Many of you may not know this, but I lost the use of my right hand for about a week. It was a terrifying experience, but believe it or not, my biggest concern (not the only concern, but the biggest) was that I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. I soon found out that wouldn’t be an issue even without the use of my right hand, but thank God, 95% of the function has come back. Thank you to those of you who knew and expressed concern. I really appreciate it.
So, I may have been a bit unclear in the last chapter. Christian wants Ana to redo his office at home, not at GEH. He was using his office at GEH as an example, because it has glass walls and is mostly white and there’s a lot of light in there. His office at home is very dark, very oxford, and very cave-like, and he wants her to brighten it up like she did hers—but maybe not as bright.
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 57—A Whole Lotta Doors Openin’
“Have you heard anything from your ex?” I ask Harmony, knowing but not revealing that Butterfly paid him a visit last week.
“No,” she admits, “which is a good thing. We would only fight since we have nothing else to discuss. I’ve got enough on my plate these days. The housekeeper and the cook said that Roger tried to call and get some information on what was going on.”
“What did they tell him?” I inquire.
“Nothing,” she says. “They don’t like him either.” I nod.
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” I say. My phone buzzes and it’s a text from Lanie.
**Burtie’s stoked about the car. Sweet ride! Where did you find it and how much? **
“Lanie’s texting me about the T-bird,” I tell Dad. He frowns.
“Lanie?” I raise my head.
“Nollie.” His mouth forms the “ah” word.
“I keep forgetting.” I turn my attention back to my phone.
“Excuse me for a moment,” I say as I shoot a text back to her.
**It’s free. It was Pops’ car and Uncle Herman and the brothers want to give it to Burtie. **
I’ve already excused myself, so I step out of the conference room and dial Lanie’s number.
“Does it run?” she asks when she answers the phone.
“Look at it!” I reply. “What do you think?”
“Who’s going to drive it out here?”
“I don’t want to put cross-country mileage on a car like that. He can if he wants to, but we won’t. We’ll have it shipped with the others.”
“Others?” she asks.
“There are three more—all classics. Dad’s getting one and Uncle Herman, so we’re shipping those two out here. The Mustang is staying in Detroit with Uncle Stan.” After a pause, she asks,
“So, they each got a car. I take it this was supposed to be my sperm-donor’s car.” I almost choke on air hearing her call Freeman her “sperm donor.”
“The brothers decided that this was the car that Freeman would have wanted the most,” I confirm.
“Stellar!” she exclaims “This is going to burn his butt so badly. Burtie will love that!”
“How is he doing?” I ask. She sighs.
“He’s better… still dealing with some anger and disappointment, and the scars don’t help. He’s scheduled to have the first of three reconstructive surgeries just after Thanksgiving. I suggested that he wait until after Christmas, but he just wants to get it done.”
“His father deserves to rot for that,” I seethe.
“On that, we agree, cousin,” she concurs.
“How’s Leo?” her tone changes immediately. I can almost see the sparkles in her eyes through the phone.
“Wonderful as always,” she exalts. “I don’t know how I ended up with such a wonderful man, but I’m glad I did. He’s looking out for Mom so well, and you know she’s still dealing with her feelings for my lecherous, no good, vicious, cheating father. I mean, really, it’s bad enough that he’s a horrible person all around and that he looked down on her, but to cheat on her, too? It’s probably best that I never see him again because I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“Well, just stay out of Detroit. God knows I do,” I add. I see Al step off the elevator and I know it’s time to get back to Harmony.
“I’ve got a meeting to get back to. I’ll make arrangements for the shipping right away. Text me an address.”
“You got it.” We end the call as Al approaches.
“Chris,” he greets. “Let’s get this party started.”
“Do you know you’re the only person who regularly calls me Chris?” I say as we walk to the conference room.
Aunt Tina and her attorney are on Skype on a large monitor on the wall when we enter the room and Harmony is talking about the way the house is being run—how much more peaceful things are now that Roger is gone and how even the staff seems happier with Windsor.
“You can’t keep my butler,” I interject, and everyone chuckles a bit.
“Harmony will be making the decisions on the staff from now on,” Aunt Tina says. She looks at ease, more at ease than I’ve seen her in the last few days—probably because that dreadful buzzing isn’t in her ears anymore. “Christian, this is my attorney and old friend, Carl Richardson. Carl, this is a very close friend of my family, Christian Grey.”
“Mr. Grey, a real pleasure,” Richardson says. He’s a much older gentleman, obviously an Oxford blueblood or some other Ivy league type who only has clients like Aunt Tina, and not because he needs the money.
“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Richardson,” I reply. “You know Harmony, and if you haven’t met, this is my father Carrick Grey. He’ll be representing Harmony in the divorce.
“We’ve met,” Richardson replies. “In court… kicked my ass once or twice,” he jests.
“You’ve given me a run for my money, Carl,” Dad responds mirthfully. Whew! At least that relationship is cordial.
“And this is my friend and the head of my legal department, Allen Forsythe-Flemings.”
“Ah, new blood,” Richardson says. “Very nice to meet you, Mr. Forsythe-Flemings. I dabbled here and there in the law of the concrete jungle. How’s the corporate world these days?”
“Cutthroat as ever, Mr. Richardson,” Al replies, with a nod.
“I see no harm in dropping the formalities,” Richardson says. “We’re all on the same team. Is that okay with you gentlemen?” Al nods and I concur.
“Yes, sir, I think that would be just fine,” I reply.
“Good. Now, let’s get to the business at hand. I hope you all don’t mind, but I don’t mince words and Tina’s well aware of that. We’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it. Tina has five living children, including Harmony, 17 grand-children, and innumerable great-grandchildren because she hasn’t even met them all. Her parents and siblings have all passed on. She was diagnosed with cancer years ago and it became aggressive within the last 18 months. Since the diagnosis, she has seen each child once except for Harmony who kept in touch when she left home and eventually became her caretaker and Ilsa, who visited her twice, once to request a loan that she yet to repay.
“Tina doesn’t have much time left now. None of us know exactly how much, but she has made it clear that she wants to live these last days in comfort without having to worry about her assets.”
Harmony wipes a tear from her eye from the reference to Aunt Tina’s death and Tina nods gently, signaling Carl to continue.
“Her will is complete and will be filed with probate court after this meeting. Through a court injunction that will be served in the next three business days on each living sibling, none of Tina’s assets—money, jewelry, personal belongings, automobiles, etcetera—can be commandeered or claimed until the reading of the will, which will outline the proper distribution of the assets.”
“Smart move,” Allen interjects. Dad is nodding, too.
“What exactly does that mean… in laymen’s terms?” Harmony asks.
“It means that once Tina passes, your sisters and brothers won’t be able to show up at the door and say, ‘I want my daddy’s records.’” Dad says. Harmony frowns.
“No, Dad,” I shake my head at him. Harmony would have absolutely no idea what that means.
“It means,” Allen says, stifling a laugh, “your brothers and sisters won’t be able to lay claim to any of your mother’s assets until the will tells them exactly what they’re getting without being held in contempt of court. It also means that you won’t be able to dispose of or claim anything that doesn’t have your name on it.”
“I’m… not really concerned about the stuff,” she says, her head down.
“But you will be once she’s gone,” Dad says. “Certain things will have significant sentimental value.” Harmony sighs and nods, never lifting her gaze. It’s clear that the very last thing she wants to discuss is where her mother’s material possessions will go once she passes away. This is the very reason she needs protection right now, because she’s clearly not going to protect herself.
“To expedite that process, the reading will be scheduled for two weeks after her passing since all affairs are already in order except one… the house.”
Tina made reference to the house being left to Harmony, so I don’t know how that could be considered a loose end at this point.
“The house is one of her assets, and by strict interpretation, Harmony would have to leave until after the will was read. Tina has already expressed that the house will go to Harmony. As such, I will be filing a quitclaim deed today, turning the house over to Harmony immediately.” Now, Harmony raises her head.
“What?” she asks, stunned. “Mom?”
“Don’t argue with me, child,” Aunt Tina says softly. “The house is going to be yours when I’m gone. If you take it now, they can’t come and put you out.”
“But Mom…” Harmony protests weakly, “… your house…”
“Your house,” Aunt Tina corrects her. “Are you gonna put me out, Baby?”
“Moooom!” Harmony says, appalled.
“Then it’s still my house as long as I’m living. When I’m gone, what use do I have for it? Can you tell me with total certainty that your beloved siblings won’t try to come and put you out?”
Of course, she can’t. And just like that, the fight is over.
“How long does it take for a quitclaim deed to file with the county?” I ask.
“Usually about a week,” Allen announces. “If there’s no other claim to the property like a lien or a mortgage…” He looks at Carl who shakes his head.
“No one else has any claim to my home but my dearly departed husband, who paid for that house with his blood, sweat, and tears, for me… and my ungrateful lot,” Aunt Tina laments.
“Well, then, you should be able to go get a copy of your deed in about a week,” Allen tells Harmony. She nods in resignation. It’s going to be necessary, or her siblings will steamroll her.
“What if her sisters and brothers try to bully their way in anyway?” I ask. “They can claim that they don’t know…”
“I can almost guarantee that Tina’s children will all be calling me within the next 4 – 5 days,” Carl says. “Those court orders that each of them will be receiving will direct them to contact me. They all know who I am, so they’ll know this is legitimate. When they call, I’ll substantiate what the court orders say and simultaneously inform them that Harmony is now the owner of the house. I can’t guarantee they won’t show up on the doorstep, though.”
“I’ll take care of that,” I say.
“Also,” Carl continues, “Tina will be prosecuting Roger for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds as well as a civil suit for invasion of privacy. We’re hoping that your team can determine if the audio/visual equipment that you located lead to recordings that can be used in court.”
“If they haven’t been destroyed, we’ll find them,” I assure Carl.
“Can I get in on that? He invaded my privacy, too,” Harmony asks.
“Well, the prosecution will definitely need you,” Carl says. “We’ll be taking Tina’s deposition as soon as possible as these things have a way of getting stuck in the legal system for a while, and her testimony…” he trails off. Aunt Tina will most likely be dead by the time this thing gets to court.
“Bearing that in mind,” I ask, “won’t the civil trial have to wait until after the criminal trial?” Please, understand what I’m asking without me having to spell it out for you.
“The estate will continue with the suit,” he says, and nothing more. Thank you!
“Where is Roger now?” Dad asks.
“I have my team keeping an eye on him,” I reply. “He lived in the house, so he’s just holed up at a hotel right now.” Dad purses his lips.
“Didn’t you tell me that he was in cahoots with the husband?” Dad asks.
“That’s what he said,” I confirm.
“But we need proof,” Dad concludes.
“Roger’s word won’t be enough, but it might get a warrant to search the guy’s house,” Carl says.
“That’s a slippery slope, fellas,” Allen interrupts. “Invasion of privacy is tort law, not criminal. We can’t get a search warrant for something like that.”
“We can if we can convince a judge that we think they were in this whole thing together,” Carl says. “If we can get proof that he knew that house was bugged, you leave it to the court to determine the level of guilt. We just get the evidence. It’s like raiding someone’s house for drugs and finding illegal firearms or some other illegal activity. You don’t ignore the evidence for one case because it doesn’t point to the other.” Good point. Another pin to put in my day.
Get the cars to the west coast.
Talk to Jason about full security for the Franklin house.
Find out where the footage is for the surveillance Roger was doing.
Find some way to tie Kenneth into the gig.
“Harmony, when is your next court date if Kenneth doesn’t sign the papers?” Carl asks.
“Just after Christmas,” she says, and she sounds utterly exhausted. It’s not even lunchtime yet.
“That would definitely be a load off if he would just grow some balls and let go,” Dad says. Harmony shakes her head.
“Not likely,” she laments. “I’ll probably be stuck with this fucker in one way or another for the rest of my life! Sorry, Mom.”
“No apologies necessary,” Aunt Tina says. “He’s an asshole. I knew something was wrong when you brought him home.”
“I really should’ve listened to you,” Harmony says.
“Don’t worry about it, baby,” Aunt Tina says. “You live, and you learn. Learn from this, baby… please.” Harmony nods, wiping another tear.
We bang out a few more issues that must be sorted before Aunt Tina and Carl disconnect to put this operation into effect. I have Andrea summon Jason, Alex, and Barney to the conference room once that part of the meeting is over. Harmony still looks a bit stunned.
“You okay, Harmony?” Dad asks. She shakes her head as if shaking off a thought, then nods with her eyes closed.
“I’m not dense,” Harmony says. “I knew Mom was going to leave me some money—we all knew. I was just going to buy a little house somewhere and just be happy. I had no idea… the Big House… Jesus. What am I going to do with all that room?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” I tell her. “Something that will make you happy and that will make Tina proud.” She doesn’t look convinced. “Why don’t I order us some lunch?” I add, pressing the button to summon Andrea once more.
“I can’t stay,” Harmony says, rising from her seat. “I have an appointment in about twenty minutes and then, I have class this afternoon.”
“Appointment?” I ask concerned. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine,” she assures. “I’m starting therapy today.” She raises her eyebrow and twists her lips in a knowing manner at me. I immediately remember our conversation about her overly amorous behavior with me and the need to talk to someone about her somewhat automated responses to attention.
“Ah, good on you. I won’t keep you, then, but I will tell you that security is going to be increased at your house and it may include a thorough inspection of the grounds, so I’ll have Taylor get in touch with you.” She nods as she puts her purse on her shoulder.
“Thanks again, for everything,” she says as she turns to my father. “Carrick, I’ll of course be in touch.”
“Drive carefully,” Dad says as Harmony leaves the conference room.
“I just talked to Lanie before the meeting,” I tell Dad. “Burtie’s really excited about the car, so we’ll arrange for them to be transported within the next few days.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Dad says, rising from his seat as well. “I have to be going, too. I have a lunch date with my wife and then I have court this afternoon.”
“Will you guys be coming by to watch the special with us tonight?” I ask.
“I think we’re going to sit this one out, son,” my father says. “I think I want to spend some time alone with my lady this evening.” I nod.
“Duly noted, Dad. I’m sure Butterfly will understand.” I shake his hand and he leaves just as Jason, Alex, and Andrea are entering.
“Andrea, can you order us a lunch spread from the deli? A tray or two and an assortment of sandwiches—any preferences, guys?” I ask the other gentlemen in the room.
“I’m not picky,” Alex says.
“I can do anything from the deli,” Allen pipes in.
“Me, too,” Jason concurs. “Make sure they throw some corned beef in there.” I nod at Andrea and she leaves.
“So, we’ve got some marching orders, gentlemen,” I say, swiping my phone. “Tina’s attorney is securing injunctions to serve on her children to keep them from picking the house clean after she dies. She’s also deeding the house to Harmony with a quitclaim… like immediately.” I fire off a text to Smalls to get the Coup, Fairlane, and T-Bird moving out west to Seattle and California respectively. Uncle Herman will have to handle the titles once they get here.
“We’re going to need to get a lay of the land as soon as possible,” I continue. “Once those vultures get a whiff of what’s happening, they’re going to descend on Washington like fighter jets. Alex, if you can do some kind of quick family tree for me, that’ll be great. I mean, quick and dirty. We’ll do background checks later and only if needed.” Alex is nodding and typing into the phone. “And Alex, I need that family tree to go as far as possible—any adults, including great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, whatever you can find quickly.”
“When you say quickly, how quickly do you mean?” he asks.
“I’d like an initial report in 24 hours,” I say. He nods.
“That won’t be much, but it’ll be a start,” he replies.
“Lay of the land,” Jason says. “We’re doing full house security coverage?” I nod.
“Nobody in or out without permission, just like Grey Crossing,” I confirm.
“Do they have any kind of monitored security system?” he asks. “We didn’t check for that when we were there.”
“I would say, ‘No,’ but you’re going to find out what they have and tell me what you can do within a few days and then within a longer span of time, but we need to get some tighter protection over there soon.” He sighs and looks at Alex.
“Any chance you can get me a floorplan of that house?” he asks. Alex sighs heavily.
“God to the rescue,” he says and starts typing into his phone. I wouldn’t go that far, Alex. On cue, Barney and his second come strolling into the room.
“Good, just who I wanted to see,” I say, turning my attention to Barney. “What information have you gotten on the devices that we retrieved from the Franklin home?”
“Not much, sir,” he says. “Short-range stuff that looks like the data may have been going to a cell phone or somewhere in the Cloud. I would say the Cloud with the number of devices that we found, but to where, that’s harder to say since the signals aren’t active anymore.” Shit! We won’t be able to get any information without getting it directly from the source.
“There’s nothing we can find out?” I ask.
“The feed is gone, sir,” he says. “And this stuff is so low tech, there’s no guarantee we could have traced the feed even before we killed it.” I sigh.
“This guy is going to get away with it,” I lament.
“Not if we shake him down,” Jason says. I shake my head.
“That information can’t be used in court,” I say. He frowns.
“What are you trying to do?” he asks.
“Criminal prosecution for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, civil for invasion of privacy,” I reply.
“Then yes you can,” he says. “The rules for chain of evidence for civil court are much less stringent than those for criminal court. Ask him,” he says, pointing to Allen. I look up at Allen.
“What?” he asks when the room falls silent.
“Pay attention, oh head of legal,” I say sarcastically. “Chain of evidence for civil court? Shakedown Roger for information—do we have to go through all this again?”
“I’m sorry… Christian… I…” Something’s wrong. I just noted that he only calls me Chris, and now Christian?
“What is it?” I ask.
“I just got a text from Chocolate…” Yeah, something’s wrong. I know who Chocolate is, but he doesn’t call him that in public. “He… somebody’s died. I don’t… I can’t… I need to call him…”
“Go! Go! Use my office,” I say, shooing him out of the room. He won’t move. I stand to my feet and walk over to him, nearly lifting him out of the chair.
“Go, now,” I say, my voice softer. “Find out what’s wrong.” I gently usher him to the door. “Andrea!” I call as I open the door. She comes around the corner and I gesture to Allen who’s walking slowly not taking his eyes off his phone. I close the door behind them once he gets to Andrea and turn back to Jason.
“I guess I’ll have to take your word for that one,” I tell him.
We come up with a plan for security for Tina’s house and I call Windsor to get Tina prepared for the invasion. Jason will have the team do a thorough sweep of the entire house based on the plans that Alex was able to secure and identify rooms that we didn’t hit when we were looking for bugs. It’s a big house and we’re hoping that we may have missed some that might still have an active signal, but the team is fairly certain that we got them all.
“Where’s that asshole now?” I ask, chomping on olives, coleslaw and deli sandwiches.
“He’s been at the Fairmont all this time,” Jason says. “Living with Mrs. Franklin, he hasn’t had any expenses. So, he can certainly afford it.”
“Not to mention he’s been skimming off her money all this time,” I add.
“Uh, yeah, there is that,” he says.
“We need to arrange a conversation with him, but it needs to be private.”
“I don’t know how we can,” he says. “He’s not in the house anymore, so we don’t have that kind of control over him. Short of kidnapping him, I’m not sure what we can do.”
“We need to see if we can get some more information from him,” I say. “There has to be a way and we need to find it.” There’s a knock at the door and Andrea sticks her head in.
“A message for you, sir,” she says.
“Is it private?” I ask.
“No, sir. It’s from Mr. Forsythe,” she says stepping into the room. “He said that he had to leave due to a family emergency and he’ll touch bases with you later.” I nod.
“Thanks, Andrea,” I say. She nods and leaves the room.
“Who do you think passed away?” Jason asks, and Barney’s interest is piqued.
“I can’t even begin to speculate,” I reply. I should probably let Butterfly know that there will be some news from Allen soon, but I don’t know what exactly.
“My husband has given me the daunting task of redoing his office,” I say to Marilyn after we’ve looked in on the volunteers and how they’re doing with Courtney.
“You’re probably the best candidate,” she says. “Nobody knows him better than you.”
“Have you seen his office?” I complain. “It’s like the Oxford Black Hole!” Marilyn tries to suppress her giggle.
“No,” she snickers, “I can’t say that I have.”
“Dark brown marble flooring, huge oak desk with black leather chairs, imposing bookshelves all around the room with wood darker than mine, dark wood ornate deep tray ceilings and a huge marble fireplace—also dark—sitting between the only two small windows in the room… small compared to mine. He even has black-out glass on the French doors that lead to his den!”
“Yikes,” she replies. “Was he trying to hide?”
“I don’t know, but he looks in my office, sees the ‘light,’ and suddenly, he wants to see it in his office, too.” Marilyn frowns.
“He wants his office to go from ‘Oxford dark’ to yours?” she asks, astonished. My sentiments exactly.
“No, he claims he doesn’t want it as bright as mine but not as dark as it is. Then, he tells me I have carte blanche. That means, ‘You do all the work and then if I don’t like it, I’ll keep it for a while because you did it, then change it when I’m ready.’ Bullshit. Tell me what you want in that room. And if you can’t tell me what you want, tell me what you don’t want, or I’m not touching a thing in that space. It can stay Oxford Black from now on.” Marilyn laughs.
“Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” she jibes. I look over at her.
“Don’t start, Mare,” I warn. “It’s a tender topic for you, so I haven’t approached it, but I haven’t forgotten about it.” She purses her lips.
“Point taken,” she says, with no malice. “You have Ebony Carson arriving in about fifteen minutes, and Jewel Lawson later this afternoon…” she says, drawing our attention to the interviews this afternoon and quickly changing the subject. I look at Ebony’s resume. She’s way too qualified for a job babysitting preschoolers and babies, but you never know what someone’s story is. This is why I agreed to interview her. I want to get in her head, see what the deal is and why she’s looking for a job beneath her skill set. Depending on the circumstance, we may be able to put her knowledge and abilities to use elsewhere.
Grace walks into my office as Marilyn and I are preparing for the interview. We agreed to have them here since my office is bigger. She falls onto one of the sofas.
“You look tired,” I say. “It’s barely past lunchtime.
“Just weary today,” she says. “It could be the whole menopausal thing… you know symptoms come and go at will.” I raise my brow.
“You can call it a day if you want,” I tell her. “Marilyn, Courtney, and I can handle the interviews and you can go home and have a bubble bath and a glass of wine, try to relax… maybe that’ll help?” I suggest. She sighs heavily.
“I’ll do the first interview and see how I feel,” she says. “Maybe this will pass. If it doesn’t, I think I’ll take that bubble bath.” I smile and put my hand on her shoulder.
“Your health is most important, Grace,” I remind her.
Ebony is delightful. She’s bubbly, knowledgeable, resourceful, and admits that she’s hiding from an abusive ex-boyfriend in prison back east. She blanches when we mention the background check. I tell her that it’s customary for all volunteers and potential employees, and she expresses her concern that it may tip her ex off to where she is.
“If he’s in prison, how can he hurt you?” I ask.
“He’s in prison,” she says. “His… colleagues aren’t. I don’t know who’s watching and waiting for something to show up and tell them where I am.” I sigh.
“We deal with this kind of thing all the time,” I tell her. “If anything happens, just let us know. That is why we’re here in the first place.”
She sighs heavily and agrees to the background check, but I can tell that she’s not totally convinced. I ask for the name of her ex so that we can be on the lookout, but she doesn’t want to reveal it.
“It’s going to be difficult looking for potential threats if we don’t know what we’re looking for,” I tell her. She shrugs uncertainly.
“Can I think about that?” she asks. “That’s just… a can of worms that I so don’t want to open.” She drops her head. “This happens every time I apply for a job somewhere. I try to tell the truth because I want people to be careful in their checks. The moment they hear that I may have trouble following me, they suddenly lose interest. I have a degree in child psychology that I can’t use because I have a psycho ex in prison in New York who may or may not have someone following me. It’s doubly hard because I’m black, so I’ve already got something to prove. I could be a school teacher, a guidance counselor—there’s so many things that I could do, but people are afraid to hire me when they find out about Ge… my ex-boyfriend.”
That was enough of a slip and I hope Marilyn caught it and wrote it down, because I may not remember. Ge-something in her background—I’ll have to ask Christian the best way to handle this.
“We are a center for at-risk families, Ebony. Give me a chance to see what we can do.” She smiles, but I can tell that it’s forced.
“Yeah… sure,” she says, and I can’t tell what’s hiding in her tone. Disbelief? Defeat? Frustration? I have no idea. Nonetheless, we end the interview and shake hands before she leaves.
“What do you think is behind all that?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but she certainly has a past,” Grace says. “What’s exactly with this ex-boyfriend that she came all the way across the country to get away from him? And what colleagues would be looking for her? Is he in a gang? Drug affiliated? The mob?” I shrug.
“I hope that’s what the background check will tell us,” I say. “Did you catch the slip of the boyfriend’s name?” I ask Marilyn.
“All I caught was ‘Ge,’” she confirms. “That could be anything, Bosslady.” I sigh.
“I don’t know how to proceed with this,” I admit. “Is it too complicated for us to get into? I mean, isn’t this what we do—help at-risk women and families make a fresh start? We’d take her on if she showed up running from said boyfriend as a resident… why not as an applicant for a job?”
“Why does it sound like you’re trying to convince yourself?” Grace asks.
“Because I am,” I admit quietly. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not as fearless as I once was. I’m battling some new insecurities—not about myself, but about situations and circumstances. This thing could have two many outcomes to name, ranging from nothing at all to complete and total disaster. Do I step out on faith and react like the fearless woman I was before my life took a serious left turn, or do I err on the side of caution and run away from this situation admitting that we may be biting off more than we can chew with a psychotic boyfriend hiding in the wings?” Grace sighs.
“You’ve got a point there,” she says. “We haven’t taken an oath to help every wayward soul that crosses our doorstep, you know.”
“Okay, but she came to us for a job. Would we react this way if she came to us for help?”
“Probably not, but we would limit how deeply we got involved in her situation. Hiding someone out and providing them a safe haven until we can help get them to a better place is one thing. Digging into their past and possibly opening Pandora’s box is something else entirely.”
I seriously don’t know what to do. My instincts are going in all sorts of directions.
Help this poor girl—at least give her a chance.
Avoid this situation—you have no idea where it’s going to lead.
Could helping her lead danger to the Center?
Who is Ge and why won’t she at least give us a name?
Is this some small-time drug dealer or neighborhood gangster that just has her scared to death or was this some kind of high-profile case?
I immediately type her name into Google to see if anything comes up.
LinkedIn profiles, Facebook profiles, Instagram profiles—more than I can count, but nothing that comes up that could probably be attached to some large gang case or mob case. I don’t know what I expected to find typing a name that common into Google.
“I’ll have to see what Christian can find on her. Then I’ll decide if we should dig deeper, run with what we have and hire her, or leave well enough alone and drop the whole thing. It’s too… open to make a decision right now. Fair enough?” Grace nods.
“It seems logical. I can’t give a definitive answer right now myself with so many unanswered questions.” She stands. “Can you handle the other interviews? This one was a bit more than I was prepared for and I think I’m going to take you up on that bubble-bath suggestion.”
“Yes, by all means, go take care of yourself,” I encourage her. She nods.
“I’m afraid that means we probably won’t be at the house for the viewing party. I know I was the one who suggested it in the first place…”
“Think nothing of it,” I tell her. “It was a good idea and I’m glad you did suggest it. I’m sorry you won’t be able to join us, but I understand. Go home. Rest.” She nods and leaves without another word. Before I can catch my breath from the huge indecision set before me, my phone comes alive with Love All the Hurt Away. It’s melancholy when I hear that song now. I waited so long to hear it while he was in Madrid that I almost didn’t assign it to him again when I got the new phone. I’m considering changing the ringtone to something else, then I realize that I’ve pondered the situation for too long and I better answer before he hangs up.
“Butterfly are you busy?” he sounds in earnest.
“Between interviews. What’s up?”
“I just thought you should know. Allen left here about half an hour or so ago, I’m not sure. He was very distracted during a meeting and said that he got a text from James about somebody dying.”
“Somebody dying?” I ask, sitting straight up. “Who died?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “He went to my office for some privacy and then he left. We were still wrapping up details about Tina and Harmony’s situation and he wasn’t even paying attention.”
“Well, I don’t have any missed calls, so he hasn’t called me yet. He didn’t give you any clue who had passed away?”
“No, he just said that James said someone died.” I don’t know what to do here. If he hasn’t called me yet, he’s either deep in whatever he has found out, or he hasn’t found out anything yet. Should I call him and find out what’s going on?
“I just told you so that you wouldn’t be blindsided when he calls you. I think you should wait for his call. He’s probably trying to get details as we speak,” he says as if reading my mind.
“He has until I’m done with this next interview and then I’m calling him. That’s what friends do, Christian,” I inform him. He’s silent for a moment.
“Okay.” And that’s all he says.
“While I have you on the line, I need some guidance.”
“Really?” I can almost see him perking up on the other end of the phone.
“Yes. I’ve sent over some information on candidates to Alex for background checks. One of them is for a young lady named Ebony Carson…”
“Ouch. That’s a somewhat common name. He’s going to get a thousand hits on that name.”
“Well, he’s got a date of birth and a social security number. Here’s my dilemma. She’s hiding from a psycho boyfriend in jail in New York. She’s afraid for us to proceed too deeply into her past as our prying may tip off her ex and his ‘colleagues,’ as she put it, as to her current location. I tried to get some information on the ex, but all I got was that he’s currently incarcerated and his name starts with ‘Ge’ like ‘G,’ ‘E,” and I only got that because she nearly slipped and said his name. She doesn’t want us to have that information, either.”
“Well, she’s going to get a thorough background check and this guy may come up as a person of interest anyway.”
“I hope so,” I admit. “I don’t want to bring any trouble down on the Center, but neither Grace nor I am sure where to go with this one. Of course, we’re a Center to assist at risk women and families, but we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew by inadvertently welcoming in a gangland snitch or something and end up bringing down the wrath of Al Capone or some shit.”
“Don’t take any unnecessary chances, Butterfly,” he warns. “I know you want to do good, but you can’t save the world.”
“I’m not trying to save the world, Christian. I just want to make sure that I’m not turning away someone that needs our help who can really be a great asset to us at the same time. I also don’t want to invite danger into our little safe haven here.”
“I understand both of those… the latter more than the former. I say err on the side of caution—that’s always my motto.”
“But… once again, I don’t want to see the Boogeyman where he’s not there.” Christian falls silent.
“Yes, there is that,” he concurs. “Why don’t we wait and see what Alex comes up with. The guy could just be some small-time hood that has her scared shitless and she just doesn’t want him to know where she is.” I nod as if he can see me.
“I hope you’re right. I’ll wait and see what Alex says. By the way, we’ll probably be two short for the viewing party. Your mom left a few minutes ago. She wasn’t feeling very well.”
“Hmm… Dad already told me that they weren’t going to be there, but he said so much earlier. He said he just wanted to spend some quality time with his wife.”
“Well, I hope she feels better by the time he’s looking for that special moment. She was kind of worn down when she left.”
“Are you sure she wasn’t just setting you up to ditch tonight so that she wouldn’t feel bad about it?” he asks.
“I don’t think so,” I respond. “It’s not impossible, but she was looking a little worse for wear and I suggested that she leave. She insisted on sitting in on Ebony’s interview to see if the feeling passed, but it didn’t. She said that the interview was more than she thought it would be and went home. I’m not going to dwell on it because I really don’t care. They can spend time alone if they want—it’s no big deal.”
“We may not have Al and James either. We don’t know how serious their situation is,” he reminds me.
“Well, then everyone will just have to tell us what they think of the segment when we hound them tomorrow,” I say with a shrug. I’m really looking forward to watching the segment as a spectator instead of with that watchful “Where’s the Boogeyman” eye, and I won’t let anything spoil it for me. I don’t care if it’s just me and Christian in the viewing room—I really want to see it in a relaxed state of mind this time.
“Well, good, then. There are quite a few things I need to put into motion before I can leave the office, but I promise I won’t overstay. Don’t be late coming home.”
“I won’t. I love you.”
“Love you, too.” I end the call and look over at Marilyn. She’s daydreaming.
“Earth to Mare,” I say. She looks over at me and snaps out of her trance. “What’s up?”
“Same thing,” she admits. “I’m going to have to face this soon, I’m just…” She trails off. “Not today… just, not today.”
I twist my lips but say nothing. I also agreed not to give her shit about it… today.
“So, who’s next on the interview circuit today?” I say, looking down at the resumes in my hand.
“He was more rudderless than anything, Jewel,” Al says to me. We’ve both made it back to the Crossing, and James is having a beer and conversation with Chuck, who’s sipping on a soda. I’m in the kitchen being utterly useless and picking at the fruit salad that I didn’t know would be part of tonight’s spread.
“When he sent me the text, I couldn’t even read it,” he says. “I knew I had to get to him because he wasn’t going to be able to tell me what was going on. He got a message from some guy in Arizona, but the message was cryptic.”
“Isn’t that where his mother lives?” I ask, popping a strawberry slice into my mouth.
“His entire family is down there. We weren’t even sure who called him, and we certainly weren’t sure why. But, Lord, when we found out…” We both look over at James who is continuing a more than civil conversation with Chuck.
“He looks pretty calm,” I point out.
“Now,” Al stresses. “He was fit to be tied earlier. I had to put that magic touch on him to calm him down.” I giggle at his terminology.
“Why would he be so distraught about that news?” I ask. “Not to suggest that anyone should be glad that someone died, but…” says the woman who popped champagne when I heard that Edward David had hanged himself.
“It wasn’t that,” Al says. “I’m sure had this news been presented to him differently and the aftermath not been what it was, we would have seen quite the alternate reaction. First off, family didn’t call him—some stranger did. When they spoke to him, they initially made it seem like he had lost a loved one. Here he is preparing himself for the news that his mother or another immediate family member had died only to find that the one who did kick the bucket was the woman who had abused and raped him for years.”
Around five o’clock this evening, Al finally touched bases with me to tell me that he and James would definitely be at the viewing party as the “somebody who died” was none other than Debra Perkins—the live-in babysitter and not-so-honorary “aunt” who had a penchant towards young boys and molested James and other lads for several years in the basement of his mother’s home.
“Did anybody ever find out what that woman did?” I ask.
“His mother knew,” Al says in a deep, accusing voice. “She knew all along. I could tell when we went down there. I could see it in the way Debra avoided Chocolate and his mother pretended not to notice. I could tell in the way his mother snarled at me and tried to treat me like shit, but I wouldn’t let her. I could see it in the way that she looked at Jimmy…” He says the word with disdain, and I’m certain that someone else called him that while they were there. “She wouldn’t acknowledge that I was there as James’ companion and she kept referring to Debra like she was some old flame. That woman… Jesus, she just… I can’t even talk about her. That is still his mother.
“When he finally discovered who died, he was livid. He asked his mother who the fuck called him to tell him about that bitch’s death—his exact words. She started going on about his language and some shit about having more respect for the only woman he ever loved that way. James. Lost it. When I tell you he lost it, I mean he completely lost his shit. He blasted his mother out so badly about never believing him when he told her that Debra raped him. He accused her of feeding little boys to her like you feed ‘Puppy Chow’ to a dog. He let her have it for never accepting him for who and what he was and proudly informed her that he and I are now married. I could hear parts of her conversation and I heard her say that our marriage wasn’t real, and God doesn’t recognize it.”
I sigh. I’m surprised to find that a mother who would turn a blind eye to children being raped in her home would also turn out to be a homophobe. I know what the Bible says about homosexuality and as a Bible believer, I’m a firm proponent of “To Each His Own.” I just don’t get how you can clearly see and openly criticize homosexuality but turn a blind eye to pedophilia and rape, especially if one of the victims is your own child. She’s lucky James didn’t turn out to be a fucking serial killer!
“What did he say to that?” I ask.
“He said that it didn’t matter if God recognized it. We recognize it, the people who love us recognize it and now, so does the state, and that’s all that matters. He asked her how many boys she fed to Debra before Debra finally died. He asked her why she played blind to what Debra was doing and why she let the witch do it for so many years and in her own house. He told her that she may not have touched a single boy but that she’s just as guilty as Debra because not only did she do nothing to stop it, she facilitated it. He asked her how it felt to rape her own son for several years, and the conversation stopped right there.
“He was so upset that he cursed her as a woman and a mother and told her to never call him again. He had been carrying that for years and years and years and she knew it and never even acknowledged it. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t know if he’ll ever recant what he said to her, but I know that he meant every word.”
He takes in a deep breath and lets it out like he’s trying to control himself.
“Boys didn’t tell. Most boys still don’t. They hide in that shame and try to pretend it never happened, but it follows them for the rest of their lives. They caught her… they caught her red-handed and still pretended it never happened, that James was just in the basement fucking his adult babysitter. And this… bitch… has the nerve to talk to him like he wasn’t there. Like this never happened to him.” Al shakes his head and closes his eyes. “He’ll be healing from that for life, and now all these years later, she calls him with news acting like his first love died. ‘Your rapist keeled over. Come back to Hell and honor her.’”
Al is so angry that he’s trembling. I grab his hands and try to help douse his fury. He holds his head down in a vain attempt to calm himself, but his curls are shaking terribly. I’m so focused on my best friend and brother that I don’t see James walking up beside him. He slides his arms protectively around his husband’s waist and gently kisses his temple several times. Al doesn’t release my hands but leans slightly into the kisses of his love.
“It’s over now, Allie,” James says softly. “It’s really over. She can’t hurt any more boys now. She’s walking hot coals in hell as we speak paying for the pain she caused on Earth several times over.”
Al lays his head on James’ chest. James gently cups his head and kisses his hair, and Al’s grip loosens. Christian chooses that moment to come barreling into the house like a freight train but stops cold when he sees the display at the breakfast bar. Al and James don’t react to his arrival, and Al is still gripping both my hands.
Christian pauses for a moment, then holds both hands up and open nodding at me, signaling that he’ll be ten minutes. I nod, and he goes back the way he came, most likely to the elevator to go to our room and freshen up.
Al finally loosens his grip and wraps his arms around himself so that one arm covers James’ arm around his waist. Silent tears stain his face as he appears to disappear into his husband’s embrace. We sit there for several minutes before Val and Keri appear in the family room with my babies.
I rise from my perch at the breakfast bar, leaving James to comfort his husband. I know some may think it should be the other way around, but I know how Al feels. I know the feeling of wanting to wrap my fingers around the neck of the selfish and disgusting bitch that hurt my man and watch her die slowly and the anguish of knowing the pain that he must have felt at the times when he felt his most helpless.
Luckily, I don’t have to share the pain of him having to deal with a heartless mother through it all. I’ve got Carla, but that’s a whole different story.
“Give him to me,” I gently coax Keri. I need my son… my boy…
“Boys didn’t tell. Most boys still don’t…”
Keri puts my son in my arms and I look at his sweet face. Dear God, please don’t let that kind of harm come to my babies. I’ll kill a bitch that ever tries to harm my babies… ever!
I kiss Mikey solidly on his forehead and coo at his sweet, cherubic smile. I don’t know how much time I spend lost in my baby, but Christian has joined us, and Al has become his usual jovial self again.
“So, my Jewel is about to be a star,” he says. Let’s get this party started. Boss, I don’t pull punches, so I’ll tell you now. I feel a sick day coming on tomorrow. I’m in need of libations tonight.” Christian laughs.
“Will you also be needing your usual accommodations, sir?” Christian jests, referring to the guest room that’s always prepared for him. Al pauses.
“The night is young. I’ll keep you posted.” This means that unless James objects, we’ll be having additional house guests tonight.
“Okay, people,” Gail says garnering everyone’s attention. “Food and entertainment await. Let’s make our way to the theater room. The show will be starting in a few minutes.” We all start to file toward the theater room and Christian puts his hand in the small of my back.
“Is everything alright?” he asks. “Who died?”
“Debra,” I whisper. “The woman who…” I gesture my head towards James and Christian’s mouth forms an “o.”
“Al was busted up about that?” he asks, bemused.
“There’s a lot more that I have to tell you about it… after the party, okay?” He nods.
“Okay, baby.” He kisses my forehead, then kisses Mikey and we walk into the theater room.
Grey Crossing. That goddamn place is a fortress. That fucker doesn’t deserve all that money and comfort. What the fuck did he do—have a few garage sales with other people’s hard work and suddenly he’s the fucking bee’s knees. Bullshit. He’s nothing. He’ll find out soon enough just how worthless he really is.
Grey House. What kind of pretentious, over-compensating bullshit is this? Big, powerful man has a big glass building in downtown Seattle named after him. How fucking cliché can you get? None of this is nothing I didn’t already know, but seeing it spread out live and in living color shows just how much of a fucking joke he and his family really are—like the rest of the world really cares about this shit. Look at my mansion. Look at my really big building. Look at my money and power. You are truly a sad little man.
Now, we’re getting to the meat of things. That’s a pretty little wife you’ve got there. She’s fucking beautiful. Hmmm, half owner of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc—that must be some dynamic pussy. I guess it must be. She fucked his weak ass and pulled out twins.
“I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets from Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid.”
Orphan from the streets of Detroit—you pretentious little fuck. I took something from nothing and clawed my way to the top… Is that the story, Grey? Like fuck you did. You had shit handed to you and you took what you wanted. If your going to be a thief, at least be an honest thief.
One-hundred percent self-made billionaire… Kiss my ass! You’re hiding behind those fucking dollar signs, but you can’t hide forever.
I drag off my cigarette and take a swig from my bottle, watching this asshole parade his money and woman and his presumed power all over the screen. He doesn’t even have the common sense to appear humble. He’s taunting his enemies and challenging his adversaries to try something. Why? Because he thinks his money will protect him. He’s fucking laughable!
And that hot wife with that big ass—she must’ve been chasing the money. Everything else in his fucking life is so ostentatiously overexaggerated and huge, his dick must be the size of a baby carrot. No way in hell he can land all that ass with a carrot dick.
“They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.”
Aw, the sexy little bitch can throw a fist or two. Isn’t that special? And why am I not surprised that she’s the stereotypical charity wife? Nothing else to do but spend hubby’s money and pretend like she cares about worthy causes. Figures. I was surprised when that accident didn’t take her out last year, though. I was sure Grey was about to lose the supposed “jewel of his crown” when that car was T-boned. I swear, she must have fucking magic surrounding her. She was beat all to hell when she was a kid; she was kidnapped; her car was nearly split the fuck in two with her in it, and she’s still walking around like a fucking bug landed on her shoulder and she just brushed it off. I want to be mad at her, too, but every time I look at her, all I want to do it fuck her.
Hmm, she’s got her own place. Sublet my ass—she’s got a real dick squirreled away in there for when she feels the need to really be fucked. I’ll be your real dick, baby, show you how it’s really done.
This whole pretentious display is getting on my fucking nerves and I don’t even want to watch it anymore. I turn off the television and open my file on his ass—information that I’ve been gathering for years.
Yeah, I know about his adoption and his rich family, but I don’t give a fuck about them.
Every time I turn around, it’s Christian Grey bought this; Christian Grey did that; Christian Grey donated this; Christian Grey, philanthropist; Christian Grey, husband and father; Christian Grey, entrepreneur and billionaire; Christian Grey, most eligible bachelor lands girl next door, Christian Grey, Christian Grey, Christian fucking Grey!
Christian Grey, liar!
Christian Grey, coward!
Christian Grey, thief!
Christian Grey, fucking no good piece of shit!
His last adversaries disappeared without a trace—except for one. My guess is that they “sleep with the fishes,” and the one, he didn’t make out too well, either. That won’t be me, though. You thought you had problems before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’m going to bring you to your knees, you little shit!
A/N: “I want my daddy’s records.”—It’s a black pop culture reference to an old episode of Sandford and Son. Fred donated some records to a music society of some kind, but when the artist died, the records became valuable and Fred wanted them back. The music society wouldn’t give them back, so he had to find a way to get them. Younger people may or may not know the reference, but it became a catchphrase with some of us old fogeys. I’ve included the clip on my Pinterest page.
FYI, the person talking at the end of this chapter is not the same person who was talking at the end of “Becoming Dr. Grey.”
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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