This is a work or creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
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 26—The Real Monsters
Fucking motherfucking breathe, for God’s sake.
You did have the shit beaten out of this asshole.
It is your fault that your children are getting death threats on social media.
Yes, you wanted to send a message to this asshole to shut the fuck up and now he will.
Now, fucking breathe.
I’m squeezing my desk chair so goddamn hard that the cow that produced the fucking leather is screaming right now. My head feels like it’s going to explode. None of these fanatical, blowhard locos on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest, or Goggle+ are brave, angry, or even ambitious enough to get anywhere near my babies, but the outpouring of support that this contemptable degenerate is receiving for his deplorable behavior towards my wife and family is making my blood boil. If they want to see me become a heartless, cold-blooded, callous, money-slinging elitist, then that’s what the fuck they’ll get! My staff has already gotten over 25,000 social media profiles frozen for posting death threats towards my children, and they ain’t seen nothing yet!
“Give me a minute!” I hiss, still trying to calm myself.
“I understand, Boss, but I need you to release that chair before you break some skin. Her Highness will have my ass if I allow you to hurt yourself.”
That did it.
I busted my phone.
I busted my phone with Butterfly on the line.
Shit. She probably thinks I’m destroying my office right now.
I take several deep breaths and start counting.
Fucking motherfucking shit fucking hell. When it fucking rains it pours.
I’m going to fucking sue this man until he doesn’t have socks to wear.
I’m going to sue the stations that broadcasted his stories.
I’m going to sue the anchors and DJ’s that interviewed him.
I’m going to sue bloggers that post articles about him.
I’m going to sue women who talk about him at bridge parties.
I’m going to sue little kids who talk about him on the playground.
I’m going to sue babies who dream about him in their cribs.
When I get to somewhere around 3,965 or something like that, I realize that I probably can’t prove that babies dream about him in their cribs, so I scratch that one.
“I need another phone,” I grumble.
“Already on the way,” Jason says.
“Has anyone talked to my wife?” I ask.
“I texted her when we got to the office,” he says. I nod. I need to talk to her. I don’t know what I said to her before I broke the phone.
“Give me a minute,” I say. He nods and leaves the office. I don’t know when I calmed myself enough to take a seat, but I sit there for a moment before I pick up the receiver and dial the number.
“Christian?” Her sweet voice is worried.
“Hey, Butterfly,” I sigh.
“Are you okay?” I shake my head.
“I will be,” I answer truthfully. She’s silent for a moment.
“They want answers, you know,” she says. I nod.
“I know,” I reply. “They’ll get them when we do the interview. I’ve announced that there’s a gag order, so they know that there’s only so much that can be said. We can’t really talk about it.”
“Well, that’ll help,” she replies. “I’m going in to Helping Hands tomorrow. I need to get some things done… and I can’t hide forever.” I sigh.
“I know. It’s not your fight anyway. Dad will face her when he’s ready. He just needs some time to deal with some things. Hell, he hasn’t even dealt with Pops’ passing yet…” I trail off. There’s just too much shit going on at once. “I’ll be home soon. I’m just waiting for my phone.”
“I’ll be waiting, baby. I love you. I’m proud of you. You did good… except maybe for that whole sperm thing.” I laugh.
“Yeah, maybe I went a little overboard with that,” I confess. “I love you, too, Butterfly. See you soon.”
“Sorry about the gaggle of reporters outside your office, but I had to come in,” I tell the doctor.
“I can’t say that I get many local celebrities, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. So, Mr. Grey, when is the last time you’ve gotten your eyes checked?” I shrug.
“Maybe three or four years ago, I don’t know,” I answer honestly. “But now, they seem tired all the time and I’m squinting a lot.”
“All the time, or at particular times?” the doctor asks.
“Mainly when I’m reading or looking at my computer,” I tell him.
“Do you have problems driving? Watching television? Seeing long distances?” I shake my head.
“Not that I’m aware of.” He nods.
“It appears that what’s happening to your eyes is completely normal for someone who reads a lot and spends a lot of time looking at a computer screen. It’s also the natural aging process of the eye. Let’s do an eye exam and a couple of routine tests and see what we find.”
About an hour and a half later, Butterfly has chosen two pairs of lightweight glasses for me—thin frames, nothing dramatic, with scratch-resistant lenses and that non-glare computer coating. She teases me at first, but then confirms that I look sexy in them. We can barely get out of the eye-doctor to get back to the car with the reporters blocking the way. This is the first time I think I’ve ever seen my wife refuse to engage the press. Rossiter has thankfully been mum, no doubt honoring the gag order since he was informed that breaking it would be considered contempt of court and coupled with an outstanding protection order against him, he’d most likely be looking at jail time. Ah, sweet silence.
He should have just kept his mouth shut in the first place and he wouldn’t have had to worry about any of this.
“So, I was thinking,” I begin once we get settled in the car and on our way, “Danika Farrell had a good platform and so did Raynell Stanton. Did you get a look at… oh, hell, what’s her name?” The name is on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t pull it out right now.
“None of the guys appealed to you?” she asks as she outlines the empty baby seat with her finger. We thought it best to leave the children at home with all the commotion surrounding us right now. I shake my head.
“The ones that showed any real promise seemed to have ulterior motives. Maybe I’m just overreacting under the circumstances…” I trail off.
“No, you’re not,” she confirms. “I wondered if you picked up on that or if I was just being paranoid. They often made me feel… uncomfortable. I usually don’t trust women, but I got the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to trust the men more.” She shrugs. “I liked Maria Sanchez. I was both surprised and pleased that she was interested.”
“That’s the one,” I say. “I should have remembered. She has the same name as that tennis player. Yeah, she seemed pretty professional. You want to set up a meeting?” Butterfly nods.
“A phone meeting? She’s in New York, isn’t she?”
“I’ll have Mac call her and find out what she wants to do,” I say. “Who should we have as back-up in case Sanchez falls through?”
“The other two that you mentioned,” Butterfly suggests. “Raynell Stanton and Danika Farrell. Set up meetings with all of them. No use putting all our eggs in one basket.” I nod.
I call into the office and have Mac set the meetings with the various broadcast journalists while Butterfly calls home to check on our children. As we end our respective calls, we drop her and Chuck off at Helping Hands with one of the Audi SUVs and head to Grey House—with at least two paparazzi in tow.
“Oh, my God, you wouldn’t believe what’s been going on around here since you’ve been gone.”
Jessie grabs me the moment she sees me walking down the hall and ushers me into the kitchen. I was technically only gone for two days—Friday and Monday—but apparently, it was an eternity for the staff at Helping Hands… and it appears more than that.
“Grace is going nuts,” she says. “I don’t know any other way to put it. She’s been snapping at people. She’s short with everybody. People just kind of part or hide when she shows up. They can tell by the sound of her shoes when she’s coming down the hall. She comes through like a hurricane and she leaves destruction behind her. She’s never been like this and I’ve been here for years! She’s irritable, crabby, angry—she’s upset with the world. She looks like she’s sick or not getting any sleep. She’s short and snappy with everybody. She’s a real bitch.” I frown hard.
“Jessie! Is that really necessary?” I snap.
“Yes, Ana, it is!” she says, her tone desperate. “It’s even worse than that. She…” She stops talking mid-sentence and pauses. “She’s coming.” I have to listen really carefully, but I finally hear the faint click of determined heels off in the distance. Damn, how did she hear that? Suddenly, there’s nobody in the kitchen but me and Jessie. There was a flurry of activity in here a minute ago and now… nobody. I look at Jessie who gives me a look of impending doom right before a tsunami of hell breezes through the room.
The angry clicking heels stop suddenly and I turn around to see the snarling face of who I think is Grace Trevelyan Grey scowling at me.
“Well,” she begins, “I’m so glad you decided to join us,” she shoots at me before glancing around the kitchen. “Where is everyone? Lunch should be ready in fifteen.”
“Lunch won’t be late, ma’am,” Jessie assures, and says nothing else.
“Or cold, I hope,” Grace adds. She stares at Jessie, awaiting confirmation.
“Or cold,” Jessie adds, after a pause.
“Good.” Grace turns a spiteful gaze to me. “You should probably let her work. I don’t pay her to stand here and socialize.” With that, she turns and marches out of the kitchen and down the hall, her heels banging a punishing tattoo on the linoleum. I turn an incredulous gaze to Jessie who only sighs and looks at me as if to say, “I told you.” She takes a ladle from a hook above her head and taps it twice on an aluminum table behind her… and people begin to appear from nowhere.
They have a goddamn signal.
“Get lunch served guys, pronto,” she says gently, “and make sure it’s not late… or cold.” She turns back to me.
“What the fuck?” I breathe.
“Like I said, that’s not all.” She pulls me into the small office off the kitchen and closes the door.
“I don’t know if or when John’s coming back,” she says as she takes a seat behind her small desk.
“What? Why?” I ask.
“His boy is in a real bad way,” she says. “It’s not pneumonia and they don’t know what it is. They’re running test after test, but they can’t figure it out. They don’t know if he’s going to make it.”
Christian hasn’t mentioned anything. I wonder if he even knows.
“That means with you not here, there hasn’t been a counselor here for the last few days. Saturday, two of the families got into a fight.”
“Oh, shit.” My hand flies to my mouth.
“Grace tried to resolve the issue with all the tact that you just saw. It didn’t go over well. You couldn’t have done anything, because you’re not here on Saturday anyway. She’s not usually here on Saturday, either, but this Saturday, she was.”
Because Carrick was at our house and she probably didn’t want to be home alone.
“Anyway, one of the families left—a mother and her two kids. She went back to her abusive husband. She ended up in the hospital the same night. The kids are with Social Services.”
“Oh, my God.” I drop my head in my hands and groan. “Who was it?”
“Patty Moore.” I sigh. Patty hadn’t been here long.
“Is she okay?”
“We don’t know. We haven’t gotten any updates.” I nod.
“Thanks for telling me.” I stand and leave her office. A lump forms in my throat as I walk down to my office. Grace was so nasty to me a moment ago… nasty to Jessie. John’s son is sick—he could be dying, we don’t know. One of our residents went back to her abusive husband and was put in the hospital… and Grace seems like she’s about to self-destruct. This is more than just selfish behavior over a damn wedding. What the fuck is going on with this woman?
I stop at my office door and look at the papers on my desk. Instead of going inside, I continue down the hall to Grace’s office. Her door is closed. It’s never closed. I knock, but she doesn’t answer. I knock again and she still doesn’t answer. I didn’t hear the angry clicking of her heels coming back down the hallway, so I try the doorknob and it opens. There she is at her desk, banging away at her keyboard.
“A closed door usually means that someone doesn’t want to be disturbed,” she snaps.
“A closed door for you is very unusual, so I wanted to be sure that you were okay,” I retort. She scoffs.
“There’s a switch,” she shoots and it’s like a snowball just whizzed pass my face.
“Where did that come from?” I ask, appalled. She raises an impatient gaze to me.
“Do I look like I really want to want to play this game with you?” she says accusing. And now, I’m getting angry.
“What game?” I snap.
“My husband goes to talk to you one afternoon and that night, he leaves me,” she accuses. “I try to talk to you that same day about my son—your husband—and you won’t talk to me about him, and now, neither will he. He’s all over the news and I have no idea what’s going on. There’s this whole unified front going on and right in the middle of everything… is you. And now here you are, showing up the day after a press conference all ‘concerned’ about me.”
She does the finger quotes around the word concerned, and her voice is so accusatory and so condescending that I’m struck completely dumb. I have absolutely no comeback. I stand there gaping at this alien creature unable to address her in any way. I have no other recourse but to walk out the door that I just walked into and go blindly down the hall to my office. I feel like I just stepped into an alternate universe where black is white and good is bad and monkeys are trucks. I don’t know how long I stand there looking at the stack of papers on my desk, my messenger bag still on my shoulder before I realize that Grace has followed me to my office.
Her mouth is moving but I can’t hear what she’s saying. I only know that she’s angry. Now, I focus… I focus on her words…
“I don’t know or understand how you supposedly helped so many families and yet, you tore mine apart! I used to think that you were the best thing that ever happened to Christian. Now, I see that I might have been wrong about that!”
She turns around and the angry march of her heels click back to her office before the door slams again.
Did she just say that? Did she really just say that to me?
Suddenly, my head is clear as a bell and I know what I need to do. I need to get the hell out of here.
I’ve been sitting at my desk in my study for quite some time now staring at my phone. I made Chuck swear not to call Christian once we got home. I’m safe at the house; nothing’s wrong, and there’s no need to tell him that I’m not at Helping Hands. I’ll cross that bridge whenever I need to get to it, but I just can’t cross it now.
However, there’s one bridge that I have to cross whether I want to or not. I don’t want to cross it, but I owe it to her not to put it off. I swipe my screen and dial the number.
“Hi… Mia… Listen, I’m really very sorry, but I’m going to have to pass on your bridal shower.” There’s a pause.
“What? Why?” I sigh.
“Out of respect for Grace. I really don’t think she wants me there.”
“What in the world would make you think that?” she squeals. “Mom loves you! Of course, she would want you here.”
“She… we…” I don’t know how to tell her this, so I just spit it out. “She said some really horrible things to me today. She thinks it’s my fault that Carrick moved out and she told me that she doesn’t think I’m right for Christian. I think she would find it quite offensive if I was in her home and I don’t want to offend her, so I’m sorry. I can’t come.” Mia makes this angry growling noise.
“I’m getting to the bottom of this right now!” she declares angrily and I immediately panic.
“Mia… please. I beg you. As my sister, I beg you… please don’t mention this to Christian… or Carrick… please… I beg you…” I’m on the verge of tears. I’m so desperate, I’ll weep if I must. She sighs.
“I won’t,” she vows, “I won’t mention this to my brother or my father, but you will be present at my bridal shower if I have to hold it at different location. Do you understand?” I nod as if she can see me. “Ana, do you understand me?”
“Yes!” I squeak, unable to retain my tears.
“I’ll get to the bottom of this. I promise you, okay?” she says, her voice urgent.
“Okay,” I breathe.
“I’ll call you soon,” she says, and ends the call. I grip the phone to my chest and weep. I don’t know if it’s sorrow or adrenaline, but I’m weeping—coughing, weeping, ugly tears all over the papers on my desk. What papers are on my desk? Letter #19 to the licensing board? Some invitation to a party somewhere? An appointment I was supposed to keep? Unopened mail?
“Ana, what the fuck?”
When did he get here? What’s he doing here? Why isn’t he at Grey House? Who snitched? Goddammit, Chuck!
“What the hell? What’s going on with the women in my family?” My husband falls to his knees next to me and puts his hand on my back. Women. It was Mia then. Dammit, she swore she wasn’t going to say anything! She promised me! That makes me cry harder.
“Ana, talk to me, please,” Christian beseeches. I throw myself into his arms and sob like the world is ending. “Anastasia, please…”
“I broke your family!” I wail into his shoulder. “I was… only… trying to… help… and I… broke… your family!”
“You did not break my family! For fuck’s sake, Ana… Dad!”
I can’t say anything else. I can’t even control my tears. This is a fucking mess—a ginormous, fucking mess and I admit it, I can’t fix it. My husband lifts me from my desk chair and I feel him carrying me—to where, I don’t know, but I feel myself floating while water and grief flow freely from my eyes.
“What’s this?” I hear Carrick’s voice ask a few moments later.
“I don’t know,” Christian declares angrily. “My wife seems to think she broke my family!”
“Where is this coming from?” Carrick questions, and I still can’t answer.
“Chuck!” Christian bellows. Goddammit! Call the Spanish Inquisition, why don’t you? What time is it anyway? Chuck appears and sees me crying, then realizes the cat is out of the bag. “What the hell happened today?”
“I don’t know,” Chuck replies.
“How long have you been back?” He looks at his watch.
“About five hours.” Five hours? That means it’s about seven o’clock.
“Five hours? Why didn’t somebody tell me?” Christian barks.
“Because nothing was wrong,” Chuck answers. “She wanted to come home. She wasn’t sick. She wanted to come home. She was safe. Nothing was wrong.”
“She’s crying!” Christian snaps.
“She wasn’t crying when we got home,” Chuck says.
“You’re dismissed,” Christian says, waving him off. “You’re no help.” Chuck shrugs and walks away. So, it was just time for Christian to come home. Mia hasn’t told him anything. I just did.
“Ana, what’s going on? Why do you think you broke my family?”
I’ve cried myself into exhaustion and now, both Grey men need answers. I don’t know how to say what I need to say without making Grace look like the bad guy, but the truth is that Grace is the bad guy and the last time that we ignored behavior like this, somebody had a tumor.
I take a deep breath and try to compose my emotions.
“You’ve moved out of your home. Have you ever done that before?” Carrick stares at me for several moments, then shakes his head.
“You’re not speaking to your mother. Ever since you’ve found your words, you’ve never alienated yourself from your mother. Am I right?” Christian frowns and nods.
“I just called Mia and told her that I won’t be able to attend her bridal shower. The reason—because I saw Grace today, and she feels that I’m reason you moved out and you’re not speaking to her. She told me that she once felt that I was the best thing that ever happened to you and now she thinks she was wrong.”
Christian and Carrick look at each other in confusion and back at me.
“The staff at Helping Hands are walking on eggshells. That woman is a terror. At first, I thought she was angry and cantankerous because her husband moved out, but it’s much more than that. Something’s wrong. Something’s ghastly wrong. She needs to talk to someone. She needs to see someone. She needs to find out what’s wrong. The last time we ignored this, Valerie had a tumor.”
Carrick’s face pales and he falls back in his seat.
“Do you think… do you think she has a tumor?” he asks.
“I have no idea what’s going on, Carrick,” I confess, “I only know that something’s not right and it’s not just this wedding. This is not Grace. I’m so certain of it that I’m not returning to Helping Hands.”
“What?” Christian exclaims incredulously.
“If she doesn’t get some help, if she doesn’t see someone, I’m not returning to Helping Hands. I’m willing to submit my resignation if that’s what she wants.”
“Anastasia, that’s so extreme…” Carrick begins.
“I watched my friend… my sister… dwindle away before my very eyes for months. She degraded me; she insulted me; she did and said every cruel and horrible thing to me that she could, refused to get help and the entire time, she was dying! I’m not going to sit by and watch that happen to Grace. Something is wrong. It may not be fatal, but something is wrong. If she wants to alienate everybody that loves her, that’s fine, but I’m not going to sit by and watch it.” I take a deep breath and resolve myself to my possible fate.
“Christian and I have another project that we have to focus on right now. Once that’s done, I’ll look into other causes, if I must, but if she doesn’t get help, I’m done with Helping Hands.”
I push my hands through my hair, stand from the sofa and walk to the stairs to go to my room, leaving my father-in-law and my husband to ponder my words.
Once again, time has passed and I don’t know how much. I’ve been swinging contentedly on the water swing in the backyard in a warm, cozy sweater enjoying the silence and the starry sky when I see a shadowy figure approach and take a seat in the grass in front of me. I can’t really see his face, but I can make out the shape of that body anywhere.
“How do you get into that thing without getting your feet wet?” he asks.
“There’s a trick to it,” I reply. The truth is that there’s a large rock just at the surface of the water and another one at the water’s edge. On a hot, summer day, it doesn’t matter. On a cool night, you just step carefully.
“Dad and Mia are having a war counsel,” he says. I try to focus on him in the dark.
“Not you? Elliot?” I ask. I can see him shaking his head.
“Not yet,” he says. “Dad’s trying to get a feel for Mom’s behavior since he’s been gone. We’re kind of at a loss on how to proceed with this…” I know what that means. I sigh.
“Sometimes it is such a pain in the butt being responsible for every damn body,” I gripe.
“I know, baby,” he says. “I totally understand, but you’re the professional. You understand so much more than we do, and we’re fish out of water here… and this is my mom.” I frown.
“Christian, how can you tell me to be understanding while you’re being standoffish?” I ask. I don’t need light to see the look of realization that spreads across his face.
“That’s… a good point,” he admits. Yeah… really! “I’m sorry. I hadn’t considered… We’ll figure something out.”
“I’m not saying that I won’t help. I’m just saying that while you’re petitioning me to assist and you know this is difficult with what she’s said to me and my history with Val, just… consider your own behavior in this, okay?” I can see him nodding.
“Duly noted.” He wraps his arms around his knees. “Jason nearly got a ticket on the way home today, but his radar detector went off and tipped him off. The cop flipped his lights on and everything, but couldn’t get a read on his radar as we passed, so he had to abandon the endeavor. Something’s definitely going on with Seattle PD. Jason’s got some of his contacts on the inside looking into things. We’ll have some answers tomorrow for sure.”
“Why in the world is Seattle PD targeting us?” He shakes his head and shrugs.
“I don’t know. Maybe Rossiter has some friends in high places?” I shake my head.
“If that were the case, he would have had you and some of the staff arrested for that attack—or at least pulled in for questioning.” He shrugs.
“I don’t know then. We’ll just have to wait and see.” I close my sweater around me. It’s getting chilly.
“We should probably get you inside. It’s getting a little late,” Christian says. It really doesn’t matter. I have nowhere to be tomorrow because I sure as hell am not going into Helping Hands, but I know he wants me out of the night air. I reach out my hand to him and he stands, taking my hand and helping me navigate the stones to keep from falling into the lake. I’m instantly warm when he pulls me into his embrace.
“On top of everything else, she walks on water,” he jests.
“Yes, she’s amazing, isn’t she?” I reply. He gazes down at me and I can see his beautiful grey eyes clearly in the moonlight now. They’re full of love and concern.
“I love my mother, but I won’t allow her to bully you,” he says soberly. I nod.
“I know,” I say softly. “There’s something going on. It could very well be emotional and I don’t want everybody jumping the gun, but it’s something. The family needs to get to the bottom of it.”
“You’re right and we will,” he says, kissing me gently on the cheek. When he pulls his face back to mine, his lips brush my mouth before morphing into a yearning kiss, and the warmth between us ignites to something more.
“God, I’m hungry for you damn near all the time,” he breathes against my lips.
“Ditto,” I pant when our mouths part, taking in a deep breath to steady myself. He sighs as he kisses the corner of my mouth, then places his forehead on mine.
“Okay?” he asks. I nod slightly.
“Okay.” He puts one arm around me and we walk back to the house.
“You’re right. Something’s up. She’s completely unreasonable!” Carrick barks the minute we walk into the family room.
“What happened?” Christian asks. Carrick has removed his jacket and tie and is pacing around the family room in his vest and dress shirt. For the first time since I’ve known him, his hair has the JBF look like Christian’s!
“The conversation that I just had with her was something out of the Twilight Zone!” he declares. “It went from your wedding to Dad’s death to our prenuptial agreement. I completely forgot that we had a prenup!” He throws his hands up in the air on the word “forgot” and now, he’s not making any sense at all.
“Wait a minute!” Christian yelps. “How the hell did the conversation get around to your prenup?”
“I have no flippin’ idea!” Carrick yells. “There was no reason on God’s green earth for her to dig that out of Tarnation. I have absolutely no clue where that came from.”
“Were you talking about Mia and Ethan’s wedding?” Christian probes. “Do they have a prenup? Is that what it is?”
“Son, the conversation never even got to Mia’s wedding,” Carrick informs him. Christian frowns.
“You said you were talking about a wedding…”
“I said your wedding!” Carrick corrects him.
“Our wedding?” I chime in. “What does our wedding have to do with any of this?” Carrick looks at me, then at Christian, then down at the floor.
“You might as well say it, Dad, because whatever it is, I’m just going to tell her later,” Christian says. Carrick sighs and sits on the sofa. I sit next to him and Christian sits on the ottoman in front of him.
“Grace was so supportive of me through Dad’s death,” he begins. “From the moment we got the news through his passing, the arrangements, the service… the cremation was the worst. I thought I wouldn’t make it. Herman, Stan, and I decided to do it on our own, but the moment Stan pushed the button and Dad went into the incinerator, we all fell apart. We immediately knew that it was a bad idea to do this without our women.”
He chokes the last word out and wrings his hands while recalling his final goodbye to his father.
“We held onto each other so tightly in the back of that limo on the way back to the house that the blood stopped circulating in my hands. I needed my Gracie, and when I got home…” He trails off and clears his throat.
“Two weeks. Two weeks almost to the day, Grace was my rock. She helped to hold me together, to get back to work and get things back to normal and then… she changed. She became unapproachable. I couldn’t touch her; I couldn’t talk to her; she didn’t want to be around me… I thought it was just the stress of the wedding, but it got exponentially worse by the day! Little things would set her off and when I tried to talk to her, it was like a demon has possessed my wife and a snarling, hissing cat was standing at the gate threatening to scratch my eyes out if I dared to come near her.”
Tears form in Carrick’s eyes. This is part of the story he hasn’t shared with me. We haven’t gotten this far in our talks.
“I… started to feel… I don’t know, depressed, I think. I missed my Dad and I missed my wife. I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I’m the man of the family. I’m supposed to be the strong one…”
A common misconception of most traditional male figures is that they’re not supposed have moments of weakness… ever! As a result, a lot of them end up taking it out on their spouses and significant others, becoming oppressive and abusive in an attempt to regain the supremacy they feel they’ve lost. Carrick, on the other hand, was sinking into a dark hole and had to find an escape—which he found here at our house.
“She couldn’t see that I was choking—suffocating in my own grief. I ache for more time with my father. I feel robbed… horribly cheated out of years and years of memories with a man that I loved and respected and it’s consuming me from the inside out, and the only person that I could share those feelings with…” He trails off and scrubs his eyes before the tears fall.
“So, I had to leave. I could only deal with one disappointment at a time and, God help me, the pain I’m feeling about my father runs deeper than my wife’s selfishness, so I have to deal with that first. Grace, on the other hand…” He sighs heavily. “Grace is seeing the situation through an entirely different set of glasses. I can’t explain to you what she’s seeing because I don’t understand the logic in what she’s seeing. She’s somehow linking everything to you…” He points to me, “… because you’re married to our son and I talked to you the day that I moved out. You’re the common denominator and she can’t see her own error in any of this. When Mia and I tried to talk to her, there was that snarling cat at the gate again.” I roll my eyes.
“Once again, meet Ana, the root of all evil,” I lament. Christian squeezes my knee to comfort me.
“Did you try to suggest that she talk to somebody, Dad?” Christian asks. “Her behavior is bordering on irrational.”
“I didn’t dare,” he says, “and she’s beyond ‘bordering,’ son. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not an egg short a dozen where I can have her committed for observation, but someone’s certainly tiptoeing around the henhouse!” I want to laugh at the analogy, but this is certainly no laughing matter.
“So, what do we do?” I ask, “Wait until she alienates everyone in her life and then take action? Because I’m telling you, she’s not going to have a staff at Helping Hands in a minute.”
“I don’t know that there’s anything we can do,” Carrick says. “I can force her to see a doctor until she sees that something is wrong and I don’t see that happening, or until or unless she does something to hurt herself or someone else and let’s hope to God that doesn’t happen!”
“No, I don’t see that happening,” I chime in. “I guess… we just wait,” I resolve. Carrick nods. “That reminds me, you need to call John,” I say to Christian. He turns his gaze to me.
“John who?” he asks.
“Flynn?” I reply. How many “Johns” to you know that I know? Boy, that doesn’t sound right.
“Okay… why? Or, why now, I should say?” he asks.
“Something’s wrong with his son. It doesn’t look good,” I reply.
“John Flynn? The psychiatrist?” Carrick asks. “What’s wrong with his boy?” I shrug.
“I don’t have any details,” I confess. “I just know that he hasn’t been at Helping Hands for quite some time and they thought he had pneumonia, but now, they’re saying it’s something else, but they don’t know what it is.”
“Oh, that’s doesn’t sound good,” Carrick says.
“I’m afraid not,” I agree. Christian looks at his watch.
“It’s late, now. I’ll call him tomorrow,” he says. We both look at Carrick. He looks so forlorn. I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Is there anything that we can do?” I ask. He looks over at me without making eye contact.
“You’re already doing it, dear girl,” he says sadly. “There’s nothing we can do about this right now but keep a watchful eye on things. I’ll say this, though. If this goes on for much longer, I’ll have to move into a hotel…”
“You’ll do not such thing!” I interrupt.
“Dad, you can’t move into a hotel, for a lot of reason. For one, you won’t get any peace. The press will eat this up. And two, it doesn’t… you just can’t move into a hotel. I have a mansion… and a luxury yacht. Hell, you have a luxury yacht—you can’t move into a hotel!”
“Okay, okay, son, I get it,” Carrick acquiesces, “but we can’t go on like this indefinitely. As long as I stay here, this is Enemy Central.”
“You’re damn straight we can’t stay like this indefinitely. Somehow, Mom has to get her shit together,” Christian confirms. “She can’t blame my wife her for lying on her to me or for lying on me to Hammerstone and his wife. Her priorities are all fucked up and if she’s bringing up my wedding in any conversation, it’s because she didn’t have control over it and she’s still pissed about it. Am I right?”
Carrick’s silence and the guilty glance that he flashes at me confirms that my husband has hit the nail on the head.
“I thought so. So, here’s the deal, Dad. Mia’s bridal shower is Saturday, so I won’t hijack that day or my sister’s festivities. But I’m calling a family meeting on Sunday afternoon—me, you, Mia, and Elliot. Mom has one week to sit down and talk to us about whatever the hell is going on like she has some sense, or I’m going to see what we can do about forcing her to get some kind of help. I watched my brother fall apart dealing with the woman that he loves and the sickness that she had all by himself because she had pushed everyone away from her since nobody knew what was going on. I’m not saying that this is the same thing that’s going on with Mom, but I’m not going to sit by and watch and wait to find out.”
Carrick looks incredulously at his son before resolution falls over his face.
“You’re right,” he says. “This is not my Grace. I don’t know who or what this is, but it’s not my Grace. I can tell you that it’s not as drastic as what I saw with Valerie, though.” They both turn to me. I shrug.
“I don’t know,” I reply. “I’m sensitive. I’m on the receiving end of unwarranted bullshit as I was with Val. It’s likes asking someone the difference between stubbing the fuck out of your baby toe and accidentally hitting you finger with a hammer. They both hurt like hell, but which one hurts the most?” Carrick nods.
“One week, Dad,” Christian says. “We’ll discuss it more on Sunday. I just don’t want you taking this all on your shoulders by yourself.” Carrick stands.
“I think I’ll turn in. This day has been quite enough for me.” Christian nods.
“Goodnight, Dad.” I watch as Carrick disappears out of the family room.
“This is hard on him,” I observe.
“It’s hard on all of us,” Christian says, his head falling into his hands. “My mom’s going fucking loony and none of us knows why.” He rubs his eyes and I want to comfort him but right now, I don’t know how.
“In other news,” he begins, sitting up straight and quickly changing the topic, “have you seen the three video conferences that we have next Tuesday with our potential broadcast journalists?”
“Oh?” I lean in. He nods, pulling out his phone.
“Andrea sent the information to Marilyn who was supposed to inform you or add it to your schedule.” He starts thumbing through his blackberry and I pull out my phone. Sure enough, there they are. Three video conferences with Raynell Stanton, Danika Farrell, and Maria Sanchez.
“Do they know they’re auditioning?” I ask. He nods.
“They do,” he confirms. “Mac has given them the preliminary details of what we want and they’re all chomping at the bit to get the interview.” That makes me happy. We’ve had enough bad publicity with the press—ex-submissives, blowhard assholes, sacrificial lambs, ratings whores…
“So, where will we be having the video conferences?” I ask.
“To be determined,” he answers. “Grey House, maybe. We’ll see. We’ll decide by tomorrow, my brain hurts.”
“That means it’s bedtime,” I say as I take my husband’s hand, coaxing him from the ottoman and lead him to elevator.
I only speak briefly to John as he and his wife are trying to get some rest while taking turns sitting with their son. From what they know, he had gone on vacation with his family back to England for the summer and had caught a cold which quickly progressed into what they had thought was the flu. Over time, the boy had gotten sicker and sicker and upon returning home to the states, what they thought was the flu became a viral infection and required hospitalization. Now, unfortunately, the doctors are unable to tell John and Rian exactly what’s wrong with their son at all. Rian is beside herself with worry and John doesn’t know what to do as his son appears to just get worse and worse as the days go by. I’ve offered my assistance in any way that he needs it—financial, specialists, clinical trials, whatever may be needed to help his with his son’s recovery. He thanked me and promised to keep me posted.
Capito’s detailed spreadsheets aren’t looking any better than his compiled spreadsheets. Even though these glasses have significantly improved my eyesight, nothing I see on these reports and financials improve my opinion about this company. Something just doesn’t add up, and if he thinks I’m going to spend a penny on this company without a detail breakdown of what the hell is going on, he’s got another think coming. There’s a knock at my office door and I know who it is. Only one person knocks.
“Come in,” I beckon.
“You’re not going to like this,” Jason says as he crosses my office and places a stack of citations on my desk.
“Seven tickets in seven days, sir—nine if you include Chuck and Her Highness, but she was really speeding. Nonetheless, somebody’s pissed, and now I know who that somebody is.”
“Who?” I grumble.
“Got a certain wedding coming up and a certain someone who was uninvited from the festivities?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I hiss. “Goddamn Hammerstone?” He shakes his head.
“I wish I was,” he says. “My guys on the inside tell me that he has every vehicle registered to GEH tagged for sweeps. When I say sweeps, I mean it’s worse than checkpoints and exponentially worse than end-of-month quotas.”
Fuck. Tickets. He’s going to drown me in tickets until somebody’s license gets suspended or my fleet gets impounded, all because his fucking wife can’t come to the fucking ball. I’m really starting to resent my mother more and more, and regretting cutting off communication less and less. This is exactly what I was talking about with the shit that she pulls that reaches out in all directions and she doesn’t give a fuck where shit lands, even if it lands on my fucking head.
“This man is going to be the goddamn death of me,” I lament. “Why the hell can’t people just leave me the fuck alone?” I mumble.
“Maybe you should just let his wife come to the wedding,” Jason says. Surely, you jest.
“And lead him to believe that he can strongarm me into doing whatever the fuck he wants from this point forward? Not on your goddamn life!”
“Well, you’re going to need to do something fast, because there’s a little stipulation that goes along with being on the GEH security team. If you get two moving violations within ninety days, you’re grounded for a year. That means that you can’t drive any GEH vehicles, which means that you are limited to stationary assignments and ride-alongs. There ain’t a lot of money in that.”
“What do you mean there ain’t a lot of money in that?” I bark. “I pay my staff well, including the desk staff.”
“Yes, you do, but I’ve worked for you for quite some time. I make a handsome salary including hazard pay. When I was out of commission because that blonde bitch shot me in the shoulder, I nearly lost my mind. If you ever forced me into a desk job, I’d quit.” I shake my head. I can hardly believe we’re even having this conversation.
“Get Alex in here,” I tell him. He nods and leaves my office. If this fucker wants to fight dirty, then it’s dirty he’ll get. I don’t like this guy that I’m being forced to become. For the most part, I’ve played by the rules. I’ve bent a few here and there—called in a few favors, even strong-armed a bit when necessary, but I’ve never been that break his kneecaps, burn his house down, I want his family dead, sleepin’ with the fishes, kiss my pinkie ring kind of guy.
The worst I’ve ever done to anyone is blackball them… that is, until Dodd and the hackers… and Judd Rossiter. Even those treacherous lawyers who tried to ass-rape me with my prenup—yeah, they saw their fortunes snatched away and now, none of them can even get jobs as civic teachers in the contiguous United States. I closed a few businesses, ruined some reputations, ended a career or two, but people are starting to make things so big and so personal that I have to pull out bigger guns. You’ve got the whole damn police force making it so that I can’t travel around the city because I won’t consent to you attending a fucking party?
Unsolved murders, muggings, rapes, burglaries, assaults—one Judd Rossiter included—innumerable crimes being committed as we speak, and you’ve turned Seattle PD into your own personal army of meter maids?
It’s shit like this that make me go to extremes. I don’t want the world to bend to my will. I only want what’s mine and the freedom to enjoy what’s mine—that’s all. Everything I have, I earned, including my goddamn arrogance. I don’t like behaving like a fucking mafioso, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to just lay down and allow people to fuck me in the ass. Nope, not gonna happen.
“Sir.” Alex walks into my office and I realize that the few moments that I assumed I was sulking must have been much, much longer than I thought.
“Hammerstone,” I tell him. “Judge Marvin Hammerstone. It’s personal. He’s got the entire police fucking force waiting for my staff to clip a fingernail on a street corner because my sister uninvited him and his prima donna wife from her wedding. He’s using legal channels to force a personal agenda and I want you to get to him by any means necessary!” Alex raises his eyes.
“Any means?” he says. I nod.
“Any means,” I confirm, “And I want him to know that it’s me without being able to prove that it’s me.” Alex nods.
“That might be tricky,” he says.
“I don’t want anybody hurt,” I tell him, “but I want that fucker uncomfortable as hell.”
“Uncomfortable won’t be hard. What level of discomfort are we talking?”
“One that will render a swift and sure response,” I reply.
“Where is Mrs. Grey?” he asks. I frown.
“I don’t want my wife involved in this!” I command.
“I’m just asking,” he retorts. “I have to cover all my bases.”
“She’s at home,” I respond.
“Good. I would suggest that you go home, too… and stay put for a few days.” I raise my eyebrows. He has something planned already.
“My wife, too?” I ask.
“If possible,” he says. “With the Rossiter thing on full blast, it’s perfect timing—paparazzi banging down your door, wanting answers about the lawsuit, whispers about Mr. Grey moving out…” I raise my eyebrows.
“There are whispers about my father?” I ask. He nods.
“There are,” he says. “Underground sources report seeing your father leaving from and returning to your house for at least the last three days. They can’t get concrete evidence or pictures because it’s early when he leaves and late when he returns, but the buzzards are circling.” I sigh and rub my face.
“Why didn’t my PR team tell me this?” I groan.
“Because my sources are very underground and highly unconfirmed,” he says.
“Well, they’ve just been confirmed,” I grunt. “My dad’s been at my house since Friday because my mom’s losing her motherfucking mind. My mom is the direct reason my fleet is getting these tickets. My mom is the direct reason my wife is home in the middle of the goddamn day instead of somewhere helping people, which is what she loves to do. In fact, I would say that my mom is probably the direct or indirect reason for about seventy-five percent of the conundrums going on in my life right now.” I shove the files that I was working on into my briefcase and close my laptop, placing it into my laptop case. I push the button to summon Jason to my office.
“Do we have any fleet vehicles not registered to GEH?” I ask.
“We have the Mayday cars,” he replies. I frown.
“The Mayday cars?” I ask. He nods.
“Three sets of three cars registered to three shell companies that you own that aren’t linked to GEH in anyway. These companies have no purpose whatsoever but to own these vehicles, and they are exactly what they sound like…”
“Getaway cars,” I finish.
“Exactly,” Alex confirms. “Basic-looking Ford Explorers in various colors with tinted, bullet-proof windows placed in three areas around the city—here, Escala, and a location very near your home in Mercer.”
“Basic-looking?” I press.
“There are extra features in case we find ourselves in a catastrophic or combat situation.”
“Jesus,” I whisper. “Why didn’t I know about this?”
“There was just no reason to tell you before now,” he responds. “There really was no reason to tell you now, except that you asked.” I shake my head as if to shake off a bad thought. Jason returns to my office.
“Get one of the Mayday cars to get us home, and another to chauffer my father until further notice.” He looks over at Alex who does a half nod and shrug.
“Yes, sir.” Jason pulls out his phone and starts typing.
“Ground the fleet for now—no cut in pay. That includes anybody who’s already been grounded. Let them know what’s going on so that we don’t lose any good men.”
“We won’t lose any,” Jason assures me as he continues to type into his phone. I pull out my phone and punch out a text to Dad.
**The jig is up. Somebody’s let the cat out of the bag. I’ll be sending a car for you. Details later. **
“All this because my mother’s having some kind of nervous breakdown or tumor or some shit,” I murmur.
“What was that?” Jason says, his fingers paused over his phone.
“Nothing,” I say, snatching my suit jacket from the back of my chair. “Come on, Jason,” I say. “Let’s see if you can earn another ticket. Break the fucking sound barrier.”
“Um, sir?” Alex stops me. “Try not to get tickets in the Fords.” I curse under my breath.
“Get me home to my fucking wife.”
I spend the afternoon buried deep inside my wife, so deep in fact that she has to beg me to stop so that she can rest. As she falls into an exhaustion induced, coma-like sleep, I stand on the balcony off our bedroom gazing out at the lake. My frustration with this entire situation is beyond measure. My mother is acting as if she’s taking complete leave of her senses. Mia’s wedding has become an atrociously, horrible, beyond ostentatious display of grotesque gaudier that can’t be matched on seven continents and now I discover that my mother is doing this because she couldn’t control what happened with my wedding. My wedding was fucking insane—a goddamn castle, a classic Bentley, Wayne Brady sang in person for God’s sake. Hundreds of people, restricted airspace… fuck, Mom, I wasn’t trying to be on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I just wanted my bride to be happy. She only asked for two things, the castle and the Bentley… oh, and to not have half of Seattle in attendance. Maybe three things…
Jesus, this is insane. Maybe Alex is right. Maybe I should just let Hammerstone’s wife come to the wedding…
No, I can’t. I can’t give in. This is seriously about principle at this point. This fucker… this fucker tried to ruin my life and now, he’s trying to control it again. No. No, whatever Alex has planned for him, full steam ahead. This is one time I wish I knew in advance. I wish I could be there in person when the plan is executed so I could see his fucking face.
And my mother. My ever-loving mother. She’s on an insane spending, alienate-your-husband-and-family, I’m-losing-my-goddamn-mind spree because she didn’t have control of my fucking wedding. Yes, deep down in my soul, I know it’s more than that, but that’s a big part of it. That’s a big fucking part of it. That’s the fucking driving force behind it, the reason that she can’t see that my dad is falling apart about not having more time with his dad. I have no idea what set her off, but she’s completely gone bonkers about this total over-the-over-the-over-the-top wedding that will rival anything anyone has seen in the western hemisphere, even if it destroys our family in the process.
I walk back into our bedroom and look at my sleeping wife. We fucked all afternoon and evening, straight through dinner and now, she’s sleeping like a damn rock. She looks so content and peaceful, her hair sprayed out all over the pillow, the blanket just over her luscious tits. My wife, the mother of my children… I love her so much.
I quietly creep out of our room and sneak over to the nursery to check on Minnie and Mickey. They’re sleeping through the night now, so once they’ve had their nighttime feeding, it’s lights out until morning. I take the stairs down to the first level and quietly sneak to the kitchen to find some leftovers from dinner or something, anything to curb my hunger. Our refrigerator is always full of too much food to make a choice, so I just commandeer the makings of a sandwich and start building. Once I’m done, I cut it in half and take a healthy bite. Fuck, I’m so hungry, it tastes like steak.
“How about making one of those for me?”
I look up and see my brother standing in the doorway.
“No, but you can make one for yourself,” I say, taking my plate and moving to one of the stools at the breakfast bar. He takes my place and begins to build a sandwich of his own.
“So,” he says as he piles salami onto his creation, “Mom’s acting screwy, huh?” I bite into my sandwich and nod.
“Who did you talk to?” I ask with my mouth full.
“Mia,” he says, smearing mustard on his sandwich and reaching for the mayo. “She told me that she and Dad tried to talk to Mom and, well, she pretty much wasn’t hearing it. Did you know that Mia’s not aware of half the shit going on in her wedding?” I raise my eyes to Elliot.
“No, I didn’t know that.” He nods.
“Mia told me that vendors were calling her to get confirmation for shit that she had no idea was going on.”
“Such as?” I press.
“Dude, I didn’t commit that shit to memory,” he says. “She was talking and all I could think was that I was happy that me and my wife had a small, short ceremony. We’ll do our celebrating on our cruise.” He takes a healthy bite of his sandwich, which looks twice the size of mine and begins to put the fixings away. “You want a drink?”
“Fruit punch,” I nod, taking another bite of my sandwich. “I never understood how you could eat so much and never gain any weight. I know your job is physical, but it’s not that physical.”
“The fuck you say!” Elliot gripes, handing me a bottle of fruit punch. “All that lifting and tugging and shit I do all damn day long will beat out that kickboxing shit you do any day, bro.”
“Whatever,” I say waving him off.
“Yeah, whatever,” he repeats. “Any time you want to put it to the test, you just let me know, squirt,” he jests while putting the rest of the food away. He takes a seat and there’s silence for a while as we both enjoy our sandwiches.
“Christian? Do you think Mom has a tumor? Cuz… I don’t know if I can take that again.” I raise my eyes to my brother and he’s just looking at me, half of the sandwich suspended in the air waiting for my answer before he takes a bite.
“No, bro, I don’t think she has a tumor.” He nods and takes another bite of his sandwich. He just needed to hear me say it at that moment and I know that’s what he needed.
The truth is, I don’t know what’s wrong with our mother. I don’t know if she’s crazy, if she has a tumor, or if she’s just being selfish. But I know that something is wrong, and we’re going to have to find out what it is very soon.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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