I thought I had addressed the “Marilyn” situation adequately in my response to comments in the last chapter, but maybe I didn’t because people are still responding as if they never read them. Maybe they did read them, but are just so dug in to their opinions that my point of view when I wrote her reaction was of no consequence. So, I’ll try to quickly explain it a different way.
I don’t know where you guys work and I’m not passing judgment on anyone. However, in this instance, Marilyn handled it a hell of a lot better than I would have. In MY world—in my REAL world, I mean—if my boss’s husband felt like he could disrespect me for any reason, even if I am a peon, I wouldn’t have waited and gone to my boss. I would have been unemployed and swiftly looking for another job. Not only that, I would have walked up the front of him, down the back of him and dropped those goddamn keys at his feet. Then I would have let HIM tell her why I left.
I’m a true believer that the moment you open the door to allow someone to walk over you and disrespect you, that door never closes. So for those readers who still feel that Marilyn should lick shit out of Christian’s ass because he bought her a car at Ana’s request and he’s her boss’s husband, let me inform you that you will be sorely disappointed in the chapters to come. SPOILER ALERT! There’s a moment in this chapter where it may look like Christian has gotten the upper hand on her, but don’t get it twisted. He hasn’t.
Someone commented about if Christian gave Andrea permission to give it back to Ana… but Marilyn made it a POINT to illuminate that Ana has never disrespected Andrea. And just so that there’s no misunderstanding, allow me to clarify: just like Marilyn went to Ana to request that Ana talk to her husband, best believe that in this story, Andrea would do the same thing if she felt disrespected by Ana after working for Christian for all the years that she has.
I hope you continue to enjoy the story.
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…
I’m supposed to get her to my parent’s house by 3:00 today, but she’s said probably twenty words to me in three days. She’s not not speaking to me. She’s just not going out of her way to speak to me. She’s not cold to me; she’s just not warm to me. I think she’s packed and unpacked her hospital bags three times in as many days and refolded the clothes in the children’s room five or six times. She’s made a list of a few things that she’s sure she’ll need once the babies are born. I’ve convinced her to hold off buying them and she looked at me like a stranger, but only for a moment. I think because it would require concentrating too much energy on focusing on me. I’m completely out of my element here. I’m not going to allow her behavior to make me change my mind because I really believe I’m doing the right thing for her and the babies, but whatever she’s done with my wife, I wish she would bring her back.
I haven’t seen the henna belly since last weekend. I don’t even know if it’s still there. It’s still faintly on her hands, so I suppose it’s still on her belly. She sleeps in a nightshirt every night, cuddled protectively around her belly. I’m still allowed to put my arm around her when we sleep, but she doesn’t move all night. I get the feeling that she’s not comfortable and I don’t want that. I don’t want to sleep in one of the guest rooms because I don’t want her to think I’m shunning her. By the same token, I don’t like the fact that she’s emotionally shunning me.
I didn’t sleep at all last night. Our connection isn’t there and I couldn’t get comfortable. I ended up spending the night in the sitting room looking out at the night sky and the lake thinking about… stuff. The evenings of my discontent have returned. All I need now is for those damn nightmares to show up again and the circle will be complete.
The sun has risen and I go to the bedroom to check on her. She’s sleeping peacefully, still protectively cuddling our children. The bruising from “the slap heard ‘round the world” has healed and she’s just as beautiful as ever, not that she wasn’t before. I want to touch her face, but I don’t want to disturb her. Still, I can’t resist. I lean down and place a tender kiss on her lips. She smiles slightly in her sleep, but doesn’t stir. I take some solace in the gesture and head down to the gym to work out until the pain in my muscles dull the ache in my heart.
The ride to my parents’ house is virtually silent and thankfully very short. She spent the entire day in the twins’ room doing God only knows what. She couldn’t have been packing that damn bag again—those bags, I should say. I’ll be honest and admit that I had about four bags packed to make sure that she and the twins would have everything they needed in case of emergency. She unpacked the bags and thinned them down to three, then unpacked them again and thinned them down to two. She unpacked them again and tried to get them down to one, but threw in the towel at two and left it at that. Maybe she gave it another go, I’m not sure.
Her only words to me during the ride were to ask me why we were having a family meeting. She’s concerned about Pops’ health and worried that we may be gathering to discuss the next steps in his care. I assured her that I didn’t know, but whatever it is, Mom thought it was important enough for all of us to be there. She also graced me with her lamentations about having to deal with Valerie’s presence, but I assured her that Elliot could not get away from a prearranged bid meeting with an important client, so she would be spared the attack of the barracuda. My poor attempt to make her smile falls so dead in the water that it doesn’t even make it across the bridge. I decide to keep my wise cracks to myself and deliver her as promised.
Despite the large number of cars parked in front, the house is eerily quiet when we step inside. Leona is there to take our coats and informs us that everyone is in the back den and the dining room. I allow her to walk ahead of me and open the dining room door.
Delivered as promised. Mom. Mia, and Amanda have planned a baby shower for Ana, which is why I had to convince her to wait before buying the things on her list.
“You guys!” she exclaims. “It never occurred to me… I hadn’t even considered… I mean, we’re so…”
It’s so cute that she’s so speechless. Too bad I can’t enjoy it.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re rich,” Mia says, ushering her into the room of chattering ladies. “Your family and friends are supposed to throw you a shower anyway. Now sit down and let’s play silly games…”
I take notice that there are no men at this shower. Good. I back slowly out of the door the same way that I came in and run right into Leona.
“Oh!” she says. I’ve startled her and almost cause her to drop her tray of hors d’oeuvres.
“I’m sorry,” I say, steadying her tray before the finger foods all become casualties.
“It’s quite alright,” she says sweetly, “I’ve got them now. Did you need something, Mr. Grey?” Her kindness almost takes me by surprise until I remember that she has a thing for me. Then I look in her eyes and realize that it’s just kindness.
“No, thank you,” I say, walking around her and back the way we came in. I stop in the parlor briefly, then play with the idea of looking for Dad or visiting with Pops or Uncle Herman. Then I realize that I really just want to be alone. I don’t want to work, talk to anyone, or concentrate on anything—I just want to be alone. It’s too cold to go to my treehouse, so I go to my old bedroom instead. Of course, five minutes in there and I’m thinking about the last time I was in here… with Butterfly… making love in this bed, and Elliot and Val and Jason all walked in on us.
Well, enough of that shit.
I make a quick escape to somewhere I never thought I’d escape to again—the old music room. It’s been a while since I’ve been in this room. I’ve avoided it since I moved out, but I don’t want to disturb anybody by going to Mom’s parlor, and this room is on the other side of the house. I walk inside and there’s Elliot’s guitar, Mia’s cello, and my beloved baby grand. I run my fingers across the top of it. I begged Mom to keep it here, right where it always was. She never moved it and I don’t think I ever played it after I moved out. I open the top and caress the keys—middle C, E, G… I play few chords. Is it still in tune? Does she keep it tuned after all this time?
I feel a bit of comfort mixed with melancholy as I slide onto the familiar leather stool. I close my eyes and let my fingers glide mindlessly, song after song after song. I don’t pay attention to the particular songs playing, just the fact that the perfectly acoustic room is filled with the sound of the little hammers hitting the strings and nothing else. Nothing else occupies my mind, but the music… yet the chords still make my heart bleed. Minor chords are sad chords and for some reason, my hands and mind can’t stay away from the minor chords.
Pictures attempt to form in my head as the music tries to take shape—a storm, a whirlpool, stars—but nothing really materializes. Faces of no one in particular, expressions that can’t be made out… a dancing couple? A dancing bear… I don’t know.
Rain… a waterfall… the ocean?
The moon… a space station… a comet? No, a shooting star… a black hole?
Snow-capped mountains… no, clouds… the tops of skyscrapers?
Nothing materializes, just fuzzy blobs of gray imagination wrapped around warbling musical notes that are drearily depressing and oddly comforting.
One tune seems to flow into another… and another… and another… My fingers effortlessly play with no instruction from my brain whatsoever. I don’t even know if the two are connected as I can’t string together a coherent thought—just random not-quite pictures of partial past memories and possible future shattered hopes. It’s almost like I’m dreaming—a heart-breaking soundtrack playing behind scenes of… what? I don’t know. I have no idea.
My ears don’t hear the music anymore. It’s in my head, swimming around and echoing through my cerebral chambers in the weirdest way—saturating my gray matter until it flows out of my ears and fills the room instead of the other way around. My head feels heavy with the weight of the notes and the task of carrying this tune to the corners of the music room, so I let it lull, my chin in my chest so that my aching neck can rest.
Another ache… just what I need.
The deeper notes are a balm to my eardrums, like the last lullaby before a sedative takes hold and dulls the never ending pain of a terminal disease. I’m lulled into the comfort, sadness, and the familiarity of the darkness until the soft, melodic sound of her voice nearly sounds alien to me:
“Please don’t play anymore…”
I obediently stayed away from my responsibilities at Helping Hands. I have learned that the awful Hyde woman has taken a plea of some sort on the charges against her for beating her husband and son and for attacking me. Apparently, she was expecting her family to go to bat for her, which they were willing to do against her unfortunate husband and stepson. However, when she attacked the wife of billionaire businessman Christian Grey, they hung her ass out to dry. It had something to do with her father either doing some kind of business with Christian or afraid that Christian would put him out of business, I don’t know which. Either way, when Big Glenda discovered that the money in her mattress was cut off and she didn’t have a pot to piss in or a leg to stand on, she took a plea and turned herself in. She only got probation for my attack, but she got hammered for her husband’s burns. As a result, she’ll be a guest of the Washington State Department of Corrections for a while.
Jack and his son were able to go back to the house and retrieve their meager belongings. He wants nothing from his wife—no alimony, none of her money, nothing. He’s afraid that if she’s forced to pay him anything, it’ll lead her back to him and he wants nothing to do with her. Once she was safely locked away on Friday morning, he went straight to court and filed for divorce on the grounds of mental and physical cruelty.
I was glad to find out that Thelma and little Jimmy suffered no permanent damage from being in that house, either. Getting out and getting into a healthier environment is mainly what saved them. When I last saw her, Thelma had put on a few pounds and was looking for an apartment for her and Jimmy. Now, I discover that apparently, Mr. Radcliff has had a “come to Jesus” moment and wants his wife and child back. I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean, it’s not up to me whether or not he deserves to have them back, but ultimately, the goal is for the family to be reunited. Yet, his selfish pride is what got them here in the first place. We’ll just have to see how that turns out. They’re all in the system now. There’s no way the state is going to allow her to return that baby to unsafe conditions.
Now I find out that Grace wants us to meet at Grey Manor this afternoon for some kind of family meeting. Family meetings usually mean bad news and I don’t need any more bad news. Marilyn inadvertently made me feel like shit for abandoning my responsibilities at Helping Hands right when the Center is about to get its accreditation. I don’t know what she expects me to do. Hell, she had to ask me for permission to stand up to my husband and she doesn’t live with him! I’m trying not to feel resentful. I really do understand that he doesn’t want me to be hurt. I do, but I still feel like I just don’t have any control over my own life and I really hate that. It’s hard for me to find the words to tell him that, so I just find myself staying to myself and trying to fill these empty days with things to do. I made a list of the things I’ll know we’ll need but haven’t already gotten before the babies get here—like a breast pump. Dr. Culley advised that I should start pumping colostrum because the twins with both need it when they are born and I won’t be able to give it to both of them at the same time the moment they are born. So I need to start storing it now.
He tells me not to buy anything!
What the fuck? Mr. “Go-Ahead-Buy-Two” is telling me not to buy anything? My due date is five weeks away and twins tend to be born early and he wants me to wait?? Oh, I’ll wait. I’ll wait until Monday when he’s not here, then send Marilyn or order everything online.
I spend the day in the twins’ room, making a Fuzzlewuzzers for Mackenzie and Michael. I’ve decided to make them unique sock-bunnies. I know they’ll want to chew on them, so the material and stuffing has to be sterilized before I give them to the babies. Mackenzie’s sock-bunny is fuzzy purple and white with buttons for eyes and on the chest and a bow on her ear. Michael’s bunny is purple and yellow with purple and orange sock legs and black button eyes. They were adorable after I took the pictures then realized that I will have to remove the buttons as they will present a choking hazard. Oh well, I’ll put them back on when they’re older… if they want them.
“Do you know what this meeting is about?” I ask Christian as he maneuvers the Audi S8 across the bridge towards Bellevue.
“I don’t know,” he says noncommittal, “She just said we need to be there at three.”
“Do you think it’s about Pops?” I ask. “His condition hasn’t gotten any worse that I know of, but it hasn’t gotten any better either.”
“She didn’t mention it,” he says flatly. “I can’t see her letting us walk blindly into something like that.” I shake my head.
“If it’s a family meeting, that means it’s a good chance I’ll have to deal with Valerie’s awful attitude.”
“No, no Valerie,” he says. I turn to him.
“Oh? Why not?”
“Because,” he pauses, “Elliot has a bid meeting with a client that’s only going to be in town today. He couldn’t get out of it. So you will be spared the company of the barracuda.” He chuckles nervously. I glare at him. Christian is good at concealing, but he’s horrible at lying. I guess I’ll just have to see what’s going on myself.
When we get to his parents’ house, we’re greeted by bitter-pill-swallowing Leona, only she’s a lot friendlier than she was before. She tells us that the family is in the back of the house, but Christian is puttering around like he wants to chat with the help! Fine, you do that. I walk ahead of him towards the dining room and nearly get shocked into labor. The Greys, Maddie, Gail, Luma, Keri, Marilyn, Mandy, Maxie, and several people from the Center are all crammed into Grace’s dining room and den for a surprise baby shower. I’m speechless! I’m stumbling over my tongue because I really didn’t think rich people had baby showers. I’m not being a snob or anything—it’s just that I thought that a shower was to help the couple with the expenses of having a baby. Christian and I certainly don’t need any help, but this is a wonderful surprise! No wonder he didn’t want me to buy anything yet. I turn around to tell him what a terrible liar he is, but he has already made his getaway. Well, at least we’re not making end of life plans for Pops—that would really suck. And even though I still miss her, at least there’s no sour-faced Valerie! I’ll talk to Mr. Grey about his horrible lying skills later.
It’s an absolutely wonderful shower! Presents are stacked up to the ceiling and we play these ridiculously fun shower games. The girls have to draw a baby on a paper plate and I tell you the submissions are utterly ridiculous. I laugh so hard I’m afraid my water will break. Mandy is a master at the “Don’t Say Baby” game. Everybody is given five clothespins. If you catch someone saying “baby,” you take one of their clothespins. Mandy was covered in clothespins. “Place the Baby on the Mom” was one of the best. These women had me carrying my twins in my hair, on my butt, on my feet, somewhere else altogether not even on me. Grace had poor little Mackenzie in my purse.
The one game I had never seen before was the “Guess The Baby” game. All of the ladies brought baby pictures of themselves and we put the pictures in a basket. Everyone tries to guess which picture is of whom and the one who guesses the most wins. Even though I wasn’t playing the game, I easily picked Maxie out of the basket—not only because I’m so familiar with her features, but also Mindy looks just like her.
“So how are you doing, Ana?” Maxie asks. “You’re in the countdown now and sitting at home is probably driving you batshit.” We’re eating Tiramisu and drinking sparkling white grape juice after opening an insane number of presents.
“Trying to keep myself busy. I’m going to start storing colostrum, so thank you, Mia, for the new wave electronic breast pump.” I nod in her direction and she smiles and waves gleefully. “I’ve been nesting quite a bit. I know it’s early, but I think I’m being thrown into it because I took off work so early.”
“I think you’re being thrown into it because those babies are on the way and you’re in denial,” Sammy, one of the workers from the Center, says. Her comment elicits a laugh from the group of women.
“No denial here,” I tell her. “I’ll be glad if they make their appearance early. While I love them dearly, I’ll be much happier when they’re on this side of the vajayjay!” More laughter from the girls as we devour desserts and talk about their prior pregnancies and childbirths. I look through my presents again and there are things that were on my list as well as things that I hadn’t even thought of. Of course, I knew I would need a breast pump. Mia got one of the most expensive contraptions on the market, I think. I’m going to need a class just to learn how to use it. Then there are the matching onesies, T-shirts, booties, caps, and receiving blankets. There are only two children and they’ll only be able to fit this stuff for about three months tops, but I’m sure there’s enough stuff here for five kids for a year!
Then, of course, the lovely ladies thought of me—nursing bras and tank tops and six-week panties, which are just oversized panties meant to be worn and thrown away after the six-week recovery period is over as they will probably have some staining from bleeding and discharge that won’t come out. I hadn’t even thought of that.
Then, of course, there are the cute little clothes and diapers and Diaper Genies, diaper bags, twin strollers, baby rattles, teething rings, baby towels, washcloths, and bedding, baby hygiene products, bottles, nipples, health care items, and as Gail would say, and a partridge in a pear tree! There’s so much stuff here, I have no idea how we’re going to get it all home, but I can say that I couldn’t have gotten a nicer surprise and just like that, I feel decompressed all over again, just like I did when I came back from the babymoon.
Luma and I are talking about Mariah and Celida over coffee while Gail and Grace looks on. The shower has winded down and most of the ladies have gone home now. Grace’s staff is cleaning up after the party and I can hear Mia giving someone instructions off in the distance. Celida’s social skills are slowly developing, but she’s having a bit of a hard time since she’s always following Mariah around. Contrary to popular belief, Mariah is not the strong one. She just more outspoken. She’s codependent on Celida and that relationship helps to hold her together and give her purpose. The girls are seeing a child psychologist right now as this is not healthy behavior for either of them. Luma has taken pains not to speak about their mother or father and unfortunately, that’s not the best plan for them. Although they’re young, they were old enough to know their parents and now old enough to know that they’re gone. Ignoring that fact will only make a bad matter worse. Celida was already withdrawn and this may only further complicate matters.
We’re just about to talk about Luma and how things are going in her life. I’m anxious to know if she and Herman have made any progress or if she’s just keeping things quiet for now since Pops is so sick. Just as we open the floor for the conversation, Carrick steps into the great room.
“Grace?” He gestures for his wife to come over to him as if the conversation is private, but he doesn’t necessarily speak in hushed tones. “There’s bleeding in the West Wing.”
Bleeding? Oh my God!
“What?” Grace asks incredulously. What is she waiting for? Go find out who’s bleeding.
“Bleeding in the West Wing. It’s been going on for hours!” he repeats. Grace leans in slightly to her husband.
“Have you been drinking, Cary?” she accuses.
“Yes, I have. I had a few drinks while I was watching the game.” That explains it. “And there’s still bleeding in the West Wing.” Grace is silent for a moment, then realization dawns.
“Oh no,” she finally laments. “What do you think brought this on?”
“I don’t know, but this has got to stop,” Carrick says. “How was he when they got here?”
“He seemed fine,” Grace replied, “but I really couldn’t tell because he was in and out in a moment.” He? Are they talking about Christian? Is Christian bleeding somewhere? I struggle out of my seat and shamelessly jump into their conversation.
“I’m sorry,” I interrupt, “I don’t mean to intrude, but I do. Are you talking Christian? Is he somewhere bleeding?”
“Yes,” Carrick replies.
“No!” Grace snaps at her husband, rolling her eyes hard before turning her gaze back to me. “Ana, down at the end of the hall behind the stairs, you will see a wide staircase of five steps. Beyond that is a door of what is apparently a not-so-soundproof music room. Christian is in there and, from what my husband is trying to say, he may have fallen into some old, unhealthy habits.” I frown.
“You got all that from what he said in an inebriated haze?” I ask. She sighs and throws and intolerant glare at Carrick again.
“Unfortunately, yes,” she says to me. “I’m sure we don’t have to remind you of Christian’s childhood—how difficult it was for him to overcome his feelings of depression and the aftereffects of his abuse…”
“Yes…” I’m listening.
“He spent the most time in the music room than any of our children. When he was consumed in his angst, the most warbling sounds of darkness came wafting out of that room for hours. It takes incredible talent—and incredible pain—to make a piano sound the way that he does. Elliot called it Bleeding in The West Wing.” Her eyes narrowed toward Carrick again, who seems unmoved by her displeasure.
“Piano.” I say aloud. “He hasn’t played the piano in months… at least not that I know of…” I look at Grace, then Carrick. “End of the hall?” I ask.
“Yes, dear,” Grace says.
There isn’t a single light on in this room. I can’t see a thing. I can clearly hear this tortured music playing that reminds me of medieval knights scavenging war grounds for possible survivors. It’s horrible and it makes me want to cry. I reach for the walls on the side of the doors and flip the light switch there. A chandelier comes alive above a baby grand piano, and there’s Christian. He doesn’t stop playing. He doesn’t know anyone has entered the room.
I can’t make out the song that he’s playing, but it sounds of impending and eternal sorrow and dismay… like death. That’s what it is. It sounds like death and isolation and loneliness… bleeding, just like Carrick said. It’s like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have descended upon this room and are occupying the corners, each with a cigarette and a drink, examining him—holding court and infusing him with their separate brands of hopelessness…
… And he fits right in.
There’s an impenetrable bubble around him, dark and pressing his shoulders down, making him appear… shorter? Smaller? No… burdened, like Quasimodo—bent over with the horrible growth protruding from his back, causing great agony and preventing him from standing upright. The tune changes again without a pause from the prior to the next, and this song is even more morose than the one before. My stomach burns and the twins stir in massive discontent. I grab my belly to still them. I can’t stand it anymore.
“Please don’t play anymore…” I say, my voice barely above a whisper as that’s all I can muster, the melancholy in the room choking me to death. He stops immediately, frozen momentarily in place. I walk over to the piano and he closes the top and rests his hands in his lap. I don’t know what to say. The last time I’ve seen him even close to this was… was… was when I went to Montana.
“Can’t you and Mom work something out where Mom brings the work to you?” he asks, his voice high and hopeless. “I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” he adds, running his hands over his face, then through his hair before resting his elbows on his piano, his palms on his forehead. “You gotta understand that. If you can’t, then I don’t know what else to do.”
“But you can’t put me in a box, Christian,” I protest, sitting on the bench next to him. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
“I’m not trying to put you in a box,” he says. “I never could! I know that! But don’t you see where this puts me?” His voice is beseeching. “I love you more than life—don’t you know that? Haven’t I shown you that? Haven’t I done everything in my power to prove to you that I would give life and limb for you? Literally?” His voice is high-pitched and squeaking, full of desperation. I don’t answer, because I know he’s not finished.
“You told me yourself that your shrink was willing to risk his license to call me and tell me about your condition—about the stress you were suffering and the fact that you needed to decompress. I take you on a babymoon and we have a wonderful time reconnecting and learning about the babies… and the henna…” His voice trails off and he shakes his head.
“Then the day after we get back, you get attacked by that She-Devil!” he barks. “I can’t stand it! I can’t take it! You’re too fragile right now! I know you’re strong, but right now, you’re too fragile and if something happens to you…” His fingers dig deeper into his hair and his scalp. I’m afraid he’s going to draw blood soon. He needs this. He thinks I’m the fragile one, but the truth is that when it comes to my safety and the safety of the twins, he’s more fragile than I am. I have to give him this. I mean, I have given him this, but it’s come at a price and I know it.
I stand from the stool and turn around to face him. He has a sheen of sweat forming on his forehead and his knuckles are turning white. I slide my fingers over his hands. It takes several moments, but they finally relax. He allows me to move in front of him and remove his hands from his hair. I place them on either side of my belly, hoping that his presence will serve to calm his children a bit. When I gently put my fingers in his hair and begin to massage his scalp, he lays his head on my belly and sighs contentedly. The children calm almost immediately. God, I hope they’re not like this when they’re born or I’ll never be able to get them to settle on my own.
“I’m going to start storing colostrum. Dr. Culley says now is a good time to start,” I say softly. After a pause, I ask, “Do you know what that is?”
“Mmm-hmm,” he responds quietly. Okay, still awake.
“Mia got me this funky new breast pump that does all the work for me, so it shouldn’t be as hard as I thought it would be. Getting it started might be a little difficult though.”
“Okay.” He doesn’t sound tired, just reserved, his head resting content on my belly as he rubs both sides. I lift my shirt from the bottom and pull my maternity pants to below my belly. The henna is fading, but it’s still orange and still prominent on my skin. He sighs and outlines the patterns. One of the children shifts and settle and I know that they’ll both be asleep soon. He responds to the movement with a soft smile and a kiss on the top of my belly. I sit on his lap on the piano bench, straddling him. He caresses my belly and the henna with his thumbs, his fingers spread wide on either side of my belly, placing gentle kisses on my skin. His eyes are closed as if he is savoring this moment. I push my fingers into his hair again and massage his scalp as I kiss his hair and forehead. There are no words, just Christian bonding with the belly. He bonds for several moments—kissing, caressing, snuggling. I almost forget where we are until…
“Thank God! Has the deceased been laid to rest now?”
Carrick’s voice disturbs our moment as he walks into the music room with a drink in his hand. Grace chides him quietly with an elbow to the side.
“Cary!” she hisses, scolding. He shrugs.
“I’m just saying, a few more moments of that parlor music and I was going to want to see the body to pay my respects!” he says. Okay, he’s had a few.
“I think we should be going,” I say, rising from Christian’s lap and straightening my clothes.
“Stay,” Grace coaxes, “I don’t get to see you as much anymore. I miss our talks.”
“We’re… going to work something out, Grace,” I tell her. “I know that the licensing will be coming through soon and I don’t want to put all of the work off on you. I’ll still be working closely with you to make sure that we’ll get everything handled in time for the accreditation. I’ll be logging into my work computer from home, but for the next several weeks, I’ll be working in my pajamas. We’ll talk, don’t worry.” She smiles and Christian squeezes my hand.
“Well, that’s good to hear,” she says. “There’s word of a meeting sometime in the next few weeks.”
“You’ll have to Skype me in, then—sans the pajamas. I’ll find a respectable blouse or something.” I pull Christian’s hand. “Come on, Undertaker. There’s a lot of stuff to get to the car.”
“Oh, no worries about that,” Grace says. “Drill Sargent Mia made sure that was taken care of before she and Ethan headed back to Seattle. You’re all set.”
“Good, ‘cause I want some alone time with my wife!” Carrick says, giving Grace a smack on her behind, eliciting a yelp from her.
“TMI, Dad,” Christian says, moving closer to me.
“Says the man that was just fondling his wife’s pregnant naked belly on my piano stool!” Carrick quips. I roll my eyes and give a Grace a kiss on the cheek.
“Goodnight, Grace,” I say as I drag my husband from the music room.
He’s sitting on the edge of our bed watching the glow of the fire when I come into our room in my nightshirt after my shower. Gail helped me put all of the shower gifts away and, yes, I did unpack and repack one of the suitcases with some of the new items I had received. I even managed to get a small bit of colostrum pumped, which is a huge accomplishment as far as I’m concerned—but I could only stop at a small bit, because it hurt like hell! I’ll have to try again tomorrow. He briefly looks over his shoulder at me when I enter the room, then looks back at the fire.
“We need to talk,” I say sitting on the bed on top of the covers.
“Yeah,” he says, looking down at his hands, then back up at the fire. Neither of us says anything for a long time. We both just sit there watching the fire.
“My world was shaken to its core when I visited that prison in Ionia and that bastard wasn’t there,” he finally begins. “He had haunted my dreams incessantly for over twenty years, and I needed to look him in the eye and tell him that his days of terrorizing me were over now that his son was on the wrong side of the Feds. Then I looked into the face of a complete stranger and all my nightmares came rushing at me at once.” He drops his head, shaking it at the same time. “All I could think of was getting home to you and making sure that you were safe. When I stepped off that plane…” His voice cracked as his words trailed off.
“Christian…” He holds up his hand to gently silence me. I swallow hard and let him finish.
“When I stepped off that plane and saw Cholometes, and Jason tried to tell… to tell…” He chokes back a sob, but doesn’t break down. “Every bad thing that could have happened to me converged on me all at once. I literally thought I was dying. My chest hurt and I couldn’t breathe. My legs didn’t work. Nothing mattered. I had to get to you… to see for myself… the worst thing that could have happened and I wasn’t even here.” He finally sobs for a moment and I want to comfort him, but he keeps talking before I get the chance to move.
“Sixty days,” he chokes. “They told me that I may only have sixty days left with my entire reason for living—longer if I chose to keep you alive as a human incubator for the babies. I was sick to my soul with the thought… as much as I love them, us without you was just unthinkable and I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the concept.
“And then my mind went back to the other times I failed to protect you—when David vandalized your car and when he and that psychotic asshole kidnapped and beat you, may his soul rot in hell!” He speaks the last words with such venom that it actually sends a chill through my body.
“Then I think of the things that I couldn’t protect you from—Cody Whitmore raping you; that vicious attack in Green Valley; the emotional torment you suffered at the hands of Mini-Morton and the walking Moonshine Still.” Mini-Morton? Is that what he calls my mother? I have to cover my mouth to prevent the giggle as this is a very serious topic, but I can’t avoid the laughter that wants to escape. The prior solemn tone of the conversation is not far behind, though.
“My mother has worked for Helping Hands for many years,” he admits, “but it has never gotten the publicity it has since the PSA… and you. A lot more people—more volatile causes—are finding their way to the Center and I just can’t see you get caught in the crossfire. Just like with the accident, I didn’t know anything had happened to you until I saw you—and yes, people were fired for it. I was hotheaded and had my own lightening quick experience not twenty-four hours later, so they ended up getting their jobs back, but Lawrence is still on probation, because he didn’t handle the chain of communication correctly at all!”
I sit with my hands folded in my lap, waiting for him to finish. His back is hunched over like it was while he was sitting at the piano and I know he’s laboring through the previous burdens again.
“When Radcliff came to the Center all fired up and ready to take his wife and son, I was there. I could protect you had he stepped wrong—though I think Mom may have sent him to the hospital before I had the chance to react,” he laughs through his tears. “But when that big bitch put her hands on you… all those people there and nobody could stop her. There were upwards of five to seven GEH guards there and an active police report, and no one could keep that woman from hitting you so hard that the entire side of your face was swollen!” He’s grinding his teeth and hissing as he speaks.
“All of these precautions I have in place to protect you and someone was still able to get to you. Thank God it was nothing more than a slap as it could have been so much worse, but when these things happen, I don’t look at Jason or Chuck or Lawrence or Bronson or any of these people. I look at myself. I failed you. I couldn’t keep you safe. If I want you to change your habits or not do something that I think will jeopardize your safety, it’s only because I need to regroup and figure out what to do. My original plan wasn’t working… and you’re pregnant! You move slower and you don’t have all of the self-defense tactics in your arsenal that you normally have! Fairlane tried to hit me and I swerved right out of his way. I’m certain that under normal circumstances, you would have done the same thing with Monster Bitch… but the circumstances aren’t normal.”
He drops his head and finally the load appears to have lifted off his shoulders. He sighs heavily and finishes his thought.
“I know that I can’t lock you up or keep you at home or prevent you from doing what you want to do. I just want you to be safe. I need you to be safe.”
And he’s done. There’s nothing else to say. He has to know that he can’t protect me from everything, and for some reason, bad luck seems to follow me and I won’t let it stop me from living my life. Nonetheless, until these babies get here, my husband needs peace and sanity… and I need to cooperate. I have to give him what he needs so that he can keep his wits about him. He’s not asking too much, and he’s only asking because he loves me. I crawl over the bed behind him and rest on my knees. I gently stroke his hair again and he leans into my hand. His spirit calms a bit and I can feel the tension lifting.
“Lay with me,” I whisper as I caress his hair. He sighs and looks over his shoulder at me. I pull my nightshirt over my head and toss it on the floor, my body naked underneath. His gray eyes never leave mine as I remain kneeling naked behind him. He stands and removes his T-shirt and boxer briefs and I examine his silhouette in front of the crackling fire. He’s beautiful—masculine and vulnerable at the same time. I scoot back on the bed and lay on the pillows, holding my arms out to him.
“Lay with me,” I say again. He crawls into bed, both of us on top of the covers, and wraps his arms around me. I cradle his head in my arms and he kisses and fondles my bare stomach, almost like a child needing the closeness of his mother, but with the sensuality and need of a husband touching his wife and drinking in her essence. He kisses me several times for several minutes, caressing the henna on my stomach, smelling my scent, and occasionally sighing a soft moan of contentment until we both fall asleep.
I can’t tell what time it is when I open my eyes. I know that it’s Sunday morning and I can see just a small peak of sunshine in the sitting room. Christian and I didn’t move all night. His head is still cradled in breast and he’s wrapped around me like a vine. My leg is over his hips for maximum comfort and my fingers are still in his hair. I sigh heavily when I think about our conversation last night; how scared he must have been on the trip to the hospital after my accident and the agonizing days that followed, not knowing if I would ever wake up. His obsessive control-freak tendencies must be on very high alert after learning that someone got close enough to hit me. Not only that, but he found out after I got home from seeing the evidence on my face… after everything else that has already happened.
He stirs a bit in his sleep and with the slight movement, I feel his morning wood right between my legs at the magic spot. In this position, there’s nowhere else for it to go since there’s a whole lotta belly between us. Yet, he lays in a way such that he’s somewhat under my belly and our pelvises meet perfectly. If I move my hips just so, I get a delicious friction right at the opening of my vagina.
Mmmm, that feels good… and it’s making me very hot.
I lean down and kiss his forehead and his temple gently, running my fingers through his hair in an attempt to rouse him. He moans softly, but he’s so gone, it might take an earthquake to wake him.
I can improvise that.
I roll my hips to maximize the friction on his delicate head, attempting to get the angle to edge him a bit, but he has me pinned to his body and I can’t pull back far enough. I yearn to kiss him, but his head is down where his lips are brushing against my belly. The constant friction, however, is making me hotter and wetter and is making him grow.
“Mmm,” I moan quietly as he gets stiffer against my core. Apparently, this is one biological function that doesn’t need his coaxing. I’m working myself into a hot, drenched frenzy just with the head of his hardening shaft and apparently, the wetness gives way for the little soldier to find his way into the tunnel. I gasp as he slips inside me and either the gasp or the feeling of having his hard penis inside of a warm, wet vagina causes my husband to wake right up. His gray sleepy, searching eyes look up at mine and I gaze right back at him. Though I was temporarily shocked into stillness, I begin to move again, rolling my hips as much as I can on the head of his dick. His breath catches in his throat. His arms tighten around me and his fingers dig into my skin.
“Ana…” he breathes, not moving at first, gazing into my eyes as my core squeezes the head of his cock. My fingers tighten in his hair and I will him to give me more. I need more. He chokes out a gasp and pushes himself up on the bed—and up into me—so that he can tightly grip my ass and more easily reach my lips. I gasp hard in my chest as he fills me and just stays there, my hands now on his shoulders and my lips open, panting.
“You feel so good,” he whispers with his eyes now closed, his dick throbbing inside of me, my arms pinned between us. I almost can’t stand it.
“Love me,” I pant, “please…”
He pushes slowly into me, a delicious stroke from the side, my leg over his hip granting him uninhibited access to my wetness. My God, it’s like immediate fire! He pulls out just as slowly, almost to the head, and slides into me again—a delicious, slow, rhythmic glide, in and out, in and out, in and out. As the burn gets hotter, deeper, he grips my ass hard, pushing me into him almost violently each time he slides hotly into me, then releasing the grip as he pulls out. The feel of his fingers sinking almost painfully into my cheeks is pleasingly blinding. The entire time, he’s searing my lips and tongue with probing, lapping kisses to the degree that I can barely breathe.
The slow, torturous rhythm goes on forever, the burning and pleasure from the friction of him filling me becoming almost unbearable. With my arms pinned between us, I can’t pull his hair… I can’t move. I can only cup his face, now coated with a gloss of sweat from keeping this steady, burning pace that has us both on the brink of cosmic eruptions. His sensual sounds tell me that he won’t be able to hold much longer, but he won’t let go until I give in first. The slow stroke keeps me hanging right there on the edge for several minutes until my wordless whines beg him to put me out of my misery.
Holding my ass open and fondling my rosette with his long, skillful finger, he doesn’t change his rhythm, but the fire in me roars untamed and laps hard and hot at my rising passion. I hear sounds coming from me that I haven’t heard before—high-pitched moans with each stroke like the cries of a wounded animal weakly begging for help. I can’t stop them; I can’t control them. Each delicious stroke combined with his fingering my open ass and lavishing delicious kisses on my lips and tongue have me wound so tight and right at the breaking point until…
I whine from my chest, the high-pitched cry bouncing off the walls of our bedroom, my lips still brushing against my husband’s as he holds me against him, my ass open, never changing his stroke.
“That’s it, Baby,” he croons, “Let me feel you come. Let me feel it… God, it feels so good around me…” He fights to maintain the rhythm as I ooze deliciously and hotly through my orgasm. He doesn’t change a thing, and the intensity is so fucking blinding that my muscles all lock around him… my legs, my hands, and of course, my pussy.
“Ah! Ah… A-na!” he chokes as I feel him holding me open and pulsing into me, his balls emptying their contents hot and hard.
We both lie there, stiff in orgasmic clutches, barely breathing as our juices mix. The room is filled with the sound of choking and panting once we have both finally finished our release after nearly forever. Once our breath has returned to us, only the sound of our tender kisses can be heard.
I can honestly say I’ve never felt so fucking helpless in my life as I did last week. I only wanted to do what was best for my wife and family, but it seemed like I was only making things worse. I’m still in new territory here and I don’t know how to explain that to her. I love her so much and her safety is so important to me, but I’m beginning to sound like a broken record even to myself.
I found myself slipping back into that dismal depression I felt when I was a boy. I’m fully aware that you can’t have everything your way. Not even all the money in the world can make that happen, but when you’re doing everything in your power to do the right thing and something still goes wrong, you find that you have to adjust. At the risk of sounding crass, even insurance companies expect you to do everything in your power to protect a damaged asset from further loss after a catastrophe. This wasn’t a catastrophe and I wouldn’t say my Butterfly was “damaged,” but if I were to classify her as an asset, she is the most valuable thing with my name on it at this time and that bruise on her face was more than just a scratch! That crazy bitch paid no attention to the fact that she was hitting a pregnant woman! That thought still gives me the shivers.
All I know is that everything I did was met with resistance and coldness and isolation. That’s what I started to feel inside. No matter what I may say about assets, Butterfly is not a thing. She’s not a company to be bought or sold or an object to be placed on a shelf, put on display, and taken down when I want to play with it. She’s my wife; my life-mate, and when we don’t connect, it hurts. So yes, I found myself back in the same hopelessness I felt as a teenager and almost felt the need to reach out to John Flynn. It’s not that Dr. Baker isn’t helpful; it’s just that the need for the familiar was so overwhelming that it nearly took over my entire body and mind.
I don’t know what I said or did that finally got through to her, but I’m glad that it did because that’s a road I don’t ever want to travel again.
I go back to the dentist on Monday and I’m lucky that Fairlane’s punch didn’t connect. It was very likely that I would have had to get this fucking splint tightened again and if further damage had been caused, I may have had to wear it for another month. I would have sought that fucker out and knocked out a few of his teeth. Instead, the loose teeth have re-stabilized enough that the splint can come off and as long as I don’t get into any more prize fights, I should be fine.
Butterfly has been working from home and doing pretty well this week in keeping up with what’s going on at the Center without actually being there. Marilyn has giving me the cold shoulder since our talk last week and I’m not sure if I should confront her about her behavior or let sleeping dogs lie. After all, I made my point and to my knowledge, Butterfly wasn’t awakened that day until she was ready and although she was not a happy camper when I got home, it appeared that she didn’t go into Helping Hands either. As far as I can see, mission accomplished.
Chuck appears to be doing great in his physical therapy. This is good since it appears that he’ll be back on his feet by the time the babies are born—something that gives Butterfly great joy—not so good because we are all seeing the day when Keri will soon be going back to Anguilla. Having someone by your side during your worst time and then having them ripped away is not an event you easily get over. I think I see some therapy in Chuck’s future. We may want to talk to him about seeing Dr. Baker or Ace… or someone of his own choosing.
It most likely doesn’t help much that we put Nelson and Maddie on a plane back to South Dakota on Friday since his physical therapy has been going so well. He didn’t take it as hard as I expected. He says it’s because he doesn’t feel so alone now. He’s found his family and they are just a few states away. He can talk to them and see them anytime he wants to. Chuck says he caught a glimpse of Joe boarding the plane after Maddie and Nelson. Whether Joe saw Chuck or not, he doesn’t know, but Chuck just allowed him to board the plane and he and Keri left the airport without incident.
The following Monday, I see Radcliff again. It turns out that he was suffering some side effects from the contaminants in the house. Like Thelma and the baby, his symptoms became much better once he was out of the environment, but he still had to be treated for exposure to some things—oxygen treatments and a run of antibiotics. The color has returned to his skin, though, and he’s temporarily moved to a motel that he can afford while he looks for a suitable place for his family.
Pride is a strange thing. It can consume you and cause you to do some pretty dumb shit. This man not only put his family at risk by not only keeping them in a cold house with no food, but he wouldn’t allow anyone else to provide for them and as it turns out, the living conditions were inherently unsafe and potentially deadly. They truly could have died in that house—not in the abstract or in the long run… froze to death or starved to death. No, they were actively being exposed to toxins, including carbon monoxide. They really could have died in there!
I suddenly feel the urge to be near my wife. I close my laptop and take the elevator to the first floor where I know I’ll find her in the family room in her recliner. As it turns out, Dr. Culley would have put her on maternity leave anyway had I not done it a couple of weeks ago as it appears the babies have dropped and she’s having the worst time walking. Now, she’s restricted to our bedroom, the family room, and her office. I won’t even let her come to the dining room if she doesn’t have to and miraculously, she doesn’t argue with me. As walking and moving are extremely uncomfortable for her, sex is out of the question, so I’m working out every day and just making sure she’s as comfortable as possible. She’s just over 36 weeks and the doctor says that the babies can be safely born any day now, so we are officially on baby watch.
I dare not tell her that stomach appears to have gotten bigger in the last week or so.
“Hey, Butterfly,” I say as I join her in the family room.
“Hey, yourself. You’ve finished working?”
“Yeah, I think I’ve done enough for tonight.” I rub my eyes. “I may need to get some glasses for that computer. My eyes are getting tired.”
“Well, make sure it’s not just that you’re tired and have been looking at the screen too long,” she warns. “I wear mine sporadically these days and before you ask, it was even before the maternity leave, so my eyes must be getting better.” I shrug.
“Could be. It’s not impossible. What are you watching?”
“Bicentennial Man,” she says, “one of those highly underrated movies that I love so much.”
“Robin Williams,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. “Have you seen it?”
“No. I know of it, but that’s one of the ones that got by me,” I tell her. “How is Thelma and Jimmy Radcliff doing?” She raises her eyebrows at me.
“Fine,” she says. “Marilyn’s last update is that Thelma’s found a place for them and that James isn’t giving them a hard time about child support.”
“Is there any talk of visitation yet?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.” I twist my lips.
“He came to my office again today.” She’s quiet and expecting. “He looks better. He’s taking meds for the symptoms he acquired from living in the house. He was able to go back to work with an explanation from the doctor about what was going on. He’s staying in a motel right now, something he can afford while he’s trying to save.” I scratch my head. I don’t know why I’m telling her this. I think she’d just as soon see the man jump off a bridge. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about him. “He’s no longer suicidal…”
“Suicidal?” she interrupts. “You never told me he was suicidal.” I frown.
“Didn’t I?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Oh. Yeah, he was. That’s why I got involved. That day he came to my office, he came to find out how Thelma and the baby were and to say goodbye.”
“Are you sure that wasn’t just a ploy, Christian?” she asks. I shrug.
“You’re the shrink,” I say. “If someone gives you an idea that they want to kill themselves, are you going to take it as just a ploy?” She nods.
“Duly noted. So what happened?”
“Nothing really. He was floundering when he first came in and before he left, he just told me to tell his wife and kid that he loved them if he didn’t see them again. I saw the same hopelessness in him that I…” I trail off.
“That what?” she asks. I never told her that I felt this way. I didn’t really know that I felt this way until I talked to Radcliff and saw it in him, but I had a purpose. I had my company.
“That what, Christian?” she presses.
“That I felt when you went to Montana,” I say quickly. I don’t look at her when I say it. I don’t want to see her face or the pity that I know I’ll find there.
“I didn’t know you felt that way,” she says softly.
“Neither did I,” I admit, still without looking at her, “not until I saw it in Radcliff when he left my office; heard it in his voice. She’s all he had—her and the baby. Then he had his job and they sent him home because he was sick and wasn’t sleeping… or eating… and living in a toxic waste dump. Anyway, I had my company… but I had already had one psychotic breakdown and I was well on my way to a second, so yeah… I saw it.” My voice goes down at the end and I hear her swallow hard.
“So… um… James… Radcliff…” She’s eager to get the topic off of me.
“Yeah, I’m not sure he would have had the strength to kill himself in the light of things, but hindsight being 20/20, I believe that he either would have gone back to that house and wasted away or gone to sleep and wouldn’t have woken up… you know, with the carbon monoxide…”
“Yeah, I know,” she says.
“You know he’s trying to find a place for them now,” I say. “The house is condemned. The land is worth nothing. I don’t even know if I should help him monetarily.”
“Why are you on the fence?” she asks.
“I don’t know if he deserves it,” I say. “I’m at a crossroads. They were our adopted family, but he was the direct cause of their calamity.”
“Do you think he’s not capable of change?” she asks. “That’s not a trick question. You’ve been around him more than I have. Thelma and that baby are my main concern.”
“I don’t know. Everybody is capable of change. Look at me.” I finally make eye contact with her. She’s frowning. “Ana, you know I was a different man when we met. Nonetheless, I can’t get past the fact that he allowed this to happen to his family. It was cruel and selfish to the highest degree, but for every sucker that I see get second chances… I mean, if I deserve a second chance, doesn’t he?” I run my hand through my hair. “I want him to deserve what I want to give him. I want him to earn it, but I don’t know how he can and I don’t know how to turn away a man who just wants to do right by his family even though he’s done wrong all this time…”
“I know you’re new to this, so I need you to listen to me,” she says. “You can’t take on their problems. You help where you can. You do what you can, and then you have to let the rest go.”
“He could be me, Ana…” I say, just above a whisper.
“He could never be you!” she retorts. “You would sell a body part before you would ever let me or the twins go without. So don’t ever compare yourself to him. I know you see your prior suffering in him, but he could never be you. On the other hand…” She cups my face in her hands. “He’s an asshole. I’ll give you that, but I know you. I know you have a way of making people work for what they get. Remember that he’s a very stubborn, very prideful man. While you can empathize with his plight, remember how much courage it takes to lay a lifetime of pride down and ask for help, and how much more it takes to actually accept it. Talking the talk is one thing; walking the walk is something altogether different, so try not to be too hard on him, only hard enough.”
Sometimes, her wisdom scares me, but that’s one of the reasons that I love her so much.
“Can I watch Bicentennial Man with you?” I ask. She smiles.
“Of course, but you might have to bring the ottoman over. The load has gotten wider in the last week or so.” I gasp. Did she just… “You’re sweet, Mr. Grey, but I’m carrying the load. I know it’s wider.” I smile at her and push the ottoman closer to her.
“Would you like some snacks or anything from the kitchen, Mrs. Grey.”
“No, I just want you.” I sit on the ottoman and put my arm around her in the recliner.
“I don’t care how wide the load gets, Mrs. Grey. I’ll love you forever.” I plant a longing kiss on her lips.
A/N: For those who may not know, Quasimodo is the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Christian’s maudlin playlist:
Nothing Like Us—Justin Bieber
Here Comes Goodbye—Rascal Flats
Sad Song for Broken Hearts
How Do You Heal a Broken Heart—Chris Walker
Where Do Broken Hearts Go—Whitney Houston
Didn’t we almost have it all—Whitney Houston
Sad Piano Music—Lucas King
You can find the songs along with pictures of places, things, and fashions 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 🙂