Raising Grey: Chapter 10—Family Feuds

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 10—Family Feuds


Right after we get Nollie to the tarmac and onto the GEH jet, Christian falls into a silence that doesn’t break. He won’t say a word. The entire ride back to Grey Compound, nothing. When we get there, he disappears to parts unknown and I don’t see him for the rest of the night. And when I say the rest of the night, that’s exactly what I mean. He doesn’t come to bed; I don’t see him at breakfast; I can’t find him around the house. I have to ask other people if they’ve seen him.

Elliot saw him briefly Sunday night.

Carrick got a glimpse of him Monday morning.

Sometime between Monday and Tuesday, he spoke to Jason to get the jet in the air again Tuesday evening to get Herman and Stan back to Detroit with Pops’ remains. Stan said there wouldn’t be much of a service in Detroit since most of his family and friends actually came to Seattle to say goodbye. The brothers took the liberty of having urn amulets with a small portion of Pops’ ashes made for each brother—even Freeman—and each grandchild. Carrick secretly gave one to me, too, stating that Pops would have wanted me to have one since I helped so much with his mental transition… Yes, I cried when he gave it to me.

He said that he would hold onto Christian’s until he decided to resurface.

And the evening and the morning were the third day. By the time dusk fell, I had had enough. Minnie was inconsolable as she is accustomed to smelling and seeing her father at least once a day, and when she’s in a fit, so is Mikey. I leave my crying twins with Gail and go in search of my husband. Grey Manor—still Grey Compound for the next couple of days—looks fairly deserted. Elliot and Val have gone to look at a property that they may want to buy and renovate as their new home. Luma and the girls have gone home for a while since Herman, along with Stan and Lana, have gone to Detroit to deliver Pops’ remains. Everyone else has retreated to parts unknown, including my MIA husband. Had it not been for sightings from other people, I wouldn’t know if he was dead or alive!

After searching all the rooms in Grey Manor, including Pops’ old room, I call his cell phone only for it to go straight to voicemail. I’m angry now, wondering where in the fuck this man has been hiding for three days. Standing outside on the grass, my fear begins to turn into worry that he might be having a psychotic break when I turn to my left and find where I think is my husband’s hiding place.

The tree house.


I run double-time to the tree house, scurry up the stairs of the patio and across the gangplank to the main house. If the door is locked, I swear I’m breaking it down. Prepared to use my shoulder as a battering ram, I find that there’s no need to do it. The door is unlocked. I walk in to find my husband sitting comfortably on a chair watching something on television—I couldn’t even tell you what it is. He has three days of growth on his face and he’s wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He’s just kicking back, doing nothing, with a dead phone next to him. He’s not having a psychotic break. He just hiding out.

“Close the damn door,” he says without looking back to see who has entered his realm.

“Turn around,” I nearly growl, unable to hide my ire and displeasure at this time. He turns to face me, somewhat quickly, a bit shocked to see me. My fists are clenched and it’s everything I can do not to lunge at this man in pure anger. I get that he has a hard time handling grief and loss, but this is the second time in as many weeks that he has lost his ever-loving mind over his grandfather’s death and I. Have had. Enough. He has no consideration for anybody’s feelings but his own and goddammit, that’s just not how grownups deal with things Mr. Grey.

I have to admit that standing here looking at my mountain man husband, I’m really ready to fucking do battle with him, but truth is that he needs to see the bigger picture. He may have gotten lost in his grief, but he completely deserted his wife, his children, his family when we are all in a time of need right now. I. Am. Livid, and for once, I’m not thinking about his feelings this time.

“Is this what I can expect from you anytime there’s a tragedy in our family?” I hiss. “I can expect for you to just check out and leave me to deal with everything on my own? Because if that’s what my future with you holds, tell me now.”

Even I must admit that the statement sounds quite ominous, but I think part of me wants it to sound that way. The one time I checked out on Christian in a time of tragedy, I had no control over it and he and my friends and family were fighting over taking me to the psychiatric ward. I don’t know if he says anything… I think he does, but I just keep talking.

“Apparently, I missed the memo that you clearly got that says that you can pick and choose when you decide to be a husband—and that’s okay. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. I was doing it before we met and I can do it now since you seem to have decided that you’re not up to the task, but you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a father. That’s not an option, Mr. Grey, and it never will be. Now, you get your ass up and get in that house and help take care of your children!”

I don’t wait for a response. I turn around and slam the door loudly behind me. I march down the stairs and across the lawn without looking back. I wanted to yell and fight and curse and call him names. He’s not utilizing his resources. He’s not talking to Dr. Baker. He’s not talking to me. He’s not talking to his parents. He’s not talking to anybody, because if he were, they sure as hell wouldn’t have advised him to hide in his pimped-out tree house! No, he’s turning himself in to his grief and not seeking counsel or solace anywhere, which means those of us who need him can just kick rocks right now for all he cares.

So, what that we all must work through our grief just like he does?

So, what that we all loved Pops and hate it that he’s gone, too?

So, what that he has a family that depends on him, two crying children that he fathered who haven’t seen him three days? Who gives a fuck that we need him, right? We can just all fend for ourselves, right?

I storm into the house and up the stairs into the nursery to my yowling babies. Poor, flustered Gail is still trying to calm Mikey, but he’s having none of it. Since his sister, who is usually the contemplative one, is uncharacteristically screaming at the top of her lungs, Mikey is taking a cue from her and is wailing in utter discontent. They’re displeased and want their voices to be heard. They fucking well should! They need their parents and they know that something’s wrong. I’m sure of it.

“I’ve got it, Gail,” I say, taking Mikey from her hands. She frowns deeply. I know what she must be thinking—two screeching children and I’m dismissing her? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. My babies need their parents and if their father is too selfish and inconsiderate to see that his children are yearning for him, then I’m going to take care of them myself.

“Ana…?” she protests

“It’s okay, Gail. I got it,” I repeat, taking Mikey to the en suite to prepare his bath. I place him in his bouncer there and start the water running in his portable tub. He’s usually the only one that needs the bouncer because he’s always quite verbal, but Minnie is never this unsettled. I get his bath to the right temperature and begin to strip him out of his onesie. By the time I’ve removed his diaper, he still won’t settle. He’s wailing like a wounded dog and Minnie is attempting to match him cry for cry. The angry tears burn down my face as both of my children seem inconsolable. I don’t weep or scream—I just let them fall. It’s a bad time for the Grey family, and my children are no different and won’t tolerate being ignored.

It only makes my resolve stronger, to focus on my children and get them settled, clean, fed, and content. The angry tears still run down my cheeks and drench my shirt as I gently bathe my son. I look down and realize that it’s not my tears drenching my shirt. It’s my milk. My breasts have suddenly become hugely swollen, and the cries of both of my children are bringing my milk down. Well that’s just great. I hate wasting my breast milk, but there’s nothing I can do about it at least until I get Mikey clean.

I ignore my leaking bosom and continue to bathe my son, the tears still flowing heavily down my cheeks. C’est la vie. I dry my face with my arm so that I can see more clearly, but my tears are as persistent as my children’s tears. They want to be seen, too. Mikey’s cries have calmed to keening as I’m finishing his bath and Minnie is now quiet. Thank God! I lay Mikey on the changing table and begin to dry his little body, starting with his feet. My attention is drawn to the doorway where I see Christian standing with Minnie in his arms. He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of alien being. I must look a fright—face covered in tears and shirt covered in milk.

“Where’s Gail?” He hasn’t spoken to me in three days and these are the first words he has for me—well, besides “Close the damn door.” I turn my attention back to drying my son.

“She’s not her father!” I snap, my voice thick with tears and anger. He stands there for a moment and I don’t raise my eyes to him again. I concentrate on drying my son, putting together an outfit for him in my head as I make sure his little skin is clean and comfy. I don’t know that Christian had moved from the door until I hear the water running in the bath tub and the portable tub being emptied. I put a clean towel between my son and myself as the milk is still flowing from my breasts. After wrapping Mikey in a clean baby towel, I take him back to the bedroom to get him dressed.

No time to dawdle. After quickly proceeding with his grooming routine—baby powder, baby lotion, diaper, T-shirt, and onesie—I settle into the rocking chair and attach the electric breast pump to my left breast and my beautiful baby boy to my right. Only then, do my tears stop flowing. He’s contentedly looking up at me with blue-gray eyes, his hands fondling my breast as he hungrily has his supper. My tears dry uncomfortably on my cheeks as I gaze lovingly at my son, finally quiet.

My attention is distracted by Christian replacing the container on the breast pump—now full—so that he can feed Minnie. I thought Mia was crazy to buy this contraption because the damn thing costs a fortune. I haven’t stopped thanking her for it since the first time I used it. I was concerned about being able to produce enough milk for twins. That, I discovered, was not going to be a problem. Harvesting the milk was the bigger issue. It comes fast and won’t be denied. When we realized how quickly it was coming, Christian bought about four more of those things for different parts of the house, the car, one to stay at Helping Hands and one for here at his parents’ house. He can be very considerate when he wants to, but he can be equally as selfish.

I have filled another bottle by the time Mikey is fed and burped. He has fallen contentedly back to sleep, so I detach the breast pump and place him gently back in his crib. I don’t know if he’s had enough, but he has exhausted himself from crying. Christian is quietly feeding Minnie when I leave the nursery and go back to our bedroom.


I strip out of my clothes and leave them on the floor before going to the en suite. I need a shower… and a nap. I’m exhausted, too—mentally and emotionally. Twice, I wanted to be there for my husband, to try to help hold him up and get through this difficult time, and twice he’s just shut me down and shut me out. I’m not sure that I can take this. How do you handle something like this—just being ignored and disregarded because he’s suffering? We’re all suffering! Did he forget that I spent hours in that room and in this house with Pops as we shared the details of our lives and he was slipping away from us? How fucking selfish can you be?

The tears start again and I just cry, weeping audibly now and letting the water cleanse my face and my milk-sticky breasts. The tears don’t stop until after I’m done washing my hair and body and I’m rinsing off the soap. I brush my teeth, certain that I won’t be getting back out of the bed once I’ve laid down, even though I haven’t had dinner yet. I wring the water out of my way-too-long hair before wrapping it in a towel, then wrapping my body in a towel as well.

When I walk out of the en suite, I find him on the floor in our bedroom. It looks like he was standing against the wall and just slid down to the floor. His legs are bent, his arms are resting on his knees and his head is down… and he’s sobbing.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” he weeps. “I don’t know how to deal with this… darkness!” I sigh. My heart immediately softens at the sight of my broken husband. I kneel next to him and lift his face in both my hands.

“Don’t shut me out,” I say. “We’re all we have. Stop shutting down on me at your worst moments. I’m your life mate, your help mate and that’s what I’m here for. If you shut me out, shut your children out… you have nothing left.”

He closes his eyes and continues to weep like a broken little boy. I try to comfort him, but nothing I’m saying or doing helps. He continues to weep bitterly for several minutes and I know I have to stop him somehow. I drop my towel and crawl into his lap, straddling his hips.

“Ana…” he says, his breath stuttering, “I can’t…”

“I know,” I say, softly. I imagine that he feels the same emptiness I felt when Daddy stopped talking to me, only Pops can’t come back and tell him that everything will be okay. I cradle his head against my naked breast. “Just touch me,” I coax. “Wherever you want, just touch me.”

His strong arms slide around my waist and he pulls me against his body with incredible force. I feel everything—his desperation, his loneliness, how rudderless he’s feeling. I kiss his hair over and over as I cradle his head.

Please God… give him peace… please…

I can still feel his tears, but his weeping slows. Good… this is good. I reach for his back and pull his T-shirt up to his armpits. He releases me and allows me to pull it off his head, but quickly wraps his arms around me again when the shirt is gone. His body calms immediately at the touch of my skin against his. This is what I was hoping for. His knees slowly slide to the floor and he crosses his legs lotus style. My butt slides down between his crossed legs and I lift his head from my breast. His eyes are puffy and red; his face streaked with treks of a hundred tears, three days of an overgrown beard prickling his cheeks. I push his soft curls off his face and they just fall back down, so I hold them over his brow as I hold his head up to look at me.

So much pain in his glassy nearly white-gray irises… so much pain.

I kiss him soft and long on his forehead and he breaks down again at the sentiment. We’re about eye to eye now, so he lays his head on my shoulder and continues to weep.

And I let him.

I caress his hair like I normally do when he’s in distress, and I rock him back and forth in my arms and allow him to mourn with me like he can with no one else. I begin to hum a song—I have no idea why, it’s just the first song that pops into my head, about showing that you love someone takes more than words. I continue to rock my husband as he sobs, humming the melody with the hopes that the tune will bring him some comfort.


I’m awakened by the feeling of warmth being draped over my shoulder. I open my eyes and I’m still sitting against the wall in my childhood bedroom, the nearest wall able to hold me when the weight of the darkness I’m carrying hit me like a ton of bricks. I had played my wife’s words over in my head…

“I can take care of myself. I was doing it before we met and I can do it now since you seem to have decided that you’re not up to the task, but you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a father.”

I was failing at being a husband and a father because I was wallowing alone in my grief over Pops. God, I loved that old guy… still do. I don’t know if this pain will ever go away. I feel like someone has amputated one of my limbs and I don’t know how to function in a world where he’s not in it, even though I knew that one day, he’d be gone. Looking into the eyes of my unhappy little girl—the same blue eyes that Ana has—made me realize that I had to pull myself together, so I held it together long enough to bathe her, feed her, and put her back to bed.

“Hey Minnie Mouse,” I had said. “Daddy’s a real mess, but I’m going to try to do better, okay? I hope you don’t mind if I come and talk to you sometimes. Tell you about my troubles. You’re a good listener and you make me feel like there’s some hope left in the world.” I sighed heavily. “I lost my grandpa,” I had said. “One day, that will happen to you, too, but hopefully not for a really long time. You have two grandpas, and if you lose them both, Mommy and Daddy will be really sad. But Daddy’s sad right now… Mommy is, too,” I added, thinking about the tear stains I observed on my wife’s face before she put Mikey to bed and left me in the nursery. “I think that’s kinda my fault. I’m sorry, Minnie Mouse. I’ll do better. I promise.”

When I looked back down at my daughter, she was fast asleep in my arms. I kiss her little forehead, and place her gently in her crib. She stirred a bit before she fell into slumber. I went over to my son’s crib. He sucked intermittently on a pacifier, but he was fast asleep as well. I kissed my fingertips and tapped them gently on his forehead.

“Watch over your sister while I’m gone, little man. Daddy loves you, too.”

When I went back to my childhood room, I looked around at the setting and somehow felt like that lost little boy that first walked into this room, when everything was so big and so new…

And so dark.

I suddenly felt out of breath. No matter what I did, I couldn’t breathe. I leaned against the nearest wall and took in deep breaths so that I wouldn’t suffocate. Once I had regained my equilibrium, I was suddenly overcome with endless hopelessness, so heavy that I couldn’t hold myself up. My legs were buckling from under me as I leaned on the wall and slid down to the floor and into the hopeless pit of despair.

“I’m sorry,” my mother says flatly as the blanket covers my other shoulder, and my naked wife. “I knocked.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” I reply, wrapping my arms tighter around my sleeping wife, her body wrapped around mine as she sleeps on my lap.

“I was just coming to check on you,” she says, still standing over us. “It was late and you missed dinner. I’ll have Liona or Mrs. Thompson reheat something for you if you like. It’s late for dinner, but still early… well, only nine.” I nod.

“That would be good, Mom. Thank you,” I say. She returns my nod and leaves the room, closing the door behind her. I look down at my sleeping wife’s angelic face. This couldn’t be easy for her either. I outline the creases of her face and massage the lines in her forehead. Even though she’s sleeping quietly, her rest must be fitful because she’s frowning in her sleep.

“My queen,” I whisper as I kiss her lips softly. “I love you more than life. I know that’s unhealthy, but I do.”

I kiss her forehead and her cheek, then she stirs. Her eyes open and she glances up at me. It takes a moment for her to get her bearings, but when she does, she reaches up and caresses my face.

“How are you?” she asks softly. I nod.

“Okay… for now,” I admit. I have to take this minute by minute. That’s all I can do. “I want to see Dr. Baker tomorrow, or whenever I can get an appointment. Will you come with me? I know you don’t like her and if you don’t want to go…” She puts her fingers over my lips to silence me.

“I’ll go,” she says. “You just let me know when.” I nod and squeeze her in my arms.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I’m nothing without you… without Minnie and Mikey…”

“It’s okay,” she whispers, “just please, don’t let it happen again. Don’t shut me out… I can’t be there for you if you won’t let me, not to mention, I feel just as lost without you… Okay?” I nod against her shoulder.



“One of you fuckers know where my daughter is and I’m not going to leave you alone until you tell me!”

Butterfly and I had a very productive meeting with Dr. Baker. She and the doctor even saw eye to eye on the best ways for me to deal with my grief. We talked about my need to “cocoon” when I think about Pops and the fact that he’s not here anymore; how the afternoon visits became part of my norm and one of the first things that I need to do is fill that time with something else so that I’m not wallowing in the loss. Dr. Baker emphasized that now is the time to lean on my family, especially my wife, as not only is the family suffering as well, but also my wife is a mental health professional that can help me through my grief process not only as a loving wife, but also as a trained psychiatrist. This went a long way in closing the rift between Butterfly and Dr. Baker and I was glad to see that the emergency session was healing for us all.

I had Jason drop me at the office before taking my wife back to Grey Compound. Mom agreed that since Herman was coming back tonight and Luma and the girls would be returning and staying on for a while that there was no need for the entire family to stick around at the family house. She left the door open for anyone who wanted to stay, but we all agreed that it was probably best for Grey Compound to go back to being Grey Manor. Elliot and Val will be with us at Grey Crossing for a while until they get approved for the house they want to buy. It’s more than Elliot has ever spent at one time and I offered to buy the house for him and have him pay me back whenever he was ready, but he wanted to go through the whole approval process and buy it on his own. He put his condo on the market—a property that’s significantly less than the property he wants to buy, and Valerie had long since paid out the lease on her apartment since living alone in her condition was not an option any of her friends or her new family would entertain.

Jason has not yet returned when I receive a call on my cell from the last person I ever thought would be calling me. I don’t even know how the fucker got my number, and I don’t bother asking. What’s done is done.

“I don’t know how you got my phone number, but you would do well to forget it, because I’m not telling you shit. When and if she’s ever ready to talk to you, she will, but from what I understand, you treated her worse than you treated us and she came from your balls. So, if I want nothing to do with your worthless ass, you can only imagine how she feels.”

“You goddamn fucking son-of-a-bitch. I knew you knew what happened. What did you do to my daughter?” Freeman seethes through the phone.

“Oh, you mean my cousin?” I taunt. “It’s not what I did to your daughter. It’s what I did for my cousin, you asshole.”

“She’s not your goddamn cousin,” he hisses. “You’re not a fucking Grey and you never will be.”

“Well, you’re the only fucker who feels that way, and your opinion doesn’t count,” I say calmly.

“Cut the shit and tell me where my daughter is or I’ll send the cops on your ass!” he threatens.

“Like you did last time, you yellow piece of chicken shit?” I retort. “You do that, and I’ll tell them where to find her. But I’m not telling you shit!” I end the call and immediately put a call in to Nolanda.

“Hello?” she answers.

“Hi, it’s Christian. How’s married life?” I ask.

“Ask me in a year. I’m still on my honeymoon,” she jests. “What’s up?”

“Freeman’s calling, threatening police intervention,” I tell her. “I won’t tell him anything that you don’t want me to, but I may have to tell the police if he goes through with it.” She pauses for a minute.

“He’ll go through with it,” she confirms. “He’s an asshole that way. Tell him anything you want except exactly where I am. You can say west coast, he’ll really hate that, but nothing else. Make it sound as sinister as you want. I’ll be getting a new number on Leo’s phone plan soon and I have a little surprise in store for Daddy when he calls my old number. So, go for it, Cousin Christian. Have fun.”

8970d0126898e82c4ad003cb50345fa2My inner monster is rubbing his hands together and tweaking his handlebar mustache like the villains in the old silent movies.

“That makes me happy. How’s the move going?”

“Fabulous,” she replies. “I love it here. I’m so glad I followed my heart. Thank you, Christian… for everything. Now, let my father have it and give me a play-by-play when you’re done.”

“Why don’t I conference you in?” I suggest. “He’s been calling me non-stop since I just hung up on him. Consider it a housewarming gift. You don’t have to say a word. Just listen.” I can almost hear her smiling through her silence.

“Make it happen,” she says. I put her on hold and dial Freeman’s number. He answers so quickly that I barely have time to bring Nolanda back onto the call.

“Came to your senses, huh?” he says, smugly.

“No,” I replied. “I’m only calling you because I talked to my cousin, Asswipe, and she gave me permission to give you the scoop. So, sit down and have a drink while I tell you a little story.”

“Get to the point, shithead!” he shoots.

“Shut the fuck up or I won’t tell you anything and you can go on and call the police, you useless bag of horse feces!” I couldn’t think of anything… ickier. I think it caught him off guard and he has finally fallen silent. Wonder of wonders!

“My cousin took a one-way flight in my private jet to Las Vegas the day after Pops’ funeral. There, she met up with her fiancé and they were married the same day. She wasn’t kidnapped, you fucker. She eloped.”

“You’re a fucking liar!” he says

“You can only wish, but alas, it’s true. She wanted nothing more to do with you or the fact that you named her after the son that you felt she should have been. She felt like you never wanted her because that’s how you treated her, and that you wouldn’t give a fuck if she was gone anyway, so she went to live her life. Her sole wish is that you don’t know where she is, but I’ll be happy to tell you everything else…

“She’s somewhere on the west coast; she married a millionaire; and she’s changing her first and last name—her last name because she’s married; her first name because she doesn’t want that shit you gave her anymore.”

The line is quiet for several moments, but he comes back with a vengeance.

“What the hell did you say to her?” he asks, enraged. “She gets out there with you fucking nuts and now she’s acting like she’s lost her goddamn mind. What did you do—sell her to one of your rich fuck friends?” he adds incredulously.

“And that’s your problem,” I interject. “You don’t give her credit for having a goddamn mind of her own. What in the world do you think I could have possibly said to Nolanda to make her uproot her life and leave everything she’s ever known, arrange a goddamn marriage, and have her move out here with one of my friends all in one day??” I pause for a second to let it sink in just how stupid that sounds. “You’ve got serious problems, man, and I don’t give a fuck if you solve them, but you better get your head screwed on straight before you lose everything that’s important to you in your life!

“Nolanda’s been dating her fiancé for two years, but she never brought him around you because he has money and she didn’t want to hear your mouth. She was just waiting to finish her finance studies to leave. It just so happened that Pops’ death coincided with her plans to come out west.”

“He’s not your Po…”

“Shut the fuck up, I’m not finished!” I bark. “She had a plane ticket to fly back to Detroit with Burt. Once she got off the plane at DTW, she was catching the red-eye back to Vegas with her fiancé. That’s what she told my wife, who then suggested that she just take our jet to Vegas instead of suffering a day of jet lag after at least ten hours in the air for no good reason. Her fiancé flew out to Vegas to meet her last Sunday and they were married the next day.

“I’m sure you can find her if you try hard enough, Freeman, but it wouldn’t do any good. She’s done with you. She’s done with not being good enough for you. She’s done with feeling like she’s your biggest regret. She’s done with being first-born but second-best, with being the last thing on your mind and in your heart. She’s done with feeling like a fucking failure because she wasn’t a boy even though your dick spit out the other X-chromosome. It wasn’t her fault, not your wife’s fault, not even your fault, because as much as you may want it, you can’t command your balls produce a boy. Yet, you had to blame somebody… somebody, and you blamed her!

“For her entire life, you made her feel like shit. She was never enough. You never treated her like she had a mind of her own. You never even showed her that you loved her. And you can sit there all you want and try to convince yourself and anybody else who’ll listen that you didn’t do that or didn’t know you were treating her that way, but you’ll be the only person who believes it. Hearing her describe the way you treated her while she was growing up, the loneliness and hopelessness she felt—like she would never measure up, it was one of the most heartbreaking things I’d ever heard in my life. I was only too happy to offer my services to assist her.

“She doesn’t even have a term of endearment for you, did you even notice that? She calls you ‘my father,’ and the one time she referred to you as Daddy, she injected so much disdain into the word that it was obvious that she would rather chew nails then say it. I’m certain that had she not run away to get married, she would have eventually just run away alone. So, don’t blame me for her making her escape. I just facilitated it, but it was going to happen with or without me. You have no one to blame for this one but yourself.” The line is silent again for several seconds before Freeman speaks again.

“I don’t know what the fuck she fed you, but it wasn’t like that,” he growls. “I never treated Nollie that way.”

“Oh, cut the fucking crap, Dad!” Nolanda barks. Oops, the jig is up. “That’s a crock of shit and you and I both know it!” Again, there’s silence on the line for a moment.

“Nolanda, where the fuck are you?” he seethes.

“None of your goddamn business!” she retorts. “You’ll be lucky if you ever see me again. How fucking dare you insinuate that I concocted the shitty way you treated me. Years and years… decades of being ‘not-quite-Nolan,’ and you’ve got the nerve to try to tell someone that it was all in my fucking head?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Freeman defends.

“Then what did you mean?” she asks. “Treating Mom like she failed because she produced a girl and treating me like I didn’t exist. Telling me that my favorite color was blue and not yellow, because yellow was too bright. Putting me on a punishment for a month for coming home in lip gloss. Refusing to let me wear anything with flowers on it. I lost my best friend at fourteen because when I brought her to our house, you were talking about her father like a piece of shit because he made more money than you. Did you ever know that she and the girls that used to be my friends teased me until I graduated for that?

“Oh! And graduation! I was the only girl who couldn’t wear heels! And prom? Even the nerds and the fat chicks went to prom… but not me. Nobody wanted to take me. And college! Fucking college! Everybody went straight out of high school or very shortly thereafter. I had to wait for eight fucking years because Daddy wanted me to go to Ford! But you didn’t make Burtie go to Ford, did you? You were all ready to pay his way, but you didn’t need to. Maybe if I wasn’t so fucked up with low self-esteem in high school, I could’ve gotten a free ride, too!

“You believe whatever the hell you want to and you say whatever the hell you want. If you’re lucky, I’ll be at your funeral. You’ll never have to lay eyes on your biggest mistake ever again!” With that she ends the call and Freeman and I are still left on the line. I should have kept my mouth shut and just hung up the phone, but no. I let my presence be known by one word…


“You turned her against me, you son of a bitch!” he hisses. I roll my eyes.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, goodbye Freeman. Oh, and by the way, your son is gay.” I end the call and immediately put his number on the blocked list. He got wise to that quickly and began calling me back to back from an unknown number. When I had accumulated seven messages of threats, three from his phone number from earlier and four from the unknown number, I call him back.

“You foolishly left seven threatening messages on my phone, which means now I can take legal action against you for harassment. Now, leave me the fuck alone before I really make you hate rich people and show you just how far my arms can reach!” I end the call and summon Alex, because just as I suspect, before Alex even answers the line, my phone is buzzing again.

“Yes, sir,” Alex answers.

“I have a personal pebble in my shoe,” I tell him. “What steps can I take to make it go away?” There’s a pause.

“Details?” Alex presses. I give him the short version of what’s going on with my asshole uncle. “Oh, well, how about you start with an audit?” I frown.

“An audit?” I ask, bemused.

“Yeah. You’d be surprised how much mental distress an IRS audit can cause even if you have nothing to hide,” he says. Oh, an audit! Of course!

“Any way I can be informed when it begins?” I ask.

“Of course. Let me make a few calls.” I end the call with Alex and wait until my phone stops buzzing with Freeman’s latest incoming call to dial my voicemail and check my messages.

“I’ve got connections, too, asshole. I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be,” I say aloud as I put in a call to Al to get the ball rolling on harassment charges.

Just as I finish the details of the harassment and stalking charges—which, by the way, have caused me to silence my phone for the rest of the afternoon—Mac shows up with what she feels is yet another catastrophe that must be handled.

“Well, congratulations, you’ve made the news again,” Mac says as she and Joshua enter my office. Joshua sits on the sofa facing us while Mac cues up an internet article on the screen behind me:

Grey Promises to Make the Lives of Intrusive Reporters “A Living Hell”

I don’t react to the headline. I said what I meant and I meant what I said. Who wants to film a fucking funeral? Pops wasn’t famous, but these bottom-dwellers want to get a shot of me or my wife, so they violate my family’s privacy and intensify their grief by shoving a camera in their faces at one of the worst possible times of our lives! They’re lucky I didn’t start swinging or have security start shooting!

“Threaten the press, Christian. That’s a great idea!” Mac says to me with Josh sitting on the sofa, silently cosigning her sentiment by twisting his lips. When I don’t respond to her, she presses on.

“I don’t need to tell you this, Christian,” she warns fervently. “The press has power. They can destroy you.”

“I don’t care, Mac,” I tell her. “They can tear me apart in the press, but at that moment, they needed to leave that funeral, and they did—well, they backed off, anyway. My father and his brothers were hanging on by a thread, and those fuckers didn’t care. I don’t care what they say about me—I’m young and rich. I’ll bounce back! My father and uncles did not deserve that scrutiny while they were trying to bury their father! It’s everything my family can do to hold ourselves together during this loss and they’re looking for a sound bite! Well, they got one! They can do what they want to me! I’m a big boy! I can take it, but I meant what I said! Leave! My family! Alone!”

The more I think about it, the angrier I get. The press can destroy me. Well, fuck the press! My voice comes back seeping with the fury that I feel for those inconsiderate vultures.

“They’re there when someone is born. They’re there at every tragedy. They’re there when someone dies. Why? I haven’t done anything notable! I haven’t found the cure for cancer, made some crippled kid walk or brought the dead back to life. All I did was work—work my ass off and made something of myself and they’re punishing me for it! My best friend gets shot, my wife nearly dies, my children are born and they’re there at every turn! I sneeze and they’re there. My wife changes clothes and they’re there. My grandfather dies and they’re there. And why? Because I’ve got money… something that any one of them could have had they just put forth the same effort that I did. It’s getting such that if I have a prostate exam, it’s going to be a goddamn televised event!”

My anger is boiling out of me faster than I can contain it.

“They want to destroy me in the press, let them destroy me! I’m worth more than Fort Knox right now. I could move to a small island with my entire family and live the rest of my life off my investments alone! They want to destroy me, have at it. If they do, at least at some point, I’ll finally be yesterday’s news! Maybe then I can get some goddamn peace!”

I didn’t know that I had graduated to yelling until Mac and Josh stare at me in stunned silence. I shake my head and turn my attention back to my laptop.

“If they have something else to say about me, let me know what you’re going to do about it. Otherwise, I don’t give a fuck.”


“He did what?” I roar when I walk into the small meeting in the great room. Butterfly is sitting there looking quite maudlin with my mother sitting next to her. Dad is leaning against the mantle of the fireplace while Uncle Herman stands behind one of the sofas with his arms folded.

“I don’t know how he did it in the middle of a crowded airport, but he beat that kid within an inch of his life,” Uncle Herman says. Apparently, Freeman was furious when Nolanda didn’t return to Detroit, so he took it out on Burt and beat the hell out of him in the middle of Metropolitan Airport. “By the time airport security pulled Freeman off Burt, he was unconscious. He had multiple contusions, a smashed eye-socket, and he’s going to need some serious dental work.”

I just stand there shaking my head. I feel some small amount of relief that this happened at the airport and not after I told him that Burt was gay, but horrified that I’m feeling any relief at all.

“So, why isn’t he in jail right now?” Butterfly asks.

“He was,” Uncle Herman says. “His attorney posted bail and he was released just as we were landing. At the same time, Nell was calling Stan to tell him what happened.”

“He landed Sunday night. Why are we just now hearing about this?” Mom asks.

“Nell was really in no condition to speak to anyone,” Dad says. “She was at the hospital with Burt and he was unconscious for an entire day.” Shit, shit, shit. I never would have thought this would happen. I know Freeman’s an asshole and I don’t know much else, but I still wouldn’t have expected this.

“So, where’s Burt, now?” I ask. “I mean, what now? He can’t stay in that house with Freeman.” There’s no telling what he’s going to do now that he knows Burt is gay. Uncle Herman sighs.

“When Stan and I got off the plane, Nell had called Stan and left a message that they were at Beaumont, but she gave no more details. We went to the hospital not knowing what to expect, but fully expecting to see Freeman. When we get there, Burt’s mouth is wired shut and he’s writing on a dry erase board, drinking his dinner from a straw. He was barely recognizable. He said that he told Freeman that Nollie said that she was staying, but that’s all he knew. He didn’t even see it coming when his father hit him and he woke up in the hospital two days later. It wasn’t until his mother told him what happened that he knew that his father had attacked him.

“Nell could barely explain what happened,” Uncle Herman continues. “She had to watch the video playback of the beating and identify her husband as the assailant. The way she and Burt described it, Burt was unconscious after the first hit. So, Freeman just kept beating his unconscious body in a blind rage. He couldn’t even defend himself. He got in several good hits and kicks on Burt’s limp body before bystanders tried to get involved and he started hitting them, too. By the time airport security got to him, they had to hogtie his ass to restrain him and the ambulance took Burt to the hospital.

“What’s worse is that Freeman was the emergency contact in his wallet. So, every time they try to call Burt’s emergency contact, Freeman’s phone is ringing. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking when they found out that this man’s father beat him this badly in the middle of an airport.” Uncle Herman shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead.

“Long story short, they finally got in touch with Nell and she stayed at the hospital with him the entire time. Freeman’s been in lock-up all this time and when he was released, it was with a restraining order to stay away from his son. Burt was released earlier today and the guy that you sent with us went back to the house with him and Nell so that they could get some of their things. They got as much as they could fit in the SUV we rented because she’s sure that he’s not going to let her back in the house again.”

“Where did they go?” Butterfly asks.

“To Nell’s mother’s house,” he says. “He has to stay one-hundred feet away from Burtie, so he can’t go to the house. Stan and I came back to get some more of their things before we left and he was already destroying their stuff. We tried to stop him, but he rounded on Stan and…” Dad looked up at Uncle Herman. This is the first time I’d seen a protective streak in my father and I knew he would feel responsible for anything that happened to his little brother after hearing what happened to Burt.

“And what?” Dad asks as if he would fly to Detroit himself and beat Freeman’s ass if he hurt Uncle Stan. Uncle Herman laughs.

“Stan came back on him with one blow and the ‘fight’ was over,” Uncle Herman chuckles. “Didn’t even hit him in the face. He hit Freeman in the chest. So. Hard, that an involuntary whimper escaped from his throat along with all the breath from his lungs.”

I could almost feel the pain from that blow. That’s one of those hits that causes noise to come from your voice box even if you’re saying nothing.

“Stan moved so fast, I didn’t even see the hit. I heard it and I saw the aftermath. Freeman just crumpled on the sofa like an invisible force was pushing him inward. Stan said, ‘Stay there, Freem, or I’ll lay you down. I’ll give you the beating that Burt should’ve.’ Freeman looked at him like he had seen a ghost. When Freeman tried to get off the sofa, Stan told him again, ‘Stay down.’ Reminded him that there’s an active restraining order against him and that he just got out of jail. If they got into a fight, he just violated his bail and would be back in jail by midnight. Freem stood still while we gathered as much as we could and put it in that SUV.” I shake my head.

“Well, he’s going to have two restraining orders now,” I say. Everyone frowns and looks at me. I pull out my phone, go to the call logs and hand it to Dad. “All of those missed calls are him, and most likely all of those messages.” Dad frowns.

“How do you know it’s Freeman? They’re all unknown,” he says as he scrolls through them.

“It’s him, Dad,” I say. “He started calling today. He wants to know where Nolanda is.”

“You know where Nollie is?” Uncle Herman says.

“We both do,” Butterfly responds. “She confided in me with her plans and I shared them with Christian—with her permission—so that we can aid her escape.”

“Well, where is she?” Dad says.

“It’s up to her to reveal that, Dad,” I say. “All I can say is that she’s safe, she’s happy, she’s gotten married, and she’s not going back.”

“Nollie got married?” Uncle Herman asks. I nod.

“She knew Freeman wouldn’t approve, so she eloped,” I respond. “I more think she eloped, though, instead of having a wedding because she just wanted to get away from him, and her new husband is rich. She was conferenced in on one of the calls with him today and it was bloody. She unloaded on him mercilessly. Now, he’s calling me because… well, obviously, he has to blame somebody—anybody, but himself. So, my attorney is filing harassment charges against him. I’m told that my phone logs and his threatening messages are more than enough to charge him with stalking, which—according to Al—he can go to jail for a year and be fined $1000.”

“Oh, it’s better than that,” Dad says. “If he’s already served with a restraining order and he’s already on bail and he continues to stalk you, those numbers go up to five years and $10,000.” I frown at my father. How did he know that? “I practiced law in Michigan before I moved here, son,” he says, answering my unasked question.

“Oh, that would be lovely,” I say with no remorse. “His last call was 5:17pm Seattle time, so that’s 8:17pm Detroit time. I’ll find out from Al tomorrow what time the restraining order was served… if it was served.”

“Freeman’s life is going to be shit when this is all over,” Uncle Herman says, “and somebody has to tell Nollie what’s going on.”


“We can’t tell Nolanda,” Christian says immediately.

“We have to tell Nolanda!” I retort. “This happened to Burt because she wasn’t on the plane!”

“This happened to Burt because her father’s a fucking asshole!” he yells back, his fists clenched. Grace looks at him but says nothing. “She has a right to live her life and if we tell her this happened, she’ll never forgive herself.” I take a deep breath and speak in a calming voice.

“She’s going to find out, Christian,” I say softly. “How do you think she’ll feel knowing that we knew first and didn’t tell her?” Christian’s eyes dart back and forth between mine.

“Fuck!” he roars, slamming his hands so hard on a nearby table that it rattles. People from the kitchen come running into the great room, Elliot and Val included. I quickly put my hand on my husband’s back, trying to soothe him. Christian leans on the table with the table runner bunched in his fingers.

“He’s a fucking monster,” he says through clenched teeth, “a goddamn, fucking monster. All the girl wanted to do was live the life he never afforded her! All she wanted was peace, and he takes it away at every turn. He beat the hell out of that kid because he couldn’t control the other kid’s life.” Christian shakes his head. I have no doubt that he’s feeling part of the responsibility for putting Nollie on the jet to Vegas this past weekend. “How could my kind, caring grandfather had produced such an evil, heartless, selfish bastard?”

“There’s always one,” Carrick says, garnering Christian’s attention. “Uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters—all kind-hearted, good individuals… and one asshole.” Christian shakes his head.

“I was the asshole at one point,” he says defeated.

“You were nothing like Freeman!” Elliot interjects.

“But I was still an asshole,” he protests.

“Okay, I can attest to that,” I say to stop the back and forth, “but now you’re not. You’re a kind-hearted, loving and devoted husband, a doting father, and grateful son and a philanthropic human being. You’re nothing like Freeman and you never will be, and even though you’ve had your moments, you’re a wonderful man now and we all love you. Freeman has no one that’s saying that about him right now.” Christian takes a deep breath and his body settles.

“I can’t tell her,” he says, still leaning on the table and shaking his head. “I can’t tell her that Freeman nearly killed Burt because of her.” That’s not what happened. Freeman nearly killed Burt because he’s an evil and selfish asshole.

“I’ll talk to her,” I tell him.


“Hi, Nollie, it’s Ana.”

“Hi, Ana… why so glum?” she asks.

“I need you to sit down, honey.” I hear her pull out a chair and take a seat.

“Is it Mom?” she asks. “Is she alright?” I swallow hard.

“She’s left Freeman,” I say. “She moved in with her mother and she’s going to be filing for divorce as soon as possible.”

“Did he hit her?” Nollie asks in a panic.

“No, Nollie, he didn’t hit your mother. He did… hit Burt.” The line is quiet.

“He hit Burt,” she says. It’s a statement, not a question. “Why did he hit Burt?” I sigh.

“He was angry that you didn’t return to Detroit,” I tell her. “Christian and I just found out. Apparently, he attacked Burt almost the moment he got off the plane.”

“You’re telling me that my father attacked my brother because I didn’t come back to Detroit?” she summarizes. I sigh.

“It’s not your fault, Nollie…” I begin.

“I know it’s not my fault! It’s my father’s fault! He’s a fucking asshole!” she declares. I pull the phone away from my ear as she rants, but can’t hide my relief that she knows it’s not her fault. Christian examines me for a moment, then instructs me to put the phone on speaker, which I do.

“… And a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch. Burt wouldn’t hurt a fucking fly and he knows it and his Cro-Magnon bully ass did this shit to my brother? Somebody needs to…”

“Nolanda!” Christian says forcefully. Nollie stops mid-rant. “What can we do to help?” She sighs.

“Where’s my brother?” she asks.

“He and your mother are staying with your grandmother,” Christian says.

“Why didn’t anyone call me?” I sigh again.

“It’s been a real mess,” I tell her. “Burt had to be hospitalized and your mom went straight from the hospital to her mother’s. She’s been nursing Burt back to health, but most likely didn’t know what to say to you. She sighs.

“They didn’t want to upset me,” she says sorrowfully. “I have my grandmother’s number. I’m going to call them right now. Christian, if it’s not too much trouble, I would like to use the jet again… I just… don’t think I can get a commercial flight soon enough… and the layovers and delays…” Her voice starts cracking.

“You let me know when you’ll need it,” he says. Nollie starts to cry.

“Thank you, Christian,” she weeps. “I’ll call you soon.” I end the call and he calls Jason.

“Back to Detroit again,” he says into the phone.

A/N: So, Freeman’s a bigger fucking asshole than we thought and he’s well on his way to losing everything he every cherished.

The song that Ana is humming to calm Christian is called “More Than Words” by Extreme. 

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

Raising Grey: Chapter 9—Goodbye, and Hello

So, in case you haven’t already heard, I’ve finished editing my ORIGINAL WORK and I’m about to prep it for publishing. I’m looking for cover art and researching the best way to market it—whether it will be offered electronically only or as a traditional book. We’ll have to see. Anyone with suggestions or leads for good cover artists at a reasonable price, please hit me up on Facebook or in the “contact me” link in the menu. Marketing leads and assistance will be appreciated as well.

Please note that this is NOT the Fanfiction that I am publishing. I’m not ready to close it down, which is what I would have to do if I decided to publish my Fanfic. This is an entirely new story that I wrote and I hope you guys will like it. A sample of one of the lemons from the story can be found in the “More Work From The Goddess” menu on the left under the first “Lemon Drop.”

About the last chapter, all I can say is “people are going to be people.” They’re going to fuck up; they’re going to piss you off; and it ain’t gone stop. If it did, this would have been a very short story—very hot, but very short. When Christian learns all of his lessons and stops being an ass and Ana becomes the perfect wife all the time, the story is over and I’ll stop writing it.

 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 9—Goodbye, and Hello


Butterfly nearly has to hold me up as we follow Pops’ casket out of the church. I’m squeezing her hand for dear life and she’s squeezing mine right back. We file out of the church and move to various positions around the front door and watch in solemn and grieved silence as they load Pops’ remains into the hearse and drive off, headed for the crematorium. We can’t all go to the crematorium, so Dad and his brothers take one limo while Mom, Luma, and Lana ride with Mia and Ethan in the second limo. Elliot and I and our wives will ride in one of the Audis.

One of the Audis.

It’s not until the second limo drives away that I realize that there are a lot of Audis in front of the church—quite possibly every vehicle in my damn fleet. When did this happen? Beyond the line of Audis, basically blocking the view of the entrance to the church, is a police barricade and it stretches around the church as far as I can see. The press is contained on the other side of the street. No doubt, they’re on the rooftops and hanging out of windows with telephoto lenses, too.

I frown and look at Jason.

“What is this?” I ask.

“I got in touch with Alex for back-up. He called in a favor.” I nod and pat his shoulder.

“Thank you,” I say softly before getting into the car with my wife.


The day is a bit of a blur after that. I meet a lot of people—more of my father’s family came from Detroit than we thought. Everyone readjourns at my parent’s house for the repast, but all I can do for most of the day is stare out onto the patio, where Pops and I had many conversations over the past few months.


The service was truly beautiful.  There were many more in attendance than we thought we would see. Ros and her wife were there and Lorenz showed up, too. There were a few others I recognized from department head meetings and a lot of people that I didn’t recognize at all. I could see Carrick’s family resemblance in some of the mourners, so I was happy to know that at least some of his family from Detroit made the trip to pay last respects and see Pops for the last time.

I’ve never been good with seeing my husband break down. Watching him lose his composure during the eulogy was almost more than I could stand. I knew I had to be strong for him during this time, so I fought my emotions and helped him through his. He sat silently in the car the entire ride back to his parents’ house. He almost seemed robotic when we exited the car and walked into the house. I feel kind of lost without him to lean on and now, I must admit that I can’t wait to get to my children.

When I get to the nursery, Minnie is awake, but Mikey is fast asleep. Keri tells me that he’s just been put down for his nap and Minnie is soon to follow. I don’t want to disturb the routine, so I just kiss them both and go back downstairs.

Grace is busy getting everything prepared for guests that she knows will be arriving soon. There’s enough food prepared to feed a small third-world country. I go in search of Christian and find him standing in the great room at the fireplace with a scotch in his hand. At least, I think it’s scotch. I put my hand on his back and feel him immediately deflate.

“Are you okay?” I ask softly. He puts his drink on the mantle and says nothing. He turns around and wraps his arms around me, burying his face in my neck. I don’t remember ever seeing him this forlorn. He clings to me for several moments before I feel him slowly begin to release me. When I turn my attention to him, he’s looking behind me like he’s seen a ghost. I turn my attention to where he’s looking. He’s gazing at the door in disbelief. A group of people enter, and among them is a slightly older version of… me!

What the hell?

I gaze at the woman for a moment. It’s a creepy thing to come face to face with your twin.

Your twin… of course!

“Come on, Christian.” I take him by the hand and lead him into the foyer and over to the group of people who have just entered. As we approach, I hear one of the women say, “Mom… look!” My twin turns to me and has the same reaction that I do.

“Oh… my God,” she says softly.

“Ana, Christian,” Grace says extending her hand to me. I take it while my husband still looks on in stunned silence. I already know what she’s about to say. “This is Shannon Bell and these are Herman’s children…”

She introduces Herman’s children and I try to be polite, but they’re all just staring at me, so I take this moment to address the elephant in the room.

“I know, the resemblance is uncanny. Herman’s already told me. Imagine how I feel.”

“Please, forgive my rudeness,” Shannon says. “It’s just that… you’re a mirror of my younger self. I didn’t think that was possible! You look more like me than my daughters.”

I look around and only see one daughter, who happens to favor the Grey side of the family, but no other daughters. Then I remember that Shannon remarried and has other children.

“Well, you look more like me than my mother… except you’re much taller,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. It works. Shannon laughs a bit nervously as her children whisper among each other. “This stunned gorgeous man is my husband, Christian.” Shannon extends her hand to Christian.

“It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” she says cordially. He takes her proffered hand.

“It’s… nice… to meet you, too,” he stammers, still at a loss for words. More people begin to enter the house and I notice that a lot of the women take a moment to admire my husband.

“How did you know Burt?” Shannon asks, clasping her hands in front of her.

He’s my grandfather,” Christian says. “Was my grandfather. Carrick is my father.”

“Shit! He’s family!” I hear one of the ladies hiss as she passes, and I can’t help but chuckle to myself.

“You’re one of Carrick’s children?” she says, somewhat in disbelief. “Are you the oldest?”

“Middle,” he says. “My brother Elliot is the oldest. My sister Mia is the youngest…”

They hold a short conversation and a few moments later, the Grey Brothers walk solemnly into the house. Each of them gravitate towards their significant others, Luma appearing out of nowhere to comfort Herman. I don’t know if she knows who Shannon is, but she walks right past Shannon to Herman, who nearly crumples over in her arms, making it known that at this moment, there’s nowhere else that he’d rather be. Grace abandons her guests to soothe Carrick, his eyes red-rimmed and tired. Stanley weeps quietly in his wife’s embrace. It must have been very difficult for them having to go to the crematorium and say their final goodbyes to their father before giving the final command to incinerate his remains. Not one of them looks like he’s more than twelve years old at this moment and each of them looks like he would crumble to the ground without his woman holding him up.

This sight seems to syphon the life out of Christian—what was left of it, anyway—and he, too, looks like a broken man. I put my arm around his waist and I feel him leaning on me. He turns his body into me, away from the painful sight before us. He sighs as I literally hold him up for a few moments, then takes another cleansing breath and stands up straight. He nods at me before turning back to his father and uncles.

I turn my attention to the mourning men just in time to see Luma gently wiping tears from Herman’s face. Lana has taken Stan away to somewhere more private, and Grace and Carrick start toward the dining room with one arm around each other, much like Christian and I are holding each other now. Herman looks up and catches sight of his oldest son.

“Junior,” he says in surprise, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you! Thank you… thank you for coming.” Herman, Jr., hugs his father fondly.

“Don’t mention it, Dad,” he says with a sympathetic smile.

“Hi, Daddy,” Herman’s daughter says.

“Liz,” he breathes. His son releases him and he envelopes his daughter warmly, closing his eyes as if she’s soothing his heart.

“Hey, Pop,” his youngest son says from behind him. With Liz still in his arm, he gathers his youngest into his other arm and sighs heavily.

“Ricky,” he whispers. “I’m so glad you’re all here. You don’t know what this means to me.”

“Sure, we do, Dad,” Junior says. “That’s why we’re here.”

They share a few more moments of warm hellos before Herman finally releases them and takes Luma’s hand again.

“How’s your mother?” he asks them. “I hope she’s well.” Liz points to Shannon now standing behind him and next to us. Herman never even noticed her.

He raises his head and catches sight of Shannon, his gaze disbelieving.

“Shannon,” he says incredulously. “You’re here.”

“Yes,” she says, softly. “I know what Burt meant to you. I know this is hard on you and your brothers.”

“Thank you,” he says, still in shock and awe. A few seconds later, he appears to snap out of it and brings Luma forward. “This is Shannon,” he says, “my ex-wife and the mother of my children. Shannon, this is Luma, my…” He looks down at Luma and she returns his gaze.

“Companion?” she says, her voice uncertain. He shakes his head, still gazing at her.

Girlfriend doesn’t sound right,” he says to Luma, who is still looking at him expecting. “My lady?” he says, and a small smile forms on Luma’s face, as if they had only just come to the decision at this moment. Herman brings Luma’s hand to his mouth and kisses it gently. “Shannon, this is my lady, Luma.”

Shannon smiles widely and extends her hand to Luma.

“It’s lovely to meet you,” Shannon says. Luma accepts her proffered hand.

“Lovely to meet you, too,” she says. “You have beautiful children…”

And just like that, awkwardness averted


Christian is as cordial as he can be under the circumstances, but I know he’s forcing it. I can tell, and I just want to take him to our room and feed him some hot chicken soup, hold him in my arms and caress his hair until he falls asleep and this day is behind us. I want to help him any way that I can, but I also hope that he utilizes Dr. Baker during this time, because he’s hanging on by a thread right now.

After we meet Herman’s children, we meet some of Pops’ friends from Detroit. I was so surprised to see more than just his children and grandchildren here. Herman’s children are all married and were accompanied by their spouses, though none of them brought their children along. Stan’s children are away at school and one is in high school, so they didn’t make the trip. I was very surprised, though, when he brought two other grandchildren over to meet us.

“Christian, Ana, this is Nolanda and Burton Grey, II. These are Freeman’s children.”

Christian stiffened upon hearing Freeman’s name. Nolanda waved at us and Burton proffered his hand to Christian.

“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” Burton says with a genuine smile. Christian accepts his hand.

“You’re Freeman’s son?” Christian asks cautiously. Burton nods.

“And you’re my cousin… Uncle Rick’s son, right?” Christian nods. Burton releases his hand. “Uncle Stan has told me a lot about you. He said you’re the reason he was able to come down to see Grampa before he died.”

“Indirectly, yes,” Christian says, letting his guard down a bit.

“That was really nice of you,” Burton says. “I know it would have torn him up not to see Grampa before he passed away.” Christian smiles sadly.

“Your uncle is a good man,” he says. “If he didn’t have the reputation and record he has on his job, it’s questionable that I might have been able to get any help in getting him here. It took very little effort on my part.”

“You’re being modest, Christian, but thank you,” Stan says. “I really wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.” Christian acknowledges him with a nod.

“Everyone calls me Nollie,” his daughter says a little solemn, stepping forward a bit. “I hate it, but I’m used to it.”

“Why don’t you have them call you something else?” I ask.

“Because it’s stuck for nearly thirty years and it’s hard to break old habits,” she says with a shrug.

“I’ll call you whatever you want,” I press. She smiles.

“Nollie’s fine,” she says. “The whole family calls me Nollie. It’s okay.” I knew she would rather be called something else, but if anybody referred to her as anything else among her family, she probably wouldn’t answer.

Freeman’s children are nothing like him and while chatting with them, I find it hard to believe that they even grew up in the same house with him. I’m never stereotypical, but from his mannerisms, my bet would be that Burton is gay. He’s obviously Pops’ namesake and he indicates that his father is proud of that fact and that Herman, Jr., didn’t get the name first. I think that’s kind of fickle, but that’s just me. And yes, as I suspect, Herman’s son Ricky is named after Carrick.

“Nolanda’s a very unique name,” I say to Nollie. “Are you named after anyone?”

“Yes,” she says, “the first-born son that I was supposed to be.”

Christian and I both frown, but Stan and Burton don’t react.

“I’m sorry?” I say bemused.

“Yeah,” she continues. “I was supposed to be a boy. No gender typing, no ultrasound pictures, just the good old-fashioned faith in the male-chauvinist gods of the universe that my father’s magic sperm was going to produce a strapping young boy in his image. When I was born, if he could’ve, he would have shoved me back in until I grew a penis… at least that’s how my mom tells it.” I’m staring gape-mouthed at her until Christian has to tell me to close my mouth.

“Surely it can’t be that bad,” I declare.

“Oh, it’s worse,” she continues. “You’ve heard of Anne Boleyn.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Yes, Anne of a Thousand Days,” I say. She nods.

Image result for anne of a thousand days“It was worse. You know how King Henry blamed Anne for not producing a male heir when the entire time, it was his DNA contribution that determined the sex of the baby.” She says. I nod. “Mom said that my father treated her like she was a failure for having a daughter before a son. She was devastated. She didn’t even want to have any more children. That’s why Burtie is seven years younger than me.” I shake my head.

“That’s horrible,” I say softly.

“That’s Freeman,” Christian says. Nollie raises her gaze to him.

“You’ve met him,” she says. Christian examines her.

“You didn’t know?” he asks. She shakes her head. “Oh, we’ve met alright,” he says. “You’ll forgive me for saying so, but your father’s a real pill.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” she says. “You’re being kind.” By now, Stan has left us to get more acquainted.

Nolanda?” I say, emphasizing her name. “How is that a boy’s name?”

“It’s Nolan with a feminine suffix,” she says. “There was some kind of argument about who got to use Grampa’s name and I don’t know what happened there, but Nolan was a back-up. I think my father lost and Uncle Herman ended up naming Junior Herman after I was born and… I don’t know, but nonetheless, it’s Nolan.”

I can tell that she would much rather talk about something else, so I change the subject and ask about the relationship of the cousins back in Detroit and if they have any family reunions. That conversation goes on until we’re called for dinner, where conversation continues around the table among the cousins, the brothers, and the uncles. Except for the fact that we just paid last respects to Pops, this is an old-style family union… the kind that I, and I can imagine Christian, have never had. He loosens up a bit at dinner, but I can tell that he’s still miles away.

Dessert and coffee are basically a buffet free-for-all, and the house becomes one big mix and mingle again. The conversation in the cluster of brothers eventually wanders around to the elephant in the room—that being the missing brother.

“Actually,” Stan says, looking around for listening ears, then leaning in to the immediate group, “I was surprised when you told me that Nell came out here with him. She’s been unhappy for years… at least that’s what she told Lana a few years ago. As far as I knew, they would be on the outs pretty soon.” We all look at Lana. She gives a non-committal gesture before speaking.

“I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long,” she says. “I was sure after he refused to pay for Nollie’s college that Nell would leave.” Herman frowns.

“I never knew he didn’t pay for her college,” he says. Stan shakes his head.

“He told her that there was no need for her to go to college since he could get her right into Ford.”

“But Burton went to college,” Shannon interjects. “Did he have a change of heart when it was Burt’s chance?”

“Nope,” Stan says. “Burt got a free ride—four years, engineering, U of M.”

“I bet Freeman wasn’t too pleased with that,” Carrick says before taking a sip of his drink.

“On the contrary, he was ecstatic,” Stan corrects and now I interject.

“How so?” I ask incredulously. “His daughter had to go to Ford or else, but he’s happy that his son went to college?”

“His son got a free ride,” Stan says, “further reinforcing male superiority.”

“And there’s that line in the sand,” Herman says.

“Well, what happened with Nollie?” I ask. “She didn’t get to go to school. Did she end up going to Ford?”

“No,” Stan says. “She worked odd jobs at first—clerical, bookkeeping, administrative assistant. Then she got in with the state, the unemployment division, I think. They paid partial tuition reimbursement and she paid for the rest and went to school while she was working. She only just graduated less than a year ago.”

“What’s her degree in?” I ask.

“Finance,” Stan says. “I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s making some serious plans to fly the coup.”

“She’s still living with Freeman?” Carrick asks.

“She moved away from home a while ago, didn’t she?” Herman asks.

“Yes,” Shannon offers, “but she’s still in Detroit. She and Liz are close and I think Stan is right. Expect an escape plan really soon.”

“What makes you think so?” Lana asks. Shannon shrugs.

“Liz shares things with me in confidence. Let’s just say that I’m expecting something to happen. I don’t know what and I don’t know when, but something’s coming.”

Christian is pulled away from the conversation to show Ros and Lorenz out and I immediately start looking for Nollie. I don’t see her anywhere in the immediate vicinity, so I excuse myself and begin searching for her. I don’t know if it’s morbid curiosity or what, but I would like for her to fill in some blanks about her horrible father. After searching all the rooms on the first floor, I look out the French doors and find her on the infamous bench.

You should start charging people for sessions on that damn bench.
I should, shouldn’t I?

I snag two glasses of wine from a passing server’s tray and exit the French doors, headed in her direction. I approach her and hand her one of the glasses of wine.

“I’m a red drinker. I hope you are, too,” I say. She smiles and takes the wine.

“I am, thank you,” she says, taking what looks like a welcome sip. I sit next to her and sip my own wine, more pleased than I thought I would be to get away from the crowd.

“Some of our married-in second cousins are hot for your husband,” she says, still looking out on the lake.

“Well, they can get in line,” I say, sipping my wine again. “He has more admirers than I can count.”

“And he has you,” she says, turning her gaze to me.

“He only has me,” I say, returning her question before looking out at the water. “I know he loves me, so I don’t worry about admirers. I feel that if someone else can take him from me, he wasn’t mine to begin with and I don’t want him.”

“He knows this?” she asks. I shrug.

“He knows that cheating is a deal-breaker for me,” I say, turning back to her. “I’ve been down that road. I have no desire to go down it again. I’d rather be alone.”

“Prenup?” she asks. I nod.

“Yep,” I say without giving any more details.

“And you’d still leave?”

“In a heartbeat,” I say. “If someone else is in his heart, his arms, or his bed, there’s no room there for me. So, I would gladly let him go and disappear from his life if he feels like someone else would make him happy.”

“But you have kids,” she protests.

“He could still be a father to his kids without having to deal with me,” I say finitely. There’s a pause.

“You’ve thought about this.” I’m silent for a while.

“Only because I’ve been through it before,” I say, “not because Christian gives me any cause for doubt. I was dating a real hoe, for lack of a better word. It was agony—there’s no other way to describe it. Once I left that alone, I vowed never to put myself through that again, no matter how much I loved the guy. It’s that simple.”

We’re both silent again for a while before I broach the topic that brought me came out here. I start with the obvious.

Nollie?” I ask, questioning the nickname. She looks down into her wine glass.

“Rhymes with Ollie,” she says, her voice showing a hint of sadness. “Like I said, I was supposed to be a boy. By the time I was three, I thought I was a boy. That’s as far back as I can remember.” She takes a drink of her wine. “Nolanda… no Nalanda, Nolanda—it’s a pretty name… if only it wasn’t supposed to be Nolan.” She sips her wine again and sighs.

“I met Freeman,” I tell her. She chuckles.

“Hit it off really well, didn’t you?” she says sarcastically.

“I should probably correct myself,” I say. “I didn’t really meet Freeman. I learned of his existence when he and Carrick got into a fist fight and my husband tried to kill him.” She turns her gaze to me.

“Really?” she says in awe. “Christian tried to kill my father?”

It sounds so bad when she says it like that.

“Yeah, Dad brings happiness and glee wherever he goes.” She says the word with emphasized disdain as she bottoms out her wine glass. I wave to Liona, not sure that she’ll acknowledge me and shocked as shit when she does. She exits the French doors and walks over to me.

“Will you please get Ms. Grey a refill?” I ask as politely as I can. She turns to Nollie.

“Certainly. What would you like, ma’am?” she says.

“Actually, is there any way I can get a vodka rocks, please?” Liona nods and turns to me.

“Mrs. Grey?” she says. “Anything for you? Another red?” She points at my glass.

“Cabernet Sauvignon, please,” I say. She nods before taking Nollie’s empty glass and heading back to the house.

“I seem to talk to a lot of people on this bench,” I say, thinking about the many conversations I’ve had just a few feet from the Greys’ French door, including the conversation with Elena the day she outed Christian.

“You’re easy to talk to,” she replies.

“It’s practiced,” I tell her. “I’m a psychiatrist.”

“In-house family shrink,” she says without reacting. “That explains it. Well, in case you hadn’t already noticed, I’m not ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ I didn’t get to play with dolls, wear cute clothes, or even act like a girl until Burt was about five years old and could catch a ball. By then, it was too late. I was twelve and already a stud. My father wanted me to be a tomboy, so for the first several years of my life, I was—and I was attracted to girls.” She pauses, contemplating for a moment. “Maybe ‘attracted’ is the wrong word. I hung around boys a lot and they liked girls and talked about them, so I appreciated girls. When it became time to ‘pair up’ so to speak, I chose girls. I know it’s not this way for everybody, but mine really was a phase. It was rebelling against my dad, it was shock value, I don’t know, but at first, I liked girls and then I didn’t. I wanted men. Girls didn’t do anything for me. Although I really did appreciate the female form and still do—like yours, you’re pretty hot—you don’t have the right equipment. I could do a ménage-à-trois in a second, but a man must be present…”

She trails off as Liona returns with our drinks. I bottom out the rest of my wine and replace it with the fresh one Liona has brought while Nollie takes her vodka rocks.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she says, taking a sip, “but hey, we’re like cousins-in-law if there’s any such thing.”

“The Greys have never used the ‘in-law’ title with me,” I tell her. “If I ever have to be specific in introducing them, I would use different terms. For example, depending on the situation, I would introduce Grace as the director of Helping Hands or as my husband’s mother. Mother-in-law just doesn’t cut it for me.” She examines me over her glass for a moment.

“You guys must be very close,” she says.

“I’m close with all of Christian’s family,” I inform her. “They’re good people.” She nods.

“In that case, cousins,” she says, taking a healthy swallow of her drink. “If you don’t mind my asking, do you come from money?” I shake my head.

“Hardly,” I reply. “I come from modest beginnings—not poverty-stricken or poor, but humble.”

“Did you get the title?” she asks. I frown, then almost immediately catch her meaning.

“Oh, you mean gold-digger? I certainly did, not from the Greys but from nearly everyone else. I couldn’t possibly want this man because I’m in love with him. It had to be the money. It doesn’t matter that even though I wasn’t rich, I was pretty well off when I met him—thriving practice downtown, a million-dollar condo on Elliot Bay, driving the latest model, pimped-out car. I didn’t need Christian’s money; I had my own, I just didn’t have Christian’s money. So, that had to be the only reason that we were together.” I sip my wine. After a pause, I ask, “How did things turn out with your father—you know, like girls? I hear he refused to pay for college for you and Burt.” She turns a glare to me, but only for a moment.

“Did Burt tell you that?” she asks. I shake my head. “Well, he would have paid for Burt, I can guarantee it. But I’ll just say this. When I get back to Detroit after Grampa’s funeral, I’m running away with my boyfriend Leo. We’ve been dating for two years now and he asked me to marry him. I said, ‘yes.’ We never set a date, but once Grampa passed away, all I could think was, ‘Seize the day!’ My father has never met him. Why? Because he comes from money and is filthy rich in his own right—much like your husband, but I suspect not as rich.”

There aren’t many people in the world as rich as Christian.

“Mom has met him once, but she doesn’t know the whole story. We fly back to Detroit Metro Airport tomorrow and we land at nine pm. Leo will meet me at the gate and we’ll take the redeye to Vegas. By noon Monday, I’ll be Mrs. Leonardo Carpathia and by Wednesday evening, we’ll be starting our new life in California.”

Wow… Freeman even alienates his kids.

“Nobody knows?” I ask.

“My cousin Liz suspects, but no, nobody knows.” I can’t help but wonder why she would fly all the way back east just to immediately come west again. What’s the point in that?

“Why don’t you just catch a flight from here to Vegas?” I ask. “You’re going to be terribly jetlagged.” She ponders the thought.

“I hadn’t even considered it. I don’t want Leo to think I’m getting cold feet. Plus, I already have my return ticket to Detroit.”

“Is it just the money?” I ask. She examines me, then twists her lips.

“Ana, I’ve known you for five minutes. I won’t take your money,” she says skeptically.

“Well, there’s two slight problems with that logic. One, we’re family—by marriage, but family nonetheless. Two, you wouldn’t be taking my money. You’d be taking my jet.” She frowns.

“Your… jet?” she asks. I nod.

“My husband and I own a private jet. So, you would be taking the jet to Las Vegas.” She ponders the thought, so I sweeten the deal.

“Think about it. Four and a half hours back to Detroit, at least, most likely in coach. Wait for the redeye, maybe two hours…”

“Three,” she corrects me.

“Okay, three hours, then nearly five hours back to Vegas, and that’s only if both flights are non-stop.”

“Which they’re not,” she laments.

“Or,” I continue. “Two and a half hours in a luxury jet. You can stay the night here in Seattle or spend an extra night in Vegas, but you won’t have to spend the night in an airport or airplane. And there’s a third perk that I failed to mention.”

“What’s that?” she asks.

“My husband hates your father,” I tell her. “He tried to have Christian arrested after he and Carrick beat the hell out of each other and he ceremoniously insulted everyone in the family standing in his brother’s house, including me. If I tell my husband your plan, I can guarantee he would get a perverse joy out of aiding and abetting your escape.” A devious smile creeps across her face.

“Where would I begin?” she says, excitement lacing her voice.

“Call your guy,” I say. “See if it’s utterly necessary that you come back to Detroit.” She smiles widely and pulls out her cell phone. She dials the number and puts the call on speaker. He picks up on the first ring.

“Hey, baby,” he says, dragging out the last word with longing. “I miss you so much.”

“I miss you, too, Leo,” Nollie says, matching his longing. “I have you on speaker and I’m here with my cousin.”

“Hey, Liz,” Leo says, cheerfully. Nollie smiles.

“Not that cousin,” she says, with mirth. “It’s kind of why I’m calling you.” There’s silence for a moment.

“What’s up, baby?” he says, his voice laced with concern.

“It’s not bad,” she says to calm his obviously rising fear, and I hear him sigh on the other end. He’s got it bad. “Is there any reason why I have to come back to Detroit before we fly to Vegas?” Another pause.

“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” he says. “I thought we wanted to fly together.”

“Baby, I just want to get there and marry you—the quickest and easiest way possible. I’m already on the west coast. I should have just gotten a commercial flight from out here straight to Vegas instead of flying all the way back to Detroit just to get back on a plane and fly back…”

“I thought you wanted to thumb your nose at your Dad when you got on the plane with me,” Leo protests.

“The fact that I’m not in attendance for him to ignore when he comes to pick up Golden Boy will be enough thumbing for me,” she replies. Golden Boy… that sounds spiteful. “Besides, I have filthy, stinking rich cousins who hate my father and would love nothing more than to put me on a private jet straight for Vegas!” I laugh out loud at the “filthy, stinking rich” description.

“Really?” he asks, his voice rising an octave. “No waiting until you get back to Detroit?”

“No waiting, baby. You say the word and my cousin says it can be arranged.”

“Oh my God how soon can they get you there?” he asks all in one breath. She giggles and looks at me.

“How soon do you want her there?” I say into the phone. “I’m Ana, by the way, one half of the filthy-stinking-rich-cousin couple.”

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Ana,” Leo says. “I assume it might take a little fancy footwork to get the jet ready and for my girl to make her excuses to her family. So, I’ll just leave it up to you guys and you just let me know. I’ll be on the first available bird as soon as you say the word.” I nod to Nollie.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I do. I love you!” Nollie says.

“I love you, too, baby. I’ll be waiting for your call.” They end the call and she looks at me.

“So, take a breath and compose yourself, then we’ll go on in and talk to my husband.” She nods while clutching her phone. She’s like a kid at Christmas.

“What about Burt?” I ask, noting the Golden Boy comment. “How’s your relationship?”

“My father’s golden boy?” she says with a small bit of disdain. “It was strained for years, but then he saw how our father drew a line in the sand between us and he tried to make up for it. Unfortunately, your brother can’t make up for your father refusing to be a father. We’re okay, though. We’re great friends and I know it wasn’t Burt’s fault.” She sighs. “By the way, I’m changing my name… from Nolanda to Yolanda.” I frown.

“You hate the name that much?” she nods.

“It’s not my name,” she says. “It’s his first-born son’s name, the one that he never had. It’s not mine. Mom says that she suggested Yolanda when he said Nolanda, and I like Yolanda. Like I said, Nolanda is a boy’s name with a feminine suffix. It’s sloppy seconds! I won’t go through life with that stamp.”

“You said everyone calls you Nollie, though,” I point out. “Won’t the new name confuse your husband?”

He doesn’t call me Nollie,” she says. “He calls me Lanie. And the moment I go to change my married name to Carpathia, I’ll be changing my first name to Yolanda.” I smile.

“It’s a whole new life for you,” I say, “and I have a feeling that you’re well overdue.” She sighs heavily and looks at the sky, the sun starting to set over the water. When she brings her gaze back to mine, they’re glassy with unshed tears.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she says, her voice shaking. We finish our drinks and head back to the house.


I hear conversations going on around me and I’m doing my best to focus on what everyone is saying. I’ve gleaned a few important points from a few conversations…

Freeman’s wife will most likely be leaving him.

All of Uncle Herman’s children are married and have families of their own.

Everybody was really happy to see Dad again and meet the cousins they never knew.

Some of my extended cousins have the hots for me.

I’m fairly certain that Courtney and Vickie were fucking in the treehouse. At the very least, they were making out.

Burton is gay.

Elizabeth and Nolanda are very close even though Nolanda is a few years older than Elizabeth.

Uncle Herman will fly back to Detroit with Uncle Stan next week—just for moral support—to give Pops’ remains to Freeman. I’m letting them take the jet.

Speaking of the jet…

“Christian, I have something to ask you.” My wife and Nolanda approach me during my introspection at the fireplace.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Nollie has a dilemma and I offered our services to assist her. I know I should have consulted you first, but I felt that you wouldn’t mind since she’s family.”

Oh, God. Is my newfound family going to start mooching off of me already?

“I’m listening…”

My wife explains the entire situation to me and her offering the jet to Nolanda to fly to Vegas sometime in the next twenty-four hours. I look at her impassively, prompting Nolanda to speak up.

“It’s okay, Ana,” she says with no malice. “I can take the flight back to Detroit.”

“No, no, I’m just thinking,” I say.

“Don’t panic. That’s his ‘pondering’ face,” Butterfly assures her. Nolanda starts to wring her hands.

“I don’t mean to impose,” she says, nervously. “Ana suggested it and… I… just…” I hold up my hand to halt her stammering.

“No… it’s not…” Now, I’m stammering. “Herman and Stan are taking the jet sometime this week to take Pops’ ashes back to Detroit. I just want to make sure the trips aren’t too close together.” Her eyebrows rise.

“Oh,” she says, her voice a few octaves higher than before. “You mean… you don’t mind?”

Mind? Let me think about this. My cousin, Freeman’s daughter, effectively hates him. She’s not only running away to get married without his knowledge, permission, or participation, but she’s also marrying a rich man—seemingly Freeman’s worst nightmare—and I get to facilitate that. Hmmm… one more moment please…” Butterfly gently punches me in my arm.

“Stop torturing the girl,” she says, playfully. “So, when are Herman and Stan supposed to be taking Pops back to Detroit?”

“I don’t know, but either way, I have to get that plane ready to fly.” I put my finger up to tell her to give me a minute while I call Jason.

“Yes, sir,” he answers.

“Jason, can you please call the hangar and tell them that the jet needs to be ready to take off anywhere in the next twelve to twenty-four hours? It’ll be a trip to Vegas and immediate flight back. Also, let them know to be on standby for a similar trip to Detroit in the next couple of days. Let me know about the Detroit round trip. I don’t know if it’ll be overnight or not. I want one of the security staff prepared to go with Herman, too. He’s going with Stan for moral support, but I don’t want any problems out of Freeman.”

“Understood, sir.” I end the call and turn around to my wife and cousin. “So, when did you intend to fly to Las Vegas?” I ask.

“Well, I was leaving with Burt to catch the noon flight back to Detroit Metro tomorrow. I would say anytime tomorrow would be fine. My fiancé is just waiting for the word and we’ll be on our way to our new life.” I text Jason to make sure the jet is ready to fly to Vegas by noon. She’ll go to the airport with Burt, but that’s where they will part ways.

“What are you going to tell Burt?” Butterfly asks.

“I’ll say my goodbyes at the airport so that he doesn’t have time to tell the almighty father,” she says. “By the time my father knows anything, I’ll already be in Vegas probably sipping a cocktail at some fancy hotel.”

“Do you need me to get you a room?” I ask her. She smiles.

“Let me see what Leo has up first,” she says. “He’ll probably want to plan something himself.” I nod.

“Does Burt have a boyfriend?” I ask, not thinking about how inappropriate the question was before it came out of my mouth. Nolanda raises her eyebrow at me before she speaks.

“See?” she says. “The only person who doesn’t seem to want to accept that fact is my father. Every time Burt tries to tell him, he changes the subject—like if he doesn’t hear it, it won’t be true.” She shakes her head.

“I wasn’t trying to pry,” I qualify. “I was only asking because once he gets back to Detroit, he’s going to be the object of your father’s discontent. It’s my understanding that he’s still living at home.”

“He is,” Nolanda confirms.

“Well, he may need somewhere to go, at least for the night.” She nods.

“I’ll ask him when we say goodbye tomorrow…”


We make plans for Nolanda to be on the jet at noon, right after Burt boards the plane. The rest of the family had already booked later flights or flights for Monday to return to Detroit. I ask Nolanda if she’s concerned about Burt’s safety. She’s convinced that Freeman will only dote even more on his Golden Boy once she gone. Although she tries to convince me that her and Burt’s relationship is fine, her reference to him shows that their relationship has taken an obvious beating.

I want so badly to make love to my wife tonight, but I can’t get in the right mindset to even try. Noting my inability to connect with my amorous side, she snuggles in bed with me, wrapping her body around me and caressing my scalp in that way that she does. I must have unknowingly been exhausted, because in moments, I’m asleep.

I’m awakened by the ringing of my cell phone and the sun shining in my eyes from the window. We forgot to close the curtains before we fell asleep. The bed is empty and I wonder where my wife has snuck off to.

“Hello,” I answer in a groggy voice without even looking at the caller ID.

“Sir, the jet is ready. They just need instructions from you.” It’s Jason. I look at my watch. Shit, it’s 9:30. Burt and Nolanda will need to get to the airport soon.

“Okay,” I reply. “The flight should be around noon. It’ll be my cousin, Nolanda Grey.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason says and we end the call. I sit up and throw my legs over the edge of the bed. It’s now that I realize just how much I drank in my maudlin state yesterday because my head is hurting and swimming and I didn’t even know that I was drunk.

“Fuck, not today,” I lament. I go to the en suite and turn on the shower, vainly searching the medicine cabinet for aspirin or ibuprofen. Finding none, I let the warm water run on my scalp and help to clear some of my foggy brain. Of course, thoughts of Pops flood my thoughts and I have a hard time controlling my emotions. There’s no one here right now, so I just let the tears fall and mingle with the shower water. I so wanted to hope that some miracle would happen and he wouldn’t be taken away from us. I wanted to be so much stronger when the inevitable happened, but seeing my father and his brothers break down after the cremation wiped every bit of fortitude I had left in me. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur except for preparing the jet and falling asleep with my wife.

I don’t want a bigger headache than I already have, so I stop crying, wash my hair and body, and get out of the shower. I put on a T-shirt and jeans with socks and sneakers and go in search of a hangover cure.

The house looks like a tomb. I make my way to the kitchen where Mrs. Thompson is cooking something.

“Well, you look like you’ve had a hard night. Do you want something to eat?” she says. I shake my head.

“Tell me we’ve got something for a headache,” I say, sitting at the breakfast bar and putting my head down on the counter. I hear some rustling around and a few moments later, a cold glass is set next to me. I raise my head to see Mrs. Thompson holding out a bottle towards me.


“You angel from heaven,” I say, taking the bottle and immediately swallowing two pills with no water.

“Drink the water,” she scolds, “all of it.”

“It’s too late for water,” I reply, my voice gravelly.

“Humor me,” she says as she takes the bottle of pills from me. I lift my head and down the water in four or five swallows—before she turns back around—and put my head back down on the counter.

“Where’s the water?” I hear her say.

“I drank it,” I mutter. I know she doesn’t believe me and I see her in my mind’s eye looking around to see what I did with the water. “I drank it,” I repeat, holding my head up to show her my wet lip. She nods.

“Well, I don’t know how you drank it so quickly, but I’m glad that you did.” She takes the glass away and I put my head back down. “Tough day yesterday, huh?” she asks. I nod.

“No walk in the park,” I say. “Where is everybody?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “No one has come down except for your wife and the Jamaican nanny. I’m sorry, I don’t know her name…”

“Keri,” I mumble.

“Okay, Keri. She came down a little while ago to warm some milk and a little while later, Ana left with one of the guards to go for a run, I think.”

A run? Butterfly doesn’t run.

“Who did she leave with, do you know?” I ask. Mrs. Thompson shrugs.

“Christian, you know I only know Gail and Jason,” she chastises. “Short blonde hair, blue eyes… I’ve seen him with her before.”

“Chuck,” I say as I hear someone come into the kitchen.

“Hey, you’re awake.” Butterfly says as she puts her hand gently on my back. “You don’t look so good.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Why didn’t you wake me? I would have run with you.”

“Run with me?” she asks, bemused. “Christian, you know I don’t run.”

“Mrs. Thompson was under the impression that you went for a run.” I look up at Chuck and realize that he’s also in a T-shirt and sweats. That’s probably why Mrs. Thompson thought they were going running.

“No, Chuck took me to the gym,” I tell him. “I have a trial membership there until we go back home, at which time I’ll be making some changes to our own gym.” She gently scratches my scalp and I don’t know if the ibuprofen is kicking in or if she has the magic touch, but I immediately begin to feel relief, causing me to groan. “You slept like the dead,” she says softly.

“I was drunk,” I confess. She pauses her hand only a moment, then continues.

“You were?”

“Um-hmm,” I mumble, relishing the feel of her delicate hand on my scalp.

“Do you remember the discussion about the jet?” she asks cautiously.

“Um-hmm,” I mumble. “Jason called and woke me. He knows it needs to be ready for flight by noon.” I hear dishes set on the counter next to me.

“Eat,” Mrs. Thompson says. “Don’t argue.” Dry toast and orange juice. She’s always been like another mother to me ever since she came to work for my parents. I pick up a piece of toast and take a bite out of it. She’s right, I need to eat it.

“I’m going to jump in the shower really quick. Nollie and Burt will be here any minute. She told him that we wanted to take them to the airport to say goodbye.” I nod. She leaves and Chuck is still standing there. He takes a seat next to me, causing Mrs. Thompson to look at him strangely. She’s never seen me mingle with the help.

Only he’s more than just the help.

“I’m going to ask her to marry me,” he says, his hands folded in front of him. I look over at him.

“No shit?” I say, before taking another bite of my toast. He nods.

“I wanted to wait until after we knew for sure that she had a permanent situation and that she wasn’t pregnant, so that she can know that I want to marry her because I love her and I want to spend my life with her, not because I want her to stay in the country.” I nod.

“Do you plan to get married right away?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I’m not trying to rush to the altar, but I’ll do whatever she wants as long as she says ‘yes.’ She wants to wait a while, I’ll wait a while. She wants to be Mrs. Davenport tomorrow, I’ll take her to Vegas and marry her tomorrow,” he declares. I drink some my juice and my head is starting to feel much better, still throbbing a bit and full of thoughts of Pops, but this conversation is helping to distract me.

“What if she wants a big wedding? In Anguilla?”

“Then that’s what she’ll get,” he says, firmly. “She’s going to be my wife. I’ll give her anything she wants.”

“You’re so certain that she’ll say yes?” I question. He sighs.

“I believe the only reason she didn’t agree before is because she thought I was asking as a means to an end,” he points out. “I love her and I know that she loves me. If she says ‘no,’ I’ll wait for a few more months and ask her again. I’ll keep asking her until she finally agrees.” I raise an eyebrow at him.

“Persistent,” I say. “Have you decided when you’re going to ask?” He shakes his head.

“I haven’t planned anything elaborate, but I’ve got the ring in case the moment just feels right.” I finish my toast and juice.

“Can I get you anything, young man?” Mrs. Thompson asks Chuck. He smiles warmly at her.

“No, ma’am, but thank you,” he says to her before turning back to me. “I need to go shower, too. I took the opportunity to do some free weights while Ana worked out.” He stands from his stool and pats me on the back. “Oh!” he adds. “Mom and I got our court date.” I frown at him.

“What court date?” I ask.

“Against Joe,” he says. “There’s a judge that’s actually going to hear the case.” My eyes widen.

“You’re kidding? Seriously?” I respond.

“Somebody else, somewhere thinks what he did was bullshit.” Chuck shrugs before leaving the room.


“You’re what?” Burt asks his sister just before he’s about to board the plane.

“I’m not going back,” Nolanda says. “I’m miserable in Detroit. Dad doesn’t want me and Mom has her own issues with him, so I’m going to start a new life out here.” She just says out here, she doesn’t elaborate that she means the west coast.

“I…” Burt is at a loss for words. “What about…” He still can’t find his words.

“Are you worried about telling Dad?” she asks. “If you are, you don’t have to. Just tell him that I wouldn’t get on the plane.”

“It’s not that,” he says. “I mean, I know Dad will be mad, but…” He pauses and looks up at his sister. “This is my only chance to say goodbye.”

Nolanda smiles sadly at her brother, then pulls him into a warm embrace. He hugs her back and closes his eyes tight, a single tear escaping.

“Don’t be silly, Burtie,” she says. “You’re acting like you’ll never see me again. I’ll keep in touch and you will see me. I love you. Our father just won’t.”

“You’re never going to see Dad again?” Burt asks. She shakes her head.

“He’s never been Dad to me,” she confesses. “He never once showed me love… or kindness… or pride. I never had a Daddy and strangely enough, I don’t miss it. I wasn’t supposed to be here and he made that clear. Now, he doesn’t have to deal with his mistake anymore.” Burt shakes his head, tears flowing freely now.

“You are not a mistake!” he nearly barks. “You’re my sister! And I love you!”

“And I love you, too, Burtie,” she says. “You can come to me for anything. I’ll be changing my number, but as soon as I do, I’ll make sure that you always know how to reach me.” She hugs him again as they call for seating for his flight again.

“It was a really dirty thing you did,” he sobs into her shoulder, “waiting until the last minute to tell me.”

“I know,” she admits, “and I’m sorry. I just couldn’t have you trying to convince me to go back and talk to our father. There’s nothing more to say. Trust me, Dad won’t miss me and I’ll call and explain everything to Mom once I’m settled. Then you can come out and see me whenever you want and we can still talk all the time.” He pushes his head off her shoulder and nods.

“I don’t want you to do this, Nollie,” he says, his voice still shaking, “but somehow, I know that you have to.”

“I do, Burt,” she says, gently cupping his wet cheek. “I really do. Now go, before you miss your flight. We’ll talk soon, I promise.” He hugs her again and kisses her on the cheek before walking quickly to the gate and showing the attendant his boarding pass. He doesn’t look back as he boards the plane. Nollie sighs heavily and turns to look at me and Butterfly.

“I’ve got a jet to catch,” she says, tears rimming her glassy eyes.

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

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~~love and handcuffs







Raising Grey: Chapter 8—Bruised, Broken, and Distressed

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 8—Bruised, Broken, and Distressed


My husband has avoided my presence ever since Pops’ energy boost waned on Friday and the rest of the family is sulking around in maudlin silence. Early on Tuesday morning, the all-points-bulletin was released through the house.

“Come quickly,” Grace says softly to everyone at the breakfast table. “I’m fairly certain Burt is leaving us.”

And where’s my husband?

Those of us at the breakfast table make our way up to Pops’ room. I’m relieved to find Christian there with Carrick, Herman, and Stanley. Pops looks frail and he’s gasping for air. He doesn’t look like he’s suffering, just like he was holding out until we were all here. Val has Mikey in her arms and Minnie is in the body wrap on my chest.

Yes, Pops, we’re all here.

He opens his eyes and looks around, then he closes them and quietly releases a long breath. Almost instantly, Mikey and Minnie both begin to cry simultaneously, causing Christian to turn his head and glare at me. I almost can’t breathe. It’s like I felt his essence leave the room and I’m suddenly sick to my stomach. The hospice nurse quietly walks over to Pops and checks for breath sounds in his chest with her stethoscope. She then checks for a radial pulse in his wrist, then again for a carotid pulse. She takes a deep breath and looks up at Herman.

“You can make that call,” she says softly. “He’s gone. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Mia starts to weep as the nurse removes Pops’ oxygen mask. Carrick sits there staring at his father’s body as Grace stands near him, her hands on his shoulders. The twins are utterly inconsolable. Stanley is the first after the hospice nurse to touch his father’s body—now quite peaceful and no longer suffering. He leans down and kisses his father on the forehead, a single tear falling onto Pops’ cheek.

“Hang loose, Dad,” Stanley says softly. “Hang loose.”

“You were right,” a familiar voice growls. “Are you satisfied now?” he snarls. That’s my husband… and he’s looking at me. I’m so taken aback, I don’t even know how to react to this.

“What?” is the only thing I can muster.

“You said he was dying and now, he’s dead. You were right. Are you happy now?” He’s… angry with me. It’s like he thinks Pop’s died because I said it, not because his kidneys have been failing for years!

“What are you talking about?” I ask, horrified, tears of grief and confusion falling down my cheeks. “He didn’t die because I said he was dying. He’s been dying for months. You brought his son out to see him. You knew this was coming!”

“He was getting better!” Christian accuses. “He was strong and breathing clearly! He was sitting up talking! Planning Mia’s wedding! Then you said he was dying and he died!”

“Christian!” Grace chastises him. “Stop this! Burt was dying long before Ana said anything! No one is to blame for this…”

But the damage is already done. The disdain in his eyes tells me that I might as well have climbed on Pops’ chest and suffocated him with a pillow while everyone watched as far as Christian is concerned. I finally break. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take his hatred and his contempt anymore. I’ve taken it for several days… more than a week, and I can’t take it anymore. He’s not thinking rationally and I know this—the mental health professional in me knows that this is grief and denial talking, but the spurned wife can’t take it anymore.

I leave the room and lean on the wall next to the door. I can’t breathe and there are shooting pains in my chest. I’m grabbing my breast, trying to make the pain stop, but it won’t. I hear my babies crying. I see Val in my face and she’s saying something, but I can’t hear her. I see Mia in front of me, tears in her eyes and her hands on Minnie, still strapped to my body.

“Catch the baby,” I hear someone say. It’s Elliot. Strong arms catch me, but they’re not my husband’s… that’s the last thing I remember.

I awake in Mia’s bed. Val is the first face I see, then Mia. No Christian.

“Anxiety attack,” I squeak. Mia nods.

“Yep,” she says.

“Why am I in here?” I ask. Mia rolls her eyes.

“Because my brother’s being an asshole,” she says. I frown.

“In what way?” I question.

“He’s locked his bedroom door,” she says. He’s not even in there, but…”

“I can’t go in either,” I finish her sentence. “He’s locked me out of the bedroom.” Mia bites her lip, but doesn’t answer. I rub my forehead with one hand and my scar with the other. “I need to be alone for a while,” I say without raising my head.

“Okay,” I hear Val say. A few moments later, I hear them leave the room and I do the only thing I know to do.

I pray.

I ask God for strength through this and to guide me in what I should be doing. I thought I was doing the right thing by telling him the truth, but it has all backfired on me. What if Grace had told him this before I did? Would he now be shunning her? I have no idea what direction my heart should go and I’m just too tired to figure it out.

I stay in Mia’s bed until well after nightfall, partially wishing that Christian would come to me. Of course, he doesn’t. I get out of bed and go past the bedroom we had been sharing before I opened my big mouth. It’s still locked. I descend the stairs and see that the house is deserted. By now, Pops has been removed and taken to the funeral home and everyone has continued with their day… and evening. I pass the dining room to see that Elliot, Val, and my husband are all there having dinner.

They don’t see me, thank God.

I quietly slip out the French doors to the backyard and walk across the lawn to the gazebo. I look up at the stars and daydream about a more peaceful time… like our anniversary a little over a week ago. God, he was so attentive and so sweet. I curl my knees up to my chest and think about him holding me and kissing me that night. He was playful on the dance floor and we had so much fun. Maybe I should call Chuck to come and get me? I could go back to the Crossing… that feels a lot like running away, though… and the twins are asleep. I can’t leave my babies. I just have to tough it out.

Every corner of that house feels like it’s full of his animosity. Hell, I don’t even know where I’m going to sleep because Stan took the last guest bedroom. I’ll find somewhere to sleep, but for right now, I just want to think about happier times and get lost in the memories and the cool night breeze…

The sun is burning through my eyelids. I open my eyes to discover that I’m still on the gazebo. Fuck, did I sleep out here? I try to stretch, but my body aches too much. I go back into the house and climb the stairs. I try the bedroom door on the off chance that it might be unlocked.

It’s not.

I knock on Mia’s bedroom door, and she opens it, examining me curiously.

“I hope I didn’t disturb you,” I say, groggily. “I’m still locked out of the bedroom. May I please borrow your shower and some clothes?” She frowns deeply.

“Come in here,” she says, pulling me into the room. “I’m going to strangle my fucking brother…”

I feel refreshed once I finish my shower, but I still feel my husband’s animosity floating through the air towards me. We’re connected that way, and I can feel his anger. I try to ignore it… try to be strong… try to be available in a professional capacity for the family if anyone needs to talk, but no one really needs me. Everyone has coupled up and are leaning on each other for support. Even Stanley’s wife flew out and arrived this morning to be with him. Everybody has support, but me… nobody needs me, not even my husband.

That night, I’m back on the gazebo again, but this time, I just go out to call my daddy. I’m lonely and I need someone to love me, so I talk to him and tell him everything that happened. He tells me that men don’t really know how to deal with grief and emotion and that my husband will come around soon. He doesn’t know my husband. Christian can hold a grudge like Atlas holds the sky… or the earth… or whatever he’s holding. It’s late when I finish my call with Daddy, and I feel a little better, but still quite lonely…

“Ana! Ana, wake up!”

“Huh?” I squeeze my eyes together and then open them, the sunlight burning my pupils. It’s cold and I fell asleep on the gazebo again. Grace wraps something around me and I awake a little more, snuggling into the warmth of what’s covering me.

“How long have you been out here?” she asks, handing me a cup of coffee. I deliberately don’t answer, but take a sip of the deliciously warm coffee. My silence doesn’t get by her.

“Please tell me you haven’t slept out here,” she says. I don’t respond. “Ana…!” She sounds like a mother would… a scolding mother…

“His hatred is all over the house,” I squeak, my throat dry from breathing the night air. “I can’t stand it. We’re connected, Grace. We’ve always been connected, almost since the first day that I met him. He hates me right now… and my soul feels that. It can’t take it.”

“He doesn’t hate you, Ana,” she says, softly, as I drink more of the delicious coffee. “He’s hurt and confused and mourning right now. He’s angry that Burt is gone, but he doesn’t hate you.” I shake my head.

“Our souls don’t know the difference,” I murmur. “He’s locked me out of the bedroom.” Grace raises her eyebrow.

“Since when?” she asks.

“Since Pops died.” Grace pauses.

“Ana, that was two days ago. Where have you been sleeping?” I’m silent again. “Have you been sleeping on the gazebo for two nights?” she asks horrified.

“It was an accident the first time,” I defend, “I was looking at the stars and I feel asleep.”

“And last night?”

“I was talking to Daddy,” I say. Her face becomes stern.

“I’ve had enough of this!” she declares. “I’m going to talk to my hard-headed son.” I panic immediately.

“Please don’t. Please don’t,” I beg her. “He’s going to take it that we’re ganging up on him that I tattled on him or something it’s going to make a bad matter worse please don’t say anything to him please don’t…” She grabs my arms.

“Okay! Okay!” she says to stop my rambling. “Get in the house right now and don’t you dare sleep out here again or all bets are off!” I nod.

I get a glimpse of him today. He looks fine, like everything is okay… until he sees me. Then all the disdain returns, and I can’t be in the same house with him again. That’s it. I’m packing up my twins, I’m calling Chuck, and I’ll tell him to take us back to the Crossing. I’ll have to wait until everyone is asleep because if I don’t, it’ll cause commotion around the entire house and somebody might try to stop me. At lunch, I tell Val my plan and ask her to help me. I swear her to secrecy and tell her that we’ll pack the twins’ things after everyone goes to sleep, the last thing we move being the twins. Hearing them stir in the night won’t disturb anyone because that’s expected.

So… just after dinner, I call Chuck and tell him that I’ll ring him when I’m ready to go and to be on standby. I give Val the same instructions. Then I go back to my peaceful spot on the gazebo and let the tears fall, waiting for everyone to fall asleep.


Three days post-Pops… It seems like I had just fallen asleep when loud banging and commotion awaken me from the hallway. I take a moment to focus and realize that the banging is at my door.

“Open the goddamn door, Christian!” Elliot’s angry voice rips through the fog that is my head. The pounding won’t stop and now I hear Mom’s complaining voice, but he’s still banging on my door. I’m going to rip his Adam’s Apple right out of his goddamn throat! I climb out of the bed and snatch the door open so hard that he nearly falls into the room.

“What. Do you want?” I hiss.

“Do you know where the fuck your wife is, man?” he growls right back at me, unfazed by my anger. I narrow my eyes at him, but don’t answer. “She’s on the goddamn gazebo. She’s been sleeping out there for the last three nights since you locked her out of your bedroom. My wife went looking for her when the babies started crying…”

“Oh, no, not again,” Mom laments.

What? Again? What?  

I think the thickness of his anger shocks me out of mine more than anything. I’m horrified, though, when I replay his words…

She’s been sleeping out there for the last three nights since you locked her out of your bedroom…

Then Mom’s…

Oh, no, not again…

I have immediate flashbacks of my wife sleeping at the Crossing when it was just a construction site. I can see her in my mind’s eye, coming from the house, grasping her belly with sawdust in her hair, then falling to the ground wailing and grabbing handfuls of gravel from the unfinished driveway.

My family is saying something, but I can’t hear them. I grab the pair of pants nearest to my hand and a T-shirt from the floor and take off down the stairs without any shoes. When I get to the first floor, I dash out the French doors to the backyard and run to the gazebo.

She’s not going to be there. She’s not going to be there. She’s not going to be there.

Sure enough, there she is—lying on the floor in the fetal position in the same clothes she was wearing yesterday. She has added a sweater to her ensemble, which is pulled tightly around her. Her hands are under her face acting as her pillow, and she’s shivering in her sleep on the cold, hard wood. It may be the middle of July, but the nights are fucking cold.

I go over to her and sit next to her. The cold from the floor is brutal. I brush her hair out of her face and her skin is so damn cold that if I didn’t see the shivering, I would think that she was dead. And she slept out here. Why did she sleep out here?

Why did you lock her out of your bedroom, asshole? Out of your bed? Your fucking heart? This is probably the farthest she could get from your intolerable ass without leaving the grounds completely!

I reach down and embrace her, scooping her into my arms.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow…” is her only protest as she responds most likely to cold and aching bones before she falls right back to sleep in my arms. I simply turn off my thoughts and carry her back into the house under the watchful eyes of my family, then up the stairs to my childhood bedroom before closing and locking the door behind us. I lay her gently in the bed without removing her clothes and cover her with the comforter. She mindlessly snuggles under the blanket, pulling it up around her neck, but still shivering from the cold. She never opens her eyes, never fully awakens. Her every movement is instinct and reflex, even that shuddering breath that lets me know that she must have been crying not an hour ago.

I lay in the bed next to her, examining her face. I gently brush the hair away from her eyes and just watch her. I’ve looked at her more than once and saw my whole life in her eyes, but for some reasons—reasons that I can’t explain even now—for the last several days, I looked in her face and only saw my grandfather’s death. Every time I saw her, his death was completely her fault and I don’t know why. It seems so clear now that it was utterly ridiculous, but at the time, it’s what I saw and I don’t know why. I stare at her for long moments, I don’t even know how long. I just want to see her at peace after seeing her lying on the floor of the gazebo and knowing that she had done this for three days—shivering, uncomfortable, lonely, and unhappy.

She never moved. She’s sleeping so hard that the sun has changed position in the sky, and I still don’t know what time it is. Noon, maybe? I climb out of bed and sit at my childhood desk. I take out my blackberry and dial a number that I should have dialed well before now.

“This is Sherrill Baker.” I sigh.

“Dr. Baker, it’s Christian Grey.”

“Christian! It’s been a while… and you’re calling me, so this can’t be good.”

“No, it’s not good at all…” Dr. Baker and I have limited our sessions to as needed now since she feels that I’ve made the kind of progress that I’ve needed to make, so constant therapy isn’t necessary.

But right now, it’s desperately needed.

“Do you have a moment?” I ask.

“Only a moment,” she says. “I was about to go to lunch.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t want to disturb your lunch. We can talk another time.”

“No, we can’t because you don’t call me anymore. Now, what’s the problem?” I sigh.

“I have to cremate my grandfather tomorrow,” I say. I hear her sigh, then the sound of a door opening.

“Viv, order lunch in for me, please, and hold all calls and appointments until I give you the word,” she says away from the phone. The door closes and it sounds like her breath releases, like she’s sitting down. “I see. Please continue.”

“Pops passed away from end stage renal disease, which means this was a long time coming. Yet, when he finally made his transition, I blamed my wife.” The line is quiet for a split second.

“Why did you blame Ana?” she asks, clearly without an answer.

“I’m not sure,” I reply. “I knew that my grandfather was dying, but right before he passed, everything was okay for a little while. He was better than we had seen him since he moved to Seattle. We thought he was going to get up out of the bed and start dancing!”

“Oh,” Dr. Baker acknowledges, “the final energy boost.” I nod as if she can see me.

“That’s what Ana said,” I tell her. “She tried to tell me not to get my hopes up, but I wouldn’t listen. Pops was doing well and I wanted to hold on to that—but then, he wasn’t, and I felt like it was her fault for what she said. I’ve never had any experience with death, unless you count my biological mother and I was only four years old at the time. I knew that he was dying; we all knew that he was dying. We all moved back to my parents’ house for about a month in solidarity, so that we could all comfort each other when we lost Pops and there would be no need for those dreaded calls to loved ones. I even arranged for my Uncle Stanley to fly here from Detroit so that he could see his father before he died… yet, when he did, I blamed my wife. He was okay… he was well… and for a brief moment, I believed in miracles…”

My head is down and my eyes are closed. I only pay attention to this fact because I feel wetness on the hand in my lap. I open my eyes to see several drops of moisture on my clenched fist. I reach up and touch my face and realize that I’m crying. I’m broken-hearted. I’m afraid that this experience has caused me to lose faith in all good things—including my ever-supportive, beautiful wife.

“The logical part of me knows that my wife had nothing to do with my grandfather’s death, but my heart and mind wants to blame somebody for this! I don’t want to feel like fate and the universe played this cruel joke on me by giving my grandfather—healthy, whole, and completely lucid—for three days, only to snatch him away from me and let him die anyway!” I’m talking through my teeth and my tears, my chest burning and aching from anger and the sense of loss and… betrayal.

“I need you to listen to me, Christian,” Dr. Baker says, her voice soothing. “You’re at a dangerous point in your grief. You’re going to want to blame more than just Ana for what has happened and you need to be able to pull through this situation with your logical mind. You’re a powerful man and you can make things happen, and right now, you’re blaming the people closest to you because they’re easy targets, but you’re going to come to a point in your grief where you’re going to be blaming people who aren’t close to you, people that you really don’t care about. When that happens, you may be tempted to seek retribution for what you think could have been done to prevent your grandfather’s death, even though your logical mind knows that all avenues that could have been explored have been explored.

“You’re one of my most complex patients, Christian, and I know that I can’t mince words with you. When you find yourself at the point where you want to blame someone or you want to take action, I need you to come back to this place. I need you to understand that when nothing else makes sense, this thing really does. Your grandfather was sick, he couldn’t be saved, and when Death calls, there’s no negotiating. He’s not making any deals. He’s the final collection agency, and he’s taking what he came for. Do you clearly understand what I’m saying to you, Christian?”

“Yes,” I say, weeping. Pops is dead. It’s nobody’s fault. Short of buying a black-market kidney, he had no hope and he didn’t want that. He made his choice. He left on his own terms. Dr. Baker and I talk for several more minutes before I end the call. Then I sit and cry for a little while longer. I had him for a year. I should be grateful for that, but I’ll have to be grateful some other time. Right now, I’m crushed. I’m so hurt that I can’t see or think straight and I just need to sit here and cry.

After several minutes, I turn my attention to Butterfly’s back. I can tell by her breathing that she’s awake now. I pull myself up and go to the en suite, closing the door behind me. I begin to draw a warm bath, pouring some of her familiar citrus bubble bath into the water. I thoroughly wash my face with cold water before going back into the bedroom.

Without a word, I uncoil her from the covers. She doesn’t fight me as I slowly remove her clothes from yesterday. When she’s naked, I scoop her up in my arms and carry her to the en suite. I dip her toes in the water and let her test the temperature. When she approves, I sit her gingerly in the water. We’re both silent as I clean her from head to toe, starting with washing and conditioning her hair, and finishing by making sure every bit of the cold from the gazebo has been washed from her skin. I finally break the silence, telling her to soak for a few more moments to release the ultimate cold from her bones as I go back to the room to find her something to wear. Instead, I find myself back at my childhood desk, weeping… again.


The water feels so good. I sit here and soak in the warmth and luxuriousness, contemplating how I got here.

I’m watching the stars for a third night in a row, vowing not to fall asleep on the gazebo. I get lost in stars much like I get lost in the water, only Atlantis isn’t here to take away my troubles. It and my beloved butterfly fish, Marty, are back at the Crossing. So, I’m forced to find comfort in another endless visual body—the celestial body of stars. It helps me forget that my husband is not in control of his emotions right now, but that I nonetheless am unable to stand idly by and observe the hatred in his eyes when he sees me.

I’m hiding, I know it, but anything is better than being ignored by the man that I love. I haven’t neglected our children—I still take care of them, except for the two nights I spent out here on the gazebo. This is what prompted Grace to come looking for me in the first place. When she found me out here on the floor at just about dawn on the second night, I promised her that I didn’t do it on purpose and I wouldn’t do it again.

Now, I’ve done it again.

Even though, I don’t remember how I got into bed, the ache in my muscles, the last shard of cold in my bones, and the absence of malice and anger in my husband’s eyes are enough to tell me that he found me on the gazebo, most likely in the night air, but I can’t remember anything. Being out there in the cold for a long time causes my body to slip into a mild case of hypothermia. When that happens, I sleep a dreamless sleep, unable to remember anything and often unable to be awakened until I’m warmed again to normal body temperature. This can be pretty dangerous if the temperature drops too low, but anything was preferable to being deplored or ignored by my husband and subsequently locked out of his bedroom and denied our marital bed. I didn’t even try the door last night. I knew what I would get.

My intention was to have Chuck come and get me and take me back to the Crossing, but that would mean waking the babies as I had no intention of leaving them behind. I didn’t want to disrupt their little lives that way, nor did I want the entire house in an uproar while I packed up the twins to make an escape. So, I opted to tolerate my suffering which seems so small compared to the loss and confusion that my husband is feeling right now. It’s just that “a few more minutes” on the gazebo turned into “I just can’t risk running into him yet” and subsequently turned into “let me just close my eyes for a minute and enjoy the fresh air.”

The first night, that led to waking when the sun warmed my body enough to release the hypothermia.

The second night, Grace found me out here when she went on a search for the twins’ food manufacturing plant.

The third night, I decided to call Chuck, but I had to wait until everyone was asleep and… well, here I am in a bubble bath after my husband has washed my hair and lovingly scrubbed every inch of my body… but the bath has gone cold, and I’ve spent quite enough time in the cold. I let the water out of the tub and quietly climb out of it, wrapping my hair in a bath towel and my body in a second. I breach the door of the bedroom to find my husband back at his childhood desk, sobbing again. I sigh heavily. I heard most of his conversation with Dr. Baker even though I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to disturb him and cause him to cut his session short, so I took the lesser of two evils and lay quietly, listening to him pour his feelings out to his therapist and thinking of ways that I could possibly help him through this difficult time, if he’ll allow me. I had already decided to forgive him of his treatment of me, due to grief-driven insanity. Now, I’ll have to find a way to help make him whole again.

I walk over to where he’s sitting, his body shaking with sobs, and simply put my hands on his shoulder. He cries harder for whatever reason, and I almost think that he’s going to burst a blood vessel. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks at his pain and one of my hands instinctively go to his hair in an effort to comfort him. He quickly turns in the desk chair and wraps his arms around me, burying his face in my towel-clad stomach and weeping bitterly. At first, I’m caught off guard, but only for an instant. I cradle my husband’s head in my arms and fold myself over him, wishing I could take his pain away. I dry my tears and focus on him and his hurt as he sobs against my bosom.

After quite some time, his crying finally subsides and he burrows his face into my towel in an effort to dry his tears while I continue to stroke his hair. When he raises his head to me, he looks lost and broken.

“I need you,” he says softly. “I need to be inside of you. I need the pain to go away if only for a moment.”

I look into his eyes and nod, prompting him to stand from the chair and grab me in his hands. Lifting me off the floor, he carries me to his bed and lays me down. He’s hovering over me, looking down at me with sad, bloodshot, gray eyes, begging me to take his pain away. I gently caress his hair and nod, telling him without words that I’ll be whatever he needs me to be right now.

He rises from my body and removes his T-shirt and pants, returning to the bed to undo the towels that cover my hair and body, leaving them both open on the bed. He gazes only momentarily down at my naked body before bringing his eyes back to mine. He places a gentle, chaste kiss on my lips, which was absolutely no indication of what he had planned for me.

Moving his lips from mine, he travels down my body with the same soft kisses, only they’re not as chaste. They’re open-mouthed, like he’s tasting my freshly-bathed skin. It’s not immediately arousing, and I noticed when he kissed me that he wasn’t erect yet—not flaccid, but not erect like I know that my husband can be. He gently courses over my breast, the mound and the nipple, but he doesn’t linger there. He follows my abdomen down, down, down to my pelvis and then to my Mons.

His mouth reaches my core and he begins the ritual of tasting me, slowly at first. His tongue softly explores my crevices, but not in a way to bring me stimulation or satisfaction. He tastes me—the different textures of my skin, the tender meat of my clit versus the pliant meat of my lips and the spongy, moist texture of my opening. I allow him to explore and even enjoy his exploration, still caressing his hair, until his slow and deliberate comfort tasting begins to stimulate me—slow and deep, causing a small stir inside.

I close my eyes and internalize the feeling, something easily done as his skillful tongue softly and slowly causes me to rise. I feel the upsurge in my chest and in my loins as my breath quickens and my hands continue to thrust into his hair—no pulling, just gently combing through his soft curls as he licks and explores me with no rhythm or reason, just random tasting and licking. His hands roam gently over my body—my torso, occasionally my breasts, my hips, my thighs—never staying in one place for long and never holding me down. He grips the sheets as the feeling begins to rise in my hips and I try not to grind his face or pull his hair. The intensity of this gentle, rhythmless massage is so deep, so heavy until…

“Christian…!” I squeak as the orgasm burst through my pelvis, then burns hot and crippling through my core and my chest, causing me to tremble in my torso and all my extremities, unable to make a sound though my mouth is open in the attempt. He continues his gentle tasting until the orgasm finally wanes and I’m able to breathe again. Then he makes his way slowly back up my body, kissing me along the way until he gets to my face. He has nestled himself between my thighs, the head of his erection right at my opening, my legs having crawled up the bed with him and wrapped around his hips, my fingers still tangled in his hair. His eyes meet mine, and they’re not so sad as before. They’re lustful… and desperate.

“I need you,” he breathes, gazing into my eyes. I nod, still breathless from my orgasm and now, his closeness. He slides his arms under my shoulders and cups my head with his large hands. Without breaking eye contact, he slides effortlessly inside of me. I bite my lip and gasp as he enters me. I’m so wet, but he fills me completely. God, I just came, but he feels so good! My breathing is erratic again and I try to control it as he slides in and out of me, over and over, building the burn once again, and never taking his eyes off mine.

“I need you,” he says, again, his voice strained with his arousal and desperation. You have me, I think to myself. I’m yours. I can hardly breathe now as each stroke seems to take away what little breath I pull into my lungs. His strokes are slow and intense, deep and oh, so pleasurable. He’s pushing me higher and higher again with each slow stroke and the intense look in his eye. Oh, God, the feel of his cock against the walls of my core. He feels divine and magnificent, and I want him to kiss me… but he won’t. He just keeps gazing at me, begging me, loving me, his eyes blazing through me like fire.

“I… I… need you…” he breathes, his orgasm now evident in his voice. “I… need you.”

Take me… God, take me, Christian…

His stroke becomes more intense, but his pace remains the same. His pupils dilate and the black almost eclipses his steely gray eyes as they turn almost white around the rims, signifying his nearly unbearable pleasure, even if he hadn’t been stuttering the same three words over and over again…

“I… need you… I ne… need you…”

I feel his knee bend under my hip and his stroke becomes even more intense as he gets the traction he needs, as if that were possible. He reaches behind his head and grabs both of my hands, entwining our fingers and pinning them to the bed as he continues to stroke deep into me.

Oh. Dear. God! Aidez moi…

After several minutes of this exquisite rhythm and torture, I begin to whimper with each stroke right before I explode around him, not daring to move my gaze from his. I’m still rising in this heart-and-pussy-thumping orgasm when he buries his face in my neck and groans deeply as he clenches my hands hard. Each breath is another muffled, agonized groan as he comes hard and long inside of me. I press my head hard back into the pillow and my body firm against his, holding him inside of me with my legs wrapped firmly around his waist, riding through my own intense pleasure and penetrating aftershocks until the jerking of his violent ejaculation finally wanes and calms to a muted throb. He’s panting profusely as his lips repeatedly meet the skin of my neck and shoulder in soft kisses and hot, brushing caresses.

“I need you,” he says, between kisses. “I need you, I need you…”

I know… I’m here… whatever you need, I’m here…


I lay in my childhood bed, holding my wife for hours. I love her… I truly do, and I don’t know what made me shut her out and blame her for Pops’ death. Even now, I can’t even go back in my mind and rationalize why I did that. I still hurt very much over it, but I can’t for the life of me explain why I blamed my wife. She’s been nothing but loving and supportive this whole time and I need her now more than ever, but I shut her out… and I don’t know why.

I felt like hell when Elliot told me that she had been sleeping on the gazebo, and Mom knew. Why didn’t Mom tell me that my wife had been sleeping on the damn gazebo? I can’t blame anyone but myself. I locked her out of my room like a goddamn toddler; out of our bed, out of my heart. I wouldn’t even speak to her. She could have gotten really sick; any number of things could have happened to her out there. Hell, I was so bitter, anything at all could have happened to her and I wouldn’t have even known.

Once again, I can tell by her breathing that she’s not asleep. I’m spooning her, my arms on top of hers around her waist. I caress her hand gently, just because I want to feel her skin under mine.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, and the words sound like shit, not nearly enough…

“I know,” she replies, her voice a whisper, too. I brush my lips against the back of her neck.

“I need you,” I whisper into her skin as I pull her closer against me. “I love you so much. How can you ever forgive me?”

“Because I love you, too, and I know that you’re hurting,” she replies without turning around.

“That’s no excuse,” I retort. “I can’t keep doing this to you. I’m afraid I’ll lose you.” She sighs heavily.

“You’re right,” she says, her voice cracking. “You can’t keep doing this to me… but I love you, and you won’t lose me. I’d never leave you, especially at a time when you need me the most.” She squeaks out the last words and I feel her pain. I don’t have to look at her face to know that she’s crying.

“Please, forgive me, Butterfly.” She burrows backward into my body.

“I do,” she says softly through her tears. “I do forgive you, Christian.”

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve her, but I thank God that she’s mine. Even when I’m an unmitigated asshole, she still loves me. We lay there for several more minutes, Butterfly weeping softly in my arms and me gently kissing the skin of her shoulder, neck, and back. She calms after a while, but I know my Butterfly. The tears are still falling. I keep repeating phrases to try to ease the ache that I’ve caused:

“I’m a fool…”
“I love you so much…”
“I need you so much…”
“Please forgive me for treating you that way…”
“You’re everything to me…”

Sometime during my confessions, there’s a knock at my bedroom door. We don’t answer. Butterfly doesn’t stir, so I won’t either. We’re naked under the covers and the door is locked. When we don’t answer, the knock repeats, more urgent this time.

“Christian?” My mother’s voice insists. “Open the door. I need to see that you two are alright.”

I have no intention of getting out of this bed, no intention of leaving the warmth of my Butterfly so that Mom can see that we’re alright. I tighten my arm around my wife. If I answer, she’ll just insist that I open the door.

“I have keys to every room in this house, Christian,” she warns. “I’m not afraid to use them.”

Butterfly doesn’t move and neither do I. We need each other right now and we don’t intend to open the door for my mother. She does have keys to every room in the house, though. So, I pull the comforter up over Butterfly’s breasts since we’re facing the door and that would be the first thing my mother sees the moment she walks in.

“Okay, I’m coming in,” she warns, and I hear her key in the lock. I pull my wife closer against me so that I nestle my chin in her neck and lay gently on her head so that we will both be looking at my mother when she enters.

You want to see it, you got it.

I watch the lock turn and Mom opens the door. She freezes, gazing at us both as we gaze back at her.

‘Well, I’m glad you’ve sorted things out,” she says impassively, gesturing to someone beside her. None other than Liona comes wheeling a mobile service into the room. Her eyes scan the room and upon seeing me nestled in my wife’s neck, in bed and obviously naked, her eyes dart to the mobile service she’s pushing into the room. She stops a few feet from the bed, but never raises her head.

“That’s fine, Liona. Thank you,” Mom says. She nods and quickly leaves the room. Mom enters and stands by the service.

“I’m under no misconception what my married children do behind closed doors, but I think that revelation was a bit much for Liona,” she says, shaking her head. “Burt’s service will be at 11:00 tomorrow. I know you like to make your own arrangements for security, but the limos will be here at 10:30 to take the family to the church. It’s late. Eat before it gets cold. Let me know if you need anything.” She throws a knowing look at me before leaving the room and closing the door behind her, using her key to lock it. I kiss Butterfly on her cheek.

“Are you hungry?” I ask softly. She nods.

“I could eat,” she replies. I begrudgingly leave the warmth of our bed and go over to the mobile service, lifting the lids off the plates. Dinner is Caprese chicken and Alfredo and pesto bowtie pasta with snap green beans. I bring a plate over to my wife and she sits up against the headboard. I feed her and myself out of the plate until it’s clean, then start on the second plate. We intermittently sip white wine while we clean the second plate and start on desert—key lime pie. Neither of us says anything until all the plates are both clean, and I put the dishes back on the service.

“Do you need anything from home?” I ask. “Something to wear to the service?” She shakes her head.

“I have a black dress and shoes here,” she says. Of course, she would. We were all preparing for this day.

“Do you want to bring the twins to the service?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Not unless you do,” she says. “They’re so young…” I nod.

“I agree. They really don’t need to be there.” I pick up my phone and call Jason.

“Yes, sir?” he answers on the first ring.

“We’ve decided not to take the twins to the service tomorrow. The house will basically be empty except for my parents’ staff. Can you arrange for your wife and Keri to be here during that time?” Jason is silent for a moment.

“Sir, my wife and Keri are already here. They’ve been here all day.” I frown.

“Who called them?”

“I did, sir,” he says. “The family is in no condition to take care of the twins and neither were you or Ana. I didn’t misstep, did I?” I sigh.

“Absolutely not,” I respond. “Thank you, Jason. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Another pause.

“You’re welcome, boss,” he says and we end the call.

“Jason is a step ahead of us,” I say to my wife’s inquiring eyes. “Gail and Keri have been here all day.” She nods.

“Worth his weight in gold,” she says. “How did he know?” I shrug.

“Not much gets past Jason,” I say, joining my wife in bed again. “Would you like to watch television or something?” She shakes her head. “What would you like to do?”

“Just lay here in your arms for a while,” she replies. I nod and pull her against my body again.

God, I need her so much.


The mood is solemn as we assemble in the foyer for the limousines to take us to Pops’ service. Herman and Stan made calls to Detroit over the course of the week to extend an invitation to anyone who wanted to pay last respects before he’s cremated. My understanding is that some of Dad’s family will be at the service, but I don’t know who. Only Stan’s wife, Lana, came immediately and stayed with us, so I don’t know how much more of the family will be in attendance.

While we’re waiting to load into the limousines, the Helping Hands transport van arrives and parks behind the limousines in my parents’ circular driveway. A young girl in neat jeans and a T-shirt with her hair in a simple ponytail exits the driver’s side. You’ve got to be kidding me! They can’t be coming with Center business on today of all days! The girl runs up to the door and enters without knocking. I’m ready to blow a fuse until I see my mother greet her with a warm embrace. Mia, on the other hand, is scowling at the girl, but clings to Ethan’s arm and says nothing.

“Courtney, thank you. It’s good of you to come on such short notice,” Mom says.

“No problem, Ms. Grace,” she replies. “I think the Center can do without me for a day. Where are the girls?”

“Courtney! Will you be staying with us today?” Keri’s accent causes me to turn around. I see her holding Minnie as she approaches Courtney.

Courtney. Courtney. It can’t be!

“Hi, Keri.” She gives Keri a full hug while Keri gives her a one-arm hug. “Yes, I’ll be sitting with Celida and Mariah while Luma goes to the service. Hi, Minnie Mouse,” she says in the sweetest voice as she tickles my giggling baby girl. What the hell? Just last year she came on to my wife and then threatened her, and today, she’s everybody’s best friend? Everybody except Mia, that is.

“Courtney, hi,” I hear my wife’s voice greet her. “I hope you’re not here on Center business. It’s a bad day.” She hands Mikey to Gail and reaches to hug Courtney.

“I know, the worst,” Courtney says, returning Butterfly’s hug. They hug now? Where have I been? “I’m really sorry for the loss. I’m going to stay with the girls so Luma doesn’t have to worry about them.”

“Oh, that’s so kind of you. You’re sure you don’t mind giving up your Saturday for this?” Butterfly says. Courtney shrugs.

“I was at the Center anyway. They’ll be fine without me. Jesse has Myrna and Shel to help out today, so they’re not short-staffed or anything…”

“Court!” I hear a little girl’s voice and Mariah and Celida come running through the house at Courtney.

“Hi, Riah! Lele!” Both girls run to her arms and nearly knock her down. She giggles as they hug her. I gently pull my wife’s elbow over to me.

“Courtney Wilson?” I whisper. She nods. This girl is driving the Helping Hands van and everyone knows who she is. This is not the same brat that came on to my wife at the Adopt-A-Family Affair last winter.

“What the hell happened?” I ask. I knew she was no longer a threat, but I didn’t know she had made this much of a transformation.

“New outlook,” she says. I’m going to have to get the scoop on this new outlook.

“The limos are ready, sir,” Jason says from just inside the front door. Mom hears him and announces that we need to get going, so we all file out of the house. Mom and Dad are in the car with Herman, Luma, Stan, and Lana. Butterfly and I ride with Elliot, Val, Mia, and Ethan. I decide to pick Butterfly’s brain about…

“Courtney?” I ask. She shrugs.

“She lost everything,” Butterfly says. “She decided that she didn’t want to be like her mother, so she’s been quite dedicated at the Center.”

“She’s still a bitch,” Mia says, crossing her legs. I look at Butterfly.

“Why do you think so, Mia?” Butterfly asks.

“She’s got you all fooled,” Mia says. “I see right through that act. ‘Hi Minnie Mouse. Hi Lele.’” She imitates Courtney’s sweet voice. “Once her grandmother gets wind that she’s ‘reformed,’ Helping Hands won’t see her again. She wants everybody to believe that GrandMahMah pulled her trust fund and now she’s suddenly seen the light? None of her snooty friends will deal with her anymore. That’s why she’s slumming with the homeless.”

I feel Butterfly stiffen next to me and I know it’s because of the “slumming with the homeless” statement.

“It might interest you to know,” Butterfly begins firmly, “that I’ve asked her several times to allow me to tell Addy about her progress and she has declined. In fact, she has begged me not to tell her. Not that I’m her champion or anything, but everyone has a reason for the decisions they make, good or bad. And you’ll forgive me for taking issue with your accusation of her ‘slumming with the homeless’ since I found her living in a homeless shelter during the first two weeks that she was working for Helping Hands.”

Oh, hell. Butterfly’s mad.

“Having been homeless myself, I can speak on their behalf when I say that it’s certainly not a choice they make unless the circumstances are dire. And considering the fact that your mother and I spend nearly every day ‘slumming with the homeless’ as you so eloquently put it, you might want to reconsider your terminology when describing our work!”

She folds her arms across her chest like a petulant child and turns her head to look out the window. I turn my gaze to Mia, who looks like she’s been hit in the stomach.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Ana,” Mia begins. “I didn’t mean it that way. It was a terrible thing to say and I didn’t mean it like that, but I know this girl, and yes, she brings out the worst in me. She almost had me arrested for something that she did and I’ll never trust her again. I was only trying to be her friend and she screwed me. Then she grew up being bitchy to everyone around her including her grandmother, and I think she got her just desserts! I’m sorry if I insulted you. I really didn’t mean to, but when it comes to Courtney, once a bitch, always a bitch.”

“Duly noted,” my petulant child wife says without turning her gaze from the window. “I won’t broach the topic with you again.” Mia sighs heavily.

“Ana, I’m sorry,” she says, a small bit of exasperation in her voice.

“And I accept your apology,” Butterfly says firmly. “Now, we’ve got an extremely difficult and emotional day ahead of us. Can we please not talk about this anymore?”

Just like that, the Courtney topic of conversation ends. Mia shrinks down into Ethan’s arms while I attempt to loosen my wife up a little.

“I didn’t think it would cause this commotion. I’m sorry,” I say softly in her ear. Her head snaps back at me and her glare says everything her mouth didn’t…

Didn’t I ask that we not talk about this anymore?

I put my hands up in surrender.

“Okay, okay, I won’t say another word about it,” I say softly. She turns back to the scene out the window. I look over at Mia, who looks completely deflated. I’m almost anxious to get to the funeral and out of this car. A few minutes later, we round the corner to the cathedral and the worst possible sight greets me when we’re pulling up in front of the church.

“Paparazzi?? Seriously? At my grandfather’s fucking funeral?”

I’m yelling so loudly that everyone in the limo falls silent. I pull out my cell phone.

“I see, sir,” Jason says.

“Get my parents and my uncles into the church. Shield them as much as you can and tell them not to engage. I want everybody with a cell phone on the front line right now taking videos—every angle! I want pictures of every motherfucker standing out there!”

“On it, boss,” he says and ends the call. The Audi behind us speeds up and pulls ahead of the limos. Several of my security staff exits each door with large black umbrellas. I see my parents get out along with Uncle Herman, Uncle Stan, Luma, and Lana and they all scramble to the door under the cover of the umbrellas. I turn to Elliot.

“Get my wife to her seat,” I tell him. He nods.

“Sure thing, Bro.”

“Christian?” Butterfly protests.

“I won’t be long, but I need to handle this,” I say firmly. She looks at me with questioning eyes, then exits the car with Elliot and Val. He puts his arm around both women and hastily walk into the church, Mia and Ethan right behind them, all of them under the cover of the large black umbrellas as well.

My grandfather’s fucking funeral.

I step out of the limo in pure CEO mode, my insides burning because I’m so angry.

“Wow, seriously?” I say as I make my way to the front of the line of vultures now shying back from the camera phones of my security staff. The assholes have the nerve to fire off questions at me while I’m standing here in front of them in a somber black suit in front of a church after having my family hurried inside to avoid the flashes of the cameras. After a few moments of my security team recording the group of photographers and Paparazzi, I clasp my hands in front of me and assume the position.

“This is a private ceremony,” I begin, “a funeral, for God’s sake! The gathering of a mourning family and the final memorial of a man who wasn’t noteworthy enough to even have his obituary printed in the local paper. As if my family hasn’t already suffered enough with his passing, you vultures want what… a picture of the coffin? A candid shot of one of my family members in complete distress? What? What are you looking for?”

Although a few cameras flash, an eerie silence falls over the crowd of reporters and photographers.

“To answer your questions, that’s my grandfather, the patriarch of this family. He’s fought a long, hard battle with his health and deserves to be laid to rest in peace. We, his family, have been through an extremely difficult time over the past months and would appreciate privacy as we mourn his passing. That’s all you get. Now, as you can see, for the past several minutes, before and while you were recording me, my staff has been recording you.”

Several of the photographers and reporters turn their attention to the imposing men in black beside and around me, all taking videos with their cell phones.

“I’m sure that you know I can find out who each one of you is and where you work by the end of the week. You all need to cease and desist and disperse, now. That will be my only request. Let my family grieve in peace. If you disrespect my wishes and continue this cruel and heartless invasion of our privacy during this delicate and terrible time, I promise that I will personally make your lives a living hell… and you can put that in print.”

There’s a momentary pause and the same eerie silence. I stand there facing them, waiting for a decision. I need to be with my family, not dealing with this shit right now. It takes a minute or two, a few of them still throwing questions at me while I remain silent, but they finally begin to disperse. Once the throng is down to a few stragglers hoping to get more out of me, I turn around and walk into the church.

As I enter the cathedral, I notice that there’s quite a few more people here than I thought. I see a few of my business colleagues, but I see many people that I don’t know. I make my way over to Butterfly, sitting in the second row behind my mother and father. Dad sits staring at the open casket in front of us, classic mahogany and lined with satin. His eyes swollen and red-rimmed from crying, like his brothers’. Mia sits on the other side of me, trembling with sobs in her fiancé’s arms. Nothing makes death more real than seeing the one you love laying out in a casket.

Pops’ looks good, so peaceful… no more pain and struggling to breathe, only able to speak two words at a time, if any, having to make excuses for his asshole son and wishing he could get them all together one more time before he died. I don’t know why that thought came to mind. I just think the worst thing you can do to the dying is make them stress in their last days about the living.

A picture of Pops at my wedding in his Sunday best serves as his memorial photo. Various people go to the front of the church to view him one last time. A modest number of flowers grace the church and there’s a slideshow playing on the screen behind the pulpit of Pops in various stages of life.

His high school graduation.

His wedding.

The birth of each of his sons.

Him at various graduations and holding various grandchildren.

Dancing with his wife, Christmases, weddings, holidays, fishing with his boys and their boys…

In the rocking chair on the deck at Butterfly’s birthday party.

Sitting in a recliner with Mia on the floor next to him, her head lying in his lap while they watch television.

My wife sitting in a chair across from him, leaning in to hear what he’s saying.

A candid conversation that he and I were having at some point in my parent’s house.

Pops holding Minnie…

That’s when I realize that I’m crying. My chest feels like someone has reached inside and is holding my heart in a very painful vise and I almost can’t breathe. I lean a bit in my seat to get some air, but it’s not helping.

What’s happening?

I put my elbows on my knees and continue to cry, but I still can’t get any air in. I’m feeling lightheaded when I feel a hand on my back and hear my wife’s sweet voice.

“Hands at your feet, baby,” she says softly. “Put your head between your legs.”

I follow her instructions and even though I can’t stop the tears, my breath comes easier. I feel one hand on my back and the other gently caresses my hair. Although my spirit calms a bit, I’m still overcome with grief.

My grandfather is dead. He’s gone and he’s not coming back.

Ever since the crack whore died, I’ve closed myself off from any strong emotions as the pain was too much for me to bear, forcing me into silence for several years. Once Butterfly broke down my walls, I let them back in. I don’t regret that—opening myself to the love of my family and my wife—but this is one time that I wish I could turn them back off again.

A/N: I have abandoned writing Keri’s accent phonetically. It’s hard to write and sometimes hard to read, so you will only see phonetic writing of her accent when and if she speaks in Patois or when the scene calls for it.

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



Lemon Drop: I Don’t Need Another Hand Job

This one didn’t make it to the story because I just couldn’t find a place for it, but I thought it was worth a read, so I’m placing it here. A frustrated Christian has had enough of handjobs while waiting for his wife to pass the six-week mark after giving birth to their twins. He’s snapping at everyone and irritable as hell because HE WANTS TO FUCK. When his beloved wife offers to relieve some stress for him, he disparagingly turns her down. So now, she has something to prove when he says… 

I Don’t Need Another Handjob

“My dick has seen enough of the fist to last a lifetime,” he adds. I’ve come to his study because he’s biting everyone’s head off today and some of the staff has even threatened to quit. He nearly barks at me until he looks up and sees who’s invading his sanctuary. I walk over to where he’s standing behind his desk.

“Enough of your fist,” I say, grabbing his penis inside his pants and rubbing hard, “but not mine.” I push hard against him with my palm, up and down, up and down, and he immediately starts to stiffen.

“Fuck! How do you do that?” he groans.

“Just like you know my body, I know yours.” I push him down into the chair and undo his pants. He lifts his hips and allows me to pull his pants and his boxer briefs down to his ankles. I reach into his desk drawer and remove the oil I know that I’ll find there. I oil my hands thoroughly and begin to anoint his penis from balls to head. At first, he just looks at me, unaffected.

Is that a challenge, Mr. Grey?

“Don’t move your hands from that armrest,” I tell him and turn my attention back to my task.

From this point on, he’s no longer in the room. It’s just me and his penis. I start with the balls, anointing them generously including the underside near the anus and rolling them gently in my hands while I softly stroke the shaft to keep it out of my way. The creases of the thigh look a little dry, so I anoint them, too, along with the pelvic V and get a tiny shiver from the body attached to the penis.

I oil my hands again and wrap both of them around the penis, stroking up and down from root to tip. It’s hard, but not quite pink and veiny enough. I feel the body slide down into the chair a bit more and his legs fall open a little further. Good, more access to the dick.

As it starts to harden further, I twist my hands in opposite directions as I pump it. I watch it carefully. I love what I see. It slowly turns from a hard white rod to a solid pulsing pink, veiny cock—not quite ready to come yet, but surely enjoying itself. Hmm, I’ll taste you a bit, but I won’t suck you off.

I suck only the head into my mouth, running my tongue around the ridge as I continue the oily alternating strokes on the shaft.

“Ssssssssssssssssss, fuuuuuuuuuuccccckkk!” the body hisses. Challenge me, will you? Okay. I pop the head out of my mouth and run my tongue over the frenulum, never looking up at him. He hisses again. I release the dick and let it bob in the air a couple of times, hearing feverish panting from the body attached. With meticulous speed and rhythm, I gasp the base of the dick and run each alternating hand up and over the head, over and over again, causing what I know is agonizing pleasure until I have to instruct the body to slide back up into the seat before he hits the floor—you’re fucking up my rhythm.

I take this opportunity to remove his shoes so that I can slide off his pants and boxers and bring his ass to the edge of the seat, so that I can bring him to the edge of his wits. I pump the penis firmly, not hard, just firmly while I massage the balls between my fingers, just up to the rim of the head and allow him to thrust into my hand. When he pulls back far enough for the head to reach my hand, then I concentrate on just the rim and the head—the most sensitive part of the penis.

“Oh shit shit shit!” he grits out through his teeth. His tortured sounds make me pay attention to him again, to his body and his white knuckles clenching the armrests.

That’s right, Mr. Grey, hold on.

I take the head in my mouth and suckle, just the head, eliciting a primal growl from him. He tries to pump into my mouth, but I won’t let him. Just the head, Mr. Grey, I taunt with my eyes as I push his shirt up to reveal his abs, now glistening with sweat. Catching my drift, he does small strokes into my mouth that only allow stimulation of the head, a grunt, groan, or moans escaping with each stroke. That’s it, Mr. Grey. Ride the torment. You won’t come in my mouth, but you will come extremely hard. Disparage my hand jobs, will you?

Once the head is red and smooth like a pimple ready to pop, I release it again, along with some of the breath Mr. Grey was holding. Once I’ve allowed a few more breaths into his lungs, I decide it’s time to close the curtain on this show. With newly oiled hands, I grasp his dick and stroke, just to make sure I have enough oil on the shaft, head, and balls. He’s purple, veiny, and angry now, with a shiny, tight head and ready for release.

And release you shall have.

With four fingers holding the top of the shaft steady, I use my thumb to massage his frenulum, edging him mercilessly. Through all of his squirming, whining, thrusting, and crying out, I don’t change the rhythm. Edging is magnificent and torturous. It directly manipulates the vein that releases semen, much like prostate massage. Many men don’t know that’s what they are doing when they masturbate and their hand runs across that vein at the top of the head near the rim on the up and down stroke. They just know that it feels good and want to keep the stroke going. When you stimulate this nerve, the natural response is to thrust. However, he would get more stimulation and a harder orgasm if he would just…

“Keep still.”

“Ah!” he cries out. “Ah, fuck! Fuck!” he begins to shiver as he fights to remain still in the chair. “Ana… fuck! Please!” Yes, I know. Keep your ass in that chair. I’m watching the blood rush to the surface of the skin, his abs tighten, and the tormented stretching of the skin on his face when there’s a knock at his office door. He’s totally unable to answer and the uninvited guest opens the door and walks in anyway.

“Sir, what do you want to do about…”

“Jason… get the… fuck… out!” he manages to squeeze out. There’s silence for a moment before Jason says, “Sir, are you okay?”

“Go away, Jason,” I say calmly. After about a second, I hear, “Yes, ma’am,” and the door closes. I’m back to my task and I almost missed the finale. His nut sack has risen and become one hard, rigid ball. That’s what I was waiting for. I lick it once.

“Aaahhhhh! Oh God. Oh my God,” he cries, shaking violently in the seat. I continue the massage and lick again.

“Jesus! Ana!” he begs, his penis twitching in my hand, so ready to blow that if he opens his eyes, he’d probably see planets right now. I run my tongue back and forth across the nut sack, on the underside, everywhere my tongue can reach. He spectacularly lights the candle, semen shooting from his dick in two directions, landing on his stomach and dripping down the sides over my fingers simultaneously. He’s growling and grunting in his chest, squirming violently in the chair, the same time his abdominal and thigh muscles lock as I lick his jumping balls and they wildly empty their contents through the fat pulsing vein leading up to the opening in his dick. My free hand massages the muscle at the base of his balls at his perineum pushing the cum from his prostate to his testicles and up his shaft. So at this moment, every possible muscle that could contribute to his orgasm—except for direct manipulation of the prostate itself—is being stimulated, and Mr. Grey is paralyzed in one of the most massive and intense orgasms that he will ever experience.

I continue the stimulation until I hear the grunting stop, feel the muscle in the perineum stop pulsing, feel the testicles empty and one sack becomes two again, see the pulsing of the main vein of the penis stop; see no more semen release from the shiny head of my little friend, and he too stops pulsing in my hand; and the body attached to it stops jerking and grabs my hand, begging me to stop my manipulation of his tender member.

I think I’ll stop now.

I pick up the towel that was on my shoulder, now on the floor, and clean the mess that was made by the oil and semen. Christian stays splayed out in the seat, wrung out, naked from the waist down. I bet you won’t talk shit about my handjobs again, Sir.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Grey,” I say as I walk to the door. He’s still splayed out, but looking at me when I turn back around. “I’ll tell Jason to wait until you call for him.” I smile and leave his office, closing the door behind me.

I make my way to the elevator and push the button for the first floor. When it opens, Jason is standing there waiting.

“You might want to let him come to you,” I say matter-of-factly, tossing the towel in the laundry room on my way past him.


Raising Grey: Chapter 7—Counting Down To The Ferryman

We all seemed to have some powerful reactions to Ana’s and Christian’s behavior. I’m just going to try to keep the story going.

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 7—Counting Down To The Ferryman


“You and Christian are fighting,” Pops says, when I come into his room the next day. I sigh.

“Yes, we are,” I say with no hesitation. He didn’t come to bed last night. He wasn’t there when I awoke. I showered and changed and he wasn’t at breakfast… and he’s not here now. Elliot and Val kept looking at me all through breakfast like I might spontaneously combust right there on the spot. Grace kept throwing concerned glances at me while Carrick acted as if he was afraid to even look in my direction.

“Why?” he asks.

“Don’t worry about it, Pops,” I tell him. “It doesn’t even bear repeating.”

“If it doesn’t bear repeating, child, then it’s not worth fighting over.” Well, Pops, my husband wants to blame someone for your impending departure from this earthly coil and I pulled the short straw. How about you help me set him straight before you make your way to the great beyond?

“No, Pops, some things just don’t need to be spoken about… seriously.” He nods and decides to change the subject.

“Where’s Mia?” he asks. “She hasn’t come in to see me today to tell me about the wedding.”

“Oh, she had a die-hard client that wouldn’t let her out of her commitment today, so she had to go cover an event,” I tell him. As of late, Mia has been dabbling both in interior decorating and event planning and she can’t decide which one she likes best.

“Well, that’s better than sitting around waiting for a sick, old man to die,” he says. I pause.

“I don’t think it’s that we’re waiting for you to die so much that we just want to spend as much time with you as we can,” I correct him.

“Spend time with the living…” he begins his spiel again.

“… And you’re still living,” I interrupt him. He smiles at me.

“You’re wise beyond your years, child. Has anybody ever told you that?” I smile sadly and nod.

“It didn’t come easily,” I say in a melancholy voice.

“It never does, child. Wisdom ain’t cheap. It usually carries a hefty fee.” How right you are! We’re silent for a moment before he says, “I’ve been dreaming about my Ruby.” I raise my head and smile.

“Have you?” I ask. He nods.

“Sometimes, we’re sitting on the lawn furniture on the porch of that big house in Detroit, where we thought we would grow old bouncin’ grandchildren on our knee. Other times, we’re walking along the beach at sunset, holding hands and quietly looking at one another. In every dream, she’s as young, healthy, and beautiful as she was before the sickness hit her.” I smile sadly at him. “She’s letting me know that she’s waitin’ for me, child, so that I won’t be scared… not that I would be. This old body’s real tired.” I reach over and squeeze his hand.

“Seeing Stanley again must be nice,” I say. He smiles widely.

“Oh, yes,” he says with true joy in his voice. “Stanley’s a gentle soul. I was worried how he would take it if he didn’t get to say his goodbyes. It would have bothered him for the rest of his life. I’m glad he got here while I was doing better instead of right at the end.”

“I am, too.”

“I wonder what Freeman says about this,” he adds.

“I wonder if Freeman even knows,” I say. Pops makes a considering expression.

“Knowing Stan, he doesn’t,” Pops says. “He probably will soon, but he doesn’t now. Freeman’s the family naysayer. Any information that he gets is on a need-to-know basis and we’ve just decided that there’s a lot that he doesn’t need to know.” I raise my eyebrows.

“Pops, shouldn’t this be different?” I ask.

“I’m dying,” Pops says. “He knows. That’s all there is. His anger towards Rick is keeping him away. I have a problem with that. I have a problem with the fact that he’s so damn selfish that he can’t put his own desires aside for one minute, hour, day, week—however long I have left—to afford me the opportunity to see all my sons together one more time before I die. It’s always about Freeman and I’ve finally had enough. It took me being on my deathbed to finally be done with his selfishness. I only hope that it doesn’t take him being on his to realize how wrong he is.”

Pops speaks with clarity and purpose when he discusses washing his hands of Freeman’s behavior.

“Thankfully,” he continues, “I have three of my sons here with me right now—together, supporting one another and not bickering. Under the circumstances, it’s the best I can hope for, and I thank God for it.” I squeeze Pops’ hand and smile, and he smiles right back.

After I have a talk with Grace about her son’s denial while we feed, burp and bathe the children, I decide that I need a bit of fresh air. Still no sign of Christian as I wander through the house toward the French doors. Maybe that’s a good thing. As I’m walking across the grass, I see someone sitting on the bench in the middle of the backyard facing towards the water. At first, I think it’s Herman, but as I get closer, I realize that it’s not.

“Hi,” I say to Stanley as I walk around the bench to face him. He’s just taking a drag from a cigarette and chokes on the smoke as I startle him. “Oh! I’m sorry,” I say as I pat him on the back, trying to alleviate his coughing spell.

“No worries,” he says as he catches his breath and clears his throat, gazing at me for a moment, somewhat confused.

“We haven’t been properly introduced,” I tell him, something that should have been done by my husband, but he’s too focused on that stick up his ass. “I’m Anastasia, Christian’s wife.” I proffer my hand to him and he takes it gently.

“You’re Christian’s wife?” he says, still gazing at me. I nod.

“Yes. I was actually in the room with your father when you came in last night,” I tell him. He nods, releasing my hand after he shakes it gently.

“Ah, okay,” he says. “I saw someone in the shadows, but I was kind of focused on my dad. When I looked around, you were gone.”

“Yeah,” I nod, while sitting next to him, careful to avoid the pile of cigarette butts sitting next to him. It looks like he’s on his fourth cigarette. He looks self-consciously down at the pile.

“I only smoke when I’m nervous or stressed or… something,” he says.

“It’s a rough time right now, I know. No judgment here,” I respond.

“Don’t tell me wife,” he says nervously. I smile.

“She probably already knows,” I reply. I would know if Christian has a habit like this that only manifests itself during stressful times… like hard fucking. I wish that habit would have manifested instead of the useless brooding and blaming that he’s doing right now.

“So… what do you do, Anastasia?” Stanley asks.

“Please call me Ana,” I say. “I’m a shrink.” He raises his eyebrows at me.

“You are?” he asks. I nod. “Please forgive me, but I don’t have much faith in your profession.” Now, my eyebrows rise.

“May I ask why?” I say. He shrugs.

“I just don’t see the need for it,” he says. “If something’s wrong with me, I can go talk to family or friends, a member of the clergy—all for free, without having to pay someone to… shrink me.” I nod.

“I can understand that,” I say. “And you’ve never had any experience with a psychologist or psychiatrist or counselor… you just feel like it’s money wasted.” He looks over at me.

“Forgive me, but, yes, I do,” he says with no malice. I twist my lips and nod.

“Okay,” I say, turning back to face the water. I can feel his gaze on me without looking at him.

“You’re not going to try to convince me otherwise?” he says. I shake my head.

“No,” I reply.

“Is this some kind of shrink trick to make me see the err of my ways on my own?” he asks skeptically. I laugh good-naturedly.

“Not at all,” I say to him. “It’s not for everybody,” I continue. “Counseling of any kind—medical, religious, free—is only as good as your acceptance of it. If you feel that paid counseling is a waste of time and money, then it’ll never help you. You’re on the downswing of the seesaw before you even sit in the chair…”

“Or on the couch,” he adds. I laugh.

“Or on the ‘couch,’” I repeat with mirth. “I never use a sofa unless someone is ill and wants to lie down.”

“So, if you feel that way about it, why do you practice?” he asks.

“Because it does work for some people,” I tell him. “It worked for me. That’s why I got into it.” I turn my eyes back to the water, trying not to remember the terrible condition I was in after Green Valley, the years of mental anguish and suffering that followed, and the Godsend that was the guidance counselor that suggested I go into psychiatry, ultimately leading me to CCFW in Seattle.

“You’ve got a story,” he says, taking a drag from his cigarette and blowing the smoke away from me.

“A very bad one,” I sigh. “That’s how I know firsthand that mental health professionals have their place and can be very helpful.” He nods.

“I stand corrected,” he says. I chuckle.

“I still agree with you, Stanley. They’re not for everyone,” I secede.

“Call me Stan,” he says. I nod.

“Stan.” He turns his gaze to me and I meet it with my own.

“Has anybody ever told you that you have a doppelgänger?” I nod… you mean besides my husband’s prior harem of petite, brunette submissives?

Now, why the fuck did that come to mind?

“Ah, yes… Shannon.” He raises an eyebrow at my revelation.

“He told you,” Stan says, puffing his cigarette again.

“He showed me the picture,” I say with mirth. Stan nods.

“You guys could have been twins,” he admits. “Losing her was rough on Herm.”

“I know, he told me,” I say. “I had to talk to him about staring at me and my husband’s jealous tendencies when we first met, and he explained to me why he was staring. It’s understandable. I would find it quite unnerving if Christian had a twin.” He twists his lips and looks at me again.

“Not trying to be inappropriate, but she was a real looker in her day,” he says. “You’re very pretty. Christian’s a lucky man.” I sigh and look out over the water.

“Yeah, maybe somebody should tell him that!” I hiss, and immediately regret saying it. Stan looks over at me.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to…” I shake my head as he trails off.

“He’s a wonderful man,” I say looking over at Stanley before looking back out over the water. “We’re very stressed out over Pops’ illness. It’s just taking its toll on us all.” He takes the last puff of his cigarette before he puts it out and places the butt with the others.

“Yeah,” he says sadly. “Even when you know it’s coming, it’s still hard to accept… especially when he looks this good. Christian’s last report was that he was doing pretty badly and I needed to get here as soon as possible.” I nod.

“He was right,” I say nodding. “Christian and I went out on the town Sunday night to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. I was almost afraid to leave the house for fear of the news I would get over the phone or when we got back. Then yesterday, he got this good-as-new energy burst…” Stan had turned his attention to me, but now dropped his head and put his elbows on his thighs, clasping his hands between his parted knees.

“Oh… that,” he said with deep sadness and a heavy sigh. I look over at him.

“You know what it is,” I say. He nods.

“It happened with my mom,” he says. “We all got our hopes up because nobody told us to expect it. It was fast, though. She died the next day. We called the doctor asking him what the hell had happened, and he explained it to us. If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we would have thought it was a crock of shit. We thought she was going to get out of bed and dance a jig! For that brief moment, Mom was back!” He smiles widely, his eyes twinkling as he remembers the day of his mother’s energy boost before she passed away. The happiness is soon replaced by heavy sorrow. “That’s how Dad looks today. It won’t be long now.”

He tries to catch the tear before if falls down his cheek and onto his arm. I place my hand on his back and try to soothe him.

“Spend as much time as you can with him right now,” I tell him. “I think this is the gift that’s given to us so that we can say goodbye and relive good times before God takes back what belongs to Him.” He raises glassy eyes to me.

“What a nice thing to say,” he says softly. “That’s such a wonderful way of looking at it.”

Pops was right about Stanley. He is a gentle soul.

“Maybe one of you guys should call Freeman so that he can at least talk to his father during this time,” I suggest. Stanley shakes his head.

“Freem was there when this happened to Mom. He’s knows what’s coming and he chose not to be here. I’m not making that call.” I nod.

“I hate that you guys are all at odds about this,” I say, looking back over the water. “You should all be pulling together and supporting one another during this time. It must be hard on you all.”

“No,” Stan says. “It’s business as usual. Freeman is a self-centered asshole and he always will be. I learned a long time ago to stay out of his way. Unfortunately, that’s how I almost lost my brother, and nearly missed out on the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad. Man, if he knew that Christian made a way for me to get out here before Dad died, he’d be pissing gasoline right now.” He shakes his head. “I’m going to make sure that I tell him.”

I can’t stop the chuckle that escapes my throat. I cover my mouth and try to hide it, with the conversation being so somber and all. He elbows me gently on the arm, informing me that my laughter is okay.

“Well-placed levity in an emotional situation is always a good thing,” he says softly before scrubbing his face and composing himself. “It was nice to finally officially meet you, Ana. You’re good people.” I smile.

“So are you, Stan. The pleasure was all mine.” He gives me a chaste avuncular kiss on my cheek before patting my shoulder. Then he brushes all his cigarette butts into his hand before he rises from the bench we’re sharing and heads back to the house.

I remain on the bench for a few minutes after Stan leaves. My heart is so heavy because I’m doing just what I told him to do—spend this time saying goodbye while he’s coherent and energetic. I feel like I was robbed, like I never got the chance to know this vibrant, wise, worldly man before he’s taken away from us… like there’s so much more knowledge and good times he could share with me that I’ll never get because he’ll be gone.

What’s more is that I want to be there for Christian. I want to be there for my husband because this is going to be hard for him, but he’s too busy blaming me to let me in. I drop my face in my hands, my fingertips massaging my throbbing scar in a vain attempt at relief.

When I feel like I’ve wallowed enough in early grief, I stand from the bench and stretch. There’ll be plenty of time for grief when Pops is gone, and unfortunately, plenty of it to go around. I head back to the house and the closer I get, I can see the outline of someone right beyond the French doors. The closer I get, I see my husband with his arms folded, looking like he’s ready for a showdown.

Well, goddammit, I’m not!

My first instinct is to walk around the house and find another entrance, but that won’t do for many reasons—the first of which is that he already knows that I spotted him; the second being that he would only hunt me down if he’s looking for a fight. So, running would just prolong the inevitable. The third being that it would just be childish, and the list goes on and on…

I open the door for myself since even though he saw me coming, he didn’t feel the need to do so. Arrogant, self-centered, misdirected…

“So, you convinced Stanley that this is all in his head, too, huh?” Christian says with disdain as I walk past him. I look over my shoulder at him in bemused anger and he’s still leaning against the wall.

“What?” I snap. He raises his head and glares back at me as if I have not right to take that tone with him.

“He’s doing better! Why can’t you just accept that? No, you have to be the eternal voice of doom, convincing everybody that this is his last hurrah before he kicks the bucket. If you don’t have any positive thoughts about the situation, maybe you should just stay mute!”

The different levels and variations of anger that flash through me at that moment can’t even be numbered. I turn my body towards my delusional, high-handed husband and face off with him.

“I didn’t have to convince Stanley of anything,” I say, trying not to talk through my teeth. “In fact, he told me. He went through the same thing with his mother right before her death. She died the very next day after her energy boost, so I suggest you enjoy the time you have left with your grandfather instead of trying to place blame for the inevitable on someone completely not at fault. And in the future, if all you have for me is harsh words, take your own advice and keep them to yourself!” I turn on my heels and walk away before he has time to retort. I’ve had enough of this. He’s not going to keep saying shitty things to me and I’m just going to stand there and take it!


Christian took my advice. For the next several days, he has absolutely nothing to say to me. Stanley tries to convince him that this really is an energy boost and he doesn’t want Christian to fall apart when the decline occurs. Even his mother tries to tell him, but he’s still holding fast to the thought that I’m the naysayer and everything’s going to be fine.

It’s ridiculous… and unfair. I don’t get to properly mourn losing someone that I’ve come to love because my life-mate is too busy blaming me and snarling at me every time he sees me, and I can’t properly express my grief. I avoid him now at every opportunity. I don’t know where he’s sleeping, because he hasn’t been to bed. If I’m at the table for a meal and he comes to the table, I excuse myself and take my meal elsewhere. We don’t even sit with the twins at the same time. If he’s in the room, I let him stay and I leave. If I’m in the room, he doesn’t enter.

The family is in turmoil about it. No one knows who to support and they all refuse to take sides, which is actually good, because that would just make a bad matter worse. Pops is blissfully ignorant of the conflict, if you can call having no idea that your upcoming death is the basis of a fight between your grandson and his wife “blissfully ignorant.”

Christian has been working more now, probably partially because he thinks Pops is out of the woods and partially to avoid talking to me. For once, I’m not letting him win this one. I’m right and I know it and he’s having a problem accepting the truth. Someone else who has gone through this has tried to convince him; another doctor has tried to convince him; yet, he still wants to blame me. I know what this is—I’m a shrink. It’s classic transference—there’s a lot of that going around lately, but I’m not going to sit here and take it. I’m sorry that he can’t accept that his grandfather is about to pass away, but I refuse to be the butt of his blame when I’m suffering emotionally, too.

All hail the red, white, and blue. Friday is Independence Day, but none of us feel much like celebrating. The inevitable happens and Pops’ energy boost has run its course. Christian’s eyes immediately throw daggers at me like I had personally sucked the life out of Pops and not this ever-present renal failure that the doctors have diagnosed him with. I leave the room in tears, not because of Christian’s heartless and selfish behavior towards me… I’m over that. I cry because I know that we’ll be losing Pops very soon. I enjoy our talks about Ruby and about mine and Christian’s travels and adventures. Pops and I are lucky that we share and shared a life of love with people who adored us and made adventures more fulfilling. Even though my husband is treating me like Public Enemy #1 right now, he has nonetheless made this ride called life so worth the trip. I can only hope that when I’m breathing my last breaths, I can remember my life with the same love and admiration that Pops has shared with me about his.


I don’t understand for the life of me why my wife would want to throw dirt on this precious gift that God has chosen to give us. For some reason, He’s performed a miracle. My grandfather is getting better. I don’t know what happened and I don’t know why, but he’s getting better. His energy levels are impressive. He’s not using his oxygen mask. He’s telling unbelievable stories about his life and my dad’s childhood. It’s amazing! I’m so happy about it and I’m not going to let her spoil this for me and my family. If she can’t just be happy and appreciate this miracle, that’s all good for her, but I refuse to let her rain on my parade.

“Christian, your wife is right,” Stanley says to me on Tuesday. “Depending on the illness, people may get a boost of energy right before they pass away.”

“She got to you, too?” I ask him. He shakes his head.

“Have you ever watched someone die before, Christian?” he asks with no malice. I don’t respond. “I have, son. You’re blessed if it’s fast. You’re even more blessed if you get the opportunity to say goodbye while they’re lucid. Don’t waste this opportunity.” He squeezes my shoulder and walks away. She’s convinced someone else to try to take away my hope and I let her know that I’m not pleased when she walks into the house behind my uncle. She declares that from now on, I should keep my thoughts to myself. So, that’s exactly what I plan to do.

I decide to go into the office on Wednesday since it’s pretty clear that Pops is out of the woods. Besides, I’m so displeased with my wife that it’s probably better that we don’t see each other today. I wouldn’t want to bruise her delicate little psyche with my harsh words.

“Mr. Grey, I didn’t expect to see you today,” Andrea says when I walk past her desk. “Mr. Welch just asked if you were going to be in today and I told him that you weren’t expected. You might want to call him.”

I nod, acknowledging the information and continue into my office. There is information on my desk concerning the types of furnishings I want in the quarters behind my office. I’m not too particular about what I want in there. It’s only a just-in-case room—I don’t plan on spending any extended amount of time there. I’m thumbing through the information as I dial Alex’s number.

“Good, you’re here. Can you meet me in Central in fifteen? I’ve got something to show you.” I almost want to say “Well, good morning to you, too,” but I can’t fault the man for wanting to get to the point.

“Will do,” I reply before ending the call.

“So, I put three different people on scanning and recording the people coming and going from Ana’s condo in the two-day span you requested,” Barney says when I get to GEH Security Central. “We’ve accounted for just about everyone that wasn’t a resident—what time they got there, who they visited, how long they stayed, when they left. Even delivery people are required to sign in before they are allowed access to the elevators. It was truly a slow day, thank goodness. Now, right here is where we have one of two discrepancies.”

Barney points to a late-model Lexus driving into the parking structure. Whoever was driving piggybacked off another car driving in, which is easy to do in many circumstances unless there’s a guard booth outside… which there isn’t. We watch as the Lexus pulls into one of the visitor parking spaces at the far end of the lot. Nothing happens for several minutes until someone gets out of the driver’s seat of the Malibu parked next to the Lexus—small frame, dressed in a hoodie, so their face is shielded.

“Okay, so stop,” I say. Barney stops the video. “So, we followed the Lexus in to get to this car. Why didn’t we get to this car, first?”

“Tenacity,” Alex says. I frown at him.

“Excuse me?” I say, not sure what to make of what he’s trying to say. He gestures back to Barney.

“So… I’m going to need you to kind of just keep up with me because different things are going to be happening and I’m going to try to explain them the best way that I can,” Barney says. I nod, intent to try to follow his reasoning. He turns back to the large bank of monitors. “That Malibu has been sitting there for three days. We had to do triple-time to see when the vehicle arrived or we would still be watching the tapes. That car drove into the lot on Thursday the 21st. Ana’s Beretta was stolen on the 24th.

“That person sat in that car for three days waiting for the Lexus?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “That person got out of that car about an hour after arrival. You can tell it’s a man.” We watch as a man leaves the Malibu—long, black trench coat, black Akubra Bogart hat pulled down far that you can’t see who it is. He walks right out of the garage and out of sight of the cameras. Shit.

“So, no activity until this Lexus shows up, then someone gets out of the driver’s seat of the Malibu.”

Barney runs the video back so that we can see the driver’s side Lexus door open and close, then the passenger side Malibu open. The occupant is crouched down so there’s no hope in seeing who they are until about twenty minutes later, when the driver’s side of the Malibu opens.

“So, you know this part,” he says as we follow the small-framed person to my wife’s apartment and back out again a few minutes later—heavy one Beretta, no doubt. They enter the same elevator they exited… but they never get to the garage. After we monitor all the elevators, we see that they get off at the first floor.” The petite frame in way-too-baggy clothes gets off the elevator, only now, she’s scratching at a mass of messy red hair that covers her face as she enters the women’s restroom. Even an amateur can tell it’s a wig. Not three minutes later, a scantily-clad curvy brunette leaves the bathroom, waves at the desk guard, and walks out the front door. Barney switches the camera back to the parking lot. I nearly flip out.

“We’re going to miss the woman with the gun!” I exclaim, pointing to the screen.

“No, we’re not, sir,” Barney says, pointing to the scantily-clad brunette, now on the driver’s side of the Lexus. “That’s the woman with the gun.” She’s carrying a small black clutch that I paid no attention to as she left the restroom, and now she has very large sunglasses on her face. She gets into the Lexus and drives away without further incident.

“I ran facial recognition to see if she was in any of the databases and we got a hit,” Barney says.

“Go back to the lobby,” I say. Barney goes back to the lobby camera. “Zoom in.” When he zooms, a familiar fucking face is smiling back at me.

“You didn’t need facial recognition,” I hiss. “Nobody else came out of that goddamn bathroom?”

“No one else went into or came out of that bathroom except the cleaning crew, and they were all accounted for—long-term employees with impeccable records that were all where they were supposed to be during the course of the days.” Son of a bitch.

“Well, I know who stole her fucking gun, now,” I snap. “What about the Malibu?”

“It’s a rental,” Alex says. “The rental company picked it up three days later. My connections say that he called the company and told them where the vehicle was and that he locked the keys in the car, but was on his way to the airport before he missed his flight and they had to come and get it. Surveillance shows employees of the rental car company taking the vehicle off premises.”

“Did your connections tell you who rented the car?” I ask impatiently. He nods.

“Louis Millfeld,” he says. Of course. I knew it.

“So, now we can tie the three together and link them to Ana’s gun,” I declare.

“Really, we can’t,” Alex says. “All of our evidence is deduced and circumstantial. None of it will hold up in court. But you know and I know that she took that gun.” Yeah, I know. Crazy fucking subs and sub-wannabes. This shit is getting completely fucking out of hand.

“Any luck on any leaks of information from any other sources? Any weak spots of any kind, shit we could have overlooked like the last time we underestimated this bastard?” Barney shakes his head.

“Absolutely none, sir. I’ve even had James consulting on this one and nothing so far.” Well, that makes me feel better. Ever since he wrote that program that basically saved my fucking company last year, he can do no wrong in my eyes. It’s good to know that he’s back on the team with this one, even if only on a part-time basis.

“Good. Very good. Keep me apprized. Excellent work, gentlemen. Alex?” I head towards the door with Alex close on my heels. I don’t start talking until the door closes to the elevators.

“Find out where the hell those other twelve women are,” I hiss. “This is getting fucking ridiculous! One of them tries to break up my engagement. Another tries to kill my goddamn wife and children. A third shows up at my father-in-law’s baby shower! Now, this bitch walks right into my wife’s apartment with a fucking key and steals her damn gun, which was used to nearly kill me—and she wasn’t even a sub!”

My fists are clenched so tight and I’m only glad that whatever voodoo my dick—or in this case, the promise of my dick—put on these bitches that I will never stick it into another woman again besides my currently-errant wife! Submissives act like there’s no other man in the world that can fuck like me; Elena Lincoln lost her goddamn mind; and now…

“What about this situation, sir?” Alex says.

“Find me goddamn Greta Ellison,” I hiss.


I spend the evening with Pops and Stanley, laughing and happy that he sounds like his old self. While I’m conversing with him, my naysaying wife enters the room and kisses him on the cheek.

“Hmm, one too many in this room,” I say under my breath, but apparently not low enough.

“Then, maybe you should leave,” she retorts, throwing me a stabbing glance before turning back to Pops. I narrow my eyes, but it has absolutely no effect on her. “Minnie was feeling a bit neglected that her brother was getting all of Great-Grampa’s attention,” she says, undoing the body wrap she has around herself and Minnie. Pops’ face lights up as she puts Minnie in his hands. She smiles that beautiful smile at the spectacle before her and I remember how it feels to see that smile directed at me. My heart warms momentarily, but only that much as I remember that she’s only waiting for my grandfather to die. She sits on the bed facing away from me, her attention solely on Pops and Minnie. Feeling quite unwelcome, I leave the room and bump into Mom in the hallway.

“You two really need to stop this,” Mom says. “It’s getting out of hand.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” I retort.

“The hell you aren’t!” she rebuts. “You’re treating your wife like a criminal—a stranger—all because she gave you information that is completely correct and medically sound and you can’t accept it! Why would you do something like that to her? To your family?”

“Have you seen him, Mom?” I say, pulling her further down the hallway and away from Pops’ door. “Have you taken a really good look at him? The color is back in his face. He’s eating. He’s breathing without the oxygen. He’s talking and acting like a normal person. I don’t know how it happened just like no one else does, but that’s not a dying man!” My mother’s face turns to the ceiling as she releases an exacerbated sigh.

“My. Husband’s. Father. Is dying,” she says, her voice deep. “Every day, I fight to hold him together. He cries at night where none of you can see him. We were awake for your argument because he doesn’t sleep. I’m doing everything I can right now to keep my sanity… my husband’s sanity… and your behavior. Is not. Helping.”

Mom sounds like she’s going to break down any minute. I didn’t mean… I don’t mean to cause her any more stress. We’re all here for exactly the opposite, but…

“Anastasia is right,” she adds. “The dying often have a final burst of energy in their last days, and trust me. I would love nothing more than to believe that a miracle from God has fallen from heaven and landed on Burt’s shoulder, if not for his sake or for all of our sakes… for yours!”

Why don’t I like the sound of that?

“I hope to God that you get your miracle, because if you don’t, you’ll be lucky if that woman ever forgives you for how you’re treating her. I know that I wouldn’t if it were me!”

My mother turns on her heels and marches out of my presence, leaving me standing gape-mouthed in the middle of the hallway.


What a difference a day makes.

One day…
One fucking day…

He’s jubilant and gleeful on Thursday and by Friday afternoon, he’s back on the oxygen, feeble and frail and unable to eat on his own. And yes, she’s standing there, looking all glum, but I know that she’s gloating inside, thinking she was right all along when it was probably her negative energy that brought him back to this. His doctor made a special trip to the Manor by request of the hospice nurse to see just how bad off Pops was. He’s barely conscious—in a lot of pain, drugged up and incoherent. He’s not even present anymore. His body is just… here.

“How long?” Herman asks the doctor, who shakes his head.

“Days,” he says. “Maybe hours. If you haven’t made preparations, Mr. Grey, now is the time.” Dad puts his hand over his mouth and I turn around to see my wife weeping. I’m immediately enraged.

Why are you crying? This is what you predicted! This is what you said would happen! So, why the tears?

As if she could hear me, she turns around and bolts out of the room. My grandfather is dying. After all that hope… he’s dying anyway. Fucking hell…

Saturday morning, Dad and Herman call all the men to his office. It’s time to make preparations and he wants to get a consensus—again—on what should be done.

“Stan,” he begins, “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this, but every decision that we’ve made about Dad so far, we’ve made together as a family. We’ve tried to keep Freeman in the loop, but he’s so damn disagreeable. Everything that we’ve suggested, he doesn’t want. He wanted us to put Dad on a plane while he was dying and send him back to Detroit. He thought Herman was going back to Detroit with him to take care of him, but when Herman said that he wasn’t, Freeman sent a form to sign over power of attorney and brochures for nursing homes. His message was clear—come home with Dad or when you send him, I’ll put him in a nursing home.”

“I never intended to go back to Detroit,” Herman interjected, “nor did I intend to put my dying father on a goddamn plane. I just said it to see how Freeman would react. He shot down everything we said and he led us to believe that his opinion was both of your opinions.”

“I didn’t even know any of this was going on,” Stanley says. “I just knew that Dad was on his last leg and I was trying to get down here. That’s all. If all I had was a weekend in all of this, I would have come. Freeman didn’t even tell me that he was coming. I would have tried to come with him.”

“Freeman thinks he’s God,” Dad says. “The law begins and ends with him.”

“That’s our fault,” Herman says, “me, Stan, and Dad. He was such a squeaky wheel that we never let him believe anything different if it meant that he would shut up. Dad lit up like a Christmas tree when he got that invitation to Christian’s wedding. Freeman was breathing fire.”

“I remember that,” Stan says. “Once again, I just kept quiet.”

“Dad wasn’t having it,” Uncle Herman says. “If Freeman had laid down and given birth, Dad was still coming.” The three brothers laugh a bit before Dad gets the conversation back on track.

“Dad has already said that he wants to be cremated and everybody agrees,” Dad says. “But Freeman wants us to have whatever service we’re having here since I’m not welcome at the service back in Detroit, and then ship Dad’s body back to Detroit where he’ll have it cremated.” Stanley frowns.

“Why wouldn’t you guys just cremate him here? Wouldn’t it be easier to ship the ashes back to Detroit? Or I can just take them back?”

“That’s what we want!” Uncle Herman says. “Again, Freeman doesn’t agree, and he had us thinking that you shared his opinion.”

“I don’t,” Stanley says. “What sense does it make to ship Dad’s body back to Detroit so that we could cremate him there? It’s still his remains; he’s still going to be gone. Nothing’s going into the grave, but the urn. What am I missing?”

“You’re missing that your brother’s a selfish asshole,” Dad says. “Dad’s last words to Freeman was that he was selfish.” Stanley frowns deeper.

“You’re kidding,” he says. “That’s the last thing Dad said to Freem?” Uncle Herman nods.

“I recorded it,” he said.

“Herm, why did you record that?” Stanley asks. Uncle Herman shrugs.

“I don’t know… but I did.” Stanley shakes his head.

“Our family’s falling apart,” he says sadly.

“Death has a way of doing that,” Dad says. Tell me about it. My wife and I haven’t spoken a kind word to each other all week.

“We were falling apart before this,” Uncle Herman says sadly. There’s silence again before he adds, “So… are we in agreement? Dad should be cremated here?”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Stanley says. “It doesn’t make any sense to ship Dad’s body back to Detroit. If I was still in Detroit, I would still say that it doesn’t make sense. Cremate him here and I’ll take his ashes back. If Freem wants to say goodbye, he can come here and do it.”

“He’s not welcome in my home,” Dad says firmly.

“But I’m sure that you wouldn’t stop him from attending the service,” Stanley says.

“You’re correct… even though he told me that I wouldn’t be welcome at Dad’s service in Detroit, he’s more than welcome to attend services here.” Stanley rolls his eyes.

“Geez, Freem,” he says under his breath. “Let’s get this call over with.”

“Who’s doing the talking?” Dad asks. “He doesn’t want to speak to me.”

“I’m probably not his favorite person, either,” Uncle Herman adds.

“I’m sick of this whole thing. I’ll do it,” Stanley says as he gestures to Dad to dial the number. Dad presses the speaker phone and dials Freeman’s number. He picks up after three rings.

“Are you calling to tell me that you’re sending my father’s remains?” Freeman barks. Damn. No “Hello” or “Who is this” or nothing. He’s quite the hateful bastard.

“Yes, Freeman, that’s exactly why we’re calling,” Stanley replies. The line is silent for a moment.

“Stan?” Freeman inquires.

“Yes?” Stanley responds.

“Thank God!” Freeman exclaims. “I was so afraid they were just going to do whatever they wanted without any concern for our wishes. I’m so glad you’re there!”

“Oh, they’re not going to do anything that I don’t approve of, Freeman, but you should know that I approve of cremating Dad here in Seattle and I’ll bring his ashes back to Detroit to be buried next to Mom.”

“You what?” Freeman roars. “Has my entire goddamn family lost their minds?”

“Freeman, the only person who has a problem with this is you,” Stanley says. “Dad doesn’t care either way, as long as he’s laid to rest next to Mom. What’s the big deal if we cremate him there or here?”

“I want to say ‘goodbye’ to my father properly,” he hisses.

“I thought you did,” Stanley retorts. “I thought you came here and saw Dad while he was still living. That’s a proper goodbye. Once he’s dead the spirit is gone. The essence has left. There’s nothing left but a shell. Who cares if the shell is a body or ashes?”

“I care!” Freeman barks.

“Then fly to Seattle and say ‘goodbye’ to his body when he passes on, because he’s being cremated here.” There’s silence again for a while.

“He’s not even gone yet?” Freeman asks.

“No, but it’s sure to be any day now, and he’s going to be cremated here when it happens.”

“I’ll get an injunction, I’ll do something to keep you from cremating my father’s body in Seattle.”

“Well, good luck with that, Freeman. In the meantime, if you want to pay your last respects to Dad’s body, you should probably be making arrangements to get to Seattle very soon. The doctor has already been to the house and he says that Dad has days if not hours left.”

“They’ve gotten to you, too,” Freeman says with disdain. “They take my father away from his home, away from his family and fly him clean across the country where none of us can get to him. They make all his decisions for him so that on his deathbed, he can’t be in his home with his family. His family is not there! His family is here! Your family is here! And if you cremate my father in Seattle, you’re a fucking traitor!”

“What home are you talking about, Freeman? That cave on Chicago? That place was falling apart around them! It’s even worse now. It’s not even worth the ground it’s standing on!” I look at Uncle Herman.

“Is he talking about Pops’ house?” I whisper. Herman nods.

“It’s worthless,” he whispers back. “It’s dilapidated and deteriorated. Freeman thinks it’s still worth something because it’s in the historic district. Maybe it is if someone is willing to restore it, but I’m not. When I went back to Detroit, I was ready to wash my hands of it then. I was just trying to see what Dad wanted.”

All this fighting and bickering or a house that’s ultimately worthless?

“Our father worked his whole life for that house! To grow old and spend his last days there…”

“Freeman, I’m not arguing with you about this,” Stanley says. “It was Dad’s choice to come out here and Dad’s choice to stay here. You can split hairs all you want to about the house, but nobody wants to argue about it anymore. Dad doesn’t want the house and neither do we.” Stanley raises his eyes to his brothers who both make gestures indicating that they don’t care about the house. “So, it’s yours, but in the meantime, if you want to see Dad one last time, you need to get on a plane.”

“Fuck you, you little pussy. Fuck you and fuck them! You better fucking get my father’s body back to Detroit in one piece if you know what’s good for you.”

Stanley sighs and shakes his head. His entire demeanor changes before he starts speaking to his brother again.

“God, Freeman,” Stanley says, his tone exacerbated. “Has it ever not been about you? Have you ever once thought of anyone else… considered anyone else except yourself?” The line goes silent for a moment.

“What was that, Stanley?” Freeman says, his voice obviously condescending.

“You know what?” Stanley says, his voice a bit gravelly and menacing, “I’ve stayed silent… for years, I’ve stayed silent just because I didn’t want to fight with you. I didn’t want that battle and I don’t want it now. There are three of us here. Herman has power of attorney and majority rules. Dad is being cremated in Seattle.”

“The fuck he is!” Freeman declares. “You get your ass and my father’s body on that plane and you bring him back here intact!”

“Or what?” Stanley roars. “What are you going to do, Freeman? You’re going to kick my ass? Did you forget I’m a grown ass man? What the hell are you going to do? You want to alienate me like you did Rick and Herman because they won’t kowtow to your ass anymore? You’re not the only one who counts here. We’re all his sons and we all have families that are all suffering in this, but for some reason, you seem to think that you’re the only one who counts in this equation. How can that be? How can you possibly be so selfish?”

“Dad’s family is here! In Detroit! Those bastards out there are not Greys! Rick kissed his family goodbye when he left and as far as I’m concerned, Herman can kiss my ass, too!”

“Is that so?” Uncle Herman chimes in. The momentary silence indicates that Freeman didn’t know that Uncle Herman was in earshot.

“Yes, that’s so!” Freeman says, definitively. “You want to turn your back on your family, then fuck you, too!”

“That’s fine by me, Freeman,” Uncle Herman says. “I thought one day that you’d wake up and not be such a miserable son of a bitch, but I guess that’s the way you’ll always be. I’m not turning my back on my family. Just you.” He raises his gaze to Stanley. “You say whatever it is you feel you need to say to him, but I’m done talking to that blowhard!” Herman marches out of the office and slams the door.

“I’ve said what I need to say,” Stanley says. “Get to Seattle, or I’ll see you back in Detroit with Dad’s ashes.”

“You ungrateful little bitch!” Freeman shouts. “Don’t you ever fucking come to me again when you need something!” Stanley laughs loudly.

“You’ve got me confused with someone else, Freeman!” Stanley shoots. “Think. Really. Hard. When’s the last time I called your ass for anything?” The line is quiet again.

“You called me when Dad went to Seattle. We agreed that he should be at home with his family!”

“Think again, Freem! You called me! I didn’t decide anything—you decided for me. You called Herman and Rick like it was both of our idea that Dad come back to Detroit. I just wanted Dad to be happy! He’s got an entire family of people out here who lined up to give him a kidney and you couldn’t even give them credit for that!”

“A lot of good it did him!” Freeman hisses. “He’s still dying!”

“Because no one matched!” Stanley retorts.

“That’s because they’re not his family!”

“We didn’t match either. What does that say?” The line is quiet again. “I’m sorry you don’t feel like this is your family, but they’re mine,” Stanley adds. “They’ve been nothing but kind to me since I got here and based on the way you treated them, they had every right to shun me, thinking that I was going to be like you.”

“They haven’t done anything for you, Stanley. You’re letting that big house and that money get to your head just like it did Herman!” Stanley shakes his head.

“You’re sick, Freeman,” Stanley says. “You and this rich-phobia you have, it’s out of hand. Dad is as comfortable as he can be under the circumstances, and this entire family has shown him nothing but love since he’s been here. He’s had his energy boost…” Stanley’s voice cracked on the words. “… And he told me about getting to hold his great-grandchildren, and about seeing a beautiful wedding… about meeting wonderful people and seeing a beautiful countryside. He told me about watching the sunset over the lake many nights. He told me about a young raven-haired girl who brightened his days by laying on his lap and calling him ‘Granddaddy…’ things our kids could have done if we hadn’t decided that we were too busy and that Herman had it all under control. But never… not once… did he mention money to me. Not once did the fact that he has a millionaire son and a billionaire grandson ever come into our conversation. Just that he’s loved and happy and comfortable… and that Mom visits him in his dreams. He’s at peace, Freeman. He was lucid and at peace… and you. Missed it.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it if they hadn’t taken my father away from me.”

“They didn’t take your father away, Freeman,” Stanley corrects him. “Renal failure took him away and you’re throwing away what’s left.”

“You’re a goddamn traitor, Stanley, and I want nothing else to do with you,” Freeman says coolly.

“Boo-hoo-hoo!” Stanley retorts. “If the way to stay in your good graces means I have to kiss your ass, then I’ll gladly walk my ass out of them. Just remember… when I get back to Detroit, I’m the one that’s going to have his remains, so don’t fucking cross me!”

“You assholes do what you want to do, but when you send my father back here, he had better be inta…” Stanley pushes the speaker button to end the call before Freeman concludes his rant.

“Are you going to be okay taking Dad’s ashes back to him?” Dad asks.

“What’s he going to do?” Stanley says.

“Did you forget Freeman likes to fight?” Dad says. “He came here and got into a fight with me and my son.”

“Well, that explains the shiner,” Stanley says.

“You should see the other guy,” I murmur. Stanley looks over at me and laughs before turning back to Dad.

“Freeman never could take me, Rick,” he says. “You guys assumed that because I wouldn’t fight him that I couldn’t fight him. Make no mistake, if Freeman steps wrong to me, I will stomp his ass so far into the ground, he’ll have to go to China to find it.”

Dad scoffs a laugh and I choke on nothing at the statement.

“Well, damn,” Elliot says. Stanley was pacing during the conversation, but now he takes a seat. He rests his elbows on his thighs and clasps his hands in front of him.

“Rick, I don’t know if Herman ever told you this, but it wasn’t that we weren’t speaking to you. We just never made to effort to contact you. Had you ever contacted us, we would have reciprocated. Freeman was the only one angry… the rest of us weren’t. He was just so… verbal with his anger and we just never said anything. Our lack of action is no excuse, but it was never because we held a grudge. It just seemed like something we would get to, eventually, you know…” Stanley trails off like he’s trying to find his words. “I’m surprised Nell came out here with Freeman. They’re on the verge of separation. His daughter barely speaks to him. I know this because our kids talk. I’ll be the one that spreads the word when Dad dies. Nobody speaks to Freeman… well, somebody does, but not many. With all his talk, he knows that I have to plan the memorial when I get back or no one’s coming. Herman’s right, he’s a miserable human being.

“I just want you to know that it wasn’t that we weren’t speaking to you. It was just easier to keep the peace if no one mentioned your name. It was a pussy-ass move and I’m sorry man and I hope that we can mend that situation. I just don’t understand why he was so pissed that you went out and found a wife and a family when he went out and did the same thing.”

“There’s nothing to mend, Stan,” Dad says. “I love you and I’ve always loved you. I’m glad I got a chance to spend time with my father before he passed away. It’s a sucky way for it to happen, but I got two of my brothers back, too. I feel bad for Freeman, but it is what it is.” Stanley sighs.

“Thanks, Rick.”

Elliot and I look at each other, silently swearing to one another that what we’re seeing here will never happen between us. It’s going to be a rough few days ahead, to say the very least.

A/N: Counting Down To The Ferryman—Ancient Greeks put coins in the mouths of the dead, believing they would have to pay the ferryman Charon to take them across the river Styx to the underworld.

I stand by my comment to the last chapter. I totally understand that grief can make us not act like ourselves, but when grief makes you lash out and treat other people like shit, you should expect whatever you get. So, for those of you who think that Ana should allow Christian to kick her because he’s grieving when she’s grieving, too, you will be sorely disappointed. And as always, if your comments become disrespectful, I will delete them. 

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~~love and handcuffs