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
“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
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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