“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
~~Ali McGraw and Jennifer Cavalieri in Love Story, 1970.
Yeah, that’s not true.
Just let that marinate for a bit.
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 40—Searching for Remedies
There’s too much emotion… more than I can take at once. My head and heart are full, and I can’t think. I can’t function. It’s just too much…
My chest hurts. As much as I wanted him to come back, wanted to see him, wanted to talk to him, I wasn’t ready for it when he did. When he touched me, all of my feelings were raw and burning and bubbling up in me and I couldn’t control them. They were consuming me and taking me over and I couldn’t think. I thought I would explode, die, disintegrate… something, but I just couldn’t take it. God, help me. How can you want something so much and then can’t stand it when you get it? I’m normally very good with describing and identifying the seven stages of grief, but I don’t know which stage is “He’s-back-please-don’t-touch-me.”
My ankle hurts like fuck, but I learned when I came home from the hospital that the pain medication affects my breast milk, so I won’t take it. I heard Jason say over the two-way that I’ve been sleeping for more than 36 hours. I sure don’t feel like it, but my exploding breasts in the bath confirmed that my soccer players hadn’t emptied me in quite some time. Why didn’t the two-way notify me when they stirred?
Keri wordlessly gathers the clothes that I ask her to get for me and I get dressed, tackling my hair last. I’ve had enough of this fucking hair. It’s time to make a change.
“Keri, would you please call Miana’s and ask for Franco. Tell him that a spa day is needed at Grey Crossing… for… five… maybe six people and find out when he can arrange it? Marilyn has the number… or she can do it… or…”
“It’s okay, Ahna,” Keri says sweetly, cutting me off. “Ah’ll take care of it. Any deh in particuleh?”
“As soon as possible… today if he can swing it, but I’ll understand if he can’t.” She nods and pauses.
“Heh’s back, Ahna,” she says, like his return is going to solve all our problems. I can understand why she feels that way because returning to Chuck solved all of hers. I smile weakly and nod, sending her off to her task.
I want to go and see my babies, but I know Christian is there with them, and I don’t want to run into him right now. I don’t feel like working, although I know that it’s irresponsible of me to shirk my responsibilities to the Center. I sigh and try to use my cane to stand again, and of course, it hurts like hell. With no specific direction as to where I’m going right now, I sit back down on the bed and ponder my situation.
He’s back… I’ll have to talk to him sooner or later. How do I do that without my emotions running all over me and negating any progress that I hope to make?
Put yourself in his shoes. What would you have done if you had walked into his office and saw some woman about to kiss him?
I understand that, but I didn’t kiss the guy! I stopped him!
Do you think he saw that? Do you think he could see anything through his rage except the man closing in on your lips until he grabbed the guy by the collar?
But he didn’t even ask me! He just left and cut me off. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.
Yeah, about that… as far as you’re concerned he saw something completely different than what was happening, right?
What are you getting at?
He saw you and this guy about to kiss, but that’s not what was happening, right?
Well, no, not really. I was expecting it to be Christian kissing me and knew that it was wrong.
So, you weren’t leaning in or anything, right?
No, I wasn’t leaning in! I mean, I could have moved away faster, but I wasn’t leaning in!
So, he interpreted something that you didn’t intend… something that really didn’t happen.
Yes, exactly! And then he left me without even talking about it!
Something like you interpreted a postponed wedding for a cancelled wedding and ran off to Montana without talking to him.
That was different…
The next twenty-four hours are full of tension, neither of us knowing what to say to each other or even if we should be in the same room together. I get the same quickening I’ve always gotten when he’s around, but something’s wrong… something else is there with it… a dread or a caution of some kind that makes me stiffen and guard myself. I don’t know what it is… Who am I kidding? Of course, I know what it is. I just won’t admit it, won’t say it out loud, because if I do, then it makes what I’m feeling real. It gives this horrible theory a pulse, and that means that things will never be the same.
So, I can at least identify this stage of grief… denial.
“You’ll be happy to know that the new acting director of the board of licensing approved our accreditation,” Grace says when she calls Friday morning to check on me.
“That’s good to hear,” I say noncommittal.
“We can start our curriculum whenever we like,” she adds. How wonderful. We got our preschool, our continued education, our tutoring program, college prep testing preparation… and it only cost me my marriage… maybe.
“I’m really glad to hear that,” I say, trying to show some enthusiasm. She’s silent for a moment.
“How are you, dear?” she asks. I won’t lie, but I still don’t want to talk about it.
“The same,” I tell her. More silence.
“I hear that Christian is back,” she says.
“Yep,” I answer, still not offering any additional information.
“Do you know where he was?” she asks.
“Madrid… I think,” I tell her. I only know from what I’ve picked up in passing conversations. He still hasn’t told me himself where he was. I would have loved to go to Madrid someday. Now, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. A waste, too, since I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful city.
“Will you be okay, dear?” she asks. I know that she means well, so I try to give her something.
“I’m fine, Grace,” I concede, though I’m far from fine. “It really is a good thing that we can move on with our plans for the Center. I’ll be in on Monday morning to bang out some more or the details. I’m sorry that I was so lost in my own thing that I lost sight of what needed to be done. I promise, I’ll do better.”
“Think nothing of it, Aa,” she chides. “I know it must have been difficult for you. I can only speculate what was going on and you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but know that I’m here for you, okay?” I nod as if she can see me.
“Thank you, Grace,” I say sincerely. What she doesn’t know is that the Center is my purpose and all I really have now except for the babies. I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and Christian.
God, why did any of this have to happen?
Franco put together a special team to come over this evening for a pamper session. Keri had explained that I had sprained my ankle and asked that he bring any kind of aroma therapy that could help with the healing process. He rightly said that the best thing for it is elevation and ice. So, while the others—Gail, Keri, and Sophie—all enjoy other treatments, I soak in a eucalyptus bath with my earbuds in listening to Buddhist meditations with my injured leg elevated on the edge, padded underneath with a towel, and packed in ice.
It’s easy to slip away to nowhere when you allow your mind to clear and listen to the chants. I wasn’t nearly focused enough to do this over the last few weeks, when I was certain that my marriage was over. Now, I just clear my mind and float away to much-needed nothingness.
I’m brought back to the here and now when one of the technicians rouses me to get out of the tub before I shrivel and come to the chair for my hair treatment. I truly dread getting out of the warm cocoon that is the relaxing water, the first time in weeks that I’ve allowed myself to just be. When I sit in the chair, Franco gives instructions for the hot essential oil conditioning that I normally get.
“Wait,” I say, stopping him from mixing the oils. “Not just yet. I want you to clip all of the dead hair.” Franco frowns as the hair stylist carefully examines my hair.
“Mrs. Grey,” she says skeptically, “That’s easily eight inches of hair… most likely because it hasn’t been cut in so long.”
“At least a year,” I tell her, “and cut a foot.” The women in the room all fall silent and I hold my head down, avoiding their judgmental glares. The only one not afraid to speak is the child.
“Wow, Aunt Ana,” Sophie says. “That’s a lot. I would cry if they cut off a foot of my hair.” I raise my eyes to the blue-eyed unassuming angel and smile.
“My hair is so long that I can sit on it, Sophie,” I say sweetly. “I can afford a foot.” I wink at her and she smiles. I turn to Franco. “Mix my treatment for Sophie,” I tell him. “It’ll leave her hair shiny and luxurious and she’ll love it.”
Sophie smiles widely as Franco still looks from me to the stylist in uncertainty. He begins to mix the oils while the stylist stands a bit stunned. I look over my shoulder at her.
“I know what I’m doing,” I reassure her. “It’s time.” I turn back around in the seat and wait.
“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and begins to wash my hair.
For the first time in weeks, I take care to pick something to wear. Most days, I would just grab a suit and go to the Center. I think I alternated between the same three suits for two weeks… I think. I’m still sleeping in the guest room, unable to bring myself to partake of our bridal bed just yet, but I do go to my dressing room and choose a mint green airy two-layer skater dress with a halter neckline and a cutout back. I wanted to wear a maxi-dress, but with the bad ankle, I could see myself doing a face plant.
Back in the guest room, I examine myself in the mirror. The stylist has given me a thorough facial, saying that my skin looked dull and a little blanched—nothing like she was accustomed to seeing me. It’s strange to me how you can be suffering the most agonizing pain—nearly dying inside—and be able to hide it from the world… for the most part.
Except Al and Grace, I suppose.
I had invited Grace to the impromptu spa evening, but she was on-call at the hospital and couldn’t join us. Maxie was still at work, and Val and Elliot are still out of town along with Mia and Ethan. I really didn’t want to have to explain my current situation to my girlfriends and I hope my ankle is back up to par before Val gets back so that I don’t have to relay that situation to her. They’re both going to be pissed as hell that I kept it from them, but I just couldn’t talk about it. Dragging it out in conversation won’t make me feel any better about what was going on.
Now that I’ve been boiled, milked (in the tub), soaked, plucked, cleaned, clipped, waxed, exfoliated, kneaded, sandblasted—or at least it feels like it—I’m standing here looking at myself, my hair in huge barrel curls still cascading down my back and over my breasts after Gina the reluctant stylist clipped over 13 inches of dead hair from my ends. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I don’t feel particularly sociable, but I guess these four walls have seen enough of me for the past few days. Ballet flats are the safest thing for me to wear, even though I feel like I’m about three feet tall compared to everybody else in the house except Sophie.
I need to see my babies.
I hobble down to the nursery, my ankle still really sore, and enter the room. I scan the normally happy space, Dumbo, Bambi, and Scuttle all looking back at me when I enter. I make a note talk to security about why the two-way hasn’t been notifying me when the children stirred over the last couple of days. To my dismay, my children aren’t in the nursery, so now I must go and find them, but the room isn’t empty either.
Christian is sitting in my window seat, staring at me.
I suddenly feel like an intruder in my children’s room. I’m very uncomfortable and I want to make a quick getaway but leaving without saying anything would be just plain rude.
“I… was…” I stumble over my words and the fact that I’m caught in his intense gray gaze, the one that always made me weak in the knees. Even from this distance, I can see his pupils dilate. I swallow hard and lean on my cane. “Where are the children?” I ask.
“Gail and Keri…” he begins, “they… um… rescued them from me and Jason shortly after they came from the spa.” He never breaks his gaze from me. “You look beautiful.”
I drop my gaze, unable to even correctly accept a compliment from him.
“Thank you,” I say, barely audible. He stands from the seat and walks slowly over to me. I feel wobbly and a little lightheaded watching him walk towards me. Sensations arise in my body that I thought were dead because I hadn’t felt them in weeks. I only felt grief and loss, so when my heart speeds up and my breath quickens slightly, I don’t know how to handle it. I can feel myself panicking a bit.
“I’m told that you spent quite a bit of time in that window,” he says, his voice soft and deep. “What were you looking at?”
“Nothing,” I say in the same barely audible voice. It’s not a total lie. The entire time I watched the bridge, nothing came across it that I was looking for.
“There’s not much to look at,” he says. “The sky, the treetops… and the bridge.” He’s closed the space between us and I don’t respond to his last statement. I swallow as I look at his feet, clad only in sweat socks poking out from under his jeans. The proximity is making it hard to breath. I don’t know how to handle this closeness again, yet. I flinch when he touches my hair, but he doesn’t stop.
“You cut it,” he says, his voice a little dreamy.
“It was time,” I confess. It was stringy and dead and way too long. It was holding too many burdens… too many memories. I’m suddenly hearing that song from South Pacific talking about washing that man out of my hair. Only right now, while he’s touching it and admiring the softness and the curls, I realize that man ain’t going nowhere… and do I really want him to? I’m having a hard time with my feelings right now, but I was miserable while he was gone. Now, he’s back… and everyone thinks that should fix everything. His return fixes nothing… he’s just here.
“It’s been a long time since I saw your hair this way,” he says, his voice breaking my inner contemplation. “It was almost this length when we first met… a little shorter at the time, maybe…”
My mind goes back to the time I caressed him with my hair, very shortly after we met. I remember the look on his face and the sound of his voice… he was in Nirvana.
My short spot isn’t so short anymore. It’s grown enough to curl it and camouflage it back into the rest of my hair with a clip or some bobby pins. Ironically, it’s being held back a mint-green flower that matches my dress… while I’m hearing songs from South Pacific.
“Are you coming down for dinner?” he asks, still caressing my tresses in his fingers. I swallow hard, but nod without raising my head. Yes… I should eat.
“Yes,” I breathe wistfully. “I…” His hand lifts my chin so that he can look at me… and I can look at him.
My lips part to get more air so that I don’t pant like a silly little breathless puppy. Breathe, Ana, breathe. My feelings are still so conflicted when he brushes his lips against mine. Oh, God, the soft kiss on my skin, his smell in my nostrils, his hand gently steadying me at my waist. I feel like a girl getting her first kiss in school from the captain of the football team. I can’t move… not my body, not my lips… not anything as he gently grazes my mouth with his own. He’s soft, barely touching, lightly tasting, snatching small breaths from me as I close my eyes and try to remember… try to remember who we are and what we were…
My head lulls back and his kiss deepens, but only slightly as I just let him take what he wants—not reciprocating but lost in the sensation nonetheless. The kiss lasts for an eternity and ends too quickly, both at the same time. I’m suspended for a moment, still feeling his kiss even after his lips are gone. I keep my eyes closed, committing that feeling to memory, his warm lips on mine.
I’m catapulted back to the first time he kissed me in his office. It was nothing like this. That kiss was hot, hungry, and demanding, but it stirred the same intense feelings of need and longing that I feel now. I’m taking in short breaths and I feel the room tilt a bit and Christian’s hand tighten only slightly on my waist, steadying me.
I blink my eyes open and look into the face of the man that I love… that I long for… that scares the shit out of my heart right now. He gazes into my eyes, no doubt glazed over and confused looking back at him. I know he wants to kiss me again, but instead, he sidesteps and leaves the room.
I slowly release the breath I was holding, able to think more clearly now that he’s not in the space anymore, but I have to hold on to Minnie’s empty crib to steady myself so that I don’t slide down to the floor in a mountain of goo.
My skin is… crawling? Tingling? Whatever it is, it’s alive, and I’m hearing more songs in my head from South Pacific…
I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy…
Some Enchanted Evening…
Younger Than Springtime…
My God, she’s so beautiful.
I don’t know what was happening in that room, but I had to get out of there. I wanted to consume her tiny little body in one bite and it was taking me over. The way she looked at me… lost and… submissive and… totally fucking mine, if even just for that moment, totally fucking mine. I don’t think she’s ready for the intensity of what I was feeling in that room. Looking all hot and delicious in that tiny little dress like she did the very first time I saw her—her hair cut almost the exact same way and she’s looking so vulnerable and giving off these needing, yearning vibes. The Dom and Protector in me is bristling to care for her and I’m fighting to get him under control. She’s walking around here hobbling on a cane, physically and emotionally hurting… I couldn’t even touch her the first day I came back…
But a moment ago, in the nursery… I touched her… and kissed her… and she opened to me, helpless, needy, and speechless. Fuck, she’s torturing me. I know her well enough to know that she’s not doing this on purpose, but fuck!
I thrust my hands in my hair and try to contain myself. I didn’t even ask if she needed help getting downstairs. Hell, I can’t go back in that room right now. I can’t be responsible for what happens if I do. I can’t carry her downstairs and I certainly can’t be caught in that tiny ass elevator with her right now.
I make it down to the family room where the Taylors, Keri, and Chuck are all cooing at my children. Little Sophie likes to help care for the twins and it appears that Mikey has taken quite a liking to her, so she has Mikey in her lap, occupying him with his sock doll why Gail and Jason look on. Keri has Minnie in her arms, rocking her to sleep while Chuck gazes longingly on the sight. I’ve got a feeling he’s got baby fever. Jason has his arm around his wife, but frowns when he sees me. He rises from the sofa and follows me into the kitchen.
“You okay?” he asks as I uncharacteristically go to the refrigerator for a beer.
“Yeah,” I say, popping the cap off a Budvar and drinking right from the bottle. I walk out to the family room patio and sit in one of the chairs, watching the sun go down over the lake.
“You wanna talk?” Jason says, sitting in a nearby seat. I take another swallow of my beer.
“That window you told me that Keri said she sat in all the time… the window seat in the nursery… treetops, sky, and the bridge.” I swallow more beer as a knowing look comes over his face. “It didn’t take me long to figure out which one she was watching for hours at a time.” Jason sighs.
“Yeah, that’s what my wife thinks, too,” he says. “She’s been pretty mute the whole time… taking care of the babies and escaping away to whatever corner she chose. It’s my understanding that she finally totally snapped when people kept asking her what was wrong, and she didn’t want to tell them. The consensus is that the only people who know what happened are the two of you and no one’s going to ask.” I nod as I look at the floor.
“I feel like I shouldn’t say anything before she does,” I tell him “When she’s ready, we’ll talk about it.”
“Okay… but… isn’t that kind of what got you where you are now?” he asks. I just shake my head.
Once I finish my beer, we go back into the house to find both of my children asleep in the nappers of their Pack-n-Play. Gail has gone to the kitchen to see about dinner with Ms. Solomon and Chuck and Keri have moved their canoodling to the dining room. Sitting with her gaze fixed on the two bundles in the Pack-n-Play and humming that same lullaby is my wife. Her cane sits idly by her, leaning on the sofa, as she stares longingly into the Pack-n-Play as if she would crawl inside with them if she could.
I watch her for several moments, unaware that Jason has left me on my own until Butterfly finally stirs and struggles off the sofa to hobble to the dining room, totally unaware of my presence.
“Jason,” she says when she gets to the dining room, “can you please find out why the two-way system hasn’t been alerting me that the children are awake for the past few days?” She moves to pull her chair back from the table, but I beat her to it, sliding the heavy chair from the table to give her access. She looks up at me with the bottomless blue eyes before taking her seat.
“Thank you,” she says, softly, before dropping her gaze to the table. She spoke with such authority a moment ago, and suddenly, she’s back to being a mouse. I can’t hide my confusion.
“That’s my fault, Ana,” Gail says, coming into the dining room. “You hadn’t been sleeping well, so when you finally got to sleep…” Gail shrugs. Butterfly looks at her and nods.
“I understand,” she says, “but can we… fix it… please?” Jason nods.
“I’ll have it recoded right after dinner,” he says.
Dinner is pretty uneventful. Sophie talks about how much she loves her hair and that Butterfly told the staff to use her treatments in Sophie’s hair. Now, Sophie wants to do the treatments herself once a month if she can’t get to Miana’s. Gail has promised to pencil in an appointment for them to have a beauty day every four weeks. This pleases young Sophie immensely as I’m certain that she hasn’t had anything like this with her mother.
Butterfly looks a bit uncomfortable throughout the meal until Keri asks if she’s okay. She simply indicates that her stomach has been upset and her digestion hasn’t been very good for the last few days but assures the table that she’s fine and very shortly thereafter, escapes to the family room with the children, who still haven’t awakened yet.
Conversation continues as usual at the table, but I watch Butterfly as she stares into the Pack-n-Play at our children. Soon, everyone heads in their separate directions and I go to the family room to check on Butterfly. She hasn’t moved for several minutes and I soon discover why. She has curled up on the sofa—her head lying on the back of the sofa and her legs curled under her—and she has fallen asleep. She looks so small and I recognize the shrinking immediately, but she looks adorable, too. I put a blanket over her and kiss her lips gently. She doesn’t react. Noting that it would be criminal to move any of them right now, I sit in her recliner and watch over all of them until someone stirs.
“Ana!” She startles me out of a daydream several minutes later when she pops up from the sofa like a Jack-in-the-box, saying her name and frantically trying to remember where she is. She’s groggy, like she’s drugged… it’s like she was on the very edge of consciousness. I realize that she heard the two-way activate in the kitchen and thought it was for her. What the hell was she dreaming about?
“It’s okay,” I say, moving carefully next to her and trying to calm her breathing. I can feel her racing pulse through her skin. “They’re not awake yet; they’re right here in front of you.”
She squints and rubs her eyes, scratches her head, the realizes where she is. She glances at her children in the Pack-n-Play, still fast asleep, then nods. Her head falls sideways onto the back of the sofa and she’s asleep in seconds. How does she do that?
I gently stroke her hair and I’m again transported back to when we first met. She was fucking beautiful. She took my breath away… still does. I couldn’t fucking resist her. I remember seeing her that night at the nightclub. My God, it was outer-worldly. I couldn’t have escaped if I tried. I think that was the first real transformation for me—either that day or the day that I followed her to the New Orleans with Allen—either way, I knew I had changed and there was no turning back for me. Even now, when she doesn’t know what to do with herself and I don’t know what to do with myself, there’s no hope for me. I’m a fucking goner.
I’m not sleeping well if at all with Butterfly still sleeping in the guest room. Another night has come and gone, and we still haven’t talked, still haven’t made it to the same bed. It’s Saturday morning now and the only way that I can explain her mood today is… crabby. In the early afternoon, however, I get a notice from Windsor that we have a guest that just might change the course of things.
“Ace, hey. Did Ana call you?” His lips form a thin line as he examines me.
“No, she didn’t,” he says. “She cancelled her last three appointments without explanation and I got worried. She’s one of my most complicated patients. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping by, but she won’t answer or return my calls.”
Mind? I welcome it right now!
“No, not at all,” I say, taking a seat in the formal living room with him. “I don’t want to elaborate on what’s going on; I think she should start by telling you what she feels you need to hear. Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Anastasia Grey.” A few moments pass, and I hear her raspy, whispering voice.
“Ana.” She’s in the nursery again.
“Ace is here,” is all I say. A few moments of silence pass.
“I’ll be right down.”
“End two-way communications.” Ace and I sit in expectant silence until Butterfly…
… until Butterfly bends the corner, still on the cane from her newly injured ankle. Ace looks on in confusion as I take her reluctant hand and help her down the stair into the living room.
“What happened to your leg?” Ace asks, no prelim or greeting.
“Blazing stupidity,” she replies as she hobbles to the sofa, anger lacing her voice, “And it’s my ankle.” Ace twists his lip. I can see his skepticism. “To answer your question, I fell off a cliff… could’ve died.” She says it so matter-of-factly as she seats herself on the sofa opposite Ace. “So, what brings you here? Did someone tell you that I finally cracked up, or was it the missed appointments?” Her voice is laced with heavy sarcasm, which doesn’t escape Ace.
“The missed appointments,” he responds flatly while taking his seat. “As you know, extended periods of absence make me nervous.” Butterfly nods.
“Well, don’t worry. I’m not hunting great whites,” she responds. What the hell does that mean? “I’m sorry that I put you through that. It wasn’t intentional.” Ace looks somewhat side-eyed at her.
“Do you want to tell me what was going on? Are you okay?” he presses.
“My husband left me.” The words just jump out of her mouth like “We’re having chicken for dinner.” I try not to tense up at her stoic tone, though I know she’s anything but.
“Oh,” Ace says, looking from me to Butterfly. “Maybe this is a bad time, then…”
“No, you’re here because you care, and I appreciate that,” she says shifting her leg, obviously uncomfortable.
That makes two of us.
While she and Ace talk, I make quick work of moving the table closer to Ace and away from Butterfly. I move one of the armchairs in front of her and layer it with pillows. I chance lifting her ankle—touching her again—and gently placing it elevated on the chair and pillows. She winces when I touch her, but I soon realize that she’s wincing from the pain.
“You don’t… look like you fell off a cliff,” Ace says while Butterfly continues to wince in pain. It’s visible the moment the comfort sets in.
“What about painkillers?” I ask cautiously.
“I’m not taking them they taint my milk,” she says in one breath without raising her eyes to me. So, all the time she’s been in pain, she hasn’t taken any painkillers. That’s a double stab. “I fell off the cliff sometime last week,” she says to Ace. “Tuesday or Wednesday, I think. Maybe Friday… I don’t remember.”
“That’s a long time, Ana,” Ace observes. “You should be much better by now.”
“Well, I would be, but in a mad dash to not quite make it to the restroom, I leapt out of bed and tweaked it again. So, here I sit, in pain and irritable and really just wanting to go back to sleep.”
“You should really take something for the pain,” I press.
“I can’t they make my milk sour and my children won’t nurse.” She says it again all in one breath as if speaking to me is a task.
“Would you like a session?” Ace says. “Or not…”
“No, you’ve come all this way. We should at least talk,” she says to him. Ace looks at me expecting, silently asking me to give them privacy.
“If she doesn’t mind, I’d like to stay,” I say, humbly. I’ve been home for days and we haven’t talked, and it has to start somewhere. We both look at Butterfly who doesn’t react.
“I don’t care,” she says, impassively. “He can stay if he wants. I have nothing to hide.”
And another jab—whether or not it was supposed to be, I’m not sure, but it was. Ace nods.
“Okay, where would you like to start?” he asks.
“I have no idea,” she says.
“How about why you cancelled your sessions,” he presses.
“Because I didn’t want to talk about it,” she says without hesitation. “Because I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want anyone to know that my husband had left me; because talking about it meant that it was real and I didn’t want to hear myself say it. I didn’t want to discuss it or give it life. It was alive and burning inside of me—day after day, all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain, and talking about it wasn’t going to help.” Her eyes stay planted on her swollen, aching foot.
“I didn’t leave you,” I say, almost inaudibly. I don’t know if she heard me, but Ace did.
“What made you think Christian left you?” Ace asks.
“He wasn’t here,” she says flatly. “I was here. I was in this house taking care of our children, for days… weeks…” She starts to rub her leg as if she could feel new pain radiating up from her ankle. “I was here, and he wasn’t. No one knew where he was and if they did, they wouldn’t tell me. No one told me, so I didn’t talk to anyone.”
“Ana, it sounds like you think everyone else knew where Christian went and you were the only one who didn’t,” Ace says. She doesn’t answer. Oh, God, is that what she thought… that everyone was conspiring against her and she was the only one who didn’t know where I was?
“Did you think they knew where Christian was while he was gone?” Ace asks the question burning in my head.
“I didn’t think anything, Ace,” she says with the same cold indifference she’s had throughout the entire conversation. “I was in some of the most excruciating pain of my life and if I was thinking anything at all it was, ‘get up, relieve myself, turn on the shower, get in, use soap, lather my body, lather my hair, rinse, lather my hair again, rinse…” She recites her day in detail while Ace listens like it’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever heard. It is for me, because she outlines every single step, including…
“Eat so that my babies could eat…”
“Stare aimlessly out some window…”
“Sit in the nursery and wait for my babies to wake up…”
“Go to bed and pretend to go to sleep…”
“Watch the sun come up from whatever window I’m staring out of at sunrise…”
“Get up and repeat.”
Again, the entire story recited with cold indifference like she’s giving a police debriefing about directing traffic. I sigh. What was the purpose of this exercise? Was I trying to put her through what she put me through when she went to Montana? If so, why? We had gotten past that and there was no point to be made, so why repeat the pain? Was the sadist in me coming out to prove to her that I could hurt her as much as she hurt me?
I never talked to Dr. Baker once while I was gone, never tried to work through any of my feelings or thoughts… I just left and worked, broke all communication and worked. I only thought about what I saw with her and Westwick as I was leaving Helping Hands, as I was drinking, as we boarded the plane, as I vomited my guts in the bathroom on the jet. It’s all I dreamed about that first night during the long flight to Madrid. When her name came up on my phone, I only knew that I didn’t want to talk to her. When I finally blocked her calls, it was because I wanted to focus and not think of her. Once I blocked her calls, I didn’t think of her and Westwick once—not once—until I felt the helplessness of not being able to save those teenagers being loaded onto that truck.
The conversation goes on for a while without my attention, Butterfly talking about nothing in particular. Her voice is monotoned and the only time she talks about what she was feeling is when she described the “all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain” that hung on day after day after day and the description of her day that involved lots and lots and lots of crying.
“I went to Madrid,” I say finally. I don’t know why I say it at this moment. I think… or I thought… I may have heard something about her still not knowing where I was. “There’s a factory and a hotel based there that were part of an acquisition in progress. I used the opportunity to liaise with the boards of directors and tour the properties.”
“Opportunity…” she says, like she’s testing the word, but says nothing else.
“Ana,” Ace says after a long pause, “Christian says he didn’t leave you. What do you think of that?”
Another long pause…
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she says, flatly. “Windsor!” That last word is the most emotion she’s shown since Ace first got here.
“You’re never going to resolve what’s going on between you two if you don’t talk it out,” Ace warns. She still says nothing until Windsor enters the room.
“Can you please look in the closet of my bedroom and get my crutches?” Her bedroom. She plans on staying there, even though I’m home.
“There’s obvious tension between you two,” Ace continues after Windsor nods and leaves the room. “I’ve never seen this much animosity between you two in all the time I’ve known you. I’ve only seen love and respect even when you’re angry with one another. I’m afraid that you’re standing on the precipice and if you don’t talk this out, the damage could be irreparable.”
“Please, Butterfly,” I add, and she flinches again.
“The time for talking was before you left… or when I left you twenty messages begging you to call me or come home so we could work this out, right before you blocked my calls. I’m having a hard time finding my words now.”
It’s the first time I hear a twinge of emotion in her tone, but it’s gone as quickly as it comes. She and Ace say a few more words and I show Ace to the door.
“I won’t hide the fact that I was concerned that this may be a case of domestic abuse, which is why I had to see her for myself,” he says when I walk him to the door. I never even considered that he thought that. I frown deeply.
“You thought I hit my wife?” I ask, my voice low and menacing.
“I had no answers and I had to allow for every eventuality. Then I saw that she was injured, and that only fueled my suspicions. Be angry with me if you want, but my first obligation is to my patient, especially if I think she’s in a dangerous situation… and she is, and so are you.”
Somehow, I don’t think he’s talking about domestic abuse anymore.
“She never got to tell me what caused the hiatus of yours.” I push my hands through my hair.
“I walked in on her kissing… about to kiss another man.” Ace’s expression changes to horrified surprise. I shake my head. “No… no, let me…” I roll my eyes. “He was about to kiss her, but…” For the first time, I replay the scene in my head as describe it to Ace.
I walk into the room and see my wife and a man sitting on a sofa. She’s looking into his eyes and he’s gazing at her, gently caressing her cheek. Everything is moving in slow motion, even slower than his lean into her to eventually press his lips against hers. I see a red haze before me and I want to kill him.
He’s going to kiss my Butterfly… my Butterfly! And she’s not resisting!
Rage flows through my body and I barely register… only just this moment… that at the last minute, she puts both hands on his chest and halts his movement.
“No,” she says, “I’ve told you. I’m married.”
I’m already barreling towards them in blind fury, intent on pummeling this man within an inch of his life, but as I get to him, Butterfly jumps between us… she’s protecting him, telling me that she has this under control and instructing me to leave.
Leave… she wants me to leave…
So, that’s what I did.
I tell Jason to get the jet ready for an immediate overseas flight. It only took a few moments to decide where I was going as I was already working on the acquisitions in question. I went home, waited for Jason to pack and say goodbye to his wife and daughter, and was gone before she got there. I didn’t even say goodbye to my own children. I spent hours in the airport’s private lounge waiting for the plane and pilots to be ready. We almost didn’t have a flight attendant, but I didn’t care.
Leave… she wants me to leave… she wants me to leave…
So, I left.
Ace sighs when I finish my story.
“I hope you two work this out soon,” he says and turns to leave.
“Wait a minute,” I say, “I’ve told you why I left and what I felt and that’s all you have to say?” He turns back to me.
“Let me ask you this,” he says. “What if you had come home and Chuck hadn’t caught her from falling off that cliff? What if you had come back and your wife was seriously injured, crippled, or worse—dead? What if she never recovers from what she’s feeling now? What if she can never find her words and you can never get your relationship back together? What if you look up and one day you find her willingly in the arms of someone else, because this one sounds like she stopped him and told him that she was married. And it doesn’t sound like she was protecting him; it sounds like she was protecting you. Didn’t you two meet because of anger management classes that kept you out of jail?”
Shit! I forgot all about that.
“If she was protecting him, she would have sent him away to talk to him later. She had to wrap up what was happening with him right there and then and she couldn’t do that with you charging at him like a bull. She was going to talk to you later… until you cut her off. The two of you have huge abandonment issues and the minute things get too tough to bear, that’s exactly what you do to each other. You deflect her attempts at contact and she gets wine drunk. She tells you to go to hell until she wants you to come back and you don’t eat for five days. You postpone the wedding and she runs to Montana. You see an advance by another man—a spurned advance, I might add—and you run off to Madrid, and she damn near falls off a cliff. I thought you all covered these bases in marriage counseling—how you would handle it if one of you thought the other was unfaithful or if either of you had an inclination towards someone else. You’re not doing a very good job.
“You know as much as I do that when she told you to leave that she didn’t mean for you to get on a plane and fly to Madrid, leaving her with no explanation or no idea if you were coming back to your family. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the two of you, but I thought you had love locked down. It looks like the only thing you two are skilled at is abandoning each other at the worst possible times, because Christian, right now, she is gone… and I don’t know if you’re going to get her back.”
He glares at me for a moment, unapologetic, and proceeds to the door.
“I’ve breeched many confidences during this conversation with you, but it’s only because I’m concerned. If she wants to fire me and report me to the board, I understand.” I shake my head.
“That won’t happen,” I assure him. He doesn’t respond.
“Tell her to call me if she wants to talk, but I’m not sure there’s much else that I can do.” As he leaves through the front door, Windsor passes me in the grand entry with Butterfly’s crutches.
“Ana,” I hear her say, and realize that the two-way must have chimed in the living room. I hear our children cooing through the speaker system as I return to the room. Windsor is helping her to her feet and she winces in pain as she tries to balance on the crutches.
“I hate these things,” I hear her murmur, as she tries to adjust to the crutches. Had I been here, she would never have to use crutches. I would carry her everywhere. Hell, had I been here, she never would have fallen in the first place. She wouldn’t have been drunk on that cliff. She won’t let me touch her and when she has no choice, or I touch her before she can protest, she flinches and stiffens
I move over to where Windsor is standing, and he immediately steps aside. I look at Butterfly who refuses to make eye-contact with me while she pretends not to struggle while adjusting the crutches. I steady her petite body with one arm behind her back, move the crutch closest to me and hand it back to Windsor, and scoop her up in my arms before she has the opportunity to protest. The second crutch falls uselessly onto the floor and she lie in my arms like a wet rag, one hand placed over the other in her lap. Windsor follows behind me with her crutches as I carry her up the winding staircase.
“My children,” she protests when I turn the opposite direction from the nursery towards the guest room where she has set up shop.
“I’ll have them brought to you,” I say without breaking my stride. When we get to her room, I place her gently on the bed. I prop her swollen ankle up on another pillow before instructing Windsor to tell Gail to bring my wife her children… and an ice pack for her ankle. She says nothing; she just rubs her leg, low near her ankle.
Several moments of silence pass before Gail and Keri bring the children to us with the accompanying bottles for feeding time. She reaches for Mikey, who—as I have discovered—hasn’t had much breast time because Minnie always beats him to it. Keri puts Minnie in my arms and they leave without another word except for Gail to tell us that she’ll be back with the ice pack. My wife gently caresses our son’s mahogany hair and she looks as if her life begins and ends in his little eyes as he hungrily nurses. I’m feeling guilty for the small twinge of jealousy that I feel that she used to look at me that way so effortlessly. When she looked into my eyes yesterday after I kissed her, there was that longing… that familiar yearning in her eyes. I knew all was not lost, but… what do we do to get back what we had?
Mikey is nearly finished nursing both breasts and I have fed, burped, and changed my daughter and cooed her to sleep before Gail finally returns. I want to ask her what took so goddamn long, but she answers my question with a stainless-steel cooler in her hand.
“Chuck says you should use this,” she says. “It’s a cryotherapy unit. It’s intense cooling therapy and it’s going to be really uncomfortable for the first minute or so, but he says once you get used to it, you’ll never want to take it off… but you’ll have to or else you’ll freeze your veins.”
I frown at the double explanation she just gave and Butterfly looks just as confused.
“Let me explain,” Gail says as she puts the cooler on the floor. “Christian, can you help me?”
I put Minnie in her napper and follow Gail’s instructions. I gently lift Butterfly’s foot and leg, allowing Gail to wrap some kind of cold pad wrap around her ankle.
“This is filled with ice water,” she says, pointing to the cooler. “The cold water circulates through these tubes and through tubes in this pad to help with the swelling and discomfort around your ankle. You know how ice packs might feel uncomfortable and cause an ice burn if they sit on your skin?”
“Yes,” Butterfly nods.
“You won’t have that with this because the water is constantly circulating,” she says. “You’ll feel that discomfort right at the beginning, but the ice will soon give you a bit of a numbing feeling and you won’t feel the pain. That’s why he said you shouldn’t leave it on for too long because it can do damage.”
“Well, how long should she leave it on?” I ask. It’s going to give her great comfort, but she can’t wear it?
“Start with fifteen minutes and see if you’re comfortable,” she says to Butterfly. “If you’re still comfortable, then you can leave it on for half an hour to forty-five minutes, but then you should turn it off for a while to see how you’re doing—at least five or ten minutes, preferably more if you’re not in too much pain.” She turns her gaze to me. “If she falls asleep in it, turn it off.”
“I can hardly see myself falling asleep with cold water running around my ankle,” Butterfly protests.
“Chuck assures me that you will,” she says. “Christian, take Michael please. I don’t want any casualties when I turn this thing on.” I take Mikey and put him in his napper, hurriedly coming back to Butterfly’s side.
“This is how you turn it on and off; this is how you adjust it,” Gail says, showing us the controls. “Are you ready?” she asks Butterfly. She nods, and Gail turns the power on. At first, there’s no reaction from Butterfly, but a few moments later, she sucks in a large hiss. A few moments after that, she’s nearly crawling backwards on the bed.
“Shit shit shit shit shit!” she proclaims in quick succession as the coldness surrounds her ankle. She’s fighting to keep still and grimacing at her ankle.
“Turn it off!” I demand, unable to withstand the discomfort on her face.
“Wait a second,” Gail protests. “Chuck said it takes a minute, but it’ll help her. It’s much more effective than an ice pack… even my alcohol packs.” I watch as Butterfly continues to grimace looking at the pad on her ankle like it’s some kind of flesh-eating amoeba sucking the blood through her skin.
“Fuck!” she exclaims, several moments later.
“Turn it off! It’s not getting any better.” I move towards the cooler and Gail puts herself between me and the apparatus, putting her hand up defiantly to stop me.
“Dr. Grey,” she says to me, a bit perturbed, “will you please give this device an opportunity to do its job before you proclaim it ineffectualness?” She glares at me, daring me to move forward and I’m having one of those Jason Taylor “you’re fired” moments. “Ana, how are you doing?” she says.
Butterfly gasps and relaxes her arms that were holding her off the bed moments ago. She settles a bit on the bed, taking in deeper breaths now.
“It’s better,” she says, her voice shallow, “It’s feeling better.”
“Good. Give it a few more moments and you should be feeling relief.” She nods, but still looks uncomfortable. I can’t believe she wouldn’t take the pain pills. We have enough breast milk frozen to feed an entire hospital nursery. She’s worse than Chuck and his AA concerns to go through this kind of pain. Could this be why it’s taking the ankle so long to heal? That’s what it was with Chuck. If this thing will give her any relief, I’ll get one in every fucking room.
“Ana… how about now?” Gail asks as the discomfort starts to leave Butterfly’s face and she begins to relax.
“Better,” she breathes. “Much better.”
“Is it giving your relief, or you can just tolerate the cold?” Gail asks.
“A little bit of both,” she says. “The throbbing pain was replaced with the unearthing cold, but once the cold started to settle down, the pain didn’t come back. So, yeah, it’s good,” she nods.
“Thank you,” she says, then turns to me and gestures to the seat over by my children. “Dr. Grey, if you will.” I roll my eyes at her.
“You’re picking up bad habits from your husband,” I say as I take my seat and check on my sleeping son and daughter. They’re getting a lot bigger, too big for their nappers. It’s time to bring out the second Pack-n-Play.
A/N: For those of you who have strong opinions on how this segment should end… sorry, but it was written months ago and I’m not changing it, so you just have to sit tight and wait it out. If you’re disappointed, angry, or disenchanted with the outcome, can’t help you there.
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