I really love the fact that I was able to throw so many people off the scent for once. Only a handful of you expected it to be Elena and most of you were surprised that she was even a consideration.
Hiding in plain sight…
The curve ball that didn’t curve…
That’s really cool for me!
Happy Birthday to the original Christian Grey (hubba hubba!)
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 3—Sibling Rivalry
“You brought Dad out here to die?” Freeman shoots. “Alone? With him?” He gestures over to my father. “He hasn’t been around for twenty years and now, he’s suddenly the golden child? Why—because he has money? Dad wasn’t good enough for Mr. Moneyman to care about him for twenty years, what’s changed now?” He turns to my father. “Do you think you’re going to get the house, Rick? Is that what this is about?”
Herman put a call in to his brothers, Stanley and Freeman. Stanley couldn’t come… or refused to come, I don’t know. But since Pops has been on hospice for two weeks, Freeman has showed up at my parents’ house roaring like a bear. Even after he sees how my father is living, he still maintains that the only reason we wanted Pops here was to get control of that house in the historical district of Detroit. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that Uncle Herman is the one that has control of that house. No matter what, my father has to be the villain.
“We were only trying to help him,” I interject. “We were trying to see if any of us were a match to give him a kidney. He chose to stay. We didn’t force him.” Freeman turns around and glares at me like I’m vermin.
“I. Don’t. Know. You,” he says with disdain. “I don’t care how much money you have and I don’t care what name he plastered onto you, you’re not a Grey. You have no say-so here, so don’t you dare try to tell me what’s going on with my father!”
I’m instantly enraged. I don’t care who this son-of-a-bitch is, he has no right to tell me that I’m not a Grey. I have the guns loaded and I’m ready to fire when Dad takes over for me.
“Now you listen to me and you listen good.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard my father speak through his teeth… well, once, when I told him I was dropping out of college. “That man lying in that bed has my blood pulsing through his body just like you do, and as much as you want to sit on your high horse and pretend that I don’t have a say in what happens to my father, you’re wrong—legally and morally. So, you can put that high command shit right back in your pocket where you got it from because I’ve had about enough of it. This isn’t about you! This isn’t about me or Herman or Stan or even about that house! This is about Dad! So, while I appreciate that this is a difficult time for all of us, if you have nothing constructive to contribute, then shut the fuck up!” He closes the space between him and his brother.
“I have never in my life insulted Burtie and Nollie. If you ever stoop to insult one of my children again, I will make you regret the day you were born.” Freeman smirks at my father. Oh, no…
“You feeling lucky there, Ricky?” he taunts. “You think a little age has made you tough? Well, give it your best shot!”
“Freeman, stop this!” Uncle Herman tries to make peace. “This is ridiculous!”
“No!” Freeman barks. “He moves as far away from us as he can get—why Washington? Why not Alaska? Then he adopts some poor little orphans from God knows where and I’m supposed to treat them like family? Like hell! He can send those bastards right ba…”
Before he can finish his sentence, Dad comes at him square on with a solid right cross. He’s stumbling and confused, but when he gets his bearings, he comes right back at Dad with everything he’s got. They’re brawling in the great room like two street fighters, rolling around and landing hits on each other that would take out a bear half their age. Mom is appalled and horrified and Freeman’s wife just stands there with her hand over her mouth, sporting the same stunned look as Butterfly and Valerie. Uncle Herman is trying to break up his brothers, and I look over at Elliot. In seconds, we have a silent conversation with our eyes and make our way over to Dad and Freeman. With Uncle Herman’s help, we manage to pry them apart. Uncle Herman is able to hold Freeman, but it takes both me and Elliot to subdue Dad. I’m able to hook my arm under his so that both hands clasp his shoulders. He’s not getting away, but he’s hard as fuck to hold! I knew my dad was fit, but I had no idea that he was this strong.
“Dad! Dad!” I whisper strongly in his ear. “Don’t do this!”
“Dad! Stop! Please!” Elliot is in front of my father, putting his body between Dad and Freeman. Dad struggles a bit, intent only to get his hands on Freeman again.
“Freeman, stop it! You’re making a fool of yourself!” Herman scolds firmly.
“He swung first, the goddamn coward! Got more than you bargained for there, Ricky, didn’t you?”
“You hit like a girl!” my father retorts, shoving Elliot out of the way and attempting to lunge for Freeman again, but I see it coming even though Elliot’s caught off guard and I had tightened my grasp before he made the decision.
“Cary!” My mother’s voice is tortured. It makes all the men stop and turn their attention to her. Butterfly is holding her by the arms and she’s weeping. Okay, you made my mom cry. That’s enough of this shit. Luckily, I think Mom’s emotions has thrown ice cold water all over this situation. Freeman looks at Herman.
“Are you coming?” he growls. Uncle Herman examines him.
“You are my brother and so is Rick. I love you both and I’m not going to choose between you. If you want to be that asshole, you be my guest. You guys want the house? Fine, do whatever you want to do with the house, just don’t tell Dad, and I’m sure Rick will agree with me.” He looks over at my father, who is now sitting on the sofa turned away from his brothers with me standing over him. He disgustedly waves off the entire situation without raising his head.
Freeman straightens his clothes and runs his hands through his hair. Is that a family trait? According to this asshole, I’m not family, so I must have picked it up from Dad.
“I’m going upstairs to say my goodbyes to my father,” he says to Uncle Herman, his voice cold and controlled. “When he passes on, you be sure to have a funeral for him here—with people he barely knows! When you’re done saying your goodbyes, get my father back to Detroit where he’ll have a proper funeral with his family and friends, and people who love him. And he can be laid to rest next to Mom where he belongs.” He turns to Dad. “You’re not welcome… brother!” With a final glare at my father, he turns and leaves the room. His wife doesn’t know what to say or do, so she just goes behind him. Herman walks over to my father and gently clutches his arm.
“You alright, Rick?” Dad snatches his arm away from Uncle Herman.
“I’m fine!” he yells. “I’m fucking fantastic!” He pulls a handkerchief from his inside pocket and wipes the blood from the corner of his mouth. “Our father is up there dying. He has days left—hours, maybe—and all that selfish asshole can think of is that I moved away! I didn’t hide! You always knew where I was—he always knew!” Dad gestures up to indicate Pops lying upstairs, “but because I didn’t come crawling back to Detroit a failure with my tail tucked between my legs, he’s holding it against me! Then he insults my children—in my home! Who the hell does he think he is?”
Dad picks up a tumbler of scotch that was sitting on the coffee table and launches it into the fireplace, causing an eerie silence to fall over the room. He walks over to the mantle and leans on it, stroking his lips in angry contemplation. Mom walks over to him and places her hand on his back. He spins around and glares at her and in a moment, the walls fall. She looks lovingly into his eyes and he begins to weep—softly at first, then mournfully, bitterly. He all but collapses into her arms as soul-wrenching cries exude from his chest.
Elliot is the first to leave. He angrily pushes a chair out of his way and storms out to the terrace. Valerie is right behind him. We’re alike that way, and now is no different… we can’t stand to see our father cry. It happens so rarely and, quite frankly, it’s unbearable. I have to get out of this room. It’s everything I can do not to run up those stairs, grab that man, drag him outside and beat the living shit out of him—but I have to remember my father’s words.
This is not about me. It’s about Pops.
I escape to the foyer, which doesn’t help much because I can still hear my father, but I can’t see him. I’m a visual man, and the sight is more than I can take. I have to stay close, though, in case my father needs me. I pace a few steps before I see Uncle Herman and Butterfly exit the great room together. She gives him a hug before he turns and walks towards the stairs. She searches the room and, finding me, she heads in my direction.
“Not the family reunion we were all hoping for,” she says, sympathetically.
“Not even close,” I respond, trying to block out the sound of my father’s cries. “When I was a kid, Dad had this client—a young woman in her twenties. Her father had passed away and he had a million-dollar life insurance policy. He left most of it to his wife—his second wife, his first wife had died. He had three adult children of which this young woman was one. Her father had left his wife the house and all the contents as is the law for married couples. He also left her $550,000 in the life insurance policy. He left his three adult children $150,000 each.
“The day after he died, his children descended upon that house to lay claim to his personal possessions—things to which they had no legal title or right. ‘This belonged to my mother’ and ‘He brought this with his first wife and I’m taking it with me.’ The widow had to call the police and have them forcibly removed.
“When the daughter came to see my father, he thought she was contesting a will. She paid his retainer and gave him the information that he needed to begin discovery. After four days, of course Dad never found a will because there was none. He contacted the widow to find out who her attorney was in the case and she had no idea what he was talking about. The woman didn’t even have an opportunity to grieve her husband before these people showed up and started making demands and throwing orders at her. They were even trying to tell her how to dispose of his remains. They never once asked any questions or they would have known that he had already handled his final arrangements so that his wife wouldn’t have to.
“Dad listened to everything this woman told him and it was a real horror story. He called his client back into his office and told her that there was no will and nothing to contest. She wanted to contest the life insurance policy.” Butterfly frowns at me. “Yeah, I know, but she wanted him to do it anyway. I was home when she made her last visit to my father. I heard her tell my father how she had planned on hiding her father’s remains so that this woman couldn’t visit him; how she had actually found a judge that was willing to put the widow out of her house until and if she and her siblings could go in and clean it out. She claimed to have an up-to-date copy of the life insurance policy that left everything to the children and nothing to his wife. She had no idea that in any state, you can disown your children, but you cannot disown your wife. She tried every dirty trick in the book to make sure that this woman—who had spent the last 18 years of her life with this man—was left penniless and homeless.”
I run my hands through my hair as I recall that young woman. I was only 10 at the time, but I never forgot what she looked like. She was very pretty—blonde hair with brown or red in it, very shapely, and she looked like Satan. She was pure evil and she wore it like a badge.
“I asked my mother why she was so mean… why she wanted to take everything the woman had. My mom just said, ‘You know, Christian, sometimes death just brings out the worst in people.’ I didn’t understand it when she said that. I kept thinking that when the crack whore died, I was sick and unhappy. I didn’t want to hurt anybody; I just wanted my mom back. I hadn’t had any other experience with death up to that point, so I didn’t know how to rationalize what she was saying. Once I got older, I understood it better. Death turns the living into monsters! They want to be the favorite child; they want to inherit everything; they want to make all the decisions. They don’t care about each other at all. They just care about themselves.”
I shake my head, realizing that ironically, this is what my father is experiencing. His brother—or brothers, I’m not sure—had pretty much disowned him. They thought they could take away his rights to have any say-so over his father, except for Uncle Herman. Then my wedding happened, and Pops decided that he wanted to spend his last days with the family that he hadn’t seen in 20 years. This enraged his other sons and Freeman showed up in Seattle to set the record straight. However, Uncle Herman has power of attorney, and Freeman just assumed that Herman would side with him. When he didn’t, all hell broke loose.
“What ever happened to the widow?” Butterfly asks, breaking my train of thought.
“Dad gave the daughter back her retainer and took the widow’s case instead. The daughter didn’t have a case at all and the widow needed protection, so that’s what Dad did. He contacted that judge and let him know that he had taken the case and would take the whole thing public if the guy tried to illegally strong-arm the widow out of her house.” I drop my head. “Now he’s fighting with his brother. This will not end well.” She rubs my arm.
“We’ll be here for him, and we’ll be here for Pops. That’s all we can do.” It’s really not that simple, yet, it really is that simple. I nod and she stands on her toes and kisses me on my cheek. “I’m going to go check on the twins, okay?” I nod and watch her as she heads into the parlor-turned-nursery. Once she disappears, I see Freeman and his wife coming down the stairs. I’m trying not to glare at him, but I can still hear my father weeping in the great room. I fold my arms as he approaches. He turns his head to the great room, then keeps walking, not even caring that he has broken my father. He proceeds in my direction and examines me. I must be looking at him like Death itself.
“You feeling Froggy, too, kid?” he taunts. I have no respect for this man, his station, or his situation. He insulted me and my brother and sister, he insulted my father, and insulted my mother by disrespecting her home. He’s the enemy as far as I’m concerned.
“You’ve got good moves, but don’t let the suit fool you. I’ll leave you face down in a pool of your own blood.” My voice is menacing even to me, my words even more frightening to someone who I should consider my uncle. His wife gasps and clutches his arm. “I think it’s best that you get the fuck out of this house before I forget that you’re my father’s brother.”
“I’m not his brother,” he says, his voice lacking the cockiness it had a moment ago. “He’s dead to me.”
“All the more reason to get the fuck out of this house,” I say with a menacing calm. He grabs his wife’s hand.
“Come on, Shari. These people are nothing but trash with money.” And now he’s taking shots?
“Those are tall words coming from someone who’s broke and classless,” I retort.
“I’m not broke,” he says spinning around, “and I have more class in my little finger…”
“Whatever!” I hiss, cutting him off. “Say it while you’re walking!”
“You think you’re better than me, don’t you?”
“You know what I say every time somebody says that to me? No, I don’t—but you do. In fact, you know it. That’s why you asked. Now kindly leave my parents’ house. You’re not welcome here; you’ve already said we’re not family, so get the fuck out.”
“You really think you’re something, don’t you?” he laughs. “You think that because you have a couple of pennies to rub together, that makes you better than me?”
“No, that’s not what makes me better than you. However, I realize that you have no idea who we are, so let me enlighten you. I have more than just a couple of pennies to rub together, sir. I am a self-made multibillionaire. I own several companies across the United States and abroad, including the company that provides the steel to the plant where you work!”
His face falls. I think he believed I was just Ricky’s rich son who made my money from a trust fund.
“You own…” he begins, but I interrupt him.
“That man there,” I say, pointing to Elliot as I catch him in my peripheral vision, “is wealthy in his own right as he owns Grey Construction—his company. He works for some of the richest people west of the Mississippi. One of his most recent projects was rebuilding a 14,000-square-foot mansion on Mercer Island—my mansion! Of course, you’re familiar with Mercer Island, you know—where Paul Allen, Howard Lincoln, and Frank Shrontz live. Don’t recognize any of those names? How about Bill Gates? He lives right around the corner in Medina!”
He’s awestruck. His mouth is hanging open, but I continue.
“My sister, Mia, who you managed to insult without even seeing her, is one of the most successful interior designers and event planners on the west coast—her own company, too, by the way. That beautiful woman there, that’s my wife. A few months ago, she gave birth to twins, our first children. Two months before that, she was in a car accident where she was T-boned which left her in a coma for two weeks. When she awoke, she suffered from temporary amnesia. She’s still fighting to get some of her memories back.”
Shari looks over my shoulder at Ana, who I now discover is holding Minnie.
“Before the accident, she was—and still is—one of the most sought-after mental health professionals in the greater Seattle area with a waiting list as long as you are tall. Yet, she chooses to volunteer every moment of her spare time to a charity for abused and displaced families. They pay her for her services, but she gives the money right back.
“That woman, there, that’s my brother’s wife. She’s a very successful marketing executive who just a few months ago, suffered from a brain tumor that should have killed her. Instead, she kicked that cancer’s ass and came back better than before. She might have been responsible for the jingles that put the food on the shelves for half of the things you’ve eaten here in Seattle.
“Why am I telling you this? Because I think you may be thinking you’re dealing with a bunch of trust fund kids and trophy wives. You couldn’t be more wrong. Every one of us is self-made and if I have a trust fund, I sure haven’t seen it yet. So, if it means anything to you, I was abused at the age of four, Elliot is an orphan and my sister was a crack baby, and none of us live off Mommy and Daddy. We worked hard for our money just like you do—we just have more of it!”
“I couldn’t care less where you come from, kid,” he retorts, finally regaining his ability to speak, “and I care even less where you’re going. All I see here is a bunch of stuck-up people with your stuck-up family and your stuck-up wives…”
I don’t even remember what happened. I just remember this man’s eyes bulging out at me and his face losing its color. Elliot is grabbing my arm and yelling at me. Freeman‘s wife is screaming. I can hear Valerie calling my name and I don’t hear Butterfly at all. When I come back to myself, Freeman is dangling from the floor and I swear I’m trying to squeeze the life out of him. I place him slowly on the ground, my arm still holding him against the wall by his neck.
“You are a miserable human being!” I hiss at him. “You are the most wretched, selfish, loathsome man I’ve ever met in my life, and that says a lot! Now take your wife, your smart-ass mouth, and your despicable attitude and leave my parents’ house. We may not be welcome in Detroit, but that’s fine because you’re not welcome here.” I lean in to him a bit. “You wanted to be dead to us, you almost got your wish, literally! Now keep your mouth shut and get the hell out!” I snatch him off the wall by his jacket and shove him towards the door. He’s rubbing his neck when he turns around to me.
“Out! Now!” Elliot growls between his teeth. Freeman rubs his neck, then looks from Elliot to me, takes his wife’s hand and drags her out the front door.
“Good riddance!” I hear in a low voice. I look up and my father and mother have come out of the great room. I don’t know how much of the spectacle they saw, but Dad makes it clear that he has no qualms about me ridding the manor of his toxic brother. He makes eye contact with me for only a moment before heading up the stairs with my mother close behind him. Elliot takes a moment to compose himself before he turns around to face me. “Dude, are you okay?” he asks.
“I could have killed him,” I hiss. “I could have fucking killed him.” Elliot put his hand on my shoulder.
“I know,” he says. I just drop my head as Butterfly sighs.
“Val, would you please come… bring Mikey back to the parlor and help me with the babies?” I hear her say.
“Sure thing, Ana,” Val replies and I watch them both go into the parlor.
“I think she’s mad at me,” I tell Elliot.
“No, I think she’s just scared,” he says, putting his hand on my shoulder again. “You gotta control that temper, Christian.”
“I know,” I lament. The last thing I want to do is frighten my wife. He nods.
“I’ll go check on ‘em,” he says, giving my shoulder a squeeze before He goes into the parlor. I sit on a bench in the hallway and bury my hands in my hair, resting my elbows on my knees. I don’t know how long I sit there before I feel her hands in my hair. I reach for her and put my arms around her, laying my head on her stomach and inhaling her scent.
“It was me, wasn’t it?” she asks softly. I nod against her stomach.
“I think so,” I say. “I believe so. I don’t know, I think it was just the last straw. I wanted so badly for him to see how wrong he was about us, but when he just started throwing insults to be spiteful…” I sigh and pull her closer to me, resting on her as she gently massages my scalp.
“I love that you love me,” she says, “that you’re so protective of me, but you’ve got to gain more control of yourself when it comes to me. You could’ve killed him. That son-of-a-bitch certainly wasn’t worth it.”
“I know. He’s all hot air and bullshit.” I shake my head. “What a fucking asshole.”
The landline next to me on the hall table rings and I answer it without thinking.
“Grey… residence,” I correct myself from my usual answer.
“May I please speak to Herman… or Rick… um, Carrick?” The voice on the phone sounds like Dad, but I knew Freeman wouldn’t be speaking this politely to me.
“Who’s calling?” I say, almost demanding.
“Uh… this is Stan… Stanley Grey.” Stanley Grey… Dad and Uncle Herman’s other brother. I run my hand’s through my hair.
“Look, Stan… Stanley. My father’s had a really bad day. We just had to throw Freeman out of here because he got into a physical altercation with my dad. I don’t think he’s in the mood for any more today.”
“Jesus,” I hear him say on the other line. “He’s such a fucking hothead,” he adds under his breath and I don’t know if he’s talking about my father or Freeman. “Look, I’m not trying to cause any trouble, I just… couldn’t get out there. It was impossible. I don’t have the money and my job won’t let me go anyway because Dad’s not dead yet… Look, if you could just tell Herm or Rick to give me a call please? I don’t know if I’ll be able to see Dad before he dies, but I’d like to talk to him.”
“Is this about the house?” I ask, “because Pops is in no condition to talk business.”
“Pops,” he repeats the word. “Who is this?”
“This is Christian Grey. Carrick Grey is my father,” I tell him. He’s silent for a minute.
“It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” he says. “I… didn’t know Rick had any children.”
“I’m adopted. Me and my siblings… my brother and sister.” I’m short, probably shorter than I should be.
“Oh. Well, that’s interesting. What do you do?”
“I’m a billionaire… self-made. My brother and sister are both entrepreneurs—construction and interior design.” Butterfly looks at me questioning, but I offer no explanation.
“Wow. That’s impressive,” he says with a calm voice. “Rick must be really proud of you.” My mood softens. He’s not like Freeman. He’s listening.
“Thank you,” I tell him. “He is, and we’re proud of him, too. He’s been a pillar of strength for all of us… until today.”
“Look… Christian… I heard you say something about the house and… I don’t really care about the house. I can’t do anything with it. But if it’s at all possible, I really want to speak to my dad.” His voice cracks at the end and I know he’s broken up about his father.
“Stanley, I…” I sigh deeply. “I don’t think Pops can talk. He’s got an oxygen mask on and he hasn’t said much in the last several days.” It sounds like he’s choking back a sob. “But why don’t you let me see what I can do, okay?”
“Thank you,” he croaks. “Thank you, I really appreciate it.” I put the call on hold before walking to the stairs. Just as I start to ascend, I think about Dad being on the other side of the country—dying—and I can’t get to him. I thought about how I would feel if I couldn’t say goodbye. I sprint up the stairs to my parents’ room and grab the cordless landline.
“Stanley, do you by any chance have access to an iPhone?” I ask with no prelim. He pauses.
“I’m… on my iPhone now.” I look at the number on the caller ID while walking briskly to Pops’ room.
“Hang up,” I instruct him. “I’m going to call you right back.” He pauses again.
“O… Okay.” I end the call and dial the number from my iPhone requesting a video chat. I enter the room to Uncle Herman and Dad sitting on the same side of the bed, talking quietly and looking forlorn. When Stanley answers, I take a moment to look into the face of yet another version of my father—younger, eyes a different color, jawline softer, but Dad nonetheless.
“One second,” I say as I walk over to the other side of the bed with Uncle Herman’s and Dad’s confused eyes following me the entire time. Pops weakly turns his frail head towards me and I lean over the bed, gently placing my hand on his shoulder.
“Somebody wants to say ‘hi,’ Pops,” I tell him as I turn the screen to his face. There’s a pause again before I hear Stanley’s voice.
“Dad!?” His voice almost sounds frantic. “Hi, Dad!”
Pops struggles to focus, but lifts his frail, shaking hand to the phone.
“He’s having a hard time talking with the mask, but he’s touching the screen,” I inform Stanley. You can hear him laughing a bit through tears.
“It’s so good to see you, Dad.” His voice sounds like a toddler, small and soft… and longing. Pops actually smiles under the mask and I know he’s trying to say Stanley’s name. Stanley has a one-sided conversation with his Dad about how much he misses him and loves him. Pops isn’t able to respond much, but I describe Pops’ every reaction to Stanley’s words, including the single tear that falls down the side of his face and the Hawaiian “hang loose” gesture that he takes all his strength to make. This reduces Stanley to laughing tears again as this is apparently a private joke between him and his father. After as many minutes as Pops could stand, I bring the screen back to my face.
“He’s really tired now,” I say, remorsefully. “It’s been a really emotional day.” Stanley’s face is covered with tears when I see him again. He nods as he works to compose himself.
“I wish I could be there,” he says softly. “This may be the last time I ever see him and I can’t even say goodbye.” He weeps softly and the wheels start spinning. I own the steel company that supplies the factory he works for. There has to be someone that I can call that could help me get Stanley here to say goodbye to Pops. It would put Pops at ease, too, I’m sure.
“Why can’t you come, Stanley?” I ask, walking away from Pops’ bed and talking lower so that Pops can’t hear me.
“I have to work,” he says. “I work at the plant and I used up all my vacation time on… well, partially on vacation and partially when one of my kids was in the hospital. He’s fine, now, but there’s no time left for me to take off.”
“So, it’s the money,” I say, knowing that wouldn’t be an issue if I can get him to accept my help. He nods.
“That and the fact that I can’t get the time off. I love my father, but I have way too many responsibilities to lose my job.”
“Well, what about FMLA?” I protest. “Your father is deathly ill.” Certainly, that company offers something for times like these.
“I’m not the primary caregiver,” he says. “I can get bereavement time when Dad dies, but as long as he’s alive, I can’t get any time off.” I run my hand through my hair.
“Let me make some calls,” I tell him. “There has to be some loophole or something that we can exploit that can get you the time off and money is no object if it doesn’t offend you to take it from me.” He frowns.
“I appreciate that, kid, I really do, but I don’t think there’s much you can do unless you know the owner or something.”
“Well, no, I don’t, but I own the company that supplies the steel. You and Freeman work in the same place, right?” His mouth falls open and his eyes widen.
“You’re that Christian Grey?” he exclaims. Before I have the chance to answer, he says, “Shit, I never would have put that together! I mean, I’ve joked about you being part of my family, but I didn’t know you actual were. I thought the company that supplied us was out of Russia or something.”
“Yes, it’s overseas, but I still own it,” I tell him. He does a scoffing gasp.
“Damn, you have ‘I-have-companies-in-Russia’ money.’ Freeman’s going to be really pissed.” I raise an eyebrow at him. “Freeman has a thing with the rich. He feels like the only way that they get rich is from stealing from the poor, which isn’t true… well, not always true depending on who you’re talking about. According to him, the only honest dollar is a dollar that you’ve earned by hard work.”
And here I was spouting about my family, their money, and our accomplishments when that only made us look worse in his eyes.
“We’ve met,” I say, attempting to stamp down my anger, “and I’ve earned every damn dollar I have. I started my company ten years ago with a $100,000 loan and office space. I flipped and built and burned and cried and sacrificed everything close to a normal life for years to build my empire. Nobody gave me anything and I never stole anything. Your brother Freeman is just a blind, jealous, ignorant bigot who can’t see the forest for the trees.”
“Yeah, you’ve met him,” Stanley confirms. “Look, if it’s any consolation, I don’t share my brother’s views. I just never spoke up against him because it just wasn’t worth the fight. I have my own family; living my own life. I realize now that was selfish because that left Herm to take care of Dad all these years… and Rick, I just didn’t fight. I just wanted to keep the peace. You would think something like this would pull us together.”
“You would think,” I lament. “Stanley, just… stay put and let me see what I can do, okay?” He shrugs and nods.
“I can’t end up any worse off than I am,” he says. “Can I… speak to Herm?” I nod.
“Sure thing.” I walk back over to the bed and hand Herman the phone. “Hey, Herm,” I hear him say.
“Stan, I thought that was you. It couldn’t have been anybody else. How’d you hook up with Christian?”
“I called the house and got him,” he says. “He seems like a good guy. He said he’s met Freeman.”
“Yeah, he has,” Uncle Herman says.
“No doubt, that didn’t go well.”
“No doubt,” he says and turns the phone to Dad.
“Rick! How the hell are ya, man? You look like shit! What happened to you?”
“Freeman,” Dad bites out. “He’s a fucking asshole.”
“This is a real fucked-up situation, guys,” I hear Stanley say as I exit the room. So, I would have to contact someone directly at the steel company or the plant to see what can be done for Stanley. I can’t just call human resources because they don’t know who I am. This is Saturday. Who might be working today?
I’m using Dad’s study to chase down who I need to contact to get Stan the time off that he needs so we can get him to Seattle. Pops is on borrowed time and I’m certain that if we don’t get him here before week’s end, we might as well not bother.
I was planning to bring him and a caregiver on the last leg of our Italian vacation. I want to be able to fix everything, but I know that I can’t. I wanted to extend his life, but it wasn’t in the cards—not even with all my money. So, I at least wanted him to see Italy before he dies, but his health deteriorated so quickly that travel is out of the question. In fact, we had to postpone our Roman holiday because I don’t want to be across the world and get the word that my grandfather has passed away.
My mom’s voice breaks my train of thought. When I look up at her, all the color has drained from her face. “There are two police officers at the door that want to speak to you.” I frown.
“Did they say why?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“They just asked for you, son,” she says. Why the hell do the police want to talk to me? I push back from Dad’s desk and walk to the door to find an audience of people there… Elliot, Val, Butterfly…
“What can I do for you, officers?” I ask after I work my way through the curious onlookers.
“Christian Grey?” the officer at the door says.
“Yes?” I answer with a frown.
“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir,” he says.
“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!” Elliot yells like he’s twelve years old. That call will bring my father running from anywhere in the house.
“A warrant?” I ask, bemused. “For what?”
“Assault and battery, Mr. Grey,” the other officer says. I look over his shoulder and see Freeman in the back seat of the police car. Fuck! This is my second offense. I’m doing time.
“I assume you’ve arrested my brother, too, then.” I hear Dad’s voice behind me. Jesus, where was he? He just fucking materialized! The officer frowns.
“No, sir, he’s the complainant,” he says.
“Oh, well, in that case, you might want to confiscate his passport and his plane ticket, and arrest him as well, because if he presses charges against my son, I’m pressing charges against him,” Dad declares.
“What?” the officer says. “That man looks like he’s been beat all to hell!” I didn’t inflict those bruises on him—Dad did! But I’m not letting that cat out the bag.
“And I don’t?” Dad points to his face and the swollen lip and bruising that have now become evident over the course of the day.
“Mr…” The officer pauses and waits for Dad to give his name.
“Carrick Grey,” Dad says coolly, “Esquire.”
Oh, shit. Dad pulled out the Esquire. This means war.
“Um… okay. One second.” He goes to the car and Freeman and his wife step out and walk to the bottom of the stairs.
“That’s far enough,” Dad says. “I’m concerned about my safety with him on my property.”
“Your safety?” Freeman shoots. “That bastard reject of yours tried to kill me! My wife’s a witness!” Stay cool, Grey…
“Oh, you have a witness,” Dad says. “I have six that will confirm that you came into my home, insulted my entire family, incited a physical altercation with me where my brother and both of my sons had to break it up…”
“Eight if my infant twins could talk,” Butterfly’s voice comes behind me as her hands move to my back, calming my ire immediately.
“You were told to leave several times,” my father continues, “but you refused and instead, stood there spewing insults at my children. That makes you guilty of trespassing, which means I, my family, or any member acting as security on my behalf can have you forcibly removed. In case you aren’t aware, first degree trespassing is considered a gross misdemeanor in the state of Washington and is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. You can’t leave the state—assuming you make bail—until your trial, and you’ll need to come up with room and board while you wait. That’s not including the battery charges that are written all over my face. As you say we’re ‘trash with money,’ so you know we have the resources… and we live here, so we have nothing but time. So, how far do you want to take this spiteful façade that you’re only executing because Dad is dying in Seattle instead of Detroit, Freem?”
Freeman’s eye’s narrow and he glares at my father. The officers now wait for his response, clearly seeing that this is nothing more than a family feud being used to facilitate revenge. Freeman’s wife puts her hand on his back like Butterfly has her hand on mine.
“Enough, Freeman,” she says softly. “Let’s just go home.” You can tell he wants someone to go down so badly, but that means that he has to go down, too.
“I withdraw my complaint, officers,” he snarls, so angry that he could spit right now.
“Are you certain, Mr. Grey?” one of the officers says. “This could be considered a false complaint.”
“It’s not a false complaint,” Freeman growls. “I maintain that I was battered by that caveman standing at the top of the stairs.” His eye flash to me. “But apparently, according to the laws of your state, it was a misunderstanding because I had it coming.”
“That would be determined in an investigation, sir,” the officer says.
“An investigation that means I would have to sit in jail because that asshole would have me arrested for those love taps he got on his face,” Freeman says now glaring at my father. “No, I’m fine. I need to get out of this den of pretentious fuckers before I end up in jail for sneezing.” He takes his wife’s hand and walks back to the police car. It’s got to be easier for the officers to see how this whole mess came to be, just by the way he’s acting now.
“Well, it looks like we have no complaint, so… we’ll just be on our way.” One of the officers says to Dad. “Sorry to have disturbed you Mr. Grey, Mr. Grey.” He nods to my father, then to me before walking back to the patrol car.
“Excuse me, but…” the other officer begins, “did you say that your father was dying?”
“Yes,” Dad replies. “I did.” The officer shakes his head,
“Don’t you think this should be a time when you two should be comforting each other? You know, burying the hatchet?”
“You would think,” my father says, never taking his eyes off Freeman, “but death turns the living into monsters… which wasn’t a far stretch for him.” The officer tips his head.
“I’m sorry for your grief, sir,” he says as he walks back to the car. We watch as he gets into the driver’s seat and they drive off down the circular drive in front of my parents’ house. Dad squeezes my shoulder before going back into the house. Fuck, that was a close call. This could have been an even bigger disaster than it already is.
We’ve been staying at the Manor for the last few weeks. About a month ago, while attending my baby brother’s first birthday party, we got the call that Pops wasn’t doing well and had to be rushed to the hospital. Because his health was already so fragile, we rushed to Seattle General to see what the prognosis would be. He was only there for a moment before they told us that the situation was grave. He stayed there for a short time while the doctors did everything they could. Finally, they sent him home on hospice so that he could be more comfortable since nothing else could be done for him.
Herman had called his brothers the night Pops went into the hospital for fear that he wouldn’t make it out alive. I didn’t hear the entire conversation, but I heard enough to know that it was tumultuous. It was my understanding that one of the brothers couldn’t come because of work obligations and the other brother wouldn’t come because he’s a raving asshole.
As it turns out, the asshole made it after all.
I was so worried about Val because she was completely wiped out after her and Elliot’s wedding back in April, after which she had to endure intensive radiation treatments for the next two and a half weeks. Her energy levels were deteriorating and she couldn’t keep anything down. It seemed like every time we thought we had a handle on things, something else happened. With Val looking like she was knocking at death’s door, Elliot and I took turns spending as much time with her as we could.
Looking at her now, just a month and a half after her final treatment, she looks great! You never would have known the ordeal that she’d been through just a few months ago. She wears her Val wig everywhere, so if you didn’t know that she was bald… well, not completely bald anymore—you never would have known that anything was ever wrong with her. She hasn’t decided if she’s going back to work yet, or doing something else completely, but for the time being, she and Elliot are staying at the Crossing—well, the Manor until we all go back home—while deciding if they want to keep one of their places or start fresh in a new place. I say start fresh, but I have that “start fresh” money. I can’t dictate what other people do.
So now, after all of this, this street-brawling asshole comes into Grace and Carrick’s house, making demands and accusations and insulting everyone in his path until he and Carrick actually get into a fist fight! I’ve never seen Carrick raise his hand to anybody! I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve heard him raise his voice in two years much less his fist, and these two men are trying to kill each other. This Freeman guy got a few good hits on Carrick, but Carrick pummeled his ass. Christian had to execute a brutal submission hold on his father to keep him from killing his brother while Elliot talked Carrick down. For a moment, I didn’t think Christian would be able to keep a hold on him.
Of course, the son of a bitch had to hit Christian’s sweet spot by saying something about me. You would have thought the ass-whipping he got from Carrick was enough. No, he had to go and knowingly poke the goddamn bear. That didn’t fare well for him.
It almost didn’t fare well for Christian, either.
That asshole comes back to our doorstep with the police, intent on pressing charges against Christian. He only backed down when Carrick threatened to put him in jail, too. Somehow, I feel like this is not over, but I would have been pissed if my husband spent our anniversary in the hoosegow!
Our anniversary… It’ll be two years tomorrow since the day we consummated our relationship—one year that we’ve been married. I always imagined that we would do something fun and exotic for our first wedding anniversary. We had planned to be in Rome, visiting the historical sites and seeing the lakeside villa that Christian bought me as one of my push gifts. But circumstances just didn’t see fit for that to happen yet. I never did get to re-plan Christian’s birthday celebration, either. Just… too much going on.
Now that the asshole from Detroit is gone, I look over at my husband who looks like he’s been run over by a freight train. I shake my head in dismay, knowing that he or none of the other Grey men will be able to keep up the saddening pace they’ve been forced to maintain for much longer. Feeling completely helpless about the situation, I rub Christian’s arm and go back to the parlor.
My beautiful babies have managed to sleep peacefully through the mayhem once they’ve been changed and fed. I look over into their Pack-n-Plays and remember that familiar feeling of dread about bringing them into such a terrible world. I fall into one of the nearby comfy seats and ponder my situation. They’re only five months old. What am I going to do when the real shit starts to hit them?
“You alright?” Val asks. Her demeanor has changed significantly since the tumor. She’s much more settled now… like she’s content just to be.
“I’m afraid that our men are going to self-destruct,” I tell her. “There’s just too much going on back-to-back. I thought Carrick was going to kill Freeman and I knew for sure that Christian would do it. And then…” I trail off.
“What?” Val presses. I shake my head.
“It’s selfish,” I say.
“Tell me.” I fight back tears.
“Tomorrow’s our anniversary,” I say, my voice cracking. “I had so many dreams and ideas of what our first anniversary would be because our honeymoon was interrupted, and now…” I sniff and wipe away the tear that has fallen. “It’s selfish, I know.”
“No, it’s not,” she begins. “Okay, maybe just a little, but not in the way that you’re feeling it. It’s selfish only because every girl dreams of her first anniversary. ‘Hey baby, we actually made it a year.’ It may seem small to someone who’s been married for ten years, but for us—newlyweds—it’s huge. It’s a ginormous milestone and yes, we want it to be special. So, no, don’t feel bad about feeling bad about it. Isn’t there enough to feel bad about without beating yourself up about this?”
I look over at my sister and best friend. I almost lost her and that scares me so much. Last October, she went totally batshit on me out of nowhere and after 10 years of friendship, my brain never once thought something might be physically wrong with her. It wasn’t until she had nearly lost everything and Elliot gave her an ultimatum that she finally said that she would talk to someone.
As I understand it, she went to the doctor first who ran a pregnancy test that, of course, came back negative. Yet, after hearing her symptoms, the gynecologist recommended that she see a neurologist. Of course, the neurologist performed the CAT scan and then a subsequent MRI and lo and behold…
I wanted to die when Christian gave me the news that his brother had given to him. He had to sneak over while Val was unconscious and tell us. She didn’t want anyone to be with her during the surgery except for Elliot because she was embarrassed by how she had treated everyone. Then there were her famous last words:
“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.”
Even when she thought she was going to die, her last words were to tell me that she was sorry. It chokes me up all over again.
“Thank you for coming back to me,” I breathe, squeezing her hand and holding my head down as the tears fall. She puts her second hand over mine.
“You couldn’t get rid of me that easily, Steele,” she says sweetly. I just nod and weep, for all the sadness that’s surrounding me right now—Carrick’s crazy brother Freeman and the fight that ensued, Christian nearly killing the man, Carrick’s breakdown, Pops’ imminent passing and how we’re going to function once it happens, nearly losing my best friend…
She, Al, and I have fallen back into that comfortable relationship that we had before everything changed. I’d missed it so much, but the fact that I nearly lost it is never far from my mind and heart.
I hear his voice and regret that he saw me break down like this. He has so many other things that he has to deal with right now to have to worry about me. Now he’s going to focus totally on me and the fact that I’m broken right now.
“I’m fine,” I lie as he kneels in front of me, holding my arms. “I’m just a little emotional about everything, that’s all.” I feel him turn to Val and I raise my head in just enough time to see her point to her wedding and engagement rings. I throw her a look of daggers. Why did she tell him? Now, he’ll feel guilty. That’s the last thing I want! She gives me an unapologetic glance.
“Your feelings are important, Steele,” she says, softly. Christian turns back to me with a questioning glance that immediately turns to remorse. I roll my eyes. This is so the opposite of what I wanted.
“Baby… I’m sorry…” he begins. I cover my eyes.
“Please, don’t,” I tell him before both my hands cup his face. “Please don’t do that. It’s been an impossible last few weeks… months. I completely understand. These things can’t be avoided.”
“No, you don’t,” he laments. “Look at you. You’re falling apart.”
“Yes, I do,” I say, with beseeching eyes. “You’re a remarkable man, and you’re carrying so much. Please… I’m just being emotional. There’s a lot going on. Please, don’t worry about me, too.”
He examines me for long moments, his hands gently holding my waist.
“I’ll make this up to you,” he vows. “I promise.”
“I know. I know,” I say sincerely, cupping his face and looking into his eyes. I kiss him reverently, softly. “I know,” I say against his lips. His arms slip around my waist and he deepens the kiss, now passionate, but worshipping and apologetic.
“I love you,” he says softly, his forehead pressed against mine and his eyes closed. “I love you so much.”
“And I, you—you wonderful, wonderful man…” I breathe. He opens his eyes and kisses me once more before rising to his feet and walking contemplatively out of the parlor. My eyes follow him until he clears the door. I touch my lips and remember his lips there…
Then I remember I’m not alone in the room. It’s no use tearing into her.
“Now, he’ll probably present me with the deed to some small island somewhere,” I remark. Val laughs.
“He loves you, Ana. He deserved to know why you were hurting. You’re both going through what he’s going through and you’re both going through your own shit. You have to share the burden. You can’t take on what he’s feeling while discounting what you’re feeling. You’ll explode.” I raise my eyes to her.
“I thought I was the shrink,” I say, my brows furrowed. “What brought on this amazing insight, Marshall?”
“Walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” she says, profoundly reciting Psalms 23. It sends a chill through me.
“Oh, Val, please,” I say, my heart heavy again. She shrugs apologetically.
“I tell you, Steele, my outlook has… changed. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with my life from here. I wanted to be the best in my field, but now, I just want to focus on living and enjoying life… on those things that I didn’t think were important before—on Elliot and family; on you and Al and Maxie and Gary and Phil and Mindy; on watching those beautiful godbabies of mine grow and spoiling them silly; on having children of my own; on being here for Grace and Carrick when Pop passes on; on getting to know Herman and going to Mia and Ethan’s wedding… I don’t know how long this feeling is going to last, but right now, this is what I want and it’s because I had a glimpse of losing it; of leaving this world and you all not knowing just how much I love you. So, yes, right now, that’s my priority, and it’s because I walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” I smile and reach for her hand, squeezing it.
“I’m glad you walked through it and didn’t stay in it,” I tell her.
“Me, too,” she smiles, waving her ring finger at me. “You get neat prizes for sticking around.” We both laugh.
It’s not quite 9:30pm, but the house is pretty quiet. Even the twins are all tuckered out from the excitement of the day. Christian is down in Carrick’s study taking care of God only knows what. I sit in his childhood room—now our room for the duration of our stay—thinking about, of all things, Elena Lincoln.
Christian finally told me that the Pedo-bitch is the one who called the State Licensing Board on me. Based on their fucking logic, any disgruntled person in the world can call and drop a dime on you and it doesn’t even have to be true. It doesn’t matter; your license can still be in jeopardy.
Being a mental health professional, I can totally understand due diligence and making sure that a monster or unscrupulous person is not exploiting a position of power to abuse patients, especially since issues of the mind puts patients in such a vulnerable position. However, the way I was treated during my preliminary hearing was completely unacceptable, and while Christian is in the process of having the black spot removed from my record, I can’t help but think that there must be something more that I can do to improve the fact-finding process—not only because there needs to be some kind of evidence before you’re allowed to put someone’s life through that kind of upheaval, but also because convicted criminals are afforded a level of dignity that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Not that I need another project, but my treatment by the board has sparked a bit of a crusade on the whole “fair practices” thing involving complaints filed against doctors for abuse.
Christian allowed me to listen to the phone call, which sounds like it might have been a credible claim, had it not been made from a prison by the woman currently serving the equivalent of a life sentence for attempting to kill my husband for falling in love with me. Once again, there has to be some kind of accountability for making a complaint like this or any psychopath can make this kind of claim against any doctor anywhere. Of course, the board found nothing to substantiate the claim and the issue was dismissed, but look at what they did to my state of mind while I was already dealing with a difficult situation.
Wearing my silk pajamas, I wander down to Pops room just before bedtime. He’s there alone, but he’s not asleep. He’s looking out the window and gazing at the night sky. He’s wearing the oxygen tube instead of the mask when he turns his head to look at me.
“Ruby used… to love… the stars…” he says, his voice weak. “I… miss her…” I remember him telling me how his wife used the watch the stars for hours on a clear night from the porch of their home in Detroit.
“I’m sure she misses you, too,” I say, walking in and sitting in one of the seats next to his bed.
“I’ll be… with her… soon… enough… She took… really good care… of me and… the boys.” I nod.
“I imagine she did, but that’s what you do for the ones you love.” I take his hand.
“Thank you…” he says, “for letting me… talk about her… all those times.” He smiled. “She was… a beautiful ray… of sunshine… in my life. Thinking… about her now… makes this… easier.” I smile as he squeezes my hand as much as he can.
“You’re welcome, Pops,” I tell him. His breathing changes and I immediately panic.
“No, child…” he says, “it ain’t… time… quite yet… Sometimes… it just gets… hard to get… air in.” He slowly points to the oxygen tube with his other hand. I smile and sigh. “Where’s Mia? She said… she would come… and see me… before I go… to sleep.”
“I imagine she’ll be in before long. It’s not that late… I’m just beat,” I tell him.
“So… you met Freeman… I assume.” I drop my head. I can’t say anything nice to him about his son.
“Yeah,” I say, and that’s all. He laughs weakly.
“He has… that impact… on most people,” he admits. I turn to him.
“He tried to have my husband arrested, Pops,” I say, “for something that he provoked!” He laughs again.
“Yeah… that sounds… like Freeman… Still fighting… about that house… and still… pissed… because… Rick didn’t come back.” I frown.
“People move away all the time. I just don’t get it.”
“Freeman… and Rick… were really close… before Rick… married Gracie… Freeman… thinks Rick… turned his back… on his family… for Gracie… and her money… We… were never broke… We didn’t have… Trevelyan money… but the Greys have… never been broke… So, I… don’t know why… he would think that… He was… just upset that… Rick left… Left him… He felt like… he lost… his best friend… and he never… forgave the money.” I shake my head.
“Classic transference,” I say. “He better get over it.”
“I think… it’s too late… for Freeman. But Herm…” He coughs. “Tell him… I said to… marry Luma… A blind man… can see that… they’re in love… no matter how… much time she… spends with me… Beautiful lady… beautiful heart… those little girls… will give him… new purpose… when I’m gone… and she’ll… give him love.” I wipe my eye to quickly catch the tear that has fallen.
“I’ll make sure to tell him, Pops,” I say.
“When I’m gone,” he says with a wink.
A/N: So, the Brothers Grey… New drama formulating, and it appears that Pops isn’t as detached as everyone thinks he is.
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