So, in case you haven’t already heard, I’ve finished editing my ORIGINAL WORK and I’m about to prep it for publishing. I’m looking for cover art and researching the best way to market it—whether it will be offered electronically only or as a traditional book. We’ll have to see. Anyone with suggestions or leads for good cover artists at a reasonable price, please hit me up on Facebook or in the “contact me” link in the menu. Marketing leads and assistance will be appreciated as well.
Please note that this is NOT the Fanfiction that I am publishing. I’m not ready to close it down, which is what I would have to do if I decided to publish my Fanfic. This is an entirely new story that I wrote and I hope you guys will like it. A sample of one of the lemons from the story can be found in the “More Work From The Goddess” menu on the left under the first “Lemon Drop.”
About the last chapter, all I can say is “people are going to be people.” They’re going to fuck up; they’re going to piss you off; and it ain’t gone stop. If it did, this would have been a very short story—very hot, but very short. When Christian learns all of his lessons and stops being an ass and Ana becomes the perfect wife all the time, the story is over and I’ll stop writing it.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Chapter 9—Goodbye, and Hello
Butterfly nearly has to hold me up as we follow Pops’ casket out of the church. I’m squeezing her hand for dear life and she’s squeezing mine right back. We file out of the church and move to various positions around the front door and watch in solemn and grieved silence as they load Pops’ remains into the hearse and drive off, headed for the crematorium. We can’t all go to the crematorium, so Dad and his brothers take one limo while Mom, Luma, and Lana ride with Mia and Ethan in the second limo. Elliot and I and our wives will ride in one of the Audis.
One of the Audis.
It’s not until the second limo drives away that I realize that there are a lot of Audis in front of the church—quite possibly every vehicle in my damn fleet. When did this happen? Beyond the line of Audis, basically blocking the view of the entrance to the church, is a police barricade and it stretches around the church as far as I can see. The press is contained on the other side of the street. No doubt, they’re on the rooftops and hanging out of windows with telephoto lenses, too.
I frown and look at Jason.
“What is this?” I ask.
“I got in touch with Alex for back-up. He called in a favor.” I nod and pat his shoulder.
“Thank you,” I say softly before getting into the car with my wife.
The day is a bit of a blur after that. I meet a lot of people—more of my father’s family came from Detroit than we thought. Everyone readjourns at my parent’s house for the repast, but all I can do for most of the day is stare out onto the patio, where Pops and I had many conversations over the past few months.
The service was truly beautiful. There were many more in attendance than we thought we would see. Ros and her wife were there and Lorenz showed up, too. There were a few others I recognized from department head meetings and a lot of people that I didn’t recognize at all. I could see Carrick’s family resemblance in some of the mourners, so I was happy to know that at least some of his family from Detroit made the trip to pay last respects and see Pops for the last time.
I’ve never been good with seeing my husband break down. Watching him lose his composure during the eulogy was almost more than I could stand. I knew I had to be strong for him during this time, so I fought my emotions and helped him through his. He sat silently in the car the entire ride back to his parents’ house. He almost seemed robotic when we exited the car and walked into the house. I feel kind of lost without him to lean on and now, I must admit that I can’t wait to get to my children.
When I get to the nursery, Minnie is awake, but Mikey is fast asleep. Keri tells me that he’s just been put down for his nap and Minnie is soon to follow. I don’t want to disturb the routine, so I just kiss them both and go back downstairs.
Grace is busy getting everything prepared for guests that she knows will be arriving soon. There’s enough food prepared to feed a small third-world country. I go in search of Christian and find him standing in the great room at the fireplace with a scotch in his hand. At least, I think it’s scotch. I put my hand on his back and feel him immediately deflate.
“Are you okay?” I ask softly. He puts his drink on the mantle and says nothing. He turns around and wraps his arms around me, burying his face in my neck. I don’t remember ever seeing him this forlorn. He clings to me for several moments before I feel him slowly begin to release me. When I turn my attention to him, he’s looking behind me like he’s seen a ghost. I turn my attention to where he’s looking. He’s gazing at the door in disbelief. A group of people enter, and among them is a slightly older version of… me!
What the hell?
I gaze at the woman for a moment. It’s a creepy thing to come face to face with your twin.
Your twin… of course!
“Come on, Christian.” I take him by the hand and lead him into the foyer and over to the group of people who have just entered. As we approach, I hear one of the women say, “Mom… look!” My twin turns to me and has the same reaction that I do.
“Oh… my God,” she says softly.
“Ana, Christian,” Grace says extending her hand to me. I take it while my husband still looks on in stunned silence. I already know what she’s about to say. “This is Shannon Bell and these are Herman’s children…”
She introduces Herman’s children and I try to be polite, but they’re all just staring at me, so I take this moment to address the elephant in the room.
“I know, the resemblance is uncanny. Herman’s already told me. Imagine how I feel.”
“Please, forgive my rudeness,” Shannon says. “It’s just that… you’re a mirror of my younger self. I didn’t think that was possible! You look more like me than my daughters.”
I look around and only see one daughter, who happens to favor the Grey side of the family, but no other daughters. Then I remember that Shannon remarried and has other children.
“Well, you look more like me than my mother… except you’re much taller,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. It works. Shannon laughs a bit nervously as her children whisper among each other. “This stunned gorgeous man is my husband, Christian.” Shannon extends her hand to Christian.
“It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” she says cordially. He takes her proffered hand.
“It’s… nice… to meet you, too,” he stammers, still at a loss for words. More people begin to enter the house and I notice that a lot of the women take a moment to admire my husband.
“How did you know Burt?” Shannon asks, clasping her hands in front of her.
He’s my grandfather,” Christian says. “Was my grandfather. Carrick is my father.”
“Shit! He’s family!” I hear one of the ladies hiss as she passes, and I can’t help but chuckle to myself.
“You’re one of Carrick’s children?” she says, somewhat in disbelief. “Are you the oldest?”
“Middle,” he says. “My brother Elliot is the oldest. My sister Mia is the youngest…”
They hold a short conversation and a few moments later, the Grey Brothers walk solemnly into the house. Each of them gravitate towards their significant others, Luma appearing out of nowhere to comfort Herman. I don’t know if she knows who Shannon is, but she walks right past Shannon to Herman, who nearly crumples over in her arms, making it known that at this moment, there’s nowhere else that he’d rather be. Grace abandons her guests to soothe Carrick, his eyes red-rimmed and tired. Stanley weeps quietly in his wife’s embrace. It must have been very difficult for them having to go to the crematorium and say their final goodbyes to their father before giving the final command to incinerate his remains. Not one of them looks like he’s more than twelve years old at this moment and each of them looks like he would crumble to the ground without his woman holding him up.
This sight seems to syphon the life out of Christian—what was left of it, anyway—and he, too, looks like a broken man. I put my arm around his waist and I feel him leaning on me. He turns his body into me, away from the painful sight before us. He sighs as I literally hold him up for a few moments, then takes another cleansing breath and stands up straight. He nods at me before turning back to his father and uncles.
I turn my attention to the mourning men just in time to see Luma gently wiping tears from Herman’s face. Lana has taken Stan away to somewhere more private, and Grace and Carrick start toward the dining room with one arm around each other, much like Christian and I are holding each other now. Herman looks up and catches sight of his oldest son.
“Junior,” he says in surprise, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you! Thank you… thank you for coming.” Herman, Jr., hugs his father fondly.
“Don’t mention it, Dad,” he says with a sympathetic smile.
“Hi, Daddy,” Herman’s daughter says.
“Liz,” he breathes. His son releases him and he envelopes his daughter warmly, closing his eyes as if she’s soothing his heart.
“Hey, Pop,” his youngest son says from behind him. With Liz still in his arm, he gathers his youngest into his other arm and sighs heavily.
“Ricky,” he whispers. “I’m so glad you’re all here. You don’t know what this means to me.”
“Sure, we do, Dad,” Junior says. “That’s why we’re here.”
They share a few more moments of warm hellos before Herman finally releases them and takes Luma’s hand again.
“How’s your mother?” he asks them. “I hope she’s well.” Liz points to Shannon now standing behind him and next to us. Herman never even noticed her.
He raises his head and catches sight of Shannon, his gaze disbelieving.
“Shannon,” he says incredulously. “You’re here.”
“Yes,” she says, softly. “I know what Burt meant to you. I know this is hard on you and your brothers.”
“Thank you,” he says, still in shock and awe. A few seconds later, he appears to snap out of it and brings Luma forward. “This is Shannon,” he says, “my ex-wife and the mother of my children. Shannon, this is Luma, my…” He looks down at Luma and she returns his gaze.
“Companion?” she says, her voice uncertain. He shakes his head, still gazing at her.
“Girlfriend doesn’t sound right,” he says to Luma, who is still looking at him expecting. “My lady?” he says, and a small smile forms on Luma’s face, as if they had only just come to the decision at this moment. Herman brings Luma’s hand to his mouth and kisses it gently. “Shannon, this is my lady, Luma.”
Shannon smiles widely and extends her hand to Luma.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” Shannon says. Luma accepts her proffered hand.
“Lovely to meet you, too,” she says. “You have beautiful children…”
And just like that, awkwardness averted
Christian is as cordial as he can be under the circumstances, but I know he’s forcing it. I can tell, and I just want to take him to our room and feed him some hot chicken soup, hold him in my arms and caress his hair until he falls asleep and this day is behind us. I want to help him any way that I can, but I also hope that he utilizes Dr. Baker during this time, because he’s hanging on by a thread right now.
After we meet Herman’s children, we meet some of Pops’ friends from Detroit. I was so surprised to see more than just his children and grandchildren here. Herman’s children are all married and were accompanied by their spouses, though none of them brought their children along. Stan’s children are away at school and one is in high school, so they didn’t make the trip. I was very surprised, though, when he brought two other grandchildren over to meet us.
“Christian, Ana, this is Nolanda and Burton Grey, II. These are Freeman’s children.”
Christian stiffened upon hearing Freeman’s name. Nolanda waved at us and Burton proffered his hand to Christian.
“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” Burton says with a genuine smile. Christian accepts his hand.
“You’re Freeman’s son?” Christian asks cautiously. Burton nods.
“And you’re my cousin… Uncle Rick’s son, right?” Christian nods. Burton releases his hand. “Uncle Stan has told me a lot about you. He said you’re the reason he was able to come down to see Grampa before he died.”
“Indirectly, yes,” Christian says, letting his guard down a bit.
“That was really nice of you,” Burton says. “I know it would have torn him up not to see Grampa before he passed away.” Christian smiles sadly.
“Your uncle is a good man,” he says. “If he didn’t have the reputation and record he has on his job, it’s questionable that I might have been able to get any help in getting him here. It took very little effort on my part.”
“You’re being modest, Christian, but thank you,” Stan says. “I really wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.” Christian acknowledges him with a nod.
“Everyone calls me Nollie,” his daughter says a little solemn, stepping forward a bit. “I hate it, but I’m used to it.”
“Why don’t you have them call you something else?” I ask.
“Because it’s stuck for nearly thirty years and it’s hard to break old habits,” she says with a shrug.
“I’ll call you whatever you want,” I press. She smiles.
“Nollie’s fine,” she says. “The whole family calls me Nollie. It’s okay.” I knew she would rather be called something else, but if anybody referred to her as anything else among her family, she probably wouldn’t answer.
Freeman’s children are nothing like him and while chatting with them, I find it hard to believe that they even grew up in the same house with him. I’m never stereotypical, but from his mannerisms, my bet would be that Burton is gay. He’s obviously Pops’ namesake and he indicates that his father is proud of that fact and that Herman, Jr., didn’t get the name first. I think that’s kind of fickle, but that’s just me. And yes, as I suspect, Herman’s son Ricky is named after Carrick.
“Nolanda’s a very unique name,” I say to Nollie. “Are you named after anyone?”
“Yes,” she says, “the first-born son that I was supposed to be.”
Christian and I both frown, but Stan and Burton don’t react.
“I’m sorry?” I say bemused.
“Yeah,” she continues. “I was supposed to be a boy. No gender typing, no ultrasound pictures, just the good old-fashioned faith in the male-chauvinist gods of the universe that my father’s magic sperm was going to produce a strapping young boy in his image. When I was born, if he could’ve, he would have shoved me back in until I grew a penis… at least that’s how my mom tells it.” I’m staring gape-mouthed at her until Christian has to tell me to close my mouth.
“Surely it can’t be that bad,” I declare.
“Oh, it’s worse,” she continues. “You’ve heard of Anne Boleyn.” It’s a statement, not a question.
“Yes, Anne of a Thousand Days,” I say. She nods.
“It was worse. You know how King Henry blamed Anne for not producing a male heir when the entire time, it was his DNA contribution that determined the sex of the baby.” She says. I nod. “Mom said that my father treated her like she was a failure for having a daughter before a son. She was devastated. She didn’t even want to have any more children. That’s why Burtie is seven years younger than me.” I shake my head.
“That’s horrible,” I say softly.
“That’s Freeman,” Christian says. Nollie raises her gaze to him.
“You’ve met him,” she says. Christian examines her.
“You didn’t know?” he asks. She shakes her head. “Oh, we’ve met alright,” he says. “You’ll forgive me for saying so, but your father’s a real pill.”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” she says. “You’re being kind.” By now, Stan has left us to get more acquainted.
“Nolanda?” I say, emphasizing her name. “How is that a boy’s name?”
“It’s Nolan with a feminine suffix,” she says. “There was some kind of argument about who got to use Grampa’s name and I don’t know what happened there, but Nolan was a back-up. I think my father lost and Uncle Herman ended up naming Junior Herman after I was born and… I don’t know, but nonetheless, it’s Nolan.”
I can tell that she would much rather talk about something else, so I change the subject and ask about the relationship of the cousins back in Detroit and if they have any family reunions. That conversation goes on until we’re called for dinner, where conversation continues around the table among the cousins, the brothers, and the uncles. Except for the fact that we just paid last respects to Pops, this is an old-style family union… the kind that I, and I can imagine Christian, have never had. He loosens up a bit at dinner, but I can tell that he’s still miles away.
Dessert and coffee are basically a buffet free-for-all, and the house becomes one big mix and mingle again. The conversation in the cluster of brothers eventually wanders around to the elephant in the room—that being the missing brother.
“Actually,” Stan says, looking around for listening ears, then leaning in to the immediate group, “I was surprised when you told me that Nell came out here with him. She’s been unhappy for years… at least that’s what she told Lana a few years ago. As far as I knew, they would be on the outs pretty soon.” We all look at Lana. She gives a non-committal gesture before speaking.
“I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long,” she says. “I was sure after he refused to pay for Nollie’s college that Nell would leave.” Herman frowns.
“I never knew he didn’t pay for her college,” he says. Stan shakes his head.
“He told her that there was no need for her to go to college since he could get her right into Ford.”
“But Burton went to college,” Shannon interjects. “Did he have a change of heart when it was Burt’s chance?”
“Nope,” Stan says. “Burt got a free ride—four years, engineering, U of M.”
“I bet Freeman wasn’t too pleased with that,” Carrick says before taking a sip of his drink.
“On the contrary, he was ecstatic,” Stan corrects and now I interject.
“How so?” I ask incredulously. “His daughter had to go to Ford or else, but he’s happy that his son went to college?”
“His son got a free ride,” Stan says, “further reinforcing male superiority.”
“And there’s that line in the sand,” Herman says.
“Well, what happened with Nollie?” I ask. “She didn’t get to go to school. Did she end up going to Ford?”
“No,” Stan says. “She worked odd jobs at first—clerical, bookkeeping, administrative assistant. Then she got in with the state, the unemployment division, I think. They paid partial tuition reimbursement and she paid for the rest and went to school while she was working. She only just graduated less than a year ago.”
“What’s her degree in?” I ask.
“Finance,” Stan says. “I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s making some serious plans to fly the coup.”
“She’s still living with Freeman?” Carrick asks.
“She moved away from home a while ago, didn’t she?” Herman asks.
“Yes,” Shannon offers, “but she’s still in Detroit. She and Liz are close and I think Stan is right. Expect an escape plan really soon.”
“What makes you think so?” Lana asks. Shannon shrugs.
“Liz shares things with me in confidence. Let’s just say that I’m expecting something to happen. I don’t know what and I don’t know when, but something’s coming.”
Christian is pulled away from the conversation to show Ros and Lorenz out and I immediately start looking for Nollie. I don’t see her anywhere in the immediate vicinity, so I excuse myself and begin searching for her. I don’t know if it’s morbid curiosity or what, but I would like for her to fill in some blanks about her horrible father. After searching all the rooms on the first floor, I look out the French doors and find her on the infamous bench.
You should start charging people for sessions on that damn bench.
I should, shouldn’t I?
I snag two glasses of wine from a passing server’s tray and exit the French doors, headed in her direction. I approach her and hand her one of the glasses of wine.
“I’m a red drinker. I hope you are, too,” I say. She smiles and takes the wine.
“I am, thank you,” she says, taking what looks like a welcome sip. I sit next to her and sip my own wine, more pleased than I thought I would be to get away from the crowd.
“Some of our married-in second cousins are hot for your husband,” she says, still looking out on the lake.
“Well, they can get in line,” I say, sipping my wine again. “He has more admirers than I can count.”
“And he has you,” she says, turning her gaze to me.
“He only has me,” I say, returning her question before looking out at the water. “I know he loves me, so I don’t worry about admirers. I feel that if someone else can take him from me, he wasn’t mine to begin with and I don’t want him.”
“He knows this?” she asks. I shrug.
“He knows that cheating is a deal-breaker for me,” I say, turning back to her. “I’ve been down that road. I have no desire to go down it again. I’d rather be alone.”
“Prenup?” she asks. I nod.
“Yep,” I say without giving any more details.
“And you’d still leave?”
“In a heartbeat,” I say. “If someone else is in his heart, his arms, or his bed, there’s no room there for me. So, I would gladly let him go and disappear from his life if he feels like someone else would make him happy.”
“But you have kids,” she protests.
“He could still be a father to his kids without having to deal with me,” I say finitely. There’s a pause.
“You’ve thought about this.” I’m silent for a while.
“Only because I’ve been through it before,” I say, “not because Christian gives me any cause for doubt. I was dating a real hoe, for lack of a better word. It was agony—there’s no other way to describe it. Once I left that alone, I vowed never to put myself through that again, no matter how much I loved the guy. It’s that simple.”
We’re both silent again for a while before I broach the topic that brought me came out here. I start with the obvious.
“Nollie?” I ask, questioning the nickname. She looks down into her wine glass.
“Rhymes with Ollie,” she says, her voice showing a hint of sadness. “Like I said, I was supposed to be a boy. By the time I was three, I thought I was a boy. That’s as far back as I can remember.” She takes a drink of her wine. “Nolanda… no Nalanda, Nolanda—it’s a pretty name… if only it wasn’t supposed to be Nolan.” She sips her wine again and sighs.
“I met Freeman,” I tell her. She chuckles.
“Hit it off really well, didn’t you?” she says sarcastically.
“I should probably correct myself,” I say. “I didn’t really meet Freeman. I learned of his existence when he and Carrick got into a fist fight and my husband tried to kill him.” She turns her gaze to me.
“Really?” she says in awe. “Christian tried to kill my father?”
It sounds so bad when she says it like that.
“Yeah, Dad brings happiness and glee wherever he goes.” She says the word with emphasized disdain as she bottoms out her wine glass. I wave to Liona, not sure that she’ll acknowledge me and shocked as shit when she does. She exits the French doors and walks over to me.
“Will you please get Ms. Grey a refill?” I ask as politely as I can. She turns to Nollie.
“Certainly. What would you like, ma’am?” she says.
“Actually, is there any way I can get a vodka rocks, please?” Liona nods and turns to me.
“Mrs. Grey?” she says. “Anything for you? Another red?” She points at my glass.
“Cabernet Sauvignon, please,” I say. She nods before taking Nollie’s empty glass and heading back to the house.
“I seem to talk to a lot of people on this bench,” I say, thinking about the many conversations I’ve had just a few feet from the Greys’ French door, including the conversation with Elena the day she outed Christian.
“You’re easy to talk to,” she replies.
“It’s practiced,” I tell her. “I’m a psychiatrist.”
“In-house family shrink,” she says without reacting. “That explains it. Well, in case you hadn’t already noticed, I’m not ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ I didn’t get to play with dolls, wear cute clothes, or even act like a girl until Burt was about five years old and could catch a ball. By then, it was too late. I was twelve and already a stud. My father wanted me to be a tomboy, so for the first several years of my life, I was—and I was attracted to girls.” She pauses, contemplating for a moment. “Maybe ‘attracted’ is the wrong word. I hung around boys a lot and they liked girls and talked about them, so I appreciated girls. When it became time to ‘pair up’ so to speak, I chose girls. I know it’s not this way for everybody, but mine really was a phase. It was rebelling against my dad, it was shock value, I don’t know, but at first, I liked girls and then I didn’t. I wanted men. Girls didn’t do anything for me. Although I really did appreciate the female form and still do—like yours, you’re pretty hot—you don’t have the right equipment. I could do a ménage-à-trois in a second, but a man must be present…”
She trails off as Liona returns with our drinks. I bottom out the rest of my wine and replace it with the fresh one Liona has brought while Nollie takes her vodka rocks.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she says, taking a sip, “but hey, we’re like cousins-in-law if there’s any such thing.”
“The Greys have never used the ‘in-law’ title with me,” I tell her. “If I ever have to be specific in introducing them, I would use different terms. For example, depending on the situation, I would introduce Grace as the director of Helping Hands or as my husband’s mother. Mother-in-law just doesn’t cut it for me.” She examines me over her glass for a moment.
“You guys must be very close,” she says.
“I’m close with all of Christian’s family,” I inform her. “They’re good people.” She nods.
“In that case, cousins,” she says, taking a healthy swallow of her drink. “If you don’t mind my asking, do you come from money?” I shake my head.
“Hardly,” I reply. “I come from modest beginnings—not poverty-stricken or poor, but humble.”
“Did you get the title?” she asks. I frown, then almost immediately catch her meaning.
“Oh, you mean gold-digger? I certainly did, not from the Greys but from nearly everyone else. I couldn’t possibly want this man because I’m in love with him. It had to be the money. It doesn’t matter that even though I wasn’t rich, I was pretty well off when I met him—thriving practice downtown, a million-dollar condo on Elliot Bay, driving the latest model, pimped-out car. I didn’t need Christian’s money; I had my own, I just didn’t have Christian’s money. So, that had to be the only reason that we were together.” I sip my wine. After a pause, I ask, “How did things turn out with your father—you know, like girls? I hear he refused to pay for college for you and Burt.” She turns a glare to me, but only for a moment.
“Did Burt tell you that?” she asks. I shake my head. “Well, he would have paid for Burt, I can guarantee it. But I’ll just say this. When I get back to Detroit after Grampa’s funeral, I’m running away with my boyfriend Leo. We’ve been dating for two years now and he asked me to marry him. I said, ‘yes.’ We never set a date, but once Grampa passed away, all I could think was, ‘Seize the day!’ My father has never met him. Why? Because he comes from money and is filthy rich in his own right—much like your husband, but I suspect not as rich.”
There aren’t many people in the world as rich as Christian.
“Mom has met him once, but she doesn’t know the whole story. We fly back to Detroit Metro Airport tomorrow and we land at nine pm. Leo will meet me at the gate and we’ll take the redeye to Vegas. By noon Monday, I’ll be Mrs. Leonardo Carpathia and by Wednesday evening, we’ll be starting our new life in California.”
Wow… Freeman even alienates his kids.
“Nobody knows?” I ask.
“My cousin Liz suspects, but no, nobody knows.” I can’t help but wonder why she would fly all the way back east just to immediately come west again. What’s the point in that?
“Why don’t you just catch a flight from here to Vegas?” I ask. “You’re going to be terribly jetlagged.” She ponders the thought.
“I hadn’t even considered it. I don’t want Leo to think I’m getting cold feet. Plus, I already have my return ticket to Detroit.”
“Is it just the money?” I ask. She examines me, then twists her lips.
“Ana, I’ve known you for five minutes. I won’t take your money,” she says skeptically.
“Well, there’s two slight problems with that logic. One, we’re family—by marriage, but family nonetheless. Two, you wouldn’t be taking my money. You’d be taking my jet.” She frowns.
“Your… jet?” she asks. I nod.
“My husband and I own a private jet. So, you would be taking the jet to Las Vegas.” She ponders the thought, so I sweeten the deal.
“Think about it. Four and a half hours back to Detroit, at least, most likely in coach. Wait for the redeye, maybe two hours…”
“Three,” she corrects me.
“Okay, three hours, then nearly five hours back to Vegas, and that’s only if both flights are non-stop.”
“Which they’re not,” she laments.
“Or,” I continue. “Two and a half hours in a luxury jet. You can stay the night here in Seattle or spend an extra night in Vegas, but you won’t have to spend the night in an airport or airplane. And there’s a third perk that I failed to mention.”
“What’s that?” she asks.
“My husband hates your father,” I tell her. “He tried to have Christian arrested after he and Carrick beat the hell out of each other and he ceremoniously insulted everyone in the family standing in his brother’s house, including me. If I tell my husband your plan, I can guarantee he would get a perverse joy out of aiding and abetting your escape.” A devious smile creeps across her face.
“Where would I begin?” she says, excitement lacing her voice.
“Call your guy,” I say. “See if it’s utterly necessary that you come back to Detroit.” She smiles widely and pulls out her cell phone. She dials the number and puts the call on speaker. He picks up on the first ring.
“Hey, baby,” he says, dragging out the last word with longing. “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you, too, Leo,” Nollie says, matching his longing. “I have you on speaker and I’m here with my cousin.”
“Hey, Liz,” Leo says, cheerfully. Nollie smiles.
“Not that cousin,” she says, with mirth. “It’s kind of why I’m calling you.” There’s silence for a moment.
“What’s up, baby?” he says, his voice laced with concern.
“It’s not bad,” she says to calm his obviously rising fear, and I hear him sigh on the other end. He’s got it bad. “Is there any reason why I have to come back to Detroit before we fly to Vegas?” Another pause.
“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” he says. “I thought we wanted to fly together.”
“Baby, I just want to get there and marry you—the quickest and easiest way possible. I’m already on the west coast. I should have just gotten a commercial flight from out here straight to Vegas instead of flying all the way back to Detroit just to get back on a plane and fly back…”
“I thought you wanted to thumb your nose at your Dad when you got on the plane with me,” Leo protests.
“The fact that I’m not in attendance for him to ignore when he comes to pick up Golden Boy will be enough thumbing for me,” she replies. Golden Boy… that sounds spiteful. “Besides, I have filthy, stinking rich cousins who hate my father and would love nothing more than to put me on a private jet straight for Vegas!” I laugh out loud at the “filthy, stinking rich” description.
“Really?” he asks, his voice rising an octave. “No waiting until you get back to Detroit?”
“No waiting, baby. You say the word and my cousin says it can be arranged.”
“Oh my God how soon can they get you there?” he asks all in one breath. She giggles and looks at me.
“How soon do you want her there?” I say into the phone. “I’m Ana, by the way, one half of the filthy-stinking-rich-cousin couple.”
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Ana,” Leo says. “I assume it might take a little fancy footwork to get the jet ready and for my girl to make her excuses to her family. So, I’ll just leave it up to you guys and you just let me know. I’ll be on the first available bird as soon as you say the word.” I nod to Nollie.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I do. I love you!” Nollie says.
“I love you, too, baby. I’ll be waiting for your call.” They end the call and she looks at me.
“So, take a breath and compose yourself, then we’ll go on in and talk to my husband.” She nods while clutching her phone. She’s like a kid at Christmas.
“What about Burt?” I ask, noting the Golden Boy comment. “How’s your relationship?”
“My father’s golden boy?” she says with a small bit of disdain. “It was strained for years, but then he saw how our father drew a line in the sand between us and he tried to make up for it. Unfortunately, your brother can’t make up for your father refusing to be a father. We’re okay, though. We’re great friends and I know it wasn’t Burt’s fault.” She sighs. “By the way, I’m changing my name… from Nolanda to Yolanda.” I frown.
“You hate the name that much?” she nods.
“It’s not my name,” she says. “It’s his first-born son’s name, the one that he never had. It’s not mine. Mom says that she suggested Yolanda when he said Nolanda, and I like Yolanda. Like I said, Nolanda is a boy’s name with a feminine suffix. It’s sloppy seconds! I won’t go through life with that stamp.”
“You said everyone calls you Nollie, though,” I point out. “Won’t the new name confuse your husband?”
He doesn’t call me Nollie,” she says. “He calls me Lanie. And the moment I go to change my married name to Carpathia, I’ll be changing my first name to Yolanda.” I smile.
“It’s a whole new life for you,” I say, “and I have a feeling that you’re well overdue.” She sighs heavily and looks at the sky, the sun starting to set over the water. When she brings her gaze back to mine, they’re glassy with unshed tears.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she says, her voice shaking. We finish our drinks and head back to the house.
I hear conversations going on around me and I’m doing my best to focus on what everyone is saying. I’ve gleaned a few important points from a few conversations…
Freeman’s wife will most likely be leaving him.
All of Uncle Herman’s children are married and have families of their own.
Everybody was really happy to see Dad again and meet the cousins they never knew.
Some of my extended cousins have the hots for me.
I’m fairly certain that Courtney and Vickie were fucking in the treehouse. At the very least, they were making out.
Burton is gay.
Elizabeth and Nolanda are very close even though Nolanda is a few years older than Elizabeth.
Uncle Herman will fly back to Detroit with Uncle Stan next week—just for moral support—to give Pops’ remains to Freeman. I’m letting them take the jet.
Speaking of the jet…
“Christian, I have something to ask you.” My wife and Nolanda approach me during my introspection at the fireplace.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Nollie has a dilemma and I offered our services to assist her. I know I should have consulted you first, but I felt that you wouldn’t mind since she’s family.”
Oh, God. Is my newfound family going to start mooching off of me already?
My wife explains the entire situation to me and her offering the jet to Nolanda to fly to Vegas sometime in the next twenty-four hours. I look at her impassively, prompting Nolanda to speak up.
“It’s okay, Ana,” she says with no malice. “I can take the flight back to Detroit.”
“No, no, I’m just thinking,” I say.
“Don’t panic. That’s his ‘pondering’ face,” Butterfly assures her. Nolanda starts to wring her hands.
“I don’t mean to impose,” she says, nervously. “Ana suggested it and… I… just…” I hold up my hand to halt her stammering.
“No… it’s not…” Now, I’m stammering. “Herman and Stan are taking the jet sometime this week to take Pops’ ashes back to Detroit. I just want to make sure the trips aren’t too close together.” Her eyebrows rise.
“Oh,” she says, her voice a few octaves higher than before. “You mean… you don’t mind?”
“Mind? Let me think about this. My cousin, Freeman’s daughter, effectively hates him. She’s not only running away to get married without his knowledge, permission, or participation, but she’s also marrying a rich man—seemingly Freeman’s worst nightmare—and I get to facilitate that. Hmmm… one more moment please…” Butterfly gently punches me in my arm.
“Stop torturing the girl,” she says, playfully. “So, when are Herman and Stan supposed to be taking Pops back to Detroit?”
“I don’t know, but either way, I have to get that plane ready to fly.” I put my finger up to tell her to give me a minute while I call Jason.
“Yes, sir,” he answers.
“Jason, can you please call the hangar and tell them that the jet needs to be ready to take off anywhere in the next twelve to twenty-four hours? It’ll be a trip to Vegas and immediate flight back. Also, let them know to be on standby for a similar trip to Detroit in the next couple of days. Let me know about the Detroit round trip. I don’t know if it’ll be overnight or not. I want one of the security staff prepared to go with Herman, too. He’s going with Stan for moral support, but I don’t want any problems out of Freeman.”
“Understood, sir.” I end the call and turn around to my wife and cousin. “So, when did you intend to fly to Las Vegas?” I ask.
“Well, I was leaving with Burt to catch the noon flight back to Detroit Metro tomorrow. I would say anytime tomorrow would be fine. My fiancé is just waiting for the word and we’ll be on our way to our new life.” I text Jason to make sure the jet is ready to fly to Vegas by noon. She’ll go to the airport with Burt, but that’s where they will part ways.
“What are you going to tell Burt?” Butterfly asks.
“I’ll say my goodbyes at the airport so that he doesn’t have time to tell the almighty father,” she says. “By the time my father knows anything, I’ll already be in Vegas probably sipping a cocktail at some fancy hotel.”
“Do you need me to get you a room?” I ask her. She smiles.
“Let me see what Leo has up first,” she says. “He’ll probably want to plan something himself.” I nod.
“Does Burt have a boyfriend?” I ask, not thinking about how inappropriate the question was before it came out of my mouth. Nolanda raises her eyebrow at me before she speaks.
“See?” she says. “The only person who doesn’t seem to want to accept that fact is my father. Every time Burt tries to tell him, he changes the subject—like if he doesn’t hear it, it won’t be true.” She shakes her head.
“I wasn’t trying to pry,” I qualify. “I was only asking because once he gets back to Detroit, he’s going to be the object of your father’s discontent. It’s my understanding that he’s still living at home.”
“He is,” Nolanda confirms.
“Well, he may need somewhere to go, at least for the night.” She nods.
“I’ll ask him when we say goodbye tomorrow…”
We make plans for Nolanda to be on the jet at noon, right after Burt boards the plane. The rest of the family had already booked later flights or flights for Monday to return to Detroit. I ask Nolanda if she’s concerned about Burt’s safety. She’s convinced that Freeman will only dote even more on his Golden Boy once she gone. Although she tries to convince me that her and Burt’s relationship is fine, her reference to him shows that their relationship has taken an obvious beating.
I want so badly to make love to my wife tonight, but I can’t get in the right mindset to even try. Noting my inability to connect with my amorous side, she snuggles in bed with me, wrapping her body around me and caressing my scalp in that way that she does. I must have unknowingly been exhausted, because in moments, I’m asleep.
I’m awakened by the ringing of my cell phone and the sun shining in my eyes from the window. We forgot to close the curtains before we fell asleep. The bed is empty and I wonder where my wife has snuck off to.
“Hello,” I answer in a groggy voice without even looking at the caller ID.
“Sir, the jet is ready. They just need instructions from you.” It’s Jason. I look at my watch. Shit, it’s 9:30. Burt and Nolanda will need to get to the airport soon.
“Okay,” I reply. “The flight should be around noon. It’ll be my cousin, Nolanda Grey.”
“Yes, sir,” Jason says and we end the call. I sit up and throw my legs over the edge of the bed. It’s now that I realize just how much I drank in my maudlin state yesterday because my head is hurting and swimming and I didn’t even know that I was drunk.
“Fuck, not today,” I lament. I go to the en suite and turn on the shower, vainly searching the medicine cabinet for aspirin or ibuprofen. Finding none, I let the warm water run on my scalp and help to clear some of my foggy brain. Of course, thoughts of Pops flood my thoughts and I have a hard time controlling my emotions. There’s no one here right now, so I just let the tears fall and mingle with the shower water. I so wanted to hope that some miracle would happen and he wouldn’t be taken away from us. I wanted to be so much stronger when the inevitable happened, but seeing my father and his brothers break down after the cremation wiped every bit of fortitude I had left in me. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur except for preparing the jet and falling asleep with my wife.
I don’t want a bigger headache than I already have, so I stop crying, wash my hair and body, and get out of the shower. I put on a T-shirt and jeans with socks and sneakers and go in search of a hangover cure.
The house looks like a tomb. I make my way to the kitchen where Mrs. Thompson is cooking something.
“Well, you look like you’ve had a hard night. Do you want something to eat?” she says. I shake my head.
“Tell me we’ve got something for a headache,” I say, sitting at the breakfast bar and putting my head down on the counter. I hear some rustling around and a few moments later, a cold glass is set next to me. I raise my head to see Mrs. Thompson holding out a bottle towards me.
“You angel from heaven,” I say, taking the bottle and immediately swallowing two pills with no water.
“Drink the water,” she scolds, “all of it.”
“It’s too late for water,” I reply, my voice gravelly.
“Humor me,” she says as she takes the bottle of pills from me. I lift my head and down the water in four or five swallows—before she turns back around—and put my head back down on the counter.
“Where’s the water?” I hear her say.
“I drank it,” I mutter. I know she doesn’t believe me and I see her in my mind’s eye looking around to see what I did with the water. “I drank it,” I repeat, holding my head up to show her my wet lip. She nods.
“Well, I don’t know how you drank it so quickly, but I’m glad that you did.” She takes the glass away and I put my head back down. “Tough day yesterday, huh?” she asks. I nod.
“No walk in the park,” I say. “Where is everybody?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “No one has come down except for your wife and the Jamaican nanny. I’m sorry, I don’t know her name…”
“Keri,” I mumble.
“Okay, Keri. She came down a little while ago to warm some milk and a little while later, Ana left with one of the guards to go for a run, I think.”
A run? Butterfly doesn’t run.
“Who did she leave with, do you know?” I ask. Mrs. Thompson shrugs.
“Christian, you know I only know Gail and Jason,” she chastises. “Short blonde hair, blue eyes… I’ve seen him with her before.”
“Chuck,” I say as I hear someone come into the kitchen.
“Hey, you’re awake.” Butterfly says as she puts her hand gently on my back. “You don’t look so good.”
“Thanks,” I say. “Why didn’t you wake me? I would have run with you.”
“Run with me?” she asks, bemused. “Christian, you know I don’t run.”
“Mrs. Thompson was under the impression that you went for a run.” I look up at Chuck and realize that he’s also in a T-shirt and sweats. That’s probably why Mrs. Thompson thought they were going running.
“No, Chuck took me to the gym,” I tell him. “I have a trial membership there until we go back home, at which time I’ll be making some changes to our own gym.” She gently scratches my scalp and I don’t know if the ibuprofen is kicking in or if she has the magic touch, but I immediately begin to feel relief, causing me to groan. “You slept like the dead,” she says softly.
“I was drunk,” I confess. She pauses her hand only a moment, then continues.
“Um-hmm,” I mumble, relishing the feel of her delicate hand on my scalp.
“Do you remember the discussion about the jet?” she asks cautiously.
“Um-hmm,” I mumble. “Jason called and woke me. He knows it needs to be ready for flight by noon.” I hear dishes set on the counter next to me.
“Eat,” Mrs. Thompson says. “Don’t argue.” Dry toast and orange juice. She’s always been like another mother to me ever since she came to work for my parents. I pick up a piece of toast and take a bite out of it. She’s right, I need to eat it.
“I’m going to jump in the shower really quick. Nollie and Burt will be here any minute. She told him that we wanted to take them to the airport to say goodbye.” I nod. She leaves and Chuck is still standing there. He takes a seat next to me, causing Mrs. Thompson to look at him strangely. She’s never seen me mingle with the help.
Only he’s more than just the help.
“I’m going to ask her to marry me,” he says, his hands folded in front of him. I look over at him.
“No shit?” I say, before taking another bite of my toast. He nods.
“I wanted to wait until after we knew for sure that she had a permanent situation and that she wasn’t pregnant, so that she can know that I want to marry her because I love her and I want to spend my life with her, not because I want her to stay in the country.” I nod.
“Do you plan to get married right away?” I ask. He shrugs.
“I’m not trying to rush to the altar, but I’ll do whatever she wants as long as she says ‘yes.’ She wants to wait a while, I’ll wait a while. She wants to be Mrs. Davenport tomorrow, I’ll take her to Vegas and marry her tomorrow,” he declares. I drink some my juice and my head is starting to feel much better, still throbbing a bit and full of thoughts of Pops, but this conversation is helping to distract me.
“What if she wants a big wedding? In Anguilla?”
“Then that’s what she’ll get,” he says, firmly. “She’s going to be my wife. I’ll give her anything she wants.”
“You’re so certain that she’ll say yes?” I question. He sighs.
“I believe the only reason she didn’t agree before is because she thought I was asking as a means to an end,” he points out. “I love her and I know that she loves me. If she says ‘no,’ I’ll wait for a few more months and ask her again. I’ll keep asking her until she finally agrees.” I raise an eyebrow at him.
“Persistent,” I say. “Have you decided when you’re going to ask?” He shakes his head.
“I haven’t planned anything elaborate, but I’ve got the ring in case the moment just feels right.” I finish my toast and juice.
“Can I get you anything, young man?” Mrs. Thompson asks Chuck. He smiles warmly at her.
“No, ma’am, but thank you,” he says to her before turning back to me. “I need to go shower, too. I took the opportunity to do some free weights while Ana worked out.” He stands from his stool and pats me on the back. “Oh!” he adds. “Mom and I got our court date.” I frown at him.
“What court date?” I ask.
“Against Joe,” he says. “There’s a judge that’s actually going to hear the case.” My eyes widen.
“You’re kidding? Seriously?” I respond.
“Somebody else, somewhere thinks what he did was bullshit.” Chuck shrugs before leaving the room.
“You’re what?” Burt asks his sister just before he’s about to board the plane.
“I’m not going back,” Nolanda says. “I’m miserable in Detroit. Dad doesn’t want me and Mom has her own issues with him, so I’m going to start a new life out here.” She just says out here, she doesn’t elaborate that she means the west coast.
“I…” Burt is at a loss for words. “What about…” He still can’t find his words.
“Are you worried about telling Dad?” she asks. “If you are, you don’t have to. Just tell him that I wouldn’t get on the plane.”
“It’s not that,” he says. “I mean, I know Dad will be mad, but…” He pauses and looks up at his sister. “This is my only chance to say goodbye.”
Nolanda smiles sadly at her brother, then pulls him into a warm embrace. He hugs her back and closes his eyes tight, a single tear escaping.
“Don’t be silly, Burtie,” she says. “You’re acting like you’ll never see me again. I’ll keep in touch and you will see me. I love you. Our father just won’t.”
“You’re never going to see Dad again?” Burt asks. She shakes her head.
“He’s never been Dad to me,” she confesses. “He never once showed me love… or kindness… or pride. I never had a Daddy and strangely enough, I don’t miss it. I wasn’t supposed to be here and he made that clear. Now, he doesn’t have to deal with his mistake anymore.” Burt shakes his head, tears flowing freely now.
“You are not a mistake!” he nearly barks. “You’re my sister! And I love you!”
“And I love you, too, Burtie,” she says. “You can come to me for anything. I’ll be changing my number, but as soon as I do, I’ll make sure that you always know how to reach me.” She hugs him again as they call for seating for his flight again.
“It was a really dirty thing you did,” he sobs into her shoulder, “waiting until the last minute to tell me.”
“I know,” she admits, “and I’m sorry. I just couldn’t have you trying to convince me to go back and talk to our father. There’s nothing more to say. Trust me, Dad won’t miss me and I’ll call and explain everything to Mom once I’m settled. Then you can come out and see me whenever you want and we can still talk all the time.” He pushes his head off her shoulder and nods.
“I don’t want you to do this, Nollie,” he says, his voice still shaking, “but somehow, I know that you have to.”
“I do, Burt,” she says, gently cupping his wet cheek. “I really do. Now go, before you miss your flight. We’ll talk soon, I promise.” He hugs her again and kisses her on the cheek before walking quickly to the gate and showing the attendant his boarding pass. He doesn’t look back as he boards the plane. Nollie sighs heavily and turns to look at me and Butterfly.
“I’ve got a jet to catch,” she says, tears rimming her glassy eyes.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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