Hello my friends,
One of my readers and Facebook friends Charlette Bishop has lost her son and is unable to properly lay him to rest. As many of us are parents, I’m certain that we can empathize with the unimaginable pain of possibly losing a child. Couple that with the distress of being unable to provide that child with a proper burial, and the situation becomes utterly unthinkable. I’m asking anyone who can to please follow the red link below and donate to the family’s efforts to bury their loved one. There’s strength in numbers, y’all, and I can guarantee you that ANY AMOUNT will be appreciated. Please help if you can.
I know every week, it seems like it’s something else, but you can’t time when these things are going to happen. Please, PLEASE help if you can. Thank you in advance.
GOLDEN—I’m getting a lot of inquiries about her. I haven’t abandoned the story, but I have to follow the Muse. I’ve been battling (and I do mean BATTLING) with a particular storyline for Raising and if I break off of it, I’m going to lose it.
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 70—The Women
“All the Grey women have gone on shopping sprees for our weddings,” Mia begins.
“I didn’t!” Val protests.
“Well, then, we rectify that now—for you and for Luma,” Mia protests.
“But I don’t need anything, child,” Luma says sweetly. “Herman gives me everything I need and more. I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.”
“There’s not one little thing that you can think of that you may want for yourself?” I ask. “That’s the whole idea of the Black Friday shopping spree. I can almost guarantee that none of us actually needs anything. I’ll probably be loaded down with baby gear—since Harry is quickly introducing my son to the joys of walking. Val, I know you’re going to be on the lookout for cute maternity clothes and stuff for the baby’s room. This is the time to not think about prices and do the impulse shopping thing. Hell, I hate shopping, but I look forward to this every year.”
“Don’t worry, Luma,” Grace says, hooking arms with her. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
By the time we’re getting ready to head to Miana’s, Luma has shed her timidity of shopping and has purchased some beautiful new pieces. She admits that she could use a color and trim but won’t go overboard at the salon. As usual, Sophie sticks close to me in this setting, but doesn’t say too much. I guess it’s up to me.
“So,” I say as we’re getting our pedicures. “Thanksgiving.” She twists her lips.
“Yeah—food, fun, family, yippee,” she says with little enthusiasm.
“You’re beginning to sound like a surly teenager,” I say, raising my brow. She sighs.
“Usually, it’s just me and Mags, talking about… whatever, and Mariah and Celida and let’s face it. They’ve been through some crappy stuff losing their mom and their dad, but they’re basically the same person and they’re both… so young. At first, hanging around them was kinda fun. Now, it’s more like babysitting.” She looks down at her toes as the technician trims her nails.
“And Marlow?” I ask. She twists her lips again but doesn’t make eye-contact with me.
“What about him?” she says, trying to be impassive.
“He was pretty upset when he left yesterday,” I inform her.
“Hmmm,” she says, unmoved.
“Why do you think that was?”
“Because his girlfriend was mad,” she informs me matter-of-factly.
“So, what was her problem?” I ask.
“She can’t take a joke, I guess,” Sophie mumbles.
“Is that what happened?” I press. “You were joking?” She looks up at me and her expression says that she’s aware that I already know what happened.
“I wasn’t talking about her,” Sophie fibs. “Maggie doesn’t like her—I don’t know why. She’s says Britney’s a phony and that she’s anorexic because she so skinny.” I nod.
“I see. So… you didn’t say anything about Britney needing a gravy sandwich.” Sophie twists her lips and looks back down at her toes.
“That’s what I thought,” I say.
“That’s not what I said,” she mumbles.
“Well, what did you say?”
“I said she should have some more gravy. That’s all,” she says petulantly.
“And of course, that had nothing to do with her being skinny, right?”
“Maggie said she was skinny, not me!” she defends.
“But did the gravy suggestion follow Maggie’s comment?” I accuse, and my little friend is quiet again. I’m a shrink, kid. Don’t try to pull anything past me.
“Listen, Sophie, I’m not really sure what the issue is with you and Marlow’s… dates, but this sparring really needs to stop. It’s only going to piss him off, and it’s only going to make him—and you—feel uncomfortable at family gatherings. Since we consider you both part of our family, that would certainly be a less-than-ideal development. From what I gather, what you said about Britney hurt her. Now, I know that twit Maya was a real piece of work, but did Britney do anything to bring that on?” She twists her lips again. She twists her lips a lot. I think that’s her tell.
“No,” she admits, looking back at her toes again.
“Listen,” I say turning to her, “you know that if anybody does anything unfair to you or treats you badly, I’ve got your back. But I can’t defend you when you’re deliberately mean to people for no reason. You wouldn’t want anyone to treat you that way, would you?” She nervously starts to twitch and fiddle her fingers. “Is something going on? Do you want to talk?”
She raises beseeching eyes to me as if she’s begging me to understand how she’s feeling and just as I swear she’s about to open up and talk to me, Mia and Val gleefully burst into the room to get their pedicures. She looks at them and clams up again, shaking her head that she has nothing to say.
And the moment is lost.
I reach over and take her hand, causing her to bring her eyes to mine again.
“Anytime, Sophia,” I promise her. “You can talk to me about anything, anytime.” She drops her eyes and nods again, but says nothing else. How long is this poor girl going to carry this torch and bear this burden by herself? She either needs to say something about it or get over it and move on.
When we arrive at Grey Manor after the shopping and the primping, Marlow’s car is visibly one of the vehicles in the circular drive and Sophie suddenly has the look that she would rather be anywhere but here. She looks like a caged rabbit, like if I open the door and let her out, she’s going to run into the woods and disappear.
“Chuck, Keri, can you take Minnie inside and start unloading the bags? I need to speak to Sophie.”
Chuck looks at me for an instant, then nods and exits the car. Keri quickly leans into the back where Sophie and I are sitting and removes Minnie from her car seat, leaving me and Sophie alone in the car.
“Okay, Sophie, the last time you looked that green was at Mia’s reception. Shortly thereafter, you had one of the guards take you home. There’s nowhere to run. What’s going on?”
She gives me that same look again and I’m just waiting for someone to come knocking on the window or throw the car door open to ruin the moment once again. Thank God no one does.
“You have to swear to me that you’ll never tell anybody—nobody, ever—or I’ll never speak to you again!” she vows.
“I’ll never tell anybody anything that you tell me unless I feel like you’re in danger,” I promise. She sighs and looks down at her lap.
“I like Marlow,” she says, her voice small, “a lot. I know he doesn’t like me like that. I know I don’t stand a chance. I know I’m too young. I know this will never happen, but it doesn’t make me stop liking him. I look forward to family gatherings and holidays because I’ll get to see him—and then he shows up with some twit or some scarecrow. Last year at Thanksgiving, we had a great time! We talked, and he didn’t make me feel like a kid. We could always talk. At Christmas, and New Year’s… and then at Aunt Val and Uncle Elliot’s wedding, he danced with me. It was…” She trails off, looking straight ahead out the windshield. “… Really nice. And then, the girls started coming around and… he stopped talking to me.”
Her gaze drops back to her lap as she tries to find her words.
“It was just like one day, I didn’t exist anymore,” she says, her voice cracking. “He used to ask me about school and talk to me about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go to college. Now, he doesn’t even speak to me when he comes into the room! I’m not stupid! He’ll be graduating soon and I’m not even in high school yet. He’s way out of my league. Geez, I don’t even have a league, but did he have to start treating me like I’m nobody? Like he doesn’t even know I’m alive? What does it matter what I say about his scarecrow, vomit-dress-wearing girlfriends if he doesn’t even know that I’m alive?” she wails.
She buries her face in her hands and begins to sob. I put my arms around her and let her cry. I can’t offer her any comfort. She’s right. Crushes are painful, and she’s got a crush on someone that she can’t have. They might as well be on two different planets for the chance that she has to be with him—at all. It’s good that she understands that, but it’s bad, too. There’s no hope for them, yet she has to see him at every. Family. Outing. And he’s not going to stop bringing his girlfriends around. Now is not the time for me to tell her to buck up and get over it. It’s just going to make it worse, so I just let her cry.
Her crying doesn’t subside, and she eventually lays in my lap and continues to weep. After she’s been there for a few moments, Marlow comes out of the house. He looks left to right as if he’s looking for someone, then he quickly strides to his car. I realize that Sophie and I are the only ones who haven’t come into the house, and he’s looking for us… or at least he’s looking to avoid us.
Don’t worry, Marlow, the coast is clear. She doesn’t want to see you right now any more than you want to see her.
After belting himself into the seat, he starts the car and drives off, unknowingly leaving Sophie in a puddle of her own tears.
I didn’t realize that I had completely skipped my session with Ace until Christian asked me about it at brunch the next day. I don’t even know if Ace expected me to keep a session on Black Friday. Nonetheless, I didn’t hear from him and he didn’t hear from me, so…
It’s time for the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Reunion and I’m ready to see the families that we’ve helped throughout the years. Granted, Helping Hands isn’t the only charity that takes part in this occasion, but I’m still anxious to see the families that we’ve helped thus far. Last year, I was elegant in maternity green, but this year, I’m fierce in an elegant black halter gown with a beaded back and a pair of crystal-encrusted Circonvolu Strass Christian Louboutin stiletto strappy sandals. So that I don’t freeze my ass off, but I’m still able to showcase my gown, I’m wearing a burgundy custom-made full-length maxi coat that only buttons to the waist then flares out like a cape.
The rest of the ladies are equally elegant in their jewel-toned gowns and fancy footwear—Mia in rich magenta, Val and Mandy in brilliant blues, Luma in yellow topaz, and Grace in a deep, cheery pink. Our gentlemen all accompany us in sleek Brioni, Tom Ford, and Cesare Paciotti. Even my dad dons Armani for the occasion.
The initial portion of the evening has been changed from the usual cocktail hour to a more family-friendly meet-and-greet as some of the older children of the adopted families were invited to join us tonight. This, of course, means that Marlow is in attendance. I don’t know why I was fretting him bringing a date with him, but my concerns are unfounded as he accompanies his mother instead.
I can’t help but stare in wonder at the changes I see in them both since that day that we met. He was so angry, and she was so… small. She’s still a petite woman, of course, especially next to her very tall son, but back then, she was… emotionally miniscule. Her abusive husband had beaten all the life and energy out of her, and she was just here. Today, she looks vibrant and beautiful, refreshed. She’s telling me about her new beau, Zack—well, maybe not so new, she’s been seeing him for a few months now, but she won’t allow anything to become too serious too quickly. That’s the reason we haven’t met him yet.
We talk for a moment about Maggie and Marlow and the strides they’ve made in the last two years. She mentions that Maggie sometimes asks what happened to her father. She’s gotten older and understands the world a little better, but still doesn’t know the whole story. Marcia just glosses over it when the topic arises.
“It may be time to tell her the truth,” I counsel Marcia. “She’s old enough to understand and whatever hypotheses she formulates, you want them to be based on facts.”
I shouldn’t be surprised that I have to don the Dr. Steele-Grey hat tonight. I don’t mind, though. The families have all come a long way.
We’re seated for dinner and we enjoy a delicious rack of lamb with trimmings while we congregate and share stories. As usual, a slideshow comprised of pictures of the families and various happenings with the supporting charities follows dinner, I get a kick out of hearing the various exclamations of recognition when people see their family or their organization on the screen. When the slideshow is over, I begin to make my way around the room to do the necessary networking required to make connections and keep the donations rolling in. While I’m mingling, I scan the room hoping to see the one person that I haven’t talked to in eons.
“Thelma!” I say once I finally spot her. She’s wearing a beautiful evening gown, silver with a hint of blue, lace back and crisscross scooped front with a special extra feature.
“I see congratulations are in order,” I add, taking a seat next to her once we greet one another. “When are you due?”
“This little bundle is due in March,” she says, rubbing her belly, “but if he’s anything like little Jimmy, he’ll be here by Valentine’s Day.”
“Couldn’t wait to meet Mommy and Daddy, huh?” I ask. Thelma smiles.
“No,” she laughs. “He was in quite the hurry.”
“How are things going?” I ask.
“Oh, Ana,” she says. “Things couldn’t be better. Jimmy fought to shake that infection at first, but he never took time off—that’s why it wouldn’t leave completely. I fussed a little, but you know my Jimmy… he’s hard-headed. Once he was finally well, though, he put some healthy weight back on, and he was feeling like himself again and…” She points at her stomach with both index fingers and smiles.
“I can’t remember a time we’ve been happier except when we first got married. His bosses saw how serious he is about his job and how well he works, and they made him a supervisor—a raise, better benefits… I’m able to put money away for a rainy day now. It’s been so wonderful. I’ve been meaning to call you and catch you up on things, but it’s kind of hard to do these days,” she laughs.
“I can imagine,” I say.
“It was wonderful to get the invite to the gala,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to see you and tell you turned our lives around. I can’t begin to thank you…”
I’m caught off guard by a man’s voice exclaiming my name. I turn around and see a very stocky James coming towards us carrying two large glasses of what looks like orange juice.
“James, hi,” I say, rising from my seat. He places the glasses on the table.
“Oh, I was so hoping I would see you,” he says wrapping me in a warm embrace.
“I’m glad to see you, too, James,” I say, returning his embrace.
“Please, call me Jimmy,” he says, releasing me with a smile. “Bella only calls me James when she’s mad at me.” I raise my brow.
“I’m Bella,” Thelma says, raising her hand, and I nod. Jimmy turns to his wife.
“Isn’t she glorious?” he says, looking lovingly at Thelma before kneeling down to her.
“Stop it, now,” she says, playfully swatting his shoulder. He gently kisses her cheek and takes her hand.
“Do you need anything else?” he asks. “Are your feet okay?”
“My feet are fine, Jimmy,” she says cupping his cheek. “And you can have one glass of champagne if you want…”
“Oh, no,” he says. “I’m not taking any chances. It’s orange juice for us both tonight. I have to get my packages home safe and sound.” He smiles at her before turning to me. “Is Christian here?”
“Right behind you.” I turn to see Christian approaching us with a half-smile. “I saw some man wrapped around my wife and figured I better come and investigate.” Jimmy laughs heartily as he stands.
“Well, you have no worries here,” Jimmy says giving Christian’s hand a firm shake. “I only have eyes for that beauty right there,” he adds, gesturing to his wife.
“How have you been, man?” Christian asks. “Things been okay?”
“More than okay,” Jimmy emphasizes. “I can’t begin to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. You saved my life, man.”
“Think nothing of it,” Christian says. “It was the right thing to do.”
“No, really,” he says, gesturing for Christian to take a seat. Christian holds my chair out and I sit while James continues to make his point as both gentlemen take their seat.
“I was living in a death trap. I foolishly had my family there. I don’t know what would have happened if you two hadn’t come along. Ana gave my family a safe place to be while I was going through my insanity—and Christian, what you did for me…” His voice cracks a bit while he’s trying to speak. “Just… thank you, man… thank you the whole world.” Jimmy quickly wipes away a tear.
“You’re thanking me by living a good life and taking care of your family,” Christian encourages, “which I see is growing! Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Thelma says with her full-beam glowing pregnancy smile. Jimmy’s right—she really is beautiful. She wears maternity quite well. As Christian and Jimmy discuss due dates and daddy duty, I catch Val’s attention in the crowd and gesture for her to join us.
“I miss champagne,” she says playfully as she comes over to the table.
“Thelma, this is my sister, Valerie,” I introduce. Thelma takes her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Thelma greets. “How did I not know that you had a sister?”
“Well, we’re not blood sisters,” Val says, “we’re sisters-in-love, in a lot of ways. We’ve been friends for years and we happen to marry brothers.”
“Well, sisters-in-love are the best kind,” Thelma says. “Please join us…”
Very soon, the women are chatting away about babies and marriage and what have you. Val shares her experience with Meg while Thelma talks about how we met and how our family helped her family. After a long conversation, Christian, Val, and I excuse ourselves and head back to our table.
“I’m going to desert you guys for a moment,” Val says. “Nature calls.”
“By all means,” I say as Christian and I head back to our table.
“Well that’s a success story if I ever heard one,” Christian says pushing in my chair for me.
“I’ll say. I barely recognized Thelma. She looks so healthy and happy. She was barely holding on when I last saw her. She was doing better, but you could tell that being without Jimmy was taking its toll on her.”
“I kinda get it,” he says. “Think about how well we did when we were apart.” I can only assume that he’s talking about me trying to take a nosedive off a cliff when he went to Madrid and him turning into Death when I went to Montana.
“Yeah, not the best times of our lives,” I say, trying to brush away the memories. I glad to hear a soft voice over my shoulder at just that moment.
“Ana, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude… may I please speak to you for a moment?” Addie comes over to our table. She’s frowning, but not angry. Her face is… troubled.
“Sure, Addie. Do you want to go somewhere more private?” Addie seems rudderless. Christian stands and pulls a chair out for her.
“Please, Adelaide, sit,” he gestures. “I’ll go and refresh my drink.” Adelaide looks at him and nods before taking the seat he’s holding for her. He touches my shoulder gently and heads to the bar.
“What’s wrong, Addie?” I ask. “Are you okay?” She clears her throat.
“The Center,” she says. “It seems to be doing very well.”
“It is,” I say cautiously. “Once we got over our last speedbump for accreditation, things began to move very quickly. We can barely keep up.” She nods.
“I barely recognize the place from the pictures,” she says. “Grace had been working on it for so long. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t taken much interest in it as a project until you brought it to my attention.”
Oh, hell. Is she about to tell me that she wants to become involved in Helping Hands? I can’t turn her down, but…
“Unless it’s true what they say and you’ve found my granddaughter’s physical twin, is it safe to assume that the woman in the apron that looked like her was indeed Courtney?”
I’m caught off guard by the question. I thought I took special care not to use Courtney in any of the pictures to protect her anonymity from her grandparents.
“Yes, Addie… it’s Courtney,” I confess.
“I see. How long has she been here?” she asks.
“She never left,” I inform her. Addie nods and twists her lips.
“So much for teaching her a lesson,” she laments. I shake my head.
“Oh, Addie,” I say, “you have no idea. Courtney learned that lesson and more.” I turn towards her in my seat. “She made me swear not to tell you that she was still here. She feels like she’s hurt you and Fred enough and your words cut her to the quick.” Addie raises her head and her gaze meets mine.
“Am I supposed to feel guilty about what I said… after how she treated me?” she asks, appalled. I shake my head.
“You had every right to say what you were feeling after what you had been put through,” I reply, neither condoning or condemning her choice of words. “I’m only stating that they had the desired effect. Courtney feels that you two are better off without each other because of the way she treated you and because of your words to her. She was at Mia’s wedding reception.” Addie’s eyes widen.
“Mia’s…” Her words trail off. “They’re friends again?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” I admit, “but they’re cordial enough where Mia was okay for her to come to the wedding. It didn’t come easily.”
“I can bet,” Addie says. I catch her meaning, but I don’t bother trying to smooth it over. Apparently, Courtney was right. That bridge is too badly burned for them to walk back across it.
“I discovered her in a homeless shelter right before I had the twins,” I tell her. “She had asked me for help, but I turned her down. Like you, I felt she was a lost cause. Our security had been keeping an eye on her because she threatened me, and they informed me that she was at the shelter. I found her going through the classifieds looking for a job.
“Grace put her up at the shelter at Helping Hands and gave her a part-time job there. She moved to subsidized housing and she lived there for quite some time—in a terrible part of town—but she was grateful as she said anything was better than going back to Putchatoowak or whatever that place is called.” Addie turns her head to me, and I just keep talking.
“She enrolled in school.” That piques her attention. “I got her a laptop as she was in no position to buy one herself. However, she took the bus to and from school and got back to that horrible little apartment after dark. She said that she wasn’t afraid because the neighborhood guys looked out for her, but she was a young girl living alone going to and from school and work leaving in the early morning and returning after dark. I couldn’t in good conscience leave her in that position.
“I offered her my condo. She refused. I convinced her that it was an investment and begged her to take it. The place where she was living was roach-infested and unsafe. It was deplorable. We worked out rent that she could afford and she moved in, a condition of her stay being that she get good grades, she continues to work with Helping Hands, and she becomes an asset to us upon graduation.”
What is she studying?” Addie asks in disbelief.
“Social work.” She frowns.
“You’re kidding.” I shake my head.
“I’m not,” I tell her. “She wants to work with children. More than one abused or troubled teenager has come through the Center and Courtney has brought them out of their shell or made them feel safe. That’s what made her choose social work. You know that she had no skills and no direction before. Now she does.
“I’ve asked her several times to allow me to contact you and tell you about the change in her life—in her attitude and her outlook. She refused. She begged me not to tell you. She spotted you at Mia’s reception and made a hasty retreat before you spotted her.”
“No, she didn’t,” Addie says, now looking at the table. She didn’t what?
“She didn’t get away before I saw her,” Addie says as if I had verbalized my question. “I did see her. She was… beautiful… and I didn’t recognize her. I assumed that my eyes were playing tricks on me, not only because I had sent her back to Chuktapaw nearly a year ago, but also because I thought there was no way in hell that Mia would allow her to come to the wedding. So, I blew it off. I figured if I didn’t hear from her after what happened this summer, I wouldn’t hear from her at all.” I frown.
“What happened?” I ask. Addie raises her eyes to mine.
“Her mother died,” she says. “I was listed as next of kin and when they contacted me, I didn’t even ask about Courtney. Her father had disappeared years before apparently and nobody was there to claim the body. I had her cremated and interred in the family tomb. There was nothing much else to do.”
Shit. Courtney’s mother is dead. I’m sure she doesn’t know. Should I tell her… or just let sleeping dogs lie? Jesus, what a conundrum.
“Then, when I saw her in the picture—smiling and wearing an apron… and serving fruit bowls to children…” She trails off again.
“Well, she’s here,” I say, crossing my legs. “She’s living in my condo, she attends Seattle Central and she’s at Helping Hands every day.” Addie raises a brow at me.
“Are you trying to arrange a meeting?” she asks. I sigh. I can’t believe I’m about to say this.
“No, Adelaide. I’m trying to avoid one.” Her eyes widen.
“How is telling me where she’s going to be every second of the day considered a diversion tactic from a meeting?”
“Because the way that I’m understanding what you’re saying and how you’re feeling, if anything happened to Courtney, assuming you could get to her, you’d cremate her, inter her remains in the family tomb, call it a day and forget she ever existed—assuming you don’t opt to donate her body to science for spare parts.”
Addie glares at me. Yes, Adelaide, she told me what you said.
“You’re our friend,” I continue. “Your daughter died this summer and there was no funeral—no mourning of the loss of your child that we knew of. We didn’t get the chance to comfort you, to give you condolences… you sent your respects when Burton Grey died, and we don’t even know your daughter’s name. Either you’re the coldest woman in existence—and I don’t believe that for a second—or this candle has been burned from both ends and is completely destroyed.
“I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Courtney is a changed person. I’ve watched the transformation myself for an entire year. She has a meaningful relationship—someone in her life who loves her very much. She’s got direction, drive, determination, but her wicks have disintegrated, too. She turned into a stuttering mess when she saw you at the reception and she got out of there as quickly as she could. She acknowledges what she did to you and how she treated you and for that reason, she doesn’t want to trouble you anymore, but she’s hurt, too.
“You wanted to hurt her, and you did,” I continue. “You wanted your words to cause her pain, and it worked. That knife cut through the bone. Nobody’s putting you in judgement because you were responding to an equally deep cut, if not a deeper one. But you can’t get offended because someone acknowledges the fact that what you said hurt her. It’s what you wanted, and you succeeded. Judging by how you feel about your daughter’s death and the fact that her passing gave you no concern for her daughter shows me that your pain and wounds are beyond the point of healing to the degree that you couldn’t even have a constructive conversation with Courtney.
“On the other side of that coin, Courtney’s in some place of martyrdom where she feels she needs to pay penance for what she’s done… not just to you, to everybody she’s ever hurt. In the process, she’s dealing with the gaping wound that your words left. So, the thought of even seeing you causes her anguish let alone speaking to you, not only because of what she did to you, but also because of what you said to her. To that end, it would be totally counterproductive on both ends for you two to see each other.
“If there are arrangements that need to be made in case of Courtney’s demise, let me know what you would like to do, and I’ll be the liaison to tell you that she has passed away should something happen to her. I won’t say anything about her mother unless she specifically asks. I think it’s better that she doesn’t know since there’s nothing that she can do about it.”
Addie shivers a bit, looking down at her frail, wrinkled hands.
“Thank you for being honest with me, Ana,” she says, her voice shaking, “though I wish you had told me this sooner.”
“I couldn’t,” I tell her. “I was sworn to secrecy, but I can’t avoid you seeing her on the screen. I wish I had been more careful about the pictures that we sent to the Greater Seatt…” Who sent the pictures? Who okayed pictures of Courtney? I wouldn’t have done that.
“Ana?” Addie says, bringing me back from my musings. I shake my head.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just couldn’t tell you. She asked me not to and I had to respect her wishes. Had you not seen her in the presentation, she would still be somebody you thought you saw at Mia’s reception.” She nods.
“I’m going to find Fred,” she says. “I think I’d like to go home, now.” Without another word, she rises from her seat and walks off in the direction she came. I pop my neck like I’ve just finished a prize fight.
“Well, she didn’t look happy.” Christian is back by my side the moment Addie leaves.
“Where’s Grace?” I snap, and he immediately jumps back.
“Um, I don’t know,” he says a bit defensively. I begin to scan the room for her, and I see her in a conversation with some other guests. Ignoring my husband, I rise from my chair and stride over to her.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” I interject. “Grace, can I speak to you for a minute?”
“Of course, dear,” she says. “Excuse me, ladies.” I walk out into the hallway, not sure if Grace is following me. When I turn around, Christian and Grace are bringing up my rear.
“Ana, what is it?” she asks.
“Grace, I didn’t okay the pictures for the slideshow. Did you?”
“Yes,” she says, “I picked them all.”
“Including the one with Courtney in it?” I ask. She straightens her stance.
“Yes,” she says unapologetically.
“Knowing that Fred and Addie would be here?” Realization dawns on Christian’s face.
“Yes,” she replies finitely.
“Why would you do that?” I ask. “She has feverishly asked that we don’t tell her grandparents that she’s still here.”
“Because this is her family,” she says firmly. “Family needs to stick together, and you never know when you’re going to lose someone.”
“That’s not your place, Grace,” I say flustered. “You can’t push somebody’s hand until they’re ready!”
“And what if they’re never ready?” she retorts. “One of them will be looking down in a casket at the other and have nothing but regrets!”
“Then they’re never ready!” I say louder than I intended. “God, Grace, you may have caused more harm than good!”
“Then I’ll take that responsibility!” she snaps. “That girl is out on a limb doing everything she can to make something of herself and her life and she’s estranged from the only family that means anything to her. Her mother certainly doesn’t care…”
“Her mother’s dead,” I deadpan. Grace freezes.
“What?” she says.
“Addie’s daughter died this summer. I don’t even know what killed her. Addie never said a word. She retrieved the body, cremated it, interred it in the family tomb, and washed her hands. Courtney’s transformation is balancing on the head of a pin at any moment. I don’t have to tell you that—you’ve seen it. Yet, you think it’s a good idea to shove reconciliation down their throats that neither of them is ready for and probably don’t want because you feel like they should be speaking. How much sense does that make to you, Grace?” She’s struggling a bit for her words.
“You’ve proven my point,” she says. “She hasn’t seen her daughter in many years and when she does, she’s dead. She could have seen her before this, made amends before it was too late.”
“She hadn’t seen her daughter in years and when she did retrieve her body, she felt nothing,” I retort. “I would most likely do the same thing with my mother right now. She didn’t want to make amends! Unfortunately, Grace, some hurts don’t heal. So, while you’re trying to force a meeting that you think should happen, you might want to leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals!”
Grace gasps as I march away, and I hear Christian’s scolding tone behind me. I don’t care. She was wrong and it’s that simple. I head back into the ballroom and straight for the bar. I get a full glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t drink any hard liquor since I’m still here representing Helping Hands.
“Anastasia!” Christian hisses quietly, joining me at the bar. “That was totally unnecessary! You had no right to speak to my mother that way!”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Christian,” I say, taking my cabernet and moving away from the bar. “I didn’t speak to your mother that way. I spoke to a coworker—the director of Helping Hands—who used a charity function with our organization’s name on it to engineer a possible reunion that had nothing to do with her! She used her position to meddle in someone else’s affairs, a situation directly related to the Center no less. So, no, I wasn’t yelling at your mother and this has nothing to do with you!”
Christian’s face becomes stone and he pulls up to his full height.
“Very well, then,” he says. “The director of Helping Hands asked me to tell you that you can represent the Center tonight as she’s going home before she has one of her episodes.”
“Hmph,” I say, sipping my wine. “Her episodes. Didn’t her doctor warn us about her conveniently-placed episodes?”
Christian’s eyes become a metallic gray and he looks like he’s going to explode.
“Conveniently-placed or not,” he nearly hisses, “you yelled at my mother and she’s going home. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He turns around and strolls coolly away from me as if we were just talking about the weather.
And that’s the last thing he says to me all night. It’s a fucking repeat of Val’s housewarming.
I try to keep up appearances, that London is not burning in the Grey camp, but everyone in our family can clearly see that Grace and Carrick have left and that Christian is avoiding me. Just when I’m sure that I’ve had just about enough of Christian hobnobbing with everyone else at the affair but me, I realize that he’s not quite finished making me feel shitty.
“You yelled at Mom?”
I turn around and find Elliot confronting me about mine and Grace’s altercation. I know that my mouth is hanging open, but I have no idea what my face is saying, because Elliot’s expression is clearly saying, “Oh, shit, what the fuck did I just do?”
I quickly scan the room for my husband. When I see him, he makes eye-contact with me almost immediately, then turns away and continues his conversation.
Welp, that’s enough for me.
I grab my clutch and wordlessly walk away from my brother-in-law. I retrieve my coat from the coat check and go out front to one of the waiting taxis.
Jesus, that’ll add fuel to the fire.
I say a prayer for my safety and get into one of the taxis, giving the driver my address and promising a huge tip if he gets me there quickly and in one piece.
“Mrs. Grey!” the guard says when I get to the gate. “What… where’s your detail?”
“Please open the gate,” I say, emotionally exhausted. The cabbie drops me at the portico, and I give him a hundred-dollar bill.
“Thank you, ma’am!” he says, awestruck.
“Thank you for getting me home safely,” I tell him. “You have a good night.”
When I walk into the grand entry, Windsor is rushing over to me. He has a puzzled look in his eye, no doubt wondering where everyone else is.
“Windsor, do you ever sleep?” I ask handing him my coat. He smiles.
“Yes, ma’am, I do.” I just nod and climb the spiral staircase. I look at my bedroom door, then I look at the nursery door. I opt for the nursery. I check on my children, and Mikey is sound asleep with his two middle fingers in his mouth. I check on Minnie and she’s silently looking up at me. No fussing, no fidgeting, just looking at me.
“Were you waiting up for me, Minnie Mouse?” I say to her sweet little face. I take her out of the crib and lay her on my shoulder, gently patting her back. She’s bringing me comfort, not judging me for how I spoke to her grandmother or for being Mrs. Grey or not saying something I should have or…
I sit there silently for a long time with my daughter, drawing on her unconditional love to give me some strength. It seems like I have to be strong for a lot of people, and lately I don’t have time for myself anymore. That can actually be a good thing, since it means that I don’t focus on my PTSD so much. I twist my lips and think about how I feel the need to journal right now. Then I remember Jason’s advice:
Talk to anyone who will listen.
Minnie will listen. She may not be able to respond or give me advice, but she’ll listen.
Then, I have visions of her subliminally absorbing what I’m saying and having nightmares about whatever incarnations of the Boogeyman that a baby’s brain can conjure.
That’ll never do… so I come up with another idea.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella,” I begin, sitting in the rocker with my daughter. “She lived in this great apartment and she had great friends and a great life. She didn’t have a boyfriend or anything besides this one psycho guy who thought they were meant to be together but that’s a different story.
“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.
“As fairytales go, they got married in a beautiful castle and drove away in a classic chariot and flew away on a magic carpet to a faraway land to spend time together. Now, you would think that they lived happily ever after, but that’s not what happened.
“They had to come back to the real world from their faraway land, and terrible things happened, too many things to tell you, but Cinderella no longer felt like she lived in a castle with her prince. She felt like she was running from demons and devils and monsters all the time. People were always making her account for her thoughts and deepest feelings even when they were scary. People were sometimes trying to hurt her or even kill her…”
“She longed for the days when the members of the court had nothing to do with her life, when it was just talking to the Mad Hatters all day and drinking wine and spending time with her friends all night.
“She misses quiet nights on the balcony and driving down the coast to nowhere, letting the sea breeze wash away her troubles.
“She misses unassuming daydreams about what her future holds—the things she could see and what she could become.
“She misses not being expected to be perfect because she’s married to the prince.
“She despises what people think they know about her and how they expect her to behave and their preconceived notions and theories about who she really is.
“She misses the simple, unassuming life that she once led…”
I sigh as I hold my daughter, now sound asleep on my chest.
“I don’t like being Cinderella,” I whisper matter-of-factly.
I sit with my sleeping baby for several more minutes, until I actually drift off myself in the rocker. When I wake, I put her back in her crib and slide out of my sleek silver strappy stiletto sandals. When I look out the door, the hallway is quiet. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, but it appears that no one’s home yet. I quietly close the door to the nursery and look at the door to our owner’s suite.
I don’t want to go in there.
I try to remember which room isn’t taken, assuming anyone wants to come back to my house tonight, the wicked old Cinderella who yelled at the queen.
I go into guestroom three and drop my shoes on the floor. I lie on top of the blankets fully dressed and fall asleep.
I’m disoriented when I awake. I don’t know where I am and for a brief moment, I forgot what happened the night before. I stretch and I feel an arm around my waist. I know how my husband feels so I don’t need to turn around. He’s coiled around me like he normally is and he, too, is fully dressed—well, at least shirt sleeves and pants that I can see. I need to get up. I slept like the dead and didn’t empty my breast all night. If I don’t relieve them soon, I’m going to ruin a perfectly good gown. I move a bit to wake Christian, but he shifts and pulls me closer to him. Well, that didn’t help. I sigh, thinking that I’ll have to jolt him from his sleep in order to get away.
“I heard you tell Minnie that you don’t like being Cinderella.”
I freeze. Shit, he heard my conversation with my daughter? I fucking hate that shit. I’ve done my fair share of eavesdropping, but I hate that he heard that—for many reasons. I was emotional when I said it; it was a private moment with my little girl; and it sounds really bad.
“You don’t like your life as it is?” he asks when I say nothing. I think about my response.
“I don’t like what’s expected of me simply because of who I am,” I reply honestly. “I have to behave a certain way, do all the right things, say all the right things, make all the right decisions and if I don’t, there’s hell to pay.”
“But, baby, that’s part of being an adult.” I wrench out of his grasp and sit up.
“No, Christian, that’s part of being Anastasia Grey,” I say, turning to face him. “I was an adult before I was Anastasia Grey, and I wasn’t under scrutiny for everything I said and did. Anastasia Steele came and went as she pleased. There was no one looking over her shoulder, no security details, nobody watching her every move. She was an adult, too, and she was not under the microscope. No one accused her of being a gold-digger. Nobody turned their noses up to her because of who she was or what she had. She only had to prove who she was, prove she was worthy, when she met you. Anastasia Steele became Cinderella and suddenly, her entire life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are on display for everybody to see, and no matter what happens, Cinderella has to keep smiling. Cinderella has to keep representing the castle. Cinderella’s not allowed to hurt in public or fall apart in public and heaven forbid if Cinderella has a human moment at all. Le gasp, call the congeniality police! We have a major violation here! So, yes, there are many times when I don’t like being Cinderella!”
I rise from the bed and leave the guest room. I need to get to my breast pump or the shower before Niagara Falls releases from my boobs.
“She’s not in the ladies’ room, Christian,” Val informs me after I’ve combed nearly every inch of this place looking for my wife. At first, I thought she was just being childish. Now, I’m scared shitless because I don’t know where she is. Bad things happen when my wife disappears.
“Sir,” Jason darts over to me and puts his hand on my arm. “I’ve tracked her phone. She’s at the Crossing.” I frown.
“How did she get all the way to Mercer and we didn’t know she was gone?” I bark.
“Because Chuck’s not here and she’s not wearing a tether, sir, except for her phone,” he retorts. “Remember tonight’s protocol? Chuck’s leaving town, we’re around family and friends, no need for extra security…”
He’s right. I agreed to lighter security tonight. Chuck has to be in South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against their brother. I can’t blame anyone for this one except myself…
And my careless wife.
She probably didn’t want to face me because of how she treated Mom.
“Let’s go,” I growl, heading for the door.
Everyone thought it best to head to their own abodes instead of coming to Grey Crossing, anticipating a showdown between me and my wife. The house is a tomb when I enter, only Windsor stirring to greet me.
“Mrs. Grey?” I hiss.
“She’s upstairs, sir,” he responds. “Will anyone else be coming tonight?”
“No,” I say, loosening my tie and taking the stairs two at a time. I head straight for the closed doors of our suite, but then I hear her voice to the right of me…
“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella…”
It’s coming from the cracked door of our babies’ nursery. Well, isn’t that adorable, I think angrily to myself. I’m tearing up a banquet hall looking for her and she’s here reading bedtime stories. I’m particularly livid after discovering that she took a goddamn taxi home!
“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.”
Wait a minute. I’m new to this Disney thing, but even I know that’s not how that story goes. I lean against the wall next to the door and listen to her describe Cinderella’s life after she married the prince—the scrutiny, her fears, the dangers that followed her. I sigh heavily listening to her talk about how she misses how simple her life was before she met the “prince.”
“I don’t like being Cinderella…”
And it didn’t take a rocket scientist or even that statement to know that she was talking about us.
This conversation—this altercation or whatever it was that happened with her and Mom and more importantly, her leaving in a damn taxi without security—it needs to be addressed, but not tonight. She sounds raw and a bit vulnerable and this is not the time.
I go to our room and remove my jacket, tossing it and my tie onto the bed. I want a drink but think better of it. Instead, I’ll just sit here and wait.
My mind replays the conversation she had with my mom. From what I understand, Mom was trying to orchestrate a possible meeting between Adelaide and her granddaughter and apparently, Butterfly and Courtney knew nothing about it. I don’t have all of the details, but she was pretty hard on my mom and I really thought that was very unnecessary. Mom left shortly after Adelaide did and… to be honest, I’m pretty gray—pun intended—on what happened after that.
My wife and I had some words, they weren’t kind, and I refused to argue with her in public. According to Mom, she would have to represent Helping Hands for the rest of the evening, and I was doing my best not to hinder that, but when Elliot asked me where Mom was, I told him the truth. The last time I saw her, she was glaring at me and Elliot was glaring at her, so I assumed he had asked about the altercation. I turned my head for a second, and when I looked back, she was gone.
I didn’t think anything of it. I thought she had taken Elliot aside to tell him her side of the story, but when a while later I saw Elliot and no Butterfly, I thought she had explained things, and everything was okay…
“Man, if looks could maim, I’d be castrated by now,” Elliot says. “All I could think was ‘back away slowly’ which is what I was trying to do, but then she just whirled around and took off out the door.” I frown deeply.
“Out the door?” I ask. “Where did she go?” Elliot shrinks a bit.
“I assumed she went to the ladies’ room,” he says. I look at my watch.
“Elliot, that was over half an hour ago. Nobody has seen her since!” I announce.
“Hey,” Val says, interrupting our conversation, on purpose no doubt. “Why so serious?”
“Val, would you mind terribly checking out the ladies’ rooms and seeing if my wife is hiding out in one of them?” I ask. She raises her brow knowingly to me then looks at Elliot.
“Mom and Montana had words,” he tells his wife. “It hasn’t been a good night.”
“Grace and Ana,” she says, a statement, not a question.
“And me,” I admit, “but we didn’t fight. I was just not happy about her yelling at my mom.” Val twists her lips and rolls her eyes.
“I’ll be back,” she says as she heads off to the restrooms.
And now, I’m here, waiting and waiting for her to finish her remix of Cinderella with whatever child has her attention now. After waiting for I don’t even know how long, I toe out of my shoes and go back to the hallway. The nursery door is closed now, so I peek inside.
She’s not there.
I go down to the kitchen to see if she’s gone in search of a snack or a drink. She’s not there either. She’s not in the family room, the entertainment room, the movie room, her parlor, the office, or the gym.
Where the fuck is she now?
I’m almost tempted to activate the two-way but decide against it this late at night. I go back up to the second floor and begin to check the guest rooms. I would have thought not, but with the whole hating Cinderella thing…
Sure enough, I find her in the last guest room, curled up on the bed in her evening gown fast asleep.
And we’re sleeping in our clothes again.
I crawl in bed behind her and spoon her, falling asleep almost instantly.
“I had no idea that being married to me was such a goddamn trial,” I say to Jason while running on the treadmill the next day.
“You’re kidding, right?” Jason says. I look at him bemused. “No offense, sir, but working for you is a trial. I can only imagine what being married to you is like.” I frown.
“Don’t try to be cute,” I hiss. “It doesn’t suit you.”
“I’m not!” he snaps back. “That woman has been in your life for two and a half years. I know it’s not all bad, but I haven’t seen anybody go through the trials and tribulations that woman has been through just being married to you. Everybody’s watching her, people are gunning for her, she’s got to prove herself all the damn time… She can’t step wrong, she can’t be unhappy, she can’t be human. It’s a miracle she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown by now.”
“But she couldn’t have expected it to be easy when she agreed to marry me,” I protest. “Look at my life! She knew what she was signing up for.”
“Yeah,” he says, and nothing else. There’s something else behind that.
“Yeah, what?” I ask. He looks over at me without losing his stride.
“She’s still human, boss,” he says with a running shrug. “Whether you know what you’re signing up for or not doesn’t necessarily mean that you take it all in stride when it comes at you. And last night’s episode had nothing to do with being married to Christian Grey…”
“I didn’t say that! She did!” I protest.
“You didn’t let me finish,” he says. “It had nothing to do with being married to you, but it had everything to do with her version of Cinderella. She’s got responsibilities to people. One of those responsibilities was exploited last night and she was supposed to be okay with it—plaster a smile on her face and keep the night going. Nobody acknowledged her point of view last night. Whether it was right or wrong, nobody bothered to say, ‘I get it.’ Mrs. Wilson wanted to know why no one told her the truth about her granddaughter and she left upset. Dr. Grey was dug in that Mrs. Wilson had a right to know that her granddaughter was still here no matter what the consequences and she left upset.
“You heard your wife yelling at your mother and your mother left upset and that made you upset and you cut her off. Granted, you did it to prevent a public spectacle—which was smart—but she still got cut off. Then, whatever you told Elliot, he confronted her, and she was already burning the wick at both ends.” He does that imitation of an explosion with his hands and mouth. “We’re lucky she didn’t check into a hotel somewhere and turn her phone off. We were downtown after all.”
“God,” I sigh. “Our marriage isn’t going to survive this constant up and down.” Jason slows his treadmill down.
“Yes, it will,” he says, catching his breath. “This is marriage. It’s a constant up and down until you die, and you haven’t even hit your highest ups or your lowest downs. Why do you think they say love is a roller coaster? You didn’t expect it to be easy, did you?”
Yeah, I kinda did. My mistake.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/
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