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.”
My 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/
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