Raising Grey: Chapter 66—More Family Ties

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

CHRISTIAN

“Christian?”

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.

Fucking hell!

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 subs…
The pedophile…
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. **


ANASTASIA

“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.

Thank you!

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/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 65—The Glue That Holds Family Together

Please say a prayer for my friend Yanique. She lost her mom recently after a long and diligent struggle with her health. Send her positive vibes, love, and light. I know that is a very rough time for her.

Tiny little chat here…

My last post was November 30—that was 16 days ago. In that time, I’ve gotten about 35 or so emails and messages that were not automated. Only one of them asked, “Are you okay?” There were other emails and comments (two or three) that had the tone, “How are you doing? How are things going?” I have seen them. Forgive me if I haven’t responded yet.  

The rest of them were all, “Where’s the next chapter?” “When are you going to post the next chapter?” “Why are you making us wait so long for a chapter?” One such comment was immediately after the last chapter was posted. I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on how that made me feel.

I’ve probably said this 99 times, and I’ll probably say it 99 more until and if I ever decide to just stop writing. I appreciate that people are so invested in my stories more than you all know, but please stop treating me like “just the next chapter.” I’m well aware that not everybody does that, so you all know that I’m not talking to everyone—but those of you who do, you know who you are. For the record, when you do that, it just causes me to lose my motivation and I wait longer to post.

I may come in on a Tuesday night and say, “Hey, I’ve got a little energy. Let me edit a chapter,” then wake up on Wednesday morning, do my tags, upload it, make my links, and get it posted before I start working. If, however, I come in to “Hurry up with the chapter,” I’ll just go do something else. I don’t want anybody to feel like they can say, “Chop, chop! Give us a chapter,” and I’m going to “chop chop.” It has the opposite effect—it slows me right down. Please don’t “out” yourself by saying, “I didn’t mean it that way” because please don’t be offended, but I’m not going to respond if you do. You’re just going to be “outing” yourself. Just put a pin in this and realize that this is how it makes me feel.

So, for those who asked, yes, I’m okay. I’m doing fine, thank you so much for asking. All is well. I’ve been very busy and I’m dealing with a little seasonal depression, but the winter solstice is five days away and then it’s only up from there, so that’s a good thing. Working from home has been fabulous, my beloved Falala, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had to go into the office for a day last week and I’ll have to go in a few days in the future, but for the most part, I love, love, love being at home.

Now, here’s the next chapter. Each subsequent chapter will be posted as time and opportunity—and motivation—allows. Thank you for your continued support.

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 65—The Glue That Holds The Family Together

CHRISTIAN

“Dad had a T-Bird? A fucking ’64 T-Bird? And you gave it to Burt?” Freeman roars through the phone.

Mom gave me the “all clear” this morning, so I came over to Dad’s house to meet with Uncle Herman and see how much of the items from the storage units had been shipped to family. Smalls located the model car collection that was willed to Dad and warned that he would need more than a display case for it before he shipped it out on Monday. Apparently, Dad already knew that and has had Elliot working on redoing another whole room in the house to prepare for their arrival. Another whole room… I have got to see this collection.

Other various items are making their way to different parts of the country. Herman wanted Grandma Ruby’s Waterford crystal and her wedding dress since no one laid claim to them. He said that the younger family members couldn’t see the value in the crystal and that grandma’s wedding dress just sitting in a storage facility somewhere didn’t seem right to him. So, those things are on the way to Washington along with Dad’s model car collection, and my Apollo will be shipped to a restorer on the east coast.

Lanie sent me a picture of Burtie smiling brightly and posing with his boyfriend—Leo’s cousin—next to his new, incredibly pimped out 1964 T-Bird with the ocean in the background. These are apparently Burtie’s engagement photos as he and his new love plan to tie the knot after Burtie’s surgeries. He insisted on waiting because he doesn’t want his scars to be in the wedding pictures.

Word got to Freeman because Lanie posted the pictures on social media. So, either Freeman’s trolling her page, or someone told him about it, and now he’s on Uncle Herman’s speaker phone stomping like Rumpelstiltskin.

“No, Freeman,” Uncle Herman says calmly. “I had a fucking ’64 T-Bird and I gave it to Burt.”

“That was Dad’s car! I’m his son, too, and you can’t pretend I don’t exist no matter how much you want to. As his son, I’m entitled to his possessions just like you are, and I want my share of that stuff!” Freeman demands. A satisfied look comes over Herman’s face.

“Didn’t you hear what Wu said at the reading?” Uncle Herman says. “Dad left all of this stuff to me to distribute as I see fit. You don’t have a share.”

He left you whatever was in that safe deposit box, not what he had in storage!”

“And the key and the instructions to the storage bin were in the safe deposit box. So, dear brother, that means that all that stuff belongs to me, too. Is that why you tried to keep me from the reading of the will? Because you knew that Dad left the disposition of his estate to me? Is that why you wanted to get him back to Detroit before he died—so that you could coerce him to change trustees? Maybe give you power of attorney so you could sell his house before he even died? You tried to screw me and Rick and it backfired on you. How does that feel?”

“You’re just as paranoid as he is,” Freeman shoots. “You can’t prove I did anything!”

“I don’t have to,” Uncle Herman replies. “It still backfired. You lied and you schemed and you went behind our backs and it backfired—in an even bigger way than you think because you’re even cheating yourself out of $500,000 that belongs to you because you’re too busy trying to hurt somebody else. Rick doesn’t need that money, and he proved it to you by giving me and Stan $750,000 each while you watched! Then he told us that we could keep whatever is left of our share when you’re done with your shenanigans. Who’s being hurt here, because it’s certainly not any of us!”

“You’re not going to get away with this, Herman…” Freeman begins.

“Stop right there,” Uncle Herman interrupts. “Before you start getting one of your stupid, dark ideas, don’t forget—if you protest the will, you lose your rights to everything, including that dilapidated house you inherited.” Freeman is silent for several moments.

“The joke’s going to be on you,” he says, finally. “I’m selling this house, and I’m using the money to rebuild Dad’s, and when I’m done, it’s going to be worth far more than those trinkets you all are playing with!”

“Trinkets!” Uncle Herman laughs. “That trinket that I gave your son has been rebuilt, refurbished and it’s currently worth nearly $100,000. How’s that for a trinket?”

Freeman is silent again.

“And you’re selling your house—a perfectly good house with a very high market value so that you can try to repair a money pit in the middle of Detroit where the market values are dropping and the joke’s on us? Didn’t you buy that house while you and Nell were married? That makes it community property. What does she say about that?”

“She moved out. She has no claim to this house anymore!” Not that simple, Freem. “Besides, I’m signing the divorce papers. I’m giving that witch what she wants and getting her out of my hair once and for all.”

“You mean that witch that bore your children and dealt with your bullshit for more than twenty years? Is that the witch you’re speaking of?” Herman retorts.

“They’re all dead to me!” he snaps. “Burt’s pressing charges on me for a little tough love and his pathetic, weak mother is falling in step right behind him. And Nollie—or whatever the fuck her name is now—yeah, it can easily be said that she’s to blame for this entire fucking fiasco!”

“Kind of like Rick has been the root of all evil for all of your problems, but never you, right, Freem?

“You were never to blame for smashing Burt’s face in the middle of a crowded airport.

“You were never to blame for alienating the entire family from Rick because you were pissed that he married a rich woman.

“You were never to blame for cheating on your faithful wife who stuck with you through all of your bullshit and garbage until she just couldn’t take it anymore.

“You were never to blame for treating your daughter like the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life from the day she was born!

“You were never to blame for making Dad feel like a burden from the day he got sick and couldn’t take care of himself anymore. A week before he died, he pretty much called you a selfish bastard, and he repeated those words from the grave in his will. His final thought for you was that he knew that he never meant anything to you, that you were pretty much waiting for him to die so that you could get that house and you didn’t feel a bit of conviction about it.

“You’re rotten through and through, Freeman, and you don’t have the conscience to feel bad about it. You’re going to die old, lonely, and miserable, and you’re not entitled to a goddamn thing but that house that you got. There’s no hope for you! I wash my hands of you! So, go rebuild your money pit and leave us the fuck alone. Don’t call me again!” Uncle Herman swipes the screen and ends the call and sighs heavily.

“I want to feel bad about it, but I don’t,” Uncle Herman says to me and Dad. “There’s really no hope for him! That man is like Satan, walking through the earth and ‘seeking whom he may devour.’”

“He’s adamant about that house,” Dad says. “He’s an unfeeling, delusional asshole, but he’s not an idiot. You all stayed in Detroit and the surrounding areas all these years. Before you and Dad moved out here, you were there. It’s no secret that Detroit is deteriorating. Schools are closing, families are leaving, neighborhoods are falling to ruin… he has to know that house is worthless! So, what is it? What’s so important?”

“He thought all Dad had was that house. Hell, we all thought all Dad had was that house! He was just the only one who was willing to risk everything to get it—including Dad!”

“There’s got to be something else more important about that house,” Dad says. “It can’t just be sentimental value.”

“He thinks it’s worth something,” I say with a shrug. “Maybe there’s gold in the basement.”

“Well, I hope he finds it,” Uncle Herman says waving his hands. “Jesus, I don’t want to hear from him ever again. I can’t take this anymore.”

“We may have a bigger problem, Uncle Herman,” I say. “He’ll more than likely head down to the storage units and cause some trouble. You might want to call the management office and give them a heads up. I’m going to call my guy and have him ship everything that’s been claimed to those members of the family who claimed it and ship everything else here. We need to wrap this up and everything needs to be on the road no later than Friday. That’s still two days and enough time for him to wreak havoc.”

“Over my dead body,” Uncle Herman says while dialing a number on his phone. I also pull out my cell phone. I call Smalls and explain what’s going on and what needs to be done. That operation needs to be shut down and on the move from Detroit to Seattle in two days.

“That’s impossible, sir,” Smalls declares. “We don’t have the resources here to ship this stuff across the country in two days. It took longer than that just to get a company to secure those cars. And it took even longer to get them prepared to be shipped to you. The way that it was packed in these facilities, it was packed to be stored—not to be shipped. That’s going to take time and care unless you want these things to be damaged when they arrive, and do you want anybody but Grey Shipping to transport these items? Antique furniture? Fragile glassware? Keepsakes? Quite candidly, sir, I don’t want to be held responsible for a botched-up job and you and your family receiving a bunch of pretty pieces of things that obviously have some pretty significant sentimental value.” I sigh heavily.

“Well, what do you suggest, Smalls?” I say, almost through my teeth.

“Well, Mr. Grey, shipping these things piece by piece isn’t a really difficult task, but shipping fragile and valuable items all in bulk, that’s a little out of my realm. I know it’ll take time, but I’d need to consult the experts on the best way to proceed.” I roll my eyes. Was I naïve for thinking that he would do that in the first place?

The truth is that shipping the items quickly isn’t necessarily the priority. Keeping Freeman away from the items is what’s most important. I put Smalls on hold and conference Alex into the call.

“Welch, I have Smalls on the line, the team leader over the project in Detroit. Smalls, how many units do we have out there again?”

Four,” he replies.

“Welch, my uncle in Detroit has gotten wind that my grandfather’s things are being divvied out to the family and he has made it clear that he ‘wants his share.’ We both know that he’s an unreasonable, delusional hothead and very unpredictable. I think you can see where I’m going with this.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex replies.

“So, we need to get a detail out there—something like five guys that can work shifts, more at night than during the daytime. The management team has already been informed that Freeman is to have no access to the units, so that pretty much takes care of business hours even though I would want at least one guy out there during the day just to keep the peace and allow the team to do their job…”

Hm,” Alex says into the phone. Hm? What’s the hm?

“Something I’m missing, Mr. Welch?” I ask.

“Well, no, sir. It’s just that the team is on a few different projects right now, including securing the Franklin mansion. We’re just spread kind of thin at the moment.”

I’m not hearing that. Did I just hear that? Did I just hear my head of security tell me that we don’t have the staff to do something that I need done? I have a large force of elite motherfuckers that rivals the CIA. In fact, some of them came from the CIA—and this fucker is insinuating that I don’t have the security staff to do what I need? We had a guy just sitting at Pops’ house while I was on my honeymoon! I own several security companies! And this fucker is telling me that the staff is “spread kind of thin” right after this other fucker is complaining about shipping four storage units—and not even four anymore—full of stuff from Detroit to Seattle when I control shipping modes on land, at sea, and in the air?

Has married life made me a pussy… or just made me look like one?

“Mr. Grey?” My pondering has caused me to fall silent.

“Okay, so here’s the thing,” I say, rubbing my brow and trying to keep my anger in check. “I am a fucking billionaire, so I’m not very accustomed to the word ‘no.’ Today, I have effectively heard it twice from two different people in my employ…”

“I didn’t say ‘no,’ sir…”

“Are you interrupting me?” I ask whoever it was that dared to speak. The line falls silent. “Now, as I was saying, in just the past few minutes, I have grown fucking tired of hearing what we can’t fucking do, no matter how you try to phrase it. I have an entire shipping department that sends things worldwide—including foodstuffs to third world countries—and my guy in Detroit is telling me that he can’t get my grandfather’s belongings here in a timely manner without busting them all to pieces. So, to alleviate the possibility of my crazy ass uncle coming down to the storage facility and starting any shit while we’re trying to sort this out, I ask for a security detail to be dispatched to the location in case he starts feeling froggy and now, my head of security is telling me how thinly spread they are even though in addition to being able to send a banana to Antarctica and have it arrive intact, I own more security subsidiaries across the country than I can count. Money can do just about anything these days except bring the dead back to life and I’m richer than Midas. So, right now, I need the two of you to act like you have an endless money pot and fix these fucking problems!

“Yes, sir,” they say almost simultaneously. I end the call without another word and thrust my hand into my hair. I’m asking for shit to be shipped and I’m asking for a security detail. How hard can this fucking be?

I turn around to see my father and uncle staring at me.

“It’s not all that important, Christian,” Uncle Herman says. “I’ve talked to the management, and Freeman won’t get off the lot with anything.”

“There’s a couple of problems with that thinking,” I tell him. “The storage facility may be private property, but anybody can get in there—wire cutters, climb a fence, whatever. The management team aren’t going to be there 24/7 and quite frankly, neither are my guys. Freeman is already irrational and delusional. He’s harassed me to the point of having to get a restraining order and he’s beaten his son to the degree that he needs plastic surgery. I don’t put it past him for a second that he’ll go down there and bust in every door until he finds Pops’ stuff, or that he’ll find where they’re working and just start breaking Pops’ shit for the hell of it, or worse yet, hurt one of my guys. Can you guarantee me that he won’t do that?” I ask.

Uncle Herman just looks at me for a few moments. Freeman started a fight with and assaulted my father in his own house, then provoked me to the point of nearly choking him to death. Then he came back with the police and said that we started the fight. He’s a loose fucking cannon and right now, nobody’s there to keep him in check.

“No, son,” Uncle Herman says. “I can’t guarantee that.”

“I didn’t expect you would, but here’s the bigger issue. I run an international company with nearly bottomless resources. If I ask for fresh snow from the highest peak of Mt. Everest, intact and on my desk, I expect to get it—however they have to get it to me, but that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for items—and yes, a lot of items and some of them very fragile—to be shipped across the country as soon as possible and for a security team to be present at the storage facility to make sure everything runs smoothly. Yet, twice in the last few minutes, I have the two HMIC’s telling me what they can’t do. I’m going to assume that they conveniently forgot who they were speaking to, and that they’ll have a game plan for me by the end of business.”

Uncle Herman and Dad look at each other and then back at me.

“You’re the boss,” Uncle Herman says. “I just don’t want you putting yourself or your company out for this.”

“Pops’ preserved all that stuff for his family,” I begin. “I know that he intended for Freeman to have some of it, but if Freeman had his way, he’d sell everything and run off with the money! This way, Pops’ legacy is being spread among all of his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. The jewelry that you gave me for my wife— Butterfly cried when I gave her those things! And they will most likely one day end up in my daughter’s hands. How do you think Pops’ and Grandma Ruby feel looking down on that right now?” Herman smiles a warm smile.

“Pretty damn good,” he says contentedly. I nod.

“Damn straight! So, if the one selfish bastard who would ruin it for the whole family is the one person that gets cut out of the process, I can live with that, and I’m sure that my grandparents understand. Now, these people that I have in charge of these things are getting paid well enough to lick their wounds later, and if they want to keep getting paid those handsome salaries, they’ll stop dragging their asses, kill the excuses, and find a way to make this happen. So, don’t worry about it one more moment. The only thing you should be concerned about is who gets what and then we’ll make sure that it gets to be where it needs to be.”

“Like I said,” Uncle Herman says, still smiling, “You’re the boss… speaking of which, Ana emailed me about Mom’s wardrobe.” My brow furrows.

“Her wardrobe?” I ask. He nods.

“Yeah. I noticed that Ana wasn’t on the mailing list for Mom and Dad’s things. I thought it might have been an oversight, so I asked for her email address and sent her this list. I hope I didn’t overstep…”

“Oh, no, no, not at all, Uncle Herman. It actually was an oversight on my part. I didn’t even think to add my wife to the list. You know, the whole ‘we have everything we need thing,’” I excuse. I hope Butterfly won’t be too warm with me for not adding her to the list. It really was an accident. “So, what’s this about the wardrobe?”

“Apparently, your wife is a vintage clothing connoisseur,” my uncle says. “Mom’s heyday was the fifties and sixties, and even though she bought new things in the later decades, she kept all of her clothes and had many of them preserved in cedar chests and things like that. Georgie thought to send some pictures with the email of some of Mom’s things. I wouldn’t have thought the kids would be interested in any of those things, but your wife went nuts! As long as I get Mom’s wedding dress, I’ve agreed to send everything else to Ana. She’s going to keep what she wants and consign the rest with the proceeds going to Helping Hands.”

Butterfly in true vintage Lindy-bop dresses. I’m having a separate conversation with Greystone right now to keep him in check.

“Oh, yes, Butterfly loves that era of clothing. Her closet at her condo is nothing but vintage replicas. She’s going to have a field day with this. Thanks, Uncle Herman.” He smiles.

“A very small token, Christian,” he says. “If we didn’t have you, I have no idea how we’d get through this.”

“It’s the very least I could do,” I say


ANASTASIA

Marilyn may not want to discuss her situation with me, but as her employer, she’s going to have to tell me something sooner or later. Nonetheless, I’ve promised to stay out of her business and allow her to sort this out on her own. I won’t approach her about it unless she asks—or if she starts showing, whichever comes first.

“Courtney,” I ask when she comes out of the kitchen after I hang up from Marilyn, “I don’t mean to pry, but what conversation have you had?” She frowns.

“What?” she asks, bemused.

“With Harmony,” I say. “When you mentioned fattening her up, she said you had already had that conversation.”

“Oh, that… she can’t keep anything down when she’s really upset,” Courtney informs me.

“Oh,” I nod. “Could she be pregnant?” Courtney shakes her head.

“I asked the same thing. She’s been celibate for nearly a year now. It’s just her nerves. They’re really bad.”

“I can only imagine,” I say. “And this experience is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.” I rub my scar and sigh heavily.

“What’s wrong, Ana?” Courtney asks. I shake my head.

“I never understood the concept of death bringing out the worst in people. She’s barely hanging on, now she’s going to have to go head to head with these people who are supposed to be her siblings, so to speak.”

“Well,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulder, “That’s why she has us. I told Vick that I’ll be staying here with her tonight, so she might drop by. Should I let somebody know?”

“Yeah, just tell security. It’ll be fine,” I inform her.

I’m not as worn out when I get home as I was yesterday thanks to Courtney’s presence, but I remember that I need to call Val to find out the results of her doctor’s appointment. I’m anxious to know if Meg has returned and I’ll be front and center for her this time if she has.

“What did the doctor say?” I ask immediately after greeting her when she answers the phone.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she says. “Meg has not reared her ugly head. Like I told you, there was a perfectly logical reason for the dizzy spells, so everyone can breathe now.”

“Did he say how often you’ll have them?” I press. “Or how long? Are they like the throbbing in my scar where you just have to deal with them whenever they show up?”

“Something like that,” she says. “We don’t know yet how often I’ll have them or for how long, but we’re pretty certain that they’re not permanent. What’s important is that my healing is still on track—more than on track, in fact—and we don’t have to prepare for any surgeries or radiation, thank God!”

“Were you worried, Val?” I ask, my voice softening. She sighs.

“I try to keep a positive outlook, Steele,” she says. “Life’s too short and you can’t spend it worrying, but… the unknown… that shit is scary as fuck.”

“I know,” I tell her. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t more supportive last weekend. I know you really could have used the encouragement.”

“Honestly, don’t trouble yourself. Just like you were finding your way last week, I had to find mine. There are some journeys that we must travel alone, as you well know.” I nod as if she can see me.

“I well know,” I confirm.

“So, what’s on your agenda for the rest of the week?” she asks, affectively changing the subject. I sigh.

“Tina died,” I say, sadly. “I’m at Harmony’s disposal. I know she needs me.”

“Oh, Ana. That poor girl. I know her pain. Give her my condolences, please.”

“I will. Luckily, there’s not too much that needs to be done. Tina made her own arrangements before she died. She knew that Harmony wouldn’t be able to handle it. And their attorney—he’s cordial and accommodating. He cares more about them than her own children.”

“Could it be the money?” she asks.

“It could be, but I sense a loyalty to the family—or at least, to Tina—that goes far deeper than money. After the mess of Harmony’s divorce and already having to deal with losing a loving mother…” I trail off. I’m grateful for Carl and how he’s handling things, even though I’m not the one who has to deal with all this. “He was at the county office the moment he learned that the quit deed had been registered getting copies of it for Harmony. I have a feeling that Tina was waiting for the deed to be finalized before she let go.”

“Oh, dear, that’s so sad,” Val says. “Those kids of hers must be some gruesome lot.”

“They’ve proven to be just that, but Christian and I are ready for them. It looks like we’ve adopted yet another family member.”

“You seem to do that a lot,” she laughs. “Marlow and his family, Luma and the girls… what about that other lady? Thelma and… what was that guy’s name?”

“James,” I remind her. She wasn’t around for that drama, but I filled her in later. “You should get to meet them at the gala on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s been decided that the Adopt-A-Family Affair is going to be the Adopt-A-Family Reunion. So, invitations have gone out to all of the families who had been listed to be adopted over the last five years.”

“That’s kinda cool,” she says. “Will they still be adopting families this year, or will it all be the Reunion?”

“No, things will still be going as planned,” I tell her. “We’ll just have more guests at the party this year than usual. So, have you had a cooking lesson this week?”

“A small one,” she says. “Chicken alfredo. It was simple, and I caught on pretty quickly…”

I continue my conversation with Val with her reminding me that Thanksgiving dinner will be at her house this year. Jason, Gail, and Sophie will be joining us as will Marlow, Maggie, and Marcia, so I’ll at least have one of my nannies with me. Chuck and Keri will be visiting some of Chuck’s extended “family”—people who have somewhat adopted him like we did. He wants to introduce Keri to them.

Val’s house is large, but unfortunately can’t accommodate a Grey family sleepover, so the Grey siblings as well as Jason and Gail will be staying the night at Val and Elliot’s while the parents—including Dad and Mandy—and Herman and Luma will be at Grey Manor.

Friday, the ladies will meet for Black Friday shopping as usual, then go to Miana’s for our Black Friday spa day. Keri will join us for Black Friday, and Minnie will spend the day with the ladies along with Celida, Mariah, and Sophie while Mikey and Harry hang out with the guys. The family will then all converge on Grey Manor for dinner and be spending Friday night there to have brunch on Saturday, then go to the Adopt-A-Family Reunion from there. Keri and Gail will get the twins home and Jason and Chuck will, of course, be on duty with me and Christian.

After the gala, we’ll all return to Grey Crossing, where the family will spend the night, have their final weekend brunch, and disperse to their homes. This way, all three homes will have hosted part of the Thanksgiving weekend… except for Mia who promises to maybe look for a bigger place and host a holiday next year.

Val is telling me about the Thanksgiving meal that will be catered and served by staff when my husband’s voice breaks into our conversation.

“I hear you’re going to have a sexy new wardrobe soon.”

I look up at him and shake my head.

“I gotta go, Val,” I tell her. “My husband has just arrived and, of course, requires my attention.”

“Of course,” she laughs. “I’ll talk to you soon.” We end the call.

“What sexy new wardrobe are you talking about?” I ask. “Ruby’s things?”

“Yeah,” he says, going into his dressing room. “I hear her entire vintage wardrobe is being shipped here.”

“Yeah, no thanks to you!” I yell into the dressing room. “Herman told me that list was supposed to go to all the children and grand-children. How did I not make the cut? I am your wife.”

“That was a terrible oversight on my part,” he says coming out of the dressing room while unbuttoning his shirt. “I’ll be honest—we already have so much that I wasn’t even thinking about us getting anything on that list. I’m sorry, baby.”

“You’re forgiven,” I say. “And what made you say that the wardrobe is sexy?”

“Lindy-bop dresses?” he says going back to his dressing room. “I’ve seen you in those—all demure and shit. They drive me crazy. And Uncle Herman says that the fifties and sixties were Grandma Ruby’s heyday, so I know she’s probably got some hot stuff in there.” He comes back out in a T-shirt and sweats.

“I don’t know how you fit all your junk in there,” I say. He looks behind him.

“In where? In there?” he says pointing to his dressing room.

“No, in there?” I say pointing to his sweatpants. “That’s a lot of meat and I’ve seen lesser men hang and wobble in those.” He looks down at his sweats.

“Why do you think I wear boxer briefs?” he says. “Jock straps are out of the question, as are tighty-whities, and even soft, I peek out of regular boxers. These were the only option.” I shake my head.

“I guess I should be happy I didn’t fall in love with an itty-bity. That would have been a disaster.” Christian laughs loudly.

“I guess so,” he says, through his laughter. “So, what’s on the agenda for tonight?”

“Food, then sleep, my love,” I say. “I’ve got some things to do at the Center tomorrow and then, I’m going to Harmony’s to finalize things for Tina’s service. It’s going to be Saturday, so we have to wrap things up.”

“No word from the siblings yet?” he asks.

“Not a peep,” I say. “It’s been quiet. Too quiet.”

“Jesus! Won’t they even help with the final arrangements?” I shrug.

“If they don’t get it in gear by tomorrow, they won’t have any input, so…” I trail off.

“Jeez, what a brood,” he says, shaking his head. “Let’s go eat.”

*-*

I discover that I spoke too soon about no word from the siblings. I get a text from Harmony at about 10am that she has to go to the funeral home for the final viewing of her mother before they present her for public viewing. I ask if she wants me or Courtney to go with her, but she assures me that she’ll be fine.

“This is the easy part,” she says. “Making sure a pretty woman in life is still pretty in death.”

She’s livid when I get to her house.

“That was not my mother!” she fumes. “The idea is to make sure that the dead don’t look dead,” she says. She pulls out her phone.

“I gave them this picture!” She scrolls through her phone and shows me a picture of Tina when she was alive.

“This is what they did.” I wasn’t prepared for her to show me a picture of Tina’s corpse, but that’s exactly what it was—a corpse… not in a casket, on a slab. It was clean and neat and presentable… and flaxen white. We know the deceased isn’t with us anymore, but we don’t want them to look that way! And what’s with that fucking hair? That’s not a bouffant, is it? It looks horrendous!

82920f4c350d65dc46d4b246afcc86f3

BOUFFANT 

“Was someone practicing?” I ask before I realize the words are out of my mouth, still gazing at the picture in dismay.

“That’s what I asked!” she seethes and scrolls through her phone again.

“That’s how she looks now!” she nearly hisses. Tina has been redone and is now lying in her casket with an ethereal glow. Her hair is how I remembered her wearing it at Mia’s wedding. Her coloring is perfect and she’s wearing a beautiful blue dress with long sleeves and a high Victorian-style collar. She looks stately and beautiful, and completely at rest.

“Well, at least they got it right the second time,” I say, examining the picture.

“They didn’t,” she says, swiping her phone and clearing the screen. “I did.”

My eyes must look like bowling balls. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

“What?” I ask in disbelief.

“That’s what took four hours,” she says as she put her phone away. “I came back here, got my mother’s makeup and redid it. Then I had to give her a dry shampoo to get all that horrible hair spray out of her hair—something that I’ve never seen her use…” Harmony is furious and covers her face as she shakes her head.

“I must be delusional or insane with grief, because I swear I saw her smile at me when I had finished.” She raises angry eyes to me. “And it brought me peace—for a minute. In my head, I went on this insane rant, this ‘Who the fuck is this woman’ rant when I saw this stranger lying on a slab posing as my mother, but my anger just wouldn’t come out. I wanted it to, but it wouldn’t.”

She walks away from me and starts pacing around the room.

“I tried to tell them that wasn’t my mother, and they tried to tell me that death changes the face. I know that death changes the face, but that wasn’t even close. I asked if they even looked at the picture when they did my mother’s hair and makeup, and they just did this blank stare thing. I told them not to touch my mother and that I would be back, and that’s when I came home and got the supplies. Maybe it’s just the quality of the makeup…”

“No, it’s not just the quality,” I tell her, recalling the first picture of Tina. “She looked like a Halloween costume, and a bad one at that. They could have done much better.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “You did an excellent job.”

“Thank you,” she says, still angry. “I’m so pissed, I just want to hit something.”

As if from Harmony’s mouth to God’s ears, one of the security detail announces that she has visitors demanding entrance to her home. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who it is.

“Let ‘em in!” she says combatively, folding her arms and facing the entrance to the dining room.

Showtime!

I’m standing behind the sofa when they enter. None of them look their age. They look late forties at the latest, but I know from the intel that Christian gave me that the youngest of them—Paige—is 60 years old. The wonders of modern medicine.

They all walk in, stepping in sync, and one of the women folds her arms and adjusts her weight like she’s ready to face off.

I can’t fucking believe this. They all showed up together—unannounced, like a posse. They remind me of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad coming to wipe everybody out, only they didn’t expect to find her fifty guards deep. They expected her to be alone.

I lift my wrist to my mouth, clear my throat, and whisper a single word into the mouthpiece there.

“Backup.”

This is the signal that I want at least five other people in this room right now. I got seven.

“Harmony,” one of the women greet.

“Paige,” Harmony acknowledges with the same indifference.

“What’s with the goon squad?” one of the men jeer.

“You tell me,” Harmony says, folding her arms. “My ringer must be malfunctioning, because Mom’s been dead for two days and I don’t recall a call from any of you.”

“We didn’t get a call from you, either,” the same man retorts.

“Why would I call you, Theo?” she counters. “You never answered any other time I called, or when Mom called. Why would now be any different?” She looks from face to face.

“You got the call that you were waiting for—from her attorney. You comin’ to collect? Well, I hope he told you that you’re going to have to wait until the reading of the will.” The other woman, whom I deduce is Ilsa, scoffs.

“You look awful,” Paige says. “Are you on drugs?” Harmony’s eyes narrow.

“No,” she hisses, “I’m mourning the loss of my mother. You look great, by the way, for having just lost yours!” Paige is taken aback by her frankness. “Did you come to help with Mom’s arrangements?” she asks sarcastically.

“Well,” Ilsa says, “we were coming to help you clean up, get things in order, so to speak.”

“Well, as you can see,” Harmony says gesturing around the house, “everything looks like a shiny new penny, so I don’t need any help cleaning up.

“We mean like packing up Mom’s things,” Theodore interjects.

“You mean like picking through Mom’s things,” Harmony corrects him. “She’s not even cold yet, Theo. Can’t you even wait until she’s laid to rest before you start picking her bones dry?”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about!” he barks.

“Yeah, you might want to remember that!” Harmony retorts. “Mom’s dead. She’s gone! She’s not coming back, and there’s not a tear between you, but you want to ask me if I’m on drugs because I’ve cried a river in three days and I can’t keep anything down because I lost my mom. So, to answer your question, no—I don’t need your help cleaning up. We have a staff here who can help me with that. Anything else?” Paige sighs impatiently.

“I gave Mom a set of diamond earrings,” she huffs. “Unless she’s being buried in them, I want them back. I gave them to her for her 50th birthday. They’re 4-carats each. You can’t miss them.”

“No,” Harmony says firmly. “The stipulation states that nothing will be distributed from Mom’s estate until the will is read and that’s how it’s going to be.”

“So, what’s to stop you from taking her stuff?” Jason says.

“Well, you’ll just have to trust me, now, won’t you?” Harmony retorts, folding her arms. “Mom certainly did.”

“We don’t know that,” Theodore hisses.

“And you never will,” Harmony hisses back, “because you weren’t here to help take care of her, now, were you? You couldn’t be bothered to leave your oh-so-important lives to come and see about your dying mother! I sat here and took care of her for months and watched her slip away and now you want to come and throw darts at me?”

Harmony is drawing on some much-needed anger to fend off her selfish and greedy siblings. None of them have a response for not being there for Tina, so they resort back to accusing Harmony of manipulating her.

“I see you didn’t wait for the stipulation to take the house,” Ilsa says.

“That was Mom’s doing,” Harmony counters. “She put the house in my name before she died so you couldn’t come and put me out, which I fully know was your plan until you found out that Mom made it legal.”

“And stop calling her ‘Mom!’ She’s not your mom!” Theodore huffs.

“She is my mom!” Harmony roars, shocking us all. “And your hateful, belittling, treacherous, greedy, selfish attitudes and behavior is not going to change that. Now, get the hell out of my house!”

Your house!” Paige scoffs. “Couldn’t wait to say that, could you?”

“Damn straight!” Harmony says. “Get these people out of my house please,” she says to the security staff. The security detail begins to move forward toward the unwanted visitors.

“You can’t throw us out of Mom’s house!” Jonah protests.

“It’s my house now, and I can throw you out,” Harmony says definitively.

“If you put your hands on me, I’ll scream,” Paige tells one of the guards.

“And I’ll sue you,” Theodore tells another, “and you, too,” he adds to Harmony.

“Scream your little heart out!” Harmony says to Paige before turning to Theodore. “Sue away if you’ve got money to burn. I told you to leave my house. As of this moment, you’re trespassing. According to Washington law, I and my staff can legally remove you by any means necessary if you refuse to leave. Look it up—it’s public information.” She turns back to the security detail. “Get them out of my house.” The security detail create a half circle around the siblings.

“Ladies, gentlemen?” one of them says to the group while gesturing to the vestibule area. If looks could kill, there would be daggers flying across the room at Harmony, but I’m certain that her determined anger is forming a force field that renders their daggers ineffective, causing them to drop uselessly to the floor. Jonah whispers something to Ilsa, who nods before they turn to leave.

“Oh,” Harmony adds, “and you can forget about the secret doors. They’re locked, alarmed, and guarded… all of them.” Jonah whirls around as does Ilsa, revealing that this was the content of their whispered tête-à-tête.

“I’ll blow this whole house up with you in it,” Jonah threatens. Oh, he’s gone too far now.

“You try it,” Harmony seethes. “I’ll hunt your old ass down to the end of the earth. My trust kicked in after the divorce, so I’ve got the money for it.”

I can’t keep silent anymore.

“And friends in high places who just heard you threaten to commit murder,” I add. He pales a bit when I speak. “You should take her advice and leave now. I’m sure you’ll all get your piece of the pie at the reading of the will, which is all you really want, right?”

“You…” Jonah begins to me.

“Don’t,” I say, holding up one well-manicured finger. “Let me save you the headache and the lifetime of misery because this…” I point to myself with both index fingers, “… is a battle that you don’t want. If you’re slightly concerned about her, then you should be terrified of me because all of these people…” the same two fingers scan the whole room, “… work for me. And if you think her money is power, my money makes hers look like a piggy bank. Do you really want this?”

I’m picking a fight that I know he won’t follow through with. In fact, none of them will. They came to bully Harmony and didn’t expect her to be carrying a baseball bat. Then he turned on me—or thought he was going to turn on me—and got confronted with a wrecking ball.

“Gentlemen,” I say to my security staff, “show these people out by any means necessary.”

The staff moves in and the siblings once again head towards the door. Theodore, determined to destroy something on his way out, kicks over a table in the foyer causing the vase full of flowers to shatter all over the foyer floor. Within a moment, one of the guys from the security detail lifts him into the air by the back of his coat. His feet are flailing and he’s shouting obscenities while the others look on in total shock. The detail gets him to the porch and literally throws him off like that kid from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

200

It takes everything in me to keep from laughing when I see that man fly through the air and land on the lawn with a thud. Harmony isn’t as tactful.

“If you come back here again, I’m going to shoot first and ask questions later,” my security says. “You are all a threat to the lady of the house, and I will treat you as such.” He turns around and glares at Jonah, who doesn’t hesitate the scurry out of the house. Harmony goes to the door, laughing hysterically.

“I’ll send you the bill, Theo!” she yells into the night.

“Good luck collectin’!” he yells back.

“Never mind, then,” she retorts. “I’ll just submit it to the estate and have it taken from your share of the inheritance!”

“Fuck you, bitch!” he yells back while limping to his car.

“No thanks, Unc!” she yells. “I’m afraid your equipment is out of commission!” She turns back to Ilsa and Paige.

“Do you ladies need directions?” Harmony asks, all mirth gone from her voice. “I’m sure this gentleman would be only too happy to assist you!”

The ejection guard moves over to stand next to Harmony, prompting Ilsa to give Paige a little push before both women leave without another word. We watch as the gruesome foursome get into various cars and screech down the circle drive and off the premises.

“God! That felt good!” Harmony says as she walks back to the dining room.

“You haven’t seen the last of them, Harmony,” I warn as I follow her into the dining room and the detail secures the house.

243b0453c83e3f27031b22d2e7c3aa07“Good! Let ‘em bring it. I have a lot of pent-up anger and frustration from being ignored, being mistreated, being abandoned, taken for granted, and now losing the only person in the world that meant anything to me and having the funeral home make her up like the goddamn crypt keeper. This rage needs to be fed and they’re the perfect fucking food!”

She paces angrily around the dining room, her emotions cementing a snarl on her face that could scare the devil.

“I’m fucked up, Ana,” she hisses, pacing around the entire circumference of the dining room. “I’m seeing someone about it, but I’m fucked up. I’ve been fucked-up for as long as I could remember. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love me—only my Mom. My sisters and brothers had kids that were older than me, and I didn’t get it. Then one day, dear old Dad lets me know why. I’m adopted—Franklin blood, yes, but two generations down adopted. I didn’t even know he was my father, and God only knows where my bio-mom is. That’s why they treated me so distant, why they were so ugly to me. But not once—not once—did my mother treat me like an outsider. Not once did she make me feel like I was not her child.

“I put her through hell,” she continues. “I wasn’t as bad as some kids, but she was too old to be dealing with my shit. I started having sex at 12, trying to find that love—that acceptance and attention that I was missing. I was a goddamn train wreck, and she didn’t deserve that. But you know what? She still made me feel like I was the most valued, most precious treasure in the world.

“When I got older and I met Ken, and he treated me like the sun, the moon, and the stars… an older guy—more mature, right? He knew things about the world and he made me feel good, and…” She shakes her head and continues to pace.

“I thought he was a great guy. I thought he was in love with me. When Mom said that I wouldn’t get my trust if I married him, I thought, ‘Fine, we’re in love. We’ll make it on our own.’ That’s when his true colors came out. He’s a dog and only wanted my money. All the others before him only wanted sex… and I only wanted to be loved.” She sighs heavily.

“So here I am now, all fucked up and trying to get out of the marriage, and I didn’t want to come back home to Mom, because I didn’t want to hear ‘I told you so…’ which she never said, by the way. But then she called me, and she told me what was going on, and I came home as quick as I could. I expected to walk in and find her bio-kids all camped out and clustered around her…” She trails off and shows the first sign of sadness. “And when I got here, she was all alone. She was dying, and she was all alone. I assumed that she hadn’t called them—that she called me first. But she had called us all, and I’m the only one who came. I didn’t know what I could do for her—I just knew I had to be here.”

“You did it, Harmony,” I say, making her pause in her trek. “You were here for her. You were the only one of her children that was here for her. That’s what she needed. She had doctors and nurses to care for her physically as much as they could. She had Carl to take care of her property, her legal issues. Roger was supposed to take care of her home, but he fell through and we came in, so she had someone for that. But she needed you to love her through her final days and her transition, and that’s what you did. That’s why she called you all, and where those losers never even showed up to the game, you were the pinch hitter and you hit that ball right out of the park. Don’t you see that?”

Harmony is breathing through angry tears as she fights to formulate her words.

“It was the least I could do,” she chokes. “She was… is… my angel. My guardian, my savior… she’s everything to me. It was the least… the very least…” She shakes her head and wipes her tears. “So, let them fucking come. I’ll unleash a level of hell on them that they’ve never seen in their entire lives!”

And there’s that fire again.

“Ana, I’m really very fucked up… and I need you to know that I made googly eyes at Christian,” she spits out. She doesn’t look at me as she confesses. “I didn’t want to fuck him… really. He’s a good-lookin’ guy, but… it wasn’t that. It’s that he had done this really great thing for my mom and he’s male and…” She rolls her eyes and continues. “I was grateful, not attracted and it was just… He didn’t give me the time of day. He didn’t even entertain the idea.”

Those last two sentences are the only two full sentences she’s actually formed, I think.

“I understand if you’re mad at me and don’t want to deal with me anymore…”

“Harmony,” I say, halting her rant, “I already know. It’s fine, I get it.”

She freezes again and stares at me.

“Oh, dear God, he swore that he wouldn’t tell you!” she says horrified. “I swore it wouldn’t happen again and he swore that he would never tell you!”

“And he kept his promise initially,” I tell her, “but when I told him how bad off you were after finding Tina had passed and he thought it best that I knew…” I trail off.

“To keep me from running into the arms of the nearest loser,” she completes my sentence. Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… pretty much.

“You’re golden, Ana,” she says finitely. “If I were you, I would’ve kicked my ass.” I scoff a laugh.

“Only because I understand,” I inform her, “and if you do it again, I will.”

“Understood,” she replies, wiping her tears, “and don’t worry, I won’t.”


CHRISTIAN

It’s well after dinner, and my wife still isn’t home yet. She hasn’t texted me or called to say that she’ll be late, and I’m trying not to panic. Honestly, I’m not panicking. I’m just trying not to let my imagination run away with me. Although mine aren’t as prominent, Butterfly wasn’t the only one left with remnants of the Boogeyman after the whole Westwick situation.

To this day, I don’t know how I could have thought my wife would ever be unfaithful. She had already told me long ago that infidelity was a deal breaker for her. Yet, I believed that she would risk our home, our life, and our happiness for a stranger that she had only known for a few weeks.

Striking blue eyes… asshole!

I ascend the stairs and knock on the door of the nursery. When there’s no answer, I open the door and peak inside. It’s quiet—no nannies. My children must be asleep. I haven’t spent any time with them the entire week, but Mom says that I’m okay now, so I’m coming to see my children.

I step in quietly and close the door. Minnie’s crib is closest to the door, so I peak in at her. She’s fast asleep. I kiss my fingers and gently pat her cheek before I look in on my son. He’s awake, but fitful. He’s not crying and he actually looks sleepy, but he can’t seem to find his slumber.

I take him out of the bed and he immediately lands on my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I sit in the rocker and rub his little back.

“You havin’ a rough time without her, too?” I ask. He raises gray eyes to me that look like mine. Then he puts his two fingers in his mouth and starts to suck as he lays his head on my shoulder.

I love you, kid, but we’re going to have to break that habit.

I’m concerned about him needing dental work, but their pediatrician actually says that if he must suck a finger or two, these are the best ones. Thumbs push against your upper mouth and teeth and interfere with the formation of bone structure, resulting in overbites and crooked teeth—and the need for ugly and expensive braces. The other prominent fingers push down on the tongue. So as long as they stop sucking before their permanent teeth come in, they should be fine.

I’m not buying it. My son will not be going to the first grade sucking his fingers… but for right now, it’s okay.

“I don’t think I ever sucked my fingers, Mikey,” I say as I rock back and forth. “At least, I don’t remember doing it. There’s a lot I don’t remember, though.”

I look out the window and I can see the light of the moon through the curtains even though I can’t see the moon itself.

“I remember…” I begin, and my thoughts go back to the very recess of my mind. Did the crack whore ever hold me like this? Did she ever rock me to sleep and give me gentle pecks on the cheek? When did she fall into the clutches of the pimp? How could she let that happen to us? Did she ever love me? At all?

“You don’t have to worry about that, Mikey,” I say as I rock him. “You have the most beautiful, kindest, caring mother in the whole world… well, your grandma’s pretty great, too, but you mom… she’s one of a kind.

“I didn’t think about that, you know, when I first met her… what kind of mother she’d be. No, son, I had much more unsavory thoughts which you may never learn about. I don’t imagine any man thinks about that kind of thing when he first meets a woman—unless he’s specifically looking for a wife. Who knows what any man thinks? I’m sure a normal man wouldn’t look at a woman and think about how badly he wants to chain her to a cross and be—”

I stop abruptly, remembering my audience. TMI, Grey. I look down at my son and his eyes are closed. He’s not completely lost to the sandman as he’s still sucking his fingers quite rhythmically.

“I know you do that as a means of comfort,” I say. “Is it because it reminds you of the nipple?”

I almost expect him to answer.

“Yeah, I get it, kid. Nothing tastes like that nipple… well, maybe one other thing for me.” I chuckle quietly as I have once again given my son too much information, even though he doesn’t know it.

“You’ll never have my life, Mikey,” I promise him. “You’ll never see the horrors that I saw or be abused or mistreated. There are so many people who love you if something were to happen to me and your mom, and I thank God for that. You and your sister will be set for the rest of your lives. But make no mistake, young man, I’ll expect you to work hard, follow your dreams and make something of yourself—just like I did.”

Just like I did…

I fell… no—I walked into the clutches of that horrible woman and my life changed forever. I will admit that had it not been for her money, I wouldn’t have been able to start my business. Well, that’s not necessarily true. With a good business plan, I probably would have been able to get a small business loan on the reputation of my last name alone, but I wasn’t thinking about that back then. I was thinking about the fact that my father had turned me down and was nearly ready to kick me out of the house for dropping out of college… and about fucking… fucking her. Right now, I can hardly believe how badly I wanted her. She was all I thought about most of the time. Everything I did was a means to an end to get back to her.

Do well in school. Get back to her…
Don’t get into fights. Get back to her…
Don’t date girls. Get back to her…
Get into college. Get back to her…
Behave myself. Get back to her…
Follow instructions. Get back to her…
Do whatever was necessary to get back to her…

Would she have even lent me the money if she wasn’t fucking and beating me? Probably not. I look back down at my sleeping son. He’s not suckling his fingers anymore.

“Promise me you’ll come talk to me first, champ… about anything,” I beseech him. “I swear, I’ll listen. I’ll even back your dreams, and if I don’t agree with them, we’ll talk about it—to see how sound and feasible they are. We’ll come to a compromise, or something, but I’ll never shut you down, kid. I’ll never feed you to the wolves.”

That’s not what my parents did, but the wolf got me anyway.


A/N: I Peter 5:8—”Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. 

HMIC—there are many connotations, one in particular for those in the UK, but in this instance, “HMIC” is “Head Man In Charge.”

The “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” are the four other characters that tried to kill “The Bride” (Uma Thurman’s character, Beatrice Kiddo aka Black Mamba) in Kill Bill, hence prompting the stories Kill Bill, Vol I and II, where Kiddo sets out to kill all four members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, plus Bill.  

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

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 ~~love and handcuffs