Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 74—Opening Up

Thanks, you guys for your reactions to the last chapter. I want to apologize if I brought back too many bad memories for other people like myself who have suffered something similar with a loved one, but I thank you guys too for sharing your experiences with me.

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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 74—Opening Up

ANASTASIA

It’s just after dawn when Al and I get to the hospital after having spent the night on the sofa in the entertainment room. I’ve had a quick shower and a change of clothes, but by no means do I feel refreshed. Al has changed into some jeans and a sweatshirt he left at the Crossing the last time he and James spent the night. James dropped us off and went home to shower and change.

Elliot is asleep in the chair next to Valerie, holding her hand, as usual. Christian is on the loveseat at the foot of the bed, slumped down with his legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, his fingers intertwined on his stomach. His neck is going to be killing him when he wakes. Valerie is still in the same position she was when I last saw her. Al walks over to her and stands next to her bed. He sighs heavily as he looks down on her motionless frame, a small whimper escaping from his mouth.

“Hi, Ice Pussy,” he says, his voice cracking as he leans down and kisses her gently on the cheek. “This is really fucked up, you know that?” he whispers. “You don’t get to die, so you bring your irritable, disagreeable ass back here… do you hear me?” On the last word, he sinks down into the chair on the opposite side of Elliot and begins to weep.

I walk over to Christian and gently stroke his hair. His eyes open slowly and it takes him a moment to focus where he is and what he’s seeing.

“Hi,” he says softly.

“Hi,” I reply. “No change, huh?” He shakes his head.

“I needed to see him last night… to make sure he’s okay. I hope you didn’t mind.” I frown.

“Of course, I didn’t mind, Christian. Why would you think that?” I continue to stroke his hair as he attempts to sit up. He winces, and I know immediately that his neck is in pain. I climb on the back of the loveseat. “Sit up,” I instruct him. He painfully pulls himself into a sitting position and I begin to work the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. He moans in appreciation.

“God, that feels good,” he groans.

“Don’t change the subject,” I chide gently as I continue to massage his neck and shoulders, paying attention to areas of high tension and pressure points. “Why did you think I would mind?”

“Because you were in bad shape, too,” he says, “And I felt funny leaving you.”

“Oh… okay, I guess I can understand that. But he’s your brother, Christian. I would have to be a really selfish bitch to take issue with you wanting to be with your brother while he’s hurting.” He nods.

“That’s why I love you,” he says. “You were so broken up about Valerie that you and Al could hardly speak. Yet, as badly as you felt, you still understood that I had to be with my brother. He needed me. He still needs me.”

“I know,” I say. “Do whatever you need to do. I completely understand.” I look over at the motionless Valerie. “I would give anything right now for her to sit up and call me a fat cow, start cursing me out… anything.” I don’t want to cry again. There will be plenty of that to come if she doesn’t wake up soon. I love her so, so much. I can’t believe this is happening.

I take a moment to examine the room. It’s pretty sparse except for a beautiful bouquet of flowers, no doubt from Elliot. That’s very significant in light of things right now. Valerie is quite popular at her job—at least she was before the tumor. And there’s no way I would have let her go through this alone—none of us would have, no way in hell.

Elliot raises his head and shows signs of the same discomfort Christian did moments before. He has to focus on the crying figure on the other side of the bed before he clearly recognizes who it is.

“Al?” he says, his voice hoarse, barely there. Al turns to look at him.

“Hey, Elliot,” Al says, shakily. “Tell me what happened… please.” I can imagine that Elliot doesn’t really want to talk about it, but he does anyway, because he’s the only one who knows. I listen carefully because I don’t want him to have to repeat the story.

“I knew something was wrong when they asked her to take a leave of absence from her job,” he begins. “Actually, I knew something was wrong when she first fell out with Ana, but I didn’t think anything of it. I certainly didn’t think this.”

He rubs the back of his neck and stretched his head back. I take this opportunity to shift on the sofa a bit, drawing his attention to me so that he could know that Christian and I are there. I wave and he raises his head once to gesture acknowledgement. He twists his head some more to pop his neck and continues the story.

“She would have times when she would come back to herself and she would know what she did. You would even see remorse in her eyes. It could be a flash or maybe last for a few minutes, but I would see it and know that even if just for a moment, she was the same old Val again. She would get this sad look on her face like she couldn’t believe what was happening at that moment, but it wouldn’t last.

“She was losing all her friends. Nobody wanted to be around her. I tried to stick it out, I really tried. I moved out of my own apartment three times…” I didn’t know that. “… But I always just came right back. New Year’s Eve when I showed up at Christian’s, she thought I had moved out because I never stayed away all night until that night. I just didn’t feel like going back. I’m not sure that I would have had she not come looking for me. We argued that night because I couldn’t come and see my brother and sister without her giving me shit about it. She was actually making me choose between her and my family, and I was sick of it.

“It got to a point where we were arguing all the time about stupid shit at least once a week. When her job told her to take the leave of absence, she was home all the time, so it became every day. If the wind blew the wrong way, she turned into Mrs. Hyde and lashed out at me. I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told her that I was really leaving, because I couldn’t take her attitude anymore.

“She got better for a while and she was really trying, I know she was, but you know how you can tell something’s forced and unnatural. She made me feel like she didn’t want me; didn’t want to be nice to me. We weren’t even making love anymore. She started getting sick all the time… I thought she was pregnant. I could have dealt with that, but her erratic behavior would have made her at least six months pregnant, and she wasn’t showing. She took a pregnancy test to be sure, but it was negative, of course.”

He takes a break and rubs his eyes, breathing in deeply and letting it out heavily. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that he’s getting to the hard part.

“Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I gave her an ultimatum. Go see a doctor, go see a shrink, or we’re over. I was done. She didn’t believe me because I had made the threat so many times before and never made good on it. Hell, I didn’t believe me, but I had to decide if I was going to live like this forever. I knew I couldn’t… I’d only end up hating her. So, I packed everything I owned. My apartment still looks like I’m moving because I haven’t unpacked. I began putting my things in storage and I let her see the receipt to the storage facility so that she could know that I wasn’t kidding. I meant it this time. I was leaving. She could have the apartment and I would just leave. I even let Christian know. I was going to ask if he would let me crash in one of his guest rooms until and if she left. If she didn’t leave, I was just going to find another place. I actually mentioned it to Christian before they went on vacation.”

I lean down and look at Christian over his shoulder. He nods.

“She begrudgingly decided to see a medical doctor first, to make sure that the situation wasn’t physical ailment. Once and if she got a clean bill of health, then she would throw herself face-first into therapy and medication, if necessary… but she never got that far.

“She had an appointment on Monday… the Monday before you guys went to Oregon. Remember, Christian? You called me to do some work—the week that guy died, the one that had to give Montana all his money…” Christian nods. “That’s why I couldn’t do the work and I sent the other guys to do it. How did it turn out, by the way? Manny said it was great and Jason signed off on it, but never saw it.”

“We haven’t seen it either,” Christian says. “We just haven’t had time. It’s been one thing after the other since we got back, but we can talk about that later.” Elliot nods and looks back at Valerie.

“Anyway, we went to the doctor. I insisted on going with her because I didn’t want her downplaying what was going on—which is exactly what she tried to do. I told her doctor every gory detail and he suggested the brain scans. He referred us to a neurologist and I know it takes forever for those guys to see you. They wanted to give us an appointment for three weeks later… that would have been tomorrow. That thing would have stayed in her head all this time. I asked if he could put a rush on it—get us in there sooner because she was about to lose everything she has left. I kind of said it jokingly, but not so jokingly. The doctor told the neurologist what was going on. He recognized the symptoms—even the fact that I was about to leave her—and got us in there in a couple of days.

“Well, when you go to the hospital for a CAT scan and an MRI and they find a tumor, they typically don’t let you leave—even more so when the tumor’s on your frontal lobe. Apparently, it affects your personality—your logic and reason. You can actually be a danger to yourself and others in extreme cases. I think she was well on her way to that if she wasn’t already there.

“When they told us what it was, we had decisions to make. The surgery…” he gestures to Val, “… as you can see, can be dangerous. He told us that there is a chance that she wouldn’t wake up; that they may not get the whole tumor; that she might wake up still the same person that she was before the surgery; that she could be a vegetable… it’s just… endless. The neurosurgeon that performed the surgery is one of the best in the country…”

“Dr. Hill?” I ask incredulously. Elliot nods.

“How did you know?” he asks. I point to the fuzzy patch on my head. He sinks in his chair a bit. “You’re shitting me…” I shake my head.

“Nope, I’m not. It’s true, though… he’s one of the best there is—in the world, actually. I don’t know how he ended up in Seattle, but I’m sure glad he did…” I look over at Valerie. “… For more reasons than one.” Elliot looks over at her.

“Well, we still had so many decisions to make,” he says. “She doesn’t talk to her family. Her father walked out when they were young. Her mother passed away. She only knows of her father because of her brother. They stayed in touch and he stayed in touch with their father. Now, she doesn’t speak to her brother because he’s a drug addict and each time he’s ever tried to contact her, it’s been for money. She says that the last time he contacted her, she told him not to call her anymore if he was only calling for money. She never heard from him again, so we don’t even know where he is. We think we know what state he’s in, but that’s it.”

“I can find her family if you want,” Christian says. Elliot shakes his head.

“She doesn’t want them to know,” he says. “She’s certain that her father wouldn’t care and her brother would only show up trying to lay claim to her personal items. I’ve violated her trust by telling you guys. She didn’t want anybody to know, and I couldn’t let her…” He chokes on his words. “… Die without you guys at least knowing what was going on. If she wakes up, she can curse me out then… but I couldn’t do it.”

“You couldn’t shoulder this by yourself either,” I protest. “Had she been in her right mind, she never would have asked you to do that.” He shrugs.

“We spent days talking and trying to decide what the best course of action was. She made me her power of attorney in case she…” He’s choking up again. “… Is unable to make decisions. I didn’t want that responsibility, but I knew I had to take it. There was nobody else. She wouldn’t let anybody near her. She… she signed a DNR…”

“Oh, my God,” I whisper and Al gasps. Christian just drops his head.

“Yeah… so, if she goes, she’s just gone… and… her advanced directive is two weeks.”

“Two weeks?!” I nearly shriek. “Two weeks is no time!”

“I know,” he says. “I had to negotiate for that. She wanted to have no heroic measures. I argued with her and told her ‘You’re going to have to have something when you come out of this or there was no use in even having the surgery,’ and I was right.” He’s talking about the tube in Valerie’s nose. “I was trying to get her to agree to sixty days. I couldn’t even get her to thirty. Two weeks was all she would acquiesce. I can’t ask for CPR. She doesn’t want to be a vegetable. She may or may not undergo the surgery again if it’s not completely successful… there was just a bunch of shit, and I couldn’t talk to anybody. She made me swear.”

Goddammit! Valerie Marshall, how could you not tell me this? How could you let me think that you were just being a jealous, hateful, spiteful bitch? Don’t you dare fucking die on me!

“Anyway, it took all this time just to get all the ducks in a row. It’s a nightmare possibly planning the end of somebody’s life—somebody you love more than anything in the world…” He looks longingly at Valerie and sighs. “So, I’m breaking all my promises and I’m calling everybody because I can’t go through this alone, and you guys need to know. If she doesn’t make it, then I’ll have you track down her father and brother. I think that’s best because she was vehement about them not knowing. I’ll call her job tomorrow and tell them what’s going on. I’ll call Mom and Mia…”

“I called Mom last night,” Christian interjects. “She said that she would tell Mia.” Elliot nods. “I activated the Contingency, too,” Christian says, looking at me. I frown. Al turns around.

“How did you do that?” Al says. He’s like the head man in charge when it comes to the Contingency, and he was with me last night.

“I called Marilyn,” he says. “She was with Garrett…”

“Ah,” Al nods acknowledgement. “Well, that’s one thing that I don’t have to do, thank God.” He turns back to Val.

“Contingency?” Elliot asks. How could he not know about this?

“Yeah,” I say. “I don’t know how you don’t know about this because you really need to. The Contingency is something that came about when Edward kidnapped me. Nobody knew that I was gone for a full 24 hours. Christian thought I was back at my condo brooding and crying on Al’s shoulder. Al thought I was with Christian. I could have been chopped up in a ditch somewhere and nobody would have known.”

“Babyyy…” Christian whines the last syllable. It’s a thought he doesn’t want to contemplate.

“Sorry,” I continue. “Anyway, when we realized that the lines of communication were so poor and no one knew that I was missing, we came up with the Contingency. This wasn’t an issue before I met Christian because I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I was always in touch with Val or Al. Gary always talked to one or all of us every day, and Maxie and Phil are a couple. So, somebody was always talking to somebody else.

“Right around the time that I started seeing Christian, I was the last person to get ‘hooked up.’ Well, actually, I wasn’t, but everyone else had been actively seeing someone on and off on a regular basis except for me. So, you know that new relationship thing… you might end up MIA for a while. That’s what happened, only I ended up really MIA and nobody knew. The Contingency is a phone tree. All of us and our significant others are supposed to be on that phone tree—you included,” I say to Elliot. “If someone is missing off the phone tree or if there’s an emergency and we need to tell each other, we activate the Contingency.”

“So… if significant others are supposed to be in the loop, why was Al so surprised just a minute ago that Christian had activated the Contingency?” Elliot asks.

“It’s just semantics,” I say. “The Contingency is set up such that Al and I are first point of contact. If Al gets the news first, he calls me and Val. Val calls Gary and Max. Max tells Phil because they’re together. You’re on the Contingency because you’re with Val and you get notified by association, like Phil does. Same thing with Christian and James. However, if there’s a link missing out of there, then the Contingency gets skewed. Whoever has the emergency or the information activates the Contingency up and down the tree like I just mentioned. If I’m incapacitated, Christian would contact Al, and he would activate the Contingency. If Al or Val is incapacitated, James or you would contact me or Christian or whoever wasn’t incapacitated in that trifecta and… you get the drill.

“Last night, the two people who would normally activate the Contingency were curled up into each other and pretty much basket cases. So, Christian just got the news to anyone that he could inside the Contingency. That’s how we stay informed.”

“Pretty elaborate set-up,” Elliot says, trying to make light of the situation, but unable to laugh.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I say, sympathetically. He sighs.

“Well, I guess I’ve pretty much brought you up to date,” he says solemnly. “If I can think of anything else, I let you guys know.”

We all sit there in contemplative silence for several moments. After a while—I don’t know how long—Grace walks into the room in her scrubs.

“Mommy…” Grace crosses the room to her eldest son and Elliot is immediately reduced to a toddler, weeping into Grace’s bosom as she holds him close to her… something I’ve never seen. Grace just strokes his blonde hair, whispering soft words of comfort to him as he sobs. Al is overcome by the emotion and can’t sit still. He excuses himself and leaves the room.

“Come on, Elliot,” Grace says, “let’s go get some coffee and you can bring me up to date.” Oh, boy. Christian stands.

“I’ll bring you up to date, Mom,” Christian says.

“Oh! Christian! I didn’t even see you there. Hello, Darling. Ana,” she says with as much warmth as she can muster under the circumstances. I smile warmly at her. “I’ve spoken to Dr. Hill,” she says to Elliot. “He says her condition hasn’t worsened. That’s good news.”

“But it… hasn’t gotten any better… either, Mom,” Elliot says between shuddering breaths.

“I know,” she acknowledges, “but in these situations, it’s good to know that it hasn’t deteriorated. That means she holding her own, and we just have to pray that she’ll get stronger.” Elliot nods. “Come on, coffee.”

“I don’t want to leave her,” he protests.

“I know exactly how you feel, man,” Christian says, putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “But just a few minutes not in these four walls, okay? Let’s go get a little fresh air and you can come right back.” Elliot nods reluctantly and looks at me.

“I’ll stay with her,” I reassure him. Christian helps him out of the seat he had been sitting in all night. As soon as Grace and Christian help him from the room. I sit in the chair assuming Elliot’s vigil position.

I stroke her hand and think about the many crazy times that we’ve had… and the not so crazy times…

“I thought you said you didn’t date.” Val drops her backpack on the floor and heads to the kitchen with the few grocery bags she was carrying.

“I didn’t say that I don’t date. I said I’m not interested. Val, this is Al. Al, Val. The best description I can give you is ‘brother.’” Al is studying for pre-law finals and writing his essays for law school while I’m doing the same muckity-muck work trying to decide what my major is going to be.

“Oh, stuck in the friend zone, are you?” Val says, placing beers and some fresh fruit in the refrigerator.

“Yeah,” Al retorts, “more like best friend zone.” His voice is protective and a bit catty, something that doesn’t get past Val. She pauses for a moment, then continues what she was doing.

“Hmm, best friend. I stand corrected. He’s graduating,” she quips sarcastically. Al throws an inquisitive look at me, and I just shrug. I don’t know what her motives are. Not to be outdone, Al turns his attention to Val.

“Graduating in what way?” he asks. She throws a furtive smirk at him.

“You don’t know? Poor guy,” she chuckles, placing something in the cupboard.

“No, I don’t know,” he says, standing and crossing his arms, “so why don’t you enlighten me?” Apparently not one to back down from a challenge, Val turns her attention to Al.

“Oh, it’s just been my experience that guys stuck in the friend zone don’t mind hanging out there for a while so they can get all the juicy tidbits of her life, be the shoulder that she cries on, learn all of her deep, dark secrets so they can use the information to get in her pants one day.” Al scoffs at her. He’s finally taken all he’s going to take from this chick.

“Good God, who froze your clit?” he shoots, and I nearly choke on my cranberry juice and sparkling water. “Let me clarify something for you, princess. I’ve been in the friend zone—the best friend zone—for five years, and I do plan on staying there for the rest of her life. So, yes, you’re absolutely right. I do get all the juicy tidbits. I am the shoulder she cries on, and I fucking already know all her deep, dark secrets… more than you ever will. So whatever bug or contaminated semen has crawled up your ass or down your throat, you need to go take a douche and a gargle and leave a real one alone. And as far as getting in her pants is concerned, I don’t think my boyfriends would like that very much!” Al quickly stacks his many books, loads his messenger bag and shrugs into his coat. Gathering his things, he turns to face me. “We can hang out and study or whatever when Ice Pussy ain’t around!” he snaps as he brushes out the door, leaving it open as his hands are full.

Val is absolutely stunned. I don’t know if it was the dressing down that she just got or the fact that Al just revealed that he’s gay, but she’s speechless—gape-mouthed and all, and I’m furious!

“I don’t treat your company like that! Why did you talk to my friend that way?” I bark, while snatching my coat.

“I… didn’t know,” she excuses. “You know guys…”

“I. Said. Brother! That should have been a clue for you!” I shrug into my coat.

“Well, I didn’t say anything that bad. So I was mistaken; he was just being sensitive!” she defends.

“He wasn’t sensitive!” I retort. “You were RUDE! And if he was someone trying to get into my pants, that was still none of your goddamn business! Don’t you ever speak to my guests like that again—especially him, and if you have a problem with that demand, I’ll pack my shit and be out of here tomorrow!” I leave the apartment, slamming the door behind me to go and smooth things over with my best friend.

“You always had a way of making an impact on whoever you met,” I say, still gently stroking her hand. “I remember Al didn’t come around for the rest of the school year—not like he could. He got into law school the next semester and just didn’t have time.”

I want to see some kind of flicker… a twitch of her finger, her pupils move under her eyelids, some form of life—that she’s coming back to us, but I get nothing. Two days… twelve left… if she doesn’t wake up…

“It can’t end like this! It’s too soon! We’re just getting started. You haven’t even met the twins yet. We have to pick a new house for you and Elliot. There’s too much left to do…”

I’m startled by a gentle knock on the door and the nurse comes into the room.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. I just want to check her vital signs,” she says.

“Oh… yes, by all means. Should I move?” I say, making to stand.

“No, you’re fine. I can work around you,” she says with a gentle smile as she goes about the business of marking down Val’s vitals. “Are you her sister?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “She doesn’t have a sister.” She frowns.

“That’s odd,” she says, shaking her head and she makes a few notes in the chart. I look up at her.

“How so?”

“She was sure that she wouldn’t make it through the surgery,” the nurse says. “She’s doing much better than she thought she would, but she wouldn’t allow us to put her under until we promised to give her sister a message.” Now, I frown.

“Could it have been the meds? Or the tumor?” I ask. She shrugs.

“The tumor can cause many things—erratic behavior, even hallucinations, but it wouldn’t cause her to conjure up a sister she never had.” I shake my head, thoroughly confused, but more certain than ever that Val was certainly not herself for God only knows how long.

“What was the message… if you can tell me?” I ask. She twists her lips.

“You’re certain she doesn’t have a sister?” she asks again. I sigh.

“She has a brother that she hasn’t spoken to in years. We don’t even know where he is or if he’s still alive. I’m the closest thing to a sister Valerie will ever have, except for the last few months. It’s been kind of rough.” I sigh. “Who am I kidding? It was horrible. She… wasn’t herself. I’m sure you can imagine.” Realization dawns in her eyes and she walks closer to me, holding Val’s chart close to her chest.

“Then she probably meant you,” she says, her voice softening. I swallow hard. Val is about to go under—probably for good, or at least that’s what she thought—and she has a message for me? Maybe for me?

“What’s the message?” I ask again. She reaches in her pocket.

“She made me write it down,” she says, pulling out a piece of paper. “She made me swear to read it and not mail it or hand it to… her sister, so I sure hope it’s you. I’ve been carrying it around since the surgery hoping to run into her… you…” She opens the small piece of paper and begins to read.

“Tell her that I’m sorry. Tell her that I didn’t mean it. I don’t want her to remember me the way that I was. I’m so sorry. Thank you for Elliot and thank you for Brandon. You’ll never know how much I truly love you.”

My heart aches immediately, like someone struck me full force in the chest with a blunt ax. I grab my chest in an attempt to stop the pain and bleeding, but it’s no use. I hurt. I hurt bad!

“It’s me…” I choke, my voice barely above a whisper. Brandon was that fucker in college that put his hands on her and they found his ass in Green Lake Park somewhere—naked and fucking hysterical, just like I left him. As far as I know, though, he didn’t put his hands on another woman after that.

“Are you okay, Mrs. Grey? Do you need some water or something? To lie down?” she asks concerned.

“Some water, please,” I squeak. Please don’t die, Val. Please don’t die…

*-*

Al and I try to keep ourselves occupied throughout the week with work and the plans for the party. We’re both sick that Val still hasn’t come out of her semi-coma. The doctors say that it’s not a full coma like mine was, that she can most likely hear us when we come in the room. So, I’m at the hospital every day, talking to her and telling her about what’s going on with the Center, Al’s wedding plans… and her godchildren—the two beautiful blessings waiting for her to get better and introduce herself to them properly.

Courtney has done a complete one-eighty. I don’t even recognize her. Some days, she comes in dressed in her jeans and sweatshirt so that she can interact with the kids—crawling on the floor and playing games and whatever the day or activity calls for. Other days, she’s in totally professional garb, all about business and very dedicated and focused on her tasks. She even gave the representatives from the licensing board the final tour of the facility before approval because Grace and I were at the hospital and couldn’t get back to the center soon enough. We’re hoping that this is the last round before the licenses are approved and we’ll be accredited and licensed as a learning facility and a day care center so that we’ll be able to hire the staff that we need and apply for federal funding.

Sophie is opening up to me more and becoming more accustomed to her surroundings. I want her to feel comfortable here since, if all goes as planned, this will be her new home. She’ll be a real-life Sabrina, only more a part of the family than the Fairchilds where with the Larabees. However, we had an extremely disturbing talk on Wednesday after she came home from school. Half-days at work finds me at the Crossing in the afternoons until we can find some more help for Gail, and I take this time to feel Sophie out and make her feel more at home. Jason has a temporary custody order and basically got all that he asked for until the official custody hearing, including suspension of child support pending the outcome of the custody case. Today’s conversation caused me to reach out for legal advice.

“Jewel?” he answers. “Val?”

“No,” I say, “no news yet. I’m calling you in an official capacity. I need some legal advice,” I say. “It’s a touchy topic.”

“Oh? What’s up?”

“I have a patient who has some information about the possible commission of a crime in relation to another crime. I know under normal circumstances, I need to report this to the police, but I’ve got a problem.”

“There’s no problem, here, Jewel,” Al interrupts. “When discussing the commission of a crime, a psychiatrist’s doctor/patient privilege dies…”

“Not when the proof is perspective and most likely circumstantial… and not when the patient is a minor,” I tell him. “A minor is not supposed to talk to the police or an authority figure without the presence of a parent or attorney in relation to the commission of a crime. So, she can’t collaborate what she’s heard without me talking to her father and I can’t talk to her father without breaking doctor/patient privilege.”

“Yeah, that’s a slippery slope. You actually could report the crime, but without the patient’s collaboration, it’s kind of useless… unless there’s other evidence like a body or something.”

“No, nothing like that, I think, but it could be pretty severe if an investigation is opened.”

“Then I think you should report it anyway.” I sigh heavily.

“I don’t think I can,” I say, “not without talking to the parents.”

“If you report what you know, Jewel, you’ve taken care of your legal obligation and responsibility. That’s all you have to do. Where’s the dilemma here?” My scar is beginning to throb.

“Attorney/client,” I tell him, in all seriousness. I hear some shuffling, then a door closes.

“Jewel, you don’t even have to say that and you know it. There’s no way in hell I’d ever betray your confidence.”

“Yeah, I thought I wouldn’t either, but that’s just what I’m about to do. That’s why I need this to be under attorney/client privilege because that way, I know it won’t go beyond us. When you hear what I’m about to tell you, you’re going to be tempted to spill the beans, and even though I’m bound by my oath to spill them, I know you’re bound by your oath not to—even if I told you that I murdered someone. So, I love you, Forsythe, but I’m talking to you as my lawyer and I need to hear the words.” I sighs and I can tell that he’s more than a little hurt by my mistrust.

“Fine, Jewel,” he acquiesces, “this call is under attorney/client privilege.” I swallow hard.

“I’ve been talking to Sophie, trying to help her deal with what’s going on with her mother and what she saw. Today, Sophie finally became comfortable enough to talk about the night her mother was arrested and the actual drop. Something she said didn’t ring well with me, so I kept her talking, asking the right questions and garnering details. I have a sinking feeling that if Shalane had not been arrested that night, if the cops didn’t just happen to be about to bust that place that night, we would have never seen Sophie again.” The line is quiet.

“Okay, that’s always the case in a dangerous situation, but I’m assuming you mean something else,” Al says.

“The way that Sophie explains Shalane’s conversation with four other men in the room, she was like one of the Price is Right girls, like she was displaying the merchandise, only she wasn’t talking about the coke. She was talking about Sophie.” Al gasps on the other line.

“Jewel, how can you be sure?” he asks. “That’s a really severe accusation.”

“I can’t,” I say, “but Sophie is. She felt like a piece of meat. She kept telling her mom to stop because—her words—‘I’m not staying with these guys; that’s gross!’ I don’t know if this was a one-time thing to pay off Shalane’s debts or if this is something that goes on constantly; if this was to be a temporary romp for a bunch of sick pedophiles or if we’re looking at a possible human trafficking or prostitution ring, but four kilos ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at. So, I would say that we’re probably looking at something bigger.”

“How does Sophie feel about this? About talking about it, I mean,” Al asks.

“I haven’t approached her with it yet,” I reply. “We were talking as friends, just a sounding board, as far as she knows. If I go all professional on her, I’m afraid she’ll shut down.”

“Goddammit, Jewel!” he hisses into the phone. “Why did you make me swear to attorney/client privilege? You know I hate this kind of shit!”

“That’s why,” I say. “I could see you in my mind’s eye hanging up from me and calling someone down at the precinct.”

“Somebody has to tell them!” he barks. “I could have even made an anonymous tip, something, but now—fucking hell, Jewel.” Something crashes on his end of the line, not loudly… like he knocked something off his desk. “Somebody else’s kid could be bartered off as we speak. Do you think Shalane is the only meth-head with a kid in northwest Washington? In Seattle?” He’s really not taking this news well.

“This is why I need help,” I tell him. “This situation is delicate in so many ways. Jason has to know. That woman doesn’t deserve to be within ten feet of Sophie and they should actually keep her ass in jail, but she just might make bail.” Al is huffing now.

“Talk to Sophia again,” he says, his voice controlled. He’s angry. “Tell her about how wrong what her mother did was and try to convince her to let you talk to Jason so you can go to the police. Use your many skills to convince her, but you have to convince her. You know the legal side—you knew it before you called me. You can’t tell Jason without her permission, but you have to go to the police. The minor situation is a slippery slope, without the permission of the parent, so there will be no collaboration. However, as a mental health professional, you have to alert the police of possible future crimes. Have I covered all of my bases?” He’s irritated with me, now. I need to just let him get off the phone so that he can go punch something or… something.

“Yes,” I say quietly, “yes, you have.”

“Good. Call me if you have any other questions. No doubt, I’ll see you at the hospital later.” He ends the call on that note. He’s really upset and I can understand why, but I had to get his legal opinion and he’s just going to have to choke it down. I go back to the family room where I know I’ll find Sophie. She’s watching Frozen, one of the Disney movies I haven’t had a chance to see yet. I come in right at the part where Elsa is singing “Let It Go.” Sophie obviously loves this part and sings the entire song without stopping. When it’s over, she turns a smile to me, but it soon fades.

“Is something wrong, Miss Ana?” she asks. I sigh.

“Yeah, Sophie, something is wrong.” I cross my legs lotus-style on the sofa and face her. “I need you to help me,” I tell her. “I have a very important decision to make and I’m going to take your advice.” She turns to me and crosses her legs in the same position.

“Okay,” she says. “What is it?” I take a deep breath. How do you tell a child that you think her mother may have been trying to trade her into slavery or prostitution?

“You love your mom very much, don’t you?” I ask. Her face changes, then her head drops.

“Yeah, I do, but she needs help,” she says. “She was going to give me to those guys. I know she was,” she says flatly. I gulp.

“You do?” I ask in utter surprise. She nods.

“Yeah, like people traffic… I think that’s what it’s called.” My eyes widen and after a long silence, she raises her gaze to find me gaping at her.

“Sophie,” I ask in soft disbelief, “you’re not even 13 years old yet; how do you know about that?”

“We learned something in school—it wasn’t about people traffic; it was something else. I don’t even remember what it was now. I was looking up what we learned and one site led to something else and that site led to something else, and I ended up on people traffic. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of time by yourself… with the internet.” No wonder this young girl sounds so much wiser than her years, except when she’s scared to death.

“It’s called human trafficking,” I correct her.

“Yeah, that’s it,” she nods. “They sell people into all kinds of creepy stuff and I wasn’t going with those guys. I don’t care what Mom said.” I drop my head.

“Sophie, do you really think that’s what your mom was trying to do? Because that’s what it sounds like.”

“That’s what it felt like, too,” she says. “I don’t know for sure, Miss Ana, but that’s what it felt like.” I nod.

“You know I’m a shrink, right?” I say. She laughs.

“That’s what Daddy says, but he says I can’t call you that,” she giggles. I appreciate her introducing some levity into the situation.

“Well, yeah. But, I want you to know that I’m your friend first and a shrink second, and I want you to trust me to be your friend and keep your secrets, but…”

“But you have to tell somebody about the people traf… human trafficking,” she finishes for me. I sigh.

“We don’t know that’s what it really is, but it could be, and my oath means that I have to tell somebody because it’s illegal. Plus, if that’s really what’s going on, other kids might not have gotten away.” There’s silence between us for a moment, then her eyes grow large.

“Ooooooooohhhh!” she says just over a whisper, drawing the word out. “You mean, they could really be doing human traffic with other kids like me?” Her eyes are wide with disbelief.

“Kids, women, illegal aliens… anybody,” I confirm, “we don’t know for sure, but if what you say is true, then it’s possible.”

“God, Mom,” she says in disgust and disbelief, cursing her mother about as much as a twelve-year-old can curse her mother in the presence of another adult. “So, what do we do, now?” she asks.

“That’s what I need you to tell me,” I say, putting the ball back in her court. I need her to feel like she’s making the decision. I have to tell the police no matter what, but will I have a witness when I do? She ponders the situation carefully for several moments.

“Can we tell my dad?” she asks hopefully. “He’s smart and he knows a lot. He’ll know what to do.” I’m so relieved that she looks up to Jason so much, because that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

“Yes, Sophie,” the first word comes out breathy on the wind of a huge sigh of relief. “We can definitely tell your father. I’m sure he’ll have a solution for us…”

Later that evening, Jason, Sophie and I sit in my office with Jason fighting his rage as Sophie explains to him the same thing that she told me.

“You’re getting that pulsy vein on your forehead, Dad,” Sophie points out and Jason relaxes his face.

“Sorry, Baby Boo,” he says, “it was just the thought that if she had been successful…” and the pulsy vein is back.

“Don’t worry, Dad, I wasn’t going with those guys. I remember what you taught me,” she says. On some things, she’s wiser than her years. On others, she’s naïve and untarnished, as she should be. She shouldn’t know about human trafficking at all at her age, but from what she does know, she thinks that those sold into the ring must have at some point agreed to go with their captors.

It’s very late by the time I get to the hospital as the three of us had to stop and make a bit of a police report first. Al is there when I get there. He’s quietly reading some legal brief or something to Val while Elliot sleeps on the loveseat nearby. Her room is full of flowers now, as it should be, each person dropping off another gorgeous bouquet as they visit.

“Oh, my God, Al,” I lament, “the nurse says she can hear that stuff.”

“I know, that’s why I’m reading it,” he frowns.

“Read her something interesting. We want her to wake up, not be bored to tears. Read her a romance novel, even one of the classics. If it has to be law, read her the details of She-Thing’s trial. That’s entertainment!” I scold.

“I’m hoping she’ll wake up and tell me to shut the hell up,” he admits.

“So in the meantime, you torture her? That conducive!” I turn to her sleeping frame. “Please, wake up, Val and make him shut up.” And for a moment, only a moment, I see the corners of her mouth twitch, then raise slightly. I blink a few times, to make sure I’m not seeing things, but it’s there. It’s slight, but it’s there.

“Al?” I say, pointing to her face. He turns to look at her and gasps. “I’m not seeing things, am I? It’s there…”

“It’s there, Jewel,” he whispers, staring at the slight smile that we see on Val’s face. I don’t know if I have enough time to wake Elliot, so I take a quick picture with my phone. Just after I capture it, her face relaxes back to a resting state.

“Read that goddamn brief!” I whisper to Al. “I know you can hear me,” I say to Val as I lean into her ear. “I know you can, because I could hear some things when I was under. We love you. We all love you. You have to come back. Please… I’ve missed you more than I can stand. I can’t stand it anymore. You can’t leave me. You can’t. Please, come back…”


CHRISTIAN

“I have to give her supervised visitation, but if I have my way, that bitch won’t come anywhere near my child again.”

Jason is seething when we meet him at the Crossing after visiting Valerie. I came into the room right after the doctor and nurses had gone. Valerie had cracked a small smile and was responding to stimuli. She still has to wake up in about a week, or they have to take her off the machines. As her power of attorney, Elliot is trying to fight the advanced directive, denoting that she may have been incapacitated when she signed it due to the tumor. The fight itself would give her enough time to hopefully heal and wake up, even if he didn’t win. Nonetheless, the fact that she’s responsive has given us all a bit of hope.

I did take it upon myself to run a background check on her and locate her father and brother. Her brother’s in jail serving his third stretch for possession. Her father is small money with a chain of grocery stores. I’ll keep the information in case anyone wants it.

My current issue, however, is Jason and the fact that his ex-wife may have tried to trade his daughter as payment for a drug debt. Not only that, but we’ve got Lincoln’s sentencing hearing the day after tomorrow and I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the statement that I’m going to read.

“I can’t believe anybody would do that to a child, let alone a mother,” I tell him. He rubs his neck.

“Thank God Ana was there,” Jason says, relieved. “There’s no way I would have been able to pull that out of Sophie. Without it, there’s a possibility that her mother could get her back. Maybe even try it again. I don’t know how she did it, but your wife is a miracle worker. Sophie was itching to tell me—eager to do the right thing, and she looks like she’s taking it like a pro.” He shakes his head. “Ana promises to stay close and keep an eye on her.”

“That’s good,” I say. “This situation could have left her so much worse off in so many ways. I shudder to think what could have happened if…” He shakes his head. “I’m not letting her near Sophie. I don’t care what the court order says, I’m not letting her near my child.”

“Is that wise?” I ask. “You could get in trouble with the court.”

“There’s not a judge in the world that would blame me. The worst they could do it put me in jail for some stupid, trumped-up charge, so let them do it.”

“What about Sophie? What if she wants to see her mother?” I ask. He sighs.

“I doubt that’ll happen, but if Sophie wants it, I’ll allow it,” he says, begrudgingly.

“So what did the police say about the possible human trafficking?” I ask.

“Without more evidence, they can’t bring any charges against her for trying to sell my daughter. But they can investigate the dealers for human traffic. Shalane is already being brought up on charges of child endangerment for having Sophie in that place in the first place and get this! Her toxicology report was released and I needed it turned over to family court for part of the custody case. She tested positive for meth, coke, marijuana, ex, ruffies… ruffies, man! Ruffies don’t even stay in your system that long! And her blood alcohol… 1.9! It’s a wonder she was upright, let alone driving! They could have found her and my kid dead somewhere. I’m telling you, she’s not getting near Sophie again.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” I tell him. “I just don’t want you to do anything that will blow your chances of getting custody.”

“This won’t blow my chances,” he says. “I have the best attorney in the world… better than money can buy.”

*-*

When we get to the courtroom Friday morning for Lincoln’s sentencing, I’m gobsmacked by what I see. Our front row has been reserved for us as usual, but the courtroom is full, even fuller than it was when the jury read the verdict. There are so many people here, but what shocks me the most is how many different versions of me there are in the room. I mean, nobody looks exactly like me, but they favor me—like my bevy of petite brunettes. As I scan the room, I see what could have been versions of me from what looks like the age of thirteen… until now.

“Oh, God,” I whisper, my stomach churning like raw acid and fire. The speech I prepared won’t scratch the surface of how this makes me feel—how sick this woman really must be in her soul, but she deserves no mercy for that sickness.

“Christian… baby, what is it?” my wife says sweetly, concerned.

“Look around,” I whisper, horrified. “Take a good look…” Butterfly scans the room, then again, then she gasps as realization sinks in.

“Oh, my God,” she whispers. Victims… more victims, and most likely, their parents. The trial was private, but anyone can watch the sentencing and make a statement. I figure we’ll be here all day. There’s way too many people here.

Butterfly and I nearly stagger to our seats with the new information we’re processing and I take time to locate my mother. She’s just as horrified as we are as she zeroes in on what Butterfly was examining. She tries to give me strength through her beautiful smile, but it does little to console me. She sees what I see—horrible representations of broken lives and stolen innocence, no matter if these people overcame their situation or not. I sit down and contemplate my situation… and my speech. They can’t say anything much because this isn’t the pedo-trial, and they didn’t get to speak before because she accepted a plea to the other charges and took the sentence that was handed to her. This is the only closure they can hope for.

I hear the shackles on her feet when she enters the courtroom, but I don’t raise my head to look at her. I’m disgusted and sick and trying to control the bile rising in the back of my throat. I just want this thing to be over—to turn my back and never think of her or speak of her again. I’m relieved when I hear the instruction to all rise. I so want this over and done. I wait… wait for Underwood to instruct the judge that Lincoln is already serving time on a prior offense and well on her way to rehabilitation; wait for him to try to convince His Honor that the maximum sentence would serve nothing as Mrs. Lincoln will already be incarcerated until she’s seventy-five; I listen as he continues to paint her as a victim with no consideration for the trauma that she only caused my family, not to mention these men and boys who line the walls of this room right now. If I’ve never seen a snake before, there’s one talking to the judge right now.

Skinner doesn’t say much. He reiterates that the evidence speaks for itself and that there’s no reason to rehash the facts. The jury has found her guilty and it’s up to the court to render just and sufficient sentence for her crimes. I wait for someone to stand or speak when Judge Burgess opens the floor for statements. No one does… so I do.

I walk solemnly to the lectern placed where the jury was seated and pull my speech from my pocket. I clear my throat and attempt to speak and the words seem to jumble on the page.

They won’t work. They’ll never describe the gravity of this situation.

“Mr. Grey?” the judge says. I clear my throat again… showtime.

“Justice won’t be served today,” I say, folding the paper that contains the speech I intended to give and shoving it back into my pocket. “Justice won’t be served in this courtroom. Elena Lincoln was found guilty of her crimes and justice still won’t be served.” Elena looks at me with hope in her eyes—poor, delusional woman—and Butterfly and my family eye me with confusion. I look down and sigh, then look back up and examine the courtroom.

“She took so much from so many people, then tried to come to this court—this forum of logical thinking, morally grounded, civically bound people—and tried to convince us that her behavior was acceptable because she said so. Wasn’t that the essence of her defense? ‘I’m superior; I’m special; I can ruin people’s lives and if they don’t do what I want, I can kill them?’ How could you or any living, breathing person—let alone a professional…” I glare at her attorney, “… possibly think that would fly among rational thinking human beings?” I glare at them both for a moment, then regroup.

“But I digress, because I said that justice would not be served. You’ve ruined so many lives,” I focus on Elena, “and in the end, your acts culminated with you trying to take mine. If there was ever any chance in the world that I could have ever loved you, you shattered that all to hell. All. By. Your. Self.” My words are dripping with venom as the truest pain rises in her tear-filled eyes. “Whatever the sentence, you can’t ever begin to repay the debt you owe to the people whose lives you have destroyed.

“People look at me and they see a billionaire and the first thing they want to say is, ‘Well, he didn’t turn out so bad.’ But know this—I am who I am in spite of my circumstances, not because of them. You don’t get to destroy my childhood and then take credit for my success! That’s not the way it works. You don’t get to take a bad matter and make it worse, then throw money at it and tout that you made me the man that I am.

“You think what you did for me made me stronger and you’re right, it did.” She holds her head up triumphantly. “I had to be stronger. I had to withstand what you were doing to me—what you were putting me through.” The same air that puffed her up is knocked violently out of her sails. “You constantly say that you gave me the money and the tools to start my business… you didn’t. You lent me the money to start my business; you were no more significant to my success than the local financial institution. I had the brains and the mental capacity and wherewithal to do the work myself. So, what exactly did you give me, Mrs. Lincoln?” Those sad eyes are back, but I feel nothing.

“Everyone seems to think that you gave me $100,000 to start my business, but nobody seems to know that was a loan, which I repaid with interest. What’s more, even less people seem to know that had it not been for me, you wouldn’t have had those salons as long as you did to afford you that lifestyle that allowed you to commit the crimes for which you are currently serving time! And yet… you want to sit there and spout about and believe that you’re the reason I’m the man I am today? That you did so much good for me? Well, tell me this, Mrs. Lincoln—if you were so good for me, if you fixed what was so broken in me, made me this great man, why was I still having those damn nightmares?”

Butterfly gulps as does my mother and the courtroom starts to murmur. Judge Burgess bangs his gavel.

“Order! Order!” he says. When the court quiets, he looks at me. “Are you finished, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“I won’t get another chance, Your Honor,” I tell him, “I have one more issue to address.”

“Very well,” he says, replacing his gavel. I turn back to Elena.

“I couldn’t hug my mother until last year,” I begin. “I couldn’t show my family love, because you convinced me there was no such thing, that is until you found out I loved someone else. All of a sudden, love was this beautiful thing that I could share with you, and if I didn’t, then you had free me from the clutches of a woman who really does love me. Had it not been for the love of that woman, I wouldn’t be able to hug my mother and lean on her now that I need her more than ever; to tell my father and my siblings and my grandfather and my uncle exactly what they mean to me.

“I would never know the feeling of being one person—whole and healed—as part of someone else. I would never know how it feels to look down into the faces of two tiny little versions of myself and be filled with love and immeasurable pride when my infant children look back at me. Most of all, I would never know the feeling of waking up every morning with my arms and heart wrapped around my talisman after a good night’s sleep—nightmare-free.”

She’s gasps. She knew I was still having the nightmares. She never knew that they went away. Mom and Dad look gaped-mouth at me, then turn to Ana who looks at me with tear-filled loving eyes. I turn my gaze back to Elena.

“And you wanted to free me from that? I thank God and everything sacred that you didn’t.”

I hold my head down and take a deep breath to strike my last blow.

“Justice won’t be served because there’s no sentence severe enough for you to feel all the pain you’ve caused to all the people that you’ve hurt. But whatever the court decides to give you, whatever they feel is appropriate for your crime, I hope you rot! I hope that your evil festers in you and boils you from the inside out every day of your miserable life. I hope you live a long, long life of pain, suffering, and unhappiness. I hope your days from now on are filled with nothing but hopelessness, misery, and despair. And when your number finally comes and you draw your last breath, I hope the devil himself is there to greet you at the gates to escort you through all nine circles of Dante’s hell for the rest of eternity. Then, and only then, will justice be served.”

I stare unfeeling at her eyes. She stares broken-hearted into mine. I allow the venom and hatred to flow out of me and into the air towards her, into her. Let her carry it from now on. I’ve had enough of it. I drop my head back and inhale a deep, cleansing breath, releasing it along with every lie, every welt, every strike, every guilt trip she ever played on me. Every shackle she ever closed, every time she caned me, whipped me, flogged me, sodomized me, denied me orgasms for days, brainwashed me to believe that I couldn’t love and no one would love me—I gave them all back to her when I released that breath.

I’m free. I’m free of Elena Lincoln forever. I feel so light, I could fly.

“I’m done, Your Honor,” I say with no malice before leaving the lectern. I walk to m y wife and she bolts to my arms, kissing me deeply. We indulge for only a second before taking our seats on the benches behind the prosecutor.

“No…”

Her voice is so frail, I think I’m the only one who heard it.

“Christian… please… no…”  Lincoln begs, her voice soft and nearly inaudible. I cling to my wife, holding her close to me and feeling her warmth infuse into me—her love and her strength.

“I love you, Christian,” Elena whimpers. “Please don’t leave me… please don’t leave me alone…”

I hear her, but I don’t care. It only makes me pull my beautiful and precious wife closer to me, makes me want this whole thing to be over so that I can hurry home to my children…

“Are there… any more statements?” Judge Burgess is remiss to ask. What else could be said after that? I mean really, who else could say anything after that?


A/N: This is one of the ten final chapters of “Becoming Dr. Grey.” Stay tuned…

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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 73—At Long Last, Bad News…

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Chapter 73—At Long Last, Bad News…

CHRISTIAN

In light of everything that’s happened, how could we forget the anniversary of the day Jason was shot? We just out of court for this shit where they said the date over and over and over again; even tried to trip Butterfly up on it. We all pretty much felt like shit after that.

Nonetheless, Sophie seems to be adjusting very well to living at the Crossing. She was so happy not to go to the group home. Jason allowed her to stay home from school the day immediately following her trip to the Big House, and went in on Friday to explain the change in Sophie’s living situation. Ana spent the day Thursday with her, talking things through and making sure that the trauma of the situation didn’t settle in on her. By Friday evening, we’ve all settled down into a bit of a routine with everyone chipping in to help with the twins, including Sophie, but Butterfly is right. We’re going to need another nanny if there’s any hope of Butterfly leaving the house and Gail performing her duties as house manager.

It’s late and I’ve slipped into my study to wrap up a few things after helping Butterfly with the early morning feeding of the twins. I’m a bit startled by Jason coming into the room.

“What are you doing still awake?” I ask Jason.

“There’s someone here to see you.” I look at my watch.

“At this hour?” I ask. “How did they get past the gate?”

“It’s Elliot.” Elliot? Oh, hell, what’s wrong?

“Take him to the den,” I say, standing up. What’s wrong that he couldn’t call me?

Jason leaves and I stand in my study for a moment, trying to figure out what could be wrong before I go to face my brother. I know it’s nothing with my parents because Mia would have called before Elliot showed up, unless she couldn’t bear to tell me. Let me stop with the theories and go find out what’s going on. I go through the French doors to the den to find Elliot, his elbows resting on his knees and head in his hands.

“Hey Elliot,” I say as I approach the sofa where he’s sitting.

“Hey Christian,” he answers without raising his head. I sit on the coffee table facing him. It’s obvious that he’s been crying, but he hasn’t been drinking. He’s still wiping tears from his eyes while we’re speaking.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Life just has a way of dealing you a bum hand,” he says. So, I think it’s personal, but I won’t know until he lets me in on the secret.

“Unfortunately, you’re right sometimes,” I reply. “Look at me. My bum hand started at birth and continued for four years. It stopped for a while, but hell… we’re not talking about me.” I lean over to him. “What’s the bum hand, Elliot? Will I need a drink?” He knows that’s my way of asking him if something is wrong with Mom or Dad… or Mia.

“No, but I might,” he says, and now I know that this is serious. Elliot hasn’t taken a drink since Dad put him on alcohol restriction for a month last year. He doesn’t seem to want to get to the point too quickly. Maybe he just needs some brother-time.

“Well, I won’t contribute to your delinquency, but you know where the hard stuff is if you need it. Do you need a bed for the night?” He shakes his head.

“No, I won’t be staying too long. I just needed to stop by for a few.” Stop by for a few? It’s after midnight.

“No offense, Bro, but you don’t ‘stop by’ anywhere at this hour.” I don’t want him to think I’m rushing him. “Do you want something to eat? I know I can scare us up something if you’re hungry.” He shakes his head.

“No, I’m not hungry,” he says, wiping his eyes again. He’s silent for a moment and I decide to let him be until he wants to talk. It takes several minutes. “Do you remember when you called me about Kate? About the baby and the fact that she said that it could be mine?” Uh oh.

“Yeah,” I answer cautiously.

“I was so scared,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do first. I didn’t know which way to turn. I felt like my life was ending. Even though a child is a wonderful thing, I still felt like it was the worst day of my life—not because it was so horrible. I mean, a little me running around is certainly not the worst thing that could happen. I just thought…” He takes a shuddering breath and wipes his eyes again. The tears won’t stop flowing. “I thought my life was going to fall apart, that everything that I had built was going to come crumbling down at my feet. Have you ever felt that way?”

“Several times,” I admit. “It’s terrifying.” He shakes his head.

“I feel like… if I don’t say it, then it won’t be true… like not saying it won’t make it real, but I know that’s not true.”

“Elliot, what is it?” I ask urgently. He’s scaring me. “Are you sick?” He shakes his head.

“No… not… not me…” He can barely choke out the words. Who’s sick? If it was family, I would know. The only other person that would have him in a crumbling mess is…

“Valerie!” I whisper. “It’s Valerie, isn’t it?” He falls off the sofa in tears. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I get on the floor with my brother and put my arms around him. He just loses it. He’s completely unhinged, weeping and wailing from his soul. I’m glad that our bedroom is two floors away or Butterfly would come running in here. As it is, Jason is at the door, his brow furrowed.

“Close the door,” I instruct him. “Don’t let anybody near that door.”

“Her highness?” he asks, bemused.

“Especially not Her Highness!” I order him. “Tell her whatever you have to tell her, but don’t let her near that door!” He nods.

“Got it, boss,” he says before closing the door.

I hold my brother, curled up in the fetal position and mourning from his soul. When he’s able to sit up, he stays on the floor, resting his arms on his bent knees.

“Is she dying, Elliot?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he replies. “She’s… it’s a tumor, a brain tumor… on her frontal lobe…” I gasp loudly.

“Elliot, no!” I breathe. He just nods.

“We didn’t know… we had no idea. It wasn’t until she started having these headaches and dizzy spells. She was vomiting all the time and I thought she was pregnant. She pushed everybody away from her. She almost lost her job.”

“She didn’t want anybody to know?” He shakes his head.

“Once she found out, she didn’t want anybody to know. I think she was ashamed. Before, it was clear that she didn’t have any control over her behavior. When she pushed Ana away, I knew… I knew something was wrong… but I just didn’t know what… I didn’t know how… to…” He breaks down in sobs again. “I asked her every day, Christian. Every day, I asked her what was wrong. She would be wonderful, then crying, then angry, then just… bone silent. I didn’t know what to do. I was at the… end of my rope… but I couldn’t leave her. I love her so much. I’m a monster, Christian!”

Okay, that doesn’t make sense.

“Elliot, how can you say that? You say that you love her and then you say that you’re a monster?” He cries a little longer.

“I thought… I thought…” He can’t get his words out. Take your time, Lelliot.

“Breathe, bro. Come on, breathe, man,” I coach. His breaths are wild, but he’s trying to control them. After several breaths, he holds his head down and begins to speak again.

“I didn’t know what was wrong,” he begins, his voice more controlled. “None of her friends will deal with her anymore. Mom detests her because I didn’t come to Thanksgiving and she ruined Ana’s birthday and almost ruined Christmas. When she started losing clients, I knew something was ghastly wrong. I asked her if she was depressed, if she was lonely, if she wanted to talk to a shrink, take a vacation, something. Anything! She started pushing me away. I didn’t know why. She actually told me one day to just leave. That’s when I knew—something’s not right. I didn’t know what, but I knew this was wrong. I thought she was just turning into a bitch. Mom secretly told me that she didn’t want her at the Manor anymore. She wasn’t going through it again, she said. I thought I was losing my angel. I thought she was turning into Kate.” He wipes his eyes and takes a breath.

“When she started vomiting, I demanded that she go see a doctor. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I actually told her that I would have her committed if she didn’t.”

“Is that why you think you’re a monster?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I went to the doctor with her. I told him everything that she wouldn’t. That’s when he suggested CT scans and MRI’s. He said that the fact that it was physical and behavioral suggested some things, but he didn’t want to say until he was sure. Once the tests started, I knew. I knew because he wanted to make sure that someone could make decisions for her if she became too incapacitated to make them for herself. We talked for a long time in the days while we were waiting for the results. It was hard, because she was still bouncing back and forth, but expecting what I did, I could always ground her.” He starts crying again. “Christian, I hoped!” he weeps. “I hoped that it was a tumor.”

“Elliot, why?” I ask in horror.

“Because if it was a tumor, I wasn’t losing my angel. She wasn’t becoming Kate. We could fight the tumor. Together, we could beat the tumor. I couldn’t beat Kate!”

I don’t know what to say. It’s a horrible thing to want the woman that you love to have a brain tumor just to prove to yourself that she’s not the woman that you used to love, but now detest.

“You don’t have to say anything, Christian,” he says as if reading my mind. “I already know that it’s horrible, and it’s okay. I can live with it. Do you know what she said when I told her?”

“You told her that?” Now, I’m truly horrified. He nods. I just shrug. “Sure, why not? What did she say?”

“She said she was hoping that they found something, too.” Holy Christ! “She said that she couldn’t tolerate the person that she was becoming, but she couldn’t help herself. It was like she was on the outside of the whole thing watching this bitchy, horrible, wretched, shrew of a woman take over her body and she couldn’t stop it. She compared it to being possessed. She even thought about…” He trails off. I wait for him to find his words.

“She’s seeing a psychiatrist,” he says. “Not Maxie, a doctor at the hospital that specializes in brain cancer patients. She’s been seeing him ever since she got the diagnosis. She’s been bitterly miserable… repentant… completely broken. She considered suicide.”

Oh, hell. She wasn’t herself. All this time, she wasn’t herself. It all makes sense. The change was gradual. I can remember when the wedding planning was coming to a head. Valerie seemed like she was displeased with everything. She was so sweet and accommodating… one of my only allies when Butterfly fled to Montana. But then when Butterfly came back, she acted as if she wanted to blame me for everything, or Butterfly. I don’t know. It was subtle at first, but then just exploded on Butterfly’s birthday.

“She has to talk to Butterfly,” I tell him. He shakes his head.

“She can’t,” he laments. “She’s humiliated by how she treated Ana. She wouldn’t begin to know how to approach her. She would honestly just rather disappear than to have to face Ana after her behavior.”

“She’s one of Butterfly’s oldest friends and Butterfly has no idea why she doesn’t want to speak to her anymore. Butterfly would never forgive herself if she let Valerie go through this alone… where is Valerie?” Elliot is ready to break down again. “Elliot, where is Valerie?”

“In the hospital,” he squeaks. Oh, my God.

“Is she dying, Elliot? I need to know!” He shrugs.

“I don’t knoooooooooooow!” he wails, curling into a ball of mush. I can’t stand to see my brother this way. I wrap my arms around him again.

“Please, tell me what’s going on, Elliot. Tell me everything. I have to prepare my wife…”

I don’t know how much time has passed as I listen to one of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t imagine going through what he’s been through with the woman he loves. Then again, I did have a similar experience with Butterfly, so unfortunately, I do know his pain. He’s able to pull himself together after he let it off his chest as he has to get back to the hospital. The sun is actually coming up and I hope I haven’t kept him too long.

“Tell Ana,” he says as we get to the grand entry. “I can’t…”

“I’ll tell her,” I assure her. “Go. We’ll talk later.”

“Tell Ana what?”

Her voice causes both of us to look up. She’s at the top of the stairs in a large nightshirt beginning her descent. “Tell Ana what?” A broken Elliot shifts bloodshot eyes at me and shakes his head. I put my hand on his shoulder.

“I’ve got it. Go,” I say, urging him to leave. I take a deep breath before turning around to face my wife’s questioning eyes.

“Christian, what is it? Please tell me,” she beseeches, now at the bottom of the stairs. I don’t even know where to start. I only look at her. She examines my eyes for a moment.

“Valerie,” she says, reading me like she always does. “It’s Val, isn’t it?” She’s opened the door. I might as well walk in.

“Yes,” I answer solemnly.

“Elliot said he couldn’t tell me. What is it? Tell me now!” she demands.


ANASTASIA

“Noooo!” My heart is breaking—hemorrhaging all over the floor in unbelievable carnage. “Nooo! No! No! No! Nooooooooo!“ I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel anything but this surging, burning, searing pain in my heart.

Valerie!
No!
God, please, no!

“Oh, God, this isn’t happening! This isn’t happening!” I wail. Christian is rudderless, only able to hold me in a vise hold close to him to keep me from ripping my hair out. Valerie has cancer. All this time, it was cancer… a brain tumor, and she just had surgery… and I wasn’t there. She was alone and I wasn’t there. We don’t know if the surgery was successful. We don’t know if she’s going to wake up… and I wasn’t there. This is some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt. My friend—my sister could die, and I couldn’t hold her hand and tell her that everything would be alright, that I love her… that I always loved her and always will….

I can only weep. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what. I thought jealousy, depression, downright bitchiness… I never once considered a brain tumor, not once. I knew it had to be something drastic, it had to be. There’s no way in hell Val would just turn on me that way. If I had just thought of this sooner, maybe we could have saved her.

Stop talking like she’s dead, you moron!

I’m a doctor! A head doctor at that! I still should have known something!

“Butterfly…” his voice brings me back. I’m having an out-of-body experience because I simply can’t believe that Valerie is mortally ill and I never knew. I didn’t have a clue. My throat hurts so much from screaming… wailing all this time. I’ve wasted months! Months fighting with one of my best friends in the world! And these might have been her last days! Oh, God, I want to die.

“Baby, let’s get dressed and get to the hospital.” His voice is soft and soothing as he strokes my hair to calm me. I nod. My head is so heavy and just like the savior he is, he scoops my weeping body into his arms and carries me to the bedroom.

*-*

Elliot is there when we get to the room. This room is more hospital-ish than any room I’ve ever seen. There’s one bed in there and it’s pretty small. She’s lying right in the middle of the bed with her arms at her side like you see the people in the movies. I can’t help but wonder if that’s how I looked when I was unconscious.294ad4d200000578-3108186-stacey_pictured_in_a_coma_in_hospital_was_at_a_friend_s_flat_whe-a-12_1433320533560

Elliot raises his head from the bed and looks at me. He’s so worn down. He looks like he’s aged ten years. I walk over to him to offer him some comfort. He wraps his arms around my waist and lays his head on my stomach. I can only hug him around the head. He doesn’t make a sound. He just sits there while I hold him. Any other time, I would be concerned about what Christian is thinking, but right now, Elliot is broken. He’s obviously been crying for so long that he probably can’t cry anymore.

“How long?” I ask.

“Hours,” he squeaks. He has no voice. “Surgery was complete sometime last night. She hasn’t woken up yet.”

“Did they say how long it could be?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Hours… days… weeks… never…” What little voice he does have gets weaker with each possibility.

“Is she in a coma?” I ask.

“Not really,” he says. “Semi-coma. It’s tricky with brain surgery.” I nod. I won’t make him talk anymore. I sit in the seat across from him on the other side of her bed. I touch her hand. It’s warm. I don’t know why I expected it to be cold. Maybe because she looks so lifeless. Her skin is… gray, like there’s no blood flowing through her body. Were it not for the rise and fall of her chest, I would be worried that I was too late.

“Hey, Val,” I choke. I try not to cry, but I’ve never seen my friend like this before. And she went into this alone. I mean, yes, Elliot was there and that counts for a lot, but I wasn’t. I haven’t even told Al. That’s going to be really hard, and his wedding is coming up. I wonder if Maxie knows… no, she would have told me if she did. Nobody knew,1 but Valerie and Elliot, and now me and Christian. Her family isn’t even here.

“Where’s her father? Her brother? Have you called anybody?” Elliot shakes his head.

“She wouldn’t let me. I don’t even know how to reach them. I know their numbers are in her phone. Walter’s in South Carolina. I think her dad’s in Wisconsin.”

It’s Minnesota, but I’ll tell him that later. I turn back to Valerie.

“This wasn’t the plan, Marshall,” I whisper. “This certainly doesn’t look like a cruise ship full of eligible bachelors and you’re nowhere near 95 years old. Are you trying to back out of our deal?” I partially expect her to flinch or something at the mention of the cruise ship. We once made a deal that we would outlive our husbands if we ever got married, then we would spend the rest of our golden years cruising around the world being courted by young, eligible bachelors and die on a couple of deck loungers sipping Mai tais while a tropical sun beat down on us when we were 95 years old.

I stroke her hand. Her skin is so soft.

“You could use a manicure,” I say, and immediately resolve to bring the necessary items to do just that. “We’ll get that taken care of.” We used to give each other manicures in college all the time. Even though Val wasn’t really strapped for cash, so to speak, she was still not one to spend her money frivolously. So, we did our own manicures and pedicures. I remember when I was looking for an apartment on campus. I answered an ad for a single female looking for another female to share rent and expenses in a two-bedroom private apartment. When I knocked on the door, this bombshell answers. I was like, “Oh God, you’ve got to be kidding me…”

“Valerie Marshall?” I ask.

“Yes,” she responds. “You must be Anastasia Steele.” I nod. “You’re not a dog. Good. Come in.”

What? Well, that’s real genuine! I’m uncertain about stepping inside, even though I do.

“I’m sorry. I’m very blunt. Everybody I’ve met today looked like they were aching for a date and in desperate need of an extreme makeover. I’m not into girls, but I don’t want to look at barkers all day either. You’re a natural beauty, so I don’t have to worry about you clinging onto me trying to find a date. That’s important, because I’m serious about my studies and when I’m ready to go out, I just want to go out.” I stare at her for a moment. Not one of the I have to be popular people, I see. I’ve never been referred to as a natural beauty, so that caught me off guard.

“I appreciate your candor,” I say with a healthy dose of skepticism. “I should tell you that I don’t trust people easily.”

“Well, then we’ll get along fine, because I’ll trust you until you give me a reason not to—then I’m done with you.” I’ll have to remember that—trust you ‘til you give me a reason not to.

“I don’t have much stuff,” I tell her. “Does the room come with a bed or would I need to buy my own?” She tilts her head at me.

“You’re used to roughing it, aren’t you?” she asks. I scoff.

“You have no idea.”

“You’re not some crazy single white female that I’m going to have to stab in the throat at the end of the semester, are you?”

“If I were, would I tell you?” I retort. She nods.

“Fast on the pick-up. Let’s talk.”

“I thought we were.” She smirks at me.

“Boyfriend?”

“Not interested.” She raises her eyebrow.

“Girlfriend?”

“Definitely not interested.” She frowns.

“Horse?” I have to keep from laughing. She’s a real smart ass.

“Not interested in dating right now,” I clarify. She shrugs.

“Beer? Wine?” She offers, walking to the kitchen. I shake my head.

“Not legal yet,” I respond. She sticks her head out of the door.

“Are your parents outside?”

“Uh, no.”

“Beer? Wine?” she says again. I just chuckle.

“Soda or water, please. I haven’t started on the alcohols yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.”

“Conservative, but not stuffy. I like that.” I frown.

“I wouldn’t consider myself conservative…”

“Speaking of parents, am I going to have to worry about them crashing my crib unexpectedly? I’m independent and I don’t do really well with parents, so it’s up to you how you explain me away if you stay.”

“No worries. My parents don’t even know I’m here.” She frowns at me. Too much information.

“Excuse me?” she questions. Okay, quick short explanation.

“My father doesn’t know that I’m back in Washington yet and my mother’s a bitch. It’s not a conversation that I want to get into, so that will have to do for now.” She hands me a soda and puts up her free hand in surrender.

“’Nuff said. I really don’t want to know your dirty little secrets, unless they’re going to affect me.” I shake my head and sigh.

“No, my dirty little secrets only affect me,” I say sadly. “Can we change the subject, please?”

“Gladly. Where are you staying now?”

“In a women’s shelter.” She’s quiet again.

“Okay,” she suddenly gets very serious. “You’re not legal yet. You don’t look abused. You don’t drink. You don’t date. Your parents don’t know you’re here, and you currently live in a women’s shelter. I’m sorry to intrude, Anastasia, but I think I’m going to have to know about some of your dirty little secrets.” She sits in a chair next to the coffee table and sips her wine, waiting for an explanation.

“Well, I could have told you that I’m between places right now, but I figure the ugly truth is better than a pretty lie. And please, call me Ana. I feel like I’m in trouble every time someone calls me Anastasia.”

“Okay, Ana. I’m listening.” I speak very quickly and almost tell the entire story in one breath.

“My bio-dad died when I was a newborn, so my mom married my stepfather who gave me his name. When I was about nine, she left my stepdad and married this loser, Steve. We left Washington and moved to Vegas. He was a monster, she was a bitch, my life was horrible. As soon as I graduated, I hopped a Greyhound and came back to Washington. I wasn’t 18 yet and I didn’t want Bitch Mom to come and get me, so I lied about my age and went to a women’s shelter, which is why Dad doesn’t know I’m here. As you can imagine, it’s not really conducive to the needs of a struggling college student. So now I’ve got a job and a little money saved up and I need to move out. I can’t afford an apartment of my own, so I must have a roommate. Like you, I don’t want to walk into single white female, but I also don’t want to deal with loud, wild parties when I’m trying to study for midterms. Even though it is your apartment, if you let me stay, I ask that if you bring some guy by that you try to let me know in advance so that he doesn’t catch me walking around in my T-shirt and panties, and that if you’re gonna get laid that you keep the screams of passion down to a modest, if fervent, jungle love roar and not the ‘help, I’m being slowly dismembered by a serial killer’ shriek. There’s no one following me, chasing after me, or looking for me. I’m not one of America’s Most Wanted, I don’t have any debts, and you won’t find my picture on a milk carton or on the post office wall. I’m not interested in boys or girls right now because all they want is pussy and I’m too busy for that shit. I buy my own food, cook my own meals, and clean up after myself. Besides work and school, all I do is study and sleep. You’ll barely know I’m here.” She’s quiet for a moment

“Rent’s $475, cable and WiFi is included. Utilities and water vary. If you’re the only one here and you turn on all the lights, you’re going to be covering two-thirds of the light bill. The apartment doesn’t have a phone, I only use my cell, so I hope you have one, too. I’ll need two month’s rent in advance for just in case you run off and try to stiff me with the bill. When can you move in?”

“Right now. I’ve got nothing but a duffel bag. You tend not to buy much when you’re living in a shelter.” She leans forward and extends her hand to me.

“Welcome home,” she says, and we seal it with a shake.

“I thought you were a nut and I’m pretty sure that you thought I was, too,” I say to her unconscious form. Elliot and Christian have graciously left me alone with my friend. Her head is wrapped with a bandage that just looks like a headband.

“You and Al started out with a love-hate relationship that quickly turned into a love-love relationship. He’s going to be crushed when he hears about this. You two love hard and fight even harder. I wish I knew how I’m supposed to tell him about this.” I remember when Al first met Val. He called her Ice Pussy because he said Ball Buster was too warm a sentiment. He comes up with some extremely weird nicknames for people.

He has really let her have it during the time we were on the outs. At first, he tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but some of the things that she was saying were so uncalled for and cruel. He decided that if he had to draw a line in the sand that he would be standing on my side of that line. I understood how he felt. I just never understood why Val was doing the things she did.

Brain tumor. Goddamn fucking brain tumor.

“I should have known something was wrong,” I say to her. “Your behavior was so… un-Val. Here I am with the degree and the whole doctor title and I couldn’t see that something was wrong with my best girlfriend in the world.” I don’t bother wiping any of the tears from my eyes; they’re just going to keep falling.

“He and James are getting married next month, you know. We’ve been planning their ceremony and the honeymoon—something quick and sweet on both fronts. There’s been so much going on that we nearly didn’t do anything. Yesterday, he threatened me with the courthouse; so, it’s just going to be a party.  We’ve been both acting like it’s doesn’t feel completely wrong that you’re not there shooting down our ideas and coming up with better ones.”

“I don’t know why I expected your hand to be cold,” I say, stroking her fingers. I feel a strange sense of calm while I’m here in this room. I’ve missed my friend. I’ve really missed her, and being here with her even though she’s unconscious makes me not feel so lonely without her. She’s not berating me or saying horrible things to me—but the thought of her never waking up almost makes me welcome the idea that she might come out of this still hating me… as long as she comes out of this.

“Remember when I met Edward?” I say to the sleeping beauty. “You thought he was hot, too, and you kept telling me that I could never bring it up again after he turned out to be a classless loser and a serial cheater, but we both had our sights set on him. I couldn’t believe he chose me over you! Of course, we later found out that I was the perfect victim for him.

“You didn’t like him almost from the beginning—once you got over the whole young hot guy thing. You saw through him when I couldn’t. He had me confused and running in circles the whole time. You never made me feel bad about it, though… well, except when the tumor kicked in. We’ll give you a pass for that one this time. You know, the whole cancer thing is cause for a gimme… or twelve.”

All I can think is that if I keep talking to her, she just might wake up and tell me to shut the hell up. Then I can fall on my knees and beg her to forgive me for being so blind. Unfortunately, no matter how long I talked, she never moved. She never blinked and she barely even breathed. I swear that I’ll never be the same ever, ever again if she doesn’t wake up. She can even still hate me, just please wake up…

“Butterfly?” Christian’s voice rouses me from my fitful slumber. I’ve fallen asleep holding Val’s almost lifeless hand. I look up at her face and nothing has changed. I look over at the window where Elliot stands staring at her, still looking heartbroken and forlorn. I don’t know what to do for him. I can’t even imagine what he’s feeling right now.

“Did he eat something?” I ask, quietly.

“He ate a little,” Christian answers. “Now it’s your turn.” I look at my watch and it’s well into the afternoon. I guess I should eat something, but I don’t want to leave my friend. I imagine that Elliot probably wants to be alone with her and I have to tear myself away from her bedside after kissing her hand several times and telling her that I love her.

“Please call me if anything changes… good or bad. I don’t care what time it is,” I tell a broken Elliot. He only nods and takes his seat next to her bed again.

“Hey, Angel,” he says softly, taking her hand in his and kissing it gently before pressing it to his cheek and leaning into it. He’s gazing longingly and silently at her still face. If his love and will alone could bring her out of this, she would be square dancing on the roof right now.

When I leave the hospital room, I feel numb. I feel like I’ve cried all the tears out of my body and I don’t know what to do next. I walk beside my husband like a zombie, going only where he leads me, because I have no idea where I’m walking or what I’m doing.

I should have known. Somehow, someway, I should have known.

I’m wrecking my brain to try to remember when was the first sign that something was wrong, but I’ve lost so many of my tiniest memories since the accident that I’m coming up blank.

“What would you like, Baby?” Christian’s voice is very soothing. I didn’t notice that we were outside until he spoke to me. The air is crisp and fresh and I try to take in a cleansing breath, but it only results in me bursting into tears when I try to let it out. Christian wraps me in his arms and tries to soothe me, but it’s no use. I want my friend to come back to me. Losing her this way is completely unacceptable and I refuse to accept that it’s going to end this way.

I break from his grasp and just start running. I have to get away from this. I want to go back—back in time, but to where? The wedding? The proposal? Anguilla? Before I met Christian? Where could I go that would make this reality not be reality? I just want to get away!

cj121

Like a cartoon being halted by a rubber band, I’m snatched back into Christian’s grasp. I’m shocked by the complete lack of inertia that has hindered my escape, and I stare at him—wide-eyed, confused, bewildered.

“Ana! Stop!” His words shock me back to reality… this reality… and I fall into his arms, weak… afraid… hopeless…

I’m losing my friend… again.

*-*

“Baby, you have to eat something.”

I’m in the sitting room where I’ve been ever since I got home, gripping my phone and waiting for a call. Nothing. It hasn’t rung once… not once. I sigh heavily and try not to cry again.

“Where are my babies?” I say softly. I haven’t fed them, haven’t mothered them all day. I still have responsibilities.

“They’re napping,” he says. “They’re fine. They should be awake soon.”

“Good. I need to feed them.”

“They won’t starve, Baby. They’ll be fed. I’ll make sure that…”

I need to feed them!” I repeat, sternly. They’re my children and I need to make sure that they’re fed and clean and taken care of. He pauses for a moment.

“Will you please eat once you’ve made sure that your children are okay? Please?” I haven’t eaten all day. The sun has gone down and I’m sure that it’s dinnertime if not past dinnertime. I can’t very well feed my children if I don’t eat.

“Yes,” I say softly. “I’ll eat once I’ve checked on my children.”

He walks with me to the nursery where the nightlight casts a soft, comforting glow over the room. Mike and Minnie are fast asleep and show no signs of stirring or discomfort. I look at my watch. It’s 7:30. They should be waking in the next hour or so, maybe less. Once I see that they’re okay, Christian closes the door of the nursery.

“Food now?” he asks expecting. I nod and follow him down to the kitchen.

Christian sits with me as I eat my dinner at the breakfast bar. I don’t even know what’s on my plate—chicken, I think… and some kind of vegetable or something. I eat in silence, without tasting my food. Everyone has disappeared to parts unknown, apparently leery of my unstable melancholy. I can’t shake the vision of Val’s seemingly lifeless form lying in that bed. It’s just not fair. It can’t end like this.

Christian clears my dishes away when I have finished my food. I want a glass of wine so badly, but I know that’s impossible because it will taint my breast milk. Right now, I feel like it’s my sole purpose—to feed my babies. I know that’s not true. I know that I have more than just that use… but right now, I need to feed my babies.

When we get to the nursery, Gail is there preparing the baths and getting clean clothes for the twins.

“We’ll take it from here, Gail,” Christian tells her. She looks at him with uncertainty.

“Are you sure? I don’t mind,” she protests.

“We’re sure,” he says, softly. “Thank you. Goodnight.” She looks at him, questioning, but I just turn my attention to my babies. Mikey is still asleep, but Minnie has begun to stir. I get to her crib just as she starts to fuss.

“Come to Mommy, Little Mouse,” I say, gently lifting her into my arms. Her fussing ceases almost immediately. I stare at her for a moment, thinking of how I used to lean on her and her brother when I needed strength while I was carrying them. God, do I really need their strength now.

Mikey starts to fuss and Christian takes him out of his crib. He’s talking to his son as he takes him to the en suite. Oh, yeah, that’s right. We were giving them a bath.

I remove Minnie’s tiny onesie once I get her on the changing table next to her slider. She coos just a bit as I remove her diaper and undershirt. I test the water temperature before placing her in her infant bath seat. She loves bathtime and I love bathing her taking handfuls of water and trickling them over her tiny body and pink skin. Her little hand splashes in the water inside her bath seat. It’s the first thing that has made me smile all day.

I use the gentle baby soap to clean her delicate skin. She raises her eyes to me contentedly as I wash her hair and her tiny little body. As much as she loves bathtime, Mikey hates it. He fusses and kicks and gives his bather hell, whether it’s Christian, me, or Gail. He’s a little terror in the bath and never settles down until he’s out of the water. Even then, he continues to fuss because he’s angry that we dare subject him to such torment.

I have to powder and dress Minnie quickly after bathtime, because while she is calm and enjoying the attention, Mikey is demanding the comfort of the breast after the traumatizing experience he has had. Christian has tried to give him a bottle while I feed Minnie first, but he is inconsolable. He has to have the comfort of Mom. I often wondered how he stayed in a sack of water for nine months without bursting out. I hope he grows out of this.

We trade off the twins once we get them into clean diapers and warm pajamas. Mikey settles a bit once he’s in my arms, but he’s still quite the noise maker. Normally, it’s the other way around—Minnie is the one that must be seen and heard while Mikey is the cool cucumber. The only time it’s different is bathtime. They change personas like Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde. What’s funny is that I’ve read that book and seen that movie, and I can never decipher which personality is supposed to be the bad guy.

“Okay, little man, settle down,” I tell him as I unbutton my shirt. He’s hungrily turning his little mouth to my breast before it’s even exposed. Gosh, give me a chance, Mikey! Geez! You’d think they are starving you in this joint! He latches on the moment the nipple touches his lip. It feels like he’s trying to swallow my whole breast.

“Aie!” Good God, kid, that’s thing’s attached!

“You okay?” Christian asks, walking over to me with Minnie in his arms. I’m almost jealous that she contentedly feasts on a bottle while her brother here is trying to maim me!

“He’s trying to bite it off!” I lament quietly. Christian looks over my shoulder and down at Mikey.

“Don’t do that, son,” he chides, gently. “None of us will be happy if you hurt Mommy’s nipple.”

I smile weakly. He’s sweetly trying to keep the situation as light as possible. I gently play with Mikey’s little brown curls while he finally settles. His eyes are at half-staff while he concentrates on emptying my breast. His little fist is balled on my mound and his breathing is regulated. All is right with the world when I look at my babies. Can you make my friend well? Please?

Minnie is burped by Daddy first, then it’s Mikey’s turn to take a break while Minnie gets to latch onto the other breast. We trade off babies again and Minnie quietly suckles the rest of her dinner while Mikey reluctantly gives up gas. Almost immediately after his monstrous burps, Mikey can take a bottle and be content. His half-staff eyes are now fully closed as he empties the bottle of the rest of the breast milk. I adore these times, bonding with my children. I can’t let anything hinder them, even though I might be hurting inside.

The babies are fed and tucked back into their cribs. We turn on the nightlights and steal quietly out of the nursery. Once the door is closed, I lean back against it and sigh heavily.

“What do you need?” Christian asks me.

“Alcohol,” I lament, half kidding, half serious. I drop my head. “I have to call Al. He doesn’t know.”

“You’re going to tell him over the phone?” I shake my head immediately.

“I’m going to see if he’ll come over. If not, you or Chuck will have to take me to him, but this can’t wait…” I’m fighting not to cry. If I start crying, I won’t stop. He rubs my arms.

“Whatever you need, baby,” he says, softly. I nod and go in search of my phone.

“Hi… Al… I just finished feeding the babies… Yeah, I know, the work’s never done. Listen, Al, um, I have something that I really need to talk to you about. I’ll know it’s late and I’m sorry, but it’s really important and I just can’t tell you over the phone. It really can’t wait until tomorrow. If it’s too late, I can have Chuck or Christian bring me to you… It’s really important, Al. I wouldn’t bother you this late if it weren’t. No, no, I won’t fall asleep. I’ll be waiting…”

I’m sitting on the patio off the family room, snuggled in a warm fleece jacket with an afghan on my lap. I feel so shitty about what I must tell my best friend that even Atlantis couldn’t help. I’m looking out over Lake Washington, and for some reason, the words to Little Red Boat come to mind. My chest tightens as I think about the words and the meaning, how sometimes in the song, the singer seems adrift—battling her own dreams and demons, while at other times, she seems to have found her peace and her “green life.” It’s confusing and I can’t really understand if she gets where she wants to be by the end of the song, or if she’s still trying to get there. The melody is soothing, though, and as it plays in my head, I sing the words out loud:

“Sailing in my little red boat
Prayin’ to God He will keep me afloat
While I’m sailin’ in my little red boat
Till I find my way…”

“Hmm, Little Red Boat… It must be pretty bad.” Al has arrived and has joined me on the patio. I raise my eyes to him and I’m just emotionally weary—not sleepy at all, but emotionally exhausted. He examines me and doesn’t say a word. He just walks over to the sofa and sits next to me, waiting for me to tell him what’s going on. I sigh heavily, trying to find the strength that I don’t have.

“It’s Val,” I say, my voice small. His face falls.

“What did she do now?” he asks, his voice irritated. Please, God, give me strength.

“She’s sick,” I tell him, barely able to get my words out. His silence is deafening and I raise my head to see his glaring brown eyes in the moonlight.

“Sick how?” he asks, flatly.

“She’s…” I sigh heavily.

“Jewel, sick how?” he repeats when I don’t answer soon enough.

“Cancer,” I spit out quickly before I lose my nerve. He frowns deeply.

“Cancer,” he repeats. “Cancer? Are you sure?” I nod.

“I’m positive, Allen,” I say, sadly.

“How do you know? How did you find out?” he asks incredulously. He’s having the same disbelief that I had.

“Elliot told Christian… and Christian told me…”

“Why did she push us away?” he asks almost angrily. “When she knew that she would need us the most, why would she push us away? Is she dying? Where is she now?” The questions are coming faster than I can answer them.

“Please, Al, slow down,” I lament. “She’s in the hospital. We don’t know if she’s dying—she’s still unconscious…”

“Still un…” His voice trails off and I can tell that the weight of what’s happening is settling in. He frowns harder, as if he could. “Jewel… what’s happening?”

“She didn’t push us away, Al,” I say, bursting into tears. “She didn’t know! She wasn’t herself! She didn’t know what she was doing or what she was saying!” I sob, unable to say the words. If I don’t say them, maybe they won’t be true… but I know better, and I have to tell Al.

“It’s a brain tumor, Al,” I cry, “on her frontal lobe. It changes her personality—her whole personality. She says and does things with no filter. She’s a completely different person than she was before and she can’t control it. Sometimes she doesn’t even know what she’s saying.”

I knew something wasn’t right. The things that she said to me and the way that she treated me—I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it and never in a million years would I have guessed brain tumor, but I knew that my friend wouldn’t simply turn her back on me for no reason. No matter what people tried to tell me… Dr. Hill, Ace, Christian, even Al… I knew it was something else. I knew it.

“She had surgery. She had the surgery a couple of days ago and she hasn’t woken up yet. That’s when Elliot came over to tell us what happened… late last night. He was here talking all night with Christian.” I’m still weeping as I talk to him. The words are choking me and squeezing the life out of me. She might die. Valerie might die. It’s a very real possibility that the only sister I ever knew might die. This can’t really be happening.

Christian comes out to the patio and I see him with a glass of red wine in his hand. I’m doing my best to try to hold it together, but I’m having a terrible time. He walks over to me and hands me the glass of wine. I look up at him with large eyes asking what my mouth won’t say.

My breast milk…

“It’ll be out of your system by tomorrow,” he says, softly. I look at the large bowl glass, three-quarters full of wine—no doubt Cabernet Sauvignon. I take it in both hands like it’s the holy grail and take a welcome sip.

Hello, old friend.

The slight burn and dry flavor on the back of my tongue are both very welcome sensations, and I take another sip.

“Can I get you anything, Allen?” he asks.

“Got any scotch?” he asks. Oh, yeah, he’s taking it as hard as I am.

“Yes, I do.”

“Double shot.”

“On the rocks?” Christian asks. No, I think to myself.

“Neat,” he responds, confirming what I already knew. Christian nods once and disappears back into the house. Al puts his arm around me and pulls me close to him. His warmth makes me feel a little better. A unified front, I think to myself—pretending to be okay when we’re both actually dying inside.

“What’s the prognosis?” he asks, his voice cracking slightly.

“Not good,” I tell him honestly. “There’s a good chance that she may not wake up. If she does, she may still be the same evil Val that she was before the surgery if she remembers who she is at all. Then, she’s going to have to undergo chemotherapy. So, at the very best, she’s going to be sick for a long time.”

“I’ll take that,” he says, “as long as she comes back.” He shakes his head. “At some point, she knew that she was sick and she still didn’t tell us.”

“She couldn’t, Al,” I tell him through my sniffles and tears. “Either because she didn’t know what she was saying, or because she was too ashamed… she couldn’t tell us.”

“I’m going to strangle that hag when she comes out of this,” he swears.

“If she comes out of this…”

When,” he reiterates firmly. “I’m not willing to accept that Val won’t be back until I’m looking at her cold, dead body, and I don’t intend to be doing that for a long time, if I don’t go first.” He has hope—firm hope. Hope is good. I won’t destroy it.

“Fair enough,” I say, drinking more of my nectar from the Gods. This is that wine from Napa—Screaming Eagle, I think. He cracked open a bottle just when I needed it. Moments later, Christian comes back out to the patio with Al’s drink. As he hands Al the tumbler, I mouth “thank you” to him. He nods and leaves us to comfort one another.

Al takes his double shot and throws it back like water. I’m not as adventurous.

I finally break down in those uncontrollable tears that I’ve been hiding all day. Yes, I’ve been weeping and sobbing, but I haven’t had that cry where my soul feels like it’s going to rip from my body and escape to the Netherworld, away from the unbearable pain in my heart… the one unanswered question that keeps blaring in my head and won’t be silenced no matter how I curl into myself and cover my ears…

Why?

Al folds his body over mine and surrenders to his own tears. I don’t know how long we sit there and just cry, but when I cried myself into exhaustion, I just stay curled in the ball wrapped in Al’s warmth and allow him mourn.


CHRISTIAN

“I’m sorry. I slipped off in the recliner trying to keep an eye on them,” I tell James as he walks into the family room.

“No sweat,” he says. “I knew when you told me about Valerie that it would be a long night.” We look at our significant others asleep on the sofa on the patio. We quietly exit the doors from the family room. Allen is sitting upright with his head leaned over the back of the sofa. Butterfly is asleep on his chest, the most content I’ve seen her in nearly twenty-four hours… except she looks like she’s shrinking.

James walks over and gently runs his fingers through Allen’s hair. Allen opens sleepy brown eyes and looks up at his fiancé.

“Hey, baby,” he says, his voice weak.

“Hey, Allie,” James replies, still stroking Allen’s hair. “You okay?” Allen frowns and closes his eyes, succumbing to the tears again as he shakes his head. “I know, baby,” he comforts. Allen wipes his eyes and strokes Butterfly’s hair much like James is stroking his. Butterfly stirs, then raises her head.

“It wasn’t a dream,” she says, her voice weak and small. Allen inhales a shuddering breath and releases it.

“I’m afraid not,” he says, still stroking her hair. She sighs and curls back into his chest.

“Why don’t you guys stay?” I say. “It’s late…” and I know you need each other. I throw a knowing look at James and he nods.

“Allie?” he says, “you wanna stay, baby?” Al nods with his chin in Butterfly’s hair, his arms wrapped around her tiny body, clinging to her as if his life depended on it.

“Why don’t we all go inside?” I suggest. “It’s late and it’s getting cold out here.”

Mechanically, Butterfly unfurls from Al’s lap and he stands once she rises. They both walk wordlessly into the entertainment room and assume the same position on the sofa inside. They’re in silent mourning, and James and I are clueless how to handle this. I walk over to the bar and pour a double shot of bourbon.

“Do you want something?” I ask James, who sits on one of the barstools.

“Just beer, if you have it.” I reach into the refrigerator, pull out a beer and hand it to him. He nods as he opens it and takes a long swallow. “I never expected this,” he says. “Not in a million years would I have expected this.”

“Neither would I.”

“Do they know how long?” he asks. I shrug.

“How long what?” I say. “How long she’s been sick? How long she’s had the tumor? How long she’s got left? We don’t know anything. All we know is that Elliot showed up at 1:00 this morning with this news and here we are.”

“Allie’s a wreck,” he says. “First, we’re planning our wedding and now this.” I look at him.

“I forgot all about that, man,” he says. “You know with Elena’s verdict and waiting for the sentencing… I completely forgot.” He waves me off.

“Allie and Ana were… are planning something. Nothing spectacular from my understanding. We were just going to have a party here and exchange vows.”

“You keep slipping into past tense,” I point out. He shrugs.

“I don’t know what Allie is going to want to do after this. I’m not going to pressure him. I’ll be here for whatever he wants and I’m willing to wait if he needs to…”

“I hear you. I love you. You’re wonderful. We’re getting married.” Al snaps out of his stupor for a few moments to squash his fiancé’s uncertainty.

“Yes, dear,” James says softly before looking at me with a smirk. “My soul has spoken. I guess we’re getting married in two weeks.” He raises his beer to me before taking another drink. I just realize that I have a couple of calls that I have to make.

“Excuse me, James,” I say as I step to the furthest end of the bar and make the first call.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom,” I answer.

“Christian! It’s late. Are the babies okay?” I nod.

“Yeah, Mom, the babies are fine, but I do need to talk to you.”

“Okay, son, what’s up?”

“It’s about Valerie.” Mom sighs.

“The last thing I want to talk about this late in the evening right before I want to turn in is that disrespectful little sow’s ear!” Don’t have the strength to fight. Not even the strength to defend. Just don’t have it. Must save my strength for Butterfly.

“Okay, Mom. Talk to you tomorrow. G’night.” I end the call and think about who I should call next. I’m on autopilot as I recall that something like this would require activation of the contingency… but Al is already here. Who would AL call? Probably Valerie. God! While I’m trying to decide who I should call right now, my phone rings. It’s Mom.

“Yeah, Mom,” I answer with no malice.

“Well, that was awfully rude!” she snaps on the other end.

“You said you didn’t want to talk,” I point out, flatly.

“Well, I didn’t expect you to hang up in my ear!” she chides.

“Mom, I said I had something to tell you and you said you didn’t want to talk. Now, if you don’t want to talk, I have to go because I have to call other people.” She pauses, but only momentarily.

“Why do you have to call other people?” she sounds a bit impatient. “Exactly what’s going on with Valerie? Is she in jail?” I shake my head.

“No, Mom, she’s not in jail. Do you want to hear it or would you rather turn in?” I think my mom is a bit affronted, but I don’t have time for this.

“Fine. Yes. What’s going on with Valerie?”

“She’s in the hospital,” I say, mechanically. “She had a tumor on her brain and nobody knows how long she’s had it. That’s why she was acting like such a bitch. It was on her frontal lobe. She had surgery to have it removed on Friday and now she’s unconscious. They don’t know if she’s going to wake up.” There’s silence on the line for a long time. “Mom?”

“Oh my God,” she says, just above a whisper. “That poor girl. Do they know how long?” And there’s that question again. How long what? Since I’ve already said that nobody knows how long she’s had it, Mom must be asking how much more time she has or how long she’ll be unconscious, and the answer to those questions are…

“No, Mom, nobody knows. Right now, the prognosis is questionable at best.”

“Oh, God… Elliot!” she gasps.

“He’s… at the hospital with her. He’s not doing so good.” I wouldn’t wish the kind of pain he’s feeling on anybody. Who would have thought we would have so much in common—that we would both, at some point, be sitting in a hospital next to the woman we love, praying that she’s not going to die? I pinch my eyes with my thumb and forefinger to squeeze out the tears that are quickly gathering behind my eyelids. I can’t even say that I can’t imagine the pain he must be feeling, because I don’t have to imagine it. I felt it—for twelve days, I felt it… lost, forlorn, hopeless, like my whole world was coming to an end.

Mom is saying something, but I couldn’t hear her. My head is clouded with what I was feeling for Butterfly during a similar time and what my brother must be feeling right now.

“… And to think, I said all those horrible things about her,” Mom says, her voice cracking.

“We all did, Mom,” I say. “We didn’t know. Ana is beside herself. She and Allen are really broken up about it. I have to go, though, Mom. I have to get in touch with her other friends.”

“Certainly, Christian, certainly. Thank you for letting me know. I’ll call Mia and tell her.”

“Thanks. Love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, Christian.” I end the call and rub my eyes.

“You alright, man?” James asks. I shrug. Normally, I would just nod and say that I’m fine, but I’m not fine. There’s no love lost between me and Valerie, but I never would have wished this on her… or on my brother… or my wife.

“The contingency,” I say, “who does Allen call?” James shrugs.

“I don’t know. He used to call Valerie…” Just as I suspected. I scroll through my phone to see whose number I may have. I’m sure that I had Phillip’s number when I was helping him plan his wedding. As I’m scrolling recent contacts, Marilyn’s number pops up.

Marilyn… she would know what to do. I dial her number.

“Christian?” she answers uncertainly. “Is everything okay?”

“No, it’s not,” I say, my voice solemn. “Ana’s fine… for the most part, but I need your help.” She’s silent for a moment.

“Sure,” she says softly. “What do you need?”

“I need to activate the Contingency and I don’t know how,” I admit. “Al is here with Ana and they’re… out of sorts. Who would be next—do you know?”

“The Contingency?” she questions. “Oh! The Contingen… what’s wrong, if I may ask?” she says, her voice soft and probing. I sigh.

“I’m sorry, I should have lead with that. It’s Valerie. She’s very sick. She has… cancer. A brain tumor. The prognosis is… questionable.” Marilyn gasps loudly.

“Oh, my God! Gary, wake up!” I completely forgot that Marilyn was dating Garrett. I’ve inadvertently activated the Contingency and didn’t know that I was doing it. I hear Marilyn talking frantically in the background and after a few seconds, Garrett’s groggy voice gets on the line.

“Hello?”

“I’m sorry to bother you, Garrett…” I begin.

“Chris… hey. What’s up, man? My girl is over here having a fit. Is it Ana?”

“No, it Valerie. She had a brain tumor. She’s at the hospital… unconscious. Not sure what’s going to happen.” If I have to tell this story one more time…

“Valerie… shit!” he says and I hear blankets rustling. “Have you told anybody else?”

“Only our family,” I say. “Allen is here with Ana. They’re a mess.”

“You sound like you’re a mess, too,” he says, compassionately, and I have to fight back the tears, the anguish I feel for my brother.

“I am,” I squeak, “for a lot of reasons…” Empathy for my brother; the fact that I hate to see my wife suffering; the way I’ve spoken to Valerie not knowing what was wrong with her… “I had to activate the Contingency and I didn’t know who to call. Ana calls Allen and it’s my understanding that he normally calls Valerie, so…” I trail off.

“You did right, Chris. I got it. I’ll call Phil and Max.” He pauses. “How’s… Ana? We heard about Edward… and then the trial… we were trying to give you guys a chance to breathe, and now, this.” I sigh for the hundredth time today.

“You’ve pretty much summed it up,” I tell him. “I’m keeping an eye on her… and Al. James is here with us; they’re staying the night. I don’t know how to explain what I see right now,” I say, turning back to my wife and her best friend. “I guess the best description would be painful and silent disbelief.”

“God, Christian,” he breathes. “I’m sorry man. What can we do?”

“For now, just let the others know. She’s at Seattle Gen in the ICU. Do you know if Valerie has any family?”

“Her father and brother back east, but to my knowledge, they’ve been a bit estranged for at least the last couple of years. I wouldn’t begin to know how to reach them.” I nod.

“Okay,” I sigh. “I was just trying to save Elliot from having to make that call.”

“Oh, God, Elliot. I totally forgot. He’s at the hospital?” I nod again, as if he can see me through the phone.

“Yeah, sitting vigil by her bedside…” just like I did with Ana.

“We won’t go tonight. It’s late, and even though I know ICU doesn’t adhere to regular visiting hours, he’s probably trying to get some sleep.” Something tells me that I don’t want to know how he knows about the ICU hours. That’s knowledge that you only come by from personal experience.

“Yeah, I would say so,” I say.

“Thanks for calling, Chris. I appreciate it,” Garrett says, finally, and we end the call. My heart is hurting. This empathy thing is eating me up from the inside out. I look over at my wife and her best friend. She has fallen asleep again. Al is fading fast.

“Chris?” James says, bringing me out of my daydream.

“Can you keep an eye on them, please?” I ask. “Call me if she wakes and she needs me and I’ll come right back.” He nods.

“Sure… Where are you going?”

“To my brother,” I say, my voice cracking. “He needs me.”


A/N: So, now we know what’s going on with Val. A few of you hit the nail on the head. I’m sorry the reveal and storyline took so long, but unfortunately, you just can’t rush a brain tumor. If you think it took a long time for you, consider the fact that I wrote this storyline over a year ago…

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 71—The Gatekeeper

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Chapter 71—The Gatekeeper

ANASTASIA

Since I prepared to be in court for She-Thing all week, I won’t be going to Helping Hands, so I gave Marilyn the week off. Just after breakfast Thursday morning, I receive a call from the dreaded area code… 702.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Grey?”

“Who’s calling?” I ask cautiously.

“This is Herbert Larson from the Nevada Attorney General’s office.” Oh… still haven’t gotten that subpoena.

“Yes?” I say. He pauses, no doubt noting my cold tone.

“I… just wanted to call you and tell you that Michael Underwood’s trial was set for Monday…”

Was?” I interrupt him.

“Yes, was. He saw the charges and the witnesses against him and he took a plea.” Another fucker gets to take a plea.

“Really? And what did he get?” I ask, stoically.

“He pled to second degree kidnapping, battery without a weapon, and involuntary manslaughter with a maximum of twenty five years on all counts. He got eighteen with a possibility of parole in fifteen.” Whoa!

“Oh.” I say, truly surprised. “Okay.” I couldn’t say much more.

“I’m calling because your subpoena was returned unserved,” he says. “We tried your last known address and your office. There was no contact at either location.”

“Why didn’t you try my attorney’s office?”

“He couldn’t be reached at his office either, Ma’am.”

“Geez, you have old addresses for everybody?” I lament.

“I’m afraid so,” he says. “We couldn’t legally serve anybody anywhere.” I nod.

“I’ll get you updated information today. I’m sorry about that, Mr. Larson,” I say.

“No apologies necessary. I just thought you might want to know that the first official sentence has been handed down in your case.” I sigh heavily, then frown.

“What about Carly Madison-Perry?” I ask. “I thought she had taken a plea, too.”

“Her plea is still pending,” he says. “It’s due to be finalized within the next week. Her keeping it is dependent on her testifying in court.”

“And what if everyone does what Underwood does and pleads to a lesser charge? Will she still get to walk even though she never had to testify in court?” There’s a pause.

“I can guarantee you that it’s not a ‘walk,’ Mrs. Grey,” he replies. “However, based on her willingness to testify, she would still get her plea bargain. Her pleading to a lesser sentence for the highest allowable charges means that it goes on the books that these crimes were actually committed and that anyone associated with the incident has to be associated with the commission of these crimes and not a lesser act, unless their specific action indicate a lesser act. This is why she got first degree kidnapping and Underwood got second.”  I nod as if he can see me.

“So, with Carly’s testimony, I need you to help me understand why you won’t just take all of these people to trial. It’s an open and shut case.” I hear him sigh.

“Under normal circumstances, you would be correct, Mrs. Grey. However, these circumstances are far from normal. We haven’t notified you of every development in this case, but so far, there have been seventeen arrests made with people rolling over on their friends. Some suspects have fled the state or are in hiding waiting to be apprehended. To be honest with you, every jurisdiction has a finite amount of resources that can be expended for all cases being investigated. To that end, if we can save the taxpayers some money and preserve our resources by still getting double-digit mandatory sentences on these pleas, I would consider that a win. Wouldn’t you?” 

The way he explains it makes perfect sense. I’ll just have to make sure that any of these monsters that do live long enough to see the outside of a prison don’t get to see their fortunes once they’re free. It’s the high living and the sense of entitlement that caused most of these bastards to participate in this shit in the first place. Others were just too busy following the leader.

“Am I allowed to know what Carly’s plea is?” I ask, certain that I won’t like the outcome. Larson pauses again.

“Mrs. Madison-Perry is being charged with conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, manslaughter for the fetal homicide of your unborn baby, and attempted murder…” 

“So, they both got the kidnapping charges.” It’s a question that comes out as a statement.

“We’re hoping they’ll all get it,” he says.

“Well, Underwood got eighteen years. What kind of charges is she looking at?”

“Under normal circumstances, kidnapping carries a life sentence on its own. Like Underwood, she reviewed the odds against her and decided against taking her chances in court. If she delivers as promised, she’s looking at thirty years with no parole and a $35,000 fine.” Holy cow, Batman! I hiss into the line.

“She could have gotten life, huh?” I ask. There’s silence. “I think thirty years sounds fair. And she’ll never be able to come up with that $35,000.”

“Then she’ll most likely get more time for that,”  he says.

“Even better. I’ll email you to correct addresses for myself and my attorney. Thank you for explaining this to me, Mr. Larson.

“My pleasure.” I end the call after pleasantries and almost call Christian to tell him the news when I  see my father’s number in the call logs. I dial his number instead. It’s the middle of the morning, so his phone has to be on.

The caller you are trying to reach has chosen not to be disturbed at this time. Please try your call again later.

What. The. Fuck!

I look at the phone to make sure that I’ve dialed the right number. It says that’s Daddy’s phone. But it can’t be! That’s the blocked number message. I dial the number manually. Maybe there’s a technical reason for it.

That fucker’s voice is taunting me again.

I shake my head. Something is terribly wrong. I go in search of a landline in the house and dial my father’s number again.

The caller you are trying…

I hang up before the message completes. Panic stricken, I go in search of Gail. I find her in the kitchen going over the shopping list with Mrs. Solomon. I try to act calm.

“Gail, can I borrow your phone? Mine’s on the charger.”

“Sure, dear.” She puts her phone on the counter without hesitation and goes back off into the pantry.

I dial Daddy’s number hoping that I would get the same message from Gail’s phone that I received from my phone and the landline. I didn’t. It rings—three times, then he answers.

“Hello?”

“Daddy?” I say, uncertain. His answer is swift.

“Can’t talk now. Busy.” And the line goes dead. I’m stunned. He’s shutting me out. My father is shutting me out. In my whole life, my father has never, ever shut me out… but he’s shutting me out. I stand there for a moment. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do next. First Valerie, now this? The world is ending… the world must be ending! What kind of cruel joke it this?

My stomach burns. My chest aches like someone is beating me with a sledgehammer. Daddy is shutting me out. He blocked my phone numbers. He won’t accept my calls. Even Mandy won’t talk to me. I can’t get air. The walls feel like they’re closing in on me. My world is truly ending. How will I ever survive this? I’m going to die… I feel like I’m going to die… I can’t take it… I’m not strong enough…

This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening! I look around for Gail, but she must have stepped into the pantry. I put her phone on the counter and head for the mudroom. I stand there lost for a moment, but see my keys on the hook next to the other keys for the other cars in the garage. I grab them and head out the door. I’m on autopilot. The windows are tinted, which is good, because when I drive to the gate, Ben just opens it and lets me out. I head towards the bridge. I don’t know where I’m going. I just… drive.


CHRISTIAN

“Boss… we got a problem.”

Boss… shit, what’s wrong? I get a sinking feeling when Jason comes into my office just past noon. He only calls me Boss when it’s something person.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I just got a text from my wife… Her Highness is MIA.” I frown.

“I don’t get it. You got a text from your wife that Butterfly is MIA?” he nods.

“Just now. I’ve got the boys looking into it, but she’s definitely gone. She came into the kitchen about three hours ago asking Gail to use her phone. Gail thought nothing of it and just let her use it. She saw her phone on the counter as she was doing something with Ms. Solomon and thought nothing of it. Her Highness said her phone was dead.” I knew that wasn’t true because her phone was on the charger right next to mine when I left this morning. “When the babies awoke, Her Highness wasn’t there. Two-way communications says she’s not in the house.”

“She could be out by the fire-pit or something. Has anybody tried to call her?” I say. Jason rolls his eyes.

“You know we did, sir. Her phone is still in the bedroom… along with her purse,” he says somberly. “And her car is gone.” I bolt out of my seat.

“How do you know her car is gone?” I ask.

“Ben let her out of the gate. He assumed Chuck was with her. Chuck is not.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands into my hair. She left her purse, her phone, the babies. Was she kidnapped again?

“Did you activate the tracker on her car?” I ask. Jason scratches his chin. “What?”

“Her… car hasn’t been equipped with a tracker,” he says, meekly.

“What?” I roar. “That car is going to have the babies the goddamn most and it hasn’t been fitted with a goddamn tracker?”

“I think they were so preoccupied with getting the spec right that somebody forgo…” He pulls his phone out and frowns.

“What?” I ask.

“Gail just thought to call the last number dialed on her phone. It was Ray. He was more than a bit gruff with her. Is something up with Ray?” I roll my eyes.

“Yes,” I say, pulling my phone out call Ray. “Give me a minute.” Jason nods and leave my office.

“Hello?” Ray answers.

“Ray. It’s Christian. Have you seen Ana?”

“You gotta lotta nerve calling me!” he hisses. I’m taken aback.

“What?” I say, clearly shocked.

“She told me about that crap you two do, like I’m supposed to be okay with it. What the hell have you gotten my daughter into?” He’s livid, and I’m caught off guard. I don’t even know how to handle this Ray.

“Ray, I… it’s not like that…” I stammer.

“The hell it’s not!” he snaps. “I wasn’t born yesterday! I’ve seen that shit! I’ve been around more than you and even Annie knows! I’ve been everywhere from Amsterdam to Pattaya to the seedy areas of the states. I’ve seen all the sick shit that goes on in those clubs and at those parties and in those dungeons and you can’t pull the wool over my eyes!”

Whoa! So, Ray knows what he’s talking about, but he still only seems to have seen the worst part of it.

“Ray, those places you’ve been, you’ve only seen the most horrible stuff. It’s not like that with us, I assure you…”

“Don’t give me that shit! There’s no soft way to abuse a woman! Beating and caning and ropes and shit! And to think—my daughter is involved in this garbage!”

Was this what Butterfly heard? Is this how he spoke to her before he disappeared?

“Whatever you may think about my and my wife’s lifestyle, I can’t find her and I just want to know the last time you’ve seen her.”

“Good! I hope she’s left your ass! I hope she’s left this whole sick situation!” He can’t hear beyond his own hatred and anger and now, I’m sure this is why I can’t find Anastasia.

“Raymond!” I snap, my wick short. “My wife is missing.” My voice is short and curt, my words clipped. “She doesn’t have her phone or her purse. She hasn’t left me because our children are still at home. She could be in danger. Have you seen her?” He’s silent for a moment.

“No. I haven’t,” he says in the same clipped, angry tone he’s been using for the entire call. No concern for her whereabouts; no reaction to the ominous details I just gave him; nothing that I would expect from a father… much less a Marine. My heart sinks. This is who she met before she disappeared. She idolizes Ray. In her whole life, throughout everything, he’s been her one constant, and now this. What’s worse is that in hindsight, she may not have even had to tell him about the lifestyle since that blonde bitch never said anything in court and nothing’s come from my testimony on Monday except a few blurbs about the abuse. Oh, God. If anything has happened to Butterfly, this is all my fault… the breakdown of her relationship with Ray, the possible public humiliation, all of it… all my fault.

“Do you hate your daughter, now, Ray?” I ask him.

“No, but I hate you for what you’ve done to her!” he snaps without hesitation. Another closed mind. I should have seen this coming.

“Fine. Hate me, but don’t make her pay for it,” I say flatly.

“You’re the last person that can say anything to me about my daughter right now,” he hisses. “You should be glad I don’t get some of the guys from one of my sites to just come down there and beat your ass!”

“Do that if it makes you feel better, but don’t punish Anastasia because of how you feel about me.”

“Don’t you try to take that high road with me, Grey!” he snaps, angrier than I’ve ever seen or heard before. “You’re a sick fuck and I’ll never forgive you for what you’ve turned my daughter into!” I sigh heavily.

And another one bites the dust.

“I thought you knew,” I say softly, defeated. “I thought you knew how much I love her… that I would gladly lay down my life for her. I thought I proved it when I beat the hell out of your best friend and ended up in the hospital.”

He’s fallen silent on the other end of the line.

“I thought you knew that I could never, ever hurt her… that I would do anything for her. I thought I proved that when I turned the state upside down when she was kidnapped; when I flew to Green Valley and hunted down the fucker who raped her and the monsters who beat her and killed her baby; when I stood with you against her mother and that abomination that she married when they showed up at the hospital; when I sat by her side ready to fight you and anyone else who tried to take her away when she laid catatonic in my bed for three days.

“When I stood in that office ready to take that bullet if it meant that crazy bitch was not going to shoot my Butterfly; when I turned her into Cinderella and married her in a castle because she wanted to be a princess; when I signed her name to half of the company that I built on my back with my own blood, sweat and tears because I love and trust her that much… with my life!”

I don’t think he knew that last part.

“I thought I proved it when I stayed by her side and cried for twelve days when she was in a coma and refused to leave her until they kicked me out and banned me from the room even after she didn’t remember who I was. I really thought you knew that she is my whole life and I could never abuse her or mistreat her or misuse her. I thought you knew me better than some sick motherfucker that would just tie her up and torment her for my own enjoyment!” I bite out—angry, hurt tears now burning a trek down my face.

“Most of all, I thought you knew her better,” I choke. “I thought you knew that the Anastasia Steele that I met would never stand to be abused, hurt, or deliberately mistreated by anybody, much less someone who claimed to love her! After all that she’s already been through, I was certain that you knew she was much stronger, much wiser than that! I’m so disappointed to find out that after all this time, you don’t know.”

I swallow back my trepidation for the fact that I’m talking to Ana’s father and continue.

“You want to judge me for the lifestyle that I came from, fine. You do that. I won’t lie—it hurts. I thought you knew me better. I thought you knew what she meant to me, but clearly, I was mistaken.” I hear my voice shaking and I can hardly believe how affected I am that not only has Ray bought into the crap that he’s seen and heard about the lifestyle, but that he doesn’t know me well enough or trust me well enough to believe that I wouldn’t do that deviant shit to Anastasia.

“I misjudged you,” I say through angry tears. “I knew the rest of the world would judge us, would jump to conclusions, but I didn’t think you would. In the end, I always thought we… or at least she… would have you. I guess I was wrong.”

My heart breaks for Butterfly. He’s never going to come around. He thinks I’ve soiled her… changed her. He doesn’t want anything else to do with us. I wipe my eyes with the backs of my hands and swallow hard.

“I won’t bother you again,” I say to the silent line before ending the call. I thought Butterfly may have been exaggerating when she told me about her father’s reaction to the news, but she wasn’t. It was just as bad as she said it was—worse, even, and I hurt for her right now. I won’t even tell her about this conversation. It would only make matters worse. Right now, I just have to find her.

I straighten my face and clothes as much as I can and kick myself for not knowing that something more was going on when I left the house this morning. Before I call Jason to tell him about Ana’s last contact, I call Al.

“Allen Forsythe,” he answers.

“Al, Ana’s MIA. I’m sure it has to do with Ray. Where would she go?” I just get straight to the point.

“Wait a minute. What?” I sigh heavily.

“Please don’t make me go through this,” I say, scrubbing my eyes, already weary. “Ana’s missing. I believe it’s because she fought with Ray. Where would she go?” The line is quiet for a long time. I can’t stand it. I end the call and call Jason.

“Yes, Sir?”

“It’s Ray,” I tell him. “It has to be. He was cold and cruel when I talked to him. If he was half as horrible when she spoke to him, I don’t know where she is.” Jason sighs.

“I really thought we put a tracker on her car,” Jason says.

“I thought we did, too. Whose job was that?” I ask. As I’m deciding whose head will roll for forgetting one of the fundamental things needed on every vehicle I have ever purchased, my second line is ringing. Al is calling me back.

“One second, Jason,” I say and I change lines to answer the call. “Yes?”

“Has anybody checked the aquarium?” he asks.

“She wouldn’t go to the aquarium,” I say, trying to remain calm.

“She went to the aquarium the day before your wedding day,” he retorts. “Has she ever fought with Ray while you’ve been together?” he asks. I’m silent. “Have you checked her condo?” I hadn’t thought of her condo.

“No, I hadn’t thought of that, either. Any other suggestions?”

“I’m assuming she’s not answering her phone and you’ve tried to track it?”

“She doesn’t have it… Or her purse. They’re both at the Crossing,” I say, trying to stamp down the same rising emotions I had when David kidnapped her. There’s a knock at my office door. “Come in.” The door opens and Al walks through ending his call with me.

“I’m going with you to find her.” I know it’s no use trying to stop him. My phone rings again and I’m hoping it’s Butterfly. It’s Jason.

“What?” I ask, a little impatiently.

“I’m still here,” he says, and I forgot he was on the backline. I sigh.

“Allen and I are going to her condo. Send someone to the Aquarium. Fire whoever was responsible for getting the tracker put in her car and I mean I really want somebody fired. We could have discovered this when something terrible has happened to her and if something has…” I trail off. “I want somebody fucking fired, today, Jason,” I repeat. “I want my pound of flesh and I fucking mean it.” I end the call and walk out of the office.

The ride to Butterfly’s condo on Elliot Bay is silent. I’m driving and Al is in the passenger seat of the Audi I’ve procured from the office—one with a goddamn tracker, no doubt. I try to drive the speed limit, but my rising anxiety along with the reminder of Ray’s ire when I spoke to him is making that task a little easier said than done. I don’t remember the key code when I get to the gate, so Al has to remind me. I can’t describe the flood of relief that I feel when I see Butterfly’s Audi parked in her spot in the garage. I’m immediately overcome with emotion and I feel so light-headed that I literally have to stop the car right where it is and lean my head on the steering wheel.

I feel the car change gears and hear the parking brake engage. Moments later, Al is opening the driver’s side door.

“Go to her, Chris,” he says sympathetically. “I’ll park the car.” I raise a heavy head and see sympathetic brown eyes looking down at me. I nod, then exit the car.

I’m almost afraid of what I’ll find when I get to the condo. Surprised that my key still works, I open the door to hear the last chords of a song playing over the sound system in her apartment, only to hear it start over again— “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”

This is not good. I run through the apartment looking for her, afraid of what I’ll find. She’s in her bedroom, on the floor, sitting up with her back against the bed with boxes of various items strewn about—photo albums, pictures, mementos… There are pictures of her when she was younger with Carla and Ray; pictures of just her and Ray; pictures of Ray and Carla, her and Al; pictures of an old house with a swing; old cutouts of foreign lands; what looks like a box of toys and some swatches of material and some other nondescript items and knickknacks. There’s a half-finished bottle of wine on the nightstand and no glass, and Butterfly is weeping bitterly.

I come into view of her just so that she can see that I’m here, but she doesn’t raise her eyes. She cries and cries over some shirt she has in her hand—a very worn T-shirt and I can barely make out the letters on the front… USMC.

I want her to at least acknowledge my presence, but I realize now that she can’t. I push some of the items aside and make room for myself on the floor next to her. I don’t know how long she’s been crying, but I wish she would stop because she’s hoarse, now. She doesn’t react when I sit down. She just keeps crying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her more broken except maybe the day she and Valerie broke up, for lack of a better word. My God… Valerie. All her constants are leaving her. Is it because of me? Is she losing everyone important to her because of me?

I gather her frail little frame onto my lap and hold her in my arms as she buries her face in what I can only assume is her father’s Marine Corps T-shirt and the tears starts anew. I vaguely hear Al come into the apartment and then hear him on the phone asking Ray what’s going on.

Don’t call him. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is that his little pristine image of his daughter has been shattered, and if she’s broken and falling apart, it doesn’t matter to him. She’s my responsibility now.

She cries and cries and cries and cries for I don’t know how long. I hold her and rock her, wrapped in a blanket after she starts shivering. My heart is broken for her and hearing her cry tears me into a million pieces. I can’t stop my own tears while hearing the anguish in her voice, so after a while, I just allow them to fall in her hair. She’s broken because of him and I’m broken because of her… so we just sit here, broken.

“Chris…” I hear his voice, but I don’t move. Butterfly still hasn’t stopped crying and I don’t know how to make her stop. “You guys need to eat.”

I think I smelled food earlier, but I can’t eat, not if she doesn’t—not right now, and she won’t stop crying. I don’t move. I just keep rocking her, hoping she’ll stop crying soon.

My own eyes hurt now and my throat is dry. My face is tight from tears falling and drying and falling again. My heart hurts for my beloved, for not being able to take away her pain… a pain so deep that I can’t imagine what it feels like. I cling to her again and kiss her forehead, trying to infuse her with the love I feel to give her strength and stop her tears. My phone has been buzzing incessantly in my pocket, but the world could explode and fall into the sea right now for all I care. My Butterfly is in pain, and I can’t stop it. I can’t do anything to stop it.

The sun has long since gone down and I just want her to go to sleep, now. I just want her to stop crying for a moment and sleep, but she won’t stop. I know that she’s exhausted—still clinging to that shirt—she can’t sleep… or won’t sleep. I’ve tried everything… rubbing her back, singing to her, nothing works. She’s been weeping for hours and I’ve cried with her for some of those—my eyes red and swollen, I know. The pain is a dead giveaway. I can only imagine how she feels.

“Christian…”

Fucking hell, he called my mother.

“Christian, you have to eat,” she says softly. Sorry, Mom, not now. I wrap my arms tighter around my wife, who now cries soundlessly since her voice is completely gone. I can tell that her tears have started anew and it rips me to shreds. I start to weep again.

“I can’t make her stop, Mom,” I say through my tears, without looking up at her. “I’ve tried for hours, but she won’t stop.”

“I can give her a sedative,” Mom says. I shake my head.

“I don’t want to do that without her permission. She’ll just wake up crying anyway.”  My voice is so weak that I barely recognize it.

“She’s exhausted, Christian.”

“I know,” I say, helplessly, “but she won’t go to sleep… and she won’t stop crying.” I sob. “I hate it when she hurts! I hate it! I can’t stand this!” My shoulders shake as I bury my face in her hair, weeping for her as she weeps for her loss. I pull her as close to me as I can, wishing that I could absorb some of her pain, but realizing that I may be transferring some of mine to her. I don’t know what to do. I hear the heavy footfall of male feet and know that Jason or Carrick is now coming to try to convince us to eat or go home. Convince her to stop crying, then maybe we can do something.

“Sunflower?”

Both our heads shoot up at the sound of Ray’s voice. We’re both stunned, both tearstained, both exhausted as we gaze into his face. Confused green eyes look down at both of us before he squats down to us and stares for a long time in utter silence. This is the first time in hours that Butterfly has stopped crying. I can’t be concerned that it wasn’t me that couldn’t make her stop—I’m just glad that she has, though I think it’s because she’s stunned. Nonetheless, she’s not crying.

Ray stares from Butterfly to me and back to Butterfly several times in what seems like several minutes, I don’t know, but after close examination, his gaze softens when he looks at his daughter. Her lip trembles. Oh, God… Please, no more crying, Butterfly.

“I’m sorry, Sunflower,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Daddy…” her lips move, but nothing comes out. She bolts into his arms and sobs silently, her voice gone from crying all day. She clings to her father like life itself and he buries his head in her shoulder. I drop my head from my own exhaustion, taking in deep breaths and trying to clear my thoughts, and craning my neck from side to side, hearing and feeling the audible popping from the stiffness. I grimace from the pain. I feel a hand on my shoulder and wearily raise my painful eyes to see that it’s Ray. He says nothing, just looking at me with sad eyes. I nod and drop my head again and he gives my shoulder a tight squeeze. We don’t need any more words right now.

I manage to get some soup into my wife before carrying her exhausted body to the rainwater shower to try to relax her. She gratefully and silently allows me to clean her from head to toe, putting her hair in the Pocahontas braids again. I find a warm sleep shirt for her to sleep in and I strip down to my T-shirt and boxers. I don’t bother looking at the time; we’re both wiped out. We sleep at her condo that night, curled up in her bed in waterlogged exhaustion.

*-*

I’m the first to wake in the morning. We haven’t moved from the position we started in all night. I don’t want to move right now, but nature calls. I roll out of bed and relieve myself quickly. I need coffee.

I open the door to Ana’s bedroom and I smell food and hear a woman’s soft laughter. Not knowing which woman it is, I make to close the door to find something more suitable than a T-shirt and boxers. I look down and see a carryall and a garment bag on the floor at the door. I pick them up and bring them into the room. Butterfly has clothes here, though I don’t know if she can wear any of them, so most of these are most likely for me.

Inside the carryall are casual things—jeans, sweats, underwear, a robe. A suit and accessories are in the garment bag. I look at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to Butterfly’s bed. It’s after ten in the morning. I hope nothing important is happening today. I don’t remember any appointments on the books. I look at my phone and there are texts and missed calls from Jason, my mom and dad, Ray—all from yesterday and last night. That was the buzzing in my pocket. I put on my sweat pants and the robe over my T-shirt and boxers and go to the kitchen to find sustenance.

I find Amanda and Ray in the kitchen cooing over little Harry in his highchair. They pause when I come into the room and at first, I don’t know how to react. I feel like hell, like I’ve slept for three days and I could sleep for three more. I probably look just as bad.

“Good morning, Christian,” Ray says. Olive branch, I think.

“Good morning,” I say, my throat scratchy, looking for coffee.

“Jason brought some groceries. I made breakfast,” Mandy says. “Would you like some? Eggs and sausage and some toast.” I pause at the coffee pot.

“Yes, please… thank you.” I fed Butterfly soup last night and foolishly didn’t eat myself. My stomach lining is eating itself. I take a swallow of the hot black coffee trying not to scorch my tongue and savor the flavor of it going down my throat. Amanda piles a plate full of scrambled eggs and sausage links and puts a couple of pieces of toast on it before placing it on the breakfast bar. I tear into it like a bear. I’m famished. She and Ray continue their conversation as if I’m not in the room and I’m fine with that. Just let me eat. It’s not like I know what to say anyway.

Before I know it, the plate is empty and a laughing Amanda is placing another full plate of breakfast in front of me. I raise my eyes to her, somewhat embarrassed that I’m eating in front of her like a caveman.

“I’m… sorry,” I mutter. “I haven’t eaten anything since… breakfast yesterday.” I actually had to think about it to remember when I last ate.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a kind smile. “There’s plenty.” She turns back to the stove and cracks more eggs into a frying pan. I look over at Harry, making a mess of his scrambled eggs on his portable highchair. Your mom’s pretty cool, kid, I think to myself. I turn back to my plate and tear in again. I don’t raise my eyes to Ray. My last words to him were biting and I meant every one of them, but the air between us now is tentative.

“How did you sleep?” he asks, his voice cutting through the silence like a bullhorn. I swallow the eggs in my mouth.

“Like the dead,” I say honestly. I can’t remember the last time I cried myself to exhaustion. Even when Butterfly was in a coma, I cried and cried and cried until there was no water left in my body, but couldn’t sleep. I think it had to be when she left me and went to Montana.

“And Annie?” he asks, his voice soft.

“The same, I think,” I say. “Neither of us moved the entire night.” I take a drink of my coffee before shoving a sausage link into my mouth. He takes a sip of his coffee before speaking again.

“She always sleeps hard when she’s upset,” he murmurs. I stop chewing and put my fork on my plate.

“Yes, she does,” I say, staring at my uneaten food. “It’s one of her defense mechanisms; her way of running… without actually running.” I sit there in silence for a moment.

“You can say it,” he says. I raise my eyes to him, asking the question without asking it. “I’m an asshole.”

I stare for a moment, but say nothing. I turn my attention back to my plate, filling my mouth with food to avoid telling him just that. I had said everything I wanted to say to him about his behavior yesterday. I had no desire to revisit the topic.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “You’re a better man for not berating me any further.” He drinks his coffee and I keep eating. I’m reprieved when I hear the door to Butterfly’s bedroom open, but horrified when she bends the corner into the kitchen. She’s grasping her head in obvious discomfort, head down and not looking where she’s going… and she’s headed face first into the wall. My body moves faster than my mind and I’m in front of her seconds before she goes “splat” into the wall. She whimpers slightly at the jolt.

“Wall,” I say quietly. “Your head hurts?”

“Um-hmm,” she mutters, so quietly that you can barely hear her. She’s holding her scar and I know that the blood pumping through that localized spot must be murder right now. I guide her to the seat between me and Ray—a bit of a buffer I think—and help her lay her head on the cold countertop. She protests a bit, but buries her head in her arms. I go to her bathroom and quickly retrieve two Advil and two clean washcloths. Returning to the kitchen, I lament that there is no cranberry juice, but pour a large glass of orange juice instead. I place two pieces of toast on a small plate and bring everything to the breakfast bar.

“Butterfly,” I say softly, leaning down to her ear. She acknowledges with a groan. “Advil.”

She lifts her head like an anchor and I put the pills in her mouth. I put the straw between her lips and she takes a sip.

“More,” I coax, and she sips some more. “Butterfly…” I chide gently. She takes several drags from the straw and I’m duly satisfied. I push the toast in front of her.

“Eat.” She has already buried her head back in her arms and groans in protest. “Just toast… please?” She clumsily reaches for the toast and takes a bite. I sigh with relief and move behind her. I begin to massage her neck, my fingers applying slight pressure along either side of her spine up the nape of her neck to the bottom of her skull. She moans appreciatively and takes another bite of the toast. Good girl. I reward her with more massage and after a few moments, her body starts to come to life.

“I’m sorry…” she says, her voice still hoarse and scratchy. I try not to stop massaging.

“For what?” I ask.

“For running off like that,” she says. “I wasn’t myself. I didn’t know what I was doing…”

“Ssshh,” I silence her self-chastisement, “I know.” I continue my massage.

“I should have listened to you, Annie.” His voice actually causes us both to jump. If I’m honest, I forgot they were there. I was laser focused on my wife and her pain, and she hadn’t opened her eyes yet. She tries to raise her head quickly, but the pain slows her ascent.

“Daddy?” she asks.

“Yes, Annie?”

“How long have you been here?”

“We… stayed the night in the guest room,” he says.

“I’m here, too, Ana,” Amanda announces. Ana gestures towards the sound of her voice.

“Hi, Mandy,” she murmurs.

“Your brother is with us, too,” Amanda adds.

“Hey, Harry,” Butterfly says in a sweet, scratchy voice. Harry responds to the sound of his name with some indistinguishable cooing. Butterfly suddenly gasps.

“My babies!” she says. I put my hand on her back.

“Gail hasn’t called with any kind of emergency, so they’re fine, but I’ll call and check on them, okay?” I tell her. She nods.

“I’m a terrible mother,” she murmurs.

“That’s nonsense and I don’t want to hear you say that again,” I say softly. “You’re a wonderful mother. You can barely stand to be away from them. There’s been a lot going on lately.

“Yeah,” Ray laments, “and I didn’t make matters any better.” Neither of us deny what he says because it’s true… he didn’t. Butterfly is able to finally sit up

, and taste a few more bites of her toast.

“Would you like some eggs, Ana?” Amanda asks, and she shakes her head.

“Just a little?” I press. “Please?” She looks up at me and acquiesces, nodding to Amanda.

“Where were you when she was a kid?” Ray asks. Apparently, young Ana gave her parents a bit of trouble at mealtime. I take the washcloths to the sink and wet them with cold water.

“Why, Daddy?” Butterfly squeaks, and all activity in the kitchen stops for a moment. We all know what she’s asking, and it has nothing to do with his prior question. I continue with my task, wringing the excess water out of the cloths and bringing them back to Butterfly.

“Cold,” I say as I place one on the back of her neck. She jumps at the initial contact, then settles. I fold the other in fours and place it over her scar.

“Daddy… why?” Ray sighs and hesitates.

“You’re my little girl,” he says. “I couldn’t see you doing the things I saw those men and women doing in those clubs and on those sites. It disgusted me. It made me sick. My Annie. My beautiful little Sunflower—involved in this… debauchery! This abominable act!” He grimaces and sighs, shaking his head. “I couldn’t see anything else.”

“I tried to tell you that we didn’t do those things,” she squeaked. “There’s some really sick shit that goes on in the lifestyle. Hell, that’s why we’re in court now, because of a crazy, sick pedophile who brought children into it—children!” she says horrified. “I tried to tell you we are not into that crazy, sick stuff, Daddy!”

“I know, I know,” he says, chastised. “I couldn’t hear you. You’re my baby girl. Don’t you get it?” She shakes her head.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust that I know what I’m doing with my life—that I’m not weak and stupid, that I may need help, but I’m not stupid!

“Annie, I…”

“Listen to her, Raymond,” Amanda says, gently, but firmly. Ray settles immediately, the sentiment on his lips dying as quickly as it was born.

“Has my behavior ever been self-destructive, Daddy? Ever?” she demands, finding her voice. “Have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt myself? To deliberately jeopardize my well-being? Granted, there may have been some situations that some of you may not have liked, but just to be careless and self-loathing and deprecating—has that ever been me? Even when I was living in the depths of hell with my loser mother and her loser husband, was that ever me?” She finally pauses to give him a chance to answer.

“No, Annie,” he says softly. “No… that’s never been you.”

“Then why?” she wails, almost close to tears again. I want to hold her—to run to her and beg her not to cry anymore, I can’t take anymore, but I know she has to get this out… and she needs answers. “Why would you think so little of me, and then to make matters worse, you shut me out! Why?”

“Because I couldn’t understand!” he sobs. “I only saw horrible things! Heard horrible things! Knew horrible things! On leave in different areas as a young Marine, we watched those shows. We saw those shows. More than once, I wondered how these women could allow these men to do that to them. How they could subject themselves to the horrors that I saw! Things that you wouldn’t do to animals!” He wails as tears stream unrestrained down his face. “In some places, I found out that the women were forced to do this stuff because it was part of human trafficking! And here I find out that my daughter is doing it! What was I supposed to think?”

“You were supposed to listen to me!” Butterfly shrieks. “You were supposed to put aside your closed-minded, preconceived notions about what you heard and saw from others and listen to me! I’m a shrink, for God’s sake!” She’s losing control. I slide out of my seat and go to her. “You shut me out! After everybody who has deserted me in my life, you shut me out! How could you do that to me? How could you?”

I touch her shoulder and she spins around, thrusting herself into my arms and weeping bitterly. I envelop her immediately, wanting to shield her from the world and the pain. Little Harry is crying now, disturbed by all the screaming and commotion and Amanda has freed him from his high chair, attempting to soothe him. Ray sits in his chair, running his fingers through his hair and trying to find his words while he dries his eyes.

“I was hurt and confused, Annie,” he says, his voice still cracking. “We do dumb things when we’re hurt and confused; please understand. I don’t expect you to forgive me right away… you may never forgive me, but please… please, understand.”

Butterfly only cries harder and her knees start to buckle under her. I lift her into my arms and carry her to the sofa. The weeping has begun again. I just sit her on my lap and let her cry, ready to settle in for a long day. At least she got some toast, but she’ll never get rid of that headache.


ANASTASIA

My heart feels like it’s going to burst. I was so relieved to see my father last night—I thought I had lost him. It felt like somebody had died. If I could have driven back to my room in Montesano and sat on the swing or cried in my bed, I would have. I was losing my grip on my foundation; it was crumbling from under me. I was reaching for anything that could hold me together… pictures of Mom, him and Mom, me and him, me and Al, the old house, my many mental travels… Harry has Fuzzlewuzzers, so I couldn’t reach for that, but when I saw the Marine Corps T-Shirt that he gave me that I wore to sleep every night the first year we moved to Las Vegas and had to squirrel it away when Mom went rummaging through my things in an attempt to rid me of all things Ray, I lost it. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. My heart broke in a million pieces and bled through every pore of my skin—my eyes the most—and wouldn’t stop bleeding—until I saw him last night.

Yes, the bleeding stopped temporarily, and every cell in my body succumbed to utter exhaustion. I don’t remember much of anything after I launched myself into Daddy’s arms except waking up this morning in my old bed with Pocahontas braids and the headache from hell and knowing, once again, that my husband had taken care of me. Once he had gotten some food and some medicine into me and tenderly began to massage the throbbing from my head, the fog began to lift… and I wanted to know why…

Why, after all I had been through, would my father think that I would deliberately allow someone to arbitrarily abuse me? Why he didn’t just listen to me or ask me questions instead of jumping to conclusions based on his preconceived notions and biases? Why, when we already had to deal with the stigma of what others would think of us, he had to become one of those judgmental, narrow-minded, bigoted assholes that we would have to battle if and when this information ever became public? But most of all, why did he shut me down… turn his back on me and refuse to talk to me with no explanation, especially when he knew how I felt about being let down?

Mom? Edward? Nearly every authority figure from my childhood? Valerie? In some cases, the justice system? And now you?

And what’s his answer? That same narrow-minded bullshit. I’m supposed to understand that when I came to him and was honest with him so that he wouldn’t discover this shit in the media, he turned his back on me! Physically blocked my number from his phone so that I couldn’t speak to him. When I finally did get through to him, he didn’t say, “You have to give me some time; I can’t process this right now.” He didn’t even have the decency to yell and scream at me and ask me why and tell me that he didn’t want to talk about this; he would have to talk about it some other time. He just gave me that lame ass shit, “Can’t talk now, busy,” and hung up in my ear.

And I’m supposed to understand that my hero—my Daddy—shut me down because of this same petty, small-minded, Puritanical, uninformed, “it’s on the internet, so it must be true” thinking that I’ve already had to battle in so many aspects of my life. Yeah… okay… sure thing.

Christian holds me close to him, saying nothing, but rubbing soothing circles in my back. I want to stop crying. I’m tired of crying, but my heart is bleeding again and I don’t know how.

“Please, Annie,” I hear Daddy’s voice across from me, beseeching. “Please stop crying. I can’t take it anymore… please…”

“You made me feel like nothing!” I sob. “Less than nothing! Like nobody! I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, as angry as I am, I would not do that to you! I would never do that to you!”

“I know, Annie, and I feel horrible for that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t see or think straight and I’m sorry. Please, Sunflower… please…”

His voice is so broken that I can’t imagine causing him the type of pain that he’s causing me. I do my best to pull myself together even though my heart is still breaking. Christian smooths my hair off my face and uses his robe to wipe my tears, kissing my eyelids as my weeping subsides. He’s so good to me, so tender and sweet. He makes all the bad feel better. I don’t know what I would do without him here.

“So, what happened?” I say with shuddering breaths, turning on my husband’s lap to look at my father. “What great breakthrough occurred that you suddenly understand that my husband doesn’t use me as some random piece of meat for his sadistic entertainment when the doors are closed?” I couldn’t stop the venom that seeps into the words as I speak them. Daddy sighs.

“I… talked to some people, and some people talked to me.” He throws a glance at Christian, then drops his head. Mandy is sitting on the ottoman next to him, comforting Harry, who was also crying moments ago. Daddy puts his arm around her waist. “They helped me understand how much of a narrow-minded asshole I was being.”

“But you couldn’t listen to me…” I conclude.

“I couldn’t hear it from you, Annie,” he says, “any more than I could hear it from the girls that I saw years ago, in those clubs—even more so from you, because you’re my little girl. I know you don’t understand that right now. I know you can’t. All I can say is that in the future, if your daughter comes to you with some really hard news for you to stomach, remember this conversation.”

I hope to God that I never make Minnie feel like this.

“No offense, Dad, but I can’t see ever making my daughter feel like this,” I shoot. Christian gives me a squeeze. I know this is his way of telling me to give my father a break. I don’t know if I can. I know I have to, because if I don’t, I’ll be treating him the same way that he treated me. That’s no good.

“That’s because she’s a baby,” he says. “Wait until she grows up and the big bad world starts doing horrible things to her… things that you can save her from no matter how hard you try.” His voice cracks and his head falls. “You’d put yourself in harm’s way before you let anything happen to her, but things keep happening and happening… horrible things! Things you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy! And you’re powerless… you’re powerless to stop them…”

He’s not talking about Minnie. He’s talking about me. Of course, he’s talking about me.

“One monster is killed and another monster is right behind it!” he bites through clenched teeth, his fists so tight that his knuckles are white. “They just keep coming and coming and she keeps slaying them—and just when you think she’s found her solace…”

He trails off mid-sentence and weeps so bitterly than the pain in my heart is replaced with sorrow and sympathy for him. I crawl out of Christian’s lap and onto the floor in front of my Daddy. I wrap my arms around his neck and will him to stop crying.

“I just… can’t keep… the Boogeyman away,” he sobs. “I promised… to keep him away… and I can’t!” His body shakes in my arms as he weeps from his soul, and I let him. He won’t be able to hear me until he gets this out… gets over this initial wave, so I just let him cry.

It takes several minutes. Christian has time to get us all some water. Mandy has put Little Harry down to sleep, and I comfort my father, stroking his hair like I do my husband when he’s inconsolable—how I’ll most likely do my children when they cry. When he’s finally had his cry out, my nightshirt soaked with his tears, I attempt to garner his attention.

“You did keep the Boogeyman away, Daddy,” I say softly. “You’re the only thing that did. That’s why it hurt so badly when you shut me out. My ultimate protector, my hero, shut me out… and I was lost.” He raises his head and tired, red, tear-filled green eyes meet my sympathetic blues. “The things that happen to me are not the Boogeyman, Daddy. They’re horrible, horrible facts of life that happen to people every day—maybe not all the same people, but they do. The Boogeyman is what happens here.” I point to my head.

“I help chase the Boogeyman away from other people. Although I have other people in my life that help chase the Boogeyman away for me, you’re the Gatekeeper. You always have been. Even when you weren’t physically there, you were still the Gatekeeper because even though I was taken away from you, I knew you would never leave me. This is the first time you have ever walked away from your post.” I hold his face in my hands and look him in the eyes, refusing to allow him to turn his gaze from me. “Don’t. Do it. Again.”

His lips tremble and the tears begin to fall once more.

“I won’t, Annie,” he says with a shaky voice. “I swear to God I won’t.”

I hug him again and allow him to cry a little longer on my shoulder. Superman wasn’t so super right now and just needed to be vulnerable for a while. I may not ever understand or fully get over him deserting me at one of the moments where I needed him the most, but I do have to understand that he’s only human and we’re all flawed in some way. Even if I want him to be perfect, even Superman has his Kryptonite.

*-*

I’m in my bedroom with my pillow shoved into my mouth, trying not to scream as Christian brings me to my second orgasm. He has licked, sucked, kissed, and fingered my pussy hard, deep, and fast, causing me to quickly explode—once nearly moments after he touched me and again twenty minutes later. I’m panting on my bed, shivering from my releases  and trying to catch my breath. He crawls up the bed and lies next to me, still in his T-shirt and sweats, kissing me on my cheek and neck.

“What…. brought that… on?” I ask between breaths. He kisses me a few more times, then hovers over my face.

“You’ve touched three products since you’ve been in this room,” he says softly while counting on his fingers. “Lotion, moisturizer, deodorant—you’ve dropped all three of them. You needed to relax.”

And relax I did!

“What about you?” I say, closing my eyes while his lips wander back over the skin of my neck.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “When I take you, I don’t want your father and your stepmother in the next room… because the pillow won’t do you any good.” He kisses me gently on the lips, but sensually on the lips. I sink into the delicious kiss, knowing that we both have to get up from here soon. That point was driven home when there’s a soft knock at the door. Christian groans into my mouth and after breaking the kiss and giving my bottom lip a little nip, pushes himself off of me to answer the door. I finally get a good grip on my moisturizer and pour some in my hand, spreading it evenly over my face. My hair has been in these braids all night, so I can either leave it there or take it down and let it flow into soft waves down my back. Did I have anything planned for today. As soon as I’m finished brushing my teeth, Christian comes into the en suite, his expression unreadable.

“What is it?” I ask.

“That was Amanda,” he begins, “Al called Ray because both our phones are dead.” Oh… yeah, I didn’t bring a charger with me. I assume he doesn’t have one either. Maybe I have one around her somewhere.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“The verdict is in.”

*-*

I had less than an hour to get myself presentable so that we could get to the courthouse. Al had driven Christian over yesterday, so we would take my car and rendezvous with Jason and the rest of the security staff near the courthouse. Daddy wanted to be there with me, but we insisted that this was no place for Little Harry. Mandy was pacified to take Harry home and start dinner to allow Daddy to come to court with me on the condition that no matter what the verdict, we come to the house in Kent afterwards for dinner. I was sure that I would miss my appointment with Ace anyway, so I called to let him know what was going on and to tell him that there was a lot that we needed to talk about. He doesn’t usually make house calls, but agreed to come and see me tomorrow at the Crossing since doing so would be easier than opening his office. I agreed to his terms. Seems I was making deals all over the place today.

I also had to make a deal with my wardrobe.

Size four waistline, size I-don’t-even-know boobs and ass… in a size four closet. Hmmmm….

I did find an outfit that would make due, but it clung to every one of my curves, much like that dreaded dress I wore to the fundraising fiasco last year. A charcoal gray high-waisted pencil skirt with side ruching that, had it been made of any other material, would not give me much purchase to move and a black mock turtleneck. I did decide to take my hair down, of course, and wore big, chunky silver jewelry. Someone had brought my purse and phone when they brought Christian’s things—they must have thought I had more at the condo that I could fit. That wasn’t completely untrue, but only a few things that might have been presentable for court, and not many that I could find in the time allotted.

I was forced—not so begrudgingly, I might add—to wear one of my pairs of insanely high-heeled shoes. I chose a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti black leather back-zip stiletto sandals with toe band, S-shaped vamp strap, and ankle strap embellished with silver-tone curb chain to match my jewelry. With nearly a five-inch heel, I was towering over most of the people at the courthouse. My Gareth Pugh bolero insert woven coat had a shawl collar and an asymmetrical hem that draped all over, giving it a suit coat look rather than an overcoat. The same charcoal gray as my skirt with a belted waist, I decided to wear it as just that.

We were almost late getting to the courthouse as Christian freezes when he had comes back into the room, unable to take his eyes—or his hands—off my ass wrapped tight that pencil skirt. When I get a glimpse of him in the mirror, I’m fucking panting. Black on black Hugo Boss suit and the signature black Italian leather shoes… even his shirt and silk tie were black. He’s mouth-wateringly beautiful, and when I turn around to wrap him in my arms and kiss him deeply while he shamelessly gropes my ass, we almost forget that we have somewhere to be.

But alas, we did. So here we sit, in a courtroom packed to the walls with people, only a few seats remaining in the very back. Al had managed to have the front row cleared for us, and no one would dare argue with Chuck and Ben as they stood guard, saving the seats until we got there. I am flanked by my father and my husband, each holding one of my hands, when they bring the Pedo-bitch back into the courtroom. She looks matronly today in a color I never thought I’d ever see her wear.

White.

Well, it’s more of a cream… a sheath dress, very neat and professional. She still looks like a stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell to me.

“That can’t be the same woman,” Daddy says. “Is that the same woman?”

“Yeah, Daddy, that’s what she looks like without all the Botox, lypo, and chemical peels,” I say. Jason chokes back a laugh.

“She needed ‘em,” Daddy says. “She’s not very attractive.”

“She was once,” Christian admits, without looking in her direction, “but after you continuously do that shit, eventually it wreaks havoc on your body.” He has no malice when he says it; he’s just speaking the truth. Just like she’s done for the entire trial, she steals glances over her shoulder at Christian, this time, not bothering to scowl at me. That’s right, Bitch. Get a good look at him. Soon, you won’t be seeing him again for a long time, no matter what this verdict is.


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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 72—Family Affairs

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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 72—Family Affairs

ANASTASIA

“So this is how the other half lives.”

Ace follows me down to my parlor where we will most likely have the most privacy. Ms. Solomon brings coffee down to us before we actually get started.

“Yes, I guess it is,” I say. I never aimed to have this kind of wealth in my life, but I have to admit, it’s very nice. There’s a nice fire burning in the fireplace and we have a view of Lake Washington out the large window. “There’s quite a bit to talk about. I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.”

“Time is money,” he says honestly, “but my afternoon is free.” I sigh.

“That’s good to hear, because I’m positive that we’re going to go over an hour. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well, you’ve missed a couple of sessions. So, we can either go chronologically or in order of importance.” Oh, geez, that makes it even harder.

“That doesn’t help,” I tell him and just start talking. “Christian thinks I have a negative body image.” He looks at me skeptically.

“Do you?” he asks. I shrug.

“I could,” I reply.

“That’s not uncommon for a woman who has just had a baby, you know… although I have yet in my life to see a woman have a baby and look like you!” he admits.

“That’s what everybody says, but nobody’s carrying around these boobs and this ass!” I retort. He raises his eyebrows.

“Ana, your children are just seven weeks old. You can’t expect to go back to your prebaby weight and shape in that amount of time after a pregnancy, although you’re doing a pretty damn good job. But some women never lose their baby weight. They never fully get back to that size. Now, with hard work and exercise, you may achieve that goal, but you can’t beat yourself up if you don’t. You’re still a very physically fit, very shapely young woman…”

Ace and I talk for a while about my body image issues and he even helps me to set some realistic goals about how I want to look and what I want to tone. I promise him that I won’t do anything drastic or unhealthy and that I would be sure to follow up with my doctor to make sure that I’m on the right track. The hard part is going to be believing everyone when they say how good I look and not berating myself if I don’t reach the plateau that I’m hoping for and finally, accepting myself however I look and no longer looking down on my body. Embrace my curves as they will most likely be a part of me for the rest of my life.

Next comes Mr. David. I had told Ace about discovering that Edward’s business had been crooked, but not about turning the business over to the Feds or about the trip to Walla Walla, which I tell him now. Then, right in the middle of my weekend fuckfest with my husband, we get the news that this bastard has shed this earthly coil and made his transition to hell.

“How does that make you feel?” Ace asks.

“Relieved,” I answer honestly. “The fact that he was breathing the same air as me was troublesome. But if I’m honest, the fact that I was relieved that he was dead unnerves me. I drank champagne, for God’s sake!”

“That’s cold, Ana,” he says, “and I’m glad you feel unnerved by it. You’d have to be so kind of cold-hearted bitch not to feel anything at the simple loss of life.” I shrug.

“Don’t give me too much credit, Doc,” I say, “I don’t so much feel this way because David died. I feel this way because I feel this way because David died.” Ace nodded.

“I get it,” he says. “To the laymen, that might have been a bit confusing, but I get it. You’re not pleased that you felt pleased… or relieved… that your ex, your captor, and the man who hurt you and broke your heart and later tried to saddle you with the legal responsibility of his illegal activities, had done the world a proverbial favor and taken his own life.” I nod feverishly.

“I couldn’t have explained it better myself,” I tell him. “You’ve hit every nail directly on the head. What kind of person is happy or feels any kind of relief when another person dies?”

“A human being who has suffered a lot at the hands of that person,” Ace says matter-of-factly. “I’m not saying this is a good thing; I’m just saying it means that you’re human. I’d be concerned if you felt any other way, even if you felt nothing at all about this situation. Now, you just have to find a healthy way to deal with these feelings.”

We talk more about David and hashed through the glee I felt when I told him that his company had been turned over to the Feds. We both agreed that there was nothing particularly unhealthy about that—that was just retribution and closure. Not a person alive would admit to not feeling at least a sliver of joy about that even if they can empathize with human suffering.

We had gone well past our hour by the time I had gotten to Elena’s trial and all the fallout from that—losing my cool when the video was shown; Daddy shutting me out when I tried to tell him about the lifestyle; the verdict…

The day before…

Dinner with Daddy and Mandy was tense at first. Nobody really knew what to say, how to broach any topic that plagued us this week. Emotions were still high after hearing the verdict this afternoon, and I still haven’t gotten a full answer why my father suddenly had a change of heart about me and Christian and the lifestyle. I didn’t want to beat a dead horse, but I didn’t want this to be a point of contention later, either.

“Well,” Daddy says after Mandy brings him and Christian a drink—Scotch, I think, “that was interesting. I’ve never seen that happen in real life, only on the news or on TV shows. I’m surprised that woman had no reaction to the verdict.”

“How could she?” I ask. “Either way, she wasn’t going to see the light of day for at least 25 years. I think this trial was just for show… a three-ring circus. No matter what happened, she would most likely be dead before she served the term for pedophilia. That’s why she looked like she did when she received the verdict—she was no better, she was no worse, and she knew it.”

“Yeah, but even then, after 25 she would be—what? Seventy-five when she was released?” Daddy says.

“If she lives!” I add. “How many 75-year-old prisoners do you know that get released?”

“Even if that was the case,” Christian interjects, “she’s released at 75—she has no children, no family to speak of except for her crazy German aunt. She doesn’t have her submissives anymore; she doesn’t have her money; she doesn’t even have her home. In her old age, her best bet—her closest hope of having someone to take care of her was…” He trails off and I immediately know what he was going to say.

“You,” I finish. “Her best hope was you, and that’s one thing she was counting on.” Christian shrugs.

“Well, it’s a moot point now,” he says. “Today’s verdict guarantees she’ll be a resident of the Washington Department of Corrections for the rest of her natural life.”

He’s right, of course. The jury saw right through her bullshit and found Elena Lincoln mentally competent and guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, and illegal possession of a firearm. She will never see this side of prison walls for the rest of her days. She had been completely stoic when the jury foreman had read the verdict. There were no outbursts, not even a whimper or a shoulder drop. It was like someone was reading the weather reports.

I think she knew the outcome after she had bungled her testimony on the stand. Her attorney most likely told her as much, and there won’t be an appeal. Why bother? The best that she could hope for is to be an old decrepit woman when she’s released and the attorney has no hope of being paid for his efforts. Her sentencing is scheduled for two weeks from Friday and Christian is already preparing his statement to read in court.

The conversation lulls for a moment as Mandy serves up some delicious roasted chicken and vegetables with braised potatoes. Daddy starts talking about some mundane thing to get us through dinner as only certain things should be discussed at the dinner table. Wine and drinks flow after dinner, but I stick to coffee as I have every intention of feeding my children when I get back to the Crossing… and of having this conversation that is an elephant in the room.

“What made you change your mind, Daddy?” I blurt out, no longer able to keep my curiosity at bay. Hell, it was more than curiosity. It was the need to know why he couldn’t believe me when I tried to talk to him about the lifestyle, but apparently, he could believe someone else.

Daddy sighs. He knows that I’m not going to let this go until I get a satisfactory answer—one that can explain the suffering I had to go through, even though it was thankfully only for one day. I’m like a dog gnawing on a bone and I won’t be sated until he makes me understand this level of betrayal that he subjected me to.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get you to understand, Sunflower,” he says with no malice after taking a swallow of his beer. He reaches over and takes Mandy’s hand. “There are a lot of people in my life that I love. You know beyond everything, I loved your mother. I loved your mother with a true, deep, longing love that would have lasted forever, but she couldn’t return that to me—not like I gave it to her. We were happy for many years, but she, too, was younger than me and needed something more. I was a consolation prize for her after she lost Harry, and although she eventually loved me and I eventually made her happy, it wasn’t enough. She wanted something that I couldn’t give her, and I wasn’t enough.”

Why is he telling me this? This has nothing to do why he couldn’t hear me when I tried to tell him about the lifestyle. I know all this already. I know that my mother is and was a selfish bitch. What does that have to do with the here and now?

“I always felt like Carla was my first true love,” he continues. “She was the first one that made me feel that longing in my heart, that crushing ache that makes you want to be part of someone else…” He pulls Mandy closer to him and she responds, gently stroking his cheek with the back of her hand—a tenderness that is so natural between them. “She was my first lust, my desire, my hunger, my first want and need…” He pauses, choked up a bit. “… But my first love, that was you, Annie.”

I’m gob smacked. Oh, my God… what a thing to say! I’m completely speechless.

“I’ve watched you grow from the tiniest little helpless thing, totally dependent on me and your mother. When we were a team, we were a great team, and you never wanted for anything no matter how she tried to later make it appear that your life was lacking. It was her life that was lacking, and when she ripped our family apart, you paid the worst price. I never forgave myself for not fighting harder of you.”

Mandy reaches up and gently wipes a tear from my father’s cheek.

“You went through that terrible, horrible thing in Vegas… and I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t save my Annie…” His voice cracks. “I didn’t even know you had gone through this until I drove down there and demanded answers. She was never going to tell me. That spiteful, hateful, selfish bitch was never going to tell me.” The tears fall harder and Mandy can only lay on Daddy’s shoulder.

“But you rose from all that,” he says, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “My First Love came out of all the drama and trauma victorious. I tried to rescue you… I was still unsuccessful, but in the end, you rose out of it and I got My Love back.”

My heart is breaking; tears flowing freely down my cheeks as I listen to Daddy describe this beautiful and painful relationship with this being that could have been anybody, but turned out to be me.

“And then, I hear this thing… this painful, horrible, terrible thing… and that one thing that I couldn’t save My Love from came flooding back to me, only… it appeared that she was walking into hell willingly.” He drops his head into his hands. “I couldn’t hear… I couldn’t see… I could only feel pain… anger… pure rage… and pain…” He tries to compose himself, but just allows his head to fall back onto his sofa, tears freely falling from his eyes as he speaks.

“I know you tried to talk to me, but I couldn’t hear you. I was hurting too much. I was trying to block it out so that I could just get from day to day.” He choked on a sob. “Then Christian called. He said that you were missing. Then he asked me if I hated you.” I looked over at Christian, who is examining his drink as if It might come alive or something. “I was hard on him—very hard, but he didn’t hear that. All he knew was that you were missing… somewhere most likely hurting because of me. He knew. I was still being an asshole, and he still knew. I said terrible things to him, and he retorted in a way that made me feel so small, so unreasonably stupid, but I didn’t feel it until after the fact.” He never raises his head. “If I haven’t said so, Christian, I’m sorry for how I spoke to you.”

Christian doesn’t raise his head. He simply nods, still looking down into his drink. Daddy looks at his hands.

“Al called next,” he says. “I almost didn’t answer my phone, but Christian said you were missing, so I couldn’t avoid the call. Anyway, Al had questions. He didn’t know what was going on. As the conversation progressed, Al became upset as well—told me that he had never been disappointed in me until this moment. I tried to explain to him what you were doing and why I felt the way that I felt and he said he already knew. I was horrified, but then he said the strangest thing to me… something I never would have expected to hear from someone that I consider a son. He told me that if I hold my wife down or restrain her in any way during sex, I participate in it, too. Then he told me that Annie had escaped to her condo and nobody knew that she was gone. He told me that she was in her room surrounded by memorabilia of me, Carla, and her and her childhood; that if I cared about her at all, I needed to get my ass over there before she had a psychotic break.

“I was still so confused,” he says. “So hurt and confused. The sick shit that I saw in those clubs and on those sites could not be the same as holding my wife’s hands while we make love—it couldn’t. So… I talked to Mandy.”

My tear-filled eyes turn to Mandy. I had asked her to talk to him. She said that she wouldn’t and I understood why.

“I… never practiced anything to do with BDSM, but I am acquainted with it,” she says. “I have a few friends who have practiced the lifestyle for many years. Some of them didn’t even know I knew. Three of them were at my baby shower. One of them left in a hurry and I think it was because her Dominant called, though she never admitted it.”

No, it was because her ex-Dominant was at the party and she had to make a quick getaway. We agreed that she would go back to the party even after seeing Christian, but I think it may have been too much for her and she left anyway.

“Anyway, I know I said I would stay out of it, but it was getting out of hand. I tried to explain to Ray that it happened more often than he thought, that even some of the most clean-cut and professional people he’s ever known are probably closet submissives or dominants. Ray couldn’t get past what he already knew about the lifestyle, so I took a very brave step… and showed him a video.”

“A video?” I exclaim. “Of what?”

“Of a consensual BDSM couple enjoying sensual activities and fulfilling sex in the lifestyle. I had to search for it, but it wasn’t that hard to find. He was reluctant, of course. We’re talking about his little girl here.”

“I’m not a little girl anymore, though, Daddy.” I protest.

“I know, I know,” he says. “That was the first thing I had to get past. My little girl… my first love… not so little anymore.”

“She’s my first love now, Ray,” Christian interrupts. Ray raises a skeptical eye to him. Christian meets his skepticism head on. “Why do you think that woman in the courtroom is so crazy?” he adds. “For years, that woman taught me not to love. She taught me to do that sick shit that you saw on those videos and in those clubs—maybe not to the degree that you saw it, but as far as women would let me go. I know women loved me before or thought they loved me and wanted me to love them back, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. Nobody could get in here.” He pounds on his chest.

“Nobody could break those walls. Nobody could even touch me. Restraining them meant they couldn’t even touch me. I could do whatever I wanted to them, but they couldn’t touch me. Did you know that because of her, my mother got her first hug ever from me only two years ago?”

Daddy’s mouth falls open and Mandy gasps.

“I’m 30 years old. My mother adopted me when I was four and I only started hugging my mom two years ago because of her.” He points at me. “Do you know that no one else in the world can do this…” He grabs my hand and slams it flat to his chest. “… But her? My baby sister can come close. She can lay her head on my chest, but she can’t do this. That’s why that woman in court is so crazy. She programmed me to love no one—no one—and to believe that no one could love me. Butterfly showed me different. She broke down all of my walls without lifting a finger. The cosmos drew us together against our will and I discovered that I did have the capacity to love. Before that, I loved no one. I was very fond of people—my family, even Elena—but I loved no one.

“Then she came along…” He drops his head. “… And I felt things for another human being that I didn’t think were possible. And yes, I’ll tell you honestly that my first thought was that I wanted her to be my submissive, but fate and my heart clearly had other plans for us…”

“But from what I understand,” Daddy interjects, “she is your submissive.”

“That’s right,” Christian confirms, “and I’m hers.” Both Daddy and Mandy gaze at us, thoroughly confused. “We meet each other’s needs in whatever ways are necessary. I demand control in many if not all of my daily functions. She helps me to maintain that. By the same token, there are some times when the opposite is needed to ground me—to ground us and our relationship. There are times when she has to exert dominance over me to kept our relationship on an even keel, and it works for us. Then there are times when our D/s relationship is purely sexual…”

“D/s?” Daddy asks.

“Dominant/submissive,” I clarify for him. Christian takes my hand from his chest and caresses my pulse point.

“There are times when I restrain her or she subdues me strictly for our mutual pleasure and enjoyment,” he says, his gray eyes piercing me.

“What do you get out of that?” Daddy asks. “I mean, Mandy showed me some videos that I thought were… kinky—still a little unnerving, I’ll admit, but kinky… not disgusting. I just don’t see what someone would get from that.”

“It depends,” I interject. “Each aspect may have its own appeal. The blindfold deprives you of one sense so that the others are heightened. So, where a feather on your skin may be just a slight tickle, it becomes extremely intense when you’re blindfolded, particularly because you don’t know what it is or where it’s going to touch you. An erotic spanking or flogging brings the blood to the surface of your skin, also making you hypersensitive to touch and even causing your body to release pheromones.

“Restraints serve many purposes, the biggest I would say is power exchange. You have to trust someone completely with your body and your pleasure to allow them to restrain you. There’s a give-and-take involved in that and it goes both ways. It’s hard to explain, but I can tell you this. Being restrained usually means that in some way, you can’t move. So, you’re forced to sit there—or stand there or lie there—and absorb all the pleasure being bestowed on you. You normally can’t move or grind or rock or anything. You just have to be still because you’re either physically or mentally bound, and the outcome is often quite cosmic for both parties involved.”

“So why do people do that crazy stuff that I’ve seen online and in those clubs?” Daddy asks, and I can hardly believe that we’re sitting here having an open back-and-forth about our kinky sex life.

“For the same reason that we do what we do,” Christian says. “That’s what gets them off. I used to be one of those people. I couldn’t express love and emotion in the traditional way because I couldn’t make a connection. That was all I was taught, so that was all I knew. Of course, I knew how to satisfy a woman, but it usually came along with some pretty hardcore shit.”

“But why?” Daddy pressed. Christian undoes his ties and begins to unbutton his shirt.

“Because that’s what she taught me,” he says. “I didn’t know anything else. I couldn’t be touched; people couldn’t get close; and as far as I knew, love came with a price. So, if I wanted any kind of satisfaction, I had to pay the price.” He opened his shirt to reveal the scars there. Mandy gasps.

“Are those… cigarette burns, son?” Daddy asks. Christian nods. “How is that part of this lifestyle… part of this ‘satisfaction?’”

“It’s not,” Christian says, buttoning his shirt until only the top two buttons remain open. “I was terribly abused before Grace adopted me, and I was adopted at four years old. I was unbelievably emotionally scarred. I don’t have time to even explain to you how deep the damage goes and how it nearly ruined my life. What Elena did distracted me—redirected me, and yes, it did help me in some ways. But it was still wrong. She took an emotionally damaged kid and took advantage of him for own enjoyment. I’ll be honest and say that what she did bridged the gap between not being able to be touched at all and the loving relationship that I have with my wife, but the road I took to get there probably wasn’t the best one.”

“Okay, now I’m really lost,” Daddy says. “You’re contradicting yourself, here, Christian. On the one hand, she did this really great thing for you that helped you make a transition. On the other hand, she’s a horrible pedophile. Which is it?”

“Unfortunately, it’s a little of both,” Christian replies. “What Elena did to me should only have been done between consenting adults. Had she done this when I was 18, I might feel differently about it. Had she done this to truly help me gain control and not to get off on little boys, I definitely would feel differently about it. That’s what I thought it was all this time until I found out that she was recruiting others. She wasn’t doing any of this to help me gain control—that was a byproduct. It was an afterthought. The distraction helped to control my destructive behavior, so it clicked in her head that she could use the distraction to help control my destructive behavior.

“She wants everybody to believe that she set out to help me. She didn’t! It was an accident—a lucky and fortunate discovery. She wanted me, she wanted to control me, and I was a horny, damaged kid who couldn’t be touched. Fifteen years old and a virgin who couldn’t be touched and this is what I was exposed to? Of course, I went nuts! Of course, I wanted more! There was nothing she couldn’t do to me, nothing she couldn’t expect of me, and she exploited that power to the very end.

“At one point in my young life, I thought I loved her. She made it clear that was impossible, and she was right. I was attaching emotion to an orgasm and the anticipation of the next orgasm, and subsequently attaching that anticipation to the person. There was no emotion, no connection, no love between us. Even what she’s feeling right now and what she was feeling over the years was and is simply the fear of loss.”

Daddy is sitting there gaped-mouth, as is Mandy. This is more information than they ever knew about Christian and he just gave it all to them in one sitting. At least, I was somewhat spoon-fed.

“I had no idea you had endured so much,” Mandy comments.

“Well, I don’t advertise it. That’s why when she kept saying that she was trying to save me, I couldn’t understand it. If anything, Anastasia saved me from her without even knowing. Granted, I escaped her clutches before Ana and I started dating, but seeing what the love of a real woman could do for you—one that knows all of your dirty secrets and still loves you—will certainly ensure that you won’t go back down the path of destruction.”

“But if you say that that distraction helped to refocus you, wasn’t it a good thing for you? Disgusting in the eyes of society and any logical person, yes—because you were a minor, but still…” Mandy trails off.

“Cocaine is an immediate distraction from whatever it is that you’re doing. Is that a good thing?” Christian asks and allows the question to settle in. “It may be a drastic comparison, but it’s still the same. There are kids whose lives she has completely destroyed; others who are trying to put their lives back together. My situation is not ‘Oh wow, look how great Christian turned out because of what Elena did.’ My situation is ‘Good grief, she better be glad I didn’t go the other way.’ This situation had the possibility of ending with her staring down the barrel of a gun and me with my finger on the trigger.”

“I can see that,” Daddy says, and I think it’s the first thing he’s understood since we started this conversation.

“This is why this relationship is so important to me,” Christian continues, entwining his fingers with mine. “I could never hurt Ana and I trust that she could never hurt me. We both have horrendous tales and both came out on the better end of it. Yes, I practiced a taboo lifestyle before I met her and yes, it still excites me. When I talked to her about it in the interest of total honesty and full exposure, she told me that she already had experience with it from her college studies. She expressed a growing curiosity in the lifestyle and so far, we’ve just been testing our limits and enjoying ourselves. I’ll be honest and say that the most intense play excites me, makes my pleasure more enjoyable. However, my wife doesn’t go for it so much. A Dominant knows his or her submissive. While he or she may test or push those limits, they still have to honor those limits. A D/s relationship is still a relationship, based more on mutual trust and respect than most traditional relationships.”

Poor Daddy is still shaking his head, trying to comprehend what he’s hearing.

“I know this is a lot of information for you to digest, Daddy,” I say, “and now, I understand why you couldn’t get it when I was trying to tell you. I, of all people, know that this was a conversation that I shouldn’t have had with you over the phone, but like you said… I’m your little girl and you’re my Daddy. Face-to-face, this is hard. The main thing I need you to take from this conversation is that Christian and I love each other very much. We practice an alternative lifestyle in the privacy of our home that may one day become public knowledge. I wanted you to know before you heard it in the press, but he doesn’t hurt or abuse me. We don’t even do the extreme things that you’ve seen. With all that we’ve told you, I’m still sparing you the details of what we do, but honestly, it’s just exploring our sexuality and heightening our sensual experience. That’s all.” Daddy sighs and rubs his forehead.

“I never in a million years thought I would be openly discussing aspects of my daughter’s sex life with her,” Daddy admits, “especially never something so intense as this!”

“Join the club,” I tell him. “But Daddy, I’m so not a little girl anymore. I’m a Mom, now. I’m a woman. I know it’s hard for Dads to look at their daughters as sexual beings, but guess what? I’m a sexual being.” Daddy puts his hand up.

“I know… I know,” he says as Mandy rubs his back attempting to soothe him.

“If it’s any consolation, Daddy,” I tell him, “I had kind of the same reaction when Mandy first revealed that she was pregnant with Harry.” Daddy raises surprised eyes to me and after a few moments, Mandy’s face reddens.

“Oooohh, I can’t believe you brought that up!” she says, with nervous laughter.

“I didn’t give any details,” I say with mirth in my voice.

“Okay, what did I miss?” Daddy asks.

“Nothing, Ray. Nothing,” Mandy says covering her face, blushing and stifling her giggles while I laugh shamelessly at her distress. Daddy turns to her, gently pressing her for information. Christian does the same to me, leaning in to whisper, “Okay, what did I miss?” I lean in and whisper,

“Apparently, my dad’s a stud.”

Present

“Well, the bad guy gets it in the end—or girl in this matter—and your father now knows a whole lot more about your sex life than you intended to tell him,” Ace summarizes.

“No shit,” I say. “We won’t know what happens to Elena for a couple of weeks, but even if she only gets ten years for this, she’s not getting out of that place.”

“I can see that,” he says rising to his feet. “You have quite a bit of homework, Mrs. Grey. I expect full reports on progress each week.”

“I know,” I say rising and walking to the door to escort him back upstairs. “I’ve kept you for quite some time. Stay for dinner.” He shakes his head.

“Thank you, but no. Mrs. Ace will be expecting me.” We take the elevator to the main floor and I walk him to the door. Thanking him for a Saturday appointment. I’m almost attacked by the women when I get back to kitchen.

“That’s your therapist?” Gail asks, incredulously. I can’t help the laugh that escapes.

“Yes, that’s Ace,” I say.

Ace is right!” Ms. Solomon chimes in.

“I thought James was good-looking, but damn!” Gail comments. “Where do you find these hot men?” I laugh.

“Actually, he was a surprise,” I tell her. “I was looking for another therapist and he didn’t even have a picture attached. His credentials were stellar, so I made an appointment. Imagine my surprise!”

“Damn, Ana, do you attract man candy?” Gail asks. I just shake my head.

*-*

I try not to focus on my ass so much in an attempt to accept my curves. It’s so much bigger than it ever has been in my life and if I’m honest, I didn’t know that I could actually ever have an ass this round without enhancements.

Enhancements… hmm…

I guess I better just start embracing my ass.

I started the self-defense classes at the Center on Monday. It was a larger turnout than I expected. Even Jack and his son showed up for the classes. It was a good workout for us all and I’m happy that I decided to do it, but I really couldn’t wait to get home to my babies.

A lot had happened in the past week and it seemed like I was away from them more than I was with them. I didn’t like that. I knew there would be withdrawal from having to spend time outside of the house away from them, but until the fanfare and fascination with Edward’s death and Elena’s verdict dies down, I won’t risk taking them to the center. Luckily, there seemed to be no mention whatsoever in the press of the BDSM lifestyle in association with the Greys… yet. The PSA has been running again, and it looks to run for about another ten weeks, at least. But putting all these faces to abuse, it helps to take the focus so much off of us.

Throughout the course of all of this, James and Allen nearly postponed their wedding. The date is actually only two weeks away, and we haven’t solidified one single thing for the ceremony. I tell him that there’s no way in hell that we’re going to postpone this wedding date.

“I’ll tell you what,” I tell him. “Let’s just do this. Let’s plan a fabulous party, and in the midst of that party, there’ll be a wedding.” Al smiles widely.

“That’s why I love you, Jewel,” he says, kissing my cheek. “You know, I’d be fine with Food and Libations.”

“In essence, that’s really what it’s going to be, but it’ll be bigger, you know that,” I say with a smile. So, Marilyn and I quickly get to work on Operation Wedding-In-Two-Weeks. Determined not to lose my mind like we did with Mandy’s ceremony, we plan a fabulous indoor/outdoor spring party for my best friend’s wedding at Grey Crossing. I am taking full advantage of being Anastasia Grey and paying everybody to come in and do this work for me. It’s so much more fun to just sit back and let someone else do the work for a change.


CHRISTIAN

“Christian, can I talk to you for a minute?” Jason is standing in the doorway of my study looking quite maudlin on Wednesday. What’s happened?

“Come in,” I say, standing from my desk and gesturing to the chairs in front of it. He sits down and thrusts his hands into his hair, his forehead resting on his palms.

“Something has happened… something that may affect my future in your employment.” Oh, fuck, that’s serious. I try not to panic. Jason has been with me for years… many years. What could have possibly happened that means he would have to leave?

“What’s happened, Jason?” I ask, sitting in the seat across from him. He sighs heavily, the weight of the situation dragging his shoulders down.

“I don’t have all the details, yet,” he begins, “but it looks like Shalane has been arrested.” Shalane… arrested. Fuck! “I have to go get Sophie.”

“Where’s Sophie?” I ask.

“At headquarters right now. If I don’t get her, they’re going to send her to Spruce Street.”

“Spruce Street?” I ask horrified. “Why the hell would they send her to Spruce Street? Isn’t that a detention center for runaways?”

“Yeah, but it’s a residential center, too.”

“Oh, hell, no,” I say, sitting back in my seat. “So, what’s the problem? Go get her.”

“You know I’m suing my ex-wife for custody, but we didn’t expect for things to happen this quickly,” he says. “Like I said, I don’t have all the details, but I know that drugs are involved and that my daughter is at the police station. This means that either they were together or the police picked Sophie up from home. If they had picked her up from home, she would have called me when they got there…”

“So she must have been with Shalane when she was arrested.” Jason nods. “Fucking hell!”

“She wouldn’t even call me. They had to dig into the records to find out who the hell she was and that’s how they got me,” he sighs. “So this presents a bit of a problem for me, Sir. Immediately, I need to be concerned about Sophie’s living conditions. In the future, I may need to be concerned about my line of work… if I’m going to be a full-time father.”

“Okay, so I understand your long-run dilemma and we can cross that bridge when we get to it, but what’s the problem with the immediate?” He raises his eyes to me.

“Sir, I don’t own a home, yet, and this is not my house. I can’t make assumptions…” He’s joking, right?

“You’re kidding, right?” I verbalize my thought. “I mean, you’re not serious. You can’t be…” He says nothing. I frown. “Are you serious, Jason?” I ask, appalled. “Fourteen thousand square feet! More bedrooms than we know what to do with… you and your wife live here! Your daughter is about to go to a group home…!” Unless… “Do you not want her to live here? Is that it?”

“Of course not!” he hisses. “That’s not it at all!”

“Then what is it?” I ask, waiting for an answer. He just looks at me, eyes glassy and lost—and we’re wasting time.  “Goddammit, Jason. Activate two-way communications!” I’m about to blow a fucking gasket. “Locate Gail Taylor.”

“She doesn’t know yet!” he says, panicked.

“Well, she’s about to!” I shoot.

“Yes?” Gail’s voice comes over the intercom at my desk.

“Gail, where are you?” After a very pregnant pause,

“I’m in the nursery with Ana and the twins.”

“Good. Fetch some of that overpaid staff that we employ and have them sit with our children. I need to see the two of you in my den, double quick time! We have an emergency.”

“Christian, is everything alright?” I hear Ana ask.

“No, everything is not alright! Please, stop asking questions and get down here. Bring the kids if you have to.” I manually end communications and pass through the French doors to my den. Jason walks in behind me and sits on one of the sofas.

“How long since you spoke to the police?”

“Right before I came to you,” he says, broken.

“Well, get on the fucking phone and tell him that we’re on our way to get Sophie,” I say as I dial my mother’s number.

“Hello, Christian,” Mom says cheerfully.

“Hi, Mom. I hate to impose on you, but are you at home?”

“Yes, son. Is everything okay?” she asks, no doubt sensing the urgency in my voice.

“We’ve got an emergency, Mom. I promise to explain later, but I really need you to come and sit with the twins.” There’s a moment of silence on the phone. “Mom?”

“Yes, Christian. Of course, I’ll be right there.”

“Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate this. I’ll see you soon.”

Baby Mummy Wrap“Why does your mother need to come and sit with the twins?” I raise my head to the piercing blue questioning eyes of my wife. She didn’t leave our children in the nursery. One of them is in Gail’s arms and the other is snugly wrapped in a baby wrap around my wife. I turn to look at Jason who is looking out the window while talking on the phone.

“Ladies, sit down,” I say gesturing to the sofa.

“I’d rather stand,” my wife replies in a rebellious tone.

“Ana please!” I hiss between my teeth before I realize it. I don’t have time for this—sit your ass down! Her demeanor changes immediately and she and Gail take seats on opposite sofas facing me. Jason ends his call and turns around to face us.

“I had to leave a message with… the person in charge,” he says, noting that our wives are in the room. I take a deep breath and let it out.

“Gail, Jason has something that he needs to tell you,” I say, leaning on the desk. He sits down next to his wife and sighs, taking her hand.

“Love, I would never ask you to do anything that you didn’t want to do,” he begins, “but I have to make a major life change starting right now.” Ana looks up at me and I give nothing away.

“Jason, you’re scaring me,” Gail says, worry lacing her face. Jason quickly recounts what he knows about Shalane and Sophie while Gail listens wide-eyed and Ana covers her mouth, clearly horrified.

“Where is Sophie now?” Ana asks.

“She’s at the police station,” I reply.

“The police station?” she asks. “That’s no place for a child!”

“It gets worse,” Jason says. “If I don’t get down there to pick her up, they’re going to take her to Spruce Street.” Butterfly’s head does that delightful angry-bobble-head thing she does. She can’t believe what she’s hearing.

“Spruce Street!?” she nearly shrieks. She deals with troubled teens and broken families. She knows exactly what Spruce Street is. “Are they crazy?”

“Jason, we have to go and get her,” Gail says, her voice small. “We have to go now!”

“We are, Love,” he says. “We’re just waiting for…”

“I’m here,” my mom says, coming into the den with Mia in tow. “What’s going on?”

“Mom, I have to tell you later, we’re going to have to leave…” Jason’s phone rings and he answers it. “Thanks, Mia. I appreciate your help, too.”

“No problem, Christian. Mom says it’s an emer…”

“WHAT!??” Jason roars and I know everything just went from bad to worse. Both of my children begin to cry and Butterfly quickly begins to unwrap herself. Mom takes Mikey from Gail, who then assists Butterfly in undoing this baby mummy body wrap. Jason is still roaring into the phone as Mia takes Minnie from the wrap and Butterfly allows it to fall to the ground.

“Please, Grace, take them to the nursery,” Ana says. “We have to leave right now. I promise we’ll explain everything later. Gail, go. Get your purse. Meet us in the mudroom. Go, now!” Gail takes a moment to get her bearings, then takes off out of the den. Butterfly leaves with Mom and Mia and I have to calm Jason down.

“You’re fucking kidding me! I’ll kill that bitch!” he roars.

“Jason!” I yell. He glares at me. I don’t know what he heard, but he could rip me apart right now. “Sophie!” I say. He composes himself, but only infinitesimally.

“I’m on my way!” He hisses into the phone and marches out of my den. I fall in stride behind him and our efficient wives are at the mudroom door when we get there. We enter the garage and I hold my hand out to Jason, waiting for the keys.

“I’ll drive,” I say, and he doesn’t protest. He and Gail get in the backseat while Butterfly and I ride in the front. He’s silent for the first few minutes until we get on the I-90.

“The bitch told them I’m dead.” I almost hit the brakes.

“What?” I hiss.

“She was doing a drop, Christian,” he growls. “Cocaine.” Butterfly gasps. “Four fucking kilos with my kid in the car, and she tells them that Sophie’s father is dead!” He says the last part through his teeth. The car falls silent for a few moments, and I step on the gas.

We get to headquarters not a moment too soon. Just as we enter, two women and two officers are in the lobby with a hysterical Sophie. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but she’s obviously pleading with them. Jason’s voice barrels over all the voices in the room and causes a dead silence.

“Sophia!” All heads turn towards the bear loose in the lobby.

“Daddy!” she wails, her voice sounding helpless and terrified. Jason squats down and opens his arms.

“Come to Daddy, Baby Boo,” he says. Sophie wrenches away from the worker holding her and sprints to her father’s arms. He scoops her up and stands upright while she weeps bitterly on his shoulder.

“They’re going to take me away!” she sobs. “I don’t know where! Mom wouldn’t let me call you!”

“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. Daddy’s here, now.” Gail steps closer to them.

“Ms. Gail,” she weeps, “they want to take me away!”

“Don’t you worry, Pumpkin,” Gail says, stroking Sophie’s hair over Jason’s shoulder. “If we have anything to say about it, you’re not going anywhere.” I stand by silently, holding Butterfly’s hand while Jason and Gail try to calm Sophie, and the workers and police look on.

“Are you Mr. Deleroy?” one lady asks. She looks like one of the workers.

“No,” Jason nearly hisses. I put my hand on his shoulder to calm him. “I’m Jason Taylor.” Her eyes pierce and she looks in the file. She raises her head.

“You’re Jason Taylor?” she says. “You’re Sophia Taylor’s biological father?” He just glares at her. “Ms. Deleroy said you were dead!” she exclaims.

“I know,” he growls. “She won’t have to worry, though. I’ll be dead to her after this.” Her eyes narrow. Cool it, Jason. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t check into this before you tried to send my daughter to a group home. There’s an open custody case. She has a file with child services. Why didn’t you allow Sophie to call me?”

“We’re really sorry, Mr. Taylor. Under the circumstances, she wouldn’t be allowed to make any calls just yet…”

“So why didn’t you call me? Sophie knows my number by heart! I made sure of it—for just such an emergency!” He’s losing his patience again.

“Mr. Taylor, you have to know that there are protocols that we have to follow. Your wife…”

“My wife?!” he roars again. “She’s. Not. My. Wife! This is my wife!” He pulls Gail forward and she rubs Sophie’s back gently. The worker takes a deep breath.

“Mr. Taylor, I assure you, that we would have gotten to the bottom of all of this. All of this would have come out in the investigation and Sophia would have been placed with you as next of kin…”

“But not before you put her in a group home and traumatized her after whatever craziness has occurred with this batty ass woman!” he accuses.

“Your…” she catches herself before she says it again. “Ms. Deleroy is facing some very serious charges. She had a child in the car with her while she was transporting four kilograms of cocaine. We had to first get the child to safety, then interrogate Ms. Deleroy. She contended that you were dead and that if Sophia insisted that you weren’t, it was a fantasy of hers to help her cope with your untimely death.”

“I see,” he says. “So you’d take the word of a lying, drug-toting, cracked-out criminal over that of a frightened and terrified 12-year-girl. Real bang up fucking system you’ve got here!”

“Daddy… bad words.” Sophie’s muffled voice brings Jason right down. He embraces her warmly and rubs her back.

“I’m sorry, Baby Boo,” he says to her, and she nods on his shoulder. “So what happens now? You know that I’m Sophia’s biological father. She’s not going to any group home, so what do we need to do? She’s traumatized and she looks like she needs some rest and some food. This is no place for my daughter, let alone Spruce Street.”

“We’ll just have to ask you a few questions and then Sophia can be released to you,” the worker says.

“Well, let’s get on with it, then,” he says, never releasing Sophie.

“Hi Ms. Ana… Mr. Chris… you guys came to get me, too?” Her voice is small, frightened, and hopeful. Butterfly chokes back a sob.

“Yes, pretty girl,” Butterfly replies, “we came as soon as we heard. Everything will be alright soon, okay?” Butterfly kisses Sophie’s hand resting on Jason’s back. Sophie sniffles deeply.

“Okay,” she whimpers. It’s clear that she’s exhausted.

“Ana… Chri… Christian and Anastasia Grey?” One of the officers clarify. I sigh—here we go.

“Yes, sir,” I say, as humbly as I can. Oh, please, don’t let my presence ruin this for Jason.

“If you don’t mind, may I ask what your role in this is?” the officer asks.

“Yes, sir. Mr. Taylor is head of personal security for my family and my estate. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are both in my employ.” The officer nods and writes something down.

“Doesn’t that mean that Mr. Taylor is away from home a lot?” the worker asks. She still hasn’t introduced herself.

“Ms…” Let me help you with that.

“Ironically, my name is Mrs. Taylor,” she says. Gail flinches.

“Mrs. Taylor, Jason lives and works on-site. Except for a normal workday for the most part, he’s not away from home. Additionally, Mrs. Taylor is manager of our estate. She’s there most of the day and night. She also serves as part-time nanny when my wife needs assistance caring for our twins.”

“And if Sophia goes home with you all tonight, where would she reside?”

“She would stay in one of the several spare bedrooms of our mansion or in the private suite with Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, whichever Jason prefers.” Mrs. Taylor turns to Jason.

“You all have a private suite?” she asks. He kisses Sophie on the cheek and puts her down. She immediately goes over to Gail and wraps her arms around Gail’s waist. Gail bends down and kisses her hair, paying attention only to Sophie at this moment.

“Yes,” Jason says, “we have a private apartment on the estate, but we spend most of our time in the main portion of the house.”

“Is that a requirement of your employment?” she asks without malice. Jason turns to me.

“May I answer that, Mrs. Taylor?” I ask, pushing the alpha male back with brute force so that Jason’s chances aren’t ruined by my aggression.

“Yes, sir, please do,” she says. She seems accommodating and professional. Let’s hope this goes well.

“Gail and Jason spend a lot of time in the main portion of the house not only as part of their employment, but also because they’re like family to us.” I have reverted to using first names to drive my point home. “Jason saved my life—literally saved my life. He found my wife when she was kidnapped. He’s my best friend. That’s not just an expression, he is my best friend and he was the best man at my wedding. I walked Gail down the aisle and gave her away at their wedding. She runs my household like a well-oiled machine. She helps to care for my children. She has nursed my wife back to health on more than one occasion, and she and Ana are very close. If Sophie came to stay with us, she would become part of that family. She would be well cared for, her schooling wouldn’t be interrupted, and she would be around familiar people who are very fond of her. I think that would be a much better option in the best interest of the child than going to a group home… don’t you?” My voice is hopeful and questioning. Mrs. Taylor nods.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, I would have to agree with you,” she says after a pause. “Mr. Taylor, Mrs. Taylor, I will have to speak with you in private.” Gail kisses Sophie’s hair and releases her hand. The second worker moves toward them after Gail releases her hand. Sophie turns glassy, frightened blue eyes to Butterfly.

“Ms. Ana?” she says, her voice desperate. Butterfly holds her hand out to Sophie, who runs to her and wraps her arms around Butterfly’s neck. At twelve, she’s only about half a foot shorter than my wife. Butterfly embraces her warmly, kissing her hair like everyone has done before.

“Don’t worry, Sophie,” she whispers, cradling Sophie’s head. “We’re not going to let them take you away.” Sophie nods and clings to Butterfly. I look at Mrs. Taylor.

“She can stay here with the Greys for now,” she says to her colleague. “She’ll be fine.” Her colleague nods and they escort Jason and Gail to the back. Butterfly guides Sophie to a seat and the shrink comes out.

“No one’s been unkind to you, have they, Sophie?” she asks. “Nobody’s hurt you or anything?”

“No,” Sophie says, calming a bit. “Mom told them Dad was dead, and they wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell them that he wasn’t. I don’t know why my mom’s such a bitch!” she hisses. I look up at the officer at the front desk who is eyeing us speculatively, but Butterfly and Sophie are in their own world, paying him no attention.

“It’s not nice to talk about your mother that way,” Butterfly scolds softly.

“But she is,” Sophie whines. “Why would she do this? Why would she do something stupid and then let them take me away instead of telling them about my father? How could you do something like that to a kid?”

“I don’t know, Sophie, and I’m not saying that it’s nice, but you still shouldn’t talk about her that way, okay?” Sophie nods. The officer rises from his desk and comes over to us.

“Listen, the lobby’s no place for a kid. All kinds come through here. Why don’t you guys let me take you to the back… to a private area… clean, more comfortable, no exposure to any riffraff?” I look at his badge… Sullivan.

Oy!

“What’s you first name?”

“Joseph,” he says.

Thank you, Joseph. That’s very nice of you. Yes, I think we’d like that.” He nods. He makes a quick call and then stands.

“Please, come with me.”

This is the first time that I’ve had a pleasant experience with the police. He leads us to a door where another officer opens and leads us inside. He silently takes us to a room with a table and chairs and two comfortable sofas.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asks. “Coffee or soda? Water?” I shake my head and Butterfly replies, “No, thank you.” Then she adds, “Sophie, are you thirsty?”

“No,” Sophie says, softly. The poor child is exhausted. I take in my surroundings very carefully as the officer nods and leaves the room. I give Butterfly a quick kiss on the cheek as I whisper, “The room is probably bugged—audio definitely, visual maybe.” Like the pro that she is, she looks at me adoringly, smiles sweetly and nods.

“Come on, Sophie. Let’s get comfortable. Are you cold at all?” she says as she and Sophie take a seat on the sofa. Sophie shakes her head.

“Did they try to ask you any questions before we got here, Sophie?” I ask her in a non-threatening tone. I squat down in front of her so that she’s looking down at me instead of up at me to help her feel more comfortable. It works.

“Yeah,” she says with a nod. “They wanted to know if Mom went anywhere while I was in the car, but Daddy always told me not to answer questions for the police unless I was in trouble. In that case, I only needed to give them my parents’ name, address, and phone number. Well, my parent was there and they wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell them about Daddy because Mom already said that he was dead.”  She shakes her head. “It didn’t matter because I didn’t know what was going on anyway.” I nod at her.

“You did just right. We’ll get to the bottom of this,” I say with a smile before sitting on the sofa.

“Sophie, why don’t you lay down and rest for a while? I’m sure Jason won’t be too much longer and then we can go home, okay?” Sophie nods and lies down. Butterfly places one of the sofa throw pillows on her lap and Sophie lays her head on it. Butterfly strokes her hair like she does mine when I’m stressed about something, and Sophie is out cold in 30 seconds flat.

“I better keep my eye on you,” I tell her. “You’re too good at that.” She chuckles.

“She wasn’t going to rest any other way. She’s too worried,” Butterfly says, still stroking Sophie’s hair. “She’s an old soul still trying to be a little girl, stuck in this uncomfortable-turned-terrible situation and I don’t think she has the slightest clue how to handle it. Do you have any idea what’s happening?” Conscious that the room is bugged, I shake my head.

“Near as I can tell, it has something to do with drugs, but I don’t have any details. Jason was more concerned that he would have to quit.” She frowns.

“Quit? Why?” She’s horrified.

“He thought he would have to. He didn’t know how comfortable we would be with Sophie coming to live with us.” Her face falls.

“You’re not serious,” she says. I nod. “Oh, that’s ridiculous! That huge house with all those damn bedrooms, someone around 24-7…”

“I know, I know, I told him the same thing,” I say before she goes off on a rant. She sighs.

“She told them that he was dead,” she says. “That’s awful. That’s one really bitter woman. I would be afraid to even put something like that in the universe.”

“Tell me about it,” I concur. She lays her head back on the sofa.

“What I wouldn’t give for a nice long stretch of quiet and boring for a while,” she says mournfully. I wipe away the loan tear that falls from her eye with my thumb.

“We’ll have our day, Mrs. Grey,” I tell her. She looks longingly into my eyes and sighs. I keep stroking her hair and her eyes become heavy. In no time, she’s asleep with Sophie. I kiss her forehead, pull out my phone and begin to check my emails.

This short talk went on for quite some time, because I’m nearly done with emails and Butterfly is stretching and waking up now… and still no Gail and Jason. She cracks her neck and looks at me.

“How long have I been asleep?” she asks. I look at my watch.

“I don’t know, maybe an hour.”

“An hour!” she replies quietly, trying not to wake Sophie. “What’s going on in there, the Spanish Inquisition?” I stand and pop my neck.

“They’re just being thorough, baby. Her mother just took her on a drug drop from what I understand.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“Poor child,” she says, looking down at a still-sleeping Sophie. “She’s exhausted… probably hungry, too. A few months ago, she was at a Build-A-Bear with me! She built High School Musical bears of Troy and Vanessa and now we’re rescuing her from a drug drop and group home! This is insane!” She’s whisper-hissing, but her anger is palpable. “I swear to God, if I ever see that hideous woman again…”

“You, me, Jason, and Gail… get in line, baby.” She shakes her head vigorously and pulls out her phone.

“I need to call Grace,” she says. “We left with no explanation and I at least want to check in… and I want to check on my babies.” The phone is up to her ear in moments and she turns her head away from the door. “Grace, hi… No, I can’t talk about it over the phone, but hopefully we’ll be home really soon and we’ll explain everything… Yes, I know, Christian and I were just having the same discussion…” As she’s talking, the door opens quietly and in walks Jason, Gail, and Mrs. Taylor. I found it strange that they felt the need to keep quiet, further confirming my suspicion that the room is bugged. Butterfly keeps talking to Grace while I furrow my brow at Jason. In that manner that we’ve perfected for years now, he throws his eyes briefly up to the corner of the room, informing me that we have in fact been on Candid Camera for the last hour or so. I give a discreet nod and turn back to my phone while they observe Butterfly on the phone with my mother.

“How are my babies?” Perfect timing, Butterfly. Mom says something that makes her smile. “She knows it’s Mommy… Put the phone to her ear… Hi, Minnie!” she says in the sweetest little voice. “Mommy loves you, Minnie. I’ll be home as soon as I can, be good for Gammy. I love yooouuu…” she scoffs. “Oh, Grace!” Apparently, my mom took the phone back. “Where’s Mikey?… Oh, I shouldn’t be surprised. He needs his rest, he’s Mommy’s little hell-raiser… Well, hopefully we won’t be much longer… I know this is strange, but we’ll tell you everything when we get home… Thank you, you’re wonderful. Kiss my babies, tell them Mommy will be home soon… Bye, now.” She ends the call.

“Minnie’s fussing a bi… Oh!” She covers her mouth and stifles a startled scream when she sees the room is full of people, all smiling at her conversation with her daughter. “That was mean!” she whisper-hisses again.

“We didn’t want to interrupt your conversation with Minnie,” Jason chuckles. Butterfly sticks her tongue out at Jason.

“You’re fired… again!” she says as she gently tries to rouse Sophie. “Sophie?” She only whimpers and snuggles into Butterfly’s lap. Butterfly shrugs.

“Don’t,” Jason says. “Let me get her out of here, first.” Butterfly nods and Jason scoops Sophie into his arms bridal-style.

“Come on, Baby Boo, let’s get you home.” She nuzzles into her father’s chest and doesn’t wake.

“We’ll be in touch, Mr. Taylor,” Mrs. Taylor says. “Mrs. Taylor.” She proffers her hand to Gail who accepts the shake.

“Mrs. Taylor,” she says with a chuckle.

We emerge from the back of the station only to discover our troubles are just beginning.

“Fucking hell!” I breathe. Paparazzi… en masse, more than I’ve seen in quite some time, even at the hospital after the babies were born. I turn to Jason. “I’m sorry.”

“This is not your fault,” he says. “If anything, we all got pulled into this by the b…” he looks down at a sleeping Sophie. “…Cow that brought us here.” Butterfly springs into action. I take off my jacket and cover Sophie’s head and face.

“Can’t you help us?” She says to the officer behind the counter. “These people are just trying to get a story and there’s a child involved here… please…” The officer looks at her, then picks up the phone.

“One minute,” he says as he makes a call. I tuck Butterfly under my arm and we wait. A few minutes later, four uniformed officers come from the door behind the counter and walk to the front door. I turn back to the officer.

“Thank you, Joseph,” I mouth and he nods at me. When I get to the door, I hear the officers telling the press to move away from the stairs or risk being arrested. A black-and-white drives up with lights flashing. I look at Jason and smile.

“Your ride is here,” I say. He smiles at me and he walks out of the building with Sophie, Gail, and a police escort. We stand back and make sure that they’re in the car before we try to leave. I take my wife’s hand.

“Ready, Mrs. Grey?” She smiles.

“Ready.”

“No impromptu interviews this time.”

“Yes, sir,” she says. I squeeze her hand and we leave the station.

*-*

We make it home without incident as even the press is not dumb enough to follow the police with lights and sirens blaring in an obvious attempt to evade them. Jason and Gail get Sophie comfortably to bed and Butterfly goes to check on the twins. I later find her in the kitchen having coffee with Mom and Mia, explaining the evenings events when Jason comes in to join us.

“How’s Sophie?” Butterfly asks.

“Already traumatized,” he says, retrieving a soda from the refrigerator. “Can you talk to her, please?” he asks Butterfly. “I’ll pay you.”

“Jason!” Butterfly says in a scolding voice.

“I just didn’t want to assume…” he begins, and Butterfly throws a threatening look at him. That conversation falls dead in the water. He shrugs. “Gail is wiped out. She asks if you can handle the twins tonight.”

“Of course,” Butterfly says, sipping her coffee. “We have a new problem, now.”

“What’s that?” I ask with a furrowed brow.

“Gail’s a stepmom now. She can’t focus all her attention on our children and neglect hers. She’s going to need some help.” Oh, hell, I hadn’t thought of that.

“Another nanny?” I ask in despair.

“It doesn’t have to be live-in like Gail,” she says, “but she is going to need some help. Worse, who am I going to find that I can trust with my children?”

“I can ask around,” Grace says. “You know in my circles, there’s always a line on good—and bad—staff.”

“I’d appreciate that, Mom,” I say with a sigh.

“And you can ask some of the members at your country club,” Mia says.

“Oh, good God, we haven’t even been to the country club with everything going on,” Butterfly laments. “Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of Meet-N-Greet?”

“Yeah,” I answer, uninterested. “I don’t remember when it was… or when it’s supposed to be.” I turn to Jason. “What took so long at the station? She said a little chat and it almost lasted two hours.”

“They had to change the records that I wasn’t dead, then get an emergency placement order for Sophie. I never did see Shalane and I really don’t want to. I bet I won’t have any problems getting custody now. But get this. I still have to pay her child support until that court changes the order, even though the kid is with me. Isn’t that rich?”

“Gotta love our system,” I say, sipping my coffee.

“That’s okay. It’s fine. I’ll do whatever they tell me to do, but she’s never getting her hands on Sophie again. Here’s a day she’ll mark in her calendar, if she hasn’t marked it already. God knows I have. Ironic.”

“How is it ironic?” Butterfly asks. My question exactly. I can see tragic, but I can’t see ironic. Jason scrubs his hands over his face.

“A year ago today, that blonde psychopath shot me.”


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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 70—She-Thing Speaks

GREAT NEWS!!!

You all can kill that super long email. I have two REAL email addresses now, so save these instead...


bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com
AND
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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 70—She-Thing Speaks

ANASTASIA

I always scan the morning news online before I start my day. Today, I’m more than anxious to see what has been said about the trial. Most posts say basically the same thing:

Grey’s camp released a statement yesterday just as Mr. Grey was testifying that he was one of the boys that was molested by Elena Lincoln years ago. While the evidence piles up more and more against the Seattle socialite, Grey shares an intimate moment with his wife in the halls of the Superior Court following his testimony and before joining his friend and bodyguard, Jason Taylor, in the courtroom. Oblivious to the nearby cameras, Mr. and Mrs. Grey comfort each other tenderly before Mr. Grey reluctantly releases her and leaves her in the capable hands of her personal bodyguard, Charles Davenport. This hidden camera catches the longing look in her eye as she watches her husband disappear back into the courtroom while she anxiously awaits his return or her opportunity to join him. Sorry, folks, for those of you who may have doubted, this kind of affection can’t be faked. This is the real thing. These two are smitten and besotted with one another, even during this trying time—no pun intended.

There’s no mention yet of any speculation of Underwood’s comment about Christian partaking in the lifestyle, even though it was hinted at in the courtroom according to my husband. He’s right, though. That bitch won’t hesitate to throw him under the bus given the opportunity.

I want to try to talk to Daddy again today, but not first thing in the morning. I’ll try to call him during lunch to see if the shock of the situation has worn off at all and he’s more receptive to reason. I can understand why this would be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s only because he’s not getting the correct picture of what we do. Our practice is sensuality, not torment. I need him to see that—see his daughter as a sensual creature, which all women are… not a sexual deviant, which I definitely am not.

When we arrive at the courthouse, I discover that some of the police officers as well as the staff at GEH testified yesterday. Today, we will be hearing from more officers from the scene, miscellaneous witnesses, hospital staff, forensics, and finally, the psychiatrist for the prosecution. She-Thing is dressed in black today, a conservative suit like the one she wore yesterday, still sporting the handcuffs as is protocol, her hair still in the same short, curly style. No use in keeping the brassy blonde when you can’t get touch-ups, right?

She stole more glances at us today, looking longingly over her shoulder at Christian and scowling when I turned my glare to her. I made sure to turn my glare to her every time I caught her stealing a glance at my husband.

I showed little interest in the dry testimony of the officers and staff. It was the same old story over and over, just from different points of view—coming into the office to find Elena unconscious and badly choked and beaten; where they found the gun; taking Jason’s statement once he was conscious. Then the hospital staff describing her nervous breakdown or whatever you want to call it. We took a break for lunch and I called my father, but it rang through to voice mail. So, I left him a message to please call me back so that we could talk.

I was very interested in the psychiatrist’s evaluation—the one for the prosecution, that is—to see what he feels about the defense’s claim of acute pathological narcissistic personality disorder.

Pathological narcissistic bullshit is more like it.

It appears that the psychiatrist for the prosecution agrees with me. This condition is nothing more than some psycho-babble-mumbo-jumbo set of words strung together to further make our profession look like a cauldron full of quacks. According to the good doctor, Mrs. Lincoln shows absolutely no signs whatsoever of any diminished capacity or of the lack of knowledge or belief that her actions would have very severe repercussions. In fact, she was so in tuned to her actions that she would go to great lengths to convince the court and anyone listening that she had no idea that the laws of the land, morality, or even science applied to her if it meant that she could get away with what she did. She’s not incompetent, incapacitated, or deluded, narcissistic, or selfish to the degree of diminished capacity. She’s just a scorned lover and a very good actress, but the trained eye can see right through her.

The prosecution rests with the good doctor’s testimony and court is adjourned until Wednesday morning. I try to reach my father again after dinner, but still no luck. Is he avoiding me?

Wednesday morning is the day we’ve all been waiting for… or dreading, depending on your point of view. This is the day the defense presents its case and Elena Lincoln will take the stand. Her attorney thought it best for her to testify last, so hospital staff in her defense testify about how broken she was when she was brought in after the melee with that “brutal woman,” and how fragile she was during her breakdown. Prison staff talk about suicide watches and often finding her with unexplained bruises that they felt were self-inflicted. The prosecution rips them apart, pointing out that if those bruises were indeed self-inflicted, doesn’t it stand to reason that Mrs. Lincoln was so wracked with guilt over her actions that she felt she deserved some sort of punishment for her actions after all? No one provides a suitable answer.

Finally, the defense’s expert witness is called to explain the particulars of acute pathological narcissistic personality disorder. He’s so busy talking in circles that even I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. I couldn’t believe the court approved this man to be an expert witness for the defense, but hey, at least they didn’t just pull a rabbit out of a hat and try to put him on the stand like David did. Once again, the prosecution rips him apart. Skinner makes this joker explain every single sentence he tries to put past the jury. He makes the doctor break each term further and further down into laymen’s terms until the average man can understand what he was trying to say. When the doctor tries to explain something away with, “Well, to try to explain the intricacies of the human brain to that level of detail would take more time than we have, counselor, since you have no medical degree,” Skinner retorts with, “But doctor, a woman’s life is at stake here. Twelve people with no medical degree need to understand what you’re trying to tell them so that they can decide her fate. They have all the time in the world. You don’t?”

I really like this guy.

Needless to say, that pathological acute kiss-my-ass mumbo-bullshit was exactly what the prosecution said it was when Mr. You-Don’t-Have-A-Medical-Degree broke it down.

When lunchtime came around again and Daddy’s phone went straight to voice mail, I left him a message and decided to call Mandy.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mandy. It’s Ana. How are you?” She’s quiet at first, but then she speaks.

“I’m fine, Ana, how are you?” I pause.

“He’s told you,” I conclude.

“Yes, he has,” she says noncommittal.

“And your conclusions?” I ask. She sighs.

“I’m not one to judge, Ana,” she says. “What people do in their private time has nothing to do with me.”

“It’s not what he thinks…” I begin.

“I can’t get in the middle of it,” she cuts me off. I’m taken aback.

“Okay, what do you think?” I ask.

“Like you, I know there are different aspects of the lifestyle. I have friends who are involved.” I know!

“Then why can’t you help me help him understand that?” I plead.

“Because he’s my husband, Ana. You have to understand where that puts me in this.” As much as I don’t want to admit it, she’s right. I want Daddy to understand and I want her help, but I can’t pull her into this.

“I do. You’re right. I’m sorry. Is anything wrong with his phone?” I ask.

“Not that I know of,” she says. I nod.

“Then he is avoiding me,” I say out loud. “Okay, thanks Mandy.” I say my goodbyes and end the call. I put on a brave face and go back to the courtroom to hear Elena’s bullshit testimony.

*-*

“State your name for the record.”

“Elena Gabriele Lincoln.”

“And Mrs. Lincoln, where do you reside?”

“Currently with the Washington Department of Corrections.”

“How about before that?” her attorney asks.

“I had a home in Kirkland.”

“And what happened to your Kirkland home, Mrs. Lincoln?”

“It was seized as evidence in a criminal investigation. I think it’s in the hands of a trustee now.”

“Mrs. Lincoln, can you tell the court what criminal investigation resulted in the seizure of your home?”

“Objection, Your Honor. Relevance?” Mr. Skinner protests.

“Your Honor, we are serving to establish Mrs. Lincoln’s state of mind at the time of the alleged crime. This information is pertinent to that establishment,” the defense retorts.

“I’ll allow it, but tread carefully, Mr. Underwood,” the judge warns.

“Thank you, Your Honor. Mrs. Lincoln, again, what criminal investigation resulted in the seizure of your home?”

“I… was charged with child pornography, statutory rape, and molestation charges.” Members of the jury gasp. I can’t believe they found twelve people in the state of Washington who don’t know who this woman is. I know Christian mentioned it in his testimony, but I think it had more impact coming from her own lips.

“How did you fare on those charges?” Underwood asks. She-Thing sighs.

“Twenty-five years,” she answers.

“Tell us how this came about, Mrs. Lincoln. How did you find yourself in this predicament?” That’s easy. She beat and fucked young boys. Do we really need to hear this part again? She drops her head.

“The way that I was brought up, there was nothing wrong with what I did.” What the fuck? Did she really just say that!? “If a person consents to it, then it’s okay. Age had nothing to do with it and even if it did, the rules don’t apply to me.”

What? What the hell is this? I look over at Christian and his face is impassive, completely stoic. How could he sit there and listen to this crap without wanting to leap over the half-wall and kill this bitch?

“I’m sure that the court would like to know why you think the rules don’t apply to you, Mrs. Lincoln,” her attorney says.

“Because they don’t,” she said with a shrug. “I’m superior. I’m not plain or ordinary like everybody else. The rules apply to them, not to me. I’m extraordinary. I’m special. It’s different for me.”

“So, by your reasoning, even though the law says that it’s not okay for anyone to have sex with underage boys, it was okay for you to do it because you are different.” She just laughs.

“That even sounds ridiculous to me,” she admits, “but yes, I am different. The rules that constrain society—America, even—they don’t constrain me because they don’t apply to me. My level of excellence is so far beyond the conception of ordinary people. This is why I didn’t have many friends because they couldn’t comprehend me. They couldn’t reach my level. It was impossible for them to grasp my superiority, so I had to leave them behind.”

“But little boys could grasp your superiority?”

“Yes, because they were untainted,” she replies like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I didn’t have to explain away who I was with them. They accepted my superiority and allowed to me to mold them and shape them. They were fine with what I was doing. It’s everyone else that didn’t like it because they didn’t understand. They couldn’t interpret my greatness so they slapped a societal label on me and said that I was hurting young boys. Why don’t you ask the young boys? They would tell you different.” She looks right at Christian who is still looking at her impassively.

“Mrs. Lincoln, you had to know that there was something wrong with what you were doing. I mean, you did it at night and behind closed doors. You hid the evidence in priceless books…”

“I’m sorry, Counselor, do you have sex on your front lawn?” she says in all seriousness. Does she honestly think there was nothing wrong with what she did or is this all part of her defense? That’s when it hits me. Months ago, Christian asked me if she could use narcissism as a defense and it looks like that’s exactly what she’s trying to do. That’s why he’s sitting there impassively, because he knew this was coming. Holy shitballs! I squeeze his hand gently and he squeezes back to let me know that he is still there, but he never takes his eyes off She-Thing.

“Mrs. Lincoln, let’s fast forward a bit to a little over a year ago. You had one friend, didn’t you?” She smiles at the thought of it, psycho fucking bitch.

“Yes, I did,” she says wistfully.

“And who was that friend?”

“Christian Grey,” she says, almost purring. “I’m not allowed to say his name out loud at the prison. They punish me for that.”

“Objection. Your Honor?” Mr. Skinner leaps from his seat.

“Sustained. Counselor, direct your client not to make accusations on the stand unless she can back them up and she is ready to press charges. If she wants a full-on investigation, then by all means, proceed.” Underwood looks at She-Thing, who briefly blanches white as a ghost before returning to her superior self.

“Tell the court about your friendship with Christian Grey.” She folds her hands and sighs.

“We were partners in my salon chain, Esclava, but we were much more than that. We were kindred spirits. He understood me. He let me be myself when I was around him and we shared many things.”

“Were you lovers, Mrs. Lincoln?”

“Yes,” she confessed. “We were lovers for many years. He was insatiable and I couldn’t get enough of him.” She drops her head again. “He had other companions, part-time playthings…” Oh God, is she going to out him on the stand like Christian said? She certainly has nothing else to lose. “… But I was the one he always came back to… eventually. As time went by, our interludes became fewer and fewer until… he… didn’t seem to want me as much anymore. Then she showed up and suddenly, he didn’t want me at all!” she hisses.

She-Thing throws a murderous look in my direction and I can actually hear Christian growling.  My glance goes quickly to his stoic face as does the eyes of several people in the courtroom, but he never breaks his glare with She-Thing. She must not have heard him because she’s still glaring at me.

She, Mrs. Lincoln?” her attorney presses.

“That woman, and I use that term lightly. Anastasia Steele!” Her tone is venomous.

“You mean Anastasia Grey…”

“No, I mean Anastasia Steele. I will not now, nor will I ever call her by that name!” People in the courtroom are just shaking their heads. Her hatred is thick and suffocating, so tangible that it’s hanging in the air like old cobwebs. I never break glance with her. Go ahead, Grandma, make a move. I’ll beat your ass again!

“When she came along, she turned him against me. She filled his head with lies about our relationship. She convinced him that I was out to get him, that I was no good for him. I made him everything that he is and she took it all away from me in no time flat. I had spent years building him into the man thatz he became and she tore him down—into a shell of his former self—in a matter of weeks! It was devastating to watch!”

“Surely you’re wrong, Mrs. Lincoln. I mean, he seems perfectly happy now,” her attorney continues.

“It’s all an act,” she says, waving him off. “Would you be so ready to tell the world that you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life after you’ve flaunted your decision on live television? The whole kidnapping scandal and that farce of an engagement… Every time you look around, she’s got a camera in her face.”

“But it couldn’t have been a farce. They’re married,” he says. She scoffs and throws her hand again.

“All a part of the act,” she says callously. “Make no mistake, Christian loves me. I don’t know what this game is that he’s playing with her, but ultimately, it’s always me.” She crosses her legs and smiles confidently.

“If you love him so much, why did you try to kill him?” her attorney asks, his tone changing to maudlin as he awaits her answer. She swallows hard before responding.

“I wasn’t trying to kill him,” she says, her voice shaking. “I was trying to free him. He was trapped. I’m telling you, he was nothing like the man who I knew for so many years. He changed. He was making bad business decisions, he was cutting off the only friends that he knew, he was acting completely out of character, and I couldn’t get through to him. I tried. Lord knows, I tried. Every time I tried, she was right there to head me off. I couldn’t get to him. He wouldn’t see me or speak to me. It was like he was hypnotized! He was cold and unfeeling towards me—after years and years as friends and lovers, suddenly he gets a new piece of ass and I’m nobody!” she barks.

“You sound like a spurned lover. Isn’t that what it really boils down to, Mrs. Lincoln?”

“Oh, of course not!” she scolds. “Don’t you understand? She was destroying him. She still is! Ever since he met her, he’s been shaving off lucrative business.” He’s not shaving off lucrative businesses. He’s downsizing and dropping dead weight—and how would she even know that? Does this bitch have another spy in his company? “I mean, look at me. We were making money hand over fist with those salons! Then he decides to let the banks take them away.”

“He still has the salons, though, Mrs. Lincoln.”

“Yes, but without me! I was the draw, the advertisement. Everyone wanted to look like me—my tight skin, flawless body, and golden tresses. I’ve been in this hellhole for so long that you wouldn’t know it, but I was a real looker! Then she came along and ruined it all!” She throws another threatening glance at me and I just shake my head.

“Let’s talk about her for a moment, Mrs. Lincoln…” Underwood begins.

“Objection, relevance,” comes from the prosecution.

“Once again, Your Honor, it goes to her state of mind.”

“Overruled, but you may want to get to the point, Counselor,” the judge warns and Underwood nods.

“Mrs. Lincoln, how did you and Mrs. Grey meet?”

“I met Ms. Steele when I came to visit Christian one day. She was at his apartment walking around wearing barely nothing in front of his guest and staff. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure who she was sleeping with.” She folds her arms and smirks at me.

“What happened that day?”

“I was minding my own business waiting for Christian and she snatched the stool I was sitting on right out from under me!” she exclaims. I gasp loud enough for several members of the jury to turn around and see me scowling at her, gape-mouthed and horrified that she twisted the events that way. “When I attempted to defend myself, she hit me with a piece of fruit and pushed me down face first into the marble floor.” I scoff loudly, further appalled at her lack of details. I mean, in essence, that is what happened, but she completely left out that Christian ask her to leave, that she threw that same piece of fruit at me first, and that she was charging at me when she met the marble floor. Christian squeezes my hand.

“Breathe,” he says softly in my ear, a queue for me to keep my cool. I look over at him, angry that I can’t climb over this wall and choke that bitch right there on the witness stand. I sit back in my seat like a petulant child and take a few deep breaths. I’m literally pouting and she smirks slightly at me. While she’s still looking in our direction, Christian weaves his fingers into mine and pulls my hand to his lips in a gentle kiss that calms me immediately. That smirk slides quickly off her already fallen face.

“What happened next, Mrs. Lincoln?” She draws her eyes back to her attorney and sighs.

“I left before Ms. Steele could brutalize me any further. She was desperate for me not to speak to Christian. That’s how I know that she was brainwashing him and turning him against me.”

“And that’s why you don’t care for Mrs. Grey—not because she’s with Christian?”

“I don’t care for Ms. Steele because she turned one of my dearest friends against me, then she used violence to keep me from speaking to him! She’s no competition for me! I’ve been in jail and unable to take care of myself properly, but before this, I was a bombshell, and I can be again. I know how to please a man better than she does and I’m ten times the woman that she could ever be on my worst day. Ms. Steele just kept me from seeing Christian.”

“Your Honor,” the prosecution interjects, “since we are on the record, can you please direct Mrs. Lincoln to refer to Mrs. Grey by her legal name?”

“Unfortunately, Counselor, she can call her whatever she wants as long as we have established that she is referring to Mrs. Grey,” the judge responds. Now why did he say that? A look of pure glee comes over She-Thing’s face and I know that I need to steel myself and prepare for a barrage of name-calling for the duration of her testimony. “Continue.”

“So, you’re saying that no matter how many times you tried to talk to Christian, Mrs. Grey kept you from seeing him?” her attorney continues.

“Yes. That mousy little gold-digger headed me off at every turn.” And it begins. “I couldn’t get within ten feet of him without ending up with some kind of physical or emotional injury.”

“Such as?”

“Well, the tramp chipped my tooth on the marble floor. Then she attacked me at a charity meeting and I had bruises from that. The whore said something to Christian the next day at his parents’ house and he humiliated and shunned me in front of his entire family. Of course, the cow convinced him to take my salons away. I came to see him one night at his apartment where I have always been welcome before the skank came along, and I get accosted by her sissy best friend! I finally decide that I’m not going to allow anything to stop me from seeing him, so I go straight up to his apartment and sit right at his breakfast bar only to have that hooker put a knife to my throat! The next thing I know, there’s a restraining order against me all because he had that little slut whispering in his ear!” Oh, this is classy.

“Your Honor!” Mr. Skinner has risen from his seat with his hands held out to the side of him in a gesture that just screams, “Seriously?” The judge puts his pen down and turns to the witness stand.

“Mrs. Lincoln, if you so choose, you do not have to refer to her as Mrs. Grey, but let me inform you that your ad lib and theatrics are not only unbecoming and unladylike, but they are also very distracting—and they’re not helping your case any either. I think I, the jury, and the entire courtroom all clearly understand that you have a very high level of disdain for Mrs. Grey, but if you continue to do that, I will hold you in contempt of court for attempting to influence or intimidate a witness since she is in the courtroom. Have I made myself clear?”

She-Thing looks at the judge and then at her attorney. Some unspoken communication passes between them before she deliberately looks anywhere but at the judge and says, “Yes, you have.” Now, the judge is even beginning to get irritated with her.

“Counselor, let me warn you that I really don’t care that Mrs. Lincoln seems to think that the rules don’t apply to her. The rules of this courtroom do! So, if you need a moment to instruct your client on how to behave on the stand, we can take a brief recess.” I can see She-Thing’s lawyer blanch from where I’m sitting as he clearly didn’t expect this reaction.

“Um, no, Your Honor. I think Mrs. Lincoln understands that she should no longer call Mrs. Grey unbecoming names,” he says chastised. She-Thing shows absolutely no remorse at all. I’m glad they stopped her—she was running out of things to call me. “So, Mrs. Lincoln, we have established that your feelings towards Mrs. Grey were brought on one, by how she treated you and two, because she drove a wedge between you Christian. So, why try to kill Christian?” She sighs again.

“For heaven’s sake, I wasn’t trying to kill him! How many times do I have to tell you that? I was trying to free him. Christian couldn’t escape from her grasp, from her influence. I don’t know what she was doing to him, but whatever it was, it was destroying him! He was making bad decisions; he cut off the only two friends that he had…” She’s talking about Flynn. Somebody else is giving her information. Flynn didn’t speak to her, so he wouldn’t have told her that. I look over at Christian who still has the impassive-killer look on his face right now. “He was doing things completely out of character, including stripping down his companies. I’m certain that she wants his money and his mind and she wants to break him and his spirit in the process, and he couldn’t see it. I had to free him. I couldn’t stand to see this happening to him. I love him.” Her voice is beseeching now and if I didn’t know her personally, I would think I was a crazy, manipulative bitch, too. Even certain members of the jury are looking at me sideways now. The attorney goes over to the evidence table and picks up my gun, which is encased in a plastic bag.

“This gun, this was your choice of freedom for Christian?” he asks her and she nods.

“It would be quick,” she says, her voice cracking. “He wouldn’t suffer. I couldn’t stand it if he suffered. He was already suffering because of… her.” She drops her head.

“Let the record show that I am referring to state’s evidence exhibit 4,” her attorney says. “The prosecution has already argued that this is Mrs. Grey’s gun,” he says, turning his attention back to She-Thing.

“So I’m told,” she answers.

“How did you get it?”

“A mutual acquaintance acquired it for me,” she answers.

“How so? Mrs. Grey indicated in this police report,” he picks up another item from the evidence table, “that her gun was stolen from a locked-drawer in her apartment approximately three weeks prior to the date that you showed up at Grey House.” She shrugs.

“I know that, but I believed that the day would come when Christian knew that he would need me, which is why he told me about the gun.” There are gasps in the courtroom again, including from me. Christian still hasn’t moved or changed his expression.

He told you about the gun?” her attorney presses. She nods.

“He certainly did,” she continues. “Everybody knew that she carried them. She even pulled a gun on the guy that killed himself this weekend. She’s toxic to everything she touches and not only did she get her claws into my Christian, but she also waves these weapons around like Calamity Jane, threatening anyone who dare cross her path. I believe that whole thing with the kidnapping last year was just a ploy to get Christian’s attention. The dead guy responsible for the kidnapping told a close friend of mine that she pulled a gun on the poor man in her parking garage.”

“Objection, hearsay.”

“Sustained,” the judge says. So, Harris told the mole that I had guns and it got back to She-Thing. Why did she say that Christian told her?

“Who is this mutual friend that procured the gun for you?”

“I refuse to tell you,” she says. “I’m already on trial for trying to save the man that I love. There’s no use in anyone else going down.” Hmmm, conscience…

“But that information could make it easier on you, Mrs. Lincoln…”

“No, I can’t, because I didn’t do anything wrong. Someone gave me the gun, the gun that my Christian led me to because he knew that I would have to save him at some point.”

“And how did he lead you to her gun?”

“He told me that she dismantles them in his apartment. The fact that one would be in the nightstand next to her bed is a given.” My stomach falls. He—or someone—told that woman that I dismantle my guns at his apartment. It couldn’t have been Christian. There’s no way that he would tell her something that she could potentially use against me. He must sense my feelings because he squeezes my hand tighter, but never changes his expression. I look over at him and he is still steadfastly focused on the front of the courtroom.

“So you honestly think that Christian led you to the gun so that you could later come back and kill… sorry, free him?” the attorney asks. I realize that he’s trying to take all the wind out of the prosecution’s cross-examination by asking all the questions they would ask, only he’s allowing her to answer in a way that supports this quack’s claim that she’s manically narcissistic and thought that her actions had no consequences.

“Why else would he tell me about her guns?” she asks. “He hates guns.”

“Mrs. Lincoln, Christian is a rich and powerful man. You don’t think that he could free himself anytime he wanted? You think that death was the only way out for him even if he decided that he wanted ‘out?’” I’m curious why he refers to him as Christian but refers to me as Mrs. Grey.

“Christian is not a vindictive man. He’s a shrewd and ruthless businessman, but not in his personal life.” I sit and listen to the many ways that I have ruined Christian and that this mutual acquaintance had access to my apartment and let someone else get my gun so that it couldn’t be traced back to either of them. We know that the acquaintance is Myrick, but now we know that there was a third accomplice.

She-Thing still maintains that even though she covered her tracks all the way until the crucial moment where she shot Jason, she still didn’t do anything wrong because the rules don’t apply to her. She simply didn’t want to dirty her hands with the details or to give anyone—namely me—any advance warning of what was coming. She had no idea that I would be at the office that day and the whole plan was for me to discover that she and Christian had gone hand-in-hand into the afterlife with two bullets from my gun.

It all sounds so logical if it wasn’t completely ridiculous.

“How did you feel after you discovered you had shot Jason Taylor?” her attorney asks.

“I didn’t shoot Jason Taylor. He jumped in front of the bullet! That’s not my fault. That’s like saying if someone jumps onto the freeway in front of my car that I ran them over.” Members of the jury laugh. I don’t know if they’re laughing at the ridiculousness of that analogy or because she really is funny.

“Okay, let’s rephrase. How did you feel after you discovered that Jason Taylor had jumped in front of your bullet?”

“I didn’t feel anything! That crazy bi…” She pauses and rolls her eyes. “Ms. Steele beat the hell out of me the moment the gun went off. I woke up in the hospital in cuffs!” She’s absolutely appalled that I had the nerve to kick her ass for trying to kill my man! “She should be the one on trial for assault, but no, they just let Little Ms. Perfect walk away Scot free…”

“Careful, Mrs. Lincoln,” the judge warns.

“I didn’t call her a bitch, Your Honor,” she says, almost innocently. The judge rolls his eyes and looks back down at his papers.

“What happened in the hospital, Mrs. Lincoln?” And now the tears start. I was wondering when they were coming.

“Christian came to see me. I awoke and he was standing next to my bed. I was so happy to see him, but then he opened his mouth and horrible things came out. He talked about wanting to kill me and doing everything that he could to make sure that I never got out of prison. He couldn’t see at all what I was trying to do for him… for us.” She breaks down at this moment. “I couldn’t stand it anymore. I got word that they had broken up and that she had left. I wanted to have a party because I knew that he was free of her and that I could come back and help him put his life back together… and then she was back. I turn my head for one minute and she’s back, like a bad rash! He was never going to be free of her and I just couldn’t stand it anymore, but he hated me. He hated me for trying to set him free. I wish I had killed myself now.” She’s weeping on the stand.

“No further questions at this time, Your Honor,” the defense says and proudly takes his seat. That sounded more like the cross-examination. Let’s see what the prosecution has in store. Mr. Skinner stands and walks over to She-Thing. He stands about three feet away from the witness stand and joins his hand behind his back. I can’t see the expression on his face as he observes She-Thing, but he stands there for a full minute while she weeps. She finally looks up at him while delicately dabbing her eyes.

“Are you enjoying the show?” she says, finally, her voice still weepy.

“Me? No,” he responds flatly, calling her out on her performance. He knows exactly what she’s doing and so do I. If he comes at her right now while she’s a blubbering mess on the witness stand, he will surely appear to be attacking her, and that’s all the jury will see. None of us can afford that. “I’m just giving you a few moments to… compose yourself. I know how difficult this can be.”

“Do you now?” she says, the venom coming through her tears. “How many times have you been accused of murder?”

“Well, none, but I’ve convicted several,” he says without malice. “So yes, I’m very well aware of how difficult this can be.”

“You must very proud of yourself,” she snaps.

“Well, yes and no,” Skinner responds, engaging her in the obvious fight that she’s trying to start. “I’m not happy at all when someone takes—or attempts to take—someone else’s life. However, I am extremely proud when I can serve my community by getting a murderer off the streets.” He says it with finality, but still no malice. “Alas, we’re not here to talk about me. Your Honor, maybe we should take a recess to allow Mrs. Lincoln a few moments alone.” The judge looks up at the prosecutor, then down at She-Thing.

“Do you need a few moments, Mrs. Lincoln?” Judge Burgess asks. She looks at him and back at Mr. Skinner.

“No,” she nearly growls, her earlier performance giving way to her obvious ire. “I certainly don’t want to delay the proceedings.” Her sarcasm is evident.

“Oh, no, by all means, take as long as you need. Justice can’t be rushed. We’ll wait for you. Please, get it all out.” He folds his arms, a clear indication to her that he knows what she’s doing and that he’ll play this game with her as long as she wants. She glares at him, then looks over at the jury. I look at the jury and most of them are sitting back in their seats, examining the spectacle with disinterest. She finally dries her face and sits up in her chair, glaring at the prosecutor. “Are you ready to proceed? Are you sure that you don’t need another moment or two?”

“No, I’m fine,” she says through gritted teeth.

“Good, then in that case, we’ll continue. I’d like to focus a little more on your childhood. You said earlier that you were taught that there was nothing wrong with child molestation…”

“Objection, Your Honor.” He was waiting for that opportunity and even though I’m no lawyer, I know exactly what the judge is about to say.

“You opened that door, Counselor. Overruled.” Bingo! The defense sits down, clearly defeated. How could you expect to use that information in her defense and it not be used against her by the prosecution? “Continue.”

“Mrs. Lincoln, you said earlier that you were taught that there was nothing wrong with child molestation. Who taught you this?”

She-Thing’s face freezes. What’s happening? I can usually tell where things are going. Right now, I don’t know what the horror is all about.

“I… um…” Hmm, something that she wasn’t coached on.

“This shouldn’t be a difficult question, Mrs. Lincoln. Who taught you that it was okay to molest children?”

“Well… I mean… it’s not like we sat around and had family meetings about it or anything like that!” she answers indignantly.

“Oh, so you’re saying that it was someone in your family?” She’s quiet again. “Mother? Father? Distant cousin?”

Psycho German aunt with no morals?
I know, right?

“I can’t say… exactly…”

“But you said that you were brought up this way, which means that you had to be told this continuously over the course of several years. Now you’re saying that you can’t say who taught you?”

“I mean to say that I won’t say who taught me,” she says indignantly. He chuckles in disbelief.

“Mrs. Lincoln, you’re asking us to believe fantastic stories about your life and how you find yourself on this witness stand today accused of assault, conspiracy, and attempted murder. Yet, you choose to withhold detrimental details of these stories. That doesn’t fare well for you, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the prosecution.”

“Be that as it may, I will not drag anyone else down in this mess with me, especially not people who may be close to me.” Oooo, we’re playing the martyr now.

“Except Mrs. Grey,” he points out.

“She’s nobody. She’s not even collateral damage,” She-Thing hisses. I shake my head again. This has gone on for nearly two hours and Christian still hasn’t moved except to kiss my hand and comfort me that one time. He’s starting to worry me.

“That’s very noble of you, Mrs. Lincoln,” he says and she smiles.

“Thank you,” she says, crossing her legs.

“I only wish you had shown that same nobility when you were considering taking someone’s life. It would have saved us all a lot of time and energy,” he says flatly. A hush falls over the courtroom as Mr. Skinner walks back to the table and picks up his legal pad. “So, let’s get to the issue about rules in general. You believe that you are not confined by the rules, that they were made to apply to everyone else except you?”

“Well, there might be a handful of other special people out there, but none of them are like me.”

“But you are one of those special people who don’t have to follow the rules?” She nods.

“Yes, of course.”

“So, if Mrs. Grey believes that she’s one of those special people, then she could just go over to that table, pick up her gun, and blow your brains out right here in this courtroom and that would be okay, right?” She scoffs loudly.

“Of course not!” she almost yells. “There’s nothing special or remarkable about that little weasel…!”

“Mrs. Lincoln,” the judge warns.

“I’m sorry… there’s nothing special about her! She’s a nobody! I don’t care what her address is, what name she’s using, or how big her ring is, she’s still a nobody. You can drape as many diamonds on a weed as you want, but it will never become a rosebush!” Whoa! Mrs. Lincoln becomes philosophical. The prosecution chuckles again at her answer. I’m not sure what that tactic is, but it pisses her off a bit.

“Okay, so if one of those other special people came in here and decided to free you from these charges and the twenty-five years that you are currently facing in jail, that would be okay?” She pauses, clearly not sure how to answer this question.

“Well…” she’s on the ropes. “Of course, I wouldn’t like it, but there’s certainly no one out there as special as I am. So, they wouldn’t be able to do that to me.”

“Oh! This is intriguing. So, now you’re saying that there are levels of ‘special’—that there are certain people who are special, but not special enough to break all the rules,” he presses.

“I… don’t know what you’re saying,” she says, shaking her head.

“Well, you said that the rules don’t apply to you because you’re special, remarkable, and important. Yet, there’s no one out there that is special, remarkable, or important enough to murder you. So please, correct me if I’m wrong, but that dictates that your level of importance is higher than anyone else’s, doesn’t it?” She nods feverishly.

“Well, isn’t that obvious?” she squeaks.

“And Mrs. Grey is not important at all?”

“No, Ms. Steele has absolutely no importance whatsoever,” she says with a flip of her hand.

“How do you know that?” the prosecution asks. “Who determines who these special and important people are?” and she’s frozen again. “Mrs. Lincoln?”

“You just know,” she says.

“Oh, really? How do you know? Who told you that?”

“No one had to tell me that I’m special! I’ve known that all along!” I can see her defense attorney wildly trying to inconspicuously shake his head—if you can do both of those things at the same time… wildly and inconspicuously. He looks like he’s having a conniption. Ah… Mrs. Lincoln is straying from the script.

“Okay, so you’re telling us that no one influenced your belief that you don’t have to follow the rules per se. You came to the conclusion that you were special and unique and that you didn’t need to follow the rules all on your own?” She looks over at her attorney who is still shaking his head, but not as wildly. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Lincoln, do you need your attorney to answer that for you?”

Now, all of the attention is on Underwood, who is still wildly shaking his head. If there was ever a moment of truth, this is it. Each of the scenarios presented have a yes or no answer, but the answers have to be opposite. Which one do you answer?

“No,” she says softly, “no one had to tell me that I was special. Either you are or you aren’t.” She says that last part with conviction and I can almost see her attorney sagging in his chair. That was the wrong answer.

“Okay, so, we’ve established that no event or influence caused you to believe that you didn’t have to follow the rules. You just woke up one day and decided ‘laws don’t mean anything to me. I can just do whatever I want.’ Thank you for clarifying that for us, Mrs. Lincoln.” He looks back down at his legal pad.

“Wait! That’s… not what I meant.” She knows that she’s done something wrong. Mr. Skinner raises his head to her.

“Oh? I’m sorry. What did you mean?” He waits for her to answer the question. She sighs and never comes up with an answer. “Nothing? Nothing you want to add or refute?” She glares at him.

“No,” she says sharply. “This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t even be here. She should be on the stand for what she did to him, not me.”

“Well, unfortunately for you, Mrs. Lincoln, loving someone is not a crime punishable by law, whereas attempted murder is. Back to the matter at hand, you mentioned earlier that you believed that Mr. Grey told you about Mrs. Grey’s guns so that you could later free him, correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Did he tell you where the guns were?”

“No.”

“Did he tell you what kind of guns they were?”

“Not that I can remember right now.”

“You said that he hates guns.” She nods.

“He’s always hated guns. He doesn’t even like the fact that his security sometimes has to carry guns.”

“Did you know that Mr. Grey is now a registered gun owner?” Mr. Skinner reveals. She-Thing gasps.

“What!? Do you see? That’s what I mean! The Christian that I knew would never carry a gun. He detests guns!”

“The Christian that you knew is a registered gun owner because of you. He bought the gun after you tried to kill him!” the prosecution points out.

“Objection!” Underwood protests.

“Sustained,” the judge replies.

“Strike the first statement; hold the second. Mr. Grey did apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon and acquire a firearm after you tried to free him!” Skinner rephrases.

“Oh, that’s hogwash. She put him up to that and I know it, so you can save that tactic.”

“I don’t need tactics, Mrs. Lincoln. You’re the one on trial here. The evidence against you is irrefutable and now you want the court to believe that you didn’t think killing a man had any consequences. If there’s anyone here that needs to save a tactic, it’s you!” he hisses.

“Objection, Your Honor!” the defense attorney nearly shouts.

“Withdrawn!” the prosecutor says, eying She-Thing with intense disdain.

We listen as Mr. Skinner breaks down every single excuse, crackpot lie, defense and distraction tactic that She-Thing comes up with. He uses her own words against her so many times that she can’t even manage to separate her lies. Each time she tries to pull that crying tactic, he just stops and goes over the testimony, makes additional notes, or confers with counsel at the prosecution table. He knows that at some point, her crying will lead to a theatrical production. She never gets to that point because he refuses to question her while she was crying to allow her to escalate to that degree. Each time she goes into preparation, he waits and then asks if she’s better or needs a recess before he continues his questioning.

When he gets to the shooting and presents the video of the incident again, Christian zones out completely. I’m certain that he’s in another time and place while the video is playing. I concentrate solely on him so as not to have a repeat of yesterday’s fainting spell. They play the entire thing all over again—from the moment that Christian hit the button to begin the recording to after I passed out and Christian told the detectives that there was a video of the entire incident.

She-Thing is pale now and getting paler by the second. Even after already seeing the video, many of the members of the jury look at me in what I can only label as stunned amazement. I know that I looked like a machine while I was kicking her ass, and it does lend credibility to her story that I was quite violent, especially since I choked the shit out of her on camera in an effort to send her miserable ass to hell—but then, I’m not the one on trial here. Even if I had killed her, I surely would have gotten off if she had shot Christian.

“You seemed pretty irrational and upset in that video, Mrs. Lincoln,” Mr. Skinner says.

“Of course, I was upset,” she says. “I was trying to get Christian to see what a big mistake he had made letting her control his life the way that he was, but he wouldn’t listen. He was only concerned with if I would hurt his precious little Butterfly.” God, I hate when she uses that term. She makes it sound dirty and defiled.

“Tell the court what you were thinking while you were brandishing that gun in Mr. Grey’s office that day.”

“I’ve already told you what I was thinking…”

“No, you told us what you were going to do. You didn’t tell us what you were thinking,” the prosecution says. She falls quiet again.

“’Oh God, I should just shoot you right now.’
“’You don’t want me to shoot your precious Butterfly.
“’Wouldn’t that be something, to die with a bullet from your own gun.’
“’You can’t give me whatever I want, Christian, because I want you and you want her.’
“’If I can’t have you, she sure as hell can’t have you. You don’t want me now, but you will in the afterlife, when you remember how good it used to be between us, when she’s not there anymore to interfere.’”

The prosecutor reads statement after statement that She-Thing made before she pulled the trigger. All the color leaves her face and I mean all of it. She looks like she’s dead. Her attorney looks like he has truly thrown in the towel. He just sits back in his chair with his hands folded in front of him.

“Forgive me, Mrs. Lincoln, but that doesn’t sound like a woman who doesn’t care about the rules. That sounds like a scorned woman who wants to get back at the two people that she feels hurt her the most. So again, I ask you, what were you thinking while you were brandishing that gun in Mr. Grey’s office that day?” Seeing no other opportunity to use her crying theatrics, she pulls them out now. She bursts into tears and leans forward in her seat.

“Why are you attacking me?” she cries.

“I’m sure that Mr. Grey and Mr. Taylor have the same question for you! Don’t you think they deserve an answer besides ‘you were trying to free him?’” the prosecution asks incredulously. “Exactly what were you trying to free him from—a loving and fulfilling relationship? A successful business? What!?”

“A conniving, manipulative woman!” She-Thing screams.

“Oh, I’d say he had already freed himself from that,” the prosecutor says flatly.

“Objection!” Underwood says, rising to his feet.

“To what?” The prosecutor turns to him with his hands out in a shrug.

“I have to also ask, to what, Counselor?” the judge asks.

“He’s… he’s… badgering the witness!” That’s the best that you can come up with?

“Overruled,” the judge says impassively. “Continue.” The prosecutor turns back to She-Thing.

“Mrs. Lincoln,” he begins, his voice sobering. “This will be your last chance to speak your piece, so I suggest that you make it good. The jury has seen the video of the shooting twice now. They have heard the of a psychiatrist who seems to confirm that you suffer from some mental disease where you feel that you are immune to the laws of this land and can therefore take another person’s life with no consequences. Mrs. Lincoln, let me be the first to look in your eye and tell you that I don’t think you’re insane for one second. I don’t even think you’re mentally impaired. I do, however, think that psychiatrist needs his head examined. I also think the entire concept that you are building your defense upon is crazy, and I would bet a year’s salary that I’m not the only person in this room who thinks so. The prosecution has brought forth witnesses that testified about your actions and behavior leading up to the shooting, and I will tell you that while your actions sound harassing and obsessive, I haven’t heard anything that would slightly convince me that you were suffering from the slightest level of insanity. While you have the opportunity to say so, I will ask you again to tell the court what you were thinking when you were brandishing that gun in Mr. Grey’s office?”

She-Thing turns wide, tear-filled eyes to Christian and never looks away.

“I was thinking that I had lost him forever,” she said softly. “I was thinking that he would never touch me again, never hold me again… that I would never see that look in his eyes where he desired me so. He looked at her with a hunger, an affection that I never saw. It cut right through me… I… I…” She’s choking on her words. These are the first real tears I think she’s shed all day. “She had him under some spell, I tell you!” She’s shaking and weeping. This is the Elena that I know—delusional Elena. “You don’t understand. He never would have turned me away, never. We were too close! I knew everything about him—everything! And then one day, nothing! He just kicked me out of his life! He didn’t want our friendship; he didn’t want our business. He wanted nothing to do with me. If she didn’t like it, he got rid of it—successful businesses that were making money for him, his friends, his way of life, he even changed shrinks!” How the fuck does she know that?

“He was brainwashed, I tell you. I know he was. He still is. Look at him!” She gestures to Christian who has stared stoically at her for upwards of four hours now. “He looks like a fucking robot! There’s no passion in his eyes. No life. He’s sat there like that for hours. Does that look like a happy man to you?” she rants. She’s now pulling in those shuddering breaths that indicate that she is really crying. The prosecution hands her a box of tissues. She takes a few, blows her nose and tries to clean her face from the real cry.

“Mrs. Lincoln?” The prosecution says softly. She raises her head. “The reason Mr. Grey has been looking passionless and dead for the last several hours is because he’s been staring at you.” Mr. Skinner pauses for a moment to let that soak in a bit. She-Thing looks back over to Christian and he moves the only other time since he kissed my hand…

He nods once.

She drops down to the edge of the witness stand, her face buried in her arms, and she is bawling her eyes out.

“No more questions, Your Honor,” the prosecution says before taking his seat.

“Redirect?” the judge asks.

“No, Your Honor,” her attorney says solemnly.

“Very well. You may step down, Mrs. Lincoln.” She’s wailing so hard that I don’t even think she heard him. “Bailiff?” The bailiff goes over and takes She-Thing’s arm. She must be well aware of that hold because she responds immediately and rises shakily from the chair, still weeping bitterly. She stumbles from the stand and wobbles back over to the defense table, walking like a drunk and sobbing uncontrollably. “I think we’ll take that recess now, fifteen minutes,” the judge says before banging his gavel. “Court is adjourned.”

Christian doesn’t wait another second. He’s out the door before I can even get out of my seat. She-Thing is face-down at the defense table, her shoulders shaking with violent tears. I almost feel sorry for her…

Nah!

I push myself out of the seat and go to look for Christian. I leave the courtroom and look up and down the hall. I see Jason standing at the far end of the hallway and I make my way towards him.

“Where is he?” I ask. Jason points across the hall to the Men’s Room. I stand there looking at the door, feeling a lot like She-Thing must feel right now—lost and dejected.

“I’m… going to go relieve myself, too,” I say, and walk over to the Ladies’ Room. I stay in there longer than I need to, I know. This whole thing is such a horrible fucking mess. The only comfort that I have from that situation is that She-Thing has said nothing about the lifestyle, which means unless there’s speculation from what Christian said yesterday, I’ve told my father about our practices for nothing and now, he’s avoiding me.

I rub my slightly throbbing scar and for the first time in months, feel the emptiness of not being able to rub my bump and pull strength from my babies. I know that I must be strong, but this is enough to drive anyone to drink. I take a few deep breaths, but every time I think to leave the restroom, my feet just won’t let me go in that direction. I take a few more deep breaths and just about get myself calmed when I hear a familiar voice from off in the distance somewhere.

“Don’t make me come in there after you. You know that I will.”

I sigh heavily and push my feet towards the door. He’s standing on the other side when I step out.

“I think you have a fetish with public women’s restrooms,” I say in a low voice. He puts his arms around me.

“Don’t remind me,” he says, kissing me behind my ear. “Are you alright?” I nod.

“Are you?” I ask. He touches his forehead on mine.

“I want. To kill her,” he says slowly and soberly. “I’ve had to sit in the same room with her for several hours of several days and not. Kill. Her.” I gently stroke his cheeks.

“It’s almost over, baby,” I soothe. “I would imagine that we only have closing arguments unless they have another quack that they want to put on the stand.” He chuckles.

“We need a loooooooong vacation,” he says. “Two days was not enough.” I have to agree with him.

“We have the house in Italy,” I jest.

“Yes, we do,” he says, raising his eyes to me. “I want to plan a trip. At least a month. If we don’t get away from this, we’re going to have strokes.” I look at him.

“You’re serious,” I say. He nods. “Christian, we can’t just… a month… what about my babies?”

Our babies and we’ll take them with us,” he says.

“They’re only seven weeks old!” I exclaim. “I don’t want my infants globe-trotting at that age!”

“I’ll have you know, Mrs. Grey, that infants can ‘globetrot’ as young as two weeks with doctor’s approval.” I should have known that the walking baby encyclopedia would know that. “But I’ll give you that. We are applying for our children’s passports and I am planning the trip for the summer. It’ll give me something to look forward to so that I don’t lose my mind.”

I look at him and think about everything that’s happened in our lives and the effect this trial must be having on him. I can at least afford him this.

“Okay,” I say, without protest. “Just let me know exactly when we plan to go so that I can make preparations.”

“Fair enough,” he says, kissing me on the forehead.

Closing arguments are somewhat long, or maybe they just seem long because it’s a repeat of everything we had just heard. It’s a relief when they’re over and the jury deliberations will start tomorrow. I need another hot shower… or a hot bath… anything to help me soak away the remnants of this day.


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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X