came back to make sure they didn’t return,” she says, her voice cold, “to make sure they didn’t bring me anything.” When he doesn’t respond, she looks down, shakes her head and sighs. “We would have died in that house,” she says, more to herself than to anyone else, but we all hear her. “We really would have died in that house. Unbelievable,” she adds with a tragic laugh. “UN-fucking-believable.” She turns to Officer Lockhart and squares her shoulders.

“I’m fine, officer,” she says. “My son and I weren’t kidnapped. I came here on my own free will. I asked Dr. Steele-Grey and Dr. Trevelyan-Grey to please take my baby if they couldn’t take me because he was starving and I could no longer produce milk. Dr. Trevelyan-Grey assured me that she could help us both, so we will be staying here until I can get on my feet and take care of myself.”

“The hell you will!” Radcliff barks. Lockhart looks at him, then back at Mrs. Radcliff.

“Ma’am, are you being abused?” Lockhart asks.

“Does she look like she’s being abused?” Radcliff barks.

“I said ma’am. Are those cuffs looking good to you again?” Lockhart glares at Radcliff. He frowns back at the officer, but quiets immediately. He turns back to Mrs. Radcliff.

Ma’am,” he repeats, “are you being abused?”

“Physically, no,” she responds, “but my baby and I are being denied basic necessities like food and a warm, comfortable place to live in winter. My husband can’t provide these things right now and he turns away any help that I secure for us. It’s my understanding that if I can’t provide these basic necessities for my son that the state can take him away from me. So I’m meeting with a social worker today to secure food, proper medical care, housing, and financial assistance for me and my son.”

“You’re right, ma’am,” Lockhart says. “The state can remove the child if you fail to care for him.” Mrs. Radcliff nods.

“Another welfare mother,” Radcliff hisses. “Well, not my son. She can’t keep my son from me and he’s not staying here. She can stay if she wants, but she can’t have my son.” Lockhart looks to my wife and my mother.

“Is there any kind of custody order in place?” Lockhart asks.

“No,” Butterfly says, “Thelma will be speaking to a social worker in about twenty minutes, where she will be describing the squalor and famine that she escaped this morning to save her son’s life. Her statement along with Dr. Trevelyan-Grey’s statement concerning her examining Jimmy and his physical condition and my statement of my examination of and session with Thelma and her physical and mental condition will become part the record and testimony should this situation go to a court trial. Let it be known that we were matched to this family by the Greater Seattle Adopt-a-Family Coalition. As a doctor, I’m bound by law to report any cases of abuse or neglect of a child that I witness. When I saw the living conditions of that four-week-old child, I was calling Child Services this morning just when Thelma walked in the door begging for help.”

“So?” Radcliff retorts defiantly. “What does that mean?” He turns to the officer.

“It means that by law, we can’t force her to give you the child,” Lockhart says.

“And the short translation of the rest of what the good doctor said,” Santiago adds, “is that in twenty minutes, she’s starting a paper trail to show that she’s been living in squalor and trying to take care of her son and you’ve been hindering her so that if you attempt to petition the court for custody, it won’t look too good for you because this information will be a matter of record.”

“On the contrary, her paper trail started in October when she signed up for the Adopt-A-Family coalition,” Butterfly interjects.

“Oh, it goes back further than that,” Mrs. Radcliff laments. Just how long have they been living like this? What kind of monster is this guy?

“Oh… really? Well, then I think you get the idea,” Santiago says dismissively to Radcliff.

“So what happens if I just go through this place, find my son, and take him with me? Just like I don’t have a custody order, neither does she. That means you can’t stop me from taking my son.”

“Let’s say for the sake of argument that you did that,” my mother says, coming around from behind me and Butterfly and moving next to Mrs. Radcliff. My mother somehow stands taller as she steps in front of me. Peeptoe high-heel sandals make her legs look longer in a wine-colored pants suit with cigarette legs and a short jacket. She folds her arms and faces off with Mr. Radcliff.

“Let’s say that I, as the director of this center, am telling you that you are not allowed beyond this room without express permission from the proper personnel; that if you decide to go beyond this room tonight or any moment hereafter that you will be guilty of trespassing. Let’s say that you forego that information and choose to attempt to proceed beyond this room anyway, at which point, any one of the numerous security personnel that we have on staff here as well as any one of these well-trained personal bodyguards would most likely tackle you to the ground face first and hold you there until the police can arrest you and charge you with trespassing. Seeing that you have already brought the police with you,” Mom gestures to the officers, “we can assume that process won’t take long.

“However,” my mother continues, shifting her weight to her other foot and now moving her hands to her hips, “let’s just say that by some miracle, you still managed to get past all of the security personnel and trained bodyguards and you scooped little Jimmy up from his warm, comfortable bed and took him back to that hell that you call a home. You would no sooner get your foot past the threshold before the police and child services would be there to take him away from you. At that point you would be charged with child endangerment and willful neglect and would have to find some way to make bail. Then your beautiful baby boy would end up in foster care instead of with his loving mother who is doing her very best to take care of him because you so selfishly would not allow anyone to help you or her.

“So just for the sake of argument,” she now clasps her hands in front of her, “that’s what would happen if you just ‘went through this place and took your son,’ but make no mistake, Mr. Radcliff. I am not remiss to tell you in front of all of these witnesses that I will personally put this stiletto heel right through your throat before I would allow you to take that newborn baby back to a cold, dark house with no food and I will gladly spend time in a jail cell because if it!”

“Mom!” I exclaim before I can catch myself.

“Quiet, Christian!” she shoots without breaking her glance with Radcliff. “What’s it going to be, Mr. Radcliff? You can go toe-to-toe with any one or several of these men, but in the end, you’ll still have to get past me.”

He won’t even get to you, Mother, but I’ll let it go for right now.

anti_bullyingRadcliff looks at my mother with an expression that I can’t quite read. It’s… curious, I think, like he doesn’t know what to make of her. The bully, it appears, has left the building. His power has been stripped from him and he’s like a fish out of water. He looks beyond all of us and his gaze settles on his wife.

“So this is really how you want to play this,” Radcliff says to her.

“No, James, this is how you want to play this,” she replies. “I never called the police—you did. I just went somewhere that would help my baby. You would really let us live like that? Your wife and newborn child? No food? No phone? No heat? In the dead of winter?” Everyone in the room is now either staring at Mrs. Radcliff with sympathy or glaring at Radcliff in disgust. Wait a minute… didn’t he say yesterday that they had heat?

“I tried to get help and every time I tried, you turned it away—why? Because you’re too proud to accept a handout. My baby was sleeping in a dresser drawer. I was sleeping in a bed with springs poking me in my back four weeks after delivery, yet you turn away a brand new bed and crib. I’m washing my baby’s clothes in the sink with cold water and face soap and you turn away a washer and dryer and laundry supplies. Luckily, they had this center to take that months’ worth of food you wouldn’t accept even though it appears that I’m starving and 20 pounds lighter than my pre-baby weight less than a month after delivery—or have you been too blinded by your pride to even notice?”

Food, a bath, and a change of clothes have given Mrs. Radcliff the strength that she needs to stand up to her husband and tell him what she really thinks of him—how she feels for what he has put her and their baby through. He stands silent, listening to her rant about not eating for days and sneaking food from the neighbors so that she could produce milk to keep their baby alive. She prayed that the hospital would keep them for just one day so that she could get a decent meal. She stole food from the hospital trays and rationed it out—that’s how she survived for a few days until the food ran out. The whole story is really sad and pathetic.

“I was drawn to your strength once,” she tells him. “I felt that you would always hold me up. You would always have my back and never let me fall. I never knew that strength meant that if things got rough, you would let me die before you let me ask for help.” Radcliff’s face softens for the first time during his wife’s tirade, and I think she has finally hit a nerve. “Is this what you meant?” she asks, her voice cracking. “Is this what you meant when you told my mother on her deathbed that you would take care of me?” The tears fall freely from her face now and Radcliff suddenly looks broken.

“Thelma, no…” he says, his voice cracking as he reaches for her, but the damage is done. She raises her hands, avoiding his touch, weeping openly as she takes two steps back—away from her husband.

“I took care of Jimmy,” she says through her sobs. “Whatever happens to me, I took care of Jimmy. Dr. Grace says that h-he’s healthy and I d-did a good job. I a-asked them t-to t-take Jimmy and take c-care of J-Jimmy because m-my milk stopped a-a-and I c-couldn’t take c-care of Jimmy… anymore and th-they took us b-both.”

“Baby, please…” Radcliff tries to appeal to his wife, but she’s having none of it.

“No!” she squeaks through her tears. “Dr. … Dr. Ana says that… i-if I eat right and… e-exercise that I might gain my healthy weight back in a month or so and… I should be producing m-milk again in n-no time. They c-could have taken m-my baby away f-from me. Th-they could have s-said th-that I was an unfit m-mother, but they di-didn’t. They s-saw that I n-needed help and they h-helped me. So you ch-chose your p-pride over us… and I choose my baby over you!”

She spits the last part out before she turns around and buries her face in Grace’s chest and weeps bitterly. Grace holds her protectively, like a broken child, one hand on her hair and the other around her back. She’s glaring at Radcliff, not in a threatening way, but in a manner that warns him that it wouldn’t be a good idea for him to try anything unwise. He stands there silently gazing at his weeping wife. Lockhart puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Mr. Radcliff,” the officer says, gaining his attention. Radcliff turns sad eyes to him. “You should go now, sir.”

Radcliff looks back at his wife, then at the officer and nods.

“If I may,” Santiago adds. Radcliff raises his eyes to him. “My opinion may not mean anything to you, and that’s fine if it doesn’t; but if you want any hope of salvaging this situation and I’m not saying that there is any, you better learn the meaning of one very important word—humility.”

Radcliff stares for a moment, then he bows his head and leaves with no resistance. The officers talk briefly with my mother, Mrs. Radcliff, and Butterfly before they follow Mr. Radcliff. My mom nods to Ana and takes a still weeping Mrs. Radcliff away somewhere in the Center. I can’t help but gather my wife in my arms and hold her close to me. How could he be so selfish? So cruel? His wife and child were dying—how could he not see that? I could never… but I did. I did once… when Ana was falling apart right after the fundraiser fiasco. God forgive me… please don’t let me ever do that again.

“We men can be such assholes,” I murmur in her hair as I kiss her head repeatedly.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” she says, looking up at me. “It doesn’t last… usually.” I smile at her and kiss her nose.

“I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.” I hold her hand and walk her back to her office.

“Tell me what happened with Courtney,” I say when we get there.

“The same thing, minus the threats,” she says as she slowly sits in her seat. “I think she wanted to cooperate—to be my ‘slave,’ so to speak…” She makes those finger quotes to drive her point home. “… But that was never the purpose of the exercise. If she could have seen this woman, how she stood up to that man and got help for her child, she would have understood what I was trying to show her. He never touched her, never beat her, but he had her in a mental prison. She didn’t want to leave because in spite of everything, she loves him and wants to be a good wife. But he couldn’t be a good father and husband, so she chose being a good mother over being a good wife—and it broke her heart.”

“You’ll never have to make that choice, baby,” I tell her, still feeling the need to wring Radcliff’s neck.

“I know,” she says, sweetly, “but we both know that women, mothers, families are struggling every day. Most people aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths and quite frankly, I hope Courtney chokes on hers, although that might not be an issue soon.”

“Oh?” I ask, curious.

“The main reason that she showed up today is because her grandmother is not speaking to her. She hasn’t been since Saturday. Add to that her little tête-à-tête with you and she’s scared shitless. I’d wager that Addie is about to send her back to her parents.” That would be fantastic, although I would still keep that bitch under watch.

“Serves her right,” I say. “She doesn’t know how to behave around normal people, send her back to the riff-raff she’s accustomed to dealing with.”

“Where does she come from, Christian?” I shrug. I don’t really know where she comes from, but if she’s going back, I better find out so that I can have security keep an eye on her.

“I know she’s from some terrible place back east because the Wilsons always made it seem like they rescued her from a fate worse than death, but I never found out exactly where—somewhere in Kentucky, I think. I’ll have Welch find out for sure. Of course, you know, I still don’t trust the bitch.”

“I don’t care about her anymore,” she says. “She left here crying.” What?

“Crying? Those crocodile tears like when she accused my sister of stealing?”

“No, I think I really hurt her feelings. Take that back home with you, Melon Girl.” I nod.

“So now, I’m really going to find out where the hell she’s going.” Butterfly frowns, waiting for elaboration. “Baby, on top of possibly stripping her of her fortune, you stripped her of her pride.” She scoffs quietly.

“She stripped herself,” Butterfly retorts, “but I know what you mean—she won’t see it that way. She’ll blame me. Do what you must, husband, and I’ll be ready.”

“That’s why I love you.” She smiles. “Have you had lunch?”

“No, I haven’t. Would you like to take me somewhere?”

“Shouldn’t you wait to speak to Mrs. Radcliff’s social worker?” I ask. She frowns in recollection.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” she laments.

“We can have something delivered. Unlike some husbands, I would love to spend my lunch break feeding my wife and children.” She giggles sweetly and nods. Just then, my mother comes breezing into the office.

“She’s talking to the social worker now,” Mom says. “She’ll have us paged when it’s time to talk to us. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“On the contrary, Mother,” I say, standing from my chair, “What was that? Were you trying to get me arrested? If that gorilla had even flinched in your direction, I would be in cuffs right now. What’s the deal with egging him on?”

“I wasn’t egging him on, Christian, I was challenging him,” she corrects me. “Most bullies aren’t accustomed to people standing up to them, so when it’s time to put up or shut up, they usually shut up. He’s a classic bully. He uses words and bravado to push his way into situations, and most people back down from him. With Thelma, his weapon was her love and loyalty. However, when it comes to Jimmy, her love and loyalty is stronger. And for the record, young Mr. Grey,” she folds her arms and takes that stance again, “you all may not know it, but I hold a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.”

What. The. Fuck. Who is this woman and what has she done with my mother?

“What?” I exclaim. “Since when!?”

“Since I was sixteen,” she says, flippantly. “Why do you think I insisted on an instrument, a language, and a martial art—just to keep you flexible?”

“When do you practice?” I ask.

“Every weekend,” she says. “You just assumed that since I’m your mother, all I do is fix children and bake, but no… I confront and take down bullies, too. Trust me, he wouldn’t have gotten past that doorway, but I’ve seen his kind before. He wouldn’t have even tried.”

“So why did you let Mia off the hook?” I say with my hands on my hips. She frowns.

“Let her off the hook?” she asks, bemused. “I was under the impression that you enjoyed kickboxing, Christian.”

“Well, I do, but you still said that we all had to take up a martial art, and she didn’t have to…” I protest, like it’s going to do any good now.

“I couldn’t twist her arm,” Mom retorts. “If she wasn’t going to fight, what was I going to do—force her? Besides, she eventually came around.”

“Since when?” I ask incredulously, my voice several octaves higher than its normal tone.

“Since she saw me take my trainer down in the backyard once summer and decided that she wanted to be bad ass like her mom,” Mom says with a smirk. Son of a bitch—little, playful Mia. No wonder she effortlessly beat the hell out of the Pedophile last year. She was probably practicing.

“How proficient is she?” I ask.

“She’s a brown belt now,” Mom says. How did I not know this? “You underestimate the women in your life,” Mom adds, as if she were answering my question. Butterfly clears her throat, but doesn’t raise her head.

“Lunch, Mrs. Grey,” I order.

“I didn’t say anything,” she defends.

*-*

I go into the community room of the center in search of Jason. I run into Lawrence first.

“Where’s Jason?” I ask him.

“He’s over there.” He points to a small area off in the corner that looks to be another guard’s station—or it used to be a guard’s station. “He’s having a heated conversation with the vessel that delivered his child.” I frown.

“That’s a colorful and not very flattering way to refer to her,” I say with little sincerity.

“I’m being as respectful as I can only because she’s Sophie’s mother. Jason is supposed to get holidays with Sophie and apparently after ‘Thanksgiving with the Greys’ was foiled, Shalane is throwing a monkey wrench into Christmas.”

“She’s using us as a reason to keep him away from Sophie?” I ask, appalled. He shakes his head.

“No,” he says, “she’s been doing this for years.” God, that’s got to be torture! I can’t imagine having children and not being able to spend the holidays with them because my ex-wife is a spiteful, vengeful…

“Mrs. Grey would like a chicken Caesar salad. Any ideas where she can get one around here?” I ask.

“I’ll take care of it. Anything for you, sir?”

“If you can find it, a stacked club sandwich and some fries… and bring us some cola, lemonade, and some ginger tea if you can find it.”

“Will do.” He turns to leave.

“Do you mind if I ask you something, Lawrence?” He stops and turns his attention back to me, a little shocked by my question.

“Yes, sir?”

“Why were you so cold to Radcliff when you first saw him? Not that he didn’t deserve it, but you hadn’t even seen the guy before that moment.”

“I didn’t need to see him,” he replies. “I saw her.”

Okay…

“That baby, man,” he says, familiar… like we’re old friends. He’s shaking his head in disgust. “That baby would not stop crying. He was in pain. He was cold and hungry and suffering. Of course, your first instinct is to put a bottle in his mouth, but I thought he was going to chew the nipple off with no teeth.” He shakes his head again. “His little fingers were white… almost blue. All she wanted to do was get a bottle in his mouth. She was almost dead herself. What kind of…” He trails off. “No human being should be forced to live like that! Nobody! But a newborn baby? A mother just after giving birth? I didn’t need to see him. I saw them!” And that’s all he needed to say.

“I completely agree,” I say, patting him on the arm.


ANASTASIA

The meeting with the social worker was brutal. Poor Thelma has to basically cut all ties with her husband and draw a battle line in the sand in order to get the assistance that she needs from the state. He has effectively become the enemy and they have to treat him like a “deadbeat dad.” No better for him, allowing his wife and son to live that way!

The issue is that the requirements of the state dictate that either you’re for me or you’re against me—there’s no in between. I’ve often taken issue with “the system’s” tendency to villainize an absentee father, but in this case, they are spot on. Radcliff’s actions in turning away assistance at every turn to the detriment of his wife and child were clearly not in the best interest of his family. So, as it stands right now, Mr. Radcliff is looking at a future of visitation and child support.

This does not mean that the family is irredeemable, of course. There’s always therapy, marriage counseling, and reunification meetings if the couple decides that’s what they want to do. Ultimately, the goal is the mother and father being together and raising the child successfully as a unit, but the operative word here is successfully—the other is unit. The conditions that she was living in were deplorable, and I mean to ask her how she found herself in that situation. She mentioned something about being a submissive wife, but surely, she couldn’t have been talking about the kind of lifestyle that Christian and I practice. Her situation shouldn’t be imposed upon a dog, let alone a faithful submissive that bore your child!

In the early afternoon, Christian and I enjoy lunch at the Center while he gives me a delicious massage of my ankles and feet. They are in torment today and I don’t think I’m going to able to endure this swelling much longer. I nearly fall asleep until he reminds me that we have a session with Dr. Baker before we go to Lamaze this evening. I have to admit, I’m not looking forward to this session, but I think it’s necessary. I can’t remember the last time I spoke to Dr. Baker just now. I just remember that we usually see her on matters about our marriage. He had another therapist before… I went to him for help once and something bad happened…

Floyd…?

I remember breaking dishes and a cold park.

Quinn…?

He didn’t like me and he made it known the first time he met me. No matter—we don’t see him anymore anyway.

The session with Dr. Baker was a bit harrowing… like swallowing nasty cough syrup that refused to go down and just kept coming up in the back of your throat. I had to rehash my feelings about the spanking and explain why I put the coats at every door. Apparently, she didn’t know that part. She agreed with Christian—and Ace—that this was behavior of someone that was traumatized and she was glad to hear that I removed the coats on my own. I admitted to her—as I did Ace—that I’m still remiss to go outside without a coat, because even though the coats are no longer at every door, there’s still that mental barrier that reminds me of what happened the last time I did it. It’s not like I break into cold sweats or anything. I’m just reminded not to go outside without a coat in inclement weather. Christian didn’t like hearing that and Dr. Baker is of two minds about it. I maintain that I went outside in the cold without a coat and endangered my health and indirectly, that of my children; this is simply a reminder not to do it again. Dr. Baker agrees that, in strict construction, this is true, especially in the context of our relationship.

“However,” she adds cautiously, “if going near an external door immediately makes you think of the consequences of a spanking, I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s PTSD, Ana.”

“PTSD?” I nearly shriek. “Okay, no offense, Dr. Baker, but you’re being a bit dramatic.”

“You said it, Ana, not me,” she defends. “You’re a doctor, too. How would you define it?” I’m so glad you asked.

“Exactly like I did,” I retort. “I’m not standing at the door, trembling, shaking, unable to move, and having flashbacks of being abused. I’m reminded that when it’s cold outside, I need a coat. Yes, that memory came with a spanking, but like you said—that’s the context of our relationship. If what you say were the case, every memory-recall incident that I have is PTSD, and I have a lot of them. In case you forgot, I recently lost my memory.” I glare at her.

“You’re too close to the situation, Ana. It’s hard for you to see it.” Now, she’s placating me.

“That’s exactly why I can see it,” I reply, “because I’m in here, and you’re out there. I’m not frozen with fear and indecision when I come to an outer door, Dr. Baker. If I look outside and it’s sunny and 80 degrees, I’m not going to say, ‘oops, coat.’ That’s PTSD. The fact that it’s cold outside and I say, ‘hmm, I need a coat,’ that’s not PTSD. That’s common sense. Yes, I failed to do it once; and yes, my husband spanked me, but it’s still common sense.”

“Why are you so defensive about this?” she says in that shrink tone that I’ve sworn that I would never take with a patient. It’s that “I’m right, and we’re going to talk about this until you realize that I’m right” tone. So I’m going to stab that tone right in the throat.

“Because I’m a doctor and you just misdiagnosed me!” I say, frankly, throwing her smarmy tactic right back in her face. She sighs, knowing that she’s caught and that tone won’t work with me, but she’s still not willing to admit defeat so easily.

“And this is why doctors make the worst patients,” she laments.

“You’re right,” I concur, “doctors do make the worst patients, but you were wrong, Dr. Baker. When a doctor gives me a diagnosis that I don’t like, I may frown and get angry, but I won’t contradict them if the diagnosis is correct. I will begrudgingly accept ‘traumatized,’ because had we been talking about someone else, I would have said the same thing, but right now, you’re wrong.”

“Ana, you’re the patient. How can you be so sure?” she says, emphatically. She’s so positive that she’s right, and suddenly, his name comes to my head.

Flynn! His name was Flynn!

Well, she’s no Flynn, I’ll give her that. She’s just incorrect right now. We all make mistakes and I’m about to drive hers home. I reach for my purse and open it to the middle compartment. Christian calls my name, but he’s too late. I’m already holding my purse open so that the good doctor can see my Beretta.

“I know PTSD,” I say slowly and in a low voice while she observes my gun, then makes eye contact with me, maintaining an impassive gaze. “I have PTSD, but not with this.”

The room is silent for a moment as I close my purse and sit it next to me. I take a deep breath and look at her again.

“I was raped, brutally beaten, and left for dead at 15 years old. I was in a coma for three weeks, my guardians at the time couldn’t have cared less if I lived or died, and many days, I wished I had. I’ve lived with that and dealt with that for nearly 15 years. The situations have infiltrated every facet of my life, but I’ve managed to maintain a full, healthy life nonetheless and help others in the process. However, I don’t have that inbred sense of ‘everything’s gonna be alright’ that everyone else does. Anytime anything really scares me, I mean really spooks me, I reach for my guns. I’m trained by a Marine and a 6th Dan martial arts specialist the kill or maim a man in several ways and I can disable an assailant in six seconds no matter what his size, even while eight months pregnant. Just after we first met, Christian watched me nearly kill a man for attacking me from behind.”

She looks over at Christian and although I don’t look at him, I know he’s nodding or something in the affirmative.

“I know PTSD, Dr. Baker. Unfortunately, we’re old bedmates, and this. Is not. PTSD.”

One thing I remember about Dr. Baker is that she’s not easily intimidated, not that I was trying to intimate her. She’s also not easily impressed or swayed. So this conversation that I just had with her had no effect whatsoever.

“While I understand that horrible experience you had left you suffering from a clear and obviously severe case of PTSD, this much less traumatizing situation has left you with a few symptoms of the disorder as well. While it may not be as severe a case as what you already encounter, it is still a slight form of PTSD.”

I shake my head and smile. She’s not letting down and neither am I. She’s all or nothing. She reminds me of a doctor who wants to prescribe morphine for a splinter.

“I disagree,” I tell her, “and I’m going to leave it at that, because we are two mental health professionals that have differing opinions on this issue. The difference is that I have personal experience with this condition. Do you?” I wait for her answer. She gives none. “I didn’t think so.”

“I didn’t say ‘no,’” she says impassively.

“You didn’t say ‘yes,’” I retort, just as impassively. “I expounded on my personal experience with PTSD. As a patient and as a professional, I told you why I feel it doesn’t apply to this situation. Your turn.” I clasp my hands and give her the floor. She examines me for a moment, then speaks.

“You’re right, Dr. Grey, I don’t have any personal experience with PTSD, but that doesn’t make my diagnosis any less accurate.” I shrug.

“Well, again, I disagree with your diagnosis, both as a patient and as a professional, but I’m not going to argue with you further.”

“Understood,” she says, and just like that the conversation is over.

And when I say over, I mean over.

She and Christian continue to talk about how the punishments have affected the marriage and our communication and lack thereof. While I show no hostility, I offer absolutely no participation. After about ten minutes, she acknowledges this fact.

“Nothing to say, Mrs. Grey?”

“No,” I say, matter-of-factly. Christian looks at me.

“Baby?” he says, examining my eyes. I give him a clear, guileless expression and he doesn’t know what to make of it, so he turns to Dr. Baker.

“Mrs. Grey has shut down,” she announces, kind of like it’s a shortcoming on my part, but I don’t even feel any animosity about it. He looks at me again, his brow furrowed.

“She’s right,” I say flatly and Christian gasps a bit. “You see, what we should be talking about right now is that I punished you based on one set of facts that you gave me. You left out some crucial details that would have affected the punishment that I imposed, most likely making it less severe. I’m having a bit of a problem with that because we agreed on ‘no punishment for punishment.’ Yet, it appears to me that you withheld facts from me knowing that it would most likely result in a more severe punishment as a means of alleviating your guilt for punishing me. Now, with me saying that—which you already knew—there’s no way for us to productively move forward with this conversation with her operating under the premise that I’m suffering from PTSD from your original punishment. To the observer, that totally skews my intentions for punishing you… to the left or to the right, depending on how you look at it. Did I hold back because I was afraid of retaliation once my time on the submissive seat came again? Or did I go completely gung-ho because of what you did to me when I was the submissive?”

“Very perceptive, Dr. Grey,” she admits. I turn to her.

“Don’t praise me just yet, Dr. Baker,” I say unmoved, “because I feel that this exercise is the equivalent of cutting open a patient and looking for cancer when he really has an appendicitis. You’ll never get to the bottom of what’s really wrong because you’re looking in the wrong place and worst of all, you’re not listening to the patient. If the patient tells the doctor, ‘hey doc, my foot is hurting,’ the doctor’s not going to go looking for a dislocated shoulder.”

“Oh, now, you’re being dramatic, Dr. Grey!” she retorts, and it’s the first bit of emotion I’ve seen from her all afternoon.

“Okay, let’s put it in a better perspective then. Earlier this year, I vomited all over a defense attorney in a courtroom full of people then passed out on the stand. I went home and took a pregnancy test that came up positive. I went to my doctor and I told her, ‘Doc, I vomited, I passed out, I took at test, it came up positive—pregnancy is a real possibility.’ What do you think she did, told me I had a hernia?” Dr. Baker sighs heavily, exacerbated.

“See, your reaction says a lot,” I tell her, now more animated, “because the difference between pregnancy and this thing…” I point feverishly and repeatedly at my temple, “… is that we’re talking about the mind. You can’t see this. You can’t point to a problem and identify it. The mind is complex and beautiful and terrifying and none of us knows what’s going on inside of it at all times—none of us—which is why. You have. To listen. To. Your patient!”

And suddenly, I’m Stoley. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but slowly discovered what wasn’t wrong with him and was ready to end his life because he couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Everybody slapped a label on him, whatever conveniently fit, and they were all wrong. It was something so simple, and they were all treating the wrong thing—just because nobody wanted to listen.

I listened, and that’s all he needed… and it saved his life.

So, excuse me, Dr. Baker, but no—while you may be able to help my husband, you can’t help us.

“Well,” she says, folding her hands in her lap. “I guess we’re done for the day, then.” She looks at me, awaiting a response. She’s expecting surrender. I have nothing to say, lady. I’ve said it already. “Mrs. Grey?”

“Dr. Baker?” What?

“Do you have anything to say?”

“I’ve said it,” I reply. “Did you not hear me?” She shakes her head and chuckles, then proffers her hand to Christian.

“Good luck, Christian,” she says. Good luck? Smarmy bitch. Christian takes her hand and shakes, her shot not getting past him.

“Dr. Baker,” is all he says, looking at me in his peripheral. He stands and helps me to my feet. She clasps her hands in front of her, certain not to proffer her hand to me. No worries, there’s always a place for my hands. I rest them on my baby bump.

“Dr. Grey, it’s been…” she trails off.

“Enlightening,” I complete her sentence.

“I certainly hope so,” she says, still trying to jab at me.

“I know so,” I reply, but not for the reasons you’re poking at, doctor.

“Baby…” Christian cups my elbow. He’s had enough of the standoff. Quite frankly, so have I.

Knowing that we would most likely talk about what happened in the session on our way to Lamaze, Christian drives one of the Audi sedans while Jason and Ben follow in one of the SUV’s.

“That could have gone a bit better,” he says cautiously after an eternity of silence.

“A bit,” I say icily. Then I sigh, realizing that he’s not the bad guy here. “Christian, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the goal here. That session was a bit disastrous at best, but ultimately, it’s most important that we understand why we needed the session in the first place.” He sighs.

“I felt like I abused you,” he says softly, “like I needed to be punished for what I did to you.”

“Then you should have talked to me,” I tell him, “because I now feel like the true reasons for my punishment were now all lost in translation…”

“I know, and I’m sorry,” he interrupts me. “I can assure you that they were not. I promise you that your messages came through loud and clear. I didn’t think of spanking you during my punishment. I thought of all the ways that my behavior with Cholometes cost my family; I wasn’t thinking of the pain that I had caused in your punishment until the end, when it was all over. I think I may have subconsciously left out those details, I don’t know. I was hoping that Dr. Baker could help me work through that, but…”

“But what?” I ask.

“Well, you two just had the stand-off at the O.K. Corral,” he states.

“So?” I say. “I just don’t appreciate her misdiagnosing me. By her logic, every action that has ever bought about a reaction or a consequence has resulted in some form of PTSD, because let’s face it—we only learn that bad decisions are bad decisions because of their consequences. So the hundreds of billions of people who have lived and died and walked this earth and continue to do so and have had learning experiences from their mistakes, big and small, are simply walking, talking, breathing, functioning cases of PTSD. Her strict construction doesn’t allow for anything else. Do you see why that bothers me?”

“Yeah, but…” he trails off again.

“But, what?” He’s starting to irritate me.

“I can’t keep firing shrinks, baby,” he laments. Where did that come from? I look over at him.

“Christian, if I told you to start seeing Dr. Culley, would you do it?” he frowns.

“No!” he says in an obvious tone.

“Why not? She’s a doctor.”

“She’s a… lady doctor… I mean… a female… I mean, a gynecologist!” he’s stumbling over his words.

“Meaning she doesn’t really specialize in what you need,” I help him.

“Ya think?” he says, a bit horrified.

“Not every doctor fits every patient, Christian,” I tell him. “Dr. Culley’s my doctor, but she’s not a very good fit for you. I didn’t tell you to fire Dr. Baker. She does fine for you, but she’s no good for me. If you’re ever in a situation where I feel like you need to speak to someone and she’s not helping you, trust me, I’ll tell you if I see it, but I don’t see that yet.” He looks at me for a moment, blinking several times.

“Did you have to go through the whole gynecologist thing to make that point?” he says, obviously uncomfortable. I can’t help but laugh.

“Sorry,” I say insincerely.

After Lamaze, we have the Davenports over for dinner again and Chuck couldn’t be happier. It’s like he has a new lease on life. He’s moving around more without the wheelchair, still keeping it nearby since he doesn’t want to overwork his ribs. He’s really doing great, though. I can’t wait until he’s back on his feet again.

Tuesday is Christmas Eve and who’s left of the Davenports are pouring into Seattle. I have no idea how Nelson and Christian have managed to keep this away from Chuck, but they have. I’m only spending half the day at Helping Hands to make sure that everyone is settled in and ready for the holiday, then I’m going home. I really hate the fact that I can’t do my cookie bake this year, but my ankles say that it’s a definite no-go and it’s just too much work. Still, I miss my traditional Christmas Eve, for so many reasons. I don’t have long to lament my situation when Grace comes into my office with a strange look on her face.

“What?” I say. I know this is going to be bad, weird, or both.

“I know this is going to sound very strange coming from me, but I think you should give Courtney another chance.” My brow furrows. Who is this woman in my office pretending to be Grace Grey?

“Excuse me?” To say that my tone is incredulous is an understatement.

“Believe me, I’m the very last person to be a proponent for her and I can hardly believe I’m doing this myself, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that girl contrite in my life. I don’t know where she came from or what’s so bad about it, but I believe that she would rather shovel manure than go back there.” I shake my head and shrug.

“I can’t fix her,” I tell Grace. “She’s irreparable. She doesn’t want to be fixed. She wants to walk around in this little Courtney bubble doing whatever the hell she wants and treating people however she wants with her skewed view of reality. She’s waiting for her grandparents to die so that she can collect their fortune. That’s probably why they’re sending her back to East Hell or Midwest Purgatory or wherever the hell she came from. Maybe that’s what she needs. Maybe that’ll teach her to appreciate her life and the opportunity that she’s been given. She’s so callous, whatever situation her parents are in, I bet she doesn’t even speak to them. Addie sure doesn’t talk about them. Is this her son’s child or her daughter’s child? I don’t even know.” I shake my head again. “Let that situation fix her because I sure as hell can’t.” Grace pulls a chair up to my desk.

“Ana, there’s something else. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something else.”

“I don’t care what else, Grace. It’s not my problem anymore…” Just as I’m finishing my sentence, Courtney comes around the door frame. She looks like hell! Well, I shouldn’t say that she looks like hell, but she doesn’t look like the bratty little bitch that I know. She’s wearing a pair of plain jeans and a plain gray sweatshirt. She looks like she’s been crying for days.

I would normally look at someone in this condition and feel some kind of sympathy, but right now, I feel absolutely nothing. I don’t think I’ve felt this kind of stoic nonchalance of someone’s obvious pain since… since…

… since my mother came to Seattle.

“I don’t know why you’re here,” I tell her. “There’s nothing I can do for you.” I look back down at the documents on my computer. I see movement and then I hear Grace’s voice.

“Just talk to her, Ana… please.” Grace has surrendered her seat to Courtney. How can she expect me to talk to this woman? I want nothing to do with her. Seriously! There’s no vendettas, I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to see her suffer. I don’t care if Karma kicks her in the ass or not—I simply want nothing to do with her.

“Mom?”

Oh, hell. As if Courtney’s day wasn’t bad enough, I hear Mia calling for Grace. I so badly want to call out “She’s in here, Mia,” but like I said, I really don’t want revenge. I just want this girl gone. Much to Courtney’s dismay, Mia soon locates her mother.

“There you are, Mom. I tried to call you, but you wouldn’t pick up and I have a bit of a crisis that needs…” Her words trail off as she turns to her left and sees Courtney sitting in the chair in front of my desk. It’s clear that she truly can’t believe her eyes. She’s stunned silent for a moment—something I’ve never seen before.

“Hi, Mia,” Courtney says in a soft, mousy voice. Mia’s eyes sharpen and wider.

“It spoke!” she exclaims, pointing at Courtney. “Oh, my God! Did it speak? To me?”

Mia…” Grace chides gently in that way that often brings Mia to heel, but not this time. Mia turns her glare to her mother.

“Mom! Really?” Her only two words and Grace is sent into knowing silence.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Grey,” Courtney says. “She has a right to her feelings.” What exactly did her grandparents say to her?

My feelings!” Mia scoffs. “You mean the feelings half of the general populace, right? Most of which, you’ve fucked.”

“Mia!” Grace is no longer gentle.

“What? Are we now pretending like you’re not a flaming, evil, wretched bitch?” Mia continues, ignoring her mother’s warning tone.

“That’s enough, Mia!” Grace snaps. Mia glares—and I mean glares—at her mother.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but when have my feelings for her ever changed?” Mia shoots, angrily. “When have I ever not made it clear that I can’t stand the air that she breathes?”

“That does not give you the right to be crude and classless!” Grace scolds.

“I’m crude and classless!” Mia repeats in disbelief. “Well, I guess that’s better than being a whorish, nasty, easy, thirsty, thieving sure thing that will sleep with anything with a pulse!” she snaps at a dismayed Courtney before turning back to her mother.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’m done being crude and classless!” she seethes before turning on her heels and marching out of my office and down the hall. We never even got to the reason why she came looking for her mother in the first place.

“Boy, you really don’t have a fan club, do you?” I hiss at Courtney, who just looks at her hands and remains mute. I look back at Grace. “I don’t know what you expect me to do because I tried to help her and it didn’t work. I don’t have any more time or energy for this. I’m ready to enjoy Christmas with my family. I don’t want to deal with her.”

“Courtney has made it clear that she has learned her lesson and she really wants to be a better person. Against my better judgment considering my experience with her and my daughter, I believe her.”

“I realize that she made things uncomfortable for Mia, but she threatened me! Security is on full alert and I’m carrying again because we didn’t know what to expect from her!”

“I know,” Grace admits and I just glare at her. Who told her? Oh hell, who cares? She and Addie are friends, Christian’s her son…

“And you expect me to help her?” I squeak incredulously. “To even want to be in the same room with her? Mia gave her daggers. I have much worse in my repertoire and the ammunition to back it up!”

“Please don’t make me go back there,” Courtney finally speaks, her voice breaking. I’m staring at her like an alien being. “Please! I’ll do anything you say. I’ll sort garbage; I’ll clean; I’ll shovel snow. Just please, don’t make me go back.”

My eyes narrow. What the fuck is this?

“I don’t have time for your Academy-Award-winning performances, Courtney!” I hiss, remembering the wailing act Grace described from Nordstrom’s. She drops her face in her hands and begins to weep.

“Please…” Her cries are pained. “I’ll do anything! Please, I swear! I swear, I’ll do anything! Just don’t make me go back!” Her voice portrays agony and her tears are sincere. She’d walk through fire rather than go back to wherever the hell she came from…

And I still don’t feel a goddamn thing.

“So all this time,” I say, folding my arms and sitting back in my chair, “all this headache, this haughty attitude, this ‘I’m the Queen of the World’ bullshit…” Grace makes to say something and I hold my hand up to silence her. For one, I’m not Mia; and two, I’ve got the floor. I’m talking to this chick and she’s going to listen. “All this time I’ve been threatening your trust fund and all it took was the real possibility that you would go back to where you came from?”

She drops her hands in her lap, still sniffling and crying… and nodding.

“You threatened me and my safety,” I nearly growl. “You put my entire staff on full alert for your ass. My husband was ready to crack you in two with his bare hands!”

“I… know,” she confesses in stuttering breaths.

“Oh, you have no idea, young lady!” I snap.

“Yes, I do!” she says, raising serious—though red and puffy—eyes to me. She does. He sent her one hell of a message. Ha! Go, Baby, go!

“Yeah, you do,” I acknowledge, and just like that, this threat is neutralized. “I don’t need a damn slave, Courtney. You weren’t doing me any favors being here. I was trying to teach you something, to show you how the other half lives so that you could understand the magnitude of the lifestyle that you live and be grateful for the opportunities being afforded to you, but you already know, don’t you?” My voice is harsh and unforgiving. She chokes and covers her mouth, nodding as she cries into her hand. I roll my eyes.

“You can go now, Grace,” I say. I’m not playing with this chick and I mean it. I don’t have time or energy for these fucking games. Grace quietly leaves the room.

“What do you want?” I nearly growl at her. I don’t trust her and I don’t want her around me. She raises wary, watery eyes at me.

That doe-eyed shit doesn’t mean a damn thing. I reach into my purse and pull out my Beretta. I lay in on the desk, pointed away from either of us, the magazine in my other hand out of her sight. Her eyes grow wide.

“I don’t bluff, little girl,” I tell her, “and I don’t make empty threats. If that’s what you were doing, I advise you to stop right now, because this is what yours caused.” She swallows hard and stares at my gun. “Not a Magnum, I know. After the meeting with my husband and our security team, we decided that six bullets just may not be enough.” She raises her eyes to me again. “What. Do you. Want?”

“I…” She reaches for my desk and I snatch my gun. In three seconds, the magazine is in and a round is in the chamber. I never take my eyes off of her in the process. She starts to shake.

“T… tissue!” she says, a shaky hand pointing to the tissue box on my desk. I shake my head infinitesimally and twist my lips. Totally empty threat—amateur.  I pick up the tissue box and throw it at her.

“A bit of advice,” I begin as I release the magazine from my Beretta. “Don’t make any sudden moves in the direction of someone’s firearm…” I slide the chamber and release the final round. “… Especially after you’ve threatened them. I could cost your life if you’re dealing with someone with less control.” I load the single round back into the magazine and place the gun and the ammo back in my purse. “How ridiculous does that look?” I say. “I’m a pregnant woman—a very pregnant woman—carrying twins and about to blow any second, and I’m walking around with a goddamn Beretta. Isn’t that fucking ludicrous?” I stare at her and wait for her to tell me what the fuck she wants from me. She dries her eyes and her face and holds her head down.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” she says in a small voice. And? So? Yes, you are, very sorry. Extremely sorry. Now what? She’s quiet for a moment, but I’ve said everything I have to say to her. It’s her turn now. Noting my silence, she raises her eyes to me.

“My parents live in squalor. They always have. I didn’t know how bad it was until my grandmother showed up and took me away from it. They always told me that she was rich, but that she didn’t want us. I never believed them. Why would she not want us? So I convinced myself that it was a lie, that she didn’t exist… until she showed up and took me away.

“When we first got to Washington, I was still thinking like I was in Chuktapaw.” Chuckawhat? She smirks sadly at my expression. “Don’t even strain. It’s a little broke town in Kentucky. You won’t even find it on a map. When I put that shirt in Mia’s bag, I was going to tell her about it later. I had spent all my money and I really wanted it. I didn’t expect for us to get caught. When we did, I panicked. That’s why she hates me.”

“I know,” I say, stoically. Get to the point, Melon Girl. I don’t have all day.

“I can’t go back there, Ana,” she says. “Drugs and filth and crime and… I can’t go back to living that way.”

“You’re an adult,” I reply flatly. “You’re 24 years old. You can live wherever the fuck you want.”

“No, I can’t,” she retorts. “It’s like you said, I have nothing—no skills, no experience… I never held a job. I haven’t gone to school. I have nothing, ‘no human value whatsoever except parts.’” She drops her head again. That last part was recited, I can tell.

“Where did you get that tidbit of knowledge?” I ask sarcastically.

“My grandmother,” she chokes, just above a whisper, holding her head down.

“Wise woman,” I spit before I can catch myself, but then the meaning of the words floats back to me. Her grandmother told her that she has no human value whatsoever except parts. Parts. That means that she would have to die and her body parts be divvied up—then, and only then, would she be of any value whatsoever. That’s pretty damn harsh.

Yet, I’m still finding it hard to locate that sympathy button.

“I already know what you’re trying to teach me,” she admits. “I know about the misfortunes of the people on the other side of the tracks. I used to be one of them. I need to learn something else.”

“What?” I snap. “What do you need to learn?” Her eyes are glassy again.

“I don’t know,” she squeaks, “but I need something else… anything else, but I need something else! Please!” And it’s the first sincere thing I feel she’s said all day.

Fucking fucking hell fucking shit hell fucking bitches fucking hell!

“You owe me,” I say through clenched teeth. “You stole my peace and you fucking owe me. Why should I help you now?”

“You shouldn’t,” she says, somberly. “Hell, I wouldn’t, but I hope you will anyway.”

I am literally grinding my teeth.

“C’est vraiment des conneries!” I exclaim. This fucking brat bitch! Way to ruin my goddamn holiday! “Merde! Merde! Merde! Putain! J’en ai ras-le-bol! …”

I have no idea how long I ranted in my native tongue—from a prior life, I think… or something like that—but it must have been a while. When I look up, Marilyn and Ben are both cautiously peeking inside the door and Courtney is looking at me like she has just seen Jesus.

“Go find somebody to help in this joint for the next two days,” I say to Courtney through my teeth. “I don’t care who! I don’t what you do! Just find a fucking purpose! I don’t even want to think about you until after Christmas!” She nods and stands. She turns to thank me, but thinks better of it when I narrow my eyes at her.

“Courtney!” I bark her name as she gets to the door and she turns around to face me.

“If you cross me again, just one more time, you’re gonna get a three-man beatdown, because I swear to God that me and my babies are going to beat your motherfucking ass! Are we clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she says without missing a beat and leaves the office. I’m nearly taken aback by the show of respect, but too pissed off to care.

Christian is not going to like this.


A/N: I know that everyone was expecting a showdown between Radcliff and Ana. However, there couldn’t be a showdown between Radcliff and Ana. It had to be between Radcliff and his wife, because he wasn’t listening to anybody else. He wasn’t even listening to his wife in the beginning. His only power over her was in the fact that she stayed and listened to him. He never beat her, but she stayed and obeyed. The only way that she could get him to hear her was to leave.

Not only that, but as big and bad as Radcliff pretended to be, Christian had him sweating and shaking before they left Grey House. He didn’t dare cross Ana too hard.

Don’t bother trying to translate Ana’s ranting. She’s just cursing a lot.

 

 

Upcoming Events In The Life of The Goddess

So, just by means of notification, I want to let everyone know a few things.

First, I’m feeling much better. Thank you all for your well wishes!

Second, I’ll be moving (physically) soon, so that means that I’m packing and cleaning and won’t have a lot of time for writing. However, that’s not the only thing that’s going to be affecting my writing schedule…

Third, I’m looking at another job change… Same location but different position. More money (yippee!), but this job comes with a LOT of training. I am in the pre-training stages right now and if everything goes as planned, my writing schedule will be SEVERELY affected. I didn’t even know if I was going to get this chapter posted this weekend because I should really be studying or packing right now—even my current work schedule has changed and I haven’t even changed jobs yet!

So, as you can see, there’s a whole lot going on in Goddessville right now. I will keep you guys posted. I won’t just leave you hanging if the story has to be put on hiatus for a while. As you all know, my story is my refuge—my release, my stress reliever—so I won’t be able to just leave it and not post, but I might not be able to keep up the weekly posting schedule while all these transitions are going on.

TO THAT END, I HAVE ONE VERY IMPORTANT REQUEST…

I’m on social media everywhere!

I have three Facebook pages:
—a personal one that I try to keep for my family, but because it has the word “BronzeGoddess” in it, sometimes people get attached to it and I try to direct them to the others.
the BG Holmes social page where I just interact with everybody, and
the BG Holmes author’s page that is usually all things writing.

I have a Twitter page;
I have a Tumblr page;
I have a Google+ page;
I email;
I do author’s notes;
I do additional updating posts;
I’m even still on Fanfiction even though I don’t post on there.

Why am I saying all of this?

There are people in India who know when I sneeze, in Nigeria who know when my grandson was born, in Australia who know my bra size, and in Germany who know what I did on New Year’s Eve. You know why? Because they read the emails. They read the notes. They follow me on one of my social media profiles. They keep up with me. They know that when something is going on with me, I always update my readers and let them know that there may be a delay or I’m having a problem or I’m sick or the sky is falling or whatever the issue may be. They can tell you what’s going on with me at any given moment, like Falala can tell you what makes me laugh and Seralynsmom can probably tell you how much weight I’ve lost, just to name a couple (not to put you guys on the spot).

I’m saying that to say this—if you choose not to follow me on any of the social media outlets (I don’t update Fanfiction, I’m just there), or read emails or author’s notes or additional posts in the BG’s World link on the menu to the left, that is your option. However, during this time of my real-life transition, I will be sure to keep my readers and friends in the loop as much as I possibly can. But if you choose not to take advantage of one of these many venues that I utilize to keep my faithful followers and friends in the loop, please do not send me emails and messages asking “Um, when will the next update be?” or “When are you going to post another chapter?”

I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I don’t post my social sites just so that I can harvest followers. Most of my sites are connected to each other so that if I post something on one site, it posts on another. This is how I reach out to people—how I keep them informed. This is why I invite people to my Google+ or ask them to connect to my Facebook or Twitter or send a request to like my author’s page. I even post in the several groups of which I am a member. While I appreciate the fact that people love my story and miss me when I’m gone, I have to say that I found it very irritating and somewhat insensitive that even though I made it clear in posts and messages in various areas that I had been sick that I still had people sending me messages asking me “Where’s the next chapter?”

My first reaction was “What the ever-loving fuck!?”

Then I had to chill out and realize that everybody’s not connected to everything and everybody may not know that I’m sick. I mean think about it—if I’m not well enough to post a chapter, am I really well enough to do another post about not being well enough to post a chapter besides maybe a quick blurb on one of my social media outlets? Then, if I happen to post a chapter without sending the accompanying email because I was in a rush or, heaven forbid, too sick or tired to do the email, then I’ll get 99 messages saying “I didn’t get an email…”

But did you see the chapter?

Granted, if you didn’t get an email, yes, I do want to know because something might be wrong with my mailing list that I need to correct. However, if I have been posting in social media or in post, messages, or something that I’ve been sick or I’ve been really busy, I would like for people to please take that into consideration when they don’t see a post or an email. If you have not connected to at least one of my social media profiles, please connect to at least one of them. That’s how I reach out to you guys. If you are not on any of the social media outlets that I am, but you are on a different social media outlet that I am not on, let me know and I will consider getting on that outlet and connecting it to my other social media outlets.

I don’t want to assume that people are just sitting around and waiting for me to churn out chapters and don’t care about my life and what’s going on it. I am going to assume that people are asking about the ETA on the next chapter instead of saying “Hey, BG, I notice that we haven’t seen a chapter yet—is everything okay?” because they don’t know what’s going on in my life. So, here is your opportunity to connect to one of my social sites so that you will be one of the first to know if something has gone awry in the life of BG and the immediate cause of any posting or chapter delays. (And for the record, yes, there are several people who do send messages asking if I’m okay because they haven’t seen a chapter.)

Again, I hope I haven’t offended anyone and I do ask that everyone connect to at least one of my social media outlets so that you can stay on top of things. I do know that I have developed relationships with many of you, but with others, I would like to think I’m more than just “the next chapter.”

Chapter 43 is on the way shortly…

Love and handcuffs,
Lynn X
BG Holmes