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 6—Changing Lanes
“Like I said before, I’ve studied your vision for many years. I’ve always wanted the chance to work with you, not only for what you think I can bring to the company, but also for whatever knowledge I can glean from you, Mr. Grey,” Lorenz says as we take an informal tour of Grey House on Monday morning. I’ll be introducing him to the other departments at the department head meeting later. Right now, Ros and I are giving him a somewhat lay of the land.
“Your reputation precedes you, Lorenz,” I tell him. “Ros and I are on a first name basis, a privilege not shared with many on my staff. I would think it would be a bit awkward if I didn’t extend the same courtesy to you.” I gesture to him to enter the company cafeteria, which always has a chef on staff and a large selection of food for nearly every palette. “What’s most important to me in this relationship is that I have someone on my right and left hand that I can trust. There were many qualified candidates that applied for the position, but they didn’t fit the bill for more reasons than one.” I take the coffee from the counter. I rarely come down to the cafeteria in the morning, but when I do, they know that I want a fresh cup of black coffee.
“You have them trained well,” he says after he and Ros places an order, noticing that I didn’t need to. I raise my brow at him.
“They’re not trick ponies, Lorenz,” I chastise gently, and he immediately catches my meaning, “but they like to keep me happy.” I turn around to see who’s working today. “Thank you, Misty.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Grey,” she says with a bright smile. When Lorenz and Ros take their orders, we head back out of the cafeteria and continue our tour.
“As you already know, Ros and I both have families, so only the two of us running things has become a bit of a trial as of late since my wife just gave birth to twins. I was never very social as such before I met my wife, so my life has taken on a new dynamic. Even now, I really shouldn’t be in the office because my grandfather is in a very bad way, but there were things that needed to be handled—one of which was officially welcoming you to the company.”
“How is Burt?” Ros asks sympathetically as we are heading to the floor with the executive offices just under mine. I clear my throat and hide a sigh.
“Any day now,” I tell her as we round the corner towards Lorenz’s office.
“There are so many new technologies now, Mr. Gr… Christian,” Lorenz says sympathetically. “Maybe there are ways that they can prolong his life.” I shake my head.
“We wouldn’t want that,” I say. “He’s suffering right now and we try to keep him as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. We don’t want to prolong his suffering just so that he could have a few more seconds with us.” Lorenz nods.
“I understand,” he says. “This must be very hard on you.”
“It is,” I sigh. “It’s a long story that I don’t want to repeat right now, but I haven’t had him in my life for very long and now I’m losing him. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
“Well, I’m a praying man, Christian, and I’ll pray for your family.” I nod again.
“Much appreciated, Lorenz.” I straighten up. “Now, enough about me. I’m going to leave you in Ros’ very capable hands while I get some things done in my office. You know where to find me and I’ll see you at the department head meeting at ten.” I leave him and Ros to finish the tour as I make my way back to my office. I’ve decided to finish the quarters behind my office that have been dormant and unfinished for over a year now. Security is tighter this time around and workers must be registered and scanned with temporary badges into GEH’s security grid and then scanned again before they are allowed off the elevator onto this floor and the stairwells are guarded—no access. The work was nearly done before the Pedophile made her appearance that day, so there’s not much left to do. As such, the work can go on behind me without much noise or disturbance.
I sit down at my desk, still pondering Uncle Stan’s situation. It really shouldn’t be that hard to get him the time off that he needs to come and say goodbye to Pops. I just don’t know how to go about doing it without direct connections within the company. Sure, I know some people on the mountaintop, but by the time they even make their way to top level executives on the factory food chain, let alone down into the trenches, Pops will have passed on. I’ve got to come up with something fast.
“Andrea, come in here for a moment, please,” I beckon her over the intercom.
“Yes, sir.” A few moments later, she’s in front of my desk with her tablet.
“I need you to skip the department head meeting this morning. Let Luma take the minutes for you…”
“Luma’s not here, sir,” she says. “You gave her permission to take time off due to your family crisis.”
Shit, that’s right. I completely forgot.
“Dammit!” I exclaim, running my hands through my hair.
“What is it, sir?” I lean on my desk and fold my arms.
“I know how hard it is to transcribe minutes after they have been recorded, but I may need you to do that. I have a time-sensitive issue that requires your immediate attention. I may still be working it from other angles, but I need every possible angle explored.” She looks at me expecting.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ve become accustomed to being in two places at the same time. What do you need?” I sigh.
“Will you see if you can find out who I would need to talk to if I want to get some time off for a factory worker in one of the Big Three in Michigan? He’s out of paid leave and can’t get a leave of absence, so I think they’re throwing the book at him. I don’t want to rock the boat, though, because he still has to return to this job when all is said and done.” She bites her lip in contemplation and nods.
“I’ll see what I can find out,” she says. “I’ll start in the obvious places and work my way up. You better get to the meeting, though. You’re about to be late.” I look at my watch and push myself off the desk.
“It’s not like they can start without me…”
The announcement of Lorenz being added to the team is met with a bit of a lukewarm reception. Many of the department heads are wondering why I didn’t hire from within. It’s because I’m not 100% pleased with the performance of some of the departments and putting one of these people in an executive position over the company when they can barely handle an executive position over a department would have been a huge tactical error.
“Who would you have suggested that I choose from inside?” I ask, directing the question at the department head who raised the issue.
“Well, I’m just saying that… we would have liked the opportunity to have applied for the position,” he retorts, his voice lacking the conviction and accusation that it held moments ago. “We weren’t even extended the invitation.” It’s a very valid argument, but still doesn’t address the question.
“And again, I pose the question to you… who would you have suggested that I promote from the inside?” I ask. “You’ve been in the department head meetings nearly every Monday for the past several years with most of the people in this room. Tell me—honestly—who would you have suggested that I promote from the inside?” He looks around from person to person and doesn’t provide an answer. What’s more remarkable is that he doesn’t even offer himself as a viable candidate. I turn my attention to the hand that I see raised to my right.
“Mr. Grey, are we to understand that there’s no further room for advancement from where we are now?”
The million-dollar question. All eyes are on me. I am now presented with a situation where most high-level executives or owners find themselves—where I must put my foot down and show these people who’s boss without prompting a mass work stoppage or walkout. This situation must be handled both firmly and gingerly.
I stand from my seat, something I very rarely do in a department-head meeting. Accusing and expectant glances now become cautious. You’ve rattled the boss’s cage and he can no longer sit here quietly and observe the show. Now you’re nervous… and you should be. The sleeper has awakened—again.
“Mr. Carlton,” I say, buttoning my jacket, “besides the introduction of Mr. Fineman, what has prompted this line of questioning?” He considers his answer.
“Nothing, sir,” he replies. “Nothing before this made me think about possibly being able to advance—nothing but the creation of a position into which one of your senior managers could have advanced, but were never given the opportunity.” There’s a small murmur in the room.
“I see,” I say, stepping away from my seat and beginning my circle of the table, much like my wife did a few months ago when I announced that she was a major shareholder, which brings me back to the conversation. “So, before the creation of this vice-presidential position, were you satisfied with your station? Your salary fair? Your benefits and incentives suitable? Your company car and other executive perks acceptable? That’s not a trick question—there’s no wrong answer. This is not a trap.” He pauses for a moment.
“Well, yes sir,” he says. “My salary is quite generous and I’m very happy with my perks.” I nod.
“How about anyone else in this room?” I ask. “Is there anyone in this room who feels that their annual raises should be more? Their bonuses are not adequate? Not enough vacation time? Anything? Again, not a trick question and no wrong answer.”
I can see the honest contemplation on the faces of many of the people in the room, but none of them show discontent with their compensation.
“Okay, so let’s address another issue,” I say in the most diplomatic way possible. “How many of you feel restless, like the position that you’re in has you locked in a fishbowl and there’s nothing else to offer?” I’m looking for the Dodds in this one. I can’t have another person in an executive or management position trying to find a way to sabotage my company. Dodd’s fate was never made public. Hell, I don’t even know what happened to him. To that end, no one knows what would become of them if they cross me in such a manner, and this situation is the perfect environment for mutiny. A few hands are raised, some quickly and others more slowly. I make a mental note of the hands that I see in the air.
“That’s understandable,” I respond, to the surprise of many of the people in attendance, “especially if you’ve been here for any extended period of time. There are a few points that I feel compelled to make at this juncture,” I say, still circling the room. “First of all, as you all know, my life has taken on some major twists in recent years, which requires that I immediately have a more flexible schedule. For that reason, I was forced to seek out a qualified professional who could effectively be me in my absence with little to no training as quickly as possible. Being totally honest, who among you would have been able to stand from this table at this very moment and do that job?”
I emphasize the fact by pointing to Lorenz. They look from one to another and once again, no one can produce a suitable candidate.
“As I pointed out in his introduction, Mr. Fineman’s qualifications, resume, and references are impeccable. He comes highly recommended and leaves nothing but success in his wake. GEH is lucky to have acquired him and I hope that my executive management staff will be respectful and cooperative as he familiarizes himself with the intricacies of this organization.” That’s more information than they really deserve, but that’s okay. I’m only building up to tearing down that false sense of security.
“Every ladder has a certain number of rungs, which means at some point, you reach the top of that ladder. My management staff are all at the top of that ladder. Mrs. Bailey and I are not on that ladder. Being on that ladder insinuates that you can go down… and you can go down.” I add that last part in as a pre-warning for what’s coming next.
“Mr. Carlton, I’ll answer your question, now. This room is full of the elite of my company. Most of you worked your way to these executive positions. Others of you—like Mr. Fineman—were hired based on your qualifications. You are the cream who have in one way or another risen to the top and yes, this is the highest that you can go in the company. Having said that, please note that should you feel discontent in your position, you are more than welcome to tender your notice and resignation. Upon proper notice, I will be more than happy to honor your contracts with any severance packages promised as well as adequate references based on your performance with this organization. I’m very certain that there are other positions that would offer an opportunity for advancement, but I’m not remiss to say that you would be very hard pressed to find the kind of compensation offered by GEH.
“I did not add an additional rung to the advancement ladder,” I continue. “I hired someone to assist me with executive job duties, which are the duties that I perform. Listening to your concerns and weighing them with your answers regarding your compensation packages, I conclude that had I continued doing what I was doing—trying to spread the work between me and my second in command, which was causing us undue stress and grief—you all would have been happy with your compensation and positions as long as I didn’t hire anyone over you to perform job duties that any of you have yet to say that you could step up and perform at a moment’s notice.”
There is still silence in the room. Even the quiet got quieter. And now, the death blow.
“While you are the best of the best of GEH, know this. This is a non-stock corporation. There are no stockholders, no board of directors and no members. There’s only me, my wife, and very soon, my infant children. This means that I. Answer. To no one. I decide I want something done, it’s done. Your ideas, concepts and departmental needs must be approved. Mine. Do not!
“I’m not accustomed to having to explain the decisions for how I run my company to anyone except my wife, who is also a majority shareholder in this company. The only other shareholders in this company will soon be my infant children, and I only answer to them for food, shelter, and the occasional diaper change. While your questions were justifiable based on your positions and concerns, and warranted answers, understand that this will be the last time I will ever be urged to address executive decisions made by me for Grey Enterprises Holdings, Incorporated. I know and understand that as of late, I haven’t quite been the ballbuster that I once was, but make no mistake… he’s not dead. I can bring him back anytime anyone feels the need to be reminded just how far my reach can go.
“Mr. Fineman came from an exclusive talent pool assembled for immediate need. With your qualifications, you can all join that talent pool, but you can also be replaced from it. Also remember that while there are unfortunately no positions above you that can be filled by you at this time, there are talented people in this company that would be only too happy to take the positions you choose to vacate. I will only remind of your NDA’s and your legal obligations concerning proprietary information. I will also caution you that your positions are based on skill… and loyalty. Breach of my trust comes with severe penalties. I would tell you to ask around, but I would first challenge you to find anyone who has breached my trust in any prominent or desirable position anywhere.”
I’ve made my way back to the head of the table and face the occupants of the meeting. Many of them appear to have shrunk in their seats… or something. I unbutton my jacket, sit back in my seat, and cross my ankle over my knee.
“Are there any questions?”
And there’s that rat pissing on cotton again.
“Then this meeting is adjourned. Ms. Bailey, Mr. Fineman, Mr. Forsythe, Mr. Welch, can you remain behind, please?” The other department heads rightly take this as their cue to scramble out of the conference room like roaches.
“Well,” Lorenz says, “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you in action so soon.”
“Neither did I,” I say, “but that’s nothing. Wait until you see me in negotiations.” I turn to Alex. “Did you make note of who raised their hands?”
“I did, sir,” he says.
“You know what to do. Keep reports and let me know if anything develops.” Alex nods.
“Yes, sir,” and he leaves without another word. I turn back to Ros, Al, and Lorenz, who raises his eyebrow at me. “You can’t be too careful,” I say.
“I’ll make sure to stay on your good side,” he says. I nod. I decide to direct the conversation to Uncle Stan.
“I have a delicate situation on my hands right now. It’s time sensitive—extremely time sensitive—and if I can’t find a sensible solution to the issue by day’s end, I’m going to have to roll through this thing like a bull in a China shop and I really don’t want to do that.”
“What’s up?” Ros asks.
“It’s one of the reasons I hired you, Lorenz, to give me time with my family. I need to know who I would talk to if I want to arrange so time off for an employee of a company that we supply steel to. Human resources have proven to be a no-go, so there has to be another way. This is of the highest immediate importance.”
“Detroit?” she asks. I sigh.
“Yes. One of my uncles works for the Big Three, but he’s taken all the time that he can and can’t get any time off to see Pops before he dies. I’m open for any suggestions.”
“You’re sure there’s no luck with human resources?” Al asks.
“Nobody to sweet talk,” I admit, “or threaten. I don’t want to strong-arm my way through this. I know that I could if I wanted to… money talks. But my uncle has to go back to work at that place when this is all said and done. If there’s any way that this can be done the same way that any other employee would be able to get help in an emergent situation, I’d prefer that, but I don’t have time to dawdle. If I can’t get this done in a reasonable manner by the end of business today, then I’ll strong arm, but I would prefer not to.”
“Steel workers… Have you tried the union?” Lorenz asks. I twist my lips.
“I don’t know what the union could do besides collective bargaining. Am I missing something?”
“They’re supposed to be on the side of the worker. I know most of them have funds to help with bills and whatnot when they decide to strike. There has to be something in place for a situation like this. A leave bank or something? With time being at a premium, I’d say go as high as you can in the UAW.” I don’t want to admit this early that the guy’s a fucking genius, but the guy’s a fucking genius. I never even considered going to the union.
“Okay, I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I’ve tried to help the little man, so to speak, so I don’t know which direction to go,” I confess.
“That’s not true, Christian,” Ros says, frowning deeply. I turn my gaze to her. “Jim Radcliff? The Martins? Luma?” she reminds me.
“The Johnsons?” Al interjects. “Marlow? Sophia Taylor? Val?”
“Those people are all family,” I remind him.
“There weren’t when you helped them,” he retorts. “The Radcliffs and the Martins aren’t your family and the others are only family because you welcomed them, except Val, who married your brother… after you helped her. Which reminds me… Chuck and his parents? Keri?” I put my hands up in surrender.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say waving my hands. Apparently, I’ve been fairy godfather to more people than I thought. Lorenz smiles at me.
“You’re a secret philanthropist, sir?” he asks.
“Apparently so,” I say, running my hands through my hair. “Lorenz, can you help me out, here? I’m usually not at such a loss and my only care is normally that things are just handled—thoroughly and properly. This time, it’s different. The situation is out of my hands and it involves a direct family member, so it also needs to be handled carefully.” Lorenz runs his hands over his chin and beard in contemplation.
“Can you give me an hour?” he asks.
“Not much more than that,” I say. “I have to make something happen really soon. I’m already on borrowed time.” He nods once and excuses himself.
“I think he’ll do fine,” Ros says, once he leaves the room. “He comes with his own contacts, you know.”
“I know,” I tell her. “That can be a good thing or a bad thing. We’ll just have to wait and see which…”
I was about to find out sooner rather than later which…
“I have Dennis Williams on the phone for you, Mr. Grey,” Andrea’s disembodied voice informs me. I was standing just inside the door of my nearly-complete sleeping quarters when I get the alert.
“Dennis Williams?” I ask, frowning. Who the hell is Dennis Williams? “Did I have a conference call that I wasn’t aware of?”
“No, sir,” she informs me. “Mr. Williams is calling from the UAW Solidarity House in Detroit. He’s the sitting president of the United Auto Workers union.”
The sitting president… The fucking sitting president… Are you kidding me?
“Which line?” I ask, quickly taking a seat at my desk.
“Line one, sir,” she says. I press the blinking light for line one.
“Christian Grey,” I say into the phone.
“Mr. Grey, hello. This is Dennis Williams from the UAW in Detroit.” I can tell he’s an older gentleman. I would have liked to have been better prepared for this call, something I’ll discuss with Lorenz in the future, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. I did pretty much tell him that my ass was on fire.
“Hello, Mr. Williams,” I respond. “I wish I could say that I was expecting this call. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I hear that a colleague of mine is now in a senior position in your company… Lorenz Fineman?” A colleague?
“Yes, he’s accepted the position of executive vice-president with Grey Enterprises Holdings,” I confirm.
“I should clarify, he’s not really a colleague,” Williams adds. “He’s helped us with some difficult situations in the past—strictly legitimate business, of course. When he called asking for my assistance with an urgent matter, I couldn’t possibly turn him down. He says it has to do with your uncle and the steel company that supplies the Ford plant. Do you have time to talk to me about it?”
Oh, boy, do I!
“I’d appreciate any help you can give me,” I inform him. “I should first tell you that I own controlling shares of Severstal.” The line is momentarily quiet.
“You do?” he says.
“Yes. So, if I wanted to push people around and be a bully and get things done, I could, but I don’t want to do that. My uncle is an honest working man and I don’t want to cause any trouble for him.”
“Grey!” Williams says, finally. “Of course! How did I not make that connection?” I laugh to myself.
“For some reason, a lot of people don’t. Maybe that’s a good thing. My own uncle didn’t even know until this past weekend, but that’s a different story. The situation is pretty simple and I just want to know if there’s anything that can done about it.”
“Well, let’s hear it. We’ll do whatever is in our power.”
“That’s all I ask. His name is Stanley Grey and he’s in the Dearborn Ford Plant. He’s used all of his leave time due to other emergent family issues. However, his father—my grandfather—is out here in Seattle with me and my father. He’s dying of kidney failure and he doesn’t have long left to live… a week, maybe. All his sons have been out here to see him before he passes except Uncle Stanley. It would mean a lot to my family if we could get him out here before Pops dies. He can’t use FMLA because he’s not the primary caregiver and Pops isn’t dead yet. So, you see my dilemma.”
“Yes, I see,” he says. “This is a fairly easy fix, though, and totally legit.” I hear him typing into his computer. “Stanley Grey… yes, there’s only one Stanley Grey in the Dearborn plant.” He types some more. “Yeah, I see he has used all of his time.” More typing. “He’s got an impeccable record, though. Long-term employee… no disciplinary action… We shouldn’t have a problem getting him some time from the bank.” I frown.
“The bank?” I ask.
“Yes, the paid-leave time bank,” he replies, still typing. “Employees have an option to donate time to the paid leave bank for situations like this. You never know what might happen. The union is a team, Mr. Grey. We have to look out for one another.” More typing. “Your Uncle has probably donated to the bank himself, but once the time is donated, it’s just classified by pay grade, not by person.”
“Does my Uncle know about this? Why didn’t he just ask for some of the time?” I ask.
“He might have, but there’s a process in getting the time approved and by the time it’s approved, it sounds like your grandfather would have already passed on.” He continues typing. “Yes, he applied for emergency time—two weeks. He withdrew it, though. I’m assuming it was just too close.” I hear more typing. “I’ll admit, Mr. Grey, this is partially special treatment because Mr. Fineman is a friend that we would like to keep in our good graces; but this is also the very reason why we have this time bank, for situations like this. Your uncle is entitled to this time and with his record, he most likely would have been approved. But based on what you’re telling me, it probably would have been too late for him to see his father before his death.” I hear shuffling on the other line, then a woman’s voice before Williams answers her.
“Can you get Dearborn HR on the line?” he tells her. “Tell them to check the leave bank database for Stanley Grey. This is his employee number. His leave bank request for two weeks has been approved effective immediately and he needs to be released as soon as possible. Tell them his father is gravely ill—use those words, Karen… gravely ill.” I hear the female voice say something on the other end and then a door closes.
“I appreciate you contacting the union, first, Mr. Grey,” Williams continues. “I’ll honestly say that I’m not really sure what you may have been able to accomplish through other channels, but even if you were unsuccessful in your plight, it still would have caused us problems.” I frown.
“I don’t quite follow,” I say.
“Well, HR works with us with the banked time, but the union maintains it and submits the requests for approval. Let’s say you went the traditional ‘heads will roll’ route, calling in favors or raging at whatever executives you knew. That shout would have started in Severstal’s hallowed halls, which would have made its way to through Severstal executive offices. After bouncing around shivering executives for a while, it finally would have made it to Ford’s board of directors… if you’re lucky. They would run around for a day or so trying to find out who should be blamed. Big man from one of our largest steel vendors is trying to get something done for his uncle. Who the hell is his uncle? They would be so busy running around scared that it would probably take them another day to figure out that Stanley Grey was in the Dearborn Plant.
“Now, they call HR and they go through the entire process all over again of discovering that Stanley doesn’t have any time left, even though you’ve already made this known in your request. Now, I must inform you that this information is not moving as quickly as it did between you and me—you talk to the source on the phone, I type in his name, find the request and get it approved and rushed through HR. No, this is going through a series of emails and executive memorandums that read like a game of CLUE with no one wanting to take any responsibility for this situation going into the crapper and Ford possibly losing its biggest supplier of steel since we know that Severstal has other large customers worldwide.
“After all this—probably three to four days after you’ve made the request—some clerk happens to see the notice and mentions it to someone in the know in HR that Stanley Grey needs some emergency leave and the request is coming ‘straight from the top.’ Keep in mind that the union may or may not get that ‘straight from the top’ information, assuming that we’ve been notified at all since no one thought to tell us.
“One of the reps on-site or at the local in Detroit is now trying to get this pushed through, but it still has to go through some kind of process at the union level. Let me tell you, Mr. Grey, news from the top gets to the union at a snail’s pace unless it’s something that directly has to do with us. Even then, it’s usually on a need-to-know basis and they decide who needs to know. By the time your ‘get this done yesterday’ request gets to us, it’s five days later. Your grandfather may have already passed away, and everybody’s now passing the buck until it lands in the lap of the union. So, by Mr. Fineman knowing to bring this matter straight to us, we’ve saved each other a lot of headache.” I hear a chime or some kind of notification. He’s silent and I hear typing. “And while I was telling my little story, your uncle has been notified of his approval and is clocking out as we speak.” I sigh heavily.
“Mr. Williams, you have my eternal gratitude. I don’t know how to thank you for this.”
“All I ask is that if there’s ever a reason for our paths to cross again, listen to Finney. He knows what we need.” Finney? Really?
“Thank you again, Mr. Williams. I don’t mean to be rude, but I need to make travel arrangements for my uncle… and I need to tell my father.”
“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Grey. Until and if we meet again, it was my pleasure.” We exchange pleasantries and end the call. I dial my uncle’s number.
“Hello?” he answers and I can tell that he’s in the car.
“Uncle Stanley?” I respond.
“Christian!” he exclaims. “You did it! I don’t know how you did it, but you did it!”
“Are you driving, Uncle Stanley?” I ask, unable to mask my concern.
“I’m hands-free,” he says, chuckling. “You’re just like my wife. Your voice is coming through the speakers.”
“What do you need?” I ask, relieved. “How soon can you get here?”
“Well, I’ll have to get a flight,” he says.
“Let me see what I can do,” I tell him. “I would send my jet, but it’s too short notice. If I can’t get you a flight within the next six hours, I’ll send my jet.” The line is silent for a moment.
“You have a jet?” he says, quietly.
“Yes, sir,” I tell him. He chuckles.
“Freem didn’t stand a chance,” he says. I don’t bother answering. Freem has a problem with money that I can’t explain.
“Will anyone be traveling with you?”
“No, not yet,” he says. “My wife may try to come later. There are some things going on with her job and our home that need our attention. She was more concerned about me getting to see Dad before… before he’s gone.” His voice cracks.
“Uncle Stanley, I’m going to try to make some travel arrangements for you. I’m going to end this call now. I don’t want you to be upset while you’re driving. How soon would you want to leave?”
“I’m going home to pack and wait for your call, son,” he says. I nod.
“Then I’ll call you with a flight as soon as I get one.” We say our goodbyes and end the call. I buzz my PA.
“Andrea, I need a first-class, straight through flight from Detroit to Seattle as soon as you can get it booked…”
I split my time today between cooing at my twins, talking to Pops, and being a buffer between Mia and her parents when they discussed continuing with her wedding plans. That last one was totally unnecessary as Grace and Carrick both agree that Mia should continue with her planning, just like Pops said. A few times, she came into Pops’ room with plans for the wedding and each time he saw her enter, his face lit up while she talked about small details like napkins, floating votives, centerpieces, and favors. I asked Pops if he wanted to rest and he politely said, “I’ll rest when I’m dead!” before turning to Mia and saying, “Nix the candle stands. I like the floating votives better. And the stones on the bottom should be gray—not iridescent. The iridescent stones look like dollar store dressing!”
“I thought that, too!” Mia had said. “I’ll let you know as soon as we narrow down the flower choices.”
“Whatever you choose, use lilacs instead of baby’s breath,” Pop’s calls out to her. “It’s prettier and aromatic, and it symbolizes new love.” Mia smiles widely.
“Thanks, Grampa,” she says sweetly before leaving his room. I turn back to Pops. “She’s doesn’t treat me like I’m dying,” he says as an explanation. “She’s giving me that gift, so I’m giving her the gift of showing interest in her wedding. That will be her final memories of me.” I smile as a tear drops down my cheek.
“Would you like to hold your great-grandson?” I ask. Pops toothless grin spans his entire face.
“I sure would,” he says, his gums on full display. I take Mikey out of the carrier attached to my body and place him gently in Pops’ arms.
“Hey, there, little fella,” he says sweetly to a sleeping Mikey. Again, Pops’ face lights up and I vow to keep as much life around him in the coming days that I can. His room is serene, welcoming death quietly and calmly like his life is already over, and that’s not what Pops wants. As he spends some quality time bonding with his great-grandson, I open the window and let some fresh air in. I come back over to his bed and sit down.
“You seem in good spirits today,” I say. He smiles at Mikey as he rocks him back and forth.
“You’re a doctor, child,” he says, still smiling at his great-grandson. “You know what this is.” I cringe inside. I know exactly what it is.
“You know what it is, Pops?” I ask cautiously. He nods.
“That last burst of energy that allows me to be coherent and say goodbye to my family,” he says, somewhat solemnly. “Ruby had it before she went home. It won’t be long, now.” I nod.
“I would say that you’re right,” I say, stroking Mikey’s silky brown hair as he sucks his binky intermittently without opening his eyes. “I can’t help but feel sad. I know what’s to come, but…” I hold my head down and quickly wipe away a tear. “… It just seems like we haven’t had enough time.”
“But we certainly made the best of what we had,” he said. “I loved reliving my life with my Ruby through talking to you. It was the most wonderful gift anyone could give me.”
“I’m glad I could do something for you during this time,” I say, feeling helpless.
“You’ve done so much!” he says. “Your wedding made it possible for me to reconnect with my son, meet my grandchildren, and know that the Grey name will continue to flourish well after I’m gone. Look at this!” He looks adoringly at Mikey. “Look at this gorgeous little man, this wonderful bundle of hope. I know that Ruby is so pleased that I got a chance to meet you all—to bond with you all and see my complete family before I pass on. This is why I’m not afraid. I have love and fulfillment on this side and I’ll have it on the other side. I just have to make the transition. What more could a man ask for?”
My tears flow freely now. I admire his strength and courage and I wish I had the chance to know him better before he’s taken away from us. A year seems so short.
“Tell me about your greatest adventure,” he says, catching me completely off guard.
“What?” I ask, a little shocked.
“I’m lucid and for the moment, I’m not dying. I want to hear about the living. Tell me about your greatest adventure.” I laugh softly.
“That would have to be marrying your grandson,” I reply. He scoffs at me.
“You’re supposed to say that,” he says in disbelief.
“Well, in my case, it’s true,” I say. “This relationship has been one roller coaster ride after another. I never know what’s going to happen next. There’s never a typical day in the life of the Greys. Everything we do, we do big… even screw up. I tell you, Pops, it’s been a wild ride.” He chuckles.
“Okay, then tell me about one of the adventures you’ve had since you married my grandson… a good one!” he clarifies. I only think for a moment.
“I would say that one of our best was our honeymoon, before it was cut short…”
I spend quite some time telling Pops about our trip to Europe. He’s never been, even though he’s taken a trip or three here and there with Ruby before she passed away. I relive the splendor of the Arc de Triomphe and the fact that Christian made me wear flats before we could see it. I hate flats because I’m already short, but I was already pregnant with the twins and didn’t know yet, so my feet were swelling in the stiletto boots I had been wearing for the last six hours. Pops sat in silent awe and wonderment as I talk about the wine tasting at a historic Paris champagne bar, seeing a show at the famous Moulin Rouge, and visiting the Eiffel Tower. He knows something else happened with the Eiffel Tower as I physically feel my face flush when I start talking about it, but he doesn’t press for details.
I continue with the beautiful sites and shopping of Paris, then take him on a mental trip through Greece. His eyes shine as if he can see the sites in his head and is traveling right along with me. We talk for hours about the Parthenon and the Acropolis, the bronze statues in the museum and church on Lycabettus Hill; the Olympic Stadium and the religious experience that was the prison and death place of Socrates; the wonder that is Delphi and the Santorini sunsets. Just as our virtual trip is coming to an end, I hear my husband’s voice and the whisper of a male voice that I don’t recognize. It’s only now that I realize that the sun has long since set and my son has slept for more hours than normal nestled in his great-grandfather’s arms.
“Pops!” Christian says in amazement as he enters the bedroom. “You look great! What… what happened?” Pops smiles at Christian, but doesn’t bother to repeat what we already know. Instead, he opts to enjoy what time he has left.
“Mikey here kept me content while Ana regaled me with fabulous tales of your honeymoon. It’s enough to put a little life in this tired old soul,” he replies. Christian smiles widely.
“Well, if that’s all it takes to get you looking and sounding this good, maybe I can put a little more life into you.” Christian leans out the door and gestures to someone. What looks like a young version of Carrick walks into the room.
“Stan!” Pops says with enthusiasm. “Son! Oh, my God! I’m so glad you made it!”
“Hi, Dad,” Stan says, walking into the room and approaching his father’s bed. Christian relieves Pops of Mikey, who promptly starts to fuss. Pops and Stan look at each other and embrace for long moments. Christian hands Mikey to me and we step out of the room to give father and son some much needed time together.
“He really looks good,” Christian says. “I haven’t seen him look this great since the wedding.”
“Yeah,” I say sadly. Christian examines me.
“What’s wrong?” I look up at him, almost not wanting to tell him what’s going on, but there’s no use in getting his hopes up.
“Christian,” I say softly, “often, during their last days, terminally ill patients get one last burst of energy right before they pass on. It could last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days, but once the energy wanes, death comes pretty quickly. Pops is convinced that this is what’s happening and so am I.” I give him a sympathetic look as I comfort Mikey. He frowns deeply.
“What are you talking about? He looks great,” he protests. “He might be turning around. I think he’s on the mend.”
“On the mend?” I ask, gently. “Christian, you know that’s impossible. You know his condition. What exactly is mending? Do you think his kidney is suddenly becoming whole and healthy again?” His face transforms from hopeful and jubilant to angry.
“Look,” he says, squaring off against me like I’ve challenged him to a fight, “my grandfather is healthy and in good spirits. I don’t know how it happened, but he’s the best he’s looked in months, and I’m not going to let you take that away from me!” I gape at him in horror.
“Me?!” I say aghast. “What in the world makes you think I have control over anything in this situation? I’m just telling you what I know as a doctor!”
“Well, doctor, I know you went to school and you’ve got all that fancy learnin’…” He’s mocking me! He’s totally mocking me! “… But I think I’ll take the condition of my grandfather over your expertise!” He hisses before storming off angrily.
What just happened? What the fuck just happened? We’ve all been sitting here waiting for that inevitable day that Pops leaves us—we all even moved in so that we wouldn’t have to hear the news over the phone! Now, somehow, I’ve become the Angel of Death and my beloved husband ridicules my education and hard work because I point out that he’s having his last energy burst? Am I in the fucking Twilight Zone? Fuck Ashton Kutcher, where the fuck is Rod Serling??
I storm off in the same direction Christian did, stopping in the nursery to deposit Mikey into his crib. The energy in the house must be too much for my little man because he’s been asleep for hours, only stirring every now and then when he’s moved. He slips back into slumber when I lay him down, and I continue to Christian’s childhood bedroom. I change into a pair of yoga pants, a sports bra and my runners and dial the pool house.
“Williams,” Chance answers.
“This is Ana. I need an escort out front in five minutes. One second longer and you’ll lose me.” There’s a moment of silence.
“Um, yes ma’am,” he says before I end the call. I put on a hoodie over my sports bra, grab my purse, phone, and keys and I’m outta here.
“I’d like a three-day pass, please,” I say to the girl behind the counter. She hands me an application which I complete and pay her for a three-day pass. I’m at one of those 24-hour gyms to work off my frustration. I go straight for the heavy bag and let loose on it.
How the hell can he even wrap his mind around the concept that Pops is suddenly “on the mend” when he’s been suffering from chronic kidney failure since before he even got here?
You know what this is. The day is near and he’s battling the first three stages of grief all at once… emphasis on the bargaining with the energy burst.
That’s bullshit! This isn’t bargaining! He’s placing blame for the obvious on me and then he’s treating me shitty for knowing what’s going to happen next!
I wail away at the heavy bag, feeling even angrier that at a time when we should be soaking up our last moments with Pops, we’re actually fighting because he’s feeling better!
You’re the doctor. You know what’s going on here and you’re supposed to be the level headed one.
I don’t want to be the level head. I don’t deserve this abuse! I’ve had just as much time to get to know Pops as everyone else except Herman and Carrick. I love him, too, and I don’t want him to leave us either! I’m not taking my feelings out on anyone else! Why does he get to take his feelings out on me? Because of his title? Because him being adopted means he’s actually related and I’m not? He’s at home spending time with Pops and I’m here beating the hell out of leather and sand and arguing with you!
For the first time ever, I’m not feeling the burn I need from the heavy bag. There’s no one on the other end of my fist screaming and moaning in pain or begging for mercy, so I’m feeling no satisfaction. On that note, I take my sadistic ass over to the barbell weight bench to cause myself some real pain. There’s 100 pounds on the barbell and I quickly and easily do two reps of ten bench presses.
Not enough weight.
I add more weight up to 110 and still don’t feel anything after ten reps. I feel like I’m wasting my time.
“Chance,” I call and he’s by my side in moments. “Add ten more pounds to this.” He frowns.
“Ma’am?” he questions. Oh, fuck, do I have to go through this with everybody who ever sees me workout for the first time.
“Ten more pounds please take it up to 120!” I say all in one breath. He chews the inside of his cheek, but does what I ask, staying close by as I press 120 for two reps of 10. There, that’s a little more burn, but I still want just a little more.
“Fifteen,” I tell him. “Take it to 135.” He frowns, but does as I ask, removing some of the lighter weights and adding heavier ones to bring my total weight to 135. I lift the barbells and begin to feel the burn, but still not certain that we’re at 135. At my strongest, that’s the most I’ve been able to press and this doesn’t feel like 135.
“Are you sure this is 135?” I ask after my first rep of ten. He nods.
“You can look at the weights yourself. It’s 135,” he says. I sigh. I guess I’ll just do reps of ten until I can’t do anymore. I’m very likely to hurt myself doing more than 135 and I have nothing to prove to anyone. I just want to feel the burn in my muscles, but the first thing I’m going to do when we get back to the Crossing is have a heavy bag installed so that I’m not spending my nights at a 24-hour gym whenever I feel the need to kill someone.
“I assume you can spot,” I inquire. He gets into position at my head, ready to take the barbells should I hit the wall. I begin a second reps of ten with Chance spotting me, then a third, and barely make it through a fourth. On the fifth rep, I tap out at eight and Chance has to spot me. When he takes the barbells from me and put them back on the hook, I’m puffing and trying to catch my breath. I think I may have only slightly overdid it, but I’ll find a hot bath when I get back to Grey… Compound.
I see Chance’s hand as he extends it to me to help me off the bench. I grab his hand and he helps me sit up before handing me a bottle of cold water. I gladly take it and down half of it before I take a breath.
“Why do you need a bodyguard?” he asks, after taking a seat on a nearby bench. I frown.
“What?” I question.
“I just watched you bench press more than your own body weight for four reps of ten and one rep of eight after you pressed 120 for two reps of ten, 110 for one rep of ten, and 100 for two reps of ten. That’s ten reps totaling 98 presses in about 25 minutes after you damn near tore the heavy bags off the wall for twenty minutes… and you’re proficient with a firearm. Again, I ask, why do you need a bodyguard?”
His summation of the situation is somewhat facetious and draws a small chuckle from me.
“I don’t need a bodyguard, but my children do,” I tell him. “I need back-up,” I add. He raises his eyebrow at me. I dry the sweat off my body with one of the gym towels then proceed to clean the machine I was using. “The one time I was overtaken in my adult life, I was double-teamed and drugged.” We won’t talk about the pesky Green Valley situation when I was poly-teamed or jumped or whatever you want to call it. “I can take care of myself, but I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. That’s why I have a bodyguard.” He nods.
“I’d hate to ever have to go one-on-one with you,” he says. “You’re tiny and you’re strong and you’d slip out of my grasp and beat my ass.” I chuckle again.
“Yeah, I could take you,” I tell him, “maybe not face-to-face, one-on-one combat, but in a self-defense situation, I could take you. I’m just smart enough to know that I can’t take two of you.” I finish drying the machine off and put my hoodie back on. I didn’t bring a change of clothes, so showering and putting these sweaty clothes back on would be my only option. No thanks, I have a hot bath in mind when I return anyway.
“I don’t think anybody could take on two of me,” he says. I just shake my head.
“If you think so, but you’re not invincible, Chance. You’re just well-trained. You’re not the only one. Don’t get cocky,” I say as I walk out of the health club.
“I don’t,” he says, “except now, I feel a little better at times like this when I have to shadow you.” I turn a bemused gaze at him, questioning with only my eyes. He shrugs. “After what I just saw, you could be my backup!”
I laugh at him as we get in the car and head back to the Greys.
It’s quiet when I get back to the Manor. I go to the kitchen and quickly down a glass and a half of cold water before refilling my glass and heading up the stairs. I quietly open the door to the nursery and check in on the twins. It’s well past their feeding time and I can only assume that either they haven’t awakened yet or…
“They’ve already been fed.”
His voice has ice in it as I look over my shoulder at him. His eyes are laced with anger as he glares accusingly at me. I don’t have the time or the energy to go at it with him at this hour. I quietly close the door and head towards our temporary bedroom.
“Where have you been?” he demands, his voice low. I whirl around and look at him with incredulous impatience.
“Look at me,” I begin, gesturing at my attire. “I’m wearing gym clothes. I’m sweaty and funky. Where does it look like I’ve been? I went to work out!” I put a hand on my hip and await his rebuttal.
“It’s 3:00 in the morning,” he accuses. “Our children woke and you weren’t even here. Nobody knew where you were in the middle of the damn night!” I narrow my eyes at him, not in anger, but in disbelief.
“Security knew where I was!” I retort quietly. Like he says, it’s 3AM and we’re standing in the middle of the hallway. “I called them first to ask someone to go with me.”
“That’s strange, because when I called out there, they had no idea that you were gone!” he snaps. I shake my head. Chance answered the phone and I told him that he had five minutes to get out here or I was leaving. He may not have had an opportunity to tell someone, although that’s not very likely, but whatever. Why is he standing here hissing at me like a dog?
“Well, that’s strange to me, too, because I don’t recall hearing my cell phone ring questioning my whereabouts or even my safety. Hell, I’m surprised that you’re concerned where I was at all!” I retaliate before I even realize it. “You were so ready to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater when I explained Pops’ burst of energy, just throwing shit on all my studies, my internship, my knowledge because you suddenly can’t accept that your grandfather is passing away. Why the hell would you even care about me when this is obviously all my fault, right?” My voice is getting a little louder than it should and Elliot sticks his head out of one bedroom while Grace and Carrick are now looking out of a room from down the hallway.
“We’re not talking about that right now. We’re talking about what’s bringing you home at 3:00 in the damn morning!” he shoots.
“I told you! I went to work out!” I rebut.
“At three in the damn morning? Yeah, I believe that.”
What the fuck? Does he just want to fight? No, Christian, no. Fucking no.
“Fine. Ask Chance—he was with me. Call 24-hour Fitness. Track the GPS you finally put on my damn car. Do whatever the fuck you want to verify if I’m lying to you. Let me know what you find out.” I turn to go into his room. I need to get out of these sweaty, nasty clothes and into some water, pronto. Only, for some reason, I can’t move forward. I hear my husband’s voice and I turn around and see fire in his eyes, though I don’t know what he’s saying. His words are lost in the haze in my head and the fact that he’s firmly gripping my arm. It feels like slow motion when my eyes travel from his down to his hand squeezing my arm and back up to his eyes.
“Like I said,” I begin, my voice slow and calculated as I look up at him through my eyelashes in a way that’s anything but sexy, “ask Chance; call the gym; check my GPS; check traffic cameras; find an eye-in-the-sky; track the Space Needle Weathercam; pray to a higher power; hold a séance and ask the dead. I really don’t care. Do whatever the fuck you need to do to get your answers since my fancy learnin’ word is no longer good enough for you! Now please! Remove your hand! From my arm! Before I take it the wrong way!”
He glares at me with a look that not only relays his fury, but also the fact that he doesn’t know who the hell I am right now. Damn straight, Grey. I don’t even know who the hell I am, so I think you better let go of my fucking arm. After a few seconds, he does just that. I go into our room without another word and close the door behind me.
A/N: Ashton Kutcher and Rod Sterling reference—Somewhere earlier in the story, maybe in another book, something unbelievable happens to Ana and she asks, “Am I being Punked? Seriously, where’s Ashton Kutcher?” So, this situation is so much more unreal than that one that she’s certain that she’s graduated from Punk’d to The Twilight Zone and she’s now asking for Rod Serling, who was the host of the original series from 1959 – 1964.
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