Raising Grey: Chapter 45—Doing What Must Be Done

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 45—Doing What Must Be Done

ANASTASIA

True to his word—and probably out of a sense of duty—Christian comes to the connection room with me in the morning and tries to meditate, which is probably the reason that it doesn’t work.

“It’s no use, Butterfly,” he says, interrupting me ten minutes into my meditation. “It’s not helping.” I sigh.

He’s sitting cross-legged lotus style in front of me. I move to sit in front of him in the same position.

“Are you comfortable?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, almost sarcastically.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Work and us and the twins and…”

“That’s your problem,” I tell him. “That’s not meditating.”

“It’s so quiet!” he says, somewhat whiney. “When I try to clear my mind, a million thoughts pop up. Our trip to Detroit, having to deal with Freeman, what color is the sky…” I think he threw that last one in there to be sarcastic. “It’s the same as when I was trying to do it before. The only difference was that then, the quiet let the monsters in.” I move closer to him until our knees touch.

“Give me your hands,” I instruct him. He dutifully gives me his hands. “Now breathe with me… slowly. Slow deep breath in, fill your lungs completely…” I take in a deep breath. “Now count slowly to yourself as you exhale through your mouth.” He blows his breath out a little fast, so I have to instruct him a little more.

“Make an ‘o’ with your lips and exhale soft and slow, like you’re blowing on a dandelion. Count at least three seconds.”

“I’ve never blown a dandelion,” he protests.

“Okay, pretend like you’re blowing something else,” I say. I thought of gently blowing out a candle. I can tell by his facial expression where his mind goes.

Figures.

“In through your nose, deep breath,” I coach again. “Out through your mouth…”

Of course, it’s perfect this time, and I have to fight the visual of him blowing on my clit.

“In through your nose, out through your mouth… In… Out…” Once I see that he’s gotten the hang of the breathing, I move to the next step.

“Now, close your eyes and calm your breathing,” I tell him. “Breathe normally, but still feel the good air coming in, and the bad air going out. Concentrate on that serene feeling of cleansing and freedom.”

I can see when the serenity hits him. His face softens, and his shoulders relax. His breath becomes more and more even and a few moments later, he sinks into a complete sense of calm.

I don’t release his hands. I just sit there with him, close my eyes and finish my meditation.

Several minutes later, I stretch my neck and come out of my meditation. I open my eyes to see Christian still sitting across from me, still breathing, still relaxing. I gently stroke his hand with my thumb so as not to startle him too much. He slowly opens his lids, and cool, gray irises look back at me.

“How was that?” I ask. His eyes shift for a moment, then he breathes again and nods.

“Good, actually,” he replies. “Better than the last time. My mind still wandered every now and then, though.”

“That’s okay,” I tell him. “Meditation is about focus, but the silence tends to make you focus on the wrong things. We’ll try this a bit and see if it works for you, then we’ll try some more advanced techniques. Tell me, how do you feel?”

“More… relaxed,” he says as if searching for the word, “like thinking isn’t such a trial. Maybe ‘trial’ is the wrong word…” He trails off.

“I think you’re getting it,” I say, rewarding him with a sweet smile. His expression is soft, though he doesn’t smile. I gaze into his eyes and see a myriad of emotions there, things that I know he can’t verbalize. Last night at the lake was the first time I’ve ever seen my husband so sadly and desperately passionate about anything. If there was another time, it’s been erased by the accident. Even Montana didn’t have him this passionate or openly maudlin, that he showed me. The Elliot misunderstanding was certainly maudlin, but not this passionate. This time…

God, we’ve been through so much in such a brief period of time, and goddammit, we’re both amateurs! My only gauge is a psychopathic cheating ex who eventually hanged himself in a jail cell. Christian has no prior gauge at all. Some days, I wonder how we make it out alive.

At first, I think it’s my imagination, but I realize the space is closing between us… like in slow motion. The emotions prevalent in his eyes now are longing and, I think, hope.

Kiss me…

He doesn’t say it, but I hear it. I release his hands and take his face gently in mine. Closing the space between us, I press tender kisses on his lips, closing my eyes and feeling the softness. I slant my mouth over his and deepen the kiss only slightly, and he slides his hands around my waist. I push my hands into his hair and massage his scalp with my fingertips. He pulls me to my knees while rising to his own and envelops me in his arms, pulling me closer to his body.

We taste one another, slowly and gently, and I feel our connection—like it was before Madrid… and Liam. I feel my Christian, my lover and my protector, and I chance the moment of feeling safe and loved in his arms, like we used to be. He pulls slightly away from me and looks into my eyes.

“We… should get our day started,” he says, his voice soft, but raspy. “There’s a lot we need to do.”

“Yeah,” I say, gently brushing his uncut hair off his forehead. We share another gaze before he rubs his nose against mine and I reciprocate with another gentle kiss to his lips.

Crawling…

He lifts me effortlessly from the floor and places me gently on my feet. He takes my hand and leads me out of the connection room.

“I’m going to work from home today,” he says as he closes the secret door, “get some things settled for the trip to Detroit. Leave the twins here. I’d like to spend some time with them.” I smile. He’s been quite the doting father since his return. He was attentive before. I mean, he never neglected them except for his momentary check-out after Burt died and then this time—going off to Madrid and not seeing or speaking to them for weeks. I’m sure that he wants to make up for lost time, but he has his whole life to do that, as long as he doesn’t continue to do that check out thing when times get tough.

Try to think positive, Dr. Grey. It’s all you’ve got right now.

“I need to go to the Center, but I won’t be gone long,” I tell him. “I’d like to spend some time with them, too.” He smiles at me and releases my hand before going off to his bathroom. There’s still a small rift between us, but we’re working on it. I just want things to be the way that they were before Liam darkened our door.

Liam…

I swear to God, if I ever see that guy again, I’ll nail him square in the balls!

*-*

“No, we’re not going, dear,” Grace says to me while we’re sitting in my makeshift office. My office is being painted for my self-funded remodel. “Unfortunately, it’s too short notice. The Center will once again be without administration and I also have my shifts at the hospital. I couldn’t go if I tried. And Luma has a job, too, though I’m sure her generous boss would be willing to give her time off for this,” she says playfully. I often forget that Luma works for Christian. I just see her as family.

“Nonetheless,” Gail continues, “she has the girls to tend to. She needs to get them off to school in the morning and such. I do wish we could go, but to be honest, Christian is the one that’s going to need the moral support. Detroit was home to Carrick and Herman. Their worst memories are probably of Freeman, and they can handle that. Christian, on the other hand…”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but she doesn’t have to. The monsters of Motown are often still chasing my husband during his darkest hours.

“I sincerely wonder what made him agree to go to Detroit in the first place,” she continues. “I certainly know that Carrick wouldn’t have asked him. We’re both only too aware of the horrible impact that place has had on him.”

“If I know my husband like I think I do, he just wants to be there to support his father,” I reply. “Don’t worry, Grace. He’ll be okay. I’ll keep my eye on him.” She sighs and shakes her head.

“You know how it is, dear,” she says, looking at her feet, “or at least you will. You never stop worrying about them no matter how old they get or how successful they become.” I squeeze her hand.

“Let’s go look at my office space,” I say, changing the subject. “I hear the painting is just about done and I can tell you what I’ve got planned…”

I’m delighted to find that the painting is completely finished, but unfortunately, it’s not dry yet. No matter, the furniture isn’t set to be delivered until Monday anyway as I was certain that the painting wouldn’t be done until then. Once we moved the furniture out, I realized that there was much more space in there than I thought. So, I’ve decided to make the office into two distinct spaces—a sitting area and the office area. The “office” portion is painted two tones of yellow, both muted, and the “Zen” sitting area is covered in a textured gray wallpaper. I wouldn’t have thought the two would go together, but when I looked at the furnishings that I chose, they were both the perfect choices to blend and separate the offices at the same time. Tongue and groove wood flooring will be laid over the weekend to finish things off.

“It’s going to be pretty minimalist,” I tell Grace as she’s eying the two separate colors of the room. “The need for change is prominent in my life right now… for obvious reasons.”

“Mmm,” Grace says in contemplation looking around the office. Does she not like the colors?

“What is it?” I ask.

“Oh, nothing, it just… This made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve changed my office,” she says. “It’s never been a priority. I came here, I did what I did, and I left. I’m only just realizing how much time I spend in that room.” She looks at me. “My office at the hospital is pretty cozy—warm and inviting. My space here looks like the principal’s office! I was so dead set against using any outside funds for the Center that I didn’t think about using my own funds for my personal space.” She turns to me. “Even though I’m only here on a part-time basis, it’s still something like 20 – 25% of my life.” I gesture around my empty office.

“You don’t have to convince me,” I point out. “I’m here more than you are, but then, I don’t have a full-time job either. How long has it been since you’ve updated the space?” She folds her arms and leans against the outside door jam.

“Like… never.” I just look at her. “Yes, I think it’s definitely time for a change,” and I can see the wheels turning.

“Grace, have you spoken to John?” I ask. He’s been MIA and mute for months now, even before Pops died. Exactly what’s going on with his son?

“Yes, I did,” she says, and her voice turns somber. “I’m not sure he’ll be coming back, dear.” My eyes widen.

“Why not?” I ask. “What happened?”

“His son is very sick,” she says. “I told you that he contracted something when they went home a while back. Well, the doctors here were no good in diagnosing what it was. They kept treating the flu and he kept getting worse—knocking on death’s door, in fact. So, they took him to a doctor overseas. They began treating him and he began to show improvement. What’s more is that they were able to isolate the virus. It’s a coronavirus that behaves a lot like SARS…”

“Were they treating him for SARS?” I ask.

“They weren’t treating him for anything because they thought it was the flu,” she replies. “You don’t treat the flu. You treat the symptoms and wait until it passes. When it didn’t pass, they started treating him for pneumonia. He was getting marginally better, but you’re looking at a virus, not an infection. That’s when John and Rhian decided to take him overseas. Too much time had gone by and he wasn’t showing enough improvement. Long story short, after lots and lots of brutal testing and agonizingly long nights, he’s been diagnosed with MERS.” I frown.

“What the hell is MERS?” I ask. I may need to do some continuing education for this one.

“Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome,” she says. My frown deepens. It’s sounds just like SARS.

“Is this something somebody made up?” I ask. “I swear, this sounds like somebody trying to get into a medical journal or something, and they’re using this kid to do it.”

“Well, he’s not the first case. In fact, several people have died from it over the last two years.”

“But you said he went to England,” I protest. “How can a kid who went to England contract something from the Middle East? Did they visit Iran, too? And why do they name illnesses after regions? It makes it sound like the entire area is infected.”

60662cdbb617d5bbbfb4c15950e146c6The West Nile Virus and the German Measles immediately come to mind. I’m seeing the old pictures in my head of children singing Ring Around the Rosie during the time of the Black Death. I know those origins are questionable, but the impact is just as strong as the uncertainty around this MERS thing.

“There were cases if it across parts of Britain as well,” she says. “It’s not unheard of that John’s son could have contracted it.”

“Well, what’s different about MERS? Why not just call it what it is? It’s SARS.”

“I’m not completely versed on this, dear, but the virus is a different mutation. It doesn’t spread as quickly as SARS, but it can be deadly nonetheless.” I sigh. It frustrates me when I can’t clearly understand things.

“Okay, so, that still doesn’t tell me why John’s not coming back,” I say.

“Well, the government won’t let his son back into the country until he’s well.” Now, I’m appalled.

“What?!” I nearly roar. “He’s an American citizen! Wasn’t he born here?”

“Yes, but he has a very aggressive strain of a disease that we’re not really schooled on yet, and if they have advanced knowledge and feel like he’s going to infect other ‘citizens,’ the government and the CDC can deny him re-entry. As a result, John is discontent with the United States right now and is questioning his intent to return.” I shake my head in disgust.

“I’d be discontent, too, if I were him,” I say. It’s not that John is one of my favorite people, but we’re talking about watching your son suffer, then being told that you can’t return to the land of the free and the home of the brave because someone slapped a label on what he has and they’re still discovering what’s under this label. I still think it’s SARS, but I’m not qualified enough to say.

“Have you told Christian?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I only just found out… this morning, in fact. I was going to tell you, but you asked me first, so…” She trails off.

“I’ll tell him,” I say. “I won’t spring it on him yet with the lovely trip that we have ahead of us, but I’ll find the right time.” He considers John a friend, so he would definitely want to know.

*-*

“Help!” I hear Christian declare. “I’m being baby-mangled!”

I follow Minnie’s maniacal giggles to find my family. Christian is on the floor on his back, dramatically pretending to struggle to get free of a smiling and drooling Mikey, who’s on his hands and knees on top of Christian, pounding his flat hands on his father’s chest. Minnie is sitting up on a blanket nearby surrounded by pillows, bouncing and laughing hysterically at her brother and her father. I quietly take out my phone and begin recording.

“This looks like the end for King Christian,” my husband says in a narrating voice. “The Incredible Mikey has him subdued with no hope of escape!”

“No! No!” he continues, changing his voice to remain in character. “I’ll never yield!”

“Try though he might…” the narrator is back, “King Christian cannot defeat the Incredible Mikey. He tries one last tactic—the Terror Tickle!” Christian tickles his son and Mikey bursts into joyous laughter, his sister following suit for no particular reason whatsoever as she launches a plush toy across the pillow fort that connects with Christian’s tickle hand. Christian throws a mock-horrified look at his daughter.

“Hey!” he protests. “That’s outside interference! Whose side are you on?”

I have to cover my mouth to keep from bursting into laughter. Mikey’s hard guffaws result in a healthy amount of drool leaking onto Christian’s shirt.

“Uuuuugghh!” he exclaims. “The Toxic Droll Attack! I’m done for!”

I’m nearly choking on air over here. I can barely hold my phone straight.

“That’s it, ladies and gentlemen,” the narrator says, “King Christian is throwing in the towel, which he needs now for the toxic baby drool…”

Oh, dear Lord, help me.

My husband uses a burping cloth to clean the drool from Mikey’s mouth and as much of it as he can from his shirt before declaring the Incredible Mikey the new babyweight world champion. He stands to his feet, lifting his son in the air and presenting him as the new champion, spinning around and imitating crowd cheering sounds…

And then he sees me and stops in his tracks.

I’m finally able to release the laughter I’d been choking on ever since I started recording. My husband twists his lips.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asks, acting perturbed.

“Ever since you cried about being baby-mangled,” I tease. His expression doesn’t do anything to curb my laughter. “Do you realize how hard it is to take that stern look seriously while you have drool on your shirt and that adorable baby in your hands?”

He looks at his shirt, then at Mikey.

“She doesn’t understand how hard this Daddy thing can be,” he says to Mikey, “but that’s okay. You get me, don’t you?” I chuckle as I stop recording.

“It can’t be any harder than being the milk-producing snack bitch for two little people,” I laugh. Christian frowns.

“Oh, Butterfly, that sounds terrible,” he laments. I laugh it off.

“Well, it’s true,” I say, grabbing my swollen boobs. “Have they eaten?”

“They have, in fact,” he says, “maybe about an hour ago.”

“In that case, I have a date with a breast pump… and you might want to stop swinging the babyweight champion around or he might give you back his lunch.” Christian looks at Mikey who only laughs at his father.

“That might be a good idea,” he says, securing his son in his arms.

“Ms. Solomon is there anything ready that I can eat?” I ask as I’m passing through the kitchen. “I skipped lunch and just came home.”

“What are you in the mood for?” she asks, opening the Sub-Zero.

“Anything quick and dead,” I tell her. When I’m hungry, I’ll inhale whatever’s in that refrigerator. Ms. Solomon laughs.

“Give me fifteen minutes,” she says. “I’ll put something together for you.”

It only takes a few minutes this time to empty my pounding tits and change into some genie pants and a wrap shirt. I take a few moments to myself to meditate and re-center before I go back downstairs to join my family.

A heavenly smell greets me as I bend the corner from the hallway to the dining room, causing me to nearly sprint to the kitchen.

“My God, what did you do?” I ask when I see the spread on the breakfast bar.

“Nothing,” Ms. Solomon says, “Glorified grilled cheese and tomato soup.” She has a place set at the breakfast bar with a steaming bowl of creamy tomato soup. I sit at the breakfast bar and she sets a plate next to the bowl with the grilled cheese sandwich that she made—thick slices of bread with oregano and parsley grilled with Canadian bacon, Monterey Jack cheese… and something yellow. I bite into the heavenly creation and realize that it’s a slice of pineapple. I never would have thought to put that combination together, but it’s absolutely delicious!

“What made you think of this combination?” I say, rudely talking with my mouth full as she puts a cranberry spritzer down next to me.

“My stepmother was Samoan,” she says. “She used to make them for me and my brothers all the time.” I nod and take another healthy bite of my sandwich.

“Damn, what smells so good?” Christian comes into the kitchen and sees my sandwich. “Can I have a bite?”

“Touch my food and you’ll pull back a nub!” I exclaim, still chomping on Canadian bacon and pineapple. Holy cow, Batman, this is delicious. Christian actually looks at me in surprised horror. Ms. Solomon laughs.

“Sit down, Mr. Grey,” she chuckles. “Five minutes.” She turns around and gets to work on his sandwich.

“What happened to what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine?” he says while taking a seat next to me at the breakfast bar. I swallow the bite of heaven that I’m chewing.

“She’s fixing yours,” I say, as I take a spoonful of the creamiest tomato soup I’ve ever tasted. I groan in satisfaction and he tries to take my sandwich again. I smack his hand so fast and so hard that he snatches it back swiftly.

“Ow!” he exclaims. “Okay! I believe you!”

“You better,” I say, taking another spoonful of my soup and groaning again in satisfaction.

“Here, sir,” Ms. Solomon says, sitting a bowl of soup in front of him. “Work on that while I finish your sandwich. I don’t want to be responsible for any death or dismemberment.” I chuckle as Christian picks up his spoon and tastes the soup.

“This is delicious!” he says taking another spoonful. “Tomato bisque?” Ms. Solomon shrugs.

“I guess you could call it bisque,” she says. “I use different ingredients, though.”

“Another recipe from your stepmom?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, from my mom, before she passed away.” I get quiet. I don’t know anything about hers or Windsor’s family, but I just didn’t think to assume that her mother was dead.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be,” she replies, waving me off as she flips Christian’s sandwich. “It was a long time ago.” Christian tastes some more of his soup.

“This is so good,” he croons, taking spoonful after spoonful of the soup. I’m glad he likes it, so he can leave my damn sandwich alone.

“I’m glad you like it,” Ms. Solomon says, plating and slicing his sandwich before putting it in front of him. “What would you like to drink?” He looks over at my spritzer.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” he says before taking a huge bite of his sandwich. “Mmm… mm, mm, mm…” He chews the sandwich hungrily like a savage, so much so that I have to stop eating to observe the spectacle. He pays me no attention as he devours his food.

“I knew it would taste good,” he says, taking another monstrous bite that annihilates half of the half of sandwich that he had in his hand. I shake my head and tuck back into my food. It’s silent in the kitchen for about three minutes and then it dawns on me.

“Where are the twins?” I ask between bites of food.

“Still in the family room,” he says. “They’re safe in their Pack-n-Plays watching television. Keri’s in there with them.” He has already gobbled down half his sandwich—in three bites! And he wanted a piece of mine. I don’t think so, Hungry Jack!

“Is it safe to approach?”

Christian and I both stop eating and turn our heads to the voice coming from nowhere. Elliot is hiding behind one of the marble columns and all we see is his arm and a white handkerchief waving in the air.

“You tattled on me to my father, you fucking snitch,” Christian scolds. “I should kick your ass, you pussy.”

“Hey, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay,” he excuses. “You weren’t giving me any information and you looked like shit. No offense, but so did you, Montana.”

“Thanks,” I say sarcastically as I’m finishing off my soup.

“And now, you insult my wife. Don’t you have a home, now? Hell, for that matter, don’t you have a fucking job?” Christian snaps.

“I could say the same thing to you,” he says coming over to the breakfast bar and looking at what’s left of my sandwich. Without making eye-contact with him, I quickly grab what’s left of my sandwich and gobble down the last bite.

“You’re in my house,” Christian retorts. “Don’t ask me why I’m in my house. Why are you here?”

“I was in the neighborhood,” he admits, taking a seat next to Christian and now eying the other half of his sandwich.

“Elliot, so help me, if you touch my sandwich, you’ll leave this house in a body bag.” I look horrified at my husband.

“Damn,” I protest. “I only threatened to maim you.”

“Well, can I have one?” Elliot says. “I’m starving… and you know I’d never take your food.” He rolls his eyes at his brother.

“Well, then, you should have eaten before you got here…” The entire time that they’re sparring, Ms. Solomon has already put another sandwich in the frying pan and started the microwave to rewarm the tomato bisque. I shake my head and take my dishes to the sink.

“I could have done that, Mrs. Grey,” Ms. Solomon says.

“It’s alright,” I say, wiping my hands on a dishtowel.

“Go find lunch somewhere else, you moocher,” Christian says, still antagonizing his brother.

“So, Elliot, you said you were in the neighborhood,” I say, breaking the sparring match. “What were you doing in these parts?”

“Oh, the Miller place,” he says. “Mrs. Miller hasn’t changed anything since her husband died. It’s been ten years and she’s ready for a redo.” Christian finishes his lunch just as Ms. Solomon is putting the soup in front of Elliot.

“Careful, it’s hot,” she says as she takes Christian’s dishes and put them in the sink.

“You’re doing less building and more remodels now, bro?” Christian says.

“No, still doing builds,” he says, blowing a spoonful of soup to cool it. “Gia called me on this one. Said Mrs. Miller saw the pictures of your house on a preview of that show that supposed to be coming on, where you guys did the interview…” I look at Christian.

“I thought we were supposed to approve the showing before they aired it,” I say.

“We are,” he says, pulling out his phone. “Mac… call that woman, Sanchez… we’re hearing through the grapevine that people are seeing previews of our interview and we haven’t approved anything… yeah, my brother’s getting remodel requests because someone’s already seen the inside of my house… I’ll wait for your call.” He ends the call with Vee. “She hasn’t heard anything either. I hope we haven’t made a mistake letting this woman into our lives.”

“I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding,” I say, afraid to let on that I’m thinking the same thing. By now, Ms. Solomon has set yet another of her delectable sandwiches in front of Elliot. He has already dug into it and opted for apple juice. “So, Elliot, who’s Gia?” I ask, trying to change the subject until we hear from Maria.

Elliot was thoroughly enjoying his sandwich but stops mid-chew at the mention of this woman’s name. He looks over at Christian, then back at me.

“She doesn’t know about Gia?” he asks, his mouth full. What’s in this damn sandwich that makes us all forget our manners? Christian shrugs like, “No big deal.”

“Why should I know about Gia?” I ask.

“Elliot used to fuck her,” Christian blurts out before finishing his cranberry spritzer. Elliot quickly swallows his food.

“More importantly,” he retorts, “she did your boat.

Aah, the plot thickens. This is the woman’s touch that I saw all over the Slayer.

“I see,” I say, taking my husband’s glass and walking over to the sink.

“Thanks, Lelliot,” I hear him hiss. “I think I’d like for you to leave now!”

“I just started eating!” Elliot protests quietly. “Besides, you’re the one that blurted out that we used to fuck.”

“Oh, but the fact that Gia did my boat—that needed to be known, right? I don’t talk to the woman anymore, but you’re doing remodeling jobs with her…”

I know exactly what Elliot’s doing. He’s trying to take the focus off himself by casting it on Christian. I know how to deflate that agenda.

“So, Elliot,” I turn back to the bickering brothers, “Gia’s a decorator?” He nods. “And how does Val feel about you working with an ex-girlfriend?” He stops mid-chew again and raises his eyes to me.

“She doesn’t know,” he says after swallowing his food, “and she wasn’t a girlfriend.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea for you to be working with someone whom you’ve previously bedded, and your wife doesn’t know?” I press.

“I’m not screwing the woman now,” he protests. “It’s just a lead. A lead is a lead.”

“So, she’s not working on the remodel with you.” It’s a question formed as a statement.

“Well, yeah, she’s working on the design plans but… I’m not messing around with her…”

“But you used to,” I press. Elliot gets quiet. “Trust me, Elliot, secrets in a relationship can be disastrous.” I look over at Christian, who raises his gaze to me. I know only too well of what I speak. I could have lost my marriage because I didn’t come to my husband when I knew Liam was attracted to me and I still had to work with him.

“Tell her before she finds out from somebody else, like some gossip rag that may see the two of you together at the Miller mansion.”

Before he has the chance to respond, I leave the kitchen and go into the family room with my babies. The topic is a bit too much for me to stomach right now. My mood immediately turns sour and I need little bundles of pink and blue to reverse its affects.


CHRISTIAN

“Nice fucking going, Elliot!” I hiss. “Did you intentionally come over here to upset my wife or do you have a purpose?”

“You know I wasn’t trying to upset her…” His excuse is weak.

“What the fuck were you doing, then?” I counter. “More importantly, she did your boat.” I mock his voice in a very unflattering manner. “I realize that you were in the Caribbean enjoying the sun and surf, but I’m certain that Valerie told you what we just went through.” He slaps his forehead.

“Shit, man, I forgot all about that,” he laments.

“I. Haven’t!” I bark. “I’m still fucking living it! You wanna know why we looked like shit last night? It’s because we were out on the lawn crying over whether we should even continue being married or not!” Elliot’s eyes widen.

“Dude… I’m sorry. I just panicked. The spotlight shined on me and I just… panicked.”

“So, you thought you’d get the heat off you by throwing me under the bus? How’d that work out for you?” I glare at my brother.

“It was a fucked-up thing to do, man,” he admits. “I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” I twist my lip.

“Yeah, whatever.” I stand from the stool. “She’s right. Tell your wife that you used to fuck Gia and that you’re working together. Now, finish your fucking lunch and get the hell out of my house.” I brush past him.

“Christian, really, I’m sorry, man. It was a bonehead…”

“I agree,” I say, interrupting his apology. “I heard you the first time, and I accept your apology, but I can’t talk to you right now. Finish your lunch and leave.”

I turn away from my brother and walk into the family room. My wife is sitting on the floor with a baby on each shoulder. She’s humming softly while simultaneously and masterfully rocking them to sleep. I sit on the sofa next to where she’s sitting on the floor and watch my children contentedly falling asleep on her shoulder as she sings to them. I can’t make out the tune, but they’re slipping comfortably into slumber. I take out my phone and snap a few pictures of my son and daughter lying peacefully on their mother’s shoulder. When she’s certain that they’re asleep, she asks me to help her put them down. We put each of them in their Pack-n-Play. They’ve gotten too big for the nappers. We stand there for a moment, silently looking down into the Pack-n-Plays.

“I… slept with Victoria once,” I blurt out. She turns her gaze to me.

“Victoria who?” she says, and then it hits her. “Vickie?” she asks incredulously. “Courtney’s Vickie? She’s gay!”

“She… was indecisive at the time,” I say.

“Indecisive,” she says in the same incredulous voice, low enough not to wake the twins. “So, you made her realize she was gay?” I roll my eyes.

“No,” I say defensively, “I mean, she was already gay, but I was her last hurrah,” I clarify. I sigh. “I was still Elena’s submissive and I didn’t want a girlfriend, but I was away at college and I wanted to fuck. She wanted one last round. It was a means to and end for us both.” She raises her brow at me but says nothing.

“Elena beat the hell out of me when she found out,” I continue. “I think that was the last real punishment she ever gave me. I resented it. I was young and horny, and she was always there to fulfill that need when I had it. Yet, at college, she wasn’t—so what was I supposed to do?” I sit on the sofa as I recall my short stint at college. Two years. Two agonizing years, the first year I was completely celibate. It was torture.

“She wanted me to be all hot for her when I came home on vacations, and believe me, I was, but this time…”

I recall the not-so-fond memory of telling my Mistress that I had been with someone else…

“What’s going on?” she asks while were having dinner at her estate. “Something’s different.”

“No, Mistress,” I say, trying to hide the truth from her.

“Don’t lie to me, pet,” she purrs… more like growls. “What’s going on?” I sigh. I can’t keep if from her. I couldn’t if I tried.

“I’ve… been with someone… else,” I choke, unable to raise my gaze to my Mistress. There’s a long pause before she responds.

“I see,” she says, putting her wine on the table. “So, I assume you’ll be wanting to end our arrangement.”

“No!” I retort, quickly, raising my eyes to hers but dropping them just as quickly. “No, Mistress, I don’t.”

“You can’t mean that!” she barks. “You’ve been with someone else. You touched someone else without my permission, and you let her touch you! Surely, that means this is not what you want anymore.”

“That’s not true, Mistress,” I say, nearly begging. “I was counting the days to get back to you…”

“While in the arms of another woman!” she scolds viciously. “Then, I had to pull the truth out of you. Would you have even told me?” I nod.

“I would have,” I choke, “eventually. I just… didn’t know how.”

“I’m sure you didn’t!” she hisses, tossing her napkin on the table before standing. I stand as well, just like she taught me. “Go to the playroom. Strip, and wait for me there.”

I listen to her heels click angrily across the marble floor. Son of a motherfucking bitch…

I’m in for it now…

I remember some pretty bad beatings at the end of the Pedophile’s tools, but that was one of the worst. It was awful. Then while my skin was bruised and on fire—broken in some places—she made me fuck her and fuck her until she had enough, commanding me not to come. Then she sent me away, horny and in pain. She didn’t see me for the rest of spring break.

I remember coming home that summer and announcing that I wouldn’t be returning to school. It was a two-fold reason, the main one being that I could do what I needed to do without a Harvard education. The second was her. I was back at school afraid to even look at another girl for fear that Mistress had a bird on a wire somewhere that would fly back to her and tell her what I was doing. I was miserable. I wanted to be back in Seattle with my Mistress, where I could fuck. And I wanted to start my own business.

“How did she end up in Seattle?” Butterfly asks, breaking the silence between us. “Did she follow you?” I shake my head.

“No,” I tell her. “That’s how we connected. We were both from here. She finished her degree and with her business knowledge and her design savvy…” I flourish my hands to demonstrate that Victoria is now exactly where she wants to be.

“Well,” she says, walking over to where I’m sitting and stands in front of me. “You should be more worried about her with me at this point than I should be about her with you.” I shrug. “You told me because of what I said to Elliot?” I raise my eyes to her, then drop them again with a nod.

“It would have come out at one time or another,” I say. “It really didn’t mean anything… to either of us. It was just sex, but it’s better that you hear it from me than you hear it from anyone else.” There’s a short silence.

“And Gia?” she says. I raise my eyes to her. “You were a bachelor before you met me,” she says. “There was no reason for Jack and Jill bathrooms in the master suite. There was no reason for his and hers parlors/saloons when it was just you. The whole place should have been decked out like a bachelor pad, yet there were areas specifically designed with a woman in mind. You’re saying that there was no reason for Gia to think that woman was her?”

“Absolutely not!” I say definitely. “I was under no misconception that she was hopeful of wanting more, but that was by no encouragement from me. With the exception of Victoria in my college years, my only sexual relationships before you were with submissives… and one Domme.” God, I’m glad that part of my life is over.

“Fine,” she says, leaning down taking my hand. “That’s all that needs to be said about this issue. Let’s go get packed for Detroit.” She gives my hand a pull and I rise from the sofa. I look back at our children once more to make sure that they’re asleep and fall in line behind my wife.

Butterfly removes a garment bag and puts three outfits in it with lingerie, accessories, and toiletries. We’re only going to be there overnight—why is she packing so much?

“Is that, like, a rule with women or something? Pack enough clothes for a long weekend when we’re only staying for a day?” She looks at me.

“I have something casual, something business, something semi-formal. You never know what’s going to happen.”

“I know that we’re not going to be there long enough for you to need all those clothes,” I say, packing a single suit, linen shirt, shoes, and accessories in my garment bag, along with my toiletries pouch.

“Then if we don’t, no harm done,” she says as she begins to brush her hair. I don’t harp on it because I know she’s been having this doomsday mentality about everything lately. This could be another one of those things.

I’m heading to my bathroom when I hear my phone buzzing on the nightstand. I go back to the bed and pick it up. I don’t recognize the number.

“Grey,” I answer.

“Christian, I am so sorry!” I don’t recognize the voice immediately. “It’s Maria. Sanchez. I swear to God, I don’t know who dropped the ball, but those promos were not supposed to run until I spoke to you.” Indeed. I just bet.

“One minute.” I get my wife’s attention when she comes back out of her dressing room.

“It’s Maria Sanchez,” I say, waving at her and changing my phone to speaker. “You’re on speaker, and my wife is here.” She clears her throat.

“I was just telling Christian that I don’t know how the promos started without my knowledge. We’re still trying to find out who dropped the ball on this one, but I was going to call you tomorrow to see if your weekend was free. I was going to bring the footage to Seattle and we could all view it together in that beautiful theater of yours—promos and all—and you could tell me what you think.”

“Before we discuss that,” my wife interjects, “I’d like to know how footage of our interview—promo or not—made it on the air without our permission and apparently, also without your knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of order about things, some kind of clearances that have to be in place and some programming manager that has to organize what’s being shown and approve the lineup or something before it’s aired? Or is there some buffoon like grip boy grabbing things and handing them to someone and they just put it on a reel?”

Bravo, Butterfly! I couldn’t have said it better myself! I’m having flashbacks of the conversation that I had with Maria about Butterfly being the real firecracker between the two of us, and my beautiful wife is showing that it doesn’t do to fuck with her.

“Ana, I assure you, this doesn’t happen often. I’ve had all your footage placed under lock and key—the clips, the finished product, the promos, everything. The only thing that I can say as an explanation is that we’re planning for you guys to lead Sweeps Week, and this is the time that we start showing the promos for that week. Someone may have seen the schedule and pulled the promo not knowing that we didn’t get clearance from you yet. I’m so sorry about that. I know that this incident along with the incident with Reggie doesn’t really give you a feeling of security and faith in my network right now, but please, this was my fault for not being clear in my communication and handling of the promos. I take full responsibility for this and I beg your forgiveness for my carelessness.”

At least she owned the mistake. That counts for something and restores some of my faith in her. Butterfly, I’m not so sure.

“What’s next, Maria?” I ask impatiently. She sighs.

“We need you to view the footage as soon as possible,” she says. “Like I said, I can fly out to Seattle on Friday…”

“We won’t be here,” I interrupt. “We have urgent business in Detroit and we’re flying out tomorrow.”

“Will you be there all weekend?” she pries. “I can meet you in Detroit if you like…” Oh, hell, no!

“No, that won’t be necessary,” I tell her. “Plan to meet us Sunday morning back here in Seattle. We should be done with our business by Friday evening and that gives us a day to get back home and settle down.”

“Good, I’ll do that. And again, I’m really sorry.” I nod as if she could hear me and end the call. I raise my gaze to Butterfly.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” she reinforces.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say as I go back to my closet for casual wear and another suit to pack for our trip.

*-*

I hate this place.

I sincerely hate this place.

The last time I came anywhere near this hellhole, I discovered that the man who tormented me as a child and haunted my dreams for decades thereafter was indeed not tucked away in a jail cell somewhere but is somewhere wandering the world right now free as a fucking bird. Then I returned home to find that my wife was nearly killed by one of my crazy ass ex-subs. This place has absolutely no good memories for me—coming or going.

The minute we enter the airspace for DTW, my stomach starts churning and my spirit drops. My only comfort is that I’m holding the hand of my beautiful wife as we descend into Dante’s hell. My father doesn’t think I see him eyeing me out of his peripheral, and I think he’s more concerned about me than he is about the purpose of this trip. That’s exactly the opposite of what I want. I want to be moral support for him. It’s counterproductive if he must worry about me while we’re here.

“Are you okay?” my wife asks as I gaze out the window at the view beneath us while we descend into the airport. I nod.

“I’m fine,” I fib, “but I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I’ll be glad when this trip is over.” She squeezes my hand and smiles at me. She’s probably thinking the same thing that I am—It’s too late to back out now, so I might as well be useful.

We land at Detroit Metro at a little after 5:00pm local time. Jason has secured two vehicles for us while we’re here–one for Dad and Uncle Herman, and one for the three of us. Dad will be going to the private investigator’s office to see if there’s any information that he can get from them. He knows that legally, they don’t have to tell him anything, but armed with the fact that he’s an attorney and that his and Uncle Herman’s notices of the will reading mysteriously disappeared from the US Mail, he’s hoping that he can get someone to break under pressure. There’s no confidentiality between the agency and Freeman; they’re just not under any obligation to tell my father anything.

“No Audis, huh?” I ask when I see the generic SUV that my best friend has procured… maybe not generic, but generic to me. He raises his eyebrow at me.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asks. “In the land of the Big 3? You’re lucky if you find a Volkswagen.” I shake my head and help my wife into the large Lincoln Navigator. Thank God this is only for one day.

The attorney, who used to have an office in downtown Detroit, has now moved his practice to Troy. Thank God! We reserved a hotel room in Birmingham, halfway between Troy and Uncle Stan’s place in Farmington. Since Detroit Metro Airport is in the southeastern portion of the Mitten, and Farmington, Birmingham, and Troy are all in the northern metropolitan suburbs, the drawback is that unless we want to take some insanely crazy and unnecessary detour, we have to drive through the west side of Detroit.

The good news is that we don’t have to stop.

Dad drives the Navigator with me, Uncle Herman, and my wife inside to Uncle Stan’s house, while Jason takes the MKS to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham to get me and my wife checked in. He’ll meet us later at Uncle Stan’s house to take us back to the hotel.

I’m in contemplation as we travel down the I-94 headed for the Southfield freeway that will take us to the northern suburbs. I fucking hate being here. I fucking hate it. I see nothing that rings any bells or causes any feelings of déjà vu, but I hate being here anyway. I hate what this place represents. I hate everything about it.

There’s a giant ass fucking tire on the side of the road. A giant ass fucking tire. It’s great advertising, but whose fucking idea was that? Uniroyal… yeah, while I’m driving down the fucking freeway, I’m going to remember Uniroyal.com, right? Shit, I’ll remember it if I have a blowout right there by the damn giant tire.

We turn onto Southfield Road and there are more residential areas—nice ones, and I realize that we must not be in Detroit yet. Even at night, I can tell that we’re in a nicer area.

“Remember the Glass House, Rick?” Uncle Herman’s voice breaks my train of thought and I see him pointing to a ten or twelve-story glass building to the right of the freeway.

“How can I forget?” Dad says as we pass the building. “Dad used to take us to every event that ever happened at that place,” he says to me in the mirror, “like he owned the place.” He turns his attention back to the road. “He was really proud to be a Ford employee. It meant something back then.”

“It doesn’t anymore?” I ask, turning my attention to my father. He half shrugs.

“I don’t know, son,” he says, his voice nostalgic. “Back in those days, everybody wanted to work at Ford or one of the Big Three. It meant that you made it in Motown, because even though it was hard work, it was really good money. For a lot of people, the factories made the American Dream come true. It… just doesn’t seem that way anymore.” He falls silent and that’s when I see the sign.

Joy Rd, 1 mile…

We’re in Detroit.

I take a deep breath and look around at my surroundings. Again, even in the dark, you can tell by the change of scenery that we’re in the city. It doesn’t look run-down that I can tell, except for certain patches of it, but it’s not as vibrant-looking as the neighborhoods and areas surrounding the airport. Sensing my tension, Butterfly squeezes my hand. I squeeze back but continue to look out the window at the city. Large, vacant fields can be seen by the sides of the freeway—lots where buildings once stood. The landscaping is splotchy and some of the grass that lines the inclines has died. Even the freeway itself is unkept—badly patched tar jobs that look like someone just spilled the compound over the road; brown stains dripping down the concrete of bridges and overpasses from badly rusted fences. I’m sure this is not the only city in America that looks like this, but right now, I’m only seeing Detroit.

Plymouth Rd, Schoolcraft Ave, 1 mile…

There are orange construction cones on this part of the freeway, but I swear that I can’t see any work being done—just the right lane of the freeway being blocked off and slowing our commute out of this God-forsaken city. I think Dad says something to me, but I’m not sure. I see a few more houses on the edge of the freeway, and then we pass another main street.

I feel like I’m holding my breath. I feel like my bio-mom’s decomposing body is going to jump in front of the car at any moment… or one of the fucking Myricks… or somebody—another crackhead or a john or…

96, Downtown Detroit, Lansing, 1 ¼ mile…

Trash discarded from cars or from God knows where collects in masse at the base of fences where the wind has carried it as far as it can go and the metal acts like a net gathering the debris. Graffiti lines the concrete walls and even some of the overpasses and medians. How the hell do you vandalize a median on a busy freeway?

5, Grand River, Fenkell Ave, 3/4 mile…

More small houses line the side of the freeway and even though they don’t look as bad as some of the prior houses, the neighborhood is still run down. I hold my breath as we drive under an overpass that’s so rusted and corroded that I’m afraid it’s going to collapse on our car!

McNichols Rd, 1 mile…

I can see more trees. The houses are getting larger. A church with a steeple… but still quite a bit of debris and dead shrubbery on the freeway.

More trees, more houses. The grass is greener down here, but the road and the medians and walls are still very unkempt.

7 Mile Rd, ¾ mile…

Another church. Damn, how many churches are on this road? With this many churches around, there shouldn’t be a junkie, a pimp, or a crack whore in sight, and yet…

The walls are tall in this part of the freeway. It makes me feel… trapped. I take a deep breath, but I don’t think I release it.

102, 8 Mile Rd, ¾ mile…

Eight Mile. Eight Mile Road. Eight Mile marks the end of Wayne county and the beginning of Oakland county. This far west, that means Southfield and Oak Park, three-quarters of a mile away.

As if the grass and the trees know that we’re about to leave Detroit, they begin to show beautiful autumn colors and the lush fullness of green that precedes a long winter’s sleep. There’s very little—if any—debris in the road and the overpass we just went under actually looks ornate, with fresh, black wrought iron fences lining the banister. Even the road itself looks newer.

102, 8 Mile Rd, ½ mile…

Now the signs are taunting me. None of the other signs had any ½-mile markers, just ¾ and 1 mile. Come on, Oakland county…

The walls get tall again, like prison walls, and as the road rises towards the 8-Mile exit, there are more houses—a lot more—and another ornate overpass with wrought iron fencing. And then we cross 8 Mile, and that breath that I took in a mile or so back comes rushing from my chest with so much force that I nearly choke on air.

North 10 to West 696, Lansing, ¾ mile…

39, Freeway ends, ¾ mile…

Southfield Rd…

I’m still choking on air and my wife is squeezing my hand and rubbing my back. Dad says something about pulling over and Uncle Herman is asking if I’m okay.

“I’m fine,” I gasp, “Keep going. Keep driving.” For God’s sake, please don’t stop.

Smooth roads, beautiful lush trees and grass, quaint houses and impressive businesses and office buildings… Not the crème de la crème of the area, but we’ve definitely left Detroit.

I made it.

*-*

“God, am I glad to see you guys,” Uncle Stan greets us when he opens the door. “I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought you just decided not to come.”

He gives Uncle Herman a robust hug before looking at his brother with sincere adoration in his eyes. They say a few words about missing each other and such before Uncle Stan takes Dad in his arms and hugs him just as robustly. I somewhat usher my wife in front of me to give myself more time to prepare for my hug. I’m still very uncomfortable with people hugging me, and even though Uncle Stan is family, he’s still a virtual stranger for the most part. I don’t want to offend him, though, by shunning his hug or stiffening up when he embraces me. Dad whispers in his brother’s ear, squeezes his forearms and smiles widely. Uncle Stan returns the smile and nods before turning to my wife.

“May I?” he says, opening his arms to Butterfly.

“Of course, you may,” she says sweetly, opening her arms to welcome him. “It’s so good to see you again,” she says as they embrace. I plaster a half-smile on my face and wait for their exchange to end, steeling myself for my turn. When they part, Stan’s smile widens, and he grabs my hand, shaking it vigorously and jovially with the other hand clasped on top.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Christian,” he says cheerfully. “I don’t know if I thanked you properly but thank you… thank you for everything!”

His smile is bright like sunshine, like a naïve child. If I had to categorize the brothers, I would say that my dad is the intellectual, Herman is the caretaker, Freeman’s the asshole, and Stanley is the sensitive one.

“Anytime, Uncle Stan,” I reply, still waiting for the death grip hug.

“Welcome! Welcome to my home.” He releases my hand, but only touches my arm. “Please,” he says, flourishing his other hand in front of us to usher me inside, “come in. Make yourself comfortable.”

“What smells so delicious?” Butterfly asks, as we enter the living room. I realize that Dad must have quickly said something to Stan about my haphephobia. I try not to sigh audibly when I realize that he’s not going to hug me, but he still managed to make me feel as welcome and loved as everyone else.


A/N: DTW—the airport code for Detroit Metro Airport. It stands for Detroit/Wayne.

Christian references “the Mitten.” For those who may not already know, the lower peninsula of Michigan looks like a mitten.

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 44—How Do We…?

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 44—How Do We…?

CHRISTIAN

I’ve wanted to make love to her every night, like we did before this happened. It seemed like our passion for each other was on fire, like we would just look at each other and want one another, so badly that we made out in a taxi while the cabbie was still driving!

And then…

We didn’t make love last night. We lay in bed holding each other for hours, each of us pretending to be asleep, but neither of us really sleeping. Somewhere around three, Butterfly finally gave up the fight. I lay there awake for the rest of the night.

I feel like I’m losing her. I’ve always been able to fix what was broken with us—show her that I love her, give myself to her, be what she needed. Now, it seems like she needs more than I can give her… like we need more, and I don’t know how to fix that.

I find myself walking around the grounds at the crack of dawn before Butterfly awakes. When it comes to love, giving myself to someone else, giving my heart to someone else—she’s all I’ve ever known. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, because I have nothing to compare it to. I’m going to have to tell her that I went to see Liam, but I was completely within my rights to confront the man who came onto my wife so aggressively.

There’s something wrong with that statement.

There’s a lot wrong with that statement. He wasn’t aggressive in his approach from what I saw. He was tender, and they were sharing a moment. eHe wHe Hhh

How they got to that moment, I never really found out. I know the peripheral of the situation—that my wife stayed late to work on her plans for the Center; that she was a bit distraught after learning that everything she hoped would happen with Helping Hands would go down the drain, but I don’t know what happened in those moments before they were caught in a gaze, and almost in a kiss.

My stomach rolls every time I think about it, and now, that unconditional trust that I had before, I don’t have it anymore.

This is bad… this is really bad.

I still love her so much. I would still do anything for her, be anything for her, but this… right here… is a really bad feeling.

I refuse to admit what she’s feeding me, that we can’t be who and what we were before. We were so in love, so dedicated to one another, and I want that back—I don’t want some piece of it, some shell or shadow of what we used to be. I want us… the couple that the world was jealous of, the couple that I hope the world will see when our interview is aired, not some plastic, counterfeit copy of who we used to be… us! I can’t accept that we won’t get that back.

But we admittedly have demons that haven’t been exorcised and probably never will. Whatever we’re doing wrong, whatever we’re not getting right, I don’t know because this is my first time at the rodeo.

Jason has taken the place as my mentor in this situation, as much as he can, anyway. It’s a lot for him to balance my safety and being my employee with being a concerned friend. Sometimes, he has to swing from one extreme to the other, and the two really can’t meet. As fucked up as I am, I don’t envy his position…

“Why would I tell you? Every time I came to you and told you that she had called repeatedly, or she was crying or hurt or upset, couldn’t sleep, forced herself to eat so that she could feed her children, you didn’t flinch. I thought she was calling me because you wouldn’t answer. I only just found out from that call from my wife that you had blocked her calls. I’ve seen this guy before. I know who he is. He’s the same guy that I knew when I had to drag crying, kicking, screaming submissives out of his house who didn’t bat an eye at their pain. After all these years with you, I know not to cross him.”

I totally shut out thoughts of my wife and kids, and Jason just let me do it because my safety took precedence. But when I asked what was going on, he knew every single detail… every single one, including the fact that my wife could have died. What kind of shithead doesn’t know that his wife faced death until after she has returned from the hospital and is attempting to continue on with her life?

The sun is well over Lake Washington when I finally decide to go back to the house. I stop in my children’s nursery and kiss both of their sweet, sleeping faces. I’ve been spending more time with them since my return as it occurred to me that I never considered how leaving would affect them. Truth be told, I never considered how leaving would affect anyone but myself—and yes, a small part of me wanted to punish my wife, but I can honestly say that it was a very, very small part of me. The biggest part just wanted to get away from the situation. Thankfully, the twins are sleeping through the night again, and we’re getting them back on some kind of regulated sleep schedule.

When I get to my bedroom, my wife isn’t there. I look in her bathroom, and she’s not there either. I try not to panic, but truth be told, whenever she’s not somewhere in my eyesight these days, I feel uneasy. I go to my dressing room and take a seat on the bench. As I’m leaning down to untie my sneakers, I notice that the secret door is slightly ajar.

What? She can’t be…

Just as I sit up, intent to stand and investigate, she comes out of the secret door and closes it behind her. She’s still wearing her nightshirt, but she has pulled on some shorts underneath it and pulled her hair back in a ponytail, strands of the short hair falling out on the side. I must be eying her strangely, because she stops and raises her brow at me.

“What were you doing in there?” I ask. No “hello,” no “good morning,” I want to know what she was doing in a space that has been specifically reserved for both of us.

“Meditating,” she says, calmly. The connection room… she’s using it to meditate.

“Why in there?” I ask. We haven’t used it to connect for the longest time. I don’t know how I feel that she’s using it to meditate.

“It’s a good space for silence,” she replies. “No one will disturb me there.”

“There are plenty of places in the house that we can set up as a meditation room for you, Butterfly,” I say, trying not to feel slighted. “We can make sure that you’re not disturbed.” I don’t like the idea of her being in one of our rooms without me. Apparently, I don’t hide that fact very well. She examines me silently for a few moments before calling me out on exactly how I’m feeling.

“Maybe you’d like to meditate with me,” she offers. “It’s not a fix-all, but it helps you to focus when your thoughts are askew. Have you ever tried it before?”

“Um, yeah,” I say. “One of the many treatments I tried as a kid.” I shrug. It didn’t do much for me.

“You’re in a different place now,” she says, reading my thoughts. “You should try it with me. The invitation is open… should you ever like to try.” I nod. I don’t think I will… or maybe I should, I don’t know. I sigh and after finally removing my shoes, I stand.

“I’m going to take a shower,” I say. “I’m a bit dewy after my stroll.”

“Where did you go?” she asks.

“Just around the grounds,” I admit, pulling my shirt over my head. “I needed some fresh air.” She nods.

“Yes… that sounds like a good idea. Maybe I’ll take a stroll sometime later,” she says with an accommodating smile. I walk over to her and take her waist. I plant a gentle kiss on her cheek and her forehead. She puts her hands on my forearms and closes her eyes as I greet her. I love her so much, but even this close, I feel so far away.

“I’ll see you at breakfast,” I whisper, before releasing her and heading to the bathroom.

*-*

“So, what brings you to me today, Christian?”

“I’m going to need regular sessions again for a while,” I tell Dr. Baker. “Do you have any open slots where you can write me in as a standing appointment?” She raises her brow and types something into her phone.

“I’ll see what’s available,” she says. “Tell me what’s going on.” I sigh.

“I think I’m losing my marriage.” Dr. Baker tries to hide her shock but fails miserably.

“You and your wife are one of the most passionate couples I think I’ve ever seen, Christian… on many levels. Tell me how this came about.”

“I don’t know how this came about,” I hiss. “One minute, we were happy and the next minute, all hell broke loose.” I’m angry about it, if I’m honest. This isn’t fair, and I’m pissed off.

“What was going on before all hell broke loose?” she asks.

“What wasn’t going on?” I retort. “My mom was going crazy and the entire time, my sister was throwing WeddingPalooza! Or maybe it was my mom…” I know I sound insane. I sigh. “I’m trying to be a good husband and I admit, I could be a better father, but I’m out of my element here. There’s no instruction book that goes with these things. For almost thirty years, it’s been ‘Christian, survive! Survive, Christian! Survive however you have to.’ And somewhere in there it became, ‘Christian, crush your enemies. Destroy anyone who dares come against you.’ The only part of love that I ever felt for more than a decade was simply what came at the end of my dick!

“Now, for the last two years, there’s somebody else—somebody that loves and needs me and requires me to give so much of myself when my whole life… my whole, entire life… all I knew was ‘take.’

“Take food so that I wouldn’t starve once the food was gone…
“Take liquor to numb the pain of being lonely and outcast…
“Take that flogging or that whipping from the Pedophile so that I could block out all the other pain…
“Take whatever the fuck I wanted from every submissive who ever crossed my path…
“Take companies from struggling boards and CEO’s, rip them apart and do whatever I wanted with them…

“All I ever knew was take, and then she showed up, and I even wanted to take from her. I wanted to take her haughtiness and her attitude and her independence and make her my submissive…”

“How did that work out for you?” the doctor asks. My shoulders fall.

“She made me hers,” I groan. “I am her submissive in every way. There is nothing that she can’t ask of me.” I shake my head. “I left my wife.”

Dr. Baker’s shock is palpable.

“You what?” she asks in uncharacteristic surprise.

“I left Anastasia… for about three weeks,” I say, pushing my hand through my hair. “I walked in on her and another man about to kiss and I couldn’t take it, so I left.” Dr. Baker is silent for a moment.

“She cheated on you?” she asks. I don’t reply. “You left without talking to her?” she adds.

“Oh, we talked,” I reply, “as far as I was concerned, anyway. We talked for about fifteen seconds and she told me to leave.” Dr. Baker’s eyes widen.

“She told you to leave?” she exclaims. I make the swooshing motion with my hands.

“Wipe all that,” I say. “Let me start from the beginning.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea, because I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m a bit lost…”

I start from the investigation and explain how I learned about it, what I did when my wife fell apart after thinking they would never get the accreditation and going to rescue her from her desk and pawing through her papers and ideas only to find her in an intimate situation with another man. Relaying everything that happened thereafter only put me back in that community room, my vision tunneling in on another man closing the space between him and my wife.

I manage to break my thoughts from the near-kiss long enough to explain my escape to Madrid and its aftermath… the fact that my wife thinks that we can never get back who we were and what we felt and how and why I feel that my world is completely and totally ending.

“I never should have gotten married,” I lament.

“What?!” Dr. Baker exclaims, clearly unable to hide her horrified awe. It’s only now that I realize that I said that aloud, when I didn’t really mean to. I raise my eyes to her and sigh. It’s out there now.

“I love Anastasia,” I say. “I worship the ground that she walks on, but the person that I am… what I’ve been through… I wasn’t ready. I’m screwed up and I’m not capable of being a complete half of a whole. As much as I want to, I feel like I’m not giving her everything that she needs emotionally, and if things don’t go the way that I think they should, I shut off completely. My wife can’t do that. She’s all feeling all the time, but I’ve practiced it for so many years that I’ve perfected it. If I can’t deal, I go into my mental tower and leave everybody outside. This is the second time in three months that I went into that tower, threw up those battlements, and left my family on the outside including my children—what kind of husband and father does that?

“I’m not saying that I want to leave my wife—I don’t, but I skipped the lesson where you become that person whose everything someone needs. Every time something happens, I fall apart. I mean, I don’t crumble into nothing—except for when my grandfather died—but I can never seem to make the right decisions. A bad situation often becomes worse because I never handle it well. I either go into attack mode or I want to close myself off and hide from the world.”

“Extreme fight or flight. It’s common, but with you, it’s… extreme!” she observes. “It’s normal, but you’ve got to learn how to handle it.” That’s easier said than done when something like this happens.

“I still feel the betrayal,” I admit. “Ever since the day I met her, she’s all I ever wanted, and I still feel the betrayal that someone else could make her… pause.”

“But she’s human, Christian,” Dr. Baker says. “She didn’t cheat on you. When the moment of truth arrived, she stopped him. For you to ask her to do anything more than she did at that moment, you’re asking for perfection and you’re not going to get it.”

“I need you, for one minute, to understand how I’m feeling instead of telling me how I should feel,” I tell her. “I need you to be the ear just for me instead of the voice of reason—if only for one. Minute.” I stare at her and await her response. She pauses for a moment and examines me, then puts her portfolio and pen on the end table next to her.

“Very well,” she says, folding her hands in her lap. “Fire away.” I take a deep breath, hold it, and let it out.

“You say that I shouldn’t feel it, and others say that I shouldn’t feel it, but I do feel like my wife was unfaithful to me.” There, I’ve said it.

Dr. Baker frowns and makes to say something but closes her mouth shortly thereafter.

“I may not be a perfect man, and I will never be a perfect man—hell, far from it. I may not be able to express myself perfectly or communicate the perfect words at the perfect time every time. I certainly don’t always make the perfect decisions or perform the perfect action, but what I feel for her—my complete love and adoration—that’s as perfect as perfect can ever get, even if I can’t express it like I want to or like others feel I should. And I feel that if he could cause her pause like that, then that’s not the same thing that she feels for me.

“Had this been me sitting coolly in a chair while some woman leaned in to kiss me, my wife would have a fit. Two years ago, my wife and I had a joint birthday party for her birthday because I hadn’t celebrated mine that year. Someone—we still don’t know who—arranged for each of us to have strip-o-grams. While my wife was basically ambushed by her lap dance, I somewhat knew mine was coming, not only because I watched hers, but also because someone announced that I was next. I watched her sit there in stunned horror while this nearly naked man gyrated in front of her, and the only thing I could think was that I wanted this fucker to get away from my woman. When my turn came, however, it was a different story.

“I sat there and watched this woman with pasty-covered tits, a thong, and apparently unkept genital hygiene shake her openly-bared assets at me. I wasn’t ambushed. I knew it was coming and I allowed it to happen, just to spite my wife… who wasn’t my wife at the time. When it was all said and done, she sat at her own birthday party in silence for several more hours, and then she shut down on me for several days. The woman just danced for me and my wife wouldn’t sleep with me, she barely spoke to me… what if that woman had leaned in to kiss me and I’m sitting here all GQ like nothing’s wrong? Would we even be married right now?”

I jolt from my seat unable to sit still any longer. I’m so angry that I feel steam seeping from my skull. How could she do this to me? To us? What the hell was she thinking to allow this to happen?

“How did he get that close? How the fuck did he get that close? I never would have allowed that to happen…” Only, I did once. When the Pedophile was hiding in the bathroom at her father’s wedding. She kissed me, and I had the evidence all over my face.

“But that was different.”

I don’t realize that I said the words aloud until I look at Dr. Baker’s expression, then play my voice back in my head.

“Her father’s wedding… New Year’s Eve two years back…” I explain the men’s room ambush and the resulting disaster of an evening. When I fall silent for several moments, she speaks.

“May I interject now?” she asks. I roll my eyes like a petulant child.

“You just did,” I point out. She continues without reacting.

“So, not withstanding the actual kiss, a woman got close enough to kiss you, and you certainly didn’t intend for her to kiss you. Isn’t that the same thing as this?”

“No, because I was ripping that woman a new asshole, not sitting there gazing into her strikingly blue eyes, and I certainly hadn’t been spending quality time with her in the days leading up to that moment!” Different, Doctor… blaringly different.

“So… if I’m understanding you correctly, it’s not the act of kissing or not kissing that’s bothering you. It’s the fact that this man got close enough to kiss your wife in the first place, and the circumstances surrounding that particular encounter.”

It takes me less than a nanosecond to concur. That’s exactly what it is.

“I feel like it was…” I’m searching for my words, “… not active cheating, not even emotional cheating, it was… essence cheating, like not physical cheating or even really wanting him, but the conditions were too perfect for infidelity and she didn’t do enough to stop it. She had apparently told him before that she was married and that didn’t thwart his advances. What if three more seconds had passed and she hadn’t stopped him? Would she had pushed him away then… after their lips touched?”

That unbearable sick feeling is coming over me again. The monsters are reaching their horrible talons out of the closet at me, and my monster slayer is the reason they’re advancing this time. I choke out the final words that I don’t want to admit.

“I feel like she wanted it, but she had to stop him because of me.”

That’s it. It’s out now. There’s nothing else for me to say about it. I’ve spilled my guts and the poison is all over the room, now—tainting the windows so the sun can’t shine in; coating the floor and threatening to pull me down into it; oozing from my hands, my arms, my mouth and burning every surface it touches.

“You have to tell her, Christian,” Dr. Baker says. “You can’t keep this to yourself.”

“I can’t tell her that,” I say. “You have no idea how fragile she is right now. I had my moment to pout over this when I ran off to Madrid and cut her off. Now, I’m back and I can’t pout over this anymore. She’s waiting for the roof to cave in and crush her at any second and she’s been fighting that feeling since I got back. Even with the way I feel about her and this asshole who approached her even though he knew that she was married, all I want is what we had before, and she’s telling me that we can’t have it.”

“You’re in the same vicious cycle, then, and you’re never going to get out,” she says. She’s not scolding me, she’s just making a pained observation. I can even hear the defeat in her voice. “Do you want your wife? Your marriage? Your family?”

“Of course, I do!” I snap. “Didn’t I just say that I did?”

“Then tell her how you feel, or you’ll never get past this!” she retorts. “Tell her everything, or you’re lying to yourself and to her. You don’t want to accept defeat. Fine—tell her that! You feel like her actions or lack of actions breached the understanding and trust that you two share—tell her that, too! Tell her everything that you’re feeling. Rip this open and lay it out there for her to see then tell her what you expect to happen from here—how you expect to recover and be whole again… or stay where you are and accept second-best.”

Ow! That hurt.

*-*

I must be emitting Don’t Fuck with Me rays when Jason and I get to Grey House, because people who would normally speak or kowtow when I show up swerve the other direction when they see me coming. All the better—I don’t feel like dealing with sycophants this morning anyway. My soul is still burning with Dr. Baker’s words, all of them. They’re playing over and over in my head and searing my brain.

Just after noon, the intercom on my desk phone comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I know that you asked not to be disturbed,” Andrea’s voice announces, “but I have Mr. Capito on the line.” What? Who? What?

“Capito?” I repeat. “He’s calling from Spain?”

“I think so, sir,” she says. “There’s an international number on the caller ID.” That could be a cell phone. What is it, like 9pm in Spain right now? If this is his cell, He could very well be in the states. Come on over to Grey House, asshole. Let me show you how an impromptu tour should go when you’re not selling little girls into slavery. Alex confirmed that suspicion a week ago…

“It’s not that we didn’t already know,” Alex says, placing the familiar manila envelope on my desk, “but the government is cracking down on Capito. His company is in massive financial trouble, which is why he wants to sell, of course. But that textiles division—that little factory—is where he launders the money from his illegal activities, so he has to keep it operational to continue doing business. The rest of the corporation is just a money pit, and he’s decided to unload it on some poor sucker.”

“Well, I don’t know what makes him think that any businessman anywhere is going to want to buy this cesspool of bullshit without personally seeing the supposed jewel of the crown,” I say, snatching the envelope and reviewing the information that I was already aware of. Yes, I was running away from a problem in my marriage, but had I not engineered a surprise visit to Madrid, I never would have known what was going on with this asshole. True, my instincts would have kicked in and I never would have agreed to a deal without complete and full disclosure, but had I gone through the normal channels and planned a trip to Madrid, he would have had plenty of time to set up a dummy operation to throw me off the scent. I may not have known that I paid a fortune for a glorified dumpster until it was way too late.

“Well, that deal’s shot to hell,” I say, tossing the papers onto the desk. “I could have been killed, man. I could have gone down to that factory, walked right into that shit, and ended up on the evening news.” Not that the timing to end up dead would ever be perfect, but it couldn’t have been worse with my wife back here mourning our separation and falling off fucking cliffs. With that piece of news, she might have actually jumped.

“So, what now?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I reply. “We put the kibosh on the whole damn thing. File it in the Leave This Shit Alone Forever file and call it a day. This motherfucker is not my problem and I’m not about to make him one. I’ve got enough shit going on in my life without looking for fucking trouble.” Alex nods, stands, and leaves the office.

“Put him through,” I command Andrea, ready for a showdown… with anybody!

“Line three, sir,” Andrea announces. I retrieve the call flashing on line three.

“Hello, Mr. Capito,” I say, flatly.

“Mr. Grey,” Capito responds, his voice betraying his suspicion. “You left Madrid so suddenly. We had no way of knowing what was happening.”

“We?” I repeat. Either Capito has suddenly become English royalty or he’s just let it slip that he still had someone watching me.

“Yes, Mr. Grey. Capito Industrias. We are very anxious to, as you say, seal the deal.” I just bet you are.

“Mr. Capito, I’m afraid that GEH has decided to explore other avenues in our overseas ventures. We won’t be doing business with Capito Industrias.” There’s silence on the other line.

“May I ask what brought you to this decision, Mr. Grey,” he says a little too quietly.

“I feel that we have different… visions for the future of our respective organizations. These things happen sometimes. Upon closer investigation, it can be revealed that two companies just don’t make good bedfellows.”

“We have turned down several lucrative offers in anticipation of this business arrangement,” he protests. “Several hours of negotiation and concessions…”

“You’ve made no concessions for me, Mr. Capito,” I retort firmly. “I haven’t purchased anything. We’ve made no deal. Once again, this is your first time at the dance. I’ve done this for many years. There is no commitment to anything—no assumptions to be made—until we sign on the dotted line. Now, you are free to pursue those other lucrative offers. As far as negotiations are concerned, my company has spent as many man hours if not more in negotiations as well as research and discovery to ascertain if this would be a profitable venture for us. If anything, we are on the losing hand because after all is said and done, we’re leaving empty-handed.”

“Is this the kind of bad faith business Americans are practicing?” Capito hisses. “Where is your honor, sir?” And he opens the door.

Honor?” I declare, imitating horror. “You want to talk to me about honor? I exercise one of the most elementary tactics that any person about to make a major purchase is entitled to, let alone purchasing a business, and you send me around the city to some set-up façade and try to pass it off on me as temporary operations? You must think me a fool, sir, to believe that tiny little, haphazardly constructed imitation sweathouse was going to pass as Albien Textiles—the one subsidiary that you refuse to part with. I know where the actual factory is and you didn’t want me to see it, so much so that you sent your amateur goons to follow me and my associate when we left your ‘facility,’ for lack of a better word… or did Eduardo and his colleague fail to tell you about the little meeting in the alley?”

Capito falls silent on the other line. I can hear him breathing and he says something in Spanish that I can’t make out. I hear him say Eduardo’s name and deduce that his henchmen didn’t, in fact, tell him about the encounter in the alley. I’ve had enough of this conversation.

“I told you when I was there that not seeing the factory would tell me much more than anything I could see inside of it. You didn’t believe me, so, fine. Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc, will not be doing business with Capito Industrias, a company that withholds information vital to negotiations and then attempts to use bullying tactics and invasion of privacy to prevent me from getting the information on my own. If you don’t want me to have the information about the factory, fine—I won’t press any further. This is the consequence of your decision, but don’t you dare accuse me of exhibiting bad faith when you had people following me around the streets of Madrid, causing me to draw my firearm on unknown assailants!”

I hear a gasp—a small one, I wasn’t supposed to hear it.

“I… had no idea,” he says.

“Had no idea of what, Mr. Capito—that your men were following me or that I almost shot one of them between the eyes?” He’s silent again. “Here’s some free advice for you. When in negotiations, never put your eggs in one basket. You never know when a buyer may be bluffing about his capital and purchasing power, just like a seller may be stretching the truth about the attractiveness of the purchase. Comprender?” There’s another pause.

“I guess this is adios, Senor Grey,” he says finally.

“It is. Adios, Senor Capito.” I end the call.

My cell phone is buzzing wildly, and I pick it up to see that I’ve just missed a call from my cousin. I swipe the screen to see that I’ve missed five prior calls from her today. Good God, what’s wrong? I hit the number to call her back.

“Finally! It’s about time! Jesus, Christian!” This is my cousin’s greeting. Something is definitely wrong.

“Fuck, Lanie! What’s going on?” All I need right now is another damn catastrophe.

“Have you spoken to your father?” she asks expecting.

“Not today,” I reply.

“In the last week?”

“Well, no, but we’ve spoken to Mom. If something was wrong, she would have mentioned it…”

“Something is very wrong!” Lanie shoots. “Very fucking wrong!”

“Well, you’ve got me now. Spit it out!” I love my cousin, but my patience is thin today.

“Mom’s attorney and the IRS were able to put the ix-nay on Freeman’s spending of that trust in my name,” she begins. I see that she’s now calling her father Freeman. “He had the rights to the assets because they were still in the trust and they were his assets, but he’s got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do that he was spending them in my name. The records have been seized and we’ve found some very interesting things.”

Okay, I’m all ears now.

“Carrick was being followed since just before Grampa died,” Lanie says. “We can’t get the reports on what was discovered because they’re confidential, but Freeman was definitely looking for something.”

“Why did we just see the guy now?” I ask. “It’s only been like six weeks ago or something like that. Pops has been gone for months.”

“I don’t know, but I would suggest that your father find out. He can probably go to that investigation agency on Friday when everything’s all done.” I frown.

“Friday?” I ask. “What’s happening Friday?”

“Wha…” She trails off. “Oh, dear God, tell me that he just didn’t tell you!”

“Tell me what?” I ask.

“Shit, it all makes sense now,” Lanie says. “I don’t know what Freeman was looking for, but one of his primary motives may have been to ensure that your father and Uncle Herman don’t make it to Detroit on Friday. They’re reading Grampa’s will.”

“What?” I nearly shriek. No, Dad doesn’t know. He would have mentioned it if he did.

“I don’t know what stipulations are in that will, Christian, but Carrick and Herman have to be in Detroit on Friday morning. I’ll email you the information that I have and you, Carrick and Herman can figure it out. Please, don’t let him get away with this. I know he’s up to something.”

“Of course, he is!” I hiss. “When is he not up to something?” My skin is boiling. Jesus, do I get the chance to recoil from one thing before something else slams into me?

“It’s on the way,” Lanie says. “Call Carrick… now!” She ends the call without giving me a chance to say anything. I immediately go to my contacts and tap Dad’s name.

“Christian,” he says, “I was wondering when you were going to call me.” He knows?

“How long have you known?” I ask, frowning.

“That you absconded from the country? Since your mother came home cursing like a sailor a couple of weeks ago and I thought she had a setback!” What? No!

“Not that!” I bark, dismissing his conversation about my escape to Madrid. “About Pops… and Freeman! Have you guys heard anything from Detroit?” Dad falls silent for a moment.

“No… What?” he asks, his voice bemused. I sigh, exacerbated.

“Freeman’s been following you for months, since before Pops died,” I tell him. “My guess is that he’s been tracking your actions to see what you know and what you’re going to do. His efforts have been halted since his stash of cash has been seized, but I also think that somehow, someway, he’s been intercepting communication that was supposed to get to you and probably to Uncle Herman since he’s living in the house with you.” I take a deep breath before I continue. “Dad, Pops has a will and they’re reading it… this Friday.” There’s more silence.

“What?” he says. “Dad had a will?”

“Yes, he had a will, and they’re reading it on Friday. Herman hasn’t said anything?”

“No,” Dad breathes. “How could… how…?” He can’t get his words out.

“He’s got four sons, Dad,” I say, my voice softer, “and you’re not all on good terms. He had to have a will.”

“All Dad had was that house,” he says, “maybe some pension from Ford. I don’t want any of that. It won’t bring him back. I’m not going.”

“Dad, don’t,” I beseech him. “Don’t let Freeman win. Pops would be so upset.” The line is silent again. “Whatever Pops had, whether it’s a thimble or a house, he had specific plans for it. At least hear what they were and be an active part of carrying them out.” I hear my computer and phone chime with a new email. It’s the contact information from Lanie for the attorney in Detroit.

“I don’t think I can do this, son,” Dad admits. “I can’t fight with my brother anymore. I don’t have the strength for it.”

“You’re one of the strongest people I know, Dad,” I tell him. “And you’ll have Uncle Herman and Uncle Stan. Call them. Make sure that they know. There’s no telling what Freeman has done to keep you guys out of the loop. I’ll email the information to you.” Dad sighs.

“How did you find out?” he asks.

“Lanie,” I tell him. “A lot of information gets filtered to me through Nell’s divorce, plus there’s the paper trail left behind when we were trying to find out who was following you.” I still hear my father’s hesitation. He has to go. He must.

“I’ll go with you, Dad,” I declare before I even know the words are out of my mouth. Shit, did I say that?

“You will?” and I hear the relief in his voice. Shit, I can’t back out now.

“Sure, Dad,” I tell him. “I’ll get the jet ready. You just let me know when you want to go.”

“What about Ana? Your children?” he asks. “You just got back in town yourself…”

“I’ll talk to her,” I tell him, “see how she feels about it…” I need to talk to her anyway. Dad sighs.

“I’ll talk to Stan and Herm and I’ll call you later. Thanks for this, son,” he says.

“Sure thing, Dad.”

*-*

It’s one of the briskest of fall days when I get home. Intent on taking a walk around the grounds again and not wanting to do it in a suit, I change into a cable-knit sweater and jeans, some Timberlands and a fall jacket. I take a stroll through the trees behind our house and let the fresh air clear my head. As I get to the edge of the wooded area, I see my wife dressed similarly to me and sitting in the grass closer to the water looking out over the lake. I walk over to her and she hears my approach. She glances over her shoulder at me, then turns her gaze to the river again. I can’t help but wonder what she was just thinking when she saw me.

“Hey,” I say, sitting next to her and resting my elbows on my bent knees. I clasp my hands together and look out at the lake, not at my wife.

“Hey,” she says without turning to me either. There’s no warmth in our conversations anymore. It’s like we’re meeting or talking only because we have to. Dr. Baker was right. We can’t go on like this. We won’t make it. I have to tell her.

“I can’t get past the feeling that you cheated on me with Westwick.” I say, pushing the words out before I lose my nerve.

“I know,” she says, without looking at me. I look at her, my brow furrowed.

“You know?” I ask, bemused. How could she know? I only just admitted it myself. I watch her carefully. She doesn’t flinch or move. The wind is blowing the shorter strands of her hair into her face, causing it to part and expose her scar. My heart clenches just a bit at the sight. She just pushes the stray strands behind her ear and nods.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Partially because of empathy,” she says, “partially because you needed confirmation from Liam that I didn’t participate in his advances… and partially because of the Boogeyman.” I needed confirmation from Liam…

“He contacted you?” I say, trying to hide the chill in my voice. “He told you that I went to see him?”

“No,” she says, coolly, making eye-contact with me. “You just did.” She turns her gaze back to the lake. “But neither of you needed to say anything. I know you, Christian. I know sooner or later, you would have confronted him, just like I would have if I had been in the same position.” She pushes her hair behind her ear again. “I see he didn’t put your fears to rest.”

She’s so matter-of-fact about the whole thing. There’s no passion in either direction in her words or her demeanor. Have I already lost her?

“He couldn’t,” I tell her. “He’s the enemy. I faced off with him because I wanted to, but I’m not sure that it did any good.” I drop my chin to my chest. “The Boogeyman… I’m not sure I get that one.” She twists her lips.

“Yeah, I didn’t think you would,” she says. “Your Boogeyman is so much different than mine. Your Boogeyman tormented you for the first four years of your life… and left a scar on you that may never heal… several, in fact…”

I know that she’s referring to the cigarette burns on my back and chest.

“My Boogeyman keeps popping up,” she says. “Angry teenage mobs that torture you and kill your firstborn… well, not born; psycho cheating, kidnapping ex-boyfriends and their psycho viciously violent sidekicks; crazy ex-subs who use motor vehicles as missiles; even Pussy DJ’s who accost your daddy…”

Pussy DJ’s?

“He’s everywhere in my life, like the monster that hides under your bed that you thought would leave when you grew up, but you’re still afraid to hang your foot over the edge for fear that his scaly hand may reach up and grab you. Yeah, that Boogeyman keeps me conscious of the bad.”

That’s a fucked-up way to live, but there’s no doubt in my mind that my trek to Madrid only reinforced the presence of the Boogeyman. I take her face in my hands and force her to look at me.

“You hurt me,” I tell her, “but I hurt you pretty badly, too.”

She nods sadly, and her eyes soften, the impassiveness and distance that I’ve seen and felt slowly seeping out of them.

“Anastasia, I swear to you, I’ll never leave you like that again without talking to you,” I press.

“You can’t promise me that, Christian,” she says, trying to move her face from my hands.

“Yes, I fucking can!” I retort sharply, refusing to let her turn away from me. I see her resolve break even more.

“How?” she asks, her voice shaking slightly. “How can you promise me that if I hurt you to the point of not being able to speak to me—like I did this time… like I did with the fundraiser fiasco—that you won’t bolt? Hell, I wanna bolt!”

What? She wants to bolt?

“Why?” I ask bemused.

“Because of how you feel right now. Because of the Boogeyman. Because of everything! Because I don’t want to accept that I can’t have back what I had before!”

“Then, don’t!” I yell, snatching her into my arms and squeezing so tight that I hear her breath escape. “Don’t… don’t… don’t… please, don’t…” I’m weeping into her neck. I’m desperate for her to feel my pain, my anguish. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to fix it. I sure as hell can’t fix it by myself, and if she feels like it can’t be fixed, we’re doomed.

“Maybe we can’t get back what we had before,” I cry, “but we can sure as hell try. We can aim for pieces of what we had until we build the whole! And if we can’t ever build the whole pie, then we’ll build as much of it as we can, but dammit we have to try! We have to fucking try! I can’t tolerate the thought of settling because we didn’t try.”

I’m sobbing now. I know what this means. I know it’s now or never. If I feel in my heart that in some way, my wife exhibited infidelity, and I’m still willing to put my whole heart and soul into healing completely—and she’s not—then we’re wasting our time. Either she can’t do it, or she doesn’t want to.

“I love you,” I weep. “I love you so much. You’re my whole life. You and my babies… you’re my whole life. I have nothing… remember? I have nothing if I don’t have you… and if we can’t heal…” I can barely choke the words out. “If we can’t put ourselves back together again, then there’s no need for us to continue.”

I feel her body stiffen, and I feel like this is the first time she’s hearing me. This could be the nail in my coffin, but I can’t stop now. I close my eyes tight, cry harder, and continue.

“I believe in us,” I sob. “I believe in who we are, what we are, what we had, and what we have, but I can’t do it by myself. I won’t do it by myself. We’ll end up resenting each other and it’ll be worse than it ever was. I won’t do that to myself. I won’t do that to you, to us, or to our children.”

My body shakes and my stomach churns at the thought of being without my wife, of us not being a family, of the slow and painful destruction of our love like I’ve seen in marriages so many times before. That can’t be us. We have to give it everything… or walk away.

“I can’t…” she wails, and I feel my heart breaking as I cling to her for what could be the last time. This is it. We can’t do it… we can’t make it back to where…

“I can’t… I can’t… lose you…” she chokes, “I can’t… li… live… without you… Please…” and she can’t say anymore. The fissures in my heart slowly begin to mend and I sob with relief. I didn’t let her finish. She doesn’t want to lose us either.

“Then we have to try,” I sob. “We have to fight to get it back. Don’t give up on me, goddammit! Tell me you won’t give up on me! On us!

“O… okay,” she keens.

“Say it!” I demand through my tears. I have to hear her say it or I can’t go on. I won’t.

“I… won’t… give up… on us,” she sobs through stuttering breaths, and I hold her close to me like the lifeline that she is.


ANASTASIA

“What did Ace say to you to make you think that we had to start all over again?”

We normally don’t talk about our sessions with our shrinks unless we’ve visited one of them together. This time, it seemed necessary. After we cried on the back lawn until the sun went down and we were both waterlogged, we came inside to the inquisitive faces of our family and staff. Although Val and Elliot’s house is finished, they still seem to spend more time here than they do at their own home. Separation anxiety I guess. When Christian and I walked in from the family room patio doors, Elliot was the first to spot us and, of course, insert an inappropriate comment at the worse possible moment.

“Geez, who died?” he had said, examining me and Christian as we basically held one another up from collapsing onto the floor.

“You if you don’t shut the fuck up,” Christian growled and that was the end of that conversation.

Now, Christian and I are cuddled on a mass of pillows on the floor of my sitting room in front of the fireplace. I couldn’t quite shake the chill from being outside, so I’m still in my sweater, yoga pants, and socks, wrapped in a microfiber blanket and my husband’s strong arms. He’s still wearing his sweater and jeans.

“He didn’t say we,” I admit. “He said me. I came to the we conclusion on my own, because starting over by myself is too scary a concept.”

“I can help you…” Of course, he believes that.

“I don’t know if you can. There may be some steps that you may be able to help me with, but a lot of this I have to do on my own. It’s that simple. It’s a journey I have to take because I’m fighting my own fears about life and… circumstances.”

“Don’t shut me out,” he says, his voice pleading. “I’ll respect that you have to make the journey on your own, but don’t shut me out.” I don’t respond. I didn’t mean to shut him out so much as I was afraid to let him back in. I don’t think he knows the power that he has over me.

He confessed effectively telling Dr. Baker to shut up and listen while he poured out his feelings and fears. Sometimes, people don’t listen because they’re so ready to respond. I remember having to tell my general practitioner once to shut up and listen—you can’t treat me or offer me solutions if you don’t listen to the problem.

He spilled everything to her that he couldn’t tell anyone else, not even me—how deep the feeling of betrayal really goes; his insecurities coming to the forefront and not only forcing him to confront Liam, but also driving him to come to the Center to see exactly what I was doing; not being willing to accept that we couldn’t bounce back from this and coming to the realization that he’s not willing to settle for partial commitment on any level, which in essence is what I was suggesting.

I, in turn, confessed my feelings of total failure and inadequacy. I admitted that I had come so far in my Me Against the World progress only to fall of the ladder—or the cliff, as it were—and break my fucking back on the way down. The fall was terrifying, but the landing was devastating, and I had no idea how to get back up. Ace told me that the horse was scary, in so many words, but that I had to get back on it, and in order to do that, I had to start crawling. Remember everything that I had learned and just start inching my way through again. I felt just as devastated as I did when I awoke in the hospital to find no one there for me after the Green Valley incident, so I had to start from those feelings, use what I’ve learned, and start putting myself back together again.

That’s why he may not be able to help me. This is a journey of self-rediscovery, and he can’t do that for me.

“Maybe you should start your own journey, Christian,” I tell him. “I can’t shrink you because I’m too involved, but I can make suggestions. Let me teach you how to meditate in a way that’s not as stressful or demanding as what you were doing before. Then, you’ll be able to see if it helps you or not. Don’t force it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and you can stop.” He sighs.

“Very well, Mrs. Grey,” he concedes, and it sounds like surrender.

“Don’t do it for me, Christian,” I tell him, “Do it only if you want to.” I snuggle back into the pillows and my husband and get more comfortable. Christian does that silent curse thing and breaks our cuddle to reach into his pocket and retrieve his phone. Since it’s after 9pm, I know it must be important.

“Hey, Dad,” he answers.

“Yeah, why would you ask?” he responds to his father after a pause.

“Well, Elliot has a big mouth and needs to mind his own business.” I assume that Elliot called Carrick to tell him about mine and Christian’s less-than-stellar entrance into the family room earlier.

“Yes, Dad, I know. Tell me, what did you come up with?” Okay, I feel a bit intrusive, so I move to get up so that I can give him some privacy, but he tightens his grip around me, indicating that he doesn’t want me to leave. He listens for a while to whatever his father is saying, his facial expressions indicating that he’s not pleased at all with what he’s hearing.

“So, Stan said he got his notice nearly a month ago, but yours and Herman’s mysteriously disappeared… it’s a crime to fuck with the U.S. Mail…”

Okay, what’s this about?

“So, what time will it be?… Well, yeah, that definitely means a Thursday flight. Did you talk to the attorney or was it too late?”

Okay, Carrick’s taking a trip, and it sounds official.

“God, that fucker is really a piece of work…” Not two words I would have used in the same sentence. “Okay, Dad. I’ll get the jet ready and I’ll make overnight accommodations as well. Early Thursday good for you?”

Now, I’m really curious.

“Alright. I’ll call tomorrow with the details. Are Mom and Luma going?”

Anxiety levels rising here…

“Okay. Get some rest, Dad. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He ends the call and sighs heavily, biting his lip in deep contemplation.

“Christian? What is it? Is everything okay?” He sighs again and raises his head.

“Pops had a will,” he says, training his gaze on me. “An attorney in Detroit handled all of his legal affairs. Pops didn’t really get a chance to transfer any of his legal affairs here. It was probably the very last thing on his mind, literally, and he most likely didn’t think he had to since Herman is his POA and executor. But as it stands, somehow or another, Dad’s and Uncle Herman’s notifications of the reading came up MIA and we only found out through a paper trail of Freeman’s spending…”

“Freeman,” I groan. “Fuck. And he’s been having Carrick followed.”

“For months, we’ve discovered,” Christian adds.

“Is it possible that he had the notices intercepted?” I ask, hence Christian’s statement about tampering with the mail.

“Dad can’t prove it, but he thinks so,” Christian says. “We caught it in time, though. The reading the will is Friday, so the jet has to be in the air Thursday morning to Detroit…” He trails off.

“And?” I press. There’s more.

“I said I would go with him for moral support,” he adds. Oh, I see. He didn’t want to tell me because he just got back. “Would you… like to come with me?”

Is this a consolation prize? It’s totally unnecessary. It’s not like Madrid where he just disappeared on me. He’s going across the country, but he’s not leaving the country.

“What about the twins?” I say immediately. I was joking about Elliot and Val, but I’m certain that my children suffered some kind of separation anxiety when Christian left. They might lose their minds if we both left them. It’s different from when we left them at six weeks old—they’re more conscious of their surroundings now.

“They can come, too,” he says. And what… we bring the nannies?

“Are Grace and Luma going?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Dad only just got all the details, so I don’t think they’ve gotten that far yet.” I don’t need to follow him to Detroit. I’m a big girl and I’ve dealt with him being away before, as long as I know where he’s going and when he’ll be back.

“No, I don’t want to drag the babies on an unnecessary plane ride,” I tell him. “I know the time will come, but not now. Babies don’t do well in pressurized tubes.” He nods. He looks a bit crestfallen.

“Okay,” he says. “I can’t believe Elliot actually called my father and tattled on me!” he adds in an attempt to change the subject and lighten the mood. It doesn’t work very well.

“You don’t want to go,” I deduce. He twists his lip.

“I don’t want to go,” he admits. “The place gives me a horrible feeling even though I don’t have any memories of it that I can pinpoint, but my dad needs me. None of this is easy for him and I’m not able to help him in every way, but I want to help in any way that I can. Freeman is a sore subject, and if I hadn’t convinced him to do this—for Pops—he wouldn’t have gone at all. Dad hasn’t even mourned his father properly, and now, this.” I ponder the thought for a moment.

“Count me in,” I say. He raises his eyes to me and his face lights up.

“Are you sure?” he says. “I don’t want you to feel pressured… and the twins…”

“Your father needs you, and you’re going to need me,” I say, knowing that this trip will be easier for him to stomach if I’m with him. “But I have to be back in Seattle by Monday.”

“Trust me, I don’t think any of us wants to stay in Detroit one second longer than we have to. This will most likely be an overnight trip.”

“Well, that’s even better,” I tell him. “The twins will be fine as long as we give them kisses and lots of snuggles before we leave and call to check on them while we’re gone.” A small smile creeps onto his face.

“Thank you, baby,” he says. “I haven’t faced this place since I was a kid and I have no idea how I’m going to feel going back there. I went to Ionia when I went to visit that asshole in prison. I didn’t go to Detroit. Even Detroit Metro Airport isn’t in Detroit.” He tightens his arms around me. “Out of curiosity, why do you need to be back in Seattle so quickly? Is something happening at the Center?”

“Oh, I didn’t tell you,” I say, turning around to face him. “We finalize the adoption next Monday. I just found out today. Daddy’s going to be my daddy.”

“Oh, Butterfly, that’s really great news!” he says, giving me a squeeze. “We really need some good news around here.”

“That, we do,” I concur. “So, tell me, what do you know about Pops’ will and Freeman’s involvement?” He scratches his stubble.

“Uncle Herman knew that Pops had a will, but he didn’t get any notice that they were reading it any time soon. He doesn’t know what’s in it because Pops kept it a secret. The only assets he knows about are the same ones that Dad knows about—the house and the pension, and the pension is not transferrable. Dad wants no part of the house and I’m sure that Pops wouldn’t have written a will just to bequeath the house. So, we don’t know what to expect.”

“Why does Freeman have to be such an asshole in all of this?” I ask. “Pops is dead and the only thing he has left are his brothers. He’s going to ruin that?”

“Some people are simply irreparable, Butterfly,” he says, stroking my hair. “You know that.”

Yes, unfortunately I know that only too well.


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

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

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~~love and handcuffs

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 12

Golden hasn’t died. She’s just been asleep for a while. The Muse will update as she feels inspired.

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

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

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 12

ericdane

TREY

I’m puffing and panting, trying to get air in and after a few moments of a reprieve, she has latched back onto my dick.

Goddammitmotherfuckinghellshitballsoffire!

I squeeze my eyes closed and hold my breath. Just a few minutes of this sensitivity and I’ll be ready to go again, just a few minutes… a few minutes…

“Well, that doesn’t look like the face of pleasure,” Golden’s voice says breaking through my concentration, “or even of pleasurable pain.”

What do I say? It’s not.

“No, Mistress,” I say in all honesty.

“So, why didn’t you safeword?” she asks, a bit perturbed.

“Because it wasn’t painful,” I admit. “Just uncomfortable.” She examines me for a few moments, then raises her brow at me.

“You’re multi-orgasmic,” she deduces. How the fuck…?

“Yes…” I respond slowly. She nods.

“Most of my clients are multi-orgasmic,” she says, now fondling my dick gently, a much more pleasant feeling, “but you all get to your… second coming… a little differently.” Shit, it almost feels like she’s tickling me.

“We’re still getting to know each other, Chopper,” she coos. “It’s only our second scene. You’ll have to be more forthcoming with what doesn’t please you.” She grabs the cockring and yanks it. I grunt loudly. That shit hurt.

“Yes, Mistress,” I croak, assuming that was some sort of punishment. I feel her hands on my dick again—they’re oily this time—and my cock is somewhat flaccid. She yanks again. Fuck! And again! Fucking hell! And a third time and…

Pop!

My balls are free. The cockring is still at the base of my shaft, but my balls are free. A gentle hand cups my tender testicles and roll them back and forth in the oily palm. God, that feels good—not erotic…yet, but soothing. I almost fucking purr. The blood flow to my dick is restricted and now, it’s involuntarily getting hard again, even though it was bound to happen with her ass still in my face and her soft hand still down there cupping my balls. I bite my lip to suppress a moan.

“There,” she says. “That’s more like it.” What she’s really saying is, “I so own you,” because she knows, right now, she does.

That soothing feeling on my balls is slowly beginning to become arousing, and I’m resenting being strapped down to this table. I want to grind my hips into her hand and feel some friction on the skin of my dick to match the soothing, aching, taunting of my balls. I close my eyes and try to focus on relaxing, but even with my eyes closed, I’m seeing her naked ass behind my eyelids… and I’m thinking about fucking it… something I’ll probably never have. Why am I torturing myself this way? Why am I letting her tortu…

Fuck! What the fuck is that?

I feel something at the head of my dick that feels like fresh pussy. My eyes jolt open, because I’m sure I still feel her hand on my cock. What the fuck?

Her ass is still in my face, so I know it’s not her pussy. Dammit.

It’s not her mouth. I know what her mouth feels like. Only after two scenes, I can pick that mouth out of a crowd. You can line up ten women and tell them to suck my dick, and I would know which one was Golden without even looking. I just ought to; every time she sucked my dick, I was blindfolded.

So, this ain’t her mouth.

What the fuck is it, then?

She holds my now very stiff dick in one hand and pushes the head of it inside of this thing… slowly… tightly… fuck!

It’s a Fleshlight.

Let me explain the dynamics of a Fleshlight. I have a Fleshlight. I’ve used a Fleshlight more than once. It’s not something that I would use on a regular basis, mostly because pussy is plentiful in my life and I don’t really need to, but when I was first discovering just how powerful my sex drive really was, most of my girlfriends couldn’t keep up with me.

Enter Fleshlight.

Fleshlight will spoil you for women. Why? Because fucking Fleshlight is almost like fucking a virgin every time. Granted, you don’t get the thrill of holding a woman, slapping an ass, kissing, and all the other perks that come with fucking a warm body, but if you’re looking for the ultimate nut and that’s it, Fleshlight is definitely the way to go. It can come with the opening to pussy lips, an asshole, a mouth, or ass cheeks and the inner texture can be smooth, ribbed, bumpy, swirly, you name it. If you spend your money on the real thing and not the knock-offs, every time you stick your dick in Fleshlight, that fucker is tight.

Every. Single. Time.

So, if you fuck it all night long, it’s tight while you’re in it. Then if you pull your dick out and stick it back in, you still get that first entry feeling every time—you know, that feeling when you’ve been away from your girl for a while and you’re about to tear the walls down and that pussy is so tight that you have to work your way into it, and she grimaces while you’re doing it? Yeah, Fleshlight is like that every time.

Every. Single. Fucking. Time.

So, imagine having this Temptress of Torture with your dick in one hand and the real thing Fleshlight in the other working your cock over like the master that she is. I nearly lose my fucking mind. She’s got one hand guiding my dick and the other controlling the Fleshlight. Her torment begins by rolling the head around the mouth of this thing, and I think this opening is an asshole. Life-like, fleshy, silicon massaging the head of my dick. I can feel my body trembling.

Next, instead of pushing the Fleshlight down on my dick, she uses her hand to push my dick up into the Fleshlight. First entry… tight as fuck…

“Uuummmph!”

It’s nearly fucking unbearable. She pushes and pulls my dick and I’m fucking this Fleshlight, wanting to climb the hell off this comfortable ass table, but completely immobilized and unable to move. Just a few tormenting strokes and she pulls my cock out of the Fleshlight. Fucking hell! My dick is fucking aching now. She gives it no reprieve from her gentle hands and I’m licking my lips, trying to soothe the dryness in my mouth. This is inhumane!

That damn thing is on my head again, massaging like first entry, and then…

“Uummmpppphh!”

First entry again. It’s so fucking tight, squeezing and caressing the head of my dick again. If I could move, my back would be arching right now. The head of my dick fucks this Fleshlight for several minutes until my cock is hot and hard and very, very excited.

She repeats this torment several times—the Fleshlight edging me, my cock fucking the Fleshlight, a long and slow stroke that leaves me gagging to come. Each agonizingly slow pull threatens to have my cock blow its load any second. I’ll never look at a Fleshlight again the same way as long as I live!

I’m clawing at the leather by the time she releases my dick this time, I won’t make it through another ruined orgasm like that.

Ruined orgasms. Fuck! Is that what she’s doing?

That new entry hits my dick again and the feeling is nearly excruciating. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and the tension has the rest of my body so tight and wracked with pain that I don’t think I’ll survive another entry, but first, I have to survive this fucking edging.

“Fuck!” I whisper. I can’t help it. My body aches and my cock is on fire.

“Did you say something, Chopper?” she taunts, but my mouth won’t work now. I can’t open my eyes right now as they are locked shut along with my gritting teeth and clenching jaw. My dick is on its own now. None of my muscles are listening to me. I’m at their mercy. Just when my balls are about to give up the fight, she pulls that fucker off the head of my dick. The opening caresses the tender frenulum, and I’m certain that she got a little jizz with that move.

“Fuck!” I grunt out again between grinding teeth. I think she’s scolding me… or something… but I can’t hear her. I can only hear the blood rushing through my ears; I can hear the sweat bursting from every pore and rolling down my body to the soft leather table, to my balls, in my face to my eyes; I can hear my muscles flexing and contracting each time that fucking portable asshole tortures my dick; I can hear my balls screaming for release and cursing me every second for subjecting them to this treatment…

But I can’t hear Golden.

First entry comes again, and I groan mournfully, unable to take even the slightest touch, and she knows it. She knows the man’s body too fucking well, because she knows exactly when you’re about to come. She holds the Fleshlight still—tight on my dick. I feel my shaft throbbing inside of it—not coming, just throbbing. I can hear my ragged breathing, feel my pulse accelerate, and I can still hear my blood, sweat, and muscles, too.

She just stays there for a few moments while my cock throbs and my balls tighten. I’m completely out of control of this situation, and she’s going to make me suffer. Maybe this is my punishment for speaking.

I’m ready to tap out.

Just as my muscles begin to relax only a bit, she pulls that fucking Fleshlight, and my body is alight again. Fuck punishment.

“Aaaww, shit,” I groan, somewhat resigned to my fate, but not liking it one bit. I’ve never had to come so bad that my body hurt. I’ve chased an orgasm before until I ached from the workout, but never this. When the Fleshlight starts to move again, I almost want to cry. I’m ready for this to stop, now. I’ve never been denied an orgasm and I’m certain that I don’t like it—the tightening of the muscles in my back, my balls feeling like they’re going to explode, and my dick as hard as a sausage about to burst from its skin, burning and aching so badly that…

“Aahh! Aahh! Aaaaaaahhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

She has pulled the Fleshlight off my dick now, but her mouth is stroking up and down over the skin of my frenulum while her tongue massages the tender, sensitive bundle of nerves. I’m exploding fantastically—painful jolts coursing through my cock as that powerful mass of muscle at the base of my balls pushes stream after hot stream of cum from my dick. I can’t see it; I don’t have to. I can feel every painfully pleasurable contraction, each one several seconds long. If nothing is coming out of my dick, it just ought to be, and I can’t open my eyes even if I wanted to.

She gives my dick that fantastic oral massage until the very last contraction, and I’m sure that she has emptied my scrotum for days to come! I’m choking on air, trying to get precious breath into my lungs. I can’t. I can’t concentrate on this one simple thing… breathing.

“Settle down, Chopper,” a soft, seductive voice says to me. “Relax. In through your nose, out through your mouth…”

I follow the instructions of the goddess’s voice, afraid that I’ll suffocate if I don’t. In through my nose, out through my mouth….

I feel the restraints release from my ankles. For some reason, that calms me a bit… and saddens me at the same time.

In through my nose, out through my mouth…

I can feel my muscles relaxing and my thoughts coming together now. Focus, Grey.

In through my nose, out through my mouth…

The restraints release from my wrists and I breathe a deep sigh of relief. I also lament the release a bit, because I know that our scene is over.

“Take all the time you need,” she coos. “I’ll see you upstairs…”

I don’t think I’ve fallen asleep, but I’ve clearly lost a little time. What the hell happened? I know she talked about transcending, but this was ridiculous.

I slowly lift my exhausted body from the table, first turning onto my side, then rolling onto my ass—still painful from playtime. That’s going to sting longer than the last one did.

God, I came so hard that I have to check under the table to see if brain matter is left down there.

Not even my cum. Did she cover the floor with something? Did she clean before she went upstairs? That’s not likely.

“Did she swallow?” I ask no one. That would have been impossible. Her mouth was sideways on my frenulum until my orgasm stopped. I know I came… good God, did I come! So, where’s the evidence?

My shaky legs carry me over to the valet where I retrieve my clothes and haphazardly get dressed. I was wrong—my dick and balls are tender, light, and so empty that she can do this to me anytime! I drag my ass up the stairs and Mr. Belvedere is just beyond the door, as usual. That creeps me the fuck out.

“Do you need anything?” he asks again and waits for instructions.

“Where is she?” I ask. “Why is she never here when I come upstairs?” Belvedere doesn’t react to my question.

“The lady’s visitors usually understand that any aftercare would be administered by me,” he says. “I’m a licensed home health care professional able to tend to any surface or subcutaneous wounds that do not require immediate medical attention. I understand that a level of trust and familiarity is required to allow a stranger—much less, another man—to administer your aftercare, in which case, you can feel free to employ someone else to do so at your discretion.”

That’s his subtle way of saying that I can forget about getting the Golden treatment for my aftercare.

“Did you…?” I don’t even know how to ask this question. “Did you come down there… after…?” His brow furrows, but his mask is soon impassive again.

“No,” he replies. “I don’t enter the dungeon until it’s empty.”

Then what the hell happened to my cum?

“Where is she?” I repeat my question.

“The parlor,” he says, gesturing in that direction. I don’t entertain his company anymore. I head straight for the parlor. I can hear music as usual. She’s listening to her revolutionary. I don’t know the song, but I know his voice. Is he all she listens to, or is this what she listens to after a scene? This song almost sounds like a love song. His voice is mellow and he’s talking about wanting to be with someone, then a woman’s voice comes in talking about having faith. It hardly sounds like the revolutionary she described.

I noticed his lyrics often talk about destiny, but he drags the word out… like “destineeeee.” What’s that all about?

It’s this moment that I realize that she’s wearing that same golden dress that I dry-humped her in. Hmmm…

“Are you coming in or are you just going to lurk there in the doorway?”

Jesus! Her voice startles me. What the fuck is going on with me tonight? It was just an orgasm, for fucks sake.

“I was listening to your revolutionary,” I admit. “That doesn’t sound like what I would expect from him.”

“That’s a sign of true genius,” she says, impassively. “They can change up seamlessly and still make good music. Sit.” She gestures to the sofa and turns to the bar. It’s amazing to me that she assumes that I can sit after one of our scenes. She makes a drink and when she turns around, I’m still standing.

“Rebellious man, aren’t you?” she says, holding a mixed drink of dark liquor. That’s odd for her. She’s a vodka drinker.

“Tell me, Mistress,” I begin, “just how many of your clients can sit after a scene?” She twists her lips.

“Point taken,” she says, “but more than you think. Many of them accept the aftercare.” I nod.

“And of those, how many are Dominants?” I inquire. She raises an eyebrow at me.

“It may surprise you to know that you’re not my only dominant personality, Chopper,” she informs me. “They may not all be Dominants in the playroom sense, but when it comes to being in charge, I have a few that can give you a real run for your money.” She hands me the drink. There’s a switch. The drink is for me. She made me a drink… she wants something.

“Are you going to let my arm fall off?” she chides. I take the drink from her and sip. Jack and Coke. Did she watch me? Did Belvedere tell her? What does she want?

“You’re right,” she says, and I’m wondering what she’s talking about. “I want something from you.”

Fuck, am I that transparent?

“You need to sit, because I want to sit and I’m not accustomed to people standing over me.” She gestures to the sofa again. “The cushions are memory foam—for just such an occasion as this.”

Well… okay.

I sit on the sofa. It hurts, of course, but then the cushion melds to my form and it doesn’t hurt so much. Why didn’t I notice this when I sat on this sofa before?

“I want information,” she says, taking a seat on the sofa across from me. Her revolutionary begins talking about belief in a higher power and she begins her questioning. “I know that you said Elena asked you to help her when her businesses were failing. I need you to give me more details on the matter.”

Okay, where the hell is this going?

“Exactly what details to you need?” I ask. “She wanted help, I refused. I didn’t consider us to be friends anymore and I owed her nothing. I was appalled and offended that she had the audacity to come to me in the first place.”

“Why would she think you had something to do with her demise?” She presses.

“Why are you so curious about this?” I ask. Her brow furrows.

“Why are you so evasive?” She retorts.

“I’m not evasive. There’s nothing to tell.” She examines me carefully, then her face changes.

“Oh, my God,” she says, her hand moving to her cheek. “You did do something to her, or you at least had something to do with her business failing.” How could she possibly know that?

“I never said…”

“You can’t bullshit a bullshitter, Trey!” she snaps, rising from her seat. “I can soft-shoe with the best of them, in and out of the courtroom! Why do you think I’m so fucking good at what I do, in and out of the courtroom?” She walks away from the sofa and begins pacing around her parlor.

“Look, Elena is the reason for her own destruction,” I press, and it’s the truth. “She’s too goddamn cocky and that’s what caused her demise.”

“Tell me what the hell you did, Trey,” Goldie insists.

“Tell me what this is all about,” I retort. I’m not giving her any information until she gives me some first.

“Goddammit, this is not some boardroom positioning game!” she yells, spinning around on me. “This is my fucking life! This woman broke your goddamn arm and now, she’s coming at me with her talons drawn and I don’t even know what the fuck I’m up against. Now, you give me full fucking disclosure right now or I’ll use my resources and find what I need on my own, and you can get the fuck out of my house and never darken my goddamn door again!”

Dammit to hell, I thought I was a Dominant until this moment. Her tone, the firmness in her voice, and the thought of leaving this house and never seeing her again would have me confessing to the Kennedy assassination.

“I. Did not. Destroy. Elena’s. Business.” I say firmly. “I will admit to one rumor. One rumor. Her demise after that was all her own doing.”

Goldie examines me further, then comes back to the sofa and sits across from me.

“Full disclosure,” she says again, crossing her arms and legs while glaring at me expecting.

“I’ll give you full disclosure, but that leaves me wide open. You have to give me something, too. That’s only fair… Mistress.” She played that card on me and she knows she did, so I’m playing it back.

“Fine, but you give me full disclosure first,” she retorts, quickly without flinching. She’s not going to back down from this. I throw my drink back and put the glass on the end table.

“A long time ago, right after I got into the lifestyle, Elena and I used to have a thing,” I begin. “We fucked a few times and that was it.” I raise my eyes to Goldie. Her gaze is impassive.

“Go on,” she says, giving nothing away.

“We stayed friends,” I continue, “fucked once in a while, shared submissives, but the sexual part of the relationship just faded. She tried to get it back every now and then, but it never happened.”

“How long?” I look at her again. “The last time, how long ago was it?” I strain to think, then shrug.

“Four or five years, maybe, I don’t know exactly.” She nods.

“Continue,” she demands.  I clear my throat, more than a little miffed that she’s ordering me around outside the dungeon… not that she orders me around inside the dungeon. Nonetheless…

“She did challenge me to get you,” I say. “She knew that I would never have you the way that I wanted and she taunted me about it. The more she taunted me, the more I wanted you. The more she told me that I would never have you, the more determined I became to get you. You became an obsession, but you already knew that. You drove me out of my mind and you weren’t even there…”

I’m straying from the story.

“Anyway, the day you shot at me, I should have become discouraged, but I wasn’t. I just wanted you more. The whole series of events that followed that is why Madame Petra is so convinced that I solely orchestrated her downfall.” I pause.

“I’m listening,” Goldie says, and I continue.

“I saw her the day after you and I shared our… first orgasm,” I say. “That’s when she told me about the guy who raped you.”

“He didn’t rape me,” she hisses. “Rape indicates a violent act—some poor waif getting held down, beaten, and some asshole tearing into her while she cries and begs him to stop. That’s not what happened to me. I said, ‘no,’ he forcefully persisted.  He was stronger than me, so I stopped resisting. You can’t very well be a Domme with your face beaten all to hell because some asshole wanted some pussy and you refused. When he was done taking what didn’t belong to him, I made sure that he fucking well wasn’t ever going to do it again. So, while I understand the concept of ‘no means no,’ and the rape laws are what kept me out of jail, I wasn’t raped—I was robbed. He took my body without my permission, so I took his fucking legs.”

Ooookay. Well, I won’t get into the logistics of that with the counselor. The details are still the same.

“Um, okay. So, when she told me about the incident with the gun, I became enraged and ended our friendship. Then I spread one rumor to a submissive or three that her salon had a bedbug infestation. It gave women the heebie-jeebies and that was enough to alert the health department to go check her out. They found nothing, but it did no good. Her reputation was already on a downward spiral.” Goldie examines me with narrowed eyes.

“That’s it?” she questions. “There’s nothing else?” I shake my head.

“There’s nothing else,” I confirm. “Rumors happen all the time. Restaurants get bad grades from the health department, close up shop, clean things up and reopen for business. They don’t shut down. She was so busy with the ‘deny’ game that she didn’t bother with any kind of damage control. That’s why her businesses failed—not because of me.”

“You’re telling me that the entire fall of the Salons to the Elite was an imaginary bedbug problem?” she asks in disbelief. Before I can nod, she speaks again. “Things are starting to make sense now, but that doesn’t explain the broken arm. How did she figure out that it was you?”

“She put two and two together,” I admit. “I still denied the whole thing, but she wasn’t deterred. She’s totally convinced that I had something to do with it, but she doesn’t know what. She came to ask me for help and I refused. Somehow, at that moment, she knew. She launched a potted plant at me and I put my arm up to shield my face. The rest is history.” Goldie shakes her head.

“With a good ad campaign and a few strategically placed testimonials, she could’ve avoided all of this. Yet, she’s trying to find scapegoats…” Goldie is up and pacing again. “While she rightly has you penned for whatever role you played in this, she now has her claws pointed at me.” I frown.

“What?” I ask confused.

“Once she discovered that we’re engaging, I became your partner-in-crime in her downfall.”

“How did she find out that we’re… engaging?” I ask. I sure as hell don’t talk to her ass anymore.

“I told her,” Goldie says. “And you know that if you two were still friends, you would have told her, too. So, don’t judge me.”

Well, she got me dead to rights there.

“Her hope was that you would dethrone me, for lack of a better word, so I called to gloat, that I had you and we had reached an agreement, and that I was still sitting on the throne. She flipped out. Started calling me names, declaring that we were in this together all along, threatening me… It probably didn’t help that I stopped going to her salons shortly before the rumor circulated.”

“Well, I certainly wasn’t trying to implicate you in all of this. Hell, I thought we’d never see each other again.” She raises and eyebrow at me.

“That’s why you kept that necklace for six months?” she inquires. “Or found another one just like it.” Dammit to hell!

“I’ve asked myself the same question,” I admit.

“Whatever the case may be, I could give a fuck less what goes on with her. Nobody died, but she’s convinced that I’m in on it and now she and her psycho husband have their sights set on me!”

Wait… what?

“What are you talking about? What do you mean she and her psycho husband?”

“Yeah, I had the displeasure of meeting that freaky frosted fuck at the Civil Community Fundraiser a couple of weeks ago. She thinks I have something to do with whatever it is that you did. I’m sure she’s told him about it, too. No doubt, they’ve had lovely conversations about me. Why do you think Jesse is following me around? Did you think I just suddenly found the need to hire a bodyguard?”

“But why the fuck would Linc care? Yeah, he’s probably pissed about the businesses, but not enough to come after you, I wouldn’t think…”

“Oh, no, I think that may have had something to do with you. At least in the beginning, I’m sure it did. He made a huge display of referring to me as your ‘new piece of ass’—in front of Senator Earnhart, I might add, and probably to several other attendees of the fundraiser until I threatened him with a lawsuit. From there, he cornered me on the smoker’s balcony in the goddamn cold and proceeded to feel me out to be his own concubine. When I was less than receptive to his advances, he assaulted me by blowing smoke directly in my face.”

I feel my blood pressure rising. Linc actually went after her because he thought she was with me. Then, when he found out that she wasn’t, he actually went after her—aggressively! I don’t know which of those pisses me off the most. He’s calling me out. I don’t know why, but he is. He hasn’t had enough of Christian Grey making a fool of him, I see. I guess I’ll have to give that platinum-headed pencil-dick what he’s asking for.

“That fucking asshole,” I say out loud. “Me and Linc, it’s personal, Golden.”

“Personal in that you were fucking his wife?” she asks coolly. My mouth forms a thin line.

“He never knew,” I tell her. “He suspected, but he never found out…”

“But he did know, Trey,” she retorts. “You don’t have to see someone’s dick in your wife’s pussy to know they’re fucking, and he knew. So, what did he do?”

“The only thing he could. He started a rumor. Had the press knocking at my door.”

“Well, like you said, damage control could have taken care of that…”

“I didn’t need damage control,” I reply. “A well-placed ‘What the fuck are you talking about’ here and a ‘What the hell do I look like to you’ there was enough to throw those dogs off the scent, especially since our sexual relationship was headed downhill by that time anyway.”

“That’s damage control, Chopper,” she says, and there’s that fucking name again. “And what did you do after that?”

“I facilitated the closing and/or acquisition of seven of his subsidiaries. Three of them were crucial to his business.” She nods.

“And that’s why it’s personal,” she says, “why he’s after me. I’m an acquisition… or so he thinks.” I raise my brow at her. “He found out the hard way that it doesn’t really do to fool with me, and I didn’t even have to draw my firearm.”

Draw her firearm… that leaves me a bit uncomfortable.


Briana Evigan Ch 12 small

GOLDEN

That dick has had all it can take right about now. I can’t even describe the angry throbbing and pulsing each time I swirl that head around the opening of the Fleshlight and push it in, not to mention the shivering and painful groans Chopper emits with each new entry, each slow and agonizing stroke, and each teasing withdrawal. He’s going to come like a fucking rocket. And as soon as I see that tension just under his balls and at the base of his dick, I pull that Fleshlight off and…

“Aahh! Aahh! Aaaaaaahhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

I wrap my mouth sideways around that dick and frenulum and tickle and manipulate ferociously, and there’s my 21-gun salute—no disrespect intended. He’s shooting off long, impressive streams of hot white passion, making me glad that I remembered to put a disposable lining on the floor before the fireworks began. I wouldn’t want to clean it up and I just feel funny leaving it for Blake to do, even though I know that he would. But damn, the release is so hard that he could put somebody’s eye out!

I continue to manipulate and watching the magnificent show out of my peripheral. God, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. I stroke and suck and lick until the long, purposeful, concentrated streams become short, forced spurts, and then oozing drips squeezing the last iotas of pleasure from his body and balls.

His orgasm was massive, and I have to coach him to breathe properly so that he doesn’t hyperventilate. I know he’ll most likely have a short period of incoherence once he catches his breath since I still have him strapped down, and he’s in the perfect position for sleep. He came so fucking hard that I’m certain that the massive release of prolactin, oxytocin, and melatonin he’ll feel in about 20 seconds will have him loopy and punch-drunk as fuck. So, after I release his binds and see his body relaxing into total submission, I whisper, “Take all the time you need. I’ll see you upstairs.”

I don’t even know if he heard me. His body has sunk into the soft leather of the table and he’s floating somewhere in the cosmos in a state of semi-consciousness that grasps every man after he’s had an orgasm… well, almost every man.

I quietly slide the floor cover from under the table, roll it up, and dispose of it, quickly cleaning the spots where Mr. Impressive shot his load too far and missed the cover. God, that dick is something else and should be registered as dangerous with the ATF!

I dressed a bit for his fantasy. He didn’t fool me one bit with this necklace. He’s a Domme and this has “collar” written all over it. He knows I’ll never be his submissive, but to make him come so hard while I’m wearing it that he thinks he shot pieces of his brain out of his dick, so much so that he has to lie helpless on the table until his muscles regain some of their strength—yeah, that’s about as close to the fantasy as he’s going to get…

Lying there, face down on my submissive table. From where I’m standing, I can see his body rise and fall from the regulated breathing that comes right at the point of subconscious relaxation. It’s that point where a man would normally fall asleep right after sex, but he has the proverbial “one eye open” because he’s in a place where he knows he can’t stay. I can also see the pink and red welts on his back from the one tool I used tonight—my flogger. Masterful, artistic stripes adorn his back and ass, and for him not to be a submissive, he achieved subspace at least three times in the process.

Last, but certainly not least, I can see his dick—flaccid from a severely intense orgasm but hanging impressively through the hole in the table nonetheless. I lick my lips looking at it, thinking about it…

And totally forget where I am.

He talks about me teasing men with my body and my charms—that thing is enough to dicktimize any woman alive. Elena was right in using him to try to get me to heel. If he fucked me with that tool, I’d be completely ruined.

It’s not that it’s the biggest I’ve ever seen. He’s well-endowed, but I’ve seen bigger. I have one client who’s so big that I wouldn’t allow him anywhere near my pussy with that wall of meat even if I was into fucking. But Chopper, that piece of meat is beautiful, and the way he responds, and it responds when he’s aroused… good God. To call it a masterpiece is a massive understatement.

I shake myself out of my inner musings, wrap my body in golden silk, and ascend the stairs. I was wearing something different when he arrived. He’s sure to recognize this dress when he sees it. With a nod to Blake, I go to my parlor and pour myself a drink. I’m in the mood for something mellow, but it has to be Pac. My endorphins and hormones are always on the wild when I’m done with a scene, even if I come. That’s why I need a few moments of silence with a vodka and a lollipop at the clubs. People think it’s all part of this untouchable image that I portray, but it’s not. It’s the equivalent of what Trey is doing down there on my table right now—regrouping; basking in the splendor of the moment and slowly coming down from a high. That’s why I don’t want to be disturbed when I go to my table, but someone invariably does, anyway. It’s the nature of the beast.

Here at home, in my parlor, it’s vodka and Tupac—any Tupac. He speaks to the rebel and the poet in me. He was so misunderstood because of the genre of music he chose to record. Only those of us who peeled back his layers and truly saw what was underneath—the activist, the philosopher, the poet, the revolutionary—could even understand his struggle or what he was trying to accomplish in his short life.

I choose a playlist that I always considered Tupac’s love songs, even though none of his music was… is particularly romantic in any way. As my mind and body descends from its hormone-induced high, a million thoughts swirl through my head and I have to try to narrow my thinking down to one or two. The two most prevalent thoughts right now—Trey’s dick… and Elena and her frosted phantom husband.

Talk about different ends of the spectrum.

I haven’t heard anything from the blonde bitch or her white-haired counterpart since the party, but the truth is that I’ve never truly faced her has a nemesis, so I have no idea what to expect. Her husband is so fucking transparent that he doesn’t scare me. The tidbits that Mrs. Lincoln likes to drop, however, can be more dangerous than anything that he could do to me and I need more information on what I’m up against, because I’m ready to go balls to the walls with this bitch if I must.

And I’m getting the feeling that I must.

She’s too damn quiet, and I don’t trust her.

I feel him before I see him, and I turn around to see him gazing at me. Don’t fall in love, Trey. It’s bad for your health.

“Are you coming in or are you just going to lurk there in the doorway?” I ask, snapping him out of whatever daydream had him standing there staring at me…

*-*

After I threaten to stop seeing him, he tells me everything that happened between him and Blondie. I probably wouldn’t have fucked with him at all knowing that they were once intimate. I don’t like sharing anything with that plastic bitch, but what’s done is done, and ending our situationship at this point would truly be and exercise in futility. I did, however, get some valuable information on why Mrs. Lincoln thinks I’m in on the conspiracy that destroyed her salons. Trey’s right. He really didn’t destroy her business. Her stupidity and lack of action did that. Why didn’t she go about the business of damage control when the rumors broke? Rumors are just rumors—they don’t become truths unless you give them life—or do nothing and just let them fester.

However, I stopped frequenting Esclava very shortly before the rumors started. Then she doesn’t see me for several months, during which time, her and Trey’s friendship is terminated, her salons fail, and she gets into a physical altercation with him where she breaks his arm and ends up getting arrested. Then, I pop back up on the scene, and Trey and I are suddenly a thing.

I would think something was rotten in Denmark, too, if I were her, but that’s one of Blondie’s fatal flaws. She’s transparent and she doesn’t strategize. Anyone in any line of business needs that simple skill. Nonetheless…

Here I sit in my parlor with Trey getting that same angry gleam in his eye that the Senator got when I told him that Linc accosted me. The Silver Specter is making a lot of enemies in a short span of time. I hope he got the hint to stay the fuck away from me as I have a feeling that my wrath will be the least of his worries if he doesn’t take heed.

“What do you mean he found out the hard way?” Trey asks about Linc’s lesson to leave me alone.

“You mean besides the fact that I told him I’d cut his dick off and he reacted as if it would be a pleasurable experience?” I ask. “Jesse had him suspended in pain for a few minutes before he was unceremoniously escorted from a very exclusive party.”

“Jesse?” Trey asks with a frown.

“My bodyguard,” I say as I refresh my drink.

“Suspended in pain? Do elaborate.” I shrug.

“Some type of pressure point hold on his shoulder when he grabbed my wrist,” I say, waving him off. “He’s harmless. The big bad brutes don’t scare me, but the two of them together—that might be a problem.” Trey scoffs. What’s so damn funny?

“Elena and Linc don’t work together on anything,” he says. “They’re like oil and water and I don’t even know why they’re still married.” I raise my brow at him.

“Have they ever had a common nemesis?” I ask sipping my drink. Trey shrugs.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “Not that I know of, anyway.”

“And now they do,” I point out. “Two, in fact, depending on how you look at it. Blondie wants to see you fall, and the Silver Dog wants to see me bow.” I put my drink on the bar. “It looks like we’re going to be co-conspirators whether we want to or not.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad to me,” he says suggestively. I twist my lips at him.

“Down, boy,” I chide.

*-*

Armed with the information that I now know about Blondie’s salons, I decide to go on a bit of a fishing expedition. No use in Trey having all the fun. You want to accuse me of having something to do with closing down your salons? Send that frosted ice king of a husband of yours after me like I’m some cheap acquisition? Okay, bitch. You want to see what dirty looks like? I’ll show you what it looks like. Let the punishment fit the crime.

I start with Bowie, then Chroma. Then I move to Stella and Circa. Once I explain my plight, no one really wants to talk to me. No one wants to get involved… or they know Blondie and don’t want to cross her. Nonetheless, I leave my card with instructions to contact me or pass the word along if they should come across any information.

It’s not until I get to Gene Juarez that I get any luck. After having spent the morning with a big goose-egg of co-conspirators, I decide to take a different tact going into Gene Juarez. Since I’m usually wearing some sort of wig during my jaunts and scenes at the clubs and my daytime hairstyle is the Miss Trunchbull bun, I haven’t bothered with any kind of cut and condition since I stopped going to Esclava. So, needless to say, I’m in desperate need of some TLC, not to mention that my feet are barking from being all over downtown Seattle this morning.

 

Managers and appointment takers may not want to talk, but pedicurists and stylists, yeah… they’re chatty.

“I know I don’t have an appointment, and I’ll take anybody who can squeeze me in, but it’s been a looooooong morning at the courthouse and my feet are in agony. I would kill for a deluxe pedicure right now. I’ll even pay in advance…” I reach into my wallet and pull out my Amex black. I’ve already scoped the basic price list on the other side of the counter. A classic pedicure is $55. By me saying that my feet hurt and I want a deluxe, they can easily work me for $200, not to mention the sparkles in the hostess’s eyes at the sight of my Amex.

“No problem, ma’am,” she says to my Amex—er, I mean, to me. “I’m sure we can fit you in.” I sigh like she’s saving my life.

“Thank you,” I breathe dramatically. I’ll save my hair for the next salon. She looks at her book and makes a quick call.

“Eve will be ready for you in about ten minutes. Do you mind waiting?” she asks.

“Not at all,” I say, pulling out my phone and texting Blake to call me in five and again in fifteen. With me standing at her podium, she has no choice but to talk to me.

“So, what do you do at the courthouse?” she asks. I’m dressed like a court reporter, but unless I’m fucking an extremely generous judge, she knows there’s no way I can be a court reporter, waving an Amex black around.

“I’m an attorney,” I say, slightly over-exaggerated exhaustion lacing my voice. I’m tired, but I’m not that tired.

“Really? What kind of law do you practice?” I laugh and wave her off.

“What don’t I practice?” I jest. “Corporate, defense, family law, civil litigation… all of it.” She raises a brow.

“I thought attorneys usually specialized in one area,” she said. I twist my lips as if in consideration of her statement.

“Generally, yes,” I tell her, “but I’m a wretched overachiever. All you have to do is pass the bar, then you can go in whatever direction you please. My specialization is criminal law. Everything else from there is continuing education, extra classes in college, and basically being self-taught.”

The hostess, whom I discover is called Venus, is visibly impressed.

“Really?” she probes. “You must be in pretty high demand. Sounds pretty lucrative.”

“Yes, and it can be,” I say with a chuckle. “The fees on one of my corporate cases alone paid for my house…” That’s the truth, “… but most of my criminal cases, I take pro-bono, especially if I’m dealing with a family who is underprivileged or living paycheck-to-paycheck and just can’t afford an attorney. I have to believe the defendant, too.”

“Why would you take them pro-bono?” she asks. “Why not just let the public defender handle it?”

“Because at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings, public defenders suck!” I say emphatically and Venus laughs. “I would never want to put an innocent person’s fate in the hands of a public defender. Not only that, I think the real criminal act is in requiring someone to pay for decent representation to defend themselves in court for something that they didn’t do.” And Venus is impressed again.

“That’s extremely noble,” she says, unable to hide her awe. “Doesn’t that cost you a lot though?”

“I can afford it,” I dismiss her. “What’s really bad is some mother having to put her house up to pay for a defense attorney because her son was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.” My phone rings and I retrieve it.

Blake. Right on time.

“Hello, Darling,” I say into the phone.

“Hello,” Blake says without missing a beat. “Should I call you ‘darling,’ or will the normal greeting suffice?”

“The usual. Thank you,” I say in a playful, coy voice.

“Very well. And what can I do for you, Mistress?”

“You already have,” I reply. “Thank you so much. I found someone to do my pedicure. I thought I’d be completely lost after that last experience.”

“Ah, I see,” he says. “A plan is afoot?” Nice play on words.

“Oh, definitely,” I reply. “I left that establishment so quickly, I didn’t take time to find another one. Now I think I have.”

“Very well. Is there anything else you need me for, Mistress?” I smile.

“I always do, but you’re a sweetheart for calling. Talk to you soon.”

“Goodbye, Mistress…” I can hear him smiling through the phone.

“Bye-bye.” I end the call and smile at the phone.

“Your sweetheart?” Venus says. I giggle coyly.

“I’d be lost without him,” I reply honestly without answering her question. Her brow furrows.

“You had a bad experience at another salon?” she asks. I roll my eyes dramatically and scratch my arm.

“Oh, you have no idea!” I say, my voice heavily lamenting. I lean in to Venus like I’m about to reveal a secret. “I had a client secure my services for being traumatized at a local salon. One of the big ones!” I whisper the last words.

“Really?” she says, completely sucked in to the conversation.

“Yes,” I say, looking conspiratorially over my shoulder as if to be sure no one else heard me. “Imagine my horror when I discover that it was the same salon chain that I had been frequenting for at least a year prior. Unsanitary conditions, rumors of being closed by the health department, possible bedbugs…” I shiver.

“Oh, yes!” Venus says, realization dawning. “Esclava!” A few heads turn in our direction. Jackpot.

“Yes!” I say, gesturing in a motion for her to keep it down. No, Venus, talk louder! Talk louder!

“I heard about her,” Venus says. “I think she ended up closing, didn’t she?” I nod.

“Yes, she did,” I confirm. “Supposedly, the claims were untrue, but that wretched woman never released a statement confirming or denying any of the accusations unless I missed it!” She didn’t, I’ve already checked and confirmed with Trey. She was too busy trying to put the fires out to be concerned with a little thing like damage control.

“I don’t know, I never saw one,” Venus says.

“Neither did I,” I say leaning in again, “and let me tell you. I’m an attorney and I know from experience that the innocent scream their plight from the rooftops! The guilty stay silent and hope not to get caught. That’s why they often ‘plead the fifth amendment.’ It protects them from incriminating themselves.”

I can see the wheels turning in Venus’ head, just now putting two and two together about one Mrs. Elena Lincoln. And with all the heads turning this way, someone is bound to stop and ask her about the conversation we were having when they come to cash out.

“It has wreaked havoc on my nerves ever since I heard about it!” I say, scratching my neck and arms intermittently. “I’ve been to my doctor for a thorough examination… twice! I’ve had my home inspected at least three times. All the professionals say that there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, but the whole thing still gives me the heebie-jeebies. Oh God, just the thought of it…!” And I’m scratching again. Venus also begins to scratch instinctively. Bingo.

“Venus, I’m ready for the next client.” An exuberant woman a little younger than me comes from the back. She smiles widely at me, silently welcoming me to the salon.

“Well, Ms. Olivet, I can guarantee that you won’t have that experience here. Now, you go on with Eve and relax. Let us take care of you.” She smiles a winning smile in my direction as well.

“Thank you so much,” I say, flashing my own array of perfect pearly whites. “And please, call me Ana…”

Moments later, I’ve struck up the same conversation with Eve after faking a second call with Blake, assuring him that I’ve found a “clean” salon with wonderful staff who have really made me feel welcome. By the time the conversation is over, Eve has put the bits and pieces together and questions what bad experience I had, and the staged conversation ensues again. She confides in me that several of their clients were previously clients of Esclava. I feign concern of breaking attorney/client privilege. However, first, there’s no client—yet… but she doesn’t know that. Second, I’m only talking about my own experiences. I can produce a bill for a home inspection in a second if I need to, but if my plan falls into place, I won’t have to.

“You’re right, though,” she says as I sit there letting my toes dry, “if none of that stuff was true, she would have denied it… hard. This was her business, after all. Have you ever seen any bugs in her salon? My understanding is that everything was white, so you couldn’t miss them.”

“Well… no,” I admit, truthfully, “but I got a really bad feeling about the place and I stopped going. Then, I heard about the infestation and…” I start scratching my arms again.

“Oh, God, please stop,” she says grabbing my hands. “It’s psychological, honey. You’re fine. You dodged a bullet. Look, why don’t I see which of my friends are available and we’ll give you an afternoon of beauty? Unless you have to get back to the courthouse…” I wave her off.

“The good thing about being a highly sought-after attorney is that you basically make your own hours… unless there’s a case scheduled…” and I’m working on one right now.

“Well, then it’s settled. What’s your budget?” I laugh good-naturedly.

“Sweetie, there is no budget. Do your worst.” Eve beams at me and I can see the dollar signs in her eyes. What the hell, might as well. It’ll all be money well-spent if I can bring Blondie to her knees.

She should have left well enough alone. She already made Trey into an enemy. Then she turns around and attacks the man. As if siccing him on me like some rabid dog in heat wasn’t bad enough, then she throws threats at me because her plan actually worked, and Trey and I struck an intimate agreement. Then she goes to the fundraiser, smears my name all over the room, and sets yet another beast loose on me in that eerie, classless, creepy arctic wolf that she calls her husband!

This bitch has gone too far, and even though I have several minions and clients who want a piece of her and Linc, I want her to know that I’m after her ass. I want her to wonder what the fuck is going on now then look up and see me. You want the blade, bitch, you got it, and I’m about to slice you in two.

“Okay,” Eve says after ending a phone call that I didn’t even know she was on. “We’re going to start with a lemon verbena skin treatment, because you’re going to scratch the skin off your arms. This mixture and massage will make you forget all about that other place, and the aroma therapy will be good for you in helping to ease your heebie-jeebies. We’re going to free that hair of yours and give it a revitalizing conditioning treatment and once that’s done, you’ll get our skin-refreshing facial and I’ll give you a modest manicure to compliment your hands. You’ll feel like a new woman…”

Three hours of being plucked and pampered and I spill my guts to anyone who’ll listen about how horrified I was by the rumors of “that woman’s” shop after I had been frequenting her establishment for so long. When I go back out to settle my bill, I have to admit that Eve was right. I do feel like a new woman. I have a flawless makeover showcased by a full halo of lush brunette curls with soft honey highlights… nothing too dramatic. I step into the reception area to see Jesse sitting impatiently on one of the posh sofas. Shit, I had forgotten all about him

“That gentleman claims to be waiting for you,” Venus says as she tallies my bill. “Stalker?”

“Something like that,” I say. “Bodyguard.” Venus raises a brow at me and I hand her my Black card again. “Please include a tip for my operators—$50 each. They were incredible.”

“Each?” Venus clarifies. “How many were there?” I start counting on my fingers.

“Shelly, Lena, Raye, Livy, Dawson, and…” I’m trying to think of the other member of the team that helped rejuvenate this body. “Oh! Sage! That’s her name. And don’t forget yourself—I appreciate you fitting me in. And Eve, for heaven’s sake, Eve! Make it $75 for Eve! It’s like she made one call and an entire troop of people showed up and made my life worth living.” I giggle.

“Ms. Olivet!” she gushes. “Ana… you’re too generous!”

“Think nothing of if,” I say, throwing my shiny, beautiful mane over my shoulder. “I was an itchy, scratchy mess when I came in here. Your staff put me at ease and made me feel like a million bucks…” which they really did. “Can I set a future appointment right now?”

So, in looking to pluck the hen who caused me so much grief, I actually found a new salon. I hadn’t been going to one since I left Blondie… I didn’t see the need. My own grooming practices are pretty meticulous, and my nails never stay the same past the weekend. I can’t very well show up in a courtroom or boardroom with golden nails. As I’m leaving, she gives me my biggest payoff yet.

“Did you happen to bring any extra business cards with you?” she asks. “It appears that some of our clients… well, they may have overheard our conversation and they’d like to… talk to you about any recourse they may have against that woman. Apparently, we’ve gained quite a bit of her clientele.”

And now I realize just how fortuitous the situation is. The other salons most likely had nothing to lose or gain by talking to me about Elena because they didn’t gain any of her clientele—one or two, maybe, but not enough to rock the boat. Most of her clientele most likely came here.

“I’m certain that I do,” I say, digging through my purse. “If I don’t, I’ll bring more.” I dig into my inside pocket and retrieve the wad of business cards that I had there for just such an emergency. I hand her the cards and thank her again for the wonderful service.

Jesse’s pupils dilate when he sees me.

“I was going to ask if you fell in, but… damn…” He examines me as I tie the belt to my coat around my waist. I walk out of the salon and the winter sun catches the glints of highlight in my hair. I look good and I know it. I open my phone and call Chanelle.

“Offices of Olivet, Attorney at Law. How can I help you?”

“Shut it down, Chanelle,” I tell her. “I won’t be back to the office today.”

“So, I guess you didn’t get my message that Richard Steele is here again,” she laments. I sigh.

“No, I didn’t, and tell him that I won’t be back into the office and you have to shut down. If he gives you too much trouble about it, call the cops.”

“Will do. Have a great afternoon.” I end the call and look at Jesse.

“Take me to Community. After all that grooming and shaving, no one fed me. I want something quick and fresh.”

Community Grocery and Deli is a little place that’s tucked away inside of the opening to a parking garage. It’s a gem in Seattle and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never know it was there. They have the best teriyaki anything in the whole damn city. Although you can’t pay me to eat soy, their teriyaki tofu even looks delicious.

While Jesse waits for our orders, I walk around the establishment and grab a few things. Not the hugest selection in this little store, but great for a quick grab. As I walk around to the other side of the coolers, who do I find standing there looking at the organic sodas? Organic sodas? I digress.

Jake.

Hmm, he works downtown, so I guess I had to run into him somewhere down here. It would be at one of my best-kept secret holes in the wall hiding in plain sight.

“Ana! Wow,” he says, his voice breathy. “You look… great.” Yes, I know this. I try not to roll my eyes.

“Hello, Jake,” I say impassively, reaching past him in the cooler to get my not-organic soda.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. I fold my arms.

“I could ask the same thing of you,” I retort.

“Well, I work here,” he says. I raise my brow.

“At the deli?” I ask. He chuckles.

“No. Downtown.”

“Well, so do I.” That’s when I realize that when he asked what I was doing here, he wasn’t talking about the deli. He was talking about the city. The nerve of him! Like I need his fucking permission to be in my own hometown.

“Is there something I can do for you?” I ask, with my arms folded.

“I didn’t know you were still in town,” he says. “I thought you left.”

“I did,” I say. “I came back. I’ve been in town for quite some time, now.”

“Why?”

“Because this is my home,” I reply. “My parents are buried here. My roots are here.”

“Home is where the heart is…”

“Exactly,” I say, unaware that I’m making his point for him.

“You never thought about us?” he asks. I frown.

“What about us?” I ask, shaking my head. He sighs.

“I liked you a lot,” he says, perturbed. “It was really shitty how things went down.” I drop my head and sigh.

“It… was a long time ago,” I say with a shrug. “It was a dumb thing that happened.”

“What dumb thing happened?” he asks, closing the space between us. “All I knew was my bike got fucked up and my parents said that I couldn’t talk to you anymore.”

I try not to react. He could have asked me. Somehow, he could have asked me what happened, but he didn’t. I’m not all bruised about it. I never really was. Yeah, I liked him, but I had bigger fish to fry—like staying alive.

“It’s been almost twenty years, Jake. Is it even important anymore?” I ask.

“Twenty years,” he says, coming even closer to me, “and here you are—different name, but same city. Something brought you back here and we just keep bumping into each other.”

“You want to know what brought me back here?” I ask. “I love Seattle. I love everything about this city, and my mom and dad are buried here.” He frowns.

“I thought the Steeles were your mom and dad,” he says, “That you were adopted…”

“I was adopted,” I tell him. “My dad adopted me, and then he and my mother were killed in a car accident. The living Steeles are my adopted aunt and uncle.” And why am I telling you this? “Anyway, it’s moot. If you’ll excuse me…” I try to walk away, and he puts his arm around my waist, pulling me back to him.

“Ana, please…” he says, his voice soft and coaxing. What? You’re kidding, right? “Don’t leave yet, please?”

I’m angry when I spin around to face him and give him a piece of my mind. Back when I liked you, when I really needed someone, you didn’t want to be bothered with me. You didn’t ask me what happened—not even in secret. You just dismissed me because your parents said that you had to. That’s what everyone did—my uncle, my aunt, my cousins, you—nobody asked me what happened. Nobody gave me the benefit of the doubt. Now, I’m grown, and everybody wants to get in my face. Good God, just go away!

I haven’t said anything aloud. I don’t get the chance. Jake’s lips are on mine right there in the grocery area—next to the organic sodas. My back is against the cooler door and he’s holding me gently around my waist, his other hand cupping my cheek. His lips mold gently into mine, soft and coaxing, and his tongue glides across my bottom lip. When he pulls back from my mouth, there’s pure desire in his eyes, and I’m a bit stunned.

What. The fuck. Is this?

“I’m sorry,” he says, breaths away from my face. “I had to do it… just once.”

“And now you have,” I say, my voice low and controlled. “Now, back up off me.” He’s crestfallen.

“Ana…” he begins, his voice laced with disbelief.

“Back. Up. Off. Me.” I enunciate each word, trying to relay to him that my next request will be physical. He gets the hint and releases me, putting some space between us. “Jake, what the fuck was that? Do you just randomly walk around kissing girls in grocery stores?”

“I… couldn’t resist. I’m sorry…”

“Try harder next time,” I warn. “We seem to keep bumping into each other and I can’t explain that, but if you think that gives you license to ‘reach out and touch’ me without my permission…” My voice is rising, and I’ve now attracted the attention of the two other shoppers in the grocery area of the deli. Now, Jesse has come around the coolers and is staring at me in awe.

“Three other people in the store… I can’t leave you alone for a minute!” I think the words are out of his mouth before he considers what he’s saying. Jake examines him critically.

“Gee, Kevin, you’ve changed,” he says sarcastically before turning his attention back to me. “He’s not what you usually go for.”

“What the fuck do you know about what I usually go for?” I hiss, openly offended by his insinuation. “Meet Jesse, my bodyguard. And you may want to be careful about touching me without my permission. He doesn’t take too kindly to that.” Jake looks back at Jesse.

“How ya doin’, Jess?” Jake says.

“Get yo’ smart ass outta here, man,” Jesse says, and nothing else. His tone indicates that he’s not in the mood for any bullshit and Jake takes the hint.

“Hopefully, I see ya ‘round, Beautiful,” Jake says haughtily before leaving the grocery area. Conceited, egotistical asshole.

“What is it about you that brings out the worst in men?” Jesse asks. I don’t say it aloud, but I know what it is. Pure animal magnetism. They don’t know what to do with themselves; they just know they gotta have it.

They’re literally like dogs. They see it a mile away, then they smell it, then they attack. After getting all dolled-up at Gene Juarez this afternoon, no doubt I’m emitting the Golden vibe, and he had a moment of weakness—just like Linc—since he has no fucking idea who Golden is.

“Get used to it,” I retort as I sashay around him into the deli area to retrieve my late lunch.


A/N: Golden’s after-scene Tupac Shakur playlist:

Who Do U Believe In?
Whatcha Gonna Do?
Still Love U
Gave U My Heart
When Thugs Cry

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 43—Falling Out of Eden

You know that I love you all, but today, I want to give a special shout-out to my Twitter followers. I don’t get over there as much as I do on Facebook and other medias, but when I do, I see that they’ve shown me lots of support and love. I appreciate you guys more than you know. tenor

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 43—Falling Out of Eden

ANASTASIA

Once again, I’ve slept like the dead. My head hurts a little… that “too-much-sleep” feeling. I reach over for Christian only to find that his side of the bed is empty—and cold. He hasn’t been there for quite some time. Stamping down my insecurity as to why he’s not in bed with me, my eyes focus on something on his pillow. It’s an envelope. I sit up an open the envelope to find a note inside. The paper has blue rhododendrons printed all over it and three words…. those three words. Under the envelope is my iPod.

Um… okay.

I quickly go to the bathroom to relieve myself before returning to bed to put my earbuds in. When I open my iPod, it immediately goes to one file… one long file. Oh, God, what is this? I prepare myself for whatever it is and touch the file to play it. I hear random keys on the piano, nothing in particular. Then chords that sound like the player is trying out certain songs before a tune starts to play sweetly in my ears. I think I know what it is because the tune is familiar. I lean back on the headboard, still not completely sure what I’m listening to… until I hear it…

For so long for this night I prayed, that a star would guide you my way, to share with me this special day where a ribbon’s in the sky for our love…

It’s Christian! It’s my husband’s beautiful baritone voice singing Stevie Wonder “Ribbon in the Sky!” I cover my mouth in awe as he croons the song perfectly while his skillful fingers produce the accompaniment on his piano. When the song is over, I nearly cry and before I can recoil, his melodious voice and beautiful music is in my ear again…

When your legs don’t work like they used to before and I can’t sweep you off of your feet, will your mouth still remember the taste of my love? Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

How many songs did he record? This file says it’s hours long! Did he sleep at all?

Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you…

I listen to at least ten songs, weeping with love and joy and my heart nearly exploding before I have to go and find this man. I jump out of bed in my oversized nightshirt and don’t even bother trying to find bottoms. I need him now… right now.

I start in the nursery and the babies are sound asleep, but no Christian. I pass inquisitive faces on the first floor, but don’t bother saying anything. I don’t see him, so he’s not here either. On the lower level, I don’t find him in the entertainment room, the workout room or his office, and an empty brandy snifter on a coaster on the piano confirms that he was in his den before. I sigh heavily and think of the last place that he could be, though I wouldn’t know why he would be in there.

I soon find out.

My husband is in the theater room. On the screen, larger than life, are scenes from our wedding and that absolutely stunning dress that my hips probably can’t fit into anymore. I slowly walk to the front row and before I get there, I see that he’s nursing a beer. When I get to him, I see that this is the fourth beer he’s nursed… after whatever amount of brandy he had last night… and it’s about eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning… and he’s still in his pajama pants and a T-shirt. He turns tired eyes to me as I approach before putting his bottle in the cup holder on the armrest. I say nothing. There’s really not much I can say right now. Instead, I climb into the large theater chair with him, my legs straddling either side of him. His eyes are soft as he gazes at me, his arms sliding gently around my waist as mine coil his neck, my hands softly caressing his hair.

Now, it’s my turn to sing…

Take what’s left of this woman, make me whole once again, ‘cause I want you and I feel you crawling underneath my skin like a hunger, like a burning, to find a place I’ve never been. Now I’m broken and I’m faded. I’m half the girl I thought I would be, but you can have what’s left of me…”

His mouth is on mine before I can finish the last word. I pour all my anguish and uncertainty into this kiss, drawing strength and love from him as I do. I hear the laughter in the video behind me and remember the promises that we made to each other that day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back the sense of security I felt when we pledged our lives to one another, but if I know my husband, I know he’ll spend his life trying to reassure me of his love and commitment. I can give him no less.

*-*

“It’s not Friday.”

Over a month after the last formal visit with my psychiatrist, I’m standing in the parking lot of Ace’s office next to my car. Chuck is still in the car. I had been waiting here for an hour for him to show up as I have no idea what his Monday schedule looks like.

“I was hoping to get a session,” I say. “I’ll wait for an opening if there’s anything at all available.”

“You may just have to,” he tells me as he walks towards the door. “Monday is usually chock full of people just waiting to complain about their weekends… no offense.”

“None taken,” I say as I fall in step behind him. He opens the office door and turns on the lights in the reception area.

“Amber should be here any minute,” he says. “She wanted to stop for pastries, so I came ahead. Had I known you were coming…” I wave him off.

“I had a big breakfast,” I interrupt him. “Christian acts like he’s trying to fatten me up.” Ace looks at me as he puts his messenger bag down.

“That doesn’t sound like Christian,” he says, flipping a switch behind Amber’s desk. The faint sound of birds chirping starts playing through speakers hidden in the office. I’d noticed it before but hadn’t paid attention to it until he just turned it on. It’s almost subliminal.

“To help people relax?” I ask, pointing to the ceiling referring to the sound.

“Nature sounds are always subconsciously relaxing,” he says, “but they have to be natural. Synthetic recordings—which most of them are—turn out to be more irritating. They have the adverse effect.”

“Now that I know it’s there, it won’t relax me anymore,” I gripe.

“Yes, it will,” he says, walking into his office. “You’ll try to see if it irritates you, but it’ll fade away as usual and you’ll sink into comfort.” Just as he’s finishing his sentence, Amber’s walking into the front door. She’s put on a bit of weight since the last time I’ve seen her. It’s only been a month—what the hell is she eating?

“I thought that was you,” she says to me as she put a bakery box on the counter. “Not many Audis appear in our parking lot… Did I forget to record an appointment?”

“No, baby,” Ace says, kissing his wife on the forehead. “Ana just came by to see if there were any openings today.” Her face softens.

“I’m sorry to say there’s not,” she says, looking from me to Ace. “Your first appointment is in thirty-five.”

“I don’t really want to rush things,” he says to me. I nod.

“Well, I guess… just let me know if something opens up throughout the week,” I say to Amber. She smiles.

“Would you like a pastry?” she asks, gesturing towards the box. “There’s plenty.” I hold my hand up and shake my head.

“No, but thanks.” I say. “I guess I’ll just go to the Center and get my day started. You’ve got my number.” She nods, and I head towards the door.

“Wait,” Ace says before my hand reaches the handle. “Baby, who do I have first?”

“Ms. Havisham,” she says. What? She can’t be serious! It only takes me a moment to realize the name is an alias. I used an alias, too, when I first started visiting Ace. I don’t even remember what mine was.

“Come on,” he says, gesturing me into his office.

“I don’t want to take someone else’s time,” I protest.

“She’s always late and then demands her full hour when she arrives.” I frown as I walk back towards his office.

“Why do you see her at the beginning of the day, then?” I ask.

“Because she’s eccentric and won’t have it any other way.” He closes the door behind me. How rude! The woman has no respect for others. I’ve had a few of those. “She makes other people wait. This time, she can wait. Have a seat.” The surroundings almost seem unfamiliar to me. I don’t know where to sit as he wanders around his office preparing for the day, so I just sit on one of the sofas.

“I was wondering when you were going to stop hiding from me,” he says. “I thought I was going to have to go back out to your house to see about you. It’s a nice place, but I charge extra for house calls.”

“Yes, you initially surprised me by coming by, but then I thought about who you are and realized that it’s just like you to do something like that.” He raises an eyebrow at me.

“But none of this behavior is like you,” he confronts. “Leaping off a cliff? Falling apart like there’s no tomorrow? I realize the situation was dire… grave, even, to a point, but I’m concerned that you may have lost your identity in trying to define yourself in terms of your husband.” I roll my eyes and shake my head before dropping my face into my hands. “Okay, I’ve touched on something there.”

“I don’t know who either of us are anymore,” I admit. “My husband was a Dominant before he met me. Then he met me—not a submissive personality, but able to submit for him because I wanted to experiment, see how it would go, test my limits. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but there are some times when I decide I’m not going to be that woman. When I do, it’s usually right when he needs me to be her.

“So, I go get advice from someone else in the lifestyle who rightfully said that Christian and I have barely scratched the surface of our BDSM lifestyle; that I might have to expand my horizons in order to be the woman that he needs; that I’ll have to find a happy medium between the woman that I am now and the woman that he fell in love with without losing myself in the process. I thought that’s what I was doing, but then one wrong move…” I trail off and drop my face in my hands again.

“One wrong move what, Ana?” Ace presses. I raise my head to find that he’s taken the seat across from me.

“Do you have any idea what it feels like to be waiting for the axe to fall no matter what you do?” I ask. “People keep telling me not to forget who I am. I don’t even know who I am. I don’t even know who I was. I’m just here… floating along waiting for the next catastrophe.”

“And thus, the crux of our dilemma,” Ace says. “You’re sitting here waiting for the bottom to fall out of your life and as such, you’re afraid to live it. That has never been the Ana I knew. Even after the accident, you were anxious to get back on the proverbial horse and get back to your life. Now, you almost sound like you want to hide in a corner and let life happen to you…”

Not necessarily hide in the corner. There’s nowhere to hide from the Boogeyman.

“And your silence just confirmed what I’m thinking. So, what are you going to do, Dr. Grey, curl up and die?” I turn accusing eyes to him.

“Way to be empathetic, Doctor!” I scold. He shrugs.

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em,” he says unapologetically. “That’s why you came to me in the first place and you wouldn’t keep coming to me if I didn’t. I’m not going to spoon-feed you any bull; I’m going to give it to you straight. I’m not going to hold your hand while you walk around in delusion. I can’t drag you kicking and screaming into reality—that’s a journey you have to take on your own, but I can sure as hell point that brutal light in your face and point you in the right direction.

“You fell off the horse… hard. Damn near broke your neck. Now, you’re afraid to get back on it. You had all your hopes and dreams wrapped up in this man. If nothing else ever came through for you, he always would… until he didn’t. He was human, and he fucked up big time and you can’t take it. Now, you’re not only questioning your relationship and who he is, but you’re questioning who you are. I really need to know how your husband making an active decision to do something and doing it makes you question who you are.”

“It’s not…” The words trail off before I can even finish the thought. My scar begins to throb. I’m not sure I can explain to him why I feel the way that I do. Hell, I’m not sure that I can explain it to me.

“I feel… rudderless,” I say, my voice a bit desperate. “One minute, I had all this direction… I had so much to do that I didn’t know where to start. I was trying to find a way to categorize my life—our plans for the Center, the allegations from the licensing board, Gloria Felton, fundraising activities, my own pet projects, my dad’s adoption, the pussy DJ…”

“Whoa… ho… wha… huh?” Ace stops me in the middle of my tirade. I glare at him.

“You interrupted me,” I say in disbelief. “Didn’t you learn like in Therapy 101 or something not to interrupt a patient when they’re on a rant?” He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, I’m sorry, but Pussy DJ threw me off… dafuq is that?” I almost want to laugh at his colloquialism and the drop of his professionalism. Instead, I try to stay on topic since I don’t know when Ms. Havisham is going to show up.

“Rossiter!” I shoot. “The guy with the pussy on his arm that we’re suing for slander.”

“Oh!” Ace says in realization. “Yeah, him. I forgot about him.”

“Well, I didn’t,” I say, and I continue on with my rant about how things truly feel helpless. I want to get comfortable in my relationship with my husband again; in the happiness that I felt with my children and my perfect life… but, there always seems to be a wrecking ball waiting for me, and I can’t seem to find my footing anymore.

I don’t know how long Ace lets me talk, interjecting every now and then with thoughts on my situation, before we hear what sounds like an angry woman on the other side of the door.

“Looks like my next appointment is here,” he says, and he doesn’t seem happy about it.

“Is she a shark’s tooth?” I ask. “Or does she have the potential to be one?” He raises his eyes to me.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” he says. “I already told you too much by saying that she’s eccentric and always late.” I shrug.

“I don’t want to know her story. I just want to know why you’re dealing with her. You’re clearly not happy that she’s here, so why put yourself through this?” What a way to start the week.

“Don’t try to shrink me,” he says as the voices on the other side of the door get sharper and louder. “Physician, heal thyself.”

Well, that’s something that I certainly don’t want to hear.

The next sound has Ace sitting forward in his seat a bit. It sounds like the outside door opens, and the voices are still sharp. He looks like a dog when their ears stand up because they heard something.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“This room is semi-soundproof for patient privacy. If I can hear it, it’s loud.” Just as he looks like he’s about to stand, there’s an insistent knock at the door and Amber comes marching in.

“Mrs. Re… Havisham is demanding to speak to you now,” Amber says. Her face is flushed and she’s talking through her teeth. “She wants to know why you won’t end the current session since it ran over into her time.” I roll my eyes.

“I can leave,” I say reaching for my purse. Ace stands.

“No, you stay. This woman has dominated my Monday mornings long enough and now, she’s got my wife looking like it’s been a long day and the day just started.” Ace walks to the door and throws it open.

“Dr. Avery…” A woman’s indignant voice begins, but Ace interrupts her.

“No!” he says, shutting her down immediately. “I talk, you listen. What did you say to my wife?”

I can’t see her face, but Ms. Havisham is struck dumb for several moments. Ace says nothing and neither does Amber while Ms. Havisham formulates an answer.

“Your… wife?” she says.

“Yes, my wife!” Ace shoots, pointing at Amber. “What did you say to her?”

“I… Well, I…” At first, she stutters over her words. Then, her voice takes that indignant tone again. “I simply wanted to know what was taking so long. My appointment was fifteen minutes ago…”

“And you’re late… again!” Ace chides. “It amazes me that you expect for someone to value your time, yet you value no one else’s!” he adds. “Amber, what did she say to you?” Amber pauses.

“She demanded that I interrupt your session, go in there and ‘get you’ right now so that you could tell her why someone else was in her slot. When I informed her that just like I won’t interrupt her sessions when another patient shows up, I won’t interrupt you when you’re in with another patient, she became so belligerent with me that this gentleman came in from outside to make sure that I was alright.”

By this gentleman, I assume that she means Chuck.

“I see,” Ace says. “Well, madam, you have interrupted someone else’s session. That means that your session is just going to be that much later. In addition, you have upset my pregnant wife…”

Pregnant? Amber’s pregnant?

“If you ever do that again, you can find yourself another therapist.” I hear her gasp.

“Well!” she hisses. “There are hundreds of therapists in the Seattle area!” she shoots.

“That’s right. Feel free to go to any one of them and see which one of them will tolerate your behavior for as long as I have. Amber, prepare her file for the next doctor. Mr. Davenport, do you mind staying in here with my wife for a few more minutes?”

“Not at all,” I hear Chuck say.

“Your wife isn’t in any dan…” Before her sentence is finished, Ace slams the door. He turns his attention to me.

“I didn’t mean for you to lose a patient,” I protest.

“I didn’t lose a patient. I dropped her,” he corrects. “I can count on one hand how many patients I’ve dropped in my whole career because I don’t like doing it, but that woman has been asking for it. I don’t even know if she really needs help or if she just comes to complain.” I’ve had those. That last patient that I couldn’t shake who simply refused to believe that I was discontinuing my private practice. Bitch, I married a billionaire. What if I wanted to just sit around and eat bonbons all day because I could?

“When were you going to tell me that Amber was pregnant?” I ask.

“Well, I haven’t seen you in a while, have I?” he retorts. Touché.

“How far along is she?” I ask.

“Eight weeks. Don’t get off the subject.” He’s a bit riled now and I think he’s about to let me have it. “So, a really, really bad thing happened to you. It shook your belief in everything you thought you knew. You thought your husband was Prince Charming working on becoming Mr. Perfect and you found out that he wasn’t. He’s a plain old, messed up human being just like you. The only difference is that he was a billionaire when you met him. So, he fell off that pedestal that you put him on. You don’t think you fell, too? You need to stop moping around behaving like a kid who just learned there’s no Easter Bunny!”

I’m stunned by the tone he’s taking with me. I must look like a deer stuck in headlights.

“And stop looking at me like that,” he scolds. “I’ve been pussy-footing around with you for over an hour trying to get you to admit what’s going on with you. I already know and so do you! This is one of the very reasons that doctors make the worst patients,” he says. “You won’t accept the prognosis when it comes down to yourself. You want a second opinion even when the first one came from you.”

I glare at him like he has lost his mind.

“You know exactly what’s wrong with you, Doctor,” he continues. “You had a setback. A very traumatic thing happened to you and caused your progress to regress. And as many times as you’ve seen it, you won’t accept it for yourself because it’s too scary looking at it from the inside out. If someone were sitting in your office having this same conversation with you, what would you tell them?” I drop my head.

“I would give them that same old ‘trouble don’t last always’ speech,” I reply.

“Yes, you would, and you know why? Because you’re right. Trouble don’t last always. We’ve been over all of your coping mechanisms time and time again. You have all the tools you need to get through this—as a patient and as a doctor. Everything you’ve learned has prepared you for this moment. Your past was practice. Everything was bringing you to now. This isn’t the last bad thing that will happen to you and I’m not going to pull your leg—this probably won’t be the worst. So, you’ve got three choices… you can crawl into a corner and hide from the world in your little gloom-and-doom bubble, you can roll over and die right now, or you can choose to live! Love your husband with all his flaws and fuck-ups as much as he loves you with all of yours. Love those two beautiful babies that you have that I still haven’t met, by the way. Fight the battles you know are coming, fight for your causes. And. Live. Now what are you going to do, Dr. Grey?”

Holy cow, Batman. I’ve never given it to one of my patients with both barrels like that, ever… even when I know they needed it.

“Where do I start?” I say, my voice cracking and my eyes welling with unwelcomed tears. He pauses and sighs.

“You know what to do,” he says, his voice softening. “You just don’t want to do it because it’s hard work and it takes time. You know and understand that bad things happen and right now, you’re living in the gloom and doom… and that’s not acceptable. You’re not another shark’s tooth and you never will be. I’ve seen you, Ana, at your best and your worst. You’re too strong for that and you know too much. So, get your ass up, come the hell out of that gloom closet, and do what you need to do. You start from the beginning… from the first thing that you can do, and only you know what that is. Now, go do it. There’s nothing else for me to say.”

My lip trembles and I wipe away the tears that burn down my cheek. Shit. The beginning. Fuck if I want to do that. I stand and put my purse on my shoulder.

“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” I say, clearing my throat because my voice is still cracking. I pull my phone from my purse and don’t raise my eyes to his.

“You needed it,” he says. “Let me know if I’ll still see you on Friday. I think it may be a good idea.” I nod as I’m dialing Chuck’s number and put my phone up to my ear.

“Hello.”

“Is that crazy bitch still out there?” I ask.

“Yes, ma’am.” I sigh.

“Does your patio have an exit to the sidewalk or something?” I ask Ace.

“It exits to the alley, but that leads to the parking lot,” he answers. I nod.

“I’m going to the car,” I say to Chuck. “I’m taking the back way. I’m sure to end up in the papers as the root of all evil if that woman sees that I’m the reason she was denied access!”

“Okay, what do you want me to do?” Chuck asks.

“Stay with Amber,” I tell him. “Once I’m gone, Ace can come out and deal with his impatient patient.”

“Agreed,” Chuck says, and we end the call. Ace sighs.

“Can’t he just stay for a while?” Ace laments, rubbing his eyes.

“Nope. If I have to deal with the gloom closet, you have to deal with Ms. Havisham.” He twists his lips.

“Fair enough,” he says as he opens the patio door for me. “Call me if you need me.” I nod.

“I will,” I say as I walk out to the patio. It’s pretty out here. I wonder if he’s ever held any sessions out here? It might be a good idea… when it’s warm.

I exit the gate and walk down the short alley to the parking lot and my car. I guess Ace took a little time to himself before facing Ms. Havisham because it takes Chuck another fifteen minutes to come out to the parking lot. We only took one car today—my car—and it got me to thinking…

“Chuck, would you mind terribly if I bought Keri a car?” I ask. His brow furrows.

“You should probably be asking Keri that,” he replies, “but there’s a fleet of cars at the Crossing. Why would you want to buy her one?”

“Because none of them have the built-in car seats except mine,” I say. “I want her to have the ability to be more mobile with the children.” He raises his eyebrows as he pulls into traffic.

“You have something in mind?” he asks. I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Rebe and Tate are always with the children. I guess it won’t matter if they’re following her car or following mine.” Chuck nods.

“That’s true.” He falls silent for a moment.

“What happened with the crazy bitch after Ace slammed the door in her face?” The corner of Chuck’s mouth rises a bit.

“We played the stare game for a few seconds. Then she starts talking to Amber about rescheduling her appointment. Amber told her that the doctor was booked and that she could call her if anyone cancelled. She didn’t like that.”

“I can imagine,” I say.

“So, she started getting a little huffy with Amber until I stepped closer to Amber’s desk and cleared my throat. She calmed down again and agreed to wait for the doctor to finish his session with you. When Ace came to get her, she was as gentle as a lamb.” I shake my head.

“Amber’s pregnant,” I say more to myself than to Chuck. “Geez, she’s not going to be able to deal with too many more huffy attitudes. I hope that crazy woman was a one-off.” Chuck shrugs.

“I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” he says. “Surely, neither of them will do anything to put the baby in danger.” I nod.

“By the way, does Keri have a U.S. driver’s license?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“She has an international driver’s license,” he says. “She got it when she was here before… got my hopes all up.” He says the last line partially in jest and partially seriously.

“You’ve been staying with us for nearly a year now,” I say. “What about your house on Bainbridge?” He shrugs.

“I get out there as often as I can,” he says. “I have a caretaker staying there right now. I don’t want to sell it, but… I want to be with Keri, so…” He trails off and shrugs.

“Well, I plan to keep her employed for a really long time,” I warn him. “She’s really good with the twins and I have no idea how I would survive without her.” Chuck throws a quick glance at me then back at the road.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says.

*-*

“You’re looking well,” Grace says to me when I get to the Center. I think she’s being nice because I feel a little waterlogged from the crying and not quite myself.

“Thank you, Grace,” I reply. “Anything new brewing?” She raises an eyebrow.

“The licensing board called,” she says. I turn to look at her. “They want a formal statement about our accreditation experience with Gloria.” I sigh.

“Will I have to see Liam?” I ask. She frowns.

“Not… that I know of,” she says. “Ana, did something happen with Liam? Is that why Christian left?” I twist my lips. God, I don’t want to go through this again.

“Liam tried to kiss me,” I say. Grace’s eyes widen. “Christian walked in on it. He was going to kill Liam, so I told him to go home. He already has a record of violence and I didn’t want him to land in jail again.” I drop my head, the pain of the separation flooding me again.

“I have no idea what he heard,” I continue, my voice cracking, “but whatever he heard, it equated to ‘leave the country,’ so he did.” I clear my throat, but I’m unsuccessful in stopping those damn tears… again.

“I know he was hurt… and angry… and any number of other things…” I trail off and wipe my tears. “We’re working on it,” I say, finally. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

“The cliff?” she asks, her brow furrowed. I sigh.

“I was drunk, and I slipped,” I reply. “It was stupid, but it wasn’t suicidal.” She sighs.

“Why don’t you take some time off?” she says. “The only time you took off was when you fell off the cliff and that couldn’t have been very relaxing.”

“I plan to,” I tell her honestly. “Some half days… and some whole days. Not today though.” She nods.

“Just… do, okay?” Grace says. I nod.

“I’m going to my office,” I tell her. “Can you make sure that I’m not disturbed for about an hour?” She nods.

“Sure thing,” she says with a smile. I sigh and go to my office. When I step inside and close the door, I’m immediately struck by how clinical it feels. Every time I step in this office, it’s feels… clean, and that’s it. It definitely needs a makeover.

That reminds me… I wonder what’s going on with John? Did he quit? Is his son still sick?

I’ll have to ask about that later. Right now, I need some… changes.

Back to the beginning. Good fucking grief.

I’m the first one to know that going back to the beginning is going to take baby steps… big, huge, mondo… baby steps. Geez. I pick up my phone and dial.

“Grace Grey,” she answers.

“Grace, I’m going to need two hours… maybe two and a half, I don’t know…”

“Dear, call me when you’re available. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Grace.” I replace the receiver and look at the room. The extra desk from when John shared the space with me is still here. I never saw fit to move it even though he moved to a separate space. We wanted to keep costs down on decorating, but I’m going to have to spend my own money in this space and put the furniture in storage somewhere since it still belongs to the Center.

For no apparent reason that I can decipher at the moment, I decide to sit on the floor in the middle of the room. I just… get a feel for it… and now seems like the perfect time to meditate.


CHRISTIAN

“Well, you’re the last person I expected to see.”

I asked around how I could contact one certain inspector for the licensing board. I didn’t get the chance to say anything to this asshole since I wanted to literally rearrange his face. Once I got the information on how to reach him, I don’t bother calling. No, this conversation is a bit too important and a bit too delicate for a phone call. Now that the Center has its accreditation and Felton has got das boot, there’s nothing to stop me from confronting Mr. Casanova here and getting some much-needed answers.

Once I found out who he was, I made an appointment to meet with him on a licensing matter under an alias. I couldn’t very well tell his assistant that Christian Grey wanted to meet with him. He’d suddenly get sick and pawn me off on someone else. It’s good to have friends in high places.

So, I sit in one of these generic fucking offices that you find in all state or municipal building—some forgotten space with empty cubicles and a meeting table tossed in. I deliberately sit with my back to the door, not that you probably can’t tell who I am anyway. Nonetheless, in walks this tall, good-looking fucker in a nice suit—not designer, but well-made—who, the last time I saw him, was leaning in to kiss my wife.

Liam Westwick, Chapter 43

“Come on, you had to expect to see me somewhere at some point. You just didn’t expect me to come to you.”

“I should probably have someone else present for this meeting, Mr. Taylor,” he says as he heads for the door.

“You do that,” I say calmly, “if you want someone else to hear me ask you questions about my wife!” I bite out the last two words. I hear his footfalls pause behind me, most likely right at the door. “This conversation can happen right here and now, or it can happen later in a different setting, but it’s going to happen… Liam.” I inject as much venom in his name as I can. He walks back to the table and sits across from me.

And his eyes aren’t that goddamn blue.

“Does your wife know you’re here?” he asks his voice low.

“No,” I say entwining my fingers on the table in front of me. “Why don’t you call her? I’m only too sure she’d love to join us. Aren’t you?”

“I didn’t get that impression,” he replies, his voice betraying his discomfort.

“You didn’t?” I ask, leaning in a bit. “Exactly what impression did you get when you were leaning in to kiss my wife?” He glares at me and I glare right back. This ain’t the stare game, motherfucker. I could glare at you for three days and not blink.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” he says, finally.

“That’s seems to be going around,” I snap. His eyebrows rise, and I realize that I may have inadvertently revealed a weakness on the part of my wife. So, I quickly turn that shit around. “She doesn’t have an answer as to why you tried to kiss her either.”

His demeanor shows the slightest drop, and it just makes me angrier. This fucker still has hope!

“You know,” I lean back in my seat, “I was angry enough to rip your throat out with my bare hands that night. My wife knew that; she saw that; and she diffused the situation the best that she could that night, but it wasn’t enough. I was still blazingly angry, and it did cause problems in our relationship.” He clears his throat.

“No offense, Mr. Grey, but if one incident caused problems in your relationship, then there were problems before I arrived.” Aren’t you the confident little fucker?

“Don’t get cute with me, fucker, I don’t like it,” I hiss. “The only thing saving you right now are these four walls. Don’t think for a second that I can’t get to you outside of them.”

“Threats aren’t necessary, Mr. Grey,” he says, straightening his back.

“Not threats,” I reply. “Promises. You wanna poke the bear, you go right ahead.” We sit and glare at each other for a few minutes more. I don’t break my glare when I continue talking.

“When the red haze and the urge to murder you subsided,” I begin, my voice cold and menacing, “I recalled what my wife said to you after she was pushing you away. Her exact words were, and I quote, ‘I’ve told you. I’m married.’” His pupils constrict when he hears this. He must have thought I didn’t hear Butterfly tell him that she was married… which, at first, I didn’t remember it. But I can see that I’m on to something here.

“If she had already made it clear to you that she was married, why were you leaning into her to kiss her? Is that a habit of yours—kissing married women?”

“No,” he answers, his teeth clenched.

“Well, that part of the conversation made me realize that she must have had that conversation with you before. How many times did she have the conversation with you that she was married?”

His face pales, and I’m sure that my wife tried to keep the dog on a leash more than once. She should have told me about this asshole the first time he approached her in any inappropriate manner. One visit from me to the Center while he was investigating would have put this fucker in his place, but that’s water under the bridge now.

“Your wife is a very beautiful woman,” he says. “Any man could lose himself for a moment—act impulsively…”

“Only this wasn’t impulse, because she told you more than once that she was married,” I interrupt his excuse. “You’re right, she’s beautiful. She’s fucking gorgeous, but that’s no excuse.”

Pretty Boy is at another loss for words. So, after we sit there in silence for a few minutes—and him losing the glare contest at least five times—I feel the need to wrap this shit up.

“Since you apparently don’t watch the news, don’t look at any social columns, follow any blogs or read any gossip rags, I’ll make this blazingly clear to you. I am the most jealous and possessive motherfucker you will ever meet in your goddamn life. That woman is my soul. She’s my heart, she’s the fiber of my being; she and my children are my very reason for living. And I’ll be damned straight to hell if I allow some pretty-boy-fuck to slip in the backdoor and fuck up my beautiful life with my beautiful wife! If you’re looking for some rich sugar-momma, some nice ass to drill in the dark, or some pretty bracelet to hang on your arm, look somewhere else because, Liam…”

“I…”
“Will…”
Destroy…
“You!”

The voice that comes from my throat frightens even me, but I’m watching Pretty Boy with the glassy blue eyes sitting here trying not to sweat. That’s when it occurs to me…

The entire time he’s sitting here, his eyes have been this pale blue—like clear water right at the edge of the beach. There’s been nothing striking whatsoever about his eyes.

Yet, right when my Butterfly is about to come, her eyes change—they turn to this soul-shaking nearly royal blue that sees right through you and makes everything inside of you stop. If she walked around with those blue eyes all day long, everybody in a 50-foot radius of her would stop like a freeze frame, particularly members of the opposite sex.

This fucker’s eyes never changed once since I’ve been here, so if his eyes were that blue at the time to cause my wife to pause, that means that any time he was around her, he must have been in a constant state of arousal, or at least heightened fucking sexual awareness. Butterfly has never looked in the mirror to see her own eyes when she’s coming… not that I know of, anyway. She doesn’t know what that shit does to you…

… Unless those eyes were looking back at her.

“Son of a bitch,” I hiss. I turn an even more hateful glare on this fucker. I can’t remember despising anybody this much when it came to my wife, not even Cholometes.

“If the licensing board needs anything else from Helping Hands, ever, you better make sure somebody else goes, because if you ever contact my wife… if you ever come anywhere near my wife again, I don’t care who you call—your ass is mine, and for your sake, I hope that’s very clear.” I look up at the eye in the sky.

“Did you get that?” I say to the camera before fixing my gaze on Liam again. I know that the eye doesn’t have sound. I also know that this particular eye has been deactivated for our meeting—but he doesn’t. So, my gesture simply added a little drama to our exchange.

Like I said, friends in high places.

I stand from the table, straighten my suit, turn around and leave the room.

*-*

“You’re going to teach me what?”

“Scrambled eggs,” Gail says with a smiling Sophie standing next to her. We’ve come straight home after stopping at school to get Sophie. A lot of the students appeared to meander around the car as she was coming out of the school. When we asked her why, she admitted that they might be hoping to get a glimpse of me.

Me? Why? Why would a bunch of middle school kids be concerned about me?

“Did you tell them that I work for Christian?” Jason had asked.

“Well, they already knew that, Dad,” Sophie replied, “but Ana came up for lunch a few times.”

I didn’t know that she and Sophie were that close. There seems to be a lot that I don’t know… but back to these eggs.

“Eggs does not a gourmet meal make, Mrs. Taylor,” I scold.

“You have to crawl before you can walk, Mr. Grey,” she retorts. “When you can make scrambled eggs—light, fluffy, edible scrambled eggs with no eggshells that don’t stick to the pan, you can move on to a more complicated meal. Until then, you learn scrambled eggs.” I shrug. Fair enough. Sophie giggles.

“It’s not as easy as you think, Uncle Christian,” she says, her voice filled with mirth.

“Then, I guess I’ll need you to help me, won’t I?” I say, honestly. Sophie nods, and we proceed to crack eggs.

The carnage! I can’t begin to imagine how many poor eggs had to die before I even learned how to crack an egg without getting half the shell in the bowl or half the egg on the floor! When I finally get to five eggs in succession—in the bowl with no shell… hours later, I might add—that’s when Gail tells me that even the most accomplished chefs sometimes get a shell in the bowl. They just take it out before they cook them.

I could kill her.

On to whisking.

That’s the easy part. She tried to make it complicated… “It’s all in the wrist,” but all she had to do was tell me what to do and I did it. Seasoning is a little more complicated.

A pinch of salt…
A sprinkle of pepper…
I have big hands, so my pinch is more like two pinches.

I tried to do a pat of butter and ended up with a glomp… if that’s even a word. That’s what Sophie called it.

Needless to say, my eggs didn’t turn out fluffy and they did stick to the pan, so we’ll be picking this lesson up again. However, I know how to crack them without shells, get them into the bowl and not on the floor, whisk them thoroughly, and I know that my pinch is actually two pinches. That’s one hell of a start for a man that could do nothing more than press buttons on the microwave.

We slaughtered eggs until Ms. Solomon threw us out the kitchen to get dinner ready. It’s now that I realize that Butterfly isn’t home yet. Chuck was supposed to warn us when they were on their way home so that I could get my ass out of the kitchen, but we got no warning. I go in search of Jason. I didn’t have to go far.

“How did the cooking lesson go?” he asks, kicked back on one of the sofas in the family room watching television. I fall down on the sofa next to him.

“Lots of chickens sacrificed their babies to the cooking gods today,” I say, thinking of all the eggs I murdered. “No word from Chuck?”

“Yeah,” he says. “He called a couple of hours ago in the middle of the poultry massacre. He said they were staying late at the Center.” My eyes shoot to Jason.

“What else did he say?” I ask, trying to hide the panic in the back of my head. Jason breaks his gaze from the television and turns his head to me.

“Nothing,” he says, his brow furrowed, “just that they were staying late.” I nod and turn my gaze to the television, paying absolutely no attention to what’s playing. She wouldn’t see him again after what we’ve been through. Would he dare go to the Center after my visit today? No, that would be a death wish… though Cholometes endured a street fight to prove his love for her. No, no, no… stop it, Grey. You’re being ridiculous. Butterfly wouldn’t risk our relationship again after everything that’s happened.

Again…

Would Chuck tell us if she was seeing someone else? He didn’t even know Liam tried to kiss her and he was there with her. I know he doesn’t sit under her every second, but how could he have missed that happening… or did he?

“Boss…?”

“I’m… um… going for a ride,” I say, bouncing out of my seat and heading for the mudroom.

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No!” I say a little too quickly as I spin around on Jason. “No, I’m… I’m fine. I just need some air.” Jason turns off the television and rises slowly from the sofa.

“I’d feel a whole lot better if you just let me come with you,” he says, his voice cajoling. “It’s not like we don’t both know where you’re going.” My shoulders fall. I feel like a kid being caught trying to sneak out of the house after curfew. I sigh.

“You drive,” I say.

*-*

Chuck’s brow furrows when Jason and I walk into the Center.

“Is everything alright?” he asks. He’s at the front desk with the night guard and he stands as we approach. Some silent communication passes between him and Jason, but he doesn’t react.

“I… just wanted to come and ride home with my wife,” I say. Chuck still says nothing, but nods. “Where is she?” He points down the hall.

“Follow the music,” he says. I nod and walk down the hall towards the music… and the dreaded community room. Jason is right behind me. I hear one song stop as I approach and another one starts when I get to the door. My wife is a small ball in the middle of the floor—in yoga pants and a sports bra, and sweating. She’s in the room alone and the music coming from the speakers attached to her iPod bounce acoustically off the walls of the room. I look behind me to see Jason walking back down the hall towards Chuck, so I turn my attention back to my Butterfly.

She raises her arms and slowly unfurls like a flower coming into bloom. One voice speaks of giving up, but she blossoms beautifully, her legs stretching, her arms reaching for… whatever. Her hands are swirling—beautiful gestures that form universes, magic dust flowing from her fingers and filling the room. Somehow, I quietly float in and take a seat as a female voice harmonizes in the tune about giving up. The song is very pretty… if it weren’t for the words.

The last time I watched my wife dance this way, we had disagreed about spanking our children. Her body speaks in a way that no one can hear and yet no one can ignore. If she does this regularly, I never see it. I’ve only seen it twice in the two years that we’ve been together. The song ends with the same two words that started it…

Say Something…

Unlike the last time I watched her dance where she ended up curled in a ball and crying, this time my wife is open on the floor and sweating, her clothes sticking to her like she’s been at this for hours. She slowly rises from the floor and stretches her arms around her body, using the alternate hand to push into the deepest stretch. She doesn’t realize that I’m sitting on the bench until she turns her face in my direction.

I don’t rise to meet her. I just sit there waiting for her to come towards me. I feel like an interloper on her space and time right now… like I should have stayed at home. She goes to the other end of the bench and stops her iPod just as it begins to play another song, then retrieves the towel that she tossed there before proceeding in my direction.

“Was that for me?” I ask, self-centered bastard that I am. She doesn’t react though.

“No, that was for me,” she replies, winded and dabbing her eyes with the towel. I sit up straight.

“I never asked where you learned to do that,” I ask. “I very rarely see you dance like that…” Twice in our entire relationship.

“Modern dance,” she replies. “Elective—I took two semesters in college. Never went anywhere with it, though.”

“You’re good at it,” I tell her. “It seems you took a lot of classes in college I didn’t know about…” Human sexuality, business classes, French—but I knew about that one—now modern dance. Next, she’s going to tell me that she secretly pledged a sorority. “Where did you find the time?”

“It was easier than you think,” she says, her voice impassive. “It’s a side effect of not wanting time to think or remember anything.”

Ouch. I can certainly relate to that.

“So… what brings you here?” she asks, retrieving a bottle of water from the bench.

“I know you’re trying,” I begin, “but you still seem so… distant. I was just…” I trail off.

“You… were worried,” she says. It’s not a question. I know exactly what she’s saying and I drop my gaze. I won’t lie to her.

“Yes,” I say, a bit ashamed. She sighs and wipes the sweat from her forehead.

“Can’t say I blame you,” she says, taking a drink of her water. I look at her.

“We can’t go on like this,” I tell her. She meets my gaze.

“I don’t see that we have a choice, Christian,” she replies. I frown. She can’t be serious.

“I did something that shook your trust in me,” she says, “and you did something that shook my faith in you. I don’t know how to get that back and apparently, you don’t either. It’s just going to take time, I guess.”

I twist my lips. This hurts—the fact that the bliss and happiness that we felt, that we found in each other… it’s gone. We still love each other; we don’t want to be without each other… but that AnaChris bliss… is gone.

“We’re broken,” I say without lifting my head. Butterfly is silent. She’s not even trying to dispel my feelings about our relationship. That’s very discouraging. She sits on the bleachers next to me, wiping the sweat from her chest and neck.

“I went to see Ace today,” she says, before taking another large swallow of her water. That’s a bit of a surprise. “I told him everything. I told him that I didn’t come to talk to him because I was ashamed—ashamed that I had undone all of the progress that we had made. I was afraid of things that went ‘bump’ in the night, and I’ll admit… I still am to some degree. We went through regression therapy. I compiled all these coping mechanisms. I went back to Green Valley and faced my monsters—after I relived that damn beating and went into a catatonic state, that is. I confronted the devils that were Carla Morton, Carly Madison, and even Cody Whitmore to a certain degree, and I came out a better person for it. I have all these things to my benefit—all this stuff that I built up and yet… waking up to face the day is a task.

“Ace let me whine for a while, and then he ripped me a new one. He wouldn’t allow me to wallow or feel sorry for myself even though I’m still feeling it a bit. I’m still afraid—I’m still remiss to go through all this work that I must if I hope to even slightly achieve a shadow of the person that I used to be.”

I look over at her and see that tears have replaced the sweat that was there moments before. She reaches up and wipes one cheek.

“I fell,” she continues. “I fell from the cloud of bliss and comfort that I had been floating in for however long, and I came crashing back to reality at the speed of light. The impact was nearly enough to kill me, but God wasn’t that merciful. I lived. I lived with every ache, every pain, every bad memory, every broken expectation, every shattered delusion…” She trails off.

“Of me?” I ask when she pauses.

“Yes,” she says, “and of me… of us. You can’t love somebody through a tragedy, Christian. You can love them while they’re going through it. You can support them; you can be their anchor, their cheering section, but they have to go through it themselves. It was a tragedy that you walked out and left your family for whatever reason you chose to do it, but as selfish as it sounds, that wasn’t the tragedy for me. The tragedy for me was that I was hopeless and lost and confused and I didn’t have any answers and I was hurting, and then I fell—figuratively and literally—and you were not there.”

Love the Hurt Away. That’s our song and now, she’s saying that we can’t do it.

“I can be all kinds of wrong for what I say, for what I do, and for what I feel, but it doesn’t matter at this point. I was destroyed, almost wishing that I would die, and you were not there. For those reasons, there are several people that I’m sure are not completely convinced that I didn’t jump off that cliff.

“I’m a psychiatrist,” she says. “I’m a professional. I, of all people, know that a seed must lose its protective shell and face utter destruction in order to grow into something more beautiful… more powerful. It changes it’s form completely to become something else completely, and this relationship has lost its protective shell.” I frown deeply. I don’t like where this is going at all.

“What are you saying?” I ask, unable to hide my dismay.

“I’m saying that we have to grow,” she says. “We have to let go of what we were and we have to grow. We’ll never be who we were before because you can’t undo what’s been done. You can’t unhurt me and I can’t unhurt you. We can’t unlearn what we’ve learned. We can’t unlive the experiences and feelings of the last month. They’ll always be a part of us. So, we don’t have any other choice but to move on and grow from here, but this is like losing your virginity, Christian. We can’t go back.”

It sounds so scary… so impossible. I didn’t think I could love my wife more than I did… more than I do, and now she’s saying that we can’t get that back?

“I… don’t think I understand,” I say, my chest hurting so much that I think it’s going to burst. “If we can’t get back the love that we had… the connection that we had, what’s left?” Is this the beginning of the end?

“All that’s left is for us to rebuild and to fight for what we have,” she says, her head down and tears continuing to fall from her eyes and onto her yoga pants.

“I love you as much as I ever have, Anastasia,” I say, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Christian,” she says. “My feelings haven’t changed. But you need to understand that the impossible happened… for both of us… and we can’t go back. I didn’t kiss Liam, but it doesn’t matter, because in your eyes, I was still wrong. So, that damage is done. And then, Little Ana fell again. Little Ana is always falling… and nobody was there to catch me. That damage is done, too.

“We can’t go back, and it’s not that we can’t go back to the love that was felt. We can’t go back to the naïveté that was our relationship. We just have to… move forward. There’s no going back.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to do what she’s saying we need to do. I don’t even know where to start. I’ve just loved her all this time—good or bad, thick and thin, sick or well, I’ve just loved her. I don’t know what else to do.

I feel so lost. She’s handed me an impossible task with no instructions. Change our relationship? Change the way we love? Grow how? Suddenly, I feel like that submissive in Elena’s dungeon again, waiting for a command that’s never going to come. I feel her hand cover mine and I turn my gaze to our hands. Hers looks so small over mine… so helpless, and yet… not.

“I love you, Christian,” she says, “and I’m sorry that I hurt you.” I nod and turn my hand over to grasp hers.

“I love you, too,” I choke, turning my gaze to her, “and I’m sorry that I hurt you. I won’t do it again.”

“Yes, you will,” she says without raising her head. “And I’ll hurt you, too. But that’s part of this growth. We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to handle it.”

I pinch my eyes to push the tears out of them as we squeeze each other’s hands for dear life. Why do I feel like I’m losing my wife?


A/N: “It’s all in the wrist,” Sabrina, but that was when they were cracking the eggs in the movie, not whisking them.

Say Something, I’m Giving Up on You—A Great Big World Featuring Christina Aguilera. This is the song that Ana was dancing to.

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~~love and handcuffs