Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greeting, and Happy Holidays for whatever you celebrate. If you don’t celebrate anything, Happy Tuesday. 🙂
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 66—More Family Ties
A soft, angelic voice rouses me, and I realize that I’ve fallen asleep in the rocking chair with Mikey on my chest. I have no idea how I held on to him, but I did.
“Come on,” she says softly, while caressing my hair. “Put him to bed.”
I rise carefully from the chair trying not to rouse my son, which is unnecessary as he’s out like a light. I place him in his crib and he stirs and moves to put his fingers in his mouth, but they don’t make it before he’s out again. Butterfly checks on Minnie and gives her the same two-finger kiss to her cheek that I did before Butterfly takes my hand and we leave the room. Once I shut the door behind me, she turns to face me.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she says. “It was a terrible day and a terrible evening. The siblings showed up today.”
“Is everything okay?” I ask concerned. “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come…”
“It wasn’t necessary,” she says. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. It’s too late to talk about it now.” She moves towards our bedroom, but my feet stay planted, causing her to halt as she’s still holding my hand. She turns around and looks at me, bemused. I gently pull her back to me and into my arms. She puts her hands on my forearms and I touch my forehead to hers and close my eyes. I love her so much. I’m so grateful that she’s here, that she’s mine.
“Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to my children,” I whisper with my forehead against hers.
“I’ve got it easy,” she says with mirth. I shake my head and open my eyes.
“It’s more than that,” I say. “It’s more than the nannies and the money and this big house… It’s that you love them. You really love them. I see it in your eyes and you show them, and they know it…” I wish I’d had it at their age. Maybe I did at one point, but I’ll never know. She puts her hands on either side of my face and raises my gaze to hers.
“Where is this coming from?” she asks, examining me. I shake my head. I won’t say it aloud. She gazes at me for several moments before she speaks.
“I’m not her,” she says, reading my thoughts. “I’ll never be her.” I nod and gather her into my arms, embracing her closely.
“I know,” I whisper, burying my face in her neck. She strokes my hair and it brings me warmth and comfort. I know she could never be anything like the crack whore, and I love her for it, with all my heart.
“I need to love you,” I say, the ache in my chest threatening to burst it open and end my mortal existence. I take her mouth with mine and kiss her deeply. She melts into my body and I take my cue.
Lifting her into my arms, I carry her into our bedroom. I take my time undressing her, kissing each area of her soft, tender body as I expose it. I love how her breathing quickens when she’s getting aroused, and I like to watch the gooseflesh rise on her skin.
I lay her down gently on the bed and admire her beautiful body. She has one or two tiny stretchmarks on her stomach from carrying the twins, but nowhere else. I lean down and kiss the two tiny bruises—my Butterfly’s tiger stripes of love. I hope she never becomes subconscious of them. They’re a constant reminder to me of what she put her body through to care for and nurture the two beautiful children that she gave me.
“You are so beautiful,” I say reverently as I gaze at my beautiful queen. Her entire body blushes at the sentiment, and my cock thrums hard in my pants at the sight. I try not to rip my clothes off like a maniac, but my dick is threatening to burst out of my pants like the Hulk if I don’t free it soon. I finally free the damn thing from its prison and climb over my wife.
I start out making love to her, kissing her gently and grinding slowly and deeply inside of her, but a few minutes into our session, something changes. An animal urgency burns through me and I need to sear her—mark her like a lion marks his territory, only… inside. I need my stamp inside of her… like hers is inside of me.
I’m on my knees in front of her, thighs spread apart and thrusting into her. I’m holding her hips up so that I can get the perfect angle and my abs roll with each thrust. She’s hot and wet and my cock is thick and red, pulling her lips against it with each withdrawal and sinking hot and hard into her velvety wetness with each thrust.
The entire sight is so hot that I almost forget my wife while focusing on my dick and the feeling her pussy is giving me right now. I look up at her, her shoulders supporting her weight, and she’s writhing on the bed. Her ample breasts fall apart slightly and wobble with every thrust.
Once again, I’m in my own porno.
With her legs over my thighs, I gently lift her hips to get maximum thrust. She surprises me by planting her feet flat on the bed behind me and thrusting her hips up to match my every stroke. She’s panting and groaning in pleasure and my eyes roll back in my head in a vain attempt not to get lost in the feeling.
Yes, baby, yes, baby…
Needing to feel her skin against me—and to regain control of the situation before she makes me come too soon—I lay over her, pushing my hips hard and fast into hers, holding her shoulders down with my own. She gasps in pleasure with each thrust, wrapping her arms around my waist and gently digging her nails into the small of my back.
I lose myself for a moment and my hips are pistoning into her like a jackhammer, my cock burning with the urge to come. I succumb to my need to fuck her like a bunny and she whimpers her satisfaction. Fuck—I’ll surely come too soon if I don’t stop this shit.
While feasting on her neck, I slow my stroke a bit—not too slow and not too fast so as not to set us both back too far in the process. She’s so hot and soft and wet, and no matter what position I get in, she matches me stroke for stroke.
I slow down a little more once I’m able to control my mind and my dick, and stroke sensually into her over and over again, kissing her deeply with each thrust. I raise my knees for traction and pump hard and deep into her, groaning in my chest because no matter what I do, I won’t last much longer.
I reach around me and grab her hands, pinning them to the bed over her head and kissing her without reprieve as I grind balls deep into her. We’re already sweating so I can’t tell if the new sheen is forming on her body or our sweat is just mixing between us, creating a sex musk that fills the room and turning me on.
When she raises her knees and wraps her legs around me locking them behind my back, I can’t stand it. The pistoning bunny takes over again and we’re both panting like fools, breathing into each other’s mouth. God, she feels so good. Does it get better every time we do it? I don’t know, but she feels so fucking good!
I break our grip and our kiss and lean up onto my knees again so that I can watch her. She’s so fucking sexy and goddammit, we look good when we fuck and I want to see it!
Rubbing my hands all over her breast and torso, rubbing her thighs and thumbing her clit, I watch my cock slide in and out of her pussy again and again, fast and slow, hot and wet each time. I bite my lip as the pleasure now creeps through my pelvis and wraps around me to that pleasure point in my anus and balls. I try to fight it, try not to succumb to it because I don’t want to disappoint her, but I can’t take it anymore. She so fucking hot and so fucking beautiful, and she feels so goddamn good…
I can’t stop it this time.
“I’m gonna come! I’m gonna come!” I warn in quick panting breaths.
“Me, too! Don’t stop!” she instructs in the same breaths.
I keep the stroke going, not that I could control it anyway. I don’t know which one of us starts first, but the room is alight with heat and screams of passion as we both explode in powerful orgasms.
“Ana… baby… fuck!” I throw my head back, hook my hands under her knees and lift her thighs so that her pussy is angled perfectly over my throbbing cock. I empty hot and hard deep inside her, painfully, my thighs stiff in pleasure and my dick pulsing so hard that it hurts. My balls feel like they’ve shriveled up and crawled into my pelvis to die there. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to feel them shoot out of the head of my dick.
My wife falls limp on the bed, whimpering with each breath, which is my only indication that she came. I was so lost in my own orgasm, I’m sure I heard her scream, but I didn’t get to enjoy the feeling of her clenching around me like she usually does.
Oh, well, my dick doesn’t seem to mind.
“God, I needed that,” I choke out, still on my knees and pulsing inside her.
“So did I,” she breathes without opening her eyes, her brow and hair thick with sweat. I lay my body over hers and use my hand to wipe the sweat from her face before it gets to her eyes. I love the way we smell when we sweat after we fuck, all sex funky, and I don’t want to pull out of her just yet, but I know I’ll be heavy on her if I fall asleep this way.
“I love you so much,” I say, kissing her gently and caressing her face and hair.
“I love you, too,” she says without opening her eyes. She’ll be asleep soon. I pull out of her as gently as I can, but it still causes us some discomfort. I shift my body slightly to the side so that I’m still covering my wife, but my weight is mostly supported by the bed. I feel her settle into comfort and I know she’ll be asleep soon. I nuzzle my nose into her neck and allow our scent to soothe me…
“They’re beautiful, Maggot,” she says. Why does she call me that? He didn’t call me that, so where the fuck did she get that name? And who is she talking about?
I hear her voice, but I can’t see her. I can’t even see where I am.
Slowly, my surroundings take form, and I see my children’s nursery, my two beautiful babies sleeping in their respective cribs just where we left them—and she’s standing between the cribs looking into each one.
“So… you had two little maggots, too,” she says. She’s pale and blue, just like she looked when the people in white took her away…
The people in white—the coroner.
“My children. Are not. Maggots!” I say, trying to control my voice. She smiles.
“They’re all maggots,” she says. “You’ll see.” She reaches into Minnie’s crib. I try to get to her, to stop her, but my feet are planted to the floor.
“Don’t touch my daughter!” I scream, but no sound comes from my mouth. I’m horrified as she lifts Minnie into her arms and my daughter screams as if in pain.
“No! No! Leave her alone!” I cry, but still nothing. There’s no sound and the crack whore doesn’t react. She lays my helpless daughter on her chest, smiles a sinister smile, and turns to leave.
“Not my children, you bitch!”
The words are clear, but the voice isn’t mine. I focus on the scene in front of me to see my wife facing off with the crack whole, still holding a screaming Minnie.
“You had your chance. You fucked up, now stay the fuck away from my babies!”
Butterfly walks right through the crack whore, retrieving Minnie as she passes through the specter. The crack whore looks surprised at her empty hands, but then turns angry eyes to my wife.
“There are two of them!” she hisses in an outer-worldly voice. She turns to Mikey’s crib and I’m overcome with dread as I still can’t move.
Please don’t take my son.
Butterfly comforts Minnie and doesn’t move toward the monster headed for my son. Why doesn’t she try to stop her? Say something!
The crack whore gets to the crib and reaches in for Mikey… but she can’t grab him. She can’t touch him. Her hands go right through him and he lies there with his fingers in his mouth, undisturbed. When she whirls around to my wife, her face is hideous. She looks like a demon straight from hell. My wife just smiles at her.
“Go back to where you came from and don’t come back here. You had power then—you had power there—and you didn’t use it. You were a coward and a useless piece of flesh. You fucked up, but you have no power here. Now, go!”
My wife’s voice sounds outer-worldly this time, but only on the last two words. The crack whore screeches a horrible sound and disappears. My wife puts a sleeping Minnie back into her crib and she settles in comfort. Butterfly walks over and looks into Mikey’s crib. He’s still sleeping uninterrupted. Then she turns to look at me.
“I told you,” she says with a soft smile, “I’m not her.”
My feet are suddenly released from their spot on the floor and I’m able to move. I launch myself at her to take her in my arms—my monster slayer…
I open my eyes before I reach her and see that I’m still sprawled over her body in bed. She’s lying on her back, her hair spread over the pillow like a fan, her arms framing her head, fast asleep. She looks like a work of art. I remember thinking that when she was lying in the bed at the hotel during our trip to Napa. She’s even more beautiful now than she was then.
I love you so much that it hurts sometimes.
I kiss her cheek and fall back into slumber.
“They were horrible,” my wife says as she spreads butter on her toast the next morning at the breakfast bar. “I expected them to be uncaring, nonchalant… Christian, they were vicious.” She eats a forkful of eggs and follows it with a bite of toast.
“Shit, it was that bad?” I ask. She nods as she swallows.
“It was worse,” she says.” None of them had anything to say about Tina unless it involved taking something of hers. One of the girls—Paige, I think—came looking for a pair of diamond earrings that she had given Tina for her 50th birthday. Theodore deliberately broke a vase of flowers while leaving the foyer and one of the guards physically picked him up and threw him out of the house!”
“Good God, this is like a scene from the circus!” I lament. She takes another bite of her breakfast before she speaks.
“That wasn’t even half of it,” she adds. “They insulted her, they threatened her, they accused her of taking advantage of Tina…”
“Wait a minute,” I say, holding my hand up to pause her explanation. “They threatened her? Who threatened her? How?”
“Theodore told her that he’d blow the house up with her in it,” she replies… and now, I’m pissed.
Take care of my Harmony.
“He actually said that?” I ask. “He actually said that he would blow the house up? He said those words?” She nods.
“In front of witnesses,” she replies. “When I told him to watch his tongue about threatening to commit murder, he almost started to say something to me, but I headed him off. I can guarantee, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I had flashbacks of Carla’s visit to Seattle times four.” She shivers at the thought.
I, on the other hand, am sincerely pissed at this asshole who threatened Harmony. What the hell is going through these monsters’ minds? None of them came to see Tina when she was alive. None of them even appear to care that she’s gone, only about her material possessions. Who does that? Who on God’s green earth could possibly be that cold?
“And Christian, she had to prepare her mother.” I turn a bemused gaze to my wife.
“Prepare her for what?” I ask. She’s already dead.
“For the funeral,” she replies. I shake my head.
“I’m not getting your meaning,” I tell her. Tina’s gone. Does she mean she had to pick her clothes, her casket? We all have to do that.
“She had to do her mother’s hair and make-up,” Butterfly says with a sigh. Okay, now I’m horrified.
“Whyyy?” I ask, stretching the word out in sheer disbelief.
“Because the funeral home didn’t get it right,” she says. “She took a picture and showed me. Her face looked like she was covered in chalk… and her hair was in a bouffant.”
“What… the fuck is a bouffant?” I ask, still gob smacked that this poor girl had to do her deceased mother’s hair and make-up. Butterfly glares at me for a moment, then swipes the screen on her phone. After a moment or two, she shows me a picture of a woman with very large hair.
“The hair?” I ask bemused. Butterfly nods. “They did that to Tina’s hair?” She nods again. How the hell did they lay all that in the casket? “Why the… how the hell?”
“It wasn’t pretty,” she says, swiping her screen again. “And after she redid her mother’s hair and make-up, Tina’s brood shows up asking for her shit. It was just like Tina said it would be.”
“How did Harmony handle it?” I ask.
“Like a beast,” she says. “She walked up the front of those fuckers and down the back of them. It was glorious! After it was all over, she broke down and confessed to coming on to you.” My eyes widen.
“She what?” I ask. “She did? How…? What…?” I don’t even know what to ask.
“It helps that you told me first,” she says. “I don’t know how I would have reacted had I heard it from her, first. I guess I understand why you felt the way you did about Liam.”
I would prefer it if she didn’t call him by his first name. I would also prefer it if she didn’t discuss this topic at all.
“Can we change the subject?” I ask. She sighs and stands from the breakfast bar.
“I’m going to meet Courtney at Harmony’s,” she says, straightening her clothes to leave. “I’m going to see if there’s anything that she needs for the service tomorrow and make sure everything is… as okay as can be expected.” She puts her purse on her shoulder and proceeds past me. I can see that the Liam conversation—such as it was—has soured her mood.
“Don’t I get a kiss?” I call behind her. She turns back and walks to me. I take her in my arms and kiss her gently on the lips. And again.
“I just don’t like talking about the guy,” I say softly.
“I understand,” she says, but she doesn’t sound convinced. “I gotta go.” I release her, and she walks toward Chuck who appears in the doorway.
“You’re driving,” I hear her say as they walk through the family room towards the garage. Geez, this is going to be some session with Ace this afternoon
“I’ve got an Apollo that I’m having shipped to you,” I say into the phone. Once Smalls got his head out of his ass and Alex got his ass in gear, the security team was put in place and the items in the storage units began moving en masse. I’m talking to Ted Friedson, a master at piano restoration located on the east coast.
“An authentic Apollo?” Ted says. “Are you sure it can make the trip?”
“Pretty sure, that’s why I’m trusting it to you,” I tell him. I headed the shipping off in Chicago and got the piano rerouted back to Tennessee. No use in shipping it all the way here just to ship it all the way back.
“If anyone can get her back to her original glory, you can,” I add. He sighs.
“Yes, I’m probably the only one who could, but I’ll be taking pictures of it upon arrival, Mr. Grey.” I get it, cover your ass.
“I wouldn’t be concerned,” I tell him. “I’ve seen it. It’s pretty sturdy, especially for its age.”
“Player piano?” he asks. I hear him typing into his computer.
“Yes,” I reply.
“You want that restored, too?”
“If you can,” I challenge him. “When it was operational, the timer on the motor was off so, it kept going off at the same time each night.”
“The infamous ‘haunting,’” he says. “It’s common with player pianos when they start to age.”
“Hence, my family calls it ‘Ichabod,’” I point out.
“Like Ichabod Crane?” he asks. “That’s the most original one that I’ve heard.”
I give him the tracking information with instructions to call me the moment Ichabod is in his studio. I end the call and gaze out the window of my office in the sky. For some reason, I immediately start thinking about death—not just death in general, my death. One day, I won’t be here. I’m here today… tomorrow, I may not be. Everybody looks at death like it’s a far-off thing, but it’s not. Time passes by before you know it. Just yesterday, I was dropping out of college and begging Dad to believe in me and to finance my dream. Today, I have people’s dreams in my hand.
What happens when I close my eyes for the last time? Do I believe in heaven or hell? Is there an afterlife? Does my consciousness just stop being once my heart stops beating? Is it true that Pops and Grandma Ruby are looking down on us right now measuring their successes and failures by how we turned out, or is it just something that the living convince themselves of to cope with the fact that their loved ones are gone?
I’ve been dealing with Dad and Uncle Herman and Pops’ and Grandma Ruby’s things, and Butterfly has been trying to help Harmony get all of Tina’s affairs in order. It’s making me think that even though we’re rolling in all this money, we haven’t made any provisions for our children should something happen to us. I jot a few things down to discuss with Al—trust funds, college funds, dowries… do people even do dowries anymore? Fuck if I know.
Butterfly and I will have this talk, but not today. Tina’s funeral is tomorrow, so it’s going to have to wait until after the weekend, maybe even after Thanksgiving… no, not that long. I sigh and push my hands through my hair.
“Andrea, can you tell Allen to come to my office as soon as possible?
“Allen, do you handle estate law?” I ask. He frowns.
“I dabble,” he says. “What I don’t know, I have excellent resources that I trust with my life.”
“I don’t have a will,” I say. “I never needed one before now.”
“What’s different now?” he asks. “Are you okay, Chris?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I say, in an obvious tone. “I have a wife and kids now… and I’ve got a lot of shit… I’ve just been dealing with so much death in the past few months…” I thrust my hands into my hair. Al holds his hand up.
“I get it,” he says, his voice accommodating. “My advice, you and Jewel should work on this together. You’re going to have to come up with a list of your assets and then describe how you want them distributed.”
“A list of my assets,” I say incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?” I’m a fucking billionaire! I don’t even know what all my assets are!
“Let me talk to a friend of mine and see how we catalogue the assets of a billionaire. This could take time.” I nod.
“Let me know as soon as we can get it going,” I say.
I’m coming out of one of several meetings of the day when Andrea tells me that my brother-in-law is on line one.
My brother-in-law? Ethan?
I try not to trip over my feet running to my office to take the call. The very last thing I need right now after dealing with all this death, mortality, and estate disposal is to discover that something is wrong with my sister.
“Ethan! Is Mia okay?” I say without even offering a greeting.
“Yeah, man, she’s fine,” he says, his voice bemused. “Jesus, maybe I should call more often if contacting you prompts this kind of response. You obviously don’t hear from me enough.” I sigh heavily.
“That’s not it, Ethan,” I confess. “It’s not you at all. I’ve just been dealing with death a lot over the last few weeks and it’s getting to me.”
“You want to talk about it?” he asks concerned.
“I appreciate it, man, but not really. Every man at some point is faced with his own mortality and today, I’m just feeling… out of sorts, that’s all.”
“Well, I’m in the area having a late lunch. I was wondering if I could stop by and chew your ear for a minute.” Chew my ear? What problem does he have where he needs my help?
“Sure. Have you eaten already?” I ask.
“Nope. I was going to get something on the way, I guess.”
“Don’t bother. I haven’t eaten either. I’ll have the cafeteria whip up something from the deli.”
“Sounds good,” he says. “Be there in a minute.”
I call down to security to inform them that Ethan is on his way. With the last name Kavanaugh, they may forget that he’s family and shoot him on sight. I also have Andrea arrange for the deli to bring us something quick and satisfying.
I look down at the pictures of my family on my desk. My wife looking coyly over her shoulder at me and a separate shot of my two little angels. Who the fuck would have ever thought that Christian Grey would be a damn family man?
I walk over to the glass wall that held my attention earlier in the day when I was pondering my own mortality. I have a perfect view of Seattle from here. I can even see Escala not too far in the distance. Escala… closer to the office than the Mercer house. Why am I keeping that place? The market is kind of so-so right now, but that’s not an issue for me. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’m keeping it. Artemis will have the playroom dismantled in a couple of weeks and unlike Butterfly, I don’t have any friends or charity cases that I would allow to crash in my penthouse. I really need to get that place set up to sell.
I do miss not having a helipad at my disposal, but when’s the last time I flew Charlie Tango? When we had to rescue Butterfly from that asshole. Years ago… I better get some flight time in before I lose my license.
A lot of my life was spent in that penthouse. Shit, if those walls could talk…
The first time I let a woman sleep in my bed… Butterfly.
I let her touch my chest… Jesus Christ, there’s something I could definitely never see happening.
I sigh heavily once again. So much has happened in that place—good and bad. I remember discovering that she was missing. I thought I would die without her, without knowing what had become of her. David was so fucking unstable and knowing that he and that fucker that I fired were the last people seen with her made my stomach churn. I’m getting lightheaded just thinking about it even though they’re both dead. I never thought I could love anybody in my whole life the way I love that woman, and the thought of losing her…
“Mr. Grey, Ethan Kavanaugh is here, and your lunch should be here momentarily.” Andrea’s voice through the intercom breaks my train of thought, thank God, and I turn away from the window and my inner musings about Escala and all that has blossomed from it.
“Show him in, please,” I say, walking to the door. Lunch… it’s nearly 3pm. Butterfly and my mom would have my neck for waiting this long.
“Thanks for seeing me, Christian,” Ethan says, extending his hand to me as he enters. I take his proffered hand.
“No problem, Ethan. What’s news?” I say, gesturing to one of the seats in front of my desk while taking the other.
“I promise it’s nothing bad. I didn’t mean to alarm you,” he says.
“I assure you, Ethan, it’s not you,” I say, settling into my seat. “There’s just been a lot going on and my mind is so preoccupied.” He examines me, waiting for me to continue. “I was a bachelor for a long time. I didn’t have to worry about anybody but me. Even my family was just my family’s concern—Mom was Dad’s concern, Dad was Mom’s concern, and even Elliot and Mia were my parents’ concern.” He raises a brow at me.
“Yeah, I know… I was an asshole,” I acknowledge. “But then Ana came along… and she got kidnapped, and she was my concern. Then she ran off to Montana, and she was my concern. Then we got married, and she was my concern. Then we had babies, and they were my concern. Then, I realized that things were my concern even though I didn’t want to admit it.
“Skip ahead, and my grandfather dies and my family falls apart. My mom goes through perimenopause and almost tries to kill herself. And Val! Val gets a goddamn tumor and turns the family completely upside down. For the love of God!”
“Um,” Ethan interrupts, “that’s quite a bit, I must say, Christian, but may I ask what brought this on?” I sigh.
“Butterfly and I are deeply involved in the recent passing of an old friend of the family,” I tell him. “Only one of her children were around for her transition—her adopted great-granddaughter—and her biological children are the most selfish, hateful group of people I’ve ever seen. Instead of being able to live the remainder of her days out in peace and die quietly, she spent damn-near up to her last day making arrangements to be sure that her other four bio-kids couldn’t come and pull the rug out from under her adopted child once she died—which is exactly what they tried to do. So, my wife and I are pretty much playing human shield while my security team is camped around the house making sure that these assholes don’t try anything.
“Of course, dealing with this along with the disposition of my grandfather’s estate has me thinking about my own mortality. Are my children going to behave this way when I’m gone? Will my wife have the support system she needs? My money makes Tina’s money look like a piggy bank—will my family behave this way when I die? I hope the fuck not, but right when you called, I had been discussing plans for my will.”
“Oooooohhh,” Ethan says in that knowing manner. “Well, that explains it. Listen, if this is a bad time, we can certainly talk later because this isn’t that urgent.”
“As long as we’re not talking about death, this is not a bad time,” I reply.
“Good, because we’re not talking about death.” He settles into his chair. “I was hoping you could help me find a way to approach your father about the wedding,” he says. I raise a brow.
“Oh?” I ask.
“Christian, I don’t know where the bills went or if they’ve all been paid, but one of them slipped through and came to the condo—the bakery. Those two ridiculously monstrous cakes that had to be cut with swords, and the other confections at the wedding—five fucking digits, man! For cake! That’s ridiculous. I absolutely shudder to think what he shelled out for this wedding, and I can’t fucking sleep at night. He’s got to let me reimburse him something or I’m not going to be able to live with myself.
“That dress—you saw that dress. Not another one like it in the world, I’m certain. Kitten’s dress probably cost more than somebody’s annual salary. We rented a theater with red carpet service and multiple photo booths. Your mom hired belly-dancers—even though they didn’t make it. The walls were covered in flowers and there were flower cannons! We flew to the airport in a luxury helicopter. You own one of those. You’re aware of that expense.”
I’m not sure why they didn’t employ Charlie Tango in the first place. It could have saved them a penny or three. I certainly wouldn’t have charged them to use her.
“I did the research on just the stuff that I know we had at our wedding and I just stopped at a million dollars. My brain is going to explode if he doesn’t allow me to help him, and I don’t know how to tell him. The bakery bill came to our house. How do you have nearly $20,000 worth of confections and you didn’t pay for it yet?”
“I’m willing to bet that was an error,” I tell him, “not the price, but the billing. No bakery in the world is going to allow you to have $20,000 worth of confections and not pay for it.”
“Well, mistake or not, he’s got to let me help him. I feel like shit, I can’t take this…”
As he’s lamenting about the extravagance of his wedding and the fact that he hasn’t contributed anything to it, Andrea signals us that lunch has arrived. I instruct her to have it set up at the table in my office.
“Come on,” I say, putting my hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Let’s get some food and we’ll find a way to get my dad to accept the money. Your best approach is probably just what you said to me. If a man can’t understand anything else, he can understand the effects of emasculating another man, and I don’t think my father was trying to do that to you. He just wanted Mia to have what she wanted. That is his only daughter, you know…”
I listen to Ethan talking about respect and not wanting to steal Dad’s thunder and I immediately think of Ray. He never said anything to me about having a problem with my paying for everything. I don’t remember him paying for anything if he did, but I chalked it up to him wanting his baby girl to have a fairy tale wedding. She did, too, and I didn’t bother looking at price tags… not that I had to. Ethan, on the other hand, just discovered that the cakes and desserts at his wedding cost more than most people’s entire ceremony.
We enjoy a lunch of deli sandwiches, hand-made coleslaw, and antipasto while I give him ideas on how to approach Dad about the cost of the wedding. Dad’s going to give him some pushback, I warn, but he’s going to have to be diligent in letting him know that this is going to haunt him for the rest of his life if Dad doesn’t allow him to make some kind of significant contribution to reimbursing him for this wedding. Word choice is very important to Carrick Grey, Esquire, and I help Ethan pick the right ones to say to him.
Over an hour later, Ethan and I are still chewing the fat over the extravagance of the wedding—all the bells and whistles that he never wanted or expected, and how happy he was that Butterfly and I were the pinch hitters when their soloist went MIA. Mom and Mia tracked her ass all the way back to California and launched a campaign of breach of contract and claims of unprofessionalism that was so intense, she begged them to stop. From word of mouth, wedding planners, social media, women’s groups, even a couple of night clubs here and there—every engagement she had booked since she stood Mia up backed out on her and she couldn’t get another one. Of course, she refunded Dad’s money, but the damage was already done and in two short months, she’s trying to fight her way back from professional ruin.
My mind briefly drifts back to my wife and my mortality throughout the course of the conversation—how, I don’t know, but I suddenly feel the need to talk to her. Not wanting to shut Ethan down, I pretend that a text came in and excuse myself from the conversation just for a few moments to fire one off to my wife:
**I love you. There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about you. **
“Do you know I’ve never been to a funeral in my whole life, ever?” Harmony says as she stands gazing into her closet. “I don’t even know what to wear.”
“Black is traditional,” Courtney says, putting her hand on Harmony’s shoulder. “It’s… the color of mourning.” Harmony nods and studies her wardrobe before picking a modest black midi-dress.
“Perfect,” Courtney says with a nod. Harmony returns the nod and lays the dress on the bed next to where I’m sitting.
“I don’t know where I would be without you guys,” she says smoothing the dress on the bed. “Nobody has been to the house—no one, except her horrible offspring and that was only when they had to be thrown out.”
“None of your mom’s friends have stopped by?” Courtney asks. Harmony shakes her head.
“Most of Mom’s friends have passed away, but I’ve gotten a few calls offering condolences and help. They’re good people but being alone…” she trails off.
“You’re not alone,” I say. “You’ve got us. We’re just a phone call away even if you just don’t want to be alone.”
“Yeah,” Courtney says, putting her arm around Harmony. “And I’m a fem, so we can do nails and shit.” Harmony laughs half-heartedly, then turns to Courtney and begins to weep. Courtney embraces her and allows Harmony to cry on her shoulder.
“Mrs. Grey?” I hear a voice in my earpiece. I step outside to allow Harmony to have her cry out.
“Yes?” I reply into my mouthpiece.
“There’s someone here to see Ms. Franklin.” I sigh. Didn’t we tell these fuckers not to come back?
“I’ll be right down,” I say with a huff. I come down the stairs to find a much younger man standing in the foyer with his hands in his pocket. Not younger than me, but younger than the siblings—early forties maybe.
“May I help you?” I ask. He turns around and rolls his eyes.
“Harmony, you’ve changed considerably,” he hisses sarcastically.
“It’s clear that I’m not Harmony,” I retort. “May I ask who you are.”
“No, you may not because I’m not explaining myself to the help!” he snaps and moves to push past me. I move in front of him to block his path and two of my guards move in as well.
“You’re right, you’re not, because I’m not the fucking help,” I seethe. “They are the help. I am their boss. State your business or leave.” I don’t know who these assholes think they are, but I’m tired of these fucking entitled ass bastards showing up and thinking they’re going to bully their way in here.
“Hmm,” he says unimpressed, “one of my daughter’s little friends, are you? Well, I’m not taking orders from you, either.” I raise a brow. Daughter…
“Oh, you’re the bio-dad,” I stay flatly. “I’ve heard about you, too. Windsor…” I gesture to my butler without breaking my gaze with Bio-dad.
“Yes, Mrs. Grey?” I hear over my shoulder.
“Inform Harmony that her father is here and see if she wishes to see him,” I instruct.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I hear him ascending the stairs.
“Who the fuck are you?” Bio-dad asks impatiently.
“You first,” I say without moving.
“You know who I am,” he retorts. “I’m Harmony’s father.”
“Well, I’m Harmony’s friend,” I reply, folding my arms. He scoffs.
“And you can’t stop me from seeing my daughter any more than the help can,” he says trying to move past me again, but I step in front of him once more.
“Oh, yes I can,” I say to his face, “and you’re going to stay right there until Harmony comes down the stairs or until she tells us to throw you the fuck out.”
His brow rises, and he examines me from head to toe. His gaze makes me feel fucking dirty and I try hard not to react. I know this asshole is checking me out, and I want to plant my stiletto boot right in his balls.
“Well, aren’t you the fiery little thing?” he says suggestively, his tongue caressing the corner of his mouth.
And my stomach churns.
“Nonetheless, I’m going to see my daughter, so step aside.” Knowing that I’m going to step in front of him when he tries to move past me, he uses his arm in an attempt to push me out of the way.
I quickly use my momentum to bend his wrist perpendicular to his hand and his forearm bent at the elbow. It’s a fast move, not a power move, so he’s in a submission position before he knows what happens. He’s bent at the waist as well as one of his knees in an attempt to take the pressure off his arm and wrist, cursing the entire time. Both my guards didn’t have a chance to move and they’re standing there looking at me in awe.
“Sonofabitch!” he hisses through his teeth.
“Don’t let the nice bod and the small frame fool you Jack I’ll break your fucking arm,” I say all in one breath to his agony-ridden face.
“Let go of my damn arm, you fucking cunt!” he threatens.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” I scold. “That’s no way to speak to someone who can snap your wrist in three seconds.” I put a little more pressure on his arm and wrist and he yowls. “Say you’re sorry.”
“I ain’t sayin’ shit!” he hisses.
“I can stand like this for a really long time,” I warn, “and you’re gonna be in a whole lotta pain when I finally let go.”
“I know how you got me here,” he warns, “and when you let me go, I’m gonna beat your little ass!”
“So aggressive!” I taunt. “I could release you right now and you still wouldn’t be able to ‘beat my little ass,’ not only because I’d beat yours first, but also because your arm will be at 65% if you’re lucky, not to mention all these men in black surrounding you would beat you senseless before you had a chance to sneeze!” I apply pressure to his elbow bending his wrist further and causing him to yelp in pain.
“Say you’re sorry, you slimy asshole!” I hiss.
“Father dearest,” I hear Harmony’s voice behind me. “I see you’ve met my friend, Anastasia. Ana, the loser that you have cowering on the ground probably slobbering all over himself is my father, Damien.”
“We’ve met!” I growl at Damien. “I’m waiting for an apology.”
“He’ll let you break his arm before he does that,” she says. “Dear Old Dad can take a beating. It won’t be the first time.” I raise a brow at him.
“Taken a few beatings in your life, have you?” I say to Damien. He smiles—or I should say he grimaces—through his pain.
“From prettier men than you,” he taunts. Harmony’s right. He’s had his ass beaten so many times that he probably gets off on the pain. This ain’t shit to him.
“You’re not even worth the ruined manicure,” I say. I give his bent knee a good, solid kick with my stiletto and he crumbles to the floor. At the same time, I give his wrist one final quick twist until I hear it pop and he yelps again. It’s not broken, but it’s going to hurt like hell.
“Why are you here?” Harmony asks Damien.
“Are you going to let her treat me that way?” he barks, still holding his wrist. “Your own flesh and blood?”
“Are you serious?” Harmony asks in disbelief. “Is he serious?” she says turning to me. “I can’t believe you have the audacity to show up at my mother’s house. What the hell do you want?” His brow furrows.
“She’s not your mother,” he says, firmly. “She’s my grandmother. Your great-grandmother.”
“You’re right about one thing,” Harmony says, her voice shaking with tears. “She’s not my mother—because she’s gone now, but she was my mother. You made that possible, and now you can’t take it back. Now, what the hell do you want?”
“I want to make sure you’re okay,” he says, trying to sound contrite and still bending and flexing his aching wrist.
“The hell you do!” Harmony snaps, still weeping. “You all but dropped me off on her doorstep 18 years ago, then in a drunken stupor, you let me know that you were my sperm donor—had me wondering for years why you and my birth mom didn’t want me. And now you’re coming here declaring that my mother is not my mother? Get ‘im the fuck out of my house!” she declares as she dashes towards the stairs.
“You heard her,” I say to my staff. “Get him out of here.” They close in on Damien like an escaped fugitive.
“Harmony!” he calls out. “There’s someone after me! Bad guys! I need money… they’ll hurt me if I don’t get it, maybe even kill me!”
“I don’t care, father!” she calls back. “You made that bed, now you lie in it!” With those words, she continues her flight up the stairs. Damien looks at me as security proceeds to drag him to the door.
“I just said that someone was out to kill me!” he protests. “And none of you care?”
“A minute ago, you told me that you were going to beat my ass,” I say folding my arms. “I don’t care if they’re on the other side of the door waiting for you.”
Damien, like Theo, was basically dragged from the house and tossed onto the porch, though not with as much force. I turn to Filmore.
“Don’t allow anybody else in this house until further notice,” I tell him. “If it’s not me, my husband, Courtney, Carl, or one of our staff, they don’t get past that front door. Nobody gets entrance into this house unless Harmony specifically says that they can come in before they cross the threshold. Am I clear?” I’m seething. I am tired of these people.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says in a formal voice.
I go inside and take a deep breath, desperate at this point for something to punch. The funeral is tomorrow, and I know we’re going to have to tolerate performances from people who didn’t even bother to see Tina during her last days. Just as I’m trying to regroup from my anger, my cell phone rings. It’s Ace.
“Hello?” I answer, more flustered than I want.
“Ana? This is Amber. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.” I look at my watch. Our appointment isn’t for another hour.
“No… no, it’s fine. I’ll be headed in that direction in a moment. Is everything okay?”
“That’s why I’m calling,” she says. “Regrettably, the doctor won’t be able to see you this afternoon due to unforeseen circumstances. I’d be happy to schedule for the first available opening next week.” I sigh. He probably couldn’t help me today anyway—we’d just end up fighting again.
“No, that’s okay, Amber. I’ve got a lot going on today anyway. I’ll just see him at our standing appointment next week.”
“Okay,” she says sweetly. “I’ll let him know. I’m sorry for the short notice…”
“Please, don’t worry about it, Amber. Thanks for calling me. You have a good weekend.”
“You, too,” she says before ending the call. It’s just as well. I seriously need to focus on Harmony today. I ascend the stairs to see how she’s doing. I hear crying coming from Tina’s room. I stick my head in and see Harmony face down on her mother’s bed weeping, Courtney gently stroking her back to comfort her. I step away from the door and leave them to it.
I need a workout room—fast, but of course, there’s nothing nearby unless I’m willing to go home and dear Tina has nothing like that in her home… not to mention that I can’t very well work out in stiletto boots. I head to the kitchen.
“What’s for dinner?” I ask a very startled staff.
“We… haven’t started yet. It’s still early. Are you hungry, ma’am?”
“Please, call me Ana,” I lament. “I can’t take ‘ma’am’ today.” They look at each other, then back at me.
“Very well, Ana,” one of them says. “Can we get you something? Are you hungry? A sandwich perhaps?”
“No, no I’m not hungry. I just need something to do,” I admit. Puzzled faces fill the room once more. “Can I please help with dinner?”
“Oh… no, that won’t be necessary…”
“I know it’s not necessary, but I desperately need to do something,” I all but beg. “Please, let me help with dinner.” There’s momentary silence again.
“Forgive my asking, but what can you cook, ma… Ana?” the same woman asks.
“I can cook anything,” I say. “What’s for dinner?”
“Beef bourguignon with whipped potatoes,” she says. “It’s one of Ms. Harmony’s favorites… we thought she might need some comfort food today, assuming she can be coaxed to eat.” I nod.
“She’ll be coaxed,” I say, “and beef bourguignon is easy enough.”
“Yes, ma’am… Ana, it is, but it’s too early to start dinner.” Goddammit! Is there some silver I can polish or something?
“We were going to start desserts,” one of the other staff says. “We want to make sure that Harmony’s favorites are at the repast tomorrow… so…” The other staff members glare at the one speaking, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they’re uncomfortable with me in the kitchen. I nod.
“Okay,” I say, unable to hide the defeat in my voice. “I’ll get out of your way, then.” I’m going to have to excuse myself from this house for a little while to let off some steam or I’m going to lose my mind.
“Ana,” the first woman says to me, and I turn back just as I reach the door. “There are a lot of desserts. I’m sure there’s something that you can help us with.”
I try to hide my visible sigh of relief. I need to be useful in the worst way… or hurt something.
“If I won’t be underfoot,” I say, accepting the full-frontal apron that she’s handing me.
“I’m Pat,” she says with a smile. “That’s Ellen and that’s Lisa. Our pastry specialist over there is Derek.”
“It’s nice to meet you all,” I say. “What can I do?”
“Do you mind working on the tarts?” she asks. “They’ll need to be fresh, but the fruit needs to be chopped.”
“Tarts, yes, I can do that.” I haven’t had tarts in so long, but I remember those delicious confections that Val used to buy from this bakery near campus. I wonder if that place is still there…
Remembering the delicious tarts from my college days, I set to the task of slicing the fruit in various configurations to fit inside of a tart—strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, raspberries, and blueberries; slices, halves, and quarters…
“You’ve done this before,” Pat says after I’d been slicing for a while.
“Uh, no, not tarts. I just remember the delicious tarts from the bakery in college.”
“She’s good,” Derek says, looking over Pat’s shoulder at the fruit. It’s just fruit, guys. “Come on over here. You can help me make the cookie crust.”
“Now that’s my area of expertise,” I laugh.
“What? Cookies?” he asks. I nod. “You bake cookies?”
“Well, not all year round, but on Christmas Eve, I make a horde of them,” I admit.
“A horde?” he says. “That sounds like a lot.”
“Twenty to twenty-five dozen,” I say. His eyes widen.
“What do you do with all those cookies?” he asks.
“Well, the first year that I made them, my husband tried to eat them all himself,” I laugh. “But I eat some and I give some away,” I say.
“What kind of cookies do you make?” he asks, spreading flour on the counter.
“Um, I make gingerbread, butter cookies, sugar cookies, lemon bars, and chocolate-chip-pecan. My husband likes the chocolate chip pecan the best.”
“All from scratch?” he asks. I nod. “Then this will be right up your alley. The tart crust is basically sugar cookie dough. We roll it out and cook it a little thicker in large muffin pans…” He hands me the rolling pin and shows me how to roll the dough at just the right thickness. In no time, we’re putting our sugar cookie crust in the oven and working on the whipped cream cheese filling.
The staff starts to lighten up around me a bit, and soon, we’re swapping recipes and talking about Christmas and Thanksgiving. I realize that Harmony will have no one to spend those days with and make a note to myself to offer to have her spend them with us. The kitchen smells of divine chocolate and fudge and cookies and confections, and the smell brings Harmony out of her room.
“It… smells really good,” she says, her voice soft. I can tell she had been sleeping.
“We were just making desserts,” Lisa says. “Your favorites.”
“Did you make… do you have any of the snickerdoodle sandwiches?” she says, her voice sounding like a little girl.
“Of course, we do,” Pat says, removing the cover from the plate of sandwich cookies—snickerdoodles with a cream filling.
“Are they for tomorrow?” she asks.
“Well, they were,” Pat admits. Harmony takes a bite of one of the cookies.
“Mmm,” she groans. “Not these… these are all for me.” The staff laughs, me included. Courtney comes into the kitchen, putting her phone in her pocket.
“Just checking in at the Center,” she says. “Of course, they’re fine without us, but you know I have to check.”
Courtney’s transformation still amazes me. I can’t believe the person that she is now compared to the person that she used to be. I really wish Addie could see her now. This is everything that Addie was trying to accomplish, but she may never know because the wounds on both sides are just too deep.
“Court,” Harmony says while picking at a snickerdoodle sandwich cookie. “I’m going to take advantage of my compromised state of being right now and say something to you.” She never raises her eyes and her voice is very soft.
“My mom is gone. I love her very much and I don’t know if my heart will ever stop breaking, but she’s gone now and she’s not coming back. I would give anything—and I mean anything—just to hug and kiss her one more time, but I can’t. We only get one go-round on this earth, Court, and that’s it. You need to talk to your grandparents. They’re angry, but I can guarantee they still love you. There, I’ve said it… I won’t hound you about it.”
Was she reading my damn mind?
Courtney swallows hard but doesn’t say anything and now I have two mute and hurting women on my hands.
“Okay, where’s the liquor cabinet?” I ask. Harmony raises her head.
“It’s only four in the afternoon!” she declares.
“And I can’t stay,” Courtney protests. “I’ve got to get home and spend some time with Vick tonight or I’ll be looking for another girlfriend.”
“It’s early enough for us to have a drink or two without…” I look at Courtney, “… affecting our drive home and…” I look at Harmony, “… not getting snockered because we have a big day tomorrow.”
Harmony’s shoulders fall, and I know I’ve hit the tender spot. Bring on the alcohol! I feel my phone buzzing against my hip and retrieve it from my pocket. It’s Christian.
**I love you. There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about you. **
I smile and play Harmony’s words over in my head. You only get one go-round on this earth… and that’s it. I get to go-round with Christian.
**I love you, too. **
“We got some Baileys in this place?” I declare.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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