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 21—Changing Faces
“Please, Ana, talk to him,” Grace begs at the Center the next day. “He can’t boycott his sister’s wedding.”
“I have,” I say, with no malice, “but he just can’t deal with this. He’s in the public eye whether he wants to be or not… whether you guys want to accept that or not. There’s way too much going on in his life on a regular basis for him to slip up. Look what just happened to me last weekend. My father spent the afternoon in police custody last Sunday and it was all over the news. How’s it going to look if that happens to Christian?” Grace sighs.
“I’m only asking him to put his ego on a leash for one day while his sister walks down the aisle,” she says, flustered, and again, I see the Grace that Christian was describing last night. I shake my head and turn my attention back to my computer. I’m waiting to hear from Courtney about her meeting with admissions from the college while corresponding with Marilyn, who walked into my condo to find the cleaning crew sitting in my living room with their feet up on my furniture eating the food that security had stocked in the fridge. She’s now coordinating another cleaning service.
“Ana, I realize this isn’t of any great importance to you, but can you at least pretend to listen?”
She’s got me dead to rights. One, it’s not of any great importance to me and two, I wasn’t listening. I remove my glasses and put them on my desk. I’m about to betray a confidence that probably should have been betrayed a long time ago.
“Did Christian ever tell you why we met?” I ask firmly. She sighs.
“A hundred times,” she says. “You hated each other at first, then you fell in love and…”
“No,” I interrupt, “that’s kind of how we met. That’s not why we met.” I stand and gesture for her to take a seat while I walk around to the front of my desk and lean on it. She sighs and plops—literally plops down into her seat like a petulant child. I’m doing my best not to lose my temper as this is something that she needs to hear.
“You may not remember this, but a couple of years ago, your son had a sports car that was totaled while he was driving it.” She things about it for a moment.
“Yes, I do remember that,” she says thoughtfully. “I remember thanking God that he wasn’t killed in that accident! That car is so small and offers very little protection. He really should slow down…”
“Is that what you heard?” I say horrified. “That he was speeding?” She pauses.
“I think so,” she says, uncertain. “I mean, control-freak son, super-powered sports car…”
“So, you didn’t hear that, you just assumed… you never actually heard what happened.” She sighs again and there’s that fucking petulant child.
“I hardly see what this has to do with Mia’s wedding…” and off she goes again.
“I see what he means now,” I break in to her tirade. That got her attention. “You can listen to this story if you want… or don’t if you don’t… but stop acting so damn childish while you’re doing it! If I want to deal with toddlers, I can go spend time with my twins!”
“Excuse me?” she says, appalled and horrified by my description.
“You upset me so badly while we were planning our wedding that I had to be sedated. I walked into the room while Elliot was telling you about his wedding to find him with his head down, morose and forlorn, trying not to upset is cancer-stricken wife-to-be. Your behavior was so deplorable that I nearly had to ban you from the Crossing. Now, you’ve got full reign over your daughter’s wedding and you’re making big decisions that could affect other people and instead of considering how it might affect them, you’re walking around trying to crack a proverbial whip demanding that people accept the arrangements without even listening!
“Contrary to what you believe, you can’t just wave a quill and get what you want without consideration for others, Your Majesty. I know you think that’s what my husband does, but I’m here to tell you that you are very wrong on many levels! Christian has to consider every eventuality, every situation, and every person involved before he makes the slightest decision—even personal decisions about himself or our family! Before, he only had himself to worry about. Now, he has me, the children, there’s another child living in our home, and even you and his father and siblings. One false move and the Grey name is smeared all over the gossip rags. The only reason that the paparazzi are going to be en masse at the theater is because of Christian, and Mia’s relationship to him and you know this.
“So, if you want to throw this spectacular, ostentatious, ridiculous gala for your daughter and invite people that you apparently haven’t spoken to for years without any consideration whatsoever for anyone else, then, fine. Go right ahead, but you can’t force any one person to participate and Christian has decided that he doesn’t want to be a part of it and I support his decision, because unlike you, I listened to him, and I know why he made it!”
I storm out of my office and leave her sitting gape-mouthed in the chair to go make good on my promise to spend time with toddlers—in this case, infants—that I actually like.
By mid-afternoon, I’ve managed to get another letter sent off to the licensing board and I’ve met with a few of the residents at the Center today. John’s son is in the hospital with a bout of pneumonia—at least that’s what they think it is—and he hasn’t been at the Center all week, so I’ve taken over the duties of sole psychiatrist on staff until he returns. I did send him a text asking how his son was doing and he said that they were running tests. We’re still not the best of friends since Flynngate still stings a bit when I think of it, but our relationship has improved over the course of time.
Courtney is like a kid at Christmas, showing me her backpack and some of the supplies that she got from the school. She was able to get some of the classes that she needed, but because she made her decision so close to the start of the term, she was forced to sacrifice her entire Saturday for the first semester with only one glass falling during the week. That’s going to be a test in fortitude.
Her grant is still pending, but the financial aid office assures her that being on public assistance, living in subsidized housing, having very little income, and no personal tax returns from last year make her a shoe-in for grants, student loans, and any hardship scholarships that might be available, although the latter most likely won’t be available until next term.
“I don’t start until late next month, so that gives me plenty of time to go clean the condo for you… me… you… oh, what-the-hell-ever,” she says, waving me off.
“Um,” I begin, “I had the condo cleaned already.” She throws a disbelieving look at me. “You had a rough afternoon yesterday,” I defend. “It was written all over your face! I know you still have to pack and clean the apartment that you’re leaving. It’s one more thing I didn’t want on your plate.” She throws her hands up.
“That’s it. I’m paying you rent,” she says, folding her arm. I frown, horrified.
“What?” I ask. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not,” she says firmly. “Please understand this,” she says clasping her hands together. “This is so, so cool of you. I appreciate this so much, but you have to let me do something—pay my own way somehow, feel my own worth, or I’m not moving into that apartment.” I hold my hands up in surrender.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say. “Let’s talk about some things. You won’t need furniture. The condo’s completely furnished. So, what do you want to do with your furniture—store it?” She scoffs.
“Please,” she jeers. “That stuff is held together by duct tape, wood glue, and wishes. It can go in the garbage. All I need is my personal stuff, but…” She trails off.
“But, what?” I ask.
“I… don’t know if you want me to bring my things into your apartment,” she says. I frown.
“Courtney, I’m not a snob,” I defend, “I’ve never…”
“It’s not that,” she says, embarrassed. “I have… a pest problem.”
At first, it goes over my head. Then, I get it.
Roaches! Oh, no!
“That’s it,” I grab both arms visibly fending off the goddamn heebie-jeebies. “I’m taking you shopping.”
“Courtney, yes!” I insist. “I’m making you throw all of your shit away except for things that you simply cannot live without which will most likely have to be fumigated…”
“Which is nothing,” she interjects.
“Good,” I continue without missing a beat. “We can shop wherever you want. We can go to the mall; we can go to boutiques; we can go to Walmart, if you want, but none of your stuff can come into my apartment, because I can’t do critters!”
I’m sitting there looking at her with a begging look on my face and she’s returning a befuddled-horror mix expression to me.
“Listen, you can fill out an I.O.U. for whatever we buy. You can be my indentured servant for a year. You can sign your soul over to me if it’ll make you feel better, but please, don’t make me deal with critters!”
Her expression doesn’t change for several moments, then out of nowhere, she bursts into uncontrollable laughter. I don’t know whether it’s safe to sigh, yet, because I don’t know what she’s going to say.
“Okay, okay, you win,” she says, waving her hands in front of her face. “I can do an I.O.U. That means that I have to pay you back every cent, but I’m still paying rent.”
“Okay, we’ll make a deal. What are you paying where you’re living now?” Her mouth flies open.
“Not nearly enough to reimburse you for your condo!” she exclaims.
“I already know that,” I say matter-of-factly. “If you want to pay market rent for my condo, it’s $3500 a month. Do you have that?” I wait for her response and watch her swallow hard. “What do you pay for rent right now?”
“Six hundred,” she mumbles. I twist my lips. It’s subsidized housing, Court. Try again.
“I can find out,” I say flatly. She rolls her eyes.
“Two-ninety,” she confesses. That’s more like it.
“Good. Now, here’s the only deal I’ll accept. You pay me half of what you have saved as a security deposit, and then you take the amount of rent that you’re paying right now in that dump that you’re living in and donate it back to Helping Hands.” Her eyes widen.
“Ana, come on, that’s ridiculous,” she protests.
“Number one, can you afford any more than that?” I wait. No answer. “Number two, what am I going to do with $290? Seriously?”
“Put it towards the association fees,” she suggests.
“Which I pay anyway and I don’t need help,” I tell her. “The association fees have been paid on my condo for a year. I don’t need it, but Helping Hands does. We need all the help we can get.”
“They pay me,” she says.
“They pay me, too,” I tell her, “and I give my entire salary right back. We need to stay legitimate and let’s face it. I don’t need that money… and I don’t need your $290. The Center needs it more. That’s the only deal I’ll take.” She sighs.
“I would be giving back,” she concedes.
“Yes, you would, and it would really mean a lot to me. This place means a lot to me, you know that. And now, you mean a lot to me.” She smiles.
“I’ve gotten under your skin and now, I don’t even want that hot little body anymore,” she jests.
“I knew she was in there somewhere,” I say, pointing at her and laughing. She laughs with me.
“Yeah, she’s still there, but hopefully she’s a little…” she trails off.
“More refined?” I offer. She shrugs and twists her lips.
“Less crass?” she suggests. I pat her on the shoulder. We continue hammering out a deal for her to move into the condo and a plan to go shopping. We agree to go by the condo and she can leave the things she got from the college there instead of taking them back to Joe’s Apartment to get acquainted with the current tenants, so to speak. We’re right in the middle of planning our first shopping trip when we get visitors in my office.
Grace and Mia.
Okay, I don’t feel like having this battle right now and I will not be ganged up on.
“Courtney, can you please excuse us for a moment?” Grace asks. Courtney looks at me and I just sigh.
“Sure thing, Miss Grace,” she says. I give her my keys so that she can load her things into my car and she leaves my office. I turn to Grace and Mia, entwining my fingers and preparing myself for a showdown. Grace sits in the chair in front of my desk while Mia stands.
“If Christian doesn’t come to the wedding,” Grace begins, “you’re not coming either?” I just look at her.
“I haven’t decided,” I tell her. “Besides the disrespectful bridesmaids that invaded our boat a couple of weekends ago, there’s no one to antagonize me at the wedding, but I can deal with catty women. My dilemma lies with my husband and how he’s going to feel about it. Remember, I have to live with that man. Also, it’s going to be quite the story if Christian and I are not in attendance at his sister’s wedding. It’s going to be an even bigger story if I’m in attendance without him,” I point out. Grace drops her head.
“Tell me what the problem is,” she says softly. “I’m willing to listen.” I sink a bit in my chair.
“Christian wasn’t speeding when his car was totaled. He was sitting still.” Grace’s head pops up and Mia’s sporting a look of total confusion.
“What?” Grace says.
“Christian’s car was totaled?” Mia asks. “With him in it?” Her voice relays worry and concern. Grace hasn’t shared our conversation with her.
“Yes,” I say, “not recently, Mia. The year we met. His Audi Spyder.” Realization dawns.
“Oooohh, yeah… I remember that. The drunk driver.” Grace looks over at her.
“Drunk driver?” Grace asks.
“Yes, I confirm. Christian wasn’t speeding when his car was totaled. He was sitting still—at a stop sign or stop light, I can’t remember which. A drunk driver ran into him and nearly pushed him into cross traffic. When the police arrived and Christian identified himself, the drunk driver then claimed injuries and tried to blame Christian. Of course, we know this wasn’t the case, but somewhere in the exchange, Christian decked the guy… in front of a cop.”
“Oh, good Lord,” Grace says, holding her head down and putting her fingers on her forehead, and now, I’m trying to figure out how Mia knows about this, but Grace doesn’t. I know Carrick knows.
“So,” I continue, “Christian was taken in for assault and yes, he has a record now.” Grace rolls her eyes, but drops them to her lap again. “He was ordered to do community service and to take anger management classes at the community center or serve time. Guess who facilitated the classes?” They look at each other for a moment, then look at me.
“Is that what this ridiculous sexual harassment charge is all about?” Grace asks in horror.
“Yes, but that’s a different story. We’re getting off topic,” I tell her.
“Okay, but, the guy totaled his car,” Mia protests. “He was drunk. He could have killed my brother. I remember this, now. All I kept asking was why would the cop arrest him seeing that the other guy was clearly drunk? And what judge in his right mind would…” Horror and shock, along with realization, mars Mia’s lovely face as her hand flies to her mouth. I nod.
“Hammerstone,” I tell her. “If Christian is in the room with that man again, he might end up in jail for real this time.”
“Wait, what did I miss?” Grace says.
“He’s off the list, Mom,” Mia says finitely.
“What? Who? The judge?” Grace asks.
“Yes. He’s off the list,” she repeats.
“Wait a minute. Janise is a dear…”
“I don’t care, Mom!” Mia interrupts. “My brother could have been killed! This asshole was drunk! He shouldn’t have been on the street in the first place. He’s lucky Christian only decked him, and this fucking judge wanted to put him in jail for it?”
Now, this is the Mia that I met. This is the Mia that took off on Elena and beat her to a pulp in her parents’ great room. This Mia is violently protective of her brother and his livelihood, and she will face physical danger to protect him.
“I’ve already invited them,” Grace says, her voice small. “They’ve already RSVP’d…”
“Then uninvite them,” Mia says firmly. “I don’t want him there. Had I known…” she trails off. “Why didn’t he tell me this was the same judge?” I shrug.
“I don’t know. You know your brother is private,” I tell her. “He doesn’t share everything. He doesn’t share most things.” She turns her attention from her stunned mother to me.
“Tell Christian to call me,” she says. “Once he’s gone over the list, anyone else that he wants removed will be uninvited.”
“Mia, we can’t do that!” Grace protests. “We can’t just uninvite people! It’s really bad form.”
“Mom!” Mia barks. “Ethan’s parents and sister will not be at his wedding! Yes! We can!” She glares at Grace for a moment, then glances at me before marching out of my office. Grace looks as if she wants to cry.
“I didn’t know,” she says in a small voice.
“Now, you do,” I say with no malice.
“I just want the best for them… that’s all I’ve ever wanted.” I sigh again.
“I understand that, Grace, but you get so carried away,” I say. “I’m a mom now, I know how that feels, but you need to take what you want and temper it with what your children want. Elliot had a grasp on what he wanted. Christian had a rein on what we wanted. Let’s face it—Mia’s always been the princess at the ball. It’s up to you to be the voice of reason. If both of you are out there looking for unicorns and dragons…” I shrug. She nods sadly and stands.
“Tell Christian to call me, too… please… after he’s spoken with his sister,” she says, her voice cracking. I nod.
“I will,” I reply, and she walks out of my office.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, I don’t do Walmart panties. We’re going to Vickie’s,” I say to Courtney as she picks out various items of clothing to rebuild her wardrobe. Unfortunately, I can’t see bringing anything from that apartment to the condo. The thought of it gives me the willies. Since I’m making her leave all of her things behind, I was able to convince her that I’m obligated to buy her new things. She agrees and picks out various simple pencil skirts and shirts—things that I know I’ve seen her wear before. So apparently, this is where she shops regularly.
“Walmart panties are fine for me,” Courtney protests. “They really have some cute panties.”
“Yeah, okay… and you’re dating one of the premier personal stylists to the rich and famous.” I take a pair of cute panties from the rack. “Hello Kitty cotton tighty-whities, or Victoria’s Secret lace boy shorts, thongs, and French cuts?” I raise my eyebrows at her.
“Vickie’s it is,” she says without further argument. I’ll have to ask her about her and Vickie’s relationship. It seemed to move so fast, but who am I to question the speed of falling for someone?
I talked Courtney into ten bra and panty sets, and I do mean talked her into them. She was willing to launder the same three items in circulation until I told her that they wouldn’t last for a month if she did that.
Once we’re done shopping and I’m satisfied that she has enough personal items to last her for the month, I take her to dinner at a little Greek restaurant in the mall with gyros and kebabs and those huge French fries that look like they come from mutant potatoes. The poor girl is eating like she hasn’t eaten in a week—not gross or distastefully, but… fast.
“When did you last eat?” I ask, curious. She shoves a French fry in her mouth and waits to swallow it before she speaks.
“I had breakfast,” she says, eating more of her kebab and drinking her soda.
“Why didn’t you get lunch from the kitchen?” I ask.
“I didn’t work in the kitchen today,” she says, frowning.
“So?” I say. “Do you think that means that you’re supposed to starve?” She doesn’t answer. She just dips her fry into some ketchup and keeps eating. “Do you think that by denying yourself certain pleasures and privileges that you’re paying some kind of penance for your past behavior? Because if that’s the case, I hate to tell you, that’s not the way it works.” She dips another fry in the ketchup and shoves it into her mouth and her silence tells me that’s exactly what she’s doing.
“I went from total poverty to having everything handed to me,” she begins. “Not once did I appreciate it. Not even when my grandparents showed up in that big car and took me away from that shack in Chuktapaw did I think, ‘Wow, I’m getting a chance to do more, to be more than my parents.’ Sure, I was young, but I was old enough to know what I was leaving and where I was going. I didn’t know how to handle having anything; how to deal with people being nice to me. No matter how much I got, I wanted more. I understand how people can hit the lottery for millions and end up broke a year later. They don’t know how to handle it. That’s why they don’t give starving animals enough food to eat until they’ve had their fill, because they’ll eat until they burst.
“Mia’s not pissed at me for stealing that blouse. She’s not even pissed at me for nearly letting her take the blame for it. She’s pissed at me because she was my friend. She was the only friend I had in Washington and I shit on that. So, yeah, I may have been a little emotional yesterday when I went off on her, but the truth is that if she wants to spit on me every time she sees me, she has that right. I was fucking awful, and yes, I meant what I said to her about changing for myself, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wish she could see that I’m not the same person that I used to be.”
Now, she’s just playing with her fries. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she’s lost her appetite.
“That’s not true, you know,” I begin. She raises her eyes to me. “That she has the right to spit on you every time she sees you, that’s not true. We all deserve an opportunity for redemption and even criminals are not punished indefinitely.”
“What about those people who get life sentences?” she interjects.
“Did you kill someone?” I retort. She drops her head. “My point exactly. I don’t know how long you think you should stay in purgatory, but it’s not going to change anything. Yes, you were shitty to a lot of people—Mia, your grandparents, me, people I don’t even know—but I’ve got news for you, honey. Contrary to what they believed, self-flagellation didn’t bring the Christians or the Catholics get any closer to God in the 14th and 15th century and it won’t help you now. After you’ve thoroughly beaten yourself down for the person that you used to be and you’ve punished yourself until you can’t figure out how to punish yourself anymore, all that’s going to be left is low self-esteem, not feeling like you’re worth anything, and how can you help anybody else if that’s how you feel about yourself??” She raises glassy eyes to me.
“I… was really very shitty,” she says, her voice cracking.
“Yes, you were, and you’re not anymore. Now, forgive yourself, or you can’t move on.” She drops her head, shaking it at the same time. “If you don’t, you’re going to school for nothing, because you can’t help anybody else.” She swallows hard.
“Where do I start?” she says without raising her head, her voice barely audible… and her dinner being ruined by her tears.
“You start by looking the mirror and telling yourself every day that you’re a better person than you were before. Don’t skip a day… in fact, don’t skip an opportunity. Anytime you see a mirror or a reflective surface, say it. ‘I’m a better person than I was before.’ Say it and mean it. Say it until you believe it. Then you add to it, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
“I don’t need a psychiatrist…” she says defensively, “… do I?”
“Yes, Courtney, you do,” I tell her. “You’re not crazy, but you need help getting past your self-hatred. It runs so deep that I don’t think you can do it without instruction, and you have to do it if you want to be able to help kids. You have to do it even if you don’t think you deserve it. You have to do it for yourself.” She nods.
“I’ll do it,” she says through her tears. “I really hate feeling this way. I just don’t know how to get past it.”
“Well, first, you’re going to graciously accept all the gifts that I’m giving to you because I wouldn’t give them to you if I didn’t think you deserved them, but know that you have to continuously earn that favor and trust. It’ll give you something to strive for.
“Next, you have to catch yourself when have feelings of self-deprecation. Identify them and learn to combat them in a healthy manner. We’ll work on some techniques together. Know that you don’t want to be the person that you were before and don’t allow yourself to fall into that, but going to the other extreme isn’t going to be any good for you either.
“Commit to talking to me once a week. No judgment. Be completely open. I’ll be talking to you as a professional, which means our conversations are privileged. Any time you need a conversation like that, just let me know… anytime.” She nods quietly.
“Now, you’ve cried all over your kebab and your fries are cold so you can’t eat that. We’ll stop and get you something for a late supper in case you’re hungry later. I don’t know what’s at the condo that’s fast to eat. However, we have one more place to stop before I take you to spend the first night at your groovy new apartment.”
On our way to the condo, we stop at Silberman Brown in the Fairmont Hotel where I purchase a beautiful, expensive leather-bound journal and matching pen and turn it over to Courtney. She looks at the gift and sighs heavily.
“May I ask why I’m holding a 100-dollar-journal?” she says, her voice a bit defeated as she examines the thing of beauty.
“Because you’re going to start journaling, and you’re going to take it seriously, and if I hand you a hundred-dollar journal, you’re going to feel obligated to write in it. This isn’t for me; this is for you. For your eyes only, so you don’t have to worry about who’s going to see it unless you choose to show it to someone. Journaling doesn’t help in every situation and sometimes, it doesn’t help at all, but you have to start getting your feelings out and you never know if it will help or not until you try.”
She traces the medallion on the front of the journal with her fingertip. It almost resembles the “Seed of Life,” which would be pretty symbolic for her possible rebirth.
“It really is very pretty,” she says softly. I nod and allow her to admire her latest gift.
“Let’s get you home,” I say as I guide her towards the door.
I don’t think anything could have prepared her for the condo. I think she tried to prepare herself for what she might see, but she’s still in shock and awe when she enters. A lot of people expect that my story in marrying Seattle’s wealthiest and most eligible bachelor was one of “rags to riches,” even though I’ve constantly said that I’m a doctor and that I was doing pretty well before I met Christian. My condo was and still is my pride and joy—stylishly decorated and every piece handpicked thoughtfully by me. If you didn’t know me intimately before Christian, you would be taken aback the first time you see the décor.
“Holy fu…” She catches herself before she finishes the sentiment. “Good God, Ana, this is incredible.” She hugs her journal to her body, the only thing she carried in with her as she walks around the condo. Chuck will recruit the assistance of security to help with our shopping wares while I acquaint Courtney with the apartment.
“Yep, there’s food,” I say, opening my large refrigerator, “so no more damn starving. You understand?” She sighs heavily again.
“Yes,” she says, her voice small. “I don’t know how I’ll ever live up to deserving any of this.”
“Keep doing what you’re doing, go to school, get good grades, follow the rules, and give back like you promised. Baby steps, Courtney.” She looks at me for a moment, then the damn breaks. She’s weeping so bitterly that I think she’s going to hyperventilate. She leans against the wall and cries so hard that her body shakes. I put my arms around her and hold her as she sobs.
“I wish… she could see me,” she cries. “I know… she hates me… like Mia… but I wish she… could see who I am now,” she chokes between her tears.
“She can if you just let me call her…”
“No… no…” she chokes, shaking her head feverishly. “You don’t understand… and I can’t make you understand… just… don’t mention me to her.”
“What if something were to happen to your grandmother?” I ask. “How would you feel about that?”
“I’ll love her til I die… but I still can’t see her,” she replies, her voice cracking. As I’m about to rebut, Chuck bursts into the doors with two members of the security team from the condo and several bags containing our wares from the day. I direct him to put the things in the spare bedroom.
“Will Vickie be here tonight?” I ask. “You probably shouldn’t be alone.”
“I’m supposed to call her and tell her where I am…” I hear that but I think I’d rather be alone tone in her voice.
“Call her,” I urge. “When you’re feeling bad—and guilty—is the time you need people around you. Don’t make me stay here and wait. My husband really won’t like you then.”
“Oh, hell, I’ll call her,” she says quickly. “I know you don’t believe me, but that man came into the ladies’ room after me!” I roll my eyes.
“I know,” I finally confess. She examines me. “I know my husband. Rules are just suggestions to him and when it comes to my safety, all bets are off.”
“Dammit, Ana!” she exclaims. “You had me convinced that you didn’t believe me!”
“You were a bitch and I didn’t like you. It was easy to pretend.” I shrug. “Besides, you’ve changed now, right?” She nods meekly.
“Right,” she says softly. “I think I want a bath. I’ll text Vickie and tell her where I am, I promise, but I don’t know about her coming over tonight. I’m a little worn down by the day and I just don’t know. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you instead of lying to you.” I raise my eyebrows at her.
“Okay,” I say. I can only respect her wishes, and the fact that she came clean with me.
“I have something for you,” my husband says when I fall onto the sofa in the family room, exhausted. My son and daughter are quietly lying in their separate playpens listening to Sebastian telling Ariel how life is so much better “Unda Da Sea.”
“Me, first,” I say. “Your mother and Mia came to see me today.” He sighs.
“Mia says to look over the guest list and let her know who has to go. Anybody that you say is out, is out.” He stares at me incredulously.
“You’re kidding,” he says. I shake my head. “How did you pull that off?”
“Well, it wasn’t very pretty,” I admit. “First, I called your mother a toddler…”
“Yoo-hoo-hou what?” he laughs. I nod.
“Yep. I said something along the lines of ‘if I want to deal with infants, I’ll go be with my children…’ and then I did.” He scratches his head, still laughing.
“You told her you’d rather deal with the twins and then you left her and went to the twins?” he asks with mirth.
“Pretty much,” I reply. “Then, she and Mia came back a little while later and I told them the details about why you and Hammerstone can’t be in the same room. Mia already knew about the accident, but not about Hammerstone. Grace had no clue. I hope I didn’t misspeak.” He shrugs.
“I was going to tell her, but she pissed me off when she lied, so I said, ‘fuck it.’”
“Mia immediately changed her tune. She was really pissed that the judge tried to throw you in jail after the guy rear-ended you and nearly killed you. She uninvited him, told her mother to do the deed and uninvite anyone that you said couldn’t attend.” His eyebrows rise.
“You don’t say?” he asks. “How did Mom take that?”
“Not well,” I reply. “I have a feeling that your mother is very concerned about her place in society, because she was more bothered by the fact that she may have to uninvite some people than she was by the fact that you wouldn’t attend the wedding with this judge.” He sighs.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he begins, “but in her defense, she has to be concerned about her place in society because of who she is and what she represents. She’s the director of one charity. She’s on the planning board of several other charities, and she does fall in a certain pecking order on the social ladder. The problem is that she needs to think before she acts. She wouldn’t have to worry about the protocol of uninviting someone to her daughter’s wedding if she hadn’t indiscriminately invited the whole of Seattle society in the goddamn place!” He scrubs his face in frustration and I rub his shoulder.
“I’ll look at the list and I’ll see who I absolutely cannot deal with. We’ll keep casualties to a minimum, but the Hammerstone fucker is a definite deal-breaker and I don’t care how many invites my mother misses out on because of it!” I raise my hands.
“I don’t need convincing,” I tell him. “I’m on your side, remember?” He rolls his eyes.
“Enough of this shit,” he says and hands me a manila envelope. I open it to find the protection order he promised against Judd Loser.
“One-thousand feet,” he says. “You, me, Ray, Marilyn, anyone in our camp. I’m working on a gag order. Unfortunately, that’s a little harder.” I wave my hand.
“He’ll talk to the gossip stations, I know,” I say. “He’s pegged as an asshole, now.”
“Oh, yeah, about that… guess who the freelance reporter was that started that trend?” I look over at him and wait. “Joshua!” My eyes widen. “I guess anonymity has its perks.”
“I guess it does!” I laugh. He points at the manila envelope.
“There’s more,” he says. I reach into the envelope to find another envelope. Inside, tickets to the Seahawks game for next Friday night against the Chicago Bears—seats on the 50-yard line.
“I figure you and Ray deserve a do-over,” he says. I raise my eyebrows at him.
“And what if a certain blowhard shows up again?” I ask.
“He has surveillance,” Christian says. “Let’s just say that he’ll be… persuaded to change his plans.” I twist my lips and ponder the thought.
“I won’t argue,” I say. “That fucker put his hands on my Daddy.” I lean in and kiss my stunned husband. “Thank you, baby,” I say softly.
“You’re welcome,” he replies, his voice relaying his surprise. I snuggle into his chest just as Flounder surprises Ariel with the statue of Eric.
We skip “normal” this weekend as it wasn’t likely to happen anyway with everything that’s going down with Judd Loser. No matter where we would have decided to go, a hush would have fallen over the crowd and we would have most likely had to make a quick getaway—assuming the paps wouldn’t have already followed us to our destination. So, instead, the girls go to Miana’s for pampering—the girls being me and Val, Gail, Keri, and Sophie. We have our usual package of manicures, pedicures, massages, and hair treatments. Val’s hair has grown a little more and it’s starting to get its shine back, which makes her happy. Grace and Mia didn’t join us for spa day, so I’m not quite sure what’s become of the whole wedding invite situation between them and Christian, but I’m sure that I’ll find out soon enough.
The weekend continued without incident and my final scheduled interview comes around on Monday morning. Since the interview will be simultaneously broadcasted for a local cable channel, I wear a blue Madeleine short blazer and matching trousers with a white blouse and blue scarf. My hair is in full, bellowing waves and my make-up subtle. I want to look professional, but not snobby.
I soon discover that it wouldn’t have mattered what I wore to the interview. It was going to proceed nothing like I planned.
“Anastasia.” A tall brunette greets me, Marilyn, and Chuck as we enter the studio. “I’m Lauren.” She extends her hand and a warm smile to me.
“Nice to meet you, Lauren,” I say, shaking her hand. “This is my assistant, Marilyn and that’s my bodyguard, Mr. Davenport.” She and Marilyn briefly exchange pleasantries and Chuck gives her a formal nod before she turns her attention back to me.
“Of course, you know, you’ll be interviewing with Ashanda. The interview will be broadcast live on KZCB cable as well as KZCB FM radio. If you’re ready, I can take you on in, you can meet Ashanda and you guys can talk.”
“Sure thing.” I nod and smile, and Lauren leads the way into the booth. A petite blonde sits behind this huge octopus of microphones with her head down, examining some cards and papers on the table in front of her.
“Ashanda,” Lauren says to get her attention. She raises her gaze to mine and smiles at me.
“Anastasia,” she says in a soft voice, extending her hand to me. “We finally meet. Ashanda Beasley.” Her greeting is a bit guarded, not warm—professional, maybe, for lack of a better word. It’s cautious, like you would approach a dog before you know if it’s going to bite you or not. I reach out to her and we take each other’s hand in the same manner, in that Katherine-Kavanaugh-fingertip “enchanté” manner. Marilyn and I exchange a look as I take the seat opposite her and this octopus of microphones. Marilyn and Chuck sit on a nearby sofa inside the booth.
“Must your entourage be present?” she asks, her voice a bit condescending. I keep my glare impassive though my blood is starting to get a little warm.
“I would hardly call them an entourage, Ashanda,” I reply, my voice just as placating as hers. “That’s my assistant and that’s my bodyguard, but to answer your question, yes—they must.” She sighs impatiently.
“Very well,” she says, looking back at her notes or whatever is so interesting on this document in front of her. I’m already arming myself for a confrontational interaction and I can tell from the sighing behind me that so is my entourage. Ashanda keeps her snide remarks—and all other remarks, for that matter—to herself for the next ten minutes. There’s no preparation, no review of the format of the questions or content of the show ahead of us, just her silently reviewing these documents in front of her and me preparing for battle. We get the signal that we’re about to go on air and her demeanor immediately changes like we’ve been getting to know each other for the last several minutes and are now about to chop it up for the viewing and listening audience.
“Good morning. You’re tuned in to KZCB FM and cable, Lynnwood and Seattle and I’m Ashanda Beasley. We’re here live this morning with Anastasia Steele-Grey, local girl who made it big by landing billionaire entrepreneur and Seattle’s most eligible bachelor, Christian Grey. Welcome to the show, Ana!”
What the fuck?
Yes, I’m a bit stunned by the introduction. She basically discredited anything and everything I am by tagging me as the bitch who snagged Christian. I can only imagine what the cameras are capturing at this moment.
“It appears our guest may be suffering from a bit of stage fright,” she laughs as she stares at me tauntingly.
“Is this why you brought me here?” I ask astonished. “To paint me as some gold-digging rags-to-riches story for your sorry little cable show?” Ashanda laughs.
“Anastasia,” she says my name in a way that makes my skin crawl, “You’re here, so our show mustn’t be that sorry.”
“An audience is an audience,” I retort. “They can’t be held accountable for the behavior of the hosts.”
“Or the guests!” she shoots.
“Oh! Those are tall words coming from someone who lures a respected professional and doctor to her show only to portray her as a common fortune-hunter!” I counter. She scoffs.
“As expected, you’re being a bit dramatic,” she says. I fold my arms.
“Oh, really?” I say sarcastically. “’Local girl who made it big by landing Seattle’s most eligible bachelor.’ Tell me, what does that mean to you?”
“Isn’t that what you did?” she asks shamelessly.
“Baby, I was big before I even if I wasn’t big in your eyes. I was and still am a respected and successful doctor who owned a condo overlooking Elliot Bay. Did you?” Her face flushes and she looks back down at her papers.
“Let’s get back on topic, shall we?” she hisses.
“Yes, lets, not that we ever were,” I counter, while rolling my eyes.
“Christian…” she continues.
“Christian’s not the topic,” I interject.
“I beg to differ,” she retorts. “While we know you would love to talk about yourself, my listeners want to hear about that gorgeous hunk of man. We can all tell by that walk what he’s working with. We just need confirmation from the source how well he works with it. So, tell us, does he throw it like he walks?” She smirks coyly at me and it’s taking everything I have not to make the appalled church-lady face at her. Is this really happening?
“You’re not serious!” I nearly gasp.
“Don’t be such a prude, Anastasia!” she shoots. “Look at him. He’s walking sex and power. He’s the fuel to fantasies all over Seattle and surrounding areas. You’re the bullet that shot him out the sky—you owe it to the women of Washington to give them something fill their empty nights! For the girls that dream about him, the girls that hoped to be the one…”
Suddenly, everything else she said after that was a swarm of garbled nothing. Either my eyes are playing tricks on me or her last words are making me see things that aren’t there. Those blonde eyebrows and that blonde hair don’t fit and I’m suddenly wondering if the drapes match the carpeting.
“Do I fascinate you?” I hear her say and it snaps me out of my observation. I smile widely and decide to play a hunch.
“In fact, you do,” I say, curiously. “I find you extremely fascinating and I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. Then again, yes, I do. We all like to make little changes every now and again, right, Ashanda?” I fluff my hair on the word “changes” and wait for a reaction… and I get it. Her face turns to stone. I’m fucking on to something. I lean in and laugh.
“The preoccupation with my husband,” I say with mirth. “How he’s throwing it and hoping to be the one… how crude.” Go ahead, sub, hang yourself. She smiles again, thinking she’s lured me in.
“I’m not going to make it any secret,” she taunts. “I’d love to have some time alone with than man. Plenty of women would like to show him what we’re made of.” She glares at me. I entwine my fingers and throw a knowing look at her.
“Oh, I’m sure you would,” I reply, looking at her straight on. “I’m sure that you would love for him to test your limits; see how far he can take you; see if you can go the distance; see what you’re made of; make you…” She pushes a button and although my mouth is still moving, you can’t hear my voice. Her eyes narrow and she glares knowingly at me and I glare knowingly right back.
Yeah, bitch, I know what you are.
“You’re suddenly very chatty now, aren’t you?” she says, her voice low. There’s no need for me to say anything else. It wouldn’t matter anyway since my mic is turned off. I stand from my seat and head for the door.
Jason walks into my office unannounced. When he does this, I know he has news that I need and won’t like.
“Sarah Bradley has shown up on the radar, sir,” he says, picking up the remote from a nearby table and activating the monitor behind my desk.
“Okay. Where?” I turn around to see a local cable show with a live feed… and my wife removing her headphones.
My wife… and Sarah Bradley… what the fuck?
“Come on, Anastasia. Stop being a baby,” Bradley says. “They’re just questions. It’s not the Spanish Inquisition.” My wife, who is on her feet, turns and looks fiendishly at my ex-submissive. With the speed of the tiger that she is, she quickly pulls Sarah’s microphone over to her.
“Let’s get this straight,” Butterfly says, “you call me here on the pretense of talking about two causes that you know I’m championing right now. When I agree and sit in your seat in good faith, first you insult me and then, you begin to ask me personal, delving, and intimate questions about my husband and our sex life which are clearly none of your business. When I refuse to engage you in a conversation about stroke rhythms and penis size, then call you on your inappropriate comments and bull about how you want to work my husband—or for him to work you, I should say…” Her eyes roam distastefully up and down Bradley’s body, “… you deactivate my mic. After everything I’m already enduring from this guy at the other radio station, you want to try something like this? Good luck getting anybody else to sit in that chair!”
Butterfly angrily thrusts the microphone back at Bradley and begins to storm out of the booth. Had the mic not been attached to some apparatus on the ceiling or the wall, it would have hit Bradley right in the face.
“Well!” Bradley begins indignantly, reloading to say something before my wife turns on her again. Although my wife isn’t in the mic anymore, you can still hear her clearly.
“And be careful what you say on the air in my absence. I’m sure he’s listening and watching and you already know, he has a short temper and really good attorneys… and creative ways of making you regret doing something you shouldn’t.” She glares long and hard at Bradley who instantly loses all the color in her face. My wife’s eyes narrow as she walks indignantly out of the booth. Bradley stares in front of her and some recorded show begins to play instead of the live feed. Jason mutes the television.
Why did the tone of that last sentence make me feel uneasy?
“And how did we not know this?” I ask calmly, trying not to lose my cool.
“Ashanda Beasley,” he says. “She changed her name very shortly after Lincoln was arrested. She wanted to separate herself as much as possible from the lifestyle and the publicity that was Elena Lincoln and there was no way to link the two.”
“Let me see if I understand this correctly,” I begin. “You find a man in witness protection who used several names and faked his own death, and you couldn’t find her?”
“The names Myrick used weren’t real except his own. She’s assumed someone else’s identity. Ashanda Beasley was a real person…”
“Was?” I ask.
“Dead now. Ever see The Talented Mr. Ripley?” My turn to pale.
“Are you saying that she killed someone?” I ask.
“No… I can’t say that for sure. I can only say that she’s using a dead woman’s name.” I slam my hands on my desk hard enough to nearly shatter the damn thing.
“And she had a meeting scheduled with my wife—a meeting that I know for certain has been on the books for at least a week and probably two and we didn’t know this? How the fuck did we not know this?” My head of personal security can’t seem to provide an answer for me and I feel my stomach starting to boil. I’m out of my seat in a moment.
“Get me to that station, now!”
This is getting to be ridiculous. It’s getting to the point where I can’t even breathe without somebody aiming for us for some reason. I don’t understand people. I get following someone to get the story—the scoop, but we’re not breaking news! Yeah, my grandfather died recently, but who wants to dwell on that?? Judd Rossiter became news because he antagonized my wife. He’s part of the problem! That doesn’t make us news. Butterfly wanted to bring light to two very important topics and people are going all over the spectrum on completely unrelated topics for God only knows what reasons. I don’t get what the purpose is of making my wife look like a gold-digger in the eyes of the public. And I really don’t get why my ex-submissives keep rising up like mold on spoiled food years after our interactions are over. I get what Charity said about the curiosity of the enigma that is me. But dammit, it was years ago. People change. It’s over! Get over it!
I sit impatiently outside this little station in Lynnwood waiting for Ashanda/Sarah to emerge. She’s changed her appearance and her name, but she can’t hide. I know exactly who she is. When she exits the rear door of the station, I don’t wait for Jason to open the door for me. I step out of the Audi immediately. Her back is to me as she walks to her car and I stride up quickly behind her. She’s blonde now, but it’s her and she foolishly walks the entire distance across the parking lot without looking back. She doesn’t even realize that someone is behind her until she gets to her car and sees my reflection in the window.
She spins around and gazes into my eyes. Of course, she knows who I am, a point clearly driven home by her current expression. I close the space between us and she backs further against the driver’s side door.
“The entire trip over here and the entire time I sat in the car waiting for you, I asked myself, ‘Could she really be that stupid?’” I say, my voice low and controlled. “’She knows my M-O. She knows how much I value my privacy… to the point of destroying people who invade it. I publicly threatened the press at my grandfather’s funeral, for God’s sake… she had to know that.’
“’I’m protective to the point of obsession, I’m sure she knows that,’” I continue. “’After all, she knows me intimately. I was ghastly possessive with women I didn’t even love, including her… but now, I’ve taken a wife—and she thought it was a good idea to antagonize the woman I love? She can’t possibly be that stupid.’
“I’ve seen ambitious before. I’ve even seen careless and reckless, but this was just plain stupid. Then I watched you casually exit that door without looking around and walk a good 500 feet across a parking lot without looking behind you once after you tried to humiliate the beloved wife of a powerful and volatile billionaire on a live cable show. Then I said to myself, ‘Self, yeah… she is that stupid.’” Her pupils constrict as she leans frightened against her car.
“There are surveillance cameras everywhere,” she says, her voice shaking.
“Good,” I say. “I can explain my presence, confronting the woman who deceived my wife and was trying to pry into our personal lives. Can you explain yours… Sarah?”
“It’s just a stage name,” she says. “Nobody knows who ‘Sarah’ is,” she explains. I raise my eyebrows.
“Really?” I say. “So, if I go inside and let the general manager know that Ashanda Beasley is really Sarah Bradley, no one would have a problem with that?” Her eyes are glassy now.
“I… I have a new life now…” she says, her voice pleading.
“A new life,” I say as if testing the words. “What happened to Sarah’s life? Her husband? Is he still around? What about Ashanda’s life?” I ask, my voice deceivingly calm, “I know she’s from another city and state completely, but I find it curious that you’re walking around using a dead woman’s name. I wonder what her family would think about that. I wonder how much I would discover if I dug into her life… and her death.” Her eyes pierce and she swallows hard.
“You wouldn’t find anything,” she says, trying to convince me.
“Then why are you frightened?” I taunt.
“I just wanted a fresh start…”
“In Seattle… where you have all this history. Yeah, that’s a fresh start, alright. You don’t change your identity and your appearance, then come back to the place you left for a fresh start, Sarah!” I demand.
“Please, don’t call me that,” she says, her voice small. “I’m not Sarah anymore…”
“Well, you are to me!” I hiss. “And you were Sarah in the goddamn studio when you were accosting my wife!” She closes her eyes tightly, then opens them again.
“I didn’t mean any harm… I was just… desperate for details. You were so… aloof! No one could get to you… no one could crack your shell. I just wanted to know how she did it, that’s all. Everything was business with you; there was no tenderness. When you’re with her, it’s different. Believe me, we all want to know what she did, what she has… how she broke through. You not only fell in love, you married her. You have children. Anybody who can do that to you must be remarkable!”
“I don’t know what is wrong with you crazy bitches,” I growl, slamming my hand on the top of her car. “It was pain and sex and that’s it. When it’s over, you move on. Yes, the face may have been distracting, but I don’t bother you. Why the fuck do you see fit to bother me?”
It’s a question that I want to pose to all the crazy submissives and submissive hopefuls that continue to harass and stalk me long after the relationships have ended. Naomi was my last submissive—over two years ago—and she came back last year and used a car as a damn missile trying to kill my wife! Shawn Gibson shows up at my father-in-law’s baby shower; Cassie Hamilton tried to ambush me while attempting to plan my wedding; I didn’t even fuck Greta Ellison; and we won’t even discuss the crazy that is Elena Lincoln!
And now this bitch! Charity gave me a good explanation, but it still doesn’t wash that these women couldn’t find another dick in the whole of Washington to satisfy them. I’m good, I know this, but I’m not the only one.
“It’s more than that,” she defends. “Women everywhere are looking for ‘happily ever after,’ and she achieved the impossible. They want to know how!”
“That wasn’t your line of questioning, and you know it!” I hiss. She jerks back at my closeness and tone, indicating that I didn’t have to see the entire interview to know that I’m right. “You know that I can have your entire story in less than twenty-four hours, including the dirty details of why you had to change your identity in the first place. Either you killed someone and took over her life or you had something to do with her death and neither of them scares me!”
I open my suit jacket to show her the harness strapped to my body and the Glock secured inside it. Her eyes widen and her mouth falls open.
“You… have changed,” she breathes.
“You already know this,” I hiss. “She carries one that looks almost just like it. In fact, she carries three. Her father taught me how to shoot it. So, don’t get any bright ideas.” I close my jacket and button it.
“At the very least, you’re guilty of identity theft, all the way to the tune of using your stolen name on public media and to secure employment. So, you’re in deep with the Feds on that one. Stay the fuck away from my wife. You leave me the fuck alone and I’ll leave you the fuck alone. Capiche?”
Clearly afraid, she clutches her bag close to her body. Good. I need that fucking fear. I need her to know that I mean business.
“Y… yes, Sir,” she says, trembling. “I won’t bother you again… either of you. I swear.”
I don’t even care that she addresses me as a Dom. I just want her the fuck out of my life. I turn and walk back to the car, leaving her standing there shaking in the parking lot.
A/N: Joe’s Apartment is a movie made in 1996 about an apartment invested with talking, signing roaches. I never watched the movie, because I can’t stand roaches. I just know what it’s about.
Ariel, Eric, Flounder, and Sebastian are all characters from The Little Mermaid. Christian was watching this Disney cartoon with the twins when Ana returned home.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is all about a guy who covets another guy’s life, so he kills the guy and assumes his identity.
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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