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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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…”
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.
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?
“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…
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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