I haven’t emailed yet—I’ll email later. I have to get to work.
I must say that the response to the last chapter was overwhelming and flattering and I thank you all so much for your encouragement. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it even though it was heart-wrenching for many of you. I only hope that I can continue to bring you quality entertainment and high-standard writing even when the plot and story may piss you off sometimes. 😉 I truly love you all! ❤
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 24—Spontaneous Combustion
“I will not talk to you about my husband, Grace,” I tell her unequivocally. “I will not get in between what’s going with you two; I won’t be pressured or guilt-tripped into speaking to him on your behalf; and what’s more, I resent the fact that you lied to my husband about what I said to you about Mia’s wedding list. I’ve never seen you as a self-serving individual and I don’t want to start seeing that now. So, whatever it is that you need to say to Christian, you need to find a way to say it yourself or get another messenger because clearly, my messages somehow get lost in translation!”
Grace is staring at me in disbelief. She came in this morning all fired up and ready to plead her case to me and have me appeal to Christian on her behalf. However, the moment the conversation took a turn in that direction, I stopped her with the speech that has her now standing in my office in awe. I had hell being nurse and doctor to my husband last night. He was on the brink of the precipice and couldn’t go into the office today due to a massive headache and lack of sleep brought on by the huge sense of betrayal that he’s feeling at her hands. So, if she thinks that I’m now going to present her plight to him after what she’s put him through already, she’s got another think coming.
“We have to work together,” I continue. “We have a bigger goal in sight here and I’m willing to overlook this entire thing with no malice and proceed with our goal if you’re willing to drop this situation right where it is and don’t involve me any further. Don’t make me choose sides, because the choice will be obvious.” She’s even more stunned than before if that’s possible.
“I… he… we… it…” She can’t even form a full sentence, but I can still see the wheels turning in her head looking for a way to present her case and I must nip this thing in the bud.
“Those are my terms, Grace, or I’m turning in my resignation.” Her eyes widen.
“You would do that?” she asks in horror, her voice just above a whisper.
“Surely you can see I cannot be torn between my husband and his mother,” I say with a slight desperation in my voice. At first, I see hurt in her eyes and then, to my surprise, understanding.
“Yes,” she says softly, “yes, I can see how that would be an impossible situation.” Her voice takes on a sobering tone. “You’re very valuable to the Center. I won’t pester you about Christian.” She turns to leave, clearly downtrodden. She stops and turns back to face me, but doesn’t raise her eyes to me. “I’m sorry… that I stretched… that I lied about what you said… I have no excuse…” She trails off.
“Thank you,” I say softly. “Apology accepted. Thank you,” I repeat. She raises her eyes to me.
“You will be at the wedding, right? I’m not overstepping by asking…” She trails off again.
“No, no, you’re not, and yes. As far as I know, we’ll be there,” I assure her.
“And Mia’s shower next Saturday?” she asks, hopeful. Shit, that’s next Saturday? It’s probably in my calendar along with get my teeth scraped.
“Yes, Grace, I’ll be at her shower.” She nods silently and leaves my office.
I slump down in my chair. That was painful. She has no idea what her behavior has unearthed, and I can’t even tell her. Last night was a nightmare… literally.
“No… no, don’t…”
Oh, dear God, please, tell me this is not what I think it is.
“No! Please… leave me alone… please…”
Shit! Fuck! Shit! Shit! Fucking hell! Shit! Shit! Shit!
I sigh heavily, trying to push away the sleep that gobbled me up the moment my husband fell into exhausted, drunken, sobbing-induced slumber. I turn over in our bed and gently place my hand on his chest. He groans in agony and rises like fire.
I move my hand quickly and put it on his cheek, bringing my mouth close to his ear and risking injury from being this close during one of his violent dreams… dreams that he hasn’t had for—I don’t know, at least a year, probably more.
“Christian,” I say, softly, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Can you hear me?”
“No! No, please… please, God, no…”
“Christian,” I say more firmly, “Christian, come to me.”
“Ana!” he coughs. “Ana!”
“Christian, please… come to me, baby.”
“God, Ana! Where… where are you?”
“I’m right here, baby. Come to me. Wake up!”
He sits straight up in bed and I have to leap out of the way to avoid getting an elbow in the eye. He’s out of breath and sweating profusely. He looks around the room like a scared rabbit, taking in his surroundings and most likely reassuring himself that he’s no longer in his nightmare. And the moment he’s certain…
His roar causes the room to tremble like an earthquake… or maybe it’s just me. He’s not afraid anymore. He’s pissed.
He throws the covers off and leaps out of bed leaving our room in nothing but his boxer briefs without a word to me.
I don’t know what he did after he got out of bed last night. I figured he needed to be alone or he would have stayed and talked to me. I’m sure that I know what happened. Grace and her shenanigans has shaken the sense of security that he had fallen into, and now, his old monsters have returned. As a psychiatrist, I know it’s deeper than that, but that’s the thrust of it. I was so tired last night—and kind of shaken by the whole thing—that I fell almost immediately back to sleep when he left the room. He was back in bed coiled around me when I awoke to come to the Center this morning.
I take out my phone and text him.
**How are you feeling? **
His response is almost immediate.
**Like shit. How much did I drink? **
**Only three, but it was the good stuff. Double shots… unless there was more later in the night. **
**That explains it. There was more. **
I ponder if I should tell him about the conversation I just had with his mother. I really don’t want to aggravate him or bring back any of the ghosts of last night, but I don’t want him to be ambushed either.
**Grace is probably going to try to contact you. **
There’s a pause before he responds.
**I would expect nothing less. **
Part of me wonders if that’s a shot or a compliment. The bigger part of me knows that it’s the former. His relationship with his mother is falling apart because of her blind selfishness. She’s going to lose the delicate grip that she has on her very troubled son if she doesn’t realize what her behavior is doing to that son.
And for some reason, I get the feeling that somehow, that will be my fault.
I replay last night in my head. It was so brutal. For the first time that I can remember, I had an actual session with my husband. He went totally patient on me and I had to become Dr. Steele… er, Grey. He shared things with me that he had never told me before. They were things that I could imagine just from what I had heard, but he had never told me. If he stayed with his mother’s body for four days, he witnessed the rigor mortis that starts in the face and moves to the other muscles of the body; the sheen that coats the skin after about three days; the initial bloating from the breakdown of the bodily organs; the discoloration of the skin and the foaming that comes from the mouth and the nose…
He doesn’t remember his mother’s face because the last thing that he saw of his mother was not his mother’s face—it was her deteriorating death mask, but he knew that was her body… so, that’s what his young mind chose to remember.
The psychological horror of everything he saw and felt only multiplied his physical horror, which is why he put all his faith and hope in Grace. His nightmares may have stemmed from what Anton Myrick did to him, but they continued and festered from the fear that Myrick would come back for him, and by the time he got into adulthood, he couldn’t shake them. They had become a part of his life.
When I think about the fact that when I came along, he said that I “chased the monsters away,” I get one more glimpse into the power of a truly profound love and how it can change a person’s life. I can also see why he was so broken about the betrayal that he feels from his mother right now… and why the nightmares have returned.
She may not have been able to chase away the monsters, but she physically protected him and he knows that. She took him away from the squalor and she brought him to safety. Then, she moved him further away from the possibility of the squalor finding him and gave him as much of a normal life as she could—love, protection, a home, a family, food…
He felt that his mental imperfections were his crosses to bear, but had she not come along, he wouldn’t have survived. Hence, she was his champion. And now, his champion is becoming his oppressor, and it’s breaking his heart and causing his old monsters to return. She has unwittingly opened the gates of hell, and he’s losing his mother… again. I know my husband. He’ll walk away before he witnesses that, before he experiences that, and she’ll lose him forever… and I can’t even tell her.
I can’t tell her because I won’t get in the middle of this.
I can’t tell her because I won’t betray my husband’s trust.
I can’t tell her because of doctor/patient confidentiality.
If she doesn’t figure this out on her own, she’s going to lose her son.
My face must look a fright, because Courtney has surprised me and is looking at me like I’m about to keel over or something.
“Just toiling with a difficult situation,” I admit. “What’s up?” She comes further into my office.
“Two things. I just wanted to tell you. First, my financial aid was approved.” She does a little victory dance and I do a silent “rah rah cheer” for her. “And two, the royal Mia is here somewhere looking for you, so I’m going to disappear for a while. I have my phone…” She waves her phone at me. “So, if you need me…” I nod.
“Duly noted.” Before I can get the words out of my mouth, Mia comes breezing into the room.
“And that’s my cue. Later, gator.” With that, Courtney breezes past Mia without a word just as quickly and effortlessly as Mia breezed into the room. Mia can’t hide her tiny bit of shock and awe at Courtney’s impassivity toward her. What did she expect. She treats the girl like a non-person every time she sees her—she even referred to her as such. You have to expect that someone will one day stop putting up with your shit. Nonetheless, Mia quickly turns her attention to me.
“Anakins, trying to get a final count for my shower and you didn’t RSVP. Are you coming?” I frown.
“Shouldn’t your bridesmaids or somebody be doing this?” I ask. She shrugs.
“I suppose,” she says. “I’ve never thrown a wedding before. I don’t know how this goes.”
“Apparently, neither do they,” I say in disgust. “Have you planned your own wedding shower? The entire thing?” She nods.
“Yeah,” she says, and it’s more of a question than an answer.
“Those tricks didn’t do anything?” I ask. “They didn’t pay for anything? The venue? Nothing?”
“It’s going to be at Mom and Dad’s house,” she says. I roll my eyes.
“Are they at least going to come and decorate?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“We’re paying someone to do that.”
“Shower games? Hostesses? Cleanup? Are those cows doing anything?” I ask in awe. She shrugs.
“They’re bridesmaids,” she says with a shrug. I shake my head. And you talk about Courtney!
“No offense, Mia, but you’ve got some really shitty bridesmaids,” I say, looking at my laptop. “Yes, I just told your mother, I’ll be at your shower…” eating food and having fun with those lazy ass cows you call bridesmaids.
“Oh, good. Do you know if Val is coming?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t asked,” I reply. “The four of us have been like ships passing in the night with everybody being so busy.” My phone starts to sing “Dr. Sax” in my purse and I begin to fish it out.
“Well, I’ll just give her a call and see if she’ll make it. I know she and Elliot are finally planning their honeymoon. Did she tell you they’re going on a cruise?” I don’t recognize the number, but decide to take the call anyway.
“Excuse me one second, Mia.” I swipe the screen. “Hello?”
“You are not going to believe what we just found out! My asshole father must be a goddamn double agent or something!”
It’s Lanie… and she’s pissed. This must be a new number for her.
“Well, do tell,” I press.
“He’s being audited. Did you know he’s being audited? Yeah, he’s being audited… at the same time that Mom is filing for a divorce. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to hide your assets when you’re being subjected to an IRS audit and to discovery from a divorce at the same time!” She’s talking so fast, I just have to keep up and interject when I can.
“He’s hiding assets?” I ask. Mia has taken a seat in front of my desk, but raises her head at my statement.
“Hiding isn’t even an appropriate word for it!” she seethes. “That asshole had enough loot hidden to start a whole new life in another fucking country! He said he was tucking it away for retirement as a surprise for Mom! She was fucking surprised alright.”
“So… what happens now? Will she get half of these secret assets?”
“We don’t know yet. They have to finish the audit first to see if he reported capital gains and such. If not, he could lose everything having to pay back taxes and he may have to do jail time for tax evasion… not that that would be a bad thing,” she hisses.
“So, what did they find?” I ask.
“We knew about the cabin in Houghton Lake. They found real estate in the Cayman Islands, the Hamptons, and Mexico; three offshore bank accounts; three investment accounts besides the one that Mom knew about… oh, and Daddy has a girlfriend.” My eyes widen.
“A girlfriend!?” I declare in shock. “He has a girlfriend?”
“Who has a girlfriend?” Mia inquires. I hold up my hand to silence her.
“A pretty young thing ten years his junior riding around in a 2014 Lincoln MKZ that he’s still making the payments on. They found her because of the car.” My mouth falls open in horror.
“Who has a girlfriend?” Mia asks again. I throw a glare at her that demands that she shut the fuck up or face my wrath.
“My mother is devastated,” she adds, somberly. “I’ve never wanted to kill my father before, but right now, I want to kill him. I fucking want to kill him, Ana. Discovery’s only just started. There’s no telling what else we’re going to find. At this rate, we may find out that he has another whole fucking family out there.”
“I’m so sorry, Lanie…”
“Who’s Lanie?” Mia asks. Of all the rude…
“Mia, can you please excuse me?” I say angrily, gesturing to the door. Her mouth flies open, but I just glare at her and keep my arm and hand extended to the door. Get the hell out of my office, you uncouth cow! She has the nerve to look affronted as she stands and stomps her spoiled ass out the room. I’m certain that the body snatchers have temporarily invaded Mia and Grace’s bodies and they will both be back to normal once this dumb wedding is over.
“I’m sorry about that, Lanie. Your cousin is planning her wedding and quite frankly, she’s being an insufferable, stuck-up, bratty little bitch right now.”
“Ah, yes. We’ve gotten our invites. I don’t know if we’ll be able to make it. We’ll have to see what kind of spirits Mom and Burtie are in at that time.”
“Of course,” I reply. “This has been an extremely trying time for everyone…” Suddenly, Carrick comes to mind. I wonder how he’s been doing with his wife flying over the cuckoo’s nest with this wedding and he did, after all, lose his father only about a month ago. “How is Nell holding up under all of this… and Burt? I mean, under the circumstances and all?”
“I’m a little concerned about Mom. She’s losing weight and she seems depressed, but she won’t see a doctor. Burt’s getting settled in okay, I think. He’s made an appointment with a plastic surgeon about his face and his teeth—part of his bone structure in his face is damaged or something like that. He explained it to me, but I didn’t pay it much attention, because it was making my stomach turn. He’s made a couple of friends—Leo’s cousin seems to like him a lot. Burtie’s a little standoffish, though. You know, he’s still in his feelings about this whole thing with our father…”
“It’s normal,” I tell her. “It will pass with time.”
We talk a few minutes more about Nell and I suggest convincing her to talk to someone, even if they have to find someone who makes house calls. She’s suffering from the typical stages of grief and separation. I’m not too worried about Burtie. He seems to be adjusting as well as someone can be in his situation, but he should be talking to someone, too. Lanie, overall, seems very happy with her life—just concerned about her family and their well-being, and ready to send her selfish, asshole, philandering father to meet his maker.
When I end the call with Lanie, my mind wanders back to Carrick. How is he holding up in light of all the shit going on around him? I know life goes on, but his wife is locked in this Wonderland of Crazy with his daughter, and his brother is—no doubt—leaning on his new love and helping with the girls… Who’s looking out for Carrick? I dial his number.
“Hello?” He sounds tired.
“Hi. It’s Ana.” There’s a short pause.
“Oh. Hello, Ana. How are you, dear? Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. I was just… calling to see how you were.” There’s another pause.
“Did Grace say something to you?” Huh?
“Uh… no. Should she have?” I pry. He sighs.
“No… no, she shouldn’t have.” Shit. Shit shit shit. I’ve stepped in some shit shit shit and I can’t step out now. Fuck, how do I handle this? Tell him why I called…
“I was just calling to check on you, Carrick,” I say, honestly. “It’s been… wild times lately, for lack of a better word.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” he murmurs… and I think I wasn’t supposed to hear it. “I’m fine, dear.” I pause.
“No… you’re not,” I retort softly. “And you’re family, and I can’t just ignore that and I’m sorry. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t force you, but you just lost your father and it’s still very new. There are a lot of feelings that you’re fighting with and everything’s not sorted yet… and along comes this wedding…”
“This goddamn wedding!” he bites out and I already know that he regrets saying it the moment it comes out of his mouth. We’re both silent for a moment.
“Would you like to meet me for lunch, Carrick?” I can see the wheels turning even though I can’t physically see him. “Are you in court? Do you have appointments?”
“Um… no. Not anymore. I saw my only appointment this morning. I was… just going through some legal briefs… trying to go through some legal briefs.”
“Are you still in your office? I can meet you downtown somewhere…”
“I don’t really feel like being in public, Ana,” he protests.
“My office isn’t far from yours,” I suggest. “I can meet you there. It’s quiet and private… and comfortable. We won’t be disturbed and I can order us some lunch.” He sighs again.
“It all sounds so sordid,” he laughs weakly, “an afternoon rendezvous with a young, attractive doctor in her quiet office downtown…” I laugh, too.
“Only this young, attractive doctor is your daughter-in-law and mother of your grandchildren… and very concerned about you right now,” I add somberly. He pauses.
“Daughter,” he corrects me. “She’s my daughter… and yes, I would love to join you for lunch…” I almost want to cry at the sentiment. I give him the address and arrange to meet him in an hour. I summon Marilyn.
“Order lunch to my office downtown,” I tell her as I gather my things. “Let’s go make sure it’s not overrun with dust bunnies. I have an emergent appointment.”
“I’ve never been to your office before. It’s nice,” Carrick says as he enters the room. “You actually have the proverbial couch.”
“I do,” I laugh, “but I rarely ever used it. Someone laid on it as a joke once. Another time, someone was overwhelmed and passed out, but the whole ‘lying down’ thing, it’s usually pretty uncomfortable for people.” I gesture to the table in my office where Marilyn has set up lunch of fajitas and kebabs with salads and soups from my favorite spot.
“I figure we would just have a conversation over a light lunch, and…” I go to my bar and pull out a bottle of Scotch I procured on my way in. “I brought along a little libation in case you need a gentleman’s lunch.” He chuckles.
“I don’t have a driver, young lady,” he scolds.
“But I do,” I remind him. “Two, in fact, and a personal assistant.” I gesture to the chair for him to have a seat.
“Ladies first,” he says, as he pulls out my chair. I nod and take my seat. He walks over to his seat, but puts his hands on the back of it and holds his head down. I just sit for a moment and silently watch him. He looks like he’s trying to make a decision if he wants to sit or not.
“I miss my father,” he says, his voice soft. “I feel so many different things right now—regret and anger and… sometimes, I just feel sick, just sick to my stomach like my stomach is eating itself. I’ve had to hand some of my cases off to partners in the firm to assure that my clients will get the best representation.” He starts pacing the office. “We lost so much time… so much time, and I find out it’s all because of that fucker Freeman…”
He says the last two words between his teeth.
“I’ve never wished harm on anyone, really, especially my own flesh and blood, but that asshole…” His fists are clenched and shaking, and when he realizes, he released his fists and flexes his fingers.
“And then there’s my wife,” he says, “she’s out of control. I don’t know what she’s trying to do. I’ve tried to ignore this… ridiculous, ostentatious, ludicrously absurd production that she’s passing off as our daughter’s wedding, but I can’t. This is insane! You have no idea what outrageous crap I’ve vetoed! She wanted to have 500 bottles of Cristal laced with gold leaf. Why? Why in God’s name would you want that? A couple of bottles for the new bride and groom on their wedding night, maybe—but the whole goddamn reception?”
He’s getting angrier and angrier by the second. Looking at him now and remembering what my husband looked like last night, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t related by blood.
“The movie screen of the historical theater will be put to good use, because the guests will be entertained by a genuine reel-to-reel movie of the life of the bride. I’m sure the groom is in there somewhere, but I can guarantee you that it will mostly be Mia. You don’t want to know what that cost! Oh! And you and Christian had the decency to have your wedding where only a private lane was blocked from public view. Do you have any idea the hassle involved in blocking off one city street, let alone twelve?”
Twelve? Why the hell did they have to block off twelve city streets?
As if reading my mind, Carrick fishes out his phone, swipes the screen, and pulls up a map within moments. It’s like he keeps it saved so that he can look at it on command. He hands me his phone and shows me a satellite map of the area surrounding the Paramount Theater with twelve bold yellow lines indicating twelve surrounding streets.
“She wanted us to block the entrance to the freeway!” he declares in disbelief. “I’m surprised they gave us 9th!”
I sit there staring gape-mouthed at a picture where twelve streets in downtown Seattle are going to be blocked on a Saturday afternoon. Fuck! And I thought Christian knew people!
“That isn’t the beginning of it,” he declares. “Her list of wedding band choices read like a rock concert—Michael Buble, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, some kids name Some Direction… I’ve never heard of them, but I heard they’re hard to get…”
One Direction, and you’d probably never get them.
“If these people do weddings, they’re not going to do her wedding. Who the hell does she think we are, the Kardashians???”
“You had Wayne Brady. She’d have Elvis is she thought she could bring him back from the grave. You had a castle and private drive. She books a theater to hold a thousand, packs it to the walls, and shuts down downtown Seattle! You guys left in a classic Bentley. She’d have Mia and Ethan leave in a helicopter if she could. Oh, wait! That won’t work! Christian can fly a helicopter!” I shake my head.
“Wait… is… that what all this is about?” I ask, confused. All this driving everybody crazy, over-the-top ridiculousness is because she’s trying to outdo mine and Christian’s wedding? Carrick waves his hands and shakes his head.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know what it’s about. I can’t make sense of any of this shit!” he hisses. I fall silent again and give him the floor. “I’m still fighting visions of my father’s casket going into that incinerator, and I have to convince my wife that exotic animals are not appropriate for the historical theater!”
Angry tears burn a trek down his cheek as he appears to cling to decorum by a thread. There’s no one that he can turn to. I know that he hasn’t spoken to Elliot or Christian—at least not since the barbeque—and Herman is probably in the same condition as Carrick, but he has Luma. I don’t know about Stanley, and Freeman is a no-go. Grace is supposed to be his pillar right now, and she’s gone over the edge.
I quietly make my way to the bar and retrieve the Scotch and tumblers I brought, pouring a shot in the glass. I walk over to Carrick and tap him on the shoulder. He sighs and looks at me and I hand the glass to him. He takes it and takes a gentleman’s sip of the Scotch, making that same relieved face that Christian made last night when he gulped down double-shots of Brandy.
“Have you tried to tell Grace how this is making you feel in relation to Pops’ death?” He was all set to answer, but I think that last part changed the game. He has told her how this ridiculous wedding is making him feel, but not in relation to his father’s passing. He shakes his head in dismay.
“I can’t talk to her anymore,” he says. “When she sees me coming, she gets this look on her face that I can’t stand. She automatically thinks I’m going to veto something else for the wedding, and she armors up. It’s eating me up inside that I can’t talk to her about this. I miss my dad so much and I feel shitty in so many ways that I didn’t have more time with him, that I missed so many years with him. I haven’t felt this bad since Mom died, but when that happened, me and my brothers held each other together… and Dad. Now… I fucking feel like I’m losing my mind.”
It finally hits me—what Christian was trying to explain to me about Grace’s reputation. It’s exposure. She probably doesn’t know half of the people she’s inviting to this wedding. She has to maintain her exposure… but that shouldn’t be the purpose of your daughter’s wedding. You want to maintain your exposure, you have a party. You don’t need a reason, just have a party. I personally think it’s pretty cruel to use your daughter’s wedding as a networking event… maybe for a chosen few people, okay; but for the whole of Washington society? And this soon after Pops’ death? Fuck, no! This should be a time for family to get together and celebrate life and love, even more now than ever, not some kind of social role call to make Grace look good. What’s more is that Mia loves the attention and the glam so much that she probably doesn’t even know that she’s being used.
And Grace has no idea that she’s not only alienating her son, but she’s probably also causing irreparable damage to her husband.
“I’m thinking about leaving,” he says, pulling me out of my thoughts.
“You… what?” He raises sad eyes to me.
“If I’m alone, I might as well be alone,” he shoots. “I’m thinking about moving out and going to a hotel.” I sigh heavily.
“Carrick,” I breathe, “that’s so… final.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” he interjects, looking down into his Scotch.
“But it can be,” I retort. “The implications of moving out of your home, the effects on the family, the relationship…” He laughs, though there’s no mirth in his chuckle.
“Grace stopped caring a long time ago about the effects on the family,” he says, throwing back the Scotch. “I may not say anything, but I know exactly what’s going on with her and Christian. She comes into my study last night, all broken down and weepy, talking about how Christian might be slipping back into his shell again…”
At least she recognizes that part.
“I asked her why and she said it’s because he couldn’t bury the hatchet with what happened between him and the judge.”
Oops, I spoke to soon.
“I don’t think she knows that I know just about every single thing that happened from the moment he was arrested to the moment you showed up at my house…” Damn, I didn’t know that. “I nearly got a play-by-play of the whole ordeal and although I don’t know the very intimate details, I can most likely pinpoint the very moment he wanted to date you. It was right after you threatened to turn that report in and right before you quit.”
He’s right. Christian has told me so much himself. I nod in agreement.
“So, I know for sure that if my son is going back into a shell, that asshole is not the reason—and if my currently overly dramatic and self-centered wife came to my study last night crying about it, then she most likely is!”
He reaches for his empty glass and I quickly pour him another double shot. No judgement here, Carrick. He starts this drink with a sip like he did the first, then pushes his hand through his hair. Geez, it’s like I’m watching my husband in his frustration.
“The entire time I’m listening to her cry and ramble on about our son, concerned about his possible plight, but totally missing the mark on why he’s headed in this direction, I’m watching and hearing any hope of her seeing or understanding how I feel right now just spiral down the toilet. I’m starting to resent her and I don’t want that, because I love her—but if I have to deal with this pain alone, then I can’t deal with it in the same house with her, because she’s ignoring what I feel and it’s tearing me apart.”
“I wish I had an answer for you, Carrick,” I say sympathetically. “I know it’s no substitute for your wife, but you don’t have to suffer alone. You know that you have your sons… and me and Valerie. I can’t speak for Mia with everything that’s going on right now, but… you’re not alone, Carrick.”
I put my hand on his shoulder and he chokes out a sob. I move to pour him another drink since he has emptied his glass, but he cover the mouth of the tumbler and shakes his head. He knows his limits and won’t drink anymore. I put the Scotch down and slide my arms around his waist, laying my head on his back like I would do for my dad. He covers my hands with his—large like my husband’s, like my father’s—and his body shakes with painful sobs.
My heart is heavy when I return to Center after not having eaten anything. I couldn’t. There’s a terrible lump in my stomach. I walk slowly to my office and fall down in my chair, dreading the task that I have ahead of me, but determined to fulfill a promise that I made to my father-in-law… surrogate father. I sigh heavily and wait. She should be here any second.
I’m preparing myself for what’s going to happen as I place my purse in the drawer and open my laptop. Shock? Disbelief? Shame? Denial? I stretch my neck and try to relax, but nothing is helping. My head is pounding and I’m trying to talk this headache down, trying to convince myself to put this off until later, but this can’t wait. She has to know now.
“Ana?” Grace sticks her head into my office door. “Marilyn said you needed to talk to me.” I rub my eyes.
“Yes, Grace, I do. Can you come in and sit down for a moment?” I gesture to the seat in front of my desk. She enters my office.
“Is this about Christian?” she asks, taking a seat.
“No… Grace… this… is about Carrick.” She frowns.
“Carrick?” She sits up immediately. “What’s wrong with Carrick? Is he hurt? What’s going on?” she asks frantically.
“No, no… not physically, anyway,” I clarify. Her frown deepens.
“What do you mean?” she asks, her voice confused and a little irritated. “What is this about?”
“I spoke to Carrick earlier today…” I begin.
“About?” she says, and her accusatory tone doesn’t get past me. Okay, tread carefully, Ana.
“Just to see how things were going,” I reply. It’s the truth. She folds her arms, and I see the walls going up.
“I see,” she says, “and how are things going?”
“Apparently, not very well,” I retort, trying not to resent her connotations, whatever they may be.
“Um-hmm,” she grumbles, “so you can talk to his father about Christian, but you can’t talk to me,” she states. My brow furrows.
“This isn’t about Christian!” I nearly hiss. “I called Carrick to see how he was doing. That’s what you do with family, with people you love. You check on them; you see how they’re doing; you make sure they’re okay. He did lose his father a month ago, after all!”
She shrinks into a chair a bit after that declaration, but only a bit. It’s too late, though. The beast is loose, and she’s pissed.
“You have bigger problems on your hands than Christian, Grace. Carrick is in a bad way, and you’re not seeing it.” And just like that, her back is up again.
“Excuse me?” she says, completely defensive.
“Your husband is suffering right now. He needs you. He needs you to be there for him, to comfort him, and you’re terribly preoccupied.” She stands and straightens her back, glaring at me now.
“Young lady, I appreciate your education and experience, but I’ve been with my husband probably as long as you’ve been alive… longer, in fact, and I really don’t need you to tell me how to handle my marriage.”
Her voice is crisp and sharp and her blue eyes are piercing. Of all the reactions I expected, this was not one of them. She’s appalled. And offended. She feels that I have no right whatsoever to be saying what I’m saying right now, even though I spent the last two hours in my previously abandoned office letting her husband cry on my shoulder and trying—and failing, I think—to convince him not to move out of their home.
“If I’m not allowed to talk to you about your husband, then you’re not allowed to talk to me about mine,” she concludes viciously. I draw back from her hostility and she stands her ground as if I’m an intruder and she must fend me off. I’m offended to the deepest part of my soul and I finally see the monster that everyone else is seeing that has replaced the Grace that I’ve always known. I take in a deep breath and armor up, since I must.
“That’s fine,” I say, in my firm Dr. Grey voice. “But I’m going to tell you one thing that I promised him that I would. Not very long ago, your husband lost his father, and right now, he’s suffering… a lot… and alone! And if you keep ignoring it, that’s just where you may end up!”
I slam my laptop closed and rip the drawer open that holds my purse. I’m so pissed right now, I can barely breathe.
“Why did…” she begins.
“Oh, no!” I growl, fumbling to put my purse on my shoulders. “You’re right! You’re not allowed to talk to me about my husband, so I’m not allowed to talk to you about yours! Go talk to your husband, that is, if you want to keep him!”
I snatch my laptop from my desk, sending random items from my desk sailing into the chair and onto the floor around it as I storm out of my office and to the nursery. This is one of those moments that I’m glad we outfitted Marilyn’s car with child car seats for just such an emergency.
“Get the children home as soon as you can,” I instruct Keri. “Marilyn will help you!” Keri’s eyes widen.
“Okeh,” she says, and nothing else. I swipe my screen and call Chuck.
“I’m leaving… now!”
“What the hell happened?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but she is pissed! She’s broken every traffic law between the Center and the bridge; we’ve both gotten speeding tickets and she’s headed your way. I just thought you should know.” Chuck informs me. I sigh.
“Okay, I’ll be ready,” I say as I end the call. What the hell happened today? Did my mother decide to pester her for answers about me and she snapped? This situation has got to give and soon! Before I stand from my desk, the phone rings again.
“Sir, this is Riggs at the front gate. Your father is here.”
My father? Why is my father here?
“Um… let him in, of course,” I say.
“Yes, sir,” and he ends the call. Again, the moment that call ends, the phone buzzes again, and my wife’s face appears.
“Hello, Butterfly,” I say as I answer the phone.
“Not that I would expect a repeat of the Elliot situation, but I’m going to breach doctor/patient privilege in favor of maintaining marital harmony in case the paparazzi’s telephoto lenses caught a picture or someone’s cellphone was overactive this afternoon.” No hello, no tears, no nothing, just straight to the point.
“I met with your father today at my office downtown… alone.” That would probably explain why he’s here. “That’s all I’m saying about the matter. You can’t say anything about it; you can’t mention it; you can’t even reference it unless he says something to you. Not only is it a huge betrayal of trust, but I could also lose my license. Do you understand?” She’s right about that. She’s taking a big chance revealing this, but I can understand why she wouldn’t want to chance what happened between us before.
“Understood… Is he okay?”
“That’s all I’m saying on the matter.”
“Sorry,” I say quickly, “I’m just… concerned about my dad.”
“I understand,” she says, and nothing else. “I have to go. I’m driving.”
“Um, okay.” And she ends the call. This is going to be one hell of a night. I don’t move for fear that the phone is going to ring again. It doesn’t, but the next worst thing happens. My father enters my study… with a suitcase. The look of horror on my face can’t be mistaken.
“Dad?” I say, my eyes wide.
“Son,” he says, his voice soft. He doesn’t look bad, per se, but he looks like he hasn’t slept.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m not really sure,” he says as he places his suitcase on the floor.
I’m in the Twilight Zone and my mother has been replaced by an android. She has Mia under her spell, captivated by pretty, shiny things while everyone in her general vicinity is going mad. We haven’t heard anything from Ethan and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s tied up in a basement somewhere.
Butterfly immediately comes home and disappears for a moment. Once I get my father situated, I find her in the workout room, wailing away at poor Chuck’s hands. Though they’re protected by punching matts, he winces with every blow, and I can tell that he has had enough. It’s dangerous interrupting them, as we can’t do the whole tag-team thing that we did when we discovered that David was exercising his right to a speedy trial smack in the middle of our Greek honeymoon, but I thank God for small blessings as the interruption takes some of the fire out of my wife so that when she begins to wail on me once I relieve Chuck, it’s not so bad and doesn’t last too long. I try not to get too horny when I see all that power bursting out of the little, muscular body with the round hips and incredibly toned ass wrapped in spandex, but it’s extremely difficult.
“Do you want to take about it?” I ask as she leans on her knees to catch her breath.
“Your mother,” she puffs. “I’m sorry… but she’s insane… she’s totally… out of control…” She pants and wipes the sweat dripping into her eyes. I take one of the towels from the linen closet and hand it to her.
“So, I’ve heard,” I say, but she keeps talking like she didn’t hear me. In fact, I don’t think she did.
“Mia’s wedding… did you know she was… trying to have flamingos… walking around the crowd?” I raise my eyebrow.
“I did not,” I answer honestly. She nods frantically as she wipes her forehead.
“And she expects English boy bands… to forego million-dollar tours… to become wedding singers!” I jerk my head back!
“Excuse me?” I declare.
“Oh… that’s not the worst of it! Did you know that half of downtown is going to be blocked… on a Saturday afternoon for that wedding?” Her breath is returning.
“She can’t block downtown,” I tell her. I’ve tried
“Oh, yeah. She can. I’ve seen the map… and I’ve already said too much.” She turns around and cracks open a bottle of water, emptying most of it before she takes a breath. This must have been her session with Dad.
“No, you haven’t. I would have seen or heard it anyway,” I tell her. Dad must have some connections that I don’t.
“I’ll be working at home for a while,” she says, matter-of-factly while drying her face. I don’t ask why. I already know.
“You’ll probably need some things from the office,” I tell her.
“Marilyn can get them,” she says, bottoming out her water. “I’ll send her tomorrow.” I raise my eyebrow at her.
“The football game.” She pauses, then her hand goes to her forehead.
“Fuck! I totally forgot! That’s all Dad’s been talking about. How could I forget? He’s been texting ever since I told him about the tickets—how the hell could I let that slip my mind?” She shakes her head and dries her neck.
“Well, um… I hope you won’t mind company,” I tell her. She looks up at me.
“I thought this was just for me and Dad,” she says, slight disappointment marring her face.
“It… it is… it still can be if you mind, but…” I show her four tickets, closer to the game, but still on the fifty. “… I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if me and Dad joined you. If it’s a problem, you and Ray can take two of these and me and Dad can take your old seats…”
“No, no… Christian, of course, not!” she interrupts me, covering my hand with the four tickets in it. “I think it’ll be nice us taking our dads to the game,” she says with a genuine smile. “They like each other and I think we’ll have a great time.” I sigh a little. I didn’t want to Shanghai their father-daughter time, but I needed something to help Dad relax a bit. This whole situation is really taking a toll on him, which reminds me.
“Um, by the way…” Before I can get another word out, my brother comes barreling in with terrible timing, as always.
“Christian, what the fuck? Dad’s staying here?” Elliot blurts out as he bursts into the workout room. Butterfly whirls around and glares at me. I, in turn, glare at my brother.
“Thanks, Elliot,” I growl. He puts his hands on his hips.
“Well, excuse me for my lack of tact, but apparently, I’m the last to know that my father and mother are breaking up!” he snaps.
“Apparently, you’re not the last to know!” Butterfly retorts, looking expectantly at me.
“Well, if that’s what he told you, then you’re the first to know, because that’s not what he told me,” I defend.
“Well, what else could it be?” Elliot rejoinders. “He’s in the guest room next to me and my wife looking like someone shot his favorite dog and Mom sure as hell ain’t here!” I sigh.
“Elliot, you really need to talk to Dad, but as far as I can tell, he just needs a break.”
“A break?” he snaps. “You don’t take a break from your marriage!”
“You do when your wife is acting like she’s lost her damn mind and no one else matters!” I bark back. “Mom is completely certifiable! She’s lied on me once and to me twice. One of the times she lied to me, it was about my wife and all of this happened within a week’s time. Our dad just lost his dad and she’s completely ignoring his feelings. He’s got no one else to turn to and that’s why he’s here. Every time he tries to talk to her about it, she treats him like he’s bothering her and he’s falling apart. She’s my mother and I love her, but I will not allow her to treat my father like a piece of used tissue because she too busy trying to make Mia’s wedding the circus that she couldn’t make ours!”
My brother is stunned into silence and my wife’s blue eyes are fixed on mine, realization clear in her gaze. She examines me for a moment, then Elliot before she quietly leaves the room. Elliot stands there, looking at me, caught in obvious indecision. Whose side does he take—Mom’s or Dad’s?
“It’s terrible place for the kids to be,” I tell him, trying to empathize with his position, but there’s no indecision for me. I’ve witnessed her selfishness first-hand and I can only imagine what Dad has had to deal with.
“I won’t lie to Mom,” he states finitely.
“I’m not asking you to,” I tell him. “I won’t lie to her either, but I won’t allow her to bully or guilt trip Dad. He needs her to listen, to understand his pain and how he’s feeling. If she can’t do that, then she’s not allowed to antagonize him.” He frowns deeply.
“You would keep Mom from seeing Dad?” he accuses.
“I’ve had to make the decision over the last 24 hours to protect myself from my mother. If I have to protect my father from her, too, then I will.”
“Protect…” he barks. “You’re not making any goddamn sense!”
“Listen to my words for a minute and not your damn feelings!” I yell back! “My mother lied on me to the man that almost put me in jail two years ago to save his election!” Elliot’s head snaps back.
“What!” he yelps.
“Yes!” I confirm. “That same judge that tried to throw me in jail to make an example of me when that drunk driver almost killed me? She told him and his wife that I demanded that they be uninvited from Mia’s wedding just so that she could save face when I did no fucking such thing! She also told me that my wife told her to turn over Mia’s wedding list so that I could hack it up and tell her who couldn’t come! Imagine what kind of discord that could have caused in my marriage had I believed her! She’s shutting down half of downtown; she’s making crazy demands; and now my father—who is still mourning the loss of his father—can’t even grieve in peace because she’s turned into a bona-fide Momzilla of the Bride!” Elliot shakes his head.
“Come on, Christian,” he says, the fight leaving his voice. “It can’t be that bad.”
“It is that bad. It’s exactly that bad. It’s worse. She and Mia are in this together and she has the reigns. You tell me how bad it is.” He shakes his head and runs his hand over his buzz cut.
“I know how she can get, but… Dad moved out…” he says, in disbelief.
“Only for a moment from what he’s told me,” I assure him. “She’s trying to dictate the course of Mia’s wedding in a way that will make up for not being able to dictate the course of ours, and she’s alienating everyone in the process. Butterfly left the center today and left our children there to get the hell away from her!”
Elliot’s eyes widen and his shoulders fall. I don’t know exactly what that means to him, but apparently, it got through.
“Shit,” he says in a sing-songy manner, “that bad, huh?”
“That bad,” I say, nodding. He sighs and rubs his neck.
“I guess I better go talk to the old man. I… didn’t give him a chance to explain.” I put my hand on his shoulder.
“I’ll go with you,” I tell him.
Dad does his best to explain to Elliot over dinner how badly Mom is driving him crazy, but he’s so weary that he can barely get his dinner down before he excuses himself to turn in for the night. My brother and I and our wives sit at the dining table over coffee discussing the possible outcomes of the situation. We know that Mom and Dad aren’t going to end up in divorce, but we all agree that without outside intervention, the damage to the relationship could be irreparable—maybe not leading to its demise, but possibly leading to them not being able to regain the connection they had before. Valerie and Elliot believe that family intervention will be enough while Butterfly and I both feel like professional counseling is the way to go.
“You both are just saying that because of who you are,” Valerie says. “You’ve had good results with therapists, which is great, and so has Steele… and she is a therapist, but I really think they would benefit more from having the support of the family in this matter.”
“And they will have the support of the family,” Butterfly counters, “but the dynamics of the issue between them is far too complex for a simple family discussion. The cuts run too deep…”
“That’s why we have you, Montana,” Elliot retorts. “Not only do you have the benefit of being able to offer the support of the family, but you’re also a professional and can provide the expertise that they’ll need to get through the issues.”
“It’s not that simple, Elliot,” I tell him. “There’s more to it than that and I’m sure you know it.”
“I’m invested personally, Elliot,” Butterfly says. “I wouldn’t be a good fit for this situation.” He pauses and examines her.
“Oh, I see,” he says. “It’s not that you wouldn’t be a good fit. You’re letting your personal feelings get involved and you just won’t do it.” His voice is accusing and I don’t like it.
“Careful, brother,” I warn. Butterfly places her hand on mine.
“No, Christian, it’s fine.” She turns her attention to my brother. “You’re exactly right, Elliot.” He’s a bit taken aback by her honesty and quite frankly, I am, too. “I am a consummate professional, and this situation is the exact reason why surgeons are not allowed to operate on family members. Once we are emotionally involved, our professionalism takes a hit. As long as it didn’t directly involve me, as long as it didn’t directly affect me, I could be an impartial listener. I could provide professional advice and guidance, just as I have with other members of your family.”
She flashes a knowing look at Elliot and his back straightens. He has no idea just how many members of the Grey Family Butterfly has counseled.
“That all changed today,” she continues. “I tried to talk to Grace. I tried to tell her—with Carrick’s permission—that a storm was coming. I didn’t know just how big the storm was; I thought that it could someday develop into this, but not that it had already gotten here. Grace unequivocally and unceremoniously shut me down, citing that I was not allowed to discuss her husband with her because I refused to collaborate with her to get my husband to cooperate with her wishes. Needless to say, I’m highly offended, because I feel that it’s childish and manipulative. As a result, I’ll be staying away from the Center for a few days because I don’t want to be disrespectful to your mother. Bearing that in mind, I’m going to respect her demands, and I won’t discuss her husband with her. Anything that I can offer at this point will be laced with personal feelings and therefore, ineffectual. Now, I apologize if that’s not a good enough explanation for you, but it’ll have to do.”
My wife entwines her fingers on the table in front of her in that businesslike, Dr. Grey manner and awaits the backlash. Elliot stares at her for a few moments more before flashing his gaze to me.
“You don’t win many arguments with her, do you?” he says, matter-of-factly. I don’t even flinch.
“It’s about 50-50,” I tell him. Butterfly turns to me.
“How very diplomatic of you, Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice still professional and crisp. I shrug one shoulder.
“It’s the truth,” I reply.
“How do I respond to that?” Elliot retorts. “It’s perfectly logical, delivered with no malice… I can’t even argue, but I want to help my parents. So, what do I do?”
“Encourage them to seek professional counseling,” Butterfly tells him. “Tell them how this situation is affecting you and the family.”
“What situation?” Elliot says. “I still only have one side of the story.”
“No, you don’t, El,” Valerie interjects. “You have several sides of the story, and all sides say that your mom is out of control, but you haven’t heard your mom’s yet. So, it’s hard for you to accept.” He drops his head.
“I can’t just… take everybody’s word for it without talking to Mom,” he says, sadly. “I don’t want it to seem like we’re ganging up on her.”
“And nobody’s expecting you to do that,” Valerie says, “but know that everyone is giving you their personal account of what they have experienced with Grace. Ana’s telling you what happened between her and Grace. Christian gave you his account. Carrick is telling you what he’s going through. Even you and I have had personal experience with how she can be right before we got married. We would probably still be haggling over linen colors today if Ana hadn’t intervened.”
My brother raises his eyes to Butterfly, then to his wife, then drops them to the table again.
“And we’re not ganging up on her,” Valerie continues, “but that’s not to say that she’s not going to feel that way. Nonetheless, she still needs to know how her behavior is affecting her family… then she can make the decision if she’s going to do something about it.” He sighs.
“Oh, dear God, she can’t be this dense,” Elliot laments.
“She’s not dense. If she is, she’s being deliberately obtuse,” I correct him. “It’s voluntary blindness, and you and I both know that she can turn that on and off on a whim. She and Mia are on the same wavelength, so there’s no one to put her in check. Dad’s not 100%, so when he tried, he failed and is now crumbling by the wayside. It’s nearly 8pm and Mom hasn’t even called to see if we’ve heard from Dad. Does he normally keep these hours?
“I know she hasn’t called him, because if she did, he may not answer, so she would call here in a fit. If he did answer, she’d know he was here—then her doctor mind would go to work. Butterfly left pissed a few hours ago, so she’s not going to call her. Our last conversation was tense, to say the very least, so I would be a fallback position, if that. So, you would be the magic contact, my friend.”
“Could he have left her a note?” Butterfly asks. I shrug.
“It’s possible, but even if he had, she’d still be…” Before I can finish my sentence, my phone buzzes in my pocket. I roll my eyes and dig it out. I look at the screen and show it to my wife. I swipe the screen and answer it.
“Christian, what in God’s name is going on?” I sigh.
“Don’t Hi Meelo me!” she says, her voice firm. “Mom’s over her sobbing like a toddler! She’s got a crumpled piece of paper in her hand and she told me to call you! Dad’s not here and she won’t tell me what’s happening! What in the world is going on?” And, of course, my mother is still being manipulative.
“Mia, can I get you to be objective for two minutes, because I really need it right now,” I say just as firmly.
“Yes, Christian, just tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m putting you on speaker.” I put the phone on speaker and set in on the table. “Are you there?”
“I’m here with Elliot, Valerie, and Anastasia and I’m going to repeat exactly what you just told me…” I repeat my mother’s reaction to and description of finding my father’s letter. Valerie groans and drops her head into her hands.
“Waaaait, wait, wait a minute,” Butterfly says. “Let me get this straight. That’s her I hear blubbering in the background and she hasn’t given you any information? She told you to call Christian so that Christian could tell you what was going on?” Butterfly is clearly perturbed. Mia pauses for a moment.
“Yeah,” she says, slowly, picking up on Butterfly’s obvious irritation. Butterfly throws her hands up.
“That is the last person left that she’s able to manipulate and look what she’s doing? That’s it. I’m done. She’s beyond hope!” Butterfly folds her arms and sits back in her seat. I know shutting down when I see it.
“Mia, Dad’s here,” I tell her.
“What is he doing there?” she asks.
“Near as I can tell, he’s mourning his father, because he can’t do it at home.” She’s silent at home.
“Christian, you’re not making sense,” Mia says.
“This whole damn thing is not making any sense, Mia, and none of us really want to get you involved because this is your wedding, but Mom is out of control…”
I tell Mia everything that happened from the lie about Butterfly up to and including Dad showing up on my doorstep. Butterfly includes the attempt to guilt-trip her into arguing my mother’s case to me and the ceremonious shutdown when she tried to present Dad’s concerns. Elliot tells his sister that nothing has happened so far with him and his mother, but makes it clear that he won’t be a chess piece in this game that his mother appears to be playing and that he would gladly stand on the sidelines and let it play out before he gets involved. Valerie only confirms that she intends to stand by her husband.
“Well, this has been very enlightening,” she says, her voice uncertain. “For the record, I didn’t know shit about flamingos, you guys, okay?”
“If that’s the case, Mia, then you need to talk to her, because I have a feeling that she’s going unchecked on a lot of things and there’s no telling who she’s alienating and not just her family. Her husband isn’t at home, for God’s sake,” I say.
“And then, she tells me to call you like a common messenger girl…” She trails off, irritation lacing her voice. “Thanks, Cwis. I’ll talk to you guys, later.”
“Meelo,” I catch her before she ends the call. “Dad’s sleeping.”
“I get it,” she says, and ends the call. I look at my brother and our wives.
“Let’s see what happens,” I say as my phone beeps, signaling the disconnect.
A/N: So, it appears that the Greys must form a unified front against one of their own… the family matriarch, no less. How will this turn out?
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