I see that a lot of people couldn’t get with introspective, sensitive Christian. I actually lost readers because of it! I guess I should have left him a hard-nosed, uncaring, brunette-beating Neanderthal and maybe they would have stayed. It was still in the single digits, but I had more people unsubscribe after reading a chapter where Christian showed a little insecurity, sensitivity, and introspection on his behavior than I had unsubscribe after the chapter that was labeled as the “rape” chapter! Oh, well, C’est la vie.
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 20—Le Gasp
“Ana, do you have a minute?”
I raise my head from my laptop and the 14th letter that I’m composing to send to the licensing board to see Courtney standing inside of my doorway.
“Sure. Is everything okay?” I ask, gesturing to the seat in front of my desk.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. I just want your opinion on some… well… I need to talk to you.” She sits in the seat in front of me. I can see she’s a bit agitated.
“What is it?” I ask, removing my glasses and entwining my fingers. She sighs.
“I think I know what I want to do,” she says, focusing on her fidgeting fingers.
“With what?” I ask. She raises her eyes to me.
“With my life!” she announces.
“Oh.” This is big. “Do tell.” She sighs again.
“I think I want to go into social work,” she says. I raise my eyebrows and she raises her hands in defense. “Don’t think I’m getting all Florence Nightingale and shit,” she adds. The thought might have crept briefly across my mind. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since Jack, Jr.”
I remember Jack, Jr., and our encounter with Monster Bitch, which led to my subsequent early maternity leave.
“That kid was in really bad shape. I’ve seen some kids come through here that are pretty screwed up by their circumstances, but Jack, Jr., was on his last leg and it took everything to bring him back. I kind of know how that feels.” She drops her head. “I know it’s a bad thing to say, considering the fact that my grandparents gave me damn near everything, but I still know how it feels to want to curl up and die… to think that your whole world is crumbling around you…” She’s silent for a moment and I can tell that she’s in deep contemplation.
“Do you need a session?” I ask. Courtney and I don’t have a schedule. I just let her talk when she feels like talking. She shakes her head.
“No,” she says, her voice laced with sadness. “I just… didn’t know I’d miss her this much.” A single tear falls down her cheek, but she wipes it away quickly. “Anyway, I want to be a social worker. I want to help kids. I mean, I want to help anybody who needs help, but mostly, I want to help kids. Kids are truthful—brutally honest, but they still don’t judge you on sight. They’re what’s good in the world before the world corrupts them with biases and prejudice. Any way that I can help them or protect them… that’s what I want to do.”
I. Am. Stunned.
“Wow,” I say in genuine amazement. “That has to be the most profound thing I think I’ve ever heard you say.” She shrugs.
“I’m not trying to impress you,” she says. “I mean, I want to impress you, but I’m not trying to.”
“Mission accomplished,” I reply. “Have you looked into classes?”
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I don’t know where to start.” I nod. Someone who never considered school wouldn’t know where to start.
“How do you plan to pay for it?” I ask. She shrugs.
“I’ve heard that you can get financial aid, but I don’t know how that works.”
“Let’s narrow down schools for you first. Then, you can apply for financial aid and see what you’re eligible for.” I open Google. “So, I’m a U-Dub girl myself, but even I started at community college. I really think that would be best for you, too.” She nods and brings her chair around my desk to sit next to me. She retrieves a notepad and pen and turns her attention to the monitor. “I went to Bates, but I didn’t know what I wanted at the time. So, any college would have sufficed. Not that Bates wasn’t a great school, but if you already know what you want to specialize in, you’ll want to do your research on the best choices—and on what financial aid they offer…”
We spend most of the afternoon researching schools and Courtney appears to be very serious about her decision. She’s narrowed her choices down to two schools and with the financial assistance available, I think she’s going to go with Seattle Central. She has scribbled so much in that notebook that I think she’s nearly used all the remaining pages. That’s when she makes a confession to me that I never would have considered.
“Why didn’t you just copy and paste the information into an email?” I ask. She twists her lips.
“I haven’t been in my email in months,” she says. “I don’t have a computer.”
One of those not-so-small things that you take for granted.
“Courtney, you can’t go to college without a computer,” I say. She shrugs.
“Colleges have libraries and computer labs…”
“… That every other kid who doesn’t have a computer will get to before you do. Trust me, I speak from experience.”
“We’ll have a lab here soon… won’t we?” she says, her voice hopeful.
“Why don’t you have a computer?” I ask. “You had one before, didn’t you?” Didn’t she?
“I had one at my grandmother’s house,” she says matter-of-factly. “You can imagine that I didn’t get to take it with me when I left.”
“You haven’t had one since then?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Are you afraid to have one in your apartment? Do you think it would be safe there?” She shrugs.
“Nobody really bothers me,” she says. “I know the guys in the neighborhood. They’re not the best sort… you know, not like gangs or anything, but… well, you know…” Yeah, I know. “They kinda look out for me, though. I haven’t had any trouble.” I nod.
“I’m going to get you a laptop,” I tell her, “something small and functional that you can carry inconspicuously.” She raises her eyebrow at me. “You can’t attend college without a computer.”
“My pride wants to tell you not to do that, but the real me is jumping up and down inside like, ‘Hot damn!’” she confesses. I laugh openly. At least she’s honest. “I’m saving my money to move anyway,” she adds. “Sure, the guys look out for me, but there’s just too much that happens in that neighborhood. I feel safe in my apartment, but getting to my apartment is a different story.” I sigh.
“You don’t have a car, and you’re afraid to walk home?” she pauses.
“It’s only a few streets that make me nervous, but yeah, it can be an adventure.” She tries to laugh it off.
“How much do you have saved?” I ask.
“I’m working on enough for security and first and last month’s rent in a better part of town—not the best, but better,” she says.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I say. “How much?”
“About $800,” she says, her voice small. Eight hundred? What is that going to cover?
“Where are you trying to move?” I ask horrified. She pauses again.
“No, Ana!” she says firmly. I haven’t said anything.
“What?” I ask.
“No!” she says again. “I know you! I know what you’re thinking, and no! I’ve been okay so far. I’ll be fine.”
“And things are about to change,” I tell her. “You can’t stay there and go to school and work. You don’t even feel safe walking home!” She sighs heavily.
“Ana, I can’t…” she begins.
“Ana, I can’t!” she says again. “I have to earn what I get. Financial aid, okay. Laptop—shaky, but okay. Large sums of money, new apartment… no! I can’t. I can’t explain it to you, but I can’t do it.” She drops her gaze to her lap.
“What if there was a way for you to earn it?” I ask. She raises her head.
“What? Are you going to come up with some crazy scheme where I play hopscotch with a kid and make ten grand?” she says skeptically. Well, maybe not something so fickle, but I had plans of the sort.
“Listen, Courtney,” I begin, turning to face her. “You’ve lived in crumby subsidized housing for nearly a year. You never complained once. You started in a shelter, and you didn’t even wave a red flag for help. You’ve worked your butt off, and you haven’t asked for attention, reimbursement, or any extra privileges. You won’t even let me call your grandmother. You’ve worked here part-time and you’ve only taken your salary and an occasional meal and that’s it. Now, you come to me and tell me that you want to go to school for social work—a job that gives back to the community on every level. Anything that can be done to get you to that point is not a gift—it’s an investment, because you have a responsibility to succeed. You can’t do that if you don’t feel safe getting to your own home. You’re going to be keeping some late nights. How are you going to feel walking home from school trying to get to your apartment after the library has closed?”
She drops gaze to her lap. She knows I’m right.
“Goddammit, Ana,” she says just above a whisper, “I can’t be that girl again. I can’t…”
“Then don’t,” I tell her. “Be better. Show me, show yourself that you can be better, that you deserve more.” She shakes her head.
“I’ve got a lot of debts to repay,” she says, “emotional debts… I was a bad person…”
“And you may never repay all those debts, it’s just the way of life. You deciding that you want to go to school and be more is the first step to shaping a better future for yourself. Don’t spend your time living in regret while you’re trying to get there.” She sniffs and I can tell that she’s desperately fighting tears.
“Safer,” she says softly. “That’s it. I’m not letting you pay for some grand place with a view of Elliot Bay and try to say it’s your way of paying it forward…”
Grand view of Elliot Bay…
“You’re gonna hate me,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“What?” she says, furrowing her brow.
“I’ve got a place you can stay that wouldn’t cost me an extra penny,” I say. “It’s perfect for your needs and I wouldn’t have to pay security or first month’s rent or any of that.”
“Where?” she asks, surprised.
“My condo,” I tell her. “It’s centrally located; it’ll be easy to get to the Center, easier to get to school and one of the safest places you’ll ever live—and I already have a computer and Wi-Fi. It’s Cristalla Condos, though, and yes, it overlooks Elliot Bay. You would just have to deal with security dropping by every week. I’m already paying association fees on the damn thing. Somebody might as well use it.” Her eyes widen.
“You’re out of your mind!” she exclaims.
“You’re out of your mind if you turn it down!” I retort. “You were willing to take my money if I wanted to spend it on a hole in the wall somewhere. Now, I have a great place for you to live at no extra expense for me and you won’t take it!” The whole thing really sounds ridiculous… ridiculous enough for her to give in.
“This can’t be happening,” she laments.
“Nobody’s living in it. I love that place, but it’s just going to waste. It probably needs a good cleaning. You’ll honestly be doing me a favor.” She looks at me with that yeah, right look in her eyes before dropping her head to her hands again
“God, Ana,” she says, rubbing her forehead. “I mean, it’s really great, but…” She trails off.
“I get that you don’t want to become the person that you were before,” I tell her, “but we need you safe, and you need you safe. Now, I would hope that once you become a social worker, you would put some of your time in here…”
“Of course!” she says, clearly offended that I would even question her. I smile.
“Which is why I’m making this investment. This place is very important to me… more than I can tell you. Its vision and mission were created and are now perpetuated by a woman who is the sole reason that I have the man that I love and my beautiful children. If I had someplace like this available to me when I was younger, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have suffered what I did. So, yes, it means a lot to me, and anything that will help this place grow and help more people is worth anything I’m allowed to invest in it. So, you don’t want to be that girl again. That’s going to take some serious work with the package I’m offering you and I’m going to be watching you… very closely, believe me.” She scoffs.
“Well, that’s enough to make me keep my shit straight,” she says, her voice cracking. “I wouldn’t want you thinking I’m worthless, too.” Her voice gets very small with the last words. I want to hug her, but I know that’ll only cause the water works to flow.
“I have rules, though,” I tell her.
“I expect you would,” she replies.
“No parties, nobody sleeps in my room, and don’t fuck up my house. I come by when I want and I’ll do my best to announce myself before I do. Sometimes, I just sneak in when I need some type of normal for a little while. Other than that, we can get you moved in as soon as you’re ready.”
“Can we go now?” she laughs, her voice still cracking.
“School first, beautiful ocean-view condo later.” She takes the mouse and begins clicking on the links on the page, then feverishly scribbling on the notepad again. “Oh, God, stop.” I tell her. She looks at me strangely and moves her hand from the mouse. I take the mouse and maneuver back to Google, then to Gmail.
“Set up a new email,” I tell her, pushing the mouse towards her. “It won’t be a problem after this.” She smiles.
“Right,” she says, taking the mouse and setting up her free account. She set up something easy to remember, then begins to copy and paste key information into an email. She’s gotten pretty far in her research on my desktop, making calls to Seattle Central and setting appointments to meet with advisors and the financial aid department while I click away on my laptop. She’s in the middle of a phone call when I hear stilettos clicking down the hall. I’m expecting to see Marilyn peek into my office, but instead, I see long, smooth raven hair.
Why the hell does she always show up when Courtney’s around?
She starts talking before she even enters the room—as usual—like everything should stop because she has arrived. Courtney turns in to the phone to better hear whomever she’s talking to, and Mia immediately gets offended by the gesture.
“I was looking for Mom,” she says in a low, growly, bratty voice that makes me want to leap across the desk and tell her to cut that shit out.
“Okay,” I respond, feeling the air getting thicker by the second.
“Well, I see that the next semester begins in about a month. Am I too late to register for some of the prerequisites?” Courtney says into the phone. Mia’s disgust seems to amplify.
“She’s going to school?” she asks in disbelief.
“Yes, she is,” I say matter-of-factly.
“Thank you, I’ll see you tomorrow at eleven, then,” Courtney says before replacing the receiver to my desk phone. Mia scoffs as Courtney scribbles something on her notepad, apparently forgetting about the email we just set up.
“That’s rich,” Mia says. “We’ll see how long that lasts.” Courtney raises her head to Mia, but just rolls her eyes and looks back at her notepad. “So, Mom and I were supposed to go over the final seating arrangements for the reception.”
“Um, I think she might be in the dorms,” I tell her. She smacks her lips and rolls her eyes.
“Ugh!” she grunts. “I told her I would be here. She’s knows that we can’t sit the senator anywhere near Judge Hammerstone or there may be a fight.” I rubberneck at her like someone just hit me. Not only is this Hillary Banks “Daddy, I need $300” voice getting on my fucking nerves, but she just said something that may be a deal-breaker for my husband.
“Hammerstone!” I say horrified. “Did you say Hammerstone? Marvin Hammerstone?” She looks at me a bit distastefully.
“Yes, Mom invited him,” she replies with a frown.
“You gotta be kidding me,” I say, putting my hand on my forehead.
“What?” Mia asks. I sigh heavily and raise my eyes to her.
“Your brother loves you, Mia, but if Marvin Hammerstone is at that wedding, he won’t be.” Her eyes grow wide and her mouth falls open.
“Why not?” she nearly squeals. Nails on a chalkboard.
“You’ll have to ask your brother,” I tell her, and she sighs like a petulant child.
“Christian can’t dictate my guest list!” she hisses. I shake my head.
“No, he can’t,” I say, “and I can’t tell you who to invite to your wedding, but I can tell you this. If you don’t want to risk your brother standing up and walking out before you even get to the receiving line, you might want to get him a copy of the guest list.”
“This is so not fayer!” and she actually stretches the word “fair” out into two syllables while physically stomping her feet like a six-year-old who has just been denied a lollipop. “I didn’t tell him who to invite to his wedding!”
“But you did see the guest list,” I remind her. “Because of who he is—in the community, in his industry and in this state—you owe it to him to at least let him see the guest list and decide if he wants to attend. Hammerstone is a deal-breaker, I can guarantee you that, and he should know if there are any other deal-breakers on that list.”
Courtney is listening attentively to the exchange, a fact that doesn’t get past Mia. When I stop talking, she stares Courtney down as if to ask, “Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?”
And Courtney stares right back.
“I think I’ll go wait for Mom in her office,” Mia shoots, while turning to leave. “There’s one too many unwanted elements in this room.”
“Don’t let us stop you,” Courtney shoots back. Mia spins on her heels to face off with Courtney, who would dare respond to Mia’s blatant disrespect.
“Excuse me, non-person?” Mia snarls. “Did you dare attempt to address me?” Courtney stands to her feet while shaking her head.
“You know, Mia,” she begins, “I put up with your snide comments and your little catty remarks because you have a right to be angry with me. What I did to you when we were fourteen was really pretty shitty and I haven’t been the best person in my life since then, but we’re adults now. If you need an apology, then I apologize. I’m sorry that I was such a horrible and selfish person to you when you were just trying to be a friend to me, but you really need to get over it!” Mia’s mouth falls open.
“Oh, you must be kidding me!” Mia exclaims. “What? You’ve turned over a ‘new leaf’ and we’re all supposed to just accept you now?” Good God, Mia, you’re being a little bitch.
“I couldn’t care less if you accept me,” Courtney retorts, firmly, but matter-of-factly. “You think I’m changing my life for acceptance? To be your friend? Look who’s shallow now!” She puts her hands on her hips and squares off with Mia. “I’ve ruined any hope we had for any kind of relationship. That’s fine. I get it. You’re not the first or the only and definitely not the most important or most painful. I’m turning over a ‘new leaf’ because my life was fucked up, I was a fucked-up person, and I don’t like it!” Her words are forceful and bring the ever-chatty Mia to silence. Grace has now stepped into the doorway and is silently observing the exchange.
“Except for my grandparents, the people who I had in my life were just as horrible, hateful, selfish, and destructive as me and I don’t need them in my life either if that’s the ‘we’ you’re talking about that needs to accept me. It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t care who does or doesn’t accept me, because I’m not doing this for any of you! I’m doing this for me… so that I don’t look in the mirror and see ‘nothing more than spare parts!’”
Then it hits me. What her grandmother said to her really sunk in. It wasn’t that she lost the money or even her grandmother’s favor. It was what her grandmother said—that it really hit home. It sunk in and she felt it and she could see it… and it still burns her to the core.
She’s shaking now; her eyes are glassy and her resolve is hanging on by a very fragile thread.
“I was offering you an olive branch,” Courtney says, her voice deep and shaking, “just a ‘hello’ and ‘I understand how you feel’ whenever I saw you, but if you don’t want it, I’ll take my branch back and leave you the fuck alone.” She literally pushes Mia out of her way and rushes past her only to come face to face with Grace. Her fist are clenched and she’s really shaking.
“Excuse me, Miss Grace,” she says, her voice small and trembling and her fists shaking in front of her, that fragile thread getting weaker and weaker by the second. Grace steps aside and allows her to pass. She disappears out the door and you hear her heels clicking down the hallway in a sprint. Grace watches her only for a second before she goes after her.
“She was really, really shitty to me,” Mia defends, her own voice shaking now, “to a lot of people.”
“I know,” I say and nothing else.
“She just says ‘hi’ like it’s nothing, like we’re old friends, like she never almost got me arrested and then spent years after that sitting on her high horse until her grandmother knocked her off and took that silver spoon out of her mouth!” she hisses. I nod contemplatively.
“That sounds about right,” I reply. Mia raises glassy eyes to me.
“Are you judging me?” she asks accusing. I know not to get offended. I know that she’s gripped with anger and indecision and a bit of guilt and self-righteousness.
“I love you, Mia,” I say with my hands clasped in front of me. “I’d never judge you, especially in situations like this. I don’t speak to my mother, remember?” She breaks her gaze and drops her head again.
“I don’t understand how she can expect me to be her friend,” Mia says, her voice cracking. That’s your problem, Mia. You assume too much… she never asked you to be her friend.
“I don’t think she’s expecting you to be her friend,” I retort gently. “In fact, I think she knows better than that. She hasn’t asked anything of anybody yet. She’s just walking around doing her job and learning. She lives in horrible, subsidized housing and she won’t accept help from anybody besides what she earns. She insists on doing everything on her own. She used our resources to find what she needed and apply for whatever assistance she could, and she did that begrudgingly. She’s doing everything else herself. The only thing she’ll really accept from the center is food and even then, only on the days when she helps out in the kitchen and cafeteria. Jessie used to hate her; now, they’re friends.
“I don’t think she was looking for any kind of acceptance from you, Mia. I just think she was trying to be friendly. Even if she did or does have an ulterior motive, you holding on to this anger and hatred all these years and it comes out every time you see her—who do you think is hurt the most by that?” Mia raises her eyes to me again.
“Are you shrinking me?” she asks.
“Yep,” I say in a peppy shameless voice. “It’s what I do.” I put my hand on her shoulder and hold her gaze. “And if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother.” She smiles a sad smile and I embrace her warmly for several moments.
“Stop beating yourself up,” I say, pulling her back to look at her face again. “If you don’t want to embrace her, you don’t want to be her friend, that’s fine. Nobody’s going to force you—it’s not necessary, but let go of all that spite. It’s not good for you. You see her, you don’t want to be bothered, you go the other way or just ignore her, but don’t lash out at her every time. It’s not healthy or ladylike.” She nods.
“Mom tries to tell me that, but I’m so full of fury when I see her that I can’t even hear it.” She shrugs.
“Well, hopefully, you’ll hear it now. Let it go,” I say with a shrug. “If you really don’t like her, is she even worth that much of your energy?” Mia still looks a little crestfallen. “Let it go… let it go… can’t hold it back anymore.”
She giggles sadly as I sing the only line from the song that I know and embraces me warmly again.
Courtney has slipped off somewhere in the Center after Grace manages to talk her off the proverbial cliff. I typed her notes into the email that she started and sent it to her. Grace, Mia, and I had a civilized talk about Mia’s guest list—about as civilized as it can get with a whiny 20-something-year-old bride and an irritated mother with a bottomless budget who has been waiting to throw the wedding of a lifetime for at least one of her children. How did I win this battle? Simple… I put my hands up and said, “Okay,” then turned to walk away.
That was too tame for Grace and Mia.
“Oh, no,” Grace says, halting my progress. “What’s up your sleeve?”
“Not a thing,” I tell her. “I offered you the simplest solution to what could be a massive problem—show Christian the guest list so that he won’t have any surprises…”
“And so that he can whack away at who I can have at my daughter’s wedding!” she retorts. I put my hands up in surrender again.
“And that’s why I said, ‘Okay,’” I reply. “This is not my battle to fight.”
“So, what are you going to do?” Mia whines, “have Christian pressure me for the guest list?” I shake my head.
“No,” I say, calmly, “but I am going to tell him that Judge Hammerstone is invited… and then, I’m going to back away… slowly.” I back slowly out of the room to prove my point and head over to the nursery to see my babies. It’s almost time for us to go home. When I get there, I see that we have an unexpected visitor.
“Vickie! Hi, what are you doing here?” I say when I see my stylist in the nursery.
“Right now, I’m adoring this gorgeous little fella!” she says, bouncing Mikey in her arms. “Hello, little man! You are so handsome! You’d make a gay girl go straight!” she whispers the last part to him and he giggles as if he completely understood what she said. She coos at him a little more and he just loves it. My baby boy is already a little ladies’ man.
“Do you want kids of your own?” I ask her. She smiles at Mikey.
“Probably not,” she says. “I thought about it, but it’s not like I date anyone with the right equipment,” she jokes. “Who knows? I’m not putting my eggs in that basket, but who knows what’ll happen before I die?” she says, winking playfully at me. “Mommy’s trying to get you some new friends,” she says to Mikey. We laugh and talk some more and just as I’m about to ask Vickie again why she’s here, Mia comes breezing into the nursery.
“Hi, Vickie,” she says in that pouty, spoiled voice again.
“Mia,” Vickie greets, unable to mask her confusion at Mia’s behavior. Mia silently hands me a flash drive.
“Tell him to try not to veto everybody on the list!” she says snottily. I try to hide a laugh.
“Okay,” I say, trying to be sincere. She kisses Mikey on the cheek.
“Your daddy’s a tyrant,” she says to him.
“Don’t say that to my child!” I chastise. She shrugs.
“Sorry,” she says flippantly. I just roll my eyes. “You wanna come, Vickie?” Mia says. She’s inviting people to her wedding like it’s some kind of backyard birthday party.
“Come to what?” Vickie asks.
“To my wedding next month. If Big Brother doesn’t ice the entire guest list, it should be a blast.” Vickie smiles.
“Thanks, but I’m still nursing my broken heart from you shooting me down,” Vickie jests. “Besides, I don’t think my ‘plus one’ would suit your tastes.” Mia waves her off.
“You can’t possibly think I would have a problem with you bringing a same-sex partner to my wedding,” she protests. Vickie just smiles again.
“I know you wouldn’t have a problem with that, Mia, but I also know that you would have a problem with… Hey. You okay?” We follow Vickie’s gaze to see who she’s talking to. Courtney has just entered the room. She’s more composed than she was earlier, but she looks like she been a bit run-through today.
“Yeah,” she says, softly. “Emotional day.” She walks straight to Vickie and doesn’t acknowledge Mia’s existence at all. She reaches for Mikey who, in turn, reaches for her.
“Hey, there, handsome,” Courtney says, smiling at Mikey who pats her cheeks playfully. “I’m going home now, but I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.” She kisses him softly on the cheek and hands him to me. “I’ll be in after my appointment,” she says to me and I nod.
“Appointment?” Vickie asks, leaning in for a kiss. I should’ve known. They’re a couple now. Courtney gently places her hand on Vickie’s shoulder to halt her progress.
“Not in front of the kids, Vic,” she says softly.
“Oh, okay,” Vickie nods and blows a kiss to Courtney who gives her a small, sweet smile.
“If you’re talking about my children, they’ve seen a whole lot of smooching,” I tell her. It loosens her up a bit.
“Yeah,” she smiles, softly, “but they probably haven’t seen a lot of same-sex kissing,” she points out.
“You’ve never met my best friend and children’s godfather,” I tell her. “Just married his husband in April.” Her mouth falls open.
“I never knew that!” she says. I wink at her.
“Now, you know.” She smiles, exhaustion marring her face.
“Can we do the ‘condo’ thing another day? I’m wiped out,” she says. I nod.
“You say when,” I tell her. She nods and takes Vickie’s hand, leading her out of the nursery, and still never making eye contact with Mia.
“What appointment, baby?” Vickie says as they head towards the door and their voices fade.
“Her and Vickie?” Mia says stunned. I shrug.
“I didn’t know, either,” I respond. She looks at Mikey.
“She wouldn’t kiss in front of the babies,” she says softly. “Hell, I kiss in front of the babies.” I shrug again.
“So, do I,” I say. “To each her own, right?” I pull my phone out and text Marilyn.
**Get a cleaning crew to the condo tomorrow morning. I’m subletting it. **
“Judge Fucking Hammerstone! Did you know that Mom invited that asshole to the wedding?”
The fact that I’m talking to my father flies straight out the window when I look at the guest list that my wife handed me that was so damn big, they just put it on a flash drive.
“No, son,” my father replies in that patiently impatient voice that he uses with me at times like this. “Those women don’t tell me anything. They just ask for my checkbook.” Sheesh! I wonder how Butterfly managed to get them to give her the guest list. I would have thought it would have taken an act of God to pry it out of her hands. I’m glad to see that none of the Kavanaughs have been invited, but there are certainly some people on this list that could turn her reception into a business meeting.
“Did you ever tell Mom about that?” I ask him.
“It wasn’t my place,” he says. I figured that if you ever wanted her to know that you would tell her yourself.” I sigh. I wish he had just told her so that I don’t look like the Grinch who stole the wedding reception. Shit, half of Seattle is on this damn list. It’ll be a wonder if some of the people I knew from the fetish clubs don’t show up.
“I’m going to call her and tell her…” I begin.
“No need, she’s right here.” As if he couldn’t wait to get me off the phone, I hear him call my mother.
“Yes, Christian?” she says impatiently, and it pisses me off immediately.
“What did Ana tell you, Mom?” I ask.
“That I should give you the guest list so that you could decide who was coming to your sister’s wedding and who wasn’t,” she shoots. I know that’s not what my wife said and I know my mother is just being catty, just like she was with my wedding. If I told my wife what she just said, it would hurt Ana’s feelings. Instead, I’m about to turn the tables on my catty ass mother and my bratty little sister.
“I won’t tell my wife that you just lied on her,” I say, coldly. After a pause, my mother tries to back-peddle.
“Okay, maybe I misspoke,” she says. “What I meant to say was…”
“Save it, Mom,” I cut her off. “You all can invite anybody you want.” There’s silence for a while.
“We can?” she asks amazed.
“Yes. This is Mia’s day, so she doesn’t have to remove anybody from her list… except one.”
“I knew it was too good to be true,” my mother hisses. “I guess one isn’t so bad. Who… Hammerstone?”
“No. Me.” I end the call with no closing.
“You can’t ignore them forever,” my wife says as we feed our children before putting them down for the night.
“I can ignore them for a while,” I reply. I turned my cell phone off right after I hung up on my mother, prompting her to repeatedly call Butterfly’s phone until she had to turn off her phone, too. Then, the house phone began to ring incessantly, and we can’t turn that off. Gail knew it was my mother each time she called, and each time she called, Gail had the same response.
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Grey is unavailable right now. I’ll be happy to take a message for you… Yes, Mrs. Grey, he knows that it’s you and he’s still unavailable… I’ll tell him that you called again. Goodnight, Mrs. Grey.”
Of course, my mother has a way of making your life miserable—or trying to—until she gets what she wants. The problem is that my mother has never had to deal with high-nosed submissives for several years, having to store up her comebacks or throw them at the wall for fear of losing her job. So, she doesn’t know that Mrs. Taylor has a rebuttal for everything. When Gail had finally had enough of my mother’s tirading, ranting, and demands every ten minutes, her final respond was nothing less than priceless:
“Mrs. Grey, do you currently have a spot in your employ for a live-in house manager, her high-risk security husband and her 12-year-old stepdaughter…? No…? Then I respectfully ask that you stop demanding that I get my boss to the phone. He may be your son, but he’s my employer. He signs my checks, and no matter how many times you call back, whoever answers the phone, he signs their checks, too. As none of us have any desire to find ourselves unemployed, none of us are going to hand him the phone or inform him for the twentieth time that you are calling. I have no idea why he doesn’t wish to speak to you, but at this time, Mrs. Grey, he doesn’t wish to speak to you. Now, you can call back tomorrow and see if the climate has changed. If so, and if Mr. Grey is available, he will speak to you at that time. If not, then we’ll be having this conversation again. Now, is there anything else I can do for you, Mrs. Grey?”
I imagine that you could have fried an egg on my mother’s forehead after that conversation—either that, or her face is a perfect replica of the Scream Painting.
I don’t know what I hope to prove by this action. I don’t know if I’m trying to prove anything at all. I just don’t feel like fighting with them. I don’t know why my mother feels the need to invite half of Seattle to the nuptials of her children, but every time this happens, she becomes an unreasonable attention whore, or worse yet, an ill-behaved toddler. I just want my sister and my mother to see how crazy they’re getting over this wedding; and for my mom to say what she said about Butterfly, that was completely unnecessary. Sure, it wasn’t vicious or anything, but it was a lie—it wasn’t a twist on or a stretch of the truth. It was a blatant lie, and I don’t appreciate it.
“Maybe she just translated what I said to mean that you were going to hack up the guest list,” Butterfly says, trying to placate the situation. Or maybe her twisted-but-accurate foresight put words in your mouth.
“Is that what you said?” I ask, frankly.
“No,” she says, rocking Minnie to sleep in the rocking chair.
“What did you say?” I ask, after I put my little man in his crib. She sighs.
“When I found out that Hammerstone was on the guest list, I told them that you wouldn’t be there if he was invited. Then I told them that they should let you see the guest list so that you wouldn’t be surprised by anybody at the wedding or the reception.”
“Did you, at any time, insinuate that I would remove people from the guest list?”
“No,” she says softly while putting Minnie to bed. “In fact, it was the opposite. I told them that you wouldn’t come, or if you saw someone in attendance that you didn’t want to associate with that you would leave.” She put a blanket over Minnie, who sucks contentedly on her binky. “They alluded to you whacking up Mia’s guest list several times, but I never did.”
“Then, like I said, she lied,” I say, walking out of our children’s room and waiting for Butterfly to follow me. She does and closes the door behind her.
“I’m not going to lie. I’m looking for a reason not to go to this wedding,” I admit. “To see my sister walk down the aisle towards the man that she loves, to celebrate their union and the beginning of their new life, I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world. But this? This isn’t going to be a blessed, beautiful event. This is going to be the Mom and Mia Show with a cast of supporting actors and actresses. They’re putting warm butts in every seat so that they can have a packed house for their performance. If that’s what they want, far be it from me to interfere, but you and I both know that my life—our lives—are complicated enough not to have to spend the entire afternoon with anyone that I’d rather punch in the mouth than toast my sister’s wedding with. What’s more, I can’t deal with my mother when she’s like this. Mia’s a little brat who’s accustomed to getting her way and believe or not, I’m used to that, but my mother…” I trail off and put my finger up in the air to emphasize my point before walking into our bedroom. My wife follows me, then proceeds to her dressing room while I proceed to undress in the bedroom.
“She’s only been like this a few times and when she is, she’s insufferable. I can’t even describe how unbearable she is,” I say as I remove my slacks. “She has total tunnel vision, and she can only see what she wants. As much as I can see Mia going along with just about any ridiculous idea my mother comes up with, I know there are going to be some wildly ostentatious and preposterous things that Mia didn’t even see coming… even if she does like it in the end.” I walk into my dressing room to put my clothes on the valet and remove my T-shirt.
“Well, I’m sure that I’ll have a mouthful to deal with once I get to the Center tomorrow,” I hear Butterfly say as she enters the bedroom. “You know how your mother can be.”
“I’m sorry to put you in that position, but I hardly ever put my foot down where Mia is concerned. That’s probably why she and my mother think I’m some kind of trained pony.”
“I don’t think that’s the case,” she protests. “They both know that you can’t be forced to do anything you don’t want to do by anyone.”
“Oh, but you’re wrong,” I retort. “The Grey women have secretly manipulated me for years. That’s why Mom thought she could pull a trump card with our wedding when you protested the guest list.”
“Well, Mia’s probably pouting like an injured puppy right now. On top of the current guest list situation, she got an earful when she came to see Grace at the Center. She and Courtney finally had it out in my office today.” I come out of my dressing room in just my boxer briefs.
“You’re shittin’ me,” I say. She’s got her hair over her face and is brushing it forward.
“Nope,” she says from under her hair. “Courtney was in my office looking up course schedules, and you know how her mere presence puts Mia in a bad mood. So, Mia made a crack; Courtney cracked back; they went back and forth for a minute after which, Courtney annihilated her… and then ran out of the room in tears.”
“Mia ran out of the room in tears?” I ask, leaning against the door frame and watching my hot wife brush her incredibly long, beautiful hair.
“No, Courtney did. She was ready to blow. It was really emotional for her. Every time Mia comes around, she’s got something horrible to say to Courtney. I know why she feels that way, of course, but it’s not like Courtney goes looking for her. She comes to the place where Courtney works and then she antagonizes Courtney while she’s on the job. Courtney had just had enough of Mia. I know Courtney was shitty and she’s most likely never going to be able to make up for the shitty person that she was. But seriously, Christian, how long do you make someone pay for something? I mean, if she wants to hold on to the grudge, fine, nobody can change that, but I guess I’m that person where if I don’t like you, I’m just going to stay out of your face. I’m not going to antagonize you every time I see you.”
She does this whoosh with her hair and I swear, she looks like she’s in one of those shampoo commercials where the girl’s hair is all shiny and luxurious and moving in slow motion. She’s wearing this adorable vintage nightshirt and I swear, my mouth is watering. But I’m going to behave. We’re having a conversation at the moment.
“So, the princess got her feathers ruffled,” I say, folding my arms and still leaning on the door frame of my dressing room.
“To say the least,” Butterfly says, still concentrating on her glorious mane. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Mia broken up about something Courtney said.”
“You mentioned course schedules,” I begin.
“Yeah, Courtney’s decided to go to scho…” Her words trail off as she raises her head and looks at me, and that salacious look in her eye tells me that my standing here in nothing but boxer briefs has the same effect as her sitting there on the bed in that night shirt with that silky pelt of hair flying all over the place.
“Focus, Mrs. Grey,” I tease, and she momentarily pops out of her trance, narrowing her eyes playfully at me.
“Asshole,” she says while continuing to brush her hair. “She’s decided to go to school for social work. Being around the kids that come to the Center has had a profound impact on her. She’s really good with talking to the troubled kids and getting them to open up. I think she’s found her niche. Plus…” she trails off.
“Plus, what?” I ask.
“Addie made her feel really shitty when she put her out. Granted, Courtney had it coming and then some, but it’s left a lasting impression. That parting was a massacre that cut pretty deeply. She’ll mention it every once in a while, but nothing more. When she does mention it, she goes right down the rabbit hole. From what I understand, she feels like she’s taken enough and she really wants to give back now. And the fact that she’s found love doesn’t hurt the situation either.”
“Ho-oh, you’re kidding?” I say. She shakes her head.
“Nope… with Vickie.” My mouth falls open and my eyes widen.
“Vickie? Your stylist Vickie?” She nods.
“I had a feeling something was going on, but I wasn’t sure. Then today, Vickie came to pick her up from the Center and Courtney had to stop her from engaging in a little PDA.” I frown.
“Why? I kiss you all the time… in public. I don’t give a fuck.”
“She felt like the children shouldn’t be exposed to girl-on-girl action,” she says, raising her brow. I scoff.
“Has she met Allen?” I say with mirth.
“My sentiments exactly,” she laughs, “and no, I don’t recall that she has.” She puts the brush on the nightstand and stretches in that way that I love to see her uncoil her little body. She crawls up on the bed and lies on her side with her elbow on the mattress, her arm propped against her head.
“Anyway,” she continues, “she’s going to attend Seattle Central. She’s really good with the kids and she’s decided that she wants to pursue social work.” Well, knock me over with a damn feather!
“Courtney Wilson, a social worker? You’re fucking kidding me!”
“Now, you sound like Mia,” she pouts. I sigh and walk over to her.
“I don’t mean to disparage the girl,” I say, sitting on the bed, “but you have to admit, it’s a huge transformation and kind of unbelievable.”
“I know,” she replies. “I just feel like there are only a handful of people in the world who are completely unredeemable, and Courtney’s not one of them. I honestly feel like she learned her lesson the minute she ended up in that shelter, and knowing how badly she alienated her grandmother has really taken a toll on her.” She sighs heavily and looks down.
“There’s something else,” I probe.
“Yes, there is…” She turns those big blue eyes to me and I get the feeling that this is going to be something I’m not going to like. “She’s living in subsidized housing. She’s afraid to walk home some nights. She’s going to be going to class and she doesn’t have a car, which means that there will be more times than not that she’ll have to maneuver the streets after dark…”
“You bought her a car,” I say. The wheels start turning in her head and I see that’s not what she wants to tell me, but that Courtney may soon own a new car. What the fuck is it, then?
“No, but…” She pauses. “I told her that she could stay at my condo.”
Oh… is that all?
“Okay, and?” I say, waiting for the really bad news.
“And… nothing. I don’t want her in that bad neighborhood while she’s trying to finish school. She gave me some push-back about it because she’s determined to earn her own way as much as she can, so there are rules and requirements of her staying there, but I think it’s for the best… at least until she gets her degree.”
“It’s your condo, Butterfly,” I tell her, pushing her hair from her face. “If this is what you want to do with it, I’m okay with that, as long as she understands that security is still going to be coming by there.”
“Yeah, I’ve already made that clear to her. To be honest, I just want to be sure that I’m not chasing a lost cause. You know me—people in need are like stray puppies. I just want to help them and make the world all better.” I look in her eyes and realize that I need to tell her what happened after my conversation with Cholometes. He’s long gone with no further incident, but I don’t like keeping secrets from my wife.
“Do you remember when you went to R&D to talk to Rollins about the XRC90 transmitter and I went to Alex to discuss the whereabouts of my past submissives?” Her eyes widen a bit with that “where is this going” look.
“Yes,” she replies.
“Well, we found some of them. Others we’re still looking for…” I look down at my hand. “Cholometes said something to me the other day. It… made me think.”
“Surely, you’re not taking anything he said to heart!” she asks incredulously.
“Normally, I wouldn’t,” I tell her. “Normally, I wouldn’t give a fuck and you know it, except… what he said rings true, and I had to find out how true it was.” I look over at her.
“I’m listening,” she says.
“He talked about the women I’ve ruined… or nearly ruined. Elena’s in jail, Naomi’s dead, Cassie’s in Timbuk-Buffalo-Fuck, and you were nearly killed—all because of me… directly or indirectly…”
“You’re kidding, right?” my wife says. “Did you really allow him to Jedi-mind-trick you like that? How could you possibly hold yourself responsible for Elena being a murderous pedophile, Cassie being conniving whore, and Naomi being a mental case?”
“Just hear me out, okay?” I say, trying to calm her rising ire. “I thought the same thing at first—that I can’t be responsible for the way these women behave. I was open with all of them. Our relationship was a means to an end for all of us, but then…” I run my hand through my hair. Here comes the hard part. “I had to know what they thought about me… about our interaction when it was over, so… I… called one of them.”
I look over at her and surprise registers on her face—not horror, just surprise.
“You called one of them?” she asks. I nod.
“Yes. I called one that I knew had been married for a while. Her name is Charity. We… parted affably. I asked her… what the deal was. I mean, I had to know. I never made promises to any of these women! Never! Not until you! I had to know why… what made them lose their damn minds!”
“Wait a minute,” she says, sitting up in the bed. “You called an ex-sub that you clearly hadn’t talked to in years who’s now happily married to ask her why your other subs are so fucking crazy?” It sounds so bad when she says it.
“And she talked to you?” she continues.
“Yeah,” I respond. She laughs sinisterly.
“She’s a better woman than I am,” she replies. “I would have told you to take a flying leap into a dark, murky lake, keep swimming ‘til you hit the bottom and don’t bother coming back up.”
Okay… is she angry? I can’t really tell.
“Pray, what did she say?” she asks.
“I… don’t know if I should tell you,” I answer honestly.
“You’ve gone too far to stop now,” she exclaims. I shake my head. My neck is already in the noose—might as well jump.
“She… talked about how good a Dom I was… the best, she said… and that I do these things to women, and then I take it all away. She told me that something like that is traumatizing to a woman who may already be on the edge, but then they watched me fall in love with you when I swore that I could and would never commit. When you look at Elena’s behavior and Naomi’s instability—even Cassie’s last-ditch effort… it makes perfect sense.”
“So basically, she told you that you turned these women out and that they flipped their wigs because you found a steady girl,” she summarizes.
“In laymen’s terms, yeah, but it was more detailed than that,” I reply. “She told me to imagine after being with you, you telling me that you couldn’t be what I needed and moving on… and then finding out that you had settled down with someone else.” There’s that physical shiver again. Her silence is almost deafening, so I look over at her. “I guess… some of them had hopes hung on me, even if they were unrealistic.”
“And Charity?” she asks softly.
“Charity had hopes, but not with me. Charity wanted more and she knew that I couldn’t give it to her. Hell, she knew the lifestyle couldn’t give it to her, so she left completely. That’s why she was safe to talk to. Exposure would be costly for us both.” I run my hand through my hair again.
“My takeaway from the conversation is that I’m partially responsible for the crazy,” I tell her. “Apparently, these fragile women weren’t strong enough to handle what I was dishing out even though I did everything in my power to prepare them for what was coming. Somehow, I still should have known that they weren’t able to handle it and I should have held back—not released the dragon on anyone until I was in a committed relationship because doing so gave them a glimpse into Fairyland and they couldn’t leave even when I was done with them, so…” I whistle and twirl my finger next to my temple in the “crazy” gesture.
“So, you pretty much fucked them crazy,” she says. I nod.
“Yep, pretty much.”
“Well, I could’ve told you that,” she says, lying back on the bed. I glare at her.
“Well, why didn’t you?” I retort.
“You didn’t ask!” she counters. “Your wife is a damn psychiatrist! You didn’t think to ask your wife why a woman who is already partaking in an alternative lifestyle for reasons that you are not aware wouldn’t easily fly over the cuckoo’s nest after you fuck her within an inch of her sanity? Couple that with the facts that you’re powerful, rich, and gorgeous, and you combine body-numbing sex with this crazy pleasure/pain thing and massive, explosive orgasms. Then to top it all off, you’re the king of mind games and you require total compliance from your submissives. They’re like children! They don’t stand a chance! And then you take it all away. Yeah… I could have told you this.” I shake my head.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think I could have heard it coming from you,” I lament. She looks over at me.
“No… I don’t suppose you could,” she says, resigned. She looks so sweet and so delectable lying there in nothing but this sheer nightshirt. I love that vintage shit on her and she knows it. It makes her look all damsel-like. Maybe she wore it on purpose to soften me up for what she thought would be the “Courtney” bomb. I probably shouldn’t let her efforts go to waste, then, should I?
I crawl over her and she lies down on the bed underneath me with her hands over her head and her delicious round breasts popping up through that nightshirt, her nipples taut to pretty little points. Oh, yes!
“Is she going to be sleeping in your bedroom?” I ask, my voice low.
“No… that’s one of the conditions of her being able to stay there.” Her voice is soft and longing. I lean down and lick her neck while untying the strings that hold the top together and expose one of her breasts. She gasps slightly as I take it in my mouth and suck hard, letting it pop from my lips and pink up, pretty and perky.
“Is there any left for me?” I say softly as I lick her nipple.
“I don’t think so,” she breaths as her fingers entwine above her head. “You know the babies come first.”
“Oh, no,” I correct her. “They eat first… you come first.” She laughs in her chest.
“Christian, you’re so bad!” she squeals.
“Not yet. Now, be a good girl and keep those hands above your head.” She nods while looking down at me still licking her breasts. I travel down her torso and push her gown up to her mounds, allowing me to taunt her navel with my tongue and nip her pelvic bones with my teeth. She gasps and her body jerks at the sensation, and I’m delighted to discover that she’s not wearing any panties. I travel further down her body and waste no time lapping hungrily at her delicious core. She groans in her chest and arches her back so that her pussy is pushing harder against my hungry mouth. Her hands instinctively find my hair and I stop tasting her.
“Hands,” I say, waiting for her to obey.
“Sorry,” she breathes and puts them back above her head. I press down on her pelvis to keep her from moving and torturously lick that clit softly for a few minutes. When she’s shaking in pleasure, I delve into her core and lap up the juices that I know have collected there. She whimpers and wiggles as much as her body will allow her to with me holding her down and when I look up at her, she’s gripping the sheets to keep from moving her hands. I torment her clit and core a little longer while sliding out of my boxer briefs, my dick so hard that it’s beating a tattoo against my stomach and precum is already seeping from the head.
I need to fuck her now!
I move quickly, crawling back up the bed and taking her knees with me so that she’s open by the time my cock reaches that area of the promised land. I release her knees when her thighs conveniently wrap around my hips and she’s so damn ready for me that my shaft sides right into her once my face reaches hers. It feels so good that I almost want to weep and she gasps with pleasure once I’m nestled inside of her. I entwine one hand with hers and grope her beautiful breast under her gown with the other. I only look in her eyes for a moment before starting to stroke into her and kissing her deeply. Fuck, it feels so damn good.
Her hips curl with mine and her free hand thrusts into my hair, her sighs and whimpers signaling to me that she no longer has control of her reactions. The more aroused she gets, the wetter she gets and the tighter she gets around my cock, causing me to thicken inside her. Fuck, I would swear I was fucking her for the first time.
“Goddamn, baby, you’re always so fucking tight!” I grunt, as I push deeper and deeper into her, her walls tightening more and more around my pulsing dick, her thighs clamping hard around my hips as she matches my grind.
“I work at it,” she breathes, pushing her hips up into me. “I’m coming, Christian.”
“So soon?” I lament, and stop moving my hips.
“Fuck, don’t stop!” she demands and I move my hips again, thrusting into her as she throws her head back and comes hot, wet, and quick around my wanting dick. Well, damn!
“Well, I guess that means I have to make you come again,” I say, thrusting deeply into her.
“I guess… it does…” she pants, trying to catch her breath.
A/N: Hillary Banks is the entitled, ignorant, rich daughter from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. A video of her first “Daddy, I need $300” is included on my Pinterest page.
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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