We all seemed to have some powerful reactions to Ana’s and Christian’s behavior. I’m just going to try to keep the story going.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Chapter 7—Counting Down To The Ferryman
“You and Christian are fighting,” Pops says, when I come into his room the next day. I sigh.
“Yes, we are,” I say with no hesitation. He didn’t come to bed last night. He wasn’t there when I awoke. I showered and changed and he wasn’t at breakfast… and he’s not here now. Elliot and Val kept looking at me all through breakfast like I might spontaneously combust right there on the spot. Grace kept throwing concerned glances at me while Carrick acted as if he was afraid to even look in my direction.
“Why?” he asks.
“Don’t worry about it, Pops,” I tell him. “It doesn’t even bear repeating.”
“If it doesn’t bear repeating, child, then it’s not worth fighting over.” Well, Pops, my husband wants to blame someone for your impending departure from this earthly coil and I pulled the short straw. How about you help me set him straight before you make your way to the great beyond?
“No, Pops, some things just don’t need to be spoken about… seriously.” He nods and decides to change the subject.
“Where’s Mia?” he asks. “She hasn’t come in to see me today to tell me about the wedding.”
“Oh, she had a die-hard client that wouldn’t let her out of her commitment today, so she had to go cover an event,” I tell him. As of late, Mia has been dabbling both in interior decorating and event planning and she can’t decide which one she likes best.
“Well, that’s better than sitting around waiting for a sick, old man to die,” he says. I pause.
“I don’t think it’s that we’re waiting for you to die so much that we just want to spend as much time with you as we can,” I correct him.
“Spend time with the living…” he begins his spiel again.
“… And you’re still living,” I interrupt him. He smiles at me.
“You’re wise beyond your years, child. Has anybody ever told you that?” I smile sadly and nod.
“It didn’t come easily,” I say in a melancholy voice.
“It never does, child. Wisdom ain’t cheap. It usually carries a hefty fee.” How right you are! We’re silent for a moment before he says, “I’ve been dreaming about my Ruby.” I raise my head and smile.
“Have you?” I ask. He nods.
“Sometimes, we’re sitting on the lawn furniture on the porch of that big house in Detroit, where we thought we would grow old bouncin’ grandchildren on our knee. Other times, we’re walking along the beach at sunset, holding hands and quietly looking at one another. In every dream, she’s as young, healthy, and beautiful as she was before the sickness hit her.” I smile sadly at him. “She’s letting me know that she’s waitin’ for me, child, so that I won’t be scared… not that I would be. This old body’s real tired.” I reach over and squeeze his hand.
“Seeing Stanley again must be nice,” I say. He smiles widely.
“Oh, yes,” he says with true joy in his voice. “Stanley’s a gentle soul. I was worried how he would take it if he didn’t get to say his goodbyes. It would have bothered him for the rest of his life. I’m glad he got here while I was doing better instead of right at the end.”
“I am, too.”
“I wonder what Freeman says about this,” he adds.
“I wonder if Freeman even knows,” I say. Pops makes a considering expression.
“Knowing Stan, he doesn’t,” Pops says. “He probably will soon, but he doesn’t now. Freeman’s the family naysayer. Any information that he gets is on a need-to-know basis and we’ve just decided that there’s a lot that he doesn’t need to know.” I raise my eyebrows.
“Pops, shouldn’t this be different?” I ask.
“I’m dying,” Pops says. “He knows. That’s all there is. His anger towards Rick is keeping him away. I have a problem with that. I have a problem with the fact that he’s so damn selfish that he can’t put his own desires aside for one minute, hour, day, week—however long I have left—to afford me the opportunity to see all my sons together one more time before I die. It’s always about Freeman and I’ve finally had enough. It took me being on my deathbed to finally be done with his selfishness. I only hope that it doesn’t take him being on his to realize how wrong he is.”
Pops speaks with clarity and purpose when he discusses washing his hands of Freeman’s behavior.
“Thankfully,” he continues, “I have three of my sons here with me right now—together, supporting one another and not bickering. Under the circumstances, it’s the best I can hope for, and I thank God for it.” I squeeze Pops’ hand and smile, and he smiles right back.
After I have a talk with Grace about her son’s denial while we feed, burp and bathe the children, I decide that I need a bit of fresh air. Still no sign of Christian as I wander through the house toward the French doors. Maybe that’s a good thing. As I’m walking across the grass, I see someone sitting on the bench in the middle of the backyard facing towards the water. At first, I think it’s Herman, but as I get closer, I realize that it’s not.
“Hi,” I say to Stanley as I walk around the bench to face him. He’s just taking a drag from a cigarette and chokes on the smoke as I startle him. “Oh! I’m sorry,” I say as I pat him on the back, trying to alleviate his coughing spell.
“No worries,” he says as he catches his breath and clears his throat, gazing at me for a moment, somewhat confused.
“We haven’t been properly introduced,” I tell him, something that should have been done by my husband, but he’s too focused on that stick up his ass. “I’m Anastasia, Christian’s wife.” I proffer my hand to him and he takes it gently.
“You’re Christian’s wife?” he says, still gazing at me. I nod.
“Yes. I was actually in the room with your father when you came in last night,” I tell him. He nods, releasing my hand after he shakes it gently.
“Ah, okay,” he says. “I saw someone in the shadows, but I was kind of focused on my dad. When I looked around, you were gone.”
“Yeah,” I nod, while sitting next to him, careful to avoid the pile of cigarette butts sitting next to him. It looks like he’s on his fourth cigarette. He looks self-consciously down at the pile.
“I only smoke when I’m nervous or stressed or… something,” he says.
“It’s a rough time right now, I know. No judgment here,” I respond.
“Don’t tell me wife,” he says nervously. I smile.
“She probably already knows,” I reply. I would know if Christian has a habit like this that only manifests itself during stressful times… like hard fucking. I wish that habit would have manifested instead of the useless brooding and blaming that he’s doing right now.
“So… what do you do, Anastasia?” Stanley asks.
“Please call me Ana,” I say. “I’m a shrink.” He raises his eyebrows at me.
“You are?” he asks. I nod. “Please forgive me, but I don’t have much faith in your profession.” Now, my eyebrows rise.
“May I ask why?” I say. He shrugs.
“I just don’t see the need for it,” he says. “If something’s wrong with me, I can go talk to family or friends, a member of the clergy—all for free, without having to pay someone to… shrink me.” I nod.
“I can understand that,” I say. “And you’ve never had any experience with a psychologist or psychiatrist or counselor… you just feel like it’s money wasted.” He looks over at me.
“Forgive me, but, yes, I do,” he says with no malice. I twist my lips and nod.
“Okay,” I say, turning back to face the water. I can feel his gaze on me without looking at him.
“You’re not going to try to convince me otherwise?” he says. I shake my head.
“No,” I reply.
“Is this some kind of shrink trick to make me see the err of my ways on my own?” he asks skeptically. I laugh good-naturedly.
“Not at all,” I say to him. “It’s not for everybody,” I continue. “Counseling of any kind—medical, religious, free—is only as good as your acceptance of it. If you feel that paid counseling is a waste of time and money, then it’ll never help you. You’re on the downswing of the seesaw before you even sit in the chair…”
“Or on the couch,” he adds. I laugh.
“Or on the ‘couch,’” I repeat with mirth. “I never use a sofa unless someone is ill and wants to lie down.”
“So, if you feel that way about it, why do you practice?” he asks.
“Because it does work for some people,” I tell him. “It worked for me. That’s why I got into it.” I turn my eyes back to the water, trying not to remember the terrible condition I was in after Green Valley, the years of mental anguish and suffering that followed, and the Godsend that was the guidance counselor that suggested I go into psychiatry, ultimately leading me to CCFW in Seattle.
“You’ve got a story,” he says, taking a drag from his cigarette and blowing the smoke away from me.
“A very bad one,” I sigh. “That’s how I know firsthand that mental health professionals have their place and can be very helpful.” He nods.
“I stand corrected,” he says. I chuckle.
“I still agree with you, Stanley. They’re not for everyone,” I secede.
“Call me Stan,” he says. I nod.
“Stan.” He turns his gaze to me and I meet it with my own.
“Has anybody ever told you that you have a doppelgänger?” I nod… you mean besides my husband’s prior harem of petite, brunette submissives?
Now, why the fuck did that come to mind?
“Ah, yes… Shannon.” He raises an eyebrow at my revelation.
“He told you,” Stan says, puffing his cigarette again.
“He showed me the picture,” I say with mirth. Stan nods.
“You guys could have been twins,” he admits. “Losing her was rough on Herm.”
“I know, he told me,” I say. “I had to talk to him about staring at me and my husband’s jealous tendencies when we first met, and he explained to me why he was staring. It’s understandable. I would find it quite unnerving if Christian had a twin.” He twists his lips and looks at me again.
“Not trying to be inappropriate, but she was a real looker in her day,” he says. “You’re very pretty. Christian’s a lucky man.” I sigh and look out over the water.
“Yeah, maybe somebody should tell him that!” I hiss, and immediately regret saying it. Stan looks over at me.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to…” I shake my head as he trails off.
“He’s a wonderful man,” I say looking over at Stanley before looking back out over the water. “We’re very stressed out over Pops’ illness. It’s just taking its toll on us all.” He takes the last puff of his cigarette before he puts it out and places the butt with the others.
“Yeah,” he says sadly. “Even when you know it’s coming, it’s still hard to accept… especially when he looks this good. Christian’s last report was that he was doing pretty badly and I needed to get here as soon as possible.” I nod.
“He was right,” I say nodding. “Christian and I went out on the town Sunday night to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. I was almost afraid to leave the house for fear of the news I would get over the phone or when we got back. Then yesterday, he got this good-as-new energy burst…” Stan had turned his attention to me, but now dropped his head and put his elbows on his thighs, clasping his hands between his parted knees.
“Oh… that,” he said with deep sadness and a heavy sigh. I look over at him.
“You know what it is,” I say. He nods.
“It happened with my mom,” he says. “We all got our hopes up because nobody told us to expect it. It was fast, though. She died the next day. We called the doctor asking him what the hell had happened, and he explained it to us. If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we would have thought it was a crock of shit. We thought she was going to get out of bed and dance a jig! For that brief moment, Mom was back!” He smiles widely, his eyes twinkling as he remembers the day of his mother’s energy boost before she passed away. The happiness is soon replaced by heavy sorrow. “That’s how Dad looks today. It won’t be long now.”
He tries to catch the tear before if falls down his cheek and onto his arm. I place my hand on his back and try to soothe him.
“Spend as much time as you can with him right now,” I tell him. “I think this is the gift that’s given to us so that we can say goodbye and relive good times before God takes back what belongs to Him.” He raises glassy eyes to me.
“What a nice thing to say,” he says softly. “That’s such a wonderful way of looking at it.”
Pops was right about Stanley. He is a gentle soul.
“Maybe one of you guys should call Freeman so that he can at least talk to his father during this time,” I suggest. Stanley shakes his head.
“Freem was there when this happened to Mom. He’s knows what’s coming and he chose not to be here. I’m not making that call.” I nod.
“I hate that you guys are all at odds about this,” I say, looking back over the water. “You should all be pulling together and supporting one another during this time. It must be hard on you all.”
“No,” Stan says. “It’s business as usual. Freeman is a self-centered asshole and he always will be. I learned a long time ago to stay out of his way. Unfortunately, that’s how I almost lost my brother, and nearly missed out on the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad. Man, if he knew that Christian made a way for me to get out here before Dad died, he’d be pissing gasoline right now.” He shakes his head. “I’m going to make sure that I tell him.”
I can’t stop the chuckle that escapes my throat. I cover my mouth and try to hide it, with the conversation being so somber and all. He elbows me gently on the arm, informing me that my laughter is okay.
“Well-placed levity in an emotional situation is always a good thing,” he says softly before scrubbing his face and composing himself. “It was nice to finally officially meet you, Ana. You’re good people.” I smile.
“So are you, Stan. The pleasure was all mine.” He gives me a chaste avuncular kiss on my cheek before patting my shoulder. Then he brushes all his cigarette butts into his hand before he rises from the bench we’re sharing and heads back to the house.
I remain on the bench for a few minutes after Stan leaves. My heart is so heavy because I’m doing just what I told him to do—spend this time saying goodbye while he’s coherent and energetic. I feel like I was robbed, like I never got the chance to know this vibrant, wise, worldly man before he’s taken away from us… like there’s so much more knowledge and good times he could share with me that I’ll never get because he’ll be gone.
What’s more is that I want to be there for Christian. I want to be there for my husband because this is going to be hard for him, but he’s too busy blaming me to let me in. I drop my face in my hands, my fingertips massaging my throbbing scar in a vain attempt at relief.
When I feel like I’ve wallowed enough in early grief, I stand from the bench and stretch. There’ll be plenty of time for grief when Pops is gone, and unfortunately, plenty of it to go around. I head back to the house and the closer I get, I can see the outline of someone right beyond the French doors. The closer I get, I see my husband with his arms folded, looking like he’s ready for a showdown.
Well, goddammit, I’m not!
My first instinct is to walk around the house and find another entrance, but that won’t do for many reasons—the first of which is that he already knows that I spotted him; the second being that he would only hunt me down if he’s looking for a fight. So, running would just prolong the inevitable. The third being that it would just be childish, and the list goes on and on…
I open the door for myself since even though he saw me coming, he didn’t feel the need to do so. Arrogant, self-centered, misdirected…
“So, you convinced Stanley that this is all in his head, too, huh?” Christian says with disdain as I walk past him. I look over my shoulder at him in bemused anger and he’s still leaning against the wall.
“What?” I snap. He raises his head and glares back at me as if I have not right to take that tone with him.
“He’s doing better! Why can’t you just accept that? No, you have to be the eternal voice of doom, convincing everybody that this is his last hurrah before he kicks the bucket. If you don’t have any positive thoughts about the situation, maybe you should just stay mute!”
The different levels and variations of anger that flash through me at that moment can’t even be numbered. I turn my body towards my delusional, high-handed husband and face off with him.
“I didn’t have to convince Stanley of anything,” I say, trying not to talk through my teeth. “In fact, he told me. He went through the same thing with his mother right before her death. She died the very next day after her energy boost, so I suggest you enjoy the time you have left with your grandfather instead of trying to place blame for the inevitable on someone completely not at fault. And in the future, if all you have for me is harsh words, take your own advice and keep them to yourself!” I turn on my heels and walk away before he has time to retort. I’ve had enough of this. He’s not going to keep saying shitty things to me and I’m just going to stand there and take it!
Christian took my advice. For the next several days, he has absolutely nothing to say to me. Stanley tries to convince him that this really is an energy boost and he doesn’t want Christian to fall apart when the decline occurs. Even his mother tries to tell him, but he’s still holding fast to the thought that I’m the naysayer and everything’s going to be fine.
It’s ridiculous… and unfair. I don’t get to properly mourn losing someone that I’ve come to love because my life-mate is too busy blaming me and snarling at me every time he sees me, and I can’t properly express my grief. I avoid him now at every opportunity. I don’t know where he’s sleeping, because he hasn’t been to bed. If I’m at the table for a meal and he comes to the table, I excuse myself and take my meal elsewhere. We don’t even sit with the twins at the same time. If he’s in the room, I let him stay and I leave. If I’m in the room, he doesn’t enter.
The family is in turmoil about it. No one knows who to support and they all refuse to take sides, which is actually good, because that would just make a bad matter worse. Pops is blissfully ignorant of the conflict, if you can call having no idea that your upcoming death is the basis of a fight between your grandson and his wife “blissfully ignorant.”
Christian has been working more now, probably partially because he thinks Pops is out of the woods and partially to avoid talking to me. For once, I’m not letting him win this one. I’m right and I know it and he’s having a problem accepting the truth. Someone else who has gone through this has tried to convince him; another doctor has tried to convince him; yet, he still wants to blame me. I know what this is—I’m a shrink. It’s classic transference—there’s a lot of that going around lately, but I’m not going to sit here and take it. I’m sorry that he can’t accept that his grandfather is about to pass away, but I refuse to be the butt of his blame when I’m suffering emotionally, too.
All hail the red, white, and blue. Friday is Independence Day, but none of us feel much like celebrating. The inevitable happens and Pops’ energy boost has run its course. Christian’s eyes immediately throw daggers at me like I had personally sucked the life out of Pops and not this ever-present renal failure that the doctors have diagnosed him with. I leave the room in tears, not because of Christian’s heartless and selfish behavior towards me… I’m over that. I cry because I know that we’ll be losing Pops very soon. I enjoy our talks about Ruby and about mine and Christian’s travels and adventures. Pops and I are lucky that we share and shared a life of love with people who adored us and made adventures more fulfilling. Even though my husband is treating me like Public Enemy #1 right now, he has nonetheless made this ride called life so worth the trip. I can only hope that when I’m breathing my last breaths, I can remember my life with the same love and admiration that Pops has shared with me about his.
I don’t understand for the life of me why my wife would want to throw dirt on this precious gift that God has chosen to give us. For some reason, He’s performed a miracle. My grandfather is getting better. I don’t know what happened and I don’t know why, but he’s getting better. His energy levels are impressive. He’s not using his oxygen mask. He’s telling unbelievable stories about his life and my dad’s childhood. It’s amazing! I’m so happy about it and I’m not going to let her spoil this for me and my family. If she can’t just be happy and appreciate this miracle, that’s all good for her, but I refuse to let her rain on my parade.
“Christian, your wife is right,” Stanley says to me on Tuesday. “Depending on the illness, people may get a boost of energy right before they pass away.”
“She got to you, too?” I ask him. He shakes his head.
“Have you ever watched someone die before, Christian?” he asks with no malice. I don’t respond. “I have, son. You’re blessed if it’s fast. You’re even more blessed if you get the opportunity to say goodbye while they’re lucid. Don’t waste this opportunity.” He squeezes my shoulder and walks away. She’s convinced someone else to try to take away my hope and I let her know that I’m not pleased when she walks into the house behind my uncle. She declares that from now on, I should keep my thoughts to myself. So, that’s exactly what I plan to do.
I decide to go into the office on Wednesday since it’s pretty clear that Pops is out of the woods. Besides, I’m so displeased with my wife that it’s probably better that we don’t see each other today. I wouldn’t want to bruise her delicate little psyche with my harsh words.
“Mr. Grey, I didn’t expect to see you today,” Andrea says when I walk past her desk. “Mr. Welch just asked if you were going to be in today and I told him that you weren’t expected. You might want to call him.”
I nod, acknowledging the information and continue into my office. There is information on my desk concerning the types of furnishings I want in the quarters behind my office. I’m not too particular about what I want in there. It’s only a just-in-case room—I don’t plan on spending any extended amount of time there. I’m thumbing through the information as I dial Alex’s number.
“Good, you’re here. Can you meet me in Central in fifteen? I’ve got something to show you.” I almost want to say “Well, good morning to you, too,” but I can’t fault the man for wanting to get to the point.
“Will do,” I reply before ending the call.
“So, I put three different people on scanning and recording the people coming and going from Ana’s condo in the two-day span you requested,” Barney says when I get to GEH Security Central. “We’ve accounted for just about everyone that wasn’t a resident—what time they got there, who they visited, how long they stayed, when they left. Even delivery people are required to sign in before they are allowed access to the elevators. It was truly a slow day, thank goodness. Now, right here is where we have one of two discrepancies.”
Barney points to a late-model Lexus driving into the parking structure. Whoever was driving piggybacked off another car driving in, which is easy to do in many circumstances unless there’s a guard booth outside… which there isn’t. We watch as the Lexus pulls into one of the visitor parking spaces at the far end of the lot. Nothing happens for several minutes until someone gets out of the driver’s seat of the Malibu parked next to the Lexus—small frame, dressed in a hoodie, so their face is shielded.
“Okay, so stop,” I say. Barney stops the video. “So, we followed the Lexus in to get to this car. Why didn’t we get to this car, first?”
“Tenacity,” Alex says. I frown at him.
“Excuse me?” I say, not sure what to make of what he’s trying to say. He gestures back to Barney.
“So… I’m going to need you to kind of just keep up with me because different things are going to be happening and I’m going to try to explain them the best way that I can,” Barney says. I nod, intent to try to follow his reasoning. He turns back to the large bank of monitors. “That Malibu has been sitting there for three days. We had to do triple-time to see when the vehicle arrived or we would still be watching the tapes. That car drove into the lot on Thursday the 21st. Ana’s Beretta was stolen on the 24th.
“That person sat in that car for three days waiting for the Lexus?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “That person got out of that car about an hour after arrival. You can tell it’s a man.” We watch as a man leaves the Malibu—long, black trench coat, black Akubra Bogart hat pulled down far that you can’t see who it is. He walks right out of the garage and out of sight of the cameras. Shit.
“So, no activity until this Lexus shows up, then someone gets out of the driver’s seat of the Malibu.”
Barney runs the video back so that we can see the driver’s side Lexus door open and close, then the passenger side Malibu open. The occupant is crouched down so there’s no hope in seeing who they are until about twenty minutes later, when the driver’s side of the Malibu opens.
“So, you know this part,” he says as we follow the small-framed person to my wife’s apartment and back out again a few minutes later—heavy one Beretta, no doubt. They enter the same elevator they exited… but they never get to the garage. After we monitor all the elevators, we see that they get off at the first floor.” The petite frame in way-too-baggy clothes gets off the elevator, only now, she’s scratching at a mass of messy red hair that covers her face as she enters the women’s restroom. Even an amateur can tell it’s a wig. Not three minutes later, a scantily-clad curvy brunette leaves the bathroom, waves at the desk guard, and walks out the front door. Barney switches the camera back to the parking lot. I nearly flip out.
“We’re going to miss the woman with the gun!” I exclaim, pointing to the screen.
“No, we’re not, sir,” Barney says, pointing to the scantily-clad brunette, now on the driver’s side of the Lexus. “That’s the woman with the gun.” She’s carrying a small black clutch that I paid no attention to as she left the restroom, and now she has very large sunglasses on her face. She gets into the Lexus and drives away without further incident.
“I ran facial recognition to see if she was in any of the databases and we got a hit,” Barney says.
“Go back to the lobby,” I say. Barney goes back to the lobby camera. “Zoom in.” When he zooms, a familiar fucking face is smiling back at me.
“You didn’t need facial recognition,” I hiss. “Nobody else came out of that goddamn bathroom?”
“No one else went into or came out of that bathroom except the cleaning crew, and they were all accounted for—long-term employees with impeccable records that were all where they were supposed to be during the course of the days.” Son of a bitch.
“Well, I know who stole her fucking gun, now,” I snap. “What about the Malibu?”
“It’s a rental,” Alex says. “The rental company picked it up three days later. My connections say that he called the company and told them where the vehicle was and that he locked the keys in the car, but was on his way to the airport before he missed his flight and they had to come and get it. Surveillance shows employees of the rental car company taking the vehicle off premises.”
“Did your connections tell you who rented the car?” I ask impatiently. He nods.
“Louis Millfeld,” he says. Of course. I knew it.
“So, now we can tie the three together and link them to Ana’s gun,” I declare.
“Really, we can’t,” Alex says. “All of our evidence is deduced and circumstantial. None of it will hold up in court. But you know and I know that she took that gun.” Yeah, I know. Crazy fucking subs and sub-wannabes. This shit is getting completely fucking out of hand.
“Any luck on any leaks of information from any other sources? Any weak spots of any kind, shit we could have overlooked like the last time we underestimated this bastard?” Barney shakes his head.
“Absolutely none, sir. I’ve even had James consulting on this one and nothing so far.” Well, that makes me feel better. Ever since he wrote that program that basically saved my fucking company last year, he can do no wrong in my eyes. It’s good to know that he’s back on the team with this one, even if only on a part-time basis.
“Good. Very good. Keep me apprized. Excellent work, gentlemen. Alex?” I head towards the door with Alex close on my heels. I don’t start talking until the door closes to the elevators.
“Find out where the hell those other twelve women are,” I hiss. “This is getting fucking ridiculous! One of them tries to break up my engagement. Another tries to kill my goddamn wife and children. A third shows up at my father-in-law’s baby shower! Now, this bitch walks right into my wife’s apartment with a fucking key and steals her damn gun, which was used to nearly kill me—and she wasn’t even a sub!”
My fists are clenched so tight and I’m only glad that whatever voodoo my dick—or in this case, the promise of my dick—put on these bitches that I will never stick it into another woman again besides my currently-errant wife! Submissives act like there’s no other man in the world that can fuck like me; Elena Lincoln lost her goddamn mind; and now…
“What about this situation, sir?” Alex says.
“Find me goddamn Greta Ellison,” I hiss.
I spend the evening with Pops and Stanley, laughing and happy that he sounds like his old self. While I’m conversing with him, my naysaying wife enters the room and kisses him on the cheek.
“Hmm, one too many in this room,” I say under my breath, but apparently not low enough.
“Then, maybe you should leave,” she retorts, throwing me a stabbing glance before turning back to Pops. I narrow my eyes, but it has absolutely no effect on her. “Minnie was feeling a bit neglected that her brother was getting all of Great-Grampa’s attention,” she says, undoing the body wrap she has around herself and Minnie. Pops’ face lights up as she puts Minnie in his hands. She smiles that beautiful smile at the spectacle before her and I remember how it feels to see that smile directed at me. My heart warms momentarily, but only that much as I remember that she’s only waiting for my grandfather to die. She sits on the bed facing away from me, her attention solely on Pops and Minnie. Feeling quite unwelcome, I leave the room and bump into Mom in the hallway.
“You two really need to stop this,” Mom says. “It’s getting out of hand.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” I retort.
“The hell you aren’t!” she rebuts. “You’re treating your wife like a criminal—a stranger—all because she gave you information that is completely correct and medically sound and you can’t accept it! Why would you do something like that to her? To your family?”
“Have you seen him, Mom?” I say, pulling her further down the hallway and away from Pops’ door. “Have you taken a really good look at him? The color is back in his face. He’s eating. He’s breathing without the oxygen. He’s talking and acting like a normal person. I don’t know how it happened just like no one else does, but that’s not a dying man!” My mother’s face turns to the ceiling as she releases an exacerbated sigh.
“My. Husband’s. Father. Is dying,” she says, her voice deep. “Every day, I fight to hold him together. He cries at night where none of you can see him. We were awake for your argument because he doesn’t sleep. I’m doing everything I can right now to keep my sanity… my husband’s sanity… and your behavior. Is not. Helping.”
Mom sounds like she’s going to break down any minute. I didn’t mean… I don’t mean to cause her any more stress. We’re all here for exactly the opposite, but…
“Anastasia is right,” she adds. “The dying often have a final burst of energy in their last days, and trust me. I would love nothing more than to believe that a miracle from God has fallen from heaven and landed on Burt’s shoulder, if not for his sake or for all of our sakes… for yours!”
Why don’t I like the sound of that?
“I hope to God that you get your miracle, because if you don’t, you’ll be lucky if that woman ever forgives you for how you’re treating her. I know that I wouldn’t if it were me!”
My mother turns on her heels and marches out of my presence, leaving me standing gape-mouthed in the middle of the hallway.
What a difference a day makes.
One fucking day…
He’s jubilant and gleeful on Thursday and by Friday afternoon, he’s back on the oxygen, feeble and frail and unable to eat on his own. And yes, she’s standing there, looking all glum, but I know that she’s gloating inside, thinking she was right all along when it was probably her negative energy that brought him back to this. His doctor made a special trip to the Manor by request of the hospice nurse to see just how bad off Pops was. He’s barely conscious—in a lot of pain, drugged up and incoherent. He’s not even present anymore. His body is just… here.
“How long?” Herman asks the doctor, who shakes his head.
“Days,” he says. “Maybe hours. If you haven’t made preparations, Mr. Grey, now is the time.” Dad puts his hand over his mouth and I turn around to see my wife weeping. I’m immediately enraged.
Why are you crying? This is what you predicted! This is what you said would happen! So, why the tears?
As if she could hear me, she turns around and bolts out of the room. My grandfather is dying. After all that hope… he’s dying anyway. Fucking hell…
Saturday morning, Dad and Herman call all the men to his office. It’s time to make preparations and he wants to get a consensus—again—on what should be done.
“Stan,” he begins, “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this, but every decision that we’ve made about Dad so far, we’ve made together as a family. We’ve tried to keep Freeman in the loop, but he’s so damn disagreeable. Everything that we’ve suggested, he doesn’t want. He wanted us to put Dad on a plane while he was dying and send him back to Detroit. He thought Herman was going back to Detroit with him to take care of him, but when Herman said that he wasn’t, Freeman sent a form to sign over power of attorney and brochures for nursing homes. His message was clear—come home with Dad or when you send him, I’ll put him in a nursing home.”
“I never intended to go back to Detroit,” Herman interjected, “nor did I intend to put my dying father on a goddamn plane. I just said it to see how Freeman would react. He shot down everything we said and he led us to believe that his opinion was both of your opinions.”
“I didn’t even know any of this was going on,” Stanley says. “I just knew that Dad was on his last leg and I was trying to get down here. That’s all. If all I had was a weekend in all of this, I would have come. Freeman didn’t even tell me that he was coming. I would have tried to come with him.”
“Freeman thinks he’s God,” Dad says. “The law begins and ends with him.”
“That’s our fault,” Herman says, “me, Stan, and Dad. He was such a squeaky wheel that we never let him believe anything different if it meant that he would shut up. Dad lit up like a Christmas tree when he got that invitation to Christian’s wedding. Freeman was breathing fire.”
“I remember that,” Stan says. “Once again, I just kept quiet.”
“Dad wasn’t having it,” Uncle Herman says. “If Freeman had laid down and given birth, Dad was still coming.” The three brothers laugh a bit before Dad gets the conversation back on track.
“Dad has already said that he wants to be cremated and everybody agrees,” Dad says. “But Freeman wants us to have whatever service we’re having here since I’m not welcome at the service back in Detroit, and then ship Dad’s body back to Detroit where he’ll have it cremated.” Stanley frowns.
“Why wouldn’t you guys just cremate him here? Wouldn’t it be easier to ship the ashes back to Detroit? Or I can just take them back?”
“That’s what we want!” Uncle Herman says. “Again, Freeman doesn’t agree, and he had us thinking that you shared his opinion.”
“I don’t,” Stanley says. “What sense does it make to ship Dad’s body back to Detroit so that we could cremate him there? It’s still his remains; he’s still going to be gone. Nothing’s going into the grave, but the urn. What am I missing?”
“You’re missing that your brother’s a selfish asshole,” Dad says. “Dad’s last words to Freeman was that he was selfish.” Stanley frowns deeper.
“You’re kidding,” he says. “That’s the last thing Dad said to Freem?” Uncle Herman nods.
“I recorded it,” he said.
“Herm, why did you record that?” Stanley asks. Uncle Herman shrugs.
“I don’t know… but I did.” Stanley shakes his head.
“Our family’s falling apart,” he says sadly.
“Death has a way of doing that,” Dad says. Tell me about it. My wife and I haven’t spoken a kind word to each other all week.
“We were falling apart before this,” Uncle Herman says sadly. There’s silence again before he adds, “So… are we in agreement? Dad should be cremated here?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Stanley says. “It doesn’t make any sense to ship Dad’s body back to Detroit. If I was still in Detroit, I would still say that it doesn’t make sense. Cremate him here and I’ll take his ashes back. If Freem wants to say goodbye, he can come here and do it.”
“He’s not welcome in my home,” Dad says firmly.
“But I’m sure that you wouldn’t stop him from attending the service,” Stanley says.
“You’re correct… even though he told me that I wouldn’t be welcome at Dad’s service in Detroit, he’s more than welcome to attend services here.” Stanley rolls his eyes.
“Geez, Freem,” he says under his breath. “Let’s get this call over with.”
“Who’s doing the talking?” Dad asks. “He doesn’t want to speak to me.”
“I’m probably not his favorite person, either,” Uncle Herman adds.
“I’m sick of this whole thing. I’ll do it,” Stanley says as he gestures to Dad to dial the number. Dad presses the speaker phone and dials Freeman’s number. He picks up after three rings.
“Are you calling to tell me that you’re sending my father’s remains?” Freeman barks. Damn. No “Hello” or “Who is this” or nothing. He’s quite the hateful bastard.
“Yes, Freeman, that’s exactly why we’re calling,” Stanley replies. The line is silent for a moment.
“Stan?” Freeman inquires.
“Yes?” Stanley responds.
“Thank God!” Freeman exclaims. “I was so afraid they were just going to do whatever they wanted without any concern for our wishes. I’m so glad you’re there!”
“Oh, they’re not going to do anything that I don’t approve of, Freeman, but you should know that I approve of cremating Dad here in Seattle and I’ll bring his ashes back to Detroit to be buried next to Mom.”
“You what?” Freeman roars. “Has my entire goddamn family lost their minds?”
“Freeman, the only person who has a problem with this is you,” Stanley says. “Dad doesn’t care either way, as long as he’s laid to rest next to Mom. What’s the big deal if we cremate him there or here?”
“I want to say ‘goodbye’ to my father properly,” he hisses.
“I thought you did,” Stanley retorts. “I thought you came here and saw Dad while he was still living. That’s a proper goodbye. Once he’s dead the spirit is gone. The essence has left. There’s nothing left but a shell. Who cares if the shell is a body or ashes?”
“I care!” Freeman barks.
“Then fly to Seattle and say ‘goodbye’ to his body when he passes on, because he’s being cremated here.” There’s silence again for a while.
“He’s not even gone yet?” Freeman asks.
“No, but it’s sure to be any day now, and he’s going to be cremated here when it happens.”
“I’ll get an injunction, I’ll do something to keep you from cremating my father’s body in Seattle.”
“Well, good luck with that, Freeman. In the meantime, if you want to pay your last respects to Dad’s body, you should probably be making arrangements to get to Seattle very soon. The doctor has already been to the house and he says that Dad has days if not hours left.”
“They’ve gotten to you, too,” Freeman says with disdain. “They take my father away from his home, away from his family and fly him clean across the country where none of us can get to him. They make all his decisions for him so that on his deathbed, he can’t be in his home with his family. His family is not there! His family is here! Your family is here! And if you cremate my father in Seattle, you’re a fucking traitor!”
“What home are you talking about, Freeman? That cave on Chicago? That place was falling apart around them! It’s even worse now. It’s not even worth the ground it’s standing on!” I look at Uncle Herman.
“Is he talking about Pops’ house?” I whisper. Herman nods.
“It’s worthless,” he whispers back. “It’s dilapidated and deteriorated. Freeman thinks it’s still worth something because it’s in the historic district. Maybe it is if someone is willing to restore it, but I’m not. When I went back to Detroit, I was ready to wash my hands of it then. I was just trying to see what Dad wanted.”
All this fighting and bickering or a house that’s ultimately worthless?
“Our father worked his whole life for that house! To grow old and spend his last days there…”
“Freeman, I’m not arguing with you about this,” Stanley says. “It was Dad’s choice to come out here and Dad’s choice to stay here. You can split hairs all you want to about the house, but nobody wants to argue about it anymore. Dad doesn’t want the house and neither do we.” Stanley raises his eyes to his brothers who both make gestures indicating that they don’t care about the house. “So, it’s yours, but in the meantime, if you want to see Dad one last time, you need to get on a plane.”
“Fuck you, you little pussy. Fuck you and fuck them! You better fucking get my father’s body back to Detroit in one piece if you know what’s good for you.”
Stanley sighs and shakes his head. His entire demeanor changes before he starts speaking to his brother again.
“God, Freeman,” Stanley says, his tone exacerbated. “Has it ever not been about you? Have you ever once thought of anyone else… considered anyone else except yourself?” The line goes silent for a moment.
“What was that, Stanley?” Freeman says, his voice obviously condescending.
“You know what?” Stanley says, his voice a bit gravelly and menacing, “I’ve stayed silent… for years, I’ve stayed silent just because I didn’t want to fight with you. I didn’t want that battle and I don’t want it now. There are three of us here. Herman has power of attorney and majority rules. Dad is being cremated in Seattle.”
“The fuck he is!” Freeman declares. “You get your ass and my father’s body on that plane and you bring him back here intact!”
“Or what?” Stanley roars. “What are you going to do, Freeman? You’re going to kick my ass? Did you forget I’m a grown ass man? What the hell are you going to do? You want to alienate me like you did Rick and Herman because they won’t kowtow to your ass anymore? You’re not the only one who counts here. We’re all his sons and we all have families that are all suffering in this, but for some reason, you seem to think that you’re the only one who counts in this equation. How can that be? How can you possibly be so selfish?”
“Dad’s family is here! In Detroit! Those bastards out there are not Greys! Rick kissed his family goodbye when he left and as far as I’m concerned, Herman can kiss my ass, too!”
“Is that so?” Uncle Herman chimes in. The momentary silence indicates that Freeman didn’t know that Uncle Herman was in earshot.
“Yes, that’s so!” Freeman says, definitively. “You want to turn your back on your family, then fuck you, too!”
“That’s fine by me, Freeman,” Uncle Herman says. “I thought one day that you’d wake up and not be such a miserable son of a bitch, but I guess that’s the way you’ll always be. I’m not turning my back on my family. Just you.” He raises his gaze to Stanley. “You say whatever it is you feel you need to say to him, but I’m done talking to that blowhard!” Herman marches out of the office and slams the door.
“I’ve said what I need to say,” Stanley says. “Get to Seattle, or I’ll see you back in Detroit with Dad’s ashes.”
“You ungrateful little bitch!” Freeman shouts. “Don’t you ever fucking come to me again when you need something!” Stanley laughs loudly.
“You’ve got me confused with someone else, Freeman!” Stanley shoots. “Think. Really. Hard. When’s the last time I called your ass for anything?” The line is quiet again.
“You called me when Dad went to Seattle. We agreed that he should be at home with his family!”
“Think again, Freem! You called me! I didn’t decide anything—you decided for me. You called Herman and Rick like it was both of our idea that Dad come back to Detroit. I just wanted Dad to be happy! He’s got an entire family of people out here who lined up to give him a kidney and you couldn’t even give them credit for that!”
“A lot of good it did him!” Freeman hisses. “He’s still dying!”
“Because no one matched!” Stanley retorts.
“That’s because they’re not his family!”
“We didn’t match either. What does that say?” The line is quiet again. “I’m sorry you don’t feel like this is your family, but they’re mine,” Stanley adds. “They’ve been nothing but kind to me since I got here and based on the way you treated them, they had every right to shun me, thinking that I was going to be like you.”
“They haven’t done anything for you, Stanley. You’re letting that big house and that money get to your head just like it did Herman!” Stanley shakes his head.
“You’re sick, Freeman,” Stanley says. “You and this rich-phobia you have, it’s out of hand. Dad is as comfortable as he can be under the circumstances, and this entire family has shown him nothing but love since he’s been here. He’s had his energy boost…” Stanley’s voice cracked on the words. “… And he told me about getting to hold his great-grandchildren, and about seeing a beautiful wedding… about meeting wonderful people and seeing a beautiful countryside. He told me about watching the sunset over the lake many nights. He told me about a young raven-haired girl who brightened his days by laying on his lap and calling him ‘Granddaddy…’ things our kids could have done if we hadn’t decided that we were too busy and that Herman had it all under control. But never… not once… did he mention money to me. Not once did the fact that he has a millionaire son and a billionaire grandson ever come into our conversation. Just that he’s loved and happy and comfortable… and that Mom visits him in his dreams. He’s at peace, Freeman. He was lucid and at peace… and you. Missed it.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it if they hadn’t taken my father away from me.”
“They didn’t take your father away, Freeman,” Stanley corrects him. “Renal failure took him away and you’re throwing away what’s left.”
“You’re a goddamn traitor, Stanley, and I want nothing else to do with you,” Freeman says coolly.
“Boo-hoo-hoo!” Stanley retorts. “If the way to stay in your good graces means I have to kiss your ass, then I’ll gladly walk my ass out of them. Just remember… when I get back to Detroit, I’m the one that’s going to have his remains, so don’t fucking cross me!”
“You assholes do what you want to do, but when you send my father back here, he had better be inta…” Stanley pushes the speaker button to end the call before Freeman concludes his rant.
“Are you going to be okay taking Dad’s ashes back to him?” Dad asks.
“What’s he going to do?” Stanley says.
“Did you forget Freeman likes to fight?” Dad says. “He came here and got into a fight with me and my son.”
“Well, that explains the shiner,” Stanley says.
“You should see the other guy,” I murmur. Stanley looks over at me and laughs before turning back to Dad.
“Freeman never could take me, Rick,” he says. “You guys assumed that because I wouldn’t fight him that I couldn’t fight him. Make no mistake, if Freeman steps wrong to me, I will stomp his ass so far into the ground, he’ll have to go to China to find it.”
Dad scoffs a laugh and I choke on nothing at the statement.
“Well, damn,” Elliot says. Stanley was pacing during the conversation, but now he takes a seat. He rests his elbows on his thighs and clasps his hands in front of him.
“Rick, I don’t know if Herman ever told you this, but it wasn’t that we weren’t speaking to you. We just never made to effort to contact you. Had you ever contacted us, we would have reciprocated. Freeman was the only one angry… the rest of us weren’t. He was just so… verbal with his anger and we just never said anything. Our lack of action is no excuse, but it was never because we held a grudge. It just seemed like something we would get to, eventually, you know…” Stanley trails off like he’s trying to find his words. “I’m surprised Nell came out here with Freeman. They’re on the verge of separation. His daughter barely speaks to him. I know this because our kids talk. I’ll be the one that spreads the word when Dad dies. Nobody speaks to Freeman… well, somebody does, but not many. With all his talk, he knows that I have to plan the memorial when I get back or no one’s coming. Herman’s right, he’s a miserable human being.
“I just want you to know that it wasn’t that we weren’t speaking to you. It was just easier to keep the peace if no one mentioned your name. It was a pussy-ass move and I’m sorry man and I hope that we can mend that situation. I just don’t understand why he was so pissed that you went out and found a wife and a family when he went out and did the same thing.”
“There’s nothing to mend, Stan,” Dad says. “I love you and I’ve always loved you. I’m glad I got a chance to spend time with my father before he passed away. It’s a sucky way for it to happen, but I got two of my brothers back, too. I feel bad for Freeman, but it is what it is.” Stanley sighs.
Elliot and I look at each other, silently swearing to one another that what we’re seeing here will never happen between us. It’s going to be a rough few days ahead, to say the very least.
A/N: Counting Down To The Ferryman—Ancient Greeks put coins in the mouths of the dead, believing they would have to pay the ferryman Charon to take them across the river Styx to the underworld.
I stand by my comment to the last chapter. I totally understand that grief can make us not act like ourselves, but when grief makes you lash out and treat other people like shit, you should expect whatever you get. So, for those of you who think that Ana should allow Christian to kick her because he’s grieving when she’s grieving, too, you will be sorely disappointed. And as always, if your comments become disrespectful, I will delete them.
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