Raising Grey: Chapter 31—The Importance of Compromise

So, apparently in the last chapter, I made a reference to an episode of the Golden Girls and I confused two episodes. Dorothy was suffering from something else completely when she gave the doctor a piece of her mind in the restaurant, not menopause. Somehow, I thought it was menopause. Hopefully, the point I was trying to make didn’t get lost completely in my faux pas. I should have known that something was wrong when I couldn’t find that episode online, but c’est la vie. Sorry, guys. 

Sorry for the late post… my internet went out last night.

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 31—The Importance of Compromise

ANASTASIA

No one can sulk like Christian Grey.

When that man gets a bug up his butt, he can mope around better than a broken-hearted teenage girl. He walked out of our room last night and I swear, all I could see was a toddler having a temper tantrum. When I awoke this morning, I was alone in our bed and I could tell that he hadn’t slept in it. I don’t have time for his little hissy fits. I meant what I said last night. I won’t allow him to punish me when I feel that I’ve done nothing wrong and he’s just going to have to find some other way to deal with that.

I shower and get dressed then go down to the kitchen where I find my husband at the breakfast bar already conducting business over a cup of coffee and nearly-finished breakfast.

“Well, something’s not right with the numbers and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see it. You and Lorenz can look at them and tell me what you come up with. I’ve been mulling over them for weeks. Maybe they just need a fresh eye.”

Another merger with a hidden glitch. It seems quite a few companies have been trying to pull one over on GEH lately. I can’t help but wonder why.

“Well, I’ll be in the office shortly. I’ll send you the link to the latest financials on the network…”

What? He’s going into the office? We’ve got all kinds of shit to discuss for this interview this weekend and Grace is coming home right after lunch.

“Good morning,” I say, once he has ended his call. He raises his gaze to me.

“Good morning,” he responds, and it’s hard to get a read on him.

“We’ve got quite a bit that we should be doing today,” I say, somewhat questioning.

“I know,” he replies. “Everything that needs to be done will get done.” He bottoms out his coffee and stands from the breakfast bar, typing something into his blackberry. He’s… stoic or impassive or something… not cold, just… not really there.

“So… what is it? If I don’t let you whip me when you want to whip me, I get the cold shoulder or whatever this is?” I accuse. Christian raises his gaze to the ceiling and sighs before bringing his eyes to me.

“I need you to understand something about me, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low. “I am a Dominant. That’s the person that I was when you met me. That’s the person that you fell in love with and who fell in love with you. Last night, you told me that I couldn’t be that person. You had your reasons, you explained them, and I had no choice but to accept them. Right now, I’m trying to deal with that. So, forgive me if I’m not Perfect Husband Christian fawning all over his Butterfly while I’m dealing with it!” I frown deeply.

“Are you telling me that if I choose not to allow you to punish me because I feel that I don’t deserve it, this is what I have to deal with?” I inquire. “You walking around being sullen and surly like a child who just lost their favorite toy?” He turns to face me, pulled up to his full height, and I have to concentrate not to feel slightly intimidated by him at this moment.

“Anastasia,” he begins, his voice still low and commanding, “at the risk of sounding juvenile, you did take away my favorite toy. You eliminated my most reliable coping mechanism. I tried the normal alternative measures—I ran to China on that treadmill, then I beat the hell out of your heavy bag until I thought the hooks would come out of the ceiling and floor. The installers did an excellent job, by the way. I pondered spending time with my piano, but I could see myself destroying the keys out of pure frustration. I’ve done that once—I didn’t want to do it again. So, I stayed in the gym until my muscles burned, then I spent some time in the hot tub. Now, I’m going into the office to do some work and when it’s time to go see Mom, I’ll come back here and ride to Belleville with the rest of the family like we discussed.”

“Just like everything’s fine,” I say, a statement, not a question. His face doesn’t change even though his tone does slightly.

“You can’t have it both ways, Ana,” he replies. “I’m still wired like a meth addict, my only restraint coming from the incessant ache in my legs and arms. I’m going to focus on that and on my work so that I don’t focus on my total lack of control, here. Then, I’m going to turn my focus to my mother and the very serious issue that’s facing her and our family so that I don’t turn the focus on me. Currently, that’s what I have to offer.

“I can understand and even empathize with how you felt last night. That’s the new Christian. That’s the guy that can take ‘no’ for an answer. The one that can’t—the one that’s in my head standing in a playroom with a whip in one hand and a flogger in the other waiting for me to give in to my primal urges—yeah, he’s still there. He’s still waiting for me to do something to regain control of an apparently uncontrollable situation. So, while kinder, gentler Christian is trying to persuade cooler heads to prevail, Neanderthal Christian is fighting tooth and nail taunting us all to ‘grow a pair.’”

He pauses and closes his eyes, takes a deep cleansing breath and releases it. When he opens them again, slate gray eyes fix on me and freeze me to the spot.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend a few hours at Grey House this morning. You may want to check in at Helping Hands. I’ll see you back here at lunch.” He leans down and kisses me on the cheek before turning around and walking towards the mudroom.

Jesus. What do I do with that? He clearly doesn’t hate me. He’s not even angry with me. It appears that he totally understands how I felt last night and why I felt that way. He’s just having a rough time dealing with it. Shit, I can’t say that I like this Christian any more than I like “punish me whenever he feels like it” Christian. There’s got to be some kind of middle ground, and I guess it’s going to be up to me to find it.

*-*

“Well, hello, darling. I was surprised to hear from you with such urgency. Is everything alright?”

I took Christian’s advice and ducked into Helping Hands very quickly to check on the status of things and make sure that the structure was still intact. Everything was running as smoothly as could be expected with both leaders currently out of commission, so to speak, but once the staff was given a general idea of what was happening, they all rallied to make sure that operations continue as usual. Jesse, Courtney, and key volunteers and workers all have me on speed dial in case there’s a need for me to rush back to the center, and I make a mental note to check in on John and his family sometime in the next few days if Christian hasn’t called him already.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.” After my brief conversation with Christian this morning, I knew that I needed to speak with someone that understands the mind of a Dominant. Christian and I met Michelangelo and his partner, Wolfgang, at a BDSM club a couple of years ago. That’s not Michel’s real name, but it’s just easier to remember. He doesn’t bother calling me Stacey anymore since everyone in the Seattle area knows who the hell I am.

“I’m in desperate need of some advice,” I tell him.

“Intimate advice, I take it,” he says, gesturing me to the back of his store. He’s a holistic apothecary, and I make it a point to look around the shop at some of the natural remedies before I leave.

“Yes, but don’t let me forget to grab some essential oils before I leave.”

“Oooo,” he says, shimmying his shoulders, “I’ll put together some yummy concoctions for you, my dear. My own special formulas. Now, step into my office and tell me what’s ailing you today.”

Michel’s office is an envious thing of beauty and is making me completely rethink my workspace at home. It’s glass on three sides, one of those sides being a set of double doors that open onto a gorgeous deck. The other two sides are floor to ceiling windows that look out onto large trees and stunning landscaping, with retractable shades to cover the windows at night. There is minimal furniture in the room—an aluminum frame desk with a white surface and matching rolling desk chair and two very comfortable brown sitting chairs with ottomans and a glass end table between them.

“Have a seat, darling. Let’s chat.” He gestures me to one of the comfortable chairs while he takes the other. I fill him in on the basics of the situation without getting into too much detail, just that I feel that I didn’t deserve to be punished and the basic reasons why, but that the Dominant in my husband is battling with the lack of control.

“I’m not trying to change who he is and I certainly want to be what he needs,” I confess, “but I won’t compromise myself or my principles to do that.”

“As well you shouldn’t, my dear,” Michel agrees. “The fact that Christian understands that speaks volumes. Most Doms really get set in their ways and they must regain that control by any means necessary.”

“Michel, Christian is that man,” I tell him. “He won’t abuse me, and I can always safeword and end any scene or any situation, but…” I trail off, thinking of two specific punishment fucks that left me feeling like a piece of meat. Then, there was the spanking in the shower, but he took a severe punishment following that… that’s another story, though.

“Ana?” Michel says cautiously. “You haven’t… been raped, have you?” I shake my head and frown deeply.

“No!” I protest fervently—not by my husband anyway. “No, of course not! It’s just… Christian’s presence and authority over you is… powerful. If you plan to challenge him, you had better be armored. There are times when I’m not, when I’m not so certain about how I feel about a scene until after it happens. By then, my feelings are all conflicted and when we talk about it, there’s often a problem.”

“But… you talk about it,” he interjects.

“Well, yeah, we always talk about it. Sometimes, we even talk about it with our therapists.”

“My God, you two are one of the most functional couples I’ve ever met!” he exclaims.” I scoff.

“Yeah… no. We’re still working on it,” I correct him.

“What do you think functional means?” he says. “Do you think anybody out here has it all together? If they tell you that they do or even lead you to believe that they do, they’re lying through their teeth! You’re going to be working on that relationship until the day you die, especially a BDSM relationship. Anybody out there who tells you that they have the perfect Dom or that their Master hasn’t or would never hurt them, they’re full of shit! That’s how the hell they know what they don’t like and won’t tolerate. It’s a constant learning experience, even for seasoned Dominants and submissives. And you said therapists. Plural. That means that the two of you have the good sense to know that you can’t both see the same person, am I correct?” I raise my eyebrows at him.

“Correct,” I say slowly.

“And you have the good sense to know that even though you are a shrink, you still need one,” he adds. “Like I said, the most functional couple I’ve ever seen in my life, and don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. Anything that you’re going through, it’s all growing pains. You’re going to have them—sometimes worse than others, and you’re never going to stop growing. Have you had your big breakup yet?”

“Yes,” I answer, thinking about my trip to Montana.

“While you were married?” I frown at him.

“That’s not going to happen. Christian won’t let me out of his sight.” It’s Michel’s turn to scoff.

“Don’t count on it,” he says. “You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” I shiver at the thought of breaking up with my husband. I can’t even imagine it.

“You sound like you speak from experience,” I lament.

“I do, my love. Now, let’s get back to your problem, ‘cuz this won’t be that time…” Michel crosses his legs and turns to face me. “Your husband has spent his adult life being a Dominant while you’ve only spent a fraction of your adult life being a submissive. You’ve found yourself in different facets of life beginning at a very early age. I don’t know the whole tale of how both of you became the people that you are, but I know that much from what you’ve already told me.

“What you’ve learned about being a sub, you’ve only learned from him. He has a very structured and practiced routine for what he does and what he’s learned about the lifestyle. He’s been adjusting himself over the course of time to fit around you. Now, he’s been forced to make another adjustment—the adjustment to no—one that he’s probably never or rarely had to contend with before. This has just been thrust upon him out of nowhere and he’s not going to deal with it very well. You’ve come to the right conclusion that there has to be a middle ground.

“Right now, he’s asking himself if he can be a husband and a dominant. Although he’s not questioning his role as your husband, make no mistake that those two roles are battling—challenging one another to the degree that he’s suppressing his natural urges. One is going to win, and whichever one does, it won’t be pretty, because the other is still fighting.”

I figured as much. In fact, he basically said as much.

“You, my dear, are the lion tamer,” he says. “You have to find the balance between the two. You married the beast—you knew that, and you accepted that. Now, you have to tame it, help him find the natural balance between the husband and the Dom. You know him better than anyone—anyone, Ana. So, the first thing you must do is trust your instincts.” He entwines his fingers in his lap. “I need you to relax and think. Take a few deep breaths for me…”

I do what he tells me to do. I listen to his voice and focus on my breathing until I’m calm and relaxed.

“Now, open your eyes… tell me about your man.”

“He’s… sexy,” I say. “I want to say it’s the first thing I noticed about him…”

“What’s the first thing you noticed about him?”

“That he was hot… and quiet… and his striking eyes,” I say, recalling the day that he commanded the attention of every woman in the room at the community center and arrogantly ordered that I just call him “Grey.”

“Okay, and then what?”

“He exercised his dominance on me immediately, but it didn’t work. It made me resent him.” Michel raised his eyebrows at me.

“It did?” I nodded. “How did you become his submissive?”

“We had an attraction that we couldn’t fight, and we gave in to our primal urges. Then… we talked. He confessed his involvement in BDSM, and I told him about my brief studies in college and my curiosity of the lifestyle. We agreed to see where it took us and here we are.”

“So, it’s pretty much been touch-and-go since then,” he deduces. I nod.

“Like you said, everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from him… or from you, from college… outside studies… nothing as intense as what he knows.”

“And you’re still learning,” Michel adds. I shrug.

“I guess I am,” I conclude. Michel sighs.

“Darling, you’re just dabblin’ in submission. You’ve barely scratched the surface. If he’s having this much problem with you introducing ‘no’ to punishments and playtime, you two really need to talk about where you want to be in the lifestyle. Right now, though, you need to get him back on balance, even if it’s only in perception, because he’s spinning out of control—but trust me. That conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later.” I nod.

“You said that he spoke of the girl he fell in love with,” Michel continues. “You’re going to want to reach back and find her. You’re going to want to let him know that she’s still there, but not lose the person that you’ve become in the process. You’re also going to want to tap into the Dom that attracted you—allow him in without the punishment. Cede him the control that he craves without totally relinquishing the reins of that principle that you’re holding fast to. He must respect your input. He has to understand that although he is the husDom, he also needs to know when to exercise restraint.

“Every situation doesn’t warrant discipline, and sometimes, as Doms, we may forget that, particularly in the heat of the moment. You need to bring him back to his position—gently—without appearing to top from the bottom. It’s going to be difficult, but not impossible. Once he’s there, you need to introduce your concerns to him in a way that he understands—in a manner that says that you are not defying him, but that you need him to recognize how you feel; that even punishments administered to children are ineffectual if the child thinks they aren’t warranted.”

God, that’s so simple. Last night, I simply refused to be punished—which I know was within my rights, but now I can see I guess there was a better way.

“So, darling, let’s get you in the right place to get your Dom back…”

*-*

I spend several more minutes talking to Michel before Chuck and I head back to the Crossing. I have an hour before the family is due to meet here for lunch before we go to Grey Manor. I’m hoping Christian will wait until the last minute before he comes home. I spend exactly fifteen minutes meditating in a steaming bath of essential oils mixed for me by Michel, a combination of neroli and sandalwood with a touch of ylang ylang. I don’t use any perfume—just a touch of the neroli behind each ear, on each wrist, and down my décolletage.

Agent Provocateur lace demi-bra, matching panties, garters, and of course—black stockings… with thick thigh panels.

I close my eyes and remember the simple Ana from a few years ago who loved the knockoff fashions high-heeled shoes and immediately remember Audrey Hepburn and her little black cocktail dress… Sabrina

I go to the back of my closet and locate my 50s retro vintage black Rockabilly dress with cap sleeves, pleated bodice, sweetheart neckline and A-line silhouette—reminiscent of the throwback dresses that I used to wear when Christian and I first met, only not so tight. I’m pleased that even though my hips are bigger than they once were, my torso is small enough to fit my pre-pregnancy clothes. I guess Vee was right. No need to lose any weight for the interviews, I guess.

I wasn’t careful with my hair in the bath, and the ends got wet. I don’t have time to do anything glamourous with it, so I meticulously braid it in a loose tuxedo braid and use a jeweled butterfly clip on the end to keep it from unraveling. For a quick hairstyle, it looks good.

No makeup—just my tinted moisturizer and soft pink lip gloss with a touch of brown eyeliner. And now, jewelry. I go into my dressing room and open my jewelry box. Chanel… Cartier… no. I open the little box next to it that has been all but forgotten since I’ve been married, the one that holds Ana Steele’s costume jewelry. I see the perfect things—my Kramer clear pave rhinestone gold-tone vintage necklace and matching earrings. The earrings resemble three petals of a four-leaf clover and the necklace looks like the same petals circling my neck. Very pretty and timely for the dress. I find one pair of plain black stilettos, figuring that I must have gotten rid of the rest when I migrated to Louboutins. They’re still in good shape. These will have to do.

I examine myself in the three-way mirror of my dressing room and see the old Ana reflected back at me. I’m very pleased. I feel a small sense of pride that I was able to find the woman that I was before and still maintain the woman that I’ve become. I see them both in my reflection. Can I be both women for the rest of the day?

I’m surprised to find that I’ve only used forty-five minutes of the hour that I had left before the family is due to meet at the Crossing. After I peek in on my sleeping children, I take my purse and a plain black wrap down to the dining room to wait for everyone to arrive.

Elliot and Val are the first to get to the table after I take my seat. I’m clearing emails from my iPhone and responding to messages from Andrea and Marilyn about things that are being set up for the interview this weekend. I’ve heard nothing from Christian all morning.

“Wow. Steele. Were we supposed to dress up? You look great,” Valerie says as she takes her seat.

“Yeah, Montana, I didn’t get the memo. Is this a formal affair?” Elliot teases. I force a smile.

“Oh, you know me,” I say, waving them off. “I just… felt like pulling something out.”

“That’s from the vintage collection,” Val observes. “I haven’t seen one of those dresses since our days at the condo.”

“Yeah,” I say, downplaying the situation. “Like I said, just felt like pulling something out.” I shrug.

“Are we late?” Mia and Ethan breeze into the room.

“Nope, you’re right on time,” Val says, rising to kiss Mia on the cheek. Ethan and Elliot shake hands and fall into quick conversation.

“Hey, Anakins. Nice dress,” Mia says. “Vintage?” Oh, good grief.

“Yep. An oldie, but goodie,” I say, nonchalantly, looking into the kitchen and silently begging the staff to bring lunch.

“Where’s Christian?” Ethan asks.

“Probably wrapping up some big merger as usual,” Elliot says. “Did he say he was going to be late, Montana?”

No, he didn’t. In fact, he hasn’t said shit to me all morning.

“No, he’ll probably be along soon,” I say, looking at my phone and scrolling through my text. “Maybe we should just get started.” I look at Ms. Solomon and she nods.

We’re halfway through lunch, discussing how we plan to approach the meeting with Grace and Carrick when I finally get a text from my husband that he’s leaving Grey House and will be home in a few minutes. I sigh heavily and roll my eyes.

“Well, whatever huge merger has kept Mr. Grey from our company has finally been settled,” I say. “He should be here shortly.”

“Geez, that man and his empire,” Ethan says. “I guess nothing comes easy, huh?”

“No good thing, anyway,” I say with a shrug. “If you all will excuse me, I’m going to check on my babies before we have to leave.” I smile and leave the table. Waiting for Christian to arrive and playing the happy hostess while shielding questions about my style of dress was a bit too much for my psyche. I’m trying to stay grounded in my purpose and it’s hard to do while wondering why my husband couldn’t bother to join us for lunch like he was supposed to.

“They’ve been fed already?” I ask when I come into the room. Gail and Keri each have one of the children in their arms.

“Yes,” Keri says. “This little one is almost asleep again.” She shows me a droopy-eyed Minnie and I kiss her on her little forehead.

“This little soldier is fighting. He has no intention of succumbing to the Sandman,” Gail says.

“Let me have him,” I say, holding my arms out for my little prince. Gail gives me my son and he raises his blue-gray eyes to me. We still don’t know whose eyes each child is going to have as they are both blue-gray and maybe they’ll stay that way, though Minnie clearly has her father’s hair color while Mikey sports a wild mop of brown locks.

“So, you’re being defiant, too, are you?” I ask my son as he stares wide-eyed at me. They’ve only been awake for about forty minutes. Maybe he’s just not ready to go back to sleep. Maybe he wants to see the world and explore things. I lay him down on his back on his mat and get on the floor with him.

“Ana!” Gail scolds. “You’re getting on the floor in that dress?”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, waving her off.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she says with a smile as she leaves the room. I turn my attention back to Mikey.

“Hey, little man. Whatcha doin’?” Mikey coos at me as I tickle his little belly. I retrieve his hollow plastic football and playfully touch it to his nose, eliciting a laugh from him. I hold it high in front of his face, drawing his attention to the bright blue and green colors before bringing it back down to his waiting hands.

“Touchdown!” I exclaim playfully and he grasps the ball with both hands and giggles gleefully. He coos and blubbers and rolls on his mat, and I continue to engage him as if we are having the most interesting conversation of all time. He reaches for his rings and brightly colored toys and I praise him for being such a good boy. Time passes mindlessly while I play with my precious little prince and before I know it, Gail has returned to retrieve me, informing me that Christian has arrived and the family is ready to go to Grey Manor. I almost dread leaving the solace of the nursery and my cooing infant to face my brooding husband and the tasks ahead, but what must be done must be done.

I rise from the floor, bringing Mikey with me and handing him off to Gail after kissing his chubby pink cheeks and telling him that I love him. I check my clothes and leave the nursery to join the family downstairs.

Everyone is in the grand entry when I exit the nursery to the second-floor landing. I descend the stairs, watching my feet so that I don’t take a spill and go to the dining room to get my wrap and purse. I come back to the grand entry placing my wrap on my shoulders.

“Everything okay?” Val asks.

“Yeah, I think my son is trying to start a rebellion,” I reply with mirth, imagining my son set to become the quarterback for the Seahawks. I pull my braid from under the wrap while still trying to adjust it.

“I thought that would be Minnie,” Mia says.

“No,” I say, retrieving my lip gloss from my purse and touching up my lips. “From the looks of things, she’s going to sleep through it.” I put my gloss away and finally raise my eyes to the group… and Christian is staring at me.

“You changed,” he says. I try not to react.

“Yeah,” I say, and nothing else.

“Uuuhh, let’s get going,” Ethan says, breaking the long silence. Everyone else moves towards the door, but Christian waits for me. I take a few steps and he places his hand in the small of my back and leads me out the door. I try to suppress the small shiver that I feel as he guides me to the portico and over to one of the waiting Audis. Jason opens the door for me and I slide into the seat, placing my hands demurely on my lap until they close it behind me. I quickly attach my seatbelt and smooth my dress before Christian gets to the other side of the car, placing my hands back in my lap. We’re in the converted Audi with the seats that face us, and Val and Elliot ride with us. I’m silent for the first half of the ride, my eyes trained on my hands clasped in my lap. I can hear Christian and Elliot talking, but I’m not really paying attention to what they’re saying. My mind is wandering to bits of the conversation that I had earlier with Michel, about bringing myself back to who I was without losing who I am and also finding a middle ground for my husband… my husDom…

“Are you okay, Steele?” Val says. My head jerks up.

“Hm?” I say. “Yes. I’m… just… thinking about our meeting with Carrick and Grace.” It’s a sorry excuse, I know, but it’s all I’ve got. Christian reaches over and covers my clasped hands with his. My eyes fall to our joined hands. His thumb strokes my skin and I say nothing else for the rest of the ride.

When we get to the Manor, Christian quickly gets out of the car. I stall a bit, but not conspicuously, pretending to have trouble undoing my seatbelt. Sure enough, he appears on my side of the car to open my door and reaches in to take my hand and help me out of the car. This doesn’t go unnoticed by my best friend and sister, who gives me a coy smile, but I pretend not to notice. If she has any idea what I’m doing, then she knows why I can’t respond to her.

Carrick greets us at the door and he looks a little more rested than he did yesterday. He hugs each of the women and shakes the hands of each of the men.

“She’s going to be a bit reserved,” he says. “It’s the medication. She’s a completely different person than who she was before she went into the hospital. Still Gracie, but nowhere near as wound as she was before.”

Everyone is silent as we walk into the house to greet Grace. She’s in the great room, sitting comfortably on one of the sofas. She’s wearing a comfortable pair of slacks and a long-sleeved shirt, most likely to cover the scar on her arm.

“Come on in, children,” she says. “I don’t bite.” I’m the first to enter the room and kiss her on the cheek.

“How are you feeling, Grace?” I ask.

“Much better now,” she says, with a smile. Carrick takes a seat next to her and the rest of her children begin to file in and greet her. I stand and wait for everyone to hug and kiss her and begin to take their seats. Christian takes my hand and guides me over to the second sofa. I sit when he gestures for me to sit.

“So, I’m sure you all have already talked and you know what’s going on,” Grace says.

“Yes, Mom. We know,” Christian says.

“So, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s serious enough that some things have to change…”

The conversation goes a lot smoother than I expected. I thought that Grace would protest a lot more than she did. I also thought her children—particularly her sons—would hold back their feelings more, but they’re very open with how this situation affected them and what they expect from their mother while she’s going through her ordeal. Mia and Carrick both put their feet down that she’s off wedding duty, not only because it’s too stressful, but also because she got completely carried away. She insists, however, that the wedding not be postponed, and she agrees that she’s truly in no mindset to handle any of the preparations. Mia scolds her a bit for the outrageous plans that she made and told her that her one duty would be to call that wedding planner and tell her that if she didn’t listen to Mia and withdraw what Mia asked of her that she would be sued. Grace agrees to do that one task and then wash her hands of all things wedding.

Including the Hammerstones.

“Christian, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for how badly I behaved in terms of Janise and Marvin. I have no excuse really. I don’t know how to make up for it…”

“It’s done, Mom,” Christian says. “That’s guy’s a real asshole and there’s just nothing that can be done about that. I’ll take joy in the fact that I won’t have to break bread with him at my sister’s wedding.” Grace smiles.

“I’m very happy that you can forgive me, son. Now… Ana…”

“Please… don’t…” I say, putting my hands up. “There’s way too much. It wasn’t you, I know it wasn’t…”

“Ana, do you realize what you’ve done for this family?” Grace interrupts me. “What you mean to this family? You’re remarkable… There are times when I just don’t know what we would have done without you…” Her voice cracks on the last two words and Carrick puts his arm around his wife. “I just… I don’t know what to say… Thank you is not enough. There’s so much that you are to us. So much that you mean to us. Don’t ever forgot that. Please, don’t ever forget that!” Her voice fades into tears and Christian squeezes my hand once again.

“I won’t forget it, Grace,” I say softly, trying to offer her some comfort.

“No more crying now, Gracie,” Carrick says, gently wiping his wife’s cheeks with his thumb. Grace nods as her husband reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, handing it to his wife.

“Now,” she says, dabbing at her eyes, “tell me about the Center. Is everything okay?”

“Nope. Too soon,” Carrick protests. Grace frowns at him.

“You can’t take everything away from me,” Grace retorts. “I’ll lose my mind. You heard what the doctor said. I have to stay as normal as possible.” Carrick narrows his eyes.

“Fine. Helping Hands and the hospital. No more for now. Charities only as I see fit. If I see things becoming too much, I reserve the right to pull the plug—no questions asked.” Grace smiles.

“Yes, Cary,” she says sweetly. He rolls his eyes.

“It’s only because I love you,” he adds.

“I know, Cary,” she says. He pulls her close to him, forgetting that they’re in a room full of their children and their significant others.

“When is the last time we’ve had a vacation?” Carrick asks.

“It’s been a while,” Grace responds.

“We should rectify that.”

“Maybe we should.”

Should we invite Luma and Herman?” Carrick suggests. Grace ponders the thought.

“It’s a nice gesture, but I think it should be just the two of us.” Carrick raises his eyebrows, and now I’m certain he’s forgotten that they’re not alone in the room.

“Bermuda? Brazil?” he suggests.

“Saint Lucia!” Grace concludes, raising her eyebrows, and they kiss.

Then Elliot clears his throat.


CHRISTIAN

We spend the evening at my parents’ house having dinner and talking things through about how we’re going to handle Mom’s condition. None of us would have ever thought that Mom going through menopause would be a family operation, but we didn’t think it would affect her so drastically either.

And Butterfly.
Good God, Butterfly!

Something about her is making me feel fucking primal!

Not like caveman primal, but kind of… and, maybe a little protective or… something, I don’t know.

She’s wearing this dress. She looks like something straight out of Mad Men—like you want to show her off to the world like, “Look what I got,” but you want to walk behind her with a club and tell everybody to stay the fuck away! And she’s giving off this smell—it’s not a perfume. It’s not the coconut or the other fragrance—vanilla? Cinnamon? I don’t remember, but it’s not either of those, either. Whatever it is, I can resist the urge to jump her, but I just want to bury my nose in her neck.

And she’s quiet. Her words are economical. She says just enough to be sociable, to get her point across and no more. She’s demure… and she seems… subservient… submissive…

But… not overkill.

She’s fucking perfect.

Good God, that playroom fucker is standing there sneering at me, smiling a satisfied grin with his arms folded and his legs crossed at the ankles, but I haven’t punished her and I don’t plan to, so what’s the deal?

I glance over at her sitting in the large chair by the fireplace holding a half empty glass of champagne. One leg is crossed over the other, showing off her beautiful calves while her skirt modestly covers both knees. The structured bodice of her dress holds her luscious breasts together in a very flattering sweetheart neckline. Vintage jewelry captures the light of the fireplace and an alluring braid—similar to the ones my submissives used to wear in the playroom, but much more elegant—falls down her back, held in place at the end by a jeweled hairpiece. She’s lost in thought as the fire dances in her eyes, and she looks like a perfect painting of a sophisticate in a French bistro somewhere.

“I think it’s time we should be going,” I announce, anxious to get this creature alone if for no other reason but to gaze on her beauty in private. Nearly everyone responds with movement, standing and nodding and the like. From the corner of my eye, I can see Butterfly place her champagne glass on the side table, put both feet on the floor, smooth her dress and sit up straight. I can’t help but turn my gaze to her.

Her eyes slightly downcast, not by much, but I can tell. Her skirt falls slightly off the edge of the seat. She’s not completely there—but she’s almost there… almost…

Submissive position three.

My chest feels like it’s going to explode. That playroom fucker is laughing out loud and dancing a goddamn jig. I have to get her out of here. I must be alone with her. It takes every bit of my control to casually walk over to her and extend my hand to her. I know that’s what she’s waiting for. She rises effortlessly from her seat, one smooth movement. I tuck her hand in my elbow, then put my finger under her chin.

“Look at me,” I command softly. She raises her eyes only a bit and looks at me through her lashes. “Let’s go home.”

The ride home is silent again as I draw circles in Butterfly’s skin. I can feel the gooseflesh rising, if only slightly, and I wonder what she’s anticipating. Elliot and Valerie sit silently across from us, neither of them making eye-contact with either of us. When we get home, they quickly say their goodnights and scurry up to their room. I, on the other hand, take my wife hand and lead her to the elevator and down to the bar.

I help her into one of the barstools and then walk behind the bar. I turn on the sound system and Slo Mo start to sing something very vulgar about fucking and making love. I keep the music low. I only want it in the background. I pour us both a brandy before I slide into the barstool next to her, facing her. We sit silently for long moments and I just examine her as I sip my brandy. She sits perfectly still, her legs crossed and dangling from the high stool, both hands wrapped around the brandy snifter, her eyes slightly downcast. The song is nearly over before I speak.

“Talk to me,” I say, my voice deep, barely above a whisper. She swallows hard.

“I…” Her voice is breathy.

“Drink,” I command her. She takes a small sip of her brandy. “Again,” I say. She takes a larger sip, then closes her eyes as she swallows the liquid. “That’s better. Now, talk to me.” She takes a deep breath.

“I… don’t want you to lose who you are,” she says softly.

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t want to lose who I am, either,” she adds.

“I understand that,” I concur.

“It’s important to me that… when we find ourselves at an impasse that… we find somewhere that we can meet… in the middle.” She swallows hard.

“That’s a good idea,” I agree. “So, how do you suggest we do that?”

“I’m not completely sure,” she admits, “but I thought that remembering where we came from would be a good start.” I slide from my barstool and close the space between us.

“A very good start,” I reply, trying not to growl. Her breath catches in her throat. “Take a drink.” She takes another drink of her brandy and places the snifter back on the bar.

“You once told me that we would know what roles we needed to assume,” she says without raising her eyes.

“I did,” I confirm, standing very close to her. She takes a deep breath, then asks,

“Does that go both ways?” I examine her for a brief moment.

“Elaborate,” I command softly.

“When you first said that, I assumed that you meant… that we would know when to submit…” She pauses.

“Yes?” I coax.

“Does that also mean that… we would know when not to dominate?”

I can tell that she’s extremely nervous, that she wants her concerns to be heard, but she’s trying to maintain a delicate balance between my dominance and her submission. I have no idea how she could have possibly known this is what was needed to address what’s happening between us… could it have been her human sexuality studies? Did she reach back into her years of schooling and tap into her hidden knowledge to find the solution to our issue? Did she talk to Ace? Or Dr. Baker? Someone in the lifestyle?

I slide my hand around her waist, holding firmly to the structured torso of her dress. I love to feel her in clothes like this—restrained, like corsets. I note the fragrance that’s been wafting from her all night and I still can’t place it, but it tantalizes my senses now that I’m closer to her. Is it in her hair? I think it might be. I caress her waist with one hand, resisting the urge to pull her against my body, maintaining the controlled tone of my voice.

“Why do you think I stopped myself last night?” I say, trying to find the words to explain my actions. “For the first time, you told me before a scene began that you didn’t see cause for being punished. Every other time, you’ve waited until after the scene was over—often until the next day and sometimes, not saying anything until you were prompted. This time, you made it very clear that you didn’t want it. You didn’t see cause for it and you were not accommodating it, no matter what I said or did. I had no other choice but to respect and adhere to that, but the man that I am—the Dominant that I am—left me with no recourse. It was a physical and a mental thing and I just had to find a way to deal with it.

“We were on completely different ends of the spectrum. I was at a total loss of control and I felt like your actions and your decisions were the reason for that loss of control. You, on the other hand, felt totally different. I have no idea who was right and who was wrong, or even if there was a right or a wrong, and because I still haven’t completely regained my control, I still don’t know the answer to that conundrum. All I know is that if you say, ‘no,’ if you tell me that I can’t touch you in that way all the way to the point of telling me that you will safeword, I can’t do it.”

For the first time—or maybe the second—since lunchtime, she raises wide, blue eyes to mine without permission.

“I didn’t say that you couldn’t touch me,” she protests, her voice soft, but urgent. I gently cup her cheek with my free hand.

“Ana, you told me that you would safeword if I needed you to. Was I supposed to fuck you with that in the back of my head?” I ask. She drops her gaze again.

“So… the threat or mention of a safeword is the same as safewording,” she deduces.

“I’m afraid so,” I confirm. She nods without raising her gaze. I give in to my urges and pull her against my body, pushing my body between her legs, her softness melting against my hardness. I lean down, bury my nose in her neck, and inhale deeply, allowing her scent to incite my libido.

“What is that smell?” I ask, unable to stand the suspense anymore.

“Um, it’s… bath oil…” she hesitates. I gathered that much. “It’s a combination… sandalwood and… something with orange in it…” she says breathily. Yes, I do recognize those scents. I turn my lips to her neck and taste her skin. She feels so small and vulnerable in my hands and I hold her tight against my body as my lips and tongue explore her throat. I feel her pulse quicken as her hands rise to my forearms.

“Hands down!” I demand, my face still buried in her neck, and her arms fall immediately to her sides. Her reaction feeds my primitive possessiveness—my need to own her completely. The exercise in control not to ravage her right here and now is painful and titillating at the same time. I wrap her ridiculously long braid around my hand and pull hard. Her breath catches in her throat as her head jerks back violently, exposing her alabaster neck to my ravenous bites and sucks. I groan deep in my chest as I bruise her tender skin with my teeth and lips. I’m fucking starving for her.

I kiss up her neck and up her jaw, then bite her chin until I’m looking down into her eyes.

“What am I going to do with you?” I growl, because at this moment, I really don’t know. I’m caught between the Master who wanted to punish her last night, and Sir who just wants to dominate her now… the one she’s submitting to—consciously or subconsciously, she’s submitting… fully and completely, and I want to ravage this sexy little body in all sorts of rude ways…

But I really don’t want to punish her anymore.

“Whatever you see fit, I would imagine,” she breathes. “I trust you… Sir.”

And my entire body hardens for her.

“Have you voiced all of your concerns, Mrs. Grey?” I say, just above a whisper

“I…” she pants, barely able to contain her anticipation, or arousal, or whatever she’s feeling, “I would like to know how I should handle… this situation in the future… should it arise again…” And it will. She’s so breathless, she can barely speak. This is when I must remember that I must temper my need for control and obedience with tenderness and understanding; my role as a Dominant with my role as a husband.

“That would be the time when you would respectfully request the right to speak frankly to Sir, even if your emotions or temper may be high,” I instruct her while gently stroking her cheek. “While it’s imperative that I understand and respect your needs, feelings, and state of mind, I need the same consideration from you. If you are averse to an activity for any reason, that needs to be addressed immediately. Likewise, if I’m in full Dom mode and you safeword, it’s the equivalent of a fighter jet being shot out of the sky. There’s no other comparison for it. It’s a total crash-and-burn. Do you see how detrimental that is?” She nods. “Are we on the same page with that?” She nods again.

“We are,” she says. “I understand, Sir.”

I can tell that she does understand, but there’s still regret in her eyes from the distance that was put between us, or my description of how I had to cope with her denial, I’m not sure. Either way…

“Open,” I whisper. She pauses only for a beat, then opens her mouth. I slide my tongue inside and around, exploring and tasting, but never closing my lips over hers, licking and tasting, gazing into her deep, blue eyes and sharing a sensual kiss that I first shared with her when I retrieved her after that ordeal with Edward David… a kiss that I’ve only ever shared with her. She recognizes our kiss and her tongue massages mine as her breath skips and she struggles not to close her eyes.

Don’t close your eyes, Butterfly. Stay with me…

I gaze at her as I continue to taste her lips, tongue, and mouth in our special way. Her eyes become heavy-lidded and I watch as the last of her resistance falls away. She’s completely mine now. I grip her hips and pull her roughly to the end of the stool, lifting her leg around my hip and grinding my erection into her soft core. We’re in the community area and someone could walk in at any moment, but I don’t care. It’s my house, and I’ll fuck her wherever I damn well please.

My hand travels under her dress and up her thigh. When I feel the bare skin of her thigh and realize that she’s wearing stockings and garters, the horny little man in me loses all control. I bruise her lips with searing kisses and use dexterous fingers to undo the suspenders on the leg wrapped around my hip. I only need to release one of them.

Control yourself, Grey. Don’t rip the damn panties.

I celebrate inwardly when the front and back fasteners release and I quickly work the panties down one leg with the help of my very flexible wife. I didn’t realize she was wearing a petticoat under this dress to help it flare out in that vintage 50s fashion, but I don’t allow it to deter me. I easily find my way back to her treasured heat while making quick work of my zipper and freeing my cock from my boxer briefs, never moving my lips from hers. She steadies herself on the barstool and within seconds, my steel-hard cock is buried deep inside of her and driving hard into her core.

“Fuck!” I bite out as her walls brutally burn my shaft. “Don’t come!” I hiss. “This is for me!”

She’s panting like a freight train, but she nods. I need this. I need this in the worst fucking way, and it’s going to be fast… and rough. I drill into her hard and deep over and over and over. She bites her lip to keep from crying out from the brutal thrusts. In moments, I feel my balls tightening and I thrust into her harder and harder. She whimpers with each thrust and I hear the bar stool scooting across the floor with each forceful thrust.

“Yes! Yes! Fuck! Yes!” I grunt with each thrust and soon, I come so hard that I have to struggle to keep from crumpling to the ground. It was only a few minutes, but I needed it so badly—to use and bruise her, because she’s mine. I had to remind her and myself that no matter what, this. Body. Belongs. To me!

I lean over her on the bar stool and catch my breath. When I pull back and examine her, she’s completely flushed, still steadying herself on the seat of the stool. I pull out of her and grasp her hand, surprising her by pulling her from the stool and dragging her through the community room and down the hall towards our private areas, my semi-hard, recently ejaculated dick still hanging out of my pants. Her stilettos click loudly and quickly on the floor behind me as I turn quickly to the first secluded room I see…

My wife’s parlor.

I drag her inside and close the door behind us, slamming her body into mine and snatching her breath away by bruising her mouth with deep kisses again, pinning her arms behind her back as I possess her once more. She whimpers and breathes wildly and helplessly as I release her hands and quickly unzip her dress, pushing it off her shoulders, down her torso and down her hips, following the dress down her body with my mouth, kissing and sucking and admiring the delicious lace lingerie underneath. I turn her around and push her against the nearest wall, removing the dress completely and releasing the suspenders from her stockings so that I can completely remove these damn panties from this delicious pussy and this luscious ass, the entire time playing in the garden because I know that drives her fucking wild. She’s scratching at the wall like a caged animal trying not to climb it while I outline the letters of her tattoo with my tongue.

I take my time reattaching the suspenders to the stockings. We’re keeping these on, but we’re losing this bra. I need to see those tits.

“Don’t move,” I growl at her back once I have her stripped to suspenders, stockings, and shoes. These aren’t Louboutins. No matter—she still looks sexy as fuck in them.

I strip completely and quickly and take my hardening dick in my hand, stroking it from base to tip a few times while I examine my wife and submissive’s round bare ass staring back at me framed in lace suspenders and stockings. I walk over to her and grind my stiff cock into the crease of her ass, allowing the head of it to stroke her rosette a few times.

“Do you feel how hard you make me?” I growl. “I just fucking came!”

“Yes… Sir,” she breathes, her voice dripping with arousal. I leave her standing there and quickly move her wrought iron glass table closer to her fireplace to give us more room. Clearing the pillows from her large sofa with one swoop of my arm, I snatch her from the wall and pull her to the middle of the room. I retrieve my shirt from the floor and hand it to her.

“Put this on.” She slides her arms into my shirt and begins to button it. “No!” I command, pushing the shirt open at her shoulders. My hands travel down to her breasts and I fondle the mounds and tease her nipples, causing a drop of milk to leak. I lick the nipple clean and Butterfly gasps, biting her lips.

“Yes!” I rumble, the inner Neanderthal beating his chest. Woman! Mine! “On the sofa. Sit.” She sits demurely on the sofa like the perfect submissive while I retrieve the handkerchief from my pocket and my necktie. Draping the necktie around my bare neck, I kneel in front of her and push her legs open.

“Lie back,” I command her. There’s quite a bit of room without the large throw pillows. She lays back on the sofa and I open her legs wide. I proceed to clean the massive amount of semen from her thighs and core. Once I’m satisfied that she’s clean enough—not complete, just enough—I take the tie from around my neck.

“Give me your hands.”

She presents her hands and I quickly and deftly secure her hands with my black silk necktie.Christian secures Ana's hands with his black silk necktie in chapter 31 rg

“Scoot back,” I direct her. “Hands over your head.” She does as she’s told. When instructed, she spreads her legs wide and digs her heels into the edges of the cushions of the sofa. If she rips it, I’ll buy her a new one. Now, she’s spread out open, sexy, and glistening in front of me—her pretty, pink pussy displaying a sexy mixture of her of her arousal and mine; her beautiful, round breasts peeking out from underneath my shirt, giving me an occasional gift of a drop of sweet nectar; her hands bound over her head… and she’s waiting for me.

Ready or not, here I come.

I lean in to that gorgeous wet fruit and lick from core to clit. She gasps and shivers. I love her reaction, so I do it again—softly, meticulously. When she begins to whimper and claw at the back of the sofa, I start a rhythm… kissing, licking, sucking, and tasting that pretty pussy much like I did that night in Anguilla, when I had to tie her thighs down. This time, she just has to bear it. What did I call it? Oh yeah, the French kiss—pay attention to every sinew, every crevice, every lump, bump, and imperfection of this beautiful creation. Hold her hips down when she tries to thrust forward or squirm and alternate between a deep penetrating massage that moves her clit from side to side and up and down to a flutter right on the tip that causes a chill and a sharp shock of pleasure to jolt through her entire body.

Yes…

Licking on either side of the clit that causes the buds of the tongue to stimulate the tender nerves just under the skin…

Gathering the juices as they collect at the base of the opening when she pulses and threatens to explode…

Applying just the right amount of pressure as I suckle her clit and release it just before that crucial moment… not to torment her, but so that her orgasm is that much more intense…

Her breasts… they’re so fucking swollen… just like her clit… If I touch them right now, she’s going to come instantly. She’s bound and squirming and beautiful and so, so, ready, and my dick is aching like fuck. So, I guess it’s time to put her out of her misery.

I throw those lovely legs over my shoulders and lock in on the beautiful clit, intent to suck the pleasure out until she can’t help screaming my name.

“Sir… Sir…” she’s panting helplessly, trying to get my attention. I hear you, baby, but I’m not stopping. I increase my manipulation, concentrating my stimulation on the goal of orgasm while reaching my hands around her hips and up her body, around to cover her breasts, kneading and massaging and tweaking those tender, aroused nipples. I’m rewarded with two offerings of life’s milk from her ample mounds, and I massage the liquid into her taut peaks, lamenting only that I’m unable to clean it away with my mouth, but my tongue is otherwise occupied right now… with the imminent seduction and satisfaction of my wife’s tender, juicy, and delicious clit.

It’s throbbing, thumping, and hardening now, and my pearl is protesting more and more, trying to respectfully inform her Dom that the well is about to blow, but her Dom knows. In fact, her Dom is counting on it.

Moments later, my Butterfly is panting and wheezing and can take no more. She can barely get the words out of her mouth.

“S-Si-Sir! Sir! Lad-Ladybug! Lady… bug!” She chokes out her safeword to warn me that she’s about to come and I raise my eyes to hers to signal that’s it’s okay. Her head falls back and her hands uncharacteristically drop to my head and tangle in my hair. My goddess croons a beautiful melody as she comes, pleasure wracking her body and lifting her from the sofa. Before the vibrations have finished, I slide up her body, take her in my arms and slam my aching erection into her throbbing pussy. Good God Almighty! The grip is insane!

“My, God, you are so sexy!” I groan, my voice hoarse as I plunge into her, “so fucking sexy.”

“Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!” she repeats, panting, out of breath and still coming, I think. Her bound wrists are behind my head, her arms around my neck and her pussy feels like an earthquake around my dick. Oh, God is right.

“Baby! Fuck!” I hiss against her lips as I grind my cock into her tight, pulsing core. She wraps her legs around my hips and locks her ankles together at my ass, panting and wheezing and holding on as I pump into her over and over and over…

“God, you feel so good,” I growl, gripping her ass tight with one hand and holding her body hard against me across her back with the other arm. My face is buried in her neck and with her legs wrapped around me, she’s opened perfectly for me to thrust up into her balls deep repeatedly, grunting animalistically with every forceful, hot, painful pump. The friction is maddening and her pussy still hasn’t stopped throbbing from her first orgasm. How is that even possible?

“Goddamn, this pussy,” I curse as I push her ass hard into me, trying to get still deeper into her core. Fuck, she feels so fucking good and she’s so goddamn wet that her juices slide from her pussy and our sliding and joining sex down to the crack of her ass and her puckering rosette.

Fuck if I’m letting that shit go to waste.

I adjust my hand and massage the moisture into the puckering bundle of nerves before I unceremoniously thrust my middle finger into her tight ass and begin a finger fuck that compliments my dick in her pulsing pussy. She cries out in surprise, then quickly begins to pant in helpless ecstasy.

“Sir! Sir! I’m going… to come!” she warns, her voice squeaky and helpless, her orgasm sneaking up on her before she had the opportunity to prepare.

“Don’t!” I growl. “Don’t come yet! Hold it! I’m not ready!” That’s a fucking lie. I’m going to blow any second, but I just started playing with that ass and I’m not fucking ready. I’ve got to hold out just a minute longer. I grind into that pussy, punishing her walls while my finger thrusts into her ass, drawing out her pleasure and her torment.

“G-God… God… p… p-please… Sir, I… can’t…” she pants, her eyes squeezed tight, bearing the pleasure and threatening to blow any moment.

“Hold it!” I pant, thrusting into her faster, my balls tightening, my cock thickening and threatening eruption as I’m pumping into this tight, heavenly orifice. Her ass has swallowed my finger all the way to the base, and I know that she won’t be able to stop her orgasm… so safeword, no command, no nothing. It’s going to be nuclear.

“This body is mine!” I declare as I thrust into her. “Only! Ever! Mine!”

“Please!” she cries, helpless. “Oh, God, please!”

“Come for me,” I command her as my balls tighten madly. “Come for me, dammit!” She crumples into me and shudders into a violent trembling orgasm, making an inhuman sound and crying in my ear. I can feel my dick pulsing hard against the walls of her pussy, even harder than her throbbing core, as my balls empty every single drop of semen they have to offer. I come so hard that my dick is throbbing and pulsing long after it has emptied its contents into my wife and we lay splayed, spent and useless, on her parlor sofa.


A/N: Thank you all for your patience while I toiled with real life issues. Hopefully, I have enough content now that there won’t be any skipped weeks for a while. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

 ~~love and handcuffs

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Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 9

Sorry for the late post… my internet went out last night.

This is a work of 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 it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessarily CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Chapter 9


         GOLDEN

“I knew you couldn’t live without me.”

“Fuck you, Jesse.”

“Sorry, that’s not part of the contract.”

Blake closes the door behind me as I leave the house and Jesse follows me to my Range Rover. He drives when he’s shadowing me, and I only take my Range Rover—bullet-proof glass.

“So,” he begins as we’re on our way in to the office, “what has you calling me this time?” I open the file I’ve prepared for him.

“Her,” I say, holding up a picture of Elena. “You won’t be able to examine the file in any detail until we get to the office, but that’s Elena Lincoln. She used to be big shit in the scene and then she got old.”

“The scene?” he asks, his brow furrowed. I raise my brow at him. “Oh. How old is she?”

“I don’t know exactly—40ish,” I reply. He twists his lips.

“That’s not old, Ana,” he says.

“I don’t mean ‘old’ as in age; I mean ‘old’ as in ‘spent.’ Her techniques are antiquated and stale, and she thinks that I pose a threat to her longevity as a Domme, but that’s not why I called you.”

“What’s up?”

“Blake is running backgrounds on her as we speak. I didn’t see the need before yesterday, but now…” I trail off. “Anyway, she’s come upon a spell of bad luck and somehow, she’s blaming me for it. She concocted a plan in hopes of getting rid of me and it backfired. She dangled a morsel in my face, intent on me falling in love and dropping out of the scene. Instead, we struck an agreement. So, I got the morsel and I’m still in the scene.”

“And now, she’s pissed,” he finishes.

“There’s more,” I tell him. “Something transpired between her and the morsel—I don’t know what. Whatever it is, she’s on the receiving end of some very bad shit and for some reason, she thinks I’m part of it. Our conversation last night didn’t end well. Hence, my need for you.”

“I see, and should I know about this morsel?” he asks.

“I don’t know, yet. I might need you to sign a new NDA,” I inform him.

“Since when do you need me to sign a new NDA?” he asks, his voice surprised.

“Since I don’t know what the old one contains or how long it’s been since you’ve signed one. Now, bring your hot ass into the office so we can get it taken care of and I’ll tell you about the new morsel.” He shakes his head.

“I don’t know why the hell you think you need me. You’re hell on wheels all by yourself.”

When we get to my office, I’m in dismay to find that my uncle is in the lobby with my receptionist.

“I need to talk to you,” he says before I get the chance to react.

“I have nothing to say to you, Richard.” I proceed past him toward my office.

“Well, I have something you need to know…”

“Don’t you get it?” I say, looking over my shoulder at him. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. Seventeen years, Richard. Nothing you have to say can affect me now. I made it. I survived, without you—without knowing if you were dead or alive. I’m fine. I’ll be fine from here on out, without knowing if you’re dead or alive. Now, please leave my office.” I turn back to my office door.

“This is about your family, Ana!” he retorts.

“I don’t have a family anymore, Richard,” I counter without turning around.

“My brother would be so ashamed of you right now!” he seethes. That does it. I whirl around and get in his face.

“No!” I bark. “Your brother would be ashamed of you! You left me when I was fifteen! Fifteen! You turned your back on me over a candy bar. A goddamn candy bar! Did you know that? The last memory that I have is of you looking at me in total and utter disgust, like I had committed a murder, over a damn candy bar. Maybe I deserved to be grounded. Maybe I deserved some kind of punishment for my misstep, but did I deserve to be deserted? No! Did I deserve to spend my senior year in vacant houses scavenging for food and praying not to get molested or beaten by gang members or drug dealers? No! You abandoned me! You left me cold when you knew I had nothing and no one else to turn to and then you have the nerve to stand here and try to pass judgment on me, you self-righteous asshole? Try to guilt-trip me by throwing my dead father up in my face? You’re one manipulative son-of-a-bitch, you know that? My father has rolled over in his grave a hundred times watching how you treated me—how you turned your back on me! If anything is causing my father’s immortal soul mortification at this point, it’s your behavior, and the very sight of you at this moment makes me physically ill. So, I suggest that you carry your sanctimonious ass out of my presence right this second!”

Uncle Richard gazes at me in shocked horror, his mouth gaping for several moments.

“Ana,” he breathes. “Ana… I’m so sorry…”

“Way late,” I bark. “Way too late. Can’t hear you. Won’t hear you. Don’t want to see you. Don’t want you in my life. Don’t want closure. Don’t care who’s dying. Don’t want anything from you. Don’t want a relationship. Don’t want to be near you. Don’t want to hear anything you have to say. Get the fuck out of my office and don’t come back, and I mean don’t come back or I’ll have you arrested for trespassing and if that doesn’t work, I’ll have this big guy physically throw you out on your ass!”

“Ana, please… I didn’t know…” His voice is desperate.

“You didn’t care,” I cut him off, “and now, neither do I. Believe me when I tell you that I’m over what you did to me, but I don’t need you around as a reminder. Now, for the last time, get the fuck out of my office.”

“Please, Ana, just let me tell you…”

“Jesse, get him the fuck outta here.” I tune out my uncle’s protests and enter my inner office with Chanelle close on my heels, handing me the day’s mail and messages. My uncle’s visit did nothing more than interrupt my morning, except for maybe the small blip of bringing my parents to mind. I have no emotional ties to the Steeles anymore. They were all cut nearly two decades ago. Even my trinkets and keepsakes of my parents were all left at their house, so I have nothing—nothing but the memory of my Mommy and Daddy and their grave sites at Lakeview Cemetery. Someone had the foresight to put a picture of them on their shared grave marker, and I have since saved that picture to my phone as well as blown it up and had various mementos made of it, but that’s all I have. The cross Daddy gave me, the earrings, my teddy bear, birthday cards, all my little special things… gone, years ago. I’ve cried those tears and I’ve moved on. I remember my parents in my own way now, and I’ll be damned if I let that asshole piss on that memory.

“This came for you today,” Chanelle says, breaking into my thoughts. I take the large box from her along with the other items of mail. She goes back to her desk and I’m curious about the box. Jesse walks in the door just as I’m about to open it.

“Wait!” he says. I stop. “With you having a newly-acquired nemesis, do you think you should be opening your own packages?” I examine him.

“I don’t think Elena is that sophisticated,” I tell him. “She wouldn’t send a bomb or an anthrax-laden package.”

“You’re sure of that?” he says, raising an eyebrow.

“Sure enough,” I say, “but you can have extra security measures installed if it’ll make you feel better.”

“It will,” he says. I hand him the package.

“Do you want to check it?” He takes it and twists his lips.

“You can open it.”

“That was fast,” I say with a frown.

“It’s been opened already.” I chuckle.

“Chanelle.” I open the package and immediately recognize the box inside. Jewelry. I even know what’s in it. I open my drawer and pull out an updated non-disclosure agreement.

“Look it over and sign it,” I say, handing it to Jesse.

“I don’t need to,” he says, retrieving a fountain pen from my desk. “I’d never talk to anyone about what I do for you anyway. You’re an attorney, for God’s sake, and a damn good one, too.” He signs the NDA without looking at it.

“Start reading that file,” I instruct him, pointing at the file I brought in with me as I open the box. He starts reading the file as I remove the Giuseppe Zanotti choker snake necklace that Trey tried to give me six months ago. There’s a card inside.

The last time I presented this gift to you didn’t go so well.
Let’s hope we can get off on a better foot.

Over…

I turn the card over.

Open the center panel.

I didn’t even know the box had a center panel. I feel around the felt rim and find a small latch. Releasing the latch causes the center panel to pop open, revealing more items tucked inside and nestled in black satin.

“Whoa,” I whisper, before I catch myself. Inside the little compartment is a pair of earrings and a cocktail ring. The cocktail ring is heavy gold with a large emerald rimmed with diamonds. When I say large, I mean like Victoria Beckham engagement collection large! It’s absolutely stunning and the earrings are just as extravagant—diamond upside-down teardrop studs with emerald drops attached also rimmed in gold and diamonds. They are a creation befitting royalty.

“Christian Grey?” Jesse says in surprise. “He’s the morsel?”

Shit! I’m so engrossed in this gold, emerald, and diamond deliciousness that I totally forgot I’m not alone in the room.

“Yes,” I tell him, placing the items back in the box and closing it. “He and Elena used to be friends. Elena—or he and Elena, I haven’t figured that part out yet—had this Dangerous Liaisons plot of some kind going on for him to turn me out and get me out of the BDSM game. It didn’t work. Like I said, it backfired. Near as I can tell and from what Blake and I have pieced together, things went very sour between Tr… Christian and Elena. Elena’s business has suffered tremendously, and she thinks Christian had something to do with it. What’s more, after finding out that her plot didn’t go as planned and that Christian and I struck a deal as opposed to him sweeping me off my feet and taking me out of the game, she’s completely convinced that I had a part in whatever he supposedly did that resulted in her ruin. As a result, last night’s conversation was filled with a lot of threats and ‘you’ll get yours’ and you know the rest.”

“Ah,” Jesse says, looking at the file, “the quintessential ‘fall into your own trap then blame the intended victim.’”

“Exactly,” I confirm. “The last time I underestimated someone, I had to sever his spinal cord. I would much rather not have a repeat of that particular situation.” Jesse grimaces.

“Yeah, I remember that,” he says. “Speaking of which, has anyone else… fallen from grace, so to speak?”

“Only one,” I reply. “Elvin.” Jesse frowns.

“What happened to Elvin?”

“He sought services elsewhere,” I say flatly, thumbing through the rest of my mail.

“Wow, really?” he says, surprised. “How’d that happen?” I shrug noncommittal.

“I was unavailable, and he had a scene with someone else—Elena, in fact—so I wouldn’t see him again.”

“I thought you weren’t exclusive.”

“It’s conditional,” I point out. “If you’re seeing another Domme or someone else for something that I can’t or won’t give you, then that’s fine. I can’t argue about that.” I walk around my desk, take my seat, and turn on my computer. “But if you’re seeing a Domme for something that I do simply because I’m not there, then you can keep seeing that Domme.” He twists his lips.

“I’ve seen Elena Lincoln,” he says. “She doesn’t do what you do.”

“But she’s a Domme,” I clarify. “He went to her to fill in for me, to get what I couldn’t give him that night because I was doing a scene with someone else. Now, if he did that because I was unavailable, then he was impatient and he couldn’t wait for me to finish or schedule an appointment like he was supposed to. If he was angry or uptight because I was doing a scene with someone else and he decided to go to another Domme out of spite or to teach me a lesson, lesson learned. Go with the other Domme.”

“How’d he take that?” Jesse inquires.

“Not well at all,” I inform him. “He claimed that Elena tricked him—that she convinced him that she fills in for me all the time and that I never indicated to him that we were exclusive, and he might be right. I may not have told him that we were exclusive on our S&M relationship, but it didn’t matter, because what I wasn’t going to do was have him go back and forth between me and Blondie comparing techniques. You found someone else to scratch your masochistic itch. Now, go on over there and get scratched. It’s not like we had a contract, literal or implied. The relationship was at-will and I willingly sent his ass back to Elena.

“I did, however, inform him that Elena knew the rules before she offered her services. It’s bad form to approach another Domme’s submissive, pet, plaything, or client, and I could have had her banned from the club for what she did, but I didn’t. I have other clients and the first lesson that needed to be taught was taught to Elvin and anyone else who felt they wanted to skip off to another sadist. You be my guest—it’s a free country, but don’t come back to me.

“The second lesson was for Blondie. The message was loud and clear that if she could take a client from me, then they belong to her, not me—and I won’t lose sleep over them. She flaunted and gloated for about a week and I let her, until Elvin showed up at the club and discovered that I wasn’t going to play with him anymore… and why.

“He declared war on that bleached blonde bitch. He humiliated her that night in front of the entire club. He made a public and highly embarrassing announcement about how her techniques were substandard at best and that she tricked him into a scene with her just so that she could experience one of my clients. He was so pissed off that he had to be forcibly removed from the club that night.”

“So, does he pose a threat to you?” Jesse asks. I shake my head.

“Not to me, but Blondie was walking on eggshells for about six months,” I say, typing into my computer and examining my court schedule. It looks like I’ll be facing off with Uncle Richard or someone from his office again soon. Another juvenile case with shoddy evidence where a kid was pulled in off a basketball court because he “fit the description.” He wasn’t mirandized, he didn’t get an opportunity to speak to his parents or an attorney for seven and a half hours while police interrogated him. Even if he confessed to the Kennedy assassination, nothing he said could be used against him in court. The case is a formality to have his record completely stricken of the wrongful arrest to begin with.

“Still doing pro-bono cases?” he asks, looking over my shoulder. Normally, I would scold someone for this—not only because the information he’s looking at is subject to attorney/client privilege, but also because I fucking hate for people to read over my shoulder.

“I’m going to be nice and just tell you to go sit down,” I say looking up at him over my shoulder. He smiles knowingly and sits in the seat in front of my desk.

“Just trying to get reacquainted,” he says.

“Yes, I still do some pro-bono,” I say answering his question.

“How do you afford the lifestyle you live if you don’t charge anyone for representation?” he asks, his brow furrowed.

“I do charge people,” I correct him, “I just only charge the people who can pay. My corporate clients pay handsomely for my legal services and some of them have me on a non-refundable retainer they’ve never used. My pro-bono clients are usually juveniles that are getting a raw deal.”

“What about rich kids?” he asks. “I’ve never seen you take one of them.”

“That’s because when it comes to the juvenile system, black kids and poor kids from underprivileged neighborhoods often get caught in the system and get lost. I’ve had affluent families approach me to represent them and most of the time, I don’t take them, because seven out of ten are full of shit and have done what they’re being accused of and they just want somebody to get them off.”

“Aren’t you being a little judgmental?” he asks. “I know you grew up in the hood, but isn’t what you’re saying the same as reverse discrimination?” I scoff at him.

“How so?” I ask. I can’t wait to hear this explanation.

“You’re refusing to represent someone because they have money and you’re imposing a prejudice on them because of their social status.” I try hard not to laugh at my bodyguard.

“No,” I clarify. “If I refused to represent someone simply because they had money, I’d be broke, dear. I refuse to represent a guilty client. And I’m not imposing anything on them because of social status. I’m an excellent judge of character. I can tell in the first few minutes of speaking to someone if they’re full of shit, and it doesn’t matter if they’re from the hood or the middle of Belleville. I can guarantee you, if I can tell, the judge can tell. So, how do I look putting some entitled troublemaker on the stand that Mom and Dad have cleaned up and letting him make a fool of himself and me in front of judge, prosecution and jury?

“Case and point—I had a case of a kid who fell in with the wrong group. He knew that they were into bad shit, but he wanted to belong. He wanted to fit in. He thought he could fade into the background and ride the coattails of the bad boy image without being caught up in their shit. He wasn’t so lucky. They went to the mall and hit a store that was a common target for shoplifting. He was with the group when they did this, so when they took off running, he pretty much knew that they had done something they weren’t supposed to be doing and he took off running, too. Problem was, they were all wearing the same jacket—so, of course, they all got clipped.

“He and his mother came into my office and he told me the whole story. He even admitted to knowing that they were probably up to no good, but that he wasn’t a part of it. I listened to his story. I listened to him tell me that he knew his friends were no good, but he was hanging with them anyway. He didn’t know that I had already summoned his school records before he and his mother got to the appointment that morning. I had also requested the surveillance from the mall that was used to solidify his arrest. I knew they couldn’t identify him in the surveillance and he didn’t have any stolen merchandise on him.

“His entire case was circumstantial. He was guilty by association, and had he been left at the mercy of the public defender, he’d be a ward of the state right now. He could have been a lookout. This could have been his initiation into their little crew and he fucked up or just got cold feet. But I listened to his story, and I looked at his transcripts, and you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. No matter how many oaths we take, any lawyer worth their salt knows how to bend that law until right before it breaks. We can soft-shoe and razzle-dazzle you until you don’t know if you’re coming or going. So, you can’t pull the wool over my eyes.

“I went into the courtroom to argue his case—against my uncle, in fact. He expected the public defender and I was just as surprised to see him at the prosecutor’s table. In all the cases I’ve done in family court, he was never there, then bam! One day, he’s at the prosecutor’s table. Their case was so shabby, they basically made my case for me—but that kid was not guilty. Based on the premise I laid forth, any one of those kids could have gotten off, but most of them were carrying stolen merchandise, so…” I shrug.

“So, your client got off.” It’s a statement, not a question. I cringe at that statement. I don’t know if all the others were guilty. I’m certain that some were, just like I’m certain that Tommy wasn’t, which is why I used the phrase gotten off with them and not with Tommy.

“The judge saw that the case was flimsy and that Tommy was being charged based on association and circumstantial evidence and the case was dismissed if that’s what you’re asking me,” I correct him.

“So, you’re okay with any of the other boys getting off using his argument even though your client admitted to knowing that they were up to no good?” he asks.

“I’ll tell you just like I argued in court. Those other boys are not my concern. I wasn’t arguing their cases. I was arguing my client’s case. And to answer your question, all I can say is that I believe justice would be served by an innocent person walking free with four other guilty people than with four guilty people being convicted with one innocent one. I’m a true believer in Karma. I have to believe that what goes around comes around, and that if you put negative energy into the universe and you do bad things, that stuff is someday going to come back to you. If I didn’t believe in Karma, I’d be a serial killer right now. As such, I don’t believe in collateral damage. If I can avoid it, I will not sacrifice one for the common good of the whole unless we’re talking about chess.” He shakes his head.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how many things are wrong with that statement, Ana,” he laments.

“You don’t have to,” I reply. “It’s not a perfect world. You have to be on one side or the other of that imperfect fence and at some point, neither side is popular. Imagine going into court and saying a prayer before you enter the doors. When you say that prayer, you don’t pray to win the case. I’m going to represent my client to the best of my ability, but when I step into that courtroom every single time, I say a prayer. I don’t pray to win the case. I don’t pray that my client gets off. I pray for justice. I don’t know everything and I don’t claim to know everything, but I pray that justice be served every time I walk into that courtroom. And from what I can tell so far, justice has.” I pause for a moment and ponder something Jesse said a few minutes back.

“And let’s be clear about something—there’s no such thing as reverse discrimination. Discrimination, by definition, is the unjust, unfair, and prejudicial treatment of a person or a group of people most likely based on race, nationality, or gender, but can include other factors. Discrimination is discrimination—if I reverse discrimination, I’m now treating you fairly. I am treating you like any other human being deserves to be treated or considered based on the fact that no matter what our physical or moral differences, if you cut us, we’ll both bleed the same color blood.

“That terminology came from some blue-blood, Ivy League, high-nosed, entitled fuckface who wanted to put a label on affirmative action and consideration being given to otherwise qualified candidates and individuals who would not have been given an opportunity in various situations and circumstances had not some law, statute, or referendum required that they be offered the chance.

“So, some kid somewhere with a college fund that Mom, Dad, and both sets of grandparents were paying into since Becky pissed on a stick that turned blue got bumped out of a scholarship that was given to some poor black kid who’s the first in his family to go to college. And just like that, Biff McBifferson from Hahvahd came up with this reverse discrimination shit because little Chase couldn’t follow in Daddums’ footsteps and get the coveted “We Are Important” Scholarship because it was given this black kid with the 10.9 grade point average.

“Never mind all the other thousands of students that were considered and declined that semester. No, his scholarship went to the black kid. If it wasn’t for Jerome and his endless studying, spectacular display of intellectual capacity, and impressive transcript of extracurricular activities, poor Chase would be walking the hallowed halls of whatever university wouldn’t give him this scholarship because of this one black kid. So, please do me a favor. Don’t throw that term reverse discrimination around unless you know what you’re talking about, because what it really is is a crock of shit.”

Jesse is looking at me like I might leap from my desk, attach myself to his neck, and suck his life’s blood dry. The problem is that I was that scholarship kid and I met other scholarship kids. We were all fighting for the same thing and had someone gotten the scholarship over me, what could I say? These people have been struggling and fighting for centuries, and when they finally catch a break, here comes that reverse discrimination crap. Go somewhere and sit down with that Brainpox shit.

“Are you this intense in the courtroom?” he asks cautiously. I raise my brow at him.

“I’m this intense at all times,” I reply.

“Even in the dungeon?” he asks frankly.

“Especially in the dungeon,” I reply crisply.

“Mmm. Well, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay on this side of that Red Door,” he says, sitting back in his seat.

“That’s a good idea, Jess,” I say, turning back to the case that I’m certain I’ll face against my uncle.



             TREY

I don’t take days off, but I am so. Fucking. Tired. My body aches like no workout I’ve ever had in my fucking life. My arm is throbbing and every time I rolled over last night, the damn thing felt like someone was beating me with a fucking sledgehammer. Goddamn Elena Lincoln, I swear to God, I will see you burn in the very depths of the darkest, scariest pits of hell for this.

Sparkle gave me hell for leaving her at the club last night. Submissive or not, that was really bad form of me. I normally don’t apologize to submissives, but I felt inclined to give her some kind of explanation.

“Yeah, so, I met that Golden morsel that you were substituting for last night and watched her work over a sub. My dick got so hard that I followed her home and then she worked me over. Sorry, I forgot all about you…”

Yeah… no.

I told her that my arm just started hurting out of nowhere and that I was in excruciating pain. I explained that I told one of the dungeon monitors to tell her what was going on and that I would call her later, but I had to get some pain killers or get to the hospital immediately because the pain was blinding. I was so disoriented that I didn’t know which dungeon monitor I talked to and I regret that she didn’t get the message.

She bought it.

The only problem is that now I am in blinding and excruciating pain from hanging from the ceiling of Golden’s playroom while she rang my past, present, and possible future children from my dick. Good fucking hell, that woman is amazing. Even my ass still hurts.

I detest taking any kind of pill—prescribed or over-the-counter—so I still have the Lortabs prescribed by my doctor when that crazy bitch broke my arm. I could tolerate the pain from the fracture as it was often just sore as hell, but not this. Shit, I probably should have said something about my arm still being a little weak, but unfortunately, other body parts were center stage last night, and not just my dick, either. Yes, he was the swan song, and what a fucking finale… but he really wasn’t the main event.

The painkillers have me just a bit loopy and I feel a bit dreamy as I play last night’s scene over again on the ceiling of my bedroom. I couldn’t see, but the mind trip was such that I could visualize every single thing she did to me last night. I know she used that whip with the stinger on my back. Even though I’m not familiar with how the whip feels, I know what the scars look like, and when I examined my body in the three-way mirror in my closet last night, I could see the long whelps and the V-shaped markings from the multi-pronged tail. Fuck, I needed aftercare last night—that bruising is brutal.

Maybe that’s what the caretaker was there for, but the hell if I was going to let him take care of me.

I have to admit that I’m a little confused—disjointed might be a better word—about what I’m feeling right now. I walked into the situation as an act of sexual play, a way into Golden’s world when she wouldn’t let me in. There was no other way, because we’re both Dominants. One of us would have to submit, and it wasn’t going to be her. I love the feeling of power involved in taking over a woman’s body—of controlling her pain and her pleasure, dictating her orgasms and watching her writhe from the strike of a cane or a whip. I love testing her limits and pushing her so far to the edge, burying myself inside of her until we both go over with mindless climaxes. The entire experience is an emotional and physical relief that leaves me immensely more satisfied than a simple fuck with a lover and a meaningless nut.

But today…

I lay here in a daze as the Lortabs begin to dull the pain of the stinging in my back, the soreness of my ass, and the agony of my arm. I almost feel a bit melancholy that the sensations are leaving—except this fucking arm, that is. I couldn’t even lift the damn thing when I awoke. I don’t know how to categorize what I’m thinking and feeling right now. All I can say is that I feel like I’m having a bit of an out-of-body experience. I’m in no condition to immediately repeat last night’s activities. Yet, I find myself looking forward to the next time I’ll be in Golden’s dungeon.

What does that mean?

I’m a Dominant. I don’t submit. I’m not a submissive by any means. So, what does it mean that I want a repeat of last night’s performance?

“Do you think any of those fucks that I torture and make them come until they’re mindless do so because they think they’re submissives? They want to transcend—they want more, they need more than a mindless fuck and a ten-second squirt into a black hole. That’s why they come to me. That’s why no one else will do.”

Is that what this is… just another extension of the excitement that I need that I could never get from merely having a girlfriend?

Fuck, I don’t like this introspective, self-examination, touchy-feely shit. She made you come like a geyser because you wanted her so bad, Grey. Don’t you remember the dry fuck? Would you have rubbed your dick against any random woman and shot your load in your jeans? No, you asshole, it’s because it was her. You lusted after her and desired her and every little bit of her that you got, you wanted more. Everything you do with her is leading to the ultimate prize—fucking that tight little cunt. Don’t read any more into it than that.

So, if she wants to play and heighten my senses while we continue this charade that I’m not going to one day sink my dick into that hot Golden pussy, that’s fine. I’ll play. I just don’t know how often, and I may have to set one hard limit while my arm is still not 100%.

Motherfucking Elena Lincoln.

*-*

“Well, at least there are a few days out of the year where I can expect to see you.”

“Happy birthday, Mom,” I say, leaning down to kiss my mother on the cheek. I’m making my obligatory appearance at our family home for Mom’s birthday. It’s a trip that I could do without since our family isn’t the closest knit on the block. Granted, we don’t hate each other, but we’re certainly not the Von Trapps. I spent the entire day in bed in preparation for this dinner. Having rested, watched television, thought of Golden and her reaction to the gifts I sent her today and our scene last night, and allowed the painkillers to work on my aching body and butt, I’m now ready to deal with my family… for the most part.

“So, what did you get me?” she asks, sipping champagne.

“I got what you asked for,” I reply.

“I asked for the one unattainable timeshare in Belize,” she says, raising an eyebrow at me. I produce a portfolio.

“No longer unattainable,” I say, handing the portfolio. She gasps and takes the folder from my hand, setting her drink on a nearby table.

“Christian, you didn’t!” she exclaims, opening the folder and examining the contents. “How?”

“I was at the top of the waiting list for when it became available,” I tell her. I don’t want her to know the truth. When you want a property as coveted as a luxury beachfront home in Belize, you contact the owners and then you strategize.

First, you make them an offer—most of them can’t be bought. They know the value of having this property even if they don’t live in it year-round. It’s available for them to use or move into at their leisure, but when it’s not in use, it can be rented out to tourists for extreme amounts. So, once they get their hands on it, they’re not really quick to let it go unless something extreme happens, which is the second strategy.

You watch and wait. It doesn’t always happen, but somebody falls upon hard times—bad decisions, gambling, divorce, the housing bubble, Bernie Madoff… you get the idea. They have to unload assets for whatever reason, and you can usually get the property for a song. Part of this strategy also lends to the third strategy.

Wait for someone to die. It sounds morose, but if the owner of a property passes away, the property has to be disposed of. Either it passes down to another family member or a joint owner or it has to be sold or both. Most often, when somebody dies, the property rises in value—sentimental value, that is—and the family never wants to sell, but you approach anyway. You never know.

In this case, someone died. The family couldn’t afford to maintain the timeshare, even with the pending rents. So, Mom got her piece of Central America, complete with income potential if she so desires.

“Christian,” she says wistfully, covering her chest in that clutches pearls manner than women do when they’re verklempt, “I can’t believe it!”

“I can,” Mia says, making her usual haughty entrance into the room. Always demanding an immediate audience, Mia Elizabeth Grey, Ph.D., often charges into a room at that precise moment that lends itself to controversy. If nothing is afoot, the good philosophical doctor will gladly conjure some cause to argue. This is no exception.

“Leave it to my brother to invest in real estate in a Central American country where the land certificates are in question,” my ill-informed sister offers as she strolls into the room without even a “hello” or “happy birthday” to our mother. I roll my eyes.

“Hello, Queen Mia,” I greet my know-it-all sister sarcastically. “As usual, you have arrived with statistics enough to support only your theories. I won’t bother explaining the great lengths I went to in order to verify the certification and ownership of that land before I purchased it and gave it to our mother, because you’d find a way to shoot that down, too.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Christian. I don’t shoot down your accomplishments,” the good doctor protests. “It just never ceases to amaze me how people like me spend time trying to find ways to strengthen the economy while people like you have funneled obscene amounts of money to a chosen few by dismantling family businesses that are the result of years or even decades of someone’s hard work. People have started these companies from nothing, built them on their backs, and along comes some heartless mogul in a suit and rips away their legacy!”

I laugh at my sister’s attempt to compare what I do with flipping houses and demolishing them for the raw materials.

“The great financial analyst has spoken!” I declare. “Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? Have you forgotten how I started? Have you forgotten who’s back my company was built on, or is it the fact that I invested so well, made great decisions, grew so quickly, and made so much money that’s pissing you off?” I glare at my sister for a moment but tear right back into her before she gets a chance to retort.

“In a capitalistic economy, growth is inevitable, and the small man will either adapt or get eaten. It’s that simple. In every facet of life, there is some form of recycling and rebirth! Pruning, weeding, upgrading, downsizing, detox, weight loss, rehab, divorce, graduation, death—name one area of life… one—where change is not inevitable. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”

“Math,” she says. “One plus one will always equal two.”

“But you can always add one to that number and it’ll keep getting bigger,” I protest. “You can’t be that naïve. Math is the very essence of change! In attempting to prove your theory of stability, you’ve given the exact example of growth. Try again!”

“You’re one of the two percent,” she says dismissively. “Of course, you never see the real damage of what you do and how it trickles down into the trenches. That’s my job. I’m the one that crunches the numbers and provides the statistics for just how your high living and disregard for the working man is destroying the morale of our nation.” Now, how did she manage to change the subject like that?

“With an education that was paid for by your parents’ capitalistic money,” I shoot back.

“Oh, we are certainly not going to get on the topic of wasted money and education, are we, Sir Christian?” she says, turning around and facing off on me with her hands on her hips.

“We certainly are not, Queen Mia, because my fortune didn’t require an education and still doesn’t. I’m still making money hand over fist and all it took was good old-fashioned know-how. While you spent 10 years in school and a good hundred-thousand dollars of your parents’ two percent chasing a Ph.D., I discovered that I didn’t need to spend Mom and Dad’s money to be successful. You’re not angry with me because of what I do and how I make my money. You’re angry because I didn’t finish college, and I’m still making more money than you.”

“You think I care about your money?” she asks incredulously. “I make plenty of money, you moron, so much that I paid my parents back for my education. Can you say the same?” She smirks. I laugh heartily in her face.

“Several times over, Grasshopper. Can you say the same?” I fold my arms and wait for her response. She narrows her eyes at me, having been smacked down once again. I don’t know why she always tries to play this game with me. She always loses. She’s like Charlie Brown trying to kick that damn football.

“Of course, you could. You never got the full deal,” she retorts.

“Maybe not, but I could still pay my debt several times over, and yours, too. Now, how long do you want to play this game today?”

“You’re not doing anything to serve the environment or humanity,” she resorts to her judgmental tone and attitude. “You’re only serving yourself.”

“The hell I am!” I reply. “I’m serving the economy—locally, nationally, and internationally. And if it wasn’t for big, bad capitalists like me, you bleeding-heart analysts and problem-solvers wouldn’t have any issues to chase.” I lean down and get in her face. “So, you’re welcome.” She’s really pissed now.

“To be so smart, you really are dumb, Christian.” She shoots, she misses.

“Well, my eleven-figure net worth disagrees with you, but nice try, little sister,” I retort.

“It’s not all about money, big brother,” she counters.

“You’re right, it’s not… but a lot of it is.” Finish her! Even my self-righteous, know-it-all sister must admit that although she’s not money-driven, her research and breakthroughs would be nothing but pipe dreams without monetary support.

“Now, this is exactly what I want on my birthday,” Mom laments. “Can we please not have this at one family gathering?”

I shake my head at my sister. Ever since I dropped out of Harvard, she’s made it a point to prove that she could be better than me—more than me, mostly because she wanted to go to Harvard, too, but by the time her chance came, Mom and Dad’s relationship was struggling and they couldn’t send her. As far as she was concerned, Harvard was wasted on me, and she never forgave me for it. Never mind that I turned out to be one of the richest men alive, even without a full Harvard education. She couldn’t and can’t forgive me for shrugging off a college education that I didn’t need, but that she wanted.

She’s been competing with me ever since—not for money, but for prestige and recognition, and she’s running neck-in-neck. She loves our mother, but never blamed our father for cheating on her. She’s a bonified Daddy’s Girl and we all know it, especially her, and Dad.

And Elliot.

I’m not sure what to make of Elliot. Elliot went to college before all of us, graduated, has his master’s degree, and is doing nothing with it. I have no idea how he makes his money, but he’s making it. The family is pretty certain that he’s into something illegal, but we can’t prove it. All of his accounts are offshore in shell companies and he spends most of his time out of town in the coastal states—California, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, New York, New England. He hangs around with other guys who put you in the mind of Mad Men—not mobster types, just walking money that you can’t really put your hands on.

He doesn’t entertain Mia’s comments at all.

While Juliet was the last girl I brought to my parents’ house, Elliot is always presenting some new scatterbrained bimbo to the family. We have no idea his purpose behind this exercise. It’s not like we’re expecting him to settle down and start a family, so the parade of putrid punany is totally unnecessary. And yet, he enters right in the middle of Mia’s dissertation with a redhead—no, redhead is an understatement. This woman is a walking supernova. You know that kid from Brave? Princess Mamadamada or whatever the fuck her name was? Yeah, that’s who the hell just walked into our house.

Brave.jpg (1200×630)“Bright light! Bright light!” Mia mocks under her breath. I twist my lips, trying not to laugh. We don’t see eye to eye on much, but on this, we agree.

“Mia,” Mom scolds gently, but without much intent. Even she can’t deny the comedy of the situation.

“It’s okay,” the extreme ginger chirps. “It can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. My hairdresser calls it lava explosion!” She follows the statement with a chesty giggle. Poor thing. Her attempt at self-ridicule has the exact opposite effect as what she hoped. Mom actually looks on in pity before sipping her champagne while Mia just rolls her eyes in distaste.

“Don’t bother trying to win her over, sweetheart,” I advise. “She’s cold as ice and you won’t be around long enough to thaw her.” I don’t observe her long enough to see her reaction. I don’t know why Elliot subjects these women to this torture. Is he on some kind of crusade to alienate the entire gender?

“Still making friends, I see, Christian.” Ah, dear old Dad. Only just getting back into my mother’s good graces after that unfortunate Bunny situation… or whatever the fuck her name was.

“Yes, Father, still,” I jest sarcastically. “We’ll always be the best buds, won’t we?”

“True blue to the end,” he concurs with just enough bite to match mine before sipping his scotch.

“And the code talk begins,” Elliot announces. “One day, you’ll let the rest of us in on the big secret.”

“What big secret?” Dad says, putting his hand on my shoulder. “I have a special bond with each of my children that I don’t have with the others. Isn’t that right, Christian?” He smiles widely at me. That’s Dad’s way of saying that he has something on all of us.

“You do?” I say, my eyes wide like an inquisitive schoolboy. “Spill, Dad, spill!” Quite frankly, I could give a fuck less if he reveals that he introduced me to the lifestyle. I’m a grown ass man. I make my own money and I answer to no one, not even my damn parents. If society has a fucking problem with what I do, they can kiss my ass. Do I want it publicized? Not really, but do I fucking care if I’m discovered? No.

“Go ahead, Dad. Share that special bond that you have with all of us. We’re all ears.” Don’t ever fucking try to play that game with me, old man. Scandal will only scratch me and I promise, that scratch will heal. Mia, on the other hand, looks as if she’s going to pass out if Dad says something. Elliot’s brow only raises slightly.

“Lighten up, son, I’m just kidding,” he says, patting my back and moving over to my mother, kissing her gently on the cheek. “Happy birthday, darling.”

“Thank you, Cary,” Mom says softly. She still loves him very much in spite of his infidelity. I can’t fault her for loving him. You can’t pick who you love. He’s not a bad man—he just made a dumb decision. We all feel that way.

“As usual, Christian couldn’t wait until after dinner like the rest of us to give Mom her present,” Mia tattles. “Mom is now the proud questionable owner of land in Central America.” Dad’s brow furrows as he turns his gaze to me and I roll my eyes.

“Mom wanted a timeshare in Belize. I managed to secure a prime piece of coastal vacation property.” Dad’s brow rises.

“That’s quite the coup, son. How did you manage that?” he asks.

“Watched the market for a sale that needed to be unloaded,” I reply, pouring a shot of Jack Daniels for myself.

“Oh, good God,” Mia groans as she falls onto the sofa.

“What?” Elliot’s date chirps, oblivious to Mia’s dismay. Mia scoffs impatiently.

“That’s code for he waited for somebody to die, Red,” Mia informs the room.

“Oh,” Red replies.

“Well, thank you, Mia,” Mom says. “I’m sure that we’re all very grateful for your enlightenment of the situation.” She places her half-empty glass of champagne on the mantle and heads toward the dining room. Mia’s haughty expression changes immediately to crestfallen.

“Mom… I’m sorry…” she begins.

“You know,” Mom says, turning on Mia, “after all this time, I still don’t know what the problem is and why you feel the need to one-up your brother every time he comes around, but once—just once, I’d like to enjoy a family gathering without having to hear you bicker like a cat caught by its tail. Whatever bug is still in your ass, I wish you would shit it out once and for all and get it over with because quite frankly, it’s getting fucking old!”

Mom whirls around and her fresh golden highlights blind us as she storms out of the room. Dad follows behind his wife and Mia sits in stunned silence, still as a statue on the sofa.

“Nice one, Mia,” Elliot says, taking his little chirper by the hand and leading her out of the room behind Dad. There’s no one left now, but her and me.

“Go ahead,” she says. “You don’t get this chance often.” I shake my head,

“I’m sorry you missed Harvard,” I say. She raises confused eyes to me. “But you have to fucking stop blaming me for that shit. It wasn’t my fault. Harvard wasn’t for me and I found another way to fulfill my dream. If I had still been in school when Mom and Dad split up, then I still would have had to drop out. So, the truth is you’re not angry with me because I stole your dream from you, because I didn’t. You’re angry with me because my dream wasn’t stolen from me. You’re constantly proclaiming about how greedy and selfish I am, but who’s really the selfish one here? Think about that, Doctor. Would it have been more acceptable had I stayed in Harvard a few more years and had to drop out and had my dreams crushed once Mom and Dad split up? Would that have been a more acceptable outcome for you?”

For the first time in ten years, my sister is struck silent in my presence. We’ve been fighting and nipping at each other forever over this issue and I never bothered explaining my side because I felt like I didn’t need to. I sat down and explained to my parents that I felt like Harvard wasn’t for me and they understood. Elliot was blindly going through Berkeley at the time, and not only did they not want to throw good money after bad, but they also didn’t want to force me to do anything that I didn’t want to do. Dad helped me get the small business loan to start GEH so that success or failure would be all on me, and that’s how I wanted it. But Mia’s Harvard opportunity and Mom and Dad’s breakup came right at the time that the housing bubble started to explode and the money just wasn’t dictating a Harvard education, so she had to go with her second choice.

Somehow—I’m still not sure how—this translated into Christian stole her Harvard opportunity, and she’s been blaming me ever since.

She became a financial analyst, a money wizard, and somehow uses her compiled data to show how capitalism—me, in particular—is destroying the world. It’s a personal vendetta with no clear purpose but to prove that I’m the devil. Her sole purpose in life is to villainize me and to show how I’m out to destroy the fabric of our nation and the working man one small business at a time. Never mind that I started as a small business, that I was once one of those entrepreneurs that worked long hours to build a corporation on my back. No, I’m now big bad corporate America out to eat and kill the little guy. Well, fuck this. I don’t have time for her bleeding-heart bullshit anymore.

“Mom said put the sabers down and come in to dinner. This conversation is going to have to wait until another time,” Elliot announces as he reenters the great room. He examines us closely as I think he expected more carnage when he came in.

“Hide your assets, Elliot,” I tell him. “However you’re making your money, you’re the target from now on, because I’m not taking her shit anymore.” I throw a look at my sister before leaving her and my brother in the great room and walking into the dining room with my parents.

“Is my house still in one piece?” my mother asks when I take my seat.

“Yes, ma’am,” I reply. “She’s right, though, Mom. The owner did pass away and the family couldn’t afford to keep the property. If you’d rather not have it under those terms, I can put the house back on the market…”

“Are you kidding? And let someone else have my piece of paradise? I mean, it’s sad that someone passed away, but I’ll take good care of the property. Isn’t that what they would want?” I smile.

“Yes, Mom, I would think that’s what they would want,” I confirm. Dad reaches over and gives her hand a gentle squeeze.

“You’ve finally got your Central American vacation home,” he says.

“Finally!” she sighs. Smiling widely. Elliot returns to the dining room and takes his seat next to Red.

“Well, I say let’s eat,” he says. Mom looks at the door.

“Where’s Mia?” she asks.

“Pouting,” he says, putting his arm around his date. I shake my head, but say nothing. Mom puts her napkin in her lap.

“Fine. Let’s eat.”

*-*

As I’m driving back to my penthouse apartment, I find myself pondering something that I hadn’t thought about until just this moment—something that should have struck me as strange ages ago, but it didn’t.

That damn necklace.

I gave her that necklace six months ago.

She was wearing that necklace when she took a shot at me, and then she gave it back to me.

I dry-humped her and walked away from her, fully intending on never seeing her again.

Yes, I fantasized over her. I obsessed over her. I thought about her constantly. I even tried to make other women into her. But I had every intention of never fucking seeing her again. When I did fucking see her again, it was an accident… a chance encounter. I was shocked, appalled… and pissed.

So why the fuck did I hold on to that damn necklace for six months?


A/N: Dangerous Liaisons was a novel later made into a movie in 1988 that is basically a mishmash of scorned lovers, booty calls, wagers, and revenge sex, the central plot of the story being one old cast-off bitter bitch waging, “I bet you can’t get her to fuck you.” The story was remade in 1999 in Cruel Intentions.

Brainpox—imaginary virus from a novel called The Cobra Event.

“Bright light! Bright light!” is a reference to the movie Gremlins from 1984. One of the three rules—don’t expose them to bright light or sunlight as it will kill them. When the Mogwai/Gremlin/Gizmo was exposed to light, he cried, “Bright light! Bright light!”

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 30—Monsters Inside

I’ve said, “thank you” so many times that I don’t know what else to say. You guys have been amazing over my past weeks with your patience and your thoughtfulness, checking in on me however you could—texts and messages and Facebook and posts here on the board and emails—I’m unbelievably overwhelmed by your kindness and I know I may have had a few funny moments under the influence of the medication (Baby Bronzy had a great laugh at my expense), but it means more to me than you guy will ever, ever know. Though I never met many of you personally, your friendships are ones that I will treasure until the day I leave this earthly realm… and beyond.

“Golden” is on a brief hiatus due to the medical issue, but will return hopefully before month’s end.

Very long informational author’s note at the end about this chapter. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to… I won’t be offended. 😉

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 it 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 30—Monsters Inside

ANASTASIA

I’ve just finished texting Marilyn about commandeering her weekend when I look over and see my husband frowning at his phone.

“What is it?” I ask him.

“Jason just sent me a cryptic message about a package being delivered and I have no idea what he’s talking about.” He’s scratching his head and trying to decipher the meaning of the message. I’m mentally crafting my twentieth and final letter to the licensing board and Gloria Felton that will probably have to wait until next week now that we have this interview on the docket in the next few days, when I see Jason walk past the conference room headed for Christian’s office with Alex close behind him.

“There he is,” I say, pointing to his head of personal security being followed by his head of corporate security. They look to be sharing a private joke between them. “He and Alex are going to your office.” Christian looks up at the doors just as Alex walks by.

“Andrea will redirect them to… Oooooh, that package!” he says. I furrow my brow.

“You recall?” I ask, bemused. Christian turns a slightly amused gaze towards me.

“Do you really want to know?” he says, his voice tinged with mirth. I sigh.

“Can I be arrested?” I ask. He chuckles.

“Probably not,” he responds mischievously. Probably, but not definitely. What has my husband done now? Jason and Alex step into the conference room, talking freely among themselves, but fall silent when they realize that Christian isn’t alone.

“Don’t get quiet now,” I scold like a chastising mother. “My husband has already insinuated that you all have been up to some kind of mayhem!” I add, gesturing to the three of them before putting my feet up on the conference table and crossing my legs at the ankles. “Let’s have it.”

Jason looks at Christian and Alex lowers his head and covers his mouth to stifle a laugh. Christian gestures to the men to proceed with the reason for their visit. Alex clears his throat.

“The dog has been returned safely, sir,” he says in an official voice. Dog? This is about a dog? Oh, I’ve got to hear the rest of this. I release a knowing laugh and when I raise my head, an expression that I can only describe as anticipatory terror mars the face of all three men. You see, when you’re aware that a woman has no idea what’s going on and yet she’s still laughing fiendishly—be afraid, be very afraid.

“Jason… Alex…” The two men look at each other, then back at me.

“Yes, ma’am?” Alex says.

“My husband runs a multibillion-dollar empire, but a few minutes ago, got a text that had him completely perplexed. He saw the two of you, and suddenly, the text made sense. When I asked him for details, the conversation went in the direction of could I be arrested. While I’m still somewhere in the gray area—no pun intended—on the complete legality of the situation, the three of you are laughing, and you come in here talking about a dog. You two—spill it. All of it. And don’t look at him.” I point to my husband. I want to know what the hell is going on and I won’t ask Christian’s permission this time. Amazingly, they’re both careful not to throw a glance at Christian, and Alex immediately starts talking.

“I don’t know if you were aware, but the GEH fleet was getting a lot of tickets and was in danger of being grounded,” he begins. “It turns out that Marvin Hammerstone was using Seattle PD to push his personal vendetta against Mr. Grey for refusing to lift the ban on his wife’s invite for Mr. Grey’s sister’s wedding. At his request, we had to send a message to Hammerstone without going too far outside of the law, so after a little research, we discovered that his wife was hassling him causing him to hassle Mr. Grey, so we had to put a little heat on her, for lack of a better term. The best way to do so was through her beloved Löwchen, so… we took her dog. Nothing else became more important than getting her dog back, not even the wedding.  Once he called off the ticket brigade and the existing tickets expunged—including the one you got last week—we sent the dog back.” I sit there for a moment, frowning at him.

“You kidnapped the man’s dog?” I ask. Alex shakes his head.

“We kidnapped his wife’s dog,” Alex corrects me.

“Semantics!” I snap, shaking my head. “You people are insane. Who woulda thought to kidnap the man’s dog?”

“Know your opponent. You do what you have to do,” Alex says with a shrug.

“And what if there was no dog?” I ask.

“We would have thought of something else,” he said. “The dog was easy. Had we gotten caught, the worst we could have gotten was a misdemeanor, even if they threw the book at us. But that dog was like a child to his wife. We were looking at hitting him where it hurt—valuable stuff. We got lucky on the dog.”

“Indeed,” I say, tickled and disgusted at the same time. “Can anybody possibly find out what all we get up to?”

“Not in a million years,” Christian assures me and Alex shakes his head.

“Good,” I say, putting my feet on the floor, standing, and strolling towards the door, “because if they could, ‘Guntucky’ would be the least of our worries.”

*-*

I nearly jump for joy when I get home and find two men in my workout room installing a heavy bag. Part of me is overjoyed beyond belief and the other part of me wonders what took so fucking long. Nonetheless, I’m glad to see the damn thing being installed. I don’t use one that often except when I need it like right away, and I don’t know why we didn’t think to have one installed right after the honeymoon… and the whole Edward David reveal on Santorini… but that’s water under the bridge now.

What should we be doing right now? Should we be picking out our wardrobe? Going over what we should and shouldn’t be saying for the interview? We’ve only got a few days and somewhere in there, we’ve got to deal with what’s going on with Grace. Carrick has been very quiet. Has there been any news? Seventy-two hours… would that be today or tomorrow? Did they decide to hold her longer? Shit, I haven’t checked in with Helping Hands all day, but I’m sure that Courtney or Marilyn would have called me had there been a problem. That reminds me though…

I go to my office and finish constructing my twentieth and final letter to the licensing board. I’ve worded it such that there are subtle hints that this will be my final communication with them on the matter—then I email it to Marilyn to get it going in today’s mail. We’re are just at the end of the business day and if she hurries, she can get it to the post office and it’ll be on someone’s desk on Thursday morning. Whether they open it or not is of little consequence to me, as long as I get that twentieth certified signed card back. Twenty certified letters to the licensing board and sixteen smarmy replies—that should get someone’s attention.

The school year has officially begun, and that bitch caused us to miss it again. I’ve had about all I’m going to roll over and take from that vindictive, self-serving cunt. If she wants to play dirty, I’m fucking ready to play dirty. I’ve had about enough of this shit…

Just as my mind is about to go on one of those Christian Grey nobody-does-this-shit-to-me-and-gets-away-with-it ­rants, my phone buzzes in my pocket and I have to stand to fish it out. I swipe the screen and see that it’s Carrick calling.

Grace.

“Carrick?” I answer. “What’s up? What’s going on?”

“Ana, hi. Are… you alone?” Well, it would be moot at this point if I wasn’t, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I need you to come to the hospital.” I frown.

“Of course, I’ll come, but you have to tell me why we’re being so secretive,” I reply. He sighs.

“Gracie is asking for you,” he says. I gasp.

“For me?” He’s silent. “No one else?” He’s still silent. “There’s something else, Carrick. Tell me what it is.” He sighs again.

“You’re a doctor,” he says. “We’re going to need help explaining what’s going on.” My hands fly to my mouth.

“Is she…” I can barely form a sentence.

“She’s getting a treatment plan,” he says quickly. “She’s not dying or anything, but… can you please just come? I don’t have time to explain this to my kids can you please just come?” He says the last part all in one breath.

“You realize I have to find some kind of way to explain this to my husband!” I implore him.

“I know… if it’s too much…”

“Oh, of course I’ll come!” I say, my voice almost scolding.

About 45 minutes later, Chuck and I are at the front desk of Seattle General Hospital informing the guard and the desk nurse that Dr. Thomas Cruey is expecting us. We would have been here sooner, but trying to get pass the iron grip of one Christian Grey was worse than trying to break out of prison.

“She’s my mother and you’re telling me that you can see her and I can’t?” he demands.

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” I correct him. “I’m saying that there’s something that her doctor needs to explain and she and Carrick want me present. He said it’s because I’m a doctor, too. Apparently, they’re going to need some help explaining it to the rest of the family.”

“Well, what it is?” he continues. “Is she dying?”

“No, she’s not dy…”

“Well, what the fuck is it, then?” he shouts.

“I’m sure as hell not going to find out with you standing here screaming at me!” I retort.

That went on for about fifteen minutes until I refused to argue anymore and walked out of the house. Before he could threaten anybody’s job, I announced that if someone didn’t come with me, I was scaling the fence and getting an Uber.

Now, I’m on the elevator on my way to the psyche ward to meet Carrick, Grace, and Grace’s shrink. I changed out of the red that I was wearing as red can be a trigger color in some cases for some psychiatric patients depending on why they’re on the ward. Instead, I swap out the red for calmer colors—tan skirt with black shirt and jacket, black snakeskin stilettos. Chuck has to remain in the waiting area of the ward while I’m escorted beyond the security doors and down the stark white hallways to an office at the end. Carrick stands to greet me. He looks very tired, like he hasn’t slept in days, and I imagine that he probably hasn’t—not since Grace has been in here. He hugs me like he hasn’t seen me in decades, like I’m the Messiah, and I know that he’s just happy that someone else is here to help him bear the burden.

“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” I ask as he lays on my shoulder.

“And say what?” he says.

“I don’t know… ‘I need help,’ ‘I’m tired,’ ‘I’m losing my mind,’ ‘I’m scared…’”

“She’s smart.”

A voice from behind me startles the shit out of me and I had forgotten that we aren’t in the room alone.

“Dr. Cruey, this is my daughter-in-law, Anastasia Grey.” The kindly-looking older gentlemen stretches his hand out to me.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, Dr. Grey, from Grace and from Carrick,” he says. Hmm, I wonder that he should still be wanting to shake my hand, then. I accept his hand and shake.

“Dr. Cruey. It’s nice to meet you, sir.” He gestures to the seat.

“Please, have a seat. I’ll summon Grace.” I take a seat next to Carrick while the doctor makes a call.

“Why didn’t you call?” I whisper. “Come and stay with us or have one of us stay with you?”

“Because I was being watched,” he says softly. My eyes widen.

“By whom?” I ask. He shrugs.

“Paparazzi, I guess, I don’t know, but I was being watched and followed every day. Same guy.” The doctor is now observing us curiously. He really should have called us if he thought he was being watched. I cut the conversation for now. We’re going to need to get to the bottom of this.

“Grace will be here momentarily,” he says. “Is there something we should discuss?” He’s clearly concerned about our secrecy. I sit up straight and answer honestly.

“I was just continuing my questioning of my father-in-law of why he didn’t call one of us to come and stay with him or at least come and stay with us while Grace was here.” I turn back to Carrick. “I know that his brother is there at the Manor with him, but…” I trail off. “I don’t know. They just suffered the same loss—the loss of their father—and I just think that Herman may not be capable of offering the emotional support that Carrick needs right now.”

“There’s more,” Dr. Cruey correctly deduces. I look to Carrick and he nods. Cruey may be Grace’s doctor, but I’m Carrick’s.

“Well, yes,” I admit, still looking at Carrick. “He’s concerned about his privacy. He thinks the press may be watching. Christian and I are accustomed to that, but…” I gesture to Carrick as the explanation of the rest of the statement. I won’t give him any more. I’m concerned that we don’t know exactly who is following Carrick and we need to find out, but I won’t tell him that.

“May I ask why you felt the need to get Mr. Grey’s permission to share that information?” the doctor asks with a slight frown. “It seemed pretty harmless, and I was only asking because I’m treating his wife and I’m concerned about secrets.” I look to Carrick again for permission to reveal our relationship. He nods his assent once more.

“Because I’m not only Carrick’s daughter-in-law, but he has also confided in me on a professional level. So, he has the right to assume that anything that he tells me is protected unless we discuss it openly.” His brow furrows.

“Carrick, why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” the doctor asks.

“It never came up,” Carrick responds.

“Does Grace know?” Dr. Cruey asks.

“Kind of,” I respond. “I think, I mean, I told her that Carrick and I had talked when I tried to have a discussion with her once, but I don’t know if she knows the full extent…”

My explanation is interrupted by a knock at the door. The doctor beckons them to come in and Grace enters the office. She looks good. She looks rested, more rested than Carrick. She smiles widely when she sees me, and I can sense a total change in her demeanor. This is the Grace I know. I want to stand up and hug her, but I don’t know the protocol yet.

“Grace, good. Come in, please,” Dr. Cruey says. He comes around the desk and escorts Grace into the office. When she clears the door, Carrick stands and gives her a warm embrace. I sigh heavily. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to normal in a long time with them. He kisses her gently on the cheek.

“How are you, Gracie?” he says, softly.

“Much better than you, it appears,” she says with a sad smile, gently touching his cheek. “I’ll be fine now, Cary. You need to get some rest.”

“I’ll get some rest when you’re back home,” he confesses. Grace “tsk’s” and shakes her head. She looks past him at me and reaches out her hand. I grasp it firmly, the same hand I held in the ambulance on the way here.

“Thank you… for everything, and thank you for coming,” she says, her voice cracking.

“Of course,” is all I can say, unable to hide the emotion in my own voice, the events of our arrival flooding back to me.

“Everyone take a seat,” Dr. Cruey says, rounding us up before we get too emotional. Grace takes the other seat next to her husband and we all turn our attention to Dr. Cruey.

“Dr. Grey, Grace asked that you be here because she wanted another doctor present to help explain things to her family. What she’s going through shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s one of the most severe cases that I’ve ever seen and as you can imagine, I’ve seen more than a few.

“I knew after the first few minutes of talking to your wife that she wasn’t suicidal,” Dr. Cruey says, turning his attention to Carrick. “I could tell that she was very confused, and her behavior was a bit psychotic, but in a medical sense. She was disoriented and frustrated one minute, then she was forlorn and apologetic the next. Moments thereafter, she was angry and combative, suffering from an intense persecution complex. The width and range of her mood swings were a pendulum; the speed was a metronome.”

I look over at Grace, her gaze focused on her clasped hands. I can’t see her face, just that her head is down and she’s as still as a statue. Carrick reaches over and covers her hands with his, but she doesn’t move.

“I must tell you that it’s hard for her to hear this,” Dr. Cruey continues. “She didn’t and doesn’t see her behavior as badly as everyone else did or does. She couldn’t. She’s in the middle of it. Everything that she’s seeing and thinking and feeling is very real to her, and none of you understand. Carrick, you had the typical response to her actions and behavior—psychiatric ward…”

“I felt like I didn’t have a choice,” Carrick defends.

“I didn’t say that you were wrong. I said it was a typical response,” the doctor interrupts. “Her behavior was erratic, unexplainable, and highly out of character and the icing on the cake was the kitchen accident that no one could be sure was an accident.”

We all turn to Grace and the doctor stops talking. Grace raises her gaze to him when she notices the silence and then to Carrick and me.

“I didn’t try to kill myself,” she says firmly. “That woman was in my house and I wanted to know how in the hell she got in my house!”

“What woman?” Carrick asks.

“Kate,” Grace and I both say at the same time.

“Kate was in our house?” Carrick says, surprised. How does he not know this?

“That’s another story for another time,” I tell him directing his attention back to his wife. I want him to get to the point.

“Mia had dismissed me from anything that had to do with the wedding,” Grace adds mournfully. “She was so angry with me when she found out some of the things I had planned without her knowledge. I don’t know, they just didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. Even now… I don’t know…”

The fact that she’s indecisive about her actions instead of dug-in in her victim role indicates a huge change from just a week ago.

“I really did want things to be so spectacular. I still do, but…” She shakes her head. “The more I try to explain things… the more I look at things and… everything just seems so surreal!”

“So, what’s causing all of this?” I ask finally. I can’t take the build-up anymore. Can we just get to the point?

“Dr. Grey… Ana, it’s very important that you help the family understand the seriousness of this. If they brush this off, it’s going to get worse, but they can’t feed into either. It’s going to be like raising a child.”

“I need to know what we’re dealing with here,” I say, quickly losing my patience. He sighs.

“Grace is suffering from one of the most severe cases of perimenopause I’ve ever seen,” he announces finally.

Menopause.

It’s menopause.

All that build-up for menopause.

I want to slap this man.

“And that look,” he says, pointing at me, “that reaction, is exactly what we need to avoid from her family.” You son-of-a…

“No, here’s the problem,” I say, leaning forward in my seat and pointing at him the same way that he’s pointing at me. “For you to be a mental health professional, you handled that all wrong! For starters, you don’t pull somebody’s family in and drag something out like that when they’re waiting to hear about a diagnosis! You have no idea what her family has been through waiting to find out if she’s okay. They’ve been pulled apart at the seams over this! I got into a fight with my husband this afternoon to keep him from coming here with me and now, I’m so glad that I did, because had he won that fight and you put him through what you just put me through…”

“Us…” Carrick growls through his teeth next to me. I turn my gaze to my father-in-law and his fists are clenched. He’s looking at the floor and his jaw is tight, like he’s fighting to maintain his composure. He didn’t know. He was waiting for the announcement just like I was. Fucking hell.

“If you had put my husband through what you just put us through, they would be surgically removing his fingers from your throat right now,” I finish my thought calmly. “I don’t know if you were made aware of this, but earlier this year, my best friend and Grace’s other daughter-in-law, was also displaying erratic, unexplainable behavior and we discovered that she had a brain tumor! So, while you’re doing this whole delayed, dramatic announcement thing, her family—myself and her husband included—are sitting in the wake of a cancer scare expecting the worst! This man just lost his father, for Christ’s sake! What kind of shrink are you?”

I think I’ve shocked the good doctor, because he’s sitting there staring at me a bit dumbfounded. Just as he’s about to retort, Carrick speaks.

“You didn’t even have to summon my daughter-in-law for this,” he says.

“I summoned Ana,” Grace interjects. We both look at her. “I didn’t think the family would take it seriously. I’m not really taking it seriously. The only reason I’m taking it seriously is because I’m living it!”

“Gracie, I’ve been prepared for this since the day I married you,” Carrick says. “I knew that we would be going through all of the ‘growing old’ syndromes together, so I knew I would deal with menopause. I’ve heard horror stories. I never knew how true they were, but I was still prepared. I just didn’t know that it would strike and you wouldn’t know that it was striking. You’re a doctor.”

“Well, if you had asked me before it happened if I expected menopause to be this bad, I would have said ‘no,’ so…” Grace trails off and throws her hands up in surrender. I look back at the psychiatrist, certain that he’s not the person that should be handling this now that we know that nothing is wrong with Grace’s head. She should be talking to her gynecologist about hormone replacement therapy or something. He’s nervous now, because he knows his approach to this situation was all wrong.

“I apologize for the method I used to inform you of Grace’s condition,” he begins. “I just wanted you to be informed before I told you what it was. Like Grace said, so many people don’t take it seriously.” I take a few deep breaths and realize that I need to remain professional because Grace hasn’t been released from this quack’s care, yet. He might be a perfectly fine psychiatrist, but he’s not what this situation calls for, although I do understand that he is a means to an end under the circumstances.

“Well, just so you know, when I speak to the family, I’m going to lead with the menopause part,” I say. He sighs.

“I highly recommend some kind of preliminary explanation, Dr. Grey…” he protests.

“Don’t worry, doctor,” I reply, firmly and professionally, “I can be very persuasive. Grace’s family will have a complete and clear understanding how dire this situation really is by the time I’m done. My question for you is what are we doing to get her as back to normal as possible? She’s a doctor. She doesn’t belong on this ward. She needs to be able to function and heal children and help people because that’s what she does. So, what do we need to do to get that Grace back?”

“I agree that she needs that normalcy back as soon as possible. Once I was able to pinpoint that Grace’s problem was perimenopausal, we put in a call to her GYN who was able to see her the same day since she’s on staff here at the hospital. She started Grace on a hormone replacement regimen. However, you will need to discuss with her family the stressors that may have helped to bring her to this point…”

I listen to the doctor, the entire time wanting to just leap across his desk and choke his ass. I’m trying to filter the useful information from his flowery gobbledygook, because he has just gotten on my last fucking nerve. I’m grateful to him for being able to help Grace and to pinpoint what was wrong with her, but for the life of me, I don’t know how somebody hasn’t killed him by now.

Grace really doesn’t need the final night of her 72-hour hold, but she has agreed to stay nonetheless to give us time to talk to the family. She will get some rest and face everyone with a clear head after they’ve had a chance to marinate over the news overnight. Carrick and I hug and kiss her goodnight and go out to the waiting room with Chuck. Carrick looks exhausted and I suddenly remember the little problem that we were discussing earlier.

“Chuck, I need you to get Jason on the phone. Someone’s been following Carrick and he doesn’t know who it is.” Chuck looks up at Carrick, then rises from his seat.

“How long,” Chuck asks.

“I don’t know,” Carrick replies. “Maybe a couple of days, since I left the hospital.”

“What can you tell me about him? Is it one guy or have you seen different people? Does he try to be discreet?” Carrick thinks for a moment.

“I think it’s just one guy. I haven’t seen anybody else. For the most part, he tries to blend in with the scenery, but when you see the same person in different places, you know you’re being followed.”

“What does he look like?” Chuck asks.

“Early to mid-thirties, maybe… blonde hair, average height—maybe six feet, a little stocky… well built…” Chuck’s brow furrows.

“You don’t need Jason. You need Alex.” He pulls out his cell and dials a number. He walks away from us and talks quietly into the phone. Carrick leans down to me.

“Who’s Alex?” he asks.

“Alex is the head of GEH Security,” I say, trying to strain and hear what Chuck is saying with absolutely no luck.

“I thought Taylor was the head of security,” he says, bemused.

“No, he’s the head of Grey’s personal security. Alex is corporate.” Carrick ponders that statement.

“Should I be concerned?” he asks. The truth is I’m asking that same question.

“Did he follow you here?” Chuck asks, interrupting my thoughts.

“I don’t know,” Carrick replies. “I don’t look over my shoulder. I just see him places. I figured he was one of the press looking for a story.”

“He doesn’t know,” Chuck says into the phone, then pauses for a moment. “How is he dressed when you see him?” Carrick’s brow furrows.

“Um…” He has to think hard to remember what the guy was wearing. “Button-down shirt and trousers, outer jacket and loafers… pretty casual.”

“Did you hear?… Yeah, it could be either one…  You got it.” He ends the call. “Where are we going from here?” Chuck asks.

“Well, we’ve got to go back to the Crossing and report on Grace’s condition,” I inform him. He nods.

“Can you wait about fifteen minutes?” he asks. I look at Carrick and he shrugs.

“I guess so. Let’s go get coffee.”

Down in the cafeteria, Carrick is quiet as he stares into his untouched cup of macchiato.

“Menopause,” he laments. “I left my wife because of menopause. I swore I wouldn’t do it and I did it.”

“You didn’t leave her, Carrick,” I correct him. “You took a break because you were suffering, too. Had you had all your wits about you while she was going through this and had not been dealing with Pops’ death, you would have knocked some sense into Grace about her behavior… well, not literally, but you know what I mean. People don’t give themselves enough credit for their own suffering in times like these. You’re not going to be any good to Grace if you don’t see this for what it is. Beating yourself up is not going to help at all.” He nods, but I get the feeling that he’s still knocking himself around a bit.

While we’re talking, my phone vibrates and it’s Christian. He’s going to have to wait for a minute, because I’m trying to put a fire out here.

“I just wish I could have been stronger. I didn’t expect it to be this bad for her, but I guess I have to realize what the doctor said—there was so much going on at once. There was no way that any of us could focus on any one thing…” I’m trying to focus on him, but my phone is vibrating again. I swipe the screen to ignore the call once more with a text that I will call back later. I’ll be home soon anyway and I really don’t feel like picking up our fight where we left off. This time he answers with a text. I sigh heavily and ask Carrick to excuse me for a moment. I swipe the screen and read the text.

**Answer your goddamn phone. **

He’s determined to fight with me. My phone vibrates again and I realize that if I don’t answer it, he’s just going to keep calling and if I turn off my phone, the fight is just going to be bigger when I get home. I feel like I’m facing the firing squad when I swipe the screen.

“Yes?” My voice is a bit more irritated than I want to relay, but I don’t think it matters at this point.

“We have a security situation going on and you didn’t think to call me?” he seethes into the phone. Several thoughts go into the three-second funnel at this moment…

We just got out of a meeting with a shrink who thought it was a good idea to drag out the revelation of a diagnosis.
Somebody’s following Carrick and we don’t know who it is.
Chuck is very likely setting up a sting right now and we’re in a holding position with no details.
Carrick is now blaming himself for not being prepared for a situation he promised he would be prepared for and I’m trying to talk him back from the cliff.
I have to go home and explain to the family that Grace is going through MegaMenopause and that we not only have to handle her with kid gloves, but we also have to know when to be firm with her.

And now…

My husband, who I fought with before I left the house to come to the hospital, is now on the phone speaking to me in his simmering voice because I didn’t notify him of a security situation. I turned it over to Chuck instead.

Once all those ingredients go into the three-second funnel and swirl around a bit, I press my fingers to my now throbbing scar and calmly deliver the three words that come out of the funnel.

“No, I didn’t.”

And off he goes. I don’t even know what he’s saying. I only know that my head hurts, and I suddenly want to find my neurologist in this joint and have him give me a sedative. Somewhere during my husband’s rant, the hand holding my phone just falls to the table, prompting Carrick to take it from my hand. I don’t even bother trying to stop him. He looks at the screen before putting the phone to his ear.

“Christian, what are you saying to this woman? She’s sitting here rubbing her head like she’s trying to start a fire… Well, I would, but I’m pretty certain that she didn’t hear the last ten seconds of whatever you were barking about because she’s gone into a stupor…”

Longer than that.

“Well, it’s not like there’s much that we can do. Charles told us to wait for a few minutes. As soon as he tells us that we can leave, we’ll be on our way… We’ll tell you all when we get there… I most certainly will not! We will tell you when we tell everyone else!… I most certainly will not, because I won’t allow you to badger her either. I realize that you’re a grown man and this is your wife and I respect that, but right now, I’m barely holding it together, son, and she’s helping me. I need you to respect that!”

There’s a long pause after that and I almost hate to see or hear what’s happening on the other end of the phone.

“Thank you. We’ll be there as soon as we can. Charles said fifteen minutes a while ago, so it shouldn’t be long now.” There’s another pause and he ends the call. My scar is thumping worse than ever now. I take a moment to rest my head on my arms on the table. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this night.


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, Her Highness and your father are coming into the gate now.”

It’s about goddamn time. We’ve been waiting here forever to hear what’s going on with my mother, ever since my wife ceremoniously forbade me to go to the hospital with her to find out for myself. How in the hell I let her out of this house without insisting on going with her, I’ll never know, but I’ll deal with her insolence later.

“What about the mystery man?” I ask.

“No longer a mystery,” Jason says. “Westin and Manchester headed him off at the bridge. My guess is that he was going to follow Mr. Grey all the way here or home if he could. He’s a private investigator. His name is Dustin Carver, or at least that’s who we think he is. Of course, no info on who he’s working for. Alex is getting everything he can from facial recognition, the car… we were even able to lift fingerprints from his phone.”

“Do I even want to know how they managed to do that?” I ask. Jason shrugs.

“Nothing sketchy,” he assures me. “We’ll have everything on who he really is. We just won’t know who hired him. There’s only so much of a shakedown you can do under the circumstances.” I sigh. This is just what we need right now—private eye following my dad. Why in the world would a PI be following Dad?

I stand from my desk and take the stairs up to the main floor. The family has begun to convene in the dining room. Mia and Ethan have been summoned to the Crossing for the “Big Reveal,” for lack of a better term, and they’re sitting at the table with Valerie and Elliot. Jason and I are coming around the column from the rear staircase just as Dad, Chuck, and my errant wife enter from the hallway leading from the front of the house.

… At least I think that’s my wife. She looks like banshees have been playing in her hair, but only one side. She’s been worrying her scar.

“Jesus, Steele, what the hell?” Valerie says. Butterfly looks at her, bemused.

“What?” Valerie points at her hair causing Butterfly to touch her head.

“Oh,” she says, trying to smooth it, but doing no good whatsoever.

“Just… just stop, stop,” Valerie says, going over to her friend and gently combing her fingers through Butterfly’s wild mane. “Damn, Steele, have monkeys been running through your head?”

“No,” Butterfly says, flinching as Valerie tries to detangle her tresses.

“Dad, why didn’t you tell her that her hair looked like that?” I ask quietly. The look my father gives me is murderous.

“I’m afraid I was a bit too distracted with my wife’s condition and the unknown gentleman following me to pay much attention to fashion, son,” he bites out. His tone is so brutal that I literally draw back. I almost want to slither away like a vampire from sunlight.

“So, um, not that I’m being insensitive or anything, but can we please worry about Montana’s hair dilemma later? I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re all about to burst wondering what’s going on with Mom.” Butterfly nods and waves Valerie away from her hair.

“For those who may be wondering, she didn’t try to commit suicide,” Butterfly begins with no prelim.

“Oh, thank God,” Mia sighs heavily and almost collapses into Ethan’s arms. I had no idea she was carrying the situation so heavily. Then again, she did ban Mom from wedding duty and I have no idea what the rules were for the shower. She’s probably been carrying a lot of guilt while waiting to hear what’s happening.

“There’s no fatal disease—no tumor, no cancer.” And here comes Elliot’s big sigh. His concern was that he was going to have to go through a repeat of what he went through with Valerie.

“She’s not crazy; there’s no Alzheimer’s; and she’s not being deliberately obtuse, mean, or selfish.”

And now, it’s my turn to sigh. I was so sure that my angel was just leaving me—that I was totally losing her—but now I know that’s not what it is… but what is it?

I see now that my wife has systematically put all our fears to rest, but she still hasn’t told us what is wrong with my mother.

“Grace is staying in the hospital for one more night to get some rest and so that we can talk about what’s going on with her and help her through it,” Butterfly continues.

“Well, we know what’s not going on with her…” Valerie begins.

“She’s going through perimenopause, and it’s pretty much tearing her apart,” Butterfly announces.

“Wait a minute,” Elliot says, “all of this is from menopause?” Butterfly nods.

“It can come in like a lion or lamb. It just depends on the woman. It can be as simple as crying spells, mood swings, and hot flashes or as complex as hallucinations, vicious behavior and psychosis and anywhere in between,” she informs.

“Mom’s a doctor. Why didn’t she see this coming?” Elliot continues to protest.

“Most often, when something’s going on with your mind, you don’t see it coming, El,” Valerie interjects. “Grace may be a doctor, but being able to diagnose yourself or anybody else most likely requires logic and reason. How much logic and reason do you think she’s been exercising throughout this?” Elliot shakes his head.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t see how this could make my mother go totally off the rails this way,” he protests.

“Think of it this way, babe,” Valerie says, turning to face him. “You know those six days right before my period when I turn into Medusa?”

I see my brother literally shiver.

“Yeah, you do. Now, you see how you bend to my every whim, but you still avoid me like the plague because you’re afraid that I’m going to bite off your head and shit down your throat?” All the men in the room clear their throats uncomfortably.

“Yeah,” Elliot says, squirming a bit in his seat.

And you see how you wait until my period starts and then you mark the days off for me like a prisoner ticking off the days until his release?”

Elliot looks uncomfortably around the room at the rest of us. I haven’t had the joy of periods in months because Butterfly has been pregnant, and then she started breastfeeding. I can remember a bad PMS or two before that, but not many, so I just listen since I know absolutely nada about menopause. Ethan and Dad and even Jason all look a little uncomfortable with this topic of conversation, so I assume they can empathize a little more with my brother’s plight.

“Yes, dear, I get it, but we’re not talking about PMS…”

“Oh, but we are, Elliot,” Valerie corrects him, “because take those crashing, violent, merciless hormones that rip my body apart for a few days every month and turn me into an unrecognizable, unapproachable, snarling beast then multiply them exponentially, add in a few hot flashes—assuming she’s having those—some possible hallucinations, a bit of paranoia, several stressful situations piling up one after the other, and no relief in sight. There’s no period coming to relieve her. She could be going through this for a month, six months, or ten years. So, you imagine having to deal with crazy PMS Valerie on steroids for ten years, because I’m sure as hell not looking forward to being that person. So, when you see symptoms like what we’re seeing now, get my ass to they G-Y-N, because I’m going to need hormone therapy pronto.”

Valerie’s speech leaves the room silent and several people turn to look at Butterfly.

“Is that what’s going on with Mom?” Elliot asks. Butterfly sighs and nods.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” she replies.

“Shit, I should’ve known,” Mia says, hitting herself in the head. “Erin’s mother is going through the exact same thing right now. She’s like a damn alien! They had to send her on a sabbatical. God, it’s all so clear now. Why didn’t I see it sooner?”

“The wedding,” Dad intercepts. “You were distracted. It’s understandable. So was I…”

“… And I’m going to tell you, Mia, just like I told Carrick,” Butterfly inserts. “Beating yourself up is not going to help Grace. You both had other things on your mind just like Grace did. A lot of her behavior was masked by all the shit that she was doing. We only saw what was going on when we needed her. But think about something. We’ve all had some really massive thing happen to each one of us in the last 18 months. While each of those things happened to each one of us, they all happened to Grace.

“She had my accident, the birth of her grandchildren, Elena’s trial, both sons getting married, Val getting cancer, Pops’ death and currently Mia’s wedding, the eternally delayed Helping Hands accreditation, her still-grieving husband, and a stressful job at the hospital. On top of that, she’s perimenopausal. This is going to be like raising a child. She’s going to need our support, but we’re going to have to know when to have a firm hand with her, too, or we may find ourselves being manipulated.”

“I was afraid you were going to say something like that,” I lament.

“This was the situation you were facing with Hammerstone, Christian,” Dad says. “She couldn’t reel that in. She didn’t know how. She’s going to have a better handle on things now since she knows what’s going on and she’ll be taking meds and such, but she’s going to need some guidance… and she’s going to have to know what she can and can’t get away with… Mia.”

“I know, I know,” Mia replies, a bit crestfallen. “She’s still banned from wedding duty. She has to be. I don’t want her going back trying to redo a lot of the stuff that I’ve undone. There’s nothing more that she can do anyway. The wedding’s two weeks away. I’ll apologize in advance for whatever happens at my wedding that I am not aware of or that I wasn’t able to cancel.”

Great. It’s still going to be a three-ring circus. I just know it.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Dad says. “Right now, we need to make sure that we’re all on the same page when it comes down to handling your mother…”

We talk in detail concerning what’s going to be done about Mom and how she’s going to be “handled” while she’s going through menopause, but Elliot and I are still more than a little stumped as to how menopause can cause such a drastic change in a woman… not just any woman, our mother. Valerie explained it very well, but quite frankly, I never completely understood the dynamics of PMS either. Some of my submissives suffered from it while others didn’t—or at least I never saw it. It usually depended on what form of birth control they used or if PMS hit them throughout the week when I didn’t meet with them.

I’ve only had PMS interfere with a scene once in the many years that I’ve been a Dominant. One of my submissives was in so much pain from cramping that I found her in a ball in the shower in tears. I had to call Gail to come and help me find out what was wrong with her. As far as the bleeding goes, sex during a menstrual cycle never bothered me. A couple of my subs had a problem with it, but they soon got over it. However, you can’t very well fuck and flog a woman who’s doubled over in pain… unless you’re one completely insensitive asshole.

So, Mom’s going to be released sometime tomorrow after lunch and she has agreed to a meeting at the Manor once she’s home and settled. I’m somewhat shocked that my mother agreed to stay on the psyche ward one more night to get some rest so that she would be able to face us tomorrow. It really makes you think about how serious her situation must be when she could have rested just as easily in her own bed and still agreed to meet with us tomorrow. We would have left her in peace.

My wife steals away to tend to our children while I talk to my family a while longer. I try to convince Dad to stay the night with us, especially with Inspector Gadget following him around, but he declines. He finally leaves with Mia and Ethan shortly behind him, bidding us, “Goodnight” until tomorrow’s meeting.

And now… my wife.

It was like she openly kicked against everything she should have done today… and these are my parents! It’s menopause. Why the fuck couldn’t I go to the hospital? And that whole climbing the fence thing, that was just childish! That was nothing more than an overblown temper tantrum. And then they discover that Dad was being followed and she didn’t think to call me? I think it’s time Mrs. Grey is taught a little lesson.

I check in on my children and see that they are fast asleep, so I go to our bedroom to find my wife snuggling down in bed.

“That’s pretty presumptuous of you,” I say, invoking my voice. My wife slowly turns and looks over her shoulder at me like I’m an alien being. Not the reaction I was going for.

“Anastasia…” I begin. She leans up on one elbow, staring at me and says the last thing I expect to hear.

“No.”

I’m a bit taken aback. Did she just say, “No” to me?

“Excuse me?” I ask, trying to keep the Dom monster at bay.

“No,” she repeats. “You can fuck me. You can even angry fuck me if you want, but you will. Not. Punish me.”

Um, dear, that’s not the way this works! The errant submissive doesn’t choose when she gets punished.

“What makes you think…” She’s interrupting me before I can finish.

“And I’m not going to argue with you about it, either,” she continues. “I’ve done nothing that warrants correction and I’ll safeword if that’s what you need, but you will not punish me for anything that happened today.”

Just like that, the Dom is deflated. It’s like I’ve been hit head on in the stomach with a wrecking ball.

“I’ve lost every little bit of control over everything I possibly could have once we got back home, and you’re denying me the one way that I can regain control over any of this?” I seethe. She can’t be serious!

“You do whatever you need to do to regain control, Christian, but you’re not going to do it by punishing me—not tonight, and not for this.” She throws the covers off her body and sits up. “You’ll be setting a precedent. You’ll be telling me that I can never help any of your family ever again; that I have to choose between you and them; that your feelings are so all-important, and your word is so final that I can’t do anything that might disrupt your precious control even if it’s something that could be detrimental to the Grey collective.”

She’s pissed. She’s not just saying, “No;” she’s saying, “Hell, no!” I have never in my life had a woman shut down the Dom without verbally safewording, and she just did.

“You’ve defied me all day,” I protest.

“No, I haven’t,” she retorts. “We were the perfect team at Grey House, talking to the journalists and making our decisions about what we were going to do for the interview. Even when you all told me about that damn dog, I didn’t step on anybody’s toes. It wasn’t until we got home, and your father said that he wanted me at the hospital and not you that you felt defied. And it wasn’t me that was defying you even then; it was your father. So… what? You’re going to punish me because Daddy didn’t want you at the hospital?”

Goddammit! She fought with me before she left, not my father!

“My father didn’t keep me from going to the hospital…”

“So, you’re telling me that the fact that your father said that he wanted me at the hospital and me alone had nothing to do with the fact that you didn’t go.” She calls me right out on my shit, so I change tact.

“You didn’t inform me when there was an obvious breach in security,” I accuse. “I had to find out from Jason.”

“Which is who you should have found out from,” she interjects. “In matters of immediate security, lean to the judgment of security and wait for instruction—or did you forget that you fucked that into my head a couple of weeks ago?”

Fucking hell, she sounds bitter. She’s ready for a fight on this one. I rather enjoyed myself in the playroom and I thought she did, too. We talked about what happened and I thought we settled it. I guess I was wrong.

“It appears that conversation didn’t bury your trepidation from that day after all,” I observe, a little lost for words.

“It’s not my trepidation that’s the concern here, Christian. It’s your intentions,” she corrects me firmly. “I’m done rolling over and being the punching bag for family members going crazy, ex-submissives with an axe to grind, crazy DJ’s trying to prove a point, licensing boards who feel like they have my life in their hands, and yes, even your dick, whips, and toys. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had to fight for control? How many times I’ve just wanted to run through the streets screaming? Do I come at you with a chastity cage every time that shit happens to me? No, because there’s a time and a place for it. There are times when I understand that’s what you need and it’s my job to give you what you need, but this is not one of those times. I had my heavy bag installed so that I don’t take my shortfalls or failures out on you, whatever they may be, and quite frankly, I’m fucking tired of people taking them out on me. So, if you think you’re just going to come in here and demand that I fall into submission because I was put in an impossible position and I did exactly what I was supposed to do, and you want to punish me for it, well then you can stick your dick, your whips, and your toys where the sun don’t shine, Sir!

Well! I’m totally at a loss for how to deal with this. What am I supposed to do with this information? I’m a Dominant, and I’ve been waiting all evening and most of the night to exercise my dominance on my submissive and now, she’s saying, “No?” What do I do with this?

This is very new. I’m standing here in my bedroom with my arms folded with my wife glaring at me like she’s daring me to make a move. In fact, that’s exactly what she’s doing. She hasn’t safeworded, but she said that she would, and she has—in no uncertain terms—forbade me to exercise any dominance on her. She has given me permission to angry fuck her, as she put it, but right now I don’t even know what that means. She threw up a wall on one of my basest coping mechanisms and although she didn’t safeword, it’s as if she has.

“Very well, then,” I say with a nod and leave our suite. I take the winding stairs down to the first level and walk through the now quiet house to the service stairs in the back and end up in the exercise room. I’m not angry. That much I can decipher. I’m confused… and totally out of control. I have pent-up energy and frustration and total mayhem boiling up inside of me and my muscles are all in knots. I have never had a woman or a submissive tell me no before—and mean it—ever, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I strip down to my boxer briefs and my bare feet and take to the treadmill. I pound away at that thing, setting the workout higher and higher every few minutes as it seems I’m not feeling the burn that I need. I close my eyes and imagine myself running down a mountain trail in the snow, the frigid air blasting in my face and punishing my lungs as I’m gasping for air.

My wife said she would safeword on me. My wife told me not to punish her or she would safeword on me. She would safeword on me. The way she looked at me, like I was a stranger, like she would scream if I came near her.

“… You can stick your dick, your whips, and your toys where the sun don’t shine, Sir!”

Yes, that would have been very nice, Anastasia, but unfortunately, you pretty much told me that I couldn’t shove my dick up your ass and it’s physically impossible and not quite desirable to shove it up my own.

I pound and pound and pound on that treadmill for I have no idea how long until my body is completely drenched with sweat, which is now dripping into my eyes. I step off the treadmill and dry my face, still feeling the knots in my muscles and the frustration tightening and burning in my chest. Once the stinging in my eyes has ceased, I focus on the newest addition to the workout room.

The heavy bag.

I slide my hands into the gloves and let loose on that thing until I see the sun rising over the lake.

She didn’t safeword on me, but she might as well have.


A/N: Inspector Gadget–old cartoon and later a movie about a bumbling detective who could only solve crimes with the help of his clever niece and her dog with the human IQ.

This is a pretty lengthy author’s note and if you don’t want to read it, that’s fine.

There was a nice handful of you who hit this nail right on the head as you were going along and I was really impressed, so bravo to you (the Goddess bows). My battle with menopause started at about 38 and it’s still in progress and not yet in full blast. My doctor refuses to diagnose it, but I know that’s what it is because (a) my body is going batshit berserk and (b) nothing in the WORLD compares to a hot flash! It doesn’t last long (unless you’re having one), but it is BRUTAL and can’t be compared to anything else in God’s creation! So, she can kiss my ass with that “it’s all in your head” shit.

Anyway, I’ve only seen three sitcoms or running television shows address menopause in my whole life. If I think hard, I’m sure I can come up with some movies, like Fried Green Tomatoes, but sitcoms and running shows are a continuing part of our lives. I always thought they should address things like that. I don’t watch television anymore, so someone would have to tell me if they address things like this or do they still address the obvious, like infidelity and teen pregnancy and Reality TV Hip Hop of the Ghetto bullshit like it was when I stopped watching?

Anyway, I digress…

The three shows that I saw address the issue were The Cosby Show, Little House on the Prairie, and The Golden Girls.

In the Cosby Show, Claire woke up one morning and just knew she had hit menopause. So, she floated through it in her usual Claire way. Her children thought she should be falling apart and when she didn’t, they all clustered around waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, she and Cliff staged a breakdown and the children all came to comfort her, telling her that everything would be alright, at which point she promptly came out of her breakdown and announced that she knew that she would be okay and asked why they were all acting like this was the Apocalypse? End of episode.

In Little House on the Prairie, Caroline Ingalls missed her period and announced to Charles that she was pregnant, but when she went to Dr. Baker, he told her that she wasn’t. The obvious conclusion was menopause. Afraid that Charles wouldn’t find her attractive anymore, she faked a miscarriage. Charles runs into the doctor and mentions Caroline losing the baby and the doctor tells him the truth. Caroline falls into a deep depression, so Charles takes her on a vacation to help bring her out of it and to renew their wedding vows and remind her that he still loves her. End of Episode

The most poignant one to me was The Golden Girls. Dorothy was having a terrible time of it and went to her doctor, who swiftly told her that nothing was wrong with her. She insisted that something was indeed wrong with her and asked him to run some tests. He did and returned with the same diagnosis. She went to another doctor who listened and correctly diagnosed her and came up with a treatment plan. Soon after, she was out to dinner with the girls and saw the first doctor at a nearby table having dinner with his wife. She walked over to his table and proceeded to let him have it for dismissing her concerns and telling her that nothing was wrong with her. He announced that he didn’t have to stay and listen to her and tried to get up and leave and his wife told him to sit down, shut up, and listen. Dorothy continued to give him the very real dressing down that he had coming for ignoring her very real illness before going back to her table and finishing her dinner. End of episode.

Personally, on more than one occasion, I have fallen very quickly into depression or wanted to kill Daddy for not taking a hot flash as seriously as I do. Those things are natural torment and I when I experience them, I need him to know that I’m going through my own personal HELL!

So now, after my crazy rambling, you all can go on with your day and feel free to comment about any of your personal experiences with menopause or the experiences of those you know.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 29—A Family Dissection 

“Golden” will return in a week or two. I have a toothache that’s slowing me down. Extractions next Friday.

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 29—A Family Dissection 

ANASTASIA

Marty is floating right in front of my face, looking me in my eyes.

It’s as if she knows something is wrong with me. She swam to the front of the tank as always and she’s just floating there, wagging her tail like a dog, staring at me and waiting for me to make a move.

This is not your fault.

When is the last time I’ve heard from her? Weeks? Months? I don’t even know. She doesn’t sound like Carla this time, though. She sounds more like Grace.

This is not your fault.
Isn’t it?
How can you logically think this is your fault, doctor?
I don’t think her behavior is my fault, but I think that I might have helped influence her actions.
And again, I ask how you logically came to that conclusion?
Would she have done this had I talked to her about how Christian was feeling? Had I found a way to discuss Carrick’s concerns without seeming intrusive? There’s something else that I could have done to avoid this happening.
Survivor’s remorse.
She’s not dead and my life wasn’t in danger.
But you feel like she could have died, so you’re now trying to ascertain all the possible outcomes of your actions to see what you could have done so that this wouldn’t have happened. Nothing. There’s nothing you could have done. She’s where she needs to be. Be glad that you were there to help her.

Survivor’s remorse. That seems like such a stretch. I know that when the Bitch shows up, it’s nothing more than my right brain and my left brain battling out the situation at hand, whatever it may be and quite frankly I don’t know which side is the Bitch. I just know that she has a voice, and most of the time… most of the time, she’s right.

You love me.
Shut the hell up.

Marty swims away as if she knows the Bitch has helped me come to a conclusion. Truth be told, I haven’t come to any conclusion. I still feel like there’s something else I could have done or something I should have done differently to avoid this… something that would make Elliot not detest me so much. His face materializes in the glass where Marty was standing, his eyes full of hurt and remorse. I feel like shit thinking of him in pain right now with his mom in the psychiatric ward. He’s probably scared shitless thinking the worst of the situation and what could be going on up there.

“Dad’s right.”

The reflection speaks and scares the shit out of me, but I manage not to react—just in case I’m losing my mind and I don’t want my mind to know. Closer investigation and that logical doctor mind that the Bitch was ridiculing a moment ago helps me realize that the reflection is what shooed Marty away. Elliot is standing behind me.

I don’t respond or turn around. I just stand there looking at his refection… through his reflection into the water.

“I’ve been acting like a spoiled, entitled brat and I’m sorry,” he says softly. There’s those two useless words. I won’t hammer him, though. It won’t do any good. I’m of the firm belief that kicking a dog while it’s down doesn’t teach the dog anything—it only hurts more.

“I just need you all to know that nothing like this has ever happened to me with my mom besides me actually losing my parents, so this shit is really scary. So, if I act like I’ve lost a couple of screws over the next couple of days, just cut me some slack, okay? I’ll try to keep all the nuts and bolts in the box.” I nod. I don’t know what to say. Dr. Steele-Grey is not in right now and Anastasia doesn’t quite have the expertise to deal with this at the moment. She’s kind of raw and exposed right now.

“I really fucked up, didn’t I?” he presses, closing the space between us. I roll my eyes and try to find my words.

“It was a tense moment for us all,” I say, the most generic statement I can conjure. His chuckle is tragic.

“There you go, going PC again,” he says through insincere laughter. “I was an asshole, and you’re hurt because of it.”

No, I’m not hurt. I’m confused and I’m scared and I’m angry and I feel misunderstood and taken for granted. I feel wrongly accused for the situation, so much so that moments before he interrupted my quiet time at Atlantis with my favorite butterfly fish, I was blaming myself for the entire thing. I’m being pulled in different directions, uncertain, and somewhat undone, but hurt… no, hurt isn’t one of the feelings in the plethora of emotions and thoughts swimming through my head and body right now.

“Like I said, it was… it was rough for us all.” My words trail off at the end and I’m barely able to finish my sentence. God, I need to talk to Ace. This was really, really big. I feel strong arms wrap around my waist from behind and Elliot leans his chin on my shoulder. I raise my eyes to meet his in the reflection of the aquarium, his gaze now clear and blue as if we were looking in a mirror.

“I know it doesn’t mean shit right now, but I was an asshole, and I really am sorry. I was talking without thinking, and I should never have spoken to you in that way. I was wrong. When and if you ever feel better about this situation, I hope you can forgive me.”

His voice is solemn and soft, and he almost looks like a lost child, his head hanging over my shoulder as he pleads his case.

“Thank you for being there for my mother,” he adds. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t been there for her.” I take a deep breath and release it.

“You’re welcome, Elliot,” I reply softly. “I love her, too.”

“I know,” he says, just above a whisper. “Now, I hope no one judges me, but I’m going to have a drink.” Why does that statement not surprise me? I should, but it doesn’t. When Kate tripped Val at the garden party, he had an open beer sitting next to him just in case, like one of those break glass for emergency situations. His mother may or may not have tried to kill herself and is now on the psychiatric ward of Seattle General Hospital on a 72-hour suicide watch. I think a drink is the very least he’s entitled to.

“Nobody would judge you, Elliot,” I reply. “You know your limits and you’re an adult. I think this situation calls for a drink.”

“Join me?” he asks, and I nod, though a bit reluctantly. He gives me another squeeze and for a moment I could swear that I see movement out the corner of my eyes, but when I turn my head, no one is there.

We walk over to the bar, and I reach into the refrigerator for the cold bottle of Vodka I know I’ll find there. I hold it up and he nods. I take two shot glasses from the shelf and rinse to the remove any dust.

“Single or double?” I ask.

“Single,” he replies. I pour a single shot for him and a double for myself. I throw half my shot back in the first drink and Elliot only sips his. He takes a deep breath between each sip as if savoring the elixir like his last meal.

“I wasn’t really paying attention when Dad was trying to tell me what was going on. Can you explain it to me, please?” he asks without raising his head. I nod, even though he’s not looking at me.

“They’re going to run a battery of scans and tests on Grace to make sure that there’s nothing wrong physically… you know, like with Val?” I begin. He nods. “While they’re eliminating any physical issues, there’s going to be intense therapy to see if there’s another cause for her behavior…”

*-*

I’m hung over again. I had three double-shots of vodka while Elliot and I talked. He nursed the one single through the entire conversation, and he didn’t even finish that. I have a feeling that he just tipped the glass to his mouth to wet his lips, then licked the liquor from his lips just to taste the flavor. There’s no other way that he could have possibly nursed a single shot through that entire conversation—long conversation, I might add—while I threw back double after double after double. Drunk on a Sunday afternoon… I’m surely going to hell.

Add to that the fact that my children haven’t seen me for at least 24 hours. They were asleep when Christian and I got home and I didn’t want to wake them. I took a shower and changed, came down to Marty and Atlantis, and proceeded to continue the pickling of my liver. I haven’t even eaten a decent meal…

And where the hell am I?

It’s hard to focus, but the rust and copper décor informs me that I’m in my husband’s den. I have no idea how I got here, but the lilting sound of the piano assured that I would remain in a blissful state of coma until I ripped myself from the clutches of the beautiful lullaby. Even now, I’m having a terrible time pulling myself from the comfort of the soft, sweet music caressing my senses. I have to stop him or I’m going to sleep my life away.

“Christian,” I call out softly, my voice too weak to carry anywhere. I hear the lilting sounds of the piano softly fade to what sounds like the end of a song and a few moments later, I see my husband’s jeaned thighs come into view before he crouches in front of me, bringing his face to mine.

“That almost sounds like a cry for mercy,” he says softly, mirth in his voice as he brushes my hair from my face with his fingertips.

“It is,” I confirm weakly. “What time is it?” He looks at his watch—the Hublot that he now wears every day, my wedding present to him.

“It’s 9:19—nearly bedtime for the rest of the world,” he says. I sigh.

“I’m going to be up all night,” I lament, “and I have to go into Helping Hands tomorrow.” He frowns.

“We have a family crisis. Can’t someone else handle Helping Hands for a few days?”

He’s actually right. With the crisis that our family is experiencing right now, no one would blink if I wasn’t at Helping Hands for the next few days. But there’s no one at the helm of things now and Grace left things on a very sour note. Nothing has hit the news yet, which surprises me for a lot of reasons, but I can’t just let the Center fall apart, especially not now. It never left my mind that we still haven’t heard from the licensing board about our accreditation and that even though I somewhat abandoned my letter-writing campaign temporarily that I’m three letters away from actually filing a complaint or going over Felton’s head about the matter.

One of the biggest reasons that I want to go into the center is because I truly feel that right now, Grace would want me to. There’s too much room for speculation with both of us gone. I may have to do some fancy footwork to maintain the family’s and Grace’s privacy, but with the staff already walking about on cat’s paws—and not comfortably, I might add—the unexplained and inconcealable absence of both leaders is a catastrophe waiting to happen. I just know it.

“I know you’re right in theory,” I begin, “but in actuality, there are a lot of unsettled ‘natives’ and their Chief alienated a lot of people before she disappeared for a now undisclosed period of time. I can’t, in good conscious, leave the Center unattended under those conditions.” He just looks at me and I can tell that he’s reloading.

“We don’t know if the ticket brigade has been called off,” he said.

“Did you have any problems travelling to or from the hospital?” I ask him. He tries not to react, but I can see the realization dawn even in his attempted impassivity. “The only way for us to know if the ticket brigade is over is for us to go on with our lives.”

He wants to continue arguing about it, but instead, changes tact and turns to another subject.

“How was your talk with Elliot?” he asks, now sitting on the floor with his legs bent and his arms resting on his knees.

“Tense,” I say. “He was offering an apology that I’m just not ready to hear.” Christian raises his eyebrows at me.

“He apologized, baby,” he scolds. “You can’t expect him to grovel.”

“I don’t,” I say with no malice, “I’m just not ready to hear that apology right now.”

“I’m not sure what that means,” he says. I sit up and wrap the blanket he placed over me around my body.

“Some things just take a little time,” I tell him. “It’s all really very raw. He made me feel like an outsider, like I didn’t care about her. The scene was harrowing had it been someone that I didn’t know. This is someone that I work closely with every day. Grace and I have been elbow-to-elbow on many projects and things—personal and professional. She’s a surrogate mother to me, and watching her bleed like that and I couldn’t stop it…”

I cover my face to stop myself from sinking down the rabbit hole again. The sight was horrendous… and this was Grace!

“And for him to just flippantly dismiss my feelings and how this whole thing affects me, too…” I sigh and push back the tears. If I cry anymore, I’ll fucking dehydrate. “I’m not ready to hear that apology right now.”

“I know,” he says, putting his hand on my knee. “I told him as much myself, I just don’t want you to stay in a place where you don’t forgive him because that’s not who you are.” I don’t respond. I just wrap the blanket tighter around me. “I had a bit of trouble today,” he adds. I raise a questioning gaze at him.

“With what?” I ask.

“With… Elliot… holding you.” My brow furrows.

“With what?” What is he talking about? When was Elliot holding me?

“With Elliot holding you,” he says. “You were standing at Atlantis and he had arms wrapped around you, holding you against him from behind…”

I’m still trying to picture what he’s talking about and then it hits me—Elliot’s reflection in Atlantis. He was holding me… very closely. That’s when he was trying to apologize.

“It wasn’t…” I begin, but Christian holds up his hand to silence me.

“I know,” he says, looking at his hands, “but that’s how I hold you. It’s… not easy to see another young, handsome man holding my Butterfly that way… even if he is my brother.”

The shadow… the something or someone that I thought I saw… It was Christian. He was there.

“Why did you leave?” I ask. “Why didn’t you come in? I knew I saw something and I thought it was just my imagination.” He shrugs.

“I heard the conversation,” he admits. “I know it was harmless… and necessary. It’s just…. Uuugh!” He groans in frustration and scrubs his face. He’s ashamed of his jealousy right now, but he can’t help it. It’s part of who he is.

I slide off the sofa and onto the floor, onto his lap, straddling his hips, our bodies fitting together like a puzzle. I say nothing. I just gently stroke his face. He sighs deeply.

“Do you know what you do to me?” he says, gazing into my eyes. “You turn me to mush on the inside. It’s stronger than when we first met. I still don’t know what to do with it. You make me… weak. Strong, but… weak… so, so weak…”

He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against mine, then he gently brushes his nose against mine. I get a small chill and tilt my head only slightly to press a tender kiss against his lips. He returns the tender gesture and I can feel the moment the spark ignites and the air changes between us.

Dear God, Christian, I love you so much…

I push my hands into his hair and try not to lose control as the kiss becomes more intense. He holds me close to him… so close to him… I feel like a doll, helpless in his arms. I cling to him as he holds me, gently caressing my back, pressing my body against his…

He turns me around and lays me on the floor, our lips never parting, our need and desire growing exponentially by the second. We devour each other’s kisses, and he covers my body with his.

*-*

“Annie, I hate to bother you, but I’ve got a bit of a problem.”

Christian and I are eating breakfast at the breakfast bar and still deciding if either of us wants to go into work this morning. We’re dressed for it, but we still haven’t made the decision.

“What is it, Daddy?” I ask.

“I can’t get out my driveway,” he says. “It’s swarming with reporters and from what I can tell, they want details on the adoption.” My mouth falls open.

“Oh, my God, you’re kidding!” I nearly yell at the breakfast bar. Christian looks up from his coffee and frowns at me. I’ve already risen from my seat. “This is ridiculous! Why did they come to your house?”

“What’s wrong, Butterfly?” Christian asks.

“Easy target, I guess,” he says. “What should I do?”

“Stay where you are. I’m on my way,” I say, ending the call and heading for the mudroom.

“Butterfly, what’s going on?” Christian asks again.

“The Paps have my father trapped in his house!” I hiss, reaching for my jacket.

“What?” he asks, falling in step behind me.

“He can’t get out of the driveway,” I tell him. “They’ve got him blocked in. They want info on the adoption.”

“Oh, for the love of God,” he says and pulls out his phone as I double back to the dining room to get my purse. “Taylor, I need damage control at Ray’s, pronto… I don’t know. The man is blocked in his driveway, so I’d say it’s pretty deep… We’re on our way now. You and Chuck meet us in the garage. Bring a third.”

When we get to Daddy and Mandy’s simple Kent home, we can barely get into the driveway. Of course, the arrival of three black Audi SUVs draws the focus from Daddy’s house to us. Fuck political correctness. This shit stops right now. I leap out the back seat and slam the door, bringing inquisitive gazes my way.

“Get outta my way or you get nothing!” I announce. My voice suddenly becomes a bullhorn in Daddy’s front yard and the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Apparently, these people know that when I say they’ll get nothing, they’ll get nothing. I walk right up to the front door and call my father.

“Hey, Annie,” he answers on the first ring.

“Open the door, Daddy. I’m here.” In a moment, the front door opens and the cameras begin flashing. I want to break out a water hose on these vultures, but instead, Christian and I just get inside as quickly as we can while security stands at the front door.

“When did this happen?” I ask the moment the door closes.

“I opened the garage door and there they were,” Daddy says.

“You know they’re not supposed to be on your lawn, right?” Christian says. “That’s private property and they’re trespassing.” Ray shrugs.

“So, they’ll crowd the sidewalk. I still can’t get my truck out. I’ve never dealt with the press before and I don’t want any trouble. What do they want with me anyway? I’m adopting my stepdaughter. What’s the problem?”

“Your adult, billionaire stepdaughter,” I point out. “They know there’s more to it and they want the scoop.”

“There is no scoop,” Daddy protests.

“As far as they’re concerned, there is,” I say, rubbing my scar. “We need to talk to them, Daddy, put this thing to rest…”

“Not until we talk to Mac,” Christian protests.

“We don’t have time for her!” I retort. “Daddy needs to get on with his life! There’s nothing to hide here and this is hardly newsworthy. I will not entertain or defend any kind of spin they want to put on this! It’s that simple. This is about me and my father, and we’re going to put this thing to rest—now. Are you ready, Daddy?” Daddy’s eyes grow large.

“Is there anything I shouldn’t say?” he says.

“Yes, don’t let them aggravate you, irritate you, or provoke you. If you don’t know what to say, squeeze my hand and I’ll take over. I won’t let them bully you. I’ll chew them up and spit them out first. Got it?” Daddy tries to hide his smile.

“Got it, Sunflower.” He nods once and I take a deep breath. When I open the door, Taylor, Chuck, and Ben step aside so Daddy and I can step onto the porch. I take Daddy’s hand and allow the crowd to clamor and take a few pictures before I speak.

“Okay, you all know how this works. If you’re all screaming at us at once, we can’t hear you. Keep it orderly and respectful and we’ll answer as many of you as we can. Then, I’ll have to ask you to leave my father’s premises because you are on private property.”

“You’re a 30-year-old mother of twins. Why are you looking to be adopted now? A sudden case of Daddy issues?” one reporter calls out. I want to smack him about the age thing, especially since he got it wrong.

“If you’re looking for an answer to that question, I suggest you reword it,” I retort.

“What he means to say is that it seems a little late for Mr. Steele to be petitioning to adopt you. Why now?” another one says.

“My father and I never really felt like we needed a document to tell us that he was my Dad,” I reply. “However, a little while back, I had a medical emergency and there was no readily available next of kin. At that time, I made my father my power of attorney and I just wanted to make the whole ‘next of kin’ thing official. We should have done it a long time ago.”

“Wouldn’t Christian be your next of kin?” someone else says.

“Yes,” I say. “This is in case my husband and I are both incapacitated. My husband has other family that would be able to make decisions on his behalf. I do not.”

“What about your mother?” someone says. “Isn’t she still alive?”

“As far as I know, she is, but as you should already know, my mother and I are estranged, so I don’t want her making any decisions on my behalf.”

“You can’t just take away her parental rights,” the first asshole retorts.

“No, but if I have another legal parent and said parent has power of attorney to make decisions in the event that I become incapacitated, then we’re discussing a moot point, aren’t we?”

“What if Mr. Steele becomes incapacitated before you do?” Same asshole.

“Well, we would have to cross that bridge when we get to it, wouldn’t we?” I retort.

“So, this is the only reason Mr. Steele wants to adopt you…  to be able to make decisions if you become incapacitated?” Yep, same asshole.

“No,” Daddy interjects. “I want to adopt her because she asked me to. Because she’s my daughter and always has been and I’ve loved her like my own since she was an infant. Because I should have done this decades—yes, decades ago, and you all wouldn’t be standing on my stoop and killing my grass right now with these ridiculous questions!” Daddy’s losing it. I squeeze his hand.

“Come on, Mr. Steele,” the asshole says. “You want us to believe that you have no ulterior motive in suddenly wanting to adopt a billionaire stepdaughter with twin heirs to the Grey fortune?”

And that was the powder keg.

“Yes! That’s exactly what I want you to believe!” Daddy retorts. “I’ve loved this child since she was in diapers. I loved this child when her mother didn’t love me anymore—tried to take her away from me; tried to tell me she wasn’t mine even though I helped raise her; gave her my name; took care of her; loved her like my own blood. I stood strong when friends tried to usurp my authority; when so-called family tried to tell me that I didn’t count. When she lost her memory, she remembered who I was! She remembered that I was Daddy. That’s who I am, and that’s who I always will be! Now, maybe you’ve never known that kind of love which is why you’re standing here in my neighborhood invading my private space trying to taint something real and true and for that, I feel sorry for you. But what I suggest you do is stop trying to create a scandal where there is none and go out and cut your teeth on some real news, little paper boy!”

And just like that, Daddy got his first sacrificial lamb.

“There’s no need to be offensive, Mr. Steele,” he says, trying to save face as the cameras are all turned on him now… and I don’t even know his name.

“Did I stutter, Junior?” Daddy shoots. “You’re looking to make a name for yourself. You need juice. There is none here. I’m adopting the daughter I’ve loved for more than twenty years. We’re making it official like we should have done all those years ago. There’s your story. Are you famous yet?”

Asshole reporter is still trying to get a word in and Daddy just laughs.

“You know, when I was active duty, when your commanding officer made an example you, you shut up. You just don’t get it, do you, kid? How about this. My daughter has already told you that you’re on private property, so now, you’re trespassing. I’ll kindly ask you to leave. If you don’t, those gentlemen driving up behind you in the black SUV’s will be more than happy to assist.”

I hadn’t noticed that while Daddy was handing the asshole his ass, more of GEH security were arriving on the scene… a whole lot more… like several SUV’s full.

This could get ugly.

Suddenly, the crowd is silent and “Men In Black” exit the SUV’s and await instructions… and the asshole suddenly has nothing else to say.

“Um… Ana, have you spoken to your mother at all?” someone in the front asks cautiously.

“No,” I reply. “She has no say-so in this and we haven’t contacted her concerning the matter.”

“I have,” someone in the middle of the crowd says, and all eyes turn to her.

“You have what?” I ask, afraid of the answer.

“I’ve spoken to your mother,” she says. “She gave me a statement.” I swallow hard. Do I want to hear this? “She says that Ray Steele has always been the father that you never had and that she’s happy he’s made the decision to adopt you.”

I’m. Speechless.

“She. Did?” Daddy says, just as awestruck.

“Yes, she did. What do you say to that?”

“Um… I don’t know,” I respond. “Our relationship has been very strained and I haven’t spoken to her in a while. I don’t want to rehash anything in the press—you probably already know all the dirty details anyway, but I’m very surprised to hear that she’s so… affable about the whole thing.”

“Do you think you’ll try to get in touch with her?” the reporter asks.

“I’d rather not discuss that at this time,” I reply.

“I think that’s enough,” Daddy says, putting his arm protectively around me. “We’ve answered your questions about the adoption. There’s nothing else to say. I will ask that you please disperse from my lawn now. Thank you.” Daddy shuffles me back into the house in pure Christian Grey fashion while GEH security tends to clearing the press off the lawn.

“Daddy,” I say, mocking surprise, “I didn’t know you had it in you!”

“Neither did I,” he says, walking around his kitchen island to Mandy, who’s been occupying Harry and keeping his attention away from the reporters on the lawn. “I didn’t think they were really that persistent. I always wondered why people let the press get to them until that crap with that Rossiter fucker…” Mandy glares at my father and covers Harry’s ear.

“Sorry,” Daddy says half-heartedly, “but then, this. What did he expect me to do, cower in a corner?”

“No, he was egging you, Daddy,” I confirm. “He wanted to see you explode.”

“Well, someone should tell these people that when you mess with a Marine, you’re very likely to get full metal jacket. You won’t get a story… you’ll become the story.” I chuckle.

“Apparently in press speak… or at least in press speak around here—it’s called ‘becoming the sacrificial lamb.’ I’ve had plenty of them.” Daddy laughs, too.

“I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” he says. We both laugh at the irony of that statement given the current situation.


CHRISTIAN

So, we decided to get back to business as usual and even with the fleet of SUVs—and not the Fords—showing up at Ray’s, there were no tickets issued to anyone on staff. I think it’s safe to assume that the ticket brigade has been called off, but I won’t send that fucker’s dog back until I get proof that the tickets he already had issued have been expunged.

“So, you know the Facetime interviews with all of the broadcast journalists are tomorrow,” Mac says. “I think we really want to get this done as quickly as possible with all the crap going on in your life right now. How’s your mom?” I shrug.

“No new news yet,” I tell her. “We’re all just… waiting.” She nods.

“The good news is that this story must have been totally squashed. Even Josh hasn’t heard anything from his underground sources.”

“Nothing is ever squashed in Greyville, and you know this, Mac,” I tell her, still half-heartedly trying to decipher the Capito financials. “It just goes quietly into hibernation until somebody finds a reason to dig it up.”

Dad returned to Grey Manor once he left the hospital on Sunday, effectively taking the wind out of the Grey “split” story, but with Mom in the hospital and that story originally being on the underground wire, it’s only a matter of time before something gets leaked. I’m pondering the idea of releasing a statement of some kind—or having Dad do it—but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

“The ‘Facetime’ meetings—how is that going to go?” I ask, changing the subject.

“The meetings start at 9am and each one has an hour to pitch their idea. You’ll discuss over lunch and make a decision by the end of the day. The interview will take place this weekend, so get security, agendas, and locations together and we’ll go over them together to make sure everything is as we want it. We’ll need to have the employees at the gun range sign NDAs or the story will be out before the interview is aired. Lots and lots of balls in the air right now, so make sure that your lovely wife is here tomorrow morning to start the ball rolling.”

“Not that I’m complaining, but why are we moving so quickly on this?”

“Um…” She begins counting on her fingers, “you just went public with a defamation lawsuit and a restraining order on the man who flashed raw cunt to your wife and attacked your father-in-law—who, of course, just made news this morning. Thanks for the warning.”

“We didn’t have time to pow-wow. Butterfly made a decision and we moved on it,” I defend.

“It was a good decision,” she admits, still looking at her iPad and notes. “The camera likes him and he held his own very well. Adult adoption… we better address that in detail. Even though Rossiter is quiet for now, I wouldn’t expect for that storm to be over, either. Also, Mom’s on the ward, Dad just moved back home, your sister’s getting married in two weeks in an event that promises to rival Lady Di’s funeral. Still don’t see the urgent urgency?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mac! You had to compare my sister’s wedding to a funeral?” I protest vehemently. This is not the best analogy with my mother maybe/maybe not trying to kill herself this weekend.

“Have you ever watched Lady Di’s funeral?” she asks, her voice a mix of awe and astonishment. “I mean, I realize that you were very young at the time and it was probably not on the top of your list of things to do, but it was quite the international media event and the Princess of Wales was very beautiful and very beloved. Elton John rewrote ‘Candle in the Wind’ and sang it at her service. Come on, Christian. It was pretty damn historic. Mia’s wedding could be compared to worse things.” I roll my eyes.

“It’s been a pretty bad weekend,” I point out. “Can we try to steer away from the morose?”

“Point taken,” Mac says, “but it was still a big thing. Nonetheless, I get it. Anyway, we’re going to want to get this interview recorded and in the editing room as soon as possible. I don’t know when our program of choice is going to want to air it, but we don’t want to end up shoved in some filler spot somewhere. That would be the worst.”

I nod. She’s right about that.

“Ideally, get your journalist of choice in town before week’s end.” She continues. “They get good, fast, raw footage. Not a lot to jerk around, and you get to dictate how they use it. They present you in the wrong light, you barbeque ‘em.” I sigh.

“Remind me again why I agreed to do this?” I ask.

“Because you need to present an image of you and your wife that no one has seen yet, one that indicates that you aren’t just a businessman, that you’re a family man, and that you’re a fearless and formidable team that won’t stand by and be targets anymore.” I scrub my face with my hands.

“Oh, yeah, that,” I say. “This is getting so out of hand, Mac. I’m starting to feel like…” I trail off. There are some things that she just doesn’t need to know. “Never mind. We’ll be here and ready at 9AM.” She nods and stands.

“Good, because I’ve got a whole lot of people to see and NDA’s to get signed.” Just as she’s walking out of the office, Jason and Alex are standing at the door awaiting permission to enter. I gesture them inside.

“You’ve got news for me?” I ask.

“I’ve got confirmation from my contacts at the court that the tickets have been expunged,” Alex says. I look at Jason.

“The crusade has been called off. Your boy actually put an end to it Friday, hoping he’d get his pooch back over the weekend. Apparently, that broad of his is giving his absolute hell.”

I laugh inwardly again that he called me in a fit—an utter fit—about that dog.

“The dog is in good health?” I ask.

“Oh, we’ve been treating the dog like a queen,” Alex says. I nod.

“One more day,” I reply. “Send the dog back tomorrow. Have it thoroughly groomed.” Alex laughs.

“Of course,” he replies.

*-*

Elliot is silent at dinner and barely touches his Chateaubriand. Butterfly describes how the mood is somber at Helping Hands with Mom not there and her only able to reveal that she’s not well and currently on a brief leave of absence. Even with the ungodly way my mother has been acting, her staff knew that this was behavior totally out of character and that something was ghastly wrong. According to Butterfly, their concern for her was palpable and now, it’s even more palpable at our dinner table with my brother barely able to eat, even at the gentle coaxing of his wife.

Mia and Ethan have joined us for dinner and are discussing the very real possibility of postponing the wedding if there are no answers to what’s going on with Mom right now. Mia’s in the process of revamping most of the arrangements for the ceremony anyway, so postponing the “performance” wouldn’t be too far behind. According to Mia, there are some things that she has discovered was the idea and brain child or children of her outlandish wedding planner and she’s having a hell of a time having these things cancelled without Mom’s permission. This whole ordeal is eye-rolling insane!

Somewhere around 8:30, Dad enters the dining room and all chatter falls silent. He’s been at the hospital with Mom and we desperately need an update. It’s day two of the three-day hold and we want to know what’s going on.

“It’s not a tumor,” he says immediately. I look over at Elliot and I think he’s going to tip over into his plate. “They’ve run all the scans and put a rush on things, because it’s Grace—and now, they’re actually doing a barrage of other tests—because it’s Grace. They’ve ruled out quite a few things, but now…” He trails off.

“Now what, Dad?” Mia asks.

“They’re… they’re looking at possible mental and physical issues… dementia, early onset Alzheimer’s, chemical imbalances, depression, psychosis…”

“Oh, God,” Elliot laments, and Valerie gently rubs his back. “That would explain a lot.”

“Yes, it would,” I breathe.

“Any of those things are treatable, you guys,” Butterfly says softly. “At least we’ll know now.” Elliot nods.

“She’s right,” Dad says. “It’s better than having her walking around here in a state of complete self-destruction and we have no idea what’s going on or how to help her. This way, we’ll know what’s happening and what needs to be done to correct it. She continued intense therapy this afternoon. She’ll be in intense therapy tomorrow as well. They’ll get to the bottom of it.”

There’s a collective sigh of relief in the room. We’ll know something soon. We’ll know what’s wrong with Mom and we’ll be able to do something about it. That feeling of helplessness is finally leaving. I’ll get my angel back…

“I wish I could say that I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s complicated, son.”

“What’s so complicated about it?”

“I just can’t explain it to you. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Are you doing this on purpose, Mom? Are you trying to punish us?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why?”

“You wouldn’t understand, son. There’s no way that you would understand.”

“Just tell me. Make me understand. This doesn’t make sense.”

“I know it doesn’t…”

“Mom? Mom…? Mom, where are you? Don’t leave, Mom, we need answers. It’s not fair to leave us like this…! Mom…?”

“Christian!”

My wife’s voice wakes me from my blissless slumber and I’m gripping the covers, sweating profusely with visions of my mother’s face fading behind my eyelids. I hate that she’s in that place and I hate that we don’t have any answers to what’s wrong with her. Is she crazy? Is she losing her mind? Is she just plain delusional? What the fuck is it? Did we drive her to this or was she already on her way? Will they know what’s wrong with her after only 72 hours? A week? A fucking month? Goddammit!

I violently throw the covers off and get out of bed. I begin pacing the room as if the answer will come to me if I just walk around for a moment. I run my finger through my damp hair and try to recall what she said to me in my dream.

“It’s complicated, son…”
“You wouldn’t understand…”

“I wouldn’t understand what?” I hiss.

“Christian, what is it?” Butterfly asks, her voice concerned.

“My mother,” I say, scrubbing at my face. “She was… talking in riddles. She… can’t tell me… she said I wouldn’t understand.” I look at Butterfly. “What wouldn’t I understand?”

“I don’t know…”

“She wouldn’t apologize,” I say, pacing again. “She said she couldn’t. She didn’t want to? She didn’t know how? What the fuck?” This shit is frustrating me.

“It was a dream, Christian. You’re going to drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out…” I’m already crazy. My mother’s not well and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with her, and I’m going on with my life like business as usual. If she doesn’t come out of that place tomorrow… today… I swear to God…

“Christian, please…”

“I’m going downstairs,” I say, going to my dressing room for a T-shirt. I can’t tame my thoughts and I don’t want to talk. I want answers. I want this dream to mean something, to be clear and concise and instead, it’s feeding all of my unanswered questions from before—all the doubts I had when this shit first started.

What the hell is wrong with my mother?

Sunrise catches me still caressing my ebonies and ivories and no closer to deciphering the images that haunted me in my sleep. I like having my piano in my den. It affords me the privacy that I need when I feel the need to play; the privacy that I didn’t have with the piano sitting out in the open at Escala, even though no one dared disturb me while I was playing… no one except Butterfly, that is. Now, I can barely get her to breach my solace when I escape to this corner of the world.

I know I can’t stay here forever. We’ve got those damn Facetimes starting at nine at GEH, but my fingers begin to play a song that continues to haunt me as the sun bursts through the paned windows behind me. It’s a soft melody and the words, I only slightly remember, speak of a departed matriarch and the love and wisdom she imparted upon her daughter. The song is inspirational and promises of a time where they will be together again in heaven in worship for eternity, and all I can think of is my angel and when I’ll see her again and will she be whole and well—or will she be sick and feeble and maybe not even remember me or want to see me?

“Christian?”

This is one of those rare occasions where my wife has invaded my solace, but I realize that she must. She’s completely dressed with her hair in some amazingly coifed style that I won’t even begin to try to imagine how it got that way without a professional stylist and I’m still in my pajama pants and a T-shirt, so I know it’s coming on time for us to head to GEH for our Facetime interviews. I sigh heavily and look one last time at my fingers on the keys before closing the piano cover. Time to go on with my life like business as usual.

*-*

My wife clearly meant business when she got dressed this morning. She breezes into GEH like she rightfully owns the place in a red three-quarter length wool jacket and matching wool pants with a soft plaid shirt underneath. A black leather gloved hand grasps a large, red leather bag, and signature black Louboutins click across the marble floors toward the express elevators. She leads the charge of well-dressed, tall men in dark, tailor-made suits—myself included—causing a hush to fall over the lobby as our entourage proceeds across the lobby. She looks neither to her left or her right as she proves that she doesn’t need to wear a men’s suit to command attention, and her attitude is enough to make even the most confident women step aside as she glares from behind her signature Jackie-O’s.

That’s right, peasants. Yield to your Queen.

Total silence has fallen over the lobby as we wait for the express elevator—a deafening thirty seconds—and the ding of its arrival seems to echo all the way across the street. Jason and I share a knowing look as the elevator doors open and we all walk inside. The ride up to the executive floor is silent and Mac is standing there as soon as the doors open.

“You two really like to cut it close, don’t you? Damn, Ana, you look hot!” Mac ushers us into the conference room quickly.

“What the fuck am I, chopped liver?” I hiss.

“You always look like that,” she says. “Not that Ana doesn’t always look hot, but she’s looking particularly hot today,” Mac clarifies. Ana smiles an accommodating smile as she removes her glasses and gloves. “Ana, you sit here. Christian, you here. Raynell is first…”

The interview starts moments later. The poor girl is stumbling over her words, can’t organize her notes, and she is a total pushover. We’re wondering the entire time how she comes off so flawlessly on the news shows if she can’t even handle an impromptu interview that she knew was going to occur for at least a week. Butterfly is chewing her up and spitting her out for the entire discussion. My wife would be dominating her for the entire interview and that would completely bleed through on air. She’s a “no” before Facetime is even over.

“Something wasn’t right about that,” Butterfly says before the next Facetime begins.

Danika and Maria are completely opposite of Ms. Stanton. Both are concise in their questioning—no beating around the bush, straight shooters. They take curveballs in stride and though their approaches are completely different, their rebuttals are crisp and ideas fresh and intuitive. We’re leaning toward Maria because she’s both our first choice and she can be in Washington faster as well as stay longer. Her schedule is more flexible, which is honestly what we need. However, both candidates could completely fit the bill.

Shortly after noon, Mac leaves us to enjoy a pre-ordered lunch in the conference room while we mull over our choices, which have obviously been narrowed down to two.

“What was the deal with Raynell?” Butterfly asks as she dips pita bread into hummus. “I saw an interview she did a few years ago with Simon Benford from Benford Electronics before the company went belly-up a few years ago. That woman could skate on face-up razor blades and not cut her feet. I don’t get the stuttering, stammering, and stumbling today.” I nod as I swallow a mouthful of falafel.

“I saw that interview, too, and I have to agree with you. She started out strong and then she went downhill after about five minutes.”

“Do you think she might have suddenly fallen ill?” Butterfly asks. “Maybe we should have Vee give her a call and make sure she’s okay… reschedule the interview.”

“We don’t really have time to reschedule the interview,” I tell her. “Not if we’re trying to get it out of the way. Think about it, she pretty much blew 55 minutes of open time. If she couldn’t get it together after 55 minutes… can we afford for that to happen on air? Maybe she should just take care of herself and see what’s going on. I’m with you on having Mac call her to see if she was ill or something, though.” Butterfly nods as she feasts on hummus and pita bread, chasing it with a mouthful of cranberry spritzer.

“So,” she says, once she has swallowed her food. “Maria or Danika? You know I like Maria, but Danika is giving her a real run for her money.”

“I know…” I say. We spend the next hour and a half reviewing the benefits of both candidates and eventually have to compile a list of pros and cons for both to assist with the decision-making process. Finally, after agonizing more over who to let go than whom to choose, we summon Mac.

“So, what’s the decision?” she asks when she enters the conference room.

“First things first,” Butterfly says. “Raynell Stanton. I don’t want to jump to conclusions. She could have been ill, in which case, I would be concerned about her and would like for you to call her and make sure that she’s okay. However, the more I think about it and consider her behavior, I more and more get the feeling that she threw the fight. We just don’t know why.”

“You’re right,” Mac says. I frown.

“Excuse me?” I say.

“You’re right. She threw it.”

“Why the fuck did she waste our time, then?” I ask, perturbed. Mac rolls her eyes.

“Raynell lost interest very shortly into the interview. I picked up on it as you were discussing the direction for the platform, about ten minutes in. She was… unfocused, to put it mildly. I put a call in to her after you two broke for lunch to feel her out. It didn’t take much. She was quite forthcoming.”

“Really?” Butterfly says, somewhat affronted. “So, what’s the deal?”

“A basic lack of interest,” Mac says. “Brutal lack of interest is more like it. Her desire to not be a part of this project was so vehement that I couldn’t even relay it properly after a few words. You have to hear it for yourself.” She pulls out her phone and swipes the front. She touches something—or some things—on the screen and a conversation sparks up midstream.

I was trying to save face for him,” Raynell’s disembodied voice says. “What makes him think anybody wants to sit through this same old song and dance again?”

“That’s pretty pretentious of you,” Mac’s voice says. “No one has ever done an up-close and personal exposé with Christian Grey. Just because you’re not interested in it doesn’t mean there’s not an audience.”

“There’s always hope, Ms. McIntyre,” she says, her voice condescending. “Yes, there’s some lonely, undersexed housewife somewhere—several, in fact—who will be glued to the screen to see the handsome, unattainable billionaire spout off about himself and his multi-million-dollar house and his multi-million-dollar life and his beautiful wife and his perfect children. What I was hoping for was an exploration of the brilliant entrepreneur and businessman who has built an empire on his back from a small loan and his own genius. I was eager for a glimpse into the thoughts and innerworkings of a mastermind who took the business world by storm and secured a coveted position at the top of the industrial and technological pecking order in a matter of just a few years. I was hoping for just a few moments with the savant, the guru, the expert who made the corporate world stop and take notice—come to a screeching halt and pay homage, in fact—to their newest leader, their newest sage.

“Instead, what I get is a narcissist who appears to be suffering from a Napoleon complex and wants to stand on top of a hill and shout for the whole world to see that he’s the big man on campus and won’t be pushed off the mountain. He wants to take the wife to the gun range and shoot off automatic weapons because some big bad asshole had the nerve to flash her a pussy. Granted, the guy was an asshole for that, but geez, Grey, Charlie Sheen beat you to epic celebrity meltdowns a few years ago, okay?”

“Ms. Stanton, that’s really out of line and you’re being quite assumptive about the conclusions you’re drawing concerning the message that the Greys are trying to portray here. Haven’t you seen how they’ve been depicted and even attacked in the press? Their good times and bad sprayed over the tabloids and picked apart indiscriminately? You don’t think they have a right to defend themselves? To tell their side?”

“That’s not what I said,” Stanton defends.

“Isn’t it?” Mac retorts. “You just pretty much tore this man down and compared his attempt to bare any of his personal and family life to Charlie Sheen’s post rehab meltdown narcissistic rants about tiger blood, winning, and being a rock star from Mars. This man, and now his family, has been and continue to be harassed, mistreated, and dragged through the mud for nothing more than having money and—as you said—building a business on his back. Now, he comes to someone like you to present his story to the public as a father, husband, family man, and protector—and yes, that story may come with a bit of grit—and the best you can come back with is that he’s a narcissist with a Napoleonic complex?”

The recording is silent for several moments.

“He got the right one in you, didn’t he?” I hear Raynell’s voice say. “I appreciate your fervor and your loyalty to your boss. I even appreciate his plight and all the shit he and his wife have to deal with. I’m not the one to tell his story, because it’s not the story that I was expecting to tell. The grit that I was expecting involved how a brilliant businessman stays on top of his game; how he’s always one step ahead of the competition; how he always knows which companies are ripe for the picking and which ones to leave on the chopping block. And Ms. McIntyre, I don’t apologize for my opinions. I may do my best not to piss off the wrong people, I didn’t get to be who I am by soft-shoeing around. If he wants to do that ‘King of the Hill’ interview, he’s going to have to go with another journalist.” She stops the recording.

“That’s pretty much it,” Mac says, placing her phone on the table between us.

“What made you think to record the conversation?” Butterfly asks.

“I record all my conversations,” Mac says. “They’re destroyed by day’s end unless I need to keep them.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” Butterfly asks. Mac shrugs.

“Depends on the recording and how I use it,” she replies before turning to me. “What do you want to do?”

“About what?” I ask.

“Her,” Mac asks. “She was pretty brutal.”

“She was pretty bitchy, but what can she do?” I ask. “She doesn’t want the piece, so fuck her.”

“That’s it?” Mac says. I nod.

“This is a human-interest piece,” I tell her. “This is a piece that presents me as a human being, not just a cold, staunch businessman. Yes, they will see parts of the businessman, because you can’t see the whole of me without parts of that, but that’s not all of me. The idea is to present me and my wife and my family as human beings, as a cohesive unit—to present the unbreakable bond between us as well as the unmovable force that we are when we work together. She’s made it clear that’s not the story that she wants.

“You can pick up any Fortune 500-type magazine of Wall Street Journal-type publication all over the world and see the Christian Grey that she’s trying to interview. Everybody already knows him. You can probably hear his life story on NPR. College students study him in business classes and kids dress up as him on Career Day. Who needs that? Who’s going to watch that interview—a bunch of stuffy businessmen? A class full of undergrads? Exactly who wants to hear to what do I owe my success? If that’s the story that she considers cutting edge journalism, then she did us a favor and she was right to throw the interview.

“Do I want to retaliate for what she said? No. As long as she doesn’t start spitting any venom at us or our journalist of choice before or after the interview airs, I’m fine. As long as she keeps her mouth shut and let us do our thing, I say let sleeping dogs lie.” Mac nods.

“Very well,” she says. “So, who’s going to be doing the interview?”

“Maria Sanchez,” I say. “It was a really hard decision. Both women are really very good, but in the end, Maria is the better choice.” Mac nods again.

“I knew you would choose Maria,” she says. “Now, I should probably tell you to go prepare yourselves to do the interview this weekend.

“This weekend??” Butterfly exclaims. “Like three days from now?” Mac nods.

“Did you not have that conversation with her that I had with you yesterday?” Mac scolds. “All the shit happening?” Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. I scrub my face.

“Mom’s on the ward. Mia’s wedding in two weeks. Too much shit happening all at once. We need to hurry up and get it out of the way while we can control what footage they get, and they can hurry up and get it on the cutting room floor.”

“Goddammit!” Butterfly exclaims. “I was hoping to lose ten pounds…” My head snaps over to her.

“Forget it!” I hiss.

“What are you? A buck-o-five?” Mac observes.

“One-o-nine, one-ten, maybe,” Butterfly laments.

“You don’t need to lose any weight, Ana, for God’s sake,” she scolds.

“Well, I was always told that the camera adds ten pounds,” Butterfly protests.

“And even if it does, you still don’t need to lose any weight,” Mac reinforces. “Women would kill to look like you not six months after giving birth… to twins, no less! Don’t you start going on that whole ‘body shaming’ thing because you’re going on camera, okay? You look like a goddamn fashion model today!” Mac looks down at her iPad dismissively as if to say this conversation is over, and effectively, it is.

“So,” Mac says, rising out of her seat and still looking at her iPad, “I have a billion things to do to get ready for this interview. Be ready to host Maria as early as Friday and make no plans for the entire weekend. We know that you’ll most likely be at the gun range one of those weekend days, but leave the planning to me and the PA’s. Tell Marilyn and Andrea to be on call for the next five days and be prepared to work miracles because that’s what’s about to happen. Every connection they have will most likely be put to the test before this is over…” Butterfly is already on her phone, no doubt texting Marilyn.

“You’ll see Andrea before I do—brief her on your way to the elevator.” My phone buzzes as I finish my sentence.

“Good point,” Mac says without raising her head. “Excuse me while I go and turn the state upside down—and get one broadcast journalist on a plane.” As she leaves the conference room, I pull my phone out of my pocket and see a text from Jason.

**The package has been delivered. **

What package?


A/N: The song that Christian was playing was called “Thank You (Mom’s Song)” by Susan G. Acheson. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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~~love and handcuffs