I’ve had a few emails that have been bouncing and I want to make sure that everyone is getting their notifications since I’ll be writing more than one story soon. I started the new email list at the end of “Becoming Dr. Grey” and I’ve been using it ever since. So, if you’re on my mailing list and you haven’t received an email up to Chapter 13 of Raising Grey, let me know and make sure that I have your updated email because I’m going to start posting Golden sometime this week.
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 14—Desperately Seeking “Normal”
I need normal.
I need normal in the worst way. If I don’t get it, I’m going to explode.
I’m sitting in my office listening to Marilyn talk about all the radio spots that I promised to reschedule once we made it through Pops’ death. I don’t know how or when I’m going to fit all the people in that want a sit-down with Anastasia Grey. My last two appearances were harmless enough—talk about Helping Hands with a couple of pokes into mine and Christian’s personal life, nothing too invasive and nothing disrespectful, but I’m just waiting for that one radio host who expects to get famous at mine or my husband’s expense. I’m not looking forward to it, but the sheer law of averages dictates that it’s coming.
Not only that, but no matter how many times I review our reports and submissions and guidelines, I can’t find any reason whatsoever to hold up our licensing for the Center. Did that bitch just throw our petition in the garbage or what?
“… And there’s a garden party at the Broadmoor this weekend.” It’s only just now that I realize that Mare was talking to me for I don’t know how long about I don’t know what. Now, she’s talking about a garden party at the country club.”
“What?” I ask, trying to refocus my attention back to her.
“The Broadmoor? Garden party? Josephine Kennedy personally sent you an invite and you haven’t RSVP’d.” I frown. Josephine Kennedy—why do I know that name?
“From where do I know Josephine Kennedy?” I ask. Marilyn’s eyes grow large.
“Um, she’s your sponsor??” she says incredulously. Oh, fuck, how did I forget that? Children’s charities, lost a child to leukemia, very active volunteer. My life has been fucking crazy these last few months—hence, the immediate need for normal.
“Garden party—hell. What day?”
“Saturday.” Saturday afternoon garden party.
“RSVP for three plus security. Ask what the protocol is for staff. Christian won’t let me go without them, nor would I want to.” She nods.
“Three?” she asks.
“It’s a garden party, a bunch of catty women. I can easily bring two people to a club where I’m a member and I’m snagging Mia and Val. No use in me suffering alone.” I shake my head. “This is getting to be too much.” Marilyn frowns.
“The Garden parties, the radio shots, fifty percent owner of Grey Enterprises, the paparazzi always in my face. I miss the days where I could just go to the aquarium or take a walk in the Marketplace, have a ferry ride, or just take a midnight stroll in a park somewhere without a three-man escort or it being national news.” I drop my face in my hands. “This past spring, my wardrobe was tabloid fodder. Why, because I wanted to wear white. I’ve never been that girl. I’ve never been the girl who always wanted the spotlight or wanted to be famous or even wanted money. Two years later and I’m still not used to being famous.”
“Well, you hide it well,” Marilyn says. I raise my head to her. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
“Put the claws away,” she says, noting my hostility. “All I’m saying is that when you’re in front of the cameras, you never once let them see you sweat.” I sigh.
“I need. Normal, Mare,” I lament. “I have to have some normal in my life or I’m going to go crazy. My anniversary—running around Seattle like a teenager, going out to dinner and dancing among regular people—was the most fun I’ve had all year. Even sitting around the pool yesterday and chewing the fat, we end up talking about Mia’s Million-Dollar wedding. As much as I love her, I can do without this affair!” Marilyn looks at me with sympathetic eyes.
“Yeah, you did look a little verklempt while she was talking about it.” I shake my head.
“In two months, that woman is getting married in a theater that seats 2000—a theater! And she wants her guests to be red-carpet ready. Christian’s right, this is going to be outrageous, and I really don’t want to go!” I’m sitting here dreaming about sitting at my condo in the middle of the floor in baggy pajamas and warm ankle socks with a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of Cabernet, watching reruns of Sex and the City. God, I need normal… and soon!
Later that afternoon, Al brings over the petition for adoption, which really makes me incredibly happy. During our drive to Kent, I vent to him about needing my normal back and missing my trips to the Marketplace with the Scooby Gang. Things have changed so much and although I love my kids and my husband and my life, I feel like I’m losing touch with who I am and who I used to be. At times, I feel like I’m floating over life instead of walking through it and experiencing it. I don’t want to seem ungrateful; I just miss the simple shit.
Not being treated with utter disdain simply due to who I am, the money I have, or who I married…
Wanting to see Maleficent or 22 Jump Street when it first came out in theaters instead of waiting for it on Blu-ray or maybe clearing out a whole damn movie theater just to see it…
Not being the target or jealous subs, psychopaths, or delusion women all wanting a piece of my husband in one way or another…
Being able to suffer my tragedies in private like the rest of the world…
Succumbing to the nervous breakdown that I so richly deserve right now without it being headline news…
Not needing a Presidential motorcade to go to the goddamn grocery store…
Being able to go to the goddamn grocery store!
Just being left alone…
Al quietly listens to me rant the entire way to my father’s house. I’m more than mindful of his introspective listening, but right now, I just need to vent. When I’m done having my temper tantrum, we knock on Daddy’s door and are greeted by Mandy wearing a chef’s apron.
I even miss that.
“Hey, Ana, come on in,” she says, stepping aside. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” I say, kissing her on the cheek. “What smells so good?”
“Coq au Vin,” she says, “Are you staying for dinner?” I turn to Al.
“Who am I to turn down a free home cooked meal?” he says, with a shrug. I turn back to Mandy.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” I say. “I don’t want to impose…”
“I’m going to pretend like you didn’t say that,” Mandy says with mirth. “Ray’s in the den. Dinner will be ready in fifteen.”
“Annie! What are you doing here? Is everything alright?” Daddy says as we walk into the den. Harry climbs off his lap and wobbles over to me. With Fuzzlewuzzers in his hand, he holds his little fat arms open to me and blubbers something that sounds somewhat like “Annie.”
“Hey, Harry,” I say, lifting my little brother in my arms and kissing his chubby little cheeks. “How’s the best baby brother in the world?” Harry briefly jabbers some incoherent answer to me and shows me Mr. Fuzzlewuzzers.
“Really?” I say, like it’s the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard. Harry nods as if I completely understood the gibberish coming from his cute little mouth. I kiss him and he honors me with a tight hug before I put him back on the floor and he wobbles back to Daddy.
“Hi, Daddy,” I say, kissing him on the cheek while Harry takes his place back in Daddy’s lap. My God, he’s the spitting image of my father. I wonder if this is how Daddy looked when he was a baby. “Nothing’s wrong, but I have a very important question to ask you.”
“Oh,” he says, nestling Harry under his arm. “What do you need?” I sit on the arm of the sofa and put my arm around his neck.
“I want you to be my father,” I say. He frowns up at me.
“English, Sunflower,” he says. I look to Al, who hands me the petition.
“That’s it,” I say, handing him the forms. “I want you to be my father.” Daddy puts Harry on the sofa and takes the papers from me. He stands and starts to walk a bit while he reads the document.
“You can do this now?” he asks, turning back to me. “You’re a mother with children of your own.”
“Yes,” I tell him. “I’m an adult. I just need your permission.”
“What about Carla?” he asks. “Don’t you have to ask her?” I shake my head.
“I’m an adult, Daddy,” I repeat. “I don’t need her permission. I just need yours.” He sighs heavily and lifts his glasses to rub his eyes.
“Annie, I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that you’re my daughter,” he says, puzzled.
“No, you don’t,” I agree, “but I need a piece of paper to tell the world that you’re my Daddy.”
Ray’s lips tremble and his eyes instantly fill with tears as he pulls me into his arms, hugging my tightly.
“I love you, Sunflower,” he says, his voice cracking.
“I love you, too, Daddy,” I reply.
And so it was that on Tuesday morning, July 22, 2014, Raymond Steele filed a long-overdue petition with the King County Family Court to officially adopt his stepdaughter, Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey, MD. We had lunch together after—a normal lunch—at one of our favorite delis downtown… corned beef on rye with mustard and sauerkraut. When we left the deli, a few paparazzi had gathered. I turned to my Daddy and hugged him tightly, smiling pretty for the cameras. Daddy smiled and waved nervously, wrapping his other arm around me.
Sometimes, you just have to cooperate.
“What are you up to downtown, Ana?” one of the reporters asks.
“Nothing,” I lie, “just lunch with my dad.”
“You look great!” another calls out.
“Thank you,” I reply with a smile.
“Mr. Steele, you proud of Ana for making it big?” A third calls out.
“I’m always proud of Ana, no matter what she does,” he replies smiling down at me and kissing me on the forehead. The cameras go wild. Media gold…
“What’s going on with you, Mr. Steele? Anything big and fabulous?” someone else asks. Daddy shrugs his free arm.
“I’m a simple man,” he says, “what you see is what you get.”
“It’s obvious where Ana gets her pleasant demeanor,” the first reporter notes. Daddy smiles.
“I wish I could take credit for that,” Daddy says, smiling down at me. “She has a kind heart. It just comes naturally.” God, I love my Daddy.
After a few more harmless questions and pictures, the paps let us go our way without problem. That had to be one of the least taxing interviews I’ve ever given… impromptu at that.
After parting ways with Daddy for the afternoon, Chuck and I go back to Helping Hands and I draft a letter to the licensing board about the status of our accreditation. They have no reason to hold us up and if that bitch Gloria Felton thinks that she can get away with this, I’ll just have to file a complaint against her with the proper agencies. First, however, I’ll need a paper trail.
My strongly worded letter included inquiries concerning how long it takes the average institution to secure licensing in similar situations as well as which requirements we haven’t met that would delay our accreditation. I emphasized that we would be more than willing to submit whatever documentation was still necessary if we were only apprised of what could be holding up our licensing. Blah blah legal jargon, blah blah brownnosing, blah blah blah, then I sent the damn thing certified mail. I plan to send something similar every three days until I get a response.
I’m a little worn out when I get home that night. After I put the twins to bed, I decide to partake in that Cabernet, popcorn, and Sex and the City I talked about the day before. I snuggle into my recliner with my favorite throw and watched Carrie send Big off to Paris while I wait for dinner…
I feel fingertips gently caressing my forehead and awake to stunning gray eyes gazing at me. My husband… could he be any more beautiful?
“Rough day?” he says softly, while pushing my bangs from my face. I uncurl from the chair, stretching my extremities.
“What time is it?” I ask, groggily.
“About nine o’clock,” he replies, now caressing my cheek. “No one wanted to wake you, the cowards.” He chuckles softly. I had to think about my day. It was emotionally charged, but not rough.
“I’m just tired,” I say, stretching again. “I wrote a letter to the licensing board today. I had to be firm while kissing their ass without asking them what the fuck is their problem. It took a lot out of me,” I add, honestly.
“Are you hungry?” he asks. I nod.
“I could eat,” I respond.
“Ms. Solomon made beef stew. It’s delicious.” My mouth waters at the thought of it. I try to move the blanket from my legs, but Christian stops me. “No, you stay. I’ll get it for you.” I look up at him and settle back down in my recliner. He’s wearing a turtleneck and a pair of slacks. Second only to his sexy suits, this is my favorite look on him. He wears business casual very well.
I’ve gotten comfortable in my recliner again by the time that he brings a steaming bowl of beef stew back to me on a portable tray with a homemade biscuit and a refill of my Cabernet. He sits on an ottoman nearby, sipping his own Cabernet. He’s right, this beef stew is delicious.
“You filed the petition today,” he says, a statement, not a question. I nod, my mouth full of food. “Did everything go okay? No hiccups?” I nod again. “How long did they say it would take?”
“A couple of months,” I say after swallowing my food. “It’s not as difficult as actually adopting a child, so there shouldn’t be any delays.” He nods and sips his Cabernet.
“You made the news, but you knew that,” he says. “Daddy’s Girl,” he adds with a smile.
“Is that the headline?” I ask. He nods. “They caught us coming out of Market-House. It was just easier to smile and give them what they wanted.”
“It was nice,” he replies. “It made you look… human. Were they nice to you?”
“They were,” I tell him. “We didn’t see them until we were leaving the deli. They took their pictures, asked their questions, and gave us our space… and it was only a handful of them. Do you think it’s the Papa Bear effect?” I raise my eyebrow. He shrugs.
“It could be,” he says before sipping his wine again. “I know how you just want peace sometimes. I want that, too. Maybe they listened.”
His silence after that said more than his words before.
“Al talked to you, didn’t he?” I ask. I didn’t swear him to secrecy, but even if I had, he’s my best friend and he’s known to spill the beans if he feels that something is detrimental to me.
“He did,” he says. “I understand how you feel. It’s a lot becoming an extension of my life. I’ve always been used to this—growing up a Grey and then becoming a self-made billionaire. I get how someone who mostly grew up in the normal world could find this a bit daunting.” I nod and put my thumb and index finger close together.
“Just a bit.” He reaches into his back pocket and pulls something out, handing it to me. Upon closer examination, I realize that it’s…
“Mariners tickets?” I question. He nods.
“August 10th, against the White Sox. I thought you and Ray might want to go. Have some hot dogs, beer and peanuts… and a normal afternoon.” I look at the tickets.
“Box seats?” he shakes his head.
“Behind the dugout, where the action is.” I’m not much for baseball, but I always loved going to the stadium and watching Daddy’s reaction when one of the players hit a triple or a homerun.
“Daddy loves baseball,” I say. “This will be fantastic!” Then I pause. “Security?”
“Covert,” he says. “It’ll be a fairly normal day.” I smile at him.
“I love you,” I say. He kneels down to me again and kisses me gently.
“I love you, too,” he says. “Finish your stew and I’ll run us a bath…”
I prepare myself for a not-so-normal Saturday at Josephine Kennedy’s garden party on the flawless golf lawn of the Broadmoor. I’m not really sure how to possibly work this crowd, but this is why I joined the country club in the first place—networking, raising funds and awareness for Helping Hands. The country club scene is really not my thing, but it’s a means to an end.
Mia was all for going to the garden party. She had been to enough of them growing up and wanted to see which snooty women would be attending this one. It was her opportunity to gossip about the who’s who in the Seattle area. She wore a simple white Ali & Jay short, fitted sweater-dress inlaid with pointelle-knit motifs and a pair of around-the-ankle pumps with a white summer organza cloche hat—understated and very pretty.
I go with vintage 50’s cream chiffon with blue flowers accented with green leaves… sleeveless with a wrapped empire waistline and a swooping neckline. I add with a matching blue vintage wide brim Kentucky Derby sun hat and blue strappy high-heeled sandals. Val wears a gorgeous purple dress with a sweetheart neckline that has a sleeveless black lace overlay with a crew neckline—also vintage cut with a full skirt and empire waistline. She’s wearing a large, dramatic purple spring hat, also organza with cloche and a pair of black pumps. Quite frankly, she’s the most stylish of the three of us.
The women are mingling when we arrive and Josephine makes a beeline to me the moment she spots me.
“You have no idea how pleased I am that you could make it,” she says, taking my hand with a sincere smile. I return her gesture.
“I took far too long to respond, please forgive me. You know what’s been happening with my family,” I apologize.
“I do, I’m very sorry,” she says solemnly. “All the more reason I’m glad you could make it. I’m sure this is a very difficult time for you all,” she says, exchanging glances with Val and Mia to include them in her sentiment.
“It is, but we’re holding up okay, leaning on each other,” Mia says sweetly.
“Josephine, these are my sisters-in-law, but it’s just easier to call them my sisters—Mia Grey and Valerie Grey.” I gesture to Mia and Valerie. Josephine takes each of their hands in one of hers.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” she says, with a smile. “Welcome to my little party and please, make yourselves at home. Ana, there are some people you should probably meet. Ladies, please, join us…”
Josephine begins to introduce us to the who’s who in the charity circles, which is exactly what I wanted. I spend quite some time learning the ropes for fundraising, advertising the Center for maximum exposure, exchanging business cards, and networking. Mia and Val go to our table as I continue to work the crowd, wishing I had brought Marilyn along to help me remember all these people. I’ll put a pin in that for the next garden party/soiree I attend like this. I finally make my way back to our table where a tall cranberry spritzer is waiting for me.
“Oh, you ladies love me,” I say, taking several large swallows of the refreshing drink. “Why did you leave me though?”
“It’s hot out here,” Val says. “I just wanted to sit down. Plus, you seemed to be doing just fine out there by yourself. You’ve got this thing in the bag, Steele. You’re a natural.” I shrug.
“I wouldn’t say that, but I can hold my own,” I say.
“Yes, and I’ve been working the crowd a bit, too, trying to find out how many of these women have been invited to my wedding. I think Mom invited the entire tri-county area. Most of these of women have already RSVP’d!”
“Most?” I say, looking at the daunting crowd and, once again, dreading the day I must attend this wedding. Did anyone feel this way coming to my wedding, I wonder?
“Yeah,” Mia says, “at least one person here did not get an invitation. Three tables behind me, one o’clock, red and white flowered dress.”
I follow her description to a table of blonde, obvious bottle jobs except for one… Katherine fucking Kavanaugh. Oh, good Lord, we belong to the same country club? Of all the clubs we interviewed and vetted, she belongs to mine? I thought Christian checked out the membership before we joined. How could this have happened? I sigh and shake my head.
“Oh, hell,” I say as Val spots her over her shoulder. “Does she know we’re here?” Mia shrugs.
“I don’t know,” she says, “I didn’t speak.”
“Well, let’s just assume that she doesn’t and try to keep our distance,” I lament. “I’m sorry, Val.”
“Fuck that bitch,” Val says quietly, unfazed. “I accomplished what she couldn’t… I married him. I don’t care what she says or thinks.” Val sips her sweet tea and smirks. “She’s the one that should be upset and ashamed. She lost a gold mine in more ways than one and then she was publicly humiliated by trying to pin the baby on him.” I shrug.
“You’re right. I can’t argue.”
We turn our attention away from Kate and I begin talking about the contacts that I made and how much the information we’ve shared will help with positive publicity for the Center. We enjoy delicious fruit salads and summer foods, a large variety of finger sandwiches, fresh smoked salmon dip, spring linguini with basil, shrimp and bacon deviled eggs, hot cross buns, and an assortment of deserts and teas. I’m very happy to take a break from being the center of conversation when Val brings the conversation around to her house.
“The house is huge, Ana,” Val says. “Nearly 4,000 square feet and five bedrooms! What am I going to do with five bedrooms?”
“Maybe Elliot is trying to tell you something,” I say, sipping my coffee having opted for it instead of tea at the end of the meal. She nods.
“He’s not trying to tell me anything. I already know that he wants a brood of children, but we haven’t even started yet.” She shifts uncomfortably in her seat and I throw a glance at Mia, who shrugs.
“What’s wrong, Val?” I ask. “What are you afraid of?” She shrugs.
“Have you ever had the feeling that it’s all too good to be true?” she asks, solemnly, “like you’re going to wake up one day it’s all going to be a dream… the good and the bad?” I nod.
“More times than I care to admit,” I tell her. “There are days when I wish I would wake up and it would be a dream. And then there are days when I open my eyes and I’m so glad that it’s real. It’s still surreal to me—after everything that’s happened. I’m married… with children… and I’m filthy rich. I didn’t see any of this ten years ago.” I briefly recall the normal conversation I had with Al earlier this week.
“I’ll be moving into a $3.5 million-dollar house!” Val exclaims. The ladies at the table next to us look at her, then go back their conversation. “Elliot said he always wanted a house with a view of the lake. The rear of the house is almost all glass. Nearly every room has a view of the lake. It’s 4000 square feet of house on 10,000 square feet of land. The lake is right at our back door. Elliot wants to do some renovations and it should be ready in a month or so. It’s stunning.”
“So, what’s the problem?” I ask.
“Nothing,” she says. “It’s just that… well, just like you thought you wouldn’t be here ten years ago, I thought so even less.” I glare at her and she nods. “After that dating fiasco in college, I had no intention of falling in love, believe me. I planned on dating the hot guys and stacking away some money from my fantastic job. Then, before I got too old, I’d marry some old fart and either spend the rest of my life as a nipped and tucked trophy wife or living in your attic as crazy old Aunt Val helping to raise my godchildren.” My eyes widen and I glare at her.
“You’re not serious!” I say, appalled. She nods.
“I’m dead serious,” she replies. “Love was not in the cards for me. Elliot was supposed to be a quick fling. I’m sorry, Mia. I don’t mean to offend you.”
“I get it,” Mia says. “That’s probably what you were supposed to be, too. My brothers were the exact opposite of the spectrum—Christian was the curmudgeon, Elliot was the manwhore. I didn’t expect to see either of them get married before me. But…” She raises her hands as if to say, “See what happened?”
“I mean, look at him,” Val continues. “He’s gorgeous; he rich—not as rich as Christian, but rich—so he wouldn’t be threatened by the money I was making. Tall, blonde, no sports car, and just broke up with his fiancée, so definitely not looking for a long-term relationship… or so I thought. What did it take, like a month for me to fall in love with that man? It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to count!” She laughs out loud. “He just swept me off my feet and in no time flat, I was a fucking goner. I’m a pussy.” She takes another drink of her tea.
“I can’t talk. I hated the man I married,” I say matter-of-factly while gently spinning my cup around on its saucer. “To this day, I can’t tell you exactly what happened. We crossed that thin line between love and hate and that was all she wrote.”
“Is that really what happened?” Mia asks. I nod.
“Yep,” I say. “I couldn’t stand his ass. But then he kissed me and my panties got all wet. There was no turning back from there.” Val covers a snicker and Mia can’t stop the hoot that comes from her mouth, drawing attention to our table yet again.
“I have to go to the ladies’ room, you guys. I’ll be back.” Val rises from the table and heads toward the club. I turn to Mia.
“So, Paramount Theater?” I ask. “It’s just about right around the corner.” She nods.
“I pretty much just tell Mom what I want and hand it to her,” she says. So I noticed.
“Yeah, she’s in Seventh Heaven,” I say, finishing my coffee and looking at my watch. It’s about time for us to go.
“Yeah,” Mia says. “Planning my wedding was more work than I thought it would be and she was chomping at the bit since she and Dad are paying for it. So, I just picked my dress and let Mom plan the rest. I contribute my suggestions—favors, invitations, etc., but she has the final say. Oh, yeah… remind me to thank Val for wearing Mom’s dress. She was a mess that I wouldn’t wear it.” I laugh quietly.
“I’m sure she didn’t mind. She loved that dress, and it looked great on her.” Mia smiles.
“I have to admit, it did, didn’t…” Her eyes grow large and her mouth flies open. She’s reaching for something in front of her and rising out of her chair at the same time. I turn my head just in time to be too late to stop the disaster about to occur. My eyes meet Val’s and the next few moments move in slow motion. Val is headed face-down into the grass of the garden, her normally fast pace halted by a deliberately-placed Manolo Blahnik on the foot of one Katherine Kavanaugh. I rise from my seat as she face-plants into the grass, her garden hat flying in one direction and her wig flying in another.
I scramble over to her as several ladies in the garden party laugh hysterically at Val’s mishap. Brood of insensitive bitches. I rush to my friend’s side and hide her face as she spits out grass, trying not to cry.
“Are you okay?” I ask softly.
“Give me a minute,” she says, taking several deep breaths before attempting to stand. Mia and I get her back to her feet and she’s physically unhurt, but emotionally mortified. Mia hands Val her wig and garden hat, but she doesn’t bother to cover her short, buzzed hair. It’s out there now.
“Nice haircut,” Kate teases, drawing another round of laughter from several women. I turn a burning glare to Kate who pretends to cover her mouth and stifle her laughter, but bursts out in another round moments thereafter. I begin eyeing every woman that I see laughing, my glare enough to make several of them stop laughing.
“Laugh it up,” I say to the cackling women, “really hard. Just remember, Karma’s a bitch. You should know,” I say, turning my attention to Kate, “after that unfortunate incident where you didn’t quite know your baby’s paternity and tried to pawn the kid off on Elliot.” The ladies silence and whispers float across various tables, including Kate’s. “Tell me, did Roger ever step up to his responsibility, or was he eliminated from paternity as well?”
Her brows furrow deeply and the expression on her face is a cross between embarrassment and pure rage. Her fists are clenched and I stop the progression of her thought process before she makes the mistake of her life.
“Don’t worry, Kate,” I say, “you probably didn’t want his attitude around your son anyway. When my husband contacted him about being a man and owning up to knocking you up, he made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with—what were his words? Oh yeah… that shrew!” I lean in closer, but by no means do I lower my voice.
“Her hair is short because she’s recovering from brain cancer, you insensitive cow,” I say, flatly. When I straighten my back, I can see the collective look of horror on several women’s faces and hear the silence fall over the party. Val wasn’t keeping her illness a secret; it just hadn’t been publicized.
“So, that’s why Elliot married her,” Kate sneers. “He thought she was dying and now, he’s stuck with her.”
The reaction of the women at the table is anything but impressed. Some are glaring at Kate in utter disbelief while others divert their gaze in shame, looking down or away from the table or simply shaking their heads.
“You wanted to shame my friend?” I reply. “You wanted an audience, Kavanaugh? Look around. Look at the reactions of your audience.” Kate takes a moment to examine the women around her, no doubt gauging the lack of the support she had moments ago before I announced Val’s battle with brain cancer.
“You’re a miserable human being and I’m terribly shocked that motherhood hasn’t changed your outlook, or could it be that you’re still the same vicious, spiteful bitch you’ve always been and your son is closer to his nanny than he is to you?” She narrows her eyes at me and I know that I’ve hit the nail on the head.
“Be careful,” she warns. “You never know what a spiteful bitch will do.” I scoff at her.
“Are you threatening me?” I ask, my voice a high mix of incredulous and mocking laughter. “Did you forget what happened to you the last time you crossed me?” Her pupils constrict just a bit. “Yeah, you remember,” I say, “and I wasn’t Mrs. Christian Grey, then. So, go ahead. Try me and see where you end up this time, Little Paper Girl!”
I remember meeting my husband years ago and how him talking about my little doctor mind pissed me the hell off. Val gently lays her hand on my arm, grabbing my attention and instantly cooling my anger.
“Leave it alone, Steele,” she says softly. “Having a brush with death has a way of making you find your place of Zen,” Val says calmly as she starts to walk away. I step back from Kate, but Val stops abruptly.
“On second thought…” She turns around, walks back to Kate and stands right in front of her. The next thing that follows would be the slap heard ’round the world.
And now, that’s two.
“That’s for deliberately tripping a recovering cancer patient,” Val says while Kate holds her cheek in shock. Kate leaps from the chair and lunges at Val, but soon finds herself in the same patch of grass that Val occupied moments ago when Val sends her sailing to the ground with fast right jab.
That’s for trying to pawn your son off on my husband when you knew that Elliot wasn’t the father,” Val says. No one moves to help Kate off the ground as she glares up at Val, holding the same cheek, which has now been hit twice in the span of a few minutes.
Add that to mine, and that’s three times this bitch has been hit in the face by the Grey Girls.
“Get up,” Val taunts. “My hair may be short because of the chemo, but that’s the only thing that’s slow about my recovery. Come on, Kavanaugh. Get up. I’ve got plenty more reasons to deck your ass.”
Val’s voice is so soft and controlled that I worry a bit for Kate’s safety. There’s no rage or anger in her tone, only purpose. I conspicuously look from Val to Kate a few times, then back to Kate.
“If I were you, I’d stay down and shut up,” I tell Kate.
“No,” Val says calmly. “She wanted her scene, she got it. She wanted the spotlight, it’s on her. Now, get up and finish what you started, if you’ve got the guts.”
“Val, please,” Mia says, putting her hands on Val’s arms. “This stress can’t be good for you and if something happens to you, my brother will kill us.” Val looks over at Mia and immediately “powers down.” Mia couldn’t allow the opportunity to pass her by, so she turns back to Kate.
“You’re wrong about my brother,” she says. “He and Val love each other very much. That’s something that you should take comfort in.” Kate has made her way back to her chair before she turns and scoffs at Mia, still nursing her red cheek.
“What?” she hisses harshly.
“Yeah. Would you rather it be known that the two of you just grew apart and he fell in love with someone else, or that he would rather marry a woman that he thought was dying—someone that he would have no hope of a future with—than to marry you?”
Holy. Cow. Batman. I feel the pain of the daggers of that comment and they weren’t even aimed at me. Mia turns and walks away from Kate, giving Val a high five as she passes. Val smirks at Kate before we turn and walk back to our table.
“We are now the center of attention and the talk of the party. Should we make our exit, ladies?”
“Yes,” Val said. “I think I’ve had enough fresh air and sunshine from this flowery group.” She’s the first to stand, putting her purse on her shoulder and leading the way out of the garden party. She walks right back the way we came, past Kate and making eye-contact with her, daring her for a repeat of her previous action. Kate quickly breaks eye-contact with Val as she passes the table. Note to self—have security check the guest list before accepting any invites to any parties.
“Ana… I am so sorry about this,” Josephine says, rushing to catch us before we leave. “She’s not even on the guest list. She must have come as someone’s plus one.” Well, that’s comforting. At least she’s not a member of my country club.
“Josephine, please,” I say, squeezing her hand. “You can’t control people’s behavior. There’s no way that we blame you for this.” She smiles and turns to Val.
“Please accept my apologies, Mrs. Grey,” she says contritely to Val. “Security is having her removed. Is there no way I can convince you to stay?”
“It’s Valerie,” Val says, touching Josephine’s hand. “Really, I’ve had enough excitement for one day and I think I’d just like to go home. It really was a lovely party… until that.”
“Allow me to make it up to you,” she continues to grovel. “A ladies’ lunch or a shopping trip perhaps?” We watch as Kate and the person who plus one’d her are ceremoniously and conspicuously escorted off the property. I’m sure that was enough for Val, knowing that she was publicly ejected from the garden party, but she accepts the olive branch.
“I’d like that very much,” Val says warmly. “Ana knows how to reach me.” Josephine smiles and sighs heavily.
“Good,” she says relieved. “I’ll be in touch, then.”
“I look forward to it,” Val says sincerely before releasing Josephine’s hand. We all share parting words before proceeding out to the valet. To our left, Kate’s host is giving her a mouthful of a tongue lashing while Kate tries and fails to defend her actions. We say nothing as the girl gets into the driver’s seat of black Lexus and leaves Kate standing on the sidewalk. We silently watch her public humiliation as she’s now left with no ride and must ask the valet to call her a taxi.
The other valet drives up in Val’s convertible four-seater BMW and I’m suddenly happy that she begged to drive. Val gives him a large tip and makes a big deal about putting the top down as the three of us secure scarves and sunglasses. When we’re sure Kate is watching, Val drops a gear and squeals away from the club, the security Audi SUV close behind us.
“My wife is going to have a nervous breakdown,” I lament, rubbing my eyes. I look up and see Elliot eyeing me bemused. “I just got a text from Chuck. Apparently, an unexpected guest was at the garden party.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he says. “Who?”
“Kate.” His eyes grow large.
“Kate?” he says in surprised dismay. “You mean You-Are-Not-The-Father Kate? With my wife?” His voice is so laced with concern, I’m remiss to tell him the rest of the story.
“Yeah, that would be her. Your wife just dropped Mia off at her apartment and they’re on the way back here. Apparently, Kate showed up at the garden party as somebody’s guest and when Valerie was on her way back from the restroom…” I trail off. My brother is going to lose it when I tell him what this crazy cow did to his wife.
“What?” he asks sitting on the edge of his seat. “What, Christian? What did she do? Don’t fuck with me, man, is Val okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, she’s fine,” I tell him. “Kate tripped her.”
Elliot turns white. When I say white, I mean stock white—whiter than the whitest white boy, like whiter than loose-leaf paper white.
“Elliot?” I say to his stunned silence.
“She tripped my wife?” he asks, his face blanched. “Did she fall? Was she hurt? Is she okay?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I don’t think she’s hurt, she’s driving…” Elliot is dialing his phone before I can finish my sentence. He must be calling Val.
“You sick sadistic bitch!” he says into the phone. Okay… definitely not Val. “You tripped a goddamn cancer patient?… I don’t give a fuck that you didn’t know! You tripped my fucking wife!… I swear to God, Katherine, if there’s a scratch on my wife when she gets back in this house, I’m gonna find you and personally fuck you up!… I don’t give a good goddamn who you tell, you hateful, spiteful witch! My wife better not have a hair out of place when I see her or your ass is mine! And if you ever come near her again, I’m gonna fuck you up beyond all recognition and you can put that shit it print!”
He angrily ends the call and is now sitting with his elbows on his legs and his head down fighting to regain his composure. Not ten minutes ago, we were sitting here drinking beer… and Near Beer… talking about the NBA summer league and now, he’s ready to kill this crazy bitch for tripping his wife. I hope to God that Val looks okay when she gets back to the Crossing. I can honestly say that in all my life, I have never seen my brother lose his cool like this.
“Elliot?” I say, trying to get his attention.
“Give me a minute, man,” he says, still trying to calm himself. Shit, I don’t know if I should call Dad and prepare him for B&D… Bail and Defense.
“Not that I’m trying to contribute to your delinquency, but do you want a beer?” He shakes his head.
“I might need one if my wife is bruised at all when she gets back here,” he says, his voice low. I text both Chuck and Butterfly asking if Valerie is okay. I might need to do damage control. Chuck is the first to respond.
**As far as I can tell, yes, but she came out of the garden party sans her wig. **
Oh shit, something happened. She took off her wig in public. Butterfly’s text comes in next.
**Yeah, she’s fine. News travels fast, I see. What do you know? **
**Elliot’s a nervous wreck. I put my foot in my mouth and told him what Chuck told me, which wasn’t much. He just got off the phone with Kate. Threatened her goddamn life. **
A few moments of silence and I look back at my brother, who’s still trying to regain his composure.
**Oh, hell. This is going to be bad. Well, let him know that she’s wearing a scarf, but only because we were driving with the top down. We were all wearing scarves. **
**Val’s not hurt anywhere, is she? Elliot is going on a woman-hunt if Val is bruised anywhere. **
I wait for a response and just when it looks like my brother may be calming down, I get one.
**Her hand is bruised. Maybe a little swollen. She decked Kate. **
“She what?” I say out loud before I realize it. Elliot’s head shoots up and he’s glaring at me with sharp blue eyes.
“What?” he asks. “What is it?” I sigh.
“Val has a bruise,” I tell him. “Her hand might be a little swollen. She knocked Kavanaugh on her ass.” Elliot’s brow furrows deeply.
“Fuck. Are you kidding me?” His hand runs over his buzz cut and back to his neck. He keeps it cut short until Valerie’s hair grows back to a length that’s comfortable for her. He’s not doing well at all with the fact that his wife might be in the tiniest bit of distress. I didn’t think anybody alive could have it as bad as me, but he does.
“You got it you got it bad, when you’re on the phone, hang up and you call right back…” I sing the lyrics to an old R&B Usher song, trying to lighten the mood.
“Don’t tease me, Christian, I’m trying to deal with this,” he says, his voice maudlin.
“Lelliot,” I retort, “she decked the bitch… in front of the whole party. She dropped that bitch on her ass.” He sighs.
“If that self-centered, heartless tramp had stayed away from my wife in the first place, none of this would have happened. She’s determined to keep fucking with me and I want blood, man. She better leave us the fuck alone or I won’t be responsible for my actions if I ever see her again.” I shake my head.
“Give me your phone.”
“What?” he says with a frown.
“Give me your damn phone!” He hands me his phone, a bit bemused. I text Katherine’s and Val’s number to my phone. “Why do you even still have this woman’s number in your phone?”
“Did you erase it?” he asks.
“No, but why do you even have her number in your phone?”
“So that I know if she calls,” he says without hesitating. “You got psycho, can’t-let-go bitches all around you, and I see how they act and the crazy shit that they’ll do. That’s the only psycho, can’t-let-go bitch in my life. She already tried to pin a baby on me and just when I think it’s safe to go into the water, she attacks my wife. Why? What did Angel ever do to her? Not a goddamn thing but marry me. Now if she thinks I’ll stand by and worry about her attacking my wife somewhere around town while she’s going to get a fucking manicure, she’s got another think coming. I’ll beat her ass on sight!”
Elliot is coming unhinged. I’ve got to put water on this fire immediately.
“I’m going to get you a beer,” I say as I rise from the chaise and go inside. Once out of Elliot’s sight, I quickly call Butterfly.
“Hey, baby. How close are you guys to the Crossing?”
“No more than ten minutes. What’s up?”
“Elliot is coming unglued. He needs to see that Valerie is okay or he just might kill Kavanaugh, and I’m not kidding.” Butterfly sighs.
“Tell him to keep his shirt on, we’ll be there in a minute. And her hand is just a little red. It doesn’t look like a boxing glove or anything,” she says.
“Just… the two of you be in a really good mood when you get here, okay?” I instruct her. She sighs.
“Fine, but the next time something like this happens, let his wife break the news to him.”
“Deal,” I say before saying my goodbyes and ending the call. Next, I call the sadistic cow.
“Hello?” she answers.
“Look,” I begin. “I really don’t care if you listen to me or what you do with this information. I’m only calling because I care about my brother and if you see him or his wife in public ever again, I suggest you go the other way.”
“Oh, now you’re threatening me!” she says haughtily.
“I’m not threatening you, Kavanaugh. I’m giving you fair warning. You don’t know how big a pile of shit you just stepped in and you need to listen. When my brother spoke to you, did he threaten to ruin you? Did he threaten your family? Your fortune? To put you in jail? No! He threatened you! Physically. My brother is incensed! He is beyond livid. He can’t hear anything. And if his wife comes back here in any condition except as perfect as she was when she left, he’s coming for blood—yours! And I already have to prepare him that she’s coming back in here without her wig.”
The line is silent for a while. I don’t know if she’s processing what I’m saying or filing her fingernails, but I keep going.
“You really need to know that my brother would give his life for Valerie. When we came to him to talk about her treatment, he would have gone up against each and every one of us if he thought what we were suggesting was not in her best interest. He went toe to toe with her oncologist because he felt like certain aspects of her care could be improved, and he was right. He’s been there for every doctor’s appointment, every surgery, every treatment. Nobody touches Valerie or gets near Valerie without his permission, and you touched her today. You violated her and you tried to humiliate her, and her husband is animalistically pissed!
“He got a taste—just a taste—of what it might feel like to lose her throughout this cancer ordeal, and he fought. He fought doctors; he fought anxiety; he fought exhaustion; he fought everything if it meant he could keep his eye on her and help her get well. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of him. We were in the news a week ago. One guess why he cut off all his hair.”
The line is silent again, but I hear her sigh. Yes, dear, you’re familiar with Elliot’s passion and you know he’s in love with this woman. Time for the death blow.
“My brother adores that woman, you need to know that,” I say to her. “You need to understand that, internalize it and believe it like you’ve never believed anything else in your life. Anything you do to her, you do to him and he will make you pay… in blood. He’ll take his revenge in pints and since the body only has six to eight, I think you should pay attention.” When the phone is quiet this time, I decide to end the call.
Elliot’s head rubbernecks when I come outside with two beers.
“Butterfly says they’ll be here in just a few minutes.” I hand him an open beer. “Just in case.”
He nods and takes the beer from me. He doesn’t drink it. He just holds it in his hand. I think the fact that it’s there is giving him comfort. I take a swallow of my beer and just as I’m planting my butt on the chaise, I hear the laughing voices of our wives coming from covered patio. They’re both walking around the patio looking like fresh flowers from the garden, my wife in her eternally classic Jackie-O look and Valerie reminding me a lot of Audrey Hepburn.
The moment the ladies make their way out to the pool, Elliot leaps from his seat and rushes to Valerie’s side.
“Angel! Baby, are you alright?” He’s checking over her body as if he’s looking for bruises. He looks briefly at her hand, takes note of it, then continues checking over her body.
“I’m fine, El,” Val says, smiling slightly as her husband checks her like an injured child.
“What did she do? Did she hurt you anywhere?” Elliot is still checking his wife as if he hasn’t heard a word she’s said. Valerie takes his face in her hands and brings him to her eyes. They stare at each other for a moment.
“I’m fine, baby,” Valerie says. “She didn’t hurt me.” His hands freeze on either side of her waist as he gazes at his wife.
“I’ll kill her,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I’ll fucking kill her if she touches you ever again.” The corners of Valerie’s mouth rise.
“Not if I see her first,” she says, placing her lips gently on my brother’s. “I love you, El,” she says. “She’s just butt-hurt because I got you and she didn’t.”
“Sucks to be her,” he says, pulling his wife in for another kiss and closing his lips over hers. I pull my wife into my lap on the chaise.
“I hope you weren’t expecting that party to be normal.” She shakes her head.
“Not even close,” she says, “although we were having a really good time before Kate–a-paloosa. Helping Hands is apparently getting more publicity than I thought, and I got some pointers on fundraising and different ways to bring more attention to our cause. I networked with several important people and the food was fantastic… and not one of them asked about my husband.”
“This is a good thing?” I say, acting affronted.
“Yes, Christian, this is a good thing,” she replies. “I’m being recognized for me and for my cause, not just as Mrs. Christian Grey.” That is a good thing. She wanted to make a name for herself and be useful based on her own momentum and now it’s happening for her.
“So really good networking?” I ask. She nods.
“Really good, but next time, I’ll have to bring Marilyn with me. I have a purse full of business cards and now, I’ll have to try to remember all these faces so that I don’t make a fool of myself the next time I see them.” I nod.
“I know you’ve seen that movie The Devil Wears Prada,” I say. She nods. “If you remember, Miranda Priestly took her assistants with her everywhere. She never remembered anybody’s name; they remembered for her.” She looks at me and frowns.
“How do you possibly know that?” she asks. “The Devil Wears Prada? Seriously?” I shrug.
“I don’t know…” which I really don’t, “… but hell, it’s true.”
“You don’t take Andrea with you everywhere,” she protests.
“People don’t expect me to remember their names,” I reply. “Let’s face it. I’m in a different line of business and at a different level, no offense. They need to remember me, and they know it. For you, for what you do, it’s crucial.” She nods. She knows I’m right. We look over at Elliot and Valerie who are still caught in a “nobody’s here but us” lip lock.
“He’s not taking this well at all, is he?” Butterfly asks. I shake my head.
“You have no idea,” I tell her. “I feel sorry for Kate if he sees her again any time soon. I’m certain he’ll kill her.” She gazes at me incredulously. “He got a glimpse of being without her when she went through the tumor surgery. As long as he’s breathing, he’s not going to let that happen.” I rub her back. “I know exactly how he feels.”
She brings her beautiful, guileless blue eyes back to mine and I could easily get lost in them.
“You were right about the Waymark transmitter,” I add. I meant to tell her yesterday when I got home, but it slipped my mind.
“I was?” she says, her eyebrows rising. I nod.
“The findings weren’t terribly off, but they were skewed—enough so that the XRC90’s impact on the technology division would have been grossly overstated. The question now is, were the finding submitted erroneously… a small variance in testing, or were they inflated as an attempt to make the company look better?”
“How will you determine that?” I shrug.
“I don’t know. I think I’ll have a third set of tests run on another group of prototypes and see which—if either—results are duplicated. Either way, making the prototypes and running the additional tests was a very good idea. As quality, I’m surprised he didn’t come to me with that idea before you did. It would have taken us longer to break even had we closed the deal without knowing this first. That wouldn’t have been the worst thing that could have happened. I mean, we’ve got the money, we could afford it, but why waste money that we don’t have to? People are faster to play with someone else’s money than they are to play with their own.” I run my hands through my hair.
“I think Rollins was just getting lax,” I lament. “It seems like he was getting comfortable in his position. The fact that he was so dismissive with you proves that he thought he was untouchable. I wonder how many of the others are feeling that way…” She frowns.
“What’s making you think that way?” she asks.
“First, I bring in my wife as a 50% owner. People think I’ve lost my mind. Then, I bring in Lorenz—a total outsider—and put him in VP’s position. Given the opportunity, not one of those entitled-acting assholes would even step up and say they thought they could do the job. Yet, many of them resent me for passing over inner management and going straight to a qualified pool. I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I didn’t have time to try to train someone for this job. Lorenz comes highly recommended by everyone who has ever even met him. I’m tearing my hair out trying to figure out how I’ll get Uncle Stan out here before Pops passed away, and Finney makes one call to the Detroit… The next thing I know, the head honcho from the UAW union out there is calling me telling me that Uncle Stan is on his way!”
“Who’s Finney?” Butterfly asks.
“That’s what the guy called Lorenz!” I declare. “I don’t even have a nickname in the business world, unless it’s asshole!” Butterfly can’t stifle her laughter.
“So, I take it Lorenz is working out well,” she says.
“Very well,” I respond, rubbing her back. “Ros decided to take Gwen on an impromptu vacation for a week and Lorenz fell right in line, taking her meetings and following up on her projects. I didn’t even notice that she was gone and she’ll be back on Monday. He only had one non-negotiable term and that was that under no circumstances will he work on Sunday. He’s a religious man and he has a wife and children. Six days a week, we can work him like slave labor, but Sunday is for church and his family. He’s a very successful and well-known executive and he’s worked enough to retire on his income right now, but he loves what he does and the program has kept him financially secure and happily married for more than a decade.” I scratch behind my ear. Maybe he’s onto something.
“Why doesn’t he have his own business?” she asks.
“He doesn’t want the responsibility,” I reply. “He doesn’t mind making a name for himself making other companies successful, but he’s much more of a ‘take the money and run’ type of guy than a ‘take the reins and run the company’ type of guy.” She nods.
“He sounds fantastic,” she says. “I sure hope he’s not too good to be true.”
“If he is, he has a whole shitload of my colleagues fooled, including my headhunter,” I tell her. “As a cleaner, for lack of a better word, his reputation rivals mine. I just didn’t know because I wasn’t looking.” She nods and looks out over the water. Elliot and Valerie have moved to the chaise in a similar position as me and my wife.
“Is that a beer at Elliot’s feet?” Butterfly asks. I look over at the untouched beer.
“Yeah, it was that bad; I thought he would need it. Turns out he didn’t… all he needed was Valerie.” My wife snuggles into my chest. “You know, I think Lorenz may be on to something.” She looks up at me.
“I’m listening,” she says.
“You need more normal and our family dynamic has change drastically. I have a third in command now. Maybe we should start trying to introduce a little more normal into our lives.” She raises her eyebrow.
“How do we do that?” she asks. “There’s never anything really normal about us… we’re billionaires.”
“Well, that’s where I’ll need your help,” I tell her. “Except for the first four years of my life, I’ve always been privileged or rich, so the normal part is going to be totally Greek to me. But with a little compromise, I’m sure that we can achieve some semblance of normal at least a few times a month. It’ll be a great adventure for me and it’ll help you keep your sanity.” She smiles.
“That sounds perfectly delightful,” she says. “However, I do have one bone to pick with you.” My turn to raise my eyebrows.
“And that is?”
“We’ve been together for over two years. We have two beautiful children and we live in a gorgeous mansion. You have that beautiful boat sitting in that gorgeous boat resort and you haven’t taken me out on it once.” I smile widely at her and take my phone from my pocket.
“Yes, Sylvester… I need you to come to the Mercer House and check out the Slayer. I need her ready to sail by noon tomorrow…”
A/N: That was all she wrote—“It’s all over; there’s no more to be said.”
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