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…?
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!
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…”
“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.
“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/
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