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
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.
“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 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!
“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.
“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.
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/
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 🙂