Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 46—Blood Is A Big Expense

I know I say it all the time, but I have the best, most supportive readers in the ENTIRE WORLD! My life has truly been hell the last couple of weeks and the way that you all have reached out to me and showed me such love and encouragement on Facebook and on here (my ever faithful Falala brought such sunshine with her comment on the last chapter—you guys HAVE to go see it!), I can begin to tell you how it strengthened my heart and my spirit. I had to press on and get you a chapter this week with all the gratitude that I feel.

If you don’t get an email from me this time, you need to let me know. I have old email addresses for a lot of you and my emailer has cleaned them because the emails keep bouncing back.

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 46—Blood Is a Big Expense

ANASTASIA

I’m not going to lie. Christmas was trying. Once I got Maddie settled and out of a state of total hysteria, I just fell into bed fully dressed. I thought I would actually have to call another doctor to get her settled… one with drugs! But Chuck, Keri, and Nelson were finally able to calm her, and she and Nelson just spent the night here.

Christian must have undressed me because I don’t remember putting on sleepwear last night, but I awake in a cozy nightshirt. I’m in bed alone, so Christian must be up putting out a fire somewhere. I quickly shower and dress in maternity jeans, a turtleneck, a warm sweatshirt and boots. I pull my hair into a ponytail and allow the swooping bang to cover the “short and fuzzy” as usual.

I almost want to quickly eat something and sneak out of the house as I know I have to go to the Center and deal with Courtney today, and I don’t want to deal with Christian on that note before I do. I feel like I’m getting bigger and bigger by the second and carrying these two is becoming a bit of a trial. I might need that babymoon sooner rather than later. I hate that I didn’t get to visit more with Al and Daddy and Mandy or any of the family yesterday for that matter, but I’ve just been so tired and emotional, and dealing with Val didn’t make things any easier. Then there was splitting the day with the Davenports before and after the Greys, and Al’s revelation that I’ve cleaned David out. He’s already emotionally and morally bankrupt. Now he’s financially worthless to top it all off.

If I had any sense, I would have planned not to go to the Center at all for the rest of the week, but this is not a job. It’s more of a labor of love for me, so I have to go. I need to see how the families that had to spend Christmas there made out over the last couple of days. I might as well go on down and get some breakfast. No use in prolonging the inevitable.

“There you are,” Christian says, rising from his seat at the breakfast bar. “I thought I was going to have to leave you a note. You were sleeping like the dead.”

“Yeah, I was really tired,” I say as he kisses me on the cheek and guides me to a seat. “I haven’t slept like that in ages.” It’s usually difficult to get comfortable or I have to get up and pee in the middle of the night or the soccer players decide that they want a 2am game or something.

“Too much Christmas?” he asks, sympathetically.

Way too much,” I lament, sipping the ginger tea Ms. Solomon has just placed in front of me. “I feel guilty because I hardly spent time with anyone yesterday. I slept most of the afternoon.”

“You must have needed it and they’ll understand,” he says, rubbing my lower back in the spot that he knows always aches.

“Christian,” I whine, “I have to go to the Center.”

“I know,” he says as he puts just the right amount of pressure on my muscles. “How is that chair at work treating you?”

“I don’t sit in it long enough to know,” I confess, almost wanting to purr. He’s quiet for a moment.

“I won’t tell you what to do, but you might want to consider starting to take it easy a bit,” he says. “The babies will be here soon and I can only imagine what your body must be going through this late in the game.” He’s sweet… and controlling.

“I know, Mr. Grey,” I say in a knowing tone. I don’t want him to start scolding me, but I don’t want him to think I don’t understand what he’s trying to say either.

“Well, I’ve got to get going,” he says, gently rubbing my back a few more times before stopping and finishing his coffee. “I’m looking over the final papers for a few year-end situations today. Don’t forget we have that meet and greet for Fairlane tomorrow.” Shit!

“Too late. I already forgot,” I groan. “What the hell should I wear to that thing?”

“Something sophisticated, classic, not too formal… think Michelle Obama,” he says.

“Michelle Obama??” I lament. “Well, there’s a comparison! I look like a whale and she has a figure to die for!” He chuckles a bit and shakes his head.

“I wasn’t comparing you to Michelle Obama, baby,” he says, his voice both accommodating and flustered. “I was referring to her style of dress.”

“I know what you were referring to,” I pout. Why am I suddenly so sensitive? I know exactly what he was referring to.

“Look, baby,” he says, putting his hands on my hips, “It won’t matter what you wear. You could wear a potato sack and I’d still want to rip it off and fuck you right in the middle of the party… and you know I mean it.” I look up into hungry gray eyes and one of his eyebrows rise to emphasize his point. “And I have no desire to fuck the FLOTUS,” he adds for effect. I slap him playfully on the chest.

“Go to work,” I shoo him away. He kisses me on my cheek and nips my ear before he closes his lips softly over mine. I moan quietly into his mouth.

“I love you,” he says after he gently breaks our kiss.

“I love you, too,” I whisper.

*-*

“I don’t even know who this girl is,” Jessie says about Courtney when I get to the Center. “She came looking for me on Christmas Eve and she’s been busy as hell ever since. I actually had to find somebody to pawn her off on because she wouldn’t get out of my face!”

“Yesterday, too?” I ask, shocked.

“Especially yesterday! You know I only worked part of the day because I went to see my mom. She was here to serve breakfast and lunch. She helped with some of the kids; she helped with the morning activities. I think she was here for dinner, but I’m not sure because I left.” Just as we’re talking about her, Courtney whizzes past the community room in a full apron over a sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers, carrying a snack tray—probably to the daycare area for the kids. She didn’t even notice us. “And there she goes.”

“What about her attitude?” I ask. That can’t have changed.

“The best word I can use is ‘humble,’” Jessie says. Oh, you must be kidding.

“Oh, this has to be an act,” I say in disbelief.

“I don’t know, Ana, but if it is, it’s the best I’ve ever seen. When I first saw her on Tuesday, I gave her some of the grimiest jobs I could find and she did them with enthusiasm. I’m telling you, Ana, something’s different. I don’t know what happened, but something’s different.”

“I know what’s happened,” I say, sitting down in my chair and turning on my computer. “Her grandmother snatched away all of her creature comforts and this is her only way to get them back.” Jessie is silent, causing me to look up at her.

“If you say so,” she says with a shrug.

“Oh, don’t tell me she’s gotten to you, too,” I say, my brow furrowed.

“Look, I could care less what happens to the girl,” she says, noncommittal. “You asked how things were going, I gave you a report. My two cents—something’s changed. That’s it.” She shrugs again. I nod.

“Well, tell her to come and see me when she breezes by you again. We need to talk.”

“You got it.” Jessie leaves and I get about the business of my day. About half an hour later, Courtney comes into my office, still wearing the apron.

“You wanted to see me?” she asks. I get a good look at her and she’s wearing the same clothes she was wearing on Christmas Eve—probably doesn’t want to ruin another pair of Jimmy Choos.

“Have a seat.” I gesture to the chair in front of me and she sits with her hands clasped in her lap. She’s sitting up straight like she’s waiting for an evaluation or something. I just look at her for a moment, then I look at my computer.

“So what are we doing?” I ask without raising my eyes. When I hear nothing, I look up at her and she’s wringing her fingers a bit. “Courtney?” She looks up at me. “That’s not a rhetorical question.”

“I don’t really know,” she replies. “You told me to find something to do, so that’s what I’m doing… trying to be useful.”

“And what do you hope to gain from that?” She gazes at me nervously.

“I don’t know,” she says.

“So you’re just aimlessly coming in here just doing whatever?” I ask. She holds her head down and doesn’t answer. “Jessie says you’re very enthusiastic about your work.”

“She did?” she asks incredulously. “I thought I was getting on her nerves.”

“Yeah, she said that, too,” I reinforce. She deflates immediately. “Should I call Addie and tell her that you’re doing a good job?”

“No!” It’s the most emphatic she’s been since she sat in that chair. “No, don’t call my grandmother. Don’t bother her with this.”

“Don’t bother her?” I ask. “Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“No… well… no, just… please, don’t bother her with this.” I almost want to call Addie to find out what’s really going on. This girl begged me not to make her go back to Chuckawhatever, and now she’s trying to show some kind of enthusiasm or progress and she doesn’t want me to call her grandmother?

“Why don’t you want me to tell Addie how enthusiastic you are about your new plight?” I ask, almost with mock sarcasm.

“Just…” There’s uncertainty in her voice and more than a little defeat. “Just don’t bother my grandmother, please,” she says, her eyes dropping to the floor again.

“So, who’s going to tell her?” I ask.

“Just…” She turns her head away from me and wipes a tear away before it has a chance to fall. “Please, just leave it,” she says, her eyes falling to the floor again before her hands rest in her lap once more. “Just don’t bother her, please.”

I examine her for a moment. Addie hasn’t called me, so I’m not sure she even knows that Courtney has come back to the Center. That makes me even more curious about this whole endeavor.

“Come with me,” I say, standing from my desk and shutting down my computer monitor. “Leave the apron.”

*-*

“It was difficult trying to explain to the boys why we couldn’t spend Christmas with their father—not so much for Nicholas, because he’s old enough to know, but for Jonah and Archie…”

I’m checking on the families in the dorms to see how they fared on Christmas here in the Center. We had activities and a really nice dinner here for them, but it doesn’t compare to when you’ve become accustomed to spending it with family. This family is a young mother, Dotty, and her three sons. Much like Marlow and his family, they’re hiding from her husband and their father because he has abused them for over a decade—most of Nick’s life and as long as the younger boys can remember. Dotty finally got the courage to leave, but her husband is very much like the bully that is Marlowe’s father. So, we’re trying to find a solution for the family that won’t leave them like sitting ducks.

“They just kept asking me why they couldn’t go spend the day with Grandma instead,” Dotty says, fighting her tears, “but they don’t understand that us being at their grandparents’ house makes it unsafe for them.”

“Has the protection order been put in place?” I ask her. She nods.

“It won’t stop him, though, Ana. He’s a monster.”

“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “I’m working on a workaround. We’ll see what happens, okay?” She nods.

“Anything that will keep this man away from me and my boys,” she says. I squeeze her hand before leaving her room with Courtney in tow.

“Why did she stay for so long?” Courtney asks. I immediately remember her snide remark about a loser who couldn’t get it up and beat his wife and kids because of his impotence, but when I turn to look at her, I see in her eyes that’s it’s a serious question.

“Why do you think she stayed?” I ask as we continue down the corridor.

“I have no idea,” she responds. “The guy was beating her, no doubt, before he was beating the kids and then he was beating the kids. That must have been hell. I have no idea why she stayed.”

“Would you like to go back and ask her?” I say stopping at our next destination and pausing before opening the door. Courtney shakes her head feverishly at me. “Good—then you are learning something.” I knock gently on the next door and a soft voice invites us in.

“Hi Thelma,” I say quietly. She’s holding little Jimmy and rocking him gently. It’s clear that he’s had his bottle and is quickly on his way to sleep.

“Hi, Ana,” she says softly, still rocking the baby.

“This is Courtney. She’s helping out around the center for a while. Courtney, this is Thelma and Jimmy.”

“Hi Thelma,” Courtney says softly. Thelma greets her with a warm, wide smile.

“How was Christmas?” I ask, sitting on the sofa in the room. Courtney takes a seat next to me. Thelma sighs.

“Bittersweet,” she says. “Jimmy and I were warm and comfortable. We had a wonderful meal and we visited with the other families, but I couldn’t help thinking about James the entire time.”

“I know,” I tell her. “You do what you have to do to survive, but you don’t stop loving him.” She nods.

“He was never cruel to me, Ana,” she says, rising from the chair and placing a sleeping Jimmy in a nearby crib. “He never laid a hand on me; never belittled me; but he used my values against me. He knew that the last thing in the world that I wanted to do was leave and he wouldn’t listen to reason. He would have let us die in that house so that his pride could stay intact. How do you reconcile that? How do you weigh the options in your head and heart and come to the conclusion that it’s okay if your infant son dies of starvation or hypothermia as long as you don’t have to accept a handout? I don’t think I can ever forgive him for that.”

“I can’t say if you will or not, Thelma,” I tell her. “I can only say that it’s still fresh and you have to give it some time before you can make a decision on you and James. In the meantime, you concentrate on taking care of that beautiful baby and gaining back your own healthy weight. Sometimes, these things have a way of working themselves out. Other times, we just have to accept what is to come.” I smile sadly at her and rub my baby bump. For some reason, I’m feeling a sudden deep ache and longing for my mom… again, but I know that’s not going to happen.

“I wonder if he was able to find a decent meal yesterday?” she asks, more to herself than to anyone else. I don’t bother trying to answer the question. She yawns and stretches.

“Jimmy keeping you awake?” She nods.

“He’s never had a regular feeding schedule, so right now, I just feed him when he wakes up—which was twice last night.”

“Yeah, he’s going to give you a run for your money,” I tell her. “Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll check in on you later.” She nods.

“It was nice meeting you, Courtney,” Thelma says in a friendly tone.

“Thank you, and you, too,” Courtney replies. We leave Thelma to take her nap and walk down the corridor to the end. Thelma was the last person on my “rotation” today.

“So?” I ask. Courtney looks at me.

“So… what?” she says.

“What do you think?”

“About?” she asks.

“You didn’t learn anything from that?” I ask dismayed.

“Not really,” she says matter-of-factly, and I’m back to feeling like I’m wasting my time. “Ana, I told you, I knew about this part already. I may not know the details or exactly why these women chose to stay with their husbands, but I totally understand the concept of living in poverty, grime, or neglect. I know all about the mechanics of a bad situation. That’s where I came from. It’s what I was used to until my grandmother came and took me away from it. Now I know there more than just the squalor, and I don’t want to go back. But in order for me not to go back there, I have to be more than I am now and I don’t know how to do that. I don’t even know where to start.”

“But do you understand the being grateful part?” I ask her as we pause at the end of the corridor where no one can hear us. “Do you understand not only the concept of knowing where you’ve been and what you’ve come from and knowing what you want and understanding the idea that you know you have to change, but also the fact that you’re not as bad off as you used you be? As you could be? That you’re better off than most? Most of these women and children, in fact? Do you understand that your superior, haughty attitude was hurtful and offensive and that’s why I didn’t want you around these women anymore? There was no humility, no grace, no culture in your good fortune. You were flaunting your wealth and your status when all I was trying to do was round you out a bit, so I thought, and it made me ill. Do you understand any of that? Do you understand that you can sleep at night not having to worry about half the fears of that newborn baby down the hall who doesn’t even know his name?”

An unknown emotion flashes across her face. I’m usually good at reading people—their faces, their reactions, but I can’t read Courtney because there’s no connection. She turns away from me and quickly wipes away a tear. She does that a lot. After the one time she ran out of my office and the second time when she begged for my help, she won’t openly cry. Instead, she’ll turn away and wipe a tear.

“Yes, Ana, I understand,” she says with her head down, her voice small. It’s the very first, and I mean the very first time I’ve felt real sincerity from her. “That’s why I asked for help. If you would help me, I would really appreciate it.” I look at her and sigh quietly.

“I have a few other things to do and then I’m leaving for the day. I really just wanted to check on the families to see how they did over the holidays. I heard you’ve been very helpful over the past couple of days. Why don’t you go on home and relax for the rest of the afternoon and I see you back tomorrow?” She nods without raising her eyes to me and heads off towards the stairwell. I have a feeling she needs a bit of alone time.

I’ve finished looking over the final recommendations of the licensing board and it looks like we’ll be set and ready to go with our licenses by spring if all goes as planned. I’m ready for sustenance and a bit of sunshine, but before I can do that, I have a couple more things that need my attention. I shoot off a text to Marilyn to be ready with an update on what’s going on with the selection process at Broadmoor and then I make a call to a certain fashion expert.

“Vickie, I have the impossible for you,” I say when she answers the phone.

“Nothing’s impossible, darling. What is it?” she replies.

“I have a Meet and Greet to attend with Christian. When I asked him what I should wear, he said ‘think Michelle Obama.’ I don’t have anything ‘Michelle Obama’ that’ll fit over the medicine ball I’m sporting these days! The damn thing is tomorrow. I don’t expect you to come up with anything, but can you point me in the right direction?”

Hmmm,” she says and I hear tapping on her computer. “You’re in your eighth month, right?” I nod before I realize she can’t see me. I do that a lot on the phone.

“Yes.”

“How do you feel about short dresses right now?”

“I’m okay with short dresses anytime,” I tell her.

“Well, that’s a plus.” She keeps typing. “Shy away from bright colors?” I immediately think of the melon dress.

“How bright?” I ask cautiously.

“Red… solid…”

“Red I can do,” I tell her.

“Even better. In the later months with dinner or cocktail dresses, you can’t go wrong with a shift dress. You want something flowy that breathes and moves well. You don’t want anything clinging to your stomach at this stage—it’s really not a good look. When Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian did it, I literally cringed.” I can still hear her typing. Some of my clothes still cling to my stomach. It’s not a horrible look… “You’ve gotten quiet.”

“I still wear things that cling to my stomach,” I confess.

“On the red carpet?” she asks cautiously.

“Of course not!” I reply. We actually haven’t done much red carpet lately, but still, no!

jessica-simpson-husband-eric-johnson-son-ace-johnsonjune-15-kim-kardashian-gave-birth-her-daughter-north-west“My point exactly,” she says. “This may not be a red carpet event, but you are going to be the center of attention. Whether you’re pregnant or not, tight, unsightly clothing that clings to your body or reveals too much is not the order of the day. I really wish these women would get a clue. Celebrity status does not give them the right to wear anything they want even though they might think it does. People are watching you and they mimic what you do. Jessica’s wearing this black sequined thing from the seventies that looks like she’s going to burst out of it, and we won’t even begin to discuss the atrocities committed by Kim Kardashian and that painful floral monstrosity she exposed the world to at the Met Gala!”

Oh le gasp! You don’t need to say any more.

kate-winslet-pregnant-her-third-child-which-she-announcedprobably-most-famous-expecting-mother-2013-kate-middleton“I know exactly what Christian was referring to when he said Michelle Obama. We were not so blessed to see Michelle in her maternal glory. We have, however, seen her in various stages of her classic style.” Those were Christian’s same words. “He’s thinking the maternal subtle grace of Kate Middleton, or the demure, sexy femininity of Kate Winslet. He should have told you to Google Kerry Washington’s pregnancy style. You would have gotten a better idea, then.”

I quickly Google “Kerry Washington Pregnant” and go to the images. Yeah, I can kind of see what she’s aiming at. Wow! She looks absolutely stunning pregnant!

“Let’s see,” she says, still typing. “Your back is hurting and your ankles are swollen. You’re going to need to wear a back support belt and some pumps, kitten heels, or a pair of killer booties.” She’s talking faster than my brain is going. Good God, woman!

“How many children have you had?” I ask, amazed that she has so much information in her repertoire.

“None. Now ask me how many pregnant women I’ve dressed.” My email pings. “Open the email.” God, she’s bossy!

I open the email from Vickie and there’s the cutest picture of a short, red swing dress—long-sleeved, turtleneck, above-the-knee, A-line…

“That’s adorable! Will it fit me?”

“Have we met?” She sounds a bit affronted. “It’s actually a size bigger than the dress you wore to the Family Affair—to accommodate for the babies’ growth.” How politically correct of her.

“I love you, Vickie,” I say playfully.

“Hey, we’ve had this discussion,” she replies. “You’re hot and all, but you know… the breathing thing?” We laugh good-naturedly. “Besides, I’m saving myself for Mia.”

“That’s never gonna happen. You know that right?”

“Look, don’t squash my dream, okay?” she retorts. “I may never get a taste of Angelina Jolie or Rihanna either, but that doesn’t stop my fantasies.”

That’s a concept I just can’t wrap my head around. Not only am I attracted to Christian and only Christian, but the idea of another woman does absolutely nothing for me. Even that girl at the BDSM club last year—she was hot and beautiful and I was curious to touch her, but I didn’t want to fuck her.

“Okay, okay, far be it from me to piss all over your dream,” I concede.

“Thank you, that’s all I ask. Now, should I have this delivered to Helping Hands or to the Crossing?”

“The Crossing,” I tell her. It’s more convenient.

“Large gold necklace with complimenting earrings, hair in a demure chignon—nothing too matronly. You’re a mother-to-be, but you’re a young ­mother to be. You want fertile and alluring, not barefoot and pregnant.”

“Oh, I couldn’t agree more!” I concur.

“We also don’t want ‘thot with a bun in the oven’—again, Kim K at Fashion Week.” She types some more. “Do you have the accessories or would you like me to send some with the dress?”

“Send some please,” I tell her. “I can quickly put my hands on diamonds, but I’d have to search for gold right now.”

“Consider it done,” she says. “What about footwear? I would say go with the black booties… ankle support, low heel, something really cute. This is viscose and spandex, so I would say go with suede… leather only if necessary. Do you have it?” Does she know me?

“Vickie, I thought you knew Louboutin and I are on a first name basis,” I quip.

“Yeah, and Louie makes 140mm heels, too,” she retorts.

“Which I have been accustomed to wearing for quite some time, I’ll have you know. However, he also makes booties with 3 ½ heels and great ankle support. Sorry, I’ve already fought this battle with hubby.” I smile triumphantly—again, like she can see me over the phone.

“Fine, fine, just don’t fall and bust your solar plexus. I’m still waiting to dress that ass for the spring.” Oh, Lord, this woman is comfortable. I just shake my head and laugh. I honestly can’t wait to see what creations a personal stylist can come up with for my after-baby body. “The dress and accessories will be at the Crossing this evening. I told you nothing is impossible.”

“I sure thought it would be. Thanks. You’re really a life saver. You’ve saved me a lot of trouble… as usual. Charge it to the Black.”

“With pleasure. Looking forward to spring!”

“You and me both,” I tell her before I share a few more pleasantries with her and end the call. It’s mid-afternoon and I’m hungry. I’ve let too much time pass before I’ve fed the babies and they are throwing an angry tantrum in my tummy. I text Marilyn that I’m on my way back to the Crossing as I had her working from there today tying up some loose end for me, and to let Gail or Ms. Solomon know to have something ready for me when I arrive as I can just about gnaw off my own arm right now. I’m just about to head to the community room to retrieve Ben when I pass by the nursery and see Courtney surrounded by toddlers and a few parents and volunteers. They are listening to her and watching her somewhat captivated. I thought I told her to go home. Why is she still here? She’s sitting at an angle and she can’t see me, so I stick my head in to see what she’s doing. In the softest, prettiest voice, I hear her say,

Through the high jungle tree tops, the news quickly spread: ‘He talks to a dust speck! He’s out of his head! Just look at him walk with that speck on that flower!’ And Horton walked, worrying, almost an hour. ‘Should I put this speck down?’ Horton thought with alarm. ‘If I do, these small persons may come to great harm. I can’t put it down. And I won’t! After all, a person’s a person. No matter how small.’

She’s reading! She’s reading to the children! She’s doing the voices and everything! Horton Hears A Who, I think it is. Good God, what the hell happened with her grandparents? This girl has made a complete transformation. I won’t lie, I’m still a little leery to trust it, but this is a pretty serious change and a damn good performance if it’s an act! I can’t dwell on it right now, though. Hunger calls.


CHRISTIAN

The day is moving by without incident until I look at my appointments for the afternoon and realize that I have a meeting with someone named Richard Heinz. He’s supposed to be in conjunction with one of my projects out of Detroit. Besides the rehab work and the projects in Cass Corridors and BabesWorld all out of Detroit Receiving Hospital, I don’t know what this could be about. Yet, apparently, it was important enough for him to get an appointment and I’m assuming everyone did their homework, so he’s expected in fifteen minutes.

I’m going over the final contracts for Fairlane. The Meet and Greet is tomorrow and the contracts have basically changed control over to GEH, the only concession being the amount of employees that we have to retain and the fact that Fairlane, Jr., will remain president of the company for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time. Hopefully, for his sake, this man has done some homework and he knows that I never back myself into a corner. Although I have agreed to keep his employees and his son on with the company, how I choose to manage it and how long I choose to hold it is completely at my discretion. Tomorrow, I’ll get a feel for the culture of the company and how they have prepared the employees for the transition. Any company, from a mom-and-pop organization to a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, is only as strong as the people working in the trenches. If the employees are not on board, the company will fail. I’m alarmed from my thoughts when my cell phone rings. It’s Jason.

“Yes, what is it?”

“You’re about to get a call that Richard Heinz is here to see you. I’ve already called Alex and got some facial recognition going on this guy, but something doesn’t feel right. This is not a businessman. That Italian tailored fit screams dirty money and I’m on my way. Do not meet with him without me.” Oh, shit. Just what I need.

“Why do we keep doing this?” I ask him. “Why didn’t we just turn him away?”

“Because if dirty money went through the whole process of making an appointment with you, you want to hear what they have to say.

“Mr. Grey, you’re 1:00 has arrived,” Andrea’s disembodied voice says over my speaker phone intercom.

“Thank you, Andrea. Please extend my apologies. I’m on a very important call on my cell. I’ll only be a moment.”

“Yes, sir.” And now back to Jason.

“The last time dirty money came into my office, it was the Pedophile’s Swedish aunt or something, and that was a waste of time!”

“Do you really want to turn this guy away without knowing why he’s here?” I roll my eyes.

“No. Just get your ass in here.” I say before ending the call. I run my hands through my hair. I don’t have time for yet another catastrophe. We got the rest of Chuck’s family off this morning after the brunch and I have no idea what’s going on with Joseph and the parents as I haven’t talked to anyone today. Now, dirty money is about to walk into my office. I have to put on the businessman poker face for whomever this is And find out what the hell this is all about.

A few minutes after the first call, Jason and another gentleman step into my office. Jason was right… something’s wrong.

“Mr. Grey, thank you for seeing me on such short notice.” I do a quick scan of this guy and know immediately that he’s not a businessman. He takes care of business and he certainly knows how to handle himself and carry himself, but he’s not a businessman. That tailored suit fits like a glove, better than mine. It’s never seen a rack and probably doesn’t have a label. My long-term relationship with my bodyguard becomes a very valuable asset at times like these. He knows that with new meetings, if I don’t dismiss him, he needs to stay. He closes the door and takes the stance at the only obvious exit in the office.

“Please, take a seat, Mr. Heinz,” I say, gesturing to the chairs in front of my desk. “I have to say that I normally don’t take meetings without the opportunity to do a background check, but when you mentioned Detroit, I was very curious.” I wait until he takes a seat before I sit at my desk. “I don’t have any dealings in Detroit except for the charity work that I’m doing in conjunction with Receiving Hospital, so I’m not really sure what this is about.”

“My employer has sent me on a fact-finding mission, Mr. Grey. I’m hoping you can help him.” His tone doesn’t relay “hope.” It’s more like, “I’ve got questions and you better answer them.” I guess he and his boss didn’t do any research on me.

“I don’t know what facts you want from me about Detroit,” I retort, just as firmly.

“You recently visited Michigan, yes? Ionia, to be exact?” he asks. I’m a bit taken by his question.

“That’s not public knowledge, Mr. Heinz. How would you know that?”

“It’s part of the police report from your wife’s recent accident, that you were returning from visiting an inmate in Ionia prison at the time of the accident.” Okay, now he’s just trying to be cute.

“Are you working in conjunction with the police?” I ask, my tone still not changing. “Is there additional information as to why this happened to my wife? Is that why you’re here?”

“No, no,” he says, almost chuckling. Definitely not law enforcement, but access to police records—though anybody could get access to a police report. Half of that shit is online nowadays. “It’s my understanding that the case is closed—that some woman randomly attempted to kill your wife in that accident and died in the process, so there’s no need for further investigation.”

“Okay, so you’re not working with the police. Why are you here prying into my private affairs?”

“I’ll be the one asking the questions, Mr. Grey,” he says, shifting in his seat.

“Oh, you won’t be asking me shit,” I reply, moving forward in my seat as well. “You see, I’ve played this game before, where you have information on me and I don’t know who you are, and I don’t really care for it. It doesn’t intimidate me, it only pisses me off—and I don’t care who you work for, because I’ve had all types sit in that chair from government heads of state to homeless, hungry, and looking for a job; from members of the clergy looking for donations to affiliates of the German mafia throwing threats. Nothing surprises me these days, Mr. Heinz, so get on with your business here or get the fuck out of my office.” The corners of his mouth rise slightly. It’s the you don’t know who I am smirk. I’m very familiar with it. I use it often.

“Nobody tells me when to leave. I don’t leave until I’m done.”

“I just did and I’ll tell you again, and I’ll have no problem helping you out of this office if you can’t find your way.”

“You’re a very cocky man not to know who or what you’re dealing with,” he says, calmly.

“Oh, I’m a very cocky man at all times. I’m my line of business, I can’t afford to be soft. People are out to get me all the time, for real and imagined malfeasances against them. My wife was run down by a scorned ex-lover. That’s the least of the things that can come at me. It’s common knowledge that the man standing behind you took a bullet for me from another scorned lover—again, the least of the things that could come at me. I’ve had my life and livelihood threatened and nearly taken more times than I care to discuss with a stranger. So like I said, state your business or leave.”

“How is Mrs. Grey these days?” he asks in a controlled voice. “Twins due any day now, aren’t they?”

That did it. Another one… another one that will use my family against me. I can’t. I can’t succumb to this. This will never end if I do. I stand from my desk and go over to my wet bar. I take out a glass and prepare to pour myself a double shot of Scotch. Another chance to worry about Butterfly and the twins.

“Taylor, would please show Mr. Heinz out—by any means necessary?” I say while pouring the Scotch without looking back at the man who just issued a veiled threat at my reason for living.

“Yes, sir,” I hear Jason say as the liquid flows from the decanter into the tumbler.

“One moment, Taylor,” I hear Heinz say. “Mr. Grey, I’ve come face to face with many powerful men in the course of my business. Like you, they don’t like to show weakness. As a matter of fact, they often want to prove that they have more power than I do without even knowing who I am or who I represent. You haven’t really shown me extreme power, but you have displayed a concise lack of fear.”

Is that right? That’s strange, because inside, I’m quaking. I’m trembling with terror at the mere fact that you’ve mentioned my family—my Butterfly and the precious cargo that she carries inside of her—so terrified, in fact, that I can’t even look at you right now.

“When I mention family, most men start spouting off the different ways that they would destroy me—physically, financially, whatever have you. When I mentioned yours, you proceeded to have me thrown out of your office—not another word to me. I respect that. It’s a quality that I rarely see, one that I’ve seen in my boss and I watch for it in other men. I haven’t seen it yet, in any of my dealings.” I put the top back on the Scotch decanter and put my hands flat on the bar on either side of the tumbler now holding a double shot of Scotch.

“Mr. Heinz, are you familiar with a movie called The Usual Suspects?” I say the words still looking at the scotch, now sitting motionless in the tumbler.

“Keyser Söze,” he says after a pause.

“Precisely.” I finally turn to look at him. “I’m not such a monster to kill my wife and child, but I will never—ever—use my family as bargaining chips. Now, I’m going to do something that I never do. I’m going to say for a third time. State. Your business. Or leave.” I give him a firm glare. Once he brought my wife into this, all bets are off. Tell me what you want or get the hell out. He rises from his seat and buttons his jacket, and for a moment, I think he’s going to take option two.

“I work for a man who’s very interested in finding the gentleman you went to see in Ionia last month,” he says. “We know, too, that the man in the prison is not Anton Myrick. He’s a patsy—some old lifer that plays the role whenever anyone asks for Myrick. He has just enough information to make it look real until somebody like you shows up. We did our homework on you, Mr. Grey… or should I say Mr. Fields. I must say that I was very shocked to discover that you could see through the farce seeing that the last time you saw Myrick, you were only four years old.”

Don’t react. I can’t react. That’s public information. Anybody can dig deep enough—not that deep in fact—and find out that I was Christian Fields. Ana found out that I was Christian Fields.

Luckily, I don’t even flinch. I stand there looking at him in a manner that tells him that I’m still waiting for the punchline.

“We know that his son is in federal custody. We know that you had something to do with that. We just don’t know why,” he says.

“And you won’t find out from me,” I tell him flatly.

“You don’t really want to upset my employer, Mr. Grey. Mr. Russo doesn’t take kindly to being shunned.” It’s a threat. Russo. I know that name. Looking for Myrick. It has to be linked to the Detroit drug ring… of course! Marcus Del Russo… Sunset! Fuck! This has to be a fucking nightmare—a nightmare that never fucking ends.

“Let me see if I can get this straight. You march into my office demanding information without even telling me who you are, you throw a veiled threat at my family, and now you’re threatening me because me and your boss share a mutual enemy?” My voice is laced with such incredulity that I think even he has to rethink his tactic.

“I didn’t say he was an enemy,” Heinz says, taking his seat. Shit, I’ve let the cat out of the bag. I know exactly who Russo is, but I don’t think I want this guy to know that. I frown deeply.

“Well, you sure as fuck can’t be here because he’s a friend,” I continue. “If he was, you’d know where he is right now, but you don’t. So tell me, Mr. Heinz, are Myrick and Mr. Russo long-lost buddies? Because if they are, you can certainly get out of my office!”

“No,” he says calmly, “They’re not friends, not by a longshot. Mr. Russo is very eager to get in contact with Mr. Myrick, and not because they want to exchange war stories. Forgive my enthusiasm, Mr. Grey…” Enthusiasm? Is that what you call it? “… But surely you can see why it’s so important for to my boss that we locate this man.”

“I can’t see anything, Mr. Heinz, because you haven’t told me anything,” I retort, now facing him head on. “I’m a businessman, sir. I conduct business, and I do so with discussion, offer, compromise, and negotiation. I don’t resort to threats unless someone threatens me first, crosses me, or mistakes my diplomacy for weakness. My techniques have made me an extremely wealthy and powerful man—revered among many, feared by a few, loathed by several and smart enough to know when and when not to use strong-arm, bullying tactics! That may work well for you and Mr. Russo in your line of work, whatever that may be, but in mine, you state your business; wait for your response; and based on that response you make another statement or you leave the negotiations. You don’t walk in the door on a so-called fact-finding mission, charging through like the proverbial bull in a China shop hinting at breaking the little woman’s kneecaps if you don’t get cooperation!”

“Mr. Grey, there’s no need to be so dramatic,” the smug fucker says, crossing his legs. I square my shoulders.

“Tell Mr. Russo this. If you can get information about how my wife was in an accident where I’m certain that the details of the incident were not publicized, then you can find out why that bastard Robin Myrick is in federal custody right now, and he better fucking hope he stays there—but you won’t be finding out from me since that information is confidential as well. And rest assured that when—not if, when I find his bastard father, I’m going to rip his tongue out with my bare hands and choke him with it!”

“For a man who claims not to threaten anyone, that sounds a lot like a threat to me,” he says coolly.

“Are you Myrick?” I respond just as coolly.

“Of course not.”

“Then it wasn’t a threat. It was a statement of fact. He’s made it perfectly clear to me that after knowing nothing of me beyond the four-year-old boy whose life he tormented, he still means me no good after 26 goddamn years. He’s like a fucking rash that won’t go away, and the next time I see him, I’ll make sure that rash is cured—for good!” He raises his eyebrow at me, then stands to his feet.

“I think I’ve heard all I need to know,” he says. “Don’t worry. If you don’t succeed in taking Myrick down, he’ll go down one way or another.”

“If I get to him first, I can’t guarantee there will be anything left for you,” I respond. That knowing smile teases the corners of his lips.

“My employer will be grateful.” He smooths his suit and turns to leave. He and Jason square off for a moment or two before Jason wordlessly opens the door and steps aside. Heinz leaves without incident. Jason turns around to face me.

“What the fuck was that?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I’m not completely sure. If he is who we think he is, we didn’t have time to find anything on him, and I’m not really sure we would have found anything anyway. It would have taken much longer than we had before he showed up here.” I run my hand through my hair. I go looking for the man who has caused me nothing but grief in my childhood and made my life a living hell for decades thereafter, and he leads the fucking cartel right to my goddamn doorstep. Only moments after I lament this fact, someone’s knocking at my door like the damn police.

“This better be good,” I call out loudly as Jason opens the door. Welch comes brushing into my office, his brow deeply furrowed.

“Would you like to tell me why what can only be explained as one of the biggest cartel consiglieres just left out of this office?” I calmly take my seat and take a sip of the scotch that I rarely ever drink.

“Would you like to tell me why he had an appointment on the books and I didn’t know who he was?” I ask calmly. “Had I not answered those questions correctly or played my cards right, we could all be dead right now. There’s still no guarantee that we won’t be.”

“Because his name is not Richard Heinz,” he says, dropping a file on my desk. I pick up the file. “Richard Heinz is an accountant in Birmingham, Michigan with choice clients in Oakland county, many of them philanthropists and high-ballers. He’s a real person with a real background and he wouldn’t have set off any red flags.”

“Did you really expect him to use his real name?” I ask before opening the file to see Heinz’ mugshot greet me as well as other pictures of him walking down the street or talking to other men.

“His name is Ricardo Aragon. He’s had a couple of arrests, but no convictions. He’s clean as far as the law is concerned, but he’s Sunset’s right hand. So rest assured—anything that could possibly put him away has been buried… literally.” I bottom out my scotch glass. That fucker just made a reference to my wife and children.

“Ana,” I say, choking on the last drop of the liquor sliding down my throat, unable to disguise my obvious fear.

“How did you leave things with him?” Welch asks. “I only caught part of the conversation.”

“The last part?” I’m still choking a bit. He nods. “Then you caught it. I kicked him out of my office a couple of times because he wouldn’t tell me who he was or what he wanted. I treated him like any other bully that would stride into my office with no information and expect me to heel. He finally caved and told me why he was here. You saw it all. Before that, he was dancing around the issue, trying to bully me into giving him information, acting like he owned the damn place!”

“So basically, he was acting like you,” Welch says, matter-of-factly. I narrow my eyes at him. I’m very uncomfortable and five seconds off of firing this fucker.

“Alex…” Jason breathes his name as a warning, but it’s too late.

“No, as a matter of fact, he wasn’t acting like me, Mr. Welch!” I bark. “When I walk into an office like I own the place, it’s usually because I do!” I’m boiling faster and harder than I can think. I’m afraid for my family, even afraid for myself and he has wise cracks?

“I’m sorry, sir,” Welch says immediately, his voice contrite and his eyes betraying his realization. Apparently, he said something that he meant to think. “That was very callous and inappropriate of me and it won’t happen again.” I’m breathing heavily and gritting my teeth. His apology throws ice cold water on my anger, but my self-control has taken a nose-dive out the window and landed on the concrete several floors below. I turn away from him and begin to count. With my fists clenched, I count slowly and I get to 23 before I hear anyone else’s voice.

“I don’t think there’s anything else to worry about, sir,” Welch says. “He eventually told you who he was and what he wanted before he left. You’re on the same page.” He didn’t tell me who he was. He told me what he did and who he worked for. As far as he knows, I still think he’s Richard Heinz. I don’t trust him. Why should I? He’s a criminal and he works for a ruthless drug lord and now he’s come knocking on my door, flaunting information in my face and pushing my buttons. No, none of this puts me at ease—not one bit.

“I’ll see if there’s anything to be concerned about, but I’m sure there’s not…” Welch continues. Except that he threatened my family and he still thinks I don’t know his name, I think to myself. I’m still counting.

“See what you can do, Alex,” I hear Jason say. He knows there’s no use in trying to talk to me now. “Any useful information would be very helpful right now.” I don’t know what masked conversation my security staff just had, I but know them well enough to know that useless statements usually have a double meaning. Of course, useful information would be helpful right now—why else would Jason say something like that?

71… 72… 73… 74…

Without another spoken word, I assume Welch leaves the office as I hear my office door open, then close. There are a few more moments of silence…

97… 98… 99… 100.

“Can I do anything, Boss?” Jason asks cautiously. Our biggest concern was Courtney Melon-head Wilson… or so I thought.

“Make sure my wife gets home safely,” I tell him, not recognizing my voice. I’ll have to tell her what happened today. I promised not to keep her in the dark anymore. God knows I don’t want to tell her this, but I have to. I have to for the biggest reason of all…

I’m afraid. I’m afraid for her safety and the safety of our children, and I’m afraid for mine. This man is ruthless and if he thinks I have anything to do with Myrick besides wanting to see that fucker dead…

“I’ll make sure of it,” Jason says. “Should we brief her on what’s going on?”

“No,” I tell him without turning around, “I’ll tell her when I get home.” There’s more silence for a while.

“Anything else, Boss?” I pause before I turn around to face him.

“I need a holster that I can conceal under a suit.” I can’t take any chances. I can’t be completely unprepared if this guy comes after me, although I know that if he does, I’m totally out of my league and there’s not much that I would be able to do. At least this way, I have a fighting chance… I hope.

“Then we should get you down to the security hub and get you fitted, sir,” he says. I nod.

“Let’s go, then.”

*-*

Butterfly was already on her way home when Jason informed Lawrence that I wanted her back at the Crossing as soon as possible. I cut my day short once Jason had me fitted for another holster. The first one that I wore was one of his, something to wear under a jacket or coat. I need something that I can wear every day. The new one fits like a glove. You can’t tell anything is under my jacket, even in a tailored suit.

I don’t trust this guy. I don’t know what he’s going to do. I don’t know if he’s going back to Detroit to tell Del Russo that I’m no threat and in fact, I probably want Myrick dead worse than he does, or if he’s going back to tell him that I was cocky and uncooperative and I need to be “taught a lesson” or “taken care of.” I don’t know how to approach this topic with Butterfly, but I have to say that this is the very first time I can ever remember feeling relieved that she has decided to start carrying her firearms again.

She’s in her office when I get home, discussing something with Marilyn—something about the country club, I think. It appears that she took my advice and went with Broadmoor and we’re just waiting to see who will be chosen to sponsor us. I’d all but forgotten about the country club project. It seems like a million years ago compared to what I’m about to tell her now. I knock gently on her slightly cracked door and push it open a bit further so that I can step partially inside.

“I hope I’m not disturbing anything terribly important,” I say as nonchalantly as I can, but nothing gets past my Butterfly. From the moment she looks into my eyes, I know that she can tell something’s not right. She glances quickly at her watch before speaking to me.

“No,” she says calmly. “We were just finishing up here. You’re hours early.” She stops right there, leaving the door open for me explain why I’m home in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday. I could just tell her that it’s the day after Christmas and nothing much is going on right now, but she knows me better than that.

“I’ll go over these numbers and get started on that last project we discussed, Ana,” Marilyn says, gathering some folders and her tablet. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.” She quickly makes herself scarce, leaving me and Butterfly alone. Even heavy with child, she seems to float from her seat and glide over to me, noting my obvious uneasiness.

“What is it, Christian?” she says softly, her voice comforting. “What’s wrong?” Her eyes search mine for answers that, even now, I’m struggling to give her. I sigh and take both of her hands in mine and put my forehead on hers.

She’s my life… my everything. Without her, I have no purpose, no direction. I need her strength right now because I’m afraid. I don’t know if I’m afraid for her, for myself, for us… but I’m afraid. Imagine that—the great Christian Grey is afraid.

“I need to tell you something, Baby,” I say, my eyes closed, attempting to draw from her strength. When I open my eyes, she’s expecting and worried, and a bit afraid herself. I lead her to one of her large chairs across from her desk and gesture for her to take a seat. This will be easier if I just rip off the Band-Aid, so I undo my jacket and take it off, revealing the holster that now hugs my body over my dress shirt.

Her eyes grow large and her concern and fear is now palpable, filling the room. Though the holster is empty, she knows what this means. I never carry my gun—not regularly, anyway, unless I have a purpose. The holster means there’s a purpose, and I need to tell her now so that her imagination doesn’t run away with her. I sit on the trunk she has in front of the chairs that doubles as a coffee table and take her hands again.

“I had a visitor today…”

I tell her all about Aragon and Sunset and their business and their relationship to Myrick. I tell her about his line of questioning and his knowledge of our comings and goings, including her accident and my trip to Ionia and the fact that he and his boss already knew that Myrick wasn’t there. I finally tell her about his indirect reference to her and the babies and the fact that he is an extremely unpredictable unknown with a ruthless boss who likes to do cruel and unthinkable things to people and send body parts to family members as mementos.

“I don’t know what his next move is,” I tell her uncertainly. “He left me thinking that we were on the same team, but hell, he never gave me his real name… Welch did.”

“And you’re concerned enough to start carrying your gun.” It’s a statement, not a question. I nod slowly.

“I’m out of my league, Butterfly. I don’t tangle with the cartel… ever. If my business has any dealings whatsoever which characters of questionable integrity, my security handles that, not me. He came to me. He passed security clearance and walked right into my office. Had security not pinpointed his type and I answered any of his questions the wrong way, I might not be here right now.” She shivers visibly.

“Okay,” she says, her voice shaken. “So what does this guy want?”

“As far as I can tell, Myrick dead.”

“Then you want the same thing. What’s the problem?” she asks, her voice almost beseeching.

“I’m not sure he believes me,” I confess. “Until I’m sure, just be ready, be alert, and be careful. I’d die if anything happened to you.”

“And I’d die if anything happened to you…” A lone tear rolls down her cheek.

“Welch is looking into it now, Butterfly,” I tell her, wiping the tear away with my thumb. “I just wanted to make sure that you were informed. I didn’t want to keep you in the dark about this.”

“I appreciate that,” she says, her voice cracking. “You have to be prepared or else you’re a sitting duck.”

“Exactly. I’m sure Welch will have something for me soon. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready. Just…” I never thought I’d say this out loud. “… Stay locked and loaded. Okay?” She raises inquisitive eyes to me, then nods while squeezing my hands.

“I will,” she assures me. “I will.”


A/N: Christian Grey is afraid enough to make Ana promise to stay strapped. What’s next for the Greys?

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

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 45—More Holiday

I haven’t sent out an email yet because I need to update the mailing list and just wanted to get the story posted. So if you haven’t received an email, don’t panic—nothing’s wrong, I just didn’t send it. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write in a while with everything going on, but this weekend I took a little time to jot down some ideas and the Muse went batshit! So many damn ideas that this story will NEVER fucking end!

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 45—More Holiday

ANASTASIA

Jason and Gail part ways with us when we leave the Fairmont. Chance and some other guy—Clements, I think his name is—follow us to Bellevue so that Ben can spend some time with his family. Luma is the first person we see when the butler lets us in and takes our coats. As usual, she’s doting on Burt, and Herman is not too far away. Herman’s fondness for Luma is a bit more obvious today. She’s wearing a beautiful, floaty tangerine dress and her hair is styled in a carefree chignon with tendrils hanging loosely about her head.

Our security unloads our gifts for everyone and takes them into the great room where the other gifts grace the Christmas tree. Our attempt at an impromptu entrance is foiled by an eager Celida leaping to her feet and running across the room.

“Hi, Mr. Christian!” she declares while streaking across the room. Christian quickly squats to her level and laughs heartily as she runs into his arms. He scoops her up as Luma watches adoringly.

“How is my girl?” Christian says and Celida beams in his arms.

“Good, Mr. Christian! I got a doll and some games and a pontuter for Christmas, but me and Riah have to share. Dat’s okay cuz I like to share with Riah. She shares with me all the time.”

“That’s very good, Celida,” he says. “Now say this with me… com-pu-ter.”

“Com-pu-ter,” Celida repeats.

“One more time.”

“Com-pu-ter,” she says.

“Very good,” Christian says, giving her a sincere, 32-tooth smile. Celida returns his smile and hugs him tight around his neck.

“I’m glad you’re here, Mr. Christian,” she says softly.

“I’m glad you’re here, too, Celida,” he says when she releases him, looking into her eyes. He points to his cheek and she gives him a little kiss. They share another little moment as Mariah comes and pats my stomach.

“Hi, Ms. Ana,” she says softly. “The babies still not here yet?” I smile down at her.

“Not yet, but soon,” I say to her sweet little face.

“I hope so,” she says. “I want to kiss them.” I can’t help my giggle.

“I want to kiss them, too,” I confess, holding her hand. “And I promise, I’ll let you know as soon as they get here.” She smiles widely.

“Okay,” she says, and she seems content with the promise. I look to my left and Celida is now at my side, beckoning me with her finger. I lean down to her and she whispers in my ear.

“I know you’re married to Mr. Christian, but when I grow up, can I marry him, too?” I have to stop myself from laughing out loud.

“Celida, you can’t marry Mr. Christian!” Mariah says, quietly. “He’s already married!” Celida’s little face falls like someone has broken her heart. I take her little hand.

“Mariah’s right,” I tell her, “but one day, you’re going to meet someone who’s really sweet and handsome, just like Mr. Christian, and then you can marry him. Until then, I’ll share Mr. Christian with you. Do you think that will be okay, Mariah?”

Mariah contemplates the idea like it needs her sincere consideration. Celida waits patiently, hopefully, for her big sister’s approval.

“I guess if it’s okay with you and it’s okay with Mr. Christian, then it should be fine,” she says. Celida smiles widely.

“I’m sure it’s okay with Mr. Christian,” I say softly, turning back at Celida who wraps her arms around me tightly, like she did Christian moments earlier.

“Thank you, Ms. Ana!” she says sincerely, and I think I just gave her another Christmas present.

“You’re welcome, Celida.” I hold my arm out to Mariah and she hugs me, too. “Thank you for your approval, Ms. Mariah.” She giggles.

“You’re welcome, Ms. Ana.” She smiles widely at me and takes her sister’s hand. Off they go to parts unknown, like we didn’t just strike up a deal on some sort of quasi-polyamorous relationship.

“What was that all about?” Christian asks when I finally stand upright.

“Oh, nothing,” I tell him. “Celida and I just agreed to become sister-wives.” I slowly look up at him and the expression that comes over his face is utterly priceless! It’s confusion and bewilderment and horror and something else that I can’t even identify. I cannot stop myself from breaking out into gut-wrenching laughter and I literally have to hold the babies in.

“What are you two doing?” Grace says as she comes from the kitchen with a tray of hors d’oeuvres.

“I think I just stunned my husband, that’s all,” I say, attempting to compose myself. Although I haven’t seen Al and James yet and wonder what’s keeping them, the next voice I hear slices my laughter right out of the air.

“Hmm, they say black is supposed to be slimming. I guess it’s not true for everyone.”

How the fuck did I not know that she was here? She’s been sitting not twenty feet from me since I walked in and I totally zoned her out. I’m not here a full ten minutes and the barracuda has started already. She’s not speaking loudly, but loud enough for me to hear her.

“Don’t start, Val,” Elliot chides, quietly.

“What?” Val hisses, annoyed.

“How can you not see anything wrong with what you just said?” he scolds.

“I’m just making a statement of fact,” she retorts, folding her arms.

“It’s opinion and it’s vicious and I want you to stop it right now!” he snaps, quietly. Luckily, the rest of the family can’t hear this exchange and I don’t think they know that I can. I discover from his expression that Christian has heard it, too. He puts his hands on my shoulders and kisses my hair.

“She or he had better keep it in check,” he says. “I will not have you upset on Christmas and I will barbeque that woman today without a second thought.” I reach back and caress his cheek, smiling like we’re sharing a special little secret.

“Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that,” I say, sweetly before turning to Grace. “Allen and James left before I did. I don’t know what could be keeping them.”

“Oh, they’re here already. Allen went off to Carrick’s study to discuss something with him and James just went along. We’re still waiting for Amanda and Ray, though.” I frown.

“I hope everything’s okay,” I say. “Should I call Daddy?” Grace shakes her head.

“It’s still early. I wouldn’t worry just yet,” she says, squeezing my shoulder. “How are my grandchildren?”

“Resting blissfully, thank God,” I tell her as I rub my baby bump. “I feel like I’m 110 months pregnant. Please make it go away,” I whine.

“You look it, too,” Valerie says, only not as quietly as her first statement. In an instant, every eye in the room is on her, glaring at her like she’s some unwanted demon from hell. Elliot closes his eyes and sets his coffee on the table.

“Put a sock in it, Valerie,” he says, his voice menacing.

“What?” she asks in that same what did I do tone.

“What?” Elliot mocks her tone. He’s getting angry.

“I’ll tell you what…” Christian begins and instinctively, my hand shoots across in front of him. I don’t know who’s watching whom, I just know that the room is silent. My eyes are to the floor and my hand has halted my husband in his tracks like an invisible force field. No doubt, all eyes are on me. I silently walk into the dining room, away from the action and the observations. Taking a seat in one of the chairs that line the outside of the room, I take a deep breath. No fighting with Ms. Marshall today. If she wants to act like an untrained banshee from the wild, she’s going to be doing it on her own. She’s Elliot’s problem, not ours.

Christian comes into the dining room a few moments after I’ve left the great room.

“Are you okay?” he asks, squatting down in front of me.

“I’m fine,” I say, looking into his concerned gray eyes.

“Why did you stop me?” he asks.

“Because Elliot was handling it,” I tell him. “He’s the one that has to deal with her, not us.”

“But if she’s talking to you that way, making you feel uncomfortable in my parents’ home, then we have to deal with her!”

“Please,” I beseech him, “just let him deal with her, okay?” I can’t let the holiday be about Valerie. To have this happen, I could have stayed with the Davenports. Part of me wishes that I had, except that I want to see my Daddy and Mandy and Harry.

“He better deal with her, Butterfly, or I swear to God, I will,” he says firmly. I sigh.

“I know.” And there goes Christmas. At that moment, Liona comes into the dining room from the kitchen, carrying dishes for the table settings. Her eyes rest on my husband for a moment and I just sigh quietly. Here we go with this again. She surprises me, however, by straightening her stance and walking over to us.

“Mrs. Grey, Mr. Grey, Merry Christmas. Is there anything that I can get for either of you?”

To say that I’m taken aback is an understatement. Is this the same woman who was almost fired for treating me like crap because she’s in love with my husband? I think Christian is equally stunned, but he manages to find his words before I do.

“May I have a glass of water for my wife?” he asks, a bit bewildered.

“Certainly, sir,” she says with a professional nod. “Would you like ice, Mrs. Grey?”

“Yes, please,” I say softly. She nods again before doing a somewhat military turn and leaving the room through the same door she entered. Christian and I just stare at one another.

“Who is that and what has she done with Liona?” Christian asks.

“I don’t know, but let’s not question the fates. I like this person!” I tell him.

Liona brings my water back in and excuses herself to finish the Christmas preparations. I stay in the dining room until Grace comes in to check on me and tells me that my father and Amanda have arrived. I assure her that I’m okay and go back into the great room to join the rest of the family.

“We’re so sorry to be late,” Mandy says. “Harry’s teething and we were trying to get him settled a bit before we brought him out.” I see her carrying a baby seat with a little fluffy, fussy mound inside.

“Hey, Sunflower,” Daddy says, kissing me on the cheek. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine, Daddy,” I lie, “ready to have my babies,” I add as a reason for my melancholy.

“It won’t be long now, Annie,” he says sympathetically. Really, I just want to get out of the room with Valerie Marshall. I don’t want to be in the same space with her. I don’t want to be the butt of her jokes or give her any reason to say anything to or about me. I want to be anywhere but here, and any bit of attention that anyone shows me seems to fuel her fire. I even hear her sighing heavily as my father dotes on his very pregnant daughter. I’m suddenly very tired and my head hurts. I rub my scar to ease the ache a bit.

“Baby, why don’t you come over here and sit down?” Christian says, taking my mind away from my stinging scar. He sits me in a comfortable chair on the other side of the room, as far away from Ms. Marshall and her sneer as possible. In moments, Mandy is next to me.

“Do you want to hold Harry, Ana?” she says sweetly. “It’s time for him to come out of this seat for a while.” Over her shoulder, I can see Christian summoning Elliot out of the room. I turn my attention back to Mandy and she has now unwrapped my fussy little brother.

“Wow, he’s gotten so big,” I say looking into his discontent little eyes. Suddenly, the world falls away and there’s nothing but fussy little Harry. I hold out my arms to him and she puts him in my hands. He’s so wiggly and unhappy.

“You don’t want to be here, either, do you, Harry?” I say, low enough for only my brother to hear. He looks up at me as if he understood what I said. His little face frowns up and his lip pokes out as if to say, “No, sis, I don’t.” I know, Harry. It kind of sucks. I’d rather be somewhere eating ice cream or something, not sitting in a room with a woman who was once my best girlfriend and now can’t stand the sight of me.

“We’ll comfort each other, Harry,” I say, bending my legs and tucking my feet under myself in the large chair. I snuggle Harry in the crook of my arm, close against his niece and nephew, and it seems to calm him a bit. He’s still a bit discontent, though, so I sing him a little lullaby, one that no one else can understand so that it’ll just be between Harry and me…

L’était une une petite poule grise
Qu’allait pondre dans l’église
Pondait un p’tit’ coco
Que l’enfant mangeait tout chaud

L’était une p’tit’ poul’ noir
Qu’allait pondre dans l’armoire
Pondait un p’tit’ coco
Que l’enfant mangeait tout chaud

Harry is mesmerized, like he totally understands the French lullaby about a little boy eating eggs as fast as the colorful chickens could lay them.

L’était une p’tit’ poul’ blanche
Qu’allait pondre dans la grange
Pondait un p’tit’ coco
Que l’enfant mangeait tout chaud

Maybe Harry and I were both French in a prior life. Of course, that’s my running joke to explain my fascination with the French language, but wouldn’t that be something… if my brother and I were both French reincarnates and we somehow found each other in the big earth all over again? How romantically delusional, I laugh to myself.

L’était une p’tit’ poul’ rousse
Qu’allait pondre dans la mousse…

Six verses Harry sits through with me, while a gray hen laid an egg in a church and a black hen laid an egg in the closet; a white one in the barn; a red one in the moss; a beige one in the snow; and finally a brown one on the moon. And somehow, the mischievous little boy followed every chicken and ate each egg, fresh after it was laid. By the time our little galloping gourmet has finished lunar meal, Harry’s little mouth forms the perfect little “o” and widens as he squeezes his eyes shut tight.

“Êtes-vous somnolent, frère Harry?” I ask my little brother, and his little eyelids are so heavy that he can barely keep them open.

“C’est Noël,” I protest. “Les petits garçons ne dorment pas sur Noël.” My little brother cares nothing about the fact that little boys shouldn’t be sleepy on Christmas. His lids are at half-mast and he’s falling fast.

L’était une une petite poule grise
Qu’allait pondre dans l’église…

By the time we get back around to the white chicken again, Harry’s fast asleep. I remember the conversation that I had with Christian when I found out that I was pregnant, how I didn’t want to bring my children into such a hateful, spiteful, and dangerous world. Then, I remember the first time I held Harry in the hospital when they let him out of the NICU and again at Daddy’s and Mandy’s in his room… when we were formally introduced. I think we bonded that day. I told him how screwed up I was and hopefully I wouldn’t be so screwed up by the time he was old enough to really know me. Then I gave him my closest friend ever. His name was actually Fuzzy Whiskers, but at three years old, I couldn’t quite pronounce it. So he became Mr. Fuzzlewuzzers. I turned him over to Harry—he’s a dream-catcher of sorts. I’ll have to make one for my children.

I continue to sing to Harry, lost in the contentment of his little face and happy that he’s not fussing anymore. Babies may fuss, but ultimately, they bring peace…

“Come on, sleepyhead, it’s time for dinner.” Christian’s soothing voice rouses me from my sleep.

“Huh?” When did I fall asleep? I look around and realize that I’m still in the large chair the great room with Harry snuggled in my arm next to the babies. Mandy is nearby to retrieve her son.

“I didn’t have the heart to wake you,” she says, smiling, “so I figured that Harry could eat when we did.” That was nice of her.

“Thank you,” I say, handing Harry off to her and unfurling in the seat. The stretch feels so good. “I don’t know what came over me. I wasn’t even sleepy.”

“That has nothing to do with it, darling,” Mandy says. “It’s the hormones. The moment you find yourself in any kind of comfortable position, they take over.”

“It’s usually not like that unless I’m upset or under some kind of stress or…” Right at that moment, my eyes meet with Valerie’s glare. Instinctively, or maybe purposely, Christian throws himself right in my line of sight.

“Come on, Baby, let me help you up,” he says, reaching out for me. Thank God, because this chair wasn’t going to release me easily.

“Bend at the knees for heavy lifting,” Valerie says sarcastically.

“You worry about your own wide load,” Christian retorts. Valerie and I gasp at the same time.

“Christian!” I say, unable to hide my mirth.

“Hey, I’ve issued my warnings. The gloves are off. If she can dish it out, she had better be ready to take it.” He helps me effortlessly from the chair. “Light as a feather,” he says with a smile and tucks my hand into his elbow. “Now, may I escort you to dinner, Lady Anastasia?” I smile widely.

“You may, Sir Christian,” I say, following my husband to the dining room and floating on air.

Dinner is pretty uneventful in terms of Valerie and her one shots. She throws a few double entendres, but no one pays her any mind because it is truly getting old. No one knows the reason for her ire—least of all, me—and after a while she was just being treated as the spoiled little brat that she was acting like. I partially feel sorry for her, because the only ones that will engage her in conversation are Pops and Herman. Mia had more to talk about with Celida and Mariah, and Elliot is busy conversing with his family. It turns out that Daddy and Elliot knew each other before I even met Christian. They’ve worked on some projects together and still collaborate on things from time to time. Talk about six degrees of separation!

Our attention is captured by Allen gently tapping his fork on his wine glass.

“I don’t mean to interrupt coffee and dessert… well, actually I do,” he says, eliciting a laugh from the table. “I don’t really have a toast, so to speak, though it may sound like one before I’m done. I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Grey and Chris and Jewel for inviting James and me to spend the holiday with you all. I think I speak for both of us when I say that we feel much more welcome and at home here with you than we did last Christmas.”

“Hear, hear!” James says, lifting his coffee cup, again eliciting a small murmur of laughter.

“We appreciate that you have welcomed us into your home and your hearts, without judgment. It really means a lot.” He holds his head down. “Jewel and I have been through a hell of a lot. Fifteen years now, right, Jewel?”

I nod, pursing my lips at him because I know that he’s going to make me cry.

“It ain’t been no cake walk,” he continues. “You moving to Vegas and leaving me to fend for myself… then you having to fend for yourself…”

And the tears start.

“The horrible things that happened before…” He swallows and James quickly takes his hand. “… Before you came back to us, and then the horrible… things that…” He chokes and James has to rise out of his seat to comfort him momentarily.

“I’m fine,” he says, after a few moments. “There’s a purpose… for all this, Jewel,” he says as James hands him a handkerchief. Christian’s rubbing off on you, huh, James? Al smiles at his fiancé.

“You know I have one, dear,” he says, taking the hanky and wiping his tears.

“I know,” James replies, softly. Once Al has composed himself, he reaches into his suit jacket and pulls out a thick envelope.

“With everything that’s happened, I’m very happy to see you content, in love, and starting your family, able to move on beyond all of the harrowing events that have stained your past. Although there are so many doors that still remain open, I’m glad that we can finally bring closure to one of them.” He walks around the table and hands me the envelope.

“Merry Christmas, Jewel.”

My brow furrows, but I take the envelope, gently tear it open, and begin to read:

In the Superior Court of King County, State of Washington;
Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey, Plaintiff versus Edward Robert David, Defendant;
Civil case #3:16-JU-154-KI-015
Judgement.

I gasp loud and long, covering my mouth. Christian puts his arm around me looks over my shoulder at the papers.

“What is it?” he asks, trying to read the papers.

“How?” I gasp.

“Keep reading,” Al says, smiling. I try to read the papers, but my eyes fill with tears. Christian takes the papers from me and begins to scan them, page after page.

“Fuck me,” he says quietly, but not quietly enough because his mother hears him.

“Christian!” she scolds firmly.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but… fuck…” Well, that was no better.

“Well, come on, Bro, don’t keep us in suspense!” Elliot says. He touches me on the shoulder as I’m nearly sobbing. I just nod. I haven’t even read the rest yet.

“It’s her judgment… against David,” he says.

“I thought he got thirty years or something,” Mia says.

“No, this is her civil judgment,” he says.

“Lawsuit?” Daddy asks. I don’t hear any answer, but Christian reads:

It is ordered, adjudged, and decreed that Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey, Plaintiff, is granted judgment as to liability to actual damages as well as reasonable attorney’s fees to which she may be entitled to have and recover against Defendant Edward Robert David as follows: Lost wages from July 20, 2013 – August 3, 2013 totaling $9,000; Itemized medical expenses, including but not limited to Life-Flight transport from Vashon Island, hospital stay, convalescent care, medications, testing, and private specialists totaling $106,120.32; Credit card theft and recovery expenses totaling $8,417.63; Punitive damages totaling…”

He trails off. By now, Al has given me his handkerchief and I’m wiping the tears. I look up at Christian.

“Fuck me,” he says lowly again. Grace rolls her eyes, but doesn’t bother to scold him again.

“What?” I say, now impatient myself. He looks up at me and back down at the paper.

Punitive damages totaling $4,575,500.00.” He looks back up at me. “You cleaned him out.” He looks at Al. “She cleaned him out.” I look over at Al.

“I thought he was worth six mil,” I say, bemused.

“Not after legal fees,” Al says. “He had a trial—botched up though it was—and a lawsuit. He had to pay those people.”

“We were going to settle,” I say. How did I possibly get what I asked for?

“This was the settlement,” he says. “Remember, we asked for five. He didn’t have anything left. The idea of being yours—and possibly Christian’s—veritable indentured servant should he ever see the light of day again didn’t appeal to him. So he turned over everything he had left—investments, bank accounts, retirement funds, his business, everything. The settlement is written such that you have the option to liquidate his assets and take a cash payout of the worth as a settlement, or keep them intact as is—including his business—and see if the market value and goodwill will satisfy the lawsuit.” Either way…

“I won.” I say quietly.

“You won, Jewel,” he says. “You can close this book.” I’m nearly hyperventilating. I can’t get out of my seat fast enough, but he already knows what I’m trying to do. My best friend and soul mate makes his way around the table and I throw my arms around him, holding him as close to me as I can.

“It’s over,” I breathe. “It’s over. Thank you. Thank you…” I’m so grateful that I don’t know what to do with myself. I pull back from him. “About how much of that is liquid?” Al does quick calculations.

“If we liquidate the investments and the retirement fund after penalties for early withdrawal, combined with the bank accounts without auctioning off any other assets, I say we’re looking at about a solid mil, more or less.” My eyes go straight to Grace. She gazes at me for a moment before she catches my drift.

“No!” she says emphatically.

“Yes!” I protest. “What else am I going to do with it? I mean, really, Grace, what else am I going to do with it?”

“We’ve talked about this, Ana,” she retorts.

“And it won’t come from me, it’ll come from him!” I say emphatically. “There are at least three women that were brutalized because of him, two of them directly by his hand that we know of! Isn’t this what we do? Isn’t this what we fight to prevent? Shouldn’t one of the bastards responsible for this kind of crap contribute to preventing it?” Grace looks over at Carrick, who nods in agreement, then back at me. “One way or another, this money is going to some charity. Why not ours?” Grace sighs deeply.

“I’m sure glad you’re on my side,” she says. “I’d hate to have to be the opposition against you.”

“Yeah, like that’ll ever happen,” I say with mirth. “So, Al, as soon as you can make it happen, liquidate as much as you can, run the numbers through GEH’s accountants, and make a check out to Helping Hands.” Al nods happily, just as Valerie finds an opportunity to take another shot.

“Yeah, it’s not like Lady Anastasia is going to be needing it anytime soon,” she says with disdain. Christian throws his napkin on the table in front of him and I know there’s no stopping what’s about to happen. Grace makes to say something, but she’s too late and I want to tell her so badly that it’s no use. The bull is loose.

“That’s it!” he snaps. “I don’t know what your problem is, but you’re going to stop treating my wife that way.”

“Christian, don’t…” I try to stop him.

“Don’t you see how pregnant she is? How much she’s been through? She doesn’t need this stress. She almost died, for fuck’s sake! Are you that much of a disagreeable bitch that you have no compassion?” he barks.

“Christian!” Elliot shouts. Valerie is sitting there wide-eyed and gaped-mouth.

“No!” Christian retaliates. “She keeps doing this because nobody tells her how fucked up it is! I don’t know what happened. I only saw the fight at the vacation house that ruined Ana’s birthday weekend, but the way she treats Ana is criminal. I, for one, am not going to sit by another second and watch her torment my very pregnant, very fragile wife! I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I tried to let them work it out on their own, but every time she sees Ana, she vindictive and spiteful and hateful and I’m not going to stand for it anymore. Make a choice if you have to, Bro—I understand—but if your girlfriend berates my wife one more time, she’s going to have to deal with me!”

I drop my head and don’t look at anyone in the room. I’m humiliated… not because Christian came to my rescue—I love him for that—but because it was necessary for him to come to my rescue. I feel so helpless, so lost, but I won’t cry even though I want to. I struggle to get around the table. People try to help me, but I reach for no one. I’m heartbroken again, but I won’t show it here. I don’t know if someone says something behind me, but I hear only silence as I slowly and deliberately walk out of the room.

I said that I didn’t want to be around her and this is why. I didn’t want to give her the chance to hurt me again, but I stayed when I should have left, trying to be part of the family celebration. My heart wants to cry, but my eyes won’t let me. They’ve decided that they’ve cried too many tears over this particular situation and the water refuses to fall.

I escape to my refuge in Grey Manor, Grace’s parlor. I sit in one of the large chairs and throw my legs across the arm. It’s surprisingly comfortable. I close my eyes and drift off into my native tongue again…

“Des yeux qui font baisser les miens,
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche,
Voilà le portrait sans retouche
De l’homme auquel j’appartiens

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas,
Je vois la vie en rose

Il me dit des mots d’amour,
Des mots de tous les jours,
Et ça me fait quelque chose…”

I never understood why the English version of this song was nowhere near the French translation. The English version talks about casting magic spells and heaven sighing when you kiss, but the French version translates into whispering in her ear, entering in her heart, and seeing life in pink.

I like the French version better.

“Il est entré dans mon cœur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause.

C’est lui pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie,
Il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie.

Et dès que je l’aperçois
Alors je sens en moi
Mon cœur qui bat.”

Just as I opt to hum the repeat of the verse, I hear his deep, melodic voice pick up where I left off…

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas,
Je vois la vie en rose.

Il me dit des mots d’amour,
Des mots de tous les jours,
Et ça me fait quelque chose.

Il est entré dans mon cœur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause.

C’est toi pour moi, moi pour toi dans la vie,
Il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie.

Et dès que je t’aperçois
Alors je sens dans moi
Mon cœur qui bat

And just when I thought I liked the French version better, he helps me out of my chair and begins to dance with me, singing the English version in my ear…

Hold me close and hold me fast
This magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose.

When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom

And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs

Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.

I can almost hear the trumpets playing as we glide around Grace’s parlor. I almost forget what happened only moments prior until he tells me that he has said our goodbyes and we have to leave.

“No, Christian,” I protest. “I don’t want her to chase me away.”

“Actually, Mrs. Grey, they’re already gone, but we do have to go because there’s a mini-crisis boiling at the Crossing.” I frown.

“Oh?” I ask.

“We have an uninvited guest. We really need to get home.”

Shit. Who’s at my house?


CHRISTIAN

“She hasn’t seen Ana for weeks!” I hissed at Elliot. “She hasn’t even spoken to her since before the accident. She wouldn’t even spend Thanksgiving with us. What the hell is her problem?”

“I swear, I don’t know, Christian,” he said, wearily. “I’m trying to keep her in check. You see me trying.”

I did see him trying, but Valerie wasn’t listening. I won’t let her abuse Butterfly today. I simply won’t allow it to happen.

“Elliot, I’m not trying to give you a hard time, I swear to God, but that woman in there is carrying my children. She has to watch her blood pressure because it’s dangerous for her and for the babies. I may need to get her back to the neurologist because I think when she gets upset, her head starts to hurt. There are some other things that I need to keep an eye on and I don’t have time to play games with Valerie. I don’t give a fuck about her feelings because a—she’s not carrying two babies in a high-risk pregnancy, b—she didn’t spend almost two weeks in a goddamn coma after a nearly fatal accident and c—nobody knows why the fuck she’s acting like a premenstrual shrew, not even you. Whatever her issues are, she better get ‘em in check, because if she fucks with my wife, I’m fucking with her. Are we clear?” Elliot rubbed the back of his neck.

“We’re clear, Christian,” he said, never raising his head. I sighed as I examined my brother.

“What’s going on, Elliot?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said, exacerbated.

“Kate?” I asked.

“Worse,” he lamented. “I don’t know what’s happening. She’s two different people. I’ve been thinking about leaving…”

“Really?” I asked him. “It’s that bad?” He nodded.

“When I was at your house for Thanksgiving, it was so peaceful. I wanted to stay so badly. I didn’t even want to go back.” You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Why do you?” I asked.

“Because I love her,” he said. “I have to find out what’s wrong if it’s the last thing I do. None of you have to stick by me. None of you have to be around her or deal with her, but no matter what happens, she’s my Angel, and I have to figure out what’s wrong with her.”

He was desperate, I could tell. He would pay for answers if he had to. I just nodded.

“I won’t antagonize her, Elliot,” I promised him, “But if she attacks my wife…”

“I understand,” he said, “really, I do.”

When we step out of the den back into the great room, Valerie is gazing at my wife, almost longing. I’m caught off guard and I look at Elliot. What’s this? He just shrugs.

“She’s two different people,” he had said. “I have to figure out what’s wrong with her.”

Well, here’s a perfect example, because if I didn’t know better, I’d swear she would leap from her seat, run to Butterfly and hug her right now. I look over at Elliot, who only shrugs again. He’s just as clueless as I am.

Butterfly is singing a French lullaby to a sleeping Harry—“La Petite Poule Grise.” What’s funny—and cute—is that she’s actually singing herself to sleep, too. Since it appears that the barracuda is going to leave her alone, I go over to my grandfather.

“Hey, Pops,” I say, noting his pale color. “How are you feeling?”

“Not so good today, Christian,” he replies honestly. “More tired than I would like.”

“Dialysis hasn’t been going so great,” Uncle Herman adds. “He seems like he’s worse off when he’s done than he is before he goes.”

“Dialysis is tiring,” Luma says. “It’s hard on the body.” Herman shakes his head where Luma can’t see him. I know what this means.

“What’s the doctor say, Pops?” I ask.

“There’s not much that he can say that I don’t already know,” Pops responds. “I’m an old man and I need a new kidney. The ones I got are no good, and almost every day they have to filter my blood through a machine so they can clean me up and I can live a little longer—long enough for them to filter the blood through a machine again, and again, and again. I’m tired all the time. I’m asleep more than I’m awake. My creatinine levels are astronomical and getting higher before they get lower. I don’t see the purpose of this exercise anymore.”

“So that you can live longer,” I protest.

“But what kind of life is this?” he asks. “I can’t walk. I won’t be able to play with my grandkids when they get here. I can barely stay awake and there’s a lot of pain, Christian, a lot of pain…”

“Pain?” I ask incredulously. He nods.

“Aches and pains all over or some infection somewhere that’s got me taking antibiotics that don’t work anymore. I have frequent headaches, blood clots, I have a hard time breathing… and they don’t have any good news for me. The only good news that they could have for me right now is that they have a kidney, and that news ain’t coming. I’m so sick that I’m at the top of the list and so old that I’m at the bottom. That news ain’t coming for me.” Pops struggles to get out of the wheelchair. “Get me to bed, Herman. I just wanted to be around the family for a little while. I’m tired now.”

“Can I come and sit with you for a while, Grampa?” Mia says, leaping from her seat. Pops smiles accommodating.

“Of course, you can, child,” he says sweetly. And he, Herman, and Mia begin the tedious trek up the stairs. I don’t dare try to talk to Dad about Pops. It’s clear to see that he’s at the end of his rope, but I’m not willing to accept that yet, so I know that Dad’s not there yet. Elliot has joined his girlfriend on the sofa and they talk in hushed voices. I head to the kitchen to talk to my mom and Ana’s parents for a while until dinner is ready.

We almost make it through our meal. Allen telling Butterfly about the settlement was the best present ever! My push gifts are really going to have to be spectacular to top that. Kate… I mean, Valerie, was taking minor shots at Butterfly ever since she woke up and left the Great Room, but when she had something to say about Butterfly donating David’s readily liquid assets to Helping Hands, I had enough. I quickly let loose on that woman, leaving her in a stunned silence and effective chasing my wife from the room. Before I can turn around and really let loose on this harpy, my phone rings. It’s Jason.

“Grey,” I answer out of habit, walking to a corner of the dining room out of the way of prying ears.

“Sir, I think we need to get back to the Crossing,” he says.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just got off the phone with Alex. Joseph Davenport got past the ‘no fly’ and was on his way to SeaTac.”

“Was?”

“Was. He just stepped out of a taxi. He’s at the guard’s booth at the Crossing right now.”

“Shit!” I hiss, forgetting where I am. “Are the Davenports still at the Fairmont?”

“They are, sir.”

“Have they been notified?”

“I don’t know. I don’t doubt that Joseph has tried to contact them a time or twelve since landing in Seattle.” I look at my watch. I smile to myself. It’s the Hublot that Butterfly bought me as a wedding present. I wear it often these days.

“The party might be winding down by now. Some of the family has to get back to their destinations. Contact Williams and Clements. Tell them to bring the cars to the front. I’ll go get Ana. What’s your ETA?”

“You’ll be there before we are, sir,” he says. Gail’s family is in Redmond, I think. “The staff is on alert. They’ll be fine without me. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“We’re on our way,” I tell him and end the call. I turn around and I have the attention of the entire dining room.

“On your way where, Christian?” Mom says, a little firmly. Here we go.

“Ana and I have to leave,” I tell her. “We have a situation brewing at home that we have to take care of right now.

“It can’t wait?” she says, insistently. “It’s Christmas.” I look my mother squarely in the eye, with intent, but apologetically.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but it can’t,” I say with finality. “Ana and I have been working on something for the last few days that is very delicate and we have to get home and see to it.” Mom sighs.

“Okay. I’ll have Jordan get your coats.”

“Thank you, Mom.” Elliot and Valerie are rising from the table. They have already retrieved their coats and Valerie is marching indignantly from the room. I wait until they pass the parlor door before I go inside, and there she is, cuddled in a chair singing “La Vie En Rose.” Boy, she’s really feeling the French today. I come into the room, take her from the chair and finish singing the song to her as we dance around the room, just the four of us. God, I love my wife!

After our dance and my impromptu serenade, I tell her that we have to leave and take care of a minor catastrophe at home.

“We have an uninvited guest. We really need to get home.”

“Oh, hell,” she says, following me into the vestibule as we put on our coats. Mom hands us several bags and bowls of leftovers and kisses us on the cheek. Williams and Clements have already unpacked the gifts from our car and repacked the car with gifts from our family. A few moments and a repacked car later and we’re off to the Crossing.

“I think Pops is giving up,” I tell Butterfly on the way back to the mansion.

“I don’t think he’s giving up, Christian. I think he’s accepting his fate.” Butterfly says. “The aches, the pains, dialysis isn’t really working anymore… he’s kind of settling into what’s happening.” I try not to glare at her while I’m driving.

“You talk to him?” I ask frowning.

“Regularly,” she says.

“Dignity therapy?” I ask, almost horrified.

“Of sorts, I guess,” she says. She looks like she’s thinking about it.

“Why didn’t you tell me or someone in his family that you were having end of life therapy with him?” I snap. I would have liked to know that my grandfather was dying! She sinks back defensively in her chair, frowning at me.

“First of all, as a medical, mental health professional, I can’t. What I’ve already told you is unethical, but you put two and two together, so I just let you go with it. Second of all, your grandfather doesn’t talk to me about death. He talks to me about life. He sits there talking to me about the good times that he had—vacations with his wife, watching his children grow, our wedding. He doesn’t sit there lamenting about things that he didn’t do, things that he should have done, or things that he did wrong. Third of all, when Pops is ready to let you know that he’s dying, he’ll let you all know. That’s not my responsibility, so don’t put that on me.” She’s ready for a fight if I’m ready to give her one. We’re already at the bridge. And I don’t want to fight with Butterfly.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to accuse you. Let’s handle one catastrophe at a time. Joseph is at our house.”

“Shit, you’re kidding me! Is Chuck there?” she laments, quickly changing gears.

“No, but I have no doubt that he’ll be…” Before I can finish my sentence, my phone rings. Now it’s Nelson.

“Nelson?” I answer.

“Christian, are you home?”

“On my way now.”

“Have you heard?” he asks.

“Yes, I have.” He sighs.

“We’re on our way back to your house. The party is winding down. The family that’s staying will meet for the brunch tomorrow before we say goodbye.”

“Do you need us to come and get Chuck?” I ask.

“No, my rental will do us just fine. We’ll see you there in a few.”

“In a few, Nelson.” I end the call. “They’re meeting us at the Crossing.”

“Oy! This is going to be interesting.”

When we get back to the mansion, the gates open and we whizz right past Joseph standing outside in a coat, jeans and hiking boots with a duffle bag in his hands. I get my wife to the portico and help her out of the car. As we are walking into the house, Nelson’s, silver rental pulls up right behind us. Williams opens the doors to let the occupants out of the car. Chuck steps out of the car and walks on his crutches next to Keri into the house. Nelson and Maddie step out of the car and upon seeing his parents, Joseph rushes to the vehicle.

“Mom, Dad, why weren’t you answering your phones?” he says in a scolding voice. Nelson looks at him, puts his hand in the small of his wife’s back and escorts her into the house.

We all settle in the dining room after Windsor has taken our coats and Ms. Solomon quickly springs into action, preparing coffee, tea, and nightcaps for those who want them. Chuck is absolutely glowing. I’m certain that no one told him that his wicked brother is here, but I discover that I’m wrong when Joseph finally gets the balls to enter the dining room with the rest of us.

“Oh wow, Joe, you missed it!” Chuck exclaims, like a thrilled little kid. “Everybody was there—Aunt Marie and Uncle William and the boys; Aunt Terri and Uncle Robert and Sarah and Phineas; Marlon and Sean; Roger’s engaged to be married and did you know Rachel and Martin had a baby? Scott and Rita couldn’t come, but Christian had them on a big screen on Skype!” You would have thought he was talking to his best friend. Joseph doesn’t quite know what to make of it. He came to give Chuck a piece of his mind, but he finds him elated and sharing his joy. Yet, Chuck had one fatal blow to throw, and he saved the best for last. “Even Sunny was there! God, the boys are getting so big!”

Joseph’s eyes pierce. He looks as if he could hit his brother. Every man in the room gets the same vibe and we are all at the ready to pounce if he even flinches in the wrong direction.

“So now you’re going to just rub it in my face? In front of everybody? People I don’t even know?” Joseph says.

“I didn’t ask you to come here,” Chuck laughs, apparently unable to feel anything but joy and laughter. “I said that you were dead to me… or did I say I was dead to you? Either way, we were dead. Dead people don’t talk to each other. Whatever you’re feeling right now, you could have avoided all of it by just staying away from me, but no. You had such a well thought-out plan because you thought the only thing that I had going for me was a bottle of Vodka. You didn’t expect me to have any resources, any friends, any back-up—why? Because Joe said so. You certainly didn’t expect me to have any family because you hid me for mine and mine from me for over a decade until a group of genuine people with huge hearts adopted me into their family because they saw what you couldn’t. And what did you do when you saw that?” Chuck laughs. “You came here and insulted them because they had my back. People whose dirty laundry you’re not worthy to wash and you have the nerve to be looking down on them.

“You have no idea of the humble beginnings that man came from.” He points to me. “He came from nothing—worse conditions than you could even imagine, and he ended up with this.” He flourishes his hands around the Crossing in a Vanna White-type demonstration. “You came from these wonderful, hard-working people who gave you everything.” He gestures to his parents. “You even had a gorgeous wife who gave you beautiful children and where are you now? Living above a storefront somewhere in Spearfish in an apartment that could probably fit in one of these bathrooms. Yet you look down on these people. You come here under the guise of getting money for our parents when you really needed it for yourself, then you throw a thousand-mile temper tantrum with those immature text messages and voicemails when you get caught.”

The entire time Chuck delivers his speech, he’s smiling. I don’t think he could be angry right now if he tried.

“But here’s my real Christmas present, Joe,” he says, his smile growing wider. “Yeah, I got my family back, and that’s the fucking best, but I gotta tell you, Bro. You tried everything—you lied, you dissed me, you belittled me. You almost made me take a drink. You besmirched everything I did, everything I accomplished; you did it when I was weak and you did it as a representative of the family, even though you didn’t have that authority. I just didn’t know it at the time. When you showed up, I thought you were the Davenport ambassador, and that’s what you wanted me to think. You wanted me to think that you were bringing the thoughts and feelings of the entire family to me, but you weren’t. They were just yours. Thank God I thought to change my next of kin and look for my parents or I never would have known what you had done all these years and neither would they. So as luck would have it and the Good Lord would fix it, I found my mom and dad, and we combed through all your lies. So all these years while you’ve taken everything away from me and I suffered so badly for so long for no reason, this year will be the one year that I finally got that one thing that’s better than any gift I could have ever hoped for—vindication. This year, my name is clear, and now you’re the bad guy. This Christmas—2013—will be the year that everybody remembers that Chuckie came back to life and Joe fucked up. So thanks, Joe. Best present ever!”

Chuck’s smile is brighter, wider, and more genuine than I think I’ve ever seen it. Joseph just glares at him, then turns to his father.

“So, you’re just going to let him talk to me like that, Dad?” Joseph says to his father. “After everything he’s put this family through? All the pain and humiliation and he just gets to say this shit to me?”

Nelson looks incredulously at his son, his mouth open like he wants to say something, but at this moment, the only thing he’s good for is catching flies.

“And what pain and humiliation is that!?” Maddie declares. “For God’s sake, Joe, haven’t you done enough?” she says finally. “My God! You don’t even have enough conviction to feel sorry! What happened to you? I don’t know what happened to you, but whatever it is, you can’t blame Chuckie! You’ve hurt so many people—me, your father, your brother, your children, your wife, yourself… and you’re still blaming Chuckie! What happened?” She’s screaming at him. She wants answers and she doesn’t care who’s in the room. “Fifteen years of anger and hatred and for what? Because it can’t be over a goddamn cake!”

Joseph looks horrified at Maddie, then back at Chuck.

“Now you’ve turned my mother against me?” Joseph nearly shrieks. What?

“That was all your doing, Joe,” Chuck says with a snicker.

“You just ruin everything you touch, don’t you?” Joseph accuses, “Nothing is ever right, all because of you!”

Maddie does this screeching thing and the next thing we know, there’s this loud, sharp clap ringing through the room. It happened so fast that I don’t think any of us see it, but we sure as fuck hear it. Joseph is staring at his mother, stunned, holding his face where she has just slapped lightning out of his cheek. Maddie is standing in front of him—a good foot shorter than he is—glaring up at him and breathing like a bull.

“I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it!” she screams, her fists clenched.

“Momma!” Nelson calls, trying to calm his wife.

“How dare you!” she snarls accusingly at Joseph while swatting her husband’s hands away from her arms. “How dare you! That’s my son! My baby! My child! Fifteen years! Fifteen fucking years! You had no right! You had. No. Right!”

She is furious, damn near hysterical. She’s going to need a sedative. Nelson wraps his arms around her in a futile attempt to subdue her, but Joseph is going to hear what she has to say if it’s the last thing she does before she passes out.

“How could you?” she wails. “How could you be so selfish? To keep a mother from her son? To let her believe that he was dead—that he was gone, that I would never see him again? How could you?” She’s sobbing now. She has finally released her happiness for seeing her son alive and now, she has to release her grief.

“Mom…” Joseph finally sounds contrite. “I’m… sorry…”

“No…” she weeps, as she sinks to the floor in Nelson’s arms. “No, no, no… how could you do this to me? How could you do this to meeeeeeeeee?” Her anguish almost makes me want to cry. Butterfly walks around me and kneels down to Maddie, effortlessly—like she’s not eight months pregnant. Maddie is weeping and muttering about her pain and suffering, about a mother being without her child for nearly half his life, and everyone in the room with a child is looking at Joseph like we could all kill him with our bare hands… even me, and my children aren’t even here yet.

“You took him away!” she wails, and she’s sounding a bit delirious. “You took my baby away from me! I’ll never forgive you! I’ll never forgive you for taking my baby away…” Yeah, she’s gone. Butterfly looks up at Lawrence.

“Ben… please,” she says, and he’s by her side in moments. “Nelson, do you mind?”

Nelson shakes his head. Butterfly takes his hand and they stand together while Lawrence effortlessly lifts Maddie’s tiny little sobbing form off the floor.

“Guest room four,” she whispers, and Lawrence starts to take Maddie away.

“Keri?” Chuck says, his eyes beseeching her and his smile fading for the first time this evening. She nods.

“Yes, Choonks,” she says, and falls in line behind Nelson and Butterfly as they all walk toward the elevator.

“Don’t you touch my mother!” Joseph barks, and begins to make a move towards Keri. Again, with the Davenport lightning speed, Chuck swipes Joseph’s legs with one of his crutches and pushes him solidly in his chest. Joseph’s feet go flying into the air and he lands on his back on the marble floor with a loud thud. I can tell that nothing’s broken, but I know that shit had to hurt. Keri never even broke her stride. Her man told her to go, so she left. Chuck is looking down at a groaning Joseph, examining him curiously before Chuck points at him.

“Stay down Joe,” he says with a menacing calm, “Don’t let the crutches fool you—I will fuck you up.” Joseph stares back at his brother as Chuck puts both crutches in one hand and squats down to Joseph.

“You see,” Chuck says, matter-of-factly, “broken bones, broken ribs, six to eight weeks to heal. Once I stopped being afraid of ibuprofen…” he spits the word out angrily, “… the healing process moved along pretty quickly. Today officially marks the beginning of week eight, so I’m suffering a bit of cabin fever and I’m ready to get out of this fucking thing.” He knocks on his cast. “The crutches are a formality so that I don’t faceplant while I’m moving around, but make no mistake. I can walk. I can move just fine, and I’d love to show you some of the things that I learned in advanced training, since you seem to think that since I won’t just immediately rise up and whip your ass that I can’t do it. But honestly, you’ve got other things that you need to be concerned about. Your parents are fucking pissed at you and you’re going to have to find some way to fix that… without blaming me, because they’re not buying that shit anymore. But Joe…” Chuck stands. “Don’t make any more sudden moves or derogatory statements towards my woman again, because if you do, you’re going to be taking your teeth home in a jar and I’ll make it look like an accident.” Joseph painfully pushes himself up on his elbows.

“That’s pretty big talk from a banged up, washed out drunk,” Joseph declares.

“Says the man lying flat on his back, tripped by a crutch,” Williams jabs. Chuck smirks.

“I don’t care if you believe me, Joey, just try me and see what happens.” At that moment, Jason walks into the dining room, dragging Gail behind him just as Chuck is finishing his statement.

“Damn! I always miss the good shit!” Jason laments, looking down at Joseph. “What’s with the trash on the floor?” I can’t help my snicker, then I turn to Gail.

“Would you please go to guest room four and see if they need anything? Maddie had a bit of an episode.”

“An episode! That doesn’t sound good…” she says as she rushes back down the hallway.

Maddie? A little cozy with my mother, aren’t you?” Oh, God, this fucker doesn’t know when to quit.

“Joseph, get your useless ass up off the floor and get the fuck out of this house,” Chuck says calmly.

“Not until I know what’s going on with Mom!” he says haughtily, getting to his feet.

“Why? So you can finish her off?” Chuck says angrily. “Get the fuck out!”

“You don’t have the power to throw me out!” Joseph says.

“Actually, he does,” I interject. Joseph turns to me. “As part of my family, he has the power to ask you to leave. As a member of my security team, he has the authority to physically throw you out of my house. So you might want to listen to him.” Joseph’s eyes narrow at me.

“I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere,” he says.

“Listen, asshole,” Jason jumps in, “I and five of my guys will take you out back and beat you beyond recognition just for the fun of it, then say we just came back to the mansion and you were trying to get into the house. We tried subdue you and you resisted. So what’s it going to be? Are you going to leave on your own free will or are you going to have a few contusions? Your choice.” He looks at Jason, his brow furrowed.

“You can’t do that,” he says.

“Yes, he can,” I interject again, “and with the trouble you just had at the airport, who do you think the cops will believe?” All the color leaves his face.

“How did you kno… that was you?” he asks, affronted. I glare at him.

“I told you to stay out of Seattle. Don’t you wish you listened now?” I hiss at him and I see that small chip in his armor that I’ve been looking for. Checkmate, asshole. “Do yourself a favor. Don’t cross me again. You don’t want to know what I can really pull out of my bag of tricks.” I look at Jason. “Get him off my property and don’t dirty your nails with him. If he tries anything, just call the police.”

“Will do, sir.” He grabs Joseph by the arm and he immediately begins to struggle. Jason does a submission hold, twisting his arm behind his back and bending his hand perpendicular to his arm at the wrist. Joseph is immediately docile.

“If you like this hand, I suggest you stop resisting,” Jason says calmly.

“My bag,” Joseph says through clenched teeth. Jason looks around and locates Joseph’s duffle bag.

“Chance…” He gestures with his head and Williams retrieves the bag.

“This is not over, Chucky!” Joseph hisses.

“You bet your ass, Joey!” Chuck retorts, and his brother is forcibly escorted from the mansion. I turn to Chuck.

“What now, Chuck?” I ask. “He’s going to be out for blood. Do we need to watch him?”

“Yeah, we do,” he says, “and I need to talk to Al, because I want to sue my brother for slander and defamation of character.” Okay, now I’m really taken aback.

“He doesn’t have anything,” I tell him. “What do you hope to prove?”

“He stole nearly fifteen years of my life. I don’t know what would have happened, but I know that I could have had my mom and dad and my family for the last fifteen years and I didn’t. Who knows, I may have had a wife and kids by now. Granted, my life turned out okay, but it was in spite of what happened, not because of it. And now my mother is upstairs having a nervous breakdown because she’s mourned the loss of a child for fifteen years only to find out that this was a plot of one of her sons to keep her away from the other one. She mourned my death, so to speak and now, she’s mourning all back over again. No, he may not pay a dime, but he has to pay somehow. Something besides the Court of Conscience has to tell that fucker that he’s wrong, because he doesn’t have one!”

Chuck has finally had enough and needs true vindication. He’s seen his family. He’s seen what he’s missed and he wants some of it back. This is his chance, and I can’t blame him for taking it.

“Tell me what you need,” I say. “I’m at your disposal.”


A/N: So our beloved Chuck is beyond mending and ready for action. 

Yes, Val is still a bitch. Nope, I’m not revealing her story yet. It’s not time. When it is time, I’LL let YOU know. 😉 

I didn’t translate the French songs or Ana’s conversation with Harry, but hopefully her narration gives you a gist of what was being said. The full version of the songs—if you would like to hear them—are on my Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X