“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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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…?”
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…
“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?
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. **
A/N: The song that Christian was playing was called “Thank You (Mom’s Song)” by Susan G. Acheson.
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