One of my faithful readers posted this comment on Facebook about the last chapter:
“I love how there is such a fine line between his ability to be the old dominant and how hard he’s trying to balance that as dominant/husband.”
I’m glad that someone saw that. My response to her was, “That’s what I try to portray. People think that because he’s been a Dom for so long, he should have this down pat—he should be perfect. But he’s not. First of all, he doesn’t exercise his dominance every weekend like he used to. Second, when he was a Dom before, he was a sadist. Now, he’s trying to balance being a Dominant and his ever-present need for control with being a husband and a lover. Apparently, he’s not getting that right fast enough for some people.”
They get some playroom/playtime scenes just right—eroticism, passion, just the right amount of dominance or punishment. Some of them, they screw up; others they get ghastly wrong. Do you think that’s an accident? Would you really keep reading this story if it was always, “Playroom! Great time! Back to life…?” I got bored just writing that sentence. So, here’s a head’s up. The moment Christian and Ana get playtime, punishments, and marriage completely perfect and there are no more mistakes to be made, I’ll stop writing this story, because there will be no more story to tell.
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 23—Doors That Should Remain Closed
Prime time. We’re going to do a full-length prime-time special interview about our lives. What’s more is that we’re looking for a national network as opposed to a local network and we’ve already gotten seven takers in less than twelve hours. Jesus Christ.
My husband thinks it’s a good idea to feed the beast. I’m not so sure. I still don’t get what it is about us that’s so damn fascinating. There are so many other rich couples who have been richer for longer and married for longer. Maybe that’s what it is—it’s the novelty, the newness… although I can’t see how it could be that, either, because we’re not that new.
Maybe they’re all just waiting for the breakdown, waiting to see when the other shoe will drop, I don’t know. He’s very preoccupied with the intentions and interference of his ex-subs, but it’s more than just them. It’s the Judd Rossiters and the crazy paparazzi, the ratings whores and whomever else seems to want a piece of the Greys. Brian seems to have breezed in and out of town without incident, but I’m still not so sure that he can be trusted either.
And then there’s the licensing boards.
The medical ethics board has gone completely radio silent when it comes to my accusations. They haven’t addressed them in the public forum or in terms of my complaints and requests for a formal investigation. It appears that the only way that I will get any kind of light shown into the ethics of how they treated me is to file suit against them. After talking to Al, that means that I would have to prove some kind of injury besides my humiliation, such as defamation of character—which I can’t—so I’m seriously considering taking the “Christian Grey” avenue on this one and seeing what strings can be pulled, because I can’t be the first person this has happened to and I’m certain that I won’t be the last.
As for the accreditation board, I believe that Ms. Felton has a hand in writing our responses personally. The letters have now taken on the tone of scolding and although they’re sighed by someone else altogether, I get the feeling that I’m sparring with the Head Bitch herself:
While we can appreciate your impatience, these matters take meticulous consideration and will not be rushed even for the most prestigious citizens of Washington…
We have received all fifteen of your prior correspondences and still maintain that we must be thorough in the licensing process to be certain that all institutions meet the requirements set forth by the state…
As you are requesting to be entrusted with the safety and shaping of the minds of infants and pre-school-age children, you must know that the guidelines for accreditation are much more rigorous than that of a primary or secondary academy…
Blah blah blah more bullshit wait bitches you should have made me assistant director then you wouldn’t be dealing with this shit right now blah blah blah fuck you joke’s on you your ass is mine rot in hell and so on and so forth…
I can only handle one catastrophe at a time. I’m already trying to deal with the pressure of an impending prime-time interview and whatever fallout may come from “sicing” Christian Grey on the Medical Ethics Board, should I decide to go that route. I don’t know that I can deal with Gloria Felton and her fucking pissing contest! We’re already going to miss out on any funding and any programs that we could have participated in during the fall school year when I was certain that we had this whole thing locked down last spring. I’m losing my fucking patience here! I make the decision that Ms. Felton has actually gotten sixteen letters from us, and she will only get twenty before I threaten to take some serious action on her ass. She has a boss, too, and I won’t sit still for this shit. Twenty letters, coupled with her smartastic responses, has to be enough to get some action from somewhere.
I learn to my great surprise that Christian has returned Mia’s list to her with only one elimination—Hammerstone. I regret not taking a look at it myself and crossing off the fucking daughters, but that would have been impossible since the bitches are bridesmaids. I swear, Mia is truly two altogether different people sometimes. When I first met her, she was sweet and considerate, bubbly and kind, protective of her family to the point of violence. I see that side of her quite often—if Christian is, could be, or has been hurt in any way; at the garden party when Kate tripped Val; when the ugly step-sisters were talking shit about me at Miana’s last year. She can truly be one of the most selfless people and fearless defenders I’ve ever seen.
And then, there’s this other side… this catty, spoiled, petty, uncontrolled debutante brat who’s worse than Courtney ever was. It’s like a switch is flipped and she becomes someone else completely. Even though I was hysterically drunk, I still wonder how the fuck those girls got on Christian’s boat—our boat—and where the hell was Mia? I know that we can be blind to our own imperfections, but how is it that she can see a character flaw so clearly in someone else, but she can’t see it in herself? And how the hell does Ethan deal with that shit? Maybe being around Kate was good practice for him and he just doesn’t see it.
And Grace! Good God, Grace! She’s the biggest enigma of them all. She does this huge, selfless thing with her life—she’s an emergency-room pediatrician! She’s on-call at the hospital when babies get the worst owies, and when she’s not spending her time at the hospital, she’s at the Center helping battered women and broken families put their lives back together. Then, in her spare time, she’s on the committees of several charities. I don’t even know how she finds the time to do all that! And yet, she’s still able to be this self-centered, maniacal, tunneled-visioned socialite who’s more concerned about her station, image, and reputation than she is about her children’s wishes. I can halfway understand Mia being an attention hog because she’s young, but Grace?
Every opportunity she sees, she tries to steal the spotlight and make it about her. I’m surprised that she hasn’t showed up at some of the radio shows and did the interviews herself! I’m still not over the infant coming-out party! I mean, I’m over it—I don’t hold a grudge—but I still never got the concept! Jesus, is she expecting Minnie to have a debutante party? Do I want Minnie to have a debutante party? I think not!
That’s going to be another fight.
I raise my head from my desk to see the door to my study open and bottle of that heavenly Soaring Eagle Cabernet being thrust inside with a monogramed white handkerchief hanging from it. I shake my head as I remove my glasses and rub my tired eyes. My husband’s head pokes cautiously into the door as if to see if the coast is clear.
“Are you still angry with me?” he asks as he enters with two large-bowl wine glasses in hand.
“I was never angry, Christian,” I say, a bit wearily, “I was just… uncertain, maybe a little confused. It’s a feeling that I don’t like.” He pulls one of the chairs closer to the front of my desk.
“I’m sorry,” he says, placing the glasses and the wine on the desk.
“So you’ve said,” I reply with no malice. He examines me for a moment, then begins to uncork the bottle. He pours a fair amount into one glass and hands it to me. I take a healthy sip and allow it to coat my tongue and then my throat as I take a deep breath and let it out, the alcohol soothing my senses.
“Twelve offers,” he says, pouring himself a glass, “coast to coast.” I sigh.
“Twelve.” I can’t help the lamenting in my voice.
“You don’t sound pleased,” he says, bringing his glass to his mouth.
“I don’t see the point,” I admit.
“There’s a method to my madness,” he says. “You can’t see it now because I think you’re a bit too raw about the whole thing, but you will. I’ll explain it to you, but not right now.” He’s right. I couldn’t see reason in this idea if Freud, Plato, and Socrates themselves all came back from the graves and explained it in great detail at this moment. I’m kind of stuck in a “why are people in general so fucked up” moment right now. I take another sip of my wine.
“There are some decisions that we need to make, though,” he continues.
“Such as?” I ask.
“Who we’ll do the interview with; where will it take place; what questions we’ll answer; when…”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” I say before gulping back the rest of my wine and trying to clear my head. “You are going to have to give me some kind of idea of the purpose of this interview or I’m not going to have any idea what questions we should answer or anything else.” He raises an eyebrow at me, then immediately pours more wine into my glass. I know this is going to be a serious conversation when he sits back in the chair like this is a business meeting and crosses his legs, so I sip my wine and prepare myself.
“Among other things, we need to send a message,” he begins. “There’s this curiosity, this fascination with us—our relationship and our lifestyle—and it’s getting to the point of getting dangerous. Being me has always had its hazards as has being married to me, but it’s getting ridiculous. Where I thought time would diminish the splendor that is us, it seems to only have enhanced it. Judd Rossiter, he just an asshole. I think he would have done the same thing no matter what woman was sitting in that seat, but the fact that it was you makes the situation more sensational.
“There are people all over the place who still feel like you were a gold-digger. No matter what you say, no matter how you try to convince them otherwise, that’s still the picture that’s in their heads. I’m almost certain that’s part of the issue with your treatment by the medical board. Yes, every accusation of sexual misconduct has to be taken seriously, but do they treat every doctor that way that has to come before the board… or even every female doctor? If they had, don’t you think you would have heard something about it by now being in the medical profession?”
Unfortunately, that makes a lot of sense. I sip more of the ethereal elixir to ease the pain of this most recent cut. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the situation was personal and not just a bunch of blowhards in another boys’ club looking down on a woman who dare breach their profession.
“The fact that we are who we are means that in feast or famine, we can’t just have a normal life,” he continues, his voice even. “Your father gets arrested, my grandfather dies, you’re in a coma fighting for your life—and the press is there every time like President Obama is about to make some huge announcement. We can’t stop people from taking pictures of us on our boat or stealing kisses at the zoo with their cell phones, but we have to make it such that the pictures are old news. Yes, people will always want to know when something happens, but at some point, our every move must stop being so fascinating. And then there’s the ex-submissives and the people who seem to have a bone to pick with me…”
I knew this was coming.
“So, now, I’ve talked to two of my ex-submissives and they both had the same thing to say…” Wha… wait… back up.
“What? Two?” His lip forms a straight line.
“You. Couldn’t. Possibly. Think that woman was going to do that to you on the air and I wasn’t going to confront her,” he says, his voice firm. I raise my hands in surrender before reaching for my medicine again.
“A little warning next time?” I say, swallowing the rest of the wine and lamenting the bottom of the glass. He doesn’t fill it this time.
“Duly noted,” he says. “As I was saying, Ashanda—whose real name is Sarah Bradley, by the way—pretty much said the same thing Charity said, though not so eloquently, and she gave you the answer while you were in the interview… but there’s more to it. Yes, these women want to know how you broke the code. What did you do to achieve the unachievable? But what’s more, they’re thinking, ‘The shell has been broken; now I can get in… if I can just get close or if I can just get rid of her.’”
Well, there’s a frightening thought. I reach for my glass again, dismayed that it’s still empty. I look at my husband and, after a pause, he pours what’s left of the wine into my glass. It’s not much, so I finish it quickly.
“They think I’m just any other man now, Anastasia,” he continues. “I carry the same allure that I had before without the protective shell—you broke that. So, now, they think they can all come in and infiltrate, by any means necessary.”
That’s the exact impression Ashanda… Sarah… that cable bitch gave me. I knew she was an ex-sub—I knew immediately—but I had no doubt whatsoever that she would mount my man while I watched if given the chance. All she needed was opportunity.
And Greta… fucking Greta. I want to know where that bitch is right now. I’m certain we haven’t seen the last of her and I still feel like I haven’t taken enough out of her ass for stealing my goddamn gun.
And didn’t I say I wanted to have a heavy bag installed in the gym? Why the fuck didn’t I do that already?
Oh, fuck, was he still talking?
“Are you drunk, my love?” he inquires.
“Probably a little, but right now, I’m pissed,” I admit.
“Okay, talk to me,” he says, unfazed.
“There’s really nothing to say,” I declare, jolting from my seat. “It’s the same story. It’s the same thing. No use in asking why at this point. They want a story, let’s fucking give them one. I don’t want to leave my babies, so I’m not flying to New York or some shit and I don’t care if Barbara Walters calls. We do the interview here—on location.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re drunk,” he says.
“Yes, I am, a little, but you better listen,” I reinforce, ignoring the increasing fuzziness in my head. “On location—here, Grey House, and the gun range.” His eyes grow large.
“The gun range?” he asks.
“Yes, the gun range. You’ve seen me shoot and I know my father taught you. We want to send a message, this will send one loud and fucking clear.” He raises his eyebrow at me.
“I’m not sure any interviewer is going to go for that, but we’ll try,” he says.
“Don’t patronize me, Christian. I’m very serious,” I warn.
“Oh, I can tell. We’ll run it by Mac and see what she thinks.”
I should have known better than to expect unconditional surrender. That the best I can ask for.
“You really want people traipsing through our home?” he asks.
“That was your idea first, remember? And they’ll only get what we choose to show them,” I respond. “We won’t get away with not introducing the twins, and you know that, so at least they’ll be comfortable and we’ll do it on our own terms.” His gray eyes pierce at me and I know he hadn’t considered the thought of the children being part of this exposé. “It’s our family, Christian, get used to it. They’re as much news as we are and we have to control what gets released. I won’t have my children walking around in ridiculous costumes and masks like Blanket and Paris Jackson. Something’s got to give.” He sighs heavily.
“What the fuck have I signed up for?” he laments.
I’m drinking ginger tea and nursing a small hangover after falling into a coma-like, wine-induced sleep last night. I’ve awakened to Google alerts of Judd Loser talking to whatever down-in-the-dirt gossip rag that will listen to him about me, my father, the restraining order, Christian, and any piece of bullshit and nonsense he can throw out there. Unfortunately, since he’s talking about how all this stuff relates to him, we can’t legally silence him. He has the right to speak. Personally, I’d like to put my foot in his mouth and make him shut the hell up.
“Are you staying in today?” my husband asks when he enters the dining room at breakfast and sees my face.
“I had intended on going into the Center, sending a 17th letter to the licensing board, but I guess I can do that from here. I’m not feeling very well and this isn’t helping.” I hand him my iPad so that he can see the many Google alerts I have on the goings-on of one Judd Rossiter. His brow furrows and his lips form a straight line. I can see the wheels turning. “There’s nothing you can do, Christian, I’ve already asked Al. He’s within his rights to say the things that he’s saying as long as he doesn’t slander or threaten us.”
“There’s always something I can do, my dear,” he says before going to the kitchen and pouring himself some coffee. “He’s calling you an attention seeker. That’s rich.” He sips his coffee just as Marilyn comes breezing into the room.
“Good morning, Bosslady,” she chirps.
“Must you yell?” I complain, holding my head. “And why are you so fucking chipper?” She examines me carefully.
“Somebody had a bad night,” she says matter-of-factly.
“Somebody else had a great one,” I retort.
“I did, in fact,” she says shamelessly and extends her right hand to me. On her third finger is a beautiful ring in white gold with diamonds shaped like a heart. The ring forms an arrow around her finger that shoots through the heart. She’s grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“It’s a promise ring. Gary gave it to me last night at dinner.”
“Oh, I’m such a bitch,” I say, rising from my seat and embracing her warmly.
“You can be sometimes, but I still love you, Bosslady,” she says with mirth. I release her and take her hand again, examining the ring more closely.
“It’s really beautiful, Mare,” I say, sincerely. She nods.
“It’s perfect. It looks like it took time and thought… and it says that he loves me.” She smiles sweetly. I return her smile.
“He does,” I confirm. “In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him like this. Thank you for making my friend happy.”
“He makes me happy, too,” she says, admiring her ring. Christian comes over and looks down at Marilyn’s hand.
“Hmm, Rogers and Hollands. That one’s usually in sterling silver, but he went with the white gold, custom. Man’s got good taste.” I glare at him.
“How could you possibly know all that?” I question. He just looks at me as if to say, “Did you really just ask me that?” I just shake my head.
“Yes, she had a rough night—near-repeat of the wine-drunk incident of ’12. I’m sure she’ll fill you in. Take care of her.” He turns to me and kisses me on the cheek. “Call me if you need me.” I nod as he leaves the dining room.
“Repeat of the wine-drunk incident? Do I even want to know?” Marilyn asks.
“You have to,” I say as I lead the way to the elevator. “What’s my schedule look like today? Did I have anything at the Center?” She shakes her head.
“Same stuff,” she says. “You still have people clamoring for interviews if you’re interested.”
“No need,” I say as the doors open to the lower level. “Mr. Grey has decided that we’re doing an interview together… and the event will be televised… on prime-time… nationally.” Her eyes widen.
“Seriously?” she says in an amazed whisper. “What brought this on?”
“Among other things, Ashanda… whatever the hell her last name is. Her real name is Sarah Bradley. That’s all I’m allowed to disclose at this time.”
“Ah, another blast from Mr. Grey’s past,” she says, looking at her iPad as we enter my office. I turn and glare at her.
“What do you know about it?” I ask.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, Bosslady,” she says. “I’m right on top of most if not all of the occurrences in your life. I can easily put two and two together on some of them even if I don’t know all the details… and trust me, I don’t need to know them all. I just need to know enough to do my job properly and be a friend when you need it.” I sigh.
“I’d die without you,” I say, falling into my chair.
“No, you wouldn’t, but life would be much less interesting,” she says, winking at me. I roll my eyes.
“Get a heavy bag installed in the gym, please,” I add as I open my laptop.
I’m starting to feel like Jimmy Conway from Goodfellas. When you have to make things happen, you just have to make them happen. I’ve tried to get a gag order on this asshole and he’s talking more now than he was before. I spent the entire ride into the office going over this blowhard’s latest declarations from the rooftops and the more I read, the more he’s pissing me the fuck off. I try not to let my money go to my head, but when you’re as rich as I am, you’re not very fond of the word No.
“I need Rossiter to shut the fuck up,” I say to Jason when we get to the office. “We’re about to go primetime with intimate details of our lives. He can’t be in the bleachers spouting this bullshit to any bottom-dwelling scandal sheet while we’re opening up to the world.”
“What do you want?” he says. I raise my eyebrows at him.
“Do you need me to spell this out for you?” I ask. “We’re taking all the legal avenues that we can and nothing’s working. Do whatever you must.” I’m done being Mr. Nice Guy. I’m tired of taking the high road every chance I get only to have somebody come along and roll over me and my family with a semi-truck. I’ll continue to be an upstanding citizen as long as the law works in my favor, but when it starts to fight against me, I’m fighting back.
“Should we start with a message or balls to the wall?” he asks, his tone changing. That’s what I’m looking for.
“Start with a message,” I say. “Let him know how bad it can get if he doesn’t shut the fuck up.” Jason nods and leaves the room. I go over to the desk and dial up to PR.
“McIntyre,” she answers.
“My wife has decided the locations of our prime-time interview—Grey Crossing, here, and the gun range. What do you think of that?”
“What? The gun range? Why the hell does she want to go to the gun range?” she asks in horror.
“It may have been something I said,” I reply.
“What in God’s name did you say to that woman that would prompt her to want to do part of an intimate family interview at the gun range?” she inquires.
“Oh, things about my exes and wanting to see who I am now that I’m a kinder, gentler Christian and possibly sending a message to a few folks about a few things… After the Ashanda Beasley thing, we may need to pull out the big guns—literally!”
“You’re kidding, right?” she declares in disbelief. “You can’t do that! You’re a prominent member of the community! That’s insane! ‘Guntucky comes to Seattle.’ There’s no way…”
“Well, you get to tell her, then,” I say. “I told her that I would run it past you. If you say it’s a bad idea, you have to explain to her why we can’t do it.”
“Gladly!” she says and ends the call without another word. My publicist just hung up on me. She’s about to have it out with my wife. I have a feeling that I don’t want to have any part of that conversation.
Something about this is just not right. I’ve spent most of the morning and the better part of the afternoon—the time that I wasn’t in meetings—going over the data for Capito Industrias, a company in Madrid that seems ripe for acquisition. For all intents and purposes, it seems like a viable, prosperous company. The numbers seem solid—there’s no financial trouble according to the initial financials. The owner is a young man, around my age, so he’s not looking to retire and live out his golden years. I don’t see new technologies in the works that may call for an additional influx of capital or even a high debt ratio that might require a bailout. So… why sell? Why now? What am I missing?
I’m certain that I’ll find my answer in detailed financial statements that break down the profits and losses per operation and subsidiary, as the company as a whole seems more than capable of holding its own. My eyes are getting tired and the numbers are all beginning to run together. I’m beginning to think I may need to go to the eye doctor, but I’m too damn vain to wear glasses. I lean back in my seat to rest my eyes for a moment. Of course, the whole interview situation comes to mind and it occurs to me that I haven’t heard back from Mac about her conversation with Butterfly. The longer I sit here with my eyes closed, the better they feel and the more I convince myself that I don’t need glasses. My victory dance is interrupted by my buzzing phone in my pocket and I have to squint to see a number that I don’t recognize.
“Grey,” I answer.
“Yes, Christian… Mr. Grey… do you have a moment?” the voice says. He’s trying to sound firm, but there’s a hint of trepidation in his voice.
“Who is this?” I ask.
“It’s, um… Marvin. Marvin Hammerstone.”
I pause for a moment because clearly, I’m hearing things.
“Excuse me, who?” I ask. This must be a joke.
“It’s Marvin Hammerstone… Judge Marvin Ham…”
“I know who the fuck you are how did you get this number and why are you calling me?” I say all in one breath. I hear a heavy sigh.
“I’m a judge. I can get anybody’s number,” he replies with no malice.
“In that case, I hope you’re calling me in an official capacity, considering that you’re a judge and all and you used your official resources to obtain my private cell phone number even though you and I have no official business,” I state matter-of-factly.
“No, this is a personal matter,” he says, as if I didn’t already know.
“You and I have even less personal business, Hammerstone,” I retort. “I have no reason whatsoever to be speaking to you.”
“I won’t take up much of your time…”
“You won’t take up any of my time,” I correct him.
“If you would just allow me to get a few words out…” he says, trailing off and clearly frustrated. Eh, why not? This could be fun.
“State your business and make it quick,” I retort. I hear him take another deep breath before he speaks.
“I promised my wife that I would call you and try to appeal to you on her behalf,” he begins. “She was looking forward to attending Mia Grey’s wedding very much, and now she’s quite brokenhearted that the invitation has been rescinded. I didn’t make the connection when she first told me about the wedding, but now that she has accepted the invitation, she’s feeling heavily shunned that she will be missing the ‘social event of the century,’ as she put it.”
He pauses for a moment, apparently expecting me to weigh in on the matter, I think. He gets nothing. I don’t care that his wife has her knickers in a wad because she won’t get to “hobnob with the snobs” at my sister’s wedding. When I don’t respond, he continues.
“She pressed further to discover that you didn’t want me in attendance and demanded that we be stricken from the list…” Oh, thanks, Mom.
“Not that I really care what you think, but that’s not what happened,” I correct him. “I told my sister that if the judge who used my misfortune as a stepping stone to strengthen his political platform would be in attendance at her wedding, then I wouldn’t be. I didn’t demand anything, Marvin. I just suppose my sister would rather have her brother present at her nuptials than a judge that she doesn’t even know and his wife who simply doesn’t want to miss out on the ‘social event of the century.’ Whatever tale my mother spun for your wife to placate her, well, I can’t be held responsible for that,” I add coolly.
“Whatever the logistics, Grey, the bottom line is that we were uninvited from the wedding at your behest. My wife is aware of this, and it’s been absolute utter hell dealing with her ever since she first got the news. I know you don’t owe me anything…”
“That’s an understatement,” I interject. He sighs.
“But I’m asking if just this once, we can set aside our differences or come to some mutual understanding for just one evening. We most likely won’t even bump into each other at the wedding. It’s being held at the historical theater—I’m certain that we can avoid each other’s company in a venue that size if my presence would disturb you that much… and I certainly have no problem being civil should our paths cross. What do you say, Grey?”
It’s a perfectly logical argument. There will be people in attendance that I probably won’t see all night… but they ain’t Hammerstone.
“Differences?” I repeat, appalled. “Differences? You tried to put me jail because I decked the drunk driver who totaled my car, tried to kill me, then tried to say it was my fault, and you call that differences? You tried to make an example of me because of a knee-jerk reaction, not because I had seven vodka tonics for lunch! Yet you want me to let ‘bygones be bygones’ because your wife’s little feelings are hurt since she can’t hang out with the cool kids. You tried to make me look like a menace to society because it was an election year and you wanted to look good. The hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners, Judge Marvin Hammerstone—punisher of evil billionaires and protector of killer drunk drivers everywhere! Well, congratulations, judge, you got your wish. Now, you’re taking up my valuable and precious time and I don’t wish to talk to you anymore.” He can sense that I’m about to end the call.
“Grey, just wait a second!” he says quickly, his voice panicked. God, he sounds desperate. She must be really giving him hell… or she’s got something on him and is telling him to make this happen by any means necessary. This is even better than I thought. “Look, you want an apology, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was too concerned with my campaign and getting elected, I’ll admit that. You want revenge, you got it. You got me over a real barrel here, Grey. I’ll owe you big time. I’ll even make that pesky conviction go away.” I literally laugh in his ear.
“You’re kidding, right?” I say, pretending to attempt to hide my mirth. “Have you been paying attention, Marvin? Exactly how has that assault conviction hurt me in the last two years? Anything that little conviction can do to me, I can buy my way around it… legally. I was even able to get a CCW last year. So, why the hell would I care if it’s still on my record? It gives me a little character. I’m not perfect. ‘I lost my temper because a drunk asshole almost killed me and then tried to blame me for it.’ I’ve never been squeaky clean, Hammerstone, and I never will be, but try to find something on me and you’ll come up empty-handed. I don’t give a fuck about a misdemeanor assault conviction! What the hell does that mean to me? Bask in your victory over the big, bad rich man, Hammerstone. How does it feel? You need to tell the little wifey to get over it. My sister can invite anyone she wants to her wedding and reception, but if you’re there, I’m not coming. And it appears that she wants me there more than she wants you.”
“Come on, Grey, what do I have to do?” He’s really begging now and I’m so curious to know what’s at stake and why this is so important to him, but hearing him beg is enough for me. “You just don’t get it. My wife has to be at that wedding! I’ll do anything that will give you vindication. Anything!” Ah, the magic word.
“Oh, I’ve already gotten vindication,” I retort. “Because of you and your self-serving tactics, I met my loving wife. I now have two beautiful children and a full, wonderful life. So, thanks, Your Honor, you really did me a solid without even trying… but I still don’t want to break bread with you and especially not at my sister’s wedding! So, if your wife’s happiness is dependent on me giving permission for you to attend that wedding, prepare her for bad news. Don’t call me again. We have nothing else to discuss.”
I end the call and put the phone on my desk. Then I call up to PR on my desk phone.
“Public Relation, Josh Shaler speaking.”
“Joshua, hi. Where’s Mac?” I ask.
“She left sometime this morning. I think she went to talk to Ana. I haven’t heard from her since.” Good grief, what happened?
“Well, my wife hasn’t called me, so I would say that there haven’t been any major catastrophes, so I guess I’ll just wa…” Before I get the words out of my mouth, a knock at the door interrupts my thoughts and Mac enters very shortly thereafter. She does not look happy. “Never mind. She just walked into my office.” I end the call and turn my attention to Mac. “Mac?” I say cautiously.
“So… you’re doing the interview on location… at the mansion, here… and the gun range.”
I take it she didn’t win that fight.
This has been a long fucking day and I’m ready to go home in the worst way. I still never got to the bottom of why Capito wants to sell. At least the answer isn’t in the financials. I’ve sent a request to the company’s CFO for the detailed financials from the last three years so that I can examine them for trends and compare them to the master statements. I’m all for buying a solid company with no problems if someone just wants to sell, but I’ve learned the hard way that all that glitters is definitely not gold.
I’m shutting down my laptop and putting some files in my briefcase when my phone buzzes in my pocket again. I fully expect to see my wife’s face when I pull the phone from my pocket, but to my surprise, it’s my mother. I haven’t spoken to her since I hung up on her that day after telling her that I wouldn’t be attending Mia’s wedding. I’ve talked to Mia, but not Mom. I sit back down at my desk and answer the phone.
“Hello, Christian. How are you?” she says.
“I’m fine, Mom, how are you?”
“I’m fine. Did Ana tell you that I wanted you to call me?”
“Yes, she did. I’m sorry I didn’t call. Things got a little crazy and I just didn’t get around to it.” It’s the truth. It didn’t cross my mind with everything else that’s been going on. She’s silent for a moment, then of course, she gets to the real reason for her call.
“I didn’t know that Marvin was… Well, I didn’t know anything about the accident until Ana told me,” she begins. “Janise and I have been friends for a really long time, even before she and Marvin met. It would really mean a lot to me if you would reconsider…”
“Mom, I’m not having dinner with that man,” I interrupt her. “That’s all I have to say on the matter.”
“He actually called to see if you would consent to allowing Janise to attend without him. You won’t have to see him and my friendship with Janise can remain unscathed.”
Unscathed? Did she just use that word? She threw me under the bus—her own son—so that her friendship with Janise can remain unscathed and now she’s trying to appeal to me to save it? Seriously?
This is your mother, Christian. This is your mother.
“Mia turned her entire list over to me and I only made one request. I didn’t even bother counting all the hundreds of names on that list—I only made one request, just one. Don’t invite the man who tried to put me in jail. I didn’t ask for anyone else to be removed from the guest list and quite frankly, I’m not trying to make anything easier for that fucker since he had no intention of making anything easier for me when he threatened to throw me in jail.”
“Christian!” she says in that appalled mother tone. “Language! And I’m not asking a favor for him. I’m asking for me and a dear friend of mine…” Like Elena was a dear friend of yours.
Why the hell did my mind go there?
“Well, which is it, Mom?” I accuse. “You told me that he called to see if I would consent to allow Janise to attend with him. Now, you’re saying the favor’s not for him. What’s more is right before he called you, he called me and I told him that I wouldn’t consent to his wife coming to the wedding. So, now he’s going to tell my mommy on me? Is that it? You’re getting a little carried away with your lies, Mom.”
“What?” she nearly shrieks into the phone. “How dare you speak to me like that!” And that’s it. The conversation has just taken a nosedive and can no longer be productive, not that it ever was.
“I’ve had about enough, Mom,” I say soberly. “You told that man’s wife that I demanded that they be scratched from the list when I did no such thing. You told me that my wife said I would hack up Mia’s guest list and that was a blatant lie, too. Now, you just told me that you weren’t do a favor for Hammerstone when moments before, you admitted that he called you to ask if his wife could attend without him. I love you, Mom, and I’ve just gotten to a point where I can be open and affectionate with people. Don’t make me shut down.” I hear her gasp on the phone.
“You would do that to me, Christian?” she asks in that voice.
“And there it is,” I say, somewhat defeated. “In situations like this, it’s always about you. It’s never about anyone else. You’re not always this way, but when you are, you’re unbearable. Did you really know why I was a recluse, Mother?” I say, reverting back to the name that I had used with her for so many years. “Did you really know why I didn’t socialize or come to events or anything? It’s because I wanted to protect myself. It was bad enough that I didn’t trust anybody, but the wealthier I became, the more proverbial guns were aimed at me. If I stayed out of the way—concealed, hidden, private—I was less of a target. I never thought I’d be a target for my own mother, though.”
“Christian… you can’t seriously feel that way,” she says, her voice cracking, but I don’t feel any sympathy.
“Sadly, Mother, I do. But don’t worry, it’s not just me. It’s Ana; it’s Elliot and Valerie; even Ethan and Mia. She doesn’t see it because she loves this whole circus thing, but you’re inviting people to her wedding that she doesn’t even know and you’re doing that for whom… for Mia? Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you’ll believe it soon, but the truth is that you’re pushing your own agenda at our expense and we’re being forced to stand up to you.
“You lied to me about my wife, and you don’t see anything wrong with that. Then you turn right around and lie on me to the wife of a man that you know I despise so that you can save face, and you don’t see anything wrong with that, either. And you continue to lie whenever and however it suits you, indiscriminately. How many more lies have you told?
“I’ve never seen this side of you, Mother, and I don’t like it. Correction, I’ve seen it with any event of any importance that has happened in our lives since my wedding and I don’t like one bit. Maybe it was always there and I just didn’t know it because I wasn’t around… I wasn’t involved in family social events like I am now… Maybe I need to do that again…”
“Christian, please, don’t…” my mother beseeches, her voice pleading like I don’t ever remember before.
“I can’t take this anymore, Mom,” I say, going back to the term of endearment I’d adopted for her since Butterfly broke down my walls. “I don’t like this Grace. I don’t know this Grace. The Grace that I’ve known—the one that rescued me from squalor and starvation…”
The words burn in my throat as I remember—vividly—sitting on an exam table, screaming inside while the doctors and nurses touched me. They were only trying to help me, but it was torture. I wanted my mommy, and she was gone. She was cold and dead and I still remember her body when they took me out of that apartment, even if now, I can’t remember her face. But there was an angel there, and she was so nice to me. She looked at me, and I knew that somehow, everything would be okay.
“Christian?” my mother’s voice breaks through my thoughts.
“The Grace I knew was kind, giving, and considerate,” I choke. “She heard me when I couldn’t talk and she saved children from the boogey man even when she couldn’t save me. She sat with me and let me sniffle; she heard my screams when I couldn’t say a word. She brought home little helpless girls with drug addictions and night terrors that could be saved…”
My chest is burning from the thought of Mia screaming in the night at nothing, then waking—shaken and not knowing what was happening and sometimes, not knowing where she was. I helped to save her even when nobody could save me.
“My wife chased away my monsters, but the angel Grace did everything she could to save me from them. Every day, she went to the hospital and put broken kids back together, then she came home and took care of me. She went to the ‘Hands’ place and saved other Mommies and kids from the boogey man even if my mommy couldn’t be saved.”
“Christian…” My mother’s voice is soft and broken, but I can’t help her. I miss my angel Grace, and I don’t like this person in her place. I can’t deal with this person in her place. I won’t.
“I gotta go, Mom,” I choke, my voice cracking. “I’ll ta… I gotta go.” I end the call and put my head down on my desk, fighting hard to chase the demons away that threaten to break free and invade my peace once more.
I’ve tamed the monsters a bit and my mood has calmed considerably by the time I reach the Crossing, but I’m still in desperate need of my wife. She’s not in the usual places, so I head down to her office and find her sitting in the community room with Sophie. They don’t appear to be discussing anything serious, but I really hate to disturb them. Sophie takes one look at me and it appears I don’t have to.
“I’m… um… going to go and see if Momma Gail has some snacks,” she says with a smile to Butterfly and makes a hasty getaway. I try to play it cool. I really do, but all I can do is sink to my knees and embrace her, laying my head in her soft bosom. I can tell she’s a bit taken aback, but she just strokes my hair in that comforting way that makes everything better.
“Are you okay?” she asks softly. I nod.
“It’s been a rough day,” I admit, snuggling deeper into her chest and looking for that eternal comfort.
“How so?” she asks.
“You first. Mac looked a little beat down when she got back to the office.”
“Beat down? I didn’t beat her down,” she defends.
“Well, she was certainly more subdued than I’ve ever seen her,” I say, my voice low. “What did you say to her?”
“No.” That’s all she gives me.
“No. That’s what I said.”
“No? Nothing else?”
“Nothing else,” she says. “She called and told me that we couldn’t do the interview at the gun range because we would look like backwoods vigilantes. I whole-heartedly disagree. I resent the fact that everybody who exercises their right to bear arms are immediately labeled as some backwoods crazy hicks from Deliverance. It’s not fair. And the more she talked, the more dug-in I became. It became imperative for me to show the world what this pretty little petite billionairess is made of. So, no matter what she said, I just said, ‘no.’ I vetoed every single rebuttal without explanation. The bottom line is that if I want to show up on television with a tooth blacked out, two high pigtails, and a plaid, tied flannel shirt like Daisy Duke, there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it. So… no.”
Wow. I guess I can see why Mac was a bit downtrodden. She’s accustomed to getting her way because she can easily break you down with logic and reason. Only this time, Butterfly wasn’t hearing logic or reason or anything else. She was dug in, and Mac met dug-in Butterfly… and lost.
“I need to make some changes,” I confess. I can feel her gaze on me.
“What kind of changes?” she asks.
“I think I need to distance myself from my mother for a while.” The pause isn’t only pregnant, as Allen would call it, it’s tangible.
“You what?” she asks in disbelief.
“She’s out of control,” I say calmly. “It’s not just the wedding. It’s her whole attitude. I can’t take it and I need to step back before I start to resent her. She and Hammerstone ganged up on me today…”
“Whoa whoa wait what?” she says all in one breath pulling me back to look at my face.
“Hammerstone got his uninvite to Mia’s wedding and apparently his wife is giving him fresh hell about it. So, he called me hoping for relief. Finding none, he decides to tell my mommy on me and then she calls me trying to pressure me to give in and at least allow his wife to attend the wedding. Remember when I told you that she lied on you about what you said about Mia’s guest list?” She nods. “Well, she told his wife that I demanded that they be removed from the list and that’s why they were uninvited when that’s not what happened. I just said that I wasn’t coming if they were.”
“Oh, dear God,” she groans, shaking her head. “She’s becoming impossible.”
“It’s worse,” I reveal. “She contradicted herself to me on the phone almost in the same breath. I don’t know that woman anymore. She’s becoming the epitome of what’s been toxic to me my whole life.” I pause. “She caused me to regress today.”
“Oh, my God!” Butterfly exclaims. “Are you okay??”
“I think so… I will be… I am right now,” I say, wrapping my arms around her and holding her tighter. “I might have to talk to Dr. Baker though. My feelings today were pretty vivid. I could see the same things I saw when I was a little boy in the hospital after the crack whore died. I hope I haven’t opened any doors that I’ve long since closed. What do you do when the person that you trusted above everyone else betrays that trust?” I shiver at the thought of my perfect savior being flawed just like everyone else. “I called her Mother.” Butterfly leans back and looks into my eyes.
“That’s not good,” she says. “You’re already distancing yourself.”
“I know,” I reply.
“Do you know why?” I shrug.
“Protection, I think,” I respond. “It’s a defense mechanism. Remove myself from the problem. It’s all I know to do. It’s all I’ve ever done when the issue’s bigger than me… until the issue isn’t bigger than me anymore.”
“That’s why you’ve been a recluse all these years,” she observes.
“It was easier to avoid people than to answer the ‘are you gay’ and ‘when are you getting married’ and ‘when are you bringing a girl home’ questions, especially since I was beating little brown-haired girls every weekend. How do you explain that?” I push myself off her lap, suddenly needing some distance, some movement. I’m restless. I undo my tie and snatch it from my neck.
I need a drink.
Noting my agitation, Butterfly goes to the bar and retrieves a decanter and a brandy snifter. She pours the amber liquid into the glass and pushes towards me. I down the whole thing without even tasting it, allowing the fluid to sear the back of my throat and my chest as it goes down.
I feel like a kid who has just learned that there’s no Santa Clause. I love my mother. I adore her—and this entire situation is burning my soul like this goddamn liquor is burning my fucking chest. She’s slowly robbing me of the one non-verbal safe-haven that I had… the one place that I could hide where I didn’t have to ask if I could go—besides under Mrs. Franklin’s porch for lemonade, that is.
Jesus… Mrs. Franklin… Aunt Tina. I haven’t thought about her in a long time. I wonder how she is these days? God, I am regressing.
I thrust my hands into my hair and squeeze my eyes shut. I feel like my head is going to explode. Breathe, Grey, breathe. I hear the clank of glass on glass and raise my head to see that more brandy is in the snifter. Is this what I need right now? Do I really need this?
Fuck, yes, I need this now!
I take the glass like the fluid is the antidote to some lethal poison—which it just may be at present—and down it once more, sighing heavily once the glass is empty, the alcohol burning a trek down my chest once more.
“Talk to me,” her voice says firmly. I’m leaning on the bar, my hands spread wide and my head down. It’s not my wife’s voice that I hear… it’s Dr. Grey.
“She saved me,” I say softly. “When I had no hope in anything… in anyone… in myself… in life… she saved me. She made me see the world differently—not a whole lot differently, but differently. She made me not feel so… lost… so alone. I still felt alone, but not so alone. Nobody else understood me, but I could connect to her…”
I’m not explaining this right. It was so much more than this. It was so much deeper. I remove my jacket and toss it on… something—a chair, something. I hear footsteps and I immediately fear discovery, so I begin walking, ducking into the first door that I see. I try to close the door behind me, but she’s hot on my heels, the decanter and the snifter still in her hands. She says nothing when she enters the room.
“Would you like to sit, or would you rather stand?” she says, her voice professional. I swallow hard.
“I’d… rather stand,” I say, my voice breathy. My head is a little cloudy now. The brandy is starting to take effect.
“Very well.” She enters the room and closes the door behind her. I realize that she has followed me into her parlor. I walk over to the fireplace and lean on the mantle, trying to collect my thoughts. “You said she saved you. You could connect to her…”
“It was more than that!” I blurt out. “She didn’t just save me; she was my savior! She was my messiah! She was my last and only representation that the world was someplace that I wanted to be at all when I felt that living was the last thing I wanted to do. I was a kid—too young to know anything about suicide, but all I could think about was leaving this place and ending it all and she was the only thing, the only thing, that made me not want to do that. As much as I adore Mia, as much of an impact as she had on me, Grace was the element that made me not want to leave this earth.”
There it is. I’ve said it. After 27 years, I’ve finally put it into words. The ugly truth…
“The crack whore left me… my mommy left me. I stayed with her body for four days. I don’t remember her face, but I remember her body. I’ve seen pictures of her face. I have a picture of her face, but I still don’t remember her face… but I remember her body. I remember her being cold—freezing fucking cold… and blue. First, she was warm… then she was cold. I tried to cover her with my blanket, but she was still cold, and now I know why I don’t remember her face.”
I close my eyes and rub them, trying to remove the image that I saw right before they found me… right before they took me away.
“I remember that her skin was shiny… and she was bigger… not a lot bigger, but bigger… and she looked sick… Something was coming out of her nose and mouth—something white and it looked like blood was mixed with it…”
I put my hands in my hair again and scratch my scalp, trying to release the pressure on my skull.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. I knew she was gone and she wasn’t coming back and I wanted her to please take me with her. I wanted her to please not leave me behind with this monster…” … with the man that put the firesticks on my skin…
“When the strangers came and took me away, I just knew he was going to come and get me. I just knew that if she was my mother, he was my father. I waited for years… I waited in terror for years for him to come and get me. That’s why the nightmares never went away… They were waiting for him… waiting for him to come back.”
It’s only now that I realize that I’m pacing the room, and only because my leg bumps the coffee table, which now holds yet another serving of brandy in the snifter. I take the snifter, but only hold it this time as I pace around the room.
“Every day, I waited. I waited for him to come and get me. I never got comfortable no matter where I was. For years, I didn’t talk to anybody. I didn’t make any friends. I didn’t get close. I didn’t let anybody in. I clung to the one person who showed me kindness… to Grace. They didn’t let her take me home immediately. I had to go to foster care for a while, but I don’t even remember those people. I don’t remember that place. I only remember Grace.
“I remember the house in Detroit with the big yard with the plum tree. I used to take a plum and put it in my drawer every night so I wouldn’t be hungry. Sometimes, when the nightmares woke me up, I ate my plum, went outside and got another one off the tree. Grace thought the neighborhood kids were picking them. If she ever knew that it was me, she never let on.”
I look down into the brandy glass, the fluid staring back at me beckoning me to take a sip.
“She was the reason I held on. She was the reason I didn’t let go. She was the reason I felt like things would get better even though most times, they just felt like they were getting worse. She was the reason I wanted to be and do more—not Elena and her whips and the sex… it was Grace. The sex and the lifestyle was motivation and drive to change, but not… reason. It didn’t give me the desire to change; it was a means to an end. Grace was that end—being a better son; being a better student; a better person, a better citizen, making her proud…”
My chest is tightening and the room feels like its spinning. It probably is with the amount of brandy that I’ve consumed, and I desperately want to drink what’s in my hand, but my vision is blurring and I’m thinking that it may not be the best idea.
Then I realize that it’s not the brandy blurring my vision.
“She was my savior!” I weep. “She gave me hope when I had none. I put her on a pedestal because she made me think she had no flaws—that she was this perfect angel who fixed broken children and saved lost souls and protected the weak and now…”
I’m back at the mantle, leaning on it and sobbing bitterly. I finally down the brandy in the snifter and throw the damn thing into the fireplace. I’m mourning and anguished and my legs turn to jelly beneath me and suddenly, I feel nothing but grief—total grief and despair over every possible thing that is, has, and can go wrong in my life. Blackness feels like it’s consuming me and I see the crack whore’s pimp and Pops’ death, Butterfly’s kidnapping and the Myricks hacking into my system and destroying my company, nuclear holocaust and my daughter growing up to become a stripper, the stock market crashing and the plagues of the Apocalypse… I’m that little boy all over again, huddled in the corner covering my eyes and praying for the monsters to leave and not eat me alive…
And then I feel her arms.
We’re on the floor between the table and the fireplace and her tiny body is coiled around mine. I’m sweating profusely and weeping uncontrollably and she’s kissing my forehead, holding me close to her, stroking my hair, rocking me, “ssshhhing” and saying soothing things.
“I’m here now…”
“You’re going to be fine…”
And again, I see the monsters hiss and retreat.
I’m exhausted… and maybe a little drunk… or a lot drunk, who knows… and I don’t know how I’m going to get up from this spot, not that I want to right now. The mournful sound of my crying is getting on my nerves now, so I stop, even though the tears continue to fall. I groan in misery and I can’t lift my head, so I just let it fall into her lap as she continues to soothe me. I don’t know how long I lie there in her lap, tears still falling, my wife and doctor caressing the ache from my head and soul when I remember something that I wanted to tell her.
“I may need glasses,” I slur, without raising my head.
“Mm,” she grunts.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I think you’d look hot in glasses,” she says. “Do I get to pick them?”
A/N: Jimmy Conway— James Burke (born James Conway), also known as Jimmy the Gent, and The Irishman (July 5, 1931 – April 13, 1996)—gangster portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the movie The Goodfellas.
I’ve talked about the movie Deliverance before—dueling banjos, guys stuck in the wilderness, male rape, “squeal like a pig…” You’re going to have to Google that one.
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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