You know how you get a plan, and you say, “This is the plan! This is what I’m going to do!” and as soon as you start the plan, life happens and shit just gets dumped on your head?
Of all the times that I’ve said, “I’m ready to publish,” I never took the active steps. I just said it and then beat around the bush… “It’s okay, I’ve got time…”
This is the first time—the first God’s honest time that I said that I was really ready to publish and I started taking steps to get published… and it seems like the celestial planes opened up and cow manure just started falling from the sky on my head, like my saying that I was really ready to publish was a bad omen.
So… I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut—to be like Nike and “Just Do It.” You won’t hear me talk about it anymore until the book is being marketed to be sold. I can do this, I know I can, but shit just keeps rolling in front of me to stop me and I can’t keep letting that happen. It’s going to be a slow process because my money just dried up after 1) I had to go to Detroit for my other mother’s funeral and 2) I had to get major repairs on my car. The well is completely dry, and I’m trying to fill it back up again.
But I digress… On with the story. Thanks for listening.
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…
The accident… of course. How could I forget?
You forgot because you never knew what day it was. You just woke up in the hospital.
That’s right. Nobody ever told me what day it happened… just sometime in November.
“Ana?” Grace says, and I snap out of my daydream.
“I…” I swallow hard. “I never knew what day it happened,” I admit.
“Are you okay?” Marilyn asks.
“I’m… I’m fine, I just…” I shake my head. “I just wonder why Christian didn’t say anything.” Was that what he was referring to when he said he thought I was sleeping in today?
“Maybe he didn’t want to bring it up. It’s such a sensitive topic, after all,” Grace says as she sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk. That could definitely be true. He did seem to be tiptoeing around the conversation… except when I said, “Fuck you.”
“Yeah,” I say with a sigh, suddenly feeling the need to rub my scar. “That’s definitely a day that will live in infamy.”
“I’ll certainly never forget it,” Marilyn says sliding into the seat next to Grace. “I think Al had activated the contingency and he just called Gary and Max. When he told me what happened, I was stunned. It seemed so… surreal.”
“That’s definitely the word for it,” Grace says. “I was in the hospital when they brought you in, but of course, I’m on the pediatric ward. By the time I discovered that you were there, you were already in surgery.”
“Where was Christian?” I ask. They both gaze at me.
“You don’t remember?” Marilyn asks.
“I’m sure if I thought about it hard enough, I would. But right now, I don’t,” I confess. “I remember him being there when I woke up, but the particulars of the moments before I got there are still a bit cloudy. They come and go.”
“Christian had gone back to Detroit to see if Anton Myrick was actually in jail,” Grace says. Oh yes, I do remember that now. “He had told you to come to our house until he returned, but you were already headed back to Escala. He discovered that you had been in the accident when he got off the plane.”
“That had to be horrendous,” I comment, thinking how I would feel if the roles had been reversed.
“Yeah, some unscrupulous photographers got some pretty candid shots of his immediate reaction,” Marilyn informs me. “I know you could probably find them if you Googled them, but the reaction of the public and the huge outpouring of support after your accident kind of shamed the reporters who took the pictures, and they somewhat disappeared into obscurity after that.”
“Hmm,” I say, “they became their own sacrificial lambs.”
“Pretty much,” Marilyn confirms. “Before I forget, I got a message from Val this morning that she and Elliot are going to be throwing themselves a housewarming tomorrow. She says gifts are not expected because it’s such short notice but will be accepted. She just wants to show off the new house.” I shake my head.
“I’m going to give her a pass on this one, because I don’t think she’s ever had a housewarming before in her life, but I’m going to rag the hell out of her for waiting until the last minute.”
“She’d probably just give it back to you, Bosslady,” Marilyn says. “How many last-minute parties or get-togethers of yours has she been invited to?”
Yeah… there is that.
“I didn’t want to say anything to anyone at the time,” Grace says, “but that’s when I first got the impression that something was wrong with Valerie besides her just being an insufferable cow. She was at the hospital every day and she truly looked like she was going to expire without you, but the moment anybody approached her…” She trails off and shrugs.
“Jesus,” I say. “That was just a bad time in all of our lives.”
“You and Christian never talked about it?” Marilyn asks.
“Very briefly,” I admit. “We were more focused on recovery and getting on with our lives than the accident, especially since we knew who had caused it and that I wasn’t in any danger of them anymore.”
“I never really got the details on that one,” Grace prods.
“Unfortunately, Grace, you won’t get them from me, either,” I say. “The most I can tell you is that part of the story is extremely sensitive and if it hasn’t been shared with the family by now, it won’t be.” She shrugs.
“Oh, well,” she cedes, “as long as there’s no threat…”
“There’s no threat,” I interject. There’s silence for a moment.
“Does it bother you to talk about this?” Grace asks. My turn to shrug.
“Not really,” I reply. “I never heard about the reactions of everyone else. I mean, I heard some of them, but not all of them, and not in any great detail. If I’m going to talk about it, now would be the time… before I go talk to my shrink later.”
“A shrink with a shrink,” Marilyn says. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”
“It’s no different than a surgeon who needs a surgeon, or an eye-doctor who needs an eye-doctor, or a dentist who needs a dentist,” I say, and she nods.
“Being a doctor,” Grace says, “it was hard for me to watch. You were in pretty bad shape when you came out of surgery, and while Dr. Hill was gingerly trying to tell Christian what the odds were, I knew the grim truth. I think he did, too—Dr. Hill’s words were of very little comfort to him. He lamented losing you every day.”
“I remember when the cops came to the hospital,” Marilyn says. “I wasn’t in the room, but I saw when they left. They were none too happy, and Ray came out of there barking like a bear.”
“Ray?” I ask. “Daddy?”
“Yeah,” Marilyn nods. “As far as I could tell, they said something to Christian that he didn’t take too kindly to and he kicked them out. I think they came back a couple more times, but they never got anything, of course. Christian was on a plane when this whole thing happened.”
“They tried to pin this on Christian?” I ask incredulously. Marilyn nods.
“Christian wouldn’t talk to them,” she says. “If they didn’t have any information on what happened to you, he had nothing to say.”
“What?” I tease. “Mr. Grey didn’t stomp around the hospital demanding answers?”
“That didn’t happen until you woke up,” Grace says with a chuckle. “He was trying to get Dr. Hill fired because he kicked Christian out of the room.” I frown.
“Okay, I didn’t hear that part,” I say. “I remember losing my temper because Dr. Hill kicked him out of the room, but I didn’t hear anything about Christian coming unglued.”
“Oh, yes,” Grace says. “If I remember correctly, Dr. Hunt said that Christian approached him quite ardently about having Dr. Hill replaced. Christian said that he would call Switzerland if he had to and get the next best neurosurgeon available.”
“That sounds like my Christian,” I reply with mirth.
“It turned out to all be a misunderstanding,” she says. “As you can see, all’s well that ends well.” I nod. I guess we really were in a hurry to move on with our lives. We never really discussed the impact this had on us or the people around us.
“Well, it looks like I have something to discuss with Ace this afternoon,” I say, trying to change the subject. Grace takes the hint and stands.
“Just remember,” she says, “I’m always here if you need to talk… about anything.” She leaves my office. I kind of get the idea that Christian may have talked to her at some point about my chosen treatment plan for PTSD. I hate admitting that I have it, especially after that conversation all those months ago with Dr. Baker, but she was completely off the mark. This situation was different, and she was wrong.
“So, Mare,” I say, changing tact, “you’re my employee, but you’re also my friend. Time is ticking into the future, my dear. When are you going to take that test?” She sighs.
“I know, I know,” she laments. “I’m going to take one this weekend. Whatever I decide to do, I definitely need to know soon.”
“Have you talked anymore to Gary?” I ask. She rolls her eyes.
“Gary is of one mind,” she says. “He won’t hear anything else but that I’m keeping the baby. So, talking to him is kind of mute right now, especially if I make a decision he doesn’t like. It irritates me that he rubs my stomach when I haven’t even decided to keep the baby if I am pregnant. And if I decide the terminate the pregnancy, I get the feeling that he’s never going to touch me again.”
I’ve seen this kind of situation break people up for more reasons than one. I don’t even know what to say to her right now.
“You have a tough decision ahead of you, Mare,” I begin. “Whatever you do will have quite the dramatic effect on you both, and that ripple will most likely reach much further than that. However, this is one of those times where I will advise you to carefully consider what you want. You are the first and most prevalent person your decision will affect. Only after that do you consider everyone else’s needs and wants. Either decision is going to affect you exponentially, and you need to decide which of those exponents are most bearable and most favorable.” She leans her head over on her fingertips and closes her eyes.
“Bosslady, can you do me a favor? Stop being PC for a minute and give it to me straight.”
Why am I beginning to hate when people say I’m PC?
“Okay,” I say folding my hands on my desk. “I had my babies because I was ready. I was in love with and married to a billionaire. I was happy. We planned for children, and I’m not so young. Granted, I’m not old, but for motherhood, I’m old enough. Conditions were right for me. Are conditions right for you?
“On the one hand, you’re young and you’ve got things that you want to do. On the other hand, you have a great guy who loves you and is excited about the concept of having a baby. Right now, those are the only two people that matter. There’s no other way to put this, Mare. You must rearrange your entire life for a baby. If motherhood was not in the original plan, that’s going to be fucking hard. It’s not going to be a cakewalk anyway, but it’s going to be really hard if it wasn’t what you wanted. You will make sacrifices. You’ll do things that you never thought you would do before, but all in all, it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve ever had.
“However, if you don’t want this, it’ll be the worst decision you’ve ever made if you keep it. Your entire life thereafter will be filled with ‘what if’s’ and ‘woulda-shoulda-couldas.’ You’ll resent that baby and what you feel you had to sacrifice for him or her, and you could possibly come to resent Gary. You’re already resenting him for rubbing your stomach—which is a form of emotional warfare, even though he may not know it or intend it to be. That’s another reason why you need to take that test and make your decision because it’s not really fair to him.
“Now,” I begin, standing from my seat and walking around my desk. “There is, of course, a third party that you have to consider in all of this.” I lean on my desk in front of her.
“I’m not going to preach pro-life to you, but what about the baby? Can you give that baby the kind of life he or she deserves if you have it and don’t want it? You’ve already clearly said the adoption is not an option, but if it somehow becomes an option, can you give a baby away after you’ve carried it for nine months? How will that affect you? And Gary?
“And then there’s the unspoken thing that I don’t know if either of us has addressed. Twelve years ago, I was in your shoes even though I didn’t know it. I found out that I was pregnant after the fact, but knowing that, I knew that had I known before the fact that I would have found a way to get rid of it. The affects are the same—I detached myself from a living part of me enough to know that I never would have kept it; to be glad that it was gone. In my heart, I had terminated that pregnancy even though I had nothing to do with it.
“I never told anybody, but more than a few times, I wondered what would have happened if my baby had lived. Where would we be now living with a mother then who hated having me around much less help raise a child. Would I have turned out like her… or worse? Would Cody and his family have tried to take him or her away from me? Would they even claim it?
“All in all, although it was not a good thing that the baby was murdered, it was a good thing that I didn’t have the baby—but I still wonder…
“Would it have looked like me or would I have had to stare Cody Whitmore in the eye for the rest of my life?
“Would he have the rotten tendencies as Cody? Or my mother? Would I be able to curtail any of that?
“Would I love it anyway… because it was a part of me? Nurture it and do my best to keep it from harm, make sure that it never felt in its life the way that my mother made me feel? I still wonder.
“Technically, my twins are rainbow babies because they were the first born after I lost a child, but I often wonder if they’re considered rainbow babies if you didn’t want the first child in the first place.” I raise my eyes to Marilyn who is on the brink of tears.
“I didn’t get the chance to make that decision the first time, Mare, but you have to.” She quickly wipes a tear from her eye.
“Jesus, I’m not any closer to making a decision than I was before we started the conversation,” she laments.
“Well, if you’re looking for me to give you that magic word that’s suddenly going to be your answer, that’s not going to happen. I’ve given you the real deal—the entire good, bad, and ugly that I know. You have to make the ultimate decision.”
“I love Gary so much,” she says, her voice cracking. “Maybe, one day, I can see having children with him… but today?” She trails off with the question and offers no answer. “It’s… going to be a short day, right? Can you… survive without me for the rest of the day? I think I’m going to need to take some of that perpetual sick leave I’ve accumulated.”
“Go,” I say, waving her off. “I can manage.
“PTSD,” I snap at Ace after I take a seat on his sofa.
“Excuse me?” he says, closing the door behind me and standing at the seat in front of me.
“I have a question for you,” I say, “and it’s a valid question.” He folds his arms.
“I’m waiting,” he says.
“Are we getting too close?” He jerks his head like I just hit him. “You see, when Maxie and I began to get too close, her ability to help me weakened until it diminished completely. I’m wondering if we may be getting too close… too personal.”
“I sent you out of this office crying last Friday because you were choking on the truth, and now you think we’re getting too close?” he asks incredulously.
“I can’t see any other reason why you would have missed such an obvious diagnosis,” I say matter-of-factly.
“And what makes you say that?” he asks. There’s something hiding in his voice. It sounds like anger or frustration, I don’t know, but quite fucking frankly, I don’t care.
“PTSD!” I snap. “I’m suffering from PTSD because of Christian’s flight to Madrid!”
“Oh, that,” he says, finally taking the seat in front of me.
“Yeah, oh that!” I say in a mocking tone. “Wasn’t it obvious?”
“Was it obvious to you?” he retorts.
“It’s not supposed to be obvious to me! You’re my shrink!”
“And you’re still a doctor!” he snaps back. “Do you think a dentist needs another dentist to tell him that his toothache is a cavity? He may need someone else to look in his mouth and tell him how bad it is, but he knows it’s a cavity! And even he can manipulate a mirror and see a cavity in his own mouth. So, what did you do—take a good hard look in a mirror?”
“No! A friend helped me see what was going on, because my shrink couldn’t do it!”
“No, your shrink wouldn’t do it!” he shoots. “Someone else mentioned PTSD to you and you shut down completely—won’t even be in the same room with the woman. Now, I’m trying to help you work through an extremely difficult situation and you expected me to suggest it? Even if it may have been true?
“There are other ways to get you to understand that you’re suffering from PTSD without saying that you’re suffering from PTSD, like when I told you that you were torturing yourself; like when I told you that you have to find a way to move on or you would be paralyzed in fear if you didn’t; like when I shoved your unrealistic expectations of Christian right back down your throat and you ran out of here like a toddler because you knew that I was right! Had I come out and said, ‘Ana, you’re suffering from PTSD,’ you would have fired me, and you know it. Yet I saw it, your friend saw it, but you couldn’t. Why? I’ll tell you why, because you were so damn tunnel-visioned on it that you couldn’t see it yourself.
“Why do you think I keep calling you ‘doctor’ during our sessions?” he asks accusingly. “You know what’s going on. You’d spot it in a minute if it was somebody else, but you refuse to see it in yourself. Your misery is affecting everyone around you… everyone, yet you prefer to wallow in it and worry about it instead of doing something about it.”
“That’s not fair, Ace,” I say squarely. “You haven’t even asked me how I’m handling this or what I’m doing since I realized what it is. You just start condemning me for not knowing what it was in the beginning.”
“Well, excuse me, but when my patient—who is also a doctor—comes into my office and immediately starts barking at me about not doing my job, I tend to get a little sensitive. And quite frankly, don’t try to feed me that crap about not knowing what it was. You have all the classic symptoms. I can totally understand not being able to see through your shit-colored glasses, but with all that schooling and all the people that you’ve said you helped in your life, there’s no way in hell you didn’t know what you had. You just didn’t want to admit it because someone else said it first.
“Even though Dr. Baker may have been off the mark at the time that she mentioned it, she said it, you shut it down, and you couldn’t hear it or see it again. You deal with it every day in varying degrees with the people who come into the Center and you couldn’t—or wouldn’t—see it in yourself! So, you tell me who couldn’t diagnose you, doctor!”
I sit silently in my seat glaring at him, resenting him for being right… again, but he still didn’t give me a chance to tell him how I’m dealing with it.
That would be because you came into the office barking at him. Would you attempt to reason with a rabid dog?
And here you go. I definitely don’t need your smart mouth right now.
Yes, you do. You’ve been needing it for months, but you haven’t listened to me. I knew what was wrong, but the great Dr. Steele-Grey had this all figured out, so I shut the fuck up. Boogeyman, indeed.
Don’t mock my coping mechanisms.
That’s not a coping mechanism. That’s an excuse. And don’t look now, but your doctor’s staring at you.
Apparently, my inner conversation with the bitch went on a little too long and must have come with some kind of expressive gestures, because Ace is looking at me with a combination of confusion and anger… or frustration.
“I’m journaling,” I say to him.
“Congratulations,” he says sarcastically. “Psychology 101.”
“And now you’re mocking me, too,” I observe.
“Someone else is mocking you?” he asks, sarcasm still evident.
“Skip it,” I say, pursing my lips. “Today is the anniversary of my accident.” He raises a brow at me. “I didn’t know it. Grace and Marilyn told me.”
“How did you not know it?” he asks, frowning.
“Because I awoke in the hospital something like two weeks later not knowing who my husband was,” I retort. Ace scrubs his hand over his face.
“Ana,” he says, rising out of his seat, “I’m going to need you to find a friend to talk to. I can’t do this.” I frown deeply.
“What?” I ask horrified. He’s dumping me, too? Why the fuck can’t I keep a shrink?
“Today,” he says. “I can’t do this today. This conversation started on the wrong foot and I can’t find my professionalism to help you like I know that I need to. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit perturbed and this will not be a productive session. I know this is a delicate time and an important day, but I can’t service you like I should feeling the way that I do right now. That’s why I’m advising that you speak to a friend—not just any friend, someone who knows and understands what you’ve gone through over the last year… particularly over the last two months.”
But I don’t wanna talk to a friend. I wanna talk to my fucking shrink!
“Can’t we just… start over?” I protest.
“No, Ana, we can’t start over,” he retorts. “Today is a wash. I told you that your misery is affecting everybody around you. Now, it’s affecting me. You want to blame someone or something for how you feel, for your current state even though there’s not necessarily anyone to blame, but you gotta put it somewhere. Blame Christian; blame the universe; blame the blue-eyed guy who had you mesmerized and almost kissed you; blame the Boogeyman. Now, you’re blaming me.”
“I’m not blaming you!” I excuse.
“The hell you aren’t!” he snaps. “You came in here and screamed a diagnosis at me, then proceeded to try to dress me down like I’m the root of your problem, like I haven’t been telling you ever since this happened—ever since you came to me with this shit—to get to the bottom of how you were feeling. I knew what was happening when I visited your house, the minute you crawled into your shell and refused to talk about it. You wouldn’t even look at your husband and you were a breath off of doing that shrinking shit again.
“What I need you to do—what you need to do—is take some responsibility for your treatment and for how you feel. If you’ve done that already, bravo! But the bottom line is that you should have done it a long time ago. Go ahead and mourn the death of your perfect life—that’s fine. It had to die at some point, and a loss is a loss. It doesn’t matter if someone has not yet taken their final breath. However, after every death, life must go on. Yet you kept behaving like you wanted to crawl into the casket and die with your fairytale, and you couldn’t tell that was PTSD?”
He’s mad. He’s really mad. No, he’s pissed. His voice has escalated, and I know things are getting bad when I hear a knock at the door. A timid Amber sticks her head in the door.
“Doctor?” she says softly. “Are you okay?” Ace scrubs his hand over his kinky hair.
“I’m fine,” he says softly to his wife. “Don’t leave.” He turns back to face me.
“Find a friend to talk to,” he says coldly. “Don’t hold in how you’re feeling today, what today is and what it means. The most professional thing I can do right now is tell you to leave before I really offend you and then you really fire me.” He turns back to Amber. “Shut it down. We’re going home.”
“Yes, doctor,” she says professionally and returns to the reception area, leaving the door open.
The session is officially over.
Ace doesn’t say anything else to me. There’s really nothing else to say after you kick your patient out of your office, now is there?
I put my purse on my shoulder and walk out of the office, then out the front door. It barely closes behind me before I hear the lock engage.
I walk to the parking lot, not really knowing how to feel or what to think. When I bend the corner, there’s a limo waiting there. What celebrity has come to visit Dr. Avery? Chuck steps out of the Audi and a chauffeur steps out of the limo.
“Apparently,” Chuck says, “your husband has plans for the evening. I’m to follow you and the limo to Miana’s where you will be ‘prepared’ for the night’s events.” He smiles.
It’s such a welcome surprise that I almost want to cry. I guess Christian will have to be the friend that I lean on tonight.
“Mrs. Grey,” the chauffeur says as he opens the door for me.
“I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but did you know that there’s a hidden passageway that leads from the pantry to the foyer?” I ask Aunt Tina when I get to her house that morning.
“Of course, I’m aware of it,” Tina says softly. “I’ve lived in this house for 50 years. There are several. There’s one that leads from the kitchen to the servant’s quarters as well, and from the servant’s quarters to the backyard, but that one’s usually locked.”
Servant’s quarters to the outside… I shoot a text to Jason to check the other two passages immediately. Unless he was just afraid to approach or afraid to be discovered, Roger could be gaining access to the house freely even though he’s not on staff anymore.
“Well, I’m arranging for tighter security and some video surveillance of the outside of the house—not the cheap stuff that kept buzzing in your ear. The good stuff that my team will be able to review. We’ll set up a security room here…” I point to a room on the plan. Tina looks at it and nods.
“That was Daddy’s den,” she says fondly. My face falls.
“I won’t use it if you don’t want…” She waves me off.
“Daddy’s been gone for a long time now,” she says. “I’ll be gone soon, too. Use whatever room you must and do whatever you must to protect my Harmony.” Harmony smiles softly.
“You seem to be doing better today, Tina,” I say, squeezing her hand. She’s sitting in the parlor in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of tea and a roaring fire. There’s a very pretty and feminine shawl on her shoulders and an afghan warming her legs.
“Yes,” she says cheerfully, “getting all the juice outta the old gray mare before she’s put down.”
That sounds awful to me, but I know exactly what she means.
“I’m going to leave you in peace, now, Auntie,” I say as I rise to leave. She catches my hand.
“Harmony, darling, can you give me a moment alone with Christian?” she says sweetly.
“Sure thing, Mommy.” Harmony kisses her mother’s cheek. “I’ll go see how soon lunch will be.”
“Thank you, darling.” Harmony nods at me before leaving the room.
“My children are a dreadful lot,” she begins immediately the moment Harmony leaves the room. “I was hoping at least one of them would have come by now. They’re all old, I understand, but I’m older. They may even be sick, but I’m sicker. We’re all knocking on Death’s door, but he’s going to answer a whole lot sooner for me than he is for them.”
She shakes her head and gazes at the fire. She’s not angry. She doesn’t even seem hurt. She’s just… disgusted.
“I’m going to provide for them,” she says. “I’m going to leave something to every one of them. It’s what Daddy would have wanted, but the lion’s share is going to a child who didn’t even come from my cooter.”
“They may still come, Aunt Tina,” I console.
“It’s too late,” she replies. “Emotionally and physically, it’s too late. I feel wonderful, Christian,” she says turning to me. “I feel like I could take a walk around the lake in the sunshine or do some of that needlepoint that I started but never finished. I want to pull out my old record player and dance and sing along to my favorite songs. I’m not sure if you know what that means, but I know what that means.”
Her energy burst. The end is near.
“Don’t let them near my Harmony, Christian,” she beseeches me. “You’ve done a lot for me these past weeks, and I appreciate it though I never asked for any of it. I’m asking for this. Protect her from those vultures. Do whatever you have to legally do to keep them away from my baby. I don’t know what I would have done without her, where I would be without her. I may have rescued her, but she rescued me right back, and I thank God for her every day.”
She takes a handkerchief from her cuff and dabs her eyes. I take her hand in mine—soft and frail, skeletal. These were the hands that brought trays of cookies and lemonade to the porch. I can still see it, as if it were yesterday…
“Is someone under there?” I hear an old lady, but I won’t make a sound. If I’m quiet, she won’t hear me. She won’t see me… and then she’ll go away.
I shouldn’t have chased that rabbit under here, but it’s so quiet—even better than the treehouse. Nobody can find me here…
But the old lady did.
She keeps looking under the steps, but then she goes away. Whew! She didn’t see me. I wrap my arms around my legs and lean my chin on my knees. I’ll wait for a while… wait until I don’t see the light, then I’ll come out.
I hear the door close to the house, and then footsteps on the stairs. She’s back. Why is she back? Did I make a noise?
I see her put something at the opening of my dark space. I wait for a minute, but then I crawl over to see what it is.
It’s one of the fancy little plates like the ones Momma has. Saw… saw… sawzers. There’s something on the sawzer. When I get closer…
It’s a cookie!
I snatch the cookie and gobble it down almost in one bite. It’s so sweet and yummy.
“If you come out, there’s more,” the old lady says, “and lemonade, too.”
I don’t want to come out. I’m scared… but she saw me take the cookie. If she tells on me, Momma will send me back to the man with the boots. If I don’t come out, they may call the blue people to come and take me away.
I’m scared now. I don’t know what to do…
“Come on out,” the old lady says. “I won’t hurt you.” She won’t hurt me.
“Promise?” I ask.
“I promise,” she says. I take a breath and come out of the dark space.
“Well, hello,” she says and smiles a big smile. “You’re Grace’s little boy, right?”
Grace. Grace. At the hospital, they call Momma ‘Dr. Grace.’ I nod.
“Come, have some more cookies, and I’ve poured you some lemonade. I know you must be thirsty…”
Aunt Tina was what I pictured my grandmother would be. I was wrong, of course, but I would have wanted my grandmother to be like her. Maybe Ruby was…
But I digress.
We sit there in silence for several minutes, holding hands and gazing at the fire. I’m the first to break the silence.
“Thank you, Aunt Tina,” I tell her. Worn blue eyes turn to my grays, and I know that she knows what I mean.
“You’re welcome, child,” she smiles softly. She pushes a button on the side table next to her and we wait in silence for a minute or two, after which there’s a knock at the door.
“Come in,” she says in the strongest voice she can muster. I look up to see Windsor coming into the room.
“Yes, ma’am?” he says obediently.
“Windsor, would you please bring a plate of my favorite cookies and a pitcher of lemonade… with two glasses?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Windsor says and disappears almost as suddenly as he appeared.
“Take care of my Harmony, Christian,” Tina says sadly. “I know that you have a family of your own, but… just do what you can.” I squeeze her hand.
“She won’t be alone, Aunt Tina. I promise.” She nods and looks back at the fire.
A few minutes later, Aunt Tina and the young boy who hid under her porch share cookies and ice-cold homemade lemonade one last time.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any recording to tie Roger or Kenneth to the bugs and surveillance devices,” I inform Harmony after leaving Aunt Tina in her parlor. “My IT team thinks they went to a local location, like an email address or a cell phone. Without that location, we can’t get the recordings, and we know that neither of them would be forthcoming with that information. It might have even been destroyed by now.”
“Well, we still have the proof of his funds misappropriation, don’t we?” Harmony points out.
“Um, there’s a problem with that, too,” I say. “The funds that he misappropriated have been put into an account that has Tina’s name on it, too. So, technically, he took the money from her and gave it back to her. Since she locked him out of all of her accounts, she inadvertently locked him out of this one, too. I gave the information to Carl on Wednesday and since he’s her current power of attorney, he closed the account out and moved the money back to her main account.” I give her a little piece of paper that shows the transfer with several digits.
“Good God, that’s a lot of money,” she says.
“Yep,” I say. “He didn’t want to draw attention to himself drawing all the money out of the account, so he left it there probably hoping that he could get it later or draw it out in small amounts. Of course, he didn’t count on us finding the account.”
“How did you find out about it?” she asks. “Did he tell you?”
“Um, sort of,” I say. “We’ve been having him followed. He met up with Kenneth to try to salvage their scheme and he told Kenneth at the meeting. The recording isn’t admissible in court because neither of them knew they were being recorded. So, Roger’s story pretty much ends here.
“Jason has engineered a rotation that should cover the grounds while we tie up all the loose ends when the time comes. It shouldn’t be too intrusive. I just ask that you lean to the judgment of the security team in the coming days and weeks as I know you’ll be extremely fragile during this time, and your sisters and brothers will want to strike at your weakest moment.” Harmony shakes her head.
“All this to keep my siblings out… geez.” She folds her arms and walks to the French doors, staring out over the back lawn to the lake.
“Have you heard anything from them?” I ask.
“Oh, yes, I’ve heard from them alright,” she hisses, “every last one of them, in fact. They’ve called several times since Mom has been sick.” Hmm, from Tina’s description, I was under the impression that they hadn’t tried to contact her at all.
“Well, at least they’re calling to check on her,” I say.
“No, they’re not!” Harmony laments. “There calling to see if she’s dead yet. They call like crazy trying to get Mom’s stuff before she dies. They don’t ask to speak to her or ask how she’s doing. They don’t even know that she’s lucid. They think she’s drugged.” She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “I can’t believe these people. None of them have been there for her. None of them! They have proof that she’s knocking on death’s door and they’re not even attempting to help or come and see her before she dies. I swear, I won’t speak to any of these people once my mother’s gone.”
“I know this is a terrible time, but these are your siblings,” I point out.
“They’re not my siblings,” she retorts, walking away from the French doors. “Mom is not my mom because she adopted me. A piece of paper did not make her my mother. Her love makes her my mother. The unconditional love and care that she’s given me all these years. That’s why she’s my mother. These people are my great-aunts and great-uncles and only by blood. They’re horrible human beings and I want nothing to do with them. How that wonderful woman upstairs could have birthed four such monstrous people into the world, I’ll never know.”
Harmony falls onto the sofa and buries her face in her hands, weeping.
“I need more time!” she sobs. “I’m not ready! I need more time!”
Out of nowhere, Windsor appears with a wet washcloth and a glass of water. He stands in front of Harmony, waiting for her to acknowledge his presence. After a few moments of letting her have her cry out, he garners her attention.
“Miss Harmony?” he says softly. She weeps softly for a few more moments, then holds out her hand without raising her head. He hands her the washcloth and she buries her face in it just like she had buried it in her hands moments ago and continues to weep. I raise my gaze to Windsor, but he just watches Harmony. When she gets her sobbing under control, she gently cleans her face with the wet washcloth and hands it back to Windsor, who swaps it for the glass of water that he has in his hand.
“Would you like some tea, Miss Harmony?” he asks.
“Yes, please. Thank you, Windsor.” He nods and leaves the room. One week and he’s this in tune to Harmony already?
I, on the other hand, am a little out of my element.
“I’ll be fine, Christian,” she says with shuddering breaths. “It’s going to be like this for a while. I’m losing my mom.” I can only imagine.
“Do you have anyone that can come and stay with you for a while?” I ask. “This is a big house, and you and I both know that it’s just going to get bigger…” once Tina’s gone.
“I didn’t really make any friends while I was with Ken,” she says. “He such a narcissistic fuck that he wouldn’t let me out much without him.” I sigh.
Take care of my Harmony, Christian.
“I’ll talk to Ana… see if we can work something out,” I say. She won’t be able to stay in this house immediately after Tina passes away. I already know that.
She doesn’t respond.
“I have to get going,” I say apologetically. “I have to handle some business at my father’s house.” She begins to rise just as Windsor enters the room with her tea.
“I’ll see Mr. Grey out,” Windsor says, situating her tea on the end table next to her. She nods and sinks back into her seat.
“Harmony,” I say, and she raises her head. “Dig out your mom’s record player and play some of her records. She might enjoy a trip down Memory Lane.” She smiles at me.
“Thanks,” she says, her voice weak. “I will.” I follow Windsor to the door. Jason is a few steps behind him.
“Windsor, see if you can locate an old record player and records that belonged to Tina. She’s feeling nostalgic.”
“Yes, sir,” he says as he opens the door for me.
“One more thing. Were you… looking to stay on here once Tina passes on?” His brow furrows.
“Oh, no, sir,” he says. “I just want to do my best job while I’m here—help out in any way that I can.”
“Good,” I sigh. “You’re doing so well, I was just wondering.” He smiles.
“No, Mr. Grey,” he says. “I look forward to returning to my duties at Grey Crossing. I just want to make sure that I don’t leave a bad impression—of you or of me—while I’m here.”
“I don’t think you could ever do that,” I praise. “Besides, if you left, I may have to move in here with you because my wife would kill me.” I leave, and he closes the door behind me.
I’m lost deep in thought when I get to Dad’s house. I imagine that having no friends while your mom is dying is pretty fucking bad. Having none once she has passed on has to be worse. I need to ask my wife how to handle this one. I’m completely out of my league.
“Your clerk is doing most of the work,” Uncle Herman says when we sit down at the computer in Dad’s study. “I don’t know how she did it in such a short amount of time, but everything is categorized perfectly—furniture, collectibles, jewelry… even all the keepsakes. I had no idea how to find the paintings or the model cars Dad was giving to Stan and Rick, but she’s already located them and got the model cars on their way out here and Stan has already picked up the paintings.”
“Grandma had some really nice stuff,” I say, scrolling through the descriptions of the items. Some of them even have pictures. “Do you think anybody’s gonna fight over anything?”
“I won’t allow that,” he replies. “I’ve already told everybody how disputes will be handled. If they can’t deal with that, then tough.”
“We’ve got some requests already for some of the furniture,” I tell him. “Lanie’s looking at a walnut armoire and a marble vanity with stools.” Uncle Herman laughs.
“I’m not going to deny her that, no matter who else wants it,” he says. “She sat at that thing for hours when she came to the big house. Mom bought her her own set of makeup and she just played in it all day. The marble never stained, and she was careful not to get anything on the white seat cushions. It’s hers as soon as I get a shipping address.”
I remember a conversation about Lanie never being allowed to be girly around her father.
“And the armoire?” I ask.
“You’ve probably never seen Beauty and The Beast, have you?” he asks. I nod.
“As a matter of fact, I have,” I say.
“Remember the talking armoire with all the beautiful dresses inside? Mom had every princess dress to date in that armoire, from Cinderella to Snow White to Belle. Even Pocahontas and Sleeping Beauty, and a few that she made up on her own. The Unicorn Princess was my favorite. Hell if I know where they found a rainbow gown—a costume of some kind, I think Mom made it. She made a headband with a pink horn and ears and there was a hot-pink wig made into a pony… Wait a minute…” Uncle Herman takes the keyboard from me and starts typing on it.
“I’ll be damned,” he says.
“What?” He highlights the item we’re discussing.
Eighteenth century walnut chateau armoire with girls costumes inside.
“The costumes are still in there. She’s going to freak out!” Uncle Herman exclaims.
“What if someone else wants the armoire?” I ask.
“Executive decision. They can be mad at me,” he says as he marks the armoire, vanity, and stools as not available and indicates that Lanie will be getting them.
We sit there for several more minutes virtually going through Grandma Ruby and Pops’ things. I hear all kinds of stories about the origins of the items and who will most likely want what. It appears that Pops never got rid of anything, so there’s going to be a lot to dispose of.
“No way!” I exclaim when we’re more than halfway through the list.
“What?” he asks. I look up at him.
“Pops’ had an Apollo?” I ask.
“What the hell is that?” he asks. I point the old player piano in very substandard condition.
“Oh, that,” he says and shrugs.
“Oh that,” I mock him. “That is 100 years old, man—at least.”
“It looks like it,” he says. “You want it?”
“Hell, yes!” I say before I think about it. “Wait a minute… someone else might want it.”
“Trust me, Christian, nobody wants that piano. It used to just start playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the night and we thought the thing was haunted. I don’t even know why Dad kept it.” My phone vibrates, and I pull it out of my pocket.
“The timer on the electric motor was off,” I say looking at my phone. “The cars should be here in about fifteen minutes. The T-Bird is on its way to Burtie in California.” Almost on cue, Herman’s phone rings and it’s Uncle Stanley.
“You get the cars yet, man?” Uncle Stan asks.
“They’re on the way. Christian says they should be here in about fifteen minutes.”
“I drove my Mustang down to Belle Isle for old time’s sake before I brought it home. Man, that’s a beautiful car.”
“I know. I saw the pictures,” Uncle Herman teases.
“Man, Christian, having the kind of power you do must be a pretty big burden to bear, huh?” Uncle Stan asks.
“In what way?” I counter.
“Well, I’ve only known of you for a few months, since my dad passed away. In that time, I watched the self-proclaimed bully of the family proceed into a harried frenzy at the mere mention of your name and then calm less than 60 seconds later after finding out that merely talking in your presence could cost him jail time. At a moment’s notice, you can go from the states to China and probably be back before dinner. Hell, you had travel arrangements for me to come see Dad before I even knew that I was taking a trip! That cocky ass private-eye who kept calling Rick esquire and stood firm that he wasn’t giving us any information, handed over a file as thick as the White Pages in less than five minutes after you made a call. Now, you’ve made arrangements to ship and deliver valuable antique cars—three of them, to be exact—to destinations in two states, with about as much effort as it takes to order a pizza. Is there anything you can’t do?
“I’m sure that there is, but to be honest… not much, Uncle Stanley.” He whistles.
“Having that kind of power must be staggering. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”
“With great power comes great responsibility,” I caution. “I’m not always in the cat-bird seat, but most often, I am. To make a bad matter worse, in the eyes of some, I’m hated just because I have money, not because I’ve actually done something wrong. So, at times. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.”
“I can imagine. Grass is always greener and all that. All I can say is I’m glad you’re on my side.”
“Mine, too, although I have no idea what we’re talking about,” Dad says walking into the room and dropping his briefcase on the floor next to the desk. “What did I miss? Are the cars here yet?”
“Any minute now,” I say.
“Christian just claimed Ichabod,” Uncle Herman declares.
“No shit?” Dad says with a laugh. “I guess that really doesn’t surprise me.”
“Why the hell do you want Ichabod?” Uncle Stan asks.
“I’m assuming you’re talking about the hundred-year-old, priceless, classic piano, and why are you calling it ‘Ichabod?’” I inquire.
“After Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman who rode in the middle of the night. Your treasured hundred-year-old classic is a playerless piano that randomly started playing in the middle of the night. It wouldn’t have been so creepy, but it started playing at the same time every night.”
“And when did you geniuses finally figure out that it was a faulty timer on the electric motor that went off at the same time every night?” I ask.
“We didn’t,” Uncle Stan say. “It just stopped playing.” There’s a knock at Dad’s study door and he goes to answer it. “It’s your problem now, genius,” Uncle Stan adds.
“A problem that I gladly accept,” I taunt. I’m going to get that beauty restored and get the timer fixed. When I show them how good it looks when it’s done, we’ll see who has the last laugh.
“Alright, boys, showtime,” Dad says. “Trucks pulling up the drive now.”
“Gotta go, Stan. You got your toys, now we’re getting ours,” Uncle Herman says. He and Dad say their goodbyes and end the call. The trucks are just pulling around the circular drive when we come outside.
“Dear God, they towed them across the country like that?” Uncle Herman asks horrified. The cars are both uncovered and traveling on flatbed tow trucks. I have to keep from chuckling a bit.
“No, they were transported to Grey Shipping in a boxcar by semi—much like the packing Pods that you’ve seen—then towed here on the flatbeds.” He nods.
“Why not just have the ‘Pod’ drop them off?” he asks.
“We tried. This area isn’t zoned for semis.”
“Okay, now you’ve lost me,” Uncle Herman says.
“Semi-trucks have to follow a certain route,” Dad tells Uncle Herman. “The drivers know which routes they can take, and which streets are zoned for heavy hauling like that. An 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer can’t travel on roads that aren’t zoned for that type of driving, like many residential areas.”
“I never knew that,” Uncle Herman says, watching the tow truck operator gingerly lean and lower the flatbed that carries his Fairlane.
“That car is even more beautiful in person,” he says.
“I’ll say,” Dad says, admiring the Coupe.
“I’ll race ya!” Uncle Herman jests and Dad laughs.
“No can do, big brother,” he confirms. “This beauty is going straight to the garage and won’t see daylight again until spring, where my lady and I will be enjoying picnics and rides on sunny Sunday afternoons.”
“Any room for this land yacht in there?” Uncle Herman asks.
“Of course, there is,” Dad says, “and if there’s not, we’ll make room.”
By the time I leave Dad’s house, Uncle Stan and I have gone through the manifests and have a pretty good idea what’s in the storage units. Nothing is committed to memory, of course, but he—and later, Dad—had quite the trip down Memory Lane going through Pops’ things.
An email actually went out Wednesday listing all of the items on the manifest even though Uncle Herman only looked at the finished list today. The email was sent with return receipt requested. So, we know that all the family members—grand-children included—received a copy of the list and Ms. Tanner has already started making a list of who wants what. As a result, by Monday, anyone who has requested something from the list can either prepare to pick it up or have it shipped depending on their locations, and notwithstanding the possibility that two or more people may want the same items.
I’ve gotten word from Chuck that Butterfly has left her session and is now in the limousine on her way to Miana’s. Chuck couldn’t gauge how she felt when she left Ace’s office, but she’s about to be pampered a bit before I take her out and help her forget her troubles.
This night one year ago was one of the most horrendously traumatic and miserable nights of my entire life. I can’t remember ever feeling the sense of loss and hopelessness I felt when they hinted that my Butterfly may not make it. I don’t even remember feeling that hopeless when the crack whore died. It was a long time ago and I remember feeling hopeless, but I don’t remember just how hopeless. Maybe I did feel that hopeless, I don’t know.
How the hell did my mind drift there?
Uncle Herman allows me to choose some pieces from Grandma and Pops’ private collection of vintage jewelry, real fucking quality shit. I stop at Cartier on my way home and have Marvin clean the pieces for me. He was hesitant at first because one of the pieces is pretty damn priceless. However, I assure him that I would trust no one else to the task and would not hold him responsible for any damage that occurs from reasonable handling. As a result, twenty minutes later, the pieces come back glistening and beautiful as if they’re brand new. He even provides me with unmarked boxes for the pieces since I brought them in simply wrapped in velvet as Uncle Herman had presented them to me.
As my barber gives me a haircut and trims my beard, I go over the events and discoveries of the day. Aunt Tina is having her final energy burst—something I learned about while being an asshole during Pops’ energy burst. Now would be the time for all of her loved ones to be around her reliving old times and telling her how much they love her, but there’s only Harmony, and she’s not holding up too well.
And then there’s my dad and uncles and the disposition of Pops’ estate. They did pretty well with the cars and Uncle Herman seemed to enjoy going through his parents’ things and remembering their significance—nothing like the crying fit he had earlier in the week. I was glad of that.
I was totally floored when he showed me Grandma’s jewelry collection from the safe deposit box, though. Good Lord! Extravagant doesn’t even begin to describe these pieces. I had picked one piece from the collection and Uncle Herman kept saying, “Pick another one.” I finally had six pieces of exquisite antique jewelry and I know my girl appreciates vintage pieces. Some of the pieces aren’t necessarily vintage—they’re just really pretty expensive. I don’t know how Pops had the money to afford these things. I can only guess that he must have been making an excellent living at Ford and purchased items when they weren’t so expensive. He apparently had a keen eye for value because I’ve yet to see anything that he purchased that depreciated in value except for that dilapidated house, and even the house was worth a pretty penny back in the day if I understand correctly. Even though it’s run down now, it’s in the historical district where the land itself is probably still worth something.
When I get home, Jason informs me that our reservations at Altura are all set. I haven’t taken her there yet. The last time I planned to take her was when I saw the ultrasound of the twins—and then all reason escaped from my brain and I simply had to get her home to take care of her. So, tonight, we finally get to go.
As I’m taking my shower, it occurs to me that she may feel a bit subconscious about the bruising on her wrists and ankles while the staff at Miana’s are doing her treatments. The pieces that I chose will hide those nicely, but hopefully her relaxing spa and make-up session won’t be too uncomfortable for her.
I choose a crisp linen shirt and a pair of jet-black jeans with a black blazer and a plain pair of black Bally leather ankle boots.
With the jewelry in an unmarked bag, I descend the stairs and go to the garage.
Jason and Chuck are being dismissed for the night after I retrieve my wife from Miana’s. I requested that our chauffeur be security trained as well so that we don’t have an entourage of people with us. There will be no fucking in the limo tonight as I have other plans for us when we get home.
Of course, I’m fucking speechless when I arrive at Miana’s to pick her up for our date. She’s in a simple blue mock wrap dress with suede blue Louboutin Harler pumps with wide ankle straps and huge sexy Veronica Lake barrel curls in her mahogany hair… and she is stunning! I suddenly feel like a troll.
“You look delectable,” I growl as I kiss her on the cheek.
“You’re looking quite yummy yourself, Chris,” she says, and my lady is feeling playful.
“Um…” I take her hands and notice that the skin on her wrist is flawless. I raise questioning eyes to hers.
“Airbrushing,” she says. “Seems I’m not the first wife with a kinky lover that this establishment has seen.” She winks at me. Jesus! I hope none of my prior subs came here it get cover-ups! It seems like an eternity ago and I can’t remember. I recover quickly and return my wife’s smile.
“Go on and get your coat, love,” I tell her. “I want to watch your ass as you walk away.” She smiles coyly and turns to the door.
And dear God, does she give me quite a show.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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