My procedure went very well and the tests came back clean. Daddy and Baby Bronzy took really good care of me this weekend. I sincerely want to thank everyone who sent me messages, IM, emails, texts, positive thoughts and prayers, and any other little things. My cup runneth over. I love you all.
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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…
I’ve been keeping up a maddening pace and I’m not really sure how much longer I can do it. I know that one of my biggest time hogs has been alleviated now that Al and James are married and off to their honeymoon in Bali. So, that’s one less thing I have to worry about. But I’ve still got a lot on my plate that I think is going to catch up with me soon:
Gail is still helping out with the twins as requested, but I’m not really getting the reprieve that I was hoping for since Sophie’s here now and Gail needs to be a stepmom to a twelve-year-old. This means that she has to make sure she’s up and ready for school, pack her lunch, be there when she gets home from school, help with homework when needed… you know, be a mom. Couple that with being the manager of this mini-resort that we live in, wife to her husband, and nanny to my kids, she’s walking around with one eye open about as much as I am—which means that I’m up at all hours with the twins more often that I was hoping.
Then, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things with Helping Hands with all the changes going on. As soon as I was ready to get the ball rolling, nine other things seemed to get in my way. I’m trying to do these self-defense classes a few times a week to help me get back in shape and teach women and victims to not feel so helpless, but that’s taking a lot out of me.
Then there’s Valerie. Fuck if what happened to her didn’t just knock the wind out of my goddamn sails. I’m at that hospital every day without fail. I don’t care what’s going on or what time it is; I’m at that damn hospital and she’s seeing my face. She still won’t let us contact her brother or her father, but under the circumstances, I can see why. She lit up like a Christmas tree when we showed up in the room to have Al and James’ ceremony. She was weak and exhausted—I could see it all in her face—but it was most likely the highlight of her year thus far. I pray that it’s not too late for more highlights for her.
Then, there’s all the other unfinished business in life—I haven’t done anything with the country club. We haven’t decided the safest and most reasonable course of action for taking the twins in public as I’d like to go into the office more often and I can’t do that without a feasible plan for keeping the twins safe from the Paparazzi. PR is going crazy and we haven’t made any definitive decisions about when and if I’m going to make any public appearances—and those requests are simply pouring in.
The emotional toll of all this stuff—the up and down of it all—David dying; She-Thing’s trial along with the Green Valley trials starting; Sophie moving in and the custody battle as well as dealing with her crazy ass, drug-addict mother; having my babies; caring for my babies; Al’s wedding; Val’s recovery…
… Wanting to get some semblance of my life back…
And now, after I spend the day at Helping Hands without my babies and my trusted bodyguard and checking in on Val at the hospital, I come home to find out that yet another aspect of my life may be turned completely upside down.
“Chuck is going where?” I ask in horror.
“To Anguilla,” Christian says. “He’s flying out in the morning.”
“What’s wrong? Is something wrong with Keri?” I ask, probing for more information.
“Something’s wrong, but he’s not sure. One of her friends called him in the middle of the night and told him that Keri’s not doing well. From what he described, it sounds like she’s not taking care of herself to the point of it taking a serious toll on her health.”
I sigh heavily. I love Keri. I really do, but I know how Chuck feels about her. I saw that painful goodbye at the airport. If he thinks that she can’t survive without him, he’ll leave his life and stay down there with her.
That terrifies me.
“So… he doesn’t know what to expect when he gets down there,” I say, a statement, not a question.
“No, and he’s not making any decisions until he does.” I sigh again. I know what that means. I need to prepare myself to lose my bodyguard and friend. I wouldn’t expect him to leave Keri if he gets down there and discovers that she’s deteriorating without him.
I don’t get any sleep that night for worrying about Chuck and Keri for part of the night, Val for another part, and trying to comfort irritable little babies for the rest of the it. I end up sleeping in the next day and don’t bother going to Helping Hands. I wouldn’t be of much use anyway.
“Ana, can I impose on you to help me with something?” Gail asks while I’m sitting at the breakfast bar well into the morning.
“Bosslady, Grace emailed some documents that need your attention. She said that you guys were supposed to look them over together this morning when you came in. I let her know that you probably won’t be in today because you weren’t feeling well and she understood. But she asked if you have time could you look them over and get back to her.” Marilyn in her ever-efficient manner is letting me know that she has put out that “I need Ana and I need her now” fire that always seems to be set under Grace. I didn’t know that woman was leaning on me as much as she does until I wasn’t always around for her to lean on anymore. It makes me wonder how she ever functioned without me.
“Thanks, Mare. Did you look at the reports?” She shakes her head.
“Waiting for clearance from high command,” she says teasingly. I nod with a chuckle.
“Take a look at them and let me know if there’s a fire,” I tell her. She nods and she’s off to see what needs to be addressed so urgently about Grace’s reports. I turn my attention back to Gail before taking a large gulp of my coffee.
“Okay, Gail, what can I do for you?” I ask.
“Well, we’re trying to decide where Sophie should stay in the house,” she says. “The apartment is just not big enough for the three of us, so of course she’ll have to have her own room. We were initially thinking one of the guest rooms, but they’re so far away from us. I realize that she’s not a toddler and she’d be fine in one of the guest rooms without a problem, but let’s be realistic. The guest rooms are on the second floor on the west end of the house and we’re on the ground floor on the south end of the house.”
“It’s no different than it is with the twins,” I remind her.
“Yes, but you’re right next door to the twins,” she points out. “I feel awkward with her being so far away from us even though she’s in the same house. It feels like she’s an afterthought.”
I can see why Gail would feel that way. You almost need a golf cart to navigate the inside of this place and we already have three to navigate the outside.
“The other alternative is for her to have the third apartment downstairs near us. In terms of proximity, that would be ideal… but a twelve-year-old girl in her own apartment. I don’t know how I feel about that.” I can’t resist the laugh that escapes me.
“I’m sorry, Gail,” I say to her puzzled expression, “but it’s just a cluster of rooms downstairs next door to you guys. It’s not like she’s moving to her own condo in University Place,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. “I actually think the apartment is a better idea. It’s closer to you and you’ll feel better with her being closer to you. Also, it’ll give her a little sense of responsibility. She’ll have to keep her apartment clean; she can decorate it how she wants to; she has the option of being in her space and having time to herself or coming out and being around everyone else.
“With your permission, she’ll be able to have company over in an area that allows her some privacy with her friends, but still allows you and Jason to supervise the visits and who comes and goes. It would be awkward for her to bring her visitors in through the house and up to one of the guest rooms. But once she starts to make more friends, there’s an entrance through the patio with closed-circuit monitoring. You can see who’s coming and going and when the weather gets warmer, she and her friends will have easy access to the pool. With her about to become a teenager and under the circumstances with her military dad that you know won’t allow her to step wrong, I think it’s an ideal set up.” Gail’s face twitches.
“I guess I’m a little old fashioned and the whole ‘kid in her own apartment’ idea just gives me the heebie-jeebies, but when you put it that way, it really does make more sense for her to have the apartment,” Gail concedes. “Now, how do we decorate it?”
“That, you’re going to need Sophie for,” I tell her. “It’s going to be her space and you’re going to want to let her make it her own. It’s an apartment and it’s kind of scary, so you have to make sure that she knows you’re not deserting her. By the same token, give her carte blanche. Let her have fun. How many of her friends will be able to say that they have their own apartment?” A smile forms on Gail’s face.
“You’re right. This could really be fun,” she says. “Will you help me when the time comes to decorate? You two get along so well and I just want her to feel comfortable with her choices.”
“Of course, I will, Gail,” I tell her. It’s midweek and I haven’t heard anything about what’s going on with Chuck and Keri. It’s really making me worry that he won’t come back and this will be a welcome distraction. That afternoon when Sophie comes home from school, I ask her how she would feel about living in the apartment alone.
“Well, it’s not like being at home alone,” she says. “This is a really big house and somebody is always here. It’s just a bunch of rooms that’s separate, that’s all. So, I guess that’s cool… kinda neat, really. I’ll be the only seventh grader with her own apartment!”
I had a feeling this would be how she reacted, so Sophie, Gail, Marilyn, and I do an afternoon of cyber shopping for the initial ideas for Sophie’s room. I think it’s important for her to have this time with Sophie even though she admits that Sophie connects with me more. I agree with her on that note, but as she is to be Sophie’s stepmother, there has to be a more hands-on approach with her than there has been in the past, especially since the time will come when Gail will have to discipline Sophie.
They fall easily into conversation and I’m able to examine the dynamics of their relationship more closely. They’re friends, of course, but it’s going to take some time before Gail can slide into the maternal position. She’s still handling the situation with kid gloves and I’m afraid that when the situation calls for a firmer hand, she may be in for a rude awakening. We’ll just have to see what happens in time.
We’re very surprised to learn that, when given carte blanche, Sophie’s taste for her living space is very simple and quite sensible. She likes clean lines, basic colors, and nothing too flashy. She definitely wants her electronics, like any tween would, but she’s not overly demanding or even slightly unreasonable as you would expect a child with a basically bottomless pocketbook to be.
As I watch her choices and interactions with Gail throughout the afternoon, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. She seems a bit too sensible—too realistic in that she hasn’t had the opportunity to really be girly. I was expecting to see the Sophie that bought the High School Musical Build-A-Bears on Black Friday. Instead, I more see a Sophie that looks a lot like the young girl who attended Chaparral High School in Las Vegas before Sophie was even born—the girl who saw only too soon how real and cruel the world could really be. I know that she hasn’t suffered anything so horrible as what I did, but that doesn’t minimize the impact of having a situation snatch away your childhood.
Sophie’s bedroom was a very easy decorating choice. She saw a model of a black and white simple setup and fell in love, telling Gail and me that she felt it would be ideal for her—plain white walls where the bed was set in a recessed cubby that held drawers and shelves on either side as storage and nightstands. Minimal wall décor so that she could plaster posters, art, bulletin boards, or what have you around the room with a small workstation against one wall painted in an accent color. This accent color was a muted purple and the area held a basic box white desk with floating shelves and shadow box shelving. The most extravagant thing was a regal looking desk chair—black with silver trim—that looked like a DIY job. She goes completely gaga over the set-up and we simply can’t deny her. We place the order for the paint and the furniture the same day.
When it came to decorating the rest of the apartment, we somewhat drew a blank. What do you put in an apartment for a twelve-year-old girl? For this task, I set Marilyn and Sophie in the library together for the evening until dinner with the instructions to build a scrapbook of ideas and just let me know what they come up with.
This turns out to be a sensational idea. Once set to her own devices, Sophie’s mind goes completely free and I’m able to see that young girly-girl I thought may have gotten lost in the “too much is going on in this poor child’s life right now” shuffle. She had things in her scrapbook like a traditional papasan, a welcome mat that read “you’re like, really pretty,” and a sign that said “babe cave.” I’m starting to feel a little better about the tween coming of age in her little space now. I even start to see her pictures of her beloved High School Musical. I just can’t get over the uncanny resemblance of that Zac kid to that asshole Cody Whitmore…
By Thursday, I still haven’t gotten the swing of things like I would like. Marilyn and I go to the Broadmoor for lunch just for the hell of it, to get the feel of the country club and just to be seen. The food and service are outstanding and it gives me an opportunity to think in a different setting than what I’ve been in—Helping Hands or my office or the nursery or the hospital. Ben is, of course, tagging along with us along with Marilyn’s guy—I can’t think if his name right now.
I lament that although my butt is tightening and doesn’t wobble so much, it hasn’t gotten much smaller. The firming is sexy, though, and I don’t look so deformed like I did before. So, I’ll keep working on it. In the meantime, it’s time to call Vickie and get started on that spring wardrobe. No use in looking frumpy.
“I’ve been waiting to hear from you,” she says when I call her from the Broadmoor on Thursday. “I’ve been seeing you in the news and wondering when I get to dress that hot new little body.”
“Watch it, Vic. I thought you liked breathing,” I warn playfully.
“What is it with you straight women?” she says. “You’re hot. We appreciate it. Get over it. So, do I have carte blanche again or do you have something in mind?”
“A little of both. I want some of the latest spring fashions, but I definitely want something that accentuates my new figure—both sensually and professionally. I used to love my Lindy Bop dresses, but with the new ass, I’m certain that I’ll come off looking more like Jessica Rabbit when I wear those. That’s not the kind of look I want for the office. Maybe an after-five thing every now and then, but not running around the Center.”
“I see… sexy professional. Got it. Plans for the summer?” I twist my lips.
“I don’t know. We were actually planning a trip to Italy, but so much has been going on now, I don’t know if it’s still a go or not. I’ll have to let you know.”
“Okay. So, right now, we’re just doing spring/summer coming out party pretty much, right?” I can hear her typing away on her computer.
“Shoes and accessories?” I ponder the thought again. I have more shoes than are legally allowable.
“Accessories, definitely. Shoes, only if there’s something extremely cute and new out there and the outfit screams for them. You know I already have more shoes than Imelda Marcos.” Vickie laughs.
“That you do. I’ll put some things together for you. Need anything in a hurry?”
“No hurry. A week, maybe?” I reply.
“Okay, so I’ll need to come by and take some new measurements…”
“Tomorrow morning?” I ask.
“That’s fine. I’ll see you then.” I end the call and get back to lunch with Marilyn.
“Paps outside,” she warns looking at her phone. I raise my head to her.
“How do you know that?” I ask her.
“It’s my job to know,” she says with a smile. “But I have instant alerts on you and when I get an alert that you’re having lunch at the Broadmoor before we’ve even decided on desert, that means Paps outside.” Shit. Just what I need. I fire off a text to Christian.
**At the Broadmoor for lunch. Paparazzi outside. Will need to lock down security for the twins. **
The response is almost immediate.
**Already on that. Update on Chuck. Emergency situation needs immediate action. Meet me at the Crossing in twenty. **
Double oh shit.
“No time for lunch, Mare. Fire on the home front,” I say, gathering my purse and belongings.
“Oh, shit,” she says, putting her phone away.
“My sentiments exactly.”
“Okay, wait a minute. Why in the world do you have to go to Anguilla?” I ask. He’s going to Anguilla and he’s taking Jason. That means that the two most capable members of our security staff along with the head honcho are all going to be in a foreign country for I don’t know how long and he’s leaving his family in the capable hands of Ben and Chance? Seriously?
“It’s only for a couple of days, max,” he says. “We’re going down there to get him and bring him back. You know the trip is twelve hours and even with relief pilots, there has to be some rest time.”
“I still don’t see why both of you have to go.”
“Moral support,” he replies. “It doesn’t look good. Even though Keri’s not well, it doesn’t look like she’s going to be returning with him. And there’s some psycho fucker down there that’s vying with Chuck for Keri’s attention. I don’t have all the details, yet, but from what I understand, Chuck is staying in a hotel now because the asshole tried to kill him in his sleep.”
“Fucking hell, seriously??” I say and Christian nods as he continues to throw a few items into a duffel bag.
“He can’t stay. If he does, he’ll never get a good night’s sleep. He’ll constantly be watching his back and Anguilla’s what—eight square miles or something like that?”
“Yeah, something like that,” I concur. “God, Christian, he was in terrible shape when they said goodbye in February. This is going to damn near kill him having to do it again.”
“I know,” he says, zipping the duffel. “Now you see why I have to go.” I nod and kiss him passionately.
“Have a safe trip, baby,” I say against his mouth. He drops the bag and wraps his arms around me, pressing me hard into his body and kissing me deeply until I’m dizzy.
“I have a jet waiting,” he says, brushing my lips with his, “but when I get back, I’m feasting on this body until I get my fill.”
“Okay,” I breathe, still kiss-dazed and dizzy. I wobble a bit when he lets me go and just watch as he walks out of our bedroom. I sink down onto the bed wondering if this week could possibly hold any more surprises.
Again, sleep evaded me last night and I feel like a fucking zombie this morning. My man is in Anguilla, maybe for another whole day, and I haven’t heard anything yet. I didn’t get a chance to ask him about security for the twins. It completely slipped my mind with the whole “I’m leaving the country for a day or so” thing. So, with the Paparazzi hovering around, the children will stay nestled in their nursery, or as of late, in this adorable two-baby carrier I received as a gift from one of the volunteers at Helping Hands. It’s wonderful when they are both awake and I just want to have them near me, or for doctor’s appointments, and it’ll truly come in handy when I’m at Helping Hands.
Maneuvering being a mother of twins is turning out to be a bit more emotional than I thought. I know parents are not supposed to have favorites and believe me, I love my children equally, but I find that they need different levels and amounts of attention from me which requires me to spend differing amounts of time with them. Because of that, I’ve grown fond of each of them in different ways, but I’m still concerned sometimes when I spend time with one of them that the other may not be getting the attention that he or she needs. I tried to address that concern with Ace once and he admits that this was outside of his area of expertise and that I might want to talk to my pediatrician about it, unless I truly feel drawn to one twin more than the other—then, that would be something that we could discuss. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
Mommy’s Little Boy is the introvert—quietly taking in his surroundings while pondering the meaning of life. I have a feeling that My Little Extrovert—Minnie—however, will one day rule the world. She must be heard and won’t be silenced! I’m certain now that she was the one scoring all the illegal goals in my belly while Mikey silently stood by watching her curse the referee for “bad calls” while shaking his head.
Minnie doesn’t latch as hard—she eats, she’s done. Granted, she likes being there; she coos just like her brother and caresses the soft skin of my mounds while she’s feasting, looks lovingly into my eyes and all that. But when she’s done eating, she doesn’t have to sit there latched onto the breast. She can be held or rocked or put in her seat, swing, or napper… but no, not Prince Michael! Nine times out of ten, he has to fall asleep with a mouthful of nipple and a handful of tit! He’s going to be a breast man.
Last night’s stay at the hospital was an overnighter, though my visiting time was actually short. Val is wiped out from her treatments and Elliot looks like hell. He obviously isn’t getting any rest as he’s watching over her like a guardian and he won’t sleep. I agreed to spend the night in the hospital with them so that someone could be awake with Val and he could get some sleep. He needed it. He was going to have a psychotic episode any second if he didn’t close his damn eyes. Even then, he still slept fitfully. As such, I got no sleep last night.
When I get back home this morning, Vickie’s at the Crossing. Shit! I forgot we had fittings this morning. I’m yawning and scratching my head when I get to my office where she, Marilyn, and Courtney are all waiting for me.
“I’m sorry, Vickie,” I tell her. “I haven’t had a shower or anything. I’ve been visiting a sick friend in the hospital.” She raises an eyebrow at me.
“Oh?” she says with a knowing look. “Who’s in the hospital?”
“My friend, Valerie,” I say, scrubbing my face. “Christian’s brother is dating her. We just discovered that she had a brain tumor…” I ramble while searching around on my desk for God knows what. “It’s a really long story, but the short version is that I stayed with her last night so that Elliot can get some sleep, which he still really didn’t sleep. We’re going to have to do something about that. That man is going to die if he doesn’t sleep. She’s in the hospital, for God’s sake—you would think they could have someone sit with her for an hour or two so the man could sleep! God, he looks like shit. I wonder when was the last time he had a decent meal. Good God, I hope he’s got somebody capable running the business during this time. I’ll have Christian look into that when he gets back. Shit, when is he going to be back…?”
“Ana!” Marilyn calls my name and snaps me out of my tirade. It’s only now that I realize that I’ve had this entire conversation out loud. I blink at the women around the room.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “There’s so much shit going on… Courtney, what are you doing here?” I say as an afterthought, only just registering that Courtney normally isn’t here.
“Good morning to you, too,” Courtney laughs, pointing at a stack of files that I haphazardly pushed aside on my desk. “More deliveries from Miss Grace,” she says. “She says that she already knows that there’s a lot going on, so just look at them and soon as you get a chance and report back to her.” I nod.
“And I wanted your opinion about something, but you seem a bit swamped so, I’ll just ask you at another time.” I turn my attention to her.
“No, it’s fine. What is it?” I ask.
“Nah, I need you focused. You’re sleep deprived, overwhelmed, got files to look at, probably haven’t eaten yet… Another time, there’s no rush.” She stands from her seat on the sofa and I watch as Vickie’s eyes rake over her body. She has taken to dressing like Marilyn—pencil skirts with high waistlines and strappy sandals or modest three-inch pumps, occasionally with a matching jacket to finish off the business look. Today, with the spring Seattle weather, she foregoes the jacket, but wears a stylish pea coat over her simple ensemble.
“Catch ya later, Court,” Vickie says, suggestively. Courtney throws a shy smile back at Vickie.
“Um… okay,” she says with a wave, her voice a little shaky. She raises her eyebrows at me and leaves the room. Marilyn laughs to herself and assumes her perpetual position of looking down at her tablet. Vickie watches Courtney until she disappears out the office door.
“That was Courtney Wilson?” she asks incredulously. “Fred and Addy’s bratty little entitled granddaughter?”
“Yep,” I say, nearly falling into my office chair, after not finding what I have no idea I was looking for.
“What the hell did you do to her?” Vickie probes. “She’s… pleasant and… desirable… Damn, she’s hot! You’d never know with all that yapping she used to do. What the fuck? What happened?”
“Life happened,” I reply. “The Wilsons disowned her, but to be fair, I think she disowned them just as much as they disowned her.” I can’t seem to get it together. I’m so tired.
“Coffee?” Marilyn says. I nod. If I hope to just make it back up the stairs, I better have a cup.
“Should I come back at another time?” Vickie asks. I shake my head.
“No, it’s fine. You’ve come all this way. It’s not your fault my family is falling apart.” I stand from my seat. “Where do you need me?” Vickie chuckles and rises from her chair.
“Word of advice. You’re hot and I’m gay. Don’t ever ask that question again, especially since that little morsel just walked out of the room and I didn’t jump her bones. Over here, arms out.” I snicker and move in front of her, assuming the position.
“You’re a horn dog, you know that?” I tease. She raises her eyes to me as she’s bringing the measuring tape around my breast.
“And…?” she says, as if it’s common knowledge. “I love beautiful women. I love their bodies, especially their breasts…” She looks at the number on the measuring tape and whispers “Damn” under her breath.
“Watch it,” I warn.
“Shut up,” she says, touching information into her iPad. “You grew a rack overnight. I have to measure it and don’t get to grope it.” She moves to my waist. “So, will you give me her number?”
“No,” I say flatly.
“Cockblocker,” she says, moving to my hips.
“Um, at least one of us would have to have a cock for me to do that,” I tell her. “I’m not your pimp, Vickie. I’m not giving you her number. But I will give her your number if she asks for it now that I know you’re interested. And if you want to pursue her, she’s at the Center almost all the damn time.” Vickie nods.
“Well, that’s a solid. Thanks for that much… cockblocker,” she teases and I laugh again. “Goddammit, Ana, what’s with the ass?”
Oh, I needed that like I needed another hole in my head!
“Thanks a lot, Victoria!” I shoot and the negative self-image starts to rear its ugly head.
“Oh, lighten the fuck up,” she snaps, without a missing a beat. “There’s nothing wrong with it. You were just so damn tiny before. Now, you’ve got a real ass. I’m gonna make that bun look good,” she says licking her lips and checking me out. Suddenly, the self-consciousness crawls back into the darkness where it came from.
“Go make me look fabulous, you horny bitch,” I say waving her off. She bursts out into hearty laughter.
“Just so that you know, not many people can talk to me that way,” she says, putting away her tools and iPad. “Same shoe size?”
“More people should,” I say. “And yes, nothing happened to my feet, thank God.” I don’t know what I would do with all those damn Louboutins if my feet had gotten permanently bigger.
“Okay. Next week? Same Bat time? Same Bat channel?” I nod.
“See you then.” She leaves and I sit at my desk for a moment to take a look at the files Grace sent to me. Marilyn comes back with my coffee and I take a welcome sip.
“Mare, I’ve got a project for you and I need it done kind of quickly,” I say.
“So, what else is new?” she chuckles. I nod. I know that I would truly be lost without her.
“I need you to find out what needs to be done to get Valerie home,” I tell her. “She’s currently getting radiation and chemotherapy and from what Elliot says, she’s done with the chemo, but needs at least two more weeks of the radiation. The hospital is doing a really good job, as best as they can, but he needs more moral and physical support and he’s not getting it. She’s going to need around-the-clock care; we want to know how feasible it is for her to go back to the hospital to get her radiation treatments or to even have them administered at home if that’s possible. I’d like to see to getting her out of there as soon as is safely possible for her condition.” Elliot is truly going to just tap out if he keeps up this pace.
“You want to try to get her this care at Elliot’s place or at her place?” Marilyn asks.
“Neither,” I tell her. “Here at the Crossing.”
“Wake up, baby.”
I shower my wife’s angelic face with tender kisses as she’s sprawled across one of the sofas in my den. It’s about 1pm Friday when we return to the States, and we came straight to the Crossing after touching down. I’m dying to know how she ended up in here.
“Butterfly, wakey, wakey…”
“Hmmm…?” She raises her head sleepily and unfolds like a hot little kitten. I’m glad that I’m crouched in front of her in a comfortable pair of cargo pants or I would be extremely uncomfortable from this unreal woody that has developed in my pants right now. “Christian… hey, you’re back.” Her voice is wistful. “What happened? What time is it? Where’s Chuck?” She has barely opened her eyes and the questions are firing at me faster than a speeding bullet. I find it rather funny.
“First things first, what are you doing in here on the sofa?” I ask. She shrugs.
“I honestly don’t know,” she says. “I was tired and looking for a close place to lie down. This place won.” I shake my head.
“Somebody wants to say hi.” I hold my hand out and watch Butterfly’s face light up as Keri comes into view.
“Keri!” she exclaims. “You’re here! You’re back! What happened?” She sits up and holds her arms out and Keri walks into her embrace.
“Home wahsn’t home witout mi Choonks,” she says, her voice muffled in Butterfly’s neck.
“I’m so glad to see you!” Butterfly exclaims, pulling her down onto the sofa. “Wait… does this mean… you’re staying? You’re here for good?” Keri holds her head down and blushes.
“Ah don knoh,” she says softly. “Ah’d like to,” she adds.
“She’s here for good,” Chuck reinforces from the end of the sofa, catching glances from both of us, but none more adoring than from Keri. She smiles widely and turns back to Butterfly.
“Ah guess Ah’m heyah foh gud!” she says gleefully. She and Butterfly exchange a sincere embrace.
“Oh, there’s so much I have to tell you! But first, you have to tell me why you’re so thin,” Butterfly says concerned. Keri drops her head.
“I miss mi Choonks,” she says sadly. “I no miss food.” Butterfly cups her cheeks.
“No more of that,” she says. “We have to get you back to a healthy weight. Come! Come! There’s so much that you’ve missed!” She pulls Keri by the hand and leads her toward the door. “The twins have changed so much! They’re gorgeous! You have to come and see them. Are you hungry? We’ll get you a snack first. You must be hungry after that long flight. And Al and James got married, just last weekend. The ceremony was beautiful. They were going to have it in the backyard, but at the last minute, they decided to have it at the hospital. Oh! Valerie! Poor Valerie! Wait ‘til I tell you what happened to her…”
Butterfly and Keri have long since left the den and her voice can still be heard fading down the hallway. I turn to Chuck, who looks at me and shrugs.
“Your wife,” he says.
“Speaking of which,” I say, gesturing him to the French doors that lead to my office. “Are you going to marry her?”
“If I have to,” he says, without hesitation. “I’m eventually going to marry her anyway. I’m sure she would rather her wedding not be something that’s rushed for citizenship, but if that’s the only way…” He shrugs.
“Maybe we can get her a work visa, then you can take your time,” I suggest. “She’s a teacher, right?” He nods.
“A teacher certified in a foreign country with a heavy Jamaican accent. I can’t even begin to know what kind of paces they would put her through to get a job here.”
“Well, she’s on vacation now. We’ll talk to her; find out what she wants to do then work on getting her citizenship. If I know Butterfly, she’ll spend the first week fattening her up, the second week toning her up, the third week dressing her up… you’re going to have to jockey for time with her.”
“It may be a moot point,” he tells me. “She may already be carrying my child.”
“You had unprotected sex?” I ask him. He shrugs.
“The first time I was ambushed…” The first time? “The next time… well, the next several times…” Show off. “It was a foregone conclusion. She wanted to get pregnant. She wanted a part of me after I was gone.”
“And now?” I ask.
“Now, it doesn’t matter. Whatever happens, happens. She’s my family.”
“But you were going to leave her,” I accuse.
“I wasn’t going to leave her leave her, Christian,” he defends. “I would have taken care of my child, wherever he or she was. And eventually, wherever Keri was, I was going to be. If I couldn’t convince her to come here and be with me…” He trails off.
“You would have lost your mind… nothing to do but monitor that one psycho beach bum day and night. You would have gone stir crazy.”
“I would have gone crazier without her.” Jason comes barreling into the office.
“Your wife must have been bored!” he declares, upon entry. I frown.
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“The apartment? Sophie’s bedroom? It’s finished! It’s got a painted accent wall and everything—dark fucking purple! It was bare when we left!” I put my hand on my hip.
“Excuse me—that’s your daughter in the space next to your apartment. How did this become something my wife did and not yours?” I ask, perplexed.
“Because she said that she was going to ask Ana for help before we left…”
“Help!” I interject. “Keyword… help, which means if anything, my wife was an accomplice, not the perpetrator. So, roll that back, Mr. Taylor.” Chuck struggles to suppress his laughter. “What are you laughing at? You’re not far behind.”
“You two might as well can it. They were both bored,” he says. “I gave you no notice before you flew to Anguilla. That means you gave them even less.” I roll my eyes.
“Well, the bedroom is completely finished. It looks like they brought an interior decorator in there. And the rest of the apartment looks like it just exploded in Teenage Mutant High School Musical.” I can’t suppress the scoffing laugh that escapes me. I can only imagine what new trends will be the “But Daddy, I have to have it” thing when Mackenzie is Sophie’s age.
“What are you laughing at? You’re not far behind,” Chuck says, using my own words against me. I just laugh some more. I won’t admit that I was thinking the same thing.
“I’ve got a long way to go before my baby is at that stage,” I say. “You’re right there with us with the bored wife/significant other.” He nods and rubs his neck.
“I would agree we need to find something for her to do,” he says.
“She just got here,” Jason says. “Give her a chance to settle in.”
“Yes, we know that, but sooner or later, we’re going to have to make some decisions about what’s going to happen with her,” I say. “We’re just getting a jump on things before they get a jump on us.” I walk behind my desk and sit down, having had this entire conversation on my feet. I’m really going to have to look at my schedule and what’s been going on over the last several weeks. I feel out of sorts—like things have been going on without me while I’ve been trying to sort out this mess that is my life—which is exactly what’s been going on, if I’m honest.
“Listen, liaise with Alex and plan to meet with me next week,” I tell them both. “Correspond with Andrea for meeting times. I want a debrief and department meeting on current security issues—a state of the union, so to speak.” Jason frowns.
“Is something up, Boss?” I shake my head.
“A lot’s been going on. I’m just really out of touch and I don’t like it.” I wake my computer and shoot off an email to Andrea to notify department heads to prepare for a “state of the company” meeting with each of their departments. Security, accounting, legal, and PR will be first on the agenda, as well as a meeting with Ros—my second in command—to bring me up to date on important issues that I’ve been out of the loop on because of life… you know, the birth of my children, my brother’s girlfriend’s brain tumor, the Pedophile’s trial… silly little things.
“There’s not much going on that you don’t know about,” Jason assures me. “The new guards for the twins have been vetted and they’ll be brought on site next week. Besides that, everything else is business as usual.”
“That’s just it, Jason. I’ve been so out of the loop lately that I don’t know what business as usual is,” I tell him. He nods.
“Okay. I’ll get with Alex, and we’ll set something up for early in the week,” he says.
“I want updates on our latest watch list. You know what happens when we become complacent,” I tell him. He nods again. Complacency resulted in Butterfly getting T-boned and nearly killed. I send an email to Ros about meeting with me next week and liaising with Andrea with a good time. She responds almost immediately with a shot about this meeting being way overdue since Al probably knows more about what’s going on in my life than she does and with GEH than I do. I fire back an email with a slight warning tone praising her for her hard work during my personal quandaries, adding a not-so-gentle reminder of who’s the boss of the company.
She doesn’t respond.
I spend the afternoon combing through more GEH business from my study, setting up meetings for next week and looking through long overdue emails while Chuck gets Keri settled again in their apartment and Butterfly heads off to her therapy session with Ace. Chuck informs me that in the near future, he and Keri will move back to his house in Bainbridge, but not yet. He wants her to stay near the familiar until they decide exactly what their next move is going to be. I assure him that I have no problem with that.
It’s well past 9pm when I finally emerge from my study. I’ve got several meetings set up with departments and department heads next week, opting to move the usual department head meeting to first thing Monday morning. This meeting will only be to announce the “State of the Company” sessions that will be in progress as well as to make one other long overdue company-wide announcement.
I will be informing my department heads of my wife’s equal ownership of the business.
I know this may not go over well with some of them as I can clearly remember the reaction of my prior panel of attorneys when I announced this intention in our prenuptial agreement. However, things have changed significantly in my life and only look to change even more as time progresses. My family is expanding; the dynamic of our lives is changing in ways I never even imagined; and I’ve never been one to procrastinate, but if Elliot and Valerie’s situation has taught me anything, it’s that life is way too short and you never know what the fuck it’s going to throw at you. When my wife was nearly ripped from me, all I could think was “Please, bring her back.” When she came back, all I could think was, “I’ll never let her go.” I wanted to hold on for dear life and just stay suspended in the moment.
Then, Valerie got a brain tumor.
Who do you blame for a brain tumor? How do you prepare for that fucking contingency? What the hell do you do if the love of your life is ripped from your arms because of a malignant growth inside of her body that’s been slowly taking her away for months? What do you do with that information? Just as I was trying to process that information, Keri subconsciously damn-near starves herself to death!
I have never felt more ready to get my ducks in a row and make sure my life is in order than I do right now. GEH doesn’t need an overhaul or anything, but everything that has been going on has resulted in small changes that I need to be kept abreast of, and as a partial owner of the company, so does my wife. So, now is the time to make the official announcement, be brought up to date on things that might have slipped past me and bring Butterfly into the loop.
I’m rubbing my eyes and walking towards the elevator. I surprised to Butterfly in her parlor as I pass. She’s sitting on her sofa and staring at a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Uh oh… that usually means contemplation. I knock on the open door so as not to startle her.
“Hey,” I say, entering the room after she looks over at me.
“Hey,” she says, turning her attention back to the fire.
“Is everything alright?” I ask. She sighs.
“I went by to see Valerie after my rambling session with Ace,” she says. Rambling session.
“You had a lot to talk about?” I say, stating the obvious.
“Too much. It wasn’t very productive. More informative than anything—information to put in the file… on the shelf, so to speak.” She twists up her hair and throws it over her shoulder onto her back. Okay, her session with Ace was uneventful, so it must be Valerie.
“How is Valerie? Doing better, I hope.” She shakes her head.
“The radiation has her depressed and wiped out. I’ve been trying to get over there every day, to sit with her and bring her something palatable to eat. She mostly sleeps, but she says that me being there makes her feel better. She’s really bummed about her hair. I know the feeling. She cries a lot.” She’s lamenting over the condition of her friend. “She still feels horrible about how she treated me when she didn’t know she had the tumor. I keep trying to tell her that nothing she said or did back then counts because she wasn’t Valerie, she was Tumor Valerie, but it doesn’t help. She missed my pregnancy, the baby shower, Thanksgiving, the birth of the twins… somewhat.” She rubs her eyes and puts her free hand on her forehead. “You would think as a shrink I would know the perfect things to say to make this all better, but she’s inconsolable.” I move over to where she is on the sofa.
“I’m sure she’s just relieved that you two have gotten things together, as am I,” I say, sitting next to her and gently stroking her hair. “Give her time. Once this is over and she’s well again, this will all be just a bad memory.” Butterfly scoffs a bit.
“Imagine that,” she laments. “I hit my head and lose my memories—some of them forever, it seems—and she develops a fucking brain tumor.” She shakes her head. “Maybe we should get matching helmets and tin-foil hats.” I hope that was a joke because I chuckle a bit. “Elliot, though… your brother is a prince among men,” she adds. “This has been utter hell for him and he hasn’t faltered one bit. I don’t know what Grace and Carrick put in your milk when you two were younger, but I thank God for how they raised you every day of my life and I’m sure that Val does, too.” She’s looking at me with glassy blue eyes and I place a gentle kiss on her lips.
“We Grey men just know a good thing when we see it, Mrs. Grey,” I say, softly. She touches my cheek gently as a tear falls from the corner of her eye. She looks at me questioning. “What is it, baby?”
“I… I know I have no right to ask, but…” I put my finger over her lips.
“Don’t ever say that to me,” I tell her. “You have a right to ask anything of me, do you understand?” Her eyes sadden.
“This is a big one,” she says. “A really, really big one.” I sigh and cuddle her in my arms.
“Okay, lay it on me.” She swallows hard.
“I know the timing is terrible, especially with everything already going on around us, but I’ve had Marilyn doing some research and I’d like Elliot and Val to move in here with us for a while.” I freeze. She’s right, that is a big one… huge!
“Um…” I’m at a loss of words.
“I told you it was big,” she says, her voice deflated. The sound guts me.
“Have you talked to Elliot about this?” I ask. “What does Valerie say?”
“I haven’t talked to anybody yet, except Marilyn to do so initial research on what would be involved. I wanted to talk to you first.” That’s oddly comforting. I half expected her to put her head together with Valerie and make the offer, then spring in on me… just because she so considerate and wants to help her friend. She pushes out of my arms and sits up to face me. I immediately miss the closeness.
“I know there’s a lot of people in the house, but we have a huge house. We could open a fucking bed and breakfast if we wanted to. Elliot is exhausted. He doesn’t leave the hospital. I don’t know who’s running his business, but they need to apply for sainthood… as does he. He doesn’t sleep. He’s not eating well. He’s worried to death about her. I’m sure that we can get her all the care that she needs here. She’ll be around friends; we can make her comfortable; she’ll have somebody with her around the clock—good food, good company… we can get her to her treatments or even get her treatments brought here if they can be, and he can get some rest! And Christian, there’s something else.” I look into her eyes.
“What is it, Butterfly?” I ask.
“I’ve lost so much time… we’ve lost so much time. It hurts… I can’t get it back—I know I can’t get it back, but…” Her tears flow freely now as she looks down into her lap. “Under normal circumstances… if we weren’t married… if there was no Elliot… this is what I would do. I would have put all of my patients on hold or moved to part-time and moved her into my guest room. I would have hired a nurse and a caretaker and I would have been there the rest of the time. I would have known the moment she was sick, the minute something was wrong…”
And there it is. She loves Valerie, always has, and I know that she still blames herself for not knowing sooner that something was ghastly wrong with her friend.
“Butterfly, you did know something was wrong. You said it more than once, several times, in fact. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink, baby.”
“I should have done something!” she shouts, shooting up from her seat. “I was all sensitive about my feelings and my wedding, thinking that she was inconsiderate for suggesting something in front of my mother-in-law and look what was going on! We’ve been friends for over ten years, Christian… ten years! I should have known something! I should have known something was wrong!”
She buries her face in her hands and weeps bitterly, her mournful sobs saying all that her words couldn’t. Agony rips from her chest with each of her cries and I can’t stand it. I would literally crawl on my hands and knees through hell, fire, and brimstone and bring her the beating heart of Satan himself to keep from hearing the sounds that are wrenching from her soul right now.
“Baby, please,” I beseech her as I wrap her in my arms in an attempt to comfort her and end my own pain as well. “We’ll find out as much as we can, and we’ll talk to Elliot and Valerie together and see what they think, okay?” Anything… please… just stop this. My chest aches… bleeds… no, stabs listening to these sounds tearing from her heart. “Sssshhh, baby, please…” I stroke her back and kiss her forehead, silently vowing to somehow make it right. She nods, her face buried in my chest, but her crying doesn’t cease. I lift her into my arms and take her back to the sofa, sitting down and placing her on my lap. I allow her to cry for a few more moments, but I just can’t take it anymore.
I push her hair away from her forehead and kiss her repeatedly. I continue to brush her hair from her face, gently kissing wherever my lips can reach. She’s weeping so violently that she’s starting to sweat. I try to dry the wetness from her face, still kissing her temples, her eyebrows, her eyelids.
Please stop crying, baby…
I push her long locks off her face and they fall down her back. Stray tresses cling to her skin and I push them away from her face, out of my way so that I can kiss her tears away.
I’ll make it right, Butterfly… I promise… please, don’t cry…
Her weeping only wanes slightly as I shower her face with gentle kisses. I use my thumbs to brush away the tears that have collected on her cheek. She has shrunk into my chest with her weeping, but I force her to lift her face to me to that I can kiss her cheek, her chin, her jaw… anything to distract her from the pain that making her heart ache so much right now… and mine.
It’ll be fine, baby… it’ll be okay…
Her cries are slowly morphing into soft whimpers as she lies back in my arm… vulnerable, beautiful. God, I love her so much. I want to protect her from the world—from anything and everything that could possibly make her unhappy. I never want to hear the sound of anguish that I heard from her moments ago. It was like what I heard when she and Ray fought, and I couldn’t comfort her, then. It ripped my soul to shreds.
I love you, Butterfly…
I gently cup her cheek, her face upturned to me—tearstained and weary. I close my lips over hers… once… twice… God, her lips are so soft. I kiss her again softly… again… and again… soothing her aching soul and mine. Her breathing changes, but I don’t change the kiss except to gently run my tongue over her mouth and kiss her again. Her arm tightens slightly around my shoulders while her hand flattens softly against my chest. Her lips part and I’m tempted to thrust my tongue between them. Instead, gently lick the inside and continue the tender tasting of her mouth. Her soul calls to me… softly… a brief whisper…
My spirit responds autonomously…
I’ve got you, baby…
I’ll talk to Marilyn… and Jason… see what needs to be done to get Valerie comfortably moved into the closest and largest guest room as soon as possible… but not yet. Not right now. Right now, I gently press my hand into her hair, caressing her scar where her hair is the shortest and supporting her head, savoring the flavor of her breath and showering her with tender kisses until our lips are numb and her mourning has long since ceased.
“Good morning, Marilyn. It’s Christian. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.” It’s Saturday morning and I spent way too much time last night trying to get my lamenting wife to sleep. I can’t allow her request to wait another moment. I’ve waited as long as I could already.
“Um, hi, Christian… no, not really. Is everything okay?” No. My Butterfly slept fitfully all night and she tells me that you’re the first go-to person on this matter.
“I didn’t wake you, did I? I can call back…”
“I’m fine, Christian,” she assures me. “What’s up?”
“I didn’t know if you were planning on working today. Butter… Ana’s out of it. It was a long night, but… I need your assistance if you’re available.” There’s a long pause.
“You need me?” she says in surprise. I nod, forgetting that she’s on the phone and can’t see me.
“Yes,” I say, clearing my throat. “Butte…” fuck it. “Butterfly said that she asked you to gather information about possibly bringing Valerie to live with us. I know she just asked you to do it yesterday and I’m not trying to rush you or anything, but I was wondering if you had a chance to gather any information.” Another long pause.
“Um, yeah, actually, I have,” she says. “By the time I had gotten the information, she fell asleep; then Keri came home; then she went to see Ace; then she went to see Val; it got late… you know the drill.”
Oh, good! Marilyn is nothing if not efficient as fuck. I know she will have gotten all the information that we need to get Valerie moved in if we can get her and Elliot to agree to it.
“I know you’re not… um, probably not… scheduled to work today, but… if it’s not too much of an imposition…” Why the fuck am I stuttering? If she wants to bring the information over, she can bring the information over. If not… “You can just email it if it’s too much trouble.”
“Christian, may I ask… what happened last night?” No doubt, she’s picking up on my obvious discomfort. “I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds. If I am, I apologize.”
And now I realize why I’m stuttering. The last time we really talked, our relationship was a bit strained. If she doesn’t give me the information that she has, I have to start from scratch. That being the case, talking to Elliot and Valerie and setting up what needs to be done with the doctors and nurses and home health care aides and any equipment delivery could be delayed for days… and seeing Butterfly in the condition that she was in last night for even one more moment is an unacceptable option. Bearing that in mind, I need to get that information that she has like yesterday and since she’s done the research, it’ll be easier if she goes over it with me.
“Butterfly…” I run my hands through my hair. “She’s having a really hard time with what’s going on with Valerie. She feels responsible for not knowing sooner that something was medically wrong as opposed to mentally. She took it really hard last night and… she had a very hard time falling asleep. I’d really like to get a jump on whatever can be done to make this transition as quick and easy for Elliot and Valerie as possible, but I can’t do anything until I talk to them and I can’t talk to them until I have information… and I can’t spend another night with my wife like that,” I add. “She feels helpless. She has to do something and the longer we wait…”
“I’ll be there in thirty,” she interrupts. “Gary will be with me.” I try—and most likely fail—to hide my relief.
“I’m sure Butterfly won’t mind… and thank you.”
A/N: First, Ana extends a ginormous “thank you” to Barbara (Beachycolor) for the gift of the double baby carrier. Guaranteed that she will get lots and lots of use out of it!
Next, Sophie is going to be a bit more prominent in other parts of the story and maybe in a one-shot or short spin-off of her own. To that end, I’ve created a Pinterest page for her scrapbook. I would love for my beloved readers to help in the development of this character and her style. I’ve pretty much gotten in my head what her personality is going to be like, but I think it would be fun for people to see a piece of their suggestions in her. How can you be a part of this? I’m glad you asked. There are several ways that you can contribute.
1) If you have a Pinterest ID, you can send me a message on Pinterest and I will make you a direct contributor of the album “Sophie’s Scrapbook.”
2) If you are on my Facebook page, you can send me a direct IM with links, pictures, or suggestions.
3) You can click the “Contact me” link on the WordPress page and send a direct email to me with links, pictures, or suggestions.
4) You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to what we can come up with for this bright and beautiful little girl. There will be some mentions of her in the main story, but I honestly look forward to her having a little story of her own… nothing as detailed as the any one of the tetralogy (so far), but something to get an idea of who she is and what happens to her.
Five more to go…
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