Happy Birthday to my baby girl, Ember. You guys may know her as Bria and someone called her Baby Goddess or Little Goddess or something like that… my memory sucks. Nonetheless, she’ll be 22 tomorrow, so this chapter is dedicated to her… and to any mom or dad who had to do something scary to protect their child from hurt, harm, or danger.
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 53—So Much For Decompressing…
Jason and I are in my office after the department head meeting Tuesday morning. Many people were surprised to hear that we would not be absorbing Fairlane as planned, but chalked it up to another of Christian Grey’s idiosyncrasies. They will surely find out the reasoning from those department heads who did attend the Meet-And-Greet a few weeks ago. Personally, I don’t intend to spend any more time on the topic than necessary.
We’re reviewing the background checks of our potential sponsors from Broadmoor. With the exception of a few facts that may cause some red faces should they become public, we’ve found nothing criminal or particularly scandalous. We’re laughing among ourselves about a slightly unusual fetish of one Mr. Rollins when Jason is interrupted by a call on his cell.
“Taylor.” He listens for a moment and frowns. “What does he want?” Oh hell, what now? “One second.” He raises his eyes to me. “James Radcliff is in the lobby.” I sigh.
“And?” I hiss.
“He wants to talk to you,” he says. “He’s not causing any trouble and front desk says he looks pretty bad.” I frown.
“What the hell does he want?” Jason shrugs.
“I don’t know, but he wants to talk to you. They say he’ll leave if you ask him to, but he’s saying ‘please,’—his words, not theirs.” I twist my lips and roll my eyes. I don’t want to talk to this fucker. His starving wife and child said all he could say to me. I sigh, irritated.
“First floor conference room,” I tell him. “I don’t want that fucker in my office. I want him as close to the front door as possible.”
He looks pretty bad was an understatement. This man looks like total fucking hell. I’d almost feel sorry for him if his family didn’t look worse when we visited them at that hovel he called a home.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Radcliff?” I ask gruffly when I enter the conference room with Jason and two other members of my security team. He raises his head from the table where it was buried in his arms. He’s been crying and he looks like he hasn’t eaten in several days. Did he lose his job after all? He’s dressed in that same uniform he was wearing when I last saw him—worn, but not dirty or unkempt.
“Mr. Grey,” he says, his voice cracking. He clears his throat and starts again. “Mr. Grey, thank you for seeing me.” I furrow my brow and come further into the room.
“I’m a very busy man, Mr. Radcliff. What can I do for you?” He looks down.
“I don’t blame you,” he says. “I was a real asshole the last time we met, so I deserve how you’re treating me right now. I deserve everything.” He clears his throat again. “I won’t take up much of your time and I know I don’t have a right to ask you for anything but… can you tell me how my boy is doing… and my Thelma?”
I frown harder. Your boy? Your Thelma? If you had your way, they’d both be dead! Now, you have the nerve to come here asking about them? My expression must be of total disgust, because he drops his head again.
“I knew this was a bad idea,” he says, his voice broken. “It’s just… I got nowhere else to go. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I think about ‘em all the time. It’s only been a week or so, but it seems like forever. I go to work and I come back to that cold, empty house… and I realize what I put ‘em through. I’m ashamed and I got no right to ask… but I love her. I really do. I know you wouldn’t know it ‘cause I let my pride be more important than their safety, but I love her… and I feel like I’ll die without ‘em.”
Okay, so what the fuck do you want me to do?
“I don’t know how your wife and child are doing,” I tell him. “I work here, not at the Center. You would have to go there to find out.”
“I can’t go there,” he says. “I got nothin’. I’m no better off than when she left. I can’t give her anything… a warm safe home, food, clothes…”
“I thought you said you were still working,” I accuse.
“I haven’t been paid, yet,” he says. “My first paycheck is Friday. Even with one paycheck, I can’t put things together like they need. And no, I didn’t come here looking for money. I just wanna know how my family’s doin’.” I roll my eyes.
“I can call my wife if you want and find out how they’re doing,” I offer. He shakes his head.
“No… I don’t want her to know. I don’t want her to think… that I’ll come…” He shakes his head. “She’s… they’re better off where they are.” His voice cracks again.
“I’m not sure what else you want from me,” I tell him. “There’s not much more I can do than that.” I still have a hard time mustering up sympathy for this guy after seeing the condition of his wife and child.
“I was just hopin’,” he says, standing to his feet. “I won’t take up any more of your time.” He walks to the door and security steps aside to let him pass. “You can do one thing for me.”
“And what’s that?” I ask.
“Just get a message to her.” I thought he said he didn’t want her to know he was looking for her. “Tell her that I’m sorry and that if she don’t see me no more, I really do love her.” He leaves the conference room with his skull cap in his hand.
I know that tone. I know it well. I felt it when Butterfly left. I wanted to die. I really wanted to die. If I didn’t have my staff watching me like a hawk and my company to keep me occupied, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have resorted to more drastic measures. He doesn’t have anything—just that job that he should be at right now because it’s business hours. He didn’t ask me anything but how she was doing and to give her a message…
“If she don’t see me no more…”
He’s saying goodbye.
“Stop him,” I say.
“What?” I turn around to face a frowning Jason.
“Stop him,” I repeat. “Bring him back. Now!”
Confused, Jason walks out of the conference room and has to go outside to catch Radcliff before he leaves. A few moments later, the two men walk back into the conference room, bringing the cold in with them.
“Have a seat, Mr. Radcliff,” I say, gesturing to the chair.
“Jim,” he says, taking the seat and not raising his head. Yes, this is definitely a different man than the one I met a few days before Christmas.
“Get Jim some coffee and some food from the cafeteria,” I tell Jason.
“I ain’t hungry,” he says.
“You need to eat. You look like shit,” I tell him before turning back to Jason. “They can wait outside. Close the door.” Jason frowns. “I assume your very capable security staff searched him before setting him in my conference room.”
“I ain’t got nothin’!” Jim retorts. I turn back to Jason.
“Coffee? Food?” I repeat. He looks at me uncertainly.
“Yes, sir,” he says before reluctantly leaving the room with the other two security detail. I turn my attention back to Jim.
“I don’t like you,” I say, taking the seat across from him. “I think it’s a horrible thing you did making your wife and newborn child live in filth, famine, and squalor—and for what? I have a very hard time getting past that and you have to tell me why I should.”
“I don’t know why you should,” he says, firmly, confused. “You called me back…”
“But you came here first!” I retort. “You expected something from me. I want to know what and why!”
“I don’t know what I expected,” he hisses as he pushes away from the table and stands, pacing to nowhere. “You’re my only connection to Thelma. I need to see her… I don’t know… I need to…” He wrings the skull cap in his hands. “I don’t know what to do without her, man,” he confesses, near tears again. “I don’t have no direction. I’m lost. I don’t know what’s going on with my boy. I rather be dead than live like this.”
“So what do you plan to do?” I ask. “You sure as hell can’t bring her back to the same conditions she left. She’s probably sharing a suite with four other families right now if she hasn’t already found a place of her own. Whatever the case may be, I can guarantee that it’s the Taj Mahal compared to where you had her.”
“Did you bring me back here to beat me over the head, ‘cause I already know all this shit!” he barks.
“No! I brought you back here to make you look for a reason to live, because right now, you don’t have one!” I bark back. His face falls and he sinks back into the seat and says nothing. “I used to be you. Don’t let the money fool you,” I say. “No, my wife wasn’t living in famine and squalor, but my pride almost cost me everything. I thought I knew it all; I was making all the decisions… even decisions that we should have been making together. One of those decisions was more than she could take and she left me. Yes, I thought I would die, but I had my company to run and I had people around me that wouldn’t let me fall completely into the abyss. I did the same thing you’re doing… I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I just worked. I worked and I refused to think about her. I wouldn’t let anybody talk about her. I became this evil phantom, floating around bringing dismay with me everywhere I went. I was a horrible shell of a man, worse than before I met her.”
“You’re married now, what happened?” he asks.
“She came back to me,” I tell him.
“What did you do to make her come back?”
“I didn’t do anything,” I tell him. “I later found out that her best friend and my head of Legal told her what I had become and she felt sorry for me. That’s not going to happen with you. Thelma’s not going to look at your sad, pathetic state and fall at your feet. Why aren’t you at work?”
“I was,” he confesses. “The boss said I looked like shit and told me to go home and get some rest.”
“So that’s a day’s pay you’ll be missing,” I say. He shrugs.
“What does it matter?” he laments.
“It matters if you hope to get your wife back,” I retort. “That is why you’re here, right?” He raises sad eyes to me and begins to cry.
“I don’t know why I’m here, man,” he weeps, “I just miss my Thelma.” Oh, fuck. This is just what I need. Jason comes back into the room at just this moment. Thank God! I gesture at this blubbering idiot with disgust and Jason looks from him to me, confused. He walks over and places the food on the table next to Jim and proceeds to the door. He throws a look back at me for approval and I shoo him out of the room.
“Okay, dry up. I can’t deal with this shit from people I do like,” I say once Jason is out of the room. How the mighty have fallen. This once prideful, bullying bastard is sitting at my conference table drying his tears with napkins from my company cafeteria. “Eat,” I command him. He removes the top from the plate and tears into the sandwich. I can smell the soup from here—clam chowder. He tucks into like a man on death row. “Not hungry, huh?” He raises his eyes to me and swallows the bite he was chewing.
“I guess I am,” he admits before taking more of the soup. Mmm-hmm.
“So what are you going to do now?” I tell him. “You obviously want your wife back, so what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” he admits. “Can you teach an old dog new tricks?”
“For your sake, you better hope so,” I say. “Let’s start by identifying the problem. What’s the problem?”
“I had my wife and son living in a shack with no food or heat.”
“That’s a result from one of the symptoms. What’s the problem?” He frowns.
“Well, that’s why she left me,” he says.
“No, that’s not why she left you,” I say. “If the two of you were doing the best that you could and all you had in the end was that shack with no heat, she would have found a way to make it work. She loves you. That’s not why she left you. Try again.” He puts his spoon down and takes a sip of his coffee before closing his eyes.
“It was cold. They were hungry. We didn’t have any food… no clothes… no furniture…”
“All symptoms,” I repeat.
“Would you let me work through this, please?” he snaps. I cross my hands on the table and remain silent. “She woulda stayed… she did try. She called the welfare office. She called the utility helpline… she called your wife…”
You’re getting warmer.
“I wouldn’t let her try. I didn’t want their help. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to take care of my family, myself.”
“But you couldn’t do it,” I interject, “so you allowed them to suffer and nearly die as long as you could feel better about not accepting a handout.”
“What’s a man got if he can’t provide for his family?” he retorts, desperately.
“Apparently, nothing,” I say. “Even less if he doesn’t accept the help of someone else who’s attempting to provide for his family while he’s down on his luck. No one was trying to strip you of your manhood, Jim. That’s why these agencies are here. Yeah, there are those who live off of them for life, but you obviously weren’t going to be that guy. Hell, you got a job. You just needed something to help you make it to your first couple of checks. How did you expect for your wife and child to survive that long in those conditions?”
“I wasn’t thinkin’,” he says.
“That’s a cop out,” I accuse. “You were thinking. You were thinking about yourself! You had the wherewithal to come off of your job at lunchtime and drive all the way back to your house to make sure that my wife and I were not going to bring any goods to your house or provide any assistance to your family and you’re going to try to pull that bullshit on me?” He sits there, chastised. “You need to take responsibility for your actions and your selfishness and find a way to fix what you’ve broken. Stop copping out with this I don’t know bullshit and stand up and be that man you tried to be when you bullied your wife… and tried to bully mine! Otherwise, you can finish your soup and sandwich, take your coffee and get the hell out of here because I’m wasting my time with you!”
“No… no, please help me. I’ll do anything to make this right,” he begs.
“Well, first of all, you need to examine yourself, because if you don’t see the problem, you’re going to be right back where you started from in a week, a month or a year. Give it time, but you will be right back there, and nobody’s going to help you, then. Nobody wants to help you now! Thelma’s got all the help she needs. You’ve got a job. You can move into a one-room studio or boarding house and no one would care. Pay your child support, get your bi-weekly supervised visitation and call it a day!”
“Oh, God,” he laments, burying his head in his arms on the table again. “I’m a selfish asshole,” he says, his voice muffled. “I didn’t want to be one of those welfare families depending on the state, so every time she tried to get some help, I headed ‘em off. When they called, I told ‘em we didn’t need ‘em. When they sent letters, I threw ‘em away. When they showed up, I sent ‘em away…”
“Don’t I know it,” I remark.
“… But it’s true, Mr. Grey,” he wails. “I wasn’t thinkin’. I wasn’t thinkin’ about how they would survive. I just knew that if we held on a little while longer, I would be able to take care of ‘em. They seemed like they were doing alright. I didn’t know she took food from the hospital or begged from the neighbors. I didn’t know they were starving until they were starving…”
“How could you not know? What were you eating?” I accuse.
“I got a meal here and there, but I could go longer without food than she could. I’m a big man…” Not anymore.
“Have you looked at yourself lately?” I ask. “You’re considerably smaller than the first time I saw you just before Christmas.” He looks down at himself and shrugs.
“Explains why the boss sent me for a drug test,” he says, his voice defeated. I roll my eyes.
“You’ve got to accept some fucking help. You can’t even take care of yourself. Yes, you need to be self-sustaining and be able to take care of your family, but you have to build something first and you can’t even do that right now. You look like utter shit. You need to get your health back and maintain your job while you’re doing it. How do you plan on accomplishing that?”
“Well, I was going to get my gas turned back on Friday when I got paid,” he says. That’s a start. I nod.
“You need to see a doctor. You look sick, like something else is wrong…”
“Well, maybe the drug test will show something,” he says.
“A drug test only tests for narcotics. Are you on any narcotics?” I ask. He shakes his head.
“Where would I even get the money for some shit like that?” he says, hopelessly. I sigh again. I’m going to help this fucker against my will. I feel like I have to.
“We adopted your family this past Christmas—not just your wife and child, your entire family. You’re going to accept some help because you need it. You’re not going to make it without it. We still have most of the shit we intended to give to you including the gift cards if Butte… Mrs. Grey hasn’t given them to Thelma, yet. At this point, would you have a problem accepting those things?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Grey,” he says. “It’s not my pride this time… well, maybe it is a little. It’s just that… I don’t know if I’m worthy this time. And that house… that house isn’t worthy of the rats that live in it.”
“Well, that’ll never do,” I say. “You can’t hope to bring a baby back to those kinds of conditions, but remember, this isn’t about you. This is about your family.” He nods. “Are they worthy?”
“More than anything,” he whispers. He’d better be glad I believe him.
“Jim, I’m going to give you a purpose. I’m going to make you earn your family back. You have to show me that you are worth my time and effort and then you have to show them that you’re worth their love and trust. You drop the ball this time and you can take a leap into the deepest part of the Pacific is far as I’m concerned. Thelma has already shown you that she’s not putting up with your shit and she loves you. I’m even less tolerant than she is.”
“I’ll do whatever I have to,” he says. “I let ‘em down once… I can’t do it again.”
Butterfly is rubbing off on me. I heard her say that the ideal situation would be for the family to be reunited and I didn’t want to hear it. Now this fucker has showed up at my building again… this time, in desperate need of my help. The Alpha Male in me wants to kick his ass and send him on his way for what he did to Thelma and little Jimmy. The husband and father in me knows how lost, lonely, and sick I would be if my Butterfly took my beans and left me.
Like I said, Butterfly is rubbing off on me.
I call my doctor and ask if he could see a new patient on short notice, cash pay, of course. I let him know that the man is somewhat emaciated and I’m concerned about his health. He agreed to run whatever tests Jim would consent to and charge it to my credit card. Can’t send him back to Thelma a piece of a man.
My next call is to Marilyn to find out how much of the merchandise for the Radcliffs we still have in our possession or waiting to be delivered. She’s going to get back to me later with an inventory, but indicates that she may need to talk to Butterfly about what may have already been given to Thelma. I ask her to try to hold off talking to Butterfly if she can as I want to talk to her, first. I need to explain my motives in case she wants to chew me out like I did her about Courtney.
My final call is to Elliot. I grovel a bit to get him to go over and inspect the Radcliffs’ house. Rats can be taken care of with an exterminator, but I need to know if this is an undertaking worth pursuing or if we should just start over. I don’t give him much detail except the address and that the key is under the mat—not that he’ll need one. The walls are so thin that the big bad wolf could probably blow the house down. He agrees to go on over since I sound so desperate. I’m not desperate. Maybe a little eager, but not desperate.
Around mid-afternoon, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to approach this topic with Butterfly when I get a call from the front desk.
“Mr. Grey, your brother is on his way up and he is breathing fire.”
“Why?” I ask, my brow furrowed.
“We didn’t get a chance to ask him. He whizzed by us and said, ‘If you have to call the cops, call them, but I’m going up to see my brother.’” What the hell is wrong with Elliot? I hear the ring of the elevator and Elliot’s gruff voice talking to Andrea.
“Is he in there?” he asks.
“Yes, but please let me announce you,” she says. I know the request has fallen on deaf ears because he walked right past security.
“Thank you, he’s here,” I say before ending the call. My office door slams open loudly and Elliot is standing there breathing like a bull.
“Christian, somebody lives there??” he asks, storming into my office.
“Hello, Elliot, what the fuck?” I retort.
“Have you been inside that place?” he nearly shouts.
“That cesspool you sent me to!” he barks angrily.
“No, I haven’t. That’s why I asked you to check it out!” Elliot rubs the back of his neck. Oh, this is bad.
“You better be glad you haven’t been in there, because I was ready to chew you a new asshole!” he scolds, pointing at me from across the room. “Algae, fungus, and mold visible all over the house; loose asbestos in the attic; paper thin walls with holes so big you can see the studs—which, by the way, are suffering from massive decay. Corrosion all over the kitchen and bathroom. There’s no running water, probably because the pipes are frozen.
“We had to wear gas masks because—on a whim—I brought the carbon monoxide detector in with me and it went nuts! It’s no wonder since the furnace and the hot water heater are under four feet of ice. We couldn’t even get to the basement—it’s a frozen swimming pool down there! Rodents and roaches everywhere and that’s the least of your problems. I’m surprised he still has a pest problem in there as cold as it is.
“The foundation is destroyed, which I could tell just walking up to the place because it’s actually leaning! That place should be condemned! I’ve already reported it unsafe and irreparable to the city, and it’s going to take a HazMat team to remove the debris once it’s demolished, if not before! They may find the fucking Loch Ness Monster in that goddamn basement once they thaw that fucking petri dish—grown ass men running out of the house because rats are frozen on the surface!”
“You’re fucking kidding me!” I say, thrusting both hands into my hair. Elliot’s ire is immediately extinguished by my reaction.
“What’s going on here, Christian?” he asks. I close my eyes and shake my head, sighing heavily.
“I can’t tell you,” I say. “I’ll be betraying a confidence if I do. How soon can the city get rid of that house?” He shrugs.
“I don’t know how long it usually takes. I turn it over to the city and I don’t look back. Is somebody living in that house, Christian?”
“Elliot, what part of I can’t tell you is unclear?” He’s angry again.
“Mmm-hmm. Well, tell whoever you can’t tell me about to get the hell out of that house now and go see a goddamn doctor! It’s a wonder they’re not dead already—and make sure they burn anything they may have taken from that house, including the clothes they’re wearing! They’re probably a walking mold incubator. And kindly warn me the next time you intend to send me and my guys into hazardous conditions that could possibly cost us our lives or health!”
And with that, he storms out of my office. He has a right to be mad, but I didn’t know what he was walking into or I wouldn’t have sent him over there. I pull out my blackberry and call Jason.
“Send two out guys to locate James Radcliff and tell him not to go back to his house. Put him up at the Fairmount for the week and settle the bill in advance. Give him a few hundred dollars and tell him to call me on my cell as soon as he gets settled in.” There’s silence on the line for a moment.
“Yes, sir,” he says before ending the call. I sit at my desk, staring out the window. How can I feel sorry for this fucker? Doesn’t he deserve whatever he gets? He had his wife and son living in this mess and now he’s stuck in it. Shouldn’t I let him stew in his own brew?
“Shit!” I dial Butterfly’s number.
“Hey, handsome,” she answers the phone. I want to take solace in her voice, but I have to tell her…
“Hey, baby. You busy?”
“Never too busy for you and what’s wrong?” I’ll never be able to hide anything from this woman.
“What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“Cut the shit, Christian,” she says. Okay…
“Thelma and Jimmy Radcliff… how is their health?” There’s a pause.
“As well as can be expected for living in a cold house with no food. Where is this coming from?”
“Just go with me for a moment, okay?” I reply. “Have they seen a doctor for a thorough examination?”
“Have you forgotten your mother works here?” she asks.
“No, but Mom can’t run tests in the center cafeteria.” I retort. She sighs.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” she replies. “They’ve only been here for about two weeks. Grace did a preliminary examination of Jimmy and nothing seemed amiss. Please tell me what’s going on.”
“I will, but you have to let me finish,” I tell her. “Have they shown any strange symptoms? Has Thelma complained to you about anything out of the ordinary—or too often about anything ordinary?”
“No,” she replies.
“Headaches, dizziness, nausea, trouble breathing?” She sighs.
“The baby had a cold or something that he couldn’t shake for a minute, but he seems fine now.” I shake my head. Better safe than sorry.
“Radcliff’s house is unsafe,” I tell her. “Not just unsafe like just too cold for the baby; unsafe like hazardous toxins and they could have all died in there.”
“What?” she gasps. “How do you know this?”
“I can’t tell you right now. I’ll tell you everything later. Just make sure they get to the doctor as soon as possible and get a full work-up—blood work, lab tests, oxygen saturations, everything.”
“What are we looking for, Christian?” she asks, desperately.
“Exposure to mold, asbestos, common household toxins, carbon monoxide poisoning…”
“Oh my God,” she mumbles. “As if this woman hasn’t been through enough. That bastard really would have let them die in there!” Yeah, she’s not going to be real happy to know that I’m helping that bastard. How does this woman function being everything to everybody? I’m exhausted with just this one guy and now, I feel like I’m responsible for him. I almost want to defend him right now. What the fuck is this? “Christian, you’re quiet.”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to you later, baby. I’ll tell you everything, I promise. Just get the Radcliffs to a doctor… today, please.” There’s another pause.
“Okay… I love you.”
“I love you, too, Butterfly.” I end the call and walk over to the window. My mind wanders to a hundred different scenarios of what could have happened to me or who I could be if one thing had turned out differently in my life. What if my mother hadn’t been a crack whore? And my deadbeat father—wherever his ass is and whoever he may be—had stuck around to take care of us. Would I have had a more normal early life? Or would my crack whore mother have been Thelma Radcliff? What if she had never met the pimp or got on drugs? We would have been poor, but I wouldn’t have been abused—burned at the age of four, probably before that. I wouldn’t remember. That’s why I detest smokers right now. It’s not even allowed in my building, not even on the roof.
My mind wanders to a million more what ifs before it’s all said and done. What if I had never been discovered in there with my mother? What if I had never been adopted? What if I had never met Elena? Or Ana? The list goes on and on…
I whirl around to see Jason standing in my office. He startled the shit out of me. When did he get here?
“I have Haskins on the line. He’s with Radcliff. He wants to talk to you… and it’s nearly six o’clock, sir.” Six o’clock? Fucking hell. I take his cell from his hands as I go to the desk to gather my things.
“Mr. Grey, I have Mr. Radcliff.”
“Put him on.”
“Mr. Grey, what’s going on? These guys are telling me that I can’t go home.” I sigh.
“Jim, I think it’s about time you call me Christian,” I say. There’s a pause.
“Okay, Christian. Why can’t I go home?” he asks again.
“I had my brother inspect your house. He has reported it to the city as uninhabitable for humans.”
“Unin… what… that’s my house! I come to you for help and you take away my house? The only thing I have left?” he accuses.
“Jim, you said it yourself, you can’t bring your family back to that house and now we know why!” I retort, trying to keep my anger in check. “That house is leaning—visibly. I noticed it when I came there with my wife. Ever wonder why?”
“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me,” he says, irritated.
“There’s no foundation!” I reveal. “The studs and support beams are decaying! Once that frozen rat pool you have in the basement thaws in the spring, that house is going to crumble like the Twin Towers—excuse the morbid comparison!” It is pretty damn morbid, but he needs to know how serious this is.
“What?” Now, he’s paying attention.
“Any really bad cold symptoms that won’t go away?” I ask. “Sniffling? Wheezing? Difficulty breathing? Really bad headaches that don’t let up? Unable to get out of bed in the morning?” His prolonged silence tells me that he’s had at least one of the symptoms I’ve named.
“Your house is infested with mold and fungus and there is a carbon monoxide leak. It’s not worth the cleanup or repair. It would be cheaper to demolish the place.”
“That house is all I have left,” he protests. “I coulda sold it to developers or something for the land…”
“My brother assures me that a HazMat team will have to remove the debris once the structure is demolished. The land is worthless, Jim. No one would buy it.” I hear him sigh on the other end. “You need to burn those clothes that you’re wearing and get new ones. And I hope there was nothing too important in that house to you, because everything is contaminated now and has to be destroyed.”
“No,” he says in slight dismay, “nothing of any real value. The only things of value to me is… well, never mind.” He sounds even more defeated than he was before.
“I’ll see if there’s any value in the land and grant you something for it. I’m calling it a grant, Jim, because I don’t expect the funds back, but I do fully expect you to use the funds to secure residence suitable for you and your family. I don’t expect it to be much, so if you need to use it as a down payment for another place or as a security deposit to rent a place is up to you, but I don’t expect for you to spend it frivolously.”
“I understand,” he says, his voice low. “Much obliged.”
“You may want to inform the doctor about the condition of the house,” I tell him. “It may affect the outcome of any lab tests he may have run.”
“No need,” he says. “He warned me when I told him about the basement. He’s already testing for a lot o’ stuff. We’ll see what hap…” Then he gasps.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Thelma! Jimmy!” he exclaims, terror in his voice.
“I’ve already informed my wife,” I tell him. “Jimmy had some symptoms early on. He’s doing better now. They’ll get to the doctor to make sure there’s no permanent damage, but the fact that they’ve been removed from the conditions fares well for them, I assure you.” I hear him sigh heavily on the other end, then he starts to weep bitterly. Oh, fuck, not again…
“Dear God, forgive me,” he keens. “Please forgive me…”
And now I feel like a heel.
“I’m a fool!” he yells. “I’m a goddamn fool! How could I be so fuckin’ blind? Goddammit!!” He’s falling apart. “I could have lost them! Forever!”
“But you haven’t,” I try to convince him. “You still have a chance. They’re still here, but you’ve got work to do.” I hear him sniffling and weeping. “Pull yourself together, Jim. They’ll be fine.” He whimpers a bit more.
“I… I have to go,” he says.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know!” he snaps. “To the store, to my room, to church… I don’t know. Just let me go, man.” I have to hope he’s not going to do anything stupid, but I can’t keep him on the phone.
“You’ll contact me tomorrow.” It’s a statement, not a question.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says and hands the phone back to Haskins.
“Covert surveillance on him,” I tell Haskins. “Report to Taylor for further instructions. Just make sure he doesn’t do anything drastic.”
“Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.” I end the call and take a few frantic paces before turning to face an expecting Jason.
“What was I supposed to do?” I ask, throwing my hands in the air. “Exactly what am I supposed to do?” His expression changes and he twists his lips a bit.
“Exactly what you’re doing, sir,” he says, his voice resigned.
Thelma almost took Jimmy out of here on foot to get him to the hospital for testing. She wasn’t waiting for a doctor’s appointment and I had to send Ben after her to take her to the emergency room. We have plenty of security here if anything happens and I’ll just stay here until he gets back. Hopefully, it won’t be too late and if it is, I’ll have Bronson and Marilyn take me home. Speaking of which…
To: Christian Grey
Subject: An Apple A Day
Date: January 7, 2014, 15:17:16
From: Anastasia Grey
Thelma has taken Jimmy and they are off to the ER at Seattle Gen. Upon hearing of the conditions of the house, she refused to wait for a doctor’s appointment and almost took the baby on the bus. I sent Ben to take them to the hospital and wait with them until they are done. There is plenty of GEH security here, so I didn’t see a problem in that course or action. I hope you agree. If they haven’t returned by the time I’m ready to go home, I’ll have Marilyn and her guard take me home.
At first, I took our conversation last night with a grain of salt and made a note to talk to Marilyn. However, after an extensive talk this morning and a brief breakdown of her duties and responsibilities, I think you should actually consider replacing her security detail. If he truly feels that she’s a handful, then he’s not the man for the job. I don’t intend to get anyone in trouble, but as you well know, not everyone is cut out for every kind of work. It appears that Marilyn shares his opinion that he’s unable to keep up with her. She compares him to Charles Bronson and calls him “Chuckie” behind his back. That’s not a healthy relationship. She needs someone with more energy who can change gears at a moment’s notice. Imagine Andrea having to do everything that she has to do for you from a mobile office with no assistant. She needs someone who can keep with that.
Just keeping you abreast. I’ll see you when I get home.
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands
I no sooner press send on my computer when Marilyn and Courtney come running into my office like the place is on fire.
“Ana! Come quick!” Marilyn pants. “There was a hit on Jack… in Missing Persons… his father is here!” I get out of my seat faster than I moved before I was pregnant.
“Where is he?”
“In the community room,” Courtney says. She sounds panicked.
“Upstairs in the dorms.” I sigh heavily.
“Courtney, got get Jack. Bring him down. Make sure that he knows he doesn’t have to leave if he doesn’t want to.”
“He’ll come,” she says. “It’s not his father that he’s afraid of.” I nod.
“That’s right. Bring him down. Marilyn, get security in there just in case. Is he alone?” She nods.
“No sign of the Wicked Witch of The North Pacific.” I nod.
“I’ll go talk to him.” I reach into my purse and pull out my Beretta. I load the magazine without putting a round in the chamber. I hope I won’t need it, but I can’t be too careful, especially since I sent Ben with Thelma and Jimmy. I put the gun in the waistband of my maternity pants. One of the children protest with a kick—I have a feeling it’s Mikey.
“Settle down, killer,” I tell him. “I’ll get some kind of holster after this.” Marilyn frowns at me.
“Do you really think you need it, Ana?” she asks.
“Ben’s not here…”
“But so many other people are,” she protests. I shake my head.
“Unknown element. No Ben. No Chuck. The gun comes with me.” I brush past her and into the hallway.
We walk to the community room and security is already there. There’s a man—not really short, but he still looks very small for some reason. I walk in and start toward him. He removes his hat and gets to his feet—about 5’10”, red hair… he looks really frail.
“Ma’am, is my boy okay?” he asks without introducing himself. He’s wringing his hat nervously and he looks worried sick.
“Yes, sir, he’s fine,” I reply. He sighs heavily and drops his head. He looks like he shrinks at least a foot, like he was carrying boulders on his back. “Please, have a seat, Mr….”
“Hyde. Jack Hyde,” he says proffering his hand. I shake it.
“Anastasia Grey. Please.” I gesture to the seat he just vacated and sit next to him.
“There’s a lot of security in this place,” he says. “They wouldn’t let me in until I told them who I was.”
“As you can imagine, there are a lot of abused families here, Mr. Hyde. We have to take precautions.”
“I get it. Please call me Jack. Everybody calls me Jack.”
Okay, Jack. Call me Ana. Your son was in bad shape when he got here. We’ve had to contact Child Services.” He drops his head.
“Am I going to jail?” he says. I frown.
“Well, I don’t know. Did you do that to him?”
“Dad!” Jack Jr., sees his father and runs full tilt towards his father. Jack stands to his feet and pushes his hands out in front of him to halt his son.
“Jack, no!” he warns. Jack Jr., stops in his tracks, crestfallen. Then his dismay transforms immediately to anger.
“What did she do to you now?” Jack Jr., demands.
“Nothing, son. I just had a little accident,” Jack replies.
“Bullshit!” Jack retorts. “What did she do to you?” he screams, angry tears burning a trek down his face.
“Jack!” his father scolds.
“What did she do to you?” he screams again. Courtney comes up behind him and he throws his arms around her, weeping. Courtney embraces the young boy and looks at me questioning, her eyes begging me to make the situation right. I turn back to Jack Sr.
“Jack, you asked me if you were going to jail. Why?”
“Because I didn’t protect him,” he says. “Isn’t that just as bad?”
“Somewhat… but not if you’re being abused, too.”
“I’m… I’m not being abused,” he says. “If you have to take me to jail, I understand, but… what’ll happen to my boy?”
“If for some reason, you were unable to take care of him, he would go to foster care until it could be determined what would happen to him.” He shakes his head.
“We have to go back,” he says with terror in his voice. “She’s knows where he is. She said if I didn’t come and get him that she would.”
“No!” Jack Jr., cries. “No! I’m not going back and you can’t make me!”
“I’ve made it clear to your son that he doesn’t have to go back,” I tell him. “He’s in danger of imminent harm, and he doesn’t have to return. He’s told me that these bruises come from his stepmother and that she’s doing the same thing to you. All we need is for you to confirm it.” He looks at me in utter terror and back to his son.
“We have to go, Jack,” he says, his voice shaking. “We have to go.”
“I’m not going back, Dad,” Jack Jr., says.
“We have to go back,” Jack says, swallowing hard. “We have to go back before she comes up here. It’ll just be worse if she comes up here!”
“I’m not going back, Dad,” Jack Jr., says. “I’ll go to foster care. I’ll go to the police. I’ll run away. I’ll do whatever I have to do… but I’m not going back! I don’t have to go back! I’m not going!”
“We have to go back!” Jack Sr., says frantically. “She’ll find you and take you away from me if we don’t go back!”
“She can’t do that,” I interject. My voice is an intrusion into his thoughts. It’s like he forgot I was in the room. “If she takes your son away from you without cause or permission, that’s kidnapping and that’s a federal crime.” His eyes are full of terror.
“What?” he asks incredulously.
“She can’t take your son from you without your permission or without cause, but if you make him go back, the State can and will take him away from both of you.” He looks from me to Jack Jr., to Grace and back to me again.
“She can’t take him away?” I don’t think he heard anything else I said.
“Not unless she wants the police on her tail for the rest of her life,” I tell him, “and I have a feeling that young Jack is not going to keep quiet for her anymore.”
He looks at me like I just hit him and falls back down in his seat, panting like he’s out of breath.
“She… she…” He really is panting. I look to his son.
“Dad?” He breaks from Courtney’s hold. “Dad?”
“Careful, Jack!” I say, remembering his father’s reaction when Jack Jr., ran towards him. Jack Jr., falls to his knees in front of his father who, as I can now see, is hyperventilating.
“Go get a paper bag from the cafeteria,” I say to Marilyn.
“I’ll get it!” Courtney says, and she’s gone in a flash. I turn back to the father and son.
“Dad. Listen to me. Breathe. Please breathe.” That’s not going to help him. He’s going to pass out soon. His son has no idea what’s happening and this is all he knows to do. Courtney must have been moving like Mercury, because she’s back in a flash with a paper bag, opening it quickly and handing it to me. I crinkle the opening around my hand.
“Hold this over your nose and mouth, like this.” I demonstrate for him and he weakly puts the paper bag over his nose and mouth. “Now breathe in and out, into the bag.” He follows directions and it takes a while, but after several moments, he’s breathing normally. When he gets the air back into his lungs, he collapses in tears.
“We can’t go back, Dad,” Jack Jr., tells his father.
“She can’t take him away from me?” he asks and I shake my head. “She always said she could take him away. I was trying to find some kind of way to fight her, but she’s got the money and I don’t. And she’s a strong woman… she’s like Nurse Ratchet or something! She wasn’t always like that. It’s like one day she just turned into the Jolly Green Giant, only not jolly—more like a big, angry, Amazon! Nothing I did was right. It was like she hated the sight of me. Then she started hitting me. Then she started hitting my boy…
“I tried to leave her once. She headed us off before we even got on the bus—her and her driver.”
“Her driver?” I ask.
“He’s her lover,” he says, wiping his tears. “I’m no fool. She’s angry with me for not being him.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, looking precariously at Jack Jr., now sitting on the floor, not the least bit surprised by anything he’s hearing. “If she’s in love with someone else, why doesn’t she just divorce you instead of putting you and your son through this?”
“She has too much to lose,” his voice is still cracking. “There’s no prenup. She thinks I’ll take her money. I’ve told her many times that I would sign anything she wanted and to just let me go. She doesn’t believe me. So she torments me… and now she’s tormenting my son. But… you’re saying… she can’t take my son?”
“No, Jack, she can’t take your son. Even if you died tomorrow, no court in the country would give him to her,” I assure him. He shakes his head, presses his chin to his chest, and begins to weep again, bitterly.
“I’m sorry, Jack,” he sobs, clinging to his son’s hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Jack… I’m so sorry.” His body shakes with his anguish.
“Dad…” His son’s eyes fill with tears. “I didn’t know either. Please, Dad…” He watches his father sob uncontrollably and I see anger behind this young man’s tears. He raises his eyes to me, determined.
“I see men go to jail for beating women!” he declares. “Can’t she go to jail for what she did to us?” His voice is firm and strong—determined, more commanding than I would expect from a 13-year-old boy.
“Yes,” I tell him. “Yes, she can.” He turns back to his father.
“We need to put her in jail, Dad,” he says. “She needs to go to jail. She needs to pay for this!” His father’s weeping subsides, but he doesn’t raise his head. Jack Jr., turns back to me.
“She’s horrible!” Jack Jr., says. “She does terrible things to me and my dad. She doesn’t deserve to be free.” He rolls up his sleeves to reveal multiple bruises, both old and more recent. I nearly gag. He looks like he’s been whipped repeatedly—with a fucking bullwhip or something! What kind of monster does this to a child?
“I’ll do whatever I need to do. I’ll tell whoever I need to tell, but she has to pay!” He looks over at his father. “Show her, Dad.” I look over at Jack Sr., is still holding his head down. “Show her!”
Jack Sr., nearly jumps out of his skin, the poor, timid little man. He sighs heavily, then opens his coat and lifts his shirt, flinching painfully. He has the worst burn across his chest and part of his stomach that I’ve ever seen. It’s bubbling and festering and very new—today or yesterday new. I don’t even know how he’s sitting here. I gasp loudly, shaking hands flying to cover my mouth to prevent me from vomiting. A tear escapes before I can stop it. I feel the burning of the brands again.
“Ana?” Marilyn is by my side in moments. With one hand over my mouth and one on my chest attempting to fend off the imminent return of my partially digested lunch, I fight to control my breathing.
“Ana?” Marilyn’s concerned voice does nothing to calm my churning stomach.
“Get Grace… Call the police,” I choke. “Call the police, now!” I dash out of the community room and make it to the bathroom in just enough time to lose my lunch. Everything that was in my stomach, including water ends up in the commode and nearly on the floor.
“Ana!” Courtney’s voice is behind me. I feel my hair being gathered to the back of my head and I continue to empty the contents of my stomach into the toilet and cry miserably between the horrible wrenching and regurgitations. I hear some things going on around me, people coming in and out, but I just lay my head on the toilet seat and cry. My stomach finally appears to have stopped its violent contractions and dry-heaving and I just lean against the wall out of breath. I feel a cold cloth across my face. I open my eyes and I’m surprised to see Courtney tending to me.
I’m completely out of breath and wondering if I’m also delirious.
“Yeah, I know,” she says, rinsing the cloth and coming back to me on the floor of the stall. “I’d think I was hallucinating, too.” She wipes my face again—all over this time. She cracks open a bottle of water and hands it to me. “Rinse,” she says. I take a healthy mouthful of water and rinse the awful bile residue out of my mouth. I try to repeat, but the taste is still there.
“Do it again,” she says. Good fuck, is she reading my mind? “Really good this time. Skip that ladylike crap. Your makeup’s already shit.” Well, hell. I rinse this crappy warm water through my mouth really good and spit. Rinse one more time, not as thoroughly, and spit. Okay, basically gone—not completely, but basically. I turn around to her and she’s holding a salt shaker.
What are we going to do, make a wish?
“Hold your hand out,” she says. Oh. The Amazing Dr. Grey forgot about the magic of salt. I hold out my hand and she shakes a little less than a dime-sized amount of salt into my hand. I lick it out of my palm.
I look over at her.
“Trying to get on my good side?” I say, sarcastically. She shrugs noncommittal.
“Maybe,” she says. “I just know about hangovers. The vomiting is still the same,” she says, throwing the water bottle away. “We should get back out there. The police are most likely here by now.” I nod and look at my reflection in the mirror. I look like hell. I tie my hair in a knot and forget it.
“You’re still hot,” she says, matter-of-factly. I turn to look at her like, “Seriously? You’re saying that? Now?”
“Hey, I know what got me here. Nothing’s changed. I’m still bi-sexual. You were hot that night and you’re hot today. Love the henna. You ready?”
She said that shit almost in one breath. I roll my eyes.
“Yes,” I snap like a petulant child. She nods once and holds the door open for me. When I get out there, I realize that more time has passed than I thought. The sun has gone down, the police are already here, and Grace is dressing Jack’s burn because he refuses to go to the hospital.
“Jack,” I say sitting next to him while Grace finishes up, “you should really go to the hospital. It may set up infection and you might need antibiotics.” He shakes his head.
“I can’t,” he says. “I can’t risk running into her right now.” He’s scared shitless.
“Your safety is guaranteed at the hospital, Mr. Hyde,” one of the policemen says. He shakes his head.
“No,” he says. “I have to get out of here. I have to find someplace safe for me and Jack.” I look at Grace.
“We’ll take care of you, Jack,” Grace says. “I’ll be honest and tell you that there’s nothing to stop her from getting in here, but if she does, she’s going to regret it.” She sits on the other side of him.
“I won’t press you right now, but if you start to run a fever, I’m going to take you to the hospital myself.” She crosses her legs facing him. “Marilyn has taken pictures of your bruises and we’ve recorded little Jack’s bruises earlier. We’re going to get restraining order against your wife tomorrow. In the meantime, you two will stay here tonight.”
“What about school for Jack?” he says.
“We’ll have to work that out, too,” Grace says.
“I think we’ve got what we need, Mr. Hyde. We’ll issue a warrant for her arrest and have someone pick her up. I’m going to tell you though, sir. She’ll make bail and she’ll be back out. I agree that you should stay here until you come up with a game plan. These are good people.” Jack Sr., nods and with a few more exchanges, the police leave.
We’re all talking about what needs to be done next and where Jack and his son can escape to and we’re all stunned to silence by the fact that Jack Jr., has turned white as a sheet. I follow his gaze and see someone looking in the window from the parking lot.
I send three of the guards out to see who it is.
“Jack, is that her?” I ask him. He nods. “Tell her to come in,” I yell at the detail. They nod and go outside. Jack and Jack Jr., both look like they want to escape.
“Don’t run,” I say. “Jack, sit here next to your father.” A trembling Jack Jr., sits next to a trembling Jack Sr., and we wait for his abusive wife. In walks two of the biggest people I’ve ever seen in my life. This skyscraper bitch has to be 6’8” and her “driver” is just as tall, easily 350-380 pounds each. What the fuck? She’s a good foot taller than this man. How the hell did he fall in love with this?
“You called the police, you piece of shit?” she barks when she walks in, cursing at Jack like nobody else is standing in the room. “Get up and let’s get going!”
“He’s not going anywhere with you,” I tell her.
“Jack, some bitch is talking to me telling me you’re not going anywhere. Is that so, Jack?” she asks matter-of-factly. “Is that so, Jack? This little bitch telling you what to do now, Jack?” She says his name with such disdain. Stay calm, Ana. This witch is nothing but a bully.
“Yes,” he says, slowly. “That’s so. I’m not leaving.”
“Really now?” she laughs. “You’re just making it harder on yourself, Jack. You know you can’t go anywhere. I’ll always find you, Jack. So you might as well get your ass up and let’s go.”
“I said we’re not leaving,” Jack says and nothing else.
“You fucking piece of shit! Stop wasting my goddamn time and get your fucking ass outta that chair before I snatch you a new asshole!” There’s the magic words.
“He says he’s not going with you and you’re trespassing, so you need to leave,” I say calmly. She turns a threatening glare to me.
“I’m not talking to you, doll!” she hisses.
“I’m not your doll, and I’m talking to you. You’re trespassing and you need to leave!” I retort. She turns a smirk to me which turns into an all-out guffaw.
“Is she for real?” she says to her seven-foot boyfriend. “She can’t be for real,” she laughs. “I’m trespassing, huh? That’s what I’m doing, huh?” She looks over her shoulder at her boyfriend and they share a condescending laugh. When she turns back to me, I’m not really sure what happens. All I know is that I feel like I got hit in the face with a bag of sand.
Sonofabitch, that hurt!
I’m a full 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where I was facing waiting for the stars to dissipate. This bitch just hit me! This huge Amazon She-Ra bitch just hit me! A few second later, the stars dissipate, I hear scrapping, voices, and laughter around me, and I taste my own blood. Somewhere in the confusion, I hear, “Am I still trespassin’, doll?” followed by that hideously condescending laughter. I look over my shoulder and she’s actually bending over laughing at me. It takes about three seconds to see that while she’s laughing at me, three guards have her boyfriend subdued to the ground and two more are making their way to her.
Oh, no. This bitch is mine.
I make that 180 degree turn right back around to face her and her laughter stops immediately. It could have something to do with cold steel pressed against her forehead, one in the chamber, and my finger on a hairpin trigger, pissed the fuck off because I don’t like the taste of blood.
“Yeah, bitch… still trespassin’.”
A/N: 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 🙂