This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
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 50—Unexpected Guests
Sakes alive, she looks just like me. I think she’s even younger than I am! Same haircut, blueish-greenish-gray eyes, similar build—before I had my babies, that is… what the fuck?
“Whoa,” Daddy says, under his breath. I’m sure he’s having the same thought I am. This shit is creeping me out and I really don’t know how to handle it. I don’t really care who Brian fucks, but did he have to go get my twin? She looks even more like me than I look like Shannon… and I really look like Shannon.
“I know,” I hear Maxie’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to look at her. “It’s uncanny. I started talking to her when I got here, thinking she was you.”
“And how did she take that?” I ask.
“She laughed it off and just went on about her day. I’m sure he’s told her that she looks like you and who you are.” I twist my lips.
“It takes some getting used to, that there’s someone else in the world that looks so much like me.”
“No, she looks like you used to look,” Maxie corrects.
“You said yourself that you struck up a conversation with her thinking she was me,” I protest.
“That’s because I know how you used to look and I could have mistaken her for the old you, but anybody who knows you now knows that’s not you. You’re a mother, you’ve got some wisdom and it shows. She seems nice and all, but she doesn’t have that sophistication that oozes off of you, and it’s not the money, Honey. You’ve been that way since I’ve known you. So, from a distance, she might pass for college Ana, but up close, nope. When I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around, I knew it was mistaken identity.” I laugh.
“Often imitated, never duplicated,” I murmur.
“Indeed,” Maxie says, giving me a high-five. We share a few moments of our private joke before Christian joins us again.
“So, what’s the joke?” he says. “I want to laugh, too.” I turn around to look at him and see Brian over his shoulder. He was making his way over to me but pauses and decides on a detour when he sees that Christian gets to me first.
“We were talking about possessive husbands who like to cockblock ex-wannabe-suitors midstride,” I tease.
“He’s got to get through me if he wants to get anywhere near you,” Christian says. “The last time we spoke, he said he was happy with that Ana Lookalike that he brought to your father’s house and to leave him alone. And I have, so now, he can leave you alone.” I raise my brow.
“It’s not that serious, Christian. I really don’t care.”
“I do,” he says. “I have no doubt that he wakes up and when he rolls over and looks into her face, he sees you. One day, he’s going to look at that woman and not see you, and I don’t know what he’s going to do when that happens. In the meantime…” He puts both arms possessively around my waist, “… My girl said she wanted a party. I couldn’t think of a better reason to celebrate.”
I look around the room at the wonderful “baby shower” set-up that’s going on—the only babies in attendance being mine, passed from person to person and testing the whole stranger theory. So far, so good—no fires, floods, hurricanes or baby sirens. Christian even brought our staff, who are preparing what looks like a fabulous steak lunch—exactly what Daddy wanted after the proceedings—and awesome hors d’oeuvres for before lunch.
“You did this all in a few hours?” I ask. He nods. “In the middle of a Monday afternoon, you got everybody to skip work and come here?”
“Are you kidding?” Maxie says. “We wouldn’t miss this.”
“Yeah,” Phil says joining the conversation behind his wife. “This has been such a long time coming. When Christian called, I suddenly got a stomach thing and had to leave work,” he laughs.
“Christian called?” I say, looking at my husband and back to Phil, who nods.
“He activated the contingency,” he adds.
“Without me?” Al says, also coming over and joining in the conversation.
“You were a bit detained, Mr. Forsythe-Fleming,” Christian excuses.
“I don’t want to hear it!” Al says flippantly. “God, I hate not being part of the conspiracy.”
“Steele,” Val chimes in with Elliot following her. “You got a little sister you never told me about?”
“Yeah, what’s up with Ana, Jr.?” Phil asks. “I thought I was seeing double for a minute… until I got a good look at her.” Maxie throws a knowing look at me and I wave her off.
“I certainly hope not,” I say with a shrug. It’s so damn unnerving to see so many people that look like me. Hell, my mother doesn’t even look like me—or I should say I don’t look like her. All I got was her hair… and her eyes, I think. God, I can’t even remember what color my mother’s eyes are. The siren wail of my son crying snaps me from my introspection.
“Don’t look now, but…” Phil points to Ana, Jr. and a screaming squirming Mikey in her arms, with her futilely attempting to calm him.
“Christian…” I say, my voice beseeching.
“Don’t worry, I got it,” he says. I watch as Christian makes his way over to Brian and… his girl. Mikey is feverishly reaching for his father on sight. Christian coos at Mikey, trying to calm him before rescuing him from the imposter—or maybe before rescuing the imposter from him—but Mikey can’t be calmed until he’s in Christian’s arms. Even while lying on Christian’s chest, he quietly babble-cries his protest of being handed to that woman. Good God, what the hell? It’s not that bad, Mikey.
“What is with all that performing?” I say to my son as Christian joins us, rubbing Mikey’s back and causing him to calm a bit. I see Brian out of my peripheral and, surprisingly, he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at Christian.
That’s a first.
Ana Jr., on the other hand, is looking a bit slighted.
“What is her name?” I whisper. He pauses.
“Sha…” he pauses again. “Shawna.”
“You had to think about it?” I ask, rubbing Mikey’s hair as he continues to whimper a bit.
“I don’t think about her much,” he says matter-of-factly. “Why would I let her name occupy mental real estate?” I nod. “Why did you want to know?”
“Because I keep calling her Ana, Jr., and it’s creeping me out. Her boyfriend didn’t bother introducing her to anybody. Who does that? And why are they even here? Did you invite them?” Christian shakes his head.
“My guess is that he heard about it from Ray,” Christian says. “I can understand him wanting to be here, but I have no idea why he brought her.” I raise my brow.
“She makes you uncomfortable,” I say.
“She makes me very uncomfortable,” he cedes.
“Why? Because she looks like me?”
“No, because of the implications of her looking like you. She looks so much like you that the Paparazzi could get a picture of her from a distance and think it’s you. So, here’s hoping that she’s as clean cut as she appears, because she could be trouble. She lives in the same state, for God’s sake.”
And suddenly, I’m wet.
“Oh, no,” I squeak. Christian looks over Mikey’s mop of hair and back at me.
“Crying baby,” I say, pointing to my leaking breasts. I hear Mandy laugh.
“I see you pointing at the food factory,” she says. “You need a shirt?”
“Yes, please, but duty calls first,” I say, pointing at my leaky jugs.
“Um, I don’t think…” Mandy does a circular gesture around her boobs, signaling that I’m probably going to be out of luck in the bra department.
“You got a sweatshirt?” I ask, and she nods. “I’ll be fine.”
We’re having this entire conversation in a room full of people. Ah, motherhood.
“I’ll take him,” I say, reaching for Mikey. Christian whines a bit at the thought of releasing him to me.
“Do you have milk in those?” I chastise, pointing at his pecks. He pouts and gently lifts Mikey off his shoulder. Mikey protests a bit but reaches out his grubby little hands when he sees that he’s being handed to me.
Then he quiets right down.
“I feel a bit slighted,” Christian complains.
“Oh, hush. He came to you first, and I have an advantage. Like I said, you don’t have milk in those things.” I stand on my tippy-toes and plant a quick kiss on his lips.
“Be right back after I feed our children,” I say.
“Okay, Butterfly.” I look around for Minnie and see that Gail has her and one of the diaper bags and she’s waiting for me.
“I’ll come with you,” Maxie says.
“Me, too,” Val chirps in, and I know they want to talk shit about Shawna. We all follow Mandy.
“I’ll have to set you up in our bedroom,” she says. “Harry’s asleep and not due to wake for another hour, but the commotion in the living room will wake him soon enough.” I nod. She has a small sitting area set up in their bedroom and I take a seat in one of the chairs while Gail settles into the other one and gets a bottle ready for Minnie. No sooner I open my shirt and Mikey is greedily pulling at my bra. He knows what’s under there.
“Settle down, you little monster,” I jest, quickly situating my nipple in his mouth. He hungrily slurps his lunch and I know that even though my boobs are full, they’ll both be empty in no time. “Geez, you’re worse than your father.”
“Too much information, Steele,” Val says. “Are you saying that he still indulges in the nipple even though you’re breastfeeding? I mean… does he drink it?” I now have the attention of every woman in the room.
“Like you said, Val, too much information,” I say, diverting the conversation from my boobs. Mandy laughs and hands me a large, clean sweatshirt.
“I’ll see you out there,” she says as she leaves the room. I turn back to Mikey who looks up at me with large, grateful gray eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say as I sit back in the seat.
“So, how long have you known about Ana, Jr.?” Val says. I shrug.
“Her name is Shawna—please stop calling her Ana, Jr. That shit is creeping me out,” I beseech them. “I seem to remember Christian saying something about her a while back, but you know my memory sucks and I only hold on to what’s important, so unfortunately, I don’t remember anything if he did tell me about her. But damn—this is some creepy Twilight Zone shit.”
“I’ll say,” Gail mumbles, and I think we weren’t supposed to hear her.
“Mikey sure as hell knew the difference,” I say looking down at my son. “He was having none of that shit when someone put him in her arms.”
“Didn’t that guy used to have a thing for you?” Maxie asks. “I seem to remember discussion about a terrible fight between him and Christian that landed them both in the hospital. Is this the same guy?”
“Same guy,” I say with a nod, trying not to show my discomfort.
“Don’t you think it’s a little… unsettling that he found someone that looks just like you? Not unsettling because she looks like you, but the fact that he found someone that looks just like you…”
“They’re both unsettling,” I reply. “Christian’s right. If he’s trying to recreate me in her, he’s in for a rude awakening because no two people are that much alike naturally. And I’ve already been through this with one psycho. I was chosen because I looked like someone else, so if she’s chosen because she looks like me…” I trail off.
“I take it nobody’s tried to talk to her,” Val asks.
“Nobody from my camp that I know of,” I respond. “If I know Christian, he’s said something to Brian and he’s just watching from afar. Why would he bring her here? To my father’s house? We’re celebrating my adoption. I barely want him here. Why would he think to bring her?”
“For moral support?” Maxie says.
“To show you that’s he’s moved on?” Val adds.
“Has he?” I squeak. “The girl is my goddamn twin! Is it really moving on if the person that you’re with looks just like the one that you left behind… supposedly?”
“Well,” Val interjects, “look at me. El’s my type. Most of the guys that I’ve dated pretty much look like him. All hot blondes, all pretty well-to-do and none owned sport cars. Maybe I’m not the best authority on this.”
“Yeah, same features, but none of the guys you’ve dated looked exactly alike, at least not while I’ve known you.” She shrugs.
“Yeah, there is that,” she concedes. I shake my head.
“He and Ray don’t see each other much. He probably just wanted his friend to meet his girl,” Maxie says, still playing devil’s advocate.
“This is my adoption,” I say, breaking Mikey’s suction on my now empty breast. Gail rises on cue. “He had to know I would be here. What did he expect—for me to say, ‘Hey, Dad, thanks for signing the papers. Bye now?’”
Gail swaps babies with me while I’m talking and begins to pat Mikey to get him to give up a burp while Minnie latches onto my other bulging tit.
“I know Christian didn’t tell him,” I continue, “so Daddy had to. It would have been awkward enough with just him showing up, but he brought a damn doppelganger to my adoption celebration!”
“Okay, so, just so I’m clear, are you upset that he’s here, that he brought a girl, or that the girl looks like you?” Val asks, bemused.
“The fact that he’s here and that he brought a girl that looks like me,” I answer. “The last time I saw that man, he thought it was a good idea to beat my husband until he literally couldn’t see and had to have his teeth fused. Believe me when I tell you that I couldn’t care less what that man does with his dick or who he does it with, but I do want to know what he’s trying to prove by bring that girl to my adoption.”
“I’m still not sure why you’re so upset,” Val says. “I can understand being perturbed by the whole thing, but you’re really pissed.”
“That’s because you’re missing two key words here. I keep saying them, but you keep missing them. My. Adoption. If it seems like I’m taking this personally, goddammit, I am! This is my celebration with my daddy. I can begrudgingly accept him showing up because he’s Daddy’s friend. I can’t and won’t condone him bringing an Ana-lookalike-doppelganger here during this time. The moment he discovered that this was going to be a party and not an intimate setting for him to introduce Daddy to his girlfriend, he should have excused himself and set a time for them to get together. He stayed because he knew it would unnerve me and it would unnerve Christian. I can shake my head and disapprove and judge how healthy or unhealthy his choice of woman is from afar. But when you invite yourself and her to my celebration and throw her in our faces knowing how we would react—yes, I’m pissed about that!”
Everyone in the room falls silent for a moment.
“Well, when you put it like that…” Val says and trails off. Finally! She gets it! This was a calculated move on that jerk’s part and nothing she can say can convince me otherwise.
“So, what now?” Maxie asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply. “I have nothing to say to either of them. I don’t believe for one second that she walked into this blind, so she’s just as guilty as he is as far as I’m concerned. Then she has the nerve to try to hold my damn baby…” I trail off angrily. I don’t know what’s irritating me so badly about the situation. All I know is that I wish they would both just leave.
It’s time to change the subject.
“Are you getting settled into the office okay?” I ask Maxie. She raises her brow at me.
“I had never been to your office,” she says. “I had no idea how ‘pimped out’ it was!” I laugh.
“It’s not pimped out. You’re just accustomed to the offices at the family center,” I tell her.
“Well, it’s pimped out to me. We never decided on rent.” I shrug.
“I don’t know what to charge a friend. Make me an offer.” She twists her lips.
“A beautiful office near downtown and you don’t know what to charge?” she asks.
“ A wonderful friend and mentor who was my therapist for many years and several times kept me from leaping off the proverbial cliff? No, I don’t,” I reply matter-of-factly. She makes that face where you tighten your chin.
“Well, since you put it that way,” she says, “I do some research on the rents in the area.”
“Good, then cut it in half.” She twists her lips at me. “Family and friends discount,” I add.
“Fine,” she says begrudgingly.
Once Minnie and Mikey have been fed, burped, changed and put down for a nap, the girls rejoin the party as I sneak off to the laundry room to wash my blouse and bra. God, my tits feel so much better now that they’re empty! Jesus, these jugs are getting out of hand!
As I’m about to step out of the laundry room, I hear voices and peak out to see who’s there. Brian and Shawna are having a not-so-pleasant conversation in the hallway that leads from the kitchen to the laundry room.
“They hate me!” Shawna says, her voice low and sharp. “They all hate me. Even the baby hates me! Did you see how he screamed? Babies love me, and he screamed!”
“They don’t hate you, Sha,” Brian says. “They just don’t know you…”
“I don’t want to know any of them!” she retorts. “They’re all ‘one big happy,’ and I’m some intruder that comes in looking like their diamond child. Most of them started talking to me thinking I was her. One guy turned fifty shades of pale when he discovered that he was talking to the wrong person! Why did you bring me here?”
“Because you’re an important part of my life and I wanted you to meet Ray, who’s also an important part of my life.”
“Why did we have to come today?” she whines. “Why couldn’t we come up on the weekend or something?”
“Believe it or not, I was trying to avoid running into the family!” he defends. “Who the hell would expect the whole damn clan to be here on a goddamn Monday morning?”
I can tell that he was talking more to himself than to Shawna when he asked the question.
“It’s an adoption, Bri,” Shawna says, pointing out the obvious. “It’s a family affair.”
“Yeah, but I know Ray. I know they probably had lunch or something planned just for him and his daughter. Then he would come back here, or even go to work, and Mandy would have called him and told him that we were here. Then he would have come back and we all would have relaxed and chewed the fat. But of course, Grey…”
He trails off. Oh, no. Don’t act like it’s my husband’s fault that you brought the Counterfeit Contessa here and we didn’t welcome her with open arms.
“When can we leave?” she pouts. “Ray and Amanda are the only ones who have been nice to me. Everybody else is looking at me like an alien—when they’re not mistaking me for her. Unlike the rest of the female population of Washington, I have no desire to be Anastasia Grey!”
Well! Don’t get all hissy about it. You’re in my father’s house, and nobody’s stopping you from leaving.
“I don’t want to be rude,” Brian says, matter-of-factly. “We’ll leave right after lunch. Can you tolerate that?” I hear her sigh loudly.
“When we get home, I’m cutting my hair and dyeing it red!” Shawna declares.
“Baby, you could shave it bald. I wouldn’t care. I’d still love you,” Brian says. I roll my eyes. Oh, good grief. It would be cute… if it were anybody else.
“Stop being sweet,” she pouts. “I’m still not comfortable here at all.”
“I know, baby. I’m sorry,” and he sounds sincere. I wait for a minute or two after there’s silence in the hallway to poke my head out.
The coast is clear. Thank God!
I go into the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and the staff, doing the final preparations on the meal.
“Can I help?” I ask. The room falls silent for a moment, then Ms. Solomon engages.
“Mrs. Grey, this is your lunch… you and your father…”
“I’d be eternally grateful if you would allow me to help with something—anything, instead of going through that door right now.” She raises her eyes.
“She’s unnerving, isn’t she?” Ms. Solomon asks, and I don’t even try to deny it.
“More than you can imagine,” I say, commandeering Mandy’s apron and waiting for instructions. Ms. Solomon hands me a knife.
“There’s nothing left to do but the salad,” she says, pointing to a huge mountain of vegetables.
“Thank you,” I reply, “Leave it to me…”
By the time I’m done, I’ve created three beautiful salads in about fifteen minutes… one Greek, one Caesar, and one antipasto.
“You’ve been holding out on me!” Ms. Solomon says. “I had no idea you had this kind of skill. And that knife! The staff was afraid to come near you!” I laugh.
“Before we had a staff, I had that gourmet kitchen built for me,” I confess.
“Nothing left to do but serve,” she says. I sigh.
“I’ll take the salads out and go sit down,” I say. I take two of the large salads and one of the other servers grabs the third. When we enter the dining room, Christian immediately spots me.
“Lunch is ready,” I announce, placing the two large salads in the middle of Mandy’s formal dining table.
“That’s where you got off to,” Christian says, leading the charge into the dining room. “I didn’t even see you go in there.”
“Nobody did,” I say, keeping my eyes on the salad while arranging them on the table. “I just wanted to help out.” Christian looks knowingly at me. “I hope you don’t mind, Mandy. I borrowed your apron.”
“Not at all, whatever makes you feel happy,” she replies. The staff begins to fill the table with the hot food and sets everything up buffet style since there’s really no formal seating. Everyone begins to dig in and I, for some reason, am still organizing things on the table—removing dishes as they’re emptied and helping the staff refill platters with more food, helping with drinks…
“You really should sit. This is your celebration after all.”
I turn to see that nearly everyone has left the table and is sitting somewhere with a plate of food—everyone except me, that is, and the voice that’s telling me to sit is Brian’s.
“I will,” I say, even more feverishly cleaning and adjusting things on the table. “In the meantime, go, eat.” Shoo, for Christ’s sake. You’re making this awkward enough just being here.
“I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you,” he says, still trying to make small talk. “Ray is very happy. He was like a kid at Christmas when you suggested it.” Oh, dear Lord.
“Yeah, I’m happy, too. It should’ve happened years ago,” I reply, trying not to be rude.
“Has your mother called?” he continues. “How does she feel about it?” Just as I’m about to respond…
“Wrong woman,” Christian says, appearing behind me. Brian raises his eyes.
“You’re awfully paranoid, aren’t you, Christian?” Brian says.
“No, I’m not,” Christian replies. “You told me to stay out of your business, and I have. This…” He puts his hand on my shoulder, “… is not your business. This is mine. Yours is over there.” He points to Shawna, tucked away in a corner talking to Mandy. “I just thought you might have gotten them confused.”
“You’re still stuck on that?” Brian taunts.
“Is everything okay, guys?” Daddy asks, noting the tension between Brian and Christian even though there are no raised voices.
“Oh, yeah, everything’s fine,” Christian says. “We were just discussing the uncanny resemblance between our significant others.”
Oh, shit. There’s the fucking gauntlet. The room falls silent, and there’s that mouse pissing on cotton.
“You really want to do this now, Grey?” Brian threatens.
“I’m not doing anything, Brian,” Christian says. “We struck a deal, and you’re breaking it right now. You said stay away from you and stay out of your business and I am. The same goes for you… she’s over there,” he repeats pointing to Shawna.
You can see the fury rising in Brian’s face. Christian hasn’t really done anything wrong, but you can clearly see that Brian feels violated by the announcement.
“You did that deliberately to make my girlfriend uncomfortable,” Brian accuses.
“Are you blind?” Christian asks. “That poor girl was uncomfortable when Mikey started screaming in her arms. I simply thought you just may have mistaken my wife for her since you have absolutely no business with my wife, so I was just pointing you in the right direction.” Brian’s face is getting redder and redder by the second and his ears look like they’re just going to melt off his head. That’s when Elliot steps into the conversation.
“Look, dude,” Elliot says, “I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you and I don’t mean you any offense, but it’s the elephant in the room, man. Ask her, half of us started talking to her thinking she was Montana. She’s a beautiful girl, but she looks like Montana.”
Brian frowns at Elliot, probably because he doesn’t know who the hell Montana is, but you can tell that he’s still furious and wants his pound of flesh. So, he turns around and looks at my father.
“Do you know about his lifestyle?” Brian says aloud to my father. “Do you know what they do—what he does to your daughter?”
What the fuck?? This is the same shit that happened that day years ago at the Greys—the same fucking shit! It’s Elena Lincoln all back over again. I’m horrified.
“Yes, Brian, I do know,” my father says, stone-faced. “My daughter told me awhile back. She tells me everything.” Well, maybe not everything, but he knows about this. Brian’s eyes widen and Daddy sighs.
“You’re my friend, Brian, and I miss you terribly, but it wasn’t your place to make that announcement in front of a room full of people. Christian didn’t do anything foul. He didn’t reveal any of your secrets or expose you in any way. He made a statement of fact… she looks like my daughter.”
Brian deflates immediately, and Shawna looks completely mortified.
“You’re right,” Brian says, his voice somber. “I’m sorry.” He looks over at me and Christian. “Really, I’m sorry.”
Christian squeezes my arms and I just drop my gaze.
“I knew about your feelings for my daughter long before you told me about them, but I thought it was just a crush. The fact that you know this much about her private life tells me that it’s much more than that,” Daddy accuses.
“It was,” Brian admits. “I wanted to be sure that she was safe, that she wasn’t doing anything against her will… that she was happy… and yes, at one point, I wanted her for myself, but that’s not the case anymore.”
“Isn’t it?” Daddy accuses, gesturing to Shawna, who shrinks a bit. I can see her in my mind’s eye making an appointment with a hairdresser before they even leave Seattle. She’ll be a ginger in no time.
“No, Ray, it’s not, I swear,” Brian says. “I’ll admit that I was initially drawn to Shawna because of her physical appearance, but that’s because she’s my type. And she already knows that she reminded me of Ana when I first met her—I was completely open and honest with her about that. But these two women are only physically similar. They couldn’t be more different. I love Shawna because of the woman that she is, not because of how much like Ana she looks. Believe me, Ray, had I known that it was going to be a big family party, I would have planned my visit differently—showed up later maybe…”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Daddy says, and Brian freezes. “I want to catch up with you. I want to get to know Shawna better, but now isn’t the time. Whatever the current situation is between you and my daughter and her husband, you all don’t mix well together. It’s bad news when you’re all in the same room. Why don’t you go back to your hotel and we can all meet for dinner—just like old times, just… with our ladies, okay?” Brian smiles.
“That’s sounds great,” he says to my father. They shake hands and hug. Shawna has abandoned her conversation and her lunch and joined Brian. When Daddy and Brian release, Daddy leans down and kisses Shawna chastely on the cheek while holding her forearms, causing her to sink a bit in relief, and Brian turns to me and Christian, his lips forming a thin line.
I feel like Christian now. I just want him to leave us alone, forever. If you’re happy with Shawna, be happy with Shawna, and just leave us alone.
Instead, he makes his way over to us. Christian immediately grasps my arms with both hands.
“I really am sorry,” Brian says to me as he approaches us. I turn my head. Jesus, I don’t even know what to say to this man. “Really, man, I am,” he adds.
“We heard you,” Christian says, his voice crisp. Brian lingers for a few moments more before walking back over to Shawna and Daddy. They exchange words that I can’t hear. Then he kisses Mandy on the cheek, exchanging words with her as well before taking Shawna’s hand and leading her to the door. I turn around and face Christian.
“He’s going to retaliate,” I say, dismally.
“I don’t think so,” he replies. “He knows that if he hurts me, he’ll hurt you, Ray, our children… He’s a selfish bastard, but I really don’t think he wants to do that.” I sigh and lay my head on his chest as he wraps his arms around me.
“I hope you’re right,” I respond.
Time stands still for a moment or two, or five, or ninety, as I contemplate what could be in store for my family at the hands of a slighted Brian Cholometes. I watch in somewhat suspended animation as Christian makes his way over to Daddy and they have a conversation, no doubt about what just transpired. I wrap my arms around my body, using my hands to try to warm myself from the chill that has come over me. I don’t even see Maxie when she comes over to me.
“Jesus, Ana, what was that all about?” I turn an uncertain gaze to her. I don’t know what to tell her, but I know what I’m not telling her. Her brown furrows.
“What was Brian talking about?” she asks, her voice serious. “What did he mean by what he does to your daughter?”
And there’s the Maxine that showed up at my house with the court order to have me committed when I was catatonic. Oh, hell no—no time for weakness now. I pull myself up to my full height, ready to face off with my friend if I must.
“I’m. Not. Talking about it,” I say, my voice controlled. “It’s my personal business, and the fact that he blurted it out without my permission doesn’t mean that I have to disclose it to anybody.” Maxie examines me for a moment.
“Duly noted,” she says coolly. “Can I please just ask you one question?”
“I can’t guarantee I’m going to answer it,” I reply.
“You’re not being hurt or abused, are you?” she asks. “You’re not doing anything against your will?”
“That’s two questions, and I’ll answer them both. Absolutely not. Father of my children, husband, money, good looks—none of that matters. I would never stay in a position like that. I work at a battered women’s shelter, for God’s sake!” Maxie nods quickly.
“I know. I know. I know Christian wouldn’t hurt you like that. He loves you too much. It’s just… you’re my friend and I get kind of blind to logic when… you know what I mean.” My defense mechanism releases and my guard drops back to normal. I touch her arm.
“Yes, Maxie, I know what you mean,” I reply, softly.
“Besides,” she adds, “your Marine dad would have killed him by now. If it’s okay with Ray, I guess it should be okay with me.”
And just like that, the mood lightens.
I try to enjoy the rest of the celebration, playing silly games with my father and family, eating the good food prepared by my staff. Grace excuses herself and goes back to Helping Hands right after lunch and the rest of the party starts to dwindle as the afternoon moves on. I wanted to see what kind of progress there was on my office but decide against it.
When it’s time to go, Gail and Keri go to gather the twins and I get a little bit of playtime with my little brother who finally decided to join us. When he grows weary of his big sister, I go to retrieve my bra and shirt from the laundry. Once I’ve changed and dropped Mandy’s sweatshirt into the hamper, I swipe the screen on my phone. I know his number is the same, so I text him.
**We won’t bother you. We’ll leave you alone, I promise. Please, leave us alone. **
I press my phone to my chest, sending up a silent prayer that nothing befalls me and my family because Brian feels slighted. I never wanted him. I never even led him on. I feel that I shouldn’t have come to him when I needed help. I never should have let him in or given him any opportunity to be a part of my life at all. While I’m lost in my lamenting, I get a text that puts my fears to rest.
**Okay. Be happy. **
Hearing that Cholometes intends to leave my family alone last night was music to my fucking ears. I don’t have to be in the guy’s business; he’s not that important to me. My only concern is that he doesn’t sneak in when I’m not looking and launch an attack on my wife. Because he doesn’t matter, I’ll stay out of his business. Because I don’t trust him, I’m still keeping an eye on him.
My wife was remiss to tell me that she had texted him after the “Seeing Double Scandal” at her father’s house, and I could see why. There are just too many ways that situation could have played out, especially after that semi-threatening email he sent to her after his last visit. That fell dead in the water, thank God, but I still can’t help but feel like there was an ulterior motive for him bringing that Ana Twin to Ray’s house.
So, I’m keeping an eye on him.
The time difference in England made it impossible to know what time was good to call John. So, I decided to forego my morning run to get in touch with him.
“I loved it there. Now, not so much. It’s not like my son is Typhoid Mary. They know what this is… America just didn’t know what it was at first, and now, they do.”
“I understand how you feel, John, but leaving the country completely? Is that smart? What about your citizenship and that of your family?”
“It’s a bit of a mess with the visas unless we want to relinquish our U.S. citizenship. I’m sure that Rhian doesn’t want that. I could honestly go either way. England is my home, so I don’t have the same trouble with immigration that they do, and I was never naturalized, so I didn’t give up my English citizenship.” I frown.
“You’ve been here all this time on a visa?” I ask.
“They wanted me to denounce my English citizenship. I wouldn’t do it,” he replies.
“So, what you’re saying is that your family would live indefinitely on visas there in England like you did here.”
“It depends on what we decide to do, but yes. As long as Rhian can prove that she won’t be a financial burden, they can all stay here indefinitely as long as we renew their visas. And to be honest, the school system here is looking better than the US. The children get more physical activity during the day. They look forward to going to school… I’m just quite disenchanted with the States at the moment, Christian. I’ve decided that we’re going to stay here right now for at least a year. I hate to leave Grace and my patients in such a bad position, but as you know, family comes first.”
“You don’t have to explain that to me, John,” I assure him. “You’ve just given me and my family a reason to visit England.” He chuckles.
“How’s married life treating you?” he probes. “You’re not my patient anymore, so I’m no longer privy to these little intimate details.” I sigh.
“It’s an experience,” I admit. “Some days, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. Other days, I sit back and wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. And the twins…!” I trail off.
“Oh, yes! Marriage and fatherhood all in the same year! I forgot about that,” he declares.
“I certainly didn’t!” I exclaim. “I watched my wife scold my daughter for the first time this weekend and it was fucking torture! She literally threatened my life if I interfered!”
“She threatened your life?” John laughs shamelessly. “Tell me that’s a joke!”
“It’s not!” I confirm. “I tried to comfort my child and she told me to leave her alone or she would kill me!” John laughs loudly and freely into the phone. “I’m so glad you’re enjoying this.”
“In my professional opinion,” he chuckles, “you and Ana sound like you’re right on track with this marriage/parenthood thing.” I sigh.
“I don’t know,” I admit. “We’ve had some pretty big bumps as of late.” John’s laughter fades.
“Anything you wish to discuss?” John asks. “Not as your shrink—as your friend who happens to be a shrink.” I sigh again. How would Butterfly feel about this? The truth is that I need all the help I can get, and he is my friend. Differing viewpoints may actually help, and if I can’t get a handle on my role in Butterfly’s mood changes and developments, I’m going to consult Ace for some additional guidance.
“You don’t mind?” I ask, cautiously. I did fire the man after all.
“Like I said, we’re friends. I won’t even start the clock on you…”
I talk to John for two full hours, spilling my guts about every little thing that’s bothering me, every little kink in the armor that is our marriage—my massive fuck-ups; the whole broken trust issue between me and Butterfly; my wife’s bipolar-type reactions to bad situations… one moment she’s all Zen and the next moment it’s the apocalypse. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m coming or going. We switch roles at the drop of a dime where she has to hold everything together and I’m falling apart—like Detroit—or I have to be the pillar and she’s falling off into the pit of oblivion—like Sunday and the viewing session.
Luckily for me, John wore the friend hat more than he wore the shrink hat, although he did wear the shrink hat. I needed them both. Jason fills one of those roles while Dr. Baker fills the other, but I really needed them both to help me get back on track with what I need to do to constructively and effectively deal with the varying situations involving my wife and myself. It’s ironic that I called to check on John trying to help him and he ended up helping me.
I send my beautiful wife and our adorable children off to Helping Hands while I head into the office to catch up on whatever I may have missed on this super-long weekend. Capito is trying to discredit me among businesses in Madrid, so I assume that the government or someone higher up may be getting a cut of his human trafficking operation since nothing has been done about it yet. Maybe a different approach is needed…
“What has come from the Capito situation?” I ask Alex. “He’s spreading false propaganda about me abroad and I need it nipped. I have some business deals in the works in Madrid and I don’t need him pissing on them if it can be avoided.”
“It can be avoided. Let me make some calls and see what progress there is. These things take time, unfortunately, but I’m sure there are some fires I can light,” Alex responds.
“Good, the sooner, the better.” I end the call and proceed through the massive amount of emails that have accumulated over the last few days. It’s amazing to me that one person can accumulate hundreds of emails per day. Even with my sorting function, I still have to try to review each email to see if there’s something that went to junk mail that shouldn’t have.
“Sir…” Andrea’s disembodied voice from the intercom interrupts my review just after noon.
“I have Terry Smalls on line three. He’s in charge of organizing the items in your grandfather’s storage facility in Detroit. He insists on speaking to you now. He says it’s urgent.” Oh, fuck. What’s in the goddamn storage facility?
“Thanks, Andrea.” I pick up the call on three. “Grey.”
“Mr. Grey, this is Terry Smalls, sir. I’m managing the team that’s organizing the contents of your grandfather’s storage unit.”
“Yes, Mr. Smalls, what can I do for you?” I ask.
“I just want to apprise you of a couple of developments, the first of which is that each box has a label that indicates its contents can be identified by a log on file in the management office. None of us are authorized to access any records in the management office, so I was wondering if you could make a call and tell them that I can take a look at that log. It would cut our work time loading, unloading, and at the warehouse more than in half and it will also alert us ahead of time if there’s anything particularly fragile in any of the boxes.” I nod.
“Excellent news. I’ll have my uncle call the storage facility as soon as possible. We may be spared from opening many of those boxes before we ship them back to Seattle.” Some of them may not have to be shipped at all if Uncle Herman decides to allow Uncle Stan to keep some of it, which I know that he will.
“You said a couple of developments. Are there more?”
“One more, sir. As we started to remove the higher levels of boxes, we realized that they’re stacked to the ceiling, but they’re only three layers deep. The storage facility isn’t full of boxes.”
“Well, that’s good news,” I say. “It wasn’t as full as we thought it was.”
“No, it’s full, it’s just not full of boxes.” I frown.
“What do you mean?” I press.
“Well, after the boxes, there’s some furniture—real antique valuable stuff… and a car.” Huh?
“You mean, model cars, right?” He must be talking about the model set that Pops was giving to Dad.
“Um, no sir, I mean a car—an automobile, a classic Mustang from what I can see.”
“What?” I exclaim. “What kind of condition is it in?”
“Well, it’s under a tarp, but if the tires and the part of the bumper that I can see is any indication, it’s been restored.” Fuck me.
“A classic Mustang. Fuck…” I hear someone call Terry’s name in the background.
“I’m on the phone with the boss!” he shouts back to whomever is calling him.
“Then you might want to tell him to hold on and come look at this. We might have some more news for him.” Shit, what the hell now?
I hear rustling and jingling, like the clatter of keys.
“You’re shitting me,” I hear Smalls say.
“Smalls?” I call out, but he doesn’t answer. I hear wind and movement, like he’s walking. “Smalls?” Still no answer. Guess I’ll just have to wait. A few moments later, he comes back on the line.
“We may have another… Oh, hell.”
“Um, that’s not a good sound, Smalls,” I warn.
“Sir, if your Uncle has the authority to speak to the management here, please tell him to find out exactly how many storage bins your grandfather has. We found at least two more.” Oh, dear God.
“Two… are they full?” I ask. I listen as I hear the sound of a rolling door opening.
“More antique furniture, sir, really high-end stuff from what I can tell… and yes, this one is full. We have to figure out where the third one is, but it would help if we had authority to speak in detail to management.” I sigh.
“I’m on it. Tell your guys to take a break or something and let me call my uncle. Give me your direct number.” I end the call with Smalls and immediately call Uncle Herman.
“Christian, hey. How’s the move going?” he answers.
“That’s why I’m calling you, Uncle,” I begin. “It appears that there’s more than one storage bin down there…”
“I knew it!” he interrupts. “I knew it! Unless he got rid of a whole lot, I knew all of Dad’s stuff couldn’t fit in that one storage bin.”
“Well, there are two more that we know of, and my people have only found one… and Uncle Herman, there’s a car in the first one.” Silence.
“A car?!” he exclaims. “You mean like a real life, living, breathing automobile?” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but…
“According to my staff, we were looking at a few rows of stacked boxes hiding a restored classic Mustang.”
“Shit… he did it. I didn’t think he would do it, but he did,” Uncle Herman says.
“Who did what?” I ask.
“My dad wanted a classic Mustang,” he says. “I knew he had been looking at one that was in the process of being restored years ago, but I didn’t know that he bought it.” I nod as if he could see me.
“Well, he bought it, and it’s in that storage facility. My people found a second—lots of antique furniture—and mentioned that there’s a third. I don’t know how they located keys, I didn’t get that far. My guy also says that there’s some kind of itemized list filed with management, but that he doesn’t have access to it, so he needs you to call them and see if he can get a copy of it.”
“Well, they already have my authority on file down there. I faxed them my documents yesterday. I’ll give them a call. What’s your guy’s name?”
“Terry Smalls.” Once I give him Terry’s number, I call Terry back.
“Terry Smalls here,” he answers.
“Smalls, my uncle is calling the management office now, so you may want to go on over there. I’ve given him your number as well in case he needs to talk to you. His name is Herman Grey. Keep me abreast of any further developments.” And speaking of developments…
“Sir…” Andrea’s voice interrupts me again.
“Smalls, I have to go. Keep me informed.”
“Yes, sir.” We end the call. “Yes, Andrea?”
“Sir, I have Antamonides Capito on the line. He’s quite perturbed and he’s being very insistent and belligerent.” That was fast.
“Is he now?” I say, showing little interest. “What line is he on?”
“Line one, sir.” She sounds exasperated.
“Thank you. Leave him there.”
“Sir?” Now, she’s bemused.
“Leave him there. See how long he holds. Let me know when he disconnects and if he calls back, put him on hold the moment you hear his voice.” There’s a pause.
I’ll talk to him… when I’m ready. This immediate call at nearly 11pm Madrid time means that Alex has hit a soft spot hard proving once again just how valuable he is. So, I’m going to let the asshole squirm for a bit. I hope he was fucking when he got the call.
I take my time reviewing two more acquisitions that we have on the table. I even have a meeting with Ros and Lorenz about our other Spanish deals while the fucker calls me five more times this afternoon. Ros questions what’s going on.
“Capito is trying to spread venom on my name with other companies in Madrid. I can’t just come out and say that he’s into illegal activities without endless repercussion… possible slander suits, dangerous consequences for myself and others—including quickly eliminating inventory, if you know what I mean…” Ros shivers.
“So, what has him calling like a desperate housewife searching for a wayward husband?” Lorenz asks.
“Our head of security has amazing connections,” I inform him. “Sometimes, you have to pluck a few cock feathers to show him that he’s still nothing more than a chicken.” Lorenz stifles a laugh and Ros just shakes her head.
And Capito calls again.
“It’s the end of my day and I’m leaving my office to join my family. What do you want?”
Around five thirty when I’m ready to go home, I finally take Capito’s call, nearly four hours—and nine attempts—after his first call.
“You Americans think you are so smart, so invincible—your so-called power means nothing to Madrid!” he hisses into the line.
“Then why are you calling me?” I taunt. “It appears that we have nothing to discuss.”
“You know people in high places,” he replies. “I know people in high places, too.”
“And apparently, some of those people have been talking to you, haven’t they, Capito?”
“Do not push me, Mr. Grey. You do not know how far my reach is.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” I correct him, having gotten updated intelligence from Alex earlier this afternoon. I’ve got this fucker by the balls and he doesn’t even know it, but he’s about to.
“I know about your extracurricular activities, Mr. Capito, and I now know who your associates are. I know why you didn’t want to release and why you didn’t want me to visit Albien Textiles, and now you know why I chose not to do business with you. I tried to walk away quietly, but you threw down the gauntlet. My wealth is my reputation, and I refuse to let some small-time, wannabe thug dabbling in illegal activities of which he has no full comprehension start badmouthing me in the Madrid market because I wouldn’t play in his little sandbox!”
Capito is silent. I can almost hear the shock and awe on his face through the phone.
“I may not know who all you’re dancing with, Capito, but trust me—I’m familiar with your most prevalent bedfellows. And I know that a few extra dollars means nothing to them in comparison to the risk of exposure. Am I right?” More silence.
“Name your price,” he says flatly. Foolish little Spanish man…
“I don’t have a price, Capito, only a demand. Stay. The Fuck. Out of my affairs. And keep my name out of your mouth or you will find out just how powerful this American really is.”
“Sí, señor,” he says, after a pause.
“And in case you get any ideas, if anything befalls me or my family, I’m holding you personally responsible. I’ve already got documents and contingency plans in place in the event of my disappearance or sudden demise. If they’re implemented, there’s nowhere in the world that you would be able to hide from the authorities or your associates, including your panic cave in the Congo.” I hear him gasp.
“How did…?” He catches himself before he finishes his question. “Sí, señor.”
“You and I have no business, Capito. Walk away. Don’t speak of me again and don’t contact me again, unless you’re declaring war. And believe me, I’m prepared for it.” I end the call before he’s able to give me another “Sí, señor.”
I’m exhausted. Smalls informed me that they’re cataloguing all the antique furniture and he’ll contact me tomorrow with a detailed list to find out what we want to do with it. I’ll ask Butterfly if she wants anything, but I doubt it. I’m sure Uncle Herman will want to split it between the family members that want it—except Freeman. I close my laptop and rub my eyes. I don’t want to go to bed early tonight, but it may be in the cards for me. I’m beat.
Jason meets me in the lobby and as we’re heading to the parking garage, an official-looking gentleman standing by a black Mercedes parked in front of my building catches my attention. My brow furrows and I get Jason’s attention.
“What’s this?” I say gesturing to the front door. Jason looks, then speaks into his earpiece.
“Vic, J.R., come with me,” he says, and two of the security staff behind the desk rise. The three of them walk out the front door and Jason approaches the guard standing near the car. He doesn’t appear to be engaging Jason at all… which means that Jason isn’t who he’s looking for.
He’s looking for someone else… at this hour, probably me.
“Oh, dear God,” I say, stepping behind the wall near the information desk. I press a code into the wall and duck into a door there. Having practiced this many times, I’ve got this routine down to less than a minute. I remove my coat and jacket and quickly don a bullet-proof vest with a built-in holster. Since my Glock is in the locked glovebox, I retrieve one of the M9 Berettas from the security arsenal and quickly load a magazine in it. After putting it in the holster, I put my coat back on and walk out the front door.
“Sir!” Jason says in surprise when he hears the doors open. The guard at the car moves towards the door and every person on my staff reaches inside their coats. I stand still waiting to see who’s in the car. I’m stunned nearly to silence by who steps out the back seat.
“Mr. Grey,” he says, gesturing to the door. “Join me.” You have got to be fucking kidding me! Will this goddamn day never fucking end?
“Oh, hell, no!” I declare. “Shoot me now!”
A/N: Now, the question is… who the hell did Christian see?
I’m aware that the person that I chose to represent Capito is not Spanish, but that’s my choice—because I hated that guy in John Wick 2.
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